Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Vinegar Syndrome Peekarama Review: Anticipation (1981) / Flesh Pond (1982)

(1981, dir: Carlos Tobalina)

“Beyond Temptation...”
  Joyce (Sheila Parks, Casanova II) and Jerry (Jesse Adams, Deep Rub) are newlyweds who, after some mind numbingly awkward conversation, make love for the first time. After breaking in the cheap motel bed (how romantic!), the pair talk about Jerry's brother Steve (Joey Silvera, Carnal Haven), who apparently had problems with his parents when he announced that he was marrying a girl with a reputation by the name of Wendy (Karo Akamoto in her only role). We also find out that he is set to be released from prison for accidentally killing (or so he thought, just watch, it makes sense) the lover of his cheating wife. Once released, the brothers are reunited and introduced to their new sisters-in-law. Whilst on a trip to what looks like the coldest beach ever, Joyce and Steve begin to have forbidden thoughts for each other. Actually, so does Jerry and Wendy! After some awkwardly narrated daydreaming from everyone involved, Jerry and Steve confide in each other and their mother that they love other women. Before they can act on it, they get invited to Serena's party (seemingly playing herself, Pleasure Palace). Will their secrets be revealed? It's sure going to get messy!
  I'm just going to say it. This is possibly one of the dullest Tobalina flicks I have watched to date. The concept is great and has so much potential, but Lawrence Lance's (thankfully his only writing credit) handling of the script is uninspired and clearly rushed. To say it's paper thin is an offence to the trees that were sacrificed in order to make the napkin this tripe was written on. I won't even comment on how iff target the humour is. The only real entertainment to be had with Anticipation is the slightly worse than usual acting throughout. Not even Joey Silvera, a performer who can act, seems to be giving his all. There's some fairly standard sex throughout and yes, there's the usual orgy which goes on for way too long. There are actual instant replays in the final sex scenes that add an odd charm to the film. Look out for some very awkward, bordering on incest action at the end of the film. The only genuine quality the film has is the music selection which I believe is comprised of original music by Jay Rando (Interlude of Lust) and library tracks selected by Matt Webber (his only credited role). That being said, as much as I love great library music, not even the dirty funky bass lines can save this ultimately forgettable Tobalina quickie.

(1982, dir: Carlos Tobalina)

“Consumed by pools of passion...”

Paco (Hermon Tobalina in his only role) and his unnamed friend (Reggie Gunn, Lips) have just escaped from prison. They stumble upon a quint little brothel ran by a woman named Drea (Drea, Hot Buns) and decide to hold herself and her patrons hostage. Not only that, but they demand to be entertained whilst they work their next move. Festivities begin when Rita Ricardo (as herself, My Sinful Life) has some fun with her doll companion Johnny Rubber. After that kinky warm up, the action really begins with good old Tobalina fashioned group action, under the firm dictation of the increasingly frustrated Paco. Things are going great (I guess) until Paco's friend gets caught in the crossfire, if you know what I mean? After A LOT of group bonding, Paco is forced to tell of his story to the group thanks to the persistent interest of one of the patrons, a magazine publisher (William Margold, Dracula Sucks). The convicts claim that they have been framed, to the mixed reaction of their captive audience. What's in store for the potentially innocent escapees? Will everyone come out of this situation alive? You know what? It may not be worth it.

I said that Anticipation was one of Tobalina's dullest. Well, this one has just taken that crown. Yes, this was quite frankly awful. Just like Anticipation, there is so much room for creativity. How can you mess up a scenario like this so badly!? You may find this one very hard to keep up with, not because of the complexity of the story, far from it! Everyone looks bored in this production. For such a hostile situation, everyone seems completely indifferent. I won't lie, I had my finger on the fast forward button a lot. This is essentially one continuous group scene with some lazily added 'plot' sequences and recycling of footage. Yeah, this film is more than forgetful. If it wasn't for one or two creative pieces of cinematography from Tobalina himself, the unfortunate money shot and library music, this would have been potentially the worst piece of golden age action I have seen. To Tobalina's credit though, he knows how to sell a film and is quite frugal overall. I bet he made his money back easily on this one, shame it's such a piece of crap.
This is probably the weakest Vinegar Syndrome release I have reviewed so far. I have a love / hate relationship with the films of Carlos Tobalina and these two films perfectly demonstrate why I can hate his work. It's such a shame because these are great initial premises and there are versatile themes throughout. It's just so uninspired in terms of execution. There's only really enjoyment for those looking for unintended laughs, but that's no real saving grace. Vinegar Syndrome are my favourite distribution company. Even though I found the films genuinely awful, I have no negative words to say about Vinegar Syndrome at all in terms of this release. They have dedicated a lot of time and resources releasing the filmography of Carlos Tobalina. Not every film can be a classic, it just appears that by chance, two of his weakest appear here. In terms of presentation, it's another great job with only minor defects. It doesn't help that these films were shot so badly. In terms of extras, we get theatrical trailers for both films. That I definitely approve of! Overall, this release is only really for completests and hardcore fans of Carlos Tobalina. If you're not too familiar with Tobalina's work, give this one a pass for now.

Anticipation and Flesh Pond are available as a double feature DVD from Vinegar Syndrome.


Monday, 13 July 2015

Time to Kill (2014 Short Film Review)

(2014, dir: Justin Rettke)

As some of you may know, I am a big fan of crime and action cinema. When I was approached earlier this month to check out an exclusive online screening of the short film Time to Kill, a film following the life of a hitman, I was very excited and honoured. That being said, I always feel uneasy when I see some of my favourite concepts and genres being tackled from a comedic perspective. To save spoiling the complete story for you, here's the synopsis:
“For years, we've seen that moment. The hit man, sitting in the chair, moonlight slicing across his face, his gun pointed at his sputtering victim. Harris is such a man, so very good at what he does. What he’s not so good at is filling the time before the kill. Time he spends questioning his life, wondering if he even has one. Harris can kill anything that moves... except time.”
I always go in to films with an open mind, no matter if it's something I seek out for myself or if it's a film that has been sent over by those directly involved. Why blindfully bullshit and give a dishonest review? Thankfully, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed this 10 minute short. Watching a seemingly cold blooded hitman killing time and revealing himself to be just like you and I is a concept I don't think I have seen before. He has his problems just like us regular folk. He's got an overbearing mother, relationship issues as well as wanting more out of his life. An average Joe who just happens to make his money by being a cold blooded killer. Christoper T. Wood (Friends with Benefits) plays the hitman in a subtle, ultimately realistic way and definitely looks the part. Even though he's essentially the only character in the short, he carries the film's narrative nicely.

The film was paced nicely and fitted the 10 minut run pretty much perfectly thanks to some well executed editing from Jack Price (in his first credit) and solid directing and writing by Justin Rettke (
Hawaii Five-0), T. Wood and Scott Frank (Her First Black Guy). The comedy aspect is just right. Blending some slapstick elements with juxtapositions and some genuinely witty moments. In terms of aesthetic quality, this is a high quality production with some simple, yet effective cinematography by Michael Marius Pessah (Little Erin Merryweather). It's a good looking film and the sound is equally impressive with a very fitting score by Brandon Vaccaro (Driven to Ride
) that adds to mood. All in all, it's just a very polished and enjoyable short that doesn't outstay its runtime or undeliver. It's a subtle comedic character study that fans of comedy should definitely check out. Everyone involved deserves to praised. From what I saw, there's definitely room for a sequel, maybe even prequel, which I would be more than happy to check out.

It's definitely safe to see why it has received the praise and success it has had on the festival circuit.Want to check it out for yourself? Well you can! Those involved have made it available to stream online free:

Time to Kill from Cindy Hong on Vimeo.

A massive thank you to Christopher T. Wood for giving me the opportunity to check out this short prior to release!


Sunday, 12 July 2015

Vinegar Syndrome Review: Madman (1981, dir: Joe Giannone)

(1981, dir: Joe Giannone)

“Deep in the woods, lurks a hideous evil... Don't even whisper his name!”
Regular readers will know that I am not a big fan of the slasher genre. A lot of the times, I am just bored to tears. I would much rather watch a giallo when it's at its most convoluted, than a 'classic' slasher. That being said, I'm a fair guy. I believe every film should be watched at least once before you offer your opinion. Thankfully, the lovely folks over at Vinegar Syndrome have been sending over many films that I have never heard of and films that I wouldn't usually check out. Last year they released the slasher classic, Graduation Day. I was pleasantly surprised by the film (Christopher George hamming it up always helps). Fast forward to today, they have recently released another cult classic from the slasher genre. That film is Madman from 1981, directed by Joe Giannone. This is a film I have seen pop up in discussions for years. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. I won't bore you with a retelling of the film because I'm guessing you will have already watched it. I will however, do a good old fashioned cut and paste job of the synopsis because I am a true professional:
“Years ago, Madman Marz violently murdered his family only to escape into the woods before his execution could be completed. Legend has it that anyone who calls his name above a whisper can summon him back to continue his bloody rampage. But teenage Richie, away at camp, doesn’t believe the old legend and calls his name. As night falls, strange things start happening at camp and soon Madman Marz is back, axe in hand, to finish the killing spree he started decades ago.”
Overall, I found Madman to be a very enjoyable film. The concept of an urban legend coming to life is simple, yet ingenious. Of course nowadays, it's a played out plot device. What Madman does that many films haven't managed to do for the most part, is create a mythology that actually has some weight to it. Madman Marz is a brute of a character that deserved to have a franchise just as much as Freddy, Jason or Leatherface. For the most part, it's your typical slasher film. That being said, one thing that is clearly evident is that Madman wasn't a film made out of purely cashing in on the slasher boom at the time, but a genuine passion project from all those involved. There is actual care and effort put in to what is essentially an independent horror film. Instead of a quickly shot and thoughtlessly staged effort, we have a stylish production lensed by James Lemmo (Ms.45). Although not brilliantly acted, the cast do a good job throughout, especially Frederick Neumann (Reversal of Fortune) as the camp leader and Madman Marz himself, Paul Ehlers (Ink & Steel). The film isn't as brutal as other slashers, but the kills are varied and bloody enough to satisfy the gore-hounds. One thing that stood out to me was the score which is brooding and electronic. It adds to the tension of the film. Speaking of which, Madman is full of tension and has a genuinely creepy atmospheric feel that helps the film stand out. This isn't just another schlocky slasher with a cheap gimmick and over the top gore. It's easy to see why Madman has a cult following. I've been more entertained by this film than I have by all of the bigger franchise efforts combined. It's not a perfect film and I'm not suddenly an advocate of the genre, but Madman is a competent enough effort that has charm. I was very pleasantly surprised, but then again, my expectations are always low for films like this. If you haven't seen the film before, give it a try.

In terms of picture and sound quality, the film is newly restored in 4k from the camera negative and I think have Vinegar Syndrome have once again done a stellar job. My only reference to previous releases of Madman are from screen-grabs, but boy this presentation wipes the floor with what was perviously available. A film like this shot entirely at night is always going to be a cause for concern when it comes to restoring, but fear not! The blacks are solid enough the colours are nice and crisp. Vinegar Syndrome have done one of their best restoration jobs here. The sound is also just as solid and helps lifts the synth score to another level. I'm only going off the DVD by the way, you're really in for a treat with the Blu-ray! You may want to sell off your old Anchor Bay DVD, but this release and use the change to buy some pizza and beers for a weekend screening! The best aspect of this release for me is the wealth of extra features. Naturally, you get the theatrical trailer, TV spots and vintage still gallery. There are also commentaries from The Hysteria Lives! As well as the producer, director and cast. Alongside the usual extras you get Victor Bonacore's feature length documentary The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman which includes a wealth of information and anecdotes. There's also featurette celebrating 35 years of Madman as well as new interviews with cast and crew, some conducted by the folks over at Deadpit Radio. To top if off, you also get a selection of songs inspired by the film which is the icing on the cake. Yep, this is as definitive of a release as you will get.

Overall, this is an essential release for both lovers of the film as well as those wanting to experience this cult classic for the first time. Like I said, I am no real fan of slashers, but I have to thank Vinegar Syndrome for making me experience and enjoy a film I wouldn't have rushed out to see any time soon. Go buy this release, but remember to breathe his name no louder than a whisper!

Madman is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome.