As some of you well know, true crime pictures aren’t really me bag baby, so I entered into The Zodiac Killer with some trepidation…well, that feeling was unfounded because the makers of this flick have saw fit to make up about roughly…well, I want to say 99%, but the actual scientific figure is probably closer to “all” of the material in the story rather than detail the actual crime spree of the titular madman. The film is all the better for it too.
As The Zodiac Killer begins we are introduced to a number of characters that have the potential to be Big Z; will it be Jerry, a postman that keeps a basement full of rabbits? How about Grover, a burly, often inebriated, truck driver who picks up ladies at a bar under as his preposterously wigged alter-ego “Groovy”? Maybe it’s Doodles Weaver…wait, what in the ziggy zig ah? Maybe it’s none of them..hell maybe it’s all of them for all I F’n know (as an aside, the killer’s identity is revealed after the first Act). Anyway, I hope you love extended beach set acoustic renditions of Auld Lang Syne, sacrifices made in the name of raising Atlantis from the briny depths, line readings that run the gamut from comatose to scenery munching, psychics killed by spare tires (normally I’d throw in a “Shouldn’t she have seen that coming?”, but honestly…no one could ever see that coming), high-larious sadistic antics at a hospital or lunatic asylum…I couldn’t actually figure out what the fuck it was (that quote right there should be used in all marketing of this Blu-ray if you ask me)…and oh so very, very much more…
The Zodiac Killer, despite what the ultra-serious opening title card might suggest, is a full on, exploitation whirlwind…it’s sleazy, misogynistic, ludicrous, hilarious, dirt-cheap, often inept, and down right freaking bananas…and I loved every, single second of it! Besides all of the nonsense listed above (and the nonsense I left out so you would be as gobsmacked as I was when I first saw it) the real treat of the film is how astoundingly prickish the killer is; from torturing helpless patients to jumping up and down on a car hood with an old lady underneath to worshiping at his evil altar; ol’ Z-man is a prize winning, highly entertaining dick and he functions in much the same capacity as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho…charming and absolutely hellish all in one stroke.
As amazingly rad-ass as The Zodiac Killer is, the bonus features help make the film even better as director Tom Hanson and writer Manny Cardoza reveal in an audio commentary that the reason the film was created was to catch the actual Zodiac Killer as they felt he would have to go see a movie about his exploits. They also claimed he was in the audience for a showing of the film, but he escaped capture even though the film makers had cops concealed in freezers in the theater…yeah…I have no…WHAT THE FUCK?!!! Besides that lil’ bit of awesome, you also get: a short piece focusing on the wild business detailed above, a collection of trailers from the “tabloid horror” genre, and an entire second feature! Yup, that’s right…as if The Zodiac Killer wasn’t enough you also get Another Son of Sam…a film that critics unanimously agree is a motion picture! ? Aww, what the hell, I’ll go into a bit more detail on ASOS…
Another Son of Sam is ostensibly about a psychopath that escapes from a lunatic asylum that goes on a killing spree…but what it’s actually focused on is some missing money on a college campus, a swat team, extreme eye close-ups (ala Fulci), an epic disco ballad performed in it’s entirety, and the economical usage of one painted cinder block set as three separate interiors (a police headquarters, a doctor’s office, and a college dorm respectively). Eventually some murders do take place. The End. Also of note are the multiple instances where the image on screen goes to freeze frame as the dialog continues (doubtless included to bring this already short feature up to some sort of respectable run time) which ends up being a screaming laugh riot.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that The Zodiac Killer (or Another Son of Sam for that matter) is high art…or at times even competent…but what it does have going for it is sleazy charm, off-kilter storytelling, and damn near Loony Tunes style violence; and that makes it a real winner in my baleful book!
The Temple (2017)
Three American tourists who have apparently never seen a single damn horror flick in their misspent lives decide to follow a weird ass map through a forest in Japan looking for an ancient temple. Well they find it, and then they find themselves F’d six ways to Sunday as spiteful spirits let them know just how unwelcome they are in their humble abode.
Composed with a surprising sense of menace, striking visuals, and a deft blending of both found footage (the story is relayed via flashback and home video footage by the lone survivor of the group) and traditional cinematic storytelling; Temple possesses a refreshing air of uniqueness that beguiles it’s trope laden story line. This sense of the new is also aided by the “exotic” locale of the film, as before we are plunged into that hoary ol’ chestnut “the cursed woods”, we are treated to the rich visuals of Japanese city life after dark…a nice juxtaposition of cool metropolis with foreboding forest that gives the flick a lil’ something extra.
On the negative side of things, don’t expect to go into the Temple and be carted along on a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride of supernatural shenanigans. This film is way more interested in providing atmosphere and mounting dread, and the resulting pace may be too much of a slow burn (the real craziness doesn’t get ramped up until almost an hour in and the film only runs an economical hour and eighteen minutes) for some viewers, and inevitably this film will doubtless draw (unfair) comparison to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project with it’s similar theme of a trio of trekkers following a map into the woods and finding a preternatural menace.
To put a nice lil’ bow on it; Temple is a pleasant surprise in the massively overcrowded “folks enter the woods and get their asses handed to them by ghosts (or demons, monsters, what the fuck ever)™” subgenre that’s been trucking along for decades…it’s a smart, moody, aesthetically tight ghost story that plays with conventions and delivers a ghoulish good time!
Ghost House (2017)
Ahh, young love…and what better way to celebrate life’s rich pageant then to travel to an exotic locale (in this case Thailand) and see all the mysteries the land has to offer…I mean what could possibly go wrong, right? It’s not like our lovebirds are going to shower, take photos (of spirit trapping ghost house monuments no less), hang out with a dude named Go Go, run afoul of two Brits trying to unload a curse (more common than you would expect on nay given outing), and become completely tormented by a rampaging ghost that doesn’t really cotton to pretty young ladies.
As you can most likely guess, Ghost House is a tried and true horror biz tale of unwitting doofs committing some offense then being hounded by haunts for their transgression…but man o’man does it ever deliver the goods with panache! This flick is beautifully lensed, well acted (Scout Taylor-Compton and James Landry Hébert are especially strong as the couple that goes from care free to completely fucked over the course of the tale, and Mark Boone Junior does what he does best delivering a sleazy, perpetual stoned cameo), and set within exotic cities and rural landscapes (specifically Thailand) with a rich and unique supernatural mythology that sets this one a bit (severed) head and shoulders above your average ghost yarn. Also worth noting is the great make-up effects and design of the demonic antagonist as well as the surreal visuals that help bring her wicked world to lurid life! The whole package pleasantly reminds me of one of those Shaw Brother’s black magic pics from the mid ’70’s (but admittedly things never get as off kilter here as they do in those bizarre-ass pictures).
On the flip side, there are a few checks in the ol’ negative column with this one; namely the basic beats of the story are really nothing new, so don’t expect this one to blow you away with gobs of blazing originality (beyond the aforementioned backdrop and history), and this one has a tendency to go for jump scares rather than atmospheric dread…but personally I could care less about either of these points as long as the story is fun, the pace brisk, and boredom is kept at bay, which thankfully Ghost House pulls off!
I’m calling it creeps; Ghost House is a winner; it’s got style, great spook show scares, characters you give a damn about, and it keeps ya hooked throughout…see it!!
-Guest review by Shane Migliavacca
Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the 1990’s; and one of the things I really enjoyed back then was Jean Reno films. That leads me to today’s film, Ronin. He’s in it, I haven’t seen it since it came out, and Arrow is giving it a new Blu…so let’s see how this sucker holds up!
Mercenaries Sam, Larry and Vincent meet with Irish operative Deirdre in Paris (who introduces them to even more mercenaries). She informs the gathered men they’ve have been hired to attack an armed convoy and steal a metallic briefcase (effectively keeping it out of the hands of some dastardly Russians), the contents of which she won’t reveal. During the attack on the convoy the team is betrayed by one of their own, who makes off with the case. The team then engage in an epic chase for the case. Action ensues!
Director John Frankenheimer, who’s films include such “hit or miss” fare as The Island Of Doctor Moreau, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Prophecy (the killer bear pic, not the angel one), and nobodies favorite film, Reindeer Games, scores a definite “hit” with Ronin! The film has fantastic action scenes (including what may be one of cinema’s best car chase sequences), strong acting (Robert DeNiro gives a great performance as the mysterious “Sam”, with solid turns from Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgård, Natascha McElhone, and of course Jean Reno), an amazing, atmospheric score from Elia Cmiral, and most importantly; a flowing pace that never gets bogged down!
Speaking of “hits”, Arrow hits a home run with the extras on this Blu-ray release as well! Check this shit out…included are: a commentary with Frankenheimer, an interview with director of photography Robert Fraisse (who also appears in an archival interview), a documentary on DeNiro, archival featurettes on the film’s production and stunts, archival interviews with McElhone, Cmiral, editor Tony Gibbs, DeNiro, and Reno, an alternate ending to the film, and a trailer.
Ronin is as perfect a ‘90s action thriller as you could want; it’s a masterpiece for Frankenheimer, and a great showcase for DeNiro and Reno. Recommended for sure!
Here’s a unique premise for ya (cue 4,567 of you boils and ghouls commenting with a trillion fright flicks with the same setting that I have somehow never heard of): people are dyin’ left and right along and on the canals of Amsterdam thanks to a sick ticket who scuba dives the length of the water looking for his next victim. Enter perma-stubbled Detective Visser, who is bound and determined to crack the case (with an assist from his teenage daughter and her psychic friend…yup, “the hell??” indeed). Anyway, leads are followed, sex is had, nicely executed gore is displayed (a scene involving a dead whore, a boat with a glass ceiling, and traumatized children is a real knockout), and epic vehicular chases ensue all in entertaining fashion. Also featured: a dopey yellow diving suit…worth mentioning? No, but it’s my column!
Right off the bat I have to say Amsterdamned is a bit above most slashers of the era in regards to production value. This picture cost around four million dollars (in ’80’s currency) to produce, so you get things like Hollywood level boat chases, quality matte paintings, and expert effects. Does money equal quality or maximum enjoyment…no, but in this case it definitely adds to the fun. Aiding and abetting this are writer/director Dick Maas’ expert storytelling that keeps the story engaging despite of the daunting run time (nearly two hours for the record).
If there is a negative here it’s that Amsterdamned isn’t the straight up slasher flick you may expect, rather it’s an action packed police procedural with hack and slash elements thrown in. I personally dug the hell out of that change of pace, but your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance level for going against the horror biz grain.
Accompanying the flick are a host of extras including: an anecdote packed commentary track featuring writer/director Dick Maas and editor Hans Von Dongen that lays out the ins and outs of the production of the film, interviews with star Huub Stapel and stunt coordinator Dickey Beer, an archival “making of” featurette, two trailers, a music video (directed by Maas, and featuring those lyrics for the ages “Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam…This is Amsterdam”), and a posters and stills gallery.
Amsterdamned is a non-stop whirlwind of a movie with enough murder and mayhem to please both horror (particularly lovers of Italian fright flicks) and action film fanatics alike!
When homicide detective Chris (Tom Meeten) is called to London by an ol’ chum, he becomes involved in some cray-cray biz where murder victims keep moving towards their assailant regardless of being filled with more holes than the local cat house. Using his keen deductive skills, Chris rolls the dice and begins seeing one of the suspect’s psychotherapist undercover…well, he craps out because Dr. Feelbad’s treatments have C-man’s brain spiraling into an abyss of blurred fantasy and reality making the audience and Chris question if shit is going down as we are led to believe.
Writer/director Gareth Tunley must be commended for delivering a hefty dose of mystery and atmosphere in this his debut feature. While filmed on a shoestring, The Ghoul delivers an ambiance and professionalism that truly goes beyond it’s humble financial means. Also of note is the strong acting chops on display, with leading man Meeten delivering a performance that resonates with gravitas and frantic energy as the scene dictates (especially great are the off-the-wall therapy sessions with the equally talented Geoffrey McGivern as Dr. Morland). Finally the frantic score by Waen Shepherd really adds to the piece as it accentuates the mental state of our hero with it’s unconventional instrumentation.
As for the negative, my main gripe is a matter of personal opinion rather than a fault of the actual film itself. I’m not a fan of the “are the supernatural shocks for real or are they just products of the mind” aesthetic in my fright flicks. It always makes it seem like the film makers are somehow ashamed to commit 100% to our beloved horror biz. Like I said, it’s a pet peeve, and it’s very prevalent in The Ghoul.
While the main attraction is solid enough, Arrow has chucked a few bonus features on this Blu to help enhance your viewing experience including: a film maker’s commentery, interviews with the cast and crew, a short film directed by Tunley (and starring Meeten), and the film’s trailer. The usual suspects for sure, but welcome all the same.
All in all, The Ghoul is an effective thriller that grabs your attention as it bends your mind…an impressive debut from Gareth Tunley, who I hope we hear much more from in the future!