When EVIL Gets Tough, You Fight Back! “The New Kids” reviewed!


Loren McWilliams and his sister Abby were both proud of their illustrious military careered father as well as adoring him immensely. When the teenagers’ parents set off toward Washington D.C. to receive a commendation from the President after foiling a terrorist hostage situation, Loren and Abby felt like the luckiest kids alive, but that all quickly changed with a phone call, announcing a deadly accident that killed both their parents. Somber in disbelief, Loren and Abby decide to take up on an offer from their uncle Eddie and aunt Fay who own a gas station and a joint rinky-dink amusement park in Glenby, Florida in hopes to whet the appetites of thrill seeking tourist right before hitting the major league theme parks of Disney. Settling into a new school system is relatively easy for the siblings who’ve often been use to moving from location-to-location with their father in military service, but acclimating to the local drug pusher, Dutra, along with his entourage of subversive delinquents, has placed a target on their backs. A cat and mouse game over dominance ensues with an unreasonable Dutra unable to ever settle the score until his complete satisfaction in punishing the new kids in town has been sated, even if that means Loren and Abby, and those close to them, have to fight for their very lives.

“The New Kids,” aka “Striking Back,” is a horrifying suspense thriller from the original “Friday the 13th” director Sean S. Cunningham and penned by the father of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and “Visiting Hours” screenwriter, Brian Taggert. Instead of a lurking serial killer stalking and massacring half-naked and carefree camp counselor teens on a secluded camp ground, Cunningham tackles felonious teenagers wreaking havoc on popular outsiders treading on their drug turf, especially those who give a good fight back. “The New Kids” bombards every scene with caustic, no-good trouble and when push comes to shove, the only rational is to give the razor-edge scrap right back in a serrated do or die narrative.

Before the face of the collegiate admission scandal and before being the beloved onscreen mother to twins fathered by Uncle Jess on “Full House,” Lori Loughlin co-stars with Shannon Presby as on the defensive Abby and Loren. Presby slightly overshadows Loughlin as a stronger character or presence on screen. Loren continuously evolves through the storyline beginning as a well-rounded, cool-headed, optimistic son who recently lost his parents and then blossoms through bullying and violence as a mad dog protecting what’s his – family. Abby staggers quite precariously and never quite finds her footing in the grand scheme of things other than being a passive victim of Dutra and his gang. Even the contrast between Loren and Abby’s respective love interests is lopsided as Loren and his girlfriend (“Silent Madness’” Paige Price) dominate the dynamically in comparison to Abby and an underused and very youthful looking Eric Stotlz (“The Prophecy”). The real stud of “The New Kids” is a young, slim James Spader (“Wolf” and “The Blacklist”). Pure platinum blonde hair topping piercing eyes with a pinch of a Boston accent really brought out the villain in Spader in one of his very first feature films. Many other familiar faces in the cast, some familiar amongst horror fans, including John Philbin (“Return of the Living Dead”), the late Eddie Jones (“C.H.U.D.”), and the legendary Tom Atkins (“The Fog” and “Halloween III”) in a brief role. The remaining cast round out with Vince Grant, David MacDonald, Theron Montgomery, Lucy Martin, and Jean De Baer.

On the surface, “The New Kids” might seem polar opposite to Cunningham’s franchise birthing “Friday the 13th” series, but if looking with a keen eye, Cunningham has slapped and slathered his style all over the bullying barraging thriller. Techniques such as the camera focusing on feet that come out from hiding, the sudden appearance of people behind objects, and the menacing atmosphere of being watched are sensationalized characteristics of his camper slasher flick. Also, though the soundtrack is akin to the likes of Harry Manfredini, it was actually composed by the renowned Lalo Schilfrin who more than like was given precise instructions from Cunningham to compose a companion like score with a twist of a new kind of fear.

Mill Creek Entertainment presents Columbia Pictures’ “The New Kids” onto a Blu-ray home video with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The region A release on a BD25 has a well preserved transfer with little to no damaging issues and lots of good, wholesome natural grain speckling on the solid and wide range color palate. Even the darker scenes have pronounced definition so nothing is obscured from the viewer. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite robust with no sings of hissing or crackling during the entire 90 minute runtime. Even with Loren is whispering to Dutra in an intense claustrophobic and apprehensive scene, Loren is audible and understood, completing a dialogue friendly release with a, as aforementioned, a baleful score by Lalo Schilfrin. English SDH subtitles are also included. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features on this release; however, the retro style slipcover, where the VHS tape looks to be protruding from the VHS box, is a nice tough by Mill Creek Entertainment, especially with the faux wear around the edges and on the facade. For director Sean S. Cunningham, “The New Kids” steered clear of being a Voorhees repeat, but was certainly a recapitulation of Cunningham’s strong suits and with a strong, confident cast, “The New Kids” is sorely understated and overshadowed and I’m personally pleased that Mill Creek Entertainment delivered a Blu-ray release to the U.S. even if there are no bonus features.

The New Kids available at Amazon!

Does Evil Go Incognito? “Sheep Skin” Review!

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A four person punk rock band, known as The Dick-Punchers, kidnap an egotistical businessman named Todd because they suspect the white collar professional to be a vicious, man-eating werewolf.  Confined to a chair in an abandoned warehouse, Todd is interrogated, threatened, and tortured to reveal his true beastly self, but as the night drags on, the band’s evidence weakens against Todd and tensions boil to a flare as the band’s leader, Schafer, starts to question their suspicions and motives.  Doubts divide the band’s handling of the overwrought situation, especially when Todd’s wife tracks her husband’s phone to his exact location, hoping to catch him in an unfaithful act, but ends up becoming entangled in his internment.
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Crafting a werewolf film on a microscopic budget is a daunting and difficult task to accomplish and having the resulting finish to be mediocre is a good achievement for any filmmaker whether working in the independent market or in the Hollywood limelight.  Writer-director Kurtis Spieler found a conduit through the immensely barbed brier patch for his 2013 indie horror film “Sheep Skin” and came out relatively unscathed by the pricks.  The ambitious werewolf flick was developed on the heels of his Spieler’s 2007 short film of the same title with actor Laurence Mullaney reprising his role of the kidnapped businessman, or maybe a werewolf in plain sight, Todd and with Nicholas Papazoglou returning as producer.  With a little more backing behind Spieler’s Invasive Image production company, the director was able to recreate his short to a feature film on a reported $25,000 budget.
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The budget amount surely gives a bit of hesitation when going into a viewing of “Sheep Skin,” but by cutting down location costs and maintaining afloat with the equipment already obtained, Spieler puts his heart and soul into the cast of gifted actors and a talented crew and into a story that’s nail-bitingly entertaining without the possibility of a werewolf ever making an appearance on screen.  Along side the return of Laurence Mullaney, the relatively unknown Michael Schantz, who had a role in the Alistair Pitt episode of NBC’s popular espionage drama series “The Blacklist,” portrays Schafer, the vengeance seeking leader of The Dick-Punchers.  Schantz’s rendition of the character is undeniably acute to the rampant emotions and stakes of kidnapping and holding Todd.  Schafer’s band member and girlfriend, Dylan, portrayed by Ria Burns-Wilder finds an unwavering loyalty in her man.  The two wild cards, Clive and Marcus, filled in fittingly by Zach Gillette and Bryan Manley Davis.  Gillette and Davis play characters that contrast each other very strongly with Clive being more of a bruiser and a hot head looking forward to roid-rage mayhem while Marcus nervously questions his friends’ intentions if the situation goes south.  Jamie Lyn Bagley is an It’s Bloggin’ Evil favorite (see our reviews for “Flesh for the Inferno,” “Sins of Dracula,” “Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead,” and “Future Justice“) and the upcoming scream queen becomes the last puzzle piece to a dynamic cast as Todd’s mistrusting wife.
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The kidnapping portion of the story starts from the get-go, nabbing Todd as soon as he attempts to leave the office.  After all introductions are completed and the plot is set, the pace slows down toward an uneventful position with characters vacillating.  Schafer holds many sidebar conversations with his crew, as a good captain should always do, but makes for tedious anticipation instead of white knuckling action.  The deceleration of content during this time doesn’t necessarily bore down the story as the characters react rightfully so due in part to Spieler intentionally incorporating doubt into The Dick-Punchers’ plan and when the snowball starts to roll downhill and the strain starts to disintegrate their plan and, ultimately, their friendship, “Sheep Skin” is a juggernaut of confined bloodletting.
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Unearthed Films and MVDVisual courtesy releases Kurtis Speiler’s film onto DVD with a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio that soaks in a noir style filter for a mysterious-horror atmosphere.  The DVD offers an alternate black and white version of the film that’s preferable as the dark filter kept the image devoid of natural colors.  Digital noise overtakes the brighter coloring in which DNR could have reduced the effect for a cleaner finish.  The noise also affected the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio with a  low lying hum throughout the background of the entire duration.  Dialogue tracks levels vary heavily during calmer or character enclosed scenes while the soundtrack booms out LFE during abrupt moments.  The DVD has a solid cache of extras including director’s commentary, deleted scene with director introduction, behind the scenes look at the making of “Sheep Skin,” the original short film, The Dick-Punchers music video, and the theatrical trailer.  “Sheep Skin” isn’t an archaic werewolf tale, but a fresh suspenseful spin on lycanthrope mythos.  

BUY “Sheep Skin” on DVD from Unearthed Films and MVDVisual at Amazon.com! Just clink on the above image.