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End Game (2009)

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End Game ReviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Kurt Angle, Jenna Morasca, Sam Nicotero, Natalie Bail, Eric Wright, Jonas Chaney

Directed by Bruce Koehler


Kurt Angle. Olympic gold medal-winning amateur wrestler. World championship-winning professional wrestler. Future award-winning actor? Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

I could see him getting his feet wet in the acting world appearing in a broad comedy or doing the typical b-action movie thing, but playing a devious, smooth-talking, charismatic, master of disguise serial killer requires a thespian skill set that Kurt Angle does not currently possess. Angle’s best acting moment has him do nothing more than stare ominously at a victim without a shred of emotion in his eyes, which he does convincingly, though still looking as if he were a Terminator that wasn’t issued hair at the Skynet factory.

What we have here is another one of those serial killer movies where the cunning murderer spends most of the running time toying with potential victims and the cops after him. The killer frequently changes his appearance, sometimes even passing himself off as a policeman working his own case. The killer also relishes the cat & mouse game he plays with the lead detective on his tail (i.e., calling up the man’s house at all hours to taunt him). The detective – married with a young special needs daughter – further plays into the killer’s hands by getting involved with the stripper roommate of his most recent victim whom he has now begun targeting.

End Game is a pretty lousy movie. That should not come as a shock to anyone when talking about a no-budget serial killer flick starring a professional wrestler and a reality television star turned professional wrestler. Now to be fair, all of the acting ranges from sub-par to terrible to laughably bad. The entire production gives off the vibe of a student film project. There’s so much blue tint lighting used they should have cast The Undertaker instead of Angle. Frequently static camerawork makes many a scene feel like you’re watching the filming of a lethargic stage play. That’s a fitting comparison given the acting much of the time left me feeling like I was watching the rehearsals. Not that the script would make for a compelling thriller even with a bigger budget, a better cast, and a faster pace. Watching End Game isn’t so painful that you’ll need 70 Vicodins to get through it, but I would advise some pep pills to keep you from falling asleep during the extremely dull parts.

If you’re looking for a compelling serial killer thriller, this is so not it. But if you’re a Kurt Angle fan or a connoisseur of movies about or starring professional wrestlers, End Game is an absolute must-see.

End Game ReviewKurt Angle stars as sexual predator Brad Mayfield AKA the “Stranglehold Killer”, a serial killer who has gained his rep for asphyxiating female victims to death after sex. Only the first we see him kill in the film will die at his hands via what I suppose you could call strangulation. The next female victim he seduces gets her neck broken. A male victim (non-sexual, thank goodness) then gets stabbed. I was hoping someone would get anklelocked to death – no dice. For a guy billed as the “Stranglehold Killer”, he doesn’t seem beholden to that particular means of murder.

The movie opens with Angle going doggy-style on his first victim, during which he will redefine the concept of the “rear naked choke” by cupping his hands over her mouth and smothering her to death. So if you’ve ever wanted to see Kurt Angle’s fuck face while repeatedly asking the woman he’s banging from behind “You want me to make you cum?” over and over…

Personally, I could have lived without ever having to see Kurt Angle’s O-face. Not quite as psyche-scarring as the Chyna sex tape or the horrifying thought of one day accidentally stumbling upon an underground viral video of Ox Baker getting titty fucked by Abdullah the Butcher, but this was still not a position I ever wanted to see our Olympic hero in.

Mayfield has now set his murderous sights on the exotic dancer roommate of his most recent victim. Such as the harrowing scene where Mayfield dressed like a cat burglar tries to break into her apartment by lying on the floor and sticking his hand underneath the front door with a lockpick device; she stabs his hand with a screwdriver and he screams like a woman. Something about the staging of this scene left me wondering when Dick Tracy would arrive to question witnesses.

End Game ReviewJenna Morasca, a former “Survivor: Amazon” contestant who posed for Playboy and is now part of the roster of Total Non-stop Action wrestling (the same promotion Kurt Angle just happens to wrestle for), co-stars as a stripper who never takes off any clothes. She develops a relationship with the cop hot on Mayfield’s trail after he pays her a visit at the strip club where she works and watches her never remove a single article of clothing while barely moving on stage.

Should I mention now that the filmmakers were shooting for a PG-13 rating? Despite opening with a sex scene and setting other scenes inside a strip club, there is no actual nudity and the violence is fairly tame. This strikes me a major miscalculation. When you set out to make a motion picture about a psycho sexual serial killer that preys primarily on exotic dancers, it just seems to me that right from the get-go you should already be thinking in R-rated terms. I’ve seen 15-year-old reruns of “Silk Stalkings” more salacious than End Game.

The cops can’t seem to catch Mayfield. That strikes me as odd because Mayfield works in an office under his real name even as the police are on the hunt for him. Maybe I missed something along the way. I have to confess to having been bored into such a stupor at times – anytime the focus was on the police side of things or the melodrama of the lead detective’s personal life – paying attention to the details became quite the arduous task. Sorry to say there’s very little entertainment value outside of the unintended comedy stemming from the novelty of Kurt Angle’s “acting” and his silly disguises.

Mayfield’s favorite disguise is that of “Detective Bishop”, a heavy-set policeman with a voice so husky it could win the Iditarod. A brown fedora, a brown suit designed to make him look at least 50 pounds heavier, and a latex face appliance meant to make him appear older and fat faced: it’s astonishing how much Angle in this outfit combined with his phony deep voice makes him a dead ringer for Tor Johnson in Plan 9 From Outer Space during the scenes of Johnson playing police detective. It simply has to be seen to be believed.

Even more amazing because when we get close-ups of “Detective Bishop” his completely unnatural complexion has the texture of a shinier, more rubbery version of Richard Lynch’s face. He’s about as normal looking as Fantastic Four‘s The Thing whenever he’d walk around in a hat and overcoat, and yet nobody looking at him is ever the wiser.

End Game ReviewAnother awesome disguise has Angle dressing up as a birthday party clown to get inside the investigator’s house. As carnival music plays over the entire scene, Doink the Olympian will KO the wife with a punch to the face and then deadpans the line “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” That incredible moment sets the stage for my favorite exchange of uproariously bad dialogue. Not sure why I laughed so hard at this particular dialogue exchange; possibly because the actor playing the lead detective has a voice almost as gravelly as Don Frye, which just made it sound funnier than it was. As his wife is being loaded into an ambulance (that must have been a hell of a punch!), the detective asks what happens, and she tells him that Mayfield has abducted their special needs daughter, Chrissy.

“Who did this?”

“A clown.”

“A CLOWN?!”

“He took Chrissy.”

“HE TOOK CHRISSY?!”

Yet End Game is still better than 95% of Hulk Hogan’s filmography.

1 out of 5

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LIQUID SKY Blu-ray Review – You Don’t Need Acid For This Mind Melting Trip

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Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr

Directed by Slava Tsukerman

Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome


Succinctly summing up a slice-of-life avant-garde feature film can be difficult when the picture relies heavily on the audio-visual experience and not necessarily the story. Liquid Sky (1982) is an acid-fueled trip through the emerging New Wave movement, viewed through the vapid lens of the fashion world, where drugs and sex are a commodity to be frequently bartered. The film juxtaposes the grimy and gritty streets of New York City with liberal use of bright, flashy neon, creating an aesthetic that both revels in the post-punk subculture and looks forward to the eye-popping pastels that would come to define the ‘80s. Within this kaleidoscope is a story about androgyny, rampant drug use, pleasures of the flesh, sexual abuse, and tiny invisible aliens that subsist on the endorphins released when people either get high or get down. As director Slava Tsukerman states in the extras, the idea was to craft a unique visual palette, the likes of which cinemagoers maybe hadn’t seen before; in that respect, Tsukerman capably succeeded. This is true subversive cinema, not for the mainstream.

Margaret (Anne Carlisle) is an androgynous NYC fashion model, looking to get her big break into certifiable stardom. Her nightclub fashion shows bring out all the fringe of the city – drug users, sexual deviants, flamboyant personalities, and her rival, Jimmy (also Carlisle), who is a fiend for cocaine. Margaret’s girlfriend, Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), is a coke dealer whom Jimmy constantly harasses for a quick high, despite the fact he never has any money. Sex is his usual currency, consensual and otherwise. For reasons unknown, though easy to glean, a tiny UFO has landed on top of the apartment building in which Margaret lives, the visitors here to feast on endorphins released by the brain during drug use… or explosive, orgasmic sex.

Jimmy has lunch with his mother, Sylvia (Susan Doukas), a television producer who he sees as little more than a blank check. Sylvia also happens to live across the street from Margaret’s building, making it the perfect vantage point for scientist Johann Hoffman (Otto von Wernherr) to observe the till-now undiscovered, minute aliens and their spacecraft. Margaret, meanwhile, finds herself in one compromising sexual position after the next, often against her will, though these (let’s be honest here and call them) rapes tend to end with her perpetrators dead, a thin crystalline sliver embedded within their skulls; brain removed. Margaret doesn’t quite understand why, but the frequent cause and effect makes her imagine she has unbridled power, able to kill anyone that has sex with her. Eventually, Margaret comes to use this “power” to destroy anyone who crosses or uses her, which as the film will show is a significant number of people. Little does she know, all this time her saviors have been invisible to the naked eye and living atop her building.

The above plot synopsis barely scratches the surface of the weird and insane places this film travels. The biggest takeaway here should be the ground Tsukerman was breaking, which feels very much in the vein of something Andy Warhol might have been behind. The cast is comprised of societal outcasts; populated by homosexuals, ambiguous individuals, gender-fluidity, heroin users, club cronies, kink, vulgarity… all things that in no way conform to societal standards of normality. Carlisle pulls double duty playing two characters – one reprehensible, the other vaguely sympathetic – yet both fall under the rubric of blurred lines; they embody qualities of both masculinity and femininity. Tsukerman embraces the abstract and absurd, delivering a film that is fiercely independent and wholly incapable of direct categorization.

Driving this tour de force is a cutting edge synth score that is constantly active and consistently weird. A trio made up of Tsukerman, Clive Smith, and Brenda I. Hutchinson composed the soundtrack, and it sounds alien and otherworldly while also capturing the essence of the New Wave. The electronic cues and deep bass beats are energetic and repetitive, often making use of bizarre time signatures. Large portions of it reminded me of John Massari’s stellar synth score to Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), as the synthesizer sounds are nearly identical in some passages. The grooves are infectious and wonderfully lo-fi, adding an audible assault to complement the visual feast.

Still, Liquid Sky is something of a challenging watch, especially a first-time viewing when expectations are impossible to calibrate. Because Tsukerman purposely made his film so esoteric and obtuse, it can be tough to settle into a comfortable viewing mindset because so much of the film is uncomfortable and unconventional. The acting quality is passable enough that viewers may find themselves watching the film less as a veritable feature and more a staged, lengthy piece of performance art, which it is in certain respects. Liquid Sky doesn’t lampoon the period or people associated with it, though it does offer an exaggeration of current trends. One thing is for sure, this is bespoke filmmaking at its core and a shining example of the marriage between emerging trends and psychedelic euphoria. Mind blowing stuff.

Vinegar Syndrome is consistently lauded for their A/V work and, boy, did they ever knock this one out of the atmosphere. The 1.85:1 1080p picture is pristine, making it almost impossible to believe this is a low-budget indie from ’82. The original 35mm negative has been given new life via a 4K scan, with the resulting image looking nearly flawless. Aside from literally two or three white flecks the picture is immaculate. Film grain has been smoothed out and minimized without the use of waxy DNR. Fine detail is exquisite, adding a sense of true life to these shiny and squalid environments. Colors are richly saturated and pop off the screen, just as eye-catching neon might do in real life. Color filters are used frequently, bathing the image in hues of blue or green or whatever color fits the intended mood. Skin tones are spot-on and accurate. There is nothing worth complaining about making this one of the finest images Blu-ray is capable of producing.

Although the audio is a single-channel English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track you’d never know it from the sonic quality. The synthesized score is catchy and constant, causing the film’s soundfield to be brimming with life at every moment. The aggressive mix and high levels cause a mild sensation of discomfort and unease for viewers, ensuring the picture is never viewed too comfortably. Dialogue is understandable and totally clean, with no indication of hissing or pops at any point. Subtitles are available in English.

An introduction is available before the feature begins, with director Slava Tsukerman giving viewers a brief greeting along with praise for Vinegar Syndrome’s new home video edition.

An audio commentary is available, featuring director Slava Tsukerman.

The disc also contains an isolated soundtrack, highlighting that groundbreaking score.

Interview with Slava Tsukerman is a recent chat with the Russian director, who touches upon his career, influences, and the legacy of his most endearing creation.

Interview with Anne Carlisle is a similarly themed chat, with the leading lady discussing topics ranging from her early beginnings to where her career has taken her now.

Liquid Sky Revisited is a nearly-hour long documentary covering all aspects of the film’s production, with Tsukerman delving into every bit of minutia behind the production, genesis, inspirations, etc.

Q&A from 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers Screening, featuring Tsukerman, Carlisle, and co-composer Clive Smith.

A lengthy reel of outtakes, alternate opening sequence, rehearsal footage, multiple trailers, and a still gallery complete the wealth of bonus features found here.

Additionally, the cover artwork is reversible allowing for display of the original key art or newly commissioned artwork.

Special Features:

  • BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM from the 35mm original negative
  • Brand new commentary track with: Slava Tsukerman (director)
  • Video interview with Slava Tsukerman
  • Video interview with Anne Carlisle (actress)
  • Director’s introduction
  • “Liquid Sky Revisited” (2017) – 50 minute making-of documentary
  • Q&A from a 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers screening with: Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle and Clive Smith (music)
  • Isolated soundtrack
  • Never before seen outtakes
  • Alternate opening sequence
  • Behind the scenes rehearsal footage
  • Multiple theatrical trailers
  • Still gallery
  • Artwork designed by Derek Gabryszak
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • English SDH subtitles
  • REGION-FREE
  • Liquid Sky
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Supremely psychedelic and infinitely eccentric, Liquid Sky was 1983’s most successful independent film and for good reason: it is impossible to categorize and there are few films that color outside the lines so vividly and uniquely. You can’t explain it or understand it; you just have to see it. Vinegar Syndrome have raised the bar with their impeccable a/v quality and wonderful selection of extras.

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Zena’s Period Blood: Dying for a DEAD END

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It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”

“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.

How do you turn $900,000 into $77,000,000? Offer directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa the initial amount and give them the freedom to let their minds wander. In 2003, both directors accomplished this unimaginable feat with Dead End. Under the clouds of a small budget, typical poster and insubstantial trailer, most viewers forecasted one long stretch of boredom. However, 15 minutes in and I was as hooked as a pervert in a strip club with his tax refund money. In 83 minutes, the movie unravels and exposes intelligent craftsmanship with story, acting and location, introducing us to the Harrington family and their demise.

After 20 years following the same route, Frank Harrington (Ray Wise) decides to take his family down a shortcut to his in-laws home during Christmas Eve. Wife Laura (Lin Shaye) sings in the passenger seat, serving as the optimistic family unifier who is often ignored by her husband and children. Behind Frank is their oldest child Marion (Alexandra Holden), unnervingly sheltered under the arm of her soon-to-be fiancé, Brad. And forever mom’s favorite boy is Richard (Mick Cain), who rocks out to Marilyn Manson blaring in his headphones. After this brief introduction to the characters and their distinct personalities, we witness everyone fall asleep, including Frank, who refuses to let anyone else drive.

Several seconds pass before the Jeep Wagoneer veers into the opposite lane. Gradually, a honk pleads from an approaching car, startling the Harrington family and forcing Frank to fight with the wheel until he brings the Jeep to a stop. Wide-awake, the family begins to move forward, now entrapped on a new, never-ending road.

I could elaborate on so many scary details in the movie, but the never-ending road stands out the most. What makes it worse is that there are signs for a town called Marcott, with an arrow indicating the town is straight ahead. But the Harringtons never reach the town. This scares me because I believe that every human being has a mental list of things they are scared of or things they should keep an eye out for in certain situations. Unfortunately, this movie exists to expand that list. What sucks for me is that my husband likes taking back roads. Because I strive to have a happy marriage and a peaceful death, I usually fall asleep to avoid an argument and the grim reaper, both of which usually exist on these particular roads. However, I never imagined that a back road could become a never-ending road. Man that would suck!

Speaking of never-ending, the directors became devils of discomfort by never really showing the deceased’s mutilated body, leaving your brain struggling to piece together the unseen image long after the movie ends. Throughout the movie, the family and Brad are picked off one by one. We mainly suffer these devatations through the reactions of the family members that are still alive, sometimes witnessing them lift a severed ear or caress a charred hand. This movie taught me that I can still taste bile at the back of my throat when a mutilation is suggested rather than shown.

Directors Andrea and Canepa accomplished greatness in Dead End with little time and little money. It is a testament that imagination coupled with skill is the true combination to capturing a big budget feel. I hope that all the individuals behind this movie have a long, never-ending road ahead of them because they have delivered brilliance to the world. This is a good horror. Point blank. Period.


In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.

 


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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 164 – THE CLEANSE

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The Master Cleanse

Wait no longer, boils and ghouls! Today is the day you’ve been waiting for; today is the day we sink our teeth into 2018’s The Cleanse! What’s that? You’ve never heard of The Cleanse?! Well, neither had we, but horror releases are slim pickings right now, so we take what we can get. At least we can all agree that we’ve been dying to see Johnny Galecki in something other than Big Bang Theory, right? No? Well, fuck. Here’s an episode about his new movie anyway. What are we even doing?

It was crazy of me to think I could help the police, but I’m going to keep researching, keep writing, there are stories that need to be told, so… here’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 164!

If you enjoy the show, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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