An ambitious physics professor Hiram Otis obtains a research grant that requires him to study in England, pulling his wife, daughter, and two young boys from their Indiana home into a strange new world. In an age of obsolete aristocracy, the Otis family is able to afford rent at the grand Canterville Hall, a legendary castle with an infamous tale of death and suspicion that also might have resulted in being an affordable estate for the American family. Legend records have it that the lord of the castle, Sir Simon de Canterville, had subsequently killed his wife due to his obsessions and became the victim of his wife’s family spiteful vengeance by being chained to a dungeon cell. For 400 years, Sir Simon remained in that cell and his ghost haunts Canterville Hall, but despite their beliefs in the supernatural, the physics professor and his wife can’t see the ghost and only their teenage daughter and two young boys are able to witness him roam the halls, haunting those who live within the castle walls.
Every once and awhile, we’ll thoroughly review a light-hearted fantasy, horror, or sci-fi film and since we’re hot off the heels of the review for Wes Craven’s “Summer of Fear,” the made-for-television train might as well keep chug-chug-chugging alone with the 1996 TV movie adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novella, “The Canterville Ghost.” Distributed by ABC, the Sydney Macartney (as Syd Macartney) directed and Robert Benedetti teleplay written installment tries to differentiate itself and standout amongst a plethora of adaptations that span across the globe, but the American Broadcast Company, a subsidiary of the great and powerful Disney, aimed to separate from the masses by adding star studded power and the result brought a rejuvenation to the ye old tale over two decades ago.
The big name headliner is none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, two years after his 7-year stint on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stewart, who co-produced the film, adds his theatrical flair and is absolutely brilliant shaping drama monologues into dense thickets that define Sir Simon de Canterville’s ghost, but there’s an issue; the problem doesn’t lie with Patrick Stewart, but with how Benedetti’s teleplay expos from the story as a continuous, if not slightly jumbled, stream of old English that just feels like rambling. To alleviate that strain is Stewart’s co-star Neve Campbell to add a softer, glassy-eyed touch to the story with a pinch of plain jane American girl insecurities, characterized in Wilde’s story as Virginia Otis. Perhaps in the beginning portion of the height of her career, Campbell finds herself between “Party of Five” and hitting scream queen status as Sydney Prescott in “Scream,” but the “Wild Things” actress wasn’t that sultry or that chased in “The Canterville Ghost” who only took upon an annoyed teenage girl persona, wishing her life was back in America up until the mysterious spirit of Sir Simon de Canterville allured a spark into her dull life. Alongside Stewart and Campbell, Daniel Betts, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Raymond Pickard, Cherie Lunghi, Donald Sinden, Joan Sims, and the late Edward Wiley, who died shortly before the film’s premiere, costar.
Going into “The Canterville Ghost” was nothing short of knowing nothing other than the fact the Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell were in the lead roles of a Disney backed, family film and to be completely honest, Macartney’s vision completely underwhelms. Along with the verbose nature of the script-to-teleplay alterations, the magical supernatural portions are inarguably cheap, even for television. The simple superimposing of Sir Simon de Canterville offered no stimulation as the the two scenes just didn’t splice together well to seamlessly make the grade. Firecracker explosions and party store cobwebs dilute even thinner the already slim pickings of special effects that top when Virginia Otis crosses over into a dense fogged ghostly realm thats chopped, cropped, and edited with such disorganization, the entire scene feels more lost than Virginia trying to escape the other side back to the living.
Sydney Macartney’s “The Canterville Ghost” is presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray courtesy of the U.K. distributor Second Sight Films. The Blu-ray is presented in the Academy ratio of 1.33:1 with 1080p resolution on a MPEG-4 AVC BD 25. Second Sight’s release will have the best looking version of this film, if the quality is anything like the screener sent to me, with a strong color palette, minor digital noise, and rich in great detail; so detailed in fact that the blemishes on Neve Campbell and Daniel Betts can be seen. The English DTS-HD audio track is lively, but not entirely boastful with more thematic and dramatic elements. Dialogue track is clean and clear and the score by “Dead Heat” and “Tremors” composer Ernest Troost augments his fairy tale rendition into the mix. Bonus material includes new interviews with director Sydney Macartney and producer-writer Robert Benedetti. Second Sight’s presentation of Hallmark Entertainment’s “The Canterville Ghost” has strong Blu-ray technical potential, but despite the big names of that time period and a visually stimulating setting, the fantastic adventure through a cursed ghost’s melodrama and a bored young girl’s tenure of self discovery unfortunately didn’t rivet with excitement or wonder, losing steam with it’s important message that life is more than being in a bubble of stagnant disappointment and guilt.
Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.
“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.
“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.
Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.
The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.
I would like to start off with the readers receiving some slight background on you. Can you provide us with a short bio about where you’re from, where you’re at now, and what prominently influenced you into the person you are today?
I was born and raised in the Central Valley of California, in a mid-sized City named Visalia. It’s grown into a city without any real film culture or following so I try to stay away as much as possible. I spend my days going back and forth between Los Angeles and Visalia due to my kids.
I came from a really rough childhood. As a kid, I was taken by my stepdad to see “The Accused” in the theater and being around six or seven, watching a film focusing on the gang rape of a woman really affected me. It scared me and made me uncomfortable for both Jodie Foster’s character and myself. That night, when we got home, my stepdad molested me, something that lasted for a good while. It turned a wild and outgoing kid into a scared little boy who was afraid of everything and everyone. He was a real piece of shit and an alcoholic, so my mom would give me enough money to go to the nearby theater to stay there all day watching movies. It was pre-Columbine obviously, so they didn’t give a shit about carding people. I saw “Child’s Play“, the latest “Friday the 13th” and the latest “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and in those films, I found solace in how the survivors would go through hell and come out ahead. It made me feel safe and horror became the love of my life because of it. Seriously though, I love the horror genre as much as my kids. Because I was a horror (and just films in general) fanatic, I would write stories and sequels to films as a kid and I became enthralled with Stephen King and Clive Barker at an EARLY age. I was sent to the principal’s office for bringing and distributing a backpack of Stephen King novels to the kids because one girl’s mom had an issue with “The Tommyknockers.” So I read and wrote and always wanted to be a writer and a filmmaker.
How did you begin your journalistic career toward some of today’s top horror news outlets, such as Fangoria, Shock Till You Drop and being editor-in-chief at Icons of Fright?
I owe my whole career in horror journalism/film critique to Rob Galluzzo (Co-Founder of Icons of Fright and Senior Editor at Blumhouse.com). I had read Icons of Fright for years (it was started in 2004) and kind of became acquaintances with him online via Facebook and at the time he was working at Amoeba in LA, so I would talk to him when I was there for something and he was always so friendly and kind. He’s seriously one of the most giving individuals I know. Well one day, a few friends went to LA and I was stuck in Visalia doing something and it frustrating me that I wasn’t doing anything with my love for writing. I messaged Rob and asked him for advice on starting your own site. He said he would give me advice, or if I wanted to, I could just start writing for Icons of Fright. I was blown away. Here there was a site that I read for years, and now I was getting to write for them. As time went on, I was pretty crazy about being on top of Icons and Rob took a job at FEARnet (RIP), so he asked me to be the Editor in Chief and steer the ship, so to speak, and I did that for five years. It was because of Rob that I began my writing career and it was because of him that I was vouched to Rebekah McKendry (Then at Fangoria, now Editor in Chief of Blumhouse.com) at Fangoria to start writing for them as well and when it was because of Rebekah, that I vouched to Chris Alexander, who not only was running Fangoria at the time but started Delirium Magazine and in time, moved over to Shock Till You Drop. When Rebekah and Rob went to Blumhouse.com, they were nice enough to allow me to write for Blumhouse. So my career has been full of wonderful people. Those said individuals, as well as genre professionals, like Heather Buckley and Ken Hanley, have all been wonderful to me. As far as Icons of Fright, the site is kind of in sleep mode. I was offered the position of Senior West Coast Correspondent for Fangoria and we’re all so very busy with our other professional writing gigs, that it felt like a disservice to pay little attention to it and post stuff here and there, so we kind of just put it in sleep mode for the time being to focus on other things.
According to your IMDB.com page, you’re a self-proclaimed workaholic. Can you describe how you manage your time between contributing, being editor-in-chief, and producing films while juggling, if any, a personal life?
It’s quite difficult to be honest. I’m a divorced father of three (two of my kids live with me), I write for three sites and two magazines and I’m a filmmaker as well. I have three film projects in the works, all with my wonderful collaborators over at Sickening Pictures in Cleveland and one with Turnstyle films helping out. As with any film journalist, we’re sent quite a few films to review, we got press junkets and premieres, conduct interviews, etc. It’s fucking insane, but I love it…and a plus side, my kids love the genre, so they’re always watching the more friendly horror films with me.
What possessed you to pursue your own production company, Dexahlia Productions, in 2010, creating your own pieces of filmic art?
I started Dexahlia back in 2010 and began to make short films here and there, but in all honesty, none of them were that spectacular at all. I just made them with friends and such. The closest to being “happy” with one was one called “Damnation Woods,” which was a relationship drama that had a handful of scenes I REALLY liked in between my incompetence at the time haha. I put a lot of that on hold in favor of my writing career for some time, but after meeting Zach and BJ, decided to just do both.
Can you delve into the personal inspiration behind your current short “Love is Dead” and what compelled you make a film about the circumstance?
Yikes. The inspiration behind the film came from my own life and my former marriage. It was something that began as a really wonderful joining of similar spirits, but somewhere along the way, things got DARK. All on my side of things. I began to drink a LOT and had other issues I won’t list and it made me into somebody who was never physically abusive but angry a lot and I took that anger, which in all honesty was anger that came from hating myself at the time, and directed it at her. Things got crazy and she tried to take her own life and it really woke me up and made me realize that I had pushed somebody I cared about to the absolute brink. I felt disgusted with myself and HATED myself for a long time, something that eventually made things bad. We divorced but remained best friends (we’re still very close) and I wanted to kind of tell the story of that, in a somewhat fictional way. Also, as I’ve said a lot over the years in many conversations with people: John Carpenter is my God, but I also worship John Cassavetes. His films were always so raw and unhinged as if you felt like something was going to blow up at any time. Cassavetes was a major influence in “LOVE IS DEAD.”
How did you approach the creation of “Love is Dead” with the association of BJ Colangelo and Zach Schildwachte’s Sickening Pictures?
There were a few false starts with the film. I did a crowdfunded campaign on Kickstarter and got 95% to the goal but was just short of making it so we got nothing. We went to another crowdfunding venue and ended up getting, I think, 1/4 of the original budget, so I was pretty bummed. BJ has been a really wonderful friend of mine for years now and Zach and I became friends because of their personal relationship, so their professional relationship came into play as well eventually. Zach and I had written a feature script together (which we’re still going to make) and were trying to pitch that around LA for a while. When “LOVE IS DEAD’s” campaign ended, Zach and BJ offered to come aboard and FORCE me to make the film. They flew into LA and we made the film. They were and are two of the most talented people I know and I owe them so much. I love those crazy motherfuckers. Ps- BJ Colangelo is one of the best film journalists around as well.
How did Joanna Angel, Aaron Thompson, and Ruben Pla come to star in this short?
I was familiar with Aaron from his work in the Adult Film Business and, also, I saw him play bass once when he was in the band Fenix TX. He really fit the exterior of what was in my head and I just had a great feeling about the guy so I reached out to him. He read the script and signed on, saying he’d drink a bunch of Jack Daniels and listen to Nick Cave until shooting to get into character hahaha. Ruben did the film almost as a favor to me. He’s been such a huge supporter of my writing and I’ve known him through the horror community. He directed an EXCELLENT short film called “HEAD” (look it up, it’s awesome!) with Matt Mercer and I loved the hell out of that and just loved Ruben’s work in everything he’s been in. The guy can play anything. His work in “24” was great. I remember watching “INSIDIOUS” in the theater and thinking to myself “that guy has a presence to him.” So when it came time to cast the role of Michael, the psychiatrist, I asked Ruben if he’d be down and he had the shooting date open and came and did such a great job and was so very professional. I love that guy. Love him. Originally, we had a different actress cast as Mara and throughout the crowdfunding campaign and right up until three days before shooting, she was attached. There was something of a misunderstanding (nothing bad or drama-related, she’s absolutely great) and so we had to postpone shooting and literally at the same time, I got a text from BJ and an email from Aaron saying we should cast Joanna. Truth be told, I didn’t think Joanna would ever do it, so I had never even thought of asking her. When they mentioned it, I sent her the script, she signed on and we were good to go.
Being an actual couple off the camera, was there some coaching to get Angel and Thompson in the right mindset before the pouring of assorted emotions into the shower scene? Or how did Angel and Thompson prepare for their characters Mara and Peter?
I was worried that they would be able to go to those dark and sad places being that they were (and are) a real life couple. So I was nervous right up until the first take of the shower scene. It took literally ONE take for that nervousness to go away because, holy shit, were they both amazing. It broke all of our hearts to watch them act, they were so passionate and just genuine in their performances. I talked to them here and there mostly about altering the dialogue to what would feel more natural to them, but aside from that, they were all set to get dark right from the beginning. I’m still shocked by how great Joanna, Aaron and Ruben were. I watch the short and it makes me sad, in a good way. They did their job, they destroy the viewer.
I feel like Joanna Angel would be very enthusiastic about an emotional roller coaster of a story of this magnitude and a bit of a change of pace from her staple work. Was that the case along with the rest of the cast and crew being equally as enthusiastic?
Joanna and Aaron were both stoked to do something different and the crew were professional but giddy as fuck the entire time. I mean c’mon, it’s fucking Joanna Angel. There’s no playing around or lying. She’s a legend in her field and as huge fans of everything Burning Angel does, we all were excited to work with them. The best part for me, aside from the actual filming, was the times in which we would take a lunch break and just talk about stuff. We all are into the same things: bands, movies, etc., so it quickly became a tone of feeling more like you were making a film with friends. It led to us wanting to work with them again, which we are going to do.
Ruben Pla is a trained actor whose had roles in major productions such as “Insidious.” How was the dynamic between Pla and Aaron Thompson whose background is comprised of being a bartender, a musician, a screen printing business owner, and, most recently, a porn star?
They clicked right away. We were with Aaron for hours and hours before Ruben showed up for his scenes, so Aaron had all of his questions about the scene already figured out and such. When Ruben showed up, I had to surprise him with the fact that we had to change the scene from a scene of his character leading a men’s group to a one-on-one psychiatrist angle because of one of the actor’s having a heart attack!! Ruben literally took five minutes to alter his script, and was ready to go. He was dialed in and the two of them really just worked well together. It was great.
Even though “Love is Dead” completely tells Peter and Mara’s story in just over 10 minutes, there seems that there could have been an ample amount of content that might have been left untold. Your previous short “The Heart of Evil Things” also focused on problematic relationships. Could we expect another short, or perhaps a feature, in the future that would be a continuation, or as it’s own entity, that would extend more into the enduring human condition of struggling compatibility?
Yes, most definitely. Because of “LOVE IS DEAD,” I’ve kind of become the guy who casts porn stars in non-porn roles. My next two projects have adult film stars leading the cast and one of them is a continuation of the theme of a dysfunctional relationship. That one is more about accepting somebody for who they are and a look at a relationship within the adult film industry. I’m also working on something completely different and that’s probably what I’m going to be doing next. It’ll flip the southern noir thriller subgenre on its head. It’s kind of my cross between “Blood Simple” and “Bound.”
Aside from deriving from personal experiences, what else drives or influences your creative process?
I’m just obsessed with how people talk and the power of words. That was why I called “LOVE IS DEAD” an emotional horror film. It’s about using words as a weapon and how they could be just as dangerous as knives or guns.
I read your blurb on Icons of Fright that you “adore all things [John] Carpenter,” but absolutely despise the Michael Myers and Laurie Strobe sibling connection in “Halloween 2.” I’m sure fans of “Halloween 2” and of yours could go toe-to-toe in a debate about the Myers’ legacy. Can you elaborate on your disgust with that film and discuss your thoughts on how Myers has progressed, or treated, over the years?
The “HALLOWEEN” franchise is like my baby in a lot of ways. I love it, but sometimes it does things that i don’t approve of or like. It’s like a child. The magic of the first film, which in my opinion is the greatest film EVER made, is the mystery of Michael Myers. He’s a pervert almost, watching the girls, stalking them for no reason other than Laurie dropped the key at the Myers house. It’s terrifying that a stranger would do that, that the person would stalk and kill people with no reason at all. The decision to make Laurie Michael’s sister just takes the mystery out of it and suddenly turns the entire series into that angle. It’s frustrating. That being said, HALLOWEEN 4 is still one of my FAVORITE films of all time, even with it being Michael trying to kill his niece, so I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite. HALLOWEEN 3 is pure perfection and always has been. I’ve loved it since childhood. HALLOWEEN 5 is 70% terrifying and 30% off the rails crazy and the series never recovered. It just went down and down and down. I mean, in the Producer’s Cut of HALLOWEEN 6, Paul Rudd stops Michael with FUCKING MAGICAL RUNES. I want to start a band called, “Paul Rudd’s Magical Runes,” we’d rock. Luckily, the series is at Blumhouse now and with Jason Blum, Ryan Turek and John Carpenter involved in the development, I’m excited as hell for the next film.
Since you’re a John Carpenter fan, is it say to safe that your top three favorite movies of all time are Carpenter films?
Actually no. “HALLOWEEN” is my favorite film, but the other two go to Wes Craven’s “THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT” and “FRIDAY THE 13TH PT. IV.” Recent films like “BEFORE I DISAPPEAR”, “COMET” and “DARLING” are edging close to the top though.
What’s next on the horizon for Jerry Smith? Are there any future projects on your docket that you can discuss with us at this time? Or is there any projects that you’re not helming that you’re highly anticipating?
Just the projects I spoke of earlier in this interview, the relationship drama and the southern noir thriller. As far as projects I’m NOT helming, there’s a script I co-wrote with Zach Schildwachter that he’s going to direct that I am DYING to see happen. He’s such a talented director and it shows in his films “SCUM” and “GETTING OVER.” It’s another fucking weeeeeeird movie.
In conclusion, is there anything you would like to add or share with your readers, fans, or enemies?
Thank you to everybody who has read anything I’ve written or watched “LOVE IS DEAD.” The reception has been amazing and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful to have so many awesome people tell me it affected them in one way or another. As far as fans or enemies, I doubt I have either. I don’t have any enemies, at least on my part.
Bonus Question: For all those who experienced “Love is Dead,” I’m sure there is a bit of curiosity surrounding one particular scene. Considering two of your three actors, was the shower fellatio scene simulated or did Joanna Angel go full blown Chloë Sevigny on actor/director Vincent Gallo in “The Brown Bunny?”
Funny question that leads to a fun story. When we were filming, Ruben kind of pulled me aside and asked, “So uh, Jerry, I know that Joanna and Aaron are into the Adult Film Industry,…the fellatio scene isn’t going to be real, is it? I personally don’t really want to do porn.” and was so friendly about it but had to ask and I told him the truth, which I’ll tell you now: It’s fake. They’re just great actors and as far as a certain fluid shown in the film…that’s a secret I’ll keep.
I appreciate your time once again, Jerry. We hope to hear more from you and your production company soon in future film endeavors and look forward to reading more of your work as well.
A deranged serial rapist wearing a hockey mask viciously attacks Linda, a university student who operates a food truck during the day and works on a horse farm in the evening, and forces her to sing Jingle Bells while in the middle of his heinous act. When the police could do nothing about locating and incarcerating her rapist due to lack of evidence, Linda’s urge for revenge boils to an explosively volcanic overflow. She learns that four other young university women have been attacked by the same Jingle Bells rapist and so she devises a plan to form a rape squad to encourage other women to reach out to their squad to stop various types of misogynistic attackers in hopes that one case might lead to their own attacker, but little does the revenge seeking victims know that they’re rapist has formed his own plan: to rape all five at the same time!
“Act of Vengeance,” also better known by as “Rape Squad,” sleazes the screen as an American rape-revenge exploitation film helmed by “Count Yorga, Vampire” director Robert Kelljchian in 1974. An exploitation film that just doesn’t only exhibit the gratuitous violence and nudity and perversion, but manages to go deeper, analyzing the difficult moments of how women were perceived and treated post rape in a time where laws against rapist and laws to protect the women victims are, at best, intangible. Kelljchian’s assembly line of degradation painfully puts Linda (Jo Ann Harris) through a series of incompetence and chauvinistic values, forcing an awkward and uncomfortable blanket of emotions over, not only Linda, but ourselves. Ross Elliott’s officer portrayal as Sgt. Long was nothing short of frustration for Long and Linda; his questioning was insensitive, yet routine while her vague description of her attacker doesn’t qualify for swift justice. Also, when Linda has her legs up on the gurney brackets, the male doctor goes through a creepy-comforting spiel to try and get Linda to relax before tasking a smear and that has Linda, in a way, relive her trauma and just layers on uneasy tone.
For the first half the film, Kelljchian seamlessly and continuously pushes the male snickering and apathetic obliviousness toward Linda’s, and the groups’, rape. At about or around the time the squad forms and a martial arts expert named Tiny, played by Lada Edmund Jr., starts to karate kick potential abusers’ asses, “Act of Vengeance” drops the dramatics and goes full blown Jackie Brown-revenge, losing some depth to the subject matter and getting back to the route of an exploitation film with bits of intentional comedy tossed in for good measure. “Acts of Vengeance” isn’t vengeful torture porn similar to a preceding film, a little known title you might recall entitled “The Last House on the Left” directed by master of horror Wes Craven, or in later films that have been more popular with audiences over the years; one particular film stands out having a striking familiarity in title and somewhat in story is 2015’s “Bound to Vengeance,” starring “Kindergarten Cop’s” Richard Tyson, where a young girl escapes the confines of a sexual predator, joins forces with a couple of other captive victims, and turns the tables on his perverted, underground organization.
What really makes “Act of Vengeance” also surprisingly good is Peter Brown’s performance as Jack the rapist. The Southern drawl with plain-spoken manner is unlike any other character I’ve ever experienced. When Jack asks of Linda, under his firm grip around her throat, to say, “Say, thank you, Mr. Rapist,” a calculated chill shivers down every inch of the spine. Now being that “Act of Vengeance” was released in 1974, Jack’s assault sporting getup and candid personality might spark a reminiscent flame for horror fans. Jack’s thin stature fits slightly loose in an orange jumpsuit and he covers his face with a white goalie mask that strap wraps around his wavy dark hair. To this reviewer, the jumpsuit resembles a pumpkin-shade version of Michael Myers jumpsuit, while the white goalie mask is without a doubt an inspiration for Friday the 13th Part III and it’s sequels. Jack even stalks the women like the two homicidal big fellas, lurking behind trees and bushes while catching up with ease to his fleeing prey without breaking a jogging sweat. Jack’s personality, that disgustingly witty rapist charm, feels too familiar to yet another staple villain, the boogeyman of children’s’ nightmares, Freddy Krueger. Essentially, Jack could have easily influenced three of the most popular and well known iconic horror villainous characters of all time.
Linda perfectly suits as Jack’s antagonist. The abuser and the abused compliment each other with a their cat-and-mouse game full of deceits and atrocities, but the crowning moment, the scene that defines the fate the characters, crumbles under the pressure of the story’s full embodied substance. Linda and the Rape Squad are baited too easily, walking into a vacant zoo that’s Jack’s trap and the group’s aware of this but still continues forward blindly. Characters ultimately start to unravel when one of the Squad’s women breaks from the pack, on purpose because she’s too frightened, and walks back to the car alone. Certain common sense would suggest to stay with the four other women to avoid being a lone target of your murdering rapist. Jack also becomes easily baited by Linda who mocks his masculinity, drawing him out from his perfectly laid snare and into a one-on-one bout with a baton bearing woman looking for retribution.
Deservingly so, MGM’s and Kelljchian’s “Act of Vengeance” receives a stellar home video release in Australia from EX Films, filled with extras including a 30 minute interview with Jennifer Lee-Pryor (as Nancy in the film), an audio commentary by author Alexandra Heller-Ncholas of “Rape-Revenge: A Case Study” and film critic Zak Hepburn, and theatrical and home video trailers. Pristinely presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio that’s vividly colorful, nearly blemish free, and with all the bells and whistles of restoration perfection. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is clean, clear, and balanced, giving Jack the rapist that much clarity in his threats. EX Films provides solid packaging of a clear case with reversible cover art and a 48-page insert booklet featuring all the press material sent and received about the film – a marvel to read. The Ex Films region 4 release tops and trumps the competition, standing clearly the winner when compared to it’s DVD-R rival from MGM in the U.S. No other film is more violating than this hard to swallow, rape-revenge exploitation gem “Act of Vengeance!”