Zombies, raves, even a zombie rave

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 06, 2020
Photo by: Music Box Films Lorn Macdonald, left, and Cristian Ortega star in "Beats" from Scotland.

Owls Head — Beats (Scotland, Music Box Films, DVD, NR, 101 min.). First, a rave. This very appealing film is about the last days of friendship between Johnno (Cristian Ortega of TV miniseries “Retribution) and Spanner, aka Scott Smith (Lorn Macdonald of TV miniseries “Deadwater Fell”). Johnno’s mom (Laura Fraser), who, by the way, refers to Spanner as “scum,” has a new husband (Brian Ferguson) who is a policeman and is moving the family away to an upscale new neighborhood.

The two boys love upbeat music – the fun opening scenes of this mostly black-and-white film are the lads each in their own bedroom jumping around in their underpants to a rave track – and the more outgoing Spanner, in particular, is all for them attending a planned illegal rave to protest the British government’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which banned gatherings “at which amplified music is played … wholly or predominately characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” This puts that part of the film into the “Footloose” category, only with music by Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Prodigy, Liquid Liquid, LFO, Leftfield, DJ Twitch, Phantasia, N-Joi, Inner City, Human Resources, Ultrasonic and Sextant. It is not the same sing-along type music as in “Footloose.”

Johnno is much shyer, and less experienced, but his friendship with Spanner is important to him, so he defies his parents, who both see Spanner as trouble. Spanner only lives with his abusive brother Fido (Neil Leiper), who not only knocks him around, but also spits in his cereal. Spanner knows a couple of girls who lead them to DJ Derek, aka D-Man (Ross Mann), who has been promoting the illegal rave on his radio broadcasts. Spanner steals Fido’s stashed cash and off the friends go to find the rave and enjoy the music and some psychedelic drugs. During the drugged rave scenes, there are psychedelic images in color. (Earlier in the film, the only thing in color is the red power buttons on radios.)

On the face of it, the law, which is cited word for word at the film’s start, is absurd, and the police’s ultimate brutal breakup of the rave recalls what is going on in the streets of Portland, Oregon and other U.S. cities right now.

The film is anchored by beautiful chemistry between Ortega and Macdonald, who play their characters perfectly. If anything, it seems Spanner is even more committed to Johnno, willing to kiss him at the rave and place his arm across Johnno in a tender moment near the film’s end. That is why it is so disappointing that in the text afterwards, which tells each character’s future, that their friendship basically ends with Johnno’s move. They only accidentally meet once again, 10 years later.

The film is directed and co-written by Brian Welch (TV miniseries “Mayday,” “The Escape Artist,” film “The Rat Pack”), who worked with playwright/co-screenwriter Keiran Hurley to expand his one-man play, in which he played three characters, into this multi-character, wonderful film.

The extras are a making-of featurette (7:08), that mentions that Welch had a how-to-dance 1990s style video made for the rave extras, plus two photo galleries with 20 images from the film and 11 of how the film poster evolved. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Pit Stop, aka Acid Pit stop (Great Britain, MVD Visual, DVD, NR, 78 min.). In this bad, amateurish film, attendees at a rave are turned into zombies – deliberately, but with rave holder Lucio (Callum McGuire) unaware. Lucio plans the rave as a money-making scheme and, on the way, he picks up a new designer drug to give the rave-goers, not knowing the drug will turn the dancers into zombies.

A film about a rave full of zombies might have some good comedic moments or even be dramatic, but the dancing mini-mob here is never introduced to the viewer, so we do not care when they are turned into zombies. Director Jason Wright, producer/assistant director Kirsty Richardson and screenwriter Matteo Valentini (TV’s “Unnecessary Posts”) all miss those opportunities. Wright has another eight films, four of which involve zombies, in various stages of production, but he has only directed video shorts, many involving zombies, of course, before this.

The film centers around Lucio and his three friends – call them the Four Stooges. The friends are Paul (Hal Hillman, who plays a cadet in the upcoming “The King’s Man”), Anita (Jennifer Johnson of the upcoming “Torture”) and Shailene (Megan Jenkins in her debut). Anita, who is hellbent out of getting out of their small town, has just broken up with Paul after five years.

Lucio gets the new designer drug from weirdo Old Jakob (Bruce Payne of “Highlander Endgame,” “Passenger 57” in a horrible wig), whose “wife” is a blow-up doll that Lucio promptly accidentally deflates while Old Jacob is out of the room. This is the type of film that the real bad guy (Gbola Adewunmi as James) delivers a lengthy, explanatory monologue to his tied-up prisoners. Even though he is self-aware enough to admit he has just delivered a monologue, it is too much.

There are outtakes during the closing credits of this very low-budget effort, but no extras. Grade: film 1.25 stars

Blood Quantum (Canada, RLJE Films, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 97 min.). In this Shudder original film, zombies are everywhere; however, the indigenous people of the isolate Mi’kmaq reserve of Red Crow are unexplainably immune to the zombie plague. At the heart of the often-gory film is the relationship between Sheriff Traylor (Michael Greyeyes of HBO’s “I Know This Much Is True,” “Home Before Dark,” “V-Wars”) and his two sons: the elder Alan, aka Lysol (Kiowa Gordon of the 4 “Twilight Saga” films, TV’s “Roswell, New Mexico”), abandoned into the child care system after the death of his mother; and the more favored Joseph (Forrest Goodluck of “The Revenant”), who has gotten his young, white girlfriend Charlie (Olivia Scriven of TV’s “Mrs. America”) pregnant.

The film opens with unreadable, small red print on a black background. That’s strike one. Strike two is when it shows a fish being gutted in closeup. Then the dead fish starts flopping around. At this point, writer/director Jeff Barnsby (“Rhymes for Young Ghouls”) starts rotating the camera in all kinds of strange angles during the credits. Hold on to your stomach.

For some reason, the film is set in 1981, so obviously none of this ever happened. Joseph has gotten himself arrested, so he can keep Lysol company overnight in jail. However, a fellow prisoner turns strange and bites Joseph. Not long after, there is a – ugh – chainsaw dispatch of a turned nurse.

Thirty-two minutes in, the film jumps forward six months, during which time the indigenous people have fortified the reservation to keep the zombified – Zedicles – white folk out. We reach strike three or four – I was losing count – when Lysol tells a crude sex story. More importantly, Lysol wants to wipe out all the white folk, infected or not, which is about 150 souls. In the end, mankind’s last hope is destroyed by stupidity. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars

Evil Boy, aka Stray (Russia, Well Go USA, DVD, NR, 89 min.). The film stars Vladimir Vdovichenkov (“Leviathan”) and Elena Lyadova (“Leviathan”) as married couple Igor and Polina who have lost their young son, Vanya, who went out to play soccer one day and never returned. Three years later, they go to an orphanage run by nuns, but Polina cannot go through with an adoption, until see sees a feral boy being picked on by the other children. She first glimpses the boy in the basement living quarters of the orphanage keeper, whose body lies there, an apparent suicide.

Although the authorities take the boy, despite Polina wanting to take him home to care for, he disappears from their care and, after driving a few miles, the couple find him walking on the road behind them. This is one of several moments that indicate something supernatural might be going on. Instead of being the literal spawn of the devil, as in “The Omen,” the boy apparently is a golem, which can change its form to be who is most missed by those around him. Late in the film, there are a couple of really creepy transformation scenes and, at one point, the boy seems to fly in order to attack another boy on the playground.

As the boy comes more and more to look like lost Vanya and even draw like him, Polina is convinced he is Vanya come back to them, until terrifying moments have her thinking otherwise. However, by then, Igor has come to believe it is their missing boy, although he eventually returns to the orphanage to learn the truth. The boy is played by newcomer Sevastian Bugaev. The film is the feature debut by director Olga Gorodetskaya. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.5 stars

Supergirl: The Complete Fifth Season (DC/Warner Bros., 5 Blu-ray or 4 standard DVDs, NR, 817 min.). One of the major threads of the season has the inhabitants of National City become enthralled with addictive virtual reality technologies created by CatCo’s new owner, Andrea Rojas (Julie Gonzalo). Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), eventually bonds with fellow CatCo reporter and newcomer William Dey (Staz Nair), whom she secretly has a crush on and who has asked her out a couple of times, to investigate the technology, called Obsidian Platinum VR, which connects with a person’s biology rather than connecting to their brain.

Eventually, Kara learns that the ancient, shadowy organization called Leviathan is behind the new VR technology, part of a plot to wipe out much of mankind. Leviathan consists of the ancient gods who can manipulate earth, wind and fire, with earth (Rama Khan) played by Mitch Pilaggi of “The X-Files.” The five “gods” hail from Jarhanpur, a sister planet of Krypton, having escaped before it was destroyed by civil wars.

The season has the welcome return of Jeremy Jordan as Winn Schott, Toyman’s son and former CatCo and DEA employee. Speaking of the DEA, Kara’s sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) eventually leaves the agency to try and combat extraterrestrial crime with Martin Manhunter, aka Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). Another welcome return is Jon Cryer, because he is so good as manipulative Lex Luthor, who suddenly is perceived as a hero of mankind, after the multi-verse becomes one through the events of the five-part Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. Shifty Lex has enlisted Brainy Dox, aka Brainiac 5 (Jesse Rath) to be his inside man at the DEA in a plot to destroy Leviathan, although Lex, who also is working with his sister Lena (Katie McGrath), also plans to have Supergirl and her pals killed. Lena has become all upset that Kara did not reveal she was Supergirl to her and has broken off their friendship, although she does come around late in the season. Lex also has been manipulating Eve Tessmacher (Andrea Brooks) into doing his bidding, including an act that would put her on Supergirl’s potential kill list if Supergirl ever found out what she did.

Only the Blu-ray version contains a bonus disc with all five episodes of the crossover event, plus six featurettes based on the crossover. The extras on both versions, about 60 minutes, include deleted scenes, a gag reel and the same “Best of DC TV’s Comic-Con Panels San Diego 2019” that appeared in the Flash and Batgirl sets. I wonder what they will do for extras next year, as Comic-Con 2020 was not held due to the novel coronavirus. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Straight Up (Strand Releasing, DVD, NR, 95 min.). Produced, written and directed by James Sweeney (“Bushwick Beats,” “Normal Doors,” a proof-of-concept short for this film), this delightful film is a verbal romp through a relationship created when a gay man (Sweeney as Todd) tries to convince himself that he likes women more and starts a long relationship with failed actress Rory (Katie Findlay of TV’s “Nancy Drew,” “How to Get Away with Murder”), a relationship filled with conversation, but without sex.

The film starts with Todd talking very fast, directly to the camera, only it turns out he is talking to his psychologist (Tracie Thoms as Dr. Larson). A bit later, to the disbelief of his friends Ryder (James Scully) and Meg (Dana Drori), Todd announces he is going to date women (an amusing restaurant scene). Todd has been called gay since bullies taunted him in the fourth grade. He is a bit delicate and very precise, as he struggles with OCD compulsions about cleanliness and bodily functions of all kinds – hence the dislike about the idea of sex – but there was the one time … with a guy. The one thing Todd knows is that he does not want to be alone all his life.

Todd meets Rory at the public library, where she assumes he is an employee, as he is rearranging books. While Todd does software coding, it seems his main job is housesitting, which he often is hired for because he also arranges closets. Soon, Rory is coming along on the housesitting jobs, where they resume their conversations and act like a married couple, but without the sex. They go to a costume party as Paul Newman and Liz Taylor from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and all of his friends make sure they point out that Newman’s character in the film was gay. (Sorry if that spoils “Cat” for anyone, but, come on, Tennessee Williams wrote the dang thing.)

Eventually, Rory wants more than she is getting in the relationship, and a game of Truth or Dare involving Ryder does not help matters. Extras include a deleted scene (50 secs.) and outtakes (10:17). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 1 star

From Zero to I Love You (Ariztical, DVD, NR, 106 min.). While Jack (Scott Bailey of TV’s “The Bay”) has a beautiful and successful wife (Keili Lefkovitz as Karla) and two young daughters from his 12-year marriage, he is secretly gay and has been sneaking out to gay bars. One evening, he meets Pete (Darryl Stephens of the upcoming “Boy Culture” series), walks him home and they begin an off-and-on affair. Pete is leery because he has been involved with married men three times before and it never worked out. Jack, though, increasingly is more accepting of being a gay man.

So, the film is about two Philadelphia area men, with one cheating on his wife and the other sternly warned by his father (Richard Lawson of “Poltergeist,” “Streets of Fire”) to stop getting involved with married men. We see Jack trying to juggle his family life obligations with his affair, and Pete eventually getting tired of the drama and entering a relationship with a tattooed gay guy who has a trust fund. Neither is truly happy though. The film, which is mostly realistic, ends with a bit of romance, of course. The engaging film is written and directed by Doug Spearman (“Hot Guys with Guns”). There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

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