A Single Spool of Film Can Make the Filmmakers EVIL Enough to Murder. “Naked Over the Fence” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

“Naked Over the Fence” on 2-Disc Blu-ray and CD set!

Rick, who runs an arcade business and is a pigeon enthusiastic with a dovecote on his building’s rooftop, attends his friend’s Karate competition with another good friend, a schoolteacher and his tenant, Penny.  Learning that his Karate friend, Ed Swaan, has developed a romantic relationship with Netherland pop-singer Lilly Marischka and will have a small role in an upcoming movie with the star, shooting in building adjacent to Swaan’s Karate studio, Rick doesn’t think twice about it until Penny catches glimpse of naked photography happening in the very same building.  Rick is sent that night to investigate, and witnesses Ed and Lily uncomfortably being persuaded to take part in a private viewing porno and nearly escape with their lives when they rescind their participation and are chased by two low-life goon twins.  Ed and Lily’s nudie film now threatens them with scandal and as Rick pokes his nose into the production team’s business, innocent lives pay the price to keep the film in the blackmailing and profit seeking hands of the filmmakers. 

A cult comedy-thriller for the ages, “Naked over the Fence,” aka “Naakt over de schutting,” is a murder-mystery monkeying with spirited jest from the Amsterdam-born filmmaker Frans Weisz. The screenplay treatment comes from Weisz familiar writers Rob du Mee and the late Rinus Ferdinandusse, who penned the novel of the same Netherland title from which the story was adapted and who had passed away back in July of this year. Both writers have worked with the director on respective projects, such as “The Burglar” and “A Gangstergirl” before “Naked Over the Fence.” Set in and amongst the close quartered housing of Amsterdam and along the river of the Amstel, Weisz very much incorporates the intertwining the compact of the brick-and-mortar and the expanse of a widened landscape flow of the surroundings into tongue-and-cheek situational micro comedies that sometimes has you forget your watching a rather cynical and entangling murder mystery involving shady pornography, blackmail, and murderous foul play. Parkfilm and Cinécentrum N.V. are the production companies behind the film with Rob du Mee producing and Gerrit Visscher as associate producer.

Initial previewing presumptions about “Naked Over the Fence” might fall along the lines of being a highly erotic comedy because of not only the film’s suggestive title and the half-naked actors halfway over a fence on one of the original poster artworks, but also the fact that Sylvia Kristel as one of the principal stars.  Kristel is far and wide known for her continuous provocative performances as the lusciously licentious title character in the erotically charged “Emmanuelle” mega-series that has expanded decades since the 1970s.  “Naked Over the Fence” is not that kind of movie.  Not even close.  There are moments of skin, conservatively from Kristel, and subtle and not so subtle scenes of sensuality coursed throughout but the Weisz film notes as one of the Netherlands’ actress’s first films of her career before “Emmanuelle,” exploring her range as a scared pop singer backed against into a career stemmed quid pro quo before becoming an embedded typecast of the erotic genre. Kristel perfectly complements as a beautiful, delicate, yet reserved in strength starlet alongside arcade owner and staunch friend Rick (Rijk de Gooyer, “Rufus”) and her new beau, a large karate dojo owner Ed (Jon Bluming, Paul Verhoeven’s “Turkish Delight”). As much as an odd couple as they’re describe, Gooyer and Bluming are greatly well-received on screen as a dynamic duo attempting to outwit shady porno makers, blackmailers, and merciless murderers as if the contest to the film reel is a game with that swashbuckling, self-assured attitude as two amateur sleuths. The one character I thought was a little out of place was Penny, played by Jennifer Willems as a schoolteacher renting a room in Rick’s arcade building but is also a good friend of both men. Penny feels solely like an object used to force the hands of Rick and Jon when trouble arises and never actually does any leg work in tracking down the film reel. Willem performs to the best of her extent in a role that doesn’t obtain much action until the unique action chase at the end. Willem, Gooyer, and Bluming have all worked with previously with director Frans Weisz on “The Burglar,” alleviating beforehand any undue first meet jitters and that translate tremendously on screen. “Naked Over the Fence” has an ensemble cast of color characters, each one more interesting than the next, that include Jerome Reehuis, Tom Lensink, Adèle Bloemendaal, Jerry Brouer, and mustache and curly perm identical twins Lodewijk and Hans Sijses as a pair of cronies.

“Naked Over the Fence” might be a pulp novel coursing loosely as a glib tongue in cheek but the complexities the film assume merits cult-worthy cachet. The adaptational flow of a novel story, its wildly entertaining and diverse performances, and its bold direction deserve accolades upon its accolades. The very beginning sets the tenor of the film on the Amsterdam rooftop with tracking shots that are simply amazing, smooth, and precise toward the working up of Rick waiting for his named pigeon friends to return, the Ferenc Kálmán-Gáll cinematography and Ton Ruys editing is remarkably accomplished as the intercut composite between Rick peeping through the fence and the boiling-to-conflict back-and-forth conversing of the pre-setup porn scene that lead up to the film’s title of Ed and Lily hopping climbing over 6 to 7 ft wooden fence is tip-top execution, and the extended tram chase is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a bird-dog chain of scenes as the two trams zip down the engrooved track lines on the streets of Amsterdam while making it whimsical and parlous with excitement. there’s real production money financially backing the uncontained and mutable story and it shows right from the get-go to the very end with only a handful of key instances where the digression of the certain level of high-dollar antics can only be done at a lower quality and that drags down Weisz’ flair quite a bit. An enjoyable romp of Dutch cinema, “Naked Over the Fence” ossifies friendship, loyalty, and morality over the forces of tit-for-tat evil.

Proudly continuing their restored release of Sylvia Kristel films, Cult Epics presents “Naked Over the Fence” onto a 2-disc, region free Blu-ray home video set with a newly restored high definition 4K transfer from the original negative. Virtually unscathed by time, the original negative beams with vitality in its showcased 1.37:1 aspect ratio, upgraded into an improved compression rate to hold all its detailed wonders for the full 91-minute runtime. The stable picture and natural, unwavering coloring persists with a consistent color palette. Other than complimentary natural grain of the stock, there’s no obvious instances to fault the image quality that’s above exemplary. The Dutch language tracks come with two audio options: a LPCM 2.0 and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Both render audibly clear and emphatically enough with the DTS providing a little ambient and dialogue boost with a cleaner track of the dub Dutch language. English subtitles are included and don’t have an apparent errors and synchs well with the pace. Special features include an audio commentary by biographer Harry Hosman, a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette of unpolished footage of scene takes and director Frans Weisz at work with his cast, a 2014 Dutch audio interview with Frans Weisz that includes English subtitles, an interview with composer Ruud Bos from 2015 that includes performances with the B-Movie Orchestra, a promotional gallery, Sylvia Kristel trailers, and a 2nd disc, included only in limited edition, 1000 copy sets, of the exclusive compact disc Soundtrack by composer Round Bos. The physical bonus material with the limited-edition release is cardboard slipcover and a reversible cover art that includes the original poster art and a list of the score’s 16 composed track list. I adore the quirkiness and relish in the story’s transgressional diegesis and now with this stellar new and improved Blu-ray release of the Netherlands’ “Naked Over the Fence,” the perfect movie does exist.

“Naked Over the Fence” on 2-Disc Blu-ray and CD set!

A Snapshot Celebration, Averting the EVILs of Typecasting, for the Iconic Actress “Sylvia Kristel: The 1970s Collection” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Sylvia Kristel.  A name that is synonymous to eroticism.  Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen.   In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.

“Playing With Fire”

In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid.  Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety.  The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession.  Or is it her who possesses him? 

Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.”  A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions.  Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative.  Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves:  Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations.  His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader.  Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective.  The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person.  Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline.  Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.

Pastorale 1943

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen.  When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son.  Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”).  Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978.  Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.

“Mysteries”

After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred.  Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure.  As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.

Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company.  Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer.  The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen.  The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig.  Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town.  None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence.  “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder.  Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion.  “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.

“Julia”

Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house.  While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose.  Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex.  Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.

On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.

Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Tune In to EVIL’s Frequency. “99.9” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

Lara, a paranormal radio show host, learns her close friend and former lover has been tragically killed in an accident at small village of Jimena.  Determined to find out what happened after a mysteriously mailed tape unveils disturbing images of her friend, Lara travels to Jimena to investigate the accident she believes was intentional.  Entangled amongst the village’s strange residents, suspicions are high on just about everyone who had contact with the deceased, but Lara is certain about one thing, at the center of her investigation is an abandoned house with a ghastly urban legend, afflicted by the entombment of murdered women and children souls and, one-by-one, the faces of the torture souls are manifestly etched out from within the walls onto the surface.  As Lara inches closer to the truth of her friend’s research of the phenomenon, the shocking truth will reveal a dark power trying to keep the house’s secrets contained.

Estranged lover.  Tortured souls.  Witchcraft.  Secret experiments.  Murder mystery.  Agustí Villaronga’s “99.9” depicts a loaded, shrouded ethereal thriller with a thin translucent layer of homosexuality draped over so delicately you almost don’t realize the Spanish filmmaker’s subtle exhibition of lifestyle exile.  The 1997 film, also known as “99.9:  The Frequency of Terror,” a subtitle moved from the main title to tagline status, is shot primarily in Madrid as well as certain exterior shots in La Vereda, Guadalajara to provide the intimate essence of a small village’s ever-watching glower.  Villaronga, along with cowriters Lourdes Iglesias and Jesús Regueira, stitch an argyle style narrative sweater of consistent checkered behavior inside an ostentatious presentation of simmering hostility toward foreigners and homosexuals, stirring an isolating heroine into a mixture of local animus and lingering occultism.   “The Black Moon” and “Ninth Gate” executive producer Antonio Cardenal solely funds “99.9” and with Impala and Origen Producciones Cinematograficas serving as co-productions. 

Bearing most of the story’s weight is lead actress María Barranco (“Witching and Bitching”) in an unfamiliar to her thriller role polar opposite of her profound previous work as a comedienne in the vocational genre.  Yet, Barranco grabs the role with undue hesitation or eager to professional please Villaronga with her character entering a spurning atmosphere seething with mistrust and ill-intent.  Playing a single mother enduring the unknown status of her estranged lover, also the father of her fatherless child, it isn’t until a package containing a VHS tape of mostly recorded static and a naked man, her estranged lover Victor (Gustavo Salmerón, “V/H/S Viral”), briefly seen fleeing for his life instills a strong uncompromising need to find the truth.  Barranco captures being rocked and shaken by Victor’s footage so much so that her tension and fear contagiously transmit to the viewer and that hardly lets up in a deluge of suspicious and dread curiousness compelling her to investigate the gruff and oddly civil villagers.  One of those village inhabitants, Juan Márquez, reeks of nervous energy that’s poured into his hunky local mechanic Mauri who becomes the mystery’s weakest link amongst the unbreakable locals, especially under the rigid impatience of Mauri’s girlfriend Julia (Ruth Gabriel), house owner Lázaro (Ángel de Andrés López, “Sexy Killer: You’ll Die for Her “), and the creepy committed bruha mother Dolores (Terele Pávez, “The Day of the Beast,” “Witching and Bitching”).  Pávez stamps her presence into “99.9’s” grim resolve that links Dolores to the souls trapped in the house with fanatical obsession.  The cast rounds out with Simón Andreu (“Flesh+Blood”), Pedro Mari Sánchez (“Creation of the Damned”), Maite Brik, and Paula Soldevila (“Immortal Sins”).

If I had to compare another film to “99.9’s” persistent bleak atmospherics and a singular principle quietly poking around to solve a cryptic scene-turner, a more widely known and recognizable title with a familiar cast, I would put up Villaronga’s film against Robert Zemeckis’s circa 2000 Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer thriller “What Lies Below.”  Both works are saturated with melancholy stuffing and are beautifully shot in their own stylistic right, but Villaronga adds an undercurrent of homosexual persecution as well as a xenophobic aspect that seeks to discourage, dismay, and disconcert nosy foreigners poking around in local business with a gray area of a big city versus little community vibe and scientific fact versus yokel superstition.  Yet, the script renders omission at more pivotal character junctures that go in-depth about backstory, such as the case with the forgotten Victor who, despite being a major plotpoint in the opening scene of the movie, is more a name thrown around as device to stir commotion amongst the locals.  Victor’s experiments in capturing the images and sounds of tortured souls aimlessly floating inside an ethereal plane in the electronic noise of television broadcast during his very much alive subjects’ REM sleep practically dissipates faster than a bottom burp with the window open and the breeze blowing. As loose as the script may be, Villaronga makes up for it with a tone of stern pall, a delicate theme of bigotry mitigated by the tortured souls and mischievous plot ingredients, and the timorous determination exuding from Maria Barranco’s portrayal.

“99.9” is Lara’s radio station frequency; a frequency in the story that nurtures and embraces the abnormal paranormal from callers night in, night out. Instead of sitting comfortably behind a mic and headphones, cozy in her sound proof studio, her frequency is a barrier that is flipped on it’s head as she becomes involved in like the stories of her callers. Speaking of flipping, in more of a “99.9” is Lara’s radio station frequency; a frequency in the story that nurtures and embraces the abnormal paranormal from callers night in, night out. Instead of sitting comfortably behind a mic and headphones, cozy in her sound proof studio, her frequency is a barrier that is flipped on it’s head as she becomes involved in like the stories of her callers. Speaking of flipping, in more of a layman, satanic sense, “99.9” inverted is also the sign of the beast. Either way, two solid possible metaphors for “99.9” give meaning to the tuning title that’s now available on a dual-layer Blu-ray and DVD combo from Cult Epics who present the film in the original European preferred widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio from a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative. Villaronga’s chromatic vision finds unadulterated success in the crisp, clean picture of the Cult Epics release with almost no damage from the original transfer. There’s a slight, and extremely brief, scratch noticeable in the first half of the film, but the amount of grain is perfection and no evidence of manipulation of enhancing. Details are insanely delicate on every tactile texture, even the skin. Aforesaid, Villaronga expresses in color, using a cool blue tints, which is actually toned down some with the transfer, and implementing different lighting techniques to reinforce Javier Aguirresarobe’s breathtaking scenic wide wide shot cinematography. The Spanish language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 on the Blu-ray packs a punch with balanced channels funneling not only clean, unobstructed dialogue, but also “Pan’s Labyrinth” composer, Javier Navarrete,’s brooding baritone, chordophone score. There are two other audio options for the DVD: a LPCM 2.0 Stereo and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Optional English subtitles are available and do match up well with no faults. Special features include a new-ish interview with director Agusti Villaronga conducted by Cult Epic’s Nico B, the making of 99.9 that has archival interviews with the director, María Barranco, and other cast and crew, an isolated Javier Navarrete score, and Agusti Villaronga trailers. Both formats are region free and not rated with a runtime of 111 minutes. Back in the 90’s when Spanish supernatural thrillers peaked, “99.9” was right there with a captivating ghostly gossamer from Spain.

Own 99.9 on Blu-ray DVD Combine from Amazon.Com!

Expectations Lead to EVIL in “The Cool Lakes of Death” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

Set in the early 1900s, Hedwig’s childhood is filled with love, wealth, and innocence, but when her mother dies suddenly at the hands of typhoid, life turns complicated as death, draconian religious teachings, and an uncompassionate home clouds Hedwig’s mind on what exactly her relationship with men and with God should look like.  Punished for self-pleasure and scolded for her belief in fantasies, Hedwig enters adulthood as a conformist seeking to marry a well off man and have children in what was supposed to be the perfect union that reveals in sexuality the secret to marriage.  Prim and proper on the outside but a child on the inside, Hedwig misjudges her affairs with men and indulges in a pretense relationship with them.   When she finally finds happiness with a renowned pianist and the two have a child together, Hedwig’s hold on reality snaps as the child dies a few days later, sending the once elegant Hedwig into a tailspin of unhinged mental stability, drug addiction, and prostitution. 

“The Cool Lakes of Death” is the adapted film based off the Netherlands novel from the dual profession novelist and psychiatrist, Frederik van Eeden, entitled Van de koele meren des doods, which closely translates to “The Deeps of Deliverance,” a psychological period piece and melodrama with themes on the antiquated God-fearing expectations of a 19th century young woman, the solidity of marital unions, and a woman’s sexual liberation.  “The Cool Lakes of Death” is the follow up directorial from “A Woman Like Eve” director, Nouchka van Brakel,” off a screenplay written also by Brakel and co-written with Ton Vorstenbosch.  The exquisite tragedy of a woman submerged in societal misconceptions of love that can’t be forced and the mutuality of pleasures is yet another Dutch production from producer Matthijs van Heijningen and his company Sigma Film Productions, who have overseen a handful of Brakel films including “The Debut” and “A Woman Like Eve.”

Understanding the mixed emotions of a young girl in the throes of self-discovery, with a pinch for the dramatic flair, Renée Soutendijk gives a prismatic performance, glistened in a stringent social dogma, of hope and pity.  The Netherlands actress, who had the role of Miss Huller in the 2018 “Suspiria” remake, the inundated Hedwig, friends call her Hetty, who has inexhaustible amount of hope in her search for passion, but insurmountable roadblocks and obstacles corrupt Hetty’s mental processor.  Soutendijk’s elegance has a soft innocence to it, a naïve virtue that contrasts bleakly against the subtle and not so subtle influencers of Hetty’s life and Soutendijk really opens our eyes when Hetty’s full blown crazy in a clear and precise moment of snapping her rationality like a dried and brittle twig.  The performance digs at you and Brakel exploits the worst (good cinematically) parts of Hetty’s break that has her be a wild, naked woman thrashing, spitting, and puking in a locked room of a psyche ward, injecting needles into her arm night after night after selling her body to unscrupulous men, or even stuffing her newborn baby into a duffel bag and heads off to sea to search for her husband Gerard, a subdued, appearance concerned gay man that never cared physically for Hetty, played by Adriaan Olree in his debut performance.  Hetty comes across two other lovers; one a flyby and compassionate artist Johan (Erik van ‘t Wout), who would have matched her passion, but not her social status, and, eventually, she finds much of what she seeks in a renowned concert pianist Ritsaart (Derek de Lint, “When A Stranger Calls” remake), who refuses to admit their relationship in fear of scandal and ruin of his career.  Along the way, Hetty listens more to her blinded heart than she does her logical mind when intaking sound advice from advocates of her wellbeing as Ritsaart’s best friend Joop (Peter Faber, “A Woman Like Eve”), her best friend Leonora (Kristine de Both), and a hospital nun (Claire Wauthion) attempt to steer her toward a happier existence. 

I really can’t get enough of Hetty unable to secure her ideal happiness.  That might sound a little inconsiderate but what is a perfect relationship?  Brakel explores how an sought ideal can turn into a damaging expedition for the white whale.  Instead of being the ill-fated, hellbent Captain Ahab, Hetty’s land based monomaniacal drive of fairytale love becomes her ultimate downfall, sinking her deeper into the depths of despair, loneliness, and a cataclysmic separation from reality.  Gerard wasn’t perfect because he secretly longed for men, Johan didn’t have the right social stature for a lady of her status, and Ritsaart kept their love hidden below the public eye.  There’s a quite a bit of feminism loitering around in that last statement with a touch of selfishness to no fault of Hetty’s and all circulate back to some sort of suppression whether it’s sexually or emotionally umbrellaed by patriarchal doctrine, discourse, and discipline.  The culture toxicity is so severe that the older generation of women are beguiled by it’s power to be controlling others themselves under the thumb of a male-dictated society as we see in Hetty’s Governess in tattling on her pupil’s every move to her wimp of a widowed father.  “The Cool Lakes of Death” is a beautiful disaster in almost a sing-songy narrative delivered by director Nouchka van Brakel’s mighty delicate touch. 

For the first time in North America and single in a trilogy of Nouchka van Brakel releases from Cult Epics, as well as in a trilogy boxset, the 1982 downcast drama “The Cook Lakes of Death,” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray home video.  The New 4k High-Def transfer is scanned from the original 35mm negative with an impeccable and nearly blemish-free restoration.  The film is presented in the European matted widescreen, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with plenty of good looking natural grain and a softer image in the trashy romance first act then to a harsher, grittier quality during the time of her ruin under the eye of Theo van de Sande who ventured from the Netherlands to the U.S. later in his career and worked on Joe Dante’s “The Hole,” “Little Nicky,” and “Blade.”  A couple of whip pans into deep focus shots enrich the production, a technique that has served Sande in his later work.  The Dutch language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossy audio is as good as this title will ever see without an actiony framework.  Dialogue is completely discernible with well synched English subtitles.  A few pops in the span but no major damage to the audio to speak about in length.  Soundtrack has barrier moments of muffled penetration.  Not too many special features to touch upon with the theatrical trailer, a poster and sill gallery, a 1982 newsreel unearthed from the Polygoon Journal archive, and a reversible Blu-ray cover. “The Cool Lakes of Death” is young and naïve adolescence transitioning into womenhood only to be tripped up every step of the way; Hetty’s eager to blossom turns to withering as the underdog in life’s kennel and Brakel’s purificatory rite of passage beautifully disembowels hope and dreams in a dreamy fashion until finding faith in life come full circle, well almost, in commencing with both feet standing into adulthood.

“The Cool Lakes of Death” on Blu-ray Home Video at Amazon.com

Sometimes, The Choice Itself is EVIL. “A Woman Like Eve” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)



Eve is a stay at home mother of two who ensures the house is in tiptop shape and that dinner is promptly on the table for her working husband, Ad.  When Eve has a break down at the Mother’s Day family dinner table, Ad purchases her a train ticket to enjoy France’s sun and sand with her best friend, Sonja.  There she meets an alluring woman, Liliane, living freely and humbly in a commune.  An attraction flourishes between them after Eve returns to home to the Netherlands and can’t stop thinking of her time with Liliane.  Soon, they become romantically involved with Liliane travelling back and forth from France and that sets the stage for conflict as Ad discovers his wife’s yearning desires for Liliane to horrid and confusing for their young children not to mention also their marriage.  Eve is caught in the middle between the woman she desperately wants to be with who still lives in the commune and her children she can’t deal to part from in a tug-a-war of emotions wrought by a failing marriage, society perceptions on lesbianism, and damaging court room battles for children custody.

When thinking about the history of LGBTQ+ films and the filmmakers behind them, director Nouchka van Brakel’s “A Woman Like Eve” should be at the top of any film aficionado’s list despite flying, unjustifiably, under the radar for decades as the Dutch film makes a profound statement with, at the time, unmapped gender fluidity of the 1970’s timeframe that included the women liberation movement that sought to free domesticated women from the limitations of household responsibilities, it cracked the barriers on what constitutes as healthy union between two people, and dove into the intricate internal struggles of a keystone person being pulled between two very different lives of family dynamics.   Co-written alongside Judith Herzberg, the 1979 romance drama, natively titled “Een vrouw als Eva,” has a very different kind of evil than the werewolves, vampires, zombies, serial killers, and ghosts typically showcased in our reviews and that is those narrow-mindedly frighteningly submerged in antiquated traditions peered through the perspective of a feminist director in Brakel.  Matthijs van Heijningen, who produced Dick Maas’s elevator-horror “The Lift” and also Brakel’s prior work on “The Debut” and later work on “The Cool Lakes of Death,” produces the Dutch tale under his indie banner, Sigma Pictures.”

“A Woman Like Eve” would not have been as provocative with thickly layered nonconformist and spirited topics without the compelling performance of the film’s two leading ladies in Monique van de Ven (Paul Verhoeven’s “Turkish Delight”) as Eve and  Maria Schneider (“Last Tango in Paris” costarring Marlon Brando).  Van de Ven captures a woman tormented by not only what “proper” society, society being her friends and family, tells her to be, but also distresses going against the grain of her innate guilt and nurture for her two small children during a time of emotional transition that impels her to pursue a relationship with not just any other person but another woman.  That other woman being Liliane, an established outlier of what’s considered normal as a lesbian living how she wants in an outskirts commune, and while Schneider’s performance treads lightly through what should be mountains of emotions, especially in a role that has a foundation of someone been out of closet, doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and has tethered a line of security to her soul fulfillment center, Liliane still maintains as the steady constant that never wavers from who she is and what she wants.  Toss in the German born and “A Bridge Too Far” actor, Peter Faber, and you can see the gunpowder burn for miles in tense and uncomfortable discourse when Eve confides into Faber’s character, Eve’s husband Ad, about her proclaimed love for another woman and then we witness Ad patronize her with what he calls an epidemic of woman independence and shrugs her true feelings like scraping foods scraps from a dinner plate and into the trash. Faber can get downright ugly with the homophobic bigotry that begins to carousel Eve’s ebb and flow of having any kind relationship with her separated husband until justice system proceedings for children custody. Marijke Merckens, Renée Soutendijk, Anna Knaup, Truus Dekker, and Mike Bendig round out as the support characters caught is the web of Eve’s love affairs and legal issues.

Feminist filmmaker Nouchka van Brakel depicts tremendous themes of a woman’s status in what could have been a universal position for women all over the globe. Seen as only housekeepers, dinner makers, and children bearers or caretakers, women were placed at a standstill after suffragists fought for the right vote at the turn of the 20th century but that fire inside them stayed lit and you can see that with Eve in the opening scenes as she’s longing and looking for something more than to be a house wife. She eventually obtains something more with love for Liliane, the second theme Brakel implements extends upon unfettering women is with lesbianism. Lesbianism is shown to bring down shame upon family, friends, and even just society in general as Eve was offered no solace from those she had a prior relationship with after coming out, a choice seen as a radical and an integration part of that women’s independence movement. Brakel wanted to explore uncharted passion between woman and woman and, in doing so, lifted the curtain on on various foremost concepts that are still…still being talked about today where inequality in the workplace through sexism and salaries still wage a battle of the sexes and homosexuality is still too taboo for even the modern day system. “A Woman Like Eve” has surely inspired and been of homage in more modern pieces, such as “Blue is the Warmest Color,” and should be exhibited more educationally on it’s abundance of relatable themes and not just be another work of unseen cult fiction but be rather a praised film of realism based on nonfiction.

To watch Eve toil in her new life is like climbing Mount Everest; it’s a long, arduous journey with challenging, sometimes spirit crushing, obstacles to overcome in order to reach the top, but once above the cloud, the tooth and nail fight for what’s finally yours and yours alone can be worth it. Unfortunately for Eve, her cumulus glass ceiling is poignant. “A Woman Like Eve” importance is shamefully overlooked and that’s why I’m grateful Cult Epics has brought Brakel’s film, for the first time, on DVD and Blu-ray in North America. Basing this review off the Blu-ray release, clocking in with a 103 minute runtime, the newly restored high definition transfer from the original 35mm print, shown in 1.66:1 aspect ratio, looks respectable from a moderately preserved transfer. An occasion scratch and some real delineation issues with night scenes factor in only little impact when the story is shot mostly in bright daylight and is well light all around with lots of natural grain. No cropping, compression artefacts, or enhancing was detected and the coloring appears very natural without any overcorrecting or mistakes in the primary or secondary hues. The new Dutch/English/French language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 renders dialogue clearly and positioned as the foremost track with a solid sync with the error-free English captioning. There’s a slight lower key hum throughout and some crackling and popping but none of those are a hinderance to the viewing. As far as bonus material, the region free, unrated release contains a 2020 interview between Brakel and film journalist Floortje Smit at the Eye Filmmuseum, a poster and still gallery, and the theatrical trailer on a dual-layered disc. The limited edition package includes new and original cover art on a reversible case sleeve. Probably seen as antiquated celluloid, I see Nouchka van Brakel’s LGBTQ proud and woman empowering film, “A Woman Like Eve,” as historical treasure dug up by Cult Epics, carefully spit-shine restored, and encapsulated forever on physical media for all to enjoy.

Purchase “A Woman Like Eve” on Blu-ray or DVD