Transcend This Life With an EVIL Elixir! “At Night Come Wolves” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Leah has tirelessly tried everything to please her misogynic and negative husband Daniel, even going as far as dressing up in a skimpy and sexy Wonder Woman outfit and serving him his cake in more ways than one.  Yet, nothing seems to be chipper his spirit as he barrages her with meanspirited down talk that disparages her in every possible way.  Fed up with it all and hightailing their home before she does something rash, Leah drives aimlessly to get away from him and winds up, out of gas, at a diner where she meets Mary May, an acolyte to cultist Davey Stone who believes an elixir made from a forgotten, thought extinct, plant will transcend their existence beyond the cruel world of the now.  What the elixir actually does is something far more horrifying.

Verbal abusers, cult leaders, murders.  The crazy doesn’t stop there in Thomas J. Marine’s debut feature film, “At Night Comes Wolves,” landing it’s anti-sexism and anti-misogynistic messages upon the world on digital platforms this month.  Marine comprises his three short 2015 through 2017 films – “Paris, My Love,” “The Call to Future,” and “Object in Reality” – together with central narrative to bring new life into each one of his projects and also create something new from half the work being already filmed years earlier. Marine, or TJ as credited, writes a genre abstract story out of the pieces he tries to puzzle together, wildly cutting and pasting his shorts together as he continuously self-funds that extends into the filler narrative of his 2021 film under his own copyright, leaving “At Night Come Wolves” as a piece of true work from an auteur.

Beyond the first scene of a bound woman to a chair, bleeding from her hungry eyes and mouth, “At Night Comes Wolves” opens with Leah, “On-Site’s” Gabi Alves in her sophomore feature film, coming under hellfire from her loathing husband Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy). Alves comes off with the submissive, will-do-anything to be a pleasing wife starkly contrasted against Weldy’s take-it-all and give nothing sexist persona; however, their relationship strays into Daniel’s bizarre sexual fetishes and watching his sexually objectified wife become the plaything for another man, a black man to be specific. The scene is brief, but powerful, perhaps the most powerful 10 seconds in the entire film that could have been, or rather should have been, the very principal theme of “At Night Comes Wolves'” subjugating prejudice roots. Instead, Leah throws in the towel and deadheads to nowheresville, serendipitously running into cult acolyte Mary May (Sarah Serio) and cult leader Davey Stone (Vladimir Noel). Stone’s fancies himself as an alchemy enthusiast, mixing his vintage bottled potions of unmarked substances that produce a variety of outcomes, usually ones Stone doesn’t expect and that thinly becomes the plot point genesis of Marine’s shorts. The entire dynamic becomes a glass ceiling as the story kind of just ceases to make logical sense when Leah deliveres Stone and Mary May to Daniel in a reconnect from the past of bad blood crossing paths again and along for the ride is Daniel acolyte Susanne (Colleen Elizabeth Miller “Leaf Blower Massacre 2”) whose down to drink Daniel’s demented womanizing Kool-Aid. Joe Bongiovanni, Myles Forster, Madeleine Heil and Byron Reo are sprinkled into servitude of “At Night Comes Wolves'” contorted three prong story.

Marine might repurposed his shorts into a Frankenstein feature to resuscitate new life into his lifeless projects, but the concept of regurgitating material itself isn’t totally unheard of while also being not widely popular amongst the mainstream crowd and even well-backed, risk-taking B movies due to the innate choppiness consequence.  Whether the restructure comes in the form of a web episodes strung together as in Nicholas Tana’s “Hell’s Kitty” or from lengthy shorts of one continuous story as with Joe Lujan’s “Rust” being a prime example of his short films, “Rust” and “Rust 2,” having been meld together years later, the narrative planes always seem and feel fragmented and staggered to the point where convincing audiences of a seamless story becomes a blurred line of why even try as filming styles, crews, actors, and even equipment change over time and “At Night Comes Wolves” suffers from that very incoherency with an intended non-linear storyline inelegantly sewn together by backtracking segues. Marine has two, if not three, very different ideas floating around his feature with one being very poignant, another identifying ideological radicalism with sexism undertones, and the other being just for the hell of a horrific good time with the undead. Of course, you don’t ever see the finale coming because, let’s face it, there’s never an established clean and clear objective in the narrative that floats in time and space. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be partly a comedy or not with the incorporated park ranger scenes with Joe Bongiovanni and Vladimir Noel that are offbeat funny. This is the hand Marine dealt himself and it wasn’t a pretty one, yet somehow his ambition made a semi-intelligible presentation of a cult group toppling another more depreciating cult group before transcending into the seedlings of the apocalypse. And all I can do by the end of the movie is ask myself, what the hell did I just watch?

Don’t let this review scare the preeminent pants off of you from checking out and judging for yourself TJ Marine’s 2015, 2017, or, maybe, 2021 released films within a film as “At Night Comes Wolves” hit digital platforms this month of April, including iTunes, Google Play, Fandago as well as available on cable and satellite VOD services. Clocking in at 77 minutes, the unrated “At Night Comes Wolves” is out now released by worldwide film distributor Gravitas Ventures.  Aside from that singular moment of marital dysphoria that leads into an uncomfortably potent fetish of sexual desires and some witty repartee between a pair of colorful characters, TJ Marine’s reworked story might actually weaken the mystifying intrigue of his shorts as he plucks holes and fills gaps with new footage in a forced teetering of trying to make a comprehensible notch in the movie market.

Rent or Own “At Night Comes Wolves” at Amazon.com!

In EVIL’s Chair and Ready for a Cut. “The Stylist” reviewed! (Arrow Films / Digital Screener)

Excellent at styling hair, but not so much at making friends, Claire lives a solitary life as she’s unable to personally spark connections, even with those who she interacts with on a daily basis.  As a hairstylist, she absorbs a plethora of private information provided willingly by her clients who see her as someone not significant enough to be troublesome or detrimental to hurt them, but, little do her clients know, Claire has a dark secret with obsessively overstepping into their lives and, sometimes, directly into their shoes as murder becomes a conduit for Claire to experience a slither of momentary solidarity and belonging happiness.   Brief in its euphoria, the elated feeling doesn’t last and Claire finds herself back into a vicious cycle beginning with being defeated, but when a regular client, Olivia, begs for wedding hair help, Olivia befriends the stylist who begins to sink deeper into a misinterpreted friendship with Olivia fabricated inside Claire’s disturbed mind. 

Whenever stepping onto the hair clippings of a barbershop, sit on the padded, pump-hydraulic chair, and be asked by a for certain fallible person how I want would like my haircut, my hands nervously clutch each other, the space between my eyebrows fold in and crunch, microscopic beads of sweat go down my hair raised back and the agitation in my mind grows louder than a blow dyer on a high setting.  Why do all these externally stemmed irritants happen to me at the seemingly communal and smile gracing barbershop?  Think about my situation, one driven by introverted behaviors and pessimism for the human race, this way:  your neck is choked tight with a hairdresser body-bag resembling cape, sharp, haircutting sheers clipping swiftly overhead, and the loud buzzing of a motor purring around your ears’ edge before they detailing the side of your face with tiny razors moving hundreds of miles per hour.  Let’s not also forget about the straight-razor across your neck to attack the five o’clock shadow!  No, thank you!  So, there was already an abundance of established anxiety heading into Jill Gevargizian’s written-and-directed hairdresser horror, “The Stylist,” that takes just a little bit more off than just what’s on top.  The “Dark Web” filmmaker reteams with co-writer Eric Havens to extend the profile of the quiet and quaint, Victorian chic hairdresser, Claire and her lonely killer inclinations based off their 2016 short film of the same title and add Los Angeles based copywriter and “Night of the Wolf’s” Eric Stolze into the salon of psychological horrors mix. “The Stylist” is a production of Gevargizian’s Sixx Tape Productions, that also includes Eric Havens and lead star Najarra Townsend, alongside co-productions Claw Productions, Method Media, and The Line Film Company.

Najarra Townsend reprises her role as Claire, the lonely hairstylist bedeviled by a lack of belonging and rapport with no family or friends. Claire spirals into internalized madness that unveils when trying to step inside the lives of others as her own. The “Wolf Mother” star becomes a granular speck of torment plagued severely by social awkwardness to the point of her need for perfecting the imaginary bond between her and Brea Grant’s character, Olivia, goes into destruction level transgressions that’s normal, living rent free, in Claire’s headspace. Grant, writer and director of one of our favorite films of 2020, “12 Hour Shift,” and in the recently released, critically acclaimed, Natasha Kermani thriller, “Lucky,” has to be a larger than life persona whose the center of attention, as soon-to-be-bride going through the throes of wedding planning, that can draw in the wide-eyed and impressionable Claire like a moth to a flame. Townsend’s a specific kind of talent to get inside Claire’s ennui state not once, but twice. The latter precisely nails down Claire’s outlying, exterior behavior, but also smooths out a mustard nuance veneer of vintage chic that becomes a part of the building blocks peculiarly exclusive to her quietly disruptive cause. Starkly contrasted against Claire, Grant relates to who we all see on the outside as Olivia, a shining glow of smiles and worries that most people can digest with ease on a daily bases and while her life, as chaotic as may seem with a wedding near on the horizon and questioning a deep down decision about marriage, is juxtaposed with such distinction that Gervargizian literally puts Claire and Olivia side-by-side in a split screen early in the film to expose one hiding her secrets and the other letting them all hang out. Sarah McGuire (“The House of Forbidden Secrets”), Millie Milan (“Clownado”), Davis DeRock and Laura Kirk round out the supporting cast.

Take a moment and breathe the very essence of women-driven horror that’s as stylish as it is deliciously deranged.  “The Stylist” echoes similar psychopathic traits of William Lustig’s “Manic” and displays self-careening elements soaked in barbicide and Gothicism.  The junior film of Jill Gevargizian narrates through the eyes of Claire’s unraveling humanity from the stylist’s quick fix of bloody hair removal to the potential for climbing out of that deep, dark hole of loneliness only to be suddenly sideswiped by the falters of manufactured delusions. “The Stylist” is wrapped in a sullen hairnet that never shows the jovial side of Claire’s pleasures as she’s embodying someone under their locks after calculatingly cutting more than just their hair; a perspective exclusively held within Claire’s head, leaving viewers entangled in her in seemingly normal beauty shell and her inner demented chaos. You feel sorry for her forlorn life, but creeped out by that same life’s byproduct. One aspect that “The Stylist” lacks, that can be off-putting for some, is the mold that made Claire. Miniscule slips of her upbringing becomes not enough to paint an exact portrait of Claire as a malevolent monster with sociable dysphoria and as the story builds to a climax and Claire tries to imitate her mother, who died in her mid 30’s when Claire was 17, the mimicry fairs to say that her mother also had similar problems that has innately passed and has coped a different way of dealing with mental illness by way of alcoholism, mentioned by Claire in a moment of courting a friendship with an eager bridezilla, Olivia.

What a fitting film to be discussed and celebrated on International Women’s Day 2021 in the Jill Gevargizian directed and Najarra Townsend lead “The Stylist” now released exclusively on Arrow Film’s UK VOD platform ahead of the physical Blu-ray package and digital HD releases come June 2021. Film film clocks in at a 105 minute runtime and is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Behind the camera is Robert Patrick Stern whose composition of imagery is based mainly in natural lighting while dabbling in warm coloring such as reds, the occasional vibrant magenta, and a consistent yellow mustard, a favorite not only in Claire’s wardrobe but also tinged on the lens whenever a part of Claire’s localized disturbia. Stern’s clean and sleek picture palpably elevated John Pata’s editing of montages that were superimposed with transitions and the soul searing music of Nicholas Elert’s melancholic inducing piano-industrial score. There were no bonus features included nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Stylist” honors the past by reinventing the wheel in Jill Gevargizian’s clipping thriller with a hair-raising performance by Najarra Townsend as the maniacal hairdresser lonely next door.

Two People Living in Different Times Linked By an EVIL Secret. “Dead Air” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

As a single parent of two teenage girls, William stows away the painful memories of the death of wife some two years ago.  When rummaging through boxed away belongings, he stumbles upon an old ham radio and a diary that once was his late father’s, who tragically was killed during William’s youth.  Psychiatric sessions aim to resolute a traumatic event from the past William can’t seem to recall and has plagued him over the decades and well into adulthood, but all his problems converge when he befriends another amateur radio user, a woman, that simmers a progression of unraveling his past rooted by an unfathomable secret the woman holds that will collide William’s past and present to alter his future. 

Not to be confused with the 2009 same titled film of bio-terrorism turned zombie horde starring “The Devil’s Reject’s” Bill Moseley or mixed up with 2000’s “Frequency” where Dennis Quaid’s character phenomenally reconnects with his deceased firefighter father over an old ham radio, Kevin Hicks’ “Dead Air” also shears linear time by embracing supernatural elements over the air waves of an archaic means of communication and though flesh eating maniacs don’t ravage the world, another terrible humanoid race in the Nazi’s are brought to the proverbial table.  Nazis, traumatic past, jumbled paranormal radio transmissions, clandestine spies – Kevin Hicks directs a multifaceted suspense mystery thriller penned by wife, Vicki Hicks, marking yet another notch in their collaboration history that includes a strong history of horror-thriller credits from 2010, such as “Paranormal Proof,” “Behind the Door,” and last years “Doppel.”  The husband and wife combo produce the “Dead Air” under their homegrown production company, Chinimble Lore.

However, Kevin and Vicki Hicks do a little more than just be a presence behind the camera, they’re also in front of the camera, co-starring across each other as the principle leads who never come face-to-face as they interact solely by tuning into the radio frequency of the ham radio.  Their respective roles of William and Eva douse “Dead Air” with plenty of cover-your-base exposition in building a long distance friendship that turns sour when truths are revealed by supernatural circumstances.  Before the pinnacle reveal, a stitch in time ripe to be altered, Hicks has to be a widowed husband and father of two teenage girls while parallelly secretly dealing with an unidentified trauma from his past.  The trauma doesn’t peak through in Hicks’ performance as William goes about his day either emotionally comforting his temperament diverse daughters with the loss of their mother or always sitting in front of the ham radio eager to speak with a newfound chat buddy, the adversely taut Eva.  Vicki Hicks shelters in place as the paranoid agoraphobic, though not yet understanding what that term means just yet, as the cagey Eva and Hicks cements Eva’s covert dealings with suspicious eyes and a cryptic gait that tells us she’s chin deep into counter intelligence.  “Dead Air” focuses nearly exclusively on the William and Eva radio hour, but minor characters are sprinkled for support traction with Luca Iacovetti, Chris Xaver, Ryan C. Mitchell, and real life sisters playing sisters on screen and co-producer Mark Skodzinsky’s daughters, Madison Skodzinsky and Mackenzie Skodzinsky. 

As far as indie films go, Chinimble Lore is well versed in the expense saving concept providing “Dead Air” with limited locations of about three or four primary small and conventionally decorated indoor sets, low-key in the little-to-no high-dollar, high-concept action, and having the filmmakers step into the shoes of the principle characters of William and Eva. Don’t expect “Dead Air” to be knocking socks off with mind blowing choreographed sequences or any type of painstaking visual or practical special effects in a story concentrated script constructed to be a fable filled with second chances and righting the wrongs through unexplained phenomena; yet, when blindly vehement to correct the past, the unintended butterfly effect could also take away what’s precious to you. Vicki Hick’s script meets that cautious tale bar, but doesn’t exceed the darn thing as the mystery element, William’s insights into who Eva’s true self and calling and how he’s supposed to stop her despite living decades a part, to which the film could only express verbally instead of plastering a veneer to show, can be quickly solved in “Dead Air’s” blueprints of foreseeable plot points. One thing that teased the imagination and should have been explored further is William’s psychiatrist performing hypnotherapy to unearth his trauma, but then opens the Pandora’s box of well, why the hell didn’t the psychiatrist try this in the first place?!? William notes spending $40 an hour on therapy sessions and we see him sit in at least 3 times with dialogue extending that to a higher number. Either William’s psychiatrist is a hornswoggling swindler or a daft healthcare worker with poor practice management. Either way, team Hicks, between their repertoire of directing, screenwriting, and acting, can’t smooth out the film’s rough patches enough to be an original twisty thriller backdropped with an ethereal external force communicating from beyond the grave to save more than one soul, leaving “Dead Air” radio silent.

Freestyle Digital Media sends signals from the dead with Kevin Hicks’ “Dead Air” available now on Video-On-Demand across North American digital HD, satellite and cable VOD through platforms Including streaming services iTunes, Amazon Video, and Vudu and cable services Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox.  The 91 minute runtime could have been cut to a leaner 70 to 75 minutes to not only dilute the impact of a dialogue-saturated narrative but also trim a forced subplot of William’s cancer-struck wife that doesn’t quite enact the depth to William’s background that it was intended to do.  Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, cinematography by Kyle Carr is digitally clean with a blanketed combination of hard and soft lighting in a rather warm glowing color palette of yellow, red, and jade, but the camera work and shots are standard in technique, not offering much in the way of style since most of the shots hover on medium closeups of William and Eva chit-chatting over the radio.  The light rock tracks composed by Kevin Hicks and performed by the versatile music man Lonnie Parks are sprinkled in to engage a sense of passing time correlated with the storyline events, but the soundtrack’s genre tone sounds like a transistor radio out of place of a story built on a ham radio’s static and garbled messages and would have been more poignant with more of Parks’ mellow-brooding engineered score.  The digital screener was not accompanied with any bonus features and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Part of “Dead Air’s” demise is the fact that “Frequency” established an already familiar foundation over 20 years ago with nearly the same plot studded with star power and a large pocketed budget, but the story’s engaging enough with supernatural radio waves and the clandestine ties to Nazi spies to keep a progressive interest despite our good hunch on the climax and the finale. 

Rent or Own “Dead Air” digitally on Amazon Video by Clicking the Poster!

This Little EVIL Piggie Went to the Post-Apocalypse Human Meat Market! “Bullets of Justice” (The Horror Collective / Digital Screener)

The years following the third World War, America has been overrun by the Governments very own super soldier weapons project involving splicing the human genome with pig DNA.  The creatures, dubbed Muzzles, have occupied the country 25 years later and have turned the tables on the human species, capturing, breeding, slaughtering, and eating their packaged to serve meat.  When humanity created a toxin to combat the Muzzles, they inadvertently released a gas that sterilized the entire human population and the last of the human survivors have formed a resistance who aim to seek out and destroy The Mother, the continuous Muzzle breeder no man has ever seen, but is supplied large volumes of man meat in order to maintain Muzzle production.  The task to root out the mother’s trough of carnage falls upon Rob, a human bounty hunter working for the resistance, and his mustache sporting Raksha, who never loses a fight.  Together, Rob and Rahska butcher their way through a pigsty to locate and kill The Mother, but not every human shares their hope for mankind. 

“Bullets of Justice” is a hog wild, Bulgarian-made, bulldozing bloodbath of a post-apocalyptic exploitation may-ham from the warped (or genius?) minds of co-writers Timur Turisbekov and Valeri Milev with the latter sitting in the director’s chair.  Milev, who directed the 6th installment, “Last Resort,” of the “Wrong Turn” franchise, collaborates with first time filmmaker Turisbekov and pulled out all the stops in this outrageously funny, insanely gross, and eyebrow raising delicatessen of deprave cold cuts.  Initially considered as a pilot for a television series and later tossed around as a potential short film, “Bullets of Justice” found invigoration and traction as a feature length film from premise’ author Timur Turisbekov that led to a crowdfunding campaign on Indigogo to cover the remaining post-production costs of all the material shot by Turisbekov and his friends.  Zenit TT serves as the production company.

Blasting away sounders of swine, graced with the visual effects washboard abs, and is able to score tail of every single last human woman he comes across in this dog-eat-dog world, even his sister’s, is Timur Turisbekov as humanity’s last hope, Rob Justice – hence, “Bullets of Justice.”  Rob’s a stone-faced and skilled Muzzle gravedigger with a penchant for being one step ahead of everyone else and Turisbekov can act out the part of an untouchable 80’s action hero with relative ease complete with fancy fighting choreography  and a thousand yard stare and though the dubbing track is undesirable, it satirically plays into the black comedic satire of the man versus pig post-war consequence conflict narrative and there’s a score of characters with all sorts of dialect dubbing that doesn’t single out just Turibekov.  Rob’s sister, Raksha, stuns even with a stache on the upper lip of the darker attributes of Doroteya Toleva in what is perhaps her most memorable, if not most bizarre, performance that adds more of an aggressive balance to Rob’s stoic demeanor.  “Bullets of Justice” freely offers up plenty of nudity to go around from male full frontal to female full frontal though neither Turisbekov or Toleva bare them true selves as body doubles and movie making magic fill in the private parts, but there’s plenty of dirty, glistening in sweat, real skin from actresses, such as stuntwoman and actress Yana Marinova (“Lake Placid 2”) and the introduction of Ester Chardaklieva, to fill that authenticity void plus a few heftier and plump extras in the roles of slaughterhouse pig fodder.  What’s most frustrating about these quintessential apocalypse and ostentatious characters is that their development and arcs never, ever come to term of a poorly knitted post-production. I wanted to learn more about the antagonist with “the most beautiful ass,” Rafeal, played by male belly dancer Semir Akadi, I wanted to understand Askar Turisbekov’s General Askar betrayal, and even dive into what drove “Machete’s” Danny Trejo’s Godless dogma as a single parent to young Rob and Raksha in his small bit role. “Bullets of Justice” rounds out with Dumisani Karamanski, Alexander Ralfietta, Neli Andonova, Gregana Arolska, Svetlio Chernev, Dessy Slavova, and Doroteya’s twin sister, Emanuela Toleva, in a small dream role.

Being spurred as a potential television series or a short film, “Bullets of Justice” barely formulates a step-by-step story as the genesis of a surreally articulated full length embattlement with pre-scripted, pre-funded, and pre-shot scenes full of head turning high cost stunts, explosions, and with World War II replica weaponry (50 caliber, MP 40, STEN, etc) of already completed shots for a particular medium in mind, which was unfortunately not a feature. This is where post-production needed to step up to fill in the gaps, to muster visual segues, in order to piece the unsystematic scenes into a single unit of thought, but the second act inevitably goes off the rails as taut tangents snap like over tightened cable cords when Rob and Raksha team up to flush out The Mother and then one of the next scenes has Rob smack dab in the middle of being teleported, his future has developed the mode of travel through time and space, and while the viewer tries to interpret whether this is a dream or a style of the director’s auteur expression, Rob is actually teleporting to, well, we don’t really know where initially. Crucial backstory elements come whirling in to explain Rob trying to go back to the year just after the third world war to unearth where the mother might be hiding, but keeps missing the exact date. How Rob gets back to his own time is not known; Yet, these series of unexplained inconsistencies reap the benefits of such a gory good time that includes midgets firing submachine guns and dropping grenades out of the jetpack of a flying pig-man wielding a minigun on each arm – an entirely insane concept. Is “Bullets of Justice” a well-made, well-rounded film that would make your film professor proud? Probably not. Yet, here’s the kicker, a theory of mine that might explain everything. Rob Justice is actually daydreaming the entire degrading society where he is the lone savior of mankind, never missing a target, bedding all the women, idolizing a villain, and that end shot ties those concepts all together. Again, just a theory but it’s a damn good one.

A highly-recommended blood, sex, and pigs with machine guns exploitative romp and ruckus, “Bullets of Justice” overindulges with vice transfixing visual and imaginative dexterity that can now be experiences on multiple VOD platforms such Amazon Prime, Apple TV/iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, and Vimeo distributed courtesy of The Horror Collective (“Blood Vessel”). Orlin Ruevski’s cinematography is impressively expensive without actually costing an arm and leg with a well stocked cache of wide shots that capture the simulated war-torn world and girth of rural landscapes while simultaneously, through the use of low contrast and darker color tones, harness shots of grime and graveness of the Turisbekov’s pig-utter chaos that ensues. Combine Ruesvki’s expeditiously confident totalitarian style with the campy visual sfx from the Bulgarian based Cinemotion LTD, same visual effects company on “Tremors 5,” a rare and beautiful species of film emerges from the edge of rotoscoping to the go-big-or-go-home ludicrous-speed composites. Since this is a digital release, there were no accompanying bonus materials or scenes. With non-stop melees and a flavor for the tasteless, “Bullets of Justice” rattles along as a pure, uncut dystopian fantasy big on the pig and galore on the gore.

 

Must Watch “Bullets of Justice” on Amazon Prime!

Burt Gummer Neutralizes EVIL Graboids in “Tremors: Shrieker Island” reviewed! (Universal 1440 Entertainment / Digital Screener)

A wildlife preservation maintains categorizing and tracking of native elephants, but when one of the company’s philanthropist turns his private island, just across the water from the preservation campsite, into a game reserve for apex predators, nothing will stop him from wagering the thrill of the hunt on expensive, top-of-the-line game.  That is until the graboids he’s illegally bred and genetically modified starts to hunt the wealthy trophy gamers back, especially when the Precambrian lifeforms metamorphize into the fast-spawning shriekers.  With an island full of graboids and shriekers that contributed to already one death, graboid expert and arms enthusiast-survivalist, Burt Gummer, is tracked down and brought out of retirement to once again battle his longtime killing machine adversary.  With no munition weapons, an obstinate playboy’s maniacal urge to hunt the fierce predator, and the most powerful of the graboids bred on the island able to wriggle underneath the sea floor between land masses, Gummer and a team of preservationists must band together to stop the graboids from being an invasive and unstoppable species. 

From an icy Canadian landscape in “Tremors:  A Cold Day in Hell” to the tropical beaches of Thailand, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” is the seventh feature film in the Tremor’s 30-year franchise.  Heading straight to video on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, including Streaming and VOD platforms come this October 2020, the subterranean monster action-comedy is steered by serial sequel director Don Michael Paul, who directed the last two “Tremors” installments, off a Paul script co-written with Brian Brightly that set sights on expanding the graboid footprint even farther East and surrounded by the seas of Thailand, further more distancing itself from the dust bowls of Perfection, Nevada and Mexico into new and unexplored terror-itories.  Universal Pictures’ off-shoot subsidiary banner, Universal 1440 Entertainment, and Living Films serves as the presiding production companies. 

 

The smart-mouth, quick-wit, arms-toting Burt Gummer has become, dare I say it, the Ash Williams of the Tremors’ franchise as a perpetually dragged back hero into monstrous circumstances to battle graboids and their offspring on land, air, and in the pits of hell of the innate underground habitat.  Aside from Bruce Campbell, there are not too many heroes in a genre that usually has a villainous backbone and so Michael Gross is the longest lasting reoccurring actor, spanning now 30-years, to return as an original hero who first encountered and killed the bastard creature who “broke into the wrong God damn rec room” in Perfection, Nevada.  Gross, now gray with a few more wrinkles sporting his iconic Gummer mustache, fits into the military-esque attire under his ball cap to square off alongside a ragtag team of unprepared, unqualified, and novice graboid hunters in Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”), Caroline Langrishe, and Richard Brake (“31”).  Heder fills in for the Jamie Kennedy role of Burt Gummer’s son, Travis, from the two previous installments and though Travis is mentioned briefly, the character’s presence is extended through Caroline Langrishe as Travis’s mother and preservation camp leader.  Heder and Langrishe complete that entangled trio that has been a trope present in nearly all the Tremor Films, starting with Val McKee, Earl Basset, and Rhona LeBeck, battling side-by-side to overcome the odds.  Cruz and Brake offer a serious side dish of badass on a polar opposite spectrum.  Jackie Cruz as Freddie, an entrenched team member of elephant tracking, is the Latina MacGuyer and is a weapon in herself that only someone like Burt Gummer would fully appreciate while Richard Brake, with his trademark sinister smile as obsessed game hunter Bill, relishes the role, pulling a watered down, PG-13 version of his typical bad guy motif from the more violent-venomous Rob Zombie films.  However, a minority of characters fall through character development cracks, such as Anna played by the up and coming Cassie Clare (“Death Race 4:  Beyond Anarchy”).  The archery expert Clare is a pertinent show off with a bow and arrow and is Bill’s right hand, but the Anna, under Cassie’s muscular thin frame and ironclad persona direction, has an inclined built up that goes to naught as she’s snubbed-shoved to a lesser role without having a significant impact in the latter half.   The reverse can said for Heder’s Jimmy character with first impressions of a top class scientist with lower class ambitions; yet, in an instant, Jimmy becomes a battle-worn graboid and shrieker killer while more experienced hunters, especially one wielding a mini gun, have less of a handle on the situation. 

While it’s neat and cool and nostalgic to see graboids and Burt Gummer back in action, much like the disconnect with lopsided arch able characters left to be graboid-fodder, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” falls short of earlier predecessors, replacing personal filmmaking style over story substance.  For one, graboids just haven’t been the same since going from practical applications to computer imagery since “Bloodlines” on that has radically evolved the creatures from a less-is-more model to a complete overhaul of their veneer, resembling the dark and slimy man-eating tentacles of “Deep Rising,” and as well an overhaul of the creature mechanics that lead graboids to leap out of the ground and into the air like a flying fish, spiraling and twisting back into their dirt environment.   The graboid burrowing irks me as well as the ground explodes 10-15 feet up into the air in a blatant uses of detonating charges by the effects team to create the earthworm moving effect instead of just a perpetual hump and collapse of the ground that’s more of a menacing effect. Nuances run amok, causing subtle points of frustration in how Paul’s direction is really more a passive glance than a serious absorption of the franchise. Meandering people on the ground when they fully well know graboids are attracted by movement, half the film scaled back to slow motion to accentuate big money explosions, and the mother of all graboids able to target Burt Gummer for a mano on monstro showdown are just more examples of the charmless details in, what is, a palpable comedy with Earth dwelling monsters. “Tremors: Shrieker Island” is the equivalent of “Jaws: The Revenge;” the story may not make sense, but watching gigantic monsters cause mortal destruction is pure creature feature bliss.

What may be Burt Gummer’s last ride (or so they said in the last film), “Tremors: Shrieker Island” tunnels onto Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD come October 20th, 2020 and soon to be streaming on Netflix shortly after. The BD50 Blu-ray will feature an anamorphic widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, with an English language DTIS-HD Master Audio 5.1 while the DVD9 is presented in a widescreen 16:9 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. Both formats will include optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a dubbed French, and Spanish DTIS Digital Surround 5.1 with a slew of option subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, French European, and Latin American Spanish. Since the film was reviewed on a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be critiqued. The exclusive bonus features listed on all physical and VOD include a Burt Gummer narrated “The Monster of Tremors” that gives you everything you need know about the diabolical monsters, “Tremors Top 30 Moments” that hone in on 30 years worth of scenes that provide laughs, Burtisms, and some of the most gory moments in graboid history, and, lastly, “The Legend of the Burt Gummer” that focuses on the iconic graboid hunter character told by his persona creator himself, Michael Gross. Richard Brake, once again, nails the villain, Jackie Cruz stuns as a resourceful Gummer-ite, and Michael Gross fleshes out one more commando swashbuckling Burt Gummer in the zany seventh installment of the unstoppable “Tremors” franchise.

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