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Each month, we’ll take you on a trip down the proverbial video aisle to look at some of the latest and best indie horror releases you need to check out.

Down the Video Aisle

The month of love is upon us. I know a lot of people don’t care much for Valentine’s Day, but I really enjoy it. That’s mainly because we pick out a double feature to watch and order Chinese food, and I’m always down for an excuse to do something like that.

Whether you like Valentine’s Day or not, the good news is you’re going to love the movies being released this month, particularly the ones released on the big day itself. So whether you’re celebrating the day or ignoring it, there are great new releases for everyone to enjoy.

Let’s check them out and take our monthly stroll down the video aisle!

STAFF PICK

VFW

(Available 2/14 on VOD)

Director Joe Begos handles the action in VFW with break-neck ferocity. It’s a cranked up style that punctuates the quickness of violence when super-charged with adrenaline and driven by drug-addled and money-hungry people with no fear of consequence. The group of vets are snapped back to their days of war, ready to fight back in an instant with a no-fear-of-death attitude once their beloved VFW post is invaded by Lizard (Sierra McCormick) with stolen drugs and followed by the thugs who want it back.

The army of addicts, as ordered by their leader and God-like hype supplier Boz (a perfectly scuzzy Travis Hammer), descend upon the VFW post with a crazed intensity. These are deranged, zombie-like beings with blackened veins growing back from their mouths, a side effect of the hype they so crave, what’s left of their fried minds focused on nothing but more hype, more hype, more hype. Special mention goes out to Dora Madison who plays Gutter, sister of Boz. She has a limited role here and steals every scene she’s in wearing a kick ass Mad Max-dominatrix costume and slicked back, pulled up cockatoo hair style. Madison is a lightning rod of an actress, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to her.

The music score from Steve Moore shocks the film like a defibrillator, shooting a heart-pounding energy through each scene, creating a beating heart to the picture that underlines the brotherhood of the vets. It’s a soundtrack that infuses the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality of aging war vets that stick together for a sense of home and belonging. Along with the alarm-colored cinematography from Mike Testin and Josh Ethier’s whip fast editing, these elements combine to create a fast paced and exciting story — an urgent fight for life where Death hangs in the background of each scene, having his pick of who to take next.

VFW is a gritty as sandpaper, filthy as a gas station restroom, neon-draped burst of violence that is as fun and energetic a movie as you’ll see all year. The cast is incredible and do inspiring work, the action is fast, brutal and gory, and the music thumps and roars. It’s an all out and unabashed love letter to action movies of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s sealed with a blood soaked kiss. VFW is an air punching experience and an absolute must see. 4.5/5, Rent it!                                                                                                                      

“A group of war veterans must defend their local VFW post and an innocent teen against a deranged drug dealer and his relentless army of punk mutants.”

FIRST LOOK: REVIEWED RELEASES

The Dawn

(Available now on VOD)

Director Brandon Slagle takes his time setting the melancholy tone of Rose’s life, both the little bit with her family as a kid and as a young woman after they are killed in a traumatic event. While Rose lives in the convent she is sent to, the camera moves slowly, the actors speak slowly, and it’s all confidently done — reflecting the stillness she feels inside of her, the sense of feeling “frozen” that she often mentions in the first and second act. On top of all of this is a grand score that hints at bigger things to come. There’s an awakening coming…and it feels dangerous.

The Dawn is a slow burn of a film, admirably settling the viewer into the world with these characters. As mentioned before, an awakening is coming, and just as it grips the convent and its inhabitants, threatening to shake it all apart, the viewer is shaken out of their reverie cast by the film. It’s a nice technique that helps raise the stakes and get the viewer more invested in the story, as well as offering a false sense of sanctuary.

Tying this all together is Devanny Pinn as Rose, an extraordinarily gifted actress who has the ability to feel her characters on a deep level. Like in House of Manson, Dwelling, and Crossbreed before this, Pinn portrays Rose with an unassuming confidence, visibly relating emotion and inner thought through her eyes. This internal struggle is the deep level that Pinn constantly taps into, and she’s a compelling actress because of it, impossible not to watch whenever she’s in the frame.

Because The Dawn just looks so damn good, some special shout-outs are in order for some of the unsung heroes of the film crew. First, kudos to casting director Scotty Mullen for the casting of Teilor Grubbs as young Rose. Grubbs looks so much like a young Devanny Pinn that it’s immediately known Grubbs is the young version of Rose, even without knowing the character’s name. The resemblance is uncanny, and Grubbs was a great find for the film. Next, the costume design by Kaytee Papusza and set decoration by Julia Moore and Renee Pilon really create the post World War I time period with impressive detail. The production design as a whole is extremely well done, giving the film the grand feel to match the score mentioned earlier.

Fans of The Conjuring films should be pleased with The Dawn, and anyone who enjoys a dark mystery where good and evil rage inside of someone will also find plenty to like. The film touches on PTSD, living with the sins of the father, and the sincere struggles of keeping faith with a delicate and thoughtful approach. And when he shit hits the fan, Slagle puts the pedal to the metal into possession territory with the ferociously good Devanny Pinn. 3.5/5, Rent it!

“Following the murder of her family at the hands of her father in the wake of World War I, a young woman is sent to live in a convent. However, the demons that plagued her father follow, reawakening the nightmares of her past.”

Cupid

(Available 2/14 on VOD)

The film begins by telling the ancient story of Cupid and how the Roman god has been miscategorized as a loving and delicate being, when actually he’s a god of vengeance against those who betray love. This opening is a tad lengthy but is done well, in the style of old, storybook drawings as narration explains over the moving pictures. From here, the film hits the gas pedal with a fast opening sequence where we see the evil Cupid in action, in all his grotesque, rotting, winged glory, slinging arrows not through hearts, but through eyes and other body parts that let out a lot of blood.

And Cupid does not shy away from the red stuff. The film shows all the gory kills in great detail with superb special effects, really in-your-face stuff that doesn’t utilize quick cutaways. These gory kills being on full display really gives Cupid a brutal edge that a film like this needs to really ramp up the OH SHIT! factor. After all, this is what watching a slasher flick is all about: watching the cast get picked off one by one in ways that make you say, “OH SHIT!”

The cast is the perfect group of little snots, headed up by Elise, Queen of Brats, brilliantly played by Sarah T. Cohen. Her whole vibe makes her so fun to watch, but she’s such a cringe-worthy person that the whole time you’re just waiting for her to get what’s coming to her. The reason for the summoning of Cupid is brilliantly set up through the cast and their sleazy teenage, high school drama. Kids being assholes to each other and picking on the shy girl (Georgina Jane) who just happens to dabble in spells and a touch of dark magic makes for a fun tonic, and Cupid nails it.

The film leans into the absurd without ever coming across as a spoof or jokey. It winks at slasher tropes and plays them up with knowledge of the sub-genre, all the while avoiding the pitfalls of distracting, talky exposition by smartly creating touching, character developing moments to explain what’s happening. Cupid is a fun gore-fest that plays out like a legend being told around a campfire. It’s fast, brutal, and extremely enjoyable, everything you want in a slasher flick. 3.5/5, Rent it!

“After being horrendously embarrassed by the mean girls at school, a practicing witch summons the evil Cupid to take revenge on all those who wronged her. On Valentine’s Day, Cupid will stop at nothing until the walls are covered in blood. The students must figure out a way to stop Cupid and undo the spell before their hearts get broken…literally.”                       

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASES

The Lodge

(Available 2/7 in limited theaters, 2/21 wide theatrical)

Pushed back from an originally scheduled November release, (I’m guessing so distributor NEON could focus all its efforts on an award season push for Parasite), The Lodge is finally being released this month. The film looks to be soaked in a dread-filled and chilly atmosphere, and looks to be the kind of slow-burn dream that horror fans just can’t get enough of. It wont be available on VOD for a little while, but I hope horror fans fill up the theaters because The Lodge feels special.

“A soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiancé’s two children at a remote holiday village. Just as relations begin to thaw between the trio, some strange and frightening events take place.”

After Midnight

(Available 2/14 on VOD)

Heartbreak can be a real monster, and quite literally so in After Midnight, a fun looking flick that has a tone that refuses to be pinned down. I can appreciate a movie that appears to move seamlessly between drama, comedy, horror, and just a touch of quirky fun. I’m a big fan of Brea Grant and have been looking forward to this one for a while, and it looks to make for a great watch on Valentine’s Day.

“When his long suffering girlfriend disappears suddenly, leaving a cryptic note as her only explanation, Hank’s comfortable life and his sanity begin to crack. Then, from the woods surrounding his house, something terrible starts trying to break in.”

Sadistic Intentions

(Available 2/14 on VOD)

Sadistic Intentions (available 2/14 on VOD). It’s a Jeremy Gardner kind of Valentine’s Day. The star of After Midnight also has this film being released on love day. Sadistic Intentions looks to live up to it’s billing as a heavy metal romance with a trailer that teases a meet-cute beginning but shows a musician who not only wants to thrash and shred to metal music, but quite possibly want to thrash and shred the people around him. Let the mayhem begin!

“A psychotic musician lures a fellow band-mate and an unsuspecting woman to a remote mansion for a night of romantic deceit and grinding metal mayhem.”

Blood on Her Name

(Available 2/28 in select theaters and VOD)

I love the moody, backwoods thriller vibe I’m getting from this trailer. Looks like things escalate and go horribly wrong for the main character, and I’m a sucker for stories where people get in over their heads and have to try to outrun the consequences of their actions. Blood on Her Name feels full of tension and Bethany Anne Lind looks to give a fantastic performance, get excited for this one.

“A woman’s panicked decision to cover up an accidental killing spins out of control when her conscience demands she return the dead man’s body to his family.”

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THESE

Atomic Apocalypse

(Available 2/4 on VOD and DVD)

If you like your action cheesy, then look no further than Atomic Apocalypse. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t use cheesy to automatically mean bad, because these types of action films can be quite fun! That’s part of their charm. Besides, a badass woman fighting through a post apocalyptic world sounds like a good time to me. Leave your brains at the door and enjoy the ride.

“In Post Apocalyptic North America, one family fights for survival in this sci-i road trip of epic proportions in a nightmare world without gasoline, electricity, or humanity.”

Camp Cold Brook

(Available 2/14 on VOD)

Camp Cold Brook has the look of what I call fast food horror: it doesn’t look great and it ain’t gonna be very memorable, but it sure does hit the spot! A crew who works on a paranormal TV show investigating a haunted camp with a secret doesn’t sound like anything new, but it does have that familiar, sometimes comforting by-the-numbers feel going for it. The film looks well produced and well acted by stars Chad Michael Murray and horror favorite Danielle Harris, and all that is enough for me to put it on my watch list.

“A paranormal team sets to check out an abandoned summer camp where a mass murder had taken place decades previous.” 

Greenlight

(Available 2/25 on VOD)

“Every murder in the movie has to be real.” Greenlight looks like a dark exploration of what people are willing to do to achieve their dreams, regardless of who stands in their way. The film could offer a fun look behind the scenes of making a movie, and throw in some killings and some Caroline Williams and my interest is piqued. Funny little quip about so called “elevated” horror at the end of the trailer as well.

“A director’s dream job quickly descends into a nightmare when he is forced to film a real-life murder.”

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