This Dinner Party Dishes the EVIL! “Happy Times” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Digital Screener)

A small, but affluent, Los Angeles Jewish community dine together at a Hollywood mansion in celebration of the Shabbat.  Mixed feelings about each other compounded with mixed drinks stir the emotions of heated topics, including business ventures, religious attitudes, social statuses, marital qualms, and hidden desires.  Lines are being drawn and sides are being taken when one thing leads to another and undisclosed secrets become evident in a clash of suburban violence that pits friend versus friend, colleague versus colleague, and husband versus wife to the death. 

Director Michael Mayer reminds us that you should never mix business with pleasure with a keep your friends close, but your enemies closer black comedy entitled “Happy Times.”  The brawl of survival centered around Israel immigrants living in the U.S. is the second written and directed film from Mayer, following polar oppositely against another Israel themed, 2012 picture, “Out in the Dark,” a gay drama in the backdrop of the two rival and patriarchal sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The only conflict in this 2019 thriller-com is of the gravely plentiful and concentrated kind inside a L.A. mansion turned battle arena that sees about as much confrontation as the war-torn Gaza strip.  Co-written with Guy Ayal, “Happy Times” is a collaboration produced by Erri De Luca and Paola Porrini Bisson of OH!PEN and, the Israeli born, Gabrielle and Tomer Almagor’s Urban Tales Productions in association with Michael Mayer’s own company, M7200 Productions.

The Israel-nationality cast can be an immersive experience and a sign of good faith casting from the filmmakers as well as a show of open diversity from the production studios that casting Hebrew speaking, Israel background actors implies a serious interest and respect embroidered into the project. Mayer, born in Haifa, Israel himself, is a breath of a fresh air of non-appropriation in a time where whitewashing can still be prevalent in the movie industry. Israel born actresses Shani Atias, Liraz Chamami, and Iris Bahr command the screen not only as Israeli women in lead roles, but as different personas that interact and keep lively the one night, single dinner party narrative. Chamani especially dazzles in the details as the dinner hosting socialite wife and mother, Sigal, who exacts an assertive Jewish woman with a cooped up attitude and a knack for handling her own while also worried about her social status, an extravagant exhibition of a screen trope that you might experience on shows like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” or movies like “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” enacted on point when she’s handing a frightened dinner guest, outside their Jewish circle and fleeing from the scene, tin foil wrapped leftovers with a wide menacingly unsure smile, while holding a medieval crossbow to go frag another party guest, in the plain view driveway. The wives’ counterparts are equally as Jewish and equally as prominent in the fold of the affair with Ido Mor as a unscrupulous businessman co-hosting the dinner, Guy Adler as a construction manager with money problems, and Alon Pdut as an unhappily married Ph.D engineer bothered by his fellow dinner guests’ lack of education and tact. In all, most of the characters are undilutedly snobbish with the exception of Sigal’s struggling actor cousin, Michael, played by Michael Aloni, whose magnified Hollywood liberalism deconstructs the Hebrew bible as racist and inaccurate among other colorful adjectives and becomes the catalyst that begins all hell breaking loose. Stéfi Celma, Mike Burstyn, Daniel Lavid, and Sophie Santi become the filament around the principle leads that strengthen the kill or be killed melee in “Happy Times.”

As if dinner parties weren’t already stressful enough, having to make trivial small talk, possibly acquaint or re-acquaint with unaccustomed faces, or pretend to enjoy the slop being served as food, “Happy Times” turns the internally exasperating dinner party debacle on its head with guests and hosts who are just too terribly comfortable with each other as volatile personalities explode like little active volcanos plumed to reach every corner of the house in a deadly playground for unstable, on-edge adults spewing their strident emotions and Mayer is able to maintain a layered pace with a narrative that’s snowballing quickly.  Where “Happy Times” struggles is the redline occurrences that trigger things to go very badly.  Though hardly trivial episodes between the guests, involving innocent infidelity affections or a slight practical joke stretched beyond devastating consequences, the harried moments afterwards diverge into a blown out result while more nefarious consequential revelations are held back, in after the fact chaos, and these differently graded spurs seem unbalanced, if not flip-flopped, in the story.  The characters themselves adequately course into being delightfully insane and as about as relatable as the internal frustration against our friendly-façade enemies, but there’s a part of me that personally wanted more development.  Military vet Avner, for example, exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the horror sounds of war play in his head when under stress.  As he stares into oblivion when the rage fills into his face, especially by a nagging, browbeating wife who doesn’t seem to be aware of his condition, the subconscious killing-machine overcomes the mild-manner tech engineer.  There’s also Yossi’s opaque tax evasion scheme, Michael’s thespian struggles, and Mati, the late arriving Rabbi, who pockets money on the side from Yossi and Sigal that factor into an erratic equation that’s a mind field surprise every step of the way.

“Happy Times” relishes in unpredictable violence as a round table of feast or famine hatred in this dog-eat-dog thriller coming to you from the Philadelphia based distributor, Artsploitation Films. Slated for a February 9th, 2021 release, the unrated film will be presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, in a gorgeously rich color of a modest, natural color scheme. Kazakhstani cinematographer, Ziv Berkovich, distills a solid, yet uninspiring, photography of mostly still cam mixed with subtle steady cam, rooting firmly to particular rooms without capturing the flow of a big mansion, reducing much of the in clover luxuries of the hosts. The Hebrew, English and some Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers well balanced layers of audio tracks with dialogue clarity and establishing good range with depth not really set up because of the close up or medium shot frames. Guy Aya;’s score offers a good blend of a violin-screeching from a murder mystery dinner theater with the inklings of traditional Israel folk sprinkled in to create an anxiety riddled brew of trouble. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The best of times and the worst of times doesn’t compare to the bloodletting of “Happy Times” in a wildly amusing dark comedy with every impulsive-driven and tension-wrought scene chockfull with bated breath.

Pre-order “Happy Times” on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazom.com (Click the poster)

Giving EVIL the Electric Chair Only Gives EVIL a Buzz! “Destroyer” reviewed! (Cheezy Movies/DVD)


The unspeakable 23 rape and murder crimes of psychopath Ivan Moser grant him a seat of honor at the electric chair. As soon as the switch is thrown, a massive prison riot ensues and what happens next becomes unexplainable, confusing, and indeterminable. One thing is clear, the prison’s Warden Kash loses his position as the trashed penitentiary is forced to shut down. Eighteen months later, a film crew acquire permits to shoot a women-in-prison exploitation film inside the prison with the help of it’s one time custodial employee, Russell, who is just as creepy as the abandoned maximum security penitentiary that housed the infamous Ivan Moser. As production grapples with townsfolk opposition, electrician’s timing miscues, and some seriously bad acting, there’s one unexpected obstacles not accounted for…a living, breathing Ivan Moser still living inside the iron cladded prison.

Horror fans from all walks of life to the age gaps of multiple generations can all agree on one thing, that the 1980’s is the gilded age of horror to which inspired and/or captivated us all. The decade was also an industrious change for political climates that saw the fall of the Berlin and saw musical artists like Michael Jackson break the conventional molds of how music was orchestrated, sung, and danced too. For movies, the change came with technical innovation in elaborate special effects, such as in John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and undogmatic view of how we perceive plots which opened the flood gates to a slew of unexplored ideas no matter how far-fetched they may seems. One plot such as this would be from the 1988 prison massacre film, “Destroyer,” directed by Robert Kirk as is one and only non-fictional feature before an extreme career solidifying shift to historical movie and television documentaries. Written by Peter Garrity (“The Forgotten One”), Rex Hauck, and Mark W. Rosenbaum, “Destroyer’s” a gritty tale of endless, black obsession fueled by insanity, revved up with inexplicable half-alive malice, and juiced with strength of an indestructible force without being overtly supernatural.

With an 80’s movie comes an 80’s cast and the popular reteaming of Clayton Rohner and Deborah Foreman from 1986’s holiday themed horror, “April Fool’s Day.” “Destroyer” isn’t based on a certain holiday, but converges more toward meta approach where Clayton Rohner and Deborah Foreman play the romantic couple, grindhouse screenwriter David Harris and stuntwoman Susan Malone, on film set of their women in prison movie – Death House Dollies. A typecast switcheroo is engaged as the physicality falls upon the female role while Rohner takes a reserved backseat as a writer and that entails Foreman to face off against Lyle Alzado as the unspoken titular character Ivan “Destroyer” Moser. Alazdo’s crazy eyes and muscular football build provides the suitable basic elements of a crazed killer; probably doesn’t hurt that Alzado was also juiced up on steroids throughout his career in the NFL and beyond his exit from sports entertainment. Alzado has been quoted in Sports Illustrated having uncontrollable anger from roid-rage and that pressurized anger seethed, one could assumed, in the eyes of Ivan Moser, forging a superhuman monster under the parental guardianship of Richard Brake lookalike, Tobias Anderson (“Harvest of Fear”). “Psycho’s” late Anthony Perkins co-stars a the director of the WIP film as an unusual placemat only to serve as a hot moniker in horror to be contextual candy for one big scene and not providing much else. Lannie Garrett, Jim Turner (“Pogrammed to Kill”), Pat Mahoney (“Strangeland”), and four Death House Dollies in a gratuitous shower fight scene co-star!

A purebred American slasher of eccentric electrifying devices, “Destroyer” chooses punitive measures against the concept of capital punishment, sending the cryptic message that the dead will haunt you and those that you touch forever in some warped guilt trip nexus. The message is only further hammered in by the embossed haunting atmosphere of Robert Kirk’s opening sequence of a priest walking down the hazy cellblocks toward Moser’s cell, sitting with twitchy Moser while he madly raves and rambles about the game show that plays on a television set in front of his cell, and going through the steps of a chaired electrocution echoes a utilitarian dystopia that fathers in the cold, ungenial tone of the prison and Moser’s psychotically feral thirst to kill. Ivan Moser’s vitality is infectious, a hail-mary shot you’ll be rooting toward the finale, as the serial killer undertakes undertaker duties with extreme perversity while chocking up his body count with unsystematic eliminations, such as with a conveniently placed jackhammer in the prison basement. The jackhammer’s scene is “Destroyer’s” bread and butter, the showpiece of the whole film, but Moser only snag a couple of some real good on screen kills. All the rest are off screen or channeled through another device, such as an electric chair, and that softens and stiffens Moser’s, if not also Alzado’s, ultimate larger-than-life presence. Still, “Destroyer” rocks Lyle Alzado’s short-lived indelible monster making movie talent and confines the space to a breathless solitary confinement death house ready to devour more victims.

“Destroyer” shocks onto DVD home video release distributed from Cheezy Movies, MVDVisual, and Trionic Entertainment, LLC. If you’re not willing to shell out big bucks for “Destroyer” on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, check out Cheezy Movies’ economy region free DVD presented in an academy ratio, full frame 4:3. A beginning title card mentions that Cheezy Movies attempts to find the best transfer available when searching out titles and I believe that was done here with this release, but unlike Scream Factory, funds were not poured into an expensive upscale as moments of banding start right at the title credits. The transfer instances of dirt and cigarette burns are immaterial enough to not falter viewing, but there’s a bit of hefty color posterization in the basement scene that nearly blends the entire white scheme together and causing difficulties defining individual objects. The English language single channel mono mix maintains a lossy connatural sell topping out at the it’s as good as it gets ceiling with an economy release, but the dialogue is surprising clear, soundtrack sounds good, and the ambience, though needing a fine tuning, shapes out depth and range nice enough. With this release, no special features are available. Much like “Destroyer’s” tagline, Robert Kirk’s feature won’t shock you, but will give a great buzz with a nightmare coiling around your brain performance from Lyle Alzado and a super 80’s execution-from-the-grave slasher that’s just a guilty pleasure to behold.

Buy “Destroyer” on DVD! Or Watch on PRIME VIDEO!

The Pangs of an EVIL Movie in “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” reviewed!


Shane desperately desires to be a part in the making of a low-budget horror movie. Failure after failure of submitting to production studios who opt out rather than option his scripts and the discouraging financial hits with each festival entry, Shane and his girlfriend Chloe decide to venture into producing, writing, and shooting a film themselves. With the script still a work in progress, the promising title alone scores a film crew from his friends and roommates, generate a small fortune of crowdfunded cash, a leading scream queen from the skanky residue poles of a strip club, and a set location provided by a local video store clerk and schlocky indie horror filmmaker named Machete Mike. As the young film crew bumbles through raising more money and the headaches of production woes without a completed script, a demented clan of hardcore snuff and cannibalistic filmmakers seek a hostile takeover of their ambitious endeavor that’ll produce authentic screams and real blood, the very basic foundations of a good horror movie.

You have to admit it. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is an appetizing, exploitation glazed carrot of a title, a salivating lure that’s hard to ignore for any enthusiast for licentious material. Brazilian born director, Paulo Biscaia Filho, helms the Big House PIctures and Vigor Mortis Apresentam production of an ostensibly horror-comedy that leisurely alters into a slasher-survival-esque structure courted with all the admirations of torture porn with a pinch of homage toward the iconic Sawyer family without a Texas size chainsaw wielding maniac wearing a flesh mask. Blueprinted as a meta-horror with twists and turns galore, “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains,” by name alone, doesn’t take itself seriously as an inebriated version of the genre it represents and layers to weave a non-linear, outlier story into the heart of the plot, sewn together by the co-producer Gannaway and went in and out of production in 20 or so days to finally hit festival markets a year later in 2018.

While Shane might feel like the focus of the story, Amber and Chloe undercut his presence and steal his thunder as the naïvely ambitious filmmaker with their final girl fight and vengeance. Amber’s the stripper whose yearning for her spot in the limelight no matter how small and she’s portrayed by prominent Manga voice actress Elizabeth Maxwell (“Dragon Ball Super”) and Maxwell is paired with “Last Girl Standing’s” Kelsey Pribilski in Chloe, initially as a mortal enemy toward Amber when the issue arises of the most common, basic, and core division between women – men. Yet, Amber and Chloe dominate the principal antagonists whose subtle quarrels frame an mulishness and aversion relationship build a stronger support for one another when they come toe-to-toe with utter sadism that threatens what collectively matters most to them. Maxwell and Pribilski demonstrate the conventional markings of the popular final girl trope, acting as a single unit, while Ezekiel Swinford bares the helpless victim and ignorant filmmaker, Shane, to be in the crosshairs of death and for the two corners of his semi-triangular love affair to be his saviors. Swinford acts the giddy fool well enough to warrant his character’s witless person in distress calling. Machete Mike lastly, but not at the least, rounds out the core four personas from Don Daro. The “Sex Terrorists on Wheels” actor has little-to-no kindness in his face, marking him intriguing and guileful as the video store clerk whose more than what meets the eye. Ariana Guerra (“Hollow Scream”), Lindsey Lemke, Gary Kent (“Bonehill Road”), Ammie Masterson, Larry Jack Dotson (“Humans vs Zombies”), Kaci Beeler, Michael Moford, Woody Wilson Hall, Ken Edwards, and professional bassist musician in the band Drag, Dominique Davalos “Howard the Duck”), co-star.

“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” resembles a movie inside a movie that tries to pull a fast one over the audiences with an open for interpretation of the true nature of events and leaving those once thrilled at firsts sight of the title moviegoers kind of stun like a mouse batted over the head right before being fed to the famished pit viper. Filho and Gannaway’s film does swallow you whole, down it’s gullet, and dropping you right into the stomach acids that begins to dissolve the disillusion of what was imagined from the get-go. Nothing wrong with some slight of hand, but the overall result meanders on the promise of being hyper meta; an attempt to disrupt the conventional and tummy tuck in the tropes from being too loose and obviously exposed. The attempt is well intentioned, but that’s where the summiting the mountain ceases, at attempted, with a great, low-budget desired, premise aimed to upheave the genre and the audience’s expectations, whirl them all into a massive maelstrom, and spit out a “I fooled you!” expose. One aspect that made the grade were the Creeper Labs FX’s Andy Arrasmith and artist Shelly Denning’s special effects work that held a modest candor of blood and severity when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Heads being lopped off, eviscerated stomachs with guts oozing out, and just enough chainsawing and machete work to go around to properly finish the beautifying of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” appropriately.

Rack’em and hack’em those chaste cheerleaders with a Blu-ray copy of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” distributed as the 10th spine from the wild cinema aficionados of Darkside Releasing and MVDVisual. The Blu-ray is presented unrated and in 1080p on a BD-25 with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The estimated $70,000 crowdfunded budget has a rather aesthetic and sleek digitally recorded imagery, perky with natural lighting and dark tint where appropriate, and is an overall pleasant outcome on a moderately robust budget for indie horror out of Austin, Texas. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track maintained a balancing act between dialogue and score where the two fought for priority. Dialogue should always have right of way unless intended not, but for the sake of “Virgin’s” story, there’s doubt that drowning out the dialogue momentarily was purposeful. Bonus material includes Brazilian promotional videos, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bloorhouse Tour with Gary Gannaway being the tour guide himself, a Machete Mike introduction version of the film, and a 16 page booklet that includes stills, original sell sheet cover art, and the birth of the project penned by Gannaway. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is meta-sexy, meta-slasher, and meta-fun, but wanders into meta territory a little too long for comfort while still positioning a piecemeal survival horror with fine talent and high kill count.

“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” available on Blu-ray!

Take A Stroll Through Evil’s Scream Park! “Talon Falls” review!


While embarking through Kentucky on a camping road trip, four friends make a pit stop at a Kentuckian scream park called Talon Falls, suggested to them by squirrelly and unusual gas station attendant. As they work their way through a labyrinth of gore and torture, the realization that the local attraction harnesses realistic inflictions of pain hits them squarely in the jaw as they become unwilling participants instilled into the hyper-horrific entertainment that’s recorded onto a snuff tape. In order to not be strapped to a jerry-rigged electrocution chair or be the guinea pig for a sadistic mad doctor with a niche for painful exploratory surgery, they must fight the entire company of Talon Falls’ scream park in order to not be a piece of recorded snuff.

“Talon Falls” is the 2017 torture and survival horror named after and shot on location at the real life scream park located in Melber, Kentucky and written, directed, and co-produced by indie filmmaker Joshua Shreve. Shreve’s story tip-toes around being a familiar narrative that might not seem so different from other works ranging from Nimród Antal “Vacancy” to maybe even Rob Zombie’s murder-world fun-n-games “31,” but if you take a step back and take a long, hard look at “Talon Falls'” gore scenes that don’t just secretly record the assortment of death, but exhibits the ghastly torture for the entire public eye to see. If you’ve been to a Halloween Horror theme park, you know very well the adrenaline pumps, the hearts thump, and the fear tops into a knot in your throat and “Talon Falls” simply adds that what if factor. What if it’s not fake? What if these people being dismembered and vilely tortured are ultimately put to death right before our eyes, like some Captain Spaulding backwoods horror show with a side bucket of his famous fried chicken?

In any case, the four friends, made up of two couples, don’t have one ounce of star power behind their name, but each one of them spearhead the project with enough enthusiasm and gusto that there’s no short fall of trepidation even if the level of fear stalls slightly on overkill at times. Brad Bell, Jordyn Rudolph, Sean Rudolph, and Morgan Wiggins don’t necessary have the on-screen chemistry as friends or couples, even if Sean and Jordyn Rudolph are an offscreen husband and wife, but the palpitating consternation dynamic solidly sells when all hell breaks loose inside the walls of Talon Falls. Between Jordyn Rudolph and Morgan Wiggins, either actress could be a vocal stretching scream queen, especially Wiggins who reaches ranges that could pierce eardrums.

When the spectrum-filled makeup palettes and every single destructive deconstruction prop is laid out at your finger tips, the special effects comes as second nature and to introduce a high level of design detail to the already elaborate set, inside a really monstrous horror park, then “Talon Falls” without a doubt will walk, talk, and look like a top-notch horror film. However, not all aspects are perfect with the Shreve film, produced by Kent Hammond and Todd Ferren, as the story progression with the characters becomes minimized that result in haphazard camaraderie between the friends who are more turnstile acquaintances than lustful lovers or deep-rooted long time friends. Also, characters make hot-headed or stupid-minded questionable decisions when in hot pursuit of an axe-wielding, piggy-masked killer and the scribing of the irresponsible decisions when safely stowed away when being pursued, roots out Shreve’s inexperience in a time of a building block career.

MVDVisual and Lost Empire present “Talon Falls,” the Terror Films and Flashback Pictures production, onto DVD home entertainment in a widescreen 2.35:1 that atheistically gritty in the detail. Even the darker scenes, with well established and positioned shadowing, bring substantial substance to liven up and level up this independent feature from Kentucky. The 5.1 surround sound track has stable range through and through with a caustic toned score to convey terror and a clear and prominent dialogue track that doesn’t muddle through a surplus of ambient tracks. Bonus material include a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs through a randomizer of footage markers and some bloopers. A theatrical trailer is also included. Josh Shreve can only get better from his Sophomore film as a director whose hot off his solid genre entry in “Talon Falls” with the aid of the scream park’s unlimited horror resources and though popping with toe-nail pulling moments, the extremely short runtime of 75 minutes suggests a stiffened premise with undercooked character development that diminish that high production value and bloody effects.