Uncalcified Penal Glands and Designer Drugs are an EVIL Around-the-Clock Cocktail. “Synchronic” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Well Go USA Entertainment)

A new over-the-counter designer drug called Synchronic has been at the center of a string gruesome deaths in New Orleans.  Simultaneously, two best friend paramedics, Steve and Dennis, individually battle their own life-altering personal problems while responding to the grisly emergency calls.  With each horrific scene of Synchronic’s doing, Steve decides to take matters into his own hands by purchasing the remaining supply in all of New Orleans after Dennis’ teenage daughter mysteriously disappears after ingesting the drug.  With no leads on the missing girl’s whereabouts and after being visited by the time abstract ramblings of the chemist responsible for creating the drug, Synchronic’s harmful hallucinogenic properties have more tangible dangers than what meets the eye leaving Steve no choice but to pop one of the pills to understand where, or when, his friend’s daughter may have disappeared to.

I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are visionary filmmakers with a penchant for the larger-than-life and otherworldly terrors.  From their directorial of a mind-bending death cult in “The Endless” to their producing hand in Jeremy Gardner’s lost love and creature feature, “After Midnight,” and Amy Seimetz deathly contagious, “She Dies Tomorrow,” under Rustic Films, the ambitiously talented duo returns with “Synchronic,” an anything but plain spoken, time-winding, Sci-Fi tale revolving around themes of redemptive purpose and grateful circumstances stitched by the uncanny temporal effects of artificial illicit drugs.  Lying somewhere between the cognitive warping psychedelic drug and feeling disconnected from the environment of a dissociative drug, “Synchronic” sojourns random grooves with the needle of time in a culminating enlightenment that now, the present, is a gift worth enjoying.     Along with Moorhead and Benson’s Rustic Films, Patriot Pictures, and XYZ Films bring to fruition the filmmakers’ biggest production yet. 

Like most of us during pandemic times, but not quite exactly like us who are working stressfully from home, is Anthony Mackie acting comfortably in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The “Captain America” star temporarily hangs up Falcon’s wing harness to play lonely paramedic Steve frequented by his tragic past that has led him down a path of casual flings and an inability to attach to anyone romantically.  Opposite Mackie is Irish actor and “Fifty Shades of Grey” star Jamie Dornan as Dennis, a man kicking himself hard for marrying and starting a family too early in life that’s created a bizarre Prince and the Pauper dynamic where Steve and Dennis are envious on each other’s life.  Mackie is pitch perfect in the timing of a seemingly tailored-to-Mackie script that is funny as it is engrossing and thought-provoking.  “Synchronic” is truly the Mackie show with Dornan playing second fiddle as a compliment to Mackie’s more clandestinely troubled character who aims to upend and mend many wrongs in his life, including those of his best friend, and weaves in and out through the fabrics of time with Katie Aselton (“She Dies Tomorrow”), Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monself, and Bill Oberst Jr (“DIS”).

Time travelling is a finnicky concept.  Lots of variables have to be ironed out in order to break the planes of chronological, set-in-stone, thinking and construe time as an infinite recording always available for repeat and playback.  Time travel is perhaps science fiction’s most powerhouse model, producing some of the most influential and staple films of the genre in our time that include “The Time Machine,” “The Terminator,” and “Back to the Future” that have carried out repeated viewings of admiration, a franchise legacy, and been the source of inspiration and remakes.  Plot holes and flaws in these films go without saying and are considered expected, but if filmmakers can get away with convincing audiences otherwise, then expect a blast from the past, present, and future.  Moorhead and Benson’s “Synchronic” has a gripping and cosmically vast story done in only one small corner of the world, the historically rich and diverse culture of New Orleans, and that isolating effect pressed upon by the distant and ominous unknown, a supremely niche and bracing style from the directors.  “Synchronic,” like time jumping films before it, has the anticipated plot holes in the mechanics of the designer drug’s side effects that are seemingly straight forward to the experimenting character only after attempting a handful of pill-popping jumps.  There are also no adverse butterfly effects stemmed from any of the Synchronic’s users.  You’ll find yourself lost in time over these questions that routinely shoot up other films to smithereens in the ole inconsistency corral thanks to Moorhead and Benson, along with the riveting and hilarious performance from Anthony Mackie, who suck you in with their relatable and humanizing story premised around Steve and Dennis’ life regrets mended by an eye-opening slight tear in the fabric of time to understand what you have now could have been a lot worse then.

 

“Synchronic” is stylish, Sci-Fi craftsmanship coming to you onto Blu-ray home video from Well Go USA Entertainment. The film is also available on DVD and digitally. Presented in 16:9 widescreen format, “Synchronic” barrages with a somber and slick, yet almost alien, plating over the Creole and double gallery architectures in a mesh of robust multicultural with the grimy slums, envisioned by director of photography, Aaron Moorhead, who, in part with Ariel Vida, the production designer, is able to capture era slithers native to Louisiana lineage. The Blu-ray comes with an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 surround sound that’s crisply makes distinct every track element defined by individual scenes. Jimmy Lavalle returns to collaborate with Moorhead and Benson once again to compose an unique compositional score that can only be described as driving nails into your soul while also being powerfully moving without being an echo out of inspiration. The release is rated R with a runtime of 101 minutes and comes with a fair amount of bonus features including commentary with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, a making of featurette, a previsualization (a fancy word here for live-action storyboarding with a camera phone), a VFX breakdown (which is touched upon a lot in the making of featurette), a deleted scene, and an alternate ending that will doggone blow your mind! “Synchronic” is intense medication to repair a kindred friendship falling into disrepair in this literal mind-boggling must see it to believe it thriller. Expect more great things from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson to come!

Order “Synchornic” on Blu-ray by clicking the poster above!

Come With EVIL If You Want to Live. “The Zombinator” reviewed! (Bayview Entertainment/Screener)


In Youngstown, Ohio, a small documentary team follows popular fashion blogger JoAnne and while continuing to roll film during a friend’s wake, a fallen member of the military during combat, a horde of zombie horror storm the reception hall packed with celebratory mourners. JoAnne, the documentary crew, and a handful of JoAnne’s friends run for their lives through all of Youngstown only to be rescued by a former Afghanistan war solider, Atam, debriefing the situation of a powerful drug manufacturing corporation behind the localized crisis. The survivors soon realize that a band of greedy mercenaries, Atam’s ex-brothers in arms, are supervising the drug’s effects that will, in turn, create a money making, desperation cure in the weeks to come.

If you haven’t guessed, 2012’s “The Zombinator” is a zombie title melded with “The Terminator” franchise and helmed by documentarian and comedy writer-director Sergio Myers. “The Zombinator” is the first horror feature in the filmmaker’s videography repertoire that chips in comedic soundbites to fully absolve the zombie apocalypse film from being a strictly horror. The very reason the film’s called “The Zombinator” should have been a great comedy-horror indicator as well. Sergio Myers’ 7 Ponies Productions finances the micro-budget, semi-found footage feature that egregiously pollutes the very “Terminator” brand in a way that promotes “Lady Terminator” from being not only a grandly exploitation of Indonesian deference, but now an innate fragment of the renowned franchise. “The Zombinator” endoskeleton is not as indestructible with little-to-no homage connection other than a muscly actor donning his best Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike getup, dressed a bastardized version of the T-800 infiltrator. No machines. No time travel. No anything that approximates the franchise that would have been a cool concept of a time traveling machine hellbent on blowing zombie scum away.

The cast is virtually made up of unknowns, faces who certainly received their career start with a foot inside the door of “The Zombinator.” The talent is young and unseasoned, but hungry to make a name for themselves with melodramatic performances despite a poorly written script that’s more stationary than progressive on the coattails of the last “Terminator” film “Salvation.” While the documentary team films fashion blogger JoAnne played by Joanne Tombo, Tombo isn’t the headliner. In fact, a lead is lost in the scuffling mist of the zombie outbreak, but the top bill is certainly given to an experienced acting vet in the hard-nosed form of Patrick Kilpatrick (“The Toxic Avenger,” “Eraser”) as a military colonel squaring up against the poster boy of “The Zombinator” and the film’s co-producer, Joseph Aviel in his debut feature film. Aviel, who has doubled as Arnold Schwarzenegger in the YouTube sci-fi comedy episodes of “Terminator: Genisys: The YouTube Chronicles,” is just as monstrous as Schwarzenegger was in his prime, garbed in a pitch black trench coat, wielding a shotgun, and sporting shades inside dark warehouse and nighttime scenes – keep in mind, Aviel is not playing a machine, but a ex-soldier so there’s really no need for the sunglasses. The rest of the cast, including Aviel, are quite rigid and lost, stuck in a loop of spewing much of the same peculiarities without every changing. “The Zombinator” rounds out with Lucia Brizzi, Justin Brown (“Early Grave”), Diana Sillaots, Jennifer Sulkowski, Scott Alin (“What’s Eating Todd?”), Travis Bratten, Melvin Breedlove, Maria Desimone, and Michael Angelletta.

Recently, I caught “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” with Patrick Kilpatrick as a hardnosed, war-torn Starfleet officer whose been part of a team holding a pivotal Jem’Hadar communications array in the Chin’toka system. The lean and towering Kilpatrick from 20 plus years ago is nearly unrecognizable as Father Time has been rather unforgiving to the actor’s midsection, but Kilpatrick still has that apathetic stare on top of a sternly contoured face graced now by an impressively horizontal and lengthy bushy mustache. Kilpatrick’s a brilliant highlight in a rather abysmal film of bleary lines on whether it’s supposed to be found footage or not horror-comedy; somehow the found footage crew are not a part of the surrounding action to the extend that zombies and the mercenaries are not aware of their presence despite standing merely a few feet away in plain view, but the survivors are clearly aware of them combatively noting to the crew to turn off their cameras …? Also, the comedic lines, such as, “getting popped by the grand fucking wizard of zombies,” seem sorely out of place, poorly timed between frantic moments of confusion, fear, and strife, and don’t really know if they’re actually intended to be funny…? Confusion doesn’t end there as Youngstown, Ohio is a hop, skip, and jump from rural, to urban, to a dam-side cabin in segued acts, scaling down to miniature and unrealistic grounds of time and space. Lastly, there’s an uneven ratio of zombie action and dialogue exposition that will bore audiences with locale-to-locate histrionics without the commingling remedy of undead mayhem equalization to lure back in the attention of wandering eyeballs and dissatisfied brains.

“The Zombinator” targets and destroys zombies with a brand new DVD home video, released this past March from New Jersey based distributed, Bayview Entertainment, with a slick looking front cover of a T-800 skull half dripping with zombie flesh surrounding a milky white eye. Unfortunately, I was provided with an online screener for review and can’t officially comment on the exact video and audio technical quality, but I will say that the found footage approach render very dark when only a couple of moving LED ring light accessories become the primary source of lighting. The underused original score provided by Todd Maki bests out much of everything else about the project with harrowing tracks baselined by zombie groans and the undetermined reverberations of distant ambience. There were no special features on the screener as well. Like a chunk of spoiled meat prime for tasteful critical fodder, there’s absolutely no wriggle room for positivity for the high concept, low output film, “The Zombinator.” Hasta la vista, baby.

Buy “The Zombinator” on DVD!

Watch “The Zombinator” on Prime Video

One Tough Cop Taking on Evil Cyborgs! “Nemesis” review!


In the year 2027, enhanced humanistic cyborgs virtually run the planet with the renowned L.A.P.D. being no exception. Alex Rain, one of L.A.’s finest brute cops, is partially cyborg himself, but the essence of his soul remains human intact while his synthetic flesh cloaks the icy machine beneath. After tracking down suspected cyborg terrorists and almost losing his life in the struggle to stop them, Alex questions his dwindling humanity, leading him down a path of unfulfilling revenge and botched smuggling before his former employer, the L.A.P.D. commissioner named Farnsworth, tracks him down and uses deadly coercion to force Alex as a pawn in dangerous covert mission. The burnt out cop is thrusted back into the fray of his former life when Farnsworth orders him to retrieve data from the treacherous female cyborg, Jared, who was once Alex’s partner and lover, before she hands over the sensitive information to a group of cyborg terrorists who call themselves The Red Army Hammerheads. With a micro bomb implanted near his heart as insurance, Alex has no choice but to accept the assignment before detonation in 3 days and with his time running out, finding Jared isn’t the problem as Alex comes to realize that deception has convoluted the stakes and nothing is who or what they seem.

Albert Pyun’s 1992 cyberpunk action-thriller “Nemesis” is an explosive-heavy, science fiction existentialism film never before seen, or even aware of, by this reviewer, but the ground-worked narrative has remained a constant piece of foundation in being the byproduct of inspiration extracted from other cyberpunk films of its kind, such as “Robocop,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Terminator.” “Nemesis” has a presence much to the tune of another film, “Cyborg,” starring John-Claude Van Damme and that inclination would inevitably make a world of sense when the awe-striking epiphany lands that Pyun also directed that film, also utilizing some of the same actors for his early 90’s cybernetic dystopian feature. In reviewing Pyun’s credits, the assumption can be made that the filmmaker has a sturdy hard-on for the intertwining of mankind and machine as not only did the director write and direct “Cyborg” and helmed “Nemesis,” but went on to be a part of, whether director, writer, or producer, of four more “Nemesis” sequels with a fifth being produced and shot, but scrapped in post-production due to Pyun’s flailing mental health. Rebecca Charles fed the scribal beast as “Nemesis’” screenwriter, along with penning “Nemesis 2: Nebula” and “Nemesis 3: Time Lapse.”

Alex Rain is a cold cut character, sliced thick like a cool cucumber on top of a hard to wedge salad. Rain’s iciness symbolizes his downtrodden humanity status and with each part of his body shattered from destruction, he becomes one step closer to being an automaton with eye brows. B-movie action star Olivier Guner essentially make a big career breakthrough with “Nemesis” as his sophomore feature. Guner’s military background suitably solidifies his physique as a workaholic cyborg cop while also presenting a rough cut speech impediment that’s very straight forward and without emotion. Some would say that Gruner’s approach fits his half-human, half-toaster oven character and I would say that would be correct. The 80’s and 90’s saw a crowded entry list of action stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others in various degrees of success – and Olivier Gruner became one of those faces that had since then been lost over the years; Gruner’s performance in “Nemesis” lacked pizazz which could have been the contributing factor to his success, but the monotonic, unflattering one-liners and blank face stare didn’t spark any fires on top of his average muscular frame. His performance, to keep with the fire motif, didn’t provide the oxygen, a combustible, or a flammable source to quickly set ablaze a trail for semi-popularity amongst his peers and that’s where “Nemesis” falters in entertainment value. Comparatively, “Trancers” franchise actor, Tim Thomerson, is full of range and vigor as an concealing Commissioner Farnsworth. Thomerson, in his early 40’s at the time of filming, displayed an impressive physicality to his role, keeping up nicely with his onscreen rival. Farnsworth, from the get-go, reeks of desperation when pressuring Alex to do his bidding and Thomerson really nails the part and can switch on the proverbial dime as an egocentric field operative when chasing Alex through the jungles on the Hawaii set. The night and day performance is a stark contrast between the two actors. What’s mostly disappointing about “Nemesis’” cast that favorable characters come and go; some the characters a pinned with terrific actors such as Shang Tsung himself, “Mortal Kombat’s” Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, as the leader of The Red Army Hammerheads and the late, great Brion James (“Red Heat”) chirping a lousy German accent of the Commissioner’s right hand man. The cast has many other recognizable names that, again, come and go, including a strung out looking Merle Kennedy (“Night of the Demons 2”) as Max Impact, Marjorie Monaghan as the algorithmic beauty Jared, Vincent Klyn (“Cyborg”) as a disposable bodyguard, an extremely fit and nude Deborah Shelton (“Body Double”), voice actor Nicholas Guest (“Dollman”), brief cameo by Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”), a fresh faced version of “The Predator’s” Thomas Jane, and Thomas Jane’s bare ass.

The financial backing was obviously designated for a particular department in the “Nemesis” workshop and that department was special effects. Explosions, rotoscoping, stop-motion, sculpture, implosions, practical effects and makeup are just the tip of the iceberg. Frayed wires and eye ball cannons are the elegant touch that makes “Nemesis” a cult favorite and bring substance to a clunky storyline and divisively dynamic acting. However, not all the specials are pinpoint precision and grounded by reality. The one scene that stands above the rest when Farnsworth is hot in pursuit of Alex and Max and he’s shelling off rounds of a shotgun, standing relatively still, blasting away without moving the barrel around to compensate for his prey’s length of distance gained or even when they decided to make quick pivots in direction. Somehow, the rounds hit very close to Alex and Max and that’s not all, they even explode like a single stick of TNT. ACME must have had a hand in the special effects department because the scene sure was loony. Yet, the implosion of a monolithic silo was uber-impressive, well-executed, and really ritzy for the silver screen.

Imperial Entertainment’s “Nemesis” infiltrates onto another home video release, a region free, dual DVD and Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray format release, from MVDVisual under their MVD Rewind Collection series. Sheathed by a slick, retro-grade slipcover with familiar art, reminiscent of the now decade old Sterling DVD release, the special collector’s edition provides two aspect ratios, an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 and a widescreen 1.78:1. This MVDVisual Release has stellar detail in the texture and in framing that are exhibited in various tint shades, such as yellow and blue, and eventually cough up toward a more natural look into the second act when Alex reaches the rough neighborhood of Shang Loo, Java. Even though the visual compositions and mold work doesn’t pop with color and are a bit fuzzy, “Nemesis” is a product of it’s time, the early 1990’s and you can’t fault Pyun’s film for that. The English 5.1 surround sound is beautiful. So beautiful and potent, in fact, that you can actually understand Olivier Gruner’s mumbling, putting dialogue for all characters right into the front row while offering a stimulating range and depth of ambience sound, an unlimited variety of explosions, and plenty of miscellany cyborg hubbub. Other language are available, including French, German, as well as English in 2.0 stereo and there are English and German SDH subtitles available The Blu-ray bonus features include new interviews with producer Eric Karson and director Albert Pyun, “Nemesis 2.0” the director’s cut with Albert Pyun audio commentary, and original theatrical trailer. The DVD is the director’s cut and also includes the Japanese cut with Japanese subtitles burnt-in. Bonus features for the DVD include introductions by the director Albert Pyun and star Olivier Gruner, an afterword by Albert Pyun, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with star Olivier Gruner, the making of segment involving the hefty special effects, stunt work, and visual effects, a featurette entitled “Killcount,” a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, TV spots, Key Art Photo gallery, and, top it all off, a mini-poster inside the casing. Inside a killer definitive, two-format and disc set from MVDvisual, “Nemesis” hones in on the existentialism notion of what being human actually means to each and every one of us through the bombardment of gun fights and jumbo explosions on top of a conglomerate cyborg coup that peaks with hard bodies and even harder viewer contemplation.

Finding Love in the Most Evilest Ways! “Brutal” review!


One man kidnaps women, gags and bounds them inside his bleak apartment, and unleashes a fury of hate and disgust whilst searching for one woman who will understand him and his relentless, and vehement, scouring. One woman lures highly aroused men back to their apartment for what they believe will be a night of passionate embrace or of simplistic carnalities of inhibition. While the guys are thinking with the wrong head, the woman slices and dices them to a pulverized pulp of death meat and repetitively fillets their manhood postmortem without guilt. She, too, also searches for something, but is more reserved about it as she allows men to verbalize their needs and desires to her. As the two killers go through the melee day-by-day, they eventually find each other, but before realizing their compatibility, the killer inside themselves square off against each other in a one-on-one bout of maniacal mayhem that must unravel in blood before unsheathing true love.

Who knew that love could hurt so badly? Director Takashi Hirose exhibits a painful peak into two desperate swains callously searching for some understanding, some deep rooted mutual pain that plagues their own embodiment, in “Brutal,” Hirose’s 2016 feature that packs a bloody brawling wallop of the human will toward punitive punishment and desperate determination. The Japanese filmmaker also wrote and co-produced the three part chapters that segments Man, Woman, and Man and Woman into a commingled three act narrative of utter chaos that glorifies finding a soulmate in the most insane circumstances. E-Harmony. OKCupid. OnlyFarmers.com. None of these so-called matchmaker websites have the formidable fortitude to remove all the political niceties and to dig into the human psyche the way that only Takashi Hirose can to lure out and strip one person’s entire vulnerability and, essentially, the parts that makes us ultimately human into a raging, yet emotionally unstable, hapless lover.

Butch, the one and only moniker for the actor, portrays the Man who is a very strong and determined man that brings to his apartment many nice, and sometimes unsavory, attractive ladies; however, he doesn’t whip them up an aphrodisiac dinner or sweep them off their feet with a romantic Rom-Com. He likes to move the relationship along, at a hare’s pace, with getting down and dirty and in certainly not in a sexualized manner. Butch pinpoints the man’s ambitions, machine-like in his will with a hint of softness behind the eyes when plucking through the headcount of numerous women for his match. Ayano is equally compelling as Woman and though Ayano has brawnier range of comedies and dramas under her belt, she notches gore and shock as if it’s simple to get stabbed 50 times and be completely nude with unpleasant prosthetics garnishing the naughty bits of your body. Butch and Ayano are quintessential to “Brutal’s” languishing love story and present themselves with such confidence, which is made key from their previous work with Takashi Hirose – Ayano worked with Hirose in his dramatic horror short, “Bandaged” in 2011 and then Hirose worked with Butch in a 2012 zombie short entitled “Moratorium” that starred Japanese cult and former pinku actress, Asami. The film also stars Katrina Grey (“Vampire Reborn”), Takashi Nishina (“Ringu 2”), Naho Nakashima, and Nanako Ohata.

Hirose doesn’t hold back the punches. In fact, he’s added one or two more for good measures. Helmed by a three person crew and one visual effects artist, the special effects department ramps up the rampage and carnage, making poetry out of ruthless romanticism. The end result is absolutely killer with stab after stab, gore galore, and post-mutilation prosthetics of the naughty bits. Hirose steps aside for fight sequence director Satoshi Hakuzen to exalt his gift for action sequences. Having previously worked on “Resident Evil: Degeneration” and “Dead Sushi,” Hakuzen showcases his mixture of gore and shock horror and hand-to-hand combat in the smallest of quarters while still seamlessly continuing Hirose’s narrative. Yet, “Brutal” doesn’t follow much of the laws of basic human biology as when people are knifed multiple times, whether spreading punctures along the various parts of the body or more precise slices into one focused area like the crotch, they keep breathing breath and they keep moving like their Arnold Schwarzeneggers covered T-800 endoskeletons in “The Terminator” and that unfaithfulness to realism inches “Brutal” more toward a fantastical flavor.

Unearthed Films and MVDVisual present Takashi Hirose’s “Brutal” onto Blu-ray for the first time and it’s brutally honest with a phenomenally fair picture engrained from a singer layer BD and presented in 1080p with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors really match the film’s coarse tone of a desaturated hue where the blood runs like caramel colored water. Textures look fine, especially around the natural looking skin toned bodies of each person, and the no noticeable issues with compression. The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track fairs equally well with a prominent dialogue track and a sickening range of lacerating thrust that make wet whiff sounds of cold steel that much painful. Tatsushiro Hirose’s rock score unfortunately wanes in soundtrack behind the intensity of Man and Woman’s blood thirst for love to the point of almost non-existent. Subtitles sync up nicely to the dialogue track. Bonus features a clipped production progression of behind-the-scenes, trailers, and music videos. “Brutal” and Unearthed Films found each other, just as Man and Woman in their twisted circumstances, and present an entertaining 67 minutes that solidifies Takashi Hirose one hell of a romanticist and absolutely, 100% bestow his film a true-to-form designation.

Evil Is Only Skin Deep. “The Wax Mask” review!


Set in Rome of 1912, a newly constructed wax museum, under a mysterious alchemy artist known as Boris Volkoff, stirs controversy with the showcasing of the world’s most grisly and notorious murder scenes. Two brothel customers’ debate result in the one challenging the other to spend the night at the curated museum of horror without having an ounce of fleeting fear. The next morning, the man has been found, apparently keeling over in fright, and the police are baffled, but something more sinister is afoot when Sonia, a young costume designer with a horrific past as the sole witness in the gruesome death of her mother and father in Paris 1900, becomes employed at the museum to costume the wax figures and faints when the scene of her parents’ brutal death is recreated as the museum’s new showpiece. Sonia and a reporter closely examine the museum when more people begin disappearing off the street, people who have ties with the beautiful costume designer, and learn the waxed creations are much more underneath their plastic-lifelike skin.

Before his untimely death, the Godfather of (Italian) Gore, Lucio Fulci, had been cooperating on a semi-quasi remake of Vincent Price’s 1953 thriller “House of Wax,” based on the Gaston Leroux’s novel, alongside fellow iconic Italian horror director Dario Argento (“Suspiria”) in a comeback collaboration for Fulci, but the entitled “The Wax Mask” film was evidently delayed partly in because of Fulci’s death. “The Wax Mask” was handed over by Argento, who was producing, to special effects guru Sergio Stivaletti (“Cemetery Man,” “The Church”) and months after Fulci’s death, a finished product shared very similar traits to the Godfather of Gore’s style craftily blended with more modern approaches to filmmaking was released to the public. Though tailored more toward the interests of gory special effects, Stivaletti’s 1997 film is dedicated to Fulci with the implementation of many of the director’s popular trademarks, including closeups on various eye expressions and zoom-ins on gore and the weapons before their fateful strikes, while also basking in strong bright colors in the midst of shadowy cinematography that’s typical of the giallo genre.

In such a crimson world, an elegant performance by Romina Mondello, who stars as the orphaned Sonia, has the Rome born actress bring beauty, innocence, and charm to the macabre that harbors contrasting arguments against undermining marred antagonists and she provides a breath of aesthetic liveliness amongst a narrative that surrounds itself in capturing beauty in inanimate wax figures. “Cemetery Without Crosses'” Robert Hossein embraces the enigmatic museum curator, Boris Volkoff, with struggling internal black aspirations that involve his recently acquired employee, Sonia, and Houssein is able to turn off and on that switch of longing and menacing, playing the hand of the character superbly to keep audiences guessing his true intent. Volkoff’s faithful assistant and exhibit creator, Alex, embodies creepy and morbid attributes wonderfully contributed by a relatively unknown Umberto Balli. The trifecta cast sells the ghastly science fiction that slowly builds toward the transformation of “The Wax Mask” from classic giallo to sensational mad science Gothicism with a boost of euro trashiness that’s more relative to the work of Jesús Franco or Joe D’Amato. Riccardo Serventi Longhi (“Symphony in Blood Red”), Valery Valmond, Gabriella Giorgelli (“The Grim Reaper”), and Gianni Franco (Dario Argento’s “The Phantom of the Opera”) round out the cast.

Stivaletti’s toolbox of special effects celebrate in the practicality that escalates when the cloaked killer’s metal claw literally rips terror through the hearts and souls of characters, but the glossy composite imagery thwarts realism and cheapens the already cheesy Euro horror with a laughable fire set ablaze and a slew of lampoon electricity while half naked women are strapped to a barbaric mechanized chair. The cut-rate composite won’t ruin a guilty pleasure viewing and won’t blast apart an arguably respectable adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel, but the script, co-written between Argento, Fulci, and “The House of Clocks'” penning collaborator Daniele Stroppa, does pull from other, interestingly enough, inspirations that one wouldn’t think would be genre compatible. The action-packed finale of James Cameron’s 1984 pre-apocalyptic, time-traveling cyborg blockbuster, “The Terminator,” makes an unexpected appearance with an endoskeleton villain donning some familiar and memorable moments from one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.

“The Wax Mask” greatly resembles Italian horror cinema from the 1970s and 1980s spawned in the late 90s, a superb feat for a director more aligned in vocational special effects, but the jaded historical background accompanying the film places a stain on whether Lucio Fulci had much to do with the project at all. Much is speculated that Argento and Stroppa re-wrote Fulci’s original script after his death, removing much of Fulci’s atmospheric flair and adding more gore, but in the end, “The Wax Mask” instabilities are overshadowed by great practical effects, an engaging storyline, and a roster of flavorful characters. The One 7 Movies and CAV Distributing Blu-ray release is presented in 1080p. The widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio is the not the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but doesn’t constrain the image. The MPEG-4 AVC codec emits a bit of shakiness under the compression, suggesting a lower bitrate, but the One 7 Movies’ release is the best, sharpest looking transfer of the original source material with natural coloring on skin tones, vibrant shades of various colors, and shadows being exquisitely black. Four audio options are available from the English and Italian Surround 5.1 tracks to the English and Italian Stereo tracks with no accessible English or Italian subtitles in the static setup menu. Extras are slim with a handheld camera behind-the-scenes that’s solely in Italian. “The Wax MasK” is an ambitious Gothic hybrid horror that cements the memory of Lucio Fulci, pleases the gore of Dario Argento, and showcases the talents of debut director Sergio Stivaletti.

Purchasing One 7 Movies’ “The Wax Mask” at Amazon!