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New Releases for Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Sect

Genre: Horror

Directed by: Michele Soavi

Run time: 125 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: Over the years, more than any other genre, horror directors have used home media to garner interest and viewership for films that fit their specific visual style and mindset.

From Wes Craven to John Carpenter and others, most of these productions have been low-budget takes on classic horror tropes with a few notable exceptions (2002’s Wes Craven Presents They was a harrowing thrill ride).

So, it makes sense that Italy’s premiere master of horror, Dario Argento, used his name and reputation to help promote several films he co-wrote and produced in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Argento’s cult status as a provocateur of the giallo genre all but guaranteed fans would pay attention.

The first of these films to receive a high-definition transfer from Scorpion Releasing is Dario Argento Presents The Sect, a lurid 1991 feature by director Michele Soavi, and boy howdy, it’s a doozy.

The Sect, one of the last films to feature Herbert Lom, follows a beautiful young female teacher who suddenly finds herself being pursued by a Satanic group wanting to usher in the birth of the Antichrist.

Soavi pours on the imagery early on, treating viewers to a slew of wanton depravity, but at about the 39-minute mark, The Sect comes alive when it’s revealed that there is a literal portal to Hell buried in a byzantine labyrinth underneath the teacher’s house.

The Sect looks and feels like an Argento film, and it doesn’t hold back in its depictions of depravity from one character who drinks blood to an unnerving dream-sex sequence where the teacher is seduced by a demon in a human suit.

By the time The Sect reaches its bonkers conclusion, every possible Satanic cult trope has been explored, including the birth of the literal son of Satan.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there, like me, who had never before seen The Sect, and thankfully Scorpion Releasing has other collaborative titles between Argento and Soavi waiting on-deck to be released.

This one comes highly recommended for fans who love over-the-top gore and religious horror.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – Yes. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – What’s worse than a cult? A sect!

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Black Eagle: 2-Disc Special Edition (MVD Visual, 104 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Before he became a box office phenomenon in the 1990s, Jean-Claude Van Damme was just a struggling actor, a chiseled jaw in a stack of chiseled jaws in Hollywood, who played the hired gun/bad guy in 1986’s No Retreat, No Surrender.

Two years later, as Van Damme’s star wattage was poised to go supernova with Bloodsport, he played the last of his uncharacteristic henchmen roles as Andrei, a Russian KGB bruiser, in Black Eagle, which was essentially the swan song of veteran martial artist/actor Shô Kosugi, following a white-hot streak of six cult classic B-grade action movies from 1981 to 1987, including Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Nine Deaths of the Ninja, Pray for Death and Rage of Honor.

Kosugi toplined Black Eagle as Ken Tani, a covert operative codenamed the Black Eagle, who is tasked with traveling to Malta to thwart an effort by the Soviet Union to lay claim to a new laser-guided missile system. Along the way, he has several hand-to-hand battles with Andrei when Andrei isn’t busy doing a full split shirtless in spandex shorts (don’t ask).

This isn’t the best that the 1980’s action heyday had to offer, but Black Eagle was directed by Eric Karson, who also lensed the Chuck Norris kung-fu classic, The Octagon, in 1980.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 4K Ultra (Paramount, 100 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra HD): It’s funny now to go back and revisit the 2001 videogame adaptation, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

The film, directed by Simon West (who never realized the full potential displayed in his debut, Con Air), is notable for putting star Angelina Jolie front-and-center in Croft’s trademark tight tee-top and short-shorts, but I had basically forgotten most of the plot, which finds Croft battling the Illuminati as she canvases the globe to retrieve two halves of an ancient artifact that imbues its holder with unbridled power.

I also had forgotten how Jolie basically forgot to display any emotion in the role other than snarky confidence and I-got-this bravado. Seriously, what’s the point of putting your central character in dangerous predicaments if she never looks stressed or worried? Or that Daniel Craig, still five years from becoming James Bond, played both Croft’s love interest and a rival explorer. Or that Jolie’s dad, Jon Voight, in a nice bit of casting, played Croft’s father, Lord Richard.

The good news is that while this superb 4K Ultra HD transfer can’t make Lara Croft: Tomb Raider a better film, it definitely makes what’s basically a second-fiddle Raiders of the Lost Ark look ridiculously crisp with near-perfect clarity afforded to the smallest details of Croft’s impressive collection of artifacts.

In addition to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Paramount Pictures also is releasing a 4K Ultra edition of its sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.

Also Available:

The Man from Earth: Holocene

Godard + Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life 4K Ultra

Darkest Hour

Gate II


Now on Video-on-Demand:

Mohawk (Dark Sky Films, 91 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Ted Geoghegan is on a roll.

Arriving almost three years after his fantastically gruesome haunted house thriller, We Are Still Here, Geoghegan has taken a hard swerve into historical horror with Mohawk, a deconstructive survival thriller that places a peaceful tribe of Native Americans squarely in the crosshairs of an American military squadron still fighting the War of 1812.

Mohawk is told through the eyes of Oak (newcomer Kaniehtiio Horn), a young Mohawk woman, whose lover Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain) has been goaded into resistance by a British soldier who believes the Mohawk have no recourse but to fight tooth-and-nail to beat back the American soldiers.

Set almost entirely in a dense forest, which becomes its own character throughout the film, Oak and Calvin must evade capture and certain death by the American commander Hezekiah Holt (a wonderfully nuanced Ezra Buzzington), his son Myles (Ian Colletti, Preacher) and their tired troop of bloodthirsty renegades.

Mohawk deserves kudos for telling a story that’s decidedly not-mainstream but which is firmly rooted in current events (the U.S. government’s push to oust millions of immigrants, regardless of their status).

It features a #MeToo-worthy protagonist in Oak, who must push herself past the deaths of many loved ones to find the inner-strength necessary to survive against an overwhelming enemy. And it provides a primer for young directors on how to shoot a film based largely in the woods without losing sight of the trees. What I mean, basically, is that Geoghegan and his cinematographer Karim Hussain wisely use the woods effectively without allowing key characters to get lost in the dark, dense foliage. Mohawk is all taunt, white-knuckled momentum and rarely stops to catch its breath or look back over its shoulder.

The other brilliant stroke is the screenplay, which doesn’t relegate Commander Holt to a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash-style villain. Holt is shown to be both full-throated in his belief that Native Americans are a scourge that must be eradicated without question, and conscientiously conflicted when faced with death all around. By creating a fully-formed character with flawed ideology, the parallels between modern-day events and historical re-enactment become sharper in focus, forcing viewers to debate which characters are on the right side.

This is a film that deserves, and demands, at least a repeat viewing in order to fully absorb its message because once the visceral thrill of its bloody climax has waned, the impact of its cultural significance lingers in the mind.

Agenda: Payback (Level 33, 95 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Agenda: Payback is the best film that Sean Patrick Flanery has made since The Boondock Saints, and it just might be the best movie that Eric Balfour has ever appeared in.

That doesn’t mean that Agenda: Payback is an instant classic. It just means that for two stars more accustomed to toplining discount bin-bound titles, it’s a noticeable step up in quality.

That said, Agenda: Payback is problematic. The film focuses on Peter Farrell (Balfour), an aspiring screenwriter who believes that his ticket to possible box office gold was thwarted by Steve Walsh (Flanery), a too-slick shyster who fumbled the financing for the film.

Farrell kidnaps Walsh to exact some revenge for the tsunami of shit that wiped out Farrell’s marriage and caused him to relapse as an alcoholic and drive his daughter while drunk, which resulted in a terrible crash that took her life.

It’s here that Agenda: Payback briefly toys with a thoroughly original idea, one that might have distinguished the film. Farrell essentially puts a bounty on Walsh’s head, and invites anyone else who he has wronged to pay handsomely for the chance to do anything they want to Walsh short of killing him. The line of bloodthirsty suitors who sign up include a loan shark, a politician and an ex-flame. Each takes their respective pound of flesh, leaving a beaten and bloodied Walsh to contend with Farrell one-on-one.

And it’s here that Agenda: Payback falls apart. The critical third act is consistently hobbled by a series of cliched scenarios that sees Walsh gain the upper hand and capture Farrell only to find himself outmaneuvered and made a hostage once again.

There’s a definite audience for this kind of thriller, and Flanery definitely has a deep fanbase off of Boondock alone, so this may prove to be a solid, if lacking, home media hit.

Not to be Overlooked:

Codename: Diablo (Havoc Op International Films, 35 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Confession time – I have a verified soft spot for sexploitation classics from the 1970’s and ‘80s, films like Double Agent 73 (starring the infamous Chesty Morgan) and the entire boobs, guns and action catalog of director Andy Sidaris.

But my all-time guilty pleasure from this particular subgenre is 1984’s The Lost Empire, a cult classic from writer-director Jim Wynorski starring a trio of busty female leads (Raven De La Croix, Melanie Vincz and Angela Aames).

Codename: Diablo very much wants to exist in this universe, and at least with its casting, it definitely qualifies. Codename: Diablo stars big-bust starlets Lilly 4K, Mary Madison Love and Martina Big as latex-clad, cleavage-accentuating spies named Kitty Steele, Monique Power and Barbie Blonde, who are tasked with retrieving the Diablo Death Ray from the villainous Contessa D’ell Oro (Lady Remedy Ann).

The countess employs an entire army of latex-catsuit-wearing henchmen who attempt to stop the three chesty spies. Most of them die quickly. At least one is killed while trapped inside a latex vacuum bed, which essentially sucks all the oxygen out and leaves whoever is trapped inside looking like Han Solo in carbonite.

It’s all mindless softcore shenanigans coupled with awful acting, but the film’s heart is in the right place.

If you loved the cheekier moments of The Benny Hill Show way back in the 1970s, or if you are instantly familiar with names like Kitten Natividad and Little Oral Annie, then you’re not going to care about the cinematic quality, or lack thereof.

This is essentially a latex fetishist’s essential viewing. If you’re looking for hard action and graphic nudity, Codename: Diablo is not for you.

Codename: Diablo is available to rent or purchase online right here.

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