Valentine: The Dark Avenger (2017)

Valentine: The Dark Avenger (2017)

The cover to Umbrella’s release of Valentine: the Dark Avenger

Film: Look out Marvel and DC, a new challenger approaches!

Valentine: the Dark Avenger is a creation from Skylar Comics, an Indonesian film company who in addition to Valentine, also produce comics called Volt (who looks like an electricity based hero) and Jawara, which means Champion, and looks to be an Avengers-styled conglomeration of heroes!

It would appear this Indonesian company has taken a page out of Disney’s handbook and have Skylar Pictures as a division of their company ready to develop their own characters into films. In this case, they have taken Valentine, their female Batgirl-type who fights with handcuffs like they are brass knuckles, and can catch criminals by throwing them like a bolo, and given her the live action treatment.

Wawan and Bono

Valentine: The Dark Avenger is directed by Agus Hermansyah Mawardy, based on a script by Beby Hasibuan, based on the character and stories created by Aswin Siregar and Sarjono Sutrisno for the comics.

Bono (Matthew Settle) is a movie maker who is trying to get his idea for a new female superhero movie off the ground, but he and his hair and fashion specialist partner, Wawan (Arnie Dagienkz), are having trouble finding the right girl… that is, of course, until they see waitress, and aspiring actress, Srimaya (Estelle Linden) fight off an attack in the restaurant she works at, using her skill in savate.

Estelle Linden before the transformation into a superhero

For training for the future movie, Wawan starts filming Srimaya, now known as the superhero ‘Valentine’, stopping various small crimes in the city.

As time goes on they improve her costume, fighting skills and she even learns how to use handcuffs as a thrown weapon for taking down running crooks, and her videos on (definitely not) YouTube go viral as she inspires a nation with her heroics.

The big problem for Valentine is there is a shadow moving across her town in the form of the villain known as… well, Shadow, who is performing terrorist acts, but why, and what is the secret behind his motivation?

This movie reminded me very much of the live-action versions of Cutey Honey and Hentai Kamen, but with aspirations of being something more like Prachya Pinkaew’s Chocolate or Rashane Limtrakul’s Rising Phoenix, both which starred JeeJa Yanin, but I’m afraid that Linden just isn’t quite as charismatic, nor does she have the physicality.

I do think, however, the intention of having an inspirational female superhero is a great one, and one the big companies need to work on. Hopefully we shall see more of this sort of thing incoming (and we are, with Disney+’s Ms. Marvel series which airs in 2022). Tragically it just doesn’t work here, as the script is a mix-up of conspiracy and standard comic-bookish tropes with some substandard special effects and pedestrian fight choreography, which ultimately is the film’s undoing.

One other thing is the actual superhero and villain costumes. cosplay has come so far that one should expect a better look for a movie with superheroes in it, but these unfortunately look like they were bashed together in someone’s garage.

I have to say it’s awesome to see a small Indonesian company with the courage to take on the superhero genre, when you consider the forces of Disney and Warner Bros are the ones behind those, but their product has become such a juggernaut, it’s nigh impossible. Smaller comic ideas based on non-superhero stuff, like Zwigoff’s Ghost World or Dominic Sena’s Whiteout are probably a better idea at this point because those blockbusters aren’t going anywhere in a hurry. If you do choose to watch this, stick around for the end credits as there is a preview of another superhero from this universe.

The film does wear its influences on its sleeve too, as there is a whole ‘no capes’ sequences clearly inspired by Pixar’s The Incredibles, and one of the villains must be a pop culture nut as she wears outfits inspired by Batman and the Minions from Despicable Me!

I think if this film was released pre-Marvel blockbuster events it would have been a cult film that was in some peoples hearts, but those big blockbusters are not necessarily what cult fans want to see in their collections. Also, there are high-bars set in superhero films for the mainstream crowd, and it just doesn’t leap them in a single bound.

The Shadow!

Score: *

Extras: Blimey, there’s not even a menu screen!

Score: 0

WISIA: No.

The Shadow’s minions… one dressed as a minion!

This DVD was provided for review by Umbrella Entertainment

Slither (2006)

Slither (2006)

The Umbrella release of Slither with amazing slipcase by Simon Sherry

Film: James Gunn is certainly one in a million. Most people know him from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, but his career before that was SO much more fun, and honestly, creative.

There’s an amazing two pack of films that I suggest to anyone who doesn’t know his work, and that’s his superhero film Super, starring Rainn Wilson, and this film, Slither.

Slither tells of the small town of Wheelsy, and after an argument with his wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) finds himself in the woods, potentially about to commit adultery after being reunited with a school friend, Brenda (Brenda James), but unfortunately, Grant ends up having a dart shot into his abdomen by something that appears to be not-of-this-earth.

Michael Rooker and Elizabeth Banks as Grant and Starla, respectively

Grant collapses and we see, via X-ray, the dart burrow it’s way up into his head.

The next day, Grant is a changed man: he is quieter, and is desperate to collect as much meat as he possibly can, and Starla has noticed the change. Grant revisits Brenda, and with two newly grown tentacles, impregnates her with, what we find out later, to be thousands of leech-like brain slugs.

Whilst all this is happening, Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), a childhood sweetheart of Starla’s, is investigating Brenda’s disappearance, and obviously, all this quickly collides as the slugs invade the town, and burrow into the mouths of everyone they comes across… will he and Starla survive?

This film is extraordinary in that the fun is a gory, gross out horror movie, that still has elements of laugh-out-loud comedy. The story is solid, and doesn’t overexplain where the ‘thing’ came from initially, except for in some interesting hive-mind flashbacks.

A brain slug tries to take over Emily (Matreya Fedor)

You can really see Gunn’s early career at Troma influencing this film, except for the budget. The humour is sophomoric (thankfully) and the gore is sudden, disgusting and surprising. There is a body bisection that still, after many if watches of this film, delights me to no end.

The cast is also fantastic. Fillion is charming and likeable and Banks is just adorable as well. Special mentions have to go to the appearances of Lloyd Kaufman as the town drunk, Jenna Fischer, a TV crush of mine from the Office, as the police receptionist (who also starred with Gunn in the film LolliLove) and Gunn himself as the most awkward of school teachers.

Gunn’s slick writing and directorial style is present here as well. The script is full of old school jokes, some of which may not sit well with a 2022 audience, but fit for the location and time period, and the direction has some really interesting angles which really makes the film fun to watch. The effects don’t sit as well as they did, but that’s to be expected and if you are able to overlook some of those bits of CGI due to age… this movie is almost 20 years old remember, so even though the practical effects are great, some of the CGI isn’t so perfect, but it’s all still very effective.

This film is a beautiful throwback to films like Henenlotter’s Brain Damage or Stephen Herek’s Critters and could be watched alongside them and not seem at all out of place, even though this film was made 20 years later.

I think I really like this film because of its 80s/ drive-in influences, and was more than happy to revisit it! This Bluray from Umbrella Entertainment is from their ‘Beyond Genres’ imprint and has a pretty awesome slipcase by Simon Sherry.

Score: ****

The menu for the Bluray release of Slither

Extras: A bunch of fun extras on this disc that were on the original DVD back in the day.

Audio commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion is interesting and charming and full of lots of reminiscing about the films of the 80s and the making of this film.

The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither: Making of Featurette is a quick ten minute look at the origins and making of the film.

Who is Bill Pardy? starts as an amusing set of outtakes of Fillion, saying ‘I’m Bill Pardy whenever he screws up, but then turns into an amusing roast of Fillion by the cast and crew.

Slither Visual Effects Progressions looks at the different plates the CGI went through from the initial filming to the resulting effect.

Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life:FX Featurette goes through all of the practical effects used in the movie, ad is quite fascinating!

Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion is a brief bit with the ever charming Fillion filming some behind the scenes stuff with his particular brand of comedy.

The Gorehound Grill: Brewin’ the Blood is basically a recipe for the blood used in the film.

The King Of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary is a little bit of home video made by Lloyd Kaufman, the King of Troma, and the man who directed Gunn’s script Tromeo and Juliet, who was invited by Gunn to have a cameo in the film.

Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes as usual are an interesting watch but ultimately not necessary.

Gag Reel is one back from the old days when gag reels were actually funny and not staged like the modern day Marvel ones.

Score: *****

WISIA: I will easily watch this film at anytime!

Nathan Fillion takes aim!

This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment Bluray release.

Color Out of Space (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Color Out of Space, from Umbrella Entertainment

Film: Here’s a bit of personal horror history, and something I have mentioned in previous, and no doubt will mention in future reviews: I am typing this review because of H. P. Lovecraft. I was a monster movie fan, and a fan of ‘old’ (called ‘classic’ these days) films when I was a teen, and then I watched Stuart Gordon’s screen adaptation of Re-animator, and my need for horror was transformed into what could only be described as ‘an unhealthy obsession’.

Since then I have consumed SO much Lovecraftian horror in book form, video games, spoken word records, comics, toys… hell, even board games which is a more recent obsession (currently sitting on about 15 board and card games based in the Cthulhu world) and I just can’t get enough!

So I’m guessing you can imagine my excitement when I heard that ex-actor, now meme legend Nic Cage was starring in a film based on Color Out Of Space, and then my rising excitement when the trailer was released and we saw that it borrowed the colour palette from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (another Lovecraft story). Throwing in the rebirth of Hardware director Richard Stanley certainly piqued my interest as well, even though I wasn’t an obsessive fan of his work.

I was very excited indeed which meant that my expectations were now really really high! Can the film live up to these expectations? Surely it could not!

Nicolas Cage as Nathan

Lavinia Gardner (Madeline Arthur) is a teen Wiccan who had been forced into a treechange by her father, Nathan (Nicolas Cage)and mother Theresa (Joely Richardson), along with her two brothers, Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). It a seemingly lovely quiet life, farming their alpacas until a meteorite, emitting an indescribable colour, lands on their property.

As you would expect, weird stuff starts happening: time starts fluctuating, odd pink flowers and insects start appearing all over the property, and things start changing, including Nathan, and when a hydrologist, Ward (Elliot Knight) investigating the local water finds ‘something’ in it, things really start to accelerate and the family unit starts to fall apart… but is this the start of a greater, perhaps apocalyptic event?

The meteorite/ alien thing/ weird weirdness

Stanley has created something pretty special here. Lovecraft had isolation as a theme in many of his stories, and to start with a family isolated from society when something strange happens, whose events then cause them to be isolated from each other really nails that down. The layering of being isolated even amongst a group of people seems really relevant in 2021 too. That anxiety of not knowing what is happening and not being able to find support in others because they don’t know what is happening either is almost frightfully prophetic.

There’s no doubt that Stanley has a magnificent cinematic eye, and his cinematographer (one of the great unsung heroes of cinema) Steve Annis translates it perfectly. The scenes of the forest are lush and feel like they are full of magic, and the scenes where we witness the actual ‘color’ are intrusive on the eye, and transform the natural beauty into a synthwave nightmare, that honestly, I really love… most of my automatic lighting in my house is set up in this colour scheme!

The effects in this movie are as horrible as they are beautiful. As I said in my opening preamble, the colour palette is borrowed heavily from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, but their is also a liberal dose of John Carpenter’s The Thing in the practical effects, and some CGI that is, if you’ll excuse the pun, out of this world.

In general, the cast are great, except maybe for Richardson who doesn’t seem to have much to do and is almost more a piece of scenery. Arthur is an absolute revelation and I’ll be looking into her other films for sure, and Cage doesn’t chew the scenery, he CONSUMES IT, like a bulldog eating a bowl of porridge.

There was a lot of fun stuff relating to Stanley as well. After watching the Lost Souls doco, I realised that several of the characters emulate/ display elements of his personality and life style (from what I could ascertain). There’s a cheeky bit of footage of Brando from One Eyed Jacks too… so I guess Stanley finally got to work with him?

This is a great return for Stanley, and I really hope he gets an opportunity to do more Lovecraft stuff but please not a sequel: this finishes nicely. Apparently this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy but due to some personal stuff which I’m not going to go into here, it’s been cancelled. If Stanley WOULD entertain the idea of a sequel, another Re-animator perhaps? Either way, this film was great and I look forward to more product.

Score: ****1/2

The menu to the Australian release of Color Out of Space

Extras:

Hot Pink Horror: The Making of The Color Out of Space obviously looks at the making of the film, and the chance the producers had taken on getting Richard Stanley, who hadn’t directed a film for 20 years, to direct this movie. It also explores the employment of the other cast and other aspects of the production. It’s an interesting take on why people are employed in films.

There is also 8 deleted scenes and a trailer.

Finally, the full length documentary ‘Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau’ which looks at his career and the collapse of his career whilst making his version of Island of Dr. Moreau in the 90s. It’s an interesting documentary in so much that Stanley seems to be under the impression that both the opportunity came, and disappeared due to his visiting a mystic who cast a spell to assist in the production. It’s not just about Stanley’s vision, it’s also about the egos that also all seemed to be trying to disable the production after his departure. This was previously released separately, and would probably be a better extra on a release of The Island of Dr. Moreau, but I’ll take it.

Score: *****

WISIA: It was a great watch so I look forward to seeing it again!

The colour does strange things to poor Theresa (Joely Richardson)

Turkey Shoot (1982)

The slipcase version of the Australian release from Umbrella Entertainment.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Film: I didn’t know I was a fan of what I discovered was called ‘Ozploitation’ movies until the Mark Hartley documentary Not Quite Hollywood, told me I was. I had been a fan of Mad Max, Alvin Purple, Thirst, and so many others of the films made during this period, including this film, director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot.

(Just as a side note, a family friend actually invited Australian actor Roger Ward to a party I threw when I was in my 20s and I swear, having Fluffy from Mad Max/ Ritter from Turkey Shoot at my house was just an absolute thrill)

Michael Craig as Thatcher

Anyway, Turkey Shoot was probably the first time I had seen a film about humans hunting humans and I thought it was both a thrilling and horrifying concept, and one that I have since enjoyed in films like Battle Royale, The Condemned, Countess Perverse and even the Hunger Games films.

This film is set in a dystopian future where dissidents are sent to re-education centres, and one such revolutionary is Paul Anders (Steve Railsback) who for crimes against the state is sent to one such centre run by the notorious Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig).

Thatcher, and his cohort Ritter (Roger Ward) have something different in the way they run their re-education camp though. For a small fee, they allow the rich to hunt selected difficult prisoners in a ‘turkey shoot’, but with Anders, and a girl he has taken under his wing, Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), Thatcher may have bitten off more than he can chew…

This film is less a who’s who of Australian actors, and more a who’s who of celebrity contestants on Graham Kennedy’s Blankety Blanks or Cop Shop… maybe with a touch of a Country Practice (?), with names like Noel Ferrier, Carmen Duncan, Lynda Stoner and Gus Mercurio added to the mix.

Roger Ward and Noel Ferrier

I honestly can’t help but love this film, and have over the years repeatedly hailed it as being fun… but it’s like a silly violent pantomime rather than a gruesome look into a frightful future.

Score: ****

The Umbrella Entertainment release of the film’s menu screen

Extras: Woooosh! Soooooo many extras on this disc, some of them taken from the old DVD release, but still, it’s a lot!

There is 2 quite interesting commentaries, one with Mark Hartley and Producer Antony I. Ginnane, and a 2003 commentary with Trenchard-Smith in which both talk about the troubles of making the film, the loss of finance money and the cast issues. Unfortunately these issues are discussed ad Infiniti’s over the course of every extra, so by the time you’ve finished you won’t know who is to blame for any of the films shortcomings.

Blood and Thunder Memories is a tragic/ humorous look at just how bad a production of a film can fall apart. Interviews with the main cast reveal different opinions of what was going on, but it would seem that the film went from political/ social commentary to schlock of the highest order.

Not Quite Hollywood extended interviews has some of the interviews from 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood doco by Mark Hartley in their entirety… or at the very least, a longer version.

The Ozploitation Renaissance Featurette is MOrE recollections of the film, and a peek into the careers of Ginnane, Trenchard-Smith and cinematographer Vincent Monton.

A Good Soldier – an interview with Brian Trenchard-Smith is an interview with the director from 2002. Unfortunately by this point in the extras you’ve heard every story and every anecdote so this feature is somewhat superfluous.

Escape 2000 – the 80 minute version of the film from a VHS source… it’s a tough watch though due to the quality… is it worthwhile being on this disc? I’m not so sure…

Then there is a bunch of trailers, including an Antony I. Ginnane sizzle reel, a Trailers from Hell trailer (with Trenchard-Smith commentary), the original trailer, TV promos and stills and poster gallery.

Weirdly, this release comes with a CD copy of Australian composer Brian May’s soundtrack (no, not THAT Brian May, the Australian composer)… on CD… maybe you can put it on your miniDisc, or upload it to Napster or something…

Score: ****

WISIA: I think Turkey Shoot is a hilarious example of Ozploitation, and it’s overcooked performances and over the top violence mean it’s a regular watch for me.

This review was performed on the Australian Bluray release, supplied by Umbrella Entertainment.

Warning: may contain traces of boobs, bums, balls and b-dussy.

Nightmares (1980)

Umbrella’s release of Nightmares

Film: When I was a teen in the 80s, I worked in a video store, and for a movie fan, it was a dream come true. I spent 5 or 6 hours by myself every Sunday afternoon, and because it was still a little bit of the Wild West as far as films were concerned, I could watch what I liked in the shop, and could usually get three movies in on one shift.

I predominantly watched horror, sci-fi and action, and didn’t realise it but became a fan of what I discovered (because of Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood), a thing called Ozploitation! Mad Max, Mad Max 2, Turkey Shoot, Thirst; I loved these films because they looked like low-budget Hollywood films, but were full of Australians, and that made me think that maybe I mould be in a movie, or write a movie, or direct a movie.

Tragically, my talents don’t lie in those areas and instead I have spend 20 odd years writing about movies, and occasionally I’ve been lucky enough to review one of those Ozploitation films, and here we are today, with John D. Lamond’s Nightmares, aka Stage Fright ready to review for your pleasure.

Jenny Neumann as Helen Selleck

Nightmares tells of Cathy (Jennie Lamond) accidentally causes a car accidentally that kills her mother, which it combination with the suggestion of abuse, turns her into a psychotic fruitcake of the highest order!

Years later she has changed her name to Helen (now played by Jenny Neumann), and has become an actress, because, you know, the best thing psychologically a psychopath can do is further their issues by getting a job where they lie for a living by pretending to be other people.

She lands a part in a play produced by George D’alberg (Max Phipps), co-starring Terry Besanko (Gary Sweet) who promptly becomes besotted with her. Unfortunately for them all, there is a murderer loose in the theatre, but who will be the next victim, and what do the murders have to do with the psychotic flashbacks Helen/ Cathy has been having?

This isn’t going to end well…

Some might call this B Grade trash, but it’s A grade trash, and that A for stands for Australia, and it stands proud, with a kookaburra shitting on its shoulder as it slips in kangaroo shit because it was too busy looking a bikini-clad tits on Bondi beach.

As expected for a film by John Lamond, it’s as sleazy as an unwashed buttplug abandoned on a train. The idea was devised by Lamond with John-Michael Howson (who also plays camp critic Bennett Collingwood) and the screenplay was written by Colin Eggleston, who wrote scripts for Cop Shop, The Sullivans and Division 4, and was the director of Briony Behet film (who is ALSO in this) Long Weekend.

I’m not sure quite what the script was attempting to do, but surely George Lucas must have used this for the template of ‘the worst hidden bad guy/ whodunnit’ in a film when writing the Star Wars prequels.

Those who prefer to avoid films featuring ‘cultural cringe’ might prefer to avoid this film, but loving Ozploitation like I do, I revel in it. It’s definitely not for the easily offended, or for PC crusaders, but I have to admit to giggling and chuckling at the strine, the ockerisms and enjoying the appearances of many actors of this period in Australian cinema and television.

The nudity isn’t bad either.

Clearly the idea behind the film was to emulate things like Halloween, Friday the 13th and maybe even a few early giallos and honestly I can’t figure out if the addition of the Australian-ness to it makes it or breaks it. The whole film is overacted and paced oddly but I can’t help but enjoying every second of it.

As a side note, I have to give this film credit for possible the finest lines of Max Phipps’ career; ’You are not an actress, but instead are an actress’s big brown freckle!’ With every ‘r’ rolled off the tongue with spite. Hilarious.

Score: ***1/2

Umbrella’s Nightmares menu screen

Extras: This disc has a great set… of extras!

First we have an audio commentary by Lamond, along with Not Quite Hollywood director, Mark Hartley which also leads into extended interviews from the documentary with Lamond, actress Nina Hartley and cinematographer Gary Wapshott. There’s some real interesting insights into the Australian film industry of the time, and some great anecdotes, and can I say how much I love actors who say ‘I wouldn’t see a film like this’ but they don’t mind acting in them.

There’s a bunch of deleted scenes which, as usual, the film doesn’t miss. They are in pretty poor quality but that’s to be expected as they are sourced from a VHS in Lamond’s archives.

Confessions of an R-rated Film Director is a short with an extended interview with Lamond.

There’s a Lamond trailer reel featuring Australia After Dark, The ABCs of Love and Sex Australia Style, Felicity, Nightmares, Pacific Banana, Breakfast in Paris and Sky Pirates.

There is also trailers, a TV spot and promotional stuff for Nightmares.

Score: *****

WISIA: How could I NOT watch it again?!?

Max Phipps as George

This review was done using the Australian Umbrella Bluray release.

This review copy was supplied by Umbrella Entertainment.

Art of the Dead (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

Art of the Dead (2019)

Film: The most exciting thing about having a website like the To Watch Pile is the opportunity to see films previously unseen, and an opportunity for new fandom to grow. Getting to see debut efforts by young filmmakers or missing films from favourite directors is always a treat and a pleasure.

Well, not always…

Today I was ‘lucky’ enough to watch a film called Art of the Dead, and by ‘lucky’ I mean ‘unfortunate’ as it was quite terrible. Actually that’s unfair, the story was full of fairly obvious tropes. It could have been entertaining if it had better actors, or maybe a more competent director who could have gotten better performances from the cast. I don’t blame him though, I blame myself. Basically, when I saw the two lead performers in this film were Richard Grieco and Tara Reid, I should have known what was coming.

Art of the Dead was written and directed by Rolfe Kanesky, who was responsible for The Black Room and The Hazing, as well as many other films that have become labelled ‘cult films’. Honestly, and I mean no disrespect, but I hadn’t heard of him before but after looking at his impressively long filmography I realised I had seen and enjoyed some of his previous offerings.

This was not one of them.

Art of the Dead tells of a series of seven paintings that, through their depictions of various animals, represent the 7 deadly sins, the problem with them though is that they are cursed and the observers can become possessed by the sin it depicts.

The paintings had been separated for a long time until art collector Douglas Winter (Grieco) managed to gather them together… and promptly kill his entire family in various horrible ways before killing himself.

As his estate is sold off, the paintings are sold through an art house run by Tess Barryman (Tara Reid) who sells them as a collection only to businessman Dylan Wilson (Lukas Hassel) who distributes them throughout his home, with each painting affecting the members differently.

The frog painting in his office makes him overcome with greed, whilst the other paintings cause his wife, Gina (Jessica Morris) to be driven mad with lust (and get laid by a goat) and his kids, Donna (Cynthia Aileen Strahan) to succumb to her painting of a snake, representing insane jealousy, and Louis (Zachary Chyz) who Lion painting makes him feel all the feelings of Wrath, much to the horror of his girlfriend, Kim (Alex Reinhart).

There is two other kids who get turned into snails. Also, the artist who died years, Dorian Wilde (Danny Tesla) also seems to be floating around influencing stuff as well. It’s complicated.

Luckily for the family, though, there is a champion who is trying to destroy the paintings, Father Gregory (Robert Donovan), but will he be in time to save Kim and her boyfriends descent into madness?

As I have already said, somewhere amongst the horrible acting and Bold and the Beautiful styled casting (seriously, the BEST looking street hookers you will EVER see are in this film) there is probably an ok film, but the performances of some of the acting are sub-par by any standard… even that of sub-par.

Score: *

Format: This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment release DVD which runs for approximately 97 minutes and is presented in a great 2.35:1 image with a matching 5.1 audio.

Score: ****

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: Hell, no.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

One from the re-watch pile…

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Film: Are you a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Eaten Alive, and sleazy 70s grindhouse? Well I’ve got a delectable feast of delights for you! A tale where Life and Death are Meaningless…and Pain is God!!

October 30, 1977, Ruggsville, four twenty something’s on a road trip across the USA (Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jostyn, Erin Daniels and Rainn Wilson) stop at Captain Spaulding’s (Sid Haig) Museum of Monsters and Mayhem, a gas station/ fried chicken hut with a Ripley’s Believe It or Not styled freak show, whose main attraction is the bizarre ‘Murder Ride’. In the ride, the travellers are told about a local psycho, Dr Satan, who was hanged out in the woods by Ruggsville townsfolk, and whose body mysteriously disappeared the next day. The four decide to visit the tree on which he was hanged, and on the way pick up a hitchhiker, Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon). Soon one of their tyres is shot out and the four have to stop in at Baby’s House, where they are introduced to the murderous Firefly family (Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Robert Mukes, Matthew McGrory and Dennis Fimple). The succeeding story will shock, terrify and haunt the viewer…FOREVER!!!

Filmed in 2000, but not released until 2003, due to Universal’s cowardice towards an NC-17 rating, but eventually picked up by Lion’s Gate Films, Rob Zombie has created a visual trip that has more genre homage’s than you can poke a stick at. House of 1000 Corpses received Best Special Effects for Wayne Toth and Michael O’Brien at Fantasporto in 2004 where it was also nominated for Best International Fantasy Film, not to mention it was nominated for Choice Movie- Horror/Thriller at the Teen Choice Awards 2003.

Zombie obviously has great affection for everything that we Horror fans and Gore fiends love. Being a collector of the macabre and trash culture himself, not to mention a Marx Brothers aficionado (to which some of the characters are named after: Otis Driftwood, Rufus Firefly and Ravelli). To a layman, this film might seem a rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and there is no doubt that there are many comparisons, but there are levels to this film that make it so much more than that. To go into those levels would be to reveal far too much of the film itself, and lose some of its journey for the genre fan. Unfortunately this film has been heavily cut, when played at the Mar del Plata Film festival, it ran at 105 minutes but the eventual release plays at a mere 88 minutes. Don’t worry though; there is still plenty of carnage to enjoy.

The filming of this movie is great, sometimes Hollywood gloss, sometimes gritty and grainy, which gives the viewer an impression this was actually made in the seventies, and also has some quick MTV style cuts for dream sequences and such.

I absolutely love this movie. It’s never going to be known as a breakthrough of originality and top shelf acting, but isn’t entertainment what cinema is all about, something that this film delivers by the bloody bucket load. Zombie knows his genre stuff and has collected a cast from movies such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Spider Baby, Trilogy of Terror and others, to deliver ‘the Most Shocking Tale of Carnage ever Seen’. Have fun!!

Score: *****

Format: Always crisp and sharp, the 16×9 anamorphic widescreen is impressive, the only time this movie sinks to grit and grain is in its segues, where it is obviously deliberate. The audio is presented in an immaculate DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Unfortunately, this Bluray release is missing the spectacular menus from the initial DVD release. Those menus, hosted by Baby, Otis and particularly Captain Spaulding were fantastic, powered by Mojo DVD navigation; those menus had these three characters commenting on everything from what the special features contain, to your very own sassy hairdos.

Directors commentary is as you would expect from someone like from Rob Zombie. He talks all way through, rarely taking a break and revealing some interesting aspects of this film, including how much of it was filmed in the basement of his own house. Sometimes commentaries from only one person have long breaks or pauses, but Zombie has a short story for every scene that plays. The amount of extra bits and pieces he points out are incredible, even down to continuity faults.

The Making of featurette is a 4:14 minute summary of the film as told by the actors playing the leads, and a couple of sound bytes from Zombie about the making of the movie, but not very special or informative.

Casting is audition footage of Dennis Fimple (King Kong) who played Grandpa, which is pretty funny.

Rehearsal footage show some of the cast in their rehearsals for some particular scenes in the film.

The Interviews section has Q & A’s with Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon and Wayne Toth (special make-up effects). Fairly standard fare, but interesting never the less.

Interview with William Bassett is a new interview from Umbrella Entertainment with William Bassett from The Towering Inferno and The Karate Kid.

Theatrical Trailers are fairly self explanatory.

Score: ***

WISIA: I love this film so its a regular rewatcher for me!

I Kill Giants (2017)

One from the to watch pile…

I Kill Giants (2017)

Film: Having a site called ‘The To Watch Pile’ means I need to make sure I watch as many new films as possible… well, not necessarily ‘new’ but certainly ones I haven’t seen before. My ACTUAL to-watch pile is ridiculously large and is spread across my house, filling a footrest and a whole cabinet under my TV. I know that a lot of this is going to be pretty awful, and as a devout movie fan. I’m happy to torture myself with silly stuff. I also know that occasionally I’m going to find a gem amongst the manure.

.. and this is one of them.

I Kill Giants was written by Joe Kelly and is based on the limited series comic made by him along with Ken Niimura which was published by Image Comics between 2008 and 2009. It was directed by Anders Walter, who win an Academy Award for his 2013 short film Helium.

I Kill Giants tells of 12 year old Barbara (Madison Wolfe), an extraordinarily strange girl who walks to the beat of her own drum, resisting normalcy no matter what her sister, Karen (Imogen Poots) asks if her, no matter what the school psychologist, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) says and especially no matter what school bully, Taylor (Rory Jackson) does to her, and she seems to have an incredible strength that rises her above all this.

This is because Barbara has a secret: she is the sole defence for her town against the constant threat of giants. Giants that no one else can see.

Barbara has covered the town with protective runes, and has many wards and symbols that help her in her goal, and she also enlists new neighbour Sophie (Sydney Wade), but this causes a problem… Sophie can’t see what it is that Barbara says she can, and is concerned that perhaps Barbara isn’t quite mentally well, and maybe that disbelief will cause Barbara to lose her powers against the giants…

An ambiguous synopsis? You better believe it. Honestly I’ve watched the film twice as of this writing and I am still not quite sure if Barbara can see these mythical creatures or not, and I think that perhaps that ambiguity really makes the film something special.

It’s not just the ambiguity of Kelly’s script though, it’s also the acting skill of the cast, both the established older actors and the children. This whole film hangs on the talent of Wolfe and she not only rises to the occasion, she nails every scene she is in. In particular, there is one scene where she is being challenged by the psychologist and goes from distracted to tears no naturally it’s astounding.

The other small rise to the occasion too. You forget that Saldana has amazing talent now that she is a blockbuster sweetheart, and I have to say her characters husband is played by Noel Clarke was a nice surprise, me being a Doctor Who fan. Imogen Poots also kicks goals with her role as the sister who is trying to keep her family together after a family tragedy (which is an underlying theme of the plot) and her frustrations are almost palpable.

Walter has created a beautifully designed film too. The constant dark and oppressive sky doesn’t just set a tone of potential danger, and reflect Both Barbara’s real and fantastic situations, it also acts as somewhat of a cover for the films giants, which beautifully fit into the landscape.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this film, and I have to say I was surprised by what I did get: an engaging quasi-fantasy film that played an amazing song upon my heartstrings.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed on the Umbrella Entertainment R4 NTSC DVD which runs for approximately 106 minutes. It is presented in 2.35:1 image which is great, and a decent audio, running on Dolby 5.1. I did have the sound lose sync on two occasions, but I have been assured by Umbrella Entertainment that this has not been a common complaint.

Score: ****

Extras: Seems to be a common thing with Umbrella DVDs these days, but no extras.

Score: 0

WISIA: I did enjoy this film, very much, but I think it would lose some of its magic with a rewatch, so I thunk I’ll leave it where it is.

Lords of Chaos (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Lords of Chaos (2018)

Film: In addition to collecting movies, and books, and toys, and comics, I am also, stupidly, a record collector. This is an expensive hobby that is wonderful and a money pot if you allow it to be. As I am a movie lover, I predominantly own soundtracks to films, but I also have a fair bit of new wave, synth wave and heavy metal.

Now I understand that within the sub-genres of metal there is some quite opposed to each other, but I just don’t know why we can’t just all get along. Thematically, I do tend to lean more towards the harder, darker side of metal when I listen to it, though seeing as how my significant other is a country and western fan, I listen to it by myself. I also have read many biographies about musical artists and amongst those is a book by Didrik Søderlind and Michael Moynihan called Lords of Chaos, whose popularity is probably WHY this film was made as it is a fascinating story, and to paraphrase an old saying, the truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

Lords of Chaos tells the tale of Øystein Aarseth aka Euronymous (Rory Culkin), from whose point of view the entire tale is told, and the inception of a musical sub genre called Norwegian Black Metal.

Euronymous has a band called Mayhem which is looking for a new singer, which they find in a young man from Norway nicknamed ‘Dead’ (Jack Kilmer) who has a severe case of depression and a suicidal nature.

Euronymous has an ‘inner circle’ of devout followers to whom he preached the bands themes of destruction and rebellion, but it wasn’t until he met a young man named Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen) that someone actually decided to act upon them.

Varg’s yearning for acceptance means he is willing to take Euronymous’ word as gospel, and eventually it seems Varg is more of a believer than Euronymous…. and this competition can only end in bloodshed.

Apparently, those who have survived this story, which has a subtext of ‘based on truth… and lies… ‘ have been critical of the accuracy of the film but a good filmmaker doesn’t always let the truth get in the way of a good story: the film ‘24 Hour Party People’ is a good example of this, where even within the confines of the film itself, the real people the film is representing appear to deny claims made about them, which makes for a seriously meta experience. Varg Vikernes was one who apparently particularly made commentary about the lack of accuracy within the film with reference to his character, and also it’s apparently not true that Euronymous had a girlfriend during some of the events of this film, but any excuse to see Sky Ferreira (from Eli Roth’s Green Inferno) is a good one, right?

As for the quality of the film itself, it’s completely engaging and the cast are a likeable bunch of teenage miscreants and Rory Culkin certainly makes the film his own and he controls every scene he is in even if he’s not the focus at that moment. The subtleties of his performance really makes ring true.

The director, Jonas Åkerlund certainly gets the best out of all the actors and his re-telling of some scenes from different points of view really makes this film tragic as well as just a fun ‘let’s make a band’ film. What’s also amazing, and this might be a result of his Swedish heritage, he really knows how to make places look cold, and the bleakness of the environment reflects the attitudes the characters have towards each other… well initially.

Another choice that was made to make this film more agreeable with an audience not into the music is that it doesn’t actually appear on the soundtrack too frequently. This was a wise decision and the music is only really present during performances so the story of the people and the scene, which is what the movie is about takes precedence over the music.

From the amazing cinematography to great acting and sublime direction, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this film and really think anyone who is into music biopics should look into it, even if they aren’t into the music.

Score: ****1/2

Format: The film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release and is presented in a thoroughly decent 1.85:1 image with a matching 5.1 audio.

Score: ****

Extras: When one considers this is based on a true story, it’s a shame they couldn’t find any extras. There is a couple of cool interviews on the Arrow Bluray release so if extras are important to you, that might be an option.

Score: 0

WISIA: This is one of those films that the filmmaker has been so careful in creating subtleties in the mise-en-scène that it really does take a couple of watches to take it all in. Make SURE you watch it more than once!

Reform School Girls (1986)

One from the re-watch pile…

Reform School Girls (1986)

Film: The Women In Prison (WIP) subgenre of exploitation films has been around for a long time, the first really of note being 1933’s Ladies They Talk About which starred Barbara Stanwick and Lillian Roth. The genre continued not just in films but also in the men’s pulp magazine like Argosy and even still continues to this day with stuff like 2009’s Sugar Boxx, though the post 60s films were slightly saucier than the ones previous to that decade.

Reform School Girls was a 1980s entry in the subgenre, written by Jack Cummins (co-writer of another WIP film The Concrete Jungle) and directed by Tom DiSimone who also directed The Concrete Jungle as well as other exploitation classics like Savage Streets and Hell Night.

Reform School Girls tells of the ‘fresh meat’ being delivered to a girl’s reform school for rehabilitation. Jenny (Linda Carol) decides to be a ‘protector’ of sorts to psychologically damaged Lisa (Sherri Stoner) and it’s something she desperately needs in this particular reform school as it’s run by the vicious warden Sutter (Sybil Danning), her fearful second-in-command Edna (Pat Ast) and a group of lecherous cruel guards.

Problem is though, the guards aren’t the only ingredients in this prison that are potentially deadly. The dorm bully is Charlie (Wendy O. Williams) who is constantly causing trouble for our heroes. Thankfully, there is relief in the form of the school psychologist Dr Norton (Charlotte McGinnis) but that doesn’t matter to Jenny, because she is slowly formulating a plan to escape…

From an exploitation point of view, this film has some epic exploitation pedigree, from the director’s previous output, the appearances from the They’re Playing With Fire and The Howling 2’s Sybil Danning, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’s Tiffany Helm, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Loves Darcy DeMoss, Heat’s Pat Ast and most importantly, The Plasmatic’s singer Wendy O. Williams.

Does that make it a good example of the genre though?

Well, no.

At it’s best, Reform School Girls is a parody of WIP films, and really doesn’t stretch itself beyond the generic tropes it’s type: naked shower scenes, delousing, food hall fights, initiations, fire hose torture etc, and it does all seem to be done quite tongue in cheek… especially when you consider the uniforms for Pridemore doesn’t include pants, and the bed clothing consists of everything from g-strings and bras, to aerobic fitness tights rejected from the Olivia Newton-John ‘Physical’ filmclip.

Unfortunately for the film, it’s so badly acted that it fails to execute the timing of any comedy it attempts, and any times it attempts to take itself seriously, it fails miserably. Also, for a ‘reform school’, there isn’t an inmate less than 25 years old!

When this came out, I am sure for a young man that the amount of female nudity would have been a great reason to watch it, but with the level of nudity available on the internet I’m sure it’s not so appealing now. It does, however, have an amazing soundtrack… mainly featuring Wendy O. Williams… which kicks arse.

Score: **

Format: This movie was reviewed on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release, presented in a decent 1.77:1 image with a 2.0 Mono soundtrack that does the job well enough.

Score: ***

Extras: Not a sausage. Not even a disc menu.

Score: 0

WISIA: I saw thins when it was first released on VHS back in the 80s and this is the first time I’ve watched it since. The next time I watch it will probably be in two new formats time, for whatever the future of the internet looks like, but not before that.