Caribbean EVIL is No Vacation. “Zombie Island Massacre” reviewed! (Troma Films / Blu-ray)

“Zombie Island Massacre” on Blu-ray here at Amazon.com

American vacationers in Jamaica book tickets to tour guide Chumlee Jones’s Sunshine Tours. Their destination is Santa Maria Island for a rarely seen religious voodoo ritual. After the unsettling experience involving live goat sacrifices and the necromancing of the dead, the tourists become stranded when the bus driver has vanished from his post. With no transportation to the seaport, a menace lurks amongst the darkness and is picking them off by-one-by. With no other options, the afeared excursionists trek through island thicket in search for a passed remote house but will they survive the perilous journey with an unseen murderous predator or predators camouflaged in the dense foliage?

Jamaica isn’t all about rum punch and ganja, mon. Voodoo is a big part of Jamaican culture. It’s so much a part of the Caribbean Island culture, the practice is a certified religion complete with voodoo priests and public ceremonies to exact a range of obeah spells – most for good, few for spiritual bedlam. For “Zombie Island Massacre,” a theme of mystic voodoo pitches the tale of two sides of every coin as the unknown and the usual differ from one’s own customs begins to swirl unnatural thoughts of fear, trepidation, and censure while other malevolent forces behind the veil may be at work. Also known under the working title of “The Last Picnic,” “Zombie Island Massacre,” a rather arbitrary and common structured title of choice, is the released Jamaican-shot inchmeal killer thriller from director John N. Carter, an industry editor with his one and only directorial credit to his name. The script is penned by Logan O’Neill and William Stoddard based off the O’Neill and David Broadnax concept story. Broadnax serves as producer alongside executive producers Abraham Dabdoub and Dennis Stephenson on a feature that undoubtedly was inspired by the 1982, George Romero influenced, Marion Girolami directed “Zombi Holocaust” in what is arguably influenced by title only as a marketing cash-in of the early 80’s Zombie success.

Stories that progress with a group of unfortunate souls trapped in a dire straits situation and there’s no way out but unwisely toward the path of danger in hope of salvation are some of my favorite types of threatening circumstances.  Think “Poseidon Adventure.”  Think “Predator.”  Think “Deep Rising.”  Any movie where a desperate group of diversified dog chow characters have to move from point A to point B without being swallowed by the darkness around them is great fun in its pick off pattern.  Archetypes of this linear lap through hell can be fairly conventional with its persona of characters where you have the strong hero type, the gorgeous level-headed love interest, the angry shmuck, the slower-downer, and there might even be a cultural token character to round the group out plus a red-shirted body or two for good carnage measure.  By design, there’s a need for these stereotypes and “Zombie Island Massacre” has a hit-and-miss, middle-of-the-road batting average with its cast of characters, beginning with a shared lead man role for Tom Cantrell and David Broadnax.  With his idea for the story and serving as producer, it makes a lot of sense why Broadnax co-ops the lead as a lone wolf, tough as nails photojournalist.  Cantrell, on the other hand, is just another pretty tall boy who becomes more-or-less a babysitter of the group while Broadnax stays behind to leave directional notes for lag behinds and to keep the retirees company when their tickers go South in the heat of turmoil and walking uphill.  This turns the co-op into more of a dog and pony show where the pony just stands there and dog runs around doing most of the entertaining.   Diane Clayre Holub is Cantrell’s love interest as a painter on holiday in Jamaica and the character is more than just reasonable and a pretty face that comes unexpectedly apparent in the third act of attacks.  Broadnax, Cantrell, and Clayre do not bring the star power to “Zombie Island Massacre” and that trend continues with the fourth top billed Rita Jenrette who brings more than just her pretty face to the table too in more of a full-bodied contextualized kind of way who ends up sliding into, if not encroaching into, Clayre’s assigned love interest role without a lick of love.  “Zombie Island Massacre’s” cast fills out with Ian McMillan, Harriet Rawlings, Emmett Murphy, Bruce Sterman, Deborah Jason, Tom Fitzsimmons, Christopher Ferris, Kristina Marie Wetzel, Debbie Ewing, Dennis Stephenson, George Peters, and the “Ghostbusters II” “The Titanic Just Arrived”-guy Ralph Monaco. 

Big kudos to story creators David Broadnax and Logan O’Neill for delivering a narrative with an unpredictable twist that immerses you deep into the voodooist rituals and gets your blood pumped for the monikered title to deliver flesh-eating, blood-thirsty zombies only to be hoodwinked into a genre trap and a good one at that too.  Sneaky and subtle are the hints that not everything is what it seems on the island that hits you like a flashbang grenade when the truth is revealed, shocking the sensory system with a welcome voltage of sleight of hand.  I never saw it coming though I will say that the creature or creatures roaming the woods initially looked shoddy draped in blue trash bags with patchwork foliage sticking out but remaining relatively obscure from view that implored more of a slasher design than one of the undead one. However, “Zombie Island Massacre” is too by far a good film with precarious burlesques that result in a tacky feigning of thrills and chills hubbub. Only a handful of kills rendered a golden touch, such as the slow-motion bashing in of a man’s head with a large stick is effectively gruesome, but yet lots of the kills are done off screen and implied which can be a deficit for a slasher-like story that takes pleasure in and makes whoopee of the big bloody death scene. Some kills are even half-hearted in their execution. For example, one unlucky tourist has his head chopped off with a machete in slow-motion and audience has full view of the entire act; yet the machete snags on the initial slice point into the neck but the head still severs cleanly. The scene, likely needed to be done in one take, makes the cut…pun intended. “Zombie Island Massacre” wiggles peacockishly into the realm of island horror with a mawkish audacity but the wild pragmatic pivot is worth every second of humble hoodooism.

Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz presents a Troma team release with “Zombie Island Massacre” on a new region free, uncut, director’s cut Blu-ray. The HD 1.78:1 aspect presented John N. Carter film has favorable surface arrayal with natural grain off the 35mm film stock that comes with very little, yet still noticeable unobtrusively, vertical scratches and white dust specks. Skin hues appear natural, island bush backgrounds are lush despite some contrast issues deep into the background, and no blatant touchup enhancements awkward stand out, confirming that the transfer was in good shape to begin with and compression upon the BD25, churning out an average of 30Mbps, didn’t cause a technical gaff. The English language mirrors the Vinegar Syndrome release with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and the audio isn’t as near flawlessly fortunate as the image transfer with voice trailing hissing and lots of noticeable crackling and white noise interference which can eat into the already soft and muted dialogue from time-to-time and downsize the details of audio clarity. Plenty of range of sound effects to go around in the story but the depth just isn’t there to elevate it. Harry Manfredini’s score is essentially a reworked composition of “Friday the 13th” and if you close your eyes and listen, you’ll nearly hear the ch ch ch, ha ha ah and have visions of a headless Mrs. Voorhees and a hockey mask stuck in your head. Special features are mostly Troma-related as expected with any Troma Team release. There’s Toxie and Uncle Lloyd smoking ganja introduction at the beginning of the feature. In sectionalized bonus menu option, the film’s theatrical trailer, a promo reel of all the kills under Harry Manfredini’s original “Friday the 13th” score, a 3-part special effects tutorial plucked from various Troma videos through the years, a super-short film “Blood Stab,” and other Troma feature trailers. “Zombie Island Massacre” is an excursion to remember lined and studded with Caribbean macabre that sink tapered teeth into the skin only to have just barely missed the pulsating vein for the kill.

“Zombie Island Massacre” on Blu-ray here at Amazon.com

Surrounded by Aquatic EVIL, No One Can Escape “The Island of the Fishmen!” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

A French prisoner ship sinks to the bottom of the Caribbean leaving only a handful of prisoners and the Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, the ship’s doctor, stranded on a lifeboat for weeks until they a mysterious force drives them through the fog and crash them on the rocks of a seemingly deserted volcanic island. Only a few prisoners and the doctor manage to survive the wreckage, stumbling upon a ritualistic area of empty graves and abandoned artifacts of an island society. This is where the haggard and hungry men meet the beautiful Amanda Marvin on horseback and follow her through the island jungle to a clearing where the edifice of Edmond Rackham sits imposing on them. Having left his home country, Rackham settled upon this uncharted island, garnering local Caribbean inhabitants as servants, and being a greedy treasure hunter who might have just discovered the lost city of Atlantis. There’s only one problem, the city is surrounded by aggressive fishmen kept at bay by Amanda’s famed disgraced biologist father who has fallen severely ill, charting a course for the good doctor, Lt. Claude de Ross, to be unharmed in order to care for perhaps the only person who knows how to manage the wrath of the fishmen.

A swimmingly aquatic creature feature with an all-around gratifying men in costume pastiche, familiar to the style of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” in Sergio Martino action-adventure horror “The Island of the Fishman.” Also know under the revamped shots of “Screamers” aka “Something Waits in the Dark,” here we have the original film in all it’s natural glory from the director of “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” and “Torso” director Martino from a script by Martino, Sergio Donati (“Orca”), “Slave of the Cannibal God’s” Cesare Frugoni who workshopped with Sergio Martino’s older brother, Luciano Martino, (“So Sweet… So Perverse”) on the original story. Some would also say that “The Island of the Fishmen” is also a crossbreed between H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and, aforementioned, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The 1979 Italian production stars an international cast shooting along various locations in Italy and is produced by Luciano Martino under Dania Films and Medusa Distribution.

American, United Kingdom, and, of course, Italian come together to form “The Island of the Fishmen” cast that doesn’t stray too far away from their individual innate dialects. The most pompous is he Essex-born Richard Johnson’s sadistic and fortune hungry Edmond Rackham with a caricature of a voice that isn’t like anything in his performance in Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” As Rackham, the inflections reminisce of a British Humphrey Bogart mixed with a one Dick Dasterdly and so Johnson comes off a bit cartoony and overly dramatic compared to the film’s panache malnourished yet earnest hero in Italian actor Claudio Cassinelli (“Murder Rock,” “The Scorpion With Two Tails”) as Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, a ship’s doctor who suddenly becomes the medical caretaker and leading guard over a lifeboat full of hardened prisoners, some who have blood on their hands. Franco Javarone and Roberto Posse play a pair of surviving convicts, especially two at odds on how they should treat their next in rank penal officer. Though being thrust into the oversight position, the Lieutenant doesn’t have to worry about his prisoners for too long as the island’s baleful environment with jungle death traps, poisonous water, voodoo priestess, a sadistic lord of estate, and mutant fish people swimming in circles around the island’s parameter and through the cut through waterways sees to their wellbeing. “Island of the Fishmen” does have a few predominant male figures of different caliber but there are also a pair of women inhabiting the island who, too, have counteracting roles. Bond girl Barabara Bach (“The Spy Who Loved Me”) became plagued by the ocean’s frightening fishmen only two years later as the captive dame of Edmond Rackham who holds her hostage as he pushes her father (Joseph Cotton, “The Survivor”) to continue with his mind control potion over the fishmen. Then, there’s Shakira. No, not the Brazilian singer-song writer with the hypnotizing booty shaker. This Shakira is a voodoo priestess, played by Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham (“Dorian Gray”), who works for Rackham but ultimately envisions foreboding doom on the volcanic island. Giuseppe Castellano and Franco Mazzieri round out the cast.

A whole lot is going on in this film that from the surface seems, surfacing meaning the home video covers and posters, to focus chiefly on the hostile half-fish half-man creatures that bubble to surface, check out top side for any unwanted visitors, and quickly dispatch them before disappearing under the glassy waters of the Caribbean. I adore the design of the rather stiff but crudely convincing creature suits with buggy fisheyes, razor piranha like teeth, and cladded entirely green and scaley in a design by Massimo Antonello Geleng who by vocation was more a production designer with credits including this film along with “Cannibal Holocaust,” “City of the Living Dead,” “The Church,” and “Dellamorte Dellamore” to name a few. Yet, the fishmen were not a sole source of danger on an island that had a deadly schemer in Edmond Rackham, the motif of voodoo and jungle trap throughout, a volcano ready to erupt and engulf the island with lava, and the lost city of Atlantis as the grand epic finale that pivots this story on an acute elbow left that shows a mighty ambitious story on an Italian slim budget. To put it frank, Sergio Martino was able to put all the elements together into a cohesive, coherent plot with action, horror, exploitation, and mad science fiction albeit the story’s wild and diverging concepts.

Though many U.S. audiences know this film as Roger Corman’s highly altered, New World Pictures presented cut retitled as “Screamers,” Full Moon features releases the original oeuvre of Sergio Martino with a remastered Blu-ray release from the original 35mm negative. The 99-minute film is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio that captures in perfect matte composition and frame the locational miniatures, such as the manor house or the underwater Atlantis temples, in a compression that doesn’t make the structures obvious fakes. Slightly tinged yellow, the overall color palette is renders out well enough to suit the release with a pristine transfer seeing no signs of real significant damage. The English language tracks come in two formats – a PCM 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The English-speaking actors have their original tracks intact while the Italian cast have their original dialogue re-dubbed in English for posterity on new releases such as this one. Dialogue, nor any of the corresponding audio tracks, show any signs of fidelity issues or damage, but do feel muffled, even on the 5.1 as if the sound was boost stifled and left with some of the channels lacking vigor. Aside from Full Moon trailers, the R-rated film rides solo on this hi-def release. “Island of the Fishmen” is a small film fighting hard to swim upstream and really does a number on many different levels regarding where the audiences should focus their attention on, but I can see why Roger Corman wanted to give Martino’s film a second run after a commercial flop with a new, gory scenes edited right into the heart of “Island of the Fishmen’s” flexible, cartilaginous bones. Despite Corman’s efforts, Sergio Martino’s unmolested, original reeling reel is the one and only catch of the day for this purist.

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

EVIL Hoodooism is No Mumbo-Jumbo! “Spell” reviewed! (Paramount Pictures / Digital Screener)

Marquis E. Woods is a powerful defensive attorney good at his job, attaining wealth and position to the likes he’s never had as young boy raised by a fervent and abusive father in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky; a life now he always wanted he can now share with wife, Veora, and pass to their children, Samsara and Tydon.  The news of the death of his father sends him and family on a flying to the rural part of Kentucky to pay their respects in Marquis’ personal small aircraft.  A terrible storm forces down the plane down in a remote wooded valley and an injured Marquis wakes up in attic on a farm ran by a proclaimed rootwork old woman, Ms. Eloise, with her husband and oxen-strong farm hand.  Trapped and concerned for his missing family, Ms. Eloise slowly nurses him back to health with a Boogity, a Hoodoo figured representation of Marquis comprised of his flesh, blood, and other DNA elements, but her Southern hospitality isn’t for good intentions as she mends and prepares his wounded body, brewing a sinister spell upon his soul, for the forthcoming blood moon that lies days ahead.

Experiencing Hoodoo dark magic horror back on a bigger production scale is on the same extraordinary gamut in discovering the lost city of Atlantis.  Well, maybe not as profoundly archeological as discovering Atlantis, but still immensely impactful. Films like the Mark Tonderai directed “Spell” hit like a ton of brick-shaped talismans, fettering the imagination with hexes that bewitch fascination and captivation, and roots through an endless torrential fountain of ancient beliefs to scour the dark side of the practices for celluloid terror. “The House at the End of the Street” director Tonderai moves away from restraints of PG-13 horror before heading into a stint of helming television episodes only to make a glorious return back to features with the R-rated black magic action-thriller, “Spell,” penned by Kurt Wimmer who knows a thing or two about action-thrillers as the writer of the gun-toting, martial arts dystopian, “Equilibrium,” and bloodily vindictive thriller, “Law Abiding Citizen”.  Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa that, through the slight of hand of movie magic, turns South Africa into rural Kentucky, “Spell” is a co-production of Paramount Pictures, LINK Entertainment, and MC8 Entertainment as well as being a product of puncturing the rarely topical social class and racism division within the same race.

To play a determined and savvy father and husband on the ropes of survival, “Power’s” Omari Hardwick steps into the detained role of Marquis E. Woods, surely prepping himself against Ms. Eloise’s wicked dark magic before battling the flesh hungry undead in the upcoming Zack Snyder zombie-geddon horror, “Army of the Dead.” Hardwick is the ideal actor for a role that, at times, can be physical; his athletic build suits also Woods’ affluence though not required as scene with the brawny farm hand that introduces South Africa’s very own fitness entrepreneur, Steve Mululu.  Woods is pitted not only against formidable muscle, but also has to outwit the four or five lifetime smarts of an old root woman, Ms. Eloise, diabolically portrayed with a legendary entrenched Southern vernacular by the “Urban Legend” actress, Loretta Devine.  On the downside of the character, Ms. Eloise is rich with historical saturation that goes unchecked and unexplored and she seems a little more slapdash with her rituals and her captives.  In what really is a mind game of wit and Podunk wizardry between Hardwick’s Marquis E Woods and Devine’s Ms. Eloise, the remaining cast for “Spell” shoulders only little to annex more substance toward the tensions between the two principles, including performances from Lorraine Burroughs, John Beasley, Andrew Jacobs, Tumisho Masha, RJ-Karlo Handy, Hannah Gonera, and Kalifa Burton.

Aforementioned, “Spell,” between the domestic xenophobia opulence dividing the Woods family, the quaint, yet tangible body horror, and the abhorrent mysticism surrounding Hoodooism, teeters on loose ground with not only Ms. Eloise’s foundation, but also with main character, Marquis E. Woods, who suffers continuously from trauma-induced nightmares of his abusive father. Through flashbacks, Marquis is beaten with verbal assaults and even, seemingly, being stabbed or mutilated by his father. Yet, that’s about as far as the flashback dynamic progresses the thread bare bond until a minor moment at the climax is when Marquis then embraces his father’s aggressive nature, tuning more into a theme of stative stance that Marquis and father might not have seen eye-to-eye, but the son learns to survive through amplified evil by way of his father’s tough, tortuous care. The relationship circles backs with Marquis’ entitled children, whose piggyback wealth has molded them indifferent against the benefits given to them and partisan toward the backwoods people of color, and “Spell” becomes an insidious allegory creeping into the fold with a little tough love from your parents, in this case father, will go a long way. “Spell” also rarely pulls any punches with a welcoming cringe of ghastly violations of the human body (that pulling, inserting, and then re-pulling out the spike in the bottom of the foot gag will make you actually gag!) and inside the rustic and isolating confines of Ms. Eloise’s Kentucky farm compound, there’s a rough-hewn atmosphere that elevates the subgenre, shaking it to the core at times.

“Spell” is terrific urban horror tinged with “Misery” but driven by historical oppression stemmed Hoodoo, releasing just before Halloween on October 30th distributed by Paramount Players, a division of Paramount Pictures that’s still very much in it’s infancy. Jacques Jouffret (“The Purge” franchise) has a tight knit and jarring cinematography that puts the audience in the front, debilitating seat, empathizing the mind-warping effects that Marquis faces with a violent plane crash, nerve seizing torture, and banding Hoodoo hallucinations. Plus, there is fancy crane camerawork that marvels to capture multiple actions between characters. The score from Ben Onono fulfills the tension-riddle need with incessant zest, complimenting the narrative tenfold. Since “Spell” is a brand new release, there were no bonus material included and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t belittle the Boogity in this year’s most unique and contending horror movie that casts a “Spell” over the rest of the competition.

Pre-order “Spell” on Prime Video

 

The Evil Dr. Is in! House of the Witchdoctor Review!

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Who doesn’t love Bill Moseley? The loud mouth, sarcastic-trash talking, balls-to-the-fucking-wall, maniac characters swirl him into a familiar role that have been overly typecast by general audience standards, yet we, as the audience, love every minute Moseley is on screen – Otis Firefly from Rob Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects” for instance. Hell even Johnny from Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” gave Johnny a more twisted outlook on his short lived life. The same maniacal Moseley archetype reveals itself once again in House of the Witchdoctor along side a timeless buxom blonde and reoccurring co-cast member Leslie Easterbrook.
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A young and beautiful Leslie Van Hooten and her four grad-study friends retreat to the Van Hooten home to help Leslie cope with the anniversary of her fiance’s brutal and shocking death one year ago. Peter (Bill Moseley) and Irene (Leslie Easterbrook) Van Hooten leave the family home for the weekend, giving the young group a chance to give Leslie a feeling of peace and relaxation during her time of suffering. However, a peaceful weekend is interrupted by a career criminal Cliff (played by Allan Kayser) and his drug fueled sidekick Buzz as they break into the Van Hooten home looking to rape and torture the women and steal from Leslie rich parents. What Cliff and Buzz don’t realize is that they have unleashed hell upon themselves breaking into a house that isn’t all quaint and innocent as it seems.
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“House of the Witchdoctor” prides itself more toward the torture, rape, and murder that falls upon the young grad students than more toward the actual focus of what the title suggest – the Casa de El Witchdoctor. And while I enjoy a good torture scene between dirty old criminals and the naive youth of the nation, the witchdoctor intrigued me more because the subject matter of voodoo and witchdoctors are hardly explored anymore. “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” “American Horror Story” Season 3, and, well the “Candyman” trilogy, is all I can really account for voodooism. Aside from the lack of witchdoctor and witchdoctor activities, the misbehaving activities of Cliff and Buzz are quite enjoyable as their rampage is non-stop, their carnage reaping is continuities, and their true to their snake tongue speak. Buzz especially since this is actor’s David Willis feature film and his long, yet balding greasy hair and beer-belly gut attributes really play to Buzz’s low-life persona. Cliff is a bit of an enigma; coming from a religious home and being just release from prison, my first thought is that Cliff is a converted convict. The two minutes of his scenes are deceiving and you’re beliefs about Cliff will turn your head around so fast your neck might snap.
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Leslie (Callie Stephens) travels home with a group of stereotypical archetypes that are commonly used in horror films such as the sex-crazed best friend Regina (Emily Bennett), her jock boyfriend Tom (Danny Miller), their religiously prude friend Patty (Summer Bills) and the nerd wimp Thad (Jonathan Helvey). I’m surprised that wasn’t a token black actor who tossed around quick quips, but I guess you just can’t have it all. Surprisingly enough, all three lead actresses show their racks! Woohoo! That in itself makes up for the usage of common archetypes and yet those scenes were more-or-less gratuitous – some more than others. Character development could have been improved especially since Thad and Patty had some sort of weird relationship arrangement where they together, yet not on holding hand terms due to religious beliefs. In turn, their religion background, along with Cliff’s religious background, would have been a good contrast with the Haitian voodoo, but the mark was missed. Also, Regina and Tom couldn’t stop with the overzealousness of their hormones and so their development was skewed. Leslie had more going for her character in which she would reminisce alone about her murdered fiance, but this is confusing in later on scenes when the shit hits the witchdoctor’s fan. We’re more in tune with Buzz and Cliff’s characters than really anybody else’s. Even Leslie parents, Peter and Irene, are simplified characters who deserve more background. But like I said at the start of this review, Bill Moseley could bring any character life even a limp one.
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“House of the Witchdoctor” breaks the mold with a couple of good scumbags and will forever terrorize your dreams about being home alone. Also, a good amount of iconic cult star power doesn’t hurt and along side Moseley, Easterbrook, and Kayser are Dyanne Thorne (the ferociously buxom and nasty nazi Ilsa of the “Ilsa She Wolf of the SS”) and Howard Maurer (Also famed from an Ilsa film “Ilsa Harem Keeper of the Oil Shieks). Breaking Glass Pictures plan to release “House of the Witchdoctor” on DVD on September 16th!