EVIL Spirits and Japanese Internment Camps in “The Terror: Infamy” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Chester Nakayama floats through life living with his immigrant parents on Terminal Island in San Pedro, California during World War II. A photographer hobbyist who helps on his father’s fishing boat and studies at a university, Chester doesn’t have steady employment and has recently learned his girlfriend, Luz, is pregnant with his baby. But those are not the height of Chester problems, or his family’s, when the country of Japan declares war on the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor and mysterious deaths surrounding the Nakayama family point to ancient Japanese beliefs of a Yūrei, or a ghost, clinging to a grudge. As the years past, Japanese American citizens are move from one internment camp to the next with no end in sight being projected as potential spies for the country of the rising sun and for Chester, Luz, and his family and friends, the Yūrei’s scheme endangers Chester’s life and legacy.

Following the success of the Ridley Scott (“Alien”) produced AMC horror television series, “The Terror,” the second season aims to build a new path of dread with a storyline plucked from the late 1900’s of two stranded artic explorer British ships trying to navigate a Northwest passage and now placed in a whole new and different, massive turbulent story and setting laid out in the early-to-mid 20th century during World War II America with Japanese Internment camps.  The second season comes with a partially new title, “The Terror:  Infamy” along with a new cast and new crew as well.  The subtitle’s double entendre refers to the then era United States 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech given to the public after the assault on Pearl Harbor and also refers to another American infamous time of the mistreatment of the country’s own citizens, the Japanese Americans, placed into internment camps and constantly scrutinized as potential Japan spies.  “Infamy” showrunners Guymon Casady, David Kajganic, Scott Lambert, Alexandra Michan, Jonathan Sheehan, and David W. Zucker, along with Ridley Scott, return to the AMC, Entertainment 360, EMJAG Productions, and Scott Free Productions series.

At the tip of the ensemble cast spear, most consisting of Japanese heritage actors and actresses, is Derek Mio as the Yūrei plagued Chester Nakayama.  Perhaps the biggest role for the Mio, the role transcends Chester from a stagnant part-time fisherman on the dead-end Terminal Island settlement of San Pedro, California to a responsible man of action that sees Chester fight for his family, his wife, his children, and even fight for his country despite the maltreatment in order to course his loved ways safely through a plethora of evil.  While the character grows in an arc of accepting responsibility as a son, husband, and father, Mio never expresses the range of a story of his magnitude that takes him across various domestic terrains and on the other side of the conflict-engulfed world as he’s afflicted by a malevolent spirit.  Constantly confident and seemingly unafraid, Chester just simply endures the hardships along “The Terror’s” bombardment of grim reality.  Comparatively, the younger Japanese American generation are culturally more expressive next to the immigrated older generations in Chester’s father (Shingo Usami) and eldest family friend Nobuhiro Yamato (“Star Trek’s George Takei”) who we witness keep mostly in line with their stoic composures.  Takei, born in 1937, and his family were actually forced into living in converted horse stables and official internment camps across the country during the War and that gives the series a morsel of 100 times it’s weight in authenticity with firsthand experience. Along with the deep sympathies and an infinite amount of shame for the wrongfully imprisoned citizens of war, there’s also immense compassion for Chester’s wife, Luz, played by Chrstina Rodlo (“No One Gets Out Alive”). Rodlo runs the gambit of emotions that convey happiness with her time with Chester, to despondent loss, and to fear while on the run from the American government as well as an evil spirit who threatens her child. Just like the first season of “The Terror,” character staying power is often short lived as the horror and, well, the terror catches up to them in one way or another, but we see fine performances from Miki Ishikawa (“I Don’t Want To Drink Your Blood Anymore”), Naoko Mori (“Life”), Alex Shimizu, Lee Shorten, Hira Ambrosino, and Kiki Sukezane as the incessantly stubborn Yūrei and C. Thomas Howell (“The Hitcher”) with another flimsy performance as a hardnose major serving as head of an internment camp.

Subtly contrasting two very different kinds of horror between the yore of the fantastical Kaiden ghost stories coming to fruition with the Yūrei and the very non-fictional blight on American history that was falsely imprisoning American citizens with Japanese roots no matter what age. Both unsettling constructs are unequivocally provided equal weight in dread much like with season one that showcased the dog-eat-dog desperation of man isolated and trapped in extreme terrain with the supernatural forces of nature with a monstrous, polar bear like creature hunting them down one-by-one. Though the same dance, but a different song, season two has a very welcoming different take of blending of yore with lore that separates itself into a new entity, a new engagement, and a new facet of terror very befitting to the anthological series. Eventually, “Infamy” starts to lose steam when the Yūrei side of the story insidiously infringes fully into the fold when Chester and Luz have fled the internment camps and are living in nowheresville New Mexico. The camps fade away from the story and also from our consideration with only bits and pieces to chew on just to check in on principal characters and has a resolution that’s about as cheated as the Japanese Americans survivors given $25 by the American government to start a new life. Yet, “The Terror: Infamy” is poignant and informative, a better picture of what really happened on the American home front better any textbook could ever properly depict, and exposes the mainstream into the Kaiden-verse of Japanese culture.

The 2-disc, 10-episode Blu-ray set comes from UK distributor, Acorn Media International, with each episode with a runtime on an average of 40 to 45 minutes long and a total runtime of 419 minutes. The region 2, PAL encoded release is presented in a standardized for television widescreen format of 16X9 and the Acorn release doesn’t present a flawless picture with noticeable issues with severe cases of banding and compression artefacts around the darker portions of the scene and trust me, “Infamy” is plenty dim and leaden between John Conroy and Barry Donlevy’s cinematography unlike the previous season’s artic white landscape that brightens much of the frame. The Dolby Digital soundtrack produces a better product with satisfactory quality in all categories of score, ambient noise, and dialogue and is accompanied by well-synced and timed English subtitles. Bonus features include a look at the series part 1 (for disc 1) and part 2 (for disc 2) and the biographical and inside the head look at the characters through the eyes of their portrayers. “Infamy” is UK certified 15 as it contains the AMC edginess of bloody graphic content as well as some offensive language. “The Terror” series as a whole has remarkable historical insight commingled with soul-stirring, skin-crawling old wives’ tales. “Infamy” may not supersede its predecessor but is still one hell of an engaging and unique story that salivates us into wanting a third season.

If EVIL Wanted Your Soul, Would You Choose An Eternal Damnation with the Promise of Having Everything You Ever Wanted, or Would You Simply Decline to Live What’s Left of Your Meager Existence? “Val” reviewed! (Epic Pictures / Blu-ray)

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

When Fin, a criminal on the run after a misfortunate mishap of possibly having killed his boss, breaks into a high-end prostitute’s mansion home in an attempt to escape police pursuit, he finds himself struggling to stay in control when the wound on his head causes him dizziness, vomiting, and a thin thread of consciousness.  His whore hostage helps him evade police capture, conceals her dead client he inadvertently kills, and also dresses up his wounds after he passes out.  Confused by her benevolence, Fin attempts to regain control of his authority over the sexually elegant and smooth talking dressed woman, but as the night progresses and strange, unexplainable occurrences warp his reality, he quickly learns his hostage is more just a simple high class working girl and her house is her domain of deviltry. 

Not to be confused with the extraordinary life of actor Val Kilmer documentary of the same name also released in 2021, “Val” is the that other 2021 released film, an independent horror-comedy from writer-director Aaron Fradkin and co-written with writing partner and fiancé (or maybe wife now at this point), Victoria Fratz.  While one “Val” may be more of a commercial success than the other, Fradkin and Fratz’s “Val” still has equal parts charisma and style with solid performances in a “Bedazzled” like tale where a down on his luck Joe Schmo meets a sultry Netherworld deal maker dangling his very soul delicately in the balance of his existence  Shot in a supposed haunted, Gothically styled mansion located in Ojai, California, “Val” is produced by Jonathan Carkeek, Paul Kim, Jeremy Meyer, Kevin McDevitt, and Caitlin O’Connor with Victoria Fratz serving as executive producer under the couple’s Fradkin and Fratz production banner, Social House Films. 

The titular character Val is short for Valefor, the grand Duke of Hell with a penchant for collecting human souls to adorn as treasure, at least to the trolls scribing world wide web, underworld mythology. A trickster, a showboat, and a psychic-vampire, Valefor is characteristically mirrored to the milli-fiber of wickedness by actress Misha Reeves who’s able to adapt her demonic namesake for a new lease on celluloid life. However, one aspect of Valefor is quite different. Val’s appearance is anything but a monstrosity; instead, Reeves radiates beautiful as a pinup girl complete with stark colored makeup and professionally styled hair in victory rolls and soft curls for a throwback 1940’s impression in a complete about face of Valefor’s traditional animalistic Lion or Donkey head look. There’s also the fact that the cinematic Val bares no wings, no tail, no fur, and no scales as usually illustrated – again, by the dark forces of the internet’s most untanned. Reeves offers up, again, the pinup-esque sex symbol with high thigh stockings, garter, and all the vibrant trimmings that would turn heads and howl catcalls. Reeves is utterly wonderful riding the spectrum of Val’s multi-faceted manipulative personality to the point where feeling bad for Fin (Zachery Mooren, “Darkness Reigns”) becomes awkwardly odd since Fin is the wanted criminal here. Even though Mooren eventually sold the part of a wannabe tough guy, the actor looks more unsure of his performance than his most of the time scantily cladded costar, even with Mooren has dress down into just a kimono as well in a few tension-breaking scenes that didn’t really break the toned stride. Reeves and Mooren start up with ease, picking up where the pair of actors left off in Fradkin and Fratz’s 2018 “Electric Love,” joined by another fellow costar in Erik Griffin as a powerful mob boss with a kink for acting like a dog in one of Val’s masochistic whims. Along the line, other pivotal players associated with Fin and Val come into the mix, including John Kapelos (“The Shape of Water”), Sufe Bradshaw (“Star Trek”), Kyle Howard (“Robo Warriors”), and co-writer Victoria Fratz as Fin’s scheming girlfriend.

The idea of the playful, humanoid demon has always been more of an interesting concept for me personally because speaking frankly between man and demon, the two can be interchangeable.  Demons can con, pervert, steal, and kill under the will of their lordship and master or as a mere rogue still in servitude of doing evil bidding.  Man can accomplish very much the same malevolent behaviors and when you have a demon masquerading among mortals, what’s the difference?  Can one tell the difference? “Val” falls along the fringes of that same category except we’re not talking about any ordinary smooth talker with a devilish smile in human skin.  No.  We’re talking about the immense staying power of Misha Reeves’ slipping into something a little bit more comfortable and still be a force to be reckoned with as the blithefully frisky and seductive Val undercutting her prey’s sanity and soul.  Reeves carries the story up to the end as the titular character, but “Val” does downplay the question of Fin’s choice.  There’s a lack direct peril when the third act came down to brass tax and Fin had to make a decision. Fin was persuaded without a nail-biting ultimatum, a countdown, or a severe threat to him or someone he cares about and the motivation for the hapless lawbreaker to pave his own fate didn’t exact a sense of urgency. In fact, Val offers an unlimited number of perks with little risk and, I believe, we had to assume Fin was smart enough, a common motif throughout the film was Fin is this big, handsome chump, to understand giving up his soul would damn him for eternity. Though visually stimulating with a climax resembling The Last Supper with demons, the damned, and Fin all sitting at a table garnished with severed heads and an inferno hue, the culmination drops hard like a rock squashing that eager element of anticipation.

A bathing beauty of its genre, “Val” contends as a witty Mephistophelian comedy-horror. The demonic good time can now be enjoyed on a region free Blu-ray release from Dread Central’s home video label, Epic Pictures, distributed by MVD Visual. The not rated, 81-minute film is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with not really much to negatively critique on the image quality that’s quite sharp from the compression of a BD50. Keelan Carothers’ hard lit and red-hot neon glow of warm red-light district-like colors inarguably defines the distinct worlds of Fin and Val while flashbacks denote a slightly softer color reduction as a third environment. There’s good camera work here between in camera foreground and background focusing as well as delectable key lighting on certain medium-closeup shots that pact a punch. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track has dialogue clarity palpable enough for Misha Reeves’ sharp tongue and quirky humor. Ambient track slips a little in the depth and can blur character spatial relations but there’s plenty of range for a story that’s pretty much sole-centric. Mike Tran, Eric Mitchen and Robot Disco Puma provide the eclectic, synth-rock soundtrack that overwhelms with a booming LFE that leads to a bit crackling distortion during the decimation of decibels of maximum speaker output if not lowered, which then affects the dialogue. Options subtitles include an English SDH and Spanish. Special features include a making of Val featurette narrated by the filmmaking due Aaron Fradkin and Victoria Fratz, two of the pair’s short films – “The Ballerina” and “Happy Birthday,” and a Q&A from Popcorn Frights. Well, here we are at the end of the review and the question still stands of what path would you choose? Personally, I’d go with the sexy, quick-witted, Duke of Hell for a good time, the soul be damned, and you should go with “Val” too for it’s all well-made, well-acted, and well-told story.

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

After Death is When Things Get Really EVIL! “One Dark Night” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)

Good girl Julie wants to join a The Sisters, a small high school club ran by three girls, one of who is the ex of Julie’s boyfriend.  Out to prove to herself and to The Sisters she’s willing to go the distance being fun and reckless, Julie subjects herself to The Sisters’ initiations, even the more cruel ones set by her boyfriend’s spiteful ex.  When the last initiation involves staying locked in overnight at a mausoleum, The Sisters will go beyond the limits in trying to scare her out of pledging, but the death of a bio-energy telekinetic practitioner with a cryptic occult past is freshly stowed away in one of the mausoleum’s coffin crypts and in death, he is more powerful and dangerous than when alive.  Trapped, Julie and The Sisters are terrorized by his power as he seeks to transfer his malevolent energy into one their bodily vessels. 

A PG rating back in the pre-1990 was also an abstract concept.  “Clash of the Titans.” “It’s Alive.”  “Jaws. “ “Prophecy” (the one with the spirit bear, not the Christopher Walken film).  These are a handful of titles that were MPAA rated PG approved, but contained nudity, bloody kills, and not to forget to mention some terrifying visuals that’d make anyone piss their pants.  “One Dark Knight” also fits into that category as the 1982 teen horror from “Friday the 13th Part VI:  Jason Lives!” director Tom McLoughlin set his sights toward a R-rating with the mindset that his detailed scenes of decay and rotting corpses and a face blistering the flesh to the skull would surely be slapped with the 17 years or older rating.  Low and behold, the ratings board thought otherwise, surprising McLoughlin and his co-writer Michael Hawes (“Family Reunion”) with a parental guidance rating that my 7 and 4 year old could sit in on without me fearing theater security or, even worse, the mind control hypnosis and repetitive nurturing elements of today’s movies and shows that don’t make a lick of common sense or brandish any artistic heart. McLoughlin’s ‘One Dark Night” has plenty of heart and plenty of floating dead bodies in this Comworld International Pictures production with “Out of the Dark” director Michael Schroeder producing and Thomas P. Johnson as executive producer.

Before hitting the sequel and remake circuit with “Psycho II” and “Body Snatchers,” Meg Tilly broke onto the scene as “One Dark Night’s” leading lady as the amiable Julie whose looking to shake her good girl image. The little sister of “Seed of Chucky” and “Bound” star Jennifer Tilly takes the role by the reins by undulating her fear and determination to do what The Sisters initiate her into completing. The Sisters is comprised of renowned voice actress and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” costar Elizabeth Daily, Leslie Speights, and lead by Robin Evans as Carol, the spiteful and venomous ex-girlfriend of Julie’s now jock boyfriend (and Christopher Reeves lookalike in my opinion) in David Mason Daniels. You know what they say about love triangles they? They always lead to psychopathic, telekinetic psychics reeking havoc in a mortuary. Luckily for Tilly, Speight, Daily, Evans, and Daniels, psychopathic, telekinetic psychics are not real and neither is the person who plays the Karl Rhamarevich aka Raymar character! You see, the opening is the post-death scene of Raymar whose lying dead under a coroner’s white sheet along with six beautiful women stuffed into a corner closet in his oddly tatterdemalion apartment. The next time we see Raymar is in his casket, wide open, wide eyed with blue lightning summoning to animate the dead from the mortuary crypts; yet, Raymar is played by a dummy in the film created by Tom and Ellis Burman (“Star Trek” franchise in various capacity and “Scrooged”) and Bob Williams (“The Terminator”) who mold Raymar after the contours of Christopher Walken – second time Walken has popped up in this review! The more interesting casted parts, whose characters don’t do diddly squat in the film, is Adam West (“Batman”) as Raymar’s daughter (Melissa Newman) level-headed husband and The Predator himself, the late Kevin Peter Hall, in a minor appearance before becoming the man behind that one ugly son of a bitch mandible mask. You also actually get to see how tall Hall was in his prime.

“One Dark Night” flirts with being this strange horror that blends teen suspense and shenanigans with gothic horror with pseudo-science deviltry sushi wrapped into a Euro-horror roll. I kind of love it. I’m one of those horror fans who avoid trailers like the plague and try not to read synopses on the back cover, going into every viewing with complete ignorance, total unbias, and good attitude. I didn’t even know Meg Tilly was in “One Dark Night” for Christ sake! As the 90 minute runtime ticks down, I’m curious to where McLoughlin starts to take this film that doesn’t seem to quite get into the horror portion of Raymar’s show-stopping comeback. McLoughlin and Hawes hype up the love triangle with Carol’s bitter acrimony and Julie’s adolescent need to not be a one-note complexion all the while Steve desperately needs Carol to cease and desist any and all torturous hazing attempts, but there’s still this itty-bitty connection still tethered between the two that also causes Steve to two-time his new, more benevolent, girlfriend. In the end, I can confidently say that Steve is a good dude, a guy who double downs on a girl like Julie who can’t seem to get it through her thick skull that she doesn’t need to prove anything to three dimwits with sheeny club bomber jackets. I can tell you who isn’t a stand up guy – Raymar. Kudos to McLoughlin and his crew for creating one evil son of a bitch villain without there ever being a palpable proverbial man behind the mask to bounce off a projection of fear and contention. The evil Raymar practice was so intensely evil it was beyond our dimensional comprehension and broke the mold of death with the abilities to animating the dead among other things. “One Dark Night’s” slow start leads to a not to be forgotten survival terror against an army of the harnessed dead.

Raymar isn’t the only thing brought back from the dead, but also “One Dark Night” as MVD Visual, under the MVD Rewind Collection, strike a deal with Code Red to utilize their OOP transfer and bonus materials for a new re-release Blu-ray hitting retail shelves this Tuesday, August 24th! The 1080p high definition transfer is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio speckled nicely with natural, pleasant looking reel grain. Like the Code Red special edition release, plenty of details shine through the delicate rendering that can be image wispy at times. Loads of superficial damage – frame scratches, edge flare ups, rough editing cuts, smudges – can’t go unnoticed, but these blemishes don’t hinder much as the scenes are more transitional during the setup to the big mortuary finale. What differs from Code Red’s DTS-HD 2.0 mix is thee English language LPCM 2.0 mono mix that still lightly treads with subdued effect, much like the Code Red release. Dialogue can sound muffled with popping landing just under the surface and bubbling up during dialogue scenes. Still, the audio track stands it’s ground by clearly rendering every dialogue, effect, and soundtrack without question. English subtitles are also available. You want bonus features? You got’em! Interviews with director Tom McLoughlin, actress Elizabeth Daily, actress Nancy Mott, cinematographer Hal Trussell, production designer Craig Stearns, producer Michael Schroeder, and special effects crew member Paul Clemens are all individualized for maximum recollection tidbits and factoids. There’s also audio commentaries by McLoughlin and Schroeder as well as McLoughlin and co-writer Michael Hawes. Plus, we also graced with McLoughlin’s director’s cut, a standard definition, unfinished, work print version in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio that shows the director’s true take on the narrative before producers ultimately decided to go another route…behind his back nonetheless. Behind-the-scenes footage, Paul Clemens photo gallery, and original theatrical trailer round out the disc bonus content while the physical release comes with a retro-take card board slipcover, reversible cover art, and a collectible mini poster inside the case liner. If you’re a fan of Euro-horror, “One Dark Night” embodies the very soul of the Lucio Fulci and Michele Saovi supernatural archetype sewn seamlessly into an inescapable and hopeless dance with the gnarly energies of the stoic dead.

Pre-order “One Dark Night” on Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Millennial Martian Mayhem Is EVIL’s Wheelhouse in “Save Yourselves” reviewed! (Bleecker Street Media / Digital Screener)

Brooklyn couple, Su and Jack, find their noses constantly buried in their devices as the relationship between them begins to stagnate with unfulfilled measures.  In an effort to reconnect with each other meaningfully and detach themselves from the wedging worldwide web, they accept a close friend’s offer to use his upstate cabin as a rekindling retreat getaway from the mundane routine, away from the bustling city, and away from their highly addictive technological devices, shutting themselves off from the numbing side of the world to focus on each other.  As they become acquainted with their isolated surroundings and truly work on themselves, an attack from an alien race of pouffe balls has invaded Earth.  When they finally figure what’s happening, the serenity cabin therapy has been abruptly severed by besieging extraterrestrial furballs from space and they must rely on their little know-how to survive.

To all the modern millennial couples living comfortably in urban stasis and experiencing the world vicariously through the internet, “Save Yourselves!” is a calling and an unlikely savior you didn’t even know you needed from the writing-directing team of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson.  The duo’s introductory feature length film is a satirical sci-fi side-splitter of the celestial kind that, frankly, exposes the rudimentary sustaining people like Su and Jack who we all know exist and wouldn’t know how to start a fire with the quick strike of a match let alone save themselves from an apocalyptical alien invasion, but much like Su and Jack’s understanding of their surroundings and also to their defense, what does anybody know about surviving creatures from another planet?  “Save Yourselves!” is produced by Peter Traugott and Adi Ezroni of the New York based Keshet Studios as the company’s sophomore feature, Eamon Downey and Philip Erdoes of Last Rodeo Studios (“Scare Me”), and Joshua Blum of Washington Square Films.

Internet obsessed couple Su and Jack can barely not fiddle with their phones, laptops, and even Alexia for more than a minute, scouring the limitless online resource for information and entertainment that even infiltrates into their livelihood of administrative assistant scheduling and online popup box retail services.  “Mr. Robot’s” Sunita Mani sits into the internet top 10 list fixated mindset of Su with a complimenting structure revolving around her character’s meticulous life layout constructed by internet page browser tabs.  Equally as reliant on the power of the internet is her beau Jack, played by “Stranger Things’” John Reynolds in a hipster blend of Crispin Glover with the voice comparisons to Hanna-Barbera’s The Funky Phantom.  Mani and Reynolds accorded a charmingly naïve pair of social media engulfed millennials on a path of monotonous self-implosion and take their characters’ arcs over the growth threshold as their thrust to survive without knowing nothing of the tangible (Jack’s own word) world.  “Save Yourselves” is essentially the Sunita Mani and John Reynolds’ show, but the cast rounds out with bit part performances from Ben Sinclair, John Early, and Johanna Day.

Su and Jack are extremely likeable characters with some real and some fantastical unlikeable problems of social media addiction and space beings snatching their planet right under their touchscreen pressed noses. “Save Yourselves” knits a palpable double meaning that not only conveys the impractical saving of themselves from the impending attack of furry aliens, isolated in a thick, unfamiliar wooded ecosystem, but also save themselves from their own social network debilitated selves who rely too much on the glitzy pyrite of the Gram (Instagram) and Facebook to rule their lives.  Directors Fischer and Wilson gamble with a good chunk of the story’s unresolved aspects the plot points build up so well that might leave audiences scratching their heads while a lip-curling complexity freezes their mouths agape in wondering next steps for hapless couple Su and Jack. For the defense of the unexplained, the Earth invasion is an, as we know it, impenetrable fact of pure science fiction, glimmered in 1960’s fashion with resemblance to the Shatner era Star Trek “Trouble with Tribbles” alien pouffe balls (the filmmakers must have been “Star Trek” fans) of various shapes and colors beleaguering an assault with Spider-Man-like bio-lash to get around, an unquenchable thirst for Ethanol, and sonic fluctuance. When you type it out loud it sounds ridiculous, but “Save Yourselves!” harps back on the classic Sci-Fi features with a contemporary wit toward the inept abilities of today’s modern young adults and their reliance on social media.

Going off the grid nonplusses city dwellers with formidable diurnal life routines in the indie science fiction comedy “Save Yourselves!” that has invaded theaters and at-home platforms this week, distributed Bleecker Street Media. The 93 minute, rated R social commentary satire is shot mainly in an unfiltered, natural light with a handheld and steady cam, grounding the filming within the wilderness of New York’s upper state with a sound staged to recreate the tuning fork of kooky otherworldly sound bites and soundtracks. Since this is a theatrical new release, there will be no review on the A/V aspects. There were no bonus material included or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Save Yourselves!” is an eye opening gag of real time, real world dependents forced to outlast the odds and grow individually, and collectively, as independent people valued more than thought.

Pre-orde “Save Yourselves!” on DVD ahead of it’s October 9th release.

EVIL Presses the Reset Button For Killer Results! “To Your Last Death” reviewed! (Quiver Distribution / Blu-ray)

Miriam DeKalb has just survived a bloodbath inside her tycoon father’s high-rise, walking out shaken, bloodied, and carrying an axe.  When the police detain her in the hospital, construing a case against her for the death of her siblings and father based off her previously unhinged mental state inside a psychiatric institute, Miriam is visited by an otherworldly being known as the Gamemaster.  Miriam is given two choices:  stay at the hospital to be pursued as the murderous villain in her harrowing escape from near death or restart her traumatizing experience to save her siblings in an intergalactic wager by infinite being gamblers eager for amusement, blood, and a clear winner.  Miriam’s foreknowledge of how the events play out should give her an edge in saving her family, but the restart is the Gamemaster’s game with the Gamemaster’s rules as timelines and outcomes are determined limitless. 

“To Your Last Death” is a science fictional brawl of Darwinism in this eviscerating adult animated survival horror from director Jason Axinn.  Originally titled as “The Malevolent” during the crowd-funded Indiegogo campaign, which raised 114% above film’s budget, “To Your Last Death” is Axinn’s first full length feature from a script co-written by Jim Cirile (writer of horror-comedy “Banned”) and is the first credited work of Tanya C. Klein, both who’ve previously collaborated on the superhero short “Liberator” in 2016 starring the original Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno  With an animated direction similar to that of FX’s “Archer,” Cartoon Network’s “Metalocalypse,” or an even slightly more advanced version of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” but, in fact, the hand-drawn, puppetry style animation is the first ever 2-D animated horror under the meticulous art direction of Carl Frank along with lead artists Luca Romano and Vicente Saldivar, who interned on “Metalocalypse,” that keeps in tune with the adult themed animation trend, but levels up the explicit nature that kisses the sordid substance of “Heavy Metal” with strong bloody violence and some nudity.  “To Your Last Death” is the first feature film of Jim Cirile and Tanya C. Klien’s Coverage Ink Films, a subsidiary of the screenplay analysis and development service group, Coverage Ink, and Quiver Distribution (“Becky”) with Cindi Rice, Paige Barnett and Jason Axinn taking on a producer role. 

The voice work is comprised of some of the most distinguishable voices in genre land; voices that carry the unparalleled weight in intensity, tenor, and madness to their darkly depicted illustrated characters.  You can almost feel the veins throbbing out of Ray Wise’s neck when spewing the murderous insanity of warfare kingpin and diabolical businessman, Cyrus DeKalb.  The “Dead End” and “Jeepers Creepers 2” actor’s inhumane avatar, who looks just like him, devises a plan to solidify his company’s legacy by eliminating his four children who, if banding together, can derail his egomaniacal runaway train.  His children are distinct individuals themselves, beginning with the BDS&M buff and death metal rocker, Ethan (Damein C. Haas), a pill-popping wrist cutter, Kelsy (Florence Hartigan “Phoenix Forgotten”), and a mirror-image disappointment and homosexual, Collin (Benjamin Siemon “Thankskilling 3”).  The fourth child, Miriam, is the principle lead.  Voiced with perpetual mixed reactions by Dani Lennon, a regular from the videogame-themed horror comedy and zombie apocalypse television series, “Bite Me,” Miriam’s complexities stem from a web of junctures that lead her to being a control freak amongst her siblings, an obsessive activist against her father, and a certified schizophrenic, but Miriam is also pragmatic with the strongest will to see through and survive her maniacal father’s abhorrence.  While everyone’s voice work is solid, Steve Geiger’s Eastern European accent replicated for the sadistic, warmongering henchman, Jurek, imprints a nightmare man unabashed by his decadent desires.  You wouldn’t think just be reading this review, but Bill Moseley (“Devil’s Rejects”) and William Shatner (“Star Trek” franchise) also have voice roles that are more cameo resembling as Moseley voices a short lived, facially disfigured hired gun and Shatner is the narrating voice in between the void as the Overseer, filling in with cryptic exposition of the Gamemaster’s existence, much like his narrative work on the reboot of the children’s show, “The Clangers.”   Mark Whitten, Bill Mishap, Rom Lommel, Paige Barnnet, Jim Cirile, Tanya C. Klein, Ruairi Douglas, Jason Axinn, and “Deadpool’s” Morena Baccarin as the Gamemaster round out the cast.

The way “To Your Last Death’s” story is structured runs along the same quivering line that’s equal to pure madness and this narrative path of unstoppable carnage is purposefully trekked to dislodge any judgements about what we, the viewer, think we know about the Gamemaster’s macabre game for galactic gambling.  Is the whole “Saw”-like designed bloodbath really a part of Cyrus DeKalb’s hatred and vindictiveness toward his children or is the lucid experience just a figment of Miriam’s break from reality?  Remember, Miriam was depicted to an ex-committed, living with and within the pressures of her father’s ever present, looming shadow. Miriam finds herself repeating moments but blueprinted differently than before or is manipulated by the Gamemaster’s gamer’s high for the adrenaline voyeurs betting on the outcome. The story’s effervescently fluid in pivots, tactics, and style; yet, the constant modify and rebuild was, perhaps, done one or two many times as staleness begins to set in and I eventually find himself anxious for a more linear goal for Miriam and her siblings to be out of limbo, out of being hacked to pieces on the fourth or fifth go-around, and reach the final stage, the final boss, to not be jerked back (or jerked around) to the beginning or midpoint like in unendurable game of chutes and ladders. Soon after that sensation of being uninterested in another rewind, the feeling immediately washes away as the story finally did progress, climax, finish, end, close, and put to sleep a rotunda of violence engendered by cosmic sadists that is “To Your Last Death.”

Like some warped version of “Clash of the Titans,” the insouciant Gods in “To Your Last Death” are not generous or kind in their gamble of human entertainment on this Blu-ray release distributed by Quiver Distribution. The feature is presented in a windscreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with rich colors through but favor toward scenes splotched of dark red or saturated in full tints of blue. The animation can be a little jagged at times but tolerable and only one scenes stood out compromised with two character stuck still for a few seconds too long and color banding rear its little ugly head on their animated faces. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound renders equally gratifying that includes a pulsating and terror riddled soundtrack by Rene G. Boscio. Typical with animation, ambience is generally underused as the filmmakers control much of what’s in the frame and the same can be said with this film, but with the much of action stationary inside the building, the confinement fills in the auditory gaps in conjunction with lucrative and well timed effects, such as a ripping roar of gas guzzling chainsaw, the squirting sounds of blood sprays, and even with the lossless details of minor necessities, such as Jurek whistling, to build upon character development. Dialogue is prominent, clear, and syncs okay with the marionette animation. The Blu-ray case is sheathed in a cardboard slipcover, both arranged with the same front and back cover image and layout. The bonus features are lack as the bare bones release only comes with a high definition trailer of the film. “To Your Last Death” is this year’s cinematic graphic novel to knock back and lap up, loaded with transcendent selfish twists and second-chance carnage with dysfunctional family issues spot lit on center stage.

 

Pre-Order “To Your Last Death” for a October 6th release!