A Saltwater Croc is Pure EVIL in “Black Water” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)



On a two week holiday, Grace, her husband Adam, and her younger sister Lee, embark on a road trip through Northern Australia, stopping at the local bars and roadside attractions all along the way.  Their next ad hoc destination is to fish at the rurally located and rinkadink river tour and fishing guide, Backwater Barry’s.  With Barry himself already out with another tour group, his assistant happily agrees to take them fishing out on a small, metal Jon boat along the mangrove tree dense distributaries.  When their boat is flipped by a large, aggressive crocodile and their guide dead, the water-protruding trees become a lifeline for temporary safety, but being fully encircled by murky water leaves them with no escape route and hidden from the river mainstem where help would like cross.  With a hungry croc lurking below, the only means of survivor is to reach the flipped Jon boat that’s stuck stranded in the middle of water. 

Aside from my personal favorite subgenre, Sharksploitation, the next best would the reptiliansploitation!  If there is even such a scaly subgenre about cold-blooded killers, especially involving the waterproofed skin of alligators and crocodiles lurking and wriggling in murky waters.  I’m a child of the 80’s and grew up on such classics as “Eaten Alive” (technically the late 70’s), “Alligator” and “Alligator 2, and the Australian ozploitation thriller, “Dark Age.”  Even the more modern reptilian ravagers, “Lake Placid” series and Alexandra Aja’s “Crawl,” are hugely exciting, entertaining, and come with a lot of bite!  Another ozploitation crocodile themed film came across my viewing pleasure just recently is the Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich co-written, co-directed “Black Water.”  The 2007 independent production is filmed across multiple locations in the Northern Territories and New South Wales of Australia where much of the butt-clenching terror is filmed in the crocodile-less mangroves of the Georges River.  “Black Water” is presented by The Australian Film Commission and Territorial Film Developments and developed by Michael Robertson’s ProdigyMovies who cater to low-budget ozploitation genre pictures that usually pit man versus nature to the death!

The concise cast provides “Black Water” with an intimacy you wouldn’t get with a bigger, cast-saturated production.  Three principles and two supporters imbues the characters’ fears, tensions, and their rush of adrenaline into the viewers without having to dilute into offshoots with an extensive list of throwaway and expendable roles.  Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, and Andy Rodoreda turn from touting tourist to terrorized tenderloins for one of nature’s most ruthless hunters. The dynamic between the three is one that is high on the relationship status; a family consisting of a wife and husband and sisters, leaving zero room for apathy between the characters themselves and between the viewers and the characters as their importance of loss is greater to each other and that extends beyond the screen.  Traucki and Nerlich give little-to-no wiggle room for escape, forcing the survivors to wade the ominous waters.  The fear is prevalent more so in the eyes of Grace (Glenn) who is not only worried about her husband and sister, but also her motherly instinct to protect her newly learned pregnancy.  Lee (Dermody) and Adam (Andy) lack that hesitation, that trembling moment of dipping their toes back into water, in a seemingly inability to feign being affected by the force of flesh-ripping nature lurking just below the surface.  Even with subsequent failed survival attempts, I found difficulty relating to Lee’s fear who, in the latter half of the story, calmly breaststrokes approx. ten yards to reach the boat in a moderate attempt at heart-racing desperation.  Fiona Press (“Out of the Shadows”) and Ben Oxenbould (“Caught Inside”) round out the cast.

“Black Water” is the epitome of ingenuity when placing actors and crocodiles in the same space together.  Real people, real crocodiles.  Yes, the visual effects produced by Nerlich, Traucki, and their team, including of compositor Peter Jeffs, create a frightening cohabitation, stretching the limits of the VFX with the instinctual movements of in captivity crocodiles and laying them over the mangrove scenes that have the actors.  Whenever the croc pops up from the water with just his snout, eyes, and the few ridges of his back breaking the surface, the motionless stare from the beady Devil-eyes can make you hold your breath.  “Black Water” has killer anticipation with a death roll component that no one is safe from a maneater’s hunger. At some instances, the composites are not entirely seamless with the depth or the angles as which the croc moves through the water, but the overall effect is successful and potent. With limited escapes routes come limited plot devices. “Black Water’s” length felt almost painfully reliant on time spent in the mangrove trees with the characters mulling and weighing the options, the option to go for the boat became it’s own motif, and a short lull quickly stiffens the initial boat-flipping tumult. One second, the four fishers have lines in the water and the next second they’re in the water, “crocodile in the water” is being screamed at the very top of Adam’s lungs, and tour guide Jim has instantly disappeared from story in a blink of a crocodile’s snapping smile. No amount of backwater expertise assisted in Jim’s, or any of the patrons’, survival. After the commotion has subdued and the realization that a crocodile has come to feed, survivors stick the trees like monkeys a mere 7 to 10 feet from the surface water, stagnant still in shock and unable to muster a thought about what to do. After the lull, man versus nature gets right back outwitting one another with the croc having a big screening advantage.

Holidaying never looked so terrifying where a day in the office seems like an escape in “Black Water.” The story is a cautionary one of the increasing populations of both humans and crocodiles in Northern Australia and was based off true events as noted by director Andrew Traucki off the account of two teenagers stuck in a tree after the death of their friends by a croc in an interview with MovieWeb.com. A reemergence of the 2007 film, stemmed by the recent sequel, finds itself on a full HD, 1080p Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian label’s region B release presents the 89 minute feature in a widescreen 1.85:1. More than most of the picture is shot in natural light without being too heavily under the guise of lens manipulation with the steady cam under “Primal’s” John Biggins cinematography. The composited recordings crocs and locations blend almost seamlessly, only rendering a smidge of smear glossiness around the croc’s edges in the tinted blue nighttime scenes. Whenever the croc pops up in the water with a human character sharing the scene, the frame unveils evident cropping but only to sell the effect of the two being in the same moment, removing the outer edges to avoid potential gaffes. The English language and ambiance audio tracks offer two options, a 5.1 and a 2.0, both congenially in a DTS-HD master audio mix. For this particular review, the 5.1 was explored and the dialogue, ambience, depth, range, and run of the mill soundtrack do sound clear, without a hinderance of muddles dialogue, and pertinent to the circumstances happing on screen. Special features include an audio commentary with the directors, a mixture of polished and rough deleted scenes, a making of segment that includes interviews with the directors, actors, and producer Michael Robertson about locations, special effects challenges, and the characters who sell the story, and the theatrical trailer. There’s no pretense with “Black Water” in it doesn’t hawk mutant crocodiles or a behemoth beast thought lost over time; instead, “Black Water” feasts on realism, capturing plausibility and instinctual fear that makes us never want to go into knee high water ever again.

“Black Water” is now available from Umbrella Entertainment on Blu-ray!

I Think We’re Going To Need Bigger EVIL! “Deep Blood” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

As kids, four boys were warned with an anecdotal tale of an ancient Native American spirit that took the shape of a killer shark malevolently stalking and killing the native villagers for their overfishing ways.  Now adults, the four friends pursue very different lives as all four return home for the summer with interests in rebuilding family relations, girls, colleges, and avoiding the local punk, Jason, hellbent on making their lives miserable, but when a shark turns up and kills one of them during a solo dive, they recall the ancient tale and sound off to the authorities who take little heed to the incident.  Their small beach community thinks they’ve killed the man-eating shark causing the ruckus, but when more chewed up bodies color the ocean red, the friends must take the task upon themselves to see the shark never devours anyone else again. 

Italian shark-on-a-loose romper helmed by the legendary serial Italia horror and erotica trash filmmaker, Joe D’Amato (“Emanuelle in America,” “Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper”), cashes in on the monster, man-eating shark celluloid frenzy with an uncredited directorial of the 1990 sharksploitation, “Deep Blood.”  Originally to be Raffaele (Raf) Donato’s directorial debut, the George Nelson Ott script was salvaged by the then producer and cinematographer D’Amato after Donato’s change of heart and professions in the film industry.  “Deep Blood,” that went under working titles “Wakan,” the designation for the Native American evil spirit, and just simply “Sharks,” was shot mostly with an English cast in the sunshine state of Florida with various underwater scenes filmed in Italy.    D’Amato’s production company, Filmirage, supported the film in collaboration with Variety Film Production that has dipped it’s toes into another killer shark flick, Enzo G. Castellan’s “The Last Shark,” which some footage was utilized for D’Amato’s film nearly a decade later.

“Deep Blood” circles around the opening of four friends innocently having the time of their lives with a normal ocean side firepit, roasting wieners, being told horrifying campfire stories of the black finned Wakan by a mysterious Native American (Vans Jensens) who hands them a relic piece of oblong driftwood with noteworthy carvings about Wakan and slicing their wrists to make an impromptu blood pact to fight against Wakan whenever the time comes.  You know, the usual stuff you do with your friends.  As grown men, Miki (Frank Baroni), Allan (Cort McCown), Ben (Keith Kelsch), and John (John K. Brune) find themselves back home, reunited to only have their friendship ripped to shreds when John becomes Wakan’s tasty snack on a solo dive.  Ott’s script really, really, and I mean really, tries to add depth to the characters, such as Allan’s spoon-feeding Mayor of a father handing out life advantages to his son every possible moment or with Ben who struggles between fulfilling his parents’ wishes of going to college or starting his professional golf career.  There’s also some backstory about the death of Ben’s sibling at sea that has had some psychological torment on his father, Shelby (Charlie Brill, “Dead Men Don’t Die”).  D’Amato crumples up character development like a piece of scrap paper and shoots a fade away jumper into the waste basket.  My personal favorite in the shallow end moment is the local lout and head of a gang, Jason, who senselessly disparages the four friends, for whatever reason we don’t know, acutely 180’s from I’m-going-to-kill-you to becoming a good friend (out of respect?) and takes an active participation in hunting down the shark.  All the relationship dynamics seem to just culminate right into the big, explosive deep-dive and pursuit for shark blood in the guys’ booty shorts and cut off sleeve shirts.  Talking roles are aplenty but nothing worth the empathy or sympathetic emotional baggage surrounding the remaining cast of characters played by actors James Camp, Margareth Hanks, voice actress Mitzi McCall, and Tom Bernard as Sheriff Brody…I mean, Cody.   

Only slightly echoing acts of Steven Spielberg’s flawless “Jaws,” “Deep Blood” also begs, borrows, and steals scenes to piecemeal together a semi-coherent story.  In the wild Great White shark snippets from National Geographic video clips and shark scenes plucked and reused straight from another Italian schlocker, there lies a nonexistent sliver of thought in creating an original piece of footage that puts the resemblance of a monstrous shark and an actor in the same scene together with D’Amato relying burdensomely on editor Kathleen Stratton to handle the fragmentary bits of different look and feel shots and turn it into single profit linear narrative gold. But honestly, what do you expect? D’Amato was to be the director of photography but ended up in his lap directorial duties, taking on the extra work like any good producer. Many of the shark attack scenes are spliced together with the actors bobbing and turning up and down in the water with the iconic bubble and splash sequences that solidly create the allusion and the illusion of a frenzied blood bath, but some locations are blatantly amiss shots, especially those of the actors snorkeling and scuba diving inside an obvious aquarium vivarium in clearly an exterior beach scene, that are more of a blow toward our intelligence than anything else. When the movie magic shark finally does make an appearance, a rigid, clean cut, my 9-year-old nephew could draw better shark effects sells little amazement, wonder, or pelagic terror of the open water. “Deep Blood” is a see-it-to-believe sharksploitation disaster-piece with the Joe D’Amato Midas touch.

Luckily, seeing every story blighted nook and cranny and experiencing all the dysfunctionalities between characters have never looked better with Severin Films’ worldwide inaugural Blu-ray release of “Deep Blood.” Newly scanned in 2k from the original 35 mm negative and presented in a pillarbox 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a high definition 1080p transfer, the image clarity is about the only thing flawless in the film with natural looking color grading for a richer hue presentation. Aside from the wonkiness of equipment quality differences with Nat Geo’s stock footage, there wasn’t much in the way of image imperfections aside from faint speckle damage and a slight scratch briefly visible in one of the later scenes. Details are phenomenally crisp in the face, as you see every sagging wrinkle on Van Jensens’ mug, and even the slight white capping of the waves renders clearly across. The English language 2.0 mono track features a clean, discernable dialogue albeit some slight hissing. Carlo Maria Cordio’s synthesized score doesn’t invoke fear of the water, but does contribute to the Italiano-charm of D’Amato’s underwater thriller with a seducing melody of lo-fi chords to accompany the shark attack scenes. Optionally, a parallel Italian track provides a dub that isn’t typically as elegant in syncing with American actors. Special features for the 91 minute film include a trailer and a listed multi-region playback; however, I could get the disc to play on the region B setting. If you’re a shark film aficionado like myself, no matter how undeniable cheesy (and I’m looking at you “Bad CGI Sharks”), then “Deep Blood’ is an enjoyable serrated chomp into a chum soaked sandwich good to the last morsel.

Own Deep Blood on Blu-ray from Severin Films!