Blu-ray Review - Fade to Black


1980's "Fade to Black" offers a fantastic idea for a serial killer story, examining the mental fracture of a film fan who's been rejected by his one true fantasy, taking out his rage on those who've wronged him, becoming screen icons to psychologically deal with his capacity for vicious violence. Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman only manages to get halfway with the concept, but the weirder side of the feature is quite interesting, hinting a wonderfully bonkers picture if Zimmerman paid a little closer attention to structure and casting. What's presented here has its moments, but it barely feels like a completed movie. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Don't Panic


After making some noise with 1985's Mexican horror film, "Cemetery of Terror," writer/director Ruben Galindo Jr. tries to deliver something more Americanized for 1988's "Don't Panic." Unfortunately, the helmer doesn't have a game plan for the picture, which slaps together teen romance, family issues, and pieces of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," presented as a random ride between dimensions of reality featuring teen characters. The unintentional laughs come fast and furious with "Don't Panic," finding Galindo Jr. struggling to make sense of anything in the feature, fumbling with scares and unavoidable silliness as he attempts to pay tribute to the genre gods with this sloppy effort. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Rental


The company Airbnb has done a remarkable job transforming the vacation rental marketplace, and it's even more impressive how much it's influenced genre entertainment. Over the last few years, terror from the depths of luxury living has been explored in "Trespassers," "Welcome Home," "Tone- Deaf," and the recent "You Should Have Left." And now there's "The Rental," which also examines an unfolding nightmare facing a group of travelers looking for the perfect getaway, only to come up against an insidious enemy. The effort marks the feature-length directorial debut for Dave Franco (who co-scripts with Joe Swanberg), and he's done his homework, endeavoring to provide a spooky ride of mysterious events while gently working in a greater appreciation for character connections. He's making a relationship movie with a body count, and it's effective, more so when dealing with people and their problems than acts of murder. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Cemetery of Terror


1985's "Cemetery of Terror" represents the directorial debut for Ruben Galindo, Jr., and he keeps it simple for his first at-bat. It's a tale of resurrection and mayhem involving a large cast of young actors, and most of the feature involves looking for trouble and finding it in increasingly graphic ways. It's not a roller coaster ride, but "Cemetery of Terror" overcomes initial stasis to provide some excitement and gruesome events for genre fans, with the helmer finding his groove late in the movie, suddenly aware he has to offer a little more than banal conversations to delight the audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trigger Point


Older action heroes have been created with Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves, and now it’s Barry Pepper’s turn to throw bits of blue steel around the frame while taking out numerous bad guys. In “Trigger Point,” Pepper portrays a disgraced CIA agent out to clear his name, racing around upstate New York, taking time to engage in shootouts and charged confrontations. Screenwriter Michael Vickerman is tasked with generating a world for “Trigger Point,” creating a fresh franchise for Pepper that’s intended to carry on in multiple sequels. Trouble is, the first installment isn’t all that inspired, with director Brad Turner trying to do something with tight COVID-19 filming restrictions (the movie was shot six months ago), ordered to manufacture some mayhem with writing that doesn’t have interest in such a mood, while Pepper’s hard focus eliminates any personality, making the endeavor glum, with only a few lively elements to keep it passably engaging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jakob's Wife


The trials and tribulations of a longstanding marriage are filtered through genre filmmaking in “Jakob’s Wife.” It’s a pairing of domestic disappointment and vampirism that gives the material a special twist, with writers Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and Travis Stevens (who also makes his directorial debut) doing something inventive with horror formula and marriage therapy, coming up with an oddball chiller that attempts to offer a little heart before it sucks it dry. Terrific performances from star Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden carry the endeavor, which isn’t always confident with tone, losing its way at times. However, the movie is memorable and periodically wicked, managing to bring something different to screens as the story examines common relationship problems while keeping things drenched in blood. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rookies


Chinese comedies can be very odd, and “The Rookies” is no exception. It’s an action film with heavy doses of slapstick, trying to merge the worlds of Michael Bay and Jerry Lewis for an extravaganza that’s simply out to entertain, nothing more. Of course, when one considers a freewheeling adventure with wacky personalities getting into all sorts of scrapes, a scene that details one character getting her legs cut off doesn’t seem like a natural fit for the picture that hopes to be hilarious, but this is how “The Rookies” works. The spy movie deals in all sorts of extremes, including casting, with Milla Jovovich collecting a big payday to appear in a few scenes, adding some western star power to an eastern endeavor that’s primarily about grand chases and scenes of silliness. Well, not the dismembering part, but the rest is eager to please. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vanquish


I’m not sure who’s funding this next generation of VOD films, but they’ve developed a soft spot for George Gallo. Forever billed as the screenwriter of “Midnight Run” and “Bad Boys,” Gallo has recently revived his dormant directorial career, trying to make a noir-ish mystery with 2019’s “The Poison Rose” and make some funny with 2020’s “The Comeback Trail” (which is currently awaiting a U.S. release). For 2021, Gallo teams with writer Samuel Bartlett for “Vanquish,” which is meant to be a lean, mean actioner following an enforcer as she endures dangerous situations to help retrieve her kidnapped child. What’s really going on in “Vanquish” is absolutely nothing. Gallo doesn’t have the first clue what to do with material he co-wrote, pumping in acidic stylistics and clumsy stunts to give the effort some edge, but it doesn’t take. The feature is a complete bore, marching from one dim-witted scene to the next, almost coming across as an attempt from Gallo to win a wager for the world’s most inert movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - For the Sake of Vicious


“For the Sake of Vicious” is a collaborative effort from writer/directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen. The twosome attempt to live up to the promise of the title, but there’s something of a story to work out before the carnival of pain begins, with the filmmakers showing less interest in dramatic development. The picture isn’t a striking example of low-budget imagination, finding an already thin plot stretched awkwardly to a short 76-minute-long run time, but once “For the Sake of Vicious” starts to get mean, it perks up substantially, wisely doing away with the demands of screenwriting to create a rough revenge tale featuring the repeated slicing, hammering, and blasting of participants, making the feature much more effective as a visceral viewing experience with limited dialogue exchanges. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Earth


The big selling point of “In the Earth” is the story of its creation. Feeling restless during the first few waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, writer/director Ben Wheatley decided to keep marching forward with his filmmaking career, electing to bring a small crew and group of actors into the deep woods to realize a horror movie about the damaging effects of isolation and the mysteries of nature. “In the Earth” plays into the whole iffy idea of a COVID-19 picture released during COVID-19, and I’m not sure there’s going to be much of an audience for the endeavor, but timing is the least of feature’s problems. After attempting to broaden his career with last autumn’s “Rebecca,” Wheatley’s back to his usual helming habits with his latest effort, trying to summon a brain-bleeder with moments of extreme violence, laboring to transform the world around us into a blistering cinematic threat. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Banishing


It’s difficult to label “The Banishing” as an unnerving horror movie, but it’s an effective one with periodic moments of successful unease. What writers David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines do particularly well is avoid predictability within a premise that’s been seen hundreds of times before. The material deals with the serpentine ways of the Catholic Church and the dark corners of a haunted house, yet “The Banishing” doesn’t surrender itself entirely to formula, with the screenplay working smartly with known quantities to manufacture a descent into Hell that doesn’t go exactly how one expects it to. Director Christopher Smith (“Black Death,” “Detour,” and “Severance”) also has the benefit of a talented cast doing a fine job capturing the Hammer Films atmosphere of the endeavor, giving the drama some needed authority to sustain audience interest. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rest in Pieces


Director Jose Ramon Larraz ("Vampyres," "Deadly Manor") tries to put together a haunted house experience with 1987's "Rest in Pieces." It's an admirable quest, but quite a difficult one to pull off without a decent budget or a professional cast. It's an uphill climb to frights for the production, which tries to generate some murderous events, but only between scenes of people unpacking luggage. It's difficult to understand what was going through Larraz's mind with "Rest in Pieces," which plays like a movie that had a screenplay, but still scrambles to find things to do to fill the run time, while the helmer's choice of a lead actress is downright bizarre, putting a lot of faith in Lorin Jean Vail and her complete inability to act. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Other Side of Madness


There have been many movies and television programs devoted to the exploits of the Manson Family. Just last year, for the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca Murders, the film industry issued three pictures about the event, with two compelling overviews ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Charlie Says") and one that was compete garbage ("The Haunting of Sharon Tate"). The particulars of cult power and ghastly crimes has been catnip to the storytellers for decades, but 1971's "The Other Side of Madness" is unique due to its timing. Director Frank Howard and producer Wade Williams jumped at the chance to explore the grim ways of the Manson Family before trials were even completed for the killers, giving them a shot to capitalize on a gruesome story, giving the gods of exploitation cinema an offering of in-the-moment horror. Of course, Howard and Williams forgot to create a screenplay for their endeavor, making "The Other Side of Madness" more of a curiosity than a compelling sit, with the feature mostly wandering around the era, going procedural without getting too specific about anything. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Summerland


Playwright Jessica Swale makes her directorial debut with "Summerland" (also scripting the effort), and she remains within the theatrical realm with the period British drama. Swale aims to examine characters as they react to hardships and surprises, using a fractured sense of time to dig up compelling motivations for the players as they embark on complicated tests of courage and responsibility. "Summerland" tries to be big, dealing with World War II survival challenges and the open world of the English countryside, but Swale is more successful with intimacy, tapping into silent fears as her personalities struggle to confront a few unthinkable turns of fate. It's a satisfying feature that ultimately takes on a bit more than it can handle, but Swale keeps the film sincere, also supported by a capable cast who makes certain the heart of the material is protected. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Relic


In 2014, writer/director Jennifer Kent created "The Babadook." It was a tale of a demonic presence, and while Kent was very clear with her spooky intent, she was also painting a portrait of parenthood, which is often an experience of unrelenting horror. It was a sharp, stunning feature with a delicious claustrophobic atmosphere. The type of viewing experience is found in "Relic," which turns its attention to the various challenges of dementia and how the personal experience of such degeneration greatly taxes all those involved. Co-writer Natalie Erika James impressively merges the real- world agony of aging with a haunted house story, coming up with a complex film that's richly detailed and performed, reaching above and beyond a simple ghost story to tap into deep emotions involving the nightmarish decline of a once vibrant loved one. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thunder Force


It’s been established that writer/director Ben Falcone and actress Melissa McCarthy enjoying working together. The real-life married couple recently collaborated on last November’s “Superintelligence,” and now they’re back with “Thunder Force,” which is their fifth film together. It’s been a problematic partnership, with Falcone a permissive helmer and McCarthy a devout improviser, and while they seem to have the best intentions with their endeavors, it’s been difficult to cheer on the twosome as they consistently create underwhelming pictures. “Thunder Force” is no different, this time putting Falcone and McCarthy in charge of a superhero comedy that’s big on visual effects and limited when it comes to laughs. There’s something to the concept of fortysomething women saving Chicago, but the writing isn’t alert, with Falcone too busy chasing DOA bits instead of mounting a thrilling-but-silly adventure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Voyagers


To create his latest film, writer/director Neil Burger finds inspiration in the 1954 William Golding book, “The Lord of the Flies.” The novel has been reworked and reimagined many times over the decades, but Burger has the idea to take mounting tensions between young people into space, creating a sci-fi take on power plays and situations of survival. It’s an interesting way to refresh the concept, giving the helmer a different approach to a familiar story, with Burger’s take more about primal adolescent behaviors running wild inside a spaceship. “Voyagers” isn’t as taut as it could be, but the production has a captivating first half, examining the slow unraveling of order as control involving kids is lost, creating chaos in a confined setting. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Unholy


“The Unholy” is being sold as a Sam Raimi production, offering that tantalizing brand name to genre fans hungry for something scary and perhaps even a little bit insane. Sadly, Raimi’s influence isn’t detected in the picture, which is credited to Evan Spiliotopoulos, the co-writer of the tedious “Beauty and the Beast” live-action remake and the needless sequel, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” He’s not exactly a fountain of fresh ideas, and as the writer/director of “The Unholy,” Spiliotopoulos delivers a routine examination of good and evil, using the mysteries of miracles and the deviousness of the Catholic Church to inspire a tepid exploration of faith and fear. It’s an impossibly dull feature at times, with the helmer unwilling to get crazier with his central idea, allowing the endeavor to enjoy a grander sense of threat. Read the rest at