EVIL Lights Up When Peeling Skin! “Human Lanterns” reviewed! (88 Films / Blu-ray)



Own this beautiful release from 88 Films of the “Human Lanterns”

Two respected and wealthy Kung-Fu masters have a long rivalry, trying to one-up each other at any cost even if that means stooping into their personal life to gain the most public admiration.  With the annual lantern festive approaches, to have the best and brightest lantern would sustain at least a year of gloating over the other master.  When a lantern maker with a retaliation mindset against one of the more boastful masters is hired to make his festival entry, the lantern maker exacts horrifying revenge by fueling their feud behind the scenes. Kidnapping beautiful women who are dear to each master and exploiting their soft delicacies for his crazed creations, the maniac lantern maker turns the village upside down, forcing the local constable into an impossible investigate into the village’s most popular residents when none of the evidence points to the other.

“Ren pi den long,” aka “Human Skin Lanterns,” aka “Human Lanterns” is a grisly Kung-Fu murder-mystery that’ll make your skin crawl right off from your body. The stylishly colored and ethereally varnished 1982 Hong Kong film is written-and-directed by Taiwanese director Chung Sun (“Lady Exterminator) that blended the likes of a giallo mystery into the well-choreographed martial arts mania with the profound Kung-Fu screenwriter, Kuang Ni (“The One-Armed Swordsman,” “The Flying Guillotine”), co-writing the script alongside Sun. While not as ostentatiously gory or as cinematically profane as the 80’s released Category III certified films that rocked Hong Kong audiences, and the censor board, with shocking, gruesome imaginary and content, “Human Lanterns” does sit teetering on the edge with mostly a tame Kung-Fu feature that quickly turns into the blistering carnage of a basket case, or in this a lantern maker, who uses hiding as a double entendre. “Human Lanterns” is a Shaw Brothers Studio production executively produced by the oldest of two brothers, Rumme Shaw, and, then new to the Shaw Brothers’ board of directors, producer Mona Fong.

“Human Lanterns” starred two the renowned names in martial arts films from the 1970s and well into the 1980s with “Fist of Fury” and “The Swordsman and the Enchantress’s” Tony Liu as the impeccably arrogant Lung Shu-Ai with a self-image to protect more than the women in his life and “Bloody Monkey Master” and “Return of the Bastard Swordsman” Kuan Tai Chen sporting a sweet mustache as Lung’s longtime rival, Tan Fu. Shu-Ai and Chen have really spot on, well-versed, fight sequences together braided into their play off each other’s character’s haughty personas. While behind the curtain of overweening and defiance between the two masters, Chao Chun-Fang unceremoniously sneaks into the fold by happenstance as Lung offers him money for the best lantern this side of the lantern festival. Lung and Chao Chun-Fang, played with a demented, idiosyncratic duality from Leih Lo (“The Five Fingers of Death,” “Black Magic”), another master in the art of fighting in his own style, have an inimical past…well, at least thought so by Chun-Fang. In a sword dual over a woman, Lung defeats Chun-Fang and purposefully scars him above the left eye, causing him the inability to look up, and while the lantern maker has stewed for many years, training all the while to be the best fighter, his tormentor Lung Shu-Ai has nearly all forgotten about the incident and found trivial enough to ask Chung-Fang to make him a lantern and offer him out for drinks for being old buddies of yore. However, this yard pulls the wool over the eyes of self-centered, the upper class, and the unruffled nonchalant as Chung-Fang takes advantage of the Kung-Fu masters naivety and uses the rival as a screen to cover up his kidnapping deeds of the women in their lives, played by Ni Tien (“Corpse Mania”), Linda Chu (“Return of the Dead”), and Hsis-Chun Lin. “Human Lanterns” rounds out the character list with a hired assassin in Meng Lo (“Ebola Syndrome”) and a competent but out of his league village constable in Chien Sun (“The Vampire Raiders”).

The look of “Human Lanterns” is often dreamy. No, I don’t mean dreamy as in gazing into the strong blue eyes of your tall and dark fantasy man. The dreamy I’m speaking of is produced by cinematographer An-Sung Tsao’s luminescence that radiates of background and the characters through the wide range of primary hues. Tsao’s colorful and vibrant eye doesn’t clash with the vintage era piece consisting of impressively detailed sets, a costume design plucked straight from the 19th, and hair, makeup, and props (which I’ve read some of the blades were authentic) to bring up the caboose of selling the completed package of delivering a spot-on period film. When Leih Loh dons the skull mask, an undecorated and unembellished human skull, with wild, untamed hair sprouted from every side of the eyeless mask, Loh transforms into a part-man, part-beast jumping, summersaulting, leaping, and seemingly flying through the air like a manically laughing ghost. The visual cuts petrifyingly more than described and if you add an extensive amount of Kung-Fu to the trait list, “Human Lanterns” has a unique and unforgettable villain brilliantly crafted from the deepest, darkest recesses of our twisted nightmares. “Human Lanterns” has a wicked and dark side that balances the more arrogantly campiness of Lung and Tan’s hectoring rivalry. When Lieh Loh is not skinning in his workshop or Lung and Tan are not bullying each other into submission, there’s plenty of action with the heart stopping, physics-defying martial arts that just works into the story as naturally as the horror and the comedy. With shades of giallo and fists of fury, “Human Lanterns” is Hong Kong’s very own distinctive and downright deranged brand of good storytelling.

88 Films lights the way with a new high-definition Blu-ray of the Shaw Brothers’ “Human Lanterns” from the original 35mm negative presented in Shawscope, an anamorphic lensed 2.35:1 aspect ratio that more than often displays the squeeze of the picture into the frame. One could hardly tell the upscale to 1080p because of the very reason I explained in the previous paragraph of the airy An-Sung Tsao façade that softly glows like bright light behind a fog. Nonetheless, the image quality is still stunning and vivid, a real gem of conservation and handling on this Blu-ray release. The Mandarin dubbed DTS-HD 1.0 master audio is synched well enough to the action for a passing grade. The foley effects, such as the swipes and hits, are often too repeated for comfort, but adds to “Human Lantern’s” campy charm. The newly translated English subtitles are synchronous with the picture and are accurate but, in rare instances, come and go too quickly to keep up with the original language. The release comes not rated with a run time of 99 minutes and is region locked at A and B. Why not go full region free is beyond me? Licensing? Anyway, special features include an audio commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillon of the Podcast On Fire Network, “A Shaw Story” interview with then rising Hong Kong star Susan Shaw who talks about the competitive and easy blacklisting Hong Kong and Tawain cinema market, “The Beauty and the Beasts” interview with in story brothel mistress played by Linda Chu often harping upon not wanting to do nudity despite directors begging her, “Lau Wing – The Ambiguous Hero” interview with Tony Liu that comes with its own precaution title card warning of bad audio (and it is really bad and kind of ear piercing) as the lead man really regales his time on set and in the industry between Golden Harvest Productions and Shaw Brothers Studios, and rounding out the main special features is the original trailer. The package special features is a lantern of a different color with a limited edition cardboard slipcase with new artwork from R.P. “Kung-Fu Bob” O’Brien, a 24-page booklet essay entitled “Splicing Genres with Human Lanterns” by Barry Forshaw accompanied by full colored stills, posters, and artwork by O’Brien, a double-sided fold out poster, and reversible Blu-ray cover art that can be flipped from the same, yet still awesome, O’Brien slipcover art to the original release art. The new 88 Films’ Blu-ray set conjures a renaissance satisfaction like none other for a highly recommended, genre-ambiguous, vindictive affray.

Own this beautiful release from 88 Films of the “Human Lanterns”

EVIL Atones with Drugs and Torture! “Xpiation” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

Atone for Your Sins By Buying “Xpiation” on Blu-ray from Amazon!

An elegantly dressed woman thrones herself into the middle of a grungy corridor, pointing a video camera toward two unconscious men. One man lies face down on the floor while the other is gagged and bound naked to a chair. When both men awake from their slumber, the man from the floor continuously tortures the man confined the chair by beating him, slicing his face open with a knife, scraping his skin open with steel wool, bludgeoning him with a clothes iron, and hammering his scrotum all the while the mysterious woman videotapes. The woman coddles her delusional torturous goon with powerful narcotics and motherly affection to do her bidding. She also participates in a few pain inflicting activities that adds more insult to injury to the beaten to a pulp and humiliated young man hanging onto his life by a thread.

Italian gore and shock filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo wanted to emulate the notoriously extreme and underground horror series Guinea Pig that originated in Japan and was westernized for North American audiences with their own version of American panorama of sadism. For Italy, Cristopharo set out to create his own compendium of starkly violent and gory films Cristopharo dubs the Trilogy of Death. All three films dealing with a theme of punitive suffering were produced in 2017, beginning with “Sacrifice” that written by Samuel Marolla and directed by Poison Rouge (“A Taste of Phobia”). “Sacrifice” was actually turn Cristopharo’s aspiration into reality when it was picked up by the American Guinea Pig series. The next film, “Torment,” was cowritten by Cristopharo and Likov Milotoskih and directed by Adam Ford (“XXX Dark Web”) that pulled inspiration from the infamous John Wayne Gacy murders. The third and last segment, “Xpiation, was helmed by Cristopharo himself from an Andrea Cavaletto (“Dark Waves”) script that finally placed Cristopharo personal touch upon the series he fully endorsed as creator and producer under his production company, Enchanted Architect.

The principal cast is tightly coiled around just the three individuals in the isolated corridor of a vacant, graffiti painted building.   Right away, we’re intrigued by the opening scene of a sophisticatedly dressed woman with blond hair draped over her left eye.  She’s sitting in an armchair with her exposed legs to the side.  She has forearm length black gloves, lushes red lipstick, a tightfitting low cut short skirt black dress slightly exposed by her short sleeve steel gray jacket with a matching pin hat with a clear veil over her face, a purse around her left forearm resting on her thigh, and a camera clutched in her right hand for viewing the spectacle before her.  The provocative Italian actress Chiara Pavoni is the sharply eye-catching center figure amongst the rumble she sits and the two disheveled men she videotapes. Having had roles in previous obscure horror, such as “Demonium,” “Bad Brains,” and VelvetMorgue,” Pavoni established herself as an Italian scream queen that suited her more domicile, yet underhandedly authoritative, role as the Lady in “Xpiation” that has since been a springboard for her career working with Cristopharo on a number of future projects.  We see what Cristopharo sees in the mature in age actress:  a commanding presence with range and willingness to absorb extreme content for the sake of art.  As the Lady, Pavoni orchestrates the drug-fueled violence of Simone Tolu’s character, the drug addict.   Tolu’s crazed approach to a hallucinating and aggressive, substance abusive druggie is more childlike that crosses the line into overzealous disability.  The addict is supposed to be under the Lady’s narcotic spell, bewitched by her motherly presence in feeding love to him by way of various powders, pills, and penetrating needles of unknown liquid matter and while that is certainly what’s on screen, Tolu oversteps his swiss-cheese child mind into more of just maniacal horseplay that cheapens the desired effect.  One of the easier performances in the film is from Emanuele Delia who has to sit naked in a chair, bound and gagged, and take Tolu’s manhandling beatings for most of the duration.  Delia has a handful of scenes where he’s engaged with the Lady in flashback and an existential representation finish but neither one of his three-sided role squeezes out a smidgen of dialogue, reducing his inked and pierced body to be a model of crime and punishment, or in this theme, sin and atonement.

Sin and atonement.  “Xpiation” is simply that.  A minor reconstructing toward a more panache play on the word expiation, the act of making right for wrongdoing, to home in on concluding Cristapharo’s Trilogy of Death.  “Xpiation” expresses this message in the form of vengeance in an exploitation playground of brutality where eye-for-an-eye is a steep slide toward grinding a sinner into the rubber mulch of penitence.  Cristpharo directs a straight up torture film that aims to avoid a fanciful apathetic and really divulges itself into humanizing the torturer with flashbacks of far-from-comfortable life.  Multitudes of abuse fester in the Lady’s past until it suppurates outward after one final act of transgression pushes the Lady beyond the point of enough-is-enough and every ounce of anger and hate that’s been bottled up tightly all the years is shook so hard the cap finally explodes into a meticulously premeditated plan for revenge and relief. Non-linear avant garde is Cristpharo’s go-to storytelling weapon, one that provides “Xpiation” with more layers than just surface level brutality as the director spoon feeds the audience with little bits and pieces of the Lady’s background. As he accomplished with his breakout film, “House of Flesh Mannequins,” the filmmaker is a master at commanding the pace, a maestro del ritmo!

You can now own a piece of the trinity or conclude Domiziano Cristopharo’s trilogy of death with a Blu-ray release of the last installment, “Xpiation,” as the director attempts to revive erotic-horror and institute extreme horror in his home country of Italy. Unearthed Films, a leading distributor in gore, arthouse, and horror films, releases an AVC encode full high definition, 1080p, Blu-ray in a standard widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Distributed by MVD Visual, I tested the Region A release on a Region B setting and was able to play the not rated film in its 73-minute entirety. Image looks consistently good and more gruesome with the closeup mauling of skin. Colors are vivid enough in the blood and in the contrast, through good lighting, of the lady’s aristocratically lush and starkly colored outfits compared to the bleak rubble that surrounds her. Often, during the flashbacks, does the coloring dull or reduce to indicate flashback. The English dubbed PCM 2.0 stereo is where most of the inconsistencies lie with an uneven dialogue track due to the forced English upon English dub, as the actors are basically whispering their lines in English, and “Sick Sock Monsters from Outer Space’s” Antony Cola’s industrial hum and brood soundtrack masks the dialogue to a muddled intelligibility. I wonder why if the plan was to always dub the film in English, why even bother with dense accents? The bonus features include a decent blooper reel that showcases a lot of the dubbed dialogue, an interview with director Domiziano Cristopharo as he goes into the construction and issues of his seeing his trilogy to fruition, a still gallery of the film, and trailers. With “Xpiation,” Cristopharo continues to amaze and impress with small bubble stories that seldomly traipse to new locations, sticking to a confinement and cruelty disposition, and still be able to build interesting, layered characters trounced in pain and dripping with blood.

Atone for Your Sins By Buying “Xpiation” on Blu-ray from Amazon!

Don’t be Afraid of an Unstoppable EVIL Killer on Your Fishing Trip. Do be Afraid of the Very Pregnant Wife You Left to Go on that Fishing Trip! “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” reviewed! (101 Films / Blu-ray)

Now On Bluray from 101 Films – “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It!”

Dastan is about to be a new father, but he is over his head with debt and can no longer withstand the verbal abuse of his headstrong, ready-to-pop wife, Zhanna.  When an opportunity opens up go fishing with his best friends Murat and Arman, he whisks away before she can sink her nagging teeth into him again and tries to enjoy the relaxation of catching fish by floating down the river.  That’s until he and his friends stumble upon an execution by a crime boss and his goons.  Frantically trying to escape, they run into a strange man with a burnt face living out in the wilderness.  The three friends and the gangsters are targeted by the maniacal, murderous stranger with an apparent unkillable survival instinct and supernatural abilities. 

Who would have thought one of the best action-comedy horrors would have come out of Kazakhstan and come to think of it, this 2021 Yernar Nurgaliyev film “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” is probably the only Kazakhstan film come across this desk.  Natively titled “Zhanym, ty ne poverish,” Nurgaliyev’s genre blending zany is bursting with dark comedy, gore, and a framework that tests the sturdiness of friendships as well as the clear-cut recognition for the things you have in life because the world isn’t always greener on the other side.  In fact, the world is actually dusty and partway arid in an isolated Kazakhstan landscape that resides with antisocial individuals – mob transgressions, deranged psychopaths, and even those who just want to get away from their wives.  The regular comedy helming Nurgaliyev cowrites the script with first time screenwriters Zhandos Aibassov and Daniyar Soltanbayev under Art Dealers productions in association with the international action company, Nomad Stunts, that delivers the film’s amazing fight choreography.

An ensemble cast of character actors construct a living, breathing dark comedy worth the time and effort. Plenty of unsuspecting twists and turns keep the preposterous party going beginning with an opening of a very black and white passive aggressive quarrel involving principal character Daston (Daniar Alshinov, “A Dark, Dark Man”) who, from this male reviewer’s perspective, takes a relentless verbal whip in emasculation. Alshinov expresses so clearly the biting-tongue frustration in a hilarious montage of on rage’s edge with wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) dishing out the third degree on all his husbandry failures. Avoiding his wife’s warpath behavior, aggravated by being on the verge of giving birth at any time, Daston’s quickly sneaks in his desires and hightails it on a last getaway before he becomes a father or dies of incessant verbal abuse, whichever comes first. Community school officer Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) and sex-toy dealer Arman (Azamat Marklenov) finally are able to steal away Daston in a little time for themselves. The acting trio leading up to the fishing spot are naturally conversive that gives into their characters longstanding friendship with quippy jabs at each other and overselling their less-than-satisfactory positions in life, but not until the friends stumble haplessly while floating down the river into being witnesses of a murder by low-end horse gangsters and run into a stoic one-eyed, burnt face bald man intent on spilling blood for vengeance because the gang killed his dog does Daston and his friends need to go to Hell and back to realize how special their friendship means to each other. “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” is a bro movie (and I mean the characters say bro a lot) with an orchestrated series of unfortunate, yet very funny, gruesome events to resolidify a tattered friendship and to reexamine life. The film costars Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhanyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov, Kadirgali Kobentay, and Gauhar Sagingalieva.

Nurgaliyev develops a physical comedy based around a plan gone awry collision course between four groups destined to intertwine in battle royal.  “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” lands the slapstick one, two, three combination of action, comedy, and notes of horror well outside infantility and outdated material in a smartly laid path of events unfolding to a brawling showdown of those left standing.  I believe the imbalance between physicality and the humorless, if not slightly bothersome, subtitled dialogue stems from the lost in translation.  Subtitles can only convey a literal account of the Kazakhstani reflection and regionalism mayhem often blown to unrecognizable smithereens during a crude translation, but being a foreign film with grossly simplified subtitles shouldn’t be a cause for total write off as there’s much to enjoy from the funneling, concentrated, ever-twisting storyline to the outrageous action stuffed tightly in cramped houses to the perfectly spectacular blend of practical and CGI violence and gore fabricated nearly seamlessly by special effects duo Juliya Levitskaya and Elde Shibanov. Heads role, jaws detached, and plenty of eviscerating shotgun blasts crest above as the cherry on top of the Dastan and his friends’ misadventure through Kazakhstan countryside in a story that’s as ruthless as “Deliverance” and as magnetically dark and eccentric as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”

101 Films brings what is called an “insane, violent, and hilarious” fun from Kazakhstan (and we couldn’t agree more) to a UK Blu-ray home video. The region B, high definition, 1080p Blu-ray features a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio of the short 74-minute film, certified UK 15 for strong gory injury detail, violence, threat, and language. Image quality is quite good of rendering mostly the grassy desert-like Kazakhstan landscape and the framing prompts greatly what to expect through either Azamat Dulatov’s harness cam strapped to the actors for closeup reactions or perfectly timed pan when needed to express off-center comedy. What’s really sensational about the film is the localized soundtrack. Nurgaliyev doesn’t buy, beg, borrow, or steal popular westernized tracks to broaden his film’s release and, instead, the soundtrack has a plethoric range of native music from lounge pop to hip hop. The Kazakhstani PCM stereo has more than enough ample timbre and offers a suitable range and depth despite being a dual channel. There are no dub tracks (in case you were wondering) and the English subtitles are forced (for those of few who don’t like to read during the film). Though bonus features would have been nice to root into and explore more of the behind-the-scenes aspect of the country’s film industry, the only bonus material on this 101 Films’ release is the theatrical trailer. As far as fiasco films go, “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” ranks high this side of the 21st century as a humorous, violent, and perspective redirecting genre-bending film that needs be in everyone with a black sense of taste’s library.

Now On Bluray from 101 Films – “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It!”

Beware the EVIL Bite of Silver Teeth! “The Cursed” reviewed! (LD Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Lord Seamus Laurent and the neighboring landowners show grave concern for the recent Gypsy encroachment upon their shared property.  In proactivity protecting the laboring residents and the pastoral farmland of the feudal system, Laurent and fellow landowners order the removal of the Gypsies by hiring ruthless mercenaries who slaughter every last Gypsy in cold blood and bury them in the land.  When every resident on the estate, from villagers to the lord’s family, share a common nightmare of silver teeth buried with the Gypsy corpses, an evil curse unleashes upon the farmland with a killer beast roaming, hunting every resident.  Gypsy chasing pathologist John McBride enlists himself helping Laurent and the villagers to not only relieve them of the cursed creature, but also face his own tragic past linked to the very same evil he pursues.  

Lycanthropy an allegory for the cholera outbreak in late 19th century Europe?  That’s the seemingly centric subject to Sean Ellis’s written-and-directed, folkloric supernaturally spun creature feature “The Cursed.”  Though narratively set and actually shot in France, “The Cursed,” or else better known internationally under the original title “Eight for Silver,” is comprised nearly of all English actors with very few from France and an American in the principal lead to wage war against a swift enemy that kills anyone without prejudice and without mercy.  No, I’m not talking about the wolfish creature that rips settlers and lords to shredded sacks of meat.  I’m speaking of the Cholera epidemics of the 19th century and while Ellis’s metaphoric intentions lean more toward the pains of broad-based additions, our modern pandemic plight felt more widespread linking both the past and present with an event that plagued countries like a curse with unsystematic cruelty and didn’t differentiate between the poor unfortunate and the opulent.  The Los Angeles based production company LD Entertainment finances and produces the feature under Mickey Liddell (“The Grey,” “Jacob’s Ladder” ’19) along with executive producers Alison Semenza (“Lost Boys:  The Tribe”) and Jacob and Joseph Yakob.

“The Predator’s” Boyd Holbrook walks the pathological shoes of John McBride, a man haunted by his past in his continuous pursuit of nomadic Gypsies, and it just so happens that McBride falls right into the thicket of, unknown at the time, Gypsy-made bedlam as missing children and ravaged dead bodies pop up.  Holbrook tries to corral in the pathologist’s inexplicable purpose as the character is often too withdrawn from his intent on what he’d actually do if he came across any Gypsies, which McBride never does.   Instead, McBride feels like a hero who’s dumped in the perfect place at the perfect time to be the hunter of what his pathological experience and instincts claim to be the death-dealings of a wolf while the village becomes the bewildered and unassuming hunted, led by the 2019 “Hellboy” actor Alistair Petrie as the noble estate lord Seamus Laurent stewing stoically in his own despair and desperate head space in search of his missing son (Max Mackintosh). The only character acting rationale in a conventionally proper manner in her reactions to the whole situation is Seamus’s wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly, “Eden Lake”), with a blistering heartful longing for her son, and their daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch, “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death”), with a shock-induced and childlike response to her brother’s disappearance. Yet, Isabelle and Charlotte alter course. Isabelle weaves in and out of anguish to the point where her suffering is only implemented to benefit the story and Charlotte, well, Charlotte plainly disappears as a key supporting character who knows truly happened to her brother in the field and with a villager boy, Timmy (Tommy Rodge), who discovers the silver teeth etched with curse inducing rune symbols. The interactions between McBride, Seamus, and Isabelle never quite feel nature and complete, as if there’s an unspoken trust issue between McBride and Seamus or a mutual understanding or compassion between McBride and Isabelle that never leaves the hilt of the sword to see spark action. Nigel Betts, Roxane Doran, Richard Cunningham, Pascale Becouze, Simon Kunz, and Amazon’s “Hanna” star Áine Rose Daly, as farm hand girl turned white wolf, round out “The Cursed” cast.

Sean Elliss tweaks the werewolf mythos to try and shake up the genre, turning it up on its head to dust off a tired narrative of man bitten by wolf, man turns into wolf, wolf terrorizes villagers, and villagers kill wolf with silver bullet. Instead of silver weaponized for good, “The Cursed” weaponizes it as Gypsy revenge, a calling card that leaves bite marks with lasting impression until every single inhabitant, guilty or innocent in the crime against the Romanian wayfarers, is laid to waste by its transformative power. Though unexplained in why the Gypsies forge silver fangs etched with a curse other than a storm is coming, as if perhaps they’re clairvoyancy provided them with a disturbance in the air instinct rather than exactly what to expect, the teeth are a nice cinematic touch of menacing terror literally inscribed on each tooth. “The Cursed” atmospherics of folkloric superstitions blended into a broodingly dense landscape of low-lying fog and uncomfortably vast empty fields surrounded by a thickset of trees comes close to the likes of a Hammer horror setting, especially with the period of time in which “The Cursed” plays out in that has been Hammer’s niche era. The setting might be the only controlled aspect of Ellis’s take on the werewolf genre as the werewolf, if that is what we can even call the abomination of mutation, is written from out of our traditionally known contexts and into a new breed of metamorphism. Hairless, white, and somatically encasing, Ellis’s monsters radically redefine our expectations with a beast that literally consumes our very being and turns us into an unrecognizable fiend amongst the flock. Fast, agile, and ruthless, this newfangled fang-bearer up until the end never received any insularity resentment from me, but the ending abruptly diminishes the near mindless brute strength of a beast with a hint of intelligence in its ability to sound like person to draw the hapless into a trap and that’s where a line needs to be drawn, especially when the technique is used as an out of the blue device toward an endgame.

Whether be a narrative about an all-consuming addiction or about a precipitating plague of chaos in the time of cholera, the uniquity of “The Cursed,” semi-diverging from one of the most revered classic monsters in our history, may be an immediate turn off for many traditionalists, but the film does right by the savagery gore, the minatory threat that lingers in every scene, and that no one is immune from danger. LD Entertainment is set to release “The Cursed” this Friday, February 18th, in theaters. Since this was a digital screener, the audio and video will not be covered. No bonus mater or extra scenes during or after the credits were provided. Sean Ellis provides that creepy fog-laden and dense folky aesthetic of barnyard chic while still conditioning an upscale appearance of a beautifully crafted production from a native French crew of productions designers in Thierry Zemmour and Pascal de Guellec as well as costume designer Madeline Fountaine. “The Cursed” starts strong with visceral intent to be novel by offering callous over civility, a dysmorphic werewolf, and a new set of blingy chompers fit for Lil’ Wayne, but gaps riddle unignorable holes into the story and its characters that ultimately becomes the silver bullet obliterating the beastly nature this new breed of wolf desperately needed to survive unscathed.

Mindy Robinson Takes on EVIL Strippers in “Brides of Satan” reviewed! (Dark Side Releasing / Blu-ray)



“Brides of Satan” available at Amazon.com!  DVD and Blu-ray!

Engaged happy couple Mary and Charlie want to dip their toes into debauchery before tying the knot.  When they patron a dive strip club, looking to unwind a nervous Charlie down a notch with a sultry, on-stage lap dance, the club is suddenly seized by three well-armed Satanist strippers looking for quick cash and a virtuous sacrifice to conjure a demon.  Kidnapped for the dark ceremony, Mary and Charlie find themselves in their grip with Charlie being murdered to complete half the ritual, but Mary is able to escape when a rival gang claims rights over the territory that sidetracks the Satanists summons.  Mourning over her fiancé’s death, Mary is taken under the wing of a junkyard sensei who trains her to fight and to be fearless against all those in her path for vengeance. 

From horror enthusiast Joe Bizarro comes the filmmaker’s first written and directed feature film, the pastiche grindhouse revenge-thriller “Brides of Satan.”  Bizarro, who co-produced “Another Plan from Outer Space,” the Lance Pollard offshoot homage to the Ed Wood Jr.’s iconic science fiction-horror “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” co-writes his 2021 exploitation with “Take Shelter” cinematographer and first time screenwriter Noel Maitland penned to be a wild-and-strange ride through the various territories of genre landscapes.  Film in and around the greater Los Angeles area, “Brides of Satan” stitches the perceived strange and unusual charisma of L.A.’s alt-scene offerings around a familiar framework with a few arbitrary bits of bizarre.  Along with Bizarro and Maitland is fellow executive financier Lance Pollard, who we mentioned had previous dealings with Bizarro, and the jacks of all trades Victor Formosa (“Iron Sky:  The Coming Race”) along with William Wulff, Celeste Octavia, Lisa Mason Lee, and Mike Ansbach serving as producers on the Joe Bizarro Studios labeled production. 

Right off the bat, the montage introduction of the tri-gang strippers, played by Alice McMunn, Joanna Angel, and Rachel Rampage, with sizzling eroticism and skin, seductively gazing into the camera and pole dancing captured in slow motion immediately sets the tone for the rest of the story. Laden from their colorfully neon-dyed hairstyles to their fishnet-led leathery platform heels with body ink, their focal opening is a bit of Joe Bizarro in a nutshell as well as an eclectic look into a cast comprised of goth, burlesque, body-mod, and fetish aficionados.  I was also hoping for a cameo from adult actress Joanna Angel’s husband Aaron ‘The Small hands’ Thompson, but alas, no such luck.  Though McMunn, Angel, and Rampage get the juices flowing and motivate the narrative into a plot point of character deconstruction, reconstruction, and revenge, neither of them are the top bill for lead role.  That responsibility falls solely on the “Evil Bong” franchise – wait, there’s an “Evil Bong” franchise? – actress Mindy Robinson that, through a (Joe) bizarro world, adds an interesting element of casting for the outspoken Republican commentator who happens to also be the girlfriend of former mixed martial artist and “Expendables” actor Randy Couture.  Robinson amiably plays a loving fiancé Mary to an equally amiably, yet unresolved, Charlie (Michael Reed, “The Disco Exorcist”). Eventually, Mary’s woman scorned vengeance becomes a juggernaut of kickass, learning geriatric kung-fu from a junkyard hobo, but Robinson disingenuously leaves her fluffy and bubbly self into a character who’s supposed to be this badass that beats half-naked Satan acolytes in one blow and can vanquish netherworld demons in the bat off an eyelash. Much of the film is Robinson promenading provocative and oddball locales, meeting more provocative and oddball characters, to track down her fiancé’s murderer in a forfeiture of commanding the scenes with scene-stealing presence. Though she bests an array of stud-cladded, garage punk baddies armed with arm drills, nail bats, and switchblades, their brief moments on screen leave more of an impact than the principal protagonist and much like the gang of three strippers, in which two-thirds of them cease to exist after approx. 15 minutes into the film, they’re built up as more prominent players in this psychos-ville showdown yet fizzle to literally just a passing moment in the narrative, giving way to a film full of nothing but near essentially cameos from Anatasia Elfman (“Shevenge”), Ellie Church (“Frankenstein Created Bikers”), Sarah French (“Art of the Dead”), and Damien D. Smith (“The Purge”). There are also true cameos from “Blood of the Tribades” filmmakers Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein, professional burlesquer Olivia Bellafontaine, and Madelyne Cruelly from the pirate punk band Yours Cruelly.

“Brides of Satan’s” gimmick is to live up to representing the yield of grindhouse cinema and for the most part, Joe Bizarro cultivates a passable resemblance by borrowing from the constructs and the ideals that came from them of the golden age of independent cinema decades between the 60’s and early 90’s and reworked them into his own passion project. “Brides of Satan” is undoubtedly derivative in most of designer elements, but I did find Bizarro’s concept of uniting the alternative network and B-movie troupers into a singular movement to be refreshing in it’s something you don’t regularly see or experience too often out of the shadows and living in the daylight. As disparaging as it may sound, the sensation becomes that carnival sideshow effect where the societal outcasted abnormalities entrance and pluck at your curiosity strings much to the same effect that ostentatious or surreal horror and sci-fi movies are a way to escape the harshness of one’s own bleak day-to-day reality. However, Bizarro didn’t quite achieve the paragon of his idea not because of his cast, who are mostly stupendously talented in their own rites, but rather more with a watery script barely sustaining flavor to its revenging aspects and supernatural rifts, the imbalance amongst characters, and a dialogue so intrusively oversaturated with hackneyed one-liners that the next words out of their mouths are predictable ones. That tiredness, that sparkless originality, that familiar taste again and again is what ultimately quells “Brides of Satan’s” fetching title and it’s weighted of promise.

Rowdy and burning with streaks of fluorescent colors, “Brides of Satan” is a come Hell and high-water tribute for exploitation film lovers and the Joe Bizarro debut is now on high-definition Blu-ray home video from Dark Side Releasing.  Presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a BD25, Bizarro and Maitland, whose technical trade in director of photographer is implemented here, opt for a tenebrously smoky and shadowy obscured grindhouse-noir that innately secretes tactile details but do offer that sense of mystique danger and a carnivalesque veneer at times, using lighting techniques to accomplish the desired look.  The English language Dolby Digital stereo has lossless quality from a 384kps bitrate that, despite its dual channel limitations, outputs decent robust tracks.  Dialogue is crisp and clear, ambient background noise and ransacking has ample range and depth, and the original soundtrack from Ausie Jamie Coghill (Jimmy C) of The Jimmy C Band offers a lounge-grunge-like Rock and Roll score hitting all the right notes apt to the narrative.  The opening monologue from Rick Galiher doing his best Vincent Price vocals.  If you closed your eyes and just listened to the tracks, you can distinctly hear every tone and note in everything from a wonderfully broad audible spectrum. The special features include an audio commentary with the director Joe Bizarro, a handful of deleted scenes and bloopers, a photo gallery of stills and alternate posters (which there are a ton of), and a short skit entitled “Rad Roommates,” a pseudo-sitcom produced by Bizarro about a man and his monstrous hairball of a lowlife roommate.  If you’re lazy and don’t feel like navigating through the menu options to the special features, wait until after the feature’s credits roll through as the special features will follow, beginning with “Rad Roommates.” The Dark Lord takes a bemusing backseat that drives “Brides of Satan” more toward solely being a revenge thriller with few incomplete spidering out subplots that belly up by its own creator. 

“Brides of Satan” available at Amazon.com!  DVD and Blu-ray!