In the year 2024, the world’s superpowers are on the edge of nuclear warfare as Earth’s resources are dwindling at a rapid pace. A halt in knife edge conflict and the construction of temporary peace, known as the RAND Treaty, allowed nations to build underground, sustainable bunkers for a restarter population. Plethura 04, one of these bunkers, is being monitored, maintained, and prepped by Roy, an labeled “undertaker” scientist, whose setting the stage for a group of survivors known as Priority One, but when the sudden fallout alarm blares, Plethura is locked down early, trapping Roy alone in a cavernous and cold bunker alone with the exception of an A.I. program that Roy named Arthur. As time passes, Roy sanity comes into question; so much so, that Roy believes that Plethura might just be a drill simulation. Also, is there really something in the bunker with him? Is Arthur trying to confuse him? Questions, isolation, and terror seep into Roy’s mind, perhaps, or perhaps not, manifesting a lurking presence.
“Its Alive,” also known as “Twenty Twenty-Four” is the intense psychological thriller from the United Kingdom. Written and directed by first timer Richard Mundy, “It Lives” is helmed in the same vein as “Buried” with a solo performer in an isolation crisis. Produced by Ripsaw Pictures and Entity Film Company, the feature has some production power behind it that makes the indie film seem to have a fluffier value than its actual worth and garnishes a cherished and chilling atmospheric cinematography by Nick Barker. A real sense of a cold cleanroom can be just as frightening as a filthy slaughterhouse and the Mundy-Barker team hone in on that very concept, performing a bariatric surgery on the heaviness and the plentiful of the up top, outside world and reducing it to a few corridors, a couple of living chambers, and beast-like belly of a generator room. The filmmakers fabricate isolation and the perception of isolation well with a tremendous set up of the scenario: the preparation and the sudden, unexpected calamity of a nuclear fallout.
Actor Andrew Kinsler has the toughest job in the world, acting without feeding off the energy and the lines of other fellow actors. Kinsler goes at the role alone as Roy, a scientist prepping Plethura 04 for the arrival of Priority One survivors and knowing that he will die when he trades spaces with the group as he has to go topside. That’s notion, of having to sacrifice yourself for strangers, is a deep concept. Its easier to sacrifice oneself for the sake of those you love and care for, but complete strangers is pure mental mayhem, especially when all the work of getting the bunker ready was done by Roy. Kinsler keeps up the part of coping with his mortality, accepting it, and then being crushed by it when the world ends at the blink of an eye. Questioning everything as he immerses deeper into isolation, Kinsler relies more on the artificial intelligence to be a companion, despite seemingly being annoyed by the very lack its thirst for human complexities.
Many popcorn viewers don’t care for an open book ending films where the personal interpretation opens up a vast range of theories. “It Lives” is one of those films. Most certainly a disturbing psychological thriller, the story perpetually has Roy second guessing every anomaly that spooks him, even to the extend of thinking a computer program has infiltrated his subconscious with trickery and confusion tactics. Then, the ending smacks you right in the face and then smacks you again with a three finale questions: Was it a dream? Was it madness? Or was it all real? Christopher Nolan similarly put the fate of “Inception’s” Cobb into the hands of audiences when he spins a toy top to see if he was still in inception or if he was in reality. If continuously in motion, that would signify Cobb’s in a fantasy world, but Cobb’s spin is cut short with a cut to black, begging the answer of whether his happy ending was true or a inceptive pipe dream. Roy’s scenario is a lot darker and, if not, deeper that’s challenged by an internal struggle of self-preservation. Has Roy become a fixture of the cleanroom aspect? Has he become a cold figment of accepting his fate and has suppressed his emotion about it to the boiling point that his subconscious is fighting for his own survival? “It Lives” is an exceptionally juicy psychological film worth exploring.
Second Sight presents “It Lives” onto DVD home video this July 30th! Since the screener was a DVD-R, a full assessment of the audio and video aspects will not be covered. There were also no bonus material on the disc. What I can say is that Harry Kirby’s score is the utmost jarring; reminds me of Mark Korven’s unsettling and unique unmelodious score in “The Witch.” As part sci-fi and part horror, the surface level narrative is sheer terror and fear. Below surface, the wicked and frightful stir an embattling vortex of arguments in the grossest of grotesque forms, aka a complete mind destabilization. “It Lives” has indie roots that spread wide and fierce, shredding through temporal lobes like soft butter and delivering one hell of a terrifying psychological horror.
As a respected nobleman and the right hand soldier of his King, the fearless Lyutobor endured the misfortunate event of his wife and newborn son pillaged from his estate by the endangered Scythian assassins known as wolves. The assassins were hired to kidnap the nobleman’s family by an insider in an exchange to overthrow and kill the King to campaign a new leadership, but the King has other plans for his faithful servant; the nobleman has seven days to locate his family and to unearth the dastardly plot against his lord. Using a betrayed and captured young Scythian wolf named Marten as his guide, the pair journey through perilous terrain and murderous adversaries to the secluded Scythian camp. Lyutobor and Marten have to reluctantly rely on each other’s sacred and unwavering oaths and battle experience if they want to survive the cutthroat time where betrayals scathe more deeply and plots thicken.
4Digital Media, through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, presents “The Last Warrior,” a Russian epic fantasy from writer-director Rustam Mosafir and co-penned by Vadim Golovanov. Also known under the original Russian title as “The Scythian,” Mosafir’s feature is a perpetually violent medieval adventure, packed with action and oxymoronic imagery of a serene Eastern European landscape. Tremendously epic with some serious fight sequences, “The Last Warrior” has sword swinging teeth and long lasting narcotic impressions. Its as if the cold inflicted violence of Mel Gibson had middled and mingled with the surrealism action of “The Wanted’s” Timur Bekmambetov and had a child, that child would be “The Last Warrior, born through cauldron of Russian krov’ i ogon’ (blood and fire).
Aleksey Faddeev patrons his time as the last good solider that is Lyutobor. Faddeev simply acts upon an inextinguishable ferocity that’s flames within Lyutobor, seizing every moment like it’s the actor’s last chance to be the hero. Lyutobor’s a bit of a one dimension character, arching ever so gradually to embracing a clan he’s been taught to hate, but only because they didn’t rape or murder his beloved wife. Faddeev pulled the character off with ease; however, Marten has an interesting persona donned by Aleksandr Kuznetsov, sporting a mohawk, cranial tattoos, and an unlikely spartan physique that makes the bloodshot and wired eyed character quite spry and deadly. Kuznetsov bends his character’s will after a taking a sacred oath to his clan’s God. Gods are essential part of the story as every act, every event, or every course is in the interest or will of some sort of God. The cast rounds out with Yuriy Tsurilo, Izmaylova Vasilisa, and Vitaly Kravchenko.
“The Last Warrior” never ceases to degressive transitions, picking up one fight after another without much breathing room in between. The Russian epic fantasy is essentially a visual speed read and by the time ingestion sets in the one crazy, unforgettable moment, Mosafir uses it as a seque right into the next choreographed conflict. Mosafir’s brilliancy illuminates during long takes and optimal camera work that embrace the slipknot action and yet, the director can’t seem to find an equalization during the talking head moments that push the story along. The quickly fed motivation nearly suppresses the story; there are factions that needed more shepherding explanation such as the forest people and their hallucinogenic drug that can release a person’s inner anger bear like an animality in Mortal Kombat 3. After desperately drinking from the drug, Lyutobor’s bear emerges and when pushed, the nobleman can call upon the strength and ferocity of the bear to his advantage, but the concept goes as far as that without much explanation to Lyutobor’s inherence of what could be much rather a curse than a blessing. Watch out, little Lyutobor! Don’t make daddy angry or the bear will come out!
through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 4Digital Media presents “The Last Warrior” onto UK DVD home video that takes the oath of an August 20th release date. I’m unable to write up a full technical assessment of the DVD as I was provided with a screener. The screener had a forced dubbed English soundtrack with 15% of the Russian subtitles and no static menu, an atypical critique screener; however, the proper DVD release will have both the Russian audio track with English subtitles and the English dubbed version, which if the same as the screener is completely hilarious, off kilter, and just awful. I’m also positive there will be a static menu as well. To sum up Rustam Mosafir’s medieval fantasy would be to note that its speedy, stab-happy, and a no-nonsense. The sword play is notable, fight scenes are aesthetic, and there lies some neat visuals, but “The Last Warrior” fails to find a deeper purpose to counteract it’s surface level of the bizarre blood splatter in a chute of metal music and that’s where Mosafir will lose most of his well-versed audiences.
Brothers Justin and Aaron struggle to maintain a normal and fruitful life outside Camp Arcadia, the UFO death cult camp they fled as young men. When Aaron feels empty, poor, and hungry as a cleaning serviceman on the brink of poverty and social misfortune, he convinces his older brother to take him back to the camp for one day. Once they’ve arrived, the two felt as if nothing has changed, even the cultists haven’t aged in the decade they were gone. Aaron seeks to reintegrate during his time at the camp while Justin is eager to vacate the premises pronto, but an otherworldly phenomenon promises answers to Justin and Aaron’s perceptions of their former cult and leaves questions to the unexplainable events that surround the camp site. The brothers must solve the mystery before being ensnared by the phenomena that lurks all around them with an ever present eye.
“The Endless” is the 2017 science fiction horror film from a pair of directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who helmed a segment in the anthology, “V/H/S Viral.” The duo also star as the leads in the film as Justin and Aaron. Benson penned the film’ script that has grand originality and fosters an underlying Lovecraftian concept and despite the limited budget, “The Endless” has favorable special effects of mind-boggling proportions incorporated with a splash of mildly dark humor in this blithe fantasy horror. Reminiscent of such other off-the-wall commingling genre films such as Don Coscarelli’s “John Dies at the End” or Madellaine Paxson’s “Blood Punch,” where the supernatural and bizarre collide and the characters are equally demented for a pinch of extra pizazz.
Benson and Moorhead may be the stars of “The Endless” and essentially are the epicenter of the entire premise, but their characters wouldn’t be aptly as important if it wasn’t for the cast that supported them. One of the actors is Tate Ellington (“Sinister 2”) as the unofficial camp leader Hal with the gift of gab and just as mysterious as the camp itself. Ellington’s one of many of the camp so called UFO Death Cult characters that make the story really stick out as odd as there’s Lew Temple (“The Walking Dead”) too. A very unshaven and unkempt Temple weighs the look of an Civil War soldier in Tim and Tim’s distant expressionless is very much Temple’s bread and butter. Rivaling the unnerving silence of Lew Temple is “Alien: Covenant’s” Callie Hernandez. As Anna, Hernandez plays the girl next door, flirting with Aaron with trivial matter that toys Aaron’s inherent innocence. The rest of the cast includes Emily Montague (“Fright Night” remake), James Jordan, Kira Powell, Peter Ciella, and David Lawson Jr. as Smiling Dave.
“The Endless” could be said to have a slew of metaphors and symbolism, even the older brother Justin frustratingly points out how camp leader Hal always speaks in metaphors. So, what is causing all the weird and terrifying atmospherics at Camp Arcadia? Arcadia ends up being an oxymoron as the camp is not harmonious or a utopia as believed, but rather a coiled purgatory with an ominous presence thats ever present. Don’t know what’s watching, where it came from, or what it wants, but it’s driven fear of the unknown as noted during the title card epilogue of a quote. What we do know is this presence, this thing, is massive, looming over the hills and in the depths of a nearby lake; the thing is very Lovecraftian in proportion to what that means. Hell, even the quote I mentioned earlier about fear of the unknown is pulled from H.P. Lovecraft himself – “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The brother symbolism fear for they have fear of the outside world and fear of their unforeseen and possibly poverish future, but once Justin and Aaron come to terms with ending being at odds with each other, the brothers know they can conquer whatever comes at them together.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents Snowfort, Love & Death, and Pffaf & Pfaff productions’ “The Endless” onto Blu-ray home video. The single disc BD-50 has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. Image presentation has fair natural tones with a set of a rather light yellowish tint during desert sequences. Color palette is enriched especially when the inexplicable does come ahead; moments of heavy tinting, such as a heavy red flare, inexplicably stand out. Blotching, DNR, or banding are an issue here, leaving the details considerably intact in a plenty of the duration. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound has not gaffs about it. The plentiful dialogue is clearly present to get the full story told, ambient and phenomena effects proportionally ranged and appropriate, and the soundtrack supports to dialogue and story with the amount of depth. Overall, the tracks are consistent throughout. Bonus features include an audio commentary with directors and producers, a 30+ minute make of segment, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, Visual effects breakdown, a “Ridiculous Extras” featurette that includes casting, and trailers. Don’t let the peppered black comedy in “The Endless” fool you; Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have constructed an original sci-fi horror that shells out an unsettling ambiguity of a modern and universal fear too invasive to try and stop the perpetual replaying of attempting to know the unknown.
NYU Philosophy doctoral hopeful, Kathleen Conklin, has a run-in with a woman on the night streets of New York City, attacking her into a secluded dark enclave, and biting her on the neck after Kathleen is unable to comply with the woman’s bizarre instructions of ordering her to go away. The incident instills fear into Kathleen that quickly turns to a painful vampirism transformation that involves aversion to sunlight, self-antipathy, and a craving for blood. She continues to her studies that evolve into a deeper analytical parallelism of her newly acquired immortality, the results of it, and the human aspect that’s affected by it while along the way, feeding and turning friends, colleagues, and strangers into her brood of own image. Kathleen happens upon Peina, a vampire like herself, that has claimed to conquer his own addiction to blood and can even mirror himself as human, such as eating normal food and jogging. The agonizing withdrawal with Peina drops a slither of a notion into Kathleen that her gargantuan thirst for blood will overdose her soul to pure evil and she has to come to terms with her immortal being on the life she wants to live.
Abel Ferrara’s “The Addiction” has such anti-Hollywood tenacity that the black and white aurora of the 1995 noir vampire film goes against the more conventional grain that is Ferrara’s body of work, but still maintains a healthy amount of the director’s trademarks and his dispositional motifs to give the feature enough claim to clearly become his imprint of a screw you onto the big money motion pictures. The “Driller Killer” and “Bad Lieutenant” director orchestrates a film from without the complications of a union, with producers breathing down his neck to do this or that, and on such a minuscule budget; the vampires here are not transforming in bats, their eyes do not glow in the dark, and they even don’t have jugular piercing canines. Nicholas St. John’s script was written to portray monsters as just people with a severe addiction this particular drug of choice – the blood. The symbolism is so potent that’s hardly symbolism as the main character literally injects a syringe full of blood into the crook of her arm to get a fix.
Ravished without hesitation, Lili Taylor seizes Kathleen Conklin as if Taylor herself was addicted to the character, overtaking the character to an enlightened savagery of an academic disciple on the cusp of achieving stress-inducing doctoral status. Through the studious muck and death of mankind’s prior carnage, the “The Haunting” star goes for the full throttle transformation in the blink of a bite and never blatantly displays the hesitation of her former mortal self until the tide turns to whether stay blood thirsty or to live with the embattlement of struggling addiction. Kathleen crosses paths with Peina whose been undertaken by a classic Walken, Christopher Walken that is, and the New York City born “Communion” star had a big year in horror as “The Prophecy” was released the same year – 1995. Though Peina is crucial to Kathleen’s ultimate survival, the character has little screen time and Walken nails the performance with credence and gusto as some sort of subversive mentor to the young vampire protégé. The cast rounds out with Edie Falco, Paul Calderon (“Fear the Walking Dead”), Fredro Starr, and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’s” Annabella Sciorra as Casanova, the female nightstalker who takes a bite out of Kathleen and initiates the carnage.
Ferrara’s choice for black and white isn’t all surprising. At the time, numerous notable directors were doing the very exact concept in the 1990s, examples being Steven Speilberg’s award winning “Schindler’s List” in 1993 and Tim Burton’s dark comedy biopic “Ed Wood” with Johnny Depp in 1994, but Ferrara had a conceptually aesthetic noir appearance that created distance between the rest and established a solid black and white film that renders being akin to, perhaps, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Not only did Ferrara’s film fit in the scheme of the 90’s fad, but extended “The Addiction’s” disturbing dramatic value and horror sensationalism in which color would have for sure diluted the story due in part to the pocket change budget. Taylor, Walken, and Sciorra very much believed in the project and that belief brought their characters to the formidable forefront to where a color picture didn’t really matter in the end.
Arrow Films presents “The Addiction” onto Blu-ray home video and is distributed by MVD Visual. The Blu-ray has been newly restored 4K scan of the original camera negative and approved by director Abel Ferrara and director of photography Ken Kelsch. The high definition 1080p widescreen, 1.85:1, picture has a clean palate and despite the lack of the color palette, the black and white has virtually little-to-no blotching or DNR, leaving a flawless image. The English 5.1 DTE-HD MA and 2.0 LPCM soundtracks, with optional English subtitles, is well-balanced, at least in the 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio. Dialogue in the forefront with a brooding and jarring score by composer Joe Delia has great distinction and range, but there’s a curious lack of ambiance that focuses more on direct action of characters. NYC should be booming with surrounding noise; yet the direction Ferrara takes with reduced ambiance is risky, but exquisitely done to add a more personal touch to Kathleen Conklin’s struggle. Bonus material includes an audio commentary by Abel Ferrara, moderated by critic and biographer Brad Stevens. There also includes a new documentary, entitled Talking with the Vampires, directed by Abel Ferrara that features new interviews with composer Joe Delia, Ken Kelsch, Christopher Walken, Lili Taylor, and Ferrara himself. A new interview with Abel Ferrera going into the background of the film’s construction and the era of filmmaking, a new appreciation by Brad Stevens, an achival piece from the time of production, original trailer, and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain. A supremely inclusive Blu-ray release by Arrow Films and MVD Visual of Abel Ferrara’s grittiest work of his gritty catalogue and the very spartan vampire film has an outlook of what future vampire films should aspire to with great beneficial expectations.
“A Taste of Phobia” brings together 14 international directors to the fold, executing their creative version of terror of various fears. From the fear of the dark to the fear of feces, each short compiled into this feature length film delves into what it means to be afraid of something that an average person regularly encounters on a daily basis. No ghouls, no monsters, and no ghosts stories here; “A Taste of Phobia,” or otherwise known as “Phobia,” explores the inherit human element, the everlasting internal struggle, and the mental conjuring of demons and the anxiety of the unknown that fabricates by and into fear itself. The psychological terror of phobias plagues each and every one of us and is never exclusive to a particular group or race of people, and that’s a haunting reality, especially in an time and age where suppressed personal emotions and issues lead to unfortunate suicidal circumstances. Some of the directors include Lorenzo Zanoni, Alessandro Sisti, Alessandro Redaelli, Alessandro Giordani, Rob Ulitski, Sam Mason Bell, and Davide Pesca.
A number of these filmmakers I’m not familiar with, but I do recognize a few names from the bunch by examining their previous work. Somniphobia is a sleep anxiety disorder which is the basis for the short written by Sophia Cacciola and directed by Michael J. Epstein, who also steps into the lead. “Blood of the Tribabes,” a vampiric melodrama, was my last experience with the Cacciola and Epstein duo, who have a passionate dynamic and chemistry when it comes to horror. Somniphobia is a whole different animal that’s more on a compact scale in comparison to their vampire feature and doesn’t necessarily tackle the perpetual fear of sleep; instead, Epstein portrays a contractor pushed to the limits, practically threatened by an employer, to finish coding a project to the point where he hasn’t slept in days. The lack of sleep and the various methods to try and stay awake by the power of suggestion have fried his brain to the point of self-inflicted harm. The writings good and the dark humor direction is a nice touch. Another recognizable filmmaker that stands out to me is Domiziano Christopharo. The “House of Flesh Mannequins” and “Red Krokodil” director has always exhibited a thirst for body horror and the Italian director places his talents in the kitchen with Mageirocophobia, aka the fear of cooking. Christopharo continues his brand of body-manipulation motif by telling a story of a woman, whose seemingly very good at putting together a tasty and savory fish dish, into a deeply disturbed woman who contemplates and nightmarishly fantasizes herself being the sliced, diced, and cooked to a crisp main dish.
Then, there are many filmmakers I’m not familiar with at all, but did enjoy their short entries. Sunny King’s Nyctophobia, aka fear of the dark, is hands down one of the best entries despite the slight ghost-like manifestation, but the Nigerian director fosters a tangible evil constructed by fear and his version of Nyctophobia is classic, very timeless, sans blood and shock to the point where the story plays out like a simple spook film. Very enjoyable, subtly powerful, and basically classic in tone, King reigns “A Taste of Phobia.” Now, that doesn’t mean Nyctophobia stands alone; UK’s Jackson Batchelor and his fear of politics, Politicophobia, has to be one of the more honest entries and, certainly, one of the more timely. The political undercurrent of two-faced politician is a phobia we can all get behind with their scummy, repetitive, and subliminal messaging campaign ads. Batchelor polar extreme sheds light on what a fear invoked person might experience when viewing just one of the hard-hitting, lying through the teeth campaigning juggernauts. The previous examples pinpoint heighten the emotional aspect of fear, but what if fear perpetuated madness, such as in Poison Rough’s Mysophobia, or fear of germs. The idea of bugs, dirt, or even microbes, crawling in the hair or on the skin gives one very particular man the creepy-crawlies to the breaking point where he’s forced to self-remove his own skin in order cease the sensation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some shorts didn’t make muster. Fear of feces, or Coprophobia, was just bizarre, daft, and, well, not even that gross for the titular phobia. The approach by churning schlock director Jason Impey was more juvenile than expected with a feces covered stuff animal rising out of the depths of a shit covered toilet and have actor Martin Payne portray a fight of physicality in a small bathroom that ends with Payne naked stabbing the metaphorical stuff animal. Dustin Ferguson’s Mazeophobia, fear of mazes, was another that flared out with a hispanic man driving around lost in America’s unforgiving conservative countryside. He eventually winds up in the hands of a pair of Trumpian wing nuts and the climax becomes a little fuzzy from there into editing shambles that hesitates to make sense of how the series of events play out.
Artsploitation Films, a Philadelphian based distributor seeking the dark and desolate corners of the world to bring to light international entertainment, releases horror-anthology “A Taste of Phobia” onto DVD home video. The anthology is presented in various ratio formats due to the different styles of filmmaking and, thus, a range of image qualities stand out to some that’s suffer from aliasing and blotching atrocities to others that surprising peak in picture value. The 2.0 stereo audio track, mostly English with some Italian and Spanish, have varied ranges, depths and balances as well. Bonus features include a bonus fear mini-movie entitled Achluophobia from director Jason Impey, a behind the scenes look at Michael J. Epstein’s Somniphobia and Chris Milewski’s Pharmacophobia, an interview with producer and one of the 14 fear directors Domiziano Christopharo, a little inside on the special effects for Pharmacophobia and Mageirocophobia, and a theatrical trailer. “A Taste of Phobia” pushes the limits to extremely visualize the niche fears in us all by packing 14 deadly phobias up into an anxiety-riddled anthology released by the good, but probably psychologically insane, people at Artsploitation Films!