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Plot: troubled young woman is beset by ghouls and ghosts.

Very much a transitional piece between the glorified cosplay of Little Red Riding Hood (2016) and his earlier European fairytale adaptations and the later Playing with Dolls (2015-2017) sequels The Obsidian Curse is rank horror pulp that barely ever generates so much as a pulse. As a remake of Perez’ earlier Demon Hunters (2012) (released domestically as Obsidian Hearts) it recombines props, creatures, locations, and plotlines from the early Perez canon and reconfigures them into something that hopefully will elicit a reaction and sway a few into watching. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about with The Obsidian Curse. Overall it looks more like a technical exercise than a real attempt at crafting a horror movie. It truly is sad that Reggie Bannister and Richard Tyson ended up in the warped world of Rene Perez.

The Obsidian Curse is not your typical Perez fare which is about the best that can be reasonably said about it. It eschews much of the plot-free meandering of his earlier fairytale adaptations and at this juncture his expertise wasn’t at the point where it matched his ambition. As such The Obsidian Curse is a strange nonentity that is neither here nor there. It starts as a conventional human interest drama, but quickly abandons that in favor of stereotypical ghost movie shadows and jumpscares before attempting to sell itself as an exercise in the open-gateway-to-hell subgenre that was popular in Italy in the nineteen-eighties. Suffice to say it succeeds in neither and very much recalls the bygone days of Little Red Riding Hood (2016), Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013). Unfortunately Natasha Blasick, Irina Levadneva, Nadia Lanfranconi, Aurelia Scheppers, and Jenny Allford are nowhere to be seen. At this stage in his career Perez had a thing for the petite Nicole Stark and Swedish svelte Karin Brauns. Brauns would reunite with Glackin, and Tyson in Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016) and with Stark in Playing with Dolls: Havoc (2017) a year later. The biggest name present is Reggie Bannister of the Don Coscarelli horror classic Phantasm (1979) and Richard Tyson from Kindergarten Cop (1990), There's Something About Mary (1998), Battlefield Earth (2000), and Black Hawk Down (2001). Nicole Stark and Karin Brauns currently count as the most recurring Perez babes of this period.

Newly released after a year in federal prison for felony drug charges 25-year-old single mother Blair Jensen (Karin Brauns) is struggling to make ends meet. In the year that she was incarcerated her estranged husband Roberto (John Caraccioli) remarried and is now with white picket fence Donna (Julia Lehman) who keeps tabs on Blair’s daughter Linda (Leia Perez), much to her dismay. She has found temporary housing with her friend Kitty (Nicole Stark), but she will have to find a legal source of income and suitable housing of her own if she’s to retain visitation rights with Linda. A social worker (Marilyn Robrahn) is assigned to her case to monitor her progress in getting her life in order. In her desperation to find employment Blair is lured into a cave by a Mr. Cobb (Robert Koroluck) on the promise of an interview for a possible tourist guide job opening. In the darkness she has a hex placed upon her by a witch (Jessica Koffler) but Blair won’t be realizing that until much later. Before long she’s under assault by ghouls, ghosts, and the denizens of the dark. While everybody thinks Blair’s losing her mind, paranormal investigator Professor Reginald M. Sydow (Reggie Bannister) and his associate Arthur (Richard Tyson) are drawn to her case for their own personal reasons. Also on the prowl is psychotic serial killer Rudolf Masterson (Charlie Glackin) who has a thing for girls like her as his captive Yvonne (Cody Renee Cameron) attests to. Will Blair be able to break the curse of the Obsidian Heart that was bestowed on her?

In its defense The Obsidian Curse is a cut above the cinematic LARPing of Little Red Riding Hood (2016), and Alien Showdown: The Day the Old West Stood Still (2013) but that is faint praise. Indeed, there’s a lot that will look familiar to the Perez faithful: the woods and cabin from Playing with Dolls (2015), the castle and Eye Creature from Little Red Riding Hood (2016), the bar from Playing With Dolls: Bloodlust (2016), the caves from Playing With Dolls: Havoc (2017), and the witch attire from The Snow Queen (2013). What mostly kills The Obsidian Curse is that it’s all over the map. It begins as a ghost horror or demonic possession movie, briefly toys with the idea of turning suburban gothic horror before throwing in a modest legion of the living dead and a serial killer to facilitate some form of action. That it never decides what it wants to be is perhaps its biggest undoing. Somewhere in The Obsidian Curse there’s a decent little fright flick but under Perez’ direction nothing ever comes of it. Even by Perez standards it’s curiously low on both blood and boobs. Nicole Stark and Cody Renee Cameron both have brief topless scenes and the gore isn’t as abundant and gratuitous as it would be in Playing with Dolls: Havoc (2017). It’s also marred considerably by rather dubious looking visual effects from Perez regular Ignace Aleya. Rene Perez certainly has a penchant for making the most of what is very little, but not everything is defensible.

More than anything it’s unclear what the point of The Obsidian Curse is supposed to be. As a human interest drama it isn’t very interested in the human aspect and not the drama isn’t explored beyond general contours. As a horror movie it borders a bit too much on the fantastic to be scary or tense, and for a very late fantastique (a genre typically practiced in France and Spain) it has none of that deeply intense oneiric quality that the genre requires. It has superficial elements of it and it will occassionally wander into a fantastique moment or scene by mistake, but that’s the extent of it. You never get the impression that Blair’s life as a former felon in any way poses a challenge. Almost immediately she finds appropriate housing and access to fashionable clothes, a cellphone, and transportation. Certainly it’s not the focus of The Obsidian Curse but had that subplot been better developed it would make Blair’s subsequent plight a whole lot more believable. The stakes are never clear either. She obviously wants to be reunited with her daughter, but Donna’s opaque motivations are never made clear why she visits the Obsidian Heart curse on Blair, or how that forwards her objectives. Whether the Obsidian Heart is supposed to be an inversion of the Catholic devotion of the Sacred Heart of Christ is another thing entirely, but not within the purview of this review. That Kitty, Roberto, and the social worker completely disappear and are never mentioned or seen again in the second half only makes matters worse. Thankfully Rene Perez has improved in leaps and bounds in his writing since The Obsidian Curse. Not that that is saying much, but regardless...

Cody Renee Cameron

As a technical exercise The Obsidian Curse is good enough. Perez has mastered aerial drone shots, mobile and moving camera set-ups; and the whole thing is not nearly as static as some of his earlier productions. The rubber monsters refurbished from Little Red Riding Hood (2016) look the part as does the witch attire from The Snow Queen (2013). The remainder of the monsters and the cave witch do look like the cheap Halloween costumes that they are and the handful of zombies were recycled wholesale from The Dead and the Damned (2011-2015).

For the most part The Obsidian Curse feels like a patchwork of mostly disconnected scenes that Perez was dying to commit to film and that he wrote a perfunctory story around. In other words, the various elements in The Obsidian Curse never gel and the only remotely good thing here is Nicole Stark and the movie completely forgets about her halfway through. Cody Renee Cameron on the other hand is too good for inane cinematic swill like this. The Obsidian Curse is more of an experiment in camera set-ups and moving shots than anything else. For all intents and purposes it’s one of those features that should have remained in Perez’ personal vaults, but we somehow got it anyway. The only good thing that came from The Obsidian Curse is that it begat Playing With Dolls: Havoc (2017), Death Kiss (2018) and Cry Havoc (2019). Unless you’re a Rene Perez completist there’s no reason to rush out and see this mostly uneventful exercise in horror banality.

Plot: young woman navigates a forest full of horrors and terrors.

Little Red Riding Hood was (so far) the last of three European fairytale adaptations from California filmmaker Rene Perez. In the years before he had lensed versions of Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013). Little Red Riding Hood came five long years after Catherine Hardwicke’s big budget Red Riding Hood (2011) with Amanda Seyfried, and thus could impossibly be accused of trying to ride its coattails. It was shot back-to-back with his other moodpiece The Obsidian Curse (2016) and it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Perez wanted to briefly focus on something lighter before delving further into the Playing with Dolls (2015-2017) franchise and starting pre-production on his now infamous Death Kiss (2018). Little Red Riding Hood is a cosplaying extravaganza gone very much awry, and it’s understandable why Perez never returned to adapting fairytales after.

While the history of Little Red Riding Hood can be traced back to several 10th century European folk tales it was 17th-century French poet Charles Perrault who provided the basis for its popular and most enduring iteration with his Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. That version of the story can be found in the Histories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals or Mother Goose Tales (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités or Contes de ma mère l'Oye) collection from 1697. In the 19th century German poets Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm retold the Perrault fairytale loyal to the source material, but toned down the darker themes considerably to make it more audience-friendly. Rene Perez’ adaptation of the tale keeps the basic contours of the Perrault and Grimm iterations of the story, but takes some strange twists and turns along the way. Normally there isn’t a whole of ways to bungle something as simple as Little Red Riding Hood. Alas, Perez and screenwriter Barry Massoni have managed to do just that.

Little Red Riding Hood (Irina Levadneva, as Iren Levy) is traveling through the woods to bring medicine to her “gravely ill” grandmother (Marilyn Robrahm). On the way she’s warned by an apparently dead knight (John Scuderi) that the forest is haunted by terrible horrors, and that her “pureness” will attract the agents of evil. In the castle in the deep forest the Master (Robert S. Dixon) has sensed Little Red Riding Hood’s presence, and from the dungeons below he releases the Lycanthrope (Louie Ambriz), the Blind Creature (Jason Jay Prado, as Jason Prado), and the Evil Siren (Raula Reed) into the woods. Little Red Riding Hood is chased across the forest and into the castle by the Lycanthrope. Meanwhile in the earthly dimension social media influencer Carol Marcus (Nicole Stark) is on a hikingtrip across California shooting nature pictures. Eventually she comes across a mansion in the deep woods where she’s haunted by a spectral manifestation of the Master. As Little Red Riding Hood wanders around the castle she comes across an imprisoned monk (Colin Hussey) who tells her that the Master is one of the Ancients, the last survivors of Atlantis, and that he feeds on fear. On the other side of the forest a knight (Robert Amstler) is lured into the castle by the Evil Siren in form of a beautiful gypsy (Alanna Forte). Now that they’re both imprisoned in the castle walls there’s no other way to escape but to confront the Master in any way they can, and release the spell that binds them to the castle…

To say that Little Red Riding Hood is both virtually plotless and hopelessly convoluted at the same time would be charitable. As a simple three-act story Red Riding Hood lends itself ideally for adaptations. Except that Barry Massoni and Rene Perez forgot to set up the main characters in the first act, pad the second act with meandering and endless shots of the castle interiors and the Nicole Stark subplot, only to hastily wrap everything up in what looks like an improvised ending. Then there’s also the fact that this Little Red Riding Hood has very little to do with either the Perrault or Grimm fairytale, while it does feature a girl in a red hood, a wolf, and a grandmother. The Nicole Stark subplot feels more than a little out of place, and would have fitted better in Playing with Dolls (2015), or Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Why the Nicole Stark subplot was even included is anybody’s guess. It goes nowhere, adds nothing of value, and is never brought up again once the valiant knight is introduced. More than anything it feels like a b-roll from Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Instead of introducing grandmother and setting up why it’s imperative that Little Red Riding Hood reaches her destination, a throwaway line is all motivation we get. The warrior is the closest equivalent to the woodcutter (or hunter) from the fairytale, but he will not be rescueing Little Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf, or carving him up. Not that this is the first time that Rene Perez took to adapting a European fairytale very, very liberally, Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013) suffer from the same defects, and the latter even had the gall to introduce a para-military subplot.

On the plus side, this is a Rene Perez production which at least ensures that there will be plenty to look at. In case of Little Red Riding Hood that means we are treated to a multitude of beautifully composed shots and scenic Redwood National Park landscapes. What little production value Little Red Riding Hood has is almost entirely thanks to extensive location filming at Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. As early as The Snow Queen (2013) Perez has proven that he just as easy could make a living shooting music videos when he isn’t making movies. Just like that movie Little Red Riding Hood occassionally reverts back to an extended LARPing exercise captured on camera, but just like Rene has a good eye for locations he loves beautiful women just as much. On display here are Irina Levadneva, Nicole Stark, and Alanna Forte. Stark, and Forte are Perez regulars and would turn up in future Perez features, contrary to Levadneva who would resume modeling. Little Red Riding Hood is low on action, story, and lacking in about every department – but it works wonders as a moodpiece. If Perez should decide to revisit this fantasy direction he should probably lens a Jean Rollin erotic horror feature, or dig up the wolf-suit and helm his own Paul Naschy inspired El Hombre Lobo epic. He has the monster suits, the locations, and the actresses to do just such a thing.

Just like Sleeping Beauty (2014) had a demon that resembled the Jem'Hadar shock troops of the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) Perez has Stark playing a character named Carol Marcus and has her do the Vulcan salute, for… some reason? The least you can say is that Rene has a sense of humor about it all. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a Neil Johnson science-fiction feature, thankfully Rene would find better stuff to do for, and with, Nicole Stark in his later productions. The dialogue, when it appears and however little of it there is in the first place, is about as clunky as you’d expect. Matters are made worse by Robert Amstler’s and Irina Levadneva’s impossibly thick native accents (Austrian and Russian, respectively), hence that they were dubbed by Kristina Kennedy and Robert Koroluck. Overall, and a few beautiful composed shots notwithstanding, Little Red Riding Hood is a fairly static affair. This was before Perez really got a grip on creative camera set-ups and moving shots. Little Red Riding Hood, just like The Obsidian Curse (2016) the same year, often feels more like a technical exercise than a feature intended for general release. And that’s okay, Perez’ later productions obviously benefitted from it in the long run.