Film Review: “Murder in the Woods”

  • MURDER IN THE WOODS
  • Starring: José Julián, Jeanette Samano and Danny Trejo
  • Directed by: Luis Iga Garza
  • Rated: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 30 minutes
  • REZINATE entertainment

This is an equation we’re all familiar with. Woodsy atmosphere plus amply endowed and oversexed girls plus alcohol, minus clothing divided by a grim anniversary equals amateur orgy meets bloodbath.

“Murder in the Woods,” from writer/director Luis Iga Garza, pulls a lot of familiar notes together with a Latina influence to deliver a safe but enjoyably brisk slash-y adventure. The film features a cast full of Latino actors intended for mainstream English speaking audiences. The absence of cultural stereotypes is refreshing and, frankly, demanded in 2020. It’s interesting to see how this story pulls cues from, essentially, an entire decade of slasher tropes whilst turning that genre on it’s head.

Pressing forward as audiences increasingly support (and insist on) elevating voices of creators of color it can be assumed that this will become more the norm. That said, I can only help that titles like this will prove to be a gateway for more original storytelling to highlight spooky delights from new ancestral wells. It’s imperative that if this route is important to you that you demand it with your support of projects like this. It may very well be the first American slasher featuring exclusively actors of color and that is very much an achievement of note.

That being said, “Murder in the Woods” is rather aggressively force feeding a large helping of nostalgic nods so your enjoyment of this film is going to be largely dependent on if throwbacks are still your jam or not. Although refreshingly diverse, this circle of youths is here to remind us that, no matter their skin color, entitled suburbanites can only behave so progressively.

The trusted roles of smart virgin, loose popular girl and frat-bros are still going strong here. Spooky local sheriff? They made sure Danny Trejo was strong-armed in for that quota too. So again, if the punishment of badly behaved teens via plentiful gore is still in your wheelhouse then this one is a go for you – and face it, sometimes that’s the comfort food that all horror fans crave. After a stint at drive-ins last month, MURDER is coming to VOD on September 18th and I think this might be a perfect title to recreate the drive-in atmosphere in your backyard via projector if that’s plausible. Some popcorn and an outdoor ambiance with flashlights and friends might be all you need to let this one headline a solid night of jump scares and fun. 

Streaming Review: “Soul City”

  • Soul City
  • Starring: Omar J. Dorsey and Deneen Tyler
  • Directed by: Coodie & Chike 
  • Not Rated
  • Running Time: 15 minute episodes (3)
  • Topic
  • First Look Media

“In the City of a Million Dreams….Nightmares Come Knocking At Your Door.”


Fans of the horror anthology subgenre have had plenty to feast on these past few years. A resurgence of the format has seen success in Netflix’s Black Mirror, Hulu’s Into The Dark and, most recently, horror-specific streaming service Shudder’s Creepshow. The short run-time format allows for creative risk taking in stories that might be a gamble as a full length feature and, often, the result is evidence of a focused passion for storytelling and intention with little to no room for any unnecessary fluff.


Soul City, a new anthology series from the streaming service Topic, delivers its first season of three psychological horror mini-sodes from creators and directors Coodie and Chike. The season specific landscape set to explore multicultural, urban populations: this inaugural season set in New Orleans. 
Each of the three episodes are a tight fifteen minutes, each succinctly exploring the New Orleans vibe in different ways. An easy time investment to soak in the ambiance of perusing the city and all its gritty corners, haunts within odd street shops, southern religious fanaticism and dark magic. While there is certainly room for Coodie and Chike to grow as directors within the genre, they’re most definitely a welcome addition to the scene where persons of color still remain a minority despite the demand for representation of the genre’s viewership demographics. Soul City is thrilling for providing a platform to showcase New Orleans on screen as a locale that’s perfect for genre lovers to further examine its lush, spooky history. Coodie and Chike’s previous history within the music video sector brings a definitive confidence in visual storytelling that shines in the series especially in its second episode. 

The potential for a revolving city-specific format is intriguing and exciting. Think American Horror Story but regionally based. With New York and Los Angeles so outrageously over-represented on film it’s encouraging to see the possibilities for overlooked cities, domestic and abroad, to be dissected and celebrated for their own unique regional terrors.

SOUL CITY will be premiering on April 30, 2020 exclusively on Topic, the streaming service from First Look Media.

Film Review: “Color Out of Space”

COLOR OUT OF SPACE
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Madeleine Arthur
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins
RJLE Films


     Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re going to plunge into a pool of psychedelically deranged lunacy you might as well jump in feet first. Richard Stanley has arrived with a holiday gift that’s a little late but greatly appreciated and it’s gift wrapped in Alpaca fur. Its contents is the offspring of the trifecta of mania that no one imagined they’d ever see but secretly wished for: Cult-favorite director, Richard Stanley adapting a nearly century old tale of cosmically horrifying oddity by H.P. Lovecraft, top-lined by Nicolas Cage, who is maybe strictly here to ooze an excess of eccentricity (which is okay because it’s working!)   

 “Color Out of Space” opens with an excerpt of Lovecraft’s story, guiding us through a tour of rolling vegetative forestry, swollen from mist and fog. Combined with the onset of composer Colin Stetson’s majestic score (a follow up to his unforgettable work on Ari Aster’s “Hereditary”), it is clear that if nothing else the audience should buckle in for a highly satisfying visual and aural experience.     

The Gardner family has moved into an  inherited remote farmhouse to recollect and cope with matriarch Theresa’s (Joely Richardson) cancer diagnosis. Her husband, Nathan, (Nicolas Cage) has been dealing with his newfound domestic isolation by raising alpacas. Their three children are settling in individually via decidedly caricatured teenage ways – son Benny (Brendan Meyer) has started smoking pot with a local squatter-weirdo named Ezra (Tommy Chong, naturally) while their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) has taken to theatrically carrying around a copy of Lovecraft’s omnipresent Necronomicon and practicing spells whilst cloaked on a white horse. Lavinia’s meeting of a local hydrologist turns the faucet on for a slow drip of Easter eggs that will please Lovecraftian fans everywhere, placing this story specifically just outside fictional Arkham, MA with references to H.P.’s Miskatonic University and other locations peppered in.   

 The Gardner family is barely settled in when a  luminous meteorite crashes in front of their house. Curiosity not to be ignored, the family investigate and while the children complain of high-pitched sounds, Nathan continuously and independently notes it is emanating a horrific unidentifiable odor…  right before remembering he has to tend to the alpacas.      

Things progress quickly from here. The hydrologist advises the Gardners that he suspects the area’s water table may be unsuitable to consume, the meteorite deteriorates and disappears into the Earth, their farm is suddenly billowing with exotic, colorful and alien plant and animal life. So, yes, now there’s exotic animal life AND alpacas. We learn that whatever the meteorite was… it’s in the water, it’s in the soil and it’s universe altering. It’s part of the farm and now it’s become a part of the Gardners and if you’re here for the Nicolas Cage variety hour, now is the time to prepare for some full-force scenery chewing.     

The family’s afflictions are all uniquely fashioned. Their youngest child is hearing voices coming from the family’s well, Nathan and Theresa become aggressively manic with their children and Lavinia can’t stop puking meteorite juice. Things are about to get a little… well, psychedelic.     

There’s no time for a why, how or what else after because this movie is ultimately singularly about the destruction of this one family and their space. Color Out of Space’s third act brings a full artillery of body horror, gore and disgusting imagery that’s stitched together with brain-melting and fur-sliming sequences of fantastical imagery and effects. Did I mention the alpacas?! Nathan tells his family they’re the animal of the future and they are most certainly the apex of this glorious fever dream.  At this juncture some viewers may feel that narrative has fallen casualty to special effect work, a sacrifice I’m happily willing to make if I must for a film like this, but ultimately the unknown is very much your co-pilot here.   

 There needs to be more Richard Stanley in Hollywood and certainly more Lovecraft.  Arguably there’s probably JUST enough Nic Cage but when he hits, it’s a home run of wild eyed lunacy that’s always welcome in my universe.      

The brilliance of Lovecraft’s story is that it’s terror is limited only by the confines of one’s imagination. Put to screen it will immediately never satisfy all fans and therefore this film is probably best utilized as an experience of your senses. This is a film to see in a theater if it all possible given its limited release. “Color Out of Space” will check all the boxes if you’re looking for satisfying cosmic horror, a colorful Lovecraftian journey or if you’re just scratching an itch for wanting to watch Cage’s mind unravel for awhile and it will do and or all of these things with the dial turned to eleven.

Film Review: “This Is Our Home”

THIS IS OUR HOME

Starring: Simone Policano, Jeff Ayars, Drew Beckas
Directed by: Omri Dorani
Rated: Not Rated
Running time: 1 hr 13 mins
Uncork’d Entertainment

  We meet Reina (Simone Policano) and Cory (Jeff Ayars) in what could be one of the most memorable moments of their relationship. Reina eagerly fidgets while trying to share the news that she’s pregnant. The next scene is something most parents will find touching and familiar… our couple, intertwined, in a playful and intimate baby-naming brainstorming session. Things are going well and we’re optimistic for these people who seem like a nice team. The next scene shares a fleeting and incredibly terrifying and intimate moment where you begin to watch the process of mourning that child. This moment alone will decide what how the rest of this film is received depending on the audience’s personal experience.    

Reina and Cory head upstate to her family vacation home, secluded in the woods. A relaxing few days, of which we can only assume is intended to serve as a last-ditch effort relationship repair. Scene after scene they become more unbearable to observe together and then an unexpected third party joins them, a child who has seemingly emerged from the woods claiming to be their son. Drew Beckas, who portrays Zeke, brings a remarkable set of eccentricities to his new family unit. His arrival, received by his “parents” in violently varying ways, is agonizing to watch. His age, mannerisms, vocal cadence or the toddler-like prance that doesn’t match his adolescent body all make the second half of the film unsettling and strangely efficient.       

After their initial agreement to call the authorities about his arrival, Zeke separates the couple for one on one time, finding Reina submitting to her maternal instincts (and grief) and Cory growing increasingly more agitated and threatened. Both drawn into different corners of madness, the story commits to serving as a psychological thriller when layers of their relationship are peeled back and you start to question how much of what you’re viewing is actually happening, where it’s happening and why?

     “This is Our Home” is the equivalent to being a guest at a highly dysfunctional family dinner. You go home, glad you’re not related to these people but with a great story to discuss with others. It’s 73 minute run time falls just short of feeling complete. An early sequence involving the couple’s interaction with some backwoods-y motorists feels wedged in to an otherwise claustrophobic story. There’s additionally several unnecessary lingering shots that unnecessarily pad the film’s short runtime for style’s sake. Director Omri Dorani still makes a very worthwhile attempt at constructing a very horrific study of the demolition of a relationship. His storytelling commits to trusting his audience to piece together their own interpretation warranted a few days digestion and earned a second viewing dissection where it proved even more effective.  

Film Review: “Animal Among Us”

ANIMAL AMONG US
Starring: Larisa Oleynik, Erin Daniels and Heather Tom
Directed by: John Woodruff
Not Rated
Running time: 1 hr 30 mins
Uncork’d Entertainment

“This is a movie about a monster.” Author Roland Baumgarner’s (Christian Oliver) first and only successful writing venture found him fame by exploiting the mysterious deaths of two young girls at the family owned Camp Merrymaker. His novel helped to simultaneously draw curious and fanatical Sasquatch hunters to the area and cause the camp to shut down. Years later, Roland is living his own personal blasé-suburban nightmare and, without a sophomore success to his name, has resigned himself to teaching creative writing to a group of uninspired young writers.

     When Roland receives a strange fan letter in the mail – inviting him to return to  Camp Merrymaker for it’s grand reopening – he jumps at the opportunity to use the event to get his creative juices flowing. However, upon his arrival, he quickly realizes the proprietors of the camp, sisters Anita and Poppy (Larisa Oleynik and Christine Donlon), shouldn’t rush to open their gates to guests just yet. As hidden agendas and bloodied Sasquatch investigators emerge from the depths of the woods, Roland finds himself spiraling into the kind of real life terror that, incidentally, would make for a great book.


      Director John Woodruff is a lifelong genre fan and has crafted his first feature film with his bleeding monster kid heart on his sleeve. It’s filled with loving nods to a variety of classic horror films with all the key players of a traditional summer camp slasher present: the foreboding, woodsy atmosphere, creative special effects, the short shorts, the badly behaved counselors and the looming ever-present threat of death but “Animal Among Us” finds its own unique and emotionally honest voice by weaving in themes of obsession and revenge. It’s never exploitative or gratuitous, explores marital relationships with refreshing albeit uncomfortable honesty and stands out by utilizing every minute of its ninety minute run time to expand a creature feature into a multi-layer monster movie that will really keep you guessing who you’re rooting for.