Fixing the Tracking on Those EVIL VHS Cassettes! “Snuff Tapes” reviewed! (MVDVisual / DVD)

Ready to be Recorded?  “Snuff Tapes” now available at Amazon.com!

Marcela Arkaino investigates a Talca, Chile rapist and murder who has been drugging and abducting women for years to record aberrant tapes of his cruel exploits.  Marcela takes a special eager interest in this particular assignment as she was one of those unfortunate women.  As a silver lining out of an extremely bad situation, she is one of three women left alive by her brutal sex-sadist aggressor.  As the reporter in her garners the difficult stories from the other two survivors, Cataline and Jesus, abused by the same masked man, she inches closer to his whereabouts by triangulating attacks and connecting similarities but her scouring of roadside market, unlabeled VHS tapes became the smoking gun needle in a haystack that produces not just any depraved tape of his victims but of her own ordeal, turning now an inch into a mile in finding him.  Bring the other two women into the fold, Marcela devises a plan of revenge to direct a snuff film of her own, starring their rapist and torturer.  

Hailing from Talca, Chile, the same location where the story is set, comes the shock-slamming, VHS-inspired thriller “Snuff Tapes,” aka “Cintas Tapes,” from the Chilean born independent filmmaker, Vito Garcia Viedma.  The writer-director’s prior two zombie-influenced short films, the 2012 “Bajo el sonido del tren” and the 2017 “Escape from Zombie City,” along with the criminal underbelly 2017 feature, Los culpables,” displays a course change deviation that wouldn’t prepare the average Viedma film fan for his 2020 venture into the dark underworld exploitation of indie snuff.  While the title highlights the concept around videotaping the misuse of a person’s trust and vulnerability for one’s own disturbing profit, in this case to get one’s jolly’s off, much of Viedma’s story skirts around the edge with just mentioning the nixing of captured and consumed of vivacity women, saving the story’s climax for more detailed death dealing in a vengeful perspective rather than a videotaped one. “Snuff Tapes” is created under Viedma’s ZineFilms production company in association with Cabro Chico and Trippas Productions.

“Snuff Tapes” is no “8MM” with a mega-Hollywood budget and Nic Cage doing Nic Cage antics. “Snuff Tapes” is no “Effects” with cult icons Joseph Pilato and Tom Savini helming sordid scenes from fantasy to non-fiction. “Snuff Tapes” isn’t even on the same level as “A Serbian Film” and, to be honest, I don’t think any film anytime soon will ever be on the same level as that twisted picture. What all three of those successful and notorious films have in common and what Viedma lacks in separating itself from the rest are in two very important details: a budget and an array of talent. Viedma’s film humbles in comparison with not only a microbudget but also in a cast makeup of essentially five actors with withering substance. Valentina Soto Albornoz stars as the retribution-reporter, Cataline Ibarra, who for the last decade has been piecing together clues of her kidnapper’s whereabouts by purchasing random video cassettes tapes from Talca street vendors and when Ibarra strikes gold unearthing her own ugly tape, she understandably feels overwhelmed reliving visually the nightmare and subsequently gravitates toward being hellbent for revenge. Ibarra recruits her survivor carbon copies in the tattooed Jesus Mayano (Camila Medina) and aspiring photography model Marcela Arkaino (Camila Carreno Arancibia) for a little payback, but Ibarra, aside from her good friend Esteban (Hugo Villar) providing her a PAL encoded VHS player and rewatching her tape to catch clues missed, she virtually does all the legwork in pinpointing the one responsible, drugging him, abducting him, and committing herself to the nitty-gritty, fantasy plan for whenever she got her hands on him. I’m not sure what roles or business Arkaino or Mayano actually had to just stand there moping other than maybe bear witness to the end of their lifelong torment, to see the boogeyman parish once and for all? Reinaldo Aravena plays the man behind the mask who initially puts up a strong showing as the camera operator and stud of his homemade videos but then quickly fizzles disappointingly on the opposite side of the camera due to a lack of scaled down combating in what becomes just a one-woman show without much to show for it.

Viedma paves an interesting structural path for his film, taking the audience an extended 36-minute introduction of voiced over VHS recordings of survivor stories before entering opening credits to what then becomes a dichotomy narrative between backstory and present day. This also speaks to the visual cinematography as well that jumps back and forth between being shot on the VHS’s boxed-in format (found footage) to a wider lens of the digital world, capturing past and present in two distinct formats as well as capturing the past that isn’t glossy, pretty, and is an inescapable prison where the walls, the horizontal pillars, are closing in on the world.  Appearances, no matter how apt to the subject, do not give the movie soul and “Snuff Tapes” misses that poignant shock value target with poorly written characters and a misaligned connect-the-dots investigation that doesn’t make much sense.  Ibarra examination of the evidence, or really lack thereof, points to one man, but like a cheating slacker in high school, she does not show her work to come up with that result.  Instead, she repeats, at least in a couple of instances, her gut knows she has the right man.  In Viedma’s world, a gut feeling is factual evidence for stringing someone up to face judgement.  In reality, that’s a severe boo-boo case of miscalculation that would get you jail time.  Circumstantial street justice on little-to-no proof separates the empathy from what an audience is supposed feel fired up against an unspoken truth and gives them satisfaction in a just cause to see the obliteration of scum from the face of the Earth. In the first half, “Snuff Tapes” is undeniably graphic and cuts deep with a veridical, degenerate villain, but falters with a lazy second half approach and gratuitous revenge.

MVD Visual in association with Danse Macabre and Jinga Films release “Snuff Tapes” on a North American DVD release. The region free DVD is presented in a VHS format of 1.33:1 when looking cassette camera lens with the rest of the film in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. As expected, the VHS quality has semblance of overuse and age with a fuzzy display and muted, boxy sound. Outside of that, the picture quality is not much better in reconstituting a playback on lower end of the DVD spectrum – approx. 3-5 Mbps. Compression artefacts are heavily present with poor clarity around the edging and blacks shimmer and appear blotchy. The lossy Spanish language Dolby Digtial 5.1 Surround Sound loses some of it’s fidelity in the compression but is the overall highlight amongst the DVD’s A/V scorecard; however, the subtitle transcription is the worst I’ve seen in quite some time with duplicated segments, spelling errors, and a timing that equates to a microsecond blip of dialogue on some occasions. The release comes with another version of the film as the sole bonus feature with an entire VHS 1.33:1 (4:3) VHS Cut for an immersive effect. As always, snuff features can be difficult to digest but they are becoming more and more prevalent and popular in a highly accessible home video market and director, Vito Garcia Viedma, tries his creative hand at creating disturbing content only to defile the genre with a subpar entry sullied by deficient storytelling.

Ready to be Recorded?  “Snuff Tapes” now available at Amazon.com!

The EVIL Peruvian Whistle of Death! “Face of the Devil” reviewed (MVD Visual / DVD)



Deep inside the Amazon jungle of Peru, seven friends getaway from university life by staying at a remote riverside resort.  No cell service.  No nearby towns.  The resort shelters an idyllic retreat for those looking to escape the mundane routine of the real world, but the jungle is also home to an indigenous evil entity, some may even label it the Devil.  Better known among the locals as el tunche, the trickster spirit prays on innocence and the naïve, psychologically tormenting with a foreboding whistle indicating it’s nearby presence.   With no help in sight and nowhere to hide, the jungle comes alive with an ear-piercing whistle that seeks to swallow the seven vacationers to their doom. 

To some extent, horror lives and dies by permanency of myth and legends, cultivating inspiration from ancient, as well as new, mythical beasts and spirits and spin them into entertainment macrocosm or, perhaps, even to just simply to share the rarity of knowledge and heritage surrounding the tales.  If in American mountaintop forests bigfoot roams inconspicuously around populated areas, breeding enigma and scaring children around campfire stories, then in South American, el tunche does much of the same instillations for the Peruvians who inhabit their legendary fiend, preying on delinquent youths, in the dense jungle.  Outside of Peru or maybe even South America, el tunche is not globally known, but for one Peruvian film from 2014, local lore becomes broaden beyond confining borders and creeps right into our home video media players.  Director Frank Pérez-Garland helms the maligning mythos with “La Care del Diablo,” aka “Face of the Devil,” from a Vanessa Saba screenplay set in the ominous jungles of Peru plagued by a wandering and whistling evil spirit searching for those lost among the tall trees and foliage.  Peruvian based Star Films and La Soga Producciones spearheads the production located on set of an ecolodge in the uncommercialized area of Tarapoto just North of Lima and serving as producers are Gustavo Sanchez (“The Green Inferno”) and Varun Kumar Kapur. 

“Face of the Devil” is a hyper localized narrative that’s fully contained inside the jungles of Peru as well as a casting all Peruvian actors with zero other nationalities appropriating roles for a mythological tall tale extension that rightfully needs to be expressed by native filmmakers.  As such, you won’t recognize a face amongst the cast unless you’re eyeballs deep into South American cinema.   The film opens with a dream sequence of a young girl staring at her towering mother’s weird, unholy behavior that ends with her mother, played by writer Saba, quickly reaching out for child and abruptly awakens from the dream is Lucero (Vania Accinelli).  Lucero’s nightmares become an important reoccurrence, like an omen, that doesn’t seem to upset the college freshman despite the nightly fright, but other aspects upset her father to the point where he yells at her for wanting to go on a trip with her friends, signifying a quick trip into unspoken complications sanctioning Lucero’s mother death that worries the same fate may also fall upon his daughter.  Before we know it, a reluctantly agreed to Lucero is river boating with her six friends:  couple Mateo (Nicolás Galindo) and Fabiola (Maria Fernanda Valera), Camila (Alexa Centurion), Paola (Carla Arriola), Pablo (Guillermo Castañeda), and new boyfriend Gabriel (Sergio Gjurinovic).  The friends are seemingly full of life, love, and fun but the dynamic turns only slightly complex with love triangles that only go as far as being the butt of the weekend’s jokes.  The characters do very little in the story, splashing around in what seems to be an unreasonable number of ecolodge pools for most of the time while playing spin the bottle, truth or dare, skinny dip, or just make fun of each other because, as a trope bylaw, that is what college-age kids do to spark tensions and cause divisions, and I find the characters and their portrayers to be uninspired to do or be more that invokes the frisky wrath of el tunche.  Javier Valdez and Ismael Contrearas bookend the cast of characters as two polarizing stances on dealing with otherworldly spirits by either being cautions and frightened as Valdez is with Lucero’s papa or embrace the spirits for self-purpose as it is with Contreras who plays the resort owner. 

“Face of the Devil” has all the properties of an European-fried and campy-peppered supernatural kill tally, drawing elements from the jungle cannibal subgenre sans the cannibals and the teen slashers sans the slasher.   Instead, el tunche is an all but forgotten myth lost over time through the generations until “Face of the Devil” calls to mind the cautionary dangers of cultural wise tales for naïve and disrespectful youth who wind up on the deadly end of el tunche’s mean streak.  Saba’s script incorporates more than just your average urban legend come to life tale with a Diablo-sized pretext to why el tunche all of the sudden decides to besiege upon this particular group of vacationers.  Per the legend, el tunche gobbles up those lost in the jungle thicket, but Saba and Pérez-Garland’s religious context direction, including the motifs of the trinity cross and bodily possession, has the good-natured Lucero, infected by her mother’s randomized demonical occurrence, be the proximity key to el tunche’s unleashing.  Good versus evil also becomes strongly painted in the latter half of the narrative and is affixed to the lore’s distinctive construct.  The further Lucero is led from a path of spotless geniality, from her overprotective father, the more she experiences nightmares and the closer she is coming face-to-face with the malevolent forest entity feeding off her tarnished past.  Sadly, “Face of the Devil” weans off from nurturing el tunche into a singular idea with the entity depicted as, but limited to, an invisible presence, a black oil spill in the water, a pulsating yellow glow, or as Anna Gonsalves says in “Predator,” the jungle came alive and took them.  Even the current DVD release represents el tunche as a Lovecraftian-like creature with tentacles coiling out of the jungle river water and enclosing around a bikini-cladded sex symbol with a tattooed vagina – provocative!  Yet, inaccurate.  There are no tentacles and no woman with vagina ink.  “Face of the Devil” struggles with character motivations, sending boyfriends off into the woods without tools or guidance to find help, leaving the story to fend for itself solely on a slap-dashed gory ending that’s a little too late in salvaging the ferocity of one of Peru’s most mythical phantasmas. 

Like aforementioned, the DVD cover is a tad misleading, enticing with sex and tentacles topped with DEVIL in a big red font.  Now, you can go in eyes wide open with your own copy of “Face of the Devil” distributed by MVD Visual in collaboration with Jinga Films and Danse Macabre.  The single layer, single sided, region free DVD5 is 77 minutes presented in a widescreen 1.78”1 aspect ratio. Reason behind discerning the storage format to be a DVD5 is evident in the compression issues that clutters the picture with artifacts, leaving highly noticeable splotches to shake details to the core. There’s also the use of the vapid gray tint insipidly squashing any color and life from the lush green jungle Pérez-Garland finds himself extremely lucky shooting inside. Watching “Face of the Devil” felt cinematography akin to an episode of “The Handsmaid Tale” or “The Walking Dead” where a bland overlay masks more than just brightness and beauty of natural hues and light. The Spanish audio mixes have two lossy options – a 5.1 surround and a 2.0 stereo. Switching between the two, the 5.1 obviously has a little more robust soundtrack during the cacophony of jungle augury. Snakes hissing, bat clicks, the comprehensive soundbites of other animals in audio vibrational flight combined with the intense whistle, like a diluted train whistle, has ambient staying power to be the most effective element to el tunche’s death harbinger presence. Dialogue is less robust but prevalent and the English subtitles synch well without error. As far as special features, nothing beyond that of the static menu and there are also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The opening title card credit sequence is about as artistic as the film allows itself to be only to then dwindling into pedestrian territory. Set in the Peruvian jungle deemed to be a major waste of location perfection as much of “Face of the Devil” buoys chiefly poolside with the cheap Dollar Store adhesive tape barely coupling a connection between local legend and the Devil in this wet behind the ears teenager-in-danger yarn.

“Face of the Devil” available on DVD at Amazon.com