Let the Heavens Fall to Cleanse the EVIL Away! “Undead” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Bluray)

The small finishing town of Berkley, Australia comes under siege by blazing meteoroids that turn the quaint residents into mindless flesh-hungry zombies. A small band of survivors led by the town’s dismayed local beauty queen and a fisherman turned doomsday prepper fight the undead hordes in order to escape the carnage by reaching the city limits, but when faced with an otherworldly monolithic barrier surrounding the town and blocking the exits, a hopeful way out becomes quickly fleeting. To make matters worse, unusual rainstorms drench them with fear of what’s really in the rainwater of the apparent alien attack. In a last-ditch effort, the remaining survivors board a personal prop plane to scale the great extraterrestrial wall that’s imprisoning them with the undead. An onslaught of end of days catastrophes drives their instinct to battle on, to push forth toward living, despite all the evidence of a contrary methodology to the misunderstood, overwhelming alien actions.

A 9-year marriage, three children, the death of my dog, two states, a new home, four jobs, four presidents, and a global pandemic in more than almost two decades’ passing has transpired since the first and last time I saw the Spierig brothers’ 2003 zombie-comedy “Undead” and, still, the 2003 Australian film impresses with a large-scale gore show on a small-scale budget. Before terraforming new vampire words with Ethan Hawke in “Daybreakers” and taking a stab at an entry in the “Saw” franchise with “Jigsaw,” the brothers Michael and Peter Spierig’s first full feature-length venture was an ambitious love letter to their’ most endeared cult films of their youth, more heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Blowing through the meager budget halfway into filming and shooting an insane 40 to 50 shots per day for the better part of two months, the completion of “Undead” was a must for the self-funding brothers under their production banner of Spierigfilm and the success of “Undead” also jumpstarted the careers of cinematographer Andrew Strahorn (“Hostel III,” “Lethal Weapon” television series), production designer Matthew Putland (“San Andreas”), and special effects artist Julian Summers (“Bait,” “Mortal Kombat” ’21).

“Undead” was the first film for Felicity Mason and Mungo McKay in a lead role as that dismayed local beauty queen, Rene, and that fisherman turned doomsday prepper, Marion, mentioned in the above synopsis. Rene seeks to leave the town of Berkley in the wake of the tragic death of her parents before becoming the burdened beholder of their debt; instead, she thrusted into a crisis that won’t allow her to escape so easily from a destiny laid out for her in hometown. Mason’s humble portrayal of Rene is nearly invisible compared to her more boisterous and gun-fu counterparts but grounds us to an agreeable realism of reactions whereas Marion’s limitless gun-toting out of his fishing overalls and Matrix-like gunplay moves adds that layer of voguish fun of the Chow Yun-fat variety. The other four survivors fall into the run-of-the-mill of yowlers and cutting personality types who throw around their weight and cowardly sarcasms in immediate show of unfounded animosity. Supposedly, a longer cut of “Undead” provides more backstory for father-to-be charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, “Australiens”) and the law enforcement neophyte Molly (Emma Randall, “Bullets for the Dead”) but the release copy which this review is based off was not of that longer cut. Dirk Hunter supplies a purge of negative comic relief as Harrison, the chief constable without a clue, and Lisa Cunningham’s Sallyanne is Wayne’s antagonizing pregnant lover of bitterness as she comes in second place next to Rene at the local beauty pageant and seizes moments, during all Hell breaking loose, to confront Rene’s rope-wrangling talent that won her the cast prize.

Over the past year, I watched and reviewed another Australian sci-fi horror “Dustwalker” from director Sandra Sciberras where crash landed space objects turned the local dustbowl residents into the resemblance of zombies and connected to the chaos is a not from this world creature. I likened “Dustwalker” to be a lesser, weaker, total rip-off of the Spierigs’ ozploitation rager and I still stand 100% behind my claim as I reaffirm “Undead” to be the reigning supreme champion, and “did it first” as far as story goes, between the two nearly identical narrative plots. There’s an uncrushable affinity for “Undead’s” bold risk of looking at the bigger picture head on and absolutely landing each scene whether in prosthetics or in post with better than your average computer rendered imagery. Are the effects the sleekest, most realistic, graphics you’ve ever seen? Absolutely not but what they are are ultra-rich in creative detail rather than quality detail and can give most substantial budgeted films a run for the money, especially in the closeup shots that can be an obvious slapdash, might as well be silicone, fake. The Spierig brothers also don’t overcomplicate the plot with survivors trying to simply quickly decamp the overran town madness with plot points sensible to character designs and not relying on gratuitous happenstance scenarios for the sake of gore alone. However, do believe me when I say that “Undead” will delight gore geeks with a gut-spilling, face-lifting, head-decapitating mixture of zany zombie knockoffs that are steady throughout. If you’re deciding between the more recent “Dustwalker” and the now almost considered antique 15+ year-old “Undead,” the choice is clear with “Undead’s” superior campy, shoot’em, blood-splattering zombie mayhem.

For U.S. horror viewers looking for something that borders obscurity and might be out of their comfort zone, “Undead” has yet to make an appearance on Blu-ray, surprisingly enough. Only the Lionsgate DVD version is the known, and authorized, copy to be released in America. For those searching high and low, the all-region Blu-ray from the Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, offers a 2-disc alternative with a new 1080p, Full High-Definition, release as volume # 12 on the company’s World on Film: Beyond Genres banner. The Aussie cult modern classic is presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio and with a runtime of 97 minutes, mirroring the U.S. DVD length which is a bit disappointing as longer cuts of the film do exist on other European releases. Day scenes play into an agreeable enough flat, more natural, color scheme with some serious grain in the 16mm film stock use, moving the photography toward a retro de-aged semblance courtesy of Spierigs’ cult film homage, but the darker scenes, mostly through a moderately intense blue filter, sees the unstable pixelation flareups, especially in black blank spaces and I’m taken aback by the lack of touchup to clear up any stylized misgivings. Umbrella offers two audio options – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 DTS-HD Stereo. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, the audio tracks do “Undead” complete justice without a smidgen of lossy fidelity. With plenty of action to go around – firearm discharges, explosions, zombie grunts/groans/sneers, and sundry of miscellaneous and oddball effects – each elemental output is distinct and clear. The dialogue renders nicely as well. Umbrella holds a few exclusive and rehashed special features that include an audio commentary from Peter and Michael Spierig and cinematographer Andy Strahorn, a raw video behind-the-scenes look on the set of “Undead,” the more production quality making of “Undead,” “Attack of the Undead” short films from the Spierig brothers that inspired the feature, home-made Dolly Video, the camera and makeup tests, still gallery, and theatrical trailer. Plus, an exclusive Simon Sherry illustrated art on the front covers of the snap case and the cardboard slipcover along with reversal DVD cover art and a second disc containing the complete 17-track soundtrack from Cliff Bradley. The rating is listed as an Australian certified MA 15+ for horror theme, medium level violence. which sounds severely tamer than it is for the more recent video nasty with all its zombies punching holes through hapless skulls, bloody brain munching, gooey face ripping, and severed torsos with spine exposures.

EVIL Must Be Broken In Before Being Used. “The Wheel” reviewed!


In the near future, paraplegic inmate Matthew Mills volunteers under pressure to join a Satoshi-Telefair Industries experimental treatment program that not only promises to reduce his sentence, but to also to regain mobility in his legs. With nothing more than the hope to return to his daughter, Mills is enticed by the agreement and gives himself to a shadow company who regularly contracts with the military, facilitating deep underground at an isolated site. Shortly after signing the release form, he awakes in a dark, steel cell known as The Wheel and is able to move his legs again, but the jubilation quickly subsides as armored men with batons visit his cell to beat and break his body in order for the nano technology, injected amongst his anatomy, to rebuild damaged tissue and make him stronger. The ordeal torments him, but to the researchers observing every detail of his recovery and behavior, Mills is just subject 2-1, another potential subject destined for the Future Soldier Initiative where the unethical testing must continue.

Shady shadow corporations, experimental nano-material rehabilitation and enhancement, and high level science fiction noir from writer James S. Abrams and director Dee McLachlan with 2019’s “The Wheel.” As if not already obvious from filmmaker’s nationalities, “The Wheel” is produced by and shot by Australian production companies SunJive Studios and Film Victoria, a state government agency that advocates funding and other filming assistances for shooting films in sectors of Victoria, Australia. “The Wheel’s” steely posture mirrors the frigid winter snow of Melbourne, Victoria’s covered forests that’s beautiful, yet deadly in the conventional beauty of nature. Yet, “The Wheel” delves into the meddling of what makes man and what also drives man as the story persists on the subject of redesigning the human body, but what that notion doesn’t take into account is what if the human body’s reactions doesn’t go as planed and a clapback ensues with all the synthetic re-wiring behind it? This is what Abrams and McLachlan intended to explore.

Australian actor Jackson Gallagher stars as Matthew Mills, a cripple with a purpose. The “Patrick” actor has been adrift from the darker roles since 2013 until up now with his main role in “The Wheel” that demanded a certain physicality that involved fight sequences with one, or two, or even three opponents and some ariel ropes work. The physically fit Gallagher not only survives the daunting workload, but hastily pulls Mills through his character’s tough transition from hopeful paraplegic to overly confident ultimate fighting weapon without an earnest core of struggle. The same can be said with Dr. Allison Turner played by Kendal Rae (“Out of the Shadows”). Turner’s a rogue researcher who had her practicing credentials revoked after the mistreatment of lab monkeys and was sought after by the Satoshi-Telefair for her detachment qualities, but her Turner’s character also didn’t quite arc properly and resembled a midway plateau from the moment Mills became her research subject. The only character that stayed the course was Dr. Emmett Snyder, a loyal Sataoshi-Telefair researcher to the bone. When he’s not suplexing or drop kicking in a championship wrestling match, David Arquette does dabble in acting. The “Scream” veteran actor fills in a rather unlikely antagonistic role, but the wild eye Arquette remains taut in his performance. “The Wheel” also costars Belinda McClory (“Matrix”). Christopher Kirby (“Daybreakers”), Victoria Liu, and Ben Still.

The spoke of the “The Wheel” rotates on a monotonic and frosty shoulder axle colored in gun metal and iced with dystopian immoralities. Every breathing element and inanimate objects is in a state of distant identity being bestowed labels in a combination of letters and numbers. The utilitarian wheel, an underground experiment facility that shifts rooms up and down and can be rotated to the other side, has no windows or any kind of necessary function other than to test subjects. Where “The Wheel” goes full “Equilibrium” by lacking emotional depth and substance without a coup d’état of the bleak authority, “The Wheel” also lacks vigor to break the blank uniformity and tries to speed through Mills patriarchal fluff to provide reason for his endurance and to provide reason for audiences to care. The epicenter theme to Mills motivation and escape is the thought of getting back to his daughter by any means necessary and was deemed fit to lay by the waist side to rely more on the hand-to-hand fighting like an overly glorified 70’s martial arts film.

Umbrella Entertainment distributes the sci-fi, action film, “The Wheel,” produced by SunJive Studios and Film Victoria onto a region free DVD home video. The clean digital picture in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, has a crisp demeanor that exact a bunch of natural lighting outside with a bit of a lower contrast inside dark “The Wheel” itself. What I found more appealing the anti-aliasing of the drone footage over the snowy covered Victoria forest, suggesting a higher bitrate compression that offers a seamless and smooth recording. The 5.1 English language Dolby audio is offered up with no whiff of an Australian accent in a lossless track that sounds good on the surround channels during action scenes. Dialogue is clear amongst the ample range and depth of ambient layers of researches watching and speaking through comms from inside a box watching another guy inside a box. Like other Umbrella releases, “The Wheel” has no special features nor a static menu. “The Wheel” has ice in the veins, but no warmth in it’s heart that seems vertically challenged on a horizontal slope of dystopian disorder.

The Wheel on DVD

Jigsaw (aka Saw 8) trailer is here!


The trailer for this year’s Jigsaw (Saw 8) has arrived online! The San Diego Comic Con red band trailer promises to bring back the grisly games, the blood, and the terror. You can’t have Halloween without the Jigsaw Killer as the two of synonymous and expect Jigsaw, who was sorely missed over these passed few years, to ramp up his games this October 27th!

SYNOPSIS

One of the highest grossing Horror franchises of all time is back, taking the Jigsaw killer’s signature brand of twisted scenarios to the next level.

Cast: Matt Passmore, Callum Keith Rennie, Clé Bennett, Hannah Emily Anderson, Laura Vandervoort (“Bitten”), Mandela Van Peebles, Paul Braunstein, Brittany Allen, Josiah Black

Directed by: The Spierig Brothers (“Undead” and “Daybreakers”)
Written by: Josh Stolberg & Peter Goldfinger
Produced by: Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Greg Hoffman

A Lionsgate release, Twisted Pictures presents, a Burg/Koules/Hoffman production.