Classy Brothel Girls Bring Dirty EVIL Secrets to “Madame Claude” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

A high end Paris brothel ran by the influential Madame Claude sends the most beautiful and sophistical women to wealthy and powerful dignitaries all over the world to satisfy their most sexual desires.  Her lucrative business becomes a governmental target seeking to collect back taxes on the illicit business.  However, the French government is the least of her worries when a playboy-aspiring rake and amateur photographer snaps photos of Madame Claude’s clients in compromising situations that can be ruinous to their status.  The CIA becomes involved when unscrupulous business dealings involving an American and Japanese companies connect to Madame Claude and her potentially persuasive young women after rumored photographs put the Madame Claude in the middle.  Two governments, big businesses, a jet setting brothel, wealthy socialites and a nosy photographer become involved in lies, secrets, and the potential for murder.

Part biography, part fiction, “Madame Claude,” also known as “The French Girl,” is the 1977 released erotic and political thriller based off the real Madame Claude, Fernande Grudet, as her life of prostitution management and scrutiny unfolded before the public eyes in the mid 1970’s.  Erotically and elegantly sexy with gorgeous women groomed into lust and ensnared into the lion’s den of exchanging powers, “Madame Claude” became the third film from the immensely successful erotic French director, Just Jaeckin, following 1974’s “Emmanuelle” and 1975’s “The Story of O.”  Jaeckin, pressured by his financiers to continue his success in the highly sought eroticism, returns to the randy genre, but this time with a story to his liking, one that is embroiled in the background of a bribery scandal involving aerospace company, Lockheed, at the heart of it. From a script by crime-action writer André G. Brunelin, based off the book of memories of Madame Claude by Jacques Quiorez, Jaeckin splices visual elements of each story together to form not only an arousing sexual lamination but also a cloak-and-dagger tenser of a film. Shot primarily in Paris, with minor shoots in the Bahamas and Washington, D.C., especially the scenes on the faux White House, “Madame Claude” is a production of Orphée Arts of Paris with Claire Duval on as executive producer.

While the titular character is the obvious centerpiece, Jaeckin mingles the characters around each other in a game of espionage chess toward the endgame of checkmate. Keystone to everyone’s problems is Madame Claude, played by renowned French actress and early onscreen sex object, Françoise Fabian, who previously had roles in the paranormal pubescent horror, “Expulsion of the Devil,” a more comedy-friendly brothel film, “Holiday Hookers,” and among many other films predating 1977, but not until later in Fabian’s career did show rocket to success, playing older, more aligned, women that strongly championed feminism, such as portraying “Madame Claude” who used sex as a means to gain control and power of men, and pushed it to the brink of the era’s cinematic limits. “Horsehead’s’ Murray Head plays the photographer schmo, David Evans, making Madame Claude’s life complicated. An about town ladies man, Evans goes to each of Claude’s girls one-by-one and, for some reason or another, they invite the handsomely charming, but brutish, amateur porn photographer into their bedrooms, sleeping his way into blackmail scheme that will bring down the most powerful brothel head in all of Paris while also lining his pocket with not only money but power among the socialites who treat him like the village idiot. Head’s nails down the fast-and-loose aspect of Evan’s personality that treats his stratagem like a game he’s already won, but when the government agencies come knocking on doors, Head about faces Evan’s waggish incompetence to a frightened man looking around every corner for danger. It’s wonderful to see Head interact with Klaus Kinski (“Nosferatu the Vampire”) and Marc Michel as a ridiculed subordinate in an examination of social status as Kinski and Michel flaunt expensive taste and lavish orgies in lieu of decency, but it’s Murray Head, playing the fool with cemented proof that would put all them of into shame, as the aspirer to their life of luxuries. The beautiful Dayle Haddon (“Cyborg”), Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron (“Spermula”), and Ylva Setterborg stun in just a handful of the very elegant, and very naked, women acting as Madame Claude’s international bound employees. Other cast of characters in “Madame Claude’s” game of lies and spies include Robert Webber (“Death Steps in the Dark”), Jean Gaven (“The Story of O”), François Perrot, André Falcon, and Maurice Renot.

Following his films “Emmanuelle” and “The Story of O,” Jaeckin’s “Madame Claude” strays into an atypical kind of formulaic eroticism downplaying the sexual excursions and discoveries for a more typical crime drama affair. Jaeckin’s directorial abilities can take you on an exotic tour around the world and onto the fleshy planes of some of the most gorgeous and provocative women to ever grace the screen. Yet, “Madame Claude” trims substantially the skin with a more precise execution to be more of an oil lubricating the machine rather than the gear that actually operates the mechanism to entail sex as a misused tool for motivation and bribery. These scenes of fleeting eroticism outright shine Just Jaeckin’s proclivities with mirrored reflections and becoming lost in the entanglement of sexually enflamed bodies and these scenes outright shine Jaeckin’s intent on delivering a corkscrew crime drama with double-dealings, wiretapping, and counterintelligence gathering as what unfolds isn’t clearly delineated between Madame Claude, David Evans, the French and U.S. Governments and the Lockheed scandal that actually becomes sidetracked at times by the infiltrated sex-training of Madame Claude business as the brothel head has to train an alternative misfit new girl and send her to the Bahamas work trip shortly after a quick one-night-stand initiation with one of the Madame’s trusted former beaus. We wholeheartedly become more intrigued and fascinated with Madame Claude’s feminist principles, recruiting subjugated women to use their sexuality to dominate and become wealthy in the process. In more than one scene, Madame Claude flaunts self-admiration in transforming star-crossed girls into young women fortune bound with their promiscuous ways. Madame Claude’s murky backstory caresses her complexities of anti-man without detail delving into the turning point catalyst that made her become who she became to be, an affluent Madame, other than a seemingly emotionally and controllably invalidating romantic experience with a long time friend and business companion, Pierre (Maurice Renot).

Cult Epics sustains another forgotten classic into a celebrated Blu-ray release with a new 4K HD transfer of “Madame Claude” from the original 35mm negative, supervised by the original cinematographer, Robert Fraisse. Housed on a BD50, the region free release maintains the impeccable coloring under Fraisse’s soft glow with no cropping or undue enhances that tries to put out fire with gasoline and, aside from a discolored yellow-greenish, translucent stripe, perhaps a loose film roll, during the opening scene, the image quality is clean and pleasing in it’s natural 35mm grain. The English and French language audio tracks come with three options: LPCM 2.0 mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The DTS-HD Master Audio had the highest marks, slightly topping Dolby Digital stereo with a little more gusto in the pipes. Audible dialogue is clean and forefront, but the engineered dubbing laid over Murray Head and, even, the self-dubbing of Dayle Haddon can be off-putting at times when actors’ voices seem to not be sharing the same vocal space with others on screen. French composer Serge Gainsbourg’s lounge, yé-yé score tuned into that erotic soufflé of light and airy pop music that can be often dreamy with singsongy female vocals, complimenting the softer, sexier side of Jaeckin’s film while also playing into period melodies of the 1970’s. Cult Epics always has down right with resurrecting obscure erotica for not only quality sake but also to arm the hell out of the releases with bonus material. Included with “Madame Claude” is an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey (author of the upcoming book entitled Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol), a high definition, Nico B. produced interview with director Just Jaeckin from 2020, the vintage French theatrical trailer, a promotional photo gallery, and Cult Epics previews. Not the most sensual film shot by the renowned maestro of venereal visuals, Just Jaeckin explores his versatility by acclimatizing familiarity with new horizons surrounding brothel delights with shadow games and the new 4K Blu-ray from Cult Epics is the one, and only, way to experience it all in “Madame Claude.”

Cult Epic’s “Madame Claude” on Blu-ray. Available at Amazon – click the poster!


Two People Living in Different Times Linked By an EVIL Secret. “Dead Air” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

As a single parent of two teenage girls, William stows away the painful memories of the death of wife some two years ago.  When rummaging through boxed away belongings, he stumbles upon an old ham radio and a diary that once was his late father’s, who tragically was killed during William’s youth.  Psychiatric sessions aim to resolute a traumatic event from the past William can’t seem to recall and has plagued him over the decades and well into adulthood, but all his problems converge when he befriends another amateur radio user, a woman, that simmers a progression of unraveling his past rooted by an unfathomable secret the woman holds that will collide William’s past and present to alter his future. 

Not to be confused with the 2009 same titled film of bio-terrorism turned zombie horde starring “The Devil’s Reject’s” Bill Moseley or mixed up with 2000’s “Frequency” where Dennis Quaid’s character phenomenally reconnects with his deceased firefighter father over an old ham radio, Kevin Hicks’ “Dead Air” also shears linear time by embracing supernatural elements over the air waves of an archaic means of communication and though flesh eating maniacs don’t ravage the world, another terrible humanoid race in the Nazi’s are brought to the proverbial table.  Nazis, traumatic past, jumbled paranormal radio transmissions, clandestine spies – Kevin Hicks directs a multifaceted suspense mystery thriller penned by wife, Vicki Hicks, marking yet another notch in their collaboration history that includes a strong history of horror-thriller credits from 2010, such as “Paranormal Proof,” “Behind the Door,” and last years “Doppel.”  The husband and wife combo produce the “Dead Air” under their homegrown production company, Chinimble Lore.

However, Kevin and Vicki Hicks do a little more than just be a presence behind the camera, they’re also in front of the camera, co-starring across each other as the principle leads who never come face-to-face as they interact solely by tuning into the radio frequency of the ham radio.  Their respective roles of William and Eva douse “Dead Air” with plenty of cover-your-base exposition in building a long distance friendship that turns sour when truths are revealed by supernatural circumstances.  Before the pinnacle reveal, a stitch in time ripe to be altered, Hicks has to be a widowed husband and father of two teenage girls while parallelly secretly dealing with an unidentified trauma from his past.  The trauma doesn’t peak through in Hicks’ performance as William goes about his day either emotionally comforting his temperament diverse daughters with the loss of their mother or always sitting in front of the ham radio eager to speak with a newfound chat buddy, the adversely taut Eva.  Vicki Hicks shelters in place as the paranoid agoraphobic, though not yet understanding what that term means just yet, as the cagey Eva and Hicks cements Eva’s covert dealings with suspicious eyes and a cryptic gait that tells us she’s chin deep into counter intelligence.  “Dead Air” focuses nearly exclusively on the William and Eva radio hour, but minor characters are sprinkled for support traction with Luca Iacovetti, Chris Xaver, Ryan C. Mitchell, and real life sisters playing sisters on screen and co-producer Mark Skodzinsky’s daughters, Madison Skodzinsky and Mackenzie Skodzinsky. 

As far as indie films go, Chinimble Lore is well versed in the expense saving concept providing “Dead Air” with limited locations of about three or four primary small and conventionally decorated indoor sets, low-key in the little-to-no high-dollar, high-concept action, and having the filmmakers step into the shoes of the principle characters of William and Eva. Don’t expect “Dead Air” to be knocking socks off with mind blowing choreographed sequences or any type of painstaking visual or practical special effects in a story concentrated script constructed to be a fable filled with second chances and righting the wrongs through unexplained phenomena; yet, when blindly vehement to correct the past, the unintended butterfly effect could also take away what’s precious to you. Vicki Hick’s script meets that cautious tale bar, but doesn’t exceed the darn thing as the mystery element, William’s insights into who Eva’s true self and calling and how he’s supposed to stop her despite living decades a part, to which the film could only express verbally instead of plastering a veneer to show, can be quickly solved in “Dead Air’s” blueprints of foreseeable plot points. One thing that teased the imagination and should have been explored further is William’s psychiatrist performing hypnotherapy to unearth his trauma, but then opens the Pandora’s box of well, why the hell didn’t the psychiatrist try this in the first place?!? William notes spending $40 an hour on therapy sessions and we see him sit in at least 3 times with dialogue extending that to a higher number. Either William’s psychiatrist is a hornswoggling swindler or a daft healthcare worker with poor practice management. Either way, team Hicks, between their repertoire of directing, screenwriting, and acting, can’t smooth out the film’s rough patches enough to be an original twisty thriller backdropped with an ethereal external force communicating from beyond the grave to save more than one soul, leaving “Dead Air” radio silent.

Freestyle Digital Media sends signals from the dead with Kevin Hicks’ “Dead Air” available now on Video-On-Demand across North American digital HD, satellite and cable VOD through platforms Including streaming services iTunes, Amazon Video, and Vudu and cable services Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox.  The 91 minute runtime could have been cut to a leaner 70 to 75 minutes to not only dilute the impact of a dialogue-saturated narrative but also trim a forced subplot of William’s cancer-struck wife that doesn’t quite enact the depth to William’s background that it was intended to do.  Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, cinematography by Kyle Carr is digitally clean with a blanketed combination of hard and soft lighting in a rather warm glowing color palette of yellow, red, and jade, but the camera work and shots are standard in technique, not offering much in the way of style since most of the shots hover on medium closeups of William and Eva chit-chatting over the radio.  The light rock tracks composed by Kevin Hicks and performed by the versatile music man Lonnie Parks are sprinkled in to engage a sense of passing time correlated with the storyline events, but the soundtrack’s genre tone sounds like a transistor radio out of place of a story built on a ham radio’s static and garbled messages and would have been more poignant with more of Parks’ mellow-brooding engineered score.  The digital screener was not accompanied with any bonus features and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Part of “Dead Air’s” demise is the fact that “Frequency” established an already familiar foundation over 20 years ago with nearly the same plot studded with star power and a large pocketed budget, but the story’s engaging enough with supernatural radio waves and the clandestine ties to Nazi spies to keep a progressive interest despite our good hunch on the climax and the finale. 

Rent or Own “Dead Air” digitally on Amazon Video by Clicking the Poster!

EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!

In a Remote Australian Town, EVIL Can Hear You Scream. “The Dustwalker” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

A quaint, outback town become the epicenter of a mysterious, otherworldly contagion that infects lifeforms to become mindless carriers, targeting loved ones for senseless, uncontrollable violence.  In her last days as sheriff of the town she grew up in before moving to the big city, Jolene must piece together the puzzle of last night’s mysterious meteor that crashed on the outskirts of town having an correlating connection between the town’s sudden communications blackout and the unknown epidemic that has physically and mentally transformed the townsfolk into a vicious, violent horde.   Jolene bands together the remaining survivors when the town is overrun by the zombie-like residents and tries to organize an escape, but a large dust storm walls them in not letting them flee to safety, while a large subterranean creature burrows through the dusty landscape intent on searching for the infected.

Sandra Sciberras’ “The Dustwalker” brings big universe problems to small town Australia as an alien tainted corruption courses violence through the veins of secluded outback locals with a humungous extraterrestrial on a raging prowl.  Shot in the shire of Cue, Western Australia, Sciberras’ written-and-directed Sci-Fi terror cataclysm of zombies and monstrous creature showcases some of Cue’s unique historical and architectural buildings and natural landscapes landmarked around the microscopic population of a few hundred people of the dust bowl region, creating a isolating apprehension of endless nothingness when hell breaks loose on Earth.  “The Dustwalker” is the first thrilling genre film outside the drama and comedy context for the director, creating new challenges for the seasoned director to incorporate monsters and mayhem into the fold, while also serving as co-producer, alongside Megan Wynn and Grace Luminato, in this female steered production under Sciberras and Luminato’s Three Feet of Film banner and financed by a conglomerate of Head Gear Films, Kreo Films, Metrol Technology, and SunJive Studios.

With a strong female contingent behind the camera, there is also one in front of the camera beginning with Jolene Anderson (“Prey”) as longstanding Sheriff Joanna Sharp who’s ready to leave her hometown in the dust, but before disembarking on her new big city adventure, the municipal officer has a showdown with a plague not of this Earth.  Anderson is sided by “The Hunger Games’” Stef Dawson and “Wolf Creek’s” Cassandra Magrath, playing the roles of little sister, Samantha, and the local geologist, Angela, respectively.  Aside from the sheriff rounding up an uninfected posse to arm and fight their neighbors plagued by an insidious infection, Samantha and Angela rarely contribute to the cause with their subtle character terms.  Samantha cowers mostly behind her big sister’s shield and gun, never adding substance to the sibling dynamic, sidelining Dawson’s confident performance.  Subjecting Samantha’s young son, Joanna’s nephew, into harm’s way would have affably weaved an obligatory edge-of-the-seat motivation toward family tension and desperation into the story that’s very honed in on a small town framework.   On the opposite side, Angela runs wild around town and is continuously depended upon by the story to be the scientific expert, though displays very little scientific knowledge, who discovers the crash site crater in solid rock and is willing risktaker with experimenting driving into the dust storm wall.  Despite her character’s poor introduction and setup who literally appears out of nowhere, Magrath’s outlier enthusiasm forces her character more into the narrative than otherwise innately.   The poorly written Samantha and Angela character are completely overshadowed by Joanna’s second in command, and the town’s only other cop, Luke, played with a righteously thin long mustache and scruffy mullet on Richard Davies.  Davies entrenches a consistency that’s present throughout “The Dustwalker’s” fluid scenario as the causal, yet dedicated, man of the law that compliment’s Anderson’s butt out the door Sheriff who has to stick around a few hours more to see the disturbance come to a head.  A miscellany of townsfolk partition side stories for the sheriff to investigate, involving a portion of the film’s remaining cast with Talina Naviede, Harry Greenwood, Ben Mortley, Ryan Allen, and Oscar Harris.

I have a very big problem with Sciberra’s “The Dustwalker.”  A problem that is approx. 16 years the film’s senior and has invaded a portion in my brain that is already occupied, trying to evict the current and rightful tenant that has paid, in full, dues of being the blend of sci-fi and horror I want domiciling my mental vacancy.  “The Dustwalker” follows nearly an identical story path as the 2003, Michael and Peter Spierig film, “Undead,” that follows a small Australian town under siege by a meteorite brought plague that turns residents into flesh eating zombies with something more obscure transpiring around them.  Sounds familiar, right?  If not, scroll up to the top and re-read the synopsis for “The Dustwalker” once again.  Now, I won’t slip spoilers into this review to explain exactly how “Undead” and “The Dustwalker” are undoubtedly two peas from the same pod, but minor tweaks here and there issue obvious differences in names, places, and villainous traits, but the rudimentary bone structure mirrors strongly “Undead” so conspicuously that “The Dustwalker,” after some contemplative comparisons, leaves a sour taste.  As for the film itself, the first 20 minutes of “The Dustwalker’s” first act compellingly sets up caught off guard characters being mixed into an unknown and threatening situation that is well-crafted with bread crumb clues provided to the characters as well as the audience, but the second acts staggers through principle character awareness with a stillness in their too-little-too-late reactions from being completely ignorant of the facts that something terribly wrong is happening and this leads into the unfolding of the third act which divulges the “Undead” echo.  The mindless local horde have a malformed screech producing from an abnormal elongated jaw, are speedier than Speedy Gonzales, and jump higher than a professional basketball player, but their purpose for at first targeted then randomized violence has an unclear schematic other than being driven by the ooze from the space. Correlation between the substance controlling the townsfolk and the oversized camel cricket with a scorpion tail and can breath fire fails to materialize purpose, especially when great dust walls, expanding as far as the eye can see, are formed to keep things nicely contained that provides one certainty – there is an alien intelligence at work here.

From out of this world and into your living room, Umbrella Entertainment releases “The Dustwalker” onto DVD home video. The NTSC formatted, region 4 release runs at 95 minutes and is rated MA15+ for strong horror, themes, and violence (and language if you’re easily offended by “what the fuck was that?” line stuck on repeat by the principle characters). Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, image consistency holds throughout and really develops that dusty, outback setting with a bunch of aerial shots of the rocky terrain and spread apart shanties to tune up the isolation factor. David Le May’s blend of hard and natural lighting adds to emptiness as long shadows have no structures to bounce off on. However, some of May’s shooting techniques on filming the running infected tilted into being too cleanly staged that often downplayed the tingling fear from the organic full speed sprint of a crazed person. “The Dustwalker” standalones as a feature without any bonus materials on the DVD which isn’t atypical of many Umbrella Entertainment releases. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Supporting Sandra Sciberras’ “The Dustwalker” has been nothing less than controversial for the soul due chiefly against the derivative storyline from a better assembled modern classic that’s full of gore, fun, and, at that time, an ingenious concept, but “The Dustwalker” clone feels pieced together by the leftover scraps of an august predecessor.

Own “The Dustwalker” on DVD!

On Valentine’s Day, Were You Struck by EVIL’s Arrow? “Cupid” reviewed! (High Flier Films / Digital Screener)

In one interpretation of the legend involving the god of love, Cupid is betrayed by his mother, Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty, when she poisons Cupid’s consort, Psyche, over conceited jealously with the tainted tip of his own arrows of love and desire.  Enraged, Cupid denounces love and if he can’t have love, no one will love as he sells his soul to Death in the underworld and becomes a demon of execution summoned by those who abuse love.  When the incessant bullies as Faye’s school push her too far, Faye evokes Death through a black magic ritual and contracts with the master of the netherworld that all those in her high school shall never know love.  Death summons the scorned Cupid to do the ghastly bidding that places not only Faye’s tormentors in Cupid’s destructive path, but also her friends, her teachers, and herself.    

Post-Valentine’s Day horror movies always seem appropriate as if love itself is fleeting, elusive, and nothing but trouble and elicits a bit of cathartic relief for unfortunate souls unable to find love come February 14th.  Nothing screams more about anti-love than Scott Jeffery’s arrow-through-the-heart and twisted Roman mythology story, “Cupid,” that festers from a lower fork in the road possibility of the god of love and desire aggrieved to become malevolent and spiteful in a cheeky, campy rampage.  Jeffery isn’t afraid to take on the challenge of transforming Cupid into a heart-stopping death-dealer as the film’s writer-director who has credential history of being a serial B-horror movie filmmaker with a resume of titles stemmed from myth, legend, and tall tales having produced and written the Frau Perchta inspired “Mother Krampus,” the Gorgon fueled, “Medusa:  Queen of the Serpents,” and producing that little dental-snatching hag known as the “Tooth Fairy.”  Jeffery aims to demonize the match-maker in the UK production from his Proportion Productions alongside co-producer and CEO, Rebecca Matthews.

The heart of the story begins with Georgina Jane (“Pet Graveyard”) as the hopeless romantic schoolgirl, Faye, reading from a book of black magic spells to bewitch the high school’s hunky male teacher, Duncan Jones, played by Michael Owusu in his introductory feature film performance.  Though Owusu is a handsome devil that plays authentically into his role, Faye’s character surpasses shallow and gullible traits as she’s desperate enough to try enchants for an older man to fall for her teenage body and soul and naïve enough to think that her charm passage actually worked enough to warrant sending scandalous pictures of herself over the phone to whom she believes to be Mr. Jones when in actuality is a Faye browbeating clique led by the insufferable rebellious student Elise, a role callously perfect for “Pagan Warrior’s” Sarah T. Cohen.  Jane tries to squeeze out as much as she can as the victim of Elisa’s volley of vile bullying tactics but also somehow cope the receiving end of embarrassment of kissing a shocked Mr. Duncan and as the two instances clash in a heap of dump on Faye day during Valentine’s, Faye retreats back to her fantasy safe haven as she tries to summon Death in vengeance.  This time, the incantation works and in flies with two large white wings and Roman sandals is Bao Tieu caked in some pretty atrocious facial makeup with a horizonal cleft nose, exposed teeth in a skull’s bare smile, and some serious baggage under the eyes.  I’m assuming Tieu’s short stature and small frame makes him suitable to portray the Cupid look often depicted as a child or as a slender, nearly feminine man in mythology art, but in “Cupid,” as the harbinger of death, the overall package feels less menacing and more absurd appropriate for the B-horror mockup as the dialogue-less winged villain hunts down rather easy prey using a campy assortment of atypical, Valentine’s Day weapons like heart shaped cookie cutters, a bouquet of roses, and mushy, sharp-edged greeting cards alongside Cupid’s go-to bow and arrows.  “Cupid” rounds out the cast with a majority of Scott Jeffrey entourage actors who’ve been in many of his produced films, such as Abi Casson Thompson (“The Candy Witch”), Ali Barouti, Georgie Banks (“The Mermaid’s Curse’), Kelly Juvilee (“ClownDoll”), Jake Watkins (“Toothfairy 2”), Adrian Bouchet (“HellKat”), and Nichola Wright (“Witches of Amityville Academy”).

Valentine’s Day holiday has seen a fair share of engendered horror films. While “Cupid’s” heart doesn’t beat to the same lovestruck drum as George Mihalka’s “My Bloody Valentine” or Jamie Blanks “Valentine” that scoff at romance by killing every love sick person in the room, Jeffrey’s take on Valentine’s Day stays on the slasher subgenre path, but takes a tongue-and-cheek route despite the earnest performances. I mean, really, who gets ninja starred in the back with Valentine greet cards or have their skin sliced out with heart-shaped cookie cutters? Jeffrey’s killer concepts have immense heart, no pun intended. Where “Cupid” begins to stray lies in the left out important details and the fast-and-loose character development that leaves a rancid taste of an expired box of chocolate in your mouth. For instance, Faye, a high school girl of maybe 16 or 17-years old, has what seems to be an archaic artifact of ancient black spells in her possession for reasons we don’t know how she obtained. Do we then conclude that Faye obsessively meddles casually with the black arts? Or did she visit Ray Stantz’s Occult Book store in NYC? There’s also a rich backstory, if not tale-telling, in Faye and Elise’s contention for each other involving a relationship scandal between Faye’s mom and Elise’s dad that’s only scratched at the surface and never really brought to light, but would have greatly help in explaining Elise’s wickedness toward Faye, who briefly blames her mother’s aggressive libido for all her high school problems. In what is, in all serious, an allegory for bullying spun high school mass murder, “Cupid” heavily ousts the outlier as a person lost in the fray of struggling to cope and turns to evil to solve their problems by taking out everyone in an instant. The only thing different is Jeffrey doesn’t arm Faye with a rifle; instead, he weaponizes her impulsive desires in the form of a demonized Cupid. Another character who doesn’t flesh out is Duncan Jones who drops out of medical school in order evade debt for the rest of his life; instead, he’s a substitute teacher with feelings for a colleague and his biggest prospect is chaperoning the Valentine’s Day dance. Instead of nurturing Jones’ arc from the beginning of the film, his medical background is only brought in later to serve as the needle in the arm for all the blood junkies out there as “Cupid” gets gory with a hacksaw scene that comes out of left field compared to the rest of the movie. “Cupid’s” story wilts like 6-day old roses starting to smell like rot, but is still thorn sharp as a campy, fun slasher braided with classical mythology and mass shooting undercurrents.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but you won’t be able to get away from “Cupid” that easily as the Scott Jeffrey written-and-directed holiday slasher soars in onto DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment and High Fliers Films in the United Kingdom. The PAL encoded DVD has a runtime of 84 minutes. There were no details provided on the DVD specs and since the screener provided was a digital screener, no critique will be made on the A/V aspects other than director of photography Ben Collins’s cinematography that deploys a better way to experience “Cupid” with perforated soft glows of vibrant tints in the most weirdest of places, like the school bathrooms, during tense supernatural expectations or when Cupid is on the prowl, giving more interest toward the scenes that might seem more run of the mill ordinarily. There were no bonus materials with this release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Abuse love and love will abuse you right back tenfold in this death-summoning, tale-twisting holiday themed horror “Cupid.”