In EVIL’s Chair and Ready for a Cut. “The Stylist” reviewed! (Arrow Films / Digital Screener)

Excellent at styling hair, but not so much at making friends, Claire lives a solitary life as she’s unable to personally spark connections, even with those who she interacts with on a daily basis.  As a hairstylist, she absorbs a plethora of private information provided willingly by her clients who see her as someone not significant enough to be troublesome or detrimental to hurt them, but, little do her clients know, Claire has a dark secret with obsessively overstepping into their lives and, sometimes, directly into their shoes as murder becomes a conduit for Claire to experience a slither of momentary solidarity and belonging happiness.   Brief in its euphoria, the elated feeling doesn’t last and Claire finds herself back into a vicious cycle beginning with being defeated, but when a regular client, Olivia, begs for wedding hair help, Olivia befriends the stylist who begins to sink deeper into a misinterpreted friendship with Olivia fabricated inside Claire’s disturbed mind. 

Whenever stepping onto the hair clippings of a barbershop, sit on the padded, pump-hydraulic chair, and be asked by a for certain fallible person how I want would like my haircut, my hands nervously clutch each other, the space between my eyebrows fold in and crunch, microscopic beads of sweat go down my hair raised back and the agitation in my mind grows louder than a blow dyer on a high setting.  Why do all these externally stemmed irritants happen to me at the seemingly communal and smile gracing barbershop?  Think about my situation, one driven by introverted behaviors and pessimism for the human race, this way:  your neck is choked tight with a hairdresser body-bag resembling cape, sharp, haircutting sheers clipping swiftly overhead, and the loud buzzing of a motor purring around your ears’ edge before they detailing the side of your face with tiny razors moving hundreds of miles per hour.  Let’s not also forget about the straight-razor across your neck to attack the five o’clock shadow!  No, thank you!  So, there was already an abundance of established anxiety heading into Jill Gevargizian’s written-and-directed hairdresser horror, “The Stylist,” that takes just a little bit more off than just what’s on top.  The “Dark Web” filmmaker reteams with co-writer Eric Havens to extend the profile of the quiet and quaint, Victorian chic hairdresser, Claire and her lonely killer inclinations based off their 2016 short film of the same title and add Los Angeles based copywriter and “Night of the Wolf’s” Eric Stolze into the salon of psychological horrors mix. “The Stylist” is a production of Gevargizian’s Sixx Tape Productions, that also includes Eric Havens and lead star Najarra Townsend, alongside co-productions Claw Productions, Method Media, and The Line Film Company.

Najarra Townsend reprises her role as Claire, the lonely hairstylist bedeviled by a lack of belonging and rapport with no family or friends. Claire spirals into internalized madness that unveils when trying to step inside the lives of others as her own. The “Wolf Mother” star becomes a granular speck of torment plagued severely by social awkwardness to the point of her need for perfecting the imaginary bond between her and Brea Grant’s character, Olivia, goes into destruction level transgressions that’s normal, living rent free, in Claire’s headspace. Grant, writer and director of one of our favorite films of 2020, “12 Hour Shift,” and in the recently released, critically acclaimed, Natasha Kermani thriller, “Lucky,” has to be a larger than life persona whose the center of attention, as soon-to-be-bride going through the throes of wedding planning, that can draw in the wide-eyed and impressionable Claire like a moth to a flame. Townsend’s a specific kind of talent to get inside Claire’s ennui state not once, but twice. The latter precisely nails down Claire’s outlying, exterior behavior, but also smooths out a mustard nuance veneer of vintage chic that becomes a part of the building blocks peculiarly exclusive to her quietly disruptive cause. Starkly contrasted against Claire, Grant relates to who we all see on the outside as Olivia, a shining glow of smiles and worries that most people can digest with ease on a daily bases and while her life, as chaotic as may seem with a wedding near on the horizon and questioning a deep down decision about marriage, is juxtaposed with such distinction that Gervargizian literally puts Claire and Olivia side-by-side in a split screen early in the film to expose one hiding her secrets and the other letting them all hang out. Sarah McGuire (“The House of Forbidden Secrets”), Millie Milan (“Clownado”), Davis DeRock and Laura Kirk round out the supporting cast.

Take a moment and breathe the very essence of women-driven horror that’s as stylish as it is deliciously deranged.  “The Stylist” echoes similar psychopathic traits of William Lustig’s “Manic” and displays self-careening elements soaked in barbicide and Gothicism.  The junior film of Jill Gevargizian narrates through the eyes of Claire’s unraveling humanity from the stylist’s quick fix of bloody hair removal to the potential for climbing out of that deep, dark hole of loneliness only to be suddenly sideswiped by the falters of manufactured delusions. “The Stylist” is wrapped in a sullen hairnet that never shows the jovial side of Claire’s pleasures as she’s embodying someone under their locks after calculatingly cutting more than just their hair; a perspective exclusively held within Claire’s head, leaving viewers entangled in her in seemingly normal beauty shell and her inner demented chaos. You feel sorry for her forlorn life, but creeped out by that same life’s byproduct. One aspect that “The Stylist” lacks, that can be off-putting for some, is the mold that made Claire. Miniscule slips of her upbringing becomes not enough to paint an exact portrait of Claire as a malevolent monster with sociable dysphoria and as the story builds to a climax and Claire tries to imitate her mother, who died in her mid 30’s when Claire was 17, the mimicry fairs to say that her mother also had similar problems that has innately passed and has coped a different way of dealing with mental illness by way of alcoholism, mentioned by Claire in a moment of courting a friendship with an eager bridezilla, Olivia.

What a fitting film to be discussed and celebrated on International Women’s Day 2021 in the Jill Gevargizian directed and Najarra Townsend lead “The Stylist” now released exclusively on Arrow Film’s UK VOD platform ahead of the physical Blu-ray package and digital HD releases come June 2021. Film film clocks in at a 105 minute runtime and is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Behind the camera is Robert Patrick Stern whose composition of imagery is based mainly in natural lighting while dabbling in warm coloring such as reds, the occasional vibrant magenta, and a consistent yellow mustard, a favorite not only in Claire’s wardrobe but also tinged on the lens whenever a part of Claire’s localized disturbia. Stern’s clean and sleek picture palpably elevated John Pata’s editing of montages that were superimposed with transitions and the soul searing music of Nicholas Elert’s melancholic inducing piano-industrial score. There were no bonus features included nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Stylist” honors the past by reinventing the wheel in Jill Gevargizian’s clipping thriller with a hair-raising performance by Najarra Townsend as the maniacal hairdresser lonely next door.

EVIL Does a Little Bathhouse Wet Work in “Melancholic” reviewed! (Third Window Films / Blu-ray Screener)

On nights when a humble Japanese bathhouse is supposed to be closed for business, the lights remain illuminated, gleaming off the crimson covered ceramic tiles of Mr. Azuma’s bathhouse floors as body’s soak in a pool of blood.  The proprietor, Mr. Azuma, is in severe financial debt to Yakuza boss Tanaka who turns his meager business into a nightly slaughter house to dispose of Yakuza opposition or those just on the syndicate’s bad side.  When Tokyo University graduate, Kazuhiko, applies for a job as an attendant to see a girl who regular attends the bathhouse, the reserved model employee becomes enthralled with the disposing and cleaning up of the corpses, working alongside a couple of professional hitmen, Matsumoto and Kodero, but when the job he’s so passionate about requires him to be more hands on with the assassination assignments and the endless pressure from the Yakuza bares down on his colleagues and friends, Kazuhiko’s radical plan to eradicate the woes of his newfangled position just might mean his very life. 

Seiji Tanaka’s self-esteem building and identity attaining crime drama, “Melancholic,” might not reside as absolute horror, but any film involving the Japanese Yakuza is an unpredictable, Machiavellian expo worthy of every second.  Originally titled in Japan as “Merankorikku” or “メランコリック,” writer-director Tanaka retains a bloody disposition of the historically violently depicted Yakuza-storied narrative, but is asymmetrical with a converging love affair, complementary conflicting the dark and light with clarity of the centric character’s unintended double life into the criminal enterprise of cleaning a bloody bathhouse.  Based off Seiji Tanaka’s short film of the same title, “Melancholic” mops up as an immersive black dramedy from Seiji Tanaka as the filmmaker’s first credited feature film produced by One Goose production in association with Uplink and JGMP.

The story concentrates most of the effort around Kazuhiko, a graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University who doesn’t have a good job and lives with his pampering parents, fitted by Yoji Minagawa as a social misfit living on the outskirts of the Japanese mantra of diligence and integrity.  Minagawa bores out Kazuhiko’s diffidence, chocking up his damp disposition to the indecisions toward his future, that forces other characters to influence his choices, such a former high school classmate in Yuri with an effervescent performance by “Tag’s” (“Riaru onigokko”) Mebuki Yoshida.  Yuri’s infectious affection for Kazuhiko and her regular attendance at the bathhouse encourages Kazuhiko to apply and become hired for a cleaning attendant position alongside a blonde, and undereducated in comparison, counterpart in Matsumoto (Yoshitomo Isozaki), but to Kazuhiko’s surprise, his overqualified ego is shattered when he discovers that the bathhouse is a Yakuza place of execution and those all around him are more experienced in that trade, detonating a plume of black comedy, work place haughtiness that Kazuhiko has to balance with his personal relationship growing with Yuri.  Most of the exchanges are straight forward and culturally inflection heavy, especially when dire moments rear their heads, but some more compassionate and delicate scenes rouse through the overt inflections with Minagawa and Yoshida at the helm of their blossoming onscreen romance, adding to the stark contrast to the opposing narrative. Stefanie Arianne, Makoto Hada, Yasuyuki Hamaya, Takanori Kamachi, Hiroko Shinkai, Masanobu Yada, Keiji Yamashita, and Yuti Okubo fill out “Melancholic’s” cast.

“Melancholic” is a rather odd title integrated into the briefly pensive struggles of Kazuhiko to an intrinsic network of assassination gunplay and backstabbing knavery, offering little profound sadness and despair and more shrewd hostility when those in charge ask for an inch but take a mile out of the personnel pool. For a Yakuza film, Tanaka’s bath and butcher story has barely a budget to entertain technical action sequences in tight spaces, but the action is kept taut and intense and despite the lack of a Yakuza presence, with only one single boss representing an entire faction, the transposing of Kazuhiko’s personal and professional stations washes away much of budgetary concerns down the drainpipe as an irresistible curiosity to see how our hero softly stumbles through a sudden confluence of the two repelling paths will play out. Most audiences will overlook the comedy for a countless reasons as “Melancholic” up plays into the satirical rigors of the Japanese sullen humor. The fact that that the subject matter is also about mercilessly murder people in a bathhouse will undoubtedly pigeonhole the film with pre-labeled genre. Tanaka slips in gallons of subdued irony ripe for the complex circumstances hazardous to all bathhouse employees and their pryingly oppressive management.

The award winning Japanese film (aggregated wins from multiple Eastern Asian film festivals) “Melancholic” arrives onto a dual format DVD/Blu-ray from UK distributor Third Window Films, a loyal provider of extreme Asian cult and horror. Since the Blu-ray was a screener, the A/V aspects won’t be reviewed in it’s entirety and the specifications weren’t provided with the screener. Ryô Takahashi’s cinematic vision brings out the beauty in simplification without being ostentatious with camera angles or relying heavily on tint boxes; yet, the blend of steady cam and handheld tilts to the one side with the jitteriness of the handheld seizing the stage. Bonus features were included on the screener, including a behind-the-scenes of a documentary-style shot look at moments before, during, and after takes, a Q and A panel with the cast and crew, and the “Melancholic” short film. Seiji Tanaka’s breakthrough bloodbath, “Melancholic,” sounds more despondent than the dismal thought of a cold shower on a freezing day, but the heated ferocity rite into adulthood keeps this Japanese dramedy warm with tension and cozy with vortex humor.v

Purchase “Melancholic” on Blu-ray / DVD!

Defy EVIL to Live! “Alone” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Six months after the suicide of her husband, Jessica struggles to cope living in the city that holds too many fond memories of her once happy life with her husband.  Jessica packs her things and quickly drives out to the wilderness, separating herself from the city as well as her unsupportive parents.   On the road, she encounters an incessant man following her every track before violently kidnapping her and hiding her away in a bare room of an isolated cabin deep within the woods.  Her escape opposes her not only against a calculating captor hot in pursuit, but also against nature’s unforgiving elements, showing little mercy to Jessica’s dire and desperate getaway. 

From eluding the flesh hungry, running zombies of Syfy’s “Z-Nation” and Netflix’s “Black Summer,” director John Hyams has us fleeing once again for our very lives against a more realistic monster in his upcoming abduction thriller, “Alone.” Screenwriter Mattias Olsson takes a backseat from directing “Alone,” which is a remake of his written and co-directed 2011 Swedish film, “Gone,” paralleling the premise about a woman fleeing a family tragedy only to be followed and kidnapped by a man driving a SUV.  Shot in Oregon’s silvan outskirts, “Alone” is a survival thriller with emerging themes of taking back one’s life in more ways than one and no more running from an unbearable past built into a conceivable terror situation that has unfortunately been a common episode all over the globe.  “Alone” will be the second feature film produced under Mill House Motion Pictures, under the supervision of founders Jordan Foley and Jonathan Rosenthal, the latter having a small role in the film, and is also a film from a second Jordan Foley company, Paperclip Limited, who has Lisa Simpson voice actress herself, Yeardley Smith, as one of the active partners, and, lastly, in association with XYZ Films.

The up and coming young actress, Jules Willcox (“Dreamkatcher”) stars in the lead of Jessica who hasn’t have a friend in the world, alienating herself from her former life and her parents with a sudden escape to the Oregon wilderness.  The physically demanding role withstands the brunt of constant attack, whether from Marc Menchaca’s unnamed assailant character or the natural elements of the forest that include from the massive rapid rivers and torrential rains to the smallest of roots that spear her bare feet while on the run.  Willcox also brings to the role an indistinct mindset, jumbled with the lingering and complicated suicide of Jessica’s husband, paranoia, and an instinctual reaction to survive, especially through Willcox’s eyes that arch from fear to fortitude.  To really envelope Willcox in that unwarranted fear of harm and pushing her character into the unknown of the adversarial complex that is mother nature is Marc Menchaca as a conniving creep looking to do as much pleasurable damage on his bogus business trip as possible.  Menchaca also looks the part, resembling an out of place 70’s-80’s serial killer with round thin-framed glasses and a moderately bushy handlebar mustache overtop a sturdy frame.  Now while these attributes are not indicative to just serial killers, they sure as hell work well on screen to really sell the intensity that Menchaca delivers as a faux Ned Flanders type nice guy, a sheep in a wolf’s clothing so to speak, who acts a lure against his prey before venomously striking.  The small cast rounds out with Anthony Heald of the Anthony Hopkins “Hannibal” films in a small, yet uncharacteristic, good guy role as a hunter caught in the middle of Jessica’s situation.

While suicide might be the catalyst that compels Jessica to drive into the middle of nowhere, Matthias and Hymans only utilize the power theme as an instrument against Jessica’s psyche.  Jessica runs and hides from polite and comfortable society, but the recently widowed soon discovers that she can’t outrun her past as she hits a perverse wall constructed in the form of a man of sordid pleasures and sociopathic tendencies.  Her kidnapper becomes, in a way, her therapist who, at one point, pins her to the ground and scrolls through the personal photos on her tablet, forcing her to talk about her husband up to the point of his death, and consistently throughout the film that his actions were cowardly, removing the blame from her and onto him while emphasizing her tremendous guilt for not seeing the signs earlier.  “Alone” blossoms a wildly curative dynamic that encourages Jessica to then defend herself and her husband’s memory by standing up against not only the man’s relentless chase, but also her guilt.  The thick Oregon setting becomes a security blanket, sheathing her endless dismay, but the forest is actually does more harm than good for Jessica.  Only when does Jessica steps into a wide clearing of lumberjacked tree stumps does hiding from all the pain and torment become no longer an option as she makes her last stand against her attacker, unloading her fear, anger, and guilt upon the man by exposing him as an oppressive killer. While immersed in watching, “Alone” will deprive oxygen from your body that’s desperately gasping to fill your lungs with air in every harrowing chapter, but “Alone” is a breadth with a throng of digging out of despair overtones and a conduit for self-repair that’s unraveled symbolically through the afflictions of bona fide sadism.

“Alone” rises above the call of arms against predatory men in this thrilling remake from John Hyams, releasing into Theaters and VOD on September 18th from Magnet Releasing. The rated R, 98 minute feature will not have the A/V specs critique due to the digital screener, but Federico Verardi (“Z-Nation”) grasps the elegant threat of the woods by using drone shots to shoot the very tippy-top of the swaying trees that conceal the ground, as if obscuring the atrocity being committed below, and applying low-contrast to make insidious hard shadows against green lush that turn beauty dark and deceitful. *Director John Hyams has noted the rapid’s scene where Jessica temps fate to escape her pursuer was practical and performed by stuntwoman Michelle Damis and though looked a little off around the Jessica’s unsubmerged profile as she’s whisked away down the river, the effect is 100% legit. “The Pyramid” and “Becky’s” Nima Fakhrara scores a low-impact tremble for most of the feature with Jessica’s running through the woods is accompanied an equally low-impact drumming, letting the ebb and flow of resonating forest ambience engulf much of the soundtrack to solidify it as a correlative character; even the end credits is purely nature’s ambient noise. Since “Alone” is a brand new feature, there were no bonus material or bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Alone” knicks the core of vulturine power, but turns the tables toward more feminist revelation to fight and take back one’s life.

*Correction: Previously stated the rapids scene was CGI.

 

Nothing Will Stop EVIL From Being EVIL! “Chaos” reviewed! (Dark Force Entertainment & Code Red / Blu-ray)


Visiting home on break from UCLA, Angelica visits her close friend, Emily, at her parents’ secluded country home. With nothing else better to do in the small rural town just outside Los Angeles, the two teenage girls set off early to attend a local rave deep within the woods at the reluctance of Emily’s overprotective parents and to kickstart what could be a drink and dance fueled night, they aim to push the limits and find a drug pusher to score ecstasy as the first priority to make a dull party fun. They run into Swan who promises the best ecstasy as he leads them to his cabin away from the rave. What Angelica and Emily find is themselves caught in the middle of a ploy by a sadistic gang lead by the ruthless Chaos, whose wanted in 4 states for his barbaric and merciless methods and looking for something fun to play with and torture. The cat-and-mouse game with the girls makes an interesting turn when the gang arrives at Emily’s parents’ house when their van breaks down and the parents suspect them in Emily’s sudden disappearance, veering the night into unreserved chaos.

“Chaos” is the intended true love song remake to Wes Craven’s 1972 sadistically vile “The Last House on the Left” that’s co-produced by Marc Sheffler, who play Junior Stillo in Craven’s film, and, at one time, Krug himself, David Hess, was attached to the project. “Chaos’s” conception is the brain child of Steven Jay Bernheim and David DeFalco, with the DeFalco wielding the hammer of writer and director, and the pair have collaborated a few years earlier on another DeFalco directorial, a comedy horror entitled “The Backlot Murders.” In the eyes of the filmmakers, the amply charged exploitative “Chaos” shares more in common with the original “The Last House on the Left,” despite having no official connection other than the ties with Marc Sheffler, and that the more commercialized remake of the same original title, released four years after “Chaos” in 2009 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE), lost that raw camerawork and visceral storytelling that depicted the abhorrent human malevolency that’s capable from within us all. “Chaos” is essentially a self-funded project from Steven Jay Bernheim’s Bernheim Productions.

Though Sage Stallone, the late son of the iconic action movie star, Sylvester Stallone, receives front cover bill due to, in perhaps, his name alone, but the film is called “Chaos” which centers the story around the “Heat” and “Laid to Rest” actor, Kevin Gage. In some kind of cosmic circumstances in regards to recent events, before the Kelly Preston settled into married life with John Travolta, she was once wedded to Gage, marking “Chaos” as a timely film from 2005 and a just so happened upon my lap occurrence for this review. Yet, Gage, a seemingly giant of a man with a resemblance build toward WWE/WWF’s legendary Bill Goldberg, utilizes his intimidation appearance, transferring all the good and gentleness that’s described of him from fellow costars into a pure embodiment of evil whose misogynistic, bigoted, a killer, and just a downright bad guy giving way a testament to the character’s adverse moniker. Gage brings to the table a formidable tone, viperous wit, and a clean cut brutality in the most sordid and unforgettable ways that makes him stick out as portraying one of the most inhumane villains in the last 15 years of the cinematic universe. Chaos’s infamy is by ingenious design from the Marc Sheffler and David DeFalco collaborations who, along with the actors’ faux backstories, meticulously craft each of the gang’s personalities. Sage Stallone’s Swan seems like a similar parallel version of Sage in reality as a chain-smoking, reserved individual sans the perverse context. “The Love Witch’s” Stephen Wozniak is a complimenting character that offerings a different personality with Frankie and Frankie’s feels like a two-bit slime ball with long, greasy hair, an unkempt beard, and a scrawny figure but can produced an evil that’s step or two back from Chaos; Frankie is a character you’ll love and you’ll love to hate, making Wozniak’s performance singular and one of the best in the film. Then, there’s Daisy, the only female of the group though more butch than delicate, and Kelly K.C. Quann (“Baberellas”) adds a dose of Southern inhospitality to Daisy’s brutish beauty. “Chaos” rounds out with a bunch of victims; hell, everyone’s a victim, but the cast includes Deborah Lacey, Scott Richards, Maya Barovich, Chantal Degroat, Ken Medlock, and Jeb Barrows.

“Chaos” absolutely equates toward the unflinching callous themes from “The Last House on the Left” of violence amongst various degrees of people, youthful ingenuousness, and systematic racism with the latter being extremely relevant and on point, years earlier, of the current social climate in America. Yet, with any remake, “Chaos” yearns to stand on its own by instituting an unmeasurable sense of graphic violence that will churn stomachs, advert eyes, and belly-up the throes of disgust. For a good portion of “Chaos,” the exploitation narrative is fairly run-of-the-mill, damn near walks the same line as Craven’s story, with a sadistic gang kidnapping two young women for their own amusement only to then wander unknowingly into the arms of retributive parents, but two scenes sticky out and go beyond the course of customary exploitation fodder and into necrophilia, mutilation of body parts, and a perverse way to kill another human being with such tactless intentions that the act makes the other gang members splay questions, doubt, and fear amongst their faces. The film opens up with a written warning, not so much on the intense scenes themselves, but resembling more of a public service announcement for parents that what you’re about to see does and will happen to the youth of land, but these shocking scenes are just that, for shock value, and that a small percentage of people partake in such grisly matters. “Chaos” is violence upon violence, leaving no room for conscious absolving resolutions in the unofficial capacity of a remake that pungently separates itself with extreme violence and that’s saying something considering Craven’s visceral first course.

As the bestow flagship release of Dark Force Entertainment, “Chaos” arrives onto a deluxe special edition Blu-ray in association with Code Red and distributed by MVDVisual. Transferred through to a 1080p, high definition scan, from the original 35mm negative, complete with extensive color correction, and presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio. “Chaos” doesn’t look very chaotic anymore in regards to the image quality; instead, the before stardom cinematography by Brandon Trost (“Lords of Salem” and “Halloween” remake) creates the voyeuristic position of the audience is now visually distinct with stable color markers that are more in tune with the premise’s raw approach. The English language dual channel stereo mix renders softer than desired, especially in the first act as Angelica and Emily converse through the woods. The teenagers dialogue are nearly mumbling on their rave trek with depth issues perplexing their relation to camera. Range seems to be well faceted: rustling leaves through the woods, the clank-clunks of a rustic van, the ground skirmishes. All seem to exude exact decimals of their intended value. Even the firing of firearms has a pleasantry about it. The special features include brand new interviews with co-producer Marc Sheffler, who goes in-depth pre-production and production while also touching upon his other interests before concluding with director David DeFalco and a man in a banana suit making an appearance and offering up dick jokes, and actor Stephen Wozniak with a fountain of information about his time on production, his fellow cast, and about the filmmakers as he is being interviewed in front of a locomotive museum. I love the absurd, obscurity of it all. The bonus material rounds out with commentary from the director and producer as well as the original theatrical trailer. The lewd and radical “Chaos” has engrossing roots of violence that burgeon into realm of rarity or, if not, into sadomishsim extended by the filmmaker’s deepest darkest desire, but what’s transpires on screen is difficult to look away from which begs the question, is it morbid curiosity or is there something far more sinister within us all?

Own “Chaos” on on the new “Blu-ray” release!

To Be EVIL, You Must Capture EVIL! “Thir13en Ghosts” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Scream Factory)

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A maniacal and obsessed ghost hunter, Cyrus Kriticos, traps 12 tormented and violent spirits with the help of an avaricious, but anguished psychic, Dennis Rafkin, but when trapping the last ghost, the worst of the worst, a barbaric mass murder in life and in death named Juggernaut, Cyrus is killed in the process. His death leads to the inheritance of a one-of-a-kind house to his widowed nephew, Arthur, and his two children who are barely scraping by after the unexpected fiery death of their beloved wife and mother. When they enter what seemingly feels like a godsend house, immaculately structured entirely out of glass and metal, they find themselves trapped inside after tripping a series of mechanism that turn the isolated and elegant abode into a labyrinthic machine. Stuck inside with Arthur and his family are Dennis Rafkin and a ghost friendly liberator, Kalina Oretiza, who explain that the house is actually an evil machine with a goal of opening the eye to Hell and that the ghosts, imprisoned in the basement, are components that are being set free one-by-one in order to fulfill the ritual.
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In the world of remakes, only a select few ever surpass the original. In fact, on rare occasions, do remakes actually replace the original due in part to being beyond respectful as well as masterful amongst critics and genre fans that have bestowed the reimagining an untouchable rendition to which no one can find anything wrong with it; this films include John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” and Chuck Russell’s “The Blob,” with Zack Synder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” receiving well-deserved honorable mentions, because let’s face it, topping George Romero’s original work can be said to be blasphemous slander. What about those remakes in between? Those just above the pile of awfulness that generally makeup remakes? I consider Steve Beck’s “Thir13en Ghosts” to be one of this mid-level remake films that registers well with fans, but on the flips side of that coin, doesn’t ascend to total prominence over its predecessor. Written by longtime Full Moon Entertainment writer Neal Marshall Stevens (“Hideous!” and “The Killer Eye”) and Richard D’Ovidio (“The Call”), “Thir13en Ghosts” is a 2001 near-total rework of the 1960 William Castle directed and Robb White scripted “13 Ghosts” that used gimmicks like 3D specter glasses to draw audiences into the theater. “Thir13en Ghosts” was the second film after another William Castle remake, “House on Haunted Hill,” of the newly formed, William Castle nod-to, Dark Castle Entertainment, a division of Joel Silver’s Silver Productions formed by Silver, Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”), and Gilbert Adler (“Bordello of Blood”) that honed initially on producing stylishly modern takes on classic gothic horror, such as “Ghost Ship,” the remake of “House of Wax,” and “Orphan.” What came out of this collaboration between Steve Beck and Dark Castle Entertainment is a complete dismantling of the wood paneling and lament flooring story for a modern marvel to emerge of unique terror that hasn’t been duplicated since.
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“Thir13en Ghosts” has an impressive, if not all-star, cast with diverse range of styles and experiences that it’s almost dumbfounding on how the filmmakers were able to contract some of these talents, including F. Murray Abraham, who has had an already eclectic credit list with “Amadeus,” “Surviving the Game,” and Mimic, and Tony Shalhoub who hand standout performances in “Addams Family Values,” “Men in Black,” and “Galaxy Quest.” Abraham and Shalhoub bring a sense of classical and methodological structure in a stark contrast between rationality and irrationality built upon an indifference of solitude and a sense of family. Then, there’s the comedic relief in the midst of danger, Matthew Lilliard (“Scream”) as the suffering psychic who uses his wit tongue to spur others and introducing hip-hop artist, Rah Digga, in one of her only motion picture performances to alleviate suspension with more tongue-and-cheek moments. Lilliard and Digga offer up two different comic styles while sustaining the underlying severity of being trapped inside an evil machine full of violent ghosts. Shannon Elizabeth, who we all know by now as the stunning “American Pie” girl, Nadia, or as I know her as the unfortunately raped and murder victim of a killer snowman in “Jack Frost,” plays Arthur Kriticos daughter, Kathy, who still a fresh faced newcomer to Hollywood despite being a hot commodity after her topless role in “American Pie.” The superb support roles don’t end there with notable roles from JR Bourne (“Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning”), Matthew Harrison, Alec Roberts, John DeSantis, and EmBeth Davidtz, Sheila from “Army of Darkness,” as the ghost liberator.
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It’s hard to believe that “Thir13en Ghosts” is nearly 20-years old. I still recall my 17 year old self sitting in for a theatrical showing, remembering the opening gargoyle growling as the Dark Castle Entertainment logo reveals itself during the opening title credits, and coming out of the maze-like, gory-ghost film having experienced something special, even if then I didn’t understand why, only to years later realize that I’ve never seen something like “Thir13en Ghosts” before in my life. How does a remake reinvent itself so much that it can separate itself from the original film while also beguile with fresh ideas and no take a slew of browbeating chirps from those who holdfast that the original is the one and only? Most remakes cheaply throw gore to the wind, adding buckets of blood in hopes to satisfy horror buffs, but what winds up happening is that we ultimately get bored, having experienced blood and guts from singular storied films. “Thir13n Ghosts’” premise isn’t the only worthwhile experience that deserves praise, but also the spectacular production design by Sean Hargraves that thrusts the glass house concept into new heights with the house actually becoming an interestingly steampunk character itself and the prosthetic effects from a team spearheaded by a trio of the best special makeup effects artists in horror today, such as Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Gregory Nicotero., turning ghoulish encounters to ghastly visions that convey truly a tormented soul in the 12 ghosts. Though the story itself isn’t perfect, flawed at times with static character development and a few plot holes involving the ghosts and sequences of events, “Thir13en Ghosts” remains a cult favorite gaslit by frightening imagery, a solid cast, and unforgetting production design that started 21st century horror off brazenly strong.
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Collect all “Thir13en Ghosts” on the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory sheathed in a cardboard slip cover and has a reverse artwork liner that has the original poster artwork and new vivid illustration by Joel Robinson. Presented in a 1080p, high definition widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, from the original 35mm negative, “Thir13en Ghosts” shares a consistent image and vibrancy layer with the DVD version with an enhanced color stability. No edge enhancement or cropping adjustments rendered or any other blemishes to speak of, but the softer details could have been sharpened to gave a hard edge around the non-spiritual energy. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 boosts the already hefty soundtrack that’s full of explosions and ghostly swooshes and moaning hums, finished off with grand, orchestra soundtrack by John Frizzell It’s been said that audience had to excuse themselves from the film due in part to the overbearing noise coupled with the strobe-like imagery, but the overall audio and visuals are a combined one-two punch of sensory power that works well. The Scream Factory release has new interviews in the bonus material, including sit downs with actors Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Harrison, and John DeSantis and producer Gilbert Adler. There’s also a audio commentary with director’s Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargraves, and special effects artist Howard Berger. There’s also an in-depth look at the creation of the thirteen ghosts in a small featurette, their backstory profiles, and the theatrical trailer. However you want to call it, whether it’s “Thir13en Ghosts,” “Thirteen Ghosts, or “13 Ghosts,” this new century remake still holds up to today’s horror lot with spellbinding phantom pandemonium in a glass box!

“Thir13en Ghosts” on Blu-ray on Amazon.com