EVIL’s on the Shallow End of “Deep Space” reviewed! (Scorpion Releasing / Blu-ray)

“Deep Space” Invades Blu-ray on Amazon.com!

A government funded space craft containing a monstrous biological weapon crashes to Earth.  The organic creature is genetically coded to be a killing machine with a craving for eating it’s enemy and, now, it’s loose in the city and not responding to the scientists’ command self-destruct codes.  Tough and obstinate cop Ian McLemore and his partner, Jerry Merris, are ordered ot investigate the crash site before government agents take control of the case, even removing a pair of strange organic pods with them for further examination.  When a couple of close colleagues are shred to pieces at the hands of the creature, McLemore will stop at nothing to figure out what’s wreaking havoc in his city and blow it away.  

1988 – a weird, yet greatly satisfying transitional period of fading 80’s horror into nipping at the insanity of 90’s brazen prosthetic creature effects right before the turn of the computer generated decade.  Granted, Fred Olen Ray’s Sci-Fi horror “Deep Space,” which is ironically set on Earth, is very much an enamored 1980’s horror, but the Olen Ray film is where you can kind of see the turning of change on the horizon when the story’s ideas become too grandiose for tangibility alone, no matter how much us fans love to see practical effects over CGI.  The script, cowritten between Olen Ray and T.L. Lankford (“Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers,” “Fatal Passion”), is massive more expensive than anything the filmmaker’s had previously done and with a $2 million budget, “Deep Space” gets a giant explosion, high speed car scenes and wreckage, the iconic face and voice of Charles Napier, a Xenomorph-like creature, and a ultra-bloody chainsaw scene that could give “Evil Dead’s” Ash Williams a run for his money.  “Deep Space” is a production of Trans World Entertainment (no, not the same monikered company that sunk money into the bleeding financially physical media brick and mortar outlets like FYE, Camelot Music, or Suncoast) and shot in Los Angeles under producers Olen Ray, Alan Amiel (“Inner Sanctum”), and Herb Linsey (“Neon Maniacs”) with Yoram Pelman (“Commando Squad”) as executive producer.

At the center of the chaos is Ian McLemore, a hardnose and stubborn, harmlessly sarcastic detective who goes against the authoritative grain and cuts through bureaucratic tape to get the job done.  Playing McLemore is the unmistakable Charles Napier.  The “Rambo:  First Blood Part II” and “The Silence of the Lambs” actor, who is about as legendary as they come in supporting roles, lands his own lead man role with his own buxom beauty romantic leading lady in Ann Turkel {“Humanoids from the Deep”), as a new, but experienced, cop, Carla Sandbourn, on the L.A. force.  Experiencing Napier as an attractive male lead was a little more off-putting that initially thought.  The veteran actor, who began a career in the movie picture industry in his early 30s which was later than most of his counterparts, is hovering around early 50s in this role, middle of the ground with his physical appearance, and has a masculine square chin akin to Ron Pearlman with matching hair color to the “Hellboy” actor.  At an age gap of approx. 10 years between them at the time of filming, Napier and Turkel make their courtship appear easy; in fact, almost too easy as Turkel’s drops her shirt at the mere sight of McLemore dressed as a Scotsman blowing away at bagpipes for a gag effect in sleeping with him.  Both Napier and Sandbourn are charming enough to pull off a love affair without causing too much of a they’re so old stir.  “Serenity’s” Ron Glass plays the casual with the flow Partner Jerry Merris, “The Inglorious Bastards’” Bo Svenson is full of patience as the McLemore insubordination absorbing Captain Robertson, and the original Catwoman herself, from the Adam West “Batman” television series, Julie Newmar as a psychic who can clairvoyantly see the creature’s murderous mayhem.

The fact that “Deep Space” doesn’t take place at all in space is innately tongue in cheek to begin with, but that brand of flippancy courses through the film’s veins despite the blood splattering and semi-serious veneer, weaving between an action-horror and a horror-comedy during the entire 90-minutes.  Some of the comedy is intention, such as McLemore’s husky wit and sarcasm, but there’s also the extremely foggy campy side to this gem.  Some of these elements include the creature being hinted as a genetically mutated cockroach or the left field use of Julie Newmar’s psychic abilities that are randomly injected the storyline for the sole purpose of forewarning McLemore over the telephone rather being an intrinsic piece to stopping the creature.  The creature carnage would undoubtedly be investigated and exterminated without the psychic’s help, making her character farcical in futility.  “Deep Space” also pulls a little inspiration from “Alien,” maybe even the sequel, “Aliens,” with a toothy, long-headed, and eyeless black organism that resembles much like a Xenomorph or the Xenomorph queen and there’s also a near shot-for-shot sequence of a security guard whistling to and trying to persuade a cat to come to him while the monster rises from behind and strikes a fatal blow.  The scene is very reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton’s death in “Alien.”  Being campy has it’s highlights but never can fully overshadow scenes that erect suspense or are saturated with gore which “Deep Space” has both with a combination of editing and piercingly sharp sound design and a rip-roaring, blood-splattering chainsaw kill that’s leaves that good metallic taste in your mouth.

There’s no escaping the blood-hungry tentacles of the “Deep Space” monster coming at you in a brand new 2018 high-definition master Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing, leased from MGM, and distributed by Ronin Flix and MVD Visual. The hard-locked region A Blu-ray is presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is rated R. Fred Olen Ray knew how to develop an eerie, twirling fog and wind atmosphere and this master crisps up that iconic trope image. Textural details and natural-appearing skin colors are delineated nicely throughout as you can make out every little blemish and hair on a shirtless Charles Napier as well as really getting into the slimy orifices of the creature and having a sense of its viscosity with a decisive sheen. Black areas are inky and dense with the right amount of grain in the overall picture and no obvious signs of image posterization, retaining the natural shadowing, along with no cropping or border enhancements. The English language DTS-HD master audio stereo finds common quality ground with a tidy dialogue track that does Napier’s resonating and recognizable jest justice. However, there is some hissing early on into the film, especially in the lab scenes in the contentious dialogue between the military general and the lead scientist. Omar Tal’s sound design proves vital to the story that relies on the screeching, the scuttling, the whooshing of tentacles, and the booming roars of the creatures, coinciding appropriately with Alan Oldfield and Robert O. Ragland’s rather run of the mill serrated and discordant electronic score. What “Deep Space” Blu-ray lacks is robust extras with only an audio commentary with director Fred Olen Ray and a scene selection index. “Deep Space” ages about as well as you expect over the last 35 years, but this Fred Olen Ray creature feature relic becomes rightfully preserved for being quintessential B-movie verve that no longer seems to exist in today’s age and also the fact that Charles Napier wears a kilt.

***Stills do not represent or were captured from the Blu-ray release

“Deep Space” Invades Blu-ray on Amazon.com!

EVIL is Only in Your Nightmares. Or is it? “Retribution” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

Severely depressed artist George Miller attempts suicide by jumping off from his apartment building.  During the exact same time, a low-end gangster is brutally killed by cruel loan sharks.  Being both born on Aril 1st and dying at the same time, the tortured spirit of the gangster possesses the meek artist’s body right before being resuscitated by EMTs.  After a long recovery filled with horrific nightmares, the affable artist returns to his apartment building where he’s welcomed by fellow tenants and an overly warm landlord.  Still plagued by nightmares that have seeped into his awake conscious state, George medicates himself to sleep but the nightmares continue as he sees himself using psychokinetic powers to kill random individuals with extreme malice.  The nightmares are so real he wakes up in a sweaty panic to find out that that exact person was killed the night before the very way it played in his dreams.  When George realizes the gangster has inhabited his body for revenge, he and his friends take measures to put an end to the vindictive carnage. 

Santa Maria.  Mother of God.  Help me!!!  That phrase, attached to the very last seconds before a gruesome death and announced blankly from fiery, dagger eyes, has forever been seared into the recessed corners of my eardrums as the death cry that echoes throughout Guy Magar’s 1987 gory and visceral possession identity crisis, “Retribution.”  Magar’s ultra-violent and super-chromatic film is the filmmaker’s grand inaugural entrance as a full-length director following up behind a string of director chaired television episodes, including episodes from “The A-Team,” “Blue Thunder,” and “The Powers of Matthew Star” that regularly contained quickly charged, action packed sequences.  The Egyptian-born director translates those intense moments of frenzied disturbance into his mean-spirited and unforgiving vindicator of a script cowritten with then first time screenwriter, Lee Wasserman.  Shot in Los Angeles, “Retribution” is a virtual tour of the city, using the streets of L.A. and real locations, such as the Don Hotel for George’s residence and the nearby House of Neon Art, as a lively, eclectic, and wallet-saving convenient giftwrap for the film’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde complexion that feels totally normal compared to L.A.’s divergent glamour.  Magar and Wasserman produce the film with Renegade and Unicorn Motion Pictures serving as the production companies and presented by Taurus Entertainment, formerly connected with United Artists. 

There are probably many actors that could been imagined for the role of George Miller, the suicidal artist plagued with visions of him committing murder, but it’s hard to imagine that venomous stare of complete satisfaction in madness spread across the face of anyone else other than Dennis Lipscomb.  No disrespect to the “Eyes of Fire” and “Wargames” actor but Lipscomb isn’t a chiseled-jawed and muscular leading man; in fact, Lipscomb is quite the opposite, but his range into mild-manner, all around nice guy George Miller into the lust for hatred and murderous revenge George Miller hangs on with complete chasmic permanence.  However, George’s love interest with the street working prostitute and fellow Don Hotel resident, Angel (Suzanne Snyder, “Return of the Living Dead II,” “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”), hardly ever seems natural in not only in the characters’ surreal age-yawning dalliance but also the chemistry looks and feels flat between Lipscomb and Snyder.  Magar and Wesserman neglect diving more into that bond between them but their enamored gleamy eyes for one another is apparent and strong without the context to back it up.  “The Dungeonmaster’s” Leslie Wing also is placed as a George Miller sympathetic advocate in her role as hospital psychologist Dr. Jennifer Curtis, but Dr. Curtis has more background to contend with in comparison to the suddenly conjured fondness from Angel as Curtis is a mental health professional caring for a suicidal patient from at his rock bottom worst to a complete positive turnaround in his mental transformation.  Curtis has more skin in the game with George’s supposed delusions of actually killing people in his nightmares as she defends not only George’s unique supernatural circumstances, but, in a way, herself as a licensed medical profession following HIPAA laws.  “Retribution” holds many dear and unforgettable characters that essentially captures the entire 1980’s spectrum of personalities and, even for a brief scene, the cast gives each role their all, including performances from Susan Peretz (“Dog Day Afternoon”), Clare Peck (“Teen Wolf”), Chris Caputo (“Ghost Warrior”), Danny Daniels (“Voodoo Blood Bath”), Ralph Manza (“Godzilla”), George Murdock (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”), Mike Muscat (“Hunter’s Blood”), and Hoyt Axton who doesn’t stray too far from his good intentions, but naïve, father role in “Gremlins” to being a detective tracking down suspect George Miller. 

I’m in total awe of Guy Magar’s “Retribution.” That opening scene of the suicide attempt with Alan Howarth’s building tension score drops not a single piece of dialogue yet opens with a gripping life and death situation, musically synced to progress toward a harrowing climax, and every frame is dripping with vintage 80’s appeal. Magar definitely knew what strings to pull to get the blood pumping, to get you excited, and to drop an excellent mystery right in the lap, or the middle of the street in this case with George Miller’s body after it flops off the car it just smashed onto. From that point on, “Retribution” peddles forward following the recovery, recouping, and ruination of George Miller’s life at the unseen hands of an exploiting, malevolent spirit that seeks to track down the top-tiered gangsters that shot and burned him alive and exact his own brand of harsh psychokinetic justice. Does it matter how George and this gangster, both born on the same day and both nearly died at the same time, came to fuse transcendently together? Don’t worry. Magar didn’t think it was important either and he’s right! “Retribution” snags all the attention for the sole purpose of the ride and that ride being a beautiful, color-coded daymare. The one aspect that ultimately retracts the buzzing high, stemmed from most 80’s films, is the sluggish love interest subplot between George and Angel stutter stepping into an awkward phase of interactions that hard stops much of core plot and though the plot is neurotically nonsensical to begin with, George and Angel’s desires for each other are about as cringeworthy as they come. Stick with the gore by honing in on Miller’s subconscious alter ego of a gangster serving his killers their just desserts via Kevin Yagher (“Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) and his highly effective special effects on a low end budget that, along with a brilliant showing of cinematography by Gary Thieltges, tips into the categorical likes of “The Evil Dead” or “The Exorcist.”

“Retribution” delivers a fervency unlike ever seen in one of the utmost, must-see, shamefully overlooked horrors films of the 80’s.  Now, with a deserved boost and in style, “Retribution” gets the royal restoration treatment with a jammed-packed and sleek 3-disc Blu-ray set from Severin Films and distributed by MVD Visual.  Disc one’s theatrical cut, clocking in at 107 minutes, comes from the recently discovered 35mm pre-print elements, shot on an Arriflex 35 BL3 per IMDB, and has been digitally scanned in 2K, presenting the region free film in 1080p Full High Definition inside the original widescreen 1:85:1 aspect ratio.  “Retribution’s” image pleasingly pops with fine delineating attention to the details that reach out to the point where they’re nearly tactile textures.  Every single setup of Robb Wilson King’s production designs are rich to begin with but are even figuratively injected with a smoother compression growth enhancing hormone, adding more layers of surface level details that personify and personalize the space.  Magar’s chromatically fluorescent vision is a literal tilt-a-whirl palette blast of phantasmagoria.  Disc tow is the extended Dutch video version that adds back in the extended seconds on the longer, gorier kill scenes.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is the sole mix on the release and, honestly, sates the need with the dual channels.  You obviously don’t get the surround sound, which considering this release would have been ideal, but the stereo mix, as well as the dialogue track, is still full-bodied, identifiable, and spotless of blemishes.  John Carpenter understudy Alan Howarth scores his solo synth-laden story on tenterhooks with a tinge of a Miami Vice theme as well as setting tonal moods that add depth to character layers.  If you want the entire OST, you’re in luck!  The third disc is a compact disc of the entire soundtrack.  Special features includes over two hours of content with Severin exclusive looking back at the experiences with the late director Guy Magar and the ins-and-outs of making “Retribution” interviews with co-writer Les Wasserman Writing Wrongs, actress Leslie Wing Shock Therapy, actress Suzanne Snyder Angel’s Heart, actor Mike Muscat Santa Maria, Mother of God, Help Me!, soundtrack composer Alan Howarth Settling the Score, special effects artist John Eggett Visions of Vengeance, artist Barry Fahr The Art of Getting Even, production designer Robb Wilson King Living in Oblivion.  Other special features include Guy Magar’s student film “Bingo,” stills and poster galley, and the theatrical trailer all packaged under a cardboard slipcover and a reversible snap case cover. Severin Film’s “Retribution” release is a triumph, a proper regenerarcy of revenge cinema, with all the gory details being the star of the show.

Own this Amazing 3-Disc set of “Retribution” from Severin Films!

No Sam Raimi. No Bruce Campbell. Just the EVIL! “Evil Dead Trap” reviewed (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)



Nami, a Japanese late night show host, is seeing her ratings dipping.  Though not in danger of losing her all-female produced show, Nami decides take her team on an investigation of a mysterious snuff tape that was mailed to her specifically.  Left for her is a bread crumb trail of directions to an abandoned military base, Nami and her crew explore the campus’s rundown structure, searching for evidence, a body, a story that they can televise.  Ignoring the dangerous presence around them, they dig deeper into the dilapidating labyrinth where they horrifying discover something waiting for them laid out in a cruel plan of deadly traps with a maniac pulling at all the strings. 

Bred out of a pedigree of pinkusploitations and a nation’s crisis of identity after the Second Great War, “Evil Dead Trap” is a greatly symbolized Japanese machination tale helmed by pink film director Toshiharu Ikeda (“Sex Hunter,” “Angel Guts:  Red Porno”) and penned by an equally historical pink film screenwriter and “Angel Guts” manga series creator Takashi Ishii (“Girl and the Wooden Horse Torture,” “Angel Guts” series).  Also known under its original Japanese title, “Shiryô no wana,” as well as, and my personal favorite, “Tokyo Snuff,” in Spain, “Evil Dead Trap’s” smorgasbord of rape, torture, and gory death naturally shocked viewers upon release and continues to do so as one of J-Horror’s branched out films that segued out from the brutal and depraved pink film inspired context into the new longstanding ghost genre we’ve seen over the last few decades with “Ringu” (“The Ring”) or “Ju-on” (“The Grudge”).  The production company Joy Pack Films, behind the 1980’s obscure Japan films, such as Genji Nakamura’s “Go For Broke” and Banmel Takahashi’s “Wolf,” houses the “Evil Dead Trap” from executive producer Tadao Masumizu.

If you recognize a couple cast members, or maybe just their naked bodies, then there’s something depraved about you!  With all kidding aside, but no seriously, if Rei (Hitomi Kobayashi) or Kondo (Masahiko Abe) look familiar, then you my friend are pink film aficionados as Kobayashi has starred in “Hard Petting” and “Young Girl Story” and Abe was in these pink film hits the “Pink Curtain” trilogy and “Female College Dorm Vs Nursing School Dormitory.”  If these faces didn’t touch you in any kind of sensual way, no worries, leading lady Miyuki Ono brings the star power.  The “Black Rain’s” Ono plays Nami, a go-getter television host/personality with her sights set on ramping up her late night show’s ratings, but also sucked into the posted snuff film’s darkest allure that’s personally calling her into to a precarious story lead.   Nami could also be a homage to one of screenwriter Takashi Ishii’s manga-inspired pink films entitled “Angel Guts: Nami” and the title might not be the only aspect paid honor to with that particular Nami written with a journalistic vocation drawn into and obsessed with a serial rapist’s attacks, making a striking parallel between the two stories that are nearly a decade apart. Eriko Nakagawa and Aya Katsurgagi fill out Nami’s investigating team as Rei and Mako. As a whole, the characters lack personality; Rei and Kondo tickle with relationship woes that are snuffed out before fruition, Rie’s timid innocence barely peaks through, and Nami and Mako’s thicker bond compared to the rest of the team is squashed to smithereens way before being suckled into note worthy tragedy. This late night show team has been reduced to slasher fodder and, honestly, I’m okay with that as we’re only here for the deadly traps. Noboru Mitani, Shinsuke Shimada, and Yûji Honma, as the mystery man looking for his brother, complete “Evil Dead Traps” casting.

“Evil Dead Trap” boasts a melting pot of inspirations, a mishmash of genres, and spins a nation’s split identity variation crowned in aberration. Diversely colorful neon-hazy lighting complimented by a Goblin-esque synth-rock soundtrack from Tomohiko Kira (“Shadow of the Wraith”), Toshiharu Ikeda shadows early Dario Argento inside and outside the popularity of the Italian giallo genre as the “Evil Dead Trap” murder-mystery horrors resemble more of a westernized slasher with a killer concealed behind a mask stalking a fringed, neglected compound in a conspicuous outfit. While the killer dons no hockey mask or snug in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, an equally domicile, yet more calculated, antagonist taunts more brains than brawns, especially with the severity of traps that seemingly float from out of nowhere. The fun is chiefly in the imagination of how the trap designs operate in the void of physics of a slasher fodder film so wipe clean the Jigsaw and the “Saw” films from your mind completely and relax to enjoy the outlandish kill scenes. Some of the kills are imperialistically inspired by Imperial Japan, that is, to blend the wartime nation’s atrocities with how the proud country wants to distance itself from that old-fashion, war-criminal, stoically perverse superstratum layer, but that’s were “Evil Dead Trap” pulls for most of the juicy parts as well as supplementing with Argento lighting, some, believe it or not, “Evil Dead” elements of that menacing presence bulldozing through the spiritual world, and an divergent climatic finale stuck to the narrative body that’s akin to pulling off the head of a doll and replacing it with T-Rex head’s. The uniformity quells under the pressure of how to end Nami’s and her attacker’s coda with pageantry weirdness that’s typical status quo Japanese cinema. Lots of symbolism, little modest explanation.

Get caught in “Evil Dead Trap” now back in print and on Blu-ray courtesy of Unearthed Films, distributed by MVD Visual, as part of the extreme label’s Unearthed Classics spine #5. The Blu-ray is presented in a matted 1.66:1 aspect ratio, a format rarely used in the States but widely used in other countries. Reverting to the 1.66:1 from Synapse’s 1.85:1 crop, Unearthed Films showcases more of the European feel, heightening that colorful vibrancy of the Argento-like schemes. Image quality has peaked on this transfer with natural grain with the 35mm stock, but details are not granularly sharp in an innate flaw of the time’s equipment and lighting. Shinichi Wakasa’s unobscured practical effects heed to the details and don’t necessary suffer the wrath of miniscule soft picture qualities when you’re impaling someone or birthing a slimy evil twin…you’ll see. Add in Ikeda’s wide range of shooting techniques, you’d think you’re watching Hitchcock or Raimi and the focus really lands there with the differently camera movements and techniques. The Japanese language single channel PCM audio fastens against that robust, vigorous quality to make “Evil Dead Trap’s” diverse range and depth that much more audibly striking, but there’s a good amount of silver lining in there being no damage albeit discernable, but not intrusive static to the audio files, dialogue is unobstructed and prominent, and the stellar synth-rock soundtrack nostalgically takes you back to when you first watched “Suspiria” or “Dawn of the Dead.” English subtitles are available but display with a few second delay which can be cumbersome if trying to keep up. Special features includes three commentaries that include director Toshiharu Ikeda and special effects supervisor Shinichi Wakasa, filmmaker Kurando Mitsutake (“Gun Woman”), and James Mudge of easternKicks. Plus, a Trappings of the Dead: Reflecting on the Japanese Cult Classic retrospect analysis from a Japanese film expert, Storyboards, Behind the scenes stills, promotional artwork, trailers, and a cardboard slipcover with phenomenal artwork. Highly recommend this atypical Japanese slasher, “Evil Dead Trap,” now on Blu-ray home video!

Own “Evil Dead Trap” on Blu-ray!

Never Had An EVIL Friend Like Me! “Come Play” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

Elementary student Oliver has autism that impedes his speech, requiring near obsessive use of the phone and tablet to communicate with touchtone words as well as using the device for recreational binge watching of SpongeBob SquarePants to calm him when agitated.  Unable to make friends, Oliver’s loneliness causes him to sink deeper into his devices while his parents bicker amongst themselves on the endless topic of caring, treating, and assisting with Oliver’s needs, such as speech therapy and daily routine.  On another dimensional plane, looking inside-out of Oliver’s devices, is Larry, an equally lonely, misunderstood monster trying to break into Oliver’s world and take him away to be forever friends.  It’s up to his overprotective mother and insouciant father to stop Larry’s aggressively desperate out reach into Oliver’s world and pluck him forever from a life of being misunderstood. 

Forget the monsters lying in wait underneath the bed!  Forget the monsters lurking inside the dark closet!  The monster in your phone, capturing your attention span on a glossy-eyed level, should be the monster we all fear from Jacob Chase’s written and directed tech creature feature, “Come Play.”  “Come Play” introduces Jacob Chase into feature filmmaking after being involved wearing multiple hats in a series of short films, spanning over in the last decade and half, with his 5-minute long short film, “Larry,” plotted out as one third shift bored parking lot attendant who discovers an abandoned iPad inside the lost and found box located in his booth and releases a disfigured titular creature that lumbers toward him after reading through  “The Misunderstood Monster” children’s tale on the device, becoming the foundational work inspiring a 96 minute, fully fleshed out narrative with dangerous undercurrents of voyeurism and loneliness coinciding with an equally-hazardous theme in the detriments of being a helicopter parent, hindering the independent growth and maturity of youth. “Come Play” is a co-production of Amblin and Reliance Entertainment.

When they’re in a career hot zone, child actors flourish and grow inside a broad base of horror, being nurtured either from or by the creepy child sub-category or from or by being the unlikely hero that has the save the oblivious adults (just look at the kiddie cast of “Stranger Thingsfor example). Azhy Robertson falls into the latter as the epitome of innocence in playing Oliver, a young boy with autism unable to communicate clearly the monster stalking him from a stratum between two existences. “Marriage Story’s” Robertson continues to gleam versatilely as an actor who can use his imagination to not only react to a rendered behemoth creature but also submerse into the characteristics of autism and not oversell beyond what’s needed. Robertson also continues his girth toward a well-rounded career that now has a notch for horror under his broadening belt. Like many monster-plagued kid horror, the parents are always oblivious and dismissive to the situation and “Come Play” continues the trope with a pair of quarrelling parents in the midst of separation that undoubtedly adds to the extramundane energy fueling Larry’s need for Oliver. Gillian Jacobs (“Bad Milo”) and John Gallaghar Jr. (“Underwater”) butt heads sorely on one topic: Oliver. As their marriage dissolves through unspoken subtleties under the Oliver epicenter, that missed mightier connection could have been more powerful on how the split up affects the reactionary consequences of Oliver’s developmental disorder, an affect so tremendous that it componentizes Larry and his aggressive and brazen abduction tactics that are not so discreet. However there characters are perceived, Jacobs and Gallaghar modestly pack a punch in what has been laid to be the Azhy Robertson show of a vulnerable, yet smart, child versus a relentless and grotesque monster. Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, and Eboni Booth round out the cast.

Jacob Chase has proven to be able to handle building breath-holding suspense and tension with the otherworldly plane Larry, a Slenderman-like in appearance and character inspired villain lumbering around not only in Oliver’s house, coursing through the electrical currents in his sub-plane world, but also by peering from out of closets, shying away in the darkest corners of the house, and looming around in a parking lot’s graveyard shift hours only to be perceptible through the phone and tablet camera lenses and, at times, manifesting a translucent presence that has force behind, the latter being an added side dish, transcending from Chase’s short film, to Larry’s predacious tech-manipulating arsenal when obstacles stand in the way of his BFF.  Even if “Come Play’s” superlative thrills ride on the heels of potent jump scares and unnerving silence with bated breathed, hiccups do arise in a more alleviated roller-coaster that shreds holes into the well-established terror instead of nurturing the tone.  Now while I understand the rating is PG-13 to secure a wider audience and, maybe, be a little lighthearted at times, an awkward diluted dread douses the credibility of the characters in strife with actions, such a scene include Oliver’s parents striking down upon his tablet with alternating hammer blows.  In what almost seems like a joke with an archaic technique that old-timey railroad workers use when nailing in track spikes or when carnies – one being a clown – hammer in spokes in unison to erect the big top, the scene is just out of focus in regards to the rest of the scope and there are other scenes like these sprinkled in throughout that raises character quandary concerns.  Why not just one parent whack away on the destruction of the dag’on device?  A handful of the reactionary actions to protect Oliver are glazed with an unreasonable, panic-stricken defense that begs the question whether they’re fit to actually be parents, which, if looking on the flipside of the argument, might also play into more of the unbeneficial family structure that originated the Larry intrusion.  Speaking of originating and the monster, Larry’s exact origins is obscured from the audiences as no plot points touch in depth upon Larry’s background and, you know what, that’s okay here; the more mysterious path is sometimes the best and, in “Come Play,” Larry’s inexplicable being as a child seducing abductor relates much more frighteningly and unfortunately in real world occurrences. 

Predators come in all shapes and sizes.  In this case, Larry’s atrocious presence, trying to obscure his real identity innately, symbolizes the very personalities of the real monstrous predators living among us, trolling online to prey on the vulnerable.  “Come Play” is an oxymoronic subtle hyperbole that serves as a cautionary warning for parents and children molded with pure monster in the closet entertainment in mind releasing theatrically on October 30, pushed from its original July release due to COVID-19, courtesy of Focus Features.  Serving as director to photographer is French cinematographer and serial shadow worker, Maxime Alexandre, who was worked with acclaimed horror director Alexandre Aja on “High Tension,” “P2,” and “Crawl.”  Alexandra manipulates the space, melding wide, full and closeups, to work the perceptions toward a post-production visual design in adding Larry into the frames and honing in on the lighting to just show enough of the space to make the allusion of Larry’s presence even more ominous. The back and forth of the underused practical Larry and the mostly CGI Larry sparsely have any difference between the final product outcome. The visual effects team of Mr. X saunter with what could have been a clear disaster of composite creature imagery with all the trademarks of synthetic splicing; instead, Larry matches well to the point of an indistinguishable challenge between what’s real and what’s not. The score by the “Don’t Breathe” and “Evil Dead” remake’s Roque Banos does the job to subversively infiltrate the security earmuffs to wring your cochlea to an inch of its life, but doesn’t resonate with you much more than the length of the film; however, Larry’s clicking and snapping of his appendageal joints and his guttural clatters emanate vicinity apprehension, as if the audiences can hear the dun dun hook as a tall tale sign of a circling shark in the water.  Sound design is half the fun in the film as the monster is more than half there when it’s on screen. No bonus material accompanied the release and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but I’ve included Chase’s short, “Larry,” below for your own comparison and enjoyment!  “Come Play” boosts many unsavory themes between the parameters of technology and children underneath a mask of a faceless friend willing to frighten and fight anyone into submission to obtain complete, domineering companionship to end his chilling fairytale story.

Larry: Short Film

Crawldaddy and Her Two EVIL, Incestual Kids in “Skinned Alive” reviewed! (Tempe Digital and Makeflix / Blu-ray UE)


Crawldaddy and her two children, Violet and Phink, are psychopathic makers and sellers of fine leather apparel right off the backs of, well, literally ripped right off the fleshy backs of anyone they come across! When their van breaks down in a small, dumpy, low-bred Ohio town, Crawldaddy is forced to play nice with the town’s only mechanic, Tom, who offers a complete line of unreciprocated hospitality to the strange out-of-towners, but that doesn’t stop her and her children from committing slice and dicing of the local residents while bunkering in Tom and wife’s basement spare room. When Tom’s neighbor, Paul, an alcohol abusing ex-cop on the edge as a result of a brutal divorce, senses trouble and discovers Crawldaddy’s den of skin, the quiet small town explodes with bullets and blades in a macabre showdown.

Forget the Firefly family that has brought backwoods kin-in-arms killers to the masses in vogue fashion. Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding have nothing on Crawldaddy’s foul-mouth, foul-smelling skinner family who ranks as the top trash, living the nomad lifestyle with all the depraved trimmings of the criminally insane. Written and directed by Jon Killough, who after working on J.K. Bookwalter’s “The Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja” in multi-hat roles, “Skinned Alive” was bestowed a greenlight by Bookwalter to explore the creative side of Killough’s vile and offensive laden hillbilly horror that was released in 1990, before that very subgenre was coined and monetized years later. David DeCoutea, who envisioned the eviscerated virtuoso of the gruesome filmmaking talents from Todd Sheets to J.R. Bookwalter, served as executive producer and Bookwalter’s The Tempe Suburban Company tackled “Skinned Alive” with all the ingenious bloody pizzazz and outlandish death set financier and production company while filming the project in Ohio.

Since The Suburban Tempe Company is a tight-knit production company, familiar faces from Bookwalter’s previous films have been cast, beginning with Paul Hickox, the ex-cop with a drinking and ex-wife problem, played by Floyd Ewing Jr. The Hickox character crosses over from “Robot Ninja” into “Skinned Alive,” but exhibited in a dichotomous life position. While Ewing nails being a man dragged through the pig slop of divorce, Paul feels cut short with the amount of buildup written for the character that’s centered around ex-wife woes of losing his house and kids, depressed into drinking, and has to deal with a sleazy lawyer whose also litigating his former wife in a court of a sex. However, “Skinned Alive” is all about the bad guys.  In the majority of horror films, the bad guys are always the most interesting because of their rancid flavored persona and for our culturally-collective love of the eccentric, the offbeat, and the grim of villainy.  Crawldaddy embodies those despicable characteristics without so much of breaking a sweat with a abhorrent-welcoming performance by the late Mary Jackson.  Jackson, who went on later to work Bookwalter again in a minor role in “Ozone,” is transformed from a singing beauty to a basket case of a wretched, wheelchair bound hag, unearthing her uncouth Hyde at the flip of a switch.  Jackson is complimented by Susan Rothacker as the alluring-but-deadly Violent, a roll filled in the last minute by the film’s makeup artist when things didn’t work with Jackson’s daughter Lorie, and the one and only Scott Spiegel as Phink.  The energetic Spiegel has been a part of the longstanding Sam Raimi entourage, having minor roles in Raimi films, such as “The Evil Dead,” “Darkman,” and “Drag Me to Hell,” and when “Skinned Alive” became in need of a Phink, Spiegel may have just saved the film by his presence alone as the “Intruder” and “Dusk Till Dawn 2:  Texas Blood Money” director brings the manic ticks and callous charisma to Phink’s traits.  Rothacker ups the character dynamics with Phink as the pair’s love-hate relationship is a slap-stick of incest and homicidal cravings that fits right into the vile veneer of the story.  “Skinned Alive’s” cast rounds out with Lester Clark (“The Dead Next Door”), Barbara Katz-Norrod (“Kingdom of the Vampire”), Mike Shea (“Robot Ninja”), Mike Render (“Robot Ninia”), J.R. Bookwalter as a tortured Jehovah’s witness, and Jon Killough as an unlucky the hitchhiker.

As Killough’s indirect byproduct of Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Skinned Alive” is the skewed, bad dream version of the devious Sawyer family with heavy notes of black comedy chucked into the fold for an all-out odious assault on all fronts, but Killough’s first and only feature didn’t come out totally unscathed as a harmonious horror-comedy.  With little film stock left to shoot with and production controversial new scenes written by Killough and then altered by Bookwalter without consent, “Skinned Alive” became a rapid fire production of short shots compiled together that resulted in a choppy flow.  You could also discern which filmmaker wrote which dialogue in the filler scene between ex-cop Paul and his ex-wife with her sidepiece arrogant lawyer; Bookwalter adds witty, if not smart, dialogue to reinforce Paul’s degrading life while Killough’s dialogue for the rest of the feature is an expletive warzone without much of a strategy.  Both discourses work for the benefit “Skinned Alive,” but do cause a blatant, patchwork barrier between the conversing styles.  David Lange and Bill Morrison’s special effect makeup work is a complete continuation from “The Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja” of rendering gooey, gory visuals on a budget.  Sometimes, yes, you can see how unflattering the realism can be and easily securitize the flaws, but at the same time, the ingenuity trumps over cost and that elevates the effects beyond any dollar figure the film might cost.  That partial prosthetic of ripped flesh on Spiegel’s Phink when he’s hot in the face is one my favorite effects not only for the gruesome details, but for also its versatility.  It could easily be a bear claw swipe or a flesh eating bacteria, making the possibilities endless for Lange and Morrison.  Thirty-years later, “Skinned Alive” has preserved a rightful staunch cult following for it’s unparalleled grotesque veneer that will endure to linger for another 30 years plus thanks to technological advances and vehement filmmakers who are also filmic preservationist like J.R. Bookwalter.

Speaking of which, J.R. Bookwalter and his company, Tempe Digital, has painstakingly restored “Skinned Alive” and released it on a region free ultimate edition, dual-format Blu-ray/DVD, distributed by Makeflix.  The original 16mm A/B roll cut negative was scanned in 2K and is presented in the retained 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  The scan brought the transfer int a low-contrast in order to color correct and bring more life into the presentation from previous untouched versions and removed all of the white speckled dirt and scratches from nearly much of movie; a silver-lining made possible by COVID-19 quarantine that allotted the time to do so.   The color grading now has a much more vibrant appeal though slightly losing details from the high contrast with some of the more brilliant red glowing scenes in Tom and Whinnie’s basement.  Limited to 1000 pressings, “Skinned Alive,” the 30th Anniversary ultimate edition, by visuals alone, should be blipping frantically on any avid collector’s radar and sought by all genre aficionados.   The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound stem from the DA-88 tape archives of the original 16-track audio masters and while much of the dialogue and musical score remained, a good chunk of the ambience and effects were rebuilt and remixed, defining a clearer, cleaner audio track presentation of balanced levels from all different file sets.  Aside from some small synchronization issues between the dialogue and the scenes, the range is pitch perfect and the depth is excellent.  There are optional English and Spanish subtitles included.  Bonus features, you say?  The ultimate edition has you covered with the BR disc one containing a 2020 commentary with writer/director Jon Killough and moderated by Tempe historian Ross Snyder of Saturn’s Core Audio and Video as well as a 2002 audio commentary with producer J.R. Bookwalter and makeup effects artist David Lange.  Other new material includes a 16 minute featurette entitled “Carving Up 30 Years of ‘Skinned Alive,'” featuring a number of interviews with the cast and crew recollecting good times on set, a remembering Mary Jackson featurette that includes Jackson’s son and daughter, among cast and crew, commemorating the Crawldaddy actress, an interview with Scott Spiegel, 2020 location tour, artwork and promotional gallery, behind the scenes gallery, production stills, and, my personal favorite, J.R. Bookwalter walking through the restoration process step-by-step giving insight on the time and effort into restoring the films such as “Skinned Alive.”  Disc 2, the DVD, includes a 2002 audio commentary with Doug Tilley and Moe Porne of The No-Budget Nightmares Podcast, the 1987 and 1988 “roommates” TV sitcom episode featuring the “Skinned Alive” cast and crew, the Joy Circuit “Love Turns to Darkness” music video, a making off featurette of “Skinned Alive,” behind the scenes, Camera and wardrobe tests, a short 2 minute segment about the 2002 remastering and the original DVD release trailer.  That’s not all!  Let’s not forget to mention the equally packed release package that includes a reversible wrap featuring original 1990 VHS artwork in the casing and new cover art by Alex Sarabia on the slip cover, plus an eight-page color booklet with liner notes by Ross Snyder.  The only thing missing is a soundtrack CD compact…wait, there is one!  Come September 18, the original motion picture soundtrack, featuring 29 tracks, will be released with scores composed and performed by J.R. Bookwalter, songs by Hang Dangle, Foxx, Virgil Pittman, Joy Circuit, Dave Jackson and Kenny Boyd, Seven Sez U, The Ninja Sequencers, and Willie and the Wagon Wheels.  This 2-disc set is the holy grail for die hard “Skinned Alive” fans who know and appreciate the unique, second to none hillbilly horror that’s flagrant on every level.

Pre-order the soundtrack!!! Click to go to Amazon.com