KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: The Card Player (2004)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally wrote about this movie back on September 15, 2021. Now, Kino Lorber has released it on blu ray, along with audio commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, interviews with director Dario Argento, set designer Antonello Geleng and actress Fiore Argento. There are also trailers and your choice of watching this in English or Italian with English subtitles. The slipcase release and blu ray itself are both gorgeous and I’m so excited to have this in my collection. You can get it yourself from Kino Lorber.

Look, I’ll come clean. I’ve outright written off Argento’s post-Opera work without putting the work in, but that’s because the films I have seen have upset me so greatly — and in no way a good way — that it felt like putting in the work to watch another one after Sleepless felt like, well, work.

This was originally going to be a sequel to The Stendhal Syndrome and titled In the Dark, but everything changed when Asia Argento declined to be involved.

The biggest issue is that the story is intriguing but as you wait for the visuals, nothing much happens. If this were any other director, I’d be fine with this movie. But with Argento, perhaps unfairly, I want more. I want bullets tearing through keyholes and eyeballs, bodies crashing through windows, menacing forests and colors that burn their way into my ventral occipital lobe. Instead, this looks no better than a TV procedural.

The Card Player is a masked and black gloved killer who kidnaps women in Rome, then challenges the police to play internet poker with him for their lives. If the police lose, they get to watch someone get tortured and killed Red Room-style online.

There’s a great close with a train bearing down on the killer and a victim who play poker right up to the end. Sure, the effect that follows is poor, but getting there isn’t horrible.

What is bad is that this entire movie is based around watching people play video poker. While we can argue whether or not Argento was inventing Twitch, the fact is that 1972 Dario would shoot a poker game like cards were flying at us filled with mystery and menace. Instead, we simply watch cards slowly get dealt out.

Man, Dario. I really want to see you do something great. And I get it. You already did. Maybe I should take it easier on you. But we always want more from the ones we love.

Trees 2: The Root of All Evil (2004)

Trees was Jaws, substituting Sheriff Cody for Brody], botanist Max Cooper for oceanographer Matt Hooper and lumberjack named Squint for, you already yelled it out, Quint. But hey — there’s certainly a sequel in here, as Ranger Cody goes to live in a resort town that is soon battling an army of government-created genetically enhanced trees that eat humans and get loose over the holidays.

Yes, that is Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter. And this is definitely in the Troma school of a movie that’s aware of how dumb it is and going deep to be even dumber.

I’m all for the idea of killer tree movies. There’s already Day of the TriffidsThe HappeningThe Guardian, The Crawlers and as bad as some of those are, they sustain interest and entertain much better than this movie.

Imagine hearing a bad joke and laughing at how well it’s told. Now just imagine if someone tells the same joke with no delivery and timing.

That’s this movie.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004)

Editor’s Note: This was review was composed several months prior to the Alec Baldwin set-shooting incident. No offense to that tragedy is intended. The cinematic offenses of this movie, however, are.

And what does all of this have to do with backmasking in music? Read on, brother.


I come here, not to bury a Baldwin brother (in this case, Stephen), but to praise Eric Roberts (most recently of The Arrangement and Lone Star Deception), who, as you know, always gets a pass at B&S About Movies — even when the evil that he does is a Christian apocalypse flick (and shows us that he’ll never not take a movie offered). But, hey, Eric, like Brutus, is an honorable man in our good books, so I shall speak of this film, regardless of the fact that Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network — with their son, Paul, Jr., as the Executive Producer — bankrolled this script by faith-based actor David A.R. White (“Anthony Roy,” if you’re interested).

No, actually, you do have a choice: Don’t watch.

By the early 2000s Paul and Peter LaLonde’s Christian-based Cloud Ten Pictures — a studio that specializes in “end-times” films — created a worldwide phenomenon with their contemporary updating of the stuffy biblical prophecy films of old by “born again” drive-in purveyor Ron Ormond, with his debut film, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971), and Evangelical films vendor Donald W. Thompson, with his debut, A Thief in the Night (1972), and Tom Doades’s own sci-fi take, Six-Hundred and Sixty Six (1972), then there’s the two Christian apocalypse progenitors also distributed by that film’s shingle, Gospel Films: Early Warning and Years of the Beast (both 1981).

The LaLonde Brothers broke home video rental records (at least within the Christian bookstore-verse) and found receptive cable television audiences (secular and non) courtesy of their major-studio slick adaptations of Christian author Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind adult novel series, with the films Left Behind: The Movie (2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002), and Left Behind: World at War (2005), each starring the bane of a secular movie goer’s existence: Kirk Cameron (also of the 2008 Christian drama, Fireproof). However, prior to their productions of, and inspired by LaHaye’s books, the LeLonde brothers produced their own proselytizing The Apocalypse: The Film Series tetraology with Apocalypse (1998), and its sequels Revelation (1999), Tribulation (2000), and Judgement (2001).

Paul and Jan Crouch’s TBN, which aired LaLonde’s modernized biblical apocs to ratings success, weren’t going to be “left behind,” so they bankrolled their own “End of Times” flick with Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004). Released amid those rash of LaLonde productions (I binged watched all of them over a Library check-out frenzy, when libraries still had VHS catalogs), White’s contributions certainly don’t tread any new ground in terms of plot points and characterizations, but I kinda liked this one, as it is the most “sci-fi” of the pack.

As with anything touched by the hand of Crouch, secular critics are also not kind to David A.R. White’s writing or acting; and if you don’t like Kirk Cameron, you probably won’t like White, either. Beyond his secular, bit TV series roles as a “Pizza Guy” (Coach), “Room Service Waiter” (Melrose Place), and “Gas Station Attendant” (Sisters), White’s career wasn’t going anywhere in Hollywood. In fact, his most notable role was a six episode support run as “Andrew Phillpot” in the Burt Reynolds-fronted sitcom, Evening Shade. So, White decided to take the “beast” that is Hollywood by the horns and leave his “mark” on Tinseltown.

As with the struggling Tyler Perry before him, David A.R. White formed his LaLonde Brothers-styled studio, Pureflix (like Netflix, only for the Church crowd), along with his partner, Kevin Downes (as Christianity’s version of the secular Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), to produce (and stream, by others) faith-based films — which they sausage-vanity press one after another. Pureflix’s first films were the analogous apoc’ers The Moment After (1999), The Moment After 2 (2006), In the Blink of an Eye (2009), Jerusalem Countdown (2011), and the (very Mad Max-inspired, well, kinda sorta) Revelation Road trilogy. Perhaps you’ve encountered one of the four film from White’s dramatic God’s Not Dead series (which made it to theatres), since they starred Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo (Herc’s other for the studio is Let There Be Light). (Another studio, the one that really injected new interest in the Christploitation genre was Albany, Georgia-based Sherwood Pictures, with 2003’s Flywheel. Like the Christian Cinema films of the ’70s from Ron Ormond and Donald W. Thompson, that studio’s overseers in the Kendrick brothers got their start rolling out their debut film “roadhouse” style.)

As for Six: The Mark Unleashed, having Eric Roberts on board certainly pushes us through the digital propaganda (well, VHS for me), but it’s a pre-stardom Jeffrey Dean Morgan who, as expected, is instantly likeable and engaging (as a “born again” smuggler-cum-resistance fighter sold out by his “Marked” wife), which helps one accept White’s and Downes’s (who also directs) meh-to-serviceable acting (as fellow political prisoners to the new order; Roberts gets them busted, by the way). And while it’s fun to hate on a Baldwin brother, Stephen (best known for the Bryan Singer career starter, The Usual Suspects, and the Pauly Shore abomination, Bio-Dome), is good, here. Now that’s not saying the acting is great, it’s still strained and hokey, but it’s better than most Christian apoc’ers and, overall, the film is a cut above the Jack T. Chick bible-tract inspired flicks of the ’70s.

The Film Review

Not watching . . . is a way out.

So, if you haven’t guessed already, it’s the last days of Armageddon (all of these films start with bible quote title cards, stock war footage, along with images of Hitler, Lenin, and Mussolini in short order) with a brutal dictator ruling the masses via forced chip-implant technologies (that triskelion on the video box) monitored by a global satellite network. On the ground, our Antichrist, dispatches his Gestapo-like Community Police Force, aka the CPF, to keep the masses in line. The rules are simple: If you do not accept your implant and become part of “The Community” (or become a double agent for the CPF) — after your mandatory, three week’s prison sentence, where you are tortured into accepting — you’re beheaded. (You’ll notice a pattern in these films with Christians obsessed with guillotines and rolling heads. It’s as if they’re rejoicing in glee that us Sodomities will loose our noggins. The only thing missing is Estus Pirkle’s love of fire in the frames.)

The usual lies and deceptions ensue as White and Downes (who lead here; Roberts and Baldwin, while on the box, are perfunctory players) “Escape from New York” with Morgan (on an obviously low-budget, which is why we’re inside a prison for most of the movie) to a purported safe haven known as Prodigal City. Dean, of course, plays his mission for the CPF — to kill resistance leader, Elijan Cohen (for all “leaders” in these films can never not have a “biblical” name) — close to the chest. As is any rumored “paradise” in these films, it ends up being a Gomorrah worse than the one from which our righteous protagonists escape.

Needless to say, if you’re a secular post-apoc fan, again, of the Escape from New York variety, or a lover of prison break films from the Escape from Alcatraz mold, there’s nada entertainment to be had. Secular reviewers pounced on this TBN production (despite its TV connections, there’s a theatrical sheen), while Evangelical viewers and Christian-industry reviewers, loved it, natch. Granted, it is not as slick as the LaLonde’s larger-budgeted films, but it is certainly not as scrappy-stuffy as those arduous Thompson and Ormond flicks of old.

You can watch Six: The Mark Unleashed — and all manner of Christian films — on the Pureflix streaming service, but we also found a freebie on You Tube. You can also watch it on-demand at ChristianCinema.com.

You can sample the film’s trailer on You Tube.


And now . . . a public service message on the dangers of rock music backmasking, bought to you by the fine folks of the Trinity Broadcasting Network

In the early, pre-Internet days of cable television, with its meager 40-channel (sometimes less) universe, there wasn’t a whole lot to channel surf (once you took out the Spanish and Sport channels), and with lesser channels, you sometimes ended up on TBN’s local UHF outlet and stumbled into things . . . that scared the crap out of you, because “salvation” via fearmongering, is key. So sayeth the Lord.

So, Paul, Jr., for you unaware, new wee-rockers to cause, lead the charge against Satan using rock music to indoctrinate children, with an oft-ran, 1982 two hour-long special on the evils lurking in the grooves of our records and the covers that encased them. Of course, instead of “saving us,” Paul, Jr. made our teeny-boopin’ VHS years all the sweeter, as he inadvertently created the Metalsplotation cycle of films, which we like to call “No False Metal” movies, in the process.

So, a toast and “horn flash” to Junior. Amen. For you put the Metal peanut butter into our horror film chocolate and gave us Billy Eye Harper and Sammi Curr.

Ack! As is the case with all things You Tube, the full special is gone (ugh, again?) But this clip and clip (also embedded below; since video links sometimes break) breaking down Led Zeppelin . . . again, scared us shitless. Then, when Pauly J. explained the meaning behind Ozzy Osborne’s “Mr. Crowley,” then opened the Eagles’ Hotel California gatefold to show us a shadowy, cloaked demon perched a dark balcony, the Electric Light Orchestra with their reversed “Christ you’re infernal” chants, Black Oak Arkansas ranting “NATAS,” and then pondered what the German band Accept was asking us to “accept” . . . we dumped those albums (along with Iron Maiden) at the used record store and put our trade-in money into the church collection plates and prayed ourselves into aneurysms for forgiveness.

And thanks to Paul, Jr., our “Friday Night Activities” at the local Baptist indoctrination center became a weekly “sermon,” with our blue-plaid jacket and pink-striped tie youth pastor, screaming with saliva flying, as he spun records backwards and overhead projector-burned “evil” lyrics and albums into our Playdoh minds. Then he started booking one awful “Christian Rock” band after another — bands that made Stryper look like Metallica. (Rizen and Chalice, you still sucketh. Don’t get me started on the screech that is Holy Right. Please, no more Holy Right. Please. I believe. I believe! Just make it stop!)

TBN was also behind the “young adult talk show” The Eagle’s Nest (. . . come, oh ye little ones to my ‘nest,’ ick), which retreaded the “Rock music is the Devil’s music” torch lit by Paul Jr., on an episode that you can watch in a three-part You Tube upload HERE, HERE, and HERE.

So goes the days our youthful, brainwashed lives.

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

SLASHER MONTH: The Halfway House (2004)

Look, you can talk all you want about your new movies that everyone on Film Twitter is gushing about and I’ll just hide in my little corner of the web and discuss really aberrant dumb things like 2004’s The Halfway House, a movie so dumb that it couldn’t spell Mary Magdalene correctly and smart enough to place Mary Woronov in the central role of a nun who has turned away from God because she discovered the Elder Gods who lie waiting beyond the veil of time. Also: tentacle attacks.

Young girls are disappearing in and around the Mary Magdalen — yeah, that’s how they did it — Halfway House for Troubled Girls. Larissa Morgan goes undercover to infiltrate the Catholic-run institution and find her sister, but what she discovered is Woronov’s Sister Cecelia presiding over a world of debauchery, like a quasi-women in prison movie mixed up with Lovecraft.

Kenneth J. Hall has made creatures that’ve upset people for years, like the CrittersGhoulies, the Bio-Monster in BiohazardCarnosaur, the creatures in Willy’s Wonderland and more. He also wrote Dr. AlienEvil Spawn, Nightmare Sisters and directed Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout. So there you go — he has the sensibilities you’re looking for when you want your mind and eyes tickled.

Thirtysomething teenagers, sex scenes that border on the hard end of softcore, chainsaw mutilation, a priest that smacks offered behinds while yelling “The power of Christ compels you!” and so much nudity that the term gratuitous becomes challenged.

If church was this much fun, more people would go.

The Card Player (2004)

Look, I’ll come clean. I’ve outright written off Argento’s post-Opera work without putting the work in, but that’s because the films I have seen have upset me so greatly — and in no way a good way — that it felt like putting in the work to watch another one after Sleepless felt like, well, work.

This was originally going to be a sequel to The Stendhal Syndrome and titled In the Dark, but everything changed when Asia Argento declined to be involved.

The biggest issue is that the story is intriguing but as you wait for the visuals, nothing much happens. If this were any other director, I’d be fine with this movie. But with Argento, perhaps unfairly, I want more. I want bullets tearing through keyholes and eyeballs, bodies crashing through windows, menacing forests and colors that burn their way into my ventral occipital lobe. Instead, this looks no better than a TV procedural.

The Card Player is a masked and black gloved killer who kidnaps women in Rome, then challenges the police to play internet poker with him for their lives. If the police lose, they get to watch someone get tortured and killed Red Room-style online.

There’s a great close with a train bearing down on the killer and a victim who play poker right up to the end. Sure, the effect that follows is poor, but getting there isn’t horrible.

What is bad is that this entire movie is based around watching people play video poker. While we can argue whether or not Argento was inventing Twitch, the fact is that 1972 Dario would shoot a poker game like cards were flying at us filled with mystery and menace. Instead, we simply watch cards slowly get dealt out.

Man, Dario. I really want to see you do something great. And I get it. You already did. Maybe I should take it easier on you. But we always want more from the ones we love.

Taking Lives (2004)

While not perfectly a fit into the giallo, Taking Lives does have a heroine who gets involved with the killer, a Phillip Glass score and the changing identity of the killer having a central part of the story.

D.J. Caruso has some interesting films like Disturbia and The Salton Sea to his credit — we’ll ignore I Am Number Four and XXX: Return of Xander Cage — and this time, he’s telling the story of Martin Asher, a serial killer who assumes the identity of life of each victim he kills.

FBI Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) has traveled to Montreal to get treated poorly by male cops and help solve the case. She soon discovers that Martin felt unloved and in the shadow of a twin brother, whose death pushed him into madness. In the childhood home of the killer, she finds a passageway that reveals Martin’s special room, a place in which she’s attacked by someone who runs before she can catch him. Her only lead comes from art dealer James Costa (Ethan Hawke), who was a witness to Asher’s last murder. And, as these things happen, the two engage in naked investigative action while surrounded by murder photos and James bleeding everywhere from stitches he needed after his latest run-in with Asher.

It’s not all that simple, of course.

Wait — where’s Kiefer Sutherland? Well, he has around three minutes of screen time in this. He still got billed third, so the real star of this movie is his agent.

Taking Lives is fine for an American thriller. The ending has some nice twists and Gena Rowlands is great in her small role. For a movie with four writers (there was a lot of script doctoring), you may expect a bit more, though.

Tomb of Terror (2004)

Sure, we have a Full Moon Week coming up, but there are definitely two different ideas behind what the studio is. Are they the America Filmirage, making low budget horror that looks decent and is way better than the money spent would suggest? Or are they the studio that knocks out inferior sequel after sequel, direct to streaming digital video junk and endless repacks of the same movie?

They can be both!

“Ascent from Hell” is really 1994’s Dark Angel: The Ascent, in which Veronica Iscariot (Angela Featherstone, Linda from The Wedding Singer) gets sick of tormenting sinners in Hell and decides to punish the wicked on Earth. But hey — she falls in love with a doctor named Max Barris who tends to her injuries. This was directed by Linda Hassani, whose last movie was Bunker of Blood: Chapter 5: Psycho Sideshow: Demon Freaks.

“Infinite Evil” may be familiar as the Full Moon adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear. That 1994 released was written and directed by C. Courtney Joyner, who directed Trancers III and wrote From a Whisper to a ScreamDoctor MordridClass of 1999Prison and Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood. It’s all about Leffert’s Corners, a place that has been plagued by unearthly beings for decades. It’s basically abandoned except for a few hearty souls like a priest and now John Martense, who is in town to put his family’s estate in order. We all know what happens to people who come to claim inheritances in horror movies. Jon Finch, who was also in Frenzy and Murder on the Nile, clashed with the director and refused to even listen to him say cut. Ironically, the worries that David Hemmings would do the same led to Finch being cast.

“Evil Never Dies” is re-cut from 1998’s Talisman, in Theriel the Black Angel is summoned from his resting place to usher in the end of the world by killing seven different people. He decides that two teens will help him, but they just may save us all. This is yet another of the many, many David DeCoteau films that I have been lured into watching. His goal was a “male version of Suspiria.” I leave it up to you to decide if he was successful, but I don’t remember the scene in Argento’s film where dudes in their tighty whities made one another do push-ups and watched from bunk beds.

I really should make a list of good Full Moon versus bad Full Moon, but who can say which is which? In the case of remixed ones like this, it gets even harder. But just imagine: how can you take a 90-minute movie, jam it into 30 and then hope to have any narrative sense? And they didn’t just do this once. They do it all the time, like some content engine that does not care at all about quality.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Horrific (2004)

This is less an anthology film than an attempt to take old Full Moon movies, edit them down and make them into a whole new movie. If you’ve added the same Full Moon movie to your collection because of repackaging, congratulations! You’re one of us!

2000’s Prison of the Dead has been edited down to become “Crypt of the Undead.” This David DeCoteau-directed story, an eccentric rich guy tricks his friends into a reunion by pretending that he’s dead. Somehow, this leads to some undead executioners killing everyone after the adults playing teens play Ouija in an abandoned witches’ prison.

1999’s The Killer Eye is now “Terror of Vision.” Another David DeCoteau movie, this one even had a sequel Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt. To add a bit of spice, this movie is bold enough to recycle the Linnea Quigley shower scene of Creepazoids in the laziest possible manner: it’s playing on the TV in a scene. The main idea of this story is that a doctor is experimenting on male prostitutes by giving them eyedrops that allow them to see the reality beyond death and then he’s shocked when tentacles emerge out of their eyes. There’s also a giant eyeball that enjoys impregnating women, which is a fetish that I’m cynically — and sadly — sure that someone gets all hot under the glasses about*.

1999’s Totem has become “Master of Death.” Guess who directed it**? Six people are trapped in a cabin — they have been brought their by means they don’t understand other than it was an obsession — and three of them will kill the other three by the words of a prophecy. For some reason, DeCoteau was embarrassed by this. He was allowed to direct Voodoo Academy if he directed this film first.

Somehow, even cut down by a third, these movies still seem way too long. I have a weakness for movies where giant eyeballs attack people, so the second story at least held my interest.

*The Japanese invented oculolinctus for us — also called worming — which involves erotically licking your lover’s eyeball. This has led to pinkeye outbreaks.

**If more men are shirtless than women, David is behind the camera. Hey, I’m all for a little more fairness when it comes to onscreen flesh.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Halloweentown High (2004)

Another Halloweentown, another jump two years into the future. Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) prepares for a new school year as she works to build the relationship between the world of magic and our normal dimension. To do so, she proposes bringing a group of Halloweentown students to her mortal high school. The big worry? There have been signs of the Knights of the Iron Dagger, a fanatical order that wants to destroy all things magic.

However, the Halloweentown High Council agrees to the plan after Marniebets all the Cromwell magic that her plan will work. If she can’t show why this was a good idea by Halloween, her entire family will lose their magical abilities. Luckily, she has the support of her grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds).

It turns out that there are both humans and magical beings that don’t want our worlds to cohabitate. Things were better when they were status quo, which Marnie and her family are rallying against. These are big things to consider within the context of a Disney Channel movie, but here we are.

Mark A.Z. Dippé worked on the special effects for The Abyss and Terminator 2 before becoming a director. He’s made plenty of straight to video Garfield movies, but is best known for directing Spawn.

Disney live action fans will either be pleased — or dismayed as it’s a modern remix — to hear “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap in this movie.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Mondo Cannibal (2004)

If there’s something that all cannibal movies seem to have in common — beyond scenes where white people mistreat the native populace, real animal atrocities and copious levels of gore — it’s the idea that mass media is the root of most of the modern world’s issues. Italian exploitation filmmakers were several decades ahead of the mistrust of what many would call fake news today and their human beings devouring human beings offerings often placed documentary filmmakers or network television reporters as the reason why all of this chaos is taking place. The natives were just fine doing their rituals and eating random folks in the jungle. The white people bring cocaine and their modern perversions into the unspoiled green inferno, ruining everything.

Somehow, 24 years after Cannibal Holocaust, a 73-year-old Bruno Mattei — using his Vincent Dawn alter ego — would find himself in the jungle trying to bring back the sick feeling you get in your stomach when mass media goes to places that they should have known better to avoid.

Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner in the only role of her career) was once a big deal in the world of television journalism, but the fickle whims of fate have cast her into the pile of the also-rans. She decides to reverse her fortunes by heading into the belly of the beast and capturing Amazon cannibals on video along with another once-famous telejournalist named Bob Manson (Claudio Morales, who was also in Mattei’s A Shudder on the Skin and Orient Escape).

The footage that they send back gets big ratings and makes them both stars again, but the TV news industry runs on blood, so they’re forced to get increasingly violent and horrifying images to continue getting those big numbers.

Look, this movie is also called Cannibal Holocaust: The Beginning and Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning, so Mattei wasn’t even trying to hide what he was trying to do here. It’s a shot on digital video cover version of that film, along with a hilarious subtitle typo (some mouths later instead of some months) and a lot less real animal violence.

This was shot at the same time as In the Land of the Cannibals with much of the same crew. Is that one any better? Look for the review soon.