‘The first movie made for the home video market… Might just scare you to death!’
Blood Cult is a 1985 American slasher horror feature film directed by Christopher Lewis from a screenplay by Stuart Rosenthal, with additional dialogue by James Vance.
The movie stars Juli Andelman (The Silent Scream), Charles Ellis, James Vance, Bennie Lee McGowan, Peter Hart, David Stice, Fred Graves and Bob Duffield.
Director Christopher Lewis followed this shot-on-video production with The Ripper (starring Tom Savini) the same year, and then a sequel, the imaginatively-titled Revenge, in 1986.
A secret society gather to worship the god “Canis” and offer the occasional human sacrifice, but they are eventually challenged by a bookish heroine…
“Utilizing a nine day shooting schedule, director Christopher Lewis tells a by-the-number stalk and slash tale with requisite nods to Halloween and Psycho, but with some gore thrown in for good measure … he’s a bland if capable director who gets some reasonable mileage out of his slasher scenes, but pads out his running time interminably with scenes of characters sitting around and talking.” Doug Tilley, Daily Grindhouse
“To the film’s credit, there are a few atmospheric scenes, largely because Oklahoma is a naturally atmospheric state. But, for the most part, Blood Cult has a “Grandpa Picked Up a Video Camera And Made A Horror Film” look and feel to it.” Lisa Marie Bowman, HorrorCritic.com
“The opening house sets were great – all lit up perfectly to give off a suburban horror mood … Cheap, but fun. From here onward the acting just takes a dive, and makes room for some of the ugliest people I have ever seen in a horror film. You can only scream so long before we start to realize that your ‘acting’ career starts and ends with Blood Cult.” Josh G, Oh, the Horror!
“Blood Cult never really manages to find its groove, frankly because it doesn’t even seem to be trying to. It’s almost as if Lewis and company were more concerned with just getting the damn thing made and out there than actually producing something remotely worth watching.” Trash Film Guru
“For the bad sound, sucky plotline, crappy acting and misogyny, there’s some cheesy recompense: the killer uses the decapitated head of one victim to beat her roommate with; severed fingers are found in a salad, and they had the audacity to call the sorority house where the first murder occurs Chi Omega!” Vegan Voorhees
Tahlequah and Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
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Thomas Wilde investigates a religious cult in 1970’s South America in his hands-on preview of stealth action game The Church in the Darkness.
Usually, when a creepy eschatological cult shows up in a video game, it’s with a total lack of subtlety. They’re sacrificing people to demons, worshipping an elder god, or are all at least half tentacles by volume. The most low-key depiction of a cult that I can think of offhand, up to this point, is in Outlast 2 and you’re still forced to wade through a pile of their victims within the first fifteen minutes.
The Church in the Darkness, by comparison, is more about suspense and the slow build. Its director, Richard Rouse III (lead designer on the recently-rereleasedThe Suffering), told me at PAX West earlier this year, that it isn’t a game about the supernatural at all. It’s just about people, caught in a bad situation that’s slowly beginning to get worse.
It’s set in an isolated corner of South America in the late 1970s. Isaac (John Patrick Lowrie) and Rebecca Walker (Ellen McLain), the leaders of a populous cult that calls itself the Collective Justice Mission, have decided to ditch the United States and its society in favor of building their own village from scratch. The result is “Freedom Town,” a sprawling agrarian complex by the side of a river, miles from civilization. The Walkers preach that America is a fallen society, out to destroy those who think as they do, and it’s taught their flock that the best thing to do is shoot strangers on sight.
You play as Vic, a variable-gender, variable-race ex-cop whose nephew, Alex, joined the cult two years ago. Six months after the move to Freedom Town, Alex hasn’t written or called, and at your sister’s request, you track the cult down to find out what’s happened to Alex.
Church is a very stripped-down, lo-fi stealth/action game, where your resources are at a premium and almost everyone you run into is willing to shoot on sight. You have the option to go lethal and solve all your problems with violence, but there are a lot more cult members than bullets, and the game is built around multiple endings and manipulability. You may decide to wipe out the cult on general principle, but it’s not going to be easy, it’s definitely not going to do Alex any good, and it’s definitely going to cause problems when you end up having to get information out of the Walkers.
The first few minutes of the game are fairly typical stealth-action stuff, although it’s in such a low-tech, mundane location that it’s interesting again. You aren’t some high-tech assassin or soldier, fighting terrorists with top-of-the-line gadgets and drones. It’s 1977 in the middle of nowhere, so you have to muddle through with thrown rocks, improvised disguises, and the occasional chokehold.
There’s a certain paranoid thrill to the game once you get into Freedom Town proper. The guards are everywhere, they shoot on sight, and there aren’t any conspicuous holes in their patrol routines for you to exploit. Everywhere you go, you’re just one step ahead of being spotted and having to run for your life, while you frantically search for information and supplies.
Every idle document you run across, as well as the constant barrage of preaching and scripture over Freedom Town’s PA system, slowly paints a picture. The Collective Justice Mission may like to pretend that it’s a bunch of peace-loving hippies who’ve voluntarily withdrawn from society, but they’ve also armed half the cultists and charged them to stand watch over the other half. The Walkers are citing scripture and are nominally Christian, but at the same time, none of the cult’s iconography looks quite right. There’s obviously something wrong here, but there’s some ambiguity about what that something might be. Maybe the cult’s shaking itself apart due to personal pressures, or maybe it’s heading towards another Jonestown moment and you’ve got a front row seat.
The moment that’s going to stick with me for a while came on the PAX West show floor, when Rouse was playing the game and talking about its design. I’d begun to think that it was a little too “momcore” for me, to use John Rogers’s term. The cult was clearly up to no good, and we’d been given a quest to find inconvertible proof thereof, but for the first few minutes, it looked like the game was mostly about choking out angry hippies.
Then, at the same time as Isaac and Rebecca began to play a cheerful folk song about the values of prayer and hard work, sounding for all the world like an elderly couple on public radio, we stumbled across a clearing where the cultists were stoning someone to death. Whoever it was, they were wrapped in a sheet, tied to a post, and had been there for a while, in an area designated for the purpose. It was an effective, sharp little shock.
Back at PAX West, part of the news about The Church in the Darkness was that it had found a publisher, Fellow Traveler. Right now, you can put down US$30 to pick up the “True Believer Special Edition,” which gives you access to the game’s short alpha demo in advance of its official release, which is what I’ve been playing.
What’s interesting to me about The Church in the Darkness is that it’s explicitly a game about suspense, rather than terror or horror. There aren’t any shoggoths in the basement or rednecks with weaponized farm tools; in fact, the biggest monster in the game as it stands is potentially you, if you decide to murder your way through Freedom Town. It’s a stripped-down, back-to-basics slow-build stealth game without a single chainsaw massacre to be found, with just enough of a creepy atmosphere that I’m interested in seeing where it goes next.
When prophecies spoke of a timeless hero, they were probably alluding to someone with a tad more integrity and someone less fond of dick jokes than Ash Williams. In a war against ancient evil, however, you work with the hand you’re dealt, even if that hand is a chainsaw. Though news of Ash vs Evil Dead’s cancellation and Bruce Campbell’s retirement from the titular character left fans groaning, it did not take away from the final few, and unexpected discos of the past three years. Only a faint notion of the last decade, the unprecedented risk and unexpected reward of the series reminded Deadites worldwide there is still room for the king.
Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete Collection consolidates all three seasons into a convenient package. Behind-the-scenes footage, a tutorial on vanquishing Deadites, and audio commentaries with the cast for each of the 30 episodes make this release a necessary purchase for those who haven’t already snagged each season’s printing individually.
At the onset of the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead, Ash Williams is three decades removed from his last encounter with the Evil Dead. Drunk, high, and attempting to impress an unlucky woman that stumbled into his trailer, the middle-aged Value Stop (S-Mart couldn’t survive the P.R. nightmare from the end of Army of Darkness) employee reads “poetry” out of the Necronomicon. With a malicious force making Deadites out of virtually everyone and anything, Ash enlists the reluctant aid of his coworkers, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana De Lorenzo). However, they are unknowingly trailed by the previously-unknown author of the demonic text, Ruby (Lucy Lawless).
A powerful kick-start to a dormant franchise or at least a form of it given 2013 reboot, the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead reconfigured the tale tonally, opting more for uproarious laughter while still maintaining the classic, inconceivable gore. Santiago and De Lorenzo quickly ascend from more than just sidekicks, but rather frantic conductors of the train wreck that is Ash. Throwbacks and inventive new fiends and ways to murder them make the first season a binge-worthy experience. Watch this one with the commentary at the very least, especially if you were curious how often the set needed to be washed down during the season’s climax.
Laying low in Jacksonville after supposedly vanquishing the Evil Dead at the end of the first season, Ash and company are quick to realize their ultimate battle was little more than a wet Band-Aid, as a very living Ruby gives birth to shadowy, demonic children. To complicate matters, Ash is forced to reconcile with his father, Brock (Lee Majors), while enduring the ridicule of his town for the vicious murders he is still blamed for. Forced to finally confront the trauma and general fucked-upedness of his life, Ash can only be saved by Pablo and Kelly, who are now coming into their own as a shaman and demon slayer.
The start of season two of Ash vs Evil Dead can come off as a bit lackluster, especially given the rather tired design of the demonic children, as well as the tired logic of Ruby’s motives. However, this is all quickly cast aside during the final half of the season, especially given a short arc detailing Ash’s stay in a demonic asylum. Part One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, part Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and part Pee-wee’s Playhouse, this segment offers a concept entirely unique to the franchise while brushing against the idea of Ash’s unapproachable trauma. Fortunately, Ash is far too dense to be shaken by anything for more than a few hours or so. The second season is also unique within the collection, offering far more bonus material than its previous and proceeding discs. Even if you only snagged seasons one and three (for whatever reason, you monster), the bonus material alone for season two warrants the purchase of the collection.
After losing his father but salvaging his reputation, Ash opens up his own hardware store in Elk Grove. However, he quickly learns a one-night stand from almost twenty years ago yielded a daughter who has now become the target of a returning Ruby in a last-ditch effort to evade her demonic overlords. Just as the series has entailed a didactic of family previously, Ash is finally forced into a paternal role, now making all of his cringe-worthy one-liners into shoe-in dad jokes. Pablo and Kelly return to finish the Deadites conclusively, regardless of the decision of a network.
The final portion of Ash vs Evil Dead is bittersweet, as it was revealed almost at the season’s onset this would be Campbell’s final outing. However, rather than phone in any performance, Campbell goes whole-hog in making his last dance with the character memorable. The family drama does feel a bit contrived, but it also reveals a side of Ash previously veiled by a number of factors. A direct allusion to Ash’s battle with himself from Army of Darkness turned to the 1000th degree makes the final season an incredible outing overall, and the outlandish ending reminds fans The Evil Dead never really stays down. This entry in the collection offers the least amount of material, but again, the audio commentaries make a second viewing outside of any streaming service a no-brainer.
Ash vs Evil Dead may be finished, but it’s very hard to believe this will be the end of the franchise. Even if it is, at least it went out on top, right where Ash probably belongs.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Tom Spezialy
Writer(s): Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Tom Spezialy
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Lucy Lawless
Studio/ Production Co: Renaissance Pictures, Starz Originals
Some movies are just plain comfortable. They may not be the best films in terms of acting, plot, direction or cinematography, but they nonetheless put a smile on your face every time someone brings them up. Even though you’ve seen them dozens of times, without fail, every time you see it playing on TV you automatically pick up your remote and tune in — this, despite owning multiple copies of the movie already on Blu-Ray, DVD and VHS. And for many genre fans of a certain age, Hocus Pocus falls into that category.
I’ve always reminded people that the terms “best,” “greatest” and “favorite” aren’t interchangeable. Whenever I talk about “the best” of whatever, I’m referring explicitly to the highest quality of something, the top-notch, the absolute cream of the crop. When it comes to cinema, this is the domain of your usual Criterion Collection fare — the finest works of Kurosawa, Kobayashi, Pasolini, Rossellini, Bergman and Herzog.
“Greatest: simply means the movies with the most impact — the ones with the grandest influence, the highest ambitions and the most magnanimous impact on the visual storytelling medium, regardless of objective quality. Using this metric, an outstanding documentary like Shoah can rightly be considered one of the greatest movies of all-time and so can a film like D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, regardless of its lamentable politics.
But “favorite” means something entirely different. This has nothing to do with objective quality or technical scope or artistic influence and everything to do with individual taste. These are the movies that you can — and have — watched over and over again. You’ve seen them so many times you can almost quote the whole movie line-by-line. While you know for a fact they’re not pieces of art on par with the works of Fellini or Errol Morris, you’ve seen these movies far more times than you’ve seen the objectively better, legitimately great ones made by the cinematic form’s grand lions.
These movies I reference are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food — typically unrefined, usually uncomplicated, probably pretty bad for you in high enough quantities, but you keep coming back to them anyway. If stuff like Army of Shadows and Grand Illusion are the filmic equivalents of filet mignon, then one’s favorite movies are the film analogues to your preferred fast food burger or pizza pie; a lower quality product, without question, but nonetheless satisfying … and something you can return to time and time again and never walk away disappointed.
And when it comes to the horror genre, few cinematic Big Macs are as universally loved as 1993’s Hocus Pocus, a relative box office dud that, over the last 25 years, has become a seasonal cinematic rite on par with Halloween and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
The thought of going through the All Hallows Season without screening Hocus Pocus at least once is like going through Christmas without downing any eggnog, or going through Thanksgiving without LOLing at the Detroit Lions’ attempts to play football. At this point, Hocus Pocus is every bit a linchpin of Halloween as carving Jack O Lanterns, eating Boo Berry, and trying to convince your girlfriend to dress up like a goth temptress even though you and I both know that ain’t happening this 10/31 either. It’s such an ingrained part of the Halloween experience now that it’s practically impossible to think about one without thinking about the other.
The two and a half decade ascent of Hocus Pocus from Disney misfire to holiday classic is no doubt an unusual one. Considering how adored the movie is these days, it’s pretty surprising to find out the movie only made about $39 million during its theatrical run, while critics like Roger Ebert lambasted it as “a film desperately in need of self-discipline.” TV co-host Gene Siskel was even harder on the flick, referring to it as “a dreadful witches’ comedy with the only tolerable moment coming when Bette Midler presents a single song.” Even now, Hocus Pocus holds a shockingly low 30 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes — for comparison’s sake, last year’s Jigsaw, deemed by many as the absolute nadir of the Saw franchise, holds a rating six percentage points higher.
Naturally, all of this raises the question — how did Hocus Pocus, considered substandard dreck at the time of its release, become the seasonal torchbearer we all know, love and can practically recite by heart today?
Long story short? I hypothesize that the film is so beloved because, by and large, it was the first genuine horror film most of us ‘90s kids ever truly enjoyed, and for a whole hell of a lot of us, represented our gateway to the genre’s more extremeofferings.
Next to Ernest Scared Stupid, I can’t think of a single movie that personally goaded me into exploring “real” horror movies more than Hocus Pocus. Let’s face it, for a kids-targeted Disney movie, Hocus Pocus did have some pretty edgy stuff in it. You’ve got zombies getting dismembered, children in mortal peril of having their souls sucked out, a scene where a bunch of kids incinerate three people alive in a furnace, not to mention an entire plot point revolving around a love interest’s “yabos.” In hindsight, Hocus Pocus almost seems like a set of training wheels to transition us towards stuff like Halloween and Child’s Play — that first wade in the pool proving to us that we can have a lot of fun getting the wits scared out of us at the movies.
Prior to screening Hocus Pocus, I was positively terrified of even catching a glimpse of the box art for a Freddy Krueger movie. But after having such a hoot watching the Sanderson Sisters cause a ruckus, I slowly took an interest in snaking my way through the genre’s more traditional — and considerably more explicit — offerings. From there, it was a pretty smooth off-ramp to fare like Poltergeist and Critters, and within one year of watching (and loving) Hocus Pocus, I found myself glued to the tube almost every Saturday scoping out harder horror flicks such as Prison, The Pit and Shocker. By the time I graduated middle school, I’m pretty sure I was the only 14-year-old in a 50-mile radius that not only knewwho Lucio Fulci was, but owned the complete Gates of Hell trilogy on video cassette.
And to think — had I never seen Hocus Pocus, I probably never would’ve learned who Dario Argento, George Romero or Frank Henenlotter were. Without hyperbole, had I not seen Hocus Pocus as a youngster, I probably never would’ve grown into the horror movie enthusiast I am today; simply put, it was the movie to pique my curiosity about all things horror cinema, and I figure there’s scores more in the millennial age bracket that can chalk up their genre fandom to that first exposure to the Sanderson Sisters, too.
While I don’t objectively consider Hocus Pocus to be a great movie — certainly, it’s nowhere close to being on par with something like The Exorcist or The Evil Dead or even a Night of the Creeps — it’s nonetheless an immensely enjoyable and immediately satisfying little picture. It’s an odd film that feels palpably dated and transcendently timeless simultaneously, a movie that evokes pangs of early ‘90s nostalgia but without necessarily feeling like a movie from a bygone era. It works as both a horror parody and as a straight genre offering equally well, and I think we can all agree that the acting is much better than in most horror flicks from the era. Watching Hocus Pocus is like eating an entire bag of miniature Reese’s cups and washing it down with a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte; hardly the best meal you can imagine, but my goodness, is it ever the delicious, indulgent holiday treat, regardless.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the film’s release, the movie is being re-released the week of Halloween in theaters all across America (and probably Canada, too, but you maple-syrup sippers will have to do the Googling on your own time.) And I, for one, can’t think of a better way to commemorate the greatest holiday of them all (yep, even better than President’s Day … I went there) than by kicking back, slurping a giant Diet Dr. Pepper and sucking down kettle corn puff after kettle corn puff while watching a 30-foot tall Kathy Najimy confuse Clark Bars for chocolate-covered severed body parts. Speaking of which, isn’t it about time Disney re-released this sucker as a special edition with all of the snipped scenes in the trailer (like the part where the witches invade a grocery store) included? Because it totally is, and we all know it.
I don’t know if there is any one attribute of Hocus Pocus that makes it such a holistically entertaining and endearing movie. But whatever the film’s je ne sais qua may be, it’s definitely stood the test of time better than most movies from a quarter century ago (hey, it’s not like you’re seeing a bunch of people clamoring for a Man’s Best Friend or Carnosaur revival, do you?) Like a warm mug of cocoa with just the right ratio of marshmallows in it, Hocus Pocus is a film that just feels cozy and comforting, even if it is, technically, a movie about devil-worshippers trying to lead an entire town of children to their deaths.
Hocus Pocus, perhaps more than any other movie, is responsible for turning me into the horror aficionado I am today. And for that, I — and practically everybody else born between the years 1980-2000 — will always cherish as it that first tantalizing taste of terror that made them lifelong genre devotees.
Cults, real or fictionalized, can make for a fascinating storytelling device. There’s the usually enigmatic leader, so assured of their special set of beliefs. Are they steely-focused on achieving a spiritual goal? Or is there a more sinister end product to their new religion? Then there are the personal tales of those who choose to follow. Are they just poor souls who lacked guidance and now have something meaningful? Or are they foolishly walking themselves straight into a slaughterhouse? Redact Games’ Sagebrush poses such questions and brings some intriguing answers.
While most video games involving cults tend to put you right in the mix and usually has you fight them (Far Cry 5, Resident Evil 4 etc) at the height of their powers, Sagebrush takes place in a cult compound after the demise of its flock. It’s a ghost story of sorts, if not in the traditional sense, and offers an interesting take on the cult of…well, cults.
You’re investigating the Black Sage Ranch, former home of the Perfect Heaven Millenial cult. Your job is to search this New Mexico desert ranch for clues about the lives of those in the cult before they took their lives in a mass-suicide years before.
This is a short narrative-driven adventure. There are some spoken parts where a follower recollects their memories of the people at the compound via tape recordings, but generally, Sagebrush is about reading the rooms and the notes, timetables, and reminders dotted about the compound. It’s not building to some great reveal or crazy twist, it’s just telling the diverse stories of why people chose to join a cult and ultimately sacrifice their lives for the cause.
You get to roam the entire compound as you investigate. You need to find keys and relevant information to access certain parts of it though, and that flows naturally through your discoveries for the most part. There is a map if you get lost, but on occasion, you’re likely to get lost trying to figure something out. The pace is fairly serene despite being a sub-2 hour game, but an obstacle to progress can make Sagebrush feel like a slog. Thankfully it’s a rare occurrence.
Sagebrush is presented in a low-fi, low-resolution, low-poly manner that is married to some modern conveniences. The low-fi visuals certainly don’t prevent Sagebrush from creating an effective atmosphere. It’s used in such a way that it perfectly replicates the hazy open quiet of an abandoned desert ranch. There’s just the right amount of detail to convey what the game wants you to see and it’s truly a credit to the developer’s vision that they got this balance right. The package is wrapped up nicely by the inclusion of a haunting ambient soundtrack that lilts away in the background, and good use of sound effects, be it creaking floorboards, squeaky doors, or the ambiance of the New Mexico wilds.
So Sagebrush certainly looks and sounds the part, but that’s only a relatively small part. Sagebrush is about storytelling first and foremost and it needs to succeed at that more than anything. Largely, Sagebrush does indeed spin a fascinating yarn. It’s mostly via the audio recordings that you get the meat of it, as the ranch itself is a tad sparse in terms of opportunities to help tell the story via the scenery, at least for the first half of the game anyway. Locations, while well realized, hold a loose connection with the letters and audio you pore over. They rarely feel like they give you enough visual insight beyond their emptiness.
Luckily the story told via words and sound is interesting and informative enough to make up for it. These tales of cult members and the reasons behind their choice to join Perfect Heaven are not all infatuation and brainwashing. People have a variety of reasons for joining, often they’re searching for meaning in their lives after a major setback, some are just disillusioned with religion and Perfect Heaven’s whole schtick of unpacking the lies of regular religion makes it an appealing alternative.
Not everyone is entirely happy or committed to the cause though. Throughout the game, you come across instances of rebellion and doubt, which is made all the more tragic when you consider these people still ultimately died for the cult despite this.
Sagebrush aims to look at the humanity behind the subject matter, and while it doesn’t always work as well as it could, it does reach dark and revelatory heights from an unexpected angle. Its slow pace should be its greatest strength, but there needed to be a touch more environmental storytelling to make the most of the wandering you do.
Apostle is 2018 American/British action horror feature film written and directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid 2; V/H/S/2 ‘Safe Haven’ segment; The Raid: Redemption). The movie stars Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth and Michael Sheen.
The year is 1905. Thomas Richardson travels to a remote island to rescue his sister after she’s kidnapped by a mysterious religious cult demanding a ransom for her safe return. It soon becomes clear that the cult will rue the day it baited this man, as he digs deeper and deeper into the secrets and lies upon which the commune is built…
Apostle will receive its world premiere at Fantastic Fest in September 21, 2018. The film is scheduled to be released by Netflix on October 12, 2018.