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Blood River (UK DVD)

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Blood RiverReviewed by Gareth Jones

Starring Andrew Howard, Tess Panzer, Ian Duncan

Directed by Adam Mason

Distributed by Revolver Entertainment


If there’s one independent filmmaker out there that can always make me sit up and pay attention, it’s Adam Mason. Ever since being intrigued by Broken and blown away by the monsterrific The Devil’s Chair, anything he does ends up high on the “to see” list. Now, Mason’s most accomplished piece of work to date is finally available on UK DVD in the form of Blood River.

The film concerns loving couple Summer and Clark (Panzer and Duncan) as they take a road trip across the desert to present Summer’s parents with the good news of her recent pregnancy. Along the way they suffer a blowout and in searching for assistance end up in the abandoned town of Blood River. Shortly after arriving, a mysterious cowboy drifter named Joseph (Andrew Howard) appears. It seems he’s also broken down a few miles away and offers his assistance to the young couple.

While Summer finds the new free-spirited arrival strangely endearing, Clark almost immediately sets about passive-aggressively butting heads with him; meanwhile Joseph makes passing comments apparently designed to turn our lovebirds on each other. The audience is already privy to certain information about Joseph’s activities (he does NOT appear to be a good or trustworthy character), but the truth of his existence is something neither Summer nor Clark could ever possibly have imagined – and may be the destruction of them both.

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It’s impossible to go into too much detail regarding the plot of Blood River, which is a shame as it’s the masterful unfolding of it that is exactly what makes it so special. Reading too much and spoiling the events would do an inexcusable disservice to what can only be described as a tour-de-force of character work. As the story unfolds, your mind will reel. Emotions and sympathies will sway and turn as you’re never quite sure just what Joseph’s intentions are. Every single member of the cast delivers in spades with Panzer and Duncan managing a real and convincing chemistry in the early stages and effortlessly carrying the weight of the later scenes as buried secrets, guilt and utter dismay bubble and explode to the surface. When the credits roll and you see literally six names in the cast list, it hits home at just how well delivered every moment of Blood River really is.

Mason regular Andrew Howard is quite simply exceptional as the enigmatic Joseph. Insightful, endearing, contemplative and threatening all at the same time, his every line and movement are like a volcano just waiting to erupt, and in the final stages of the film the man can only be described as a force of nature come to life on-screen. You just can’t dare pull your eyes from him.

Mason’s skills behind the camera continue to evolve with Blood River looking like it cost many, many times the budget it did (which could also be said for most of his work), mainly due to some fantastic location work. A few well thought out aerial shots and very impressive score come together at key moments to really raise the work into the upper echelons of the genre. Mason frames a number of impressive displays of camerawork; however, a few minor moments fail to gel as well as they could have – for example, the introductory shot of Joseph is strikingly cinematic, but the editing robs it of any organic placement; instead it feels constructed and forced. This is a minor gripe, however noticeable. In fact the only real problem that the film faces is contained within some of the dialogue, albeit only occasionally. The majority is so well delivered that the odd clumsy piece of writing becomes ever more noticeable.

Blood River is an intelligent, gripping, shocking and draining piece of cinema. Be aware that a complete set of answers won’t be given here, but if you like your horror to keep your mind awake and your eyes glued, all I can say is:

Buy it. Buy it now.

The DVD by Revolver Entertainment is presented very nicely – about as well as the film could look and sound short of getting the high-def treatment (which would be an excellent enhancement in viewing the stunning desert skies and landscapes that Mason frames). While the DVD screener did not include any special features, the final version does boast a making-of documentary and commentary by director Adam Mason. These have not been scored, but ensure that this release is an essential purchase. Thanks to Elijah Drenner for the heads up!

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by Adam Mason
  • Making-of Documentary

    Film

    4 out of 5

    Special Features

    2 1/2 out of 5

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    Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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    Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

    Directed by James S. Brown

    We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

    Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

    Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

    As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

    With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

    8 out of 10.

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    Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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    Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

    Directed by Warren Speed


    The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

    An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

    Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

    Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

    Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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    User Rating 2.95 (19 votes)
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    The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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    Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

    Directed by Martin Gooch


    Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

    In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

    Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

    Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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    3.0

    Summary

    Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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    User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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