Skip to content

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: alien lifeform rids the Earth of politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, and corporatists.

Everybody’s favorite delusional Las Vegas Christian geek green-Marxist is back, and he’s now more unhinged and volatile than ever! Neil’s done playing nice. No more warnings, no more second chances. Our favorite “visionary” filmmaker of “controversial” and “thought-provoking” cinema refuses to compromise, to negotiate, to mediate. Breen gave humanity a fair and final warning in Double Down (2005), and a last second chance in I Am Here…. Now (2009). Neil’s a man of action and a proponent of denim. In Pass Thru he steps up his game by dressing exclusively in denim and advocating for the extermination of 300 million people, no less! This time around Neil has no time for the womanfolk, and Breen’s love interest is a complete nonentity. Pass Thru is fringe cinema at the utmost extreme. A barely coherent screed from a director who has clearly lost all touch with reality and probably most of his marbles…

Pass Thru is not your average Neil Breen film. No. It’s a greatest hits of sorts and a partial remake of both Double Down (2005) and I Am Here…. Now (2009). It kinda-sorta-but-not-really is a Breen take on the Robert Wise science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Like Breen’s 2009 feature Pass Thru is drenched in intentionally opaque Native American and New Age mysticism. Of course it’s full of Neil’s patented blunt force symbolism, and it’s historic for being the first of two Breen features produced during the Trump presidency the second being Twisted Pair (2018). Times, presidents, and political climates may change – but that doesn’t mean that old Neil does. The surge in anti-intellectualism, fundamentalist religious fervor and - persecution, as well as the untethered bigotry and corruption that has pervaded every branch of government was unprecedented at this point in recent history. Never has Breen’s message sounded more socially relevant than it did here. If there’s ever a frightening prospect, it’s Breen resonating with the times….

In the Nevada desert somewhere near the Mexican border callous human traffickers have established a make-shift commune where they hide their captives. One day a heroin-addict (Neil Breen) shoots up and passes out. Around the same time Amanda (Kathy Corpus) and her niece Kim (Chaize Macklin) manage to break out of captivity and come across the addict and his rundown, garbage-infested trailer. He offers the girls shelter for as long as they need. He calls himself Thgil (“light” spelled backwards, because Breen's messiah complex and celestial pretensions haven't lessened in the slightest) and claims to be an A.I. of superior intellect from the far future. Amanda initially puts no stock in what he says, but he shows telekinesis to substantiate his claims. Thgil can bend space, time, and matter to his will – and he has returned to this primitive earth to eliminate 300 million “bad” people. “The Cleanse,” he says, “has begun!” Thgil will first whet his genocidal appetites with the human traffickers and liberate the immigrant commune from bondage. From there he will move on to the actual scum and villainy that are corrupt politicians, lawyers, Wall Street brokers, CEOs, and press officials.

Meanwhile, a boy (Abraham Rodriguez) and a girl (Taylor Johnson) who share the common interest of music and astronomy have discovered alien activity. They have alerted their aging and ailing professor (James D. Smith) to their plans to travel deep into the Nevada desert to pinpoint the location. While that is happening Thgil uses his vast intellect to insinuate himself into high society cocktail parties where he erases presidents of banks (Adriane McLean), insurance (Brad Thomte), and media (Judy Thomas) out of existence. He then moves on to senators (Charles Updergrove) and corporate execs (Phil Graviet, and John Marchitti). He then overtakes an international press center by disintegrating its news anchors (Nicole Spitale, Steve Brito, and Audra Wilson) and delivers a condemning speech to the remaining survivors on Earth. Kim has gone missing leaving Amanda a quivering husk. Thgil finds Kim in a cave where she’s being threatened at gunpoint by a deranged veteran (Jason James). Thgil cures the veteran by simply saying, “You are now free… of PTSD.” As Thgil prepares to depart for his homeworld Amanda and Kim are shot by Amanda’s abusive ex-husband (Mike Kelly). He resurrects both and erases the perpetrator out of existence. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and all is right with the world again…

Pass Thru comes a decade-plus after Double Down (2005) and old Neil has actually managed to get worse. Breen has always worked with a skeleton crew but this rings especially true for Pass Thru where he mans every position himself. To the surprise of absolutely nobody it looks terrible in every department. A few aerial drone shots notwithstanding Pass Thru looks worse than the short features that Alex Chandon shot on home-video some two decades earlier. Everything that doesn’t feature Breen flying solo feels underrehearsed, hastily staged, and come across as needlessly messy. A lot feels and looks as if it was improvised on the fly. The camera work is shaky and uneven, and there isn’t a single good looking shot to be found anywhere. The editing, by Breen and John Mastrogiacomo, is probably some of the worst, even by his own very forgiving standards. Not every penny was on the screen, obviously. Oh, no. If there’s anything Neil’s known for it’s for elevating corner-cutting to an artform. There are discharged firearms, and explosions – but who needs pyrotechnics and weapon experts when you can superimpose cheap looking muzzle flashes and Windows 95 sprites? Why scout for locations that heighten the production value when you can just green-screen them? Why location scout at all? Just go into the Nevada desert and shoot to your heart’s content.

A Breen movie wouldn’t be complete without socio-political commentary, and Pass Thru primarily seems to be about immigration and the treatment of refugees. As with his other movies Neil’s an environmentalist and here he also pushes his agenda of sustainable, renewable energy and putting a stop to depleting Earth’s resources and destroying nature and biodioversity for shortsighted greed. Also worth noting is that Pass Thru marks the first time Neil choses for an ethnic minority love interest with Kathy Corpus. Not that she’s his typical lost Lenore, or that her romantic subplot is in any way developed or explored beyond its very, very basic contours. Even Breen’s romance with Joy Senn in I Am Here…. Now (2009) was written better. Apparently the romance with Jennifer Autry in Fateful Findings (2013) was a one-time thing. Amanda gets exactly one line (“We have to keep running! Your mother’s my sister. She was murdered. I swore to God I’d take care of you. You’re my niece. We have to keep running!”) that is supposed to pass for character development, and that’s it. Oh yeah, and then there’s that scene where Kathy throws a rock at Neil’s face. Priceless.

Speaking of Lohan School of Shaolin alumnus Kathy Corpus, a black belt in kung fu and tai chi. Kathy has a corpus to die for, and that corpus is a finely-toned weapon. Kathy’s an accomplished Las Vegas martial artist and stunt performer, and like Tara Macken she’s the kind of talent America has far too few of. Rene Perez would know what to do with her. Arrowstorm Entertainment would die to have someone like her. Hell, even Neil Johnson would put her to better use. Not Breen, though. No. All the master of traumatic arts allows poor Kathy to do is walk around aimlessly and shout her lines aggressively. The great majority of characters will never even be named – and none of them (not even the leads) will be given an arch. The B-plot features three kids, but only two of them are identified as “astronomers” in the credits with the third curiously missing. If the professor’s hospital room looks familiar that’s because it’s the same as in Fateful Findings (2013), the interiors for the other kids were probably the same house too. The medal-studded blue denim jacket from Double Down (2005) also makes an appearance. It’s entirely possible that the deranged war veteran is supposed to be a nod towards Aaron Brandt from Breen’s debut. Who knows? Surely a new cinematic low point has been reached when I Am Here…. Now (2009) and Fateful Findings (2013) can retroactively be considered the gold standard in all things Breen.

Suffice to say Pass Thru is stunningly bad. Not only from a technical standpoint, the writing is probably the most skeletal and thin it has ever been. You’d imagine that after ten years in the trenches Neil would pick up a book to better his craft, but no such thing seems to be the case. In 30 years Alex Chandon made a handful of shorts, and three full length features. Neil has made 5 movies in 10 years, and shows no apparent sign of improving on any front. Pass Thru actually manages to look worse than Alex Chandon’s rough-and-ready Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988). Why is Neil still filming on home video? Aren’t High-Definition and Red One (4k) cameras the de facto industry standard now? Neil has always been an auteur but Pass Thru is probably the most egregiously written of the bunch. The feeble and slim chance of Breen actually becoming better with time has been clearly refuted by this point. To see the comedy of errors known as Double Down (2005) was fun at first, but to see no progress over ten years later is something else. It makes you feel sorry for old Neil. Maybe he did lose his marbles making these no-budget paranormal epics in the blazing Nevada sun. Any way you slice it, Pass Thru is a cry for help. A mental health professional should review old Breen’s case. Right now.