Blood Mercury (2014)

We’ve brought to you, dear reader, information about many movies whose titles start with the word “blood”, but all good things must come to an end. As must these reviews! Anyway, we Patreon backers of low-budget genre superstar Len Kabasinski were given an unexpected treat a few weeks ago, as he’d got enough funding to complete his 2014 movie “Blood Mercury”.

From the little information that was available about it, “Blood Mercury” sounded fascinating, a complete departure for Kabasinski, who to that point had made creature features and genre movies – zombies (“Swamp Zombies”); werewolves (“Curse Of The Wolf”); vampires (“Fist of the Vampire”); wendigos (“Wendigo: Bound By Blood”); post-apocalypse (“Apocalypse Female Warriors”); a Most Dangerous Game homage (“Skull Forest”); and his first ninja movie (“Ninja: Prophecy of Death”). This is a spy thriller with a whisper of a super-soldier-style serum in it, and far as I can gather, was shelved due to some funding not coming through. He moved onto other things, but thanks to his new funding model, with plenty of online distributors looking for content and a steady stream of Patreon money, he was able to wrap it up and release it to the world.

After seeing a woman in a lab (Lisa Neeld, Kabasinski regular) freak out and start throwing people around and displaying classic “whoops this serum worked too well” behaviour, we cut to some time in the future, when a group of secret government operatives are tasked with transporting a briefcase from place X to place Y. That goes south very quickly, of course, as there’s double-crosses and the last surviving decent person, Agent Wilkins (former Len regular Brian South, making his final appearance), escapes on foot with the case.

The government decides to send a bunch of black ops guys to kill Wilkins, led by Agent Kennedy (Len Kabasinski), who remains really good and I’m glad he trusts himself with bigger parts in his own movies these days. Wilkins has a friend on the outside, a biochemist he’s hoping will help him manufacture an antidote for this serum; but then there’s Cassandra Tobeck (Jessica Kabasinski, Len’s former wife which must have been weird when it came to editing) and her rather curious choice of bathwater…

The story rips along. Wilkins finds himself in a cabin out in the snowy wastes, occupied by a father and son who start off not trusting the strange injured man with a briefcase who wanders up to their front door – by the way, I didn’t catch the father’s name but imagine an aggressively heterosexual Andy Dick impersonator and you’ll be fairly close to what the actor looks like. There’s fighting and double-crosses and considering its troubled origin, it makes a surprising amount of sense. I like the army guy who’s super-determined to get the drug back, his increasing derangement is fun to watch.

So, a good solid thriller, and one which adds to Len’s reputation as someone who deserves more money from some producer somewhere. But, there are a few problems. His use of dutch angles borders on a weird fetish; plus, there’s a heck of a lot of extreme close-ups and handheld work which saved money but become a little difficult to watch at times. Also, I’m pretty sure one of the actors who was beaten to death at the beginning of the movie shows up later – but I may have gotten two similar guys confused, or it might have been a flashback. Nowhere near as egregious as the all-time classic, “Space Mutiny”, where a guy who’d just been shot shows up in the background of the next scene; but still.

But, dear reader, Len Kabasinski operates at budgets that would barely pay for craft services for a single day of most major pictures. He works on lunch breaks and weekends and does it for almost no money, yet manages to produce decent, entertaining movies every year or so. This might be my favourite of his up to now, and I think it makes sense for us to look past the technical shortcomings and look to the development of the storytelling.

If you aren’t a Patreon supporter, blu-rays of “Blood Mercury” go on sale in a few days, direct from Len himself (he’s selling them on eBay, and I think you can get them direct from him too). Support indie filmmaking.

Rating: thumbs up

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Blood Street (1988)

Friend of ISCFC Len Kabasinski, low-budget movie auteur par excellence, has a new release coming out on Christmas day, called “Challenge of the Five Gauntlets” (if you get on his Patreon, $2 a month, you’ll be able to watch it on the day of release). It sounds amazing, and one of his co-stars in that movie is a fellow by the name of Leo Fong.

Fong is a name I’ve been aware of for some time, as he’s made at least one bad movie classic, “Low Blow”. Born in China in 1928, moved to the US in the early 30s, became an amateur boxer, was allegedly a friend of Bruce Lee, then in his mid 40s, decided to get into the movie business. His first movie was also the first movie of a beloved ISCFC figure, Ron Marchini (“Omega Cop”, “Karate Cop”), and it looks like he spent a few years appearing in small roles in other Eastern-made movies and even occasionally writing them, before his first starring role in a Western movie, 1984’s “Killpoint”. Don’t worry, dear reader, after this incredibly strong first showing we’ll definitely be doing a season of Leo Fong movies!

Anyway, it’s a period from 1986’s “Low Blow” to 1993’s “Showdown” that appears to be prime Fong – not only did he star in everything, he had writing credits, producing credits, and even a few directing credits (including some movies he didn’t star in, which is something of a wasted opportunity). He’s worked with Loren Avedon and Cynthia Rothrock as well as Marchini and Kabasinski, and after one movie we’re hooked!

This is a minor entry in our “The Future Already Happened” review series, being released in 1988 but set in the heady far-off days of 1990, by which time San Fransisco will have become a drug-riddled hellhole. The opening text crawl is perhaps the most magnificently literal thing I’ve ever read, as it tells us who the characters are going to be, who’s fighting who, where it’s set and what the first scene is going to contain. I admire a movie that can leave you off guard and confused before it’s even started!

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There are two gangs of drug dealers. One of them is led by “some Italian guy” (as the movie’s official IMDB synopsis states!), whose character name is actually MacDonald; he’s got a couple of lieutenants, two genuine That Guy actors (Stack Pierce and Chuck Jeffreys, whose names you won’t recognise but whose faces you definitely will) and plenty of goons. The other gang is led by Richard Norton, legendary screen martial artist who’s been in plenty of Cynthia Rothrock movies and whose career has ranged as far as “ABBA: The Movie” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Both of these groups of people are vicious monsters.

Oh, in one scene you see Richard Norton spar with a guy in a ring, as if he told the director “you know I’m a really good fighter, right? Would you not like me to do at least some martial arts?” He’s even in charge of what looks like an underground fighting league! But doesn’t fight in it, and we only see the fight league in the background of one scene!

Leo Fong is a private eye, the same character as in “Low Blow” apparently, but I’m pretty sure I’m not missing too much character continuity. The one amusing thing about him is, unlike most other movie heroes, he doesn’t wait to be hit or attacked by villains before beating the crap out of them. Like a taciturn Han Solo. He enters the story when MacDonald’s wife Vanna (Playboy playmate Kimberley Paige) asks him to find her apparently missing husband, but she’s got no money so she shows him her boobs and offers to pay him in sex (he refuses, but takes the case anyway).

It’s not so much that “Blood Street” has any one thing which identifies it as a so-bad-it’s-good classic, it’s just got lots of little things. Like the opening crawl. Or the crime scenes, which Fong just casually walks into even though he’s not a cop, passing the time of day with the two cops there and then leaving again. The crappy mics they used, which pick up so much background noise you can barely hear the dialogue. The way the same room, with it’s ugly artexed walls, stands in for like four or five different scenes. Fong’s backup team, made up of an insanely overdressed lawyer and an old-timey bodybuilder with a weird moustache. How Fong just walks up to people and asks to buy a kilo of heroin, like you or I would talk about the weather.

I would like to talk about how I think “Blood Street” was originally filmed as two different movies, or two sequels to “Low Blow”, but that idea was abandoned halfway through and all the ideas they had were just shoved into one movie. The plot moves at a genuinely insane pace, with people shot and characters showing up and then disappearing again and Fong moving from one place to another with nothing but the slightest whisper of an explanation as to why he’s now somewhere entirely different, kicking the ass of a whole new group of people (his sudden departure to and equally sudden return from Mexico is perhaps the classic example of this). The fight league, which could have been a whole movie in lesser hands, is briefly alluded to, shown for a few seconds then completely ignored.

My favourite part of the entire movie, though, is a little after half-way, when we see Fong teaching a bunch of teenagers some martial arts. Isn’t he a private eye, not a teacher? Never mind that. Then his daughter walks in, who has never been seen or hinted at previously, with her new boyfriend, who Fong approves of thanks to his chaste and conservative nature. Then, in the next scene, the two of them are out on a date and are murdered by some goons we’ve never met before! Fong is seen cradling his daughter and crying, but like three or four minutes later he’s back to his normal self, even coming out with a few wisecracks. What? It’s like if the entire plot of the movie “Taken” was actually just five minutes in the middle of a movie about a different mystery, and is a genuinely bizarre choice.

But then! We see him dialling a phone, and they keep every second of him doing that, being kept on hold, etc. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the editing process.

The puzzling choices keep coming right to the end. We even get a mini-version of the “Ultimate Badass” speech, where one of the characters, lamenting their inability to seduce or just kill Fong, says he’s like “a combination of Columbo, Philip Marlowe, Bruce Lee and a Catholic priest”. Fong is perhaps the ur-example of the invincible hero, as I’m not sure anyone so much as lands a punch on him at any point, but he kills a heck of a lot of people with his moves. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, either – I mean, he’s not great, but he doesn’t sound and look like he’d rather be anywhere else than in front of a camera.

I have nothing but positive words for “Blood Street”. A genuinely bizarre experience, with the wonderful Fong, who remained independent and therefore free from people telling him “maybe this movie ought to make sense” or “why did you hire Richard Norton and not have a big final fight with him?” A genuine bad movie pleasure, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

Rating: thumbs up

Hellcat’s Revenge (2017)

Long-term readers will remember our Len Kabasinski fandom – he’s one of the stars of low-budget genre filmmaking, and definitely a friend of the site. Bear in mind, though, that we’ve had problems with a few of his movies, and I didn’t exactly love his last one, “Angel of Reckoning”. So, with all that out of the way, I reckon Len has made his best movie to date with “Hellcat’s Revenge”, a tight, fun, sleazy throwback to the biker movie era – with a bit of “Sons of Anarchy” thrown in, I presume (never seen it).

A cold open where we see a woman chased round some empty streets by a few bikers handily illustrates one of the chief problems with low-budget movies – the lack of a closed set. I was all “hey, why doesn’t she get help from that car that’s slowly driving past?” until I realised it was just a car on the street where they were filming and I shouldn’t worry about it. But, this is the only example that springs to mind, which is completely understandable when you’re trying to film on an empty street, at night, in the rain, and need to get your shot quickly.

Anyway. She’s accused of stealing by the extra-sleazy Repo (Mark Kosobucki, one of the main behind-the-scenes guys) and killed, then we discover that she’s the head of the Hellcats, one of this town’s two biker gangs – the others are the Vipers, led by Snake (Kabasinski himself) with Repo one of his main lieutenants. The plot becomes Kat (Lisa Neeld, former Playboy playmate) taking over the Hellcats and trying to figure out who killed her friend and why. There’s a friendly-ish detente with the Vipers, as Kat and Snake have some unspecified history together, so it’s not just all-out war.

I know how difficult it is to find actors when you’ve got no money and never enough time to film, but Kabasinski has done really well here. Along with trusting himself with a larger role (he’s great), he got some great supporting performances from regular Frederick Williams as local mechanic Frank; Adele Crotty, who is presumably a friend of Len’s as she only appears in his movies, as Viper lieutenant Stone; Kosobucki, who you genuinely believe is a wrong ‘un; and Donna Hamblin as tattooist and local gossip merchant Rosie.

When you see a drug deal about to go down, I’d honestly be more impressed if, just once, a movie had one where everyone shook hands, paid for their product and walked away smiling. That would be unusual. But no. Still, it’s a classic scene, and Kabasinski shoots it well. There’s one other classic scene template I wanted to talk about – the strip club. After hoping those ladies were paid well to disrobe, I noticed that Snake really doesn’t seem into it, as a character, and Repo was looking at his phone the entire time a couple of nude women were grinding on him. Was this just the blasé attitude of powerful men or do they realise, it’s 2017 and this sort of thing, while expected of us as the bosses of a biker gang, really ought to be consigned to the history books? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a quiet beer and just talk to these women, find out about them rather than just see their boobs close up?

Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. But I feel it’s a reasonable read of the several strip club scenes, and would be an interesting idea for some future biker movie. The reason I even brought this up is it’s Len’s best script, by miles. Often, it seems like he had a title before he had a script – for instance, “Swamp Zombies” pretty much writes itself – but here it feels like something that came out of his fandom and interests, where he tried to give things a little subtext along with delivering on the violence and nudity.

There’s a great denouement in a disused building, some interesting dialogue and a decent final scene. It’s not all perfect (obviously), as some of the fight scenes could either use more skilled performers or slightly tighter editing, but there’s a heck of a lot to like here, and I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel.

“Hellcat’s Revenge” is just about to have its public world premiere, so if you’re in the area, go along and say hello for me. If not, then KillerWolf Films is a hive of industry at the moment so I’m sure a digital or DVD release will be coming soon.

Rating: thumbs up

Angel Of Reckoning (2016)

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It’s a warm welcome back for Len Kabasinski, friend of the site and low budget filmmaker extraordinaire. He’s been entertaining us since “Swamp Zombies”, and we recently did a great interview with him. Full disclosure: I got this DVD by taking part in the crowdfunding campaign for Len’s latest movie, should you demand rigorous lack of bias from your low-budget reviewers.

 

After working in every genre under the sun, he’s turned to the grindhouse and the sleazy 70s revenge flick. Rachel (Jessica “Wife of Len” Kabasinski, making only her second significant appearance) is a soldier, coming home for a holiday. She meets a group of people who appear to be her family and friends, despite coming across a bit like they’re vague acquaintances; then goes home to her girlfriend Reagan (Lisa Neeld), although you could be forgiven for thinking they’re just roommates or sisters until she brings Rachel a glass of wine in the nude. Why didn’t you pick her up from the bus station? What sort of crappy girlfriend are you? There are hints that under Rachel’s calm exterior, dark things lurk, as she’s woken up in the middle of the night by uneasy dreams of her military past.

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The revenge element comes from Rachel’s niece Jamie (Khila Freeman). She has a boyfriend who looks nice and clean cut but is actually a cocaine fiend (check out the lines he snorts, they’re huge), and one evening he decides a good idea would be to film a sex tape. Jamie is sadly easily convinced, and when the boyfriend can’t afford his next fix, he gives the sex tape to his dealer James (Mark Kosebucki), who sells it to amateur pornographer Billy (Jawn Gross), who puts it up on a site I neglected to write down, but is something like “xxxtremeteen.com”.

 

Now, I was thinking about this. My neighbours could be porn stars, but I’d never know not only because I’m not into porn, but because there’s millions of sites out there with millions of videos. Is there enough of a market for sex tapes featuring completely ordinary people? Is this a thing that the jaded pornography consumer likes? Anyway, everyone immediately finds out that Jamie was in a porno, which causes her to kill herself.

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Rachel discovers this in a scene where she finds Jamie’s phone and the distraught messages on it. I felt for the poor girl’s pain, even if it was being projected on the screen in text-speak, and I bloody hate text speak. Anyway, it’s like a switch flips in Rachel’s head and she becomes the titular angel of reckoning, going undercover as a stripper, and working her way up the food chain, through low-level dealers to pornographers finally to Beverly (Donna Hamblin), the kingpin of the town. Lots of scenes where “Angel” (as she calls herself) is gyrating around in very little, as well as making friends with the much older Bobbi (Debbie Dutch), who shows her the stripping ropes.

 

The porn “studio” scene is a weird one, as underage girls are drugged and coerced into group sex with ugly guys – again, is there really a market for this stuff? It feels like a scene from the 70s, honestly, as today there seem to be no end of willing participants who don’t need to be lied to about the work they’re getting into. Although, it made me feel unclean, so grindhouse job done!

 

I’d like to lead off with a huge positive. Kabasinski is always willing to learn, and you can see that he has done. “Angel” is cleanly shot, lit well, the sound is fine and the effects are excellent. He’s a director who is, I think, ready for a decent budget and some proper actors – I’d love to see him with SyFy Channel money and stars. “Kabasinski keeps growing as a filmmaker”, if anyone would like a pull quote.

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The “er…” comes in the shape of the acting talent assembled, but I’m not going to criticise someone who had zero money for actors. Kabasinski herself is fine, as is Frederick Williams as Detective Trufont, who’s trying to track down the person killing all the town’s lowlifes (with an honourable mention to his partner, Dave Johnson as Detective Campbell, who does a lot with his little screen time). Jasmine St Claire, who appeared in a couple of Len’s movies way back when, is decent too in her few scenes, but everyone else is presumably a complete amateur and it shows. No biggie, if you’re reading reviews on this site you’ll have seen worse, and as long as you know what to expect it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It makes it a bit difficult to figure out the motivation of some scenes, is all.

 

Now, I think there’s a negative, but I always thought the 70s grindhouse movies had the same negative, so it might just be Kabasinski aping that style. The editing is pretty bad, I think, with the first action scene taking way too long to come along, and some scenes just going on for ever. One example – at a wake, we see a woman pull up in her car, walk across the lawn, go into the house and put a bowl of food on a table, before wandering into the background. This entire thing could have been done in 1 second – we see a woman putting a bowl of food on a table at what’s obviously a wake – but instead goes on for 30.

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The running time is another one – the thing with grindhouse movies is they often came in at like 75 minutes, barely ever longer than 90. “Angel of Reckoning” is over 100 minutes, which I think is perhaps a bit too long – rather than have Rachel come back just to come back, it could have been for the funeral of her niece, cutting out that entire introductory section? But I’m not an armchair quarterback, so no-one cares about what I think the movie should have been, sorry.

 

This movie does have one of my favourite things in it, though – the scene where actors are watching one of the director’s older movies – in this case, “Skull Forest”. The cinema seems packed, too! So, kudos, and “Angel of Reckoning” wins an “ISCFC Self-Reference Award”!

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While Len gets the mood exactly right, and his technical abilities have come on in leaps and bounds, I can’t call this one a complete success. But, even a non-success from a guy like Len is better than 95% of the studio product currently out there, so I’d definitely recommend supporting independent filmmaking and giving this a try.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

PS – Len has the rights back to his older movies, and is offering them on his site at http://www.killerwolffilms.com/ for a low price. Read our old reviews and see if anything takes your fancy, but I’m sure you’ll find something decent among them.

Ninja: Prophecy Of Death (2011)

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While we’re waiting for the UK release of “Angel Of Reckoning”, we thought we’d cover one of Len Kabasinski’s earlier movies, 2011’s “Ninja: Prophecy Of Death”. If you’re at all interested in independent genre cinema, or just want more interesting stuff, you should definitely be checking Kabasinski out. Every entertainment penny that doesn’t go to “remake X” is a penny well spent, I reckon. Also, we’ll have a little interview with him soon, so look out for that.

 

It’s been interesting watching him evolve as a filmmaker. While I love “Swamp Zombies”, his first movie, it’s, to be polite, raw technically – he’s come on in leaps and bounds since then. It’s not always perfect (more on that later) but I think from here on out, the only thing holding him back is budget. His stories are strong, and he’s got a good sense of how to film and a desire to do something with the visuals. Imagine him with a top-level B-movie cast and a well-funded crew around him!

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“Ninja” is pure grindhouse-style fun. A mafia family is butchered by a group of ninja, but rather than kill the young girl, they take her with them. That upsets the head of the crew, credited as “The Lost One” (Renee Porada), but rather than listen to her rather sensible objections, they just chop the crap out of her and leave her for dead. She’s discovered by the rest of the gang, led by Angelo (Lanny “brother of Randy Savage” Poffo) and rather than kill her for revenge, Angelo works out a plan.

 

He hires a couple of badass trackers – Colt (Kabasinski) and Shale (Brian Anthony, Kabasinski regular) – and they team up with The Lost One to take down the ninja sect and rescue the girl. The head of the ninja (KK Ryder), who happens to be a little older and a little less human than she appears, has other plans though, and sees something special in the girl. She’s got two ninja lieutenants – unnamed, but played by Darian Caine (a veteran of the “erotic horror” genre) and Deanna Visalle (Kabasinski’s producer at the time, and obviously a good sport), so the battle lines are drawn and we’re on for a good time.

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There’s quite a bit of naked martial arts training in this, including during the opening credits, sort of a grindhouse James Bond. I would’ve assumed that martial arts in the nude would be a bit dodgy? Bits moving about, potentially getting caught on the various weapons being swung about. I appreciate this is a stupid thing to say about nude ladies in a low-budget horror movie. But the big set-piece fights are really well done – there’s a strong sense of knowing where everyone is, and who’s fighting who and why, which is a rare thing indeed for movies of this sort. My favourite bit is when Colt’s house is invaded by ninja, and rather than messing about with a sword just starts shooting at them (a nice reminder of the famous scene from “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”). And wow, are those ninjas cannon-fodder-esque! She must have hundreds of them knocking about, because our heroes go through them like knives through warm butter and there’s always plenty more.

 

My biggest complaint with this would be sound, which is incredibly indistinct in places, to the point quite a few lines go by unheard. Laying music on top of the poor-quality dialogue to make it even harder to hear was a strange choice – but according to IMDB, there were severe post-production delays which almost led to Kabasinski shelving the film permanently, and when you’ve got no money for reshoots or ADR, you take what you can get. It could have done with a bit of trimming in places, perhaps, as there’s at least one scene which starts with people who’d just been told “action!” but hadn’t started moving yet. And honestly, I’d have used dutch angles a little bit less, and perhaps gone easier on the super-jiggly handheld stuff – but this is small potatoes, and perhaps the headache I had yesterday made it feel worse than it was.

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But there’s no sense dwelling on these sort of problems. When you watch low-budget movies, you should adjust your expectations accordingly – Michael Bay’s sound and visuals are perfect, yet his movies are dull as hell. What I really enjoyed was the acting – Anthony, Kabasinski, Caine, Ryder and Porada were all really good, and helped sell the story. And, considering his entire acting career is this and “Curse Of The Wolf”, Poffo’s totally fine too. He has a good look for a gang boss, shame he never bothered carrying on with acting.

 

Lots of fun, made with real passion for the genre, and absolutely worth both your time and money.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Wendigo: Bound By Blood (2010)

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Because I often mock low-budget filmmakers and actors for not caring, I want to tell a story about people who do care. The ancient Native American spirit of the Wendigo has possessed a woman, played by Deanna Visalle. She films a scene where, entirely naked, she runs through snowy woodland. Now, standard B-movie fare, in one sense; but Visalle is also the producer of this movie, and the director, Len Kabasinski, shot the scene on a 30 minute lunch break from his day job. Can you imagine any other director and producer making a movie in such circumstances? My hat is doffed to both of them.

 

As we’re close to the release of ISCFC favourite Len Kabasinski’s new movie “Angel of Reckoning”, we thought we’d catch up with the rest of his oeuvre and encourage you, dear reader, to drop a few dollars on it when it comes out (or buy the newly re-edited and remastered “Apocalypse Female Warriors”, which is great). Len’s a nationally-ranked martial artist and makes movies in whatever time he can find, but is differentiated from the mass of other low-budget filmmakers by a couple of things. First, he has a sense of humour; second, he seems absolutely willing to learn from his mistakes and constantly improve; and third, he obviously loves this stuff, and isn’t following trends.

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It’s nice that he’s willing to learn from his mistakes, because sad to say “Wendigo: Bound By Blood” has a fair few of them. It’s worth watching, but be prepared to lean your head to the side a bit, as the use of dutch angles is so prevalent I was beginning to wonder if the entire world was skewed and I was seeing it wrong. And, one of the main actresses appears to blow a line in the monologue which is repeated at the beginning and end of the movie – that what we saw was the best take indicates some tough decisions must have been made.

 

But never mind that for now. After the monologue explaining to us what the wendigo is, we meet a couple who are hiking through the woods, completely lost. The guy says at one point that they’ve been walking for two days, but they appear to have a tent and are able to make fire, so…did they just lose their food? The people from “Alive” went a lot longer before they started seeing their companions as giant floating burgers and legs of chicken. So, he’s about to carve his girlfriend up for dinner but the Wendigo possesses her and just straight up eats him. I think – my DVD had a pretty bad stutter in the first half of the movie and I feel like I missed a few things.

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The Wendigo doesn’t really play much of a part in the rest of proceedings – unless it possessed one of the main cast during a DVD stutter, which is entirely possible. The story we get, though, is an interesting one. A man and a woman are witnesses to some mob crime and have been brought to the snowy wastes by a couple of Feds to keep them safe; however, he’s secretly in the employ of the Mob and is leading a group of assassins, led by the Len himself (under the screen name Leon South)  to where they are. At the same time, the local Sheriff (Brian Anthony, a Kabasinski regular) is investigating one of the Wendigo’s kills, and falls into a partnership with a native Doctor, Angeni Stonechild (Cheyenne King). These three stories circle each other until they come together in a pretty badass final shootout in and around a cabin.

 

Firstly, it’s an interesting change of style for Kabasinski. He’s out in the snowy woods, and it’s a more deliberately paced style he’s gone for, usually being one of the few low-budget directors who fills his movies with incident. It looks great, apart from the dutch angles (which smarter film critics than me have already told him about, so I won’t bang on about it too much), and I like that he’s trying new things.

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The acting is really ropey in places, though. Anthony is fine, King tries her best (blown line notwithstanding) and, once again, “Leon South” is the strongest actor in one of his own movies. He reminded me of David Caruso from “CSI: Miami”, but as a psychotic assassin, and I enjoyed every bit of his performance. Everyone else, on the other hand…they’re about as good as you’d expect for a movie made on a shoestring budget by people snatching time wherever they could. I did like that the two witnesses hated each other, and there’s a few nice touches that make it through the acting haze. There’s some good martial arts too – Len is clearly a pro, and he tries his best to make his opponents look like a million bucks even when they’re, to put it mildly, not natural screen fighters.

 

Bear in mind this criticism is coming from someone deep in the hole of low-budget genre cinema, so you may see this and go “what the hell is he talking about?” If you can ignore the occasionally less-than-stellar special effects and non-acting, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The scene where we find the first body is really nicely shot, and the use of music has vastly improved over such work as “Curse Of The Wolf”. Plus, the writing is strong, even if I’m still not entirely sure what happened to the Wendigo.

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I appreciate times are hard for us all, but if you have some spare entertainment money, there are many worse ways to spend it than on some KillerWolf movies. Maybe don’t start here, give “Swamp Zombies” and “Apocalypse Female Warriors” a go first, and if you like them maybe move on to this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Apocalypse Female Warriors (2009)

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If you’ve read many of our reviews here, you’ll know we’re big fans of Len Kabasinski, the micro-budget director who’s brought us many fun genre movies. We’ve even reviewed this before, under its original title, “Warriors of the Apocalypse”, so please read our initial review here.

 

Why are we reviewing it again? Well, Kabasinski decided the initial release wasn’t up to scratch (it does seem like the original post-production was quite troubled), so decided to re-edit and improve some of the special effects. If I’m reading the IMDB page right, it’s also a bit shorter than the original, clocking in at a splendidly trim 74 minutes.

 

No sense recapping what we’ve already written (as nothing significant or plot-dependent has been changed), so let’s talk technical stuff. Everything works a lot better! The fights snap along, and the editing is top-notch; while I haven’t done a strict comparison between the two, it feels like hundreds of changes were made. The special effects, although still definitely at the cheap end of things, look sharper, the blood looks more realistic and the explosions (which I liked before) also look a little improved.

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I want to give Len Kabasinski some praise. There aren’t a ton of filmmakers who’d be happy with someone coming in and re-editing their movie and tweaking the special effects, but that’s what he did with Chris Young (who joins Len on one of the DVD’s new commentary tracks). From the – admittedly little – I know about him, he seems a remarkably ego-free guy, who’s happy to learn from anyone and everyone.

 

Additional praise goes to inviting the Red Letter Media guys to do the other commentary track. Even though Mike, Rich and Jay are clearly fans, they’re also totally honest about all the technical shortcomings, and honest commentaries are a rare thing. Being a fan of Red Letter Media too, it was cool to hear them talk about it, and they gave plenty of insights into the making of micro-budget movies, as well as wandering down many conversational paths (how they’d probably fail to survive an apocalypse was a highlight). They’re funny guys and their commentary is well worth listening to (as is Len’s).

The RLM fellows

The RLM fellows

One of the things about grindhouse and 80s / 90s shot-on-video stuff is that they were often pretty short. Donald Farmer’s early movies clocked in at under an hour, and the history of low-budget cinema is littered with 70-75 minute gems. Okay, it’s not all of them, or even most, but it’s not necessarily bad to have your movie come in at that length. I think a few low-budget moviemakers, perhaps worried about selling to TV and their 2 hour (with commercials) slots, have forgotten this, and we have been subjected to many “hey, the lead’s sister is trying to get to this place for some reason” subplots which go nowhere and add nothing. What I’m getting at in a roundabout way is that there are thousands of movies which could benefit from what Kabasinski has done with “Apocalypse Female Warriors”, and that’s trim all the fat. Exciting 75 minute movies are better than sort-of-okay 90 minute ones (although I liked the original version just fine, this is much improved).

 

It’s available where all good movies are sold, and I highly recommend it. Support low-budget filmmaking, because if you don’t then we’ll have nothing left to review.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Warriors Of The Apocalypse (2009)

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If I lived anywhere near Len Kabasinski, I wouldn’t be a film reviewer. I’d be volunteering on his movies or begging him to give me a job, because the amount of invention he can get out of non-professional casts and budgets that wouldn’t pay for a day of the average big Hollywood movie is a joy to behold.

According to the people at Killerwolf Films, this is being remastered and slightly recut this year, but the one thing I noticed is the increasing confidence in the use of special effects from his previous movie, “Fist Of The Vampire”; so I’m really looking forward to the new version. Heads explode and bullets fly about and things blow up, and it all looks good.

Luca (Darian Caine), Spring (Pamela Sutch), Vick (Amara Offhaus), and Carrie (Renee Porada) are trying to survive in a post- World War 3 wasteland, with zombies wandering about and all sorts of gangs of people who have made their own little societies. They’re trying to get to the last remaining city, as they’re tired of fighting and want to relax, have lives (and get drunk and laid, which I had a chuckle at).

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The bulk of the movie is them fighting their way towards the city, and on top of previously mentioned problems, there’s Rollins (Debbie D), the dictator of the city, sending out her goons (including chief goon Largent, played by Kabasinski himself) to stop the girls. It seems that, despite the city behind her looking huge, she doesn’t want any more people in it. For shame, Rollins! They do get the odd bit of help though, including the prisoner they rescue, Harris (Brian Anthony), who knows the back entrance to the city.

I love the little oddities in this movie. Early on, they blow up a building where they were previously held captive – only problem is, they light the gas trail while they’re still in the building, causing them to have to run for their lives (a cool visual, I suppose, but…) And in tribute to martial arts movies of yore, when there’s a 20-on-1 fight the 20 fight one at a time, to give the 1 a decent chance of survival. I love it! And my favourite crazy credit – “Assistant to Len Kabasinski – Everyone”.

But what I really liked is seeing the ways Killerwolf movies improve. Kabasinski is a good actor and I hope one day he headlines one of his own movies, but he’s coming along as a director as well. The use of special effects is much stronger here, and there’s the way the fight scenes are filmed – there’s lots of interesting use of angles to capture the impact of the big moves, and as he hires a lot of real martial artists the fights themselves look strong. The scene in the lift near the end is a little gem of editing too.

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I mean, if you look at it one way it could be seen like the typical micro-budget “people in the woods” movie we cover on here, and if you’re looking for stuff to mock, you’ll no doubt find a few things. But that’s definitely the wrong way to look at it! It’s fun, fast-paced and there’s a real love for genre movies and martial arts that shines through. I’d definitely recommend checking this out – available from a streaming service or DVD sales place near you now. And check out Killer Wolf Films for more information on what they’re up to now.

Rating: thumbs up

 

PS – this is, oddly, not the first film we’ve reviewed with this exact title. Check out our review of the 1985 “Warriors Of The Apocalypse”, one of the odder Filipino exploitation movies, here.