Axemen, Tommyknockers, and Demons! [New Blood Horror Reviews]

indie horror Ghost

It’s that time again, Blood Babes! Time to check out haunting projects from the sinister minds that keep indie horror’s blood pumping. This time, I’m dissecting three fresh horror features from the movie morgue I keep in my DMs. Not because they’re dead, mind you, but resting, waiting until they can rise from the grave and push their metaphorical thumbs into my peering eyes. I hope you’re ready for thrills, chills, kills, bills, dills… uh… quills?… I’m not so good at rhyming. Not really. Anyway, let’s waste no more time on versifications. Let’s see what’s on the block tonight!

Night of the Axe

(Directed by Shawn Wright; Starring Lera Savannah, Kaci Frick, Justin Sisk; 2022)

“A group of young adults, trying to enjoy a high school reunion party, are terrorized by an escaped mental patient obsessed with satisfying his blood lust. One by one they are made victims of the sadistic killer.”

I’ve been out of the slasher loop for a while now, so bear with me. Back in high school, I couldn’t get enough of them, watching every single one I came across at Hollywood Video. Teen Giallo has seen them all, from absolute classics such as Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 and Cry_Wolf, to rental store fodder like Cheerleader Massacre and Scream Bloody Murder.

I used to be a big slasher fan, and I’ve just recently started picking the sub-genre back up again. In fact, a good portion of the indie horror sent to me falls into the category, which isn’t too surprising. I’ve noticed something, though. A lot of these films carry themselves on top of two inspirations: Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I know, surprised me, too. Turns out, most slashers borrow some or a lot from those two flicks, and why wouldn’t they? They’re two of the most successful slashers ever made, so taking a few pointers from them isn’t the worst idea. Shawn Wright’s Night of the Axe is no exception. Can you guess which one it takes from?

Let me be upfront: when I say “takes from”, I mean takes EVERY single piece of candy from the bowl, because this horror film is nothing short of a low-budget remake of Halloween. Which I won’t hold against it too much, because plenty of slashers are exactly that.

Wright brings us the blood-soaked tale of “The Beast”, an escaped mental patient who killed his family as a boy, has a fascination with occult runes, and loves to hack away at unsuspecting victims with a bladed weapon. I told you it’d sound familiar, but we aren’t going to condemn it, since we’re being fair. Right? Good. The well-worn, nostalgic routine follows as a group of pre-murderees throw a party, smoke weed, drink beer, have premarital sex, and get butchered. As expected, most of the characters are insufferable, and those that aren’t have little to no personality. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I suppose. 

However, people don’t watch these flicks for character development. Oh no, we watch for MURDER! The brutal slayings of innocent souls whose only crime is non-abstinence! Is this blood-spray piping hot, or is it a frozen, sluggish trickle?

It’s not ice-cold, but it’s definitely a bit chillier than I’d like. 

Turns out, high-quality slashings are linked to high-quantity budgets, which, sadly, this film didn’t have. Most of the kills are gory discretion shots, and when we do see some guts, it’s not much. The only one that stuck in my mind involved a face getting acquainted with a hot frying pan, and even then it’s pretty minimalist. It doesn’t help that the killer’s main characteristic is a pillowcase with two eye sockets cut out. A clean pillowcase, at that. He must know where to stand to be out of the blood’s splatter zone. Location, location, location!

Overall, the film does what it set out to do, with whatever means it had to do it. Night of the Axe is exactly what you’d expect it to be, so if you’re down for a low-budget slasher with a dull (but all too functional) blade, I’d say check it out. It’d make a great horror flick to have playing in the background of another movie, for sure, so you future filmmakers reach out to Wright about that. Also, Angel Bradford stars as one of the victims AND did the special FX, because she’s everywhere.

You can watch Night of the Axe digitally right here.

“I appreciate you taking the time to watch and review the film and I’m glad that your take is mostly positive. I would have loved to have more and higher quality gore FX but unfortunately there was an avalanche of issues behind the scenes. My original fx artist dropped out on me literally as we were filming the movie. I couldn’t find anyone in such a short span of time. Luckily Angel is also an fx artist. She did her best with almost no prep but unfortunately the lack of time and budget showed. Overall I’m proud of my first feature! I hope that my next feature will impress you and your readers.”

Shawn Wright, Director, Night of the Axe


(Directed by Dillon Brown; Starring Michael Rock, Amanda Morgan, Dillon Brown; 2023)

“When a deadly religious cult begins weaponizing demonic entities, it’s up to a band of church-funded mercenaries to take them down before they unleash Hell on Earth. When word of a Fallen Angel reaches the team, the stakes are raised and the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of one man: Ghost.”

The Horror Dadz—consisting of Dillon Brown, Hunter Nino, and Joshua Brucker—have been expanding their “Cryptidverse” across the indie horror scene like alien weeds in a backwaters yard. With entries like The Flock, Mothman, and Tahoe Joe, their cinematic universe continues to grow with no signs of slowing down! To say I’m proud of these boys would be an understatement. Their passion brings a bloody tear to my eye. 

The latest chapter to the series comes in the form of a semi-sequel of Dillon Brown’s fantastic found footage film, The Flock, following one of the Church’s mercenaries charged with fighting all matters of cultists and demons. That soldier’s name—as well as the title of the movie—is Ghost!

Despite the title, it’s not a ghost movie. I know, I’m relieved, too.

It was surprising to me that Ghost (Michael Rock) was the main character this time around, given that he was in pretty bad shape the last time we saw him. They mention that, though, so that base was covered thankfully. Teamed up with our recently revitalized hero are the ever-silent cameraman Monk (Brown) and the tech-savvy youngster Eve (Amanda Morgan), making a trio of Vatican-ordained demon slayers ready to kick a whole army of cultist ass for the lord! Guns, swords, monsters, buddy cop banter; it’s all there. However, is all of it used to present an effective story of asskickery and demonic debauchery? Well, I can confidently say it does… to a degree.

So, here’s the gist: a bunch of Christ Commandos hunt down demon-summoning cultists, and somewhere along the line, shenanigans ensue. Sounds a bit familiar, right? Yep, that’s one-third of The Flock’s plot, how astute of you to notice. That may sound like a critique, but that was honestly my favorite part of that flick. So Brown dedicating a whole film to that general arc isn’t a bad idea in my grimoire. The concept of a monster-slaying organization saving the world will never not be a fun horror concept. I mean, just look at Hellboy and Hellsing! T

That being said, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t think the narrative was told nearly as well in Ghost. This is going to sound like I’m contradicting myself, but give me a chance to explain—I felt it was too similar to The Flock.

Now, I didn’t think doing an identical premise was a bad idea. Take a familiar route, but fork off into new territory, to view some new scenery, so to speak. Ghost doesn’t do that enough— the plot beats are TOO familiar. Cult wanting to summon demons, holy gunmen hunting cult, shootouts in cultist compounds, etc. Granted, there are some notable deviations, like the inclusion of demon-possessed minions doing their best deadite impressions and a more tongue-in-cheek response to the horrors faced. Also, the ending is more upbeat, which is pretty satisfying and complementary to The Flock’s bleaker sendoff.

When it comes to the film’s script, it felt like there wasn’t one at points. As I discovered, there’s a reason for that—there isn’t. That’s right, this film was completely improved, which I count as a pretty impressive feat. Sure, it’s a bit noticeable at times, but expecting the entire improvisation to run flawlessly is unrealistic. Because of this, however, the performances aren’t necessarily consistent, with some being better than others.

Michael Rock sailed it home as Ghost for the most part, which, being the hero of the story, I’m told is pretty important. Ave Morgan also does her role well, but there are a few points where the improvised nature of the film causes her to stumble. That goes for Rock, too, and pretty much everybody else. Nature of the beast, I suppose. 

Anyway, everyone else in the film ranges from “pretty fun” to “interesting choice”. For example, Vernon Wells (of Commando fame) as Ghost’s less-than-loving father who gives him a sword to fight demons is pretty fun! Regg Davidson as the very soft-spoken priest who assigns Ghost his missions and sounds like a youth pastor is an interesting choice. That’s not a sarcastic “interesting,” though it may read like one. Genuinely looking forward to the commentary track so I can get some insight into the casting choices. Overall, the cast does their job and there’s no performance that distracted me enough to take me out of the film, which is all I ask.

“Was there anything that DID take you out of the film, though? Anything that particularly bugged you, Giallo? Perhaps something that was used WAY too much? That needed to be dialed back?

Well, not that you mention it…

There are way—WAY—too many after-effects used to make the film look more visually engaging, causing me to actively disengage numerous times because of the sheer amount of unnecessary visual noise added in post. However, I can forgive them due to the low budget of the film. Dillon’s just using what he could to make it more visually appealing. Missing the mark for me doesn’t mean it missed the mark for others. That, and he told me this movie was an exercise to get more familiar with how these effects work, which is something I can always respect. The best way to learn a new skill is to practice it whenever you can! I know they’ll look better next time!

On the other hand, the practical FXs look GREAT, just like they did in The Flock. The monster masks supplied by Immortal Masks are appropriately ghoulish, and Brown doesn’t disappoint when it comes to DIY horror ingenuity.

When it comes down to the blood and guts of it all, I found Ghost to be a fun late-night hour and a half spent. Sure, I have my complaints, but I think this film succeeded in being exactly what it intended to be —an action-horror throwback to the creature features and shoot-em-up romps of the 80s. It could’ve been a whole lot worse, but it wasn’t going to be with Brown behind the camera.

Ghost is currently streaming on Tubi, which you can watch right here, and POV Horror, which you can sign up for right here.

“I respect all of your critiques and even agree with some of them myself. At the end of the day, I’m always trying to learn and grow, and I didn’t have any kind of film schooling or training to get me where I am today. But what I did have was movies. I watched movies constantly as a child and I tried to mimic what I saw in many of those bad 80s flicks that I adored. So sure, some of my decisions may not be for everyone, or hell, for anyone outside of my personal tastes, but I’m super happy with the film and the fact I got to work with war veterans to make a silly demon hunting story was a dream come true. And we aren’t stopping. I’ll take every critique to heart, but I won’t waver in my decision making, either. Always learning and above all, just having fun behind the camera.”

Dillon Brown, Director, Ghost

Night of the Tommyknockers

(Directed by Michael Su; Starring Richard Grieco, Tom Sizemore, Robert LaSardo; 2022)

“When miners blast for gold in the 1870s, they accidentally release ancient creatures known as Tommyknockers. The Town of Deer Creek, Nevada is soon under siege with only a handful of survivors held up in the local saloon.”

I reckon y’all know how much I fancy horror-westerns by now, partners. Shoot, sometimes that’s all the persuasion I need to check a movie out. Luckily for me, the subgenre’s been catching steam lately, with a new flick popping up every other fortnight. Sure, some of them aren’t so great, but there’s gold in them there hills if you’re willing to mine for it. Here’s the question: Is Michael Su’s Night of the Tommyknockers the horror-western windfall we’re always hoping for? 

Yes and no.

Here’s the deal. I’ve watched this flick twice before writing this piece, and I’m sure glad I did. Otherwise, I would’ve been WAY harsher on it than I’m going to end up being. On my initial viewing, I wasn’t too keen on the film. Now that I’ve seen it twice, I know that was due to my own expectations. Fully my fault! Bone Tomahawk spoiled me, and raised my standards to unreasonable levels. Since I was able to revisit Night of the Tommyknockers with my expectations properly tempered, my cold attitude towards it has risen to “lukewarm”. Maybe even “warm”, depending on the day and my caffeine intake. All the issues I had are still present, it’s just I’ve been able to add some unissues to the posse.

Let’s suck out the venom first and get my grievances out of the way. The biggest snake in my boot is the film’s plot, and by plot, I mean PLOTS. There’s a lot of them. Too many! This isn’t inherently a flaw in a feature-length film, but the bigger issue is most of them don’t have a payoff, their fuses fizzling without a satisfactory detonation. It leaves you wondering why they were even included in the first place.

Frontierswoman rides into town looking for her husband? No need to resolve that. Old man tracks down the gang who killed his brother? That’s not important enough for longer than five minutes. Bounty hunter tries to kill the “heroes” (more on them later)? Oh yeah, I forgot about that, squeeze him into the end! That’s just a few examples, but you get the idea.

It feels like the creators wanted to fit every Western plot they could into the flick, just in case we forgot what genre we were in or something. Here’s the thing, though: any one of those plots would perfectly complement the main narrative. If only they chose ONE. Maybe two, if they were feeling spicy. This also carries to said central plots, of which there are two: outlaws traveling to a monster-infested town to rob its bank, and townspeople trying to survive in said monster-infested town. The film’s juggling a lot of guns here, and not nearly enough of them go off in the end to make it worth it. Or would it be better if they don’t go off? Maybe there’s too much going on in my metaphor, too.

Another thing that blew my stack was the characters. First of all, there’s a ton of them. Too many! With new ones being introduced all the way to the very end! In most cases, they just serve to add to the body count, which is fine. However, I felt that the time could’ve been better spent developing the thirty characters already established.

Second, most of the later players are more likable than the protagonists. I get they’re outlaws, so their being relatable probably wasn’t a priority. But the problem is that they’re also just not as interesting as the supporting cast. Dirk (the gang leader, played by Richard Grieco) and Lucky (the “Wild Card”, played by Robert LaSardo) have the most personality of the wild bunch. But despite that, I wasn’t concerned about if they’d be around when the credits rolled. For the few moments the townspeople shared the screen, I found them way more enjoyable to watch, and was genuinely sad when they were eaten by monsters.

Also, the film makes the somewhat avant-garde choice of switching the main characters in the last fifteen minutes. Haven’t quite seen that before. Interesting strategy. Unless it wasn’t intended. Unfortunately, either way, it didn’t pay off.

Alright, got all the snake spit out, let’s get to the positives! What new things did I come to appreciate after my rewatch? Well, they used actual monster suits for the titular Tommyknockers, which is something I’ll always raise my glass to. In addition, a good bit of the gore is practical FX as well. Not all of it. There are some instances of CGI blood and gory discretion shots in the form of persons being dragged off-screen. But there’s enough to be commended.

Some of the acting is also solid, in particular Greico, LaSardo, Angela Cole (Betsy), and Denny Nolan (Henry). Especially Nolan, who had the absolute honor of saying the best one-liner in the whole flick, “Here’s BLOOD in your eye,” spouted out while having a shot of whiskey.

When it comes down to the beans and bacon, this isn’t the best Creature Feature Western I’ve seen. But in the right mindset, it’s a fun one. It’d be unfair to ask for more than what it intended. Also, the late, great Tom Sizemore makes an appearance, which is always a good reason to take a gander.

You can watch Night of the Tommyknockers digitally right here.

Thanks to the creators who shared their horror creations with me, and a special thanks to those who responded! Tune in next time where we’ll slice open a few more cinematic cadavers, and see what delectable morsels wait to be revealed.

Until next time…

Ciao, friends!

Giallo Julian’s Twitter – Facebook – Letterboxd



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