Archive for March, 2016

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On the list of things that might mark a fledgling low-budget indie horror filmmaker as being the ambitious sort, adding material to no less a societal cornerstone than The Bible itself probably ranks somewhere near the top, but how you get from dysfunctional family drama to that is — well, let’s just say “not an easy path to travel,” shall we? Because it’s not. And to be honest, why somebody would even try it in the first place is well and truly beyond my understanding. But what the heck, I’m not Ben Jehoshua.

Nor do I even know who Ben Jehoshua is, really — all I know about him  is that he directed (and co-wrote, along with one Barry Jay Stich) a movie that I watched on Netflix last night, 2015’s The Chosen. And based on the evidence offered here, I don’t think Mr. Jehoshua needs to worry about becoming a household name anytime soon.

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I hate to bad-mouth a guy who’s obviously trying to do his best, I really do, but before “giving something your all,” as the saying goes, it usually helps to make sure that said “something” is worth the effort, and The Chosen is such a confused piece of work from start to finish that walking away from it in utter disgust and/or despair would seem a more logical course of action on the part of its makers than putting in the long weeks, perhaps even months, that were required to get it “in the can.” And yet persevere they did — for reasons known only to them — and what we’re left with is an obvious labor of love that’s pretty hard to actually like.

The basic set-up goes like this : little(-ish) Angie (played by Mykala Sohn) lives with her uncle, Charlie (Kian Lawley, the nominal “star” of the film) and his mom (Elizabeth Keener), who in turn live with her parents (Chris Gann and Dayna Devon) and her brother (Casey James). The elder members of the family are all hopeless alcoholics, but Angie’s been placed/fallen into their care because her own mother (Angelica Chitwood) is a drug addict, and apparently that’s worse than being a drunk.

But wait! We’re not done! Our “hero,” Uncle Charlie, interrupts a demonic sacrifice with his niece in tow one evening (hey, shit happens) and now the demon being summoned has taken up residence inside the little girl, but it’s not just any demon — it’s the spirit of Adam (of Adam and Eve fame)’s first wife, who’s actually the first female that ever existed, and was apparently dumped by her old man in favor of some new bitch who came along that grew from his own rib. So, I mean, she’s been mad a long time and definitely won’t go away easy.

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I may have one or two of the above details mixed-up, I suppose, but it doesn’t really matter all that much because, well, the story’s just not very involving and deteriorates into fairly standard-issue “possessed child” stuff pretty quickly. I give Jehoshua credit for coaxing reasonably good performances out of his entire cast from top to bottom, as well as for judicious use of his no-doubt-meager special effects budget, but on the whole that’s about all The Chosen really has going for it, and in the end that’s simply not a strong enough skeletal structure to drape a paper-thin — and thread-bare — concept over.

Could it be worse? Oh, hell yes, without question — we’ve seen this same trope absolutely butchered by hands less skilled than these. But it could also be a whole hell of a lot better by ditching a lot of the extraneous plot elements and simplifying things down to something more attainable by such a modest production. It’s called “knowing your limits,” and while I certainly respect the idea of shooting for the moon, if the ship you’ve built isn’t even physically capable of getting you out of low-Earth orbit, then you either need to somehow hustle up the time and money required to build a better one, or set your sights a little lower and do a better job of achieving your more modest aims. Otherwise you’re just gonna burn up in the atmosphere.

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And now that we’ve stretched that particular (and, who are we kidding, pretty damn forced) metaphor well beyond its breaking point, I’ll wrap things up on a much more simple and straightforward note by saying that watching The Chosen isn’t how you should choose to spend 90 minutes (or thereabouts) of your life.

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Isn’t it nice when a movie that you really, desperately want to be good turns out to be even better than you were hoping for?  Of course it is, and if you can’t root for an independent, low-budget Canadian horror film starring Henry fucking Rollins as an immortal cannibalistic killer, well — you, sir (or ma’am) clearly have no heart whatsoever.

Still, just in case you require any further proof of the inherent awesomeness of writer/director Jason Krawczyk’s 2015 feature He Never Died, here’s a quick rundown of the plot particulars : Jack (Rollins) is, in addition to being the most deadpan protagonist this side of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” perpetually bored — albeit by choice. His life is routine in the extreme, consisting mostly of eating at the same diner every day, watching TV, and playing bingo. We slowly come to learn that he’s limiting his human interaction simply because he’s both tired of the pain that comes with outliving everyone he gets to know, and because he’s frankly bored with satiating his hunger the old-fashioned way. Still, when his blood supplier (and the closest thing he’s got to a friend), Jeremy (played by Booboo Stewart) gets in deep with a local loan shark who’s not above tasking his minions with collecting on the debts owed him violently, Jack is forced out of retirement and an epic, operatic bloodbath ensues that will test whether or not he can put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak, or if all those decades of living the quiet life have been in vain.

Complicating matters slightly is the fact that his regular waitress, Cara (Kate Greenhouse) seems to have a crush on him, and complicating matters considerably is the fact that he’s just learned that he has a grown daughter named Andrea (Jordan Todosey) who actively wants to get to know him. How’s a guy who’s been doing his best to lay low supposed to react when this much domestic drama is suddenly foisted upon him against his wishes?

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Rollins, in case you hadn’t already guessed, absolutely kills it (yes, lame pun intended) in this flick, and in a just and fair world would probably have garnered some serious Oscar consideration. That didn’t happen, though, so he’s just gonna have to settle for what praise he can get from those of us who know what we’re talking about. His co-stars are uniformly good as well, have no fear on that score, but this film is as close to a one-man tour de force as you’re like to see this year.

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A brilliant casting choice isn’t all that Krawczyk did right here, though — not by a long shot. The overall tone he establishes for his film leans comedic, to be sure, but it never fully crosses the line into self-parody or spoof, even though it easily could, and that impeccable sense of restraint really pays off once the blood starts flowing and the bodies start piling up. Is the violence absurd and over the top? Of course it is — but it’s not presented in a manner that suggests it’s purely for laughs and entirely without consequence. It’s horrific — in the best sense of the word — but still relayed on a human scale that necessarily heightens and accentuates its impact. In short, you’re going to feel this one every bit as much as you see it.

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Of course, the brilliant subtlety of Rollins’ performance ensures that as he changes — for the worse — it’s a genuinely jarring experience for viewers, and that’s a sure sign of an actor who gets what he’s doing. You’re still going to be rooting for the guy no matter how savage and uncontrolled he becomes, though, and that’s the mark of good acting and good directing. He Never Died walks a tonal tightrope from start to finish, but Krawczyk and his cast unfailingly keep their balance at all times and the end result is a film that I have no doubt will accrue an ever-larger cult following to itself as the years go by. It’s streaming on Netflix right now and I strongly suggest you get in on the ground floor so that you can say “I told you so” when this thing becomes the next big “midnight movie” sensation.

 

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One thing about being paranoid — sometimes it can actually give you a little bit of, believe it or not, clarity.

Take, for instance, the advance reviews for Zack Snyder’s heavily-anticipated Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice that have been appearing online over the last few days. After literally years of hype, the movie itself is finally here and so, it would seem, is the moment of truth — not only for it, but for the entire nascent DC cinematic universe. Only truth seems to be pretty hard to come by, at least as far as this flick is concerned, among the self-appointed arbiters of public opinion working the digital plantation.

To be sure, the vast majority of critics out there seem to either mildly dislike or actively loathe it (for proof of this look no further than its current 32% score on Rotten Tomatoes), and most for the same nebulous-at-best reasons : it’s “too dark,” they say, or “not much fun” (complaints which seem to have resonated with the “suits” at Warner Brothers, who are already busily assuring the masses that the forthcoming Justice League film will have a “lighter tone” to it — despite the fact that it will be overseen by the same director). But a little bit of legwork shows that many — shit, maybe even most — of these same self-appointed judges of artistic merit (hey! Kinda like me!) were only last week lauding to high heaven the sadistically grim, pessimistic, joyless, 13-hour bloodbath that was season two of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, and a few months back were equally effusive in their praise of the just-as-dour (and frankly sexually, racially, and politically repugnant) Jessica Jones, another product of the so-called “House Of Ideas.” Dis/Mar have been called out on their “whisper campaigns” against competing “product” (and let’s face it, that’s what super-hero movies are) before — most notably those directed against studios that held the cinematic rights to their own characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men — and it doesn’t take any great genius to see that the same thing could easily be going on here. Film critics, by and large, are an even cheaper investment than politicians, and for the price of a free pass to your next blockbuster or, better yet, the promise of a set tour should they ever happen to be in Hollywood, most of ’em will say just about anything.

On the other side of the coin, though, a scant few minutes of “assignment prep” reveals that some of the (admittedly few) voices of support for Batman V Superman, particularly in the comics press, are coming from people who give positive write-ups to even the most blatantly and obviously lousy DC comics (in other words, most of them). I won’t name any names, but when I found that one of the most glowing reviews of BvS I came across online was written by someone who also had nothing but terrific things to say about the painfully creatively bankrupt Dark Knight III : The Master Race, I was hardly surprised.

And so that aforementioned paranoia of mine has, I think, paid off, since it allowed (or forced, take your pick) me to actually go into this movie today trusting no one’s opinion,  and with absolutely nothing in terms of expectations one way or another. I have to say — it felt kinda good. The “good vibes” didn’t last, though — but maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing?  Bear with me as I attempt to explain —

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Plenty of movies can leave you feeling emotionally drained, psychologically confused, or even a scarred, blubbering wreck, but with Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice, Zack Snyder has crafted something that may very well be the first of its kind — a film that leaves you feeling physically exhausted. You have no real reason to be, of course, since all you’ve been doing for the previous two and a half hours is sitting on your ass, but seriously — this isn’t so much a movie as it is a full-scale sensory assault that just so happens to use celluloid as its weapon of choice. Snyder knocks you flat on the mat within the first few minutes and never lets you catch your breath, much less get up. There are points where one is tempted to do their best Roberto Duran impersonation and simply say “no mas,” but truth be told there isn’t even time for that. Between DP Larry Fong’s almost-overly-arresting visuals, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s insistent, percussive musical score, David Brenner’s breakneck-paced editing, and a script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that clearly suffers from an acute case of ADD, the word we’re looking for here is relentless.

And yet, believe it or not, I say that with a certain degree of admiration. Snyder has always been about spectacle over substance, and in many ways is the perfect blockbuster director for the overly-media-saturated “information” (insert loud snorting sound here) age we live in. His film adaptations of 300 and Watchmen were essentially straight-up visual Cliff’s Notes translations of their comic book antecedents and the sophisticated sleight-of-hand he developed working on those projects to conceal the fact that he literally had nothing (or at least nothing new) up his sleeve actually serves him quite well here. That’s because the story for BvS is a paper-thin affair — although even at that there are still plot holes large and obvious enough to plow the new, muscled-up Batmobile through — that is, at its core, a confused mash-up of the classic Batman story The Dark Knight Returns and the 1990s-speculator-market-driven Superman storyline Doomsday (or The Death And Return Of Superman, if you prefer) that sees an older, more world-weary, decidedly more brutal Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck) conclude that Superman (Henry Cavill) is an existential threat to the human race that he’s going to end, until the two of them realize that they’re both, to one degree or another, being played for suckers by ruthless billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who resorts to “Plan B” — a standard-issue CGI monster, wouldn’t ya know — when his “Plan A” of getting ’em to kill each other off doesn’t work out. Fortunately, at the hour of our heroes’ greatest need, a new and unexpected ally turns up in the form of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and the day is saved — but at a decidedly heavy cost. There are a handful of nods thrown in the direction of purported “real-world issues” like, I dunno, what we’d do if there actually were a super-being, but they’re not examined with anything like genuine depth since Snyder and his screenwriters clearly have a firm opinion on the matter, anyway. And why not?  Said super-being is one of the stars of their movie, after all.

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That’s probably about as deep into “spoiler” territory as I care to get, but I will say this much: Snyder-bashers can take heart — the same shortcomings he’s exhibited in previous efforts are on full display here, as well. His actors are left largely to “do their own thing” while he concentrates on assembling his frenetic, hyper-stylized symphony for the eyes. With a veteran cast such as the one assembled for this production that’s really not much of a problem — Affleck doesn’t deliver a performance anywhere near as good as Michael Keaton’s definitive turns under the cowl from nearly 30 years ago (goddamn but I suddenly feel really old) but is probably the best Batman and Bruce Wayne we’ve seen since, Eisenberg is a frenzied whirlwind of tech-billionaire menace as Luthor (think of an even more ruthless, amoral, and mentally unbalanced version of his take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network),  Amy Adams radiates quiet confidence and capability as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons uses Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred as a jumping-off point for his “Q from James Bond” interpretation of the character, and solid pros like Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane turn in, well — sold pro work as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Martha Kent, respectively.  Both Scoot McNairy and, especially, Holly Hunter knock it out of the park in supporting roles clearly beneath their talents, though, and while that, sure, is a good thing on paper (and on screen), when each of them is so obviously better than the material they’re given, it shines a bit of a light on how lackluster that material actually is.

The two names missing from that laundry list of actors, though, offer stark evidence of both the pluses and minuses of Snyder’s “spectacle above all” approach : Henry Cavill just doesn’t seem to be asked to do much as Superman other than show up and look perfect and he responds accordingly, while Gal Gadot, whose directives were probably more or less the same, doesn’t just steal, but robs, beats, and runs away with her scant few minutes’ of screen time. It’s the most stark difference between “just doing your job” and “doing your job to the very best of your ability” that I’ve seen in recent memory. Bring on 2017’s Wonder Woman already! No rush on that Man Of Steel sequel, though — and funny enough, there’s not one currently planned, either.

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As I’m sure the previous paragraphs have no doubt ably demonstrated (and if not, my bad) Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice is a mixed bag. But at least it’s an exhilarating, breathtaking one. Nowhere near the trainwreck its probably-purchased detractors would have you believe and nowhere near the triumph its probably-purchased cheerleaders are fighting against the tide to convince you it is, at the end of the day it’s a brutally operatic demonstration of the best and worst of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking (particularly Zack Snyder’s version of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking) duking it out right in front of your pinned-open eyes : as cinema it leaves a lot to be desired, but as pure spectacle it’s hard to imagine how it can be topped.

 

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And so — here it is. Five years on from the release of his last original graphic novel, Wilson, comes (at long last) the ironically-titled Patience, Daniel Clowes’  self-described “cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love.” Which only sounds like it doesn’t make any sense but is, in actuality, a stellar example of truth in advertising.

Confused yet? There’s really no need to be, even though Patience hails from that frequently-most-confusing-of-all genres, the time-travel story (I won’t call it  science fiction because the “science” involved in this book is clearly and plainly absolute hokum) — and that’s down to the simple fact that Clowes actually keeps things fairly straight-forward here, and is, as always, much more concerned with his characters than he is with the plot devices he employs getting them from their various “Point A”s to their “Point B”s. And frankly, those characters feel pretty well instantly familiar to anyone who’s followed his creative oeuvre through the decades.

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Our protagonist this time out is one Jack Barlow, at first glance a standard-issue luckless Clowesian archetype who has found what passes for undeserved salvation in the form of his wife, the titular Patience, and their soon-to-be-born first child (the story, in fact, opens with the moment of the baby’s conception detailed in stark close-up). Sure, they’re broke, and sure, he’s bullshitting her about a job he doesn’t really have, and sure, she’s still coming to grips with her fucked-up past, but somehow — some way — Jack just knows things are gonna work out. Until an intruder breaks into their apartment and kills Patience, their unborn offspring, and his entire future in one go.

When next we meet him Jack’s a bitter old man in the year 2029 who hasn’t allowed himself a moment’s happiness in 17 years. A crackpot would-be scientist offers a “solution” most would scoff at in the form of a mechanical-and-drug-induced time travel method, and our now-pathetically-desperate “hero” is just dumb and/or bottomed-out enough to give it a go. Lo and behold it works, of course, and as we journey from 2029 to 2006 to 1985 to, eventually, the “present” (okay, 2012) again, what changes even more than the  period settings is Jack’s level of single-minded, frankly harrowing, determination. We’ve already established (or at least I’ve opined) that all Clowes stories are character studies first and foremost, and obsession is common theme in his work that goes all the way back to Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron‘s Clay and absolutely informs each and every action of the title characters in David Boring and Wilson. One could also argue, though — and quite successfully — that characters like Ghost World‘s Enid and Mister Wonderful‘s Marshall are clearly obsessives in their own right, as well. So, yeah — familiar turf here for anyone who’s been following along since Eightball.

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Don’t take that to mean that that there’s nothing new under the sun with this story, though. Clowes has played in various genre sandboxes before, of course, from super-heroes to surrealism to autobiography to noir fiction (elements of which certainly make their presence felt here in Jack’s constantly-running, world-weary internal monologue that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Raymond Chandler novel — hmm, Barlow as Marlowe?), but never has he wedded a deconstruction of their trappings so closely with the overall “arc” of his characters. And never has he given his typically-unlikable central figure such a concrete and well-realized reason for being a self-centered ass — nor to, believe it or not, cheer for him. Or at the very least for his aims.

Maybe the years are mellowing Clowes, or maybe he’s just adopted a more holistic view of the human condition for reasons known only to him, but whatever the reason,  redemption never feels completely out of reach for Jack in these pages and, more crucially, we never feel like he, his wife, and his child don’t have it coming. Especially not after all they’ve been through.  Jack in particular may not always be easy to like — but he’s always easy to empathize with, and that speaks to a further maturation and honing of his creator’s already-exceptional storytelling skills.

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As far as the art in Patience is concerned, Clowes’ line-work is a bit less “tight,” and more “free-form,” than it used to be, and while every page of every panel is still instantly recognizable as coming from his hand, there’s a fluidity and dynamism to it that is a more recent — and entirely welcome — development. The psychedelic double-page spreads (such as the one pictured above) that we’re treated to here probably would have missed the mark by at least a hair if attempted by the Daniel Clowes of, say, 1996, but the Daniel Clowes of 2016 absolutely nails ’em with every bit as much bravado and confidence as he brings to the refreshingly- non-photo-referenced images of 1985 and 2006 bleak American suburbia. This is, simply put, an astonishing book to look at, and the lavish colors are the perfect icing on the metaphorical cake.

At the end of the day it’s, of course, an astonishing book to read. I’ve made it through Patience, cover-to-cover, twice now, and I have no doubt that many more a sitting will be spent eagerly re-examining its contents. We’re barely over three months into 2016, it’s true, but barring an absolute miracle of Earth-shaking proportions, I fully well expect this to go down as the graphic novel of the year — if not of the last several.

 

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Real quick — what’s the sleaziest movie you’ve ever seen? Strong arguments can be made for a number of contenders, ranging from Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle In America and Porno Holocaust to Passolini’s Salo (whoops! That’s an “art” film), but given the common national origin if those entrants, perhaps I should re-phrase the question to read : what’s the sleaziest movie not directed by an Italian that you’ve ever seen? In answer to that, may I humbly submit for your consideration Island Of Death.

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Known around the world by various titles ranging from its original, Ta Paidia Tou Diavolou, to Devils In Myknonos, to Island Of Perversion, to A Craving For Lust (and it ended up on Britian’s banned list of “video nasties”no matter what they called it), Greek writer/director Nico Mastorakis freely admits that his main goal with this 1976 production was to outdo Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on the shock-scale in the hopes of making a quick buck. The first part of that equation he certainly succeeded at ; the second, well — he seems to be doing alright, so hopefully that worked out, too.

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When apparently-vibrant-and-youthful British couple Christoper (played by Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) arrive on the idyllic Greek island of Mykonos, they would seem to be nothing other than a pair of typical young lovebirds enjoying each other’s company and an exotic vacation destination. He’s a confirmed shutterbug who’s never without his camera, while she seems to be “the quiet one.” Neither of them can really act worth a damn, but trust me when I say you’ll have other things to pay attention to soon enough. They quickly find a house to rent and settle in, but it doesn’t take long before we realize there’s something deeply wrong with the two of them: the fact that he decides to call his mother while they’re fucking in a phone booth is probably the first clue, but that’s purely minor-league stuff compared to the veritable laundry-list of depravities that follows. How does Christopher take care of his “morning wood” at dawn the next day when Celia won’t “put out,” for instance? Why, he takes a stroll down to the garden, screws a baby goat, and then slits the poor creature’s throat. And if that’s not enough for you, once the couple’s true vocation becomes clear — seducing anyone, male or female, before photographing “the deed” and then killing them — you should, I hope, require no further convincing that these are two hopelessly warped degenerates. In fact, they’re hopelessly warped degenerates who are on the run from INTERPOL, who are now hot on their heels thanks to that phone booth stunt — memo to dumbass : even in 1976, the cops could trace a call.

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Christopher seems to be the number-one sicko of the bunch, forcing an offensively-portrayed flamboyant homosexual to fellate a gun, crucifying a guy he “catches” Celia having sex with and pouring paint down his throat, engineering a lynching from a plane, dispatching one of his victims with a spear gun — you get the idea. In one scene where he lures a lonely and, it must be said, unattractive older female into bed, he decides to take a piss on her — only to have her get off on it, which sends him into a bloodthirsty rage that ends with a sickly creative decapitation. No stone goes unturned when it comes to his debasement of man, woman —and, yes, animal. But Celia’s not just along for the ride here, she’s an active participant in the debauchery herself, and when it comes time for one of them to dispose of the other in order to ensure their own continued freedom, well — Christopher finds he’s well and truly met his match. Oh, and we learn, in the film’s climactic finale that sees her drowning him in a pit of lye. that they’re not husband and wife, but — drumroll please — brother and sister.

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So, yeah, it’s all here, and served up with a heaping portion of disdain for racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities, to boot. I’m tempted to say something glib like “they sure don’t make ’em like this anymore!,” but the truth is that they didn’t make many of ’em like this even then, and if you’ve spent your entire life in an intermittent-but-obsessive quest for the absolute bottom of the cinematic barrel (as I freely admit I have), congratulations — you may just have found it.

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And if you’ve found it by way of Arrow Video’s new(-ish) Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, you’ve found it in better shape than ever thanks to a package that features an amazing 2K full-frame restoration, fully restored mono sound, and an amazing array of extras that includes a perhaps-overly-lengthy-but-still-fascinating 105-minute retrospective of Mastorakis’ career; a 20-plus-minute on-camera interview with the director; a featurette that sees him returning to the movie’s original filming locations; a healthy selection of trailers for his other films — shit, the list is endless. I understand that there was a terrific commentary track included on this flick’s earlier DVD release from Arrow that wasn’t “ported over” to this new Blu-ray due to some sort of rights dispute, but still — you can’t have everything. Unless you want every sick, irredeemable, repulsive, morally indefensible act you can imagine, as well as quite a few you can’t,  played right out in front of your eyes. Island Of Death most definitely  has that.

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A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, a little kid named Ed Jr. decided that he’d clean out his father’s guns for him as a birthday surprise. Dad (Ed Sr., as you’ve probably already guessed) was a big game hunter, you see, and had a cabinet full of rifles and shotguns. One of which goes off accidentally when Ed Jr. is messing with it, blows a hole through the door, and, more crucially, blows a hole through mom. Ed Jr., shockingly, grows up to be a normal college kid. Ed Sr. grows into an old and bitter alcoholic serial killer bent on revenge. Their paths are about to cross.

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Nope, there’s not much mystery as to “whodunnit” in one-and-done North Carolina-based writer/director Buddy Cooper’s (with a “co-director” credit going to John Douglass) 1984 slasher The Mutilator (also released under the considerably duller title of Fall Break),  but what the hell, right? The early ’80s was a Golden Age for slasher fans, and as long as we get some bare boobs, inventive kills, and plenty of that good, gooey red stuff, well — we weren’t gonna complain, right? And once Ed Jr. (played by Matt Mitler) and his friends  — a generally likable posse consisting of prudish virgin girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez), wise-ass practical joker Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), and “good-time girl” Sue (Connie Rogers) — show up at Ed Sr.’s beachfront condo to booze and fuck (at least as far as Ralph and Sue go) their titular fall break away and get a load of the old man’s big game trophies and his bizarre photo collection (including a shot of one of his hunting buddies who was “accidentally” killed on safari), it’s pretty obvious that things are bound to play out as we expect. And if that doesn’t give it away, the exotic weapons collection — minus a missing battle axe(!) — certainly does the job.

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One big strike The Mutilator has going against it is that things take a long time to get going, but Cooper and company certainly make up for lost time once they do. There aren’t that many people for Ed Sr. to , well, mutilate in this flick (although you can add one with the local cop), especially considering that we get not one but two surviors here (no bonus points for figuring out who they are), but the early-days practical effects work from Mark Shostrom, who would go on to have a pretty good career for himself, is top-notch considering the budget, and Cooper reveals himself to have a grotesquely morbid imagination with scenes like the classic giant-fish-hook-tearing-through-a-vagina number. He may not have been one to deviate from the tried-and-true slasher formula in any appreciable way, but a deviant ? He’s got that base covered without question.

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The come-uppance at the end is solid stuff, too, it must be said, and stretches the “why won’t this bastard just die already????” trope so far beyond it’s breaking point as to almost be considered — dare I say it — charming. As are some of the wretched “day-for-night” shooting errors, acting struggles among the principal cast (who are uniformly a half-decade or more too old for their roles), and curiously-chosen camera angles. Everybody here’s trying, but their reach exceeds their grasp a good portion of the time, and if you’ve got a problem with that, well — you’re probably not reading this site in the first place.

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I’m not sure there was much of a clamor among anyone but the most hardened gore-hounds for The Mutilator to receive a truly deluxe Blu-ray release, but whaddya know — the fine folks at Arrow Video, who are busy setting a new standard of excellence for exploitation and horror on a shockingly consistent basis — have given us one anyway with last month’s unleashing of this regional low-budget rarity as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack featuring a stunning 2k widescreen restoration, crystal-clear (for the most part) mono sound, and more extras than you can shake a stolen battle axe at, including two full-length commentary tracks (one featuring Cooper and assistant make-up and sound man Edmund Ferrell, the other featuring Cooper and Martinez); a make-up and FX-centric featurette with Shostrom; a music-themed interview with score composer Michael Minard; a collection of various trailers for the film under both titles; an impressive stills gallery; the original screenplay in .PDF format; a very cool reversible sleeve; extensive liner notes; two versions of the film’s bizarrely bubbly theme song performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers; a bunch of raw behind-the-scenes footage; outtakes from screen tests of the various actors; and, oh yeah, the centerpiece of it all, a 75-minute “making-of” documentary entitled Fall Breakers that re-unites almost all the principles involved in front of and behind the camera for the most exhaustive look at this production anyone has — or will — ever put together. Whew! This package is a doozy!

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At the end of the day, The Mutilator is hardly a classic entry into the slasher canon, but considering that Buddy Cooper made this thing for the paltry sum of $86,000 (money that he got, he mysteriously says, “for something I sold”) and the folks at Arrow had to go all the way to the Library of Congress to finally track down a decent print, it’s fair to say that both the film itself and its restoration for this release are labors of true love. If that interests you as much as it does me, then the $25-30 you drop to purchase this will be money very well spent indeed.

Another new one for Graphic Policy website.

Graphic Policy

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So-called “taboo” (generally a euphemism employed by folks with hang-ups in place of the word “interesting”) sexual practices have been a long-standing obsession/concern of Peter Milligan‘s for years now, and he’s dealt with them with a reasonable amount of what we can loosely call “success” in series like The Extremist and Enigma, but it’s been quite a while since he well and truly took us for a walk on the wild side. Oh, sure, The Names played around with stepmom-and-stepson themes, but never really took it beyond the level of cheap titillation, and New Romancer has hinted at some of the more scandalous aspects of Lord Byron’s well-renowned sexual — uhhhmmm — adventurism, but he hasn’t guided us inside the minds of the perverse/frustrated/unfulfilled/bored to show us what drives them into the purportedly “darker” corners of the realm of eros for what feels like ages now. A lot…

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