Nihilism Brings Out the Evil in All of Us! “The Vicious Sweet” reviewed!


Popular B-movie scream queen, Tyler Phoenix, just walked out belligerently from the latest screening for her new schlocky horror film. Fed up with worrisome managers, pressuring producers, and hot-headed directors, the leading lady glazes over her career as the past creeps back into her life, sourly affecting the platonic, one-sided relationship with her boyfriend. Tyler’s downward spiral toward the depths of depression and frustration attractively consider suicide by pills, but when Tyler awakes, she finds herself handcuffed to a bed with a mysterious masked man looming over her. What the man wants is unclear to Tyler, but one thing is absolute, he’s an adoring fan of hers who seemingly knows more about Tyler than she knows about herself. Hours seem like days, days seem like weeks, and weeks seem like months as Tyler is continuously drugged and asked personal questions about her past and about the disparage campaign to capsize her life. Tyler begins to hallucinate and can’t tell what’s real or not as she confronts internal demons while being completely forthcoming to her dangerously devoted captor.

“The Vicious Sweet” captures visceral surreal existentialism from Sub Rosa Studio’s own Ron Bonk in the shoes of writer and director. The 1997 thriller is a cinematic blend of psychological horror, self-deprivation, and coming to terms with one’s own identity. All shot on analog video and on a micro budget, Bonk’s able to depict dreamlike scenes hauntingly and pragmatically without the assistance of costly visual effects that often cheap in appearance on video transfers. Shot in Syracuse, New York, “The Vicious Sweet” could be set anywhere, USA and with locations that set the main characters in close knit quarters for nearly most of the 90 minute runtime, the “House Shark” is able to fashion an under the radar overwrought mystery. Though the SRS Cinema retro DVD cover is lustfully tasteful with an illustrative Tyler Phoenix handcuffed to the bed and in her underwear, “The Vicious Sweet” isn’t about abduction for sexual exploitation. Yes, one scene does represent the DVD cover; however, Bonk’s story tickles the frayed and blurry realm of the mortal coil that can push the limits of not only the story, but also Bonk’s ability to explore that plane of existence that inhibits zombies, large rat-faced looking creatures, and the intangibility of time.

Tyler Phoenix whirls as an angsty actress with a chip on her shoulder and a metaphorical duffle bag full of internalized secrets. Sasha Graham straps herself right into the role, exhorting all the right kinds of anger and cynicism into her seemingly successful character’s career. Graham has seen her fair share of mid to late 1990’s lowballed b-movie films, such as having a substantial role in “Polymorph” directed by “The Dead Next Door” director J.R. Bookwalter and in “Bloodletting” helmed by the “Witchhouse” screenwriter Matthew Jason Walsh, but “The Vicious Sweet” marks the debut of leading lady, a true scream queen role, and Graham wears it well. She’s complimented by the debut performance of the late Bob Licata as the mysterious tormentor who goes by the name of Grimaldi, one of the performers from Phoenix’s early, short-stinted porn career. Grimaldi, who repeatedly notes, is a part of Phoenix and, for a lack of a better term, symbolizes the actresses betwixt past and present on a conscious level of trying to make sense of all that’s entangled in that screwed up and complex mind of hers. Licata, in regards to his character, is cold and consistent, playing the act of a passionately solemn and unpredictable serrated fan hellbent on trying to expose Tyler Phoenix’s true self. “The Vicious Sweet” also stars Jason Wicks, Theresa Constantine (“Bloodletting”), Jeffrey Forsyth (“Gut-Pile”), Al Marshall, Steve Wood, and Jeff Jones.

The story progression through Tyler’s figuratively personal hell hardly goes stagnant despite, for most of the her status, being manacled to a bed for relentless interrogation. Tyler’s put through a variant ringer of drug induced hallucinations and cerebral caprices and much of the credit, alongside Sasha Graham, should go to writer-director Ron Bonk who is able to translate from script to screen his vision. Contrary to the restraints of a SOV production, the creativity of Bonk’s camera work in masking, in more ways than one, Grimaldi’s stoic façade and centralizing Tyler’s and her experiences is evocative , the antiquated practical effects are still appositely poignant, and the diverse content holds “The Vicious Sweet” to a larger scale than the finances suggests. I’m not trying to elevate Ron Bonk’s film up to being the Holy Grail of low budget horror held in the vibrancy of limelight, but in my opinion, to dismiss the appreciation for producing something out of nothing would be a tremendous disservice to all auteurs. “The Vicious Sweet” leaves us with an open for interpretation perspective that somehow manages a jaw-dropping mound of shock and perplexity, nothing short of the likes of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” ending.

The SRS Cinema DVD home video release of Ron Bonk’s “The Vicious Sweet” is presented region free, 1.33:1 aspect ratio from a S-VHS Betacam SP, that mostly result with black bars on each side of your 16:9 HD television. The limited edition Blu-ray is marketed as remastered, but the DVD image quality is awfully poor from the analog master transfer and doesn’t seem to have a smidgen of touch up where marco-blocking artifacts and aliasing run rampant. What also doesn’t help matters is the faded coloring and the blacks nearly void of any shape of definition as if you’re in a bright room and the light is shutoff and nothing but a blurry black void is present between the light and the time you’re eyes can adjust. The English language lossy 1.0 uncompressed mono track is frail and shaky, but still manage to push through without an obfuscate obstacles. Dialogue cozily lies low on the audio totem pole and the range and depth lack during more fantastical moments of zombies and monster swarming about. Bonus features include a director commentary, a director and Sasha Graham commentary, and SRS Cinema trailers. The best DVD feature, along with the film itself, is the illustrated, VHS letterbox DVD cover of the aforesaid Tyler Phoenix beautifully bound to the bed with candles lit by her table side and dressed scantily with a nice Please Be Kind, Rewind cherry on top. Despite the technical woes, “The Vicious Sweet” remedies the longstanding misinformed notion that independent b-horror movies are a hack and burden to the cinema fuselage with vast imagination and sturdy ambition.

The Vicious Sweet DVD is a must buy!

Comic Book Vigilante Takes on Evil! “Robot Ninja” review!


The television adapted bastardization of his beloved illustrated Robot Ninja leaves comic book artist Lenny Miller with a bad taste in his mouth. His disgust with the direction angers him to part ways with the project, leaving the televised rights in the hands of a careless and uninspired studio crews and execs, but that won’t stop Miller’s creative juggernaut of the captivatedly violent, robot vigilante. Inspiration takes heart-rending form when Miller happens upon a roadside abduction and rape of a young couple where his attempt at a rescue ends tragic with the couple being brutally murdered and him severely injured, but with the help of his good inventor friend, Dr. Goodnight, the frustrated comic-book artist becomes the Robot Ninja, just as depicted in his comics, with a vengeful plan to hunt down the assailants and put a bloody end to their wrongdoing reign of terror. A good first night out ends with one thug dead and an ego boost for Miller, but Robot Ninja’s actions don’t deterrent crime and, in fact, crime hits back hard when not only Robot Ninja becomes the target, but also his friend Dr. Goodnight and innocent bystanders.

“Robot Ninja” is part one of an unintentional two part review segment about directors disowning their own cinematic handy work for X, Y, or Z reasons and while “Robot Ninja” was initially discarded by “Dead Next Door” writer-director J.R. Bookwalter due to poor post production that was essentially out of the filmmaker’s hands and a work print negative thought to have been lost for eternity, Tempe Entertainment foresaw the awesome potential for the late 80’s automaton avenger in an dual format ultimate edition after a unearthed work print surfaced and back into the Bookwalter’s hand to mend and correct his sophomore feature film! Forget Iron Man. Ignore Captain America. Incredible Hulk who? “Robot Ninja” is one of the only true comic book heroes from illustrations to to take a stand against crime passionately and not because if you have great power, there’s great responsibility.

Robot Ninja is the epitome of the combo character that could sway into either hero from the 1980’s, like in Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop” and Amir Shervan’s “Samurai Cop,” or could even swerve straight up into the villain category though I have no examples floating around near the inner layers of my cerebral cortex, but the Robot Ninja bordered the very blurry gray lines of anti-hero status whether intentionally or not from the perspective you examine. The Robot Ninja character potentially could have set fire to the combo character direct-to-video cult underworld, but fell rather hard and flat on its face in the deadfall of the netherworld instead. None of film’s flaws or woes never sat its hampering weight upon the goldilocks graced shoulders of Michael Todd, who portrayed the clawed hand titular character. Todd’s enthusiasm for the role is beyond necessary, a real A for effort, into powering on Lenny Miller’s illustrated crime combatant. Lenny, aka Robot Ninja, vows to destroy, or rather disembowel, the local gang led by the ruthless Gody Sanchez, a she-devil aimed to please only one person – herself. Maria Markovic, another actor that’s in J.R. Bookwalter’s “Dead Next Door” circle, find herself in the antagonistic role in one of her sole two credits. Markovic’s acting chops are about as stiff as a board, but being surrounded by the right kind of thugs in James Edwards (“Bloodletting”), Bill Morrison (“Ozone”), Jon Killough (“Skinned Alive”), Rodney Shields, and Michael ‘D.O.C.’ Porter, Gody Sanchez is able to achieve par-level black heartedness. “Robot Ninja” round-kicks an uppercut class of actors such as Floyd Ewing Jr., Michael Kemper, the original Dick Grayson Burt Ward (“Batman” television series), the one and only Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), one of Sam Raimi’s entourage buddies Scott Spiegel, and Bogdan Pecic and the good Dr. Goodnight.

Without doubt, “Robot Ninja” was destined for the direct-to-video market and the quality of work obviously shows, but with flaws aside, the obscure 79 minute feature still manages to be a part of Bookwalter’s “Dead Next Door” universe full of gore, violence, and a distain for human nature despite briefly disavowing “Robot Ninja’s” mucked up existence for years. Subtempeco EFX, comprised of David Lange, Bill Morrison, and Joe Contracer, don’t exactly go cheap when Robot Ninja’s dual blades pierce and pop eye balls inside the skull of some punk or when Lenny’s patching up his injuries without as much flinching in pain, the open, surely is infected wound just pulsates with exploded flesh and blood. Bookwalter’s direction is hazy at times around the beginning with the dynamic between Lenny and his publisher that feels stagnant and irrelevant; however, the comic book scenes interwoven into the meatiest part of the story, the Robot Ninja action, is remarkably cool for a late 80’s budget gas.

Tempe Entertainment have outdone themselves with the region free ultimate edition DVD and Blu-ray combos set of “Robot Ninja” with a “painstakingly” restored 2k film scan from the original 16mm A/B roll cut negative and presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The picture is night and day compared to previous VHS and DVD releases that underwhelm director J.R. Bookwalter’s vision. The vast color palette of various lighting and color schemes during the dream sequences have been gracefully corrected and the contrast has been restored to lighten up the much of the darker, almost unwatchable scenes. Good looking and unobtrusive natural grain from the 16mm stock and the re-edit makes a difference that finally seems cuts together without causing some confusion. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound is entirely new construction from Bookwalter and the lossless tracks have ample range and depth, balanced nicely throughout, and have little-to-no distortion or other imperfections. English and Spanish subtitles are also included. A slew of bonus material on both formats include audio commentaries from J.R. Bookwalter, Matthew Dilts-Williams of Phantom Pain Films, producer David DeCoteau, James L. Edwards, Scott Plummer, David Lange, David Barton, Doug Tilly and Moe Porne of The No-Budget Nightmare. J.R. Bookwalter also has a 21 minute segment about the whole start-to-finish journey with restoring “Robot Ninja,” a Linnea Quigley retrospect on her small role experience in the film, an interview with Scott Spiegel, a location tour with Benjamin Bookwalter, “The Robot Ninja” fan film from 2013 with introduction by director Johnny Dickie, artwork and promotional material, behind the scenes gallery, production stills, “Robot Ninja” unmasked featurette, rough cut outtakes, TV show promo, newscast outtakes, the original VHS release trailer, and Tempe trailers, plus much more. Lets not also forget to mention the stunning cover art by Alex Sarabia, Carol Chable, and David Lange and a new title sequence also by David Lange. Tempe Entertainment’s ultimate edition of “Robot Ninja” is a thing of beauty that should be seen by all who love campy, Sci-Fi horror flicks with grisly skirmishes and intense tragedy in every corner. The restoration work “Robot Ninja” is founded on absolute love, a rare concept seen for direct-to-video features so you know this film must be something special – a true redemption story.

Restored "Robot Ninja" on DVD!