Night Terrors Are Not EVIL Enough. “While We Sleep” reviewed! (VMI Releasing/ DVD)

“While We Sleep” available on DVD home video at Amazon.com!

Neurologist Nina Evanko is perplexed by the unusual CAT scans of 13-year-old Cora whose been suffering from sudden onset sleepwalking after her birthday party.  Believing the CAT scan is going through calibration issue with imaging process, Nina orders another set of scans, but when the scans produce the same result and a death of another patient right in front of Cora sends her home early before Nina’s arrival to study the results, Nina convinces Cora’s parents to an at-home sleep observation to root Cora’s sleepwalking cause.  What Nina finds is far more sinister than night terrors or any other kind of parasomnia as a demon has inhabited Cora’s body with nefarious intentions.  Cora’s only hope to save her soul is her bewildered parents, a rattled neurologist, and a rogue priest but a family secret may consume everything. 

If you’re still looking to support Ukraine during the now 6 plus months Russia invasion of their sovereign neighbor, why not support the Ukrainian-U.S. collaborative cinema?  Why not start more precisely with Andrzej Sekula’s 2021 child-possession thriller “While We Sleep” set in the Ukrainian capital and flagship city of Kiev.  Sekula, known more for his work with Quentin Tarantino as a cinematographer on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” as well as “American Psycho” and “Hackers,” has quietly and seldomly helmed a handful of films over the two decades with “Cube 2:  Hyperspace” being one of them.  “While We Sleep” returns Sekula to the director’s chair for the first time since 2006 with a script by Rich Bonat and the film’s supporting costar Brian Gross, the first feature script penned by the “Jack Frost 2:  Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” and remake of “2001 Maniacs” actor.  “While We Sleep” is coproduced by American Brian Gross and Kiev-Los Angeles based CinemAday productions, which include company bigwigs Rich Ronat, Yuriy Karnovsky, and Yuriy Prylypko. 

While much of the story begins with Cora and her parents (real life family of husband Brian Gross, wife Jacy King, and daughter Lyra Irene Gross) cursed by Cora’s acute and disconcerting sleepwalking disorder and moody behavior, the daily battle to understand their predicament is not left in the out of their league but most lovable hands of the parents as the film leads you to believe.  Roughly half hour into the film, the narrative switches from the convincing family perspective, despite building background on their low-band relationship troubles and move it nearly 100% to Nina’s problem-solving perspective with a hint of her own troubled past.  Kiev born and “Stranger” actress Darya Tregubova plays the neurologist too curious to shrug off the mysterious case of Cora’s abnormal scans.  Tregubova is fetching without saying but she doesn’t provide the necessary emotional weight of person who’s going through grief and loss issues from the past.  Tregubova also doesn’t convey the necessary weight toward her strong connection to Cora and Cora’s case with only a few expositional moments that hint at such.  These aspects leave Nina outside the bubble of plot events that make the character stick out as unnecessary even more with the character’s negligent professionalism surrounding the wellbeing of Cora and with the parent interactions.  Once the story butts in randomly the blacklisted priest, Father Andrey (Oliver Trevena, “The Reckoning”), with an intimate familiarity with the demon that possess Cora, we know that the story is lost as it tries to quickly and covertly wrap its grip around how to come to a head with this storyline.  You can’t have a possession film without a priest, right?  Father Andrey feels very much like a leftover thought, but Trevena tries his darnedest to sell a washed-up man of the cloth with desperation pouring from word out his mouth despite looking like an English hooligan in a pop collared leather jacket. 

“While We Sleep” has not-so-brittle bones of demonism and possession albeit lacking its own or established cultural mythos, yet there’s a disjointed nature about the story structure and plot points that just don’t make sense that crumble that coherency faster than Cora descending into the depths of demonic disorder. The opening scene is the most perplexing of all with an elaborate birthday cake that neither mom nor dad had made or bought for Cora’s 13th year. Without a care in the world, mom and dad don’t explore further who could have possibly made such a beautiful cake and little do they know, the cake, or rather the cake’s candles, are a conduit for demonic transmission into the soul. This part is never explained through the rest of the picture and, in fact, Gross or Bonat don’t touch back upon a possibility of explaining the odious presence. Much of everything is taken a face value, such as the fact Cora cuts her long hair to a pixie style without an eyelash being bat or in what’s more crtical to the plot is with Cora’s real and darkly unholy father backstory. Those facts are a shot to the brain and we’re still not understanding where Cora’s biological father fits into Cora’s space, into her mother’s space, or even into Father Andrey’s space, but you would think as important as this twist was suddenly deluged in a quick spit of point-blank honesty, the edges would be smoothed over and the picture would become clear as the holy water that was cross was spritzed with; yet, that the aggregation of aggravation of little-to-no details continues to carry out as if everything is perfectly peachy and comprehendible within the story context.

From the at-home release distributor that delivered John Travolta as “The Fanatic,” VMI Releasing, a subsidiary of VMI WorldWide, releases “While We Sleep” on DVD home video. The clear snapper cased DVD, a MPEG-2 formatted DVD5, is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with an average speed bitrate of 4-5 Mbps. You can see noticeable banding issues in the darker bedroom scenes sporadically throughout. Aside from that, the picture result is fair with more than enough detail for viewing. The English-Ukranian soundtrack is not listed on the back cover, but my SEIKI player reads two audio options: a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital dual channel 2.0. Discerning the difference between two is not worth the effort as there’s only subtleties in the output. The 5.1 surround sound has obvious better capacity for multi-channeling. Optional English subtitles are available but neither one of the audio tracks available nor the subtitles offer English captioning for the Ukranian dialogue and often times, there are back and forth exchanges that are intended to carry worth behind the exchange. The subtitles just state foreign language speaking which doesn’t help at all so there’s a bit of lost in translation in the dialogue unless you happen to speak or understand East Slavic languages. The 92-minute film comes unrated but doesn’t come with any bonus material as a feature only release. “While We Sleep” only nips at attempting to be a better than average “Exorcist” akin contemporary but remains on the haphazard course of shaky character building and bumpy, unpaved developments that make only for a rocky portrait of possession.

“While We Sleep” available on DVD home video at Amazon.com!

 

When Music Videos Go EVIL! “The Backlot Murders” reviewed! (Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red / Blu-ray)


After a night of drinking that ends in breaking a bottle over the bar owner’s head, a struggling and internally conflicted rock band kicks out the cancerously unhinged and troublesome member before their rise to stardom. Unfortunately, all the talent went out door along with the excommunicated band member, forcing the band to impress with an extravagant music video shot on Universal’s iconic backlot, sponsored by their agent and the lead singer’s girlfriend’s music mogul father. Instead of intense pyrotechnics and scantily cladded female groupies dancing on their crotch, the band, their girlfriends, and the crew find themselves caught in the gloomy, labyrinth-like movie lot, housing spooky interior and exterior sets, unaware the lurking murderous manic taking them out one-by-one.

By far a polar opposite polished genre film than the sadistically raw brutal rape and murder extravaganza that was “Chaos,” writer and director David “The Demon” DeFalco dabbles in the early 2000’s revival of the slasher genre with his 2002 released feature “The Backlot Murders” in the wake of the widespread success of the “Scream” franchise. In much of the same way “Chaos” came to fruition derived from “Last House on the Left,” DeFalco, once again, finds inspiration in the form of cult horror director Wes Craven. However, DeFalco strays away from the meta-horror and trope-reversal techniques and replaces it with a satirical façade of the music industry where glam is more important than meaningful substance. The slasher-comedy carves up nods to Van Halen, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, and even Elvis Presley with a horrendously skewed mask version the killer wears. “The Backlot Murders” were co-written by Paul Arensburg and Steven Jay Bernheim with the latter writer serving also as co-producer with DeFalco in association with Dominion Entertainment.

A contributing factor to “Scream’s” success was the diverse in career cast that clicked together as well as twisting archetypical roles into atypical whammy that veered audiences to the edge of their seats. “Scream” shocked audiences with the immediate death of a well-known actress right out of the gate, nabbed “Friends’” star Courteney Cox, “SLC Punk” and “Hackers” actor Matthew Lilliard, teen heartthrob Skeet Urlich, one of the Arquettes with David Arquette, and, perhaps, would have guaranteed Neve Campbell a slab of concrete for the Hollywood Walk of Fame along with an already cemented label as a scream queen and a final girl. The same eclecticism could be transfixed by “The Backlot Murders’” acquisitions but on a more obscure scale with a cast from all walks of life that includes the Roger Rabbit voice actor himself, Charles Fleischer, “Three’s Company” star Priscilla Barnes, 1997’s Playboy Playmate Carrie Stevens, and the late Corey Haim (“The Lost Boys”) as the band’s guitarist in a role that seemed below his fame stature. Most gaps are plugged with interesting characters treated with some backstory buildup that becomes more stagnant than footfall companions in order to get to know them better before their demise, but their persona conductors include Brian Gaskill (“The Bloody Indulgent”), Tom Hallick, Jaime Anstead, Dayton Knoll, Lisa Brucker, Ken Sagoes (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”), LoriDawn Messuri, Angela Little, and Tracy Dali.

“The Backlot Murders” didn’t set out to revolutionize the slasher genre, but only relished in the after success and donned a more satire effort that purposefully retreated back into the conventional tropes to form an entertaining run of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll gags, but the one thing missing, and it’s a doozy, is the actual killer presence in the film who is treated as an afterthought of slim importance and chucked into a insignificant plot twist that forces DeFalco’s hand to become a routine hack’n’slash lemming. One positive aspect of “The Backlot Murders” is the extremely high body count that produces a continuous stream of nixing off a slew of characters with their own death scenes inside the renowned confines of a Universal backlot backdrop that’s not only good-humored irony but also a sizeable effort by the Bernheim/DeFalco producing team. Yet, despite the high body count, the kills and gore felt sorely uninspired and underwhelming, rehashing into homage death scenes from “Friday the 13th” and “Scream” with a few forgettable approaches to call its own, until DeFalco breaks the damning goreless streak with a gruesome Columbian necktie effect that goes for the throat. I make “The Backlot Murders” seem unenjoyable and heartless when, in fact, the early 2000 slasher-comedy is immensely funny with a Charles Fleisher gold recorded, laugh track amongst the relentless mocking of the music industry from a far in this true to form slasher accessorized with a high body count kill dozer of a villain.

When things are quiet on set, “The Backlot Murders” evoke the slasher spirit on a new-to-Blu Blu-ray release in the U.S. from Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red with MVDVisual handling distribution. The 1080p, hi-def release is presented in an anamorphic widescreen from a brand new 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. The cool contextual colors render nicely amongst the shadowy gloom and foggy backdrop that’s reminiscent of a softly lit late 90’s and early 2000s slasher. The textures are sharper than the Razor Digital DVD release; the tactile feeling of asphalt when a bluish white glow hits the pavement or the gritty backlot sets vibrant with an ominous glow strike powerful chords of a lively presence from the transfer. There doesn’t seem to be any cropping, edge enhancing, or any other manipulation to the transfer present. The English mono track, which leans away from the LFE, has the opposite, lackluster appeal with a single channel blockade that doesn’t project the bands pyrotechnics, the screams of being chased, and settling for limitations on other wide range of girthy resounding audio. However, the dialogue is clear, unobstructed, and in the forefront. Bonus material includes a new audio commentary with director David DeFalco and Code Red’s Banana Man plus three new and very bizarre interviews with Carrie Stevens lingering from effects of the #MeToo movement to making home fudge, with Charles Fleisher and dissociative disorder or madman genius insight, and ending with a fairly regular interview with Brian Gaskill recollecting the film and his career through a tough industry standard. The Fleisher and Gaskill interviews end with a video op with The Demon himself, David DeFalco. “The Backlot Murders” had forefront potential of systemic slasher films of the time period, but pitter-patters for levity and a sweeping kill count that reconstructs the dread into death and comedy.

“The Backlot Murders” on Prime Video!