When the EVIL Novice Becomes the EVIL Master. “Assault! 13th hour!) reviewed! (Impulse Pictures / DVD)

“Assault!  13th Hour” on DVD from Impulse Pictures!

A gas station attendant is beguiled by the culpable bad boy antics of a serial rapist in a red jacket. As the attendant becomes more enthralled by the sociopath’s life-altering school of assault and apprenticeship, he attempts a solo flight to turn his women victims into loving his deplorable acts of sexual misconducts. His emulation of sprouting a decadent rape fantasy fails as the connective alternative sexual experience between the powerful and the powerless only induces complete fear. Curious to how the connoisseur of forced copulation gets away with women paying him for ravishment again, the novice learner of lechery aims to seek as much knowledge as possible without hesitation and without question but a homosexual gang hunts down his master in the crimson jacket for an unspecified act that warrants retribution. Caught in the middle, the gas station attendant must fight for his life if he wants to continue the legacy of violation.

Better known as “Rape! 13th Hour,” Yasuharu Hasebe’s “Assault! 13th Hour” is a perhaps a more marketable film for many western distributors with the world rape kicking off as an exclamational in the title. One of Japan’s well-known exploitation and pinku filmmakers, having directed a slew of films with a combination of action, crime, and sexual dysphoria and kink with the Stray Cat Rock film series (“Sex Hunter,” “Delinquent Girl Boss”) as well as “Rape!,” “Secret Honeymoon: Rape Train,” and “Raping!” Yeah, I would say Hasebe had a deviant fantasy for the subject. Released in 1977, “Assault! 13th Hour” comes from the same mind of “Hausu” screenwriter Chiho Katsura and Toshiro Masuda’s “The Perfect Game,” a Criterion release film, screenwriter Yoshio Shirasaka. Now, the 73-minute narrative rapt in the idea of women throwing themselves, as well as their yen, at the attacker in a twisted reaction to forceful violation with a greenhorn being trained-to-inherit the practice is by no means as surreally horrifying as “Hausu” or as complicatedly thrilling as the gambling-gone-awry “The Perfect Game.” Still, an underlying, nagging feeling of the patriarchal power that is deeply engrained into Japanese culture can be digested with this pinku-production under the company eye of Nikkatsu Corporation, releasing the film under its pinku eiga subsidiary, the Nikkatsu Roman Porn banner, with Ryoji Ito (“Cruel High School Girls: Sex Lynch”) producing.

Now, whether “Assault! 13th Hour” is a sequel to either Hasebe’s “Rape!” or “Assault!” is not clear from this reviewer’s eyes – I have yet to see either one of those particular previously films – but there lies one commonality between all of them, Akira Takahashi. A lifer in the pinku eiga industry, Takahashi has collaborated with Hasebe on a number of films that run the gamut of exploitation. For his role of Crimson, a serial rapist and delinquent who sports a red bomber jacket, the principal predator is more mysterious in not only his actions but his backstory involving the homosexual gang boss and his two equally sapphic goons and this is where I suspect “Assault! 13th Hour” might be a follow up film as Crimson’s historical transgressions don’t come to light. Hence, the gang’s manhunt never fleshes out to a warranted chase down and the unsuspected sexual tension that produces from it between Crimson and the gang boss. Takahashi brings a confident and suave creep to the lead but doesn’t necessarily have the charisma to make Crimson stand out on his own as a memorable character. Crimson’s accomplice, and the story’s perspective primary, played by Yûdai Ishiyama (“Izo”), fits snuggly into the part of curious in his character who takes uninitiated baby steps into wanting to be a part of this cabal of beastly baroque bedfellows that can persuade Stockholm syndrome upon their victims before they zip up their pants. Ishiyama’s role provides more depth as a low-end gas station attendant with a pent-up perversion and who’s better to exploit and nurture his willingness more than his equivocal new best friend, Crimson. The story’s unpublicized character list provides the story with a nebulous pall to make a statement that this can happen to anyone and can even happen to this cast list of Yuri Yamashina, Tamaki Katsura, Naomi Oka, and Rei Okamoto.

I’m still wrapping my head around the plot’s sudden drop into mid-story without a callback to Crimson’s sordid history that weaves between his seemingly magical persuasion of perversion and his tumultuous involvement with the homosexual gang who want more than just to beat him to pulp. The chance stance Hasebe has to fashion into a comprehensible story, based off the script’s limiting section of a whole, is turned into a wildly suitable and often alternate universe viewed milieu where corruption and immorality goes without proper attention or justice. There are no detectives tracking down the rapists’ rampage or even the display of just a single police vehicle at the aftermath of the crimes. Judgements are contained within the confines of the criminal underworld from a twisted perspective of vigilante justice and, you know, it works! The one-sided standpoint immerses the viewer into a filthy, degrading, and perversely fantastical sea of immorality where lawlessness is the law, but as far as pink films are concerned, “Assault! 13th Hour” is a tame entry that doesn’t shockingly exploit the senses. Likely, that reserved jolt from the jarring material stems from decades of repetitive similar films of the same genre and/or nature and we, those fans drowning in fascination of the pink film category, might feel a little numb to its debauchery though the ending’s infringing necrophilia onto nearly every possible orifice on the victim’s body can be an eye-opener, or an eye-closer depending on your level of comfort and intrigue. Assault! 13th Hour” explores a trade far less trodden in its unusual master and pupil dynamic and subjugates any ambiguities over the blurry line between heterosexuality and homosexually with a slightly biased preconceived notion that heterosexual assault leads to viable passion whereas the counter only offers brutality and bloodshed.

Arriving onto DVD from Impulse Pictures, the XXX and erotica sublabel of Synapse Films, is the Nikkatsu Roman released “Assault! 13th Hour!” The anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation renders a respectable transfer of the 35mm film despite the noticeable age and wear of the warm, inferior negative stock that often appears dark and detailed indiscernible, unlike the stylish use of high contrast. The Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 dual channel casts a better-than-expected dialogue track and general ambient score albeit the overplayed audio bytes for cars revs and screeching tires. The constant low whir never goes above a whisper, leaving alone the dialogue to remain clear and free of obstructions and that also goes for the absence of pops and hissing. The newly translated and removable English subtitles pace well, display without typos, and are synchronously consistent. The 1977 Japanese erotica and roughie is a feature only release for Impulse Pictures with no bonus material included. The tight and taut, rough and dirty, “Assault! 13th Hour” is a tinderbox of ferocity as well as a tender box of far out fantasies that makes this dichotomy of sexuality and violence an interesting slice of Japanese erotic cinema.

“Assault!  13th Hour” on DVD from Impulse Pictures!

Fausto and His EVIL Queen Will Enslave You in the “Forbidden Zone” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)

Intestine to the “Forbidden Zone” on Bluray!

The Hercules family recently purchases a house from a drug dealer who warns them to never open the basement door that leads into, what he calls, the Forbidden Zone.  Curious about the secrets the Forbidden Zone holds, the beautiful daughter, Frenchy, accidently finds herself in the Sixth Dimension, a subterranean word ruled by King Fausto and his sadistic Queen Doris who superintends the torturing of half-naked prisoners. Having laid his eyes upon for Frenchy for the first time, Fausto is instantly enamored with her beauty and the Queen, jealous beyond reason, along with her sadistic daughter, Princess, seek to destroy Fausto’s newest concubine. Frenchy’s brother, Flash, and their mentally invalid grandfather dive into the “Forbidden Zone’s” gonzo world to try and save Frenchy only to find themselves in a labyrinth of skimpy-cladded slaves and nonchalant sex. All hope seems lost for the Hercules family until a deal with Satan might become their only way to salvation.

Remember that opening blurb in my recent review of Richard Elfman’s “Aliens, Clowns, and Geeks” where I state my only regret in watching Elfman’s zany 2019 sci-fi comedy was that I didn’t priorly and properly experience his cult classic, the “Forbidden Zone,” first? Everything makes sense now in regard to Elfman’s fascination with the harlequin, his esoteric humor, and a knack for ridiculously unconventional in a direct pull of inspiration from his and his brother’s, Danny Elfman’s, time performing with the musical stage troupe, the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, which would later evolve, at the behest of Danny Elfman, into a popular 80’s ska-band with a reduced name simply known as Oingo Boingo. Richard Elfman wanted to take that stage presence of the Mystic Knights and transpose it to the silver screen, effectively doing by penning and helming a microbudget musical complete with series of extremely detailed and cockamamie cutout animation blended with morbid sideshow talent and performances tuned to the over-the-top theatrics of a well-oil, low-budget, far-out comedy. “Forbidden Zone” became the stepping-stone for script cowriters Matthew Bright (“Freeway”), Martin Nicholson (“House II: The Second Story”), and Nicholas James and was produced by Elfman and James along with executive product Gene Cunningham under the limited production of Hercules Films.

“Forbidden Zone” isn’t your normal run-of-the-mill musical feature as an assortment of styles coursing through what results as an eye-widening breach of political correctness. A smidgen of arthouse, a true to form vaudeville, and wall-to-wall crude comical carpeting would be a challenge to any actor set to play any role in this farcical natured fantasy, yet with the help of the Mystic Knights and Elfman’s madman charm, “Forbidden Zone” lands just the right cast to pull off a production this barking mad, beginning with the casting of Elfman’s then wife, Marie-Pascale Elfman, as the principal lead and anti-damsel in distress, Frenchy. Dredging for comprehension through Marie-Pascale’s thick French accent proved to frustratingly difficult to a linguistical layman’s ear, but her performance is light, fluffy, and defiant against the stark contrast of a brutish, no-nonsense Susan Tyrrell (“Butcher, Bake, Nightmare Maker”) as Queen Doris. Tyrrell is phenomenally “Rocky Horror” in prosaic seething and in dive-bar dress while having her Sixth Dimension King be played by her real-life lover off screen, “Fantasy Island’s” Hervé Villechaize. The chemistry between Tyrrell and Villechaize is more than natural even in Elfman’s pasquinade light. A few of my personally favorite performances are in the grandfather and grandson dynamic duo of Gramps and Flash. Phil Gordon wears a hilarious propeller hat and boy scout uniform overtop his older older-than-the-rest-of-the-cast body and though Hyman Diamond doesn’t say one single world in the entire film, as the former Jewish wrestler, Gramps, his antics are far funnier. Danny Elfman, undoubtedly, has a role in his brother’s debut feature, reprising himself in essentially a reoccurring role from his stage acts as Satan. His brief time on screen solidifies the presence of the Mystic Knights with the musicians taking bit parts playing instruments as Satan’s hooded minions. “Forbidden Zone” fills out the cast with executive producer Gene Cunningham as Pa Hercules, Jan Stuart Schwartz as the servant frog Bust Rod, writer-producer Matthew Bright playing twins Squeezeit, the chicken boy, and Rene, Squeezeit’s crossdressing brother, Gisele Lindley as the topless Princess, Kedric Wolfe as a crossdressing teacher and a chandelier (Yes, you heard right, he plays a chandelier), Virginia Rose as Ma Hercules, Viva as the former Sixth Dimension queen, Joe Spinell as a drunken sailor, and the performance artists Kipper Kids, who I remember seeing briefly from Weird Al Yankovic’s “UHF.”

Creative control is everything and with total control, total madness (or genius) can takeover to recreate a bastardized version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” that follows a young girl falling down into a curvy intestine chute and come face-to-face with anthropomorphic creatures, a dice-decorative land (parallel’s “Alice in Wonderland’s” playing card theme), and a Queen with a strict and haughty dominion over her terrified subjects.  I also wonder if the Mickey Mouse hats worn by many of the characters in the Sixth Dimension is also a direct connection or an Elfman homage to the Disney rendition of Carroll’s story.  The “Forbidden Zone” should be explored, should be experienced, and should be enamored as a cult favorite amongst fans of not only Through the Looking Glass but also of Terry Gilliam, “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and Pee-wee’s Playhouse.  With a barebones production value but with immensely vigorous performances that bring to life the extraordinary and flamboyant in all walks of life characters, Richard Elfman materializes a vision, his own vision, of transpiring a feature length film platform for his founded street theatre group, the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo.  At the time, did the film change the troupe’s musical journey for the better or skyrocket Danny Elfman’s evolutionary, new wave band?  That remains ambiguously unclear, but the project certainly places Oingo Boingo, in all its moniker and various bandmember forms, on a pop culture map and on everyone’s weird science fiction radar with an unforgettable, unimaginable chthonic comedy spurring laughs and gasps of content. 

After watching “Aliens, Clowns, and Geeks,” we had an inkling that Richard Elfman was an ass man and looking back at “Forbidden Zone” only confirms our theory of a cutout animation poop-chute characters pass through entering the Sixth Dimension and the continuous Kipper Kids’ vocal raspberries and revealing jockstrap ass cheeks.  If you like big butts (and cannot lie), then you’ll like the weirdness of the “Forbidden Zone” on a new Blu-ray director’s cut from MVD Visual, presented in its more recently colorized version of its 35mm stock with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio.  Retouched with a few Richard Elfman enhancements to the video quality and special effects, the Blu-ray display a remarkable durability of film transfer that show no sign of deterioration or damage.  Natural grain goes unobtrusive and there are any detectable egregious enhancements to circumvent any flaws in the used film stock.  The audio is a slightly different story in the English language LPCM 2.0 stereo that often feels lossy, muted, and hissy at times.  The musical numbers are bore a static underlayer that’s faint but there.  This never inhibits the dialogue or other audio tracks in anyway but can be a nuisance.  English subtitles are an available option.  Special features include a new introduction from director Danny Elfman, a new music video of Richard Elfman beating a bongo drum to a tune to a Danny Elfman score with his wife, Anastasia, thrusting her daisy-duke clothed crotch, and a guised band playing behind them, the original audio commentary by Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright, A Look into “Forbidden Zone” featurette from a few years back, prior to Susan Tyrrell’s death, that showcases interviews with the cast and crew looking back at the film, black and white outtakes and deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.  “Forbidden Zone” is an ostentatious ornament that’s larger than life in many regards and remains a cult classic to this day with a niche fanbase and tribute theatre productions still being done to this day.

Intestine to the “Forbidden Zone” on Bluray!

Surrounded by Aquatic EVIL, No One Can Escape “The Island of the Fishmen!” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

A French prisoner ship sinks to the bottom of the Caribbean leaving only a handful of prisoners and the Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, the ship’s doctor, stranded on a lifeboat for weeks until they a mysterious force drives them through the fog and crash them on the rocks of a seemingly deserted volcanic island. Only a few prisoners and the doctor manage to survive the wreckage, stumbling upon a ritualistic area of empty graves and abandoned artifacts of an island society. This is where the haggard and hungry men meet the beautiful Amanda Marvin on horseback and follow her through the island jungle to a clearing where the edifice of Edmond Rackham sits imposing on them. Having left his home country, Rackham settled upon this uncharted island, garnering local Caribbean inhabitants as servants, and being a greedy treasure hunter who might have just discovered the lost city of Atlantis. There’s only one problem, the city is surrounded by aggressive fishmen kept at bay by Amanda’s famed disgraced biologist father who has fallen severely ill, charting a course for the good doctor, Lt. Claude de Ross, to be unharmed in order to care for perhaps the only person who knows how to manage the wrath of the fishmen.

A swimmingly aquatic creature feature with an all-around gratifying men in costume pastiche, familiar to the style of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” in Sergio Martino action-adventure horror “The Island of the Fishman.” Also know under the revamped shots of “Screamers” aka “Something Waits in the Dark,” here we have the original film in all it’s natural glory from the director of “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” and “Torso” director Martino from a script by Martino, Sergio Donati (“Orca”), “Slave of the Cannibal God’s” Cesare Frugoni who workshopped with Sergio Martino’s older brother, Luciano Martino, (“So Sweet… So Perverse”) on the original story. Some would also say that “The Island of the Fishmen” is also a crossbreed between H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and, aforementioned, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The 1979 Italian production stars an international cast shooting along various locations in Italy and is produced by Luciano Martino under Dania Films and Medusa Distribution.

American, United Kingdom, and, of course, Italian come together to form “The Island of the Fishmen” cast that doesn’t stray too far away from their individual innate dialects. The most pompous is he Essex-born Richard Johnson’s sadistic and fortune hungry Edmond Rackham with a caricature of a voice that isn’t like anything in his performance in Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” As Rackham, the inflections reminisce of a British Humphrey Bogart mixed with a one Dick Dasterdly and so Johnson comes off a bit cartoony and overly dramatic compared to the film’s panache malnourished yet earnest hero in Italian actor Claudio Cassinelli (“Murder Rock,” “The Scorpion With Two Tails”) as Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, a ship’s doctor who suddenly becomes the medical caretaker and leading guard over a lifeboat full of hardened prisoners, some who have blood on their hands. Franco Javarone and Roberto Posse play a pair of surviving convicts, especially two at odds on how they should treat their next in rank penal officer. Though being thrust into the oversight position, the Lieutenant doesn’t have to worry about his prisoners for too long as the island’s baleful environment with jungle death traps, poisonous water, voodoo priestess, a sadistic lord of estate, and mutant fish people swimming in circles around the island’s parameter and through the cut through waterways sees to their wellbeing. “Island of the Fishmen” does have a few predominant male figures of different caliber but there are also a pair of women inhabiting the island who, too, have counteracting roles. Bond girl Barabara Bach (“The Spy Who Loved Me”) became plagued by the ocean’s frightening fishmen only two years later as the captive dame of Edmond Rackham who holds her hostage as he pushes her father (Joseph Cotton, “The Survivor”) to continue with his mind control potion over the fishmen. Then, there’s Shakira. No, not the Brazilian singer-song writer with the hypnotizing booty shaker. This Shakira is a voodoo priestess, played by Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham (“Dorian Gray”), who works for Rackham but ultimately envisions foreboding doom on the volcanic island. Giuseppe Castellano and Franco Mazzieri round out the cast.

A whole lot is going on in this film that from the surface seems, surfacing meaning the home video covers and posters, to focus chiefly on the hostile half-fish half-man creatures that bubble to surface, check out top side for any unwanted visitors, and quickly dispatch them before disappearing under the glassy waters of the Caribbean. I adore the design of the rather stiff but crudely convincing creature suits with buggy fisheyes, razor piranha like teeth, and cladded entirely green and scaley in a design by Massimo Antonello Geleng who by vocation was more a production designer with credits including this film along with “Cannibal Holocaust,” “City of the Living Dead,” “The Church,” and “Dellamorte Dellamore” to name a few. Yet, the fishmen were not a sole source of danger on an island that had a deadly schemer in Edmond Rackham, the motif of voodoo and jungle trap throughout, a volcano ready to erupt and engulf the island with lava, and the lost city of Atlantis as the grand epic finale that pivots this story on an acute elbow left that shows a mighty ambitious story on an Italian slim budget. To put it frank, Sergio Martino was able to put all the elements together into a cohesive, coherent plot with action, horror, exploitation, and mad science fiction albeit the story’s wild and diverging concepts.

Though many U.S. audiences know this film as Roger Corman’s highly altered, New World Pictures presented cut retitled as “Screamers,” Full Moon features releases the original oeuvre of Sergio Martino with a remastered Blu-ray release from the original 35mm negative. The 99-minute film is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio that captures in perfect matte composition and frame the locational miniatures, such as the manor house or the underwater Atlantis temples, in a compression that doesn’t make the structures obvious fakes. Slightly tinged yellow, the overall color palette is renders out well enough to suit the release with a pristine transfer seeing no signs of real significant damage. The English language tracks come in two formats – a PCM 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The English-speaking actors have their original tracks intact while the Italian cast have their original dialogue re-dubbed in English for posterity on new releases such as this one. Dialogue, nor any of the corresponding audio tracks, show any signs of fidelity issues or damage, but do feel muffled, even on the 5.1 as if the sound was boost stifled and left with some of the channels lacking vigor. Aside from Full Moon trailers, the R-rated film rides solo on this hi-def release. “Island of the Fishmen” is a small film fighting hard to swim upstream and really does a number on many different levels regarding where the audiences should focus their attention on, but I can see why Roger Corman wanted to give Martino’s film a second run after a commercial flop with a new, gory scenes edited right into the heart of “Island of the Fishmen’s” flexible, cartilaginous bones. Despite Corman’s efforts, Sergio Martino’s unmolested, original reeling reel is the one and only catch of the day for this purist.

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

The Best Spies Seek Thrills When Taking Down EVIL! “Deathcheaters” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

If Anyone Can Hide from the Grim Reaper, It’s the “Deathcheaters” on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!

Vietnam War brothers-in-arms Steve Hall and Rodney Cann banded together well after the fighting was over and channeled all their pent up energy into being adrenaline junky stuntmen for movies, television series, and commercials as a living and as a lifestyle.  When the two Australians are duped and setup into a high speed chase and a daring rescue mission by one of their country’s own clandestine government agencies in a ploy to test Steve and Rod’s daredevil abilities, they pass the qualifying assessments and are offered an espionage job by agency head under the pseudonym of Mr. Culpepper who has no other incentive to provide other than the job to be the most challenging, death-defying operation to gorge on by two extreme sport enthusiasts.  Unable to resist, the stuntmen embark to a secret base on a remote island of the Philippines where they’ll dodge bullets, explosions, and over 100 guards to fight their way in and out to obtain classified documents for their country.

“Deathcheaters” became the third viewing adventure involving the actor-director combination of stuntman Grant Page and director Brian Trenchard-Smith that falls right in between “The Man from Hong Kong” and “Stunt Rock” and clearly delineates an understanding that Grant Page was a genuine fascination for Trenchard-Smith who sought to take the daring stuntman out of solely stunt role and puree him into a leading man role, showcasing Page’s hang-gliding, dune buggy, and skyscraper falls,  for the director’s second feature film released in 1976.  And, then, there’s John Hargreaves who we will dive into his there-but-not there presence later on. “Deathcheaters” is an ozploitation action-comedy that fulfilled two of Trenchard-Smith’s obsessions – stuntmen and spy films – from a story by the director and penned to script by Michael Cove and is produced by Trenchard productions alongside a conglomerate of production companies, including “Mad Max’s”  Roadshow Entertainment (a subsidiary of Village Roadshow), D.L. Taffner (“Ghost Stories”), Nine Network Australia, and the Australian Film Commission.

Undoubtedly, “Deathcheaters” stars Grant Page as the relationship unattached and cocky Rodney Cann whose only other interest besides bedding the single ladies is his enamored basset hound, Bismark.  Cann’s best friend, Steve Hall, is newly hitched to Julia who more-or-less disapproves of her husband’s risky vocation.  “Long Weekend’s” John Hargreaves plays the cheeky Steve Hall with sarcastic charm, matching his complement stunt partner and while Hargreaves has the chops to pull of the persona, the late Sydney born actor is well behind the curve when matched up with Grant Page.  Page is a stuntman playing a stuntman while Hargreaves is an actor portraying to be a stuntman and, unquestionably, that delta shows pretty radically when Page is driving the dune buggy, is descending rapidly from a tall building, or scaling a rock cliff without a harness and Hargreaves is relatively stationary.  Hargreaves has his moments but is greatly overshadowed by the veteran Page.  Before she was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s wife, “Stunt Rock’s” Margaret Gerard was John Hargreaves on screen romance who is vocal but wishy-washy on her husband’s exploits, even on the highly dangerous, international espionage mission assigned by the enigmatic Mr. Culpepper (Noel Ferrier, “Turkey Shoot”).  “Deathcheaters” round out with Judith Woodroffe, Drew Forsythe, Annie Semler, and Vincent Ball.

“Deathcheasters’ falls on the heels of the martial arts success of “The Man from Hong Kong” and is another stunt celebratory film from the ozploitation director with a penchant for large explosions and need-for-speed car chases.  All the stunts were perfectly poised in design and well executed.  Trenchard-Smith isn’t at all afraid to have the camera right in the middle of the action, strapping the 16mm camera to whatever plausible to place the audience in the action with the heroes.  As much as Trenchard-Smith goes full throttle with a tour de force, the same tricks become a little stale after, unfortunately, having previously watched “Stunt Rock” and “The Man from Hong Kong” that also featured self-set wet-gel fires, hang gliding, free falling, and among others aerobatic and dangerous acts that are seemingly in Page’s limited bag of showstopping routines.  There’s rarely anything new in “Deathcheaters” that warrant an awe response and that can be cliched, tiresome, and overall detrimental to the experience unless you’ve never seen a Trenchard-Smith film. If you’re one of those people never to have popped in one of his films, don’t expect “Deathcheaters” to be gritty, tough-as-nails, spitfire. Many of Trenchard-Smith’s earlier films, including “Deathcheaters,” sells solely on the witty, clean banter and a knack for the implied something really terrible happened to the bad guys with nothing ostentatiously explicit in the demise category. “Deathcheaters” can be wholesome, light, and aromatic of a repartee trashcan, but you get some great stunt work, explosions, and a car chase from this 1970’s Australian picture.

Like “The Man from Hong Kong” and “Stunt Work,” “Deathcheaters” too receives the Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray honor bestowed upon it from Umbrella Entertainment as spine number 10. Newly scanned in high definition 4K for the first time, John Seale’s cinematic vision has never looked better in this region free release, presented in standard widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The original vault materials held up nice enough to warrant a clear picture with only a few, brief blemishes. The super 16mm shot film, blown up to 35mm, often still feels ever so lightly flat in contour definition and in color; yet all the scenes look naturally aboriginal from the masters. The English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 mono is a naturally lossy single speaker audio mix that doesn’t exact full representation of the action on screen though robust in fidelity. Dialogue perceives feebler during exterior scenes as capturing dialogue competes with the elements due to poor boom placement or just inferior equipment. Like the other releases, bonus features are nicely packed with a newly extended interviews with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Grant Page, and John Seale from the Not Quite Hollywood documentary, a new audio only interview Remembering “Deathcheaters” with executive producer Richard Brennan, new liner notes from Trenchard-Smith, a 2008 commentary with the director, executive producer, and leading lady Margaret Gerard (listed as Margaret Trenchard-Smith), Trenchard-Smith trailer reel, theatrical trailer, and a Trenchard-Smith directed bonus feature in “Dangerfreaks – The Ultimate Documentary.” The clear snapper case is housed inside a cardboard slipcover and inside the snapper’s liner is a 16-page comic book adaptation from Dark Oz, much like Umbrella accompanied with “Stunt Rock.” “Deathcheaters” shows its age but still pulls out all the stops with amazing stunt choreography and gave way to Grant Page being solidified lead man material, even with his corny one-liners, and simultaneously building upon Brian Trenchard-Smith’s early career in a niche field of being obsessed with overachieving, arrogant, and unafraid stuntmen.

If Anyone Can Hide from the Grim Reaper, It’s the “Deathcheaters” on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!

Is Deceptional Fraud More EVIL Than Psychopathy? “Paranoiac” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

Get “Paranoiac” on the Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray!

The parents of siblings Tony, Simon, and Eleanor Ashby die in a tragic plane crash. Two years later, Tony commits suicide by plunging himself off a cliff into a watery grave with his body never having been recovered from the ebb and flow of crashing waves upon the oceanic rocks. Eleven years later, the long thought dead Tony suddenly and unexpectedly returns to what’s left of his family: an overprotectively cold and matriarchal substitute in Aunt Harriet, a narcissistic and alcoholic brother Simon, and a sister, Eleanor, on the precipice of losing her mind from grief over Tony’s death. Shocked by this return, the surviving Ashby siblings split their concerns regarding Tony’s authenticity. Eleanor believes her brother is alive and has come back to rebuild the happy relationship between them whereas Simon denounces Tony’s validity and works underhandedly to either expose Tony as a fraud or to get rid of the imposter by any means necessary, especially when the conditions of receiving the Ashby family fortune have nearly come to an end and a hefty inheritance awaits his opulent tastes. Tony’s arrival causes complications with the inheritance, opens up old wounds, evokes new romantic sensations, and regresses transgressional guilt toward a fiery conclusion to the Ashby family mystery.

A ravishingly dark, mystery thriller inspired by Scottish author Josephine Tey’s crime novel “Brat Farrar” from 1949, the 1963 “Paranoiac” works from off of Tey’s dysfunctional and deceptional family building blocks and extending it into a gothic framework of demented greed in a brand-new of-shooting avenue of psychological thrillers from Hammer Films, hoping to branch off the traditional horror trunk and piggyback success off of the American released, 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, “Psycho.” “Paranoiac” is the junior film of Freddie Francis (“The Skull,” “Torture Garden”) and penned by the longtime Hammer writer, who basically wrote all of Hammer’s classics, Jimmy Sangster (“Horror of Dracula,” “The Revenge of Frankenstein”). Anthony Hinds and Basil Keys served as producers.

“Paranoiac’s” ensemble cast is quite brilliant in their respective roles.  Oliver Reed (“Curse of the Werewolf,” “Gladiator”) stands out immensely with a flamboyantly cruel and warped performance as the erratic Simon Ashby constantly under the influence of Brandy, Champagne, or whatever alcoholic beverage he can get his organ-playing hands on.  Reed puts out this hateful energy that can’t be ignored and outlines Simon with defined truth about where the character stands with his own flesh and blood – a callously cold and calculating black sheep.  Simon becomes fascinating in every scene, every scenario, and continues to unravel as a wild card that always leave us wondering what he’s going to do next.  Then there’s sweet and innocent but overly distraught Eleanor from Janette Scott in complete sibling behavioral polarity that sinks Eleanor further and further into madness designed by those close to her.  Scott, who also had a starring role in “The Old Dark House” that was released the same year, came aboard relatively new to Hammer but equates her status against Reed, who Hammer was grooming to be a prominent leading man for more of their productions, by selling Eleanor’s despair and the deep-seeded craving for her other, more sweeter, brother, Tony.  Encompassing the thought dead younger brother is Alexander Davion, another newbie to Hammers’ brand with, in my opinion, a neutral and bland face that doesn’t fit the Bray Studio’s swarthy and distinguished lot of male actors.  Davion’s also doesn’t do terribly much with Tony’s sudden resurrection as he folds himself back into Ashby manor.  While this could be Freddie Francis’s shrouding display of truth upon Tony’s legitimacy, there is literally no life or passion behind Alexander Davion’s eyes as he stares blankly at accusations and even Eleanor’s incestuous flirtations.  Yes, incest becomes a rummaged theme that walks a tightrope between more than just two family members.  “Alone in the Dark’s” Sheila Burrell is the stern protector in Aunt Harriet, “Blood Beast from Outer Space’s” Maurice Denham ruffles Simon’s feathers as the Ashby estate treasurer holding all of his inheritance, “The Maniac’s Liliane Brousse nurses a façade over the well-being of Eleanor and the love interests of Simon, and the cast wraps up with John Bonney as the treasurer’s fraudulent son.

Hammer had by 1963 already established itself as a horror powerhouse with the success of colorfully bold, violently stout, and sexually-saturated innuendo classic monster features, such as with “Horrors of Dracula,” “The Curse of Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy.”  Capitalizing on the coattails of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and sitting on the adaptational rights for Josephine Tey’s “Brat Farrar,” Hammer decided to pivot into the crime and suspense thriller direction that alluded to the aftereffects of cerebral breaking blended into elements of collusion, creating an endless tense-filled turbine revolving around the whodunit particles and the who’s veneer is covertly smeared by corruption.  In a way other than the similar one word title and an unhinged theme, “Paranoiac” could be mistaken as a Hitchcockian-shot production with the larger than life and depth rich landscapes; the vast wide shots of Isle of Purbeck’s peaks and cliff steeps are engulfed oxymoronically as an idyllically menacing key peninsula landscape centric to Tony’s long thought demise as well as a place of hopelessness as the natural English Channel waves crash relentlessly onto the rocks below.  Francis and Sangster hinge the film success on the colossal subtext of brittle strength, guilt, and a vague but prominent suggestion of incest between sister and brother and brother and aunt that, in all honestly, was a personal surprise to myself that it passed the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC).  Yet, the insinuation did and paved a real pothole plague path for viewers in a good way that the story kept evolving, kept us on our toes, and when it spiraled, it spiraled quickly and sharp in a descent onto those very hopeless rocks below waiting for our emotions to be swept away lost in a mobile, violent current. 

Paranoia runs rampant like an epidemic in this Freddie Francis aptly entitled sullen celluloid “Paranoiac,” the next Hammer film receiving a collector’s edition Blu-ray treatment from Scream Factory, the horror sublabel from Shout Factory! The region A locked encoded Blu-ray features a new 2K scan from the interpositive. By 1963, Hammer was well versed in technicolor, especially for Stateside releases of UK films, but “Paranoic” opts for the black and white picture in another subtle nod to “Psycho.” Under veteran Hammer Film’s cinematographer Arthur Grant, that famous gothic-cladded manor house is aesthetically fetching with in every detail captured by Grant’s 35mm camera as well as the broad wide shots in the bird’s eye view of Isle of Purbeck. Scream Factory releases the film in 1080p, full high definition of the original aspect ratio 2.35:1 with sterling results in extracting details and balancing the contrast without brightening or darkening where not needed or intended. There were no real damage spots to point out nor were any crops or enhancements made to touch up possible problematic or stylistic areas. The release comes with a single audio option in a DTS-HD Master Audio monaural track with slight static in the background. Dialogue is clean and mostly clear with an occasion hiss during more boisterous moments, but the range and depth of a faultless ambience and Elisabeth Lutyens brassy and bass soundtrack comes through symmetrically balanced. English SHD Subtitles are also optional. The special features include a new audio commentary with Film Historian Bruce Hallenbeck, two new interviews with author and critic Kim Newman in Drink of Deception and with film historian Jonathan Rigby in A Toast to Terror – two familiar faces seen in recent Scream Factory’s restorations of Hammer productions, a making-of segment that dives archive interviews with Jimmy Sangster and others going over the genesis of the story and into Hammer’s aspirations at the time, and a theatrical trailer. “Paranoiac” is more than just its creepy, bulbous mask that graces the Mark Maddox gorgeously green illustrated slipcover and snapper case cover art. Rarely does a film evolve from one narrative into another without crisscrossing the stitchwork, becoming overly convoluted beyond repair, yet “Paranoiac” digs in and dilates the already volatile chemistry with integrated and powerful performances from Oliver Reed and Janette Scott that makes this film high on the Hammer watch list.

Get “Paranoiac” on the Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray!