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New Releases for Tuesday, January 2, 2018

68 Kill

Genre: Thriller

Directed by: Trent Haaga

Run time: 93 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: 68 Kill is a perfect drive-in exploitation movie.

It has bad girls, lots of boobs, a ton of violence and a (mostly) lovable schmuck (Matthew Gray Gubler) trapped in a vicious spiral from which his life may never recover.

The film is written and directed by Trent Haaga, an actor and occasional writer, who has a number of screenplay credits, including genre standouts Deadgirl in 2008 and Cheap Thrills in 2013.

Haaga has assembled a top-notch cast, including Gubler (TV’s Criminal Minds), genre icon AnnaLynne McCord (Excision, Scorned), Alisha Boe (13 Reasons Why, TV’s Teen Wolf, Paranormal Activity 4) and Sheila Vand (Argo, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and XX), and he approaches his material with both appreciation and unbridled ambition.

But here’s the thing – in our current age of reckoning, with women across the globe speaking out about mistreatment and misogyny – it’s difficult to discern if Haaga is being slyly subversive by depicting every female character as amoral and wanton;if he’s simply tone-deaf to the current backlash; or, if he's just embracing a long-standing genre staple where female characters in these kinds of movies have historically been portrayed as crazy, slutty, over-demanding and unpredictably violent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love femme fatales in genre cinema, and 68 Kill plays straight to that love, offering up a perfect trio of temptresses in Liza (McCord), Violet (Boe) and Monica (Vand).

Liza is a backwoods escort in Louisiana, who covers her monthly rent and other expenses by sleeping with wealthy, piggish men while berating and cuckholding her boyfriend Chip (Gubler). Liza learns that her main client has suddenly come into $68,000, and she convinces Chip to help her steal the cash.

What could go wrong? Everything.

The sugar daddy and his wife have a live-in play partner, Violet, whom Liza and Chip kidnap. Liza wants to sell the woman to her sociopathic brother who makes amateur snuff and medical fetish films.

Chip, eventually waking up to the fact that Liza is stone-cold crazy, and a remorseless killer, takes the money, and Violet, and flees. He forges an immediate bond with Violet that is tested when they stop for gas and encounter Monica, a goth-y convenience store clerk with a sadistic side and a love of hard narcotics.

As written by Haaga, Chip is basically a good guy blinded by love, who simply has the worst possible taste in women. Every male character in 68 Kill, minus Chip and the two crazy rednecks that Monica shacks up with, view women as sexual objects, and cluelessly misjudge their potential for retaliation and retribution.

By making Chip the de facto hero of the story, Haaga forces his audience to choose a side. Do you pick one of the handful of dangerous dames who might be your undoing, or do you side with the guy who only likes to dip his toe in the scary pond on occasion because crazy screws better than vanilla good girls?

Neither choice takes into account what has pushed the females in 68 Kill to embrace their dark side, and that lacking backstory paints a shallow portrait of the women who command center stage. Even Violet, the lone good girl with crazy tendencies, isn’t allowed to prosper beyond her thinly sketched background as a sex slave. Haaga doesn’t offer any clue as to whether Violet enjoyed that role, how she came to be a kept woman or why she would put up with being treated like meat.

Thankfully, 68 Kill isn’t the kind of serious meditation on the female experience that lands on awards-season, must-watch lists.

It’s nothing more than a gleeful escalation of dire coincidences that causes Chip to have the most awful and memorable night of his life, and as such, Haaga delivers a well-paced, bloody thrill-ride through a host of genre scenarios that is immensely entertaining.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Oh yes, AnnaLynne McCord and Sheila Vand are smoking hot.

Nudity – Yes. Gore – Gratuitous.

Drug use – Yes.

Bad Guys/Killers – Pick your poison with a bevy of bad girls.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Psychopaths (Samuel Goldwyn Films, 85 minutes, Unrated, VOD and DVD): Mickey Keating is just in his 20s, yet he’s made five films since 2013, each one tackling a different genre staple with his own indelible style. At least one of those movies, 2015’s Darling, a gothic black and white thriller, is a bonafide masterpiece, and an instant cult classic.

But his latest, Psychopaths, might be Keating’s most rewatchable film yet.

Psychopaths is nearly indescribable, and while it culls certain tropes from other memorable films – such as the masks worn by Keating’s various killers – nothing feels stolen or copied.

This is one of those films that you have to watch at least twice to fully absorb everything that Keating is trying to accomplish. The first viewing will leave you breathless, gobsmacked by the rich, delirious tapestry of phantasmagoric imagery that Keating conjures. Imagine the first time you saw Natural Born Killers, and how that film made you feel. That’s the closest comparison I can muster to properly encapsulate the whirring kaleidoscope of violence that Keating uses to explore his central theme – evil is what you make of it, it exists in all of us and it is pervasive, even when you can’t see its true face.

The truth is Psychopaths is not just reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s 1994 opus, it’s a worthy companion piece, a bookend if you will, the epilogue of a master’s thesis on nihilism, pent-up aggression and psychosexual release.

Keating’s cast is more than up to the challenge of bringing his twisted vision to life. Ashley Bell, who last starred in Keating’s Carnage Park, plays Alice, an unhinged schizophrenic who imagines she is playing to an audience when she kills. James Landry Hébert plays The Strangler, a literal lady killer who meets Blondie (Angela Trimbur), a formidable femme fatale. Genre icon Jeremy Gardner (The Battery, The Mind’s Eye) is Cop, the kind of lawman who isn’t interested in protecting or serving. And Sam Zimmerman is Mask, the forsaken offspring of Larry Fessenden’s deranged Starkweather, a Charles Manson-ish serial killer, who’s prison execution sets in motion a wave of violence.

BVB can’t recommend this one enough. It’s the kind of high-brow genre fare that deserves to be seen in theaters, but a darkened living room home cinema is the next best option.

And make no mistake, Keating is only going to get better. I shudder to imagine what he has up his sleeve next.

Shock Wave (Cinedigm, 119 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Hong Kong action star Andy Lau and writer/director Herman Yau have teamed up for the raucous action-thriller, Shock Wave, and it’s wholly entertaining and on par with the best examples of American action films.

Lau (Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Infernal Affairs) plays a bomb disposal expert named Cheung, who formerly worked undercover as a trusted confidante of brutal crime boss Peng Hong (Wu Jiang), whose specialty is inciting terror through large-scale explosions.

Shock Wave doesn’t deviate too much for the same formula that American audiences expect from high-octane action films. Cheung is a by-the-book, dedicated emergency responder, who’s willing to die to save innocent lives. He has a girlfriend, Carmen, whom he meets cute despite her vomiting in a cab, and you know at some point her life will be threatened. He has a bomb disposal partner. He has a hotheaded boss, and a politically-motivated law enforcement director to contend with. And he has a long-standing connection to Peng Hong, which sets the film in motion. You know it’s only a matter of time before the two bitter rivals face off, and the film makes the most of that anticipation.

Shock Wave looks and plays great with sprawling set pieces that make the most of the film’s core setting beneath Hong Kong in a commuter traffic tunnel.

And Lau makes for a very strong lead, always rushing into harm’s way, despite the consequences, and fighting to defeat Peng Hong at any cost.

Hell Night: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 101 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Hell Night, one of the best stalk-and-slash thrillers from the 1980s, is finally available in a proper home media release.

For years, longtime fans, which includes BVB, had to settle for grainy VHS copies of director Tom DeSimone’s drive-in classic. DeSimone, you may know, also directed The Concrete Jungle, Savage Streets, Reform School Girls and Angel III: The Final Chapter, as well as several episodes of genre TV’s Freddy’s Nightmares and Swamp Thing.

Released in 1981, before such films had a specific formula, Hell Night set itself apart by focusing as much on its protagonists as its Big Bad antagonists. It also featured a stellar cast with Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten and Peter Barton.

The film focuses on four college students, two guys and two girls, trying to complete pledging for a fraternity and its sister sorority. The final challenge is to spend a night inside Garth Manor, which legend has it is haunted after the last owners, a family, were brutally murdered there 12 years before.

Hell Night is long on atmosphere, and makes the most of its gothic castle trappings once Blair, Van Patten and Barton are locked inside Garth Manor. And the film actually becomes more intense as it goes along, introducing the faceless shape or shapes who seem intent on stalking and capturing the students foolish enough to step inside the manor’s gated and locked grounds.

This has long been one of my favorite cult classics from the ‘80s, and Shout! Factory has done a fantastic job restoring the original print to high-definition quality.

American Made (Universal, 115 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Directed by Doug Liman, and starring Tom Cruise in one of his best roles in years, American Made is the fantastically entertaining, true-ish story of Barry Seal, a former commercial airline pilot in the 1970s who is recruited by the CIA to spy on foreign enemies. Along the way, Seal hooks up with a who’s who of iconic bad guys, including Gen. Manuel Noriega and Pablo Escobar. Read our full review in Creative Loafing here.

No Solicitors (Cinedigm, 90 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Like a blast from the height of horror cinema circa the late 1980s, early 1990s, No Solicitors sneaks up on you, but once it hooks you, the film is an absolute blast of nostalgia and gory practical effects.

Written and directed by John Callas, who worked with Wes Craven on The Hills Have Eyes II and previously directed 1988’s rock-n-roll lycanthrope high school thriller Lone Wolf, No Solicitors frames its entire perspective from the POV of the Cutterman family.

The Cutterman patriarch Lewis is a decorated surgeon. His wife Rachel is his nurse. And his son and daughter, Scott and Nicole, are following in the family footsteps.

Together, this ordinary American family hides a shocking secret – they’re actually cannibals, and they trap anyone dumb enough to ignore the ‘No Solicitors’ sign above their doorbell and use them to fatten their bellies and get rich by selling body parts and organs to desperate donors.

No Solicitors doesn’t try to do anything too technical. It’s not interested in redefining genre cinema. It simply exists to entertain as viewers get sucked deeper into the Cutterman mindset where profane language brings gruesome punishment and finger food literally means deep-fried finger appetizers on a plate.

For horror fans, No Solicitors is a must-see because of its cast. Beverly Randolph (Tina from Return of the Living Dead) stars as Rachel Cutterman in her first screen role since 1985. Eric Roberts is solid as Lewis Cutterman. And Kim Poirier (2004’s Dawn of the Dead, Decoys and Decoys 2: Alien Seduction) is great as their daughter, Nicole.

Also Available:

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