The Most EVIL Being in the Galaxy Doesn’t Stand A Chance Against Little Mimi. “Psycho Goreman” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Brother and Sister, Luke and Mimi, discover a gem that unimprisons a dark alien warlord destined to destroy worlds.  The gem and the being are one, connected by the ancient forces powering the talisman, and whoever wields it can control the evil one.  Fortunately for now, the gem is in young Mimi’s possession.  The bossy and sassy preteen sees the alien, dubbed Psycho Goreman, as a new friend and toy, gallivanting around town catering to every Mimi whims.  Lightyears away on a distant planet, a council comprised with the forces of good, who banished Psycho Goreman to eternal banishment and imprisonment, learn of their once terrorizing tormentor having escaped his confines.  Leader of the council, an elysian warrior named Pandora, vows to track down their adversary and put an end to his existence, bringing a destructive showdown of good versus evil in Mimi and Luke’s small-town. 

The anomalous mind of filmmaker Steven Kostanski is vacillatingly distinctive and churning adulation for the late 1980’s to early 1990’s high camp, metal-infused horror films that heavily inspired him.  His latest written and directed Sci-Fi horror-comedy, “Psycho Goreman,” fits perfectly into Kostanski’s brand of stupidity, nonsensical, animation-saturated, bizarro reality horror that has made us, or at least me, fall heads over heels for his previous credits, such as “Manborg” and the “W is for Wish” segment of “The ABCs of Death 2.”  Kostanski is also a special effects guru having worked delivering gruesome terror and insane imagination skills to the big and small screen, but makeup FX artist takes a backseat to his employer, the Ontario-based MastersFX managed by Todd Masters, and they grab the reins by providing a slew of mixed bag practical and visual effects and animation styles that is a time warp back to the tangibly ridiculous and forged every follicle freakshow horror and science fiction celluloid from 30 some odd years ago.  “Psycho Gorman,” or “PG” for short, is a production of the pseudonym Crazy Ball Productions, as in the Crazy Ball game Mimi and Luke play, and Raven Banner, presented as an exclusive acquisition by RLJ Entertainment and Shudder.

To make something as ridiculous as PG to work, you need a colorful, wildcard cast to pull off every microfiber of manic personalities you can muster and sticking out with the wildest personality is not the titular character who is neither the brightest highlight nor the leader of the pack.  That spot was filled far before PG makes an unearthing introduction by the film’s smallest, youngest, and most delightfully sarcastic and ostentation lead in newcomer Nita-Josee Hanna as Mimi, who’s roughhouse and snarky sassiness goes unparalleled even up against the Arch Duke of Nightmares.  The dynamic plays on that whimsical idea of little girls with big personalities can be the center of attention.  In this case, Mimi requires the world, no, the universe to revolve around her ultra-spoiled nurturing.  Her possession of the gem gives her unlimited power with her possession of PG, played by undoubtedly hot and bothered by the latex suit, but otherwise good sport, Matthew Ninaber (“Transference”).  Hanna and Ninaber are an absolute joy to watch together with their contrasting comedic deliveries:  Hanna’s aggressive flamboyance compared to Ninaber’s subtle and solemn stewing.  Then there’s Mimi’s brother Luke, played by Owen Myre, who will have a role in the upcoming “Terrifier” sequel and one of the film’s running jokes is PG can never remember Luke’s name.  That lack of standout presence for Myre’s character is quite literal and not because Myre’s performance is forgettable and a complete wash (in fact, Myre is fantastic is the meek, submissive older brother), but between Mimi and PG, those overwhelming characters totally consume much of the attention.  Adam Brooks (“Manborg,” “Father’s Day”) and Alexis Kara Hancey fill in as Mimi and Luke’s lackadaisical father and frustrated mother while Kristen MacCulloch (“Motherly) suits up as the PG’s holier-than-thou arch nemesis, Pandora, in Templar species form while Roxine Latoya Plummer blends in with the rest of the population with Pandora’s human form.  “Pscyho Goreman” rounds out with Alex Chung, Scout Flint, Robert Homer, Conor Sweeney, Matthew Kennedy, Asuka Kurosawaw, and Scott Flint.

“Psycho Goreman” necessarily fills a pivotal void.  Most genre films aim to pass along a message, sometimes important to the filmmakers, to convey a lesson, an idea, a political or social protest, or to spark awareness on an issue, but with Steven Kostanski, watching his work is like taking a vacation with an immense clearing of any and all undercurrents and obvious messages for pure, unadulterated, frequently mindless entertainment that just looks cool.  Underneath the composited animation and practical effect layers is an anything goes, no strings attached, brutally-caked, dopamine drip that causes glossy-eyes and a warm wash over of all the senses.  Side effects I can definitely live with and be refreshed by when needing a break from reality.  The amount of space medieval practical effects alone makes “Psycho Goreman” feel like “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and while that Gary Goddard 1987 science-fiction fantasy starring Dolph Lundgren, perhaps, heavily inspires Kostanski’s intergalactic battle-royale on Earth, the story mirrors much to the tune of “Suburban Commando” with Hulk Hogan.  Hear me out.  Rogue-vigilante, played by Hogan, crashes into Earth where he winds up with the unsuspecting Wilcox family who melts the big, bad commando’s heart and simultaneously fix, mostly unwittingly, what’s broken with the family while alien bounty hunters track him down.  “Psycho Goreman” is the same storyline with less gore; hell, “PG” is even kid dialogue friendly.  If you know “Suburban Commando,” you know, and now you can’t unsee it! 

As part of Acorn Media International’s RLJ Entertainment and Shudder exclusive line, “Psycho Goreman” is destined for darkness onto Blu-ray home video with over 2 hours of special feature content.  The UK region 2, PAL encoded, BD50 is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 96 minutes.  Nothing noteworthy to terribly point out from the digital picture shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini with Angenieux Optimo Lens that produces a spherical image you’ll optically notice that seemingly has a rounded surface to bring wide framed objects closer together.  Kostanski utilizes a blend of stop-motion and green screen with seamless results and even though slightly on the caricature side of alien landscape and creature production, everything befits “Psycho Goreman’s” extensive universe.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 has excellent acoustical output in a vast array of vocal timbres and epic ambiance on and off of Earth.  Dialogue is clean and prominent on both the actors and voice actors with the latter sometimes, unfortunately, masked by the voice manipulator.  The Blu-ray release packs a punch with over 2 hours of special features including a director’s commentary, interviews with cast and crew including Steven Kostanski, Nina-Josee Hanna, Owne Myre, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancy and Matthew Ninabar, different fight chirography records from location and in practice at a martial arts studio, behind the scenes featurettes with character backstories, a trading card gallery, concept art, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and the animation creation.  “Psycho Goreman” is rated 15 for strong bloody violence, gore, and injury detail.  Sit back, relax, and let Steven Kostanski speak to your childhood senses with his adult antihero, “Psycho Goreman.” 

Own “Psycho Goreman” on UK Blu-ray (Region 2)

Nab’em, Chop’em, and Feed’em to the EVIL Ox! “Butchers” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / Digital Screener)

After the death of their firm handed, elderly mother, brothers Owen and Oswald Watson remain isolated in the boondocks, off the beaten path to nowhere, to live in their rundown family home, like the generations before them, to do the one thing they desire and born to do – abduct stranded motorists, kill the men, and imprison away the women for their sadistic and misogynistic pleasures.  After breaking down passing through on a rural bypass, four young friends find themselves fighting for their very lives against a pair of siblings with a deep rooted heritage of experienced violence to show for it, but when one of the brothers starts to become even more unhinged than normal, the remaining survivors seek to take advantage of the situation to escape, but their captors know the woods inside and out.

Everyone believes Canadians are overly nice and well-mannered.  Our considerate neighbors of the North withstand the plethora of static noise from the turbulent South, willing to forget and forgive in a moments notice with nothing more than a smile and slap across the back, but has anyone ever bare witness to Adrian Langley’s dog-gonna-hunt, exploitation film, “Butchers,” hailing from Ottawa, Ontario?  The 2020 survival horror thriller displays the unseen dark side of Canadian’s grinning and friendly façade and, boy, does it familiarize and rival some of the similar backwoods doggedness we’ve seen in the last quarter century.  The film is written and directed by Langley and co-written with Daniel Weissenberger (“Come True”) in the intent of being a gritty, hillbilly-gone-wild hoedown with butcher blade sharpness.  Langley’s cinematic shiplap usually provides hard to swallow and violent themed content set to put one on tenterhooks established from his string of unflinching crime dramas (“A Violent State,” “Crook”) when the director is not moonlighting as a made-for-television PG-rated filmmaker for the holidays (“Candy Cane Christmas,” “Homemade Christmas”).  Christmas is long gone and a long way off and no amount of jovial spirit can guarantee a happy ending in “Butchers,” a production of Langley’s Unit XIX Films and Nicolás Onetti, producer and filmmaker behind retro-manufactured giallo horror “Abrakadabra” and “Francesca,” attached under his production banner, Black Mandala.” 

Principal characters are essentially the entire cast, small in size but pack a punch with their performances.  Starting off with the brothers, Owen and Oswald Watson, whose story begins during the snow and icy-filled heart of the winter months with them standing graveside, freshly filled with the remains of their mother, well before the hapless four protagonists breakdown in the summer’s heat.  The Watson boys story arc from second fiddle to top brass in a brief moment of background with the death of their mother as they quickly set to work pouncing on a young couple and exploiting the chained up and captive wife/girlfriend for carnal pleasure while abiding by a certain set of harshly punishable rules.  Television’s “Age of the Living Dead’s” Simon Phillips and Michael Swatton reteam in their respective roles of Owen and Oswald who are very much human characters with carefully planned and executed uncontrollable urges, callous whims, and fallible actions, sullied by a mixture of mental disease and rotten nurturing.  Philips is terrifying as in the intellectual brother, with his sophisticated word hole, very willing to get his hands dirty as the more perverse of the two brothers, but his relationship is on the rocks with his unstable brother, Oswald, as Swatton channels the internal family quibbling mindset of Leatherface from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise with the exception of the crossdressing obsession and the iconic, rip-roaring chainsaw.  Oswald instead wields a custom butcher’s knife with jagged shark life teeth as he manically runs through the forest hunting down the four youngsters played by Julie Mainville (“Ghastlies”), James Gerald Hicks (“Killer Mom”), and “The Nights Before Christmas’s Anne-Carolyne Binette and Frederik Storm.  With these lambs for the slaughter characters, this is where Adrian Langley succumbs to tropes that instill a misplaced sense of courage, uncontrollable and shallow horniness, and a turmoil amongst friends to be the divisive factor leading of their fate.  “Butchers” rounds out the cast with Jonathan Largy, Samantha De Benedet, Blake Canning, and Nick Allan as uncle Willard. 

“Butchers” does have blatant derivative bones underneath a body that echoes the frameworks of pioneered films from the aforementioned “Texas Chains Massacre” to more recently “Wrong Turn,” the original film series formed in 2003 about inbred, cannibalistic mountain people.  These powerhouse of unpretentious and bloodthirsty franchises inspired much of what you’ll experience in Langley’s homage of a cyclical subgenre; yet, the filmmaker’s tale of two brothers with a bloodletting scheme of their own doesn’t lend itself as being a hack work nor does the story render like an atrocious carbon copy but, rather, “Butchers” lives in a moment of simple, matter of fact craziness living in the dark corners of the seemingly innocuous world.  Owen paints a near perfect picture of the one in a million chance that people, like his hapless captives, fall into the position they’re in, sophisticatedly monologuing with intent to his bound prey in a pair of scenes that slice a thinly opened gap of possibility and that, right there, is scary.  “Butchers” builds no momentum, but, instead, goes right for the throat straight from the get-go as Langley reinforces the attitude that this can happen to anyone by not getting too familiar with characters in their backstories.  In order to establish a pattern of action and to lay foundations in who we should and shouldn’t root for when things go to hell, virtue-less unfaithfulness becomes a promising wedge that doesn’t necessarily cause descension in the ranks of survival, but paves a trope-laden path of who will ultimately perish.

Backcountry exploitation might have seem to have run it’s course. I mean, really, how many times can crazy deformed cannibals wreak gut-spilling havoc on the naïve outlanders to their idyllic provinces? For me, as many time as it damn well pleases, especially when fundamentally satisfying as Adrian Langley’s “Butchers,” distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures and now available streaming on Prime Video. “Butchers” will be available on DVD at a to be announced date. Langley, wearing multiple of hats in the spirit of indie productions, dons the director of photography bowler hat…well, I don’t really know what hat the DOP would wear, but we’ll represent the position with a bowler for now due to the deluxe sophistication the bowler implies while still sustaining a classic touch and that’s how I see Langley’s clean and competent cinematography style whose able to frame scenes that force audiences to be a part of the action . As soon as a character turns to speak to another character or when a car hood slams, an effective rush of adrenaline courses through the veins when out of nowhere one of the brothers pop onto the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio presented screen. “Butchers” come with no bonus material after a 92 minute runtime, but a single scene lingers during the credits that, again, harps back to a certain dancing killing machine from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” May not be an original concept, but “Butchers” can still castrate the soul with an exploitatively merciless family tree sowed with perversion and bloodlust.

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EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!

Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!

And We All Thought Puppy Mills Were EVIL! “Breeder” reviewed! (Eureka Entertainment / Blu-ray Screener)

Avid and accomplished equestrian, Mia, yearns for a child of her own with husband Thomas as the clock on her ovaries continues ticking into her 30s, but something keeps her husband from digging himself out of a sexually frustrated trench, causing strain on their marriage.  Mia thinks his imperative financial venture, a collaboration alongside ruthless businesswoman and unorthodox scientist named Ruben, has made him sexually reclusive being wrapped up in a delicate investment of reversing the aging process that could crumble at any time, but when a beautiful and youthful neighbor goes missing after frantically showing up bloodied at her front door, Mia follows her trail to an abandoned candy factory where Ruben holds hostage young women for her violating biohacking experiments.  Becoming caged herself at the mercy of Ruben, Mia, and the rest of the women, are left to the sadistic and misogynistic whims of Ruben’s henchmen, the Pig and The Dog, in between the good doctor’s examinations. 

What happens when the powerful elite, using wealth and influence, circumvent ethical red tape in order to receive medical advancements as soon as possible?  Director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen explore that radical and illegal biohacking ideology with an intense and extreme feminist view in their 2020 released, invasively graphic, horror thriller, “Breeder.”   Hailing from Denmark, not too many extreme films come out of the Nordic country, but taking a cue from their German neighbors from the South with a sexual and age dysphoria viscosity, “Breeder” takes an urban legend-esque approach to age defying that’s more Countess Bathory than anything Aveeno facial creams could ever manufacture in a story based on biohacking blended loosely with the French folklore of Bluebeard where an affluent man has an obsessive habit in murdering his wives, one after another, per director Jens Dahl.  “Breeder” might not be that black and, well, blue with a tough love message and an illicit theme of subversive genetical achievements produced by Peter Hyldahl, Amalie Lyngbo Quist, Penelope Bjerregaard and Maria Moller Christoffersen of Beo Starling (Beofilm) production company.

Leading the pack of caged, exploitered women in this human puppy mill comes with a hefty price of compromising positions and uncomfortable scenarios. The 32-yeard old actress, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, plays an age appropriate Mia whose coming down to her last straw when coming to her husband’s inability to commit to their teetering marriage, but Mia comes with a twist in that she never gives up, achieving her end goal even if that means strapping on her riding boots and stirrups, dropping her panties, and digging those spurs into her hind parts while masturbating just to release the sexual tension. Ditlevsen gives a gradual fuming performance gaslit by the abusing sustained by the sadistic misogynist, monikered The Dog (Morten Hoist) who, in appearances, has the visual looks of a greasy Bill Oberst Jr. Jackson Pollock’d from a Mads Mikkelsen portrait and has the temper to match. The Dog and his partner, The Pig, played by Jens Anderson in an unbalanced contrast to the The Dog’s screen time, are harnessed and weaponized by a mad scientist role that was originally intended for a man before screenwriter, Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen, had an epiphany that her feminist script was playing right into that systemic, male dominant, structure. Instead, the role was flipped, in gender only, and performed by “Wild Witch’s” Signe Eghom Olsen. Olsen gives a chillingly cold performance in Ruben’s contradictory indifference for life by snatching youth and beauty from young women, those who spite Ruben just by the mere fact of their innate good genes and healthy reproductive system, and selling the epitome of their stolen essence to the highest, or oldest, bidder in an age-reserval scheme. Ruben does have another motive with self-preservation as her rare genetic makeup makes finding a genome match nearly impossible, but she slays away a lot of women and a lot of infants in order to unearth her type. Anders Heinrichsen, Eeva Putro, Elvira Friis, Eja Rhea Mathea Due, Oksana Kniazeva, and Sara Wilgaard Sinkjær round out of the cast.

One of the “Breeder’s” core themes is the power one holds over another, but absolute control is not a singular reoccurring motif as power ebbs and flows from one character to another in a rolodex of examples that include Thomas’s financial control of Ruben’s rebellious operational decisions, The Dog’s inhumane dominance over captive women he loathes, and, on the receiving end, an enslaved woman’s embracing of a submissive, masochistic posture to The Dog’s punishing sadism, but control can be fleeting as seen in many movies yet proved to be in an abundance in Dahl’s “Breeder” with plot points that overturn sovereign power through a pendulum sway of brute, bloody force and hostage exploitation ugliness.  One bizarre recurrent through the cat and mouse power struggles is urination.  Yup, bodily fluids make an appearance, but go beyond the one-time shock value affect with three, count them three, acts of peeing in which two scenes reflect dominance as the powerful relieve themselves all over the, at that time, docile weak as a dog would when marking his claimed spot in the yard.  “Breeder” continues the varied questionable character tactics when primary plot turning points fail to impress plausible reactionary needs; an example would include when Ruben uses Thomas’ affection for Mia to control his unpredictable behavior, but the obsessed mad scientist, not to be bested by losing her financial support, lets Thomas run freely around her private abandoned factory of horrors which allows Thomas to become a monkey wrench in her biohacking laboratorial machine.  The same easy street escapes run rampant throughout and is even unintentionally spoofed when one women is able to escape not once but twice The Dog and The Pig’s rigorous grasps, taking “Breeder’s” serious new wave extreme a level down to a sickly stage of story blunders with rough draft written characters and scuffle.

 

If golden showers are not the extreme go-to for brutal survival horror, “Breeder” offers a variety of acrid amenities from stapling lips together to a trash can full of dead, dismembered babies and is homeward bound in the UK on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment under the company’s Montage Pictures banner.  Available February 15th, 2021, the first 2,000 prints of the Blu-ray will come with a limited edition O-card slipcase.  If you’re not a physical media aficionado (…loser.  J/K), “Breeder” will also be available digitally and will be presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.  The Danish language DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix will be accompanied with optional English subtitles.  Since this review is based off a Blu-ray screener, I will not go into depth with the audio and visual conditions, but the cinematography work is from the sophomore feature of Nicolai Lok.  Behind the camera, Lok’s settles on a drab color schemes of mostly black and grey of a sterile environment, with the Lindberg house or inside Ruben’s medical popup tent, along with hard yellows, like mustard, to accentuate the rust and grime in closeups to medium shots within the tight confines of the abandoned candy factory turned into an unsweet meat market, but uses a fisheye lens on the regular to the effect I couldn’t pinpoint other than to fishbowl dysphoria an already narrow area. The end result made scenes unnecessarily warped for the viewers already stomaching a large amount of women battering. The special features included an October 2020 answer only interview with director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen discussing in depth the reason they wanted to make this film. “Breeder” opens with Mia prancing her horse Karat and she inner dialogues how they move in tandem, but she questions the pecking order of master and prisoner between them knowing for certain she’s Karat’s jailor and that translates perfectly into her own subhuman treatment as a branded and caged animal for the pleasure of others; however, this type of depth thinking begins to rotate the hamster wheel but, as soon as momentum picks up on those tiny legs of collusion and betrayal, a gradual limp slows that hamster’s endurance with not enough plot developmental pallets to digest in order to keep up the effort.