EVIL Moves in When Sister Goes Missing! “Sister Tempest” reviewed (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)



“Sister Tempest” – on Blu-ray home video at Amazon.com

Private school art teacher Anne Hutchinson faces an alien tribunal on the set of circumstances surrounding the sudden disappearance of her younger sister.  Anecdotally going through the chapters of her life, beginning with her parents perishing when the sisters were young into growing up in a confrontation household between the sisters’ warring personalities to Anne’s desperate search for her younger sister after an ugly fight one night.  Still reeling from the abrupt disappearance, a new student joins her class that ensues a sudden fascination from Anne.  When the student shows up one night at Anne’s house, unloading woes of being kicked out of school due to lack of funds, Anne offers sympathy and suggests staying in her sister’s room that’s now been vacant for some time, but Anne’s new roommate hides a secret as she must feed on raw meat to combat of a body-covering boil sprouting illness.  Little does the art teacher know that there’s a connection between her sister’s disappearance and her former blood-thirsty pupil that will shock her very core.

What happens when a promise to another person can’t be kept because that person’s will and commitment is so strong it’s becomes a severe fault?  From an not from this world alien perspective, the contradictory and irrational nature of humankind has a profoundly illogical pattern to it that bears hardly any understanding to an unlike mind.  There’s fragility to interpersonal relationships and to the people devoted to those relationships that force unforeseen, sometimes fatal, consequences when expected coherency and harmony turns into irrational chaos from seemingly arbitrary means.  This is how Joe Badon’s genre-bending “Sister Tempest” expresses that conundrum of curious conscious with a surrealistic sci-fi-horror-drama that teeters on the edge of deadpan.  The 2020 released “Sister Tempest” is the second written-and-directed feature film from Badon, following his 2017 experimental horror “The God Inside My Ear,” which falls upon similar “Sister Tempest” lines of emotionally distress-induced bale.  Filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, “Sister Tempest” is a produced by Badon, editor/sound designer Joseph Estrade, Dustin Rosemark (“Inferno”) and cinematographer Daniel Waghorne with visual effects artist Clint Carney (screener of “Dry Blood”) and Miles Hendler serving as executive producers.

After a series of prefacing introductory and non-linear story scenes, Anne Hutchinson, a debut feature role for New Orleans based actress Kali Russell, sits in negative space wearing an orange jumpsuit and being introduced to her alien tribunal council.  Dazed and confused, but not totally in shock and frightened about being in the presence of otherworldly extraterrestrials, Anne recounts events surrounding the disappearance of her sister, played by Holly Bonney (“Bird’s Eye).  As sisters, a defined line between the older responsible and the younger immature is contentiously formed between Anne and Karen as they deviate from earlier promises after their parents’ untimely death to take care of each other.  Through Anne’s retelling of her life, her mother, though hard and disciplined, had a conditioning care that burdened the eldest child with a sense of duty and care at a young age and this really is no different from most firstborns who shoulders already a ton of responsibility regardless in taking on even more when the parents are no longer around.  You love them to death is great idiom that rings true in Badon’s subversive-cinema standards tale when the sisters can’t see eye-to-eye on matters and there’s a loss of connection, accountability, and gratitude that the audience can relate to.  For much of the picture, Holly Bonney takes a backseat to Kali Russell’s spiraling disconnect that affects her relationship with love interest Jeffrey the Janitor (Alex Stage, “Eat Brains Love”) and new life-entangling pupil Ginger (Linnea Gregg).  The latter Greg played character has a little more layers to peel back that involves directly with Anne.  Ginger’s is venom in disguise as vampire of sorts who requires raw meat and to keep her human appearance intact.  There’s a representational duality in Ginger, reflecting both a monstrous quality and a sweet innocence that ties into Anne personally and into the search for the sister.  “Sister Tempest” rounds out the cast with Clint Carney (“Dry Blood”), Lucas Boffin (“Return to Sender”), Andre LaSalle (“The God Inside My Ear”), Cami Roebuck (“Children of Sin”), and Sarah Rochis.

“Sister Tempest” has a foundational design we’ve all likely seen before with breaking points, dualities, and downhill-racing mystery unfathomable to the naked eye, but the Josh Badon story inexplicitly feels different from the others.  Perhaps because of Badon’s unconventional storytelling style that throws the normal perceptions for a loop, literally and figuratively, with a 50’s-ish callback to science fiction films or its glamour of 70’s-ish British horror in color and macabre or an unsane mixture of both. I’m not going to sugar coat “Sister Tempest” as an easy to follow, low-hanging fruit film that simple, straight-forward, and is everybody’s cup of tea. That would be a waste of peddle spiel. There’s a zaniness quality that can’t be ignored that surrounds the principal Anne character as if she’s experiencing an ersatz world normally. Some would say that Anne’s caught in a maelstrom, or tempest, of unclear thought and her ordeal is catalytically charged by the work and the love that is poured into her sister’s wellbeing only to be thrown back into her face. Badon has a flair for the unusual, an eye for the odd, and can extravasate an uneasy air from a capsule of seemingly randomized happenstance and beyond the already preternatural events to aggregating the wayward tension.

“Sister Tempest” is the very definition of independent movies with a take it or leave it spellbinding archetype that’s unlike anything ever seen before. You can bear witness to Joe Badon’s mesmeric madness and melancholy with a brand-new Blu-ray from Darkside Releasing. Presented in two aspect ratio formats, a 2.39:1 and 1.33:1, the screen really runs the side-to-side gamut. Image quality shows zero sign of issues from the high-definition digital video, shot on a 4K black magic pocket cinema camera. The blacks are deep and rich as well as the coloring through Daniel Waghorne’s versatile cinematography involving gel lighting, color reduction, and spotlighting. The English language 5.1 surround sound shows no sign of slowing down this A/V wonder with clean and lively multi-audio tracks that come through every channel definitively. Bonus material includes an audio commentary with the director, produces, and actors, a blooper reel, a deleted scene, and trailers for Darkside releasing surreal and giallo films. “Sister Tempest” Lynchian style is not going to please the masses, but it’s certainly the wildest ride in the theme park of contemporary indie cinema.

“Sister Tempest” – on Blu-ray home video at Amazon.com

To EVIL, Death is Only the Beginning. “Girl With a Straight Razor” reviewed! (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)

“Girl With A Straight Razor” available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!

A placid woman waits in her modern chic apartment until dark. She ritualistically dresses elegantly and exits her apartment building wearing sunglasses, a bright red coat, and an unsheathed straight razor. As she wanders the streets, she locates a target, another woman, and stalks her with a bloody thirst in her eyes. When approaches from behind to only turn around her victim and come face-to-face with an exposed neck, she slashes away at the jugular, slicing crudely a blood-splattering spree that manifests a smile across her face. She returns to her apartment where she’s visited in between her straight razor murders by a lady dressed and veiled in black, priming the elegantly dressed woman for the next kill. The blade continues to slash through napes nightly, memories of the woman’s past seep into her psyche to a terrifying outcome of how she became a killer.

“Girl With a Straight Razor.” Simple, yet effective. The eye-catching, razor-sharp title certainly has a couple of key words combined together audiences often drool over just by the very straight-forward approach and appealing word sequences that make the appearance of an idiosyncratic title that much more desirable. Canadian horror-filmmaker Chris Alexander seizes advantage writing-and-directing a script that’s a numbing-gaze reminiscent in homage to giallo by assembling the trademark motifs of stark red coloring, gloved hands shot in a first-person view, and the use of a melee blade familiar to the Italian-made mystery-thriller genre for a fever dream highlighted as a pain-pleasure principled purgatory. The “Female Werewolf” and “Necropolis: Legion” director also composes the film and controls the overall look of the colorfully prone to epilepsy cinematography that jars sense the visual cortexes. “Girl With a Razor Blade” is the first feature production of the Vancouver based Molemen Entertainment and is produced by Vince D’Amato, the founder and managing partner of Darkside Releasing who released the film on home video this year.

If you want to make a low-budget film and keep a lot of change in your pocket, hire only a handful of decent, well-rounded actors and actresses to maintain the spirit of independent filmmaking that balances the budget as well as balances the filmmaker’s creativity with semi-creditable performances. If you want to make a low-budget film and keep dollar bills in your pocket, hire two actresses where one only has two to three scenes max with no dialogue and the other have them play four different versions of themselves with very little dialogue. The minimal dialogue forces Alexander into a creative environment where express the principal’s emotional deluge, or lack thereof, can be displayed in a range of camera angles, his musical composition, and the variegated kill scenes contrasted against contrasting black and white visuals. In these scenes are a pair of Chris Alexander regulars. Having had roles in some capacity 2019 re-imagining of Bruce Hickey’s “Necropolis” from 1986, Thea Munster finds herself again in front of the director as a ghostly, haunting figure costumed in an old-fashioned lacy black dress as if going to a funeral, to which she’s properly playing a character called Lady Death so there’s no ambiguity about the status and intentions from the grim reaper concept, and Ali Chappell who isn’t foreign to leading lady role with Alexander and has the nearly the entire story on her shoulders with scenes of her as the lady in red cutting the throats of window shoppers on a nightly basis that becomes reverse engineered into the deconstruction of her as a killer with humanizing sympathy. Despite not much dialogue, both Munster and Chappell hit their marks and cater to Alexander’s idea of posturing expression that mostly involves Chappell laying topless in an egg-shaped chair, an animal skinned carpet, or on a black mannequin chair.

“Girl With a Razor Blade” is cutting-edge existentialism and novel re-imagining around the idea of death’s plans for us all. Alexander dives into the depths of mortal consequences that limbo the soul into a loop of insensible pain and suffering.  As we learn more about this woman and her marital troubles, presumably separated by legal force and a resentfully angry husband, from her child, Chappell’s character has no other place to go than down into darkness, mentally and physically.  Its during that time Lady Death approaches to become a harbinger of death, puppeteering her subject’s will to conduct more self-harm as the villain and the victim in a mind warping illusion that’ll fool the viewers’ perception of the woman’s insatiable lust for red jugular juice.  Alexander’s cinematography style is simply ethereal and elegant with a touch of precise choreography in the characters positions and movements to reflect a vivid dichotomy between the present stillness of surrealism and the past’s stressful reality. “Girl With a Razor Blade” is grim bordering the line of certain religious doctrines in condemning oneself to an unsavory existence, if you can even call it an existence, of facing yourself, your fate, over and over again until no longer the feeling the need to spill blood is gnawing at the marionette strings and waking up to the truth, facing it, can be free. There are moments the blade is a sexual object, almost like an obsession with what it represents, which would be death, that can be addicted, can’t be ignored, and won’t let you forget it.

Stylish, cryptic, and thought provoking, Chris Alexander’s seventh film “Girl With a Straight Razor” cuts onto a high-definition, AVC encoded, Blu-ray home video courtesy of Darkside Releasing. Two versions of the film are available – a Darkside Releasing expanded cut with a runtime of 67 minutes and a director’s original cut of the film with a runtime of 57 minutes. Both produced during the pandemic films are presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality wasn’t the best for Darkside Releasing with a shaky, often banding, image mostly throughout due to compression issues. You can see the blurry splotches in the darker portions of the scenes. Delineation is also difficult during rainbow strobe effect when the woman slices at away during a kill moment in a fit of haziness that leaves barely an outline of the contours. In fact, Alexander’s style is all over the map with filters, lens flares, and gel lighting that can be a little too much and gaudy to digest. The English language 5.1 surround sound has a lossy framework that’s more of a soft crunch than a sharp crisp. There isn’t much dialogue to be hand in the film, but the clarity is there, it’s just not robustly defined. Aside from two versions available of the film, bonus features also include an audio commentary on the director’s cut, three short music videos by co-star Thea Munster and her band “Night Chills” as she spotlights her niche playing of the theremin instrument, and Darkside Releasing 2021 Giallo and Surreal trailer reels. A character-driven and introspective “Girl With a Razor Blade” laments as an acquiescent nightmare breaded lightly in giallo features and fried heavily in the abstract qualities of surrealism. Don’t expect Chris Alexander’s film to be straight forward giallo with a straight blade razor and you’ll come out with only a close shave nick into your expectations.

“Girl With A Straight Razor” available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!

A Mushroom Cloud of DNA Altering EVIL Proportions! “Mutant Blast” reviewed! (Troma / Blu-ray)

“Mutant Blast” is a BLAST!  Now available at Amazon.com

A top-secret military unit conducts human experiments to create the perfect super-soldier. Their illegal and amoral work has proven more difficult than desired with only one subject, TS-347, being deemed functional and fit for dutiful purpose. Maria, operating incognito with an adversarial paramilitary group, infiltrates the cell section where TS-347 is being held to either purloin the property or destroy it in order to not have the DNA be replicated. There’s only one problem – the failed superhuman experimental trials that transformed people into flesh-eating zombies have escaped confinement to begin the apocalypse. Barely escaping with their lives, Maria and TS-347 run into Pedro, a simple, low ambitious man with no clue to what is happening after awaking from a party-induced hangover. Together, they trek to the ocean for safety, but multiple nuclear bombs send their journey into a tailspin of mutant hostiles along their path.

A nuclear orgasm within every minute, the Portugal-made post-apocalyptic comedy-adventure-horror “Mutant Blast” is crazy fun and certifiably crazy. Produced in 2014 but not released until 2018, the Fernando Alle written-and-directed debut radioactive-to-rendezvous through a zombie infested and freakshow continent leaves no stone unturned with an unbridled and practical effects-laden story that’s reminiscent of early 90’s splatter-comedies. Being one of the select more recent films to be actually produced instead of distributed by Troma Films (“The Toxic Avenger,” “The Class of Nuk’Em High”), “Mutant Blast” doesn’t have to work too hard to be granted passage into Tromaville’s sophisticated affinity catalogue. Troma’s masterminds Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman, who has a zombified bit part in the film, coproduce “Mutant Blast” alongside Alle and Matt Manjouridas, executive producer of Shudder’s “The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, also financially supports Alle’s film that should one day, hopefully, be on the docket for Joe Bob Briggs to introduce its rat-fu, seafood-fu, and titty-shot-fu to the rest of the horror fanbase.

Living her best imitation of Ellen Ripley with a shaved dome from “Alien 3” is Maria Leite as the infiltrating noble cause soldier aiming to stop the experimental creation of human super soldiers by any means necessary.  Leite makes looking like a badass action hero pretty convincing and her comedic timing is wonderfully contrasted with Pedro, “Blarghaaahrgarg’s” Pedro Barão Dias in his introductory role into feature films, as a lighthearted and bewildered man strikingly outside his element and out classed what’s about to face him.  If you haven’t noticed, the characters names don’t stray far from the actor’s and that makes the chemistry a little easier, especially on “Mutant Blast’s” ambitious post-apocalypse and kooky freakshow façade.  Dias has the charming qualities of a gleefully lost puppy in a world that has everything trying to kill his character Pedro where previously the carefree partying fool was left alone, if not also insignificantly thought of, to his own devices.  If hitting the notes on the “Alien” franchise notes a part of the Fernando Alle’s must-have adulation check list then “The Terminator” is another box the filmmaker sought to check off as well with the TS-347 cyborg-ish super solider played by the then nearly 50-year-old professional bodybuilder Joaquim Guerreiro doing double duty as also the evil counterpart TS-504, splitting his obvious presence except with a prosthetic mask, makeup, and way more clothing overtop his shirtless glistening pectorals and deltas.  Their odyssey to the ocean has them cross paths with other survivors, sprouting various fission bomb mutated genes as if seeds were sowed in their skin.  Mário Oliveira, Hugo Cássimo, Andreia Brito, Joao Gualdino, Pedro Caseiro, Mauro Herminio, Francisco Alfonso Lopes, Basco Ferreira, Paulo Alexandre Firmino, and João Vilas fill the colorful shoes playing one, or sometimes multiple, mutants.

If you like gooey and explosive foot-to-head smashes, then “Mutant Blast” is for you.  If you like single punch decapitations, then “Mutant Blast” is for you.  If you like baby rat hands, third ear growths, melted faces, horn protrusions, zombie head backpacks, giant rats squirting highly acidic teat milk, Dolphinman versus a French speaking Lobster man, then “Mutant Blast” is definitively in your very best interest. Past all that juvenile jazz that, if done right like Alle did it, transforms a lobotomizing spectacle into a complete cherry of cinema, underneath the liberating layers of free, self-made movies, lies a subtle message weaved into the very fabric of “Mutant Blast’s” nuclear core story. Alle’s undoubted wants audiences to take away from his film not only riotous laughter and an appreciation for tangible gore effects but also to take away a sense of how we, people of Earth, seek to self-destruct. Life is precious yet experiments turn into crazed maniacs, we nuke ourselves in an ironic act of fighting fire with fire in cleaning up our messes, and with the lobster who turned into man names Jean-Pierre, wears a suit, speaks French, and hates “motherfucking” dolphins delivers a monologue served up on a platter of overfishing, environmental indifference and destruction, and a general apathy overview for life in general conceptualizes as the vertex of the Alle’s entire theme before the one-on-one with the James Gunn created Dolphinman who makes a very special appearance.

Troma’s newly upgraded, upscaled, and likely high on uppers release of “Mutant Blast” is not available on a director’s cut Blu-ray that wouldn’t be complete or official with a Lloyd Kaufman introduction from the COVID bunker. Released in high definition 1080p, the region free, 2-disc, AVC encoded Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an 83-minute runtime. I’m genuinely impressed by the compression of this Troma release as the image quality looks quite good with little-to-no compression afflictions in the digital video, displaying an above par codec in the ballpark of 24-26 megabytes. Granted, “Mutant Blast” isn’t perfect with signal aliasing infractions, but the overall image stands out amongst the catalogue as one of the best from Tromaville. Offering two dual audio options – a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a LPCM 2.0 stereo track – you’ll get to enjoy every squish, squash, and squirt on the effects track to compliment to head bashing assaults. The Portuguese and French language dialogue tracks render no issues with clarity and the English subtitles keep things smooth and easy with ample timing and errorfree. There are a slew of dubbed languages including English, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and, if you want to be precise, Brazilian Portuguese. Troma also offers up some fantoxically futuristic extras with a making of featurette Lobsterman Caws, the giant rat pre-production test, a doc about “Mutant Blast” heading to Korea over a three-day coverage span, Portugual audiences’ reactions to “Mutant Blast,” the film’s special effects, blooper reel, bottlecap challenge, the original theatrical trailer, international trailer, 30 second trailer, and see how Lloyd Kaufman transformed into a flesh-eating Portuguese zombie. In the gloriously objectionable essence of all that makes Troma Troma, “Mutant Blast” is textbook Troma, a modern new face for the company, and is radiantly glowing from the same toxic waste that gave birth to the beloved Toxie.

“Mutant Blast” is a BLAST!  Now available at Amazon.com

The Old EVIL Scorpion and the Frog Tale in “Drive” reviewed! (Second Sight / Screener)



“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

A solitary mechanic and movie stunt driver offers his services as a getaway driver for illicit odd jobs.  He falls for his single parenting neighbor and as the two begin their romantic affair, her ex-con lover returns from prison to reintegrate back into her and their son’s life.   When ex-con trouble brews an inescapable situation involving ruthless gangsters calling in their favor for prison protection, the stunt driver involves himself with his moonlighting work but when things go terribly wrong and he becomes a target, everyone he knows and cares for are threatened by the mobsters.  War is waged in the fast lane between the mysterious stunt driver and Los Angeles most feared gangsters for the sake of an innocent mother and her child caught in the middle.

Around 2010-2011, when I first heard of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” starring “The Notebook” and “Lars and the Real Girl’s” Ryan Gosling, I thought to myself, why would I watch this quirky comedy-romance actor drive around in a run-of-the-mill stunt car action film?  Immediately, I wrote off the film penned by “The Four Feathers’” screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose now penning the stories and teleplays of a little Disney+ streaming series you may have heard of called “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”  I now admit it, as painful to my pride as it is, that I was so ignorantly wrong about Refn’s “Drive” that has turned out to be a cult hit present day and a really good and exceptional crime-drama that’s subtle on the dialogue, high on the graphic violence, and all-around superb performances.  The script is the filmic adaptation based off American author James Sallis’s novel of the same title, keeping the neo-noir intact under of guise of muscle car predilection, and is a produced by Gigi Pritzker and Chris Ranta of Oddlot Entertainment (“Buried Alive”), Jonathan Oakes and Gary Michael Walters of Bold Films (“The Neon Demon”), Marc Platt of Marc Platt Productions (“Wanted”), and Motel Movies (“Blue Valentine”). 

To be upfront, Ryan Gosling has never been a go-to movie star for me, personally, so there might have been some psychogenic bias blocker keeping me away from the film over the last decade.  However, over the years, my pallet has grown in diversity and in tastes, chiefly because of influences in my life, and so curiosity got the better of me in wanting to explore the story of and the craft of Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive.”  The way Gosling portrays the lead, known only as either the Driver or Kid, heavily relies on expression with minimal dialogue and lets all his emotions be poured through his eyes and body language as well as his actions in an anti-charismatic sense that, in a good way, leaves the character unassuming but still confident.  Watching Gosling’s methodical flow through the role and while having a little knowledge of the neurodivergence, it’s not difficult to see that the principal character comes off as a person somewhere on the autism spectrum and doing some post-credits research, I’m not the only one who had the same thought.  Unsociable, quiet, lack of facial expression, and obsessed with routine, especially when moonlighting as a criminal getaway driver with a set of very specific conditions, are just some examples of his behavior that point in the autism direction.  When the driver meets beautiful single parent neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, “Shame”), that is when we start seeing him deviate from his isolation, from his routine, and become more complex with what was previously a non-existent life, but of course as life blossoms into something new and safe, gangster obstacles rear their ugly head and the criminal in him is forced out for a head on collision.  “Ex Machina’s” Oscar Issacs is the first hurdle as the recently release ex-con dragged back into unscrupulous dealings with unsavory organized crime that climb the latter to “Hellboy’s” Ron Perlman and “Taxi Driver’s” Albert Brooks, business partners who oversee the West Coast turf. Perlman is a natural tough guy, as we’ve seen in countless works stretching over numerous decades and I would have never pictured “The In-Laws” and “Finding Nemo” Albert Brooks to be the minatory type but he does in fact have a dark-twinkle in his eye and can extract the false sense of security out of people before he jabs a fork in their eye and slits their throat…wrist….guts….yeah, his character loves to knife others. The all-star cast rounds out with Bryan Cranston (“Godzilla”) as the Driver’s mob-connected boss-friend-agent and Christina Hendricks (“The Neon Demon”) in a lowkey accomplice role that makes a gruesome, unforgettable impact.

Speaking of “The Neon Demon,” a more recent Nicholas Winding Refn film, you’ll begin to absorb the Denmark-born filmmaker’s stylistic motifs between the two films involving lingering shots, graphic violence, and the integration of electro-pop tracks into an eclectic soundtrack. Many of the scenes convey an emotion through dialogue-less scenes and the soundtrack to contrast actions speak louder than words. However, there is one radical theory of mine that I believe has a firm foundation is that everything from point A to point Z in the story is all in the Driver’s fantasy world. I know “Drive” is a movie and the need to suspend belief is important but only to an extent and depending on the quality derived from the filmmaker. Refn’s a good filmmaker, we know this, but everything the Driver experiences pitches upon pure imagination when the truth is stretched to be in his favor for the length of the feature. First example – the Driver slams into the side of another car head on, but the headlights, front bumper, and ventilation grille are all clearly intact. Second example – a tense-elevator scene involving the Driver, Irene, and a mobster assigned to take the Driver out takes an improbable turn when the Driver turns to Irene, both bathed in the sudden appearance of a spotlight, and they kiss passionately for quite a while. The moment become the perfect opportunity for the goon to blow away his target. Instead, he lets them kiss and then a close-quarter fight ensues shortly after. Third example but not last – the Driver is nearly an unstoppable force with no background to who he really is or why he is in Los Angeles, but he fights like a hardened criminal and knows how to play the organized crime game, never really have bad hand in his deck of cards, and even is given an ambiguous “Shane” ending. So, I ask again, is the beautiful girl, the ripe for the picking off gangsters, and the prodigious skillset all in his head?

I’ve clearly misjudged Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to be pretty-boy, stock-story, waste of time. Though I’m still not convinced about Ryan Gosling’s acting, like a Supreme Court Judge nowadays, I’m overturning my naive judgement and calling “Drive” a true modern day cult film hiding in plain sight, receiving new life from Second Sight films with an UK limited edition 4K UHF/Blu-ray release as well as a standard 4K and Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, this review covers only a BD-R screener so commenting on the true quality of the image and audio will not be recorded, but release specs include a new 4K master produced by the original post-production company with Refn’s approval, the UHD is presented in Dolby Vision HDR graded by the film’s original colorist, audio options include a Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles, and the 4K UHD are region free while the Blu-rays are region locked encoded on region B. Standard bonus features include a new exclusive commentary by director Nicolas Winding Ren and The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, a feature length conversation with Refn, editor Mat Newman, and composer Cliff Martinez reminiscing about their sudden post-theatrical career success with “Drive” when the film saw more success on video, Gutting a Getaway – a new interview with Mat Newman, and 3 Point Turns – a new video essay by Leigh Singer. The limited-edition contents include a premium box set with new Driver Scorpion artwork by AllCity, a 240-page hardback book with new essays by various authors, an exclusive interview with “Drive” author James Sallis hosted by Matthew Thrift, original storyboards, stills, behind-the-scenes photos, the original Sallis novel with new AllCity artwork as well, and 7 collectible art cards. What a massive, massive haul for the film that didn’t do great in theaters due to poor financial support by investors who saw the film as a failure. The film has a runtime of 100 minutes and is UK certified 18. Don’t be like me and neglect a chance to see “Drive,” a great piston-pumping and violently beautiful crime-drama paralleled love story that deserves our time, our attention, and everything including the kitchen sink Second Sight Films pumped into the tremendous limited-edition boxset that dropped this week for release!

“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

Southern EVIL Hospitality. “Girl on a Chain Gang” reviewed! (The Film Detective and Something Weird / Blu-ray)

Become Tethered to the “Girl on a Chain Gang” Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Three young Northerners travel down to the deep South city of Caron’s Landing for Civil Rights improvement on voter registration. Their convertible is pulled over by two sleazy deputies with a hankering to stick the activists with trumped-up charges and accost them with an official arrest that forces them to be before a drunk, aggressive named Sheriff Sonny Lew Wymer, Carson Landing’s very own unofficial head of the municipality between his unwavering loyal kin and those in his pocket with blackmail to gain an indefinite number of favors, for swift money-mulcting and to be the victims of Sonny Lew’s judge, jury, and execution sentencing of segregated injustice. An onslaught of abusive authority sends the lone woman of the three activists to do hard labor on a black chain gang and as she attempts to escape, she must survive Sonny Lew’s hound-led manhunt with intent to shoot-to-kill.

Hard to believe that we still live in a society where the surface level racism has improved over the centuries but systemic racism remains a vein-slithering and venomous asp prevalent still in not only public society but in education, justice system, and, well, just about everywhere you can think of and films like Jerry Gross’s “Girl on a Chain Gang,” though ostentatiously sleazy and exploitative as the title sounds, would still ring smidgens of truth profoundly, yet subtly, engrained across the nation even though the Gross’s film was released over half a century ago in 1966 when that pure hatred and ugliness was at peak efficiency, especially in the deep Southern U.S. The producer from New York City who promoted “I Drink Your Blood” and “Son of Dracula,” with Ringo Starr nonetheless, found a knack in presenting exploitation in his directorial feature debut – “Girl on a Chain Gang.” Originally called “Bayou” before a title and script rework, the Dan Olsen original story was penned by Gross and shot more locally to the auteur in Long Island, New York. Nicholas Demetroules cowrote the edgy-for-its-time script full of malversation under the Jerry Gross Productions banner with a logo that looks the hell of a lot like Warner Brothers.

Part of “Girl on a Chain Gang’s” suffocating sleaze success is due in part to William Watson’s rotten-to-the-core, corruption performance as the devilishly intelligent and despicable Sheriff, Sonny Lew.  The “It’s Alive III” actor, who made a name for himself in indie westerns as mostly playing a character on the wrong side of the law, debuted his forte into villainhood affairs with this particular Jerry Gross production by portraying an alcoholic lawman with dirt on the most townsfolk of Carson’s Landing and can persuade them like pawns or like lemmings to exact his will.  Watson’s good at what he molds for the cigar chewing Sonny Lew by never letting up  his foot off the lewdness gas pedal that drifts around internal state investigations into his distortion of the law and even around his own cronies and county bumpkins with secret banter codes that’s clear to them but ambiguous to the naked understanding.  The three young northerners are chosen to reflect the stereotypical justifications to be oppressed by racists eyes just for the way they look in skin and in dress despite their education and suitable for society behavior.  Because one man is African American and the other two whites consort with him, the activists become relentlessly targeted by the bigoted brigade led by Sonny Lew, colluded his deputies (Ron Charles and Peter Nevard), the town drunk (Matt Reynolds), the see-nothing, do nothing bar own (James Harvey), and the unlicensed town doctor (Phillip Vanyon) who is too frightened of Sonny Lew to act on his conscious.  The woman in the mix, Jean (Julie Ange, “Teenage Mother”) reduces down to being the principal object of exploitation inside the story as the titular girl in the chain gang and out being given illusionary promises of future leading lady roles by Gross yet that undertaking never fleshed out.  Between Watson and Ange, a genuine baseline of power over someone else is greatly disturbing and not terribly far from reality.  Most of the other performances are a bit ostentatiously cliched regarding small town Southerners complete with cowboy hats, being sloppy drunkards, and take with a gimmicky draw.  The cast rounds out with Arlene Farber (“Two Girls for a Madman”) as the town floozy, Sam Cutter as Sonny Lew’s public defender uncle and, also including, Ron Segal, Henry Baker, Horace Bailey, Wolf Landsman, Earl Leake, and Richard Antony.

For 1966, “Girl on a Chain Gang” is pretty dark.  Of course, some explicit and taboo subject material that were not acceptable to show on screen back then must be read between the lines, but nonetheless, there’s enough icky and sordid personalities to get your blood boiling and your palms sweaty because of how purely contentious these themes can strike at the heart of a morally conscious soul.  The hammy acting in the second half almost makes a joke out of the context and one can become caught up and lost in the blinding caricatures spouting off ridiculous renditions of the ignorant South population that isn’t supposed to have one funny bone in its body. Though the title is eye-catching and provocative, “Girl on a Chain Gang” is selling more sexism than racism. Jean is only shackled with the chain gang for the last 10-minutes or so, just enough time for a whipmaster’s disparaging remarks to be heard and for two black men to form an escape plan. The title doesn’t speak to much of the three Northerners as a whole being subjected to bigot atrocities and without reading the back cover, you’d think the 95-minute runtime would be entirely a woman in prison film of this poor and young fresh meat working the pickaxe, sweating, and chained to a row of harden convicts with both convict and guard having their way against her will. No. Jerry Gross knew how to market this film, to catch people’s attention, by selling savage social representation as dressed sexploitation.

The Film Detective and Something Weird Video unearthed the Jerry Gross debut long thought to be inspired by the murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 and gave it the special edition Blu-ray treatment. A well-preserved transfer is now cleaned-up eye-candy for a high-definition look this black and white feature presented in now the fairly archaic 1.37:1 aspect, aka Academy, ratio with only a few lingering thin scratch marks throughout. Trust me, we’ve seen far worse transfers and the scratches here are evident but only if you’re keeping an eye out for them. The high contrast and detail offer a good, delineated view of events on average, pulling an average of approx. 20 Mbps. Certain exterior scenes are poorer than others with a slightly more washed brightness. The English language DTS track wavers between a muted mono and a lossy 2.0 with the dialogue suffering the most and so will you know if you’re not wearing headphones as you’ll be up-and-down on the volume of your remote control. There’s a rife static hissing that does random clean up from time-to-time. The audio tracks are clearly unstable whereas the video files have fared better with Hi-Def upgrade. The not rated disc does come with bonus features including software material of a short history from genesis-to-death on Jerry Gross hosted by film historian Chris Poggiali and hardware material in the form a 14-page essay booklet by Something Weird Video’s head-honcho Lisa Petrucci and a novelty ticket of certification of jury service where you can fill in your own name to state you sat in judgement and witnessed the trail of “The People of Caron’s Landing vs. Miss Jean Rollins.” “Girl on a Chain Gang” abstracts only a fraction of deep-cutting prejudice but that makes this roughie old-timer no less important and still remains satisfyingly excessive in its violence.

Become Tethered to the “Girl on a Chain Gang” Blu-ray at Amazon.com!