“Circus Kane” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Director and co-producer Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray’s Circus Kane (2017) is a grisly, claustrophobic and often imaginative fun house of cinematic horrors. Written by James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward (from a story from Sean Sellars), the eighty-eight-minute feature calls to mind William Castle’s masterpiece House on Haunted Hill (1959) and James Wan’s groundbreaking Saw (2004). There are also echoes of Tod Browning’s controversial motion picture, Freaks (1932), Herk Harvey’s brilliant Carnival of Souls (1962) and Stephen Chiodo’s cult classic, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). These latter comparisons derive from the big top related setting shared in these previously addressed fictions. It also extends to the visceral effectiveness of these exercises. This relationship can also be viewed in their communal ability to unnerve via incredible imagery.

The former parallels can be found in the plot itself. Such concerns the secluded Balthazar Kane (in a wickedly good performance from Tim Abell) sending a group of social media stars an invitation via text. This offer states that any individual who can make it through his title walk-through residence of scares will collect $250,000. With some participants thinking this is merely a publicity gimmick, Ray’s central figures quickly accept. Once inside, the alignment to Castle and Wan’s work comes to light. This is as they find out that the real reward for the lethal terrors they endure is coming out of such a psychologically grueling and dreadful experience with their lives intact.

Bressack and Ward’s perfectly paced scripting of this intriguing tale is routinely structured. Subsequently, the characters are archetypical. Yet, they are sufficiently developed. They are given continued dimension. This is by the charismatic and stellar enactments from those who embody these on-screen personalities. For instance, Jonathan Lipnicki is tremendous as Scott. Mark Christopher Lawrence as Billy, Sinjin Rosa as Jake and Nicole Fox as Carrie are all top-notch. Even the antagonists, such as Bill Voorhees’ memorable representation of The Clown, are terrific.

Likewise, the notions Kane utilizes in his sinister game with our protagonists occasionally resonates familiarity. But, the sequences involving these bits are marvelously fashioned. In turn, such criticisms do little to sway the high-engagement factor such configurations hold over audiences. What is just as amusing is the constant references to classic media which populate the endeavor. This is especially true of the first half of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release.

Correspondingly, Ray’s guidance of the project is masterful. It contains just the right amount of visual style and spine-tingling atmosphere. Such makes the variety of macabre sights and malevolent snares Kane dispenses on Ray’s protagonists evermore absorbing. Such an attribute is also assisted by Alexander Yellen’s eye-popping cinematography. Adam Oliver’s ominous music and Joseph J. Lawson’s special effects are spectacular. James Kondelik’s editing is sharp. The contribution from the sound and make-up squad fares just as triumphantly. Such details punctuate these abovementioned episodes of trepidation, as well as the excursion itself, in a manner that makes the exertion a consistently dark delight.

This foreboding allure is palpable in the arresting commencing credits arrangement. It is just as noteworthy in the expository passages located immediately afterward. These erect the foundation of the narrative. From herein, Ray crafts a gripping and haunting exercise. It is one that is augmented by its welcome attempt to understand the inner-mechanisms of the nefarious Kane. Evidence of this can be unveiled in an intimate monologue from the man himself. Such occurs in the final twenty minutes. This leads to both a tense climax and a smirk-inducing finale. The result is a B-movie gem. It is also further proof of the prowess of Ray and the collaborative abilities of authors Bressack and Ward.

Circus Kane will be available on Video on Demand September 8th, 2017.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence and profanity.

Uncork’d Entertainment Premieres “Circus Kane” Trailer

By Andrew Buckner

Director Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray (2015’s 3-Headed Shark Attack and Mega Shark Vs. Kolossus) has teamed up with the screenwriters of Bethany (2017), James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward, for another journey into terror: Circus Kane (2017). Based upon a story by Sean Sellars and starring Jonathan Lipnicki as Scott and featuring Bill Voorhees in a role entitled Evil Clown, the tale follows an isolated master of the ring top. This is as he offers $250,000 a piece to a gathering of social media celebrities. The catch is that these stars must stay in the eerie, foreboding house of haunts owned by their moderator. This is without allowing accruing fear to make them depart. Yet, there is a secret these stars will soon learn. It is that those who agree to the propositions of the host are playing a ghoulish game. Such is one that may force the competitors to pay with their lives.

The distributor of the picture, Uncork’d Entertainment, has recently unleashed the gleefully gory teaser trailer to this Gerald Webb co-produced project. It can be found above. Clocking in at forty-one seconds, the piece promises a feature which will be inventive, stylish, tense and terrifying. There even appears to be an influence from James Wan’s modern classic Saw (2004) to the proceedings.

The photoplay, which Bressack called “one wild and fun film” in a Twitter post from February 18th, 2017, will have its premiere at The Cannes Film Festival in May. All that is known at this time concerning a theatrical run or on demand release is that it will be later in the year. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Either way, Circus Kane is primed to delight fellow genre fanatics.

“Bethany” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.

Bethany (2017), a full-length feature from the prolific twenty-four-year old writer-director James Cullen Bressack, is a surreal nightmare; an unnervingly successful contortionist’s act that ranges between past and present traumas. At a brisk ninety-minutes in length, Bressack luminously crosses these stages in time. Such accrues with a seamless mixture of classic gothic horror and modern shock. What is just as striking is how stalwartly Bressack’s latest endeavor aligns itself to the supernatural subtleties of author Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Such transpires in its earlier stretches. There are even bits which splendidly capture what can be deemed a modern sense of Jackson’s storytelling refinement. Once the presentation nears the second act, the photoplay becomes a nail-biting chain of ghastly, genre-related set-pieces. Each one is more creative and aggressive than the one prior.

Such commences with a distressing, aptly composed sequence at twenty-two minutes in. This segment oversees our troubled heroine, Claire (in a wrenching and ever-believable embodiment by Stefanie Estes) grimacing. This is as she unveils an unexpected crunch in her cereal. As she looks down, she sees roaches climbing out of the bowl. These events only spiral more wildly out of control. Such erupts as Claire’s grip on reality becomes more questionable. Until the comparatively tepid final fifteen minutes, Bressack brings forth a vivid extravaganza of these ethereal proceedings. The majority are made increasingly more delightful. This is in the method in which they constantly called to mind the fictions of Clive Barker. There are also many incidents which made me reflect upon the imaginative celluloid of Wes Craven. Primarily, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and New Nightmare (1994). Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece, Poltergeist (1982), was also a frequent echo found within the effort. Moreover, there is a memorable and jarring episode near the half hour mark. It involves Claire pulling on her cheeks. Such made me think a section in Brian Gibson’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). This is where the braces of Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins) took on a life of their own. This only augmented the sheer joy the cinephile in me uncovered in the project.

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Bressack is clearly inspired. Still, every shot and every scare emerges in a manner that makes it increasingly easier to gaze through Claire’s eyes. When the deftly executed plot begins to unfold, Claire finds herself moving back to her youthful abode. This is with her husband, Aaron (co-scripter Zack Ward in a layered and commanding depiction), in tow. Almost immediately, Claire hears the title personality, an entity that was once thought to be “an invisible friend”, calling her. Making matters worse are the visions of her mother, Susan (in a masterful depiction from Shannen Doherty), which gradually plague the woman. Haunted by flashbacks, which also operate as a gripping form of delivering exposition, the circumstances around Claire become ever more violent and bizarre. With Aaron and Claire’s psychologist, Dr. Brown (in a riveting enactment from comedian Tom Green), desperately seeking to disclose what is ailing Claire, she simultaneously questions her sanity and reality. This is as once buried affairs make their way back into her existence.

Despite this firm, but familiar, foundation, the characters and their motivations are stock. On a similar note, most of the dialogue which dominate Bressack and Ward’s otherwise astounding screenplay are archetypical. Yet, the narrative moves at such a breakneck pace that such demerits seem petty in comparison. Best of all, Bressack and Ward never once lose their fixation on the richly developed personas. The same can be said for the psychologically torturous atmosphere of terror the offering evokes. Such is induced in its opening: A quietly chilling two-minute long arrangement. This portion involves Young Claire (in a turn by Anna Harr that is dazzling), a stuffed bear and an unseen presence by the name of Bethany(which Harr portrays just as unflinchingly as the previously addressed portrayal). After this attention-garnering jolt, Bressack’s endeavor only gains a riveting, imagery-laden momentum. This is as it pushes forward. In so doing, Bressack and Ward offer an all-inclusive catalogue of tropes and uniquely apprehensive notions. Such is increasingly entertaining. This is without ever feeling excessive. A variety of the twists, such as one unveiled circa the halfway point, fall into the category of the tried and true. Still, it does little to damage the evocative, technically impressive nature of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution. Bressack’s bravura guidance of the tale, as well as the concluding credits, carry this feeling to the last frame of the picture.

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Continuing to help matters is the claustrophobic and skin-crawlingly resonant music, a medley of pianos and violins, from Alex Csillag. Likewise, John DeFazio orchestrates cinematography that is brooding gorgeous, suitable and consistently terrific. The editing from Bobby K. Richardson is sharp and seamless. Tiffany K. Wong’s production design, Ryan Henneman’s art direction and Alycia Belle’s costume creation is similarly exceptional. Furthermore, the make-up, sound and camera and electrical squad are captivating. Another marvel is the certainly eye-popping and credible work of the visual and special effects crew. Correspondingly, Leon Russom as Doctor Merman, Kevin Porter as Nurse Foster and Keith Jardine as Harrison reiterate the overall strength of the chronicle. This is with their high-quality performances. Felissa Rose as Janice the Realtor, Kristy Hill as Maternity Nurse and John Murray as Mr. Hodges are also phenomenal. Tiana Whitley as Young Susan, Ellen Gerstell as Marcy and Timmy Pistol as Carl only expand the transcendent edge of the cast.

The result of these herculean components is a configuration that redefines the term “white-knuckle”. Bressack’s item is both sophisticated and grueling. This ultimately exhibits the deft balance of the antiquated and the contemporary approaches to trepidation conjured in this undertaking. But, what is most remarkable is that Bressack, who also plays a hospital visitor, makes us care for Claire. This is also true of those close to her. Such is of the utmost necessity. This is for bystanders to be as absorbed and enthralled as possible as Claire undergoes hell itself. Consequently, the flick rises as resoundingly as a drama as it does a venture into the brooding heart of apprehension. Because of this, Bressack has crafted an exuberant display of talent; a surefire winner. Fellow aficionados of fright will want to check this highly-recommended tour de force out for themselves. You can do so when Bethany, a Brilliant Screen Studios and Grit Film Works fabrication, arrives in theaters April 7th, 2017.

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