Let the Heavens Fall to Cleanse the EVIL Away! “Undead” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Bluray)

The small finishing town of Berkley, Australia comes under siege by blazing meteoroids that turn the quaint residents into mindless flesh-hungry zombies. A small band of survivors led by the town’s dismayed local beauty queen and a fisherman turned doomsday prepper fight the undead hordes in order to escape the carnage by reaching the city limits, but when faced with an otherworldly monolithic barrier surrounding the town and blocking the exits, a hopeful way out becomes quickly fleeting. To make matters worse, unusual rainstorms drench them with fear of what’s really in the rainwater of the apparent alien attack. In a last-ditch effort, the remaining survivors board a personal prop plane to scale the great extraterrestrial wall that’s imprisoning them with the undead. An onslaught of end of days catastrophes drives their instinct to battle on, to push forth toward living, despite all the evidence of a contrary methodology to the misunderstood, overwhelming alien actions.

A 9-year marriage, three children, the death of my dog, two states, a new home, four jobs, four presidents, and a global pandemic in more than almost two decades’ passing has transpired since the first and last time I saw the Spierig brothers’ 2003 zombie-comedy “Undead” and, still, the 2003 Australian film impresses with a large-scale gore show on a small-scale budget. Before terraforming new vampire words with Ethan Hawke in “Daybreakers” and taking a stab at an entry in the “Saw” franchise with “Jigsaw,” the brothers Michael and Peter Spierig’s first full feature-length venture was an ambitious love letter to their’ most endeared cult films of their youth, more heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Blowing through the meager budget halfway into filming and shooting an insane 40 to 50 shots per day for the better part of two months, the completion of “Undead” was a must for the self-funding brothers under their production banner of Spierigfilm and the success of “Undead” also jumpstarted the careers of cinematographer Andrew Strahorn (“Hostel III,” “Lethal Weapon” television series), production designer Matthew Putland (“San Andreas”), and special effects artist Julian Summers (“Bait,” “Mortal Kombat” ’21).

“Undead” was the first film for Felicity Mason and Mungo McKay in a lead role as that dismayed local beauty queen, Rene, and that fisherman turned doomsday prepper, Marion, mentioned in the above synopsis. Rene seeks to leave the town of Berkley in the wake of the tragic death of her parents before becoming the burdened beholder of their debt; instead, she thrusted into a crisis that won’t allow her to escape so easily from a destiny laid out for her in hometown. Mason’s humble portrayal of Rene is nearly invisible compared to her more boisterous and gun-fu counterparts but grounds us to an agreeable realism of reactions whereas Marion’s limitless gun-toting out of his fishing overalls and Matrix-like gunplay moves adds that layer of voguish fun of the Chow Yun-fat variety. The other four survivors fall into the run-of-the-mill of yowlers and cutting personality types who throw around their weight and cowardly sarcasms in immediate show of unfounded animosity. Supposedly, a longer cut of “Undead” provides more backstory for father-to-be charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, “Australiens”) and the law enforcement neophyte Molly (Emma Randall, “Bullets for the Dead”) but the release copy which this review is based off was not of that longer cut. Dirk Hunter supplies a purge of negative comic relief as Harrison, the chief constable without a clue, and Lisa Cunningham’s Sallyanne is Wayne’s antagonizing pregnant lover of bitterness as she comes in second place next to Rene at the local beauty pageant and seizes moments, during all Hell breaking loose, to confront Rene’s rope-wrangling talent that won her the cast prize.

Over the past year, I watched and reviewed another Australian sci-fi horror “Dustwalker” from director Sandra Sciberras where crash landed space objects turned the local dustbowl residents into the resemblance of zombies and connected to the chaos is a not from this world creature. I likened “Dustwalker” to be a lesser, weaker, total rip-off of the Spierigs’ ozploitation rager and I still stand 100% behind my claim as I reaffirm “Undead” to be the reigning supreme champion, and “did it first” as far as story goes, between the two nearly identical narrative plots. There’s an uncrushable affinity for “Undead’s” bold risk of looking at the bigger picture head on and absolutely landing each scene whether in prosthetics or in post with better than your average computer rendered imagery. Are the effects the sleekest, most realistic, graphics you’ve ever seen? Absolutely not but what they are are ultra-rich in creative detail rather than quality detail and can give most substantial budgeted films a run for the money, especially in the closeup shots that can be an obvious slapdash, might as well be silicone, fake. The Spierig brothers also don’t overcomplicate the plot with survivors trying to simply quickly decamp the overran town madness with plot points sensible to character designs and not relying on gratuitous happenstance scenarios for the sake of gore alone. However, do believe me when I say that “Undead” will delight gore geeks with a gut-spilling, face-lifting, head-decapitating mixture of zany zombie knockoffs that are steady throughout. If you’re deciding between the more recent “Dustwalker” and the now almost considered antique 15+ year-old “Undead,” the choice is clear with “Undead’s” superior campy, shoot’em, blood-splattering zombie mayhem.

For U.S. horror viewers looking for something that borders obscurity and might be out of their comfort zone, “Undead” has yet to make an appearance on Blu-ray, surprisingly enough. Only the Lionsgate DVD version is the known, and authorized, copy to be released in America. For those searching high and low, the all-region Blu-ray from the Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, offers a 2-disc alternative with a new 1080p, Full High-Definition, release as volume # 12 on the company’s World on Film: Beyond Genres banner. The Aussie cult modern classic is presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio and with a runtime of 97 minutes, mirroring the U.S. DVD length which is a bit disappointing as longer cuts of the film do exist on other European releases. Day scenes play into an agreeable enough flat, more natural, color scheme with some serious grain in the 16mm film stock use, moving the photography toward a retro de-aged semblance courtesy of Spierigs’ cult film homage, but the darker scenes, mostly through a moderately intense blue filter, sees the unstable pixelation flareups, especially in black blank spaces and I’m taken aback by the lack of touchup to clear up any stylized misgivings. Umbrella offers two audio options – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 DTS-HD Stereo. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, the audio tracks do “Undead” complete justice without a smidgen of lossy fidelity. With plenty of action to go around – firearm discharges, explosions, zombie grunts/groans/sneers, and sundry of miscellaneous and oddball effects – each elemental output is distinct and clear. The dialogue renders nicely as well. Umbrella holds a few exclusive and rehashed special features that include an audio commentary from Peter and Michael Spierig and cinematographer Andy Strahorn, a raw video behind-the-scenes look on the set of “Undead,” the more production quality making of “Undead,” “Attack of the Undead” short films from the Spierig brothers that inspired the feature, home-made Dolly Video, the camera and makeup tests, still gallery, and theatrical trailer. Plus, an exclusive Simon Sherry illustrated art on the front covers of the snap case and the cardboard slipcover along with reversal DVD cover art and a second disc containing the complete 17-track soundtrack from Cliff Bradley. The rating is listed as an Australian certified MA 15+ for horror theme, medium level violence. which sounds severely tamer than it is for the more recent video nasty with all its zombies punching holes through hapless skulls, bloody brain munching, gooey face ripping, and severed torsos with spine exposures.

Bestiality. Borowczyk Pushes the Boundaries with EVIL Themes. “The Beast” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Umbrella Entertainment)

“The Beast” Available on Umbrella Entertainment’s Beyond Genre label at Amazom.com

Marquis Pierre de l’Esperance, a French lord on the brink of financial ruin, is able to swing a deal before the death of the well-off English tycoon Philip Broadhurst. Under the conditions of Broadhurst’s will, his daughter Lucy must marry I’Esperance’s introverted, and equestrian obsessed son within six months after his death. Lucy, and her aunt Virginia, travel deep into the French forest to the deteriorating chateau to do a first ever meet and greet between the two soon-to-be married. Marred by centuries old local legend of a lustful beast who sexually defiled the Lady of the estate’s family lineage, I’Esperance aims to restore order by marrying into fortune and leave old cockamamie tales behind him. Yet, Lucy can’t shake vivid and stimulatingly graphic dreams of the romping woman and beast, leading to speculation whether the legends are true or not?

Certain types of filmmakers push the limits and exude their provocative talents to blur the lines between arthouse cinema and pornography. Those same filmmakers would argue that arthouse cinema and porn are, in fact, nearly one in the same if complimented with an intriguing story full of subversive subtext sure to outrage the status quo. Walerian Borowcyzk is one of those auteur artists basking in the absurdity and the arousing aspects of his films. The Polish writer and director wrote and helmed “The Beast,” aka “La Bête,” a one-part sex-comedy and one-part fantastical horror that is one-whole bizarre beyond our wildest dreams. “The Beast” was once considered to be a part of Borowcyzk’s short film collection of erotic stories known as “Immoral Tales;” however, the short film shot was scrapped from the project and then reimplemented into a full-length feature with outer rim narrative built around it’s very thematical essences of bestiality and the corruption of man due to woman’s virtue, the latter inspired by the French novella “Lokis” by Prosper Mérimée. The France originated film was produced by Anatole Dauman under the French studio, Argos Films, which produced much of Borowyczk’s work.

“The Beast’s” ensemble cast play intrinsic notes toward the fullest extent of the narrative’s shell machination as well as the saturation of eroticism from the grifting lord l’Esperance to the chateau’s only manservant, who when not answering his Lord’s beck and call, is fooling around secretively and lustfully with I’Esperance’s daughter. Veteran actor Guy Tréjan unearths the very ill-humored presence of a struggling lord seeking to reclaim fortune and glory to his estate and family. Most of the time, we feel sympathy for I’Esperance’s inability to catch a break, but on the deeper, darker scope, I’Esperance hides many truths, keeps many secrets, and even black mails his uncle, Duc Rammendelo de Balo, played by legendary actor Marcel Dalio (“Super Witch of Love Island”), making the lord a villain of his own haphazard design. I’Esperance’s nitwit and reclusive son Mathurin is played by Pierre Benedetti, who has worked with Borowcyzk later his career in “Immoral Woman.” Not much of Benedetti is profoundly showcased, leaving much of Mathurin in the dark despite being a principle figure in the plot as the husband-to-be for the aspiring romantic Lucy Broadhurst from “Le diaboliche’s” Lisbeth Hummel. Hummel, along with 1995 “Castle Freak’s” Elisabeth Kaza as Lucy’s aunt Virginia, are supposed to be affluent English women travelling to France in order to settle future marital affairs with the I’Esperances, but Hummel and Kaza have such thick accents that no matter how proper their English may be, there’s still present the French and Hungarian elocutions in their English dialogue. Hummel does capture Lucy’s free-spirited, free-form sexuality so inclined by Borowcyzk as the director envisions her as the clairvoyant trigger that unsheathes an age-old curse to light, but Hummel is not the only participant in “The Beast’s” amativeness with Hassane Fall, Pascale Rivault, Julien Hanany, and sex-symbol Sirpa Lane (“Nazi Love Camp 27,” “Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals”) paving a more perverse course with illicit affairs, object sexuality, and, of course, bestiality. Though none of these aspects were more than disturbing in comparison to Roland Armontel’s version of a local priest setting an uncomfortably affectionate dynamic with two of his alter boys that Borowyczk focused and lingered on when the chief characters have left the scene.

Trying to understand Walerian Borowyczk’s “The Beast” is akin to trying to understand the wanton complexities of the human psyche. In all its whirlwind of implications, “The Beast” is heavily and artfully abstract in a non-abstaining manner as sultry desires, no matter how forbidden, are the superior playthings utilized for Borowyczk’s totality of storytelling. The uber-sexual graphic tale invests little into the imagination with vivid imagery of genitalia in all shapes and sizes in organic and mythical forms. Yes, there is a lengthy opening scene of horse copulation with emphasis on each of the bulbous male and female’s sexual organs. Yes, there is also a satirical creature chase that transforms into a frolicking romp between a human woman and a dog-bear creature with a miniature representation of an erect horse member ejaculating like a geyser without an end. The excessive vehemence towards sex is Borowyczk’s gift to the audience toward feeling a flurry of mixed emotions from being a little bit peed, to a little bit put off, to even a little bit strangely turned on all in one sitting. Though sex is unusually celebrated in “The Beast,” the beast itself is also the representation of perversion, an animalistic and libidinous savage horndog lusting after the chastity of virgin women that’s allegoric to spoiled bloodlines and cursed households in a path of ruinous destruction, especially in the downfall of a crumbling aristocracy. Borowyczk injects and interjects comedy to lighten the socially disturbing atmospherics of paraphilia and the social consequences that follow.

As part of their Worlds on Film:  Beyond Genres banner, Umbrella Entertainment releases Walerian Borowczk’s “The Beast” as volume #13 on a region free, 2K scanned Blu-ray in full 1080p High Definition.  Presented in the original aspect ratio of what once was the European theatrical standard widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the 35mm transfer provides a relatively clean viewing free of aging and blemishes albeit the innate agreement of healthy amount of grain that comes standard with celluloid film stock.  While color grading definitely looks non-existent in the release, a once over would have sharpened the image immensely from the slightly flat and natural color scheme.  The tri-lingual French, English, and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is a compressed version from the 2015 Arrow Film’s Blu-ray release with an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio.  Virtually no difference in the lossless audio with also no difference in the synchronizing between visual and audio elements.  Dialogue runs smooth and clear with little-to-no hissing or pops and the same can be said about the more than adequate ambient track, the lively French Harpsichord piano soundtrack, and even the outlandish foley of beast sounds through the limited parameters of the two channeled output.  Special features pale in comparison to previous Blu releases, but are none-the-less impressive including 16mm behind-the-scenes, archival documentary footage in the making of “The Beast,” an introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw, a featurette of Borowczyk’s beast sketches, letter of confidence to the producer, and a treatment to a potential sequel that never materialized The Frenzy of Ecstasy, an philosophical interview with the director Walerian Borowczyk, the director’s biography, a still gallery, and theatrical trailer.  Illustrator Simon Sherry designs new and exquisite cover art for the cardboard slipcover and snapcase cover that perfectly represents the tone of the story.  The cover art is also reversible with Hispanic poster art and praising critic reviews and quotes.  The release is certified R18+ for high level sexual themes and sex scenarios. “The Beast” is an upfront, artful, and confrontational film about bestiality and sexual corruption bred to challenge the formulaic narrative with a call of unbridled seduction and a flamboyant flare for a firm erect furry.

“The Beast” Available on Umbrella Entertainment’s Beyond Genre label at Amazom.com

When Marriage Sours, EVIL From Within Manifests. “Possession” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

After his return from a lengthy time abroad, Mark finds himself in a contentious and spiteful relationship with his skittish wife Anna unveils her infidelity.  Unable to pry any kind of information from her before her sudden disappearance, Mark results to all the stages of grief and heartache:  denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.   Anna comes-and-goes from Mark and their son’s life, but their spats continue, increasing in anger and violence which each encounter.  Mark hires private investigators to track down Anna’s whereabouts.  He evens confronts her flamboyant and Zen-mastering lover.  But when Mark comes face-to-face with Anna’s sinister secret, a sub rosa affair unlike anything Mark has ever seen, he will go to unimaginable lengths to protect the wife he obsessively loves. 

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession” spans over a number of parallels that, in abstract theory, reflect social political matters of a post-war, Berlin wall divided Germany and the personal matters of Zulawski as a mirror of his ugly and bitter divorce from actress Malgorzata Braunek.  The 1981, Berlin shot, inimitable horror is a speeding melodramatic bullet train racing down a tracklayer of surreal rails and planks, ripping toward destruction with two turbulent people who about to slam, engine first, into an unforeseen mountain façade of towering despondency. That unforeseen mountain takes form from the tug-a-war of within, materializing duplicity, in every sense of the word, unnaturally. Frederic Tuten cowrote the emotionally florid and easily post-grad thesis dissecting film with Zulawski that was French mounted by Gaumont Film Company under producer Marie-Laure Reyre. Two other French companies, Oliane Productions and Soma Films, co-produced.

Watching Mark (“Jurassic Park” and “Event Horizon’s” Sam Neill), and Anna (“The Tenant” and “Diabolique’s” Isabelle Adjani) go at each other’s throat in a vicious cycle of matrimony madness can be in itself, maddening. Neill and Adjani radiate such loathing and desperation that’s seeing the two interact could possibly ignite World War III right there in the heart of Germany. What makes the contentious and hyperventilating scenes more interesting and alluring are the actors’ stage-like, full of hyperbolic melodrama, performances that somehow don’t quite register as the feisty interactions playout in what can only be concluded being pinpoint precision. Even Heinrich (“A Young Emmanuelle’s” Heinz Bennent”) is blatantly over-the-top with erratically wild movements of his body during scenes of emotional and physical struggle. Zulawski and “Possession” embraces the international cast with individual methodology on acting from Britain, France, Germany, and with even Zulawski who’s Polish and though you know the film is set in a divided Berlin between East and West Germany, there’s never this sense that “Possession” is strictly locked down to be anything but German. Aside from the Berlin Wall and some signage, maybe even the architecture, the multinational cast thins out the inklings of thinking, “oh yeah, this is filed in Germany!” “Possession” cast concludes with Margit Carstensen, Shaun Lawton, Johanna Hofner, Michael Hogben and Carl Duering.

Being that this was my second sit down with Andrzej Zulaski’s “Possession,” the first being Second Sight Films’ DVD release over 10 years ago, you begin to fathom the pattern of surrealism Zulaski aims to bombard viewers with through incessant bickering and an unspoken love-and-hate undertone. The doppelganger theory that’s attached itself to “Possession” from over the years warrants merit because those in a relationship on the precipice of implosion always wish the other person to be a better version of themselves, of who they want them to be, or of who they fell in love with in the first place. One can’t go deep into the doppelganger theory without totally exposing all of “Possession’s” secrets, surreal or not, and that infestation of preference takes shape for Zulaski as, ironically enough, a shapeless creature. The desire is tremendously powerful for Anna she can’t avoid being away from it for long stretches of a time, popping in to her and Mark’s old apartment for just enough time to have Mark stir the pot with his own manifested infernal creature, himself. Anna, an extremely passive woman, rarely confronts Mark about her infidelity and is always Mark who has to extract that information with every tooth and nail. “Possession” will forever be hailed a film that can analyzed over and over again without ever finding a concrete interpretation and, you know what, we can live with that.

As I said, last time “Possession” was visited by these aging eyes was over a decade ago on a UK DVD. Now, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with a new Blu-ray release from Australia. Umbrella Entertainment, in conjunction with The Film Institute (TFI) Films Production, releases a single disc, full 1080p Blu-ray, registered as their volume #11 on the spine, as part of the banner’s Beyond Genres collection. Presented in European widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this “Possession” release has a giant leap of negative exposure in comparison to Second Sight’s DVD, retreating away from a more natural and textural palpable transfer, full of detail and good amount of grain, to a blue-tinged headscratcher with a higher contrast that renders details and shadows nearly wiped out. The transfer is also conveyed with slight damage seen in approx. minute 14 with a vertical scratch and some image destabilization that makes discernability dematerialize right before your eyes near minute 44 and 57. The English language DTS-HD 2.0 master audio renders better with cleaner tracks seeing little-to-none hissing or static. The dialogue’s apparent and unobstructed thought slightly isolating without much depth. Despite some limited capacity with the dual channels, “Possession’s” more adrenalized scenes/ranges – i.e., speeding car flip, shoot outs, apartment explosion – sound effective and robust. Special features include an archival audio commentary with director Andrzej Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, an archival interview with the late Zulawski The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession from 2011, a U.S. Cut of the film with a following featurette Repossessed, a location featurette A Divided City, the musical compositions in an interview with composer Andrej Korzynski The Sounds of Possession, an interview with producer Christian Ferry Our Friend in the West, a poster analysis, and the international and U.S. theatrical trailer. What’s presented by Umbrella is the fully uncut 123-minute version in a region B-code format though, weirdly enough, rated 18. Another weird note about the release is the back cover credits are displayed in French on the cardboard slipcover housing the reversible DVD artwork featuring a new illustrated snapcase cover art by Simon Sherry. I’m a clear fan of “Possession’s” clear ambiguity despite being not sure positive about the new Blu-ray release. Zulawski’s tale of corrosive dissolving of wedlock definitely fits the Beyond Genres banner and is a fine edition to Umbrella’s celebratory bank of classic horror.


Possess Your Own Copy of Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray Release of “Possession” Today!

A Saltwater Croc is Pure EVIL in “Black Water” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)



On a two week holiday, Grace, her husband Adam, and her younger sister Lee, embark on a road trip through Northern Australia, stopping at the local bars and roadside attractions all along the way.  Their next ad hoc destination is to fish at the rurally located and rinkadink river tour and fishing guide, Backwater Barry’s.  With Barry himself already out with another tour group, his assistant happily agrees to take them fishing out on a small, metal Jon boat along the mangrove tree dense distributaries.  When their boat is flipped by a large, aggressive crocodile and their guide dead, the water-protruding trees become a lifeline for temporary safety, but being fully encircled by murky water leaves them with no escape route and hidden from the river mainstem where help would like cross.  With a hungry croc lurking below, the only means of survivor is to reach the flipped Jon boat that’s stuck stranded in the middle of water. 

Aside from my personal favorite subgenre, Sharksploitation, the next best would the reptiliansploitation!  If there is even such a scaly subgenre about cold-blooded killers, especially involving the waterproofed skin of alligators and crocodiles lurking and wriggling in murky waters.  I’m a child of the 80’s and grew up on such classics as “Eaten Alive” (technically the late 70’s), “Alligator” and “Alligator 2, and the Australian ozploitation thriller, “Dark Age.”  Even the more modern reptilian ravagers, “Lake Placid” series and Alexandra Aja’s “Crawl,” are hugely exciting, entertaining, and come with a lot of bite!  Another ozploitation crocodile themed film came across my viewing pleasure just recently is the Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich co-written, co-directed “Black Water.”  The 2007 independent production is filmed across multiple locations in the Northern Territories and New South Wales of Australia where much of the butt-clenching terror is filmed in the crocodile-less mangroves of the Georges River.  “Black Water” is presented by The Australian Film Commission and Territorial Film Developments and developed by Michael Robertson’s ProdigyMovies who cater to low-budget ozploitation genre pictures that usually pit man versus nature to the death!

The concise cast provides “Black Water” with an intimacy you wouldn’t get with a bigger, cast-saturated production.  Three principles and two supporters imbues the characters’ fears, tensions, and their rush of adrenaline into the viewers without having to dilute into offshoots with an extensive list of throwaway and expendable roles.  Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, and Andy Rodoreda turn from touting tourist to terrorized tenderloins for one of nature’s most ruthless hunters. The dynamic between the three is one that is high on the relationship status; a family consisting of a wife and husband and sisters, leaving zero room for apathy between the characters themselves and between the viewers and the characters as their importance of loss is greater to each other and that extends beyond the screen.  Traucki and Nerlich give little-to-no wiggle room for escape, forcing the survivors to wade the ominous waters.  The fear is prevalent more so in the eyes of Grace (Glenn) who is not only worried about her husband and sister, but also her motherly instinct to protect her newly learned pregnancy.  Lee (Dermody) and Adam (Andy) lack that hesitation, that trembling moment of dipping their toes back into water, in a seemingly inability to feign being affected by the force of flesh-ripping nature lurking just below the surface.  Even with subsequent failed survival attempts, I found difficulty relating to Lee’s fear who, in the latter half of the story, calmly breaststrokes approx. ten yards to reach the boat in a moderate attempt at heart-racing desperation.  Fiona Press (“Out of the Shadows”) and Ben Oxenbould (“Caught Inside”) round out the cast.

“Black Water” is the epitome of ingenuity when placing actors and crocodiles in the same space together.  Real people, real crocodiles.  Yes, the visual effects produced by Nerlich, Traucki, and their team, including of compositor Peter Jeffs, create a frightening cohabitation, stretching the limits of the VFX with the instinctual movements of in captivity crocodiles and laying them over the mangrove scenes that have the actors.  Whenever the croc pops up from the water with just his snout, eyes, and the few ridges of his back breaking the surface, the motionless stare from the beady Devil-eyes can make you hold your breath.  “Black Water” has killer anticipation with a death roll component that no one is safe from a maneater’s hunger. At some instances, the composites are not entirely seamless with the depth or the angles as which the croc moves through the water, but the overall effect is successful and potent. With limited escapes routes come limited plot devices. “Black Water’s” length felt almost painfully reliant on time spent in the mangrove trees with the characters mulling and weighing the options, the option to go for the boat became it’s own motif, and a short lull quickly stiffens the initial boat-flipping tumult. One second, the four fishers have lines in the water and the next second they’re in the water, “crocodile in the water” is being screamed at the very top of Adam’s lungs, and tour guide Jim has instantly disappeared from story in a blink of a crocodile’s snapping smile. No amount of backwater expertise assisted in Jim’s, or any of the patrons’, survival. After the commotion has subdued and the realization that a crocodile has come to feed, survivors stick the trees like monkeys a mere 7 to 10 feet from the surface water, stagnant still in shock and unable to muster a thought about what to do. After the lull, man versus nature gets right back outwitting one another with the croc having a big screening advantage.

Holidaying never looked so terrifying where a day in the office seems like an escape in “Black Water.” The story is a cautionary one of the increasing populations of both humans and crocodiles in Northern Australia and was based off true events as noted by director Andrew Traucki off the account of two teenagers stuck in a tree after the death of their friends by a croc in an interview with MovieWeb.com. A reemergence of the 2007 film, stemmed by the recent sequel, finds itself on a full HD, 1080p Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian label’s region B release presents the 89 minute feature in a widescreen 1.85:1. More than most of the picture is shot in natural light without being too heavily under the guise of lens manipulation with the steady cam under “Primal’s” John Biggins cinematography. The composited recordings crocs and locations blend almost seamlessly, only rendering a smidge of smear glossiness around the croc’s edges in the tinted blue nighttime scenes. Whenever the croc pops up in the water with a human character sharing the scene, the frame unveils evident cropping but only to sell the effect of the two being in the same moment, removing the outer edges to avoid potential gaffes. The English language and ambiance audio tracks offer two options, a 5.1 and a 2.0, both congenially in a DTS-HD master audio mix. For this particular review, the 5.1 was explored and the dialogue, ambience, depth, range, and run of the mill soundtrack do sound clear, without a hinderance of muddles dialogue, and pertinent to the circumstances happing on screen. Special features include an audio commentary with the directors, a mixture of polished and rough deleted scenes, a making of segment that includes interviews with the directors, actors, and producer Michael Robertson about locations, special effects challenges, and the characters who sell the story, and the theatrical trailer. There’s no pretense with “Black Water” in it doesn’t hawk mutant crocodiles or a behemoth beast thought lost over time; instead, “Black Water” feasts on realism, capturing plausibility and instinctual fear that makes us never want to go into knee high water ever again.

“Black Water” is now available from Umbrella Entertainment on Blu-ray!

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)