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.
Just off the rough stormy shores of Nova Scotia is a remote island where American Tom Doherty becomes the newly hired lighthouse caretaker in search for good money. Already overwhelmingly cloaked with the lighthouse’s creepy adjacent housing and being forewarned by the island’s infamous legends, an isolated Tom experiences the abilities of dark force first hand and doesn’t know whether the forces are real or madness has swallowed him from the extreme isolation. As Tom continues the work, he discovers clues along the way that suggest the island holds a nefarious past involving murder, suicide, and cannibalism, but an old bible with a list of names is the key that has the potential to unlock all the island’s mysterious doors and can also be Tom’s unfortunate undoing if he maintains being the lighthouse caretaker.
Based off the Angela Townsend book with the same title, “The Forlorned” is the 2017 silver screen adaptation of Townsend’s mystery-thriller from “Dead Noon” director Andrew Wiest who has helmed a jolting, supernaturally visual and auditory accompaniment to Townsend’s literary work. To maintain authenticity, Townsend co-wrote a script alongside Wiest and Ryan Reed that’s riddle with an ill-omened story leading audiences down a path of insanity-ladened darkness. But what exactly is “The Forlorned?” Forlorn has two definitions: 1) pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely 2) unlikely to succeed; hopelessness. Either of the disparaging definitions, if not both, can be used to described “The Forlorned’s” eerily gloomy story that’s saturated in a motif of burdensome loneliness and relentlessly bashes the concept into our heads in a constant reminder that no one can ever escape the island even in postmortem. The character Tom is the very definition of the forlorned. Whether because of due diligence or a dark force, his role of caretaker is a permanent position allotted to him unwillingly by a sadistic, secret-keeping demon that seeks to swallow more unfortunate souls.
Colton Christensen inarguably shapes the role of Tom Doherty into his own with a solid solitary performance for more than half the film. Christensen also, for much of the last ten minutes of the story, had to systematically break away from his character in order to forge a combative persona to Tom and while Christensen does the job well for one character, shouldering a second didn’t suite the actor’s abilities despite a total embrace of character and a few jabs at his own humility. Wiest has worked with Christensen prior to “The Forlorned” and has seemed to continue the trend of using his own entourage of actors with the casting of Elizabeth Mouton (also from “Dead Noon”). Mouton’s character is briefly mentioned near the beginning as a little girl of a previous caretaker, but her adult version only makes the scene in the latter portion of the story to provide a better clarification and exposition into the demon’s background. Also serving exposition as story bookends and peppered through as emotional support is Cory Dangerfield’s “Murphy,” a sea-salty old bar owner who liaisons with the lighthouse committee and can make a mean clam chowder. Murphy hires Tom to do the restoration and caretaker work and while Murphy initiates Tom existence into the fold, Murphy, for the rest of the film, serves as slight comic relief and, in a bit of disappointment, an unfortunate waste of a character. I also wanted Benjamin Gray, Shawn Nottingham’s priest character, to be built upon and expanded more because the character is a key portion that, in the end, felt rushed with quick, messy brush strokes in order to finish painting the picture.
At first glance, Townsend, Wiest, and Reed’s script screens like a typical, if not slightly above par level, haunting where Tom encounters sportive spirits, ghastly visions, and a slew of ominous noises inside a time-honored lighthouse home, but then a twist is written into play, pitting Tom against a masterminding demon whose conquered many other bygone caretakers and whose the epicenter of all that is sinisterly wrong with the island. The demon, who has taken the form of a man hungry hog, lives only vicariously through the camera’s point of view, never bestowing an appearance upon to Tom or even the audience, but referenced numerous times by island locals and boisterously given hog attributes whenever the demon is near. The concept fascinates with this demon-hog thing kept stowed away deep inside the isle’s bedrock even if the dark entity never makes a materializing appearance, but where that aspect thrives in “The Forlorned,” a pancake thin backstory for the demon goes simply construed with a slapped together account of its languished two-century long past and wilts the demonic character wastefully down with backdropped uncertainly, powerlessness, and puzzlement that’s forlornly misfired. There’s no deal with the devil, no selling of the soul, no medieval rite that gives the demon-hog it’s power; it just turns into an evil spirit out of greed.
Andrew Wiest’s production company, Good Outlaw Studios, presents “The Forlorned” that found a distribution home in Midnight Releasing, the fine folks who released “Blood Punch” and “WTF!” “The Forlorned” is available on DVD and multiple VOD formats such as iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, Xbox Video, and Google Play. Since a screener was used for this critique, a full review rundown of the technical specs will not be provided and no bonus materials were featured on the disc. Director Andrew Wiest and his cast and crew entourage are able bodied participants in assembling a good, entertaining, and sufficient indie mystery-thriller brought to fruition out of Angela Townsend’s story with the author’s pen ship assistance. With a little tweak here and there on the antagonistic demon-hog, “The Forlorned” might have necessarily escalated into a richly dark territory of a more volatile, blood thirsty spirit that’s scribed to have racked up body after body, century after century; however, the fleeting chronicle of how the demon-hog came to be a malevolent being leaves a bittersweet aftertaste on a premise that started out spooky and strong.
While at a Spanish night club, Lucy meets a darkly tall and handsome gentleman who takes her back to his luxurious yacht and spends a romantic night with him inside his cabin on the sea. The next morning, Lucy suffers from a terrible case of amnesia, unable to recall where she’s met this mysterious man before or even remember her own past and as she relaxes in her hotel room after a soothing bath, a past life vision of herself entangled with her one night stand, otherwise known as Dracula, establishes her place amongst Dracula’s side as his undead love, but vampire hunters, Doctor Van Helsing and his faithful assistant Seward, are hot on Dracula’s scent toward his brooding castle in order to save Lucy from succumbing to Dracula’s cursed evil forever.
“Apostle of Dracula” is a Spanish retelling of the classic Bram Stoker “Dracula” tale, versed in Edgar Allan Poetry, and is directed and co-written by Emilio Schargorodsky. Also known more in other parts of the world as “Dracula 0.9,” Schargorodsky’s film boldly tiptoes through a minimalistic approach regarding the mythos of the legendary vampire that dabbles in some special effects when required and uncomplicated imagery that still relishes in wondrous imagery. The “Spirits of the Dead” poetic works of American macabre writer Edgar Allan Poe reinforces the Gothically garnished settings and costumes and heightens the gloomy sensationalism in Schargorodsky’s melodramatic horror soap opera that redesigns slightly Dracula’s origins and his infatuating love interest that isn’t Mina Murray.
Instead, Dracula’s focus is resuscitating the undead cursed life into Lucy dreamily and elegantly portrayed by model-actress Nathalie Le Gosles. Le Gosles has ghostly grey eyes that pierce vividly on screen through her Lucy Westerna performance that’s quite different than what audiences might be typically used to in the character. Lucy is the titular character, being the “Apostle of Dracula,” and Dracula (Javier Caffarena) spares no expense or time and effort in making Lucy his forever. Caffarena’s Dracula is very much overshadowed by Le Gosles’s beauty and performance as Caffarena’s acting experience before his freshman film only credits him in on other role in a short film directed by Schargorodsky, but Caffarena’s a busy body on this feature, delving into many facets from cast to crew as also one of the three co-writers and also donning not only the cape and fangs of the vampire but also creating a composing soundtrack, editing the film, and acting as a producer. In all honest, Paul Lapidus stole the show with his role as the most famous vampire hunter that was ever created – Van Helsing. Virtually embracing every facet of his time hopping character, along with the rest of the cast, Lapidus’s steadfast approach toward a more conventional Van Helsing relieves many anxieties of jumbling up Dracula’s mythology. Antonia Del Rio, Francisco Del Rio, Jose Luis Matoso, and Virginia Palomino round out the cast.
Schargorodsky’s indie Gothic Dracula feature is not immaculate; however, because Schargorodsky is an experienced photographer, a silver lining in his filmmaking playbook is his impeccable eye for cinematography. Whether in the framing or capturing the organic beauty of the landscape, Schargorodsky blends a dream with classic styles that had once scared the pants off people by incorporating shadow imagery that pays a dear homage to that of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” alongside Caffarena’s Dracula shaving his head and extending his fingers to be a lookalike Max Schrek. Captivating as many of the frames might be, the juxtaposition to the story doesn’t hold water as the story hops from one century to another without much regard for exposition. Lucy’s passionate yacht fling with a daylight walking vampire not only raises many vampire mythos questions, but also leads into Lucy displacing much of her memories of herself and her past. She then goes into a trance after returning to her hotel room, envision her great lineage self intertwined with Dracla and that story unfolds for a good portion of the film from the time Lucy’s bit to when Van Helsing and Seward interject at Dracula’s Castle. The story then returns Lucy’s back to present time where she then fights to urge to be a bloodsucker, but can’t stop her desires to be with her undead beau all the while a modern day Van Helsing and Seward, sporting sleek Secret Service-issues shades and wardrobe, seek to protect Lucy at all cost. Lost somewhere in the midst of the story is an important pice of the puzzle that goes unexplained.
Wild Eye Releasing MVDVisual present the 2012 “Apostle of Dracula” onto DVD for the first time in the U.S. The DVD, graced with a cover illustrating an unrelated naked female vampire crotched down and glaring outward, widescreen presentation sports a digitally shot transfer that fairly mediocre throughout despite soft details, faint aliasing, and spotty moments of digital noise during darker scenes. However, the worst technical aspect lies with the dialogue audio track that’s horrendously dubbed in non-optional English in such a flat, monotone voice that all the passion behind the actors is lost. If you watch close in the special features, clips of untainted portions of the film can be caught with the original Spanish track, bringing a whole new life into the scenes. There are no options to play the original language or even optional subtitles. Caffarena’s looming score comes out clean with subtitle details in the LFE emitting from Stereo audio which can be seen discussed on the bonus material about composing the score. Another special features contain a pleasant surprise with a never before scene interview with the late Jess Franco, who looked to be on his death bed, conversing his positive thoughts and praises on Emilio’s film that does have a faint resemblance to Franco’s work consisting of elements, but not limited to, the gothic, dream-like, and slightly sleazy. Bonus material comes full circle with Wild Eye Releasing trailers. Emilio Schargorodsky’s self-funded Dracula film proves any filmmaker can be a auteur without losing focus despite some flaws being on the grand stage of an iconic horror monster and while “Apostle of Dracula” flips the script on Bram Stoker’s telling of one of the greatest villains ever scribed, there’s something to be said for the multiple ways to skin a cat in this and still able to construct a solid story in this European horror.
Set in an infectious diseased post-apocalypse world, Paul, his wife Sarah, and their son Travis have fortified themselves in a dense forested and isolated house to ride out the easily spreadable disease. Always prepared and ever suspicious, Paul expects everyone to follow a rigorous routine, following procedures in order to avoid becoming infected, but when a young family, seeking supplies and refuge, enters their lives and their home despite Paul’s hesitations. Paul’s family’s routine and order face disruption that opens themselves up to the ever present danger outside and inside their home.
“It Comes at Night” is an intense, heart-pounding mystery thriller set inside the close quartered confines of a desolate house where trust doesn’t come without auspicious interrogation and teeth clinching suspicion. Writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore feature has layers upon layers of underlying human nature undertones when people are put up against an unsurvivable situation inevitably with their backs against the wall, literally, when confronted to whether to implement the good will nature of their humanity or not, to take that risk to help others or to save their own skin, and to attempt to reconnect with other people or stay separate from the masses. Even the “it” in “It Comes at Night” isn’t as simple as one would first think. Most unfamiliar audiences would assume “it” is a snarling, brooding, oozing, and grotesque creature, or perhaps even a devilishly grinning clown, that comes around when the sun falls; instead, the “it” is an occurrence, an event sparking nightmares inside the human mind that formulates fear and a tall order of exemplary caution.
The Australian born Joel Edgerton (“The Thing” remake) stars as Paul, the father of the family he’s trying to protect at all costs. Edgerton perfectly pitches as a, supposed, American voice, since the story doesn’t exclaim a locality, but the assumption is the setting is nowhere, U.S.A, and plants a firm foot down as a rugged resident of wilderness survival accompanied by his wife Sarah played by Alien: Covenant’s Carmen Ejogo. Ejogo’s offering to her character gives Sarah a powerful will to do what’s necessary and to support Paul in his determination to protect their only son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Edgerton, Ejogo, and Harrison opposite up well against the foreign element, another family with their performer genetic makeup of Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, and Griffin Robert Faulkner as Will, Kim, and their just above toddling son, Andrew. Each actor embraces the role in their respective family and at first, the interactions are genuinely jovial, but then the uncomfortable thick tension evolves from the point of an extreme pivot into the folds of deception and fear.
Shults maintains an ominous atmosphere of overwhelming strain amongst the characters and “It Comes at Night” has a unique perspective set inside an already apocalyptic ravaged population despite the lack visual expositions. Yet, the finished project feels incomplete. Pacing is the biggest concern with the timing of events between the introduction of Will’s family and their destined downfall that results in a climax that’s so bellied-up in an sorely anti-climatic fashion that the notion of being cheated out of a more gut-punched ending pulls at the core of the cinematic soul. That’s not to say that the film has one, if not more, interpretations; in fact, Shults’ entire feature is or could be considered open for interpretation, with examples from the duly noted “red door” to the Travis’ child-like personality, and usually those types of heavily subtext films stick around more way after the credits roll, but also, in a slightly bittersweet cause and effect, leaves more of a foggy formulation of events during the unfolding of the story. Also, an aspect that didn’t help the cause was shying away from a powerful scenes that should have left an impact, but R-rated feature delivered no acute moments of remembrance and leaving much to the imagination with only the majority of the rating pie being flavored with tasteless language.
Lionsgate Entertainment presents the Animal Kingdom and A24 produced “It Comes at Night” on a 1080p resolution in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The imagery lavishes in a gritty, woodsy detail that organically defines the sea of trees and natural flesh tones, but as the title suggests, most scenes are shot at night that are moderately blanketed, yet ineffectively intrusive, in digital noise. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix definitely has more girth during the livid nightmares and vigorously tense scenes, but, surprisingly, the dialogue track lacks gusto in the wake of a more lively surround quality. During exchanges of hushed tones, dialogue is rendered nearly inaudible and the option English subtitles had to be deployed. Spanish subtitles are also available. Special features include an audio commentary by writer-director Trey Edward Shults and actor Kelvin Williams Jr and a cast and crew discourse in a segment entitled “Human Nature: Creating ‘It Comes at Night.'” Overall, the psychological and humanity breakdown of the characters of “It Comes at Night” is worth the price of admission along with the teachings that family is key and to never rely on the goodwill of strangers, but finishes with a weak sense of direction that ruptures an unsavory cyst that doesn’t conclude coherently.
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.