When you see the price they paid I’m sure you’ll come and join the masquerade.

(2019) Thriller (Cinedigm Hope Raymond, Eliza Bolvin, Brian Smick, Zachary Cowan, Valerie Fachman, Hans Probst, Ashley Raggs, Mioyoko Sakatani, Perry Fenton, Vicky Lopez, Mira Gutoff, Hunter Ridenour, George Arana, Jaime Soltys, Tony Clark, Wendy Taylor, Wendy Wyatt-Mair, Trevor Ossian Cameron, Malachi Maynard, Ethan Fry, Amber Tiana, Celina Garcia. Directed by Scott J. Ramsey


There are movies that exist in a larger universe, whether it be a shared cinematic universe like Marvel or the Friday the 13th franchise, or in our own reality. Then there are other movies that seem to exist in their own space, separate from what we know and understand. They create their own reality – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. It’s not necessarily a good thing, either.

In a beautiful mansion on the rugged Central California coast, a monthly masquerade ball for charity is about to take place. Run by a group called the Foundation (which is also the name of the production company for this and other films, something that might feel a bit uppity to some), the privacy and security of those attending are taken very seriously. The ball is by invitation only. Everyone is required to wear masks and I’m not talking the kind that the CDC recommends. Nobody is allowed to use their own names – they’re all assigned letter-and-number code names, like B7 or G8. I’m not sure if this makes them sound like spies or bingo numbers.

The grand muckety-muck of the Foundation is Christian (Raymond), also known as the Queen, and she and a select few realize that the charity ball is just a pretense; once the checkbooks are put away and the more repressed sorts have gone home for the evening, the party turns into a huge sex party where anything (and everything) goes, so long as those who attend are not forced to do things they don’t want to do. At this particular party, Christian notices an interloper and she eventually susses out the identity of Stella (Bolvin), an old rival from high school. She is now a fairly well-known sex cam performer, although her boyfriend Jackson (Cowan) isn’t aware of that fact – he thinks she’s teaching night school. She was invited by Christian’s right hand man Danny (Smick), ostensibly to add some notoriety to the mix, but in large part to get under the skin of his employer.

It doesn’t seem to faze Christian much, and she ends up inviting Stella to the next one, urging her to bring along Jackson – whom Christian had a serious crush on back in high school. At the next party, things start to go horribly wrong for Christian as her secret perversion is revealed, her mother Lynda (Fichman), a former pop star, and who suffers from dementia, turns up and all of this threatens the entire structure of the Foundation.

This is described – accurately enough – as an erotic thriller mixed in with LGBTQ+ camp with, I might add, some dark comedy thrown in for good measure. But the real meat of the movie is as a character study, as the movie really looks in at the fragile reality behind the façade of a strong capable woman that is Christian.

The movie enjoys some sumptuous production values considering its low budget, and enjoys a really nifty soundtrack. The movie missteps a bit with the acting performances – the acting is like what you might find at a Broadway audition circa 1957 and is a little overly broad and stiff for the movie camera. Some of the dialogue is cringeworthy, even though (I think) it’s meant as satire. The film owes a lot to Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut in terms of the set-up and the overall air of decadence, but there’s a very thin line between pushing boundaries and coming off as pretentious.

This isn’t strictly LGBTQ+ either – I would categorize the sex more as pansexual than anything else – and while there is a certain amount of fluidity in the lead characters’ sexuality (particularly Christian’s) there is all kinds of hooking up going on that will titillate those of any sexual preference, although there is surprisingly little graphic sexual content considering the setting.

The ending is not at all what you would expect; normally I find that to be a good thing, but to be honest, it didn’t feel earned and the more I thought about it as time has gone by since I screened the film, the less it felt right. To be fair, this was never meant to be a movie for a wide audience; this isn’t going to be everyone’s brand of vodka. If you’re the sort who delights in the erotic (particularly the fringes of same), this might well be the kind of entertainment you’re looking for and then some. For most though, it’s going to be a hard sell.

REASONS TO SEE: The production values are surprisingly strong.
REASONS TO AVOID: Well over the line into pretentiousness.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and sexual references as well as some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A companion album featuring music by goth-pop artists The Major Arcana (of which director Scott J. Ramsey is a member) entitled At the Devil’s Ball was released in conjunction with the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
Earwig and the Witch


A Messy Job


           Penelope St. Clair looked right out of place in the sawmill. In her city finery, said to be directly from Paris and the best that the Pacific Northwest could offer in 1898, she was prim, proper and decidedly gentrified. Her father, Andrew St. Clair, had emigrated from Scotland and had amassed a great wealth in land with holdings from Washington State throughout the Rockies as far east as the Dakotas, as far south as Northern California and as far north as British Columbia. Most of his land was full of virgin timber.

            Elliott James McBride, also known as E.J., might have been a handsome man if he could have disguised the avarice in his eyes. He owned a number of lumber mills and his timber had not only built the railroads but also many of the homes and businesses of Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. The arrangement between himself and the daughter of Andrew St. Clair would have been mutually beneficial to both families to say the least.

            Except that Penelope didn’t love E.J. McBride, not in the least. She was reasonably sure he felt nothing for her either, other than being the conduit for further riches for himself. Certainly he wanted her body for his own nefarious purposes; not merely to create an heir for his fortune, but for his own twisted, perverse pleasures which she, as a lady, could scarcely imagine. He proposed time after time; time after time she refused. He entreated her father to make her see reason, but Andrew St. Clair doted on his only child and also refused.

            E.J. McBride was not so easily rebuffed however. He was a self-made man who arrived in the Northwest with a fortune of three dollars exactly. This he had parlayed into the largest single land operation in Big Sky country. There were those who thought that McBride should become governor of the great state of Washington, and there were even those who whispered that he might make a fine President someday.

            He tried flowers. He attempted to give her the most luscious chocolate candy that could be imported from Belgium. He took her out for the finest meals that Seattle could offer. He bought her jewelry, clothing, gifts of every manner. She refused them all. He tried to convince her using every flattery he could think of. She saw it for what it was – the attempt of a desperate man to woo an unwilling woman. She also noticed the way he looked at her, not with the callow affection of a gentleman but with the undisguised lust of a bounder. She would have none of it.

            At last E.J. McBride ran out of patience. He wanted the lumber contract to be sure, but his pride had been hurt. His desire for the timber and for the bride had become obsession and the obsession had turned ugly. One dark night, he had followed Penelope St. Clair down to the park as she went for an evening stroll with a young man she was sweet on, a former Canadian Mountie named Gordon Dudley. E.J., never one to fight fairly, delivered a blow to the cranium of Gordon Dudley with a base-ball bat which knocked the handsome young Seattle police officer out cold. Over the nose and mouth of the screaming Penelope he placed a lace handkerchief literally dosed with ether. Her eyes rolled up in the back of her head and she fainted into the villain’s arms.

            He quickly carried her to his waiting carriage and put her inside, closing the shades on the windows, then quickly had his man drive them out of town before any sort of alarm could be raised. They drove through the night, the horses all a-lather by the time dawn came and they arrived at one of E.J.’s sawmills, one that he’d built in anticipation of the influx of lumber from Andrew St. Clair’s land, but stood in disuse waiting for the lumber to arrive that now never would.

            He trussed her up to a large piece of wood that the circular buzz-saw would normally cut into 2×4 boards. He used smelling salts to wake her. Penelope felt the fuzzy darkness slowly slip away and the morning light filled her eyes. She was disoriented at first but came to wakefulness and soon realized that something was amiss. “What is this? Where am I?” She espied EJ. standing over her, sneering and twirling his handlebar moustache in that strange affectation that was one of the many reasons she despised him. “I demand that you release me at once! Father shall hear about this and he shall give you a sound thrashing when he does!”

            E.J. McBride laughed soundly and heartily. “I fear that this eventuality shall never happen, my dear. You are in a precarious position, one not suitable for making demands.” She struggled mightily but ultimately, futilely against her bonds. “Untie me at once, you cad! Have you no morals?” Again he laughed heartily. “Why, not a speck Miss St. Clair. How do you think I’ve been so successful?” She growled, having no response for that.

            “Now let me explain what your situation is my dear. I find that I must have you – not only for the sake of my business ventures, but because I am attracted to you in no small way. So your choice is a simple one. Either you agree to marry me, be my loyal wife and the mother of my children, making me the sole heir to your father’s land holdings…or nobody gets you at all.”

            She looked at him with the eyes of a she-cat. “I would never marry you Elliott James McBride, not if you asked me a million times!” If she could have stamped her delicate foot, she would have. but E.J. McBride wasn’t concerned about her tantrums. Those he could handle the way a good husband should – with a right cross to the jaw. No, he was more concerned that she would find a way to run away with that policeman…E.J. McBride wouldn’t allow his wife to humiliate him like that, and at this point he looked at Penelope St. Clair as his bride in all but name. When he looked at her, he imagined their wedding night.

            “You might wish to reconsider that,” he said thoughtfully as he walked to the controls of the buzz-saw. “If you choose to deny me what is rightfully mine, I will make sure you become the property of no-one. I will saw you into pieces and scatter them around the Northwest where nobody could find them. Then, I will buy the land outright from your grieving father for pennies on the dollar, particularly when he is accused of your murder.”

            She looked at him with slack-jawed horror. “Have you no shame, sir? Have you no decency whatsoever?” He smiled cheerfully. “None at all,” he said lightly. “I find it impedes the digestion.”  She glared at him. “You mock me, sir!” His expression darkened at that. “I mock you? I…mock…you? It is you, Madame, who mock me! You with your constant and tiresome refusals of my heartfelt proposals, you with your pretense and your arrogance. I may be a self-made man Madame but I assure you that I am, after all that, a man. Now do you wish to marry me or do you wish to die?”

            She regarded him as she would a venomous snake. “I’d rather die than marry a poisonous scoundrel such as yourself.” He shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said and with a dramatic flourish he turned the saw on.

            The board she was affixed to began to travel by conveyor belt to the saw blade which whirred with mechanical malignancy. Penelope screamed once and turned to her captor. “You wouldn’t dare!” she yelled, more in bravado than in anything else. A slight smile upturned his lips. “I seem to be doing…just that,” he said simply and leaned back against the far wall to watch.

            Penelope began to struggle but at the same time she had faith in the Almighty that he would send someone to rescue someone as virtuous as herself. Perhaps Gordon would come to her aid. Yes, arriving on a shining white steed, his auburn curls glittering in the morning light as he dispatched the bounder E.J. McBride with startling ease. Yes, in mere moments he would be leaping through the door like a gazelle, ready to give Mr. McBride a sound thrashing, one richly deserved.

            She inched closer and smiled smugly. “I’ll be rescued,” she told McBride and he shrugged, smiling. “Perhaps” was all he said and that in a nonchalant tone. She scowled. “My Gordon will come and get me.” E.J. McBride snickered. ‘”I find that highly unlikely,” he said with a malevolent grin. Penelope looked at him with haughty disdain. “Sinners like you always get their comeuppance in the end,” she informed him. He feigned a shocked look and said “Do we? I haven’t so far.”

            He chuckled and Penelope looked nervously at the blade that was now close enough that she could feel the wood chips flying from it, stinging her cheek. “Now enough of this nonsense Mister McBride, stop this at once and release me. You will not profit from this venture.” He laughed heartily. “I already have, my dear. Just seeing you put in your place will be priceless.”

            She began to panic now. The blade was mere inches away and she could feel the blast of warm air from its whirling teeth as she drew closer. “Mister McBride, I must insist you stop this charade at once. I’m getting quite frightened and I want to go home.” He shook his head no. “Too late for that Miss St. Clair. Perhaps you should have taken me seriously to begin with.”

            She could feel the blade cutting strands of her blonde hair and she began to shriek in fear. “STOP THIS! STOP IT! I’LL MARRY YOU, I PROMISE I’LL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT DEAR GOD HELP ME” Her pleas turned into wordless shrieks as the blade made contact with her flesh. Blood from her scalp spattered on the walls as she wriggled in furious waves of fear trying to break free. Given great strength by her fear, she nearly succeeded in pulling her left hand from its bindings but now it was too late. The blade of the saw cut through the bone of her skull and into her brain.

            Bits of grey matter and flesh chunked against the walls of the mill and E.J. McBride felt obliged to move lest his suit get ruined by the gore. Now her screams were guttural and choked with blood as her body twitched and spasmed as her brain began to die and the neural endings were stimulated. Her bowels voided as the screaming stopped, her lovely eyes staring sightlessly as the saw cut through her ocular nerves and the eyeballs plopped to the floor like an overripe piece of fruit.

            The blood really began to gush as the blade sawed through her carotid artery and down along her spine as her body began to fall away, split in two. He watched in fascination as the blade cut through ribs, organs and flesh with ease although he thought with annoyance that the blade would have to be changed after this; the bones were much harder than the soft wood that would be going through here now that he would get St. Clair’s land.

            At last the saw made its way through her pubis and through, cleanly slicing the heiress in half. The show over, he went downstairs and called his man up to finish the gruesome task. The remains of the girl would be sawed into smaller chunks, then thrown in the river where the bears and fish would no doubt dispose of it.

            He looked at the blood-soaked walls of the mill and sighed. Someone would have to clean this mess up before he could bring workers here to work the lumber. Perhaps there were a few Chinamen he could buy who would get the job done. Making money, as with romance, could be messy work.