Tune Into EVIL’s Overnight Radio Programming! “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)



Veteran night shift disc jockey, Amy Marlowe, has hosted her own renowned punk rock show for the last 30 years.  On the night of a major hurricane rolling through town, the broadcast must go on as radio never sleeps, but Amy is bitten on the neck by flying bat prior to arriving into the station.  If things couldn’t get any worse, she’s trapped inside the station with the sleazy station executive who surprisingly introduces the disc jockey’s much younger and beautiful replacement.  As Amy deals with the sudden aftershock of forced retirement, she slowly descends into a topsy-turvy reality full of unannounced secrets, movements through her own past and present, and the unusually strange staff transforming into monsters inside the station walls.  To top it off, Amy craves blood.  Between the possibilities of unexpected grief and anger, rabies, or becoming something far more evil, Amy Marlowe, either way, is losing her grip on the real world.

The amount of thought and expression on blunt force change, numb appreciation, and profound existentialism worked into the allegorical dark vampire comedy, “10 Minutes to Midnight,” never steals from the narrative’s basic element, a breed of classically fed undead horror.  Writer-director, Erik Bloomquist, helms his sophomore feature film directorial that is also the second film written collaboratively with brother, Carson Bloomquist, following their 2019 debut thriller, “Long Lost.”  The Connecticut based siblings shoot “!0 Minutes to Midnight” at the ABC affiliated WILI radio station in Willimantic over the course of seven week nights, self-producing under the Bloomquist Mainframe Pictures banner alongside the third “Long Lost” screenwriter-turned producer, Adam Weppler, who also has a major role in the film. 

A soulful, applause-all-around performance by headlining scream queen Caroline Williams who makes her return to the DJ booth 35-years later after going face-to-face with Leatherface’s chainsaw in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and, by God, Williams still has the cold-cocking charisma of her 1986 self.  Pinned to be discarded by station exec Robert (William Youmans), Amy Marlow loses control of her on-air persona for the first time in 30-years of broadcast radio.  Williams is on target with Marlow’s salacious-pointing meltdown rant with a viperous, quick-witted tongue spurred by the very news of her canning that started the hamster wheeling rolling, putting the pieces together of how much backstabbing, ungratefulness, and all-for-nothing hard work (and her younger days’ sexual servitude) becomes a deafening cacophony of noise before her Ten Minutes Before Midnight broadcast segment airtime.  Watching Williams work never gets dull from the one moment she’s rightfully screaming and ripping someone a new one to being overwhelmingly fractured by the venom that courses through her veins in a transformative and stunning performance.  Accompanying Marlow on her sudden career nosedive are a trio of dividing personalities that pull a different versions of the radio star.  Marlow’s seemingly only workplace friend and confidant, Aaron (Adam Weppler), has been a fan of hers ever since he was little, even providing a touching anecdote about him listening to her broadcast when he was a little boy, and there’s something between them, but teeters between admiration and desire that doesn’t flesh out because, again, it’s another problematic thematical item being circled around.  The other two characters rile up Marlow’s inner angst with their threatening postures or their maddening babble.  Nicole Kang (“Swallow”) and the late Nicholas Tucci (“You’re Next”), in their roles of hotshot millennial newcomer, Sienna, and the quirky and rambling security guard, Ernie, achieve just those respective levels of kicking someone when they’re already down with a flurry of annoyance.  Kang and Tucci deliver concentrated performances.  The acting is so entrenched into their characters, as well as with Weppler and Youmans’,” that when Marlow enters a status interchangeable, role-reversal, and nightmarish last stage of her existence coming to a conclusion, “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reups another thought-provoking scenario; one that has you frantically rewiring the tightly woven profiles your brain has determined about the characters to keep up with Bloomquist who is clearly three steps ahead.

Martin Scorsese once compared certain films to theme parks, noting their cinematic worth only in their high octane action entertainment and special effects that draw audiences in like moths to a flame and never letting the actors do the meaningful work themselves.  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a blue-chip, character driven vampire story rare to these parks.  Bloomquist’s themes on ageism, sexism, regret, change, grief, millennials, and more, snake through Marlow’s multifaceted transitional experience in a stylishly cynical fantasy.  Much of Marlowe’s perception isn’t tenaciously reliant on the consequences of the vampire bat bite to her neck.  Reoccurring as an example of perception throughout the film, whenever the camera hovers over a clock displaying 11:50 P.M., is the fading disc jockey finding herself stuck in a timeless rut, eternally clinging to her show in a disparate attempt to be relevant despite the inevitability of change as often noted by each idiosyncratic character – Aaron changing up her normal broadcast set start to call-ins, Robert axing her for younger talent, Ernie incessantly pointing out her symptomatic changes after the bite, and Sienna embodying the very epitome of change.  Marlow’s mind melds with her physical transformation as she goes through the seven stages of grief to at which one point she talks to who might be her younger self over the phone.  Marlow, initially hesitant, does not guide change, but to rather embrace it in a moment of accepting her own checkered past.  However, the dialogue I found to be most poignant was during the retirement party with sunken-eyed celebrators who just randomly show up for the event and Marlow turns to Aaron and comments on not exactly knowing who these people are.  There’s depth and soul in that comment for someone going through the process of retirement who sees unacquainted, new faces and perceiving them with only a tinge of familiarity and a lot of isolating loneliness.

If looking for wildly crafted and superbly acted vampire celluloid, I highly recommend Erik Bloomquist’s “Ten Minutes to Midnight” to sate your thirst now on Blu-ray home video from MVD Visual in associations with Jinga Films and Danse Macabre. The region free Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 on a BD25 and has a runtime of 73 minutes. Shot in a shadows of hard lighting, the picture quality is relatively sharp in the lack of natural light, but that sharpness scatters like roaches when a spectrum wave of neon hues or a bathe of vivid tint casts a psychotomimetic inducing trip through Thomas Nguyen’s tightly quartered medium and close up angles. The overall coloring on the location and characters falls into a matte flatness that works to the lightings advantage when using rich exterior color sources. The atmospherics are Amsterdam sultry under the heat of a carnal fluorescent red and Nguyen’s lofty present steady cam endues a nostalgic flame of eerie dreamscapes similar to early John Carpenter, such as in “The Fog” or “Prince of Darkness.” The English language audio tracks come with two options, a 5.1 surround sound and a stereo 2.0. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is an audio-visual probe into the mind and senses and so the obvious choice here is the 5.1 surround sound; however, the lossy dialogue track becomes quickly overwhelmed by the behemoth sound design and soundtrack, the latter being original music by Gyom Amphoux. Musically, not my cup of tea, but will find an audience and fits into the narrative perfectly. Bonus materials include a behind the scenes entitled “Take One,” audio commentaries by director Erik and Carson Bloomquist as well as star Caroline Williams, multiple featurettes, a Grimmfest interview with the Bloomquists, Williams, WIlliam Youmans, and Thomas Nguyen, Grimmoire Academy and Popcorn Frights intros, and a festival teaser trailer. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a dusk till dawn decimator of sanity, a wickedly fun vampire oddity, and has an unforgettable, batty performance from Caroline Williams.

Recommended!  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” now on Blu-ray!

Unleashed, Nature Inspires the EVIL in All of Us! “In The Earth” reviewed (Neon / Digital Screener)

A deadly virus has ravaged the world, placing the inhabitants on a high alert edge of incessant sanitation and relentless paranoia. Martin, a scientist from the city, ventures to an ecological nature preserve to convey equipment for tests being conducted deep in the forest. Park Ranger, Alma, guides him on a two day trek toward a camp in total isolation supervised by Dr. Olivia Wendle, but during the second day of the journey, Martin and Alma are attacked in the middle of the night, left with no gear and a vague sense of what happened. The virus has yet to stake a claim on those living within the woods, but another malicious-driven presence, entombed by superstition and mental manipulation, enacts the forest to come alive around them, forcing them into a direction that presents a summoning of nature’s folkloric revenant.

COVID-19 has brought a tremendous amount of sorrow and an unforgiving plight upon the world, but for a few filmmakers, a global pandemic has been a source of inspiration that been a silver lining amongst the Earth’s population upheaval. Director Ben Wheatley tapped into that filament, you could say ,with his man versus nature mystery horror “In The Earth.” The filmmaker of “U is for Unearthed” short from the “ABCs of Death” and soon-to-be helming the follow up big screen sequel to novelist’s Steve Alten’s widely popular monster shark book series with “Meg 2: The Trench,” Wheatley writes and directs a quarantine start-to-finish feature that also incorporates the pandemic into the story, much to the same likes as Rob Savage’s “Host” that uses the virus as a means to drive the characters into doing something they normally wouldn’t be doing. The UK production is from Wheatley’s founded Rook Films and Neon, who last co-produced Brandon Cronenberg’s violent sci-fi thriller, “Possessor.”

With the pandemic resulting quarantine and a story set in the thicket of woods, “In The Earth” is innately slim around the casting waistline that concentrates the performance zest amongst a few, beginning with the introduction of Martin the scientist walking up to the sentry lodge located at the forest edge. Played by Joel Fry (“Game of Thrones”), the London born actor must endure as a hapless city boy taking woodland shots on the chin without much complaint, but definitely a grimace, a whimper, and a pass out. Guiding Martin through the woods is Alma, a seasoned park ranger under the eye of “Midsommar’s” Ellora Torchia who balances out her travel companion’s near ill-equipped, yet hazardously attempting, roughing the outdoors. Martin and Alma are nearly mirrored by the only other two people they come across in the forest – Zach and Dr. Wendle. Yet, Zach and Dr. Wendle’s similarities channel through how they instrument a link to the forest being, known as Parnag Fegg, that calls them to release it from the timber and foliage prison. Zach (Reece Shearsmith of “Shaun of the Dead”) honors Parnag Fegg with ritualistic images and symbols while Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) uses a combination of technological lights and experimental music to speak with the powerfully alluring presence. Shearsmith is devilishly certifiable with Squires backing up his character craziness with her own version that never places Martin and Alma into a safe haven’s circle. “In The Earth” rounds out the cast with Mark Monero and John Hollingworth.

“In The Earth’s” binary coding of nature versus urban, plus sublets of traditions versus technology, runs as a seamless motif to a bigger theme that nature has a global network web of personified communication and reason. I imagine Wheatley succeeded in what M. Night Shyamalan tried to accomplish in the Mark Walhberg’s headlining “The Happening” with bringing nature to the forefront stand against man who continuously seeks to destroy themselves and the world, forcing nature’s hand to take drastic measures, but Wheatley’s film more so tells not the story of a worldwide assault on mankind but rather as the resurrection of a single entity, an archaic necromancer of local legend, eager to walk the Earth once again after being driven to disembody their spirit to the forest. “In The Earth” also provokes a literal meaning toward an age old saying of “nature calling” by using the aforesaid network to unconsciously lure specific individuals into the woods and gather near a gateway relic or stone,. This act of intention calls for a sacrifice of purity and so one of the four individuals – Alma, Martin, Zach, and Olivia – will involuntary be the vessel of Parnag Fegg’s return while the others, under the persuasion of forest spirit, due it’s song-and-dance bidding. Ben Wheatley taps into a very John Carpenter archetype of people on the cusp of unleashing certain doom upon the world, invoking not only a spirit but also that very sense of last stand against damnation as epitomized in “The Thing” and “The Prince of Darkness.” “In The Earth,” however, isn’t so easy to see the forest through the trees with an first act setup that zips through the situation that leads Martin and Alma trekking through the woods and Parnag Fegg is only briefly dappled to be a dangled carrot for bigger things to come.

A chiseled, fey story with a dark, ominous cloud of impending doom lingering overhead, “In The Earth” is transcendence horror at it’s finest. Neon is set to release the R-rated, 107 minute film, “In The Earth,” in theaters on April 30th. The scaled down budget didn’t hinder Wheatley’s grand platform and with Nick Gillespie’s sophomore credit as feature film cinematographer, the playbook was unwritten for Gillespie to rework how to shoot a film under the confines of a pandemic with limited cast, a living forest, and still maintain safe social distant practices under strict mandated guidelines. Gillespie formulated wide-angles to capture an expanse of trees diminutively enshrouding the characters, almost like the forest was going to gulp them at any moment. A composition of artful imagery compiled together in a collage of intoxicating colors and feverish styles interprets nothing concrete in the heroines journey of an nearly unknowable presence only knowledgeable by world of mouth, leaving also the audience induced with a psychedelic vision at the whims of Wheatley’s direction. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits and the perfunctory ending opens the door for interpretation that can be more impacting than a firm resolution. Born and bred from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, “In The Earth” dispatches a diversion from the immediate, the real world, and the tumult of a virus with a bewilderingly diversion of troubling folk horror sown directly into Mother Nature herself.

Acting Evil Isn’t Necessarily Evil. “Sins of Dracula” review!

output_xnW8RJ Billy, a good church-going man, reluctantly leaves his choir to join the community theater at the request of his girlfriend Shannon.  What Billy doesn’t realize is that there are all different kinds of characters who partake in the community theater – the nerdy gamers, the anti-establishment antagonizers, the gays, and, of course, Dracula.  Yes, Dracula – the Prince of Darkness.  The theater’s director is a satanic worshipper who feeds off the sins of his actors to resurrect Dracula and start a whole new world order of vampires. vlcsnap-2015-03-27-18h46m37s8 “The Sins of Dracula” film is a homage to multiple horror genre branches. Decades including the 1970s and the 1980s source the brilliantly colored and expression heavy of the Hammer horror era and combine it with the gore of video nasties marking all present and accounted for in this ode to classic horror and that’s the creative style of director Richard Griffin and his Scorpio Film Releasing company which quickly produces many independent films that hit many media platforms. My previous film experience with Griffin includes “The Disco Exorcist” that implements film stock imperfections and the hardcore porn of the 1970’s. The other Griffin film, “Murder University,” aims to create a satirical look at a murderous cult gone collegiate. Lastly, my very first Richard Griffin film was Feeding the Masses wanted to be a social political zombie following in a George A. Romero fashion. So there is no surprise here that Griffin does what he does best, but after seeing “The Disco Exorcist” and “Murder University” both which I liked in previous reviews The Disco Exorcist review here and Murder University review here, “The Sins of Dracula” warranted high hopes for Griffin to do something new and cut ties with the old, regurgitated scenes. vlcsnap-2015-03-27-18h48m14s212 Enough about Griffin, let’s talk about “The Sins of Dracula.” Just from reading the synopsis alone, one can conclude that this horror-comedy will come off as a bit outrageous, delving into and dissecting the sins of certain kinds of people who walk in all kinds of life and exploiting them for the sake of our good boy Scott’s heroic journey and also exploiting them to awake the evil Dracula. The story doesn’t waste any time putting to waste the sinfully deemed characters and going on a Godsend vampire hunting spree. At the end, most peoples’ personal views are made light of in a satirical fashion. vlcsnap-2015-03-27-18h49m10s0 Michael Thurber, a staple actor of Griffin’s, does a solid job as a Hammer horror Dracula mirroring the likes of the vampire exposed Christopher Lee. Steven O’Broin, as Lou Perdition the satanist devotee theater director, had some excellent lines and quips and made his Vincent Price-esque character enjoyable when on screen. Another of Griffin’s minions, Aaron Peaslee pranced around fairly well as a gay theater actor and his raunchy sex scene with fellow actor Johnny Sederquist was the most controversial aspect of the film. I can’t say that about the other characters. Other characters fell a bit flat and didn’t convey their characters intentions well enough to pull off a spoofy-stereotype. The fact that their characters where put to death way too early in the film doesn’t give the character a chance to make their presence more well established. vlcsnap-2015-03-27-18h47m22s202 The blood letting could have been, well, bloodier, but there is enough letting to super soak and saturate one’s thirst. Some of the scenes are restaged from the likes of “Fright Night” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the movie. Like I was saying early in the review about the film’s originality, the lack of new material makes the likelihood of repeating a viewing of “The Sins of Dracula” very unlikely which is difficult to say about a solid homage. vlcsnap-2015-03-27-18h49m25s152 “The Sins of Dracula” is good for a one time single viewing and but lacks new and fresh material to really captivate attention. The MVDVisual DVD cover also doesn’t explicitly want you to go out and rent this title, but the disc art is amazingly detailed and you shouldn’t judge a film’s material by the cover. I do strongly suggest to check out “The Sins of Dracula” if you’re into the Hammer horror scene and into Griffin’s Quentin Tarantino homage style of directing.

 

 

Strippers aren’t evil! Stripperland review!

In all my days I would never consider the exotic profession of a stripper to be a bad thing.  These (sometimes) youthful ladies contribute to society just like the rest of us and perform a gentleman’s entertainment that will forever be the loner’s safe-haven and open ear to deaf, faux sympathizers.  Director Sean Skelding sees the pole dancing society to be the evilest place on the face of the earth as his film, Stripperland, has strippers from all shapes and sizes, dolled up in cheesy outfits, run an undead amok eating the guts of the living and mindlessly dancing to hip-hop music.

Idaho is an annoying college kid who lives by a set of exotic dancer rules that help him survive a world of undead, flesh eating strippers.  He meets Frisco, a man on a mission to destroy every stripper that steps in his path and to fulfill an obsession for home made baked goods, and they embark on a journey to Oregon, but before they arrive, West and Virginia, two uninfected females, trek with them in search for their Grambo.

Sean Skelding has a vision and that vision is to recreate that vision in a parody.  Stripperland parodies Ruben Fleischers’s 2009 Zombieland and, in all honestly, doesn’t do it very well.  Having strippers only come back to life to eat the living doesn’t make much sense to me; to have them dance to hip-hop music and crave one dollar bills as a distraction ploy has the same effect.  I get it, Skelding, Strippers are the epitome of mindless drones who seek nothing but sparkly objects, a fistful of George Washingtons and just want to dance all night long.  This concept could have been done with another storyline; why use Zombieland’s premise?  Stripperland isn’t a soul sucker of only Fleischer’s zomedy as it mocks a bit of Zombie Strippers (for obvious reasons) and Romero’s Day of the Dead (with Thom Bray as Dr. Logan).

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