See Through the Eyes of EVIL. “Dahmer” reviewed! (MVDVisual / Blu-ray)

On February 15th, 2992, Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted on murder, dismemberment, and sexual offenses on 17 young males.  Before then, Dahmer preyed on the desperate and the unsuspecting males living undisclosed in the then tabooed gay culture between 1978 and 1991.  Drugging, raping, killing, and then sometimes raping his victims posthumously became the Wisconsin serial killer’s unhinged obsession for companionship while working auspiciously as a chocolate factory warehouse worker.  Dahmer’s mind blossoms through the graphic dual prose narrative of events that circle around his lonely existence from a novice outcast drawn to kill to a calculating cold-blooded manhunter with deviant tendencies. 

Jeffrey Dahmer is one of those cerebral oddities you wish had a sight tube or a port hole to gape into and absorb the torrent of deranged thoughts in order to get a better understanding of how a serial killer’s mind functions and rationalizes vice and death as a sustainable life style.  Writer-director David Jacobson attempts to explain that very concept that sordid Dahmer’s visceral vision of the world around him in the 2002 interpretational blend of fact and fiction film, “Dahmer.”  Based on real events with some tweaks to protect the identities of real people, Jacobson’s crime biopic forces the uncomfortable measure of a bedeviled seduction, placing viewers in both the objective and subjective hot seat of Dahmer’s beginnings to his submersed praxis of his warped theoretical longings.  “Dahmer” is a production of a Peninsula Films, Inc., the same production company behind another serial killer biopic, Clive Saunders’ “Gacy,” a year later.

Surrounding the film, it’s been rumored that many actors don’t want anything to do with playing the titular sociopath; perhaps, Dahmer’s past scruples the filling of his size 10 shoes smeared with blood or, perhaps, exploring the dark caverns of his mind was too treacherous to traverse and come out unscathed from a crippling, crestfallen place of trauma.  Then, there’s Jeremy Renner.  Before his fame and fandom from “The Avengers” franchise, even before his breakout role in the pro-cop action blockbuster, SWAT, Jeremy Renner filled those monstrous size 10 shoes in the most quietest of ways, but the Hawkeye star’s skin-crawling version of a notorious killer he eerily takes a resemblance of provided that much more of a tactile insight into Dahmer’s inhuman nature.  Renner carries the film through two stages in Dahmer’s life, one being as an adolescent with homoerotic obsessions and deranged peculiarities whose living with his parents and grandmother while the other is paved by his own hands as an emotionless and manipulative rapist and murderer.  The distinct development is brilliantly illuminated by Renner’s understanding of Dahmer at certain stages of life.  Rounding out “Dahmer’s” cast is a fellow cinematic Marvel comics movie actor in Bruce Davison (“X-Men”) as Dahmer’s father, Lionel, Artel Great whose character is derived from real life Dahmer victim escapee, Tracey Edwards, and with Matt Newton, Dionysio Basco, and the late Kate Williamson adding their supportive performances.

Director David Jacobson didn’t want to explore and exploit the gory side of Jeffrey Dahmer’s tucked away carnage; instead, Jacobson dives into the psyche of Dahmer, molding human emotions around the sociopath who felt inadequate, if not also frightened, of his yearnings that propelled him to do the unspeakable acts of meticulous violence.  “Dahmer” obviously isn’t a true-to-fact biopic, regaling with colorful discourse and captivating with uncomfortable actions as filler to a near Hollywoodize stitching, but Jacobson did sprinkle with truth to fill in the mental gaps with interpretations of Dahmer’s connections with others, from family to victims.  Director of photography, Chris Manley, is able to capture the intensity with contrast lighting between young Dahmer and old Dahmer.  In Dahmer’s young life, the lighting is very natural, very bright, and very normal in a showcase of Dahmer’s mental space and, if we were not already enlightened about the serial killer’s, Dahmer would be just an usual misfit or a closeted homosexual with an obscure inkling to do more malevolency.  Only during scenes of mature Dahmer is the lighting saturated with hazy primary colors of blue, green, yellow, etc. that heighten madness and mark an ominous, dangerous presence inside the gay club or Dahmer’s apartment while everywhere else is in natural lighting.  A good companion piece to “Dahmer” is “My Friend Dahmer” directed by Marc Meyers that sought to visualize High Schooler Jeffrey Dahmer as an outlier spaz who desired attention to the point of making ruckuses in public places with other practical jokers and dived more into his obsession with eviscerating the local wildlife for curiosity and disolving them with his father’s chemistry concoctions, a nice little connective tissue between the two films. Watch Meyers’ “My Friend Dahmer” and Jacobson’s “Dahmer” in said order and while the two films are veritably different in style, each depiction captures a loner at heart with a minacious defense to feel, the very least, something by overpowering-to-death the unsuspecting prey.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s tactics were gruesome, perverse, and unsavory without question, but David Jacobson attempts the impossible of detaching the human from the monster in “Dahmer” that’s now being distributed onto Blu-ray by FilmRise and MVDVisual under their Marquee Collection. The High-Def, 1080p picture is presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, from the original 35mm negative film. While the upscaling looks fairly well achieved that seizes to put more life into the coloring, especially with those rich colorful shots in Dahmer’s later years, a good portion of 35mm negative sheens through with hairline scratches and the occasional blip of a cigarette burn. The overall delineation renders nicely with little-to-not soft edges and there doesn’t seem to be any cropping or edge enhancing. The English language DTS 5.1 Surround sound is as equally competent with clarity throughout the vocal track. There was too much depth or range to paint a picture, gaining a win by default with the conversing being held in tightly packed rooms or in extreme closeups of conversating duos. The musical score by Christina Agamanolis, Mariana Bernoski, and Willow Williamson haunts mostly like the caressing sounds of viper’s mellifluous tongue with breathy moans, irregular percussions, and a whisking uneasiness tune that sinks its teeth into you. The soundtrack is mixed with some monotonous club beats, doo-wop, and soft and classical alternative rock that include Patsy Cline, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Freddie Cannon. Bonus materials are a little antiquated with a making of featurette from back when the film was closer being first released, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, story boards, a red band and theatrical trailer, and an audio commentary by director David Jacobson and actors Jeremy Renner and Artel Kayaru. “Dahmer” doesn’t need to sell us on the diabolical nature of Jeffrey Dahmer, but what the film does do is formulate a systemic idea of who Dahmer disposes to be, as a loner, as a sufferer, and as a killer, underneath the skin of an average young white male.

Order “Dahmer” on Blu-ray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Correction: Previously stated the rapids scene was CGI.

 

Crawldaddy and Her Two EVIL, Incestual Kids in “Skinned Alive” reviewed! (Tempe Digital and Makeflix / Blu-ray UE)


Crawldaddy and her two children, Violet and Phink, are psychopathic makers and sellers of fine leather apparel right off the backs of, well, literally ripped right off the fleshy backs of anyone they come across! When their van breaks down in a small, dumpy, low-bred Ohio town, Crawldaddy is forced to play nice with the town’s only mechanic, Tom, who offers a complete line of unreciprocated hospitality to the strange out-of-towners, but that doesn’t stop her and her children from committing slice and dicing of the local residents while bunkering in Tom and wife’s basement spare room. When Tom’s neighbor, Paul, an alcohol abusing ex-cop on the edge as a result of a brutal divorce, senses trouble and discovers Crawldaddy’s den of skin, the quiet small town explodes with bullets and blades in a macabre showdown.

Forget the Firefly family that has brought backwoods kin-in-arms killers to the masses in vogue fashion. Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding have nothing on Crawldaddy’s foul-mouth, foul-smelling skinner family who ranks as the top trash, living the nomad lifestyle with all the depraved trimmings of the criminally insane. Written and directed by Jon Killough, who after working on J.K. Bookwalter’s “The Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja” in multi-hat roles, “Skinned Alive” was bestowed a greenlight by Bookwalter to explore the creative side of Killough’s vile and offensive laden hillbilly horror that was released in 1990, before that very subgenre was coined and monetized years later. David DeCoutea, who envisioned the eviscerated virtuoso of the gruesome filmmaking talents from Todd Sheets to J.R. Bookwalter, served as executive producer and Bookwalter’s The Tempe Suburban Company tackled “Skinned Alive” with all the ingenious bloody pizzazz and outlandish death set financier and production company while filming the project in Ohio.

Since The Suburban Tempe Company is a tight-knit production company, familiar faces from Bookwalter’s previous films have been cast, beginning with Paul Hickox, the ex-cop with a drinking and ex-wife problem, played by Floyd Ewing Jr. The Hickox character crosses over from “Robot Ninja” into “Skinned Alive,” but exhibited in a dichotomous life position. While Ewing nails being a man dragged through the pig slop of divorce, Paul feels cut short with the amount of buildup written for the character that’s centered around ex-wife woes of losing his house and kids, depressed into drinking, and has to deal with a sleazy lawyer whose also litigating his former wife in a court of a sex. However, “Skinned Alive” is all about the bad guys.  In the majority of horror films, the bad guys are always the most interesting because of their rancid flavored persona and for our culturally-collective love of the eccentric, the offbeat, and the grim of villainy.  Crawldaddy embodies those despicable characteristics without so much of breaking a sweat with a abhorrent-welcoming performance by the late Mary Jackson.  Jackson, who went on later to work Bookwalter again in a minor role in “Ozone,” is transformed from a singing beauty to a basket case of a wretched, wheelchair bound hag, unearthing her uncouth Hyde at the flip of a switch.  Jackson is complimented by Susan Rothacker as the alluring-but-deadly Violent, a roll filled in the last minute by the film’s makeup artist when things didn’t work with Jackson’s daughter Lorie, and the one and only Scott Spiegel as Phink.  The energetic Spiegel has been a part of the longstanding Sam Raimi entourage, having minor roles in Raimi films, such as “The Evil Dead,” “Darkman,” and “Drag Me to Hell,” and when “Skinned Alive” became in need of a Phink, Spiegel may have just saved the film by his presence alone as the “Intruder” and “Dusk Till Dawn 2:  Texas Blood Money” director brings the manic ticks and callous charisma to Phink’s traits.  Rothacker ups the character dynamics with Phink as the pair’s love-hate relationship is a slap-stick of incest and homicidal cravings that fits right into the vile veneer of the story.  “Skinned Alive’s” cast rounds out with Lester Clark (“The Dead Next Door”), Barbara Katz-Norrod (“Kingdom of the Vampire”), Mike Shea (“Robot Ninja”), Mike Render (“Robot Ninia”), J.R. Bookwalter as a tortured Jehovah’s witness, and Jon Killough as an unlucky the hitchhiker.

As Killough’s indirect byproduct of Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Skinned Alive” is the skewed, bad dream version of the devious Sawyer family with heavy notes of black comedy chucked into the fold for an all-out odious assault on all fronts, but Killough’s first and only feature didn’t come out totally unscathed as a harmonious horror-comedy.  With little film stock left to shoot with and production controversial new scenes written by Killough and then altered by Bookwalter without consent, “Skinned Alive” became a rapid fire production of short shots compiled together that resulted in a choppy flow.  You could also discern which filmmaker wrote which dialogue in the filler scene between ex-cop Paul and his ex-wife with her sidepiece arrogant lawyer; Bookwalter adds witty, if not smart, dialogue to reinforce Paul’s degrading life while Killough’s dialogue for the rest of the feature is an expletive warzone without much of a strategy.  Both discourses work for the benefit “Skinned Alive,” but do cause a blatant, patchwork barrier between the conversing styles.  David Lange and Bill Morrison’s special effect makeup work is a complete continuation from “The Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja” of rendering gooey, gory visuals on a budget.  Sometimes, yes, you can see how unflattering the realism can be and easily securitize the flaws, but at the same time, the ingenuity trumps over cost and that elevates the effects beyond any dollar figure the film might cost.  That partial prosthetic of ripped flesh on Spiegel’s Phink when he’s hot in the face is one my favorite effects not only for the gruesome details, but for also its versatility.  It could easily be a bear claw swipe or a flesh eating bacteria, making the possibilities endless for Lange and Morrison.  Thirty-years later, “Skinned Alive” has preserved a rightful staunch cult following for it’s unparalleled grotesque veneer that will endure to linger for another 30 years plus thanks to technological advances and vehement filmmakers who are also filmic preservationist like J.R. Bookwalter.

Speaking of which, J.R. Bookwalter and his company, Tempe Digital, has painstakingly restored “Skinned Alive” and released it on a region free ultimate edition, dual-format Blu-ray/DVD, distributed by Makeflix.  The original 16mm A/B roll cut negative was scanned in 2K and is presented in the retained 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  The scan brought the transfer int a low-contrast in order to color correct and bring more life into the presentation from previous untouched versions and removed all of the white speckled dirt and scratches from nearly much of movie; a silver-lining made possible by COVID-19 quarantine that allotted the time to do so.   The color grading now has a much more vibrant appeal though slightly losing details from the high contrast with some of the more brilliant red glowing scenes in Tom and Whinnie’s basement.  Limited to 1000 pressings, “Skinned Alive,” the 30th Anniversary ultimate edition, by visuals alone, should be blipping frantically on any avid collector’s radar and sought by all genre aficionados.   The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound stem from the DA-88 tape archives of the original 16-track audio masters and while much of the dialogue and musical score remained, a good chunk of the ambience and effects were rebuilt and remixed, defining a clearer, cleaner audio track presentation of balanced levels from all different file sets.  Aside from some small synchronization issues between the dialogue and the scenes, the range is pitch perfect and the depth is excellent.  There are optional English and Spanish subtitles included.  Bonus features, you say?  The ultimate edition has you covered with the BR disc one containing a 2020 commentary with writer/director Jon Killough and moderated by Tempe historian Ross Snyder of Saturn’s Core Audio and Video as well as a 2002 audio commentary with producer J.R. Bookwalter and makeup effects artist David Lange.  Other new material includes a 16 minute featurette entitled “Carving Up 30 Years of ‘Skinned Alive,'” featuring a number of interviews with the cast and crew recollecting good times on set, a remembering Mary Jackson featurette that includes Jackson’s son and daughter, among cast and crew, commemorating the Crawldaddy actress, an interview with Scott Spiegel, 2020 location tour, artwork and promotional gallery, behind the scenes gallery, production stills, and, my personal favorite, J.R. Bookwalter walking through the restoration process step-by-step giving insight on the time and effort into restoring the films such as “Skinned Alive.”  Disc 2, the DVD, includes a 2002 audio commentary with Doug Tilley and Moe Porne of The No-Budget Nightmares Podcast, the 1987 and 1988 “roommates” TV sitcom episode featuring the “Skinned Alive” cast and crew, the Joy Circuit “Love Turns to Darkness” music video, a making off featurette of “Skinned Alive,” behind the scenes, Camera and wardrobe tests, a short 2 minute segment about the 2002 remastering and the original DVD release trailer.  That’s not all!  Let’s not forget to mention the equally packed release package that includes a reversible wrap featuring original 1990 VHS artwork in the casing and new cover art by Alex Sarabia on the slip cover, plus an eight-page color booklet with liner notes by Ross Snyder.  The only thing missing is a soundtrack CD compact…wait, there is one!  Come September 18, the original motion picture soundtrack, featuring 29 tracks, will be released with scores composed and performed by J.R. Bookwalter, songs by Hang Dangle, Foxx, Virgil Pittman, Joy Circuit, Dave Jackson and Kenny Boyd, Seven Sez U, The Ninja Sequencers, and Willie and the Wagon Wheels.  This 2-disc set is the holy grail for die hard “Skinned Alive” fans who know and appreciate the unique, second to none hillbilly horror that’s flagrant on every level.

Pre-order the soundtrack!!! Click to go to Amazon.com

When Music Videos Go EVIL! “The Backlot Murders” reviewed! (Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red / Blu-ray)


After a night of drinking that ends in breaking a bottle over the bar owner’s head, a struggling and internally conflicted rock band kicks out the cancerously unhinged and troublesome member before their rise to stardom. Unfortunately, all the talent went out door along with the excommunicated band member, forcing the band to impress with an extravagant music video shot on Universal’s iconic backlot, sponsored by their agent and the lead singer’s girlfriend’s music mogul father. Instead of intense pyrotechnics and scantily cladded female groupies dancing on their crotch, the band, their girlfriends, and the crew find themselves caught in the gloomy, labyrinth-like movie lot, housing spooky interior and exterior sets, unaware the lurking murderous manic taking them out one-by-one.

By far a polar opposite polished genre film than the sadistically raw brutal rape and murder extravaganza that was “Chaos,” writer and director David “The Demon” DeFalco dabbles in the early 2000’s revival of the slasher genre with his 2002 released feature “The Backlot Murders” in the wake of the widespread success of the “Scream” franchise. In much of the same way “Chaos” came to fruition derived from “Last House on the Left,” DeFalco, once again, finds inspiration in the form of cult horror director Wes Craven. However, DeFalco strays away from the meta-horror and trope-reversal techniques and replaces it with a satirical façade of the music industry where glam is more important than meaningful substance. The slasher-comedy carves up nods to Van Halen, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, and even Elvis Presley with a horrendously skewed mask version the killer wears. “The Backlot Murders” were co-written by Paul Arensburg and Steven Jay Bernheim with the latter writer serving also as co-producer with DeFalco in association with Dominion Entertainment.

A contributing factor to “Scream’s” success was the diverse in career cast that clicked together as well as twisting archetypical roles into atypical whammy that veered audiences to the edge of their seats. “Scream” shocked audiences with the immediate death of a well-known actress right out of the gate, nabbed “Friends’” star Courteney Cox, “SLC Punk” and “Hackers” actor Matthew Lilliard, teen heartthrob Skeet Urlich, one of the Arquettes with David Arquette, and, perhaps, would have guaranteed Neve Campbell a slab of concrete for the Hollywood Walk of Fame along with an already cemented label as a scream queen and a final girl. The same eclecticism could be transfixed by “The Backlot Murders’” acquisitions but on a more obscure scale with a cast from all walks of life that includes the Roger Rabbit voice actor himself, Charles Fleischer, “Three’s Company” star Priscilla Barnes, 1997’s Playboy Playmate Carrie Stevens, and the late Corey Haim (“The Lost Boys”) as the band’s guitarist in a role that seemed below his fame stature. Most gaps are plugged with interesting characters treated with some backstory buildup that becomes more stagnant than footfall companions in order to get to know them better before their demise, but their persona conductors include Brian Gaskill (“The Bloody Indulgent”), Tom Hallick, Jaime Anstead, Dayton Knoll, Lisa Brucker, Ken Sagoes (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”), LoriDawn Messuri, Angela Little, and Tracy Dali.

“The Backlot Murders” didn’t set out to revolutionize the slasher genre, but only relished in the after success and donned a more satire effort that purposefully retreated back into the conventional tropes to form an entertaining run of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll gags, but the one thing missing, and it’s a doozy, is the actual killer presence in the film who is treated as an afterthought of slim importance and chucked into a insignificant plot twist that forces DeFalco’s hand to become a routine hack’n’slash lemming. One positive aspect of “The Backlot Murders” is the extremely high body count that produces a continuous stream of nixing off a slew of characters with their own death scenes inside the renowned confines of a Universal backlot backdrop that’s not only good-humored irony but also a sizeable effort by the Bernheim/DeFalco producing team. Yet, despite the high body count, the kills and gore felt sorely uninspired and underwhelming, rehashing into homage death scenes from “Friday the 13th” and “Scream” with a few forgettable approaches to call its own, until DeFalco breaks the damning goreless streak with a gruesome Columbian necktie effect that goes for the throat. I make “The Backlot Murders” seem unenjoyable and heartless when, in fact, the early 2000 slasher-comedy is immensely funny with a Charles Fleisher gold recorded, laugh track amongst the relentless mocking of the music industry from a far in this true to form slasher accessorized with a high body count kill dozer of a villain.

When things are quiet on set, “The Backlot Murders” evoke the slasher spirit on a new-to-Blu Blu-ray release in the U.S. from Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red with MVDVisual handling distribution. The 1080p, hi-def release is presented in an anamorphic widescreen from a brand new 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. The cool contextual colors render nicely amongst the shadowy gloom and foggy backdrop that’s reminiscent of a softly lit late 90’s and early 2000s slasher. The textures are sharper than the Razor Digital DVD release; the tactile feeling of asphalt when a bluish white glow hits the pavement or the gritty backlot sets vibrant with an ominous glow strike powerful chords of a lively presence from the transfer. There doesn’t seem to be any cropping, edge enhancing, or any other manipulation to the transfer present. The English mono track, which leans away from the LFE, has the opposite, lackluster appeal with a single channel blockade that doesn’t project the bands pyrotechnics, the screams of being chased, and settling for limitations on other wide range of girthy resounding audio. However, the dialogue is clear, unobstructed, and in the forefront. Bonus material includes a new audio commentary with director David DeFalco and Code Red’s Banana Man plus three new and very bizarre interviews with Carrie Stevens lingering from effects of the #MeToo movement to making home fudge, with Charles Fleisher and dissociative disorder or madman genius insight, and ending with a fairly regular interview with Brian Gaskill recollecting the film and his career through a tough industry standard. The Fleisher and Gaskill interviews end with a video op with The Demon himself, David DeFalco. “The Backlot Murders” had forefront potential of systemic slasher films of the time period, but pitter-patters for levity and a sweeping kill count that reconstructs the dread into death and comedy.

“The Backlot Murders” on Prime Video!

Neighborly Isn’t In EVIL’s Vocabulary in “Red Letter Day” reviewed! (Dread and MVDVisual / Blu-ray)


A divorce lands Melanie Edwards and her two teenage children, Madison and Tim, to redefine their live a new and quiet suburban community called Aspen Ridge. While adjusting to their new normal and becoming acquainted with their new neighbors, the Edwards receive a mysterious red letter in the mail, calling for each person to kill a neighbor from an algorithm, created by a masked anarchist group named The Unknown, has vied them against by working from the parameters set to calculate each individuals’ polar opposite personal, political, or religious beliefs. Every resident in Aspen Ridge has received a red letter with the same instructions that mounts tension amongst friends and neighbors until, eventually, all hell breaks loose and it’s kill or be killed.

Welcome to part one of my unofficial independent horror films out of Canada series where we take a look at Cameron Macgowan’s written and directed 2019 horror-comedy, “Red Letter Day.” Filmed entirely in Calgary, Alberta providence, Macgowan and his production crew claim numerous AirBnB rentals to exact the sleepy, suburban, sanctuary to instill the murderous wrath that simmers just beneath the surface of every mild-manner person living next door, seething with contrasting opinions and beliefs. As a sort of a permission granted for carnage, “Red Letter Day” aims to set itself a part from the typical archetypes that hide the horror in the dark shadows and obscured corners with a bright and sunny morning melee armed with shotguns, baseball bats, sledgehammers, and a kitchen knife with a transfixed cooked chicken on it. “Red Letter Day” is a product of Macgowan’s Calgary, Alberta based production company, Awkward Silencio” in association with Tanda Films.

“Red Letter Day” focuses around the Edwards family who have just gone through the trials and tribulations of divorce proceedings, settling into their new surroundings with relative ease in Madison finding love with an older boy, Tim rounding out a routine, and their mother Melanie shaping a safe haven environment as a soft cushion for her children from the spoils of her ex-husband, but their ease comes with some conventional teenager microscopic social nuisances beneath the surface that places the barely adult Madison as a defiant outlier and the 17-year old, almost in adulthood, Tim as a clinching mama’s boy. All the breakdowns of their everyday life becomes superficial and, at the same time, becomes thought provoking on how they view themselves as a family when a domestic terrorist group invokes hunting season on the neighbors to kill their specific opposite of themselves. Dawn Van de Schoot (“Ice Blue”) steps into a role she’s relatively familiar with in being the mother, Melanie, and while Van de Schoot is perfect as the down to Earth, cool mom with some loose ground rules and sizes up tolerably being a proactive mother, her overall performance is shaky at best as she never finds solid ground in the malicious circumstances that are unfolding around her. Despite being a good chunk of exposition, there isn’t much on-screen friction between Melanie and her daughter, Madison, played by Hailey Foss making her feature film debut. Foss well walks the shoes of a naïve and expressively angst teen that unfortunately does cross beyond that as her character is written to almost physically fade out of the story with an inaptitude toward re-bonding with her mother. The introduction as Kaeleb Zain Gartner as kind of a dorky, smart-mouthed, but overall nice kid, Tim, is perhaps the better of the three character and performance to not only be written as a dependent driven millennial who musters up an ounce of strength to defend his mother, but also acted well by Gartner’s boyish charm. Together, the three less inexperienced actors harness the story enough to push it forward, even if that bind is attached by a thread. Rounding out “Red Letter Day” is Roger LeBlanc (“Painkillers”), Arielle Rombough, Michael Tan, Peter Strand Rumpel (“Devil in the Dark”), and “Friday the 13th Part V’s” Tiffany Helm in a religiously passionate cameo.

“Red Letter Day” could be construed as an interesting social experiment if people were given the freedom to carry out their anger on another person due to their conflicting ideologies. The film feels very much like a part of a small world portion of “The Purge” universe in a sense that the premise allows individuals to blow off resenting steam in the most old testament way: murder. Being that the story’s setting locale is in Canada, a typecast for welcoming benevolence, adds to the already dark and dry humor charm director Cameron Macgowan has applied to his script paralleled with some terrific gory prosthetic work from Stacey Wegner (“Decoys 2: Alien Seduction”) involving a bloodbath drenched meat fork through the neck and a gnarly split down the middle jaw courtesy of a meat tenderizer, adding yet another layer of subtle comedy with household items turned into melee weapons. Macgowan’s adamancy about practical effects hones in on the fork to the neck and a prologue kill scene involving a shotgun being the only two scenes to receive a VFX treatment by adding touches of gore components to sensationally sell the effect and the result is simply and effective complement to the scene without the visual effect grossly absorbing the moment with an indelicate cringe of an ornate polish that becomes the unintended main focus. With a runtime of just 76 minutes, “Red Letter Day” jockeys right out of the gate in this don’t-mess-with-mama bear fighting frenzy.

Presented by Dread, “Red Letter Day” finds home onto a Blu-ray home video distributed by MVDVisual. The region free release is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the digital image has no obvious imperfections or color obstacles to hurdle over in this vividly detailed hi-def release. The cinematography by Rhett Miller poises a neighborly atmosphere of a bright and sunny picturesque community in the throes uncuffed chaos. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound displays a well-balanced layer between dialogue, ambience, and soundtrack with the dialogue in the forefront. Considering the material, range isn’t a big factor into the film’s repertoire built into the story, but is sufficient to pass with minor edits of videogame jingles, various gun shots, and a few whacks with a sledgehammer or meat tenderizer. This also translate well into the depth that some of the acts happen offscreen up or down stairs in these community’s houses and that’s reflected properly as well along with the minor random acts of implied violence in the distance outside. Bonus features includes a commentary by director Cameron Macgowan, a make-of documentary that charts pre-production through post-production with cast and crew interviews, an interview with Tiffany Helm who recollects her filmic career, and Dread trailers. File “Red Letter Day” as a social media thriller bordering on an episodic premise similar to that of “Black Mirror” that infuses technology with the deinstitutionalize of ethical niceties and neighborly good deed for miscreant terror and murdering.

“Red Letter Day” is on Blu-ray and Included in Prime Video!