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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Mind the Glowing, Ominous Hole in the Wall. That’s Just a Gateway to Evil. “Beyond Darkness” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

A witch acolyte of Ameth, an underworld demon, is executed on multiple counts of child murder.  The priest who oversaw the witch’s last rites came in with a doubtful heart and upon researching Ameth through an unholy book, disavowed his own religion only to fall into a near drunken stupor of atheism.  Months later, a new priest and his family move into a home arranged by the archdiocese, but soon after settling into the old house, a series of disturbances point to a closed in wall behind a door that’s uncovered to be a gateway to another plane of existence; an existence where the child killing witch is granted access to seek the souls of the priest’s young children.  Fighting with his own struggles of faith, the ex-Jesuit assists the priest and his family in an attempt to cast out evil once and for all. 

Perhaps common knowledge amongst diehard horror fans, but not so much among the casual curiosities of an oblique coursed moviegoer is the fact that “Beyond Darkness” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” share a cinematic series connection.  Well, not one in any official capacity one at least.  Drained from the same bloody vain that unofficially corrals Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2” as a sequel to George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” retitled in Italy as “Zombi,” the American-made, Italian-orchestrated “Beyond Darkness” too fell upon the slew of Italian title changes sword with a rechristening into the “La Casa” series.  With the success of “The Evil Dead” in the U.S., Raimi’s video nasty was renamed to “La Case” and “Beyond Darkness” became the fifth “sequel” in the series as “La Casa 5.”  Since Italy has no copywrite laws, a light breeze can easily change any filmic title.  Even the director, Clyde Anderson, dons a false pretense as the Americanized alter ego of Italian director Claudio Fragasso.  The “Scalps” and “Troll 2” Fragasso pens “Beyond Darkness” with longtime script confederate Rossella Drudi, under the Sarah Asproon pseudonym.  “Beyond Darkness” is shot in the deep American South of Louisiana under the Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi) founded Filmirage (“Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper,” “Deep Blood”), produced by D’Amato, as the Filmirage Production Group.

While behind the camera is mostly an Italian production team, in front of the camera is a cast of American and English actors with an opening Louisiana penitentiary pre-execution theology debate between Bette the witch, played by Mary Coulson, and Father George, a priest having a crisis of faith, played by one of D’Amato’s regulars in English actor David Brandon (“StageFright,” “The Emperor Caligula:  The Untold Story”).  Coulson’s role may be punitively small as the “Beyond Darkness’” lead witch and predominant face of the core evil, but the actress puts all into the Bette character comprised of a maniacal laugh and a lots of very European skin-tag makeup effects whereas the classically trained David Brandon has an array of lively emotions and facial expressions sized to fit Father George’s clerical shirt and white tab collar when he’s not sloshed with doubt.  Both characters interweave into the life of a new-to-the-area priest, his wife, and two kids who move into an old house, built on unholy ground, to start his new chapter in priesthood.  Days later, as the kids become instantly okay with a giant black swam rocking horse in the middle of their bedroom, the family is terrorized by flying kitchenware, flooded with a bayou mist, and frightened by figures in black, tattered shrouds seeking to steal their children’s souls.  Christopher Reeve’s lookalike Gene LeBrock (“Night of the Beast”) fails at double father duty in his poorly lit excuse of a worried father with his children being lured to the realm of the spirit side and as a grounded in faith Father combating the forces of evil without a solid sense of what to do.  Both parents are equally written off as incompetents who continue to stay in the house despite on the continuous threat of Baba Yaga wannabes knocking at every door in the house.  As the mother, Barbara Bingham felt as if she had a little more skin the game.  Perhaps having just come off the legacy success of a “Friday the 13th” sequel (“Jason Takes Manhatten”) she felt the responsibility of maintaining a more diligent approach toward being a mother coursing through occult’s dire straits.   Michael Paul Stephenson (“Trolls 2) and Theresa Walker excel much better in their roles as the two kids, Martin and Carole, who’ve become the centerpiece of Bette’s maliceful desires. 

“Beyond Darkness” will come across as very familiar amongst both horror fans and fans of movies in general with a story pulling inspiration from films like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist.”  Fragasso picks and chooses a blanket of trope elements to rework with great malleably in order to not be a total copy.  However, for those who know anything about low-budget Italian horror, Fragasso’s rousing similarities to major and independent hits should come as no surprise.  Notoriously renowned schlock horror directors Joe D’Amato and Bruno Mattei, amongst a sea of others, use to fabricate out of fame at every opportunity by gobbling up successful films, chewing them up, and spitting out their Italian produced counterparts without a second thought just to cash in on just a fraction of the original narrative’s success.  The way I see it, the method was (and still is) an honorable form of flattery. Yet, flattery doesn’t cure sloppiness and “Beyond Darkness” is about as sloppy as sloppy joes. Plot hole after plot hole stack up on Fragasso’s inability to amalgamate elements in an entirely coherent way. There are underwhelming revelations to anticipating character build ups that fizzle; such as a thick-tension mystery behind the local archdiocese and their involvement to place a good Christian family in a house built on evil land or what precisely convinced Father George of Ameth’s power to sink him into an alcoholic pit of despair? I already mentioned Martin and Carole’s inept parents on not fleeing the house at first sign of poltergeist activity or any activity since then so don’t get me started. The story needs some fine tuning but not after is amiss. The acting is not entirely a humdrum of monotony, Carlo M. Cordio’s eclectic synthesizer riff and haunting keynotes score is on another level akin to a composition pulled right out of a survival horror video game, and Larry J. Fraser, another one of Joe D’Amato’s pseudonyms, has an honesty about his scenes unlike we’ve ever seen before in a D’Amato production as the cinematographer captures the fog luminously and effervescently surrounding and chasing the family from out to in.

“Beyond Darkness” is no “The Evil Dead” but is a solid demon and ghost dog and pony show from 1990. Now, the Claudio Fragasso (or is it, Clyde Anderson?) classic is heading straight to your level room television set with a new 2-disc Blu-ray. The hardcoded Region A is presented in widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio in a full high definition and 1080p resolution. With only a possible color touch up here or there, I would venture to say the transfer used is the most pristine copy with hardly any damage or any age deterioration. The grain looks amply checked and no cropping or edge enhancing at work in an attempt to correct any issues, if any ever existed. Severin offers two audio options: an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 and an Italian dub of the same spec. With dual channels, there retains an always room for growth inkling and with the film’s broad range in sounds, a difficult to swallow lossy audio pill plays the aftertaste tune of, man, this could have been way better. Yet, the track is solid enough, if not more so, with virtually zilch damage. Dialogue comes across clean and clear, but there tails some minor hissing. Like with many Severin releases, new interviews are the star of the special feature show with one-side, talking head interviews with writer-director Claudio Fragrasso Beyond Possession, co-writer Rossella Drudi The Devil in Mrs. Drudi, and actor David Brandon Sign of the Cross. Though the theatrical trailer rounds out the first disc special features, Severin also includes Carlo M. Cordio’s superb soundtrack as disc number two along with a two-page booklet with an introduction to the ingredients of a horror score and to Cordio himself as well as a listing of all 17 tracks. “Beyond Darkness” is Claudio Fragrasso’s unbridled mutt, a motley of motion picture royalties rolled up into an adulating and piggybacking horror beyond comparison.

“Beyond Darkness” 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray Available on Amazon

Visions of Evil From a Disturbed Mind. “Lung” review!


An unidentified man, wearing medical scrubs and gloves, wanders through town, encountering hellishly gruesome scenes of death.  He wanders barefoot through a  ghastly journey that might figuratively expresses his back story of how he came to witness such visions and be relatively undisturbed by the horror they represent.  The filthy, gory, and ill-fated moments might also be hallucinations brought upon by a traumatic occurrence that wrenches him out of reality and into grisly purgatory.  Either way, the nameless man is a lost soul with no ambition, no emotion, and no direction to guide him through an inner conflict of blood-soaked entombment.

Unearthed Films’ 2-disc collector’s edition of “Lung I” and “Lung II” continues with the distribution company’s legacy of delivering the best underground cinema to the forefront of home entertainment.  Phil Stevens, director of positive-reviewed “Flowers,” writes, stars, and directs both feature films about the wandering man in a foggy, distorted haze, but “Lung II” is not a sequel to “Lung I.”  Instead, “Lung I” is the softcore version of events whereas “Lung II” is a hardcore redux – think along the lines of “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” – that’s much more detached from rationality and by collaborating with “American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock’s” Marcus Koch seizing upon the special effects, you can damn well count on “Lung II,” and certainly “Lung I” as well, being bare-faced dark, violent, and twisted. In more a sequential reality, “Lung” is part of the Phil Stevens’ proposed trilogy entitled the Violence of Dawn with “Flowers” leading the horrific charge. This review will focus more on “Lung II.”

Stevens stars as the unnamed lead, waking up lost under a creek bridge, dressed in medical scrubs, and haunted by unspeakable, bloody post-violence mayhem while continuously battling his evil doppelgänger self. Is this just a strange nightmare or a telltale sign of this man’s troubled past? Then, again, Stevens’ impassive take feels more like wandering through one hell of a dream, an endless journey into one’s post-traumatic warped mind rather than spelunking into one of a murderous soul’s, even if one of the moments of trauma could be his wife – or girlfriend – cheating on him and he catches her in the act with ill-fated consequences. Characters also related to the medical profession, such as a psychologist (David Copping) and quick flashes of a nurse (Angela Jane), are a part of this visceral vision quest. Finally, we come to The Exile character. The Exile might sound familiar if you’ve read my review on “Flowers” as he’s the only character, portrayed once again by Bryan W. Lohr Sr., that connects the two films. The Exile continues to mystify us about his presence, an extremely large and intimating brute with a deathly blank stare and a “don’t fuck with me” attitude.

Unlike “Flowers,” Stevens went the devoid of color route, constructing a black and white feature that, like “Flowers, goes without as much as a sentence of dialogue. Actions, expressions, and every sense of the word “art” tell the story. Non-linear editing and brutally realistic scenes of savagery in the confines of special effects exercise and sparks your brain’s neurons to try spitfire pieces together to cement a coherent narrative. Stevens is almost able to re-tap into and revitalize the silent film genre with “Flowers” and “Lung”, and with the help of a vehement brooding score by Mark Kueffner, I believe this type of experimental horror story telling can fascinate just about anyone without a weak stomach.

Unearthed Films and MVDVisual’s 2-disc DVD collector’s set a beautifully monochrome piece of art with roached infested severed heads, a halfway decomposed homeless man, and a pile of refrigerated sexual organs meshed together like something out of Brian Yuzna’s “Society,” but more gnarly. Im interested to see how Paradis, aka Paradis III, comes to conclude the trilogy and see how Unearthed FIlms releases Phil Stevens’ visionary tales. The Borderline Cinema and Extreme Horror Cinema “Lung” is comprised of two discs that entail “Lung I” Feature Film, “Lung II” Feature Film, Directors Commentary, Editors Commentary, Isolated Sound FX Track, Making of Lung 2 (which is very informative and fun to watch underground cinema come to the fold), Mark Kueffner: Lung Composer Featurette, Martin Trafford: Artwork Featurette, “Cats” Short Film, “Descent” Short Film, and Unearthed Trailers. “Lung” will not tickle everybody’s taste; surely sick and part of a niche network of darkly persuaded and humored people will most likely get it, but there’s still very much to appreciate here from director Phil Stevens and his eye for detail and disturbia. This gore and shock is worth a look and worth a chance.

Buy LUNG at Amazon!

Get Jacked! Get Evil! “Bloody Muscle Body Builder In Hell” review!


Living free from job responsibilities and able to workout whenever he wants, body builder Naoto is living the high life. His daily workout is interrupted by his former photojournalist ex-girlfriend in search of the next haunted house for her latest article and she calls Naoto to inquire his father’s old, creepy home that’s now in Naoto’s possession. Accompanied by a professional psychic, the three conduct a house call to get a presence reading and take pictures of the rundown, abandoned home. They find themselves trapped inside with Naoto’s father’s darkest secret malevolently toying with them and holding them hostage with her cursed power bestowed upon her death, 30 years ago, forsaken to her by the hands of Naoto’s fahter.

In 2014, first time director Shinichi Fukazawa’s endearment for Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” has encouraged the filmmaker to tribute a film that has dubbed “The Japanese Evil Dead.” With all the depictions of Raimi’s film, including from a shotgun, an axe, and even a severed sarcastic-spewing mangled demon head, “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” views just as good as the sounds. Taking his film to the next level by going back in a time warp, Fukazawa de-amplifies the image quality with a lo-fi flare that adds chaotic charm bathed in retro-VHS vision as every desaturated hue and blanket of coarse grain is a step back in time. Fukazawa implements his own sturdy brand of macabre to branch his version of “The Evil Dead.” For instance, Fukazawa removes the Necronomicon, the book of the dead, all together. Instead, the director doesn’t forth put an outright explanation behind the cause of the cursed’s murderous revenge other than holding a jealous grudge and the lack of motivation is okay because “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” is a modern day video nasty.

Shinichi Fukazawa, himself, stars as Naoto, suffering every ding, boink, and bop as our hapless hero that’s aims to strike similarities to Ashley “Ash” Williams and his gift of being the king of Three Stooges foolishness. Fukazawa plays a more conservative character in comparison, but does manage spit out memorable one-liners made genre famous by Bruce Campbell, like “groovy.” THe lead actress, Asako Nosaka, holds her own as a lovely damsel in distress who can double on a dime as a Mike Tyson speed bag puncher. The trapped pair make a convincingly distressed protagonists, especially in such a small Japanese home that’s the equivalent to a cabin in the woods. Last on the roster is Masaaki Kai filling in the psychic’s shoes and conjures an performance that’s could fit right in with the Kandarian Cheryl, Scott, Linda, and Shelley demons.

“Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” is a 2014 effects driven, blood hungry roller coaster of pure mayhem entertainment. The ingeniously creative special effects, on a shoe string budget, are made of eye-popping, skull-crushing, and limb-parting goodness that every horror fan can appreciate and love. The lo-fi cinema and melancholy horror fixes to not impress those who have a taste for the CGI eye candy and won’t knock your socks off with the latest and greatest technological, animated advances in effects that attempts to mock real life, but accomplishes the opposite in the fabricated grindhouse reel with overexposures and rough edges that are more fitting for the subject matter. Fukazawa does embody Raimi’s creative editing and angle vision that makes Fukazawa’s film feel very attached to “The Evil Dead” franchise.

The well-meshed video nasty mingles Japanese culture with a loving tribute to Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” franchise and kicks off Shinichi Fukazawa’s most interesting silver screen career. Terracotta Distribution’s “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” is a tightly packed 62-minute joyride with squirrelly, demented demons with heavy emphasis on the blood and the gore. Image quality is poor and that’s a good thing! The low-tech fullscreen and unrefined quality are a tall-tell sign of a SOV gruesomeness surrounded by a fuzzy Japanese dual channel stereo. Extras includes a Graham Humprey time lapsed video of him creating his DVD artwork, a behind-the-scenes gallery, a dismemberment of scene clips, and Japanese and Terracotta trailers bringing up the tail end. “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” packs a punch, delivers the death, and gorges itself in the gore in this UK DVD from Terracotta Distribution! and is a lovely blend of comedy, horror, and praise that’s powerfully short and sweet from a freshman director who aims to make a statement while giving appreciation in his own culturally established way.

SDCC 2014: An Evil Dead Television Series?

Along with the latest news on the big screen adaptation of the popular video game The Last of Us came a tidbit of news from Sam Raimi who was also speaking of some exciting news that his franchise baby (or cash cow) The Evil Dead might be coming to TV land and he’s writing it.

On top of this news, Ivan Raimi is co-writing and Bruce Campbell will be starring – as Ash, that is uncertain. That’s all we know at the moment and we anxiously wait for more!

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