In the year 2022, Special Forces solider, Captain Robbins, is court martialed for putting a bullet in the head of his commanding officer. After escaping two maximum security prisons and a record of rebellious activity, a corrupt and power hungry warden of the Lactivus prison ships Robbins off to an off shore island called Absolom, where prisoners can roam free with no chance of escape due to 24/7 surveillance by Satellite and rocket launcher armed helicopter gunships surrounding the island perimeter. Island prisoners separate into two factions: the Outsiders and the Insiders. Each with the respective camps, the lawless Outsiders overwhelm the Insider’s numbers by 6 to 1, leaving the small manned community in constant fear of attack and pillage by the Outsider’s merciless leader, Walter Marek. When the insiders learn than Robbins has faced Marek and lived, they take the former solider into their community, but Robbins sole desire is to escape off the condemning rock and with the help of a few good men from the Insiders’ camp, the chances of escape and survival are greater together as long as Marek and his band of starving cutthroats don’t seize the endangered community first.
“Escape from Absolom,” also known as simply “No Escape” in the U.S., is a Martin Campbell directed action film from 1994 that’s futuristic and violent, fun and thrilling, and kitschy without being too cheesy. Campbell, who went on to direct not one, but two, James Bond films, begins a base of epic action that’s toweringly ambitious and pulled off nicely with the stunts and the editing. Based off the Richard Herley novel “The Penal Coloney,” the script is penned by Michael Gaylin who puts pen to paper to scribe a playful, passively aggressive dialogue, but fun and energetic on a the same coy lines of other high visibility action films. Gaylin was able to conform to a story that has no dynamic with the opposite sex in one of the few films that exhibits a rare all male cast.
“Goodfella’s” star Ray Liotta finally got his time to shine as the butch and badass action hero that is Captain Robbins, a highly skilled special forces solider and killing machine whose pragmatic intentions, at first, are hard to read. The cockiness overtop a well-cloaked deadly skill set works to the advantage of the blue-eyed actor for New Jersey. Opposite Liotta is Stuart Wilson (“Hot Fuzz”) as Walter Marek, a 7-year island lifer with dreadlocks and nose bridge piercings to match his psychotic leadership. Wilson does psychotic just fine, but the look resembles John Travolta’s atrocious attire from Battlefield Earth. Lance Henriksen, One of the most recognizable legendary genre actors, has a more serene approach in being a mentor and the leadership figurehead of the Insiders camp when compared to conventionally eccentric, sometimes maniacal performances, but Henriksen has a mellow side to him that conveys are very affectionate kumbaya approach, but any personality compared to Stuart Wilson’s internal rampage would be a stark contrast. “Ghostbusters'” Ernie Hudson has his role as security office in the Insiders camp and the sole black man of the film, for obvious reasons, stands out, but Hudson just adapts to anything you put him in though the Michigan born tended to sway toward the thrilling fantasy/sci-fi genre in the height of his career. Rounding out the cast is Kevin Dillon (“The Blob” remake), Kevin J. O’Conner (“Lord of Illusions”), Don Henderson (“The Ghoul”), Ian McNeice (“Dune”), and Michael Lerner (“Maniac Cop 2”).
All things considered, “Escape from Absolom” is a torrent men-in-prison extravaganza that’s one part Sylvester Stallone “Judge Dredd,” one part Chuck Norris “Missing in Action,” and, as a whole, an endangered brand of droll entertainment. Speaking of Stallone, Ray Liotta did it first as a character who is an expert at escaping the inescapable maximum security penitentiaries and instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dave Bautista as contentious, yet supportive allies, the friendly, yet solidly statured Ernie Hudson and Lance Henriksen share Liotta’s Captain Robbin’s unquenchable lust for freedom, even if it to provide unsheathe exposition of the unethical corporate penal system practices. Far from being a perfect film and extremely blantant on a no underlying message, Martin Campbell undoubtedly has a fine tuned niche of capturing the casual eye with large scale action sequences and an affable character allure.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “Escape from Absolom” on a region-all Blu-ray, presented in 1080p, widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. The coloring is phenomenally remastered and stable compared to previous transfers. There are times when depth becomes two-dimensional or flat, skewing the picture noticeably, but the overall picture quality is spectacular in the vast amount of Australian landscapes and even in the night scenes that show hardly any enhancing, such as sharpening or contrast. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is laid out nicely with audible poise and precision balance. Dialogue is prominent while explosions have just the right amount of oomph under an exact LFE recipe. The release sports other language Dolby Digital audio tracks such as a German 2.0, Spanish 2.0, Italian 2.0, and a French 2.0. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Bonus material includes a two part making of featurette from around the production of the film with interviews with cast and crew, four TV spots, trailer, and a reversible cover. Runtime is 118 minutes. Martin Campbell’s “Escape from Absolom” is dystopian dynamite, explosive and aggressive with a flare for enjoyable banter amongst defined and diversified characters inhabiting an utopian island of mostly societal scum.
Sergeant Gregory Dapp, A lone wolf space cop, travels lightyears to Earth, ordered to hunt down and capture one of the universe’s deadliest and sought-to-extinction creatures, simply called a Phobe, before the extraterrestrial being reproduces on a massive, world obliterating scale. This particular species has wiped out all of Drapp’s special Phobe hunt and destroy unit and were thought to have been blotted out off the face of his planet until one lands on Earth. Drapp must team up with Jennifer, a local high school girl caught in the middle, to help capture the Phobe before spreading it’s seed for world domination.
“Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments” is an extremely ambitious sci-fi action film from Canada. Directed by Niagara, Ontario filmmaker Erica Benedikty, the 1994 film had a ultra-micro-budget of only $250 to cast a two-world, space odyssey complete with light-saber action and a behemoth amount of laser fodder. Being a slave to nearly no financial backing, “Phobe” had to manage without shame and roll with the flawed punches and, somehow, obtained popularity when broadcasted at a television station with which Benedikty was associated even when the film had to be diluted down to PG content. Fast forward 22-years later, Intervision Picture Corp. releases the aspiring director’s DIY fantastical vision in a glorious and plentiful remastered DVD edition.
The Benedikty written and directed alien action feature pulls inspiration from many admired blockbuster sci-fi films including some potent familiarities, such as a revamped form of the alien from “Predator” who stalks with heat vision and blends in with camouflage or the dazzling lightsaber duels from the epic saga that is “Star Wars,” creating an endearing homage from a knowledgeable science fiction enthusiast with a dedicated cast and crew during a year long shoot. The Ontario filmmaker scribes her hero as not necessarily the hunter, but as the hunted because as soon as Dapp lands his ship and saves Jennifer’s life from a Phobe laser (a roman candle blast), Dapp and Jennifer spend the entire night on the run, never challenging the being until forced to do so and the structure harps upon a plot similar to “The Terminator” with a “Battlestar Galatica” villain presence.
Rostered completely with unknown local actors, John Rubick stars as the mullet sporting, Phobe asskicker Sgt. Gregory Dapp who bolts into light speed with a very John Belushi appeal set upon the shoulders of a calm and candid Rubick demeanor throughout the entire Phobe capturing and Phobe egg destroying ordeal. Dapp’s semi quasi love interest Jennifer, Tina Dimoulin, blankly unconditionally follows Dapp into certain utmost danger. The Dapp and Dumoulin combo are Earth’s last hope against the Merv Wrighton’s portrayal of an invading, combat-ready, ultimate killing machine species. Wrighton’s tall and broad shoulder stature ideally constructs an intimidating antagonist being ultimately unraveled by a very inanimate casted mask with no texture or any kind of cosmetic makeup whatsoever and that highly resembles a toothless ivoried skull.
“Phobe” won’t be palatable to every sci-fi devotee’s intergalactic taste. Only a microscopic niche fan base will greatly appreciate the tongue-in-cheek fashioned computerized imagery, the depth scale modeling, and the automaton deadpan acting that establishes “Phobe” as cult material and Severin’s InterVision Picture Corp. label does right by this small time Canadian film by remastering the original video elements and supplementing the DVD with a vast amount of bonus material. The video quality presented in a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio is as good as it’s going to get with the inconsistencies of magnetic tape from a camcorder as the darker scenes are, at times, hard to visually construct because of the digital noise, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio quality is quite balanced and clear. The laundry list of bonus material includes an audio commentary from writer-director Erica Benedikty, the first feature film from Benedikty “Back in Black,” “The Making of Phobe,” Q&A with cast and crew, original FX shots from the 1995 broadcast version of “Phobe,” outtakes, and “Phobe” theme performed by Gribble Hell. Whew, that’s a lot of extras. To sum up the experience, “Phobe” is campy sci-fi schlock with stellar intentions and with tons of heart made of grenade tomatoes (this reference will make sense once you see the film) all while breaking the DIY mold.
Cherry Skye and her all girl roller derby team, The Alamos, find themselves gravely threatened by a summoned vengeful demon named Mamma Skate, the best and brutalist skater from the MurderDrome rink 20 years ago who was viciously murdered ritualistically by a Satanic-obsessed rival. Called back from Hell by a mystical charm necklace once in her possession, Mamma Skate rollerblades through the night, cleaving her way through the roughest of roller derby girls, and seeking to possess the soul of charm’s current owner, Cherry Skye, so she may live once again!
In 2013, Australian director Daniel Armstrong had a vision. A vision that includes skimpy-cladded, brazenly jagged roller derby girls, a resurrected she-demon wielding a butcher’s cleaver, and a helluva lot of rock-n-roll! A joint effort between Strongman Pictures and a slow drip of miscellaneous funding constructs that very exact vision, originally not conceived to have been a feature length film. Writing along side Trent Schwarz and Louise Monnington, who also had a co-starring role, Armstrong’s rockabilly ozploitation is a blood diamond in the Australian under bush with kangaroo pouches full of ocker comedy and skater mayhem. However, Armstrong’s terrorizing roller-demon imagery sat on the edge of being nonexistent and his film suffers the associated consequences of financial hardships and production problems. “MurderDrome” has a vibe more akin to a music video with interjections of storyline in between various psychobilly laid tracks that’s perhaps a pure result of the film’s financial inability to fill the void, but the style’s unique outline contends strongly in independent or abstract cinema outlets. Aside from the atypical structure, “MurderDrome,” granted, has some sloppy and choppy editing that disrupt not only the opening credits, but also waters down a death scene or two and affects character motivations.
Australian accents are thick coming from an indigenous talent of actors led by Amber Sajben, a downright heaven-sent leading lady starring as Cherry Skye. With her cutesy pig tails, high-knee fish stockings, and an acute fascination with always popping bits of food in her mouth, her contrast with the dialogue-stricken antagonist and steel, chain, and blade attired roller-demon badass Momma Skate, portrayed by Be-On The-Rocks (Yes, you read that right), redefines the old phrase a game of cat-and-mouse that doesn’t quite fit the overall artistic style. When a group of rough and tough roller derby girls who elbow check others for the fun of the sport, some fight should commence without being said; instead, the characters who proudly carry the names Cherry Skye, Psych, Thrusty, Trans Em, Princess Bitchface, and Hell Grazer option to scurry without giving a second thought to bucking up to a sole skating murderess. Armstrong subsides more toward a comedy route peppered with a resilience attitude toward the situation with co-writer Louise Monnington leading the charge in her character’s crude humor, especially having Pysch, her character, note descriptively what exactly is ‘duck butter.’ Urban Dictionary has you covered if you care to look up the term. The cast rounds out with Kat Anderson, Rachael Blackwood, Jake Brown, Anthony Cincotta, Gerry Mahoney, Max Marchione, Daisy Mastermann, Dayna Seville, and Laura Soall.
Plot integrity is flimsy at best striking influentially at the development of certain characters, most importantly with villain Momma Skate. Her conjuring doesn’t go through the comprehensive ringer as the demoness just appears without establishing a connection with the charm necklace bringing her demonic lankiness above ground. Max Marchione’s The Janitor bares some importance that whizzes like air out of a rapidly deflating balloon as we learn less-by-less about this character throughout the duration of the film. The Janitor’s key mentoring role wavers, resulting in just one more confusion aspect into the blend. Remaining character developments are fairly cut and dry sans forgetting their eclectic attire, electrifying neon makeup, radical hairstyles, and overall lifestyles, but expansions upon the roles could have been more favorable for the Aussie production.
Camp Motion Pictures and Alternative Cinema skate the “MurderDrome” DVD right onto the North American market rink, providing the film’s first region one release. Extras are abundant with music videos from The Dark Shadows and other bands, a gag-reel, and a behind-the-scenes special effects featurette. The 72-minute feature is presented in a widescreen 16×9 aspect ratio that’s a bit hazy at times on the grayscale, but adds charm to the bargain bin brimstone fire and smoke computerized effects that truly defines Armstrong’s slasher as a campy ozploitation with Italian Giallo undertones and a supernatural core. “MurderDrome” rocks, literally, with great pyschobilly tracks from The Jacks, The Sin & Tonics, and The Dark Shadows to name a few of the head banging headliners on the soundtrack in the confines of a cavity heavy plot for a film more suitable as a music video than a feature flick. In the end, “MurderDrome” provides an endearing look upon horror even with all the obvious flaws, but renders some nice moments of searing barbarity overshadowing, just slightly, some of the misfires. Lastly, if you like girls in skates, who never take them off at any point, then “MurderDrome” is right for you!