Don’t Be Fooled By the EVILs of Your Mind! “Open Your Eyes” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Screenwriter Jason is on a deadline.  The producer is looking for his next script and soon.  The writer finds himself in a funk in not only fleshing out his script but also with his memories as a lingering sensation clings to him as flashes of moments that don’t seem quite right haunt his reality.  As he plugs along with his writing, other strange occurrences happen all around him:  a portion of his apartment wall is deteriorating from a leak in an adjacent upstairs unit, a cat has seemingly made it’s way into AC ducts, and objects disappear and reappear.  His dormant apartment complex is frustrating and lonely when he can’t reach the upstairs neighbor or the building manager about the leak that’s destroying his wall, but when he runs into Lisa, a neighbor from down the hall, many of his concerns fade away with her striking beauty and the two start up the beginnings of a possible relationship.  Yet, there’s still something amiss he can’t put his finger on and his newfound friend Lisa might just be the key to his awakening.   

Modest psychological horror has always been a tough one to pull off.  Instead of a straight forward zombie apocalypse or a killer behind a creepy mask slashing to bits half-naked teenagers, the psychological horror subgenre has to develop disintegration details and piece together fragmentations in a whirlwind character study that hopefully materializes into logical sense.  Writer-director Greg A. Sager tackles such threadbare cognizance with the filmmaker’s latest feature, “Open Your Eyes,” a Canadian psychological horror-thriller released this month.  Sager remains firmly in the horror realm with his fourth feature film behind 2012’s demon-seeding “The Devil in Me,” 2014’s supernatural penancing “Kingdom Come,” and 2018’s extraterrestrial thriller “Gray Matter.”  Continue the trend with all his independent productions, Sager self-produces alongside his co-founding Matchbox Pictures Inc., partner, Gary Elmer, who is also the cinematographer on the project.

“Open Your Eyes” is also modest in casting with two backbone characters keeping Sager’s narrative from being an bodiless work of art.  Doing much of the heavy lifting is the Toronto based Ry Barrett and with his close connection with filmmaker Chad Archibald, Barrett has had, in many different capacities, a role in a string of B-horror, including such films as “The Drownsman,” “Antisocial,” and “Neverlost” which are all tied to the Ontario director.  “Open Your Eyes” serves only as the second time Barrett and Sager team up following the release of “Kingdom Come.”   Barrett exudes an unconscious performance in Jason’s unravelling from crunch-time screenwriter to an unglued madman living in Jason’s version of a tenantable matrix.  Jason is almost sleepwalking through a lonely existence even before meeting his neighbor Lisa, a role played by Joanna Saul in her commencing feature film act, and the struggling to keep structural integrity writer hardly suspects and worries about strange manifestations that are happening all around him.  I don’t think Sager captures Jason’s full autonomy awareness that leaves the character more blank than bothered.  Barrett and Saul have adequate enough chemistry to make their barely a courtship romance intriguing, but her character’s implementation into restoring Jason’s vital grip on reality just kind of falls into his lap without a pinky being lifted on Jason’s part to assist in his own deliverance.   Heather May and Julianna Suzanne Bailey round out the small cast.

Aside from the nuisances with the character development, the sterilized comforts of Jason’s living conditions alone provide an unconventional chill.  Though living in an apartment complex is normally assumed chockablock with tenants living their lives, Jason’s apartment building is virtually vacant, void of the hustle and bustle of occupants, with not as much as a whisper from the exterior of Jason’s top-to-bottom, side-to-side walls.   What seems to be an idyllic environment for a concentrating writer becomes an oppressive variable that yet doesn’t seem to slow down or question Jason’s momentum or leave any kind of sense of threat along the way, leaving his what should be an ominous place of mind-bending confinement hanging out to whither and dry up .  I thought the plot twist to be shrouded enough to warrant a semi pleasantly surprised and unexpected ending that connects topically to today’s real-world climate.  Not to be riding a one trick themed pony, Sager also plays upon the themes of grief over loss and how the mind compensates with overactivity and gap fillers to avoid a complete mental system overload while also subtly adding a static charge of illusory sensations to make unsettling disturbances.  “Open Your Eyes” will not scare your socks off as it’s not that kind of film; instead, expect a slow-burn mystery more puzzling than panicky as the walls begin to crumble…literally. 

Okay, puzzlers.  Get puzzling on the new mystery horror-thriller, “Open Your Eyes,” that was distributed this past June by Gravitas Ventures on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital.  Producer Gary Elmer, as director of photography, paints the dark corners with softer figures that provides a really good shadowy contrast between character and background.  Elmer’s small use of the blue tint, his over-the-shoulder hallway delph, and shallow focus add tidbits of appeal without just “Open Your Eyes” seeming like another flat indie production.  Since I was provided with a digital screener, I can’t comment to confidently on the audio and video qualities of a physical release, but presented 2.35:1 widescreen was digitally shot on a CineAlta series Sony Venice camera that effectively provides a smoother grain, especially in the inky shadows, that transmit a really rich data scheme for post-production and offers that flexibility in producing range.  Another byproduct of the Venice camera is the natural looking skin tones seen with Elmer’s film when not under a tinted lens.  No bonus material offered with the digital screener and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Perhaps with a runtime a little longer than necessary, clocking in a 99 minutes, “Open Your Eyes” is a quaint terror touching the tattered strings of a mind, body, and soul pushed over the edge and into a falsehood bred by fear and loss.

Own “Open Your Eyes” on DVD or Watch on Prime Video!

The Devil’s Tongue is a Powerful, Influencing EVIL. “The Dark and The Wicked” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)



Siblings Louise and Michael Straker return home to their farmland house when their terminally ill father becomes bedridden.  A long time alone and isolated before her children arrived, Virginia provided suitable care for their father up until the voices started.  Lurking in between the shadows around the rural home, a menacing presence wedges itself into an already splintered family spirit as the harbinger of death coming for their father’s soul.  The influence of voices and grim visions tatter Louise and Michael resolve, testing their unconditional love for family and moral obligations, but evil can be very persuasive the closer their father comes to his end. 

The battle grounds of losing oneself during the verge of loss has commonly been a recurrent topic amongst indie films.  For filmmaker Bryan Bertino, the concept feels deeply personal.  “The Strangers” and “Monster” writer-director’s latest discomforting horror film, “The Dark and the Wicked,” uses Devil speak in mass, detrimental volumes as an allegoric device for the internal deconstruction of family, capitalizing for his tale the use of his family’s rural Texas farm house written as a threatening locale of isolation and the tenebrous unknown.  “The Dark and the Wicked’s” paganistic undertones heavily perceive a dissipating family structure’s disconnect from not only God but from the community who has been all but absent from coming to the fictional Straker family aid.  The 2020 released film is produced by Bertino’s production company, Unbroken Pictures, alongside Shotgun Shack Pictures (“Hurt”), Traveling Picture Show Company (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter’), and in association with Inwood Road Films.

To play characters accustomed to the rural lands of the Texas outskirts, “The Dark and the Wicked” required a range submerged with leisurely movements, a Lonestar draw, and to, of course, look good in plaid and Wrangler jeans.  The cast that emerged was nothing short of spectacularly precise in fabricating the lives of remote lives rural Texans, opening with a Texas-born Julie Oliver-Touchstone (“Bounded by Evil”) sewing dresses in the barn, tending the farm’s goats, and chopping produced in her white nightgown as who will be the catalytic mother, Virginia Straker, that passes not only the 24-hour hospice care to her children but also all the beneath the light misery that drives her terrified.  The girth of the story revolves around, Louise, “The Umbrella Academy’s” Marin Ireland, and Michael, Michael Abbot Jr. from the upcoming “Hell House,” as sister and brother who return back home upon the news of their bedridden father (Michael Zagst).  At this point in the story, where we meet Louise and Michael for the first time, a shrouded background puts a delectable side dish of mystery into making them initially interesting, but over the course of the 96 minute runtime, the enigma dissolves around why Louise no longer works from the Postal Service and what’s stringently being shied away from the thick layered division between the siblings from being close to one another.  The impending standoffish goes unspoken, never comes to a head between them as like the unfolding of “The Strangers” where Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman unravel and expose their marital struggles with the invisible wall between them before, and even in the midst of, being terrorized.  There’s something there that isn’t being part of the exposition or coming back around when the Devil comes really calling for their father’s doomed soul.  Instead, Ireland and Abbot simply assimilate well enough into their falling into farm life dynamics as the sister who must shoulder the responsibility of hospice care and the brother overseeing what could be considered man’s work of handling the duties of raising livestock.   We also get some messed up supporting second fiddlers to execute Satan’s handywork with performances Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki (“Conjurer”), Mindy Raymond (“Bigfoot Wars”), and “The Walking Dead’s” Xander Berkeley channeling his best Julian Beck’s Kane performance as a sinister Priest making a house call.

Bryan Bertino has a stillness about his films. Their creepily quiet, stirred in a somber stew of macabre, and utterly deranged in a nihilist coating. What appeals to me about “The Dark and the Wicked,” as well as “The Strangers,” is Bertino’s gift to deliver powerful fatalist realism. His stories couple earthly family drama with otherworldly malevolence stemmed from the deeper affects of prolonged relationship breakdowns that literally assigns a demonizing blame on the supernatural for people’s own crumbling failings. Another aspect is the godless presence wholeheartedly felt throughout from the Straker’s loud and proud proclamation of atheism to the lack of religious artifacts. Michael nearly tosses the priest out of his keester just for making checking and noting his mother’s recent unbeknownst connection to God to which Michael took great offense. This leads into the Straker’s lack of community connection as they seemingly are adverse or are agonized by those who wish to help and those who rather seem them burn under the guise of the malice presence. Goats are thematically prevalent to the story, especially when the shadowy Wicked hides amongst the herd, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Goats are often associated with Pagan beliefs, such as with the deity Baphomet, and the evils marked upon them by cultures all around the world and by having the Straker farm be a goat farm is more than just coincidence. “The Dark and the Wicked” brings chaos and confusion much like any circumstances where one or both parents die and all the burdens, all the consequences, and all the pure emotional baggage that comes with death is passed to the children whether the Devil is involved or not. When broken down rudimentary that decline of hope and overwhelming grief can cause a great amount of destruction for any family and even extend to friends with suicide being heavily portrayed in the film. Bertino masterfully touches upon every collateral damage output leaving no one spared from death’s, the Devil’s, hopeless hold on them.

Filled with frightening imagery, plenty of toe-curling suspense, and a loud silence of utter despondency, “The Dark and the Wicked” is a must own for any horror fan and, luckily for you, Acorn Media International just released the Bryan Bertino film on Blu-ray in the UK in alliance with horror’s favorite streaming service, Shudder. Listed as region 2, but more accurately a region B in Blu-ray format, the PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. If there was one word to describe the comprehensive picture that word would be dark. Bertino maintains an eclipsing cinematography through hard lighting, matted lifeless colors, and a reduction tint to give it that extra gloomy blackness. Cinematographer Tristan Nyby’s first collaboration with Bertino is also the first debut into the genre field and Nyby comes out on top with an ability to show just enough, whether through shallow focus or obscured wide shots to always keep the depth and range of the unknown factor alive and frightening. In regards to the Blu-ray quality, “The Dark and the Wicked” has little to offer in details not because of the lack there of but because much of the film is shot in the dark, a fine midnight black with little-to-no wish or noise, and dim lighting . Facial details do appear slightly soft as you can’t make out the blemishes or even skin pores, but the intentional flat coloring steers much of that away from the senses. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is a boost of jumpscare ambient effects. The range and depth finely pitch the position of well-timed scares, especially when the strung together bottles, glasses, and cans rattle in a discordance. Dialogue has lossy muster that makes discerning characters’, especially Michael or his mother, Virginia’s, Southern draw. English subtitles are optional. Special features include only a Fantasia Q&A with actors Merin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr that dive into their characters quite a bit and into Bertino’s morose mindset. Bleak and genuinely personal on a whole other level, “The Dark and the Wicked” is quintessential truth when talking about the Bryan Bertino Americana horror film and, believe you me, expect more devilish descriptors that’ll shock you.

Tune Into EVIL’s Overnight Radio Programming! “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)



Veteran night shift disc jockey, Amy Marlowe, has hosted her own renowned punk rock show for the last 30 years.  On the night of a major hurricane rolling through town, the broadcast must go on as radio never sleeps, but Amy is bitten on the neck by flying bat prior to arriving into the station.  If things couldn’t get any worse, she’s trapped inside the station with the sleazy station executive who surprisingly introduces the disc jockey’s much younger and beautiful replacement.  As Amy deals with the sudden aftershock of forced retirement, she slowly descends into a topsy-turvy reality full of unannounced secrets, movements through her own past and present, and the unusually strange staff transforming into monsters inside the station walls.  To top it off, Amy craves blood.  Between the possibilities of unexpected grief and anger, rabies, or becoming something far more evil, Amy Marlowe, either way, is losing her grip on the real world.

The amount of thought and expression on blunt force change, numb appreciation, and profound existentialism worked into the allegorical dark vampire comedy, “10 Minutes to Midnight,” never steals from the narrative’s basic element, a breed of classically fed undead horror.  Writer-director, Erik Bloomquist, helms his sophomore feature film directorial that is also the second film written collaboratively with brother, Carson Bloomquist, following their 2019 debut thriller, “Long Lost.”  The Connecticut based siblings shoot “!0 Minutes to Midnight” at the ABC affiliated WILI radio station in Willimantic over the course of seven week nights, self-producing under the Bloomquist Mainframe Pictures banner alongside the third “Long Lost” screenwriter-turned producer, Adam Weppler, who also has a major role in the film. 

A soulful, applause-all-around performance by headlining scream queen Caroline Williams who makes her return to the DJ booth 35-years later after going face-to-face with Leatherface’s chainsaw in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and, by God, Williams still has the cold-cocking charisma of her 1986 self.  Pinned to be discarded by station exec Robert (William Youmans), Amy Marlow loses control of her on-air persona for the first time in 30-years of broadcast radio.  Williams is on target with Marlow’s salacious-pointing meltdown rant with a viperous, quick-witted tongue spurred by the very news of her canning that started the hamster wheeling rolling, putting the pieces together of how much backstabbing, ungratefulness, and all-for-nothing hard work (and her younger days’ sexual servitude) becomes a deafening cacophony of noise before her Ten Minutes Before Midnight broadcast segment airtime.  Watching Williams work never gets dull from the one moment she’s rightfully screaming and ripping someone a new one to being overwhelmingly fractured by the venom that courses through her veins in a transformative and stunning performance.  Accompanying Marlow on her sudden career nosedive are a trio of dividing personalities that pull a different versions of the radio star.  Marlow’s seemingly only workplace friend and confidant, Aaron (Adam Weppler), has been a fan of hers ever since he was little, even providing a touching anecdote about him listening to her broadcast when he was a little boy, and there’s something between them, but teeters between admiration and desire that doesn’t flesh out because, again, it’s another problematic thematical item being circled around.  The other two characters rile up Marlow’s inner angst with their threatening postures or their maddening babble.  Nicole Kang (“Swallow”) and the late Nicholas Tucci (“You’re Next”), in their roles of hotshot millennial newcomer, Sienna, and the quirky and rambling security guard, Ernie, achieve just those respective levels of kicking someone when they’re already down with a flurry of annoyance.  Kang and Tucci deliver concentrated performances.  The acting is so entrenched into their characters, as well as with Weppler and Youmans’,” that when Marlow enters a status interchangeable, role-reversal, and nightmarish last stage of her existence coming to a conclusion, “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reups another thought-provoking scenario; one that has you frantically rewiring the tightly woven profiles your brain has determined about the characters to keep up with Bloomquist who is clearly three steps ahead.

Martin Scorsese once compared certain films to theme parks, noting their cinematic worth only in their high octane action entertainment and special effects that draw audiences in like moths to a flame and never letting the actors do the meaningful work themselves.  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a blue-chip, character driven vampire story rare to these parks.  Bloomquist’s themes on ageism, sexism, regret, change, grief, millennials, and more, snake through Marlow’s multifaceted transitional experience in a stylishly cynical fantasy.  Much of Marlowe’s perception isn’t tenaciously reliant on the consequences of the vampire bat bite to her neck.  Reoccurring as an example of perception throughout the film, whenever the camera hovers over a clock displaying 11:50 P.M., is the fading disc jockey finding herself stuck in a timeless rut, eternally clinging to her show in a disparate attempt to be relevant despite the inevitability of change as often noted by each idiosyncratic character – Aaron changing up her normal broadcast set start to call-ins, Robert axing her for younger talent, Ernie incessantly pointing out her symptomatic changes after the bite, and Sienna embodying the very epitome of change.  Marlow’s mind melds with her physical transformation as she goes through the seven stages of grief to at which one point she talks to who might be her younger self over the phone.  Marlow, initially hesitant, does not guide change, but to rather embrace it in a moment of accepting her own checkered past.  However, the dialogue I found to be most poignant was during the retirement party with sunken-eyed celebrators who just randomly show up for the event and Marlow turns to Aaron and comments on not exactly knowing who these people are.  There’s depth and soul in that comment for someone going through the process of retirement who sees unacquainted, new faces and perceiving them with only a tinge of familiarity and a lot of isolating loneliness.

If looking for wildly crafted and superbly acted vampire celluloid, I highly recommend Erik Bloomquist’s “Ten Minutes to Midnight” to sate your thirst now on Blu-ray home video from MVD Visual in associations with Jinga Films and Danse Macabre. The region free Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 on a BD25 and has a runtime of 73 minutes. Shot in a shadows of hard lighting, the picture quality is relatively sharp in the lack of natural light, but that sharpness scatters like roaches when a spectrum wave of neon hues or a bathe of vivid tint casts a psychotomimetic inducing trip through Thomas Nguyen’s tightly quartered medium and close up angles. The overall coloring on the location and characters falls into a matte flatness that works to the lightings advantage when using rich exterior color sources. The atmospherics are Amsterdam sultry under the heat of a carnal fluorescent red and Nguyen’s lofty present steady cam endues a nostalgic flame of eerie dreamscapes similar to early John Carpenter, such as in “The Fog” or “Prince of Darkness.” The English language audio tracks come with two options, a 5.1 surround sound and a stereo 2.0. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is an audio-visual probe into the mind and senses and so the obvious choice here is the 5.1 surround sound; however, the lossy dialogue track becomes quickly overwhelmed by the behemoth sound design and soundtrack, the latter being original music by Gyom Amphoux. Musically, not my cup of tea, but will find an audience and fits into the narrative perfectly. Bonus materials include a behind the scenes entitled “Take One,” audio commentaries by director Erik and Carson Bloomquist as well as star Caroline Williams, multiple featurettes, a Grimmfest interview with the Bloomquists, Williams, WIlliam Youmans, and Thomas Nguyen, Grimmoire Academy and Popcorn Frights intros, and a festival teaser trailer. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a dusk till dawn decimator of sanity, a wickedly fun vampire oddity, and has an unforgettable, batty performance from Caroline Williams.

Recommended!  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” now on Blu-ray!

EVIL Has Layers. Colorful, Beautiful, Red Dripping Layers. “No Reason” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Digital Screener)

On the verge of moving from her quaint apartment, Jennifer begins her morning caring for her son, Nico.  Throughout the morning, her complex neighbors come knocking at her doorstep with unusual behaviors, even so with the mailman who apathetically leaves her bathroom a mess after requesting an urgent need to use the toilet.  After leaving Nico with an elderly woman in an adjacent unit to do some light shopping, Jennifer comes home her son and neighbor not answering the door and figures they went out for a while.  As time passes and her anxiety builds, Jennifer decides to soak in a relaxing bath but when she falls asleep, she awakes amongst a pile of dismembered bodies, subjected to ultra-violent video recordings of the neighbors who she saw earlier, and a masked maestro of anguish to help Jennifer regain life purity through pain.  Through the layers of suffering, the ugliness Jennifer has to endure to survive and find her son might be an awakening she will forever regret. 

From the violence saturated mind of German auteur Olaf Ittenbach comes a battle of conscious, a gore waterlogged vision, in his 2010 blood-shedding shocker, “No Reason.”  Now, I may be over a decade late to the party on this title, but Unearthed Films has brought a newly remastered, fully uncut Blu-ray to physical and virtual retail shelves, reviving the “Legion of the Dead” and “The Burning Moon” filmmaker’s title from the North American grave as the Intergroove Media DVD has been out of print for a long time, and kicking my ass into high gear with diving into the surreal expressionism, splayed into every nook and cranny, of deviated behaviors and splintered thoughts.  “No Reason” is a production of Ittenbach’s IMAS Filmproduktion studios and co-produced by German SOV splatter film connoisseurs, Michael Nezik and Ingo Trendelbernd.

Like Alice traversing a macabre-cladded hell on Earth wonderland is Irene Holzfurtner as the confused lost soul Jennifer  More or less fully naked and bloodied half the story, crossing through portals of layered perdition in order to find her son and saving grace, Holzfurtner has insurmountable perplexity hung across her character’s face in the midst of being plopped into bedlam, taking the character on a journey pain, torment, and enlightenment bare ass naked and covered in blood in a metaphorical rebirth.  Overseeing Jennifer’s trial and tribulations into being brought back reborn as it were is a sadist donning a crude Cthulhu mask and strapped tightly into a medieval BDSM attire who speaks in riddles and verse to sermonize his cathartic guidance.  Markus Hettich towers a monolithic man of pain and pleather, calmly exercising his shrouded authority a healthy amount of sadism, masochism, and sadomasochism in order to undress the falsehood of Jennifer’s split spirit.  Hettich pins an ideal Devil-like antagonist, rupturing through the connective tissues of the psyche with a lingering omnipresence that delivers shivers down the spine.  Mathias Engel, Alexander Gamnitzer, Andreas Pape, Annika Strauss, Ralph Willmann, and Hildegard Kocian make up the supporting cast who are most cooperative being exploited by the violence and nudity that accompany their ill-fated roles of humiliation, torture, and inevitable gruesome death.

Ittenbach obviously brings the gore but the controversial director, who has sparked backlash for glorifying violence, brings a beaming arthouse allure to his “No Reason’s” gargantuan bloodletting.  Layered with multi-colored conjectures point to the unhinged state of a mind, Jennifer endures unspeakable anguish in layers encoded with red, green, and blue, each specifically engineered by the masked man to trigger a response when testing Jennifer’s will; a will to what end is something you’ll need to watch the film to understand.  What I can tell you is that each color stage bares a horrific theme – red is simply the spilling of innocent blood, green is feminine dominance symbolized by BDS&M (a running motif throughout) where uninhibited women urinate on men (explicitly shown), castrate by oral sex, and divulge themselves with lots of male body disfiguration through whips, chains, and other large dominatrix toys, and blue is filled with mutants who are just as ugly on the inside as they are on the out.  Completing each stage costs Jennifer bodily harm as a reparation for staying on the path of enlightenment, the white layer.  With a little money behind the project, Ittenbach’s able to accomplish some fantastically brutal scenes with fleshy prosthetics and I, personally found the intro credits to be insanely power in it’s composition despite the simplicity of it.  Where “No Reason” buckles is the crux of Ittenbach’s artistry with the parable that borders nonsensical guff.  I’m not going to lie, “No Reason” is difficult to follow from the pre-opening credit epilogue home movie montage of Jennifer and her parents frolicking on the grass, praising Jennifer’s smarts at such a young age, to the post-opening credit opening of a naked and bloody Jennifer holding a detective hostage, to the surreal cerebral journey through a timeless purgatory horror house Jennifer finds herself trapped, the segues, if any, often feel omitted and we’re left to assume the rest. 

The brisk 76 minute runtime perfectly balances the right amount of abstract story and gore and, now, “No Reason” has a better reason for your attention with Unearthed Films’ new scan of an uncut Blu-ray release! The May release is presented in a high definition, 1080p, widescreen 1.76:1 aspect ratio. I can’t comment too much on the audio and visuals as a digital screener was only provided, which means there were no extras accompanied with the screener as well. “No Reason” is the first collaboration between Ittenbach and director of photography, Axel Rubbel. The pair went on to work on Ittenbach’s “Savage Love” two years later, but Rubbel has more of an imprint with Ittenbach’s candy-coated eye-popper gorefest with a kaleidoscope of blushes a tinged aberrant from the normal blacks, reds, and browns that blotted onto gore and shock films. The release will include two German language audio track options, a 5.1 surround sound and a stereo 2.0. Both should include English subtitles and, if the Blu-ray is anything like the digital screener, the subtitles are synched well with the dialogue and, from what I can tell, are grammatically error free. My abnormal brain can choke down the free-for-all soul-damaging ultra-violence and gore charcuterie board and Olaf Ittenbach’s “No Reason” fits that bill with a wide berth of exhibited atrocities while also coming up for air by attaching a misdirection substance behind the graphically lurid details of skin ripping from the muscular tissue and flesh lacerated to shreds by a cat-o-nine tails to ease us into the tumultuous mind of a psycho’s path.

“No Reason” available on Uncut Blu-ray!

Expectations Lead to EVIL in “The Cool Lakes of Death” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

Set in the early 1900s, Hedwig’s childhood is filled with love, wealth, and innocence, but when her mother dies suddenly at the hands of typhoid, life turns complicated as death, draconian religious teachings, and an uncompassionate home clouds Hedwig’s mind on what exactly her relationship with men and with God should look like.  Punished for self-pleasure and scolded for her belief in fantasies, Hedwig enters adulthood as a conformist seeking to marry a well off man and have children in what was supposed to be the perfect union that reveals in sexuality the secret to marriage.  Prim and proper on the outside but a child on the inside, Hedwig misjudges her affairs with men and indulges in a pretense relationship with them.   When she finally finds happiness with a renowned pianist and the two have a child together, Hedwig’s hold on reality snaps as the child dies a few days later, sending the once elegant Hedwig into a tailspin of unhinged mental stability, drug addiction, and prostitution. 

“The Cool Lakes of Death” is the adapted film based off the Netherlands novel from the dual profession novelist and psychiatrist, Frederik van Eeden, entitled Van de koele meren des doods, which closely translates to “The Deeps of Deliverance,” a psychological period piece and melodrama with themes on the antiquated God-fearing expectations of a 19th century young woman, the solidity of marital unions, and a woman’s sexual liberation.  “The Cool Lakes of Death” is the follow up directorial from “A Woman Like Eve” director, Nouchka van Brakel,” off a screenplay written also by Brakel and co-written with Ton Vorstenbosch.  The exquisite tragedy of a woman submerged in societal misconceptions of love that can’t be forced and the mutuality of pleasures is yet another Dutch production from producer Matthijs van Heijningen and his company Sigma Film Productions, who have overseen a handful of Brakel films including “The Debut” and “A Woman Like Eve.”

Understanding the mixed emotions of a young girl in the throes of self-discovery, with a pinch for the dramatic flair, Renée Soutendijk gives a prismatic performance, glistened in a stringent social dogma, of hope and pity.  The Netherlands actress, who had the role of Miss Huller in the 2018 “Suspiria” remake, the inundated Hedwig, friends call her Hetty, who has inexhaustible amount of hope in her search for passion, but insurmountable roadblocks and obstacles corrupt Hetty’s mental processor.  Soutendijk’s elegance has a soft innocence to it, a naïve virtue that contrasts bleakly against the subtle and not so subtle influencers of Hetty’s life and Soutendijk really opens our eyes when Hetty’s full blown crazy in a clear and precise moment of snapping her rationality like a dried and brittle twig.  The performance digs at you and Brakel exploits the worst (good cinematically) parts of Hetty’s break that has her be a wild, naked woman thrashing, spitting, and puking in a locked room of a psyche ward, injecting needles into her arm night after night after selling her body to unscrupulous men, or even stuffing her newborn baby into a duffel bag and heads off to sea to search for her husband Gerard, a subdued, appearance concerned gay man that never cared physically for Hetty, played by Adriaan Olree in his debut performance.  Hetty comes across two other lovers; one a flyby and compassionate artist Johan (Erik van ‘t Wout), who would have matched her passion, but not her social status, and, eventually, she finds much of what she seeks in a renowned concert pianist Ritsaart (Derek de Lint, “When A Stranger Calls” remake), who refuses to admit their relationship in fear of scandal and ruin of his career.  Along the way, Hetty listens more to her blinded heart than she does her logical mind when intaking sound advice from advocates of her wellbeing as Ritsaart’s best friend Joop (Peter Faber, “A Woman Like Eve”), her best friend Leonora (Kristine de Both), and a hospital nun (Claire Wauthion) attempt to steer her toward a happier existence. 

I really can’t get enough of Hetty unable to secure her ideal happiness.  That might sound a little inconsiderate but what is a perfect relationship?  Brakel explores how an sought ideal can turn into a damaging expedition for the white whale.  Instead of being the ill-fated, hellbent Captain Ahab, Hetty’s land based monomaniacal drive of fairytale love becomes her ultimate downfall, sinking her deeper into the depths of despair, loneliness, and a cataclysmic separation from reality.  Gerard wasn’t perfect because he secretly longed for men, Johan didn’t have the right social stature for a lady of her status, and Ritsaart kept their love hidden below the public eye.  There’s a quite a bit of feminism loitering around in that last statement with a touch of selfishness to no fault of Hetty’s and all circulate back to some sort of suppression whether it’s sexually or emotionally umbrellaed by patriarchal doctrine, discourse, and discipline.  The culture toxicity is so severe that the older generation of women are beguiled by it’s power to be controlling others themselves under the thumb of a male-dictated society as we see in Hetty’s Governess in tattling on her pupil’s every move to her wimp of a widowed father.  “The Cool Lakes of Death” is a beautiful disaster in almost a sing-songy narrative delivered by director Nouchka van Brakel’s mighty delicate touch. 

For the first time in North America and single in a trilogy of Nouchka van Brakel releases from Cult Epics, as well as in a trilogy boxset, the 1982 downcast drama “The Cook Lakes of Death,” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray home video.  The New 4k High-Def transfer is scanned from the original 35mm negative with an impeccable and nearly blemish-free restoration.  The film is presented in the European matted widescreen, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with plenty of good looking natural grain and a softer image in the trashy romance first act then to a harsher, grittier quality during the time of her ruin under the eye of Theo van de Sande who ventured from the Netherlands to the U.S. later in his career and worked on Joe Dante’s “The Hole,” “Little Nicky,” and “Blade.”  A couple of whip pans into deep focus shots enrich the production, a technique that has served Sande in his later work.  The Dutch language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossy audio is as good as this title will ever see without an actiony framework.  Dialogue is completely discernible with well synched English subtitles.  A few pops in the span but no major damage to the audio to speak about in length.  Soundtrack has barrier moments of muffled penetration.  Not too many special features to touch upon with the theatrical trailer, a poster and sill gallery, a 1982 newsreel unearthed from the Polygoon Journal archive, and a reversible Blu-ray cover. “The Cool Lakes of Death” is young and naïve adolescence transitioning into womenhood only to be tripped up every step of the way; Hetty’s eager to blossom turns to withering as the underdog in life’s kennel and Brakel’s purificatory rite of passage beautifully disembowels hope and dreams in a dreamy fashion until finding faith in life come full circle, well almost, in commencing with both feet standing into adulthood.

“The Cool Lakes of Death” on Blu-ray Home Video at Amazon.com