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
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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