Kristen and James return home late from a wedding reception to James’ isolated family home off the main road. The joyous occasion becomes an afterthought when an unprepared Kristen declines James’s subtle engagement proposal outside the reception venue, straining their once jovial relationship into uncertainty of where it stands now. Before the couple discuss relationship next steps, a strange knock on the door around 4am becomes the initial stirrings of a clouted atmosphere brimming of paranoia, fear, and confusion when three masked strangers menacingly toy with the couple. The fight for survival in the dark early morning hours will determine their fate against strangers compelled to kill them just for the sake of killing.
Call me 12 years behind as I catch up on getting caught up into the brutal home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” from writer-director Bryan Bertino. “The Strangers” has been panned by critics for being nihilistic and fraudulent with no plot twist In a premise that pits two innocent people against three violent hungry intruders, finding common ground with Wes Craven’s more sadist-driven “Last House on the Left” and the Charles Mansion murders of the late 1960s while also pulling harrowing experiences from Bertino’s own small town suburbia. As Bertino’s debut film, “The Strangers” has become something of a cult film over the years with discussion upon Bertino’s themes, especially the act of pure random violence upon another person, that has become more relevant today than ever. Universal Pictures also saw an intriguing quality illuminating in it’s filmic soul and farming it out the spec to their offshoot, genre label, Rogue Pictures, in association with Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, and Mad Hatter Entertainment.
Bertino’s script attracted it’s leading lady in “Heavy” and “Armageddon’s” Liv Tyler who had to stretch her vocal range to the max in order to scream her head off like her life depended on it. As the disenchanted Kristen, Tyler brings beauty and tenderness to the heartrending woe of the newfangled corroding relationship Kristen and James are experiencing while serving as a stark contrast to the barbarism oppressed upon her. Opposite Tyler, and equally as disenchanted stricken in character, is “Underworld’s” Scott Speedman as Kristen’s beau, James, who difficulty to express himself in an unpredictable moment is greatly felt. Tyler and Speedman exact a crystal clear your head moment of awkward silence, frustration, disappointment, and heart ache that’s suddenly ripped from them, stolen in a away, by masked psychopaths. We’re never privy to their faces, keeping the mystery alluring and suspenseful, but the three actors, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, and Laura Margolis, exude a haunting and chilling performance of random acts of violence.
While performance wise is solid, the character logic struggles slightly for a viewer to embrace their actions seriously. I find that when the couple, being the only two terrorized people isolated in a quiet house, split up thinking the act as a sensible way of survival and is completely logical when, in reality, is hell to the no it isn’t! Three versus two together is better odds than three versus two split up, but, thinking outside the box, what if the split is emblematic of their dissolving relationship; no longer will Kristen and James do things together that make them more stronger and more accomplished as a pair. “The Strangers” can be indicative of many themes, whether instilled by Bertino or not who had complete control over the script and direction. Is there a theme of nihilism? Yes. Is there a theme of grim, unprovoked violence? Yes. “The Strangers” purposefully deviates from conventional cinematic means and outcomes, leaving that gutted feeling of dread and psychological torment in an unsullied, overwrought terror film. That uncomfortable pit in the back of your throat is the thick tension your unable to swallow in every moment of breathtaking fear; a feeling that’s very real when the hot flash sweat, producing adrenaline beads down your hair-raised skin, senses danger. The sensation is the welcoming byproduct Bertino’s “The Strangers” fosters toward being a legacy cult film, pivotal by all means as a rightful modern horror.
For his first feature run, Bryan Bertino has captured fear in a bottle with is shocking home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” that’ll receive the Blu-ray treatment from a Second Sight limited edition release come September 28th. The UK release will be a region B playback format and presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that’ll include the theatrical cut and the extended cut of the film. Limited to only 3,000 copies, the package will include a soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews plus stills and behind-the-scenes images and also include a poster with new artwork. Tomandandy’s floating and distinctive one tones, stretched and strung with the occasional interweaving string and percussion, score is not anything I’ve heard from them being unlike their sonorous scores from “47 Meters Down” or “Resident Evil: Afterlife” that meld a static-electronic rock, sometimes injected with adrenaline, to the action or inaction of the scene. Since a Blu-ray screener disc was provided for review, there will be no critique on the A/V quality. However, the screener did come with special features, including new interviews with director Bryan Bertino, editor Kevin Greutert, actress Liv Tyler, and the masked Pin-Up girl, Laura Margolis; however, be aware and warned that all the interviews segue into the sequel, “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” so there might be some spoiler moments for those who haven’t seen the sequel…like myself. Plus, rehashed special features from previous releases that dive into the same material the interviews provided, but also some exhibits shot locations, technical challenges, and some other brief interviews with cast and crew. A pair of deleted scenes are also available, but, surprisingly, the release won’t have the cut extended climatic finale you hear a lot of about in the new interviews and was in fact filmed, which would give the masked characters more depth into their methodology. Yet, the overall bonus material is vast with wealth of insight from the lengthy new interview material coursing through ever facet from the story’s genesis to the current reception of a film after little more than a decade ago. “The Strangers” is an advocate for the underdog independent narrative told through the eyes of a major studio willing to market and take a chance on pure terror over just putting butts in theater seats.
Slaughterhouse boarding school is an aristocratic playground housing some of the children of Britain’s most elite families. Alongside institutional studies, a long list of leisure activities are available, such as junior military, golf, and chess just to name a few. For new pupil Don Wallace, attending Slaughterhouse was just to please his mom’s persistence that soon sparked mixed feelings about his new surroundings between finding his place in the student vicious hierarchy and being in the company of the girl of his dreams: Clemsie Lawrence. The school also has a new headmaster, one who has made lucrative dealings with a fracking company for the extraction of natural gas at the outer rim of school grounds, but the seismic tremors caused by fracking result in large sinkhole, unleashing a horde of underground dwelling beasts that run rampant on campus grounds hungry for a meaty school lunch. It’s up to Don Wallace and his misfit school chums, plus one miserable school educator, to fight back in order to escape with their lives.
Boarding schools, especially the British ones, inherently have an intimidating nature about them and if the comfort decimating idea of being housed away from your parents isn’t frightening enough, the upper-crust cliques and sovereign clubs are an assumed terrorizing, foreboding thought – just look at all the paranormal and murderous boarding school incidents that happened to Jennifer Connolly’s character in “Phenomena” (aka “Creepers”). In Crispian Mills’ sophomore written and directed feature, also co-written with Henry Fitzherbert, “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is another boarding school that can be chalked up as being a killer institution adding big ugly beasts shredding through the student body as the antagonistic creature in this feature. The 2018 comedy-action-horror is produced in the UK as the first film from the Simon Pegg and Nick Frost production company, Stolen Picture. Pegg and Frost have a long and hilarious history together, breaking out internationally with the modern classic “Shaun of the Dead” and continuously worked together on various projects throughout the last 19 years since their George A Romero inspired success. The usually buddy comedy duo have reunited once again for Mills “Slaughterhouse Rulez” as supporting, yet memorable, characters that do steal the show.
“Slaughterhouse Rulez” mainly focuses around Don Wallace, the new teen on the scene who tries to live up to this standards his deceased father’s worked hard for, and Wallace, played by “Peaky Blinders” regular Finn Cole, goes through the motions of being the new kid in school that quickly discovers who his enemies are, as an outsider forced to be friend with the school black sheep, and falls heads over heels for the most popular girl on campus. Cole’s especially charming for most of the performance, but can flip his character to being weak in the knees and want to be reclusive when pushed too hard. Opposite love interest, Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”), provides little insight into her perceptions of Wallace as the character does a 180 degree regarding her feelings for him, but Clemsie sure does have reason to withhold how she really feels by being a Goddess and being under surveillance by Clegg, a legacy God who takes his title literally as a divinity itself and has a sadistic iron fist for those who buy their way into Slaughterhouse. Clegg is a stone-faced psychopath performed very blunt by Tom Rhys Harries Wallace’s friend by roommate association, Willoughby Blake, is a social outcast who loves to live in isolation. Asa Butterfield, from “The Wolfman” remake and “Ender’s Game,” sizes up Willoughby crutched by depression and drugs as the most complex character with a dreadful secret. “Slaughterhouse Rulez” continues with an amazing lineup of talent that include Michael Sheen (“Underworld” franchise), Margot Robbie (“Suicide Squad”), Isabella Laughland (“Harry Potter” franchise), Kit Connor, Jamie Blackley (“Vampyr”), and, of course, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Mills’ anti-fracking and subterranean monster flick isn’t all action and blood. For the first 2/3 of “Slaughterhouse Rules,” the filmmaker initially barely hints at a creature feature and harnesses to express his inner John Hughes with his attempt at a coming-to-age horror-comedy bursting with adolescent complexities, such as drug use, depression, suicide, bullying, love, adult and peer pressure, social differences, and so forth, that becomes heavily cloaked in humor and horror in the same vein as “Shaun of the Dead.” All the buildup of the teen dynamic comes to a screeching halt; literally, a bloodthirsty monster screeching when unearthed from the fracking folly killed, in a whole bunch of various degrees of the term, all the pre-apocalyptic adolescent shrapnel and turned it on its head as a means of overcoming the difficulties of the Slaughterhouse boarding school, relinquishing the difficulties into a honky-dory finale.
PER CAEDES AD ASTRA! “Through adversity to the stars” does the Stolen Picture produced “Slaughterhouse Rulez” find itself on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the digital picture maintains a rather seamless presentation though I though there could have been a little more pop in the coloring. Director of photography, John De Borman, did a phenomenal job with the lighting through the woods, the school grounds, and the labyrinth maze under the school; a reminiscing aspect from his earlier work in Stephen Norrington’s “Death Machine.” The English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track caters to every whim. Range and depth were good, especially with the beasts’ roars/howls. Dialogue is prominent, yet I still have a hard time with the English accent. Also available is an English Audio Description Track, French (PAR), Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles for a film that runs 104 minutes. Unfortunately, there is no bonus material. “Slaughterhouse Rulez” has the Pegg/Frost humor that we’re all now familiar with and still retains the funny, even if some of it is British-ly dry! With that said, Crispian Mills’ film observes adolescent behavior while also being blood splattering entertainment through the razor sharps jaws of the hounds from fracking hell!
When half of an archaic crucible is discovered while excavating in the basement of an old Victorian mansion, Isabelle, an assistant museum curator, is hastily dispatched to authenticate the finding and to confirm the analyst that the cauldron is, in fact, the missing second half to the one in the museum’s possession. Isabelle is greeted by the estate owner, Karl, his wife Evelyn, and their eccentric daughter Scarlet who welcome Isabelle to stay with them while she evaluates the crucible. The unnerving manor home keeps Isabelle awake at night as she frightfully witnesses silhouettes of a young woman wandering through the haunting corridors and the untended rooms. As Karl brushes Isabelle’s nightly concerns to the side, impatiently urging her to summon for the other half of the piece and finalize a match that would then focus on the crucible’s value, the young curator can’t shake the continuously dreadful sensation that danger lurks in every dark corner of the estate and that the residents are inherently grooming her for a sinister awakening of immortality and power.
Writer-director Iain Ross-McNamee has diffidently checked all the British-gothic horror boxes in his latest film, a brooding vampire macabre entitled “Crucible of the Vampire.” “The Singing Bird Will Come” director co-writes the script with Darren Lake and “I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle” screenwriter John Wolskel to reel in the once was, the gilded age of British horror that made a nick in time with the vehemently violent and boldly colorful enriched Hammer Horror. Like other genetic make-ups of horror bodies, Hammer Horror has a genome of a check list of self-defining attributes and “Crucible of a Vampire” aims to notch a few key elements including the Gothicism finesse, the sexually unchaste vampire, and, also, to deliver big horror on a small budget. Ross-McNamee places stakes not into the cold, bloodthirsty hearts, but more so into construing a film that isn’t a carbon copy of the old days, adding a contemporary digital presentation that’s laced generously with contemporary photography techniques even when the opening prelude is set in the 17-century and shot in a sepia style.
The story centers around the assistant curator, Isabelle, who has wearisome tendencies of 24/7 suspicion, being a pawn in every sense of the word. From the head curator to Karl’s family, Isabelle finds herself alone in tight spots and not many people she can count on. There are a couple of characters that are potential allies, but their feeble attempts in buffering Isabelle from the house’s evil secret are no thinker than a single sheet of college rule paper. Isabelle herself is her strongest defense and when push comes to shove, the curator turns ass kicker against a family of vampire acolytes. Katie Goldfinch handles Isabelle with reasonable composure, if not slightly timid at times, especially during fight sequences. Goldfinch sustains her lead performance of her sophomore feature film that is exposition heavy to formulate an isolating and intimidating dynamic between her and Karl’s family. Karl’s portentous cruelty is town-renowned, shaped by rumors and peppered with truisms and Larry Rew channels Karl precisely. The “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” actor has traditional methods of able to creep one out by standing still and speaking with a vigorously commanding tone, but Rew feels significantly older compared to his wife and daughter. Karl’s wife, Evelyn, stammers as a wild card in a role that seems to go nowhere and Babette Barat can only strut her hippie performance of Evelyn so far until we’re wondering what’s significance as a mother, as a wife, and as part of the crucible grand scheme. Scarlet had the opposite effect as the daughter was overly forward with defining her intentions that toward Isabelle that involved stealing, desiring, and chastising. Scarlet’s predestined for villainy and actress Florence Cady provides a fringe heavy and tantalizing seductive performance. So much so, Cady nearly becomes the female lead, but certainly overshadows the crucible’s calling, a vampire named Lydia, a non-verbal role with barely much screen time given to wild-eye, teased haired, and paled Lisa Martin. Angela Carter, Brian Coucher (1995’s “Underworld”), Phil Hemming, Aaron Jeffcoate (AMC’s “The Terror”), Charles O’Neill (“Cripsy’s Curse”), and the UK Bob of “Bob the Builder” Neil Morrissey co-star.
If “Crucible of the Vampire” is supposed to be a reawakening of British gothic horror, Ross-McNamee went without the vibrancy of color and went without much of the fervent violence that Hammer Productions was keen on. “Crucible of the Vampire” sustains a dissimilar path focally toward more exposition to forefront a narrative until an action climax that’s initiated by awkwardly edited gratuitous nudity and weak character flaws. Like being brewed inside the ironclad enclosure of a crucible, the filmmaker simmered a story that quietly bubbled to the surface until it boiled over uncontrollably and extinguished itself, splattering onto the floor below in a heap of smoke. Act three is misshapen by the prior two acts with one issue being Isabella transforming in an instant into a complete bad ass when faced with death because of her pure, virgin blood. In a blink of an eye, she literally kills five acolytes with a melee weapons that include a rustic knife, the crucible, a metal pipe, and a fired filled chalice. The kill by fire chalice and other igniting instances during the film saw shoddy outcomes of superimposed, computer generated fire which really do speak the inane quality of the visual effects. Even with the practical effects, blood doesn’t spray or gush onto a wall when a vamp victim has his throat become the main course; instead, the effect squirts on the adjacent wall like from a condiment squeezer, losing a sense of convincing value.
ScreenBound Pictures presents “Crucible of the Vampire,” a Ghost Dog Films’ production, onto an all region PAL dual format, DVD/Blu-ray home video release. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p with a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Picture looks absolutely gorgeous with the natural color palate, but slightly stodgy with the blood red vampire vision in only a couple of brief scenes. Details are fine and textures slice through, especially in the opening segments of Isabelle walking along the river line, and in conjunction with aesthetic wide shots that monolithic structures, like an old giant tree or the Victorian home. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 LCPM uncompressed audio track is not a film that necessarily needs five channels, but does utilize them when the night churns out bumps in the darkness. The dialogue has prominence, depth, and range without breaking or interrupting the audio lineage. The staid score by Michelle Bee and Amanda Murray floundered in the lossless audio as an unfortunate miscue to reel in and hammer away the gothic vision. This release came with no bonus features in a day and age where most Blu-rays do have some sort of extra content. “Crucible of the Vampire” has earned merit in the traditional British gothic horror sub-genre that’s been flailing over the years, reinvigorating the concept of dark arts and lesbian vampires, but loses footing at crucial moments that ultimately unglues the narrative.
As seductively epic does the title Death Hunter: Werewolves vs Vampires sounds, the funds for such a grand title don’t support it. Werewolves and vampires have been the subject of folklore for more than century and to have the two be in the same production needs the backing of the money. The Underworld trilogy gained much of it’s success and popularity through dollar signs and it’s stardom in the beautifully femme fatale of Kate Beckinsale. Death Hunter has none of the above, leaving most of it’s special effects to the wolves and creativity helpless to the imagination of it’s audiences.
While lost deep with in the desert, John Croix and his wife Maria stumble upon a den of blood thirsty vampires; the master vampire takes his wife but leaves John to die in the desert and that’s not all. Werewolves roam the night when the full moon is out; John becomes the victim of a werewolf bite, but he is rescued by a fellow survivor Van Ness who helps John beat his canine physical transformation yet keep all the lycanthrope abilities. A few months training with Van Ness has John ready for his exact revenge on the vampire clan that stole his wife from him.