When EVIL Isn’t That Black & White. “Choir Girl” reviewed! (Nexus Production Group / Digital Screener)

Eugene lives a lonely, pitiable existence.  Residing with his ailing father in a slum neighborhood, his photography background captures the crime and the desolation that surrounds him, snapping pictures without ever interceding with his crime-riddled subjects, in an attempt to hold an exhibition or sell his work to a high profile magazine, Slipstream, as his ticket out of the despair that engulfs him.  When Eugene stumbles upon young teenage girls being drugged and held for prostitution, he becomes fixated on Josephine when a low-level editor, seeing her as a professional stepping stone, prods him for more pictures that evoke hope out of her situation, but when he finally intervenes, helping her escape, Eugene falls into a world of a massive prostitution ring with doctors, cops, and major organizations on the payroll and a kingpin named Daddy at the helm.  The deeper the debt placed upon him for showing compassion to Josephine, the more the lines blur on whether he’s become his muse’s lone savior or just his meal ticket out his current life.

How far will your moral principles take you to save a teenage girl when you’re locked into a no-win situation?  That’s the theme explored to a shocking sexual assault conclusion in John Fraser’s 2019 unscrupulous Australian thriller, “Choir Girl.”  Introducing Fraser’s first credited written and directed full length feature film, shot entirely in black and white, the Melbourne arthouse and a goose egg-fairytale version of “Pretty Woman” speaks volumes toward the perceived illegality of immigration, the horrors of sex-trade, and the touch-and-go balance act between doing what’s right and self-serving opportunities with a 15-year old girl’s fate dangling at the end of a line.  “Choir Girl” is produced by Ivan Malekin under his Melbourne based label, Nexus Production Group, along with Lucinda Bruce serving as co-producer.

To carry “Choir Girl” through the muck of it all, a strong performance must arduously burden the gravity of the content and Peter Flaherty astounds with an ingloriously flawed and unlikely hero, Eugene.  “The Butcher Possessions” and “KIllervision” actor masts a greasily haggard with bordering neurodevelopment issues, disheveled in his attire, and walks with a noticeable limp, made intentionally noticeable when as he walks away from characters and situations.  Though Eugene seems meek, the shutterbug aches to improve himself by seemingly exploiting others as a freelance photographer and being persistent in that pursuit until becoming engrossed into a 15-year-old prostitute’s life struggle blossoming before our eyes a rather unsettling grown man and teenage girl relationship that assumes a pedophilia ideology of adoring the child to the extent of protection, but also falls in to grooming and sexual exploitation.  The film introduces audiences to Sarah Timm, playing Eugene’s muse, Josephine, an Eastern European illegal immigrant who literally has nothing left that is her own, this including her body, when forced into sex slavery so when Eugene and other characters call her diminutively by Jo, she immediately corrects them to call her Josephine in order to keep the one thing left that is still hers, her name.  In her first feature role, and a mightily demanding role it is with the amount of discomfiture of playing essentially an abused child, the German native will have audiences overlooking the fact that she’s portraying a teenager in the sordid sultriness of sex-trafficking with crafting Josephine’s war-torn history and pre-adolescent childhood stories as always the girl in the background, the unpretty forgotten girl that blended in and no one noticed, until she’s a part of a much larger, more ferocious, uncompromising system that Daddy (Jack Campbell) dictates with CCTV live feeds of every sleazy, scummy hotel bedroom in his syndicated footprint.  The cruelty that Jack Campbell reins savors every facet of Daddy’s being on screen with an intent to be a immovable roadblock in Eugene’s advanced for progress and for John Fraser’s “Choir Girl,” the character development and personalities find justification from the cast with the exception of one, the low on the totem pole and self-absorbed Slipstream magazine editor, Polly.  Krista Vendy imposes on Polly’s rabid  narcissism with an incredibility that becomes the underbelly amongst a bloc of solid performances.  Andy McPhee (“Wolf Creek”), Lee Mason (“The Caretaker”), Jillian Murray (“Body Melt”), and Kym Valentine fill out supporting roles. 

I love the juxtaposition opening of Eugene in his dark room in the middle of photographic processing his oblivious subjects, including a drug abusing child with a hypodermic heroine needle sticking out of his arm, a blowjob being serviced between a wall and bushes, or the aftermath of man being beaten with his assailants walking away from his leveled body, and then the title fades in from black and the next scene is of a framed magazine cover with the cover title “It’s All Back and White.”  The sequence sets up perfectly the entire premise driving “Choir Girl’s” gray area circumstances that nothing substantial, meaningful, or controversial can be black and white. Plus, the entire film is shot in black and white furthering the contrivance of the theme. The gray area challenging Eugene is a tightrope walk when squeezed for payment for snatching Josephine by the amoral organization claiming property theft, making him submit to the idiom of pulling his strings like a marionette or shooting at his feet to make him dance for insatiable perverse satisfaction. Eugene rarely displays remorse in his demeanor, face, or actions for the things he does and doesn’t do when faced with adversity in a slither of sociopathic idiosyncrasy, but when outright criticized for his inaction, he’s able to right wrongs with deplorable methods like a toddler trying to mop up a grape juice spill with mother’s expensive, white dress. There’s a bit of innocence or naivety in Eugene’s mind as you can almost see the gears slowly spinning when confronted but in the defense of the man who no really gave the time of day, those gyrating mice wheels of delicate thought snuck past every contingency against Eugene surviving Daddy’s deadly game, leading to an unsavory solution that puts the viewer in an awkward spot to either avert the eyes or remained captivated to see it through.

 

I, for one, remained seated, steadfast to the end, hypnotized by audacity of John Fraser in his feature film directorial, “Choir Girl,” that has arrived onto Apple’s iTunes. The unrated film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of a widescreen format and will have an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound availability. Though derided as kitschy at times, the black and white veneer works here inside “Choir Girl’s” vascular system of catch-22s and director of photography, Mark Kenfield, rides a consistent straighten arrow style with steady cam shots, decent framing, and some tracking shots without pushing the envelope in regards to angles or oscillation. There were no bonus content or additional scenes during or after the credits. “Choir Girl” sings no praises of hallelujah. Offers no solace in time of hardship. If you’re looking for a movie that touches you, then you’re in for a rude awakening as “Choir Girl” obliterates the moral standards, leaving faith outside, with a severe penance in abetting the Devil’s work, selling their soul to do what’s right.

Steamed Pork Buns Stuff With EVIL! “The Untold Story” reviewed (Unearthed Films/Blu-ray)

Wong Chi-hang brutally beats and sets fire to a fellow gambler who refuses to lend him money.  After destroying his identification card and creates a new look and identity, Wong flees Hong Kong before he can be hunted down for first degree murder and be served capital punishment for his crime.  For the last 8 years, Wong has lived and worked on the island village of Macau, running a small, but well-known, steamed bun restaurant, Eight Immortals Restaurant.  He receives inquisitive letters everyday asking about the whereabouts of the former owner, Cheng Lam, by Lam’s older brother on the mainland.  The letters force Wong to attempt manipulating lawyers into signing over the restaurant to him without Lam’s presence.  When the police discover dismembered limbs washed up on the beach, an investigation ensues that connects the body parts to a Chan Lai Chun, the mother-in-law to Cheng Lam, leading a small task force of blockheaded detectives to Wong’s restaurant where he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances, but he won’t break so easily after being apprehended, unwilling to cooperate and confess to the whereabouts of the bodies of the vanished owner, his entire family, and a pair of workers.  Yet, what were exactly in those steam buns that made them so delicious?

Full disclosure.  I’m not too terribly familiar with Hong Kong’s rating system of Category I, II, and III, but I’ve more-or-less dabbled in the Category III (Cat III) horror and exploitation cinematic market, owning only a handful of these gruesome-and-sexually gratifying guilty pleasure full of sex, violence, and taboo concepts of titles such as “Riki-Oh:  The Story of Ricky,”  “The Chinese Torture Chamber,” and “Three…Extremes” and only “The Story of Ricky” has ever been popped into my player for recreational viewing.  Also, in my collection, is a Tai Sing DVD copy of Herman Yau’s 1993 crime-and-cannibalism graphic thriller “The Untold Story” and, frankly, I never opened it either, but when Unearthed Films sent me their new Blu-ray release to review, I’ll never be able to see chop sticks the same way again!  The eye-opening experience also screamed that I should definitely rip open and see those other films to quench my thirst for Cat III’s offensive opulence.  Based off a true story of the Eight Immortals Restaurant murders in 1985 around the Macau area, the nearly unwavering from the truth storyline parallels the Kam-Fai Law (“Dr. Lamb”) and Wing-Kin Lau (“Taxi Hunter”) co-written story in which a madman slaughters an entire family over a gambling dispute and runs their family business, the Eight Immortals Restaurant, until the police capture him, but Yau sticks more sensationalism to the already brutal notoriety surrounding the actual case with ground human barbecue steamed buns to tease with abhorrent flavor under the Golden Sun Films Distribution distribution of the Uniden Investments and Kwan Hung Films production.

“The Untold Story’s” lead man in the shoes of the maniacal, rage-filled Wong Chi-Hang is “Ebola Syndrome’s” Anthony Wong who initially thought the script was greatly unattractive.  Little did he know that his performance would be so good, so osmosis with his wide-eyed lunatic stare through the luminating pixels of the television screen, that the role would honor him with a Hong Kong Film Award for best actor; Hong Kong’s equivalent to the best actor award for an Oscar in the States.   The “Hard Boiled” actor embodies a soul of frustration and anger to rise his character up to the demented level of nihilism and heartless exploitation that unforgettably scores being the face of “The Untold Story’s” cruelty.  Yet, there is a Jekyll and Hyde complex with Yau’s film that cuts the cynicism with a risible troupe of police officers supervised by Officer Lee (Danny Lee “The Killer”).  With a beautiful foreign woman, a blatantly announced hooker, always at his side and being the sharpest detective on the force, Lee’s a contradictory, authoritative commander meshing immoral principles and duty into one while leading a four-person squad of non-initiatives comprised of three rubbernecking men, craning their gulping jugulars toward Mr. Lee’s arm-candied gals, and one tomboy woman with an affinity for Mr. Lee who struggles with being taken seriously amongst her peers as an unenticing woman in cop’s clothing.  The officers’ western names are a slither of satire to poke fun at the nicknames of tough or macho cops go by in the States with Bo, King Kong, Robert, and Bull (respectively Emily Kwan, King-Kong Lam, Eric Kei, and Parkman Wong of “Dr. Lamb”).  The cast rounds out with Fui-On Shing and Julie Lee. 

“The Untold Story’s” embittered nihilistic violence, gratuitous rape and sodomy, and steamy, mouth-watering cannibalism leverages this Cat III film as tiptop horror exploitation from the far East.  If broken down more, director Herman Yau pins and sews together a liaising three act prong story of a horrid man’s attempt at deadly stability in society and a madcap group of officers, with a penchant for police brutality and coercing confessions, bumbling their way through clues that ultimately funnel into a blended third act of magnetizing the two sides together toward a satisfying, almost faithful, ending of “The Eight Immortals Restaurant:  The Untold Story’s” purloin and murder fiction and non-fiction exploit.  Yau spares no expense for gore, serving up a platter worth the splatter of some nifty chop’em up and grind their meat into the dough effects that’ll turn stomachs as well as heads and doesn’t exude as bargain basement quality; yet, just enough gore goes uncovered to tantalize without a full onslaught tarp covering the ground of disembodied limbs and floor-splattering entrails that boil down to an overshadowing character that detracts from the cast performances as such can accompany with the more extreme Asian horror catalogue.  There’s nothing gentle about the actions of Wong Chi-Hang, but the way he’s scribed to manifest spur of the moment carnage, stemmed by the most minute disputes, and the way Anthony Wong carries and maneuvers of a monstrous villain with ease takes an esthetical point to not stray away from his, or rather his victims’, story.  “The Untold Story” is, in fact, meta-exploitation fiction of non-fiction down to the very last tasty morsel. 

In what is perhaps the epitome of Hong Kong’s Category III film index, “The Untold Story” arrives onto high definition Blu-ray courtesy of the gore and shock genre label, Unearthed Films as part of the label’s Unearthed Classics line and distributed by MVDVisual. The well preserved, near flawless transfer is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the picture is a vast improvement over the slightly washed previous DVD releases though favors a higher contrast resolution that ekes trading out the details for a brighter, softer film in an overall compliment of Cho Wai-Kee’s beaming cinematography. Whether in the police station or the restaurant, fluorescent lumens light up the scenes with a sterile-driven madness. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and some English 1.0 PCM audio track denotes, without surprise, the lossy quality doddering from age and antiquated equipment, but renders well enough without the imperfections of hisses, distortions, or any vocal impediments. The option English subtitles display without error with only the issue in their breakneck pacing when attempting to keep up with reading the subtitles and the rapidfire dialogue. You basically have to skim read. The special features include commentaries with star Anthony Wong and Herman Yau, the superbly dark and traditional film score isolated for audible pleasure, commentary with Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent magazine and Bruce Holecheck of Cinema Arcana, a Q&A with Herman Yau, a featurette of the history behind Category III films of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema, a interview with Rick Baker entitled Cantonese Carnage, and Unearthed Film trailers. There’s also an two-page insert of Art Ettinger’s write up about Hong Kong cinema and “The Untold Story.” Resilient to the test of time, “The Untold Story” benchmarks a high point in High Kong exploitation cinema, recalls the tremendous feat of performance by Anthony Wong, and displays the sheer mastery of disciplined filmmaking from Herman Yau in this unforgettable gruesome black comedy.

Must Own Christmas Gift! “The Untold Story” on Blu-ray!

A Major Book Deal Isn’t Worth This EVIL. “Writer’s Block” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Skip Larson has become a one hit wonder in the literary field.  The aftermath of his initial work, a best seller success, has never again been duplicated as Larson’s wretched and dispassionate heart and mind hit an unscalable writer’s block that can’t afford to pay the ever mounting bills.  When a stranger approaches him at one of his dismal book signings, an opportunity presents itself to meet serial best-selling novelist, Chester Everett McGraw, at his private ranch where Larson has to decide whether to sign McGraw’s rigorously partisan and severe contract for wealth, prestige, and a chance to co-author McGraw’s next big novel after being cut off from the outside world for six months or walk away from everything without penalty and return to his mundane life struggle.  Larson agrees to McGraw’s extreme terms and begins working chapter after chapter on McGraw’s next literary masterpiece, but as the days turn to weeks and each draft is ridiculed and critically trashed, an irritated Larson itches to leave but the snake-tongued McGraw, his brutish bodyguard, and even the beautiful maid, who has suddenly taken a liken to him, keep tortuously motivating him back to novel drawing board whether he likes it or not. 

Putting pen to paperwork with a looming deadline on the horizon is already stressfully hair pulling, but when the cold steel of a gun muzzle is pressed against your sweaty temple, the pressure grows tenfold to get the creative juices flowing before the contract is up in Jeff Kerr and Ray Spivey’s co-written and directed 2019 exploitation thriller, “Writer’s Block.”  The independent feature is the second collaborated project between Kerr and Spivey following their 2016 documentary, “The Last of the Moonlight Towers,” about the obsolete street illumination system, the last of its kind, of electric light towers in Austin, Texas.  Continuing the trend of holding their filmmaking shop in their home state but not exploring non-fictional antiquated monolithic engineering marvels, the directing duo concentrate their Texas-based shot film toward being a cinematic turn-pager saturated with perfidious suspicion and crackpot characters that keep the road toward a clandestine endgame alluring and mysterious, unfolding in a similar regard to that of its general context of an exceedingly multifarious murder mystery novel.  Kerr and Spivey’s Sharp Town Productions serve as the attached production company.

Kerr and Spivey shop locally when choosing their downtrodden literary hero, Skip Larson, plagued with a wretched past and the desirable callings of the bottle.  The filmmakers settle on “Fear the Walking Dead’s” Craig Nigh who can sell smartass with the best of them and be as tough as nails when push comes to shove.  On paper, Larson’s a forlorn gambler risking his chance at life by accepting a seemingly glamorous, one-in-a-life, game-changing deal by a fellow writer he admires, but with a number of fishy, tall-tail signs of deception and corruption by McGraw and his goon, Digger, Larson can come off naïve, especially when he sticks around still after his free will fractures under physical violence and threatened to be shot.  The oppressive McGraw obviously has an ace up his sleeve in his proposed partnership with Larson and, never once, feels sincere in building Larson’s library with his dreams.  I found Mike Gassaway’s performance as McGraw to be one-note.  “The Next Kill” Gassaway tussles with sly intentions of a manipulative best-seller author, devolving into an unintentional weaker ranch obstacle that dwindles down McGraw to be more of a façade behind the true game being played against an unwary Larson.  Though McGraw as the brains, the cowboy hat wearing former oil rig worker, Digger, provided much of the muscle whose anxious temperament kept him from seeing the final stages of McGraw’s malevolent game.  Chris Warner finally lands a principle role that isn’t a short lived bit part that’s labeled Flatbed Driver or Prison Guard.  Instead, Digger Haskell seems like a teddy bear good old boy that Warner can inherently step into without having to get lost in a new persona and Warner fleshes out Digger’s hasty disdain in how the slow progression keeps him for enjoying what he loves to do best – being a hired goon – but the character rarely established a definitive connection of servitude toward McGraw other than the notable writer taking the oil rig injured man under his wing, causing some unresolved character development.  Cataline is perhaps the most underwhelming character as the immigrant house cleaner who falls in love with Skip Larson.  Played by Jeannie Carter-Cruz (“Sasquatch!  Curse of the Tree Guardian”), Catalina bashfully wills herself around the house, not really cleaning much in the audiences scope of her profession, and becomes discreetly entangled with the struggle writer for unknown reasons she herself couldn’t explain, leaving her, and Carter-Cruz, exposed in an under-seasoned character course. Katusha Robert, Avery Lewis, and Natasha Buffington rounds out of the cast.

“Writer’s Block” shoves an easily relatable theme of success never comes easy right into audiences’ laps as Skip Larson’s humiliation exhibits as much through literary famed Chester McGraw’s browbeating tactics ranging from verbal assaults to unwanted sexual persuasions. Not by McGraw. That would be gross. Yet, in essence, the actual frustration condition of writer’s block for an author in any facet is akin to the sensation of conquering in what seems the impossible. Once Skip Larson tips the odds into his favor, the woebegone writer’s line graph to success skyrockets off the chart after a bit of tough love motivation stemmed by McGraw and his boot camp, side-hustling ranch. However, “Writer’s Block” suffers from the titular misgiving in the form of pacing irregularities, a loitering third act, and a paper thin Skip Larson backstory that only dabbles into his post-family tragedy alcoholic stupors and his peradventure subversive dealings with his gangster cousin. The gangster cousin tangent is by far the most offshoot subplot underlined only in flashbacks and at the finale that introduces a character that has seemingly never been a functional part of the story but is pivotal in Skip Larson’s corner. The crux of the story’s issues is that it tries to incorporate too much whereas the basic building blocks, the pure premise, would have sufficed and have been modestly more successful if stuck to instead of throwing a curve ball of horror into the macabre construction of McGraw’s collective work of best sellers as trophies that becomes synonymous with his obsession for hunting, if not more so conquering, the wild game he annihilates.

When a wordsmith’s mental typewriter stalls and the hands hang still with fingers dangling above the alphanumeric keys, waiting for inspiration to flow through the very fingertips that provide financial stability and creative vigor, use the Gravitas Ventures released “Writer’s Block” as a tool to unstick the tacky words, pry open the oppressive blockade of the expression dam, and let the flood of literature be unbridled. Released earlier this month on November 3rd, “Writer’s Block” is now available on VOD and streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Fandango Now, and Google Play as well as all major cable and satellite platforms. The 98 minute film is shot in the capable hands of Alex Walker who stays put mostly in natural lighting, swerving almost unnoticeably at times into various colored lighting (mostly blue or purple) and utilizes the story’s drone to capture effective aerial shots. There were no bonus features included with the screener nor were any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Writer’s Block” is a tousle survival-thriller careening toward a grisly surprise that requires a little more spick and span shaping for a grittier exploitation.

Own “Writer’s Block” on Prime Video!

 

EVIL Hatches a Plan Against EVIL! “Death Laid an Egg” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The Chicken farm and trading association industry lies on the fringe of near collapse and poultry scientists are hastily working on a solution experimenting with chicken embryos to create more meat for a nosediving commerce, but that doesn’t concern farm owner Marco whose more interested in having an affair with his wife’s young and beautiful cousin, Gabrielle, as well as moonlighting in his perverse side hobby of killing prostitutes at a hotel room.  Marco’s wife, Anna, who runs the farm single handily with the assistance of newly purchased machines, is ignorant of Marco and Gabrielle’s more-than-casual dalliance.  When a genetic modification accident produces the bulbous, meaty parts of live chickens without the heads, necks, and wings, the chicken association sees this changing event as the potential saving grace for chicken farmers everywhere and a financial reconciliation from foreboding ruin, but Marco wants nothing to do with the horrors of livestock manipulations and abominations.  Unable to understand his hesitation, Anna’s frustration is compounded by an anonymous note about Marco’s “affairs” with prostitutes that sends a simmering love triangle into a deadly internal coup.

What came first, the Chicken or the Egg?  In Giulio Questi’s inverted giallo thriller, “Death Laid an Egg,” the insoluble question parallels another question, who is deemed more sordid, an unchaste husband with a decadent desire for killing prostitutes or those conniving a plot involving murder to expose his vices and overthrow his wife for total control of their budding chicken farm? The 1968 Italian Giulio Questi and Franco Arcalli (“Tis Pity She’s A Whore”) written collaboration roosts at the edge of being an Italian murder mystery because of the atypical structure not terribly familiar to the genre and it’s fandom. Instead an unknown, gloved hand killer with a switchblade reflected with gleamingly terrified eyes of a barely clothed young woman screaming at the very top of her lungs, “Death Laid an Egg” is an Italian-French coproduction between Summa Cinematografica, Cine Azimut, and Les Films Corona.

At the epicenter of this switcheroo intrigant and strange triangular love affair are Marco, his wife Anna, and Anna’s younger cousin, Gabrielle, and only one of them, one of the three inside and out of the chicken farm, don’t entangle themselves in illicit activity.  French born actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant, stars as the diverging Marco with infatuating love sickness for his wife’s secretarial cousin, Gabrielle.  The “So Sweet… So Perverse” and “Malevil” star emits a pressurizing performance, ready to melt down and volatilely combust, when Marco agitatedly paces between Anna (Gina Lollobrigida of the French versions of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” of 1956) and Gabrielle, played by a relatively newcomer to the silver screen from Sweden in Ewa Aulin (“I Am What I Am”) to traverse from an old love to a new love despite the possibility of losing his entire livelihood.  The two female principles’ distinct personalities make for a great Trojan horse of shocking betrayal that goes against the grain and against the proverb that blood is thicker than water and Questri exploits with hard unstrung scenes of choppy segues that leave behind granular clues to their intentions in an almost abstract, auteur series of events.  When the love triangle because a quartet and actions become clearer with the clarity in advertisement specialists, Mr. Mondaini’s, underhanding involvement, a role shrouded in apprehensive mystery by Jean Sobieski, the enigma dissipates rapidly into a more tempered narrative of ill-tempered acts.  None of the four actors are cherished with equivalent screen time, orbing around more Marco’s ping-pong, zig-zag unconventional philandering and Gabrielle’s supporting role as Anna’s relative confidant, and this creates a visceral tension in the forefront of a economic crisis in the chicken farm market.

Giulio Questi always seemed to be pulling back the, excuse the pun, yoke to never let “Death Laid an Egg” fully nosedive into a blaze of a gruesome glorified giallo full of sleuth paranoia and scantily-cladded female victims stalked, hunted, and, eventual, murdered, but the Italian film, which saw a fair share of censorship cuts bordering around those aforesaid attributes, had no pretense about being a part of the traditional sense of the genre in the first place.  I wouldn’t even consider Questi’s film a typical example of the giallo’s Poliziotteschi subgenre though may have been more of a byproduct of the time period with the chicken economic crisis being a metaphor for the socio-political unrest, known as Years of Lead, that began in Italy in the 1960s.  The story’s crestfallen poultry association and it’s desperation for a godsend out of the newfangled embryotic manipulation procedures parallel, or perhaps even dominate, the plotline with a subplot coiled around Marco and Anna’s estranged life together in an allegorical fashion; the bastardization of genetically altering embryos is forcing the chickens’ hands to unravel a certain, horrible way and the same can be said for Marco and Anna who succumb to duplicitous external forces manipulating their every move toward an outcome that’ll likely destroy and takeaway not only their nest egg farm but could also cost them their very lives.  “Death Laid an Egg” does present a substantial amount of sexualization where Questi focuses, and sometimes lingers on, the half-naked portions of the actresses bodies.  The established Gina Lollobrigida and the up-and-coming Ewa Aulin, plus a handful of bit role prostitutes, show a fair amount of skin without ever baring the tongue-lapping essentials with Questi, in a stream of elegance, captures their shadowy curvatures and even loiters on the more publicly unpopular parts of women, such as around the abdomen or the shoulders, while obscuring more private areas with on set censoring, perhaps due in part of the Italian censor boards guidelines of the time.  In a feverish attempt to unclog Giulio Questi’s inscrutable character exploits, “Death Laid an Egg” shrouds itself with pygmy themes of obsession between death, lust, and control that tip-toe over a cracking, crackling egg shell in a rouse of debauchery indiscretions.

Releasing on a very special edition Blu-ray release, genre label Cult Epics proudly issues a limited edition, Hi-Def package of “Death Laid an Egg” with two versions of the Giulio Questi avant-garde giallo on a region free BD50, a 105 minute director’s cut and a 91 minute alternate international giallo Plucked version. Both versions of the film went through a 2K HD scan from the original 35mm negative, that’s been preserved quite well, renders a touch of pristine celluloid with hardly a flaw in it’s crisp technicolor perspicuity amongst the natural, stressed grain in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation. The Italian-English mono 2.0 LPCM casts a lively track across it’s broad audio spectrum with clear, forefront dialogue leading the charge with the purposeful and prosaic ambience and the harshly dissonance of viperous synth-and-string soundtrack from Bruno Maderna in strong supporting roles. Bonus features are aplenty with no only the alternate Plucked version of the film, but also with exclusive content such as a director’s cut commentary with Troy Howart & Nathaniel Tompson, a review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini, a final interview with Giulio Questi entitled “The Outsider,” the short film by Questi “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” from 2002, with English and Italian language trailers, a reversible sleeve, and a limited slipcase printed with Fluoro inks! “Death Laid an Egg” dispenses more than just an effectual variation of giallo being also an odious bullet piercing the ramifications of modern technology and played on the blinding perversions of the weak minded that became the seeds that sowed their own ruin.

Own SE of “Death Laid an Egg” on Blu-ray!

When EVIL Strikes a Family Hard is When Fission Divides and Conquers. “Nuclear” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Emma witnesses her troubled brother violently beating their mother while dragging her through the woods.  After he leaves, Emma and her injured mother escape to the countryside, driving through the night until coming upon a village house, next to what was once a large power plant that now sits vacant, to squat for a few days.  Emma comes into an encounter with a local boy a little older than herself with a free spirit for illegal extreme sports and taking dangerous risks to new heights.  What was intended to be an isolating refuge has turned into an alluring interest for Emma who admires the boy’s nomadic lifestyle, but while her mother’s physical injuries heal, a lingering trauma begins to emerge and Emma’s violent brother is also hot on their trail seeking them out.

Lately, our reviews have been on a stretch of psychological thrillers by first time feature film directors expressing a compelling narrative in the worst of situations; we’ve tackled the unhealthy family relations while battling acute mental illness with Joe Marcantonio’s “Kindred” and have taken a step back in time into the Cold War era with isolation tension and uncontrollable violent outbursts in the “Darkness in Apartment 45,” directed by Nicole Groton.  Well, we’re going for the hat trick with Catherine Linstrum debuting her written and directed psychological drama, “Nuclear,” that deals with the fallout of an estranged, threadbare family under the looming shadow of a defunct nuclear power plant, upending a whole new meaning for the term nuclear family.  Co-written with longtime collaborator, David-John Newman. “Nuclear” is a radiating co-production funded by the British Film Institute, Fields Park Media, and Ffilm Cymru Wales, and Great Point Media with Stella Nwimo serving as producer and Paul Higgins as executive producer.

Much of the narrative hinges on Emma, “Locke & Key’s” Emilia Jones, as a 14-year daughter at the center of her brother’s terrible misdeed that sparks a flight of escape to the country and then befriends an eccentric boy who pulls her toward a more grounded frame of mind despite his extreme antics.  The boy, charmingly played by “1917’s” George MacKay, is exactly the distraction Emilia needed while sheltering in refuge. MacKay boyish good looks accentuates his character’s overweening attitude that renders a thin layer of mysteriousness about him as the boy,, and when I say boy I mean young man not much older than Emilia, lives out of his van near the power plant and does backflips on a stone bridge. With such a small cast, one would assume the boy would have interactions with Emilia’s mother or brother, but that’s not the case as the film purposefully uses evasive maneuvers intended not to mingle the boy with Emilia’s mother, played by another Resident Evil Jill Valentine actress (see review of “Darkness in Apartment 45”) Sienna Guillory, and brother Oliver Coopersmith (“It’s Alive” remake), who are weaved into different stages of Emilia’s cerebral reactions to events that unfold unexpectedly. Floating through the story, like a supernatural Japanese house wife, is Noriko Sakura who, much like most of the other characters, plays that is unidentified, but Sakura’s wraithlike presence attaches itself to Emilia’s mother as a telltale sign that something isn’t quite right with the mother’s mental state.

“Nuclear,” in regards to the term, can be interpreted and dissected on many levels within the film; two possible, and perhaps the more obvious, espies are a nuclear family (as a pun on the phrase that denotes nuclear fission) that goes through a chain reaction of dependent events after a horrible event and the other would be the blatant power plant sitting idle and empty in the background, a symbol of a ruin that once harnessed power and gave energy to all and an allegory to this young teenager Emilia’s handling of the crime committed against her one and only protector- her mother. “Nuclear” is very much a young girl coming of age film that strikes chords of self-reliance and free choice while also strumming to disconnect from her parents and family, but she must face them first in order to really let go of the past. But does Catherine Lindstrum pull all the elements together? Lindstrum’s brain-teasing drama will ultimately confuse the general masses. Hell, “Nuclear” even confuses me by not sewing the last threads to connect the stitches of hecatomb effects as the principles players somber through an inexplicit tapestry that’s not clear, present, and often feels distant. The end result does evoke a sense of a coming of age story, but how that adolescent scores through tribulation is about opaque as murky water.

 

“Nuclear” is a twisting cerebral topography tale comprised of seasoned actors and promising young talent from the United Kingdom being distributed courtesy 101 Films, releasing digitally November 9th. Behind the camera is French cinematographer Crystel Fournier with a harsh realism that delivers a natural, but bleak tone full of shadows and gray contrast. Fournier captures and differentiates Emma’s solitude and isolation, especially when she, inadvertently, searches for answers through the motif of faith centric crosses and messages that surround her in and out of the cottage. Stephen McKeon’s score compliments Fournier’s atmo-melancholic with beautiful synth piano and Celtic akin violin compositions. There were no bonus features included with this digital screener and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t expect a mushroom cloud of edge-of-your-seat drama and psychological torment, “Nuclear” is the breadth of anticipation of the Cold War, never knowing what, when, and where to expect the bomb to drop in Catherine Linstrum’s debuting quandary.