Associate professor Dr. Emily Burns is forced by two masked men into a small square shaped room, confined by four faux wood paneled walls and layered with a thin tattered carpet. Oblivious to the reason behind her sudden captivity, Emily frantically searches the room, desperately searching for clues for a potential escape and potentially why she’s been locked away. Emily also realizes she’s suffering from incapacitating headaches, fragmented memories, and she discovers has a musket size growth on the back of her neck. Her masked captors visit her often, inquiring about the date January 11th and if she’s able to complete her mentor’s work, but Emily can’t put the pieces together; she has to puzzle together the clues she discovers in the bleak room that might be her only way to truly understand her situation.
“Riddle Room” (also known as “Breakaway”) is a mystery thriller based on the clue finding, puzzle solving, race against the clock room escape concepts that are highly popular usually associated with team building exercises or a fun thing to do on any given night. Director Bryan Binder keeps the air enigmatic and unloads a blindside ending that’s a rare and unique quality for a director’s freshman feature film. The characters are with attributes of shapeshifting intrigues that aid in the mysteries or the riddles, if you will. The “Riddle Room” has everything a traditional live escape room would be fitted with: clues placed in all parts of the room, a sense of tremendous urgency, and even a countdown timer. Yet, the pressure isn’t necessarily transferred onto the captivated viewer; instead, Dr. Emily Burns puzzling predicament enthralls much of the story’s fascination.
Marisa Stober is cast as the lead character Dr. Emily Burns, who majorly is the film’s lone wolf actress, and she attempts to put Emily in a completely complexing situation, but doesn’t quite sell her solitary performance as she leads Emily along with such ease through the room’s clues and is able to easily get the quick upper hand on her captors. However, the ease in both areas might be contributed to film’s surprising, if yet impractical, twist finale, which only makes for a good movie night and not a nonfictional masterpiece. Binder wrote the screenplay as well that’s needs some fine tune polishing. Between Emily’s fragmented memory moments and when Emily’s entire story comes together at the end, some questions about Emily’s status and her arrival to the situation still go unanswered.
Breaking Glass Pictures and Vicious Circle Films distributes the first film under the Three Ring Entertainment produced credit onto DVD this February. The video quality is presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio on a dual layer compressed disc, which is kind of odd since the film is roughly 80 minutes and not very effects heavy, and is fairly clean with vivid coloring and natural tones. There’s slight selective aliasing moments on the faux wood paneled room, but doesn’t hinder the film’s overall video quality. From an audio standpoint, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 is noticeably unbalanced with much of Stober’s dialogue, specifically whispering, going unheard or lost within the Henrik Åström soundtrack. The comprehensibility from Emily’s masked captor’s monotoned produced voice puts Stober’s dialogue tracks to shame. The special features are nicely abundant with cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes featurette, cast auditions, investor scene, a bonus trailer, and a making of the “Experiment.”
“Riddle Room” doesn’t have any thrill shortcomings, leaving the story’s beginning and end open to focus primarily on Emily’s high strung bewilderment. Even though the ending falls a bit flat, I suspect that Bryan Binder is an upcoming writer-director to keep an eye. I’d like to see a follow up sequel to “Riddle Room” under the same cast and crew to continue the development of Dr. Emily Burns, to get her status update, and to understand more of the plight. A companion piece would nicely complete Binder’s seemingly unfinished “Riddle Room” narrative, but as a standalone feature, satisfaction comes easy enough through what’s already written and recorded for this 2016 film.
A pair of procrastinating college students decide to make an aged old legend of a local serial killer named Dorchester Stewart, aka Crinoline Head, into their final research project, knowing that their teacher, Professor Paul Donner, was traumatically to close to being one of Crinoline Head’s fatal victims. With other invited and uninvited students tagging along, the trip to the isolated Stewart lake house grounds turns into a booze and sex filled getaway for most with an irritable and lustful female grounds keeper maintaining an ever close eye on them. As those interested in the legend of the doll obsessed Crinoline Head become closer to whether the infamous murderer still exists, students are disappearing one by one solidifying Crinoline Head’s homicidal come back.
“Dollface” is the latest all-American slasher parody film from director Tommy Faircloth and is the long awaited sequel to Faircloth’s “Crinoline Head” in 1995. Now, I’ve never experienced the first “Crinoline Head” film myself and reviewing the sequel might be challenging to undertake. Any time when solely working with sequels, portions of the sequels go unexplained because they assume that audiences are all caught up on the original premise. Tommy Faircloth really tries to put an effort into catching viewers up on the 20-year-old story with a classroom monologue told by the first film’s surviving character Paul, who is now a college professor. A backstory introduction also recounts the reason on how young Dorchester Stewart becomes the monstrous murderer with the untimely death of his doll-making and over protecting mother, but the exposition becomes boggling and doesn’t necessarily feel like enough to warrant Stewart’s homicidal tendencies.
For a campy horror-comedy slasher flick, “Dollface” comes off slightly conservative with the death scenes, leaving much to the imagination with quick scene cuts and off screen kills. Practical effects are left in the dust while the use of blood splatter becomes a hot commodity and I’m not positive how much special effects and makeup supervisor Michael R. Smith was involved except for a obvious dummy head in a crab trap, a knife planted in someone’s chest, and a cocaine snorter stuck up a strangled one’s nostril. Crinoline Head, portrayed by former pro-wrestling body guard John Kap, appears minacious enough being a giant lumbering individual in a jumper suit while sporting the half broken porcelain doll mask and Faircloth’s kill scenes seemed interesting enough in concept, but why they’re not fully developed and executed to revel in shock value is beyond comprehension.
The horror-comedy does live up to being extremely campy and stars the one and only legendary B-horror movie scream queen Debbie Rochon to headline as the raunchy and bored grounds keeper held up in an old RV, propositioning the young male students. “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies” star Jason Vail portrays Prof. Paul Donner and with alongside Debbie Rochon, the veteran actors are sprinkled into the story to offset their rather fresh faced co-stars. However, raw talent lies within the silver lining with lead male Christian James who brought strength aspects and an even keeled mentality to the lead character David and also with Jim, David’s friend played by the naturally funny man Gunner Wills, was another character that was a joy when on screen. Despite some solid performances, the cast comes and goes to make body count and are not able to expand and develop on their characters, leaving a teetering feeling about whether the character should be liked or disliked when finally receiving the ultimate axe.
Breaking Glass Pictures and Vicious Circle Films brings “Dollface” to DVD home video in a brilliant widescreen format, providing a clean picture with only a hint of aliasing during more action scenes and one off-colored scene that went completely into a blue tone as if to convey the twilight hour, but the next scene was bright daylight again. The audio is way unbalanced with the metal genre soundtrack goes overbearing the dialogue; LFE oppresses much of the other audio tracks, causing the dialogue to be nearly inaudible and moot to the story. “Dollface” has the basic slasher attitude and gets the slack and hack job bluntly done, but it’s not pretty nor perfect when considering prior slasher parodies. Once I experience Tommy Faircloth’s first film “Crinoline Head” and get the full effect of the fictional serial killer, maybe then this sequel of the doll-faced killer will bare more inauspicious teeth. If anything, Debbie Rochon screaming, “Can you pop a fucking squat!?!?” is well worth the viewing.
“Red Nights” is not exactly a new film. Being released in 2010, the erotic, giallo-inspired, thriller has only been available for DVD purchase in the Belgium market while Germany has the sole blu-ray edition. With much anticipation, Philadelphia based company Breaking Glass Pictures will be bringing “Red Nights” to DVD in the States in all it’s suspenseful and bloody glory.
The ancient box of the Jade Executioner has become the fascination of everyone’s desires. From crooked politicians, to thieves, to sadomasochistic murderers, the box contains a poison that will increase your pleasure by ten fold while leaving you completely paralyzed and increase your pain by the same amount. This twisted tale with a sexual aura constructs a cat-and-mouse game between two femme fatales, Catherine – who just wants a giant pay day for the box and Carrie Chan – who wishes to use the poison for the ultimate pleasure from pain, while a Manau crime lord embarks on a mission to retrieve back his stolen antique box.
This is the first feature length film from French directors Laurent Courtiaud and Julien Carbon and while “Red Nights” looks beautiful on screen – the shot scenes remind me the Wachowski brother’s Noir film “Bound” – the story can be a bit loose and slow at first. The By the end of act one, “Red Nights” really pick up the pieces and the story of how Frédérique Bel’s character Catherine, a personal assistant to the crooked politician Savini, becomes snared in a web of deadly game with Carrie Chan – played by Hong Kong actress Carrie Ng – and in this game, minor players get a slow and painful death which translates very well to screen and relates very precisely to the character’s personas. Carrie is a sadist who can whip a dry martini while skinning you alive. Catherine is a bit more hesitant but her greed can force her hand to kill.
The gory effects are surprisingly realistic for a pair of visual effects crew members – Jam Abelanet and Bertrand Levallois – who don’t have much horror and thriller film credits behind their names. This goes hand and hand with how I described the first time directors and how the crew of “Red Nights” got it right the first time. Where the film lost me a many of times was the back and forth dialect of French, Chinese, and a little bit of English thrown in there for good measure. As much as I like a foreign film to use their native tongue, it’s hard to follow when a conversation between a Chinese actress who speaks in full Chinese and then the French actress retorts in full French. “Red Nights” would not make a good Rosetta Stone substitute.
Carrie Ng creates a fascinating character in Carrie Chan, a respectable, world renowned perfume designer and model. Chan’s dark side involves tight leather, bondage ropes, and razor sharp metallic finger talons that shred skin like shredding a block of cheese. Carrie Ng is lustfully sleek and sexy with her bad girl image that suites her well. Frédérique Bel couldn’t compare to Ng’s prowlness nor clean good looks, but I have to give Bel credit for making her character Catherine a sneaky and aggressive go getter. Maybe the issue was in the script’s writing, but Catherine seemed to lack a lot of intelligence for being in a game that could cost her her life. Catherine trusted everyone too easily and let people go too quickly without any kind of punishment or pain.
While “Red Nights” won’t break the DVD retail shelf bank, I’m still glad Breaking Glass Pictures and Vicious Circle Films are releasing this foreign gem to the masses of ‘Merica. And while I appreciate every aspect of this film from the director’s inspiration of Giallo genre to the histories of Chinese folklore, I can’t see my country men going crazy over a Chinese girl with finger blades. However, the story for Carrie Chan might speak more to horror enthusiast in that the Jade Executioner’s poison is similar to the box in Hellraiser. The box is described to show you the pleasures of pain much like the poison in “Red Nights.” Lets also not forget that Japanese porn actress Kotone Amamlya and French actress Carole Brana do a bit of nudity as well – click to see my skin page here. Come Tuesday October 21st, DVD will be readily available for purchase, but why wait? Pre-order your copy of a unique thriller with hints of gruesome horror torture!