A pandemic sweeps across the Australian land, transforming the infected into hunger-driven cannibals. Andy and his wife, Kay, boat down river in hopes to find a safe zone for their baby daughter Rosie in attempt to avoid major populations and even the occasional infected, but when Kay falls victim to a bite aboard an apparent abandoned sailboat while salvaging for supplies, the couple have no choice but to seek help on the mainland. Desperation leads to carelessness when Andy veers off the road and crashes. He awakens to his wife having turned rabid, sustaining a bite on his arm when saving his daughter from the backseat. With maybe two days until the virus overcomes him, Andy must find a way across a mostly vacant landscape to find someone to take care of his young daughter. With time running out, Andy’s plight takes him through a barren-inhabited land where he encounters various walks with some being too unsavory and too unsuitable for his daughter’s welfare.
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke are the first time directors behind the 2017, zombie-classified horror-drama “Cargo.” The screenplay was also penned by Ramke stemming from a remake of the directing duo’s short film of the same title. The short, that went on to be a finalist at the world’s largest short film festival, Tropfest, and went viral back into 2013, being showcased on the internets most popular genre sites. From there, the success of Howling and Ramke’s 7-minute short, encouraged by a strong fan base, was able to land equity to fund a full-length feature set in Howling and Ramke’s home country of Australia. The 2017 film added a star cast, a grittier and gut-busting bigger budget, and even landed back the main actor from the short film in a smaller, but significant role. “Cargo’s” bigger, more organic, and exalts the very essence of being human in an isolated, catastrophic, capitalism dystopia overrun with the chrysalis monsters.
English actor and star of the “Hobbit” series, Martin Freeman, lands the lead role of Andy. Freeman’s usual knack consists of being mild-mannered with a variety of facial expressions and his performance in being a desperate father in “Cargo” is no different; yet Freeman expresses another quality that consistently stays in the shadows of his other worth and that is strength. Andy might be conservative and portrayed as meek, but when push comes to shove, Andy steps to the plate and Freeman shows us his upper hand of his character’s abilities. Freeman works alongside first time child actress, Simone Landers, as Thoomi, an indigenous native offspring who relies on Andy to return her to her family while Andy relies on her to bring safety to his infant daughter. For a first time performance, Landers couldn’t have been more of a perfect fit aside the experienced “Sherlock Holmes” actor. Also co-starring in “Cargo” is Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, and, “Crocodile Dundee’s” David Gulpili who, to quote Ben Howling who said it best, is essentially Australian actor royalty.
“Cargo” isn’t your typical genre zombie film. In fact, I wouldn’t even brandish it the label of a zombie film. Ramke’s post-epidemic story reverberates a more familiar “28 Days Later” echo that spurs more life altering contagion than the dead resurrecting to feast on the living. The infect do not run, but stumble, like a zombie and also crave living delicacies; yet, their tainted blood seeps an inhuman generated neon-orange-like sap through facial orifices that feels more like the European zombie of an organic or voodoo nature. These human-turned-monsters also bury their heads below the dirt up to their shoulders in a state of transformation or a rebirth in a sense. The essence of “Cargo’s” villainy is expanded further from Howling and Ramke’s initial short film that just introduced a milky-eyed dead head and these types of infected give “Cargo” a better, more substantial presence in an overcrowded living dead genre, but the infected are not the main villains as people, essentially one capitalistic vulture, is the real threat against the protagonists.
Umbrella Entertainment presents “Cargo,” a Netflix film, onto Blu-ray home video in a sleek full HD 1080p and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The region B, MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc has great detail over the dry Australian countryside stocked with brown and brown vegetation, natural coloring across the board, especially in the infected’s neon-orange ooze, and an overall favorable viewing experience. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio doesn’t necessarily have a bombastic track, as it isn’t that kind of film, and the range is fairly around a mild-mannered tonality with a hiccup of gunfire and shouting in the ambient tracks. Dialogue is perfectly crystal clear in the forefront. Bonus material includes two featurettes, one entitled “Cargo: Shaping A Fragile Future” and the other “Cargo: Maternal Combat,” interviews with cast and crew, Q&A from May 2018 in Melbourne, the original Tropfest 2013 short, and the theatrical trailer. “Cargo” breathes fresh air into a threadbare genre with a sheer look into humanity’s willpower and callous.
A small Australian town experiences a small, yet devastating portion of a world invasion by a hostile alien race during a night of carnival festivities and a rugby football game. A small group of locals band together to form a resistance against the alien occupation that seeks to turn mankind’s world into their own, using captured humans as slave labor for their own agricultural harvesters. After each liberation of prisoners, the resistance fighters train others as rebels to strike back, and strike back hard, against their oppressors while they continuously search for their missing loved ones, but for some, at the cost of their own humanity and compassion when only killing becomes the most instantaneous gratification toward taking back their home planet. A select few of rebels try to find common ground in peace with a homeless alien race that desperately seeks an inhabitable world, but red and green blood must be shed on both sides before amity ever becomes a realistic ideal between two humanoid races.
“Occupation” is the 2018 alien invasion action-thriller and the sophomore feature film from Australian director Luke Sparke. Sparke, who also wrote the script, shares additional dialogue credits with Felix Williamson of “Nekrotronic.” What could be considered as “Red Dawn” meets “Independence Day,” “Occupation” has wealthy production value breadth that kisses the line of being something constructed from the flashy and gleam-laden Michael Bay with grand scale visual effects that blend fairly seamlessly with ground level practical makeup. Explosions, weapons fire, and spray patterns of alien blood put a significant dent into the storyline that follows the nearly-a-year course of the ragtag team of human resistance fighters, firmly solidifying “Occupation’s” action status and large pocket budget on a this foreign science fiction film.
Not one actor headlines “Occupation,” but, rather, follows the subjective motives from each of the motley crew of survivors. If had to choose, the pill addicted and rugged rugby footballer Matt Simmons, played by “Beast No More’s” Dan Ewing, is shown some favoritism as he becomes the naturally unspoken for leader of the resistance team that includes his girlfriend, Amelia, played by Stephany Jacobsen. “The Devil’s Tomb” actress doesn’t quite mesh well with Ewing; her forced performance is uncomfortably ungraceful during action and melodramatic scenes of her perspectives on the alien culture and Matt’s audacious bravery. Temuera Morrison is a familiar face amongst the mix; the “Speed 2” and regular “Star Wars” mythology actor across many platforms is the passionately driven father, Peter, who desperately searches for his son and wife from whom he was separated during the invasion and Morrison does what the accomplished actor has always done best, being the aggressor and the muscle behind his character, especially when Peter mercilessly caves in alien craniums with scrap piping. When Peter is bashing skulls, he’s being an overprotective daughter to Izzy Stevens, a young actress from Sydney, who provides the teenage angst and, in a rather bizarre move, goes down a road of fixation with the local, older looking bum, played by Zac Garred. The chemistry only sparks here and there until their tunnel of love sequence; by then, they’re full throttle, ripping off clothes like cotton is contagious. Rhiannon Fish, Charles Terrier, Felix Williamson, Jacqueline McKenzie (“Deep Blue Sea”), Trystan Go, and Sci-fi genre vet Bruce Spence (“The Road Warrior”) make up the remaining cast.
Much of “Occupation’s” hefty flaws come from simply being forced. From the acting to the storyline, the pace doesn’t convey authenticity and where the characters should be within the stages of a post-invasion Earth. Oppressive occupation desolate inhabitants and landscape, but the majority of the human race remain not weathered by the conflict and Sparke doesn’t necessarily express that well with still very much clean shaven, well-kept, and strength-retaining displaced survivors with fat bellies and no sign of disease or starvation. In 8 months, the resistance is able to completely organize against an advanced alien race despite being taken by complete surprise. Dynamics are a bit off as well as many motivations abruptly change; for example, Amelia’s brother, Marcus, has a crush fixation with Izzy Stevens’ character during invading period, but the interaction between them go un-nurtured and wither to where a sudden connection between her and the bum form at a rapid pace without so much of a flicker of jealousy Marcus, losing any hope for an internal, tangent subplot. Same can be said between Matt and Amelia; they’re hot and cold relationship teeters on psychotic behavior and bi-polar tendencies that result in questioning where exactly their position lies in this conflict that’s nudges them to wedge apart but pulls them together again like nonchalant magnets without really tackling head-on their own issues.
Lionsgate and Saban Films release “Occupation” on Blu-ray home video. The transfer is in 1080p hi-definition with a 2.39.1 widescreen presentation. Nothing really to note here about the image quality other than the cleanliness of the digital video that sheds many landscape and personal details in the day and the night sequences. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has copious qualities for an explosive-laden borderline A/B movie from Australia. Dialogue is prominent and the LFE is quiet sparse though explosion heavy; ships whizzing through the air maintain on a level playing field audio track shared with human’s scampering frantically for their very lives. Spanish subtitles and English SDH are also available. For a two-hour runtime flick, surprisingly, there are no bonus features with this release. Luke Sparke’s “Occupation” is masterfully formulaic as we’ve all experienced this movie before whether be “Red Dawn” or “Independence Day.” Nothing under the satisfactory visual effects is awesome enough to rattle or challenge the mind with the venture of a militia of Australian resistance fighters pitted against ghastly, rubber looking extraterrestrials and that’s the ultimate and fateful bullet in Sparke’s sci-fi action film.
On a dark and stormy night after a school football game, a teacher and three students take shelter at a cottage adjacent to a cemetery. If the cottage wasn’t creepy enough, the sole occupant owner surpassed the bar. She calls herself Miss Leslie, a middle aged woman with an ill-fated story of her friend and mother’s fiery demise from long past and a quirky penchant for making life-size female dolls that set inside an illuminating shrine. Though they feel uneasy about the creepy surroundings, the visitors stay and get cozy, especially with each other, but Miss Leslie has ulterior, deranged motives. Her dolls are not just lifelike, they once were vibrant lives of women Miss Leslie sorely wanted to inhabit their feminine confines of youth and beauty from over the years, but now they are an undecomposable shells, encase in Miss Leslie’s special doll making brew to timelessly capture their lovely physiques. They are also beautiful, yet painful reminders of her failed attempts to transfer her essence into their adolescent bodies.
Every so often you come across a film with a gigantically absurd hard shell cover with the gooey insides of eye-rolling cheesiness and you just have to ask yourself, how in the world did something like this ever come to fruition!? Yet, somehow, someway, these productions of an oddball variety always have an intense allure about them and end up being just one of the coolest rarities to grace the glazed-over irises. Joseph Prieto’s “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is the epitome of this very phenomena. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is an exploitation, nearly softcore porn, horror with a deranged killers with severe mental issues that range from communication with dead to, what can be now construed as antiquated, complications of gender identity. One of the last directed films from Prieto, who also helmed “Shanty Tramp” and “Savages from Hell,” also penned the screenplay alongside longtime collaborator and producer Ralph Remy Jr. The script reads like an insatiable bedside thriller novel, an object of complete obsession through the entirety and well long after being completed; “Miss Leslie’s Dolls’” has a rich gothic lining, a strong sexual appetite, and a timely LGTB subject that involves debate on mental illness or inherited gender orientation.
Not many actors performed in drag. Sure, there was Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” and there was even Anthony Perkins from “Psycho,” who some might go as far as saying that “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” might draw inspiration from with the whole mother fixation, but only a small faction of fans, especially in the genre, might know Salvador Ugarte. The Cuban born Ugarte has great poise as a woman imprisoned in a man’s body. Miss Leslie just isn’t a deranged killer in drag; the character has deep rooted issues stemming out of not only being a woman embodied incorrectly, but also seeded by an engulfing obsession with capturing beauty to obtain it for herself, an addition from a result of a permanent scarring left behind by Miss Leslie’s homicidal rampage in the character’s history. Ugarte has the mannerisms and the gait down so unerringly that’s the performance is downright creepy, but there was one aspect of womanhood that Ugarte’s masculinity couldn’t mask: his voice. The actor is horrendously dubbed, adding charm to the bizarre concept. Ugarte’s joined by “Little Laura and Big John’s” Terri Juston, Marchelle Bichette (“The Gruesome Twosome”), Kitty Lewis, and Charles Pitts of “Supervixens.”
Contrary to the above, “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” has some drawback. Though the characters might be entertaining and interesting, especially with the Bourbon obsessed and hot for teacher Roy and his terrible gangster accent or the fact that Ms. Alma Frost is a smoking hot, twenty-something year old prude teacher to her pupils who are practically the same age as her, they’re washed over with an aloof mentality, consequently looking past or just blatantly oblivious to Miss Leslie’s obvious male features, her inauspicious ramblings, and the fact she has a shrine of creepy and realistic dolls of women that fill the room with the smell like rot and death. Perhaps too busy running through the cemetery at night in skimpy bedroom garments. Yes, this does happen. On top of that, Miss Leslie harness of occult powers goes relatively unexplored, yet very much utilized as an important portion of the film near the last act. Despite being passively mentioned and rather undercut from more than most of the film, Miss Leslie’s occult mischief is plucked right from left field to further the enigmatic aurora of Prieto’s mystical exploitation.
Network proudly presents “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” on an UK 1080p Hi-Definition, region free Blu-ray home video, remastered from the original film elements once thought to be have been forever lost. The newly scanned transfer came from a surviving print and presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration included detailed grain management, the automated and manual removal of dirt and damage, and the correction of major color instability, warp, and density fluctuations. (In full disclosure, Network sent me a DVD-R screener and that is what the following critique is based off of) Though in some frames there flares up some instability, from my perspective, the first act and half really came out well with the vivid, yet natural, coloring. However, once inside Miss Leslie’s basement, woozy blotchy moments of Leslie fiddling around makes the particular scene a bit off putting. The stereo mono track is fair for the 1973 film that has it’s share of distortions and editing pop faux pas, but the dialogue is fiercely prominent, despite the inherent awfully laid dub track, and equally well balanced with ambient tracks. There were no bonus material on the release. Transvestitism horror is quite a rare experience that always has a lasting impression, cerebrally popping visuals of grim visions commingling with the blood, the viscera, and the other supplementary violence. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” deserved this Blu-ray release and Network did right by Prieto’s obscure grindhouse feature that will sear into your skull.
In the year 2022, Special Forces solider, Captain Robbins, is court martialed for putting a bullet in the head of his commanding officer. After escaping two maximum security prisons and a record of rebellious activity, a corrupt and power hungry warden of the Lactivus prison ships Robbins off to an off shore island called Absolom, where prisoners can roam free with no chance of escape due to 24/7 surveillance by Satellite and rocket launcher armed helicopter gunships surrounding the island perimeter. Island prisoners separate into two factions: the Outsiders and the Insiders. Each with the respective camps, the lawless Outsiders overwhelm the Insider’s numbers by 6 to 1, leaving the small manned community in constant fear of attack and pillage by the Outsider’s merciless leader, Walter Marek. When the insiders learn than Robbins has faced Marek and lived, they take the former solider into their community, but Robbins sole desire is to escape off the condemning rock and with the help of a few good men from the Insiders’ camp, the chances of escape and survival are greater together as long as Marek and his band of starving cutthroats don’t seize the endangered community first.
“Escape from Absolom,” also known as simply “No Escape” in the U.S., is a Martin Campbell directed action film from 1994 that’s futuristic and violent, fun and thrilling, and kitschy without being too cheesy. Campbell, who went on to direct not one, but two, James Bond films, begins a base of epic action that’s toweringly ambitious and pulled off nicely with the stunts and the editing. Based off the Richard Herley novel “The Penal Coloney,” the script is penned by Michael Gaylin who puts pen to paper to scribe a playful, passively aggressive dialogue, but fun and energetic on a the same coy lines of other high visibility action films. Gaylin was able to conform to a story that has no dynamic with the opposite sex in one of the few films that exhibits a rare all male cast.
“Goodfella’s” star Ray Liotta finally got his time to shine as the butch and badass action hero that is Captain Robbins, a highly skilled special forces solider and killing machine whose pragmatic intentions, at first, are hard to read. The cockiness overtop a well-cloaked deadly skill set works to the advantage of the blue-eyed actor for New Jersey. Opposite Liotta is Stuart Wilson (“Hot Fuzz”) as Walter Marek, a 7-year island lifer with dreadlocks and nose bridge piercings to match his psychotic leadership. Wilson does psychotic just fine, but the look resembles John Travolta’s atrocious attire from Battlefield Earth. Lance Henriksen, One of the most recognizable legendary genre actors, has a more serene approach in being a mentor and the leadership figurehead of the Insiders camp when compared to conventionally eccentric, sometimes maniacal performances, but Henriksen has a mellow side to him that conveys are very affectionate kumbaya approach, but any personality compared to Stuart Wilson’s internal rampage would be a stark contrast. “Ghostbusters'” Ernie Hudson has his role as security office in the Insiders camp and the sole black man of the film, for obvious reasons, stands out, but Hudson just adapts to anything you put him in though the Michigan born tended to sway toward the thrilling fantasy/sci-fi genre in the height of his career. Rounding out the cast is Kevin Dillon (“The Blob” remake), Kevin J. O’Conner (“Lord of Illusions”), Don Henderson (“The Ghoul”), Ian McNeice (“Dune”), and Michael Lerner (“Maniac Cop 2”).
All things considered, “Escape from Absolom” is a torrent men-in-prison extravaganza that’s one part Sylvester Stallone “Judge Dredd,” one part Chuck Norris “Missing in Action,” and, as a whole, an endangered brand of droll entertainment. Speaking of Stallone, Ray Liotta did it first as a character who is an expert at escaping the inescapable maximum security penitentiaries and instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dave Bautista as contentious, yet supportive allies, the friendly, yet solidly statured Ernie Hudson and Lance Henriksen share Liotta’s Captain Robbin’s unquenchable lust for freedom, even if it to provide unsheathe exposition of the unethical corporate penal system practices. Far from being a perfect film and extremely blantant on a no underlying message, Martin Campbell undoubtedly has a fine tuned niche of capturing the casual eye with large scale action sequences and an affable character allure.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “Escape from Absolom” on a region-all Blu-ray, presented in 1080p, widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. The coloring is phenomenally remastered and stable compared to previous transfers. There are times when depth becomes two-dimensional or flat, skewing the picture noticeably, but the overall picture quality is spectacular in the vast amount of Australian landscapes and even in the night scenes that show hardly any enhancing, such as sharpening or contrast. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is laid out nicely with audible poise and precision balance. Dialogue is prominent while explosions have just the right amount of oomph under an exact LFE recipe. The release sports other language Dolby Digital audio tracks such as a German 2.0, Spanish 2.0, Italian 2.0, and a French 2.0. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Bonus material includes a two part making of featurette from around the production of the film with interviews with cast and crew, four TV spots, trailer, and a reversible cover. Runtime is 118 minutes. Martin Campbell’s “Escape from Absolom” is dystopian dynamite, explosive and aggressive with a flare for enjoyable banter amongst defined and diversified characters inhabiting an utopian island of mostly societal scum.
Brothers Justin and Aaron struggle to maintain a normal and fruitful life outside Camp Arcadia, the UFO death cult camp they fled as young men. When Aaron feels empty, poor, and hungry as a cleaning serviceman on the brink of poverty and social misfortune, he convinces his older brother to take him back to the camp for one day. Once they’ve arrived, the two felt as if nothing has changed, even the cultists haven’t aged in the decade they were gone. Aaron seeks to reintegrate during his time at the camp while Justin is eager to vacate the premises pronto, but an otherworldly phenomenon promises answers to Justin and Aaron’s perceptions of their former cult and leaves questions to the unexplainable events that surround the camp site. The brothers must solve the mystery before being ensnared by the phenomena that lurks all around them with an ever present eye.
“The Endless” is the 2017 science fiction horror film from a pair of directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who helmed a segment in the anthology, “V/H/S Viral.” The duo also star as the leads in the film as Justin and Aaron. Benson penned the film’ script that has grand originality and fosters an underlying Lovecraftian concept and despite the limited budget, “The Endless” has favorable special effects of mind-boggling proportions incorporated with a splash of mildly dark humor in this blithe fantasy horror. Reminiscent of such other off-the-wall commingling genre films such as Don Coscarelli’s “John Dies at the End” or Madellaine Paxson’s “Blood Punch,” where the supernatural and bizarre collide and the characters are equally demented for a pinch of extra pizazz.
Benson and Moorhead may be the stars of “The Endless” and essentially are the epicenter of the entire premise, but their characters wouldn’t be aptly as important if it wasn’t for the cast that supported them. One of the actors is Tate Ellington (“Sinister 2”) as the unofficial camp leader Hal with the gift of gab and just as mysterious as the camp itself. Ellington’s one of many of the camp so called UFO Death Cult characters that make the story really stick out as odd as there’s Lew Temple (“The Walking Dead”) too. A very unshaven and unkempt Temple weighs the look of an Civil War soldier in Tim and Tim’s distant expressionless is very much Temple’s bread and butter. Rivaling the unnerving silence of Lew Temple is “Alien: Covenant’s” Callie Hernandez. As Anna, Hernandez plays the girl next door, flirting with Aaron with trivial matter that toys Aaron’s inherent innocence. The rest of the cast includes Emily Montague (“Fright Night” remake), James Jordan, Kira Powell, Peter Ciella, and David Lawson Jr. as Smiling Dave.
“The Endless” could be said to have a slew of metaphors and symbolism, even the older brother Justin frustratingly points out how camp leader Hal always speaks in metaphors. So, what is causing all the weird and terrifying atmospherics at Camp Arcadia? Arcadia ends up being an oxymoron as the camp is not harmonious or a utopia as believed, but rather a coiled purgatory with an ominous presence thats ever present. Don’t know what’s watching, where it came from, or what it wants, but it’s driven fear of the unknown as noted during the title card epilogue of a quote. What we do know is this presence, this thing, is massive, looming over the hills and in the depths of a nearby lake; the thing is very Lovecraftian in proportion to what that means. Hell, even the quote I mentioned earlier about fear of the unknown is pulled from H.P. Lovecraft himself – “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The brother symbolism fear for they have fear of the outside world and fear of their unforeseen and possibly poverish future, but once Justin and Aaron come to terms with ending being at odds with each other, the brothers know they can conquer whatever comes at them together.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents Snowfort, Love & Death, and Pffaf & Pfaff productions’ “The Endless” onto Blu-ray home video. The single disc BD-50 has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. Image presentation has fair natural tones with a set of a rather light yellowish tint during desert sequences. Color palette is enriched especially when the inexplicable does come ahead; moments of heavy tinting, such as a heavy red flare, inexplicably stand out. Blotching, DNR, or banding are an issue here, leaving the details considerably intact in a plenty of the duration. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound has not gaffs about it. The plentiful dialogue is clearly present to get the full story told, ambient and phenomena effects proportionally ranged and appropriate, and the soundtrack supports to dialogue and story with the amount of depth. Overall, the tracks are consistent throughout. Bonus features include an audio commentary with directors and producers, a 30+ minute make of segment, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, Visual effects breakdown, a “Ridiculous Extras” featurette that includes casting, and trailers. Don’t let the peppered black comedy in “The Endless” fool you; Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have constructed an original sci-fi horror that shells out an unsettling ambiguity of a modern and universal fear too invasive to try and stop the perpetual replaying of attempting to know the unknown.