In 1978 Chile, a powerful political extremist exploits the Chilean army to conduct and carrier out the physical and sexual abuse against the people of Chile, including forcing his own son, Juan, to have sex with his tortured mother and executing her right in front of him while in the fornicating act. Juan’s father continues to further the abuse with fear, terror, and misogynistic berates until he’s finally fatally coup. Fast forward to 2011, Juan’s an unstoppable madman as he terrorizes the locals over the years without authoritative regulation and also four female outsiders on holiday for a girls’ weekend. Juan and his son force their way into their residence, tyrannizing, raping, and even killing one of them before leaving his cruel mark in his wake, but with the help of a local officer, the remaining three survivors seeks to make sure Juan, and his equally screwed up family, never harm anyone again. However, Juan is prepared, held up inside a compound subterfuge, well-armed and well-unhinged.
Perhaps based loosely off the atrocities of of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in the 1970’s, Artsploitation Films’ distributed “Trauma” goes to the unapologetic extreme, building upon an already unsavory narrative into the bred morbid disposition of the human psyche. Written and directed by “Zombie Dawn’s” Lucio A. Rojas, “Trauma” is a cold, blunt object with a razor sharp bite and has a penchant for the twisted. The Chilean director’s film isn’t the only game in the market of extreme movies, but does manage to create a motive of separation between most with the offending character experiencing traumatic corruption by someone close; in this case, Juan’s father 40-years earlier by oppressing the boy through physical pain and scrambling his son’s mental state by removing any humility, compassion, and reasoning that manufactures the perfect ruthless butcher. Pinochet used his military power to be a lethal strong hand when desired; Rojas spices it up by adding forced incest, rape-after-rape, and implementing a subconscious malevolency.
“Trauma” stars “To Kill A Man’s” Daniel Antivilo as the despicable Juan. Antivilo is patient and soft in his approach to a deranged character that doesn’t display that wild abandonment in psychotics. Juan goes on to slowly terrorize four lovely outsiders from the city in Andrea (Catalina Martin), Camila (Macarena Carrere), Julia (Ximena del Solar of “Perfidy,” another Rojas film), and Magdalena (Dominga Bofill). The four actresses offer up different character perspectives and personality that should divide the dynamic or, at least, complicate it; there’s a strong sense of lesbianism between them, even exhibiting traits in those who don’t identify as such. Antivilo macho savagery pitted against the four stunning, but strong women does create a black and white, stark-producing character placement. Outside that dynamic, one character has no dialogue and, yet, manages to high level physical role that’s barbaric, humiliating, and spacey and that role is inside of Juan’s schizoid son, Mario, is donned by Felipe Rios who has the strung out appearance of a long, drawn out face and muscularly thin. Eduardo Paxeco, Claudio Riveros, and Florencia Heredia round out the cast.
Rojas does a beautiful job in the juxtaposition department, paralleling the bleak, grimy, and yet agreeable life of Juan and his equally as certifiable family next to the full of life and vigor in the unsuspecting women that Rojas’ introduces off with Camila and Julia engaging in a steamy girl-on-girl love making scene that doesn’t leave much to the imagination and, then, slides into their instant road trip the day after. Rojas had built up Juan’s pain and suffering toward being molded into a monster whereas the women fly by the seat of their pants, churning out memorable moments in a flash whereas Juan’s unfortunate course was a slow burn throughout his long, hard life. The parallelism flips from Juan to the women up until the moment their lives intertwine and this is where things get messy with Roja’s script. Between Julia, Camila, Magda, and Andre, three of whom are related, tension builds as Julia plays the flirtatious and brazen field between hooking up with the cousins as stroppy Andrea steams in a passive stew on the sideline. This subplot never goes explored, going uncooked right in the middle of a hot flame where passions and couples’ plights evolve the story. The abrupt presence of Juan puts a cease and desist on any other subplot that ultimate funnels “Trauma” to be a rape-revenge flick with a graphic content.
Artsploitation Films continues to distribute internationally provocative films that always delight as well as disgust (in a good way). With Lucio A. Roja’s 2017 film, “Trauma”, casualties pile high and damage control is non-existent, fitting the Philadelphian-based company’s axiom that presents the film onto a high-definition Blu-ray. With a widescreen, aspect ratio 2.35:1, the image quality is quite good. Details are very promising here and really need to be with the gore. The face explosion and the jaw unhinging deaths are certainly not stodgy as the scene on these moments linger more than most would, soaking up the full effect of the viscous covered chunks out from the face crater by a high caliber handgun is a thing of beauty. The Spanish 5.1 surround sound syncs up well in all aspects from dialogue to ambiance. English subtitles are available and line up well enough though speedy at times. Dialogue is clear and present, Ignacio Redard score is heard, and no signs of any kind of distortions or other issues. Bonus features are limited to just the theatrical trailer. “Trauma” might have vastly skewed the actual events the film is based off of to pen a story, but what a gorgeously gory-filled and exploitively-charged narrative that can be a tell all for the cause and effect of political extremism at it’s worse. Director Lucio A. Rojas puts Chile on the controversial and extreme horror map.
On a dark and stormy night after a school football game, a teacher and three students take shelter at a cottage adjacent to a cemetery. If the cottage wasn’t creepy enough, the sole occupant owner surpassed the bar. She calls herself Miss Leslie, a middle aged woman with an ill-fated story of her friend and mother’s fiery demise from long past and a quirky penchant for making life-size female dolls that set inside an illuminating shrine. Though they feel uneasy about the creepy surroundings, the visitors stay and get cozy, especially with each other, but Miss Leslie has ulterior, deranged motives. Her dolls are not just lifelike, they once were vibrant lives of women Miss Leslie sorely wanted to inhabit their feminine confines of youth and beauty from over the years, but now they are an undecomposable shells, encase in Miss Leslie’s special doll making brew to timelessly capture their lovely physiques. They are also beautiful, yet painful reminders of her failed attempts to transfer her essence into their adolescent bodies.
Every so often you come across a film with a gigantically absurd hard shell cover with the gooey insides of eye-rolling cheesiness and you just have to ask yourself, how in the world did something like this ever come to fruition!? Yet, somehow, someway, these productions of an oddball variety always have an intense allure about them and end up being just one of the coolest rarities to grace the glazed-over irises. Joseph Prieto’s “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is the epitome of this very phenomena. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is an exploitation, nearly softcore porn, horror with a deranged killers with severe mental issues that range from communication with dead to, what can be now construed as antiquated, complications of gender identity. One of the last directed films from Prieto, who also helmed “Shanty Tramp” and “Savages from Hell,” also penned the screenplay alongside longtime collaborator and producer Ralph Remy Jr. The script reads like an insatiable bedside thriller novel, an object of complete obsession through the entirety and well long after being completed; “Miss Leslie’s Dolls’” has a rich gothic lining, a strong sexual appetite, and a timely LGTB subject that involves debate on mental illness or inherited gender orientation.
Not many actors performed in drag. Sure, there was Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” and there was even Anthony Perkins from “Psycho,” who some might go as far as saying that “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” might draw inspiration from with the whole mother fixation, but only a small faction of fans, especially in the genre, might know Salvador Ugarte. The Cuban born Ugarte has great poise as a woman imprisoned in a man’s body. Miss Leslie just isn’t a deranged killer in drag; the character has deep rooted issues stemming out of not only being a woman embodied incorrectly, but also seeded by an engulfing obsession with capturing beauty to obtain it for herself, an addition from a result of a permanent scarring left behind by Miss Leslie’s homicidal rampage in the character’s history. Ugarte has the mannerisms and the gait down so unerringly that’s the performance is downright creepy, but there was one aspect of womanhood that Ugarte’s masculinity couldn’t mask: his voice. The actor is horrendously dubbed, adding charm to the bizarre concept. Ugarte’s joined by “Little Laura and Big John’s” Terri Juston, Marchelle Bichette (“The Gruesome Twosome”), Kitty Lewis, and Charles Pitts of “Supervixens.”
Contrary to the above, “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” has some drawback. Though the characters might be entertaining and interesting, especially with the Bourbon obsessed and hot for teacher Roy and his terrible gangster accent or the fact that Ms. Alma Frost is a smoking hot, twenty-something year old prude teacher to her pupils who are practically the same age as her, they’re washed over with an aloof mentality, consequently looking past or just blatantly oblivious to Miss Leslie’s obvious male features, her inauspicious ramblings, and the fact she has a shrine of creepy and realistic dolls of women that fill the room with the smell like rot and death. Perhaps too busy running through the cemetery at night in skimpy bedroom garments. Yes, this does happen. On top of that, Miss Leslie harness of occult powers goes relatively unexplored, yet very much utilized as an important portion of the film near the last act. Despite being passively mentioned and rather undercut from more than most of the film, Miss Leslie’s occult mischief is plucked right from left field to further the enigmatic aurora of Prieto’s mystical exploitation.
Network proudly presents “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” on an UK 1080p Hi-Definition, region free Blu-ray home video, remastered from the original film elements once thought to be have been forever lost. The newly scanned transfer came from a surviving print and presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration included detailed grain management, the automated and manual removal of dirt and damage, and the correction of major color instability, warp, and density fluctuations. (In full disclosure, Network sent me a DVD-R screener and that is what the following critique is based off of) Though in some frames there flares up some instability, from my perspective, the first act and half really came out well with the vivid, yet natural, coloring. However, once inside Miss Leslie’s basement, woozy blotchy moments of Leslie fiddling around makes the particular scene a bit off putting. The stereo mono track is fair for the 1973 film that has it’s share of distortions and editing pop faux pas, but the dialogue is fiercely prominent, despite the inherent awfully laid dub track, and equally well balanced with ambient tracks. There were no bonus material on the release. Transvestitism horror is quite a rare experience that always has a lasting impression, cerebrally popping visuals of grim visions commingling with the blood, the viscera, and the other supplementary violence. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” deserved this Blu-ray release and Network did right by Prieto’s obscure grindhouse feature that will sear into your skull.
After painstakingly trying to argue to her boyfriend that he never hangs out with her drug abusive friends, the woman withdraws to her friends’ exclusive sanctum without telling him. Before he realizes what’s really at stake, the boyfriend learns that her friends are potential Devil worshippers that aim to practice human sacrifices, but little does he know that his girlfriend is beyond the dangers of a Devil cultist as she had unwittingly placed herself in the experimental hands of a mad Nazi doctor named Gunter and his serum produced harem of female vampires and loyal male acolytes. As the boyfriend attempts to infiltrate the cult incognito, he’s overwhelmed by the flesh-piercing, bikini-wearing beauties, but the eldest vampire, whose bored after years of being with Gunter and wants to find true love, spares the man’s life and instantly imprints herself onto him. She shows him that his girlfriend is no longer mortal and promises to be with him forever, but before he can commit, he first must destroy Gunter and his work before the evil scientist distributes a new serum that’ll be able to transform women and men into the upgraded superior race of blood-thirsty vampires.
There have been moments where horror enthusiastic filmmakers have embarked creatively on re-creating cult favorites or re-inventing that of the European, over-sexualized female vampire, Victor Matellano’s remake of Jose Ramon Larraz’s for instance, and most have come out on top with inspirationally faithful stories or portray the particular type of promiscuous vampire. Writer-director Matt Johnson takes a wooden stake stab at the complexities of the homage with “Lust of the Vampire Girls,” his feature film debut, and with a budget that’s resting on a minimalistic mishmash pot of a self and crowd-funded platter, the director runs with his sparsely written script with a vast amount of bodies able to fill a plethora of roles. Instead of mystical, fantastical, or ancient damned souls feeding on the hapless male sex, the “LofVG” story surrounds a Nazi madman injecting his serum into women over the years (No, that’s not an euphemism) which is Johnson’s modern day spin to the genre.
Nameless characters, aside from Gunter, shape the lineup of vampires and humans, starting with Victor Medina as the boyfriend. Medina’s performance further darkens the character whose an utter jerk lacking chivalry and a moral compass, but the actor is able to fulfill the boyfriend’s character arc as he tracks down, and express a figment of empathy toward, his estranged pretty girlfriend played by “Friend Request’s” Amy Savannah. The two battle against each other with petty ventures of, sometimes typically, relationship woes and Medina and Savannah reflect that rather well until coming entangled with Dave Nilson’s Gunter. Certainly fitting the part and wielding a passable German accent, Nilson comes off as power, arrogant, and invincible. In short, perhaps the most convincing performance in the entire film. Leading Gunter’s harem den of vampire girls is a the doctor’s oldest, yet ageless, subject, donned to the lovely Ashley Eliza Parker, whose eagerness falls just beyond the fumes of desperation. Rounding out the cast are Jeff Christiensen, Cherish Dawn, Mary Etuk, Jami Kelly, Flo Median, and Bri Northem.
“Lust of the Vampire Girls” might be billed as a homage to the 1960’s and 1978’s European exploitation, but as the film seeps into a quasi-level surrealistic state garnished with sexy female lasses in undergarments, very much reminiscent of the genre claimed to respect, the allure finitely founders and tilts more toward below a meager attempt that results in wince-worthy acting and female vampires perpetually hissing through their teeth. In the sequence of events, the beginning offers a small non-linear storyline that’s sorely misplaced starting with the pretty girl being lost only to be found by a vampire loyalist, then the boyfriend, surrounded by variously masked cladded acolytes, becomes a sleeper agent in Gunter’s psychosexual church of horrors, but then the couple are having an embattled conversation at a coffee house, and then, before we know it, we’re back at the church again – with, again, the perpetual hissing, underwear garnished, vampires in silky, see-thru robes. Overly sexualized female vampires are a very Eurotrash and the hazy environment is very reminisce of the LSD era, which Matt Johnson pulls off both fairly well, but the greats, like Jean Rollin or Jesus Franco, made them more captivating than just being mindless, eye-candy monsters with a very bad lisps.
Wild Eye Releasing and MVDVisual release Matt Johnson’s “Lust of the Vampire Girls” onto DVD home video. Image quality varies in a numerous shades of tint, but for the majority, there’s a soft glow to the entire stock and macroblocking during night scenes. The stereo track has an unbalance wit about it that’s unsavory in it’s lossy quality during the genre uncharacteristically progressive metal soundtrack and offers a cacophony during scenes of anger and scuffle. Bonus material includes “LotVG” trailer and storyboards. On the surface, Matt Johnson skimmed the exploitation genre the filmmaker was shooting for and whether intentional or not, the quality waivers from script to performance and then there are aspects that just don’t make since (like vampires wearing gas mask..?), but it’s an atmospheric A-to-Z low-budget horror film and nothing more.
Jessica is a caretaker for a wildlife sanctuary located in the Australian outback. Her day-to-day challenges consist of refilling drinking water trowels in the midst of the heat and herding wandering animals away from a treacherous sinkhole with the help of faithful sheep dog, but Jessica’s way of life, and the lives of the sanctuary animals, becomes threated by three maniacal game poachers. Behind the wheel of a menacing modified truck, the poachers toy with the young woman: slaughtering the protected inhabited animals, destroying structures in her compound, and playing psychological games to mentally and physically break her will. When enough is enough, Jessica, whose nearly lost all that she has, decides to fight back against the well-armed and aggressive hunters that take their dangerous, back-and-forth game to a whole new life and death level.
Mario Andreacchio’s exploitation gem “Fair Game” makes a grand Blu-ray debut onto Umbrella Entertainment’s Ozploitation Classics collection line. Penned by screenwriter Rob George and headlined by the Brisbane beauty Cassandra Delaney, “Fair Game” is a lavishly brutal film about one isolated woman’s plight to righteously defend what’s hers at any cost against a blitzkrieg of assaults from three nasty, but very different, personalities. What’s utterly fantastic about Andreacchio’s film is the cinematography from the late “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie. Lesnie, who worked on “Dark Age” that was also released on Blu-ray by Umbrella Entertainment, had a knack for vast landscapes and the director of photography made the already arid outback seem physically monstrous, especially during long shots of Cassandra Delaney running for her life through rocky, dusty terrain. There’s a stark contrast between his day approach and his night scenes that air a soft blue and white glow on the backdrop horizon, a familiar motif typically showcased in horror films, that immensely deepens the chase and stylizes the visual ambiance.
Cassandra Delaney stars as sanctuary overseer Jessica. The demanding role pits Delaney against the terrain elements as well as the three poachers in David Sanford, Garry Who, and Peter Ford as Sunny the trio’s relentless leader. Whereas Jessica’s as pure as they come, being an animal savior and contributor to the community with Delaney selling that to the fullest extent even when she’s pissed off and being a stoic like Sarah Connor, the antagonist are about as rotten as festering, worm-riddled apple with each actor portraying a very different type of character. David Sanford’s Ringo is an acrobatic young man with a punk rock look and attitude overlaying his athletic tone, marking him the versatile go-getter. Garry Who’s Sparks is a potbelly grease monkey and as the lone designated pit crew of his posse, Who enables the slightest probably of being the most sensible of the three thugs but still meager and mean when pushed by Ringo and Sunny. Sunny denotes himself the pit boss, an elite outback tracker with narcissistic tendencies in believing he’s invincible, and Ford’s hard nose and stern take on Sunny is pinpoint precision at it’s deadliest.
To be all fair about “Fair Game” reasonability, the big question that surfaces after viewing the film is who is the most certifiable between Jessica and Sunny’s gang of hoodlums. The answer to that riddle is ultimately Jessica. Though that might seem like a radical answer, Jessica is, by far, the craziest person with a severe death wish. Whenever Jessica retaliates against the poachers, the three inevitably response with something much worse. Here are some examples: Jessica dumps flour onto Ringo’s face and slaps a vegetarian bumper sticker on their truck that causes the ruffians to quietly invade her compound and take pictures of her while she sleeps naked, Jessica causes a small avalanche to temporarily trap them in a small cave and Sunny’s hoodlums respond by shooting her horse dead, and Jessica welds their assault rifles together in a heap of twisted metal and the poachers tie her half naked body to the hood of their truck and drive around until she passes out. The spat between them overwhelming seemed one sided, as Sunny as his hounds play with their live food before biting down hard to snap it’s neck, but made for kickass exploitation that echos genre classics such as “I Spit On Your Grave.”
Umbrella Entertainment releases 1986’s “Fair Game” onto high definition, 1080p Blu-ray with an all new transfer from a newly restored 2k master. Presented with a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the transfer looks impeccable. The palette coloring isn’t vivid, but not surprising since the film is set in the arid outback with nothing but brown on top of brown or yellow on top of brown; however skin tones and the fine details are evidently splendid in Andrew Lesnie’s mise-en-scenes. There’s expected noise through out with some minor vertical scratches, especially earlier in some day time sequences and in the longer shots, but the restored transfer bares a cleaner and fresher take on the 30 year old plus film. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a lossless transfer that reinvigorates the menacing aspects of the back-and-forth contest, an example would be the monster-like, if not personified, truck that rumbles and roars when trekking and chasing across the outback. Also enhance is the soundtrack that’s a concussed epiphany of acute and rough synthesized and blunt off key tones and melodies meshed together to form a mesmerizing score from composer Ashley Irwin. The release also contains a slew of special features including audio commentary by director Mario Andreacchio and screenwriter Rob George, an extended interview with Cassandra Delaney, a segment about “Fair Game’s” set location, A couple of local TV spots from 1985, a behind the scenes with Dean Bennett, the theatrical trailer, image gallery of still scenes and rare production and promotional materials, an animated storyboard, and five of Mario Andreachio’s short films. Whew. Talk about your full loaded package. “Fair Game” is the epitome of ozploitation with lucrative degenerate characters and a fair amount of gratuitous nudity that goes without being overly sleazy and downright violent like most collaborators in the subgenre. Packed with vicious machinery and a wicked sense of mind games, “Fair Game,” hands down, one of the best in the world of Australian cult cinema.