The Devil Is Never Pretentious with His EVIL! “Satan’s Little Helper” reviewed! (Synapse Films / Blu-ray)

Bluray is Currently Cheaper than DVD!  Grab “Satan’s Little Helper” Fast!

Obsessed with his new video game Satan’s Little Helper, where a little boy helps the Satan dispense murderous bloody mayhem, naïve Dougie, sporting his own hot red Satan costume and mask, swears he’ll have a chance to meet Satan himself during Halloween.  Who Dougie believes he stumbles upon is the master of darkness but, in reality, the overactive and imaginative adolescent has discovered a deranged, untalkative serial killer in a Satan costume going house-to-house setting up realistic looking gruesome displays as Halloween lawn decorations.  Feeling slighted when his college-age sister comes home to Bell Island with a new boyfriend unexpectedly, an upset Dougie wants Satan to kill the boyfriend, but the killer insidiously uses the boy as a pawn and works his way into Dougie’s family home and everyone thinks it’s the new boyfriend masked as Satan to impress and please the difficult child.  Set in motion is a flight of wickedness throughout the night on the island town that’s unprepared for the chaos yet to come. 

Jeff Lieberman is already something of a cult horror director amongst fans. Having written-and-directed obscure classics “Just Before Dawn,” “Blue Sunshine,” and “Squirm” within 5 years between 1976 and 1981, Lieberman took horror by varietal storm by dipping his toes into different subgenres and doing moderately well at it., establishing a legacy with re-releases of his films into the new millennia. Though quiet for many years in the realm of horror, Lieberman makes a return with 2004’s “Satan Little Helper,” a killer horror-comedy filled with an innate fear of the unknown with what or who is truly behind that devilish mask. Lieberman wrote and directed the feature with a dark and morbid stamp perfect for the Halloween season. If you’re looking for a good Halloween movie, “Satan’s Little Helper” should be on your short list. Set on the fictional location of Bell Island, which is actually Long Island, New York, “Satan’s Little Helper” is a production of Intrinsic Value Films (“The Last Thing Mary Saw”) and the limited liability company under the alteration of the film’s title with Satan’s Little Company and is self-produced by Lieberman as well as Mickey McDonough, Isen Robbins, and Aimee Schoof with Carl Tostevin serving as executive producer. Screen Media Films waived the theatrical rights route by releasing the insta-cult film directly onto the video market.

Gracing prominently most physical releases with a sinister grin is a dialogue-less and faceless principal character, who with every centimeter of his latex teeth and showing a lackadaisical posture as he turns Bell Island upside down as his own massacring playground, is obviously the serial killer, played by Joshua Annex. Annex spin on Satan Man reaps the story’s benefits by creating a mischievous antagonist to the likes we’ve never seen on screen before despite being playing the murderer behind the mask trope. Annex might be playing Satan but the actor is not playing the titular character, or is her? The double entendre can be interpreted in two ways: the masked killer is actually Satan’s helper on Earth or Dougie, the annoyingly naive brat with an unhealthy infatuation with the Lord of Darkness. Played by a then adolescent Alexander Brickel in his debut performance, Dougie’s only kicks the hornet’s nest even more for not only the residents of Bell Island, but also for his family as the young loutish lad invites the killer his family abode under false pretenses and never revels the truth until it’s too late. Brickel is intense in an aggravating Dennis the Menace kind of way, but the act works all too well with the flanking character players who need to feed off of Dougie’s hellion deposition that all stems from wanting to marry his sister. Is there some kind of symbolism or metaphor there? Speaking of the sister, Katheryn Winnick (“Hellraiser: Hellworld,” “Polar”) levels the eccentricity with normal reactionaries as the sister Jenna. Counterbalancing to make sure her normalcies don’t overstay their welcome is the great Amanda Plummer (“Pulp Fiction,” “The Prophecy”) with sublimely odd mother that only Amanda Plummer could pull off and make it feel right. Stephen Gramham, Wass Stevens, Melisa McGregor, and Dan Ziskie round out the cast.

Perfect for the season, perfect as a cult film, perfect to just be for everyday viewing, “Satan’s Little Helper” has been kept in the shadows far too long and needs to be risen from the netherworld for all to bear witness the unsystematic carnage from someone who just wants to see the world burned. The Lieberman film intoxicates with spontaneity as you never know what to expect or happen next. The script is simple, yet smartly contrived to work as a haphazard horror with a foundation foe with no limits, no boundaries, and no motivation. There’s a relief that there’s no supernatural or actual Satanic force driving the plot and, instead, unravels in a prevailing fashion with an accepted and logical fear that the person behind the mask is not always the person you believe wearing it. While Lieberman’s script does a nice job fleshing out a feature length film where the doesn’t have one single word of dialogue, there are moments when suspicions amongst the family would have or should have come a lot sooner and that stretches the reality some, making act two gummy around the midsection when the serial killer is playing the part of Jenna’s boyfriend. Lieberman caveats Jenn and her boyfriend, Alex, as a pair of studious actors and Alex is just immersed in his role as Satan to please Dougie and while that seems very plausible, how long the act maintained its course did not. Eventually, Lieberman became wise to the Satan costume’s stagnancy and moved the character along into another facade of choice that then goes into a guess who game of deception. An aspect of the killer’s intelligence that makes the character uber-clever and that much more deadly.

“Satan’s Little Helper” is one of Synapse Film’s more contemporary releases that doesn’t require a hefty image upgrade but the new 1080p high-definition upgrade and a supplemental bonus features make this new Blu-ray release very attractive. Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the AVC encoded Blu-ray craves out a resolute image as expected since the modern film is digitally recorded and hasn’t been affected by the wear-and-tear of age and neglect. Perhaps not as glossy as an expensive Hollywood type production with a late 90’s-early 2000s glaze, gel, or filter, “Satan’s Little Helper” keeps a more than adequate showing of details and a medley of colors amongst is more natural cinematography with a handful of night scenes shot in a day under a dark filter. Only one scene of concern stands out on the ferry pier and in what’s supposed to be a close up of Dougie’s dumbfounded face when meeting Jenna’s boyfriend for the first time has somehow turned into a blown up shot that stretches the image fuzzy and masking the delineation. The English language DTS-HD master audio shows no signs of issues with a flawless and lossless sound design. The clean and clear dialogue raises the bar on Dougie’s testy tantrums and cleans out with the ambient effects toward the killer’s actions to compensate for his lack of chit-chat. Optional English subtitles are offered on this release. Bonus features include a commentary with director Jeff Lieberman, an archival behind-the-scenes featurette, The Devil in the Details making-of featurette that goes into cast and crew interviews with Lieberman, Alexander Brickel (now older and with longer hair), director of photography Dejan Georgevich, and special effects artist Anthony Pepe, a tour of the filming locations guided by Lieberman in Mister Satan’s Neighborhood, and the promotional trailer. The physical release comes in the nifty blackout Blu-ray case with a Synapse catalogue insert in case you want to buy their releases via mailed order form. Synapse Film’s “Satan’s Little Helper” new Blu-ray comes home at the most opportune time during this 2022 Halloween season and is sure to be viewed as a delightful deluge of dark comedy carnage and destruction, some of the best attributes of any good horror film.

Bluray is Currently Cheaper than DVD!  Grab “Satan’s Little Helper” Fast!

This EVIL is Why I Don’t Have a Roommate! “2DLK” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

“2LDK” Now Leasing a New Life on Blu-ray from Unearthed Films!

Rana and Nozomi couldn’t be more different coming from different backgrounds with antagonizing behaviors.  The two aspiring actresses live in a cozy two-bedroom apartment hosted by the same production company that has them vying for the same lead role in an upcoming feature film.  The role could jumpstart either of their careers and, internally, Rana and Nozomi believe the other isn’t good enough despite their different approaches in as city girl Rana uses her famine ways and laxer attitude to slut her way up to the top while the country-born Nozomi diligently studies the dialogue and the role to impress beyond her days as a parent-encouraged elementary stage actor.  When tensions rise through apartment sharing irksome nuisances and a man’s affections put an even more divisive wedge in the already gaping hole between them, Rana and Nozomi reach a breaking point and a violent melee of at each other’s throats ensues.

From my personal experience, the only roommate I’ve ever had was my wife during our engagement period and I can tell you that living with someone else – someone’s quirks, someone’s habits, and someone’s tastes – can be utterly earthshattering and explosive in what seems like every little pampered or established, taken for granted role you had living without a roommate is acutely upended and tossed into apocalyptic chaos.  Or, at least, that’s how it feels, right?  The sentiment is exactly perfectly and with killer instinct in Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s written-and-directed fight!-fight!-fight! film “2LDK.”  The 2003 Japanese movie helmed by the “12 Suicidal Teens” Tsutsumi co-wrote the script with Yuiki Miura, who of the last six years penned episodes of the recent various “Ultraman” series.  The 8-day shoot left no time to spare, leaving much of the cast and crew to shoot longer, sleepless nights, on “2LDK,” which in Japan shorthand describes the type of apartment – a 2-bedroom apartment with a Living room, Dining room, and Kitchen.  “2DLK” is a production of Micott, Times in, and DUEL Film Partners and is produced by Kazuki Manabe and Susumu Nakazawa.

When the central plot revolves around two aspiring actresses cohabiting a single living space and, literally, fighting over every inch of space, also literal as well as figural, there’s no room for more cast or even extras.  We’re first introduced to Eiko Koike (“Terra Farmers”) as Nozomi, a small province girl, reserved in manner, and extremely methodical to the point of obsessive.  Koike perfectly pitches Nozomi’s quiet but strong behavior, yet still judgmental about a roommate from the total opposite spectrum in Rana.  Played by Maho Nonami (“Scarecrow”), Rana’s a big city Tokyo girl with a jaded history.  Blunt, sleazy, and inconsiderate of apartment-sharing etiquette, Rana knows how to push Nozomi’s buttons – hard and on purpose with a innocent smile.  The story dives into differentiating Nozomi and Rana with an immediate internalizing of trash talking voiced over for the audience to see how Rana thinks Nozomi wearing high school gym clothes is hanging on to her humble origins whereas Nozomi itemizes every piece of Rana’s expensive accessories with a dollar amount.  Tensions slowly build from there and the actresses do a phenomenal slow burn into madness where the pot lid rockets to the sky when irritations hit the boing point summit.  Before you know it, electric-corded chainsaws are being wielded, spray cleaner bottoms are being spritzed into eyeballs, and eggs and toilet lids are being cracked over heads.   

“2LDK” is compact carnage, relatable dark fantasies of every roommate with a grudge against something thought their roomie did incorrectly or inconsiderately over and over again.  Other factors play into the two women’s meltdowns that provided fuel to the flame the burns with them in.  Rana struggles with the indirect suicidal death of a mother and child during her affair with the woman’s husband.  Nozomi bears the burden of forcedly shepherd to be the best whether to her studies or acting.  Not to forget to mention that both are in the running to be handpicked for a feature film role by the production company and there’s a man in the mix as an exploited chip against the other adoring roommate just to stick that knife into the side and twist for a little extra gut-wrenching spite.  Tsutsumi builds the seething hate, the tension, and the momentum that all comes crashing down in a Tsutsumi tsunami of cat fighting violence, weaponizing every inch of that small apartment from their individual bedrooms to the kitchen as a battleground.  Tsutsumi smartly doesn’t make “2LDK” a story about good versus evil as there are hardly any instances where the audiences will feel Rana nor Nozomi are in the wrong and wish their demise by virtuous-righteous other.  The bout is equally matched at their core and in scrappy ability to pick up whatever is lying around as a deadly weapon. 

Unearthed Films brings this one-on-one battle royale to an all-new Blu-ray release in association with Duel Film Partners and distributed by MVD Visual.  The perfectly paced and timed 70-minute film is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 of AVC encoded 1080p high-definition transfer.  Image appearance is quite similar to another Unearthed Films Blu-ray release in “Tokyo Decadence” with a hefty grain product that be very discernible in blacker/darker areas of the image, suggesting maybe a celluloid film gauge that offer a pleasantly filmic presentation instead of a white-glove and sleekly fabricated digital video.  While colors don’t exactly pop, the texture is there surrounding skin pores and facial imperfections that shine in the details.  Unearthed Films presents two options with a Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD master audio and a 2.0 PCM stereo.  The multi-channel has a tad trouble discerning the inner voice overs between the two woman and never quite isolating their individual dialogues.  Some food for thought in case you decide to not pay attention to the movie and look at your phone as the dialogue courses through.  Some of the action came off with a bit of an echo but the overall soundtrack is robust with a clean and clear dialogue that comes with option English subtitles.  Extras include a commentary with actresses Maho Nnami and Eiko Koike with subtitles, a making of “2DLK,” interviews from the Tokyo International fantastic Film Festival, interviews from the premiere screening, production briefs on the duel between the roomies, a video message for theater audiences, interviews from the screening at Kudan Kaikan, and a photo still gallery.  Duel epitomizes “2LDK” exactly and only the Japanese know how to formulate a 70-minute comedy-action-thriller of two going toe-to-toe to the death.

“2LDK” Now Leasing a New Life on Blu-ray from Unearthed Films!

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



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

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

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

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

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

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

Fortuity Can Be EVIL’s Plaything. “Like A Dirty French Novel” reviewed! (Blvd. Du Cinema Productions / Digital Screener)



An organized crime and deceitful milieu sets the stage for a missing bag of stolen cash, an unscrupulous bunch of characters, and a mysterious omnipresence being persuasive behind the curtain of a rotary phone.  When ex-lovers Crystal and Hue are not in heated spats over past infidelities, trapped inside their quaint apartment, Crystal moonlights as an adult cosplaying model secretly having an relationship with a stranger while Hue locks himself away in the bathroom conversing secretively and flirtatiously with an unknown woman he knows nothing about.  They become entwined in a heist gone wrong by a group of halfwit robbers that leaves a trail of death, lies, and an evil charting their fates in the shadows. 

Desultory pulp basking in noir fiction, “Like A Dirty French Novel” flaunts a chicly awkward and brazenly unmethodical black comedy and crime drama front from Cuban-American writer-director Mike Cuenca.  The “By the Wayside” and “I’ll Be Around” auteur stitches together a vivaciously satire and minuscule budgeted drama comedy shot in the zero hours of a time crunching, less than a week, schedule with an editing style, edited by Cuenca himself as one of his many production hats, of five chaptered, non-linear tale of sectionalized cynicism and infringing transgressions.  Cuenca co-write the script with Ashlee Elfmann and “I’ll Be Around” co-writer, Dan Rojay, with Cuenca self-producing under the filmmaker’s East Los Angeles-based, DIY encouraging production company, Blvd. Du Cinema Productions.

With an ensemble cast, “Like A Dirty French Novel” spreads out with five chapters, two interludes, and a prologue that begins with three men walking in a desert and approached by a mysterious woman in a chintzy, but intrinsically detailed, Japanese resembling Oni mask.  Before we can invest into these bewildering circumstance that leave the three men screaming for their very lives, Cuenca whisks up away right into Chapter One, introducing bickering ex-lovers Crystal (Jennifer Daley, “Blood Born”) and Hue (Rob Vally, of gay themed Steven Vasquez pictures such as “Angels with Tethered Wings” and “Dancing on the Dark Side of the Moon.”) snooping into each other’s hidden extracurricular activities that leave Crystal daydreaming about romance and Hue surrendering to smutty phone talk.  Not much is revealed in the first chapter before segueing into the second with Forrester Dooley (Grand Moninger), an unhappily married man who switches places with his twin brother and the recently unincinerated Bugs Dooley (also Moninger), but, as fate would have it, Bugs turns out to be a standup, wonderful guy whereas Forrester need for a break ironically places a bullseye on back and he ends up stranded in the desert with two unsavory fellows, circling back to the film’s vague prologue.  The cause for their stranding is because of Lane, a manic drifter delightfully captured by “We Take The Low Road’s” Amanda Viola.  Lane is approached by cool cat Jake (Aaron Bustos) and what ensues next is a montage of innocent dalliance before he suddenly vanishes and is seemingly dead to the world.  Remaining chapters unravel more about the principle players, spilling their hidden agendas and their scheming roles surrounding a duffle bag of thieved cash pinched from a local ruthless kingpin Filmore Demille, played by Cuenca himself donning yet another hat.  The cast rounds out with Dominic Fawcett, Samantha Nelson, Laura Urgelles, Claire Woolner, Dan Rojay, Joey Halter, Miles Dougal, Steven Escot, Arko Miro, and “Murder Manual’s” Brittany Samson as the interlude’s stammering and obsessed fanatic of the masked and sexy graphic novel cosplay model.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” pulsates with pulpy fiction with hints of Lynchian notes through Cuenca’s back and forth pacing of connecting the dots to his equivocal crime thriller.   Cuenca’s gray area, faltering more than any other, lies in making that relating and understandable so important connection of reverting scenes back to earlier ones in order to have actions make sense.  A once over is not enough to fully grasp “Like A Dirty French Novel’s” abstract features and to be recursive would not be a sign of weakness or simplemindedness on our part.  Still, smoothing out the rough patches like with the peculiar finale, which I’m speculating to be the grounds of Hell, would have made “Like A Dirty French Novel” more of an easy read than a confusing one as well as completing most characters arcs with a satisfying tell all fate. Cuenca’s filmic message of what comes around, goes around comes across more clearly with those who reap what they sow. A faux book entitled Porter du Fruit or Bear Fruit yields to positive results and, in which this case, none of those characters who go to the grounds of Hell are saints by any means. Constrained by a shallow pocket budget, settings are simple outdoor public areas, small apartments utilized with polygonal angles, and, if you’re working in L.A. much like this shoot, then more than likely a scene or two, at the very least, is filmed in the desert, but seasoned cinematographer, Jessica Gallant (“The Control Group,” “Shevenge”) spruces up scenes with neon red lighting, dabbing in black and white, and centralizing characters with focal spotlight, adding little classic techniques that still pop in the camera’s eye. Gallant’s wide berth of techniques, from hot pink tints to emulating grindhouse celluloid grain and scratches, keeps a stylized profile wanting to be watched. However, most cast performances are not so debonair as they come across a bit prosy, staged, and without too much magnetism that usually trends with pulp-noir trademarks and, of course, trashy novels érotiques bon marché.   With the exception of the underused Amanda Viola and Cuenca’s solo-scene monologue, sleeping at the wheel performances drives no other standouts in this cast.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” premiered this past August at the independent showcase, Dances With Films film festival, held in Los Angeles at The Chinese Theaters as part of their Midnight lineup; however, no current confirmations on when the first home release – whether physical release or digital releases – will be available yet. Briskly paced at 78 minutes, Cuenca squeezes into one more hat among his list of production duties as author of the eclectic sometime brooding and sometime high energy score along with Carlos Colon composing the pieces that could resemble the minor league notes of Michel Legrand. Alas, Michael Cuenca’s “Like A Dirty French Novel” aims to be more bourgeoisie than an obvious low cut of a few francs with an ingrained pulpy style and more twist and turns than Grand Prix race car driver, but lacks that tour de force it strives to assimilate as because of stiff performances and a wildly untraceable storyline.

Tune Into EVIL’s Overnight Radio Programming! “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)



Veteran night shift disc jockey, Amy Marlowe, has hosted her own renowned punk rock show for the last 30 years.  On the night of a major hurricane rolling through town, the broadcast must go on as radio never sleeps, but Amy is bitten on the neck by flying bat prior to arriving into the station.  If things couldn’t get any worse, she’s trapped inside the station with the sleazy station executive who surprisingly introduces the disc jockey’s much younger and beautiful replacement.  As Amy deals with the sudden aftershock of forced retirement, she slowly descends into a topsy-turvy reality full of unannounced secrets, movements through her own past and present, and the unusually strange staff transforming into monsters inside the station walls.  To top it off, Amy craves blood.  Between the possibilities of unexpected grief and anger, rabies, or becoming something far more evil, Amy Marlowe, either way, is losing her grip on the real world.

The amount of thought and expression on blunt force change, numb appreciation, and profound existentialism worked into the allegorical dark vampire comedy, “10 Minutes to Midnight,” never steals from the narrative’s basic element, a breed of classically fed undead horror.  Writer-director, Erik Bloomquist, helms his sophomore feature film directorial that is also the second film written collaboratively with brother, Carson Bloomquist, following their 2019 debut thriller, “Long Lost.”  The Connecticut based siblings shoot “!0 Minutes to Midnight” at the ABC affiliated WILI radio station in Willimantic over the course of seven week nights, self-producing under the Bloomquist Mainframe Pictures banner alongside the third “Long Lost” screenwriter-turned producer, Adam Weppler, who also has a major role in the film. 

A soulful, applause-all-around performance by headlining scream queen Caroline Williams who makes her return to the DJ booth 35-years later after going face-to-face with Leatherface’s chainsaw in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and, by God, Williams still has the cold-cocking charisma of her 1986 self.  Pinned to be discarded by station exec Robert (William Youmans), Amy Marlow loses control of her on-air persona for the first time in 30-years of broadcast radio.  Williams is on target with Marlow’s salacious-pointing meltdown rant with a viperous, quick-witted tongue spurred by the very news of her canning that started the hamster wheeling rolling, putting the pieces together of how much backstabbing, ungratefulness, and all-for-nothing hard work (and her younger days’ sexual servitude) becomes a deafening cacophony of noise before her Ten Minutes Before Midnight broadcast segment airtime.  Watching Williams work never gets dull from the one moment she’s rightfully screaming and ripping someone a new one to being overwhelmingly fractured by the venom that courses through her veins in a transformative and stunning performance.  Accompanying Marlow on her sudden career nosedive are a trio of dividing personalities that pull a different versions of the radio star.  Marlow’s seemingly only workplace friend and confidant, Aaron (Adam Weppler), has been a fan of hers ever since he was little, even providing a touching anecdote about him listening to her broadcast when he was a little boy, and there’s something between them, but teeters between admiration and desire that doesn’t flesh out because, again, it’s another problematic thematical item being circled around.  The other two characters rile up Marlow’s inner angst with their threatening postures or their maddening babble.  Nicole Kang (“Swallow”) and the late Nicholas Tucci (“You’re Next”), in their roles of hotshot millennial newcomer, Sienna, and the quirky and rambling security guard, Ernie, achieve just those respective levels of kicking someone when they’re already down with a flurry of annoyance.  Kang and Tucci deliver concentrated performances.  The acting is so entrenched into their characters, as well as with Weppler and Youmans’,” that when Marlow enters a status interchangeable, role-reversal, and nightmarish last stage of her existence coming to a conclusion, “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reups another thought-provoking scenario; one that has you frantically rewiring the tightly woven profiles your brain has determined about the characters to keep up with Bloomquist who is clearly three steps ahead.

Martin Scorsese once compared certain films to theme parks, noting their cinematic worth only in their high octane action entertainment and special effects that draw audiences in like moths to a flame and never letting the actors do the meaningful work themselves.  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a blue-chip, character driven vampire story rare to these parks.  Bloomquist’s themes on ageism, sexism, regret, change, grief, millennials, and more, snake through Marlow’s multifaceted transitional experience in a stylishly cynical fantasy.  Much of Marlowe’s perception isn’t tenaciously reliant on the consequences of the vampire bat bite to her neck.  Reoccurring as an example of perception throughout the film, whenever the camera hovers over a clock displaying 11:50 P.M., is the fading disc jockey finding herself stuck in a timeless rut, eternally clinging to her show in a disparate attempt to be relevant despite the inevitability of change as often noted by each idiosyncratic character – Aaron changing up her normal broadcast set start to call-ins, Robert axing her for younger talent, Ernie incessantly pointing out her symptomatic changes after the bite, and Sienna embodying the very epitome of change.  Marlow’s mind melds with her physical transformation as she goes through the seven stages of grief to at which one point she talks to who might be her younger self over the phone.  Marlow, initially hesitant, does not guide change, but to rather embrace it in a moment of accepting her own checkered past.  However, the dialogue I found to be most poignant was during the retirement party with sunken-eyed celebrators who just randomly show up for the event and Marlow turns to Aaron and comments on not exactly knowing who these people are.  There’s depth and soul in that comment for someone going through the process of retirement who sees unacquainted, new faces and perceiving them with only a tinge of familiarity and a lot of isolating loneliness.

If looking for wildly crafted and superbly acted vampire celluloid, I highly recommend Erik Bloomquist’s “Ten Minutes to Midnight” to sate your thirst now on Blu-ray home video from MVD Visual in associations with Jinga Films and Danse Macabre. The region free Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 on a BD25 and has a runtime of 73 minutes. Shot in a shadows of hard lighting, the picture quality is relatively sharp in the lack of natural light, but that sharpness scatters like roaches when a spectrum wave of neon hues or a bathe of vivid tint casts a psychotomimetic inducing trip through Thomas Nguyen’s tightly quartered medium and close up angles. The overall coloring on the location and characters falls into a matte flatness that works to the lightings advantage when using rich exterior color sources. The atmospherics are Amsterdam sultry under the heat of a carnal fluorescent red and Nguyen’s lofty present steady cam endues a nostalgic flame of eerie dreamscapes similar to early John Carpenter, such as in “The Fog” or “Prince of Darkness.” The English language audio tracks come with two options, a 5.1 surround sound and a stereo 2.0. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is an audio-visual probe into the mind and senses and so the obvious choice here is the 5.1 surround sound; however, the lossy dialogue track becomes quickly overwhelmed by the behemoth sound design and soundtrack, the latter being original music by Gyom Amphoux. Musically, not my cup of tea, but will find an audience and fits into the narrative perfectly. Bonus materials include a behind the scenes entitled “Take One,” audio commentaries by director Erik and Carson Bloomquist as well as star Caroline Williams, multiple featurettes, a Grimmfest interview with the Bloomquists, Williams, WIlliam Youmans, and Thomas Nguyen, Grimmoire Academy and Popcorn Frights intros, and a festival teaser trailer. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a dusk till dawn decimator of sanity, a wickedly fun vampire oddity, and has an unforgettable, batty performance from Caroline Williams.

Recommended!  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” now on Blu-ray!