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
Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
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