Down in the relationship dumps, Carly and Rina struggle with sustaining the love between them. Carly recently dropped out of medical school to pursue a videography career, Rina, whose a battling bulimic, can’t secure a job, and, together, the financial strain and their respective personal issues is pushing them apart as they indolently work toward a seemingly futile plan for the future in a rundown motel recently purchased by a college friend named Wyatt. As if things can’t get any worse, an infectious pandemic turns the diseased into flesh hungry zombies and has quickly engulfed their area shortly after devouring Europe before anyone knew what hit them. With all communications down and surrounded by the infected, Carly and Rina rely on each other for survival, armed with only a couple of handheld cameras and a knife, but one Rina becomes sick, how far will Carly go to save the love of her life.
Love and zombies. Never has there been a more catalytic experience when the fate of an undead ravaged Earth becomes the tinder box for rekindling affection of a broken relationship. That’s the surmised premise of Michael Souder’s director debut, a found footage horror entitled “By Day’s End,” released onto DVD by the Philadelphian home video distributor, Breaking Glass Pictures. The LGBTQ aware zombie horror is based on Souder’s short marketing preview entitled “Hunger” that involved a man and woman couple rather than two women and was set at a motel site with Souder acting as narrator in explaining his vision. While “Hunger’s” financials didn’t gain footing through crowdfunding, Sounder was able rework his vision that incorporates a different breed of zombie that can learn at a rapid pace, shot his film in 2015, and finally hitting the retail markets in 2020. Sci-Fi-fantasy writer, Justin Calen-Chenn, co-writes the script with Sounder and serves as co-producer with the director along with another co-producer, Alicia Marie Agramonte, in her first feature produced production. Joe Wasem serves as executive producer for this complicated love story in the midst of a zombie Armageddon.
The rocky romance between Carly and Rina land praise for Lyndsey Lantz (“Lore”) and Andrea Nelson (“I Spit On Your Grave: Déjà vu”) in being a convincing complex couple with tons of baggage including relationship singeing secrets from one another and an underlying passion that has grown a little stale from a future strained of financial collapse. The chemistry between the blonde haired Carly and the dark browned Rina sizzles with tension that steams like when hot water hits a freezing cold surface. Lantz provides Carly’s bubbly optimism of a woman in love that finds climbing Rina’s colossally icy barrier a frustrating feat despite an immense amount of devout love and loyalism for her partner. The one character that isn’t very convincing is the former military turned motel host Wyatt Fremont played by Joshua Keller Katz. Katz’s rigid performance falls into the stereotype category of a bad script read, overplaying Wyatt’s previous life with a smug thinning effect on the whole zombie chaos and Wyatt sticking out of place like a giant sore thumb. Rounding out the cast is Diana Castrillion (“Godforsake”), Umberto Celisano (“First House on the Hill”), Devlin Wilder (“Grizzled”) and die-hard horror fixtures Maria Olsen (“Starry Eyes”) and Bill Oberst Jr. (“3 From Hell”) with the latter providing his voice only.
Rina’s unceasing eating disorder has staked a claim as one of the spurs affecting Carly and Rina’s declining relationship and, yet, when another eating disorder where mankind craves the taste of each other, the once quarreling lovers reignite the warmth that was once their bond in an amusing parallel of events. Character analogies are not the only nice touches provided by Souder who tweaks the zombie, extending upon George Romero’s evolutionary concept of a learning and pliant zombie while also creating a big world apocalyptic problem with small world capabilities, with the undead playing possum – how very “Resident Evil.” The 74 minute runtime offers ideal pace to not linger in exposition, which some horror love stories tend to do, balancing the backstory and the instantaneous chaos into a smooth transition of events. The camera POV style renders the same objective with also a bit of tranquility that’s like a calm before the storm rather, as some ambience is muted by security cameras. The effect results a frightening, breath holding silence which is a nice, eerie touch of cinematography and uncluttered audio.
“By Day’s End” is the motel mayhem zombie movie you’ve been hungry for and comes to you on a DVD home video being released March 17 courteously from Breaking Glass Pictures. The DVD9, region 1 release is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, that splices together handheld camera and security cam footage. The image quality respectively shares the diverse filming tactics used to interlace a story. Handheld footage features a bright, natural appeal whereas the security footage purposefully instills as ashen approach and softer, fuzzier details with the horizontal lines created by direct light The English language 2.0 stereo mix has clean and forefront dialogue; the creature gutturals cast a more over-the-top and tawdry vocal disappointment that wasn’t fear invoking. Ambient depth and range are sizable and balanced. Special features include a behind-the-scenes, a quaint blooper reel, and Souder’s short film “Hunger.” “By Day’s End” marks the first indie horror success story of a 2020 release with a delicately modeled blend of romance and horror and a surge of lasting captivation on both of those fronts.
NYU Philosophy doctoral hopeful, Kathleen Conklin, has a run-in with a woman on the night streets of New York City, attacking her into a secluded dark enclave, and biting her on the neck after Kathleen is unable to comply with the woman’s bizarre instructions of ordering her to go away. The incident instills fear into Kathleen that quickly turns to a painful vampirism transformation that involves aversion to sunlight, self-antipathy, and a craving for blood. She continues to her studies that evolve into a deeper analytical parallelism of her newly acquired immortality, the results of it, and the human aspect that’s affected by it while along the way, feeding and turning friends, colleagues, and strangers into her brood of own image. Kathleen happens upon Peina, a vampire like herself, that has claimed to conquer his own addiction to blood and can even mirror himself as human, such as eating normal food and jogging. The agonizing withdrawal with Peina drops a slither of a notion into Kathleen that her gargantuan thirst for blood will overdose her soul to pure evil and she has to come to terms with her immortal being on the life she wants to live.
Abel Ferrara’s “The Addiction” has such anti-Hollywood tenacity that the black and white aurora of the 1995 noir vampire film goes against the more conventional grain that is Ferrara’s body of work, but still maintains a healthy amount of the director’s trademarks and his dispositional motifs to give the feature enough claim to clearly become his imprint of a screw you onto the big money motion pictures. The “Driller Killer” and “Bad Lieutenant” director orchestrates a film from without the complications of a union, with producers breathing down his neck to do this or that, and on such a minuscule budget; the vampires here are not transforming in bats, their eyes do not glow in the dark, and they even don’t have jugular piercing canines. Nicholas St. John’s script was written to portray monsters as just people with a severe addiction this particular drug of choice – the blood. The symbolism is so potent that’s hardly symbolism as the main character literally injects a syringe full of blood into the crook of her arm to get a fix.
Ravished without hesitation, Lili Taylor seizes Kathleen Conklin as if Taylor herself was addicted to the character, overtaking the character to an enlightened savagery of an academic disciple on the cusp of achieving stress-inducing doctoral status. Through the studious muck and death of mankind’s prior carnage, the “The Haunting” star goes for the full throttle transformation in the blink of a bite and never blatantly displays the hesitation of her former mortal self until the tide turns to whether stay blood thirsty or to live with the embattlement of struggling addiction. Kathleen crosses paths with Peina whose been undertaken by a classic Walken, Christopher Walken that is, and the New York City born “Communion” star had a big year in horror as “The Prophecy” was released the same year – 1995. Though Peina is crucial to Kathleen’s ultimate survival, the character has little screen time and Walken nails the performance with credence and gusto as some sort of subversive mentor to the young vampire protégé. The cast rounds out with Edie Falco, Paul Calderon (“Fear the Walking Dead”), Fredro Starr, and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’s” Annabella Sciorra as Casanova, the female nightstalker who takes a bite out of Kathleen and initiates the carnage.
Ferrara’s choice for black and white isn’t all surprising. At the time, numerous notable directors were doing the very exact concept in the 1990s, examples being Steven Speilberg’s award winning “Schindler’s List” in 1993 and Tim Burton’s dark comedy biopic “Ed Wood” with Johnny Depp in 1994, but Ferrara had a conceptually aesthetic noir appearance that created distance between the rest and established a solid black and white film that renders being akin to, perhaps, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Not only did Ferrara’s film fit in the scheme of the 90’s fad, but extended “The Addiction’s” disturbing dramatic value and horror sensationalism in which color would have for sure diluted the story due in part to the pocket change budget. Taylor, Walken, and Sciorra very much believed in the project and that belief brought their characters to the formidable forefront to where a color picture didn’t really matter in the end.
Arrow Films presents “The Addiction” onto Blu-ray home video and is distributed by MVD Visual. The Blu-ray has been newly restored 4K scan of the original camera negative and approved by director Abel Ferrara and director of photography Ken Kelsch. The high definition 1080p widescreen, 1.85:1, picture has a clean palate and despite the lack of the color palette, the black and white has virtually little-to-no blotching or DNR, leaving a flawless image. The English 5.1 DTE-HD MA and 2.0 LPCM soundtracks, with optional English subtitles, is well-balanced, at least in the 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio. Dialogue in the forefront with a brooding and jarring score by composer Joe Delia has great distinction and range, but there’s a curious lack of ambiance that focuses more on direct action of characters. NYC should be booming with surrounding noise; yet the direction Ferrara takes with reduced ambiance is risky, but exquisitely done to add a more personal touch to Kathleen Conklin’s struggle. Bonus material includes an audio commentary by Abel Ferrara, moderated by critic and biographer Brad Stevens. There also includes a new documentary, entitled Talking with the Vampires, directed by Abel Ferrara that features new interviews with composer Joe Delia, Ken Kelsch, Christopher Walken, Lili Taylor, and Ferrara himself. A new interview with Abel Ferrera going into the background of the film’s construction and the era of filmmaking, a new appreciation by Brad Stevens, an achival piece from the time of production, original trailer, and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain. A supremely inclusive Blu-ray release by Arrow Films and MVD Visual of Abel Ferrara’s grittiest work of his gritty catalogue and the very spartan vampire film has an outlook of what future vampire films should aspire to with great beneficial expectations.
Special effects technician Dom joins a small cast on the scenic outskirts of Pittsburgh to work on a horror film with wealthy director Lacey Bickel at the helm. Filmmaker Bickel’s indifferent passion about obtaining the perfect shot for his movie puts Bickel at odds with the other cast and crew, rendering Lacey just another irregular and peculiar director attempting to show the general public his ultimate vision, but during one particularly odd behavioral moment, Dom was subjected to the exhibition of a presumably snuff film possibly directed by Bicket during a coke-filled round table discussion. Dom begins to suspect that the movie he’s laboring over isn’t the sole objective of Bickel’s, but stays quiet about his instincts and he forms a romantic relationship with Celeste, a gaffer whose worked with Bickel prior to, and the two resume their work on the film despite the being the oblivious subjects of a real snuff film.
In 1978, the Godfather of the modern zombie film, the late great George Romero, had an inner circle of friends conjure up their own funding for an idealistic, ahead of it’s time horror film entitled “Effects” with then newcomers and Pittsburgh natives Dusty Nelson at the helm, John Harrison producing and starring as the offbeat Lacey Bickel, and post-“Effects” “Day of the Dead” and “The Dark Half” editor, Pasquale Buba, as the other producer. Filming had wrapped with tons of positive public review potential to be the next big horror film of it’s time being produced out of Pittsburgh, but a major distribution complication had put the kibosh on any theatrical and home release run, leaving “Effects” to be shelved for nearly thirty years until 2007 when Synapse released the film on DVD. The snag resonates soundly with the group of filmmakers who are probably more than acquainted with their friend and colleague George Romero’s “Night of the Living” and the copyright problem. However, the American Genre Film Archive, or AGFA, began a kickstarter funding campaign to buy a 4K scanner to remaster cult and underground titles to Blu-ray and “Effects” became one of the first selected!
“Day of the Dead” star Joe Pilato stars as special effects technician Dom and Dom is a far cry from being his future role of the sadistic and stir crazy Captain Rhodes. Pilato brings a lot of peace and tranquility to his mild mannered, if not very gullible, character. Along side Pilato is another fellow “Dead” series star, Tom Savini, as portraying not his trade of a special effects tech, but as a producer of sorts in the film. Off camera, Savini handles the gruesome special effects with a straight blade and gunshot sequences. In character, Savini doesn’t stray too far from his character on “Dawn of the Dead,” donning the black leather jacket and sporting a cocky-jerk attitude. Producer John Harrison also has a role as the callus director Lacey Bickel who bosses around his two surface actors “Life of Brian” actor Bernard Mckenna and a “Dead” series dead head zombie in two of Romero’s films, a Mrs. Debra Gordon. McKenna delivers question mark after question mark of a performance that Matthew Lillard, perhaps, imitates the best in Wes Craven’s “Scream” whereas Gordon just provides a straightforward background performance with her scene with Lacey conversing over the idea of stress releasing sex being one of the more intense moments of the movie. Susan Chapek, Charles Hoyes, and Blay Bahnsen complete the cast.
Despite the modest budget, Nelson and his team construct monumental frightening moments. When Dom, Lacey, Lobo, and Barney converse around a mirror laced with coke, Lacey wants to show Dom a film after their sharing their opinions on what the general public will or will not pay to see. The actors’ faces and reactions as the snuff film rolls is on the brink of teeth clenching madness. The catalytic moment bombards questions internally into the group of presumably professional people and starts the separation between whose really in control of their fates. “Effects” is a movie within a movie and a deception within a deception where the characters have more than one role and pinpointing their specific purpose is difficult to land that Nelson’s film will have your head spinning with guesses. A fierce and boldly ambitious film from a scrappy Pittsburgh crew of talented filmmakers taking a risk with an intricate plotted thriller.
AGFA and MVDVisual present Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” for the first time on a region free Blu-ray. The 1980 thriller has been scanned and restored in 4K from the only existent copy of the 35mm negatives and delivered the original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. The image quality is better, but only slight above the Synapse DVD that sourced from 16mm negative and still maintains a healthy dose of noised induced and film grain and print damage. The color palette has a dullish grey-brown combination fairly noticeable to the naked eye. The English DTS-HD dual channel audio has hints of a hiss and faint crackle in more scene intense segments, but relatively clean and clear inside a limited range. Extras included are an updated version of Synapse’s retrospective documentary entitled “After Effects” that brings a stingy melancholy when seeing George Romero converse with his friends. There are also two short films by John Harrison, an archival commentary track, and liner notes by AGFA’s Joseph Ziemba. Plus, the AGFA Blu-ray has a snazzy illustrated cover, with reverse cover art, encasement. “Effects” glorifies snuff film with ample attention to detail and precision that only this Pittsburgh all-star team of filmmakers could produce on a limited budget and AGFA, alongside MVDVisual, amplify their efforts by a hundredfold with a remastered transfer withstanding straight razor home movies, a bombastic car explosion, and cloak and dagger guerilla filmmaking that’ll have you second guessing if the effects are only movie magic or not?
Clay Riddell just landed in Boston after scoring a huge deal in New York involving concepts for his graphic novel. With all the cellphone charging stations occupied, Clay calls his estranged wife from a pay phone to speak with his son, but when the landline severs communications, that’s when it started. People on their cellphones turn into Phoners, murderous maniacs who tear through anyone in a destructive path mindless insanity. Clay, in the midst of panic, bumps into subway train conductor Tom McCourt and fight their way out of the city, barely escaping with their lives. Fleeing a burning Boston overran by Phoners, Clay is determined to track down his family in New Hampshire with the help of Tom and two teens, Alice and Jordan, but the Phoners are not just absentminded anymore as individuals start to flock together exhibiting the beginning signs of their telepathic network lending to something far more sinister than just temporary mayhem.
“Cell” is the feature film adaptation to Stephen King’s novel of the same title and reunites John Cusack with Samuel L. Jackson once again since their last costarring venture of King’s book-to-silver screen production of “1408.” King shares screenplay credits with Adam Alleca, who co-penned “The Last House on the Left” remake in 2009, and with “Paranormal Activity 2” director Tod Williams at the helm. From the first inkling of a “Cell” movie, back with Eli Roth was attached, the excitement couldn’t be contained as I read the Stephen King novel and was captivated by the unique story of mixed and varied human emotions and the uncontrollable yearnings to be a part of the collective through being electronically connected that ultimately becomes mankind’s undoing.
However, “Cell” was heading in the direction of certain doom from the moment Roth unattached himself from the project, sending “Cell” into the annoyance of limbo until a production company conglomerate formed to pull “Cell” from it’s stagnant state and attached Williams to direct. Yet once again, King’s beloved story goes into the throes of uncertainty with distribution after filming wraps in 2013. 2016 comes and Saban Films, along with Lionsgate , distributes “Cell” theatrically and within the home entertainment market respectively.
After all the monumental problems, I personally wanted to “Cell” to be one of the most entertaining and frightening horror films of the modern age, but as fate would have it, the Williams’ film disappoints. An film adaptation of a King novel needs more minutes to cover the story’s girth and “Cell” lacked pages of warranted minutes to be a full tell all for Clay, Tom, and the Raggedy Man. Portions of the novel were translated to the screen, but for the majority of the film, a rushed version of the story debuts to silver screen audiences that loses the book’s essence and dilutes character development, such as with Raggedy Man who has a sizable role in the book, but the character in Williams’ movie barely scratches the surface with being just a figurehead for the Phoners and not the collective’s soap box looming leader. The film started out great with intense chaos at Boston airport, pictorializing to life the Phoners from the King’s book with pinpoint precision, but from there on, the story’s time span goes vague whereas the book stretches out the length of time. Only a matter of two or three days does it seem the survivors jump from Boston, to the school, to the bar, to the story’s final location of Kashwak, but in reality terms and in the amount of devastation and character portrayal, weeks have passed.
The ending has been rewritten from a surprisingly mixed reaction to the book’s and yet, the unravelling of the finale does more than convolute matters when Clay finds his son. There lies almost a dual ending where one’s interpretation can be the film’s own storybook ending. Stephen King’s “The Mist” had an ending that, when compared to Frank Darabont’s totally new ending for the film, was totally inferior to Darabont’s and I feel like that’s the stage that was trying to bet revisited here with “Cell” and it just missed the mark completely. Not all changes are for the worst. Character Tom McCourt, whose white in book, went to Samuel L. Jackson who absolutely fits the role without question, nailing PTSD stricken McCourt with little emotion but with untapped hurt. If I ever had to choose an middle aged white actor for the role of Clay, John Cusack would be my first and only choice even before casting began for the film. I do feel like having a white Raggedy Man was purposefully steered away from social sensitivities with an antagonistic young black male in a hoodie. The cast rounds out with Isabelle Fuhrman, Owen Teague, and Stacy Keach (“Slave of the Cannibal God”).
The digital visual effects were so poorly constructed and composited that I’m not surprised “Cell” didn’t have a longer theatrical run. The book had a number of jaw-dropping visuals the imagination could run with and now with seeing the depictions of those visuals on screen, they seemed seriously slapped together in such haste to where the devastating sensationalism turns inane and bland. King’s apocalyptic story warrants Hollywood scale effects, but received a few levels below that bar, failing to deliver major catastrophe on a world ending scale to the likes of “War World Z” or to cleverly style the film through a smaller medium such as George Romero accomplished with this first three “Living Dead” films.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release is presented in widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio and the 1080p Hi-Def resolution becomes a disadvantage that clearly outlines the quality of the effects. The English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is par for the course, but slightly in-and-out with dialogue that’s difficult to balance. The 98 minute feature’s bonus features includes an director’s commentary and “To Cell and Back: The Making of the Film” which is redundant if you’ve read the novel. Bottom line is if you’re fan of Stephen King’s novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed with Tod Williams’ “Cell” that’s nothing more than a long awaited entertaining rated-R apocalyptic horror with obsolete effects and with star-studded names attached to this Stephen King story adaptation.
In the zombie post-apocalypse, the human discovered that by not firing their weapons allowed the flesh eating hordes to calm their desires, resulting in the protection of the zombie species and institutionalizing laws against the killing zombies for fear of another undead swarm attack. One of the many survivors Clay has lived in a zombie cooperation world for over a year after the initial outbreak along with his sister Mia, whose boyfriend Gerry didn’t survive, but still roams the Earth as the walking dead. With no one truly dying, the whole idea of existence becomes meaningless and where people, like Mia, won’t move on when they’re loved ones still feel very much alive. When Clay discovers his sister’s attachment to undead Gerry, he takes it upon himself to kill Mia’s zombie boyfriend, releasing a zombie swarm post-apocalypse apocalypse on the his town.
Unprecedented and gushing with rage, “A Plague so Pleasant” redefines the way audiences would view the zombie since 1968, constructing still a vicious species of man-eating undead while domesticating them to a lumbering land fixture much like the way pigeons amongst the birds. First time directors Benjamin Roberds and Jordan Reyes triumph amongst the modern zombie competition, spilling their heart and soul onto the script and onto the screen. With a story to match, a Romero-inspired social commentary zombie film held true to form by instilling normality to a post-apocalyptic world. Zombie and man living together. What was that Bill Murray line in “Ghostbusters?” “Cats and dogs living together… mass hysteria.” Clay and Mia were living a mundane life while the dead remained alive and protected, socially poking fun at how society maintain a normal livelihood with zombies: the U.S. Government made killing zombies a national felony, companies were mandated to go through a yearly undead awareness program as a formality, and there’s a guarded visitation area full of the undead much like a graveyard without graves.
Stunning cinematography added much needed life to “A Plague so Pleasant” which settles into an already over saturated zombie genre. Starting in black and white, Clay introduces his life in a offscreen monologue, conveying much of the post-apocalyptic and zombie information. The black and white symbolizes how simple and plain life has become with the living with zombies regulations. When Clay breaks the law by offing Gerry for good, thats when the movie turns to color and creating complications in a black and white life. The once unvarying and shuffling zombie nuisance goes into full berserk mode with “28 Days Later” sprinters thirsty to tear into anything with a heart beat. Only when the zombies turn calm is when life goes back to being black and white, considering the option that normality needs to be simplified to live peacefully.
The special effects by first timer Tyler Carver are a great effort clashing together a classic European Giannetto De Rossi style with Carver’s own settle flair by not being overly gruesome. There’s not an over-the-top, chart-topping special effects moment that defines the “A Plague so Pleasant,’ but there the solid effects subtly throughout satisfies. The zombies overall look are the usual stock type, yet they’re exhilarating to watch with an army of intense actors who are no doubt from the Athens, GA Halloween attraction named Zombie Farm where Tyler Carver has a connection. Not everything about the creation of a frightening zombie was accomplished as much of the audio tracks were out of sync and just too gaudy.
Actor David Chandler as Clay does a fine job portraying a bored survivor and a clueless big brother while also performing the second zombie swarm nearly without speaking during the entire engagement. Mia, played by Eva Boehnke, resembles the gorgeous Lebanese-American porn star actress Mia Khalfia with her giant nerdy glasses. Boehnke creates a free spirited, yet delusional, persona in Mia whose holding onto the past and coping the only way she knows how and that’s by not separating from her undead boyfriend Gerry. We round out the cast with Todd played by Maxwell Moody. Todd becomes the catalyst of the coming events by placing the idea of him and Mia being a couple and putting a bullet into Gerry’s rotting brain. Chandler, Boehnke, and Moody on paper are amateur actors in an estimated $1,500 budget, independent movie, but they own their performances and shine through budgetary constraints.
Another awesome release from Wild Eye releasing that would make a worthy and unique edition to a zombie fanatic’s movie collection. Don’t judge to harsh the production value with the slight aliasing, the out of sync zombie audio tracks, and the muffled off screen Clay character monologue. Instead, focus on the cinematography, the actors performances, and the genuine story telling of a socially awkward scenario. Let “A Plague so Pleasant” infect, let it sink it’s teeth deep, and let it help turn your undying attention unto a lively concept.