Directed by Eric Stanze
Distributed by Wicked Pixel Cinema
Movies like Ratline are what makes the independent horror scene so great. Whereas a studio might shy away from an oddball story that blends Nazi occultism and a lesbian love story alongside a crime thriller, writer/director Eric Stanze dives right into all these themes with reckless abandon and delivers a rather solid flick that should manage to keep even the hardened horror fans out there on their toes from start to finish.
What’s pretty remarkable is that Ratline starts off in some standard thriller territory with the film opening on Crystal (Haack) and her half-sister, Kim (Del Monacco), as they rip off a drug dealer and then flee after killing him during a violent showdown. The pair decide to take refuge in a small Midwestern town and rent a room from the unsuspecting Penny (Swofford), who has no idea what kind of trouble just moved in with her.
And just when it seems like Crystal is able to distance herself from her violent past and spark up a relationship with Penny, she crosses paths with a mysterious man named Frank Logan (Christ), and once Frank’s on the scene in Ratline, that’s when the flick takes a delightful right turn and everything we thought we knew about the movie suddenly unravels before us. We soon find out Frank’s searching for a missing Nazi relic that wields the power to resurrect the Master Race, and as it turns out, it’s somewhere in this small Midwestern town in which Crystal and Kim are seeking refuge.
So how do all these themes and characters weave together in Ratline exactly? To reveal that would give away a lot of the fun of the flick, but suffice to say, Stanze pulls off the blending of all these subgenres incredibly well and delivers a powerful and unforgettable tale that is an effective slice of visceral indie filmmaking.
Stanze is no stranger to the world of exploitation-esque films, with previous credits including films like Ice from the Sun, Deadwood Park and I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss on Your Grave; however, Ratline is by far the filmmaker’s most “reserved” work to date and demonstrates that with each film Stanze is only getting better as a director and making up his own exploitation playbook as he goes along by playing along with, and in some cases against, conventions generally used within the subgenre.
Case in point: There’s a scene between our leading bad girl Crystal and Penny that could have gone into full blown Reform School Girls territory (and rightfully so) with the passion heating up between the two ladies. However, rather than let the scene play out the way we expect it to, Stanze quietly reels the story in, and we’re left with a quiet moment between two potential lovers that plays it more sweet than naughty. Talk about a curveball! And that’s just one of many Stanze has ready to throw at us throughout the movie.
And for you exploitation fans out there who may feel a bit let down after reading that, don’t worry- there’s still plenty of ‘naughty’ stuff to go around in Ratline. There are naked chicks (and a dude) aplenty, tons of gore and some great shocking visuals thrown in during a few Nazi flashback moments as well that will definitely leave an indelible mark on your psyche once the story is over.
The DVD presentation of Ratline, released independently by Stanze production banner Wicked Pixel Cinema, offers up some bonus features as well for those of you out there who want to know more about what went into getting this genre-bending flick made. There are two commentary tracks – one with Stanze chatting solo and one with the filmmaker being joined by Ratline stars Haack and Christ – as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette, a handful of deleted scenes, a gag reel and a trailer. And while the commentary track with the trio was definitely enjoyable, checking out Ratline with just Stanze’s commentary is something I’d recommend for any up-and-coming independent horror filmmakers out there because it seems like this guy has seen (and overcome) it all to get his films made on his own terms for the last 16 years, and he shares a wealth of knowledge here that’s informative and entertaining.
Ratline is definitely something beyond your average low-budget exploitation flick. It’s a shocking and engaging movie that has Stanze taking some calculated risks as a director and thereby proving that you don’t need millions of dollars to tell unique and ambitious stories these days. Sure, there are some hokey performances (with co-stars Haack and Christ being the exception-; both deliver knockout performances in Ratline) and there are a couple of logic flaws in the story, but overall Ratline is the kind of movie that gets me excited for the world of independent horror all over again. The story sneaks up on you and wallops you out of nowhere with a few gut punches, all the while embracing its exploitation roots without using them as an excuse to make a crappy flick (which is a trap a lot of filmmakers fall into).
After seeing Ratline, I would absolutely love to see what kind of madness Stanze – as well as his frequent partners in crime Haack and Christ – can come up with next time around.
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
LIQUID SKY Blu-ray Review – You Don’t Need Acid For This Mind Melting Trip
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.
- 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
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.
Zena’s Period Blood: Dying for a DEAD END
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.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 164 – THE 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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube.
- Steven Millan I recently bought the DVD of DEAD END and so far I'm ten minutes into it and despite the obnoxiousness of Mick Cain's potty mouthed character,things do look like they're heading in very interesting...
- Steven Millan Hey Matthew,why don't you contact the likes of Uncle Creepy(alias Steve Barton),Mr. Dark,Woman In Black,and Jonathan Barkan about that proposed editing gig of yours after being heavily dismayed by...
- Nick Taylor Yeah, I was unable to find any cut other than the Shout Factory Blu ray, which is actually pretty hilarious...
- Nicholas McCrae Kimble Discounting some of the millenium series reboots, yes, that is exactly the case.
- Matthew Horak stopped reading after "things go so hot". would you like me to be your editor? You had ONE job...here, let me do your job for you.... "things [don't] go so hot" or "things [do] go so hot". Thank...
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