Beware! EVIL is Afoot in a Small Town! “I Scream on the Beach” reviewed! (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)

First you Scream, then you DIE!  “I Scream On the Beach” available to buy at Amazon!

Mellow Coast is a small, quiet fishing town typically free from big city violence.  When a dead body shows up on the Mellow Coast’s shoreline, a past of enigmatic and thought solved disappearance cases return to haunt Emily whose father was murdered right in front of her when she was little, yet the local police department ruled her father’s case as simply a father-husband leaving his family when no evidence of blood was recovered, and his car was missing.  The murders and disappearances are connected to a now defunct large corporation working on shady experiments and as Emily digs deeper into her father’s case, a light is shed upon the dastardly transgressions of a shifty, under handing corporation as well as more bodies, including her close friends, turn up dead around town. Pieces all the clues together with the help of a keen detective desperate to solve a case no other officer wants to touch, Emily comes face-to-face with an unsuspecting, tightly knitted killer.

As if slasher films are already tough enough in trying to unlock and solve who the mysterious homicidal wolf in sheep’s clothing is before the big, blood reveal, the 2020 horror-comedy “I Scream on the Beach!” surely takes the cake as the impossible and no-win kobayashi maru test of the slasher genre. Hailing from United Kingdom with a retro 80’s VHS veneer, the Alexander Churchyard and Michael Holiday written-and-directed parodying red herring seeks to be deceptive and as cryptic as logically possible with a masked serial killer storyline stretching over a span of 10 years that culminates to an illogical and shockingly socking finale. “I Scream on the Beach!” is the first feature from the filmmakers working as a pair and as individuals, but Churchyard and Holiday have been skimming together that micro thin layer of the horror stratosphere with college short film works, such as “Fragments” and “The Ratman of Southend,” the latter referencing Churchyard and Holiday hometown of Southend-on-Sea in Southern Essex. The duo cofounded TIS Films Limited during their production of “I Scream on the Beach!” with Churchyard and Holiday as producers alongwith Claire Bowman and executive producer Hill Burton (“RoboWoman, “Slasher House 2”).

The story follows Mellow Coast local Emily, her friends, including a bashful big city transplant with a crush on her, and Detective Kincaid embroiled in a 10-year mystery beginning with the murder of Emily’s father (Rob Shaw) or maybe even beginning with the murder of Dr. Lloyd (Lloyd Kaufman, “The Toxic Avenger”). Hard to tell as Dr. Lloyd expositional death is brought up as background plot painting an unscrupulous picture against a devious, experiment-conduction corporation. In her first feature film and first of many productions with the Churchyard and Holiday team, Hannah Paterson is placed in the final girl role of a VHS decorated slasher that has her twisting and turning from the pub to every which way to find corpses stabbed, gutted, and decapitated in the search for the truth about her father. Her friends, played by Jamie Evans, Rosie Kingston, Ross Howard, and Reis Daniel, are the trope typical asshole, hot girl, filmic nerd, and good guy love interest, in that respective order, are definitely defined to bring out the shine around this specimen of the slasher genre. Lurking in the shadows, as a contemporary scream queen of such films like Debbie Rochen’s “Model Hunger” and “Cute Little Buggers” starring alongside the iconic Caroline Munro, is the Australian born, English raised actress Dani Thompson as a snarky bar keep and aspiring actress who pokes her into the picture as the sort of easy girl and easy target for other characters to love-and-hate, especially amongst Emily and her friends in a mixed bag of feelings toward her role of bitchy Paula. Martin W. Payne (“Toxic Schlock”) as the staunch, Mellow Coast chief inspector, Tess Gustard as Emily’s combative mother, Will Jones (“Terror at the Black Tree Forest”) as the dispassionate inspector, Andrea Sandell (“Patient Zero”) as a fake nun, Chris Linnat-Scott as the creepy Dr. A, and Mark Keegan in a surprising reprising role fill out the cast.

Churchyard and Holiday embark on a VHS faceplate journey with their inaugural film complete with faux tracking lines, low-quality picture, lo-fi audio, and rounding out the semblance with schlocky f/x composition and content.  “I Scream on the Beach!” is a non sequitur, yet perfectly fitting, title for a seemingly beach-themed slasher that evolves erratically and radically as the story progresses into an eyebrow raising “…what?”  I would also dare to say that the acting isn’t the best but rather reflects the modeled era of straight-to-video indie low-budget horror with mild ostentation exaggeration with a character or two grounding the film with relative gravity from floating toward a too far-gone outcome. “I Scream on the Beach” is a kind of film that sits in the nosebleed section of the video rental and physical media aisle (if there are such things as video rental or physical stores anymore) but, sometimes, the cheap seats can be the section where anything goes, and no one will ever know about what happens near the roof. I’m not saying the Churchyard-Holiday production is a raunchy, nudity-laden, immodest, grindhouse peepshow worthy of the now ousted 42nd Street; in fact, “I Scream on the Beach!” mounts a tame and respectable horror-comedy that, like the cheap seats, is nothing to be ashamed of because in the end, they both provide entertainment on a budget.

Continuing to pluck out atypical wild horror genre films, Darkside Releasing distributes “I Scream on the Beach!” onto Blu-ray home video as part of the UK release collection. Keeping with the VHS effect, the stretched 1:78:1 aspect ratio feels to mimic only the very summary of details that continue into employing other SOV gags such as tracking lines, as I mentioned above, as well as a flat coloring palette. The English language PCM 2.0 continues to stay the antiquated technical course, taking the joke all the way, with a badly dubbed and ambient filled lossy audio tracks that keep with the kitschy package. The unrated, 87-minute, full director’s cut release comes with retrograded previews, such as “Mask of Thorn,” optional cast and crew introductions to the film, an audio commentary, complete short films “The Decorator” and “The Hiker” that were briefly spotlighted in the story, and promo spots from the Music and Film Festival. “I Scream on the Beach!” falls above being better than low-rung horror that’ll still knock your socks off, literally, with surreptitious corporation experiments insidiously embedding its clandestine claws into small town denizens in the dark and being stalked.

First you Scream, then you DIE!  “I Scream On the Beach” available to buy at Amazon!

Out With the Old EVIL. In With the New! “Modern Vampires” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

“Modern Vampires” available for purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

Blacklisted for not killing the vampire nemesis Dr. Van Helsing, Dallas is shunned by most of the underground Los Angeles vampire scene now presided over by Count Dracula himself, but as he returns to the city after decades of being gone and gathers with old – very old – dear friends, Dracula threatens him with being burned alive if he overstays his begrudged welcome.  When a newly turned rogue vampire under the pretense of a corner prostitute starts ripping the throats out of unsuspecting Johns, Count Dracula doesn’t want the potential public attention drawn on his species.  Taking a shine to this mysterious woman’s insubordinate nature, Dallas finds her, cleans her up, and introduces her to his inclusive friends, but little do any of the bloodsuckers know is that the Van Helsing is in town and has recruited local Crips to be the holy servants of God in wasting away the vampiric filth that plagues humanity.

Here I thought Casper Van Dien’s only good film was 1997’s galactic war with the extraterrestrial bug species in “Starship Troopers!”  Nope, one year later, Dien follows up his iconic global militant-nationalism and gory-filled sci-fi blockbuster with the little-known American comedy-horror “Modern Vampires.”  Better known around the world as “The Revenant” to not confused American audiences with a highly ingrained British term, “Modern Vampires” is directed by a principal one-half of the 80’s American new wave band Oingo Boingo in Richard Elfman.  The other half of that duo is Richard’s brother, who we all know and love in his unmistakable musical scores of “Batman” ’89 and “Edward Scissorhands,” Danny Elfman who also scores the opening theme to “Modern Vampires” with recognizable and trademark notes from those previously stated Tim Burton pictures.  The script was also penned by a fellow Oingo Boingo original member and the Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon “Freeway” film, and its sequel, screenwriter Matthew Bright.  Bright and Richard Elfman had previously collaborated on the comedy-musical “Forbidden Zone” surrounding sixth dimensions and damsels in distress as well as the Charles Band produced “Shrunken Heads.”  “Modern Vampires” is produced by Elfman, Brad Wyman (“Barb Wire”), and Chris Hanley (“American Psycho”) under the Storm Entertainment and Muse/Wyman productions.

Ladies, if you thought you’ve seen the last of Casper Van Dien’s backside in “Starship Troopers,” then worry not! As the hunky, cigar-smoking, former World War II pilot Dallas, Van Dien, once again, shows off his hind parts in a steamy sex scene one top of Dallas’s car with costar Natasha Gregson Wagner (“Vampires: Los Muertos,” “Urban Legend”). As the indifferent vampire Nico under the pretense of a prostitute who seduces men into vulnerability before gashing open their necks, Wagner adds a bloodthirsty ferocity to her uncouth, undead character’s tremendous and tragic depth surrounding a trailer park trash childhood of sexual abuse and a grandstand mother. As a pair, Dallas and Nico are essentially made for each other or, rather, Dallas turned Nico because under all that pretty boy veneer, Dallas still has a beating heart for compassion and friendship as noted with Dr. Frederick Van Helsing’s crippled son, Hans, and the choice made between the two young men before the whole debacle of nixing to the fearless and relentless vampire killer of all time. Rob Stieger plays that character beautifully manically. “The Amityville Horror” and “End of Days” actor graces the production with seasoned vitality while also trying something new himself, a slightly fascist German vampire hunter who hires L.A. gangsters to help him do his dirty work and has to be the butt of the joke at times at the hands of Count Dracula (“Striking Distance”) as well as Dallas. Stieger does his scenes with great earnest yet great fun that puts the legendary actor into a new perspective. “Modern Vampires'” star-studded cast doesn’t end there was Dallas’s friends include performances from Kim Cattrall (“Big Trouble in Little China”), comedian Greg Furgeson, Natasha Lyonne (“Slums of Beverely Hills”), and the legendary Udo Kier (Andy Warhol’s “Dracula”) as well as a cast round out with Natalya Andreychenko, Gabriel Casseus, Peter Lucas, Victor Togunde, Cedric Terrell, Flex Alexander, and Conchata Ferrell.

Gory, sexy, and overflowing with politically incorrect humor, Richard Elfman’s “Modern Vampires” more than likely would not be a film made today, but definitely suits the 90’s scene.  There are stereotypes and jokes radically exaggerated for comical effect and land with such insouciant ease that the entire production felt at peace with the humor, emitting “Modern Vampires” as an enjoyable, blood-soaked, outrageous vampire comedy unearthed from over 20-years ago and landing onto a new Blu-ray release where the Elfman film deserved an upgraded treatment.  Los Angeles in ’98 didn’t look extremely different than what’s depicted in the film – late night clubs with half-naked patrons doing all sorts of weird and bloodletting fetishes, leeching prostitution on the delinquency riddled streets, and unsavory, unwilling gang bangs but, in “Modern Vampires’ case, the one tied to the bed is a female vamp fully-transformed into a human-sized bat and those who have sex with her, turn into a vampire themselves.  See the humor and symbolism in that?  Almost as if having unprotected sex with a creature of night is akin to contracting a sexually transmitted disease.  Despite the waggishness, “Modern Vampires” holds other staid themes as well with an arteria one being reflective in the title.  The genesis of the species emerged from Count Dracula who had moved from his old Germanic country to the hip and upcoming L.A. area. With each generation of vampire, the loyalty gap becomes wider until the turned from the 20th century are fully unmanageable by the Count’s supreme power. Nico, the youngest turned is in her vampiric infancy often noted throughout the film, can’t be contained and won’t be told what to do, much like teenagers butting heads with their parents on every little subject. Traditions are broken, heads are severed, bodies are burned, and the “Modern Vampires” is a wildly funny and gruesomely gnarly.

“Modern Vampires” is now the vintage vampires that hit the silver screen some 24 years ago and is now basking with the great 90’s flair of special effects, clothes, and hair on a new Blu-ray release from Ronin Flix in association with Quiver Distribution (“To Your Last Death”). Newly scanned in 2K of the Richard Elfman’s personal film print, the picture retains an unsullied quality with impeccable detail delineation for a story that’s mainly set/shot at night. There’s quite an overlay of purple flush that I’m fairly positive is not intended that pulls away, at times, from clearcut contrasting and blend the objects in the scene together. The film is presented in full high definition1080p in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 stereo that retains the amplitude of every categorical track. Dialogue track provides a clean depth and clarity that doesn’t swerve into boxy territory like many indie productions do. Ambient and foley range is quite limited for a bunch of different locational shots and in a crowded location full of extras but the extent of the quality is good enough. The 91-minute film comes not rated and has an exclusive extra with an introduction by director Richard Elfman plus archival features, such as audio commentary with Richard Elfman and star Casper Van Dien, a behind-the-scenes featurette with on set mini-interviews with the cast and crew. and the theatrical trailer. “Modern Vampires” might now be long in the tooth (get it?) but has the classic campy escapades of an unpretentious good time and, that my friends, is timeless.

“Modern Vampires” available for purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

EVIL Spam E-Mail Wants to Play a Game! “Planet Zee” reviewed! (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)

Land onto “Planet Zee” now on Blu-ray! 

Struggling woman filmmaker Zee Bronson is trying to make what she loves a supportive career. Smoking pot, drinking beer, and living with her grandmother Sam mellows out Bronson’s anxiety of potentially landing a writer-director’s gig one day. When her sleazy producer, Serge, closes a deal with an investor interested in her script, Zee eyes widen with excitement, but her premature celebration quickly turns sour when Serge notes the financer wants someone else to direct her screenplay. A vexed Zee turns to a weird email spam virus that has seemingly appropriated her computer to propose a game of life with superpowers or death. Convincing Serge into joining her, the two unwittingly open a diabolical portal that traps them inside the apartment, subjecting them to battling a demon and persuading them to kill one another. As their relationship dissolves slowly throughout the night, lines a drawn between friend and foe in order to escape the grip of a computer-commanding Game of Power.

There is bottom-of-the-barrel independent schlock done with very half-hearted inspiration and then there’s bottom-of-the-barrel independent film done with A for effort around a difficult to sell single-locale story that includes witty dialogue and humble homemade effects. Some of these mighty, homegrown indies stem from one ultra-eccentric Berlin, Germany physics and prehistoric archeology studied-turned-artful filmmaker Zetkin Yikilmis in her second written and directed feature, “Planet Zee.” Her B-movie, or should I say Z-movie, is the epitome of independent filmmaking in knowing the production’s limits and how to make the most of a film with what little material is available to use, such as a deluging cash flow for big budget grandstanding that’ll get your name on marquees, posters, and regional commercials. Instead, “Planet Zee” is very much meta love and confidence concept toward Zetkin Yikilmis herself, as the title implies, being a woman in a typically projected masculine dominated industry. Yikilmis follows up her sophomore film from an array of micro shorts and her 2019 released debut feature, “Some Smoke and a Red Locker,” incorporating elements of the stoner horror-comedy into her 2021 film that’s self-produced by Yikilmis and her cinematographer husband, Dominic, as well as longtime collaborator S.B. Goldberg.

Zetkin Yikilmis, obviously, stars as Zee Bronson, a bohemian screenwriter attempting her hand at filmic success while having her grandmother live with her in a small apartment. Having surveyed Yikilmis’s micro shorts, her droll act as stoner-chic Zee Bronson imitates far from her other self-applied roles with a sluggish repartee and often tinkering with slapstick with fellow costar Alexander Tsypilev as squalid producer Serge. Yikilmis and Tsypilev’s reconnection after “Some Smoke and a Red Locker” gives way to a natural onscreen dynamic that has experience role reversal, gender role reversal, and to test their association connection. With a tight-fitting shirt that flirts with exposing his slightly protruding belly, Serge fits swimmingly into the cesspool of sexist producers with Tyspilev crafting Serge’s slimy mold with little pinches of details toward the producers first-rate me-first attitude. While Bronson and Serge are the two chief residents of “Planet Zee,” there is often a forgotten third wheel who bookends the narrative. Sam, Zee’s elderly only in looks grandmother played by Trish Osmond who had a small role in Zack Snyder’s “Army of Thieves.” The 1944 born English actress bloomed late in her career that begin in 2014, but that doesn’t stop Osmond from being a dominating player of goodwill toward bizarre films and roles, especially playing ones involving an usually vigorous old woman with underlying uncanniness probably important to the story. Minor characters fill in the rest with small brushes with minor scenes from Roland Bialke and Michael Tietz.

Through the veneer of bare budget and puerile comedy, “Planet Zee” puts together a couple of ugly statements well versed like a stain amongst the film industry but only brought up more recently during the #MeToo movement and seen as ingrained into industry as par for the course. Yikilmis mentions in the dialogue that as a woman filmmaker she fears oppressive struggles in forming a passionate career in creating art, her art being satirical comedy-horror motion-pictures, insinuating female-driven aspirations are often squashed by misogynistic viewpoints akin to the British journalist and author Christopher Hutchinson’s claim that women are not funny because they are pretty and do not need to appeal to men through humor. Yikilmin writes pitting herself, as Zee Bronson, against a sleazy and dismissive producer who exploits her with pretense friendship, mirroring the real-life exploitation of certain long-standing, fundamental moguls who instead of being held responsible for distasteful chauvinistic corruption, held women’s careers in the palms of their hands with a conniving, convincing promise of blacklisted ruinous slander or unfounded gossip if unethical compliance to their advances were denied. In lighter terms of the film’s satire, Yikilmis uses the situation as an allegorical parallel of who really has control over the story – the creator or the producer. As the creator, Zee Bronson yearns to maintain creative rights in telling her tale whereas the producer gives into the meddling whims of the highest bidder, reaching for the dollar signs that illuminate over their eyes. Serge’s me-first persona during the game offers no collaboration as he literally pushes down Zee for the faint prospect of survival and causes more harm than beneficial good. Look past the stock electricity effect visuals, polished lens flares, and the cheaply made demon getups and you’ll see inside “Planet Zee’s” fiery core, a passively seething call to overcome the darker side of a biased film industry.

Explore the terrain of Zetkin Yikilmis’s “Planet Zee” now on Blu-ray home video a part of the Darkside Releasing, as feature #24 on their Darkside Collection line, and distributed by MVD Visual. Shot and released in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen, “Planet Zee” isn’t breathtaking with nearly the full 97-minute runtime inside Zee’s tight apartment living room, aka Yikilmis apartment where many of her shorts were filmed, and so the 1.78:1 aspect ratio is overkill or wasted on nothing spectacular aside from the trippy wallpaper or the bone-curtain that linger the background. In truth, “Planet Zee” could have been shot in a 4:3 for better framing inside a vertical inclined ratio. The full high definition, 1080p output does look good in the details. The trippy-cladded apartment and warm toned outfits pop with robust color. Though not labeled on the Blu-ray back cover, the release offers a DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix and despite being produced in Germany with Germany actors, the original language track is in English thick with a dialect accent but overall adequate and clean in delivering dialogue. Ambient effects often feel just as distant or separated from the visual trunk as their digitally rotoscoped onto the frame. Special features include a behind-the-scenes that actually isn’t anything relevant to behind-the-scenes material with a couple of rehearsed statements on set from Alexander Tsypilev pretending to be scared of Zetkin Yikilmis’s feigned dictator-like direction. Other bonus content includes a string through of Zetkin Yikilmis’s micro-shorts with Yikilmis serving as a host in between and a woman in horror trailer reel. “Planet Zee” is an unpretentious good time. Small, yes. Limited in budget, yes. Unknown cast, yes. Yet, where the film lacks with high dollar density it makes up for in free reign creativity and breezy humor that becomes a middle finger to inequality and duplicity.

Land onto “Planet Zee” now on Blu-ray! 

EVIL Trolls the Waters, Angling for a Kill. “Bood Hook” reviewed! (Troma Films / Blu-ray)

Troma’s 2-disc “Blood Hook” Available on Amazon!

Muskie Madness.  That’s the moniker for the locals’ fishing contest set as the background for a group of city slicker friends looking to unwind and do a little fishing themselves.  17 years earlier, Peter van Clease witnesses his grandfather suddenly fall into the lake and disappears without a trace.  Present day, Peter returns to his grandfather’s cabin with his friends but is still haunted by the memory from his childhood.  When locals and tourists engage in the contest for who can catch the biggest Muskie, a maniacal fisher casts his giant fishhook lure into the flesh of unexpected contestants on the lake and on the shore, dragging them violently into water and never to be heard from again.  The disappearances send Peter into not only an investigation of those currently missing but also into the cold case of grandfather’s demise whose fate was eerily similar. 

On the calm, glossy surface, “Blood Hook” resembles the quintessential severed tongue-and-cheek comedy and horror of Troma’s outrageously independent repertoire.  Tossed around as a crude idea about opulent society diluting the quality and the quietness of quaint lake resorts during their extravagant vacations outside city life, “Blood Hook,” once under the working title of “Muskie Madness,” is the first, if not the only that I can recall, American fisher-slasher from the unique imagination and vision stemmed from director Jim Mallon (producer, writer, and director of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” series and movie) and producer David Herbert’s childhoods growing up in the summers of small town Wayward, Wisconsin.  Larry Edgerton and John Galligan were brought in to spruce up the script as the official screenwriters, adding bits of dry humor to an already unorthodox slasher in this catch-and-released in 1986 B-movie produced by Golden Charges and Spider Lake Films Ltd.

Like a Kleenex, the young cast falls into the fresh for one-use category of being mainly known for their role in “Blood Hook” and I hate to use that analogy because there are some really campy, genre-perfection talented acts here for a relatively large cast of a small, independent production about a killer fisherman.    Granted, a handful of the talent were able to snag up minor roles in bigger films, such as with Mark Jacobs (“Goodfellas) in the principal lead of Peter van Clease.  Jacobs, who is a dead ringer for David Schwimmer appearances and mannerisms, castrates van Clease’s manhood with extreme meekness more so than the character’s wishy-washy stance on his university music studies, romantic connections, and confronting homicidal maniacs when his abducted woman is in danger of becoming grinded up minnow chow.  What is more vexing about van Clease is the fact he essentially woes 2/3 of the principal ladies without even casting a line.  Beyond the frustrating namby-pamby, all other characters are depicted, in every sense of the term, more in accordance with those who portray them.    There is a side relationship building between van Clease’s friend Finner (Christopher Whiting), an enthusiastic fisherman who is new to the group of city friends, and Bev D. (Sandy Meuwissen), a single local with a toddler, that the audience can get invested in and takes an interesting turn when Bev D. plays the fishing rod at both ends, dipping her toes in another man’s lake with fellow local, and crazed military nut, Evelyn Duerst (Bill Lowrie).  Evelyn’s father, and yes Evelyn is a grown man with a beard, is played by Paul as the van Clease estate caretaker and a real stern pit for local purity.  A fan favorite will be the salty-looking bait shack owner Leroy Leudke complimenting his lovable persona, thick Minnesotan accent, and overall mysterious allure (with a lure) from Don Winters.  The cast rounds out with Lisa Jane Todd (“Playback”), Sara Hauser, Patrick Danz, Dale Dunham, Paul Heckman, Bonnie Lee, Don Cosgrove, Dana Remker, and Donald Franke.

Blood Hook” trawls through the familiarity of the 80’s slasher genre with an obscured hunter, a high body count, and a copiously campy campsite of carnage, but this peculiar fillet is sliced from a different kind of fish. While casted under darkness, the killer flings a cast of nylon fishing line with a large, sharp-hooked Suick lure distinguish itself as a unique weapon of choice that fills the icy blood cooler. There’s comedy in that diabolical device, largely so when making too much noise on the water that can scare fish away from patient fishers as Mallon hyperbolizes the idea of outsiders raising a ruckus amongst the sanctity of the local waters while paralleling a message about the aftereffect horrors of war; however, where we should be laughing at the idea of a fisher hooking a 150lb prize human, we’re only barely smirking at the irony as much of the dark comedy doesn’t precisely translate well from paper to screen. “Blood Hook” is about as big as the hook going into the gut as it’s no ordinary jonboat film as Mallon’s film looks serious, feels serious, and acts like a contender up against the iconic slasher-mega yachts of the time with a disconcerting sound design by Thomas Naunas of deafening cicada tymbal clicks all too familiar during summer days coupled with an eerie gelled and moody cinematography from Marsha Kahn that sets the slasher narrative as such. Both Naunas and Kahn exhibit perfect harmony in a disharmonious narrative context as a pair of feature film greenhorns looking for a launching point in their careers.

Muskie Madness turns into a Muskie Massacre. “Blood Hook” is the cinematic catch that almost got away, but Troma reels this trophy cult film back aboard onto a new 2-disc Blu-ray release distributed by MVD Visual. Presented in 16:9, “Blood Hook” holds up even to today’s standards against scrappy independent productions with a slight soft, yet noticeably clean presentation from the Super 16mm stock blown up to 35mm.  Some frames appear cropped and stretched on faces in extreme closeups, losing a bit of textural definition that leans more into a softer picture, but the contrasting is balanced which is unusual for a Troma film, the coloring is richer around the lush outdoor vistas without breaking stride of other color appropriate opportunities, like the vibrant red blood, and no evidence of any damage transferred over from the negative.  No formal mention of audio specifics on the back cover, but I suspect the track to be DTS-HD Master Audio Mono that’s clear but has issues with projecting low-talk dialogue.  Thomas Naunas’s soundtrack introduces a repetitive looming synth score kept well in check around more less-than-major problematic dialogue scenes.  Naunas’s sound design as a whole is paramount to “Blook Hook’s” envisioned success with an incessant cicada clicking combined, on the regular, with discord tones to jar the audio senses in relationship to an imminent threat.  First disc contains the feature plus scene selection menu.  The second disc is all special features clunkily arranged around the rehashing of Vinegar Syndrome produced interviews from their 2018 Blu-ray release with director Jim Mallon, actress Lisa Jane Todd, special effect artist Jim Suthers, and an audio interview with cinematographer/editor Marsha Kahm.  Along with the theatrical trailer, there’s also the usual Troma promos that accompany their re-release such as for Troma Now, Radiation March against pollution, and the Return of Gizzard Face 2 to promote Troma NOW’s streaming service.  The 2020 Metal + Hitchcock “Blood Stab” short, starring Lloyd Kaufman, finds its way onto the release too. “Blood Hook” is a tackle box of slasher tropes and anti-war and PTSD undertones though slightly dragged down by its weighted comedy; however, a killer sound design and a topnotch killer makes “Blood Hook” a perfect poster film for Troma heads.

Troma’s 2-disc “Blood Hook” Available on Amazon!

When EVIL Literarature Jumps Right Off the Pages and Starts to Hunt You Down! “Monsters in the Closet” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Watch Monsters in the Closet” on Prime Video!

Eccentric horror novelist Raymond Castle mysteriously dies alone in his New York City apartment.  His daughter Jasmin, who never had a loving relationship with her father, returns to her childhood home, self-negative reminiscing about the strenuous verbal arguments between father and daughter with usual themes surrounding her playing with his valuable horror collectibles and her continuous use of the Spanish language despite his desires for an English only language household, but instead of finding the contents of his will or answers to who he really was a person, as a father, Jasmin discovers her father’s latest novel, an anthology collection based off the black magic spells of a 17th century that brings his short stories to life right there in the apartment with her. 

I said it once and I’ll say it again until the day I die:  horror anthologies are not my cup of tea.  Sure, there are excellent oldies, aka classics, out there, like “Creepshow” and “Body Bags,” from the masters of horror and a handful of more modern, done-right, anthologies from filmmakers on their way to such a grandiose title within the “V/H/S” series, but the majority of micro-narratives nowadays are collected from the scrapings of the low-budget trash barrel due in part to the cost-efficiency of short films, shot over a lengthy stretch of time, brought together into a single feature and the types of slim budget stories can sustain a better reception in a shorter format instead of full-length one.  Now, I’m not saying Zack and Spencer Snygg collaborated “Monsters in the Closet” falls into the latter category but as one of the first released films of 2022 to come across our ever-critical desk, the indie horror-comedy anthology needed to punch the living daylights out of use to begin the year and whether the Snyggs’ 4-episode, plus wraparound story, anthology slammed dunk or airballed will be covered below. “Monsters in the Closet” is a kickstarter project and a self-produced venture funded by a pair of sub-Hollywood filmmakers in Spencer Snygg, who has worked behind the scenes in the lighting department on some major films over the recent year, and a veteran indie softcore-horror director Zack whose has involvement with indie production companies like Troma and the New Jersey based E.I. Cinema, as you’ll see with a large, splayed display of E.I and Alternative Cinema posters strategically arranged as background fodder. It’s like a Misty Mundae poster celebration on exhibition.

The outer shell narrative that encompasses and unites each separate story entities begins with a frantic Tom C. Niksson as the diehard believer in his own success horror writer Raymond Castle, covered in blood, manically talking to himself, and in the throes of typing away before a cloaked stalker wielding a knife closes in on him. Niksson, who worked under Zack Snygg’s pseudonym, John Bacchus, in that Easter holiday E.I. Cinema favorite, “Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell,” steps into that looming, ever-present figurehead from the grave, delivering random dad joke dialogue while cozying up the audiences for an audiobook rendition of Castle’s latest bestseller, a black magic spell anthology of horror stories that come to fruition when read aloud. Other than his talking head role, Niksson’s involved in some contentious flashbacks with Jasmin as a child, but we never see Niksson and the adult Jasmin Flores (Jasmin) ever in the same scene together as the flashbacks are Jasmin voiceovers. Nikkson’s theatrical behavior perfectly suits the stagecraft atmospherics in erecting the gameshow-esque of a horror host whereas Flores is often stiff as a dry plank of wood. Limitations drawn from her lack of experience keep the actress’s timing and delivery often subdued in an obtuse and ungraceful character when escaping the ever-changing fiction-to-non-fiction villain of the minute. Jasmin, the character, is already inherently underwhelming in a role that has no purpose or buildup to understand her headspace surrounding the sudden death of her father. What do those flashbacks mean to her or are they just melancholic gibberish? And why isn’t she more interested in his death or even showing a lack of care for it? Throughout “Monsters in the Closet,” a fair amount of pleasantly surprising performances from the anthological works pull the overall project together better than those in the wraparound story. Along with a first person view zombie tale as the first short, Luke Couzens and Carmilla Crawford play newlywed new homeowners going through the frustrations of DIY Hell until they off each other with tools, the silver spoon Jordan Flippo becomes tarnished when a camping accident turns this rich daddy’s girl into an unstoppable killing machine to protect her immaculate image, and side-splitting John Fedele (“The Vampire’s Seduction”) as the humbly polite mad scientist Frankenstein who can’t get over the death of Mrs. Frankenstein (Valerie Bitner) and keeps resurrecting her despite her wishes to stay dead.

What I like and thought interesting about the “Monsters in the Closet” corpora is that they’re written in-house by at least one of the Snygg brothers, sometimes both.  This extends style and control over the entire body of work boundless to the ideas and the panache of other filmmakers and showrunners without having to associate themselves.  The Snyggs’ balanced anthology comes with equal levels of comedy and horror that unearths the humor in humorless scenarios sans the sometimes tired gags that can devalue a project into tedium and, ultimately, into worthlessness and since we’re already being beholden to more than one narrative that jumbles the mind, the mental capacity is too low to withstand different numerous tales in one sitting as well as to try and struggle with the bad unfunny bits.  “Monsters in the Closet” at least has a whimsical darkness about it, a sinister playful attitude, and isn’t afraid to get gory from time to time beginning with the Spency Snygg directed zombie existentialistic “Please Kill Me Again” that takes the viewpoint of a recently turned woman with normal inner thoughts and intentions, but the cravings begin to take over.  The Snygg brothers follow up with darkly satiric “Home Improvement” involving a new couple’s adversary journey to fix up their rundown new home to the point where they can’t take any more of the repairs or of each other and the overflowing sardonic banter starts to spill blood; this bit is fun, more than you know it relatable, and gets real nasty at the end. The weakest short is “The One Percenters” with a nob’s daughter eager to mingle amongst the common folk during a seemingly harmless camping trip that turns deadly after she accidently kills her boyfriend.  Conceptually, the message is sound with the wealthiest subverting the law theme and Jordan Flippo is stunning as a plutocrat’s high expectations daddy’s girl, but the story lacks enough obstacle and tension-filled stuffing for an interesting enough short. “Frankenstein’s Wife” spotlights John Fedele’s equable, light-hearted humor in affectionately reconstructing and resurrecting the wife he accidently kills and with each attempt at bring her back from the dead, her corporeal temple becomes less and less of herself through Frankenstein’s botched cosmetic surgeries. The lovesick cycle is both deranged and full of laughs from Fedele’s riotous desperation take of a classic character.

Gravitas Ventures unchains all the creatures loose in their digital distribution of The Snygg Brothers’ “Monsters in the Closet” anthology now available on-demand and digital platforms this January. None of the audio or visual aspects will be covered since the feature is not a digital release, but when I say The Snygg Brothers self-produced the film, I mean they literally wore nearly every single departmental hat, including director of photography and visual effects that impresses with a wide range of shots from drone, to hand-held, and to tracking done with depth and various levels of focus. There is no one trick pony behind the camera. Some of the digital effects, such as the bullet holes that riddle the basement floor and walls, cheapen the already cheap production and, for the most part, the practical effects reach the passing bar with the obvious lay figure body parts and crude masks/getups. There are no special features or bonus scenes with this release that runs unrated at 88 minutes. Anthology bias be damned, “Monsters in the Closet” is a rarity in a dying breed subgenre with a jocular sense of sinister, social commentary humor braided into a tenebrous fray between man versus man and man versus monster.

Watch “Monsters in the Closet” on Prime Video!