Let the Heavens Fall to Cleanse the EVIL Away! “Undead” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Bluray)

The small finishing town of Berkley, Australia comes under siege by blazing meteoroids that turn the quaint residents into mindless flesh-hungry zombies. A small band of survivors led by the town’s dismayed local beauty queen and a fisherman turned doomsday prepper fight the undead hordes in order to escape the carnage by reaching the city limits, but when faced with an otherworldly monolithic barrier surrounding the town and blocking the exits, a hopeful way out becomes quickly fleeting. To make matters worse, unusual rainstorms drench them with fear of what’s really in the rainwater of the apparent alien attack. In a last-ditch effort, the remaining survivors board a personal prop plane to scale the great extraterrestrial wall that’s imprisoning them with the undead. An onslaught of end of days catastrophes drives their instinct to battle on, to push forth toward living, despite all the evidence of a contrary methodology to the misunderstood, overwhelming alien actions.

A 9-year marriage, three children, the death of my dog, two states, a new home, four jobs, four presidents, and a global pandemic in more than almost two decades’ passing has transpired since the first and last time I saw the Spierig brothers’ 2003 zombie-comedy “Undead” and, still, the 2003 Australian film impresses with a large-scale gore show on a small-scale budget. Before terraforming new vampire words with Ethan Hawke in “Daybreakers” and taking a stab at an entry in the “Saw” franchise with “Jigsaw,” the brothers Michael and Peter Spierig’s first full feature-length venture was an ambitious love letter to their’ most endeared cult films of their youth, more heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Blowing through the meager budget halfway into filming and shooting an insane 40 to 50 shots per day for the better part of two months, the completion of “Undead” was a must for the self-funding brothers under their production banner of Spierigfilm and the success of “Undead” also jumpstarted the careers of cinematographer Andrew Strahorn (“Hostel III,” “Lethal Weapon” television series), production designer Matthew Putland (“San Andreas”), and special effects artist Julian Summers (“Bait,” “Mortal Kombat” ’21).

“Undead” was the first film for Felicity Mason and Mungo McKay in a lead role as that dismayed local beauty queen, Rene, and that fisherman turned doomsday prepper, Marion, mentioned in the above synopsis. Rene seeks to leave the town of Berkley in the wake of the tragic death of her parents before becoming the burdened beholder of their debt; instead, she thrusted into a crisis that won’t allow her to escape so easily from a destiny laid out for her in hometown. Mason’s humble portrayal of Rene is nearly invisible compared to her more boisterous and gun-fu counterparts but grounds us to an agreeable realism of reactions whereas Marion’s limitless gun-toting out of his fishing overalls and Matrix-like gunplay moves adds that layer of voguish fun of the Chow Yun-fat variety. The other four survivors fall into the run-of-the-mill of yowlers and cutting personality types who throw around their weight and cowardly sarcasms in immediate show of unfounded animosity. Supposedly, a longer cut of “Undead” provides more backstory for father-to-be charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, “Australiens”) and the law enforcement neophyte Molly (Emma Randall, “Bullets for the Dead”) but the release copy which this review is based off was not of that longer cut. Dirk Hunter supplies a purge of negative comic relief as Harrison, the chief constable without a clue, and Lisa Cunningham’s Sallyanne is Wayne’s antagonizing pregnant lover of bitterness as she comes in second place next to Rene at the local beauty pageant and seizes moments, during all Hell breaking loose, to confront Rene’s rope-wrangling talent that won her the cast prize.

Over the past year, I watched and reviewed another Australian sci-fi horror “Dustwalker” from director Sandra Sciberras where crash landed space objects turned the local dustbowl residents into the resemblance of zombies and connected to the chaos is a not from this world creature. I likened “Dustwalker” to be a lesser, weaker, total rip-off of the Spierigs’ ozploitation rager and I still stand 100% behind my claim as I reaffirm “Undead” to be the reigning supreme champion, and “did it first” as far as story goes, between the two nearly identical narrative plots. There’s an uncrushable affinity for “Undead’s” bold risk of looking at the bigger picture head on and absolutely landing each scene whether in prosthetics or in post with better than your average computer rendered imagery. Are the effects the sleekest, most realistic, graphics you’ve ever seen? Absolutely not but what they are are ultra-rich in creative detail rather than quality detail and can give most substantial budgeted films a run for the money, especially in the closeup shots that can be an obvious slapdash, might as well be silicone, fake. The Spierig brothers also don’t overcomplicate the plot with survivors trying to simply quickly decamp the overran town madness with plot points sensible to character designs and not relying on gratuitous happenstance scenarios for the sake of gore alone. However, do believe me when I say that “Undead” will delight gore geeks with a gut-spilling, face-lifting, head-decapitating mixture of zany zombie knockoffs that are steady throughout. If you’re deciding between the more recent “Dustwalker” and the now almost considered antique 15+ year-old “Undead,” the choice is clear with “Undead’s” superior campy, shoot’em, blood-splattering zombie mayhem.

For U.S. horror viewers looking for something that borders obscurity and might be out of their comfort zone, “Undead” has yet to make an appearance on Blu-ray, surprisingly enough. Only the Lionsgate DVD version is the known, and authorized, copy to be released in America. For those searching high and low, the all-region Blu-ray from the Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, offers a 2-disc alternative with a new 1080p, Full High-Definition, release as volume # 12 on the company’s World on Film: Beyond Genres banner. The Aussie cult modern classic is presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio and with a runtime of 97 minutes, mirroring the U.S. DVD length which is a bit disappointing as longer cuts of the film do exist on other European releases. Day scenes play into an agreeable enough flat, more natural, color scheme with some serious grain in the 16mm film stock use, moving the photography toward a retro de-aged semblance courtesy of Spierigs’ cult film homage, but the darker scenes, mostly through a moderately intense blue filter, sees the unstable pixelation flareups, especially in black blank spaces and I’m taken aback by the lack of touchup to clear up any stylized misgivings. Umbrella offers two audio options – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 DTS-HD Stereo. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, the audio tracks do “Undead” complete justice without a smidgen of lossy fidelity. With plenty of action to go around – firearm discharges, explosions, zombie grunts/groans/sneers, and sundry of miscellaneous and oddball effects – each elemental output is distinct and clear. The dialogue renders nicely as well. Umbrella holds a few exclusive and rehashed special features that include an audio commentary from Peter and Michael Spierig and cinematographer Andy Strahorn, a raw video behind-the-scenes look on the set of “Undead,” the more production quality making of “Undead,” “Attack of the Undead” short films from the Spierig brothers that inspired the feature, home-made Dolly Video, the camera and makeup tests, still gallery, and theatrical trailer. Plus, an exclusive Simon Sherry illustrated art on the front covers of the snap case and the cardboard slipcover along with reversal DVD cover art and a second disc containing the complete 17-track soundtrack from Cliff Bradley. The rating is listed as an Australian certified MA 15+ for horror theme, medium level violence. which sounds severely tamer than it is for the more recent video nasty with all its zombies punching holes through hapless skulls, bloody brain munching, gooey face ripping, and severed torsos with spine exposures.

A Squad Against Evil Rapists! “Act of Vengeance” review!

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A deranged serial rapist wearing a hockey mask viciously attacks Linda, a university student who operates a food truck during the day and works on a horse farm in the evening, and forces her to sing Jingle Bells while in the middle of his heinous act. When the police could do nothing about locating and incarcerating her rapist due to lack of evidence, Linda’s urge for revenge boils to an explosively volcanic overflow. She learns that four other young university women have been attacked by the same Jingle Bells rapist and so she devises a plan to form a rape squad to encourage other women to reach out to their squad to stop various types of misogynistic attackers in hopes that one case might lead to their own attacker, but little does the revenge seeking victims know that they’re rapist has formed his own plan: to rape all five at the same time!
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“Act of Vengeance,” also better known by as “Rape Squad,” sleazes the screen as an American rape-revenge exploitation film helmed by “Count Yorga, Vampire” director Robert Kelljchian in 1974. An exploitation film that just doesn’t only exhibit the gratuitous violence and nudity and perversion, but manages to go deeper, analyzing the difficult moments of how women were perceived and treated post rape in a time where laws against rapist and laws to protect the women victims are, at best, intangible. Kelljchian’s assembly line of degradation painfully puts Linda (Jo Ann Harris) through a series of incompetence and chauvinistic values, forcing an awkward and uncomfortable blanket of emotions over, not only Linda, but ourselves. Ross Elliott’s officer portrayal as Sgt. Long was nothing short of frustration for Long and Linda; his questioning was insensitive, yet routine while her vague description of her attacker doesn’t qualify for swift justice. Also, when Linda has her legs up on the gurney brackets, the male doctor goes through a creepy-comforting spiel to try and get Linda to relax before tasking a smear and that has Linda, in a way, relive her trauma and just layers on uneasy tone.
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For the first half the film, Kelljchian seamlessly and continuously pushes the male snickering and apathetic obliviousness toward Linda’s, and the groups’, rape. At about or around the time the squad forms and a martial arts expert named Tiny, played by Lada Edmund Jr., starts to karate kick potential abusers’ asses, “Act of Vengeance” drops the dramatics and goes full blown Jackie Brown-revenge, losing some depth to the subject matter and getting back to the route of an exploitation film with bits of intentional comedy tossed in for good measure. “Acts of Vengeance” isn’t vengeful torture porn similar to a preceding film, a little known title you might recall entitled “The Last House on the Left” directed by master of horror Wes Craven, or in later films that have been more popular with audiences over the years; one particular film stands out having a striking familiarity in title and somewhat in story is 2015’s “Bound to Vengeance,” starring “Kindergarten Cop’s” Richard Tyson, where a young girl escapes the confines of a sexual predator, joins forces with a couple of other captive victims, and turns the tables on his perverted, underground organization.
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What really makes “Act of Vengeance” also surprisingly good is Peter Brown’s performance as Jack the rapist. The Southern drawl with plain-spoken manner is unlike any other character I’ve ever experienced. When Jack asks of Linda, under his firm grip around her throat, to say, “Say, thank you, Mr. Rapist,” a calculated chill shivers down every inch of the spine. Now being that “Act of Vengeance” was released in 1974, Jack’s assault sporting getup and candid personality might spark a reminiscent flame for horror fans. Jack’s thin stature fits slightly loose in an orange jumpsuit and he covers his face with a white goalie mask that strap wraps around his wavy dark hair. To this reviewer, the jumpsuit resembles a pumpkin-shade version of Michael Myers jumpsuit, while the white goalie mask is without a doubt an inspiration for Friday the 13th Part III and it’s sequels. Jack even stalks the women like the two homicidal big fellas, lurking behind trees and bushes while catching up with ease to his fleeing prey without breaking a jogging sweat. Jack’s personality, that disgustingly witty rapist charm, feels too familiar to yet another staple villain, the boogeyman of children’s’ nightmares, Freddy Krueger. Essentially, Jack could have easily influenced three of the most popular and well known iconic horror villainous characters of all time.
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Linda perfectly suits as Jack’s antagonist. The abuser and the abused compliment each other with a their cat-and-mouse game full of deceits and atrocities, but the crowning moment, the scene that defines the fate the characters, crumbles under the pressure of the story’s full embodied substance. Linda and the Rape Squad are baited too easily, walking into a vacant zoo that’s Jack’s trap and the group’s aware of this but still continues forward blindly. Characters ultimately start to unravel when one of the Squad’s women breaks from the pack, on purpose because she’s too frightened, and walks back to the car alone. Certain common sense would suggest to stay with the four other women to avoid being a lone target of your murdering rapist. Jack also becomes easily baited by Linda who mocks his masculinity, drawing him out from his perfectly laid snare and into a one-on-one bout with a baton bearing woman looking for retribution.
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Deservingly so, MGM’s and Kelljchian’s “Act of Vengeance” receives a stellar home video release in Australia from EX Films, filled with extras including a 30 minute interview with Jennifer Lee-Pryor (as Nancy in the film), an audio commentary by author Alexandra Heller-Ncholas of “Rape-Revenge: A Case Study” and film critic Zak Hepburn, and theatrical and home video trailers. Pristinely presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio that’s vividly colorful, nearly blemish free, and with all the bells and whistles of restoration perfection. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is clean, clear, and balanced, giving Jack the rapist that much clarity in his threats. EX Films provides solid packaging of a clear case with reversible cover art and a 48-page insert booklet featuring all the press material sent and received about the film – a marvel to read. The Ex Films region 4 release tops and trumps the competition, standing clearly the winner when compared to it’s DVD-R rival from MGM in the U.S. No other film is more violating than this hard to swallow, rape-revenge exploitation gem “Act of Vengeance!”
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