EVIL Hoodooism is No Mumbo-Jumbo! “Spell” reviewed! (Paramount Pictures / Digital Screener)

Marquis E. Woods is a powerful defensive attorney good at his job, attaining wealth and position to the likes he’s never had as young boy raised by a fervent and abusive father in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky; a life now he always wanted he can now share with wife, Veora, and pass to their children, Samsara and Tydon.  The news of the death of his father sends him and family on a flying to the rural part of Kentucky to pay their respects in Marquis’ personal small aircraft.  A terrible storm forces down the plane down in a remote wooded valley and an injured Marquis wakes up in attic on a farm ran by a proclaimed rootwork old woman, Ms. Eloise, with her husband and oxen-strong farm hand.  Trapped and concerned for his missing family, Ms. Eloise slowly nurses him back to health with a Boogity, a Hoodoo figured representation of Marquis comprised of his flesh, blood, and other DNA elements, but her Southern hospitality isn’t for good intentions as she mends and prepares his wounded body, brewing a sinister spell upon his soul, for the forthcoming blood moon that lies days ahead.

Experiencing Hoodoo dark magic horror back on a bigger production scale is on the same extraordinary gamut in discovering the lost city of Atlantis.  Well, maybe not as profoundly archeological as discovering Atlantis, but still immensely impactful. Films like the Mark Tonderai directed “Spell” hit like a ton of brick-shaped talismans, fettering the imagination with hexes that bewitch fascination and captivation, and roots through an endless torrential fountain of ancient beliefs to scour the dark side of the practices for celluloid terror. “The House at the End of the Street” director Tonderai moves away from restraints of PG-13 horror before heading into a stint of helming television episodes only to make a glorious return back to features with the R-rated black magic action-thriller, “Spell,” penned by Kurt Wimmer who knows a thing or two about action-thrillers as the writer of the gun-toting, martial arts dystopian, “Equilibrium,” and bloodily vindictive thriller, “Law Abiding Citizen”.  Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa that, through the slight of hand of movie magic, turns South Africa into rural Kentucky, “Spell” is a co-production of Paramount Pictures, LINK Entertainment, and MC8 Entertainment as well as being a product of puncturing the rarely topical social class and racism division within the same race.

To play a determined and savvy father and husband on the ropes of survival, “Power’s” Omari Hardwick steps into the detained role of Marquis E. Woods, surely prepping himself against Ms. Eloise’s wicked dark magic before battling the flesh hungry undead in the upcoming Zack Snyder zombie-geddon horror, “Army of the Dead.” Hardwick is the ideal actor for a role that, at times, can be physical; his athletic build suits also Woods’ affluence though not required as scene with the brawny farm hand that introduces South Africa’s very own fitness entrepreneur, Steve Mululu.  Woods is pitted not only against formidable muscle, but also has to outwit the four or five lifetime smarts of an old root woman, Ms. Eloise, diabolically portrayed with a legendary entrenched Southern vernacular by the “Urban Legend” actress, Loretta Devine.  On the downside of the character, Ms. Eloise is rich with historical saturation that goes unchecked and unexplored and she seems a little more slapdash with her rituals and her captives.  In what really is a mind game of wit and Podunk wizardry between Hardwick’s Marquis E Woods and Devine’s Ms. Eloise, the remaining cast for “Spell” shoulders only little to annex more substance toward the tensions between the two principles, including performances from Lorraine Burroughs, John Beasley, Andrew Jacobs, Tumisho Masha, RJ-Karlo Handy, Hannah Gonera, and Kalifa Burton.

Aforementioned, “Spell,” between the domestic xenophobia opulence dividing the Woods family, the quaint, yet tangible body horror, and the abhorrent mysticism surrounding Hoodooism, teeters on loose ground with not only Ms. Eloise’s foundation, but also with main character, Marquis E. Woods, who suffers continuously from trauma-induced nightmares of his abusive father. Through flashbacks, Marquis is beaten with verbal assaults and even, seemingly, being stabbed or mutilated by his father. Yet, that’s about as far as the flashback dynamic progresses the thread bare bond until a minor moment at the climax is when Marquis then embraces his father’s aggressive nature, tuning more into a theme of stative stance that Marquis and father might not have seen eye-to-eye, but the son learns to survive through amplified evil by way of his father’s tough, tortuous care. The relationship circles backs with Marquis’ entitled children, whose piggyback wealth has molded them indifferent against the benefits given to them and partisan toward the backwoods people of color, and “Spell” becomes an insidious allegory creeping into the fold with a little tough love from your parents, in this case father, will go a long way. “Spell” also rarely pulls any punches with a welcoming cringe of ghastly violations of the human body (that pulling, inserting, and then re-pulling out the spike in the bottom of the foot gag will make you actually gag!) and inside the rustic and isolating confines of Ms. Eloise’s Kentucky farm compound, there’s a rough-hewn atmosphere that elevates the subgenre, shaking it to the core at times.

“Spell” is terrific urban horror tinged with “Misery” but driven by historical oppression stemmed Hoodoo, releasing just before Halloween on October 30th distributed by Paramount Players, a division of Paramount Pictures that’s still very much in it’s infancy. Jacques Jouffret (“The Purge” franchise) has a tight knit and jarring cinematography that puts the audience in the front, debilitating seat, empathizing the mind-warping effects that Marquis faces with a violent plane crash, nerve seizing torture, and banding Hoodoo hallucinations. Plus, there is fancy crane camerawork that marvels to capture multiple actions between characters. The score from Ben Onono fulfills the tension-riddle need with incessant zest, complimenting the narrative tenfold. Since “Spell” is a brand new release, there were no bonus material included and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t belittle the Boogity in this year’s most unique and contending horror movie that casts a “Spell” over the rest of the competition.

Pre-order “Spell” on Prime Video

 

EVIL is Out For Blood! “Attack of the Unknown” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

A Los Angeles SWAT team raids a syndicate congregating big narcotics deal that leads to the arrest of the local high profile drug lord named Hades.  In transporting Hades into federal custody, massive alien ships suddenly loom over the city, beginning a merciless extraterrestrial invasion that forces the close knit SWAT team, Hades, and a handful of low on the totem poll federal agents to take shelter at an inmate detention center housing dangerous criminals as everyone outside, fighting for their very lives on the streets of an ablaze metropolis, are swarmed and killed by tentacle spearing, blood sucking aliens.  Running low on ammo, cut off from any kind of rescue, and aware that an attack on them is imminent, the survivors must band together to plan their continuous survival and understand what the aliens want from them before being raided for their blood.

“Independence Day” meets “Assault on Precinct 13” in the blood marauding mayhem of the alien invasion action film “Attack of the Unknown” from writer-director Brandon Slagle (“House on Manson,” “The Dawn”) based off a story by producers Michael and Sonny Mahal of the Mahal Empire production company. The American made, Los Angeles and Las Vegas shot Sci-Fi embattled entanglement labors an intensive visual effects heavy bombardment that bares an unbiblical similarity of the David versus Goliath parable.  Instead of using stones and a slingshot to bring the formidable giant down, gunfire and hand-to-hand combat serve as the nearly useless weaponry of choice against these spacemen, with a slight inspiration of H.R. Giger’s biochemical flare, searching for the junkie’s high of medicinal hemoglobin.  Alongside the Mahal Empire, the company behind the artistry of supernatural-sins, “Art of the Dead,” Spicy Ramen Productions (“Murder Van”), FilmCore (“Clownado”), and Blain-Y-Bootleg Films also stick their producing tentacles into the narrative that entails expropriation of human blood by otherworldly beings.

“Attack of the Unknown” reunites “Art of the Dead’s” Richard Grieco and Tara Reid once again in a non-scene sharing feature, but, this time around, Grieco lands the lead role of Vernon, a long-in-the-tooth cop going through a brutal divorce, going through cancer, and must be the person to save during the invasion…wait, what? Yes, forget the women, children, and possible any other last hope for mankind, Vernon, through the eyes of his SWAT brethren, becomes early on the favorite for survival, but only later into the story does the fact of Vernon’s fatalistic, cancerous blood is the cure for dominion dominance, something that should have been noted when Vernon is labeled as must live. Grieco’s austere soul for Vernon disposes a man without a care or is unpredictable and while the role is overall solid, Grieco is a bit theatrical with the performance. On the short end of the stick is Tara Reid whose barely in a folklore tale told by Hades as a severely brief conclusion on why these malevolent space invaders have landed on planet Earth. Former “Hellraiser: Revelations'” cenobite, Jolene Andersen, and typecast bad guy, “Strangeland’s” Robert LaSardo, without an alternative, had the most intrigue without having a lick of depth with their characters. Andersen is the only female SWAT member, Hannah, with an unexplained connection between her and Vernon other than being colleagues, but Hannah is a bit of a Jane of all trades able to hold her own in a humbling kind of way, making her more likable. On the other hand, the mysterious temperament challenges us to figure out what LaSardo kind of person is Hades; obviously named after the lord of Hell, the drug kingpin isn’t devilish in the least and has the tendency to be more of a stubborn and angst tween. The cast list is huge but the main players involved rounding out the cast list is Douglas Tait, Robert Donovan, Paul Gunn, Mouine Omari, Clay Trimble, Gerardo de Pablos, King Jeff, and, not forgetting to mention as Featured Dancer #1, adult actress Tasha Reign.

Slagle has to reign over and rein in the slew of competing talents and the story’s first act of an indeterminate direction. When the narrative finally settles upon the alien encircled detention center with the survivors’ back against the wall, a harried subplot with two, nearly off the clock San Fernando cops encountering a crashed ship in the desert on the outskirts of town is pushed aside; instead of a smaller, parallel story alongside the SWAT’s predicament, the two cop encounter becomes a bookend story that feels sorely out of place and sheepishly wrapped up. Another out of place aspect, an unfillable character arc within the core story, is with an out of element survivor, a vlogger from Texas, who is the only unqualified defender against an attack and supposed to be on this tangent of earning his “got your back” badge (anyone from Texas, the Alamo state, should know a thing or two about a last stand), but by the time the vlogger musters the courage to shoot back at the bloodsucking tentacles during an elevator escape, the moment is way too late and way too underwhelming to make an impact, leaving his presence wasted amongst a motley crew of rough and tough officers and criminals. Luckily, the Mahal production has plenty of capital to go around to render a bolstering blend of practical and visual effects that tags “Attack of the Unknown” as Slagle’s Michael Bay attempt of a Sci-Fi action film. The visual effect composites are verisimilar in comparison to big budget Hollywood and the practical work, whether be with the fleeting gruesome deaths (ripping off the crown of the head scene was pretty nasty), the alien spacesuits, and the alien’s classic bug eyes and small mouth, harped back on a throwback science fiction alien attack sans the ray gun trope.

For an indie production, “Attack of the Unknown” has a palpable core story with promising visuals that has invaded all major VOD platforms this past August courtesy of Gravitas Ventures. The A/V qualities will not be reviewed due to the digital screener provided, but just to comment on the rigors of budget films, the depth perception issues in the composited effects and the sounds effects not always necessarily syncing properly with the action (i.e. explosions), cold cocks us back down a peg that “Attack of the Unknown” is an indie film. The music score is provided by Scott Glasgow (“Hatchet III”) and the shots are provided by Michael Su, who I thought garnished really neat scenes with smoke and brilliant light. Bottom line, “Attack of the Unknown” just ekes out being entertaining enough but the space vampire’s ground assault traverses a rocky road of dry performances and unfocused bearings that cultivates earnest dramatics progressing into one ginormous space ship-sized cliché.

Available to Rent on Amazon!

EVIL Presses the Reset Button For Killer Results! “To Your Last Death” reviewed! (Quiver Distribution / Blu-ray)

Miriam DeKalb has just survived a bloodbath inside her tycoon father’s high-rise, walking out shaken, bloodied, and carrying an axe.  When the police detain her in the hospital, construing a case against her for the death of her siblings and father based off her previously unhinged mental state inside a psychiatric institute, Miriam is visited by an otherworldly being known as the Gamemaster.  Miriam is given two choices:  stay at the hospital to be pursued as the murderous villain in her harrowing escape from near death or restart her traumatizing experience to save her siblings in an intergalactic wager by infinite being gamblers eager for amusement, blood, and a clear winner.  Miriam’s foreknowledge of how the events play out should give her an edge in saving her family, but the restart is the Gamemaster’s game with the Gamemaster’s rules as timelines and outcomes are determined limitless. 

“To Your Last Death” is a science fictional brawl of Darwinism in this eviscerating adult animated survival horror from director Jason Axinn.  Originally titled as “The Malevolent” during the crowd-funded Indiegogo campaign, which raised 114% above film’s budget, “To Your Last Death” is Axinn’s first full length feature from a script co-written by Jim Cirile (writer of horror-comedy “Banned”) and is the first credited work of Tanya C. Klein, both who’ve previously collaborated on the superhero short “Liberator” in 2016 starring the original Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno  With an animated direction similar to that of FX’s “Archer,” Cartoon Network’s “Metalocalypse,” or an even slightly more advanced version of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” but, in fact, the hand-drawn, puppetry style animation is the first ever 2-D animated horror under the meticulous art direction of Carl Frank along with lead artists Luca Romano and Vicente Saldivar, who interned on “Metalocalypse,” that keeps in tune with the adult themed animation trend, but levels up the explicit nature that kisses the sordid substance of “Heavy Metal” with strong bloody violence and some nudity.  “To Your Last Death” is the first feature film of Jim Cirile and Tanya C. Klien’s Coverage Ink Films, a subsidiary of the screenplay analysis and development service group, Coverage Ink, and Quiver Distribution (“Becky”) with Cindi Rice, Paige Barnett and Jason Axinn taking on a producer role. 

The voice work is comprised of some of the most distinguishable voices in genre land; voices that carry the unparalleled weight in intensity, tenor, and madness to their darkly depicted illustrated characters.  You can almost feel the veins throbbing out of Ray Wise’s neck when spewing the murderous insanity of warfare kingpin and diabolical businessman, Cyrus DeKalb.  The “Dead End” and “Jeepers Creepers 2” actor’s inhumane avatar, who looks just like him, devises a plan to solidify his company’s legacy by eliminating his four children who, if banding together, can derail his egomaniacal runaway train.  His children are distinct individuals themselves, beginning with the BDS&M buff and death metal rocker, Ethan (Damein C. Haas), a pill-popping wrist cutter, Kelsy (Florence Hartigan “Phoenix Forgotten”), and a mirror-image disappointment and homosexual, Collin (Benjamin Siemon “Thankskilling 3”).  The fourth child, Miriam, is the principle lead.  Voiced with perpetual mixed reactions by Dani Lennon, a regular from the videogame-themed horror comedy and zombie apocalypse television series, “Bite Me,” Miriam’s complexities stem from a web of junctures that lead her to being a control freak amongst her siblings, an obsessive activist against her father, and a certified schizophrenic, but Miriam is also pragmatic with the strongest will to see through and survive her maniacal father’s abhorrence.  While everyone’s voice work is solid, Steve Geiger’s Eastern European accent replicated for the sadistic, warmongering henchman, Jurek, imprints a nightmare man unabashed by his decadent desires.  You wouldn’t think just be reading this review, but Bill Moseley (“Devil’s Rejects”) and William Shatner (“Star Trek” franchise) also have voice roles that are more cameo resembling as Moseley voices a short lived, facially disfigured hired gun and Shatner is the narrating voice in between the void as the Overseer, filling in with cryptic exposition of the Gamemaster’s existence, much like his narrative work on the reboot of the children’s show, “The Clangers.”   Mark Whitten, Bill Mishap, Rom Lommel, Paige Barnnet, Jim Cirile, Tanya C. Klein, Ruairi Douglas, Jason Axinn, and “Deadpool’s” Morena Baccarin as the Gamemaster round out the cast.

The way “To Your Last Death’s” story is structured runs along the same quivering line that’s equal to pure madness and this narrative path of unstoppable carnage is purposefully trekked to dislodge any judgements about what we, the viewer, think we know about the Gamemaster’s macabre game for galactic gambling.  Is the whole “Saw”-like designed bloodbath really a part of Cyrus DeKalb’s hatred and vindictiveness toward his children or is the lucid experience just a figment of Miriam’s break from reality?  Remember, Miriam was depicted to an ex-committed, living with and within the pressures of her father’s ever present, looming shadow. Miriam finds herself repeating moments but blueprinted differently than before or is manipulated by the Gamemaster’s gamer’s high for the adrenaline voyeurs betting on the outcome. The story’s effervescently fluid in pivots, tactics, and style; yet, the constant modify and rebuild was, perhaps, done one or two many times as staleness begins to set in and I eventually find himself anxious for a more linear goal for Miriam and her siblings to be out of limbo, out of being hacked to pieces on the fourth or fifth go-around, and reach the final stage, the final boss, to not be jerked back (or jerked around) to the beginning or midpoint like in unendurable game of chutes and ladders. Soon after that sensation of being uninterested in another rewind, the feeling immediately washes away as the story finally did progress, climax, finish, end, close, and put to sleep a rotunda of violence engendered by cosmic sadists that is “To Your Last Death.”

Like some warped version of “Clash of the Titans,” the insouciant Gods in “To Your Last Death” are not generous or kind in their gamble of human entertainment on this Blu-ray release distributed by Quiver Distribution. The feature is presented in a windscreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with rich colors through but favor toward scenes splotched of dark red or saturated in full tints of blue. The animation can be a little jagged at times but tolerable and only one scenes stood out compromised with two character stuck still for a few seconds too long and color banding rear its little ugly head on their animated faces. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound renders equally gratifying that includes a pulsating and terror riddled soundtrack by Rene G. Boscio. Typical with animation, ambience is generally underused as the filmmakers control much of what’s in the frame and the same can be said with this film, but with the much of action stationary inside the building, the confinement fills in the auditory gaps in conjunction with lucrative and well timed effects, such as a ripping roar of gas guzzling chainsaw, the squirting sounds of blood sprays, and even with the lossless details of minor necessities, such as Jurek whistling, to build upon character development. Dialogue is prominent, clear, and syncs okay with the marionette animation. The Blu-ray case is sheathed in a cardboard slipcover, both arranged with the same front and back cover image and layout. The bonus features are lack as the bare bones release only comes with a high definition trailer of the film. “To Your Last Death” is this year’s cinematic graphic novel to knock back and lap up, loaded with transcendent selfish twists and second-chance carnage with dysfunctional family issues spot lit on center stage.

 

Pre-Order “To Your Last Death” for a October 6th release!

Burt Gummer Neutralizes EVIL Graboids in “Tremors: Shrieker Island” reviewed! (Universal 1440 Entertainment / Digital Screener)

A wildlife preservation maintains categorizing and tracking of native elephants, but when one of the company’s philanthropist turns his private island, just across the water from the preservation campsite, into a game reserve for apex predators, nothing will stop him from wagering the thrill of the hunt on expensive, top-of-the-line game.  That is until the graboids he’s illegally bred and genetically modified starts to hunt the wealthy trophy gamers back, especially when the Precambrian lifeforms metamorphize into the fast-spawning shriekers.  With an island full of graboids and shriekers that contributed to already one death, graboid expert and arms enthusiast-survivalist, Burt Gummer, is tracked down and brought out of retirement to once again battle his longtime killing machine adversary.  With no munition weapons, an obstinate playboy’s maniacal urge to hunt the fierce predator, and the most powerful of the graboids bred on the island able to wriggle underneath the sea floor between land masses, Gummer and a team of preservationists must band together to stop the graboids from being an invasive and unstoppable species. 

From an icy Canadian landscape in “Tremors:  A Cold Day in Hell” to the tropical beaches of Thailand, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” is the seventh feature film in the Tremor’s 30-year franchise.  Heading straight to video on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, including Streaming and VOD platforms come this October 2020, the subterranean monster action-comedy is steered by serial sequel director Don Michael Paul, who directed the last two “Tremors” installments, off a Paul script co-written with Brian Brightly that set sights on expanding the graboid footprint even farther East and surrounded by the seas of Thailand, further more distancing itself from the dust bowls of Perfection, Nevada and Mexico into new and unexplored terror-itories.  Universal Pictures’ off-shoot subsidiary banner, Universal 1440 Entertainment, and Living Films serves as the presiding production companies. 

 

The smart-mouth, quick-wit, arms-toting Burt Gummer has become, dare I say it, the Ash Williams of the Tremors’ franchise as a perpetually dragged back hero into monstrous circumstances to battle graboids and their offspring on land, air, and in the pits of hell of the innate underground habitat.  Aside from Bruce Campbell, there are not too many heroes in a genre that usually has a villainous backbone and so Michael Gross is the longest lasting reoccurring actor, spanning now 30-years, to return as an original hero who first encountered and killed the bastard creature who “broke into the wrong God damn rec room” in Perfection, Nevada.  Gross, now gray with a few more wrinkles sporting his iconic Gummer mustache, fits into the military-esque attire under his ball cap to square off alongside a ragtag team of unprepared, unqualified, and novice graboid hunters in Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”), Caroline Langrishe, and Richard Brake (“31”).  Heder fills in for the Jamie Kennedy role of Burt Gummer’s son, Travis, from the two previous installments and though Travis is mentioned briefly, the character’s presence is extended through Caroline Langrishe as Travis’s mother and preservation camp leader.  Heder and Langrishe complete that entangled trio that has been a trope present in nearly all the Tremor Films, starting with Val McKee, Earl Basset, and Rhona LeBeck, battling side-by-side to overcome the odds.  Cruz and Brake offer a serious side dish of badass on a polar opposite spectrum.  Jackie Cruz as Freddie, an entrenched team member of elephant tracking, is the Latina MacGuyer and is a weapon in herself that only someone like Burt Gummer would fully appreciate while Richard Brake, with his trademark sinister smile as obsessed game hunter Bill, relishes the role, pulling a watered down, PG-13 version of his typical bad guy motif from the more violent-venomous Rob Zombie films.  However, a minority of characters fall through character development cracks, such as Anna played by the up and coming Cassie Clare (“Death Race 4:  Beyond Anarchy”).  The archery expert Clare is a pertinent show off with a bow and arrow and is Bill’s right hand, but the Anna, under Cassie’s muscular thin frame and ironclad persona direction, has an inclined built up that goes to naught as she’s snubbed-shoved to a lesser role without having a significant impact in the latter half.   The reverse can said for Heder’s Jimmy character with first impressions of a top class scientist with lower class ambitions; yet, in an instant, Jimmy becomes a battle-worn graboid and shrieker killer while more experienced hunters, especially one wielding a mini gun, have less of a handle on the situation. 

While it’s neat and cool and nostalgic to see graboids and Burt Gummer back in action, much like the disconnect with lopsided arch able characters left to be graboid-fodder, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” falls short of earlier predecessors, replacing personal filmmaking style over story substance.  For one, graboids just haven’t been the same since going from practical applications to computer imagery since “Bloodlines” on that has radically evolved the creatures from a less-is-more model to a complete overhaul of their veneer, resembling the dark and slimy man-eating tentacles of “Deep Rising,” and as well an overhaul of the creature mechanics that lead graboids to leap out of the ground and into the air like a flying fish, spiraling and twisting back into their dirt environment.   The graboid burrowing irks me as well as the ground explodes 10-15 feet up into the air in a blatant uses of detonating charges by the effects team to create the earthworm moving effect instead of just a perpetual hump and collapse of the ground that’s more of a menacing effect. Nuances run amok, causing subtle points of frustration in how Paul’s direction is really more a passive glance than a serious absorption of the franchise. Meandering people on the ground when they fully well know graboids are attracted by movement, half the film scaled back to slow motion to accentuate big money explosions, and the mother of all graboids able to target Burt Gummer for a mano on monstro showdown are just more examples of the charmless details in, what is, a palpable comedy with Earth dwelling monsters. “Tremors: Shrieker Island” is the equivalent of “Jaws: The Revenge;” the story may not make sense, but watching gigantic monsters cause mortal destruction is pure creature feature bliss.

What may be Burt Gummer’s last ride (or so they said in the last film), “Tremors: Shrieker Island” tunnels onto Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD come October 20th, 2020 and soon to be streaming on Netflix shortly after. The BD50 Blu-ray will feature an anamorphic widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, with an English language DTIS-HD Master Audio 5.1 while the DVD9 is presented in a widescreen 16:9 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. Both formats will include optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a dubbed French, and Spanish DTIS Digital Surround 5.1 with a slew of option subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, French European, and Latin American Spanish. Since the film was reviewed on a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be critiqued. The exclusive bonus features listed on all physical and VOD include a Burt Gummer narrated “The Monster of Tremors” that gives you everything you need know about the diabolical monsters, “Tremors Top 30 Moments” that hone in on 30 years worth of scenes that provide laughs, Burtisms, and some of the most gory moments in graboid history, and, lastly, “The Legend of the Burt Gummer” that focuses on the iconic graboid hunter character told by his persona creator himself, Michael Gross. Richard Brake, once again, nails the villain, Jackie Cruz stuns as a resourceful Gummer-ite, and Michael Gross fleshes out one more commando swashbuckling Burt Gummer in the zany seventh installment of the unstoppable “Tremors” franchise.

Pre-order Tremors: Shrieker Island on Blu-ray/DVD/Digital!

EVIL Does a Little Bathhouse Wet Work in “Melancholic” reviewed! (Third Window Films / Blu-ray Screener)

On nights when a humble Japanese bathhouse is supposed to be closed for business, the lights remain illuminated, gleaming off the crimson covered ceramic tiles of Mr. Azuma’s bathhouse floors as body’s soak in a pool of blood.  The proprietor, Mr. Azuma, is in severe financial debt to Yakuza boss Tanaka who turns his meager business into a nightly slaughter house to dispose of Yakuza opposition or those just on the syndicate’s bad side.  When Tokyo University graduate, Kazuhiko, applies for a job as an attendant to see a girl who regular attends the bathhouse, the reserved model employee becomes enthralled with the disposing and cleaning up of the corpses, working alongside a couple of professional hitmen, Matsumoto and Kodero, but when the job he’s so passionate about requires him to be more hands on with the assassination assignments and the endless pressure from the Yakuza bares down on his colleagues and friends, Kazuhiko’s radical plan to eradicate the woes of his newfangled position just might mean his very life. 

Seiji Tanaka’s self-esteem building and identity attaining crime drama, “Melancholic,” might not reside as absolute horror, but any film involving the Japanese Yakuza is an unpredictable, Machiavellian expo worthy of every second.  Originally titled in Japan as “Merankorikku” or “メランコリック,” writer-director Tanaka retains a bloody disposition of the historically violently depicted Yakuza-storied narrative, but is asymmetrical with a converging love affair, complementary conflicting the dark and light with clarity of the centric character’s unintended double life into the criminal enterprise of cleaning a bloody bathhouse.  Based off Seiji Tanaka’s short film of the same title, “Melancholic” mops up as an immersive black dramedy from Seiji Tanaka as the filmmaker’s first credited feature film produced by One Goose production in association with Uplink and JGMP.

The story concentrates most of the effort around Kazuhiko, a graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University who doesn’t have a good job and lives with his pampering parents, fitted by Yoji Minagawa as a social misfit living on the outskirts of the Japanese mantra of diligence and integrity.  Minagawa bores out Kazuhiko’s diffidence, chocking up his damp disposition to the indecisions toward his future, that forces other characters to influence his choices, such a former high school classmate in Yuri with an effervescent performance by “Tag’s” (“Riaru onigokko”) Mebuki Yoshida.  Yuri’s infectious affection for Kazuhiko and her regular attendance at the bathhouse encourages Kazuhiko to apply and become hired for a cleaning attendant position alongside a blonde, and undereducated in comparison, counterpart in Matsumoto (Yoshitomo Isozaki), but to Kazuhiko’s surprise, his overqualified ego is shattered when he discovers that the bathhouse is a Yakuza place of execution and those all around him are more experienced in that trade, detonating a plume of black comedy, work place haughtiness that Kazuhiko has to balance with his personal relationship growing with Yuri.  Most of the exchanges are straight forward and culturally inflection heavy, especially when dire moments rear their heads, but some more compassionate and delicate scenes rouse through the overt inflections with Minagawa and Yoshida at the helm of their blossoming onscreen romance, adding to the stark contrast to the opposing narrative. Stefanie Arianne, Makoto Hada, Yasuyuki Hamaya, Takanori Kamachi, Hiroko Shinkai, Masanobu Yada, Keiji Yamashita, and Yuti Okubo fill out “Melancholic’s” cast.

“Melancholic” is a rather odd title integrated into the briefly pensive struggles of Kazuhiko to an intrinsic network of assassination gunplay and backstabbing knavery, offering little profound sadness and despair and more shrewd hostility when those in charge ask for an inch but take a mile out of the personnel pool. For a Yakuza film, Tanaka’s bath and butcher story has barely a budget to entertain technical action sequences in tight spaces, but the action is kept taut and intense and despite the lack of a Yakuza presence, with only one single boss representing an entire faction, the transposing of Kazuhiko’s personal and professional stations washes away much of budgetary concerns down the drainpipe as an irresistible curiosity to see how our hero softly stumbles through a sudden confluence of the two repelling paths will play out. Most audiences will overlook the comedy for a countless reasons as “Melancholic” up plays into the satirical rigors of the Japanese sullen humor. The fact that that the subject matter is also about mercilessly murder people in a bathhouse will undoubtedly pigeonhole the film with pre-labeled genre. Tanaka slips in gallons of subdued irony ripe for the complex circumstances hazardous to all bathhouse employees and their pryingly oppressive management.

The award winning Japanese film (aggregated wins from multiple Eastern Asian film festivals) “Melancholic” arrives onto a dual format DVD/Blu-ray from UK distributor Third Window Films, a loyal provider of extreme Asian cult and horror. Since the Blu-ray was a screener, the A/V aspects won’t be reviewed in it’s entirety and the specifications weren’t provided with the screener. Ryô Takahashi’s cinematic vision brings out the beauty in simplification without being ostentatious with camera angles or relying heavily on tint boxes; yet, the blend of steady cam and handheld tilts to the one side with the jitteriness of the handheld seizing the stage. Bonus features were included on the screener, including a behind-the-scenes of a documentary-style shot look at moments before, during, and after takes, a Q and A panel with the cast and crew, and the “Melancholic” short film. Seiji Tanaka’s breakthrough bloodbath, “Melancholic,” sounds more despondent than the dismal thought of a cold shower on a freezing day, but the heated ferocity rite into adulthood keeps this Japanese dramedy warm with tension and cozy with vortex humor.v

Purchase “Melancholic” on Blu-ray / DVD!