Kissing Cousins and a Foreboding EVIL Feline in “Seven Deaths in the Cats Eye” reviewed! (Twilight Time / Blu-ray)



“Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” now available on Limited Edition Blu-ra from Twilight TIme!

Set in the 1970s, the aristocratic McGrieff is on the verge of collapse with financial ruin that’ll cost the once respectable family their castle set in a small Scottish village.  Full of intrigue and ominous mystique, foreboding supernatural superstitions surrounding the McGrieff name, but that doesn’t frighten the young London residing Corringa from visiting her aunt Lady Mary’s castle.  Not before too long, Corringa’s mother, Lady Mary’s sister, mysterious dies in her bed and in the wake of her death more bodies are found with their cut throats all in the presence of the Castle’s roaming domestic feline.  Suspects range from Lady Mary herself in desperation for her sister’s sudden fortune to her unstable, gorilla-saving son James to also her in-house doctor lover who’s also sleeping with a live-in promiscuous woman intended for the young James.   Melodrama runs rampant and so does a killer who cuts down McGrieff Castle residents one-by-one in the dark corridors and gothic-laden rooms.

The Gothic-“Clue” of the 1970’s, “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is the wildly entertaining Italian-produced giallo horror from the “Castle of Blood” and “The Long Hair of Death” director Antonio Margheriti credited under his more English-sounding pseudonym of Anthony Dawson.  Otherwise known with more animal ferocity as “Cat’s Murdering Eye,” as well as simply “Corringa, or in the native tongue as “La morte negli occhi del gatto, this mad family murder-mystery thriller is speculatively based off a novel by Peter Bryan, an extremely English sounding author whose original novel has yet to be revealed as the adapted base for Margheriti’s film or if a book even ever actually existed on what is more than likely, in my opinion, based off an obscure Italian author’s oral narrative or short story since the country at that time had laxed or nonexistent copyright laws – a method that produced a mass amount of unauthorized piggyback sequels for quick cash in on the popularity.  Either way, “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is a thrilling, uncontained, and verbose black letter giallo co-written by Margheriti and Giovanni Simonelli (The Crimes of the Black Cat), produced by Luigi Nannerini (“A Cat in the Brain”), and is filmed in Italy under Capitole Films who appealed to westernized audiences with low-budget popular genre films at their peaks. 

At the heart of the story is Corringa, a progressive and modern Londoner travelling to join her mother and aunt at Castle McGrieff a few days earlier than expected after being kicked out for sneaking out on late nights from her all-girl Catholic boarding school and consorting with boys.  The “Dark Places’” English actress Jane Birkin embodies Corringa’s free-loving and innocent spirit becoming the white sheep amongst the Castle’s broody and plotting inhabitants.  Corringa is thrusted into the happenstance heroine of unravelling a mystery that causes her to freak out upon every discovery whether be the gruesome and distressing visual she walks into to the mere mention of someone’s throat being sliced open that sends her running and screaming into the arms of her cousin James, played confidently cool with a hint of madness in a red herring role by American actor, Hiram Keller.  The “Smile Before Death” actor had a small stint working in the Golden Age of Italian cinema with “Seven Death’s in the Cat’s Eye” being one of those projects, but his role of James is an interesting one as the Lord of the Castle who is considered mad, uninterested in either women or continuing the family lineage, and keeps a former circus gorilla caged up in his room.  One other at a loss and gross side of James, and also of Corringa, is their incestuous affair.  Yes, that’s right, the first cousins get it on like Donkey Kong as they share the bedsheets whilst embroidered in another arcana that’s more in the life and death taboo category.  Yet, all the characters are essentially in some wanton fashioned relationship with each other.  While cozying up to the Lady of the Castle, French actress Françoise Christophe (“Fantômas”) in order to gain favor within lordliness, physician Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring, “The Man Who Could Cheat Death”) also porks the “French Tutor” Suzanne on the downlow for some lust and relaxation.  German actress Doris Kuntsmann plays nomadically alluring to the dark-haired red herring outlier who is hired off the streets from her solicitating sex position by Lady Mary and Dr. Franz to be James’ break from his internal shell, bedfellow companion.  Meanwhile, the promiscuous Suzanna tries to sack up with Corringa in this full house of varied sexual appetites.  The ensemble cast continues with Dana Ghia (“My Dear Killer”), Serge Gainsbourg, Luciano Pigozzi, Venantino Venantini, Konrad Georg, and Bianca Doria. 

With an international cast, “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” enlists heterogeneous talent to continuously keep one on their toes surrounding every dead body that winds up throat mangled or moved from the original death stroke spot and Margheriti certainly has a firm grip on our attention between the polyamorous and dissolute sexual anarchy and the tension toned suspiciousness that ceaselessly keeps not only the characters on edge of each other but also rattles audiences anxiously squeezing their pressurized minds wrapped tightly around a castle-sized amount of distrust and suspects. “Seven Deaths of the Cat’s Eye” evokes the mad family subgenre with Margheriti’s family contending to be one of the most psychosexually and depraved group of backbiters and backstabbers of its time. Margheriti and Simonelli’s story is sensationally complex without being terribly complicated by beginning with the death of an unknown man where rats gnaw and eat away his decaying flesh. From then on, the narrative works ever so hard to purposefully not touch upon or identifying the mystery man’s demise until the bitter encounter end with a revealing finale exposure of a shocking killer that speaks volumes on the filmmakers’ intrinsic misdirection, a machination that keeps characters endlessly on the fence with their motives, and a conversation that is indecorous in a gothic setting.

If you’re looking for a different kind of giallo, “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is that atypical wild card and now the Antonio Margheriti 1973 film has been released onto a limited-edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time and distributed by MVD Visual. The unrated, region A Blu-ray runs 95 minutes long in a 1080p high-definition resolution, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I wouldn’t say the image is a complete polished look, but the transfer restoration from Rewind Film and the Screen Archives Entertainment has excellent detail surrounding the textural complications of the cast, interiors, and exterior settings, especially the graveyard. There are minor instances of banding around the skin in low lighting and the illuminating contrasts is rather low, leaving quite a few frames in the dark so to say. Although an Italian production, English is the language spoken and amongst an international cast, dubbing over certain performances was more than likely done, but the overall dialogue track didn’t match precisely the image in about a quarter of a second delay on the English LPCM 2.0 stereo track which also very muffled like being underwater. However, the “Cannibal Holocaust” composer Riz Ortolani has a score of majestically inspirational proportions as far as horror soundtracks go with a tingling guitar riff that sits heavy in the pit of your stomach as the master of orchestration compositions brings this feature to ahead with this arrangement. The Italian LPCM 2.0 is a more obvious lips out of synch dub but offers an equally robust Ortolani soundtrack. While there are no bonus features on the release, the Blu-ray package itself comes with a 11-page color booklet with images and an essay by author Mike Finnegan along with a reversible Blu-ray cover art containing images from the film and a snazzy disc cover art designed by Twilight Time. Much deserved and sorely underrated, “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is back on the prowl with a new limited-edition release to sink your teeth into.

“Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” now available on Limited Edition Blu-ra from Twilight TIme!

Superpowers Can Be Just as EVIL as They are Good. “The Unhealer” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

An old graverobber unearths the supernatural powers of an ancient Native American burial ground that gives him the ability to heal as well as to be resilient against injury with self-restoring powers.  When exploiting the local residents of his newfound “Godly” gift, a botched healing of a bullied teenage Kelly with severe pica disorder transfers the powers to him, curing his disorders and restoring his health while also leaving the old graverobber to die.  With a new lease on life, Kelly pursues his dreams, standing up to his relentless tormenters, and even finding the courage to ask out a girl, but when the powers prove to be addiction beyond control and the bullies never let up on their aggression on him, Kelly uses his newfound gifts to exact a deadly course of revenge. 

“Pet Sematary” meets “Christine” – a Stephen King-esque bully-revenge, supernatural thriller “The Unhealer” from the Argentinean born director Martin Guigui.  The music video and feature film director returns to American horror nearly a decade later after helming the 2011 “Beneath the Darkness,” starring Dennis Quaid, with a thrilling teen angsty script penned by first time screenwriters Kevin E. Moore and J. Shawn Harris that recalls a narrative very familiar to the late 80’s to early 90’s with oppressive high school bullying by the jocks and the turning point revenge by the receiving end pipsqueak.  Originally scripted under the title “Pica Boy,” “The Unhealer” reveals the dangers of severe polarities between one disorder to the next with the humbling fragilities trapped inside one’s own psychological disorder to the over-confidence of feeling invincible due to physical anomalies that result in no pain being suffered, losing one’s empathetic reasoning.  “The Unhealer” is produced by writer J. Shawn Harris and his sibling actress, “Night of the Demons 2” and “Night of the Scarecrow’s” Cristi Harris along with star Natasha Henstridge and “Why?” filmmakers Corbin Timbrook and Galen Walker with Horror Business Films and 7 Ideas serving as production companies.

Headlined with three big and recognizable names inside the genre circles and out, the film stars Lance Henriksen (“Pumpkinhead,” “Aliens”), Natasha Henstridge (“Species,” “Ghost of Mars”) and Adam Beach (“Windtalkers,” “New Mutants”) playing variable degrees in their roles important to “The Unhealer’s” story progression and each performance never overlaps prominent personalities that can sometimes stall out and unbalance a production.   Henriksen plays a long in the tooth snakeoil salesman named Pflueger who exploits the locals with his newfound healing powers and when he’s hired by Kelly’s desperate mother, Natasha Henstridge, the scene becomes a passing of the torch as Pflueger unintentionally transfers his powers to Kelly (Elijah Nelson, “Chain of Death”) that magically heals him of his longtime psychological Pica disorder. Not so much a youthful soul anymore, Henriksen has tall tell signs of showing his age, but the 81-year-old New York City born actor can still sear memorable performances into our psyche with a wisecracking charlatan conman in Pflueger, dressed from head to toe in a shabby white suit and tossing up awkward hand gestures when deriding burial ground protecting Shaman Red Elk, played by long time serial supporting man Branscombe Richmond (“Commando,” “Hard to Kill”). More awkward in his reaction to receiving an unexplainable supernatural gift is Elijah Nelson who goes from deaths door to want to join the Navy Seals in a matter of minutes after the Pflueger plot point passes. The writing doesn’t exactly assist in Kelly’s transition with an acceptance of power without an inkling of trying to comprehend is as Kelly tries to hurt himself and tries to encourage being pounded by bullies as if he already fully understands the immense reality of his abilities. Even his mother, who under the understanding that she has tried everything possible scientific medicine man has to offer to cure her only child, is instantly okay with Kelly’s rushing into the unknown. A nearly unrecognizable Natasha Henstridge from her “Species” franchise days after a thyroid autoimmune disease diagnosis doesn’t stop the late 40’s blond beauty from being just that – a beauty – in an overly protective mother role desired by the local single men from the house visiting doctor to the Adam Beach’s Native American Sheriff Adler. Beach becomes the absent father figure for Kelly and a person who has a foot in both the Native American spiritual world and in the Anglo-Saxon realities and melodramatics. Beach proceeds as the main lead of the third act, following Henriksen and Henstridge to keep a constant, recognizable presence throughout and providing his own stamp as the voice of reason whereas the first two culminated extreme biases toward Kelly. Kayla Carlson, Angeline Appel, Gavin Casalegno, David Gridley, Mike Gray, Thomas Archer, Will Ropp, and one my new personal favorite actors in Chris Browning (“Agnes”) fills out the remaining cast.

Very early on initial reactions toward “The Unhealer” were poor mainly because of the luridly unflattering dialogue and perplexing transitions between scenes that don’t exactly hit the mark matching up character intentions, but the more I watched, the more an optimistic sensation started to arise in me. Starting small in the recesses of my cerebral film database then growing until metastasizing fully into my mind and, eventually, into my nostalgic-detecting ticker is “The Unhealer’s” robust recollection toward how fun bully-revenge-thrillers from two to three decades ago can be with a carbon copy simulation ingrained with a novel narrative surrounding Midwest Native American mysticisms carrying with it that age old “Spiderman” insinuation that with great power, comes great responsibility, but in “The Unhealer’s case, as the tagline suggests, comes great pain. Screenwriters Moore and Harris burden Kelly with a King Midas touch that no matter how hard the character tries to contain his nearly invincible power, outside forces influences and unforeseen happenstances steer Kelly toward self-destructing disaster. Between a group of buffed up and obnoxious high school jocks as unyielding tormenters, Kelly pushed into a self-protecting corner despite a generous passive attitude, especially being run over with car at one point, and the unpredictable and limitless avenues built as substory awry to make “The Unhealer” a joyful hidden gem, the Martin Guigui film on the outside appears to be a cheap, indistinguishable, B-movie, but if you dig deeper, dig until you unearth a medicine man’s ancient dusty bones, and you’ll discover deep seeded veneration, a gripping story, and dark magic carnage.

“The Unhealer” will undoubtedly fly under many viewers’ radars but is a must watch from (Shout!) Scream Factory’s distribution label in a cooperation release with VMI Worldwide (“Orphan Killer”). The full HD, 1080p Blu-ray of the 2020 production is an encoded region A release with unrated certification and a runtime of 93 minutes, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Generally nothing to swing image quality from one spectrum to the next with a RED Weapon Dragon digital shot. Already decent at compression, the RED camera provides a crisp demarcating image in the forefront and capture the textures in a literal closeup with focus precision. “The Unhealer’s” lighting and set dresses cater less to the supernatural phantasmagoria with Massimo Zeri’s realistic Arizona landscapes and suburbia venues that don’t excite the camera with its cold truth realism rather than the mise-en-scene tropes of horror atmospherics. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also has zip to complain about with high resolution quality with a surprising ample range of effects. Dialogue is prominent and clear as well. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Special features include one-sided individual cast/character behind-the scenes interviews which is basically cut and edited footage of the actors describing their characters in footnote fashion. The gag reel is a better feature that takes the same interview format, intertwines it with music, and lines up the gags with an instrumental soundtrack in one seamless show of goofs and hijinks throughout production. Deleted scenes and extended/alternate scenes, surrounding mostly around Kelly and Dominique’s coy love interest, cap the features. At first glance of the final package, “The Unhealer” looks totally like a rip off inside and out of the cardboard slipcover with a “Star Wars'” lightsaber color scheme and a character illustrated design underneath the title dressed in “Stranger Things” font, but don’t let parroting cover fool you as “The Unhealer’s” dark journey from being the bullied to the bully is an unabated and inescapable catch-22.

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

Gather Around. We Must Call Forth EVIL For the Sake of Our Lives! “Seance” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

A practical joke in summoning a spirit sends one girl to die of mysterious circumstances at the isolated and elite all-girls boarding school of Edelvine Academy. At the top of the wait list is Camille Meadows who finds herself in mid-semester adversity with not only her studies but also the deceased girl’s group of browbeating friends as Camille replaces their friend’s now vacant opening. When another friend disappears and another dies in a freak accident, differences and quarrels are put aside before one of them becomes the next victim. The group conducts a seance to call their friend from beyond to discern whose taking them out one-by-one and the spirit’s cryptic response determined one thing evident, a killer, whether supernatural or real, will stop at nothing until every last one of them is dead.

In what feels like an extremely unquantifiable amount of time that has passed since the last high school teen slasher has graced our once beholding subgenre, “You’re Next” and “The Guest” screenwriter Simon Barrett ends up sneaking one into the fold before the grand fourth sequel release in the “Scream” series come mid-January 2022. “Seance” is the first feature length film directed by Barret who pens the supernatural slasher encrusted with snarky teenage melodrama agitated by a mysterious, unknown killer wreaking havoc upon the catfighting girls of Edelvine Academy. The adolescent cutthroat temperaments give way to actual throat cutting macabre in this whodunit thriller lessoned with a mix of the power of friendships and an attenuated lesbian aura presence throughout up until the very affirming finale in an allegorical show representing hiding in plain sight. The snowy and serene Manitoba-shot Canadian film is a production of HanWay Films (“The Guest”), Ingenious Media (“Unhinged”), and the Gothically-inclined Dark Castle Films (“Thirteen Ghosts”) with select producers Adam Wingard, who has a long his filmic history collaborating with Barret, Tomas Deckaj (“The Green Knight”), and Devan Towers (“Day of the Dead” television series).

For High School girls, all the actresses with the exception for Ella-Rae Smith are mid-to-late 20’s with lead actress Suki Waterhouse (“The Bad Batch,” “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies”) tipping the pendulum nipping at her 30s. However, Waterhouse and the others defy their actual corporal ages portraying teenagers in the throes of adolescent social clique.  Waterhouse plays the cool as a cucumber newcomer Camille to Edelvine Academy, befriending right off the bat with her personal Academy introductory host, a solitary Xanax-popper Helena (Smith).   Immediately, new girl Camille becomes public enemy number one with Edelvine’s most smug impractical prankers led by Alice played by Inanna Sarkis. On paper, Alice might have been the group’s ringleader, but the character doesn’t throw around a lot of power or is admired by followers, albeit Sarkis role permanency as the uptight and sarcastic bully or rad bad gal. Following Alice are ancillary player pieces to the group’s effort as a whole to be a thorn in Camille’ side just for being the unfortunate replacement of their dear dead friend. Between the brainy Bethany (Madison Beaty, “The Clovehitch Killer”) and the more elegant Yvonne (Stephanie Sy, “Tales from the Hood 3”) vie the potential right hands of Alice deduced from the dialogue and screen time hierarchy of their roles but they are definitely more interesting than Alice with a punch of flavor in the personalities, especially in Bethany who is built to be a master-whiz in conjuring up devilish pranks to play on her friends and enemies. Furthermore, there’s also the hint of pizzaz that is shamefully cut short and slidden under the radar with the last two in the coterie with the playgirl subtilties of Lenora (Jade Michael, “Fatal Friend Request”) and the unexplored suggestions of Roselind’s (Djouliet Amara, “Tales from the Hood 3”) sexuality, leaving their arcs unfulfilled. “Seance” cast fills out with “Books of Blood’s” Seamus Patterson in the single speaking male role in the entire film, “Cult of Chucky’s” Marina Stephenson Kerr as Edelvine’s firm-handed headmaster, and Megan Best playing the narrative’s lamented backbone of mysterious tragic circumstances.

Portions of where “Seance” flourishes are within the parameters of the teen slasher, a subgenre that lingers on into severe tedium much like the zombie films of the early 2010 decade. The late 90’s and well into the 2000s saw a slew (pun intended) of killer adolescent atrocities in film. Moviegoers were intrigued by the allusive masked killer that, for most of the time, had a palpable-to-satisfying twist ending after roughly 90 minutes of frantic chases, dooming nudity clauses, merciless kills, and one stupid decision to go back into that ominous house after another. Then, when 2010 came along – poof – teen slashers were now a thing of the past, literally. Attempts were poor renditions of previous successes, rehashes of the once was, and didn’t quite tickle the right places. Slowly and surely, the wheels are turning on a rejuvenation of a new generation and Simon Barrett’s “Seance” serves a prime candidate for admittance. Isolated in the stillness of a snow-covered all girl school sets the intended mood for a campus killer, the girls have a warring dynamic mended by a need to survival commonality, and the what or the who that is slaying them is well kept out of sight with misdirection cues to make audiences think they have it all figured out. Plus, the climatic finale has not one twist, but two in its full of blood and surprise double twist spectacular. “Seance’s” character development is one annoyingly flawed aspect that bends the elbow at the wrong angle at times is how characters wonder off alone having just filled their youthful, spongy minds with knowledge that something or someone malevolent is after them. “One friend is missing. My other friend has mysteriously died in an accident. The Ouija board spells out certain doom and gloom. Yet, I’m going to practice my recital routine alone on a dimlit stage with my noise cancelling headphones on,” says nobody ever. “Seance:” “hold my beer!

“Seance” is more than a teen slasher, it’s Simon Barrett’s genre-bending good time and this Shudder-streaming 93-minute horror from Edelvine Academy is coming to Blu-ray home video courtesy of Acorn Media International come January 17th. The Region B UK release, PAL encoded, BD25 is certified 18 for strong bloody violence and presents “Seance” in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Many of the scenes circulate through repeatedly – the snow-covered school, the drab hallways, the quaint rooms, and the bleak storage room – that don’t offer a ton of vivid aesthetics within a limited range, but quality-wise, there’s a dour, shadowy coating accompanying the coarsely, unpretentious realism. However, the fishbowl lens on certain scenes poorly captured smaller spaces, leaving already thin actresses looking anorexic, and for some reason, the decision to position the actresses shoulder-to-shoulder does antagonize that realism as those, who were mischievous back in the day and sent to the principal’s office, never sat right up against a fellow classmate. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has favorable qualities with a well diverse mix of ambience, a strong dialogue track, and a Sicker Man aka Tobias Vethake laying down a spectrum from brooding synth string pops, piano, and cello bass that stands out with profound poignancy to a lo-fi hip-hop beat and EDM noise of embroiled sounds. Special features include a commentary with Simon Barrett, a behind-the-scenes with select cast, minor outtakes, deleted scenes, a crude pre-production setup for the VFX decapitation scene, and a behind-the-scenes still gallery. “Seance” isn’t all Ouija boards and flickering candles as there’s more obscurity to the slasher than what meets the eye with its mania-driven motives and orientational undertones making this little-known film worth a look.

Let the Heavens Fall to Cleanse the EVIL Away! “Undead” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Bluray)

The small finishing town of Berkley, Australia comes under siege by blazing meteoroids that turn the quaint residents into mindless flesh-hungry zombies. A small band of survivors led by the town’s dismayed local beauty queen and a fisherman turned doomsday prepper fight the undead hordes in order to escape the carnage by reaching the city limits, but when faced with an otherworldly monolithic barrier surrounding the town and blocking the exits, a hopeful way out becomes quickly fleeting. To make matters worse, unusual rainstorms drench them with fear of what’s really in the rainwater of the apparent alien attack. In a last-ditch effort, the remaining survivors board a personal prop plane to scale the great extraterrestrial wall that’s imprisoning them with the undead. An onslaught of end of days catastrophes drives their instinct to battle on, to push forth toward living, despite all the evidence of a contrary methodology to the misunderstood, overwhelming alien actions.

A 9-year marriage, three children, the death of my dog, two states, a new home, four jobs, four presidents, and a global pandemic in more than almost two decades’ passing has transpired since the first and last time I saw the Spierig brothers’ 2003 zombie-comedy “Undead” and, still, the 2003 Australian film impresses with a large-scale gore show on a small-scale budget. Before terraforming new vampire words with Ethan Hawke in “Daybreakers” and taking a stab at an entry in the “Saw” franchise with “Jigsaw,” the brothers Michael and Peter Spierig’s first full feature-length venture was an ambitious love letter to their’ most endeared cult films of their youth, more heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Blowing through the meager budget halfway into filming and shooting an insane 40 to 50 shots per day for the better part of two months, the completion of “Undead” was a must for the self-funding brothers under their production banner of Spierigfilm and the success of “Undead” also jumpstarted the careers of cinematographer Andrew Strahorn (“Hostel III,” “Lethal Weapon” television series), production designer Matthew Putland (“San Andreas”), and special effects artist Julian Summers (“Bait,” “Mortal Kombat” ’21).

“Undead” was the first film for Felicity Mason and Mungo McKay in a lead role as that dismayed local beauty queen, Rene, and that fisherman turned doomsday prepper, Marion, mentioned in the above synopsis. Rene seeks to leave the town of Berkley in the wake of the tragic death of her parents before becoming the burdened beholder of their debt; instead, she thrusted into a crisis that won’t allow her to escape so easily from a destiny laid out for her in hometown. Mason’s humble portrayal of Rene is nearly invisible compared to her more boisterous and gun-fu counterparts but grounds us to an agreeable realism of reactions whereas Marion’s limitless gun-toting out of his fishing overalls and Matrix-like gunplay moves adds that layer of voguish fun of the Chow Yun-fat variety. The other four survivors fall into the run-of-the-mill of yowlers and cutting personality types who throw around their weight and cowardly sarcasms in immediate show of unfounded animosity. Supposedly, a longer cut of “Undead” provides more backstory for father-to-be charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, “Australiens”) and the law enforcement neophyte Molly (Emma Randall, “Bullets for the Dead”) but the release copy which this review is based off was not of that longer cut. Dirk Hunter supplies a purge of negative comic relief as Harrison, the chief constable without a clue, and Lisa Cunningham’s Sallyanne is Wayne’s antagonizing pregnant lover of bitterness as she comes in second place next to Rene at the local beauty pageant and seizes moments, during all Hell breaking loose, to confront Rene’s rope-wrangling talent that won her the cast prize.

Over the past year, I watched and reviewed another Australian sci-fi horror “Dustwalker” from director Sandra Sciberras where crash landed space objects turned the local dustbowl residents into the resemblance of zombies and connected to the chaos is a not from this world creature. I likened “Dustwalker” to be a lesser, weaker, total rip-off of the Spierigs’ ozploitation rager and I still stand 100% behind my claim as I reaffirm “Undead” to be the reigning supreme champion, and “did it first” as far as story goes, between the two nearly identical narrative plots. There’s an uncrushable affinity for “Undead’s” bold risk of looking at the bigger picture head on and absolutely landing each scene whether in prosthetics or in post with better than your average computer rendered imagery. Are the effects the sleekest, most realistic, graphics you’ve ever seen? Absolutely not but what they are are ultra-rich in creative detail rather than quality detail and can give most substantial budgeted films a run for the money, especially in the closeup shots that can be an obvious slapdash, might as well be silicone, fake. The Spierig brothers also don’t overcomplicate the plot with survivors trying to simply quickly decamp the overran town madness with plot points sensible to character designs and not relying on gratuitous happenstance scenarios for the sake of gore alone. However, do believe me when I say that “Undead” will delight gore geeks with a gut-spilling, face-lifting, head-decapitating mixture of zany zombie knockoffs that are steady throughout. If you’re deciding between the more recent “Dustwalker” and the now almost considered antique 15+ year-old “Undead,” the choice is clear with “Undead’s” superior campy, shoot’em, blood-splattering zombie mayhem.

For U.S. horror viewers looking for something that borders obscurity and might be out of their comfort zone, “Undead” has yet to make an appearance on Blu-ray, surprisingly enough. Only the Lionsgate DVD version is the known, and authorized, copy to be released in America. For those searching high and low, the all-region Blu-ray from the Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, offers a 2-disc alternative with a new 1080p, Full High-Definition, release as volume # 12 on the company’s World on Film: Beyond Genres banner. The Aussie cult modern classic is presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio and with a runtime of 97 minutes, mirroring the U.S. DVD length which is a bit disappointing as longer cuts of the film do exist on other European releases. Day scenes play into an agreeable enough flat, more natural, color scheme with some serious grain in the 16mm film stock use, moving the photography toward a retro de-aged semblance courtesy of Spierigs’ cult film homage, but the darker scenes, mostly through a moderately intense blue filter, sees the unstable pixelation flareups, especially in black blank spaces and I’m taken aback by the lack of touchup to clear up any stylized misgivings. Umbrella offers two audio options – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 DTS-HD Stereo. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, the audio tracks do “Undead” complete justice without a smidgen of lossy fidelity. With plenty of action to go around – firearm discharges, explosions, zombie grunts/groans/sneers, and sundry of miscellaneous and oddball effects – each elemental output is distinct and clear. The dialogue renders nicely as well. Umbrella holds a few exclusive and rehashed special features that include an audio commentary from Peter and Michael Spierig and cinematographer Andy Strahorn, a raw video behind-the-scenes look on the set of “Undead,” the more production quality making of “Undead,” “Attack of the Undead” short films from the Spierig brothers that inspired the feature, home-made Dolly Video, the camera and makeup tests, still gallery, and theatrical trailer. Plus, an exclusive Simon Sherry illustrated art on the front covers of the snap case and the cardboard slipcover along with reversal DVD cover art and a second disc containing the complete 17-track soundtrack from Cliff Bradley. The rating is listed as an Australian certified MA 15+ for horror theme, medium level violence. which sounds severely tamer than it is for the more recent video nasty with all its zombies punching holes through hapless skulls, bloody brain munching, gooey face ripping, and severed torsos with spine exposures.

If EVIL Wanted Your Soul, Would You Choose An Eternal Damnation with the Promise of Having Everything You Ever Wanted, or Would You Simply Decline to Live What’s Left of Your Meager Existence? “Val” reviewed! (Epic Pictures / Blu-ray)

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

When Fin, a criminal on the run after a misfortunate mishap of possibly having killed his boss, breaks into a high-end prostitute’s mansion home in an attempt to escape police pursuit, he finds himself struggling to stay in control when the wound on his head causes him dizziness, vomiting, and a thin thread of consciousness.  His whore hostage helps him evade police capture, conceals her dead client he inadvertently kills, and also dresses up his wounds after he passes out.  Confused by her benevolence, Fin attempts to regain control of his authority over the sexually elegant and smooth talking dressed woman, but as the night progresses and strange, unexplainable occurrences warp his reality, he quickly learns his hostage is more just a simple high class working girl and her house is her domain of deviltry. 

Not to be confused with the extraordinary life of actor Val Kilmer documentary of the same name also released in 2021, “Val” is the that other 2021 released film, an independent horror-comedy from writer-director Aaron Fradkin and co-written with writing partner and fiancé (or maybe wife now at this point), Victoria Fratz.  While one “Val” may be more of a commercial success than the other, Fradkin and Fratz’s “Val” still has equal parts charisma and style with solid performances in a “Bedazzled” like tale where a down on his luck Joe Schmo meets a sultry Netherworld deal maker dangling his very soul delicately in the balance of his existence  Shot in a supposed haunted, Gothically styled mansion located in Ojai, California, “Val” is produced by Jonathan Carkeek, Paul Kim, Jeremy Meyer, Kevin McDevitt, and Caitlin O’Connor with Victoria Fratz serving as executive producer under the couple’s Fradkin and Fratz production banner, Social House Films. 

The titular character Val is short for Valefor, the grand Duke of Hell with a penchant for collecting human souls to adorn as treasure, at least to the trolls scribing world wide web, underworld mythology. A trickster, a showboat, and a psychic-vampire, Valefor is characteristically mirrored to the milli-fiber of wickedness by actress Misha Reeves who’s able to adapt her demonic namesake for a new lease on celluloid life. However, one aspect of Valefor is quite different. Val’s appearance is anything but a monstrosity; instead, Reeves radiates beautiful as a pinup girl complete with stark colored makeup and professionally styled hair in victory rolls and soft curls for a throwback 1940’s impression in a complete about face of Valefor’s traditional animalistic Lion or Donkey head look. There’s also the fact that the cinematic Val bares no wings, no tail, no fur, and no scales as usually illustrated – again, by the dark forces of the internet’s most untanned. Reeves offers up, again, the pinup-esque sex symbol with high thigh stockings, garter, and all the vibrant trimmings that would turn heads and howl catcalls. Reeves is utterly wonderful riding the spectrum of Val’s multi-faceted manipulative personality to the point where feeling bad for Fin (Zachery Mooren, “Darkness Reigns”) becomes awkwardly odd since Fin is the wanted criminal here. Even though Mooren eventually sold the part of a wannabe tough guy, the actor looks more unsure of his performance than his most of the time scantily cladded costar, even with Mooren has dress down into just a kimono as well in a few tension-breaking scenes that didn’t really break the toned stride. Reeves and Mooren start up with ease, picking up where the pair of actors left off in Fradkin and Fratz’s 2018 “Electric Love,” joined by another fellow costar in Erik Griffin as a powerful mob boss with a kink for acting like a dog in one of Val’s masochistic whims. Along the line, other pivotal players associated with Fin and Val come into the mix, including John Kapelos (“The Shape of Water”), Sufe Bradshaw (“Star Trek”), Kyle Howard (“Robo Warriors”), and co-writer Victoria Fratz as Fin’s scheming girlfriend.

The idea of the playful, humanoid demon has always been more of an interesting concept for me personally because speaking frankly between man and demon, the two can be interchangeable.  Demons can con, pervert, steal, and kill under the will of their lordship and master or as a mere rogue still in servitude of doing evil bidding.  Man can accomplish very much the same malevolent behaviors and when you have a demon masquerading among mortals, what’s the difference?  Can one tell the difference? “Val” falls along the fringes of that same category except we’re not talking about any ordinary smooth talker with a devilish smile in human skin.  No.  We’re talking about the immense staying power of Misha Reeves’ slipping into something a little bit more comfortable and still be a force to be reckoned with as the blithefully frisky and seductive Val undercutting her prey’s sanity and soul.  Reeves carries the story up to the end as the titular character, but “Val” does downplay the question of Fin’s choice.  There’s a lack direct peril when the third act came down to brass tax and Fin had to make a decision. Fin was persuaded without a nail-biting ultimatum, a countdown, or a severe threat to him or someone he cares about and the motivation for the hapless lawbreaker to pave his own fate didn’t exact a sense of urgency. In fact, Val offers an unlimited number of perks with little risk and, I believe, we had to assume Fin was smart enough, a common motif throughout the film was Fin is this big, handsome chump, to understand giving up his soul would damn him for eternity. Though visually stimulating with a climax resembling The Last Supper with demons, the damned, and Fin all sitting at a table garnished with severed heads and an inferno hue, the culmination drops hard like a rock squashing that eager element of anticipation.

A bathing beauty of its genre, “Val” contends as a witty Mephistophelian comedy-horror. The demonic good time can now be enjoyed on a region free Blu-ray release from Dread Central’s home video label, Epic Pictures, distributed by MVD Visual. The not rated, 81-minute film is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with not really much to negatively critique on the image quality that’s quite sharp from the compression of a BD50. Keelan Carothers’ hard lit and red-hot neon glow of warm red-light district-like colors inarguably defines the distinct worlds of Fin and Val while flashbacks denote a slightly softer color reduction as a third environment. There’s good camera work here between in camera foreground and background focusing as well as delectable key lighting on certain medium-closeup shots that pact a punch. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track has dialogue clarity palpable enough for Misha Reeves’ sharp tongue and quirky humor. Ambient track slips a little in the depth and can blur character spatial relations but there’s plenty of range for a story that’s pretty much sole-centric. Mike Tran, Eric Mitchen and Robot Disco Puma provide the eclectic, synth-rock soundtrack that overwhelms with a booming LFE that leads to a bit crackling distortion during the decimation of decibels of maximum speaker output if not lowered, which then affects the dialogue. Options subtitles include an English SDH and Spanish. Special features include a making of Val featurette narrated by the filmmaking due Aaron Fradkin and Victoria Fratz, two of the pair’s short films – “The Ballerina” and “Happy Birthday,” and a Q&A from Popcorn Frights. Well, here we are at the end of the review and the question still stands of what path would you choose? Personally, I’d go with the sexy, quick-witted, Duke of Hell for a good time, the soul be damned, and you should go with “Val” too for it’s all well-made, well-acted, and well-told story.

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com