Night Terrors Are Not EVIL Enough. “While We Sleep” reviewed! (VMI Releasing/ DVD)

“While We Sleep” available on DVD home video at Amazon.com!

Neurologist Nina Evanko is perplexed by the unusual CAT scans of 13-year-old Cora whose been suffering from sudden onset sleepwalking after her birthday party.  Believing the CAT scan is going through calibration issue with imaging process, Nina orders another set of scans, but when the scans produce the same result and a death of another patient right in front of Cora sends her home early before Nina’s arrival to study the results, Nina convinces Cora’s parents to an at-home sleep observation to root Cora’s sleepwalking cause.  What Nina finds is far more sinister than night terrors or any other kind of parasomnia as a demon has inhabited Cora’s body with nefarious intentions.  Cora’s only hope to save her soul is her bewildered parents, a rattled neurologist, and a rogue priest but a family secret may consume everything. 

If you’re still looking to support Ukraine during the now 6 plus months Russia invasion of their sovereign neighbor, why not support the Ukrainian-U.S. collaborative cinema?  Why not start more precisely with Andrzej Sekula’s 2021 child-possession thriller “While We Sleep” set in the Ukrainian capital and flagship city of Kiev.  Sekula, known more for his work with Quentin Tarantino as a cinematographer on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” as well as “American Psycho” and “Hackers,” has quietly and seldomly helmed a handful of films over the two decades with “Cube 2:  Hyperspace” being one of them.  “While We Sleep” returns Sekula to the director’s chair for the first time since 2006 with a script by Rich Bonat and the film’s supporting costar Brian Gross, the first feature script penned by the “Jack Frost 2:  Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” and remake of “2001 Maniacs” actor.  “While We Sleep” is coproduced by American Brian Gross and Kiev-Los Angeles based CinemAday productions, which include company bigwigs Rich Ronat, Yuriy Karnovsky, and Yuriy Prylypko. 

While much of the story begins with Cora and her parents (real life family of husband Brian Gross, wife Jacy King, and daughter Lyra Irene Gross) cursed by Cora’s acute and disconcerting sleepwalking disorder and moody behavior, the daily battle to understand their predicament is not left in the out of their league but most lovable hands of the parents as the film leads you to believe.  Roughly half hour into the film, the narrative switches from the convincing family perspective, despite building background on their low-band relationship troubles and move it nearly 100% to Nina’s problem-solving perspective with a hint of her own troubled past.  Kiev born and “Stranger” actress Darya Tregubova plays the neurologist too curious to shrug off the mysterious case of Cora’s abnormal scans.  Tregubova is fetching without saying but she doesn’t provide the necessary emotional weight of person who’s going through grief and loss issues from the past.  Tregubova also doesn’t convey the necessary weight toward her strong connection to Cora and Cora’s case with only a few expositional moments that hint at such.  These aspects leave Nina outside the bubble of plot events that make the character stick out as unnecessary even more with the character’s negligent professionalism surrounding the wellbeing of Cora and with the parent interactions.  Once the story butts in randomly the blacklisted priest, Father Andrey (Oliver Trevena, “The Reckoning”), with an intimate familiarity with the demon that possess Cora, we know that the story is lost as it tries to quickly and covertly wrap its grip around how to come to a head with this storyline.  You can’t have a possession film without a priest, right?  Father Andrey feels very much like a leftover thought, but Trevena tries his darnedest to sell a washed-up man of the cloth with desperation pouring from word out his mouth despite looking like an English hooligan in a pop collared leather jacket. 

“While We Sleep” has not-so-brittle bones of demonism and possession albeit lacking its own or established cultural mythos, yet there’s a disjointed nature about the story structure and plot points that just don’t make sense that crumble that coherency faster than Cora descending into the depths of demonic disorder. The opening scene is the most perplexing of all with an elaborate birthday cake that neither mom nor dad had made or bought for Cora’s 13th year. Without a care in the world, mom and dad don’t explore further who could have possibly made such a beautiful cake and little do they know, the cake, or rather the cake’s candles, are a conduit for demonic transmission into the soul. This part is never explained through the rest of the picture and, in fact, Gross or Bonat don’t touch back upon a possibility of explaining the odious presence. Much of everything is taken a face value, such as the fact Cora cuts her long hair to a pixie style without an eyelash being bat or in what’s more crtical to the plot is with Cora’s real and darkly unholy father backstory. Those facts are a shot to the brain and we’re still not understanding where Cora’s biological father fits into Cora’s space, into her mother’s space, or even into Father Andrey’s space, but you would think as important as this twist was suddenly deluged in a quick spit of point-blank honesty, the edges would be smoothed over and the picture would become clear as the holy water that was cross was spritzed with; yet, that the aggregation of aggravation of little-to-no details continues to carry out as if everything is perfectly peachy and comprehendible within the story context.

From the at-home release distributor that delivered John Travolta as “The Fanatic,” VMI Releasing, a subsidiary of VMI WorldWide, releases “While We Sleep” on DVD home video. The clear snapper cased DVD, a MPEG-2 formatted DVD5, is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with an average speed bitrate of 4-5 Mbps. You can see noticeable banding issues in the darker bedroom scenes sporadically throughout. Aside from that, the picture result is fair with more than enough detail for viewing. The English-Ukranian soundtrack is not listed on the back cover, but my SEIKI player reads two audio options: a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital dual channel 2.0. Discerning the difference between two is not worth the effort as there’s only subtleties in the output. The 5.1 surround sound has obvious better capacity for multi-channeling. Optional English subtitles are available but neither one of the audio tracks available nor the subtitles offer English captioning for the Ukranian dialogue and often times, there are back and forth exchanges that are intended to carry worth behind the exchange. The subtitles just state foreign language speaking which doesn’t help at all so there’s a bit of lost in translation in the dialogue unless you happen to speak or understand East Slavic languages. The 92-minute film comes unrated but doesn’t come with any bonus material as a feature only release. “While We Sleep” only nips at attempting to be a better than average “Exorcist” akin contemporary but remains on the haphazard course of shaky character building and bumpy, unpaved developments that make only for a rocky portrait of possession.

“While We Sleep” available on DVD home video at Amazon.com!

 

Out With the Old EVIL. In With the New! “Modern Vampires” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

“Modern Vampires” available for purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

Blacklisted for not killing the vampire nemesis Dr. Van Helsing, Dallas is shunned by most of the underground Los Angeles vampire scene now presided over by Count Dracula himself, but as he returns to the city after decades of being gone and gathers with old – very old – dear friends, Dracula threatens him with being burned alive if he overstays his begrudged welcome.  When a newly turned rogue vampire under the pretense of a corner prostitute starts ripping the throats out of unsuspecting Johns, Count Dracula doesn’t want the potential public attention drawn on his species.  Taking a shine to this mysterious woman’s insubordinate nature, Dallas finds her, cleans her up, and introduces her to his inclusive friends, but little do any of the bloodsuckers know is that the Van Helsing is in town and has recruited local Crips to be the holy servants of God in wasting away the vampiric filth that plagues humanity.

Here I thought Casper Van Dien’s only good film was 1997’s galactic war with the extraterrestrial bug species in “Starship Troopers!”  Nope, one year later, Dien follows up his iconic global militant-nationalism and gory-filled sci-fi blockbuster with the little-known American comedy-horror “Modern Vampires.”  Better known around the world as “The Revenant” to not confused American audiences with a highly ingrained British term, “Modern Vampires” is directed by a principal one-half of the 80’s American new wave band Oingo Boingo in Richard Elfman.  The other half of that duo is Richard’s brother, who we all know and love in his unmistakable musical scores of “Batman” ’89 and “Edward Scissorhands,” Danny Elfman who also scores the opening theme to “Modern Vampires” with recognizable and trademark notes from those previously stated Tim Burton pictures.  The script was also penned by a fellow Oingo Boingo original member and the Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon “Freeway” film, and its sequel, screenwriter Matthew Bright.  Bright and Richard Elfman had previously collaborated on the comedy-musical “Forbidden Zone” surrounding sixth dimensions and damsels in distress as well as the Charles Band produced “Shrunken Heads.”  “Modern Vampires” is produced by Elfman, Brad Wyman (“Barb Wire”), and Chris Hanley (“American Psycho”) under the Storm Entertainment and Muse/Wyman productions.

Ladies, if you thought you’ve seen the last of Casper Van Dien’s backside in “Starship Troopers,” then worry not! As the hunky, cigar-smoking, former World War II pilot Dallas, Van Dien, once again, shows off his hind parts in a steamy sex scene one top of Dallas’s car with costar Natasha Gregson Wagner (“Vampires: Los Muertos,” “Urban Legend”). As the indifferent vampire Nico under the pretense of a prostitute who seduces men into vulnerability before gashing open their necks, Wagner adds a bloodthirsty ferocity to her uncouth, undead character’s tremendous and tragic depth surrounding a trailer park trash childhood of sexual abuse and a grandstand mother. As a pair, Dallas and Nico are essentially made for each other or, rather, Dallas turned Nico because under all that pretty boy veneer, Dallas still has a beating heart for compassion and friendship as noted with Dr. Frederick Van Helsing’s crippled son, Hans, and the choice made between the two young men before the whole debacle of nixing to the fearless and relentless vampire killer of all time. Rob Stieger plays that character beautifully manically. “The Amityville Horror” and “End of Days” actor graces the production with seasoned vitality while also trying something new himself, a slightly fascist German vampire hunter who hires L.A. gangsters to help him do his dirty work and has to be the butt of the joke at times at the hands of Count Dracula (“Striking Distance”) as well as Dallas. Stieger does his scenes with great earnest yet great fun that puts the legendary actor into a new perspective. “Modern Vampires'” star-studded cast doesn’t end there was Dallas’s friends include performances from Kim Cattrall (“Big Trouble in Little China”), comedian Greg Furgeson, Natasha Lyonne (“Slums of Beverely Hills”), and the legendary Udo Kier (Andy Warhol’s “Dracula”) as well as a cast round out with Natalya Andreychenko, Gabriel Casseus, Peter Lucas, Victor Togunde, Cedric Terrell, Flex Alexander, and Conchata Ferrell.

Gory, sexy, and overflowing with politically incorrect humor, Richard Elfman’s “Modern Vampires” more than likely would not be a film made today, but definitely suits the 90’s scene.  There are stereotypes and jokes radically exaggerated for comical effect and land with such insouciant ease that the entire production felt at peace with the humor, emitting “Modern Vampires” as an enjoyable, blood-soaked, outrageous vampire comedy unearthed from over 20-years ago and landing onto a new Blu-ray release where the Elfman film deserved an upgraded treatment.  Los Angeles in ’98 didn’t look extremely different than what’s depicted in the film – late night clubs with half-naked patrons doing all sorts of weird and bloodletting fetishes, leeching prostitution on the delinquency riddled streets, and unsavory, unwilling gang bangs but, in “Modern Vampires’ case, the one tied to the bed is a female vamp fully-transformed into a human-sized bat and those who have sex with her, turn into a vampire themselves.  See the humor and symbolism in that?  Almost as if having unprotected sex with a creature of night is akin to contracting a sexually transmitted disease.  Despite the waggishness, “Modern Vampires” holds other staid themes as well with an arteria one being reflective in the title.  The genesis of the species emerged from Count Dracula who had moved from his old Germanic country to the hip and upcoming L.A. area. With each generation of vampire, the loyalty gap becomes wider until the turned from the 20th century are fully unmanageable by the Count’s supreme power. Nico, the youngest turned is in her vampiric infancy often noted throughout the film, can’t be contained and won’t be told what to do, much like teenagers butting heads with their parents on every little subject. Traditions are broken, heads are severed, bodies are burned, and the “Modern Vampires” is a wildly funny and gruesomely gnarly.

“Modern Vampires” is now the vintage vampires that hit the silver screen some 24 years ago and is now basking with the great 90’s flair of special effects, clothes, and hair on a new Blu-ray release from Ronin Flix in association with Quiver Distribution (“To Your Last Death”). Newly scanned in 2K of the Richard Elfman’s personal film print, the picture retains an unsullied quality with impeccable detail delineation for a story that’s mainly set/shot at night. There’s quite an overlay of purple flush that I’m fairly positive is not intended that pulls away, at times, from clearcut contrasting and blend the objects in the scene together. The film is presented in full high definition1080p in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 stereo that retains the amplitude of every categorical track. Dialogue track provides a clean depth and clarity that doesn’t swerve into boxy territory like many indie productions do. Ambient and foley range is quite limited for a bunch of different locational shots and in a crowded location full of extras but the extent of the quality is good enough. The 91-minute film comes not rated and has an exclusive extra with an introduction by director Richard Elfman plus archival features, such as audio commentary with Richard Elfman and star Casper Van Dien, a behind-the-scenes featurette with on set mini-interviews with the cast and crew. and the theatrical trailer. “Modern Vampires” might now be long in the tooth (get it?) but has the classic campy escapades of an unpretentious good time and, that my friends, is timeless.

“Modern Vampires” available for purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

A Double Bill of Evil! “Murderlust” and “Project Nightmare” review!

vlcsnap-00001
During Sunday’s services, a calm and confident Steve Belmont heads the Christian Sunday school youth class and seeks to be the permanent director of the Church’s suicide crisis unit that’s coming to the end of the planning stage. On Sunday’s, Steve performs as the model citizen whose ready to serve and give back to his community. During the rest of the week, the horse race track security guard can barely sustain societal worth, arriving late for work, constantly drunk, and has disdain for people being a speed bump in his path to greatness. All Steve Belmont has in life is the potential director’s job and his thirst, his unquenchable thirst for strangling women and dumping their bodies in the excessive heat of the Mojave desert. The local newspapers label his killings that of at the hands of the “Mojave Murderer” and his lust for killing call girls and young women runs a thin line alongside his Sunday best and when he begins to trust a Church regular, Steve’s mistakes begin to catch up with him.
vlcsnap-00002
“Murderlust” is the first feature on the Intervision Picture Corp’s double bill DVD release from director Donald Jones and writer James Lane. The 1985 suspenseful horror-thriller comes to DVD for the very first time and doesn’t just boldly display a story of another run of the mill serial killer but does so with remarkable performances and a body of work that’s well crafted. Lane pens the center character focus on Steve Belmont and his delusion of power, being an overwrought sociopath with a belief he’s better than everyone else, and Belmont’s brazen lures to secure helpless victims is nothing short of a con artist’s trait. The ability of convincingly seducing the congregation to his benefit provides him pseudo mystical powers that pull the blinds over their God fearing eyes while he continues to slack through a meager life and holds tightly his reign of terror near the Mojave. Basically, in Belmont’s mind, he is God.
vlcsnap-00003
Eli Rich plays Steve Belmont, who can only be described as a twisted blend between Michael Beihn and Nick Offerman, and Rich canisters Belmont’s psychopathic tendencies in an terrifying performance of exact realism. Not many films can pull off the on and off switch of a serial killer, even Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” was sensationalized, but the relatively small time actor produced a manufactured fearful reaction. Rich splits Belmont into two personalities while still managing to be contain a menacing aurora to feed audiences with dread, fear, and suspense and while Rich might be doing more than just one public service for his community by picking up and strangling local street walkers, Belmont never transitions into that role of the likable anti-hero as he manages to forthrightly ostracize himself from friends and family. As Steve’s square statured and responsible cousin Neil, Dennis Gannon epitomizes the upstanding citizen character, but maintains a soft spot for his unscrupulous next door neighbor cousin. Rochelle Taylor’s role is something of a love interest for Steve, who can’t bring himself to kill her even when the opportunity is present, but the one film and done actress Taylor can’t bring “Murderlust” to the promise land with an overzealous portrayal of an eager beaver, love struck Church girl that doesn’t fit the bill of Belmont’s world.
vlcsnap-00004
After a couple of quick Mojave Murderer victims, one including the scene illustrated for the DVD’s front cover with a topless and unchaste Ashley St. Jon, Steve, along with the flow of the story, banks into a suppressive funk. The narrative’s pace slows when Steve attempts to organize his life around his murderess hobby, turning the suspenseful thriller into a drama segment that is more or less of a laundry list on how to obtain rent money for an aggressive landlord, until the demand to hunt tugs heavily at his pant leg and he can no longer ignore the urge. “Murderlust”, despite the captivating title, is nearly a bloodless horror thriller. Steve uses his signature method of strangulation, leaving smartly no blood trail, and only at the finale does blood spill when Steve deviates from his unsympathetic hunt, kill, and dump program.
vlcsnap-00007
Woodland campers and best buds Gus and Jon wake up to discover their gear has been shredded and dispersed. They’re soon pursued by a frightening force of unknown origins. Lost and hungry, the two friends stumble upon a mountain cabin where cabin owner Marci shelters them for a night. Rested and resupplied, but haunted by their dreams, the two continue on foot in search of a town; instead, they become split up and Gus finds himself in the bizarre belly of a government facility that’s conducting an experiment and root of Gus and Jon’s predicament. Gus must confront the inner workings of his mind and take back control of his thoughts or else all that he knows, his friendship with Jon, and all that he desires, his passion for Marci, will soon be lost to the unchecked government secret known only as Touchtone.
vlcsnap-00008
The second film on the double feature, “Project Nightmare,” starkly contrasts in genre with “Murderlust.” “Project Nightmare,” otherwise known as “Touchtone,” is a science fiction thriller piggy backing as a bonus feature and the 1979 conduit for confusion showcases how scarily surrealistic director Donald Jones can achieve. An odd film that materializes shortly after Gus and Jon’s plight begins and doesn’t let up the enigmatic ambiance as the audience will surge deeply into the rabbit whole. Even though told linearly, “Project Nightmare” feels, in fact, like a nightmare, peppered with sporadic scenes of uncomfortable imagery and repetitive ambient noises and soundtrack that jar the senses. Jones’ direction and style denotes an appeal of black and white scenes, but, in color, the film works better to give an ominous a stimulating visual and without that color, the story just wouldn’t work.
vlcsnap-00010
Charles Miller and Seth Foster star as the baffled and lost campers Gus and Jon. They’re joined by Elly Koslo, as Marcie, and Harry Melching, as Carl the government scientist, who provide indifferent character roles or just products of the imagination to support the dreamlike atmosphere. As a whole, the actors’ dynamic was obsoletely rigged but in an unsettling Lynchian fashion causing your eye balls to stay with the scenes. “Project Nightmare’s” experience will make you feel you’re watching a film much older than produced with the costumes, the language, and the wood paneled elevator and granted that Jones’ isn’t big budget, but the director was able to deliver with the minuscule budget available to fruition a sci-fi odyssey.
vlcsnap-00011
Intervision Picture Corp has a snazzy, two-headed snake in “Murderlust” and “Project Nightmare” presented in full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a single channel Dolby Digital mono track. The original prints looks great with “Murderlust” slightly heftier in the cyan department during it’s 98 minute runtime. The single channel had better luck with the 74 minute runtime in “Project Nightmare and “Murderlust” had moments of softness where dialogue became a strength in exercising one’s hearing. Both issues listed didn’t hinder the final product; in fact, I’m quite pleased with the end result on both features. “Project Nightmare” has a natural presence that’s appeasing and “Murderlust” blankets itself warmly in, well, the associated Mojave desert. The bonus content on the Intervision release include two audio commentaries with writer-producer James Lane. The “Project Nightmare” commentary has partial audio. In conclusion, “Murderlust” might not be this tour de force of bloodletting hookers. The sheer realistic characteristics of a serial killer among us are more alarmingly exploited and continue the terrifying ordeal with “Project Nightmare,” a sci-fi sensory conundrum overloaded with spastic psychological terror from the Golden Age of film.

Murderlust

Buy Murderlust on DVD at Amazon!