Directed by: Gabriel Carrer
Run time: 86 minutes
The Lowdown: There’s a point early on in Gabriel Carrer’s fascinating (and fantastic) neo-vigilante thriller, The Demolisher, when you realize nearly 20 minutes has passed with barely a single spoken word of dialogue.
The Demolisher doesn’t suffer from the silence. Propelled by a retro-influenced score by Glen Nicholls, Carrer’s film is unnervingly precise in its full-throttle examination of PTSD and the impact it has on people who hope for a cathartic release by exacting extreme retaliatory violence.
“Death Wish,” this ain’t.
There is no criminal crisis affecting the unnamed city where Bruce (the extraordinarily intense Ry Barrett, who also co-wrote the script), a TV repairman, and his wife Samantha live. Samantha used to be a cop before she ran up against an unnamed gang of vicious youth who are only identified by a crazed graffiti-styled monkey image on the back of their leather jackets. The gang crippled Samantha, leaving her in a wheelchair, forced to depend on Bruce for her every need.
The impact of essentially losing his wife has left Bruce seething with rage. He is incapable of ordinary conversation. He cannot hold his wife without being gripped with unbridled anger. Even her attempts to coax a tender moment, whether cuddled together in a bath or attempting to go on a date to the movies, find Bruce practically crippled himself by an uncontrollable need to seek revenge.
In the cannon of vigilante movies that have populated exploitation cinema for decades, only James Wan’s “Death Sentence” comes close to channeling the same nihilistic free-fall that slowly squeezes Bruce in a stone-cold embrace.
To make sense of his despair, Bruce resorts to donning a military-style uniform complete with Billy club and protective helmet and takes to the streets, hunting down anyone he can find who dares wear the mark of the monkey gang.
In a sad twist of irony, however, even the bone-shattering beatdowns that he delivers aren’t enough to slake his thirst for justice. Bruce begins to spiral out of control, losing his perspective on who rightly deserves punishment. He kills a customer when he mistakenly believes the customer has uttered a derogatory slur against Samantha. And then he sets his sights on Marie, an innocent woman who happens to find Bruce’s wedding band and necklace chain at the movie theater.
What distinguishes The Demolisher and truly elevates it from grindhouse to arthouse is its surprisingly intelligent script, which subverts traditional genre conventions and forces viewers to consider whether Bruce is the hero or the villain of the story. At times, the true manipulator appears to be Samantha who knows exactly what Bruce is doing and continues to prod him into action by casually justifying his bloodlust with veiled encouragement.
The Demolisher’s third act – its brilliant, blood-soaked denouement – plays like an extended 8-bit side-scrolling beat-em-up videogame from the 1980s. As Bruce stalks Marie across deserted city streets and through multiple building levels, their escalating hand-to-hand combat provides an epiphany of sorts, even as bullet blasts shred skin and broken bodies pile up.
The Demolisher, much like The Neon Demon, reimagines traditional genre cinema in a way that’s both utterly original and breath-takingly ambitious.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Can an anti-hero also be a bad guy?
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
X-Men: Apocalypse (Fox, 144 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): For all the praise heaped on Bryan Singer for helping bring Marvel’s iconic X-Men to the screen, first in 2000 and 2003 and then returning to the franchise in 2014, it should be noted that this series, now in its eighth stand-alone feature, has endured more miscues than direct hits.
In fact, the best of the X-Men movies – 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” – was conceived and directed by Matthew Vaughn.
“Apocalypse,” which introduces a fan-favorite villain from the comics, starts strong before quickly floundering as Singer tries to maintain a fluid pace while criss-crossing the globe to introduce younger versions of many characters fans already know.
A big problem is Apocalypse himself – the original mutant, a believed Egyptian god – who just isn’t very villain-y, and poor Oscar Isaac simply can’t break through his heavy prosthetic makeup to register an impression.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” ultimately falls above the woeful “X-Men: Origins – Wolverine,” but it’s barely better than “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
Fender Bender (Shout! Factory, 91 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): So, Shout! Factory, the wonderful distributor of classic horror, sci-fi and genre cult classics, is now making original movies, and the first is a retro-slasher titled “Fender Bender.”
Cause for rejoice? The jury is still out.
“Fender Bender” tells the tale of a sociopathic gearhead who chooses his victims by literally crashing his car into them, which allows him to get their personal information, which he then uses to stalk and taunt them with text messages prior to cutting them up.
Autoerotic urges have been explored previously to much better success in films like David Cronenberg’s 1996 classic “Crash.”
My main issue with “Fender Bender,” was its languid approach and sporadic action for the better part of its brief runtime. But here’s the funny thing – there’s an alternate version of the film included as a special feature – the Retro VHS version – complete with blurred edges, cigarette burns and spotty audio.
The VHS version is actually better than the high-definition version, particularly in the film’s chilling final moments when it focuses exclusively on its remorseless killer and shows him slipping away without consequence, free to roam the roads for his next victim.
I know there are fans out there who are old enough now to never have watched a VHS movie. For that reason, “Fender Bender” comes highly recommended, but only in its retro form, because that’s the version that actually works.
The Purge: Election Year (Universal, 109 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Director James DeMonaco returns with his second follow-up to 2013’s “The Purge,” and you know what, good for him.
While I find the original film’s premise exciting, I felt like the execution was lacking. However, by expanding his worldview, DeMonaco has – in 2014’s “Anarchy” and with his latest “Election Year” – tapped into the raw current of primal unrest that permeates modern day society.
“The Purge” series works best as B-grade drive-in entertainment sprinkled with social and political commentary, and “Election Year” might just be the best installment yet.
Satanic (Magnolia Pictures, 84 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): You know what BVB hates – movies where people do dumb things simply to propel the narrative.
“Satanic,” from director Jeffrey G. Hunt and writer Anthony Jaswinski, exemplifies this trait in spades.
A lot of people likely will check out “Satanic” for its leading lady, Sarah Hyland of “Modern Family” fame, but Hyland lacks the classic Final Girl gravitas to effectively carry the film.
Jaswinski can craft a screenplay – check out the recent “The Shallows,” which proves my point – but his writing for “Satanic” is simply lazy.
Case in point: Hyland’s Chloe, along with her preppy boyfriend Seth, goth-obsessed cousin Elise and Elise’s annoying boyfriend Dave are traveling to Coachella for the annual music festival when they decide to spend a day or two in Los Angeles because Elise wants to check out several supposedly haunted murder sites, including the hotel room she books. When they get kicked out of a mystical curiosity shop, Elise and Dave demand that Chloe and Seth accompany them to follow the owner of the shop, whom they suspect is a devil-worshipping punk, and they drive and drive and drive out into the California hills to a remote cabin where an actual satanic ritual is taking place. Then they leave their vehicle and sneak up to the cabin, only to be caught when Chloe screams out to stop the ceremony.
Why? Who in their right mind would do this? You know who – movie characters who have to be stupid in order for bad things to eventually happen to them.
The Mind’s Eye (RLJ Entertainment, 87 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Three months after its digital release, Joe Begos’ splatterific ode to David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” finally hits home media. We can’t stop raving about this movie. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and go buy it. Now.
The Wailing (Well Go USA, 156 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): South Korean filmmaker Hong-jin Na has been earning considerable buzz for his rural exorcism thriller, “The Wailing.” Despite some seriously gruesome practical special effects, however, the meandering story and its near-three-hour run time make it a challenge to watch.
New on Video-on-Demand:
ClownTown (ITN Distribution, 86 minutes, Unrated, VOD): For his first full-length feature film, actor/director Tom Nagel looked to his horror influences, including a ballsy opening scene nod to John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” for inspiration in creating the titular “ClownTown.”
Continuing with the current genre obsession with clowns secretly being crazed killers or demon incarnate, Nagel’s debut suffers from many of the pitfalls that can plague an artist’s early work – the acting is spotty, the script disjointed and the explanation lacking for how a rural Ohio hamlet became overrun with murderous clowns.
But here’s the thing – about midway through, “ClownTown” actually improves.
The third act, which takes place largely at a wooded campground enclave, successfully mines familiar Rob Zombie territory and gets gritty and nasty with some impressive special effects and a healthy dose of unexpected violence.
Into the Forest
Kingsglave: Final Fantasy XV
Perry Mason: The Complete Series
The Andy Griffith Show: Christmas Special
The Presidents Collection
Dexter: The Complete Series Blu-Ray
The Passion Live
The Tubes – Live at German Television: The Musikladen Concert 1981
I Love Lucy Superstar Special
It’s a Rockabilly World
Laid in America
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series
Penny Dreadful: The Final Season
Not to be Overlooked:
The Guyver 2