Family Tree Rooted by Grounded EVIL. “Sator” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)



Living alone deep among the tall trees and the dark and deafening foliage around him, a tragic past involving the disappearance of his mother haunts the very core of Adam’s broken spirit as he wanders the forest he grew up in and that has also been an afflicting mystifying presence of family lore.  His grandmother, Nani, for a long time has been commenting being the receptor of a dark forest entity named Sator who internally speaks to her and has her write down unintelligible messages; Sator’s words have also whispered in Adam’s ears as well as his vanished mother’s.  Adam ceaselessly searches the clues daily, even setting up a night vision deer cam and ringing out into the woods with a homemade calling flute.  As Adam and his family struggle to rebuild their once strong bond, Sator emerges with an intent to sever what’s left of the tattered strings of family ties, bearing down on the isolated Adam in attempt to insidiously claim more of his kindred for the forest.    

Rich in personal family indispositions that trickle down to unravel everything dear, Jordan Graham’s sophomore supernatural film of a sinister spirt, “Sator,” is much better than my attempt at an alliterated sentence structure.  The 2019 film, hailing out of California, with the forest sequences from Yosemite National Park, is a blend of pristine splendor as it is a nocturnal nightmare in an allegory of mental illness and the distortion of family because of the effects.  For the “Specter” director and screenwriter, particulars of “Sator” intertwine the authenticity of the filmmaker’s ancestry with the ominous unknowns of horror in a DIY production that looks bigger and grander in worth than in actuality.    Graham’s production banner, Mistik Jade Films, and in association with Yellow Veil Pictures, the company behind the colorful demonically intrusive thriller, “Luz,” funds the film with Jordan Graham serving as executive producer alongside Jennifer Graham and Elias Adamopoulous.

“Sator’s” a family and friends affair that opens with Gabriel Nicholson silently, patiently, and near aimlessly wandering through the woods as Adam walking alongside his mutt and carrying a hunting rifle. Jordan Graham’s childhood friend since early teens, Nicholson fills adequately the role’s achy privation and does so without saying so much as a paragraph in the full 85 minute runtime. While “Sator” snuggles up to Adam’s incessant need to check deer cams and conduct daily searches around every rock, tree, and bush, the character isn’t the nucleus essential to Sator’s generational influences that spread like a cancer over Adam’s lineage and he’s where the buck stops. Instead, Jordan Graham’s grandmother, June Peterson aka Nani, bears unwittingly and unimpressed brunt of the actor’s burden to perform due to Peterson’s longtime battle with dementia. Her scenes are authentic and natural in discourse with the recollective ramblings of Graham’s family’s resident topical presence – Sator. Peterson holds all the cards for her grandson’s inspiration from the very name of the entity that speaks to her to the automatic writings set in motion during a stint of Sator’s sometimes hours upon hours of inner ear verbal instructions. Graham doesn’t exploit his grandmother, but rather tells her story in a way dementia allows her not to with recording her experience, with the papers of her automatic writings, and with extending Sator into a metaphor for family strife and mental illness. Rarely are Nicholson and Peterson on screen together, but they come in proxy of one another through the supporting characters played by Michael Daniel as Adam’s troublesome brother, Pete, Rachel Johnson as an unusual relative, Evie, and Wendy Taylor as the bygone mother only remembered in flashbacks and Adam’s documentary memories.

There are movies out in cinema land released for the sole purpose of dishing out entertainment complete with exorbitant special effects and a high profile cast surely to make good on bank statement returns and then there are some with a more somber, but well-crafted, personal story.  “Sator” is the very epitome of that latter category as director Jordan Graham’s profoundly personal story that is tailored to his specifications without the temptation of commercial success.  With dividends on the backburner, “Sator’s” arthouse quality stamps a staid dread of distressing imagery and stillness emblematic from an imprinted personal experience that has been dissected and dispersed to give the entity known as Sator a fluid corporeal form.  What also scores high marks is the ideology of Sator created by, or perhaps more accurately channeled through, June Peterson, forming the breadth of life out of an unseen concept glamourized with unimaginable abilities and attributes that can foraged out of Paganism or Satanic scriptures and have nature be the embodiment of its unholy divinity.  Graham not only unnerves you as passenger looking into eerie family history with “Sator’s” transmissions at the narrative core, but also serenades with serrating stridency in his audio and visual compositions that includes some fantastic gore and torching.  The one thing to point out that “Sator” falls short on is understanding the next jump in the narrative as Graham leaves unclear wide gaps unexplained with only a bit of passive dialogue to gnaw on to get caught up.  In a story that’s already subversive on the plainspoken, “Sator” could use some straight talk to get more inside the dissonance of the entity’s inimical ways.

Let “Sator” whisper into your ear on an Umbrella Entertainment home DVD release. The region 4 DVD comes standard in a NTSC format, like of the Australian distributor’s releases do, and is presented in a widescreen, 2:35:1 aspect ratio. Image quality is paramount for a downbeat psychological horror set inside the absence of noise of a pin drop forest and the release delivers a stunning transfer with elaborating details in the forest setting. Perhaps slightly on the darker on the scale, the engulfing blackness of the cabin, the woods, and Nani’s home add to the surrounding cryptic presence notwithstanding the absence of a body to call the villain. The darker shadows Graham creates sees better contrast in dreamlike sequences with the deep blue sky with a moon over head, the silhouette of the trees, and Adam standing small against the tall trees in his white skivvies, creating stark poetry in the image alone. Graham also incorporates a documentary style, through the mind’s eye of Adam, to replay events like flashbacks that set the stage for the present. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is works inline with the rubato score that creates a pulls and tugs on the emotions. The dialogue isn’t so lucky as actors can only be heard mumbling the lines with the exception of Nani with her natural, genuine talk. Like many of the Umbrella DVD releases, there are no bonus features includes and there are also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Sator” thrives as holistic horror with the insurmountable belief that there are far worse things out in the world than mental deterioration that spur random acts of equivocality.

Own Sator on DVD from Umbrealla Entertainment (Region 4)

In a Remote Australian Town, EVIL Can Hear You Scream. “The Dustwalker” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

A quaint, outback town become the epicenter of a mysterious, otherworldly contagion that infects lifeforms to become mindless carriers, targeting loved ones for senseless, uncontrollable violence.  In her last days as sheriff of the town she grew up in before moving to the big city, Jolene must piece together the puzzle of last night’s mysterious meteor that crashed on the outskirts of town having an correlating connection between the town’s sudden communications blackout and the unknown epidemic that has physically and mentally transformed the townsfolk into a vicious, violent horde.   Jolene bands together the remaining survivors when the town is overrun by the zombie-like residents and tries to organize an escape, but a large dust storm walls them in not letting them flee to safety, while a large subterranean creature burrows through the dusty landscape intent on searching for the infected.

Sandra Sciberras’ “The Dustwalker” brings big universe problems to small town Australia as an alien tainted corruption courses violence through the veins of secluded outback locals with a humungous extraterrestrial on a raging prowl.  Shot in the shire of Cue, Western Australia, Sciberras’ written-and-directed Sci-Fi terror cataclysm of zombies and monstrous creature showcases some of Cue’s unique historical and architectural buildings and natural landscapes landmarked around the microscopic population of a few hundred people of the dust bowl region, creating a isolating apprehension of endless nothingness when hell breaks loose on Earth.  “The Dustwalker” is the first thrilling genre film outside the drama and comedy context for the director, creating new challenges for the seasoned director to incorporate monsters and mayhem into the fold, while also serving as co-producer, alongside Megan Wynn and Grace Luminato, in this female steered production under Sciberras and Luminato’s Three Feet of Film banner and financed by a conglomerate of Head Gear Films, Kreo Films, Metrol Technology, and SunJive Studios.

With a strong female contingent behind the camera, there is also one in front of the camera beginning with Jolene Anderson (“Prey”) as longstanding Sheriff Joanna Sharp who’s ready to leave her hometown in the dust, but before disembarking on her new big city adventure, the municipal officer has a showdown with a plague not of this Earth.  Anderson is sided by “The Hunger Games’” Stef Dawson and “Wolf Creek’s” Cassandra Magrath, playing the roles of little sister, Samantha, and the local geologist, Angela, respectively.  Aside from the sheriff rounding up an uninfected posse to arm and fight their neighbors plagued by an insidious infection, Samantha and Angela rarely contribute to the cause with their subtle character terms.  Samantha cowers mostly behind her big sister’s shield and gun, never adding substance to the sibling dynamic, sidelining Dawson’s confident performance.  Subjecting Samantha’s young son, Joanna’s nephew, into harm’s way would have affably weaved an obligatory edge-of-the-seat motivation toward family tension and desperation into the story that’s very honed in on a small town framework.   On the opposite side, Angela runs wild around town and is continuously depended upon by the story to be the scientific expert, though displays very little scientific knowledge, who discovers the crash site crater in solid rock and is willing risktaker with experimenting driving into the dust storm wall.  Despite her character’s poor introduction and setup who literally appears out of nowhere, Magrath’s outlier enthusiasm forces her character more into the narrative than otherwise innately.   The poorly written Samantha and Angela character are completely overshadowed by Joanna’s second in command, and the town’s only other cop, Luke, played with a righteously thin long mustache and scruffy mullet on Richard Davies.  Davies entrenches a consistency that’s present throughout “The Dustwalker’s” fluid scenario as the causal, yet dedicated, man of the law that compliment’s Anderson’s butt out the door Sheriff who has to stick around a few hours more to see the disturbance come to a head.  A miscellany of townsfolk partition side stories for the sheriff to investigate, involving a portion of the film’s remaining cast with Talina Naviede, Harry Greenwood, Ben Mortley, Ryan Allen, and Oscar Harris.

I have a very big problem with Sciberra’s “The Dustwalker.”  A problem that is approx. 16 years the film’s senior and has invaded a portion in my brain that is already occupied, trying to evict the current and rightful tenant that has paid, in full, dues of being the blend of sci-fi and horror I want domiciling my mental vacancy.  “The Dustwalker” follows nearly an identical story path as the 2003, Michael and Peter Spierig film, “Undead,” that follows a small Australian town under siege by a meteorite brought plague that turns residents into flesh eating zombies with something more obscure transpiring around them.  Sounds familiar, right?  If not, scroll up to the top and re-read the synopsis for “The Dustwalker” once again.  Now, I won’t slip spoilers into this review to explain exactly how “Undead” and “The Dustwalker” are undoubtedly two peas from the same pod, but minor tweaks here and there issue obvious differences in names, places, and villainous traits, but the rudimentary bone structure mirrors strongly “Undead” so conspicuously that “The Dustwalker,” after some contemplative comparisons, leaves a sour taste.  As for the film itself, the first 20 minutes of “The Dustwalker’s” first act compellingly sets up caught off guard characters being mixed into an unknown and threatening situation that is well-crafted with bread crumb clues provided to the characters as well as the audience, but the second acts staggers through principle character awareness with a stillness in their too-little-too-late reactions from being completely ignorant of the facts that something terribly wrong is happening and this leads into the unfolding of the third act which divulges the “Undead” echo.  The mindless local horde have a malformed screech producing from an abnormal elongated jaw, are speedier than Speedy Gonzales, and jump higher than a professional basketball player, but their purpose for at first targeted then randomized violence has an unclear schematic other than being driven by the ooze from the space. Correlation between the substance controlling the townsfolk and the oversized camel cricket with a scorpion tail and can breath fire fails to materialize purpose, especially when great dust walls, expanding as far as the eye can see, are formed to keep things nicely contained that provides one certainty – there is an alien intelligence at work here.

From out of this world and into your living room, Umbrella Entertainment releases “The Dustwalker” onto DVD home video. The NTSC formatted, region 4 release runs at 95 minutes and is rated MA15+ for strong horror, themes, and violence (and language if you’re easily offended by “what the fuck was that?” line stuck on repeat by the principle characters). Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, image consistency holds throughout and really develops that dusty, outback setting with a bunch of aerial shots of the rocky terrain and spread apart shanties to tune up the isolation factor. David Le May’s blend of hard and natural lighting adds to emptiness as long shadows have no structures to bounce off on. However, some of May’s shooting techniques on filming the running infected tilted into being too cleanly staged that often downplayed the tingling fear from the organic full speed sprint of a crazed person. “The Dustwalker” standalones as a feature without any bonus materials on the DVD which isn’t atypical of many Umbrella Entertainment releases. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Supporting Sandra Sciberras’ “The Dustwalker” has been nothing less than controversial for the soul due chiefly against the derivative storyline from a better assembled modern classic that’s full of gore, fun, and, at that time, an ingenious concept, but “The Dustwalker” clone feels pieced together by the leftover scraps of an august predecessor.

Own “The Dustwalker” on DVD!

EVIL is Undead…And Rides a Shark! “Sky Sharks” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

Former Nazi scientist Dr. Klaus Richter’s past has finally caught up with him after 70 years when a clandestine German laboratory, disguised as an aircraft-battleship hybrid, thaws from behind a globally warmed sheet of frozen ice and rock, releasing Dr. Richter’s regenerated legion of undead Nazi super-soldiers piloting genetically engineered flying battle sharks complete with guided missiles alongside their razor sharp jaws.  Loyal to the Third Reich, the sky sharks continue their master race patronage with a blitzkrieg in the skies, attacking commercial aircraft, boarding the cabins, and slaughtering every last person on board before crashing.   Now contractually working for the U.S. Government as the biggest name in technological advancement, Dr. Klaus, with the help of his two daughters, has a plan to nullify the sky sharks’ defenses to make them vulnerable to his latest newest experiment in warfare, Dead Flesh, under the guidance of his fellow covert government agency heads.

Apex predators of the waters are now apex predators of the skies in Marc Fehse’s ridiculous, frenzied, and utterly mad ultra-violent Nazi-exploitation, “Sky Sharks.” Soaring through the heavens soaking fluffy white clouds with blood, the Carsten Fehse and A.D. Morel co-written film took off virally in 2020 with the promise to the internet, especially horror fans, of zombified SS soldiers mounted standing on humungous Great White, Hammerhead, and Megalodon jet-propelled sharks. Fehse’s team delivered. “Sky Sharks” has not one single serious bone in all it’s cartilaginous gory-glory body in what’s Fehse’s second film behind the 1999, straight to video, “Mutation” involving the what-if factor of a surrealistically free reigning and sadistically unbridled Nazi force hellbent on winning World War II no matter how many lives needing to be sacrificed for the sake of the Führer’s dominion. The Germany-made production is a Fuse Box Films and Fantom Films.

“Sky Sharks” is studded with cult stars, but those studs pop out mostly after the carnage-laden opening scene of passengers on a commercial flight being ripped to shreds by undead super-soldiers hog-wild about killing. Robert LaSardo (“Strangeland”), Lynn Lowery (“Model Hunger”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Diana Prince (“The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs”), Mick Garris (director of “Critters 2”), Dave Sheridan (“Scary Movie”), Amanda Bearse (“Fright Night” ’85), Asami (“Gun Woman), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story” franchise), Lar Park-Lincoln (“Friday the 13th Part VII:  The New Blood”) and “Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, make an appearance in some minor way, shape, or form, but since “Sky Sharks” is a German production, much of the cast is geared toward German and Austrian actors with Thomas Morris spearheading the lead role of the inverted mad scientist, Dr. Klaus Richter, a centenarian mastermind behind the birth and, hopeful, destruction of his monstrous airborne jaws of death experiment.  The role itself isn’t very exciting that refrains Morris to be nothing more but a talking head who recounts his failed World War II and Vietnam resurrection serum to turn the tides of war.  While Dr. Richter has immense blood on his hands from a long and rich background, the present day Richter has lackluster appeal and Morris doesn’t provide much zest either.  More complexities reside in Richter’s two tech-savvy and kickass daughters, Diabla and Angelique.  Their signifying names alone provide some foreshadowing of events, but the close sisters are boots on the ground with their father being the eye in the sky; yet, Diabla and Angelique have been kept in the dark from their father’s horrid past that factors little into parting ways from being daughter’s little girls.  Blonde beauties Eva Haberman and Barbara Nedeljakova successful roles in Germany and the U.S. include “Hostel” and the sci-fi tele-series “Lexx,” but their blind obedience to the patriarch roles downscales any moments to shine individually as free thinking agents of good.  Any other character factored into “Sky Sharks’” whiplash narrative come and go without a single ounce meaningful impact becoming background noise for the fray. There’s not even a singular villain to speak of as a focal point to direct a challenger against forces of good.

As much as the concept excites me on an obscurely dysfunctional level, a real telling tale of who I am as a person, who also praises “Snakes on a Plane” as cult candy, “Sky Sharks” has atrocious issues with pacing and story quality.  The opening scene sets up what to expect of gore drenched Nazis yoking back on genetically mutated sharks, zipping through high altitude to acrobatically infiltrate commercial planes for complete and total annihilation of every passenger onboard.  Tickles me in all the right places.  Yet, the sky sharks’ unveiling background whizzes past right into death from above world apocalypse, skipping keynote details resolving the giant warship beached on the Antarctic ice.  Fehse decides to redirect our focus with a bunch of explicit violence and sex and while that’s all nice and good…really good…the misdirection can’t coverup the necessities needed for a good story even if the story is absolutely bonkers. The visual effects are not distinct from the ream of shark-sploitation films that have become popular over the last decade in a cheaper slaved effort to capitalize on the majestic beasts of the sea…who sometimes mistake a surfer for a sea lion. The flying sharks swim in a stiffly pattern and move inorganically through their uncharacteristic ecosystem as they rocket in a school of steampunk nightmares. Not all visuals fall short of satisfaction when they’re appropriately blended with practical effects. Under that hood of tangible horrors is “Iron Sky: The Coming Race’s” Martin Schäper and, the legendary, Tom Savini, who we haven’t seen special effects work from since 2012’s “Death from Above” (an also fitting title for killer sharks in the sky). Schäper and Savini bring it with blood. Each plane sequence, there’s two of them, exhibit different deaths with each one more outrageous than the next. My favorite is the inverted periscope through a guy’s cranium and having a looksie at the screaming, bloodied passengers. “Sky Sharks” is, literally, an over-the-top scream of slice’em and dice’em fun.

Cresting through the blue yonder and painting the sky blood red is the deadliest gang of shark riding Nazi’s to ever grace a cinema platform in “Sky Sharks,” coming to DVD in Australia, no stranger to large, deadly sharks, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment in association with Raven Banner. The NTSC encoded, region 4, rated R release will present the film in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. “Sky Sharks” is a turbulent wonderland of rustic computer generated visual effects with a Marco J. Riedl and Olaf Markmann cinematography, typifying a clashing style, of keeping actors tightly in focus to sell a futuristic fluorescent environment. A few scenes give a sense of layered paper mâché sitting in front a green screen as the forefront images seemingly pop out of their backdrops. The English and German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix falls victim to an overpowering score of a weak dialogue track that washes key pieces of exposition that might explain more as the scenes fleet away in the rushed paced 103 minute runtime. Aside from a brilliantly detailed DVD cover robust with a glowing eyed, half-decaying Nazi soldier as centerpiece amongst flying, weaponized sharks and Robert LaSardo and Lynn Lowry cameoing off to the left side with a half-naked female warrior on the right, the DVD has no bonus features included. After the credits, a fake commercial for “Sky Frogs,” starring that half-naked female warrior I just mentioned, is a satirical happy ending full of even worse, 80’s caliber, visual effects worlds and frogs. Though not at the top of the food chain being one of the grossly ostentatious and shoddily visual effects films ever, the mindless, search and destroy, crudeness of “Sky Sharks” chums our oceans of entertainment with some of the bloodiest fun we’ve seen in a long time from a Nazisploitation.

Own Umbrella Entertainment release of “Sky Sharks” on DVD! Click the poster!

The Dying Baltic Traditions Live in the Ashes of EVIL. “Cult Girls” (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

The pagan Cult, the Golden Path, remains nearly all that is left of the ancient practice as Lithuania becomes one of the last countries to be converted to Christianity in the late 14th century.  Led by an archaic, yet powerful, goddess named Ragana, the Golden Path promises to flourish once again with the power of death, reincarnation, and control through sordid misdeeds.  When Dalia and her two young sisters become prepped for a ritual of an important role in the cult, potentially leading them down the path of sex and sacrifice, a traitorous follower helps the sisters attempt to escape their emmeshing fate as the police raid the Golden Path compound ensuing a firefight that leads to the death Ragana and Dalia’s getaway, but her sisters are kidnapped and held captive by the remaining cult members.  Years later and riddled with guilt, Dalia must know what happened to her sisters and she tracks down a death metal cultist, Moloch, who seemingly has a connection to Golden Path, with the help of Samoth, a black metal fanatic, but Moloch forestry hermit lifestyle cuts off Dalia and Samoth from the rest of the world and the convicted arsonist against all things Christianity may have more up his sleeve than what meets the eye.

With a title that sounds like an all-girl goth band from the grunge era of the 1990’s, or maybe even more so from the “Scooby Doo” franchise (Hex Girls anyone?), “Cult Girls” summons the actuality of being an acute quasi-historical and dark fantasy thriller hailing from the Ozploitation capital of the world, Australia.  “Cult girls” is the second, non-documentary film from “The Matrix’ inspired “Narcosys” director, Mark Bakaitis, who directed, wrote, and edited his the multi-location sophomore film that has on location scenes from not only in Australia, but also in Lithuania, at the notable Hill of Crosses landmark, and in the indiscernible urban locations of Germany.  Bakaitis serves as producer alongside executive producer Douglas Kaplan of the diverse arts platform production company, All Edge Entertainment, based in Santa Monica, California. 

The Australian production casts an American to star as Ragana, the brood matriarch destined to rejuvenate Golden Path’s permanence, with “V’s” very own Jane Badler.  Badler brings an international presence to the feature and isn’t a stranger to films from the down under.  With the actress’s soul-seducing cutting eyes and demonic empress allure, the New York born Badler exacts Ragana’s clutching strength as an underground Pagan seeking unlimited decadent power.  However, Badler is overshadowed by the timorousness of Dalia whose polar opposite presence is granted a more favorable chunk of screen time.  Finnish born Saara Lamberg plays the humbled Dalia, living her life out of a covenant while searching out the cult that once almost stitched her into the sew of sleazy affairs to unearth the whereabouts of her younger sisters.  Dalia’s a bit of a dull principle with no substantiated efforts in finding her siblings and it isn’t until Samoth stalks her one night, recognizing the Golden Path’s symbol tattooed on her wrist and offering his manhunt services to find the expelled Moloch, an exaggerated black metal anti-Christianity anarchist in a saturating performance by Albert Goikhman.  In the middle, masked brutes, half naked women, and, fallen by the waist side, Dalia’s sisters in standalone plot point narratives that, as far as story structure goes, does nothing to motivate the narrative other than be an ostentatious aesthetic of locations and debauchery.  “Cult Girls” rounds out the cast with Tony Markulin (“MurderDrome”), Algias Karazija, Dean Kirkright, a handful of Bakaitis’s family, and Simay Argento, a distant relative to Dario Argeno playing a Cult Auntie in the film.

“Cult Girls” borders being avant-garde of an unfiltered auteur’s will in a mesh of artistic polishes and prose dialogue, but the film slides into being more of an 83 minute music video over staying it’s welcome and drudges through a repetitive stylistic cycle to an almost nearly unwatchable extent.  Yet, “Cult Girls” somehow manages to retain attention despite the chewy acting and it’s ambling story that hits a dam wall of uncertainly of where the script should head. Bakaitis shoulders the story for modern Gothicism tapped with half naked occultist, sometimes bathing in blood, and a plague of nightmare imagery that director of photography Trent Schneider tunes into well with noir vitality despite being the cinematographer’s debut feature film, but through the shiny exterior of a handful of solid mise-en-scene work, “Cult Girls” numbs the impact of the soul corrupting Pagan syndicate, that may or may not be shrouded with supernatural foundations, and the anti-Christian propaganda with half-baked violence from geriatric men, masked with Dia de los Muertos style masks, able to be kingpins of an untouchable prostitution ring façade for their occult sacrifices in broad public without a bat of an eyelash.  Granted, prostitution is likely legal in Germany and Lithuania so authorities might turn a blind eye, but brothels are a convenient opportunity for police investigations. “Cult Girls” treasures the fact of Lithuania’s languishing heritage without being overly filmic heresy by blending in shaded sleaze and death, but there lies no story in Dalia’s unenthusiastic search for her sisters in a much more preacherly themed death metal horror that confuses cult with religion.

 

Apocalyptic reincarnations and traditional folklores collide in Mark Bakaitis’s “Cult Girls” on DVD now from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian release is a single layer DVD with region 4, PAL encoded format, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Trent Schneider’s keen eye captures a grim fairytale surface of black magic masochism and, at the same time, breathtaking in the pure nature scenes, but the imagery is mostly in devoid of richer color that lingers around a bluish-gray monochrome tone and struggles with hazy details, especially around facial features, that smoothly fuzz over. The English, German, and Lithuanian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix battens down with shiplap genres of traditional Lithuania folk and modern metal from composing sound designer Erin McKimm, implementing the traditional songs of Lithuania sung by the Melbourne-Lithuania community singers, The Lost Clogs. Industrial action fills in every nook and cranny of the remaining score with decent range and depth of ambiance. While the dialogue is prominent and clear, there are spelling errors and tiny text issues with the English subtitles when the narrative lands in Germany and Lithuania. The DVD’s bonus features includes audio commentary, making of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, Bakaitis’s short film, “Mercy Kill” that serves one of the founding themes for “Cult Girls,” and music videos directed by Mark Bakaitis. For an Australian film, “Cult Girls” will feel more worldly, unlike anything else that comes out of Australia, and have partisan propaganda against Christianity, but in the end, the insidious Pagan evil, on the precipice of resurrecting, wearies on, like a tireless sermon of doom.

EVIL Can Never Replace Love in “After Midnight” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)


Well known country boy Hank has everything he could ever need in the small, rural Florida town: having an establish family lineage, being the owner of a local bar hotspot, and obtaining the love of the beautiful Abby. Their gleaming happiness suddenly goes dim when Abby abruptly takes off, leaving a note with little information of her whereabouts or her plans. Fraught in her absence, Hank drinks himself into a stupor most nights of romantic nostalgia while also fending off his rustic home from a beast out of the surrounding woods that continuously scratches at his front door nightly. Hank’s friends believe he’s suffering a mild mental break as night-after-night, the snarling beast evades Hank every effort to capture and kill it.

“After Midnight” is a sheering melodious and delicately programed romance-horror from “The Battery” writer-director Jeremy Gardner allotting co-directorial duties again with continuous collaboration beside Christian Stella. As Gardner’s third film in the director’s chair, second inside the realm of horror, “After Midnight” brandishes more a sappy love story that sings the tune of a love lost warrior where the relationship woes lie within the deepest, darkest corners of himself rather than being a frontline horror sprinkled lightly with dusted coating of amorous renewal. “After Midnight” is a topsy-turvy monster movie not for an insouciant genre fan who rather skim the surface for blood on the topsoil than dig feverously for the originating root. If you’re also a fan of the mysteriously acclaimed, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired “The Endless,” the filmmakers behind that film – David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, and Justin Benson – produce “After Midnight” under their Rustic Films label in association with Vested Interest, Cranked Up Films, and Kavya Films, casting that querying memento clinging like a foreboding, nagging scratch needing to be itched.

Not only is Gardner the director, he also stars as Hank, enduring the multi-hat involvement in his films in thematic fashion from his previous films, spearheading the roles in “The Battery” and “Tex Montana Will Survive!,” and Gardner has also branched out beyond his work, having roles in the visceral Joe Begos’ films “Bliss” and “The Mind’s Eye.” Gardner sports his common wear of a U-shaped V-neck t-shirt and bushy beard overtop his large frame and wields a sharp tongue, whiplashing small witticisms as he charms his serenading rustic charisma upon Brea Grant as Abby. The “Dead Night” actress enacts every man’s inherent fear of being lost without their better half when Abby hightails from Hank’s steadfast stance on life. Grant provides a flood of emotional drought through a series of Hanks’ melancholy, good times flashbacks that provide backstory fuel to Hanks’ quickly withering grounded state. Gardner and Grant’s chemistry eerily dons the routine life span of young love and weary complacency without so much showing the beat work argumentative discussions and differences of a diminishing relationship; their natural banter never derails even amongst a bedeviling beast with nightly visitations on a drained Hanks’ doorstep. “After Midnight” fleshes out with a cast of superb supporting roles with nearly Henry Zebrowski (“Cut Shoot Kill”) stealing the show as a half-wit yokel, Justin Benson (“The Endless”), Ashley Song, Nicola Masciotra, Taylor Zaudtke, and creature performer Keith Arbuthnot as the man in the monster suit.

Speaking of the monster suit, the unknown origin creature is very Guillermo del Toro-esque with a quasi-rubbery look, but still renders terribly real with the puppetry facial expressions and Keith Arbuthnot contorting his body to exuberate natural movements. However, don’t look to be thrilled by a ferocious beast as the constant the source of contention. It’s more of an afterthought, a pleasant afterthought, filling Hank’s Abby void or is it? It’s a question you’ll be contemplating when the credits role when a monkey wrench finale disrupts your premediated blue print scheme of a reason for the creature’s existence. Romance and melancholy cross paths in an overwhelming heap of love sickness, guilt, disappointment, and jealousy in a well thought out, smart dialogued version of a self-growth narrative.

There always seems to a malevolent monster behind the scenes, perpetrating the demise of a flourishing relationship exemplified by a beautifully wicked allegory in “After Midnight” distributed onto DVD home video by Umbrella Entertainment. The transfer is presented in the original widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, on a region 4, 83 minute runtime disc. The presentation is virtually flawless with palatable natural coloring, gleaming southern-sweat coated, natural looking skin tones, and overall details with Hank, and Hank’s house, looking specifically grimy and unkempt. Greenery is of a brown lush backdropped inside what could be anywhere small town America. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound audio renders a nice range and depth with the monster’s muffled scratching and growling outside the door, the shotgun blasts are powerfully exalting, and the dialogue clearly couriers through all relationship qualms and Hanks droll dialogue. As of many Umbrella Entertainment standard feature releases, there are no bonus features nor a static menu. “After Midnight” is a contagious love story for not it’s mushy, heartfelt, weepie doting into the tears of self-pity, but for that lingering presence of sinister cynicism the monster epitomizes, a stark terror scratching every night under the skin until the unbearable hole in our hearts is finally sated by love’s return.

“After Midnight” available on DVD at Amazon