Dark Signal (2016)

The mountainous, remote wooded expanse of Snowdonia, North Wales, is terrorized by the Wedlock Killer. The savage and brutal attacks of five women share a common trait: their wedding ring fingers were removed by a bolt cutter. Luckily, Sarah, the next victim, was watching an expositional TV news report so we can learn this useful, bloody tidbit—and save it for later to season this story where The Shining meets The Ring—with a dash of Ju-On and a soupçon of 2005’s White Noise starring Michael Keaton.

Yep. There’s a ghost in the machine and a pseudo-giallo killer on the loose.

After the first kill we’re introduced to the jaded, motorcycle riding and chain-smoking (ah “character development”) Laurie Wolf (Siwan Morris of Britain’s long-running Eastenders). She’s a DJ who can’t find a new gig in the wake of hosting her final show on the soon-to-be-closed down Radio JAB, a local station victimized by corporate network automation. Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd of Syfy Network’s Warehouse 13 and the BBC’s Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood), Laurie’s producer, has on an online affair with Kate (excellent Polish actress Joanna Ignaczewska of 2014’s The Scopia Effect), a single mother dealing with a spiteful ex-husband. Kate’s financial desperation thrusts her into agreeing to be the getaway driver for a robbery planned by her dubious boyfriend Nick, who’s out to rob a “business associate”—in those very same remote woods.

Uh-oh.

When the car’s electrical system fails and the radio turns to static, Kate meets a bloody, long-haired ghost that haunts the woods: Kate’s about to be Yūrei’d.

Now that’s a radio studio! On the air with Laurie Wolf on Radio JAB, the voice of Snowdonia, Wales.

Meanwhile, back on the final broadcast of the “Howl at the Moon” radio programme on Radio JAB, the divine Ms. Wolf and Ben decide that, as a final act of defiance against the station’s owners, they’ll break format and interview Carla Zaza, a questionable psychic (Cinzia Monreale of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond) and hold an on-air séance.

A questionable psychic and a skeptical, bitchy chain-smoker who thinks it’s all fake?

Uh-oh.

Cue Sadako’s onryō-creeks n’ crackles and turn up the radio static: the bogus psychic made contact with the EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) spirit of Sarah, the last victim of the Wedlock Killer, who’s now using the airwaves of Radio JAB to extract her revenge.

Way to push that J-Horror angle, Mr. Distributor.

When watching this Wales-shot horror, as with any British, Scottish, or Australian-shot film, Dark Signal can be a hard watch due to the thick Welsh accents. Fortunately, TubiTV’s upload features a closed captioning feature so you can get the full enjoyment from this nicely-shot and acted debut feature from writer/director Edward Evers-Swindell.

Produced by Neil Marshall, the director behind Dark Soldiers (2002), The Descent (2005), Doomsday (2008), and Hellboy (2019), Marshall and Swindell will be back in theatres in 2020 with the Swindell-penned and Marshall-directed The Reckoning.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Precious Cargo (2016)

After watching Claire Folani kicking ass in Inferno: Skyscraper Escape (and we remember her holding her own alongside Jackie Chan in 2003’s The Medallion), I decided to give another one of her action movies a spin—this one with the added benefit of Bruce Willis. Ah, but the caveat emptors are foot as this is another one of those films where Willis is barely it. That’s because this show belongs to Mark-Paul Gosselaar—yes, Zack Morris from the Saturday morning TV series Saved by the Bell.

After the manipulative Karen’s (Claire Forlani) contracted diamond heist for her ex-lover Eddie (Bruce Willis), a sociopathic crime boss, goes awry (that’s her story; she ripped him off), he wants her dead. Better yet, he’ll kidnap her and recruit Karen’s ex-partner and lover Jack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), the “Michelangelo of Thieves,” to steal an armored car carrying $30 million in jewels as her ransom. And why would Jack help Karen? Well, she’s pregnant . . . with his child (that’s her story). Who’s screwin’ who here—literally and figuratively: everybody. The double-crosses—amid the blood and bullets—are everywhere.

“Eh, it’s a paycheck.”

As with my review on Line of Duty, I won’t sugar coat: the reviews on this one aren’t great. Does this, like Line of Duty, pushes the limits of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Speed inspired-credulity? Oh, hell yes. But again, I say: screw credibility. Enjoy the retro-‘80s/’90s action ride. Relish the smarmy-cheesy one-liners, the over-the-top gun battles, the car explosions, the boat vs. Jet Ski chases, and the beach-front dock shoot out.

Now, would the producers have liked to have secured the services of the Chrises Evans or Pratt for their leading man? Perhaps Zoe Saldana for their leading lady?

Sure they would. What producer wouldn’t?

But I think Gosselaar—who’s more than capable—carries this action film on his shoulders against the resumes of Chris Evans and Chris Pratt with self-confidence. And while the series wasn’t all that great, Gosselaar was very good as the burnt-out professional ballplayer in Fox TV’s short-lived sports drama, Pitch (honestly: he was the best thing in the series), and he’s proven his adult-sized comedic chops in ABC-TV’s currently airing Mixed-ish. While Gosselaar has done a quite a few U.S cable TV movies, he also held his own in his first overseas theatrical film for producers Randall Emmett and George Fulra, 2015’s Heist, a crime drama starring Robert De Niro and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

An Oscar moment? “That’s it! Pack your sh** and get out of my house!”

You’ve seen a few of prolific producer Randall Emmett’s 113-and-climbing resume (his longstanding co-producer is George Furla) in U.S theatres with Bruce Willis’s 16 Blocks (2006), Nicolas Cage’s The Wicker Man (2006), Al Pacino’s 88 Minutes (2007), Jake Gyllenhall’s End of Watch (2012), and Sylvester Stallone’s Escape Plan (2013) and Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019), and his most recent work on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019). The rest of Emmett’s films—as with Precious Cargo—make their U.S debuts as direct-to-DVDs or online streams, and appear as theatricals in the overseas Eurasian markets.

Emmett also produced several films in the prolific direct-to-DVD oeuvre of writer-director Steven C. Miller (Arsenal and Line of Duty) with the films Extraction (2015), Marauders (2016), First Kill (2017), and Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018). Emmett even found his way into B&S About Movies’ “Amityville Week” of reviews with Amityville: The Awakening (2017). Again, Emmett is prolific: he has eleven more films in 2020 in various states of filming and pre-post production.

Writer Max Adams is new to the game and building on his promising resume of eight writing credits, which includes Steven C. Miller’s Extraction (starring Bruce Willis; also of First Kill) and the aforementioned Heist. Precious Cargo marks his commendable directing debut. The screenplay was based on his well-received 2008 Florida State University film school short, while the feature-length version of Precious Cargo became a national finalist in the 2010 Script Pipeline screenplay competition. His recent work, the positive-reviewed two-season military drama Six, aired on The History Channel.

Sorry, there are no TubiTV freebies on this one. You can pick up the DVD of Precious Cargo at your local Redbox (or stream it) or you can stream it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, You Tube Movies, and Vudu.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Box Office Failures Week: Gods of Egypt (2016)

Remember Alex Proyas? He directed The Crow and the promise of that movie led to chance after chance, with films like I, Robot and Knowing baffling folks and still making money. He also made Dark City, a movie that I’m still kind of shocked emerged out of Hollywood. And in trivia that only my pal R. D Francis would care about, he also directed Crowded House’s video for “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

Way back in 2016, before cancel culture became a thing, I remember sitting in the theater and seeing the trailer for this movie and saying, “Oh no.” Even back then, in the unenlightened world of five years ago, people realized that all white people playing Egyptians was just plain wrong.

This movie would have been eviscerated today.

Gods of Egypt grossed $31.2 million in North America — and $119.6 million in other countries — for a total of $150.7 million against the $140 million it cost to make the film. But when you throw in the marketing, the studio lost around $90 million and their dreams of making this a franchise.

So let me try and make sense of this movie, which looks like it’s a SyFy Original more than a movie that cost more money than my entire bloodline has ever and will ever earn.

Bryan Brown plays Osiris and before you can say, “I loved you in F/X!,” he’s killed by his brother Set, who is played by Gerard Butler, who was once a thing. Remember when he was going to be Snake Plissken? Yeah. Me too.

A thief named Bek is given the plans for Set’s pyramid by his lover Zaya and this is where I really lost any sembleance of caring about this movie. But let’s try. Bek steals of our Horus’ eyes, his lover is killed and he gets to bring her back to life by giving the god back his eyeball. Who wrote Egyptian mythlogy, Lucio Fulci?

Nearly every god is either Austalian or British, kind of like Nazis usually are in other movies. Like Geoffrey Rush plays Ra. At least one African-American person, Chadwick Boseman, shows up and the Hollywood Illuminati was probably like, “Please be in this horrible movie and we promise, some day you can be Black Panther.”

I’m sure there were dreams that kids would someday scream, “I want to be Bek for Halloween!” But it was not to be. Not even a $10 million dollar Australian tax credit could make anyone feel good about this movie.

This is a movie that feels fifty years old, with none of the great Ray Harryhausen effects or Lawrence Olivier yelling things to make you feel better. I’m still kind of shocked that this movie is only four years old, because it truly feels like it came from another planet, a world of glossy metallic CGI and a yearning to be better than Prince of Persia.

Even the logo sucks.

Proyas would later do what all great directors do, turn to Facebook, where he ccused critics who usually hate his films of having an axe to grind with him and using claims of white-washing to do exactly that before calling those who dared critique his film “diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass…trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality says is good or bad.”

I value my own opinion just fine. And if it looks like a turd and walks like a turd and smells like a turd, guess what?

It’s a turd.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The second cinematic film in the Warren cinematic universe, this movie starts where other movies like The Amityville Horror take hours to show. Yes, the Warrens really did go to 112 Ocean Avenue. The jury is, however, out as to whether Lorraine had a vision of the murders, followed the ghost of one of the Lutz children into the basement and then met Valak the Nun, who would go on to be in her own series of movies.

The ghost boy is based on the infamous Amityville photo — you know the one, it wasn’t shown until years later when the first movie was on its PR tour.

The movie then moves on to another paranormal case, the Enfield haunting of 1977. Janet Hodgson — while sleepwalking — would speak in the voice of an angry elderly man. The Warrens are determined to save her and her family, while Lorraine is concerned that Ed will be killed.

In addition to introducing the Nun character, this movie also has an appearance by the Crooked Man, who will obviously soon get his own Conjuring universe movie, alongside Annabelle (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, Annabelle Comes Home) and La Llorona (The Curse of La Llorona).

I was happy to see Franka Potente in a movie. She was such a force in Run Lola Run and its a shame she isn’t in more movies. Here, she plays Anita Gregory, a real-life scientist who was a member of the Society for Psychical Research that investigated the Enfield Haunting.

This was directed by James Wan, who always adds a layer of sheen and class to his horror proceedings. He’s learned a ton since the Saw films and hey — I even like his silly slasher film, Dead Silence. It was written by the team of Wan, David Leslie Johnson (Aquaman, Orphan) and the twin writing team of Chad and Carey Hayes. Interestingly enough, Chad was in Death Spa in his younger days.

I also love the art direction in the Conjuring films. The Warren’s study is filled with mystical artifacts from their many adventures, like the golden upside-down skull from Vice Versa that caused Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage to switch bodies. There’s also a great poster of a young Joanna Lumley from Absolutely Fabulous in the girls’ room. You can also spot a poster for Exorcist II: The Heretic in the montage of England set to The Clash’s “London Calling.”

Also, just so there’s no debate, beyond being a possession movie, an Amityville movie and a movie about situations based on real-life events, this is also a Christmas movie!

BONUS: You can listen to us discuss this movie on our podcast.

The Amityville Legacy (2016)

Did this poster just put one of those horrifying wind-up monkeys in the windows of the house at 112 Ocean Avenue? Well, that’s just not fair. If this movie came out when I was seven, I would have defecated in my pants to such a level that you would be about to smell it, even nearly four decades into a thankfully feces-smell free future.

Yes, a cursed monkey is purchased from the DeFeo garage sale and makes its way across the country to Nebraska, where it wreaks havoc. If this sounds like the plot of the mid-90’s Amityville films like It’s About Time, A New Generation and Amityville Dollhouse, the filmmakers are very aware of those films and specifically pay tribute to them.

According to the film’s official Facebook page, this movie has been acquired by Wild Eye Releasing and will soon have a new Amityville-related title, as well as a sequel called Amityville: Evil Never Dies. Is Mumm-Ra in that one? I’m not sure, but do you know who is? Mark Patton, who played Jesse in the criminally underrated second A Nightmare on Elm Street film.

This was directed by Dustin Ferguson, who also made Nemesis 5: The New Model, Silent Night, Bloody Night 2: Revival, a remake of Die, Sister, Die! and is now working on a remake of Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse. The sheer chutzpah of that last move either makes me love this guy or despise him. Don’t screw that one up.

Somehow — well, Ferguson has worked on their music videos — this movie has “Spooky Tricks” by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult on its soundtrack. That’s more than I can say for most Amityville movies.

Amityville: Vanishing Point (2016)

Shot in seven days for $1,000, this movie has Lloyd Kaufman acting in it. I’m sure you realize that the moment that I read that I debated either suicide or shutting the movie off, whatever would remove me from the equation.

Then again, director Dylan Mars Greenberg was only 18 when it was made. But man — this movie makes the Dark Brothers production quality look like Josef von Sternberg.

The Amityville legend lives on — of course it does — when a resident of a local boarding house dies under mysterious circumstances. This film follows her two besties, her sister and the owner of the boarding house as they attempt to discover who killed her. Or maybe she’s still alive. The detective trying to solve the case — who wants to be a cowboy and talks to his baseball cards — might be insane. And the house is turning on everyone.

92 minutes that will try your very soul. I can make it through a lot of painful movies, but this movie felt like a penance for making fun of other films. I should have followed the lead of Father Tom in Amityville II: The Possession and taken the phone off the hook, shut off the TV and just went skiing instead.

The Amityville Terror (2016)

The poster for this movie features Disneyland Paris’s Phantom Manor attraction with a few Photoshopped tweaks. No worries — it isn’t the house from the original film or even the one used in this movie.

However, the actual house used in The Amityville Terror is the same house used to shoot the interiors for Amityville: The Evil EscapesAnd Amanda Barton, who wrote and acted in this, was part of the wardrobe crew for a movie called Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers. That movie used the house from the 2005 The Amityville Horror remake. Man — these films are becoming incestuous and I’m not just talking about the antics between Sonny and Patricia in Amityville II: The Possession.

What this movie is about is the house in Amityville that Jessica and Todd Jacobson, their daughter Hailey and troubled aunt Shae (Barton) have moved into. Right away, Shae starts acting strangely, probably because there was a kid who used to live in this house that burned his baby brother in a bathtub full of acid. Obviously, Amityville movies have upped the ante from the simple shotgun.

They set up that Hailey can use a crossbow, which is a good thing, because she fulfills the Chekov’s gun promise that this early reveal proposes.

Look, if you have a troubled marriage and family issues, I’ve found that moving to a haunted house is the worst thing possible. It doesn’t solve problems. It just creates more of them. And don’t sleep with anyone you meet inside that house that isn’t your wife — well, sometimes even if it is your wife.

Maybe don’t just watch Amityville movies. Then again, I’m doing an entire week of them, so allow me to take the pain for you, dear reader.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime, Tubi and Vudu.

Amityville: No Escape (2016)

Seventeen movies into the Amityville cycle and here we are. More found footage and college students in a study to learn what fear is all about. They should have to sit through an entire day of non-stop Amityville films like I did and they’ll understand what fear is all about.

Seriously — I’ve never felt the title of a movie more in my entire life.

Originally called The Fear Tapes, this movie was directed by Henrique Couto (Haunted House on Sorority RowDepression: The Movie).

George, our protagonist, travels to the cursed woods of Amityville — man, when are we getting Amityville Toilet and Amityville Corn Maze? — to work on his thesis. Along for the ride are his girlfriend Sarah, his sister Elizabeth, Simon the cameraman and Lisa. There’s also a girl named Lina who wasn’t in the original rough cut of the movie, but has her own story. Of course, those two stories eventually come together.

Can there be such a thing as too many Amityville movies? I sure hope so.

A Husband for Christmas (2016)

Brooke and Roger, two graphic designers in a soon-to-be-merged company, help one another by agreeing to a loveless marriage of convenience. In the process, Brooke gets to upstage her sister who just announced her engagement to her ex-boyfriend.

Now, you may say, “Sam why are you watching this?”

David DeCoteau got me again.

Yes, the maker of the “Wrong” series of movies (The Wrong CheerleaderThe Wrong TutorThe Wrong Mommy, The Wrong FriendThe Wrong Crush, The Wrong Man, The Wrong ChildThe Wrong RoommateThe Wrong Boy Next Door and The Wrong Stepmother), the 1313 softcore for guys series, not to mention A Talking Cat!?! and its sequel A Talking Pony!?!, plus movies stretching the whole way back to Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama and Dr. Alien, David DeCoteau has started a cottage industry of made for streaming and small network Christmas movies, sort of like Fred Olen Ray.

This movie strangely places Vivica A. Fox (yep, the very same one who was in Kill Bill) and Ricco Ross (yes, Private Frost from Aliens and Lt. Nathanson in Wishmaster) together as the North Star crossed lovers, as well as Eric Roberts (forever in my heart the voice of Duffy) and Jackee from Saturday night NBC sitcom fave 227.

This being a DeCoteau joint — is that a thing? — you also get Dominque Swain showing up as the friend to our protagonist, Hilary Shepherd (Divatox from the Power Rangers Turbo series), Helene Udy (who was on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as Myra Bing; if you ever want me to judge you, have that series on when I visit your house), Michael Bergin (J.D. Darius from Baywatch), David McKnight (Uncle Ray from Hollywood Shuffle), Johnny Whitaker (yes, sure, he was Tom Sawyer and on Sigmund and the Sea Monster, but he is also a DeCoteau A Talking Cat!?! alumnus), Galyn Gorg (Angie from RoboCop 2 and Margarita from Point Break) and Laurene Landon (Theresa Mallory from Maniac Cop).

But there’s one big reason why I watched this movie.

It unites Robert Brian Wilson (Billy Caldwell from Silent Night, Deadly Night) with Eric Freeman (Ricky Caldwell from Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2) in one movie. Such is the magic of a Christmas DeCoteau film. They play two office workers who are wrapping gifts and this was Freeman’s first movie role in nearly two decades.

Just a dumb question: Is DeCoteau pranking me? Is this an elaborate ruse to get me to see his movies? Is George Eastman going to play the owner of a lovable dog in his next film? Honestly: What the actual fuck is going on?

You can watch this for free on Tubi and Amazon Prime.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 18: Beyond the Gates (2016)

DAY 18. ONLY ON VHS Day: Watch something on true psychotronic format. If you don’t have access to a VCR then watch a movie with a VCR/VHS theme in it. 

Thanks to the Found Footage Festival, so many people have gotten the chance to see a lost part of the VHS era — board games that relied on your VCR.

Nightmare was chief amongst those games. Released in 1991, the game took place on The Other Side, a place of six Harbingers who claim authority over a region while dreaming of taking over the entire dark dimension and escape into the human world. When you play, you become one of them — Baron Samedi the zombie, Gevaudan the werewolf, Hellin the poltergeist, Khufu the mummy, Anne de Chantraine the witch or Elizabeth Bathory the vampire — and follow the rules of the Gatekeeper, whose wants to ensure that you don’t escape The Other Side.

The game was part of the Atmosfear series, created in Australia by Phillip Tanner and Brett Clements. It even came back in the 2000’s with two new games released on DVD.

To win the game, each player must use their opponents’ greatest fears against them in order to collect six keys. Over multiple versions and booster tapes, the game stayed more popular in Australia then it did in America, even getting its own music video and Pepsi-branded drinks.

Two brothers, Gordon (Graham Skipper, who wrote and directed Sequence Break) and John Hardesty (Chase Williams, John Dies At the End) have reunited at their father’s video store, sorting through the mountains of unwatched VHS tapes as they prepare to sell it. Dad’s been missing for seven months, Gordon has left town long ago and John’s life is going nowhere.

The next day, after finding a key to their father’s office, they discover a VCR board game entitled Beyond the Gates. The tape is still in the VCR, which means it may be the last thing their father ever watched. The boys play the video and a woman’s face appears. Her name is Evelyn (Barbara Crampton, who also co-produced) and she asks if they’re willing to wager their souls. After a flash of light, the two discover that they’re lost hours of time.

Later that evening, Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant, Halloween II) joins the brothers for another game, which tells them that if they want to save their father, they must play the game and locate the four keys. Soon, the time 3:13 will wake each person up to a TV showing only static.

Inside the box is a receipt for an occult store run by a man named Elric He tells them that they must play the game once it starts. On their way out, John steals a dagger.

As they continue playing, actions in the game world impact real people, like their friend Hank being disemboweled by unseen forces. Even when they try to throw the game away, it soon returns. That’s because they only have two choices left: win the game or die. That said — no one has ever won before.

The game itself becomes a metaphor for the lives the brothers are living, stuck in old empotions and memories of the past. Whether or not they can use that knowledge and escape, well, you’ll have to watch the movie to discover that for yourself.