No Sam Raimi. No Bruce Campbell. Just the EVIL! “Evil Dead Trap” reviewed (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)



Nami, a Japanese late night show host, is seeing her ratings dipping.  Though not in danger of losing her all-female produced show, Nami decides take her team on an investigation of a mysterious snuff tape that was mailed to her specifically.  Left for her is a bread crumb trail of directions to an abandoned military base, Nami and her crew explore the campus’s rundown structure, searching for evidence, a body, a story that they can televise.  Ignoring the dangerous presence around them, they dig deeper into the dilapidating labyrinth where they horrifying discover something waiting for them laid out in a cruel plan of deadly traps with a maniac pulling at all the strings. 

Bred out of a pedigree of pinkusploitations and a nation’s crisis of identity after the Second Great War, “Evil Dead Trap” is a greatly symbolized Japanese machination tale helmed by pink film director Toshiharu Ikeda (“Sex Hunter,” “Angel Guts:  Red Porno”) and penned by an equally historical pink film screenwriter and “Angel Guts” manga series creator Takashi Ishii (“Girl and the Wooden Horse Torture,” “Angel Guts” series).  Also known under its original Japanese title, “Shiryô no wana,” as well as, and my personal favorite, “Tokyo Snuff,” in Spain, “Evil Dead Trap’s” smorgasbord of rape, torture, and gory death naturally shocked viewers upon release and continues to do so as one of J-Horror’s branched out films that segued out from the brutal and depraved pink film inspired context into the new longstanding ghost genre we’ve seen over the last few decades with “Ringu” (“The Ring”) or “Ju-on” (“The Grudge”).  The production company Joy Pack Films, behind the 1980’s obscure Japan films, such as Genji Nakamura’s “Go For Broke” and Banmel Takahashi’s “Wolf,” houses the “Evil Dead Trap” from executive producer Tadao Masumizu.

If you recognize a couple cast members, or maybe just their naked bodies, then there’s something depraved about you!  With all kidding aside, but no seriously, if Rei (Hitomi Kobayashi) or Kondo (Masahiko Abe) look familiar, then you my friend are pink film aficionados as Kobayashi has starred in “Hard Petting” and “Young Girl Story” and Abe was in these pink film hits the “Pink Curtain” trilogy and “Female College Dorm Vs Nursing School Dormitory.”  If these faces didn’t touch you in any kind of sensual way, no worries, leading lady Miyuki Ono brings the star power.  The “Black Rain’s” Ono plays Nami, a go-getter television host/personality with her sights set on ramping up her late night show’s ratings, but also sucked into the posted snuff film’s darkest allure that’s personally calling her into to a precarious story lead.   Nami could also be a homage to one of screenwriter Takashi Ishii’s manga-inspired pink films entitled “Angel Guts: Nami” and the title might not be the only aspect paid honor to with that particular Nami written with a journalistic vocation drawn into and obsessed with a serial rapist’s attacks, making a striking parallel between the two stories that are nearly a decade apart. Eriko Nakagawa and Aya Katsurgagi fill out Nami’s investigating team as Rei and Mako. As a whole, the characters lack personality; Rei and Kondo tickle with relationship woes that are snuffed out before fruition, Rie’s timid innocence barely peaks through, and Nami and Mako’s thicker bond compared to the rest of the team is squashed to smithereens way before being suckled into note worthy tragedy. This late night show team has been reduced to slasher fodder and, honestly, I’m okay with that as we’re only here for the deadly traps. Noboru Mitani, Shinsuke Shimada, and Yûji Honma, as the mystery man looking for his brother, complete “Evil Dead Traps” casting.

“Evil Dead Trap” boasts a melting pot of inspirations, a mishmash of genres, and spins a nation’s split identity variation crowned in aberration. Diversely colorful neon-hazy lighting complimented by a Goblin-esque synth-rock soundtrack from Tomohiko Kira (“Shadow of the Wraith”), Toshiharu Ikeda shadows early Dario Argento inside and outside the popularity of the Italian giallo genre as the “Evil Dead Trap” murder-mystery horrors resemble more of a westernized slasher with a killer concealed behind a mask stalking a fringed, neglected compound in a conspicuous outfit. While the killer dons no hockey mask or snug in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, an equally domicile, yet more calculated, antagonist taunts more brains than brawns, especially with the severity of traps that seemingly float from out of nowhere. The fun is chiefly in the imagination of how the trap designs operate in the void of physics of a slasher fodder film so wipe clean the Jigsaw and the “Saw” films from your mind completely and relax to enjoy the outlandish kill scenes. Some of the kills are imperialistically inspired by Imperial Japan, that is, to blend the wartime nation’s atrocities with how the proud country wants to distance itself from that old-fashion, war-criminal, stoically perverse superstratum layer, but that’s were “Evil Dead Trap” pulls for most of the juicy parts as well as supplementing with Argento lighting, some, believe it or not, “Evil Dead” elements of that menacing presence bulldozing through the spiritual world, and an divergent climatic finale stuck to the narrative body that’s akin to pulling off the head of a doll and replacing it with T-Rex head’s. The uniformity quells under the pressure of how to end Nami’s and her attacker’s coda with pageantry weirdness that’s typical status quo Japanese cinema. Lots of symbolism, little modest explanation.

Get caught in “Evil Dead Trap” now back in print and on Blu-ray courtesy of Unearthed Films, distributed by MVD Visual, as part of the extreme label’s Unearthed Classics spine #5. The Blu-ray is presented in a matted 1.66:1 aspect ratio, a format rarely used in the States but widely used in other countries. Reverting to the 1.66:1 from Synapse’s 1.85:1 crop, Unearthed Films showcases more of the European feel, heightening that colorful vibrancy of the Argento-like schemes. Image quality has peaked on this transfer with natural grain with the 35mm stock, but details are not granularly sharp in an innate flaw of the time’s equipment and lighting. Shinichi Wakasa’s unobscured practical effects heed to the details and don’t necessary suffer the wrath of miniscule soft picture qualities when you’re impaling someone or birthing a slimy evil twin…you’ll see. Add in Ikeda’s wide range of shooting techniques, you’d think you’re watching Hitchcock or Raimi and the focus really lands there with the differently camera movements and techniques. The Japanese language single channel PCM audio fastens against that robust, vigorous quality to make “Evil Dead Trap’s” diverse range and depth that much more audibly striking, but there’s a good amount of silver lining in there being no damage albeit discernable, but not intrusive static to the audio files, dialogue is unobstructed and prominent, and the stellar synth-rock soundtrack nostalgically takes you back to when you first watched “Suspiria” or “Dawn of the Dead.” English subtitles are available but display with a few second delay which can be cumbersome if trying to keep up. Special features includes three commentaries that include director Toshiharu Ikeda and special effects supervisor Shinichi Wakasa, filmmaker Kurando Mitsutake (“Gun Woman”), and James Mudge of easternKicks. Plus, a Trappings of the Dead: Reflecting on the Japanese Cult Classic retrospect analysis from a Japanese film expert, Storyboards, Behind the scenes stills, promotional artwork, trailers, and a cardboard slipcover with phenomenal artwork. Highly recommend this atypical Japanese slasher, “Evil Dead Trap,” now on Blu-ray home video!

Own “Evil Dead Trap” on Blu-ray!

Its Bloggin’ Evil Interviews I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’s Harley Neville!

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“Harley Neville is an Actor, Poet and Producer, his feature film credits include supporting roles in Second Hand Wedding and Older as well as lead roles in the films Ghost TV and most recently I Survived a Zombie Holocaust in which his performance received rave reviews from critics. Harley is one half of the filmmaking duo ‘Pigville Productions’ alongside Writer/Director Guy Pigden, together they have been creating content for 17 years, including two feature films. They are also YouTubers with 20,000 subscribers and more than 11 million views.

As a poet Harley has performed at TEDxRuakura and is a 2016 Auckland Slam finalist and his poems continue to find an audience online.”

I wanted to say first that I’m a big fan of “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” (as you can my positive review here) and all of its actors and crew.

Lets get this interview started:

How were you approached (or coerced) to star in “ISAZH?”

Guy and I had been creating content together for about 10 years by the time we applied for the funding so the character was actually written with me in mind to play it, however that didn’t guarantee me the role, Guy had a say in the casting but ultimately it was the Producer that needed to be convinced and from her perspective I wasn’t necessarily the best person to carry a feature film, I was relatively inexperienced and I think that being ‘Guy’s friend’ actually worked against me because that was all the Producer could see when she looked at me. However I did 2-3 auditions and managed to convince everyone that I was the man for the job. The stakes were quite high for me because if I didn’t get the role of Wesley Pennington then there wasn’t really any other roles that I would have been suitable for, I would have been relegated to a small one or two line part.

Was funding very difficult to obtain for this zombie-comedy?

Yes it was, in fact it is the only funding we have ever received for any of our productions in nearly 17 years of filmmaking, it was a long, drawn out process that required a very in-depth proposal, we had to do a full budget as if we had the money already, we had to create video content saying who we were and what we had done, mood reels, a full script, character breakdowns etc, it was months and months of full time work.

What did you do to prepare for the role of Wesley Pennington, a dreamer and optimistic horror nerd who has just secured his first job on set as a runner? Comedy seems to come natural for you, did that help Wesley obtain his quirkiness?

I approach acting the same way I approach women, I walk up, I say my lines, and I leave before security ask me to. Just kidding. Mostly. Physically for Wesley I had to lose some weight so I was doing a lot of boxing, I was very poor at the time so my diet mostly consisted of toast, but somehow that worked for me. As far as preparation for the character goes, I like to know my lines inside out so I did a lot of rehearsal with Guy and the other actors, beyond that I simply let Wesley shine through, when the cameras were rolling it was almost as if he was possessing me a little bit..

Did the cast and crew tease you when shooting some of the more embarrassing and awkward scenes, such as your sex scene with Jocelyn Christian?

The cast and crew were far too busy to be giving me grief! We were on quite a tight schedule which meant that everyone always had something important to do, that being said we did all develop a great camaraderie. We actually had to shoot the sex scene twice, so if you look at how hairy my body is in that scene you will notice ‘back hair continuity’ issues, that is because the first time we shot it I wasn’t at full-power hairy because I had manscaped some weeks before the shoot, but when we shot pickups for it months later my body hair was fully grown. If you go back and have a look you will see what I am talking about!

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Harley Neville and Jocelyn Christian


Wesley is a very demanding and physical role with a lot of sticky gore effects, was it difficult to stay in character sometimes?

No, it wasn’t really a problem for me to stay in character for a couple of reasons, one was that it was at the time the biggest role I had ever had in my life so I was very happy to be there and took it very seriously, it was important to me that other people on set saw me as a reliable and passionate actor that would get the job done, I also had to prove to the Producers that they had made the right decision!
The second reason I was so focused was because I was personally invested in the production through my relationship with Writer/Director Guy Pigden, I would talk to him outside of the shoot and get the inside information on how things were going and what areas needed more time, so because I understood how time-sensitive the shoot was I did my best to nail every take. There was one take when I got shot in the eye with a brain cannon that was far too powerful and far too close to my head, the lens of Wesley’s glasses popped out and hit me in the eyeball, it felt like I had been punched in the face! I stayed in character as best as I could, however there was no chance of me delivering my next lines, I was in agony, so instead I just whimpered and cringed like Wesley would until they called cut.

How’s working with director Guy Pigden? This was Pigden’s first feature film; how was the director on set as far as confidence, direction, and stylistic creativity? Did you also throw in your two cents into the creativity?

Guy is great to work with, he always has a very strong vision but is also open to suggestions, which can be a difficult combination to find! On set he was confident and was definitely in charge, it was great to see this young, first time Director taking control of hundreds of people, I am very proud of how he held himself. Unfortunately due to the budgetary and time constraints he didn’t get much time for stylistic creativity, often times we were so far behind schedule that he just had to get what he could and move on, fortunately he always found time to rehearse with the actors before a scene which is why the performances are all so great. I put my two cents into the creativity but mostly in the writing process, months before we were on set.

You and Guy seem to have built up a strong relationship in the last 17 years, putting out a self titled mini-series television show together and a weekly podcast amongst other content. How did that relationship come about?

Guy and I met when we were 13, at first he didn’t like me but eventually we became best friends, when were were 16 we shot our first short film, it was a zombie comedy called ‘Superstition Bites’, we filmed it on a Hi8 camcorder and Guy edited it on two VCR’s, after that we continued creating content together and with each project we learned something new and honed our art a little bit more. We continue to be best friends and create content together to this very day.

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Neville and Guy Pigden

Why do you think New Zealand horror is so far and few in between or so under the radar?

I think the problem is that New Zealand is a small country at the bottom of the world, we have four million people here so the film industry is actually quite small, which means that securing funding to shoot a local horror is difficult. I think due to our small population the people that hold the purse strings are more inclined to invest in content that is more likely to see a financial return, so we have an abundance of really shit reality shows and very little good, original, scripted local content.

American audiences don’t seem to be enamoured with New Zealand horror. What did the “ISAZH” team try to accomplish to appeal to audiences Stateside, if any?

Often times New Zealand cinema tries too hard to be ‘Kiwi’, the result is a lot of cringeworthy content that doesn’t appeal to either international audiences or local ones. We didn’t go into this film with a particular country in mind, we wanted to tell a universal story that happened to be set in New Zealand, ironically I think this is what helped increase our appeal to American audiences, the USA is the place where ISAZH has been the most widely distributed of any country so far, in fact it is playing on Showtime at the time of this interview which is a premium cable channel.

What can you tell us about “No Caller ID?” Do you think the story will go from short to full feature if received well?

No Caller ID just screened at Screamfest in Los Angeles, I attended and it was an amazing screening, people seemed to really love it. It was so nice to see a cinema full of people jumping and screaming on cue. The reviews have been universally excellent, the worst rating we have had so far is 4/5 Stars.
The interesting thing about ‘No Caller ID’ is that it is actually part of our second feature film ‘Older‘ which will be out in 2017. Older is a Drama/Romance about an aspiring filmmaker that released his first film and it was a smash hit, however despite it making a lot of money it was critically panned, and he hates it. We needed to show a couple of scenes of this ‘film within a film’ but instead of shooting just a few scenes we decided to shoot a standalone short film with the hope that it would turn out well and we could submit it to festivals. We succeeded! I don’t think the story will ever be developed into a feature film, but never say never!

YYou, Jocelyn, and Guy have teamed up once again with “No Caller ID.” Was this because of the chemistry with “ISAZH?”

We teamed up with Joce again because she is a great actor, easy to work with and a good friend of ours, she actually went to high school with us and starred in our second ever short film when we were 17, Guy and I really wanted to find a way to get her into ‘Older’ and we realised a great way to do that would be to cast her as the lead in ‘No Caller ID’

Are there horror projects coming up in the near future for Harley and team?

We are still deciding what our next project will be but there is talk of shooting a horror set in the world of New Zealand gang culture, watch this space! If people would like to keep an eye on our future projects please go to the Pigville Productions Facebook page.

What are your top three horror movies of all time?

I really enjoyed Rec, 28 Days Later and The Grudge (Japanese version)

I appreciate your time in between being a producer, actor, writer, poet, and a great beard enthusiast. Would you like to add anything in conclusion?

Guy Pigden and I do a weekly podcast called The Guy and Harley Podcast, it is about love, life and loss in the pursuit of filmmaking glory..

If people would like to keep up with my career please add me on Facebook and subscribe to us on YouTube.

Thanks!

Harley

“I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” trailer

“No Caller ID” teaser trailer

“Older” trailer

Evil Joins the Mile High Club! “Flight 7500” review!

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The transpacific Vista Pacific Flight 7500 from Los Angeles to Tokyo should have been a long, but relaxing overnight ten hour flight for many of the traveling passengers. After experiencing heart-stopping turbulence, the flight’s most mysterious passenger dies suddenly and violently over the pacific ocean. His death releases a string of strange apparition encounters with rest of the passengers and the crew that literally grapple at their internal fears. As the supernatural force slowly engulfs every inch of the plane, passengers disappear one-by-one and the key to possibly stopping the remorseless evil that has betaken them is to investigate into the unexpected death of the mysterious passenger and into his on-flight baggage.

Ju-on: The Grudge director Takashi Shimizu terrorizes the skies with his trademark macabre of supernatural entities. Shimizu’s “Fightly 7500” mixes Japanese culture with Hollywood cinematic values while also, literally, connecting L.A. with Tokyo with a flight over the pacific. Nothing is scarier than being trapped with no where to run from a menacing force on a pressurized plane that could fail on any given moment. The plane becomes a synonym for death. Shimizu exemplifies the given unforeseen horrors of a plane by adding in the exterior motive of a trembling, and extremely creepy, Shinigami death doll, which allows suddenly dispatched spirits to spook and terrorize. Sinister spirits are unable let go of their robbed mortality. Shimizu couldn’t help but include numerously his trademarks of limbs jutting out suddenly, reaching to grab a surprised victim to face their fate or slowly overcoming an obstacle such as in this film a hand reaching over the edge of a suitcase or springing out of a small airplane trash receptacle.
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The cast is made up of relatively recognizable and more modern day horror vets with Amy Smart (“Mirrors”), Scout-Taylor Compton (“Halloween I & II” remakes), “True Blood’s” Ryan Kwanten, Leslie Bibb (The Midnight Meat Train), Rosita Espinosa herself from “The Walking Dead” Christian Serratos, and Jamie Chung (“Sorority Row” remake). Nicky Whelan, Jerry Ferrera, Alex Frost, Rick Kelly, and Johnathon Schaech round out the rest of the cast. The under the radar, non-mainstream cast play their roles respectively and accordingly to the script written by the serial B-horror writer Craig Rosenberg, building up their conflicting outer lives before they’re all crammed into a single jumbo jet liner. However, the instance of too many characters cause each of character’s development to fall flatlined due in part to the measly 80 minute runtime.
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Like previous Shimizu ghost features, nothing is what it seems and “Flight 7500” is no exception to that fact, but in trying to build a monumental case to deliver a shock in the finale, various mishaps raise questions that don’t add up the surprising reveal. A couple brain scratching questions rise to the surface, stemming from the following: There were two different midair turbulent events in which both were significant, but the one the film specifies isn’t the one referenced back to the catalyst turn of events in dooming the passengers to a remaining ride of rampaging terror. Also, when the phantasmal mystery becomes resolved and the characters’ realize the understanding behind their strife, the plane’s onboard television transmit a newscast explaining the events that happened to “Flight 7500,” but the divulging is ridiculously forced and a road less traveled trick. The newscast exposition comes as if there isn’t any other means of communicating the characters’ situation, putting in the ground, six-feet under, the mood of the ah-ha moment.
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The Lionsgate and CBS Films collaboration presents the 2014 PG-13 feature on DVD in a 16×9 widescreen format with a crisp, LFE heavy English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. The experienced director of photography David Tattersall uses a vibrant, almost neon-like, dark blue tone that sets appropriately the coldness of thrilling spirits and the lifelessness of mechanical plane setting. The Tyler Bates soundtrack feels as inexpensive as the film’s modest budget which is disappointing from Bates whose had solids scores for Zack Snyder’s epic-extravaganza “300” and superhero-melodrama “Watchmen” while also doing John Carpenter justice in re-imagining the “Halloween” theme. “Flight 7500’s” “The Grudge” like effects stay the plotted course given by this director and embodies the airplane as a haunted house in the sky, soaring through living fog, jutting grey hands, and a presence that can’t be shaken. The overall experience doesn’t have a perfect touchdown landing on the runway, but at least the Takashi Shimizu airplane horror doesn’t crash and burn either, leaving viewers walking away safe and satisfied at their journey’s final destination.