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.

Burt Gummer Neutralizes EVIL Graboids in “Tremors: Shrieker Island” reviewed! (Universal 1440 Entertainment / Digital Screener)

A wildlife preservation maintains categorizing and tracking of native elephants, but when one of the company’s philanthropist turns his private island, just across the water from the preservation campsite, into a game reserve for apex predators, nothing will stop him from wagering the thrill of the hunt on expensive, top-of-the-line game.  That is until the graboids he’s illegally bred and genetically modified starts to hunt the wealthy trophy gamers back, especially when the Precambrian lifeforms metamorphize into the fast-spawning shriekers.  With an island full of graboids and shriekers that contributed to already one death, graboid expert and arms enthusiast-survivalist, Burt Gummer, is tracked down and brought out of retirement to once again battle his longtime killing machine adversary.  With no munition weapons, an obstinate playboy’s maniacal urge to hunt the fierce predator, and the most powerful of the graboids bred on the island able to wriggle underneath the sea floor between land masses, Gummer and a team of preservationists must band together to stop the graboids from being an invasive and unstoppable species. 

From an icy Canadian landscape in “Tremors:  A Cold Day in Hell” to the tropical beaches of Thailand, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” is the seventh feature film in the Tremor’s 30-year franchise.  Heading straight to video on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, including Streaming and VOD platforms come this October 2020, the subterranean monster action-comedy is steered by serial sequel director Don Michael Paul, who directed the last two “Tremors” installments, off a Paul script co-written with Brian Brightly that set sights on expanding the graboid footprint even farther East and surrounded by the seas of Thailand, further more distancing itself from the dust bowls of Perfection, Nevada and Mexico into new and unexplored terror-itories.  Universal Pictures’ off-shoot subsidiary banner, Universal 1440 Entertainment, and Living Films serves as the presiding production companies. 

 

The smart-mouth, quick-wit, arms-toting Burt Gummer has become, dare I say it, the Ash Williams of the Tremors’ franchise as a perpetually dragged back hero into monstrous circumstances to battle graboids and their offspring on land, air, and in the pits of hell of the innate underground habitat.  Aside from Bruce Campbell, there are not too many heroes in a genre that usually has a villainous backbone and so Michael Gross is the longest lasting reoccurring actor, spanning now 30-years, to return as an original hero who first encountered and killed the bastard creature who “broke into the wrong God damn rec room” in Perfection, Nevada.  Gross, now gray with a few more wrinkles sporting his iconic Gummer mustache, fits into the military-esque attire under his ball cap to square off alongside a ragtag team of unprepared, unqualified, and novice graboid hunters in Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”), Caroline Langrishe, and Richard Brake (“31”).  Heder fills in for the Jamie Kennedy role of Burt Gummer’s son, Travis, from the two previous installments and though Travis is mentioned briefly, the character’s presence is extended through Caroline Langrishe as Travis’s mother and preservation camp leader.  Heder and Langrishe complete that entangled trio that has been a trope present in nearly all the Tremor Films, starting with Val McKee, Earl Basset, and Rhona LeBeck, battling side-by-side to overcome the odds.  Cruz and Brake offer a serious side dish of badass on a polar opposite spectrum.  Jackie Cruz as Freddie, an entrenched team member of elephant tracking, is the Latina MacGuyer and is a weapon in herself that only someone like Burt Gummer would fully appreciate while Richard Brake, with his trademark sinister smile as obsessed game hunter Bill, relishes the role, pulling a watered down, PG-13 version of his typical bad guy motif from the more violent-venomous Rob Zombie films.  However, a minority of characters fall through character development cracks, such as Anna played by the up and coming Cassie Clare (“Death Race 4:  Beyond Anarchy”).  The archery expert Clare is a pertinent show off with a bow and arrow and is Bill’s right hand, but the Anna, under Cassie’s muscular thin frame and ironclad persona direction, has an inclined built up that goes to naught as she’s snubbed-shoved to a lesser role without having a significant impact in the latter half.   The reverse can said for Heder’s Jimmy character with first impressions of a top class scientist with lower class ambitions; yet, in an instant, Jimmy becomes a battle-worn graboid and shrieker killer while more experienced hunters, especially one wielding a mini gun, have less of a handle on the situation. 

While it’s neat and cool and nostalgic to see graboids and Burt Gummer back in action, much like the disconnect with lopsided arch able characters left to be graboid-fodder, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” falls short of earlier predecessors, replacing personal filmmaking style over story substance.  For one, graboids just haven’t been the same since going from practical applications to computer imagery since “Bloodlines” on that has radically evolved the creatures from a less-is-more model to a complete overhaul of their veneer, resembling the dark and slimy man-eating tentacles of “Deep Rising,” and as well an overhaul of the creature mechanics that lead graboids to leap out of the ground and into the air like a flying fish, spiraling and twisting back into their dirt environment.   The graboid burrowing irks me as well as the ground explodes 10-15 feet up into the air in a blatant uses of detonating charges by the effects team to create the earthworm moving effect instead of just a perpetual hump and collapse of the ground that’s more of a menacing effect. Nuances run amok, causing subtle points of frustration in how Paul’s direction is really more a passive glance than a serious absorption of the franchise. Meandering people on the ground when they fully well know graboids are attracted by movement, half the film scaled back to slow motion to accentuate big money explosions, and the mother of all graboids able to target Burt Gummer for a mano on monstro showdown are just more examples of the charmless details in, what is, a palpable comedy with Earth dwelling monsters. “Tremors: Shrieker Island” is the equivalent of “Jaws: The Revenge;” the story may not make sense, but watching gigantic monsters cause mortal destruction is pure creature feature bliss.

What may be Burt Gummer’s last ride (or so they said in the last film), “Tremors: Shrieker Island” tunnels onto Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD come October 20th, 2020 and soon to be streaming on Netflix shortly after. The BD50 Blu-ray will feature an anamorphic widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, with an English language DTIS-HD Master Audio 5.1 while the DVD9 is presented in a widescreen 16:9 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. Both formats will include optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a dubbed French, and Spanish DTIS Digital Surround 5.1 with a slew of option subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, French European, and Latin American Spanish. Since the film was reviewed on a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be critiqued. The exclusive bonus features listed on all physical and VOD include a Burt Gummer narrated “The Monster of Tremors” that gives you everything you need know about the diabolical monsters, “Tremors Top 30 Moments” that hone in on 30 years worth of scenes that provide laughs, Burtisms, and some of the most gory moments in graboid history, and, lastly, “The Legend of the Burt Gummer” that focuses on the iconic graboid hunter character told by his persona creator himself, Michael Gross. Richard Brake, once again, nails the villain, Jackie Cruz stuns as a resourceful Gummer-ite, and Michael Gross fleshes out one more commando swashbuckling Burt Gummer in the zany seventh installment of the unstoppable “Tremors” franchise.

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EVIL Does a Little Bathhouse Wet Work in “Melancholic” reviewed! (Third Window Films / Blu-ray Screener)

On nights when a humble Japanese bathhouse is supposed to be closed for business, the lights remain illuminated, gleaming off the crimson covered ceramic tiles of Mr. Azuma’s bathhouse floors as body’s soak in a pool of blood.  The proprietor, Mr. Azuma, is in severe financial debt to Yakuza boss Tanaka who turns his meager business into a nightly slaughter house to dispose of Yakuza opposition or those just on the syndicate’s bad side.  When Tokyo University graduate, Kazuhiko, applies for a job as an attendant to see a girl who regular attends the bathhouse, the reserved model employee becomes enthralled with the disposing and cleaning up of the corpses, working alongside a couple of professional hitmen, Matsumoto and Kodero, but when the job he’s so passionate about requires him to be more hands on with the assassination assignments and the endless pressure from the Yakuza bares down on his colleagues and friends, Kazuhiko’s radical plan to eradicate the woes of his newfangled position just might mean his very life. 

Seiji Tanaka’s self-esteem building and identity attaining crime drama, “Melancholic,” might not reside as absolute horror, but any film involving the Japanese Yakuza is an unpredictable, Machiavellian expo worthy of every second.  Originally titled in Japan as “Merankorikku” or “メランコリック,” writer-director Tanaka retains a bloody disposition of the historically violently depicted Yakuza-storied narrative, but is asymmetrical with a converging love affair, complementary conflicting the dark and light with clarity of the centric character’s unintended double life into the criminal enterprise of cleaning a bloody bathhouse.  Based off Seiji Tanaka’s short film of the same title, “Melancholic” mops up as an immersive black dramedy from Seiji Tanaka as the filmmaker’s first credited feature film produced by One Goose production in association with Uplink and JGMP.

The story concentrates most of the effort around Kazuhiko, a graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University who doesn’t have a good job and lives with his pampering parents, fitted by Yoji Minagawa as a social misfit living on the outskirts of the Japanese mantra of diligence and integrity.  Minagawa bores out Kazuhiko’s diffidence, chocking up his damp disposition to the indecisions toward his future, that forces other characters to influence his choices, such a former high school classmate in Yuri with an effervescent performance by “Tag’s” (“Riaru onigokko”) Mebuki Yoshida.  Yuri’s infectious affection for Kazuhiko and her regular attendance at the bathhouse encourages Kazuhiko to apply and become hired for a cleaning attendant position alongside a blonde, and undereducated in comparison, counterpart in Matsumoto (Yoshitomo Isozaki), but to Kazuhiko’s surprise, his overqualified ego is shattered when he discovers that the bathhouse is a Yakuza place of execution and those all around him are more experienced in that trade, detonating a plume of black comedy, work place haughtiness that Kazuhiko has to balance with his personal relationship growing with Yuri.  Most of the exchanges are straight forward and culturally inflection heavy, especially when dire moments rear their heads, but some more compassionate and delicate scenes rouse through the overt inflections with Minagawa and Yoshida at the helm of their blossoming onscreen romance, adding to the stark contrast to the opposing narrative. Stefanie Arianne, Makoto Hada, Yasuyuki Hamaya, Takanori Kamachi, Hiroko Shinkai, Masanobu Yada, Keiji Yamashita, and Yuti Okubo fill out “Melancholic’s” cast.

“Melancholic” is a rather odd title integrated into the briefly pensive struggles of Kazuhiko to an intrinsic network of assassination gunplay and backstabbing knavery, offering little profound sadness and despair and more shrewd hostility when those in charge ask for an inch but take a mile out of the personnel pool. For a Yakuza film, Tanaka’s bath and butcher story has barely a budget to entertain technical action sequences in tight spaces, but the action is kept taut and intense and despite the lack of a Yakuza presence, with only one single boss representing an entire faction, the transposing of Kazuhiko’s personal and professional stations washes away much of budgetary concerns down the drainpipe as an irresistible curiosity to see how our hero softly stumbles through a sudden confluence of the two repelling paths will play out. Most audiences will overlook the comedy for a countless reasons as “Melancholic” up plays into the satirical rigors of the Japanese sullen humor. The fact that that the subject matter is also about mercilessly murder people in a bathhouse will undoubtedly pigeonhole the film with pre-labeled genre. Tanaka slips in gallons of subdued irony ripe for the complex circumstances hazardous to all bathhouse employees and their pryingly oppressive management.

The award winning Japanese film (aggregated wins from multiple Eastern Asian film festivals) “Melancholic” arrives onto a dual format DVD/Blu-ray from UK distributor Third Window Films, a loyal provider of extreme Asian cult and horror. Since the Blu-ray was a screener, the A/V aspects won’t be reviewed in it’s entirety and the specifications weren’t provided with the screener. Ryô Takahashi’s cinematic vision brings out the beauty in simplification without being ostentatious with camera angles or relying heavily on tint boxes; yet, the blend of steady cam and handheld tilts to the one side with the jitteriness of the handheld seizing the stage. Bonus features were included on the screener, including a behind-the-scenes of a documentary-style shot look at moments before, during, and after takes, a Q and A panel with the cast and crew, and the “Melancholic” short film. Seiji Tanaka’s breakthrough bloodbath, “Melancholic,” sounds more despondent than the dismal thought of a cold shower on a freezing day, but the heated ferocity rite into adulthood keeps this Japanese dramedy warm with tension and cozy with vortex humor.v

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They Say There Are No Bad Children, But This is One “EVIL Boy” reviewed! (Well Go USA Entertainment / DVD)


Igor and Polina suffer through every parents’ worst nightmare; their son, Vanya, has gone missing. Three years later, Igor arranges an orphanage visit on the outskirts of Moscow to make Polina happy again by possibly adopting a young child, but their visit is cut short when Polina discovers the gruesome dead body of a basement keeper and a savage child barred away in a dungeon-like room. Polina is instantly imprinted by the child and convinces Igor to adopt him despite the difficult malnourishment and animal like behavior, but over the course of time, the child exhibits signs of behaving like their missing son and even starting to look like Vanya, their missing son’s name Polina has now bestowed upon the child against Igor’s wishes. As the feral child shows more signs of acclimating to his new life, Igor and Polina sense something more sinister from the child whose resembling more and more like Vanya every day and begin investigating into their adopted son’s origins, a well-kept dark secret guarded by the convent orphanage.

From examining horror films from our Northern neighbors in Canada to crossing the oceans and landing in Eastern Europe of the birthplace of Vodka, Russia, we’ll be taking a look at two recently released and storied dissimilar upcoming horror movies from Russia Federation, beginning with the belief that no country is exempt from the creepy kid genre in this Russian 2019 allegory entitled “Evil Boy” as the debut film from writer-director Olga Gorodetskaya. Also known as “Stray” world-wide or “Tvar” in the original dialect, “Evil Boy” is straight-forward, focus group approved, vanilla title of a story from one of Russia’s celebrated modern novelist and screenwriter, Anna Starobinets. Also dubbed as Russia’s “Queen of Horror,” Starobinets is a prolific adolescent thriller writer whose credits includes the compilation of short, chilling stories entitled “The Awkward Age” with the featured tale of a young boy’s life diary expressed through the voice of an ant colony living inside his body and the queen his brain as a conduit for her commands. “Evil Boy” is a production from a conglomeration of companies including Yandex Studio, Cinema Foundation of Russia, Dublab, and Reason 8 Films.

The titular character of Stray or Vanya allows no audience insight and we’re impelled into the perception of the grieved parents, Polina Belova (Elena Lyadova) and more so with the father, Igor Belov (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). While director Olga Gorodetskaya is new to the scene, the chemistry of Lyadova and Vdovichenkov have well been established from a baseline foundation set from their prominent collaborative roles in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s powerful small town corruption film, “Leviathan.” Their dynamic transcends a range of individual performances from crime into the horror realm with parents going through the stripping loss of a child that has compromised their marriage to the point of desperation to the eventual short term passion that has rekindled with the adoption of the Stray, a primal role befitting young Sevastian Bugsev in his introductory feature film. Giving Bugsev credit would be such an underwhelming praise as the eight year old not only nailed the savage child performance, but also endured an aggregation of makeup that gradually transforms his character over time. What’s interesting between the three actors is that they form this family love-triangle of sorts, where Polina embraces the child, but then is frightened of it and in a role reversal, Igor is skeptical of the child, but then tries to love him unconditionally. Just in that square footage, the amount of flux emotions and mindsets can favor one side over the other; yet, the actors pull it off, almost too well, creating a an unrest of feelings, conversations, and approaches to their characters. Key supporting roles include performances another fellow “Leviathan” thespian, Evgenly Tsyganov, as well as Roza Khayrullina, Konstantin Topolaga, Anna Ukolova, and Evgenly Antropov.

“Evil Boy” has some psychology behind it. Hell, even a few of the film’s posters are composited of Rorschach tests and what “Evil Boy” ultimately boils down to is how we interpret our grief of a loved one. Polina and Igor are written to exhibit multiple signs of the clinically coined Complicated Grief that follow the patterns of avoiding the reality of death, persisting nothing has changed, and a bleak numbness to the event. The motif of trying to replace something dear with something else, as a comforting mechanism, is consistently brought to attention and goes as far as leaving a forlorn image of the same motif as a finale twist to drop an atomic loop of melancholic isotopes on you. The psyche portion of the “Evil Boy” is as equally important as the evil boy himself as it’s only a representation of our characters’ will and grief, but whether it’s Starobinets story or Gorodetskaya’s script or both, “Evil Boy” has a yawning plot hole regarding the boy’s origins that’s briefly represented with a dialogue-less scene of cataclysmic and ritualistic images jumbled together for your mind to piece. This sort of passive logic translates equally to the unpalatable editing that plunges the story into a fit of turnaround key moments unable to linger and build upon and stress character developments and form audience relations. Much of the psychology the “Evil Boy” tries to impress is squandered by Gorodetskaya fleeting approach structure that can’t even be tied together by the genuine abstract creature itself when it’s grossly mutilated CGI blunder finally makes a grand entrance.

In the height of the “Sputnik” invasion that’s currently sweeping the Russian horror charts world-wide, explore into the inner space of an anguished mindset melded with conjured up changeling European folklore and you get “Evil Boy” on DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment come September 8th. The DVD is presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, that renders Ilya Ovsenev’s eerie and shadowy atmospherics, distinct in their own rite, between the sterile urban Moscow and the wooded outlier town where the parenting couple has a home in each to be alien to not only the child but also to the inhabiting parents. Ovsenev’s framing is poignant and harrowing, adding dread much needed to stir into the creature child. The image quality is relatively sharp, but there are moments of obvious color banding, such as around headlights, that suggests a lower bit compression that comes and goes with the nature of the scene. The Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound rollicks in an immense range of sounds from the primal animal snarls of the young boy to car wreckage to the soft cries of a whimpering mother despite seemingly having a even-keeled tone storyline that should simmer with tension rather than overflow with nonstop action. The dialogue is clear and forefront available and the soundtrack lulls as a sleepy version of standard genre fare. English subtitles and dub track are available with the former show no sign of asynchronous harmony and no sign of errors in spelling or in timing. The only bonus feature available in the static menu is the trailer amongst trailers for other Well Go USA Entertainment releases. Perhaps, what could be construed as the Russian equivalent to Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” “Evil Boy” buries to reanimate suppressed grief through inclinations of folklore and psychosomatic ringers embodied by one creepy as hell kid.

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A Lake Swimming With EVIL Off of “Mermaid Isle” reviewed! (WWMM and MVDVisual / DVD)


On a nearby island with an infamous past, four friends come to dock on the island from a pleasure craft cruise to explore the adjacent and serene lake surrounded by woods. What was supposed to be a fun, relaxing, and romantic getaway turns frantic when one of them accidently falls into the lake and is bitten by a mysterious unseen creature in knee high water. With a storm brewing and the bite affects worsening, the group takes shelter inside a seemingly abandoned lakeside cabin receiving an unwelcome and surprise greeting from an old woman who immediately wants to kill the injured party, but is bitten during the small skirmish and kills herself in total fear. Bewildered, the group remains in refuge from the storm, sleeping through the worst winds and rain only to wake up to find the injured and one other friend missing. Their search brings them back to the lake where they discover once bitten, there’s no saving you as the lake is a breeding ground for vicious, blood hungry mermaids, spreading their transformative contagion with a single bite. As the survivors contemplate next steps, the old woman’s delinquent adult son returns home to find mother dead and sets out to kill her murder.

Popping my mermaid horror cherry with the Jason Mills’ ravenous take on the mythical half-human, half-aquatic creature feature, “Mermaid Isle,” released in 2020. The writer-director debuted his first genre feature back in 2009 with an attic dwelling creature terrorizing an unsuspecting and already fragile and distraught family in “Above Us Lives Evil,” also more commonly known as “They Came from the Attic,” but it wasn’t until 2015 when “Above Us Evil Lives” came across our critical lap and was reviewed rather favorably for the filmmaker’s first credited venture with the following excerpt observing Mills as a “promising” director with “attributes that can contribute to the horror community” through the “strategical” use of knitting visual FX work with practical prosthetics to supply an effective heinous attic monster on a penny pinching purse string. Over a decade later, Mills continued his successful ability to turn around project after project of independent b-horror that includes the markings of spiraling madness with “The Changing of Ben Moore,” a joint home and alien invasion thriller with “Alone We Are Not,” and even tackling the mysterious and carnage-laden mythical sasquatch in “Bigfoot Country.” The director’s latest sea-faring fiends maintain the basic principle features of a fabled mermaid: an alluring, half-naked maiden on the top half with a marine flipper-tail at the bottom. Yet, “Mermaid Isle” explores the darker side of the mermaid mythology with a schlocky, self-funding of the plagued island concept with his own production company, Millspictures Studios.

“Mermaid Isle” is very character dependent to push the story along and toward the secluded residing lake since the story concept doesn’t involve any victims to be wound up stranded, buoying in the water, and surrounded by deadly and infectious mermaids creating a filthy amount of dire circumstances of harrowing survival. Instead, we doggie paddle along with bland, monotonous, and uninteresting characters played by bland, monotonous, and uninteresting actors riding the only wave of substance of the lead character (Mark Reinhardt) being rejected upon his proposal to his short term girlfriend (Kristina Soroff). The other two in the group, an assertive goth (“Bigfoot Country’s” Kiana Passmore) and tagalong friend (Samuel Buchanon), offer little to warrant their survival as they’re targeted for either mermaid chum or to be marked for warped evolution. The young cast never click together as on screen friends or form a frantic group with a correlating enemy, but rather seem underwhelmed by the lake inhabited by evil mermaids being the source of their dilemma. There was much more interested in the double sided danger foreboding around the old woman (Elinor Walker) and her bad new son (Dan Martinez), whose mysterious ruffian background surfaces to the top as he’s eager to turn his newfangled life of a straighten arrow path is squashed back into the miscreant he was once was by hunting down those responsible for his mother’s death, but that also fizzles into oblivion. Hope for the character emerges when he declares, “time to do some bitch fishing,” as an oath to, once again, contain the mermaid contagion from spreading by some noble crusade of, oh, I don’t know, spear fishing the hell out of the creatures or taking a dive into the depths of the unknown and do a little hand-to-flipper combat. Sadly, “Mermaid Isle” continues to miss chances rewarding viewers with potential much needed plights. The film rounds out with Liam Tait, Austin Richards, and Garnet Campbell in some unresolved, barely associating epilogue set four months later.

“Mermaid Isle” struggles to come up for air as an exalting mermaid horror, especially being released in 2020 amongst a sea of competing indie interests. Yet, Mill’s story spans over three and half decades beginning with a backstory, told through the words of newspaper clippings from 1983, honing in around a prefacing story of a father and son being murdered by a mermaid bitten daughter and transforms to ravage portion of the family. While the news clipping claim hoax, the mother, the old woman, who we visit in the story later at the cabin, is shuttled off by authorities to a psychiatric ward because of her rant and ravings about killer mermaids. While the slightly crafty, yet also chintzy soaked way to setup the film is engrossing enough to keep us interested at the start, the small budget stiffens any kind of any remotely rudimentary devices to then mingle man versus unnatural nature in a project too big for the budget’s britches. Further reaffirmations assume the assigning of multiple hats amongst the crew and cast, including Kiana Passmore is also the first assistant director, Garnet Campbell is the line producer, and the Mills and the Passmore families extending their services as credited Crafty and Location scouts. The story logical capsizes the moment the movie is popped into the player. For instance, the movie is entitled “Mermaid Isle,” but the Island is adjacent to a river and on the other side of that river is a lake so the premise really has nothing to do with the island, but rather a lake. The DVD back cover mentions the four friends attempting to conjure (spelled conjueron the back cover); yet, there’s none of that conjuring jazz and nothing to affix the detached epilogue to the rest of the film, as previous stated. Lastly, the DVD front cover has more gore, more skin, and even a shark in the water. Low and behold, none of those enamors exists. I will say this about “Mermaid Isle,” the mermaid itself looks convincing, obscured enough around the seams and the physical fish tale to pull off an effective mermaid creature with pitch black eyes and a face flush with hunger.

If feeling adventurous, jump into the deadly waters of Jason Mills’ “Mermaid Isle” on DVD courtesy of World Wide Multimedia Entertainment, an affiliate of Alchemy Works, and MVDVisual. The not rated, 80 minute feature, is presented in a widescreen presentation, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and the overall video image quality is not too terrible, but lacks breadth of color, compressing the details of the woods, the rocky lake shore, the old cabin, and the snow-covered trees more favorably than would have expected. Some aliasing during more actiony sequences in the water with the mermaid swimming. The English language 5.1 surround sound mix is a complete lackluster in regards to dialogue. The muffled vocals are nearly indiscernible levels for more than half the dialogue track and heavily overshadowed by ambient mix and, a bright spot on the release, the Thomas Beckman viola that almost feels too Renaissance to be paired with “Mermaid Isle.” Aside from a static menu with chapters, there were no special features included. Having no point of refence having never seen “The Lure,” “She Creature,” or even “The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead,” “Mermaid Isle” sinks the aquatic humanoid subgenre deep into Davy Jones locker for greenhorn viewers, but bares intrigue at times with the idea of a menacingly unfathomable creature stirring in the blue waters, sloshing up enough to give you the creeps and not bother with the movie itself.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWcq9bQGb6I]

“Mermaid Isle” available on DVD. Click the poster.