All You Will See is EVIL if Blinded by Grief. “They Live in the Grey” reviewed! (Acorn Media / DVD)

Not the Blue, Not the Red, but the Grey!  “They Live in the Grey” on DVD!

CPS investigator, Claire Yang, struggles to cope with the untimely loss of her young son.  The tragedy forces her to push away her husband and have suicidal thoughts.  What’s also driving Claire further from the edge of sanity is her ability to see glimpses unhinged, and sometimes physically harmful, spirits.  When a child-protective case comes across her desk to look into the possible abuse of a young girl, Claire learns quickly that it might not be girl’s parents abusing her.  Tormented by an angry supernatural entity, Claire walks careful and hesitant thin line of keeping the girl with her family and attempt to prove that the parents are not responsible for the bruises and cuts, but when upper management pressures her to close the case at the school’s behest and a variety of ghastly come and go across her path, the churning burn of hurt and guilt grows inside her as she confronts her personal demons while trying to do the right thing for the abused girl in the middle of it all. 

“The Sixth Sense” meets “The Conjuring” in The Vang Brothers’ 2022 supernatural thriller, “They Live in the Dark.”  As the sophomore written-and-directed project for the Fresno, California raised Abel and Burlee Vang, following up on their 2016 release of the moderately successful supernatural and social media mashup debut, “Bedeviled,” continuing to venture off their solo work and into a collaborating unit, “They Live in the Dark” tackles various topical concepts and troubles with overwhelming grief and how it manifests negatively on an individual and family level.  Previously once titled as “The Uncanny,” the story is set in nowheresville, U.S.A., the brothers really set the tone that this story, or more realistically its themes and messages, are broad and non-exclusive and we also see that in the cast for the film, a segment that we’ll dive into further in the next paragraph.  The Shudder exclusive film, “They Live in the Grey,” is a production from Standoff Pictures in association with Whiskey Stream Productions with the Vang Brothers producing alongside former filmmaker-turned-film academic-turned-filmmaker Stephen Stanley.

Coming from Hmong ancestry, The Vang Brothers found personal importance to cast mostly Asian-Americans for the film.  Taiwan born Michelle Krusiec (“The Invitation,” “The Bone Box”) plays the lead and is the very first character we meet in an awkward and frightful position as a woman attempting suicide by hanging herself near the home staircase.  Immediately, we don’t know what we’re exactly in for, but we know when we’re introduced to the threadbare Clair, she has a major depressive factor that beleaguers her existence to the point of removing it from the equation all together.  The Vang Brothers thoughtfully shroud details into exactly what’s devouring Claire from the inside out and keep close to the chest in securing that ace of revelation in the back pocket until the time is just right in the story to unveil the dealt bad hand.  As the details trickle and we learn more about Claire’s disintegrating family life, we also learn of her ability to see lost spirits and how she handles those more than often visceral visions is dose up on medication that ultimately factors into her current state of mind.  Though I wouldn’t say the performance pops offscreen, but Krusiec does cruise through the role with meticulous character conditioning and the actress can tremble and look scared with the best in the business, anchoring Claire as the rooted principal and establishing a tone that works with the casted cohort.  Ken Kirby, who plays Clair’s estranged beat cop officer husband Peter, goes outside the usual comedy element for the Vancouver-born actor-comedian, walking the emotional pathway of a husband on the ousts by no fault of his own.  The heartbreaking tension that’s both expressed outward and internalized between the teetering from loss parents, husband and wife, fills the scenes with raw and relatable emotion and barrier-laden endeavor to fix what is thought hopeless. As Claire becomes closer to the case of Sophie Lang (Madelyn Grace, “Don’t Breathe 2”), nothing is as it seems from a family already on shaky ground with not only the school system’s case of suspected abuse, but also inwardly as past troubles fester toward a frenzy. Ellen Wroe (“Final Destination 5”), J.R. Garcia, Willie S. Hosea, and Mercedes Manning fill out the cast.

The Vang Brothers accomplish phenomenal representation in a female leading role with the talented Michelle Krusiec. Reaching back into my mind to access the cache of catalogued films I’ve watched over the decades, I find myself in extreme difficulty in recalling an American made story where an Asian woman female lead is not a martial arts expert. The Vang Brothers with “They Live in the Grey” expand the palette with a supernatural scenario that could curse not just the single white female rearing and protecting their child from a plethora of supernatural predators, but also afflict a person of color who has already suffered tremendously and who has to still have to find and work on themselves in the muck of overcoming a millstone. Instead of a double whammy, “They Live in the Grey” is a triple whammy of pitfalls that rival similar grief-stricken genre films like “The Babadook” and “The Orphanage.” “The Vang Brothers elicit a stillness in their shooting of an extremely melancholic yarn by not being too fancy with their camera footwork that doesn’t track or follow, no hand-held or drone, and is allowed to have a more natural tone with an unfiltered gravitate toward the austere and the tormented. Though nothing too striking to make a spectacle from Jimmy Jung Lu’s cinematography but each shot is carefully setup and the slow zoom in and out is effective enough in breath-holding moments. Early into the story, the first can be choppy and disorganized with the back and forth of present and past and though heavily focus or strict on the narrative’s virgin veneer, there’s distinguishable indication to the audience that we’re looking into the present viewfinder or the past’s. As a whole, the scenes blend together in a seamless patchwork that hinders more than helps.

“They Live in the Grey” extends that lack of light and vitality for the living and the dead. Now, you yourself can experience the saturnine of atmosphere of the film that lives on DVD from Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, 124-minute DVD comes from our overseas friends in the United Kingdom with an 18 certification for strong injury detail – aka – stabbing and blood. Presented in a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the 2-hour runtime coupled with a compressed presentation appears to have shepherd in some compression issues, such as banding and fuzzy details. The picture is not the sharpest it should be with old wooden house’s textures could have added texture to the nerve-wracking tension builds. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track represents a solid audio inlay with clear dialogue and a diverse depth and range. The musical soundtrack is subtle but works hand-in-hand with the story. Optional English subtitles are available. Bonus features include only a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. When it comes down to brass tacks, a strong story is a good story and “They Live in the Grey” may miss a few technical marks, but the horrid truth of grief is personal, potent, and packed full of demons.

Not the Blue, Not the Red, but the Grey!  “They Live in the Grey” on DVD!

EVIL Won’t Let You Just Kill Yourself Even If You Wanted To! “Violator” reviewed! (WildEye Releasing / DVD)

“Violator” on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing and MVD Visual!

Desperate to track down her sister Naomi who becomes involved in an online social media forum about mass suicide, a woman’s investigation leads her on a train ride to a small village on the outskirts of the city.  There she meets Red Sheep, an internet handle for the mass suicide form greeter for those individuals seeking to give up their life willingly.  Returning her to the abandoned house where congregated patrons of their own demise wait for forum members from all over to gather before stepping into the afterlife, but the beneath the surface of simply drinking the Kool-Aid together is a wretched plan of death and self-inflicted suicide is not in the ill-fated stars for the group now sequestered in an isolated town. 

When the film is titled “Violator” and the very first images on the screen are flashing title cards, warning of violence and depravity from what you’re about to see, then a graphic intensity bar has been firmly set with the expectation that disturbing content is afoot.  The Japanese 2018 released horror-comedy comes from the cyborg-splattering mind of “Meatball Machine” writer-director Jun’ichi Yamamoto and is a continued part of the tokusatsu horror genre peppered with familiar Japanese motifs of mass suicide, samurai sword, oral fixations, and all with a pinch of Kabuki!  Yamamoto is no stranger to the Kabuki culture as he works in a callback scene and line from his 2008 actioner “Kabuking Z:  The Movie” into “Violator’s” evil eviscerating and executing entrapment.      

I wouldn’t call “Violator” aces in acting, but I’m not speaking to the general known fact that Japanese portrayals are often over-the-top exaggerated, and I’m referencing more toward the lack of selling the bizarre by any means possible.  The cast more than often feels like a rehearsal and robotic to the point where picking out cues can be almost a game.  Most of the cast are once overs or have a select history in the indie-tokusatsu market.  The biggest name in the film also has the shortest screen time with Nikkatsu Roman Pink film actor Shinji Kubo as the leader of the pact who lures lost souls to the abandoned house of doom.  Kubo doesn’t make or break “Violator,” but his character is pivotal in turn of events that alters the course of a few particular principals. Mai Arai plays the worried sick and searching woman tracking down her sister Naomi (Sora Kurumi) before she makes a grave suicidal mistake. Along the way, Arai’s character bumps into a mixed company of varying personalities revolving around their own death – one early 20-something young’un treats her suicide like the next cool thing, another ostentatiously can’t commit, and while another couldn’t be bothered by anything else surrounding her and plays it cool. The small village inhabitants are just as diversified and as quirky as the emotionally haphazard suicidals but with special, supernatural abilities to absolutely mess with their minds until satisfying their morbid, high-on-death munchies. Shinichi Fukazawa (“Bloody Muscle Body Builder In Hell”), Shun Kitagawa (“Prisoners of Ghostland”), Kanae Suzuki, Anna Tachibana (“Corpse Prison”), Ichiban Ujigami, and Rei Yatsuka round out “Violator’s” cast.

With a provocative title and a stern, flashing warning for taboo content, “Violator” starts off slow and continues so until about 3/4s into the film. Yamamoto glides not the sliced underbelly with murderous rage and profane callous through sexually and wicked means. No, Yamamoto builds each individual character, giving the what’s usually throw-away victims the time of day with a prolonged preface before their death that sets in who they are, what mindset they’re in, and, instead of just being collateral damage, what catalytic action becomes their ultimate undoing. By providing singular personalities, Yamamoto instills a breadth of subconscious care amongst the audiences that unintentionally react with the pangs of sympathy for the less naive during their demise to a straight up I’m glad they’re dead death because of their horrible unprincipled being and them dead makes the world a better place. Eventually, Yamamoto turns the keys to rev up the havoc as the death pact suicide squad disband into distinct, slasher-esque junctures to make good on the promise of building the character to give them a proper cutthroat curtain call and it’s about this time “Violator’s” pre-film turpitude caution actually applies with strange ritualistic kabuki decapitation, a virginal last-gasp cunnilingus before a protruding vaginal spear pierces through the skull, and a toy doll becomes a literal eye-opener for a suicide documentarian. Idiosyncratic in their own right, the kills are a violent spectacle that make “Violator” memorable enough to not forget it, but there’s far worse inflammatory material out there in the world of cinema that “Violator’s” handful of okay kills doesn’t exactly set off our internal omigod alarms.

“Violator” is the kind of off market brand and violence-laden film that fits like a glove with indie distributor, Wild Eye Releasing, in association with Tomcat Films (“The Amazing Bulk,” “Mansion of Blood”) and is perhaps one of the best releases out from the shlock usually produced from the latter company. With a muted colored and basic arranged DVD cover mockup that evokes every suspicion of an unauthorized release, I couldn’t love this cover any more than I already do with the promising depiction of a hysterical bloodbath and the singular moments represented in the collage of carnage and madness don’t stray away from the truth. The not rated DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 72 minutes. DVD image quality is not terrible with a rate of decompression hovering around 6-7 Mbps, but still a little fuzzy in particular scenes with more than one character present and a in low-lit show production, that can hinder the viewing. The Japanese language PCM stereo track has no real flaw to speak of with a good synchronous English subtitle track and no detectable compression issues other than the lack of surround sound audio strength. The metal soundtrack also didn’t align, or rather clashed, with the mise-en-scene, added for just the sake of adding to make the story edgier. Bonus features include only a scene selection and trailers on a variable menu. Coy and different, “Violator” thinks outside the box with a simple supernatural revenge narrative that penetrates slowly at first but then really rams in the sudden disarray without a precautionary moment to lube up first.

“Violator” on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing and MVD Visual!

EVIL Rap-A-Tap-Taps on its Little Drum. “Caveat” reviewed! (Acorn International Media / Blu-ray)

You’ve Been Warned to Watch “Caveat” on Blu-ray from Acorn Media!

Recently discharged from the hospital after an experience with a nasty fall, Isaac suffers from severe memory loss.  In need of money, he reluctantly accepts a caretaker job from his landlord Barrett who hires him to oversee a traumatized and catatonic spell-ridden niece Olga living in a ramshackle island house.  When Isaac arrives for his five day, $200 per night stay, he’s convinced by Barret to wear a chained harness that limits his access to certain rooms of the house.  Before long, on the very first night, memories of his past begin to flood back when Olga tells him he’s been at this house before, cascading an overwhelming sense of danger over him when the thought of Olga and Barret scheming together at his expense.  As past contracts boil to the surface and the fight for survival extends into the next day, a long thought vanished player lies and waits for the perfect opportunity to resurrect. 

If offered to be the sole caretaker of an unstable teenager four five days the suicidal death of her father and the disappearance of her crazy mother, located on isolated island surrounded by a deep lake only traversable by rowboat, strapped inside a chest harness with a long chain stretching into the basement where its tethered, having brought no food or clothing, and the house is a complete rundown disaster filled with austere essentials and a filthy, menacing rabbit toy that rap-a-tats on a drum when the air is thick of a supernatural presence, would you take the job?  If the answer is yes, then Damian McCarthy’s “Caveat” is the right film for you and you also might want to see a psychotherapist, immediately.  McCarthy debut feature film directorial, as well as the writer is, a supernatural-psychological thriller of existential context about who we really are as a person.  The UK film is released as the first production by the independent filmmaking studio HyneSight Fims, produced by Justin Hyne, and credits executive producers in Tom Black and Mirella Reznic.

A person would have to be out of their right mind to agree to every single warning flag about this situational premise.  In fact, Isaac, a character recovering from head trauma that resulted in short term memory loss, would seem to be the ideal candidate.  Irish actor Jonathan French plays the scruffy-looking Isaac and with little backstory to go upon first meet, we’re stuck with French’s face splayed stuck lost and confused for most of the duration that’s a simultaneous ride for the audience who jump right into first talks of caretaking agreement without living, experience, and visualizing much of anything else before then but in the first instance meeting the man with a radical beard, Isaac is obviously not a long-shore fisherman and is also seems to be mindfully altogether and rational, if not very acute, about with what’s happening around him.   French doesn’t play a brain damaged invalid; instead, Isaac goes reluctantly with the flow as a rather poorly written gawk who thinks giving into another man’s intention of being strapped into a S&M vest is okay and left to rightfully care for a more true-to-form mental case on any level. The further the introduction is into Isaac’s odd assignment, the more we wonder why the hell isn’t he about facing and running across that barrier lake like Christ himself. That other man is Moe Barrett (Ben Caplan, “Band of Brothers“) who also strolls onto the scene in the beginnings of conversing with Isaac as if old pals and though Caplan is very good at Barrett’s normal and persuasive spiels without a hint of abhorrent creepiness behavior, Isaac’s so gullible to a fault that it kills that need for deliverance from protagonists to try their best to avoid an unfavorable situation when they see one. Leila Sykes fills out the main trio as Olga, the on-and-off catatonic teenage niece of Barrett. Again, something’s missing from the character development much in the same way as Isaac. Olga’s just living, if you can call it that, out of her absent parents’ house. Each one of these characters feels abstract, much like the narrative’s story and structure, to offer only incremental oddities one grain at a time to be not too invested in whatever else that might distract from “Caveat’s” mystery.

“Caveat,” by the way, is a warning and is the catch that makes Barrett’s deal of $200 per day for five days to watch over his nice seem too good to be true and, honestly, the rabbit hole Isaac doesn’t heed and scuttles down into as being the loose end saw tied up by a transgressor’s flimsy, kooky plan would have been enough to suffice. McCarthy adds another element to the already rough patch of this malicious thriller with an unnecessary, but highly effective, supernatural elements involving a menacing in appearance, drum-rapping, toy rabbit (or is it a hare?) that acts like a bizarro-Toys’R’Us PKE meter and a smiling dead body that has its grand jump moment near the end of the film. These devices are uncomfortably odd, undoubtedly scary, and sorely used too little despite the drumming rabbit’s home release front cover spread. There’s also this perfect circle motif present throughout the story – a front door port hole, a hole cut in dry wall that becomes an important barrier see-through, and Olga’s crazy mother draws white circles on black paper, plus other examples – which, to me, indicates the proverb what comes around, goes around with who commits evil, receives it in the end and visa-versa. McCarthy’s suspense building moments within the gloomy rundown house can leave one peak through the slithered opening between a pair of hands over the eyes. However, McCarthy leans more into the Isaac’s dire dilemma and keystone past which I think comes back to easily. The entire time he wanders the premises, nothing strikes him with familiarity, nothing invokes a recollection, and yet, as soon as it’s mentioned he’s been the house before – circa 1 year ago – a rush of linear memory comes crashing back into flashback frames and everything up to this point is explained during a Mexican standoff with Olga. “Caveat’s” second act dredges slowly along, disinterring up backstory to quickly wrap up Isaac into a neat little package.

Briming with darkness and wrenching with fear, “Caveat” is this strange and unusual angle of reading the signs more carefully, but also stirs in anamnesis to help reign in who we really are and to distance ourselves from the person we were previously. Acorn Media International and Shudder deliver “Caveat” onto a PAL encoded, region B Blu-ray home video in full high definition,1080p resolution, presented in a cinemascope anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. McCarthy and cinematographer Kieran Fitzgerald reel in the wider resolution for tighter shots, keeping the quality contained and detailed within the house’s decrepit interiors and the characters’ textural contrasting between skin and clothing. McCarthy opts out of gel use for night sequences, casting a real stark darkness over everything with only thin outline to express action. Audio is lively enough for the ow level action on “Caveat’s” English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix.  “Caveat” relies heavily on the combination of dead silence and the building instrumentation that resonates reverberations in a soundtrack composed Richard G. Mitchell who knows a thing or two about elevating intensity through his diverse career.  Sound design plays into perfectly the silence as timed precise ambient noise, such as creaking wood under footsteps or the mechanical movements of the bunny, add to “Caveat’s” chilling charm.  The film is UK certified 15 for strong horror, violence injury detail, and domestic abuse with a runtime of 88 minutes.  The Blu-ray is accompanied with two audio commentaries in the special features – a director’s commentary and a producer’s commentary – as well as a split screen between the crude storyboards and the scenes they represent.  There are no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Frankly, and I hate to say this, but the direction “Caveat” went was a bit of a letdown as the hope to extend upon Olga’s mother, a possible practitioner of black magic, but that’s not to say Damian McCarthy’s first feature crashed and burned in the utmost of failures.  “Caveat” is still very much a well-made, you’ve-been-warned, harrowing scare tale that raises every single small hair on the back of your neck.

You’ve Been Warned to Watch “Caveat” on Blu-ray from Acorn Media!

EVIL Cowboys Up! “Ghostriders” reviewed! (Verdugo Entertainment / Blu-ray)

A small Texas town in 1887 took lynch mob tactics upon a jailed outlaw Frank Clements after a prominent resident and his family were slain.  In a last-ditch effort to save their gang boss, Clements’ men come in guns blazing but mob leader, the Reverend Thadeous Sutton, pulls the gallows lever to send Frank Clements to his doom.  Fast forward 100 years later to 1987, renowned historian Professor Jim Sutton researches the notorious murdering bandit, even owning a piece of Clements’ property with a cursed sawed-off double barrel shotgun, but the 100th year anniversary delivers good on the Clements’ curse as he and his men return from the dead and gun down all in the rural Texas backland.  Walking into a supernatural showdown with the undead is the professor’s son Hampton and his friends on a road trip to his father’s isolated estate where surviving the night of continuously respawning malevolent six-shooters will seemingly never happen.

Ghost cowboys.  That small and obscure piece of particular subgenre stemmed from the broad western horror pie can be and has been a hard product to peddle, bucking audiences off its hind side faster than a mechanical bull full of amateur rodeo saddlers.  Think about it.  Can one even name a handful of horror westerns involving cowboys, especially gunslingers back from the grave?  There’s Lee Vervoort “Gun Town” that’s more of a saloon town slasher.   “Ghost Brigade” might be the closer to the theme with Civil War soldiers possessed by evil voodoo spirits.  However, the relatively unknown TV movie “Ghost Town” from 2009, surrounding a group of college students pursued by ghostly outlaws in an abandoned western town, hits the nail on the head.  Again, these titles are rare and if you find one that does exists, more than likely the film’s a waste of cinematic space.  In any case, if you’re hellbent on a decent gunslinging ghoul film, Alan Stewart’s “Ghostriders” will saddle up just nicely.  Penned by Clay McBride (“Ghetto Blaster”) and James Desmarais (“Victim of Love”), the debut film of Alan Stewart resurrected a ruthless gang of gunslingers for pure retribution set on location at the Texas Safari Ranch in Clifton, Texas and was self-produced by Stewart, under Alan L. Steward Productions, along with fellow producers in cinematographer Thomas Callaway, who went on to be the DoP of “Slumber Party Massacre II” and “Deep Blue Sea 2,” as well as composer Frank Patterson, and Alan’s wife/production manager Susan Stewart. 

As you’ve probably noticed, the “Ghostriders” crew is small and wears many large brimmed hats by engaging themselves deeply into this 1987 released indie production.  Same can be certainly said about the cast.  Actor turned stunt man Bill Shaw was booked for dual performances between two characters stretching 100 years apart with the zealous Reverend Thadeous Sutton and the reverend’s grandchild, professor Jim Sutton.  The ancillary gunfighters, led by Frank Clements himself, Mike Ammons, are actually members of a roadside replica of a wild west town.  The actors, trained to shoot revolvers, take fake bullet hits, and learn to be rootin-tootin’ cowboys and townsfolk, took to the camera’s key antagonist roles that required them to also do some stunt work.  When considering the other cast, “Ghostriders” struggles to emerge a lead out of the various roles.  In the role of Professor’s Sutton’s son, Hampton, Jim Peters’ often subtle comedic timing, towering stature, and his cool-and-calm intellect as a stunt pilot points to lead man material, yet there are elements and qualities surrounding his young adopted sidekick Cory, played by Ricky Long, who went on to have a very long and extensive career working on the purple dinosaur kid show “Barney,” that qualifies the often inept and lovesick grease monkey to Hampton’s stunt planes as another candidate for lead man.  Even Bill Shaw could be considered principal.  Either way, for an 80’s flick, “Ghostriders” campy characters and dialogue flatten whatever substance McBride and Desmarais tries to wedge into their narrative.  Whether be the tragic bond that glues Hampton and Cory’s strong friendship or Cory’s inability to read his recent court Pam (Cari Powell) and her fascination toward Hampton, those moments of human depth are cannibalized by “Ghostriders’” round’em-up, shoot’em-down gang of ghosts.

Alan Stewart’s “Ghostriders” might be an intelligible film, but it’s certainly not an intellectual one due to budget and inexperience complications.  Pacing is good with the historical backstory opening transitioning into the present’s continued lawlessness of curse-resurrected 19th century killers after building up the prominent players with depth and humanism in order for us to care about their plight, but also in regard to the characters, there’s much left unsaid and undone to nearly every role for a complete and justifiable narrative arc.  Point in case, Clements and his gang’s ability to return 100 years after the hangman’s knot tightened around their throats goes very much unexplained along with their connection to Clements’ shotgun that seemingly holds the key to their supernatural slaying.  A lack of essence towards the titular antagonists’ return from the pine box to wreak havoc on the Sutton bloodline really has no merit to stand on, leaving a void in the crux that doesn’t serve well within the parameters of an imagination reasoning.  We need some sort of resolution for Clements return, whether it’s a deal with the Devil or perhaps stolen Native American necromancy rituals used to cheat an outlaw’s own foretelling of death, to make sense of the senseless driven chaos because, as far as we’re shown, Clements and his gang are no more than just abnormal bad dudes doing normal bad dude things.  “Ghostriders” also won’t knock your boots off with high dollar special effects.  There’s some superimposing of people and items disappearing and some solid stunt work (again – some of these hombres are moonlight as stunt people), but the most impressive practical special effects used are the blood squibs.  If you like firecracker pops making craters and spurting blood off of bodies, “Ghostriders” has you covered with plenty of squibs with a select few in slow-motion.  

“Ghostriders” rides into the black sunset with a rare cowboy horror from Alan Stewart and the film is receiving new life on an unrated Blu-ray from Verdugo Entertainment and MVD Visual.  Verdugo Entertainment’s an independent cult film distributor seeking to release forgotten retro features of the 70s and 80s, centralizing themselves mainly around westerns, horror, or in this case, a blend of both.   The region free Blu-ray converts the 16mm A & B negative into a 4K scan resolution that maintains impeccable image quality with little to fuss about, such as extremely faint and seldom vertical scratches.  There wasn’t any noticed forced enhancement or cropping which provides logical evidence to a pristine original negative. Though the original English language mono soundtrack bears the same unblemished qualities as the video, the difference lies within the soundtrack’s weak decibel levels that leaves the dialogue corridor stuffy and muddled behind a curtain a fairly perceivable static interference through the duration. The release labels the audio as remastered, and I’m certain the audio was spruced up from a worser quality, resulting in a much more palpable and persistent outcome that works at your attention rather than leaving caution to the wind. Verdugo offers up a nice selection of special features with an audio commentary with cinematographer-producer Thomas L. Calloway, writer-producer James Desmarais, and moderator Steve Latshaw, a brand-new original documentary “Bringing Out the Ghosts: The Making of “Ghostriders” with Desmarais and Calloway recollecting memories of being on set and talking about the cast and crew, an archived documentary “Low Budget Films: On the Set of “Ghostriders” is a Baylor University funded vintage doc about the makings of independent film, more so about this particular one, feature stills and behind-the-scenes photo gallery, the original trailer, and a new reissued trailer, which you can see below, all packaged nicely in a Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover with a cheeky illustration of three skeleton desperados cladded in cowboy attire and brandishing Winchester rifles. Nowhere near what the film is like but the comicbook-esque cover is eye-catching and whimsical enough to draw you in. Verdugo Entertainment could have easily chewed up this unknown cult film and spat it out with cheap distribution ease into the marketplace spittoon. Yet, the indie distributor dressed the late Alan Stewart film with respect, properly showcasing a neater, cleaner, and far from forgotten meaner spirited square off against the living and the dead.

Tune In to EVIL’s Frequency. “99.9” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

Lara, a paranormal radio show host, learns her close friend and former lover has been tragically killed in an accident at small village of Jimena.  Determined to find out what happened after a mysteriously mailed tape unveils disturbing images of her friend, Lara travels to Jimena to investigate the accident she believes was intentional.  Entangled amongst the village’s strange residents, suspicions are high on just about everyone who had contact with the deceased, but Lara is certain about one thing, at the center of her investigation is an abandoned house with a ghastly urban legend, afflicted by the entombment of murdered women and children souls and, one-by-one, the faces of the torture souls are manifestly etched out from within the walls onto the surface.  As Lara inches closer to the truth of her friend’s research of the phenomenon, the shocking truth will reveal a dark power trying to keep the house’s secrets contained.

Estranged lover.  Tortured souls.  Witchcraft.  Secret experiments.  Murder mystery.  Agustí Villaronga’s “99.9” depicts a loaded, shrouded ethereal thriller with a thin translucent layer of homosexuality draped over so delicately you almost don’t realize the Spanish filmmaker’s subtle exhibition of lifestyle exile.  The 1997 film, also known as “99.9:  The Frequency of Terror,” a subtitle moved from the main title to tagline status, is shot primarily in Madrid as well as certain exterior shots in La Vereda, Guadalajara to provide the intimate essence of a small village’s ever-watching glower.  Villaronga, along with cowriters Lourdes Iglesias and Jesús Regueira, stitch an argyle style narrative sweater of consistent checkered behavior inside an ostentatious presentation of simmering hostility toward foreigners and homosexuals, stirring an isolating heroine into a mixture of local animus and lingering occultism.   “The Black Moon” and “Ninth Gate” executive producer Antonio Cardenal solely funds “99.9” and with Impala and Origen Producciones Cinematograficas serving as co-productions. 

Bearing most of the story’s weight is lead actress María Barranco (“Witching and Bitching”) in an unfamiliar to her thriller role polar opposite of her profound previous work as a comedienne in the vocational genre.  Yet, Barranco grabs the role with undue hesitation or eager to professional please Villaronga with her character entering a spurning atmosphere seething with mistrust and ill-intent.  Playing a single mother enduring the unknown status of her estranged lover, also the father of her fatherless child, it isn’t until a package containing a VHS tape of mostly recorded static and a naked man, her estranged lover Victor (Gustavo Salmerón, “V/H/S Viral”), briefly seen fleeing for his life instills a strong uncompromising need to find the truth.  Barranco captures being rocked and shaken by Victor’s footage so much so that her tension and fear contagiously transmit to the viewer and that hardly lets up in a deluge of suspicious and dread curiousness compelling her to investigate the gruff and oddly civil villagers.  One of those village inhabitants, Juan Márquez, reeks of nervous energy that’s poured into his hunky local mechanic Mauri who becomes the mystery’s weakest link amongst the unbreakable locals, especially under the rigid impatience of Mauri’s girlfriend Julia (Ruth Gabriel), house owner Lázaro (Ángel de Andrés López, “Sexy Killer: You’ll Die for Her “), and the creepy committed bruha mother Dolores (Terele Pávez, “The Day of the Beast,” “Witching and Bitching”).  Pávez stamps her presence into “99.9’s” grim resolve that links Dolores to the souls trapped in the house with fanatical obsession.  The cast rounds out with Simón Andreu (“Flesh+Blood”), Pedro Mari Sánchez (“Creation of the Damned”), Maite Brik, and Paula Soldevila (“Immortal Sins”).

If I had to compare another film to “99.9’s” persistent bleak atmospherics and a singular principle quietly poking around to solve a cryptic scene-turner, a more widely known and recognizable title with a familiar cast, I would put up Villaronga’s film against Robert Zemeckis’s circa 2000 Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer thriller “What Lies Below.”  Both works are saturated with melancholy stuffing and are beautifully shot in their own stylistic right, but Villaronga adds an undercurrent of homosexual persecution as well as a xenophobic aspect that seeks to discourage, dismay, and disconcert nosy foreigners poking around in local business with a gray area of a big city versus little community vibe and scientific fact versus yokel superstition.  Yet, the script renders omission at more pivotal character junctures that go in-depth about backstory, such as the case with the forgotten Victor who, despite being a major plotpoint in the opening scene of the movie, is more a name thrown around as device to stir commotion amongst the locals.  Victor’s experiments in capturing the images and sounds of tortured souls aimlessly floating inside an ethereal plane in the electronic noise of television broadcast during his very much alive subjects’ REM sleep practically dissipates faster than a bottom burp with the window open and the breeze blowing. As loose as the script may be, Villaronga makes up for it with a tone of stern pall, a delicate theme of bigotry mitigated by the tortured souls and mischievous plot ingredients, and the timorous determination exuding from Maria Barranco’s portrayal.

“99.9” is Lara’s radio station frequency; a frequency in the story that nurtures and embraces the abnormal paranormal from callers night in, night out. Instead of sitting comfortably behind a mic and headphones, cozy in her sound proof studio, her frequency is a barrier that is flipped on it’s head as she becomes involved in like the stories of her callers. Speaking of flipping, in more of a “99.9” is Lara’s radio station frequency; a frequency in the story that nurtures and embraces the abnormal paranormal from callers night in, night out. Instead of sitting comfortably behind a mic and headphones, cozy in her sound proof studio, her frequency is a barrier that is flipped on it’s head as she becomes involved in like the stories of her callers. Speaking of flipping, in more of a layman, satanic sense, “99.9” inverted is also the sign of the beast. Either way, two solid possible metaphors for “99.9” give meaning to the tuning title that’s now available on a dual-layer Blu-ray and DVD combo from Cult Epics who present the film in the original European preferred widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio from a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative. Villaronga’s chromatic vision finds unadulterated success in the crisp, clean picture of the Cult Epics release with almost no damage from the original transfer. There’s a slight, and extremely brief, scratch noticeable in the first half of the film, but the amount of grain is perfection and no evidence of manipulation of enhancing. Details are insanely delicate on every tactile texture, even the skin. Aforesaid, Villaronga expresses in color, using a cool blue tints, which is actually toned down some with the transfer, and implementing different lighting techniques to reinforce Javier Aguirresarobe’s breathtaking scenic wide wide shot cinematography. The Spanish language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 on the Blu-ray packs a punch with balanced channels funneling not only clean, unobstructed dialogue, but also “Pan’s Labyrinth” composer, Javier Navarrete,’s brooding baritone, chordophone score. There are two other audio options for the DVD: a LPCM 2.0 Stereo and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Optional English subtitles are available and do match up well with no faults. Special features include a new-ish interview with director Agusti Villaronga conducted by Cult Epic’s Nico B, the making of 99.9 that has archival interviews with the director, María Barranco, and other cast and crew, an isolated Javier Navarrete score, and Agusti Villaronga trailers. Both formats are region free and not rated with a runtime of 111 minutes. Back in the 90’s when Spanish supernatural thrillers peaked, “99.9” was right there with a captivating ghostly gossamer from Spain.

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