Redeemer (2014) Review by RevTerry

A crusty traveler “kid” once told me that he wanted to live like he was on a mission from God. At that moment, only two things crossed my mind-- The Blues Brothers (1980) first, because any time someone says “a mission from God" I instantly hear it replayed in Dan Aykroyd’s familiar “Elwood” voice. Secondly, I thought about how cool it would be if there was a magical sky-being out there handing out missions that involved things like hopping trains, cheap beer and DIY accessories like “crotch flaps”. The thirty-nine-year-old had spent the day dropping surface level, profound statements as if a scribe was following him, which I assumed were a mix of stolen anecdotes and common sense, said in the form of what the internet now calls a “hot takes”. They all had come off along the lines of a dollar store birthday card with a character of an elderly cowboy on the front, and this one was no different, at least when it was first proudly released from his bearded, nicotine-stained lips. I had to give him credit though, because the rest of his crew was either too drunk for me to understand altogether or spoke in only FEAR lyrics (and only from two songs). While I didn't really give two shits at the time, I surprisingly found myself going back to the phrase (in his particular framing) later in my life. I don't know what “Beef-Boy of the Scunkunts” (their spelling not mine) true intentions were when he slipped me that fortune cookie-sized, recycled proverb, but it has come in my mind to mean that anything worth acting upon is something worth acting upon with conviction. Whatever it is I'm doing, if I'm going to do it, I might as well look at it as my life's charge, handed to me from above. This has served me well. I did originally hit a little snag around the god part. I don't know if I have a god, let alone if it hands out missions or what the missions would be like if it did. Luckily, I didn't have to start going to church to get the hang of things. Instead, I just started faking its positive effects with the help of my normal standby--cinema. Over time, through the magic of film, I have been witness to countless examples of a person who felt as if they had been tasked by a celestial being and acted accordingly. So if I need a good paragon for that kind of behavior, I can just remember the actions played out in classics like The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), Clash of the Titans (1981) or Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I just pick the best qualities from (mostly) fake crazy people and apply those (it's much safer that way).  Recently I found an unexpected new spiritual role model to add to the list, Redeemer (2014).
Meet Pardo (Marko Zaror), he has suffered some fucked up loss in his life, most notably his beloved family, at the hands of some guy who says bastard a lot, Alacrán (aka Scorpion played by José Luís Mósca), who then left him for dead in the desert. Pardo was once a well-tuned hit-man for a powerful drug syndicate but has left it all behind for a very close relationship with God. So very close, in fact, that Pardo plays Russian roulette daily to make sure the Lord is still listening. Since the death of his family, he has also taken to cleaning up the streets, using his expert ass-kicking skills and some raspy preaching. We first bear witness to this when he smashes the fuck out of some would-be rapist, scum bags he finds performing a low rent reenactment of an early scene from A Clockwork Orange. Turns out (after an explained time period) Alacrán is in the picture again and back to ruining lives, calling people bastards, and playing his part in the drug cartel’s brutal shenanigans. This time the crime syndicate has hired the psychotic hitman in an attempt to retrieve some money accidentally found by a local dock worker, Agustín (Mauricio Diocares). To save the dude (and of course because he already had beef), Pardo aims to take out the sick “bastard” forever and quash the whole drug market as well for fucking with his prayer time. With the help of angry working mom Antonia (Loreto Aravena), the mostly whiny Agustín, and of course a little push from the Catholic Jesus Christ, he mounts an all-out fake bible quote-laden assault on various assortments of thugs (including a whole market full of fishermen). The stakes are high, I assume with all the incoherent talk about money and asking ”God for forgiveness”, and the head honcho (Noah Segan) eventually sends reinforcements in to protect from the holy threat to his criminal empire. I almost forgot--the hero's hood always sits perfectly on his head, always, like with angry Catholic magic (or something). I feel like that's important for some reason and pretty cool.
Redeemer is the zealot lovechild of the Dolph Lundgren Punisher (The Punisher 1989) movie and The Raid: Redemption (2011) if that child was then raised by Bibleman on Batman movies and Assassin's Creed video games. The movie feels like it could have been the gritty reboot of a Christianity based comic book no one ever read. Essentially, it's a classic anti-hero story, with a grunting badass trying to atone for the death of his loved ones through a minimalist but bloody vigilante lifestyle. Released in the same year, parts are relative to John Wick (2014), as it is a heavy stylized revenge tale with brutal fight scenes, reaching for the authenticity of something like The Protector (2005). It's a straight to video sum of the modern mainstream action flick formula but done with some slightly off religious angle and the right amount of authentic b-movie grit. Its bone structure is that of a modern kung-fu flick and keeps itself extremely simple for the sake of the face smashing. The meaty scenes are built around the glorious fights that will eventually close them out but still try for that quick, witty-fast banter that other action flicks might rely on. The set dressing already looks like a makeshift arena when the hooded avenger steps into place and the camera shifts to let you know when it's time to fight, like in a video game. In the spirit of archetypes like the Ronin character, the Christianity angle serves as only the philosophical harness for what is, essentially, pissed off nutbag fury. It sticks to the angry basics and skips over the deeper biblical references. Although possibly missing an opportunity to apply Evangelion style dogma madness to its kung fu, it keeps it fun and just carves “Catholic” into its hooded ninja with Batman-voice. It is lighter fare in most regards but an interesting mix of concepts and cultures in a few others. The movie takes being ridiculous very seriously. It's refreshing, for some reason, to see the outlandish or over the top taking itself as serious as the golden era of TNT action garbage (not that I don't dig the “meta” approach as well sometimes). The solid, simple storyline shines through the dubbing, although, as always, some of the deeper details or drama might be lost on me for various reasons. The normal man on a mission action movie feel is kicked up to cartoon levels. Our vigilante and other key players could feel at home in any modern superhero movies (with a shit ton of CG and better dubbing) or possibly even those WB superhero shows (although I haven't watched any so that's based off their promos). The world in which it takes place is a lively, eccentric one where villains watch a lot of anime and show up only after you have beaten up a small hierarchy of lower bosses. There are certainly more thorough films about violent religious people, but it's a nice watch for some The Boondock Saints (1999) type fun, with enhanced fight scenes and no bitter aftertaste.
The fancy ass-kicking is front and center and, fittingly, the film puts most of its eggs in that blood-soaked basket. Its an international kung-fu/action flick with what seems like a fairly large budget, but there are the normal things to consider for the English speaking audience. As is common, the dialogue feels silly as all fuck,  mostly due to a combination of the sudo-superhero aspects or the translating. Some of the individuals on showcase are, first and foremost, bad-asses in real life and actors second, so while the action is something of true mastery, some of the acting in between can feel a little cornball. All that having been said, the film is in pretty tight form. The editing is quick and slightly stylized. It takes a few cues from recent popular mainstream films in this department but keeps it on the conservative side with its special effects. Benefiting from the cast of martial artists, the no-bullshit fight scenes are a huge point to the film's credit. Because the people that started the kung-fu scuffle are the actual ones throwing the blows, the cuts don't have to play games to hide the fighters identities. Instead, motions are fully captured, followed through completion and the final product just feels more real. Don't get me twisted, most fight scenes are fun (good, corny, Captain Kirk type shit, whatever), but putting the film’s fully performed throwdowns up against--say the fight scenes from something like Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) would be something like comparing taco-truck tacos to the crunchy ground beef things you make at home. Both can be greasy fun in their own right (and I love almost every kind of taco night), but there is no doubt that one is superior. The whole film is brightly lit, and it contrasts its attempts at Dark Knight-like characters and gritty subject matter. The movie pauses, before a few of its brawls, to light the antagonist in some kind of Christ allusion that would make Jim Caviezel jealous. Shot in Chile, almost every fight has some beautiful scenic something going on in the background. In many ways, the style, lighting, and location during some scenes look like a real-world representation of Street Fighter 2’s arenas. There is some nice gore, especially for a flick of its kind, and it takes time to make sure you know no one is getting up after a beat down. The soundtrack is varied but continues to fall back on a random 80s synth beat and a lively rendition of the folk song made famous by Johnny Cash, "God's Gonna Cut You Down”. Despite sounding like some Stranger Things b-sides at times, the music is just silly enough to work with the whole live action anime thing the movie has going on.
Marko Zaror has a great 2000s Batman meets prudish Jason Statham thing going on.  His “Redeemer” could fit in great alongside other silly favorites like Darkman or Black Scorpion but with a few big differences. He doesn't really have a suit, just kind of a signature way he wears his hoodies, so no leather or mask. Secondly, he is a big plus to the action and its style. It's my understanding that in real life Zaror studies multiple martial arts and is, as well, a celebrated stuntman which comes through during the film’s practical fight scenes. His arch nemesis who only knows one insult, José Luís Mósca, looked creepy as fuck, and the fact that he babbled forever about the weirdest threatening shit was actually pretty unnerving, but the voice did not match that dude’s look at all. It kind of sounded like Spike from Cowboy Bebop, but as far as I know, Steve Blum was not involved. Also what was with the bastard thing? Surely not every person can be a bastard?  Noah Segan plays the cartel boss and corn balls his douchebag, ruthless leader nicely. It might have been partially his voice dubbing, but I was reminded of Mauricio from El Mariachi (1992) during every one of his scenes. 
Redeemer is a silly mess of fancy moves and moody vigilante cliches with some comic book sized takes on religion. It is very much the product of modern action film trends, but the focus on practical fight scenes and in your face elements make it feel like it came from another time. Those that have some strict religious policies will likely find some beef in there somewhere, but it's a fun dumb action flick at its core.  To its ultimate credit, it is an over the top portrayal of faith that even a bleak agnostic like myself can get down with. Plus, now I have another great example to help me understand what being handed a “mission from God” might be like. I may not be down with the whole god part, but deities look like good motivational steroids, at least in films, and that can come in handy. Luckily, I don't have to go to a church to brush up on any of these self-help strategies, I can just watch shit like Redeemer. Because--sometimes you need to go at the day as if you traded coffee for a one-man game of  Russian roulette, and some magical sky-being informed you that it was your sole duty to kick people in the fucking face. Thanks, Beef-Boy, wherever you are. I never would have reached this religious understanding without you.
1h 28min | 2014
 Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Writers: Gina Aguad, Sanz Andrea, Diego Ayala, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Guillermo Prieto

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Chained Heat II (1993) Review by RevTerry

I like how they snuck the women in prison genre back into the mainstream--it was slick as fuck. I hardly even noticed when it was really trending a few years ago. I can't really say I know what to call that approach, but getting housewives and college kids to be down with it was a nifty trick. Orange is the New Black isn't quite Franco's 99 Women, but if you made a pretty detailed WIP checklist, I'm sure it would have no issue hitting a majority of the boxes. Plus, from what I have seen, it borrows pretty liberally from the classics. There's just as much trash to it as there is drama and it serves many of the same functions as most of the favorite girls-behind-bars flicks. Female penitentiaries sit along a well-worn path in entertainment, with sidewalks and a bike lane. The ideas and drama involved come standard in some of the (damper) parts of cinema. A posh girl’s harsh “reality” checks, the rampant inevitable extreme abuse of power in the hands of cruel individuals, and a tendency to pause abruptly for steamy sex in unbelievable fucked up places (like a prison) are hardly fresh concepts. That newfangled shit is very much a part of a time-honored tradition dating back to the 1960s (and before), just repackaged (again) and with a great selling strategy.  It's not a bad thing, actually the opposite. In fact, I feel bad for pointing it out. I wouldn't want to be responsible for ruining someone's trashy entertainment, even if they fooled themselves into thinking they were watching something else, something more respectable. Who knows? -- this could lead to much better, grander things. One day they could be roaming the backstreets of Amazon video or Netflix and run into to one of Orange is the New Black’s ancestors and, on some level, make a connection. Say they click that shit, and still high on the mainstream shlock, they allow themselves to enjoy the sleaze that unfolds before their nearly virgin eyes. Weirder shit has happened, and a person can dream of a better reality. I like to think a few binge watchers have uncovered previously unknown worlds in the last few years; worlds stocked with all the drama and explicable prison relations they could ever want. Before you know it, you’ll have soccer moms and straight-A students making a run for the bargain bins, looking for forgotten cinema sleaze like today's subject, Chained Heat II (1993).
The film opens with a credit spliced mad dash around a prison, from the eyes of (what I think is) a large cat of some sort, while female prisoners run in front of the camera screaming. Afterward, a very respectable voice-over tells us the story of Reznik in Prague, a historic former Soviet-run prison that has been locking up beautiful girls on bogus drug charges at an increasing rate lately. Some of which have turned up dead soon after (yeah, it just kind of says all this in voiceover). We also learn at this time that the powers in control of Reznik had seen opportunity in the shrinking of the socialist dictatorship and had begun to prosper under the new capitalist system. They had achieved such an easy economic transition by using the captives behind the walls of the prison for slave labor. This meant sometimes pimping the girls out to people who regularly killed them, which in turn led to prison officials actively seeking prospective prisoners (again, yeah, I'm paraphrasing, but it just kind of lays this stuff out in words less than 10 minutes in). After we are given what seems like the whole plot of a film, we meet Alex Morrison (Kimberley Kates), who is about to reunite with her sister Suzanne (Kari Whitman) in the lobby of a Czech train station. Unfortunately, just when the two are in eyeshot of each other, the local authorities pull Alex to the side and plant a hefty amount of drugs on her. Unceremoniously, she is quickly swept away to court where the judge finds her guilty of drug smuggling and sentences her to ten years of hard labor, without the possibility of parole. Soon Alex is at Reznik, where a sped up and bare-bones version of the obligatory WIP induction ceremony plays out with little flare. Right off the bus, she is put into a line with other new prisoners, where they are introduced to Magda Kassar (Brigitte Nielsen) the hard-ass prison warden that immediately makes some off-the-cuff comments about how soft people's skin is to lighten the mood. They also meet Rosa (Jana Svandová), the wardens grumpy, spiteful right hand. When clothes have been handed out, Alex is separated from the rest of the new girls and dropped off to a large cell filled with jeering ladies, all wearing the same blue and white outfit in separate and creative ways. There she meets her rugged bunkmates: the mostly friendly Tina (Lucie Benesová), and the helpful “Bobo”(David Buonantony). While Alex is getting acclimated, Suzanne wastes no time in trying to get her out and has already enlisted a lawyer by the name of Mr.Goff (Paul Koslo) for help, but proper channels were looking unsympathetic, to say the least. Unsurprisingly, the government connected, evil corporation, that we were warned about in great detail at the beginning, is protective of its cash cow prison industry, and they want pretty girls like Alex for sex slaves. However, Suzanne remains diligent, as her sister fights her way through oddly structured prison politics and shower scenes.  Will Alex be able to endure the brutal work/sex camp long enough to make some kind of escape? Or will the 90s sometimes Russian-sounding Brigitte Nielsen finally break her with her mind fuckery and sharp lady suits?
The film has no canonical relation to it predecessor Chained Heat (1983), the only obvious links being the bare bones of the subject matter (and maybe some character influence). It could easily be a follow up to several other related flicks (in some cases just by exchanging out the word “Heat” or “Chained”” in the title), and it would fit just as well, possibly more naturally. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers had accidentally rented Prison Heat (from that same year) by mistake in preparation, as the plot’s closer. The first Chained Heat (1983) which starred Linda Blair, Sybil Danning and John Vernon (oh shit, and Henry Silva) is a classic of the WIP genre. Mostly this is due to its cult star power, but for what it's worth, it's one of the more developed entries from that era (and a favorite of mine). Chained Heat II (1993) holds only faintly to the spirit of the original, and the type of focus the first one put to the evil corrupt bureaucratic system that kept the main character enslaved is left behind to make a more fill-in-the-blanks style antagonist. Here the protagonist faces persecution from a more classic fictionalized foreign authority figure, the hard-nosed relics of the cold war. The feeling is removed from the distrust of men in suits that was common in the 80s and is more in line with what you get from one of the Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) clones of the era before. In fact, in a lot of ways, it feels like an older film than the first and often relies on tropes that feel out of place for the 90s, masked with a hint of early Cinemax late night original feature. You never get the loud angry vibes the Blair/Danning vehicle gave us, however, there is plenty to tie the two films together, like healthy amounts of showering, for example.  As a follow up to my favorite 80s WIP flick, it doesn't hold much weight, but it's a decent introductory use of common genre set pieces.
The film is fluffy trash throughout. A nice brand of easy to swallow sleaze, if you know what you're getting into. It's pretty light fare for the genre, geared towards the straight to VHS market, relying on the straightforward T & A, instead of shock factor, to sell itself (for worse or for better). Although it's written with a serious face on, it is low on the genre-patented mean spirit, possibly in part to widening its scope of viewership. It’s more a low-ball pulp thriller than a twisted drama. The terrible acts of the antagonists are relegated to the background for the most part, like some kind of classic spy-adventure flick. I mean, there is the obvious stuff, but ultimately we know they are bad people because they look villainous and talk about the horrible things they do. Those looking only for some of the normal gut-wrenching will probably be disappointed, and nothing will likely pull at a heartstring. Stakes never reach a level that can be felt in real any way, the threat is all surface level and hollow. The Plot keeps a quick fun pace while not really going anywhere, and keeps it entertaining, at the very least. Despite a barely foreshadowed twist, its story is too simple and well paved to trip upon in any way. It mostly serves to tie together scenes of classic behind-bars shenanigans and Brigitte Nielsen getting coked out in a David Bowie costume. In case any of the watered down WIP madness gets boring, there's a splash of slasher thrown in to make up for the lack of torture that its influences had. Some of the characters feel torn from another flick, dialog and all. Several conversations seem as though they are happening between two people of completely different eras. Some of this was probably intentional, in an attempt to portray the Czech Republic as alien or backward to our protagonist. The majority of the mismatching is likely the side effect of its heavy use of cliche genre archetypes that come from (at the time) forty-plus years of international cinema. It can't compete with some of the classics of the type, but it's a lively run through some of the tried and true themes the genre perfected. 
On a technical level, it feels close to a short-lived action show on Fox and less like the softcore cable flicks that normally carry this kind of nudity and hairstyling. The background walls look as though they could be wheeled out and exchanged when necessary. Entered by way of dirt roads and dungeon-like hallways made of stone, the actual prison cells look like a cross between a Fema camp and a plantation. The whole thing is well lit and, while it's not flushed out or soft, it has none of the grimy feel that drives home some of its peer's more fucked up aspects. Women always look extremely made up and groomed for prisoners, with the possible explanation in this case, being their expected duties. The soundtrack is a blast but is definitely not “good”. More just hilariously out of place at all times. It's all over the spectrum and gives not a single fuck about what's happening on the screen. One memorable scene tries to pull off some kind of S & M vibe (not a crazy idea for this type of shit), but the accompanying score had me sure I was waiting for someone to reveal witch powers or turn into a werewolf at any moment. Out of what I have seen from the director, it's one of his more solid works, although the bulk of his work goes much further over into the realm of softcore porn (including the cable TV spiritual sequels Chained Heat 2001: Slave Lovers in 2001 and Girl Camp 2004: Lesbian Fleshpots in 2003 ). On a basic level, it is adequate filmmaking, but his light-hearted style blends with the lack of on-screen violence to make something much less gripping and complicated than a movie about a fucked prison/slavery ring should be. On the bright side, it makes it an easy pill to swallow and maybe a good entry point for the uninitiated (or the rare Brigitte Nielsen fan, if you find one).
I hate to keep comparing the movie to its namesake, since I really shouldn't bother, but the cult cinema power duo of Sybil Danning and Linda Blair is a fucked up act to follow. Brigitte Nielsen is a legend in her own right, and in the right kind of film she can kick a lot of ass. I feel blessed that I was born early enough to remember her as part of the golden age Stallone crew, as opposed to being introduced to her during the awkward grasps for relevance of the 2000s. Bridget's “bad guys” are larger than life and full of bright comic book gusto. The style doesn't quite mesh perfectly in this particular case, but it's always fun to watch her stomp around scowling at people. Another familiar face in cult cinema, Paul Koslo lends his deep-fried glare. Koslo gave us great roles in flicks like Robot Jox (1989) and (another all-time favorite) Vanishing Point (1971) (etc..). He brings a little extra ham in this case, mostly to match the rest of the flicks motif, I think. Kimberley Kates plays the incarcerated focus of the film. Chances are, you have seen Kates at some point in something (Seinfeld maybe). I felt like she was well cast. For whatever reason, her take feels like the most appropriate for writing out of the main leads. Actually, in some other time period, I could see her playing a lead for Jess Franco or Cirio H. Santiago in a WIP flick at an earlier point in history. That's not to say her acting here is what's normally called “good”, but she brings the right kind of energy to the corny-ass table.
Chained Heat II is less a worthy sequel to one of the best “behind bars” flicks of the 80s and more a mostly safe 90s tribute to the entire Women In Prison genre in general. Quick paced and padded with late night cable-like skin, it can make a pretty entertaining watch, but you aren't going to find any of the dastardly content or shock that made the genre memorable in the previous eras. I myself can enjoy the off-kilter attempts at steamy drama and straight-faced corn it has to offer. In the end, I guess time proved this movie failed to widen the WIP audience in any significant way with its tamer, more easily digested approach; something Netflix would seem to perfect twenty years later. Maybe the shopping mall crowd won't be lurking the yards sales for VHS tapes any time soon, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing how that fad filters through the mainstream. And just to be clear, I'm not saying that you should start sharing your favorite 90s near-porn with your mom just because she watches Orange is the New Black or anything like that... I'm also not speaking out against that type of information flow or like judging you if you do. I just don't think I am prepared to take credit for those kinds of relationship dynamics.
1h 39min | 1993
 Director: Lloyd A. Simandl
Writer: Chris Hyde 

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Progeny (1998) Review by RevTerry

Unexplained birth is a strange running theme throughout the history of fiction. Christian based fantasy is fond of “the chosen” hybrid spawn trope. You have the big ones -- Damion, Jesus Christ, Rosemary's Baby. Not to mention the countless clones, parodies and tributes they inspired. In the same vane, you have a bunch more semi-original Messiah dudes, supposedly born through some kind magic shenanigans, popping up in so many of myths.  Virgins sort of act like a portal into our world for God's and demons... I guess, seems really messy. Chances are, since it's a religious thing we are talking about here, it probably has some terrible, deep seeded history behind the running gimmick. Even so, the subject makes for fun horror movies and probably inspired the relatively modern idea “alien pregnancy”. On the one hand, even without ever owning a womb (or being capable of sustaining another lifeform), the idea of aliens gestating in my personal fleshpod is hard to think about without getting uncomfortable. Having some creature of unknown origin incubating inside me sounds like some Discovery Channel parasite documentary type shit, and I have trouble putting to words how much it really fucks with me. Actually, just the idea of having a regular human baby-thing co-opting my body freaks me-the-fuck out, so it is a great place to start for some creepy sci-fi or horror (shout to women because their lives are pretty much just horror movies without a consistent soundtrack). On the other hand though, why are aliens leading with interspecies pregnancy? Have they done every other test they could think of, and all that's left now is to leave a random bun in the oven, on an already overcrowded planet, just to see what happens? Or is that the first thing they try when they see a new species, like as a greeting policy or something? I find it hard to believe that there is an advanced, space-faring species that has traveled all this way, when they could have just had the answers they wanted from some porn and one of those face mashup things your aunt shares on facebook. It is troubling to me that we jump to the conclusion--that the first task in contact with an intergalactic semi-intelligent being is to get someone pregnant. Maybe I'm alone on this one, but it sounds kind of narcissistic to assume the main objective of aliens on earth is to blend up some of that sweet-sweet human DNA with their own. But like I said, this makes fun movies, because the concept alone has a lot of fucked up potential for unnerving sci-fi horror-type shit. Like the slippery human science experiments in Progeny (1998).
When we first meet Dr. Craig (Arnold Vosloo) and Sherry Burton (Jillian McWhirter) they are in the midst of a loving embrace in bed, performing a passionate take on what some people call “the missionary position”. The stiff love-making is interrupted by a blue light and a 3-hour loss of time. Shit must not be extremely lively lately, because the two decide they must have just collectively passed out while in the middle of the whole thing, and then woke up conveniently in sync to finish. This mysterious marathon fuck weighs heavy on Dr. Burton increasingly, even weeks after the event. The doctor’s already high-stress career as an emergency room surgeon begins to suffer, when he starts having disturbing visions brought on by his surgical instruments, and those around him begin to notice cracks in his usually cool exterior. The revelation that Sherry is pregnant after years of attempts comes with it some fucked up implications. While a source of excitement for the soon to be mom, the announcement is bittersweet for the doctor, as the miracle baby’s inception date lines up suspiciously close to the night of bizarre happenings. The more-than coincidental timing begins to cause trouble between the usually happy (and eager) couple. The news also brings along more in-depth, vivid visions of that night, involving strange beings and Sherry being removed from the room by an unseen force. Worried he might be playing step daddy to some kind of extraterrestrial trojan horse, Dr.Burton convinces Sherry to visit his therapist (Lindsay Crouse) for some regression therapy. Sooner or later, the leading (televised) authority on extraterrestrial visitations, Dr. Bert Clavell (Brad Dourif), shows up to do his best exorcist impersonation, and Sherry Burton starts to remember just how freaky shit really got, that night on the spaceship.
The story plays out like a mix of Communion (1989) and a reversed (severely lighter) version of the stained classic Rosemary's Baby (1968), brought together by Director's Brian Yuzna’s recognizable touch.  It's a dreamy crawl, for more than half the movie, that toys around with taboo parenting fears, as well as suspicions that the invading insemination may all be in the protagonists head. There is a lot more realistic drama to the film than I originally expected. The tension in the film lives in the strain upon the couple’s relationship (during what is traditionally a joyous time) and the outward appearance of Dr. Burton’s mental health. Like Communion (1989) and other “true story” abduction flicks, it spends the large chunks of screen time between bizarre abduction sequences depicting the effects of those events on an otherwise normal life. Without having one singular derivative source, the story seems to invoke several details from some of the more famous abduction stories. The doctor's research and the “expert” character’s rants give a few nods to known phenomenon research but mostly just by buzzword alone (as far as I know). Think Mulder's rambling from the first few seasons of The X-Files (1994 ish), referencing only enough to make a call out to all of the amateur ufologists in the audience. It uses a similar structure to other abduction films, teasing the event itself in surprise flashbacks and therapy invoked visions. It's not always super effective--sometimes reminding me of the giggle-inducing hypnosis scenes of Christopher Walken in Communion. When it does work however, it hammers in some creepy vibes and troublesome details that can get pretty disturbing if you get into it. Stuart Gordon takes a “story” credit, and you can feel his blunt wit within the premise. It's full of engaging ideas, and the plot itself is strong, but with the help of some of the dialog, it builds up a layer of cheese that sticks around all the way until the dramatic finale. The cornier moments can be just as entertaining (for me) but may dampen the efforts of the tension on the brutal visions in the film a bit. It saves a lot of unsanitary, fucked up fun for the last quarter. Yuzna and Co. double down on the memorable late reveals of Fire in the Sky (1993), with a touch of straight-faced hentai for good measure. Sprinkled throughout are little bits of social commentary that never really come to a head. The notion seems admirable, but they amount to being mostly just passing puns with no purpose. The drama all works as a whole and catches a flow early on, that never threatens any boredom.  As always, Yuzna uses familiar elements and takes them to unique extremes. The script isn't quite as compelling as the concepts that go into it, but Progeny makes an entertaining and fittingly slimy case for serious alien abduction films.
In most aspects, the movie works within the budget well. Yuzna seems to rely on the restrained simple camera to tie the drastically different types of scenes together. The film has a classic horror feel to it's framing, even when it's lined with a modern sci-fi design. Its tactics are more Beyond Re-Animator (2003) than Return of the Living Dead III (1993), as there isn't as much experimentation on Yuzna’s (and the camera’s) part. The effects are a mix of computer and practical styles, luckily putting more stake in rubber than graphics. The aliens, in their “comforting” forms, look great from certain angles and with the right accompanying lighting. They kind of had a classic grey meets the window martian puppets from Sesame Street thing going on. Yuzna brings with him his love of oozing, beautifully disgusting monster design. In this case, by tapping the masterful hands of Screaming Mad George and Bart Mixon for effects (among others). There is an assortment of gross-out moments and creative body horror aspects that stand out despite being doled out in short blasts. Its apex comes in a set of scenes depicting the alien experimentation in it's “true” grotesque glory. It calls back to several influences, but it's all very Yuzna--nasty comic book like terror, organically realized. The noticeable CG in the film isn't doing the work any favors, and at its best it looks like something from a late 90s TV show. One scene in particular, depicting Ms. Sherry Burton’s ascension into (what I think is) a cloud but instead looks like a grey PS2 butthole, took me out of the mood for a quick minute. There's a sort of clash between the great work on the rubber/makeup side and the bad computer shit, mostly during its flip-flopping from practical, colorful lighting to artificial effects added in post. There's a glowing, strobed visitor effect, at some point on the ship, that works perfectly well despite being pretty frugal. That is, before a shitty Windows 95 laser comes out of nowhere, artificially brightens the screen, and makes it look like someone had just been waving those Glo Worm dolls (that kids had in the 90s) around the whole time. Most of the added effects aren't that bad, and they normally do not take too much from the overall enjoyment, but it's still kind of a bummer. It rounds itself out in the second half when CG mostly takes a well deserved back seat to slippery goop and nudity (although I may have just adapted to it.). The soundtrack isn't going to kill anyone, but the film could have been heightened several levels by a decent piece of music. It’s that generic canned shit, the type that technically does the job but never really adds much to what's going on, just kind of exists. I get the impression most of the dough was dumped into cool alien effects and they just made do with what was left on it's soul alone. As far as I'm concerned, that was a great plan in this case, and it paid off in globs.
The dialog can get a little goofy sometimes, it's hard to pinpoint whether it is the writing or the actors that add the corn factor. The lead is played Arnold Vosloo, who I will always remember as “the other Darkman” but lately only seems to come up in conversations when I have to “remind” people that Billy Zane was not the mummy in The Mummy (1999). The guy makes a great bad guy (or Zartan even in shitty films) but in this case, it took a little getting used to. As the doctor aspect became more involved, I started feeling him more, but I swear he changed accents like three times. Jillian McWhirter plays the species-uniting mother-to-be Sherry Burton.  McWhirter pops up in a lot of great trash and horror (including Yuzna’s The Dentist 2 1998), and I consider myself a fan. She is a little out of her element, as the whole film is played with no intentional camp, but seems to handle things well enough. To give credit where credit is due, she holds up, even though her most involved scenes amount to being naked and poked with rubber tentacle things. Fan favorite Brad Dourif plays renowned UFO expert Dr. Bert Clavell with his usual gusto. Dourif is always a manic highlight, and this film is par for the course although he feels a little underutilized. You will probably recognize a few other faces, but I couldn't review this film without mentioning Wilford Brimley, who is kind of just being Wilford Brimley--but if he was a gentle baby doctor instead of Wilford Brimley.
Progeny is an awesomely uncomfortable extraterrestrial horror flick that tries its hardest to supply as much suspense as it does slimy shock. It's a serious affair that seems closer to a dramatic reenactment of a real-life account than something like Aliens (1986), only embellished with slick grotesque body horror. There's a lot for me to grab on to in there. If you allow yourself to take the trip, it packs some disturbing implications and imagery in entertaining and unique ways. I could see it pairing well with Fire in the Sky, the extremely watchable Roswell “incident” 90s TV movie with Kyle MacLachlan (its called Roswell, made in 1994, I had to look it up) and of course the 80s Christopher Walken vehicle, based on Whitley Strieber's dream diary entries, Communion. Whether or not it makes any sense to me, the whole “implanted” sleeper cell child thing freaks me out on a deep, unexplainable level. Maybe the feeling is common or inherent, which would explain why the trope keeps coming up in the fantasy of the world. All I know is I'm glad I wasn't born with a womb, I'm too wimpy for that shit. I don't think I would do well with the constant threat of being used as a vessel for some kind of bullshit population scheme alien, demon or otherwise.
1h 38min | 1998
 Director: Brian Yuzna
Writers: Aubrey Solomon and Stuart Gordon

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Rejuvenatrix (1988) Review by RevTerry

Since my boyish charm isn't just defined by a very un-adult toy collection and lack of financial stability but also a youthful look to my physical features, I hadn't really thought about growing old much. I still get carded everywhere I go, couldn't grow a gut if I tried and only have to shave off my fifteen-year-old boy style mustache/goatee like twice a week, if that. Honestly, after you work in retail or are forced to drive in or around a town full of baby boomers, old people start to feel like a whole different species altogether, not something you could turn into. My stunted outward age used to bother me when I was younger, but in the later years it became an immunity to some of the ailings and complaints of my peers concerning what age had done to their bodies. Unfortunately, that has started to change at thirty. Part of that switch-up in mindset is due to the number itself, it's just kind of fucked up and scary. It doesn't matter if I look like I’m twenty, on paper I’m officially a full-on adult human, with all the (thoroughly unfulfilled) requisites that come along with that classification. More than numbers though, Im at a point now where my body seems to go out of its way to remind me that I do, in fact, age. It mattered not if the whole world, including myself, thought I was some kind of punk rock Peter Pan motherfucker, my fleshy vessel indeed has an expiration date--like everyone else. Comments on my youthful appearance don’t have the same magic they did before, now that I secretly know I get more winded after sexy time than I used to. The truth of the world is--we all have a built-in breakdown point, like an Apple brand product, we deteriorate and get ugly to make room for the next generation. Maybe I lucked out, and outwardly it worked in my favor for a few years, but I was just falling apart in a different way. I haven't experienced anything serious yet, but I can feel that; gone are my careless days when it comes to aging. What are you going to do? I certainly don't have it in me to fall on any great or extreme lengths to remedy this impending condition--like the ones in Rejuvenatrix (1988).
During a lab crisis involving a missing mutated rat, we are introduced to Dr. Gregory Ashton (John MacKay), his partner in science Dr. Stella Stone (Katell Pleven) and their faculty at Ashton Labs. With the help of some pretty hefty donations from a wealthy aging actress, Elizabeth Warren (Vivian Lanko), the duo has been working themselves to death, in an effort to stop the effects of aging on the human body. Their experiments, while fruitful, had proven to still need work, hence the violent rodent escape. While age was indeed regressed in their trials with rats, the subjects required a steady intake of the docs special grey matter slurry (aka brain juice) to remain stable and pretty. Despite the escaped (possibly deadly) mutant subject, the scrutiny of his peers and a lack of sleep, Dr. Ashton is determined to continue his work. Unfortunately, the wealthy benefactor who plans to use the youth treatment to return to stardom, cannot wait any longer, and after calling Dr.Ashton to her dusty ass mansion for an awkward chat, demands to receive the treatment immediately. Of course, Dr.Ashton refuses at first and tries to explain to Elizabeth that the operation is not finalized (without driving home the super rat-monster point, for some reason), but when she threatens to pull funding, he reluctantly agrees. Back at the lab, Dr. stone is understandably perturbed by the abrupt change in plans but fails to be the voice of reason and joins in on the extreme plastic surgery anyway. The initial operation is a success, and after some swelling Ms.Warren is back to her younger self with plans to break back into Hollywood. Though as unfinished super science often does, Elizabeth's newly obtained youth comes with a few side effects. The worst of which is transforming into some ever-changing fucked-up lumpy thing with claws, every time she misses a dose of the upkeep-serum. Elizabeth seems somewhat satisfied with the situation, but the necessary dosage of brain matter gets larger each time and so too the need for human heads.   When Dr. Ashton cannot keep up with the demand, Ms. Warren takes to the streets to get her brain goo fresh from the source. Dr. Ashton, like many mad scientists before him, must mount an assault against his failed creation, but he is running out of time as she grows more powerful with every human head she turns into a bread bowl. 
The film’s story is a slow drive-by of timeless fables and some of the various trends in gross-out horror of the late 80s. It calls back to the ancient idea of the “fountain of youth” but is more in the spirit of doctor Frankenstein than (the heavily romanticized) Ponce de León. There are heavy parallels to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, although it's less focused on human duality, as the one doing all the physical transforming was kind of a bitch to start with. More a good neighbor than a ripoff, the Re-Animator (1985) influence is prevalent, but it's muted with a soap opera like palette. While the science in the film is no doubt part of the “mad” variety, the persistent doctor is filled with an internal struggle regarding the morality involved in his pursuits--far removed from the lovable, disconnected sociopath doctor West, but just as crazy in his own ways. There is none of that film’s comedy, it never so much as winks at the audience. The Re-Animator angle is much more prominent in the poster and alternative title (The Rejuvenator) most likely tacked as a sales ploy. Its story has some of Yuzna's DNA somewhere inside it, but there is very little of Stuart Gordon’s style to be found in the film. Legend has it that director Brian Thomas Jones reworked the idea from a spec script, “Skin” by Simon Nuchtern, aspiring to create something along the lines of “Bride of Frankenstein meets Sunset Boulevard”.  The film at times has been called an unofficial remake of The Wasp Woman (1959), from which it borrows the aging actress who is fighting the twilight of her good looks through fringe science at a heavy cost. Outside the more obvious, the middle segment’s dry bridge into sudden body-horror comes off a little something like early Cronenberg as well (when I squinted). It has thick tangled roots, but it grows into its own unique example of the mad scientist trope all the same. I'm also beginning to think the majority of super science labs have cute blonde assistants in a glasses, that look like the cutscene lady from the Rampage video games.
Like other 80s sci-fi brand horror films (I have already mentioned) it inherits some of Great Grandma Shelley’s gothic soul, despite its supposed technological advancements. It takes itself seriously for the most part, and even with its natural aptitude for camp, its message comes with heavy intentions.  The story is surprisingly character focused, built around internal and interpersonal conflict. Human nature, the lengths of the obsession, and the inevitability of aging are just as much a part of the movie’s horror as the slimy, gory stuff. It's not completely successful, but it makes an earnest try at being a human-based drama--just one heavily enhanced by mutations and dead guy juice. The film takes it's time to get going, spending more than half its runtime with characters spilling their guts at a feather drop to set up the exciting bits that come later in droves. More than enough tape is given to pointing out that our scientist, while willing to do anything to continue his work, still struggles with the moral conundrums or to highlight the fact that his relationship with his fellow scientist lady friend is rocky.  Wading through the would-be intense conversation about silly fictional science experimentation (as opposed to any of it happening on screen) begins to drag a little, but the film trades its dry drama for good old fashion sci-fi splatter, long before it threatens to lose me. The ample amount of on-screen action is well worth the wait, and the two flavors swirl better than one would think. The pace and uneven on-screen action is odd but makes it stand out in a subgenre known for being bizarre.  It's almost stretched thin with dilemma between vanity and murderous mutation but holds it all together in its own way.  The body horror and super science are surface level only, the science talk--all jargon. It feels like an extended story ripped from the non-glossy pages of the old school horror comics, a culmination of several borrowed elements squeezed into a gotcha morality tale. Think EC Comics of the early 50s but with a lot more words and with none of the snark that the Tales from the Crypt’s tv adaptations had. it's probably not going to make the world rethink the importance it places on looks, but the baggage heavy, cartoon body horror makes for an entertaining fable taken to its grimy 80s extreme.
The film’s framing is mostly straightforward, tv-like work, and the mix of spirited set dressing does more for the scenes than any camera angles. The setting is modern, but its blend of gothic structures and silly scientific equipment place it in a more exaggerated reality than our own. A lot of time is spent in a brightly lit lab, decorated with beakers filled with random colors and useful things, like a wall full of tube TVs on the fritz. The world outside the lab is made up of large dirty houses, castle-like interiors and warehouse rock concerts, each as if taken from their own film.  More and more as the film progresses, it plays with colored lighting. At its best, this comes close to the inked effect of Creepshow’s (1982) more comic moments, but just as quickly, a scene will look like they just kind tossed some blue lights in a dark room and called it good.  Both the gore and the creature effects are healthy as fuck, the kind of great you can only get from these types of films and from this time. Master Bruce Spaulding Fuller puts together some disturbing, unique monstrosities and wounds that would still hold up today in a lot of ways, making me wish CG had never been allowed to come within a hundred feet of the horror genre. With some better angles and editing, the effects on display would have been straight fucking amazing, but even without help they are still pretty awesome. Altogether, the mess that comes out the other end is nowhere near a technical wonder, but it's still a highly motivated and entertaining use of old standbys and slime.
Acting is the films biggest drawback. All the characters are well chosen in appearance, but when they open their mouths, things just go to shit. Whether the cause is direction or ability, the actors destroy almost every bit of dialogue in the film,  sometimes just by sounding really out of place.  It doesn't take away from the watch value, with this kind of cornball schlop, and on some level the soap opera delivery matches the story's focus. The quality is pretty universal throughout the cast, with the biggest exception being Vivian Lanko who plays Elizabeth Warren for every stage of her metamorphosis. I have never watched more than four minutes of Dallas in my life, but I feel like she would have killed it on there. Along with being the best human actor in the movie, she pulls off several different stages of drastic mutation that would give Jeff Goldblum a run for his money. Most of which come with their own elaborate make-up, prosthetics, and style. It couldn't have been easy, especially when almost everyone else was kind of just phoning it in around her. 
Rejuvenex is an underrated splatter commentary piece that takes a goofy but unique run at well-worn paths. It's less tongue in cheek than it's counterparts but pays homage to a wider range of related influences. The film goes for broke in the gore and monster department, even if it saves it all for the second half. Most importantly it's a fun way to reflect on a very real and fucked up fact of life--we are all going to get old. No matter how pretty you think you are, beauty is a fleeting resource. All things change and there is little we can do about it. Humans rot like fallen rind-less fruit that has been cursed with a mouth to complain from. Like everyone else, I too will grow old someday and you know what? Fuck it, I'm cool with that. Maybe I can finally grow a beard or wear flannel without looking like a hipster. Besides, in the real world, cadaver-brain Botox isn't an option and making good lifestyle choices that might actually retard the process sounds too fucking hard.
 1h 30min | 1988
 Director: Brian Thomas Jones
Writers: Brian Thomas Jones, Simon Nuchtern

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Review by:
RevTerry


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