Movie Review – Synchronicity (2016)

Synchronicity
Directed by Jacob Gentry
Courtesy of Magnet Releasing
Release Date: May 10, 2016

Synchronicity-DVD-Box-Cover-Art

Movies that deal with the subject of time travel are always interesting for me. I greatly enjoy seeing the different ideas that filmmakers have in regard to solving the paradox issues and whatnot. Not to mention, the special effects can be (and many times are) very cool. SYNCHRONICITY, a recent offering from Magnet Releasing, is a slick science fiction thriller that uses time travel as its base premise. And while it’s not perfect, it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and it’s a film I suggest giving a look.

If you are not familiar with SYNCHRONICITY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Magnet Releasing:

A mind-bending sci-fi thriller in the tradition of Dark City and Blade Runner, about a brilliant physicist who has uncovered the secret of time travel, and a ruthless corporate tycoon that will stop at nothing to steal it. To protect his discovery, he must travel back in time, but in the process, he endangers his own existence and the very fabric of reality.

I read online this film was a micro-budget production, but I never learned what the actual budget was. Even so, the production team did a great job with the money at hand. It is not an effects-filled extravaganza, but those used look great and enhance the progression of the story.

SYNCHRONICITY is shot well and looks great onscreen. The acting is very good, with Chad McKnight portraying the lead character, Jim. McKnight reminds me of a young Jeffrey Combs for some reason, which is definitely a compliment. He is joined by actress Brianne Davis, who does a great job as Jim’s love interest, Abby. The rest of the cast compliments them, particularly screen vet Michael Ironside who can portray a villain like nobody else.

As mentioned, the special effects are good, although there’s not too many of them. I love the wormhole generating machine, as it looks very convincing. The ‘auras’ Jim sees during his blackouts are curious, and I wonder if they are images of some natural phenomenon.

The story is where the film has a couple of down-points. In addition to being a science fiction thriller, it is also a love story. This aspect works for the most part, however the plotline does have a couple of flaws. Granted, time travel is a tricky subject, and it’s not always easy to explain. But SYNCHRONICITY at least tries…unfortunately, the explanation is not exactly coherent. There’s a lot of insinuation involved, and the conclusion is not quite so conclusive. In the end, I had to make a couple of assumptions and then do some Internet digging to see if they were correct. (Interestingly, my assumptions were wrong, if what I read is accurate).

Still, I cannot deny SYNCHRONICITY is entertaining and certainly worth the watch. Director Jacob Gentry appears to have a bright future ahead, and I can say with the utmost certainty that I cannot wait to see what he does next. In the meantime, check out this fairly clever jaunt into the wormhole…it’s an interesting ride.

MSB

Movie Review – The Conduit (2016)

The Conduit
Directed by Sixto Melendez
Courtesy of Brain Damage Films
Release Date: April 12, 2016

conduit_large_800

I have to hand it to the folks at Brain Damage Films: they aren’t afraid to take chances, particularly when it comes to low-budget horror films. With that being said, I have to confess that many of the company’s films I’ve watched (or started to watch) have been terrible. In fact, I’ve shut many of them off after only a short while. But even so, they have put out several nice gems as well, one of which was one of the best horror films I saw last year (click here to read my review of BLOOD PUNCH).

Unfortunately, the company also has a knack for finding obscure in-between films that are neither great nor terrible. Today’s title, THE CONDUIT, is one of these very films. While THE CONDUIT has a semi-interesting premise, the execution lacks a bit, and the story itself comes off as weak in parts. But the ending hammered the final nail in the coffin for me, and as a result, I did not enjoy the film as a whole.

If you are not familiar with THE CONDUIT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Brain Damage Films:

Wounded by a recent divorce and haunted by a tragic event in his childhood, Eddie returns to his home town hoping to pick up the pieces of his broken life. There he meets Amy, a mysterious and beautiful young woman with an undeniable allure. Eddie falls for Amy, easing his personal pain with her love-and lust. Something dark and sinister lurks in Amy’s past- Amy is a conduit, a channel for an evil that she most spread to others through attraction. Will her love save Eddie, or will it take him to darker places?

Brain Damage is also to be commended for their great cover artwork. While the films don’t always match the quality of their covers, the movies look great on a shelf regardless.

THE CONDUIT is shot fairly well, however the image quality lacks onscreen when the scenes get dark. I had a hard time making out certain things due to the grainy nature of the picture, so this was a frequent source of aggravation. The sound quality is decent enough, although I have to admit a couple of whispered lines are hard to pick up.

The acting is mediocre, but I will admit nobody gives a downright terrible performance. Monica Engesser does a decent job as Amy, however her co-star Wes Martinez, who portrays Eddie, displays no discernable emotion onscreen whatsoever. This leads to a lackluster performance that almost put me to sleep.

As mentioned above, the plot of THE CONDUIT has potential. The story starts off a bit slow, but things start to pick up about 40 minutes in. Unfortunately, nothing is wrapped up as the ending draws near, and the abrupt finale leaves the viewer unsatisfied and asking many questions. For this reason, I can only give the film three out of five stars.

THE CONDUIT is nothing to write home about, but it doesn’t outright suck, either. If you’re looking for a middle-of-the-road feature, then this is the film for you. It is available now on DVD and VOD.

MSB

Movie Review – Regression (2016)

Regression
Directed by Alejandro Amenabar
Courtesy of Anchor Bay
Release Date: May 10, 2016

regression

I’ve mentioned before that cults both fascinate and horrify me. The thought that people can be brainwashed into believing even the most reprehensible things are acceptable is terrifying. But cults that worship Satan are even more so. For me, the religious aspect of Satanic Cults makes them an even more chilling organization. This underlying fear is what drew me to REGRESSION, a recent release from Anchor Bay. And I have to say: this is one film that will stay with you after the credits roll.

If you are not familiar with REGRESSION, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay:

Minnesota, 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the case of young Angela (Emma Watson), who accuses her father, John Gray (David Dencik), of an unspeakable crime. When John unexpectedly and without recollection admits guilt, renowned psychologist Dr. Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help him relive his memories and what they discover unmasks a horrifying nationwide mystery.

I’m surprised this film is not getting better reviews than it is. It is a gripping thriller, but it also contains bold images of horror that will surprise and shock you.

REGRESSION is shot very well and looks great onscreen. The production value appears high, and the mood and tone of the film are perfect.

The acting is excellent, with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson heading up a great cast. I’ve enjoyed Hawke’s performances for a very long time (going all the way back to 1985 when he was in EXPLORERS), and Watson once again proves her versatility as an actress. They are joined by the talented David Thewlis, who is almost a screen legend, and a host of lesser-known (but no less talented) actors.

The plot of REGRESSION is where this film shines. It is compelling and mysterious, and the fact it is based on true events (I’m not sure how many liberties were taken) makes it even more so. My sole complaint about the plot is that a couple of things are implied (pretty obviously), but then they are never confirmed. This is a minor gripe, but it is enough to keep me from giving the film five stars as opposed to four.

Still, I greatly enjoyed REGRESSION, and I suggest giving it a look. It is an evenly-paced horror/thriller hybrid that will make you question how well you know your friends and neighbors. The film is available now in a variety of formats, so give it a look.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – What? (1972)

What?
Directed by Roman Polanski
Courtesy of Severin Films & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1972
Blu-ray Release Date: April 26, 2016

What

When I first saw the cover for WHAT?, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’d always heard this film was a comedy, but the nude woman on the cover made me think it might be something else. Interestingly, I was wrong. The movie does contain nudity, but it’s not the primary focus. Yet, I’m still not quite sure what to think about the film. It’s a weird jaunt into comedy for sure, but it does have some comedic merit. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a great film, but I did find it entertaining for the most part.

If you are not familiar with WHAT?, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Severin Films:

Roman Polanski described it as the ribald adventures of an innocent girl. More than four decades after its controversial release, it remains the most butchered, debated and least-seen film of the Oscar-winning director’s entire career. The succulent Sydne Rome stars as an oft-naked American girl lost inside a Mediterranean villa inhabited by priests, pianists, perverts and a pimp (a deliciously bizarre performance by Marcello Mastroianni) while indulging in madcap acts that even include ping-pong. Hugh Griffith (Tom Jones), Romolo Valli (Boccaccio 70) and Polanski himself co-star in this surreal and sexy comedy, now finally restored to its original running time from a vault print reportedly stolen from the wine cellar of producer Carlo Ponti!

There’s no denying director Roman Polanski is an icon in cinema. He’s directed some excellent films, and he continues to showcase a wide diversity of interests when it comes to his projects. But still, I have to wonder what the inspiration for this film was.

WHAT? looks good onscreen, and the HD transfer is nice. The picture is not perfect, but it rarely is when dealing with films this old. Still, it’s not grainy, which is a huge plus for me.

The acting is pretty good, with several notable actors and actresses giving decent performances. Sydne Rome plays the main character, Nancy, and foreign screen legend Marcello Mastroianni plays a pimp named Alex. They are supported by an interesting cast, although nobody really gives a standout performance.

The plot of WHAT? is a curious blend of surrealism and raunchy comedy. I laughed a few times, but mostly I just wondered if there was an actual plot. Pretty much, the characters spend the film going from one odd situation to another, but there’s no overarching storyline that encompasses everything. Don’t get me wrong: this is not necessarily a negative. But if you’re looking for a story, you might want to look elsewhere.

I won’t deny that I enjoyed the movie. But I can guarantee it won’t be for everyone. Still, if you want a bit of nonsensical, zany humor, give this movie a try. It is available now.

MSB

Hayes Hudson’s House of Horror is giving away another movie!!

My buddy Hayes is at it again. He has so many movies, he just can’t keep them all for himself…so he’s having another excellent giveaway. This time, it’s for a Blu-ray copy of the indie horror film KILD.TV.

kild.tv

Hayes and I both reviewed this film, and we loved it. YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO TRY TO WIN THIS COPY FOR YOURSELF!! Click on the link below for details on how to enter (it’s easy…just leave a comment post on Hayes’ blog).

Hayes Hudson’s House of Horror KILD.TV Movie Giveaway

Good luck!!!

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Outlaw: Gangster VIP Collection (1968)

Outlaw: Gangster VIP Collection
Directed by Toshio Masuda (GANGSTER VIP), Keiichi Ozawa (GANGSTER VIP 2, GORO THE ASSASSIN, BLACK DAGGER, & KILL!), & Mio Ezaki (HEARTLESS)
Courtesy of Arrow Video and MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1968
Blu-ray Collection Release Date: April 19, 2016

Outlawgangstervip

I have to confess I’d never heard of these Yakuza flicks until I got ahold of this collection. For some reason (probably because of my fondness for horror), I just never had an interest in the older “mob” films. But, man, I sure wish I’d been told about them before. These films are dark and gritty, and they supposedly paint a more realistic portrait of what life in the organization was like back in the 50s and 60s. If you are new to the OUTLAW: GANGSTER films like me, then you’re in for a real treat.

If you are not familiar with the OUTLAW: GANGSTER VIP COLLECTION, here is the collection’s synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video and MVD Distribution:

In 1968, acclaimed director Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife, Tora! Tora! Tora!) and rising star Tetsuya Watari (Tokyo Drifter) teamed up for Outlaw: Gangster VIP, a gritty yakuza yarn based on the writings of real life ex-gangster Goro Fujita. The series offers up a depiction of the Japanese underworld that was unprecedented in its realism and its sympathetic portrayal of its protagonist as a man haunted by his past, unable to escape a life of crime. The success of the initial instalment spawned five sequels, continuing the story of the lone wolf “Slasher” Goro and his quest for redemption. The films presented a new kind of realism and violence that would prefigure Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, with their winning combination of brutal violence, gang warfare and sweeping romance, these films make for a unique and unforgettable viewing experience. The set includes six films in the Outlaw series released for the first time in the west: Gangster VIP, Gangster VIP 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger, and Kill!

I enjoyed every movie in this collection, and I am proud to have it in my library. Each film is masterfully done, and each has merits making it a worthy addition to the franchise.

Part of what makes this collection so great is that the films flow together so well, despite the different directors involved. While each looks great in its own regard, there’s no huge discernable differences between the productions of each. As a result, the film set has cohesion and substance, two attributes lacking in many of the franchises of today.

The films in the OUTLAW: GANGSTER VIP COLLECTION look excellent onscreen. The HD transfers give the picture a bold look, and there’s only a few grainy shots here and there (particularly in the opening credit sequences, when the Nikkatsu logo appears). This does not detract from the film experience at all, thankfully.

The acting in each film is great, with Tetsuya Watari portraying Goro, the main character. I had no trouble believing in the roles portrayed in each film, and Watari does a great job of maintaining his character throughout the sextet.

My favorite film of the OUTLAW: GANGSTER VIP COLLECTION is probably the first one, simply titled OUTLAW: GANGSTER VIP. The stark realism presented is a nice contrast to the over-the-top action films of today, and I found the whole movie immersive. I particularly like how Goro is represented as an actual human being with emotions, instead of an unfeeling, robotic killer, as seen in many other gangster/Yakuza films.

The OUTLAW: GANGSTER VIP COLLECTION is a big win for me, and I suggest giving it a look if you like mobster films. Granted, the films in this set are dated, but that doesn’t detract from the entertainment value at all. In addition to the HD picture and sound, the set comes with some nice Special Features that include:

•Limited Edition Box Set (3000 copies) containing all six films in the Outlaw series, available with English subtitles for the first time on any home video format
•High Definition digital transfers of all six films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
•High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
•Original uncompressed mono audio
•Newly translated English subtitles
•Audio commentary on Outlaw: Gangster VIP by Jasper Sharp
•Visual essay covering the entire series by Kevin Gilvear
•Original trailers for all six films
•Extensive promotional image galleries for all six films
•Exclusive gatefold packaging featuring brand new artwork by Tonci Zonjic
•Booklet featuring an interview with director Toshio Masuda by Mark Schilling, plus new writing by Schilling, Chris D and Kevin Gilvear

MSB

Movie Review – Backtrack (2016)

Backtrack
Directed by Michael Petroni
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: April 26, 2016

Backtrack

Wow…I’ll start this review off by stating up front I loved BACKTRACK. This movie is not what I was expecting it to be, and it turned out to be a great surprise. I initially requested it for review because of Adrien Brody and Sam Neill, two actors I greatly enjoy in any role they play. But the story in this film quickly grabbed me and sucked me in. The result is an entertaining and engrossing movie experience that I highly recommend.

If you are not familiar with BACKTRACK, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

Psychologist Peter Bower’s life is thrown into turmoil when he discovers a strange secret about his patients. Risking his own sanity, Peter delves into his past to uncover a terrifying secret which only he can put right.

I can’t decide what my expectations were for this film before going into it. I am very pleased with how it turned out, though. Part psychological thriller, part mystery, and part ghost story, this is one movie you have to experience for yourself.

BACKTRACK is shot well and looks excellent onscreen. The cinematography is semi-artistic, but it conveys the story wonderfully as well.

The acting is top notch, with both Brody and Neill giving great performances. Neill has more of a cameo role, and we only get to see him a couple of times. But Brody shines as the main character. Both are supported by a nice cast that include several faces I hope to see more of in the future.

The story is where BACKTRACK really leaves its mark. Chocked full of mystery and intrigue, with a nice dash of scares to boot, this film will grab you and keep you engrossed until the big reveal at the end. I have to say, the twist-ending made me smile with satisfaction. Some viewers might see it coming, but I did not.

BACKTRACK is a big win for me, and I highly suggest giving it a look. It’s a thriller with bite, so be ready for a few jumps and an interesting mystery. The film is available now, so give it a look.

MSB

Book Review – The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

The Scarlet Gospels
by Clive Barker
Courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin
Paperback Release Date: May 17, 2016

the scarlet gospels

*NOTE: The hardback version of THE SCARLET GOSPELS was released last summer, however the trade paperback releases this month.

When I hear the name “Clive Barker”, my ears immediately perk up, and my attention shifts to the speaker who mentioned his name. After all, Barker is a horror fiction genius, and he has always been one of my writing idols. I’ve read almost every book he’s written, and I’ve loved them. So imagine my surprise to discover his most recent book, THE SCARLET GOSPELS, is nowhere near as good as his previous releases. Granted, it’s an interesting story…but it is lacking in certain key areas. The result is a lackluster read that does not leave the reader with a satisfied feeling.

If you are not familiar with THE SCARLET GOSPELS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin:

The Scarlet Gospels takes readers back many years to the early days of two of Barker’s most iconic characters in a battle of good and evil as old as time: The long-beleaguered detective Harry D’Amour, investigator of all supernatural, magical, and malevolent crimes faces off against his formidable, and intensely evil rival, Pinhead, the priest of hell. Barker devotees have been waiting for The Scarlet Gospels with bated breath for years, and it’s everything they’ve begged for and more. Bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex, fans and newcomers alike will not be disappointed by the epic, visionary tale that is The Scarlet Gospels. Barker’s horror will make your worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories. The Gospels are coming. Are you ready?

I wanted so badly to love THE SCARLET GOSPELS. It contains two iconic figures from Barker’s universe(s), and I enjoy his works that contain each individual. Thus, when I heard they were in for a “crossover” of sorts, I knew this book should be gold.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. The book starts off with a bang that includes an almost fatal meeting between Pinhead (i.e. The Hell Priest) and Harry D’Amour, but then it quickly derails into a series of individual, nonsensical events. Granted, the storyline appears to be chronological, however the events that unravel in each scene don’t seem to make the story progress much.

The book is written well for the most part, in Barker’s trademark style, but it does not flow like it should. This bogs down the narrative, as the reader tries to grasp the meaning (and importance) of each chapter. I found myself going back to reread certain sections, curious as to whether or not I had missed something. More times than not, I had not missed a thing.

I was especially hoping for some amazing imagery when Pinhead ventures into Hell. And I will admit there is a bit. But most of what we are given are bland landscapes and a few architectural oddities that would make M. C. Escher groan.

I will state the final act in THE SCARLET GOSPELS is written well and offers a glimpse of the old Barker we loved from the 80s and 90s. The visionary genius behind THE HELLBOUND HEART shines for a brief moment as Pinhead takes on Lucifer for control of Hell, and the climax is certainly a chunk of the book worth reading. It is just a shame the road to get there is so arduous.

I know the author has had some difficult times as of late (with external issues), and I am certainly sympathetic to them. But I would have preferred to have waited another decade for a better version of this book rather than to have this end the Cenobite legacy.

THE SCARLET GOSPELS is a mediocre feather in Barker’s cap, and I only halfheartedly recommend it. The conclusion of Pinhead’s journey does not end with a bang, but rather a golf-clap, and I confess I am pretty disappointed. Still, it’s fun to see Barker return to this iconic character. I only hope maybe a future story can do the demon justice.

THE SCARLET GOSPELS is available now in hardcover and will be available in two weeks in trade paperback.

MSB

Movie Review – Bloody Wednesday (1987)

Bloody Wednesday
Directed by Mark G. Gilhuis
Courtesy of Film Chest Media
Original Year of Release: 1987
DVD Release Date: April 19, 2016

bloody wed

When I heard this film was based on actual events that happened in the early 80s, I was instantly intrigued. After all, the horrors of real life make excellent foundations on which to base thrillers and horror movies. Interestingly, the film is a mishmash of both good and bad aspects. The result is a lackluster film that drags in the middle, but boasts one heck of an ending.

If you are not familiar with BLOODY WEDNESDAY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Film Chest Media:

In BLOODY WEDNESDAY, Harry Curtis (Raymond Elmendorf) begins an inexplicable descent into madness. Haunted by ghosts and harassed by neighborhood thugs, his reality becomes increasingly distorted and his behavior ever more odd. Isolated by mental illness, he feels abandoned by humanity, his only friend a talking teddy bear … and when he loses his job, his dark and evil descent accelerates…

Before I continue with this review, I feel I must warn you up front: the picture quality of this film is very grainy and sometimes blurry. I’m not sure if the transfer did not take or if this is a copy from the VHS, but I did not like it regardless. I wouldn’t let this dissuade you from buying the film, but I do see this as something I must mention.

BLOODY WEDNESDAY is shot decently for the most part, yet the camerawork does not offer anything new or inventive. The cinematography is used to tell the story, and that’s it.

The acting is so-so, with Raymond Elmendorf giving a decent performance as the main character, Harry. This was Elmendorf’s first lead role, and according to his IMDB page, it was his last. I don’t know if this role was the reason for his decline in Hollywood (he went on to be an extra in one more film, and then his career ended), but I’m sure it didn’t help things. The rest of the cast is forgettable, and nobody really gives a breakout performance.

The storyline of BLOODY WEDNESDAY is interesting, and yet I don’t feel the writer fully fleshes out Harry and who he is. Sure, we get to see his mental decline, but his interactions with the imaginary images are almost comical sometimes. Granted, the snake was intense, but everything else is simplistic and tame. I don’t consider what we get to see onscreen enough to force a mental breakdown.

BUT…

…I will state the last few minutes of the film are excellent and crazy-intense. As the massacre played out onscreen, I found myself enthralled. The brutality of the scene and the senselessness of the carnage heighten the horror, and the viewer is left almost in a state of awe.

Because of the awesome ending, I have to recommend BLOODY WEDNESDAY to fans of thrillers and mild horror. While this is not a great film, it still offers a decent viewing experience (except for the picture quality), and is worthy of a look. The film is available now.

MSB