Friday, August 31, 2018

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

Directors: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Notable Cast: Thomas Lennon, Nelson Franklin, Jenny Pellicer, Michael Pare, Barbara Crampton, Charlyne Yi, Matthias Hues, Udo Kier

Hype is a cruel mistress. When the Puppet Master reboot was announced there was general shock from the horror community. Not only was Charles Band still going strong with his own Puppet Master series, but he made it very clear that he would not be ending his series in light of this reboot. If anything, Puppet Master was a franchise that desperately needed the reboot retreat and probably has for decades. The announcement, along with inclusion of genre auteur S. Craig Zahler as the writer, was somewhat refreshing. When you add that the film was directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, who delivered the stylish if flawed Blood Runs Cold which was made for the amount of money someone might collect from couch cushions, then there was hype. Too much hype. As the credits rolled on Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment. So much potential and the film was focused on delivering a silly, tongue-in-cheek experience that Band’s series is known for instead of delivering something a bit different.

Monday, August 27, 2018

What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974)

Director: Massimo Dallamano
Notable Cast: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Mario Adorf, Franco Fabrizi, Farley Granger, Marina Berti, Paolo Turco, Corrado Gaipa, Micaela Pignatelli, Sherry Buchanan, Attilio Dottesio

Although it is often paired up with What Have You Done to Solange? when being referenced by fans and critics, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is its own beast of a film. Having not seen the film prior to its Blu Ray release from our friends at Arrow Video, my expectations for the classic Italian thriller were fairly lofty. Solange is one of my favorite giallo films, even if it’s more of a fringe giallo than anything, and coming from the same director and period, while being referenced in conjunction with Solange, it simply lifted the expectations. However, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? truly is more of its own thing and more of a spiritual cousin to the previously mentioned classic than a replication of it. Very little of the film is done in the stylistic and trope laden giallo formula and instead it ramps up the realism and grittiness of its concept to almost documentarian like levels. What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is shocking and surgically precise while backhanding its audience with its story and approach. It’s another truly cinematic and powerful film from this golden age of Italian cinema.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Song of Solomon (2018)

Director: Stephen Biro
Notable Cast: Jessica Cameron, Scott Gabbey, David E. McMahon, Gene Palubicki, Mareen Pelamati, Jeff Shedden, Josh Townsend, Jim Van Bebber, Scott Alan Warner, Andy Winton
Also known as: American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon.

There was one key thing that I missed before sitting down to watch The Song of Solomon the other evening for this review. Despite the fact that the box art does not say it anywhere on it, The Song of Solomon is also known as American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon. What does this have to do with anything, some might be asking. Well, if you know what the Guinea Pig series of Japanese exploitation films is, then you absolutely know what to expect from the film. You expect it to push the limits of its exploitative nature and do its damnedest to make its audience gag with its content and realistic special effects. However, I did not know this until after the film ended. What I expected was another hum-drum exorcism film. What I got was a rip-roaring gore fest, loosely tied together with a thinly guised plot, and enough in-your-face exploitation violence to make die hard horror fans feel light headed. To say that I was taken back might be an understatement. This film has all of the subtlety of a of an 18-wheeler barreling down the interstate with the gas petal stuck to the floor while the horn remains blaring. Truthfully, that’s a compliment. The Song of Solomon, for all of its issues, accomplishes what it intends to do with little regard on whether or not the audience has the will power (or gag reflex) to keep up.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Island (2018)

Director: Huang Bo
Notable Cast: Huang Bo, Shu Qi, Wang Baoqiang, Zhang Yixing, Yu Hewei, Wang Xun, Li Qinqin, Lee You-Lin, Teddy Chan

One of the stranger aspects of reviewing foreign cinema is that, as a regular consumer, a lot of the marketing and hype build for certain films may never reach over here. Outside of following some of the actors involved in this film, The Island, it was a film that generally never crossed into the areas of information that I frequent. Once Well Go USA announced the intention of releasing the film in limited theaters in the US, some marketing hit over here, but even then, it was rather minimal compared to some of the Asian titles that pop up in theaters. Expectations for the film were rather open for me as I sat down to finally see the film that was dominating the box office in China. To my surprise, not only did The Island work for me on both a dramatic and comedic level, but it took a surprisingly hard angle with the thematic and emotional lens of how people live their lives. Featuring some impressively ranged performances and a knack for sly comedic timing in a wholly heavy and dramatic film, The Island feels far more connected with its audience and intentions than the titular setting would indicate. It’s a film that works as well on an entertaining cinematic level as it does with its character and emotional throughways to create an impressive hodge podge of laughs and tears. The Island is certainly a cinematic delight that ought not to be overlooked this year.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Street Mobster (1972)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Noboru Ando, Asao Koike, Hideo Murota, Kyosuke Machida, Mayumi Nagisa, Noburo Mitani, Asao Uchida, Takeo Chii, Mayumi Fujisato

Arrow Video has made a statement when it comes to bringing some of the best of old school Japanese action films to its fans. Most of these are attached to the more popular auteur cult directors and, as of recently, they have tripled down on the films of Kinji Fukasaku. If you’ve followed this site for any length, then you already know that Fukasaku is a regular staple here and we attempt to run coverage on new releases for the director as much as possible. The latest from Arrow Video – thus, the latest review for Blood Brothers – is for his groundbreaking film, Street Mobster. While the film is not quite the epic tale as his Battles Without Honor and Humanity and doesn’t hit the thematic and heavy levels of some of his later yakuza films like Graveyard of Honor, it does have this raw and energetic approach that allows it to flow. Featuring some fantastic performances and a devil may care attitude, Street Mobster is another classic to add to Fukasaku’s gangster classics that any fan of Japanese cinema will want to add to their collection.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Blast (1997)

Director: Albert Pyun
Notable Cast: Linden Ashby, Andrew Divoff, Kimberly Warren, Rutger Hauer, Norbert Weisser, Tim Thomerson, Yuji Okumoto, Sonya Eddy

The success of Die Hard left a tidal wave of knock offs and various action films that attempted to recreate the iconic film’s brilliance. As with most big cultural films, this is a trend that happens. Some of these replications were effective in their own ways, films like Speed or Sudden Death stand out as fun spins on the premise, and some of them, sadly, were not. In the latter category, we have films like Blast. While Blast is definitely influenced by Die Hard, it’s not the replication to the extent that the cover would indicate. Blast uses the basic concepts about terrorists and a one-man battle against them in a sealed off building, but the lacking sense of humor and a very dry and serious approach to the material does not necessarily do the film any favors. It hits a lot of the right ideas in the formulaic approach (and it does have moments of B-grade action awesomeness,) but ultimately Blast tries too hard to be too dramatic to effectively entertain.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Walking Tall (2004)

Director: Kevin Bray
Notable Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, Michael Bowen, Kevin Durand, Kristen Wilson, Ashley Scott, Khleo Thomas, John Beasley, Cobie Smulders

There are some films that seemingly get lost in the shuffle of time. Usually, these are films that run the middle of the road, not bad enough to be spit on and not good enough to make the lasting memories, but sometimes these are films that do eventually find their audiences. 2004’s Walking Tall, starring Dwayne Johnson while he was still credited as The Rock, is one of those films. When it was released, Walking Tall received generally negative reviews, but the film garnered enough of an audience to make two sequels (neither starring The Rock, who was replaced by Kevin Sorbo (?).) Yet, time was not necessarily kind to the film and it eventually disappeared from the mainstream consciousness, despite the eventual mega-stardom that Dwayne Johnson would achieve as an action star. That is, until now. MVD’s newest distribution arm, MVD Marquee, has selected Walking Tall as one of their first releases and rewatching the film for the first time since it’s release was interesting. Although, it’s still obvious why the film was forgotten. It does have its merits as a fun and entertaining little film, but it’s hardly the action classic that The Rock now puts out almost on a yearly basis.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Shadowbuilder (1998)

Director: Jamie Dixon
Notable Cast: Michael Rooker, Leslie Hope, Andrew Jackson, Shawn Thompson, Kevin Zegers

I’m a bit of a sucker for late 90s horror. There’s something about the aesthetic of straight to home video or low to mid budget horror from the era that hits a nostalgic note for me, so when Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder (also known as Shadow Builder without the iconic author’s name attached) hit my review queue I was generally excited to dig into a film from this era that I had not experienced before. Needless to say, even though the film is hardly perfect by any definition of the word, it also hit all of the right marks for me. Shadowbuilder is an enjoyably off beat supernatural horror action flick with some fantastic casting. It’s a product of its time, particularly in its use of visual effects around its villain, but its combination of cult horror with supernatural slasher elements was charming and fun.

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Directors: Kobun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Notable Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe, Reina Ueda, Ari Ozawa, Kenta Miyake, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, Kazuhiro Yamaji

As a huge Godzilla fan, it was a shock that I felt so disconnected and disappointed with the first anime film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. If you’re curious about those feelings, as they do set up the context for this next review, I would suggest just going and reading my review for the film HERE. In summary, the film went very far away from the usual core Godzilla material and was essentially crippled by its structure. While its sequel, or more fittingly it should be called next episode, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle does help the first film by actually adding some character depth to the story, but it’s also a film that inherently suffers from the same problems and only adds a few redeeming qualities to make for a better film experience. Fans of the first film will definitely love what City on the Edge of Battle is offering, but for those hoping for a lot more (i.e. me) it’s only slightly better than the first.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sleepy Eyes of Death 9: A Trail of Traps (1967)

Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Kimura, Haruko Wanibuchi, Mikio Narita, Naoko Kubo, Kayo Mikimoto

One of the things that keeps rising to my attention, at least while I am working my way through the rest of the Sleepy Eyes of Death series, is that often my opinion of individual films goes against the popular one. I found that Sleepy Eyes of Death 8 was surprisingly effective and cinematic, despite it being one that was generally unpopular with fans, and for the ninth entry, A Trail of Traps, my opinion once again swung the opposite direction.  Where fans tend to find this one massively entertaining and above the usual quality of the series, as the film rolled to a close, there was a feeling that the potential of the concept did not equal the film that was delivered. Despite some fantastic moments, a strong visual approach by director Kazuo Ikehiro, and another set of really strong performances from the cast, A Trail of Traps is a film where the meandering script has no real sense of purpose and seemingly strings together a half dozen plot threads in an attempt to layer a film that doesn't have the nuance and momentum to make it work. It is entertaining, for sure, but the fun concept isn’t enough to keep the film from floating off on its own trail of narrative traps.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Director: Stephen Susco
Notable Cast: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani, Chelsea Alden, Alexa Mansour, Douglas Tait

After the breakout success of 2015’s Unfriended, which was a surprise box office success, it wasn’t that hard to imagine Blumhouse pumping out a sequel or two for the film. As with so many other found footage horror films, they were cheap to make and even if it had half a decent marketing campaign it was going to be profitable. The fact that it took three years for Unfriended: Dark Web to hit theaters is something of a surprise. Particularly when it was revealed that the film would not be a direct sequel to the previous entry, but a stylistically thematic one that dealt with the hideous corners of the Dark Web versus a supernatural entity. Still, the film is out now and while it has hit the headlines by being a surprise box office letdown (it only made under $4 million opening weekend versus the original one which banked in over $15 million on its opening weekend,) Dark Web is hardly the massive let down that would indicate. It’s more of the same stylistically, but it’s a bit different in tone and approach to the style which means that there will definitely be mixed feelings about the film. Overall, Dark Web is a few shades lesser than its predecessor, but it’s still an intense little low budget horror flick worthy of a watch for fans. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy (1970, 1971, 1974)

Japanese horror films have always fascinated me since Ju-On haunted my life for about a year when I was around 16 years old. Enough so that, when available, I try to snag a few here and there to fit them into my viewing schedule. When Arrow Video announced The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, comprising of The Vampire Doll, Lake of Dracula, and Evil of Dracula, for a new Blu Ray set, I was stoked. These were films that I was rather unfamiliar with and after hearing that they were essentially Japan’s brief attempts at replicating the Hammer horror style, I was completely bought in. Eventually, we started receiving quite a few requests at Blood Brothers to review the set and with the new Blu Ray in hand, I’m happy to oblige. Below you will find each film reviewed singularly, in order as they appear on the set, and after that there will be a recap of the films and the actual release itself. If you’re already interested in the set, I might recommend that you just go ahead and make the purchase, supporting these kinds of releases only means that we get more of them in the future, but if you’re still wary of whether or not the films are worth it, just crack open your coffin and keep reading about each of the films.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Unfriended (2015)

Director: Levan Gabriadze
Notable Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman

Although the found footage genre of horror has essentially seen its 15 minutes of fame come and go, it’s a genre that will never be lost for all of the same reasons that it grew to be a juggernaut of style. It’s cheap to make and it is an easy way for an audience to put themselves in the shoes of the characters. Those are two things that horror films feed on. Now, more recently as technology advances, found footage has more opportunities to take different angles as the same style. Instead of mockumentaries or found tapes/records that are showcased in a narrative style, we have films like the Unfriended series. Sacrificing the shaky cam panic of a cameraman on the run from whatever horrors await them, Unfriended takes a slick and occasionally clever spin on the in-the-moment horror. Its narrative is told completely from the screen capture of a computer.  It’s as straight forward as that.

Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018)

Director: Steven C. Miller
Notable Cast: Huang Xiaoming, Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Jaime King, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham, Titus Welliver, Lydia Hull, Chen Tang, Tyron Woodley, Pete Wentz

One of the more fascinating elements of American cinema is how the foreign box office has become a significant indicator of how successful a film is or isn’t. Not only in terms of the big blockbusters, but even for the middle of the road films. A film like Escape Plan, a mid-budget action thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, stumbled at the domestic box office, but did surprising numbers overseas – specifically in China. It was enough that a sequel was announced later on and that it would be geared to appeal to that foreign market rather than the 80s meets modern action thriller that the first one meant to capitalize on. Thus, we have Escape Plan 2: Hades and the initial response from critics and fans alike were less than stellar. However, Hades is hardly just a throwaway sequel with a name attachment meant to continue a franchise. This film is an entertainingly silly sequel that truly attempts to create a more layered ‘conspiracy’ to further the events of the first film. Yes, to agree with most of the criticisms of this film, Hades is bad. I would never make the claim for it to be a good film, but it's going to find its cult audience in 10 years that thoroughly enjoys it for being so problematic and silly. I'll be waiting for you all to catch up with me.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Buybust (2018)

Director: Erik Matti
Notable Cast: Anne Curtis, Brandon Vera, Victor Neri, Arjo Atayde, Nonie Buencamino, Lao Rodriguez, Alex Calleja, Levi Ignacio, Ricky Pascua, Joross Gamboa, Sheenly Gener, Mara Lopez, AJ Muhlach

Filipino director Erik Matti has been around for much longer than most people know and his career has covered a ton of various genres and styles throughout the years. It wasn’t until the release of his dark and gritty thriller, On the Job, in 2013 that his name truly broke through into other currents of cinema. Although he has followed up On the Job with some diverse films, including a segment in the very entertaining ABCs of Death 2, it’s not until his latest film and the subject of this review, Buybust, that he has seen the same kind of hype. Sporting some fantastic marketing, including a brutal and intense trailer along with some strong word of mouth after it’s premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival, Buybust has created some lofty expectations going into the film.

The film meets those expectations with a hammerfist to the face.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2018)

Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Notable Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Huang-gi, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Dong-wook, Lee Jung-jae

Late last year, South Korea released Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds throughout the world and it was met, generally, with solid praise. It was a raucous cinematic ride, blending genres almost willy-nilly into a provocatively entertaining experience that was equal parts morality tale, fantasy adventure, and franchise starter. It’s this last element of The Two Worlds that brings us to its (first?) sequel, Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. After the original film left off on an open ending meant to tease that the three guardians would continue their plight, it was only expected that a follow up film was imminent and, surprise, surprise, here we are less than a year later with the next one. Sporting the same genre bending style and outlandish popcorn entertainment meets message film, fans of the first one are definitely going to want to leap back into the world of afterlife trials and fantasy adventure. Granted, this sequel doesn’t quite find the effective balance of the first, it does have its own brilliant moments leaving The Last 49 Days as grand cinematic entertainment with a heart of gold.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Incident in a Ghostland (2018)

Director: Pascal Laugier
Notable Cast: Crystal Reed, Mylene Farmer, Anastasia Phillips, Emilia Jones, Taylor Hickson, Kevin Power, Rob Archer, Mariam Bernstein, Alicia Johnston, Ernesto Griffith, Adam Hurtiq

Trauma and emotional processing are the new gore in the modern age of horror. As a genre, we’re becoming more genuine, more cathartic, and more poignant in the way that we view and tell our stories. Many fans have flocked to the genre as a means of exercising their own traumatic demons and finding a way to make sense of their own experiences.

I should mention right now that I have no effective credentials outside of being an armchair psychologist. These remarks are largely introspective as well as general hypotheses flung into the pop psychology void.

The horror genre is gaining steam, gaining more production and higher quality than we’ve seen before. This horror renaissance is exploring new concepts and expanding the boundaries of what the macabre can accomplish, showing a diversity in concept, subject, and execution that is a breath of fresh air to a genre that is largely associated with bargain bin slashers and brain numbing gore fests. This is not to say that these don’t have their place - but the genre, as a whole, needs to be much more than a sliver of its content.

Incident in a Ghostland is another film in the line of traumatic family thrillers that are smart, scary, and well crafted. Director Pascal Laugier (Martyrs, Tall Man) tells a story that is dark, brooding, and intelligent. While the concept of this film is nothing new, the execution and message are something that (dare I say it) I haven’t seen before. I know that I’m likely getting berated in the comment section right now, but I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I’ve seen this film echoed in anything else, something that is incredibly refreshing.