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Bloodrunners (2017) Review

rsz_1rsz_bloodrunners_poster_hiresBloodrunners (2017)

Directed by: Dan Lantz.
Written by: Dan Lantz and Michael McFadden.
Starring: Ice-T, Michael McFadden, Chris James Boylan and Airen DeLaMater.

For more information visit – www.bloodrunnersmovie.com

“Set in 1930s prohibition, a corrupt cop discovers that the popular speakeasy in town has been infiltrated by vampires”.

I often wonder if vampires should still be included as one of the horror story’s staple monsters. In the seventies and eighties Anne Rice made vampires mysterious & sexy. In the nineties, Buffy the Vampire Slayer made vampires fun. In the noughties, the Twilight series seemed to emasculate vampires and sprinkle their embarrassed memory with glittery sparkles. As a consequence of so much distillation, dilution and homogenisation, our modern-day vampires are now so far removed from their ancestors (such as Nosferatu, Varney the Vampire and Dracula), that they come across as homeopathic incarnations. They are as scary as the risk of not having checked your entitlement to PPI. Which is why it was kind of refreshing to watch Bloodrunners.

Director Dan Lantz (Bloodlust Zombies, Ninja Babes from Space and Modern Marvels) brings his capable hand to a cleverly-crafted story of vampires in the time of the prohibition. The conceit of vampires shipping bottles of blood across the country gives motive to a plot that is carefully balanced and enjoyable from start to finish.

rsz_br_prod_still00104Early on we’re introduced to slightly-corrupt-cop, Sergeant Jack Malone (Michael McFadden: The Breaks, Bull and Gotham). Jack later describes his motive for joining the police force, with the words, “I was handy with a gun and I needed a job.” It’s this pragmatic attitude that makes him likeable throughout the film. Jack’s backstory, which includes some of the guilt and PTSD he’d suffered as a participant in the first world war, was an intelligent contribution to the narrative and allowed for his character develop.

The background romance between Willie (Chris Boylan: Killers, Redcoats and Zeroes) and Anna (Airen DeLaMater: Apparition, A Crime to Remember and Redrum) is probably not the most compelling subplot you’re likely to encounter this season. I say this, although I’m willing to admit my lack of investment in this detail is likely down to my own puerile response of giggling when Anna was desperately calling for help from her beau by shouting, “Willie! Willie! Willie!”

But it is Chesterfield (Ice-T: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Johnny Mnemonic and Tank Girl) who steals this movie. Commanding every scene he’s in, Chester is presented as a talented showman able to command the stage of his speakeasy; a skilled smuggler who can slip illicit drinks past the authorities; and an uber-competent gangster who doesn’t suffer fools. He has a suave sense of dress, a harem of women at his command, and his own personal finger collection. The fact that he’s also a vampire is a detail that only serves to make him more likeable.

rsz_br_prod_still00063I genuinely enjoyed this one. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been invested in recreating the authentic look of 1933 New Jersey. The cars and clothes make the experience immersive. The special effects are sophisticated and the whole feel has a strong sense of the dangerous theatrics that we once used to associate with vampires. More importantly, this film should be seen just for those of us who’ve wanted to see Ice-T say the words, “Human blood should be enjoyed like fine wine.”

Well worth your time. 8/10

Blood Punch (2014) DVD Review

rsz_bloodpunchBlood Punch (2014)
Starring: Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet and Ari Boyland
Writer: Eddie Guzelian
Director: Madellaine Paxson

Out in the UK on Jan 16th – Blood Punch will be available for purchase from ASDA, HMV, Fopp, Amazon, The Hunt and Base. And available for streaming from iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Vubiquity, TalkTalk and Vimeo on Demand.

A young man is lured into a dangerous love triangle that begins to take a series of shocking and grisly supernatural turns.

Milton (Milo Cawthorne, Deathgasm, Mega Time Squad, ASH vs Evil Dead and When We Go to War) wakes up on Tuesday morning. He wakes to the annoying sound of wind chimes and the urgent need to puke. We can see he’s been sleeping on the couch at a hunting cabin. The walls are littered with brutal reminders of murder and mutilation (such as axes, crossbows, mantraps and mounted hunting trophies). And, once Milton has looked up from the toilet bowl he’s been worshipping, he finds himself staring at a tablet that bears a note saying ‘PLAY ME’.

The intrigue deepens when Milton presses play and finds the tablet contains footage of himself, explaining how the current situation has come about. His surprise at seeing himself on the screen is not because he was wasted the previous night, or because he’s endured some memory-eradicating substance. The reason turns out to be far more ingenious.

rsz_bp1The content of the tablet leads to a little bit of backstory and a proper introduction to the story’s hero.

Milton had been incarcerated in a juvenile detention centre. He’d been there because he was a chemistry student and he’d been caught using his knowledge of chemicals to cook crystal meth. Whilst appearing to repent for his sins, and maybe take a step toward atonement, he encounters a shed load of trouble in the shape of Skyler (Olivia Tennet, Lord of the Rings, Boogeyman and Shortland Street).

Skyler is a forthright character and conducts herself with a ruthless determination that is irresistible. She is looking for a meth cook and she uses her feminine wiles to tempt Milton to fill her vacancy. After showing him that crystal meth has a positive effect on her libido, it doesn’t take long before Skyler’s convinced Milton to join her. She’s even arranged to have her psychotic boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland, The Tribe, Shortland Street, Power Rangers R.P.M.) organize a jail break. And, for Milton, this is where the troubles really begin.

As a story, Blood Punch has traces of Breaking Bad, Cabin in the Woods and Groundhog Day in its structure – but it is so much more than merely a homage to existing works. One of the clever things about this film is the way everything is made to look so effortless. The story, in less capable hands, could have been confusing and nonsensical. Instead, it’s compelling, quirky and intriguing. The characters, drug dealers, psychopaths and the criminally insensitive, could have been difficult to like. But, instead, they come across as relatable, likeable and even loveable.

rsz_bpIt’s easy to see why Blood Punch has won so many awards (Phoenix International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival: Best Horror Feature 2015; New Orleans Horror Film Festival: Best Feature Film 2014; Hoboken International Film Festival: Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Actress 2014). The film has a compelling story that comes from a well-crafted script. The acting is strong and confident from a cast who know what they’re doing. The direction is masterful and assured throughout.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough and would say it’s one of the best horror films I’ve watched in a long time: 10/10.

The Anatomy of Monsters (2014) Review

aom1The Anatomy of Monsters (2014)

Starring: Tabitha Bastien, Jesse Lee Keeter, Conner Marx and Keiko Green
Writer/Director : Byron C Miller

Andrew lures a woman to a motel room with homicidal intentions. He quickly discovers that she may be more dangerous than he could ever imagine. What follows is a deadly game of wits, and a soul bearing confession.

The Anatomy of Monsters is an intelligent approach to the notion of serial killers as the big bad of a horror movie. The story starts where we’re introduced to Andrew, (Jesse Lee Keeter from Glitch, &@ and Semi-Secret). Andrew is a brooding individual who gives off an impression of being a sinister character. Consequently, when he enters a bar and strikes up a conversation with Sarah (Tabitha Bastien from Imagination Thief, Spook Me Baby One More Time and Run, Hide, Die) we feel that this isn’t going to end well.

And, even though the couple hit it off and head back to her motel room with the obvious intention of mutually satisfying shenanigans, there is still that notion that things are going to go badly for one or the other of them. It doesn’t help when Sarah finds a pair of handcuffs in her luggage and offers to model them for Andrew’s benefit. We watch her snap the cuffs behind her back and think clichéd phrases such as ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’. Except, Sarah is no meek lamb, and the organizer of the evening’s slaughter has not yet been decided.

aom2This is a stylish piece of misdirection because, whilst the audience are being led to believe that Sarah is putting her head in the lion’s metaphorical mouth, it transpires that she has the same nefarious appetites that have made Andrew such a dark and brooding character in the film’s opening scenes.

It would be easy to criticize parts of this film for falling foul of unwritten film-making law. There is a lot of narrative exposition in the motel room as the pair discuss motives. A lot of the story is told through flashbacks as Andrew and Sarah relive important episodes in their respective careers as homicidal murderers. To make matters more confusing, there are flashbacks within flashbacks, which seldom help to convey a cogent narrative. However, Byron C Miller’s direction is strong and confident and the story unfolds in a coherent fashion. There are twists and turns, all supported by a pleasant narrative tension throughout.

One of the predominant themes is Sarah’s memories of her relationship with Nick (Conner Marx from If There’s a Hell Below, Never and The Gamers: Hands of Fate). From the moment the pair connect we’re left worrying as to whether or not Sarah’s serial killer tendencies are going to intervene and bring the relationship to an abrupt end. And, throughout the whole of the film, we’re left wondering whether Andrew or Sarah will be the one to walk out of the motel room.

The Anatomy of Monsters is a lot of fun that manages to do an awful lot with a modest cast. Well worth checking out: 8/10.

Consumption (2016) Review

consumption1Consumption (2016)

Written & Directed by Brandon Scullion

Starring Sarah Greyson, Arielle Brachfield, David Lautman

UK DVD release October 10th from LEFT Films

“In the snowy Utah mountains, an ancient being terrorizes four friends as they try to survive.”

If movies have taught me one thing, it’s that you should never go on holiday in the woods to a remote cabin with friends. It never ends well. It usually ends badly. Very badly. This is information I’ve gleaned from a variety of informative films including The Cabin in the Woods, Cabin Fever, The Evil Dead, Dead Snow, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, Zombeavers and many, many others. The latest film to put me off the idea of spending a weekend away in the not-so-great outdoors is Consumption.

The film introduces us to four friends, each of whom (we discover later) is harbouring a substantial secret. They’ve driven from LA up to the desolate snowy wilderness of the Utah mountains for a remote weekend getaway.
David Lautman (Broken Horses, Ru, Making the Rules) is playing Seth, the designated driver for the group. He looks tired and we later discover this is not just because of the arduous journey. Seth sets the tone for the movie when he asks his passengers, “Do you know any good ghost stories?”

consumption4When he gets no response, Seth shares the quirky story of the disappearing bride: a ghostly figure who is often seen standing at the side of the road by passing motorists and then mysteriously disappears from view. It’s also in this scene that Seth shares the secret that his mother has recently died.

In the car are Becca (Sarah Greyson: animation production assistant from The Simpsons and reality star from Road Rules and The Challenge), Mallory (Arielle Brachfield: The Haunting of Whaley House, Chemical Peel, Axeman) and Eric (Chris Dorman: 8.13, Halloween: The Bogeyman is Coming, Blood Bath and Beyond). It’s clear that tempers are a little frayed amongst the four of them when they arrive but, after a drive from LA to Utah I suspect any of us would be a little road-raw.

There are some scenes in this movie that we’ve all seen before. Seth is defensive with regards to the bags he has brought – and it transpires there is good reason for his defensiveness. The foursome are greeted at the door to their accommodation by ‘the Pats’, Patrick and Patricia Smith, played with a delightful blend of the frenetic and the friendly by Geoffrey Gould (Pride of Strathmoor, Careful What You Wish For, Everything) and Nancy Wolfe (Helter Skelter, Horror in the Attic, Mark of the Witch).

consumption3The Pats seem to have a strong religious agenda which doesn’t accommodate Mallory’s atheist views. Later we discover that their religious beliefs are very important to them. And then we have a brief appearance by a wood-chopping Myles Cranford (Hunter Gatherer, Interwoven, Erasing Eden) as Ferry, who gives the group the cryptic warning, “You’re not supposed to be here. That’s exactly what they want.” Ferry then spends the remainder of the film looking obscenely cool with a long-handled axe propped on his shoulder.

To some extent we have seen most of these horror tropes before but, if they weren’t included in a cabin-in-the-woods-type film, as viewers we’d be disappointed by their absence. I did enjoy the camerawork of this movie. There were some shifts in image that hastened the speed of the narrative but also leant something to the sense of the uncanny that was being presented. I also thought there were a couple of surprises that I hadn’t anticipated and they made the whole experience all the more entertaining. Maria Olsen (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Paranormal Activity 3, Starry Eyes) as always, takes on a disconcerting role and delivers a quality performance. I also thought there was some deliciously dark humour apparent in the background of this one.

consumption2The version of this film that I saw had a major issue with sound quality. Background noise repeatedly fought and won over dialogue, making it difficult to follow some of the narrative. However, that could be an issue that’s since been resolved. If not for those sound issues, I’d have marked this higher. The film does steer away from traditional narrative approaches – and that can always make for interesting viewing. If you’re inviting friends over to your remote cabin for the weekend, Consumption would be ideal viewing material and deserves a respectable 6/10.

Cowboy Zombies (2016) aka Walking Dead in the West

cowboyzombies1Cowboy Zombies (2016) aka Walking Dead in the West

Directed by Paul Winters.

Written by Gahan Wilson and Paul Winters

Starring Paul Winters, Greg Bronson and Jean Paul Turgeon.

Out now on UK DVD from Left Films

“A new frontier of fear.”

Crumpit, Arizona Territory, 1876. A meteor hits the earth and reanimates the dead.

Given that the pioneers who genuinely westernized the west had to rely on incredible survival skills, it seems apposite to present them here as characters with the challenge of surviving a zombie apocalypse. It also seems like an innovative way of remembering the achievements of the brave and resourceful frontiers-folk who shaped the America we know today because, as adversaries, zombies are seldom perceived as undeserving when it comes to frontier justice.

There’s some dark humour in this film, especially in an early scene where a pair of criminals, rustlers and murders, are being hanged just as the meteor strikes. One of them cries, “God, please, give these people a sign. Don’t kill the innocent.” As soon as he’s said the words there is the boom of a meteor striking earth and the criminal says, “See! I told you. A sign from God almighty.” And, whilst this might look like divine intervention to some, the criminal is still hanged. In the moment of their deaths the two criminals are transformed into zombies and then spend the remainder of the film, dangling from the ropes that killed them and growling hungrily whilst their legs tread air.

cowboyzombies2Paul Winters (Nate and the Colonel, The Homecoming of Jimmy Whitecloud), gives a convincing performance as the NRA-prototype Marshall Frank Wilcox. Wilcox gives expository voice-over narration throughout the film. He is a character who solemnly intones: “I learned early on in my life that the only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.” By the end of the movie, Wilcox is leading a ragtag collection of survivors who seem to represent a broad spectrum of the west’s cultural diversity.

And, for me, I think this was one of the film’s major flaws. The Wild West, according to my understanding, was not known as an exemplar that embraced its rich cultural diversity. The Wild West was a brutal conflict between cultures of the indigenous native Americans and the invading pioneers. Whilst this film allows members from those cultures to band together and kill zombies, it seems like it’s glossing over some key issues on the bloody truth of the west’s westernisation.

And it is fair to say that this is a very diverse team. Calion Maston (Atomic Shark, The Coldest Kiss) plays the black US Army Sergeant Bale. Lee Whitestar (Nate and the Colonel, The Homecoming of Jimmy Whitecloud) plays the old Apache, warrior chief Datanta. Mark Trombino (The Dog Wedding, Men Cry Bullets) plays Jasper the barman. Although Jasper is a person of short stature, he’s a key character in the film and, in one of Winters’s gravel-voiced narrations, we are told, “He could shoot a pistol real good. Back in those days, that was the difference between you living and you dying.”

Together with a handful of others, including the excellent Greg Bronson (Western X, Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink, Coyote Requiem), the likeable Sam Keller (Mimi and Mo, A ‘K’night Lost in Translation) and the lovely Sandy Penny (Trial 2020, Re-Do), these characters form a cadre determined to get out of Crumpit’s Double Peach Saloon and find a safe haven away from the threat of zombies. It’s entertaining and fun for anyone who enjoys kicking back and watching cowboys and zombies with maximum hijinks and minimal gore. These are the sort of slow-moving zombies that we’d all like to encounter if/when the apocalypse happens – but only because they’d be easy to shoot and relatively easy to outrun.

A043_C025_0826I5I came away from this film thinking that it worked, less like a stand-alone movie, and more like the pilot for a proposed TV series. Given the success of Deadwood and The Walking Dead I could understand how this would be a zeitgeist idea to be pitched to the studio bosses behind the big box sets. Maybe it could even have been called The Walking Deadwood.

And, having said that all of that, who doesn’t love cowboys and zombies?