Black Beach (2021)

Author’s Note: Due to the somewhat controversial subject matter of this film — political intrigue in a West Africa country by white businessmen — please note this is a film review that addresses the creative art of filmmaking only. This review is not a political dissertation in support of or in contradiction of any sociopolitical belief system and is not intended to incense any reader regarding race, social or free speech/opinion issues. This review was written to expose a film that attempts to help the viewer reach an understanding regarding the universal ills of corruption in our world.

“Mama never thought you were a bad person. She just thought you brought bad luck.”
— Ada to Carlos

Carlos and Susan (real life acting couple Raúl Arévalo and Melina Matthews) reside in Brussels, Belgium, where Carlos is an expectant father — his wife is eight months pregnant — and a corporate lawyer for the Euro-division of a U.S. oil company. His mother, Elena, works as a diplomat at the United Nations (when we first meet the couple, Carlos’s mother is the guest of honor at — an exquisitely-shot — U.N. award dinner). Both live with the hopes that their current, upper-class life of luxury will only grow as Carlos vies for a full-associates position with the corporation and relocate his soon-to-be-expanded family to New York City.

Of course, the catch, i.e, blackmail, to securing the promotion is for Carlos to travel to a remote, West African island country off the coast of the Republic of Ghana. His “mission” is to negotiate the release of Steve Campbell, an American oil engineer, who’s been kidnapped by a rebel insurgent, Calixto Batete (Madrid, Spain-born and New York-trained Jimmy Castro) — who’s a former friend of Carlos.

Forced into using an old friend against the island nation’s democratically-corrupt government? To save a deal for drilling rights on a newly discovered, large oil deposit? Yeah, this isn’t going to go all to film noir hell-in-a-hand-basket.

To earn the release of Campbell, Carlos enlists another old friend and colleague, Alejandra, and her girlfriend Eva. Through them he discovers that Calixto married Carlos’s ex-girlfriend, Ada, and their son, Cal Jr., is the thought-to-be-aborted son of Carlos. Amidst Carlos’s skeletons falling out of the closet, he comes to discover the kidnapping plot is a scam designed to retrieve damning documents regarding the oil company’s clandestine operations with the county’s corrupt president, who’s aligned with the terrorist organization MIA, which lead to a genocide of the island’s citizens, the Zandes.

Complicating matters is that he must travel to Black Beach, where the rebels are holding the kidnapped Ada. (The film’s title is a reference to the volcanic-deposited black sand beaches along the African coast; however, here, it is a reference to the prison where Ada is being held; think U.S. unacknowledged “black site/black operation.”) And once Carlos discovers the critical documents (at about the one hour fifteen minute mark), the film goes dark, as Carlos is on the run across Zandes’ lands and the government’s armies callously mow down citizens with a machine-gunned equipped helicopter; the Zandees fight back with machetes and rocket launchers — and it’s bloody and gruesome.

Black Beach is a world where everyone is corrupt: the oil company, the African government, and the United Nations . . . and everyone’s souls. And you feel the poverty and fears faced by the West African peoples.

As with any James M. Cain or Dashiell Hammett tale of yore, all of the noir (yes, intricate) plot corkscrew markers of blackmail, greed, moral corruption, love, lust, and violence are in check. And the exotic, unfamiliar West African locations raise the proceedings above the noir ante norms. I was almost worried we were going to be racing around the streets of Brussels (been there, done that) or New York (not again). So it was nice that the narrative shifted to West Africa for a nice, visual (and very well-shot) change of pace.

These qualities, however, are overlooked as result of many critics-in-the-negative perturbed over the “white savior” aspect of the narrative (?), and reading-in a now de rigueur “white privilege” sub-plot argument where none is needed nor the point of the film; it’s just a retro-film noir piece. Another issue reviewers have is that a black child comes into the care of a white-Hispanic family. Perhaps if a better-known star, like Liam Neeson (Raúl Arévalo reminds me of Sean Penn, but no one is casting Sean in films anytime soon), would make things more palpable, as the familiar allows for an easier digestion of a film.

Others, if not put off by the race-bend of the material, find the plot “confusing” and “long.” Well, again . . . Black Beach, while more-akin to Neeson’s aging-action star films — only with less blow-up, bullet-holed action — is actually a more-twisty noir. But I don’t blame those detractors, I get it. I know, from my own fandom experiences of attempting to expose friends to the film noir genre (I’ve had them tell me, flat out, Double Indemnity, “sucks,” for example), a twist of Cain sours most cups of green tea. (Yes, and I’ve had friends squish their faces when they see me drink green tea . . . “Eww, it’s so bitter, etc.” And so it goes.)

The only downside (for moi) is the film’s length pushing just 10-minutes short of the two-hour mark — thus this film is a takes-it-time slow burn (as a good noir should; if you want quick and easy, watch a U.S. soap opera or cop procedural drama). But Black Beach is, while a Spanish-Belgium made film, no different than any U.S. major studio film that deals in political intrigue. Streaming commenters have taken the film’s subtitles on the Spanish/Euro prints and English dub on the U.S. prints to task as being “out-of-sync,” which made the film a wee difficult to follow. I watched the subtitled version — and skimmed the English dub — and I found no issues in those areas: I followed the film quite clearly.

However, those qualms in no way detract from the quality brought to the screen by Estaban Crespo and his cast of actors (I really like Jimmy Castro in this; his Calixto honestly communicates a loyalty to his country and people). Its multiple award nods in cinematography, editing, and sound are well-warranted. And the acting’s fine, too.

After writing and directing seven shorts, Crespo made his feature film debut with the romantic drama Amar (2017), based on his 2005 short of the same name. Black Beach is his first, widest-exposure and internationally-distributed feature, which shot in Madrid, Spain, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain (The Clash of the Titans and Jesús Franco’s Mansion of the Living Dead were shot there), Brussels, Belgium, and the West African Republic of Ghana.

Disclaimer: We did not receive a screener or review request. We discovered the trailer and streamed it from Netflix on our own. That has no bearing on our review. And we truly enjoyed the movie, film noir detractors, be damned.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

The Excellent Eighties: High Risk (1981)

Oh, the cable TV memories! It was a HUGE deal when HBO was finally offered in my neighborhood and this Stewart Raffill-directed action-comedy will forever be paired in my analog-cerebral cortex with Enzo G. Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards. Another of my Raffill-loved flicks from my cable days of yore was 1978’s The Sea Gypsies, which also needs to find a home on a Mill Creek box set.

We unpacked Raffill’s career with our review of his Star Wars dropping that is The Ice Pirates and his studio-interfered E.T. romp-redux Mac and Me. You can learn more about Stuart Raffill’s career in the pages of Master of the Shoot ’em Ups by reading his chapter (pages 36-43) for free on Google Books.

So lets get into this flick!

While this looks like a drive-in quickie of the Crown International variety, a de rigueur studio when it comes to Mill Creek box sets, this was actually produced by Hemdale Pictures, the studio that brought you the likes of Oliver Stone’s Platoon, James Cameron’s The Terminator, and the teen-angst drama River’s Edge.

Yeah, as with The Ice Pirates and Mac and Me, Raffill didn’t catch a break with this James Brolin-fronted flick that got buried at the box office as result of being released the same week as a somewhat similar action-in-foreign lands romp: Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is Michael Douglas’s Romancing the Stone, sans the rom-com and more action. This is Rambo: First Blood Part II as a dark comedy.

James Brolin is a down on his luck documentary filmmaker who used his filmmaking credentials as a recon-scam on the military regime-backed encampment of a South American drug lord. Recruiting his cash-strapped dork-friends (Bruce “Willard” Davison (Kiss My Grits), Cleavon “Prince of Darkness” Little (FM), and TV character actor and animated voice artist Chick Vennera), the quartet plans a raid on the camp of James Coburn’s drug lord and steal the spoils.

Stockpiled with weapons purchased by Ernest “Cabbie” Borgnine (!) as an illegal weapons dealer (who’s more concerned that they don’t go hunting with the weapons and kill animals), they make their raid — while gaining the ire of mountain bandit Anthony Quinn (Stallone’s Avenging Angelo) and rescuing imprisoned American Lindsay “Bionic Woman” Wagner from jail. The real pisser of the film: twin thespians David and Richard Young (Bradley Cooper lookalikes, no?) as two retro-drug running hippies with their machine-gun mounted DC-3 coming to the rescue — all to the tune of the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” blaring from their cockpit tape deck, machine gun turret on fire, bullets blazing.

See what I mean? This comes highly recommended! And you can watch it as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. If you want to own a copy of High Risk, the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment include it on their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Iris (2020)

Writer, director, and cinematographer Christopher Steinberger made his debut film, the short Pendulum, in 2012. Completing seven more shorts since then, he’s now arrived on Amazon Prime with the action crime-drama, Iris, his feature film debut.

How we came about reviewing Iris is just one of those happy accidents. We received a screener for the arthouse zombie fest Necropath, the feature film debut of Joshua Reale. Courtesy of my Law & Order: SVU fandom, I couldn’t help but recognize the film starred Nathan Faudree, who was a recent guest star on the long-running NBC-TV’s with the episode, “Hell’s Kitchen.” And he stars here, as the nefarious Edward West — and he has an interesting interview and hiring process of his sanctioners.

Carson Jobb, a genius software engineer, creates a powerful, new program. But Charlotte Knapp, his ex-girlfriend and government operative who is always up for a little corporate espionage, steals it for a secret organization. But when she realizes her employers will use the software to breach the security of the United States, her and Carson bury their tumultuous past to retrieve the software — without getting themselves killed.

Producing a self-financed short is hard enough. A feature film, even harder. And when a filmmaker decides to eschew the low-budget go-to narratives of horror (such as Necropath) or comedy (see our recent review for Banging Laine) for their debut feature and goes straight to the action-crime drama genre, that filmmaker better know what they’re doing behind the Final Draft and Canon Reds. And Christopher Steinberger has the skills — and then some — in spades . . . and diamonds.

If you’re spent any amount of time at B&S About Movies, you know that I’m a big fan of the prolific, direct-to-DVD oeuvre of writer-director Steven C. Miller with his films Arsenal , Line of Duty, and First Kill. As result of Miller’s pedigree, he’s able to secure larger budgets that attracts the likes of Nicolas Cage, Hayden Christensen, Aaron Eckhart, Claire Forlani, and Bruce Willis. And I really dig the action work coming from Prince Bagdasarian, who really impressed me with Abducted, his own up-against-the-budget actioner.

Obviously, based on the time it took Steinberger to get from a 2013 short to the eventual feature film version of Iris, he doesn’t have a lot of money to work with to get his films made. But you wouldn’t know it. The production values on Iris — considering it’s an espionage film — are of a stellar quality that evades most low-budget indie streamers. And while he couldn’t get the likes of Bruce Willis or Claire Forlani for his leads, the new-to-the-game Patrick M. Kelly and Michelle Hunter are more than up to the challenge in carrying a feature film. The skilled cast is rounded out Mu-Shaka Benson (who I really want to see more of on screen; he was in the zombie anthology Empire State of the Dead, which includes the short version of Necropath), Stephen Long, and Josef Ritter. I believe each of these actors will surely rise up through the casting ranks into bigger roles in larger films and TV series.

When I watched Nightfire, the fifth student-short production by French-born writer-director Brando Benetton that served as his college thesis project shot on a low budget in 14 days — with notable character actor Dylan Baker in the cast — I was truly impressed by the work. And while Christopher Steinberger wasn’t afforded the luxuries of Benetton’s espionage action-drama, I was still equally impressed with the work. It’s only a matter of time before established producers take notice, loosen the purse strings, and Steinberger comes to work with the Dylan Bakers and Nick Cages on his later films.

Stream it. It’s worth the admission price.

You can learn more about the film at the Watchworks Studios Facebook page and director Christopher Steinberger’s official website. You can stream Iris now, on Amazon Prime.

Disclaimer: We didn’t receive a screener or review request from the producers, distributor, or their P.R. firms. We watched the trailer and requested the film from the filmmakers ourselves.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

The Excellent Eighties: Agency (1980)

A millionaire is suspected of buying an ad agency to use it as a way of brainwashing the public for his political ends. Hmm . . . subliminal messaging through inaudible sounds and images hidden in TV audio signals and magazine spreads . . . John Carpenter’s They Live, anyone?

The millionaire here is the mysterious Ted Quinn (Robert Mitchum) who buys out the giant Montreal ad agency Porter & Stripe where Philip Morgan (Lee Majors) serves as its top copywriter and project manager. Of course, as with any corporate takeover, half of the firm’s staff is soon blown out the door and replaced by “Quinn’s people.” And Morgan is getting the old “do you like your job” trope when he complains about being kept out of the loop on the firm’s new accounts.

Next thing you know, the firm’s geeky-and-too-nosey-for-his-own-good Sam Goldstein (very familiar Canadian actor Saul Rubinek), who discovered Quinn is using the firm’s new slew of commercial spots to influence a political election, ends up dead. Now it’s up to Lee and Valerie Perrine, as his love interest, natch, to get to the bottom of the advertising-cum-political tomfoolery.

I love Lee Majors, and Robert Mitchum is always cool in-the-role (but barely here; this is a Lee Majors joint, after all), but when cheapo Canadian tax shelters films masquerade as an American-made film by casting beloved U.S. actors in lead roles, what we usual end up with is, not a theatrical film, but a telefilm that pisses us off by baiting us with Lee Majors.

If this had been made in the early ’70s by a major U.S. studio, say MGM or 20th Century Fox — and cast Charlton Heston as the ad man discovering the subliminal political campaign — and had Paddy Chayefsky adapt Paul Gottlieb’s superior, best-selling novel for Sidney Lumet to direct — Agency could have been a twisted sci-fi version of the Academy Award-winning Network. Or we could have had Madison Avenue taken to task in a political paranoia thriller that reminded of director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter Robert Towne’s The Parallax View.

I love my Lee Majors joints, but — through no fault of his own (his Fawcett-Majors Productions didn’t back this one) — Agency is a flat-as-a-pancake conspiracy thriller providing a non-intriguing conspiracy devoid of thrills. If you’re in the market for sci-fi conspiracy thrillers of the ’80s HBO-variety, then stick with Micheal Crichton’s Looker from 1981 starring Albert Finney — at least that one had some computer 3D modeling and funky light-hypnosis guns to wow us. Of course, when it comes to subliminal conspiracies of the Canadian variety, none is finer than David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

You can watch Agency on You Tube or watch it as a free-with-ads stream courtesy of IMDb TV’s Amazon Prime channel (caveat: both are fuzzy VHS-to-DVD rips). In 2001, Anchor Bay issued a now out-of-print DVD version, which, no surprise, is the best of the DVD transfers in the market. If you’re a Lee Majors Canadian film completist, then you’ll want to seek out the 1984 TV movie The Cowboy and the Ballerina (we found a clip on You Tube).

Luckily, the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment come through in the clutch by including Agency on their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Excellent Eighties: Second Sight: A Love Story (1984)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to Mill Creek Month! As you know, we love our Mill Creek box sets, so we’re doing an entire month of these films. The first set we got into was their B-Movie Blast 50-Film pack, then their Gorehouse Greats 12-Pack. And as with those sets — as is par for the course with these bricks of films, with their mashups of movie mayhem their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie set is no different, with its crazy mix of drive-in ditties and lost network TV movies across all genres. So, to start our unpacking of this set . . . here’s our first review!

Oh, boy, Sam . . . when this was first assigned to me as “Second Sight” — without romantic the suffix — I thought I’d have to fly off the top ropes of the Civic Arena and whoop-ass Shirley Doe (my boss’s wrestling altar ego) for stickin’ it to me with that friggin’ John Larroquette monstrosity from 1989, you know, from back in the day when Bronson Pinchot was a “thing,” poised as the next Robin Williams . . . Bess Armstrong’s heart-weeping cuteness (Jaws 3-D) in the film, be damned. . . .

Sorry, Sam.

As it turns out, this debut entry on this Mill Creek set is an ’80s CBS-TV movie based on the best-selling romance novel Emma and I by Sheila Hocken. The “Emma” in this case, is a dog.

What? Why are you snickering? What gives with the eye rolls?

I’m not a totally heartless B-Movie slob. I can be romantic! Just not Hallmark Channel-romantic . . . only old “Big Three Network” romantic. And I’ll take a romantic dog-chick flick over a psychic-infused Balki Bartokomous flick any day of the week — and twice on Sundays.

How obscure and lost is this film: it’s easier to find a clean image of the book than the TV adverts or DVDs.

TV movie powerhouse Elizabeth Montgomery shines (as always) as Alexandra McKay, a woman who has been blind for nearly 20 years. Fearful that people will take advantage of her condition, she’s staunchly independent, living a sheltered, private life — a world where she only trusts her best friend: her always dependable guide dog, Emma. She allows love to enter her life when she meets Richard Chapman, an art dealer. And it’s great to see Barry Newman — of Vanishing Point fame — as said art dealer, allowed to stretch his thespian wings in a dramatic-cum-romantic role.

Now, we know . . . ugh, romance . . . chick flicks . . . argh! So, we’ll play the John Korty card to get you to watch.

John’s career dates back to directing numerous episodes of PBS-TV’s Sesame Street, while his theatrical and TV movie efforts date to the early ’60s. If you grew up in the ’70s, you know John put his previous skills as a documentarian to good use in the TV rating juggernaut Who Are the DeBolts? and Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? that was hosted by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler (The Lords of Flatbush). Korty also wrote and directed Oliver’s Story (1978), the not-as-successful-and-critically-lambasted sequel to the early ’70s standard for maudlin-romance flicks: Love Story (1970). Another one of Korty’s biggies was the civil rights-drama The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974).

But wait, hey you! Star Wars fan: John Korty directed the Lucasian knockoff, The Ewok Adventure (1984).

All in all, this is great stuff. This is why we have Mill Creek sets: to preserve well-made, forgotten films . . . and not just Crown International, B-Movie schlock. Bravo, Mill Creek!

You can watch a VHS rip on You Tube and own Second Sight: A Love Story as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties 50-Movie pack.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Gorehouse Greats Round Up!

And the Mill Creek sets keep on rockin’ our DVD decks! Another 12 movies put to rest. Previously, we jammed on Mill Creek’s B-Movie Blast 50-Film Pack. And we’re not done yet! We unpacking another 50 films to close out the month with Mill Creek’s The Excellent Eights 50-Film Pack.

Every November — to whet our appetites for Halloween — we tackle a Mill Creek box of fifty movies. We started with the Chilling Classics set in 2018 and also did the Pure Terror set in 2019. For 2020, we jammed on the Sci-Fi Invasion set. And Mill Creek’s 12-Packs always come in handy for our theme weeks, such as our recent “Fast and Furious Week,” when we a lot of films, quickly. To that end: the Savage Cinema set did the job. And, back in March, we were so giddy with glee that we finally got our own copy of 9 Deaths of the Ninja courtesy of the Explosive Cinema 12-pack, we paid it forward to Mill Creek and reviewed all of the films in the pack.

Many thanks to Rob Brown, Herbert P. Caine, Dustin Fallon, Robert Freese, Sean Mitus, Bill Van Ryn, Jennifer Upton, and Melody Vera for chipping in with their reviews for our month-long Mill Creek project!

Here’s the Reviews:

Blood Mania (1970)
Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)
Brain Twisters (1991)
The Devil’s Hand (1962)
The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)
Nightmare in Wax (1969)
Prime Evil (1988)
Satan’s Slave (1976)
Stanley (1972)
Terrified (1963)
Terror (1978)
Trip with Teacher (1975)

Get your copy at Amazon and visit Mill Creek!

Gorehouse Greats: Trip with the Teacher (1975)

“That right! You’re just a horny, little bitch!”
— Let the desert hair-pullin’ chick fight games begin

Now, unlike The Young Graduates, which is included on Mill Creek’s B-Movie Blast 50-Film Pack (which we also unpacked this month), this entry on their Gorehouse Greats 12-Film Pack may sound like a softcore T&A romp, but it really is a sexploitation frolic (that’s also out in the wilds of the public domain as Deadly Field Trip). And if that title doesn’t clue you in: this is more horror than sexploitation (thus the reason for it being packed under a “Gorehouse” moniker by Mill Creek). But, knowing Mill Creek, this will eventually pop up on a “Biker Flick” set, as we have psycho bikers in our midst. And truth be told: there’s more bikers than blood here, more hippie than horror.

Your caveat has been served.

In the end, this is just another sleazy, ’70s drive-in take-a-shower-after flick (that reminds of 1973’s The Candy Snatchers, less that film’s ultra-violence) with more slobbering idiots livin’ it up by kidnapping, raping, and terrorizing (four) teenage girls. (One of the bad-girl students — in yummy, yellow shorty-shorts and matching halter top, natch — is Dina Ousley, later of the mainstream sex romp Shampoo with Warren Beatty and American Hot Wax; you’ve seen her spray-painted go-go girls make-up work in the Austin Powers movies.)

As usual, the girl’s bus driven by their teacher, Miss Tenny (Brenda Fogarty), breaks down in the desert on their way to Los Angeles; a trio of bikers (lead by B-Movie stalwart Zalman King of Galaxy of Terror fame) decides to harass them. Of course, these bikers are like the hear-see-speak-no-evil monkeys: one good, one bad, and one that is a confused mess of good and bad, because of his bad, bullying brother (King).

There’s a reason why this sleaze bag of a Russ Meyer-wannabe celluloid programmer was choreographer Earl Barton’s only directing effort — and ended up in public domain. Barton also acted in the requisite, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll flick, Rock Around the Clock, with Bill Haley and the Comets, a film which he also choreographed. Star Fogarty’s biggest claim to fame was starring in the sex comedy Chesty Anderson: U.S. Navy — and that’s a movie that must be seen to be believed.

Again, you can watch this as part of Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats Collection 12-Pack. But, if you’re a connoisseur of all things T&A Drive-In ’70s, Vinegar Syndrome offers a restored DVD-Blu combo.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Alice Fades Away (2021)

“Alice Fades Away is a progressive take on a classic tale. It is about patriarchy, legacy and death but more importantly it’s about perseverance and strength in the face of fear and power by someone who’s not allowed to have her own identity.”
— Director Ryan Bliss on his feature film debut

In the overcrowded streaming-verse with so many movies vying for the hope that we hit the big red streaming button on their film, the casting is the thing. And if you’ve spent any amount of time at B&S About Movies, you know how we champion certain actors in our little ol’ cubicle farm. So, yeah. We’ve watched more than our fair share of Eric Roberts-is-on-the box movies, even if he’s not the “star” of the film, because Eric rocks our analog and digital decks.

The “Eric Roberts” of this feature film writing and directing debut by Ryan Bliss (although he’s here more than the usual Eric Roberts appearance) is character actor William Sadler, whom you’ve most recently seen in Bill and Ted Face the Music, but you know Sadler best via the perpetual cable TV replays of Die Hard 2 and The Shawshank Redemption, as well as the earliest seasons of TV’s Roseanne. However, the greatest aspect of this beautifully shot and acted film is that Sadler’s presence exposes us to the start of a great leading lady career with new-to-the-scene Ashley Shelton (ABC-TV’s Army Wives; made her feature film, leading-lady debut in 2014’s Something, Anything), as well as Paxton Singleton (got his start in the 2018 The Haunting of Hill House mini-series), and the return of Blanche Baker, who you remember as the older sister bride-to-be in Sixteen Candles.

A period-drama thriller, Alice Sullivan is a troubled woman on the run who finds refuge on her uncle’s farm that now serves as a home to WWII PSTD-afflicted survivors. The refuge of the idyllic, isolated farmhouse — which is revealed to be haunted by strange voices in its rooms and surrounding woods — is soon upended by the powerful and mysterious James Sullivan (William Sadler), the wealthy family’s patriarch. He hires Holden (Timothy Sekk; a recent guest star on NBC TV’s The Blacklist) to retrieve his only surviving relative: Logan (Paxton Singleton), his grandson — and Alice’s son. And, in addition to bringing back his grandson, James Sullivan wants Alice to “disappear.” Will Alice’s new found family of the PTSD-afflicted fight to protect Logan and the increasingly paranoid Alice against the violent motives of Holden?

Edited to a suspenseful, tight 80-minutes, Alice Fades Away is a film that can — after it completes its streaming-platform run — increase its well-deserved wider exposure as an also-ran commercial cable TV movie (while it’s above the quality of most of the channel’s films, it would work well on Lifetime). While it’s not as graphic in its violence or as mysterious (i.e., “confusing” in some quarters) as most twisted, British Gothic thrillers or Spanish Giallos (my thoughts drifted to Jose Ramon Larraz’s Symptoms from 1974), Bliss’s choice to dispense with the shock-scares to keep the flashback-driven narrative restrained and subtle, is appreciated. This is a quiet film that paces its mystery and thrills. As with Larraz’s Symptoms, we ask the question: What’s “wrong” at this remote forest estate. Are the voices real. Are the voices figments of the home’s PSTD war heroes. Is that “smell” of war; the rotting flesh of the dead (the resident’s damaged souls), really back?

1091 Pictures will release Alice Fades Away on digital platforms in the USA and Canada on Tuesday, February 16th, 2021. Look for it on Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes/AppleTV, Microsoft, Vudu, and all cable system VOD platforms. You can also visit 1091 Pictures on Facebook for more information regarding their releases, such as the recently released, the low-budget sci-fi film, Space.

Disclaimer: We received a screener from the studio’s P.R. firm. That has no bearing on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Gorehouse Greats: Satan’s Slave (1976)

Editor’s Note: Fool us once, Plural “S,” shame on you; fool us twice, shame on B&S About Movies. We reviewed Satan’s Slaves — the 1982 Phantasm-inspired plural one from Indonesian — on November 12, 2019, as part of our Mill Creek Pure Terror 50-Film Set of reviews. One slight problem: that film wasn’t on the set: it was the 1976 British, singular one starring Michael Gough. And we caught the title faux pas before we went to press, but just said the hell with it because, well, the Indonesian one has rocked our world for many years. This time, we’re reviewing the proper film, as result of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats 12-Film Set (Amazon), which we’re unpacking with reviews all this week.

Today’s review is brought to you today by the letter “S” and the number 666.

How is it that we could go on all day about British actor and Hammer stalwart Michael Gough, starting with his first role as Sir Arthur Holmwood in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula (1958), watch his work in Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) multiple times, and watch him in The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Skull (1965), and Horror Hospital (1973), but never encountered his work on Crown International Pictures’ Satan’s Slave? Even with all of our combined video store memberships and watching Friday and Saturday late night horror blocks on our local UHF-TV stations, we’ve never heard of it or seen it (at least it slipped by me). How is that possible? We fell in love with Euro-obscurities like A Bell From Hell and Symptoms from multiple UHF showings — and even seen them on home video shelves.

Well, let’s unpack this flick brought to you by the letter “S,” Oscar.

Turns out, director Norman J. Warren has two flicks on this Gorehouse set: this and Terror (1978), which is also on the B-Movie Blast 50-Film pack that we’ve already reviewed this month. Truth be told, while he’s legendary — at least in B-Movie and video nasty circles — Warren is an under-the-radar obscurity to most horror fans (well, except for FUBAR’d dudes like Bill Van Ryn who’s made his fandom of Warren’s Prey well known), with only 16 credits. The Warren films you (may or not) know are the insipid, Star Wars-inspired sex comedy Spaced Out (1979), aka Outer Touch (that we passed on during our “Star Wars Month” tribute; the similar, better known Galaxina won that review pole position), and the Alien rip off (that we did cover with our “Alien Week” tribute) Inseminoid (1981). Then there’s that off-the-nut sci-fi zombie romp Prey (1977) that Bill Van Ryn digs, and Warren’s final tour de force: Bloody New Year (1987), that Sam digs. All of those films were, of course, better distributed projects that turned up in theaters, cable, and VHS (for me, that would be as Inseminoid; Spaced Out was an oft-aired HBO programmer).

Then there’s Satan’s Slave — sans that pesky “S” plural.

Perhaps it’s because it was only Warren’s third feature film — after two Italian sex shenanigans flicks issued in 1968: Loving Feeling and Private Hell, which makes Satan’s Slave his first horror film. In between his Alien romp, Inseminoid, and his Slasher romp, Bloody Birthday, Warren changed it up with, well, looking at the cover, a Stallone Rambo-cum-Arnie Commando rip called Gunpowder (1986) — has anyone seen it?

Now, the writer on this, well that’s a different story: While he wrote Warren’s Satan’s Slave and Terror, he gave us the video rental favorites of ’70s British horror: White Cargo (1973), House of Whipcord (1974), Frightmare (1974), the sleaze-o-rama that is The Confessional (1976), and Schizo (1976): Lord Smutmeister David McGillivray (and we mean that as a complement).

This time we have a supernatural horror tale with Catherine (British horror “Scream Queen” Candace Glendenning; The Flesh and Blood Show) who comes to live with her uncle and cousin (Michael Gough and Martin Potter; his work goes back to Fellini Satyricon) after she survives a car crash that killed both of her parents. Of course, Uncle Alex and Cousin Stephen are behind the crash: they’re necromancers who need her as a sacrifice to resurrect a powerful, spiritual ancestor.

To say more will spoil the film, as this Rosemary’s Baby-inspired tale (but not at all like a cheap Italian ripoff of that film or The Exorcist) is an excellent watch; one that’s far above the fray of the exploitative-norm discovered on Mill Creek sets. The scripting, set design, and acting — from all quarters — is top notch. I loved it. Consider it one of my new classics in the British ’70s cycle of gothic horror tales, right alongside Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy.

The production story: There’s additional material shot that was even more violent, and alternative versions of existing scenes that are in the film are available in other prints in the overseas markets. So, what we get is an amped up, Gothic psychological-sexploitation tale that programs nicely with the better distributed (as with the aforementioned A Bell from Hell and Symptoms via VHS and UHF-TV) Virgin Witch (1971) and the always incredible to watch The Wicker Man (1973). Of course, keen eyes immediately notice that the house and grounds of the Yorke estate appeared in Virgin Witch; and when you watch Terror off this same Mill Creek set, you’ll notice the Gothic estate, reappears.

While you can get this on the two Mill Creek sets we’ve unpacked this month, the more serious Warren fan can get Satan’s Slave, along with Terror, Prey, and Inseminoid on Anchor Bay’s Norman Warren Collection DVD box set. Vinegar Syndrome and Severin also offer restored single-disc reissues. However you watch it: watch it. There’s a copy of Satan’s Slave on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Gorehouse Greats: Brain Twisters (1991)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We get it, Mill Creek! You’re a “green” company! You recycle and waste not. We originally reviewed Brain Twisters on November 1, 2020, as part of our reviews for Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set. We re-ran that review February 1, 2021, as part of its inclusion on their B-Movie Blast 50-Pack. So, in the grand tradition of movies that do not deserve a second, alternate look (we’re talkin’ at you Cavegirl), Mill Creek beat us into submission once again . . . so let’s give Brain Twisters a new spin — as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats 12-pack.

Is it possible that this lone feature film from Jerry Sangiuliano appears on all Mill Creek box sets? We just discovered it also appears on their Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 4 set and their Drive-In Cult Cinema Classics 200-pack. So, it seems, whether you want to watch it or not, by hook or by crook, you will, so says Mill Creek. So, let’s crack open our first film on the Gorehouse Greats set.

Gorehouse Greats Mill Creek

No, we can’t blame Albert Pyun directing Charles Band’s Arcade, as that 1993 evil video game romp wasn’t made yet. But we can blame “The Bishop of Battle,” the segment from the 1983 portmanteau Nightmares, you know, the segment when Emilo Estevez’s video-game obsessed ne’er-do-well was sucked into an evil video game, which itself, ripped off 1982’s Tron.

And here comes Jerry Sangiuliano — a decade late and several dollars short — as his 1991-era computer graphics make 1992’s The Lawnmower Man — this film’s sole raison d’être — look good. And we all know how god awful that’s-not-a-Stephen King-adaptation is. And to prove you can’t keep a god awful movie down: Sangiuliano tried to pass this off in the DVD age as a “new” film, Fractals, in 2013 — with the same out-of-date graphics that were out-of-date in 1991. But where the superior Circuitry Man from 1990 succeeds, this one fails. Utterly. Yeah, this one is lost between order and chaos and heaven and hell, alright.

So what’s it all about?

A sci-fi thriller without thrills.

Mind control with CRT monitors complete poor pixel resolution. And beeps. And boops. And wires. And conduits. And horny teens. And dumb cops. And cops who take victims to dinner. And touchy-feely college professors manipulating weak teen girls (see Dr. Carl Hill in Re-Animator). And a college professor of neuroscience who lectures students on medical quackery who is, himself, a quack: instead of screwing the medieval devices he displays in his classroom to human skulls, he plugs his students into a Commodore 64.

Dr. Philip Rothman (dry-as-toast Terry Londeree in his only film role) sidelines his professorship with a gig at a software company developing a software platform that taps into the human brain. And he’s using his unknowing students as lab rats. And somewhere along the way, it’s discovered the software has a mind control side effect (I think), so the head of the company decides to integrate the discovery into video games. Is he evil already or does the discovery make him evil? (I don’t know and I don’t care.) What’s the purpose of turning video-game obsessed teens into killers? What’s the end game, if you will? (You got me.)

Of course, every slasher film — even the most pseudo ones, such as this tech slop — needs a “final girl,” so we have Laurie Strode Stevens (Farrah Forke, in her acting debut; she was Alex Lambert for a three year, 35-episode run on NBC-TV’s Wings; Hitman’s Run for you direct-to-video fans) as one of several college students who’ve volunteered for Rothman’s experiments to improve video game designs — only to be programmed-cum-hypnotized to kill. Or commit suicide from the second floor of a Chili’s (Or was that an Applebees?). Hey, this was filmed in Scranton, PA., so if you lived there, maybe you recognize the eatery.

Man, nobody wants to go to Scranton. Not even, Archie. “Scranton?!”

So, does this all sound a bit like Conal Cochran’s nonsensical masterplot to take over the world with Halloween masks fitted with computer chips made from stone-flakes of Stonehenge? Or Dr. Anthony Blakely’s plan to take over the world by growing a giant brain the basement of his psychiatric institute for wayward teens?

Yeah, it does. And then some.

Yeah, the body count is building. Boringly so.

Ah, but Halloween III: The Season of the Witch and Ed Hunt’s The Brain had, if not a lot of sense, finesse and charm as it huskered its bananas-as-fuck junk science, along with R-level gore and sex to buoy our interest. Maybe if a Stuart Gordon-esque brain worm-thingy popped out of a student’s reprogrammed head, à la Dr. Edward Pretorius via his Sonic Resonator in From Beyond, we’d have a “bang,” here, instead of a whimper.

In the end, this is all just a bunch of PG-level shenanigans in dire need of a David Warner-embodied Master Control Program and a Cindy Morgan as our cyber-hero babe and a crazed Darryl Revok “sucking brains dry” via video games. But alas: Jerry Sangiuliano ain’t no David Cronenberg and this ain’t no Scanners joint. And the acting just stinks across the board, which is probably why Forke never capitalized on her support role in Heat with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro or scored another notable network TV series, and we never heard from male leads Terry Londeree and Joe Lombardo — ever again. If only we had Dan O’Herlihy as the evil software engineer and David Gale as the meglomaniac professor to prop this up, maybe we’d have . . . something.

Should we give Jerry Sangiuliano credit for being ahead of the urban legend curve? Nope.

Maybe — one day — they’ll make a movie based on the Polybius urban legend (seeded in 1994) with (speaking of Dan O’Herlihy), a touch of the charm that made the video game as-a-combat-training-tool tomfoolery from The Last Starfighter so much fun. Until that happens, the curious and the masochist can free-stream Brain Twisters on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.