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

The EVILs of Drugs, Addiction, and Art in “Bliss” reviewed!


Dezzy Donahue, a struggling Los Angeles artist, lives life ferociously with hard drugs and heavy drinking despite the cautionary advice of her quasi-boyfriend, Clive. Her current masterpiece falls behind on schedule and she hits a formidable creative block that results in being fired by her managing agent and with cash quickly dwindling, Dezzy’s losing the battle for inspiration that turns to an increasing narcotic intake surging through her system where any and all substances are fair game to explore. When she snorts a line of Diablo, a blissful, out of body experience drug, she finds herself in a rapturous three way with friend Courtney and her on-off side piece Ronnie that leave her with a post-high, post-sex altering inner body inexperience of opening the flood gates on her creativity to draw again as well as pang her with an insatiable need for a fix when no longer riding the high. Soon, Dezzy discovers the Diablo might not have been the drug that lit the fire inside her when a strong craving for blood becomes an inescapable addiction and a means to finally finish her greatest triumph work of art.

An audio/visual besieging rabbit hole shiplapped with braided beleaguering addiction and vampiric pathology in the stimulating aggressive, Joe Begos written and directed visceral horror, “Bliss,” set in the sordid Los Angeles metal scene. The “Almost Human” and “The Mind’s Eye” filmmaker hypnotizes on a stroboscope wave with his latest take on the vampire mythos with a drug-fueled, warmongering hell on a canvas tale of sex, drugs, and diabolical fiend cravings. Produced by Channel 83 Film, as are all of Bego’s works, “Bliss” is the director’s next notch up on the crazy, unrestrained belt that’s already garnished and weaponized with razor wire and three-inch cone spikes and while the story itself isn’t fashioned for originality, the way Joe Bego’s exfoliates the overripe garbage of rehashed formulaic filmmaking from the excessively strained eyeballs, sheepish with mawkish and dull stories, will be a new design to treasure as cult status.

Where’s “Bliss’s” 2019 nomination for best actress in a lead role!? Dora Madison seizes the performance of Dezzy Donahue by storm inside a role of careless abandonment that coils into viperous mode and lashes out with a deadly strike of unconventional fangs. Madison embraces the exotic Joe Begos route covered in blood, paranoia, and a sleazy shade of florescent neon and runs a willingness to express his mesmerizing vision with body cam harnesses. “Bliss” quickly establishes a hard-hitting tenor and Madison, whose credits include “The Loft,” “Night of the Babysitter,” and in the next upcoming Begos release, “VFW,” exacts a fortified layer of extreme sovereign, a do-what-I-want policy with a zero complaint department attitude, while stowing away what little hope and compassion Dezzy has in the forgotten corners of her plainspoken mind until the moment is too late to turn back. The story solely follows Dezzy’s perception of events as she encounters and reencounters characters before and after needing a junkie’s fix, an exaggerated play on an abusers volatile relationships. The cast affixed to roles of Dezzy’s vexing fix are Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield (“The Purge”), Jeremy Gardner (“The Mind’s Eye”), Graham Skipper (“Carnage Park”), Chris McKenna (“King of the Ants”), Rachel Avery, Abraham Benrubi (“Wristcutters: A Love Story”), and that lovable “Cheers” regular, George Wendt.

At this point in the review, an overabundance of praise for Joe Begos’ “Bliss” has been logged by this reviewer, who is obviously a fan of the film, but more can be unquestionably explored. From previous reviews and comments I’ve come across regarding “Bliss,” a minority have displayed a disdain for the indistinct theme of drug withdraws and vampirism that resembles Abel Ferrera’s 1995 film “The Addiction,” but instead of being set in shadowy alleys of New York’s urban jungle, Bego’s relocates to the wayward esse of L.A. life. Perhaps Begos was inspired by Ferrera’s undiluted struggle and violence that makes “Bliss” a clone to “The Addiction’s” chief thread, but the film’s are artistically polar opposites. “The Addiction’s” black and white photography and slow-burn air tunes more into the story of the Shakespearian tragedy variety, especially when Christopher Walken provides lengthy life stance and coping monologues to establish his eternal dominance over Lili Taylor. “Bliss” proclaims a stimulus trip from the very beginning with a favorable thrashing metal soundtrack and an psychedelic filmic presence that comes with an opening epileptic warning. Both films compliment the figurative comparison for a fix in their own poetic ways and would make a fantastic double feature release or double bill midnight movie.

If this writeup has a jonesing affect, “Bliss” is cut and lined ready for blipping on an Umbrella Entertainment DVD home video presented by Dark Sky Films. The Channel 83 Films production is presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, being shot with a ARRI/ZEISS Super Speed Lenses, as credited on IMDB, that would explain the sharp image and stark contrasts on the colors. The visual perception of the seemingly humming-on-your-eyeballs neon lighting barely lets you experience the film in natural lightening during night scenes and only in the daytime that resembles the little normalcy left of Dezzy’s life, fade away with natural light the more she succumbs to blood cravings. “Bliss” feels and acts out like a 90’s film, slightly grainy for grindhouse seduction by way of shooting of actual film stock (35mm!), and forgoes the bubbly shine of perfection, coinciding damningly with Dezzy’s inner circle of sleaze, grime, and gore. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has a lot of kick and energy with a prevailing metal and punk/post-punk soundtrack feature Doomriders, Deth Crux, and Electric Wizard just to name drop a few. Dialogue is clean with an appropriate depth in the midsts of hard partying and live bands. Range is a little harder to discern since the soundtrack really is overpowering and dialogue sops up the remaining amount of audio track space, but when opted, the ripping of flesh and breaking of bones doesn’t disappoint. No subtitles are offered. Like many of Umbrella Entertainment’s standard releases, the single sided, singer layer DVD has no static menu or special features to offer other than the 80 minute runtime feature. “Bliss” is one coked-out, blood hungry hell of a vampire tangent from the norm that rectifies the optic and audible sanctuary for shock brilliancy to flesh out the Machiavellian in all of us.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KdXU-n7qSg]

You want it, You need it, You desire it! Own “Bliss” today!