Believe Me: The Abduction of Lisa McVey (2018)

Lisa McVey (Katie Douglas) left a bad home situation with her mother to live in Tampa with her grandmother, but within a few weeks she was being abused by Morris, her grandmother’s boyfriend, and then abducted by Bobby Joe Long. Even worse, her grandmother just assumed that she ran away and wasn’t in any danger.

Bobby (Russif Sutherland, the half brother of Keifer) holds Lisa bound and blindfolded — much like the nine other women he’d already killed — continually assaulting her while she gains his trust by asking him about other women and then leaving behind as much evidence as she can, touching everything in his apartment and even pulling out her hair and hiding it all over the place. She also begins memorizing everything she can.

Finally, when she escapes — pleading for her life when Bobby wants to shoot her in the head in the woods — Morris and her grandmother beat her for five hours before calling the police. Luckily, her case is assigned to Sergeant Larry Pinkerton (David James Elliot, who made your grandmother and aunts feel all tingly when he was on JAG), who is one of the few people who believes in her.

Amazingly, this true story ends with McVey becoming a deputy sergeant in Sex Crimes, working to protect children from the terror that she survived. As for Bobby, he was arrested outside a movie theater and was executed in prison via lethal injection in 2019.

Airing on Showcase in Canada and Lifetime in the U.S., this is a pretty frightening story even in TV movie format. I can’t believe that McVey made it and was able to lead such a positive life after.

Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)

Unable to direct his screenplay for Hellraiser: Revelations due to a scheduling conflict with Scream 4, Gary J. Tunnicliffe initially removed all references to the series when he wrote this movie. He was tryinf to make an independent film and then wanted to make a true Hellraiser as he knew how bad the past films had been. After all, he had been with the series doing effects since the third movie before moving into writing and now directing them.

Shot at the same time as Children of the Corn: Runaway, this was the second film that didn’t have Doug Bradley as Pinhead. Here, he’s played by Paul T. Taylor. The movie also introduces an entirely new army of Hell, the Stygian Inquisition, led by the Auditor, who is played by Tunnicliffe.

Yes, this is an auteur Hellraiser movie.

So while this is the story of how Pinhead and the Auditor discuss new and better ways of getting souls, it’s also a police story about the hunt for a serial killer called the Preceptor, who is right out of Se7en, killing people in murders based on the Ten Commandments.

Sadly, this was another Dimension Film and they sat on it for years until, well, the whole sexual abuse trial happened and LionsGate got this film and the aforementioned Children of the Corn: Runaway. Those guys were holding on to the rights to these films and wouldn’t let anyone else near them, no matter whether or not owning said rights and making these movies seemed to embarass them.

All I know is that Hellraiser should make the trends, not reference them. If I wanted to watch a police movie or Saw, well — I woulnd’t watch Saw again. You know, you can just make a Hellraiser movie about Hellraiser.

Curse of the Black Lagoon (2018) and Unfollower (2020)

Director Milko Davis’s most recent effort was 2019’s Jurassic Thunder; his latest, Phantom Patrol, is in post-production. He was four films into his self-made indie career (his first was 2007’s Raiders of the Damned) with this tale about a researcher (Davis mainstay Elvis Sharp) cursed by his encounter with a mermaid-like creature deep in the Amazon jungles. He comes to realize that, in order to reverse the prehistoric, aquatic metamorphosis of his own body, he must return to the jungles for a cure.

In addition to Elvis Sharp, you’ll also recognize Rick Haak, aka General Hicks, as well as actor Leon Mayfield, from Milko’s fun Jurassic Thunder. You’ll also see cast crossovers in the frames from Milko’s other films Tsunambee and Jurassic Dead. The B&S staff appreciated actor Rick Haak taking the time to comment on our review of Jurassic Thunder, telling us “. . . the movie was fun to make and Milko does a lot with such a low budget.” That “lot” shows in Milko’s work, as his serviceable casts always confidently sells the outlandish drama of his pen and/or lens. We dig the dude.

For an against-the-budget film made four under $50,000, Curse of the Black Lagoon certainly looks like an ambitious, well-made film — with the cast slopping around in the woods and waters with gusto — as these stills from the film, show (here and here). Originally known as Merwitches, then retitled for its eventual DVD and streaming relaunch, the film unfortunately ran into production issues and, it seems, will not see release. Too bad, as the production stills, seen above, are intriguing: you can see everyone is enjoying the work and making the best picture they can make with the resources they have. Respect.

You can enjoy the .mp3 soundtrack from Curse of the Black Lagoon by Daniel E. Wakefield on Amazon.

Now streaming for free on Tubi.

So, if you’re wondering of the connection between a ’50s monster homage and a ’90s cyber thriller: the common denominator is the husband and wife filmmaking team of Johnathan Aguero and actress Julie Crisante. Curse of the Black Lagoon was co-written and co-produced by the duo — with Milko Davis on as the director. Aguero produced and Crisante acted in Davis’s Jurassic Dead.

Unfollower, a Lifetime cable channel-styled thriller, represents as the couple’s third joint project: one that serves as Aguero’s third producing, second writing effort, and directing debut. In addition to starring Julie Crisante, Unfollower also co-stars a new-to-the-scene Erin Felton, who starred in Curse from the Black Lagoon.

Drawing from her real life, past-personal experiences of abuse, Crisante stars as Jo Kelly: a self-conscious, up-and-and-coming on-line fitness instructor who becomes a cyber-stalking victim. When the digital stalker enters the real world, she uses her fitness skills and fighting instincts to stay alive.

Is it one of her 100-plus student-followers? Sure, her cheating, now ex-boyfriend, who runs his own high-tech firm, offers to help when the cops, won’t: but is it him? Or her enamored co-worker? Or a jealous competitor?

While this hasn’t bowed (at least not yet) on the female-centric Lifetime cable channel in the U.S., instead going straight to the free-with-ads stream Tubi platform, this “damsel in distress” cyberstalker has decent enough, against-the-micro budget production values and acting; there’s no reason why Julie Crisante can’t become the next romantic lead in a seasonal, cable romance or a MarVista-Canadian produced thriller for Lifetime. The proceedings of Unfollower are deserving to be a part of that channel’s serviceable rotation of thrillers that get the job done when you’re numb from the AMC and TNT repeats and need something new to watch. And thanks to our ’80s home video gods of Fred Olen Ray (A Christmas Princess) and David DeCoteau (The Wrong Valentine) writing and directing — and getting us hooked on — Hallmark and Lifetime movies, we should know.

Another interesting twist — well at least to those B&S About Movies fans of all things ’80s SOV — Unfollower is one of the many films produced and shot in Denver, Colorado. During our “SOV Week” deep dive back in September, we discussed the Centennial State productions of Curse of the Blue Lights, The Jar, Manchurian Avenger, Mind Killer, Night Vision, and The Spirits of Jupiter. Yeah, one day, some day, we’ll get to fellow-obscure, direct-to-video Mile Highers such as Savage Water (1979), Lansky’s Road (1985), and Back Street Jane (1989) . . . that is, if we ever find errant VHS copies or fan-ripped streams. If you’ve seen an online copy of them, let us know.

You can learn more about all of the films produced in Colorado at Colorado

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.

The Girl in the Crawlspace (2018) and Scarecrow Country (2019)

I made movies I wanted to watch myself. I didn’t care what anyone thought. Instead of writing for somebody else, I happily found [my films] in WalMart and Family Video — finally ending their natural lives in a Dollar Tree, after thinking I would sell them from a card table at a con myself. A lot of people are discovering my Wild Eye films that way, I’ve found, at Dollar Tree.”
— Screenwriter John Oak Dalton to B&S About Movies

Muncie, Indiana-born filmmaker John Oak Dalton is a screenwriter and director that’s drifted down the waters, under the girders of the Monongahela’s Smithfield Street Bridge that we don’t mention enough, here, at B&S About Movies. As a screenwriter, we’ve primarily reviewed Dalton’s work with the oft-reviewed Mark Polonia by way of the films Black Mass (2005), Amityville Death House (2015), Amityville Island (2020), Shark Encounters of the Third Kind (2020), and, most recently, the absolutely bonkers, Noah’s Shark (2021).

Oak Dalton’s later travels with Polonia Entertainment began in 1987 when he became the first scriptwriter to win a David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship from Ball State University. By 1999, Dalton sold his first screenplay to the direct-to-DVD market and numerous screenplays over the next 20 years to various indie-genre directors. He made his screenwriting debut for director Jon McBride (be sure to check out our “Exploring” feature on Jon) with Among Us (2004).

One of those genre-directors Oak Dalton works with often is fellow Dayton, Ohio-based Henrique Couto, noted for directing the well-received Babysitter Massacre (2013). Oak Dalton wrote Couto’s equally well-received horror-indie Haunted House on Sorority Row (2014), as well as the western-drama Calamity Jane’s Revenge (2015). Couto most recently directed Ouija Room (2019; written by Dan Wilder) (both Tubi-linked). Dalton’s also written for Joe Sherlock, who’s been at since 1999 with 28 films of his own. Coming soon from the pair is Things 666 (2022). In our talking with John, we’ve come to learn that Joe Sherlock grew up on a steady diet of Don Dohler (Fiend) and Don Coscarelli (Phantasm), and whatever was on late-night cable, so Sherlock’s films just might be what your streaming platform, ordered (and you may want to check out his 2014 writing-directing effort, Drifter, on Tubi).

The Girl in the Crawlspace

Watch on Tubi.

After writing twelve screenplays for others, John Oak Dalton decided to make his thirteen writing effort — a twisted, psychological horror set in a small town — his first directing effort. Assisting John — in their seventh overall collaboration — as a producer and cinematographer, is Henrique Couto (which he also accomplishes in Scarecrow Country).

A perfectly-metered, realistic Joni Durian (Babysitter Massacre, Haunted House on Sorority Row, Calamity Jane’s Revenge, Scarecrow Country) is Kristen: the psychiatrist wife of Johnny, a failing screenwriter (an on-the-spot John Bradley Hambrick of Henrique Couto’s Ouija Room). Their marriage failing — due to each other’s infidelity — they’ve returned to Kristen’s rural Indiana roots. While she’s quickly set up a new psychiatry practice, a bitter, L.A.-pining Johnny battles his alcoholism as he argues with his agent on the latest sequel to the popular Sorority Graveyard franchise. As the story unfolds, we come to learn of Kristen’s wanting to return home: she wants to write a book about her hometown’s dark past regarding a local serial killer. When Kristen begins sessions with Jill (a well-tempered Erin R. Ryan, who also appears in several films connected to Oak Dalton), a homeless local teen, they come to discover she’s an escaped victim of an infamous child serial killer.

While I am not privy to have seen all of John Oak Dalton’s twenty-one writing efforts, and while I certainly respect the retro-SOV efforts of his frequent collaborator in Mark Polonia, based on the films I have viewed, I can tell you the reason why (even though each may have the expected, indie-filmmaking shortfalls) a film like John’s most recent effort, Noah’s Shark, works. It is the result of Oak Dalton’s creative, what-the-hell-why-not plotting and clever character exchanges.

Needless to say: As with most of the indie-streamer I’ve reviewed: most reviewers haven’t been kind to John’s directing debut, as streamers seem to be coming into this small town-with-quirky-residents-and-even-dark-secrets tale expecting the Coen’s brothers Fargo. Oh, how many times must I say, “Don’t do that,” as we are dealing with filmmakers up-against-the-budget? (You’re just not “getting it” and never will, so que sera sera, bitch.) Even with the comes-with-the-territory budgetary issues: The Girl in the Crawlspace is above the fray of most of the indie-streamers I’ve watched (via the with-ads Tubi platform) as Henrique Couto has delivered us a well-shot film.

As I mentioned with Oak Dalton’s joint-Polonia resume: the script is the thing. Here, as with the Coen’s ode to small town, Midwestern mayhem: we have an expertly crafted, multi-layered script rife with complex characters. Each have something to communicate beyond a major studio bayos ‘n bayhem romp rife with clunky one-liners and screams of “Look Out!” and urges to “Run!” as the San Andreas cracks and CGI buildings fall. It’s inherently obvious Oak Dalton’s script for Crawlspace comes from a place of erudition: his love of films, fan fiction, and other geek-driven pursuits shines through with the banter of his humorously engaging, community-center D&D-style gaming group that quickly reconnects the writing-unfocused Johnny to his nerdy, fantasy-game loving college days: Johnny is John Oak Dalton. Unlike most small town-dom scripts, ones where everyone comes across as hicks and oafy buffons, Oak Dalton has lived this life; he loves his roots and treats all of his characters with respect.

If The Girl in the Crawlspace was shot as an A-List feature film with center-of-the-radar actors — such as Clint Eastwood’s murder-mystery thrillers Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) Mystic River (2003) — you’d be singing the film’s praises courtesy of its story. So take off the snobby indie-streamer glasses and take your time to watch this well-written, multi-layered mystery that comes in at a quick 70 minutes.

Scarecrow Country

Watch on Tubi.

John Oak Dalton is back with his second directing effort from his own screenplay about an Amish-populated, Indiana small-town where Winnie (a thespian-solid Chelsi Kern), a librarian, is gifted the diary of Joey Gibbs: gay and bullied, he committed suicide by driving his car into Hour Glass Lake. She comes into possession of the book when his mother passes and her daughter donates her brother’s collection of sci-fi novels. Once opened, the diary revives a blood thirsty scarecrow from the town’s dark past that kills members of Joey’s old basketball team.

As with Oak Dalton’s previous small town opus: the plot is multilayered with fully-arched characters. As in those larger-studio films we’ve cross-referenced: the once-teen-and-now prominent folk on the town’s counsel (one is the lovable town drunk, one runs a classic car dealership, the other a bar-club that once hosted The Dead Milkmen under his dad’s tutelage) were responsible for Joey’s death and cover up. While we may get the familiar plot twists that brings everyone’s sins of the past full circle, we also — refreshingly, unlike most horror indie-streamers — get a tale that’s not about the blood: this is a story about real people, their small town tales, and the quirks and mystery that follow suit.

One of those refreshing elements is the engaging subplot — that more than likely comes from Oak Dalton’s erudition — is Zoe (Rachael Redolfi): the agoraphobic, “old school” underground comic book artist sister of Winnie. Her reluctant fame for creating the Fantomah series leaves her at odds with her agent: she wants Zoe think bigger. Zoe wants to continue self-disturbing as a Xerox’d ‘zine. Oh, and Zoe’s creations “talk” to her and lead to solving the mystery.

Again, there’s those naysayers looking for a John Carpenter joint that moan about the film being “familiar” because the film centers around a revenge-driven scarecrow — stirred to life by a homemade Ouija board (the same one that opened Henrique Couto’s Ouija Room; it’s only a recycled prop and neither film is a sequel-prequel to the other). Speaking of props and set design, again, as with Crawlspace: the production-set design is solid and above-the-fray of most budget-conscious streamers. And it comes in at another tight 70 minutes.

For me, John Oak Dalton’s two directing efforts of Midwestern-bred horror are everything Don Coscarelli’s California-based mayhem (well, we are basing that on the fact the film shot at Oakland’s famed Dunsmuir Mansion) could have been. Think of a Phantasm with rich, character back stories (and flashbacks) of Mike and Jody’s parents, of how Jody, Reggie, and Tommy came to form their high school band, and how Jody ended up on the road with the Rolling Stones. (Say, a scene with Jody backstage at a gig pushing an amp and his Aunt Belle calls to tell of his parents’ car accident. In fact, the novel gets into Tommy’s “suicide”: his body is discovered in a basement: he jammed a knife-in-the-slats of an unfinished wall and thrust himself upon it.)

Well, those Oak Dalton-styled back stories — and scenes — existed, but were ultimately deleted from Coscarell’s final film (either shot, then cut; or cut from the script prior to filming). In the ultra-rare novelization by Don’s mother, romance novelist Kate Coscarelli, we learn such tidbits as the town where The Tall Man began his slave cultivation operation was known as China Grove. (Of course, if you watched the later-issued DVD outtakes to the film, you know there was more to Jody’s and Mike’s lives.) In the novelization, we learn that, after their death, the brothers inherited their parents’ small-town bank. The film-undeveloped sisters of Suzy and Sally (remember, they were kidnapped by The Tallman’s dwarfs) not only owned an antique shop (inherited from their convalescent-homed mother, Mrs. Glunter): Suzy and Jody became a couple as result of her working at the bank. There’s additional family drama with Jody: instead of taking on the family business, he goes on the road with the Rolling Stones and expresses his frustration having to remain in China Grove to take care of Mike.

Remember the one-scene Mrytle the maid: she’s more fleshed out in the novel. The old psychic lady in the wheelchair: her name is Mrs. Starr — and she speaks and discusses her granddaughter’s disappearance (and her name is Sarah; remember she opened the door to the “Space Gate Room,” then screamed). Then there’s the brothers’ doting Aunt Belle — who sees her war-casualty son in Mike. There’s Mr. Norby, the bank’s new manager at odds with Jody’s involvement with the bank. Then there ol’ Sheriff Wade who gave the roustabout Jody, Reggie, and Tommy hard times as teens — but he now leaves Jody alone via a bank loan blackmail gag (thus why the ‘Cuda always races around town without consequence); Jody even cracks a joke about “repossessing” Reggie’s ice cream truck (and Sally works at the ice cream shop). We also learn about the mysterious murder of Charlie Hathaway, the previous owner of Morningside.

Now, imagine a rebooted Phantasm with all of those twisty character elements. That’s what John Oak Dalton brings to the screen with these two films: real people with real lives and real problems that invest your interest. He gives reason beyond the screams.

So, Don, if you’re reading this: reboot Phantasm and give John a crack at the screenplay.

I made Crawlspace after going a while without being offered any screenplays, or any I wanted to write, so I thought I would write a movie I wanted, make it at my house, and then sell it on a card table at conventions. Nobody was more surprised than me when it got picked up for distribution and ended up in Family Video, WalMart, and more.

Literally, the day we sent the deliverables on Crawlspace, I was asked what I had next, which was nothing: I had intended on just making [Crawlspace]. So I started writing Scarecrow Country that very day in January 2019, we shot it in March 2019, and it screened October 2019 at a dusk-to-dawn horror festival in Iowa City.”
— John Oak Dalton to B&S About Movies about the connection between his two directing efforts

You can follow John Oak Dalton at his official blog — where, in his entry “Talking in Our Bed for a Week,” he goes into detail on his mutual, recent three-picture deal through Wild Eye Entertainment with Mark Polonia. You can also learn more about John’s wares courtesy of his recent August interview with Richard Gary at the Indie Horror Films blogspot.

You can learn more about Henrique Couto and his films at his official website.

You can also delve into the twisted world of Joe Sherlock at his official site, Skullface Astronaut.

If you’re fan of ’80s-era shot-on-video films and you’re burnt out on the genre’s classics (many which we’ve reviewed at B&S About Movies, so check out our SOV ’80s tag), John Oak Datlon, Henrique Couto, and Joe Sherlock, as well as Mark Polonia, are doing a great job at keeping the era alive and viable with today’s technology-driven, shot-on-digital streamers.

We’ve since reviewed Henrique Couto and Dan Wilder’s Ouija Room.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Human Telegraphs (2017)

Human Telegraphs is a quirky female-driven series that follows three women as they launch an in-person message delivery business in NYC and the hijinks that ensue. There are three girls: Trisha is a demanding boss, Margot has left a strict religious family for an acting career and Lilly is a feminist playwrite.

All three are forced to juggle the demands of their personal lives and dreams while also being caught up in the drama of others and also trying to keep their busienss growing in the big city.

This is a fun premise and if you’re looking for a goofy little sitcom, the first episode is worth the watch.

You can check out Human Telegraphs on YouTube, as well as on the official web site.

Nightshooters (2018)

Remember Judgement Night? This film compares itself to that movie, as it’s about a group of filmmakers who find themselves on the run from a violent gang after watching them execute someone. Except there’s one problem — they escape the building that they’ve been filming at, so they rely on their moviemaking skills.

That means that the stuntmen must use their martial arts for real, the special effects guys start making real explosives and even the sound crew start making traps.

Can they survive the night?

The film is heavily influenced by films director and writer Marc Price grew up with, including AlienDay of the Dead and The Goonies. He even looked to the lighting of Michael Mann and the way Jackie Chan’s 80s films created their action scenes.

Jean-Paul Ly, who plays Donnie the stuntman, is the kind of action star I didn’t think we had any longer. His fights are amazing and he has charisma as well. I’m excited to see him in more movies after this.

If you’re looking for a tense thriller that has great hand to hand combat and characters you care about, this is your movie.

Nightshooters is now available wherever you purchase or rent streaming movies. You can learn more on the official Facebook page.

SLASHER MONTH: I Must Fall (2018)

I’ve always wondered what happens after a slasher murders their victim and the crime scene cleanup guys show up. What must it be like to show up to clean all the blood, eyeballs, gristle and gore? I Must Fall (originally One Must Fall) is the first film from Antonio Pantoja and it answers that question.

When Sarah — joined by her best friend and roommate Alton — quits her job rather than sleep with her boss, she ends up working cleanup after a gory series of murders. But has the killer left the building? We wouldn’t have a movie if they did.

While the film calls up all of the slasher moments that we know and love, I really enjoyed how the killer (Barry Piacente) sees what he is doing as a holy mission, even allowing a character to pray to God to have someone rescue him, giving fate the opportunity to turn things around.

This is also a movie that does not skimp on the gore or on the damage to its leads. I was shocked by some of what happens in this movie and — spoiler — cheered on the close, as Sarah returns to get revenge on the boss who caused so much of her trauma.

Most modern slashers are quite frankly worthless. I found a fair deal to enjoy here, which is high praise.

You can watch this on Tubi.

SLASHER MONTH: President Evil (2018)

In the time before before the November mid-term Eeections, three young girls are stalked by a deranged killer dressed as the man who was once our President. Yes, if your level of what makes a movie funny is reshooting the iconic shots from Halloween but putting a Donald mask on Michael, well good news. Your movie is here.

That same killer once wore a Reagan mask and killed his mother before going to the insane asylum. Now he’s out and ready to kill everyone not straight, white and male.

The humor in this is pretty much as you’d expect it. I wish that political comedy had gained a new edge over the past few years, but it seems like it’s been as dumbed down as the country is in general, staying on one side of the debate instead of understanding that there can be things to make fun of in each party.

That said, I have no idea how they got so close to stealing the Shape’s theme song without getting sued. Maybe the producers wanted that to bring this movie more notoriety than it got.

REPOST: Tokoloshe: An African Curse (2018)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally covered this film on December 27, 2019. It’s been re-released under a slightly different title and is now available on Tubi.

Busi is young destitute woman with dangerously repressed emotions that has just started a cleaning job at a rundown hospital in the heart of Johannesburg. In need of cash so she can bring her younger sister to the city, she must cope despite the predatory and corrupt hospital manager. When Busi discovers an abandoned young girl in the hospital that is being tormented by a supernatural force, she must face her own demons from the past in order to save them both.

A South African movie filmed in English and Zulu, this is the first full film from director Jerome Pikwane.

It looks gorgeous, as Busi’s past and present are both shown to be filled with dangers, despite feeling like two different worlds. South Africa has some of the worst violence against women in the world, crimes that critically go unreported, so hopefully this film can raise some attention.

Nightmare Cinema (2018)

How are more people not talking about this, a film that has Mickey Rourke as death itself inside a theater that shows the ways that people expire? It’s got direction from Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus), David Slade (30 Days of Night), Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers) and Joe Dante (and if I have to tell you his movies…I really hope I don’t have to) and people still aren’t getting obsessed about this?

“The Thing in the Woods” may be a simple retelling of slasher films, but Dante’s “Mirari” is really filled with dread as well as Richard Chamberlain and Belinda Balaski. Kitamura’s “Mashit” goes all School of the Holy Beast with a tale of demonic possession and perversion amongst Catholic schoolgirls. Slades “This Way to Egress” stumbles a bit in a story of a woman hallucinating as she waits for the doctor, while “Dead” and the connecting story by Garris have a young boy against impossible odds.

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me, “What makes Mick Garris a Master of Horror?” I’m still struggling to figure out the answer and this movie certainly didn’t help me, as his segments were the worst parts of this. He does seem like a nice guy though.