A Snapshot Celebration, Averting the EVILs of Typecasting, for the Iconic Actress “Sylvia Kristel: The 1970s Collection” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Sylvia Kristel.  A name that is synonymous to eroticism.  Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen.   In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.

“Playing With Fire”

In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid.  Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety.  The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession.  Or is it her who possesses him? 

Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.”  A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions.  Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative.  Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves:  Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations.  His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader.  Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective.  The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person.  Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline.  Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.

Pastorale 1943

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen.  When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son.  Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”).  Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978.  Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.

“Mysteries”

After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred.  Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure.  As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.

Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company.  Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer.  The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen.  The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig.  Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town.  None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence.  “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder.  Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion.  “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.

“Julia”

Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house.  While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose.  Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex.  Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.

On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.

Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

EVIL Infiltrates to Seduce All Your Women! “The Vampire Lovers” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

“The Vampire Lovers” Now Available at Amazon.com!

The Karnstein family’s notorious legends of evil spread vast throughout 18th century Germany. Once thought their wicked leeching of nearby villages exterminated after the Baron Joachim von Hartog dispatched all the villainous vampires after his sister fell victim to their seductive fangs. However, years later, the aristocratical General von Spielsdorf and his niece Laura find themselves in the unexpected company of a houseguest with Marcilla, the beautiful daughter of a new neighboring countess. Days later, Laura unexplainably dies from continuous nights that drain her of energy and flourish her mind full of nightmares of being strangled by a large wild animal. In the wake of her death, Marcilla also disappears. Sadden by the news of her friend’s death, Emma and her father take in the daughter of a travelling countess named Carmilla to provide Emma with cheery, distracting company in a time of distress, but the mysterious cycle of enervation and nightmares start back up all over again and it’s up to the survivals of Laura’s death to stop death before it’s too late.

Unlike any other Hammer horror film you’ve ever seen before prior to 1970, “The Vampire Lovers” blazed the trail for permissiveness of the era’s newly reformed certification system that moved the bar from 16 years order to 18 and kept in line with society’s leniencies toward the favoring sex and free love.  “The Vampire Lovers” opened up to not only a new line of exploitation and violence at the turn of the decade but also introduced the longtime fans to new faces, especially actresses, who would accumulate labels and prominence inside the genre that last until this day.  Based from the story of “Carmilla” from Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, relatively new at the time Hammer director Roy Ward Baker (“Scars of Dracula,” “Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde”) took the Harry fine and Michael Style adapted original story and ran the distance with the screenplay from Tudor Gates whose writing forte was not specifically well-known within horror genre nor was horror Gates’ personal interest, yet Gates tweaked the Le Fanu female vampire tale to accentuate more of lesbian themes in a very turmoiled time when lesbianism, or just being gay, was seen as a disease or an unstoppable influencing evil force amongst the young people.  Fine and Style serve as producers in this co-production between Hammer Films and American International Pictures.

“The Vampire Lovers” comes under an atypical rule of the protagonist role or roles.  Previous Hammer films oriented themselves with a male lead from Christopher Lee’s domineering monster Dracula to the fearlessly courageous vampire hunter played by Peter Cushing, but “The Vampire Lovers” has Hammer trade in the masculinity presence for femme fatale with the introduction of Ingrid Pitt (“Wicker Man”) in the role of the hungry Karnstein vampire, Carmilla as well as Marcilla and Mircalla as the sneaky creature of the night infiltrates estates. Pitt’s exotic look and uninhibited attitude discerns obvious sex appeal for the Polish actress who can also act with gripping emotion that develops compassion for her malevolent facade. Add another pretty face and innocently sensuous woman arm-to-arm to Pitt with then 20-year-old Madeline Smith (“Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell”) and you have a two-front protagonist made up of women. Tack on the dark features and piercing blue eyes of Kate O’Mara (“The Horror of Frankenstein”) and “The Vampire Lovers” evolves into the something unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Hammer horror trifecta as once the scene settles into the narrative’s girth, the dynamic turns into a love triangle of unspoken women intimacies and jealousy, under the guise of supernatural persuasion, rears its ugly head. The menfolk really do feel absent from the excitement despite being pivotal pieces to the story and despite being the iconic representation in face and name of Hammer films. Peter Cushing’s longstanding work with the company has branded him forever legendary in the eyes of horror fans young and new. As the benevolent General von Spielsdorf, “The Horror of Dracula” Cushing looks wonderfully regal, gentlemanly dashing, and epitomizes the very essence of a strong male figure who also takes a very noticeable backseat for much of the second and into the third act. Same can be said for that other vampire portrayer who’s not Christopher Lee, Ferdy Mayne (“The Fearless Vampire Killers”) as the village doctor with a scene plopped here and there to inch the story along as a motivational vessel and another player caught in the Karnstein fang-game. “The Vampire Lovers” sees through to move plot significant characters, played by notable actors, to and from the storyline with performances from George Cole (“Fright”), Jon Finch (“Frenzy”), Dawn Addams (“The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll”), Pippa Steel (“Lust for a Vampire”), Harvey Hall (“Twins of Evil”), and Douglas Wilmer as the Baron Joachim von Hartog who give a great opening expositional prologue that sets the background and tone of the film.

Laced in the traditional gothic style we all know and love from Hammer Films, “The Vampire Lovers” has grandiose late 19th century interiors and costumes with the latter gracing the starlets with strikingly bright tropical colored dresses that are elegant beyond the more stiff, and sometimes more imperialistic, outfits representing the period.  In a way, the outfits contrast against the brooding gothic prominence that speak of subversive liberation much paralleling the very thematic elements of lesbianism, sexual motifs, and a nearly an all-encompassing female lead.  If sex was ever a subtle insinuation in previous Hammer film it was not so subtle in “The Vampire Lovers” that consistently and constantly thickened the sexual tension and produced blunt scenes of eroticism between two or more women.  Even with the powerful commingle of womanhood desires, as much as it was depicted to be devasting to their lifeblood, Tudor Gates’ narrative still pit them up against nearly impossible odds when the male characters, no longer duped by the formalities of chivalrous intentions, figure out what’s really happening under their noses, in their households none the less, and band together to put a to a heart-staking stop to the macabre madness aka metaphorical lesbian evil.  The story has the women’s lusts and desires, whether their choosing or not, be an outlier from normalcy, yet on the other hand, nudity flourishes within the new laxed certification guidelines that see in some way, shape, and form four actresses baring skin in what what would have been considered risqué X-certificated scenes prior to 1970.  “The Vampire Lovers” is by far a perfect film with a lack of character context, such as with the male vampire on horseback indulging his penchant for observing Camilla’s attacks from afar and doesn’t proceed to explain further or with more insight to who he is and what his position may be within the Karnstein family ranks, as well as the narrative format with early on into the story being bit choppy and disorienting when Carmilla assaults nightly the General’s fair niece as a furry beast in the confines of a lurid nightmare.

Deserving of a collector’s edition, Shout Factory subsidiary horror label, Scream Factory, presents a new Blu-ray release of “The Vampire Lovers” scanned in 4K of the original camera negative.  Scream Factory should be extolled for their color grading toward Hammer transfers as the release looks stunning with quality stability and richness that brings the era alive.  Transfer also appears free from any kind of major blemishes and barely of any smaller ones. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono has resolute fidelity in the best possible audio offering “The Vampire Lovers” will likely see now and in future releases with a clear dialogue track and a Harry Robertson score that relives the classic studio orchestra in compelling fashion. The release comes with a slew of special features including an exclusive new interview with film historian Kim Newman, who also shows up again in archived interviews in the “Feminine Fantastique: Resurrecting ‘The Vampire Lovers'” (Scream Factory lists it as Femme Fantastique on the back cover) featurette commentary snippets from John-Paul Checkett and David Skal and other historians and collectors of Hammer Films. Audio commentaries with director Roy Ward Baker, star Ingrid Pitt, and Screenwriter Tudor Gates, audio commentary with film historians Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, two interviews, one of them new, with co-star Madeline Smith that span about 10-15 years apart, Trailers from Hell: Mick Garris on “The Vampire Lovers,” a reading of Carmilla by Ingrid Pitt, a single deleted scene of Baron von Hartog radio spot, still gallery, and the theatrical trailer round out the bonus material. The 89-minute, Region A encoded, R-rated version runs solo as the only main feature and the transfer Scream Factory uses, or licenses, is the edited version of Ingrid Pitt’s bath scene that cuts away to a medium closeup of Madeline Smith holding a towel for Pitt who’s standing up in the tub and then cuts back to Pitt’s bare backside. However, in the “Feminine Fantastique” featurette, you can experience the unedited brief full-frontal of Ingrid Pitt standing up in the tub if that tickles your fancy. The collector’s edition sports reversible cover art with original poster art on the inside and a newly illustrated, and superbly beautiful in its simplicity, front art by Mart Maddox sheathed inside a cardboard slipcover of the same Maddox art. Turning a corner into vast opportunities for more violence, explicit nudity, and unrestrained vampire gore became a new dawn for Hammer Films without entirely prostituting themselves with wayward tactics to the point of unrecognition as “The Vampire Lovers” still emitted gothic characteristics and a partial token cast and now made even more alluring with a feature packed collector’s edition from Scream Factory!

“The Vampire Lovers” Now Available at Amazon.com!

Gather Around. We Must Call Forth EVIL For the Sake of Our Lives! “Seance” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

A practical joke in summoning a spirit sends one girl to die of mysterious circumstances at the isolated and elite all-girls boarding school of Edelvine Academy. At the top of the wait list is Camille Meadows who finds herself in mid-semester adversity with not only her studies but also the deceased girl’s group of browbeating friends as Camille replaces their friend’s now vacant opening. When another friend disappears and another dies in a freak accident, differences and quarrels are put aside before one of them becomes the next victim. The group conducts a seance to call their friend from beyond to discern whose taking them out one-by-one and the spirit’s cryptic response determined one thing evident, a killer, whether supernatural or real, will stop at nothing until every last one of them is dead.

In what feels like an extremely unquantifiable amount of time that has passed since the last high school teen slasher has graced our once beholding subgenre, “You’re Next” and “The Guest” screenwriter Simon Barrett ends up sneaking one into the fold before the grand fourth sequel release in the “Scream” series come mid-January 2022. “Seance” is the first feature length film directed by Barret who pens the supernatural slasher encrusted with snarky teenage melodrama agitated by a mysterious, unknown killer wreaking havoc upon the catfighting girls of Edelvine Academy. The adolescent cutthroat temperaments give way to actual throat cutting macabre in this whodunit thriller lessoned with a mix of the power of friendships and an attenuated lesbian aura presence throughout up until the very affirming finale in an allegorical show representing hiding in plain sight. The snowy and serene Manitoba-shot Canadian film is a production of HanWay Films (“The Guest”), Ingenious Media (“Unhinged”), and the Gothically-inclined Dark Castle Films (“Thirteen Ghosts”) with select producers Adam Wingard, who has a long his filmic history collaborating with Barret, Tomas Deckaj (“The Green Knight”), and Devan Towers (“Day of the Dead” television series).

For High School girls, all the actresses with the exception for Ella-Rae Smith are mid-to-late 20’s with lead actress Suki Waterhouse (“The Bad Batch,” “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies”) tipping the pendulum nipping at her 30s. However, Waterhouse and the others defy their actual corporal ages portraying teenagers in the throes of adolescent social clique.  Waterhouse plays the cool as a cucumber newcomer Camille to Edelvine Academy, befriending right off the bat with her personal Academy introductory host, a solitary Xanax-popper Helena (Smith).   Immediately, new girl Camille becomes public enemy number one with Edelvine’s most smug impractical prankers led by Alice played by Inanna Sarkis. On paper, Alice might have been the group’s ringleader, but the character doesn’t throw around a lot of power or is admired by followers, albeit Sarkis role permanency as the uptight and sarcastic bully or rad bad gal. Following Alice are ancillary player pieces to the group’s effort as a whole to be a thorn in Camille’ side just for being the unfortunate replacement of their dear dead friend. Between the brainy Bethany (Madison Beaty, “The Clovehitch Killer”) and the more elegant Yvonne (Stephanie Sy, “Tales from the Hood 3”) vie the potential right hands of Alice deduced from the dialogue and screen time hierarchy of their roles but they are definitely more interesting than Alice with a punch of flavor in the personalities, especially in Bethany who is built to be a master-whiz in conjuring up devilish pranks to play on her friends and enemies. Furthermore, there’s also the hint of pizzaz that is shamefully cut short and slidden under the radar with the last two in the coterie with the playgirl subtilties of Lenora (Jade Michael, “Fatal Friend Request”) and the unexplored suggestions of Roselind’s (Djouliet Amara, “Tales from the Hood 3”) sexuality, leaving their arcs unfulfilled. “Seance” cast fills out with “Books of Blood’s” Seamus Patterson in the single speaking male role in the entire film, “Cult of Chucky’s” Marina Stephenson Kerr as Edelvine’s firm-handed headmaster, and Megan Best playing the narrative’s lamented backbone of mysterious tragic circumstances.

Portions of where “Seance” flourishes are within the parameters of the teen slasher, a subgenre that lingers on into severe tedium much like the zombie films of the early 2010 decade. The late 90’s and well into the 2000s saw a slew (pun intended) of killer adolescent atrocities in film. Moviegoers were intrigued by the allusive masked killer that, for most of the time, had a palpable-to-satisfying twist ending after roughly 90 minutes of frantic chases, dooming nudity clauses, merciless kills, and one stupid decision to go back into that ominous house after another. Then, when 2010 came along – poof – teen slashers were now a thing of the past, literally. Attempts were poor renditions of previous successes, rehashes of the once was, and didn’t quite tickle the right places. Slowly and surely, the wheels are turning on a rejuvenation of a new generation and Simon Barrett’s “Seance” serves a prime candidate for admittance. Isolated in the stillness of a snow-covered all girl school sets the intended mood for a campus killer, the girls have a warring dynamic mended by a need to survival commonality, and the what or the who that is slaying them is well kept out of sight with misdirection cues to make audiences think they have it all figured out. Plus, the climatic finale has not one twist, but two in its full of blood and surprise double twist spectacular. “Seance’s” character development is one annoyingly flawed aspect that bends the elbow at the wrong angle at times is how characters wonder off alone having just filled their youthful, spongy minds with knowledge that something or someone malevolent is after them. “One friend is missing. My other friend has mysteriously died in an accident. The Ouija board spells out certain doom and gloom. Yet, I’m going to practice my recital routine alone on a dimlit stage with my noise cancelling headphones on,” says nobody ever. “Seance:” “hold my beer!

“Seance” is more than a teen slasher, it’s Simon Barrett’s genre-bending good time and this Shudder-streaming 93-minute horror from Edelvine Academy is coming to Blu-ray home video courtesy of Acorn Media International come January 17th. The Region B UK release, PAL encoded, BD25 is certified 18 for strong bloody violence and presents “Seance” in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Many of the scenes circulate through repeatedly – the snow-covered school, the drab hallways, the quaint rooms, and the bleak storage room – that don’t offer a ton of vivid aesthetics within a limited range, but quality-wise, there’s a dour, shadowy coating accompanying the coarsely, unpretentious realism. However, the fishbowl lens on certain scenes poorly captured smaller spaces, leaving already thin actresses looking anorexic, and for some reason, the decision to position the actresses shoulder-to-shoulder does antagonize that realism as those, who were mischievous back in the day and sent to the principal’s office, never sat right up against a fellow classmate. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has favorable qualities with a well diverse mix of ambience, a strong dialogue track, and a Sicker Man aka Tobias Vethake laying down a spectrum from brooding synth string pops, piano, and cello bass that stands out with profound poignancy to a lo-fi hip-hop beat and EDM noise of embroiled sounds. Special features include a commentary with Simon Barrett, a behind-the-scenes with select cast, minor outtakes, deleted scenes, a crude pre-production setup for the VFX decapitation scene, and a behind-the-scenes still gallery. “Seance” isn’t all Ouija boards and flickering candles as there’s more obscurity to the slasher than what meets the eye with its mania-driven motives and orientational undertones making this little-known film worth a look.

Let EVIL Free You! “Jakob’s Wife” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)



Anne is a minister’s wife living in a dying small town where the only thing left for the residents is their faith.  Once inspired to travel and do something meaningful with her life, Anne has found that the last 30 years of marriage to Jakob has robbed her of her self-empowerment, diminishing her as nothing more as than just Jakob’s wife.  When the opportunity to impress an old fling during a business trip turns into a nightmare with an attack by a shrouded figure in a rundown, vacant mill, the disorienting days after having provided Anne with a sense of expressive freedom, a chance to be bold, and to feel more alive than she has felt in years.  Her new lease on life comes with a ghastly cost, a severe hunger for blood.  With the help of Jakob, they realize the dark forces of a vampire has infected Anne and their road back to normal life, a life where Anne is dull and drab, will the paved in blood. 

Horror is such a versatile and malleable medium to convey allegorical messages, drawing audiences into the writer’s or director’s world of the fantastic and the horrific while laying down a subfloor of real world truth most passionate to them in a social, religious, or political context.  To point out a few examples (most of us already know), George Romero was renowned for his multiple social commentaries throughout his “Living Dead” series and a slew of vampire films construct the bloodsuckers as metaphors for an addict going through the ugly turmoil of addiction.  “Jakob’s Wife” is a different kind of vampiric allegory film that bites into feminism values.  The “Girl on the Third Floor” writer and director Travis Stevens follows up his introductory haunted house film with an inverted Nosferatu-esque dark comedy co-written alongside “The Special” screenwriter, Mark Steensland, and the “Castle Freak” remake’s Kathy Charles.  The Canton, Mississippi location evokes the dried up, small Southern town aimed to build a depression enclosure around the titular character.  Barbara Crampton’s Alliance Media Partners, whose spearheaded creative and imaginative films such as Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Sci-Fi cult looper, “The Endless,” and the Romola Garai demonizing guilt film, “Amulet,” presents “Jakob’s Wife” in association with executive producer Rick Moore’s Eyevox Entertainment (“Purgatory Road”) at one of the banner’s production studio locations in Canton, Mississippi.

In concurrence as a producer of “Jakob’s Wife,” scream queen of horror legend, Barbara Crampton (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” and most recently, “Sacrifice”), steps into the torn role of the titular character.  In Stevens’ direction, as well as Crampton’s portrayal, Anne is so diminutively overlooked in the first act, you’ll hardly notice her even though Anne is practically in every scene.  Between Jakob’s interruptions, meek output, and overall quiet behavior, Crampton’s able to exact the very essence of the idiomatic phrase the calm before the storm.  Also, I must mention, just like I’m sure others have already pointed out, the early 60s Barbara Crampton looks smokin’.  She must have been bitten by an actual vampire in order to seemingly de-age right before our eyes.   Larry Fessenden, who does age accordingly but also very handsomely in his genre characters, is the God-fearing minister playing opposite Crampton.  The “Habit” and “Jug Face” actor has always been quite the character actor and as husband Jakob, that beneficial streak continues as an old ways man of God with an innately built-in chauvinistic ritual of keeping everything the same day in and day out.  Jakob’s absentminded blinders suppresses Anne into a depressive submissive state until she comes across The Master, the sorely underutilized and shamefully absent from more screen time chieftain vampire played superbly by Bonnie Aarons in an unexpected female version of Nosferatu.  Aarons gives her best Max Schreck performance while commanding a distinctive mentorship that’s unusual for the vampire race; The Master is greatly highlighted in the most subtle of ways as being a repressed liberator and Aarons understood that compulsion to educate, revitalize, and blossom others by offering a new kind of death, the burgeoning power and desires of a vampire, from their previous one, a rather dull life stuck in a no-win circumstance.  “Jakob’s Wife” rounds out the cast with Jay DeVon Johnson, Phillip “CM Punk” Brooks (“Girl on the Third Floor”), Robert Rusler (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2:  Freddy’s Revenge”), Angelie Simone, Mark Kelly (“Dead & Breakfast”), Sarah Lind (“The Exorcism of Molly Hartley”), Omar Salazar, and Nyisha Bell.

“Jakob’s Wife” is a treasure trove of feminism and lesbianism undertones that stands on higher ground without pulverizing masculism to a pulp.  There’s seemingly little-to-no ill will against the minister Jakob Fredder previous inattentive and subservient expectations of his wife Anne.  Anne even becomes conflicted by her newfound self, a rebirth of life that sheds the shackles of monotony and, as it were, it’s overstepping masculinity, and she questions the power, she questions her choices, and she maintains the unity of marriage despite a little taste of tantalizing freedom from it all.  The Master becomes the allegorical test of faithfulness to another in a bored housewife scenario and I’m not talking about Anne’s old high school fling Tow Low, played by Robert Rusler.  I’m speaking of the lesbian undertones involving The Master, a female vampire who stood in Anne’s shoes and was turned, in more ways than one, toward a new path.   The Master sparks a long-lost fire in what is now only a shell of an unhappy woman and Travis’ scenes of Anne touching herself, mimicking The Master’s moves, plays into theme of fantasizing about that other woman and what secret they share, being perhaps symbolically the intimate nature of the attack that puts Anne into The Master’s craving sites.  The innuendo is rich and robust and coupled with fire hose sprays and gallons upon gallons of an unquantifiable amount of blood and gratuitous violence, “Jakob’s Wife” is the vital vampire film of 2021. 

Darker powers answered the call of Anne’s internalized prayers. I don’t even think Jakob’s God even picked up the receiver. In any case, pick up your copy of the RLJE Films and Shudder exclusive, “Jakob’s Wife,” on a full high-definition Blu-ray releasing next year, January 17th, 2022, courtesy of Acorn Media International. The PAL encoded, region 2 BD25 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Compression issues have never really been a problem for the Acorn Media releases that detail and texture greatly under “Jakob’s Wife’s” austere color palette that favors more of a nature fixture than a stylish one. Darker color tones, such as the blood, are viscosity rich looking and, perhaps, the most color the film plays to its strength. The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track bares no complaints either in the distinctive and effective channels that isolate each output neatly, cleanly, and blemish free. Prominent is the discernible dialogue, that in due course becomes more pivotal to the story, while giving way to an original score from Tara Bush. Special features include the making of the film with clip interviews with the film’s stars – Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, and Bonnie Aarons – and deleted scenes that provide more insight and background on the finished cut’s bit characters. The Blu-ray is rated UK 15 for strong bloody violence, sex, and language (there’s also brief nudity for all you puritans in the U.S.). With the duo of Crampton and Fessenden in the middle of matrimony-macabre, “Jakob’s Wife” is a no-brainer success.

When Greed Induces EVIL at “The Estate” reviewed! (Vertical Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Spoiled rich gay son George despises his cheapskate father.  George’s equal in age, and similarly spoiled, horny step mother Lux also equally despises the loaded philanderer who rarely stays in town, leaving them with little to do and with little money to do it with.  When they meet tall, dark, and handsome Joe at a bar and invite him back to their estate house, a psychosexual love triangle leads to a murder-for-hire plot against the patriarch billionaire to collection the opulent inheritance.   Complications arise when unbeknownst bastard children cause a legal clog in their pipedreams of being insanely well-off.  One murder after another begins to unravel not only their lust for wealth and each other, but also a deeper, darker secret to rue for the wealth they wished (and killed) for.

An over-the-top, narcissistic machination-built dark comedy of greed, self-importance, and lust is how I would personally define the first feature length film, “The Estate,” from director James Kapner.  Diverging from his own comedy web series, “Baker Daily,” to work again with Kapner, from their previous collaboration on the political lampooning “Baker Daily:  Trump Takedown,” is Chris Baker, screenwriter of “The Estate,” who not only pen strokes the worst-of-the-worst of diabolical super-egos but also plays one of the downright flamboyant scoundrels as the lead role.  Majority of “The Estate” takes place inside the grand titular location, compartmentalizing the indie film’s budget solely on the sordid activity of three main characters without much of else as a distraction.  The Los Angeles shot film is independently produced by comedy producer Rod Hamilton, Kapner’s business partner Adam Makowka, and the second producing credit for Alixandra von Renner (“Boogeyman Pop”), with Mark Boujikian, William Bruey, Nicholas Lyons, and Scott R. Long as executive producers and is made under the Stone Lake Production and Runners Films production companies. 

“The Estate” is a haute and brutish trio’s tale of sex, lies, and murder.   At the head of the snake is George, an entitled son seeking elegance and power as he longs in the background to attend the prestigious Black and White Gala, and is played bitingly by the film’s genesis writer, Chris Baker.  Baker, a Harvard graduate and a gay man, certainly utilizes both personal traits for George he’s clearly written for himself.  George is smart under that superficial Versace façade and, also, is a gay man looking for a romantic connection, but like any relationship single person, told by one’s own vantage point such as George’s, a wash of doughy-eyed thick-headedness just completely engulfs his rational senses when a pretty face suddenly shows up.  That rugged handsome face just happens to be of “iZombie’s” Greg Finley as hunky hitman Joe who George unexpectedly bumps into due in part of his oversexualized and, too, vain Stepmother Lux donned wonderfully with a wickedly crass tongue of comedienne, Eliza Coupe.  Together, a charcuterie board of carnality ceases to no end between the three in a back-and-forth, pass-the-man around pansexual affair with plotting and murder speckled in the middle.  Performances are concentrated with tongue and cheek, black matter comedy with ultra-ostentatious gab and garb to deliberately set the satirical tone metaphorically for the super-rich attitude of white, wealthy America.  With all that jazzy, pent-up, entitlement, add Eric Roberts into the mix, then you really get the worst-of-the-worst from the “Best of the Best” actor as the filthy rich patriarch.  Roberts can exude sleazy well with his own mannerisms and deliveries, solidifying his own Eric Robert’s laidback version of a despised billionaire debauchee.  “The Estate” rounds out with Rif Hutton (“The Thirteenth Floor”), Ezra Buzzington (“The Hills Have Eyes” remake), Lala Kent (“The Row”), Kyle Rezzarday, and “Hostel:  Part II’s” Heather Matarazzo as the tech-savvy lawyer office secretary who shamefully peters out after an interesting turn of events with the character’s involvement.

“The Estate” is one of those dark comedy thrillers where one wrongdoing subsequently creates a domino effect for more wrongdoings.  How’s that saying go?  Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.  Indeed, the characters do get what’s coming to them as one killing turns into two killings and two killings turns into three etc.  As the bodies pile up in between the bedroom sheets sex and the coy flirting during initial stages of affections, the kind where butterflies flutter inside the stomach, what turns from an aloof pair of spoiled rotten solitaries is a false confidence in blindly following boredom’s famished way of saying death and sex is all-around exciting.  There’s also this vying of the sexes to see who can sweep Joe off his feet and while there’s obviously no issue with the polyamorous pansexuality, the story’s a bit lopsided with Baker’s intimate scenes with Finley being more expositional compared to Joe and Lux’s more implied romps and that inherently leads viewers onto one obvious path without the spice of unexpected chance.  Though George is written to be an alter egocentric doppelganger of his creator, Chris Baker, the Frankenstein theory only works well to extent before seeping into obnoxious conceited territory.  This is where “The Estate” begins to show signs of wearing out it’s welcome with living in George’s weighted down perspective of the high life.  Purpose seems vague mostly yet “The Estate” is also one of those nonchalant, throwing caution to the wind dark comedy narratives, sinfully funny, for the sake of touting an exaggerated resemblance of a detached privileged mindset. 

Things are not so nice and cozy at “The Estate” that has arrived this October on VOD and in theaters from Vertical Entertainment. Clocking in a 85 minutes, “The Estate” is paced to fit the conspicuous cinematography from the Texas born Mike Simpson with mood lighting mixed with tinting and as well as using a spherical lens to set the current tone. Simpson keeps shots tights between medium and closeups for more intimacy between the trio as well as to keep within the confines of a smaller production and set location. Since a digital screener was provided, I can’t comment on the quality of the audio and video aspects, but “The Estate” comes with an eclectic soundtrack that includes tracks from Lucky Beaches, Viagra Boys, Ritchie Valens, Joy Downer, and Toots and the Maytals. There were no bonus material or after credit scenes. Witty, dark humor that teeters always on the cups of being too much for one sitting, “The Estate” deadeyes the caricatures of the 1% with fatal attractions and an inheritance stocked with greed culminating to an unbelievable finale