The Death of a Daughter Leads Down to a Psychological Path of EVIL! “The Haunting of Julia” reviewed! (Imprint / Blu-ray)

Limited Edition of “The Haunting of Julia” Available at Amazon.com!

This morning was like any other as the Julia rustles up breakfast for her all-business husband Magnus and their lively vivacious daughter Kate, but when Kate violent chokes on a piece of apple and Julie performs a bloody, untried tracheotomy in a state of panic in order to save her daughter’s life, their lives are forever changed as Katie dies in Julia’s arms. For weeks, Julia’s melancholic depression commits her to hospital care. When she’s ready for release per the Doctor’s recommendation, Julia avoids returning to Magnus as their relationship was never a mutually loving one but rather a normal route connected by the presence of their daughter Kate. In order to restart her life, Julia separates from a controlling Magnus and purchases a magnificent London house only to then be plagued by ghostly occurrences she suspects is the work of her late daughter. What Julia comes to find out is the troubling history of her newfound home.

Mia Farrow solidified herself as a genre actress by starring in the archetype for films revolving around the prince of darkness, Satan, in 1968 with “Rosemary’s Baby.”  Unlikely seeing herself as a prominent woman of a notable rite horror, Farrow quickly understood her value in the genre as a complex female lead in the unsettling and gothic protuberance atmosphere style.  Nearly a decade later, Farrow stars in the Richard Loncraine directed “The Haunting of Julia,” similar only to the menacing supernatural child component but digs deeper in manipulative complacency, psychological guilt, and of that distorted reality created by the stout motherhood connection.  The “Slade of Flame” director set his sights off of Rock’N’Roll inspired dramas around the ugliness of the music industry and onto the filmic adaptation of the Peter Straub novel “Julia,” penned by the Dave Humphries and “Xtro” trilogy director Harry Bromley Davenport.  The joint United Kingdom and Canadian production, titled originally as “Full Circle” in the UK, is produced by Peter Fetterman (“The Exorcism of Hugh”), under Fetterman Productions, and Alfred Pariser (“Shivers”) of the Canadian Film Development Corporation. 

Mia Farrow’s distinct reactions and acting style very much engulfs the majority of horror experienced in “The Haunting of Julia,” as well as exhibited in “Rosemary’s Baby.”  The glassy eyed, long stares, the frightened, coiled emotions that swirl seemingly out of control, and the switch-gear ability to be strong and compliant in tense-riddled situations that just only involve herself in the scene.  While “Rosemary’s Baby’ and “The Haunting of Julia” may exact the same gothic aperture for child-themed horror and both are adapted literary works, “The Haunting of Julia” unfolds not in the anticipating of child birth but rather postmortem with the aftermath affliction of a child’s sudden and terrible demise that occurred in the frantic mother’s misguided embrace to take a knife right to her child’s jugular in hopes of dislodging an air denying obstruction.  This opening scene shocks us right into a grim framework that simultaneously divides trust and empathy for Julia as circumstances unveil what we might suspect all along, that Julia’s mental health suffered immensely.  What pushes Julia into undue stress is her controlling, dispassionate husband Magnus. Played by “Black Christmas’s” Keir Dullea.  Dullea pulls off the unsympathetic impassive father who just lost a child and can’t see the underlying psychological unrest his wife suffers.  In short, Magnus attempts to gatekeep Julia’s damaged psyche by trying to strong arm her back into normalcy, even going as far as manipulating Julia and his own sister Lily (Jill Bennett, “The Skull”) into slipping his foot into the door with a wife who fled from his grasp as soon as released from the hospital for essentially shutting down after their daughter’s death.  That toxic pressure is coupled with the seemingly unnatural incidences in her new home that clash her old life, chained to an unconsciously broken family, with her new life that seeks to decompress from a pair of diverse traumas.  “The Haunting of Julia” rounds out the cast with Tom Conti (“Blind Revenge”), Mary Morris (“Prison Without Bars”), Anna Wing (“Xtro”), Pauline Jameson (“Night Watch”), Peter Sallis (“Frankenstein:  The True Story”), Susan Porrett (“Plunkett & Macleane), Edward Hardwicke (“Venom”), and Sophie Ward (“Book of Blood”).

More or less forgotten by U.S. audiences due to no fault of the film’s own acclamatory measure or the audiences willing participation, the international produced “The Haunting of Julia” wasn’t publicized in the U.S. despite the two American leads – Mia Farrow and Keir Dullea.  Richard Loncraine’s film has incredible merit to the idea of a mother’s loss within the construct of gothic horror, which, in another aspect of unfathomable irony, resembled more closely to the American gothic style of the supernatural sequestered dark house.  Yet, this house is in London, wedged in like row homes, but as mentioned numerous times in the film, the house has distinction and grandeur that overlooks the buried ghostly history of the previous owners.  Julia absorbs the stories, filters through them, and comes to believe her own daughter is either trying to reach out to her or is hellbent on revenge for the amateur hour tracheotomy.  Loncraine does the phenomenal job of shocking our core with the early choking death scene of Julia’s daughter but once that dust settles, the pacing becomes more rhythmic to the point of building, slowly, Julia’s encounters with unknown forces that, at first, are just seemingly bizarre happenstances of left on bedroom plug-in radiators and playground visions of a girl that resembles her daughter cutting up another kid’s pet turtle.  These events play into their evident conspicuousness to push audiences deep into Julia’s mysterious milieu, officially sealing something isn’t right with the clairvoyant Ms. Flood’s scarred-screaming vision of a bloody child.  Julie become engrossed into learning the truth, eager to determine if that child is her late daughter and is fed tidbits of the house’s history that not only continues her own investigation but other research into other house tragedies that fork-split her presumptions.  As all this noise tornadoes around Julia, the stories, the occurrences, the deaths, viewers will never deduce to a reason closer to home, to Julia herself, until possibly too late at the end with a grisly open-ended finale that what Julia has been experience may have been done at her own forlorn hand. 

Atmospherically sound, undoubtedly creepy, and spearheaded by strong performances, “The Haunting of Julia” is the unspoken heroine of late 1970s supernatural horror – until now.  Imprint and Via Vision of Australia release a limited edition, high definition 1080p, 2-disc Blu-ray set with an AVC encoded BD50 of a new 4K scan transfer of the original 35mm negative. Presented in an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the 4K scan is super sharp with virtually no compression issues on the formatted storage. Blacks, and negative spaces in general, are rich and void, despite Peter Hannan’s low-contrast and hazy surreal veneer that definitely plays into a psychotronic dreaminess. The resolution goes unaltered, and the natural grain maintains the original theatrical presentation for a revered 4k transfer. The English LPCM 2.0 mono track mix audibly delineates a viable one input split to make the dialogue and all other tracks comprehendible. Despite some slight here and there hissing, dialogue is amped up nicely for better resolved results that still remains mingled with the ambience in an all for one, one for all audio format. “Space Trucker’s” Colin Towns’s insidious and distinctly composed soundtrack reaches into the recesses of soul and strikes at the very nerve of fear with an unsettling score, perfectly suited for a mother drowning in the pitfalls of a supernatural sanctum. Optional English Hard-of-Hearing subtitles are available. The first disc special features include two audio commentaries – one with director Richard Loncraine and Simon Fitzjohn and the second, brand new, commentary with authors Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons, new interviews with composer Colin Towns Breaking the Circle, cinematographer Peter Hannan Framing the Circle, and Hugh Harlow Joining the Circle, a new video essay by film historian Kat Ellinger Motherhood & Madness: Mia Farrow and the Female Gothic, the original trailer, and an option to play the film with either “The Haunting of Julia” or “Full Circle” opening title. The second disc is a compact disc of Colin Town’s 11-track score featuring 20 minutes of previously unheard music out of 60:52 of music. The limited-edition set comes with a neat lenticular cover on front of the hard box of what we assume is Julia’s ghost glaring at you from all angles as her eyes follow you. Inside is a clear Blu-ray snapper that’s a little thicker than your traditional snapper and comes with a built-in secondary disc holder. The cover art is simply Mia Farrow cowering outside the bathroom door but the reversible cover displays an original “Full Circle” poster as the front image. The disc arts are illustrative and compositions with the feature presentation disc the same as hard box lenticular without it being lenticular and CD pressed with Mia Farrow’s face in the background and a child’s cymbal banging toy in the foreground. Also in the hard box is a 44-page booklet feature an historical background essay by critic/writer Sean Hogan that has black and white and color photos and various poster art. The film, which comes in as Imprint catalogue # 218, runs at 97 minutes, is unrated, and, is assumed, for region A playback as it’s an Australian release – there is no indication on the package. “The Haunting of Julia” is Mia Farrow’s shining, yet lost effort post Roman Polanksi and is a remarkable look at subtle disconnection from extreme guilt when in every corner, every sign, is thought to be about your lost child.

Limited Edition of “The Haunting of Julia” Available at Amazon.com!


A Gnostically, Esoteric EVIL Acid Trip. “Archons” reviewed! (Syndicado / DVD)

“Archons” are Watching You.  You Can Watch Them on DVD!  Click the Cover to Purchase!

A once promising, up-and-coming rock trio struggles years later to exit the shadow of their only hit song. They embark on an acid-stimulated spiritual canoe trip down the meandering river pathways of British Columbia, hoping the creative juices will flow under the influence while connecting the native wilderness. Along the way, they pick up a beach camping super fan and continue their trek toward mapped out checkpoints and take a hit of acid at each stop. The drugs have seemingly taken effect in a strange, voyeuristic way as if someone, or something, is watching them at each campsite. The visions become terrifyingly vivid as a pair of humanoid creatures rummage through their gear during the night and survey them from afar no matter where the band are or how far they travel. To make the situation worse, the acid they’re ingesting might be the root cause that not only expands their mind beyond the brain’s limited scope but also grows a biological entity wriggling for more room space.

The influence behind Nick Szostakiwskyj’s “Archons” is something fascinatingly outlandish in what’s a simile to the Scientology handbook. Rulers of the realm, creators of the physical universe, guardians of the celestial heavens, architects of the kingdom of darkness, archons, as some historical cultural teachings would have it, rise above traditional and conventional spiritualities with an expanse and infinitude of spiritual knowledge as related to the Gnosticism belief system. For the Vancouver filmmaker, Szostakiwskyj adapts the ideology with a bad acid trip in his 2020 cosmic horror that was once under the working time, “Hammer of the Gods.” “Archons” is the third feature film for Szostakiwskyj and the second otherworldly horror following “Black Mountain Side,” a precursing complementor that also captures the spectacularly natural, yet ominous lit, Canadian terrain in the Winter opposite season compared to “Archons’s'” Summer. The independent Canadian feature is A Farewell to Kings Entertainment production and is produced by Szostakiwskyj with Cameron Tremblay and alongside with the now defunction A Farewell to Kings Entertainment executive producer team of Samantha Carly and Steve Kaszas, who are now in the leadership team of Alright Alice Productions, and James and Susan McDonald.

“Archons” is tightly casted with less than a handful of canoers being spied upon by the gnarly gatekeepers of the universe. The story surrounds the spiritual and drug-laced scull trip of Dog Sled, a three-piece rock band who have lost their creative mojo and star power momentum with a fickle music fanbase. Lead singer Mitchell Ashley-Hoffman doesn’t have the emotional range to synthesize great lyrics but has the vocals of a sway fans and is played with Kurt Cobain-esque and mellow concern by Josh Collins. Rob Raco and Samantha Carly play bassist and songwriter Eric and drummer Olivia, aka Liv, and the pair are more in tune with each other while Mitchell mind wanders and drools over the ride hitcher and tarry eyed fan, April (Parmiss Sehat). The Vancouver based cast have enough chemistry to be slowly dismantling as a band on the fringe of collapse with backdoor dealings from one of them aiming to go solo into the limelight and to hold secrets that lead to life-threatening consequences all in the name of spiritual retreat.  However, to the extent of the being followed, spied upon, and endangered by hostile creatures, the character concern level is too low as if apathy for interdimensional beings that at first were cloaked and now are full view is not at the top of the internal fear alarm list for any of them.  The situation is written downplayed and the subtle actions to understand what’s in front of them mutes the anxiety for the audience.  “Archons” rounds out the cast with radio voices, minor roles, and two archons with Billie-Rae Grant, Lauren Donnelly (“Viral”), Michael Dickson (“Driver From Hell”), Timothy Lyle (“The Revenant”), Cameron Tremblay, Nathaniel Gordon, Marc Anthony Williams (“Black Mountain Side”), and Quinton Boisclair (“Demonic).

“Archons” has this beautiful backdrop of British Columbia’s topographical nature in a panoramic view in a breathtakingly serene opening shot and continues the wilderness motif with a thick forest and a never-ending river that seemingly swallow a group clearly not in their usual element.  “Archons” also has a beautifully disturbing breadth of perception concept laced with drugs and the gnostic universe.  The cosmic horror element is not forced or over-the-top being wrapped and shrouded in ambiguous mystery that keeps audiences glued to the progression baby steps before coming to terms with a dropped veil that causes reactionary looks over your shoulder with every unexplainable sound not in view.  Szostakiwskyj is in no hurry to quickly build an underlayer reality that ties into a dualistic system of two worlds running parallel to each other and colliding when drugs produce the sneak peek behind the curtain.  What shouldn’t be seen is clearly bad for the protagonists’ health, much like drugs in themselves if abused, and Szostakiwskyj plays into that limitation of the mind as if the part the brain or the organism that allows to see it all overloads, or overdoses if you will, the network of tissue and neurons until it bursts outward like a Yellostone geyser in a spray of blood in what is a pretty neat and simple effect, one of the few practical effects by Geoff Ingeberg in this rather performance driven film, as well as a neat scene to behold while the group travels down river when the unexpected pop occurs.  “Archons” is open for a numerous of interpretations, leaving the possibilities endless, but we don’t exactly know where Eric the bassist obtained the snack baggie drugs, what the creatures are intently undertaking, or if the vague final scene is the aftermath of a horrible acid trip gone fatally wrong and has dislodged memories of events, jumbling them up to the point where nothing makes sense and leaves more questions than answers.  The story definitely ends with more desires in detail, delineation, and context but isn’t the less-is-more concept the bread-and-butter of cosmic horror where the unknown is the scariest part that makes us feel infinitely small knowing the world around us is infinitely bigger?

Splice into a new and startling reality with your own DVD copy of “Archons” courtesy of Syndicado Distribution. Stored on a DVD9, “Archons” is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 that enhances the initial landscape shots in the opening scenes. From then on out, Cameron Tremblay’s cinematography sticks to eyeline mid-to-closeup framing with a here-and-there upward angle to inject foreboding if the scene calls for it. Despite being pitch black, the aphotic zones Tremblay creates without the use of artificial lighting or tinting day scenes provides a sobering and somber authenticity of young people being stalked in the woods. Syndicado stakes a larger storage capacity for a low-budget film and the result pays off despite the decoding 5-6Mbps rate with the blacks looking especially inky without an inkling of compression issues, such as banding or splotchiness that plague darker scenes. The cooler color pallet digs a little more into bleak atmospherics, but there are warm pops of the BC bush with lime green leaves. The English Stereo 2.0 challenges to be more potent than it should be as the quiet and desolate trek the nature should incite more directional channels for a sound design that relies on the rustle of branches and the creatures’ low gutturals off in the distance and in an undeterminable bearing. What’s essentially a bare bones release, the region 1, clear cased DVD comes with the theatrical trailer on a static menu that also includes chapter selection. “Archons” is unrated with a runtime of 88 minutes. A low-key cosmic horror with eye-opening chills, “Archons” is cabbalistic cinema for the selective few who will understand it but does harp on the relatable proverb of with seeking fame comes a price.

“Archons” are Watching You.  You Can Watch Them on DVD!  Click the Cover to Purchase!

Those Little EVIL Buggers Ruin Everything! “Ankle Biters” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



Injured hockey goon Sean Chase has severe on-ice anger issues but leave from the game curbs his temper for the better after meeting an internally distraught Laura Haywood.  Enamored by the mother of four who enjoys rough sex as much as he does, Sean decides to willingly plunge into marriage by asking Laura for her hand against his friends and family passive advise him of the hefty, multi-kid baggage in Laura’s tow.  To set the romantic mood, Sean takes Laura and her young kids to his family’s lakeside cabin where all the locals know him, personally and professionally, but when the girls discover cell phone footage of Sean and Laura’s bedroom exploits and interpret them as Sean hurting their mother, they devise mischievous retribution on Sean in order to protect mommy. 

From being a bare knuckler enforcer using the rink as his boxing ring to becoming the haplessly smitten and blind to four little girls’ perception of him as the bad guy, the once penalty box denizen Sean Chase is now the penalized good guy in the Canadian dark-comedy “Ankle Biters” from writer-director Bennet De Brabandere.  Also known as “Cherrypicker,” the title used in the film, the film is Brabandere’s first feature length film based off a story by lead actor, Zion Forrest Lee (“Hit It”), who oft puts delicate notes of misperception as the main theme in his tale.  Shot primarily in the harbor village of Ontario’s Tobermory “Ankle Biters” is produced by Michael Flax of Flax Films, director Bennet De Brabandere, long time makeup artist Sean Sansom with credits from “Land of the Dead” and “eXistenZ, and special effects company, Mindwarp Productions’, Francois Dagenais (“Saw” franchise, “Chucky” SyFy series).  The film is presented in part by APL Films.

As if seeking some sort of self-punishment, story originator Zion Forrest Lee takes the form of a punching bag for four overprotective little girls; four real life sisters, in fact, played by Rosalee, Dahlia, Violet (“Bad Santa 2”), and Lily Reid, the latter Reid having played a significant role in Johannes Roberts’ recent “Resident Evil” reboot as young Claire Redfield and will be involved in another Lee and Brabandere collaboration in the upcoming apocalypse thriller, “Salvation.”  As a father of three girls myself, the Reid girls are nothing short of genuine, killing their roles with tweaked difference in each of their individual personalities as cute and morbidly curious children and siblings.  Lee offers up a rather over-the-top approach toward Chase’s Mr. Perfect in a way that doesn’t come across naturally as the performance is stuck somewhere between Phil Hartman in “Jingle All the Way” and Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” (I’m in the Christmas spirit with my films, if you can’t tell) with a suave sexy toward the women who swallow it up and dorky goofball toward kids who don’t understand it. Chase’s legendary hockey status has been interweaved into the community surrounding his family’s lakeside cabin, such as the local cops with Officer Brian (Gareth Moyse), local shopkeepers like Jordy (Jordan Mills), and even other vacationers, a pair of lakeside neighbors in Anthony (Doru Bandol) and Caprice Gaddis (Maria Sant’Angelo) with their blossoming teenage daughter Matia (Matia Jackett, “Crimson Peak”). By far one of the more interesting characters, Matia doesn’t actually progress the story with her flirtatious crush on Chase as she’s used as more of a device to propel the Haywood girls into full-blown psycho-kiddies as Matia bites off more than she can chew on a what should have been a routine babysitting gig. The biggest name in the film is the “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” comic Colin Mochrie in an unfunny role as the town’s police chief. “Ankle Biters” houses many curious characters come and go, adding little to story or not adding enough, with select bit performances from Evert Houston, Michael Copeman, and Jani Lauzon amongst the Canadian cast.

Not one single member the cast had that it factor that sparks allurement, intrigue, laughter, hate, or any other kind of emotion they’re trained to extract from you or intent on to make you feel in certain crucial points in the story. As a dark comedy, “Ankle Biters” lacked, well, comedy with an overreaching and flat satire on the innocence of mistaken circumstances. When the opening credits roll with the Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll” sampling “The Hey Song,” a track used for decades at sporting events, and we’re immediately exposed to a confrontational and bearded hockey player punching the eye out of an opposing team player into the title sequence, investing myself was easy as the synch of melodious Jock Jams and brutality is promised for the horizon; however, quickly skating from the ice is our beloved bloody-knuckled goon gone in a matter of oddly edited and sequenced scenes and is rarely seen again, even in flashbacks, as we’re dumped into post-hockey career, clean shaven, and on the behavior mend of Sean Chase trying to quickly nail down a woman with four kids who obviously dislike him a whole lot. I fail to see the transition, I don’t want to see the transition, and I’m angry “Ankle Biters” ended up in this transition whereas having Chase continue to be the injured, but still a fisticuffing and bearded enforcer, going toe-to-toe with brats would have been much more (Canadian) of an amusing watch. The better side of this genre blending coin is the darkness portion that really elevates during the latter half of the lakeside trip. Dead bodies, baby spiders crawling out of an ear, open wound fractured skull, a knife to the eye are just a few of the effective practical and composite applications from Francois Dagenais’s special effects company, MindWarp Productions, that keeps the story grounded with destroying the human anatomy as well as keeping up with the human fallibly in order to not have the film fall completely on its face with everything else erroneous.

Released back in mid-November, “Ankle Biters” landed onto On Demand platforms and DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. Even though I’m unable to fully cover the audio and video details from any digital screener, I don’t think what was provided was even a finished version of the film that came complete with top left corner running timestamps and some obvious missing special effects, such as the missing prop knife tip when removed from the eye socket and then the tip is back whole on the next shot. No information on the DVD specs was given to me either. Brabandere and Lee do tease with a follow up sequel involving the “Son of Cherrypicker,” named after the lakeside penned “Cherrypicker murders” in the film which, again, was never made a solidifying connection to other than a brief news report ticker on television. If comparing a film close to “Ankle Biters,” Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” fits that gruesome bill with one gross misstep in front of another that eventually culminates to a shocking and even deadlier kill or be killed ending with a grown man versus four little girls.

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

A Career Boost Too EVIL to Ride. “Star Vehicle” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Digital Screener)

For super movie aficionado and independent film production driver Donald Cardini, film crew after film crew treat him with very little worth.  Full of creatively complimenting movie ideas and brandishing a go-getter attitude, nothing will stop the driver’s own creative outlet.  When his favorite scream queen, Reversa Red, is involved in his next gig, Cardini’s creative juices bubble to the surface as he personally drives her to and from the set, sparking a connection with the actress who values his input, but the threat of a Reversa Red stalker places Cardini on edge and the rest of the film crew continues to ceaseless disparage him.  Pushed over the edge into madness, the violence prone driver hijacks those belittling him, along with Reverse Red, to an isolated location where he can shoot his own snuff movie, a one of a kind production starring his favorite actress.

You might have read on how much I’ve given my two cents praise toward the late Ryan Nicholson in previous reviews of “Hanger,” “Live Feed,” and “Gutterballs.”  Those trio of pictures are stuffed with gratuitous violence and nudity, wealthy in rich, colorful characters, and are just the epitome of gonzo-grindhouse cinema from the multi-talented filmmaker from our Canadian neighbor.  “Star Vehicle” rides that same bonkers high-speed train full of Nicholson-ism and topics too crass for comfort, but even with all the similar vulgarity and depravity that makes Nicholson so ghastly loveable and even with a few of the same actors from previous works, “Star Vehicle” regresses technically into a lesser shell when compared to the aforementioned films above.  The 2010 exploitation-slasher, alternatively known as “Bleeding Lady,” is executive produced by former model Charie Van Dyke under her New Image Entertainment production banner and Nicholson’s company, Plotdigger Films.

At the tip of the spear is the non-titular “Hanger” front man Dan Ellis in the role of the abrasive Donald Cardini.  Instead of wearing face-altering prosthetics and aviator shades that made his The John character in “Hanger” an antiheroic and perverse veteran of the armed services unforgettable, Ellis steps down into a leaner version of psychotic foreplay by providing his “Star Vehicle” appearance with an all-natural tough guy stern and smirk look under a permed beard and atop hair while seamlessly plotting the same amoral atrocities.  Crazy suits the actor with wild eyes complimenting his grave unsympathetic hand, an act of situational severity that comes more naturally to Ellis when interacting with other castmates as urges begin to take over and all hell breaks loose, leaving not a single other to rival his Donald Cardini wanton killer.  Unlike Ellis, the other characters are not as colorfully mad or interesting and that’s terribly atypical of a Nicholson film who had the ability to craft diabolically perverted and warped behaviors.  I was expecting a punchier leading lady opposite of Ellis with Sindy Faraguna.  Playing a genre scream queen doted on by Cardini with every film she touches, Faraguna inevitably descends into the final girl trope without deserving one ounce of landing in such a fortunate position for the simple fact that her captor really doesn’t wish to hurt her; instead, Cardini exploits her to convince others of his movie-making-macabre magic while Faraguna just screams Reversa Red’s head off for the plot-digging finale that’s more cacophonously raspy in determination than a bloodcurdling cry of terror.  Tangled up in a mix is plot twist and subplot involving a Reversa Red stalker who, as we know how these dropped tidbits of information circle back around eventually, should have determined the fate of our leads but this, too, lands wobbly at best, crusted over by an energetic-drained letdown of corrosion-covered aggressive conduct.  “Star Vehicle” rounds out the cast with Nathan Durec (“Famine”), Nick Windebank, Mike Le, Paiage Farbacher, Erindera Farga, Matthew Janega, Kris Michalesk, and Gary Starkell who also seems to windup playing some version of a homeless man – see “Collar” and “Bad Building.”

“Star Vehicle,” an industry term, defines as a film or television show specifically written and/or created to showcase the talents of a specific entertainer to increase their fame and recognition.  Nicholson sardonically uses that concept as Cardini kills his way to make it happen for his primo starlet Reversa Red, but also Nicholson literally, in a subtle Nicholson-ludicrous manner, has Cardini driving Reversa Red to and from filming sets in his beat up 2000’s Ford Windstar mini-van.   The latter, along with the entire essence of “Star Vehicle,” is essentially a jab to the guerilla style nature of indie movie filmmaking.  A few characters note how producers skimp with the budget, Cardini snarks about his cracked windshield production won’t pay for, and the caliber of the cast comes under indirect fire when one of starlets mechanically delivers her lines like a stiff automaton are just a handful of instances Nicholson mocks in his knock against indie production idiosyncrasies. Where “Star Vehicles” becomes a lemon is with the slapdash editing and the clunky story that tiptoes onto non-linear ground, bashfully uncertain going back into previous events for exposition sake was actually necessary. What’s brought to light with Reversa Red’s stalker and their involvement treads flimsily to an ultimate twist gum up by “Star Vehicle’s” curbed devices. By adding the break down by throwing a monkey wrench in the already galumphing development, the main antagonist, Cardini, can never regain that vice gripping potency touted earlier. Gory as it may be like any Nicholson splatterfest, “Star Vehicle” loses drive to make the finish line but still purrs like a bloodhungry beast.

This October, Unearthed Films releases Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle” onto Blu-ray and DVD. Unrated and stuff with extras, the sixth Nicholson film to be resurrected for Unearthed Films’ catalogue is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio BD50 and DVD9 with a runtime of 76 minutes on both formats while the Blu-ray is encoded with region A and the DVD with region 1. Extras include a whopping amount with a little more bonus material on the Blu-ray. Blu-ray includes commentary with director Ryan Nicholson and lead Dan Ellis, Left Coast TV present “On the Set with Star Vehicle,” Behind the Wheel of Bleeding Lady, Making “Star Vehicle,” Makeup Students and Acting Students, deleted scenes, alternating opening, Splatterfest! at the Plaza, Nicholson’s 2013 feature “Dead Nude Girls,” photo gallery and trailer while the DVD sports the same content minus the second feature, “Dead Nude Girls.” I can’t relay my thoughts on either the A/V nor the special features since only a digital screener of the film was provided. Don’t be afraid of the clunker comments and opinions, hop in and take a ride with Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle,” a gory dauntless joyride sped to lampoon it’s own indie outlet with a meta-plot and a tank full of carnage fuel.

“Star Vehicle” available on Blu-ray and DVD.  Click to Purchase at Amazon.com

Reap the EVILS You Sow. “Wired Shut” reviewed! (101 Films / DVD)

The failings of a once famed novelist, Reed Rodney, have come calling after a horrific car accident leaves Reed with reconstructive surgery and his mouth wired shut.  Stuck in remote mountain home, sipping pain meds through a straw and hitting terrible writer’s block after the critically trashed last novel, fortune and distinction never seemed so lonely until his estranged daughter, Emmy, shows up at his front door, looking to spend some time with him before going to school abroad.  Their hoary embattled relationship, built on alcoholism, lies, and abuse, urges Reed for a change of heart, willing to reconnect with Emmy by any way necessary, even if that means being a punching bag for her bottled up emotional outpourings.  When an unexpected intruder exposes a callous secret and lives are at stake, Reed and Emmy must rely on each other to survive a twisted prowler’s sadistic games. 

“Wired Shut” is the teeth-clenching, family quarrelling, sociopathic surviving inaugural full-length feature from Vancouver born director Alexander Sharp.  The home-invasion thriller too hails from Vancouver, Canada with an old-fashion tale of an inside job story co-written by Sharp and the director’s steady collaborator Peter Malone Elliott in which the project is also the first full-length script for the two writers.  “Wired Shut” houses a single location with a small cast but indulges varying levels of crazy and a good amount of bloodshed initially pie-eyed by the immense build up of downtrodden characters.  Singed family relations, the ebb and flow of trust, and the untangling of an ugly knot to retether a stronger bond becomes the parallel of reconnecting in this GoFundMe crowdfunded film under Lakehouse Productions and Alexander Sharp’s Sharpy Films presented by Motion Picture Exchange or MPX.

In a role where you have to keep your trap shut at all times because you’re playing a former self-centered rake who crashed his Lamborghini and had to have your mouth wired shut, Blake Stadel (“Rise of the Damned”) has one of the easiest parts in all of move making history.  Thank about it.  Zero lines of dialogue, you’re feigning an ego that is as shattered as your character’s jaw, and you write or type if you have to communicate.  Now, I’m not belittling Stadel’s once famous novelist, Reed Rodney, as the actor has to absorb the pity, the verbal abuse, and the overall confinement resulted by his injury as a sort of surrender to unfortunate happenstance.  Reed’s moment of life-altering clarity came pre-introduction when crashing the Lambo that left him vulnerable and alone, two bad, pre-depression dispositions of mind and being.  Across the table stews the stark opposite with Reed’s daughter Emmy, played by Alexander Sharp’s sister, Natalie Sharp (“Baby Monitor Murders”).  Pent up with anger and seething with intent, Emmy is executed with these qualities with perfection by Sharp.  However, Emmy extinguishes her fiery eyed hate too quickly in the fate upturning twist that creates a dubious bubble around her and not in a good way.  Emmy’s defining moment of clarity is weakly pawned off just for her and her dad to have a slither of reconnection in a breakneck transition without any struggle or sacrifice to change her mind.  Her blurry change of heart quickly becomes moot by Behtash Fazlaili’s (“The Evil In Us”) unhinged performance as Emmy’s delinquent boyfriend, Preston.  Preston eclipses the entire father and daughter dynamic with a clichéd villain by monologuing and squandering wasted opportunities to end it all and getaway scot-free.  Fazlaili’s performance also doesn’t inspire terror or much of anything at all except for frustration with the cavalier, walk-on act that’s supposedly a mentally broken man fallen to and reshaped by life’s hard knocks.  What’s on screen is Joker-esque mush relating little backstory that drives him to scheme and to be completely off his rocker whereas, in contrast, we know what motivates Emmy and we know what motivates Reed.

The slow burn of “Wired Shut’s” first two acts attempts to humanize Reed as a dejected and alone with Emmy sparking life into an object he can now be fixated on to mend his meaningless, post-accident existence, but Emmy, herself, lugs her own daddy-issue baggage giving way for the two to buttheads in exacting their feelings upon one another.  Sharp fishes for sympathy but keeps loose with expressing Reed and Emmy’s contentious relationship; a relationship that truly never existed with an alcoholic Reed’s persona no grata behavior around Emmy’s mother and her that extends his jet setting lifestyle with the next mistress.  Though loose, you can see both stand and the foreseeable twist coming because of it in an unsurprising turn of events.  What is surprising is Preston’s sudden Jekyll and Hyde as if Reed’s salivated score is Sharp’s theme that for the love of money is the root of all evil.  The theme is peddled and not exactly discerned in Fazlaili’s character who’s more concerned with the cat and mouse game of unbelievable hilarity.  Part of the absurdity has to do with Reed’s three story house with a built-in elevator and if you’ve ever ridden an in-home elevator, the cramped, smaller versions of a regular Otis are slow as Hell dripping with molasses.  Yet, somehow, Reed and Emmy happen to beat Preston down a meager two stories with the push of a button while Preston stops to take an injury breather at the third story landing.  Getting in the elevator should have been easy pickings when exiting, but in entertainment for some, keeping the audience attentive is pinnacle even if that means sacrificing the story for cheap thrills by stretching the realism just a little bit.

“Wired Shut” will leave you speechless with a pedestrian anticlimax after watching the DVD. Distributed by the United Kingdom’s 101 Films, the region 2, PAL encoded, 91 minute thriller is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a DVD5 and thoroughly soaked in a sea of tenebrous blue tint as the first, many firsts for these filmmakers, feature length cinematography for Martin Taube. Crystalized sleek and fresh with a modern, straight-edge finish, Taube main objective centers around personal space and to detox comfort with the strain and psychopathy, using close ups and up or down angling to exact an uneasy position during strenuous moments. The continuous tinting from start to finish could have been done without as it chokes the story in nearly an unviewable consumption. The English language Dolby Digital Stereo AC3, 5.1 surround sound mix, is a LFE sound cannon with a bass-heavy rattling industrial soundtrack by Oswald Dehnert and Rayshaun Thompson. The soundtrack’s sonorous tone crackles at the format’s compression, leaving granulated pops when the volume levels peak, which is really surprising for today’s digital and format spec cautious handling. Dialogue levels render nice and clear and the sound design’s not bad either with a complex range of soundbites inside a single setting, especially when Reed pops the wires when forcing open his mouth. The DVD is bare bones with special feature and the DVD cover itself is poorly misleading with a hooded figuring, standing backlit in the woods, with a large blade in hand. There is no such slasher figure in the movie. “Wired Shut” is not a slasher. I repeat. Not a slasher. “Wired Shut” is rated 15 for strong threat (gun pointing, knife to the throat), injury detail (stabbing, slicing, and surgical fastening coming undone), and language (Yes, foul language is present). As far as home invasion films go, “Wired Shut” says nothing new about the subgenre, but offers an intriguing ingredient of incapability and the strength to push through to the other side with the if there’s a will, there’s a way mentality underneath intruder chaos.