After receiving a distressing call warranting a trip to Mexico, alcoholic and drug dealer Warran Novak attempts to sell half cooked crystal meth to junkies that ends in two fatalities and two armed drug pushers in hot pursuit of Warren after he steals their cash for the road trip to the border. Before entering Mexico after a tireless drive and unaware of where to exactly go next once crossed the border, the fallen military soldier rents a motel room in the rundown town of Bedford Flats, a once thriving community lush with value and tourism derived from it’s once popular hunting tradition of bison and other wildlife. Now that the wildlife has dried up, Bedford Flats has landed in a stage of an ugly depression and to keep on the tradition of hunting, the foundation of which Bedford Flats has been built, the towns people gather to conduct a merciless hunting expedition of drifters and unsavory folk. Warren and his two pursuers, plus a homeless Mexican and the town drunk, are forced to participate in the hunt as prey with only their able bodies to carry themselves across the salt flats and seek shelter in the rocky landscape just beyond, but Warren decides to fight back against the towns’ most capable hunters in a twisted game of cat-and-mouse.
Western horror has always been a fascinating subgenre with a bleak and barren landscape denizened with colorful, hellbent characters committing one of three sole acts: taking, surviving, or dying. Selective Collective and Waterstone Entertainment’s “Happy Hunting” steps ever so lightly beyond the border into the realm of modern western horror involving a deranged game of hunting and killing humans for sport backdropped mostly in Bombay Beach, California and written and directed by first time feature film filmmakers Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson, who is one of the sons of Hollywood superstar, and who knows all about western dystopias, Mel Gibson (“Mad Max”). Louie Gibson might have learned a thing or two from his “Apocalypto” directing old man by delivering the brash ferocity and the stoned-heart, icy personas into the story and into the shot twisting an already vulnerable situation into sheer, bite-the-bullet terror.
Martin Dingle Wall delivers every shaky alcoholic tremor as drifter Warren Novak. Wall’s soft eyes, but rugged appeal justifies the 46-year-old actor as an unlikely, likable hero even though Warren will do just about anything for money and for the drink. Wall is able to tap into Warren’s subtle high intelligence and exploit it for the screen against a variety of aberrant game hunters by actors including “Devil Girls'” C.J. Baker, Michael Tipps, Kenneth Billings, and Liesel Handson of “Planet of the Vampire Women.” Dietsch and Gibson pick out one hunter to be the most versatile bad guy in Ken Lally. Lally, whose voice has captured legendary video game characters such as Mortal Kombat’s Smoke, Goro, and Shinnok, brings that malevolent tone to the silver screen as Bedford Flats all around nice guy, Steve Patterson. Of course, “all around nice guy” is an oxymoron in “Happy Hunting” because there are no such thing as nice guys in Bedford Flats, not even the crooked Sheriff Burnside (“Sasquatch Hunters'” Gary Sturm) who acts as the maestro for Bedford Flat’s great annual hunt.
What’s interesting about the film is that there is no love interest which is a rarity; instead, Warren is motivated by a mysterious phone call regarding a possible Mexican love child in the need of help. The mysterious plea over the phone line provides Warren with a purpose in this purposeless life, but that purpose is amplified by the very abrupt detour by a deranged town seeking to rid, what they consider to be, lowlife scum. Another side to Warren’s plight is that the whole sadistic game, the entire inhuman hunt, could be a figment of his withdrawal. Being a drifter and a person who doesn’t amount to much, Warren self worth goes in and out of various stages of withdrawal throughout the duration, before and during life stakes, with dropped dialogue and visible hints about symptoms of going cold turkey. Lets not forget to mention that the directors make an elucidation of Warren’s withdrawals with visions of a dead man, one in which Warren kills prior to his trek to the border, conversing with him, providing him undue advice during the predicament. Then, there’s the very end scene which shoots the likelihood of Warren’s version realism and sanity right out the window and begs the question if everything Warren went through, every struggle, and every death experienced was all inside his head.
“Happy Hunting” has been released on DVD courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment. The region 4 DVD is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio that’s utterly gorgeous and stupefyingly frightening in the long and wide shots of Bombay Beach’s desert wasteland. Heavy in dusty yellow and rich in lifeless landscape, the color palette is understandably one-sided, but the merit is in the detail of every dry land crack and every minuscule dust bite being disseminated about with every action. The English 5.1 Dolby audio track has balance, range, and fidelity. Dialogue’s clear and prominent, even with Martin Dingle Wall’s slightly raspy and sluggish deliveries. A blight on the DVD is the bonus material and that goes without saying because a single extra doesn’t grace the package, constructing an anemic, film-only DVD presentation of Joe Diestsch and Louie Gibson’s first feature run. However, “Happy Hunting” re-illuminates Western horror stark with a dire need for survival during trying times and Joe Diestch and Louie Gibson have fashioned a subtle analogy of what life would be like in a supposed Trump America where the U.S.-Mexico border wall would be infact 10 feet high, “deplorable” people are axed from today’s American society, and the small rural, once thriving, communities are stuck in the past with outdated viewpoints and assumptions of how maintain existence in a world changing around them. In the end, “Happy Hunting” goes beyond Western horror into being an insightful dystopia of exploitive western survival horror.
In the Australian outback, a prehistoric and ginormous crocodile has surfaced in the wake of mankind’s gentrification of the wilderness land. Between ambushing crocodile poachers and snatching little Aborigine children from off the river shore, the ancient saltwater hunter has become the hunted as park ranger and crocodile preservation expert Steve Harrison has been assigned to kill the beast, but the local Aborigine tribe holds the killer croc sacred, calling it Numunwari, an ancient, spirit carrying crocodile that has embodied the bones and souls of ancestral aborigine. Together, Harrison and local tribe leader Oondabund must find a way to stop the chaos without terminating the Numunwari while combating drunken poachers and a rattled ranger chief looking to abruptly end public fear. With the enthusiastic help of Harrison’s ex-lover, Cathy Pope, the three devise a dangerous plan to sedate the massive croc and transport it to a secluded habitat before death rears it’s ugly head once again.
Arch Nicholson’s “Dark Age” is the Australian “Jaws” equivalent, introducing a massive crocodile that puts the fear of the murky rivers into the hearts of audiences much like a giant great white shark did for the ocean beaches. “Dark Age” is a raging adventure with a delicate undertone about nature fighting back against an aggressive, occupying force called man, especially the white man, who kills without cause, who plagues without consciousness, and whose power instills a reactionary fear to kill. A single, monstrous crocodile embodies and symbolizes the essence of an entire habitat, chomping through flesh and doing a death roll to make known that nothing can stop nature or as “Jurassic Park’s” Dr. Ian Malcolm so eloquently put it, “Life, uh, finds a way.” Nicholson’s film, from the novel of Grahame Webb novel Numunwari, isn’t solely a man versus nature horror despite marketed as one; instead, “Dark Age” unveils more the cruel side of human nature that’s more Machiavellian than nature running its course.
“Wolf Creek” star John Jarrett, who I better know from “The Odd Angry Shot,” stars as the conflicted park ranger and crocodile preservation expert Steve Harrison. Jarrett’s more convincing a maniac outdoors man than a crocodile conversationalist, but the iconic Aussie convinces us all that being in between two opposing sides is no easy task with this willingness to do what’s right on both sides. Nikki Coghill portrays Steve Harrison’s love interest, Cathy Pope, and Coghill is a dominating female lead by, not only being the only prominent female character, but with her striking ability to overpower Jarrett in scenes and with her also very striking beauty that comes to peak in a fleshy sex scene with Jarrett. The second most recognizable face behind Jarrett is aborigine descendant David Gulpilil. Most Stateside filmgoers may recall Gulpilil’s long locks and distinctive facial features from Crocodile Dundee in a ceremonial Aborigine dance alongside Paul Hogan. In “Dark Age,” Gulpilil plays Adjaral, son of Aborigine tribe leader Oondabund played by Burnham Burnham. “The Howling III” actor acts as a spiritual liaison between the crocodile and the white man world and Burnham Burnham’s childlike presence onscreen makes the actor very memorable and likable. Ray Meagher, Max Phipps, Jeff Ashby, Paul Bertram, and Ron Blanchard co-star.
There have been many installments and versions of crocodile leviathans. In fact, in It’s Bloggin’ Evil’s last review, Sion Sono’s Tag, there’s a dream sequence of a giant crocodile gorily snapping down upon a Japanese schoolgirl with blood spraying everywhere. While the scene is graphic, eye-catching, and notable, the croc was a mockery of reality with disproportionate jowl and a flimsy design that’s more cartoonish than substantially factual. Kuddos to the monster effects and long time visual effects artist Roger Cowland for constructing a frightening behemoth of a crocodile. Though slightly stiff in some scenes, Nicholson camera placement exhibits just enough to warrant a shortage of breath whenever the crocodile goes in for the kill or stalks a prey with the round eyes popping just above the water’s surface. This effect is masterfully executed by the late director who didn’t feel the need to be gratuitously gory with the death scenes that are modest, intense, and sheerly practical.
Yet to be on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S.A., the good blokes over at Umbrella Entertainment release ultra-rare “Dark Age” for the first time hi-definition on Blu-ray as part of Ozploitation Classic series presented in a 1080p widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, format. The image looks clean without any noticeable enhancements, distortions or print damage with only some heavy noise in the darker scenes. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is just as perfect with clarity in the dialogue, a pulsating synthesizing score, and fine fidelity and range. No hissing, popping, or any other noise annoyances were detected. Umbrella unleashes a slew of bonus material includes an audio Commentary with Actor John Jarratt and Executive Producer Antony I. Ginnane, a Bicentenary with Bite: Revisiting “Dark Age”, panel discussion with film historians Lee Gambin, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Emma Westwood and Sally Christie, and Uncut Not Quite Hollywood Interviews with John Jarratt and Antony I. Ginnane which are tremendously enlightening about the film’s birth and concluding reactions. There’s also a 1986 documentary entitled Living With Crocodiles with Grahame Webb, author of Numunwari, trailers, and an image gallery. Forget “Rogue.” Forge “Lake Placid” Lets even forget “Dinocroc!” Umbrella Entertainment’s “Dark Age” is the ultimate formidable 90-minute action-horror with trembling induced fear and adrenaline produced thrills accompanied inside a hi-definition release packed to the razor sharp teeth with extras.
After five years of cryogenic solitude, Python Diamond returns on a heavily armored military escort ship, returning from Saturn where a maximum prison holds Earth’s most dangerous convicts until their execution date. As they close in on home, Earth has gone dark, communications have gone silent, and massive radiation cover most of the populated soil. A faint signal of power draws the crew down to a manageable radioactive portion of scorched Earth where they discover a small band of people, surviving in an underground bunker and striving to live in a post nuclear fallout. The exploration of life search doesn’t go unnoticed as a violent, more dominant group of survivors seek to take the military’s possessions, if not their lives too, and when war breaks out between them, another mutated and dangerous player enters the game.
Another Richard Griffin directed project and another great example of a superbly self-reliant genre film thats sharp-witted, off-colored, and, of course, entertaining to horror and post-apocalypse fans. Though Griffin and his usual cast of cast members tackle the homage with full-brute strength, Griffin places a gently new-used spin upon each of his inspired works in the form of great absurdity that’s hard to refute or dislike no matter what genre of movie fits your fancy. His post-apocalyptic, science-fiction, horror film “Future Justice” revolutionizes the homage by stripping iconic films of their popularities and mashing them together into a very coherent and comprehensible story without seeming like a total rip off. Instead, Griffin takes the Nathaniel Sylva written story and runs with it like a powerful running back whose hugging on tight to that pigskin ball and charging like hell to the end zone for his first touchdown, treasuring that first score and making it his own unique success even though scoring touch downs has been down countless times before.
The underwhelming title, “Future Justice,” doesn’t speak much to the film’s overall enthusiastic gesture. Yet, the witnessing of gung-ho filmmakers given only an inch to work with and stretching that into a long mile, or even two, is always an amazing length. Nathaniel Sylva didn’t only write the film, he also starred as the lead character, a confident and calculating convict named Python Diamond which is a bit of a play on the John Carpenter Snake Plissken character from “Escape from New York” and “Escape from L.A.” Then, the story embarks on a motley crew, like you would see in a “Mad Max” movie, group of scavengers looking to take all and leave nothing for the rest. Finally, “Future Justice” takes an unexpected turn by introducing a radiation mutated, humanly doctored, one pissed off person-creature that hungers to seek and destroy every last living being in the underground bunker.
The successfulness of character actor Steven O’Broin’s Gazeebo, head of the blood thirsty gang, makes him ruthlessly enjoyable to watch on screen. O’Broin and Griffin have worked previously together on “Sins of Dracula;” O’Broin aspired to be similar to Vincent Price in the Hammer Horror influenced Dracula film. Michael Thurber, more notable one of Griffin’s entourage of actors and also co-stars in “Sins of Dracula,” delivers a phenomenal and intentionally excessive method acting skill that always fits into, in every which way, all of Griffin projects. Working with an estimated $20,000 budget and limited locations doesn’t translate over to O’Broin or Thurber who can transform a small production into the illusion of a bigger ordeal, causing a mind altercating effect with their viewership. “Future Justice” delivers movie magic at its finest.
Speaking of movie magic, visual effects supervisor John Dusek works along side again with Griffin and meshes a blend of practical effects with campy computer generated imagery. The result only adds to the unique charm, capturing the zany essence of this world gone dark story and running with it to take the zaniness one step further, but also respecting the Italian post-apocalyptic films of the 1980s. Exploding heads, detaching limbs, brain-splattering head shots keep the violence fresh when various effect methods are implemented and Dusek tunes right into his entire arsenal to deliver. The effects go hand-and-hand with Daniel Hildreth’s space epic score, striking the composer analogue of other Sci-Fi film greats.
The MVDVisual region free DVD release is presented an in unrated 16:9 widescreen format at a runtime of 83 minutes. The extras include a commentary with cast and crew, a short film entitled “Mutants of the Apocalypse,” and a theatrical trailer of the film. The clear picture defines the details and vividly displays the colors, especially when the mutated creature emerges. The 2.0 audio mix hinders a little in the dialogue by the overpowering score and ambient tracks, but doesn’t disrupt much at all. “Future Justice” doesn’t apologize for laying down the law by smacking action and thrills right to the face. I’d recommend this title to any Sci-Fi or horror buff in a need of a necessary relapse into the post-apocalypse.
Nearly 30 years have passed since the last Mad Max film, Beyond Thunderdome, and now we’re graced the next installment from this years San Diego Comic Con – Mad Max: Fury Road.
Looks like carnage and bliss rolled into one fucked up fruit rollup. Tom Hardy is a great choice to help reprise the role of Max from Mel Gibson and you can’t go wrong with creator George Miller at the helm. Got to love the Aussies!