“Curse of the Witch’s Doll” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: **** out of *****.

Curse of the Witch’s Doll (2018), the debut feature from writer-director Lawrence Fowler, is an ambitious and frequently surprising 98-minute horror film. It is one which largely defies the stalk-and-slash expectations of the killer toy sub-genre. Still, what is just as noteworthy is how often Fowler changes the setting and categorization of the piece. For instance, the presentation commences with a quick, but gripping, bit that takes place in 1660. Afterwards, Fowler fast-forwards to the year where the bulk of the action in Fowler’s endeavor resides: 1942. The early sequences in this time frame beautifully flesh-out the bond between our heroine, Adeline Gray (in an always compelling turn from Helen Crevel), and her daughter, Chloe (in a mesmerizing enactment from Layla Watts). They are attempting to escape the bombing in their home town. This discharge leads them to an ominous mansion in the woods. Taking refuge in the domicile, the movie effectively plays like a gothic haunted house work for the first half of the presentation. Paired along with this strong element is the air of a missing person narrative. Such occurs as Chloe suddenly vanishes near the 20-minute mark. Eventually, the grief-stricken Adeline comes to believe that this disappearance was caused by the creepy title object.

Fowler handles this initial portion of the affair aptly. There is an atmosphere of mystery to the manner the proceedings found in this segment unfold that is both tense and interesting. Such an approach makes the alluring plot of the production evermore captivating. But, the exercise loses some momentum when the location of the action shifts after this stage. From herein, the new position for the chronicle becomes a time-honored cliché. This is disheartening after the earlier arrangement. Despite this previously stated disappointment, and the fact that some of the sequences in this latter phase can be a bit too dialogue-heavy, the undertaking still endures as focused and absorbing. Strengthening this aspect is that the project ends with a satisfying nod to the found footage technique. It is rooted in the present day.

What is just as enjoyable in Fowler’s presentation is the minimal use of its skillful effects. Such a decision adds a classic demeanor to the entirety. It is one that splendidly compliments the chill-inducing tone of the exertion. Helping matters is co-producer Geoff Fowler’s stunning doll design. Liz Fowler’s costume work is similarly stellar. The same can also be said of Lawrence Fowler’s seamless editing. His writing is sharp, character-driven and smartly paced. Likewise, his guidance of the project is claustrophobic, stylish and superb. The cinematography, make-up and sound contributions are masterful. Furthermore, Claire Carreno is excellent as The Witch. Philip Ridout’s depiction of Arthur Harper is brilliant. Neil Hobbs’ representation of Detective Nolan is terrific.

Spanning over 450 years, Curse of the Witch’s Doll is a success. Though it suffers at times in its later phases, the High Octane Pictures release remains admirable. This is especially true when considering the variety instilled in how Fowler tells his tale. There is a finely tuned sense of menace throughout that is addictive. Furthermore, the on-screen personas are relatable. Fowler’s stalwart concentration on Adeline’s plight heightens both the dramatic sensibilities and the underlying suspense of the project. Audiences are with Fowler’s lead through every painful step in her journey. Because of this, the Northampton, England recorded exertion fluently balances both emotional and physical terrors. The result of these high-functioning qualities is a well-crafted cinematic excursion. It is one that is unafraid to take risks and proudly surpasses presumptions. I highly recommend seeking out Fowler’s latest arrangement. It will arrive on VOD on February 2nd and on DVD March 6th, 2018.

(Unrated). Contains violence and adult themes.

“Clowntergeist” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: **** out of *****.

Incorporating likable characters, performances, credible dialogue and a clever concept, writer-director Aaron Mirtes’ Clowntergeist (2017) is efficient, effective horror. The build-up and overall atmosphere of the eighty-minute venture are both equally outstanding. Mirtes, with constant assistance from Kris Brendrick’s chill-inducing music and Chaz Olivier’s remarkably moody cinematography, induces unyielding fear in cinema patrons. This is perceptible from the unnerving opening sequence. The full-throttle terror Mirtes, who works from a story by Brad Belemjian, implements courses throughout the labor. Yet, audiences care all the while. This is thanks to a screenplay that is as scary as it is protagonist-oriented. Such a debt is also owed to Mirtes’ stylish and nail-biting guidance of the project. The attempt is also graced with a satisfying finale. Such is proceeded by an eye-popping and imaginative concluding credits segment. This passage also makes good use of the blood red balloons which become equated with our antagonist.

The engaging plot concerns a coulrophobic college student, Emma (Brittany Belland). After becoming the recipient of the aforesaid inflatable, which we learn early on in Mirtes’ exercise tells victims the exact date and time the demonic title fiend will attack, Emma is forced to face her worst nightmare. With two days until the unholy fiend, Ribcage the Clown (Eric Corbin), delivers his promised violence upon her, she must find out how to defeat the evil creature. As news surfaces throughout Emma’s home town of the bodies the entity has left in its wake, the anxiety within Emma only rises.

Such is a wonderful platform for a feature of this ilk. It is one which Mirtes injects with the presence of wickedness, whether in the dialogue between the central figures or in physicality, in nearly every scene of the production. The inventive means of terror Mirtes derives from the big top related nature of his villain is just as admirable. Mirtes also utilizes statements at the bottom of the screen. This is to inform viewers of the time left until the murderous beast strikes. Such is a bold decision. It is one which could’ve easily become cloying. In so doing, it might have just as readily pulled bystanders out of the entire episode. This is on each occasion that these countdowns are seen. Yet, it only adds to the deftly executed intensity. Such is another reason why the monster at the center of the tale always feels like he is watching and silently stalking Mirtes’ leads throughout the effort. Given the many haunting sensibilities of the piece, spectators may even have the same impression about their own surroundings.

Additionally, Mirtes’ editing is seamless and sharp. Karina Rivera’s costume design is spectacular. The make-up from Mirtes and Michelle Struve is similarly astonishing. Mirtes’ visual effects are just as triumphant. The sound, camera and lighting fare just as well. Likewise, Monica Baker is exceptional as Emma’s friend, Heather. Mirtes skillfully portrays Uncle Ted.

The result of these high-functioning traits is an incredibly memorable descent into fear. One of the greatest qualities of the exertion is that it doesn’t overdo it on the gore. Still, this restraint does little to dilute the wild and raw impact at hand. It’s a lot like Tobe Hooper’s magnum opus, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), in that respect. There is also a touch of Stephen King visible in the endeavor. This can be found lurking in the personalities of those who embody Mirtes’ fiction. It is just as noteworthy in the general tone. Mirtes has crafted a real winner. This High Octane Pictures distribution release is fast-paced and captivating. Genre fans will assuredly be delighted.

Clowntergeist will be available on Video on Demand September 12th, 2017.

(Unrated).

“The Answer” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

The Answer (2015), the debut feature from writer-director Iqbal Ahmed, is a successful genre crossbreed. Merging elements of romance, mystery, thriller and science-fiction, Ahmed weaves an engaging, if familiar, tale. The fiction concerns a man, Bridd Cole (in a solid performance from Austin Hebert), who sets out to unveil his identity after an unexpected attack. This is with the utilization of a series of cryptic clues left behind by his deceased parents.

Iqbal’s picture opens with an assuredly attention-garnering bit. It is as well-made as it is unnerving. From herein, this quick-paced and efficient, eighty-two-minute film is further strengthened by the chemistry laden relationship between Cole and his co-worker turned girlfriend, Charlotte Parker (in a knockout portrayal from Alexis Carra). But, the most notable component is the way Ahmed keeps this human focus at the center. This is while introducing a variety of alternately enigmatic and cerebral notions into the plot. Such makes this beautifully shot production consistently gripping.

Regardless, much of the second act, which intimately develops the ever-budding rapport between our protagonists, ultimately offers nothing new in terms of character development. Still, the satisfying and grounded finale, as well as the general can-do attitude of the affair, more than makes up for this slight storytelling hiccup. All-in-all, this is a strong work of independent cinema. Erick DeVore’s spellbinding music, as well as the sparsely used special effects of the effort, back this statement magnificently. Though the sum of the labor never exceeds its many intriguing parts, audiences of all interests will assuredly be hypnotized by the cinematic web Ahmed weaves.

(Unrated). Contains violence and some terrifying moments.

A High Octane Pictures release.

Premieres on Video on Demand on July 11th, 2017.