EVIL Told You Not to the First Time! “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / Blu-ray)

“Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” on a Special Edition Blu-ray!  Purchase Your Copy Here!

Beginning where the last film left off, alien attack survivor Jane, bruised and bloody, stumbles into the under-renovation Pine Hills Summer Camp where a group of newly hired and horny camp counselors, a nurse chaperone, and a handy-man ex-con spruce up the place.  Jane is met with hostility when sounding off about monsters and death, but when the Pine Hills staff realize that a few of their friends are missing and haven’t checked in, Jane’s story is beginning to resonate and take traction.  Out in the woods, the rape-impregnated sperm of the monster are parasitic and seek out human hosts to infect with raging hormones and adrenaline, transforming hosts into razor-sharp teethed, superhuman mutants hellbent on procreation of a new monster.  The invading parasites turn the isolated camp into a slaughter yard of bloodshed and chaos and it’s up to the remaining survivors to nut up and put violent stop to an alien’s insidious carnage. 

Well, by God, Shawn Burkett did it!  The director made a sequel to his straight-forward, out-of-nowhere, 2016 indie hit “Don’t Fuck in the Woods,” directly following up from where the first film left us off with a lone survivor having just blown up a sex-crazed, blood-lusting alien creature who clawed, tore, and banged his way through a bunch of naked women and some off-color guys doing the dirty in the woods.  The first film made such a splash of interest with the provocative and often controversial title as well as being one of the most pirated movie in the last decade due to said title, The Ohio-born Burket began to formulate the next step of “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” with a story co-written with one of the sequel’s principal stars, Cheyenne Gordon, writer of the Tory Jones directed films “The Wicked One” and “They See You.”  The enticingly crass, but greatly adored and sought after title aims to be gorier and even more nudity-laden as the first film with the story situated at an actual family-owned campground, Hannon’s Camp America, in College Corner, Ohio.  Shot in the Summer of 2019, the pre-pandemic film, “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2,” is a production of Concept Media, Studio 605, Rising Fire Films, Taintbad Productions, and Head on a Stick Productions with Burkett producing and John Lepper (aka Johnny Macabre, executive producer of “Smoke and Mirrors:  The Story of Tom Savini” and “The VelociPastor”) as executive producer.

Though the sequel does not mark the return of the voluptuously captivating adult actress Nadia White, as her character (spoiler alert) was ripped apart by the creature (end spoiler alert), the sequel casts a whole new lot of ladies willing to let Mr. Skin archive and immortalize all their bare body parts forever…or at least until the servers crash, the internet dies, or the world ends.  It’s not like eternity or anything.  The one returning principal to return is the first film’s sole survivor, Jane, and returning to fill her blood-soaked shoes is Brittany Blanton that has officially solidified the Houston, Texas native as a scream queen, franchise final girl, and an overall badass slayer of otherworldly creatures.  Blanton is just one of several actresses to play into the popular campy motif and titular theme of open sexuality and nudity as a formulaic no-no in horror films.  B-to-Z horror movie regulars, starting with “RIP:  Rest in Pieces’” Kenzie Phillips, “Model Hunger’s” Kaylee Williams, “Slaughterhouse Slumber Party’s” Kayla Elizabeth, “5G Zombies’” Julie Anne Prescott, “Blood Moon River’s” Cara McConnell, and Nessa Moore, who I suspect used a body double for her bare all scene, follow suit (birthday suit that is) playing chopping block babes abreast of their outcome.  Burkett doesn’t completely make void his sequel of complex human emotions, supplying bitter love triangles, an oversexualized third wheel, and two more adult-ish characters running from their unpleasant past,  One of those two is ex-con Gil (co-writer Cheyenne Gordon) forced into a corner as the camp’s handyman while attempting to turn his life around for the better but finding the path to redemption difficult when being harassed and threatened by corrupt law enforcement officer.  Already down in the dumps being judged and juried by fellow campers and law enforcement, Gil is sympathetic role that earns his keep when going toe-to-toe with mutation spawn.  Mark Justice (“Atomic Shark”), Jason Crowe (“Dead Moon Rising”), Tom Komisar (“Slaughterhouse:  House of Whores 2.5), Alex Gottmann, and returning from the first film for a brief but memorable scene is Brandy Mason completes the cast. 

No contextual messages. No metaphors. No symbolizing themes. “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” pumps you full of the same obligatory creature feature construct as the first, those who have sex, get murdered….horribly. The only slight difference this time around is director Shawn Burkett gets himself out of the man-in-a-monster suit element and into a state of possession as the cast of characters become heinous hosts to parasitic alien slugs, essentially turning people on themselves in a battle to the death. The concept brings a new angle to the series to build upon the creature’s never say die multi-nefarious abilities that keeps it returning, in one form or another, from the grave. Blood runs rampant with the special effects team implementation of a blood gun into their bag of tricks that soaks the cast in more than one scene, but I would say between the two films, both are equally matched in blood shedding as the sequel, that doesn’t see the return of the first film’s SFX artist Deryk Wehrly but hires the 2016 film’s producer, Rob Collins to fill that void, doesn’t surpass the antecedent’s practical butchery. Looking through a technical critical lens, the indie feature has noticeable issues with crew mistakes, such as shadows of the boom operator in the frame, and scenes that hit the cutting room floor would have shed light on a few second and third act scenes that ended up not keeping the story smooth in a logical sense; one of the bigger scenes in question is one two large arms break through a wall and grab Gib from behind. The arrangement of character positions didn’t quite work out and the feature’s after credits bonus scene cements that misalignment even more. “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” might have filmic gaffe (there might be a cream for that) but what started as a straight-shooting, sex and slaughter, potboiler has become Shawn Burkett’s undeniable magnum opus and he’s only just beginning.

Wild Eye Releasing camp on one of the most campiness horror to date with “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” on a special edition Blu-ray release. Presented in high definition, 1080p, the transfer is exhibited with widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. First thing I noticed about the independent film and distributor release is there are virtually no issues with compression. The black areas remain deep and inky, hues naturally come across without any fluctuation, and there are no visible banding or artefact issues. In comparison to the first film, the sequel is quite brighter with more lighting available and Burkett isn’t too heavy on gels or tints unless in slug-vision mode with a tinge of low opacity fuchsia. The release comes with a lossy English 2.0 stereo mix that’s every bit languid as it sounds with current releases. Dialogue is clean and clear of damage and interference but is too underweight for full-bodied effect. Sound design offers arm’s length depth but is ample in range with slimy sluggy-ness slithering about and skirmish associated hubbubs to make the action excitable. Optional English subtitles are available. The special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette that gives a walking tour of the Hannon’s family camp shooting location building-by-building, blooper reel which can be seen during the end credits, two deleted scenes, the original producer trailer, Wild Eye Releasing trailers, and a feature length documentary “What Happens in the Woods: The Story of Don’t Fuck in the Woods” that digs deep not only into the genesis of “Don’t Fuck in the Woods,” but also into the personal strifes of Burkett and how the story’s title was turbulent, controversial, and heated from the beginning but became a wildly great success that spurred greenlights for future sequels, such as the after credit scene that may or may not involve space and/or time travel! The clear Blu-ray snapper with latch has physical special features that include a folded-mini poster insert, reversable cover art with a composited image on the front and a bloodied Brittany Blanton screengrab snippet on the opposite, and cardboard slipcover with a mashup character collage on the front. The brisk 81-minute runtime compacts the blood and boobs in this region free, unrated disc. Shawn Burkett teases fans with a third picture that’ll surely bring the wanton woods into the world of tomorrow but, for now, bask in “Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” unfettered maverick success.

“Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2” on a Special Edition Blu-ray!  Purchase Your Copy Here!

Sometimes, You Can Feel EVIL Tightening Around Your Throat. “Death Knot” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)

“Death Knot” Hangs Loose on Blu-ray! Purchase Your Copy Here!

Hari and his sister Eka receive the tragic news of their mother’s suicide.  They return to their rural childhood village home to attend her funeral and prepare arrangements for the family home, but the siblings are met with a cold shoulder as the locals have shunned their mother, fearing her as a black magic practitioner who made a pact with the Devil himself.  The suicide and the village distress illicit different responses in both children – Eka wants to put everything behind her and live her life in the city of Jakarta. While Hari drowns himself of guilt over his mother’s death as he hasn’t visited his mother in years and wants to cherish the time left of his mother’s house, despite the not so pleasant childhood memories of his mother’s descent into mental instability.  When a upcoming storm makes leaving the village impossible, in what the superstitious locals note as The Harvest to claim souls, Hari, Ek, and Eka’s husband, Aldi, are forced to stay the night and that’s when strange visions and odd behaviors evoke the presence malevolent entity, an ancient deity, to beleaguer Hari and Eka into submitting to its will.   

Not too many Indonesian horror films see the light of day, buried beneath the massive manufacturing machine from the West, such as North America and Europe, that churns out films about every 8 seconds, the same rate in which babies are born at in the U.S, but that doesn’t mean the country known for its idyllic 17,000 islands and Buddha temples doesn’t have a repertoire of horror. In fact, obscure cult celluloids like “Lady Terminator” and “Satan Slaves,” known to those with indie horror running through their veins like crack cocaine, are the exemplar of the scarcely noticed Indo-horror collective and now that modern technology provides streaming servies far and wide from every corner of the world and advances in filmmaking make accessibility and recording film considerably cheaper and easier to complete, getting exposure becomes greater to other titles mostly hidden gems from the rest of the narrowed focused general population. Point in case, Cornelio Sunny’s “Death Knot” debuts his occult thriller that incorporated the grimly prophesized myth known as the pulung gantung that speaks of a great, fiery meteor being a harbinger of suicide and in Indonesia, the most common suicide method is by gantung aka hanging. “Death Knot,” also known as “Tali Mati,” isn’t the only film based on the myth, but what separates this film from other myth-based works is that the pulung gantung is still relevant today with highly resolute belief amongst the underprivileged and poorer neighborhoods. Sunny co-wrote the script with Ike Klose and is produced by Ismail Basbeth under Sunny’s company banner Matta Cinema in association with Kathanika Entertainment, SRN, and Umbara Brothers.

To ensure his debut directorial goes without a hitch, Sunny slides into the lead role of Hari and how Sunny and Klose write the character counterintuitively to screenplay 101 by not building him up, providing background, or instill preconceived notions through the acts. Hari’s a clean slate from start to near finish from scene one that involves him waking out of a horrible dream about his mother after briefly texting his sister. Written to have no depth in existing or having interests in anything, Hari’s hyper-focus is his mother’s legacy and commorancy, leaving his current mundane left in Jakarta to worry about his decease mother he hasn’t seen or talk to in years. Sunny is swarthy handsome, strong in subdued stubbornness, and limits his range toward his character in being the nondescript nonbeliever of occultism that innately scares the dickens out the poor village people. Hari and sister Eka (model/actress Widika Sidmore, “May the Devil Take You Too”) toss crumbs of background about growing up with an absent father and a community abhorred mother but appear unruffled by a broken home and, for the most part, shrug much of that rich backstory from their tabled history. Sidmore does a better job bottling Eka’ fear and loathing of a place that dejects her existence as villagers shun them for their devil pact bloodline and, eventually, the ooze of unwantedness seeps out of her to the point of being an emotional mess. Only when her loveable and amenable goofball husband, Adi (Morgan Oey, “The Deadly Love Poetry”), suddenly grows an obstinate backbone and refuses to leave the village, acting strange with an uncomfortably warped smile on his face as he fixates his glare deep into the forest, does Eka’s emotions pour toward a direction and hone in on a purpose until she, herself, falls into the same possessed-like predicament that befits her more than Adi but would be two perfectly ear-to-ear, Chesire cat-grinning candidates for Parker Finn’s horror-hit, “Smile.” The entity that has dominion over them isn’t so subtle, but Oey and Sidmore’s performances are, in a good way, awkwardly creepy and perfectly executed. Oey’s mimicking of a twist on the Balinese dance Hari’s mother performed in the opening scene before her demise and with what looks to be Hari’s mother silhouette impelling the dance in the shadows is “Death Knot’s” eeriest moment that lands traditionalism and supernaturalism into a single scene of shadows and visitants.

“Death Knot” is a slow burn, dread building, culture integrating, ambitious debut feature from actor-turned-director Cornelio Sunny.  Performance driven with little-to-no special effects, the surrounding morose atmospherics of “Death Knot” relies on the cast and it’s portentous, jump scare score to deliver a palpable fear without a perceptible villain, keeping very much in tune with one of Indonesia’s notorious folklores.  The limited budget constrains Sunny to character exposition and pursuance of self-selling the concept of an entity inhabiting friends and family with only their God-given talents and appearances to construct ominous opposition.  Descriptively, the notion sounds monotonous in tone, substandard in achieving a certain level of jitters, and gridlocked from a story perspective, but Sunny and his counterparts are able to feed the idle monster with energetic enthusiasm that turns the notion on its head with menacing and foreboding results, amplifying to one of the story’s other themes of paralyzing guilt that affects Hari from moving forward in life because of that equivocal estrangement between him and his mother.  However, one of the biggest problems to come out of “Death Knot” is the ambiguously fated ending for Hari, surrounded by a 50-yard radio of melee weapon-holding villagers like he’s been suddenly dropped in the middle of the Resident Evil 4 video game.  Perhaps not making the connection more evident, Sunny and Klose do faintly paint the picture of social class tensions with big city Hari, Eka, and Adi being met with aversion by the lower-class, rural village who have a strong belief system in the supernatural but is not a major clash or even an apprised motif represented only by a few aloof moments.  I was also hoping to see the myth’s harbinger of death with a great fireball in the sky to signify the beginning of The Harvest, aka hangings to usurp soul energies to feed the devilish deity, but that didn’t happen considering the budget for limited-to-no visual effects. 

“Death Knot” has this somber quality in its characters who are dropped into an unwelcoming village on a dark and stormy night scenario that puts a very Plutonian stamp on what kind Hell-crafted mark an ancient, malevolent God has left on forgotten land.  Well Go USA Entertainment picks up and distributes the home video rights to Cornelio Sunny’s debut hair-raising feature with a Blu-ray release. Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the cinematography by Gunna Nimpuno captures the elemental beauty of rural Indonesia with rolling fields as far as the eye can see and the integrated towns built into hills becomes one seamless graft of spartan man living humbling on nature. Night shot continuity is Nimpuno’s weakest link in the arrangements of shots between the house at night and the forest at night. Outside the house is a natural pitch black with little lighting other than a green gel or another warm color in the house exterior but the forest scenes, every single one, are glazed with blue tint during day shooting to fabricate night sequences. The reproduction compression on this AVE encoded BD25 is rather good with little-to-no signs of banding, artefacts, or other lossy content issues. The Indonesian DTS-HD 5.0 Master Audio is digitally a solid track with a lamentably fine, back of the mind, sound design harmonized with an intense summitting score. There are also no issues with the digital tracks, any audio compression, and each track plays its role in sundered channels, creating an omnidirectional biodome that immerses you into the Sunny’s intimate family curse. English subtitles are option and are well-synched with grammatical accuracy. Aside from the opening previews of other Well Go USA titles, there are no other bonus features with this release. The physical features include the traditional Blu-ray latching snapper with a creepy enough illustrated cover art of a small smiling evil figure standing and surrounded by an engulfing forest. Inside is a leaf insert advertising other new Well Go USA distributed films. The film is not rated with a region A coded playback and has a runtime of 101-minutes. Cornelio Sunny first efforts don’t go unnoticed as “Death Knot” hooks with a mystery that slowly unravels the ugly truth of material myth and renders a stagnant guilt out of a powerfully, paralyzing combination of estrangement and loss.

“Death Knot” Hangs Loose on Blu-ray! Purchase Your Copy Here!

The EVIL Gutierrez Family Accommodations are to Die For! “Fucking Bastards” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)

Those “F**king Bastards” on DVD at Amazon.com

On the walk path to Santiago, on an isolated stretch of the trail, hikers Richie and Lucia run into a bit of bad luck when Richie’s foot is severely injured by a speeding car driving recklessly on what’s typically a walking path.  Needing immediate aid, they’re forced down a offshoot path to the isolated Hotel Gutierrez, a local hostel ran by the eccentric manager, Arturo Gutierrez, and his family.  Unsure about the odd hostel manager and even more unsure about the temperamental cook serving questionable, gloopy slop but continue to entertain their hosts’ hospitality to not offend or make upset, Richie and Lucia quickly realize they’ve made a grave mistake in staying when the Gutierrezes are actually a deranged family of cannibals exploiting their guests for the one thing, to be the main course on the Gutierrez menu.  The path trekkers find themselves on the receiving end of a butcher’s block that might not have been an accident after all.

“Jordidos Kabrones” aka “Fucking Bastards” is the 2012 precursor film to Manolito Motosierra’s “Spanish Chainsaw Massacre” from 2017, introducing viewers to the morbid-madcap antics of the Gutierrez family. The comedy-horror uses the Camino de Santiago, or the walk to St. James, as the backdrop that ultimately leads to an unprovoked massacre of the pilgrims traversing to the shrine of the first martyred apostle St. James at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Some believe that walking the trail is a part of a sinner’s expiation toward God. In Motosierra’s case, as seen in “Fucking Bastards,” the seemingly normal hiking trail is a gateway to Hell for all when a local family exploits the pilgrimage as a source of unconventional comestibles that has been a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Over-the-top with nauseating ordure and gore, Motosierra refuses to hold back in the mire situation that leaves Richie and Lucia being the unfortunate guests of the Gutierrez hostel. The feature is produced by Motosierra and Kiko Navarro, who’ve went on to collaborate on “The Corpse Grinders 3” and “Spanish Chainsaw Massacre,” assistant producers Santi Banjo and Fernando Montano Galvañ, and is a Spanish conglomerate production of AGP Productions in association with Olga Underground, Yosoyfande Reanaimator Association, Dark Times Visual, Esquizoide Productions, San Jorge School of Film and Audio, and the Alcoi Film Office.

If you’re like me and ended up watching the follow up film, “Spanish Chainsaw Massacre,” first, then you may recognize a couple of familiar faces in “Fucking Bastards” of the atrocity paving duo of Arturo and Guti Gutierrez, played by José Luís Tolosa and Manuel Rodriguez. Tolosa tall stature, wide, sinister grin, and antsy movements perfects Arturo’s wildly tormenting behavior as the collected, but not also cool and calm, head of the family. Then, there’s Guty, the clearly deranged imbecile delighted to follow Arturo’s direction and take verbal abuse times infinite as long as he gets to tenderize, fillet, and serve up guests for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Rodriguez plays a derived goof that’s nothing really to note and write home about in his goon and goof performance that does support Arturo’s more sophisticated role as a deviant duo. While “Spanish Chainsaw Massacre” inundated viewers with extended family member of maniacs, “Fucking Bastards” starts out with slow with select immediate relations, such as their veiled and grunting grandmother played by Motosierra himself. The Gutierrez family’s pilgrim victims come in pairs. The main hapless marks are Richie and Lucia, played by Ricardo Pastor and Miriam Larragay and who both went on to have a new role in Motosierra’s “Spanish Chainsaw Massacre,” are suitable enough saps to be slaughtered by their own dimwittedness by ignoring that little voice inside their heads screaming at them to run for the hills upon meeting Arturo and Guti. Pastor and Larragay, compared to Tolosa and Rodriguez, are satisfying normal pilgrims without life infractions, without ulterior motives, and with nothing other than the backpacks on their back on what should have been a simple hike to pay respects to St. James and God, making their detour-to-death that much more nihilistic and grotesque. Sonia Ayala, Pedro García Oliva, Xima Perpinyá Mira, Marino, Yolanda Berenguer, Raúl Darío Gandoy, Jaime Martínez Moltó, and Jaime Martínez Moltó round out the cast.

By all means, “Fucking Bastards” is no great cinematic masterpiece. With an offensive title, not one person should expect it to be a great Spanish cine, but what should be expected from the Manolito Motosierra picture is a ton of gore and a load more of offensive and garbage slopped material to flaunt to shock the casual cinema consumer or speak the niche lurid language of gore film fiends around the world. Motosierra accomplishes both as “Fucking Bastards” will disgust the weakest of stomachs and will galvanize others to glue themselves to the story to see what happens next. Those viewers excited for the kills will find the gore effects to be inconstant at best from special effects artist Ruben Vallés Guerrero who has worked the movie grade gamut from the micro-indies, such as “Fresh Flesh,” to moderately budgeted films like “Down a Dark Path,” starring Uma Thurman (“Kill Bill”), and “A Monster Calls” with Sigourney Weaver (“Alien”) and Liam Neeson (“Darkman”). The Motosierra picture became a jumping point for Guerrero to show off his effects skills and delivers on some Tom Savini-inspired hand chopping and leg slicing but in the same breath also approves the use of an augmented plastic baby, with non-lifelike stiff arms and legs, in the bashing of a pregnant woman to force deliver. Whether due to limited funds, or the content was too shocking overall, or out of respect for depicting infant children in hugely Catholic culture, the scene sorely cheapens the already shoddy, low-budget production with artificial appearances. Refreshing is not a term I would say defines Manolito Motosierra’s “Fucking Bastards” but there’s a sense of unassuming relief from the lack of pretense because from front cover to end credits, you know exactly what type of vulgarity to expect.

Coming right in as spine number 69 on Wild Eye Releasing’s Wild & Extreme label, “Fucking Bastards” offers its sadistic viewing pleasure onto DVD home video. Presented in an open matte widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the feature is housed on a lower storage format, likely a DVD 5, that suffers tremendous compression pockmarks, such as smoothed out textures, blotchy-pixelated patches, banding, and contrast issues. Video presentation is watchable and not a terrible eyesore but definitely not the pretty picture around with a good portion of the issues stemming from commercial grade equipment. The Spanish language Stereo 2.0 audio tracks varies in dialogue levels, leaving depth unaccounted for and very little in range value as there’s not much of an ambient arrangement. Though varied, dialogue is clean and clear with English subtitles that have some synch/timing issues. There were a few occurrences where the subtitles on flashed and vanished in an instant. The English subs are also severely consolidated with characters’ throwing out much more than what is being translated…trust me, I know enough Spanish to tell. Bonus features only included the theatrical trailer plus other Wild Eye previews which, in my opinion, are worth checking out. No dialogue, just impressively edited, impressively scored, make-you-want-to-check-it-out handful of trailers that include “Death to the Ten Commandments,” “Gore Grind,” and “The Thrill of a Kill.” Stay tuned for an after credits bonus scene that displays the horrors of the Gutierrez children. The exterior features include a clear DVD snapper with a photoshop filtered act of asphyxiation on the front cover while the inside reveals a reverse cover of a screen grab of one of torturous moments of the story. The Wild Eye release of the film is unrated, has a runtime of just over an hour at 63 minutes, and is region free. Get your gonzo gore on with Manolito Motosierra’s humble beginnings in “Fucking Bastards” that could be considered the Rob Zombie’s Firefly family of Spain.

Those “F**king Bastards” on DVD at Amazon.com

This Relationship is a Complicated EVIL! “Blood-Red Ox” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / DVD)

Purchase “Blood-Red Ox” on DVD home video!

Writer Amir and his boyfriend Amat, whom have a hot-and-cold, off-and-on relationship, travel down to Bolivia on behalf of Amir’s friend seeking an expose on protecting the local endangered rainforest from land developers.  Upon arriving and settling into Amir’s friend’s childhood home set on the outskirts of town, Amat begins to experience reoccurring vivid nightmares that used to plague him prior to meeting Amir.  Disorienting, blood-soaked, and with a vicious-looking therianthropic beast – half-ox and half-human, Amat slowly begins to lose memories and even the memory of Amir fades.  Amir struggles to reconnect with Amat who’s continues his spiraling decent into paranoia and also struggles with juggling timelines as events of the past and present intersect in a surreal pattern of irrepressible madness.

For someone like me who has married into a Bolivian family and culture, you would think I would have been exposed to the entire cache of Bolivian cinema that could utilize the Earth-centric culture, a rich yet tumultuous history, and the vast number of landscapes that stretch from the Andes Mountains to the lush Rainforests to the desert plateaus.  However, the Bolivian film industry is microscopically small, and I’ve only ever experienced two Bolivian produced films in my 10+ years of marriage and my 39+ years of living on this Earth.  Both from 2021, the first was Kiro Russo’s “El Gran Movimient” aka “The Great Movement” about the destructive city life and how an unprincipled young man is saved by connecting himself back to mother earth by way of a Brujo, a male witchcraft practitioner living disconnected from modern society and living off the land.  The second was this film we’re about to cover, “Blood-Red Ox,” that was written and directed by Rodrigo Bellott, co-written alongside Nate Atkins (“Sinister Savior”).  Bellott bounces between native Bolivia and New York, having graduated from Ithaca College, and regularly uses the two locations in a broader sense in his films.  Bellott is also a part of the queer community and reflects a queer theme in much of his repertoire, including “Blood-Red Ox” where the two central characters are gay men in a relationship.  “Blood-Red Ox” is a production of Narrative Engineer, presented by Media Luna New Films, and is produced by Bellott, Andrea Componovo, Rodrigo A. Orozco, Kaolin Bass, and Yasser Casal Moreno with Nate Akins and Bernardo Ratto serving as executive producers.

Lebanese American Mazin Akar stars in his breakout feature length film as journalist Amir whose been called to write a story about the threat of an oil company deforesting and disrupting one of Bolivia’s natural and beautiful preservations, the rainforest.  Akar is accompanied by producer Kaolin Bass in what would be Bass’s debut feature film as well, playing Amir’s complicated love interest Amat.  Akar and Bass make a handsome couple, natural in on screen affections, and there’s a fair amount passion, compassion, and cathartic emotions to understand not only their love for each other, but also their surface issues of trust.  Bass provides an engaging performance as lover moving backwards in time in regard to his relationship with Amir while Amir remains the constant, stuck in the now but disoriented by his consciousness of Amat’s seemingly erratic actions but not conscious of the settings and timeframes that change and only noticeably by the audience.  All the while, Amir is encountering Bolivian and New York-based characters, some strange to them, some with changing personas, and others not terrifyingly abstract, such as the ox-headed naked man huffing and puffing like an ox.  Side principals Amancaya (Andrea Camponovo, “The Shades”), Amaru (Vitorio Lema) and Amro (Julián Mercado) have a parallel story of their own that becomes shadowed by Amir and Amat’s, leaving the story imbalanced by its perhaps narrowed focus on the queer aspect that relates better to Bellott, which the director had mentioned that “Blood-Red Ox” is a personal story to him in other articles.  Performances are raw with intimate and bold love scenes as well as makeup heavy and continuity intense details that really impress from the actors that requires of them full or partial nudity and to be able to be in the mindset of a swirling narrative.  If you haven’t noticed by now, all the character names begin with A that’s either a fun little characteristic or a far more trouble clue about characters as the cast rounds with Miguel Michel, Ana Dominguez, Idalmis Garcia, Shawn Brown, Toto Vaca, and Mary Ellen Liepins.

Atmospheric, surrealistic, and elevated horror, Bellot’s “Blood-Red Ox” feels like a labyrinth of the mind that’s partly eco-horror with the motifs of a looming ox figure reoccurring in and out of reality and the backdrop of Tarija’s rainforest threatened by industrial outsiders.  In 2017, Tarija suffered a large-scale forest fire that resulted in 3 deaths. many injured, and severe loss of ecosystem crucial vegetation, a fact that was incorporated into the dialogue and becoming the very foundation for the story built around it with a subtle theme of dependency that translates to the Amir and Amat relationship and we can see how that is all folded together when the finale reveals the truth. Before then, the seemingly straightforward mystery narrative following a rocky-at-best same-sex couple deep diving into the South American jungle, surrounded by unfriendly, perhaps slightly appalled locals that are either wary about outsiders or, what’s typical of South American culture, troubled to see two men in a relationship because of the male-dominated society. Much of the reactions are indirect and ambiguous but there, a hidden jab against noticed only by those being pelted by side-eyed glances, disapproval gestures, or curled lips of disgust. Bellott doesn’t chiefly focus on this nagging undertone but rather takes the narrative off road onto rocky, perilous terrain that increasingly becomes abstract and is riddled with conundrums. Timelines cross over one another as we’re teleported seamlessly, effortlessly back and forth between upstate New York and the colonialized-esque villas and mountain country of Tarija, Boliva. Bellott deconstructs Amir and Amat’s relationship by keeping Amir constant in the current and Amat moving backwards in time, creating friction as well as non-linear disorder leading to something just isn’t right with the whole situation. “Blood-Red Ox” descends into a lurid state that works until Bellott’s envoi of explanation that splits the story unevenly and without sensical justification as the story becomes too wrapped up and complicated where a less is more philosophy would have perfectly sufficed.

Provocative and boundary-pushing independent home release film distributor, Breaking Glass Pictures, strikes a deal with Media Luna New Films to release “Blood-Red Ox” onto DVD.  Presented in an unmated 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the wall-to-wall image is hotly lit gel and tinted for most of the fever dreams and hallucinations with the ox-irritating color – a deep shade of red or otherwise known as oxblood red.  However, there are obvious compression issues with fanned out dithered banding on the primary color and on certain negative spaces.  The feature, shot in 2K on a RED camera, is housed on a DVD5 and while a quite few scenes appear unfazed with measured detail, a DVD 9 would have better suited to render the sizeable color use and enhanced the textures, such as a skin to which there is plenty of in the film.  With any digital recording, the transfer is free from any kind of deterioration, wear, age, and other miscellaneous plights.  The audio is track is a lossy Spanish/English Stereo 2.0.  For a dual channel audio output, the result is reasonable enough with the ancillary ambience and dialogue is clear and clean.  The English subtitles are synched well and flawless up until one spelling error late in third act.  There are no bonus features included with this release and there are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The physical DVD comes in a standard snapper case with a composite of the two principal men embracing each other from one scene with a large, augmented ox head with glowing red eyes and smoke coming out from the side looming above. Locked in a region 1 code, the DVD runtime is 94 minutes and is not rated. “Blood-Red Ox” can be labeled many things – a mental health story, a queer story, an eco-activist story, an avant-garde psychological thriller story – but what the film really symbolizes is the constant day-to-day struggle, in the thick of surrounding horrors, to live a normal life.

“Blood-Red Ox” on DVD home video!

Never Tour Mistakenly into an EVIL Murder Bar! “La Petite Mort” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

“La Petite Mort” is Orgasmically Gory and on Blu-ray!

Vacationing to Mallorca should have been a relaxing getaway for Simon, his blind girlfriend Nina, and their longtime friend, Dodo, but their flight layover in Frankfurt leaves down idle town to explore the city that’s only a mere two hours from home. Tension between them begin to bubble to the surface when uncertain emotional steps to take relationships to the next level arise and they become inadvertently scammed by a local grifter. Exhaustion sets in and forces them to take refuge in a local dive bar with a specialty for S&M play. The bar is actually a front for the Maison de la Petite Mort, an underground snuff house owned a sadistic woman named Maman who livestreams kink-murders and sells hapless victims to wealthy businessmen with whimsical and perverse deviancies. The flight to Mallorca will be indefinitely delayed as the three friends are now a part of the bloody basement decor awaiting the horrors before them.

“La Petite Mort,” translated from French as literally the little death, is also known as the post-orgasmic sensation, such as a weakness or loss of conscious, that serves as an analogy to death. The phrase is also the title of the 2009 torture-gore film written-and-directed by the German-born Marcel Walz more than a decade before the formation of his now Neon Noir production company. Walz, who later in his career went on to remake the Herschel Gordon Lewis 1963 film, “Blood Feast,” blossoms as a torture porn filmmaker as Walz’s directorial catalogue contains more blood than a blood bank and often stretches the subgenre range of plot machinations from cannibals to dark web to snuff. Made on a few thousand-dollar budget and shot in a real sex club in Mannheim, Germany, “La Petite Mort” touches upon all three plot devices to create a dungeon of splatter and sadism using elements of an unsolved true crime case of a couple gruesomely murdered in an underground murder house as the narrative base. Before Neon Noir, Walz and filmmaker Michael Effenberger, director of “Tortua,” formed Matador Films that became the company behind “La Petite Mort” with Thomas Buresch (“Unrated: The Movie”) and feature actor and director of photography, Andreas Pape (“Toxic Lullaby”) producing.

Films like “La Petite Mort” is a special breed not because of the torture and gore-porn element, which can be an acquired taste for consumers with dark thoughts, fantasies, and morbid curiosities (I fall into the latter category if you’re wondering), but rather the story caters to no singular principal lead nor does is the focus on an ensemble cast.  “La Petite Mort” transitions from one group, the naïve backpacking travelers, to the S&M snuff-makers in a flip-flop of point of view and storytelling.  All the relationship complexities between the out of concern love from Simon (Andreas Pape) to his even keeled blind girlfriend, Nina (Inés Zahmoul, “La Isla”) as well as the insignificant tiffs and spats between Simon and friend Dodo (Anna Habeck, “Popular”) to see who is in Nina’s favor are quickly swept aside when the trio is trapped and tethered to the S&M spider web of Maman’s Maison de la Petite Mort.  While the three travelers produce a mild interest spun out of frivolous dramatics to the like of the normal human population and very much up played by Walz for that very purpose to produce stark contrast against what’s normal for sadomastic pleasure-seekers, Maman, the orchestrator of pain and profit, is the most earnest of principals with a crone-like presence, played inexorably and ruthless by French punk-goth singer Manoush.  The certified gypsy and former bodybuilder has made a name for herself in a plethora of extreme, Germanic horror pictures over the last decade, but “La Petite Mort” came early in Manoush’s career and is exhibits why she’s so good at horror, especially at the sadism brand.  Maman’s schadenfreude business employs two lesbian dominatrixes, Dominique and Angélique, with strong-stomachs and a healthy bloodthirst.  The beautiful femme fatales serve Maman’s unquestionably, almost mindlessly, that only glimpses into possibilities of how the two women became betrothed to do Maman’s bidding.  Annika Strauss, who’s been in the screen queen business about as long as and has starred alongside with Manoush on a number of films, is also a Marcel Walz regular casted actress who fits and transforms into just about every character under the black sun of ghoulish and macabre material thrown her way.  As Dominique, Strauss is provided more depth to why and how the brunette basket case has come under Maman’s greedy and depraved thumb as the actress shows some slither of concern for the captives while explaining she had no choice just they like them and exhibiting more reserve than her blonde counterpart Angélique (Magdalèna Kalley, “Violent Shit 4”) when the cameras are rolling.  Conversations rooted into provocative thought, sympathy, or reason are often few and far in between the constant pleas for help and the screaming matches of pelting threats.  “La Petite Mort” finalizes the cast with Martin Hentschel (“Zombie Reanimation”), Tanja Karius (“Necronos”), and Thomas Kercmar (“Space Wolf”) as Klaus der Kobold, a Napoleon-sized elitist wealthy enough to buy people’s lives and enjoy seeing them horrifically mutilated.

One scene overwhelms the diagnostic side of my brain and that is why Maman is torturing Dodo with needles as Manoush delivers a surprising genuine villainous monologue about sadomasochists being judged by normal people and how her character has a liberated, uninhibited sexuality in a moment that is a powerful argument in favor for sadomasochism to exist without shame.  Thinking about this, I’m not aware of any publicized S&M clubs, especially those that aren’t criticized for being deviant, perverse, and secular.  After that one moment of vulnerability, “La Petite Mort” turns into a choke-down bloodbath with some great and some not-so-great special effects by one of Germany’s gore film greats, Olaf Ittenbach, director and F/X artist of “Premutos:  The Fallen Angel” and “Legion of the Dead.”  Ittenbach brings me to another overwhelming scene, one that churns the contents of your stomach, involving a meat grinder, a hand, and a chalice.   “La Petite Mort” has other notable grisly moments of scalping, castrating, eye-plucking, and disemboweling, all of which are in great gooey-gory detail.  What takes away from the gore scenes is Walz fluttering effect or grindhouse-esque edited framed overlay that, in my wildest guess, is supposed to enhance the extreme acts of violence, torture, and death in conjunction with composer Michael Donner’s industrial rumble and pulsing synth score. Instead, the effect becomes nothing more than a cinematic nuisance, an eyesore that dilutes Ittenbach’s best handywork because that scalping scene is the chef’s kiss of tactual realism. Based on a true story that I can’t seem to find any record of, “La Petite Mort,” for a brief few minutes, becomes a promulgating champion for alternate sexualities and is also a showcase for Olaf Ittenbach to shock and disgust but for what the feature is worth, “La Petite Mort” offers only emptiness in both character conviction and story narrative.

A fitting entry into the shockingly weird and grotesque “Unearthed Films'” independent film catalogue, “La Petite Mort” arrives onto a high definition, 1080p Blu-ray home video. Presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, Walz bookends his callous-cladded cult film with a yellowish-tan tint while the girth of the story is laced with more gel coloring under no hinderance of tint. Low lighting with low contrast markers, mixed with tropical-warm gel coloring and strobe flashing fabricates the sunless and dank murder basement but any exterior shots, even the bookend act one and act three are rendered with poor resolution for digital recording. Only a single audio track is available with a German LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles and what’s rendered is likely the best quality to get from the masters from the lossy format. Dialogue is often unrefined, and the levels vary, but for the most part clean and free from obstruction. The track has limited ambience and harps heavily on the gory moments while Michael Donner’s dark industrial score takes the brunt of the overall soundtrack. Subtitle synchronization varies as well with millisecond flashes of translations that are impossible to read or even pause perfectly on, but the translations appear flawless and consolidated from the dialect for easy reading. The Unearthed Films’ bonus content is aplenty with a new commentary and interview with director Marcel Walz. Also included is a feature-length making of “La Petite Mort” with raw handheld camcorder footage, shot by The Bad Boy character in the film, behind-the-scenes footage, and even some 16mm footage that go reel deep into the effects and life of independent filmmakers. An archived interview with special effects artist Olaf Ittenbach, deleted scenes, photo gallery, teaser trailer, official trailer, “La Petite Mort 2” trailer, and the VHS intro that’s essentially a Marcel Walz introduction of the VHS home video release round out the bonus content. The physical attributes are a clear, Blu-ray snapper case with reversible cover art with the inside sleeve containing a more graphic torture not suited for retail shelves. The region A encoded, 77-minute feature is not rated. If invested for the kills, “La Petite Mort” pleases to overindulge the desire and is a solid first torture-porn effort from a then young Marcel Walz who continues to rise in the niche market.

“La Petite Mort” is Orgasmically Gory and on Blu-ray!