An estranged and recently widowed grandfather purchases a used RV to take one last family road trip with his two sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter to rekindle a broken relationship. On an isolated stretch of desert highway, the family decides to pull over to assist two stranded motorists and offer them a ride to the next town. Suddenly, the RV veers out of control, steering itself to the middle of the dangerously sweltering desert. The group now finds themselves all stranded and alone with a RV that outputs a strange vibe, displaying vividly horrific secrets inside the RV’s enclosure. One-by-one, the RV kills them off and soon they realize that their ride to family fun is no more than a reincarnated recreational vehicle with a long lineage for death and thirsty for new blood.
Fan crushes are a strange phenomena. Once an actor or an actress imprints their image, their voice, or their one-time portrayal of a charismatic character onto you, the unexplainable captivation never releases the firm grip around the psyche. Denise Richards has had a long impression on this reviewer, resulting in a severe case of fan crush. The Illinois actress won my heart as the determinedly beautiful starship pilot Carmen Ibanez in Paul Veerhoven’s “Starship Troopers,” one year before her anticipated and unforgettable champagne popping nude scene in the convoluted thriller “Wild Things.” Twenty years later, Richards, an ageless beauty, co-stars in the Tom Nagel supernatural horror, “The Toybox.” Nagel (“Clowntown”) directs his sophomore film penned by screenwriter Jeff Denton and, together, the pair of filmmakers toy with and present an idea of a detestable serial killer leaving his twisted soul in the under the rusted hood of a his torture chamber, a beat up old RV camper. A killer RV story that sounds to be right up horror-comedy’s alley is actually a rather earnest narrative that has a solid kill count with an innovative, outside the box villain and a no one is safe attitude.
I’ve already mentioned that the goddess Denise Richards co-headlines “The Toybox” and though I have yet to experience her more recent work over the years, “Valentine” was the last horror film that I can recall with Richards in the cast and her role in Nagel’s film as a loving, yet undisciplined mother and wife in “The Toybox” puts her at the opposite spectrum of her roles in the late 90’s/early 2000’s career. Still, the now recently re-married mother of two still has her unrivaled hots and still has her acting chops as a leading lady despite the lack of Hollywood glam and stardom. Her co-star, Mischa Barton, has been an upcoming figure in the b-horror community. “The O.C.” actresses has starred in a string of horror films in recent years such as “The Hoarder,” “L.A. Slasher,” and “Apartment 1303 3D.” Barton tackles a tomboy Samantha whose picked up, along with her brother, by the RV traveling family and while Barton has a fine performance, she doesn’t quite sell the intensity as a final girl. Greg Violand (“The Devil’s Toy Box”), Matt Mercer (“Contracted”), David Greathouse (“Yoga Hosers”), writer Jeff Denton, director Tom Nagel, and introducing Malika Michelle round out of the remaining cast.
“The Toybox” loosely aims to unravel the inner turmoils of the characters mainly focusing around the estranged relationship of the father and his two sons. The trio can’t quite shake the secret inducing uneasiness that boils inside their broken relationship, making a situational cakewalk for the killer RV to pit them against each other as a deranged therapy session to unsheathe their kindred issues. The bickering and the blaming hurts those they love the most around them first, a very relatable and unfortunate circumstance in beyond the sensational borders of movie magic. However, no matter how much movie magic Nagel constructs to gore-out “The Toybox,” a stiflingly story rears an ugly head via undercooked characters pivotal in being the heart of the narrative. Samantha, Barton’s character, has soft, buttery edges that don’t take shape to ultimate purpose for being a focal point and the same can be said for David Greathouse’s serial killer character Robert Gunthry whose RV-inhabiting backstory is whipped swiftly a single anecdote.
Skyline Entertainment and Steel House Productions present Tom Nagel’s “The Toybox” onto Blu-ray home video in high definition 1080p and a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Image is quite sharp despite lacking vivid coloring and going more for a dusty western-horror, exhibiting the rocky arid landscape of the pacific coast. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is nothing to write home about, but offers a clean dialogue track, ample ambience, and balance. Depth’s slightly weak, but won’t hinder the experience. Bonus material on the single layer BD-25 includes a behind the scenes of various takes throughout production, the theatrical trailer, and a feature commentary with cast and crew. “The Toybox” is no child’s plaything. A RV serial killer with the homicidal motivations stemmed from pure evil and, in a fair opinion, only director Tom Nagel could have poised a coherent film without making it out too, for a lack of a better word, campy and that’s not my weird obsession with Denise Richards talking.
Ruthless mobsters crack down hard on barkeeps, strong arming their way into seizing every bar in town. When they mess with Jo Lee-Haywood, the too cocky gangsters messed with the wrong Southern gal as Jo turns out to be Jo Pickings, one of three dames of the notorious Pickings gang. Jo tries to abide by a straighten arrow inspired by her deceased husband and four kids, but crime tugs at her violent past, scraping the good from her clean off. With the help of her brother, Boone, and her sisters, Doris and May, Jo and her family of heavily armed outlaws aim to fight back against thugs and thieves in this modern day western.
“Pickings” is the freshman film of first time feature film producer, writer, and director Usher Morgan. The contemporary gritty western is a maelstrom of goliath turf wars that’s stylized with rotoscoping and other comic book fatigues to dress Morgan’s film as an aesthetically popping story with illustrative visuals, anomalies, and raw tooth violence. The clear cut message, a fairly popular thematic motif among westerns, is don’t mess with family, even if family has been through an estranged time, and though Morgan’s theme runs a fairly conventional line, the “Sin City”-esque overlay gives “Pickings” a strong double take. What’s an especially fun and unique concept is having one of the characters, Sam “Hollywood” Barone, be exhibited in black and white while everyone else is in color as if the character was pulled straight from a Humphrey Bogart classic.
Elyse Price headlines as Jo-Lee Haywood, a wife-mother scorned by notorious gangsters, but the tough as nails mother of four runs a tight-ship when it comes to her bar and to her family. Price doesn’t hold back, taking the gut-checking hits and delivering a twice as big response with a performance of contempt and revenge. Price is joined by Joel Bernard, the sole brother of the Pickens gang whose as tough as they come, especially when you’re the only boy with three sisters. Bernard does the job matching Price’s hard nose character with his own more subtle version. The two other sisters, Doris and May played by Michelle Holland and Lynne Jordan, barely scratch the surface in an appearance that makes their characters difficult to absorb. Aside from Jo Lee-Haywood, the only other character with a significant character arc is her daughter Scarlet Lee-Haywood filled in by Katie Vincent. Vincent’s softens up against her mother’s violence despite being a passive witness to her cornered brutality, but can adhere to the akin familiarities of her family’s long and violent history. The cast rounds out with Yaron Urbas, who in my opinion is a decent mobster, Michael Gentile, and Emil Ferzola.
“Pickings” doesn’t come without problems and one of the problems is is the story concludes on a really too clean note. The inner monologuing exposition of Jo Lee-Haywood conveying her start-to-finish tale of her involvement with the three dames, Doris, May, and Jo, is a good visual like the rest of the Morgan’s film, but is just that, a good visual, and doesn’t carry the weight of suspense and becomes even more diluted when Doris and May have little interaction with Jo and barely any screen time at all to put the oomph into conveying their badassness. Aside from being obvious and telling, the gun blazing finale is also a bit underwhelming and disappointing, chocking everything to a one sided victory without any, or the hope of any, dire loss to compensate just feels empty and, again, too clean for comfort.
Courtesy of Dark Passage Films comes “Pickings” onto DVD and Blu-ray home video. The DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that capture the neo-noir facets of shadowing figures and haunting mysteries. Morgan’s film doesn’t necessary pop with color, but that’s particularly the nature of the genre. Aside from that, no real issue with the DVD transfer. The audio is a stereo option that has an ample dialogue track and a stocky ambient accompaniment. Katie Vincent’s bootlickin’ acoustical score never wavers, cracks, or looses range. Extras include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ commentary, “The Mop” a Pickings short, a behind the scenes featurette, and a spoof reel during the end credits. Loaded with female empowerment, “Pickings” is a violent crime drama with neo-noir battle garments of two warring clans ready to get along like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the undercutting finale puts a sharp spur in one’s couch melding backside, leaving much to be desired from a women scorned vendetta.
A remote Canadian science team is under the threat of a Graboid situation, hunting drill parties through the ice and ripping them to shreds with their snake-like mouth tentacles. The team phones the only known Graboid hunter, the legendary outdoor sportsman Burt Gummer, who flies from Perfection, New Mexico to the North of the border with his son Travis Welker to terminator their subterranean predator problem. Graboids aren’t the only problem as nasty Ass-Blasters also roam the sky. Stranded on a remote research station and stuck with non-combative administrative researchers, Gummer’s shoulders bare much of the battlefield burden, but the long time Graboid ass-kicker comes face-to-face with an internal Graboid stemmed disease that sidelines his ability to finish the campaign. Travis must pick up the reigns and band together a ragtag team of scientists to not only save Canada from a being swallowed from below, but also to save his father’s life by obtaining antibodies from a live Graboid.
Michael Gross is back! Reprising his role of Burt Gummer, the gung-ho military nut with a penchant for hunting down and killing Graboids, Gross straps on the HK-91 assault rifle once more for Universal’s “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell,” the sixth installment to the “Tremors” franchise that began 27-years-old in 1990! The PG-13 creature feature is helmed by direct-to-video sequel director Don Michael Paul (“Tremors: Bloodlines”), written by two-time “Tremors” sequel writer John Whelpley, and release appropriately enough on Universal’s 1440 Entertainment label. Whelpley relocates the franchise away from the blistering heat, the scorching sand, and the denim-camo-plaid sporting bedrock to cooler climate of the Canada’s 49th parallel north. Under the ice and the chilled soil are pre-pre-cana Graboids awakened by the ever looming effects of global warming. Al Gore was right; Global warming will kill us all…by rousing the underground beasts who’ve been dormant for thousands of years! The very one aspect the filmmakers wanted shiplap together for this next chapter is to perilously put the invincible Burt through a taste of own mortality, plaguing him with a symbiotic Graboid worm that puts him on the edge of death, and introducing a worthy replacement, or perhaps a legacy, in his son, Travis Welker.
Welker is a returning character from “Tremors: Bloodlines” portrayed by comedian Jamie Kennedy. His role as Brad “B-rad” Gluckman from “Malibu’s Most Wanted” has been forcibly seared in many of our minds and his horror enthusiasm captured our black hearts as the lovable Randy Meeks in Scream, but being Travis Welker nearly upends those personas and transform him into a smooth talking, fast thinking, son of a gun whose perfect to match wits with his on-screen old man, Burt. “Tremors 6” is essentially the Burt and Travis show, leaving many other characters up as red shirts, but waver a handful as potential love interests and bone headed comedic reliefs. Starting with South African Tanya van Graan (“Starship Troopers 3: Marauder”) as the kinda kooky Jamie Kennedy love interest in Dr. Rita Sims. Sims is nearly all over the board being the lead scientist on the research expedition to a complete bad ass with a rifle to being a sultry fox who goes commando with no underpants in the arctic. Then there’s Jamie-Lee Money, just on the cusp of her career, plays Valerie McKee, the offspring of “Tremors'” Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter). Money looks the part, but the character is severely downplayed and lifeless that mistreats the legacy of Val who was spontaneous, inventive, and naively charming. Other characters come off goofy, oddball, and arbitrary or insignificantly used played by Greg Kriek (“Lake Placid: Legacy”), Stephanie Schildknecht (“Accident”), and Kiroshan Naidoo.
The entire Tremors franchise has been through a wringer of changes over the last 27-years that has really stretched the incredible substratum monster thinner and thinner. Reducing the physical formidability down to a visual effects monstrosity that still preserves a somewhat tongue-and-cheek campiness, “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” doesn’t quite have the “Tremors” flavor. Perhaps it’s the arctic setting. Perhaps it’s the inane special effects. Perhaps it both, but one thing is certain and that is Michael Gross being solidified as the unwavering face of the franchise, but even with that constant variable, this sixth installment attempts to lure back in the original fan base by referencing the original film in numerous instances, such as with Valentine’s daughter, Valerie, or even with Burt’s famous one-liner when he shot-to-death the basement crashing Graboid from the first film, but instead of saying “rec room,” he yells “airplane hangar” as the Graboid explodes in a gush of orange blood as it rams into an underground electrical barrier. It’s a bit of a farce. Yet, there’s still an immense amount of enjoy-ability, energy, and Graboid fun to be had.
Universal releases the PG-13 “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” on the home video, 1440 Entertainment label, with a combo Blu-ray + DVD + Digital disc. The 1080p High Definition Blu-ray was viewed for this review which is presented in a widescreen 178:1 aspect ratio and the image quality is deep with details. The terrains absolutely come alive to the screen and, at the same time, expose the visual effects work. No matter how much the visual effects team tries to create an Canadian arctic atmosphere, the sands of the South African landscape couldn’t be optically opaqued. Nonetheless, facial features, character attire, and even the explosions, cascading, and orange Graboid blood gooing is sharp with precision definition. As far as audio, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound caters to every audible fissure with an attractive ambiance track (ass)blasting with baritone and ripping semi-automatic fire cues. Dialogue comes over clean and the soundtrack has healthy bones, aside from it’s generic, low-budget assortment. Extras include a making of “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” that’s broken down into multiple, short chapters, the anatomy of a scene, and inside Walter Chang’s kitschy market. Since the breaking news that SyFy will not longer move forward with the anticipating Tremors television series with Kevin Bacon, “”Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” signifies that the withering franchise will not stray from Burt Gummer’s one-man show anytime soon; still, the sixth installment provides a healthy amounts of witty banter and a swimming pool full of Graboid gore, two foundational motifs still vibrant in the Tremors universe.
In the quiet western town of Clifton, Scott is the naive town fool. As a simple bastard of a prostitute, Scott grew up without a place in Clifton and without knowing who fathered him and is belittled. Scott is only good for is taking up sweeping outside homes, taking care of the horses, and collecting the residential human waste for disposal in order to earn a better living for himself. But That all changed when Frank Talby rode into town. The infamous gunslinger takes the adoring Scott under his wing and turns the town fool into Talby’s right hand gun for hire, making Scott a fast drawing force in Clifton. When Talby takes the reigns over the town of Clifton, Scott doesn’t pity those who mistreated him as Talby turns the disrespectful rich into the town fools, but the one man that cared for Scott is the one man Talby hates the most from his past and Scott must choose between his long time mentor or his newly found idol when the two showdown.
This is a first; a spaghetti western review on Its Bloggin’ Evil! But I just love the genre with the rich story lines and colorful dialogues and dynamics between characters. The genre never becomes dull, the desert stricken west never looks unbearable on screen, and, just like that Seth MacFarlane movie, there are certainly are a million ways to die in the west. Director Tonino Valerli’s “Day of Anger” fits the bill for the Italian Western genre. Also entitled “Gunlaw” or “I giorni dell’ira,” Rome born Giuliana Gemma stars as Scott Mary to make this an authentic spaghetti western and genre veteran, and overall on screen bad guy, Lee Van Cleef, who you may recognize form “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” as the downright mean snake Frank Talby.
The story directly sets up Scott as this blundering idiot, but if you watch closely during the progression of the character, Scott is written with easter eggs showcasing him as being quick, agile, and strong. With Talby schooling him on how to be a gritty gunslinger, Scott is well on his way to being what he always idolized and instead of being the town joke, the town fears him. This is also where the script becomes a bit of enigma because you want Scott, the fool, to be respected by the people of Clifton. Yet, the people still don’t respect Scott and only fear him because he’s becoming like the ruthless Talby who the town folk despise. Giuliana Gemma does a fine job at portraying the nitwit part of Scott, but not so much the quick draw, new and improved Scott. Gemma made the character growth too easy and didn’t sell it properly to have Scott earn the right to be tough.
Lee Van Cleef, on the other hand, is damn nasty. The natural look of undermining and deceptiveness with power and brutality just can’t be undone in any project Cleef undertakes. The character Talby is formidable, cutthroat, and smart and Cleef plays those qualities to the exact tune. Scott is severely overshadowed by Talby making Cleef more of the stud as the “Day of Anger” headlining actor than Giuliana. Giuliana had some success in the niche genre under the pseudo name Montgomery Wood, maybe because it sounded more American or more Hollywood, but when death came for the genre, so did it for Gemma’s lucrative Italian career. Overall, both male leads are not hindered by a female love interest. “Day of Anger,” from start to finish, only contains a handful of scenes were women become prevalent.
The Arrow Film’s Blu-ray released from MVDVisual is quite awe-inspiring sharp with a beautifully brilliant picture that is presented in it’s original aspect ratio 2.35:1 format from the transfer of the original negative. The long range shots of the desert are unbelievable with the 1080p transfer. The contrasting colors amongst the town of Clifton organically bring the town to life, constructing a seemingly realistic town rather than a stage or a set. The audio comes in three soundtrack options: English (longer cut of the film), Italian (longer cut of the film), or English (shorter international version). The Riz Ortolani soundtrack really stands out clearly and firmly but not in annoying overbearing style that doesn’t sync with the film or with the characters’ dialogues. There are a few high frequency pops during a couple of transitional scenes, but these won’t distract from the amazing film. This Region A and B Blu-ray is absolutely stunning with loads of extras just waiting to be experienced. MVD and Arrow Film’s Blu-ray version of “Day of Anger,” the first time on Blu-ray anywhere in the world, would be a fine piece for anybody’s western collection.