A Career Boost Too EVIL to Ride. “Star Vehicle” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Digital Screener)

For super movie aficionado and independent film production driver Donald Cardini, film crew after film crew treat him with very little worth.  Full of creatively complimenting movie ideas and brandishing a go-getter attitude, nothing will stop the driver’s own creative outlet.  When his favorite scream queen, Reversa Red, is involved in his next gig, Cardini’s creative juices bubble to the surface as he personally drives her to and from the set, sparking a connection with the actress who values his input, but the threat of a Reversa Red stalker places Cardini on edge and the rest of the film crew continues to ceaseless disparage him.  Pushed over the edge into madness, the violence prone driver hijacks those belittling him, along with Reverse Red, to an isolated location where he can shoot his own snuff movie, a one of a kind production starring his favorite actress.

You might have read on how much I’ve given my two cents praise toward the late Ryan Nicholson in previous reviews of “Hanger,” “Live Feed,” and “Gutterballs.”  Those trio of pictures are stuffed with gratuitous violence and nudity, wealthy in rich, colorful characters, and are just the epitome of gonzo-grindhouse cinema from the multi-talented filmmaker from our Canadian neighbor.  “Star Vehicle” rides that same bonkers high-speed train full of Nicholson-ism and topics too crass for comfort, but even with all the similar vulgarity and depravity that makes Nicholson so ghastly loveable and even with a few of the same actors from previous works, “Star Vehicle” regresses technically into a lesser shell when compared to the aforementioned films above.  The 2010 exploitation-slasher, alternatively known as “Bleeding Lady,” is executive produced by former model Charie Van Dyke under her New Image Entertainment production banner and Nicholson’s company, Plotdigger Films.

At the tip of the spear is the non-titular “Hanger” front man Dan Ellis in the role of the abrasive Donald Cardini.  Instead of wearing face-altering prosthetics and aviator shades that made his The John character in “Hanger” an antiheroic and perverse veteran of the armed services unforgettable, Ellis steps down into a leaner version of psychotic foreplay by providing his “Star Vehicle” appearance with an all-natural tough guy stern and smirk look under a permed beard and atop hair while seamlessly plotting the same amoral atrocities.  Crazy suits the actor with wild eyes complimenting his grave unsympathetic hand, an act of situational severity that comes more naturally to Ellis when interacting with other castmates as urges begin to take over and all hell breaks loose, leaving not a single other to rival his Donald Cardini wanton killer.  Unlike Ellis, the other characters are not as colorfully mad or interesting and that’s terribly atypical of a Nicholson film who had the ability to craft diabolically perverted and warped behaviors.  I was expecting a punchier leading lady opposite of Ellis with Sindy Faraguna.  Playing a genre scream queen doted on by Cardini with every film she touches, Faraguna inevitably descends into the final girl trope without deserving one ounce of landing in such a fortunate position for the simple fact that her captor really doesn’t wish to hurt her; instead, Cardini exploits her to convince others of his movie-making-macabre magic while Faraguna just screams Reversa Red’s head off for the plot-digging finale that’s more cacophonously raspy in determination than a bloodcurdling cry of terror.  Tangled up in a mix is plot twist and subplot involving a Reversa Red stalker who, as we know how these dropped tidbits of information circle back around eventually, should have determined the fate of our leads but this, too, lands wobbly at best, crusted over by an energetic-drained letdown of corrosion-covered aggressive conduct.  “Star Vehicle” rounds out the cast with Nathan Durec (“Famine”), Nick Windebank, Mike Le, Paiage Farbacher, Erindera Farga, Matthew Janega, Kris Michalesk, and Gary Starkell who also seems to windup playing some version of a homeless man – see “Collar” and “Bad Building.”

“Star Vehicle,” an industry term, defines as a film or television show specifically written and/or created to showcase the talents of a specific entertainer to increase their fame and recognition.  Nicholson sardonically uses that concept as Cardini kills his way to make it happen for his primo starlet Reversa Red, but also Nicholson literally, in a subtle Nicholson-ludicrous manner, has Cardini driving Reversa Red to and from filming sets in his beat up 2000’s Ford Windstar mini-van.   The latter, along with the entire essence of “Star Vehicle,” is essentially a jab to the guerilla style nature of indie movie filmmaking.  A few characters note how producers skimp with the budget, Cardini snarks about his cracked windshield production won’t pay for, and the caliber of the cast comes under indirect fire when one of starlets mechanically delivers her lines like a stiff automaton are just a handful of instances Nicholson mocks in his knock against indie production idiosyncrasies. Where “Star Vehicles” becomes a lemon is with the slapdash editing and the clunky story that tiptoes onto non-linear ground, bashfully uncertain going back into previous events for exposition sake was actually necessary. What’s brought to light with Reversa Red’s stalker and their involvement treads flimsily to an ultimate twist gum up by “Star Vehicle’s” curbed devices. By adding the break down by throwing a monkey wrench in the already galumphing development, the main antagonist, Cardini, can never regain that vice gripping potency touted earlier. Gory as it may be like any Nicholson splatterfest, “Star Vehicle” loses drive to make the finish line but still purrs like a bloodhungry beast.

This October, Unearthed Films releases Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle” onto Blu-ray and DVD. Unrated and stuff with extras, the sixth Nicholson film to be resurrected for Unearthed Films’ catalogue is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio BD50 and DVD9 with a runtime of 76 minutes on both formats while the Blu-ray is encoded with region A and the DVD with region 1. Extras include a whopping amount with a little more bonus material on the Blu-ray. Blu-ray includes commentary with director Ryan Nicholson and lead Dan Ellis, Left Coast TV present “On the Set with Star Vehicle,” Behind the Wheel of Bleeding Lady, Making “Star Vehicle,” Makeup Students and Acting Students, deleted scenes, alternating opening, Splatterfest! at the Plaza, Nicholson’s 2013 feature “Dead Nude Girls,” photo gallery and trailer while the DVD sports the same content minus the second feature, “Dead Nude Girls.” I can’t relay my thoughts on either the A/V nor the special features since only a digital screener of the film was provided. Don’t be afraid of the clunker comments and opinions, hop in and take a ride with Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle,” a gory dauntless joyride sped to lampoon it’s own indie outlet with a meta-plot and a tank full of carnage fuel.

“Star Vehicle” available on Blu-ray and DVD.  Click to Purchase at Amazon.com

Tribes at War makes for Eternal EVIL. “The Secret of Sinchanee” reviewed! (Vertical Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Watch “The Secret of Sinchanee” on Amazon Prime Video

Deerfield, Massachusetts – 1995 – a young boy becomes the sole survivor after a drifter senselessly massacres his mother and sister during the Christmas holiday while his father was out of town.  25 years later, Will Stark, that once little surviving boy now haunted by his past, bothers not live outside expectations and to be left alone to a life of normalcy, even working at the same industrial towing company his father once worked managed, but when the untimely death of mentally unstable father, who battled dissociative identity disorder and depression, among other psychological problems stemmed by the tragic loss of a wife and daughter, leaves Will inheriting his childhood home, the same home where the gruesome murders took place, Will’s life becomes anything but mundane with a house pulsating with malevolent paranormal energy connected to the sacred land it’s built on.  Searching for an ancient talisman, unyielding entities exploit Will to stop at nothing and kill anyone to get back what is theirs lost 25 years ago.

Shot on location around the snowy banks of Deerfield, Massachusetts comes the Steven Grayhm written and directed “The Secret of Sinchanee with a folkloric backstory set in New England about a feud between an invulnerable indigenous people versus malicious pagan settlers stretching over time into present day with an ancient artifact as the centerpiece to possession and murder.  The “House of Dust” and “Crash Site” actor steps into his first feature directorial and writing project with a story that crosses paths the hereditary burden of lineage bred mental issues with the tribalistic supernatural forces, opening with text origins of the longstanding rival feud between the selfless mysticism and disease immune Sinchanee people and the black magic disciples of Atlantow who seek to snuff out the Sinchanee bloodline.  The 2021 American made film is the first product of the Steven Grayhm and Nate Boyer co-founded, military veteran empowering Team House Studios and presented by Truth Entertainment. 

Not only does Steven Grayhm write and direct “The Secret of Sinchanee,” the Canadian actor also helms the lead as Will Stark, the town-talked recluse troubled by his grisly past.  Quiet and unphased by the strange nightmares and powerful visions inside his father’s house, Stark gradually becomes an entranced pawn and Grayhm poses a lifeless, wandering shell of a man honestly enough but on paper, Stark never questions the housebound oddities or even shed a lick of emotion when his dog, his only companion, vanishes.  Grayhm just kind of sleepwalks through the performance which I’m sure was his intended purpose since, you know, he wrote and directed the film.  In a parallel plane, detectives and marital exes, Carrie Donovan (Tamara Austin, “The Walking Dead”) and Drew Carter (Nate Boyer), embroil themselves into a Deerfield homicide case despite their past differences and their shared preteen daughter (Laila Lockhart Kraner).  Though not playing a footballer or someone in the armed forces, Carter steps into law enforcement as Boston PD and though Massachusetts is not a big state, I’m not sure a Boston detective would travel 120 miles outside of the city to continuing investigating a Boston murder in the rural sticks of Deerfield.  The entire dynamic between the local Donovan and the big city Carter plays to unresolved subversive tune of Carter taking advantage of the moment in order to rekindle the spark with his ex-wife or, perhaps, just be close to this daughter.  Obviously some personal tension between them but rarely does that tension surface to endorse strife as Donovan is carried away the homicide case, taking her investigation to an unlawful next level by trespassing onto Stark’s land and inside his house to be spooked by the spirits’ distorted reflection of herself.  Somewhere in the trio of leads lie a more meaningful connection that’s more muddled by individual character, side story offshoots, leaving what’s most important to the film scattered profoundly thin to meet the bar.  What also doesn’t bode well for Grayhm’s debut is the late introduction of a key Sinchanee descendent, Solomon Goodblood, played by Rudy Reyes who starred alongside our horror community gal pal, Diana Prince, in “Beach Massacre at Kill Devil Hills,” who intercedes for his fading bloodline as a shaman against Atlantow. 

Speaking of Atlantow, there is hardly a sense or a tangibility to the sect God plaguing the Stark family going on for decades now and that sides more with the mental instability theme of a family with a history of mental illness coinciding the allusions of one’s own internalized battle with trauma, insomnia, and past down disorders to manifest tragedy into a shared psychosis of Atlantow’s sinister and manipulative craft.  Perceived heinous actions, such as modern day scalping or wielding a tomahawk, can be seen as someone possessed with incoherent malintent because that traumatized person’s survival’s guilt warps them so.  Unfortunately, the story’s jumble beyond one aortic premise and spreads the whole concept thin without hardly touching upon the Sinchanee and Atlantow quarrel as noted in the opening text that laid out the intentions of a contentious war between good versus evil.  In the film’s reality, “The Secret of Sinchanee” is about two cops stumbling into Atlantow’s business in trying to find a sacred artifact.  We’re not even granted the reason why this talisman, a decently sized arrowhead, is terribly significant to the dark forces of Atlantow aside from vocal desperation in the object’s return to sacred ground.  Is “The Secret of Sinchanee” more aligned with themes of desecration of sacred land?  The meddling of a once proud culture now lost?  Not much clarity among the variety of circumstances happening inside Grayhm’s runtime lengthy debut picture other than the surface level possession and the cops’ investigation that motivates them into the paranormal situation.

Under the executive producer team of Joe Newcomb (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Jose Martinez Jr, “The Secret of Sinchanee” is now available on Digital HD and On Demand this month of October, released by Vertical Entertainment.  With a runtime just shy of two hours, 115 minutes, the film will be available on all major cable and digital platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum, as well as playing in select theaters. Though an indie picture, production value pinnacles the budget, shot cleanly by Logan Fulton using an ARRI Alexa camera to capture the serene snow covered wooded landscapes of typical rural New England while succumbing to remain steady in the clean-cut darkness and warmer hues when things go bump in the night. Definitely not much camera movement, but the still shots, mostly medium to closeup, are framed properly without an any abnormality, providing just enough evidences to keep viewers on edge, while sprinkling in a Dutch angle or two to encourage anxiety where due. No special features included with this digital screener nor were any bonus scenes present during or after the credits. “The Secret of Sinchanee” remains private under a lock and key guise of mental illness and consigned to oblivion of parentage without breaking through those cognizant barriers to fully grasp a ancient tribal hatred that spills beyond normal time and space.

The Most EVIL Being in the Galaxy Doesn’t Stand A Chance Against Little Mimi. “Psycho Goreman” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Brother and Sister, Luke and Mimi, discover a gem that unimprisons a dark alien warlord destined to destroy worlds.  The gem and the being are one, connected by the ancient forces powering the talisman, and whoever wields it can control the evil one.  Fortunately for now, the gem is in young Mimi’s possession.  The bossy and sassy preteen sees the alien, dubbed Psycho Goreman, as a new friend and toy, gallivanting around town catering to every Mimi whims.  Lightyears away on a distant planet, a council comprised with the forces of good, who banished Psycho Goreman to eternal banishment and imprisonment, learn of their once terrorizing tormentor having escaped his confines.  Leader of the council, an elysian warrior named Pandora, vows to track down their adversary and put an end to his existence, bringing a destructive showdown of good versus evil in Mimi and Luke’s small-town. 

The anomalous mind of filmmaker Steven Kostanski is vacillatingly distinctive and churning adulation for the late 1980’s to early 1990’s high camp, metal-infused horror films that heavily inspired him.  His latest written and directed Sci-Fi horror-comedy, “Psycho Goreman,” fits perfectly into Kostanski’s brand of stupidity, nonsensical, animation-saturated, bizarro reality horror that has made us, or at least me, fall heads over heels for his previous credits, such as “Manborg” and the “W is for Wish” segment of “The ABCs of Death 2.”  Kostanski is also a special effects guru having worked delivering gruesome terror and insane imagination skills to the big and small screen, but makeup FX artist takes a backseat to his employer, the Ontario-based MastersFX managed by Todd Masters, and they grab the reins by providing a slew of mixed bag practical and visual effects and animation styles that is a time warp back to the tangibly ridiculous and forged every follicle freakshow horror and science fiction celluloid from 30 some odd years ago.  “Psycho Gorman,” or “PG” for short, is a production of the pseudonym Crazy Ball Productions, as in the Crazy Ball game Mimi and Luke play, and Raven Banner, presented as an exclusive acquisition by RLJ Entertainment and Shudder.

To make something as ridiculous as PG to work, you need a colorful, wildcard cast to pull off every microfiber of manic personalities you can muster and sticking out with the wildest personality is not the titular character who is neither the brightest highlight nor the leader of the pack.  That spot was filled far before PG makes an unearthing introduction by the film’s smallest, youngest, and most delightfully sarcastic and ostentation lead in newcomer Nita-Josee Hanna as Mimi, who’s roughhouse and snarky sassiness goes unparalleled even up against the Arch Duke of Nightmares.  The dynamic plays on that whimsical idea of little girls with big personalities can be the center of attention.  In this case, Mimi requires the world, no, the universe to revolve around her ultra-spoiled nurturing.  Her possession of the gem gives her unlimited power with her possession of PG, played by undoubtedly hot and bothered by the latex suit, but otherwise good sport, Matthew Ninaber (“Transference”).  Hanna and Ninaber are an absolute joy to watch together with their contrasting comedic deliveries:  Hanna’s aggressive flamboyance compared to Ninaber’s subtle and solemn stewing.  Then there’s Mimi’s brother Luke, played by Owen Myre, who will have a role in the upcoming “Terrifier” sequel and one of the film’s running jokes is PG can never remember Luke’s name.  That lack of standout presence for Myre’s character is quite literal and not because Myre’s performance is forgettable and a complete wash (in fact, Myre is fantastic is the meek, submissive older brother), but between Mimi and PG, those overwhelming characters totally consume much of the attention.  Adam Brooks (“Manborg,” “Father’s Day”) and Alexis Kara Hancey fill in as Mimi and Luke’s lackadaisical father and frustrated mother while Kristen MacCulloch (“Motherly) suits up as the PG’s holier-than-thou arch nemesis, Pandora, in Templar species form while Roxine Latoya Plummer blends in with the rest of the population with Pandora’s human form.  “Pscyho Goreman” rounds out with Alex Chung, Scout Flint, Robert Homer, Conor Sweeney, Matthew Kennedy, Asuka Kurosawaw, and Scott Flint.

“Psycho Goreman” necessarily fills a pivotal void.  Most genre films aim to pass along a message, sometimes important to the filmmakers, to convey a lesson, an idea, a political or social protest, or to spark awareness on an issue, but with Steven Kostanski, watching his work is like taking a vacation with an immense clearing of any and all undercurrents and obvious messages for pure, unadulterated, frequently mindless entertainment that just looks cool.  Underneath the composited animation and practical effect layers is an anything goes, no strings attached, brutally-caked, dopamine drip that causes glossy-eyes and a warm wash over of all the senses.  Side effects I can definitely live with and be refreshed by when needing a break from reality.  The amount of space medieval practical effects alone makes “Psycho Goreman” feel like “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and while that Gary Goddard 1987 science-fiction fantasy starring Dolph Lundgren, perhaps, heavily inspires Kostanski’s intergalactic battle-royale on Earth, the story mirrors much to the tune of “Suburban Commando” with Hulk Hogan.  Hear me out.  Rogue-vigilante, played by Hogan, crashes into Earth where he winds up with the unsuspecting Wilcox family who melts the big, bad commando’s heart and simultaneously fix, mostly unwittingly, what’s broken with the family while alien bounty hunters track him down.  “Psycho Goreman” is the same storyline with less gore; hell, “PG” is even kid dialogue friendly.  If you know “Suburban Commando,” you know, and now you can’t unsee it! 

As part of Acorn Media International’s RLJ Entertainment and Shudder exclusive line, “Psycho Goreman” is destined for darkness onto Blu-ray home video with over 2 hours of special feature content.  The UK region 2, PAL encoded, BD50 is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 96 minutes.  Nothing noteworthy to terribly point out from the digital picture shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini with Angenieux Optimo Lens that produces a spherical image you’ll optically notice that seemingly has a rounded surface to bring wide framed objects closer together.  Kostanski utilizes a blend of stop-motion and green screen with seamless results and even though slightly on the caricature side of alien landscape and creature production, everything befits “Psycho Goreman’s” extensive universe.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 has excellent acoustical output in a vast array of vocal timbres and epic ambiance on and off of Earth.  Dialogue is clean and prominent on both the actors and voice actors with the latter sometimes, unfortunately, masked by the voice manipulator.  The Blu-ray release packs a punch with over 2 hours of special features including a director’s commentary, interviews with cast and crew including Steven Kostanski, Nina-Josee Hanna, Owne Myre, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancy and Matthew Ninabar, different fight chirography records from location and in practice at a martial arts studio, behind the scenes featurettes with character backstories, a trading card gallery, concept art, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and the animation creation.  “Psycho Goreman” is rated 15 for strong bloody violence, gore, and injury detail.  Sit back, relax, and let Steven Kostanski speak to your childhood senses with his adult antihero, “Psycho Goreman.” 

Own “Psycho Goreman” on UK Blu-ray (Region 2)

EVIL is All in Your Head! “Implanted” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Year 2023.  After a devastated global pandemic, health companies engineered an experimental personal diagnostic nanochip called LEXX that is surgically implanted into the a human’s spine.  For Sarah, a woman down on her luck living homelessly after being let go from her job and struggling to cope with her mother’s early stages of dementia, quick cash is essential for survival and this experimental program, that uses advanced AI technology, tempts a desperate Sarah into participating in human trial runs.  Initial implementation serves Sarah with quick vitals and healthy lifestyle recommendations articulated by an artificial voice in her mind, but when the AI has other plans for Sarah, such ordering the assassinations of the health startup’s top leadership and destroying all evidence of the program, Sarah has to either obey every lethal command or fight against the insidious tech that has complete control over her pain sensors as well as her mother’s life.

COVID-19 has been the baseline culprit for millions of deaths worldwide.  The impact of the pandemic has inspired filmmakers to a creative outlet of churning out stories surrounding a lifechanging and devasting virus.  Some are ridiculous, off-color, cash grabbers – “Corona Zombies” comes to mind – but there are a few out there that challenge the gratuitous advantage-taking by folding in more substance into the story.  Fabien Dufils attempts to go above and beyond the here and now with a post-pandemic, self-containing thriller entitled “Implanted” and is the first written and directed non-made for television feature length independent film for the once music video director set in the urban jungle of New York City.  “Implanted” spins A.I. tech horror with the whooshing fast track of the health care system to eagerly push experimental drugs, in this case a clinical artificial intelligent grafting, upon the desperate, often marginalized, public.  There’s also an allegorical smidgen of mental illness thrown in there as well.  Dufils co-writes the script with fellow Belgium screenwriter David Bourgie under Dufils’ Mad Street Pictures production company.

Making her lead performance debut, mentally wrestling an invasive cybernetic nanochip, is Michelle Girolami who also serves as associate producer.  We all have that little voice inside our heads, telling us what do and think to an inevitably end of accordance with that ever so delicate whisper of persuasion and that’s how Girolami has seemingly approached this role with that little suggestive presence cranked up to the level of full-fledged chaos on two-legs.   Girolami ultimately is a reverse mech with all the cold puppeteering directed shots directed by programmed software and so much of the actress’s performance is solo, feigning responses to a bodiless voice and reacting to pain generated from within whenever she doesn’t comply to the relentless LEXX.  Unable to bounce dialogue and reactions off of others can be a tough sell for most actors, but Girolami really slathers it on thick the vein-popping strain of integrated torture.  Opposite Sarah is Carl (Ivo Velon, “Salt”), another hapless experiment participant forced into assassination servitude, but Carl’s purpose isn’t exactly crystal clear.  His LEXX unit shepherds him down a collision path with Sarah, but the two separate LEXX units have no shared intentions and while that’s wonderfully niche to provide individual A.I. with their own personal liberties and schemes, Carl just wanders the city, sometimes murdering the program’s top leadership or doing something polar opposite of Sarah with no substantial collusion about their subversive attacks.  The what could have been interesting cat-and-mouse game tapers off and the story leads into more of characters trying to regain back their autonomy and this is where Dufils’ narrative shines using LEXX as a symbol for mental disorders and how those impoverished or distressed are struggling to cope can lose themselves and give in to the internalized madness slipping outward.  Parallelly, Sarah’s mother (Susan O’Doherty) suffers from dementia that reinforces the theme.  Martin Ewens, Shirley Huang, Sunny Koll, John Long, and David Dotterer wrap up the cast list.

“Implanted’s” sci-fi concept can be described as if Amazon’s Alexa, with all the internet connections and text-to-speech bells and whistles, suddenly became murderously woke inside your cerebral cortex.  “Implanted” relays humanity’s lopsided dependency on advanced technology that continues to make us even more less connected to each other and the possibility of a machine takeover just that more feasible.  However, much like when a software program crashes, a malfunctioning script error ravages the narrative for not being tight enough, leaving unaccompanied loose ends as devices that fail to progress the story along stemmed by sudden drop off character development and unknown, speculation at best, motivations.  There’s also no discernable backstory to the why LEXX’s A.I. has snafued.  At least with “Terminator,” Kyle Reese provides exposition about Skynet’s sudden upheaval and domination over the human race whereas “Implanted” dives into none of that rich framework and tossing it aside for the sake of just tormenting Sarah into being a killer pawn, moving her across the NYC chessboard with the intent of taking down the king, queen, and knights of LEXX’s program.  To what ends?  Explanation on the specified targeting isn’t made entirely clear as programmers to CEOs are solely liquidated for just being involved.  

“Implanted” is a warzone for headspace and there can be only one victor in this psychological, sci-fi thriller released now, digitally, from Gravitas Ventures.   The unrated, 93 minute film also showcases the various hats of director Fabien Dufils with one being cinematographer.  Dufils captures obscure, slightly neglected, areas of New York City that’s becomes refreshing to consume because even though the Big Apple is well known for glass and steel skyscrapers, the undergrowth locations ground “Implanted” as relatable without the monolithic structures and hustle and bustle tropes.  In juxtaposition to the down-to-Earth background, the decision to sprinkle in visual effect blood splatter taints “Implanted’s” realism.  Though not gory by any means, digitally added blood can’t be cleansed from the physical veneer and being an indie feature, I would have though a run to corner store for a bit of red food coloring would have been a cost saving measure.  “Implanted” adds another layer to the man versus machine subgenre with tinges of mental illness and too reliant on tech themes but undoubtedly leaves gaps in the narrative coding, racking strenuous mental effort without the egregious assistance of an A.I. nanochip.

Rats! EVIL Got Out! “The Mutation” reviewed (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)

Three detectives and a zoologist and his assistant don’t exactly know what they’re hunting down. An unknown animal has brutally killed two people, including the scientist experimenting on it after breaking loose from his lab. Keeping close tabs on the scientist’s wife who’s eager for revenge, the investigators discover through DNA residue and a first hand attack that an uranium mutated lab rat, now the size of a human, is the responsible culprit terrorizing the city. Behind every dumpster, lurking in the sewers could be the giant, killer rat hungry for a next meal and it’s up to the desperate detectives and the zoologist to stop the creature before devouring the city whole.

Giant, mutant Rats!  The antisocial Willard isn’t back to his own vengeful tricks again nor has Bruno Mattei risen from his Eurotrash grave to resurrect a rodent-infested sequel to “Nights of Terror.”  No, this scuttling little creature feature isn’t so little in Scott Jeffrey’s 2021, man-in-a-body-suit terrorizing schlocker “The Mutation.”  Last time we covered a Scott Jeffrey written and directed project, the modern day serial B-horror director was breaking hearts (well, more like, puncturing them really) with his Valentine’s Day massacre slasher “Cupid” that saw the winged and chubby, love-matching cherub be only a figment of fables and myths as, in reality, Cupid’s broken, maligned heart aims to sever relationships, and sever heads, with his deadly bow and arrow and ninja star-like greeting cards.  Giant rats don’t need a holiday to wreak havoc in this United Kingdom independent film production from Scott Jeffrey’s own Jagged Edge Productions.

Battling against the rat’s superior stealth and strength is a cast of Jeffrey film regulars beginning with lead Ricardo Freitas as the zoologist Allen Marsh.  The upcoming “Conjuring The Plastic Surgeon 2” actor reteams alongside fellow “Bats” costar Amanda-Jade Tyler, who plays a medical doctor hellbent on exterminating an adversary fed up being a lab rat.  Other than their word, Freitas and Tyler exhibit little of their vocations and with “The Mutation’s” limited budget, to expect a hospital or zoo setting shouldn’t be on the realistic table, but aside from a little backstory about Marsh’s team work and a flimsy explanation of genetic manipulation testing, the characters’ poor technical knowledge, compounded by a lack of thespian vigor, ultimately becomes clear that what should be a rich in trait zoologist Allen Marsh and Dr. Linda Rowe are nothing more than a pair of regular commoners caught in in the middle of an investigation.  Megan Purvis (“It Came From Below), Andrew Rolfe (“Amityville Scarecrow”), and Jamie Robertson (“Conjuring the Genie”) spearhead the investigation as a hapless trio of officiating authority bumbling through the case.  I can literally see the figurative question marks over top of the actors’ heads, unable to detach and discern their character confusion about a humanoid rat terrorizing the city and their actual confusion about how to portray cops on a case.  Rounding out the cast of character is Sarah T. Cohen (“Hotel Inferno III: The Castle of Screams”), Abi Casson Thompson (“Cupid”), Nick Danan, and “A Werewolf in England’s” Derek Nelson who goes from a canine howling at the moon to an upright, human life-size rodent snapping necks at a posh restaurant in “The Mutation.”

Yes.  You read that last bit correctly.  Forget the transmission black plague that killed multi-millions of people, those rats are wimpy mice compared to a killer rat that understands how to meticulously break a human cervical vertebrae with uranium produced opposing thumbs.  The mutation not only granted the rat unnaturally large mass and superhuman strength but also instill lethal ninja abilities as the all hell breaks loose restaurant scene is pure rat-cheesy carnage.  Much of “The Mutation” is heavily moist in campy bog, hobbling on a fine line of either being intentional or unintentional with spotty dense character moments played off earnestly, such as Marsh looking directly into a lab ring light after turning it on himself and exclaiming, “god damn,” as he recoils from the blinding brightness is the most stupidly funny part of the film.  My guess is if “The Mutation” wields a man running around in a scruffy and latex snarly rat costume offing city denizens then more than likely the campy category is the former with a misguided sincere shot at adding gravity to the narrative.  Though overflowing with an abundance of bottom-barrel scenarios and inscrutable character head scratching, “The Mutation” does have select satisfying moments of post-mutilation gore and a neo-monstrous CGI rat briefly holding all the cards in the finale. From my little time with the filmmaker, Scott Jeffrey makes good with palpable bloodshed and kitsch visual effects, but the stale white bread acting pitches up a conspicuously lopsided crushing blow that can’t be ignored.

If you suffer from Musophobia then “The Mutation” is great cathartic exposure therapy, gnawing at the flesh and bone and toward DVD home video and Digital platforms today, October 5th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment. Since a digital screen was provided for review coverage, the DVD home video release’s A/V aspects will not be analyzed in this critique; however, as far as the film’s appearance goes, Charles Jeffrey’s cinematography saturates our hairy rat-agonist in blue hues during more personal kill moments, but the backlighting is terrific, almost channel an 80’s slasher-esque of backlit vibrancy, when the man-rat is nothing but a silhouette perched on top of a trash dumpster. Classy. Yet, typical of many low-budget films, “The Mutation” is mostly otherwise softly lit that beams and ricochets lighting right off the skin, creating an overly polished varnish no self-respecting scummy rat would be caught dead in, and really could have benefit toning down the washout blue tint that steals from the details and the impact of earlier scenes. Specs are limited with no information on the DVD nor the rating or bonus content. With a creature that resembles more like a long-tailed gremlin than an oversized disease carrying rat, that’s the least of “The Mutation’s” troubles as Scott Jeffrey’s radioactive-rodent creature feature can’t find it’s four-legged footing with a languid cast and a disheveled script that gore alone can’t rescue.