A Career Boost Too EVIL to Ride. “Star Vehicle” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Digital Screener)

For super movie aficionado and independent film production driver Donald Cardini, film crew after film crew treat him with very little worth.  Full of creatively complimenting movie ideas and brandishing a go-getter attitude, nothing will stop the driver’s own creative outlet.  When his favorite scream queen, Reversa Red, is involved in his next gig, Cardini’s creative juices bubble to the surface as he personally drives her to and from the set, sparking a connection with the actress who values his input, but the threat of a Reversa Red stalker places Cardini on edge and the rest of the film crew continues to ceaseless disparage him.  Pushed over the edge into madness, the violence prone driver hijacks those belittling him, along with Reverse Red, to an isolated location where he can shoot his own snuff movie, a one of a kind production starring his favorite actress.

You might have read on how much I’ve given my two cents praise toward the late Ryan Nicholson in previous reviews of “Hanger,” “Live Feed,” and “Gutterballs.”  Those trio of pictures are stuffed with gratuitous violence and nudity, wealthy in rich, colorful characters, and are just the epitome of gonzo-grindhouse cinema from the multi-talented filmmaker from our Canadian neighbor.  “Star Vehicle” rides that same bonkers high-speed train full of Nicholson-ism and topics too crass for comfort, but even with all the similar vulgarity and depravity that makes Nicholson so ghastly loveable and even with a few of the same actors from previous works, “Star Vehicle” regresses technically into a lesser shell when compared to the aforementioned films above.  The 2010 exploitation-slasher, alternatively known as “Bleeding Lady,” is executive produced by former model Charie Van Dyke under her New Image Entertainment production banner and Nicholson’s company, Plotdigger Films.

At the tip of the spear is the non-titular “Hanger” front man Dan Ellis in the role of the abrasive Donald Cardini.  Instead of wearing face-altering prosthetics and aviator shades that made his The John character in “Hanger” an antiheroic and perverse veteran of the armed services unforgettable, Ellis steps down into a leaner version of psychotic foreplay by providing his “Star Vehicle” appearance with an all-natural tough guy stern and smirk look under a permed beard and atop hair while seamlessly plotting the same amoral atrocities.  Crazy suits the actor with wild eyes complimenting his grave unsympathetic hand, an act of situational severity that comes more naturally to Ellis when interacting with other castmates as urges begin to take over and all hell breaks loose, leaving not a single other to rival his Donald Cardini wanton killer.  Unlike Ellis, the other characters are not as colorfully mad or interesting and that’s terribly atypical of a Nicholson film who had the ability to craft diabolically perverted and warped behaviors.  I was expecting a punchier leading lady opposite of Ellis with Sindy Faraguna.  Playing a genre scream queen doted on by Cardini with every film she touches, Faraguna inevitably descends into the final girl trope without deserving one ounce of landing in such a fortunate position for the simple fact that her captor really doesn’t wish to hurt her; instead, Cardini exploits her to convince others of his movie-making-macabre magic while Faraguna just screams Reversa Red’s head off for the plot-digging finale that’s more cacophonously raspy in determination than a bloodcurdling cry of terror.  Tangled up in a mix is plot twist and subplot involving a Reversa Red stalker who, as we know how these dropped tidbits of information circle back around eventually, should have determined the fate of our leads but this, too, lands wobbly at best, crusted over by an energetic-drained letdown of corrosion-covered aggressive conduct.  “Star Vehicle” rounds out the cast with Nathan Durec (“Famine”), Nick Windebank, Mike Le, Paiage Farbacher, Erindera Farga, Matthew Janega, Kris Michalesk, and Gary Starkell who also seems to windup playing some version of a homeless man – see “Collar” and “Bad Building.”

“Star Vehicle,” an industry term, defines as a film or television show specifically written and/or created to showcase the talents of a specific entertainer to increase their fame and recognition.  Nicholson sardonically uses that concept as Cardini kills his way to make it happen for his primo starlet Reversa Red, but also Nicholson literally, in a subtle Nicholson-ludicrous manner, has Cardini driving Reversa Red to and from filming sets in his beat up 2000’s Ford Windstar mini-van.   The latter, along with the entire essence of “Star Vehicle,” is essentially a jab to the guerilla style nature of indie movie filmmaking.  A few characters note how producers skimp with the budget, Cardini snarks about his cracked windshield production won’t pay for, and the caliber of the cast comes under indirect fire when one of starlets mechanically delivers her lines like a stiff automaton are just a handful of instances Nicholson mocks in his knock against indie production idiosyncrasies. Where “Star Vehicles” becomes a lemon is with the slapdash editing and the clunky story that tiptoes onto non-linear ground, bashfully uncertain going back into previous events for exposition sake was actually necessary. What’s brought to light with Reversa Red’s stalker and their involvement treads flimsily to an ultimate twist gum up by “Star Vehicle’s” curbed devices. By adding the break down by throwing a monkey wrench in the already galumphing development, the main antagonist, Cardini, can never regain that vice gripping potency touted earlier. Gory as it may be like any Nicholson splatterfest, “Star Vehicle” loses drive to make the finish line but still purrs like a bloodhungry beast.

This October, Unearthed Films releases Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle” onto Blu-ray and DVD. Unrated and stuff with extras, the sixth Nicholson film to be resurrected for Unearthed Films’ catalogue is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio BD50 and DVD9 with a runtime of 76 minutes on both formats while the Blu-ray is encoded with region A and the DVD with region 1. Extras include a whopping amount with a little more bonus material on the Blu-ray. Blu-ray includes commentary with director Ryan Nicholson and lead Dan Ellis, Left Coast TV present “On the Set with Star Vehicle,” Behind the Wheel of Bleeding Lady, Making “Star Vehicle,” Makeup Students and Acting Students, deleted scenes, alternating opening, Splatterfest! at the Plaza, Nicholson’s 2013 feature “Dead Nude Girls,” photo gallery and trailer while the DVD sports the same content minus the second feature, “Dead Nude Girls.” I can’t relay my thoughts on either the A/V nor the special features since only a digital screener of the film was provided. Don’t be afraid of the clunker comments and opinions, hop in and take a ride with Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle,” a gory dauntless joyride sped to lampoon it’s own indie outlet with a meta-plot and a tank full of carnage fuel.

“Star Vehicle” available on Blu-ray and DVD.  Click to Purchase at Amazon.com

Tribes at War makes for Eternal EVIL. “The Secret of Sinchanee” reviewed! (Vertical Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Watch “The Secret of Sinchanee” on Amazon Prime Video

Deerfield, Massachusetts – 1995 – a young boy becomes the sole survivor after a drifter senselessly massacres his mother and sister during the Christmas holiday while his father was out of town.  25 years later, Will Stark, that once little surviving boy now haunted by his past, bothers not live outside expectations and to be left alone to a life of normalcy, even working at the same industrial towing company his father once worked managed, but when the untimely death of mentally unstable father, who battled dissociative identity disorder and depression, among other psychological problems stemmed by the tragic loss of a wife and daughter, leaves Will inheriting his childhood home, the same home where the gruesome murders took place, Will’s life becomes anything but mundane with a house pulsating with malevolent paranormal energy connected to the sacred land it’s built on.  Searching for an ancient talisman, unyielding entities exploit Will to stop at nothing and kill anyone to get back what is theirs lost 25 years ago.

Shot on location around the snowy banks of Deerfield, Massachusetts comes the Steven Grayhm written and directed “The Secret of Sinchanee with a folkloric backstory set in New England about a feud between an invulnerable indigenous people versus malicious pagan settlers stretching over time into present day with an ancient artifact as the centerpiece to possession and murder.  The “House of Dust” and “Crash Site” actor steps into his first feature directorial and writing project with a story that crosses paths the hereditary burden of lineage bred mental issues with the tribalistic supernatural forces, opening with text origins of the longstanding rival feud between the selfless mysticism and disease immune Sinchanee people and the black magic disciples of Atlantow who seek to snuff out the Sinchanee bloodline.  The 2021 American made film is the first product of the Steven Grayhm and Nate Boyer co-founded, military veteran empowering Team House Studios and presented by Truth Entertainment. 

Not only does Steven Grayhm write and direct “The Secret of Sinchanee,” the Canadian actor also helms the lead as Will Stark, the town-talked recluse troubled by his grisly past.  Quiet and unphased by the strange nightmares and powerful visions inside his father’s house, Stark gradually becomes an entranced pawn and Grayhm poses a lifeless, wandering shell of a man honestly enough but on paper, Stark never questions the housebound oddities or even shed a lick of emotion when his dog, his only companion, vanishes.  Grayhm just kind of sleepwalks through the performance which I’m sure was his intended purpose since, you know, he wrote and directed the film.  In a parallel plane, detectives and marital exes, Carrie Donovan (Tamara Austin, “The Walking Dead”) and Drew Carter (Nate Boyer), embroil themselves into a Deerfield homicide case despite their past differences and their shared preteen daughter (Laila Lockhart Kraner).  Though not playing a footballer or someone in the armed forces, Carter steps into law enforcement as Boston PD and though Massachusetts is not a big state, I’m not sure a Boston detective would travel 120 miles outside of the city to continuing investigating a Boston murder in the rural sticks of Deerfield.  The entire dynamic between the local Donovan and the big city Carter plays to unresolved subversive tune of Carter taking advantage of the moment in order to rekindle the spark with his ex-wife or, perhaps, just be close to this daughter.  Obviously some personal tension between them but rarely does that tension surface to endorse strife as Donovan is carried away the homicide case, taking her investigation to an unlawful next level by trespassing onto Stark’s land and inside his house to be spooked by the spirits’ distorted reflection of herself.  Somewhere in the trio of leads lie a more meaningful connection that’s more muddled by individual character, side story offshoots, leaving what’s most important to the film scattered profoundly thin to meet the bar.  What also doesn’t bode well for Grayhm’s debut is the late introduction of a key Sinchanee descendent, Solomon Goodblood, played by Rudy Reyes who starred alongside our horror community gal pal, Diana Prince, in “Beach Massacre at Kill Devil Hills,” who intercedes for his fading bloodline as a shaman against Atlantow. 

Speaking of Atlantow, there is hardly a sense or a tangibility to the sect God plaguing the Stark family going on for decades now and that sides more with the mental instability theme of a family with a history of mental illness coinciding the allusions of one’s own internalized battle with trauma, insomnia, and past down disorders to manifest tragedy into a shared psychosis of Atlantow’s sinister and manipulative craft.  Perceived heinous actions, such as modern day scalping or wielding a tomahawk, can be seen as someone possessed with incoherent malintent because that traumatized person’s survival’s guilt warps them so.  Unfortunately, the story’s jumble beyond one aortic premise and spreads the whole concept thin without hardly touching upon the Sinchanee and Atlantow quarrel as noted in the opening text that laid out the intentions of a contentious war between good versus evil.  In the film’s reality, “The Secret of Sinchanee” is about two cops stumbling into Atlantow’s business in trying to find a sacred artifact.  We’re not even granted the reason why this talisman, a decently sized arrowhead, is terribly significant to the dark forces of Atlantow aside from vocal desperation in the object’s return to sacred ground.  Is “The Secret of Sinchanee” more aligned with themes of desecration of sacred land?  The meddling of a once proud culture now lost?  Not much clarity among the variety of circumstances happening inside Grayhm’s runtime lengthy debut picture other than the surface level possession and the cops’ investigation that motivates them into the paranormal situation.

Under the executive producer team of Joe Newcomb (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Jose Martinez Jr, “The Secret of Sinchanee” is now available on Digital HD and On Demand this month of October, released by Vertical Entertainment.  With a runtime just shy of two hours, 115 minutes, the film will be available on all major cable and digital platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum, as well as playing in select theaters. Though an indie picture, production value pinnacles the budget, shot cleanly by Logan Fulton using an ARRI Alexa camera to capture the serene snow covered wooded landscapes of typical rural New England while succumbing to remain steady in the clean-cut darkness and warmer hues when things go bump in the night. Definitely not much camera movement, but the still shots, mostly medium to closeup, are framed properly without an any abnormality, providing just enough evidences to keep viewers on edge, while sprinkling in a Dutch angle or two to encourage anxiety where due. No special features included with this digital screener nor were any bonus scenes present during or after the credits. “The Secret of Sinchanee” remains private under a lock and key guise of mental illness and consigned to oblivion of parentage without breaking through those cognizant barriers to fully grasp a ancient tribal hatred that spills beyond normal time and space.

Rats! EVIL Got Out! “The Mutation” reviewed (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)

Three detectives and a zoologist and his assistant don’t exactly know what they’re hunting down. An unknown animal has brutally killed two people, including the scientist experimenting on it after breaking loose from his lab. Keeping close tabs on the scientist’s wife who’s eager for revenge, the investigators discover through DNA residue and a first hand attack that an uranium mutated lab rat, now the size of a human, is the responsible culprit terrorizing the city. Behind every dumpster, lurking in the sewers could be the giant, killer rat hungry for a next meal and it’s up to the desperate detectives and the zoologist to stop the creature before devouring the city whole.

Giant, mutant Rats!  The antisocial Willard isn’t back to his own vengeful tricks again nor has Bruno Mattei risen from his Eurotrash grave to resurrect a rodent-infested sequel to “Nights of Terror.”  No, this scuttling little creature feature isn’t so little in Scott Jeffrey’s 2021, man-in-a-body-suit terrorizing schlocker “The Mutation.”  Last time we covered a Scott Jeffrey written and directed project, the modern day serial B-horror director was breaking hearts (well, more like, puncturing them really) with his Valentine’s Day massacre slasher “Cupid” that saw the winged and chubby, love-matching cherub be only a figment of fables and myths as, in reality, Cupid’s broken, maligned heart aims to sever relationships, and sever heads, with his deadly bow and arrow and ninja star-like greeting cards.  Giant rats don’t need a holiday to wreak havoc in this United Kingdom independent film production from Scott Jeffrey’s own Jagged Edge Productions.

Battling against the rat’s superior stealth and strength is a cast of Jeffrey film regulars beginning with lead Ricardo Freitas as the zoologist Allen Marsh.  The upcoming “Conjuring The Plastic Surgeon 2” actor reteams alongside fellow “Bats” costar Amanda-Jade Tyler, who plays a medical doctor hellbent on exterminating an adversary fed up being a lab rat.  Other than their word, Freitas and Tyler exhibit little of their vocations and with “The Mutation’s” limited budget, to expect a hospital or zoo setting shouldn’t be on the realistic table, but aside from a little backstory about Marsh’s team work and a flimsy explanation of genetic manipulation testing, the characters’ poor technical knowledge, compounded by a lack of thespian vigor, ultimately becomes clear that what should be a rich in trait zoologist Allen Marsh and Dr. Linda Rowe are nothing more than a pair of regular commoners caught in in the middle of an investigation.  Megan Purvis (“It Came From Below), Andrew Rolfe (“Amityville Scarecrow”), and Jamie Robertson (“Conjuring the Genie”) spearhead the investigation as a hapless trio of officiating authority bumbling through the case.  I can literally see the figurative question marks over top of the actors’ heads, unable to detach and discern their character confusion about a humanoid rat terrorizing the city and their actual confusion about how to portray cops on a case.  Rounding out the cast of character is Sarah T. Cohen (“Hotel Inferno III: The Castle of Screams”), Abi Casson Thompson (“Cupid”), Nick Danan, and “A Werewolf in England’s” Derek Nelson who goes from a canine howling at the moon to an upright, human life-size rodent snapping necks at a posh restaurant in “The Mutation.”

Yes.  You read that last bit correctly.  Forget the transmission black plague that killed multi-millions of people, those rats are wimpy mice compared to a killer rat that understands how to meticulously break a human cervical vertebrae with uranium produced opposing thumbs.  The mutation not only granted the rat unnaturally large mass and superhuman strength but also instill lethal ninja abilities as the all hell breaks loose restaurant scene is pure rat-cheesy carnage.  Much of “The Mutation” is heavily moist in campy bog, hobbling on a fine line of either being intentional or unintentional with spotty dense character moments played off earnestly, such as Marsh looking directly into a lab ring light after turning it on himself and exclaiming, “god damn,” as he recoils from the blinding brightness is the most stupidly funny part of the film.  My guess is if “The Mutation” wields a man running around in a scruffy and latex snarly rat costume offing city denizens then more than likely the campy category is the former with a misguided sincere shot at adding gravity to the narrative.  Though overflowing with an abundance of bottom-barrel scenarios and inscrutable character head scratching, “The Mutation” does have select satisfying moments of post-mutilation gore and a neo-monstrous CGI rat briefly holding all the cards in the finale. From my little time with the filmmaker, Scott Jeffrey makes good with palpable bloodshed and kitsch visual effects, but the stale white bread acting pitches up a conspicuously lopsided crushing blow that can’t be ignored.

If you suffer from Musophobia then “The Mutation” is great cathartic exposure therapy, gnawing at the flesh and bone and toward DVD home video and Digital platforms today, October 5th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment. Since a digital screen was provided for review coverage, the DVD home video release’s A/V aspects will not be analyzed in this critique; however, as far as the film’s appearance goes, Charles Jeffrey’s cinematography saturates our hairy rat-agonist in blue hues during more personal kill moments, but the backlighting is terrific, almost channel an 80’s slasher-esque of backlit vibrancy, when the man-rat is nothing but a silhouette perched on top of a trash dumpster. Classy. Yet, typical of many low-budget films, “The Mutation” is mostly otherwise softly lit that beams and ricochets lighting right off the skin, creating an overly polished varnish no self-respecting scummy rat would be caught dead in, and really could have benefit toning down the washout blue tint that steals from the details and the impact of earlier scenes. Specs are limited with no information on the DVD nor the rating or bonus content. With a creature that resembles more like a long-tailed gremlin than an oversized disease carrying rat, that’s the least of “The Mutation’s” troubles as Scott Jeffrey’s radioactive-rodent creature feature can’t find it’s four-legged footing with a languid cast and a disheveled script that gore alone can’t rescue.