EVIL Packaged Fresh, Never Frozen. “Raw” reviewed! (Second Sight / Blu-ray)

Brought up on a strict vegetarian diet by her parents, Justine became conscious that one swallow of meat down her gullet might start a chain reaction of life-threatening allergies. Her legacy acceptance into the prestigious Saint-Exupéry Veterinary School would have a set of challenges toward retaining that diet but her older sister, Alexia, who is still studying at the school and is also a vegetarian, would protect her from the intense hazing brought down upon the freshman class. When it turns out that Alexia gave into the temptations of peer pressure and egged her own to digest meat in a hazing ritual, Justine learns that her sister’s shielding won’t stand up against the forces of elder student pranks. From then on, a primordial animalistic behavior slowly transforms Justine from a quiet, awkward, and studious teenage girl into a party animal, an explorer of sexual awakening, and a herbivore whose slipping from her regime. Justine’s craving for raw meat digs deeper into the bone as the overwhelming need to consume human flesh spirals her down into an uncontrollable descent, turning the school’s exuberant hazing knaveries all the more dangerous.

Having been a meat eater all my life, the transition to vegetarian would be a hard-fought war that would likely shed years off my life just as much as eating a thick, juicy cut of a steak seasoned to perfection and medium cooked. After all, the human race is born with tapered canines that rip through the tough flesh and meat first and then pass along the now tendered feed to our molars, our mashers, that would handle the soft, chewy substance for an easy ride down toward our stomach. “Raw” takes that approach one step further, or maybe two or three steps further, by coupling the sudden discourse from meatless to meaty meals that expands into cannibalism with a coming of age and finding one’s place in life story that can be relatable to us all. The French film is written-and-directed by Julia Ducournau, who reprised herself with another body horror sensation with last year’s acclaimed “Titane,” and was shot at an actual veterinary school in Belgium, the University of Liège. Originally titled “Grave” before being upgraded to “Raw,” the film is a production from a conglomeration of studio labels, including the first horror production for Petit Film. Rouge International (“Murder Me, Monster”), Frakas Productions (“Sea Fever”), Ezekiel Film Production and Wild Bunch (“Martyr”) serve as a few of the film’s other coproduction companies with Jean des Forêts, Julie Gayet, Jean-Yves Roubin, Nadia Turincev, and Cassandre Warnauts as producers.

“Raw” is not your typical girl journeying through the trials and tribulations of normal self-discovery.  For this, you need not your typical girl to play centric character Justine.  Enters 16-17 year-old Garance Marillier, the Paris-born actress with an established bond on and off screen with director Julia Ducournau having debut her acting in Ducournau’s 2011 short film “Junior” as a tomboy going through a strange corporeal transformation.  Fun fact:  Marillier has been cast as a different Justine in all three of her collaborations with Julia Ducournau – “Junior,” “Raw,” and “Titane” since 2011.  Marillier soaks into “Raw’s” Justine with not only a transcending behavior pattern performance that takes the freshman from stifled to uninhibited, but the young actress also overhauls a complete body language transformation that sheds Justine’s meek skin, literally displayed on screen, for a more confident and abrasive veneer.  Ella Rumpf (“Tiger Girl”) receives Justine’s inexperienced blossom-hood with an the older, already initiated, sibling having been fostered by rambunctious peers to break the sheltering chains her parents had shackled with and just like true to life sisters, there’s contention.  The vehemence venom between them when they’re on bad terms on screen can stop one’s breath, you can hear a pin drop, yet you still understand their sisterly connection and love no matter how messed up a situation might be, especially when involving boys, such as the pansexual fluidity of Justine’s freshman roommate Adrien, played by Rabah Nait Oufella.  “Raw” rounds out the small cast surrounded by a slew of extras with Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss as mom and dad.

Julia Ducournau has the body horror genre down to the molecular level.  It’s as if the filmmaker studied every film and playbook of David Cronenberg just from researching her various work credits that target to restructure and regress the human condition into something far worse and watching “Raw” unravel a symbiotic relationship between natural and unnatural human development blurs that line of what is considered to be normal so disturbingly good.  Exteriorly, we notice the changes and can almost set a clock to way our bodies react and change over time, biologically and socially, within the context of our environment.  Internally, a whole unexplored set of conditions apply to the unpredictable mindset of transfiguration and that’s where Justine paves an unfounded roadmap for her sudden kick from being a veggie lover to a flesh craver. “Raw’s” undoubtedly an allegory of a young girl’s pubescence and coming of age into her own from, essentially, being on her own exploring her sexuality and exploring new interests as is such with going into university. Ducournau casually strolls through Justine’s drama and tension as much of the body horror overwhelms our morbid curiosity but her angsty complications, still very much underlined even being overshadows, retain a constant line of parallelism in a symbolic reality. Delicate touches of indelicate gore really spice up “Raw’s” entrenching story not for the faint of heart as well as vegetarians.

Hot off the heels of their now out of print limited edition release of “Raw,” Second Sight Films offers a second, standard release on Blu-ray home video. The UK label offers a single disc packaged, region B encoded, BD-50 of a 1080p, high-definition, 2.40:1 aspect ratio presentation, listed at running an average frame bitrate of ~24Mbps. Highly accurate on its bitrate average, the image is well diverse in discerning details without an ambiguous scene or spot in sight. The color often feels muted, dreary, like one long continuous overclouded day that presents an everlasting feeling of dismay. Yet, that isn’t all cinematographer Ruben Impens has to offer with arthouse framing of disturbing imagery and an opening freshman party scene that takes us through the cramp pockets of sweaty, half-naked partygoers in one lengthy, single shot that expels just about everything Justine will face at her time in veterinary school. The French DTS-HD 5.1 master audio superbly distributes the audio tracks with just right levels to accommodate each scene. If there’s a noisy, bass blaring party, the score rightly takes over and the dialogue takes a muted backseat but still clear and intelligible – or so I believe since I don’t understand French, but I can make out the syllables and inflections. Otherwise, dialogue is king and clear alongside an eclectic soundtrack of English indie rock and experimental tracks as well as Jim Williams guitar and industrial synth trek across that’s beautiful and, simultaneously, disconcerting disharmonic. If you missed out on the limited edition, don’t bite yourself as the standard edition as plenty of extra features, including an interview with actress Garance Marillier The Girl Can’t Help It, an interview with producer Jean des Forêts Making Ends Meat, an audio commentary by film critic Alexander West, an audio commentary with director Julia Ducournau and critic Emma Westwood, an interview with Ducournau A Family Affair, the featurette Raw A Votre Gout with Ducournau and Emma Westwood, a conversation between Ducournau and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas Quick Bites, a genre matters panel discussion, an Australian premier introduction and post screen Q&A with Ducournau and Kier-La Janise, and a handful of deleted scenes. The film runs at 99 minutes, comes with well synced English subtitles, and is certified 18 for strong gory images and injury detail. Taste “Raw’s” unseasoned, unadulterated, pure and simple line of hidden truths and manifesting urges that once crossed there’s no turning back as the person you once were, is no longer akin to an impossible burger but a fully tendered hunk of mouthwatering meat freshly cut and ready to sink your teeth into.

A Mushroom Cloud of DNA Altering EVIL Proportions! “Mutant Blast” reviewed! (Troma / Blu-ray)

“Mutant Blast” is a BLAST!  Now available at Amazon.com

A top-secret military unit conducts human experiments to create the perfect super-soldier. Their illegal and amoral work has proven more difficult than desired with only one subject, TS-347, being deemed functional and fit for dutiful purpose. Maria, operating incognito with an adversarial paramilitary group, infiltrates the cell section where TS-347 is being held to either purloin the property or destroy it in order to not have the DNA be replicated. There’s only one problem – the failed superhuman experimental trials that transformed people into flesh-eating zombies have escaped confinement to begin the apocalypse. Barely escaping with their lives, Maria and TS-347 run into Pedro, a simple, low ambitious man with no clue to what is happening after awaking from a party-induced hangover. Together, they trek to the ocean for safety, but multiple nuclear bombs send their journey into a tailspin of mutant hostiles along their path.

A nuclear orgasm within every minute, the Portugal-made post-apocalyptic comedy-adventure-horror “Mutant Blast” is crazy fun and certifiably crazy. Produced in 2014 but not released until 2018, the Fernando Alle written-and-directed debut radioactive-to-rendezvous through a zombie infested and freakshow continent leaves no stone unturned with an unbridled and practical effects-laden story that’s reminiscent of early 90’s splatter-comedies. Being one of the select more recent films to be actually produced instead of distributed by Troma Films (“The Toxic Avenger,” “The Class of Nuk’Em High”), “Mutant Blast” doesn’t have to work too hard to be granted passage into Tromaville’s sophisticated affinity catalogue. Troma’s masterminds Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman, who has a zombified bit part in the film, coproduce “Mutant Blast” alongside Alle and Matt Manjouridas, executive producer of Shudder’s “The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, also financially supports Alle’s film that should one day, hopefully, be on the docket for Joe Bob Briggs to introduce its rat-fu, seafood-fu, and titty-shot-fu to the rest of the horror fanbase.

Living her best imitation of Ellen Ripley with a shaved dome from “Alien 3” is Maria Leite as the infiltrating noble cause soldier aiming to stop the experimental creation of human super soldiers by any means necessary.  Leite makes looking like a badass action hero pretty convincing and her comedic timing is wonderfully contrasted with Pedro, “Blarghaaahrgarg’s” Pedro Barão Dias in his introductory role into feature films, as a lighthearted and bewildered man strikingly outside his element and out classed what’s about to face him.  If you haven’t noticed, the characters names don’t stray far from the actor’s and that makes the chemistry a little easier, especially on “Mutant Blast’s” ambitious post-apocalypse and kooky freakshow façade.  Dias has the charming qualities of a gleefully lost puppy in a world that has everything trying to kill his character Pedro where previously the carefree partying fool was left alone, if not also insignificantly thought of, to his own devices.  If hitting the notes on the “Alien” franchise notes a part of the Fernando Alle’s must-have adulation check list then “The Terminator” is another box the filmmaker sought to check off as well with the TS-347 cyborg-ish super solider played by the then nearly 50-year-old professional bodybuilder Joaquim Guerreiro doing double duty as also the evil counterpart TS-504, splitting his obvious presence except with a prosthetic mask, makeup, and way more clothing overtop his shirtless glistening pectorals and deltas.  Their odyssey to the ocean has them cross paths with other survivors, sprouting various fission bomb mutated genes as if seeds were sowed in their skin.  Mário Oliveira, Hugo Cássimo, Andreia Brito, Joao Gualdino, Pedro Caseiro, Mauro Herminio, Francisco Alfonso Lopes, Basco Ferreira, Paulo Alexandre Firmino, and João Vilas fill the colorful shoes playing one, or sometimes multiple, mutants.

If you like gooey and explosive foot-to-head smashes, then “Mutant Blast” is for you.  If you like single punch decapitations, then “Mutant Blast” is for you.  If you like baby rat hands, third ear growths, melted faces, horn protrusions, zombie head backpacks, giant rats squirting highly acidic teat milk, Dolphinman versus a French speaking Lobster man, then “Mutant Blast” is definitively in your very best interest. Past all that juvenile jazz that, if done right like Alle did it, transforms a lobotomizing spectacle into a complete cherry of cinema, underneath the liberating layers of free, self-made movies, lies a subtle message weaved into the very fabric of “Mutant Blast’s” nuclear core story. Alle’s undoubted wants audiences to take away from his film not only riotous laughter and an appreciation for tangible gore effects but also to take away a sense of how we, people of Earth, seek to self-destruct. Life is precious yet experiments turn into crazed maniacs, we nuke ourselves in an ironic act of fighting fire with fire in cleaning up our messes, and with the lobster who turned into man names Jean-Pierre, wears a suit, speaks French, and hates “motherfucking” dolphins delivers a monologue served up on a platter of overfishing, environmental indifference and destruction, and a general apathy overview for life in general conceptualizes as the vertex of the Alle’s entire theme before the one-on-one with the James Gunn created Dolphinman who makes a very special appearance.

Troma’s newly upgraded, upscaled, and likely high on uppers release of “Mutant Blast” is not available on a director’s cut Blu-ray that wouldn’t be complete or official with a Lloyd Kaufman introduction from the COVID bunker. Released in high definition 1080p, the region free, 2-disc, AVC encoded Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an 83-minute runtime. I’m genuinely impressed by the compression of this Troma release as the image quality looks quite good with little-to-no compression afflictions in the digital video, displaying an above par codec in the ballpark of 24-26 megabytes. Granted, “Mutant Blast” isn’t perfect with signal aliasing infractions, but the overall image stands out amongst the catalogue as one of the best from Tromaville. Offering two dual audio options – a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a LPCM 2.0 stereo track – you’ll get to enjoy every squish, squash, and squirt on the effects track to compliment to head bashing assaults. The Portuguese and French language dialogue tracks render no issues with clarity and the English subtitles keep things smooth and easy with ample timing and errorfree. There are a slew of dubbed languages including English, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and, if you want to be precise, Brazilian Portuguese. Troma also offers up some fantoxically futuristic extras with a making of featurette Lobsterman Caws, the giant rat pre-production test, a doc about “Mutant Blast” heading to Korea over a three-day coverage span, Portugual audiences’ reactions to “Mutant Blast,” the film’s special effects, blooper reel, bottlecap challenge, the original theatrical trailer, international trailer, 30 second trailer, and see how Lloyd Kaufman transformed into a flesh-eating Portuguese zombie. In the gloriously objectionable essence of all that makes Troma Troma, “Mutant Blast” is textbook Troma, a modern new face for the company, and is radiantly glowing from the same toxic waste that gave birth to the beloved Toxie.

“Mutant Blast” is a BLAST!  Now available at Amazon.com

A Snapshot Celebration, Averting the EVILs of Typecasting, for the Iconic Actress “Sylvia Kristel: The 1970s Collection” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Sylvia Kristel.  A name that is synonymous to eroticism.  Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen.   In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.

“Playing With Fire”

In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid.  Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety.  The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession.  Or is it her who possesses him? 

Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.”  A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions.  Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative.  Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves:  Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations.  His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader.  Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective.  The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person.  Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline.  Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.

Pastorale 1943

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen.  When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son.  Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”).  Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978.  Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.

“Mysteries”

After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred.  Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure.  As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.

Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company.  Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer.  The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen.  The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig.  Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town.  None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence.  “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder.  Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion.  “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.

“Julia”

Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house.  While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose.  Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex.  Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.

On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.

Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

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

Classy Brothel Girls Bring Dirty EVIL Secrets to “Madame Claude” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

A high end Paris brothel ran by the influential Madame Claude sends the most beautiful and sophistical women to wealthy and powerful dignitaries all over the world to satisfy their most sexual desires.  Her lucrative business becomes a governmental target seeking to collect back taxes on the illicit business.  However, the French government is the least of her worries when a playboy-aspiring rake and amateur photographer snaps photos of Madame Claude’s clients in compromising situations that can be ruinous to their status.  The CIA becomes involved when unscrupulous business dealings involving an American and Japanese companies connect to Madame Claude and her potentially persuasive young women after rumored photographs put the Madame Claude in the middle.  Two governments, big businesses, a jet setting brothel, wealthy socialites and a nosy photographer become involved in lies, secrets, and the potential for murder.

Part biography, part fiction, “Madame Claude,” also known as “The French Girl,” is the 1977 released erotic and political thriller based off the real Madame Claude, Fernande Grudet, as her life of prostitution management and scrutiny unfolded before the public eyes in the mid 1970’s.  Erotically and elegantly sexy with gorgeous women groomed into lust and ensnared into the lion’s den of exchanging powers, “Madame Claude” became the third film from the immensely successful erotic French director, Just Jaeckin, following 1974’s “Emmanuelle” and 1975’s “The Story of O.”  Jaeckin, pressured by his financiers to continue his success in the highly sought eroticism, returns to the randy genre, but this time with a story to his liking, one that is embroiled in the background of a bribery scandal involving aerospace company, Lockheed, at the heart of it. From a script by crime-action writer André G. Brunelin, based off the book of memories of Madame Claude by Jacques Quiorez, Jaeckin splices visual elements of each story together to form not only an arousing sexual lamination but also a cloak-and-dagger tenser of a film. Shot primarily in Paris, with minor shoots in the Bahamas and Washington, D.C., especially the scenes on the faux White House, “Madame Claude” is a production of Orphée Arts of Paris with Claire Duval on as executive producer.

While the titular character is the obvious centerpiece, Jaeckin mingles the characters around each other in a game of espionage chess toward the endgame of checkmate. Keystone to everyone’s problems is Madame Claude, played by renowned French actress and early onscreen sex object, Françoise Fabian, who previously had roles in the paranormal pubescent horror, “Expulsion of the Devil,” a more comedy-friendly brothel film, “Holiday Hookers,” and among many other films predating 1977, but not until later in Fabian’s career did show rocket to success, playing older, more aligned, women that strongly championed feminism, such as portraying “Madame Claude” who used sex as a means to gain control and power of men, and pushed it to the brink of the era’s cinematic limits. “Horsehead’s’ Murray Head plays the photographer schmo, David Evans, making Madame Claude’s life complicated. An about town ladies man, Evans goes to each of Claude’s girls one-by-one and, for some reason or another, they invite the handsomely charming, but brutish, amateur porn photographer into their bedrooms, sleeping his way into blackmail scheme that will bring down the most powerful brothel head in all of Paris while also lining his pocket with not only money but power among the socialites who treat him like the village idiot. Head’s nails down the fast-and-loose aspect of Evan’s personality that treats his stratagem like a game he’s already won, but when the government agencies come knocking on doors, Head about faces Evan’s waggish incompetence to a frightened man looking around every corner for danger. It’s wonderful to see Head interact with Klaus Kinski (“Nosferatu the Vampire”) and Marc Michel as a ridiculed subordinate in an examination of social status as Kinski and Michel flaunt expensive taste and lavish orgies in lieu of decency, but it’s Murray Head, playing the fool with cemented proof that would put all them of into shame, as the aspirer to their life of luxuries. The beautiful Dayle Haddon (“Cyborg”), Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron (“Spermula”), and Ylva Setterborg stun in just a handful of the very elegant, and very naked, women acting as Madame Claude’s international bound employees. Other cast of characters in “Madame Claude’s” game of lies and spies include Robert Webber (“Death Steps in the Dark”), Jean Gaven (“The Story of O”), François Perrot, André Falcon, and Maurice Renot.

Following his films “Emmanuelle” and “The Story of O,” Jaeckin’s “Madame Claude” strays into an atypical kind of formulaic eroticism downplaying the sexual excursions and discoveries for a more typical crime drama affair. Jaeckin’s directorial abilities can take you on an exotic tour around the world and onto the fleshy planes of some of the most gorgeous and provocative women to ever grace the screen. Yet, “Madame Claude” trims substantially the skin with a more precise execution to be more of an oil lubricating the machine rather than the gear that actually operates the mechanism to entail sex as a misused tool for motivation and bribery. These scenes of fleeting eroticism outright shine Just Jaeckin’s proclivities with mirrored reflections and becoming lost in the entanglement of sexually enflamed bodies and these scenes outright shine Jaeckin’s intent on delivering a corkscrew crime drama with double-dealings, wiretapping, and counterintelligence gathering as what unfolds isn’t clearly delineated between Madame Claude, David Evans, the French and U.S. Governments and the Lockheed scandal that actually becomes sidetracked at times by the infiltrated sex-training of Madame Claude business as the brothel head has to train an alternative misfit new girl and send her to the Bahamas work trip shortly after a quick one-night-stand initiation with one of the Madame’s trusted former beaus. We wholeheartedly become more intrigued and fascinated with Madame Claude’s feminist principles, recruiting subjugated women to use their sexuality to dominate and become wealthy in the process. In more than one scene, Madame Claude flaunts self-admiration in transforming star-crossed girls into young women fortune bound with their promiscuous ways. Madame Claude’s murky backstory caresses her complexities of anti-man without detail delving into the turning point catalyst that made her become who she became to be, an affluent Madame, other than a seemingly emotionally and controllably invalidating romantic experience with a long time friend and business companion, Pierre (Maurice Renot).

Cult Epics sustains another forgotten classic into a celebrated Blu-ray release with a new 4K HD transfer of “Madame Claude” from the original 35mm negative, supervised by the original cinematographer, Robert Fraisse. Housed on a BD50, the region free release maintains the impeccable coloring under Fraisse’s soft glow with no cropping or undue enhances that tries to put out fire with gasoline and, aside from a discolored yellow-greenish, translucent stripe, perhaps a loose film roll, during the opening scene, the image quality is clean and pleasing in it’s natural 35mm grain. The English and French language audio tracks come with three options: LPCM 2.0 mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The DTS-HD Master Audio had the highest marks, slightly topping Dolby Digital stereo with a little more gusto in the pipes. Audible dialogue is clean and forefront, but the engineered dubbing laid over Murray Head and, even, the self-dubbing of Dayle Haddon can be off-putting at times when actors’ voices seem to not be sharing the same vocal space with others on screen. French composer Serge Gainsbourg’s lounge, yé-yé score tuned into that erotic soufflé of light and airy pop music that can be often dreamy with singsongy female vocals, complimenting the softer, sexier side of Jaeckin’s film while also playing into period melodies of the 1970’s. Cult Epics always has down right with resurrecting obscure erotica for not only quality sake but also to arm the hell out of the releases with bonus material. Included with “Madame Claude” is an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey (author of the upcoming book entitled Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol), a high definition, Nico B. produced interview with director Just Jaeckin from 2020, the vintage French theatrical trailer, a promotional photo gallery, and Cult Epics previews. Not the most sensual film shot by the renowned maestro of venereal visuals, Just Jaeckin explores his versatility by acclimatizing familiarity with new horizons surrounding brothel delights with shadow games and the new 4K Blu-ray from Cult Epics is the one, and only, way to experience it all in “Madame Claude.”

Cult Epic’s “Madame Claude” on Blu-ray. Available at Amazon – click the poster!