Meir Zarchi Returns With Another Round of EVIL Exploitation! “I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

Forty long years have passed since the sexual assaulting atrocities of Johnny Stillman and his gang were committed on the young and beautiful Jennifer Hills.  Empowered by her horrific tale of survival with the release of a new tell all book of how she outwitted and took homicidal revenge on her rapists by luring them in with her sexual persuasions, Hills finds herself back in familiar terrorizing territory being kidnapped by Johnny’s devoutly vindictive widow and three living relatives of the gang that once ganged raped and brutally beat her, but she’s not alone.  Captive with her as collateral damage is her famous supermodel daughter, Christy.  Both are caught up in an eye-for-an-eye revenge plot where being lethal is the only means of survival and with a long history of resentment, rooted deep inside Johnny’s kin, fighting back will take every ounce of resilience and strength against a community of hellbent sociopaths. 

Circa 2005-2006 is around the time I first bared witness to Meir Zarchi’s 1978 controversial exploitation shocker, “I Spit on Your Grave.”  Popping in the DVD popped open my eyes to the world of graphic vengeance and the submission to primal, carnal whims inside the human-on-human violence context.  Before Zarchi’s film, which is also known as “Day of the Woman,” and even Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left,” this neophyte’s description and knowledge of horror was limited to the stymies of broadcast television that only aired edited and censored slashers like the “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” series or supernatural presences of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Poltergeist.”  Never has the likes of “I Spit on Your Grave” been a red pill option into the vast horror matrix for this then college kid who glazed over with the façade of sleeping through studies and worrying over trivial matters involving the opposite sex.  In a way, Zarchi was a kind of Morpheus to me when I started purchasing physical media that opened my eyes and my mind to the rape and revenge facet in horror hidden behind the commercial veil.  In 2010, a Zarchi produced reboot saw more light in the commerciality and spawned two sequels in its wake, but not until 2019 did Zarchi get back to writing and sit back in his director’s chair to helm an official, yet less commercial, sequel entitled “I Spit On Your Grave Déjà Vu” or “Day of the Woman Déjà vu” that was produced by his limited company banner, Déjà Vu LLC with son Terry Zarchi and Jan O’Connell producing.

The long-awaited sequel reteamed Zarchi with original lead actress, and also ex-wife, Camille Keaton, distant relative of the famed comedy and stunt actor, Buster Keaton.  Camille Keaton, who looks phenomenal in her 70s during production, steps back into the infamous Jennifer Mills role that made her a household name amongst grindhouse-horror community.  Though completely nude for most of the 1978 film, that part of her performance takes a step back for a new actress to pave a new path in the saga.  Obscure indie scream queen Jamie Bernadette (“Axeman,” “The Bunnyman Massacre”) is ceremoniously passed the torched as the new riches to ragdoll as the Jennifer Mill’s unhappy supermodel daughter, Christy, who becomes haplessly snagged into her mother’s unforgotten past.  Bernadette offers a variable beauty and a diverse poise that doesn’t make Christy a carbon copy of Jennifer Hills, but the actresses deliver the same apathetic venom of a woman scorn.  More of a carbon copy is the four backwoods bumpkins fuming over Jennifer Mills’ vindictive dissecting of their dead relatives.  The gang is spearheaded by Beck, played by Maria Olsen who, like Bernadette, has made a name for herself in low-budget horror having roles in films such as “To Jennifer,” “Starry Eyes,” and “Gore Orphanage.”  Olsen projects Becky as the gas station attendant from Hell, someone you don’t want to interact too long with as you’re pumping gas in the middle of nowhere, but Becky is not a woman of a few words who constantly has to remind us, to the blistering point of annoying, that she must avenge her late husband’s sinful murderess.  The rest of the gang didn’t impress much after that.  Jonathan Peacy has a chance to shine from out of the extra and bit part shadows as the crazed and hyperactive Kevin, brother of Stanley from the original film, and while Peacy channels his best Al Leong look, Kevin is ultimate a big detrimental goof with small dog syndrome than actual menace.    The last two aren’t any better with a lackluster act by Jeremy Ferdman as Andy’s cousin and “Tales of Frankenstein’s” Jim Tavaré’s rather befuddling downplay of Matthew’s mentally disordered father, Herman, who teeters back and forth between morals with a jumbled underlay of piety.  There are not many sane performances in a rather loose and unbridled Zarchi follow up with a cast that rounds out with Alexandra Kenworthy, Roy Allen III, and Holgie Forrester.

Performances aside, “I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu” is also a cacophony of yelling as the script, from paper to pronunciation, reaches top of the lung levels with every bit of dialogue from every player in this tussle of who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes down to justifications of killing.  Zarchi’s sequel lacks the tact his first film achieves so delicately with Mills post-assault softer approach to lay waste her assailants.  “Déjà vu” satisfies its own revenge kicks with little subtly in trying to be outrageous, outlandish, and off its rocker as the confrontation between Christy and the gang becomes a rancorous grudge match.  What concerns me most about “Déjà vu” is the year in which this sequel takes place.  Between the 1978 original and the 2019 follow up, 40 years have passed, but the characters don’t fit any of Father Time’s natural aging characteristics on the surface.  Becky looks okay as an early to mid-60s woman despite Maria Olsen’s actual age being early 50s at the time of filming and release.  Herman is another one that sneaks into fathomable constructs as a character living a farmer’s life in the latter half of middle age, but I question whether Kevin and Scotty were even born yet.  The two youngsters barely seem to be out of their 30s and the same can be said for Christy where much more of her life is revealed as the story progresses.   If following the script logic, I would assume the story takes place in the 90s, but certain technologic advances, like modern day touchscreen phones, suggests no earlier than late 2000s.  As a whole, time and space don’t appear to exist on any reasonable plane for the film with characters able to bump into each at random intervals despite being a densely wooded and rural location and, for all you cinematographers out there, if your location is supposed to be rural, don’t shoot in at a cemetery with a massive grave footprint with a stream of cars speeding down a busy suburban street.  You instantly lose the illusion.  Zarchi’s intentions were clear to only echo the original while allowing for individuality with a brasher onslaught of right versus wrong, eye for an eye, and misguided righteousness for injustice, but the execution crumbles with excruciating results, never reaching the same poetic justice the first film accomplishes so graphically grafted. 

As far as rape and revenge exploitation is considered, “I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu” gets about as down and dirty and ugly as they come.  Cult movie curator, Ronin Flix, delivers the Meir Zarchi sequel onto Blu-ray home video, presented in 1080p, full high definition, with a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  A+ for natural lighting, skin tones, and overall appeal, Pedja Radenkovic’s cinematography is about as uninspiring as they come artistically, but, as a personal preference, the shots are more organic, raw, and less distracting from the content that’s much more abrasive and interesting.  A more natural framework also more time for Russell FX’s practical effects to be showcased without enhanced imagery.  As long as the details are there (they are), no damage is concerning (there wasn’t), and the framing made sense (for the most part), “Déjà vu” can be considered a win for Radenkovic.  The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack for “Déjà vu” is a blessing and a curse.  Dialogue clarity is excellent and there’s a wide range to exploit, forgive the punned term, each channel with great balance, but remember what I said about all the character yelling?  Also, with the higher bitrate DTS, the quality is too good for some of the applied ambient effects like the exhaust sputtering of an old Ford pickup that sounds way too fake and way too close despite its positioning in the scene. The region A, not rated Blu-ray is stored on a BD50 due in part to the film’s massive 148 runtime and the inclusion of special features that include a new audio commentary with film critic and “The Last Drive-In” host Joe Bob Briggs, select cast interviews, the making of the film, behind the scenes footage from producer Terry Zarchi, and the theatrical trailer. Is “I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu” the long-awaited sequel to Meir Zarchi’s first film? I’d say they’re two totally different exploitation entities cut from the same cloth with ties only in names and some flashbacks alone, but both films would make for a great double bill that starts with a harrowing, nothing-to-lose, woebegone toned, revenge thriller complimented with a lukewarm and unfocused follow up to help come down off the original’s gripping ultra-violence high.

Ronin Flix’s “I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu” Blu-ray available at Amazon.com!

Don’t Mind the Glowing, Ominous Hole in the Wall. That’s Just a Gateway to Evil. “Beyond Darkness” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

A witch acolyte of Ameth, an underworld demon, is executed on multiple counts of child murder.  The priest who oversaw the witch’s last rites came in with a doubtful heart and upon researching Ameth through an unholy book, disavowed his own religion only to fall into a near drunken stupor of atheism.  Months later, a new priest and his family move into a home arranged by the archdiocese, but soon after settling into the old house, a series of disturbances point to a closed in wall behind a door that’s uncovered to be a gateway to another plane of existence; an existence where the child killing witch is granted access to seek the souls of the priest’s young children.  Fighting with his own struggles of faith, the ex-Jesuit assists the priest and his family in an attempt to cast out evil once and for all. 

Perhaps common knowledge amongst diehard horror fans, but not so much among the casual curiosities of an oblique coursed moviegoer is the fact that “Beyond Darkness” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” share a cinematic series connection.  Well, not one in any official capacity one at least.  Drained from the same bloody vain that unofficially corrals Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2” as a sequel to George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” retitled in Italy as “Zombi,” the American-made, Italian-orchestrated “Beyond Darkness” too fell upon the slew of Italian title changes sword with a rechristening into the “La Casa” series.  With the success of “The Evil Dead” in the U.S., Raimi’s video nasty was renamed to “La Case” and “Beyond Darkness” became the fifth “sequel” in the series as “La Casa 5.”  Since Italy has no copywrite laws, a light breeze can easily change any filmic title.  Even the director, Clyde Anderson, dons a false pretense as the Americanized alter ego of Italian director Claudio Fragasso.  The “Scalps” and “Troll 2” Fragasso pens “Beyond Darkness” with longtime script confederate Rossella Drudi, under the Sarah Asproon pseudonym.  “Beyond Darkness” is shot in the deep American South of Louisiana under the Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi) founded Filmirage (“Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper,” “Deep Blood”), produced by D’Amato, as the Filmirage Production Group.

While behind the camera is mostly an Italian production team, in front of the camera is a cast of American and English actors with an opening Louisiana penitentiary pre-execution theology debate between Bette the witch, played by Mary Coulson, and Father George, a priest having a crisis of faith, played by one of D’Amato’s regulars in English actor David Brandon (“StageFright,” “The Emperor Caligula:  The Untold Story”).  Coulson’s role may be punitively small as the “Beyond Darkness’” lead witch and predominant face of the core evil, but the actress puts all into the Bette character comprised of a maniacal laugh and a lots of very European skin-tag makeup effects whereas the classically trained David Brandon has an array of lively emotions and facial expressions sized to fit Father George’s clerical shirt and white tab collar when he’s not sloshed with doubt.  Both characters interweave into the life of a new-to-the-area priest, his wife, and two kids who move into an old house, built on unholy ground, to start his new chapter in priesthood.  Days later, as the kids become instantly okay with a giant black swam rocking horse in the middle of their bedroom, the family is terrorized by flying kitchenware, flooded with a bayou mist, and frightened by figures in black, tattered shrouds seeking to steal their children’s souls.  Christopher Reeve’s lookalike Gene LeBrock (“Night of the Beast”) fails at double father duty in his poorly lit excuse of a worried father with his children being lured to the realm of the spirit side and as a grounded in faith Father combating the forces of evil without a solid sense of what to do.  Both parents are equally written off as incompetents who continue to stay in the house despite on the continuous threat of Baba Yaga wannabes knocking at every door in the house.  As the mother, Barbara Bingham felt as if she had a little more skin the game.  Perhaps having just come off the legacy success of a “Friday the 13th” sequel (“Jason Takes Manhatten”) she felt the responsibility of maintaining a more diligent approach toward being a mother coursing through occult’s dire straits.   Michael Paul Stephenson (“Trolls 2) and Theresa Walker excel much better in their roles as the two kids, Martin and Carole, who’ve become the centerpiece of Bette’s maliceful desires. 

“Beyond Darkness” will come across as very familiar amongst both horror fans and fans of movies in general with a story pulling inspiration from films like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist.”  Fragasso picks and chooses a blanket of trope elements to rework with great malleably in order to not be a total copy.  However, for those who know anything about low-budget Italian horror, Fragasso’s rousing similarities to major and independent hits should come as no surprise.  Notoriously renowned schlock horror directors Joe D’Amato and Bruno Mattei, amongst a sea of others, use to fabricate out of fame at every opportunity by gobbling up successful films, chewing them up, and spitting out their Italian produced counterparts without a second thought just to cash in on just a fraction of the original narrative’s success.  The way I see it, the method was (and still is) an honorable form of flattery. Yet, flattery doesn’t cure sloppiness and “Beyond Darkness” is about as sloppy as sloppy joes. Plot hole after plot hole stack up on Fragasso’s inability to amalgamate elements in an entirely coherent way. There are underwhelming revelations to anticipating character build ups that fizzle; such as a thick-tension mystery behind the local archdiocese and their involvement to place a good Christian family in a house built on evil land or what precisely convinced Father George of Ameth’s power to sink him into an alcoholic pit of despair? I already mentioned Martin and Carole’s inept parents on not fleeing the house at first sign of poltergeist activity or any activity since then so don’t get me started. The story needs some fine tuning but not after is amiss. The acting is not entirely a humdrum of monotony, Carlo M. Cordio’s eclectic synthesizer riff and haunting keynotes score is on another level akin to a composition pulled right out of a survival horror video game, and Larry J. Fraser, another one of Joe D’Amato’s pseudonyms, has an honesty about his scenes unlike we’ve ever seen before in a D’Amato production as the cinematographer captures the fog luminously and effervescently surrounding and chasing the family from out to in.

“Beyond Darkness” is no “The Evil Dead” but is a solid demon and ghost dog and pony show from 1990. Now, the Claudio Fragasso (or is it, Clyde Anderson?) classic is heading straight to your level room television set with a new 2-disc Blu-ray. The hardcoded Region A is presented in widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio in a full high definition and 1080p resolution. With only a possible color touch up here or there, I would venture to say the transfer used is the most pristine copy with hardly any damage or any age deterioration. The grain looks amply checked and no cropping or edge enhancing at work in an attempt to correct any issues, if any ever existed. Severin offers two audio options: an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 and an Italian dub of the same spec. With dual channels, there retains an always room for growth inkling and with the film’s broad range in sounds, a difficult to swallow lossy audio pill plays the aftertaste tune of, man, this could have been way better. Yet, the track is solid enough, if not more so, with virtually zilch damage. Dialogue comes across clean and clear, but there tails some minor hissing. Like with many Severin releases, new interviews are the star of the special feature show with one-side, talking head interviews with writer-director Claudio Fragrasso Beyond Possession, co-writer Rossella Drudi The Devil in Mrs. Drudi, and actor David Brandon Sign of the Cross. Though the theatrical trailer rounds out the first disc special features, Severin also includes Carlo M. Cordio’s superb soundtrack as disc number two along with a two-page booklet with an introduction to the ingredients of a horror score and to Cordio himself as well as a listing of all 17 tracks. “Beyond Darkness” is Claudio Fragrasso’s unbridled mutt, a motley of motion picture royalties rolled up into an adulating and piggybacking horror beyond comparison.

“Beyond Darkness” 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray Available on Amazon

Coming Attractions: The Quiet Ones!

I gotta tell ya – I’m getting very excited about the upcoming supernatural horror film The Quiet Ones! I’m always down for a good demon/poltergeist film especially with Hammer Film Productions behind it and while I was not a total fan of Daniel Radcliffe’s The Woman in Black I thought the film was solid enough for a Hammer comeback. Plus, Let Me In was a decent remake too of the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In.

The Quiet Ones has an unorthodox professor conducting an off campus experiment with his students. The experiment is to create a poltergeist by use of the human imagination. But when one of their subjects is pushed to edge of her sanity, the experimenters trigger a supernatural being that won’t let them go so quietly.

The film stars Jared Harris from Resident Evil: Apocalypse and The Ward. Check out the trailer and let me know what you think!