On Christmas Eve for over a Decade until 2011, a psychopath dressed as Santa Clause hunts down people on his naughty list, people whom have, at one time or another, been incarcerated. Santa’s violent kill streak ends when detective Thomas Rasch tracks puts multiple bullets into Santa after the gruesome slaughter of three people. After 6 years of imprisonment, with no sign of improvement from his holiday hallucinations, Santa escapes to continue checking and crossing those unlucky souls off his naught list, leading him to Alta, a small, quiet village in the northern most part of Norway where one woman when unpunished on his list. Unbeknownst to Santa, the woman he intends to frightfully dispatch has committed suicide, leaving behind a daughter, Julia, to oversee her mother’s home. Struggling to cope with her the loss of her mother, Julia’s college friends from all over the world embark to comfort her on Julia’s first Christmas without her mother, but the gesture of goodwill only speaks to their impending doom with a serial killer Santa ready to reign in Christmas with red blood soaked, holiday fear.
“Christmas Blood, aka “Juleblod” in the original Norwegian lingo, is Reinert Kiil’s yuletide splattering spectacular. Kiil writes and directs a new horror-holiday classic of the Norwegian variety that turns the jolly, red nose, cookie-eating fat guy into an axe wielding maniac. “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” “Black Christmas.” “Jack Frost.” “Christmas Blood” joins the high ranking level of a niche genre, the X-Mas horror genre, which doesn’t see really the light of day in conventional theaters, but home video unsheathes the new life into films one may have never heard of such as Kiil’s “Juleblod” Yet, the overall body of work for Christmas films is very black and white. They’re either overly feel good films with a blanket of pure white joy and happiness or utterly insane and soaked with the crimson interior body fluid, unless you count Die Hard or Lethal Weapon as Christmas films than one can make a case. “Christmas Blood” is certainly in that far right polar opposite of extreme violence, but is solid and engrossing, chopping body parts away with trepidation and stringed up with multi-colored lights.
Ringing in the holiday screams are young victims typically associated with familiar slasher archetypes. The “Christmas Blood” prey, typically adorned by actresses due to their ability produce toe curling, are a pact of university school friends gathered together to rally around one who has recently lost her mother to suicide. Helen Eidsvag, Haddy Jallow, Yassmine Johansen, Karoline Stemre, Kylie Stephenson, and Marte Saeteren share the limelight as unsuspecting Christmas carnage-fodder and all of the actresses hail from Norway with the exception of Kylie Stephenson, who has odd interjecting into Norwegian conversations with her Australian English dialect. Written as great friends, but also depicted as the worst of enemies as various facets of animosity slithers between them, the actresses pull off of their ill-fated character quirks well: Eidsvag as the innocent and naïve Sanne, Jallow as the drug indulgent and secret keeping black sheep Kitika, Johansen does stern and uptight girlfriend well in Katja, Stemre as a favorably licentious mute Elisabeth, Stephenson is the fun-loving non-national in Annika, and Saeteren as the heartbroken Julia with loss of her mother. I’m not sure if “Christmas Blood” would be a socially acceptable film in the States and not because of the blood-spatter blasphemy of traditional holiday and Christianity values, but because of how the one and only black character is treated throughout the narrative in a predominately white movie. Kitika has no verbal filter, smokes weed despite her host’s severe objection, slept with and was going to sleep with again her friend’s boyfriend, is kicked out into the freezing cold along with said friend’s boyfriend by the rest of her white friends, and is eventually slaughtered and stuffed into Santa’s sack. The remaining cast includes Jørgen Langhelle, Stig Henrik Hoff, Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, and Andreas Nonaas.
“Christmas Blood” is a retro-grade horror film that very merrily feels like a product of the Golden Age of slasher-survival genre from the 1980’s with a powerful and unstoppable aggressive killer, a delectable high body count, and a significant calendar date to infamously memorialize the event, similar to Friday the 13th or Halloween dates that are have been synonymous to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Generally speaking, Santa’s already this jolly mystical being worshipped by all and in “Christmas Blood,” that mysticism is really exploited, but as a frightful killer Santa who is seemingly able to be in two places at once and survive a barrage of bullets. Only a couple gripes linger that don’t necessarily derail Santa’s slay-ing of bitchy former co-eds, daft police offers, or any unfortunate person in his blizzard path of butchery. For one, the wordy title card sequence explaining the background of serial Santa’s 13-year killing spree is sorely out of place and slightly kills the buzz built up initially by the gruesome opening scene that sets the morbid tone. Secondly, on the technical side, the lighting is very dim lit. The coloring scheme from the decorative bulbs is festively great and there’s also a very low-tone neon red, blue, and yellow juxtaposed against a bleak, cold setting as if walking through Amsterdam’s Red Light district at night, but with less people, more snow, and no peep shows, but the overall lighting is thin-to-damn near black at times that, shamefully, shades some of the gore work into a silhouette something and your eyes attempt to define what is being seen, but can’t definitively consume the form. Luckily, numerous gory moments make the cut in the light that include exposed entrails and some sheer brutal force with an axe to the neck and to the vagina!.
Artsploitation Films present “Christmas Blood” onto DVD this December. Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the details are a little lost in the dim lighting as mentioned before, but the image quality looks vibrant on colorful in the mise-en-scene lighting and there are no issues with artefacts. The Norwegian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track is rather pristine like a bow-wrapped present under the tinseled tennenbaum, gifted with clarity, synchronization, and no distortion in any aspect. English subtitles are available and are synched well. However, Artsploitation’s release offers no bonus materials aside from a static menu, but this Reinert Kiil’s “Christmas Blood” snarls Merry Fucking Christmas by bastardizing the popular Scandinavian folkore of the genial Saint Nick into a fierce and frightening killing machine!
A small mid-western town has been terrorized by a string of gruesome murders and two local high school girls, Sadie and McKayla, seek to lure the killer out to not stop his onslaught, but to be put under his machete wielding wing. The best friends use their twitter page, @TragedyGirls, to platform their grisly kills as devastating tragedies and to be supportive outreaches in order to be beloved by all and to obtain social media stardom as a facade over being iconically elusive serial killers, but when their plan to capture a mentor fails, a wedge drives between them when Sadie begins to fall for longtime friend, and video editor for their twitter page, Jordan Welch. That’s all the fuel needed to spark McKayla into a deadly paroxysm in order to get her best sociopathic friend back by her side.
“Tragedy Girls” is the uptempo horror-comedy by writer-director Tyler MacIntyre along with fellow co-writer Chris Lee Hill, both whom previously helmed another horror-comedy entitled “Patchwork” in 2015. “Tragedy Girls” aims to put the slasher genre on it’s head by turning what should be two sweet high school girls into the sadistic hunters instead of the usual genre trope of hapless prey and incorporate the dark side of social media, using platforms, such as Twitter, to gain notoriety through exploitation of others’ very lives, but the use of social media doesn’t sticker MacIntyre’s film as tech horror. Instead, typical ditzy-dynamic adolescent drama is integrated into the gory melee Sadie and MacKayla fabricate for fandom. There’s plenty of blood and death to go around through a mix bag of slaughter with some being inspired by other horror films, channelling such classic as “Friday the 13th” and “Carrie.”
“Deadpool’s” Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Brianna Hildebrand, and Alexandra Shipp, who’s also a Marvel superhero in X-Men franchise as Storm in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” star as besties Sadie and MacKayla. Hildebrand and Shipp are doubly frightening as two sociopathic killers and equally as scary as silver screen teenage girls glued to their phones while keeping up with their good fashion sense, but their pixie cut and cheerleader personas are as embellished as their underlining dark craft to make “Tragedy Girls” over-the-top and shocking on a “Save by the Bell” level. Though the two are stone cold, homicidal maniacs, a love interest is added for Sadie. The “The Hunger Games'” Jack Quaid, son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, fills the shoes of the lovesick Jordan Welch and Quaid does a fine job being the smartest guy in the room, but still being blindly dumb to the situation unfolding around him and Sadie. Surprisingly, a number of various genre vets rear their heads in this film, starting with “The Strain’s” Kevin Durand. The 6’6” tower of pure muscle Durand embodies a Jason Voorhees like villain when masked; unmasked, he’s about as stupid as they come and Durand can do stupid very well. Part of the comedy, of this horror-comedy film, stems from an uncharacteristic role played by Craig Robinson as a very unfit, local firefighter hero, fittingly named Big Al. The “This is the End” and “Ghosted” star bores through his minor role of Big Al with very little dialogue as Robinson is well known for wit, but the comedian has one of the better scenes with a 2-on-1 fight scene with the two demented school girls. The last recognizable face being mentioned flames out as quickly as it’s flamed in from the Sci-Fi genre. Josh Hutcherson, another “The Hunger Games” star, goes James Dean as MacKayla’s emo ex-beau, Toby Mitchell. Hutcherson’s character doesn’t quite fit the “Tragedy Girl” mold that pushes the limits later on in the film and his portrayal of Toby Mitchell is awkwardly misplaced as overzealous and forgettable. Rounding out the remaining cast is Timothy V. Murphy (“The Frankenstein Theory”), Nicky Whelan (“Flight 7500”), Keith Hudson, Savannah Jayde, and Katie Stottlemire.
“Tragedy Girls” will do well as it’s a solid horror-comedy with a la carte gore. None of the characters seize the progression of the trope reversal story and with the exception of Hutcherson’s Toby Mitchell, the actors conform precisely to the animation of their character’s scribed personas. Hildebrand and Shipp are the epitome of that last statement. The pair of actresses have a real life proprietary appearance about them and to crossover those looks and meld them into Sadie and MacKayla will forever establish them as the true tragedy girls. “Tragedy Girls” isn’t just about flip-flopping the genre rear ended up; writers MacIntyre and Hill pen a film that’s also about female empowerment with two strong actresses filling the shoes of two self-sufficient badasses committed to doing what’s conventionally labeled male subversive behavior and accomplishing it on whole other level. Even if on the wrong side of the law, the tragedy girls stick together through the good and the bad to overcome various high school and beyond high school hurdles that attempt to thwart not just their friendship, but their cyberspace popularity.
Gunpowder & Sky proudly distributes “Tragedy Girls,” a film by fresh faced production companies like Its The Comeback Kid and New Artist Pictures, onto VOD now and DVD home video February 6th. Since provided with an streaming link for review, a well-rounded critique on the DVD’s technical specs, picture quality, audio tracks, and bonus features will unfortunately not be commented on, but the very film itself should entice the most casual horror film goer who usually doesn’t stray off the mainstream path. With familiar faces and plenty of bloodshed, “Tragedy Girls” holds water against competitors in a flooded genre. Don’t forget to follow them, #tragedy_girls or @tragedygirls, or else you’ll be next tragedy exhibited in their wall feed!
Police detective Eric Hughes and his pregnant American wife Katrina strive to find their own place and withdraw from Eric’s father’s home. A hot tip leads them to small, slightly rundown, midwives maternity facility just out on the rural outskirts of Crystal Springs. With help from their friends and a lot of elbow grease, Eric and Katrina rehab the structure into their dream home to settle down in hopes to raise their first born, but Katrina quickly discovers that her dream house is more like the house from hell when shadowy figures suddenly appear through the walls with an apparition of a midwife nurse bellowing, “Give me Scarlett!” – the name of Katrina’s unborn child. The Hughes turn to the Church to plead for assistance and an unorthodox demonologist, hearing their call for help, tends to their aid in hopes to cease the languishing torment, but rushing into the situation, eager to rid the supernatural forces from plaguing the Hughes, has escalated the pending doom for their unborn child.
“Out of the Shadows” is the 2017 released, ghostly-demonic horror from Australia, directed and co-written by Duncan “Dee” McLachlan along with co-writer Rena Owen (“The Last Witch Hunter”) from a story by Eric Nash. McLachlan’s atmospherics can compete with the best, toying with the shadowy figures passing behind frosted windows and door panes in a glimpse of a moment, demonic tongue ripping through the ears of the latched upon victim that is Katrina, and conjuring up vivid and haunting figures that are airy and grim. All of which is backed by sound cinematography by Viv Scanu in creating a personality, essentially giving breath, toward the Hughes home of destined damnation. Set location speaks for itself being a countryside, rundown hovel, but the innards bare an unsecured unsettling with many windows in a well ventilated structure fenced around by obscuring foliage that creates a gloomy prison for a tormented Katrina.
Kendal Rae stars as the stalked Katrina Hughes who goes from happy-go-lucky to a panicky mess in less than sixty seconds from the first inkling of trouble. Rae has a fine performance being the frightened house wife to the never-at-home husband, but that inability to transition, with time, Katrina’s slow burn into insanity or supernatural plunder is a blight on her performance. That never-at-home and naive detective husband finds an actor as the first feature film for Blake Northfield. Northfield’s has naivety down pat with Eric’s dismissive attitude and a penchant for not caring. Eric and Katrina seek the help from a renegade exorcist Linda Dee (Lisa Chappell) whose a biker relative of Father Joe Phillips (“Matrix’s” Helmut Bakaitis) with a checkered past and on thin ice with the Catholic Church for practicing unauthorized exorcisms, but that’s about how far the script takes us when delving into Linda Dee’s backstory. Jake Ryan, Jim Robison, and “Alien: Covenant’s” Goran D. Kleut, as the Hat-man Demon, round out the remaining cast.
As with the Linda Dee character, a noticeably uncomfortable underdevelopment of major roles put divots into the, what should have been, a cut and dry storyline whose only complexity would be if Katrina’s harrowing ghostly encounters are caused by either a sudden loneliness with her husband leaving her by herself for work, the fluctuation of pregnancy hormones, or an acute combination of both. Dee’s wavering stance with the Church, and also with her uncle, is hardly touched upon with brief exposition and doesn’t convey the severity of her actions that warrant being on the outs with the Catholic officials. Concurrently, Katrina suffers with a tangent subplot with unspoken tension between her and her State side mother that never gets explored, leaving the scenes left detached like an unhinged satellite orbiting the planetary story.
Umbrella Entertainment releases the Bronte Pictures produced “Out of the Shadows” onto DVD that’s presented in an 2.35:1 widescreen. Image quality has some nice outlined details without sizable DNR, especially during night sequences in the midsts of constructing a formidable shadow army. Though tinted in more of a blue and yellow hue, the overall color palette is pleasing, even if staged like a “Saw” film. The computer generated effects are where the details go awry dipping toward a softer side that perhaps exhibits the production value. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has no defining qualms with a even spread of low and high level ranges to where even the muttering demonic chanting is audible. There are no bonus material and the DVD doesn’t even have a static menu for guidance as the movie plays as soon as the opening credits roll. “Out of the Shadows” has a premise that’s been through the horror mill before, but director Dee McLachlan holds the thrilling line, maintaining a collectively strong start to finish to only stray from one or two key subplots that would wholeheartedly tie the entire film together.
In the dystopian America of 2050, commercialism presides over the middle and lower classes in the constructed wasteland that is United Corporation of States led by an impeccable and blood thirsty Chairman. A popular, carnage-laden sport known as the high octane Death Race has become beloved by all Americans, giving them an escape from their mundane and pitiful existence. The Death Race is simple: war-modified cars trek across the United Corporation of States in a 3-day race to score points by running down citizens of an overpopulated nation as an encouraged way of resetting the out of control producing rate and racers can also seek glory to reach the finish line with best time. Four-time champion, Frankenstein, is the returning crowd favorite and seeks to win a fifth crown, unless the powerful and conniving Chairman decides otherwise.
Under Universal Studio’s filmic sequel and reboot sublabel, Universal 1440 Entertainment’s “Death Race 2050” is a rip-roaring start toward 2017’s best intense action cinema and despite being pre-labeled as just another diluted and benign remake of the Roger Corman produced, Paul Bartel directed “Death Race 2000” from 1975, the modern day G.J. Echternkamp directed and co-directed film with Matt Tamashita honorably doesn’t lose the rich, yet full of cheap thrills, heritage that makes the original “Death Race” so fun, so entertaining, and so campy keeping the pandemonium on four high-performance, face-shearing tires. Even though Death Race has been quiet for over thirty years since 1975, the last decade has been riddled with Death Race films produced by the legendary low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman and all have been complimentary exclusive in their charm, mayhem, and versions of the lead character Frankenstein to thrill audiences, but it’s “Death Race 2050” that revs in true remake fashion of similar plot structure that changes all but one character.
New Zealander Manu Bennet carries the torch in portraying the original character Frankenstein, a four time champion with a leather covered body that’s been ravaged and cybernetically repaired from previous race crashes. Manu’s charisma and rugged image will win over audiences as he perfectly embodies a conflicted champion on the brink of doing what’s right; a tone very similar in all “Death Race” films. Manu is paired with actress Marci Miller, as Frankenstein’s passenger proxy, who dishes out the good girl sex appeal with a self-reliant rind. Beyond these two characters, even with a moniker like Frankenstein, the remaining characters make Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” a college course of rocket science! Deliveries were timely, actions were precise, and performances couldn’t have been more meticulous in scenes with Jed Perfectus, the genetically engineered and ambiguous pretty boy played by Burt Grinstead, Minerva Jefferson, the wealthy ghetto rapper forged to life by Folake Olowofoyeku, and with Tammy the Terrorist, a cult leader with a celebrity high power portrayed by 2007’s “The Signal’s” Anessa Ramsey. The relatively unknown cast is whole-heartedly glued together by the flamboyant performance of “Clockwork Orange’s” and “31’s” Malcolm McDowell as the Chairman.
One could take a good stab in the dark on what the quality of the effects would be like for any Roger Corman produced film. In this instance, “Death Race 2050” channels much of Corman’s style with Echternkamp and his visual effects supervisor Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein (“Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf”) supplying rotoscope blood and dismemberments that pin-pricks a visual stimulate into the vein of the snobbiest of film aficionados and can be on an everlasting high. The simple, but effect, gasoline based pyrotechnics attest to the dedication of the crew and to the stunt work to know that if they miss their spot, they’re literally toast. However, the sometimes choppy, rapid editing drains some of the juice from the kills that attempt to piece coherent death sequences with humor and action. In fact, “Death Race 2050” redlines just like the modified, manslaughter vehicles used to rundown babies and the elderly to score points by quickly jumping to the next segment in order to sustain all the gory story’s girth.
“Death Race 2050” is adrenaline flowing wildly adjacent with gasoline, exploding with gore, and is terrifically enjoyable. Echternkamp’s script bares no sense with the sensitivities, secreting American wealth, greed, and stupidity in an environmentally degraded America filled with large high fructose corn syrup soda, an addictive cheese whiz byproduct, and borders that are named after corporate conglomerate of brands such as Walmart or Texaco. Universal’s R rated Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD release of the New Horizon film is an 1080p of the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation that makes the film look cheap due it’s hi-def attributes. The image quality is sleek and vibrant with a wide range of rainbow hues and the definition doesn’t ever thrown in the towel. The three option audio selection that consists of an English DTS-HD Master Audio has a lossless appetite that delectable distinguishes the channels where explosions are bombastically LFE and the gory parts are viscerally squishy. The dialogue is surprisingly clear through the amount of chaos. Bonus features include “The Making of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050,” “The Look of 2050″ featurette,” a closer look at the cars in a segment entitled “Cars! Cars! Cars!,” a cast car tour, and deleted scenes. Even if the story’s timing is a spastic, “Death Race 2050’s” a guilty pleasure from start to finish line under the caustic cinematic eye of Roger Corman!