Fixing the Tracking on Those EVIL VHS Cassettes! “Snuff Tapes” reviewed! (MVDVisual / DVD)

Ready to be Recorded?  “Snuff Tapes” now available at Amazon.com!

Marcela Arkaino investigates a Talca, Chile rapist and murder who has been drugging and abducting women for years to record aberrant tapes of his cruel exploits.  Marcela takes a special eager interest in this particular assignment as she was one of those unfortunate women.  As a silver lining out of an extremely bad situation, she is one of three women left alive by her brutal sex-sadist aggressor.  As the reporter in her garners the difficult stories from the other two survivors, Cataline and Jesus, abused by the same masked man, she inches closer to his whereabouts by triangulating attacks and connecting similarities but her scouring of roadside market, unlabeled VHS tapes became the smoking gun needle in a haystack that produces not just any depraved tape of his victims but of her own ordeal, turning now an inch into a mile in finding him.  Bring the other two women into the fold, Marcela devises a plan of revenge to direct a snuff film of her own, starring their rapist and torturer.  

Hailing from Talca, Chile, the same location where the story is set, comes the shock-slamming, VHS-inspired thriller “Snuff Tapes,” aka “Cintas Tapes,” from the Chilean born independent filmmaker, Vito Garcia Viedma.  The writer-director’s prior two zombie-influenced short films, the 2012 “Bajo el sonido del tren” and the 2017 “Escape from Zombie City,” along with the criminal underbelly 2017 feature, Los culpables,” displays a course change deviation that wouldn’t prepare the average Viedma film fan for his 2020 venture into the dark underworld exploitation of indie snuff.  While the title highlights the concept around videotaping the misuse of a person’s trust and vulnerability for one’s own disturbing profit, in this case to get one’s jolly’s off, much of Viedma’s story skirts around the edge with just mentioning the nixing of captured and consumed of vivacity women, saving the story’s climax for more detailed death dealing in a vengeful perspective rather than a videotaped one. “Snuff Tapes” is created under Viedma’s ZineFilms production company in association with Cabro Chico and Trippas Productions.

“Snuff Tapes” is no “8MM” with a mega-Hollywood budget and Nic Cage doing Nic Cage antics. “Snuff Tapes” is no “Effects” with cult icons Joseph Pilato and Tom Savini helming sordid scenes from fantasy to non-fiction. “Snuff Tapes” isn’t even on the same level as “A Serbian Film” and, to be honest, I don’t think any film anytime soon will ever be on the same level as that twisted picture. What all three of those successful and notorious films have in common and what Viedma lacks in separating itself from the rest are in two very important details: a budget and an array of talent. Viedma’s film humbles in comparison with not only a microbudget but also in a cast makeup of essentially five actors with withering substance. Valentina Soto Albornoz stars as the retribution-reporter, Cataline Ibarra, who for the last decade has been piecing together clues of her kidnapper’s whereabouts by purchasing random video cassettes tapes from Talca street vendors and when Ibarra strikes gold unearthing her own ugly tape, she understandably feels overwhelmed reliving visually the nightmare and subsequently gravitates toward being hellbent for revenge. Ibarra recruits her survivor carbon copies in the tattooed Jesus Mayano (Camila Medina) and aspiring photography model Marcela Arkaino (Camila Carreno Arancibia) for a little payback, but Ibarra, aside from her good friend Esteban (Hugo Villar) providing her a PAL encoded VHS player and rewatching her tape to catch clues missed, she virtually does all the legwork in pinpointing the one responsible, drugging him, abducting him, and committing herself to the nitty-gritty, fantasy plan for whenever she got her hands on him. I’m not sure what roles or business Arkaino or Mayano actually had to just stand there moping other than maybe bear witness to the end of their lifelong torment, to see the boogeyman parish once and for all? Reinaldo Aravena plays the man behind the mask who initially puts up a strong showing as the camera operator and stud of his homemade videos but then quickly fizzles disappointingly on the opposite side of the camera due to a lack of scaled down combating in what becomes just a one-woman show without much to show for it.

Viedma paves an interesting structural path for his film, taking the audience an extended 36-minute introduction of voiced over VHS recordings of survivor stories before entering opening credits to what then becomes a dichotomy narrative between backstory and present day. This also speaks to the visual cinematography as well that jumps back and forth between being shot on the VHS’s boxed-in format (found footage) to a wider lens of the digital world, capturing past and present in two distinct formats as well as capturing the past that isn’t glossy, pretty, and is an inescapable prison where the walls, the horizontal pillars, are closing in on the world.  Appearances, no matter how apt to the subject, do not give the movie soul and “Snuff Tapes” misses that poignant shock value target with poorly written characters and a misaligned connect-the-dots investigation that doesn’t make much sense.  Ibarra examination of the evidence, or really lack thereof, points to one man, but like a cheating slacker in high school, she does not show her work to come up with that result.  Instead, she repeats, at least in a couple of instances, her gut knows she has the right man.  In Viedma’s world, a gut feeling is factual evidence for stringing someone up to face judgement.  In reality, that’s a severe boo-boo case of miscalculation that would get you jail time.  Circumstantial street justice on little-to-no proof separates the empathy from what an audience is supposed feel fired up against an unspoken truth and gives them satisfaction in a just cause to see the obliteration of scum from the face of the Earth. In the first half, “Snuff Tapes” is undeniably graphic and cuts deep with a veridical, degenerate villain, but falters with a lazy second half approach and gratuitous revenge.

MVD Visual in association with Danse Macabre and Jinga Films release “Snuff Tapes” on a North American DVD release. The region free DVD is presented in a VHS format of 1.33:1 when looking cassette camera lens with the rest of the film in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. As expected, the VHS quality has semblance of overuse and age with a fuzzy display and muted, boxy sound. Outside of that, the picture quality is not much better in reconstituting a playback on lower end of the DVD spectrum – approx. 3-5 Mbps. Compression artefacts are heavily present with poor clarity around the edging and blacks shimmer and appear blotchy. The lossy Spanish language Dolby Digtial 5.1 Surround Sound loses some of it’s fidelity in the compression but is the overall highlight amongst the DVD’s A/V scorecard; however, the subtitle transcription is the worst I’ve seen in quite some time with duplicated segments, spelling errors, and a timing that equates to a microsecond blip of dialogue on some occasions. The release comes with another version of the film as the sole bonus feature with an entire VHS 1.33:1 (4:3) VHS Cut for an immersive effect. As always, snuff features can be difficult to digest but they are becoming more and more prevalent and popular in a highly accessible home video market and director, Vito Garcia Viedma, tries his creative hand at creating disturbing content only to defile the genre with a subpar entry sullied by deficient storytelling.

Ready to be Recorded?  “Snuff Tapes” now available at Amazon.com!

Evil Wants To Profit From Your Death! “Red Room” review!


When Kyra awakes inside an unadorned room of the second floor of an isolated farm house, the woman, who last remembers herself walking to her car from an afterhours night club, finds her wrists and ankles bound together alongside two other women. The women, Lilly and Allison, have been locked inside the room for days, kidnapped the same way, and treated with an inhumane care that more-or-less maintains their physical beauty. Uncertainty questions their fates, but one thing is for sure, when their captors come to remove you from the others, like selected head amongst the cattle, and relocate you to the red room, that’s when the screaming starts and you’re never heard from again. Between the three captives, anger and fear struggle for common ground on a plan of desperate escape and with the iron grip of their abductors honed into their every move, Kyra’s determination to escape breeds sturdier when the possibility of death is more than likely imminent, but before their inevitable snuff, the red room holds sickening world-wide pleasures that anticipates their particular company.

Poised to be callously unsettling and keen to rip apart compassionate souls, “Red Room” hails from Ireland as a ghastly and shocking exploitation thriller from writer-director Stephen Gaffney. A production of Gaffney’s Deep Web Films and co-written with Erica Keegan, “Red Room” slides ever so covertly into the internet’s interlining of unspoken grisliness that exploits people for the darker desires of other people and Gaffney runs through the typical rational of the irrational abductions, such as sex trafficking, and though that’s certainly taboo enough to quench viewers with a powerful story in itself, the director taps a sex and death geyser a few filmmakers have reaped, perhaps more so retrospectively, the machiavellian benefits in finding a home in a rather thin genre with films that are akin to the plot, including works of malevolent personal satisfaction as such as in Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” or the investigated side that encompasses the snuff world in Joel Schumacher’s “8mm” starring Nicholas Cage.

The 2017 film thrills to inflict tortuous anticipation for what lies ahead of the tethered three women. Amy Kelly’s Kyra is the only colleen to be shown physically abducted and while Kelly maintains a fine performance as the strong female protagonist with no-choice-but-to-escape attitude, Kyra’s character arc has a confounding impact where Gaffney involves non-linear scenes into the story, providing the events leading up to her abduction and also other more linear scenes with her mother on the phone with the police irate with her disappearance, but none of those scenes had significant impact to Kyra’s predicament or motivation and felt out of place. Kyra doesn’t necessarily talk about her child much either, which is always a powerful motivator for anyone with a need to live. Instead of carrying on with Kyra’s needless background, Richard, played by John D’Alessandro, could have benefited from the excess framework capacity of how he became groomed by his stern father, a role fit for a cruel king by “Game of Thrones'” Brian Fortune, and how his calm, sensible, and business casual character admixed himself with various complex villainy, roles donned by JP Albuquerque and Rodrigo Ternevoy, and how they became a triad of high end brunette liquidators of sorts. The other two women with Kyra, Alison (Saoirse Doyle) and Lilly (Sohaila Lindheim) spread the reactionary affects in a petrified Alison and a realist in Lilly when contrasted to Kyra’s defiance, but Alison carries the crux of the story, the reason why there is a story, that falls right smack dab in the red room and, frankly, she becomes the star of the gritty show. “Red Room’s” tops out the cast with another “Game of Thrones'” star Eddie Jackson and Fiona Twamley Hewitt.

“Red Room” has been compared to “Hostel” with a plot that does walk a familiar path of a pay-to-die morbidity and that comparison is a fair assessment with the ancillary connotation that “Red Room” could be seen as an extension or a byproduct of Eli Roth’s sadist of a film. However, a microscopic obstacle provides just enough to dispute that claim, to whither back a formidable opponent in the game of who has the most visceral body of work, and that evidence lies in Gaffney’s creative style. The filmmaker, for lack of a better term, pulls punches, not delivering the full on aggression required to provoke and stimulate the masses. The scenes of gore are ghastly to a point and that’s not necessarily the issue that’s more so with the unravelling of their inhuman nature that doesn’t genuinely denote a persuasive emanation of their victims damnation. We see a little of spark with JP Alburquerque’s Andras who is clearly insane with an limitless immoral conscious whereas the others teeter about more of the business margins or struggle with a tough guy image.

From Stephan Gaffney’s Deep Wed Films in association with Sicario Pictures enters “Red Room” onto DVD home video from Breaking Glass Pictures. Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, on a one-sided, doubled layered DVD9, the Canon C300 Mark II digitally shot feature cleanly and sharply provides quality throughout that falters occasionally with some choppy video speed controlling in the more extreme scenes. Color palette isn’t lush with brilliant hues, but with the darker tone of the film, the expectation of vividness lies more so with graphic content and adds to the value. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is meaty and balanced, strong enough to even tune uneducated ears to the Irish accents. The dialogue is rightfully upfront with fine range and depth with no issues on mic placements. Bonus features include a short and sweet radio interview with director Stephen Gaffney, cast interviews, test screen reaction with the finale climax, a director’s audio commentary, a single deleted scene, and a concept promo. Ireland makes a play for extreme horror with Stephen Gaffney’s “Red Room,” a twisted and a humanly fathomable thriller with a cold-hearted gape at the worst of human nature that lingers into the vast virtual and essential disconnect amongst online gawkers that will never face the exploitive repercussions of what wets their appetites as they sit behind computer screens.

“Red Room” DVD available at Amazon!

Evil Gets Snuffed and Blued. Blu-ray That is! “Effects” review!


Special effects technician Dom joins a small cast on the scenic outskirts of Pittsburgh to work on a horror film with wealthy director Lacey Bickel at the helm. Filmmaker Bickel’s indifferent passion about obtaining the perfect shot for his movie puts Bickel at odds with the other cast and crew, rendering Lacey just another irregular and peculiar director attempting to show the general public his ultimate vision, but during one particularly odd behavioral moment, Dom was subjected to the exhibition of a presumably snuff film possibly directed by Bicket during a coke-filled round table discussion. Dom begins to suspect that the movie he’s laboring over isn’t the sole objective of Bickel’s, but stays quiet about his instincts and he forms a romantic relationship with Celeste, a gaffer whose worked with Bickel prior to, and the two resume their work on the film despite the being the oblivious subjects of a real snuff film.

In 1978, the Godfather of the modern zombie film, the late great George Romero, had an inner circle of friends conjure up their own funding for an idealistic, ahead of it’s time horror film entitled “Effects” with then newcomers and Pittsburgh natives Dusty Nelson at the helm, John Harrison producing and starring as the offbeat Lacey Bickel, and post-“Effects” “Day of the Dead” and “The Dark Half” editor, Pasquale Buba, as the other producer. Filming had wrapped with tons of positive public review potential to be the next big horror film of it’s time being produced out of Pittsburgh, but a major distribution complication had put the kibosh on any theatrical and home release run, leaving “Effects” to be shelved for nearly thirty years until 2007 when Synapse released the film on DVD. The snag resonates soundly with the group of filmmakers who are probably more than acquainted with their friend and colleague George Romero’s “Night of the Living” and the copyright problem. However, the American Genre Film Archive, or AGFA, began a kickstarter funding campaign to buy a 4K scanner to remaster cult and underground titles to Blu-ray and “Effects” became one of the first selected!

“Day of the Dead” star Joe Pilato stars as special effects technician Dom and Dom is a far cry from being his future role of the sadistic and stir crazy Captain Rhodes. Pilato brings a lot of peace and tranquility to his mild mannered, if not very gullible, character. Along side Pilato is another fellow “Dead” series star, Tom Savini, as portraying not his trade of a special effects tech, but as a producer of sorts in the film. Off camera, Savini handles the gruesome special effects with a straight blade and gunshot sequences. In character, Savini doesn’t stray too far from his character on “Dawn of the Dead,” donning the black leather jacket and sporting a cocky-jerk attitude. Producer John Harrison also has a role as the callus director Lacey Bickel who bosses around his two surface actors “Life of Brian” actor Bernard Mckenna and a “Dead” series dead head zombie in two of Romero’s films, a Mrs. Debra Gordon. McKenna delivers question mark after question mark of a performance that Matthew Lillard, perhaps, imitates the best in Wes Craven’s “Scream” whereas Gordon just provides a straightforward background performance with her scene with Lacey conversing over the idea of stress releasing sex being one of the more intense moments of the movie. Susan Chapek, Charles Hoyes, and Blay Bahnsen complete the cast.

Despite the modest budget, Nelson and his team construct monumental frightening moments. When Dom, Lacey, Lobo, and Barney converse around a mirror laced with coke, Lacey wants to show Dom a film after their sharing their opinions on what the general public will or will not pay to see. The actors’ faces and reactions as the snuff film rolls is on the brink of teeth clenching madness. The catalytic moment bombards questions internally into the group of presumably professional people and starts the separation between whose really in control of their fates. “Effects” is a movie within a movie and a deception within a deception where the characters have more than one role and pinpointing their specific purpose is difficult to land that Nelson’s film will have your head spinning with guesses. A fierce and boldly ambitious film from a scrappy Pittsburgh crew of talented filmmakers taking a risk with an intricate plotted thriller.

AGFA and MVDVisual present Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” for the first time on a region free Blu-ray. The 1980 thriller has been scanned and restored in 4K from the only existent copy of the 35mm negatives and delivered the original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. The image quality is better, but only slight above the Synapse DVD that sourced from 16mm negative and still maintains a healthy dose of noised induced and film grain and print damage. The color palette has a dullish grey-brown combination fairly noticeable to the naked eye. The English DTS-HD dual channel audio has hints of a hiss and faint crackle in more scene intense segments, but relatively clean and clear inside a limited range. Extras included are an updated version of Synapse’s retrospective documentary entitled “After Effects” that brings a stingy melancholy when seeing George Romero converse with his friends. There are also two short films by John Harrison, an archival commentary track, and liner notes by AGFA’s Joseph Ziemba. Plus, the AGFA Blu-ray has a snazzy illustrated cover, with reverse cover art, encasement. “Effects” glorifies snuff film with ample attention to detail and precision that only this Pittsburgh all-star team of filmmakers could produce on a limited budget and AGFA, alongside MVDVisual, amplify their efforts by a hundredfold with a remastered transfer withstanding straight razor home movies, a bombastic car explosion, and cloak and dagger guerilla filmmaking that’ll have you second guessing if the effects are only movie magic or not?

“Effects” on Blu-ray by AGFA and MVDVisual!