RAGE OF FIRE 2 (2018) BY MATHIEU CAILLIERE

Reviews

Director: Mathieu Cailliere
Writer: Mathieu Cailliere, Sebastien Petitjean, Jeremy Vazzoli
Year: 2018
Starring: Sebastien Petitjean, Mathieu Cailliere, Lorelei Meunier, Kevin Duragrin

One of my fondest memories as a child was waking up on a Christmas morning and discovering that Santa Claus had left me a brand new Sega Mega-Drive. I loved that console (and its rival the SNES which I also would later own) and the whole range of games available in particular the sideways scrolling beat-em-up’s that I would play constantly both at home and in the local arcade while on a seaside holiday. The Final Fight and Streets of Rage series were my equal favourites if you must know.

So over the last few years it has been nice from both a nostalgic and cinematic point of view that there has been a few short grindhouse-style film releases (KUNG FURY and JUST JUSTICE III being the best of the crop) that played into my love of 16-bit entertainment and action.

Courtesy of the Mase Brothers I can add another title to this ever-growing list;
RAGE OF FIRE 2!

Throwing in references to Streets of Rage, Street Fighter and Doom amongst others RAGE OF FIRE 2 follows cop Axel return from his self-imposed exile to vanquish the evil Mr Gun who has returned from the dead and taken Axel’s sister, Gina, hostage within an armoured warehouse.

Cue skateboarding gun-toting smart-ass action that really commits to the 16-bit video game style. All of the dialogue is delivered on-screen adding to the authenticity meanwhile the action is delivered through a combination of live action and in-game style action (and both, with a first person shoot-em’up style) with some neat touches like the eating of a digitalised apple to visibly boost a health bar thrown in for good measure.

RAGE OF FIRE 2 is a short film that perfectly recreates the 16-bit action game feeling and manages to do so along with some well judged humour, well lit cinematic shots (director Mathieu Cailliere knows his stuff) and a storming soundtrack.

Stay cool! Stay retro!

Oh and keep an eye out for the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in the background. You can watch the film on the Mase Brothers YouTube channel or below:

Imperoli, Clever, Batzella, Lazer and Milewski!

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It must have been around four years ago and with the short film VIOLETS BLOOM AT AN EMPTY GRAVE that director Chris Milewski was first brought to my attention, although that short was credited to his pseudonym Luciano Imperoli through which he also put out THE COLD EYES OF DEATH, which I managed to see shortly after.

Not only were these two short films directed by some unknown Italian, or so it seemed at the time, but they were steeped in the atmosphere of the horror output of Lucio Fulci and were accompanied by 80s synth horror soundscapes reminiscent of the legendary Fabio Frizzi…which was hardly surprising when I found out that the great man had contributed to one of the short films.

But I was surprised to learn that these films had been crafted by an American, located thousands of miles away from the homeland of the maestro of horror but seemingly so close in terms of artistic vision and mindset.

As Milewski’s portfolio (and use of pseudonyms) grew so did his fanbase and thankfully his opportunities. To date his most distributed work includes segments in the anthology movies POE4: THE BLACK CAT (which I reviewed for Diabolique magazine here) and also A TASTE OF PHOBIA which has recently completed its festival run and I believe is now available on VOD.

But after all these years you are probably wondering why only now I am writing about him…and he’s not even European. Well in answer to these questions I have put this brief piece together because he has released another Fulci-inspired short film (and I feel a bit behind the curve having waited so long to do this) and secondly because he makes films that hark back to the output of the golden age of the early 80s Italian horror scene. Something that no doubt will interest many who visit this site.

With his new short film, PHANTOMS OF THE FOG, Milewski takes influence from not only his favourite genre but also the horrors of the Vietnam war. But this is no CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE action-filled romp but rather a maggot-infested journey by way of the undead. In the words of the French website Toxic Crypt it “… could be described as a Lucio Fulci achievement based on a script by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso.” and I for one certainly concur. Additionally I have to say the make up is fantastic, think along the lines of BURIAL GROUND and ZOMBI 2.

This eleven minute short stars Filmiracle Productions regulars Karen Lynn and Terry Reilly, while newcomer Ryan Fargo plays the part of an American soldier wandering around in the jungle for reasons unknown.

So if you have a penchant for Lucio Fulci inspired 80s Italian horror then why not jump on the bandwagon with Fabio Frizzi and myself by watching the below and judging for yourself.

You can view a number of short films by Chris Milewski on the Filmiracle productions YouTube channel.

JUSTICIA JUSTICIERA III (2016) BY RAFA DENGRA

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Justicia Justiciera III Kungfu Karate Annihilator
Director: Rafa Dengrá aka Alexander Dreissel
Writer: Rafa Dengrá aka Alexander Dreissel
Year: 2016
Starring: Raúl DelaCruz, Rafa Dengrá, Óscar SanJuan, Carlos Prieto, Andrés Rebollo, Renko, Antonio Muñoz, Sarita, Mayka Dengrá.

Synopsis:
Chuck Lee Bronson is accidentally sent into the future instead of the past in order to solve the criminal punk gang problem that has taken over the world. 

Review:
Let’s be clear from the start, this is not a sequel to anything but rather both a ridiculous take on sequels and a reference to the fact that in the story there were two failed attempts to solve the growing criminal gang problem born from angry dressed punk bands which look a more extreme variant of those gangs from the classic 70’s film THE WARRIORS.

Thankfully they, whoever they are, got it right when they sent Chuck Lee Bronson, via a time travelling Rubik’s cube, to restore order in a parallel universe version of 1988. 

Now this short film is pure hilarious 1980’s grindhouse action where both the sheer absurdity of the violence and the un-PC humour combine to make something so entertainingly out there it has to be seen. That said however the use of blackface for comedic effect does leave me somewhat conflicted. I appreciate that mainland Europe possesses a slightly different sensibility around the issue of race and that this short film is also a ridiculous send up of all things but I still struggle to believe that this was the right choice despite it fitting the overall tone.

Anyway that criticism over, and it is my only criticism of this short film it is time to look at the positives and that quite frankly includes everything else. Delacruz and Dengra do a fantastic job on the Fx perfectly nailing that combination of low-fi physical and the digital while understanding both their budgetary limitations and the requirements of the film while the music sets that post-apocalyptic punk tone perfectly – the audio equivalent of the main gang from MAD MAX 2 and special mention goes to Raul Delacruz for his portrayal as the rampant Chuck Lee Bronson. With this type of film it is easy to focus on the humour and use editing to shy away from the martial arts limitations of the lead actor but thankfully for Dengra, it appears that Delacruz does not have these limitations and is able to pull off the moves as and when required switching from roundhouses to hammed facial expressions in a blink of the eye.

The final reason JUSTICIA JUSTICIERA III works is thanks to its breakneck pace. With the  main story delivered through exposition in the first couple of minutes (minus the fun love story arc which adds that personal element) the film is free to just jump from action set piece to set piece keeping things simple and the entertainment high throughout the entire sixteen minutes run time.

With this non-stop action and a hero who isn’t afraid to go above and beyond the call of duty, foetal nunchucks for example, it is easy to overlook that this is actually a well developed and thought out production with nothing left to chance, be it on the screen or on the script. 

If you liked the insanity of the 2015 Swedish action short KUNG FURY then you will absolutely love JUSTICIA JUSTICIERA III which strips away the story element and focuses more on non-stop insane action.

Quite frankly thanks to great editing, strong direction and insane action for fans of insane movies the only thing better than the first twelve minutes are the last five!

THE THIRD DAY (2018) BY FRANCESCO LONGO

Reviews

Director: Francesco Longo
Writer: Francesco Longo
Year: 2018
Starring: Roberto Ramon

Synopsis:
A man return to his home. Here, he will be faced with a dark truth, the world has been struck by a terrible plague.

Review:
With immediate effect a powerful, deep sound emanates from the speakers demanding your attention. This use of audio although somewhat generic, nonetheless elicits the desired response from the viewer and the short film, THE THIRD DAY, comes to life with a man bursting into his flat before frantically searching for some unknown item.

A sudden realisation or perhaps resignation comes over him as his erratic movement shifts from the external to the internal and starts to aggressively scratch his body. It is at this point that THE THIRD DAY gives us the old newsreader exposition cliche, filling us in regarding the backstory which here involves the standard tale of an infectious disease. Something our man is clearly showing the symptoms of.

Due to this and the brief length of the short – coming in at just under four-and-a-half minutes, THE THIRD DAY feels more like a strong pre-title sequence for a film in the vein of 28 DAYS LATER or the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake rather than a complete self contained piece. However based on the evidence of this and the directors previous work NYCTOPHOBIA I do hope that Francesco Longo gets the opportunity (not to mention budget) to expand this narrative into a longer piece of work.

BAGHEAD (2017) BY ALBERTO CORREDOR

Reviews

Year: 2017
Director: Alberto Corredor
Writer: Lorcan Reilly
Starring:  Oliver Walker, Natalie Oliver, Julian Seager, Pat Boothman

Synopsis:
BAGHEAD is a ghost story. Kevin is haunted by grief and has questions that only the recently deceased can answer. His search takes him to the most unremarkable of locations, a grotty storage room at the back of a rundown pub. However, what he finds there is anything but unremarkable. He is introduced to Baghead, a shape-shifting witch who can channel the dead in a most unusual manner and maybe provide Kevin with the answers he seeks.

Review:
Not to be confused with the 2008 American feature from the excellent Duplass brothers, the short film BAGHEAD comes from the mind of British writer Lorcan Reilly and Spanish director Alberto Corredor.

Opening with despair and punishment, you would be forgiven for initially believing BAGHEAD to be a slasher or revenge movie. With the post-title sequence doing little to dispel that second option, even calling to mind, if only loosely Stan Winston’s PUMPKINHEAD.

In only fifteen captivating minutes writer Lorcan Reilly manages to convey a full narrative complete with past and present but perhaps crucially without any one aspect feeling rushed or under thought. It is clear to see why the script for BAGHEAD went on to win production funds from ShortTV. Money that was very well spent.

Due to the length of the short film and the story contained within it I won’t discuss or detail the plot, but I do urge you to check out this darkly comic and twisted tale of loss, love and vengeance.

The majority of short films that I see are portfolio pieces as writers and directors develop their skills for wider audiences and bigger (feature) opportunities and if taken in that spirit then BAGHEAD is  an accomplished piece in every aspect.

Credit needs to go to both the cast for their strong performances and the crew for strong and well composed shots, editing and sound. However BAGHEAD is more than that and more than the sum of its (considerable) parts and in its own right stands up as a terrific story and watch. With potential to become a feature length I am looking forward to seeing what comes next from both Lorcan Reilly and Alberto Corredor…hopefully an extension of this impressive short.

The film is currently doing the rounds on the festival circuit, and in fact played at the most recent FrightFest in London,  and as of September 2018 it was confirmed for the following upcoming festivals:

Sitges Film Festival; Manhattan Short Film Festival; San Diego Film Festival; Freakshow Horror Film Festival; Mollins Film Festival; Sacramento Horror Fest.

I presume if you are going to one of these then you will already know the date…and now you will know of BAGHEAD so make sure you check it out.

View the trailer here.

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THE UNFORTUNATE LIFE OF GEORGINA SPELVIN CHAINED TO A RADIATOR (2014) BY ANDREAS MARFORI

Reviews

Director: Andreas Marfori
Writer: Andreas Marfori
Year: 2014
Starring: Erika Kamese

Synopsis:
The unfortunate life of Georgina Spelvin chained to a radiator see’s a young foreign girl with immigration problems encounter a man she thinks can help. Only to be betrayed in a tale of entrapment, humiliation and perverted sexual obsession

Review:
Coming from Italian writer/director Andreas Marfori, best known for his trashy 1988 film EVIL CLUTCH aka IL BOSCO, and featuring the theatrical actress and pop singer Erika Kamese (who looked for a while to become a staple of the modern Italian horror scene), THE UNFORTUNATE LIFE OF GEORGINA SPELVIN CHAINED TO A RADIATOR looks to tell the story of a true event…with artistic licence of course.

Opening with the eponymous Georgina Spelvin (Erika Kamese) nervously taking the subway train, an unseen narrator, sounding suspiciously like a computer programme, provides exposition regarding her situation, in which we learn that she is travelling to meet, the ominously named ‘Weird guy’.

As the overly descriptive title suggests the basic just of what will happen, Andreas Marfori wastes no time in getting to the point in an almost sped up first act. It is however to the directors credit that not only does it flow extremely well but as viewer you are instantly drawn in as Georgina meets the ‘Weird guy’ who is promising her salvation.

It is here that Marfori makes a key decision as he switches from third to first person perspective. However this is not necessarily servicing the usual POV narrative but rather the interactive pornographic movies that seek to place you into the action. To make you complicit with the act with the effect being to enhance the intensity of the piece, to a limit, as it is almost that you, the viewer are going along with the degrading acts even against your better judgement or morals.

Back to the film and Georgina is pleading for assistance, but rather than help, our faceless ‘Weird guy’ chloroforms poor Georgina and in under two and half minutes Marfori has completed his set up ready to humiliate and punish.

The film also introduces chapters displaying the stages of Georgina’s new, entrapment life cycle. This is a novel and unique idea, similar to the stages of grief, adding a nice little narrative to a film that admittedly is lacking in plot or substance. However these chapters are visualised with a child’s drawing, the same one Georgina also possesses, although quite what this means I could not work out as it is certainly not a map. All this is immediately forgotten however as the shot changes to a now topless Georgina handcuffed to a radiator. All the while our computerised narrator reads some brief poetry over the images of Kamese who beautifully conveys the beleaguered Georgina as she wakes and comes to the realisation of her predicament.

The next chapter is that of questions, of begging and thanks to Kamese’s delivery it is hard not to feel a little guilty. But we are powerless to help as her humiliation and subjugation begins. It has to be said that a lot of this humiliation happens off camera or is carefully hidden through strategic camera placement, lighting or audio and those expecting perversity on the level of El Gores SNUFF TAPE ANTHOLOGY or Zanuso’s BEYOND MADNESS are barking up the wrong the tree. However the emotional effect is more powerful than these examples perhaps for this lack of gratuitous action. Although that is not to say this is handled in good taste either but rather with a stark, bleak and brutal edge for which the cinematography contributes to.

For the most part this works and thanks to the decision to shoot with the viewer in the place of the perpetrator the final element of sexual humiliation and degradation is a success despite culminating in one of the worst results of ejaculation I have ever seen. Thankfully however Kamese is a trooper and once again she sells it as the emotionally broken Georgina pleads one last time to be set free.

A fittingly brutal and uncompromising conclusion sees out this eighteen minute short that will appease its target audience while providing a talking point for those who merely dabble in independent and genre cinema.

There is much to recommend about this short film from its strong pacing and narrative (especially considering it’s limited scope), the physical performance of Kamese as she portrays the abused Georgina and the subtle and sparse but no less well thought audio. However, the computerised narrator is a strange decision as surely they could have found a native English speaker to record the lines while the editing could do with some improvement as it appears a bit jerky and amateur at times. Finally while the concept will appeal to a certain audience it may not have enough over the top action for those used to the releases of labels such as Black Lava Productions or Toetag Pictures…but those people still should endeavour to hunt down this film as it is most definitely worth their attention.

It is at times an uncomfortable watch. Gritty and unashamedly realistic in it’s context forcing one to contemplate on the life of many female illegal immigrants or transients who may disappear without anybody noticing whether for human trafficking, slavery or worse. Whether provoking this area of thought is intentional or not, it cannot be escaped and only Marfori will truly know if that was his aim or if this is merely titillation for a niche audience.

On a final note while I try not to refer to other articles or reviews, when researching this film only a couple of English language web pages existed with one referring to this film as a snuff style porno but if this was their idea of a porno then they need to get out more…or rather stay in more.

Edited to add – I had the pleasure of speaking to the director of the film for my previous site, Cosi Perversa, about his cinematic decisions and aims and can genuinely say that I support this movie in both it’s provocative intent and execution. While I may not have understood everything as evidenced in my review there is a lot more bubbling under the surface.

<Edited to add: Please check the comments on how to get hold of and watch this short film. It has been released by the fantastic Darkside Releasing on the same blu-ray disc as SOVIET ZOMBIE INVASION, also from Andreas Marfori. You can order it here!

AFTER MIDNIGHT (2018) BY VARIOUS DIRECTORS

Reviews

Directors: Various
Writers: Various
Year: 2018 [Various]
Starring: Various

Synopsis:
A collection of eight Italian short horror/sci-fi films.

Review:
Coming from Italian production houses ‘Demented Gore Production’ and ‘Moonlight Legacy Production’ is AFTER MIDNIGHT, a collection of eight short films bundled together.

As a result of this there is little thematic or production conformity between the stories, and as expected the quality does vary particularly as a lot of the short films used in this release were recorded for separate purposes.

On to the films and experienced director Daniele Misischia steps up first to the plate with ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ (The last video of Sara) which thematically raises questions about not only our online desire for validation but also the attitude and acts in which online behaviour can elicit.

We watch as vlogger Sara tackles the issue of her own online trolls which has caused her to have to ban or ‘censor’ people on her channel. An act that some seemingly obsessive people did not like and have let her know. However as the vlog continues we begin to realise that she is not alone in her house.

On a superficial level this short film reminded me somewhat of the 2015 American horror film Ratter although arguably with a little more to say while the insertion of subliminal cuts offered a smart piece of variety to the single frame shot utilised throughout the rest of the short running time.

In my opinion ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ is a solid effort but would work best as a web clip as opposed to being on a home entertainment release. Featuring reasonable Fx, a few nice ideas and a reasonable concept this story is a nice start to the collection but I would not have expected any less from this director.

We follow this with ‘The Taste of Survival’ from director Davide Pesca who has recently contributed to the anthologies A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX (as well as previously contributing to the compilation 17 A MEZZANOTTE) and so he too should know a thing or two about making a short story work.

Set 27 years after an almost apocalyptic event, ‘The Taste of Flesh’ plays somewhat with traditional convention (good) but without committing enough to the required grindhouse style (bad – although the music was spot on) and coming across quite frankly as just a bit too modern and digital.

When one of the highlights is that one of the bad guys is wearing a Wacken festival t-shirt then you know that this segment is not living up to its potential and that is a shame as the concept works a little more than the execution.

Third up is ‘Nyctophobia’ from Francesco Longo. This is a short film that I have reviewed in detail previously on this very blog and so I won’t repeat myself and go into detail here. However it forms one of the strongest stories across the board (direction, acting, story) in this release and provides an entertaining, thoughtful and at times tense watch.

A tough act to follow but Davide Cancila is commendable in his effort which centres around an almost catatonic woman and her seemingly guilt-ridden yet caring brother. 

In its short time ‘Nel buio’ manages to smartly tell the past and show the present with a few twists thrown in along the way. Overall the supernatural horror is about guilt, revenge and penance and is worth a watch.

‘Io non le credo’ from Luca Bertossi is next up and sadly compared to the previous two stories feels a little incomplete. The majority of the short follows the dialogue between a man, afflicted by a demonic nun, and an unconvinced priest to whom he is begging for help.

Possessing all of the right pieces ‘Io non le credo’ just fails to pull it off in part due to some weak performances but perhaps mostly due to lacking any real set up or emotional involvement. That having been said it potentially could be seen as a nice critique on the cowardice and ineffective nature of the church. Either that or it was simply made because evil nuns are relatively popular now.

If ‘Io non le credo’ was attempting to capture what is popular now then ‘Escape from Madness’ from Nicola Pegg is trying capture the essence of a classic.

As a woman is walking through an empty park at night she soon realises that perhaps she is not alone as first thought. From here the viewer might be expecting this short to go one way but what classic influence could I have been previously referred to?

Well this influence bizarrely comes from Tobe Hooper and the seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Now to say this is a rip-off would certainly be a bit harsh but ultimately the story descends into a fanboys dream to make.

Although competently made it would have certainly been improved with better SFX but with a brief ten minute run time ‘Escape from Madness’ does not overrun its welcome and will hit the mark. Not quite prime meat but enjoyable to digest nonetheless.

Now the penultimate story ‘Che serata di merda!’ (I translate as ‘That evening of shit’) from Roberto Albanesi is perhaps the lightest of all the shorts featured in the collection and the only one that is inherently tied to the release due to it’s self-and release-referential nature.

Considering he was behind NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME and the sequel, as well as being involved in the wraparound of CATACOMBA I had high hopes for ‘Che sedate di merda’ and the short certainly grew on me as it played.

In the short film a missing farmer re-appears blood covered and staggering through the small town while a couple share a glass of wine and a film at home….the NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME references are plentiful, I hope the director paid himself royalties!

In a true case of ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’ revenge it is unsurprising to see that these characters have some sort of prior business but here the narrative is not so straight forward as first the director himself turns up at the house (playing himself) and then through a dialogue with the farmer in which they discuss being the fictional construction of the real Roberto Albanesi.

It is in using this device that the film excels but the final takeaway message of “Let’s drink up” perhaps resonates the most.

We end with perhaps the most ambitious of all of the stories, ‘Haselwurm’, from director Eugenio Villani, which dates back to 2011 making it a strange choice to feature in terms of contemporary work (although thankfully the quality more than makes up for this).

‘Haselwurm’ initially plays as a sci-fi survival adventure as two explorers manage to capture a mythical haselwurm but during their struggle one of the duo was seemingly scratched by the creature with effects of an almost Lovecraftian or Ridley Scott nature.

Not only is the story interesting, and in my opinion should be developed into a feature-length, but along with ‘Nyctophobic’ it is one of the strongest entries in the collection thanks to a strong story, cinematography, Fx and editing. It is a shame that it is the last story but if you get the opportunity to watch this short – do so.

Overall AFTER MIDNIGHT is, as most collections often are, a mixed bag but unfortunately one where the weaker entries outnumber the strong (‘Nyctophobic’,’Nel buio’,’Haselwurm’). That being said these stronger entries are worth checking out but as someone who advocates the (slow) return of the contemporary Italian horror scene, AFTER MIDNIGHT as a holistic collection is perhaps not the best example to put forwards.

You can find out more about the film on the official Facebook page.