Finding Opehlia (2021)

New York ad exec William Edgar (Jimmy Levar) has been experiencing a series of ultra-vivid dreams that he is obsessing over when life throws him a curve. He must choose between his real life and the fantasy world that a mysterious woman (Christina Chu) offers. Now, as he follows her down an increasingly strange path, he wonders if she’s the girl of his dreams or something much worse.

This is an auteur project, as Stephen Rutterford wrote, directed, produced, edited, did the cinematography, created the color design and co-scored this film. It’s a dreamlike 73-minutes that seems like you’re part of the lucid dreamworld of its hero, going along for the ride as he escapes reality and enters something and somewhere different.

This film transcends its small budget to tell a story that’s different than anything else you’ll see this year.

You can learn more at the official Facebook page and the official site for the film. Finding Ophelia is available on Amazon Prime, Google Play and Tubi.

Censor (2021)

Obviously, we’re kind of invested in video nasties, what with our deep dives into sections 1, 2 and 3 of the films that were criticized for their violent content by the UK press and various organizations such as the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.

Thanks to a loophole, these films did not have to pass through the British Board of Film Classification. Soon could rent films that could never have made it into British theaters. Obviously, guardians of decency and morality soon lost their minds. It’s kind of hard to put this into a U.S. frame of mind. Sure, we had the PMRC, but we didn’t grow up in Thatcher’s England.

Yet nearly forty years later, the lure of video nasties still gets our collective lizard brain excited. We live in a place where you can now just load up something like Anthropophagous on a streaming service, but at one point, it wasn’t just hard to find that movie. According to the Video Recordings Act 1984, all video releases required BBFC certification, along with a stricter code of censorship on home video than it did for actual films. If caught renting or selling these movies, authorities could use the Obscene Publications Act 1959 to levy fines, potential jail sentences and even close down businesses.

All we got were stickers on our albums and some scattered record burnings. Nothing like the outright panic that occurred in the UK.

This is the world that Censor takes place in.

Enid is a video censor (Niamh Algar) who approves a movie* that a killer claims inspired him to devour his wife’s face. Her notoriety leads to a producer named Doug Smart (Michael Smiley) to personally ask for her to censor his newest film, Don’t Go in the Church. He’s also attracted to the woman he sees hidden behind her thick glasses and severe lack of fashion, saying that she should be in one of his movies.

Enid replies, “I don’t think I like the idea of being raped and cut into pieces on screen.”

The shady producer shoots back, “The public would love it.”

As she continually watches the film in an attempt to slice its most worrisome moments — Enid is fastidious in her job, unlike many of her co-workers — she is reminded of her sister Nina, who disappeared when she was only seven years old. She becomes convinced that the actress Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta) is her missing sibling who has been forced to appear in these increasingly violent films.

With her parents asking her to move on, Enid has no choice but to use the attraction that the producer has for her and follow him home. He thinks he’s getting a chance to sleep with her. She wants more information on Alice Lee’s next movie with director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller). As he attempts to seduce her, she pushes him away, causing an accident where he’s violently impaled on one of his awards. At this point, reality and dreams start to mesh, brought together with the lines of tracking and fuzz that VHS movies once awarded us with.

This moves Enid literally into the woods, seeking out the set and directed North, who confesses that all that he knows is that his movie was based on a true story. He casts her in the film without knowing that our protagonist has completely dissociated herself from reality and has the mission to rescue her sister and thereby end the blight of the video nasties.

Director and co-writer** Prano Bailey-Bond explored similar territory in her 2015 short Nasty, a film in which a young boy searches for his missing father by watching the lost man’s collection of video nasties. For a first feature, she does an admirable job of keeping a consistent tone of dread and nastiness; this would fit somewhat into the giallo subgenre of “woman slowly losing her mind in an attempt to come to grips with her past,” which may be the longest name of a sub-genre ever.

Unlike movies set in the 80s that keep things strictly neon, production designer Paulina Rzeszowska and director Bailey-Bond strove to keep things within the gray world — until we enter the videodrome, as it were — of Thatcher. Once those films start to play, they feel real, as the goal was that each fake movie had to have its own storyline, even if we don’t see them play out in Censor. What we end up with is a sinister Wizard of Oz, where the escape to fantasy looks filled with the colors of Bava and the soft darkness of Eurohorror.

The film may have an ending you see coming from the beginning, but it’s still a pretty entertaining and tight affair. And hey — anyone making horror movies that are just 82 minutes long understands exactly one very important and lost rule of how the genre should play.

You may be upset with the fact that your beloved video nasties will get a new audience of people who may not understand why they’re important to you. Perhaps you will get the opportunity to explain it to them and open the gates somewhat. Or you can always avoid it, wait for this to pass over and content yourself by watching Bloody Moon for the twentieth time.

As for me, I hope that someday, Bailey-Bond makes a full version of Don’t Go Into the Woods, because it looks like the kind of film that I absolutely love.

You can learn more about Censor at the official site.

*It’s Deranged, the real 1974 movie directed by Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen. I kind of love how Censor balances films created within its universe with actual movies.

**Co-writer Anthony Fletcher also worked on both of these films.

F.E.A.R. (2021)

F.E.A.R. means Forget Everything and Run. I’m sure some lazier critics will use that in their headline for their review, but let’s see what this is really all about.

Directed by Geoff Reisner and Jason Tobias (who also wrote the film and appears as Ethan), this is the story of a young family whose supplies have been stolen by some bandits. However, when a deadly pathogen is released into the atmosphere, they must all work together to survive.

A pandemic has resulted in most of the Pacific Northwest being walled off by the government. That’s where the Allister family is trapped, including their young daughter, who is kept alive through an improvised medical device. There are also zombies that have been created by the disease that are roaming the first and last five minutes of this movie.

This feels a lot like A Quiet Place, which is not a bad movie to be inspired by, in that this is a human drama with some horror and science fiction elements surrounding it. The cast is talented and gives some strong performances. If only the script worked as hard as they did to be a little more unique. Yet all in all, not all that bad of a time was had by all (except those, you know, menaced by the zombies and winter weather).

FEAR is available on demand and on DVD from New Era Entertainment.

Danny. Legend. God. (2021)

Inspired by the movie Man Bites Dog, director Yavor Petkov was also able to look to the corruption in his native Bulgaria when he made Danny. Legend. God., saying “Of course, the vast catalogue of outrageous examples of corruption in Bulgaria and beyond helped greatly with the script. It provided markers for me to know what would be too far fetched. For example, if it happened in real life, then I knew I should tone it down from 11 to 3 or 4, so it looks just about plausible on screen.”

The titular Danny has agreed to be the subject of a documentary on money laundering, a subject that Petkov also knows well, working in the field of money laundering prevention for a decade. However, he soon tells the crew to forget their script and to just follow him. 

Soon, Danny (Dimo Alexiev, who this pictures depends upon; luckily he’s an incredibly strong actor) has chased away the reporter who has come for his story, leaving the cameraman and the boom operator to follow him through an increasingly more upsetting day in his life.

Who is Danny? A gangster? A politician? A club owner? A dancer? All of these things? Who shaves their chest with a straight razor and has a bust of themselves on display in their home? What kind of person openly sniffs coke, aardvarks prostitutes and urinates all over the place when they know the camera is running?

This is a film where you’re either going to go for the ride and love or love to hate its subject or the entire enterprise will just turn you off. Here’s to the filmmakers for creating something so in your face.

You can learn more on the official Facebook pageDanny. Legend. God. will be released on demand in the U.S. on July 20.

Future Fear (2021)

In the distant future…

The distant future…

The humans are dead, we used poisonous gases and we poisoned their asses.

But seriously, Flight of the Conchords lyrics aside, the humans have been destroyed by aliens, yet a female archaeologist survives. As she hides within the ruins of a long-extinct civilization, she finds the technology that just may help her make it out alive.

Ken May (VHS ViolenceVHS Violence II: VHS and KILL) wrote, directed, produced, did the cinematography and acted in this film, which also has Raven Ebner as Corviid, Otis Johnson (who directed Welcome to the Grindhaus!) as Agent 23, Erin Reingrover as Commander Mark and Kaylith Von Kola as Klik.

This is an anthology film as well, telling smaller stories within that narrative framework. It’s low budget with high science fiction ideas, so if that’s your thing, you know exactly what to expect.

You can check out Future Fear on demand from Wild Eye Releasing. It will also be available on DVD in August.

Blackstock Boneyard (2021)

Originally called Rightful, this is the story of two black brothers who have come back from the grave to avenge their deaths and reclaim the land that’s rightfully theirs.

It’s actually based on the true story of Thomas and Meeks Griffin, who were forced to sell their land after being framed for the murder of 75-year-old Confederate veteran John Q. Lewis. The Griffin brothers were convicted based on the accusations of another black man, John “Monk” Stevenson. As he had the murder weapon in his possession, he was given a life sentence, while two other black men, Nelson Brice and John Crosby, were also executed for the same crime.

The truth may have been in Lewis’s suspected sexual relationship with 22-year-old Anna Davis, who was black. Davis and her husband were never tried, possibly for fear of the scandal that would arise when it came out that a white older rich man was sleeping with a black woman.

The Griffins were the richest black men in the area and had to sell their farm to pay for the trial. Despite more than a hundred people — including the town’s mayor, sheriff, two of the jurors and the grand jury foremen — petitioned Governor Richard Manning to commute their sentence, but they still went to the electric chair.

In 2009, Tom Joyner — a former member of the Commodores before they were famous and the host of The Tom Joyner Show — learned that he was related to the Griffins. He sought their pardons from the Columbia, South Carolina state appeals court and received it, finally setting things right.

Obviously, this is a sensitive subject to base a horror film on.

The tale of the film is about the property itself, which is about to be claimed by Judge Carroll Johnson “CJ” Ramage, who is the grandson of the judge that sentenced the Griffins to die. The farm is still worth plenty of money. However, his lawyer Roger Newbold(Jonathan Fuller, Castle Freak) has discovered that a woman named Lyndsy (Ashley Whelan, The Houses October Built) actually in the true heir to the land. They decide to scare her off, just as the brothers come back The Fog style.

The film really tries to hit so many other hot button topics like police brutality and workplace harassment, but it already has a great story to be inspired by. That said, for the state of horror in 2021, this is pretty interesting and worth checking out.

Blackstock Boneyard is available on demand and on DVD June 8 from Uncork’d Entertainment.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

You know, the Warrens were not Catholic superheroes. Despite warning us that the world was in a constant battle with demons, the Hollywood Reporter divulged that “in the early 1960s, Ed Warren initiated a relationship with an underage girl with Lorraine’s knowledge. Now in her 70s, Judith Penney has said in a sworn declaration that she lived in the Warrens’ house as Ed’s lover for four decades.”

They were pretty much hucksters who knew how to keep themselves in the eye of the media and could always fall back on religion to literally say they were doing God’s work. I guess that I don’t mind the carny world all that much until it starts impacting people’s lives more than the money they willingly give away.

This movie is a case in point of my issues with them.

It’s based on the trial Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case. This case was the first known court case in the U.S. in which the defendant claimed that Satan took over their body and actually committed the crime.

It all started when 11-year-old David Glatzel got possessed. The family brought in the Warrens to work with the Catholic Church to exorcise their son, at which point the demon left the child and went into Arne. Months later, Arne would kill his landlord and his defense lawyer that he was possessed.

As soon as a day after the murder, Lorraine Warren told local police that Johnson was possessed when the crime was committed. A media blitzkrieg followed, because the warrens were planning lectures, a book and even a movie — which was canceled — would soon be forthcoming. There was a TV movie, The Demon Murder Case, but the whole furor died down when Judge Robert Callahan rejected the defense, saying that possession could never be proved and that it would be “irrelative and unscientific” to allow related testimony.

On November 24, 1981, Arne was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, serving five years of a ten to twenty-year sentence. The book that followed, Gerald Brittle’s The Devil in Connecticut, was published in 1983. When the book was republished in 2006, David Glatzel — the kid who got possessed in the first place — and his brother Carl sued for violating their right to privacy, libel and “intentional affliction of emotional distress.”

Carl claimed that the criminal and abusive acts against his family and others, as recounted by the book, were lies created by the Warrens to exploit his brother’s mental illness. As he didn’t believe anything the Warrens told him, he was painted as the bad guy. Even worse, he also stated that the Warrens explained to him that the story would make the family millionaires and get Johnson out of jail.

Lorraine defended the story, bringing up the fact that six priests were involved in the incident. And as for Johnson, he continues to support the Johnsons and has stated that the lawsuit is so that the Glatzels can get rich.

All of the real-life things you just read are way more interesting than this movie.

There’s a new bad guy — The Occultist — and a priest named Kastner who had a child and left the church, but not before battling the Disciples of the Ram cult. Also, Earl has a new kryptonite to deal with as exorcizing young David leads to him having a heart attack.

The opening exorcism is pretty well-done and I was hoping for a return to form, as the original film in the series has some great art direction. Yet here we’re dragging back into the universe of this film, with fanservice toward showing Annabelle and Valak, reminding us that perhaps this series best days are long behind it and if this were the 90s, this movie would have gone direct to video.

That said, I love the team of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. However, I really disliked the directing style of Michael Chaves, whose The Curse of La Llorona was only halfway decent. There are plenty of opportunities for jump scares — the scene with a haunted waterbed has such promise that fizzles out, showing that no one studies Val Lewton any longer — and the rest of the movie is a strobing and confusing mess. They also must have not remembered the movie that this pays homage to — A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master — because that sequence is remembered to this day. This one will be gone in a week.

This movie also seems obsessed with The Exorcist. In the opening, Father Gordon’s arrival echoes the poster of that film and later, when Earl is in the hospital, we hear the name Dr. Merrin get called. These little asides to that classic did not make me think this was in the same pantheon of that film. It made me want to shut it off and watch that movie instead.

I’m kind of sad that this movie was so bad. The past two films in the series have had great scares and I’ve kind of written the side stories off, thinking that at least the mainline films have been pretty good. Sadly, that downward slide of creativity has now extended toward this film, which was an utter waste of time and energy. At least people are vaccinated now and can’t put their lives on the line to go and see it.

Introducing Jodea (2021)

Jodea (Chloe Traicos, who wrote this film; she grew up in Zimbabwe and had to leave the country after making the documentary A Stranger in my Homeland due to how critical it was against leader Robert Mugabe) is a struggling actress who can’t seem to catch a break until she rear-ends the car of Zac Kawalski (Jeff Coppage), a movie director dealing with his past drug addiction and a famous wife (Yadira Pascault Orozco) who doesn’t want anything to do with her husband or his new movie.

Zac thinks his movie can be a blockbuster if he can get action hero Ethan Burns (Kayd Currier) in the lead. As for the female role, he thinks an unknown can handle it. That’s when fate places Jodea in his life and he makes a bet with his agent. If he can get Jodea ready for the role in thirty days, he’ll get Ethan to be in the movie.

Director Jon Cohen’s take on My Fair Lady may not break any new ground, but it’s a well told movie that doesn’t need big stars or special effects to be enjoyable.

Introducing Jodea will be released in theaters on June 4.

We All Think We’re Special (2021)

A night of reckless drinking compels Ed, a car mechanic, to forcibly detox his best friend Charlie — no matter what the cost — in this film from Kirby Voss (who directed and co-wrote the movie with Felicia Stallard.

As Charlie sleeps off last night’s drinking, Ed goes through the home and pours out all of his alcohol. The reaction is worse than you’d expect, with Charlie hitting every target on his friend, even taking great pains to make fun of his sexual orientation.

It doesn’t get any better for Ed.

Jarden Bankens (who was Darkness in Words on Bathroom Walls) as Ed and William McGovern as Charlie bring so much to this movie, which they have to, as they are the only characters on screen for most of its running time. You buy that they are friends at the same time you sense the hopelessness of their situation. The film uses its sound and split-screen views to repeatedly slam you in the face with the sheer pain of this intervention.

This is a bleak film and may not be for everyone, but if you want to see an interesting take of addiction and mental health, this is for you.

We All Think We’re Special is available on Amazon Prime.

Plan B (2021)

Sure, a lot of this movie feels like Booksmart, which was the female-centric Superbad, but that’s a very superficial review, as both movies are about the relationship between two girls as they grow up in their last year of high school. And much how all of us are different people despite surface similarities, this film can stand on its own.

After co-writing and directing Language Lessons this year, Natalie Morales directed this film from a script by Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy that is unafraid to be sentimental and wildly inappropriate, often at the same time.

Lupe and Sunny are high school girls planning out their first party and hoping Sunny’s first crush will attend. The hijinks that ensue — an unplanned sexual encounter leads to a stuck condom and a trip to get a Plan B prescription in case Sunny is pregnant — lead to a road trip movie that obviously will change both girls’ lives.

That road trip has to happen because their South Dakota town has a pharmacist (Jay Chandrasekhar from Super Troopers, always a welcome sight) who invokes that state’s conscience clause, which allows him to not have to give the young girls the contraceptive.

He’s just one of the great cameos in this movie, which also has Rachel Dratch in a really wonderful scene as a health teacher not ready for how smart her students are and how bad the used car as abstinence metaphor she’s been given to teach is.

The best teen movies leave us wishing that we could spend more time with their characters. I can honestly say that I’d love to see where else Lupe and Sunny’s lives will go. There were more uproarious and moments of genuine feeling in this than anything else I’ve seen in years. It’s not for everyone — it certainly does not shy away from frank sexual discussion nor actual male genitalia — but for those with an open mind and a love of ribald humor, it’s a winner.