Beware the EVIL Bite of Silver Teeth! “The Cursed” reviewed! (LD Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Lord Seamus Laurent and the neighboring landowners show grave concern for the recent Gypsy encroachment upon their shared property.  In proactivity protecting the laboring residents and the pastoral farmland of the feudal system, Laurent and fellow landowners order the removal of the Gypsies by hiring ruthless mercenaries who slaughter every last Gypsy in cold blood and bury them in the land.  When every resident on the estate, from villagers to the lord’s family, share a common nightmare of silver teeth buried with the Gypsy corpses, an evil curse unleashes upon the farmland with a killer beast roaming, hunting every resident.  Gypsy chasing pathologist John McBride enlists himself helping Laurent and the villagers to not only relieve them of the cursed creature, but also face his own tragic past linked to the very same evil he pursues.  

Lycanthropy an allegory for the cholera outbreak in late 19th century Europe?  That’s the seemingly centric subject to Sean Ellis’s written-and-directed, folkloric supernaturally spun creature feature “The Cursed.”  Though narratively set and actually shot in France, “The Cursed,” or else better known internationally under the original title “Eight for Silver,” is comprised nearly of all English actors with very few from France and an American in the principal lead to wage war against a swift enemy that kills anyone without prejudice and without mercy.  No, I’m not talking about the wolfish creature that rips settlers and lords to shredded sacks of meat.  I’m speaking of the Cholera epidemics of the 19th century and while Ellis’s metaphoric intentions lean more toward the pains of broad-based additions, our modern pandemic plight felt more widespread linking both the past and present with an event that plagued countries like a curse with unsystematic cruelty and didn’t differentiate between the poor unfortunate and the opulent.  The Los Angeles based production company LD Entertainment finances and produces the feature under Mickey Liddell (“The Grey,” “Jacob’s Ladder” ’19) along with executive producers Alison Semenza (“Lost Boys:  The Tribe”) and Jacob and Joseph Yakob.

“The Predator’s” Boyd Holbrook walks the pathological shoes of John McBride, a man haunted by his past in his continuous pursuit of nomadic Gypsies, and it just so happens that McBride falls right into the thicket of, unknown at the time, Gypsy-made bedlam as missing children and ravaged dead bodies pop up.  Holbrook tries to corral in the pathologist’s inexplicable purpose as the character is often too withdrawn from his intent on what he’d actually do if he came across any Gypsies, which McBride never does.   Instead, McBride feels like a hero who’s dumped in the perfect place at the perfect time to be the hunter of what his pathological experience and instincts claim to be the death-dealings of a wolf while the village becomes the bewildered and unassuming hunted, led by the 2019 “Hellboy” actor Alistair Petrie as the noble estate lord Seamus Laurent stewing stoically in his own despair and desperate head space in search of his missing son (Max Mackintosh). The only character acting rationale in a conventionally proper manner in her reactions to the whole situation is Seamus’s wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly, “Eden Lake”), with a blistering heartful longing for her son, and their daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch, “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death”), with a shock-induced and childlike response to her brother’s disappearance. Yet, Isabelle and Charlotte alter course. Isabelle weaves in and out of anguish to the point where her suffering is only implemented to benefit the story and Charlotte, well, Charlotte plainly disappears as a key supporting character who knows truly happened to her brother in the field and with a villager boy, Timmy (Tommy Rodge), who discovers the silver teeth etched with curse inducing rune symbols. The interactions between McBride, Seamus, and Isabelle never quite feel nature and complete, as if there’s an unspoken trust issue between McBride and Seamus or a mutual understanding or compassion between McBride and Isabelle that never leaves the hilt of the sword to see spark action. Nigel Betts, Roxane Doran, Richard Cunningham, Pascale Becouze, Simon Kunz, and Amazon’s “Hanna” star Áine Rose Daly, as farm hand girl turned white wolf, round out “The Cursed” cast.

Sean Elliss tweaks the werewolf mythos to try and shake up the genre, turning it up on its head to dust off a tired narrative of man bitten by wolf, man turns into wolf, wolf terrorizes villagers, and villagers kill wolf with silver bullet. Instead of silver weaponized for good, “The Cursed” weaponizes it as Gypsy revenge, a calling card that leaves bite marks with lasting impression until every single inhabitant, guilty or innocent in the crime against the Romanian wayfarers, is laid to waste by its transformative power. Though unexplained in why the Gypsies forge silver fangs etched with a curse other than a storm is coming, as if perhaps they’re clairvoyancy provided them with a disturbance in the air instinct rather than exactly what to expect, the teeth are a nice cinematic touch of menacing terror literally inscribed on each tooth. “The Cursed” atmospherics of folkloric superstitions blended into a broodingly dense landscape of low-lying fog and uncomfortably vast empty fields surrounded by a thickset of trees comes close to the likes of a Hammer horror setting, especially with the period of time in which “The Cursed” plays out in that has been Hammer’s niche era. The setting might be the only controlled aspect of Ellis’s take on the werewolf genre as the werewolf, if that is what we can even call the abomination of mutation, is written from out of our traditionally known contexts and into a new breed of metamorphism. Hairless, white, and somatically encasing, Ellis’s monsters radically redefine our expectations with a beast that literally consumes our very being and turns us into an unrecognizable fiend amongst the flock. Fast, agile, and ruthless, this newfangled fang-bearer up until the end never received any insularity resentment from me, but the ending abruptly diminishes the near mindless brute strength of a beast with a hint of intelligence in its ability to sound like person to draw the hapless into a trap and that’s where a line needs to be drawn, especially when the technique is used as an out of the blue device toward an endgame.

Whether be a narrative about an all-consuming addiction or about a precipitating plague of chaos in the time of cholera, the uniquity of “The Cursed,” semi-diverging from one of the most revered classic monsters in our history, may be an immediate turn off for many traditionalists, but the film does right by the savagery gore, the minatory threat that lingers in every scene, and that no one is immune from danger. LD Entertainment is set to release “The Cursed” this Friday, February 18th, in theaters. Since this was a digital screener, the audio and video will not be covered. No bonus mater or extra scenes during or after the credits were provided. Sean Ellis provides that creepy fog-laden and dense folky aesthetic of barnyard chic while still conditioning an upscale appearance of a beautifully crafted production from a native French crew of productions designers in Thierry Zemmour and Pascal de Guellec as well as costume designer Madeline Fountaine. “The Cursed” starts strong with visceral intent to be novel by offering callous over civility, a dysmorphic werewolf, and a new set of blingy chompers fit for Lil’ Wayne, but gaps riddle unignorable holes into the story and its characters that ultimately becomes the silver bullet obliterating the beastly nature this new breed of wolf desperately needed to survive unscathed.

Bestiality. Borowczyk Pushes the Boundaries with EVIL Themes. “The Beast” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Umbrella Entertainment)

“The Beast” Available on Umbrella Entertainment’s Beyond Genre label at Amazom.com

Marquis Pierre de l’Esperance, a French lord on the brink of financial ruin, is able to swing a deal before the death of the well-off English tycoon Philip Broadhurst. Under the conditions of Broadhurst’s will, his daughter Lucy must marry I’Esperance’s introverted, and equestrian obsessed son within six months after his death. Lucy, and her aunt Virginia, travel deep into the French forest to the deteriorating chateau to do a first ever meet and greet between the two soon-to-be married. Marred by centuries old local legend of a lustful beast who sexually defiled the Lady of the estate’s family lineage, I’Esperance aims to restore order by marrying into fortune and leave old cockamamie tales behind him. Yet, Lucy can’t shake vivid and stimulatingly graphic dreams of the romping woman and beast, leading to speculation whether the legends are true or not?

Certain types of filmmakers push the limits and exude their provocative talents to blur the lines between arthouse cinema and pornography. Those same filmmakers would argue that arthouse cinema and porn are, in fact, nearly one in the same if complimented with an intriguing story full of subversive subtext sure to outrage the status quo. Walerian Borowcyzk is one of those auteur artists basking in the absurdity and the arousing aspects of his films. The Polish writer and director wrote and helmed “The Beast,” aka “La Bête,” a one-part sex-comedy and one-part fantastical horror that is one-whole bizarre beyond our wildest dreams. “The Beast” was once considered to be a part of Borowcyzk’s short film collection of erotic stories known as “Immoral Tales;” however, the short film shot was scrapped from the project and then reimplemented into a full-length feature with outer rim narrative built around it’s very thematical essences of bestiality and the corruption of man due to woman’s virtue, the latter inspired by the French novella “Lokis” by Prosper Mérimée. The France originated film was produced by Anatole Dauman under the French studio, Argos Films, which produced much of Borowyczk’s work.

“The Beast’s” ensemble cast play intrinsic notes toward the fullest extent of the narrative’s shell machination as well as the saturation of eroticism from the grifting lord l’Esperance to the chateau’s only manservant, who when not answering his Lord’s beck and call, is fooling around secretively and lustfully with I’Esperance’s daughter. Veteran actor Guy Tréjan unearths the very ill-humored presence of a struggling lord seeking to reclaim fortune and glory to his estate and family. Most of the time, we feel sympathy for I’Esperance’s inability to catch a break, but on the deeper, darker scope, I’Esperance hides many truths, keeps many secrets, and even black mails his uncle, Duc Rammendelo de Balo, played by legendary actor Marcel Dalio (“Super Witch of Love Island”), making the lord a villain of his own haphazard design. I’Esperance’s nitwit and reclusive son Mathurin is played by Pierre Benedetti, who has worked with Borowcyzk later his career in “Immoral Woman.” Not much of Benedetti is profoundly showcased, leaving much of Mathurin in the dark despite being a principle figure in the plot as the husband-to-be for the aspiring romantic Lucy Broadhurst from “Le diaboliche’s” Lisbeth Hummel. Hummel, along with 1995 “Castle Freak’s” Elisabeth Kaza as Lucy’s aunt Virginia, are supposed to be affluent English women travelling to France in order to settle future marital affairs with the I’Esperances, but Hummel and Kaza have such thick accents that no matter how proper their English may be, there’s still present the French and Hungarian elocutions in their English dialogue. Hummel does capture Lucy’s free-spirited, free-form sexuality so inclined by Borowcyzk as the director envisions her as the clairvoyant trigger that unsheathes an age-old curse to light, but Hummel is not the only participant in “The Beast’s” amativeness with Hassane Fall, Pascale Rivault, Julien Hanany, and sex-symbol Sirpa Lane (“Nazi Love Camp 27,” “Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals”) paving a more perverse course with illicit affairs, object sexuality, and, of course, bestiality. Though none of these aspects were more than disturbing in comparison to Roland Armontel’s version of a local priest setting an uncomfortably affectionate dynamic with two of his alter boys that Borowyczk focused and lingered on when the chief characters have left the scene.

Trying to understand Walerian Borowyczk’s “The Beast” is akin to trying to understand the wanton complexities of the human psyche. In all its whirlwind of implications, “The Beast” is heavily and artfully abstract in a non-abstaining manner as sultry desires, no matter how forbidden, are the superior playthings utilized for Borowyczk’s totality of storytelling. The uber-sexual graphic tale invests little into the imagination with vivid imagery of genitalia in all shapes and sizes in organic and mythical forms. Yes, there is a lengthy opening scene of horse copulation with emphasis on each of the bulbous male and female’s sexual organs. Yes, there is also a satirical creature chase that transforms into a frolicking romp between a human woman and a dog-bear creature with a miniature representation of an erect horse member ejaculating like a geyser without an end. The excessive vehemence towards sex is Borowyczk’s gift to the audience toward feeling a flurry of mixed emotions from being a little bit peed, to a little bit put off, to even a little bit strangely turned on all in one sitting. Though sex is unusually celebrated in “The Beast,” the beast itself is also the representation of perversion, an animalistic and libidinous savage horndog lusting after the chastity of virgin women that’s allegoric to spoiled bloodlines and cursed households in a path of ruinous destruction, especially in the downfall of a crumbling aristocracy. Borowyczk injects and interjects comedy to lighten the socially disturbing atmospherics of paraphilia and the social consequences that follow.

As part of their Worlds on Film:  Beyond Genres banner, Umbrella Entertainment releases Walerian Borowczk’s “The Beast” as volume #13 on a region free, 2K scanned Blu-ray in full 1080p High Definition.  Presented in the original aspect ratio of what once was the European theatrical standard widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the 35mm transfer provides a relatively clean viewing free of aging and blemishes albeit the innate agreement of healthy amount of grain that comes standard with celluloid film stock.  While color grading definitely looks non-existent in the release, a once over would have sharpened the image immensely from the slightly flat and natural color scheme.  The tri-lingual French, English, and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is a compressed version from the 2015 Arrow Film’s Blu-ray release with an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio.  Virtually no difference in the lossless audio with also no difference in the synchronizing between visual and audio elements.  Dialogue runs smooth and clear with little-to-no hissing or pops and the same can be said about the more than adequate ambient track, the lively French Harpsichord piano soundtrack, and even the outlandish foley of beast sounds through the limited parameters of the two channeled output.  Special features pale in comparison to previous Blu releases, but are none-the-less impressive including 16mm behind-the-scenes, archival documentary footage in the making of “The Beast,” an introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw, a featurette of Borowczyk’s beast sketches, letter of confidence to the producer, and a treatment to a potential sequel that never materialized The Frenzy of Ecstasy, an philosophical interview with the director Walerian Borowczyk, the director’s biography, a still gallery, and theatrical trailer.  Illustrator Simon Sherry designs new and exquisite cover art for the cardboard slipcover and snapcase cover that perfectly represents the tone of the story.  The cover art is also reversible with Hispanic poster art and praising critic reviews and quotes.  The release is certified R18+ for high level sexual themes and sex scenarios. “The Beast” is an upfront, artful, and confrontational film about bestiality and sexual corruption bred to challenge the formulaic narrative with a call of unbridled seduction and a flamboyant flare for a firm erect furry.

“The Beast” Available on Umbrella Entertainment’s Beyond Genre label at Amazom.com

When Marriage Sours, EVIL From Within Manifests. “Possession” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

After his return from a lengthy time abroad, Mark finds himself in a contentious and spiteful relationship with his skittish wife Anna unveils her infidelity.  Unable to pry any kind of information from her before her sudden disappearance, Mark results to all the stages of grief and heartache:  denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.   Anna comes-and-goes from Mark and their son’s life, but their spats continue, increasing in anger and violence which each encounter.  Mark hires private investigators to track down Anna’s whereabouts.  He evens confronts her flamboyant and Zen-mastering lover.  But when Mark comes face-to-face with Anna’s sinister secret, a sub rosa affair unlike anything Mark has ever seen, he will go to unimaginable lengths to protect the wife he obsessively loves. 

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession” spans over a number of parallels that, in abstract theory, reflect social political matters of a post-war, Berlin wall divided Germany and the personal matters of Zulawski as a mirror of his ugly and bitter divorce from actress Malgorzata Braunek.  The 1981, Berlin shot, inimitable horror is a speeding melodramatic bullet train racing down a tracklayer of surreal rails and planks, ripping toward destruction with two turbulent people who about to slam, engine first, into an unforeseen mountain façade of towering despondency. That unforeseen mountain takes form from the tug-a-war of within, materializing duplicity, in every sense of the word, unnaturally. Frederic Tuten cowrote the emotionally florid and easily post-grad thesis dissecting film with Zulawski that was French mounted by Gaumont Film Company under producer Marie-Laure Reyre. Two other French companies, Oliane Productions and Soma Films, co-produced.

Watching Mark (“Jurassic Park” and “Event Horizon’s” Sam Neill), and Anna (“The Tenant” and “Diabolique’s” Isabelle Adjani) go at each other’s throat in a vicious cycle of matrimony madness can be in itself, maddening. Neill and Adjani radiate such loathing and desperation that’s seeing the two interact could possibly ignite World War III right there in the heart of Germany. What makes the contentious and hyperventilating scenes more interesting and alluring are the actors’ stage-like, full of hyperbolic melodrama, performances that somehow don’t quite register as the feisty interactions playout in what can only be concluded being pinpoint precision. Even Heinrich (“A Young Emmanuelle’s” Heinz Bennent”) is blatantly over-the-top with erratically wild movements of his body during scenes of emotional and physical struggle. Zulawski and “Possession” embraces the international cast with individual methodology on acting from Britain, France, Germany, and with even Zulawski who’s Polish and though you know the film is set in a divided Berlin between East and West Germany, there’s never this sense that “Possession” is strictly locked down to be anything but German. Aside from the Berlin Wall and some signage, maybe even the architecture, the multinational cast thins out the inklings of thinking, “oh yeah, this is filed in Germany!” “Possession” cast concludes with Margit Carstensen, Shaun Lawton, Johanna Hofner, Michael Hogben and Carl Duering.

Being that this was my second sit down with Andrzej Zulaski’s “Possession,” the first being Second Sight Films’ DVD release over 10 years ago, you begin to fathom the pattern of surrealism Zulaski aims to bombard viewers with through incessant bickering and an unspoken love-and-hate undertone. The doppelganger theory that’s attached itself to “Possession” from over the years warrants merit because those in a relationship on the precipice of implosion always wish the other person to be a better version of themselves, of who they want them to be, or of who they fell in love with in the first place. One can’t go deep into the doppelganger theory without totally exposing all of “Possession’s” secrets, surreal or not, and that infestation of preference takes shape for Zulaski as, ironically enough, a shapeless creature. The desire is tremendously powerful for Anna she can’t avoid being away from it for long stretches of a time, popping in to her and Mark’s old apartment for just enough time to have Mark stir the pot with his own manifested infernal creature, himself. Anna, an extremely passive woman, rarely confronts Mark about her infidelity and is always Mark who has to extract that information with every tooth and nail. “Possession” will forever be hailed a film that can analyzed over and over again without ever finding a concrete interpretation and, you know what, we can live with that.

As I said, last time “Possession” was visited by these aging eyes was over a decade ago on a UK DVD. Now, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with a new Blu-ray release from Australia. Umbrella Entertainment, in conjunction with The Film Institute (TFI) Films Production, releases a single disc, full 1080p Blu-ray, registered as their volume #11 on the spine, as part of the banner’s Beyond Genres collection. Presented in European widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this “Possession” release has a giant leap of negative exposure in comparison to Second Sight’s DVD, retreating away from a more natural and textural palpable transfer, full of detail and good amount of grain, to a blue-tinged headscratcher with a higher contrast that renders details and shadows nearly wiped out. The transfer is also conveyed with slight damage seen in approx. minute 14 with a vertical scratch and some image destabilization that makes discernability dematerialize right before your eyes near minute 44 and 57. The English language DTS-HD 2.0 master audio renders better with cleaner tracks seeing little-to-none hissing or static. The dialogue’s apparent and unobstructed thought slightly isolating without much depth. Despite some limited capacity with the dual channels, “Possession’s” more adrenalized scenes/ranges – i.e., speeding car flip, shoot outs, apartment explosion – sound effective and robust. Special features include an archival audio commentary with director Andrzej Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, an archival interview with the late Zulawski The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession from 2011, a U.S. Cut of the film with a following featurette Repossessed, a location featurette A Divided City, the musical compositions in an interview with composer Andrej Korzynski The Sounds of Possession, an interview with producer Christian Ferry Our Friend in the West, a poster analysis, and the international and U.S. theatrical trailer. What’s presented by Umbrella is the fully uncut 123-minute version in a region B-code format though, weirdly enough, rated 18. Another weird note about the release is the back cover credits are displayed in French on the cardboard slipcover housing the reversible DVD artwork featuring a new illustrated snapcase cover art by Simon Sherry. I’m a clear fan of “Possession’s” clear ambiguity despite being not sure positive about the new Blu-ray release. Zulawski’s tale of corrosive dissolving of wedlock definitely fits the Beyond Genres banner and is a fine edition to Umbrella’s celebratory bank of classic horror.


Possess Your Own Copy of Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray Release of “Possession” Today!

Second Lesson of Evil by Knowing Your ABCs! “The ABCs of Death 2” review!

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Ready for the second round of ABCs of death? Twenty-six new directors sign, seal, and deliver twenty-six new stories about death and breathe a whole new life into this highly anticipated sequel to the highly popular 2012 anthology. The ABCs of Death 2 attempts to be callous, sick, and offers up more blood and gore than it’s predecessor while the ABCs are very elementary, its the death part that makes then alphabet more complicated.
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When one glances the cover and see thats familiar figure of the death eating Grim Reaper holding a story book, one who knew nothing about the anthology would consider The ABCs of the Death to be strictly a horror genre, short story telling series in the same ballpark as “Creepshow,” which ironically enough has a similar, yet cartoony, ghastly Grim Reaper on it’s sophomore sequel DVD cover. That assumption is significantly mistaken. The Grim Reaper is all about the death in every sense of the way and “The ABCs of Death” productions resemble more of the controversial and ultra-violent “Faces of Death” series. If you scour the internet, or just have the entire collection, many of the VHS and DVD editions have a similar Grim Reaper, but again more cartoonish. The content though is all about death gathering home recordings of unspeakable acts of death from suicide, murders, and to accidentals just to name a few.
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Yes, there are fantastic horror elements to “The ABCs of the Death” as well making this hybrid of an anthology that more entertaining, but the sequel relies a lot on the human element. The nature of man is cruel and vicious and most of the 26 films are based on this true to form fact. For example, “C is for Capital Punishment” by director Julian Barratt tells the story of a lynch mob trying to justify the disappearance of a village girl, Aharon Keshales “F is for Falling” involves the tautness of a rifle-toting Palestinian boy who discovers a Israeli fighter dangling from her parachute chords stuck in a tree, or Vincenzio Natali’s “U is for Utopia” in where a society made up of thin, good looking people living their lives while the ugly people are hunted down and burned alive.
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What I also like about “The ABCs of Death” is the various culturally inspired films. There are directors from all over the glob spanning from Japan, England, France, Argentina and Nigeria just to name a few and all of who incorporate their own culture and style in the mixture. Some introduced comedy while others took a stylish-serious route and others just wanted to scare the pants off you. The couple animated shorts weren’t as rememberable as in the first anthology, but certain “D is for Deloused” by Robert Morgan will at least make you have underlining nightmares.
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Some of the more memorable shorts stood out over all the rest. One in particular was Steven Kostanski’s “W is for Wish” which took a late 80’s to early 90’s take on a fantasy toy commercial where two children wished to be a part of and then actually went into the world where it was like nothing they expected. In fact, carnage and chaos (and awkwardly weird and fantastic) was the maelstrom these kids were thrusted into making their fantasy a real and deadly nightmare.
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Magnolia Home Entertainment scores big with the sequel to “The ABCs of Death” and I’m sure the company won’t stop at just two. Expect more great films from lesser known directors and more blood and guts than ever. In the meantime, pick up your copy of “The ABCs of Death 2” on DVD or Blu-ray because you never know when you might keel over and die!