One Can’t Just Pray Away EVIL in “The Banishing” reviewed! (Shudder – Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Set in a backdrop of Great Britain on the very brink of world war against Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, a small English community has nearly lost it’s entire faith in the Catholic church after the last priest suddenly and mysteriously died.  When a young vicar is offered a generous stipend, the village parish, and a large estate by the region bishop to restore a congregational foothold, he brings with him his new wife and stepchild to make the house their home, but the house has a dark history that might have played a role in the previous vicar’s death and a lone, eccentric occultist urges the family to vacate the premises immediately before the house swallows them into grave danger at the haunted hands of sadistic monks, ghastly visions, and a tormented soul roaming the corridors. 

If the prim-and-proper social class structure of Julian Fellows’ “Downton Abbey” collided with the volatile and tormented spirits of James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” then Christopher Smith’s pre-wartime staged haunted house feature, “The Banishing,” would be the outcome.  The period piece horror marks the latest installment into the genre from the Bristol, English-born Smith who made a name for himself with 2004 dark subway corridor heartstopper, “Creep,” and went on to make cult favorites amongst genre fans with the workplace violence satire, “Severance,” and the medieval bubonic plague film, “Black Death” starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.  “The Banishing,” a term used as the practice within the supernatural ambit of dark magic to ward off negative spirits, is a UK feature co-written between David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines.  Maya Amsellem and Sharon Harel-Cohen serve as producers under the London-based WestEnd Films production banner with “The Banishing” marking their fifth completed feature film product and with the nearly worldwide distribution rights landing with AMC Network’s popular horror streaming service, Shudder, in partnership with Vertigo Releasing in the UK.

“The Banishing” revolves mainly around Marianne, the newly-wed vicar’s wife with a young girl along for the ride, played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey,” “Victor Frankenstein”). Findlay endows Marianne with vitality as a woman who must meet the vicar’s standards of Godliness, but still be a strong mother to her child despite disreputable social standing. The priest Linus (Essex-born John Heffernan) lacks experience in the field of his cleric position, lending to question why the region bishop would appoint him to a muster a flock of faithful Christian followers during turbulent times. The husband and wife dynamic between Linus and Marianne is marred by dissonance backgrounds of a priest who doesn’t know to be with a woman and a woman who can’t escape her socially unflattering past. Heffernan and Findlay ignite as repellants of the same magnetic currents when the harder they try to extend their relationship, they push each other way, with Findlay giving a fervent performance. Speaking of performances, Sean Harris bares the most intriguing and rollicking local occultist. The “Mission Impossible: Fallout” actor parades around as Harry Price, a likable, straight-shooting outcast and a believer in the supernatural with extensive, and ghastly, historical knowledge on Linus and Marianne’s new home. As Price aims to extract the hapless from danger, he butts heads with a headstrong region bishop, a stern and solemn role secreted with distrust from John Lynch who has worked on a Christopher Smith film previously in “Black Death.” “The Terror” actor juxtaposes starkly against Harris as a character who dons a likeness to the clown prince of crime in costume than a dull agent man of the cloth…with secrets to uphold. “The Banishing” rounds out with a supporting cast in Adam Hugill, Jason Thorpe, Jean St. Clair, James Swanton, and Anya McKenna-Bruce as Marianne’s daughter, Adelaide.

Set convincingly in a quaint, 1930s English town, Christopher Smith transports the audience back in time to the predated anxious moments before World War II that would upheave turmoil across all across Europe, but though that fretted lingering of war is set as the backdrop for “The Banishing,” and is coiled around every man who served in the first Great War that brought up more than once, the root of the narrative ultimately becomes the house Linus and Marianne have come to call their home.  Haunted house films surmise the house as a built-in principal character because of either the way the architecture affects the mental or physical wellbeing of it’s flesh and bone counterparts or if the abode is actually possessed and set to harm the inhabitants in a personification of pure evil, as such with various films of this caliber (“House,” “The Haunting,” etc,). Yet, Linus and Marianne’s estate failed to become a part of the narrative limelight despite the immense grounds that compromised of a large greenhouse and a robust library complete with fireplace and the disconcerting labyrinth of a dungeon-esque basement full of barred enclosures and close quartered corridors.  Nearly every interior shot felt like a new section of the house hat kept extending upon, what would be assumed, a grand mansion that had a longer rap sheet by reputation in being a former religious torture chamber run by sadistic monks hellbent on whipping the sin out of the mentally tormented. Smith always had an eye for the unsettling visuals and sustains that feng shui by allowing time and space to be the inner horrors of a funhouse, but doesn’t evoke clean, unadulterated terror that continues to profusely bleed into the film’s climatic cause-and-effect unraveling. There is a lack of a transformative realization and a small hurtle of sedated possession to figure out that the main presence in the house, amongst the other more malevolent presences, wants something and the characters are spoon fed each and every morsel to get them up to speed. The final scene of the bishop meeting with the Nazi regime intended to leave the story open for supernatural possibilities, but felt like a more poignant and compelling crux leading into Nazi occultism, hinted by the eccentric resident occultist Sean Harris.

Morosely dramatic and haunting, “The Banishing” is an aggressive salvo of facing shame head-on, creeping into UK cinemas and digital platforms on March 26th courtesy of Shudder and Vertigo Releasing. Director of photography Sarah Cunningham has an remarkable ability to engulf the actors in the space of the shot, making them seem diminutive to the rooms that feel like a giant hand looming overhead, and with the bare, hard lighting, the cinematography is really where “The Banishing” shines as gothic cladding without a stodgy spot to speak visible. Cunningham adds all the hallmarks of a horror film with titled angles, brilliant reds, and tight shots on tense faces to garner a more anxiety that never actually pans out by the end. The organic electro duo TOYDRUM score the 97 minute film with a single note droning hums at various pitch levels that can really get inside your head. The “Prevenge” composers set up scenes with a ill-founded fears when nothing presently visible is intended to fright. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but one scene to note is Sean Harris waltzing with an uncredited woman during the opening credits that seems out of place but speaks to the aberrated decorum of his character. “The Banishing” works tirelessly to discredit shame by confronting truth and while we’re being beat over the head by the message, the overlay of horror is lost despite some brilliant and engrossing performances from Findlay and Harris who usher us through to the imperfect conclusion.

77-Minutes of Nonstop EVIL Combat! “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1” reviewed! (Well Go USA Entertainment / Blu-ray)

The Yoshioka clan has been dishonored by the death of two of their samurai warriors in an attack that has left the clan in desperate need for revenge.  Yoshioka clan’s sensei devises a plan to gather the clan’s best 100 samurai and 300 mercenaries and set an ambush for the one they call the crazy samurai, Musashi Miyamoto.  But Miyamoto strikes first, killing two Yoshioka clan members, sparking a torrent of warriors and mercenaries to besiege upon the crazy samurai and bombard him with attack.  The long sword combat stretches for over a hour as Miyamoto defends himself in an impossible task of standing alone while an entire clan’s army of swordsmen come at him from every angle, but Miyamoto is no ordinary master samurai, leaving the 400 to 1 odds in his favor. 

Journey back to Japan’s bushido era when honor and courage reign supreme during times of conflict and unrest with Yûji Shimomura’s nonstop, way of the sword, battle royale skirmish, “Crazy Samurai:  400 Vs 1.”   Originally titled “Crazy Samurai Musashi,” changed only for the home video release and on streaming platforms, the samurai film from Japan sticks out amongst the countless in the genre not for being filmed nearly a decade ago and finally receiving a theatrical and at-home release, but with a one particular, grand feature in being cinema’s first non-stop, one-take action shot for approx. 77-minutes, bookending between a story-functioning epilogue and prologue that clocks the film’s runtime at a total of 92 minutes from start to finish.  Shimomura, who directed the fantasy-action “Death Trance” in 2005 and the covert war drama “Re: Born,” helms a script penned by first timer Atsuki Tomori that bares little dialogue and even less plot to unreservedly place the juggernaut shot into the main spotlight.  The film is a production of the action enrapturing company, Uden Flameworks, based in Tokyo and with the North American streaming rights funded exclusively as a Hi-Yah! original film.

Reteaming with Yûji Shimomura in their third collaboration together following “Death Trance” and “Re: Born” if you follow each film’s sequential release date and if not following the release dates, then, more accurately, “Crazy Samurai:  400 vs 1” would be their second collaboration, Tak Sakaguchi, who cut his teeth in the cult favorite “Versus,” becomes a one-man show as the titular principal samurai, Musashi Miyamoto, slicing-and-dicing his way through a village horde of sword-wielding antagonists.  Kudos must be given to Sakaguchi with the stamina of a workhorse who carries the entire production on his back with a seamless performance without ever breaking stride, or taking a break for that matter, as you can see the sweat beading from his face and weariness in his eyes during the 77-minute long performance that takes a natural exhausting toll on his body, but the actor’s spirit to go on never breaks in any regards.  Sakaguchi fortitude for Musashi is unquestionable, but the backstory quivers at the knees with a character whose unable to be deciphered whether a hero or the villain.  The latter feels like the befitting choice as the plot begins with a Yoshioka clan ploy of arraigning a honorable duel between Musashi and the clan’s child prince after killing two of the dojo’s promising members in an act of defacing, but the ruse is an ambush to swarm Musashi upon arrival and execute him on sight.  Known for being a madman, Musashi comprehends Yoshioka’s deception and penetrates their defenses to immediately strike down the innocent child prince, who is only a pawn following council’s guide to be there, in the first blow that would set off a chain reaction of swordplay events.  Is Musashi that much of a cold-blooded lunatic to kill anyone, even children, and that is why he’s the villain who must be stopped by any means possible?  Or are the Yoshioka so dishonorable that Musashi will take on 400 or more well-armed men, and sacrifice one child, to slaughter them all for the sake of mankind?  Where Musashi motivations lie teeters into well after the credits roll, making the Crazy Samurai an enigmatic means to an unsatisfactory end.  Kento Yamazaki, Yôsuke Saitô, Akihiko Sai, Ben Hiura, and Fuka Hara round out the cast.

The possibilities of something going wrong is extremely high when attempting to film one long scene without breaks that include not only harmless slipups in choreography or dialogue, but also fatigue and risk of injury are likely to be greater.  Luckily for Tak Sakaguchi, and the production’s insurance company, there were enough water bottle and rest breaks strategically placed in between each pocket battle.  On the other side of the katana, the breaks frequent into improbability that there will be a full water bottle and a new sword just laying about in a Japanese village in the exact path of Musashi’s bore.  While most of the wardrobe and scenery feels authentic to the Edo-esque period and each actor puts in the effort to complete the scene, the unthought out choreography cheapens “Crazy Samurai’s” straight-gimmick concept by rotating out Musashi attackers who stumble off screen after being “killed” and rejoining the ranks on the backend.  More than once you’ll see the same faces go toe-to-toe with Musashi.  Rarely do the extras fall and lay dead at Musashi’s feet and only do so when the time at the present scuffle location comes to an end, but when the camera turns in a 360-motion around Sakaguchi, the bodies that had lain fallen previously where the fighting was held have now mysteriously disappeared. And the buck doesn’t stop there as Shimomura’s action film fails to impressive with the swordplay, outlandishly flaunts no blood other the visual effects spray in a blink-and-you-miss-it style, certain samurai have specialized wigs on to absorb Musashi’s signature Three Stooges-style bonk the enemy on the head move, obviously squaring off against more than 400 bodies, and, bluntly, the 77-minute runtime was tediously too long. You can also tell that the opening scene and ending scene were spliced into fold around the story’s trunk, probably shot years later from the original uncut scene, as we’re never able to connect the main characters from the opening and ending to the extended midsection in a slight of misdirection, obscure camera angles, and connecting only a pair of characters in act one and two.

Don’t be remiss to check out Yûji Shimomura’s see-it-to-believe-it “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1” on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment. Unrated, region A, and presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, Well Go USA’s Hi-Yah! original film allures solely by the idea of the stunt, but hones in on two contrasting cinematic styles. The opening and ending scenes are consistent with conventional action flicks with fast edits, slow motion, and purpose with what’s seen in the scene whereas the midriff feels like a third person videogame that dodges and turns around Musashi, rarely taking the focus off him, and “Jaws in Japan’s” Yasutaka Nagano’s near entirely mobile steady-cam is quite an impressive feat considering the amount of moving objects in the frame, even capturing a manufactured lightning storm with rain while the camera then attaches to a boom for an areal shot; however, aside from the post-visual blood and embroidered sound effects, there was little touchup work done to polish the outwardly raw appearance. The Japanese language DTS-HD Master Audio is solid and holds up during the action though having barely much dialogue to play with during the fight. Ambient levels elevate a little louder above norm to put the sounds of a struggle right in your lap, or your ears, while the percussion of traditional Japanese instrumental, in the tune of war, plays erratic at times on the soundtrack. The Blu-ray is encased in a cardboard slipcover of the same illustrations and pictures as the snap case. Bonus material only includes the international and domestic trailers of the film. Yûji Shimomura and Tak Sakaguchi’s ambitious feat deserves a master stroke commendation for pulling off a historical and strenuous deluge of action, but “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1: fails to muster much more than that with threadbare editing and tip-toe choreography too dishonorable for the likes of feudal Japan.

Own or Rent “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1” on Blu-ray and Other Formats. Click to Poster to go to Amazon.com.

Classy Brothel Girls Bring Dirty EVIL Secrets to “Madame Claude” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

A high end Paris brothel ran by the influential Madame Claude sends the most beautiful and sophistical women to wealthy and powerful dignitaries all over the world to satisfy their most sexual desires.  Her lucrative business becomes a governmental target seeking to collect back taxes on the illicit business.  However, the French government is the least of her worries when a playboy-aspiring rake and amateur photographer snaps photos of Madame Claude’s clients in compromising situations that can be ruinous to their status.  The CIA becomes involved when unscrupulous business dealings involving an American and Japanese companies connect to Madame Claude and her potentially persuasive young women after rumored photographs put the Madame Claude in the middle.  Two governments, big businesses, a jet setting brothel, wealthy socialites and a nosy photographer become involved in lies, secrets, and the potential for murder.

Part biography, part fiction, “Madame Claude,” also known as “The French Girl,” is the 1977 released erotic and political thriller based off the real Madame Claude, Fernande Grudet, as her life of prostitution management and scrutiny unfolded before the public eyes in the mid 1970’s.  Erotically and elegantly sexy with gorgeous women groomed into lust and ensnared into the lion’s den of exchanging powers, “Madame Claude” became the third film from the immensely successful erotic French director, Just Jaeckin, following 1974’s “Emmanuelle” and 1975’s “The Story of O.”  Jaeckin, pressured by his financiers to continue his success in the highly sought eroticism, returns to the randy genre, but this time with a story to his liking, one that is embroiled in the background of a bribery scandal involving aerospace company, Lockheed, at the heart of it. From a script by crime-action writer André G. Brunelin, based off the book of memories of Madame Claude by Jacques Quiorez, Jaeckin splices visual elements of each story together to form not only an arousing sexual lamination but also a cloak-and-dagger tenser of a film. Shot primarily in Paris, with minor shoots in the Bahamas and Washington, D.C., especially the scenes on the faux White House, “Madame Claude” is a production of Orphée Arts of Paris with Claire Duval on as executive producer.

While the titular character is the obvious centerpiece, Jaeckin mingles the characters around each other in a game of espionage chess toward the endgame of checkmate. Keystone to everyone’s problems is Madame Claude, played by renowned French actress and early onscreen sex object, Françoise Fabian, who previously had roles in the paranormal pubescent horror, “Expulsion of the Devil,” a more comedy-friendly brothel film, “Holiday Hookers,” and among many other films predating 1977, but not until later in Fabian’s career did show rocket to success, playing older, more aligned, women that strongly championed feminism, such as portraying “Madame Claude” who used sex as a means to gain control and power of men, and pushed it to the brink of the era’s cinematic limits. “Horsehead’s’ Murray Head plays the photographer schmo, David Evans, making Madame Claude’s life complicated. An about town ladies man, Evans goes to each of Claude’s girls one-by-one and, for some reason or another, they invite the handsomely charming, but brutish, amateur porn photographer into their bedrooms, sleeping his way into blackmail scheme that will bring down the most powerful brothel head in all of Paris while also lining his pocket with not only money but power among the socialites who treat him like the village idiot. Head’s nails down the fast-and-loose aspect of Evan’s personality that treats his stratagem like a game he’s already won, but when the government agencies come knocking on doors, Head about faces Evan’s waggish incompetence to a frightened man looking around every corner for danger. It’s wonderful to see Head interact with Klaus Kinski (“Nosferatu the Vampire”) and Marc Michel as a ridiculed subordinate in an examination of social status as Kinski and Michel flaunt expensive taste and lavish orgies in lieu of decency, but it’s Murray Head, playing the fool with cemented proof that would put all them of into shame, as the aspirer to their life of luxuries. The beautiful Dayle Haddon (“Cyborg”), Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron (“Spermula”), and Ylva Setterborg stun in just a handful of the very elegant, and very naked, women acting as Madame Claude’s international bound employees. Other cast of characters in “Madame Claude’s” game of lies and spies include Robert Webber (“Death Steps in the Dark”), Jean Gaven (“The Story of O”), François Perrot, André Falcon, and Maurice Renot.

Following his films “Emmanuelle” and “The Story of O,” Jaeckin’s “Madame Claude” strays into an atypical kind of formulaic eroticism downplaying the sexual excursions and discoveries for a more typical crime drama affair. Jaeckin’s directorial abilities can take you on an exotic tour around the world and onto the fleshy planes of some of the most gorgeous and provocative women to ever grace the screen. Yet, “Madame Claude” trims substantially the skin with a more precise execution to be more of an oil lubricating the machine rather than the gear that actually operates the mechanism to entail sex as a misused tool for motivation and bribery. These scenes of fleeting eroticism outright shine Just Jaeckin’s proclivities with mirrored reflections and becoming lost in the entanglement of sexually enflamed bodies and these scenes outright shine Jaeckin’s intent on delivering a corkscrew crime drama with double-dealings, wiretapping, and counterintelligence gathering as what unfolds isn’t clearly delineated between Madame Claude, David Evans, the French and U.S. Governments and the Lockheed scandal that actually becomes sidetracked at times by the infiltrated sex-training of Madame Claude business as the brothel head has to train an alternative misfit new girl and send her to the Bahamas work trip shortly after a quick one-night-stand initiation with one of the Madame’s trusted former beaus. We wholeheartedly become more intrigued and fascinated with Madame Claude’s feminist principles, recruiting subjugated women to use their sexuality to dominate and become wealthy in the process. In more than one scene, Madame Claude flaunts self-admiration in transforming star-crossed girls into young women fortune bound with their promiscuous ways. Madame Claude’s murky backstory caresses her complexities of anti-man without detail delving into the turning point catalyst that made her become who she became to be, an affluent Madame, other than a seemingly emotionally and controllably invalidating romantic experience with a long time friend and business companion, Pierre (Maurice Renot).

Cult Epics sustains another forgotten classic into a celebrated Blu-ray release with a new 4K HD transfer of “Madame Claude” from the original 35mm negative, supervised by the original cinematographer, Robert Fraisse. Housed on a BD50, the region free release maintains the impeccable coloring under Fraisse’s soft glow with no cropping or undue enhances that tries to put out fire with gasoline and, aside from a discolored yellow-greenish, translucent stripe, perhaps a loose film roll, during the opening scene, the image quality is clean and pleasing in it’s natural 35mm grain. The English and French language audio tracks come with three options: LPCM 2.0 mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The DTS-HD Master Audio had the highest marks, slightly topping Dolby Digital stereo with a little more gusto in the pipes. Audible dialogue is clean and forefront, but the engineered dubbing laid over Murray Head and, even, the self-dubbing of Dayle Haddon can be off-putting at times when actors’ voices seem to not be sharing the same vocal space with others on screen. French composer Serge Gainsbourg’s lounge, yé-yé score tuned into that erotic soufflé of light and airy pop music that can be often dreamy with singsongy female vocals, complimenting the softer, sexier side of Jaeckin’s film while also playing into period melodies of the 1970’s. Cult Epics always has down right with resurrecting obscure erotica for not only quality sake but also to arm the hell out of the releases with bonus material. Included with “Madame Claude” is an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey (author of the upcoming book entitled Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol), a high definition, Nico B. produced interview with director Just Jaeckin from 2020, the vintage French theatrical trailer, a promotional photo gallery, and Cult Epics previews. Not the most sensual film shot by the renowned maestro of venereal visuals, Just Jaeckin explores his versatility by acclimatizing familiarity with new horizons surrounding brothel delights with shadow games and the new 4K Blu-ray from Cult Epics is the one, and only, way to experience it all in “Madame Claude.”

Cult Epic’s “Madame Claude” on Blu-ray. Available at Amazon – click the poster!


Uncalcified Penal Glands and Designer Drugs are an EVIL Around-the-Clock Cocktail. “Synchronic” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Well Go USA Entertainment)

A new over-the-counter designer drug called Synchronic has been at the center of a string gruesome deaths in New Orleans.  Simultaneously, two best friend paramedics, Steve and Dennis, individually battle their own life-altering personal problems while responding to the grisly emergency calls.  With each horrific scene of Synchronic’s doing, Steve decides to take matters into his own hands by purchasing the remaining supply in all of New Orleans after Dennis’ teenage daughter mysteriously disappears after ingesting the drug.  With no leads on the missing girl’s whereabouts and after being visited by the time abstract ramblings of the chemist responsible for creating the drug, Synchronic’s harmful hallucinogenic properties have more tangible dangers than what meets the eye leaving Steve no choice but to pop one of the pills to understand where, or when, his friend’s daughter may have disappeared to.

I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are visionary filmmakers with a penchant for the larger-than-life and otherworldly terrors.  From their directorial of a mind-bending death cult in “The Endless” to their producing hand in Jeremy Gardner’s lost love and creature feature, “After Midnight,” and Amy Seimetz deathly contagious, “She Dies Tomorrow,” under Rustic Films, the ambitiously talented duo returns with “Synchronic,” an anything but plain spoken, time-winding, Sci-Fi tale revolving around themes of redemptive purpose and grateful circumstances stitched by the uncanny temporal effects of artificial illicit drugs.  Lying somewhere between the cognitive warping psychedelic drug and feeling disconnected from the environment of a dissociative drug, “Synchronic” sojourns random grooves with the needle of time in a culminating enlightenment that now, the present, is a gift worth enjoying.     Along with Moorhead and Benson’s Rustic Films, Patriot Pictures, and XYZ Films bring to fruition the filmmakers’ biggest production yet. 

Like most of us during pandemic times, but not quite exactly like us who are working stressfully from home, is Anthony Mackie acting comfortably in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The “Captain America” star temporarily hangs up Falcon’s wing harness to play lonely paramedic Steve frequented by his tragic past that has led him down a path of casual flings and an inability to attach to anyone romantically.  Opposite Mackie is Irish actor and “Fifty Shades of Grey” star Jamie Dornan as Dennis, a man kicking himself hard for marrying and starting a family too early in life that’s created a bizarre Prince and the Pauper dynamic where Steve and Dennis are envious on each other’s life.  Mackie is pitch perfect in the timing of a seemingly tailored-to-Mackie script that is funny as it is engrossing and thought-provoking.  “Synchronic” is truly the Mackie show with Dornan playing second fiddle as a compliment to Mackie’s more clandestinely troubled character who aims to upend and mend many wrongs in his life, including those of his best friend, and weaves in and out through the fabrics of time with Katie Aselton (“She Dies Tomorrow”), Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monself, and Bill Oberst Jr (“DIS”).

Time travelling is a finnicky concept.  Lots of variables have to be ironed out in order to break the planes of chronological, set-in-stone, thinking and construe time as an infinite recording always available for repeat and playback.  Time travel is perhaps science fiction’s most powerhouse model, producing some of the most influential and staple films of the genre in our time that include “The Time Machine,” “The Terminator,” and “Back to the Future” that have carried out repeated viewings of admiration, a franchise legacy, and been the source of inspiration and remakes.  Plot holes and flaws in these films go without saying and are considered expected, but if filmmakers can get away with convincing audiences otherwise, then expect a blast from the past, present, and future.  Moorhead and Benson’s “Synchronic” has a gripping and cosmically vast story done in only one small corner of the world, the historically rich and diverse culture of New Orleans, and that isolating effect pressed upon by the distant and ominous unknown, a supremely niche and bracing style from the directors.  “Synchronic,” like time jumping films before it, has the anticipated plot holes in the mechanics of the designer drug’s side effects that are seemingly straight forward to the experimenting character only after attempting a handful of pill-popping jumps.  There are also no adverse butterfly effects stemmed from any of the Synchronic’s users.  You’ll find yourself lost in time over these questions that routinely shoot up other films to smithereens in the ole inconsistency corral thanks to Moorhead and Benson, along with the riveting and hilarious performance from Anthony Mackie, who suck you in with their relatable and humanizing story premised around Steve and Dennis’ life regrets mended by an eye-opening slight tear in the fabric of time to understand what you have now could have been a lot worse then.

 

“Synchronic” is stylish, Sci-Fi craftsmanship coming to you onto Blu-ray home video from Well Go USA Entertainment. The film is also available on DVD and digitally. Presented in 16:9 widescreen format, “Synchronic” barrages with a somber and slick, yet almost alien, plating over the Creole and double gallery architectures in a mesh of robust multicultural with the grimy slums, envisioned by director of photography, Aaron Moorhead, who, in part with Ariel Vida, the production designer, is able to capture era slithers native to Louisiana lineage. The Blu-ray comes with an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 surround sound that’s crisply makes distinct every track element defined by individual scenes. Jimmy Lavalle returns to collaborate with Moorhead and Benson once again to compose an unique compositional score that can only be described as driving nails into your soul while also being powerfully moving without being an echo out of inspiration. The release is rated R with a runtime of 101 minutes and comes with a fair amount of bonus features including commentary with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, a making of featurette, a previsualization (a fancy word here for live-action storyboarding with a camera phone), a VFX breakdown (which is touched upon a lot in the making of featurette), a deleted scene, and an alternate ending that will doggone blow your mind! “Synchronic” is intense medication to repair a kindred friendship falling into disrepair in this literal mind-boggling must see it to believe it thriller. Expect more great things from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson to come!

Order “Synchornic” on Blu-ray by clicking the poster above!

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!