A Sleepover With More Pillow Fight Than EVIL. “Slumber Party Slasherthon” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)

“Slumber Party Slasherthon” on DVD at Amazon.com

We all know the familiar stages of a slumber party. The pillow fights, the junk food, and the all-nighter horror movie marathon that elicits amongst the room a simmering suspense that boils to bubble-popping action when even just the lightest rap at the front door can make one jump out of their seat in fear that the monster on the screen is also the monster clawing its way inside. These are all classic campout characteristics of a well-organized slumber party for a group of young high school planning a night of fun. Immerse in a string of video thrillers and with their male friends having joined the party, all fells safe during their night of revelry. That is until a manic with a high-powered, industrial drill shows up uninvited and unhinged. A night of fun quickly spirals into a night of unescapable terror just like in the horror movie marathon as they become the lumped together prey of their very own horror movie.

Slumber parties with uninhibited and skimpy-dressed teenage girls and the bedlam brought to the party by the unstoppable and unglued serial killer are a winning combination that go hand-in-hand just as well as vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup on a classic sundae dessert. For the unofficial king of direct-to-video sequel and the despot of campy, indie horror filmmaker, Dustin Ferguson shares that perspective with his very own unique spin on the slumber party horror subgenre with “Slumber Party Slasherthon” that showcases snippets from Ferguson’s earlier movies, as well as Abel Ferrera’s video nasty “Driller Killer,” spliced into the wraparound story in what could be considered an eclectic compilation of clip anthologies with one common theme – homicidal killers. The 2012 “Slumber Party Slasherthon” is one of a handful of Ferguson’s early feature submissions before he went on a marathon of his own in the DTV market with films including some of his more recognizable titles in “Die Sister, Die!,” “Camp Blood 4 & 5,” “RoboWoman,” “5G Zombies,” and “Ebola Rex.” Under his own production and distribution label of RHR (Retro Home Remix) Home Video, Ferguson self produces the film in Lincoln, Nebraska as a one-man operation who knows showing up to a slumber party with a blood thirsty drill is better than showing up to a slumber party empty handed.

If you’re in the mood for familiar faces or recognizable names in what could be an interesting slasher trope-laden production, well you won’t have that memory jogged I know that actress moment with a cast of unknowns beyond this credit and have securely hitched their body of work to the Dustin Ferguson business model. With a next-to-nothing on the dialogue outside the marathon showreel, the performances of Nina Colgan, Tara Hinkley, Kim Moser, and Jettie Sorensen-Sticka are left to defend their acting credentials with the dual variation of a pillow fight sequence and in which one of the arrangements, intercut with the opening title credits, is shot in negative image. The brief topless nudity of one of the actresses and the frolicking of soft pillow swings are all the girth given to the principal cast, providing no arcs, no substance, and no real chance to do anything but be bit part actors in what seems like a commercial or faux trailer for Ferguson’s other films. In fact, I did read that “Slumber Party Slasherthon” was originally intended to be a fake trailer for a sequel to the “Slumber Party Massacre” line, yet somehow the project became unbuttoned from that franchise and fashioned in a way that’s more Frankenstein’s Monster than feature file, turning “Slumber Party Slasherthon” into a demo reel for Furgeson and RHR Home Video’s DTV catalogue. I couldn’t tell you who Colgan, Hinkley, Moser, or Sorensen-Sticka played in the foursome, but Breana Michell’s is distinct from the others as the girl who arrives late only to get drilled later – offscreen, of course.

A muddied-up potpourri of RHR Home Video produced and distributed enumeration of slasher films, “Slumber Party Slasherthon” isn’t as gorily galvanizing as it sounds. From beginning to end, there’s not a single ounce of a story conveyed to lure in a potentially captivating audience wanting to bestowed upon highly sexualized girls in lingerie being ripped to shreds by a lunatic over a single night sleepover. Instead, Furgeson regurgitates clips of his schlocky direct-to-video titles from years’ past, such as “Terror at Black Tree Forest” and its sequel “Escape to Black Tree Forest,” which look just as cliched and trashy as the intended feature with an over enthusiastic use of primary color filters. Other features not directed by Furgeson but are a part of the RHR Home Video assemblage of titles is “7 Down” directed by Tyler L. Schmid and, perhaps the most buoyantly intelligible and substantial film of the whole grouping, “The Diller Killer” directed by Abel Ferrera, that ironically enough clearly partitions itself from the rest of the films as a completely deranged concept not borrowed from the canon like the rest.

A part of the Raw & Extreme label, “Slumber Party Slasherthon” comes to the masses unrated on a Wild Eye Releasing DVD. The region free releasing is presented in a stretched full screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a variety of video problem areas. Aside from the poor, commercial grade filmmaking equipment, likely a shot on a handheld digital camcorder with a max resolution output of 720p, compression artefacts run rampant with a blotchy, and often jittery with swelled pixels, image. Despite a flat hue palette for the main story, an assortment of color filters is placed on the 3rd party films showcased as horror movie marathon fodder, whether or not the “Escape to Black Tree Forest” or “Terror at Black Tree Forest” camp powwows and kill highlights are authentically presented or not in its rehashed integration into “Slumber Party Slasherthon,” I could not definitively know. The English Stereo 2.0 mono has little to offer in shepherding any kind of storytelling design nor is there an attempt at a clean sense of clarity around a dialogue track that’s poorly edited, plagued with electronic interference, and has about the sharpness of a butter knife. Levels vary wildly in the ambient and the soundtracks also. The single redeeming quality of “Slumber Party Slasherthon” is John Altyn’s “High Roller” single that leaned on to way too hard – being used in the opening credits, first act, and in the post-credits, and post-credits music video – to excel save a little change and give Ferguson’s film flashier audio tinsel with 80’s rock-n-rock. Bonus features are about the same as expected with A/V quality with a scene selection and Wild Eye trailers, plus RHR Home Video previews of “Scared Sillies 2,” “The Wanted,” “The Devil Times Five” and an awkward two-girl sway-your-hips-in-place dance party featuring Altyn’s – you guessed it – “High Roller” single (not the official music video by the way). “Slumber Party Slasherthon” is a sleeping bag full of disappointments and is the anti-scary story told that’ll lull teenage girls right to dreamland during the slumber party pajama party.

“Slumber Party Slasherthon” on DVD at Amazon.com

EVIL is Always the Quiet Ones. “Forced Entry” reviewed! (Dark Force Entertainment / Blu-ray)

“Forced Entry” on Blu-ray Available from Amazon.com and MVDShop.com

On the outside, Carl is a mild-mannered and a bit of a simpleton who works as a mechanic at the corner gas station.  On the inside, Carl’s an unstable, sociopathic rapist and murderer with chauvinistic patriarchal tendencies.  His grisly exploits rock the small New Jersey town but as life continues on so does Carl’s misguided perception that the women who cross his path want him.  As a mechanic and a rapist, Carl continues in getting his hands dirty even when the exceptionally beautiful housewife, Nancy Ulman, drops off her husband’s car for repairs.  With Nancy’s husband out of town, Carl creates an unfounded fantasy of being the one and only that can please her right.  As his obsession swells, Carl’s pushed over the edge into a no-turning back captive scenario by holding Nancy bound and hostage in her own home as he attempts irrationally and violently his case for bestowing his flawless companionship to her. 

Throughout nearly the entire history of cinema, the adult industry has remade blockbuster film titles into triple X spoofs.  “Beverly Hills Cox,” “The Penetrator,” “Clockwork Orgy,” and “Forrest Hump” are a few titles that come to mind.  But have you ever heard of a porn remade into an actual movie?  Of course, there’ve been a few biopics surrounding controversial cog players of the adult industry machine, such as with mainstream biopics that expose the lives of starlet Linda Lovelace of “Deep Throat” with Amanda Seyfried as the titular character and the notoriety of porn filmmakers Artie and Jim Mitchell in Showtime’s “Rated-X,” starring real life brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.  Never in my existence on this tectonic plate shifting Earth have I’ve ever bear witness to a porn being remade into a film marketed on retail shelves to the general public.  That’s the backstory behind Jim Sotos’s 1976 debut feature “Forced Entry” based off Shaun Costello’s 1973 stag film of the same name and starred that “Deep Throat” connection with Harry Reems as well as Reems costars Jutta David (“Sensuous Vixens”), Nina Fawcett, and Laura Cannon (“The Altar of Lust”).  Also known more uncommonly as “Mr. Death” and “Rape in the Suburbs to more commonly as“The Last Victim,” Henry Scarpelli adapted the script out of the X-rated context but kept much of the aggressive themes, changing the gas station attendant from a Vietnam shell-shocked maniac to delusional maniac stemmed from abusive mother issues.  Sotos and Scarpelli also serve as producers under the Kodiak Film production company. 

“Forced Entry” stars a then fresh faced Tanya Roberts.  The late “A View to a Kill” Bond girl and “The Beastmaster” actress received her start as the slightly frustrated, but overall pleasant, housewife Nancy Ulman who must fight for her life when Carl, under the wonderfully wild and violent guise of “Heated Vengeance’s” Ron Max, breaks into her home to fulfill his ferocious fictious fantasy.  The contrast Nancy and Carl is extremely key to “Forced Entry’s” modest success as the story plays out in both perspectives with more lean on Carl with a far more interesting mindset, internalizing monologues of desires and anger.  While Tanya Roberts is hardly stimulating on screen as routine wife and mother, concerned a little on her husband’s sudden indifferent behavior, she exhibits a stark normalcy that makes Carl’s actions flagrantly deviant with the anticipation that Nancy will be too submissive or afraid to fight back.  Ron Max is no David Hess but instills a disturbing, looney bin creeper who, most frighteningly of all, could be your neighborhood grease monkey mechanic.  Like Roberts, another yet-to-be-famous actress has her brief moments of screen time as Carl’s hitchhiker victim.  “Robocop” films’ Nancy Allen finds herself riding shotgun with a serial murder-rapist even before going face-to-face with the telekinetic prom queen, “Carrie,” in a blink and you’ll miss her thumb lifting and chitchat-disparaging segment to give Carl more depraved depth.  Billy Longo (“Bloodrage”), Michael Tucci (“Blow”), Vasco Valladeres (“Bad”), Robin Leslie, Frank Verroca, Brian Freilino and Michele Miles.

Color me easily impressed by the novelty of the basis of a porn plot being transposed into a more accessible outlet for audiences.  Pushing that novelty aside, “Forced Entry’s” plot is simply stitched together to make Carl this really bad guy by fashioning situations that indulge his impulses – a stranded woman motorist out in the middle of nowhere, a female hitchhiker talking back to him in his own car, a girl with high cut shorts pumping gas station air into her bike.  Though often disjointed in the story’s framework and for some reason, Carl’s face is initially pointlessly concealed for the broken down motorist attack, helpless moments like these, plus the crazed internal monologuing rationalizing his actions, pushes Carl’s chances of being stopped next to nil with audiences.  How will a happy homemaker, trapped in her own home, be able to survive crazy Carl?  That’s where the story really begins with the first moment he laid eyes on Nancy and as he rolls out the imaginary carpet of playing house with her, we begin to see how attached he becomes to the idea as he strays away form his normal off-the-cuff methods that has served him well until this point.  Much of the shock value comes from the climatic finale that determines Carl and Nancy’s fate with a slow-motion shot full of cacophonous screaming to bring a definitive effect to an unexpected turn of events.  “Forced Entry” is more Spinell “Maniac” than it is Hess “Last House on the Left” but not as well-known and has unformulaic structure that strolls too comfortably between the lines of shocking consternation.

Dark Force Entertainment and MVD Visual distributes this notable unconventional remake onto another Blu-ray home video, but this new and improved version of the film that includes nearly additional ten minutes of footage into the original 73-minute director cuts of the previous 2019 Dark Force Entertainment prints under the Code Red label. This longer version adds back in more of the sexually graphic material and is 1.85:1, anamorphic widescreen, presented in a 2K scanned transfer with a 1080p output from the original 35mm negative material of the US theatrical release. Granted, some of that footage, such as the snatching of the bike girl, is nearly impossible to discern much beyond an unrefined image. The coloring throughout is inconsistent and unstable with clear fluctuations in hue flickers and a few scenes early in the film suffer from conspicuous wear damage. However, I suspect this transfer to be the best of the best to date and is not all a waste of viewing space with much of the image holding up strong. The single audio option is an English LCPM 2.0 mono is not the cleanest with clearly noticeable crackle and static throughout and overtop a muted dialogue track. Tommy Vig’s (“Terror Circus”) score nabs more support than the others in the audio output. Special features include the full-length 88-minute VHS minute version from standard definition video so don’t expect the highest resolution if you’re looking for more sordid footage in an essentially quantity over quality version. The blue snapper case does have a limited edition stark black and yellow/orange cardboard slipcover. The new scan runs at 83 minutes in length in the region free and rated R Blu-ray (updated from the original PG rating when reexamined by the ratings board…go figure). Not just another rape-revenge notched into the controversial subgenre’s hole riddled belt, “Forced Entry” agitates suspicion in the most harmless of unsuspecting, quiet-natured nobodies as it only takes one to be the filthiest troublemaker hidden right under our trusting, naïve noses.

“Forced Entry” on Blu-ray Available from Amazon.com and MVDShop.com

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.