The EVILs of Slasherman! “Random Acts of Violence” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)

Comic book writer Todd has hit a writer’s block wall on the last issue of his one-shot, popular and extremely graphic series Slasherman based off the gruesome string of I-90 murders of the late 1980s where the killer murdered and mutilated his victims without ever being caught.  Looking for inspiration to conclude his life’s work, Todd, his girlfriend, investing publisher, and assistant head out on a road trip from Toronto to America, specially through the small town of McBain where the murders took place, but when recent mutilated bodies resemble the grisly deaths inside the colorful pages of his comics, the semi-fictional Slasherman story becomes full blown reality that places him and his friends in a maniacal killer’s path whose flipping through the pages of Todd’s murder-glorifying comic for inspiration of his own. 

Like many opinionated reviews before mine, I never imagined Jay Baruchel directing a horror movie.  The long time comedic actor with solid relationships working with other high profile comedians, such as Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride in some of the best notable comedies on the side of the century, has stepped into the shadows and professing his admiration for the genre we all love – horror. Baruchel cowrites and directs his first horror film, the big screen adaptation of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s “Random Acts of Violence” graphic novel. Fellow collaborator on the “Goon” movies, Jesse Chabot, branches out with Baruchel on the script and the two Canadian filmmakers yield an intense meta-gore picture focusing toward themes of lopsided public perspective and the glorifying of violence on other less physical mediums. Published in 2010 under Image Comics, the Gray and Palmiotti publication supplied a wealth of visceral material that unfolded faithfully in Baruchel’s Shudder distributed film as a stylish comicbook-esque narrative under the Toronto based Elevation Pictures, Wicked Big, and Manis Film production in association with Kickstart Comics and JoBro Productions. Palmiotti and Gray also serve as executive producers.



Struggling in the search for his perfect ending to Slasherman, Todd immerses himself in a cerebral fixation that envelops him more so then he would like to think.  Todd’s played by social activist and “Cabin in the Woods” actor Jesse Williams whose character is thrust into essentially making a choice, entertain his profession that earns blood money off the backbones of the I-90’s victims or subside his eagerness to finish his graphic novel and be team victim alongside his girlfriend Kathy (“The Faculty” and 2006’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning’s” Jordana Brewster) researching a novel that gives the slain victims a voice over their killer.  Brewster hasn’t changed one bit in a role that resembles a mature version of her “The Faculty” Delilah Profitt character complete with glasses and a thirst for reporting.  As a couple, Williams and Brewster hit little on their unconditional love  that’s apparent in the film’s final scenes.  Aside from their opening segment in their Toronto flat, their road trip is filled with Kathy berates Todd at times or Todd never seeming interested in Kathy or her work that’s seen counteractive to his own.  Affection is thin between them and I’m wondering if that’s more of the script writing than a flaw on Williams and Brewster who are credibility solid in their roles.  Same can be said about Jay Baruchel’s Ezra, the indie publisher sponsoring Slasherman, as the writer-director plays little to a publisher’s position of pushing the sales and marketing envolope and appears more to just be a tagalong friend with moments of quietly hawking.  Without much competition surrounding him, Slasherman is the most interesting character of the bunch from prolific stuntman, Simon Northwood.  With a 1000 yard stare that’s more menacing inducing than stemmed by trauma, Northwood brings the graphic novel character to all his glory as an aspiring artist in a contemporary parallelism to Todd who both see one another as their muse.  Northwood’s Slasherman is silently frightening, even more scary when he has to psych himself up to kill, and brings the physical stature of an unstoppable slasher genre maniac.  No one is safe from the merciless Slasherman, including those rounding out the cast in Niamh Wilson (“Saw III”), Clark Backo, Eric Osborne (“Pyewacket”), Nia Roam (“Polar”), Aviva Mongillo, and Isaiah Rockcliffe.   

The hyper violence lands more with a firm hand making good on film title.  Baruchel doesn’t hold much, if anything, back when rectifying violence as the monolithic theme while hitting a few thought-provoking notes involving the public’s perspective on the infamous legacy of serial killers and the tragic, forgotten memory toward their victims.  Somewhere in the gutting-clutter is a message of meta-existentialism tearing between that thin line of a person’s cause and effect actions.  Without the I-90 killer, Todd would not been stimulated into creating the deeply grim anti-heroic antics of Slasherman and, visa-versa, Slasherman would not have returned, coming out from retirement, if it wasn’t for Todd’s life’s work and lack of series conclusion for the Slasherman character speaking to Slasherman’s sanguinary artistic side.  One aspect stiffly hard to place your finger on is Todd’s connection with the town of McBain.  Other than a brief voice over exchange with Ezra, who mentions Mcbain is Todd’s hometown area, not much more of that pivotal connective tissue seizes grounding Todd, but the graphic novelist experiences a multitude of images streaming through his far off gazes, thoughts, and dreams. A boy, the boy’s mother who we know to be one of Slasherman’s victims because of Kathy’s research book, and the collateral damage of some great magnitude of violence surrounding them carry little weight to Todd’s psyche when struggling to piece his visions and these people’s bloodshed moment together and one reasonable theory that might explain that disconnect on our part is partially racially motivated, a detail indicative of gross assumption but a detail that can easily deceive you if you’re not knowledgeable enough about the cast you’re watching. My two cents is not randomized at all on Jay Baruchel’s “Random Acts of Violence” as it’s a brazenly deep and vicious first attempt horror in his own manic words from the glossy, leafy pages of the same titular graphic novel to the tellies of terror now on home media release.

Classified 18 for strong bloody violence and gore, “Random Acts of Violence” hits Blu-ray media shelves courtesy of Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded single disc BD25 has a runtime of 81 minutes and is presented in a slightly cropped widescreen 2.38:1 aspect ratio. A diverse hue palette of neon extricates Baruchel’s off-brand, real-time comic layout, creating a gritty, yet vibrant world all his own in a near window-blinds noir fashion. The tinkering of tints reaches almost Italian giallo levels without playing much with lighting and fog, relying heavily on the different neon vibrancy as if a colorist was right there pigmenting each scene as it played out. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound discerns very well across the board with robust dialogue that even with Williams’ slight lisp, every single word can be hung on. I didn’t think there was a ton of opportunity for depth and range as much of the action is in staged front side of the camera, but for what little there was, those areas saw solid, identifiable outputs. Bonus features include a zoom interview with a very animated Jay Baruchel providing the in depth inner works of the conception of his film while sporting a retro Montreal Expos ballcap, a showreel-esque promo entitled More Than Just A Scary Movie offers brief opinions, thoughts, and highlights on the film edited from longer, on-set interviews, and a look inside how to make an action scene. An on-your-toes, gut-wrenching slasher with a juicy slice of meta proves Jay Baruchel can wander into any genre and come out on top, but “Random Acts of Violence” has kinks to straighten out in this young director’s sophomore feature.

Steamed Pork Buns Stuff With EVIL! “The Untold Story” reviewed (Unearthed Films/Blu-ray)

Wong Chi-hang brutally beats and sets fire to a fellow gambler who refuses to lend him money.  After destroying his identification card and creates a new look and identity, Wong flees Hong Kong before he can be hunted down for first degree murder and be served capital punishment for his crime.  For the last 8 years, Wong has lived and worked on the island village of Macau, running a small, but well-known, steamed bun restaurant, Eight Immortals Restaurant.  He receives inquisitive letters everyday asking about the whereabouts of the former owner, Cheng Lam, by Lam’s older brother on the mainland.  The letters force Wong to attempt manipulating lawyers into signing over the restaurant to him without Lam’s presence.  When the police discover dismembered limbs washed up on the beach, an investigation ensues that connects the body parts to a Chan Lai Chun, the mother-in-law to Cheng Lam, leading a small task force of blockheaded detectives to Wong’s restaurant where he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances, but he won’t break so easily after being apprehended, unwilling to cooperate and confess to the whereabouts of the bodies of the vanished owner, his entire family, and a pair of workers.  Yet, what were exactly in those steam buns that made them so delicious?

Full disclosure.  I’m not too terribly familiar with Hong Kong’s rating system of Category I, II, and III, but I’ve more-or-less dabbled in the Category III (Cat III) horror and exploitation cinematic market, owning only a handful of these gruesome-and-sexually gratifying guilty pleasure full of sex, violence, and taboo concepts of titles such as “Riki-Oh:  The Story of Ricky,”  “The Chinese Torture Chamber,” and “Three…Extremes” and only “The Story of Ricky” has ever been popped into my player for recreational viewing.  Also, in my collection, is a Tai Sing DVD copy of Herman Yau’s 1993 crime-and-cannibalism graphic thriller “The Untold Story” and, frankly, I never opened it either, but when Unearthed Films sent me their new Blu-ray release to review, I’ll never be able to see chop sticks the same way again!  The eye-opening experience also screamed that I should definitely rip open and see those other films to quench my thirst for Cat III’s offensive opulence.  Based off a true story of the Eight Immortals Restaurant murders in 1985 around the Macau area, the nearly unwavering from the truth storyline parallels the Kam-Fai Law (“Dr. Lamb”) and Wing-Kin Lau (“Taxi Hunter”) co-written story in which a madman slaughters an entire family over a gambling dispute and runs their family business, the Eight Immortals Restaurant, until the police capture him, but Yau sticks more sensationalism to the already brutal notoriety surrounding the actual case with ground human barbecue steamed buns to tease with abhorrent flavor under the Golden Sun Films Distribution distribution of the Uniden Investments and Kwan Hung Films production.

“The Untold Story’s” lead man in the shoes of the maniacal, rage-filled Wong Chi-Hang is “Ebola Syndrome’s” Anthony Wong who initially thought the script was greatly unattractive.  Little did he know that his performance would be so good, so osmosis with his wide-eyed lunatic stare through the luminating pixels of the television screen, that the role would honor him with a Hong Kong Film Award for best actor; Hong Kong’s equivalent to the best actor award for an Oscar in the States.   The “Hard Boiled” actor embodies a soul of frustration and anger to rise his character up to the demented level of nihilism and heartless exploitation that unforgettably scores being the face of “The Untold Story’s” cruelty.  Yet, there is a Jekyll and Hyde complex with Yau’s film that cuts the cynicism with a risible troupe of police officers supervised by Officer Lee (Danny Lee “The Killer”).  With a beautiful foreign woman, a blatantly announced hooker, always at his side and being the sharpest detective on the force, Lee’s a contradictory, authoritative commander meshing immoral principles and duty into one while leading a four-person squad of non-initiatives comprised of three rubbernecking men, craning their gulping jugulars toward Mr. Lee’s arm-candied gals, and one tomboy woman with an affinity for Mr. Lee who struggles with being taken seriously amongst her peers as an unenticing woman in cop’s clothing.  The officers’ western names are a slither of satire to poke fun at the nicknames of tough or macho cops go by in the States with Bo, King Kong, Robert, and Bull (respectively Emily Kwan, King-Kong Lam, Eric Kei, and Parkman Wong of “Dr. Lamb”).  The cast rounds out with Fui-On Shing and Julie Lee. 

“The Untold Story’s” embittered nihilistic violence, gratuitous rape and sodomy, and steamy, mouth-watering cannibalism leverages this Cat III film as tiptop horror exploitation from the far East.  If broken down more, director Herman Yau pins and sews together a liaising three act prong story of a horrid man’s attempt at deadly stability in society and a madcap group of officers, with a penchant for police brutality and coercing confessions, bumbling their way through clues that ultimately funnel into a blended third act of magnetizing the two sides together toward a satisfying, almost faithful, ending of “The Eight Immortals Restaurant:  The Untold Story’s” purloin and murder fiction and non-fiction exploit.  Yau spares no expense for gore, serving up a platter worth the splatter of some nifty chop’em up and grind their meat into the dough effects that’ll turn stomachs as well as heads and doesn’t exude as bargain basement quality; yet, just enough gore goes uncovered to tantalize without a full onslaught tarp covering the ground of disembodied limbs and floor-splattering entrails that boil down to an overshadowing character that detracts from the cast performances as such can accompany with the more extreme Asian horror catalogue.  There’s nothing gentle about the actions of Wong Chi-Hang, but the way he’s scribed to manifest spur of the moment carnage, stemmed by the most minute disputes, and the way Anthony Wong carries and maneuvers of a monstrous villain with ease takes an esthetical point to not stray away from his, or rather his victims’, story.  “The Untold Story” is, in fact, meta-exploitation fiction of non-fiction down to the very last tasty morsel. 

In what is perhaps the epitome of Hong Kong’s Category III film index, “The Untold Story” arrives onto high definition Blu-ray courtesy of the gore and shock genre label, Unearthed Films as part of the label’s Unearthed Classics line and distributed by MVDVisual. The well preserved, near flawless transfer is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the picture is a vast improvement over the slightly washed previous DVD releases though favors a higher contrast resolution that ekes trading out the details for a brighter, softer film in an overall compliment of Cho Wai-Kee’s beaming cinematography. Whether in the police station or the restaurant, fluorescent lumens light up the scenes with a sterile-driven madness. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and some English 1.0 PCM audio track denotes, without surprise, the lossy quality doddering from age and antiquated equipment, but renders well enough without the imperfections of hisses, distortions, or any vocal impediments. The option English subtitles display without error with only the issue in their breakneck pacing when attempting to keep up with reading the subtitles and the rapidfire dialogue. You basically have to skim read. The special features include commentaries with star Anthony Wong and Herman Yau, the superbly dark and traditional film score isolated for audible pleasure, commentary with Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent magazine and Bruce Holecheck of Cinema Arcana, a Q&A with Herman Yau, a featurette of the history behind Category III films of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema, a interview with Rick Baker entitled Cantonese Carnage, and Unearthed Film trailers. There’s also an two-page insert of Art Ettinger’s write up about Hong Kong cinema and “The Untold Story.” Resilient to the test of time, “The Untold Story” benchmarks a high point in High Kong exploitation cinema, recalls the tremendous feat of performance by Anthony Wong, and displays the sheer mastery of disciplined filmmaking from Herman Yau in this unforgettable gruesome black comedy.

Must Own Christmas Gift! “The Untold Story” on Blu-ray!