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.
Before being butchered in the woods of a small town, a frightened young woman, Lexie, sends her estranged Uncle Dominic a letter desperately asking for his help. Plagued by his own dark past and a penchant for being hot tempered, Dominic drags his wild, coked up daughter Kendall to his quaint home town which he had long ago abandoned. Most town folk don’t want Dominic snooping around, investigating a town that faces a sinister murder spree under the unmotivated supervision of a perversive and power hungry eye of the local sheriff. Dominic’s anger rages on, fueled by sheer vengeance, as he searches answers for the cause of his niece’s untimely and gruesome death in which three strips of her flesh were torn from her bloodstained thigh, but the closer he gets to the unbearable truth, those closest to him are swallowed by the town’s harboring unimaginable secret and that’s when Dominic’s true violent calling becomes unleashed upon the unsuspecting locals.
Self-described as a “modern, Midwesternized spin on the Giallo,” Jakob Bilinski’s “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” is the writer-director’s comprehensive ode to the multifaceted cult genre. Set on location in Evansville, Indiana, Bilinski unapologetically implores an outrageous white trash horror story that can drop just as many F-bombs and be just as sadistically crude as any Rob Zombie production, but on an indie budget. A budget with unlimited constraints when pinpointing a genre identity as “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” has the word play of a Giallo-like inspired title, even accompanied with masked antagonist armed with a switchblade in a complex plot, but also sharply pivots and dabbles heavily in subgenres such as the revenge thriller, the occult, and torture porn that engages a plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist up until the very end.
Bill Gobin stars as Dominic and Gobin’s appearance and actions channel very similarly that of Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey from F/X’s hit cop drama “The Shield,” but with an important piece of Dominic missing to fully sell the performance. Dominic’s tender melancholy moments of his lost Lexie are to bring out the human side in a cold and stern tough guy, but Gobin lacks that rightful emotion, replacing the tearjerking moments with more of the icy blank stare used in just about ever other scene and to the point where Gobin just might smack his tears back into his tear ducts. Kendall (Kayla Crance) is the constant bittersweet thorn in Dominic’s life as the father and daughter are more like father versus daughter. Crance challenges Gobin very well, even overpowering him in select scenes, protruding a defiant brat without an inkling of remorse until bodies start to really pile high. While Dominic and Kendall are certainly scribed as emotionless mavericks, Stella (Angela Steel) brings us down to a more sensible and realistic character who grieves for her slain daughter with alcohol and depression while also rekindling a once extinguished flame in a surprising twist of events. The best character performance overall goes to Jim Dougherty as the local sheriff who can stand toe-to-toe with Dominic and spitfire insults between Dominic and Sheriff Rex scribed very well for the Indiana University studied actor. Rounding out the cast is Scott Ganyo, Rosalind Rubin, and Grant Niezgodski.
Perhaps a little too ambitious trying to compact a endless frontier, Grand Theft Auto world story into over two hours, clocking in at 142 minute runtime, that feels every minute of it. There’s, perhaps, too much going on here with the potluck genres and plot twists that once the apex of the story has finally been reached, the first acts take on a whole different significance that doesn’t build to the necessary resulting finale that ultimate defines Dominic who, in the beginning, starts off strong, a tough guy who doesn’t take crap from anyone and that’s including his rebellious daughter Kendall, but then flounders just after reaching the small town, interacting passively with his sister Stella and a few townies, to the point where Dominic is just an inquisitive visitor. Dominic’s purpose is the push, push, push the town folk into giving the answers he seeks, like Porter tracking down his share of the stolen money in “Payback;” instead, Dominic’s is the one being pushed to the point of breaking and, finally, then do we see the Dominic’s dark side and his particular skill set in torture and manipulation.
Unearthed Films and MVDVisual presents a not rated 2-disc DVD collector’s edition of Jakob Bilinski’s “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh.” The 2014 Cinephreak production is display in widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the image quality above par with a clean picture composited with natural color tones and colorful filters to give some Giallo cinematography charm. The CGI bloodsplatter near the end is, well, CGI, but the run of the scene is fun and brutal that the generated pseudo-blood is used appropriately. The Dolby Digital 5.1 dishes out a well-balanced concoction of ambiance, soundtrack, and dialogue, with the dialogue being clean and clear even during more intense moments. Disc one contains the feature film with option audio commentary by writer-director Jakob Bilinksi and star-producer Bill Gobin. There’s also commentary by Cinematographer DP Bonnell along with Bilinski on the track. Disc two contains even more with a making of piece entitled “Peeling Back the Flesh,” 21 deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, auditions, and Unearthed Films trailers. Under a stellar presentation within the plentiful content of a 2-disc set from Unearthed Films and MVDVisual, “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” is certainly a “modern, Midwesternized spin on Giallo,” plus much, much more when considering the other genres that might have diluted the foul-mouthed scripted story and left the focus more fuddled, but happens to maintain a fun, semi-gory approach that can’t be argued.
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!