Movie Review: BETHANY

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bethanyUncork’d Entertainment
2017
NR

“You’re not just some stinky zombie, honey. You’re my stinky zombie.”

After Claire’s mother dies, she and her husband move back to her childhood home only to have the abusive and traumatic memories of her mother come back and bring unrest to the house. Unfortunately, Claire soon finds herself in a fog of past and present when her imaginary friend from childhood begins haunting her memories. What is this terrifying thing that is trying to reach out to her, and what does it want?

I first heard about the movie Bethany by way of an article on Cracked.com a few months ago. I can’t remember which article it was, as I usually read them first thing in the morning at work while waiting for my shift to start. I do recall, though, the author making a reference to his “friend’s movie” called “Bethany” which was the “best horror movie this year”, or something to that effect. I can’t be bothered to find the actual article for the sake of “accuracy”, so that’s why I’m using “quote marks” on this part. Sorry, not “sorry”. See what I did there? Anyway, because of that mention, I looked into this movie, and when it became available on VOD, I gave it a watch.

As to the claim of Bethany being the “best horror movie” going…no. Maybe, if I’m feeling generous, “watchable”. Certainly not “memorable”, at least not because it was a “good movie”. Let’s get into that, shall we?

So, there’s a lady named Claire, whose mother had just died and willed her the home she grew up in. So, she and her husband (who seems to be the grown-up bully kid in some Christmas movie I’m told I need to see otherwise I’ll die, or something) move in to begin a fresh new chapter in their lives. Only, almost the very moment they do so, Claire begins to experience all sorts of creepy things, things that no one else seems to notice. Then the flashbacks begin, and we see that her mother took her parenting advice from the movie Mommy Dearest. Also, there seems to be a ghoulishly masked apparition of a girl showing up here and there to add to the general wackiness, a girl that Claire seems to recall as being an imaginary friend growing up. Is the haunting real? Or is Claire going slowly insane? And why is Tom Green totally unrecognizable and playing against type?

On the surface, Bethany has some good ideas, and does manage to get a decent cast together (I was totally serious about funnyman Tom Green playing it completely straight here, which completely makes me rethink my opinion of the guy as an actor…while you might say Shannon Doherty is playing to type), and there were moments that, had I not seen them coming, could have been some very effective scares.

And that’s pretty much what regulates Bethany into the realm of “meh”: it’s a bit clunky, has some leaps of logic going on, and while one or two times I found a scene squeamish to watch (especially at the end, that involves a mask and a sewing needle), in the end you get the feeling you just watched a misfired attempt at making a stylistic remake of The People Under The Stairs.

Best Horror Movie of the Year? Er, no. Imaginatively unique? Again, no. Maybe if you’ve never seen a horror movie made before 2005. I don’t know how, but people like this exist. I give Bethany points for trying something different, beyond the general “haunting of…” style. But, the execution itself left something to be desired. Worth at least a watch, at least.

Movie Review: MANOS: The Hands Of Fate

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manos the hands of fateMill Creek Entertainment
1966
NR

“I am Torgo. I take care of the place while the Master is away.”

Everything that can go wrong does on a young couple’s terrifying vacation. Lost and unable to find an inn, they stop at the door of a mysterious house. They are told by the disfigured Togar that the Master does not like visitors, but with no other shelter in sight they decide to spend the night. Their presence ignites the fury of a Devil cult that preys upon their innocence. The family is forced to suffer interminable psychotic rituals. Unrest with the cult provides a chance for escape, but the Master will not free them so easily.

When talking about bad movies, there are certain ones that have achieved legendary status due to just how bad they are. Plan 9 From Outer Space. Trolls 2. Birdemic. The Room. These titles and more, so many have heard about, but few have been brave enough to venture into watching them, for fear of losing whatever tenacious grasp on their sanity they have. I have seen many, but one that I have put off for a very long time was one of the worst ones ever made, the subject of this particular review: Manos, The Hands Of Fate. But finally, my inner Movie-Watchin’ Masochist got me to watch the copy that came in one of those 50 Horror Movies for $20 packs. The horror. The horror. And not the good kind, either.

What we got here is essentially a movie that was made on a bet by a dentist claiming that making a movie was easy enough that even he could do it. So he did. With a local theater troupe, a hand-wound 16mm camera that could only take 32 seconds of footage at a time, and a budget that would make a shoestring seem like blockbuster money.

Manos: The Hands Of Fate tells the tale of a couple and their whiny young daughter and equally annoying doggie taking a drive in their convertible out in the desert, on their way to a vacation getaway in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, they get lost, and after getting worthless directions from a couple making out, and after driving and driving and driving and driving through many a cut scene, they end up even more lost, with twilight coming upon them, before stopping at a building they figure they could spend the night at. They’re met by an odd gentleman with an odd walk and an even more odd way of talking, telling them that his master doesn’t want them to stay there. But then he lets them stay there. Then the dog disappears, then the young daughter, then the curator of the building begins to creep on the wife, stuff happens, and then the aforementioned Master awakens, along with his wives, who then argue about letting the wife stay and be part of the cult’s harem or not. I wish I could say “wackiness ensues”, but I would be lying.

So, this movie was made, and was immediately lost to the void of cheep independent Z-Movie Hell, as nature intended. But, decades later, because humanity is being punished for our sins, the movie was rediscovered and given a mutated new life of Cult Status, due to its So-Bad-It’s-Good nature. I call it the Ed Wood Effect.

Manos: The Hands Of Fate has the magical effect of bending time and space, making you think that the running time is hours upon hours longer than it really is, and your perception of reality after watching it will make you stare into the void for hours afterwards, trying to process what exactly it was you just watched. Watching Manos: The Hands Of Fate made me want to re-watch The Room for something fast-paced and exciting. I hope you’re getting the point, here. Manos: The Hands Of Fate has the excitement of watching your Great Aunt’s old vacation videos. Even the MST3K working barely made it watchable. I happened to watch it without the help of the boys in the Satellite of Love. Watch at your own peril.

Movie Review: ALIEN: Covenant

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aliencovenant20th Century Fox
2017
R

Sleep well. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David, the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

Wild-eyed speculation time, again. You see, I have a theory about the recent couple of Alien-centric movies that Ridley Scott has produced in recent years. That theory being that he’s secretly trolling everyone with Alien: Covenant due to not being able to continue with the whole Prometheus storyline proper, and gave in and did a half-arsed Alien prequel sequel as a playful middle finger to studio suits and those who complained that Prometheus wasn’t “Alien enough”. This is the only logical explanation I can think of to explain this rather lackluster and mediocre entry in the overall Alien franchise.

If you recall with my review of Prometheus (it’s here if you need a brush-up, it has been five years after all), I actually rather liked the movie, mainly because it dared to do something different than your standard Alien movie. I was hoping for a continuation like this that eventually tied into the current Alien timeline set forth in the 1979 original classic. Instead, it was evident that the powers that be wanted more of a conventional Alien movie, so then we got this.

I should point out that I’m going to be spoiling the earwax out of this movie from here on out. Here we go, then…

After a bit of a prelude that shows the interaction between the android (or is that “replicant”? I think that it’s been established that the Alien universe is loosely tied into the Blade Runner universe as well) David from Prometheus and his creator Peter Weyland, starting things off with a nifty discussion on the existential nature of existence and the relationship between creator and its creation. Off to a nice start, here. Flash forward to about ten years after the events in Prometheus (I keep referencing a better movie, that’s not good), and the colony transport ship Covenant ship is en route to a habitable planet to set up shop for several thousand humans frozen embryos from Earth. They’ve got a good 7 years to go at this point, when a neutrino burst hits the ship, killing some colonists as well as the captain while in cryo-sleep. As the rest of the crew–along with their upgraded Android/Replicant named Walter–go about repairing the ship, they pick up a distress signal emanating from a nearby habitable planet that they somehow overlooked while picking out another planet to Manifest Destiny the heck out of. Recognizing it as a John Denver song, and reasoning that the popularity of John Denver probably isn’t powerful enough to reach beyond Earth, they decide to check it out.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar, here? No? Let us continue, then…

The landing party discovers the planet in question is something of a paradise [SYMBOLISM ALERT!], and yet seems to have evidence that it was once populated by an intelligent life that at least figured out how to cultivate wheat. Not counting the one person they left at the shuttle, the landing party splits into two groups–one to run some tests to see how habitable the land is, and another to find the source of the transmission that got them there in the first place. Of course, aforementioned source is emanated from the crashed Engineer ship from the end of Prometheus, and is overtaken with overgrowth. A couple of guys from the landing party manage to get infected by the Fungal Spores of DOOM, and after a rather quick bit of an allergic reaction, each have a cute widdle neomorph pop out of them. The shuttle blows up, several from the group die horribly, and the survivors are saved by David the android and taken to his bachelor pad. Everyone freshens up, the two androids bond over music and existential discussion, and a fully grown neomorph decides to drop by for a bite or two to eat. That’s when David unveils his main hobby, and it doesn’t involve basket weaving. Wackiness ensues, they manage to fight off a full-fledged xenomorph and make it back to the Covenant, then another xenomorph shows up on board, more wackiness ensues, the alien is then knocked off of the ship with a couple of terraforming rigs, and both the survivors snuggle into their cryo-sleep pods, finding out too late that the wrong android/replicant came back with them from the planet. The end, for now.

The thing is, for all intents and purposes, Alien:Covenant isn’t a bad movie, per se. Ridley Scott manages to once again squeeze every ounce of gorgeous cinematography out of the scenes, resulting in some very breath-taking shots. Couple that with some atmospheric Gothic style interior shots of both the derelict Engineer ship and the ancient edifice that David made his home for the past 10 years. When it comes to the characters, though, it’s hands-down Michael Fastbender’s show, playing both David and his updated successor Walter, and interacting with…well, himself wonderfully. Danny McBride as ship jockey Tennessee was decent as well. The rest of the cast were, um…adequate, I want to say. And by that, I mean the crew wasn’t exactly the best of the best, here. Come to think of it, that seems to be the case for every one of the Alien movies.

The biggest weakness I found with Alien: Covenant was the feeling of been there, done that. The plot really does tread the similar ground that the other Alien movies went. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a complete retread of the very first Alien movie, but the similarities are rather stark when it isn’t trying to shoehorn in the events of Prometheus to try and make things work as a prequel. In the end, there are more questions raised than actually answered.

Overall, I don’t think Alien: Covenant went so far as to ruin the Alien franchise, but it doesn’t really present an argument that we shouldn’t let the franchise die with some dignity left. Worth at least one look, but wait for VOD.

Movie Review: GREEN ROOM

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green roomA24
2015
R

“It’s funny. You were so scary at night.”

Down on their luck punk rockers The Ain’t Rights are finishing up a long and unsuccessful tour, and are about to call it quits when they get an unexpected booking at an isolated, run-down club deep in the backwoods of Oregon. What seems merely to be a third-rate gig escalates into something much more sinister when they witness an act of violence backstage that they weren’t meant to see. Now trapped backstage, they must face off against the club’s depraved owner, Darcy Banker, a man who will do anything to protect the secrets of his nefarious enterprise. But while Darcy and his henchmen think the band will be easy to get rid of, The Ain’t Rights prove themselves much more cunning and capable than anyone expected, turning the tables on their unsuspecting captors and setting the stage for the ultimate life-or-death showdown.

I know, I know. I had the chance to see the movie Green Room during its blink-and-it’s-gone run time in the theaters. I kept hearing very, very good things about the movie, how it’s not only a tense independent thriller featuring great performances from the cast as well as a fantastic cinematography that really brought out the claustrophobic nature of the story, but I kept hearing from acquaintances in the underground punk scenes that the depiction of the hardcore punk aesthetic was quite legit. The thing was, I rarely want to go to the movies alone nowadays, and since most if not all of the Exalted Geeks I would go with aren’t into horror movies, I decided to wait until the VOD release.

My mistake. I admit that now. I should have worked past my anxiety to take in this flick on the big screen when I had the chance. Because, boy does Green Room pack a significant roundhouse kick to the midsection with a steel-toed boot.

So, here we have a story about a hardcore punk band, named the Ain’t Rights, trying to get by on their DIY ethos and playing some seriously righteous hardcore punk wherever they can. Before they decide to call it quits on the tour, they’re given a shot at an out-in-the-boonies bar for a decent payout for gas to get back home. Only, the bar has a rather narrow kind of clientèle–namely, skinhead Nazis. But, money is money, and they do the set anyway, and when they’re getting set to leave, they accidentally stumble upon a murder in the titular Green Room, and now they have to spend the rest of the night trying to survive getting snuffed by the bar’s owner and his army of skinheads to cover everything up. Things…don’t go well.

There are two things that make Green Room a fantastic horror thriller: 1) the depiction of the whole hardcore punk aesthetic, I’m told from acquaintances who adhere to that scene, is pretty authentic. I say “I’m told”, because I don’t claim to be part of or even an expert on the scene; while I read up and try to understand and have an appreciation for the scene and the music, I also hold no delusion as to claiming I’m part of it. The ones I know of who are have given their seal of approval, though. As long as they’re not really messing with Poser Boy here, I’m going to accept it. 2) This is a well-crafted and tight horror thriller that is claustrophobic, quick-paced and doesn’t take any easy way outs. There were a few times where I caught myself drawing my knees up to my chest and getting unnerved at the goings on I was witnessing. Add to this a fantastic performance from none other than Patrick Stewart as the head Skinhead, and you’ve got yourself a chilling time.

Really, don’t make the same mistake I did. If you haven’t watched Green Room, do yourself a favor and rectify that oversight. Highly recommended by your Uncle NecRo.

Movie Review: GREMLINS 2

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Movie Review_ GREMLINS 2Warner Bros.
1990
PG-13

“They put me on at 3am. People who are awake at 3am aren’t afraid of the Wolfman. The only thing that frightens those people is sobering up and going to work.”

The rules are the same but the laughs are bigger and the thrills are better. This time Billy and everyone’s favorite Mogwai, Gizmo, must face off against a new batch of Gremlins that definitely think New York is their kind of town.

There’s no denying that the original Gremlins is a classic. It managed to take a standard horror movie premise and turn it into a whimsical Christmas gem, which remains so to this day. So, of course it was inevitable that it would get a sequel to cash in on all the merchandising…er, movie magic that it’s spawned since. The only problem being that they waited six years to actually make one. And while the suits at Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment managed to get the original director Joe Dante to make the sequel, Dante had no interest whatsoever to do so.

And who could blame him? The story in the original Gremlins was wrapped up nicely, with Mr. Wing walking off into the night with Gizmo, back to the safety of his shop, after a night of terrifying wackiness. Gremlins didn’t really need a sequel. And on the cusp of the Summer of 1990, we got a sequel, whether we wanted one or not. And boy howdy, what a sequel.

I don’t think anybody was prepared for what we got when we sat down in the theater seats, awaiting the second installment of mogwai wackiness. If we were expecting something like the first one, we were sorely disappointed. Instead, we were treated to a biting satire of sequels in general, as well as a gleeful deconstruction of the first Gremlins movie.

We begin this movie with the death of Mr. Wing, along with the demolition of his shop, forcing Gizmo to vacate and suddenly finding himself the acquired property of scientists working in a New York high-rise business building owned by the Clamp Corporation. Coincidentally, this is where Billy and Kate from the first movie have ended up working at, and manage to rescue Gizmo. Of course, it’s just a matter of time before two of the Three Rules get violated, and soon the entire business building is overrun by the nasty scaly gremlins. And one of ’em has gained some super-intelligence and has plans for world domination.

Of course, when I first watched this movie in the theaters back in 1990, I didn’t really like it as much as the first one. Because, like pretty much everyone else, we were expecting something like the first movie, and were confused as to the tone and general absurdity of this one. While the concept of different style of mutated gremlins was cool (Spider Gremlin! Electo-Gremlin! Super-smart Gremlin with the voice of Tony Randall!), we also got a very thinly veiled jab at the movie industry’s need to do sequels that gleefully goes for the jugular. The Clamp Corporation is clearly a send-up of the Ted Turner mass media empire of the day, complete with a division that handles the colorization of classic movies. We have the late, great Christopher Lee as a mad scientist that stumbles upon the whole genetic splicing of the Gremlins thing. There’s also a wacky meta thing where the Gremlins apparently break into the theater you’re watching this at and breaks the film, causing Hulk Hogan to get rather annoyed at it. I am not making that up. Apparently, there’s an alternate take of this bit for the VHS release, but I’ve only really watched this at the theater when it was released, then on one of the premium cable movie channels at my grandparents’ place whenever it was on when I was visiting, so I only know the theater-centric version. And, to top it all off, the big climatic ending involves a musical number.

And it is just that kind of gleeful abandon and surreal absurdity that, over time, makes Gremlins 2: The New Batch to be just as good–dare I say, even better–that the original Gremlins. Because you cannot compare this with its original counterpart. This is a perfect example of comparing apples with pineapples. They both have the word “apple” in their names, but they are completely different fruits. Or, a berry and a fruit, if you want to get pedantic about apples technically being berries or whatever. What I’m trying to say is, Gremlins 2 is a different entity in and of itself.

So, watch and enjoy Gremlins 2, and admit to liking it. Just don’t try and compare it with its predecessor.

Book Review: HELL HOUSE

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Book Review HELL HOUSERichard Matheson
Tor
1971

For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

One of the books that seems to be on everybody’s list of Top (ENTER NUMBER HERE) List of Horror Novels, not only from regular horror literary geeks, but from some of the bigger names in horror fiction. Notably, I read Stephen King refer to it as “one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th Century…”. That carries a bit of weight for me, as far as recommendations on what to snuggle up with on a dark and chilly night, to tantalize my imagination. Which also had the adverse effect of being a bit daunting to actually pick up and read. Not because it would be “too scary”, but like every other thing I’m hesitant to read, what if it turns out to be not as good as my brain hyped it up to be?

Fortunately, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Hell House and reading it. My copy, with the cover art itself in the upper part of this review, is one of the many reprints that have been made of this, in case you’re some how curious about things like what was on the cover printing. I wouldn’t know why, but I’m sure there are people like that out there. Anyway…

As far as haunted house stories go, I have to admit that I agree that Hell House is one of the better ones written. If you’re familiar with Richard Matheson’s style of writing, then you know that he doesn’t necessarily write straight horror stories. He has said as much himself. They are horror, yes, but there’s also a heavy dose of science fiction that ties it down a bit more to earth rather than the supernatural. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot to cause my skin to crawl and want to turn on more than just one lamp while reading this, mind you. Such is Matheson’s style.

The story of Hell House involves a very old, very rich man hiring four people in different specified areas of research to investigate an old mansion that is rumored to be the site of many depraved orgies and debaucheries and death, and is now considered one of the most famous of haunted houses in the world. The old man wants to find out, once and for all, whether the nicknamed Hell House really is haunted, and if so by what, or if there’s actually a rational scientific reason behind the failed investigations done decades prior. To this end, he has hired a scientist and his wife to assist, a spiritualist, and a survivor of a previous investigation into the house that ended in a deadly disaster, who is tormented by his psychic abilities. Together they will stay inside the house for several days, attempting to determine if there really is something sinister behind the building’s facade, or if it’s something else with foundationally speaking. See what I did, there? I made architectural jokes. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, things start going wacky pretty much on the first day they arrive at the house, and everyone struggles to keep from going mad while sorting out the mystery behind the house itself. Or, you know, try not to die doing so.

This being written in the very early 1970s, there’s a bit more of, shall we say, an adult orientation to the story. And by that, I mean there’s a rather violent scene featuring necrophilia at one point, as well as some squeamish descriptions of possession and poltergeist manifestations going on. Add in some rather effective dark Gothic imagery with the house, and you really do have a spine-chilling supernaturally-tinged Gothic ghost story mystery that doesn’t end on a very up note.

I understand that there’s a movie adaptation made of this. I haven’t seen the movie, or even sought it out. But, I am glad I got around to reading Hell House, and seeing why everyone seems to hold it in high esteem. Recommended reading, my fellow horror hounds.

Movie Review: SIREN

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Movie Review SIRENUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
2016
NR

“I like you.”

One week before his wedding day, Jonah and his groomsmen hit the town for a wild night of club hopping and debauchery. The night soon takes a twisted turn for the worse when the group is invited to a seedy underground club. After Jonah frees a seemingly imprisoned dancer, he realizes that the woman he released is actually a terrifying, legendary creature that will stop at nothing to claim her prey.

Hey, remember the horror anthology movie V/H/S? If you don’t, that’s fine. I won’t judge you too harshly. But, the first short on that collection was something called “Amateur Night”, which, to quote directly from my own review, is about “three bros go bar-hopping and bring back a couple of girls to have sex with in their hotel room and make an amateur porn video in the process…until they discover too late that one of the girls is not what she seems”. Well, bravely traversing into SPOILER territory, that was because the young lady was a Siren, the beautiful creature of myth and legend that lures unsuspecting males to their doom by way of mystical singing. Also, in this case, transforming from their human form to a terrifying wing-ed gargoyle-looking thing that originally lead me to believe she was more of a harpie when I first saw the short. This, of course, was rectified by the full-length adaptation of that short, entitled SiREN.

The movie begins with a police officer and a powerful shaman stumbling upon the titular Siren that was summoned by a bunch of amateur (and very dead) black magick practitioners. He manages to charm the Siren long enough to get a mystical lock on her. “Now, we can be friends” and all that. Cut to the standard Guys On Their Way To Bachelor Party Shenanigans, wherein the younger brother of the guy getting married takes him and their friends to a less-than-stellar strip club, because why waste a good stereotype? While moping about how underwhelming the experience is, they’re approached by a guy in a bad goatee to check out a secret Gentleman’s Club where it’s promised their dreams of the perfect night would be realized. Of course, they follow him out there, where they’re met with, not only something completely different from your standard strip club, but the proprietor of this fine establishment, Mr. Nix. Which also happens to be that occult master we saw at the beginning of the flick. He takes the boys into the back, where the bachelor in question gets some time with Mr. Nix’s star attraction: the Siren. A slight problem arises when the Siren takes a shine to the young man, who in turn decides to bust her free from not only her cage, but also her mystical shackles. Now what started as a night of sub-standard bachelor hijinks is now a terrifyingly horrific game of cat and mouse, with neither side really knowing if they’re the cat or the mouse, with Mr. Nix doing everything in his power to get the Siren back, and the hapless groom-to-be discovering first hand the mating habits of said Siren while they attempt to elude her former owner. Things don’t end well, let’s just say.

Usually, padding out a short to make it work as a full-length results in something a bit more sub-standard than expected. Fortunately, expanding “Amature Night” into the full-length Siren worked very, very well. Mainly due to the fact that the story doesn’t really follow that of the short, outside of a bunch of guys going out for shenanigans and running into the Siren. The story in Siren was expanded to explain why the creature was on this plain of existence, as well as a bit more expansion to how the boys run into her. Oh, did I mention that the same actress that played the siren in the short also plays the titular creature here in the movie? And both times she manages to nail the character’s horrific yet curiously tragic mythical creature. She still utilizes the phrase, “I like you” in a way that still sent danger chills shooting down my spine and raising the goosebumps.

Overall, I found Siren (or SiREN, as it’s listed on Amazon and IMDB) to be a fun and very effective B-Movie horror flick that will give give you the creeps and give you an aversion to gentlemen clubs in the middle of nowhere that are run by possible Voodoo warlocks.

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