Friday, May 20, 2022

Some Bear Out There: Girls Nite Out (1982) Review

Director: Robert Deubel

Notable Cast: Julia Montgomery, James Carroll, Suzanne Barnes, Rutanya Alda, Hal Holbrook, Lauren-Marie Taylor, David Holbrook, Laura Summer, Carrick Glenn, John Didrichsen, Lois Robbins


There’s a moment in Girls Nite Out where the film bounces between a radio DJ giving out clues for the campus scavenger hunt, a sorority girl putting on lipstick, and the mysterious killer taping together steak knives and putting them through the mitt of the bear mascot for the school basketball team. Welcome to 1982 and the slasher boom is already in full swing and if those three things mentioned being done in sync doesn’t give you everything you need to know about this forgotten slasher, Girls Nite Out, then it’s time to go back to Slasher Basics 101. 


For their latest unearthed slasher, Arrow Video has dropped another collector’s item for slash-fans and overall horror nerds to add to their collection. Girls Nite Out, in true 1982 fashion, runs through the tropes with relative ease and most slasher fans will find aspects to love about it. However, it’s rather slow pacing on the front end and run-of-the-mill kills (run-of-the-kill?) make it far more generic than it could have been with its clever set up and angle on the killer. 


Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Mali-Boo Shockumentary: Malibu Horror Story (2002) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Scott Sloan

Notable Cast: Tommy Cramer, Dylan Sprayberry, Rebecca Forsythe, Robert Bailey Jr, Jacob Hughes, Veno Miller, Hector Gomez Jr, Valentina de Angelis

Also known as: The Malibu Tapes


The term ‘mockumentary’ can be deceptive. Although the genre may regularly apply to the style or tonality of comedies like The Office or any of Christopher Guest’s films like A Mighty Wind, it has more to do with the replication of a documentary than it does satire or spoof. For example, Malibu Horror Story is most certainly a mockumentary for its first two thirds as it replicates the feeling of a ghost investigation show one might stumble upon on YouTube. Yet horror fans might be immediately turned off by that idea as so many found footage flicks have already used that angle to tell their story - ala Grave Encounters


Still, it’s the can-do attitude to remarkably strong execution of films like Malibu Horror Story that remind us of what a mockumentary can do as a filmic style. Maybe the term shockumentary is more fitting. Not only does this film properly create a fake documentary feel for most of its run time, but it ends up being a decently fun and horror film that pushes the boundaries of its budget and adds just enough artistic merit to its proceedings to lift the whole beyond its parts. Malibu Horror Story might seem like “just another found footage horror flick.” It’s not and there is a creative flow to it that sets it apart from its peers. 


Monday, May 9, 2022

My Head Is Raining: The Outwaters (2022) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Robbie Banfitch

Notable Cast: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch


The sight of a silhouetted figure on the desert landscape, holding a very well defined ax as the vista of light fades behind them is the kind of image that many horror films would stake their entire concept on. It’s frightening, dynamic, and memorable. For The Outwaters though, that image comes at the beginning of one hellish trip. It’s at this moment that the film shifts gears from its ultra-realistic set up towards the found footage hellscape that would constitute the visuals of insanity. 


In what may be the utmost found footage horror film to define the term ‘found footage,’ The Outwaters is essentially one of those giant water slides at a massive amusement park. It’s a hell of a climb to get up there to the top, a chore of tedium while burning one’s feet on the ground and dealing with a lot of people that all share the same questions about the worthiness of the climb, but once you get on that slide… It's a quick trip through a somewhat suffocating and discombobulating mixture of fear, thrills, and confusion before finding your destination. It just starts with that image of a person silhouetted with an ax right before jumping in the tube. 


A Tale of Madness and Screaming Ants: Masking Threshold (2022) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Johannes Grenzfurthner

Notable Cast: Johannes Grenzfurthner, Ethan Haslam


Putting an audience into the mindset of a character, mainly the protagonist, is script writing and filmmaking 101. The fastest way to instill empathy is to see through the eyes of that character. Any film student or casual viewer knows this to be true. Even when the protagonist is, essentially, the villain of the story. This choice is not one that will often make for an easy watch, but one that can explore some fascinating depths of the character. 


Masking Threshold, from director Johannes Grenzfurthner, fully dives into this approach. It’s a character study which attempts to fully immerse its audience into the world and thoughts of its protagonist, unfolding like a type of visual diary, as they begin their descent into a madness driven by obsession. It’s experimental to the max, making it one of the more unique watches of Panic Fest 2022, and fascinating to a point that it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t encapsulate its concept in full - even if it demands a lot of patience from its audience. 


Monday, May 2, 2022

A First Driver's Test: Intimacies (2012) Review

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Notable Cast: Rei Hirano, Ryo Sato, Mikio Tayama, Ayako Ito


Intimacies is a 4-hour multimedia docufiction journey through the creation and delivery of a stage play called 'Intimacies'. As a person who enjoys lengthy, slow-moving films, I assumed this would be an easy sit for me. Admittedly, I felt the discomfort the characters felt during some of these meetings leading up to their performance while watching the film unfold. It really felt like it was dragging its feet at times, even though I got the point and intention behind it. I know, for a fact, that Hamaguchi masters this exact concept and feeling with Drive My Car, nearly a decade later, but this definitely acts as a prototypal piece to that staggering work. 


Here the experimental element is what sets it apart. That may appeal to a certain type of filmgoer, but for me, it just fell apart at times. While you certainly get very familiar with characters and spend a lot of time with them, by the end some of them felt just as distanced as they were to me in the beginning, but again, that very well may be the point. I do think the standout characters, however, will stick with me for some time to come, including the leading couple that creates the play themselves. Their arc is so satisfying, but in ways, I wish to keep a secret for whichever curious reader may not yet know themselves.


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Questions of Intimacy: Dawning on Us (2021) Review

Director: Kenji Yamauchi

Kenji Yamauchi's fourth feature film, Dawning on Us, is definitely a film made during the COVID pandemic, as it is directly addressed and incorporated throughout the film's dialogues and even in a key scene near the end. You are reminded throughout that this is a product of our times and it feels very relevant and relatable in that sense.


Once again, like with At the Terrace, what we get here is a filmic stage play essentially. Very sparse in terms of location and with film techniques on display, but that is by no means a slight against the film as it is directed quite beautifully and is effective emotionally from start to finish. The play-inspired feel makes sense as Yamauchi has a background in theater. His dialogue here is natural and provides just the right amount of snap to give us plenty to chew on as the drama, and perfectly timed dry humor, plays out before us.

A Parasitic Sense of the Past: The Tag-Along (2015) Review

Director: Cheng Wei-Hao

Notable Cast: River Huang, Tiffany Hsu, Yin-Shang Liu, Yumi Wong, Chang Pai-Chou, Mario Pu, Pai Ming-Hua, Mei-Man Jin, Basang Yawei


It wasn’t until the third film in the franchise that I started to pay attention, but when I finally looked up a way to watch The Tag-Along my curiosity was full-blown. Not only was this Taiwanese horror flick well regarded in my horror circles (at least to the degree to pique my interest), it was - at the time of its release - the highest-grossing horror film in Taiwan. Although the film has seemingly floundered to find a mass audience outside of its home, The Tag-Along is a remarkably adept horror experience that blends its culturally ripe urban myth concept with classic ghost story thrills into an atmospheric, jump scare littered ride. Don’t assume it’s just another Ring knockoff. The Tag-Along hangs on with some fascinating depth and still delivers the scares. 


When so many ghost stories are birthed from older urban legends or stories from historical texts, it’s always somewhat refreshing to hear a relatively modern one. Usually, when they occur, it’s because a film is attempting to cash in on the 15 minutes of internet fame of a new ‘creepypasta’ trend, ala Slenderman. The Tag-Along, however, is a blend of the two. The origin of the urban myth only kicks back to the 1990s when a video featuring a little girl in a red dress following some hikers was discovered, went viral online, and then created entire new “experiences” of people seeing the ‘tag along spirit.’ It’s just intriguing enough in its unusualness to perk interest and yet vague enough to be imbued with layered meaning for artists to use. 


Sunday, April 24, 2022

A Lethal Injection: The Five Venoms (1978) Update Review [Shawscope Vol. 1 Box Set]

As with many of the other films in this Shawscope Vol 1 set, or the new Blu-Ray releases for Shaw Brothers films from any newer distribution company, I’ve spent quite a bit of time addressing the film on hand. The Five Venoms, also known as The Five Deadly Venoms as it was the first time I saw it, is one of those films. This is more or less an update to those pieces rather than a full review of the film. If you want more in-depth writing, feel free to visit my original review for Blood Brothers HEREor my piece about the role of nihilism and hope in the film for the official Shaw Brothers website HERE


For those perhaps stumbling upon this film for the first time due to the latest release from Arrow Video, then congrats. You’ve just leaped into one of the greatest classic martial arts films of all time. Yes, I stand by that statement and while many may argue that point, particularly due to the overall “lack” of action in this film (is it lacking when each sequence has so much storytelling and pathos to it?), I remain vigilant in that stance. 


The Five Venoms is an incredible piece of cinema. 


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Deep Conspiracies and Darker Crimes: The Big Racket (1976) Review

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Notable Cast: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Orso Maria Guerrini, Glauco Onorato, Marcella Michelangeli, Romano Puppo, Antonio Marsina, Salvatore Borgese, Joshua Sinclair


Within the confines of Italian genre cinema, particularly the boom of exploitative work from the late 60s through the 1980s, there are a handful of directors that repeatedly pop up as some of the cornerstones. Enzo G. Castellari is one of those. Although I have yet to fully explore his works with full gusto, the films that I have seen can range so wildly in quality that it makes him one of the more fascinating artists to explore. 


When Arrow Video decided to drop a double-feature box set of two of his works from the poliziotteschi genre (or fringing on it), it was high time to explore some new Castellari films. Entitled Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers The Big Racket & The Heroin Busters from Enzo G. Castellari, in all of its long winded glory, the set features those two films and a slew of new special features for fans and collectors to enjoy. 


The first film featured in the set, The Big Racket, could be considered a big surprise. To me, at least. Although the film regularly hits many of the tropes of the crime films of the era and industry, it’s a remarkably intense flick and plays its story and characters like a much larger crime epic. It’s a meticulously pieced together slice of crime cinema loaded with a slew of fun side characters, a handful of intense crime and action sequences, and a finale that features a body count Rambo would be impressed with. The Big Racket not only rests as one of the best Castellari films, but perhaps one of the most entertaining Italian crime films of the period.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A New Duel, Venoms Style: The Flag of Iron (1980) Review Update

The Shaw Brothers studio was always sly in taking many of the same stories or scripts and remaking them in a way that would feel refreshingly new or unique compared to the original. Although the studio, which produced one metric shit ton of films through its lifetime, would rarely find itself delving too much into franchises, they loved these secret remakes. In the case of this film, The Flag of Iron, it’s the style of the film that is so different that the story it’s telling is almost unrecognizable to its predecessor. 


Yes, indeed, The Flag of Iron is a remake of the Shaw Brothers’ The Duel, and if you want more information, you’re welcome to read my previous review for The Flag of Iron HERE (or if you’re so inclined you can read my review for The Duel HERE). Yet, it's the new 88 Films release of the former that is the focus of this brief update. 


Monday, April 18, 2022

‘Twas the (Body) Hoppiest of Days: Spiritwalker (2022) Review

Director: Yoon Jae-geun

Notable Cast: Yoon Kye-sang Park Yong-woo, Lim Ji-yeon, Yoo Seung-mok, Park Ji-hwan, Lee Sung-wook, Hong Gi-jun, Seo Hyun-woo, Ju Jin-mo


Although it may often be known as the Freaky Friday premise due to the popularity of that film - and its various remakes, the idea of body swapping is a fairly familiar trope within cinema for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, as in the case of the newer Jumanji films as an example, it’s ripe for comedy to see people of a particular physical appearance play completely against type for comedic effect. In the case of Freaky, it’s the final girl and the slasher killer that swap bodies. Horror comedy ensues. Further proof that it’s a concept that continues to work decade after decade.


Now, what if it was an action thriller that used that body-swapping concept? And not in the way that Face/Off swapped faces, but what if the “soul” of a person was forcibly placed into another body? Would that still work? These are the questions being asked by Spiritwalker, the latest film to cross over the ocean from South Korea to the United States. In this iteration, there’s a few more rules to the entire event and almost no comedy to be derived. Instead, the film focuses on how disjointed that experience would be and how it could both enhance and deter a quest for revenge. 


Feel free to walk this way, Spiritwalker


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Fear and Focused Violence: The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Notable Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell


Fear and a little focused violence. In a line of dialogue in the third act of The Batman, Paul Dano’s Riddler gives the classic villain monologue which gives Robert Pattinson’s Batman a bit of credit for his style of unmasking the corruption of the city. It’s a reference to one of Batman’s opening voice-over narrations about how he uses the shadows, violence, and a sense of fear to try and repress the criminal element of a decaying Gotham. Now, his tactics are being used against him by a serial killer-styled Riddler, who is subsequently hunting down corrupt individuals from Gotham’s 1% and leaving riddles to drag Batman into the light. 


The Batman is bleak. It’s grim. It’s a film dedicated to honing in on the dark part of the Dark Knight. 


Director and co-writer Matt Reeves never avoids it either. With his latest piece of the DC Extended Universe of live-action comic book films, Reeves doubles down on the darkness of the early days of the caped crusader, giving audiences a new cinematic vision of the long-running hero (or in this case, very much an anti-hero) and possibly delivering one of the more intriguing incarnations of him. The Batman is not the easiest film to digest, particularly with its butt-numbing 3-hour runtime, but it’s one that encapsulates a Batman that is both inherently a throwback to older versions while running parallel with the themes and societal fears of a new generation. 


Monday, March 28, 2022

A New Move in a Slasher X-orcise: X (2022) Review

Director: Ti West

Notable Cast: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn


Over the last few years, the slasher has started to make another comeback. I’ve mentioned it a few times in recent reviews, including our coverage of Scream (2022) just a couple of months ago, but it’s a fascinating time for the slasher to be rearing its gory and gimmicky head. Perhaps it’s the reactive way that things swing after a handful of years of slow burn, artsy horror that has dominated the landscape, but nonetheless, here we are once again as slashers regain momentum. 


Of that reactionary stance, perhaps it makes sense that A24 would leap in on it as they continue to be one of the big studios leading the horror charge in theaters, but a slasher seems like it could be outside of their overall style as a studio. Compound that by having writer and director Ti West helm the film X for the studio and it seems like it could be a massive misfire in concept out of the gate. 


Yet, X, the film that brings Ti West and A24 together for the first time, is a wild and offbeat success. It rocks a see-saw teetering balance between the director’s notable slow-burn style and the more entertaining titillations of the genre. It also adds in just enough of that artistic flavor of the studio to snatch the horror fans with an “elevated” taste. It’s strangely effective at what it does and it makes X one of the more effective throwback horror flicks in recent memory. 


Sign the Dotted Line: The Contractor (2022) Review

Director: Tarik Saleh

Notable Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Kiefer Sutherland, Eddie Marsan, Florian Munteanu


As the industry continues to shift in recent years, it’s hard not to lament the loss of certain mid-tier genres in the wake of a spectacle-driven box office. The death of the mid-budget adult-targeted film is well recognized throughout film criticism and industry analysis where many great writers have spoken about it at length so iterating the eulogy here is not the best use of my word usage. With the rise of streaming, however, there seems to be a grasp towards grabbing those genres and reclaiming them for a modern era. 


The Contractor, exemplifies this. 


Although this latest old-school espionage thriller is receiving a small theatrical run this week, its sale to both Showtime and Paramount+ at the same time is indicative of this move. The Contractor is not the spectacle-driven spy flick that Mission: Impossible or James Bond fans might expect, but it is a solid sleeper hit that manages a balance between modern political themes and old-school espionage tension and thrills. It’s not wholly the most thrilling watch, thanks to a very drama-heavy first half, but its dedication to creating realistic characters and then throwing them into the military action shouldn’t be written off as boring either. The Contractor is simply more throw-back tone than anything. It’s utterly refreshing at times.  


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Fight Father, Fight Son: Executioners from Shaolin (1977) Update Review [Shawscope Vol. 1 Box Set]

It’s amazing how much difference a decade makes. Executioners from Shaolin is considered, by fans at least, as one of the best films that the Shaw Brothers catalog and it’s an iconic classic in a variety of other ways. It’s loved for so many reasons and all of them are legitimate. The stars, the action, the story… you name it and there’s a reason why Executioners from Shaolin is considered a cornerstone film of the cornerstone studio. 


Yet, just ten years ago in the early days of Blood Brothers, I wrote a very lukewarm review of the film. It’s not a very well-written review, to be frank, and part of me hates to link it HERE, but it’s important to recognize the flaws of the past. That’s what Executioners from Shaolin teaches us anyway. To learn from the past, make the proper corrections, and move forward to claim justice. 


A few years ago, I was graciously asked to write a new piece on the film for the official Celestial Pictures Shaw Brothers website - which can be found HERE, and in that time I saw that I was perhaps a bit harsh on the film initially. With its inclusion in the Shawscope Vol. 1 boxset from Arrow Video, now it’s my third time addressing the film and I like to think that it’s the charm. 


Sunday, March 13, 2022

18 and Bronze to Go: 18 Bronzemen (1976) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Tien Peng, Carter Wong, Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng


Heading into the final leg of Eureka’s Cinematic Vengeance box set, it’s nice to be able to see a remastered, high-def version of one of Joseph Kuo’s most iconic films - 18 Bronzemen. The original copy that I had laying around the house, a bootleg DVD with a VHS style rip of the film, was one that remained in rotation as a film to put on in the background when I was doing house chores, but after seeing this latest release - I’ve found a new respect for Kuo’s Shaolin saga of revenge. 


Although it’s easy to compare 18 Bronzemen to The 36 Chambers of Shaolin for its structure and themes, it’s not necessarily a comparison that does either film any favors. As noted in the booklet that comes along with the Cinematic Vengeance boxset, written by James Oliver, 18 Bronzemen came out two years prior to the Lau Kar Leung cornerstone classic and that’s a fact that should be remembered. 


Thursday, March 10, 2022

A Short, Sharp…: Shock (1977) Review Update

For the record, there is already a review for the film Shock here on Blood Brothers. It just happens to be under the original US title, Beyond the Door II, and was written by Eric Reifschneider as a defense of the film. You’re welcome to read it at this LINK. The intention of this piece is to give a slightly new viewpoint on the film and address the latest Blu Ray from Arrow Video. 


What’s fascinating is that while Eric defended the final film from the iconic genre director Mario Bava, almost 12 years ago on this very site, it’s only now that Shock is finding its way onto the Arrow Video lineup. The label has made a statement to release damn near every film from the Italian auteur under their banner and they are getting damn close with the latest being this ghostly Italian spin on the haunted house film. 


Upon this latest watch, a gorgeous new 2K restoration by Arrow Films that truly brings out Bava’s use of visuals and sound design in some impressive ways, it’s remarkable that this film gets as overlooked as it does. Even in the years since Eric originally posted his review here on Blood Brothers, Shock finds itself mostly falling between the cracks in discussions of Italian horror. 


Let the Lack of Games Begin: Deadly Games (1982) Review

Director: Scott Mansfield

Notable Cast: Alexandra Morgan, Jo Ann Harris, Sam Groom, Saul Sindell, Steve Railsback, Denise Galik, Dick Butkus


If you’re a horror fan of a certain age, then growing up with slashers and having an affinity for them is part of the nostalgia and heritage. They were all the rage and became the formula for what the social conscious associated with the term horror. Although I would not care to place myself within the confines of being a slasher diehard, I, too, have an affinity for the genre that piques my interest when I hear about lost films from the golden era (i.e. 1980s.) 


However, the die-hards of the genre will certainly claim that a slew of films from that timeline are cult classics when they are often baffling, watered-down representations of all the great things that slashers could be even within the boundaries of its genre. For every true slasher gem, whether it is the surprisingly competent and effective tones of The Mutilator or the hilariously tongue-in-cheek Blood Rage, there are ones that simply do not come close to living up to the standards of the genre - even with nostalgia goggles firmly in place. 


Deadly Games, despite its glorious cover artwork absolutely meant to guarantee rentals in the ma n’ pop video shops of the 1980s, is one of those films. For every moment where it finds traction in a fun idea or shockingly sober pop of artistry, there are a dozen perplexing choices being made throughout the film. It’s bewildering how Deadly Games manages to misfire at almost every corner from its concept, script, performances, or style. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Pour Another Round: Come Drink with Me (1966) Review Update

Similar to my updated review for King Boxer, I have spent a considerable amount of time in my career singing the praises of Come Drink with Me as a cornerstone to martial arts cinema - and in my opinion, all of action cinema. Enough so, that I assume I sound like Drunk Cat, the mysterious vagabond in the film, when he sings for the bar in an attempt collect some tips. I'm just singing the praises of martial arts cinema classics. 


There is already a full review for the film here on the website that you can read at the following LINK which I wrote some seven years ago. more recently I included the film in an article about King Hu’s Inn Trilogy - a piece that can be found HERE. So, yes, I have been spending some time already writing about this film. Yet, with the latest Arrow Video Blu Ray due to hit shelves this month, I felt inclined to pipe up once again with my warblin' singing voice.


Saturday, February 26, 2022

Man of a Thousand Faces and Nine Films: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) Review

Director: David Blue Garcia

Notable Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, William Hope, Jolyon Coy, Sam Douglas, John Larroquette


A chainsaw is a fascinating instrument for a horror film. It represents so many things on so many levels. Cinematically, it’s imposing visually and abrasively loud. It’s a blunt instrument with its weight and it still cuts, but not in nice lean slices. It rips things apart and leaves ragged edges. It’s not a precise instrument of destruction, at least not in the hands of most individuals. It’s an instrument seen for the working class, but a skilled one, and it can be layered with so many more meanings. That’s why its inclusion was such a provocative choice in the title for the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and it was a statement piece in Tobe Hooper’s original horror milestone classic.


In what some might deem a fun twist of fate, the latest entry into this decades long-running horror franchise, confusingly titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film that feels like a chainsaw had been taken to it. It’s messy, choppy, loud, and - just like those chainsaw competitions that ESPN shows on Saturday afternoons - it’s stupidly enjoyable with the appropriate mindset.