Review: The Mind’s Eye

The Mind’s Eye
Director: Joe Begos
Starring: Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos
Runtime: 87 minutes
Rating: Not Rated


The Mind's Eye Movie Review


Do you remember when body horror was dark, sexy, and too gory for children?

Joe Begos remembers.

In a DePalma-laced throwback to 70’s/80’s horror, Begos creates an alternate universe in the early 90’s in which gifted outliers with psychokinetic powers roam the country, avoiding attention and trying their best to live a normal life. Zack Connors (played by the talented Graham Skipper) is one such outlier. We meet him at the beginning of the film, walking alone through the snowy town. He seems perfectly fine with his lone wolf status, until some local cops on a power trip accost him into a panic. Restrained in a chokehold, Connors reveals his power and destroys some police property, tossing a cop onto the pavement like a rag doll. An intense, quaking stare is all it takes to remove objects – and people – from his path. Nonetheless, he’s subdued and brought in for questioning.


The Mind's Eye Movie Review


In the police station, he meets Dr. Slovak. Slovak reels him in like a twisted Dr. Xavier to a wary Wolverine, promising to help him and reunite him with Rachel (played by an expressive Lauren Ashley Carter). Despite his soothing demeanor, Slovak is a bad egg who keeps other such gifted people imprisoned in his home so he can drain their abilities and consume their power. Whereas Connors sees his gift as more of a curse, Slovak sees a nefarious potential in those abilities. The demarcation between good and evil couldn’t be any more clear in this movie, and John Speredakos inhabits the role of power-hungry madman with an over-the-top zeal that you can’t help but grin at. Conversely, Graham Skipper takes a more subdued approach to his role, providing a nice balance to his Lex-Lutherian adversary. It makes sense, as Zack Connors is not a willing hero; rather, he is manipulated into conflict and forced to act accordingly to save those close to him.

Conners eventually grows tired of his captive situation, so he locates and escapes with fellow prisoner Rachel. Dr. Slovak isn’t pleased, and so begins a thrilling chase that ends with an inevitable showdown to prove who wields the baddest brain power on the block. The movie is rife with scifi tropes, creatively deployed in such a manner that at times you forget you’re watching a second effort from an indie director. The themes bear many similarities to those of Scanners, particularly the connection between sexuality and power. It’s obvious that Begos is a Cronenberg enthusiast, and every scene, no matter how crude, is an ode to the body horror master.

For a low-budget film, this really delivers. Begos went in with a low spending limit, and it’s apparent that he spent most of that scratch on the effects department. Considering the finished product, I’m glad he made that decision. The utter carnage that ensued during the third act of the movie was some of the most memorable mayhem I’ve seen in a long time. Exploding heads, flying flesh debris, and not-so-minor axe wounds amplify the scifi celebration. While some cinephiles may balk at the close-up quivering gazes and (wire-supported) swaying axes, Begos’ vision shines through the shoestring budget. This is a legit midnight feature, where staying true to the genre is what really matters. From the mental warfare to the corporate conspiracy to the lively practical effects, The Mind’s Eye stays true.



Graham Skipper and Lauren Ashley Carter are both in fine form, playing their starring roles with restraint and vulnerable ferocity, respectively. They provide a solemn yin to John Speredakos’s campy yang, and it all just works. Indie horror darling Larry Fessenden shows up in a few endearing scenes as Connors’ father, bringing his A-game to the role, as always. I found it particularly striking that Fessenden’s performance brought more gravity to the conflict, despite dropping in halfway through the film.

The soundtrack is especially of note, as well. From the title card at the beginning reading “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD”, the use of sound in the film is paramount. Sound effects are utilized to great effect to display when psychokenetic powers are being used, rather than simply relying on visual cues like nosebleeds and distended veins. Sound effects designer Graham Reznick dishes out a handful of penetrating sounds, like the cerebral rumble that Zack emits when he deploys his kinetic abilities. It creates an unsettling effect common in body horror, particularly – you guessed it – Cronenberg’s Scanners. The film is truly a throwback, and a riotous one, at that.

When it comes down to it, you can hate on the familiar route and threadbare upholstery, or you can crank the tunes and enjoy the ride. The Mind’s Eye is a fun flick, straight up; the kind of film that the late-night double feature was meant for. The rough-around-the-edges production value only adds to the appeal and gives it an authenticity that many genre fans have been looking for in the age of the polished remake and the rebooted cash-grab. Pour some booze, watch it with your friends, and whoop and holler at the gratuitous gore.

Horror Writers Rating: 4/5 stars.

The Mind’s Eye is currently available on VOD and DVD.

Hollows Grove: Movie Review


A group of charlatan ghost hunters head to a haunted orphanage to record an episode of their show, S.P.I.T. (Spirit Paranormal Investigation Team)  They allow a friend along to document their process, and end up talking about how they fake everything.  I have no idea why they do this.  Anyway, the orphanage turns out to actually be haunted and terrible things happen to this crew.

The movie opens with Mykelti Williamson as director of the FBI, very seriously stating how these tapes we’re about to watch were found at a crime scene, and how watching them means we’re part of the investigation, and yada yada.  It was so sincere and ridiculous that I just had to laugh.  Having a recognizable actor open the movie in that way made it even worse.  There was no possibility of suspending disbelief.  If I’m going to watch a found footage movie, I need to buy in that the events could possibly be real.  Seeing Bubba Blue sit on a desk and tell me he’s with the FBI does not allow me to do that.

hollows-grove-timThen we get to meet our ghost hunters.  And they’re terrible people.  Just the worst.  They’re fronted by Tim, who has one of the smuggest faces I’ve ever seen (which is odd, seeing as how he is played by Heed from So I Married an Axe Murderer).  His right hand man – Roger – is a screaming ball of misogynist comments and terrible jokes, wrapped up in a man who has entirely too high an opinion of himself.  Chad is also there.  He is tall and blonde.  Their producer – Julie – somehow sticks around even though Tim and Roger can’t stop saying terrible things to her.  But I’m sure the paycheck for S.P.I.T. is more than worth it (there is no way this is true).

hollows-grove-groupHarold is following them around with a camera and seems legitimately shocked that their “hauntings” are merely tricks to make it look like things are moving.  At the helm of these tricks is Bill, played by the great Lance Henricksen.  Have you ever wanted to see Henricksen’s hind quarters and part of his balls?  Spoiler alert: you totally see all of that.

Don’t smile at me like that, Lance. I’ve seen too much.

The S.P.I.T. show itself is horrendous.  The awful script was only outdone by the awful performances.  Everything was said with a dead-serious tone, while puns flew around like hotcakes.  (Flying hotcakes, I guess?)  I tried to imagine what it would be like to actually watch the show, and I ended up throwing items at my TV.

hollows-grove-hallwayAll that said…I think I kind of liked it.

This movie was not breaking any ground.  It’s essentially the same movie as Grave Encounters, with a bit of The Last Exorcism thrown in.

I mentioned how the characters were insufferable, but that’s really just an old slasher trick.  Create a cast of unlikable characters so you don’t feel bad when they are killed.  And it worked.  (To be fair, Tim and Roger were the only two I was actively rooting for to die.)  Every time the lights flickered or there was a loud noise, I kept saying, “Please let Tim and Roger die soon.”  I was basically Rob Corddry waiting for Crispin Glover’s arm to be severed in Hot Tub Time Machine.  “This is it.  THIS IS IT!  Oh…false alarm.  Just do it already, ghosts.”

Drop the hammer, ghosts. DROP THE HAMMER.
Drop the hammer, ghosts. DROP THE HAMMER.

The set-up dragged a bit, especially since we all know exactly where this movie was heading.  The ghosts – including the ghost of a psychotic orphan known for slitting throats – were real and the crew would be trapped inside to be taunted and killed.  But not before being haunted for hours.  Soooo much haunting, you guys.


Even though I knew where it was heading, the payoff was still fun.  Once all hell started to break loose, I had a good time.  One member of the crew got possessed in a fairly confusing manner and decided murder would be fun.  Other members of the crew ended up running aimlessly through the abandoned orphanage, saying nonsensical things like, “Let’s run to the roof to escape,” without any clear plan of what they would do if they were to actually reach the roof.  Doors that were once locked became unlocked, and they ran into them to escape the ghosts in the hallway, not thinking there may be ghosts behind the locked doors as well.  Panic and fear do terrible things to people.  For these people, it caused them to make terrible decisions.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter.  Stay in the hall.  Go into a previously locked room.  Run to the roof.  Run to the ground floor.  Their fate was sealed.  Otherwise, the very official FBI agent wouldn’t be presenting us with the tapes in the first place.


As you can tell, this is by no means a great movie.  It’s not even a very good one.  But it can be enjoyable if you go into it with the right frame of mind.  Know that the characters are terrible people, but also know that they will die soon.  Know that the beginning is a bit slow, but also know that it will pick up.  And, again, that they will die.

Rating: 2/5

Starry Eyes: Movie Review

starry eyes - poster

Sarah has a simple dream: work hard and make it to the silver screen.  After all, who wants to work at Big Taters – a less classy version of Hooters – forever?  She will do whatever she can to make her dream come true.  What’s wrong with that?

Everything.  Everything is wrong with that.  Children, listen to me: having dreams is admirable, and you should all have them.  But if making those dreams come true means willingly signing up to be a part of a Satanic success cult, then you should probably re-think those dreams.  Maybe scale it down a notch.  Is Big Taters really so bad?
(Kids, don’t work at Big Taters.  Please.  There is a middle ground between “Satanic cult” and “Big Taters,” and it is your job to find it.)

Not pictured: your dreams coming true
Not pictured: your dreams coming true

Most of her friends are terrible and are either ambivalent about her goals or actively attempting to sabotage her.  She gets an audition for a horror film called The Silver Scream and desperately wants the part, even though their demands during the audition process – pull our your hair in front of us, take off your clothes, bang this old dude, etc. – are increasingly insane.  All of these demands are spoken in the same flat, unfeeling tone, which makes them all the more chilling.  They seemed to say, “It doesn’t matter to us if you do this or not.  If you don’t want to do these things, someone else will.”

starry eyes - audition 2

Eventually, Sarah begins physically deteriorating and it becomes obvious something is going on behind the scenes.  She is left with a choice: continue down her path to stardom no matter what it takes, or pull back and try to regain whatever is left of her life.

starry eyes - sarah & producer
I liked this movie quite a bit.  It’s not one that I can say I enjoyed – there were some extremely uncomfortable scenes that can’t be classified as “enjoyable” – but it is one that I walked away from being impressed with.  I was kept off-balance for the vast majority of the movie, never quite sure what was going to happen next, or who I was even rooting for.

starry eyes - jump in pool
Alex Essoe is tremendous as Sarah.  She is able to pull off sympathetic and terrifying, sometimes in the same moment.  She’s amazing and she should be in everything.  (She was also in one of the best segments of the middling anthology, Tales of Halloween.)

starry eyes - sarah sitting outside

The rest of the cast played their parts admirably.  I was a huge fan of Fabianne Therese’s Erin, Sarah’s horrible “friend.”  She was a terrible person and she made me smile.  Pat Healy shows up as the beaten-down manager of Big Taters, creepy mustache in tow.  Those are the two that stood out – mainly because I recognized them – but everyone was great.

starry eyes - carl
This is a well-crafted, creepy, unnerving movie.  There aren’t many slow moments.  And, while there were times when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, I was never fully sure of that feeling.  If you’re looking for a dark tale about “making it in Hollywood,” with a healthy heaping of body horror, throw this on.

Rating: 4/5

Crimson Peak: Movie Review

crimson peak - poster

Ghosts!  Ghosts everywhere!
At the turn of the 20th century, Edith Cushing (CUSHING!) is wooed by an English baronet, gets married and moves to his not-at-all ominous mansion, nicknamed “Crimson Peak”.  There is a nefarious plot between the baronet and his insane sister in regards to Edith.  And then, of course, there are the aforementioned ghosts.

crimson peak - edith
My thoughts:
First things first: with this being a passion project of Guillermo Del Toro, you knew the set design was going to be top-notch.  Like, next-level, blow-your-mind stuff.  It did not disappoint.  With all the big names attached, somehow the house was the star of the show.  It was created as such a living being that it actually breathed.  The hole in the roof led to some great visuals of various leaves/precipitation floating through the massive house.  Footsteps in the snow outside looked like blood footsteps, as the red clay the land was situation on was brought to the surface with each footstep.  The walls of the house oozed with red clay.  I was in love with all of it.

crimson peak - house
If we’re listing things I loved about the movie in order (and we are, because it’s my review and I’m a grown up and I do what I want), the next in line was the performance of Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe, crazed sister of Tom Hiddleston’s Sir Thomas Sharpe.  She was a ball of barely contained crazy in the early going, then she really let loose as the movie progressed.  Her eyes were wild and her face was cold steel and she was amazing and I’m scared of her and I love her and I’m very confused.

crimson peak - lucille mirror 2
I could talk plot and the rest of the cast, but what’s the point?  Mia Wasikowska was fine.  Tom Hiddleston was fine.  Charlie Hunnam was fine.  Everyone was fine and performed their jobs admirably.  The plot was also fine.  Even if everything besides the set design and Jessica Chastain was terrible, it would still be worth watching for those two reasons.

My point is, if you haven’t seen this yet, please do so, if only for how amazing it all looks and for Jessica Chastain releasing her inner crazy.

crimson peak - lucille piano
Rating: 4.5/5

The Poughkeepsie Tapes: Movie Review

poughkeepsie - poster

Authorities find over 800 VHS tapes made by an elusive killer in and around Poughkeepsie, New York.  We the viewer – most of whom are absolutely not police or FBI agents – get to watch some of these and see what terrible things this killer did.  Awful things.  Twisted things.  Why did they let us watch these?

My thoughts:
This wasn’t as much out-and-out scary as it was supremely unnerving.  I had to keep telling myself, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real.”  I believed myself for the most part, but a little part of me knew that I’m not a smart person and was probably lying.

This movie is 86 minutes long.  There is a whole lot of life-scarring material in this movie for it being so short.  There are things in this movie I will carry with me for years.  Maybe the rest of my life.  I may pass those things down to my children.  They don’t deserve this, man.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, but a decent portion of the movie deals with the kidnapping/torture of Cheryl Dempsey.  She was a teenager when she was abducted.  She was abused physically and mentally to a terrible extent.  We see the torture.  We see her mind cracking under the strain of it all.  It’s heartbreaking.
In a particularly chilling scene, the killer videotapes himself as he approaches Cheryl’s mom, offering to help find her child.  Eventually it dawns on her mother that she is talking to the man who took her daughter.  As she is paralyzed with fear, the killer laughs and walks off.  That scene broke me down.  Of all the things I saw him do over the course of this movie, that felt like one of the worst.  It felt like someone punching me in the gut.  The torture I can take.  But that?  That’s a bridge too far, fella.

But that wasn’t the worst.  Not really.  He did some, let’s call it “creative surgery,” that was horrifying.  Just horrifying.

Both his psychological and physical torture are next level sadistic.  If this man existed in real life and was anywhere close to my town, I would have picked up and moved a long time ago.  Maybe burned my house on my way out of town for good measure.

I feel like I’m really talking this movie up.  I liked it, but it wasn’t perfect.  There are some slow moments.  There are some scares that don’t really land.  But those are small moments and relatively easy to overlook.  Again, it’s a short movie, and those moments are in the minority.  For the most part, this is an extremely well-done movie.  It used the found footage genre to perfection.

poughkeepsie - cheryl in house
If you’re looking for an unsettling serial killer movie, this is it.  It has had a troubled release history, so it’s not the easiest movie to track down, but you can find it if you search hard enough.  That aspect makes this a little creepier: it’s a movie about hours and hours of torture and murder, and it’s not easy to track down.  That aspect makes it feel a little more real.
Turn off the lights, check to make sure all your doors and windows are locked and throw this on.  You may find yourself staring at the screen as the credits roll, wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  Then checking all the closets in your house.  Just in cases, you know?

Rating: 5/5

Notable actors: Bobbi Sue Luther, a real serial killer (probably)