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Bereavement (Blu-ray / DVD)



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Starring Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, Brett Rickaby, Spencer List

Directed by Stevan Mena

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment

Whenever modern filmmakers take a stab at the slasher genre, the word “throwback” is often touted as a way for them to say they’ve bridged the fun of our favorite 80s classics with something of a more modern sensibility. To say the vast majority of them miss the point spectacularly isn’t wrong, but every now and again someone gets it right. Such was certainly the case with Stevan Mena’s Malevolence. A meticulously paced (some might say “boring”) slasher story, it featured a creepy killer, jarring musical stings and some pervasive atmosphere. It felt like a bona fide relic of early 1980s filmmaking, which is exactly why it resonated with slasher fans.

For years Mena claimed the story of resident killer Marin Bristol was merely the middle part in a trilogy, but the further we got away from 2004, the less likely it seemed that we would ever return to the ill-fated slaughterhouse that caught so much of the carnage the first time around. But finally we have Bereavement, a prequel set some fifteen years before the events in the first one. This is the story of the deranged madman who kidnapped Martin Bristol and subjected him to years of psychological trauma and brutal murder – resulting in his own career as an eventual mass murderer.

BereavementRight off the bat, Bereavement is going to alienate viewers of a more modern mindset. Mena’s approach to his prequel is better suited to the era of the 1970s, when horror had a slow burn and characters mattered. There are long stretches throughout the film’s 107 minutes where not very much happens outside of little character moments that don’t necessarily advance the story. Mena isn’t interested in recreating the events of Malevolence with a different killer, meaning Bereavement isn’t a slasher film. Sure, there’s murder, but it’s almost never of the stalk ‘n slash variety. Instead, our villain captures young women off rural country roads and brings them back to his abandoned slaughterhouse for a healthy dose of torture before brutally ending their lives. Young Martin witnesses every gruesome detail, and soon his mind begins to decay as well.

That’s a large part of what’s happening throughout the film, but there’s equal focus placed on Allison (Alexandra Daddario), a high school cross-country runner who relocates to rural America to live with her uncle (Michael Biehn) and family after her parents are killed. There’s a bit of an unlikely romantic subplot between Allison and a local boy (Nolan Gerard Funk), lots of family strife and some appropriate parallels drawn between our protagonists and antagonists. Mena’s story weaves a recurring theme about the damage done by overbearing family bonds throughout the narrative, giving his film some welcome substance. The people in Bereavement carry some baggage, making them a lot more human and far more identifiable than standard horror fodder.

And while there’s plenty to appreciate about the measured pace, it’s not entirely successful. There’s perhaps one too many torture sequences early on, making the story feel a bit redundant while we wait for our main characters to cross paths with the psycho. Fortunately, Mena manages some solid set pieces throughout these moments. When the soon-to-be victims try to escape, Bereavement showcases Mena’s deft touch for suspense filmmaking. He doesn’t shy away from the violence either, offering some especially nasty/unsettling fates for his victims.

BereavementSome have balked at the writer/director’s decision to take the focus away from Malevolence’s Martin Bristol; however, Mena was wise to keep the kid in what is probably best summarized as a strong supporting role. Bristol didn’t have any personality in Malevolence, and he’s little more than a traumatized child here. His descent into madness and decision to murder stem more from his ghastly surroundings, further intensified by the literary themes of Mena’s story. The sins of the father are always laid upon the son, and every character in Bereavement struggles with this baggage in some way. For Martin, his eventual slasher status isn’t surprising in this context.

Bereavement is strong horror filmmaking, no doubt. Some aren’t going to like the slow going approach while others will find the gradual build and strong performances more than adequate. It’s an interesting companion to Malevolence and with plenty of merit on its own. The occasional repetition of the first two acts are a slight detriment, as are a few minor story beats (no one in this small town noticed the amazingly suspicious vehicle the killer drives at any of the crime scenes?), but that’s not to carp too much. It was a long time coming, but Bereavement is worth the wait.

Bereavement hits DVD with a strong 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that features crisp detail and strong colors – especially for standard definition. I was not given the Blu-ray although I will amend this section if I can get a look at the 1080p transfer.

The audio holds strong with a 5.1 track. This doesn’t have the musical stings that propelled me from my seat a time or two in Malevolence, but it’s an effective surround track regardless. Good channel separation means that dialogue is always clear while surround channels work well with ambient sounds and music. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with the lossy audio here.

The healthy collection of extras include a standard ‘making-of’ documentary (35 minutes), complete with the usual enthusiasm for a project one usually finds in these things. It’s a nice little look at shooting the prequel, both informative and amusing (Michael Biehn, in particular) – one of the best DVD documentaries I’ve seen lately. It assumes you’ve seen the film so don’t be that one weirdo who watches the documentary first as there are heavy spoilers throughout. There’s also a “First Look” featurette which could’ve just been rolled into the documentary. The handful of deleted scenes are interesting little character bits, well worth a look for fans of the film, though I understand these might’ve been present in one of Mena’s earlier cuts and it’s probably to the film’s advantage that they’re no longer present, pace wise. A relatively interesting (if dry) commentary track with Mena is worth a listen, and a theatrical trailer, TV spot, stills gallery and screenplay (via DVD ROM) round out this set.

Bereavement is quality, as is the collection of supplemental materials Anchor Bay has packed onto the DVD. Hopefully it won’t take Mena another six or seven years to get the final installment in Martin Bristol’s saga off the ground as this is a superior ongoing horror saga – one that’s well worthy of continuation.

Special Features

  • Making of Documentary
  • First Look featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Director’s commentary
  • Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Stills Gallery
  • DVD ROM screenplay


    4 out of 5

    Special Features

    4 out of 5

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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters



    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk

    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)


    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

    User Rating 4.43 (7 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror




    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods

    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.


    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom


    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

    User Rating 4 (11 votes)
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    The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!



    Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

    Directed by Alan Lougher

    The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

    When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

    Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

    • Film


    Ultimately chilling in nature!

    User Rating 3.41 (17 votes)
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