HOLY HELL (2016) dir. Will Allen

Producers: Will Allen, Tracey Harnish, Alexandra Johnes
Stars: Will Allen, Michel Gomez, Cristala Allen, Gina Allen

CNN poster for Holy Hell, depicting people sitting cross-legged in a field

HOLY HELL (2016) dir. Will Allen

What’s in a cult? Our culture is saturated with them. The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, and The People’s Temple (the site of the Jonestown Massacre) may be the most famous of American cults, but they’re hardly the only few. A cult is defined by three characteristics, all of which are rather vague: a charismatic leader, the use of “coercive persuasion,” and some form of exploitation. In movies, cults are glaringly suspicious. The leaders are always heavy-browed and blank-eyed, darkly hinting about “transcending Earth” or “becoming one” or something equally as ominous. But, if in real life cults were so obviously spotted, it’s safe to say that they would have died out long before now. Would you notice a cult if the leader demanded no sacrifices? If the fellow members were the smartest, most creative people you had ever met? If your siblings were also members?

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KILLER LEGENDS (2014) dir. Joshua Zeman

Director: Joshua Zeman
Producers: Rachel Mills, Gregory Palmer
Writer: Joshua Zeman




Every town has a legend, Joshua Zeman (CROPSEY [2009]) tells us once more in his latest documentary, KILLER LEGENDS (2014). We know his own from CROPSEY: that a maniac who steals children prowls around every corner. Zeman reminds us that the Cropsey legend is loosely based on true events (Andre Rand’s abduction and murder of two children in Staten Island). In KILLER LEGENDS, Zeman extends his analysis to four more prominent urban legends: “The Hook,” the Candyman, babysitter killings, and the mythology behind a fear of clowns.

As a quality documentary film, KILLER LEGENDS is only so-so. Many of the scenes of Zeman’s—and fellow researcher Rachel Mills’—investigations take place at night for dramatic effect (we can only assume), sacrificing a clear image for blurry scenes of Zeman and Mills making awkward conversation as they visit the scenes of various crimes related to urban legends. Inexplicably, they rarely have much to say in these instances, causing one to wonder why they bothered to visit decades-old crime scenes in the first place … staring at a tree where townspeople believe a murder occurred or pointing out a gravestone adds nothing to the exploration. These scenes are mundane in comparison to the informational portions, which are dense and fascinating.


Director Joshua Zeman and Producer Rachel Mills check out the scene of a murder by night. (Image courtesy of Joshua Zeman and Gregory Palmer.)

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THE VEIL, dir. Phil Joanou (2016)

Director: Phil Joanou
Producer: Jason Blum
Writer: Robert Ben Garant
Stars: Lily Rabe, Jessica Alba, Thomas Jane

When ambitious young filmmaker Maggie Price (Jessica Alba) asks Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe) to be a part of her latest documentary, we get the impression that she doesn’t quite know what she’s asking. The film is intended to be an exploration of the site of the mass suicide of Heaven’s Veil, a radical Christian cult…a tragedy that only Sarah Hope survived.

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