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They’re not made of candy, but they’re sassy and pack quite a punch.

It’s not often that any of us at review titles that are aimed at middle school aged girls, but Potent Media’s Sugar Skull Girls is a fantastic independent feature with a handful of horror icons making an appearance, awesome visual effects and tons of teenage angst. It’s basically The Wizard of Oz meets The Craft meets Heathers meets Critters. Yeah, if you can swallow all of that like a tub of Tootsie Rolls (insert cash register ding here), then maybe Sugar Skull Girls is the movie for you!

Sugar Skull Girls is written and directed by Christian Jude Grillo. This is the fourth time Grillo has produced a feature film with the Potent Media Team including John Martineau, John Kent, David Gechman, Will Sachs, Sharon Smyth Lentz and Chuck Maher. Cast members include Addy Miller (“The Walking Dead”), CeCe Hagen, Isabella Sobejano, Anika Buchanan, Carmela Hayslett (Blood Slaughter Massacre), Scott Strasbaugh, Moriah M. Tobin, Julie Ryan, Morgan Elise Beatty, David B. Stewart III (Reichsfuhrer-SS), James F. Murray Jr., Bryan DeSanto and Randy Memoli. Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy, The Devil’s Rejects), Michael Berryman (Weird Science, The Hills Have Eyes) and John Amplas (Day of the Dead, Creepshow) all shine in lead to supporting roles.

In Sugar Skull Girls a distraught man (Amplas) contacts a powerful mystic (Easterbrook) to raise his deceased granddaughter from the dead. As with all good scifi movies the spell doesn’t go quite as planned and the duo ends up resurrecting three powerful sisters from The Shadow World. While the girls are happy to be in our plane of existence, even going as far as to make a new best friend, it’s not long before The Pale Witch (Hayslett) is hot on their trail and trying her best to drag them back to her domain. There are rules to uphold! Giant armored pumpkin people, two legged attacking heads and more are just some of the beasts that descend upon our protagonists…but what’s scarier than four pissed off teen girls?

First and foremost I want to compliment the visual effects from David Gechman and Grillo. The visual effects are one of the biggest reasons why Sugar Skull Girls is a step above the rest in terms of quality. The visual effects are simply stunning, void of pixelation and can rival some of the CGI being used in Hollywood today. Top notch, impressive… An A+ for sure! These effects are coupled with other movie making magic aspects – fun original scores from Mr. Potent, bright colors, bright borders, filters and fonts, sound effects and product placements – to make a really fun movie that’s pleasing to the senses. At times it was reminiscent of a motion comic and it was all very pretty. Yes, I’m using pretty as the word to describe Sugar Skull Girls. The vibe of the movie is far and away the most different vibe in the Potent Media catalogue (good Lord have you seen Deer Crossing? Aaahh!!) and I’m glad to see that the effort put into making something original and different payed off so well for the gang. Awesome cinematography, too!

The acting was superb and the four leading ladies all showed a variety of emotions and moods in such a short span of time and that was really impressive to me considering their age. Miller, Hagen, Sobejano and Buchanan are going to be stars one day and Sugar Skull Girls is the perfect introduction to them. Hayslett was great in her role as The Pale Witch and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of comedic timing and cattiness was infused in her narcissistic, sarcastic, vengeful performance. Dare I say it, but The Pale Witch seemed like the love child of horror host Roxsy Tyler and Katia, Hayslett’s character from Potent Media’s last feature Apocalypse Kiss. Horror icons Leslie Easterbrook and Michael Berryman were a pleasant surprise and great, too, but I found John Amplas to be the biggest surprise. His performance in Sugar Skull Girls is one of his first roles following a twenty year acting hiatus, and it showcased that he’s still got “it.” Also, those pumpkin soldier actors, though! I heard one of them was played by Michael DeFellipo and that guy is sexy as Hell!

If you’re a parent or if you watch networks for kids in general then you’ll know how marketable Sugar Skull Girls is. It has a stark resemblance to the Monster High franchise while remaining unique, original, fully actualized and able to stand on its own two feet. Whenever this movie is released – a worldwide distribution announcement with Lighthouse Pictures is currently pending – it’s going to be solid and I hope it’s released around Halloween season. The pumpkins, the supernatural powers, the monsters, the witch, the candy, the horror stars, the general peppy yet gothic atmosphere, this movie will certainly rope in girls from age 10 to 16. I think it even has the capacity to go the Hocus Pocus route, where it picks up more steam as time goes on and becomes a family favorite around the ghostly holiday season. It really is a feature the film the whole family can enjoy.

I do have to be honest in saying the script did have its moments that were kind of…rushed or unfinished to me. Especially in the beginning and at the midway point I felt that pieces were left out or breezed over and, as a fan of the whole concept, I was left wanting more. Adding a few minutes of extra dialogue or explanation to Sugar Skull Girls could have greatly improved the overall story.

Still, as a 27-year-old male, I enjoyed the movie and that says a lot since I think I’m outside of the target demographic. There’s something subconsciously endearing about it. Whether it’s nods to other movies, the feel of October while watching it in June or just the amount of time and effort poured into it, I can’t help but respect Sugar Skull Girls for what it was able to accomplish – a genuinely family friendly tween scifi-comedy with a great story, tons of sass, suspense and heart. You’ll never route for teenage girls as much as you will in Sugar Skull Girls. It was able to mix themes like loyalty and belief in yourself with vampire fangs, lightning bolts and a satyr. And that’s as crazy as it is fantastical. Watch for this one, parents and girls of all ages!


POP HORROR (Movie Review)

I’ve been watching and reviewing a lot of graphic, messed up films lately and while I love them, sometime they start to take their toll. I start to feel a little burned out from all the extreme gore and disturbing content. Sometimes it’s nice to watch something fun and light, a palate cleanser if you will. The film I watched earlier, Potent Media’s latest effort Sugar Skull Girls, is just that. Check out the trailer below and read on for the review!

Sugar Skull Girls is the latest film from writer/director Christian Grillo (Apocalypse Kiss 2014) and features a cast that includes Anika Buchanan, Addy Miller (The Walking Dead TV series), Isabella Sobejano (Thursday the 12th), Cece Hagen (Spilt Blood 2015), John Amplas (Martin 1978), Leslie Easterbrook (The Devils Rejects 2005), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes 1977), and Carmela Hayslett (Apocalypse Kiss 2014). The film follows 3 demonic sisters accidentally summoned from The Shadow and their newfound human friend as they try to avoid being taken back to said Shadow by The Pale Witch while also trying to help a kindly old man rescue his granddaughter.

This film is exactly what I expected it to be: pure, light-hearted, horror-influenced fun. I absolutely loved the cast. All 4 of the main girls were great and it was nice to see Addy Miller of The Walking Dead fame as something besides a zombie and she did great. Addy, as well as the other girls, were genuinely funny and had great chemistry together. Leslie Easterbrook hams it up just like she did in Devils Rejects and I loved every minute she was onscreen. It was a pleasant surprise seeing Michael Berryman in a family friendly film playing a servant of the main villain. I think this is one of the funniest and nicest characters I’ve ever seen him play.

Carmela Hayslett (AKA horror host Roxsy Tyler) was utterly unrecognizable as The Pale Witch, at least till I heard her speak. Her character is an evil yet lovable goofball and I definitely got a Rita Repulsa vibe from the character. The biggest surprise in the cast was John Amplas, who had previously played the title character in George A. Romero’s vampire film Martin. I wasn’t aware until I prepared to write this review that it was him. He play Demetrius, the grandfather of a girl The Pale Witch was keeping captive and the Sugar Skull Girls were trying to rescue. His performance was kind of unusual but it worked for the character considering he is a kindly old man who is thrust into the supernatural, just trying to get his granddaughter back.

I really enjoyed the effects in this movie. The way the characters’ eyes glowed when they used their powers reminded me of classic Full Moon films and I enjoyed how the girls all had their own distinct powers and trademark color. The creatures all reminded me of something I would see in an ’80s movie. A scene featuring 2 characters as giants reminded me of my love for old Kaiju films. This movie really feels like a love letter to all things horror filtered through a family friendly and teen centered lens.

Final thoughts:

Sugar Skull Girls was a joy to watch. It reminded me of all the things that made me fall in love with horror in the first place. If you are looking for a film that is fun to watch with a budding young horror fan or you just need a break from all the graphic blood and gore, then I highly recommend you check out Sugar Skull Girls. Sugar Skull Girls is free to watch with Amazon Prime.

Film Review by Charlie Cargile

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