EVIL Has an Unbreakable Glass Ceiling. “The Five Rules of Success” reviewed (Ambassador Film Group / Digital Screener)

Upon his release from a long prison stint, a man incarcerated into the system since a young boy tries his hand succeeding in the outside world.  Alone with no family or friends for support and looking to keep his nose clean, he designs his own set of rules for success, including responsibly checking in periodically with his hardnose parole officer and saving up enough money and knowledge working at a restaurant to open his own.  When the path seems clear and everything seems to be falling into place for his chances as success, societal temptations gnaw at him as negative influencers tempt to steer him astray and his own goals try to illicitly fast track his efforts.  Will he fall into crooked society’s trap or will he persevere to reach his aspirations? 

Hard knocks.  That’s the simple, raw core theme of Orson Oblowitz’s “The Five Rules of Success.”  The 2021 crime-thriller is the third directorial from the “Corbin Nash” co-producer, but the second penned script following his debut, a seedy L.A. underbelly thriller “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd” from 2017.  The story is the first for co-writer Christian de Gallego who steps out of his international sales executive role to put his ideas onto paper.  As compelling as any story could be mirroring the struggles of a downtrodden ex-con in a society that browbeats and takes advantage of those on good intentions to rebuild, “The Five Rules of Success” is also a visual quest of imagery and color, produced and distributed by the Ambassador Film Group with de Gallego producing and Apurva Patel as executive producer. 

Stepping into his lead man shoes debut is Santiago Segura (“47 Meters Down,” “Scream: The TV Series”) playing the mastermind behind the five rules of success as X, as in X could be anybody.  However, X couldn’t have been more invested into than what Segura put into the story’s character as a man left to his own devices, without support, without a comforting presence, and without much guidance.  Segura’s range is limited to a monotone stare and tough guy attitude that never wavers or breaks and you have to wonder what X is fighting for to make his ambitious dream a reality?  Where does his determination root?  The fact that there is an absence in a grounding, sobering symbol all the more makes X more susceptible to the deeper end of society’s morality pool.  Along his rise up from the ashes, X meets colorfully sordid individuals feeding off his vulnerability due to either being on probation or stereotyped as being inclined to be favorable toward criminal activity…you know, being released from prison and all.  He’s befriended by Danny (Jonathan Howard, “Godzilla:  King of the Monsters”), a drug using goon who works alongside X at his father’s restaurant.  “Crocodile 2:  Death Swamp’s” Jon Sklaroff plays the stark contrasted Greek immigrant father, restaurant owner, and disappointed father to Danny.  Sklaroff and Howard couldn’t be more adversarial as a hardworking immigrant father who struggled to get to where he is today and a silver spoon fed son throwing his life away with riffraff, drugs, and as the restaurant’s cook.  The relationship formed between X and Sklaroff’s character is the wishful dreaming that X couldn’t be the son he never had and all X has to do is be patient and listen to a little friendly advice.  A more brazen and mysterious obstacle in X’s path is his parole officer, Emma, whose uppity authority holds X’s freedom in the palm of her hand played by Isidora Goreshter.  The line is blurry whether Emma has either the hots for X or is secretly a sadist and Goreshter offers to uphold that inscrutable presence with unscrupulous tactics. 

One way to crave out the meaning behind Oblowitz’s film is to not be standing high-and-mighty on greener pastures.  “The Five Rules of Success” sensationalizes real time problems with our prison system and the after effects of walking out a free man after years, if not decades, from a life that’s all you know to a life you know nothing about.  X’s past burdens him immensely as flashbacks, denoted in literal quick flashed cuts, of the downward spiral turning point in his childhood find their way into his determined route to success.  Ultimately, the past and present are one in the same where society sees not a boy, not a man, not a person, but a criminal and how we as a society be contemptuous of former convicts released back into our soicalled perfect public community.  There’s parallelism between each chaptered rule and the downward progression he sustains in his associations with the wrong people that start to twist his mindset, his rules, into the very unlawful reprehensible activities he tries very hard to avoid. Oblowitz does a nice job detailing X’s habits as a loner, working out his pent up frustrations by exercising, shadow boxing, and refining his rules, but the root of all evil is hard to ignore as cold hard cash, easy money for one of Danny’s illicit jobs, begins to lay out the possible steps to skip in order to fulfill his own ambition.  Despite the momentary monotone mishandlings from Segura, the story is well-written and mostly well played out with some scenes more intense than others with the subject material as you begin finding yourself rooting for the ex-con and booing the very society you yourself live in scot-free. 

Clocking in with a runtime at 83 minutes, “The Five Rules of Success” symbolizes the ups and mostly downs in the here and now game of chutes and ladders.  Having been released last month, July 30, be sure to check out the unrated feature available for purchase on your preferred platform of either iTunes or Amazon released by the Ambassador Film Group.  Oblowitz doesn’t just write-and-direct the film, but he also serves as cinematographer dabbling in a Kafkaesque arranged world with hints of tint, hints of different lenses, hints at overexposures, hints at strobe, and more.  Nearly every scene is comprised of a different shooting technique or editing visual that may or may not possibly induce a seizure as forewarned during the preface.  Stylistically, I can only compare and describe “The Five Rules of Success” as this:  Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:  A Space Odyssey” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”  As far as extras go, there’s a quaint, no major dialogue memorandum scene after the end credits that speaks to vicious circles and permanency.  For a L.A. shot film that has more technique than bite, “The Five Rule of Success” is a success of an auteur’s written storytelling as well as the visual understanding of just how to tell that story in a surrealistic context. 

Rent or Buy “The Five Rules of Success” on Prime Video!

In the S.H.U., The EVIL Comes From Within. “Caged” reviewed! (Shout! Studios / Digital Screener)

Psychiatrist Dr. Harlow Reid is sentence to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife.  With his assets frozen and his legal representation dropping him as a client, Reid is forced into being his own legal counsel.  To make matters worse, a female prison guard’s perverse pleasure is to slowly torture him while in her custody at solitary confinement.  His only means to enter general population is to behave and confess to the crime he contests, but he continues to maintain his innocence by refusing to sign the confession, remaining alone and withstanding abuse until he can write a formal plea to a judge to reconsider the facts in his case.  As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, the usually stable minded Dr. Reid, alone with his thoughts, has his fortress of reality buckle under the heavy burden of isolation compounded with the maltreatment and his personal demons that struggle with the actual events in his wife’s sudden death, questioning himself that her death might have been at his hand.

Inside the clink is a maelstrom set in a pressure cooker. Ready to explode at any moment are cons of, mostly, unsavory personalities simmering with pent up anger, desperation, and ill-will positioned by equally fraught guards harried by timebomb temperaments and undervalued in training and payment. In Aaron Fjellman’s written and directed debut feature film, “Caged,” the strain festers toward being hell behind bars in a ruthless determination of survival. Also once known as the working title, “The S.H.U,” Fjellman constrains his American-made, and inspired, big house thriller with a minimalist approach set with a backdrop of chiefly the solitary housing unit to lock up viewers in, as witnessing accomplices, with a protagonist’s downtrodden path of mental degradation as well as being humanly degraded. Aaron Fjellman produces his film for production company Panic House Films and Shifty Eye Productions with the latter a company created by the film’s star, Edi Gathegi, serving on the board as executive producer.

It’s no big surprise that Edi Gathegi dons the prison house jumper and clanking shackles in this social commentary thriller. The “Blacklist” and “X-Men: First Class” actor knows a good role when he sees with, especially inside the body and mind of one Dr. Harlow Reid. Gathegi regularly has to battle with himself filtered through the madness of the S.H.U. mind-breaking solitary with a little fanning of the flames from sadistic prison guard, Officer Sacks. In an extremely ghastly transformation, Melora Hardin goes from a classic beauty with a big smile and high cheek bones to baring an unflattering lumpy posture with hair pulled back in a tight, short ponytail overtop a demonizing trope of a scar down the left side of her face and an assured cockiness symbolized by the gum smacking that’s sometimes becomes the only thing in the camera frame. As Gathegi masters the ideals of a convict presuming himself innocent, Hardin lurks beyond his cell door as the devilish guard over his shoulder. Officer Sacks defines a face with a story and her story has a hard on for power over prisoners, especially affluent ones or, maybe, those of African American descent in a tinge of racist undertones as Fjellman notes on the racial injustices in the prison system. A smidgen of that notion is supported shown in Officer Sacks behind-the-back passive aggressiveness toward Warden Perez. “Annabelle’s” Tony Amendola truly delivers being a heartfelt ally, yet sturdy firm handed warden with Reid. Perez, an expressed Catholic, seeks Reid’s redemption through the admittance of wrongdoing and that becomes the steadfast barrier Reid has to hurtle that will test his convictions and his sanity. “Caged” rounds out with Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, as Reid’s unhinged S.H.U. bedfellow who speaks in hyperbole of inmate hauntings in an opaque analogy of guilt mixed with madness, and “Westworld’s” Angela Sarafyan told through flashbacks and supernatural induced psychosis as Reid’s wife, Amber.

To tell an inmate’s nearly yearlong story succumbing to the brutal and segregating abuses surrounding him in solitary confinement is a tremendous feat working into the mental cracks and exploring the fallacies. Yet, Aaron Fjellman made his fictional interpretation look easy by relating a surreal, but telling story in just 80 minutes, gripping with metaphorical concepts of an overcrowded prison system preying on uncontested obedience, even if the lengths taken to obtain complete compliance is trauma exacting torture of draconian policy, by primarily privately funded institutions with little-to-no funding or resources to manage. “Caged” is very fleeting with montage upon montage of Harlow Reid’s day-to-day, but never becomes a monotonous roundabout vivarium of Reid sitting hopelessly-looking in his cell. Gathegi’s put to work as a man determined to challenge the system that engages Reid to keep sharp and in shape by working out in various exercises, entertain an unhinged neighboring inmate with his ramblings and blurbs of crazy talk truths, and feverishly work on his legal case by any extraordinary measures, including using his own blood as ink. Yes, “Caged” can elicit a genuine sense of horror, a perspective on psychological terror, and be an eye-opening gasp of real life prison dread when good versus evil is mirrored in reverse with the good guys not being the prison guards. Fjellman imprisons us all in “Caged” by culminating the fact that no matter your social circumstances, the S.H.U. breaks everyone.

Orange may be the new black, but Aaron Fjellman’s bleak fretting “Caged” jars with somber authoritarian power. The new thriller released by Shout! Studios premiers unrated on VOD and digital January 26th. “Caged” is film by director of photography, Jessica Young, with an Arri Amira camera and presented in a widescreen format, 16×9 aspect ratio, and, typically, the Amira camera versatility is in the use for low-budget films, perfect for “Caged” in it’s nearly singular setting and two-tone, steely gray and black, atmospherics that naturally have devoid color vibrancy. CJ Johnson, who will soon see his musical scores in a pair of upcoming Friday the 13th fan films, lines “Caged” with a soft, building industrial score that tunes the disquiet in Reid’s racked inner conflict. With this digital screener, there were no bonus materials or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Through the use of visual and audible horror tropes and with potent performances from Edi Gathegi and Melora Hardin, “Caged” is a ghost story told for the unspoken voices victim to long-term confinement.

Click the poster to pre-order “Caged” at Amazon!

Giving EVIL the Electric Chair Only Gives EVIL a Buzz! “Destroyer” reviewed! (Cheezy Movies/DVD)


The unspeakable 23 rape and murder crimes of psychopath Ivan Moser grant him a seat of honor at the electric chair. As soon as the switch is thrown, a massive prison riot ensues and what happens next becomes unexplainable, confusing, and indeterminable. One thing is clear, the prison’s Warden Kash loses his position as the trashed penitentiary is forced to shut down. Eighteen months later, a film crew acquire permits to shoot a women-in-prison exploitation film inside the prison with the help of it’s one time custodial employee, Russell, who is just as creepy as the abandoned maximum security penitentiary that housed the infamous Ivan Moser. As production grapples with townsfolk opposition, electrician’s timing miscues, and some seriously bad acting, there’s one unexpected obstacles not accounted for…a living, breathing Ivan Moser still living inside the iron cladded prison.

Horror fans from all walks of life to the age gaps of multiple generations can all agree on one thing, that the 1980’s is the gilded age of horror to which inspired and/or captivated us all. The decade was also an industrious change for political climates that saw the fall of the Berlin and saw musical artists like Michael Jackson break the conventional molds of how music was orchestrated, sung, and danced too. For movies, the change came with technical innovation in elaborate special effects, such as in John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and undogmatic view of how we perceive plots which opened the flood gates to a slew of unexplored ideas no matter how far-fetched they may seems. One plot such as this would be from the 1988 prison massacre film, “Destroyer,” directed by Robert Kirk as is one and only non-fictional feature before an extreme career solidifying shift to historical movie and television documentaries. Written by Peter Garrity (“The Forgotten One”), Rex Hauck, and Mark W. Rosenbaum, “Destroyer’s” a gritty tale of endless, black obsession fueled by insanity, revved up with inexplicable half-alive malice, and juiced with strength of an indestructible force without being overtly supernatural.

With an 80’s movie comes an 80’s cast and the popular reteaming of Clayton Rohner and Deborah Foreman from 1986’s holiday themed horror, “April Fool’s Day.” “Destroyer” isn’t based on a certain holiday, but converges more toward meta approach where Clayton Rohner and Deborah Foreman play the romantic couple, grindhouse screenwriter David Harris and stuntwoman Susan Malone, on film set of their women in prison movie – Death House Dollies. A typecast switcheroo is engaged as the physicality falls upon the female role while Rohner takes a reserved backseat as a writer and that entails Foreman to face off against Lyle Alzado as the unspoken titular character Ivan “Destroyer” Moser. Alazdo’s crazy eyes and muscular football build provides the suitable basic elements of a crazed killer; probably doesn’t hurt that Alzado was also juiced up on steroids throughout his career in the NFL and beyond his exit from sports entertainment. Alzado has been quoted in Sports Illustrated having uncontrollable anger from roid-rage and that pressurized anger seethed, one could assumed, in the eyes of Ivan Moser, forging a superhuman monster under the parental guardianship of Richard Brake lookalike, Tobias Anderson (“Harvest of Fear”). “Psycho’s” late Anthony Perkins co-stars a the director of the WIP film as an unusual placemat only to serve as a hot moniker in horror to be contextual candy for one big scene and not providing much else. Lannie Garrett, Jim Turner (“Pogrammed to Kill”), Pat Mahoney (“Strangeland”), and four Death House Dollies in a gratuitous shower fight scene co-star!

A purebred American slasher of eccentric electrifying devices, “Destroyer” chooses punitive measures against the concept of capital punishment, sending the cryptic message that the dead will haunt you and those that you touch forever in some warped guilt trip nexus. The message is only further hammered in by the embossed haunting atmosphere of Robert Kirk’s opening sequence of a priest walking down the hazy cellblocks toward Moser’s cell, sitting with twitchy Moser while he madly raves and rambles about the game show that plays on a television set in front of his cell, and going through the steps of a chaired electrocution echoes a utilitarian dystopia that fathers in the cold, ungenial tone of the prison and Moser’s psychotically feral thirst to kill. Ivan Moser’s vitality is infectious, a hail-mary shot you’ll be rooting toward the finale, as the serial killer undertakes undertaker duties with extreme perversity while chocking up his body count with unsystematic eliminations, such as with a conveniently placed jackhammer in the prison basement. The jackhammer’s scene is “Destroyer’s” bread and butter, the showpiece of the whole film, but Moser only snag a couple of some real good on screen kills. All the rest are off screen or channeled through another device, such as an electric chair, and that softens and stiffens Moser’s, if not also Alzado’s, ultimate larger-than-life presence. Still, “Destroyer” rocks Lyle Alzado’s short-lived indelible monster making movie talent and confines the space to a breathless solitary confinement death house ready to devour more victims.

“Destroyer” shocks onto DVD home video release distributed from Cheezy Movies, MVDVisual, and Trionic Entertainment, LLC. If you’re not willing to shell out big bucks for “Destroyer” on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, check out Cheezy Movies’ economy region free DVD presented in an academy ratio, full frame 4:3. A beginning title card mentions that Cheezy Movies attempts to find the best transfer available when searching out titles and I believe that was done here with this release, but unlike Scream Factory, funds were not poured into an expensive upscale as moments of banding start right at the title credits. The transfer instances of dirt and cigarette burns are immaterial enough to not falter viewing, but there’s a bit of hefty color posterization in the basement scene that nearly blends the entire white scheme together and causing difficulties defining individual objects. The English language single channel mono mix maintains a lossy connatural sell topping out at the it’s as good as it gets ceiling with an economy release, but the dialogue is surprising clear, soundtrack sounds good, and the ambience, though needing a fine tuning, shapes out depth and range nice enough. With this release, no special features are available. Much like “Destroyer’s” tagline, Robert Kirk’s feature won’t shock you, but will give a great buzz with a nightmare coiling around your brain performance from Lyle Alzado and a super 80’s execution-from-the-grave slasher that’s just a guilty pleasure to behold.

Buy “Destroyer” on DVD! Or Watch on PRIME VIDEO!

Shout Factory Brings “Destroyer” Back to Life!

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Some exciting news coming out of the ever-glorious Scream Factory, aka Shout Factory, company and that is 1988’s “Destroyer” with Anthony Perkins from “Psycho.” The incredulous film will pari with another 1988 film – Scarecrows. The double feature will hit blu-ray in 2015!

A prison riot breaks out at the moment of a serial murderer’s execution by electrocution, and his fate becomes indeterminate when the prison is shut down. 18 months later, a team of filmmakers converge on the prison to film a women-in-prison exploitation flick, but find that a certain somebody is disrupting their shooting schedule…