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February 2022

Blu-ray Review - Nothing Underneath


Repeated throughout the supplementary features on the "Nothing Underneath" Blu-ray is the production's quest to replicate Brian De Palma's 1984 thriller, "Body Double." Director Carlo Vanzina isn't messing around with this tribute to the filmmaker paying tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, hiring "Body Double" composer Pino Donaggio to replicate his score, going the sound-alike route to maximize the mood, and harsh violence is awfully familiar, slipping into Dario Argento territory. 1985's "Nothing Underneath" is an adaptation of a book by Marco Parma, but it's not big on originality, trying to deliver expected acts of horror and seduction to best capture audience interest. Vanzina isn't De Palma, but he assembles a functional chiller with the déjà vu endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Laughing Dead


1989's "The Laughing Dead" wasn't exactly created by amateurs, but the production comes close. Involving numerous first-time filmmakers and a cast of acting novices, the picture looks to generate a decent screen nightmare involving dreamscape horrors, Aztec brutality, and demonic visitation. Writer/director Somtow Sucharitkul has something big in mind with his helming debut, but he's not big on tight pacing, allowing "The Laughing Deal" to stand around for about 40 minutes before it gets something going with gruesome events. It's a patience-tester, but the endeavor finally gets around to conjuring some blood-and-guts mayhem, creating a climax that's almost worth the long journey there. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Trick or Treats


A $55,000 budget doesn't buy much, and such financial limitations are on display in 1982's "Trick or Treats," which is writer/director Gary Graver's chance to participate in and lampoon the horror gold rush of the decade. It's a cheap chiller from the Orson Welles collaborator/adult film helmer, who's basically trying to slap together a simple slasher offering for the masses, putting very little thought into the details of the production. "Trick or Treats" isn't scary, but it's not always trying to creep viewers out, remaining in a weird holding pattern around potential areas of entertainment, determined to be about nothing when more ambitious writing could make something out of this weirdly inert endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death of Nintendo


Director Raya Martin tries to reconnect with his past in "Death of Nintendo." It's a coming-of-age dramedy, and a particularly soft one at that, with Martin and screenwriter Valerie Castillo Martinez delivering a minor adventure through adolescence with characters craving different experiences. The gaming of the title is present for the '90s time period, giving viewers a few chances to fondly recall lost afternoons of console competition, but "Death of Nintendo" aims to be as human as possible when dealing with the tender emotions and universal experiences of childhood. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Shit & Champagne


"Shit & Champagne" originated on stage, with writer/director/star D'Arcy Drollinger hoping to offer audiences a wild ride with a drag-themed superspy parody that took on corporate culture and weird relationships. Feeling ambitious, Drollinger takes his writing to the big screen with a slicker version of "Shit & Champagne," offering a cinematic take on an unfortunate title and big comedy energy, securing a significant amount of broadness to best support this exhaustively silly endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Madea Homecoming


Tyler Perry is a writer, director, producer, and actor. And now he’s a liar. 2019’s “A Madea Family Funeral” was meant to be the final feature starring the eponymous character, with Perry sharing his desire to retire from the demands of drag as a middle-aged man, having shared all that he could with the franchise. Three years later, there’s “A Madea Homecoming,” which brings the gun-toting grandma back to viewers for a 13th cinematic adventure, as Perry apparently has more to say with the one-note creation, refusing to keep his promise. Hoping to bring laughs to a pandemic audience, Perry relies on his old shtick with “A Madea Homecoming,” filling the picture with easily solved problems, loud personalities, and strange slapstick, with the major addition being Irishman Brendan O’Carroll, who joins the movie in his drag persona, Mrs. Brown, bringing his version of Madea-ing to American audiences, though nobody specifically asked for this. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Exit


“No Exit” is based on a 2017 novel by Taylor Adams, though it never plays as though it was inspired by a literary endeavor. Adams doesn’t offer an extravagantly designed plot to explore, more interested in pouring the foundation for a cinematic thriller about strangers in a small room growing increasingly suspicious of one another. Such simplicity makes an easy transition to the screen, with writers Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari attempting to preserve characterization and eventual turns of plot, while director Damien Power is tasked with creating a powerfully cold and chaotic weather event, and rising tempers, to maintain a proper thriller event. “No Exit” doesn’t overwhelm, but it clicks as an efficient summary of head games and direct threats, with escalation efforts extremely successful as conversations from the first half of the feature are traded for violent interactions in the second half. Read the rest at

Film Review - Studio 666

STUDIO 666 3

Leave it to a rock band to make the most entertaining horror comedy in recent memory. Foo Fighters have been around in one form or another for nearly 30 years, but there’s something about a pandemic that inspires strange ideas. For frontman Dave Grohl, the downtime presented a chance to develop an idea for a demonic possession story, with screenwriters Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes hired to flesh out the concept of a band experiencing a developing nightmare while attempting to record their latest album inside a haunted house. There’s a single setting but lots of ideas for bodily harm in “Studio 666,” which updates the concept of a “band movie” for genre fans, asking members of Foo Fighters to play slightly cartoonish versions of themselves while the tale delivers blasts of ultraviolence and moments of silliness. “Studio 666” is tremendous fun, and while it’s aimed at the fanbase, there are gore zone delights for all. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Burning Sea


Earlier this month, Roland Emmerich tried to thrill moviegoers with his vision of global disaster in “Moonfall,” spending an enormous amount of money on visual effects to create massive scenes of destruction. The film was greeted with a collective yawn from viewers. Now Norway has their shot at making a mess of things with “The Burning Sea,” which brings a smaller sense of danger to screens, though the writing doesn’t skimp on scary business, turning to the horrors of real-world ecological ruin to fuel an offering of disaster cinema. Norway has been here before, finding success with efforts such as “The Wave,” “The Quake,” and “The Tunnel.” The production is practiced in the ways of summoning suspense, and while “The Burning Sea” has its defined Hollywood moments, director John Andreas Andersen does an excellent job keeping the endeavor focused on the business at hand, scoring a few nail-biting sequences along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Desperate Hour


“The Desperate Hour” takes on the sensitive subject matter of school shootings, only it never fully explores the chaos that goes on inside a terrorized building. Screenwriter Chris Sparling (“Greenland,” “The Sea of Trees”) remains on the outside of the developing situation, creating a suspense picture about a parent who realizes their own child is involved in the event, left to madly contact others to better understand if the teen is a killer or a victim. “The Desperate Hour” aims to be an unsettling viewing experience, observing a real-world situation of shocking confusion, following a single character as she speeds to a destination that will forever change her life. There’s tremendous disappointment that comes with the realization that Sparling isn't committing to an authentic depiction of anguish, eventually going Hollywood with a feature that’s refreshingly pure in its intensity for its first two acts. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gasoline Alley


Unfortunately, “Gasoline Alley” isn’t a live-action adaptation of the long-running (103 years!) comic strip. Instead, it’s the latest offering of snoozy acting from Bruce Willis, who barely participates in this murder mystery, which presents Devon Sawa as a tattoo artist caught up in bad business that’s resulted in the deaths of four prostitutes. Sawa gets to have his Man on Fire moments, going steely and growly in the lead role, and there’s a curious credit here, with Tom Sierchio co-scripting the feature, previously known for his work on the fantastic 1993 film, “Untamed Heart.” Early hopes for something different from a Willis production are dashed fairly quickly, as co-writer/director Edward Drake doesn’t have the time or money to really think about the lurid material, trusting in routine chases and shootouts to get the endeavor to 90 minutes, skipping on a chance to really explore the griminess of the premise, unwilling to find a fresh way to deal with screen ugliness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Family Squares


Zoom is described as a “video teleconferencing software program,” and it became a very big deal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom permitted large groups to gather online and interact in a way that kinda-sorta resembled the natural back and forth people had in “the before times.” It was also a valuable source for connection as isolation crept into our lives, giving loved ones a chance to see one another again, helping to briefly but effectively chase the lockdown blues away. “Family Squares” is a Zoom movie in a way, using the technology to bring together a group of actors tasked with portraying a dysfunctional family pulled together to deal with the death of the matriarch. Director Stephanie Laing (“Irreplaceable You”) offers an ambitious examination of communication and performance with the picture, and while she could seriously use another pass in the editing room, “Family Squares” does find its footing as a study of emotion and relationships dealing with various distances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Gold Brick


“Big Gold Brick” is reminiscent of prefab cult films released in the early 2000s, when producers were trying to reach an alternative audience with brain-bleeders (e.g. “Donnie Darko,” “The Chumscrubber”), looking for young talent to do something quite different to attract attention. Making his feature-length helming debut is Brian Petsos, who takes viewers into the world of brain injuries with “Big Gold Brick,” which mixes the real and unreal in a dark comedy about relationships and the art of storytelling. Petsos comes prepared to show his stuff with the endeavor, overseeing a stylized, vaguely silly effort that’s meant to be a wild ride into psychosis, and one that requires 132 minutes of your time. There’s little reward for such a big ask from the production, as the material isn’t particularly amusing and lacks gravity as a study of a broken mind. Petsos wants the world with this offering, but it’s hard to remain interested in the movie’s frustrating indulgence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Butter


“Butter” is based on a 2012 YA novel by Erin Jade Lange, and its cinematic adaptation seems inspired by the major success of 2017’s “Wonder.” The two tales deal with the experience of being bullied and misunderstood, with external differences inspiring others to dehumanize the characters in subtle ways. “Butter” examines the difficultly of being morbidly obese in high school, with the eponymous teen struggling to be treated kindly while masterminding a dire plan to be understood by all. Lange’s material explore dark emotions and real-world pain, which is difficult to bring to the screen. Writer/director Paul A. Kaufman has all the good intentions in the world to create a sensitive understanding of the boy and his problems, but such ambition, as pure-hearted as it is, tends to cloud the complex emotions in play, making for a mediocre take on adolescent confusion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nothing But Trouble


Warner Brothers went hunting for another kooky, crazy horror-esque comedy with 1991's "Nothing but Trouble," hoping to deliver another "Beetlejuice" with its blend of nightmarish imagery and slapstick encounters. The studio gave writer/director Dan Aykroyd a lot of money to bring his vision to life, entrusting the "Ghostbusters" architect to create an approachable viewing experience for a wide audience, believing in his bottomless imagination for the bizarre. What eventually made its way to theaters is a feature that's certainly out of its mind, with Aykroyd manufacturing a bizarre endeavor that revels in weirdness, offering unsettling extremity with what appears to be the helmer's idea of a live-action cartoon. "Nothing but Trouble" ultimately bombed at the box office, but the movie remains a highly curious blend of wacky creative decisions and lumpy funny business. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Flesh for Frankenstein


1973's "Flesh for Frankenstein" offers writer/director Paul Morrissey an opportunity to play with genre elements and wiggle out of past collaborator Andy Warhol's shadow, turning this take on Mary Shelley's original novel into a slightly campy, mostly sexualized celebration of gore and broad acting. A battle is being waged between seriousness and silliness during the run time, with Morrissey enjoying the messiness of it all, looking to provoke viewers with a presentation of artful madness that's incredibly well-constructed, with outstanding technical achievements helping to support unsteady storytelling and performances. It doesn't always connect, but "Flesh for Frankenstein" is certainly memorable. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Boardinghouse


Writer/director John Wintergate had a dream, looking to join the horror movie gold rush of the early 1980s with his own take on bodily destruction. The problem was, Wintergate didn't have money for film, electing to use video equipment instead, taking advantage of new leaps in technology. The result is 1983's "Boardinghouse," which has branded itself the first theatrical feature to be shot on video and released on 35mm, hoping to give audiences a decidedly muddy looking ride into the powers of telekinesis and the "Amityville Horror"-ish activity of a cursed house hungry for new victims to slaughter. Wintergate has all the ambition in the world, even starring in the endeavor, alongside his wife, Kalassu, but his aspiration doesn't translate to a riveting effort filled with style and cleverness. "Boardinghouse" is junky and often irritatingly random, with Wintergate trying to make sense of his own footage at times, putting his faith in creepy events and bloodshed to help viewers work through often incomprehensible creative decisions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Keep an Eye Out


Writer/director Quentin Dupieux was recently seen on American screens with "Deerskin," his ode to strange masculinity, insanity, and filmmaking. It was another creative success for the helmer, who enjoys the playfulness of absurdity, asking viewers to hang tight as he creates unusual dark comedies with deliberate pacing and plenty of surprises. Produced before "Deerskin," "Keep an Eye Out" is a Dupieux offering finally making its way to the U.S., giving fans a chance to catch up with the creator's oeuvre as he pursues a consistent moviemaking rhythm (his latest, "Mandibles," was released in the U.S. last summer). "Keep an Eye Out" is perhaps his most contained endeavor, largely taking place inside a police station, but it retains all the delightful mischief Dupieux is known for. He masterminds an especially long night of interrogation for a cop and a suspect, working with a limited space and budget superbly, conjuring a fascinating game of panic that triggers big laughs and a few gasps along the way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sorority Slaughter


My first exposure to the ways of W.A.V.E. Productions was found in "Mail Order Murder," a documentary detailing the artistic vision of a company dedicated to the creation of extreme fetish videos for fans who often submitted their own requests, specifying their turn-ons. It wasn't cutesy stuff either, with the videos often including hardcore violence against women, feeding imaginations best left starved. "Mail Order Murder" was an eye- opening viewing experience and a well-done documentary, but now W.A.V.E. releases are coming to Blu-ray, with 1994's "Sorority Slaughter" testing the waters to see if VHS-shot obsessions from nearly 30 years ago can find an audience today. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - LA Plays Itself: The Fred Halsted Collection


With "The Fred Halsted Collection," Altered Innocence strives to bring the deep cult appeal of the filmmaker to a wider audience. It's a noble endeavor, distributing three shorts from the helmer, including "L.A. Plays Itself" (55:17), "Sextool" (61:06), and "The Sex Garage" (35:09), with each of the offerings highlighting Halstead's interest in experimental imagery and hardcore scenarios, working to bring a level of artfulness to underground cinema while preserving his fascination with titillation. Read the rest at