Monday, February 17, 2020

Restricted Area (2019)



USA/2019
Directed By: Christopher M. Don
Written By: Christopher M. Don
Starring: Paige Lindsay Betts, Phillip Andre Botello, Ross Britz
Color/112 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: February 4, 2020

Believe it or not one of the last brick and mortar supporters of indie horror is Wal Mart. Each month they dedicate a section of their media department to low budget new releases, many of which are horror. It's quite cool but one must approach this section with caution because there's certainly hidden gems to be found but you're far more likely to encounter uninspired ripoffs of more mainstream films. Or worse...

One of the DVDs you'll find staring at your from the store shelves at the time of publication is RESTRICTED AREA, a 2019 slasher film written and directed by Christopher M. Don. It's the perfect example that not everything in this section is going to be a winner. I'll start with the best points of the movie which may be the acting and these are no award winning performances. The cast is made up of small time actors trying to make their way in the independent scene and Youtube personalities. In a better film the performances may have bothered me but I found them to be mostly passable for a film such as this. There was plenty more to endure for the film's incredibly bloated 112 minute run time. I don't think most Hollywood slashers need to be much more than 90 minutes and almost never can they fill out two hours. It just isn't the type of story that needs that type of length or even benefits from it. If we're talking indie slashers? I think the sweet spot is even closer to 75 minutes. From years and years of watching these things it just seems that's what the production's budget can handle as far as personnel and locations go. 112 minutes is just ridiculous. I understand wanting to use the footage you worked hard to get but editing is the thing that gives the audience a sharp, sleek viewing experience. If it doesn't add something to the film does it need to be there? Dragging the film out only made my viewing experience worse which made my feelings toward the film worse and it dragged on and on and on. It made the awful natural light that washed out half the picture and left the other half in shadows more irritating, it made the lack of locations more prominent, and it made one of the killer's stupid white webbed belt even less intimidating than it was the last time i saw one at Pac Sun. Editing. Learn it. Love it.

RESTRICTED AREA was a grating viewing experience. When you're searching the shelves of the independent film section at Wal Mart caveat emptor.

RESTRICTED AREA is available HERE

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Color Out Of Space (2020, Richard Stanley)



USA/2020
Directed By: Richard Stanley
Written By: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur
In Theaters January 24, 2020

The Gardner family has recently relocated to a family estate to focus on a quieter life of farming for patriarch Nathan (Nicolas Cage) and his family. Their quiet life changes when a meteorite crashes in their back yard. All of the family goes to check on its vibrant glow giving off hues of pinks and purples. Each family member has their own individual reaction to coming in to contact with the space rock. Soon after the meteorite dissolves to dust and infects the local water system around the house leading way to beautiful and bountiful crops and flora before the foreign presence wreaks havoc on anyone that it has infected creating a series of mental and psychological terrors along with severe and deadly physical effects.

Before I begin any form of critical review let me first say welcome back Richard Stanley! It has been over two decades since we last got a feature film from the man who brought us cult classics such as Hardware and Dust Devil. His 1996 production of The Island Of Dr. Moreau is infamous for its highly troubled production that saw Stanley leave the production by running off into the jungle and more or less being blacklisted by the studio system. I'm a big fan of Stanley and believe that his voice is one of the most original and interesting that genre film has seen in recent years and even his short film entry Mother Of Toads for the anthology horror film The Theater Bizarre from several years ago showed that he still has his directing chops and his creative mind. When it was announced that he would be directing an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's classic tale of astral horror it quickly became one of my most anticipated movies and it arrived and will immediately be heralded as one of the greatest Lovecraft film adaptations of all time.


THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE is one of the most widely adapted Lovecraft stories with filmmakers putting all sorts of spins on the story for their films but the source material in Richard Stanley's version is immediately recognizable and you're put in the middle of this tight family dynamic on this small farm that becomes a scene of complete mind altering madness and bone wrenching body horror the likes of which you haven't seen lately. Richard Stanley doesn't rush things along, he allows us to settle good and deep into our seats and become acquainted with the family and gives us a reason to care about them. Nicolas Cage proves to be a great father figure but also one that is a bit distracted by his own ventures. Cage has become a bit of a punchline in recent years for his over the top and very animated performances but I think he's really turned on his chops in the last couple of years as he's very good in this as his world melts away. That isn't to say we don't get one of those infamous Nic Cage freak outs because we absolutely do.

The rest of the cast carries their weight with grace, especially Madeleine Smith who plays the daughter and is left to carry plenty of scenes on her own. Richard Stanley's direction is unsettling and at times mildly disorienting which leaves the viewer feeling how I imagine the characters dealing with the effects of this space rock would be feeling. His use of the color emitting from the rock is dazzling and makes those pink and purple tones a monster character of their own. As the film moves closer to its inevitable conclusion I found myself digging deeper in my seat as the uneasy feeling from tension grew and grew. I just knew something major was around the corner on top of the classic Lovecraft attack on the psyche. Then we're subjected to witness a mangled mess of flesh and it writhed around the floor and couch with no discernible rhyme or reason as to where limbs and appendages protrude from. I tell you that THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE is worth the time just to see this disgusting mass of flesh and bone. It is an indescribable experience to say the least.


THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE was a perfect storm of ingredients for me that I was hopeful yet skeptical it may not turn out as I hoped it would. I'm pleased to say that not only did I love the movie but I believe it will be discussed as one of the best horror films of the year as Richard Stanley creates a world not of this Earth and gives us one of the finest HPL adaptations ever committed to film.

Friday, January 10, 2020

THE LIGHTHOUSE ( Lionsgate Films Blu-ray Review)


USA, 2019
Directed By: Robert Eggers
Written By: Robert Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
Black & White/109 Minutes/R
Region A
Relese Date: January 7, 2020


The Film
How you view THE LIGHTHOUSE is as important as what you view in the film itself. Blacken the room, raise the volume a bit and perhaps turn on the subtitles - you'll need them if you want to catch every last word of dialogue between our two wickies but I promise you won't need to understand every last word to have this film affect you if you let yourself become fully engulfed by raging seas and swirling winds that pound the small island our two characters are tending to on a four week stay.

The plot,  a grizzled old lighthouse keeper and a greenhorn are assigned lighthouse duty on this old island for four weeks but quickly descend into madness is not important as the film follows little in the way of traditional story telling rules. Time shifts, jumping foward weeks or slowing to a crawl watching the men perform their mundane tasks amidst only an audience of squawking seagulls and each other as they banter back and forth about events of their past or bickering about position on the proverbial totem pole. Their accents are thick and distincy, Willem Dafoe a life long man of the sea and Robert Pattinson a man who has left a life working in the timber industry up north behind. The constant bellowing of the foghorn and the persistent squawking of the gulls is designed to agitate and it does. One of many things that begin to break down the psyche of Robert Pattinson's character but the sea has a way of its own and visions of floating corpses, mermaids and ungodly tentacled beasts deliver blow after blow to his fractured mind. His only salvation being that their shift is coming to an end and relief is in sight.

Robert Eggers took the horror world by storm several years ago when he released THE WITCH which I feel is one of the best horror films of this century. His slow burn, it gets there when it gets there attitude is one I appreciate and one I don't find to be self indulgent as both of his feature films are wholly engrossing in spite of their deliberate pace and unorthodox story telling. THE LIGHTHOUSE is all about the atmosphere and mood created from the first second we lay eyes on our duo as they depart their transport and trek through the pounding rain dragging all of their gear to the lodging. It's immediately dark and cold, obviously damp and distant. Seclusion only begins to describe it. Eggers creates a lore of the sea that H.P. Lovecraft would be proud of and this entire film would definitely fit the "Lovecraftian" bill. THE LIGHTHOUSE is entirely hypnotizing, wonderfully ghostly and eerie and at times even a bit funny. What it never is is typical.

I can't say enough about THE LIGHTHOUSE, it has gorgeous photography that I could spend days talking about, it is led by two award caliber performances, the music is blasphemous and helps the film become this mesmerizing piece of art that it truly is. Let this film wash over you and find out why Robert Eggers is one of the most important names in genre filmmaking at the moment.

The Audio &Video
Lionsgate delivers THE LIGHTHOUSE on Blu-ray with a stunning transfer featuring a 1.19:1 pillarboxed presentation. This is a very deliberate artistic choice for framing the film and I think it lends a hand to the feeling of being cut off and stranded. The black and white photography looks incredible on this release. The black levels are very deep and show no signs of blocking or compression issues. The varying levels of grey and white are crisp with fine details coming through beautifully from the threads in clothing to the hair on their grizzled faces or the textured surface of a brick wall. The audio is presented with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that features booming low ends and a wide dynamic range that is handled with ease. Powerful and subtle with layers of light background sounds amidst perfectly mixed dialogue and score show how fantastic this audio mix job really is. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.

The Extras
-Audio commentary with co-writer/director Robert Eggers
-"The Lighthouse: A Dark And Stormy Tale" - featurette
-Deleted scenes

The Bottom Line
THE LIGHTHOUSE is one of my three favorite films of 2019 and easily the best horror film. It transcends the genre and is more of a full body experience than simply a movie to watch.  This is essential viewing.

THE LIGHTHOUSE is available HERE

Monday, December 30, 2019

THE MAGIC SWORD - Kino Studio Classics Blu-ray Review


US/1962
Directed By: Bert I. Gordon
Written By: Bernard Schoenfeld
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Gary Lockwood
Color/80 Minutes/Not Rated
Region A
Release Date: December 3, 2019

The Film
By 1962 Bert I. Gordon had already made several fantasy, sci-fi and horror films and worked on the special effects on a number of them as well so it comes as no surprise that THE MAGIC SWORD is a competently made medieval fantasy tale that has some well done special effects for its time.

Gary Lockwood stars as George, a handsome and cunning young man approaching his 21st birthday when he falls in love at first sight with the princess who has been kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Lodac, deviously played by Hollywood legend Basil Rathbone. George tricks his stepmother, a lesser sorcerer in her own right, into giving him a magic sword and he unlocks a half dozen knights trapped inside a picture to aide him on his journey but the king saddles them with Sir Branton, a rival knight who has plans of his own with the princess. They set off to battle through the Seven Curses that Lodac has protected the trail to his castle with including a giant ogre, an evil hag, dangerous swamplands and a fire-breathing two-headed dragon.

Bert Gordon knows how to make an entertaining film and does so despite a weak screenplay which is the film's weakest link. Characters blend into each other and fail to stand out making the extra knights little more than fodder for the cannon. The story is one we've seen before and while it is only 80 minutes long it is really stretching out its runtime by the end. Thankfully the restrained runtime keeps things fun and the film never feels like a cheap stage play. Gordon gets the most out of what he has to work with to make this odyssey as sprawling and epic as he can. He mostly suceeds but the very pedestrian screenplay would never allow THE MAGIC SWORD to be much better than what it turned out to be. Still, this story of a young man grabbing his own destiny is light hearted camp entertainment and that's all I needed out of it.

The Audio & Video
Kino Lorber gives THE MAGIC SWORD its high definition home video debut as part of its Studio Classics line which I am a big fan of. The new transfer has been taken from a new 2K master and it looks good throughout but I feel is softer than would be ideal. The source material wasn't pristine with light instances of dirt and speckling however that's the extent of the imperfections and it does give way to an array of vibrant colors in the picture. Detail is strong but the aforementioned softness takes away from the finer moments. That said this Blu-ray is a vast improvement over the old MGM DVD release.

The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix sounds fantastic and is free of any background noise, distortions or imperfections. The mix may not sound especially impressive but that's the design of the film's sound stage production. What the mix does do is not allow the audio to sound thin or allow for any echo and while it may not be bass heavy it is a very nice presentation of the how the film should sound.

The Extras
The special features include a commentary track by film historian Tim Lucas and filmmaker Larry Blamire and a theatrical trailer for this film along with a small selection of other Kino releases. Tim Lucas is one of the best at researching and planning out his audio commentaries making for an enjoyable and informative listen that will never leave you with too much down time. It is a welcomed addition to this release.

The Bottom Line
THE MAGIC SWORD overcomes its own shortcomings to be more fun than having the dunk-tank wench bully you at the local renaissance faire. Oh that doesn't sound like fun? Well I assure you it is.

THE MAGIC SWORD is available HERE

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

THE HOUSE - Artsploitation Films DVD Review


Norway/2016
Directed By: Reinert Kiil
Written By: Reinert Kiil
Starring: Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, Marte Saetern, Jorgen Langhelle
Color/88 Minutes/Not Rated
Region 1
Release Date: March 5, 2019

The Film
Set during the second World War, a pair of German soldiers are escorting a POW through a Scandinavian Forest when they find a seemingly abandoned house to rest in, seeking refuge from the harsh winter weather. Shortly after entering the house they quickly begin to see things, hear things and feel like they're being attacked

THE HOUSE looks like a million bucks. Reinert Kiil's direction paired with the cinematography of John-Erling H. Fredriksen gives the movie a visual quality that raises it above the standard independent horror look where you can usually tell that equipment and/or budget wasn't there. The frozen landscape and eerie, shadowy interiors of the house have a moody atmosphere that does provide a bit of foreshadowing to more sinister events that may lie ahead.

Those events do come. Sort of. The horror is held back, with quick bursts giving the audience a glimpse of what could be until the big sequence which is just rather unimpressive and feels like a retread of things we've seen countless times before. And all of this meandering around the house between the occasional shot of shock or scare simply wastes a couple excellent central performances. Even big budget Hollywood horror films struggle to find performances at this level but they're just not given anything to do for the majority of the film. That is the long and short of THE HOUSE, it has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera but the script is lacking anything even resembling interesting.


The Audio & Video
This DVD release from Artsploitation Films look very good for a standard definition offering. The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer features whites that are bright without ever appearing too hot while black levels are deep. The picture is clear but maintains that overcast wintry look that makes up so much of the movie. The 5.1 Dolby Surround audio mix is presented in a mix with optional English subtitles. Optional English subtitles are presented for the film as it features a mix of German, Norwegian and English. The audio is well mixed and sounds pleasing to the ear while the subtitles are translated and timed well.

The Extras
Special features include a short behind-the-scenes featurette, short film from director Reiner Kiil, an audio commentary track and an interview with writer/director Reinert Kiil.

The Bottom Line
I think THE HOUSE is skillfully shot and features great performances but is simply and sadly boring as sin.

THE HOUSE is available HERE

Friday, November 22, 2019

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED



UK, USA/2019
Directed By: Johannes Roberts
Written By: Ernest Riera, Johannes Roberts
Starring: Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju
Color/90 Minutes/PG-13
Region A
Release Date: November 12, 2019
Blu-ray/DVD

The Film 
2017 saw the release of Johannes Roberts' tension filled shark thriller 47 Meters Down which was featured a simple idea of two sisters being stuck on the Ocean floor, locked in a shark cage as their oxygen depletes. The film was flawed but it had a decent premise and some good production quality. I don't remember anyone clamoring for a sequel but that didn't stop one from being made and this time there's no cage. 

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED introduces an entirely new story and set of characters featuring four teen girls who sneak into an underwater archaeology site of a newly discovered sunken Mayan city. This diving adventure starts well enough until an accident knocks over some massive statues and some blind deepwater sharks enter the fray making the desperate search for another way out before their oxygen levels deplete all the more dangerous. 

The Mayan city setting was absolutely stunning and I wish we somehow could have had more of it before all the dust gets kicked up and this becomes another shark attack film. The deepwater sharks and fish have an eerie translucent glow about them but their CGI rendering is spotty at times and there's some genuinely stupid moments like when a fish literally screams at one of the girls for a jump scare. This moment where any sort of serious filmmaking jumps the shark (punny punny) and took me out of it to the point where I struggled to settle back in for a while. I did appreciate that there's a good amount of shark violence and not just stalking around and near misses, specifically in the ending scene that cruelly throws the survivors into the jaws of these killer sharks almost relentlessly. 

I found 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED to lack the tension and acting quality of the original but did give us some eye catching set pieces and shark action but it relies on repetitious situations, and largely poor looking sharks. It's inoffensive but nothing more. 

The Audio & Video
Lionsgate delivers 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED on Blu-ray with a beautiful looking 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that features stunning clarity with vivid colors and high levels of detail. Black levels are deep and inky and the picture quality is as gorgeous as the locations featured within. The English audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. The audio is crisp and clear with no crackling, popping or other imperfections. The mix is nicely done and mixed well across all channels with proper balance in dialogue and soundtrack. 

The Extras
-"Diving Deeper: Uncaging 47 Meters Down" - a making-of featurette
-Audio commentary with writer/director Johannes Roberts, producer James Harris and writer Ernest Riera

The Bottom Line
This isn't reinventing the shark movie wheel by any means. Its familiar territory that could possibly make for an okay use of time on a rainy Sunday afternoon but otherwise you can do better. 

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED is available HERE

Saturday, November 16, 2019

BERSERKER - Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray Review


USA/1987
Directed By: Jef Richard
Written By: Jef Richard, Joseph Kaufman
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Greg Dawson, Valerie Sheldon
Color/85 Minutes/Not Rated
Region Free
Release Date:
Blu-ray/DVD

The Film
A group of teens set out on a trip to the rural forests of Utah. They're warned of a recent slew of bear attacks by Pappy, a Norwegian immigrant who oversees the campgrounds. The local Nordic population has spread stories of brutal viking warriors called Berserkers which the teens share stories of while getting drunk and partying but quickly realize that bears may not be the only thing stalking the woods.


BERSERKER is a low budget regional slasher that makes the most out of limited sets and interiors by giving us a spooky and moody camping trip filled with some mostly likable characters except for Josh (Greg Dawson) who is almost too easy to hate. The simple use of foggy tree lined exteriors and shots of a pacing grizzly, even if he is obviously contained in some fashion, are enough to make create an eery feeling which is punctuated by mutilated bodies and an aggressive body count.


Production values are simple and this will never be considered a classic of the genre but it is a cult classic and I can related its cult classic standing down to a single scene at the end of the film where SPOILER we get a real life bear wrestling scene SPOILER and it's absolutely fucking bonkers. I don't find BERSERKER to be a one hit wonder with that scene, I genuinely enjoyed the entire movie and thought it was a solid slasher film.

The Audio &Video
Vinegar Syndrome has given BERSERKER a brand new 2K scan and restoration taken directly from the original 16mm camera negative with great results. Even though it was shot in 16mm this new Blu-ray has excellent detail and sharpness. Black levels are deep with no signs of blocking. There's a natural and plentiful grain structure and colors look healthy. The English audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix with optional English SDH subtitles. The audio is crystal clear and crisp with no signs of distortion. The mix isn't very dynamic but the high quality production on this blu-ray is more than adequate.


The Extras
This Blu-ray includes a trio of video interviews with cast and crew from the film including writer/director Jef Richard and stars Joseph Alan Johnson and Shannon Engemann along with an audio interview with actor Mike Riley. A still gallery rounds out the special feature.


The Bottom Line
I'm very pleased with this release top to bottom. It will make an excellent addition to any slasher fan's collection.

BERSERKER is available HERE