Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!

A Disciple of EVIL! “The Brides of Dracula” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

Marianne Danielle travels alone on the mucky and fog-riddled roads of Transylvania, traversing from France to be a student-teacher at a prestigious dance school for girls. When her coachmen departs without warning, leaving her stranded at a village inn, the Baroness Meister extends an invitation for Marianne to stay with her an the illustrious manor house, but the sign of compassionate hospitality turns into a near deadly encounter as Marianne discovers the Baroness’ son, the Baron Meister, chained against his will in an isolated room. As Marianne is tricked into removing his shackle, she unwittingly releases a conniving vampire into the surrounding village who prays on young women, but, nearby, Dr. Van Helsing has been summoned the Transylvania countryside by the local priest to hunt down the disciples of Dracula, the most powerful vampire Van Helsing had fought and prevailed. In order for the vampire plague to not spread like a virus, Van Helsing will stop at nothing from slaying the Baron Meister to stop the metastasizing of Dracula’s curse against mankind.

Let’s take a step back into time, 1960 to be exact, when Hammer Horror brought a flair for the dramatic to iconic monsters, lush with not only vibrant color schemes, but also in elaborate production designs that scaled the imagination while evoking fear of Satan’s most prolific profaner, the vampire, in Terence Fisher’s “The Brides of Dracula.” The sequel to “Horror of Dracula,” starring Christopher Lee as the titular character, staked vitality two years after the first film’s success and sought to return Peter Cushing back into the good doctor’s shoes once again to battle evil. Shot on lot at Bray Studios and with the grand house exteriors of the nearby Oak Court, “The Brides of Dracula” had greatly masqueraded the elegance and sophistication of the gothic design, bringing settings to life with monumental attention to detail. Before the shooting draft was ready, the script saw numerous rewrites which caused the narrative to fall into numerous hands and, so, the script is built on an overlapping composition of writers, such as Jimmy Sangster (“Horror of Dracula”), Peter Bryan (“The Plague of the Zombies”), Anthony Hinds (“The Curse of the Werewolf”), and Edward Percy. Hinds financed the film under Hammer Film Productions in association with Universal International.

In stark contrast to Christopher Lee’s dark veneer that ennobled Dracula’s arcane and evil presence, David Peel brought a different kind of vampire stemmed off of Lee’s main bole as a disciple of the Prince of Darkness turned because of the Baron Meister’s uninhibited living the life of Riley. With blonde hair and a lighter complexion, Baron Meister became something of a pretty boy vampire that definitely propelled Peel into something of a sex symbol after the film’s initial release. While Peel’s terrific performance goes without wane, Baron Meister sticks out like a sore thumb with the lighter hair color and babyface dermis. The Meister is hunted down by the one and only legendary vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing, from Bram Stoker’s novel. Peter Cushing revives his performance from “Horror of Dracula” with a another meticulous and defining act that epitomizes the character’s nature as a knowledgeable and dignified combatant against the dark arts. Cushing versus Lee is the epic King Kong versus Godzilla faceoff that doesn’t leave much room for David Peel in a fight that’s more like King Kong versus King Koopa. The leading role went to French actress Yvonne Monlaur who, at the time, spoke really good English with a thick accent. The “Circus of Horrors'” Monlaur added beauty and innocence being ruthlessly taken advantage of as the hapless Marianne Danielle. With striking red hair and definitely a sex symbol, Monlaur was paraded as one of Hammer Horror’s finest leading ladies to ever grace their terrorizing tenure in genre. “The Brides of Dracula” has a supporting cast like none other with performances from Martita Hunt as the Baroness Meister, Freda Jackson as Baron Meister’s Renfield-like caretaker, Andree Melly as Marianne’s colleague, Gina, Miles Malleson as a greedy blowhard physician, and Mona Washbourne and Fred Johnson as the dance school’s proprietors.

“The Brides of Dracula” has lush, expensive looking production designs from Bernard Robinson that delicately acknowledge a 19th century coach and buggy society and creates a gothic tincture to brood in the bat-flying, eye-catching, blond-haired vampire sinking his canine’s into the untarnished flesh of young women. Yet, Fisher’s follow-up doesn’t add anything to the vampire etymology nor does it tack onto the mythos and, instead, clings barely to a compelling good versus evil narrative closely suited more toward one of the working titles, Disciple of Dracula. “The Brides of Dracula” bewilders as a final title that not once broaches the women stalked by the bloodsucker who seems to attack the random village virginals and, also, barely references Dracula, whom the harem of titular vampires are not at the crook of his pale elbow, but the now 60-year-old film, which I can still remember seeing on television back 30-year-ago, remains as one of the most memorable Hammer productions. Was it because of the enriched looking, old-fashion look? I’d say yes. Was it because of the soap opera designed performances that lavished in melodrama? I’d say yes. Was it because of the undertones of lesbianism, rape, and other taboo-esque themes? I’d say it was all of the above that drove “The Brides of Dracula” in not only being an opening day success but also encapsulating the legacy of Hammer Horror.

“The Brides of Dracula” is the unholy, unceremonious matrimony from hell and has come far from its run on the television with a new high definition Blu-ray collectors edition from Scream Factory, the horror sublabel of Shout Factory! Presented in two formats, a widescreen 1.85:1 and standard 1.66:1, the Blu-ray sustains the deluxe technicolor through the high-res, 1080p, video image that went through a new 2k scan from the interpositive master and absolutely appeals to the visual cortexes with an extensive color palette and very miniscule film imperfections from a super preserved 35mm stock. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is a resounding success with a grand big band score from debuting composer Malcolm Williams that juxtaposes significantly with the dialogue to only be a support device rather than be a main stage act. With many Scream Factory releases, “The Brides of Dracula” comes with exclusive and previously recorded special features included a new audio commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, a making-of the film that includes a graveyard introduction goes into interviews with the late Yvonne Monlaur, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, assistant director Hugh Harlow, continuity supervisor Pauline Harlow, art director Don Mingaye, model maker Margaret Robinson, and producer Anthony Hinds, and rounds out with a still gallery and theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray is sheathed in a cardboard slipcover with a cover illustration by Mark Maddox and inside is a reversible front cover. Irrefutably a classic, despite some quirks, “The Brides of Dracula” is vintage vampire stock, a pedigree of it’s time, of hallmarking the classical villain in a different, blonder light.

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Burt Gummer Neutralizes EVIL Graboids in “Tremors: Shrieker Island” reviewed! (Universal 1440 Entertainment / Digital Screener)

A wildlife preservation maintains categorizing and tracking of native elephants, but when one of the company’s philanthropist turns his private island, just across the water from the preservation campsite, into a game reserve for apex predators, nothing will stop him from wagering the thrill of the hunt on expensive, top-of-the-line game.  That is until the graboids he’s illegally bred and genetically modified starts to hunt the wealthy trophy gamers back, especially when the Precambrian lifeforms metamorphize into the fast-spawning shriekers.  With an island full of graboids and shriekers that contributed to already one death, graboid expert and arms enthusiast-survivalist, Burt Gummer, is tracked down and brought out of retirement to once again battle his longtime killing machine adversary.  With no munition weapons, an obstinate playboy’s maniacal urge to hunt the fierce predator, and the most powerful of the graboids bred on the island able to wriggle underneath the sea floor between land masses, Gummer and a team of preservationists must band together to stop the graboids from being an invasive and unstoppable species. 

From an icy Canadian landscape in “Tremors:  A Cold Day in Hell” to the tropical beaches of Thailand, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” is the seventh feature film in the Tremor’s 30-year franchise.  Heading straight to video on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, including Streaming and VOD platforms come this October 2020, the subterranean monster action-comedy is steered by serial sequel director Don Michael Paul, who directed the last two “Tremors” installments, off a Paul script co-written with Brian Brightly that set sights on expanding the graboid footprint even farther East and surrounded by the seas of Thailand, further more distancing itself from the dust bowls of Perfection, Nevada and Mexico into new and unexplored terror-itories.  Universal Pictures’ off-shoot subsidiary banner, Universal 1440 Entertainment, and Living Films serves as the presiding production companies. 

 

The smart-mouth, quick-wit, arms-toting Burt Gummer has become, dare I say it, the Ash Williams of the Tremors’ franchise as a perpetually dragged back hero into monstrous circumstances to battle graboids and their offspring on land, air, and in the pits of hell of the innate underground habitat.  Aside from Bruce Campbell, there are not too many heroes in a genre that usually has a villainous backbone and so Michael Gross is the longest lasting reoccurring actor, spanning now 30-years, to return as an original hero who first encountered and killed the bastard creature who “broke into the wrong God damn rec room” in Perfection, Nevada.  Gross, now gray with a few more wrinkles sporting his iconic Gummer mustache, fits into the military-esque attire under his ball cap to square off alongside a ragtag team of unprepared, unqualified, and novice graboid hunters in Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”), Caroline Langrishe, and Richard Brake (“31”).  Heder fills in for the Jamie Kennedy role of Burt Gummer’s son, Travis, from the two previous installments and though Travis is mentioned briefly, the character’s presence is extended through Caroline Langrishe as Travis’s mother and preservation camp leader.  Heder and Langrishe complete that entangled trio that has been a trope present in nearly all the Tremor Films, starting with Val McKee, Earl Basset, and Rhona LeBeck, battling side-by-side to overcome the odds.  Cruz and Brake offer a serious side dish of badass on a polar opposite spectrum.  Jackie Cruz as Freddie, an entrenched team member of elephant tracking, is the Latina MacGuyer and is a weapon in herself that only someone like Burt Gummer would fully appreciate while Richard Brake, with his trademark sinister smile as obsessed game hunter Bill, relishes the role, pulling a watered down, PG-13 version of his typical bad guy motif from the more violent-venomous Rob Zombie films.  However, a minority of characters fall through character development cracks, such as Anna played by the up and coming Cassie Clare (“Death Race 4:  Beyond Anarchy”).  The archery expert Clare is a pertinent show off with a bow and arrow and is Bill’s right hand, but the Anna, under Cassie’s muscular thin frame and ironclad persona direction, has an inclined built up that goes to naught as she’s snubbed-shoved to a lesser role without having a significant impact in the latter half.   The reverse can said for Heder’s Jimmy character with first impressions of a top class scientist with lower class ambitions; yet, in an instant, Jimmy becomes a battle-worn graboid and shrieker killer while more experienced hunters, especially one wielding a mini gun, have less of a handle on the situation. 

While it’s neat and cool and nostalgic to see graboids and Burt Gummer back in action, much like the disconnect with lopsided arch able characters left to be graboid-fodder, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” falls short of earlier predecessors, replacing personal filmmaking style over story substance.  For one, graboids just haven’t been the same since going from practical applications to computer imagery since “Bloodlines” on that has radically evolved the creatures from a less-is-more model to a complete overhaul of their veneer, resembling the dark and slimy man-eating tentacles of “Deep Rising,” and as well an overhaul of the creature mechanics that lead graboids to leap out of the ground and into the air like a flying fish, spiraling and twisting back into their dirt environment.   The graboid burrowing irks me as well as the ground explodes 10-15 feet up into the air in a blatant uses of detonating charges by the effects team to create the earthworm moving effect instead of just a perpetual hump and collapse of the ground that’s more of a menacing effect. Nuances run amok, causing subtle points of frustration in how Paul’s direction is really more a passive glance than a serious absorption of the franchise. Meandering people on the ground when they fully well know graboids are attracted by movement, half the film scaled back to slow motion to accentuate big money explosions, and the mother of all graboids able to target Burt Gummer for a mano on monstro showdown are just more examples of the charmless details in, what is, a palpable comedy with Earth dwelling monsters. “Tremors: Shrieker Island” is the equivalent of “Jaws: The Revenge;” the story may not make sense, but watching gigantic monsters cause mortal destruction is pure creature feature bliss.

What may be Burt Gummer’s last ride (or so they said in the last film), “Tremors: Shrieker Island” tunnels onto Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD come October 20th, 2020 and soon to be streaming on Netflix shortly after. The BD50 Blu-ray will feature an anamorphic widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, with an English language DTIS-HD Master Audio 5.1 while the DVD9 is presented in a widescreen 16:9 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. Both formats will include optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a dubbed French, and Spanish DTIS Digital Surround 5.1 with a slew of option subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, French European, and Latin American Spanish. Since the film was reviewed on a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be critiqued. The exclusive bonus features listed on all physical and VOD include a Burt Gummer narrated “The Monster of Tremors” that gives you everything you need know about the diabolical monsters, “Tremors Top 30 Moments” that hone in on 30 years worth of scenes that provide laughs, Burtisms, and some of the most gory moments in graboid history, and, lastly, “The Legend of the Burt Gummer” that focuses on the iconic graboid hunter character told by his persona creator himself, Michael Gross. Richard Brake, once again, nails the villain, Jackie Cruz stuns as a resourceful Gummer-ite, and Michael Gross fleshes out one more commando swashbuckling Burt Gummer in the zany seventh installment of the unstoppable “Tremors” franchise.

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EVIL’s Off the Train and onto the “Peninsula” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Digital Screener)


For four years after the initial zombie outbreak, a unified Korean peninsula is completely quarantined from the rest of the world with the remaining survivors having to fend for themselves. A former Korean Captain, Jung Seok, who was one of the last survivors to escape pre-quarantine and now lives in Hong Kong, is hired for a four man team to return to the peninsula and retrieve an unmarked and abandoned truck stowed with $20 million dollars in U.S. currency. With a promise from a Hong Kong mafia boss to keep part of the loot for their recovery services in order to start a new life, the team agrees to the terms and embarks on the seemingly succeed mission only to find survivors who have gone mad, pillaging their mission and conscripting them into a malicious betting game of survival in a watery pit full of zombies.

The highly anticipated sequel to South Korea’s 2016 sleeper zombie hit, “Train to Busan,” docks into U.S. theaters and VOD services on August 21st and is entitled simply, “Peninsula.” From the bullet train rails to the a devastated Korean port, the predecessor film’s director, Yeon Sang-ho, returns with a zombie overrun post-apocalypse that completely metastasized Korean derived from a biological agent quickly spreading throughout the two cinematically unified, North and South Korea. Joo-Suk Park returns as co-writer alongside Yeon to provide heart clenching, brutal action-horror suspense and a human sense of selfless compassion that won the hearts of many genre fans with “Train to Busan.” Zombie hordes rampage down streets, alleyways, and toppling over cars, fences, and other structures as a collective flesh easting unit that specializes in dominating and ravaging for the pure motive of infection and while that sounds all hip and cool that the “War World Z” and “I Am Legend” running zombie pandemonium makes for a glitzy entertainment feedbag, the Next Entertainment World and RedPeter Film production punches down on the gas pedal of gaslighting audiences with more of a “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” with zombies, revving more to the tune of an exasperated exhaust rather than finishing strong with gripping storytelling.

As a standalone film, the story doesn’t return the surviving characters from “Train to Busan.” Instead, a whole new set of characters reset the parameters of expectations, starting with the guilty conscious of the grief-stricken ex-soldier, Jung Seok, played by Dong-won Gang, who will star in Scott Mann’s upcoming disaster film “#tsunami.” Seok’s a reserved and stoic individual whose good a gun play, but isn’t the thinker when a plan is needed in place and while Dong-won Gang gives a par performance, the overall package of the lead character is sorely two-dimensional. This leaves room for other characters flourish, such as the mother and children Seok attempts to save on a second go-around. The mother, played by Lee Jung-hyun, has more grit that clearly defines her underlining hope for not only her salvation, but also her children who’ve known nothing but death, destruction, and meaning of being devoured growing up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. On the slim change of success, she implements a plan to infiltrate Unit 631, former military turned murderous scavengers, to steal back a satellite phone and a truck full of cash while not becoming zombie chow or get caught in Unit 631’s sadistic survival methods. That brings us to the villains, the real villains, where are not the zombies, but the section 8 soldiers of Unit 631, Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan) and Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae). Though Seo and Hwang bring internal tension to the table, a mental game of cutthroat chess, they’re inevitably soft against the main threat, a combined effort of Jung= Seok and Min-jung, and don’t spill enough blood and craziness onto the screen to make them worthy of the antagonist position. “Peninsula” rounds out the cast with Kim Do-yoon, Lee Re, Lee Ye-won, Moon Woo-jin and Bella Rahim.

As almost methodical as it is with any second film in a series, “Peninsula” failed to be a rejuvenating and transcending sequel to “Train to Busan,” abandoning the first story’s benevolence for CGI flair that extends to not only the zombie hordes, but to the car chases. As excellent as the rendered zombies are slammed against the drifting cars can be represented, in what “Peninsula” can be described as an “Escape from L.A.” meets “Land of the Dead” meets “Mad Max: The Road Warrior,” the cars themselves are a product of computer imagery with little authentic driving happening. While the effects are not bad (they’re pretty good chiefly obscured by dim lit night scenes), the sensation of being scammed can’t be ignored as the vehicles operate unnaturally and maneuver in impossible situations without blowing a tire or upending or just frankly be dead in the water with an overheated and stress tussled engine that frags zombies left and right, becoming a collective character to have the highest kill count. That disingenuous feeling also spreads to the overly long-winded ending that tries really, really hard to capture a courageously defiant and heroic moment of family and personal redemption and much of the blame lies on director Yeon Sang-ho with a drawn out awkwardness and edit that made it seem satirical. In light of some positive words for “Peninsula,” the zombies are a greater, gigantic force that swarm on a colossally epic scale more so than the much more compact “Train to Busan” and, as aforementioned, the structured CGI isn’t of the degraded detail variety so the hordes never look cheap or obviously artificial alongside the more palatable, practical versions. What’s also interesting about “Peninsula” and what makes it separate from “Train to Busan,” which perhaps laid the foundation for, is “Peninsula” has integrated the western counterparts as English speaking actors chime in as U.S. Military, U.N. peacekeepers, or English mafia bosses based in the U.K. This challenges the Korean actors to speak a few different languages, especially English, inclining “Peninsula” as more of a global problem than an isolated Korean one.

The zombie genre isn’t just defined by the ungodly amount of undead bodies reaping the world of every living soul, but is also defined by the diversity of chaos-driven social structures people find themselves confronted with in the action-heavy “Peninsula,” arriving into U.S. theaters on August 31 and distributed by Well Go USA Entertainment. This review will not contain the A/V aspects of the release as it’s a theatrical screening of the feature, but the theater specs will look something like this: projection is in scope lens format at an aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1, a surround sound 5.1 stereo mix, Korean/English/Cantonese language with English subtitles, and has a runtime of just under two hours at 116 minutes. I will note that some scenes are very dark, but this only adds to the complete blackout of a civically desolated Korean peninsula. From fast trains to fast cars, “Peninsula” has retained the adrenaline popping rampant style with weaving, bobbing, and chassis chucking zombie bodies like the ball in a pinball machine despite a facile approach, but is ultimately missing that down-to-Earth social context complexity aimed to provoke thought and shed a few tears as an inferior part two of the “Train to Busan” universe.

Spies, Lies, Thighs, and EVIL Guys! “The Dallas Connection” reviewed! (Mill Creek Entertainment / Blu-ray)


Chris Cannon and Mark Austin are back to save the world from a devious organization once again as the two bureau agents are assigned to protect the last world-renowned scientist that developed an International World Arms Removal (I/War) satellite project that could detect terrorists’ weaponry no matter how concealed, but when the other three scientists from around the globe are brutally assassinated, the odds are stacked up against them and the bad guys are always one step ahead of them. Given four computer chips to guard at all times, I/War assigns their best agents to the task of securing hope for the project, called The Dallas Connection, for three days until a specifically timed launch to coordinator with a passing asteroid field that’ll power the satellite for years decades to come, but the well-armed and well-organized crime uses all assets and their power of seduction to gain control over the satellite at all cost.

The L.E.T.H.A.L. ladies series continues with the second buddy-cop picture, “The Dallas Connection,” helmed by Christian Drew Sidaris, son of the erotically charged-action producer and filmmaker, Andy Sidaris that follows up on the first Drew Sidaris prospecting fracas, Enemy Gold. “The Dallas Connection” is the tenth installment of the series, known also as the Triple B series (that’s Boobs, Bombs, and Bullets) that has little-to-nothing linking the entire series cache together aside from being exclusively explosive wrapped with a sensual rouleau of Playmate and Penthouse centerfolds, tightly coiled around the tight and firm half-naked bodies of it’s leading stars. The Sidaris team, under the Malibu Bay Films and Skyhawks Films banners, one again economically ignite a successful B movie that promises 90’s attired, flamboyant action on set at a few familiarly recycled locations in Shreveport, Louisiana and Los Angeles, California, redressed for a not-so different genre or distant premise.

As aforementioned, centerfolds are a staple in any Sidaris, father or son, girls and guns feature and “The Dallas Connection” is no exception, starting off with their main squeeze, good friend, and cult movie icon, Julie Strain, as one of the chief co-antagonist under the nom de guerre, “Black Widow.” Strain is tall, sexy, and a wild villain capable of restraining the violent kick of an AK-47 in thigh high boots and a low-cut open jacket that embodies gun nuts most delectable dreams. The once Penthouse Pet of the Year stays quite reserved compared to her tantamount villainous role in “Enemy Gold” by going topless only in a couple of instances in a death grip roll that involves a lap dance before her prey’s demise, a specified attribute to the beautiful and deadly small spider she spins her call sign from. Black Widow is joined the just as deadly Cobra, fellow Penthouse Pet of the Month February 1993, Julie K. Smith, and Scorpion, the equally as Julie Strain tall, Playboy Playmate of the Month December 1991, Wendy Hamilton. Smith and Hamilton offer up polar features that doesn’t make “The Dallas Connection” a one-type of woman show, but both are voluptuous in their own rite, adding sizzling hot tub sex scenes and long-legged strip shows to accentuate “The Dallas Connection” amongst the B movie fray. “Phantasm II’s” Samantha Phillips becomes the whip cream on top, rounding out Sidaris’ centerfold assembly, as another the third Penthouse Pet of the Month, June 1993. There’s also Bruce Penhall and Mark Barriere, but who cares about these shirtless studs who drag race old Plymouths and jet ski when you four gorgeous women to ogle over? Penhall and Barriere mark their return as Chris Cannon and Mark Austin from Enemy Gold in a buddy-cop adventure loaded with a Dirty Harry Magnum .357 and a M1 Grenade launcher assault rifle. Kaboom! Rounding out the cast is Gerald Okamura (“Big Trouble in Little China”), Roland Marcus, Cassidy Phillips, Ron Browning, Tom Abbott, and Rodrigo Obregon as a satellite scientist.

After finishing “The Dallas Connection,” I wanted to say that I’ve seen this movie before and not because of some misplaced form of déjà vu, but, rather, that I, in fact, HAVE seen this movie before in the precursor film of the L.E.T.H.A.L. ladies series, “Enemy Gold.” The story’s been tweaked slightly to a story with the same framework. Hell, like also mentioned, when you throw in some of the same locations as in “Enemy Gold,” Sidaris’s home with the hot tub and the cabin the woods, and redress the same actors, Julie Strain, Bruce Penhall, Mark Barrier, Rodrigo Obregon, Tom Abbott, and Ron Browning all in the essentially the same roles, “The Dallas Connection” just feels like an extension or a mirror image of that former film, making the story a weary one with nothing really new to spectacle except for three pairs of new, large-and-in charge, breasts in Smith, Hamilton, and Phillips. One difference noticed is that the bureau agents this time around are a lot dafter with skulls thick as a brick and unable to use common logic in the most practical situations. There have been many a time when producer Andy Sidaris commented his films to James Bond, but at least Bond had the smarts to always be on guard; Chris Cannon and Mark Austin do indeed think with their other head that do, in benefit, leave the door open for some saucy hot tub sex that’s perhaps the best simulation from Sidaris reel I’ve seen to date.

Available for the first time on Blu-ray, “The Dallas Connection” will get your rocket launchers off with ton of gunplay and is loaded with beautiful women. The region A, 1080p high definition presentation from a 4K scan restoration has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. The image’s simply gorgeous from the 35mm negative baring a few minor faint scratches that linger only for seconds at a time. There’s quite a bit of noise during the night scenes that almost make the scene look daylit, but skin tones, especially gleaming with water, are remarkably velvety and the textures on clothes and skin looks great for a low budget action. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio dual channel mix medleys appropriately, dialogue is clear and upfront and ambience has proper depth and range. Explosions are powerful coming through the dual channels with a hefty LFE and gunfire can rip just as good as Dutch blasting away at a trophy hunting alien in Predator. Even the sexy lounge soundtrack from Ron Di Iulio is on point despite being a rehash of “Enemy Gold” once again. Hardly any blemishes or distortions coming from the audio track. English SDH subtitles are optional. The bonus features mirror that of “Enemy Gold” as well with Andy Sidaris and Julie Strain doing this awkwardly coy and sugar daddy bit showing off “The Dallas Connection” merchandise and international posters that lead into Andy’s film school where him and his wife, Arlene, go onto commentary on how to shoot scenes and edit them together, using an action and a sexy scene from “Return to Savage Beach” as reference. In the same behind the scenes, there’s an equally bizarre Joe Bob Briggs interview where the legendary MonsterVision and The Last Drive-in Host seems uncomfortable with Andy and star Julie K. Smith about how he persuades to get these beautiful centerfolds to be in his films. Other bonus material includes a commentary on the film itself and theatrical trailer. “The Dallas Connection” is a Texas-size IED with a busty ornate façade, but acts more like a duplication of something we’ve already experienced, making the sophomore feature from Christian Drew Sidaris just a more of the same.

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