Forcing Conformity on EVIL is a Violent Cause. “Murder in a Blue World” reviewed! (Cauldron Films / Blu-ray)

“Murder in a Blue World” now available on Blu-ray!  Purchase a Copy Here at Amazon.com!

Nurse Ana Vernia lives in an authoritarian, dystopian world where she just received a commendation for her work, but beneath the archetype of a scrutinizing society seeking to acculturate deviants by way of involuntary electroshock treatments, Ana moonlights in her own violent behavior as an act of mercy. Under the pretense of disguises, Ana seduces men aberrant to the social norms, returns them to her luxurious mansion, sleeps with them, and to then only murder them with precision before they can be subjected to imperious judgement for being different. All the while, societal dissentient David, an exiled member of a brutal gang, witnesses Ana’s exploits and infiltrates her home, her life, to garner incriminating evidence in order to blackmail her for money, but when David is tracked down for his former gang and beaten to near death, he comes ironically under the care of nurse Ana who plans to fix David before his fate before the electroshock treatments.

Get ready to dial high on voltage on the social commentary scale, “Murder in the Blue World” is a fascinating, dystopian look at social disorder. Heavily influenced in more ways than one by Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” the Eloy de la Iglesia 1973 picture was once entitled “Clockwork Terror” in the U.S. to ride the lucrative coattails of Kubrick’s symphony to violence. Also known in other parts of the world as “To Love, Perhaps to Die,” “Satansbrut” (“Satan’s Fiend”), and “La clinique des horreurs” (“The Clinic of Horrors”), Iglesia’s original penned script and title actually “Una gota de sangre para morir amando” (“A Drop of Blood to Die Loving”), co-written with José Luis Garci (“El Teroso”), Antonio Artero (“El tesoro del capitán Tornado”), George Lebourg, and Antonio Fos (“Panic Beats”). The Spanish film goes internationally by many monikers but has one objective and that is to counter the dictation of free-thinking individuals with violence. “Murder in a Blue World” is produced by José Frade under his self-titled production company, José Frade Producciones Cinematográficas S.A.

“Murder in a Blue World” is so much so in the Stanley Kubrick wake, the film stars Sue Lyon who played the titular character in Kubrick’s “Lolita.”  More than a decade later, the “End of the World” and “The Astral Factor” actress enters another emotionally lacerating role of a woman, a nurse, sworn to do no harm who sees that a quick euthanization is the only possible mercy she can offer to spare societal downcast souls from a fate far worse than death in a cold and cruel condemnatory world.  Lyon’s excellent in curating her different disguises and looks, taking on a variety of personas with subtle mannerisms despite how comical or implausible they may appear on screen, such as the idea of being an old, gray-haired woman.  Lyon is fair and small in stature compared to her male counterparts but commands the screen with her confident approach to Ana’s advantageous beauty and eroticism that can turn a gay man straight apparently.  Former gang member David shares her ideology to an extent, to the extent of capitalizing off her nightly murder for mercy escapades in order to survive on the street alone.  Christopher Mitchum, son of the late Golden Age of Cinema actor Robert Mitchum (“El Dorado,” “The Longest Day,” “Scrooged”), plays the nihilistic gangbanger with aversion to any or all rules that tell him how to think.  Mitchum’s impressive motorbike skills are utilized for an impressive chase sequence that incorporates ramp jumps and car crashes at a high speed velocity, a talent Mitchum and film producers utilized often in his other credits, such as “Sumertime Killer” and “Big Jake.”  Lyon and Mitchum don’t have much screen time until later in the story but their interactions are playful, flirtatious almost, but in a predator-prey kind of way and we’re not really sure which-is-which in that shifty relationship.   French actor Jean Sorel (“A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin”) rounds out the three-prong principal characters as a diehard representative of the authoritarian body and a potential love interest for Ana.  Playing Victor Sender, a neurologist experimenting on the criminally insane with electroshock therapy and working at the same hospital as nurse Ana, Sorel is the epitome of the calculating stability and clean-cut coldness of the ruling class that’s doesn’t see what they’re doing to be a unjust, cruel, or even a problem at all. “Murder in a Blue World” rounds out the cast with Ramón Pons (“Scarab”), Charly Bravo (“The Cannibal Man”), Alfredo Alba, Antonia del Rio, Domingo Codesido Ascanio, and Fernando Hilbeck (“The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue”).

On the surface, director Eloy de la Iglesia carves a rib right out of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” with themes of exquisite, unprovoked violence sparked by the very basis of rebellion against authority. Not to also forget to mention the elaborately dressed gang of four, the electroshock treatment that aims to cure the criminal cerebrum, and the dystopian, futuristic guild with hints of fascism. “Murder in a Blue World” is a mixture that’s two-third post-Kubrick and one-third part pre-Paul Verhoeven, the latter reaching into fascist imagery as well as extreme commercialism that has surely inspired the “Robocop” and “Starship Trooper” director. Blue wellness drinks and panther-primitive men’s underwear are just a few the commercials fabricated for Iglesia’s coloring of an influential culture as the filmmaker uses the motif to symbolize and parallel brainwashing that becomes more severe when the government attempts to force a cure for criminality down incarcerated individuals’ throats. Even David announces to the world in multiple scenes how he doesn’t care what others think and he’s a free thinker. Homosexuality, prostitution, and physical imperfections suggest master race ideology amongst the domineering class hierarchy. Those who Ana seduce, as well as David, struggle in poverty and are considered inferior though not explicitly mentioned in the story. Iglesia integrates his trademark graphic violence, closeups of stabbings and throat slitting, but only really visualizes post-third act climax to keep more of an implied violence, off screen, and quickly edited to maintain an unclear vagueness of what’s right and what’s wrong in what Ana’s accomplishing.

A phenomenal companion piece and second bill to Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” Eloy de la Iglesia’s “Murder in a Blue World” finds Blu-ray love with a high definition, 1080p release from the genre film eternizing Cauldron Films. The Blu-ray debut is a 2K restoration of the 35mm transfer that has held up fairly well over the decades to only show pockets of wear and tear. Presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio, there’s no edge enhancement or digital noise reduction to clear out the natural stock grain, leaving the picture quality with more texture. Skin tones are, for the most part, natural and popping color grade doesn’t stray too far from its integrity until one brief scene goes full Oompa-Loompa orange before reverting back to normal. Light scratching is common throughout but not obtrusive to the viewing. Two audio options come with the release, an English dub dual mono and a Spanish dub dual mono. Since the cast is comprised of American, French, and Spanish native actors, neither track appears attractive from a lip-reading and audio-hearing perspective. Preferably, I went English dub as Sue Lyons and Chris Mitchum monopolize the lion’s share of screen time. There’s quite a bit of hissing and popping on the single channel output that can render dialogue almost indistinct but passes with a D+. The English subtitles synch well and show no sign of inaccuracy or grammatical issues. English SDH captions are available as well. Special features include a 2008 archive interview with Chris Mitchum, an interview with dubbing guru Ben Tatar Dubbing in a Blue World, a video essay read by Spanish Gothic film and literature scholar Dr. Xavier Aldana Reyes who dives into the themes and constructs of Iglesia’s film, audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, the VHS cut of “Clockwork Terror” in 720p standard definition, and image gallery. The physical release comes in a clear Blu-ray snapper with a colorfully illustrated cover art that is reversible with one of the more notable and beautifully shot scenes on the inside. With a runtime of 97 minutes, the release is region free and is unrated. “Murder in a Blue World” receives a gorgeous Blu-ray restoration and debut as it’s an eclectic work of inspired and pioneering visual art from one of Spain’s most individualist directors.

“Murder in a Blue World” now available on Blu-ray!  Purchase a Copy Here at Amazon.com!

EVIL Told You Not to the First Time! “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / Blu-ray)

“Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” on a Special Edition Blu-ray!  Purchase Your Copy Here!

Beginning where the last film left off, alien attack survivor Jane, bruised and bloody, stumbles into the under-renovation Pine Hills Summer Camp where a group of newly hired and horny camp counselors, a nurse chaperone, and a handy-man ex-con spruce up the place.  Jane is met with hostility when sounding off about monsters and death, but when the Pine Hills staff realize that a few of their friends are missing and haven’t checked in, Jane’s story is beginning to resonate and take traction.  Out in the woods, the rape-impregnated sperm of the monster are parasitic and seek out human hosts to infect with raging hormones and adrenaline, transforming hosts into razor-sharp teethed, superhuman mutants hellbent on procreation of a new monster.  The invading parasites turn the isolated camp into a slaughter yard of bloodshed and chaos and it’s up to the remaining survivors to nut up and put violent stop to an alien’s insidious carnage. 

Well, by God, Shawn Burkett did it!  The director made a sequel to his straight-forward, out-of-nowhere, 2016 indie hit “Don’t Fuck in the Woods,” directly following up from where the first film left us off with a lone survivor having just blown up a sex-crazed, blood-lusting alien creature who clawed, tore, and banged his way through a bunch of naked women and some off-color guys doing the dirty in the woods.  The first film made such a splash of interest with the provocative and often controversial title as well as being one of the most pirated movie in the last decade due to said title, The Ohio-born Burket began to formulate the next step of “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” with a story co-written with one of the sequel’s principal stars, Cheyenne Gordon, writer of the Tory Jones directed films “The Wicked One” and “They See You.”  The enticingly crass, but greatly adored and sought after title aims to be gorier and even more nudity-laden as the first film with the story situated at an actual family-owned campground, Hannon’s Camp America, in College Corner, Ohio.  Shot in the Summer of 2019, the pre-pandemic film, “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2,” is a production of Concept Media, Studio 605, Rising Fire Films, Taintbad Productions, and Head on a Stick Productions with Burkett producing and John Lepper (aka Johnny Macabre, executive producer of “Smoke and Mirrors:  The Story of Tom Savini” and “The VelociPastor”) as executive producer.

Though the sequel does not mark the return of the voluptuously captivating adult actress Nadia White, as her character (spoiler alert) was ripped apart by the creature (end spoiler alert), the sequel casts a whole new lot of ladies willing to let Mr. Skin archive and immortalize all their bare body parts forever…or at least until the servers crash, the internet dies, or the world ends.  It’s not like eternity or anything.  The one returning principal to return is the first film’s sole survivor, Jane, and returning to fill her blood-soaked shoes is Brittany Blanton that has officially solidified the Houston, Texas native as a scream queen, franchise final girl, and an overall badass slayer of otherworldly creatures.  Blanton is just one of several actresses to play into the popular campy motif and titular theme of open sexuality and nudity as a formulaic no-no in horror films.  B-to-Z horror movie regulars, starting with “RIP:  Rest in Pieces’” Kenzie Phillips, “Model Hunger’s” Kaylee Williams, “Slaughterhouse Slumber Party’s” Kayla Elizabeth, “5G Zombies’” Julie Anne Prescott, “Blood Moon River’s” Cara McConnell, and Nessa Moore, who I suspect used a body double for her bare all scene, follow suit (birthday suit that is) playing chopping block babes abreast of their outcome.  Burkett doesn’t completely make void his sequel of complex human emotions, supplying bitter love triangles, an oversexualized third wheel, and two more adult-ish characters running from their unpleasant past,  One of those two is ex-con Gil (co-writer Cheyenne Gordon) forced into a corner as the camp’s handyman while attempting to turn his life around for the better but finding the path to redemption difficult when being harassed and threatened by corrupt law enforcement officer.  Already down in the dumps being judged and juried by fellow campers and law enforcement, Gil is sympathetic role that earns his keep when going toe-to-toe with mutation spawn.  Mark Justice (“Atomic Shark”), Jason Crowe (“Dead Moon Rising”), Tom Komisar (“Slaughterhouse:  House of Whores 2.5), Alex Gottmann, and returning from the first film for a brief but memorable scene is Brandy Mason completes the cast. 

No contextual messages. No metaphors. No symbolizing themes. “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” pumps you full of the same obligatory creature feature construct as the first, those who have sex, get murdered….horribly. The only slight difference this time around is director Shawn Burkett gets himself out of the man-in-a-monster suit element and into a state of possession as the cast of characters become heinous hosts to parasitic alien slugs, essentially turning people on themselves in a battle to the death. The concept brings a new angle to the series to build upon the creature’s never say die multi-nefarious abilities that keeps it returning, in one form or another, from the grave. Blood runs rampant with the special effects team implementation of a blood gun into their bag of tricks that soaks the cast in more than one scene, but I would say between the two films, both are equally matched in blood shedding as the sequel, that doesn’t see the return of the first film’s SFX artist Deryk Wehrly but hires the 2016 film’s producer, Rob Collins to fill that void, doesn’t surpass the antecedent’s practical butchery. Looking through a technical critical lens, the indie feature has noticeable issues with crew mistakes, such as shadows of the boom operator in the frame, and scenes that hit the cutting room floor would have shed light on a few second and third act scenes that ended up not keeping the story smooth in a logical sense; one of the bigger scenes in question is one two large arms break through a wall and grab Gib from behind. The arrangement of character positions didn’t quite work out and the feature’s after credits bonus scene cements that misalignment even more. “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” might have filmic gaffe (there might be a cream for that) but what started as a straight-shooting, sex and slaughter, potboiler has become Shawn Burkett’s undeniable magnum opus and he’s only just beginning.

Wild Eye Releasing camp on one of the most campiness horror to date with “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” on a special edition Blu-ray release. Presented in high definition, 1080p, the transfer is exhibited with widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. First thing I noticed about the independent film and distributor release is there are virtually no issues with compression. The black areas remain deep and inky, hues naturally come across without any fluctuation, and there are no visible banding or artefact issues. In comparison to the first film, the sequel is quite brighter with more lighting available and Burkett isn’t too heavy on gels or tints unless in slug-vision mode with a tinge of low opacity fuchsia. The release comes with a lossy English 2.0 stereo mix that’s every bit languid as it sounds with current releases. Dialogue is clean and clear of damage and interference but is too underweight for full-bodied effect. Sound design offers arm’s length depth but is ample in range with slimy sluggy-ness slithering about and skirmish associated hubbubs to make the action excitable. Optional English subtitles are available. The special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette that gives a walking tour of the Hannon’s family camp shooting location building-by-building, blooper reel which can be seen during the end credits, two deleted scenes, the original producer trailer, Wild Eye Releasing trailers, and a feature length documentary “What Happens in the Woods: The Story of Don’t Fuck in the Woods” that digs deep not only into the genesis of “Don’t Fuck in the Woods,” but also into the personal strifes of Burkett and how the story’s title was turbulent, controversial, and heated from the beginning but became a wildly great success that spurred greenlights for future sequels, such as the after credit scene that may or may not involve space and/or time travel! The clear Blu-ray snapper with latch has physical special features that include a folded-mini poster insert, reversable cover art with a composited image on the front and a bloodied Brittany Blanton screengrab snippet on the opposite, and cardboard slipcover with a mashup character collage on the front. The brisk 81-minute runtime compacts the blood and boobs in this region free, unrated disc. Shawn Burkett teases fans with a third picture that’ll surely bring the wanton woods into the world of tomorrow but, for now, bask in “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” unfettered maverick success.

“Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” on a Special Edition Blu-ray!  Purchase Your Copy Here!

Never Tour Mistakenly into an EVIL Murder Bar! “La Petite Mort” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

“La Petite Mort” is Orgasmically Gory and on Blu-ray!

Vacationing to Mallorca should have been a relaxing getaway for Simon, his blind girlfriend Nina, and their longtime friend, Dodo, but their flight layover in Frankfurt leaves down idle town to explore the city that’s only a mere two hours from home. Tension between them begin to bubble to the surface when uncertain emotional steps to take relationships to the next level arise and they become inadvertently scammed by a local grifter. Exhaustion sets in and forces them to take refuge in a local dive bar with a specialty for S&M play. The bar is actually a front for the Maison de la Petite Mort, an underground snuff house owned a sadistic woman named Maman who livestreams kink-murders and sells hapless victims to wealthy businessmen with whimsical and perverse deviancies. The flight to Mallorca will be indefinitely delayed as the three friends are now a part of the bloody basement decor awaiting the horrors before them.

“La Petite Mort,” translated from French as literally the little death, is also known as the post-orgasmic sensation, such as a weakness or loss of conscious, that serves as an analogy to death. The phrase is also the title of the 2009 torture-gore film written-and-directed by the German-born Marcel Walz more than a decade before the formation of his now Neon Noir production company. Walz, who later in his career went on to remake the Herschel Gordon Lewis 1963 film, “Blood Feast,” blossoms as a torture porn filmmaker as Walz’s directorial catalogue contains more blood than a blood bank and often stretches the subgenre range of plot machinations from cannibals to dark web to snuff. Made on a few thousand-dollar budget and shot in a real sex club in Mannheim, Germany, “La Petite Mort” touches upon all three plot devices to create a dungeon of splatter and sadism using elements of an unsolved true crime case of a couple gruesomely murdered in an underground murder house as the narrative base. Before Neon Noir, Walz and filmmaker Michael Effenberger, director of “Tortua,” formed Matador Films that became the company behind “La Petite Mort” with Thomas Buresch (“Unrated: The Movie”) and feature actor and director of photography, Andreas Pape (“Toxic Lullaby”) producing.

Films like “La Petite Mort” is a special breed not because of the torture and gore-porn element, which can be an acquired taste for consumers with dark thoughts, fantasies, and morbid curiosities (I fall into the latter category if you’re wondering), but rather the story caters to no singular principal lead nor does is the focus on an ensemble cast.  “La Petite Mort” transitions from one group, the naïve backpacking travelers, to the S&M snuff-makers in a flip-flop of point of view and storytelling.  All the relationship complexities between the out of concern love from Simon (Andreas Pape) to his even keeled blind girlfriend, Nina (Inés Zahmoul, “La Isla”) as well as the insignificant tiffs and spats between Simon and friend Dodo (Anna Habeck, “Popular”) to see who is in Nina’s favor are quickly swept aside when the trio is trapped and tethered to the S&M spider web of Maman’s Maison de la Petite Mort.  While the three travelers produce a mild interest spun out of frivolous dramatics to the like of the normal human population and very much up played by Walz for that very purpose to produce stark contrast against what’s normal for sadomastic pleasure-seekers, Maman, the orchestrator of pain and profit, is the most earnest of principals with a crone-like presence, played inexorably and ruthless by French punk-goth singer Manoush.  The certified gypsy and former bodybuilder has made a name for herself in a plethora of extreme, Germanic horror pictures over the last decade, but “La Petite Mort” came early in Manoush’s career and is exhibits why she’s so good at horror, especially at the sadism brand.  Maman’s schadenfreude business employs two lesbian dominatrixes, Dominique and Angélique, with strong-stomachs and a healthy bloodthirst.  The beautiful femme fatales serve Maman’s unquestionably, almost mindlessly, that only glimpses into possibilities of how the two women became betrothed to do Maman’s bidding.  Annika Strauss, who’s been in the screen queen business about as long as and has starred alongside with Manoush on a number of films, is also a Marcel Walz regular casted actress who fits and transforms into just about every character under the black sun of ghoulish and macabre material thrown her way.  As Dominique, Strauss is provided more depth to why and how the brunette basket case has come under Maman’s greedy and depraved thumb as the actress shows some slither of concern for the captives while explaining she had no choice just they like them and exhibiting more reserve than her blonde counterpart Angélique (Magdalèna Kalley, “Violent Shit 4”) when the cameras are rolling.  Conversations rooted into provocative thought, sympathy, or reason are often few and far in between the constant pleas for help and the screaming matches of pelting threats.  “La Petite Mort” finalizes the cast with Martin Hentschel (“Zombie Reanimation”), Tanja Karius (“Necronos”), and Thomas Kercmar (“Space Wolf”) as Klaus der Kobold, a Napoleon-sized elitist wealthy enough to buy people’s lives and enjoy seeing them horrifically mutilated.

One scene overwhelms the diagnostic side of my brain and that is why Maman is torturing Dodo with needles as Manoush delivers a surprising genuine villainous monologue about sadomasochists being judged by normal people and how her character has a liberated, uninhibited sexuality in a moment that is a powerful argument in favor for sadomasochism to exist without shame.  Thinking about this, I’m not aware of any publicized S&M clubs, especially those that aren’t criticized for being deviant, perverse, and secular.  After that one moment of vulnerability, “La Petite Mort” turns into a choke-down bloodbath with some great and some not-so-great special effects by one of Germany’s gore film greats, Olaf Ittenbach, director and F/X artist of “Premutos:  The Fallen Angel” and “Legion of the Dead.”  Ittenbach brings me to another overwhelming scene, one that churns the contents of your stomach, involving a meat grinder, a hand, and a chalice.   “La Petite Mort” has other notable grisly moments of scalping, castrating, eye-plucking, and disemboweling, all of which are in great gooey-gory detail.  What takes away from the gore scenes is Walz fluttering effect or grindhouse-esque edited framed overlay that, in my wildest guess, is supposed to enhance the extreme acts of violence, torture, and death in conjunction with composer Michael Donner’s industrial rumble and pulsing synth score. Instead, the effect becomes nothing more than a cinematic nuisance, an eyesore that dilutes Ittenbach’s best handywork because that scalping scene is the chef’s kiss of tactual realism. Based on a true story that I can’t seem to find any record of, “La Petite Mort,” for a brief few minutes, becomes a promulgating champion for alternate sexualities and is also a showcase for Olaf Ittenbach to shock and disgust but for what the feature is worth, “La Petite Mort” offers only emptiness in both character conviction and story narrative.

A fitting entry into the shockingly weird and grotesque “Unearthed Films'” independent film catalogue, “La Petite Mort” arrives onto a high definition, 1080p Blu-ray home video. Presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, Walz bookends his callous-cladded cult film with a yellowish-tan tint while the girth of the story is laced with more gel coloring under no hinderance of tint. Low lighting with low contrast markers, mixed with tropical-warm gel coloring and strobe flashing fabricates the sunless and dank murder basement but any exterior shots, even the bookend act one and act three are rendered with poor resolution for digital recording. Only a single audio track is available with a German LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles and what’s rendered is likely the best quality to get from the masters from the lossy format. Dialogue is often unrefined, and the levels vary, but for the most part clean and free from obstruction. The track has limited ambience and harps heavily on the gory moments while Michael Donner’s dark industrial score takes the brunt of the overall soundtrack. Subtitle synchronization varies as well with millisecond flashes of translations that are impossible to read or even pause perfectly on, but the translations appear flawless and consolidated from the dialect for easy reading. The Unearthed Films’ bonus content is aplenty with a new commentary and interview with director Marcel Walz. Also included is a feature-length making of “La Petite Mort” with raw handheld camcorder footage, shot by The Bad Boy character in the film, behind-the-scenes footage, and even some 16mm footage that go reel deep into the effects and life of independent filmmakers. An archived interview with special effects artist Olaf Ittenbach, deleted scenes, photo gallery, teaser trailer, official trailer, “La Petite Mort 2” trailer, and the VHS intro that’s essentially a Marcel Walz introduction of the VHS home video release round out the bonus content. The physical attributes are a clear, Blu-ray snapper case with reversible cover art with the inside sleeve containing a more graphic torture not suited for retail shelves. The region A encoded, 77-minute feature is not rated. If invested for the kills, “La Petite Mort” pleases to overindulge the desire and is a solid first torture-porn effort from a then young Marcel Walz who continues to rise in the niche market.

“La Petite Mort” is Orgasmically Gory and on Blu-ray!

EVIL Cabbie Takes Beautiful Women for the Ride of their Lives. “Maniac Driver” reviewed! (ReelGore Releasing / Blu-ray)

Hail down the “Maniac Driver” on Blu-ray!

Taking a taxi should be a reliably safe to get from point A to point B and once you settle the serviceable transaction with payment, you can forget you ever saw that taxi driver again.  But what if that taxi driver follows you home, obsesses over you, and has psychotic plans to take your life as well as his own?  One Tokyo cabbie has those very inclinations toward the beautiful women.  These women intoxicate his severe guilt over a past personal tragedy involving the merciless murder of his wife.  He scours his passenger pool for the perfect beauty to be his closing opus, a gift to society that dealt him the same hand and will take her life as a maniacal masked killer with a blade before he turns the blade on his own neck. 

From the director of “Gun Woman” and “Karate Kill” comes the latest gore-soaked, nudity-laden, psychotronic grindhouse picture from Tokyo filmmaker Kurando Mitsutake.  Labeled as a Japanese giallo film, the writer-director Mitsutake pulls inspiration from one of most influential and prolific Italian giallo filmmakers ever, the late Lucio Fulci, and stylizes his idolizing film with his own proclivity for flair.  The 2020 released film is a thirst trap of the subgenre upon reading the heavily enticing description and its basic but effective cover art of a leather glove and jacket cladded masked maniac holding tightly onto a half-naked woman, almost in an embracing manner rather than a malice one.  Sex and blood sell and “Maniac Driver” doesn’t disappoint but what about the story?  What drives the killer from one woman to the next and does it all make sense?  “Maniac Driver’s” title suggests not, and I believe Kurando Mitsutake felt the same way when writing the script, produced by “After Life” and “Paster Shepherd” producer Mami Akari under the Akari Pictures banner.

Titling the story around the maniac driver binds the film solely to the cab driver, much in the same way William Lustig’s “Maniac” focuses on Joe Spinell’s spiraling madness and scalping mutilations, and we’re pretty much left with the driver’s innermost thoughts, about his process, about his reasons, and about his plans.  Essentially, the maniac driver drives the narrative with a contemplative fare.  Tomoki Kimura has surpassed the challenge with a pendulum crazed performance sought to not only express his derangement but can also infect the viewers with the character’s warped mind.  Kimura keeps his expression stoic and sour in a role that barely requires him to speak as we mostly hear prosy, abstract, and murderous inner thoughts.  In regard to the women the driver stalks and involves himself sleazily with, Kurando Mitsutake goes the JAV actress route and is familiar with as having the alluring Asami star pretty much naked through the entirety of “Gun Woman.”  With adult actresses, Mitsutake receives uninhibited support for the victimized characters the maniac driver fantasizes over and kills as well as Mitsutake’s satirical whims in exploiting the subgenre’s penchant for gratuitous flesh.  Adult starlets from softcore actress Saryû Usui (“Sex Detective Hatenashi”) to the hardcore Ai Sayama (“Date with a Busty Nymph”), Ayumi Kimito (“Love Kimomen”), and SOD (Soft on Demand) Create’s Iori Kogawa (“One Wife + 10 Husbands) add a little titillation with gratuitous exposure, bondage, and fornication to the max. 

“Maniac Driver” paves its own neo-giallo path that swerves away from the traditional calling cards. Instead of a typical Italian murder-mystery, Mitsutake intentionally divulges the killer cab driver with a delusional hunger and fate. All the other hallmarks of a giallo killer are there in a Fulci tribute form with leathery glove hands, a gleaming blade, a masked face, and a killer who makes a duck-like sound that’s far more menacing than comical. “Maniac Driver” also pulls from other inspirations, such as Lustig’s “Maniac” as well as Martin Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver” with Tomoki Kimura channel his best Robert De Niro impression with the iconic You Talkin’ To Me line. Behind the whole ghastly facade and polychromatic style, entrenched is a theme of survival’s guilt that leads the cab driver to the point of no return. Severely injured and helpless to save his wife from a crazed killer, he’s wrought with putting forth into the world exactly what was taken from him in the same fashion, but how the deeper we spiral with and into his derangement, piecing together his mental episodical puzzle might not be so easily pegged. Mitsutake’s seemingly straight forward narrative is a blindsiding blade to the throat when looking in the opposite direction, expecting a different outcome, and when the principal character is kept to his innermost thoughts, viewers are treated with only the maniac’s disenchantment of life. The curveball is more than welcome despite all evidence being in plain view, but with the bizarre fiendishness, schizo-universe, and the T&A, to see clear through it all is impossible, especially when Mitsutake really goes off the rails with the maniac driver’s fantasies that mesh seamlessly with reality. Scenes with Iora Kogawa and Tomoki Kimura are intolerably hazy as the actors engage coquettishly as an exquisite, kimono dressed female passenger and a public transportation service man peering his eyes through the review mirror and this leads to an explicit one-on-one encounter that includes some bondage as well as a Iaido showdown with swords drawn. Through Mitsutake’s various closeups and depth-shots, sprinkled with tight up shots to emphasize body parts and to create an oppressive world, “Maniac Driver” ebbs and flows that sort of satirical, aggrandized chaos to make light of the oversexualization, as skirts hike up while running and exposed chest flop out underneath tightly bound tops, and the sheer madness of a broken mortal man. “Maniac Driver” is an uber giallo of sleaze and psychosis, a steady ride of burning yearning, and is gory where it counts.

To be honest with you, I thought I’d never see a ReelGore Releasing again. When speaking with Cult Epics founder Nico B., who launched the label with producer Steve Aquilina (“Violent Shit: The Movie”) in 2016, I had asked the popular curator of cult cinema whether he would continue with banner that sought to specialize in the release of extreme, violent horror after the releases of the ItsBlogginEvil generally well received “The Orphan Killer” and “The Curse of Doctor Wolfenstein?” The answer I received was a flat out no from Nico B. because, simply, the label didn’t generate enough profit. Well, lo and behold, ReelGore Releasing has been resurrected and the blood is flowing once again with a pair of new titles with “Manic Driver” being one of them. Though Nico B. has confirmed no involvement with the releases, it’s still great to see the label back in action again. “Maniac Driver” is released on a ReelGore Releasing AVC encoded Blu-ray, a BD25, and presents the Mitsutake film in 1080p, high definition and a 2.35:1widescreen aspect ratio. Despite heavily saturating to a blur scenes with brilliant, primary coloring, familiar to the giallo subgenre, the overall details are quite pleasant and palpable. Mitsutake utilizes different lighting and shadowing techniques to create different atmospherics but never seems to inherently kill the textures as they maintain a sharp, tactile presence. The Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, with forced English subtitles, is vibrant with an 80’s inspired blend of synth and riff-rock. Japanese dialogue is strong, clear, and innately clean with the digital recording, balanced by an error free and aptly timed English subtitles. “Maniac Driver” has a robust, yet sometimes overelaborated, sound design that outputs nicely through the side channels. The killer’s leather glove sounds can be overkill with every scene being loused with the individual stretches of the fabric while the energy-thumping engine combined affixed shots around the tire and grill is a powerful effect of the cab driver’s routine hunting method. The release also comes with French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features include a making of featurette with interviews with the cast and crew, an audio commentary with director Kurando Mitsutake, photo slideshow, and the trailer. There are no stinger scenes during or after the credits. The physical appearance sheaths the 25GB disc inside a sleek red Blu-ray snapper case with reversible cover art that has two alternate posters on the inside. The film is not rated, region free, and has a run time of just under 75 minutes. “Maniac Driver” is no passenger in the giallo subgenre; the Kurando Mitsutake might be a bundle of homages and inspirations but takes the wheel of the Japanese sexploitive-giallo gas guzzler with deranged brutality.

Hail down the “Maniac Driver” on Blu-ray!

Not All Zombies are EVIL. Some Zombies Save Lives. “The Loneliest Boy in the World” reviewed (Well Go USA Entertainment/ Blu-ray)

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The unexpected tragic death of Oliver’s mother, involving a pool, a television, and a garden gnome, places the now aged-out and deinstitutionalized Oliver into a difficult position. The sheltered, socially awkward young man, living by himself in his mother’s home and still makes like his mother is still with him, is given a last chance ultimatum from his supportive social worker and a pessimistic psychologist to make friends, to lead a normal life, and to sustain impendence or else he’ll have to return to being institutionalized as an adult. Local contemporaries single out Oliver for being weird, unusual, and a loner to the point that his childlike and naive mind turns him desperate enough for a friend to dig up corpses, those who used to be well-liked in the community, but when one morning the exhumed bodies come to life as a nuclear family that eats, breathes, and is sort of living. Though rotting from the outside, the undead family encourage and advise Oliver through his toughest life challenge yet – to be normal.

Described as a modern fairytale with zombies, “The Loneliest Boy in the World” is a satirical comedy horror about the rite of passage into adulthood from the screenwriting team of John Landis’ “Burke & Hare” writer Piers Ashworth, producer of “Director’s Cut” Brad Wyman, and “Maximum Overdrive” star and “Rated X” director Emilio Estevez. Director Martin Owen (“L.A. Slasher”, “Let’s Be Evil”) helms the late 80’s deco piece with a Halloween backdrop, fitting for any undead family to suddenly animate into an eclectic and eccentric fashion that encircles what it means to understand family values in a very trendy niche specific of the late 80’s style. The feature is produced by Piers Ashworth, Ryan Hamilton (“Possessor”), Matt Williams (“Let’s Be Evil”), Pat Wintersgill (“Amulet”) and a conglomeration of executive producers including Emilio Estevez and is a production of the London, UK-based Lip Sync in association with Future Artists Entertainment and presented by Great Point Media and Well Go Entertainment.

Max Harwood gives a peculiar performance as a soft-spoken, sheltered-to-a-fault mother’s boy, Oliver, with a delusional depiction of reality. Though Harwood’s performance pairs well enough with Martin Owen’s rocky shore small town of equally asymmetrical corporeality, the titular Oliver comes off derivative of done before loners and Harwood provides little range to fully arc with the character’s transition from a naive young adult on the fringe of losing everything to the compendious hero of his own story by unearthing not only dead bodies that come to life but learning from their advice, truth, and experience to flesh out his own path of courage and confidence. A part of the LGBTQ community, Harwood is joined by fellow community comrade Tallulah Haddon in a strange turn of casting as Oliver’s love interest, Chloe. Queers play straight in the innate course of acting that, as of late, has often been called out for its hypocrisy of an actor portraying something their actually not. The “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” Haddon is an outsider to Oliver’s surroundings as isn’t influenced by those who have labeled Oliver weird or strange. Instead, Oliver and Chloe spark interest out of hate for being different, a relatable scenario for someone in the gay community. Oliver’s undead family is undoubtedly the best lot with a wide range of happy homemaker personalities and a decaying best friend that supports Oliver’s wings to fly from the next. Susan Wokoma is the stay-at-home mother with a knack for reading the room while her skin peels off and falls to the floor. Ben Miller is the red-blooded Frank that displays glimpses of being a renaissance man at times and Miller plays the beer drinking, jack-of-all-trades father figure aptly. “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’s” Hero Fiennes Tiffin comes on the scene cool and suave in a skin that’s literally drooping off his bones and his eyes have disintegrated from his sockets; Tiffin’s charming, lively, and a source of verbal wit that would be missing from the film. Lastly, Zenobia Williams rounds out the family as Mel, the little sister who is frankly underused and is quiet and subservient to being nice to her living older brother. “The Loneliest Boy in the World’s” cast rounds out with Jacob Sartorious, Hammed Animashaun, Alex Murphy, Sam Coleman, Mitchell Zhangazha, and “The Curse of Buckout Road’s” Evan Ross and “Alone at Night’s” Ashley Benson as the two sole American actors in a contending professionals betting on Oliver’s outcome in friend making.

The casting is interesting as a melting pot of nationalities and cultures intertwined into an alternate reality where the dead can be willed alive. Again, “The Loneliest Boy in the World” is marketed as a modern fairytale and it’s comparable to the likes of if Andrew Currie’s 2006 “Fido,” where in a managed post-apocalyptic world the zombies are kept on as servants for the living in a 1950’s backdrop, was under the Peter Jackson landscape lens of hilltops, seasides, and graveyards. The obvious farce in the late 1980’s pattern aims to set the bar for a number of themes, including growing up into adulthood, to bring back traditional family values in order to push out and correct absent parent trauma, and to embrace the family as nurturing guidance. Oliver’s struggles are frugally displayed but that doesn’t mean the first act misses the mark on plotting the dots of his lonesomeness with being the target of bully teasing, the subject of an insensitive bet of established adults, and being in a position of having no living family or friends to slake his dependence. The one thing to note about Oliver’s sudden lifeline cut is that he doesn’t appear to bothered or frantic about the death of his mother or the prospect of being alone and possibly end up institutionalized. Instead, the unsocialized introvert falls into a semi-chimera state where he’s still tethered to his mother as he watches her favorite television shows and recalls their play-by-play during his graveside visits with mom. The whole concept of death is seemingly foreign to Oliver as he never calls the demise of his mother her death but rather an accident and he finds exhuming recently dead corpses to be his friends normal though he obviously knows it’s illegal and unacceptable normal behavior as he quickly hides or disguises the pre-animated bodies when visitors show up at his doorstep. There’s never an explanation why the dead come to life, but one thing is for sure is that the expired exhumed did a Frosty the Snowman just for the sake of Oliver’s desperation for companionship and, perhaps, that’s the entire reason why. The need for family was granted to the nice, dissociated boy in a lightning bolt of unexplainable supernatural serendipity to right all the bad things that are happening and will happen to him. Zombies are typically resurrected to take life and eat away at the living while Oliver’s zombies are atypical, restoring life and providing hope in an optimistic paradoxical universe.

Dark and quirky, “The Loneliness Boy in the World” is heartwarming with cold bodies. Well Go USA Entertainment releases the AVC Encoded, 1080p high-definition Blu-ray with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The presentation is quite colorful with a vast palette of foundational primary colors sprinkled with retro-vision, such as tape camcorder view, that splits the difference in extracting the vivid pink-laden house interior as well as the spot colors on the characters with stark contrast against the lush greenery background or the rocky, wave crashing shoreline. Night sequences are often blue tinted but not overly saturating. I didn’t note any issues with compression as blacks are generally deep without splotchiness or banding. Details are mostly fine with intricacies more expressive on the decomposing bodies that give off great muscle, skin, and organ decay. The Blu-ray comes with a single audio option, an English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Dialogue never has to outbattle the ambient tracks or The Invisible Men pop score. The ambient range really comes through the auxiliary channels well with the central element focusing on the dialogue. English subtitles are optional. Bonus features include a short behind-the-scenes with more fluff from the cast who seemingly can’t get enough of this project and the theatrical trailer is also included. The physical release comes in a standard Blu-ray snapper with an illustrated mesh artwork of essentially every character in the film, even the dead Dachshund. “The Loneliest Boy in the World” has a runtime of 90 minutes, is regionally hard coded A, and is rated R for language and violent content. Enjoyable yet explainable, “The Loneliest Boy in the World” is more defined by its cadaverous twist of fate than the theme it attempts to convey; nonetheless, the Martin Owen film has heart, soul, and the living dead.

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