The Dying Baltic Traditions Live in the Ashes of EVIL. “Cult Girls” (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

The pagan Cult, the Golden Path, remains nearly all that is left of the ancient practice as Lithuania becomes one of the last countries to be converted to Christianity in the late 14th century.  Led by an archaic, yet powerful, goddess named Ragana, the Golden Path promises to flourish once again with the power of death, reincarnation, and control through sordid misdeeds.  When Dalia and her two young sisters become prepped for a ritual of an important role in the cult, potentially leading them down the path of sex and sacrifice, a traitorous follower helps the sisters attempt to escape their emmeshing fate as the police raid the Golden Path compound ensuing a firefight that leads to the death Ragana and Dalia’s getaway, but her sisters are kidnapped and held captive by the remaining cult members.  Years later and riddled with guilt, Dalia must know what happened to her sisters and she tracks down a death metal cultist, Moloch, who seemingly has a connection to Golden Path, with the help of Samoth, a black metal fanatic, but Moloch forestry hermit lifestyle cuts off Dalia and Samoth from the rest of the world and the convicted arsonist against all things Christianity may have more up his sleeve than what meets the eye.

With a title that sounds like an all-girl goth band from the grunge era of the 1990’s, or maybe even more so from the “Scooby Doo” franchise (Hex Girls anyone?), “Cult Girls” summons the actuality of being an acute quasi-historical and dark fantasy thriller hailing from the Ozploitation capital of the world, Australia.  “Cult girls” is the second, non-documentary film from “The Matrix’ inspired “Narcosys” director, Mark Bakaitis, who directed, wrote, and edited his the multi-location sophomore film that has on location scenes from not only in Australia, but also in Lithuania, at the notable Hill of Crosses landmark, and in the indiscernible urban locations of Germany.  Bakaitis serves as producer alongside executive producer Douglas Kaplan of the diverse arts platform production company, All Edge Entertainment, based in Santa Monica, California. 

The Australian production casts an American to star as Ragana, the brood matriarch destined to rejuvenate Golden Path’s permanence, with “V’s” very own Jane Badler.  Badler brings an international presence to the feature and isn’t a stranger to films from the down under.  With the actress’s soul-seducing cutting eyes and demonic empress allure, the New York born Badler exacts Ragana’s clutching strength as an underground Pagan seeking unlimited decadent power.  However, Badler is overshadowed by the timorousness of Dalia whose polar opposite presence is granted a more favorable chunk of screen time.  Finnish born Saara Lamberg plays the humbled Dalia, living her life out of a covenant while searching out the cult that once almost stitched her into the sew of sleazy affairs to unearth the whereabouts of her younger sisters.  Dalia’s a bit of a dull principle with no substantiated efforts in finding her siblings and it isn’t until Samoth stalks her one night, recognizing the Golden Path’s symbol tattooed on her wrist and offering his manhunt services to find the expelled Moloch, an exaggerated black metal anti-Christianity anarchist in a saturating performance by Albert Goikhman.  In the middle, masked brutes, half naked women, and, fallen by the waist side, Dalia’s sisters in standalone plot point narratives that, as far as story structure goes, does nothing to motivate the narrative other than be an ostentatious aesthetic of locations and debauchery.  “Cult Girls” rounds out the cast with Tony Markulin (“MurderDrome”), Algias Karazija, Dean Kirkright, a handful of Bakaitis’s family, and Simay Argento, a distant relative to Dario Argeno playing a Cult Auntie in the film.

“Cult Girls” borders being avant-garde of an unfiltered auteur’s will in a mesh of artistic polishes and prose dialogue, but the film slides into being more of an 83 minute music video over staying it’s welcome and drudges through a repetitive stylistic cycle to an almost nearly unwatchable extent.  Yet, “Cult Girls” somehow manages to retain attention despite the chewy acting and it’s ambling story that hits a dam wall of uncertainly of where the script should head. Bakaitis shoulders the story for modern Gothicism tapped with half naked occultist, sometimes bathing in blood, and a plague of nightmare imagery that director of photography Trent Schneider tunes into well with noir vitality despite being the cinematographer’s debut feature film, but through the shiny exterior of a handful of solid mise-en-scene work, “Cult Girls” numbs the impact of the soul corrupting Pagan syndicate, that may or may not be shrouded with supernatural foundations, and the anti-Christian propaganda with half-baked violence from geriatric men, masked with Dia de los Muertos style masks, able to be kingpins of an untouchable prostitution ring façade for their occult sacrifices in broad public without a bat of an eyelash.  Granted, prostitution is likely legal in Germany and Lithuania so authorities might turn a blind eye, but brothels are a convenient opportunity for police investigations. “Cult Girls” treasures the fact of Lithuania’s languishing heritage without being overly filmic heresy by blending in shaded sleaze and death, but there lies no story in Dalia’s unenthusiastic search for her sisters in a much more preacherly themed death metal horror that confuses cult with religion.

 

Apocalyptic reincarnations and traditional folklores collide in Mark Bakaitis’s “Cult Girls” on DVD now from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian release is a single layer DVD with region 4, PAL encoded format, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Trent Schneider’s keen eye captures a grim fairytale surface of black magic masochism and, at the same time, breathtaking in the pure nature scenes, but the imagery is mostly in devoid of richer color that lingers around a bluish-gray monochrome tone and struggles with hazy details, especially around facial features, that smoothly fuzz over. The English, German, and Lithuanian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix battens down with shiplap genres of traditional Lithuania folk and modern metal from composing sound designer Erin McKimm, implementing the traditional songs of Lithuania sung by the Melbourne-Lithuania community singers, The Lost Clogs. Industrial action fills in every nook and cranny of the remaining score with decent range and depth of ambiance. While the dialogue is prominent and clear, there are spelling errors and tiny text issues with the English subtitles when the narrative lands in Germany and Lithuania. The DVD’s bonus features includes audio commentary, making of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, Bakaitis’s short film, “Mercy Kill” that serves one of the founding themes for “Cult Girls,” and music videos directed by Mark Bakaitis. For an Australian film, “Cult Girls” will feel more worldly, unlike anything else that comes out of Australia, and have partisan propaganda against Christianity, but in the end, the insidious Pagan evil, on the precipice of resurrecting, wearies on, like a tireless sermon of doom.

Did Evil Put You On It’s Will? “Next of Kin” review!


After the untimely death of her mother, Linda returns from her university studies to reacquaint herself with the inherited Montclare, a home for the elderly her mother owned and operated through the decades as a family business. As she internally debates about whether to sell the grand, yet antiquated estate, 24-year-old Linda shuffles through her mother’s left behind things that rekindle Linda’s faded memories of her youth and add a sense of melancholy about her mother’s mental condition. A seemingly quiet, if not quirky, home for the elderly quickly becomes shrouded with mystery after the discovery of one of the residents found dead in a bathtub. Soon after, Linda feels as if she’s being watched and toyed with inside the corridors of Montclare: candles found lit, bathroom fixtures overflowing and cascading with water, mysterious figures looming from inside her room’s window, and her mother’s belongings sprawled out about the room. Paranoia sets into Linda as she suspects the resident caretaker and doctor of a lethal plot against her inside an old, foreboding manor that troubled her mother into deathly consequences and she searches for answers inside her mother’s extensive diaries that reveal the ominous dread that overwhelmed her inside an evil house.

“Next of Kin” is Australian’s answer to Dario Argento’s hauntingly apprehensive and vividly hued classic, “Suspiria.” Directed by Tony Williams and co-written with Michael Heath (“Death Warmed Over”), “Next of Kin” embodies monolithic brooding merits of a gracefully shaped horror and palpitating anxiety unlike any other Australian horror film we’ve ever seen before. In fact, Williams 1982 film doesn’t feel very Australian at all that’s set chiefly in and around Montclar, a lavishly gothic estate with expensive fountains and floral garnishes. Aside from native accent and barely a dusty road to drive down, the country of origin could be anywhere, punching home the aspect that the incident at Montclar is universal. Looking into a couple of their techniques, Williams and cinematographer Gary Hansen (“Image of Death”) utilize slow motion and interlaced scenes to convey a surreal dread that transcends from film to senses, also involving disruptive audio cues and visual jump scares, to culminate every scene, ever moment, into a well thought out result on how to effectively reach out and affect that scared little boy or girl in all of us.

Primarily a television and mini-series actress, Jacki Kerin sets foot into the main actress Linda. Kerin’s able to flip emotions from emitting a passive quality while she seemingly annoyed by her mother’s death while switching gears into a hyper-tensive defender. The small screen actress translate well onto the big screen, accompanying well versed thespians in “Picnic at Hanging Rock’s” John Jarratt, who went onto to more notably the “Wolf Creek” franchise. There’s also Alex Scott (“The Abominable Dr. Phibes”) and Tasmanian-born actress Gerda Nicholson. Scott and Nicholson do a fine job of portraying un-trust worthy snoops with underlining knowledge yet to be exposed and with Kerin, the fear goes unopposed and spreads like wild fire. the remaining cast includes Charles McCallum, Bernadette Gibson, Robert Ratti, Vince Deltito, and Debra Lawrence.

Practical effects are minimal in “Next of Kin,” but are well integrated with a meticulous purpose. Williams maintains the gore to an infancy amount, but the New Zealand born director doesn’t nickel-and-dime the macabre. Much of the death displayed comes in at post-humorous, visually positioning the cold and blue hued, more at times ripped life from, bodies to vessel the story forward toward a shocking, what-the-hell, and oh glorious climax. Then, when all the proverbial cards on the table, Linda finds herself ensnared in a cat-and-mouse game where Chris Murray’s practical effects come to the forefront. Special effects maestro, Chris Murray, had the George Miller experience while working on “Max Max” in 1979, prepping him to be the adequate effects artist to create surreal and, also, brutal Giallo-like murder.

Umbrella Entertainment presents Tony Williams’ “Next of Kin” onto a region free, full HD 1080p Blu-ray home video. An Ozploitation classic in itself, Umbrella Entertainment puts the film on a home media pedestal with a remastered 4k transfer from the original 35mm interpostive and presented in a widescreen, 1.77:1 aspect ratio. Beyond gorgeous with lush grim colors and able to keep the natural grain of the 35mm nitrate, “Next of Kin” sees one hell of an upgrade that shows no wear in the transfer and no compression issues or edging enhancements. Even with the heavy blue tint at time, the amount and the use is appropriate alongside Gary Hansen’s vision. The new English DTS-HD master audio emphasizes the heavy synthesized score by German electronic music composer Klaus Schulze that meshes fine with the creepy house ambiance. Dialogue is properly forefront and crystal clear. Special features run amok with audio commentaries with director Tony Williams, producer Tom White, and with cast members John Jarrett, Jackie Kerin, Robert Rattie. Also on the release is a “Return to Montclar – Next of Kin” shooting locations revisited, extended interviews from “Not Quite Hollywood” director Mark Hartley, deleted scenes, original and VHS trailer, German opening credits and trailer, an image gallery, and a couple of Tony Williams’ short films: “The Day We Landed on the Most Perfect Planet in the Universe” and “Getting Together.” “Next of Kin” has a brawny Italian Giallo flavor with a gritty, distinctive core of Australian horror filmmaking; sheerly beautiful and indisputably morbid, director Tony Williams has garnished a choice horror favorite that’s been sorely passed over through the years.

Evil Is Only Skin Deep. “The Wax Mask” review!


Set in Rome of 1912, a newly constructed wax museum, under a mysterious alchemy artist known as Boris Volkoff, stirs controversy with the showcasing of the world’s most grisly and notorious murder scenes. Two brothel customers’ debate result in the one challenging the other to spend the night at the curated museum of horror without having an ounce of fleeting fear. The next morning, the man has been found, apparently keeling over in fright, and the police are baffled, but something more sinister is afoot when Sonia, a young costume designer with a horrific past as the sole witness in the gruesome death of her mother and father in Paris 1900, becomes employed at the museum to costume the wax figures and faints when the scene of her parents’ brutal death is recreated as the museum’s new showpiece. Sonia and a reporter closely examine the museum when more people begin disappearing off the street, people who have ties with the beautiful costume designer, and learn the waxed creations are much more underneath their plastic-lifelike skin.

Before his untimely death, the Godfather of (Italian) Gore, Lucio Fulci, had been cooperating on a semi-quasi remake of Vincent Price’s 1953 thriller “House of Wax,” based on the Gaston Leroux’s novel, alongside fellow iconic Italian horror director Dario Argento (“Suspiria”) in a comeback collaboration for Fulci, but the entitled “The Wax Mask” film was evidently delayed partly in because of Fulci’s death. “The Wax Mask” was handed over by Argento, who was producing, to special effects guru Sergio Stivaletti (“Cemetery Man,” “The Church”) and months after Fulci’s death, a finished product shared very similar traits to the Godfather of Gore’s style craftily blended with more modern approaches to filmmaking was released to the public. Though tailored more toward the interests of gory special effects, Stivaletti’s 1997 film is dedicated to Fulci with the implementation of many of the director’s popular trademarks, including closeups on various eye expressions and zoom-ins on gore and the weapons before their fateful strikes, while also basking in strong bright colors in the midst of shadowy cinematography that’s typical of the giallo genre.

In such a crimson world, an elegant performance by Romina Mondello, who stars as the orphaned Sonia, has the Rome born actress bring beauty, innocence, and charm to the macabre that harbors contrasting arguments against undermining marred antagonists and she provides a breath of aesthetic liveliness amongst a narrative that surrounds itself in capturing beauty in inanimate wax figures. “Cemetery Without Crosses'” Robert Hossein embraces the enigmatic museum curator, Boris Volkoff, with struggling internal black aspirations that involve his recently acquired employee, Sonia, and Houssein is able to turn off and on that switch of longing and menacing, playing the hand of the character superbly to keep audiences guessing his true intent. Volkoff’s faithful assistant and exhibit creator, Alex, embodies creepy and morbid attributes wonderfully contributed by a relatively unknown Umberto Balli. The trifecta cast sells the ghastly science fiction that slowly builds toward the transformation of “The Wax Mask” from classic giallo to sensational mad science Gothicism with a boost of euro trashiness that’s more relative to the work of Jesús Franco or Joe D’Amato. Riccardo Serventi Longhi (“Symphony in Blood Red”), Valery Valmond, Gabriella Giorgelli (“The Grim Reaper”), and Gianni Franco (Dario Argento’s “The Phantom of the Opera”) round out the cast.

Stivaletti’s toolbox of special effects celebrate in the practicality that escalates when the cloaked killer’s metal claw literally rips terror through the hearts and souls of characters, but the glossy composite imagery thwarts realism and cheapens the already cheesy Euro horror with a laughable fire set ablaze and a slew of lampoon electricity while half naked women are strapped to a barbaric mechanized chair. The cut-rate composite won’t ruin a guilty pleasure viewing and won’t blast apart an arguably respectable adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel, but the script, co-written between Argento, Fulci, and “The House of Clocks'” penning collaborator Daniele Stroppa, does pull from other, interestingly enough, inspirations that one wouldn’t think would be genre compatible. The action-packed finale of James Cameron’s 1984 pre-apocalyptic, time-traveling cyborg blockbuster, “The Terminator,” makes an unexpected appearance with an endoskeleton villain donning some familiar and memorable moments from one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.

“The Wax Mask” greatly resembles Italian horror cinema from the 1970s and 1980s spawned in the late 90s, a superb feat for a director more aligned in vocational special effects, but the jaded historical background accompanying the film places a stain on whether Lucio Fulci had much to do with the project at all. Much is speculated that Argento and Stroppa re-wrote Fulci’s original script after his death, removing much of Fulci’s atmospheric flair and adding more gore, but in the end, “The Wax Mask” instabilities are overshadowed by great practical effects, an engaging storyline, and a roster of flavorful characters. The One 7 Movies and CAV Distributing Blu-ray release is presented in 1080p. The widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio is the not the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but doesn’t constrain the image. The MPEG-4 AVC codec emits a bit of shakiness under the compression, suggesting a lower bitrate, but the One 7 Movies’ release is the best, sharpest looking transfer of the original source material with natural coloring on skin tones, vibrant shades of various colors, and shadows being exquisitely black. Four audio options are available from the English and Italian Surround 5.1 tracks to the English and Italian Stereo tracks with no accessible English or Italian subtitles in the static setup menu. Extras are slim with a handheld camera behind-the-scenes that’s solely in Italian. “The Wax MasK” is an ambitious Gothic hybrid horror that cements the memory of Lucio Fulci, pleases the gore of Dario Argento, and showcases the talents of debut director Sergio Stivaletti.

Purchasing One 7 Movies’ “The Wax Mask” at Amazon!

Evil Surpasses Decades and Has Never Looked So Good! “Francesca” review!

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Fifteen years after the kidnapping and disappearance of Francesca, the young daughter of renowned poet and stage performer Vittorio Visconti and his wife Nina, a string of brutal murders by a relentless psychopath links itself to the case of missing Francesca and sparks community outrage with the deaths that are connected with Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Detectives Moretti and Succo eagerly take on the case, that’s heavy with burden, to quickly apprehend the murderer but to also solve a more than decade old missing child case. As the bodies pile up and Moretti and Succo attempt to get closer to a resolution in the midst of grave public panic, a web of past dark secrets depict a convoluted picture surrounding the private Visconti family that may or may not be directly involved in what really came of poor young Francesca.
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The sweet, bloody sweet giallo genre is not dead! The crime mystery thriller with shockingly grisly murders is alive and well and embodied in the soul of Luciano Onetti’s 2015 sophomore directorial that’s co-written with his brother, Nicolas Onetti. The Onetti brothers’ “Francesca” release gets a treatment deserving of kings with a gloriously and beautifully illustrated cover and inner lining that contains powerfully-packed 3-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo set distributed by the artistic gorehounds Unearthed Films and the multifaceted MVDVisual. Complete with an inscrutable and deranged killer that’s greatly diabolical in their own insane world built upon the Buenos Aires born director’s passion for Italian horror, every giallo loving attribute has been meticulously applied to “Francesca” from the shrouded killer to the use of characterizing the antagonist with simply their leather bound, throat-gripping hands high above the clicking of offbeat high heals not casted far from a creepy doll used to motif the killer’s ominous presence. Blood red violence streaks of eye disfigurements, or any facial disfigurement, throughout a script that’s much attuned to the structure and content, reigniting a flame of hope in a declining genre to which the 33-year-old Onetti appears to hold very dear to his heart.
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In addition to the inner mechanisms and the ivory gears that constitutes a giallo film, Luciano Onetti takes his feature that one step further by reducing hues and adding an Italian post-production dub track, overlaying the assumptive Argentinean dialogue, to zip back to the past for a time hop location that’s purposefully set in 1970’s Rome. With props true to the time period, “Francesca” has undoubtedly a budget that delivers the malevolent charm of a Dario Argento slasher with a slightly modern taste for the Michele Soavi ghastliness, working seamlessly together to compile an apt tribute of surging giallo birthed right out of South America. “Francesca” is a stunning visual, a clear marker of filmmaking inspiration inspired by classic filmmaking that’s specific in it’s venture from familiar Italian editing techniques to capturing or creating the menace in even the most mundane of filler scenes.
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“Francesca” is certainly a film that glorifies the anti-hero with a killer wreaking havoc amongst the public’s most disparaging people who got off the hook easily. When considering the depth chart, this vigilante psychopath exploits Dante’s work as a means of justification where one’s person journey to the gates of heaven must first travel through the gates of hell, providing a similar Charon’s obol of sorts where a metaphorical coin is viewed as a bribe for the gatekeeper or ferryman of souls. Even if considered an anti-hero, the murderer still manages to appeal as the villain because so much of the story’s focus is on Moretti (Luis Emilio Rodriguez) and Succo (Gustavo Dalessanro) and both Rodriguez and Dalessanro make their first on-screen film debut, suitably connecting with “Francesca’s” elderly ambiance.
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The Not Rated Unearthed Films and MVDVisual 3-Disc Blu-ray and DVD combo is 77 minutes of pure fanboy gold, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 in a vary of purposefully pruned coloring and intended faux film stock imperfections to recreate a 1970’s Italian giallo. The Italian dialogue track doesn’t quite synch and, again, that’s deliberate to fabricate a past ideal. My only gripe with this release is with the English subtitles as there were a few issues, including some key mistakes in spelling and with the pace of the subtitle that were way too quick. That shouldn’t sway anyone from this awe-striking and gorgeous limited edition release that comes complimentary with a booklet of an in-depth review from Ultra Violent Magazine’s Art Ettinger. The third disc rounds out the release as the film’s soundtrack, scored by Luciano Onetti and his progressive rock that’s a slight modernization of the synch-prog rock of this particular genre’s decade. “Francesca” comes straight out of a forgotten 40-year time capsule, looking to violate the eyes, minds, and ears of a younger generation and stimulating the nearly flatlined Italian giallo genre.

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Hurry! “Francesca” is a Limited Edition release! Won’t be around forever!