EVIL is Undead…And Rides a Shark! “Sky Sharks” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

Former Nazi scientist Dr. Klaus Richter’s past has finally caught up with him after 70 years when a clandestine German laboratory, disguised as an aircraft-battleship hybrid, thaws from behind a globally warmed sheet of frozen ice and rock, releasing Dr. Richter’s regenerated legion of undead Nazi super-soldiers piloting genetically engineered flying battle sharks complete with guided missiles alongside their razor sharp jaws.  Loyal to the Third Reich, the sky sharks continue their master race patronage with a blitzkrieg in the skies, attacking commercial aircraft, boarding the cabins, and slaughtering every last person on board before crashing.   Now contractually working for the U.S. Government as the biggest name in technological advancement, Dr. Klaus, with the help of his two daughters, has a plan to nullify the sky sharks’ defenses to make them vulnerable to his latest newest experiment in warfare, Dead Flesh, under the guidance of his fellow covert government agency heads.

Apex predators of the waters are now apex predators of the skies in Marc Fehse’s ridiculous, frenzied, and utterly mad ultra-violent Nazi-exploitation, “Sky Sharks.” Soaring through the heavens soaking fluffy white clouds with blood, the Carsten Fehse and A.D. Morel co-written film took off virally in 2020 with the promise to the internet, especially horror fans, of zombified SS soldiers mounted standing on humungous Great White, Hammerhead, and Megalodon jet-propelled sharks. Fehse’s team delivered. “Sky Sharks” has not one single serious bone in all it’s cartilaginous gory-glory body in what’s Fehse’s second film behind the 1999, straight to video, “Mutation” involving the what-if factor of a surrealistically free reigning and sadistically unbridled Nazi force hellbent on winning World War II no matter how many lives needing to be sacrificed for the sake of the Führer’s dominion. The Germany-made production is a Fuse Box Films and Fantom Films.

“Sky Sharks” is studded with cult stars, but those studs pop out mostly after the carnage-laden opening scene of passengers on a commercial flight being ripped to shreds by undead super-soldiers hog-wild about killing. Robert LaSardo (“Strangeland”), Lynn Lowery (“Model Hunger”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Diana Prince (“The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs”), Mick Garris (director of “Critters 2”), Dave Sheridan (“Scary Movie”), Amanda Bearse (“Fright Night” ’85), Asami (“Gun Woman), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story” franchise), Lar Park-Lincoln (“Friday the 13th Part VII:  The New Blood”) and “Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, make an appearance in some minor way, shape, or form, but since “Sky Sharks” is a German production, much of the cast is geared toward German and Austrian actors with Thomas Morris spearheading the lead role of the inverted mad scientist, Dr. Klaus Richter, a centenarian mastermind behind the birth and, hopeful, destruction of his monstrous airborne jaws of death experiment.  The role itself isn’t very exciting that refrains Morris to be nothing more but a talking head who recounts his failed World War II and Vietnam resurrection serum to turn the tides of war.  While Dr. Richter has immense blood on his hands from a long and rich background, the present day Richter has lackluster appeal and Morris doesn’t provide much zest either.  More complexities reside in Richter’s two tech-savvy and kickass daughters, Diabla and Angelique.  Their signifying names alone provide some foreshadowing of events, but the close sisters are boots on the ground with their father being the eye in the sky; yet, Diabla and Angelique have been kept in the dark from their father’s horrid past that factors little into parting ways from being daughter’s little girls.  Blonde beauties Eva Haberman and Barbara Nedeljakova successful roles in Germany and the U.S. include “Hostel” and the sci-fi tele-series “Lexx,” but their blind obedience to the patriarch roles downscales any moments to shine individually as free thinking agents of good.  Any other character factored into “Sky Sharks’” whiplash narrative come and go without a single ounce meaningful impact becoming background noise for the fray. There’s not even a singular villain to speak of as a focal point to direct a challenger against forces of good.

As much as the concept excites me on an obscurely dysfunctional level, a real telling tale of who I am as a person, who also praises “Snakes on a Plane” as cult candy, “Sky Sharks” has atrocious issues with pacing and story quality.  The opening scene sets up what to expect of gore drenched Nazis yoking back on genetically mutated sharks, zipping through high altitude to acrobatically infiltrate commercial planes for complete and total annihilation of every passenger onboard.  Tickles me in all the right places.  Yet, the sky sharks’ unveiling background whizzes past right into death from above world apocalypse, skipping keynote details resolving the giant warship beached on the Antarctic ice.  Fehse decides to redirect our focus with a bunch of explicit violence and sex and while that’s all nice and good…really good…the misdirection can’t coverup the necessities needed for a good story even if the story is absolutely bonkers. The visual effects are not distinct from the ream of shark-sploitation films that have become popular over the last decade in a cheaper slaved effort to capitalize on the majestic beasts of the sea…who sometimes mistake a surfer for a sea lion. The flying sharks swim in a stiffly pattern and move inorganically through their uncharacteristic ecosystem as they rocket in a school of steampunk nightmares. Not all visuals fall short of satisfaction when they’re appropriately blended with practical effects. Under that hood of tangible horrors is “Iron Sky: The Coming Race’s” Martin Schäper and, the legendary, Tom Savini, who we haven’t seen special effects work from since 2012’s “Death from Above” (an also fitting title for killer sharks in the sky). Schäper and Savini bring it with blood. Each plane sequence, there’s two of them, exhibit different deaths with each one more outrageous than the next. My favorite is the inverted periscope through a guy’s cranium and having a looksie at the screaming, bloodied passengers. “Sky Sharks” is, literally, an over-the-top scream of slice’em and dice’em fun.

Cresting through the blue yonder and painting the sky blood red is the deadliest gang of shark riding Nazi’s to ever grace a cinema platform in “Sky Sharks,” coming to DVD in Australia, no stranger to large, deadly sharks, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment in association with Raven Banner. The NTSC encoded, region 4, rated R release will present the film in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. “Sky Sharks” is a turbulent wonderland of rustic computer generated visual effects with a Marco J. Riedl and Olaf Markmann cinematography, typifying a clashing style, of keeping actors tightly in focus to sell a futuristic fluorescent environment. A few scenes give a sense of layered paper mâché sitting in front a green screen as the forefront images seemingly pop out of their backdrops. The English and German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix falls victim to an overpowering score of a weak dialogue track that washes key pieces of exposition that might explain more as the scenes fleet away in the rushed paced 103 minute runtime. Aside from a brilliantly detailed DVD cover robust with a glowing eyed, half-decaying Nazi soldier as centerpiece amongst flying, weaponized sharks and Robert LaSardo and Lynn Lowry cameoing off to the left side with a half-naked female warrior on the right, the DVD has no bonus features included. After the credits, a fake commercial for “Sky Frogs,” starring that half-naked female warrior I just mentioned, is a satirical happy ending full of even worse, 80’s caliber, visual effects worlds and frogs. Though not at the top of the food chain being one of the grossly ostentatious and shoddily visual effects films ever, the mindless, search and destroy, crudeness of “Sky Sharks” chums our oceans of entertainment with some of the bloodiest fun we’ve seen in a long time from a Nazisploitation.

Own Umbrella Entertainment release of “Sky Sharks” on DVD! Click the poster!

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

Purchase “Melancholic” on Blu-ray / DVD!

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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