One Man Takes on the EVIL Australian Crime Syndicate! “The Man from Hong Kong” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

“The Man From Hong Kong” on the Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!

A newly formed Australian narcotics unit busts up a major drug deal that lands a crime syndicate pusher into the custody of the authorities.  The pusher, low on the totem pole of a larger drug organization, speaks no English and with the inexperience of the Australian unit, Hong Kong special branch inspector, Fang Sing-Leng, is requested for interrogation interpretation and be the escort of extradition back to the pusher’s native Hong Kong residence, but while in custody, the pusher is gunned down by an assassin.  Sing-Leng thrusts himself into Sydney’s criminal underworld the Hong Kong way, leaving a trail of destruction in his solo-takedown of formidable drug kingpin, Jack Wilton.

For film loving youngsters, would they know what cinema was like before green screens, motion capturing technology, and other computer imagery devices to create alien worlds and improbable fight sequences?  Would comprehending the idea that before the pre-implementation of these technological advances in film there was a just-do-it fortitude toward the physical and raw aspects of special effects and stunt work?  Those wee moviegoers’ heads would explode into itty-bitty chunks of brain matter by the very slight thought of a man jump kicking another man off a high-speed dirt bike without even one ounce of a tethered harness or helmet for safety.  Hazard upon dangerous hazard is what writer-director Brian Trenchard-Smith offers on the table from his debut martial arts film “The Man from Hong Kong,” the first martial arts film of its kind hailing out of Australia.  Trenchard-Smith’s working title “Yellow Peril” sought to sprinkle in between the high kicks and hyahs an amusingly intended, but greatly nearsighted, prejudice of the subtle racism in how Australian people viewed East Asia; however, Raymond Chow, the Hong Kong-side producer for this two-country co-production, ozploitation actioner, didn’t quite see the humor in “Yellow Peril” (and we don’t blame him).  Thus, “The Man from Hong Kong” title was born with some minor contentious distaste for its generic branding.  Trenchard-Smith’s The Movie Company Pty. Ltd (“Stunt Rock”) and Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest Company (“Sex and Zen”) served as co-productions, releasing the joint venture in 1975 with variable success across the globe.

The first choice Brian Trenchard-Smith had in mind for the role of Fang Sing-Leng was mega-martial arts superstar Bruce Lee hot off the success of 1972’s “Fist of Fury,” 1972’s “The Way of the Dragon,” and 1973’s “Enter the Dragon.”  “The Man from Hong Kong” seemed to be a perfect segue into Lee’s next martial arts box-office hit that may have also reclaimed cinematic stardom for his soon-to-be co-star George Lazenby who fell into a blacklist slump after declining to reprise his 007 James Bond role from “Of his Majesty’s Secret Service.”  Unfortunately, and tragically, Bruce Lee suddenly died at the age of 32, leaving a void to fill not only Trenchard-Smith’s first film but also in the martial arts entertainment world.  In comes Jimmy Wang Yu, China’s former #1-turned-#2 after the quick rise of Bruce Lee.  The “One Armed Swordsman” series Wang Yu not only entrenches himself into the titular role at the behest of producer Raymond Chow as a suitable replacement, but Wang Yu also became Trenchard-Smith’s directorial counterpart of the Hong Kong shot scenes and the fight sequences, the latter being superbly thrilling by Wang Yu and his stunt team’s dedicated skillset to make the showmanship look authentic and bruising.  The extended chase through the streets of Sydney and into a no holds kitchen brawl with legendary stunt man Grant Page (“Stunt Rock”) is one of the best one-on-one rundown combat arrangements of its era.  Lazenby’s an effective villain with his towering height, broad build, and Tom Sellick mustache and has the ability to choreography not-so-half-assed kung fu, meeting and matching Wang Yu’s on screen moves without looking dopey or forced.   Australia’s film industry was so small at the time, there are number of recognizable actors mostly from the “Mad Max” series with the likes of Hugh Keays-Byrne (“Mad Max,” “Mad Max:  Fury Road”), Frank Thring (“Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”), Roger Ward (“Mad Max”) in key or notable performance roles along with Bill Hunter (“Mad Dog Morgan”) and a pair of titular character love interests in Rebecca Gilling and Rosalind Speirs.

When judging a martial arts film, one critiques the hand-to-hand or melee weapon play contests, scrutinizing every punch thrown and kick taken, for complexity and believability.  If it looks real, it sure as hell feels real when conveyed from off the screen and to the audience.  Though “The Man from Hong Kong’s” scenes feel a little airy, pulling punches slightly too perceptibly, the choreography is quick and exhibits naturally enough through a variety of action and locations, including on top of Australia’s famous tourist attractions Ayers Rock for a wham-bam, drug sting and bust opening with a great-looking and thrilling car explosion shot that nearly takes the camera man’s head off with an unplanned, detonation jettison of a spinning car door toward the camera crew.  Those sorts of risky stunts are prevalent throughout that lends to “The Man from Hong Kong’s” enthralling physicality tone with Trenchard-Smith and his team’s wiliness to learn as they go in their death-defying acts.  The film is a tour de force of stunts, ranging from car chases, glider flights, skyscraper plunges, and an unforgettable kitchen skirmish with real melee weapons kneaded into its very fabric, with a Dirty Harry hero whose more of an anti-hero lawbreaker than the villains he’s up against by specializing in China’s miscreant brand of investigative police work. 

Perfectly suited as number 9 on the spine of the Umbrella Entertainment’s Ozploitation Classics banner is Brian Trenchard-Smith’s “The Man from Hong Kong,” now released on a region free, 2-disc AVC encoded Blu-ray.  Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with full 1080p, high-definition resolution, Umbrella has pulled out all the stops to release the best transfer to drool over.  Subtle vertical scratches here and there have no standing impact on viewing and the distinguished color palette is quite good and natural-looking for a film from nearly five decades ago.  There is a healthy amount of positive grain from the 35mm film stock, but the compression never comes into an issuance of sacrificing the quality, leaving darker scenes appearing bright and visible without the effect of enhancement or zealous contrasting.  My only substantiated gripe is with the subtitle cards that, in a way to not have to redo the English subtitles for the Mandarin dialect, the original frames were seemingly kept in and the image reverts back to a lesser quality degree.  Two audio options are available, an English-Mandarin language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and a lossy DTS-HD dual channel.  Umbrella’s kbps output erratically fluctuations between 2400-3400 but even with the rollercoaster ups-and-downs, “The Man from Hong Kong” still had a robust action track and the dialogue came through discernibly clear.  Only goofy aspect about the audio is “Game of Death” and “Bloodsport’s” Roy Chiao’s English dubbing of Jimmy Yang Yu who obviously knew English or knew how to act like he knew English by watching his mouth articulate the native vernacular.  Umbrella also pulls out all the stops for the special features department in this limited to 3000 copies 2-disc set with the second disc a CD soundtrack arranged with Noel Quinlan funk-rock score and the main Billboard topping opening theme “Sky High” by the band Jigsaw.  Also included is a 2001 audio commentary from director Brain Trenchard-Smith, actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, and stunt director Grant Page, an all-new(ish) interview with Grant Page from 2008 entitled Real!Quick! pulled from Mark Hartley’s ozploitation documentary “Not Quite Hollywood,” extended interviews with the director, executive producer David Hannay, cast members George Lazenby, Roger Ward, and Rebecca Gilling, cinematographer Russell Boyd, 2nd unit cameraman John Seal, and first assistant director Hal McElroy from the same Hartley documentary, Trenchard-Smith’s 50-minute documentary “The Stuntmen,” a 75-minute “Kung Fu Killers” TV special directed by Trenchard-Smith and featuring Grant Page and George Lazenby, behind the scenes footage, opening night press conference footage, various and alternate  trailers and promos including a HD theatrical trailer, a cardboard slipcover with new illustrated design, and a reversible Blu-ray case cover art that also lists all 23-tracks on the CD.  The special features runtime outshines the 106-minute feature with a slew of interviews; however, much of the interviews really harp over-and-over upon George Lazenby’s set-on-fire coat mishap scene and Jimmy Wang Yu before the camera rolls catching and eating dragon flies ahead of a kissing scene with Rebecca Gilling.  “The Man from Hong Kong” isn’t notable because it’s Australia’s first martial arts film.  It isn’t notable for the attempt of resurgence of a former James Bond actor or because of its robbed promise of the late Bruce Lee.  What makes “The Man from Hong Kong” important to the film industry as a whole is its precursor value for being the example of a cast and crew to put life and limb on the line for the sake of motion picture art and be damn good at it.

“The Man From Hong Kong” on the Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!

A Stuntman and Rock-n-Roll Magicians Have EVIL Under Control! “Stuck Rock” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

The MUST OWN version of “Stunt Rock” Now on Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Grant Page is a world-famous veteran stunt man from Australia and his new big project, a high octane, thrilling action move feature packed with car chases, fire sequences, and death-defying falls set in Hollywood, California.   When he arrives, his cousin Curtis picks up from the airport and shows him around, ending up at the recording studio where Curtis’s band Sorcery is lays down tracks for their upcoming album.  Between Grant’s thrilling high flying, quick burning stuntman work and the band’s theatrical heavy rock and magic trick performances, a showcase of entertainment energizes the soul as well as entertains it.  Before long, a column journalist Lois Willis aims to get Grant’s story on occupational health and lifestyles.  They’re joined by Grant’s costar of the film, leading lady Monique van de Ven, and together they rock out and enjoy the daredevil antics like one big life party. 

Unique in format and content, “Stunt Rock” reflects upon the ostentatious career of director Brian Trenchard-Smith. Before immersing himself in straight-to-video sequels of “The Omega Code,” “Night of the Demons,” and “Leprechaun,” Trenchard-Smith had a talent for being unabashed and taking risks in making something different. Thus, an 86-minute one-part showcasing demo reel, one-part fictional story, and one-part heavy rock music video was born from a slew of Trenchard-Smith shot achieve footage highlighting the impressive physicality resume of the one and only Grant Page. In 1978, “Stunt Rock’s” short theatrical run assumed the picture too radical for the general public with a motley crew of characters and a get-to-know Grant Page storyline that interjected the heavy rock, or borderline glam rock, of Sorcery, a five-piece band accompanied by two magicians whose illusions and pyrotechnics were performed live on stage as the musicians rocked out. Only recently has “Stunt Rock” re-emerged onto home video due in part to the advocating acolytes of the now defunct by not forgotten band and has become a wonderous and enriching blast from the past of reliving decades old history, contrasting artistry cooperating under one umbrella, and a deluge of rock and master class stunts. Also known as “Crash” or “Sorcery,” Martin Fink produces the quasi-action docu-musical with Trenchard filming under his own banner, Trenchard Films.

Grant Page, a man you may never recognize in name or face but probably have seen his broad list of service work at least a dozen times or more. “Mad Dog Morgan.” Yup, Page did the stunts. “No Escape.” Yup, that too. “Mad Max.” That as well! Between performing the stunts and a stunt coordinator, Grant Page has achieved over 100 credits to his name, but not until receiving the lead role in “Stunt Rock” is where he actually got to be himself…literally. Trenchard-Smith’s goal was to put Grant Page on a platform having worked with the stuntman on previous films, such as “Deathcheaters” and “The Man from Hong Kong,” putting his career, and life, on the line numerous times. Page is charming and collected under his rugged facial hair and glasses atop a muscular physique as he’s paired to cohabitate with the latter half of two-word title. Grant Page is stunt whereas Sorcery is rock. Consisting of, at the time, members of the Americna rock group were front man Greg Magie, bass Ritchie King, guitarist Smokey Huff, drummer Perry Morris, and Keyboardist Doug Loch who always wore a glitzy or colorful stocking mask with had his vocals adjusted to a higher pitch. There were also two highly skillful stage performing magicians in Paul Haynes as the bearded King of all Wizards, Merlin, and Curtis James Hyde as Haynes on stage villainous counterpart, the Prince of Darkness aka Satan. In between the two rip-and-roaring personas is a reporter working on a column piece and Grant becomes her angled subject. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s wife of 40+ years is Margaret Gerard in the role of Lois Wills, a love interest who doesn’t quite understand Grant’s obsession with intentional self-destruction as a profession but quickly falls for the big hunk despite any real tangible flirtation. Across the aisle at the other end of female perspective is Monique van de Ven playing as herself. The Netherlands actress, who mastered the art being in a catch-22 love triangle between her longtime husband and her adventurous and new female lover in “A Woman Like Eve,” is positioned in “Stunt Rock” as certifier of the fake movie Grant is there to stunt for being the leading actress eager to do what Grant does, the stunt work, at the chagrin of her asset protecting agent.

“Stunt Rock” may not be our bread-and-butter material for review, containing a severe lack of ghastly horror, creature horror, sleazy exploitation, gore and shock, phantasmagoria schlock, etc.  Instead, what “Stunt Rock” is is a pure, 100%, grade A cult classic title that goes beyond the baseline criteria for critique, as if the film even needed our insignificant stamp of world cinema approval.  Absolutely not, as “Stunt Rock” speaks for itself, literally so in the very title, delivering essentially what the film is selling, documenting, exhibiting, and entertaining along with the caveat to be a career booster and an endearing tribute for director Trenchard-Smith’s much adored and highly respected Grant Page. The way Trenchard-Smith fashions his own shot stock footage of Page’s exhilarating and adrenaline junky spectacles into flashbacks, split screens, and just a reel of collected examples whenever Page goes into specific memories of stunts, a montage of similar acts, or even how he feels before or during the performance never bogs down into arrogant gray area on the part of feature’s star. Only the director behind the one-two punch “Day of the Panther” and “Strike of the Panther” could pull of “Stunt Rock’s” insanity on celluloid, rock on reel, and a cloud nine high on a combination of both.

“Stunt Rock” is more than just assemblage of electrifying stunts as it also brings down, as well as breaks down, stunt work as not this grandiloquent behavior but more about precision, planning, and self-care with some mild levels of egomania to do things bigger, better, and more dangerous. All of this great content is now on coming at you on a Blu-ray home video from Umbrella Entertainment as the 8th spine on their Ozploitation Classics label. Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 in full high definition, 1080p, the region free Australian release is a fury of packed goodness, in all sense of the term. Rated PG, “Stunt Rock” is about as wholesome as a PG film came come that even comes with an opening disclaimer about not trying these stunts at home, so parents open your children’s eyes to “Stunt Rock!” As far as image quality is concerned, Umbrella’s release perfects the natural-looking colorization by adding a pop of robust color, unintrusive grain, and baring miniscule blemishes. Most of the film is shot in 35mm, but some of the older footage Trenchard-Smith shot on Grant Page is in 16mm and the varying levels of difference in the details can play tricks on the mind with the stark contrast. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is a solid track. Dubbing can tilt an audio imbalance in the depth around certain dialogued moments, but for the most part, no compression issues leave a clean and clear outcome with even an array of well-recording Sorcery tracks and capturing all the fine details in their pyrotechnic and smoke and mirror shows in front of a live high school audience. This Blu-ray is packed with special features beginning with an exclusive virtual interview with Brian Trenchard-Smith and his wife/leading lady Margaret Gerard at their home in Oregon going over every facet in the genesis and aftermath of “Stunt Rock,” plus 2008 interviews with Grant Page and the director from Not Quite Hollywood segment, 2008 audio commentary from Page and Trenchard-Smith, 2009 audio commentary from the director, producer Marty Fink, and actor Richard Blackburn, a 2009 introduction to the film, extended interviews with Sorcery guitarist Smokey Huff and Marty Fink, 2009 audio interview with the band’s drummer Perry Morris, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Alamo Drafthouse Appearance, Cannes Promo Reel, a HD theatrical trailer, an exclusive new Trenchard-Smith approved trailer reel, and more audio commentary from the director in Trailers from Hell. And that’s not all! Beyond the colorfully retro-esque slipcover and snapper cast with reversible cover art with the film’s posters on the inside is a 14-page collectible comic book with the abridged illustrated version of the film. “Stunt Rock” is an amazing, one-of-a-kind film with now a one-of-a-kind Blu-ray release from Umbrella Entertainment sure to be a must-own for any fans of Brian Trenchard-Smith, Grant Page, or Sorcery!

The MUST OWN version of “Stunt Rock” Now on Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Let the Heavens Fall to Cleanse the EVIL Away! “Undead” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Bluray)

The small finishing town of Berkley, Australia comes under siege by blazing meteoroids that turn the quaint residents into mindless flesh-hungry zombies. A small band of survivors led by the town’s dismayed local beauty queen and a fisherman turned doomsday prepper fight the undead hordes in order to escape the carnage by reaching the city limits, but when faced with an otherworldly monolithic barrier surrounding the town and blocking the exits, a hopeful way out becomes quickly fleeting. To make matters worse, unusual rainstorms drench them with fear of what’s really in the rainwater of the apparent alien attack. In a last-ditch effort, the remaining survivors board a personal prop plane to scale the great extraterrestrial wall that’s imprisoning them with the undead. An onslaught of end of days catastrophes drives their instinct to battle on, to push forth toward living, despite all the evidence of a contrary methodology to the misunderstood, overwhelming alien actions.

A 9-year marriage, three children, the death of my dog, two states, a new home, four jobs, four presidents, and a global pandemic in more than almost two decades’ passing has transpired since the first and last time I saw the Spierig brothers’ 2003 zombie-comedy “Undead” and, still, the 2003 Australian film impresses with a large-scale gore show on a small-scale budget. Before terraforming new vampire words with Ethan Hawke in “Daybreakers” and taking a stab at an entry in the “Saw” franchise with “Jigsaw,” the brothers Michael and Peter Spierig’s first full feature-length venture was an ambitious love letter to their’ most endeared cult films of their youth, more heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Blowing through the meager budget halfway into filming and shooting an insane 40 to 50 shots per day for the better part of two months, the completion of “Undead” was a must for the self-funding brothers under their production banner of Spierigfilm and the success of “Undead” also jumpstarted the careers of cinematographer Andrew Strahorn (“Hostel III,” “Lethal Weapon” television series), production designer Matthew Putland (“San Andreas”), and special effects artist Julian Summers (“Bait,” “Mortal Kombat” ’21).

“Undead” was the first film for Felicity Mason and Mungo McKay in a lead role as that dismayed local beauty queen, Rene, and that fisherman turned doomsday prepper, Marion, mentioned in the above synopsis. Rene seeks to leave the town of Berkley in the wake of the tragic death of her parents before becoming the burdened beholder of their debt; instead, she thrusted into a crisis that won’t allow her to escape so easily from a destiny laid out for her in hometown. Mason’s humble portrayal of Rene is nearly invisible compared to her more boisterous and gun-fu counterparts but grounds us to an agreeable realism of reactions whereas Marion’s limitless gun-toting out of his fishing overalls and Matrix-like gunplay moves adds that layer of voguish fun of the Chow Yun-fat variety. The other four survivors fall into the run-of-the-mill of yowlers and cutting personality types who throw around their weight and cowardly sarcasms in immediate show of unfounded animosity. Supposedly, a longer cut of “Undead” provides more backstory for father-to-be charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, “Australiens”) and the law enforcement neophyte Molly (Emma Randall, “Bullets for the Dead”) but the release copy which this review is based off was not of that longer cut. Dirk Hunter supplies a purge of negative comic relief as Harrison, the chief constable without a clue, and Lisa Cunningham’s Sallyanne is Wayne’s antagonizing pregnant lover of bitterness as she comes in second place next to Rene at the local beauty pageant and seizes moments, during all Hell breaking loose, to confront Rene’s rope-wrangling talent that won her the cast prize.

Over the past year, I watched and reviewed another Australian sci-fi horror “Dustwalker” from director Sandra Sciberras where crash landed space objects turned the local dustbowl residents into the resemblance of zombies and connected to the chaos is a not from this world creature. I likened “Dustwalker” to be a lesser, weaker, total rip-off of the Spierigs’ ozploitation rager and I still stand 100% behind my claim as I reaffirm “Undead” to be the reigning supreme champion, and “did it first” as far as story goes, between the two nearly identical narrative plots. There’s an uncrushable affinity for “Undead’s” bold risk of looking at the bigger picture head on and absolutely landing each scene whether in prosthetics or in post with better than your average computer rendered imagery. Are the effects the sleekest, most realistic, graphics you’ve ever seen? Absolutely not but what they are are ultra-rich in creative detail rather than quality detail and can give most substantial budgeted films a run for the money, especially in the closeup shots that can be an obvious slapdash, might as well be silicone, fake. The Spierig brothers also don’t overcomplicate the plot with survivors trying to simply quickly decamp the overran town madness with plot points sensible to character designs and not relying on gratuitous happenstance scenarios for the sake of gore alone. However, do believe me when I say that “Undead” will delight gore geeks with a gut-spilling, face-lifting, head-decapitating mixture of zany zombie knockoffs that are steady throughout. If you’re deciding between the more recent “Dustwalker” and the now almost considered antique 15+ year-old “Undead,” the choice is clear with “Undead’s” superior campy, shoot’em, blood-splattering zombie mayhem.

For U.S. horror viewers looking for something that borders obscurity and might be out of their comfort zone, “Undead” has yet to make an appearance on Blu-ray, surprisingly enough. Only the Lionsgate DVD version is the known, and authorized, copy to be released in America. For those searching high and low, the all-region Blu-ray from the Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, offers a 2-disc alternative with a new 1080p, Full High-Definition, release as volume # 12 on the company’s World on Film: Beyond Genres banner. The Aussie cult modern classic is presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio and with a runtime of 97 minutes, mirroring the U.S. DVD length which is a bit disappointing as longer cuts of the film do exist on other European releases. Day scenes play into an agreeable enough flat, more natural, color scheme with some serious grain in the 16mm film stock use, moving the photography toward a retro de-aged semblance courtesy of Spierigs’ cult film homage, but the darker scenes, mostly through a moderately intense blue filter, sees the unstable pixelation flareups, especially in black blank spaces and I’m taken aback by the lack of touchup to clear up any stylized misgivings. Umbrella offers two audio options – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 DTS-HD Stereo. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, the audio tracks do “Undead” complete justice without a smidgen of lossy fidelity. With plenty of action to go around – firearm discharges, explosions, zombie grunts/groans/sneers, and sundry of miscellaneous and oddball effects – each elemental output is distinct and clear. The dialogue renders nicely as well. Umbrella holds a few exclusive and rehashed special features that include an audio commentary from Peter and Michael Spierig and cinematographer Andy Strahorn, a raw video behind-the-scenes look on the set of “Undead,” the more production quality making of “Undead,” “Attack of the Undead” short films from the Spierig brothers that inspired the feature, home-made Dolly Video, the camera and makeup tests, still gallery, and theatrical trailer. Plus, an exclusive Simon Sherry illustrated art on the front covers of the snap case and the cardboard slipcover along with reversal DVD cover art and a second disc containing the complete 17-track soundtrack from Cliff Bradley. The rating is listed as an Australian certified MA 15+ for horror theme, medium level violence. which sounds severely tamer than it is for the more recent video nasty with all its zombies punching holes through hapless skulls, bloody brain munching, gooey face ripping, and severed torsos with spine exposures.

A Saltwater Croc is Pure EVIL in “Black Water” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)



On a two week holiday, Grace, her husband Adam, and her younger sister Lee, embark on a road trip through Northern Australia, stopping at the local bars and roadside attractions all along the way.  Their next ad hoc destination is to fish at the rurally located and rinkadink river tour and fishing guide, Backwater Barry’s.  With Barry himself already out with another tour group, his assistant happily agrees to take them fishing out on a small, metal Jon boat along the mangrove tree dense distributaries.  When their boat is flipped by a large, aggressive crocodile and their guide dead, the water-protruding trees become a lifeline for temporary safety, but being fully encircled by murky water leaves them with no escape route and hidden from the river mainstem where help would like cross.  With a hungry croc lurking below, the only means of survivor is to reach the flipped Jon boat that’s stuck stranded in the middle of water. 

Aside from my personal favorite subgenre, Sharksploitation, the next best would the reptiliansploitation!  If there is even such a scaly subgenre about cold-blooded killers, especially involving the waterproofed skin of alligators and crocodiles lurking and wriggling in murky waters.  I’m a child of the 80’s and grew up on such classics as “Eaten Alive” (technically the late 70’s), “Alligator” and “Alligator 2, and the Australian ozploitation thriller, “Dark Age.”  Even the more modern reptilian ravagers, “Lake Placid” series and Alexandra Aja’s “Crawl,” are hugely exciting, entertaining, and come with a lot of bite!  Another ozploitation crocodile themed film came across my viewing pleasure just recently is the Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich co-written, co-directed “Black Water.”  The 2007 independent production is filmed across multiple locations in the Northern Territories and New South Wales of Australia where much of the butt-clenching terror is filmed in the crocodile-less mangroves of the Georges River.  “Black Water” is presented by The Australian Film Commission and Territorial Film Developments and developed by Michael Robertson’s ProdigyMovies who cater to low-budget ozploitation genre pictures that usually pit man versus nature to the death!

The concise cast provides “Black Water” with an intimacy you wouldn’t get with a bigger, cast-saturated production.  Three principles and two supporters imbues the characters’ fears, tensions, and their rush of adrenaline into the viewers without having to dilute into offshoots with an extensive list of throwaway and expendable roles.  Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, and Andy Rodoreda turn from touting tourist to terrorized tenderloins for one of nature’s most ruthless hunters. The dynamic between the three is one that is high on the relationship status; a family consisting of a wife and husband and sisters, leaving zero room for apathy between the characters themselves and between the viewers and the characters as their importance of loss is greater to each other and that extends beyond the screen.  Traucki and Nerlich give little-to-no wiggle room for escape, forcing the survivors to wade the ominous waters.  The fear is prevalent more so in the eyes of Grace (Glenn) who is not only worried about her husband and sister, but also her motherly instinct to protect her newly learned pregnancy.  Lee (Dermody) and Adam (Andy) lack that hesitation, that trembling moment of dipping their toes back into water, in a seemingly inability to feign being affected by the force of flesh-ripping nature lurking just below the surface.  Even with subsequent failed survival attempts, I found difficulty relating to Lee’s fear who, in the latter half of the story, calmly breaststrokes approx. ten yards to reach the boat in a moderate attempt at heart-racing desperation.  Fiona Press (“Out of the Shadows”) and Ben Oxenbould (“Caught Inside”) round out the cast.

“Black Water” is the epitome of ingenuity when placing actors and crocodiles in the same space together.  Real people, real crocodiles.  Yes, the visual effects produced by Nerlich, Traucki, and their team, including of compositor Peter Jeffs, create a frightening cohabitation, stretching the limits of the VFX with the instinctual movements of in captivity crocodiles and laying them over the mangrove scenes that have the actors.  Whenever the croc pops up from the water with just his snout, eyes, and the few ridges of his back breaking the surface, the motionless stare from the beady Devil-eyes can make you hold your breath.  “Black Water” has killer anticipation with a death roll component that no one is safe from a maneater’s hunger. At some instances, the composites are not entirely seamless with the depth or the angles as which the croc moves through the water, but the overall effect is successful and potent. With limited escapes routes come limited plot devices. “Black Water’s” length felt almost painfully reliant on time spent in the mangrove trees with the characters mulling and weighing the options, the option to go for the boat became it’s own motif, and a short lull quickly stiffens the initial boat-flipping tumult. One second, the four fishers have lines in the water and the next second they’re in the water, “crocodile in the water” is being screamed at the very top of Adam’s lungs, and tour guide Jim has instantly disappeared from story in a blink of a crocodile’s snapping smile. No amount of backwater expertise assisted in Jim’s, or any of the patrons’, survival. After the commotion has subdued and the realization that a crocodile has come to feed, survivors stick the trees like monkeys a mere 7 to 10 feet from the surface water, stagnant still in shock and unable to muster a thought about what to do. After the lull, man versus nature gets right back outwitting one another with the croc having a big screening advantage.

Holidaying never looked so terrifying where a day in the office seems like an escape in “Black Water.” The story is a cautionary one of the increasing populations of both humans and crocodiles in Northern Australia and was based off true events as noted by director Andrew Traucki off the account of two teenagers stuck in a tree after the death of their friends by a croc in an interview with MovieWeb.com. A reemergence of the 2007 film, stemmed by the recent sequel, finds itself on a full HD, 1080p Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian label’s region B release presents the 89 minute feature in a widescreen 1.85:1. More than most of the picture is shot in natural light without being too heavily under the guise of lens manipulation with the steady cam under “Primal’s” John Biggins cinematography. The composited recordings crocs and locations blend almost seamlessly, only rendering a smidge of smear glossiness around the croc’s edges in the tinted blue nighttime scenes. Whenever the croc pops up in the water with a human character sharing the scene, the frame unveils evident cropping but only to sell the effect of the two being in the same moment, removing the outer edges to avoid potential gaffes. The English language and ambiance audio tracks offer two options, a 5.1 and a 2.0, both congenially in a DTS-HD master audio mix. For this particular review, the 5.1 was explored and the dialogue, ambience, depth, range, and run of the mill soundtrack do sound clear, without a hinderance of muddles dialogue, and pertinent to the circumstances happing on screen. Special features include an audio commentary with the directors, a mixture of polished and rough deleted scenes, a making of segment that includes interviews with the directors, actors, and producer Michael Robertson about locations, special effects challenges, and the characters who sell the story, and the theatrical trailer. There’s no pretense with “Black Water” in it doesn’t hawk mutant crocodiles or a behemoth beast thought lost over time; instead, “Black Water” feasts on realism, capturing plausibility and instinctual fear that makes us never want to go into knee high water ever again.

“Black Water” is now available from Umbrella Entertainment on Blu-ray!

Once You Let EVIL In, EVIL Will Never Let Go. “The Babadook” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)



Stage set six years after a car accident involving the death of her husband, single mother Amelia and her difficult six-year-old son, Samuel, struggle to find a harmonious balance in their mother-son relationship.  Samuel’s outbursts and aggressive behaviors deflate the boy’s sometimes sweet nature that has oppressed Amelia into her wits end, alienating her from connecting with other people, even her own sister.  For days Amelia can’t sleep as the stress mounds and Samuel’s erratic temperament continues to worsen, especially when Samuel discovers a mysterious book from the shelf entitled Mister Babadook.  A book he can’t shake from his mind.  The frightening book, filled with graphic imagery and popups, tells of an ominous, dark figure eager to be let into their lives and when the Babadook presence lurks from the pages to reality, hiding in the darkest corners of their home and leeching on the strained anxiety and fear, Amelia and Samuel must rely on each other to wade out the Babadook’s horrible wretchedness only to realize that the way to stop from succumbing to the Babadook’s wrath is to face it head on. 

I can not believe that nearly 7 years has gone by and I have not once sat with a viewing of Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook.”  Well, luckily for me, genre UK curator and distributor Second Sight Films is releasing the golden egg of limited edition 4K UHD/Bluray sets and was able to snag a screener for review!  The Australian film is an emotionally complex and enormously identifiable thriller that demonizes the post-death states of those dealing with loss and struggling to live on tasked with what’s typically a two person responsibility of mutual support and care.  Kent, who wrote and directed the film, expands upon her original 2005 short entitled “Monster,” by keeping the wrenching core that close in tighter and tighter on the mother and son while upping the visual and audio stylistic elements to make an immersive sympathetic undergo and not just an empathetic one.  “The Babadook” is a production of a conglomerate of companies, including Screen Australia, Causeway Films, Smoking Gun Productions, The South Australian Film Corporation, and Entertainment One and is produced by “Cargo’s” Kristina Ceyton and Jeff Harrison along with “The 13th House’s” Kristian Moliere.

Tackling these performances of a suppressed grief-stricken mother on the edge of snapping and a young boy growing up without a father and innocently oblivious to his own autistic like behavioral issues come with layers upon layers of character depth and, in my firm opinion, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman crush the roles with a heartbreaking dynamic.   “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Revolutions” star Davis has a tangible wearied performance of a single parent with no one to turn to for help as your unconditional love for her troubled son runs on fumes, dangerously low without an outlet for support, encouragement, or relief.  Samuel has more familiarity in the genre as a relatively new trope, an autistic child that becomes intertwined with a wicked presence that has popped up more recent films, such as Jacob Chase’s “Come Play” and Greg McLean’s “The Darkness,”  as researches learn more about autism and society has been able to authenticate the condition over the years.  The debut feature performance from young Noah Wiseman can get under-your-skin being a restless busy body, a screeching backseat thrasher, and a poke and prod child in constant need of attention, but Noah is able to switch right into a sweet natured young boy with lots of wonderment and love for his mother.  Noah’s inventive, creative, and has a knack for self-preservation when dealing with a looming evil hungry for his fearful submission but because Noah is different from other children, he’s society labeled “disadvantage” is actually advantage, a tool for survival, that keeps him fixated on what’s important.  Focally attuned to just Amelia and Samuel in the story, the film barely registers the supporting cast that rounds out with Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, and Tim Purcell as the obscured Babadook.

Right from the opening scene, director Jennifer Kent instills a visually stylish premise geared to layer Amelia’s troubled mindset with an etherealized environment nightmare of her husband’s tragic death followed with the reality-grounding energy drain of raising single-handedly a difficult child and the rest of Amelia’s social bubble imploding without a sense of compassion.  From Samuel’s school to her own sister, Amelia is bombarded with delineation of Samuel’s behavior, riddling her psyche with shot after shot of disparaging remarks compounded upon a lingering pain that goes all the way back to her husband’s death nearly seven years ago and to which she subconsciously assigns Samuel blame.  Culminating to a head on Samuel’s birthday, the exact same date of her husband’s death, is a flood of weary and breakdown overtaking Amelia’s last bit of hope for her child and for herself.  This manifests an internalized darkness protruding out into the exterior in the form of Mister Babadook, the embodiment of grief pent up and let loose, feeding off Amelia’s exhaustion and malevolently possessing her being to want to do the worst possible thing overly stressed and repressed parents can do – take out their pain on their children.  Kent masterfully crafts symbolizing grief as an atypical presence of our normal selves.  The sheer amount of dimly lit negative space for the Babadook lying in waiting goes not to waste as when you think something is there, perhaps the Babadook, nothing actually materializes from the ominous shadows, but, in the realm of the story’s reality, that sensation of feeling a presence in the room with you is beyond a tauten tangibility and Kent, playing with that construct, adds stomach knotting audible cues, a guttural discordance, that narrow the eyes, pull the covers over the head, and have you wait with bated breath.

Let the “The Babadook” in with Second Sight Films’ 3-disc limited edition dual formatted, region free 4K UHD and region B Blu-ray, release arriving in the UK on June 21st.  The 4K presentation, an upscaled 2160p, is mastered by the original post production facility and presented in a 10-bit HDR10.  Both 4K and Blu-ray have an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen.  Audio options include the an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 and an English LPCM 2.0, complete with perplexing creature roaring soundbites from the original Resident Evil game on PlayStation.  Since only a screener disc was provided for this review, I am unable to comment on the exact quality of the release’s audio and video outputs; however, the rigid slipcase, with artwork from Peter Diamond, sheaths an abundance of special features, including a new audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, “This is My House!” – an interview with lead actress Essie Davis working with the cast and crew as well as her impressions of the story, “The Sister:  Interview with Hayley McElhinney” who talks about her character’s uncompassionate sibling role, and interviews with producers Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere, editor Simon Njoo, production designer Alex Homes, composer Jud Kurzel, and book illustrator of Mister Babadook Alexander Juhasz.  The release also comes with Jennifer Kent’s inspirational short film, “Monster,” the making-off “”They Call Him Mister Babadook,” featurette about production design and set location in “There’s No Place Like Home:  Creating the House,” special effects talk about the sole stabbing scene, segment on stunt work, “Illustrating Evil: Creating the Book” that was illustrated by Alexander Juhasz, and a 150-page hardback book with brand new essays, an achieved interview with the director, concept illustrations, and behind the scenes photos  and collectors’ art cards that were not included with the screener.   Broodingly topical and harrowingly acted with perfection, “The Babadook” is the epithet for silent deadly threats, squirrelled and suppressed away by innate survival instincts only to be a subsonic explosion when the unstable psyche’s flashing point is sparked.