The Old EVIL Scorpion and the Frog Tale in “Drive” reviewed! (Second Sight / Screener)



“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

A solitary mechanic and movie stunt driver offers his services as a getaway driver for illicit odd jobs.  He falls for his single parenting neighbor and as the two begin their romantic affair, her ex-con lover returns from prison to reintegrate back into her and their son’s life.   When ex-con trouble brews an inescapable situation involving ruthless gangsters calling in their favor for prison protection, the stunt driver involves himself with his moonlighting work but when things go terribly wrong and he becomes a target, everyone he knows and cares for are threatened by the mobsters.  War is waged in the fast lane between the mysterious stunt driver and Los Angeles most feared gangsters for the sake of an innocent mother and her child caught in the middle.

Around 2010-2011, when I first heard of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” starring “The Notebook” and “Lars and the Real Girl’s” Ryan Gosling, I thought to myself, why would I watch this quirky comedy-romance actor drive around in a run-of-the-mill stunt car action film?  Immediately, I wrote off the film penned by “The Four Feathers’” screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose now penning the stories and teleplays of a little Disney+ streaming series you may have heard of called “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”  I now admit it, as painful to my pride as it is, that I was so ignorantly wrong about Refn’s “Drive” that has turned out to be a cult hit present day and a really good and exceptional crime-drama that’s subtle on the dialogue, high on the graphic violence, and all-around superb performances.  The script is the filmic adaptation based off American author James Sallis’s novel of the same title, keeping the neo-noir intact under of guise of muscle car predilection, and is a produced by Gigi Pritzker and Chris Ranta of Oddlot Entertainment (“Buried Alive”), Jonathan Oakes and Gary Michael Walters of Bold Films (“The Neon Demon”), Marc Platt of Marc Platt Productions (“Wanted”), and Motel Movies (“Blue Valentine”). 

To be upfront, Ryan Gosling has never been a go-to movie star for me, personally, so there might have been some psychogenic bias blocker keeping me away from the film over the last decade.  However, over the years, my pallet has grown in diversity and in tastes, chiefly because of influences in my life, and so curiosity got the better of me in wanting to explore the story of and the craft of Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive.”  The way Gosling portrays the lead, known only as either the Driver or Kid, heavily relies on expression with minimal dialogue and lets all his emotions be poured through his eyes and body language as well as his actions in an anti-charismatic sense that, in a good way, leaves the character unassuming but still confident.  Watching Gosling’s methodical flow through the role and while having a little knowledge of the neurodivergence, it’s not difficult to see that the principal character comes off as a person somewhere on the autism spectrum and doing some post-credits research, I’m not the only one who had the same thought.  Unsociable, quiet, lack of facial expression, and obsessed with routine, especially when moonlighting as a criminal getaway driver with a set of very specific conditions, are just some examples of his behavior that point in the autism direction.  When the driver meets beautiful single parent neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, “Shame”), that is when we start seeing him deviate from his isolation, from his routine, and become more complex with what was previously a non-existent life, but of course as life blossoms into something new and safe, gangster obstacles rear their ugly head and the criminal in him is forced out for a head on collision.  “Ex Machina’s” Oscar Issacs is the first hurdle as the recently release ex-con dragged back into unscrupulous dealings with unsavory organized crime that climb the latter to “Hellboy’s” Ron Perlman and “Taxi Driver’s” Albert Brooks, business partners who oversee the West Coast turf. Perlman is a natural tough guy, as we’ve seen in countless works stretching over numerous decades and I would have never pictured “The In-Laws” and “Finding Nemo” Albert Brooks to be the minatory type but he does in fact have a dark-twinkle in his eye and can extract the false sense of security out of people before he jabs a fork in their eye and slits their throat…wrist….guts….yeah, his character loves to knife others. The all-star cast rounds out with Bryan Cranston (“Godzilla”) as the Driver’s mob-connected boss-friend-agent and Christina Hendricks (“The Neon Demon”) in a lowkey accomplice role that makes a gruesome, unforgettable impact.

Speaking of “The Neon Demon,” a more recent Nicholas Winding Refn film, you’ll begin to absorb the Denmark-born filmmaker’s stylistic motifs between the two films involving lingering shots, graphic violence, and the integration of electro-pop tracks into an eclectic soundtrack. Many of the scenes convey an emotion through dialogue-less scenes and the soundtrack to contrast actions speak louder than words. However, there is one radical theory of mine that I believe has a firm foundation is that everything from point A to point Z in the story is all in the Driver’s fantasy world. I know “Drive” is a movie and the need to suspend belief is important but only to an extent and depending on the quality derived from the filmmaker. Refn’s a good filmmaker, we know this, but everything the Driver experiences pitches upon pure imagination when the truth is stretched to be in his favor for the length of the feature. First example – the Driver slams into the side of another car head on, but the headlights, front bumper, and ventilation grille are all clearly intact. Second example – a tense-elevator scene involving the Driver, Irene, and a mobster assigned to take the Driver out takes an improbable turn when the Driver turns to Irene, both bathed in the sudden appearance of a spotlight, and they kiss passionately for quite a while. The moment become the perfect opportunity for the goon to blow away his target. Instead, he lets them kiss and then a close-quarter fight ensues shortly after. Third example but not last – the Driver is nearly an unstoppable force with no background to who he really is or why he is in Los Angeles, but he fights like a hardened criminal and knows how to play the organized crime game, never really have bad hand in his deck of cards, and even is given an ambiguous “Shane” ending. So, I ask again, is the beautiful girl, the ripe for the picking off gangsters, and the prodigious skillset all in his head?

I’ve clearly misjudged Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to be pretty-boy, stock-story, waste of time. Though I’m still not convinced about Ryan Gosling’s acting, like a Supreme Court Judge nowadays, I’m overturning my naive judgement and calling “Drive” a true modern day cult film hiding in plain sight, receiving new life from Second Sight films with an UK limited edition 4K UHF/Blu-ray release as well as a standard 4K and Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, this review covers only a BD-R screener so commenting on the true quality of the image and audio will not be recorded, but release specs include a new 4K master produced by the original post-production company with Refn’s approval, the UHD is presented in Dolby Vision HDR graded by the film’s original colorist, audio options include a Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles, and the 4K UHD are region free while the Blu-rays are region locked encoded on region B. Standard bonus features include a new exclusive commentary by director Nicolas Winding Ren and The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, a feature length conversation with Refn, editor Mat Newman, and composer Cliff Martinez reminiscing about their sudden post-theatrical career success with “Drive” when the film saw more success on video, Gutting a Getaway – a new interview with Mat Newman, and 3 Point Turns – a new video essay by Leigh Singer. The limited-edition contents include a premium box set with new Driver Scorpion artwork by AllCity, a 240-page hardback book with new essays by various authors, an exclusive interview with “Drive” author James Sallis hosted by Matthew Thrift, original storyboards, stills, behind-the-scenes photos, the original Sallis novel with new AllCity artwork as well, and 7 collectible art cards. What a massive, massive haul for the film that didn’t do great in theaters due to poor financial support by investors who saw the film as a failure. The film has a runtime of 100 minutes and is UK certified 18. Don’t be like me and neglect a chance to see “Drive,” a great piston-pumping and violently beautiful crime-drama paralleled love story that deserves our time, our attention, and everything including the kitchen sink Second Sight Films pumped into the tremendous limited-edition boxset that dropped this week for release!

“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

EVIL Comes Not on the 1st Day, or the 2nd Day, but “On the 3rd Day!” reviewed! (Scream Factory! / Blu-ray)

“On the 3rd Day” arrives onto Blu-ray on March 29th!

A car accident leaves Cecilia dazed and confused as she wakes up in an abandoned warehouse unsure of what crashed into her and how she arrived inside the vacant area.  Her son, Martin, who was also in the car with her, is missing.  Plagued by disturbing visions being reflected through mirrors, an agitated and frightened Cecilia escapes the hospital and with the help of an empathetic, young doctor, they employ a hypnotist to extract her post-accident whereabouts and possibly locate her missing son, but what is unleashed through hypnosis is more terrifying than imagined.  Meanwhile, the other crash victim, a hermit priest, sets forth to reclaim an ancient and deadly Catholic secret lost in the wreckage and will stop at nothing and do anything to get it.  When Cecilia and the priest converge, the truth of what really happened will be profanely revealed with spilled blood.

“On the 3rd Day” is one of those movies that needs tiptoeing around when reviewing it to not divulge spoilers.  The Daniel de la Vega mystifying horror hails from Argentina and is penned by the screenwriting duo of Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura, the latter of whom authored the 2017 novel “3 Days” (3 días) in which the film is adapted from.  What can be divulged about Vega’s film is that context revolves around a classical monster fans know and revere to be a staple of horror iconography but “The Chronicle of the Raven” director ventures deep into a disoriented mother’s puzzling gap in time, working backwards through her mind’s murky-dirty window to then make the picture wretchedly clear.  “On the 3rd Day” blends abusive relationships and ugly divorce with traditional and appreciable genre tropes to fully convey that those who are to be loved and protected the most out of dissolving unions are those who are ultimately the ones hurt most of all.  Del Toro Films’ Néstor Sánchez Sotelo, who produced Vega’s 2016 supernatural thriller, “White Coffin,” produces alongside the filmmaker in a coproduction with Furia Films.

“On the 3rd Day” pursues the storyline of two principal characters: Cecilia, a mother recouping her memories after a shocking car accident, and Padre Enrique, an off-the-grid priest guarding the Catholic Church’s dark secret. The Buenos Airos-native actress Mariana Anghileri becomes lost in Cecilia’s constant struggle against the forces guiding her down a subconscious alter ego path that’s unveiled at the tale-telling end while at the opposite end of the spectrum, Padre Enrique, played with a feverously somber faith from Gerardo Romano, who also had a role in Daniel de la Vega’s “Necrophobia 3D,” knows exactly what’s at stake after accidently crashing his truck into Cecilia’s car and the displaced crate he was hauling to Santa Cruz at the behest of the church opens and sets loose an unspeakable evil to lurk. Romano is purposeful in Padre Enrique’s mission with a scrap of uncertainty splayed on his face, but never discloses a sense of true concern or panic-stricken hopelessness which makes the character refreshing in his confidence rather than tense in his unwavering assurance. The same can’t be said about Cecilia who suffers a continuous reeling over the missing gap of time. However, locating the sincerity in Anghileri is difficult as the actress doesn’t convey that primo motherly instinct of a sudden and violent detachment from her child properly. Anghileri wonderfully denotes an obfuscate posture but condoning her as a loving parent just doesn’t seem justifiable, even in the finale that is while still impactfully poignant, misses utterly gutting audiences with Anghileri’s lukewarm care. “On the 3rd Day” rounds out the cast with Osvaldo Santoro, Mathias Domizi, Lautaro Delgado, Susana Beltrán, Octavio Belmonte, Sergio Boris, Rodolfo Ranni and Verónica Intile.

“On the 3rd Day’s” first act didn’t fill me with confidence. I was about as lost as Cecilia waking up disoriented in a vacant warehouse. Vega jumbles sequential order and interjects flashbacks into an already copiously edited narrative with a slither of surrealism to the style of early David Lynch or Terry Gilliam. We’re thrust into Cecilia’s post-crash nightmare, witnessing irrational visions through standing oval mirrors and departing characters who don’t come out alive on the other end of meeting her. Vega seldomly gives into definitive trope context as he reshapes with miniscule precision what we already know traditionally about this particular monster into seemingly something new. By the second and third act, Vega begins whittling down obscuring barriers, leaving more dead bodies in Cecilia’s wake although we definitely don’t ever see death by her hand as it’s always just implied between before and after cuts. The script also pieces in more clues with Padre Enrique’s razing of collateral damage stained with the blood that is not their own. I’m enamored by this phrase that embodies a mystery on the tip of the tongue hungry to be solved and as the padre proceeds to liquate an innocent bystander because of clues he only recognizes, his character, however vilified Vega makes him out to be, becomes far more interesting in a role as a priest with a less than a pastoral posture and as a persistent caretaker of an ominous being, cleaning up after whoopsie daisy incident in losing his oversight. What “On the 3rd Day” boils down to, thematically, is when the sight is lost on what is most important, there becomes an indefinite loss that can’t be put back safely into the box. Between Cecilia’s radical escape from an ex-husband and Padre Enrique’s hastiness, they both take their eye of the prize and ultimately suffer loss in the worst possible way, turning “On the 3rd Day” into a distilled gaslight of unquestionable terror.

Hopefully, to this point, I have not spoiled Daniel del la Vega’s “On the 3rd Day’s” elusive revelation. One of the only ways to see what happens, to see the shocking ending, check out “On the 3rd Day’s” on Blu-ray from Scream Factory arriving Tuesday, March 29th! The AVC encoded, region A Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition and in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Mariano Suárez carries over the tenebrous “Terrified” low lighting to provide a tonal dreary environment akin to noir, which “On the 3rd Day” fashions itself. Skin tones, practical effect textures, and even the retro-esque compositional special effect flush out nicely. What’s a little disappointing is the forced English dub track on both the audio options: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. With no alternative languages to opt into, even a native Spanish track, the English dub is obvious desynched between the speech and delivery. The ambient range and depth fairs better with adequate detail and an Italianomysterio soundtrack by Luciano Onetti, who worked on the modern giallo films “Francesca” and “Abrakadabra” with brother and co-founder of Black Mandala productions, Nicolás Onetti. English subtitles are available. The 85-minute film releases not rated and without extras other than the snapper case sheathed inside an image redundant cardboard slipcover and a wide still capture on the reverse Blu-ray cover. “On the 3rd Day” starts messy but ends in a gothic aghast that sets the seal on Daniel de la Vega’s slow burn evolution as a genre filmmaker.

“On the 3rd Day” arrives onto Blu-ray on March 29th!

Hear That? That’s EVIL Bamboolzing You! “Ultrasound” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



Driving home from a wedding reception, Glenn’s car suffers a flat tire in the pouring rain.  He finds refuge in the home of married couple, Art and Cyndi, with an extended offer to him to wait out the rain and spend the night, spending the night in bed with Cyndi at the pleading request of Art.    The next morning, Glenn wakes up and Art and Cyndi are gone.  Months later, Art shows up at Glenn’s apartment and shows him a videotape of a pregnant Cyndi.  Unable to make sense how of his role within Art and Cyndi’s lives, Glenn agrees to meet with Cyndi to discuss future plans and wind up a romantic relationship, but when they suddenly wake up in a hospital and kept separated, they believe they lost the baby as well as the use of Glenn’s legs due to an assumed accident.  What unfolds for the couple from then on is bizarre reality that doesn’t make much sense with only a few familiar chords being struck in their mind and every step of their life is being controlled by manipulators with various agendas. 

A gyrating wool over the eyes suspense thriller is set to release this Friday, March 11th. That film is “Ultrasound,” the first feature film helmed by Rob Schroeder, the producer of “Sun Choke” and “Beyond the Gates,” both films starring Barbara Crampton.  Unfortunately, “Ultrasound” doesn’t star the iconic scream queen but the Conor Stechschulte script, based off the Stechschute’s erotic psychological graphic novel series, “Generous Bosom,” produces the high intense frequencies from off the illustrated pages and into the subjected characters and audiences with disorienting loops of truths and falsities.  The U.S. production is a product of the Los Angeles based Lodger Films, cofounded by Schroeder and Georg Kallert, and with co-producers Brock Bodell and Spencer Jazewski.

“Ultrasound’s” narrative is a latticework of character arcs divided into two stories that only merge when Glenn and Cyndi are involved in an unusual (some could say almost magical) scheme connived by hypnotist The Amazing Art, played with sure hand nervousness by Bob Stephenson (“Lady Bird”) whose very good at the soft touch of persuasion with his innocent demeanor.  Stephenson works tirelessly his Jedi mind tricks on Glenn, “My Friend Dahmer’s” Vincent Kartheiser, and Cyndi, “Phoenix Forgotten’s” Chelsea Lopez. Kartheiser and Lopez relish in their own deceptions as two strangers being joined by unintended, radical means to fulfill not one but two devious plans. Between political scandal coverups and government sanctioned alternative military tactics, Chris Gartin (“Tremors II: Aftershocks”) and Tunde Adebimpe (“She Dies Tomorrow”) couldn’t be any more different in character engrained into their repelling tangential tales sourced from the same spoiled spring but both actors root deep into the same antithesis garden as a pair of well-informed and completely in control power hungry and idealistic men in idol roles, driving Schroeder’s message right into the heart of public figure facade versus public figure character and both Gartin and Adebimpe nurture that perspective all too well. Then, you throw in a monkey wrench named Breeda Wool (“Mr. Mercedes“) into the well-oiled machine of exploitation to be the controlled outlier only to have the veil lifted for truth. Wool, probably not intendedly punned toward “Ultrasound’s” theme of pulling the wool over one’s eyes or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, casts rightful doubt as Shannon, an innocent associate being kept in the dark, much like Cyndi and Glenn. While the cast is great in roles, none of them stand out in a singular performance and are all a cog in Schroeder’s contrivance. “Ultrasound’s” cast fills in with Megan Fox lookalike Rainey Qualley (“Shut In”), Porter Duong, and Mark Burnham who dons the fleshy mask of Leatherface in this year’s Netflix original and legacy sequel “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Tapping from the same virtual reality vein of Christopher Nolan and David Cronenberg, the idiosyncrasies of perception are no longer our own as audio, visual, and thoughts become the duped fool in “Ultrasound’s” underhanded exploitation.  The concept, high in twist and turns working backwards to unfold what befuddles the hapless into a life believed depressingly real, parallelly touches upon the real-life issue of sleight of hand corruption and scandal.  Because this person is an upstanding politician with a beautiful family or this other person has an advanced medical degree and is respected in the science community, we are supposed to take them at their word when in actuality, they’re pulling the metaphorical rug from under our sensorial feet to the extreme point where everything they have said and done that has crumbled down to a lie has a flummoxing and deafening aftershock effect that almost can’t be believed.  The two-tale narrative connects with Art and his mismanaging of one plan that tosses his subjects into the hands of another group for what’s to become of Glenn and Cyndi and that transfer, much like the disintegrating hypnosis effect at times, is not tight enough and becomes lost in translation inside Schroeder’s illusive imagery and harsh editing to keep in story in line until a point.  “Ultrasound” plagues with hot, intense colors under a low-key lighting, like a deep blue or an intense red, to often relay reality outside the confines of normality.  Even though the word “Ultrasound” revolves around the manipulative use of ultrasonic frequencies, I do find the irony in Stechschulte’s story that at the center of much of the tumultuous misperception, there’s a baby often represented as there or not there depending on how we should perceive the characters and it’s like the filmmakers wanted to plug in, perhaps, the nuisances with scanning technology or dip their toes into body horror with body image.

“Ultrasound” is a great low-level, high-tech Sci-fi brainteaser ready to mess with your mind being released this Friday, March 11th, in theaters and on demand from Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary label of Magnolia Pictures that offers innovative tales of horror and science fiction from new, creative filmmaking talent.  Since a digital screener was provided, we will not delve into any audio or video evaluations, but Mathew Rudenberg, whose worked in the past with Schroeder as DP on “Sun Choke,” has come a long way since his image work on the 2008 alien-driven-zombie film “Evilution” with keeping the frame tight during medium and closeup shots to never expose to much at one time, leaving a little to imagination when the time comes to open up the room, so to speak.  Zak Engel’s analogue and digital synth-score with tangible instrumental highlights from Piano and violin and Bob Borito’s dial and knob sound design swishing static and low-frequency humming sends this soundtrack into a futuristic guise on contemporary grounds that insidiously works into the grand scheme low-tech yet terrifying Sci-Fi. The 103-minute film does not include any bonus scenes during or after the credits. I keep throwing around key descriptors like low-tech for “Ultrasound” and by no means do mean that as a criticism as I speak about the simplest of tech, the original mechanism, of our body and our sensory nodes that receives data input, processes it, and transmits signals to our outputting areas and “Ultrasound” looks at disrupting the supply of data and, just like in today’s pandemic and war climate, a break in the chain can cause unforeseen turmoil that upends lives when cranked up.

Is Deceptional Fraud More EVIL Than Psychopathy? “Paranoiac” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

Get “Paranoiac” on the Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray!

The parents of siblings Tony, Simon, and Eleanor Ashby die in a tragic plane crash. Two years later, Tony commits suicide by plunging himself off a cliff into a watery grave with his body never having been recovered from the ebb and flow of crashing waves upon the oceanic rocks. Eleven years later, the long thought dead Tony suddenly and unexpectedly returns to what’s left of his family: an overprotectively cold and matriarchal substitute in Aunt Harriet, a narcissistic and alcoholic brother Simon, and a sister, Eleanor, on the precipice of losing her mind from grief over Tony’s death. Shocked by this return, the surviving Ashby siblings split their concerns regarding Tony’s authenticity. Eleanor believes her brother is alive and has come back to rebuild the happy relationship between them whereas Simon denounces Tony’s validity and works underhandedly to either expose Tony as a fraud or to get rid of the imposter by any means necessary, especially when the conditions of receiving the Ashby family fortune have nearly come to an end and a hefty inheritance awaits his opulent tastes. Tony’s arrival causes complications with the inheritance, opens up old wounds, evokes new romantic sensations, and regresses transgressional guilt toward a fiery conclusion to the Ashby family mystery.

A ravishingly dark, mystery thriller inspired by Scottish author Josephine Tey’s crime novel “Brat Farrar” from 1949, the 1963 “Paranoiac” works from off of Tey’s dysfunctional and deceptional family building blocks and extending it into a gothic framework of demented greed in a brand-new of-shooting avenue of psychological thrillers from Hammer Films, hoping to branch off the traditional horror trunk and piggyback success off of the American released, 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, “Psycho.” “Paranoiac” is the junior film of Freddie Francis (“The Skull,” “Torture Garden”) and penned by the longtime Hammer writer, who basically wrote all of Hammer’s classics, Jimmy Sangster (“Horror of Dracula,” “The Revenge of Frankenstein”). Anthony Hinds and Basil Keys served as producers.

“Paranoiac’s” ensemble cast is quite brilliant in their respective roles.  Oliver Reed (“Curse of the Werewolf,” “Gladiator”) stands out immensely with a flamboyantly cruel and warped performance as the erratic Simon Ashby constantly under the influence of Brandy, Champagne, or whatever alcoholic beverage he can get his organ-playing hands on.  Reed puts out this hateful energy that can’t be ignored and outlines Simon with defined truth about where the character stands with his own flesh and blood – a callously cold and calculating black sheep.  Simon becomes fascinating in every scene, every scenario, and continues to unravel as a wild card that always leave us wondering what he’s going to do next.  Then there’s sweet and innocent but overly distraught Eleanor from Janette Scott in complete sibling behavioral polarity that sinks Eleanor further and further into madness designed by those close to her.  Scott, who also had a starring role in “The Old Dark House” that was released the same year, came aboard relatively new to Hammer but equates her status against Reed, who Hammer was grooming to be a prominent leading man for more of their productions, by selling Eleanor’s despair and the deep-seeded craving for her other, more sweeter, brother, Tony.  Encompassing the thought dead younger brother is Alexander Davion, another newbie to Hammers’ brand with, in my opinion, a neutral and bland face that doesn’t fit the Bray Studio’s swarthy and distinguished lot of male actors.  Davion’s also doesn’t do terribly much with Tony’s sudden resurrection as he folds himself back into Ashby manor.  While this could be Freddie Francis’s shrouding display of truth upon Tony’s legitimacy, there is literally no life or passion behind Alexander Davion’s eyes as he stares blankly at accusations and even Eleanor’s incestuous flirtations.  Yes, incest becomes a rummaged theme that walks a tightrope between more than just two family members.  “Alone in the Dark’s” Sheila Burrell is the stern protector in Aunt Harriet, “Blood Beast from Outer Space’s” Maurice Denham ruffles Simon’s feathers as the Ashby estate treasurer holding all of his inheritance, “The Maniac’s Liliane Brousse nurses a façade over the well-being of Eleanor and the love interests of Simon, and the cast wraps up with John Bonney as the treasurer’s fraudulent son.

Hammer had by 1963 already established itself as a horror powerhouse with the success of colorfully bold, violently stout, and sexually-saturated innuendo classic monster features, such as with “Horrors of Dracula,” “The Curse of Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy.”  Capitalizing on the coattails of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and sitting on the adaptational rights for Josephine Tey’s “Brat Farrar,” Hammer decided to pivot into the crime and suspense thriller direction that alluded to the aftereffects of cerebral breaking blended into elements of collusion, creating an endless tense-filled turbine revolving around the whodunit particles and the who’s veneer is covertly smeared by corruption.  In a way other than the similar one word title and an unhinged theme, “Paranoiac” could be mistaken as a Hitchcockian-shot production with the larger than life and depth rich landscapes; the vast wide shots of Isle of Purbeck’s peaks and cliff steeps are engulfed oxymoronically as an idyllically menacing key peninsula landscape centric to Tony’s long thought demise as well as a place of hopelessness as the natural English Channel waves crash relentlessly onto the rocks below.  Francis and Sangster hinge the film success on the colossal subtext of brittle strength, guilt, and a vague but prominent suggestion of incest between sister and brother and brother and aunt that, in all honestly, was a personal surprise to myself that it passed the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC).  Yet, the insinuation did and paved a real pothole plague path for viewers in a good way that the story kept evolving, kept us on our toes, and when it spiraled, it spiraled quickly and sharp in a descent onto those very hopeless rocks below waiting for our emotions to be swept away lost in a mobile, violent current. 

Paranoia runs rampant like an epidemic in this Freddie Francis aptly entitled sullen celluloid “Paranoiac,” the next Hammer film receiving a collector’s edition Blu-ray treatment from Scream Factory, the horror sublabel from Shout Factory! The region A locked encoded Blu-ray features a new 2K scan from the interpositive. By 1963, Hammer was well versed in technicolor, especially for Stateside releases of UK films, but “Paranoic” opts for the black and white picture in another subtle nod to “Psycho.” Under veteran Hammer Film’s cinematographer Arthur Grant, that famous gothic-cladded manor house is aesthetically fetching with in every detail captured by Grant’s 35mm camera as well as the broad wide shots in the bird’s eye view of Isle of Purbeck. Scream Factory releases the film in 1080p, full high definition of the original aspect ratio 2.35:1 with sterling results in extracting details and balancing the contrast without brightening or darkening where not needed or intended. There were no real damage spots to point out nor were any crops or enhancements made to touch up possible problematic or stylistic areas. The release comes with a single audio option in a DTS-HD Master Audio monaural track with slight static in the background. Dialogue is clean and mostly clear with an occasion hiss during more boisterous moments, but the range and depth of a faultless ambience and Elisabeth Lutyens brassy and bass soundtrack comes through symmetrically balanced. English SHD Subtitles are also optional. The special features include a new audio commentary with Film Historian Bruce Hallenbeck, two new interviews with author and critic Kim Newman in Drink of Deception and with film historian Jonathan Rigby in A Toast to Terror – two familiar faces seen in recent Scream Factory’s restorations of Hammer productions, a making-of segment that dives archive interviews with Jimmy Sangster and others going over the genesis of the story and into Hammer’s aspirations at the time, and a theatrical trailer. “Paranoiac” is more than just its creepy, bulbous mask that graces the Mark Maddox gorgeously green illustrated slipcover and snapper case cover art. Rarely does a film evolve from one narrative into another without crisscrossing the stitchwork, becoming overly convoluted beyond repair, yet “Paranoiac” digs in and dilates the already volatile chemistry with integrated and powerful performances from Oliver Reed and Janette Scott that makes this film high on the Hammer watch list.

Get “Paranoiac” on the Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray!

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!