Money is the Root of All EVIL! “Beasts Clawing at Straws” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Artsploitation Films)

A middle-aged man working a meager job at a gentleman’s bathhouse finds a Louis Vuitton bag full of money when routinely checking the storage lockers at closing.  Unsure about what to do with the money, he stows the bag away in the backroom and continues a moral, yet pauper’s, life while dealing with financial and family troubles at home.  Meanwhile, a border customs agent finds himself in severe debt with an unstable loan shark after his girlfriend skates and disappears with a large borrowed sum.  With a week to come up with the money, plus interest, he calls upon his distant cousin to assist in scamming a scammer who illegally came into some money, but things go awry when an overly friendly and clingy cop begins to snoop around.  Lastly, a prostitute grinds tirelessly to work off a large debt her abusive husband continues to blame her for with night after night beatings.  She jumps into bed with a young, handsome foreigner and her eager to support female boss to off her husband and collect the insurance money.  Yet, these troubled souls find that sticking to their convictions doesn’t always bode well as the unexpected happens in a blink of an eye.

The Asian film machine has mastered the art of the crime thriller from a proven track record that began with Akira Kurosawa films, if not even before that, and has chronically grown stronger, and sometimes more peculiar, with choice stylistic elements, suggestive themes, and extreme violence that has garnered, to much disdain, Westerner attention over the last 20 years with films like Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Internal Affairs” being Americanized with a Hollywood remake.  With that being said in an upward trend of remakes spilling over the edge, there would be no eye-brow raising surprise if the introductory film, the tri-narrative crime drama idiomatically titled “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” from South Korean filmmaker, Kim Yong-hoon, will one day grace the English silver screens in a diluted variation of a Brad Pitt featured carbon copy.  Based of the Keisuke Sone neo-noir novel of the same name, Kim Yong-hoon’s pulpy impression of against-the-wall misdeeds is dog-eat-dog dark comedy gold.  “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is produced by Jang Won-seok (“The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil”) and is a production of Megabox Plus M films (“Zombie for Sale”) and B.A. Entertainment.

The three prong, greed-catapulting narrative converge characters separately at first and then string them linearly together when the picture becomes clearly what exactly each one of them is chasing, but every story is magnetized to a single focal point, a person under immense pressure, stress, and the malice forces that thirst for their humility, kinetically embarking on the bad choice choo-choo steaming toward the station of vary bad things.  Bae Seong-woo stars as a downtrodden Joong-man, a middle-aged man stuck in the rut of poverty with a geriatric, browbeating mother, a fatigued wife, and busting his rump in a dead end job.  Seong-woo combats himself as a man tight rope walking the thin line of ethic principles when opportunity knocks at his door, but his ill-timed strike to grab life by the balls blows up in his face in a farce of instant karma leaves him less than what he had before.  Then there’s a Tae-young, a comfortably Governmental positioned customs agent facing a different kind of hardship when his ex-girlfriend, Yeon-hee, disappears with a borrowed lump sum of a gangster’s money and he’s left on the fence.  “Illang:  The Wolf Brigade’s” Jung Woo-sung plays into the desperate stench of the superstitious and ambitious customs agent.  Slightly cradling the severity of the situation, Jung amply positions Tae-young’s dilemma that resembles spearfishing in a barrel and he’s the fish.  The last story follows the abused wife Mi-ran, played reservedly by Shin Hyun-bin as a desperate woman looking to bank her soon-to-be dead’s insurance money.  When Mi-ran is abetted by motive-dueling pair of instigators, she finds that paying her debt can be more severe than ever imagined.  While sitting back and basking in the stir-craziness of the leads’ turmoiled chaos, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles of Kim Jun-han as an intestine devouring, fanny-pack wearing henchman, Park Ji-hwan as Tae-young’s bumbling, but begrudgingly loyal distant cousin, and Jung Man-sik as a breezy mobster with a cherry, yet malevolent disposition.  Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Bae Jin-wong, and Heo Dong-won round out the cast.

Non-linear yet interconnected in story, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” hawks a Tarantino layered thriller with colorful deplorables from all walks of life and luxuries.  Kim Yong-hoon nourishes the unbridled, free-for-all nature of diving into the murky, shark-infested waters uncaged and tethered with cuts of raw steaks dangling from the pelvis area in this two wrongs don’t equal a right account of mistrusting desperation and misguided optimism.  Kim’s style echoes the likes of the popular “Pulp Fiction” filmmaker along the lines of shooting techniques and a frank view of violence to tell the frantic clutching of hanging onto what is left of tattered lives and borrowed time while disavowing pure, unadulterated nihilism by at least giving characters a grain of hope.  With any non-linear, multiple moving part films, individual aspects tend to become lost in order for pacing and “Beasts Clawing at Straws” doesn’t fall into the excluded category as factors that play into the main quandary are left hanging, such as in Yeon-hee’s circumstantial results of jetting off with a mobster’s money as the assumption is there, but nothing is fully concrete in her storyline.  The same indiscernible spousal battery stemmed from Mi-ran and her husband’s severe debt that leads to transgressions beyond marital misuse isn’t privy to the audience of how circumstances come about surrounding their predicament and we’re forced to speculate and shoulder an explanation that doesn’t quite feel justified.  However, neither of the slapdash developments hinder “Beast Clawing for Straws’” steamrolling posture to get that desirable bag full of problem-solving, filthy lucre. 

Artsploitation Films delivers a stylish and avaricious South Korea crime drama with “Beasts Clawing for Straws” into the U.S. Blu-ray home video market. The not rated BD25, high-definition 1080p release is presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and nears the epitome of flawless. Aside from the picture slightly flickering, more noticeably on solid colored backdrops, the hue palette is absolutely gorgeous with the neon lights of South Korean cities, the breathtaking silhouettes of the natural mountains adjacent to a lifelessly still lake, and the variety of settings from an airy fish house to a modern, symmetrically designed bordello denote a keen eye by Kim Tao-sung. The South Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound couldn’t be any better with a crystal clear aptitude for strong dialogue balanced in front of a robust soundtrack accompanied by deep range of ambience from fire crackling to the faint hint of rain drops audible from inside a restaurant, solidifying the depth package as well. English subtitles are available along with an English dub track in a dual channel Dolby stereo. What’s lacking with this release is bonus material as there is virtually nothing besides four Artsploitation trailers and the film’s own theatrical trailer. Parlous and deadpan funny, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” amazes as Kim Yong-hoon’s first time effort with the technical grace and the story construction that has been a paradigm for only a handful of notable directors able to execute an impeccable result.

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Sit Back. Relax. And Wank Off to EVIL’s “Live Feed” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

While on vacation in China, five friends traverse the local festivities and drinking holes, relaxing in the surroundings of an alien culture of their getaway destination, but when one of them accidently bumps into a depraved Chinese Triad boss, they believe to have nearly escaped a localized international incident with the help of a Japanese vacationer who seems to know quite a bit about this particular Triad boss.  To blow off steam, and to blow off some loads, the friends patron the Venus Theater, a sleazy porno theater offering 1-hour couples VIP rooms.  Their short-lived, and short-comings, visit turns into a terrifying nightmare of broadcasted kill rooms as they find themselves trapped inside the theater owned by the Triad boss for his personal snuff cinema experience and fine dining of cannibal cuisine.  Fried dong and balls are 100% MSG free. 

With a Ryan Nicholson directed film, you never know just what to expect.  From our reviews of the Vancouver native’s work, his teen slasher “Famine” was an angsty disappointment, his destitute slaughterhouse “Collar” collided technical gaffes with sordid satisfaction, and his most renowned direction on the bowling-themed retro-slasher, “Gutterballs” displayed a primal brilliance that rolled one hell of a strike down the lanes of indie filmmaking, but the late, great gore hound filmmaker always lit up our screens with a single reoccurring theme – flashes of red.  Lots and lots of red blood that is!  The blood geysers and gushes in heaps in Nicholson’s 2006 release, the written and directed, “Live Feed” that touts SOV violence in an arcane snuff style.  Co-written with his father, Roy Nicholson (“It Waits”), the self-taught, special effects prodigy bursts onto the full length feature scene with an introductory exploitation and survival horror full of ambition, insane effects, and a narrative bred specifically for fountaining blood.  Self-funded under Nicholson’s Plotdigger Films, the ”Live Feed” legacy continues to output interest in the gore and snuff subcategories with updated home video distributed releases throughout the years, keeping the resourceful, twisted humor filmmaker alive and well in our hearts and collections. 

The story revolves around five friends, or more intimately, the hapless stars of a snuff theater production, who are not the most chaste or morally concerned individuals finding themselves center stage because of their wanton whims and uninhibited fortes.  Out of the touristy Americans in a given the impression of being a strange and sordid foreign land, one of them quickly becomes established as the primary beacon of hope as an unassertive wiser in Emily played by Taayla Markell in her first lead performance.  Though their long history makes for easy persuasion into participating, from a distance, in their lewd behaviors, Emily’s hemmed in around familiar perversities derived from her good friends and even her finance.  Mike, a muscular, drug-fueled blowhard develops his crass charisma from “Stan Helsing’s” Lee Tichon, Mike’s current and former girlfriends, Sarah and Linda, in tinge of tattered relationships by Caroline Chojnacki and Ashley Schappert, and Darren, Emily’s douchebag, philandering fiancé played by “Skew’s” Rob Scattergood, lead Emily astray from her own self-preserving inner voice when their arrogance and laxed attitudes place them in hot water with a sadistic Triad Boss.  Stephen Chang fills in the gangster roll with a plastic energy that’s over-the-top and absurd just like the two women who hang off each side of his arm in hackneyed fashion, offering very little to outshine as a sadistic megalomaniac.  Luckily for the out-of-towners who are soon-to-be-goners, they coincidently meet the conversant Miles Nakamura (“Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s” Kevan Ohtski) who round houses his way through a torrent of bad guys to save his newfound American friends, but for what reason goes over our heads other than the potential guilt of knowing he left them to their demise.  Greg Chan, Mike Bennett, Ted Friend, Colin Foo and introducing boner-fide stripper, Charlene McCulloch, with an in your face pole dance rounding out the cast.   

Whether in a stroke of good luck or an ill-timely misfortune, Eli Roth’s highly popular and profitable “Hostel” was released a year earlier in 2005 and while Nicholson’s surely cantered behind that gore porn locomotive in the early 2000’s that sauntered a path for many filmmakers to make unbridled torture and tits productions in the wake, “Hostel” undoubtedly provided some hinderance by scraping some of the shock value from off the sticky theater venue floors of “Live Feed.”  The characters were also nothing to write home about, or in this case, to write highly about, as the circumstances that churn the dynamics amongst their closed circle friendship don’t dissolve until well onto the cusp of being dismembered and thus becoming a moot investable or relatable venture that was, in a way, still crawling for the finish line with spotty payments on Darren and Emily’s acute about-face relationship, the only turbulent character context that saw contentious action.  Yet, there is wonder why “Live Feed” even attempts to brittle or outright break the bonds between friends and lovers in a film that’s all about the blood, about the blood, no trouble, as I channel my Megan Trainor phrases that probably sounds better in my head than in my review.   Unless Emily and Darren’s woes play later into the story, as a point of significant break from the other or in a glimmer of salvaging something between them, the purpose is purposeless and the blood should pool together the entire snuff narrative without an emotional hiccup.  Speaking of blood, the effects between Jason Ward (“American Mary”) and Ryan Nicholson couldn’t have been better executed with a pliable, tangible, and free from visual imagery arsenal at their fingertips with prosthetics upon prosthetics of grisly skirmish matter.

“Live Feed” has it all:  cannibalism, decapitations, sex, bondage, medieval torture, kung fu, snakes, pole dancing, barbecued penis, sword play, a “Big Trouble in Little China” old man Lo-Pan lookalike, and gallons of spattering blood.  All of the above now arrives uncut and uncensored onto an Unearthed Films Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release.  The region A BD50 presents the transfer in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enclosed with various formatted styles from the poor resolution of SOV to a full-bodied and unstrained digital playback lit up with vibrant neon lightening by director of photography, Sasha Popove, to create an illuminating florescent color splay of a universal Asian urban district.  The sundry of styles can be weighty on the sequences that challenge what should be natural segues into the next scene, but the format choices, from mostly handheld vantage points, interrupt the flow with a nonsensical fluidity.  Unearthed Films amassed a legacy-stamping amount of extra content with a commentary with Ryan Nicholson and cast, a making-of segment entitled “Behind the Blood” which is geared toward being a tell-all on how they spun and produced “Live Feed’s” fruition, a return to the Venus Theater location with a low-key walkthrough of scene locations and you get a little X-rated show during a live project run, deleted scenes, alternate scenes and ending, the video feed footage, photo gallery, trailers, and a short film entitled “Womb Service” of the softcore feature playing background of the feature story. There’s also an “Adult version” of “Live Feed” in the bonus material that includes the original runtime feature but with edited in hardcore footage; however, personally, did not notice any sultry inserts. Maybe they’re brief and missable…? In the experience unravelling Ryan Nicholson’s work, “Live Feed” is the filmmaker’s second best movie with wholehearted intention to jazz it up with as much blood and exploitation as possible and his loss, as a person and an exorable filmmaker with room for ghoulish growth we’ll never experience, stings to this day.

“Live Feed” blu-ray now on sale at Amazon.com. Click the cover to go to Amazon.

EVIL Trifles With a Vindictive Obsessed Cop in “Split Second” reviewed! (MVDVisual / Blu-ray)

Global warming has taken a toll on the Earth’s polar ice caps in 2008 with cascading amounts of water flooding around the world bringing knee high waters to coastal cities.  London is hit hard with drenching sewer overflows and coastal run overs that result in an over infestation of rats to storm the streets, back alleys, and even resident homes, carrying a harmful disease in their occupation.  However, something else compounds the rat plague that slashes at random victims, tearing their hearts out violently from their chests without ever leaving a witness except for one, a rogue and paranoid detective Harley Stone whose partner was slain in one of the deadly attacks and himself marred by the killer. Partnered with a new hot shot know-it-all detective following the murders, an obsessed Stone confronts his haunting traumas as he continues to pursue the inhuman perpetrator who has a psychic connection to Stone, personally toying with the on-edge officer, and has kidnapped his girlfriend as bait.

Even though 2008 has come and gone now almost 12 years ago, Tony Maylam’s 1992 actionized-creature feature “Split Second” still holds water just like the rising tide pools on the streets of London.  “The Burning” director, Maylam, helms, with the finishing touches of the final sequences directed by Ian Sharp after Maylam’s sudden departure, a fast paced and snarky script penned by Gary Scott Thompson as one of the writer’s very first big budget outputs from nearly 30 years ago that was followed up with major studio films, including a little project you may or may not have heard of, “The Fast and The Furious” mega franchise.  Before nitrous suped-up cars hot-rodding on asphalt, jumping high speed trains, and flying off cliffs in a lap strap of criminal activity luxury, Thompson created a formidable, heart-devouring beast that became the trap-setting, trophy-hunting predator and the teeth-snapping, chest-bursting xenomorph all in one package to symbolize the irreversible and ignored effects of an overpopulated, warming planet.  “Split Second” is a production of Challenge Film Corporation and produced by Muse Productions with Chris Hanley, Laura Gregory, and Keith Cavele serving in a producer role.

The Netherlands’ very own Rutger Hauer sheds his nice guy exterior for Harley Stone’s shell-shocked, rough and tough outer shell.  The late “Blade Runner” and “The Hitcher” actor brings a certain cinematic coolant to “Split Second’s” overheating fringe of disproportionate action and science fiction horror, a lop-sidedness typical of a Rutger Hauer production, by being larger than life in the little aspects that add to the dimensions of the scene, making every moment famished for Stone’s next eccentric and animated move.  Stone is partnered with an equally vigorous Detective Dick Durkin who starts out as a cultured drip of criminal activity and an astronomical proficient before quickly blooming into the same gritty mirror image of Stone.  Credited as Neil Duncan, the current vocational voice actor Alastair Duncan has a natural dynamic with Hauer despite their asymmetrical careers and endures an incredible character arc successfully turning Durkins’ relatively square image – though debatable with smart, good looking, and gets sex every day swagger – into a Stone acolyte after witnessing the human threatening existence of an unnatural ferocious monster.  The female love interest didn’t seem to fit the “Split Second’s” gentle steampunk lace and zany character scheme with Kim Cattrall as Stone’s estranged girlfriend, Michelle McLaine.  As much as love the “Big Trouble in Little China” actress’s late 80’s to early 90’s career, the girlfriend role feels sorely plopped into the film for the sake of having a love interest as much of the character is illuminated through exposition with McLaine being the wife of Stone’s former partner stemmed from her and Stone’s affair and then lingers her subsequent alienation from the rogue cop despite an inextinguishable flame between them. As Cattrall provides the sexiness in the city of London, McLanie iss aesthetically airy without tangible substance other than kick in the pants motivation for saving. “Split Second” rounds out with the late Pete Postlethwaite (“The Lost World: Jurassic Park”), Alun Armstrong (“Van Helsing”), Stewart Harvey-Wilson and “Scoorged’s” Michael J. Pollard as London’s the rat catcher.

“Split Second” is an early nineties junket spiraling with flashy facets of easily digestible, entertaining chewables that continuously hits all the right flavor sensations in terms of acting, dialogue, production design, creature design, and cinematography. The bonkers script and equally as bonkers visual concept inserts an extremely likable brazen world of the future in the form of a dank, or danker, London under one or two feet of water; in every moment Stone or Durkin hit the streets, they’re essentially swimming in brown street liquid and the overall effect places a blanket of filth glazing over my eyes and secreting out of my captivated body is a cold spine-shivering chill that’s immersive to Stone and Durkin’s slushing around. Stephen Norrington, who went on to direct “Death Machine” and “Blade,” slapped together a fairly effective creature design despite the creature rarely being in full exhibition and for very good reason. A brief flash of razor sharp fingers, a quick dash of unearthly skin, and the gruesome aftermath in it’s wake evolved a better rendition of the creature in our minds than perhaps the actual resulting appearance with result that tacked on one big mysterious allure that doubled down coinciding with the principle characters who also has never seen the killer before. “Split Second” is constantly suspended in action with little down time to reflect on the theme of global warming and it’s life-changing choking effects that not only rushes thousands of gallons of water onto the streets and increase the survivalist rat population up to nearly impossible control levels, but also tampers with the balance of astrometric forces, bringing evil to the world in the form of a heart-eating devil to the surface when astrology deemed the moon in position for such an event and that’s also perhaps the downside to Tony Maylam’s film. The monster bares little backstory to sink one’s teeth into and raises an immeasurable amount of unanswered questions relating to the fate that intertwined Stone into the creature’s inner sphere of extrasensory perception, the origins of the creature and it’s genetic makeup, and the relationship between it and the cult correlations.

A melting pot of feculent and bloodshed pother, “Split Second” arrives onto a high definition Blu-ray courtesy of 101 Films and on MVDVisual’s MVD Rewind Collection banner. The region free, R-rated feature is presented in 1080p with a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a newly 4K scan complete with restoration and coloring grading from the original 35mm negative. The inviting image, with adequate grain and a cigarette burn here and there, basks mainly in a steely blue among other primary colors rearing up while thick with a brightly contrasted neo-noir shadow wrung through. Skin textures are consistently and continuously glistening with sweat setting on top of the natural coloring and the facial follicules present a rather sharp image, making this release the best looking transfer to date. The English language 2.0 LPCM stereo mix doesn’t let up with a robust mix of forefront dialogue, a balance of range and depth, and a pulsating cheesy-action soundtrack Stephen Parsons and Francis Haines. English subtitles are optionally included. The heft bonus features package includes exclusive content such as an audio commentary by action film history Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venerma, a new conversation entitled “Great Big Bloody Guns!” between actor Alastair Duncan and producer Laura Gregory, a “Call Me Mr. Snips!” interview with composer Stephen Parsons, a “Stay in Line!” interview with line producer Laura Borg, a “More Blood!” interview with creature effects designer Cliff Wallace, and a “Shoot Everything!” interview with cinematographer Clive Tickner. But, wait, there’s more! Also included is the original making of feature with stars Rutger Hauer, Kim Cattrall, Alastair Duncan, Michael J. Pollard, writer Gary Scott Thompson, original behind the scenes feature with effects creator Stephen Norrington and other cast and crew, the “Second Split” Japanese cut includes the deleted scenes and built in Japanese subtitles, 7 promotional TV clips, U.S. VHS home video promo, theatrical trailer, and a MVD exclusive reversible sleeve with artwork from The Dude Designs, cardboard slipcover, and mini-poster insert. The difficult decision to determine Rutger Hauer’s best work can be daunting as the man is King Midas with every project he touches, but “Split Second” reveals now more than just being pure gold with this MVD Rewind Collection Blu-ray release that’s a must own, must have, must see, and a must collect physical release of the rundown of a monster-run amok, neo-noir, steampunk, action-comedy-horror….in a nutshell.

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EVIL Hatches a Plan Against EVIL! “Death Laid an Egg” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The Chicken farm and trading association industry lies on the fringe of near collapse and poultry scientists are hastily working on a solution experimenting with chicken embryos to create more meat for a nosediving commerce, but that doesn’t concern farm owner Marco whose more interested in having an affair with his wife’s young and beautiful cousin, Gabrielle, as well as moonlighting in his perverse side hobby of killing prostitutes at a hotel room.  Marco’s wife, Anna, who runs the farm single handily with the assistance of newly purchased machines, is ignorant of Marco and Gabrielle’s more-than-casual dalliance.  When a genetic modification accident produces the bulbous, meaty parts of live chickens without the heads, necks, and wings, the chicken association sees this changing event as the potential saving grace for chicken farmers everywhere and a financial reconciliation from foreboding ruin, but Marco wants nothing to do with the horrors of livestock manipulations and abominations.  Unable to understand his hesitation, Anna’s frustration is compounded by an anonymous note about Marco’s “affairs” with prostitutes that sends a simmering love triangle into a deadly internal coup.

What came first, the Chicken or the Egg?  In Giulio Questi’s inverted giallo thriller, “Death Laid an Egg,” the insoluble question parallels another question, who is deemed more sordid, an unchaste husband with a decadent desire for killing prostitutes or those conniving a plot involving murder to expose his vices and overthrow his wife for total control of their budding chicken farm? The 1968 Italian Giulio Questi and Franco Arcalli (“Tis Pity She’s A Whore”) written collaboration roosts at the edge of being an Italian murder mystery because of the atypical structure not terribly familiar to the genre and it’s fandom. Instead an unknown, gloved hand killer with a switchblade reflected with gleamingly terrified eyes of a barely clothed young woman screaming at the very top of her lungs, “Death Laid an Egg” is an Italian-French coproduction between Summa Cinematografica, Cine Azimut, and Les Films Corona.

At the epicenter of this switcheroo intrigant and strange triangular love affair are Marco, his wife Anna, and Anna’s younger cousin, Gabrielle, and only one of them, one of the three inside and out of the chicken farm, don’t entangle themselves in illicit activity.  French born actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant, stars as the diverging Marco with infatuating love sickness for his wife’s secretarial cousin, Gabrielle.  The “So Sweet… So Perverse” and “Malevil” star emits a pressurizing performance, ready to melt down and volatilely combust, when Marco agitatedly paces between Anna (Gina Lollobrigida of the French versions of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” of 1956) and Gabrielle, played by a relatively newcomer to the silver screen from Sweden in Ewa Aulin (“I Am What I Am”) to traverse from an old love to a new love despite the possibility of losing his entire livelihood.  The two female principles’ distinct personalities make for a great Trojan horse of shocking betrayal that goes against the grain and against the proverb that blood is thicker than water and Questri exploits with hard unstrung scenes of choppy segues that leave behind granular clues to their intentions in an almost abstract, auteur series of events.  When the love triangle because a quartet and actions become clearer with the clarity in advertisement specialists, Mr. Mondaini’s, underhanding involvement, a role shrouded in apprehensive mystery by Jean Sobieski, the enigma dissipates rapidly into a more tempered narrative of ill-tempered acts.  None of the four actors are cherished with equivalent screen time, orbing around more Marco’s ping-pong, zig-zag unconventional philandering and Gabrielle’s supporting role as Anna’s relative confidant, and this creates a visceral tension in the forefront of a economic crisis in the chicken farm market.

Giulio Questi always seemed to be pulling back the, excuse the pun, yoke to never let “Death Laid an Egg” fully nosedive into a blaze of a gruesome glorified giallo full of sleuth paranoia and scantily-cladded female victims stalked, hunted, and, eventual, murdered, but the Italian film, which saw a fair share of censorship cuts bordering around those aforesaid attributes, had no pretense about being a part of the traditional sense of the genre in the first place.  I wouldn’t even consider Questi’s film a typical example of the giallo’s Poliziotteschi subgenre though may have been more of a byproduct of the time period with the chicken economic crisis being a metaphor for the socio-political unrest, known as Years of Lead, that began in Italy in the 1960s.  The story’s crestfallen poultry association and it’s desperation for a godsend out of the newfangled embryotic manipulation procedures parallel, or perhaps even dominate, the plotline with a subplot coiled around Marco and Anna’s estranged life together in an allegorical fashion; the bastardization of genetically altering embryos is forcing the chickens’ hands to unravel a certain, horrible way and the same can be said for Marco and Anna who succumb to duplicitous external forces manipulating their every move toward an outcome that’ll likely destroy and takeaway not only their nest egg farm but could also cost them their very lives.  “Death Laid an Egg” does present a substantial amount of sexualization where Questi focuses, and sometimes lingers on, the half-naked portions of the actresses bodies.  The established Gina Lollobrigida and the up-and-coming Ewa Aulin, plus a handful of bit role prostitutes, show a fair amount of skin without ever baring the tongue-lapping essentials with Questi, in a stream of elegance, captures their shadowy curvatures and even loiters on the more publicly unpopular parts of women, such as around the abdomen or the shoulders, while obscuring more private areas with on set censoring, perhaps due in part of the Italian censor boards guidelines of the time.  In a feverish attempt to unclog Giulio Questi’s inscrutable character exploits, “Death Laid an Egg” shrouds itself with pygmy themes of obsession between death, lust, and control that tip-toe over a cracking, crackling egg shell in a rouse of debauchery indiscretions.

Releasing on a very special edition Blu-ray release, genre label Cult Epics proudly issues a limited edition, Hi-Def package of “Death Laid an Egg” with two versions of the Giulio Questi avant-garde giallo on a region free BD50, a 105 minute director’s cut and a 91 minute alternate international giallo Plucked version. Both versions of the film went through a 2K HD scan from the original 35mm negative, that’s been preserved quite well, renders a touch of pristine celluloid with hardly a flaw in it’s crisp technicolor perspicuity amongst the natural, stressed grain in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation. The Italian-English mono 2.0 LPCM casts a lively track across it’s broad audio spectrum with clear, forefront dialogue leading the charge with the purposeful and prosaic ambience and the harshly dissonance of viperous synth-and-string soundtrack from Bruno Maderna in strong supporting roles. Bonus features are aplenty with no only the alternate Plucked version of the film, but also with exclusive content such as a director’s cut commentary with Troy Howart & Nathaniel Tompson, a review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini, a final interview with Giulio Questi entitled “The Outsider,” the short film by Questi “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” from 2002, with English and Italian language trailers, a reversible sleeve, and a limited slipcase printed with Fluoro inks! “Death Laid an Egg” dispenses more than just an effectual variation of giallo being also an odious bullet piercing the ramifications of modern technology and played on the blinding perversions of the weak minded that became the seeds that sowed their own ruin.

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A Disciple of EVIL! “The Brides of Dracula” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

Marianne Danielle travels alone on the mucky and fog-riddled roads of Transylvania, traversing from France to be a student-teacher at a prestigious dance school for girls. When her coachmen departs without warning, leaving her stranded at a village inn, the Baroness Meister extends an invitation for Marianne to stay with her an the illustrious manor house, but the sign of compassionate hospitality turns into a near deadly encounter as Marianne discovers the Baroness’ son, the Baron Meister, chained against his will in an isolated room. As Marianne is tricked into removing his shackle, she unwittingly releases a conniving vampire into the surrounding village who prays on young women, but, nearby, Dr. Van Helsing has been summoned the Transylvania countryside by the local priest to hunt down the disciples of Dracula, the most powerful vampire Van Helsing had fought and prevailed. In order for the vampire plague to not spread like a virus, Van Helsing will stop at nothing from slaying the Baron Meister to stop the metastasizing of Dracula’s curse against mankind.

Let’s take a step back into time, 1960 to be exact, when Hammer Horror brought a flair for the dramatic to iconic monsters, lush with not only vibrant color schemes, but also in elaborate production designs that scaled the imagination while evoking fear of Satan’s most prolific profaner, the vampire, in Terence Fisher’s “The Brides of Dracula.” The sequel to “Horror of Dracula,” starring Christopher Lee as the titular character, staked vitality two years after the first film’s success and sought to return Peter Cushing back into the good doctor’s shoes once again to battle evil. Shot on lot at Bray Studios and with the grand house exteriors of the nearby Oak Court, “The Brides of Dracula” had greatly masqueraded the elegance and sophistication of the gothic design, bringing settings to life with monumental attention to detail. Before the shooting draft was ready, the script saw numerous rewrites which caused the narrative to fall into numerous hands and, so, the script is built on an overlapping composition of writers, such as Jimmy Sangster (“Horror of Dracula”), Peter Bryan (“The Plague of the Zombies”), Anthony Hinds (“The Curse of the Werewolf”), and Edward Percy. Hinds financed the film under Hammer Film Productions in association with Universal International.

In stark contrast to Christopher Lee’s dark veneer that ennobled Dracula’s arcane and evil presence, David Peel brought a different kind of vampire stemmed off of Lee’s main bole as a disciple of the Prince of Darkness turned because of the Baron Meister’s uninhibited living the life of Riley. With blonde hair and a lighter complexion, Baron Meister became something of a pretty boy vampire that definitely propelled Peel into something of a sex symbol after the film’s initial release. While Peel’s terrific performance goes without wane, Baron Meister sticks out like a sore thumb with the lighter hair color and babyface dermis. The Meister is hunted down by the one and only legendary vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing, from Bram Stoker’s novel. Peter Cushing revives his performance from “Horror of Dracula” with a another meticulous and defining act that epitomizes the character’s nature as a knowledgeable and dignified combatant against the dark arts. Cushing versus Lee is the epic King Kong versus Godzilla faceoff that doesn’t leave much room for David Peel in a fight that’s more like King Kong versus King Koopa. The leading role went to French actress Yvonne Monlaur who, at the time, spoke really good English with a thick accent. The “Circus of Horrors'” Monlaur added beauty and innocence being ruthlessly taken advantage of as the hapless Marianne Danielle. With striking red hair and definitely a sex symbol, Monlaur was paraded as one of Hammer Horror’s finest leading ladies to ever grace their terrorizing tenure in genre. “The Brides of Dracula” has a supporting cast like none other with performances from Martita Hunt as the Baroness Meister, Freda Jackson as Baron Meister’s Renfield-like caretaker, Andree Melly as Marianne’s colleague, Gina, Miles Malleson as a greedy blowhard physician, and Mona Washbourne and Fred Johnson as the dance school’s proprietors.

“The Brides of Dracula” has lush, expensive looking production designs from Bernard Robinson that delicately acknowledge a 19th century coach and buggy society and creates a gothic tincture to brood in the bat-flying, eye-catching, blond-haired vampire sinking his canine’s into the untarnished flesh of young women. Yet, Fisher’s follow-up doesn’t add anything to the vampire etymology nor does it tack onto the mythos and, instead, clings barely to a compelling good versus evil narrative closely suited more toward one of the working titles, Disciple of Dracula. “The Brides of Dracula” bewilders as a final title that not once broaches the women stalked by the bloodsucker who seems to attack the random village virginals and, also, barely references Dracula, whom the harem of titular vampires are not at the crook of his pale elbow, but the now 60-year-old film, which I can still remember seeing on television back 30-year-ago, remains as one of the most memorable Hammer productions. Was it because of the enriched looking, old-fashion look? I’d say yes. Was it because of the soap opera designed performances that lavished in melodrama? I’d say yes. Was it because of the undertones of lesbianism, rape, and other taboo-esque themes? I’d say it was all of the above that drove “The Brides of Dracula” in not only being an opening day success but also encapsulating the legacy of Hammer Horror.

“The Brides of Dracula” is the unholy, unceremonious matrimony from hell and has come far from its run on the television with a new high definition Blu-ray collectors edition from Scream Factory, the horror sublabel of Shout Factory! Presented in two formats, a widescreen 1.85:1 and standard 1.66:1, the Blu-ray sustains the deluxe technicolor through the high-res, 1080p, video image that went through a new 2k scan from the interpositive master and absolutely appeals to the visual cortexes with an extensive color palette and very miniscule film imperfections from a super preserved 35mm stock. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is a resounding success with a grand big band score from debuting composer Malcolm Williams that juxtaposes significantly with the dialogue to only be a support device rather than be a main stage act. With many Scream Factory releases, “The Brides of Dracula” comes with exclusive and previously recorded special features included a new audio commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, a making-of the film that includes a graveyard introduction goes into interviews with the late Yvonne Monlaur, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, assistant director Hugh Harlow, continuity supervisor Pauline Harlow, art director Don Mingaye, model maker Margaret Robinson, and producer Anthony Hinds, and rounds out with a still gallery and theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray is sheathed in a cardboard slipcover with a cover illustration by Mark Maddox and inside is a reversible front cover. Irrefutably a classic, despite some quirks, “The Brides of Dracula” is vintage vampire stock, a pedigree of it’s time, of hallmarking the classical villain in a different, blonder light.

Own the collector’s edition of “The Brides of Dracula” on Blu-ray!