The EVIL Fat Man Delivers a Sack Full of Slaughter in “Christmas Cruelty!” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

Oh, Its Starting To Look a lot Like “Christmas Cruelty! on Blu-ray!

Eline, Per-Ingvar, and Magne are three close and eccentric friends preparing for the jolliest time of year, Christmas. Concocting a unique Christmas spirit of their own with scarring passers dressed as Krampus and brewing an alcohol infused cocktail, the unconventional celebration reflects their individual perspectives on the holiday: a knowledgeable Eline embraces more traditional values, Magne goes against the grain with a loose grasp on the concept of it all, and the lack of mental acuity for wheelchair bound Per-Ingvar leaves him in naive, gullible belief. All the while the friends prep the groundwork for a Christmas party, a homicidal sociopath tracks and records their every movement, habits, and personal attributes and when Christmas comes, the meticulous and brutal serial killer dresses as Santa and infiltrates what turned from being a joyous bash into Santa bashing in heads with a hammer, decapitates party guests, and rip-roars a chainsaw with blood splattering apathy.

It’s that time of year again to ride the Christmas slay down the hills covered with blood-red snow. Santa, usually a sign of pure good and jovial togetherness, is transformed to embody terror and evil across the holiday season. In 2013, Norwegian filmmaker Per-Ingvar “PIT” Tomren (“Bonzai Motherfucker!”) and his co-director Magne Steinsvoll (producer of “Killungard” and “Lyst”) not only star in another Yuletide horror that yields itself to violence and blood but also adds their perspective entry into the vast Scandanavian subgenre of ole’ Saint Nick, or an imposter of the jolly fat guy, going postal in the worst possible way. Tomren and Steinsvioll work into their debut feature film off a script penned by principal co-star Eline Aasheim as well as Janne Iren Holseter, Anita Nyhagen, and directors Tomren and Steinsvoll. Originally entitled “O’Hellige Jul!” in Norwegian, the 2013 released “Christmas Cruelty” is a Stonewall Productions and presented by DC Medias under the producing credits of Magne Steinsvoll, Kim Haldoersen, and Raymond Volle (“Saga”).

Instead of hiring an outside cast for a serial rapist and killer Santa flick, why not just star in the film yourself? In order to get their feet wet in film production as well as learning the rigors of acting, Per-Ingvar Tomren, Magne Steinsvoll, and Eline Aasheim essentially portray themselves as the three friends spending unique quality time together during Christmas. Per-Ingvar works into the script the corporeal truth of this delicate skeletal structure that battles brittle bone disease aka osteogenesis imperfecta. Confined almost entirely to his wheelchair, Tomren curbs his wellbeing for the sake of art as the filmmaker doesn’t exempt himself from the various physical altercation scenes to have a stuntman take the glory. The same kind of sentiment can be said for Eline Aasheim whose character must endure an invasive attack, one that’s deeply uncomfortable and intimate in nature surrounded by a virtually an all-male cast which includes offscreen friendships. Then there’s Magne. If Per-Ingvar and Eline embodied metaphorically everything that is good about the Christmas spirit, Magne was the complete opposite as a complaining, sexist, and indelicate sourpuss living in the moment rather than grasping his own barbed attitude. The malarky between the three friends on screen is perhaps very mirrorlike offscreen as there is a comfortability level with each other performances that keeps the dynamic on the edge of combusting but yet you never feel like a change in their relationship will ever mount, keeping their friendship close, tight, and compact. The outsider, the Serial Santa, is played mid-50’s Norway actor Tormod Lien. I mention Lien’s age because he is older than the other principal characters and that plays into his character’s wisdom as a family man who takes notes on who’s halls he will soon deck. Calm, organized, and deviant, Lien plays into the apathy without a twinkle of empathy and engineers a bloody show of planned homicide with some comedic bits put on by Lien when Serial Santa has to go off script because of interruptions.

In my mind, there are two types of Christmas horror films: the uncanny universe where Santa, or something related to Santa, such as his toyshop elves or Krampus, world’s lives and breathes in a twisted malevolency while the other type resides in fact with sociopathic and mentally unstable Santa impersonators who go on a merry murdering spree. “Christmas Cruelty!” falls in that latter category with serial killer, dressed as Santa and a grotesque mask, gatecrashes the good protagonists’ party for the nefarious primordial urge to hurt, rape, and kill. Maybe even dabble in a little cannibalism. “Christmas Cruelty!” is a lump of extreme exploitation for next level nihilism. I’ve seen my fair share of messed up movies, but the Tomren and Steinsvoll defiling picture doesn’t even have a millimeter of morality. Without a theme, a message, or a basic point, “Christmas Cruelty!” is hollow atrocity for the sake of shock and slaughter. The principal goods are either too afraid to help each other, too unwilling to help each other, or are too conceited to even take notice that something is amiss. Instead, it’s the Serial-Santa who has his ducks in order, unabashed to simply walk into a room and start his plan of cold-hearted perversion, but before even getting to that moment with deliciously diabolical practical special effects that can produce a gut-wrenching impact, the story goes static with the principal goods chitchatting about history of Christmas, their likes and dislikes of the season, and nursing a hangover from hell. This portion to build character doesn’t actually build character as we’re skirted around victimized trio’s reason for to deserving of our sympathy. Yeah, there’s a person with learning disabilities in a wheelchair and a young woman with an inkling of a moral compass but I find them aimless, sleepwalking through life, and without purpose.

Christmas comes early with the release of “Christmas Cruelty” on Blu-ray home video from our friends at Unearthed Films and MVD Visual. Presented in 1080p with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio on an AVE encoded BD50, Unearthed Films rendering of the transfer goes without a hitch, but the stylistic choices of Tomren and Steinsvoll are an eyesore with a mustard yellow overlay intended for a grindhouse veneer that also correlates with the large font and embossed opening credits. Much of the details and natural look are lost in the yellow tint. The erratic editing is supposed to reflect Serial Santa’s fragmented mind which idiosyncratically finds footing but can be off-putting to its experimental quality. The Norwegian language DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound mix reflects no issues with depth and range despite having limited need for both and has mostly clear dialogue albeit some obstruction from the soundtrack that is heavily integrated into the sound design and becomes a character in itself with a blend of English-lyrical Christmas themed tunes, instrumental string melodies, acoustic solos by Magne Steinsvoll, generic rock tracks, and folksy jamming that ends with the loud roaring of a chainsaw slicing through body parts. The bonus features include an audio commentary with co-director Per-Ingvar Tomren and producer Raymond Volle, retrospective interviews in How Cruelty Changes Our Lives featurette, blooper outtakes, photo gallery, The Last Rebels hit “Endless Highway,” an interview with Morten Haagensen, “Tradition” short film, Press Conference, a watch-a-long session with Flesh Wound Horror, and teaser trailer. The Unearthed Films menu options were a bit cumbersome to navigate when trying to play the movie as the next screen goes to the three audio options – either two commentaries that run along with the film and the play movie without commentary, but the options are not terribly intuitive and had to go through the options before I was able to play just the movie. The physical release comes in a traditional blue snapper case with the soulless, dead eyes of the Santa mask illustrated with liver sports and aged wrinkles on the front cover. Unearthed Films’ release comes not rated, region A encoded, and has a runtime of 94 minutes. Probably not the perfect holiday gift for the conventional horror filmgoer, “Christmas Cruelty” is difficult to ingest and digest as not only an extreme exploitation film but as a film as whole, but with the callous chunks of coal and the striped blood red candy cane of scrumptious special effects, the Norwegian definitely offers a good stocking stuffer.

Oh, Its Starting To Look a lot Like “Christmas Cruelty! on Blu-ray!

Taxi Driver by Day, EVIL Serial Killer by Night! “Dr. Lamb” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

“Dr. Lamb” is ready to operate.  See him in action on Blu-ray from Unearthed Films and MVD Visual!

Quiet as a boy verbally and physically abused by his stepmother yet laid to experience the adult perversities at the permission of his unconcerned father, Lam Gor-Yu, now as a man, is still quiet and still has unusual interests as an afterhours taxi driver.  Triggered by rainy nights when a torrent of verbal abuse by his female passengers send the usually reserved taxi driver into a homicidal fury, extending his lonely nights into straggling women, returning their bodies to his family homes, and video tapes his exploits within his fascination for amateur medical procedures.  When the police raid his family home after developed disturbing pictures were discovered at the local print shop, Lam’s entire family is hauled into questioning and it’s to Inspector Lee and his team to unearth exactly what transpired to the lifeless bodies seized by a notoriously sociopathic serial killer.

When you think of serial killers globally, Hong Kong isn’t the first place that comes to mind.  In fact, Hong Kong isn’t even a blip on the radar as the Pearl River Delta residence only has two known serial killers attributed to the city.  One of those killers is Lam Kor-wan – aka The Jars Murderer – aka the Rainy Night Butcher – who terrorized the then British territorialized Hong Kong in the early 80s, killing and post-mortem mutilating four young women.  La Kor-wan became the notorious inspirational material for the Danny Lee and Billy Tang (“Run and Kill”) co-directed Dr. Lamb that was released in 1992 and penned by Kam-Fai Law (“The Close Encounters of Vampire).  “The Killer’s” star Lee, who was more Chinese action star than filmmaker, developed the film, reluctantly at first, during the time when Hong Kong’s Category III classification rating was extending from solely high-end erotica and sleaze into extreme horror and thrillers.  Lee served as executive producer with Parkman Wong, who also worked alongside Danny Lee on “The Killer,” under Grand River Films Ltd.

To be portraying one of two Hong Kong’s serial killers feels like an unsurmountable responsibility burdening the actor’s shoulders in order to parallel the motivational intricacies and the mental mindset as accurate as possible knowing that the character can’t just blend into a vast serial killer fold where you can find multiple variations of John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer being grossly rendered for U.S. pop culture exploitation.  Yet, in steps in front of the camera Simon Yam, one of Hong Kong’s prolific action stars in the late 80s to early 90’s now stepping into the shoes of a real-life maniacal persona and relatively close to where all of Lam Kor-wan’s dirty-little-deeds took place.  Simon Yam could very well be the killer himself, that’s how brilliantly Yam’s performance is in what’s certainly a confident display of range in contrast within his acting opus.  Replacing a gun with a scalpel, Lee and Yam dig deep into the character’s psyche with an interpretation of why Lam Kor-wan did what he did and, frankly, Yam just went stoically wild to reach Lam’s staggering levels of crazy as he descends deeper into the retelling of his encounters with each victim. While “Dr Lamb” is a grim tale, there’s a comical side to it with the police force, supervised by Inspector Lee, played by Danny Lee himself in a duality position of cast and crew. More of the comic relief stems from Inspector Lee’s second-in-command, an experienced, yet overweight, cop who lets others handle his workload. Literally named Fat Bing, comedian and “Human Lanterns” actor Kent Cheng continues his whimsical routine in unvarnished subject matter revolving around separate bits and pieces of people’s tissue and organs for twisted pleasures. Collateral damage of Lam’s horrifying late-night exploratory surgery antics on women involve his family as they also become suspects. Lam’s father (Siu-Ming Lau, “A Chinese Ghost Story”) keeps his blinders on while the evidence piles only to be turned when his son’s transgressions include a minor family member does his own flesh and blood then cross a line of no return.

There are always two sides to every story. No, I’m not saying there are two repelling sides to The Rainy Night Butcher’s homicidal havoc. “Dr. Lamb,” as a film, has a dichotomy about it that’s half biographically true and grim while the other half is crime drama peppered with clownery. The combination is odd and equally as frustrating as the black tone of the historical background and the graphic nature of some authentical depicted acts of inhuman urges find their way weaved into the fabric of cavalier cop buffoonery who, on one hand, seem really good and really intense at their job while, on the other hand, lack the gumption for sobering behavior. Even when investigating Lam’s videotape (to which there is no way in Hell Lam videotaped that himself as the camera moves as he’s engrossed with necrophilia and removing body parts), the cops overact the disgust with what looks like chunky tuna being forced out of their mouth along the lines of appearing like vomit. The underplayed theme is anything but funny in its psychological context of misanthropy and misogyny. All of Lam’s scenes of cruelty are told in flashback through his perspective, molded by his undertone hate for women. “Dr. Lamb” is a misogynistic tale bred out of childhood abuse by a woman close to his family and unabashed and unattended by his lenient father’s lack of concern. Three out of the four women Lam taxis-to-taxidermy often verbally and physically assault him and plague his personal space with their awful behavior, setting a dial backwards in his battered brain that reminds him of the time his stepmother slapped him or forced him into a closet for hours. Is “Dr. Lamb” a Freudian lemma that Lam sees his ruthless stepmother in these women and turns on them to humiliate their corporeal existence? That’s a deep dive, but not as deep as “Dr. Lamb” cuts as a visceral experience based off of one of Hong Kong’s notorious serial killers.

Distributing in at number 8 on the spine of the Unearthed Films’ Unearthed Classics banner is “Dr. Lamb” on a new Blu-ray home video. The region A locked, AVC encoded, BD50 is slicked up with a 1080p high-definition upgrade presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. As one of cinematographer Kin-Fai Mau’s first few pictures, the cool blue and misty has an interesting allure like a hazy bad dream subdued by an infusion of looking through blue glass with a prism of white light filtering through. Perhaps not as detailed as desired, the release does stand above the rest with low-level continuous speck blemishes that are only noticeable if you’re searching for them. Two audio options are available: a Cantonese LPCM 2.0 Mono and a Mandarin LPCM 2.0 Mono. Both tracks do come with well-sync and accurate English subtitles with the only downside is in their quick sojourning. There are a few instances where the subtitles pop up for literally a second as a result of quick nature of the dialect to get to the next set of text. While toggling between the two languages, my audio receptors really took to the Cantonese for a more natural flow and visually for unison between speech and speaking. The Mandarin is certainly more powerful but also too over-the-top as in watching I relate to watching old Japanese with English dub. The special features include an audio commentary by Ultra Violent’s Art Ettinger and Cinema Arcana’s Bruce Holecheck, a background interview about “Dr Lamb’s” genesis with the story producer Gilbert Po Lamb to the Slaughter, an interview with film critic James Mudge on the Golden Era of Cat III Three Times the Fear, a talking point conversation about “Dr Lamb” from film academic Sean Tierney, an Atomic TV interview with star Simon Yam, and trailers. The physical release itself comes with a 6-page, color booklet essay from cinema academic and author Calem Waddell (producer of “The Collingswood Story” and many horror-film related documentaries). A cardboard slipcover with one of the more provocative poster arts. Unearthed Films’ Blu-ray comes unrated with a runtime of 90 minutes. When perusing what to watch one night, be sure to hail down this cab of fact-based macabre driven by “Dr Lamb’s” psychological psychopathy and his pathologic urge for unnecessary medical procedures.

“Dr. Lamb” is ready to operate.  See him in action on Blu-ray from Unearthed Films and MVD Visual!

Mama’s EVIL Little Boy. “Mother” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

A boy’s best friend…is his “Mother.”  DVD at Amazon.com

In the deep pocket of rural America, a son is born in a country home and over the years, the baby of the house lives a cossetted life by his mother.  Warped by her mollycoddling ways and unaffected by the death of his father, the now young man apathetically bends to his mother will whether she’s conscious of it or not.  He responds in unkind to overprotect his mother when an envious older brother derides their special son and mother bond and is murdered in cold bold.  As more years pass and his mother succumbs to her health deterioration, the son, now the last of his family, remains in solitary at the family home and the absence of his beloved mother haunts him as he processes his unnurtured and unhealthy sexuality onto the unwilling living and the unresponsive dead. 

In 2003, the NY-based indie horror filmmaker Michael P. DiPaolo gave us “Daddy,” an undead rape-revenge zombie-thriller that brought the corpse of an abusive father back from the grave to exact a fate far worse than death on his daughter and her friends who put an end to drunken state defiling of his little girl.   Three years later, DiPaolo releases to us “Mother.”  However, don’t expect this to a companion film connected to “Daddy.”  Instead, “Mother” is a whole new story with a whole new stylistic approach, including zero dialogue in a black and white frame – much like a silent movie but with more Foley and no corresponding continuous piano tunes. Ed Gein became the core inspiration for DiPaolo who retells the Plainfield, Wisconsin described Ghoul‘s horrifying deeds of exhuming corpses, creating trophies out of the remains, and even the slaying of two women, a tavern owner and a general hardware store clerk. DiPaolo self-produces the film under this Black Cat Cinema productions along with associate producer Zachary Balog and shoots the film most of the homestead around Cropseyville, New York, near Albany, and the surrounding area.

Comes no surprise that the actor who once portrayed the former Republican Vice President, Dick Chaney, for Damon Packard’s Fatal Pulse also plays the details likes of one of America’s most notorious murderers. The Buffalo, New York born John Karyus, who had a minor role in “Daddy,” reteams with DiPaolo to present a dialogue-less version of the life and death of Ed Gein by stepping into virtually his skin – that’s an Ed Gein joke in case you were paying attention. Karyus and DiPaolo don’t hold anything back in the peculiar biopic that dives deep into dismemberment madness, fascination killings, and the loss of motherly love. Half of the praise should be awarded to Nina Sobell as the son’s mother. Sobell not only plays mommy dearest but also the hardware store clerk and the tavern owner in an unrecognizable fashion. The up-in-age actress’s comfort level was high enough even for a nude scene in which Karyus has to dress her approaching older age and invalid body. Karyus might be on centerstage as the star of the show, but Sobell’s in the backstage manipulating the pullies, curtains, and supporting Karyus with different angles that give way to the avenues of an aggressor’s cloistered milieu. Other minor characters quickly come and go amongst the silence feature with costars in Jason McCrea as the bigger brother, Phil Sawyer Jr. as the best friend, Adam Zaretsky as the father, and Svetlana as the exhumed corpses brutally hacked away for her bone-afied trophies.

The distorted mind of Ed Gein must have been a surreal inverted world. I think Michael DiPaolo encapsulates a similar essence of the upside-down perspective seen through the eyes of a killer with what can be said to be his woven auteur’s arthouse tapestry. You would think no dialogue would drag the film through the monotonous much and show signs of repetitive tiresome, especially dressed in a colorless monochrome but the crafty cinematography and grisly gestures never waver interests as we’re along for the fall of man beheld as not only mother’s baby boy but also as her ardent admirer. Her presence was a tattered thin tether that kept him secure to reality and once she checked out, the abnormal fascinations that always laid dormant now flourishing with full force like an unchecked weed in an immaculate garden of prize-winning roses. The son goes from a chaperoned teetering-maligned individual to full-fledged grave robber and skin suit tailor, raping and ripping the flesh from dead bodies over the course of years, denoting just how psychologically paramount a mother’s care is for a boy in the balance of good and evil. DiPaolo more-or-less hits every note in the book in regard to Ed Gein’s past, tweaking a few historical moments for dramatization or budgetary limits, while still maintaining a professional code of conduct despite constructing the film on the cheap. DiPaolo definitely knows and understands what he’s doing and how to work the system as clearly seen between the tone and expression differences of 2003’s “Daddy” to 2006’s “Mother.”

First, there’s was the back form the dead “Daddy.” Now, there’s the spoiling to sociopathic “Mother.” A match made in Hell and both available on a region free home video DVD from SRS Cinema. The “Mother” release is presented in black and white on SOV 1.33:1 aspect ratio, reconstructed in an impressive 6-7 megabytes per second due partly because there is nothing to decode from a RGB color signal. Contrasting is good as you can greatly appreciate the spectrum between light and dark patches. Sporting no dialogue, the LPCM 2.0 stereo features slightly exaggerated Foley and a dissonant vocal score, some in the Russian language nonetheless, from the Moscow born, New York residing folk instrumental artist LJova (Lev Zhurbin). There’s clarity over ambiguity to the action-destined soundbites being conveyed even if a bit over-the-top as if to compensate for the no dialogue. The 76-minute film is coupled with a DiPaolo short film “Brutal Ardor” about a woman trapped inside her small apartment and an immense amount of despair living with a sexually overbearing and jealous husband. Also included in the bonus material is a making of featurette voiced over by DiPaolo as he goes through his creative process and techniques (and is also somewhat of a comedy track), a director’s commentary, the feature trailer, Michael DiPaolo film trailers, and other SRS trailers. Perfect for a double bill with DiPaolo’s “Daddy,” “Mother” is a cynical and desolation ark of biblical proportions adapted from a horrid torrent of truth.

A boy’s best friend…is his “Mother.”  DVD at Amazon.com

EVIL Ditches Satan, Picks Up a Camcorder. “Midnight 2: Sex, Death, and Videotape” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

“Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape” now available on DVD!

The sole survivor of the murderous, devil-worshipping cult family, Abraham Barnes, continues to kill under a new outward show as amateur videophile recording everything and everyone to gain their trust.   Instead of harboring his mother’s dark intentions of eternal life, Abraham simply thirsts for killing, documenting his premeditated methods using a camcorder.  When his latest victim goes missing, her friend initiates an investigation with a police detective, but Abraham is always recording, always one step ahead of them both, always on the hunt.  With the trap set and the play button pressed, the blood-lusting survivor of the maniacal, serial killing Barnes family preserves a lineage legacy of death. 

Screenshot from AGFA

Ten years after releasing his moderately successful All-American shocker, “Midnight,” John Russo returns with the Barnes family.  Well, at least one of them in the 1993 release of “Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape.”  Also known as simply just “Midnight 2,” the secondary title references the widely popular 1989 Steven Soderbergh film of sexual testimonial video-tales in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell.  The sequel gives way to a new motive and theme that’s very different from the satanic panic aspect of the original.  “Midnight 2” enters the mind of a serial murderer with every calculated and cold thought and whim that crosses the killer’s mind laid out in detail to paint a compulsive picture. Behind the scenes, conjuring up resources to make the sequel exist as it stands today, is “Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja’s” J.R. Bookwalter, the head-honcho in production and distribution of his own created company banner, Tempe Entertainment. Bookwalter, who also wears the director of photography and editor hat on this film amongst others, produces the Russo sequel that was shot on location in Bookwalter’s home city of Akron, Ohio.

If you’re expecting or anticipating seeing John Amplas (“Martin,” “Day of the Dead”) return to the Abraham role 10 years later, be prepared to be severely let down as Amplas does not return for “Midnight 2.” Instead, profound schlock horror screenwriter and composer, Matthew Jason Walsh, brings a whole new peculiarity to Abraham Barnes and I’m not just talking about his face or mannerisms. Walsh, who penned such David DeCoteau C-list gems as “Witchouse,” “Young Blood, Fresh Meat,” and “The Killer Eye,” goes face-to-face with the camera in a hybrid performance as lead actor and lead narrator of his own exposition into his own executions. Being a sociopath is never fleeting from Walsh who can sink into the sardonicism of the Abraham character naturally as one of the two only traits to carryover from the original film with the other being a killer. Aside from a boat load of archival footage and a verbal recap of nearly the entire first film, the whole Devil-worshipping aspect of the Barness family is dropped in favor of a more undisclosed truth in the hidden agenda of a person who thrives off the hunt and the kill. Abraham goes through verbatim his daily, stalking routine in a publicized manner of videorecording everything and everyone to capture as much detail as possible as well as capture their last moments. Russo does throw in escape clause caveat for Abraham in that if he meets the right girl, the love for her will be strong enough to break him away from killing and possibly start a family and while Russo plays into that tangent a little with Jane (“Killer Nerd’s” Lori Scarlett), nothing much more materializes significantly as a romantic conflict that circles back to that subtheme. Russo ultimately gives in to a more cat-and-mouse game with Jane’s worried friend Rebecca (“Chickboxer’s” Jo Norcia) and the detective who rather slip into Rebecca’s pants than actually solve the case in a stiffer than roadkill performance by Chuck Pierce Jr. (“The Legend of Boggy Creek”).

Screencap from AGFA

I wonder how much ‘Midnight 2″ is actually from the mind of John Russo or if it’s more of the J.R. Bookwalter show in calling the shots from the producer’s director’s chair as the film feels very much like Bookwalter’s usual fare, a SOV, DIY, home brew production of local Ohioan talent. “Midnight 2” also goes from the backwoods suburbia of Pittsburgh to the concrete structures of Akron, leaving behind any remnants of Abraham’s satanic past in the ground along with his dead siblings, but the sequel very dutifully leans into us with a heavy archival footage recap with Walsh narrating the entire damn thing. I kid you not, the recap is approx. a third of the runtime and so essentially, “Midnight 2” is a two for one straight-to-video special. Granted, the archival footage remains in its untouched up state so don’t expect the Severin grade video quality. In one way “Midnight 2” is discerned to be more of a Russo film is the very hesitancy of graphic, blood-shedding violence. Bookwalter’s a bit of gorehound in making some gruesome grisliness out of the singles from a Podunk stripper’s Kmart thong. There’s none of that imaginative ingenuity here with a surprising severe lack of that adored shot-on-video nastiness common of its era, especially from the likes of John Russo in filing a rated 13 release according to the DVD back cover, enervating “Midnight 2” as a inferior sequel that tries on a new pair of shoes but ends up limping with a lame gait.

Screencap from AGFA

Russo might always be remembered for his contribution to the start of the “Living Dead” franchise. The cult legendary filmmaker surely found modest success with his first directorial run with “Midnight.” Yet, “Midnight 2” will have a tough time keeping out of the celebrated shadows of Russo’s credits, but the indie, underground horror label SRS Cinema pulls back the shrouding curtain with a newly released, MVD Visual distributed DVD featuring two cuts of the film. Fitted with a retro look and ghastly illustrated cover art, a superb upgrade from the VHS cover, the region free DVD is presented shot-on-video in a 4:3 aspect ratio on both cuts. Essentially, both cuts are the same with reworked scenes and narration with the except of the 90-minute rough cut having extended archival footage of the first film. The main version runs slimmer at 72-minutes. The lossy image quality abides within both versions with a flat color palette that, at times, had a singularity about its choice of unflattering hue, compression macroblocks consistently flare up, and dimly discernable innate tracking lines with video recording destabilize the image. The anemic English Language single channel mono mix is a bottom of the barrel budget sound design and that was to be expected. Dialogue does come over clear enough but lacks vigor and crispness as there is just too much electrical interference shushing in the background. Depth’s a bit awkward too with the actors conversing in the background but have foreground decibel levels. Aside from the two cuts of the feature, the only other bonus content is the theatrical trailer and other SRS home video trailers. “Midnight 2” works as a standalone in a different shot-on-video horror light but is crammed with unnecessary recapping on a story built around the destined, convoluted conjecture of a homicidal narcissist and his videotape addiction.

“Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape” now available on DVD!

Online Bullies Deserve All the EVIL in the World! “The Columnist” reviewed! (Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Columnist Femke Boot is a damn good writer backed by her publication. Yet, Femke feel unsatisfied and unsettled by the extremely harsh social media comments aimed to not only torpedo her career in the column section but also discredited and publicly shamed by twisting events in her past. The barrage of nasty comments, determined to bully her into oblivion, plug up Femke’s creativity, causing severe writer’s block on an upcoming book her editor continues to pressure her on. When she discovers that her next door neighbor has disparaged her online as well, the struggling writer snaps, taking revenge on her neighbor and an army of internet trolls by pursuing their true identities, tracking them down, and takes her revenge, plus takes a little more for an indulging gratification.

Relevant. Chimeric. A social war on words that can be fatally influential from anonymous patrons of the world wide web is Ivo van Aart’s black comedy of retribution entitled “The Columnist.” Also known originally titled as “De Kuthoer,” roughly translated as “The Pussy Whore,” a way better and in your face title in my opinion, the Netherland tongue-and-cheek-and-severed-finger comedy-thriller is the third feature, first beyond the 60-minute mark, clocking in at 86 minutes, for Aart from a screenplay penned by Daan Windhorst. Aart and Windhorst last paired up for a Dutch miniseries, “Suspicious Minds,” and Aart’s debut film, “Quantum Zero,” two years prior. Their concrete foundation of collaboration sets up an engrossing insight on masked mindsets of internet bullying that backfires but not in the typical way and also indorses a freedom of speech theme caught in a vicious circle of death. Sabine Brian and Ronald Versteeg serve as producers under the Benijay capital investment group’s NL Films.

Katja Herbers (HBO’s “Westworld”) gives a stress-inducing performance as the tormented-to-insanity columnist.  Absorbing, like a sponge, of all the scornful negativity, Herbers leaves little room for writer Femke Boots to expand and breathe as a normal person who can filter out the harsh criticism as the “Loft” actress can tune into a louded, distracted mindset of delusion and have an underscored inkling twinkle in her eyes as her character muddles around in life normalcy of being a good mother to her free-speech advocating daughter Anna (Claire Porro) and be in a radically unlikely relationship with a gothically-cladded, fellow writer, Steven Dood aka Steven Death (Bram van der Kelen).  Journalist are trained to accept the harshest criticism as long as they can back up their stories with facts and references, but for a columnist, who makes a living off opinions, the same can not be said and it’s in that gray area where “The Columnist” likes to dwell that someone’s subjective living is under attack and the enemy is the entire world who thrives off being antagonistic just for the hell of it.  Herbers plays right into that soul sucking anger, directing all her energy into those who mask themselves in anonymity as they bombard her character with comments of ill-intent.  The frustration mounts, especially when Femke attempts to file police reports about the death threats, but is shrugged off by an unsympathetic uniform, and the pressure blows her top off in a silent switch into swift vengeance of a variety misogynistic trolls.  Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman, Seno Sever, and Achraf Koutet round out “The Columnist’s” cast.

Though not written, shot, or produced by women, “The Columnist” follows in suit with a string of strong pro-feminism films, coursing with the same blood of the feminist revolution in cinema that has empowered women to exhibit their artistry, such works include Brea Grant’s dual female-lead, black comedy about an opioid addicted nurse’s mafia entanglement in “12 Hour Shift,” Jill Gevargizian’s gothic trip into hairstyles and isolating madness of “The Stylist,” and Emerald Fennell’s 5-Academy Award nominated revenge-thriller about the social system’s gender double-standards in “Promising Young Woman.”  “The Columnist” topicality revolves around a woman writer being bashed, sometimes just for kicks of callous community fun, by a plethora of trolling men who hide behind self-attributing epithets and nicknames.  With only her their commenting handles, Google, and her wit,  Femke tracks them down comment-by-comment for confrontation with her weapon of choice, usually a state forestry bag full of gardening tools, and this is where the good writing and directing comes into the fold by establishing a complete smorgasbord of different male personalities to circulate with Femke’s rage against the unwarranted slanderous and malicious of their own doing. Where “The Columnist” also gets you thinking is the freedom of speech movement that Femke’s daughter, Anna, so tenaciously hammers into her stern high school’s administrative hierarchy, helmed by a, you guessed it, a male principal. While Anna’s story is relatively tongue-and-cheek in comparison to Femke’s more serial killer storyline, there’s a whole lot of irony happening between the two paralleling, mother and daughter narratives with Anna battling the school system singlehandedly to allow her words to ring true and free from principal oppression and repression while Femke, on the other side of coin, is permanently silencing the cataclysmic of social media hate mail in an act with a killer, survivalist instinct. “The Columnist’ is speechlessly brilliant under a candy-coated, caustic-comedy cover.

Opt into “The Columnist’s” op-ed with your own periling opinion as the film circulates around UK and Ireland theaters, and on various digital platforms, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing. Martijn Cousijn is credits as the cinematographer for the film whose mostly bright and buoyant scheme is peppered just enough with darker, minimalist lighting, askew in most case, to capture Femke’s sinister half of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality with pessimism at the door being the altering elixir. Cousijn doesn’t play too much with the lighting, keeping true to a soft and bright air that doesn’t drop “The Columnist” acutely into a dismal perspective tale of a killer. My only disappointment with the film lies with the gore effects when it’s time to dispatch some rude keyboard-knuckleheads from the comforts of their own safe haven. Much of Femke’s desires to keepsake parts of her tormentors is nothing more than a slight of editing to achieve and that kind pelts holes in the freedom of speech aspect that’s perhaps one-third of the story. “The Columnist” is by no means made for young teens, but Femke Boots deserved to reign hellfire in a fiery display of well unexploitable violence. Having just released March 12th in the UK, there are obviously no bonus material, but there are also no before or after credit bonus scenes to keep you anxiously waiting to the end. Writers will undoubtedly hail Ivo van Aart’s “The Columnist” as a win against stony critics with the film’s profuse display for social change against cyberbullying and the reaffirmation of free speech or else there will be blood.