Mobsters Can’t Stomach EVIL in “Witness Infection” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Two rival mafia families are moved mistakenly into the same small California city as part of a Witness Protection Agency relocation.  In order to avoid an all-out territory war between the two sides, who are already busting at the seams of confrontation, the two families devise an arranged marriage of peace between one kingpin’s beautiful daughter and another’s withdrawn from the family business son, Carlo, who rather work as a dog groomer with his friend Gina, but when a new sausage food truck starts selling out of their popular menu items with tainted ground meat, the overstuffed and gastrointestinal suffering customers turn into blood hungry zombies running rampant on the streets.  After Carlo and his friends nearly escape the clutches of an angry mob boss after refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage, his troubles didn’t end there as they must now trek through the zombie-infested town and battle hordes of the undead to save his own flesh and blood before they down a family size portion of contaminated Italian sausages and meatballs. 

Mafia families and the undead go together, right?  The two factions clash in a Guido versus zombie horror-comedy “Witness Infection” from a script by Nickelodeon-animation voice actor, Carlos Alazraqui, who had entertained many mid-thirty-something-year-olds in voicing Rocko from “Rocko’s Modern Life” and comedy writer Jill-Michele Melean of the “Zombie Marriage Counseling” shorts and “MADtv”.  At the helm is director Andy Palmer who, in the past, directed generically titled B-horror flicks with familiar names and faces, such as Courtney Gains (“Children of the Corn”), Danielle Harris (“Halloween 4 & 5” franchise), Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), and Clint Howard (“Evilspeak”).  For the pun-driven “Witness Infection,” Palmer finds much of his muses elsewhere in the form of voice actors exposing themselves (in a non-perverted way, you sickos!) for a mezza morta borgata!  Voice talent, ranging from “The Boondocks,” to the “Extreme Ghostbusters,” to the original “Inspector Gadget,” run in unison with an over-the-top bambino in the zombie cache, arranging a small time hit of laughs and gasses with some respectable gore moments submerged in the bloody sauce.  Produced by Alazraqui, Melean, and Warner Davis, co-owner of Petri Entertainment with Andy Palmer that serves as production company alongside Mob Goo Productions. 

Robert Belushi, yes, that iconic and distinct surname is the one and the same of his father Jim Belushi, stars as Carlo, a disinterested mob family son who wants nothing to do with organized crime and wants everything to do with living a normal, loving life.  The narrative plays into Carlo being protected by his mob boss father by shielding him from the unsavory and cutthroat dealings of mafia life, but when his father can no longer protect his dog grooming son, Carlo is thrust into an arranged marriage with the daughter of a rival family.  Belushi isn’t his father and doesn’t have the wily charm that can snap into macho in an instant; instead, the “Devil’s Due” actor enacts a softer side in a story crowded full of uncouth wise guys. Carlo is also a man caught between two worlds as a man who would do anything for family, but also standing up for his convictions and Belushi connects with Carlo’s tug-a-war discord. Jill-Michele Melean writes herself a character in Gina, Carlo’s pet grooming colleague studying to be a veterinarian. Gina’s the insinuated love interest championing Carlo’s fateful decision. Melean mixes chummily stepping into the love interest role who then characteristically goes into a tailspin arc to be in one instance frightened by a severed deer head but then okay with bashing the head’s in of undead acquaintances in the next. Together, the chemistry between Belushi and Melean felt flat with a more of a friendship zone interplay. Granted, “Witness Infection” doesn’t flaunt a range of emotional drives to feed off of in a clearly spaced three act story of assertion in not participating in an arranged marriage, a bar stronghold attack, and a race back home to save his family from deadly digestion and concluding with what’s finally a big spark between Gina and Carlo in their, what once, platonic relationship. Casting also stars an unforgettable comedian lineup beginning with this actress’s voice you know, but who you’ve rarely in Tara Strong (“Extreme Ghostbusters”), the versatile Maurice LaMarche (“Inspector Gadget”), the multitalented Carlos Alazraqui (“Rocko’s Modern Life”), one part comedian and one part break dancer Bret Ernst (“Cobra Kai”), and rounding out with Vince Donvito, Erinn Hayes, and Monique Coleman as the foxy anti-token, anti-trope black woman who won’t be just another unnecessary death in another horror movie.

What first popped out at me is “Witness Infection” using severe flatulence as a goofy symptom of turning into a boil-laden and baggy-eyed zombie.  An immediate turn off by the fart and poop gags after eating the tainted sausage that pays a disparaging homage to Jersey’s cultural culinary cuts of meat has the viewing pleasure be huffed at at the thought of getting through yet another zombie film using passing gas to get a comedic rise.  Luckily, and to my surprise, the initial buildup of the outbreak happens all at once, like a switch being turned on, and then the conventional chaos of zombie madness ensues and farting is left in the wind.  However, “Witness Infection” only garners a few chortles in a flat and tired banter and slapstick comedy.   Much can be said the same about the rest of the story that has Carlo, Gina, and cousin Vince go through what feels like a redundant motions of survival action against a mass creature attack, such as an assault on a bar stronghold where they encounter a blaxploitation vixen, Rose, in a fully-fledged satirical scene that barely cups the intended result with an unnecessarily pitstop with heavy exposition that brings no motivation to the characters.  Not all fails to impress as the clash with the undead dependably aggressive, especially when James Ojala’s special effects poke through with an eye-catching overly violent money shot.  Ojala, who has worked on “Dead Birds” and “Thor,” delivers a really impressive head-ripping decapitation scene involving a toilet seat and lots of blood.  The only downside to the scene is that most of it hit the cutting room floor, leaving only a milliseconds of material to be left in awe.  Though the zombies snarl asynchronously loud with the action and sound like one of the Tiger King’s famished big cats, the makeup is economically slicked on but does the job nonetheless. 

Strong, eclectic performances and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gore keeps Andy Palmer’s “Witness Infection” as a bat-swinging, deer-eating, head-smashing horror-comedy not to miss, capisce!  Freestyle Digital Media distributes the film come March 30th on Video-on-Demand and on Digital HD platforms, such as iTunes and Google Play, with a runtime of 82 minutes.  A Panasonic EVA 1 camera was used to shoot the film under the cinematic eye of Filip Vandewal’s stabilizing safe mode approach by not being too adventurous with the camera work, but there are some nicely framed scenes that pull together the actors during confrontational and down to the earth moments with a prime example being Carlo and his father running through the stern discussion, for the first time, of arranged marriage with a rival crime boss’s daughter who is dating his brother but because his brother is sterile, he can’t have children, ergo an heir to the mafia family.  Along with the solid acting from Belushi and despite some continuity mistakes in the scene, the backdoor being open and also being closed then back to open again, the blunt pleasantries that captures firm love between the two of them is sincerely present.  As far as bonus scenes go, there were zero bonus scenes during and after the credits.  “Witness Infection” chips away at the zombie genre’s plodding wall with a pin hammer dink by stirring in Mafioso drama and diabolical flashes of gore.   

Evil Gets a 4K Digital Transfer! “Ichi the Killer” review!


Three hundred million yen and Yakuza boss Anjo have disappeared without a trace. Anjo’s most deadly and most sadomasochistic enforcer, Kakihara, and the rest of the Yakuza gang embark on a torture-riddle search and rescue to find their missing boss. After unrightfully torturing and mutilating a rival Yakuza leader, Kakihara learns through a trail of mayhem of a fierce killer known as Ichi and after being exposed to Ichi’s grisly handiwork first hand, a usually stagnant and emotionally detached Kakihara becomes stimulated and eager to go one-on-one with a formidable foe like Ichi, who could possibly bestow upon him gratifying pain to feel something other than emptiness. Ichi’s eviscerating destruction isn’t totally in his control as the sexually-repressed and candidly disturbed overall nice guy is being coerce through psycho-manipulation by Jijii, an old man seeking retribution against the Anjo gang. With blades projecting from his shoes and his skill at martial arts, the timid Ichi becomes the ultimate killing machine when brainwashing takes him over the edge into a hysterical fit of rage that leaves guts and blood to paint the floor and walls.

Perhaps director Takashi Miike’s finest work, the 2001 Japanese blood bath “Ichi the Killer” is a must own for any film aficionado teetering on the razor wire between crime dramas and gory action flicks that might be on the viewing docket for then night, but certainly a must-see for all film lovers at some point in time. Miike’s stone cold, chaotic style of filmmaking embraces the story’s unwavering havoc that blisters with ruthless brutality between two very different, black and white characters with one thing in common – being good a killing. Based off the manga penned by Hideo Yamamoto and from the adapted screenplay by Sakichi Sato, Miike crafts the most disturbing elements of mankind and brings them to the forefront in a simple story of revenge. On one side, there’s Kakihara, a scarred-face Yakuza enforcer with a very rich violent history to the extent that he’s become numb to his own existence in the world and then there’s Ichi, a reclusive cry-baby stemmed from being mentally fed graphic bulling stories of battery and rape in a memory built upon languishing lies. Vastly different, well-written characters opposite the spectrum and both are good at dealing death, but one aims to dish it out and the other yearns to stop his carnage, and that compelling core element is immensely fluffed by extreme violence in a way that only Miike can deliver it.

But for a film like “Ichi the Killer,” Takashi Miike had a little (hint of sarcasm) help from his gifted cast in making this project a cult success. Before this actor was Hogun in the Marvel Universe’s “Thor” franchise, Tadanobu Asano shaped up the psychotic enforcer Kakihara and the usually dark featured Asano reconfigures his appearance to put life into the character who sports blonde, wavy hair, a frothy complexion, and small hoop piercings at the corners of his lips to keep the slits from opening to expose the entire gaping jaw which is used as a defensive weapon. Opposite Asano is the Tokyo born Nao Ohmori who perfectly subjects himself to being a wimpy human shell with an explosive inner anger. The two men have only a small amount of screen time together and that requires them to build their character’s standout personalities. Complimenting their performances is an amazing support cast, including Shin’ya Tsukamoto (“Marebito”), Miss Singapore 1994 Paulyn Sun, Hiroyuki Tanaka, and Suzuki Matsuo.

“Ichi the Killer” is simply magnificent where it vulgarly touches upon various themes, mostly human flawed that also destines opposing counterparts together. Aside from the graphically realistic violence, Miike’s film hits upon other attributable tangents, among them some are just being plain gross, but these aspects are undeniably important to the story. Themes ranging from sexual suppression and female inferiority to sadomasochism and severe obsession top the charts in a heap of motifs throughout. Accessorial blood and other bodily fluids are extravagantly portrayed, spraying across the room with jettison entrails or dripping from potted plants to a cloudy puddle below during in a voyeuristic rape scene, to get the clear sense of an adult manga inspired chockablock exploitation and crime drama.

Well Go USA presents “Ichi the Killer” on Blu-ray in a newly restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut; a task undertaken by Emperor Motion Pictures in 2017. Presented in a widescreen 16:9 (1.85:1) aspect ratio, the film starts off with a blurb about the history of this particular digital restoration and transfer that asserts director Takashi Miike’s approval for release. Well Go USA’s rendering resembles much of the previous Tokyo Shock Blu-ray with subtle differences such as a slightly more aqua tint to the picture coloring and also much like it’s other Region A Blu-ray counterpart, a bit of noise is present in the restoration, but still the better detail of the two. The Japanese stereo 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio surround sound has an bombastic soundtrack, but dialogue remains on the softer side where relying on the English subtitles is crucial. No issues with timing or accuracy in the subtitles. Surprisingly, the only extras included on the Well Go USA release is an audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and manga artist Hideo Yamamoto, still gallery, and the trailer that undercuts this releases’ purchasing value and might as well hunt down for the out of print Media Blasters Blu-ray, if extras are a must. Even still, “Ichi the Killer” has been resurrected in North America again and the release technically sustains growth amongst the mass of releases around the world. The lack of special features is disconcerting, especially being a restored director’s cut, but “Ichi the Killer” can stand on it’s own as a gracefully sanguinary masterpiece. Look for the Blu-ray to hit retail and online shelves March 20th!

Get Ichi the Killer today on Blu-ray!

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