HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, April 13, 2024

PSYCHOANALYSIS -- DVD Review by Porfle


Originally posted on 7/21/17


First-time director James Raue tries his hand at the mockumentary thing with the mostly interesting PSYCHOANALYSIS (2015, Candy Factory), which takes on the form of a TV documentary being filmed with a famous psychologist as its subject.

What gives the premise its zing is the fact that this celebrated rock-star headshrinker, the cocksure Paul Symmonds (Benedict Wall), has just lost five patients to suicide in a week's time.  This calls into question not only his unorthodox methods but his very competence as well.

Adding insult to injury, Paul must submit to having both of these assessed by none other than his main rival, Dr. Andrew Fendell (Ryan O'Kane), whom he suspects of being behind the deaths in an effort to eliminate the competition. 

The question of whether the suicides were a result of Paul being too intimate with his clients--which Fendell points out as the most fatal flaw in his methods--or something more sinister is at work against Paul is the scintillating mystery that lures us into the story.

What makes it increasingly interesting is watching Paul grow more and more obsessed with uncovering what he sees as a conspiracy against him and the lengths he eventually goes to in order to prove it. This includes enlisting the willing aid of a former client, Ryan (Michael Whalley), whose mental state is questionable at best.

As the various conflicts drag on, Paul's marriage to wife Ally (Jennie Lee) begins to suffer and his desperation drives him to take greater risks which put his reputation on the line.  The mystery of the five suicides remains compelling throughout the film and keeps us watching.

The film does have its negative points, however.  The acting ranges from quite good to somewhat overly arch in some scenes. There's an ill-advised attempt toward some kind of dark comedy, particularly with the "Ryan" character, which I found jarring.  Things also tend to drag here and there overall.

Still, PSYCHOANALYSIS overcomes the occasional awkwardness of its documentary framework and ultimately comes off as a satisfying experience.  I especially like the unexpected way in which the mystery is finally resolved, not with a burst of sensationalism but with a sort of bitter, understated irony.

Type: DVD/Digital HD (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play)
Rating: N/A
Running time: 79 min.
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Audio: Stereo
Street date: July 25, 2017


Friday, April 12, 2024

BLOOD PARADISE -- DVD Review by Porfle

Who'd have thunk it? It turns out Texas doesn't have a monopoly on clans of tightly-wound yokels suffering from too much isolation and a surfeit of plain old down-home "coo-coo."  Which is what novelist Robin Richards discovers when she travels to Sweden for a quiet, secluded farm getaway and ends up right in the middle of BLOOD PARADISE (Artsploitation Films, 2018).

And if you thought that sentence was tortured, just wait'll you see what's in store for Robin (co-writer and co-producer Andréa Winter) after her latest twisted-sex novels drive readers away and her agent suggests she head for the Swedish hills to get her head back together. 

It seems farmers are opening their doors to guests who want to escape the city for the pastoral experience and surround themselves with cows, chickens, and, in this particular case, some vaguely not-all-there people like farmer Rolf (Rolf Brunnström), his creepy mute sister, his surly son who likes to carry a sniper rifle around, and Rolf's dead wife who's buried in the garden...or is she?

Even the driver (Christer Cavallius) who picks Robin up at the train station and takes her to Rolf's farm is a weird fellow who's a big, big fan of Robin's books and has "stalker" written all over him.

His name is Hans Bubi (a "Die Hard" reference perhaps?) and he's my favorite character because he's just such a manic oddball (I love his frantic arguments with his jealous, plant-obsessed wife) who I hoped would turn out to be a good guy and not just another member of the creep crowd.

Anyway, with all of that established, BLOOD PARADISE is all set to start keeping us in a state of tense suspense for the rest of its running time. Director Patrick von Barkenberg takes his sweet time letting the story unfold just quickly enough for us to savor every moment of growing unease and mystery as Robin warily observes the actions of her hosts as they grow more suspicious and unsettling.

The film itself is a visual treat, each shot nicely composed with lots of little directorial touches that are oddly satisfying.  Performances never go over the top, and the film is refreshingly devoid of the usual jump scares and musical stings. It isn't even all that gory.

Indeed, what happens to Robin (and some other unfortunate people around her) might've been turned into the same tired old torture porn working itself into a lather trying to "scare" us, but instead we're drawn into an increasingly engrossing scenario that carries us along on a wave of pure, skin-crawling suspense.

The low-key, non-sensationalistic nature of BLOOD PARADISE is one of its most pleasing qualities, along with a bone-dry sense of humor.  We're able to identify with Robin and thus slowly get up inside the story and experience each and every disturbing little pastoral perversion along with her.  And the film itself is so finely-wrought that despite its potent capacity for horror, it's a pleasure to watch.

More info and where to buy

Product Details

    Format: DVD (also available in Blu-ray)
    Catalog: ART67
    UPC: 851597006773
    Country: Sweden
    Language: English (with optional subtitles)
    Rating: NR
    Year: 2018
    Length: 84 min.
    Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital, 2.0 Stereo
    Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
    Bonus material: Four deleted scenes, 2 Music Videos: "Dreamer" by Baby Yoga, "You and Me" by Baby Yoga


Thursday, April 11, 2024

MOLLY -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Originally posted on 9/22/18


One thing zombie flicks and post-apocalyptic dystopia movies have in common is that, thanks to templates such as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and MAD MAX, there's very little need for exposition. We're just suddenly there in these established worlds, and all that's required is to learn the specifics of the individual storyline being presented for us to follow.

This is true for the post-apocalyptic dystopia action-thriller MOLLY (Artsploitation Films, 2017), which comes to us by way of the Netherlands and brashly shoulders its way into the ranks of the best, or at least most brashly entertaining, films of that genre. 

An earlier trailer might've gone like this: "In a world...where society has been replaced by anarchy...and the innocent are injected with a drug that turns them into savage beasts pit-fighting to the death as gamblers cheer them girl...with special powers and a fierce will to survive...fights to bring down an evil dictator while protecting an orphaned child she found alone in the wasteland...etc...etc..."

The girl with "special powers" (which I won't spoil here) is Molly (Julia Batelaan), who's like a cross between a myopic valley girl and Velma from "Scooby-Doo" (complete with glasses).  She looks like a normal teenaged nerd-girl all weighed down by a huge backpack and other gear, but circumstances have forced her to become a wandering warrior who must keep her guard up 24/7 against those who wish to either rob, kill, or capture her.

Local big-wig Deacon (Joost Bolt) wields the aforementioned drug and runs the pit fights, turning captives into vicious drug-fueled maniacs called "supplicants" and staging death battles during which he cleans up on the gambling front (with bullets as the main currency).  With Molly having become something of a legend in those parts, he orders his warriors to hunt her down and capture her for his fighting pit.

It took a while for me to settle in and "get" this movie.  At first, it looks like it's just going to be another mildly entertaining genre offering at best, albeit one with an intriguing main character.  The fight choreography seems a bit off at times, and the story seems a bit lean.

Gradually, however, the imagination and skill behind this above-average effort began make themselves more and more apparent until, by the second half, I was getting swept up in what was fast becoming a dazzling feat of modestly-budgeted filmmaking.

As soon as Molly befriends the little orphan girl Bailey (Emma de Paauw), who is then kidnapped as bait to lure Molly into the clutches of Deacon and his band of rough boys, our heroine's rescue mission in the bad guys' rusted-metal offshore lair becomes a dizzying non-stop assault of blazing action and breathtaking filmmaking.

Earlier fight scenes had a choppily edited shaky-cam look to them in order to convey Molly's fear and disorientation during sudden surprise attacks that came out of nowhere.  But during the extended finale, which takes place on several levels of iron walkways in a harsh industrial setting, the direction and cinematography suddenly shift into sort of a cinematic overdrive that had me goggle-eyed with amazement.

Fights still lack finesse, but this gives them the dirty, messy, awkward feel of real life-or-death battle. And when this mass of sweaty humanity starts plunging into fierce conflict in close quarters, directors Colinda Bongers and Thijs Meuwese shoot it all in amazing long takes with disguised edits that give the illusion of one unbroken action scene lasting a good 20-30 minutes or so.

(Molly's set-to with Deacon's main assassin Kimmy, played by Annelies Appelhof, is a real highlight, as is her final showdown with the Deacon himself.)

It's especially impressive in that the filmmakers don't have quick edits and jerky camerawork to use as a visual crutch.  The sequence boasts beautiful photography and camera moves (no shaky-cam, lens flares, etc.) and precision choreography that must've required both exhaustive practice and multiple retakes.

This is, to be honest, some of the best action filmmaking I've ever seen.  I was constantly reminded of a previous fave, HARD REVENGE MILLY, which this actually surpasses in my estimation.  Which, for me, is no small thing.  The hallway fight scene from OLDBOY also comes to mind.

Through it all, the character of freckled, bespectacled Molly is enigmatic but likable, and human enough to panic when she loses her glasses during a fight.  Where the heck did she come from, we wonder, and how did she become this fabled bow-wielding warrior who defeats opponents twice her size and ferociousness, with nothing more than a sort of frantically puckish resolve to survive? (Plus those special powers, of course, but I won't go into that.)

The Blu-ray from Artsploitation Films is in 1.78:1 widescreen with English 5.1 surround sound and optional English subtitles.  Bonus features consist of a directors' commentary, a half-hour "making of" featurette, and a trailer. 

I had a great time watching MOLLY, especially since so many films of this genre have been both blatantly derivative and inescapably dull.  Okay, this movie is sorta blatantly derivative too--but dull it ain't.  Following the satisfying resolution, there's an epilogue which promises a possible sequel, and, for once, I'm actually looking forward to it.


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

THE TRANSCENDENTS -- Movie Review by Porfle

Originally posted on 6/9/20


If you're lucky, you'll see a pretty good movie now and then. If you're really lucky, you'll see one that starts out like it's not that much and then takes you places you never expected at all, until suddenly you realize that you're in the middle of being totally blown away.

That's what writer/director Derek Ahonen's amazing debut THE TRANSCENDENTS (2018) did for me.

Early on, sleazy bar owner Jan (Kathy Valentine) tells Roger (Rob Franco) that she collects weird things, which is apt because she tries to collect Roger from the moment he shows up in her bar, and he's as weird as they come.

But Roger claims to be celibate ("Straight celibate or gay celibate?" she asks) and his other character quirks include abstaining from alcohol, having deep mental and emotional problems that cause him to be intensely focused on being intensely out to lunch, and, last but not least, wanting to find and kill the former members of his struggling indie band who stole his incredibly strange songs before he was forced to drop out of life for ten years.

Roger flashes back to his time with bandmembers Foster (Ben Reno), who's jealous of Roger's songwriting skills (which he attributes to his communications with small animals such as hamsters), and the cute but hygiene-challenged Kim (Savannah Welch), whose odd relationship with Roger also elicits Foster's even more destructive jealousy.

Meanwhile, in the present, Roger forms yet another odd bond with Jan's deaf, paralyzed sister Cecilia (Cecilia Deacon) as his search for former members of The Transcendents leads him to some startling revelations about himself and others that I won't go into here because they're more fun to find out about yourself while watching the movie.

Speaking of which, this is one of those character dramas that makes up for its limited settings and lack of action by keeping the relationships and story twists increasingly involving throughout.

It also boasts a pleasingly subtle weirdness (mostly embodied, and quite capably at that, by Rob Franco's very studied performance as "Roger") and a morbid, martini-dry humor that's deftly off-kilter without getting too overt.

But most of all, THE TRANSCENDENTS is an actor's movie that boasts some of the most stunning performances you'll ever see, which director Ahonen showcases to their best advantage without smothering them in directorial style.

As Roger's odyssey progresses and he confronts people from his past, the depth and profundity of the story becomes mesmerizing. Savannah Welch in particular has a monologue about why and how Kim so thoroughly hit the skids after leaving Roger. It goes on for roughly fifteen minutes and pretty much becomes the whole movie during that time, and is riveting.

Then Roger goes back to where we started and clashes with George (William Leroy), the crusty old owner of the farm where he stayed for ten years, who has seven daughters and may be guilty of incest and several other evil things, and suddenly the movie becomes about the guy who plays George giving a performance that is almost frighteningly good.

THE TRANSCENDENTS starts out going pretty much where we expect it to, right up until the moment we realize we're being taken for a ride blindfolded to places we've never been before and are well worth going to. And I felt lucky to have ended up there.

Buy it from Indican Pictures


Runtime: 96 minutes
Format: 1:78 HD
Sound: Dolby Sr.
Country: USA
Language: English
Rating: Pending


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

THE ALCOVE -- DVD Review by Porfle

Originally posted on 2/21/10
Prolific exploitation director Joe D'Amato, whose many films include around sixteen entries in the "Emanuelle" series with Laura Gemser, places the celebrated sex star in a unique and strange little tale with THE ALCOVE, aka L'alcova (1984). I've rarely bothered watching this kind of stuff on Cinemax or The Playboy Channel because I usually find it pretty boring, but this one's worth the effort.

In 1930s England, Alessandra (Lilli Carati) is in no hurry for her adventurer husband Elio (Al Cliver) to return from the Zulu war because she's been having a torrid lesbian affair with his assistant, Wilma (Annie Belle). When Elio does show up at last, he has a big surprise--a dark-skinned slave girl named Zerbal (Laura Gemser) given to him by a tribal chief in payment for a debt.

Hostile toward her at first, Alessandra grows increasingly attracted to, and finally obsessed with, the exotic and mysterious Zerbal. A jealous Wilma and a marginalized Elio find the ill-disguised affair intolerable, but this is nothing compared to the ultimate revenge that the devious Zerbal has planned for everyone involved.

THE ALCOVE is languidly-paced and takes some time to get into, but it caught my interest once I settled into the story. We're not given much indication at first how things will progress beyond the usual sordid domestic conflicts, until the slowly unfolding plot finally gives way to some pretty bizarre developments--including a murder plot, a surprising exchange of power, and a brutal rape caught on film for financial gain. By the time the somewhat abrupt but satisfying ending came, I felt the time I'd invested in this film to be worthwhile.

Joe D'Amato displays a pleasing directorial style and the cinematography is rather nice, especially during the many well-staged softcore sex scenes. These are quite erotic and are incorporated into the story so that they seem neither overlong nor superflous. When Elio's sensitive young son Furio (Roberto Caruso) returns home on leave from the Navy and falls in love with the older Wilma, his tentative romantic overture toward her is handled with a soft touch. The rest of the sexual encounters between Elio, Alessandra, and Zerbal, and eventually the on-camera violation, exude a sick but strangely compelling air of illicit lust and perversion.

I never found Laura Gemser all that attractive myself, but her fans should be happy to see her in such an interesting role which requires her to be naked for most of her screen time. She's very good at conveying not only Zerbal's earthy strangeness but also the growing defiance and unnerving malevolence bubbling beneath the surface. The character is memorable and Gemser makes the most of it with a subtly impressive performance.

At first, Lilli Carati didn't appeal to me all that much either, mainly due to her distasteful character, but I began to grow quite fond of seeing her lounging around naked. She does a good job in her role as does the lovely Annie Belle as Wilma, who has a very strong sexual appeal similar to that of Velma from "Scooby-Doo." Despite her faults, she was the one character besides Furio that I had any sympathy for. As the husband, Al Cliver mercifully remains clothed throughout his well-modulated performance, expressing Elio's growing detachment, jaded decadence, and casual moral corruption.

The DVD from Severin Films presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital mono. Print quality is mostly good and the English dubbing isn't too bad. Extras include a trailer and a jovial ten-minute interview with D'Amato, who's fun to listen to even though his English is rather hard to decipher.

With its fairly opulent locations, above-average production values, and convincing period atmosphere, THE ALCOVE is a pleasantly perverse exercise in refined art-house sleaze. Stick with the slow-fuse plot and its numerous sexual diversions and you may find the startling ending to be as memorable as I did. Oh yeah, and if you figure out what an "alcove" has to do with any of it, let me know.



Originally posted on 3/12/14


Chances are that, sooner or later, many people who watch Troma Entertainment's latest cinematic outrage, RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH, VOLUME 1 (2013), will reach a particular point in the action where they hold up their hand and say, "Okay, that's just going TOO far."  For some, that point will begin during the pre-titles sequence and last for about an hour and a half. 

For others, it may not happen until the disintegrating penis scene, the tossing-a-dog-over-Niagara-Falls scene, the "duck rape" scene, or the corrosive green slime lactation scene.  For me, incidentally, it was when two guys are arguing about music and one of them keeps insisting "Justin Bieber is the best!  The BEST!!!"

But first, there's a nostalgic opening montage of mayhem from previous Troma "Nuke 'Em High" films (with relatively much lower production values than this one) and a surprise narrator.  A tone of breezy irreverence sets in early and doesn't let up--in fact, it increases with each new and more imaginative atrocity,  beginning with an obligatory teen sex scene in the high school janitor's room that degenerates into horrific extreme gore in which both teens dissolve into heaps of gooey detritus.  (The girl's dramatic last words, "What kind of a god...?" become a running gag.) 

This scene is so colorfully, so gleefully over the top that we know "Okay, we don't have to worry about any kind of censorship, limits, boundaries, or taste--WHATSOEVER--for the next hour and a half."

The cause of this boundless horror is the former nuclear power plant site next to the school, which is now a sleazy "health food" factory called Tromorganic whose product is so rancid that even fast food joints won't carry it, and whose CEO (Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman himself, hilarious as the profoundly unscrupulous Mr. Herzkauf) has a deal with the school principal for his chemically contaminated vittles to be served to the unwitting students.

This will be the cause of serious trouble later on when bully magnets The Troma Poofs, a glee club composed of the school's biggest nerds, eat Tromorganic tacos and start morphing into sadistic monsters known as The Cretins who then terrorize their former antagonists along with whomever else gets in their way.  Much of the resulting mayhem may remind viewers of Peter Jackson's blood-and-guts-drenched horror comedy DEAD ALIVE not only in the high level of gore but in how downright bizarre much of it is. 

Comedy-wise, RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH, VOLUME 1 makes NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE look like GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN.  Director Kaufman stages crowd shots that are as densely packed with sight gags and elaborate set design as early MAD magazine panels, with Tromaville High so fully realized that it comes off like the legendary "National Lampoon High School Yearbook Parody" on acid. 

Against this backdrop comes the new girl, Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), whose pampered life is envied by the lower-class orphan Chrissy (Asta Paredes), an activist-blogger with her sights set on bringing down Tromorganic.  They meet-hostile at first, but somehow we know (since everyone's a familiar stereotype and every situation is a takeoff of the usual teen movie plot developments) that after a couple of highly stimulating catfights the girls will become friends. 

What we don't know, but I'm giving away now, is that despite the constant urging of her ultra-horny boyfriend Eugene (Clay von Carlowitz) to have sex with him, Chrissy is actually a budding lesbian, and that, even though obese, ultra-horny geek Zac (Zac Amico,  who's like a cross between Harry Knowles and Harry Knowles) begs her to go to the prom with him, Lauren is, in fact, also a budding lesbian and the two former enemies are now falling in love with each other.  (Wow!  This movie has everything!) 

Surprisingly, after the action has been barrelling along non-stop since the fade-in,  it's the lesbian sex scene which finally brings everything to a grinding halt (so to speak), but most viewers who have stuck it out this far (so to speak) won't be complaining.

Dialogue includes memorable lines such as "F*** me with your fish dick, Gil!",  which, unless I'm mistaken,  is an original.  There's also a series of those obligatory freeze-frame introductory thingies for each character that are so funny ("Caught masturbating to the Food Network") ("Black guy")  I didn't even care that I was never going to remember half of these nimrods or their quirky traits.  The script by Kaufman and four co-writers doesn't just deliver a gag and bow out gracefully but pounds us over the head with gleefully horrible variations of it until I can imagine a live audience screaming with laughter and literally rolling in the aisles.  Okay, figuratively.

All of the lead actors are fine, with Kaufman playing Lee Harvey Herzkauf with such unreserved wackiness that he makes Mel Brooks look like Emo Phillips.  Herzkauf's cohort in sleaze, Principal Westly (played by someone named Babette Bombshell) is like a fatter David Frye doing a more extreme version of his famous Nixon impression.  (As it turns out, he's the only person who has actually read Chrissie's anti-Tromorganic blog.)  Familiar faces such as Debbie Rochon and Lemmy pop up in welcome cameos, along with the aforementioned surprise narrator.  The gore effects, needless to say, are extreme and plentiful, as is the requisite boobage. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 widescreen with stereo sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  There are two commentary tracks, one with the main cast and the other featuring Kaufman and several fellow writer/producers.  Other extras include the featurettes "Casting Conundrum", "Pre-Production Hell With Mein Kauf (Man)", "Special (Ed) Effects", "Cell-U-Lloyd Kaufman: 40 Years of TROMAtising the World", a music video from the film's consistently awesome soundtrack, and a preview trailer for Vol. 2. 

RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH, VOLUME 1 is the kind of resolutely "wild" and "crazy" comedy that can become tiresome, lame, and/or overwrought real quick if the people making it don't know what they're doing.  Wonder of wonders, the people making this one actually knew what they were doing!  Needless to say,  decent folk are hereby warned to stay far, far away from this movie.  As for me,  the only thing I found disappointing about it was the abrupt ending--when Kaufman says "VOL. 1" he really means it.