Monsters, mobsters and singing brothel madams: Local feature films now on DVD and VOD

Let’s get it on at Lady Magdalene’s

PRESENCE OF DARKNESS Janell Kelley, Ronni Lea, Tyler Vincent, Kirk Thompson. Directed by Josef Niznik. Available on DVD at

Theoretically, Presence of Darkness is a horror movie, in that it has a mysterious supernatural villain who eventually gets around to killing people, and there are sequences meant to generate suspense and even fear. It also features a dumb, obvious twist ending, which is unfortunately a time-honored hallmark of the horror genre. But for probably half of its running time, it’s some rambling, annoying comedy about a group of vapid roommates, and writer-director Josef Niznik inexplicably spends a great deal of time on one roommate (Tyler Vincent, in an unbelievably annoying performance) running around the house putting on stupid outfits while his female roommates are out. Eventually a monster who looks like a cheap video effect shows up, but even then it takes another half-hour or so for the characters to actually care. Toward the end there are one or two chilling images, but overall the only scary thing about Presence of Darkness is how poorly crafted it is.

LADY MAGDALENE’S Ethan Keogh, Susan Smythe, Nichelle Nichols. Directed by J. Neil Schulman. Available via Amazon video on demand.

Shot in Pahrump in 2006 and finally made available years later online, J. Neil Schulman’s Lady Magdalene’s already seems a little dated, with its storyline that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security (complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary). The movie is an awkward combination of goofy comedy and political thriller, and neither element really works. The idea of an IRS agent (Keogh) having to take over a brothel because it’s in receivership for unpaid taxes is a potentially amusing one, but it’s quickly derailed by a larger plot about said agent foiling a terrorist plot with the help of the brothel’s employees. Add in incongruous (and terrible) musical numbers courtesy of Nichelle Nichols (best known as the original Star Trek’s Uhura) as the brothel’s madam, and you have a mess, albeit an occasionally amusing one.

I AM HERE….NOW Neil Breen, Joy Senn, Elizabeth Sekora. Directed by Neil Breen. Available on DVD at

Was writer-director-producer-star Neil Breen, like, totally high when he came up with the idea for his hilariously awful “supernatural thriller” I Am Here....Now? And if not, what excuse does he have? Breen casts himself as a powerful being (probably God) who comes to Earth to express his disappointment with humanity via stock footage and New Age-y music. Breen walks around Las Vegas with a blank expression on his face “judging” poorly acted examples of corrupt government officials, drug users and gang members. Everyone speaks in stilted declarative exposition about who they are, and scenes are shot in such a way that it’s often hard to tell if characters are even in the same location. Breen himself might be an otherworldly being, since he seems to have no understanding of actual human behavior. His vague (but incessant) messages about sustainable energy and personal responsibility are impossible to take seriously when you’re too busy laughing at the inane dialogue and nonsensical plotting.

SURVIVING THE MOB Directed by JC Willette. Available on DVD from Amazon.

There’s more to filmmaking than just pressing “record” on a camera, but that’s something director JC Willette seems not to have taken to heart for his documentary Surviving the Mob. Willette’s subject, former Gambino crime family associate Andrew DiDonato, is undeniably fascinating: DiDonato spent much of the ’80s and ’90s on the streets of New York doing all manner of unsavory things as a member of the mob, and he recounts those exploits in colorful detail in the movie. The problem is that there isn’t anything else: It’s 98 minutes of DiDonato talking, shot in the most uncinematic, utilitarian way possible, with rough sound and very few cuts. Condensed and shaped into a narrative with more visual sophistication, DiDonato’s story could make for a riveting movie, but dumped in front of the viewer with little regard for pacing or variety, it’s just a tedious failure of editing.


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