The Handmaid’s Tale (DVD Review)

15 – 90mins – 1990


 

FUNDAMENTALIST FUTURE

27 years before Hulu remade it into a highly-acclaimed and much-discussed, must-see television series, Margaret Atwood’s eye-opening 1985 dystopian novel was adapted to film, courtesy of a Harold Pinter screenplay. Critically commended though it was, an eleventh hour change of director led to rewrites Pinter was “too tired” to work on, so he suggested incoming helmer Volker Schlöndorff return to the author for any “tinkering,” leading the Nobel-Prize winning playwright to all-but disown credit for such a “hodgepodge.”

… Keep Scuttling!

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The Zero Boys (Blu-ray Review)

18 – 89mins – 1985


 

WEEKEND WARRIORS

“This is not a picnic!”

A team of teenage Rambo-wannabe war game champions, their girlfriends and Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet) happen upon a lived-in but deserted farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and spontaneously decide to squat in the vacant space to spur on their sexy post-paintball celebrations, scarcely sparing a second thought for the absent owners, who are more than a little hacked off when they return…

“It’s not a game anymore!”

While the often snowy image on this recent Arrow Video 30th Anniversary remaster does almost as bad a job of disguising the age of the film print as the horrendous hairstyles, short shorts and cringeworthy political incorrectness (“faggots,” “raping Mother Nature,” “I’m crippled!”), cult director Nico Hired to Kill Mastorakis’ trashy action-horror is such a product of its time that the wear and tear (even on crisp blu-ray) actually aids the retro charm. If, indeed, you can label a film with torture and slaughter charming!

While the puffed up blurb on the back lauds The Zero Boys as “genre-bending”, I would go even further in christening it a treasure trove of trusty terror tropes. From yokel maniac stalkers chiefly shot in smoke-shrouded silhouette, to storm-stranded survivalists separated and strung up by their own stupidity, Mastorakis mashs it all into a relentless multitudinous scream-fest.

If The Evil Dead, Red Dawn and Last House on the Left were to have a threesome, this would be the ungainly bastard hybrid offspring. There is Zero originality or subtly in these Boys‘ stumbling struggle for survival against sadistic slashers, nevertheless, with its cocksure and outright ballsy 80’s attitude and smorgasboard of excess exploitation, this is still a riotous retro watch perfect for a Friday night beer and pizza marathon – laughable shoelace-scuppering silliness, dire-logue and all!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

Estranged (DVD Review)

18 – 96mins – 2015


 

RELATIVE STRANGERS

Following the brave-but-bizarre Aaaaaaaah!, first time feature film director Adam Levins’ flurried family affair marks my second delve into this year’s fresh crop of “Frightfest Presents…” horror releases. Largely shot in one – admittedly sprawling – country estate, Estranged is more conventional and claustrophobic in execution than Steve Oram’s dialogue-restricted, universe-establishing satire, but also far more successful for it.

“What century is this?! I feel like Mr fucking Darcy!”

Following an amnesia-inducing road accident while traveling in Brazil, it’s a case of to the manor reborn for wheelchair-bound January (Amy Manson), who reluctantly returns to her estranged family pile to recuperate, attentive nomad boyfriend Callum (Simon Quarterman) by her side. But with her pre-accident memory erased, January can’t help but feel disconnected from the eccentric and uptight toffs she calls kin.

“Something doesn’t feel right…”

As Callum is worn-down and driven away by disapproving and dominant patriarch Albert (James Game of Thrones Cosmo), January feels a rising sense of paranoia, unease and frustration around her dazed and distant mother (Eileen Nicholas), distastefully snide brother (James Lance) and off-kilter hermit of a sister (Nora-Jane Noone). At first January questions whether she is the difficult one, but as some disturbing secrets are meted out, this black sheep begins to seriously regret ever returning home to this remote and unhinged herd.

 “We are your family – you don’t need anyone else.”

With a palpably sinister underpinning persistently bubbling beneath the stately hall’s austere furnishings, Estranged grips and revolts in equal measure, teasing and dribbling out keys to a sordid mystery, with foreboding eventually giving way to often unbearably tortuous terror. You’ll baulk, you’ll wince, you might even heave, but sharp characterisation and first-rate acting all round ensures you’ll stay entranced by Estranged’s psychological potency to the very last reveal.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

The Green Inferno – The Director’s Cut (Blu-ray Review)


18 – 100mins – 2013


CANNIBAL ZEROX

Lost in the wilderness for a couple of years owing to “financial difficulties” with production company Worldview Entertainment, Eli Roth’s gloriously gratuitous homage to 70s/80s Italian savage slasher flicks (the title is cribbed from the film-within-a-film in Cannibal Holocaust) is finally released into civilised society in the form of a home video release.

Attempting to ground the relentless barbarism in socio-political relevance, the introductory 35minutes is a thoroughly uncaptivating ordeal as a group of New York University student activists induct freshman Justine (Knock Knock‘s Lorenza Izzo) and rally her to join their cause on a non-violent protest in the Peruvian Amazon to protect the indigenous tribe whose homeland is being destroyed by corporate bulldozers.

The lush beauty of the exotic South American rainforest looks jawdroppingly crisp in HD, but the scenery is not enough to distract from the often appalling acting on display. Was this a purposeful nod to the often-derisible performances in other such genre ‘classics’, or was Roth simply aiming for a more naturalistic experience, to the detriment of polished delivery?

However, following the crash landing of the group’s aircraft and their subsequent imprisonment by the very tribe they were there to protect (oh, the cruel irony!), dialogue delivery is of next-to-no import, as ninety percent of the script is comprised of hollers, screams and wimpers.

Viewers with a bloodlust will relish Roth’s gleeful abandon in portraying some sickeningly sadistic torture sequences (eyes, limbs, genitals – nothing is safe from these flesh-craving natives!), and while the murderous methods are creatively varied (impaling! Gouging! Death by fire ant infestation!), you do soon start hitting your tolerance for blood-soaked brutality, and hoping for more substance. Alas, The Green Inferno does not cater to such highbrow tastes.

As the dwindling student’s thoughts turn to escape, Justine’s moral compass takes a shocking dive due south as she callously condemns group leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) to certain death. Sure, he was a crude and contemptible arsehole, but as the heroine of the piece, I expected more compassion for human life from her; while the mid-credit sting this twist leads to is laughable in its contrived absurdity.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars