Blu-ray Review - Strays


1991's "Strays" was produced for the USA Network, with the channel hoping to provide some frights for the Christmas season, turning to the realm of feral cats and their special ways with torment to find necessary suspense. Cats are a common foe for animal attack features, offering a natural menace, especially when imagined as undomesticated villains only out to mark their territory and slaughter trespassers. The screenplay by Shaun Cassidy (the famous pop star from the 1970s makes his writing debut here) makes a game attempt to come up with something familiar yet sinister with the material, playing around with horror cliches as he concocts a rural battle between a pack of felines and an understandably overwhelmed family new to the area, unfamiliar with boundaries. "Strays" is mild when it comes to powerhouse frights, unable to reach beyond the confines of basic cable television and really go for broke when dealing with furry attackers, but Cassidy is working to make something spooky with the material, successfully dreaming up situations that either result in extended showdowns or painful death. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Moon in Scorpio


Director Gary Graver has gone on record saying that 1987's "Moon in Scorpio" is a compromised film. It was meant to be a low-budget chiller attempting to tie into Vietnam Veteran affairs, only to come up against a producer who wanted a slasher movie to help sell the effort to the home video market. Graver lost the battle, and "Moon in Scorpio" certainly plays like a compromised feature, making little sense while it attempts to survey murderous events and the reverberating horrors of post-war PTSD. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Youngblood


Screenwriter Paul Carter Harrison has something to say with 1978's "Youngblood," exploring the tale of a teenager in South Central, Los Angeles struggling to find his place in the pecking order of his neighborhood, exposing himself to troubling influences. It's not an especially fresh tale of poisoned maturation, but Harrison is trying to give the material a distinct sense of humanity as he works in more traditional elements of crime and family. "Youngblood" is certainly aiming to be exciting, but it's much more satisfying as a study of a troubled mind coming to realize the enormity of the world around him. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Assassinaut


The director of "The Taint," Drew Bolduc returns with a less provocative tale of interplanetary conflict. "Assassinaut" is a futuristic story of four children sent to a space station for diplomatic reasons, only to find themselves stranded on an alien planet, on the hunt for the President. It's a mix of "Ender's Game" and "Escape from New York," only realized with very little budgetary might, forcing Bolduc to go low-tech as much as possible. Fans of practical effects and kid-centric adventures might get the most out of "Assassinaut," which periodically highlights bloody events and monstrous encounters to maintain interest, staying true to B-movie aspirations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mummy's Revenge


A beloved horror icon, Paul Naschy's work ethic brought him to all corners of the genre. In 1975, Naschy elected to make "The Mummy's Revenge" with director Carlos Aured, not only taking a screenplay credit, but playing dual roles as well, including the monstrous Amenhotep, an Egyptian ghoul reawakened after centuries of rot, on the prowl for human blood. Naschy covers all the bases with "The Mummy's Revenge," striving to recreate some Hammer Film magic with his own vision of unholy resurrection. Unfortunately, the production doesn't focus exclusively on a case of the creeps, insisting banal exposition and absolute stillness take command of the viewing experience, which significantly dulls any potential scariness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crypto


Screenwriters Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio apparently loved Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" and wanted to update the 1987 picture for today's audiences. "Crypto" doesn't have the sinister feel of Stone's endeavor, but it basically follows the same arc of moral and financial corruption, offering viewers a new playground of cryptocurrency and encrypted dealings featuring global criminal syndicates. The writing provides a deep dive into terminology and restless participants trying to make a fortune with digital loot, and "Crypto" isn't half-bad when focus turns to online detective work. Even some mild family dramatics are understood, but the material faces an uphill battle when transitioning from a cyber-thriller to a violent one, forcing director John Stalberg Jr. into helming stress positions that shut down the movie entirely. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Leprechaun Returns


Technically, Leprechaun has returned already, multiple times. 1993's "Leprechaun" was a genre lark created to offer oddity to curious audiences, and while success was desired, I doubt anyone associated with the production expected the brand name to carry on for five sequels and one dismal reboot. Now the pint-sized Irish demon is back and the spirit of ghoulishness is pleasantly revived in what's actually a direct sequel to the original film. While Jennifer Aniston and Warwick Davis have decided to sit out this homecoming (not a surprise), director Steven Kostanski tries his best to revive the magic(?) of the first chapter, delivering plenty of blood and quips, though his helming powers aren't impervious to lengthy stretches of screentime with obnoxious characters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Penguin Highway


With a title such as "Penguin Highway" and marketing that puts the titular animals all over trailers and posters, there's an implicit promise made for something adorable, even silly, to be offered to audiences. However, this picture is far from cuddly. Instead of putting together a romp starring a collection of runaway birds, director Hiroyasu Ishida tries to dig into the trials of maturation, overseeing this adaptation of Tomihiko Morimi's novel, which touches on the experience of a fourth-grader coming into contact with a fantastical event, only calmed by friendship, science, and the growing allure of female breasts. Read the rest at

Film Review - Little Joe


Filmmakers have repeatedly returned to the “The Body Snatchers,” inspiring many adaptations and riffs on the 1955 novel by Jack Finney, which provides a central attack on identity and control that’s fertile ground for thrillers. “Little Joe” isn’t a direct adaptation of the book, but co-writer/director Jessica Hausner is clearly influenced by the work, downplaying the sci-fi concept to create something slightly more sinister concerning the perils of genetic modification. It doesn’t offer screaming highlights, but “Little Joe” has incredible mood and a real sense of mystery. Hausner steps carefully but confidently with the picture, delivering an unusual creeper that effectively works with the confusion of paranoia and squeeze of parental anxieties, with the helmer delivering a multifaceted chiller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Daniel Isn't Real


“Daniel Isn’t Real” is probably the film 1991’s “Drop Dead Fred” should’ve been. Instead of offering mind-numbing monkey business with the premise of an imaginary friend returning to the adult life of his inventor, “Daniel Isn’t Real” goes pitch-black with the concept, treating the invisible partner as a driving force of encroaching madness. Co-writers Adam Egypt Mortimer (who also directs) and Brian DeLeeuw (adapting his 2009 novel) don’t mess around with the story, transforming one young man’s fight for sanity into a violent journey that crosses through mental illness, cosmic dangers, and destructive behavior. It’s an unhinged endeavor at times, but a fascinating one, bravely avoiding cutesiness to remain in Hell, where Mortimer feels most comfortable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Playmobil: The Movie


It’s impossible to escape the familiarity of “Playmobil: The Movie,” which tries to do for the German toy line what “The Lego Movie” did for Lego. The screenplay (credited to Blaise Hemingway, Greg Erb, and Jason Oremland) doesn’t make the effort to become its own thing, adhering closely to the formula that made the brick-based picture such a colossal hit. Trouble is, Playmobil isn’t quite as popular as Lego in the toy marketplace, and the company’s first foray into feature-length animation is missing a sense of exploration, unwilling to do something with this toy universe that hasn’t already been done by other endeavors. Read the rest at

Film Review - Grand Isle


For his fifth release of 2019, Nicolas Cage takes a few ferocious bites out of noir-ish entertainment with “Grand Isle.” The picture, scripted by Iver William Jallah and Rich Ronat, is a little bit of everything, mixing bits of Zalman King, Tennessee Williams, and Eli Roth to come up with an exhausting B-movie that’s aiming to be crazy enough to pass. Sadly, director Stephen S. Campanelli (the wretched 2015 thriller, “Momentum”) doesn’t have the energy to pull off major feats of juggling with the material, and while the first half of the feature is passably diverting, the second half gives in to complete ridiculousness, painting over the few positives the effort has. Once again, at least there’s Cage, who strives to be the most interesting thing in the film, portraying mental illness in a way only he can, giving “Grand Isle” the character work it needs more of. Read the rest at

Film Review - After Class


A few years ago, writer/director Daniel Schechter paid a visit to the land of Elmore Leonard with his adaptation of “Life of Crime” (based on the book “The Switch), crafting a surprisingly effective crime comedy with decent twists and fine performances. Avoiding the same sort of creative expectations, Schechter reaches for a Woody Allen/Noah Baumbach vibe with “After Class,” which eschews storytelling rigidity for a free-flowing helping of neuroses and family issues in the heart of New York City. The working parts of the movie are instantly recognizable, dealing with pain and fear in life and love, dusted with some darkly comedic material, but Schechter provides a lived-in vibe for the effort, collecting strong performances and enough relatable behavioral challenges to secure a compelling foray into the abyss of human fallibility. Read the rest at

Film Review - I See You


“I See You” is a collection of twists and turns in search of a story to tell. While my hope here is to avoid spoilers, it’s difficult to discuss the picture without some discussion of content, as screenwriter Devon Graye doesn’t any exploration easy on the sensitive details. He’s trying to make a Chinese box, messing around with genres and characters to keep viewers on their toes, as the film’s mission is to utilize as much misdirection as possible before new perspectives on the central crisis are revealed. “I See You” is many things, and none of them really work, with the shifting nature of the storytelling throttling suspense, and actual reveals are either preposterous or disappointing, leaving the audience with hope that yet another trick is being planned to get a feature that often derails back on track. Read the rest at

Film Review - Knives and Skin


While David Lynch recently organized a return trip to “Twin Peaks,” writer/director Jennifer Reeder wants to keep the celebration going with “Knives and Skin.” While not directly an ode to Lynch’s exploration of the damned, Reeder certainly pays tribute to the helmer’s ways with garmonbozia, manufacturing her own take on the twisted residents of a seemingly normal town, where the death of a young girl begins to unravel everything. Reeder likes to keep matters tangled and unreal at times, and her stab at a screen mystery is attempted with dull storytelling skills. She’s better with the weird stuff, but just barely, as “Knives and Skin” quickly loses itself to strained idiosyncrasy, often showing its work when it comes to conjuring screen oddity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Terror Train


Created in the wake of the massive success of 1978's "Halloween," "Terror Train" (released in 1980) tries to replicate slasher-style encounters inside the cramped areas of a moving locomotive. While trains have been used many times for cinematic suspense purposes, "Terror Train" tries to play by then-current trends, pitting young college students against a masked killer who enjoys slicing and dicing its victims, picking them off one at a time. "Terror Train" doesn't win awards for originality, and there's not a lot of tension in the picture as well, with director Roger Spottiswoode ("Turner & Hooch") sweating to make tight spaces seem electric. In fact, the killings are perhaps the least interesting element in the effort, finding performances generally more compelling than the overall fear factor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" premiered in 1993, and it was never meant to be a sure thing. Issued while "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was ascending to beloved status, the third series in the franchise universe also elected to avoid intergalactic travel, containing action and drama to the confines of a space station, which offered little visual variance and warp-speed pacing. Not helping the cause was fan assessment, with many finding the show too limited in scope and dark in tone to delight Trekkers used to boldly going from one corner of the universe to the other. And yet, despite many shortcomings, "Deep Space Nine" managed to find an audience, with producers Michael Piller and Ira Steven Behr eager to challenge predictability and formula with their program, giving their slice of the "Trek" pie unusual intimacy, with hopes to make something different. "What We Left Behind' is Behr's (and co-director David Zappone) attempt to grasp the final product, returning to the cast and crew who helped to put it together, and the fans that remained with the show. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Vice Squad


Director Gary Sherman is hoping to make something incredibly gritty and real with 1982's "Vice Squad." It's a film about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood Boulevard during the early 1980s, where the police struggle to maintain order as pimps and prostitutes take over the streets, offering services to a never-ending stream of disturbed johns. The feature even promises authenticity with an opening card that identifies cooperation with the LAPD, making it clear all the details in the picture are accurate. Sherman's push to make something heavy with "Vice Squad" is commendable and frequently effective, but he's not above constructing a cartoon for mass acceptance, making sure co-star Wings Hauser goes hog wild as the villain of the piece, keeping the effort in a cops-n-crooks mood while it surveys an oppressive parade of sin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Charlie Says


As 2019 becomes the year of Charles Manson and the revival of interest in all the chaos he created, "Charlie Says" (the second of three movies about the man this year) makes an effort to move away from some of the famous imagery and characterization that usually inhabits tales about the cult leader. The focus here is on the women in his life, with special attention on the ways of Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. Reteaming after their collaborations on "American Psycho" and "The Notorious Bettie Page," director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner endeavor to humanize those involved in barbaric crimes, striving to understand the brainwashed drive of three women who were caught up in something they didn't completely understand, chasing emotional needs to macabre extremes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tiger Milk


2003's "Thirteen" was an American production that tried to convey the feral experience of being new to the teenage world of temptation and surging emotions. It made adolescence looks scary. "Tiger Milk" is a German production that basically explores the same obstacle course of juvenile mayhem, but it plays a lot lighter while delving into darker areas of experimentation. It's an adaptation of author Stefanie Muhlhan's novel, with writer/director Ute Wieland trying desperately to find focus and momentum with a sprawling saga of maturation, deportation, and murder. Read the rest at