Out With the Old EVIL. In With the New! “Modern Vampires” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

“Modern Vampires” available for purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

Blacklisted for not killing the vampire nemesis Dr. Van Helsing, Dallas is shunned by most of the underground Los Angeles vampire scene now presided over by Count Dracula himself, but as he returns to the city after decades of being gone and gathers with old – very old – dear friends, Dracula threatens him with being burned alive if he overstays his begrudged welcome.  When a newly turned rogue vampire under the pretense of a corner prostitute starts ripping the throats out of unsuspecting Johns, Count Dracula doesn’t want the potential public attention drawn on his species.  Taking a shine to this mysterious woman’s insubordinate nature, Dallas finds her, cleans her up, and introduces her to his inclusive friends, but little do any of the bloodsuckers know is that the Van Helsing is in town and has recruited local Crips to be the holy servants of God in wasting away the vampiric filth that plagues humanity.

Here I thought Casper Van Dien’s only good film was 1997’s galactic war with the extraterrestrial bug species in “Starship Troopers!”  Nope, one year later, Dien follows up his iconic global militant-nationalism and gory-filled sci-fi blockbuster with the little-known American comedy-horror “Modern Vampires.”  Better known around the world as “The Revenant” to not confused American audiences with a highly ingrained British term, “Modern Vampires” is directed by a principal one-half of the 80’s American new wave band Oingo Boingo in Richard Elfman.  The other half of that duo is Richard’s brother, who we all know and love in his unmistakable musical scores of “Batman” ’89 and “Edward Scissorhands,” Danny Elfman who also scores the opening theme to “Modern Vampires” with recognizable and trademark notes from those previously stated Tim Burton pictures.  The script was also penned by a fellow Oingo Boingo original member and the Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon “Freeway” film, and its sequel, screenwriter Matthew Bright.  Bright and Richard Elfman had previously collaborated on the comedy-musical “Forbidden Zone” surrounding sixth dimensions and damsels in distress as well as the Charles Band produced “Shrunken Heads.”  “Modern Vampires” is produced by Elfman, Brad Wyman (“Barb Wire”), and Chris Hanley (“American Psycho”) under the Storm Entertainment and Muse/Wyman productions.

Ladies, if you thought you’ve seen the last of Casper Van Dien’s backside in “Starship Troopers,” then worry not! As the hunky, cigar-smoking, former World War II pilot Dallas, Van Dien, once again, shows off his hind parts in a steamy sex scene one top of Dallas’s car with costar Natasha Gregson Wagner (“Vampires: Los Muertos,” “Urban Legend”). As the indifferent vampire Nico under the pretense of a prostitute who seduces men into vulnerability before gashing open their necks, Wagner adds a bloodthirsty ferocity to her uncouth, undead character’s tremendous and tragic depth surrounding a trailer park trash childhood of sexual abuse and a grandstand mother. As a pair, Dallas and Nico are essentially made for each other or, rather, Dallas turned Nico because under all that pretty boy veneer, Dallas still has a beating heart for compassion and friendship as noted with Dr. Frederick Van Helsing’s crippled son, Hans, and the choice made between the two young men before the whole debacle of nixing to the fearless and relentless vampire killer of all time. Rob Stieger plays that character beautifully manically. “The Amityville Horror” and “End of Days” actor graces the production with seasoned vitality while also trying something new himself, a slightly fascist German vampire hunter who hires L.A. gangsters to help him do his dirty work and has to be the butt of the joke at times at the hands of Count Dracula (“Striking Distance”) as well as Dallas. Stieger does his scenes with great earnest yet great fun that puts the legendary actor into a new perspective. “Modern Vampires'” star-studded cast doesn’t end there was Dallas’s friends include performances from Kim Cattrall (“Big Trouble in Little China”), comedian Greg Furgeson, Natasha Lyonne (“Slums of Beverely Hills”), and the legendary Udo Kier (Andy Warhol’s “Dracula”) as well as a cast round out with Natalya Andreychenko, Gabriel Casseus, Peter Lucas, Victor Togunde, Cedric Terrell, Flex Alexander, and Conchata Ferrell.

Gory, sexy, and overflowing with politically incorrect humor, Richard Elfman’s “Modern Vampires” more than likely would not be a film made today, but definitely suits the 90’s scene.  There are stereotypes and jokes radically exaggerated for comical effect and land with such insouciant ease that the entire production felt at peace with the humor, emitting “Modern Vampires” as an enjoyable, blood-soaked, outrageous vampire comedy unearthed from over 20-years ago and landing onto a new Blu-ray release where the Elfman film deserved an upgraded treatment.  Los Angeles in ’98 didn’t look extremely different than what’s depicted in the film – late night clubs with half-naked patrons doing all sorts of weird and bloodletting fetishes, leeching prostitution on the delinquency riddled streets, and unsavory, unwilling gang bangs but, in “Modern Vampires’ case, the one tied to the bed is a female vamp fully-transformed into a human-sized bat and those who have sex with her, turn into a vampire themselves.  See the humor and symbolism in that?  Almost as if having unprotected sex with a creature of night is akin to contracting a sexually transmitted disease.  Despite the waggishness, “Modern Vampires” holds other staid themes as well with an arteria one being reflective in the title.  The genesis of the species emerged from Count Dracula who had moved from his old Germanic country to the hip and upcoming L.A. area. With each generation of vampire, the loyalty gap becomes wider until the turned from the 20th century are fully unmanageable by the Count’s supreme power. Nico, the youngest turned is in her vampiric infancy often noted throughout the film, can’t be contained and won’t be told what to do, much like teenagers butting heads with their parents on every little subject. Traditions are broken, heads are severed, bodies are burned, and the “Modern Vampires” is a wildly funny and gruesomely gnarly.

“Modern Vampires” is now the vintage vampires that hit the silver screen some 24 years ago and is now basking with the great 90’s flair of special effects, clothes, and hair on a new Blu-ray release from Ronin Flix in association with Quiver Distribution (“To Your Last Death”). Newly scanned in 2K of the Richard Elfman’s personal film print, the picture retains an unsullied quality with impeccable detail delineation for a story that’s mainly set/shot at night. There’s quite an overlay of purple flush that I’m fairly positive is not intended that pulls away, at times, from clearcut contrasting and blend the objects in the scene together. The film is presented in full high definition1080p in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 stereo that retains the amplitude of every categorical track. Dialogue track provides a clean depth and clarity that doesn’t swerve into boxy territory like many indie productions do. Ambient and foley range is quite limited for a bunch of different locational shots and in a crowded location full of extras but the extent of the quality is good enough. The 91-minute film comes not rated and has an exclusive extra with an introduction by director Richard Elfman plus archival features, such as audio commentary with Richard Elfman and star Casper Van Dien, a behind-the-scenes featurette with on set mini-interviews with the cast and crew. and the theatrical trailer. “Modern Vampires” might now be long in the tooth (get it?) but has the classic campy escapades of an unpretentious good time and, that my friends, is timeless.

“Modern Vampires” available for purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

When That Sexy Roommate Turns Out to be an EVIL Hexing Hag! “Don’t Let her In” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

“Don’t Let Her In” on Blu-ray from Full Moon Features and Distributed by MVD Visual

Young artist couple Amber and Ben live downtown in a spacious single floor loft.  To afford rent and earn a little extra cash on the side, they decide to sublet a portion to Serena, a beautiful, and recently single, new age jewelry bowl artist who crafts old age product.  Some would say Serena’s craft is witchcraft as the alluring artist is actually being inhabited by an ancient, malevolent demon.  As she settles into her new abode, Serena slowly works her way between Amber and Ben, seducing and bedding both for her reasons to prolong a legacy on Earth.  When Ben is suddenly whisked away for an unexpected rock tour, Amber finds herself cornered by the demon in human skin and, to her on the pill surprise, pregnant because of Serena’s daily bewitching manipulation and incessant satanic chanting.

As a part of the new Full Moon lineup of 2022, principal Full Moon filmmaker Ted Nicolaou, the mastermind behind “TerrorVision” and the longstanding director of the “Subspecies” franchise, returns with another vision of terror, a beautifully demonic roommate from Hell, in “Don’t Let her In.”  Shot entirely on location at the historic Nate Starkman and Sons Building in Los Angeles, home to an array of productions from inside Paddy’s Bar of “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to appearing in a handful of iconic horror series, such as “Candyman:  Day of the Dead” and “Wishmaster 2:  Evil Never Dies,” the 1908 erected factory is said itself to be haunted, adding to the miscreant charm of a shapeshifting fiend plaguing the innocence of a young couple.  Charles Band, like all of his productions, serves as chief producer and executive producer with the cannabis friendly Nakai Nelson, this side of the century Full Moon Feature producer with credits such as the “Evil Bong,” “Weedjies,” and a pair of more recent “Puppet Master” films to her name. 

“Don’t Let Her In” has an intimate cast comprised of four actors who have to pull in different, varying levels of character dynamics and frames of mind depending on how Serena’s orchestrating of the strings upon her marionette subjects favor in or from her dastardly ambition.  At the center is first time Full Moon actress Lorin Doctor as the pleasantly chic but unpleasantly succubus-like Serena who wants more than just a place to sojourn from an ex-boyfriend.  Serena is the kind of role where you have to applaud Doctor for not only pulling off grimacing in the shadows and being able to keep up the rhythms and beats of complex chanting but also be comfortable in the facial prosthetic makeup and make like a troll for a creepy crouch walk in a backwards reel speedup effect.  Kelly Curran and Cole Pendery are also newcomers to Full Moon’s world of strange and unusual T&A horror as the loft-residing couple Amber and Ben.  Curran and Pendery make up for an okay, downtown twosome with hints toward a checkered past of philandering that’s irritated by Serena’s provocative presence, but that’s doesn’t quite blossom into more of an issue as Amber is quickly eager to just go with the flow without being too bothered by the prospect that Serena and Amber did the bedsheet whoopee next to Amber as she slept.  The four and last character Elias Lambe is by far the most lacking in development and substance as an important piece of Serena’s puzzle that quickly becomes shoved under the rug.  Austin James Parker plays the part that’s mostly standing outside the building on the street corner looking gothically mirthless rather than ominous and before realizing how Lambe fits into the narrative, the long haired, trench coat-cladded, vampire-esque backstory is quickly snatched away with not a morsel left of his bigger part as suggested.

“Don’t Let Her In” is a refreshing addition to the Full Moon feature line that maintains a lot of hallmarks of the company, such as heavy use of body prosthetics, an expensive veneer on an indie budget, and, of course, nudity.  Though many other audiences draw comparisons to “Rosemary’s Baby,” Nicolaou relates only a smidgen in the story alone without the Roman Polanski pin drop suspense of subjective narration.  Instead, Nicolaou embodies Full Moon’s quirky and special effects greased terror fried to a familiar taste all fans have known from the past 40 years and that’s not terribly a bad thing.  “Don’t Let Her In” feels like an original piece of storytelling, much like “Castle Freak” or  “The Dead Hate the Living,” that detaches itself from Charles Band’s obsession with miniature maniacs, but Full Moon has no shame in telling us we’re still watching one of their films, gratuitously plopping easter eggs of their films all throughout “Don’t Let Her In” (i.e. Poster artist Amber’s current project, a rendering of “Corona Zombies,” and “Castle Freak” playing on the television set as Amber and Serena spend an evening as a pair of winos).  Serena’s demoness rat-faced makeup does appear stiff and inane at times, but the way Nicolaou mostly presents Serena in true form is through a blend of quick-sufficient editing, a manipulation of lens and pace, and the to-and-fro from the human façade that ultimately makes rodent Serena become scary Serena when accompanied by Charles Band’s strike of forte notes when not being melodiously carnivalesque.

Lesson here, kids, is to always background check you potential roommates because they might end up being a demon. Happens all the time. Fortunately, Full Moon Features delivers the entertainingly sapid “Don’t Let Her In” onto Blu-ray home video, presented in region free and a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Full high-definition and 1080p resolution, this release has a strong, robust presentation in favor of Nicolaou’s often in your face with evil style despite the single loft location. The fact that this Full Moon feature is toned down from the usual moody, tenebrous gothic style shows a bit of range can be good for the collection. There are two available audio options: a 5.1 surround sound and a dual channel 2.0 stereo. If you want more fluff to your sound design, the 5.1 offers extra street ambiance while characters converse, sawing through the dialogue with car horns, traffic, and other urban outdoor racket as if they’re living right in the middle of Times Square. Yet, all outdoor scenes show little car or foot traffic that makes this fluff foolish. The dialogue is otherwise clean and Charles Band’s soundtrack interposes pizzazz and dread in this brawny audio output. Bonus features include a “Don’t Let Her In” behind-the scenes with snippet interviews from director Ted Nicolaou, actresses Lorin Doctor and Kelly Curran, and producer Nakai Nelson and rounding out with an array of Full Moon trailers. “Don’t Let Her In” has vim and vigor for an indie guise horror that’s erotic as it is fun surrounding a small cast and single location; yet there is also an evoking pathos in its decimation of young, naive artists and couples with career ending consequences.

“Don’t Let Her In” on Blu-ray from Full Moon Features and Distributed by MVD Visual

Hear That? That’s EVIL Bamboolzing You! “Ultrasound” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



Driving home from a wedding reception, Glenn’s car suffers a flat tire in the pouring rain.  He finds refuge in the home of married couple, Art and Cyndi, with an extended offer to him to wait out the rain and spend the night, spending the night in bed with Cyndi at the pleading request of Art.    The next morning, Glenn wakes up and Art and Cyndi are gone.  Months later, Art shows up at Glenn’s apartment and shows him a videotape of a pregnant Cyndi.  Unable to make sense how of his role within Art and Cyndi’s lives, Glenn agrees to meet with Cyndi to discuss future plans and wind up a romantic relationship, but when they suddenly wake up in a hospital and kept separated, they believe they lost the baby as well as the use of Glenn’s legs due to an assumed accident.  What unfolds for the couple from then on is bizarre reality that doesn’t make much sense with only a few familiar chords being struck in their mind and every step of their life is being controlled by manipulators with various agendas. 

A gyrating wool over the eyes suspense thriller is set to release this Friday, March 11th. That film is “Ultrasound,” the first feature film helmed by Rob Schroeder, the producer of “Sun Choke” and “Beyond the Gates,” both films starring Barbara Crampton.  Unfortunately, “Ultrasound” doesn’t star the iconic scream queen but the Conor Stechschulte script, based off the Stechschute’s erotic psychological graphic novel series, “Generous Bosom,” produces the high intense frequencies from off the illustrated pages and into the subjected characters and audiences with disorienting loops of truths and falsities.  The U.S. production is a product of the Los Angeles based Lodger Films, cofounded by Schroeder and Georg Kallert, and with co-producers Brock Bodell and Spencer Jazewski.

“Ultrasound’s” narrative is a latticework of character arcs divided into two stories that only merge when Glenn and Cyndi are involved in an unusual (some could say almost magical) scheme connived by hypnotist The Amazing Art, played with sure hand nervousness by Bob Stephenson (“Lady Bird”) whose very good at the soft touch of persuasion with his innocent demeanor.  Stephenson works tirelessly his Jedi mind tricks on Glenn, “My Friend Dahmer’s” Vincent Kartheiser, and Cyndi, “Phoenix Forgotten’s” Chelsea Lopez. Kartheiser and Lopez relish in their own deceptions as two strangers being joined by unintended, radical means to fulfill not one but two devious plans. Between political scandal coverups and government sanctioned alternative military tactics, Chris Gartin (“Tremors II: Aftershocks”) and Tunde Adebimpe (“She Dies Tomorrow”) couldn’t be any more different in character engrained into their repelling tangential tales sourced from the same spoiled spring but both actors root deep into the same antithesis garden as a pair of well-informed and completely in control power hungry and idealistic men in idol roles, driving Schroeder’s message right into the heart of public figure facade versus public figure character and both Gartin and Adebimpe nurture that perspective all too well. Then, you throw in a monkey wrench named Breeda Wool (“Mr. Mercedes“) into the well-oiled machine of exploitation to be the controlled outlier only to have the veil lifted for truth. Wool, probably not intendedly punned toward “Ultrasound’s” theme of pulling the wool over one’s eyes or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, casts rightful doubt as Shannon, an innocent associate being kept in the dark, much like Cyndi and Glenn. While the cast is great in roles, none of them stand out in a singular performance and are all a cog in Schroeder’s contrivance. “Ultrasound’s” cast fills in with Megan Fox lookalike Rainey Qualley (“Shut In”), Porter Duong, and Mark Burnham who dons the fleshy mask of Leatherface in this year’s Netflix original and legacy sequel “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Tapping from the same virtual reality vein of Christopher Nolan and David Cronenberg, the idiosyncrasies of perception are no longer our own as audio, visual, and thoughts become the duped fool in “Ultrasound’s” underhanded exploitation.  The concept, high in twist and turns working backwards to unfold what befuddles the hapless into a life believed depressingly real, parallelly touches upon the real-life issue of sleight of hand corruption and scandal.  Because this person is an upstanding politician with a beautiful family or this other person has an advanced medical degree and is respected in the science community, we are supposed to take them at their word when in actuality, they’re pulling the metaphorical rug from under our sensorial feet to the extreme point where everything they have said and done that has crumbled down to a lie has a flummoxing and deafening aftershock effect that almost can’t be believed.  The two-tale narrative connects with Art and his mismanaging of one plan that tosses his subjects into the hands of another group for what’s to become of Glenn and Cyndi and that transfer, much like the disintegrating hypnosis effect at times, is not tight enough and becomes lost in translation inside Schroeder’s illusive imagery and harsh editing to keep in story in line until a point.  “Ultrasound” plagues with hot, intense colors under a low-key lighting, like a deep blue or an intense red, to often relay reality outside the confines of normality.  Even though the word “Ultrasound” revolves around the manipulative use of ultrasonic frequencies, I do find the irony in Stechschulte’s story that at the center of much of the tumultuous misperception, there’s a baby often represented as there or not there depending on how we should perceive the characters and it’s like the filmmakers wanted to plug in, perhaps, the nuisances with scanning technology or dip their toes into body horror with body image.

“Ultrasound” is a great low-level, high-tech Sci-fi brainteaser ready to mess with your mind being released this Friday, March 11th, in theaters and on demand from Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary label of Magnolia Pictures that offers innovative tales of horror and science fiction from new, creative filmmaking talent.  Since a digital screener was provided, we will not delve into any audio or video evaluations, but Mathew Rudenberg, whose worked in the past with Schroeder as DP on “Sun Choke,” has come a long way since his image work on the 2008 alien-driven-zombie film “Evilution” with keeping the frame tight during medium and closeup shots to never expose to much at one time, leaving a little to imagination when the time comes to open up the room, so to speak.  Zak Engel’s analogue and digital synth-score with tangible instrumental highlights from Piano and violin and Bob Borito’s dial and knob sound design swishing static and low-frequency humming sends this soundtrack into a futuristic guise on contemporary grounds that insidiously works into the grand scheme low-tech yet terrifying Sci-Fi. The 103-minute film does not include any bonus scenes during or after the credits. I keep throwing around key descriptors like low-tech for “Ultrasound” and by no means do mean that as a criticism as I speak about the simplest of tech, the original mechanism, of our body and our sensory nodes that receives data input, processes it, and transmits signals to our outputting areas and “Ultrasound” looks at disrupting the supply of data and, just like in today’s pandemic and war climate, a break in the chain can cause unforeseen turmoil that upends lives when cranked up.

EVIL is Only in Your Nightmares. Or is it? “Retribution” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

Severely depressed artist George Miller attempts suicide by jumping off from his apartment building.  During the exact same time, a low-end gangster is brutally killed by cruel loan sharks.  Being both born on Aril 1st and dying at the same time, the tortured spirit of the gangster possesses the meek artist’s body right before being resuscitated by EMTs.  After a long recovery filled with horrific nightmares, the affable artist returns to his apartment building where he’s welcomed by fellow tenants and an overly warm landlord.  Still plagued by nightmares that have seeped into his awake conscious state, George medicates himself to sleep but the nightmares continue as he sees himself using psychokinetic powers to kill random individuals with extreme malice.  The nightmares are so real he wakes up in a sweaty panic to find out that that exact person was killed the night before the very way it played in his dreams.  When George realizes the gangster has inhabited his body for revenge, he and his friends take measures to put an end to the vindictive carnage. 

Santa Maria.  Mother of God.  Help me!!!  That phrase, attached to the very last seconds before a gruesome death and announced blankly from fiery, dagger eyes, has forever been seared into the recessed corners of my eardrums as the death cry that echoes throughout Guy Magar’s 1987 gory and visceral possession identity crisis, “Retribution.”  Magar’s ultra-violent and super-chromatic film is the filmmaker’s grand inaugural entrance as a full-length director following up behind a string of director chaired television episodes, including episodes from “The A-Team,” “Blue Thunder,” and “The Powers of Matthew Star” that regularly contained quickly charged, action packed sequences.  The Egyptian-born director translates those intense moments of frenzied disturbance into his mean-spirited and unforgiving vindicator of a script cowritten with then first time screenwriter, Lee Wasserman.  Shot in Los Angeles, “Retribution” is a virtual tour of the city, using the streets of L.A. and real locations, such as the Don Hotel for George’s residence and the nearby House of Neon Art, as a lively, eclectic, and wallet-saving convenient giftwrap for the film’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde complexion that feels totally normal compared to L.A.’s divergent glamour.  Magar and Wasserman produce the film with Renegade and Unicorn Motion Pictures serving as the production companies and presented by Taurus Entertainment, formerly connected with United Artists. 

There are probably many actors that could been imagined for the role of George Miller, the suicidal artist plagued with visions of him committing murder, but it’s hard to imagine that venomous stare of complete satisfaction in madness spread across the face of anyone else other than Dennis Lipscomb.  No disrespect to the “Eyes of Fire” and “Wargames” actor but Lipscomb isn’t a chiseled-jawed and muscular leading man; in fact, Lipscomb is quite the opposite, but his range into mild-manner, all around nice guy George Miller into the lust for hatred and murderous revenge George Miller hangs on with complete chasmic permanence.  However, George’s love interest with the street working prostitute and fellow Don Hotel resident, Angel (Suzanne Snyder, “Return of the Living Dead II,” “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”), hardly ever seems natural in not only in the characters’ surreal age-yawning dalliance but also the chemistry looks and feels flat between Lipscomb and Snyder.  Magar and Wesserman neglect diving more into that bond between them but their enamored gleamy eyes for one another is apparent and strong without the context to back it up.  “The Dungeonmaster’s” Leslie Wing also is placed as a George Miller sympathetic advocate in her role as hospital psychologist Dr. Jennifer Curtis, but Dr. Curtis has more background to contend with in comparison to the suddenly conjured fondness from Angel as Curtis is a mental health professional caring for a suicidal patient from at his rock bottom worst to a complete positive turnaround in his mental transformation.  Curtis has more skin in the game with George’s supposed delusions of actually killing people in his nightmares as she defends not only George’s unique supernatural circumstances, but, in a way, herself as a licensed medical profession following HIPAA laws.  “Retribution” holds many dear and unforgettable characters that essentially captures the entire 1980’s spectrum of personalities and, even for a brief scene, the cast gives each role their all, including performances from Susan Peretz (“Dog Day Afternoon”), Clare Peck (“Teen Wolf”), Chris Caputo (“Ghost Warrior”), Danny Daniels (“Voodoo Blood Bath”), Ralph Manza (“Godzilla”), George Murdock (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”), Mike Muscat (“Hunter’s Blood”), and Hoyt Axton who doesn’t stray too far from his good intentions, but naïve, father role in “Gremlins” to being a detective tracking down suspect George Miller. 

I’m in total awe of Guy Magar’s “Retribution.” That opening scene of the suicide attempt with Alan Howarth’s building tension score drops not a single piece of dialogue yet opens with a gripping life and death situation, musically synced to progress toward a harrowing climax, and every frame is dripping with vintage 80’s appeal. Magar definitely knew what strings to pull to get the blood pumping, to get you excited, and to drop an excellent mystery right in the lap, or the middle of the street in this case with George Miller’s body after it flops off the car it just smashed onto. From that point on, “Retribution” peddles forward following the recovery, recouping, and ruination of George Miller’s life at the unseen hands of an exploiting, malevolent spirit that seeks to track down the top-tiered gangsters that shot and burned him alive and exact his own brand of harsh psychokinetic justice. Does it matter how George and this gangster, both born on the same day and both nearly died at the same time, came to fuse transcendently together? Don’t worry. Magar didn’t think it was important either and he’s right! “Retribution” snags all the attention for the sole purpose of the ride and that ride being a beautiful, color-coded daymare. The one aspect that ultimately retracts the buzzing high, stemmed from most 80’s films, is the sluggish love interest subplot between George and Angel stutter stepping into an awkward phase of interactions that hard stops much of core plot and though the plot is neurotically nonsensical to begin with, George and Angel’s desires for each other are about as cringeworthy as they come. Stick with the gore by honing in on Miller’s subconscious alter ego of a gangster serving his killers their just desserts via Kevin Yagher (“Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) and his highly effective special effects on a low end budget that, along with a brilliant showing of cinematography by Gary Thieltges, tips into the categorical likes of “The Evil Dead” or “The Exorcist.”

“Retribution” delivers a fervency unlike ever seen in one of the utmost, must-see, shamefully overlooked horrors films of the 80’s.  Now, with a deserved boost and in style, “Retribution” gets the royal restoration treatment with a jammed-packed and sleek 3-disc Blu-ray set from Severin Films and distributed by MVD Visual.  Disc one’s theatrical cut, clocking in at 107 minutes, comes from the recently discovered 35mm pre-print elements, shot on an Arriflex 35 BL3 per IMDB, and has been digitally scanned in 2K, presenting the region free film in 1080p Full High Definition inside the original widescreen 1:85:1 aspect ratio.  “Retribution’s” image pleasingly pops with fine delineating attention to the details that reach out to the point where they’re nearly tactile textures.  Every single setup of Robb Wilson King’s production designs are rich to begin with but are even figuratively injected with a smoother compression growth enhancing hormone, adding more layers of surface level details that personify and personalize the space.  Magar’s chromatically fluorescent vision is a literal tilt-a-whirl palette blast of phantasmagoria.  Disc tow is the extended Dutch video version that adds back in the extended seconds on the longer, gorier kill scenes.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is the sole mix on the release and, honestly, sates the need with the dual channels.  You obviously don’t get the surround sound, which considering this release would have been ideal, but the stereo mix, as well as the dialogue track, is still full-bodied, identifiable, and spotless of blemishes.  John Carpenter understudy Alan Howarth scores his solo synth-laden story on tenterhooks with a tinge of a Miami Vice theme as well as setting tonal moods that add depth to character layers.  If you want the entire OST, you’re in luck!  The third disc is a compact disc of the entire soundtrack.  Special features includes over two hours of content with Severin exclusive looking back at the experiences with the late director Guy Magar and the ins-and-outs of making “Retribution” interviews with co-writer Les Wasserman Writing Wrongs, actress Leslie Wing Shock Therapy, actress Suzanne Snyder Angel’s Heart, actor Mike Muscat Santa Maria, Mother of God, Help Me!, soundtrack composer Alan Howarth Settling the Score, special effects artist John Eggett Visions of Vengeance, artist Barry Fahr The Art of Getting Even, production designer Robb Wilson King Living in Oblivion.  Other special features include Guy Magar’s student film “Bingo,” stills and poster galley, and the theatrical trailer all packaged under a cardboard slipcover and a reversible snap case cover. Severin Film’s “Retribution” release is a triumph, a proper regenerarcy of revenge cinema, with all the gory details being the star of the show.

Own this Amazing 3-Disc set of “Retribution” from Severin Films!

Fortuity Can Be EVIL’s Plaything. “Like A Dirty French Novel” reviewed! (Blvd. Du Cinema Productions / Digital Screener)



An organized crime and deceitful milieu sets the stage for a missing bag of stolen cash, an unscrupulous bunch of characters, and a mysterious omnipresence being persuasive behind the curtain of a rotary phone.  When ex-lovers Crystal and Hue are not in heated spats over past infidelities, trapped inside their quaint apartment, Crystal moonlights as an adult cosplaying model secretly having an relationship with a stranger while Hue locks himself away in the bathroom conversing secretively and flirtatiously with an unknown woman he knows nothing about.  They become entwined in a heist gone wrong by a group of halfwit robbers that leaves a trail of death, lies, and an evil charting their fates in the shadows. 

Desultory pulp basking in noir fiction, “Like A Dirty French Novel” flaunts a chicly awkward and brazenly unmethodical black comedy and crime drama front from Cuban-American writer-director Mike Cuenca.  The “By the Wayside” and “I’ll Be Around” auteur stitches together a vivaciously satire and minuscule budgeted drama comedy shot in the zero hours of a time crunching, less than a week, schedule with an editing style, edited by Cuenca himself as one of his many production hats, of five chaptered, non-linear tale of sectionalized cynicism and infringing transgressions.  Cuenca co-write the script with Ashlee Elfmann and “I’ll Be Around” co-writer, Dan Rojay, with Cuenca self-producing under the filmmaker’s East Los Angeles-based, DIY encouraging production company, Blvd. Du Cinema Productions.

With an ensemble cast, “Like A Dirty French Novel” spreads out with five chapters, two interludes, and a prologue that begins with three men walking in a desert and approached by a mysterious woman in a chintzy, but intrinsically detailed, Japanese resembling Oni mask.  Before we can invest into these bewildering circumstance that leave the three men screaming for their very lives, Cuenca whisks up away right into Chapter One, introducing bickering ex-lovers Crystal (Jennifer Daley, “Blood Born”) and Hue (Rob Vally, of gay themed Steven Vasquez pictures such as “Angels with Tethered Wings” and “Dancing on the Dark Side of the Moon.”) snooping into each other’s hidden extracurricular activities that leave Crystal daydreaming about romance and Hue surrendering to smutty phone talk.  Not much is revealed in the first chapter before segueing into the second with Forrester Dooley (Grand Moninger), an unhappily married man who switches places with his twin brother and the recently unincinerated Bugs Dooley (also Moninger), but, as fate would have it, Bugs turns out to be a standup, wonderful guy whereas Forrester need for a break ironically places a bullseye on back and he ends up stranded in the desert with two unsavory fellows, circling back to the film’s vague prologue.  The cause for their stranding is because of Lane, a manic drifter delightfully captured by “We Take The Low Road’s” Amanda Viola.  Lane is approached by cool cat Jake (Aaron Bustos) and what ensues next is a montage of innocent dalliance before he suddenly vanishes and is seemingly dead to the world.  Remaining chapters unravel more about the principle players, spilling their hidden agendas and their scheming roles surrounding a duffle bag of thieved cash pinched from a local ruthless kingpin Filmore Demille, played by Cuenca himself donning yet another hat.  The cast rounds out with Dominic Fawcett, Samantha Nelson, Laura Urgelles, Claire Woolner, Dan Rojay, Joey Halter, Miles Dougal, Steven Escot, Arko Miro, and “Murder Manual’s” Brittany Samson as the interlude’s stammering and obsessed fanatic of the masked and sexy graphic novel cosplay model.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” pulsates with pulpy fiction with hints of Lynchian notes through Cuenca’s back and forth pacing of connecting the dots to his equivocal crime thriller.   Cuenca’s gray area, faltering more than any other, lies in making that relating and understandable so important connection of reverting scenes back to earlier ones in order to have actions make sense.  A once over is not enough to fully grasp “Like A Dirty French Novel’s” abstract features and to be recursive would not be a sign of weakness or simplemindedness on our part.  Still, smoothing out the rough patches like with the peculiar finale, which I’m speculating to be the grounds of Hell, would have made “Like A Dirty French Novel” more of an easy read than a confusing one as well as completing most characters arcs with a satisfying tell all fate. Cuenca’s filmic message of what comes around, goes around comes across more clearly with those who reap what they sow. A faux book entitled Porter du Fruit or Bear Fruit yields to positive results and, in which this case, none of those characters who go to the grounds of Hell are saints by any means. Constrained by a shallow pocket budget, settings are simple outdoor public areas, small apartments utilized with polygonal angles, and, if you’re working in L.A. much like this shoot, then more than likely a scene or two, at the very least, is filmed in the desert, but seasoned cinematographer, Jessica Gallant (“The Control Group,” “Shevenge”) spruces up scenes with neon red lighting, dabbing in black and white, and centralizing characters with focal spotlight, adding little classic techniques that still pop in the camera’s eye. Gallant’s wide berth of techniques, from hot pink tints to emulating grindhouse celluloid grain and scratches, keeps a stylized profile wanting to be watched. However, most cast performances are not so debonair as they come across a bit prosy, staged, and without too much magnetism that usually trends with pulp-noir trademarks and, of course, trashy novels érotiques bon marché.   With the exception of the underused Amanda Viola and Cuenca’s solo-scene monologue, sleeping at the wheel performances drives no other standouts in this cast.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” premiered this past August at the independent showcase, Dances With Films film festival, held in Los Angeles at The Chinese Theaters as part of their Midnight lineup; however, no current confirmations on when the first home release – whether physical release or digital releases – will be available yet. Briskly paced at 78 minutes, Cuenca squeezes into one more hat among his list of production duties as author of the eclectic sometime brooding and sometime high energy score along with Carlos Colon composing the pieces that could resemble the minor league notes of Michel Legrand. Alas, Michael Cuenca’s “Like A Dirty French Novel” aims to be more bourgeoisie than an obvious low cut of a few francs with an ingrained pulpy style and more twist and turns than Grand Prix race car driver, but lacks that tour de force it strives to assimilate as because of stiff performances and a wildly untraceable storyline.