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Exclusive: Opening The Dead Files – An In-Depth Interview with Amy Allan

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“The Dead Files” on Travel Channel

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For many years I’ve watched just about every paranormal related show there is. Around 90% of them include a medium or some kind of sensitive who usually ends up making things seem silly what with their “feelings” and such. On “The Dead Files,” however, this is far from the case.

Amy Allan is the co-host of the Travel Channel TV show “The Dead Files” and also a physical medium who uses her abilities to communicate with the dead in some of the most frighteningly real ways imaginable. Simply put, she’s either the greatest actress in the world or 100% legit. Together with her co-host, retired homicide detective Steve DiSchiavi (interview here), the duo investigate hauntings and phenomena all over the country including Alcatraz and the famed Lizzie Borden House. They bring with them a no bullshit approach that’s rarely seen nowadays, and to say it’s compelling is a bit of an understatement.

Recently Amy sat down with us to discuss not only the show but also what led her to it.

Exclusive: Opening The Dead Files - An In-Depth Interview with Amy Allan

“The first memory I have of dealing with the paranormal was when I was four years old and had encountered shadow people,” says Allan. “I really thought they were my friends. They came every night and I would see them on the walls. It was actually a male and a female presence. They were really friendly and nice. We were friends over a long period of time, and eventually they asked me to go with them. They told me to bite the electrical cord on my humidifier, which I did and was electrocuted. After that I realized obviously that they weren’t good, and that’s kind of when they got scary. They would peel off of the wall and stare at me, or they would scream at me. It was a very traumatizing experience, not only because they were shadow people and they were negative and they tried to kill me, but also because I really thought that they were my friends. They betrayed me in the utmost manner by trying to inflict harm on me.”

Growing up, things only became more confusing and frustrating for the young woman.

“Throughout my younger years there would be random experiences like when I was eight or ten years old. I would see people when I was with my friends that they couldn’t see. and I really didn’t understand that. For instance, one time my friend and I were playing in the living room of my house. We had set up like a little Barbie kingdom of sorts. We then went to get some food, some snacks. When we came back, everything was ruined. Things were all tossed around and torn up, and my friend just screamed and ran out of the house. I was just standing there looking at this little boy who had lived in my house and who was dead. I didn’t understand why she would freak out and was afraid. She didn’t see him; she only saw what had happened to the Barbies, and that was one of the moments where I was like, ‘Hmmm… that’s odd. She was afraid but couldn’t see him, but I could and wasn’t scared at all.’ That was just one of those moments. It took until I was about thirteen years old for me to realize that I was different, and I was really upset by this. I just wanted to be normal. I didn’t want to see these things. I just wanted to be like everybody else.”

Realizing that being normal would never be the case, Allan tried to learn more about what was happening to her.

Amy continued, “For years I had studied the subject of death and the paranormal. I read all of the books and research papers… I was very into the science of it all. In my twenties I started using my ability professionally. I said to myself, ‘Okay, I have this thing and it is not going away. What can I do with it?’ I started doing lots of research to help me get a handle on these abilities so that I could start helping others to understand what they were going through. At first I started giving readings as a means to help people find closure with their loved ones. That was good, but my thing was always that I was seeing all these dead people who were trapped in homes and couldn’t get out. I felt really bad for them, and above all it was them that I wanted to help the most. It really started with me wanting to help the dead more than the living!” *laughs* “The way that the living deal with death and dying and the dead sometimes irritates me. Trying to understand living individuals’ perspective on these things has been a real learning experience for me. I try to educate them so that they have a bit more compassion for those who have passed. We tend to Westernize the subject of death here. It’s very sterilized and we try to keep the subject away from us, but it’s not. It’s something that we’re all going to experience.

That being said, Amy got immediately to work.

“Over the years I began working with private detectives and police officers and agents. The way that we do the show is very similar to what I did while out in the field. When the idea for the show came about, it was imperative that my partner be someone that was an outside source. Someone who wasn’t biased by me and hadn’t worked with me. That was Steve [Di Schiavi]. It’s an amazing thing that we have together. We work really, really well with each other. He’s an amazing guy, and he knows his shit! *laughs*

Exclusive: Opening The Dead Files - An In-Depth Interview with Amy Allan


CONTINUE TO PAGE 2 FOR MORE!


Collectively Amy and Steve have now worked dozens of cases together. Most infamous for this writer is “Fear at the Family Tree” (Season 2, Episode 2), in which she encountered something truly ghastly that could only be described as demonic in nature.

“Its appearance was a bit like that,” says Amy of the demon-like misshapen creature, “but what this being consisted of was actually the souls of ordinary dead people. These souls were combined to make up this being which took all of these individuals’ negative aspects and created this incredibly negative entity that is still tagging people who, when they die, will have their soul claimed and integrated into this thing’s whole. Just last week I received an e-mail from the clients, and they are now moving forward with the cleansing I suggested. The actions of this entity were a big worry for me because not only are the owners at risk of dying and being sucked into that hell, but everyone who goes there is as well. It wasn’t just about the legal occupants. It was about all of these people.

Pretty frightening stuff, and lord knows in order to do this kind of thing you need a pretty rough exterior. So then the question beckoned, has there ever been anything out there that she has encountered that was too much for her?

“I really didn’t like the Santa Fe Prison” (Season 2, Episode 10). “That place was really bad. It made me violently ill. My experiences there have stayed with me for a long time. I absolutely hated that location. I have never ever seen such evil. There was an entity there that I would call a devil. It had so much power, and I could sense that it was never human. It was beyond anything I’ve ever known or dealt with. They didn’t show the scene on the show, but we went into the execution room and I was literally rendered absolutely speechless. It was so overwhelming and horrible. Yeah, that place needs to go. Knock it down… if you really need to put something there, just put like a parking lot.

Exclusive: Opening The Dead Files - An In-Depth Interview with Amy Allan

With “The Dead Files” returning to Travel Channel this October, we asked Allan what viewers could expect from the new episodes. Being that they’re still shooting, there wasn’t much that she could say; however, she did have this to offer fans:

“Steve and I have been talking about new places that we’d really like to cover,”says Allan. “One of them is the Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa. That’s something we both would very much like to do to see if we can find out what really happened there and who was behind it. I personally still wish for the Amityville house. I want that so bad. It’s just a fascinating case. For the new season Steve and I have run into a lot of creepy things thus far. Things we have never seen before. It’s shocking, ya know? I think I’ve seen it all, and then no. I’m going to places that I never would have had access to before. The living people I’m encountering along with the dead who surround them… Every time it’s different. Some people ask me, ‘Well why were you so shocked? You’ve been doing this forever.’ What they don’t realize is that it’s not a cookie-cutter kind of thing. It’s never the same. You just cannot expect anything.”

She added, “There’s no place that I wouldn’t investigate. I’m up for anything. I would LOVE to do some international locations. I’d do it in a heartbeat. I lived in Yugoslavia for a long time and have done a lot of traveling, and let me tell you, there is A LOT out there.”

There are a lot of dangerous things in the paranormal field that fledgling ghost hunters and even people just screwing around could find themselves facing. It’s really easy to do something wrong, and Allan had this to say about a very common practice – the usage of Ouija boards…

“Yeah, I don’t like Ouijas. The thing about them that is different than other tools is that it’s a summoning device. What you are doing is you are calling out things… whether it’s dead people or some kind of other scary thing, you are opening a door to let everything and anything in. People need to look at that. This is not just a game; it is a summoning device. You are summoning things to you. When you do that, you are in it for the long haul. You’re screwed.

From there Amy had some words for people out there who are interested in this most controversial subject… advice on how to go about investigating the proper way.

“There’s a true learning curve to doing this. If you’re passionate and this is something that you really want to do, take some time to read the literature that’s out there. Read about parapsychology, look at the studies. Look at what the proper instruments you need are and find out how they can be applicable in the field. Always do your research first before you go running out there and jumping off the cliff. Through that research and study you will learn how to do it right and, more importantly, how to do it safely. “

Sounds like some good advice, if you ask us. New episodes of “The Dead Files” return beginning Friday, October 5th, and this season also features a number of “Dead Files Revisited” episodes in which Amy and Steve look back on previous investigations and follow up with the clients.

Big thanks to Amy for her time, and a shout-out to Stephanie DePietro for her help in making this happen.

Exclusive: Opening The Dead Files - An In-Depth Interview with Amy Allan

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Hell Night Blu-ray Review – Mischief & Mayhem At Mongoloid Manor

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Starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Suki Goodwin, Vincent Van Patten

Directed by Tom DeSimone

Distributed by Scream Factory


1981. Prime time for the slasher film, when studios were more than content to pump out one after another since production cost was often so low. The downside, though, was that many wound up being formulaic and, eventually, forgotten. Time has allowed the cream to rise to the top of that crop and while Hell Night (1981) isn’t among the best it does stand out due to some novel choices made by director Tom DeSimone and executive producer Chuck Russell, the man responsible for some of the most consistently entertaining horror films of the ‘80s. A dilapidated mansion, oozing with gothic atmosphere, stands in place of a college campus or generic forest setting. Characters are dressed in formal costume; a stark departure from typical ‘80s teen garb. The film is half haunted house, half crazed killer and there is a not-entirely-unexpected-but-definitely-welcome twist at the end providing a solid jolt to a beleaguered climax. Fans are rightly excited to see Hell Night makes its debut in HD, though the final product is still compromised despite Scream Factory’s best efforts.

It’s Hell Night, every fraternity brother’s favorite evening; when new recruits are tormented in hazing rituals from, well, Hell. Peter (Kevin Brophy), president of the vaunted Alpha Sigma Rho house, comes up with the brilliant idea to have four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Denise (Suki Goodwin), and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) – spend the night in a decaying mansion. But this isn’t just any old house, as Peter regales a rapt audience – this is where former owner Raymond Garth killed his wife and three malformed children before hanging himself, sparing only the life of his son, Andrew, who was rumored to reside within the place after the murders. The pledges enter Garth Manor and quickly pair off, with Marti and Jeff getting intellectual while Denise and Seth take a more physical path.

A few hours pass and Peter returns with some of his bros, planning to initiate a few good scare pranks they set up earlier that week. The chuckles don’t last long, though, because Jeff and Seth quickly find the shoddy wiring and poorly placed speakers rigged upstairs. What they don’t know is that there is an actual killer on the loose, and he just decapitated one of the girls. Leaving the labyrinthine home proves difficult, with Marti & Jeff getting lost within the catacombs beneath the estate, evading their mongoloid menace however possible. Seth, meanwhile, has to scale a massive spiked fence if they hope to get any help way out here. Wait, didn’t Peter mention something about Andrew having a sibling?

The production team on this picture was a beast, and I’m convinced that’s the chief reason why it came out any good at all; specifically, the involvement of Chuck Russell and Irwin Yablans. I give a bit less credit to director Tom DeSimone, who up to that point (and after it) filled his filmography with lots and lots of gay porn; storyline and direction are usually secondary in that market. Hell, they even had Frank Darabont running around set as a P.A. which is just a cool fact because nobody listens to P.A.s on a film set. Music is just as important, too, and composer Dan Wyman is a synth master who worked with John Carpenter on his early films. His score here is reminiscent of those lo-fi masterpieces.

Solid atmosphere and rounded characters make all the difference. Instead of a roster of stereotypical sophomoric faces the bulk of the film focuses on four individuals with personality and a bit of depth. Blair makes a good turn as the bookish good girl type, while Barton is a charming match for her mentally, showing interest in more than just a drunken hookup. Denise and Seth are both superficial, and their interactions inject the most humor into the film. Denise continually calling Seth “Wes” is one example. A good horror film gets the audience invested in who lives and dies, and while I won’t go so far as to say these are exemplary characters the script does make them three-dimensional and not so paper thin.

The 1.85:1 1080p image is sourced from a 4K restoration of an archival 35mm print with standard definition inserts. This is a step up from Anchor Bay’s old DVD but not by leaps and bounds. Colors attain greater saturation and definition is tightened but the picture looks awfully soft too often and the jump between HD and SD footage is plain as day. The print displays vertical scratches and white flecks. Black levels are decent but there is clear room for improvement across the board. To their credit this is the best image Scream Factory was able to produce but fans should temper expectations going in because this is not a pristine picture by any means.

There is nothing wrong to be found with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, which does a fine job of carrying the dialogue alongside Dan Wyman’s sinister synth soundtrack. Direction is limited and the presentation is routine, but no problems were detected and the track capably supports the feature. Subtitles are available in English.

Here is where Scream Factory does their best to make up for the shortcomings of the a/v presentation: a ton of extra features.

An audio commentary track features actress Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone, and producers Irwin Yablans & Bruce Cohn Curtis.

“Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror” – This is a recent discussion with the actress, who covers her run in the genre in addition to diving deep into this film’s difficult production.

“Hell Nights with Tom DeSimone” – Shot on location at the Garth Manor (actually Kimberly Crest Estate in Redlands, CA), DeSimone reflects back on shooting the film there over 35 years ago.

“Peter Barton: Facing Fear” – The actor offers up expected discussion, covering his career in horror and navigating the Hollywood scene.

“Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis” – This covers more of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the movie.

“Writing Hell” – Screenwriter Randy Feldman offers up some insight into his process for creating the story and writing the script.

“Vincent Van Patten & Suki Goodwin in Conversation” – The two actors, who have not seen each other in quite some time, sit down together for a back-and-forth discussion.

“Kevin Brophy & Jenny Neumann in Conversation” – This is another chat conducted the same way as Van Patten & Goodwin.

“Gothic Design in Hell Night” – Art director Steven Legler talks about his process for turning Garth Manor into how it is seen on film; evoking the right chilling atmosphere.

“Anatomy of the Death Scenes” – Pam Peitzman, make-up artist, and John Eggett, special effects, scrutinize each of the film’s kill scenes and discuss what went into achieving them.

“On Location at Kimberly Crest” – DeSimone guides viewers on a tour of the “Garth Manor” as it can be seen today.

A theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a radio spot, and a photo gallery are the remaining features.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K Scan of the film taken from the best surviving archival print
  • NEW interviews with actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann
  • Audio Commentary with Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • Original Theatrical Trailer & TV spots
  • Blu-ray Disc Exclusives:
    • NEW interview with Director Tom DeSimone
    • NEW interview with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis
    • NEW interview with Writer Randolph Feldman
    • NEW – Anatomy of the Death Scenes with Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler and Special Effects artist John Eggett
    • NEW – On Location at the Kimberly Crest House with Tom DeSimone
    • NEW – Gothic Design in Hell Night with Steven G. Legler
    • Original Radio spot
    • Photo Gallery featuring rare, never-before-seen stills
  • Hell Night
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

“Hell Night” overcomes being lumped in with standard slasher fare thanks to dripping atmosphere, unique production design, and characters that elicit some empathy. The a/v presentation leaves much to be desired but a plethora of bonus features softens that blow.

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Video: The Shape of Water Q&A with Guillermo del Toro and Doug Jones at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre

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This past weekend at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA betwixt a double screening of The Shape of Water and the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the former’s director Guillermo del Toro (and star Doug Jones) sat down to discuss the latter’s influence on the film, Gill-man sex, “one sock movies,” his career in the genre, and more with moderator Jonah Ray, and we were there to film a portion of it.

Our sincere thanks to American Cinematheque general manager Dennis Bartok for extending the invitation.

For more Cinematheque screenings, visit the official website here.

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The Open House Review – Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

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Starring Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins

Written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote

Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote


Mere weeks, even days, after effusively beating Netflix’s original horror content drum (The Babysitter, Before I Wake, Creep 2), I’m here to confirm that The Open House is emptier than an vacant bomb shelter. Cold, unappealing and thoughtlessly plotted to the point where “generic” would have been an improvement. From the moment we’re welcomed into Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s scripted imprisonment, it’s nothing but loose floorboards and busted plumbing. The home invasion genre has rarely been navigated with such little attention to detail, asking for our suspension of coherent storytelling early, often, and without earning the right to be deemed mindless genre fun. Not even Ty Pennington could save this extreme renovation disaster.

Dylan Minnette plays Logan Wallace, a track star and student who must find closure after watching his father fall victim to a fatal car accident. It is his mother Naomi’s (Piercey Dalton) idea to spend a little time away from their suburban home – escape those painful memories – so they retreat to her sister’s luxurious mountain getaway. The catch? It’s in the process of being sold and open houses are on the regular, so Naomi and Logan must vacate their temporary premises on certain days. It’s after one of these very showings that Logan begins to notice slight changes around the house, and he fears that an unwanted visitor may be in their midst. Guess what? He’s right.

To understand how little The Open House cares about conscious blueprinting, just read the poster’s tagline. “You can’t lock out what’s already inside” – right, but you could have prevented them from coming in, or checked the house to make sure they weren’t squatting, or explored numerous other possibilities to avoid this scenario. The mansion’s realtor allows prospective buyers to come and go but it’s not her job to make sure no one’s hiding in the basement? Naomi can’t even keep track of the *single* visitor she lets look around the house? It’s infuriating to see so many people neglect safety out of forced coincidence because the script couldn’t rationalize the killer’s entry any other way – a confounding strike one.

This is also a film that admits no reasoning for why its own murderer has targeted the Wallaces, or why he stokes a violent fetish when it comes to open houses. We never actually see his face, just his imposing handyman-looking attire, nor do we savor any kind of tangible backstory (his family died during their own open house and he suffered a psychotic breakdown – just give me *something*). His undefined form never demands curiosity like John Carpenter’s “The Shape” once did, because scripting is nothing more than bullet notes for basic horror movie necessities. Here he is, your bad guy – too bad he’s introduced without fear, handled without originality and unable to characterize beyond torturous kidnapper dotted lines. He’s just, you know, a guy who sneaks into open houses and kills – COMPLETE WITH A FINAL PAN-IN ON AN OPEN HOUSE SIGN WHEN HE MOVES TO HIS NEXT TARGET [eye roll into infinity].

Every scene in The Open House feels like an afterthought. “Ah, we need a way to build tension – how about a senile local woman who lives down the street and wanders aimlessly into frame?” Overplayed and in no way suitable to most her inclusions, but sure. “Oh, and we need inner conflict – what about if the breaker-iner steals Logan’s phone and frames him for later acts?” I mean, didn’t Logan canonically lose his phone even before Naomi’s mid-shower water heater issues – but sure, instant fake tension. “How are people going to believe the killer is always around and never blows his cover – think they’ll just buy it?” No, we don’t. Worse off, his cat-and-mouse game is dully repetitive until a finale that skyrockets intensity with jarring tonal imbalance. This closing, dreadful end without any sort of redemptive quality. More abusive than it is fulfilling.

If there’s anything positive worth conveying, it’s that Minnette does a fine job shuffling around as a character with severe sight impairment. The killer makes a point to remove his contacts as a final “FUCK YOU,” just to toy around a bit more, and Minnette frantically slips or stumbles with nothing more than foggy vision. Otherwise, dialogue finds itself ripped form a billion other straight-to-TV Logo dramas about broken families, no moment ever utilizing horror past a few shadowy forms standing in doorways after oblivious characters turn away. You can’t just take an overused subgenre and sleepwalk through homogenized beats…case and god-forsaken point.

Even as a streamable Netflix watch, The Open House is irredeemable beyond fault. The walls are caving in on this dilapidated excuse for home invasion horror, benefiting not from the star power of a temperamental Dylan Minnette. I have seen most involved players here in far better projects (Minnette’s stock has rightfully been skyrocketing, Matt Angel in The Funhouse Massacre, etc), but this is bargain bin theatrics without a fully formed idea. A nameless villain, doomed nice guy (Sharif Atkins), woefully unaware plot advancement – all the worst cliches found in one rage-quit worthy effort. Anyone who makes it through deserves an award…or a dunce cap.

  • The Open House
1.0

Summary

Unless you’re irrationally afraid of cold showers, The Open House fails to deliver on a premise that can be summed up by no more than two lines of text.

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