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Stylish and sincere, “Deadly Dealings” is a flawed but fun supernatural slasher exemplifying the passion and creativity of indie filmmaking.

Deadly Dealings is the kind of movie that takes risks with style and form.

And it rewards viewers who are patient and open-minded enough to look past its shortcomings with a rich, haunting, and beautiful (though at times garish) moving tapestry — interwoven with the kind of heart and artistic flair that characterized the work of the great European horror auteurs of yesteryear like Bava, de Ossorio, Argento, and Fulci.

The first thing that stands out is the uncompromising color palette of the landscape in the opening sequence.

Strong color choices also illuminate the lead actress herself. And the entire production is awash in unusually compelling shades and hues, from the impossibly crimson and amaranth foliage of a cemetery to the alluringly unnatural slut red lipstick and French pink locks of indie scream queen Roni Jonah (Volumes of Blood).

Fans of Blood & Black Lace and Suspiria will immediately recognize the nod to Italian Technicolor terror.

The pensive soundtrack guides us through this almost offensive onslaught of color (think a milder version of the mad backgrounds of Chuck Jones’ most experimental masterpieces at Warner) as the grief of Mary (Jonah) is shared with the viewer in the actress’s signature mellifluous timbre at her brother’s graveside.

I have been following Roni Jonah’s career since her early days as a professional wrestler in the WEW.

Whether championing such soap operas for grown men, literally chewing up the scenery in films like Donald Farmer’s 2015 schlocksterpiece Shark Exorcist (once lauded on Twitter by Stephen King for daring to exist), or kicking ass on the groundbreaking LGBT fantasy series Dagger Kiss, Ms. Jonah has made an indelible mark on the indie horror scene.

I can honestly say this may be Jonah’s most nuanced performance to date.

Wasting no time with the scares, the film quickly alerts the viewer that something is “off” about the death of Mary’s brother Hank (Stephen McGill, Curse of the Weredeer).

As we join Mary back in her cocoon of loss, waking from a nightmare, we are immersed in a bedroom.

Opening credits and a title sequence of pinks, pastels, and rose quartz deco and lettering further drives home the prismatic vision of first-time director Adam Freeman (who is at the helm of the upcoming reboot of Donald Farmer’s 1989 blip on the exploitation radar, Scream Dream).

We soon meet Mary’s best friend and roommate, amateur medium and spiritual advisor Milo (writer/director Freeman), who gives our mournful protagonist an impromptu Tarot reading. That reading naturally features the Death card. This is followed by the gift of a divining crystal pendulum to help Mary make safe choices.

After a bit of clunky dialog from Milo’s favorite public access TV program, Tales of the Mysterious, which erects the skeleton of the Ouija-centric plot later fleshed out by the film, we follow Mary to the home office of her therapist, Dr. Heart. She is played by voluptuous up-and-coming scream queen Jessa Flux — another Donald Farmer alum.

Her humble abode and on-screen presence echo the same chromatic heavy-handedness of the earlier scenes vis-a-vis costume, makeup, and set design.

Flux and Jonah threaten to fog up the screen with sultriness overload.

At the same time, they both give serviceable performances through a mishmash of understatement (Jonah) and overstatement (Flux’s impeccable Southern drawl) that carries the plot forward while providing some much-needed exposition and character development.

Whether intentional or not, Freeman’s characters and story bring the schlock.

Their therapy session is bookended with a poetic journal entry that could have come straight out of Glen or Glenda.

We also get an aerial shot (saturated with color filters) of Mary heading to the home of her parents (yet another Farmer alum, Joseph Casterline, and veteran actress Helene Udy), who it appears have had an easier time moving on since their son’s death than poor Mary has.

Meanwhile, Milo continues binging Tales of the Mysterious in his unapologetically feminine, long, blonde wig and pink robe, complete with a cute little froggy pattern.

One actress’s monologue as “Lulu” (Tonia L. Carrier Hicks, director of Bailiwick) rescues the scene with surprisingly solid chops by recounting her personal experience with a spirit board. This is inspiration enough for Milo to cast aside the bonbons and break out the Ouija (shit’s getting real) with a mischievous, “Let’s shake up the spirit world.”

Back in Dr. Hunt’s office/parlor (painstakingly decorated in Freeman’s now signature pink and blue pastels with a grief-gray backdrop), Mary is joined by the good doctor and three other survivors who have come together to share their tragic stories and work through the pain.

The first survivor recounts the story of his experience as a relief worker in Haiti, where he witnessed the death of a young child (based on the real-life traumatic memories of Freeman himself) before Mary fills the viewer in on further details of Hank’s sacrifice of his own life to save hers and its effect on her.

When Mary returns home, Milo, now clad in decidedly more gothic attire and in darker surroundings (including skulls, candles, and violet ambient light…despite it being daylight outside), decides to do a séance with Mary to summon a spirit guide that might be able to help them commune with Hank. Said guide reveals itself to be Aislan.

Spooky shit heretofore only hinted at starts happening and continues in healthy doses throughout the remainder of the picture.

This is where the movie really starts to take off and establishes what it is at its core: A fucking horror movie.

After the roommates fall asleep on the couch watching the craftily named Placid Park, we are launched into a dream world that seems to be the sort of place to which Freeman has been dying to transport us all along.

Screw that tedious backstory and character development stuff – it’s time to break out the big guns: fog, Zombie Hank, pentagrams, slick demon (Conor McCarthy, Dark Circles), and costume and set design that doubles down on the aforementioned garishness.

Turns out the spirit guide summoned by the Ouija board is actually a dream demon (“dreamon”?) with designs on Mary’s dreams, which are, it seems, inextricably intertwined with her eternal soul.

Will Mary get to reunite with her long-lost departed brother, and if so, at what cost?

Deadly Dealings has scenes that will scare you, gross you out, titillate you, and even make you think.

It’s part Wishmaster, part Witchboard, part cosmic horror, and part slasher.

It will make you question what you might be willing to sacrifice to be freed from the pain of a lost loved one.

The ambitiousness of the creativity in this bargain basement bonanza makes for a worthy stepping stone for Freeman in his directorial debut and showcases his skill as one of those rare filmmakers not afraid to partake in the blasphemous act of turning crap into art.

Make no mistake; Deadly Dealings is not a great (or even a good) movie by critical standards.

But what it lacks in restraint, craft, and mainstream appeal, it more than makes up for with plenty of heart, flair, and memorable performances by some of trash cinema’s best and brightest.

Watch out for the touching dedications before and after the end credits. It’s a reminder of the real-life horror the cast and crew have faced in their lives losing loved ones. Kudos to Freeman and his crew for channeling that pain into a watchable endeavor.

With a scant running time of barely over an hour, it’s worth a watch.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5
Currently, Deadly Dealings is only available for purchase as a signed Blu-Ray, available as a crowdfunding perk for Freeman’s next film, a remake of Donald Farmer’s exploitation classic Scream Dream. The film’s soundtrack is available on Spotify

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