An immigrant cabby named Luz stumbles dazed into a German police station, repeating a profane distortion of a religious prayer to a couple of baffled detectives. Meanwhile, in a nearby bar, a forwardly chatty woman is diving seductively into a spiel about her Catholic schoolgirl friend who just recently jumped out of her moving taxicab to a psychoanalysis specialist on the edge of his seat. Drunk enough to take advantage of, the Doctor falls for the woman’s alluring trap, beguiling him to do her bidding as an unwilling host. As the now possessed doctor arrives to evaluate Nora for the police, he instigates a hypnosis recreation of the details events leading up to Luz’s ravings and disillusions. What happens next goes beyond human comprehension and rational as the doctor desires more from the stupefied Luz than what meets the eye.
Undoubtedly a strong skiff of demonic peculiarity weathering forth against an unforgiving maelstrom of spiffy-glamourous and yacht-sized counterparts is Tilman Singer’s memorizing tale of demigod deception in “Luz.” As the German born filmmaker’s first written-and-directed full length feature film, a film school project shot entirely on 16mm color negative, Singer dazzles with a throwback grindhouse glow set ablaze with a neon flare that adds to the perilous seduction and violation of the mind and primal infatuation. “Luz’s” was filmed in Cologne, Germany, where Singer studied film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, during the production year of 2018 and saw success at various Germany festivals, including it’s debut at the Berlin Film Festival and the Fantasia Film Festival. The Academy of Media Arts Cologne also serves as the production company, as it was, after all, a school project, and listed as Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM).
“Luz” wouldn’t be what as staggering as it is if it wasn’t for the invested cast who brings Singer’s vision to the spectrum. Luana Velis’s seamless grasp of the editing has remarkable wealth when playing a disoriented cab driver coming in off the street and Velis as Luz, in the ebb and flow of reality when Dr. Rosinni (Jan Bluthardt) entrances her with a blend of hypnosis and psychoanalysis techniques, sustains character through various transitions present inside a large police board room, reality, and the subconscious recollection of places and events inside her mind that Singer constructions for visualization, not reality. Singer melds together places, people, and events, throwing audiences for loops and casting misleading signals and just where the hell our characters are gathered. Bluthardt is equally captivating post transformation, coming off like a calculated maniac, resolved in his wild role. Perhaps, my favorite of the cast list goes to Julia Riedler as Nora Vanderkurt, Luz’s icy former bedfellow from Catholic School who slithers into Dr. Rosinni’s ear like a bewitching asp while seeming like a normal bar patron, but Riedler’s spin on Vanderkurt breaks the construct beyond that of the sleazy barfly and into something more conniving, wicked, and alcohol infused while still steamy with sexual emissions. All three performances are keystones to “Luz” success while fellow cast mates Johannes Benecke, Lilli Lorenz, and Nadja Stubiger, offer some spot on support.
“Luz” summits fear with intrinsic performance art of hazy, but colorful, atmospherics and off-kilter shapes and lines, making the most routine settings feel unsettling. It’s a strong cinematography showcase by Paul Faltz who was able to frame and fright a scene from a sterile and fatigued, wood paneled office environment; essentially put, Faltz turned coal into a diamond while Singer brought a keg of European horror to the party. Unconventional, of course, with a profound arthouse quality about it, “Luz” is very much inspired by the European masters of horror, but pulls quite a bit from the vibrancy of American filmmaking too, pulling inspiration more noticeably from John Carpenter’s overwhelming sense of apocalyptic doom from such a scale down narrative and the terror looms like a chandelier hanging by a single thread just waiting from the startling crash of glass and metal. There are themes related Catholicism, homoeroticism, guilt, and obsession through the venomous innate nature of demon, as if unknowingly leaving an open invitation for evil by way of spiritual clairvoyance and Catholic defiance. Full of abstract visuals and melodious dialogue, “Luz” still burns the scary story lantern with a flickering of imminent existential combustion.
While the theatrical release has been officially canceled, “Luz” will still live on through the digital world, being released by Sharp Teeth Films, who released the POV slasher horror “You Are Not Alone,” on June 1st in the United Kingdom. With this being now a digital release, critiquing the audio and video quality will be limited to the artistic direction. Video-wise, Singer sought the use of a 16mm film stock with the speckle and grain texture of that beloved, yet enveloping imperfection and shooting in an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, using an Arri Alexa and RED cameras that supported an anamorphic lenses. The result is phenomenal to digest with some serious depth when considering how small the sets are, turning mere pockets of space into the likes of grand ball rooms. The German, Spanish, and very little English dialogue tracks are clear and prominently abutted against a well adjusted ambience mix; in all, the audio package has good depth and range. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener. “Luz” is weird, mystifying, and can wriggle into your favor with a chilling essence taking a leisurely stroll along your back, propping up the hairs one strand at a time. Highly recommended.
Alex Hunter had all he could ever want. A blooming career as an up-and-coming kick boxer, a successful police chief father on the verge of finally nailing a crime lord, and becoming recently engaged to marry to his long time girlfriend. Yes, Alex’s life fortune was very valuable indeed until it suddenly came crashing down to a fateful end when the ruthless crime lord his father was pursuing, known as Hawthorne, kidnaps and brutally murders his father and finance right in front of him and leaves him to die. Found and rescued by a well-bound special forces veteran, a recovering Alex lives to fight another day, a day for retribution against the a city of evil and crime. The one time kick boxer turns to a life of vigilantism under the guise of the public designated The Dark Angel who cleans up thugs, thieves, and low-lifes with martial art combinations that put Hawthorne in a supply chain bind when drug deals fall through at the result of The Dark Angel’s meddling. Nobody knows the identity of the masked hero, but one Cassie Wells, a journalist, aims to unmask the citizenry protector with the help of a bumbling private detective, but when they become too close to Alex, Hawthorne sets his target on them as bait.
The American 5-time world kickboxing champion, Curtis “The Explosive Thin Man” Bush, stars in his debut leading role performance in the martial arts, action-melee, “Psycho Kickboxer.” Also known as “Psycho Kickboxer: The Dark Angel,” the film had exclusive rights to being born and bred in Southeast Virginia, more specifically in the Hampton Roads area, with a local cast and crew and the opportunity to utilize region locales and business, such as his own, the Curtis Bush Karate Club, and those he was acquainted with at free of charge. Bush, born in Virginia Beach, puts up the cash, along with a slew of family and friends as investors as well, to finally produce his own work without having to be another masked Foot Solider in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” sequel or just be another bad guy who can kick real good for the camera. Bush hires TV series and documentary director David Haycox and freshman filmmaker Mardy South to work from a Kathy Varner script. Bush’s career didn’t quite take off to be the next Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme of Virginia Beach despite having athletic talent and good lucks, but he lives comfortably now in Hawaii with his family. Instead, the legendary fighter, who retired at the age of 37 in 1999, can look back at 1997’s “Psycho Kickboxer,” a five year project that began filming in 1992, as a crowning cinema achievement outside the square ring and without the confinement of 20.1 x 20.1 ft ropes alongside a heap of localized co-stars Kim Reynolds, Rick Clark, Tom Story (“Metamorphosis”), Rodney Suitor (“Traxx”), Jeffrey Kotvas, and George James.
Personally, “Psycho Kickboxing” round kicks close to my heart, targeting the marshmallow center, and landing a Curtis Bush southpaw punch right (or should I say left) into one of my favorite home town films of all time. You see, this reviewer is a native of the Hampton Roads area and raised in the area for 28 years until becoming a Northerner. Honestly, I’ve never heard of “Psycho Kickboxer” or even Curtis Bush for that matter, not even the mayor honored Curtis Bush Day that’s April 27th, and once I looked past the slew of mullets and mustaches and saw the name of a local bar, Hot Tuna Bar and Grill, briefly observable in a scene, the regional newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, and a resident country station, 97.3 The Eagle, with a pair of DJs as themselves. Championing “Psycho Kickboxer” as a good film is an enormously uphill one and even being a cult classic wobbles on the bunny hill as filler scenes, specifically the film’s ninja-cladded Curtis Bush tearing through bad guys is more than half the movie as montage segments, run rampant over what should be character exploration of redefining and rediscovering character arc qualities. However, the Haycox and South directorial has some blood red and amorous highlights with a pair of exceptional head rupturing scenes I’ve ever bared witnessed from the special effects of the Creations Unlimited team, Steve Stephens and Clay Sayre, and some tasteful T and A from Kim Reynolds in her bathtub that’s shouldn’t dare be missed.
The accompanying feature on this pyscho-revenger set tells the story of Julia, a young violin prodigy, who feels the extreme pressure weighing her down with an abrasive and abusive boyfriend and the intense passion she has for music that’s literally destroying her gifted hands from within. Her father, an art professor who has a disabled hand himself, quickly rushes her to a doctor for examination and concludes surgery is the only course of action to right the damage, but the coked up, alcoholic of a surgeon botches the job, leaving poor Julia unable to use her hand and diminishing any hope of playing her violin again. A long line of deep engrained corruption integrated inside the justice system is uncovered by her father after a sabotaged lawsuit exonerates the doctor from any wrongdoing. Pissed off with rage, the art professor decides to take justice in his own hands or, rather, his own hand as he fabricates instruments of death to paint his own retribution for physically and mentally injuring his daughter who is now in a semi-catatonic state. Police are baffled by each death that leaves little clues to the man who perpetrated them as one detective continues the investigation of grisly murders.
“Canvas of Blood” is the rightful backseat second feature being inferior of the two films on the double bill release. Set on location in and around the Baltimore, Maryland region, the anomalously rare 1997 revenge flick, that was only released on VHS, was at one time the debut disaster-piece from writer-director Joel Denning, produced by the Post Productions Film Company in association with Bad Credit OK and presented by Michael Mann – no, not the same Michael Mann who helmed Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in “Heat.” Instead of intense gun-blazing battles and gritty dialogue exchanges, Denning’s carnivalized approach to vindictive measures is met with an unscrupulous amount of aberrant sound effects such with a fart track, overweight male strippers with mullets in thongs doing abhorrent dance moves, and exaggerated character travesties in a mishmash plot involving a decorated war vet now art professor painting a trail of blood with his interchangeable cyborg mitt arsenal that includes a flame thrower, bone saw, and a T-800 “Terminator” style hand for massive nutsack squeezing. The most difficult to comprehend about a tale that warrants no deep thought is whether Denning’s intentions are sincere or to make a mockery of the revenge genre with a blatant boorish attempt. As far as actors go, the now radio personality, Jennifer Hutt, does what she can with cheap cinematic artwork and the same thing can be said about Jack Mclernan, who portrays no Paul Kersey, a role tailored by Charles Bronson in “Death Wish”, and while McLernan might strike a resemblance to the “Once Upon A Time in the West” actor, McClernan can only muster about half the set of stoic acting chops to save any kind of face. Lance Irwin, Andy Colvin, Marian Koubek, Mark Frear, Jamie Bell, Michael Mann Reennie McManus, Irena Beytler, and Svetlana Milikouris co-star.
POP Cinema’s Shock-O-Rama banner presents a Psycho Horror Double Feature with “Psycho Kickboxer” and “Canvas of Blood” on a single disc DVD and both films are presented from in a VHS-rip, 4:3 aspect ratio, format that gives no indication of an enhanced or upscale treatment to the transfers. “Psycho Kickboxer,” which was actually shot in 16mm and transferred to Betacam VHS, fairs better with a unscathed negative obtained cleanly without the annoyance of compression artifacts, due to the lower bitrate from the more than likely clean 16mm source. However, don’t expect colors to pop and details to be fine from a VHS transfer that’s has a slightly fuzzy and gray washed tone. Canvas sports much of the same with a more warmer tone and some over-saturation of blue tint, but tracking distortions and analog graded noise are more evident flaws in this presentation. The English Language mono tracks on both features are a composited nightmare of little range and depth. Fight ambience could have been pulled right from the Double Dragon Nintendo game and the subjective overlay of obscurely crude ambient tracks, even an overly synthesized enhanced screaming I would consider as well, dilutes “Canvas of Blood’s” objective plotline. The DVD extras include Shock-O-Rama vault trailers and a 3-page booklet insert containing a 1998 Alternative Cinema Magazine article written by Curtis Bush who provides a humbling anecdote about film’s origin story and the process of making his independent movie dream come reality. There’s no contest. “Psycho Kickboxer” TKO’s “Canvas of Blood” in every round of the Psycho Horror Double Feature, despite the horde of mustaches and mullets and despite both films not really being a horror. Shame that world class kickboxer Curtis Bush’s career didn’t skyrocket afterwards, but thats what makes “Psycho Kickboxer” inherently special and exceptional to behold, just like the fighter himself.
Julie, troubled by her mother’s suicide one year ago, is forced by her deadbeat dad to accompanying him in cleaning up an old house he purchased for renovation and resale. As he takes off to attend to “important business” at the local watering hole, Julie is stuck alone with the mop and bucket inside a mysterious, rundown house she’s suspicious of being haunted after strange occurrences and horrifying visions transpire during her isolation. Lurking beneath the house and seeping through inside the rusted pipes, a figureless water demon’s presence persists with malicious intentions and things become worse when Julie’s friends check in on her. Drowning in the supernatural seepage amplified by Julie’s trauma, they become trapped on the property that won’t allow them to escape, draining them of hope against a bodiless, hell-bent entity until a certifiable exorcist shows up at the door arrogantly confident of ridding the flood of evil from this house for good.
Back in the year 2000, Brett Piper’s written and directed volatile ghost house feature, “Drainiac,” saw the light of day for the first time on DVD home video. Unfortunately, through the dismal proceedings of post-production funding and a less than enthusiastic distribution company, that version of the film is undercooked and unfinished in the artistic eyes of Piper who worked with a slim budget of $10,000, making every detail crucial and required to flavor the dull taste of anemic financial support. Luckily for the “Queen Crab” director, his collaborations with Shock-O-Rama Cinema, a sublabel to the indie film doting POPCinema, gave the 20+ year indie filmmaker access to digitally remaster to ultimately finish “Drainiac,” leaving the issues with the previous version water under the bridge, water related pun intended. “Drainiac,” believe it or not, has extraordinary relate-ability to today Americans who are frightened from the mistrust of confidence in their local water treatment systems and drainage pipes for the fear of lead poison and other harmful contaminants, which, in these affected citizen’s circumstances, is a “Drainiac” monster of sorts, hidden from sight with an uncertainty of product quality that drips from their faucets and into the bathtubs their kids play in and into their water drinking glasses.
Another amazing aspect of “Drainiac” is the fresh-face, young cast in their humble beginnings that flourished into solid careers and feels absolutely energetic and stimulating to know their roots reach far back to a cellular grindhouse organism becoming their vocation life. Georgia Hatzis debuts as the beleaguered Julie, a resilient survivor of her mother’s suicide with an oil and water dynamic with her estranged live-in father. Maintaining Julie’s sanity while still fronting a stable façade couldn’t be easy, but Hatzis builds upon Julie’s strength and owning the character’s self-doubt. Hatzi extended her career into television, but Julie is her most memorably performance, especially braving bathing full front to be attacked by a drain’s quasi tentacle erotica sequence. Perhaps the most recognizable face in the film co-starring in the film in her mid-teens, Alexandra Boylan is conscripted to be Julie’s best friend, Lisa. Boylan, who went on to have roles in “The Hitchhiker” remake and the invasive thriller “Home Sweet Home” as well as branching out into life behind the camera as a producer and writer, plays consistently a rationally steady bestie that grounds Julie when needed and is the firm leader of their group of friends that also includes a shaky and nearly spineless Jake (Ethan Krasnoo) and a shallow beauty Tayna (Samara Doucette). As the black sheep in the group, perhaps not even a friend at all, was Wade, a hog riding, wisecracking jerk who didn’t have sense of personal space, especially when the rapey urge washes over him. Wade is an abhorrent human being that came to life due in part of Robert Gorden’s performance. Soon to be seen in the television comedy entitled “My Wife Divorced Me Because I’m a Zombie” that is taglined “The Walking Dead Meets Modern Family,” Gorden will make you hate his guts and despise his obnoxious 90’s haircut and wardrobe and the overall package is enjoyably cathartic to have him pitted against a conventional set of friends. Other colorful talent includes roles by Philip Barbour as an exorcist who reassembles the fisherman Gordon from the frozen fish stick packaging, Steven Bornstein as the despicable dad of the year, Todd Poudrier as a melting derelict, “Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.’s” Andrew Osbourne as the melting derelict’s friend, and Elizabeth Hurley! No, not the Austin Powers’ Elizabeth Hurley, but an Elizabeth Hurley nonetheless!
“Drainiac” is Brett Piper’s finest work. Copiously laced with assorted practical effects now completed with a coloring touch up and enhancement by Penn State grad colorist Dave Northrop, “Drainiac” is now has a definitive package that includes Piper hyper-psychedelic matte effects, creepily good stop motion clay creatures, and an abundance of well-crafted gag effects to give the drain presence a slimy drain-protuberance without exposing a tangible thing in the pipes. “Drainiac,” in every category, has a vibrant late 80’s, early 90’s epoch authority even though clearly set and stated at the turn of the century and this is partially because of how the film was shot in 16mm, giving the feature a grindhouse texture. Along with the turn of the century, CGI becomes a huge factor no matter the budget of the film as long as portioned appropriately, but Piper sticks with a practical craft which, in a sense, is a large piece of his filmmaking passion and so “Drainiac’s” is the essence of Brett Piper.
Courtesy of POPCinema’s Shock-O-Rama Cinema horror banner comes Brett Piper’s “Drainiac” onto a special edition with a 24 progressive segmented frame, high definition DVD from the original camera negative and presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Having never experienced the original, unfinished cut of the previous release, watching this present cut will forever be seared into my soul as the best possible rendition in the past, present, and future. The 16mm film stock quality has a lot of natural grain upon a semi-washed look over a gradient-lenient color range sanctioned around the natural lighting that then explodes into a varying vividness of hues when the FX-enhanced scenes spark an immense saturation of color schemes…in a good way. No sign of damage to the original print nor any other signs regarding frame or edge enhancing and cropping. The English language 2.o stereo track, with a re-edited mix as part of the remastered package, is free of distortions, prominent dialogue, and a classic chilling piano soundtrack that pays homage to notable horror films before it’s time. The only issue to mention is some synchronization with the dialogue track and the picture seem to be off early on in the presentation where actors move their mouths to vocalize the lines, but nothing comes out. Special features are a little anemic considering the painstaking involvement and time gap in remastering “Drainiac,” but they include an audio commentary by writer-director Brett Piper and a read worthy tidbit of an inner-lining booklet written by commentary moderator, Greg Conley. THe DVD cover art is very snazzy (or snotty-like) similar to of another POPCinema release, Greg Lamberson’s “Slime City.” Reminiscent of “Evil Dead” or even some inklings of early Peter Jackson, Brett Piper has a knack for proving low-budget horror’s misconceptions are nothing more than that, misconceptions, by keenly tinkering to perfection a story that’s made is seemingly funded from a pot of unlimited gold from nifty, traditional effects and a narrative that works wonders on the imagination, keeping you glued to guessing from start to finish.
Experimental doctor, Anton Lupesky, invents a controversial drug that can free a human soul from its vessel and travel through into the lifeless eyes of a corpse, possessing the body to reanimation. The only side effect is grotesque hallucinations that are so horrible, few survive the experience. After a stint of missing persons and a string of mysterious deaths at the Whitebriar Institution, Lupesky is fired from his position, banned from the medical board, and brought up on criminal charges. His acquittal sparks him to embark on a journey overseas to continue his radical medical experiments, away from regulations and tremendous oversight. The doctor returns six months later for far superior medical innovations in America and begins practicing again in his own basement with the unscrupulous help from a couple of lackey acolytes that leaves Lupesky’s supply of “patients” not in short demand. One reporter keeps investigative tabs of the good doctor as she suspects a connection between him and her father’s death at Whitebriar and when her and her friends starts to snoop around, Lupesky has no choice but to use any means necessary to thwart her investigation, even if that means secretly administrating the drug to her in hopes that her soul can fly with his – if she survives.
Thirty years ago, “The Soutangler” hit the cinema market. A low-budget gruesome mad scientist flick with a penchant for some fantastically grisly practical special effects. The 1987 shocker was directed by Pat Bishow, penned by John Bishow and Lance Laurie, and shot on location on Long Island, New York. The Do-It-Yourself and Lovecraftian macabre does a bit of soul-searching to find resurrection from the video graveyard. Luckily, Bleeding Skull! Video and the AGFA come to the rescue with a chock-full of extras release that digs up the Bishow’s lost creation, dusts it off, cleans it up, pats it on the butt, and sends it back out into the world onto DVD home video. “The Soultangler’s” niche envisioning goes against the grain of traditional filmmaking, bordering experimental, but definitely a must-see for those interested in existentialism horror: the removal of free will to be replaced by another’s.
Pierre Devaux stars in his only credited as the mad Dr. Anton Lupesky that resembles along the lines of a Dr. Herbert West from that little known trilogy of the H.P. Lovecraft inspired “The Re-Animator.” With a wiry frame, stringy shoulder length hair, and government-like issued classes, the very animated Pierre Devaux casts the ideal character whose maniacal and perverse in his medical malpractices. The only one willing to stop the Lupesky’s experiments is investigating journalist Kim Castle of The Daily Chronicle. Castle, played by Jane Kinser, is about as ferocious as her beautiful as an aggressive reporter, unwilling to stop to unearth the truth of her father’s tragic death. Kinser’s not much of an onscreen force to reckon with as she’s quite timid, but she manages to hold her own up against Devaux wild eyed lunacy. Rounding out the cast is Bob Cederberg as a Carl the drugged addict henchman, Louise Millman as a loyal minion to Lupesky, and Tom Ciorciari as Castle’s concerned friend who battles the zombified corpses embodied by Dr. Lupesky.
While a strong appreciation exists from the outstanding attention to detail with the decayed bodies and the explicit violence in the finale that nightmarishly flourish in a heap of ghastliness, the rest of the film is as disjointed as the dismembered bodies in Lupesky’s basement of horrors. Despite being submersed in various talking head scenes that divulge significant backstories between Dr. Lupesky and Kim Castle, the story struggles to keep the straight line focus, swerving erratically between subplots and the main premise. Castle’s horrific dreams of aggressive zombies loosely makes a connection other than prepping Castle’s subconscious when ingesting Lupesky’s soul freeing drug. The story of Dr. Simpson also flounders to the waist side with her and Dr. Lupesky’s love affair, the only women he would even consider getting close to and not slaughter for his own amusement.
“The Soultangler” arrives onto full-bodied, graphically illustrated DVD from the B-movie collaborators Bleeding Skull! Video and the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and distributed by MVDVisual from the original 1″ master tapes. Shot on 16mm, but edited on video, “The Soultangler” has a SOV experience in it’s original aspect ratio of a full frame 1.33:1. Quality varies from the source material, including some tracking and edge flare issues, but overall a solid transfer with a sizable color palette that includes tints, natural skin tones, and visceral dream sequences that show little-to-no sign of diminishing. Stereo mono track does the job despite poor mic placements to get the full girth of dialogue. HypnoLoveWheel’s indie synth/rock soundtrack has more popularity on the B-level than in the mainstream music, but serves “The Soultangler” with broad depth to solidify a wedge between “The Soultangler’s” whimsical charm and the Gothicism that is Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator.” Bonus features include, for the first on any release, the Unseen 62 minute alternate director’s cut, a commentary track with director Pat Bishow, behind the scenes footage, trailers for “The Soultangler” and “Dead of Night Town,” music video for “wow” by HypnoLoveWheel, and liner notes by Bleeding Skull’s Zack Carlson. Conceptually, “The Soultangler’s” premise oozes originality and creativity involving soul transformations through the portal eyes of a dead body and that’s simply brilliant and what today’s horror genre certainly craves. Constructionally, Pat Bishow couldn’t push the momentum to pickup the pace to overripe an engaging story, but the climax, out of left field, unsheathes a bloodbath of ultra-stellar, DIY proportions!
The Cologne Space Labs launch their project billionaire sponsor and gold-greedy astronaut Eli Cologne into a two-year journey in hopes for a beneficial Mars expedition. Cologne, being the first man on the red planet, encounters a shiny gold-like object that infects him with a foreign organism. As mission control rashly make the decisive decision to abort the expedition and leave Cologne stranded on the wasteland that is Mars, the brazen astronaut plans not to die on the alien planet, fleeting back to the return module, and blasting off back into space where he becomes lost for one year until his return module crash lands on Earth under the massive cloak of Hurricane Katrina. His human form ceases to exists, transformed into a flesh feasting, hideous extraterrestrial in a space suit who wreaks havoc and terror for years in a podunk Louisiana bayou where the nearby local Sheriff, Dick Ruffman, attempts to save from ultimate destruction.
When Tempe Video and TomCat Releasing dropped the news of “First Man on Mars” feature on my e-doorstep in a Tempe Video press release, something very deep in the cavernous, unholy part of me wanted to screen the film’s trailer. After witnessing a primo homage of super-8 b-horror schlock, I immediately brought my finger tips to my laptop’s keys and typed ferociously, requesting a press coverage copy for a film that had me instantly reminisce of “Lobster Man of Mars,” a 1989 sci-fi comedy directed by Stanley Sheff. As weeks passed, no response of my request was returned from the distributor. However, when the film’s director Mike T. Lyddon, an experienced independent filmmaker with more than two decades worth of low-budget films under his belt, e-mails Its Bloggin’ Evil and wonders if the site could review his latest project, a satirical sci-fi comedy, by forwarding over a screener link, I gladly jumped at the opportunity and, low and behold, I wasn’t disappointed when the end credits started to roll!
Under a massive umbrella of pop cultural science fiction references, “First Man on Mars” oversteps many plot conventions, exaggerating to the fullest extent a simple story of one man’s plight of an unquenchable desire for shiny gold that literally consumes him and, consequently, consumes others surrounding him in a cauldron of cannibalistic campiness. Even though the lesser part of Benjamin Wood’s dual role shows his mug as a friendly bar patron, his Eli Cologne performance never shows character face beyond the golden shield of his space helmet or before his pre-gruesome transformation into a hideous, razor-teethed, otherworldly beast, providing anonymity to an important character much similar to that of the character V in “V for Vendetta,” if you don’t consider the stock footage prior to the film’s title. Okay, so I might be comparing caviar to spam, but nonetheless, Lyddon uses comedy and a jerry-built space suit to create an ambiguity villainous character.
Trust me, “First Man on Mars” is not at all serious as the feature is comprised of zany rednecks, birdbrain scientists, and gratuitous violent hilarity garnished with suitably colorful dialogue that can be funny while being extremely crude, can be smart in it’s admiration, and can be juvenile with bathroom-riddled humor where appropriately scened. Every actor executes the swallowing of pride process to extend verbal and physical indirect comedy that purely goes hand-in-hand with this sort of satirical storyline constructed from the certifiable portions of Mike Lyddon’s brain that might or might not be sizzling on an illegal and dangerous narcotic. Gavin Ferrara, Kirk Jordan, Marcelle Shaneyfelt, Roy “Rusty” Jackson, Jr., Kelly Murtagh, Joey Harmon, Sam Cobean, and Tresslar Burton round out the comically darling cast.
“First Man on Mars” is an absurd blast from low-budget director Mike Lyddon and his team of willing actor and crew participants, putting everything on the proverbial line to make this ambitious project first and put their seemingly absent shame second. The TomCat Releasing was presented to me as a screener link, therefore I can’t officially review the audio and video quality nor any bonus features that might have accompanied the release, but as a soft judgment, the 16mm stock that “First Man on Mars” is shot on revels in the hokey dialogue, the substantial monster violence, and the utter gore as a remembrance of the once larger than life creature feature movies from the drive-in theater era.