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Part splatter zombie flick and part psychedelic road trip, “Face of Evil” turns out to be a hallucinatory mind-bender that warrants repeat visits.

Stories of soldiers coming back home from overseas duty seem like fertile ground for horror movie creators to cultivate. Aside from a few high-profile movies like HOUSE, JACOB’S LADDER, and an episode of The X-Files titled “Sleepless”, the soldier with PTSD theme has not been exploited very often for horror.

Writer/Director Vito Dinatolo steps into the soldier-returns-home genre with his film FACE OF EVIL. Starring Scott Baxter as a war veteran named Jay, the story begins with Jay returning to a welcome home party thrown by his sister Katy (Jamie Bernadette). Soon Jay is reunited with an ex-girlfriend and opening a bottle of liquor he brought back from the Mideast.

As the drink flows and Jay gets closer to his ex, she begins to sicken and then turns into an infected zombie-like creature that acts a bit like a deadite from the EVIL DEAD franchise. Soon the entire party is infected, except for Jay, and he scrambles to find a way to help his friends and sister.

As Jay runs to a nearby gas station looking for help, he bumps into “Sarge” (Chad Bishop) from his old military unit. As the gas attendant turns into a zombie demon, Sarge tells Jay that there is a doctor they need to find, and that doctor has all the answers.

Jay’s trip with Sarge begins part two of the story of FACE OF EVIL. There is a literal title card, announcing that the movie has started part two. While puzzled at first about the delineation between the two segments of the movie, it became clear why Dinatolo felt the need to make such a literal separation of the movie.

The first part of FACE OF EVIL is a balls-out splatter film with possessed zombie people chasing the hero, Jay. The second part is a mix of JACOB’S LADDER and the psychedelic road trip movie FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. Part two is a buddy road trip movie that follows Sarge and Jay’s search for answers to the zombie outbreak, and a descent into Jay’s own mind.

Overall, FACE OF EVIL is very good.

Scott Baxter is asked to shoulder quite a bit of the story as Jay, and does an admirable job. He’s likable and believable in the role of a soldier affected by the brutality of war. Dinatolo, as director, does solid work here. He is obviously influenced by movies like EVIL DEAD and JACOB’S LADDER, as mentioned earlier, and possibly the independent horror film THE CONVENT for his creature designs.

While FACE OF EVIL is solid, its weak point is the transition from part one to part two. The beginning of the movie goes at a bit of a breakneck speed, especially when Jay’s friends begin to turn into monsters. When FACE OF EVIL turns into the buddies on the road movie, the pace slows down considerably. This creates quite a lull in energy in the middle of the film, before it picks up again as the movie reaches its climax, and the story of Jay is unveiled.

The film was named Best Horror Film of the New York City International Film Festival (2017), Best Horror Feature and Best Director at Hollywood International Moving Picture (2016), and Best Horror Feature at Culver City Film Festival (2016).

FACE OF EVIL is worth a look, especially if you’re looking for something a bit off the mainstream.

FACE OF EVIL is currently streaming on VOD services such as Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, Vimeo, Playstation, Vudu, and YouTube Movies.

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