EVIL Strikes at the Stroke of “Midnight” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Severin)

Teenager Nancy searches for forgiveness through reestablishing her faith in God after being dumped by her sexually active boyfriend.  When her alcoholic, police officer stepfather learns of the relationship’s abrupt ending, he moves in quickly to take advantage of Nancy while under the heavy influence of the bottle.  Escaping his grasp, she flles home and hitchhikes a ride with two men travelling South on a getaway from Pennsylvania to sunny Fort Lauderdale, but when facing trouble with small town local law enforcement after attempting to steal groceries, the three find themselves right in the middle of a Satanic cult’s sacrificial ritual that requires the killing of three women for eternal life, one a night at midnight for three days.  Held in a dog cage, Nancy anxiously awaits her turn at the bloodletting alter surrounded by the cloaked-cladded cult and their decomposing mother’s corpse  Praying to God to save her soul, little does Nancy know that her stepfather has tracked down her whereabouts, leading to a bloody showdown of one cop pitted against a family of satanic psychopaths. 

Based of his 1980 novel of the same title, “Midnight” is known to be John Russo’s heart-and-soul project that ended up suffering one mishap after another in the two years of its production and post-production until it’s final release in 1982.  Also known as “Backwoods Massacre,” the “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer Russo helms the low-budget occult slasher out from his usual stomping grounds in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “Midnight” showcases a story themed with a depraved sense of race intolerance for African Americans and all varieties of religious convictions to be innately false in an atheistic Russo viewpoint amongst a glorified surface level of enrapturing inhumane violence seasoned by brainwashing.  This West Pennsylvanian born and bred grindhouse exploitation found producers in  Sam Sherman and Daniel Q. Kennis of “Blazing Stewardesses” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror”) along with Donald Redinger under the now defunct Independent-International Picture Corp.

In a sea of smaller fish of Pittsburgh actors in “Midnight’s” casting tow is a larger and rougher around the gills grouper embodied by the singular Lawrence Tierney (“Reservoir Dogs,” “The Prowler”) in the Officer Bert Johnson role. Tierney’s no stranger to the horror genre, flaunting his thick New York tough guy accent that typically typecasts the veteran actor into authoritative roles. In being no exception, “Midnight” has Tierney playing a sleazy, alcoholic, police officer who winds up more-or-less unearthing sense in his old age and utilizing his skills for good to fully satisfy his character’s arc, but Tierney alone is wonderful to behold and easy to be disgusted by as he solicits his underage teenage stepdaughter with a perverted proposition. That stepdaughter, Nancy (Melanie Verlin), is the face of “Midnight’s” protagonist whose attempting to get back on track with God after a sinful bedroom relationship with an ex-boyfriend, but her plans are slighted by a brood of young Satanists keen on keeping their now long deceased mother’s irreligious convictions intact. David Marchick, George Romero regular Ted Amplas (“Day of the Dead” 1978, “Martin”), Robin Walsh, and the face of “Midnight” on many of the posters, Greg Besnack, size up as the Satanic terrible and merciless foursome. The cast fills out with Charles Johnson, John Hall, Bob Johnson, Lachele Carl, Jackie Nicoll, Doris Hackney, and Ellie Wyler.

After the success of a collaborated run with George Romero on a handful of projects, John Russo ultimately branches off to do his own creative output after their production company, Latent Image, brought on newcomers’ and the shared ideas on the direction of their company didn’t sit well with Russo – an irk that Russo still harps upon to this day, according to the special features’ new interview from the latest Severin Film’s release.  Yet, I digress into the review of “Midnight” that has feral narrative with an irregular plotted blueprint of teenager exploitation, racial injustice, and backwoods barbarians.  Somehow, Russo’s able to juggle his jotted down on a budget scrambler with a threadbare satanic family baseline that unsettlingly feels snagged in a randomizing generator spitting out scenes to see if they cohesively connect into the next.  Nancy’s traversing into the thicket of terror story cuts into and undermines more of the sibling’s unholy ritual, which the title “Midnight” becomes an important piece to the ceremony, with a subplot of the teen running away from a handsy stepfather and into the Mystery Machine modeled van-driving hands of a pair of cavalier friends on a road trip and then find themselves in an endgame of rotten luck with bad company.  The whole lead up to the two groups running into each other is suddenly dropped like a bad habit, forgoing much of the racial tensions, the youthful subverts, and even the attempt at pedophilia when the main, overarching theme of cult mayhem and religion inadequacies come to the forefront.  “Midnight” inarguably a gargantuan piece of good ole American hicksville victimization with some underappreciated manic performances by John Amplas and Greg Besnak, but there’s difficulty in shaking “Midnight’s” stark story division that leaves much to be desired.

“Midnight” is the particular video nasty that’s surpassing all of it’s other formatted counterparts with a Severin Film’s 4K scanned Blu-ray of the full uncut negative.  The 1080p Full High Definition, region free BD50 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a respectable color correction, but the correction sees unstable moments regressing near the cuts revealing the lifeless yellow tinge of unmastered quality. A right amount of grain, a great amount of detail, and hardly any damage to the thought-lost uncut negative proves Severin found buried treasure of the John Russo shocker. Two audio options grace the release with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 surround and an English 2.0 Stereo. While the 5.1 offers a more robust audio option of funneling individual tracks through their respective channels, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Midnight” has an overwhelming yield for audiophiles. Soundtrack comes across just enough to know it’s there, the dialogue is clean and unimpeded, but what unfolds out of clarity is the wonky foley ambience that just render solemn scenes silly. Severin offers up a new interviews under “Midnight’s” mediocre cult status with director John Russo – Making Midnight – as top bill in a lengthy discussion about his long career, his acquaintances including George Romero, and, of course, his recollections about “Midnight.” Other interviews include producer Samuel Sherman – Producing Midnight, actor John Amplas – The Midnight Killer, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini – Small Favors – who barely remembers working very little on this film by providing pre-fabricated headshots and sliced throat prosthetics. An isolated score selection with audio interview with Mike Mazzei, an alternate title card for “Backwoods Massacre,” the trailer, and radio spot round out the bonus content inside the blackout snapcase. Prolific as John Russo may be in horror literature, filmmaking, and in legendary regards with his work alongside Romero, “Midnight” reflects poorly on his cinematic vocation and while many problems plagued production and post-production, Russo somehow managed to root out a passable working cut of crazed satanic panic.

“MIDNIGHT” available on Blu-ray from Severin!

A Concentration Camp of Desecrated Flesh and Pure EVIL. “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” reviewed (Blu-ray / 88 Films)

After nearly escaping war criminal charges for his role as Commander of a bordello operated Nazi concentration camp that mistreated and murdered multiple thousands of Jewish women, former office Conrad Starker meets his lover Lise Cohen, a former Jewish prisoner of his he fell fond of during their time of occupation, at the same barbaric camp now in vacant ruin. Alone together and wandering the grounds, Lise recalls her first arrival at the camp and how the then ruthless Starker made it his mission to break Lise of her guilt-based nihilism by exacting cruel torture upon her and those close to her in camp. Commander Starker’s direct reports, a dominatrix SS officer named Alma and a sordid Lt. Weissman, serve as his deviant and sadistic right arm, assisting him in striking fear into his new pet project. While troves of Jewish women are being raped by a slew of German soldiers on leave, as well as being tortured and even tested as a source of delicacy, Lise’s alleviated guilt turns her to play Starker’s game, making her become his own mistress, but Lise will never forget the camp atrocities at the hands of the Gestapo.

Never in my life would there be the time I salivated over the thought – dang, what a poignantly awesome title. Far from a generic, uninspired appellation that has completely captured my attention, lured me in like a fish by a dangling sex and exploitation worm, is the 1977 Italian-made Naziploitation “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy.” Understanding that the Cesare Canevari written-and-directed exploitation extravaganza is fabricated fiction from the mind of the Italian filmmaker sexploitation films such as “The Nude Princess” and “A Man for Emmanuelle,” and amongst other popular genres of that particular Italian era, there still lies a contrite underlayer deep inside my bowels for knowing “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” is inspired by a baseline of truths – aka – the rounding up of Jewish people, forcing them into work and slavery in some sort of servitude compacity, and ending their lives as many were murdered in concentration or extermination camps by incinerations while still alive; all of which are displayed in graphic detail by Canevari in his film. Also known as the “Last Orgy of the Third Reich” and co-written with fellow “The Nude Princess” collaborator, Antonio Lucarella, no words can describe the depictions of Aryan abomination better than Canevari with a display of a wide-range of depravities from the master race in this shocking Cine Lu.Ce. production that Canevari produces.

Only two main characters span the narrative’s timeline between the active war and in the post-war clampdown of former Nazi officers.  We’re first introduced to Commander Conrad Starker (Andriano Micantoni aka Marc Loud, “LSD Flesh of Devil”) in an unofficial capacity as a voice over of a heated war crime trial rages over his driving around a small village before arriving at a dilapidated camp to meet with his beautiful lover, Lise Cohen, an introductory feature film role for then model, and presently a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Daniela Poggi (aka Daniela Levy, “Olga O’s Strange Story”).  From then on, the story goes back-and-forth between the camp horrors from most of Lise’s perspective and her present day melancholy strolling through the now empty camp.  Just between these two, a burdensome and destructive self-contained bubble ignites a prudent connection for a means to an end, whether be Commander Starker’s from merciless lust to love or Lise’s reversal of her exploitation to gain a survivalist’s upper hand by playing right into Micantoni’s sadistic impulses.  Micantoni and Poggi, despite their vast difference in age with Micantoni in his mid-50’s and Poggi in her early 20’s, have shuddering, knee-buckling chemistry in the more abhorrent scenes, one particular involving the fellatio act on a German Lugar.  There are other various scummy characters and if you like girls in uniform, the Doberman-loving Alma (“The Stepdaughter’s” Maristella Greco) is as beautiful as she is a gestapo femme fatale.  Greco’s domineering performance matches her male counterparts in enthusiasm but with a bonus side dish of sultry sadomasochism that can’t be forgotten as Alma whispers her viperous tongue into the camp Commander’s ear (while also sticking the blunt side of her whip into his rectum – ooph!).  “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” is a perverse party with respectable size cast, including roles played by Fulvio Ricciardi (“Killing of the Flesh”), Vittorio Jorderi (“Gang War in Milan”), and Caterina Barbero (“Raptus”), enlarged by a grand amount of extras from German soldiers to the Jewish women creating the allusion of an inhuman love camp.

“Ilsa:  She Wolf of the SS,” “Love Camp 7,” “S.S. Experiment Camp,” “Nazi Love Camp 27,” “Achtung! The Desert Tigers,” S.S. Hell Camp.”   I’ve seen my fair share of Nazisploitation and, aside from Tinto Brass’s erotica-elegant “Salon Kitty,” Cesare Canevari’s wartime rape and ravager hails to be one of the more distressingly twisted and disturbingly beautiful entries in the exploitation subgenre.  For Canevari, every scene counts by not making every scene gratuitous.  Yes, “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” has it’s preposterous moments where sex-crazed Nazis aggressively dominate unarmed, vulnerable women, especially when they decide to soak an unconscious naked woman in brandy and set her on fire to taste pork-like flesh; however, even in that instance of out of left field cannibalism, the atrocities are all in the name of progressing Germany in the wake of victory and to leave nothing to waste in Germany efficiency when utilizing inferior races, whether for labor or food, after Germany has conquered opposing forces.  Most of the second and third acts returns back to Earth with smaller scale plot devices surrounding Lise and Conrad locking horns in a battle of wills to extract fear from Lise’s, mostly nakeda nd suspended, fearless body.  “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” can be said to be a film about challenging will power, enduring strength, and patience and for when the opportunity is right for the taking, strike while the iron is hot.  Or, for many, Canevari’s lopsided carnal lark can be viewed as a wicked sex fest reaped from the backs of other the people.   Canevari rides that thin line and never pushes the gratuitous full monty  down our throats.

For the first time on Blu-ray, anywhere, “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” arrive onto a remastered in 2K transfer scan Blu-ray from UK distributor 88 Films who have crossed regions with one of their first North American releases!  Still currently banned in the UK, the stored film’s Blu-ray, remastered from the original print negatives, is region free and in full 1080 high definition, presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The restoration is frankly flawless.  The composition of skin tones and textures and contrasting hue scheme offer a perceptible palate of every shadowy contrast and infinitesimal detail, especially in the impeccable facial diversities.  The release has offers two restored audio options:  An English dub 2.0 DTS-HD master audio and an Italian DTS-HD master audio with in-built English subtitles.  Both tracks share an ambient and soundtrack equality quality through the dual channel stereo; however the original Italian track is inherently smoother with the dialogue with accurately synched English subtitles. The Blu-ray snap case comes with reversible cover art, original poster art are in the inside along with a mini poster of the same art as one of two inserts. The other insert is a 21 page booklet brimming with stills, different country posters, and an essay from film historian Barry Foreshaw entitled Taking on the Censors: Italian Excess. All of this limited edition tangible goodness is housed under a limited edition cardboard slip cover with new art by illustrated Richard Davies. Inside the coding on the BD50 is also a work of art with audio commentaries by Italian film experts Tony Howarth and Nathaniel Thomason as well as a separate commentary with critic and author Samm Deighan. Special features also include an alternate Italian ending (rather an extension of the feature cut), an interview with Pierpaolo de Sanctis on Remembering Alberto Baldan Bembo the soundtrack composer, an interview with Luigi Cozzi in One Thing on His Mind in regards to director Cesare Canevari, and the English trailer. Movies like “The Gestapo’s Last Orgy” are completely in bad taste beyond a shadow of doubt. Luckily for me, and perhaps those reading this review, we’re a tasteless bunch of sleazy celluloid purveyors glad to see 88 Films praise Cesare Canevari’s most controversial and infamous film with a snazzy new Blu-ray treatment.

Don’t Miss Out on Owning 88 Films’ “The Gastapo’s Last Orgy” on Blu-ray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Sam Raimi. No Bruce Campbell. Just the EVIL! “Evil Dead Trap” reviewed (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)



Nami, a Japanese late night show host, is seeing her ratings dipping.  Though not in danger of losing her all-female produced show, Nami decides take her team on an investigation of a mysterious snuff tape that was mailed to her specifically.  Left for her is a bread crumb trail of directions to an abandoned military base, Nami and her crew explore the campus’s rundown structure, searching for evidence, a body, a story that they can televise.  Ignoring the dangerous presence around them, they dig deeper into the dilapidating labyrinth where they horrifying discover something waiting for them laid out in a cruel plan of deadly traps with a maniac pulling at all the strings. 

Bred out of a pedigree of pinkusploitations and a nation’s crisis of identity after the Second Great War, “Evil Dead Trap” is a greatly symbolized Japanese machination tale helmed by pink film director Toshiharu Ikeda (“Sex Hunter,” “Angel Guts:  Red Porno”) and penned by an equally historical pink film screenwriter and “Angel Guts” manga series creator Takashi Ishii (“Girl and the Wooden Horse Torture,” “Angel Guts” series).  Also known under its original Japanese title, “Shiryô no wana,” as well as, and my personal favorite, “Tokyo Snuff,” in Spain, “Evil Dead Trap’s” smorgasbord of rape, torture, and gory death naturally shocked viewers upon release and continues to do so as one of J-Horror’s branched out films that segued out from the brutal and depraved pink film inspired context into the new longstanding ghost genre we’ve seen over the last few decades with “Ringu” (“The Ring”) or “Ju-on” (“The Grudge”).  The production company Joy Pack Films, behind the 1980’s obscure Japan films, such as Genji Nakamura’s “Go For Broke” and Banmel Takahashi’s “Wolf,” houses the “Evil Dead Trap” from executive producer Tadao Masumizu.

If you recognize a couple cast members, or maybe just their naked bodies, then there’s something depraved about you!  With all kidding aside, but no seriously, if Rei (Hitomi Kobayashi) or Kondo (Masahiko Abe) look familiar, then you my friend are pink film aficionados as Kobayashi has starred in “Hard Petting” and “Young Girl Story” and Abe was in these pink film hits the “Pink Curtain” trilogy and “Female College Dorm Vs Nursing School Dormitory.”  If these faces didn’t touch you in any kind of sensual way, no worries, leading lady Miyuki Ono brings the star power.  The “Black Rain’s” Ono plays Nami, a go-getter television host/personality with her sights set on ramping up her late night show’s ratings, but also sucked into the posted snuff film’s darkest allure that’s personally calling her into to a precarious story lead.   Nami could also be a homage to one of screenwriter Takashi Ishii’s manga-inspired pink films entitled “Angel Guts: Nami” and the title might not be the only aspect paid honor to with that particular Nami written with a journalistic vocation drawn into and obsessed with a serial rapist’s attacks, making a striking parallel between the two stories that are nearly a decade apart. Eriko Nakagawa and Aya Katsurgagi fill out Nami’s investigating team as Rei and Mako. As a whole, the characters lack personality; Rei and Kondo tickle with relationship woes that are snuffed out before fruition, Rie’s timid innocence barely peaks through, and Nami and Mako’s thicker bond compared to the rest of the team is squashed to smithereens way before being suckled into note worthy tragedy. This late night show team has been reduced to slasher fodder and, honestly, I’m okay with that as we’re only here for the deadly traps. Noboru Mitani, Shinsuke Shimada, and Yûji Honma, as the mystery man looking for his brother, complete “Evil Dead Traps” casting.

“Evil Dead Trap” boasts a melting pot of inspirations, a mishmash of genres, and spins a nation’s split identity variation crowned in aberration. Diversely colorful neon-hazy lighting complimented by a Goblin-esque synth-rock soundtrack from Tomohiko Kira (“Shadow of the Wraith”), Toshiharu Ikeda shadows early Dario Argento inside and outside the popularity of the Italian giallo genre as the “Evil Dead Trap” murder-mystery horrors resemble more of a westernized slasher with a killer concealed behind a mask stalking a fringed, neglected compound in a conspicuous outfit. While the killer dons no hockey mask or snug in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, an equally domicile, yet more calculated, antagonist taunts more brains than brawns, especially with the severity of traps that seemingly float from out of nowhere. The fun is chiefly in the imagination of how the trap designs operate in the void of physics of a slasher fodder film so wipe clean the Jigsaw and the “Saw” films from your mind completely and relax to enjoy the outlandish kill scenes. Some of the kills are imperialistically inspired by Imperial Japan, that is, to blend the wartime nation’s atrocities with how the proud country wants to distance itself from that old-fashion, war-criminal, stoically perverse superstratum layer, but that’s were “Evil Dead Trap” pulls for most of the juicy parts as well as supplementing with Argento lighting, some, believe it or not, “Evil Dead” elements of that menacing presence bulldozing through the spiritual world, and an divergent climatic finale stuck to the narrative body that’s akin to pulling off the head of a doll and replacing it with T-Rex head’s. The uniformity quells under the pressure of how to end Nami’s and her attacker’s coda with pageantry weirdness that’s typical status quo Japanese cinema. Lots of symbolism, little modest explanation.

Get caught in “Evil Dead Trap” now back in print and on Blu-ray courtesy of Unearthed Films, distributed by MVD Visual, as part of the extreme label’s Unearthed Classics spine #5. The Blu-ray is presented in a matted 1.66:1 aspect ratio, a format rarely used in the States but widely used in other countries. Reverting to the 1.66:1 from Synapse’s 1.85:1 crop, Unearthed Films showcases more of the European feel, heightening that colorful vibrancy of the Argento-like schemes. Image quality has peaked on this transfer with natural grain with the 35mm stock, but details are not granularly sharp in an innate flaw of the time’s equipment and lighting. Shinichi Wakasa’s unobscured practical effects heed to the details and don’t necessary suffer the wrath of miniscule soft picture qualities when you’re impaling someone or birthing a slimy evil twin…you’ll see. Add in Ikeda’s wide range of shooting techniques, you’d think you’re watching Hitchcock or Raimi and the focus really lands there with the differently camera movements and techniques. The Japanese language single channel PCM audio fastens against that robust, vigorous quality to make “Evil Dead Trap’s” diverse range and depth that much more audibly striking, but there’s a good amount of silver lining in there being no damage albeit discernable, but not intrusive static to the audio files, dialogue is unobstructed and prominent, and the stellar synth-rock soundtrack nostalgically takes you back to when you first watched “Suspiria” or “Dawn of the Dead.” English subtitles are available but display with a few second delay which can be cumbersome if trying to keep up. Special features includes three commentaries that include director Toshiharu Ikeda and special effects supervisor Shinichi Wakasa, filmmaker Kurando Mitsutake (“Gun Woman”), and James Mudge of easternKicks. Plus, a Trappings of the Dead: Reflecting on the Japanese Cult Classic retrospect analysis from a Japanese film expert, Storyboards, Behind the scenes stills, promotional artwork, trailers, and a cardboard slipcover with phenomenal artwork. Highly recommend this atypical Japanese slasher, “Evil Dead Trap,” now on Blu-ray home video!

Own “Evil Dead Trap” on Blu-ray!

EVIL Has an Unbreakable Glass Ceiling. “The Five Rules of Success” reviewed (Ambassador Film Group / Digital Screener)

Upon his release from a long prison stint, a man incarcerated into the system since a young boy tries his hand succeeding in the outside world.  Alone with no family or friends for support and looking to keep his nose clean, he designs his own set of rules for success, including responsibly checking in periodically with his hardnose parole officer and saving up enough money and knowledge working at a restaurant to open his own.  When the path seems clear and everything seems to be falling into place for his chances as success, societal temptations gnaw at him as negative influencers tempt to steer him astray and his own goals try to illicitly fast track his efforts.  Will he fall into crooked society’s trap or will he persevere to reach his aspirations? 

Hard knocks.  That’s the simple, raw core theme of Orson Oblowitz’s “The Five Rules of Success.”  The 2021 crime-thriller is the third directorial from the “Corbin Nash” co-producer, but the second penned script following his debut, a seedy L.A. underbelly thriller “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd” from 2017.  The story is the first for co-writer Christian de Gallego who steps out of his international sales executive role to put his ideas onto paper.  As compelling as any story could be mirroring the struggles of a downtrodden ex-con in a society that browbeats and takes advantage of those on good intentions to rebuild, “The Five Rules of Success” is also a visual quest of imagery and color, produced and distributed by the Ambassador Film Group with de Gallego producing and Apurva Patel as executive producer. 

Stepping into his lead man shoes debut is Santiago Segura (“47 Meters Down,” “Scream: The TV Series”) playing the mastermind behind the five rules of success as X, as in X could be anybody.  However, X couldn’t have been more invested into than what Segura put into the story’s character as a man left to his own devices, without support, without a comforting presence, and without much guidance.  Segura’s range is limited to a monotone stare and tough guy attitude that never wavers or breaks and you have to wonder what X is fighting for to make his ambitious dream a reality?  Where does his determination root?  The fact that there is an absence in a grounding, sobering symbol all the more makes X more susceptible to the deeper end of society’s morality pool.  Along his rise up from the ashes, X meets colorfully sordid individuals feeding off his vulnerability due to either being on probation or stereotyped as being inclined to be favorable toward criminal activity…you know, being released from prison and all.  He’s befriended by Danny (Jonathan Howard, “Godzilla:  King of the Monsters”), a drug using goon who works alongside X at his father’s restaurant.  “Crocodile 2:  Death Swamp’s” Jon Sklaroff plays the stark contrasted Greek immigrant father, restaurant owner, and disappointed father to Danny.  Sklaroff and Howard couldn’t be more adversarial as a hardworking immigrant father who struggled to get to where he is today and a silver spoon fed son throwing his life away with riffraff, drugs, and as the restaurant’s cook.  The relationship formed between X and Sklaroff’s character is the wishful dreaming that X couldn’t be the son he never had and all X has to do is be patient and listen to a little friendly advice.  A more brazen and mysterious obstacle in X’s path is his parole officer, Emma, whose uppity authority holds X’s freedom in the palm of her hand played by Isidora Goreshter.  The line is blurry whether Emma has either the hots for X or is secretly a sadist and Goreshter offers to uphold that inscrutable presence with unscrupulous tactics. 

One way to crave out the meaning behind Oblowitz’s film is to not be standing high-and-mighty on greener pastures.  “The Five Rules of Success” sensationalizes real time problems with our prison system and the after effects of walking out a free man after years, if not decades, from a life that’s all you know to a life you know nothing about.  X’s past burdens him immensely as flashbacks, denoted in literal quick flashed cuts, of the downward spiral turning point in his childhood find their way into his determined route to success.  Ultimately, the past and present are one in the same where society sees not a boy, not a man, not a person, but a criminal and how we as a society be contemptuous of former convicts released back into our soicalled perfect public community.  There’s parallelism between each chaptered rule and the downward progression he sustains in his associations with the wrong people that start to twist his mindset, his rules, into the very unlawful reprehensible activities he tries very hard to avoid. Oblowitz does a nice job detailing X’s habits as a loner, working out his pent up frustrations by exercising, shadow boxing, and refining his rules, but the root of all evil is hard to ignore as cold hard cash, easy money for one of Danny’s illicit jobs, begins to lay out the possible steps to skip in order to fulfill his own ambition.  Despite the momentary monotone mishandlings from Segura, the story is well-written and mostly well played out with some scenes more intense than others with the subject material as you begin finding yourself rooting for the ex-con and booing the very society you yourself live in scot-free. 

Clocking in with a runtime at 83 minutes, “The Five Rules of Success” symbolizes the ups and mostly downs in the here and now game of chutes and ladders.  Having been released last month, July 30, be sure to check out the unrated feature available for purchase on your preferred platform of either iTunes or Amazon released by the Ambassador Film Group.  Oblowitz doesn’t just write-and-direct the film, but he also serves as cinematographer dabbling in a Kafkaesque arranged world with hints of tint, hints of different lenses, hints at overexposures, hints at strobe, and more.  Nearly every scene is comprised of a different shooting technique or editing visual that may or may not possibly induce a seizure as forewarned during the preface.  Stylistically, I can only compare and describe “The Five Rules of Success” as this:  Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:  A Space Odyssey” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”  As far as extras go, there’s a quaint, no major dialogue memorandum scene after the end credits that speaks to vicious circles and permanency.  For a L.A. shot film that has more technique than bite, “The Five Rule of Success” is a success of an auteur’s written storytelling as well as the visual understanding of just how to tell that story in a surrealistic context. 

Rent or Buy “The Five Rules of Success” on Prime Video!