Alkis Vidalis made friends while serving time in prison. Friends, in the very loose sense of the word, with a corrupt and wealthy businessman, Daniel Bezerianos. When Alkis’s freedom is granted, he’s quickly picked up by Bezerianos’ gangster enforcers to contrive a public viral video with Alkis delivering a verbal message that would exonerate the still imprisoned crime boss and put the blame solely on a rival kingpin, Joseph Forkou. Held in Bezerianos’ rural porn studio building, Alkis commits to the plan that will, for now, save his own skin and as he’s going through the numerous takes to get an absolute resounding performance that will surely free Bezerianos, in the back of his mind, he knows will be undoubtedly be disposed of once his use to Bezeriano has dried up. Alkis’s fight tooth and nail survival and plan-as-he-goes quick thinking must ensure his fate through a multi-level building and a slew of heavily armed henchmen from two criminal factions who all want him dead before the video is uploaded to the internet cloud.
Not many Greek films come across my desk as a reviewer, but when they do show up at the door or in the mailbox, extreme anticipation salivation to pop the disc in the player and hit play begins its rampant course through the core of my body and shoots straight up to my bloodshot eyeballs. Dimitris Tsilifonis’ “Do It Yourself” is no exception as the 2017 action-thriller challenges us to take matters, big or small, into our own hands when push comes to shove and backed into a corner. Written and directed by Tsilifonis, the filmmaker takes the point in his first feature opportunity, aiming high and executing a non-linear, non-formulaic storyline that will keep viewers guessing how, what, when, why and who. “Do It Yourself” seizes the system as a calculated thrill ride that’ll entertain, equaling the same amount of narrative hip-slinging causticity of the last Greek film ventured by Its Bloggin’ Evil, a zomedy known as “Evil: In the Time of Heros” starring Billy Zane and directed by Yorgos Noussias.
As a small time pawn, Alkis Vidalis has prowess in formulating plans quickly; they may not go accordingly and he may break a nose or a leg in the process, but Alkis, like a cat, always seems to land on his two feet when in a skirmish with hired henchmen, coming out bloody but on top. Alkis isn’t a killer but has to become one in order to survive and even though he’s the central character to the story, mystery shrouds around him in what drives the favorable anti-hero to not cower and stay alive other than pure, animal instinct. Konstadinos Aspiotis has the chops to bring Alkis to the screen and express that oxymoronic quality of unsure confidence in Alkis’s mob misadventure. Tsilifonis writes voice over monologue in Alkis’s voice, as if he’s telling a story to the audience, for exposition purposes that describe the setup and the characters which fundamentally weakens the film, but for this particular tale, the voice over monologue is warranted. Aspiotis has numerous interactions with various characters but more so with Makis Papadimitriou as Peter, a low-level enforcer trying to make a name for himself. More like a caretaker than an enforcer, Peter has one job: to make Alkis think they’re friends and then kill him. However, Peter, who isn’t necessarily a screw up, fudges his task and caught in one of Alkis’ fly by the seat of your pants plans. The character is etched with more a selfish attitude toward everything when the tables turn on him and Papadimitriou cultivates all of Peter’s self-regarding desires into the correct power and survival categories while his dynamic with Alkis is looking at himself in a mirror. They mirror so much so that both characters receive their own perspective of the same event. Other characters intertwine with the two leads and they’re played by Mirto Alikaki, Christos Loulis, Argyris Xafis, Panos Koronis, and Themis Panou.
Tsilifonis script has an affinity for pop culture, referencing various films and TV shows by name, such as Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” or HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for example, to juxtapose events and/or characters on a mafia level. Films and television shows are not alone in this homage of iconography as social media websites and their viral and trendy sensations are integrated into the script as table talk conversations. 4chan, Youtube, and The Fappening are particularly referenced when the editor of Alkis’s testimony, also a porn editor with an inflatable sex doll, finds the conservatively torrent side of Google’s acquisition of Youtube distasteful for edgy content and the humor in the bare exposures of star-studded private lives and photos with 4chan and The Fappening while thumb jockeying a Playstation controller in midst of conversation with Peter who seems relatively neutral about these things. Even though suavely placed, “Do It Yourself” frequently uses the pop culture tag words in excess that render them redundant and tiresome that when in retrospect, Tsilifonis could have completely omitted them and “Do It Yourself” can, well, do it itself. The only other gripe with “Do It Yourself” is if the plot takes place entirely in a porn studio, then where was the nudity? Am I wrong?
Artsploitation Films delivers another knockout thriller title from their eclectic catalogue with Dimitris Tsilifonis’s “Do It Yourself” on DVD home video, presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Between Aggelos Papadopoulous’ depth defying photography and the impressive visual effects that flawlessly moves and puts a building in the middle of nowhere, the transcendence image quality is one with this release as it’s practically impossible to conclude what’s real and what a visual effect. Other visual effects of displaying Ikea like instructions on the side of a building, showing the cell phone screen next to Alkis, or having subtitles embedded into portions of the wall are unique and clever, but too far and in between that ends up being an inconsistent inconvenience. The dim tint sets the tone while still mastering the color palate. The Greek language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound allows you to hear every glass break, every ping of a bullet ricochet, and every guttural and verbal echo in the reverberating car garage through the five channels. The prominently Greek with little English dialogue is in the forefront amongst a well-balanced range and depth of sounds like hearing the muffled voices behind glasses, the soft moans and groans of porn actors behind the fake walls, and, on the other side, the high squeal of a racing tire wheel. Bonus features include a three small featurettes that revels how the camera shot elevated up from ground level to the top, another was the visual effects breakdown in creating the building structure, and the last being two deleted scenes. Dimitris Tsilifonis’ has a commentary track and 14 minute short film “The Way of Styx” is also available. “Do It Yourself” is no Bob Vila special on how to repair the seeping drips from a leaky sink with your own two God-given hands, but the Dimitris Tsilifonis film bustles with fun in a deluge of crime and betrayal and that, my friends, is a priceless enlightened experience.
“A Taste of Phobia” brings together 14 international directors to the fold, executing their creative version of terror of various fears. From the fear of the dark to the fear of feces, each short compiled into this feature length film delves into what it means to be afraid of something that an average person regularly encounters on a daily basis. No ghouls, no monsters, and no ghosts stories here; “A Taste of Phobia,” or otherwise known as “Phobia,” explores the inherit human element, the everlasting internal struggle, and the mental conjuring of demons and the anxiety of the unknown that fabricates by and into fear itself. The psychological terror of phobias plagues each and every one of us and is never exclusive to a particular group or race of people, and that’s a haunting reality, especially in an time and age where suppressed personal emotions and issues lead to unfortunate suicidal circumstances. Some of the directors include Lorenzo Zanoni, Alessandro Sisti, Alessandro Redaelli, Alessandro Giordani, Rob Ulitski, Sam Mason Bell, and Davide Pesca.
A number of these filmmakers I’m not familiar with, but I do recognize a few names from the bunch by examining their previous work. Somniphobia is a sleep anxiety disorder which is the basis for the short written by Sophia Cacciola and directed by Michael J. Epstein, who also steps into the lead. “Blood of the Tribabes,” a vampiric melodrama, was my last experience with the Cacciola and Epstein duo, who have a passionate dynamic and chemistry when it comes to horror. Somniphobia is a whole different animal that’s more on a compact scale in comparison to their vampire feature and doesn’t necessarily tackle the perpetual fear of sleep; instead, Epstein portrays a contractor pushed to the limits, practically threatened by an employer, to finish coding a project to the point where he hasn’t slept in days. The lack of sleep and the various methods to try and stay awake by the power of suggestion have fried his brain to the point of self-inflicted harm. The writings good and the dark humor direction is a nice touch. Another recognizable filmmaker that stands out to me is Domiziano Christopharo. The “House of Flesh Mannequins” and “Red Krokodil” director has always exhibited a thirst for body horror and the Italian director places his talents in the kitchen with Mageirocophobia, aka the fear of cooking. Christopharo continues his brand of body-manipulation motif by telling a story of a woman, whose seemingly very good at putting together a tasty and savory fish dish, into a deeply disturbed woman who contemplates and nightmarishly fantasizes herself being the sliced, diced, and cooked to a crisp main dish.
Then, there are many filmmakers I’m not familiar with at all, but did enjoy their short entries. Sunny King’s Nyctophobia, aka fear of the dark, is hands down one of the best entries despite the slight ghost-like manifestation, but the Nigerian director fosters a tangible evil constructed by fear and his version of Nyctophobia is classic, very timeless, sans blood and shock to the point where the story plays out like a simple spook film. Very enjoyable, subtly powerful, and basically classic in tone, King reigns “A Taste of Phobia.” Now, that doesn’t mean Nyctophobia stands alone; UK’s Jackson Batchelor and his fear of politics, Politicophobia, has to be one of the more honest entries and, certainly, one of the more timely. The political undercurrent of two-faced politician is a phobia we can all get behind with their scummy, repetitive, and subliminal messaging campaign ads. Batchelor polar extreme sheds light on what a fear invoked person might experience when viewing just one of the hard-hitting, lying through the teeth campaigning juggernauts. The previous examples pinpoint heighten the emotional aspect of fear, but what if fear perpetuated madness, such as in Poison Rough’s Mysophobia, or fear of germs. The idea of bugs, dirt, or even microbes, crawling in the hair or on the skin gives one very particular man the creepy-crawlies to the breaking point where he’s forced to self-remove his own skin in order cease the sensation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some shorts didn’t make muster. Fear of feces, or Coprophobia, was just bizarre, daft, and, well, not even that gross for the titular phobia. The approach by churning schlock director Jason Impey was more juvenile than expected with a feces covered stuff animal rising out of the depths of a shit covered toilet and have actor Martin Payne portray a fight of physicality in a small bathroom that ends with Payne naked stabbing the metaphorical stuff animal. Dustin Ferguson’s Mazeophobia, fear of mazes, was another that flared out with a hispanic man driving around lost in America’s unforgiving conservative countryside. He eventually winds up in the hands of a pair of Trumpian wing nuts and the climax becomes a little fuzzy from there into editing shambles that hesitates to make sense of how the series of events play out.
Artsploitation Films, a Philadelphian based distributor seeking the dark and desolate corners of the world to bring to light international entertainment, releases horror-anthology “A Taste of Phobia” onto DVD home video. The anthology is presented in various ratio formats due to the different styles of filmmaking and, thus, a range of image qualities stand out to some that’s suffer from aliasing and blotching atrocities to others that surprising peak in picture value. The 2.0 stereo audio track, mostly English with some Italian and Spanish, have varied ranges, depths and balances as well. Bonus features include a bonus fear mini-movie entitled Achluophobia from director Jason Impey, a behind the scenes look at Michael J. Epstein’s Somniphobia and Chris Milewski’s Pharmacophobia, an interview with producer and one of the 14 fear directors Domiziano Christopharo, a little inside on the special effects for Pharmacophobia and Mageirocophobia, and a theatrical trailer. “A Taste of Phobia” pushes the limits to extremely visualize the niche fears in us all by packing 14 deadly phobias up into an anxiety-riddled anthology released by the good, but probably psychologically insane, people at Artsploitation Films!
Friday night, A stranger breaks into the home of Tom and Alison. After tying up and torturing Tom, leaving him in the bathtub, he reveals a weekend long scheme that involves convincing Alison to genuinely want him by Monday morning. The stranger’s psychological game slowly breaks down Alison’s perception of her relationship with her husband through consequential threats toward a battered Tom, survival obedience, relationship morals, and untapped desires while Alison desperately attempts to squeeze away her captor’s maniacal grasp any way possible. With Alison’s husband undergoing continuous abuse throughout the weekend, the stranger persistently exhibits various versions of being the perfect husband to appease Alison’s preference in a partner, a striking contrast that begins the spiraling doubts about Tom and the life to which she’s submitting to with him.
The director who gave audiences a reason to believe in their zany childhood imaginary friend in “Drop Dead Fred” and who drove viewers through the depths of Satan’s domain on the epic retrieval of love journey that was “Highway to Hell” has resurfaced. Director Ate de Jong’s 2014 film has found a home for his British exploitation thriller eloquently entitled “Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey.” at the Philadelphian based home entertainment distributor Artsploitation Films. An intense eye-opening experience that makes couples’ therapy a cut rate rekindling process, the “Deadly Virtues” story comes from the talented, yet relatively unknown, drafter Mark Rogers whose characters contribute a fierce and engaging potency.
Characters can be written from head to toe with gargantuan electricity, but it takes the actors and actress portraying the characters to actually flip their switches on, vividly toggling their characters to shine. Edward Akrout’s puts forth a dangerously sophisticated Stranger excellently defining the term acting. Every unique touch of the binding rope used on Tom and Alison, every calculated sinister action taken against Tom, and every apt expression emits just enough information to state the Stranger’s purpose without spoiling the character’s mysterious motivations. Akrout is joined by American actress Megan Maczko with a selfless performance that pits her character Alison in a cat-and-game mouse against the Akrout’s Stranger. There are bits of unwanted sexual activity and nudity and role playing BDSM that might mistakenly place Jong’s film in the incorrect genre; instead, Akrout, Maczko, and, even Matt Barber as Tom, acutely pivots the subject matter, even with the provocative nude and bound woman graced film poster.
Not all is copacetic with “Deadly Virtues.” Some of the pacing slows down a bit where the motivation feels arguably aimless as Alison quickly becomes content and comfortable with a man who just softly raided their home and violently turned their lives upside down. Also, as a matter of character, Tom needed fine sprucing from being painfully forceful with how the character critically needed to know, to ultimately compute, trivial information at the most inappropriate moments. The story itself might have forced Tom’s inadequacies and insecurity issues to completely tell the story within the total 97 minute runtime, but in the end, the finale loses that little something something to put the final nail into an already furbished piece of work by director Ate de Jong.
Artsploitation Films’ latest release, “Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey,” surfaces deep rooted marital issues in an extreme, hostile manner, bringing to the forefront the versus struggle of adapting or fighting back, and also touches upon the beauty of the overlooked. The film’s poster, which I already remarked upon having some minor nudity, accentuates a woman’s other pleasant bodily features including the small of her back, her long neck, and her protruding deltas which Akourt’s portrayal of the Stranger similarly remarks briefly upon when more pigheaded men not noticing, or appreciating, other, less obvious, parts of women. I’m sure for most viewers, gazing at Megan Maczko strung up and suspended in an inviting position can stimulate a lot of interest. “Deadly Virtues” is currently only exclusively available in United States via VOD formats, such as Amazon, Vimeo, and GooglePlay, courtesy of Artsploitation Films.
Ethan Walker is a brilliant scientific engineer, though he doesn’t look it with his long fire-hued beard and pot-belly midsection, but Walker, along with his colleague, believe to have accomplished the impossible: teleportation. When Walker decides to try his machine on himself, the realization of something terribly wrong overwhelms him. Walker didn’t invent a teleporter, he accidentally constructed a time machine, sending himself six months into a grim future where his wife and sister have been brutally murdered and he’s the sole prime suspect. The only way to make sense of the future and to solve the crime against him is to travel back to the past multiple times to unravel a sinister plot and stop the murder of those close to him.
To simply and conventionally tagline “Counter Clockwise,” George Moise’s 2015 directorial debut can easily be described as Terry Gilliam meets David Fincher. Part sci-fi thriller part dark comedy, the adventure of Ethan’s misadventures ingeniously signifies a harsh outlook on the saltiness of our predetermined universe while encountering outrageous and weird characters along the time warp. Ethan, no matter what he does or how he does it, has to use the accidental time machine to thwart the brutal death of his wife and sister and while his reasoning sounds fairly comical being the groundwork of what Albert Einstein calls madness, on-screen it’s rather heartbreaking and tragic to see this guy, an everyday looking joe, desperately attempt to deconstruct, from the unsolicited help of his future selves, a dastardly plot that will destroy everything he holds dear.
Penned also by George Moise, based off a story by brother Walter Moise, along with the film’s lead star, Ethan himself, Michael Kopelow, “Counter Clockwise” will change the way critics will perceive time travel storylines by not as a means of zipping back only once to change the forsaken past, but as a respawning Shakespearean tale of tragedy in order to continue to amend a hapless situation. A respawned Super Mario had more luck saving Princess Peach through the thicket of Koopa Troopas and the fire breathing Bowser. Though the character Ethan repeats his voyage, the way “Counter Clockwise” is written doesn’t convolute itself in the repetition, staging clues as a window into beyond the present and generating eerie and problematic, if seriously disturbed, episodes that doesn’t give Ethan a minute from tirelessly being objective. Combine those elements with George Moise’s neurotic direction and the result seizes to capture not only science fiction aficionados, but movie enthusiasts of every category in this genre-breaking feature. From the first moment of the opening scene, a strong familiar inkling of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” washes over you; the subtle hum of machinery, the slow panning from side-to-side, the very soft touch George Moise applies is uncanny and so endearingly respectful that the direction doesn’t feel like an absolute rip of Scott’s 1979 space horror classic.
Kopelow is the centerpiece that glues the story whole. As Ethan, Kopelow’s gentle giant approach is such a stark contrast to the surrounding darkness that has embodied nearly every other location and character, even his lip flapping, hard loving mother. Extreme opposite on the polar spectrum is voice actor Frank Simms as Roman, head of major corporation aiming to steal pioneered technology from Ethan at any cost. Simms’ talent has two settings in this film, hot and cold; his sound binary method works to composite a character so reasonably rational that when Roman snaps, a trickle of pee squeezes out and runs down your leg at his abrupt and menacing counter personality. The rest of the cast follows suit with pinpoint precision on their coinciding characters and even the eccentric cameo performances were otherworldly good from Chris Hampton’s relishing water fountain patron to Marty Vites one-eyed creepy landlord. Ethan’s landed in bizarre world that hums a very familiar tune in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” while the amount of downbeat content spurs moments of gritty David Fincher thrillers, especially in one particular scene with the brawny New Jersey native Bruno Amato being the ultimate bad guy henchman by raping a dead woman for spite and for pleasure. The cast fills out with Devon Ogden, Kerry Knuppe, Joy Rinaldi, Alice Rietveld, and Caleb Brown.
The Sex Scene Crew production, “Counter Clockwise,” is not an effects driven project. The indie sci-fi film relies on the trio of coordination efforts in refined editing, camera angles, and practical effects to deliver the intended message. Like I said before, George Moise is neurotic, providing the attention and detail to every scene as if a climatic money shot. Value is placed in the story and in the direction rather than diluting and cheapening with overrated, big budget computer generated special effects that can snap a film’s heart and soul like a thin twig. The biggest effect comes in the form of a composite, placing two Ethans in the same scene and working action off each other. Even the time traveling sequences are a basic edit that’s well timed with simple lighting techniques, gentrifying low budget films more toward a respectable level of filmmaking.
Artsploitation Films’ DVD release of “Counter Clockwise” is an edgy rip in space time continuum sci-fi thriller presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio option. Image quality pars well with modern releases and the same can be said about the audio, especially with the prevalent dialogue. Aside from conventional specs, Moise adds a sensory surplus to stimulate sight and sound hell-bent to strike an unnerving chord strummed simultaneously with providing an awesomely surreal effect. The DVD contains bonus features include “The Making of Counter Clockwise featurette, going behind the scenes of pre-production, production, and post-production. There are also five deleted scenes with commentary and a trio of commentary tracks that include the director, director and editor, and director and co-writer. “Counter Clockwise” is 91 minutes of time hopping suspense, packed with adversity and pitch black humor from start to finish and finish to start.
Timid sociopath Andrew patrons alone at a low-end bar, sipping delicately on straight whiskey and waiting for the perfect opportune moment to approach the right lonely woman. Andrew is not looking for a one night stand. Andrew is on the hunt for a victim, but when the night’s odds don’t seem to be in Andrew’s favor, a lovely young woman approaches him at the tail end of the night and begins to make small talk. After a night of coincided flirting, the woman seductively invites Andrew back to her motel room for some provocative foreplay, but before Andrew can move in for the kill, he suddenly realizes that the woman might just be as more of a sociopath than he could ever imagine by turning Andrew’s moment of a gratifying kill into her tragic tale of a more experienced and assured killer.
Suspense thriller “The Anatomy of Monsters” is the sophomore film from the multitalented writer-director Byron C. Miller and stars Tabitha Bastien, Jesse Lee Keeter, and Connor Marx in a twisted narrative involving love, death, and the struggle between the two. Miller, unfortunately, wrestles to keep buoyant the scope of his story contained as scenes teeter when holding an airtight structure as Bastien’s character, Sarah, asserts her mortal coil. Her plight doesn’t grasp the attention needed to draw in an audience; instead, the back and forth between her present plea with Andrew and her past of leading a double life of affliction with whether to act on her killer instinct with the love of her life or not either passively regresses or just stands completely in place, not moving a motivational inch to take the much needed mile in making us believe in Sarah’s tragic love story and the story is actually, well, tragic by not building the passion between Sarah and Nick, played coyly by Connor Marx, as they just hunker inside Nick’s quaint apartment, affixed to his bed or couch while contemplating their instantaneous love for each other.
A part of the film’s indelicate sting comes from Tabitha Bastien’s performance. Sarah, in the very definition of the character’s persona, is a sociopath which denotes a monotonous person to be without empathy, to have an ice cold demeanor, and to be calculating in their actions. While Bastien epitomizes a sizable amount of emotionlessness, her presentation leans a bit more toward being ingeniously staged, emitting a phoniness that doesn’t naturally crossover. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed Bastien was a T-100 cybernetic organism underneath a flesh and blood outer layer from “The Terminator’s” apocalyptic bleak future. What Bastien does attribute very well to “The Anatomy of Monsters,” aside from her mechanical display, is a pair of piercingly bright eyes set upon a unique belle face akin to that of the nice looking girl next door you peeping tom on through the cracks of your window shades. Jesse Lee Keeter opposites Bastien with a more genuine approach that favors a Michael C. Hall similarity complete with a kill kit. Keeter’s Andrew is an example of well-written hesitation, exhibiting more of a killer’s struggle to maintain a low profile whereas Sarah leaves nothing to the imagination, baring it all out on the proverbial table with the extreme potency of egocentric cockiness.
Along with Miller’s stationary script, the industrial rocker’s sporadic editing technique can be best described having a short-sighted attention span and his shaky handheld camera visually impairs the viewing pleasure of one monster’s monstrous thirst for death. “The Anatomy of Monsters” feature does play the role of being the quintessential independent product, but without stability and patience, Miller’s artistic craftsmanship suffers heavily from the technical aspects with really the only exception stemming from the minor gore scene during Andrew’s brief description of past murders, committing to a solid neck piece mock-up that realistically seeps blood in order to get the good throat slit shot.
A fond blend of John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and Showtime’s “Dexter,” “The Anatomy of Monsters” is slated for a DVD and Video on Demand release on November 15th from the Philadelphian distributor Artsploitation Films. Certainly a film that’s an attestant to an American-horror, Byron C. Miller explores the corners of the dark and deranged minds associated with serial killers while meddling through the conventional intimate affairs of the masses, spurring an atomically explosive situation from a slowly, simmering boil. Though technically unattractive with arguably underwhelming and sulky performances, suggestions of a greater notion leaves behind an everlasting scar tissue from the necessary urges and the unquenchable desires of a killer can be appreciated.