Do EVIL, Get Dead! “A Day of Judgment” reviewed! (Severin Films / Blu-ray)



1930s rural America – the dejected town priest resigns his congregational duties after failing the local townsfolk who have all but returned to the Church and reclaim their faith in the savior lord Jesus Christ and God.  On his exit of the town’s border, the priest crosses paths with a shadowy figure riding an austere wagon and holding a scythe.  A town full of heartless schemers, adulterers, swindlers, and murders have their unforgiving stories told that leave their fellow townsfolk, their friends, and even their families left suffering in their wake.  The shadowy figure tracks each sinning stray down to face retributing judgment.  The righteous and terrible punishments send the unsavable souls to an eternal existence in Hell.

The Grim Reaper cometh. Screen cap courtesy of Severin.

What was once considered to be a Christian-centric educational project had turned into a Christian-centric damnation of horrors in the quasi-anthology “The Day of Judgment,” where the sinners of sin town deviate from the Godfearing path and into a vat of immorality and ungodly aberration.  “The Day of Judgment,” occasionally under the U.S. bootleg title of “Stormbringer,” is the one and only directorial from C.D.H Reynolds (aka Charles Reynolds), an academic educator turned briefly to film working under the legendary, North Carolina based Earl Owensby Studios that produced the 1981 released film.  The script is penned by Owensby Studios’ regular writer, Thom McIntyre, who inked the film between a pair of genre credits, including the incarcerated grindhouse actioner “Seabo,” also known as “Buckstone County Prison” a few years earlier and a snippy flick of a pack killer Rottweilers terrorizing a mountain resort in “Dogs of Hell” a couple of years later.   Owensby, obviously in regard to his own studio work, took part as the fire and brimstone tale’s producer along with associate producer and longtime “Power Ranger” director Worth Keeter curating the final touches as the creative architect of the script’s grimmest portions or more line as the assistant director of adding the bleaker, bloodier fates of the sinners.

William T. Hicks. Screen cap courtesy of Severin.

“A Day of Judgment” has a non-linear anthology-like structure that swings back and forth between different character scenarios of wickedness.  You may meet one character at the very beginning of the story and don’t meet them again, until you’re already through having sent a good chunk, if not all, of the sinners to Hell in a handbasket.  But McIntyre hones in well on setting up nicely each character’s backstory, those who the priest crosses paths with as he exits the town and delivering their ultimate demise (with an assistant from Worth Keeter’s gloomier approach).  The director himself Charles Reynolds plays the crestfallen Reverend Cage in a classic expository preacher riding out of town and crossing paths with soon-to-be-troublesome townies in William T. Hicks (“Death Screams”) as a greedy and heartless bank owner, Careyanne Sutton and Larry Sprinkle (“Trick or Treat”) as man slaughtering, pretense adulterers. Toby Wallace as the hometown disparaging mechanic scheming to steal the family business out from his parents noses to sell, Helene Tryon (“Dogs of Hell”) as the frettingly kook and paranoid old lady poisoning the local children’s pet goat, and Brownlee Davis (“Wolfman” ’79) as the delusional and disgruntled former employee of his best friend looking for a finality in revenge.  “A Day of Judgment” had this weirdly transitional acting style for an 80’s released horror that resembled the Golden Age of cinema through the 1950s and 1960s where everything is loud and pronounced without much reflection, pause, or change in tone.  Though the style sticks out like a sore thumb, perhaps Reynolds made a shallow attempt to recapture the 1930s as which the narrative period is set.  The acting isn’t terrible but is more staged and reactionary to the course of events.  The cast rounds out with Carlton Bortell, Richard Dedmon, Inga Dennis, Denise Myers, Jerry Rushing, Harris Bloodworth and Fred Roland.

C.D.H. Reynolds as Reverend Cage. Screen cap courtesy of Severin.

Earl Owensby produced films were not known to be big box office hits as they coursed the grindhouse, drive-in theater circuits with relatively unknown talent nearly strict to the back pockets of the Owensby Studios and still meeting profitable margins on low budgets.  “The Day of Judgment,” which doesn’t feel like a grindhouse film, carried meager success by way of production design and wardrobes alone.  Give credit where credit is due with an Owensby film that can dole out a variety of era appropriate automotive roadsters and specific period garments for the illusion.  Some sets are dressed scarcer than others with lots of blank spaces and sparse knickknacks to build upon the 1930’s décor but the overall impression is quite effective, transporting one out of the 80’s and into the depression era the narrative frequently suggests.  I also favored the non-linear anthology of individual hell bound circumstances as that structure rendered “A Day of Judgment” as a whole rather than a pie sliced into six-even segments with a common core connection that, at times with other films, individual stories can feel untethered to the main theme.  In today’s times, “A Day of Judgment” is severely antiquated but the more “bleaker” character demises often landed with underripe special effects and a fair amount of cheesiness that’s a Loony-Toons illustrated representation of Hell that looks more like Wile E. Coyote’s Southwest American desert home.  I was anxiously awaiting the beep-beep of Roadrunner, speeding across the screen, and the drop an ACME anvil on top of the sinners’ melons. 

Helene Tryon being dragged to Hell. Screen cap courtesy of Severin.

The overall message in “A Day of Judgment” is clear that sin and crime doesn’t pay, and the wrath of God’s retribution will come down hard in the form of a scythe.  Severin Films presents up a new Blu-ray, scanned in 2K of the original interpositive print now in full 1080p HD resolution of the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Preserved pristine and having virtually no wear from age, “A Day of Judgment” is an amazing picture to behold for its first Blu-ray release with heightened resolution that extricates more details than possible than any other release can provide, especially when those other releases are the official VHS and DVD bootlegs. Here the color grading excellently pops with deeper hues of prime colors to provide more life into the death that’s onscreen. One thing to note about the release is the immense phosphorescence glow around whites and other lighter colors that can be eye-catchingly distracting when a piece of white paper becomes the main focus due to a conspicuous radiance. Other than that, the picture is clean, the grain is healthy, and no obvious signs of alterations to enhance the visual spectrum. The English language mono audio track, though emitting crystal clarity without any audio blemishes, is not terribly clear on whether Severin went with Dolby Digital or the DTS-HD. Other listings on the web offer up “A Day of Judgment” with a dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio while the back cover displays the Dolby Digital logo with a detached written description as a mono track, which coincides with Severin’s official site. With the film’s outmoded ingrained technology, Dolby Digital would be, to me, the obvious format that produces higher quality sound using a lower bitrate. Special features include a pair of new Severin exclusive interviews with British author Stephen Thrower of “Nightmare USA” in The Atheist’s Sins and snippet interviews from Worth Keeter and Thom McIntyre in Tales of Judgment. Final spec notes on the Blu-ray are a region free coding and has a runtime of 97 minutes. Stuck in stasis of prim and conservatism, “A Day of Judgment” has become this oddball labeled slasher of the 80s era that aimed to explore new and unusual stories and techniques on every avenue, but still leaves this impression of Bible-thumping Christian values that serve as a stern warning for all ye sinners!

“A Day of Judgment” on Blu-ray and DVD from Severin Films.  Click Here to Purchase at Amazon.com

Evil is a Long Trip Home. “Earthrise” review!

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Earth has become an uninhabitable wasteland. The human race have resettled and colonized on the red planet of Mars. Years have past and the younger generation has never had the experience of living on Earth. Every year, a select few, those who pass multitudes of tests and reach the age of 30 years, will join the Revive Program and will travel through space on a seven day journey to Earth in order to aid in the planet’s rehabilitation of their once ancestry home. The journey between Mars and Earth is this story, a story of psychological perplexity between three travelers who get to go home for the first time.
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“Earthrise” is the creation of writer-director-producer Glenn Payne, tackling the production limits of a space film in an independent market. Payne and his production team effectively generate the illusion of being a single speck in a vast universe without getting overly galactic (i.e. “Moon”) and widely interstellar (i.e. “Interstellar”). Yes, “Earthrise” embodies a minuscule budget that’s certainly evident, but the ambitiousness to recreate the innards of a spaceship without being too blatantly cheap gives creativity credit to the crew. The brief transitional moments outside the ship are about as good as money can afford, but still don’t quite cut the mustard with some big Hollywood blockbusters or even larger independent films.
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Along with much of the crew, Payne’s experience mainly stems from a variety of short films with “Earthrise” being his latest full length feature out of a total of four. The three actors who portray the focus-centered characters also mostly come from a short film background. Meaghin Burke (“Trick or Treat” short), Casey Dillard (“Blackout” short), and Meaghin’s husband, Greg Earnest (also from “Trick or Treat”), portray the three protagonist Dawn, Vivian, and Marshall, voyaging to Earth. Within a non-linear story, their tensions cut through finely as an unexplained terror has overtaken, not only their flight to Earth, but their minds that visualize apparitions of people and creatures that shouldn’t be there. Giant spiders, man-eating alligators, alarming amounts of blood – just some of the psychological tensions testing the characters. Is it a form of space dementia? Or the inability to grasp leaving your home, your family, to live on another planet and not having the ability to contact anyone from home for a year, per the Revive Program’s policy? Or is it something else? “Earthrise” domes the answer fairly well until the end.
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The sequence of events surround a near catastrophe involving a sudden meteor collision. One side of the collision tells the story prior to their insanely dangerous visions, building upon their backgrounds and delivering their soon obtained new found hope, while the other side explores their descent into madness and, eventually, the two stories meet in the middle with the major calamity. Contrasting the two sides defines, in a good light, director Glenn Payne’s editing style while still able to clearly convey the crews plight. Mise-en-scene clues were used to differentiate the catalyst, such as Marshall’s head wound or Vivian’s limp, but these details were minor enough to not pose an extravagance in order to make clear the outer edges of the story.
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The 2014 sci-fi thriller is presented by Indie Rights Movies and MVD in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The details are richly sharp, drenched in a metal tone to create a ship’s inner hull racing through space atmosphere. The dual channel Dolby Digital mix is clear and balanced and purposefully isolating to get inside the loneliness of the great big infinite. Accompanying the 100 minute runtime, a couple extras include the film’s trailer and a commentary. Sci-fi on a budget, “Earthrise” is enjoyably subtle, sleekly structured, and soaked with heart and soul. Many will not be attracted to “Earthrise” and it’s slow-to-build momentum, leaving only true film aficionados and appreciators to find Payne’s work entertaining.