Life is seemingly pleasant and happy-go-lucky when two fully loaded coach buses of high school girls travel down a forestry passageway toward a lakeside hotel until sudden violence and gore turns Mitsuko’s classmates into minced meat. Overcome with shock and fear, Mitsuko escapes the terror only to find herself in another horrifying scenario. The vicious cycle continues as Mitsuko is thrusted into one chaotic, blood-splattering world after another, quickly losing her identity with each threshold crossing, and with no clue of what’s going on and how she got into this limbo of hell, Mitsuko must stay alive and unearth the truth behind the surreality of her being.
Nothing is more terrifying than being in a heart-pounding situation and not having one single clue why bodies are being sliced in half like corks popping violent out of champagne bottles, why childhood mentors break their professional oath and slaughter students with a ferocity of a mini-gun, or why being chased by a tuxedo-decked out groom with a gnarly pig head is in tow ready to drop kick anything, or anybody, standing in the way. Writer-director Sion Sono manifests that very chaos entrenched world in the 2015 action-horror “Tag” and, once again, the “Suicide Girls” director puts Japanese school girls back into the harrowed ways of gore and death over salted with an existential surrealism based off a novel by Yûsuke Yamada entitled Riaru Onigokko aka Real Game of Tag. Yamada’s story is followed more closely to that of Issei Shibata’s 2008 “The Chasing World” that involves a Government influence and parallel universes, “Tag” serves more as an abstract remake that Sono masters a soft touch of irrational poetry bathed in gore and strung with chaos rectified with a tremendously talented cast of young actresses.
Actresses such as the Vienna born Reina Triendl. Being Japanese doppelgänger to Mary Elizabeth Windstead with soft round eyes and the picturesque of youthfulness, Triendl transcends tranquility and innocence when portraying a content Mitsuko in the midst of many of her classmates boorishly bearing the typical, low-level adolescent anarchy. When Mitsuko’s thrusted into phantasmagorical mayhem, Triendl steps right there with her discombobulated character in an undried eye panicky frenzy whose character then spawns into two other fleshy vessels, a pair of recognizable names of J-Pop fandom in Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano, when Mitsuko enters another zone in her fictional world. Though different in all aspects of their appearance and in name – Misuko, Kieko, and Izumi, the three women share the same existence and fathom a unbroken entity of character that hacks her way through the brutal truth. The remaining cast, Yuki Sakurai, Aki Hiraoka, and Ami Tomite, sport the high school miniskirt wardrobe and garnish a bubbly-violent J-horror persona very unique to the genre.
“Tag” is a plethora of metaphors and undertones likely to be over-the-head of most audiences, but if paying close enough attention and understanding the subtle rhythmic pattern of Sono’s direction, the gore and the fantastic venues are all part of an intrinsic, underlining message of feminism and sex inequality that’s built inside a “man”-made, video game structure thirty years into the future. Sono points out, in the most graphic and absurd method, how men treat women like objects or playthings. There’s also a message regarding predestination with white pillow feathers being the metaphor for fate and being spontaneous is the key to break that predestined logic and all of this corresponds to how Misuko, the main character, needs to break the mold, to choose her path, and to remember her past in order to free all the women trapped inside a male-driven purgatory of pain, punishment, and pleasure. Supporting Sono’s ability to disclose an epic survival-fantasy horror in such a way comes from multiple production companies, one of them being NBCUniversal Entertainment, providing the cash flow that allows Sono to flesh out the gore, to acquire massive amount of extras, and to scout out and obtain various locations.
Eureka Entertainment presents a dual format, Blu-ray-DVD combo, of “Tag” for the first time in the United Kingdom. However, the disc provided was a feature-only screener and a critique on the video, audio, and bonus material will not be conducted, but in itself, “Tag” is a full throttle encephalon teaser warranting a need for no supplementary content aside from conventional curiosity into what makes Sono’s “Tag” tick. When all pistons are firing, from the visual effects of Satoshi Akabane to “The Walking Dead” familiar score, “Tag” is no child’s game with a heavily symbolic, touch-and-go and bloodied pro-feministic essence that would serve as an abrupt and acute wakeup call to all the Harvey Weinsteins in the world that women are not to be simply playthings and that their gender destiny lies solely with them despite the misconstrued male manipulation.
Jerry is your average, everyday Californian man. He’s tall, handsome, and can hold down a good government job as a United States postman, but Jerry has another side to him. A dark side that’s hidden beneath a façade of apparent normalcy. His random acts of senseless violence and murder have Jerry a great advantage over the rest of society, especially the police, as he commits homicidal tendencies right under their noses without an inkling of a motive and stretching out his urges to kill days, weeks, and months a part under the guise of the notorious Zodiac Killer.
Based on the factual and claimed murders of Northern California’s infamous serial, director Tom Hanson helmed the thriller “The Zodiac Killer” and released his finished project in spring of 1971 when the serial killer was still very active. In a little history tidbit, Hanson had the idea to premiere “The Zodiac Killer” at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco in attempt to lure the Zodiac Killer to the screening by way of having patrons writing “what-ifs” as the real Zodiac Killer and then analyzing the handwriting to the letters the real killer submitted to the police and news outlets. Of course, the stunt didn’t work, but did bring about awareness of the prospect that everyday people – neighbors, gym teacher, mailman – could be a deranged, blood thirsty wolf underneath sheep’s clothing. In their first and only writing credits, Manny Cardoza and Ray Cantrell penned the script.
With a minuscule budget and a performance driven script, “The Zodiac Killer” could only speculate on the person behind the deaths and though in today’s filmmaking standards, some points in the dialogue and the action are awfully outdated in it’s rigidity and over exposition, but when getting down to brass tax and looking deep at the root’s message, the effective troubling performance by lead actor Hal Reed, as Jerry the Zodiac, transfixes viewers as the tall, handsome, and baritone-voiced actor bore an eerie on-off switch between pure good and polluted evil. Before knowing Reed’s true self, not every character was black and white as Hanson attempts to a lineup suspects, especially with a truck driver named Grover (Bob Jones) whom had a knack for pretending to be a wealthy businessman on his nights off in hopes to score naive bar tail. Whether flawed by design or by the obsolete nature of filmmaking, the curve ball attempt to throw the viewer for a loop doesn’t stick and for every second, Hal Reed is the titular maniac even if not proclaimed at first sight. Ray Lynch and “Invasion of the Bee Girls'” Tom Pittman round out the cast as the two police officers not hot on the Zodiac’s trail.
For early 1970’s, “The Zodiac Killer” is graphic, verbally and in imagery with an example being Jerry enthusiastically jumping up and down on a car hood while an elderly woman is pinned between the hood and the engine or Grover calling every single female character a “broad” or a “bitch” in the film; “The Zodiac Killer” certainly strikes a chauvinistic chord from a male’s point of view with not only Grover’s attitude toward women, but also portraying women as shrewd, powerless, and as sex objects. Culturally, this attitude toward women might have been accurate for the time period as well as many of the portrayed Zodiac attacks though numerous of the attacks were only claimed by the Zodiac and not actually confirmed. In any case, Hanson’s rendered theories are well thought out and entertaining in spite of their tragic background.
The American Film Genre Archive, Something Weird Video, and MVDVisual present “The Zodiac Killer” on a 2-disc DVD/Blu-ray set exhibited in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, keeping the black bars on the right and left of the screen to preserve the format. The new digital transfer was scanned from the only existing 35mm theatrical print through to 4K resolution on a Lasergraphic film scanner and the image has a real clean look to it despite some minor print damage with horizontal scratches and burn flares. The print also suffers from a color degradation, voiding the coloring and replacing it was a washed look. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track has a mighty bite that’s surprisingly clean and clear despite the obvious low fidelity. Special features include an interview with director Tom Hason and actor Manny Nedwick, a commentary track with Tom Hanson, Manny Nedwick and the AFGA crew, and a tabloid-horror trailers from the AGFA archive. Also, the release has a sleek illustration with reversible cover and an inner booklet complete with the film’s tidbits, transfer information, and distribution company credentials. Plus, a bonus movie “Another Son of Sam” (1977) that’s been scanned in 2k from the original 35mm theatrical print. The Zodiac might have ceased a wrath of carnage and made a brazen exodus from California before being caught before his or her identity became known, but the killer’s notorious legacy lives on with this stellar release of Tom Hanson’s “The Zodiac Killer” and serves as a chilling reminder that vicious killers walk among us.
Before being butchered in the woods of a small town, a frightened young woman, Lexie, sends her estranged Uncle Dominic a letter desperately asking for his help. Plagued by his own dark past and a penchant for being hot tempered, Dominic drags his wild, coked up daughter Kendall to his quaint home town which he had long ago abandoned. Most town folk don’t want Dominic snooping around, investigating a town that faces a sinister murder spree under the unmotivated supervision of a perversive and power hungry eye of the local sheriff. Dominic’s anger rages on, fueled by sheer vengeance, as he searches answers for the cause of his niece’s untimely and gruesome death in which three strips of her flesh were torn from her bloodstained thigh, but the closer he gets to the unbearable truth, those closest to him are swallowed by the town’s harboring unimaginable secret and that’s when Dominic’s true violent calling becomes unleashed upon the unsuspecting locals.
Self-described as a “modern, Midwesternized spin on the Giallo,” Jakob Bilinski’s “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” is the writer-director’s comprehensive ode to the multifaceted cult genre. Set on location in Evansville, Indiana, Bilinski unapologetically implores an outrageous white trash horror story that can drop just as many F-bombs and be just as sadistically crude as any Rob Zombie production, but on an indie budget. A budget with unlimited constraints when pinpointing a genre identity as “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” has the word play of a Giallo-like inspired title, even accompanied with masked antagonist armed with a switchblade in a complex plot, but also sharply pivots and dabbles heavily in subgenres such as the revenge thriller, the occult, and torture porn that engages a plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist up until the very end.
Bill Gobin stars as Dominic and Gobin’s appearance and actions channel very similarly that of Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey from F/X’s hit cop drama “The Shield,” but with an important piece of Dominic missing to fully sell the performance. Dominic’s tender melancholy moments of his lost Lexie are to bring out the human side in a cold and stern tough guy, but Gobin lacks that rightful emotion, replacing the tearjerking moments with more of the icy blank stare used in just about ever other scene and to the point where Gobin just might smack his tears back into his tear ducts. Kendall (Kayla Crance) is the constant bittersweet thorn in Dominic’s life as the father and daughter are more like father versus daughter. Crance challenges Gobin very well, even overpowering him in select scenes, protruding a defiant brat without an inkling of remorse until bodies start to really pile high. While Dominic and Kendall are certainly scribed as emotionless mavericks, Stella (Angela Steel) brings us down to a more sensible and realistic character who grieves for her slain daughter with alcohol and depression while also rekindling a once extinguished flame in a surprising twist of events. The best character performance overall goes to Jim Dougherty as the local sheriff who can stand toe-to-toe with Dominic and spitfire insults between Dominic and Sheriff Rex scribed very well for the Indiana University studied actor. Rounding out the cast is Scott Ganyo, Rosalind Rubin, and Grant Niezgodski.
Perhaps a little too ambitious trying to compact a endless frontier, Grand Theft Auto world story into over two hours, clocking in at 142 minute runtime, that feels every minute of it. There’s, perhaps, too much going on here with the potluck genres and plot twists that once the apex of the story has finally been reached, the first acts take on a whole different significance that doesn’t build to the necessary resulting finale that ultimate defines Dominic who, in the beginning, starts off strong, a tough guy who doesn’t take crap from anyone and that’s including his rebellious daughter Kendall, but then flounders just after reaching the small town, interacting passively with his sister Stella and a few townies, to the point where Dominic is just an inquisitive visitor. Dominic’s purpose is the push, push, push the town folk into giving the answers he seeks, like Porter tracking down his share of the stolen money in “Payback;” instead, Dominic’s is the one being pushed to the point of breaking and, finally, then do we see the Dominic’s dark side and his particular skill set in torture and manipulation.
Unearthed Films and MVDVisual presents a not rated 2-disc DVD collector’s edition of Jakob Bilinski’s “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh.” The 2014 Cinephreak production is display in widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the image quality above par with a clean picture composited with natural color tones and colorful filters to give some Giallo cinematography charm. The CGI bloodsplatter near the end is, well, CGI, but the run of the scene is fun and brutal that the generated pseudo-blood is used appropriately. The Dolby Digital 5.1 dishes out a well-balanced concoction of ambiance, soundtrack, and dialogue, with the dialogue being clean and clear even during more intense moments. Disc one contains the feature film with option audio commentary by writer-director Jakob Bilinksi and star-producer Bill Gobin. There’s also commentary by Cinematographer DP Bonnell along with Bilinski on the track. Disc two contains even more with a making of piece entitled “Peeling Back the Flesh,” 21 deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, auditions, and Unearthed Films trailers. Under a stellar presentation within the plentiful content of a 2-disc set from Unearthed Films and MVDVisual, “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” is certainly a “modern, Midwesternized spin on Giallo,” plus much, much more when considering the other genres that might have diluted the foul-mouthed scripted story and left the focus more fuddled, but happens to maintain a fun, semi-gory approach that can’t be argued.
Special effects technician Dom joins a small cast on the scenic outskirts of Pittsburgh to work on a horror film with wealthy director Lacey Bickel at the helm. Filmmaker Bickel’s indifferent passion about obtaining the perfect shot for his movie puts Bickel at odds with the other cast and crew, rendering Lacey just another irregular and peculiar director attempting to show the general public his ultimate vision, but during one particularly odd behavioral moment, Dom was subjected to the exhibition of a presumably snuff film possibly directed by Bicket during a coke-filled round table discussion. Dom begins to suspect that the movie he’s laboring over isn’t the sole objective of Bickel’s, but stays quiet about his instincts and he forms a romantic relationship with Celeste, a gaffer whose worked with Bickel prior to, and the two resume their work on the film despite the being the oblivious subjects of a real snuff film.
In 1978, the Godfather of the modern zombie film, the late great George Romero, had an inner circle of friends conjure up their own funding for an idealistic, ahead of it’s time horror film entitled “Effects” with then newcomers and Pittsburgh natives Dusty Nelson at the helm, John Harrison producing and starring as the offbeat Lacey Bickel, and post-“Effects” “Day of the Dead” and “The Dark Half” editor, Pasquale Buba, as the other producer. Filming had wrapped with tons of positive public review potential to be the next big horror film of it’s time being produced out of Pittsburgh, but a major distribution complication had put the kibosh on any theatrical and home release run, leaving “Effects” to be shelved for nearly thirty years until 2007 when Synapse released the film on DVD. The snag resonates soundly with the group of filmmakers who are probably more than acquainted with their friend and colleague George Romero’s “Night of the Living” and the copyright problem. However, the American Genre Film Archive, or AGFA, began a kickstarter funding campaign to buy a 4K scanner to remaster cult and underground titles to Blu-ray and “Effects” became one of the first selected!
“Day of the Dead” star Joe Pilato stars as special effects technician Dom and Dom is a far cry from being his future role of the sadistic and stir crazy Captain Rhodes. Pilato brings a lot of peace and tranquility to his mild mannered, if not very gullible, character. Along side Pilato is another fellow “Dead” series star, Tom Savini, as portraying not his trade of a special effects tech, but as a producer of sorts in the film. Off camera, Savini handles the gruesome special effects with a straight blade and gunshot sequences. In character, Savini doesn’t stray too far from his character on “Dawn of the Dead,” donning the black leather jacket and sporting a cocky-jerk attitude. Producer John Harrison also has a role as the callus director Lacey Bickel who bosses around his two surface actors “Life of Brian” actor Bernard Mckenna and a “Dead” series dead head zombie in two of Romero’s films, a Mrs. Debra Gordon. McKenna delivers question mark after question mark of a performance that Matthew Lillard, perhaps, imitates the best in Wes Craven’s “Scream” whereas Gordon just provides a straightforward background performance with her scene with Lacey conversing over the idea of stress releasing sex being one of the more intense moments of the movie. Susan Chapek, Charles Hoyes, and Blay Bahnsen complete the cast.
Despite the modest budget, Nelson and his team construct monumental frightening moments. When Dom, Lacey, Lobo, and Barney converse around a mirror laced with coke, Lacey wants to show Dom a film after their sharing their opinions on what the general public will or will not pay to see. The actors’ faces and reactions as the snuff film rolls is on the brink of teeth clenching madness. The catalytic moment bombards questions internally into the group of presumably professional people and starts the separation between whose really in control of their fates. “Effects” is a movie within a movie and a deception within a deception where the characters have more than one role and pinpointing their specific purpose is difficult to land that Nelson’s film will have your head spinning with guesses. A fierce and boldly ambitious film from a scrappy Pittsburgh crew of talented filmmakers taking a risk with an intricate plotted thriller.
AGFA and MVDVisual present Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” for the first time on a region free Blu-ray. The 1980 thriller has been scanned and restored in 4K from the only existent copy of the 35mm negatives and delivered the original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. The image quality is better, but only slight above the Synapse DVD that sourced from 16mm negative and still maintains a healthy dose of noised induced and film grain and print damage. The color palette has a dullish grey-brown combination fairly noticeable to the naked eye. The English DTS-HD dual channel audio has hints of a hiss and faint crackle in more scene intense segments, but relatively clean and clear inside a limited range. Extras included are an updated version of Synapse’s retrospective documentary entitled “After Effects” that brings a stingy melancholy when seeing George Romero converse with his friends. There are also two short films by John Harrison, an archival commentary track, and liner notes by AGFA’s Joseph Ziemba. Plus, the AGFA Blu-ray has a snazzy illustrated cover, with reverse cover art, encasement. “Effects” glorifies snuff film with ample attention to detail and precision that only this Pittsburgh all-star team of filmmakers could produce on a limited budget and AGFA, alongside MVDVisual, amplify their efforts by a hundredfold with a remastered transfer withstanding straight razor home movies, a bombastic car explosion, and cloak and dagger guerilla filmmaking that’ll have you second guessing if the effects are only movie magic or not?
On Christmas day, Diane, a widowed mother, has her dysfunctional children and their families over to celebrate the festive holiday at the remote family home set in the countryside Outback. When a black cloaked stranger with a face wrapped in white cloth strips arrives at her doorstep, Diane’s good heart and generosity invites the peculiar man inside in order to not celebrate Christmas alone, but when the religiously zealot stranger reveals a letter and begins to read from it out loud, the mother of four is shocked and angered by the content and violently has him thrown out of the house, threatening him to never return. As night falls and all is calm considering the families offbeat relationship, the stranger lurks outside, waiting to seek deadly vengeance upon a family that houses dark secrets; secrets written on the pages of the stranger’s letter that connect him to Diane and her four children and he’ll stop at nothing to unearth the truth, to get the answers he desires, from Diane, even if that means slaughtering them all to pieces to get it!
“Red Christmas” is the Craig Anderson written and directed holiday classic that spills a lot of blood and sucks out completely the christmas spirit. Under the cloak of a prevalent hot and debatable topic, the social commentary aspect of “Red Christmas” blends an unapologetic slasher with turbulent subject matter that can strike chords with just about everybody, especially parents with special needs children. However, Anderson owns a black horror comedy wrought hard in exhibiting a family with unintentional aspirations to be the worst family in the world with eclectic characters ranging from religious fanatics, to closeted perverts, to pot smoking stoners, and putting them all in one house seems to bring the worst out in all of them on a day where sharing is caring and to pit them against a deadly stranger that forces them to build a malfunctioning opposing defense that works as well as a football bat.
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Cujo” star Dee Wallace headlines as the mother of three, Diane, and the recently awarded lifetime achievement winning actress’s exuberant strong will and determination of being a badass, kickass mother remarkably unearths Wallace’s natural killer instinct to be an on-screen protective den mother of her children played by Australian actresses Sarah Bishop as the acolyte daughter to Janis McGavin as a inconsiderate pregnant stoner. The relatively unknown Deelia Meriel played the third sister as a free-spirited artist with a dark personality. The fourth child is a key player to the plot so one of the most important roles to the story was awarded to Gerard O’Dwyer, a humanitarian actor who brings encouragement and awareness about Down Syndrome, and the actor uses “Red Christmas” as an appropriate platform to continue his ongoing fight against societal stereotypes while showing off his talent for the theatrics. “Rogue’s” Geoff Mortell and David Collins are hilarious when undertaking their respective roles of a likable laid back uncle with a penchant for the pot and a curiosity sheathed Catholic pastor unsure how to find faith in a faithless house. Rounding out the bunch is Bjorn Stewart, Anthony Jensen, Robert Anderson, and an masked Sam Campbell as the cloaked villain Cletus.
When noting the technical portions of “Red Christmas,” the practical special effects, under the Craigfx team helmed by Craig Anderson and Doug Bayne, implemented to create a mixed bag of horrible deaths is one particular aspect worth mentioning. Just enough to tease the tip of the gore hounds’ testicles while not being submersed in the super-soaked overkill that indie slashers take route now-a-days. Instead, AFI award winner Craig Anderson kept his moments of axing off characters very clean, superbly neat, and visually attractive, honing in on the maniacal killer aspirations in order to create kills worthy of more established Renaissance slasher icons and when the killing begins, Anderson makes certain heighten the tension by importing a vary of vibrantly hued filters that light up scenes like retro-colored Christmas light bulbs. When considering the character development, Cletus, visually, is jarring, like seeing the Grim Reaper in the flesh (or is it bones?), but the character’s written erratically enigmatic in a sense that most of Cletus’ brief backstory is quickly explained through flashbacks in the opening credits, leaving not enough to explain the amount of how deranged and how creepy a bloke like him is and while “Red Christmas” puts Cletus’ motivations right upfront, right on the Christmas Turkey, a subsequent question mark still lies hanging over our noggins about the full and complete story of Cletus and his ill-advised demeanor.
Artsploitation Films proudly presents Craig Anderson’s “Red Christmas” that’s currently playing in select theaters near and far and soon to be on home video come October 17th! For now, a DVD-R screener was provided for this particular review and so I am unable to comment on the audio and video quality. There were also no extras available on the screener. “Red Christmas” harnesses inspiration from other cult Christmas classics, horror and comedy alike, while tackling head-on today’s tough fiery topics like women’s rights, abortion, Down Syndrome, and how people deal with regrets in their present and past. As genre fans, October will always the Christmas month for horror and after thoroughly enjoying the dementedness of Bob Clack’s “Black Christmas” to start the night of mischief off right, make sure to pop in Craig Anderson’s psycho-cinematic “Red Christmas” to totally ring in the complete holiday fear!