Caribbean EVIL is No Vacation. “Zombie Island Massacre” reviewed! (Troma Films / Blu-ray)

“Zombie Island Massacre” on Blu-ray here at Amazon.com

American vacationers in Jamaica book tickets to tour guide Chumlee Jones’s Sunshine Tours. Their destination is Santa Maria Island for a rarely seen religious voodoo ritual. After the unsettling experience involving live goat sacrifices and the necromancing of the dead, the tourists become stranded when the bus driver has vanished from his post. With no transportation to the seaport, a menace lurks amongst the darkness and is picking them off by-one-by. With no other options, the afeared excursionists trek through island thicket in search for a passed remote house but will they survive the perilous journey with an unseen murderous predator or predators camouflaged in the dense foliage?

Jamaica isn’t all about rum punch and ganja, mon. Voodoo is a big part of Jamaican culture. It’s so much a part of the Caribbean Island culture, the practice is a certified religion complete with voodoo priests and public ceremonies to exact a range of obeah spells – most for good, few for spiritual bedlam. For “Zombie Island Massacre,” a theme of mystic voodoo pitches the tale of two sides of every coin as the unknown and the usual differ from one’s own customs begins to swirl unnatural thoughts of fear, trepidation, and censure while other malevolent forces behind the veil may be at work. Also known under the working title of “The Last Picnic,” “Zombie Island Massacre,” a rather arbitrary and common structured title of choice, is the released Jamaican-shot inchmeal killer thriller from director John N. Carter, an industry editor with his one and only directorial credit to his name. The script is penned by Logan O’Neill and William Stoddard based off the O’Neill and David Broadnax concept story. Broadnax serves as producer alongside executive producers Abraham Dabdoub and Dennis Stephenson on a feature that undoubtedly was inspired by the 1982, George Romero influenced, Marion Girolami directed “Zombi Holocaust” in what is arguably influenced by title only as a marketing cash-in of the early 80’s Zombie success.

Stories that progress with a group of unfortunate souls trapped in a dire straits situation and there’s no way out but unwisely toward the path of danger in hope of salvation are some of my favorite types of threatening circumstances.  Think “Poseidon Adventure.”  Think “Predator.”  Think “Deep Rising.”  Any movie where a desperate group of diversified dog chow characters have to move from point A to point B without being swallowed by the darkness around them is great fun in its pick off pattern.  Archetypes of this linear lap through hell can be fairly conventional with its persona of characters where you have the strong hero type, the gorgeous level-headed love interest, the angry shmuck, the slower-downer, and there might even be a cultural token character to round the group out plus a red-shirted body or two for good carnage measure.  By design, there’s a need for these stereotypes and “Zombie Island Massacre” has a hit-and-miss, middle-of-the-road batting average with its cast of characters, beginning with a shared lead man role for Tom Cantrell and David Broadnax.  With his idea for the story and serving as producer, it makes a lot of sense why Broadnax co-ops the lead as a lone wolf, tough as nails photojournalist.  Cantrell, on the other hand, is just another pretty tall boy who becomes more-or-less a babysitter of the group while Broadnax stays behind to leave directional notes for lag behinds and to keep the retirees company when their tickers go South in the heat of turmoil and walking uphill.  This turns the co-op into more of a dog and pony show where the pony just stands there and dog runs around doing most of the entertaining.   Diane Clayre Holub is Cantrell’s love interest as a painter on holiday in Jamaica and the character is more than just reasonable and a pretty face that comes unexpectedly apparent in the third act of attacks.  Broadnax, Cantrell, and Clayre do not bring the star power to “Zombie Island Massacre” and that trend continues with the fourth top billed Rita Jenrette who brings more than just her pretty face to the table too in more of a full-bodied contextualized kind of way who ends up sliding into, if not encroaching into, Clayre’s assigned love interest role without a lick of love.  “Zombie Island Massacre’s” cast fills out with Ian McMillan, Harriet Rawlings, Emmett Murphy, Bruce Sterman, Deborah Jason, Tom Fitzsimmons, Christopher Ferris, Kristina Marie Wetzel, Debbie Ewing, Dennis Stephenson, George Peters, and the “Ghostbusters II” “The Titanic Just Arrived”-guy Ralph Monaco. 

Big kudos to story creators David Broadnax and Logan O’Neill for delivering a narrative with an unpredictable twist that immerses you deep into the voodooist rituals and gets your blood pumped for the monikered title to deliver flesh-eating, blood-thirsty zombies only to be hoodwinked into a genre trap and a good one at that too.  Sneaky and subtle are the hints that not everything is what it seems on the island that hits you like a flashbang grenade when the truth is revealed, shocking the sensory system with a welcome voltage of sleight of hand.  I never saw it coming though I will say that the creature or creatures roaming the woods initially looked shoddy draped in blue trash bags with patchwork foliage sticking out but remaining relatively obscure from view that implored more of a slasher design than one of the undead one. However, “Zombie Island Massacre” is too by far a good film with precarious burlesques that result in a tacky feigning of thrills and chills hubbub. Only a handful of kills rendered a golden touch, such as the slow-motion bashing in of a man’s head with a large stick is effectively gruesome, but yet lots of the kills are done off screen and implied which can be a deficit for a slasher-like story that takes pleasure in and makes whoopee of the big bloody death scene. Some kills are even half-hearted in their execution. For example, one unlucky tourist has his head chopped off with a machete in slow-motion and audience has full view of the entire act; yet the machete snags on the initial slice point into the neck but the head still severs cleanly. The scene, likely needed to be done in one take, makes the cut…pun intended. “Zombie Island Massacre” wiggles peacockishly into the realm of island horror with a mawkish audacity but the wild pragmatic pivot is worth every second of humble hoodooism.

Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz presents a Troma team release with “Zombie Island Massacre” on a new region free, uncut, director’s cut Blu-ray. The HD 1.78:1 aspect presented John N. Carter film has favorable surface arrayal with natural grain off the 35mm film stock that comes with very little, yet still noticeable unobtrusively, vertical scratches and white dust specks. Skin hues appear natural, island bush backgrounds are lush despite some contrast issues deep into the background, and no blatant touchup enhancements awkward stand out, confirming that the transfer was in good shape to begin with and compression upon the BD25, churning out an average of 30Mbps, didn’t cause a technical gaff. The English language mirrors the Vinegar Syndrome release with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and the audio isn’t as near flawlessly fortunate as the image transfer with voice trailing hissing and lots of noticeable crackling and white noise interference which can eat into the already soft and muted dialogue from time-to-time and downsize the details of audio clarity. Plenty of range of sound effects to go around in the story but the depth just isn’t there to elevate it. Harry Manfredini’s score is essentially a reworked composition of “Friday the 13th” and if you close your eyes and listen, you’ll nearly hear the ch ch ch, ha ha ah and have visions of a headless Mrs. Voorhees and a hockey mask stuck in your head. Special features are mostly Troma-related as expected with any Troma Team release. There’s Toxie and Uncle Lloyd smoking ganja introduction at the beginning of the feature. In sectionalized bonus menu option, the film’s theatrical trailer, a promo reel of all the kills under Harry Manfredini’s original “Friday the 13th” score, a 3-part special effects tutorial plucked from various Troma videos through the years, a super-short film “Blood Stab,” and other Troma feature trailers. “Zombie Island Massacre” is an excursion to remember lined and studded with Caribbean macabre that sink tapered teeth into the skin only to have just barely missed the pulsating vein for the kill.

“Zombie Island Massacre” on Blu-ray here at Amazon.com

Insecurity is a Path to the EVILside! “Killing Spree” review!


Airplane mechanic Tom Russo is a newly married man; it’s his second marriage, in fact. Tom’s first go around in marital union didn’t go over so well as found himself on the other end of being a victim of adultery. Paranoid and skeptical, Tom requires his young and hot new wife, Leeza, to become a house wife as he works long, exhausting hours to support his family in a one income household. As the work hours pile, money becomes tight, and tensions build in the back of Tom’s mind, paranoia steamrolls Tom’s reality when he starts suspecting a lonely Leeza of screwing every delivery, repair, and lawn car man that knocks at their door. Without confronting Leeza with his delusions, Tom’s extreme jealously pushes him to kill and bury the men that he envisions involved in the affairs, but his victims don’t stay dead, they don’t stay buried, and seek the eternal suffering for their killer.

A few, long years have gone by since our last encounter with the practical effects-heavy, indie horror director Tim Ritter. From his disturbing tale of destructive descent in “Truth and Dare?: A Critical Madness to his “Switchblade Insane” segment from the SOV masters of horror in the ghastly-variant anthology “Hi-8 (Horror Independent 8)” that also helms short films from Donald Farmer (“Cannibal Hookers”), Todd Sheets (“Dreaming Purple Neon”), and Brad Sykes (“Camp Blood”), the filmmaker has a legacy of blood-shedding entertainment. Today, exploration into Ritter’s “Killing Spree” unearths his passion for horror that develops out of influences from other horror icons before leaving his bloody footprint in the indie scene. “Killing Spree,” written and directed by Ritter, displays the filmmaker’s deep affection for Fangoria magazine having it displayed, repeatedly used as coffee table literature prop. There’s also admiration for “Night of the Living Dead” in the bonkers film about one man’s mind snapping like a twig under the formidable stress. The main character’s name is Tom Russo and Russo is the last name of NOTLD co-writer John Russo and let’s not also forget about the undead rising from Tom’s backyard is fairly synonymous with zombie classic.

While Tim Ritter flicks may not be graced with star-studded actors and actress, even from the B-movie lot, and more than likely don’t spawn hidden talent, there’s still something to be wholeheartedly said about the cast of his films that can only be described as an eclectic bunch of marvelous misfits that bring underground brilliance to the screen. Asbestos Felt is one of those said characters. No, I don’t mean the toxic asbestos felt roofers use as a underlaying backing when nailing in shingles. “Killing Spree” is one of three films Felt and Tim Ritter have worked on together and the scrawny-build with a strung out Grizzly Adam’s head on his shoulders has a wide-eyed spectacle about him when playing Tom Russo spiraling down the crazy train drain. Tom’s obsession with keeping Leeza from the perverted grips on those naughty repairmen would drive any wife away, but not Leeza, played by Courtney Lercara. The “Slaughterhouse” actress is an aesthetic flower growing in the middle of all the mayhem and she protrudes an innocence well received by her character. Other cast members include Bruce Paquette with the white boy dance moves, indie horror vet John D. Wynkoop (“Brainjacked”), Kieran Turner, Alan Brown, Rachel Rutz, Cloe Pavel, and Raymond Carbone as a dirty old pilot with a wise guy brogue.

Remember when I said these types of horror films don’t typically expose acting artistry? Well, behind the camera, one or two crew members start their illustrious careers in the indie trenches. Such can be said for special effects master Joel Harlow who makes his introductory launch with “Killing Spree” and then find work on a couple sequels for “Toxic Avenger,” “Basket Case 2,” and all the way up to the Neil Marshall “Hellboy” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Yeah, I think Harlow made out OK. Harlow’s effects on “Killing Spree” will “blow your mind,” as stated on the back of the Blu-ray cover. Well, when Leeza’s head turns into giant lips then goes oral on Raymond Carbone’s head until his crown ejaculates, then, yes, these effects will blow your mind…literally! The medley macabre showcase Harlow’s craft from A to Z that includes a torched corpse, a disembowelment, severed undead head, and a nosy neighbor without a nose or without half a face for that matter.

Sub Rosa Studios re-releases “Killing Spree” onto the dual format, DVD/Blu-ray combo set with MVDVisuals providing distribution of the limited 666 copies. Essentially, this is the same release that was made available a couple years back presented in a standard television format of 1.33:1. The Betacamp SP 16mm video has held back the test of time since 1987, but with any video film on a budget, the rather cheap recording method does come with inadequacies, even if being remastered. For the entire runtime and not just in the tinted moments of carnage, the skin tones are akin to Donald Trump’s uncanny neon orange flesh and perhaps could have gone under an extensive color correction. Aside a few very minor tracking issues and faded coloring, the video transfer passes substantially well despite the continuous flare of orange. The English stereo 2.0 mix isn’t hearty or robust. Whenever Tom goes into maniacal mode, his crazy quips are quite soft even when he elevates his voice, and that goes the same with depth and range which are non-existent over the course of a flat audio tracks. Though soft at times, dialogue strongly comes through in the forefront with some fuzzy nuances. Bonus features are killer on this release with the Blu-ray sporting the majority with a never before seen extended director’s cut, a new commentary track from director Tim Ritter, a 90 minute documentary entitled “Blinded by the Blood,” a radio show commentary by H.G. Lewis and Tim Ritter, music tracks, photo slide show, three alternative scenes, blooper reel, and a Joel D. Wynkoop segment. The DVD also includes the director’s cut version of the film, the new commentary by Tim Ritter, and commentary for the original cut by Tim Ritter. “Killing Spree” is as grisly as the SRS cinema Blu-ray/DVD cover implies and then some with all the characteristics of a deranged and unhinged man exerting himself beyond the limits of sanity and mortality to unambiguously protect what is his; a dramatize example rendered as a metaphor for those who will do anything to protect what’s theirs.

Limited Edition. Get it now!