Tag

starstarstarstar
“Virtually game for anything.”

A bus full of Japanese schoolgirls includes the quiet, poetry-writing Mitsuko (Triendl), who drops her pen. Bending down to pick it up, she thus survives the lethal gust of wind which neatly bisects, not only the bus, but the rest of her classmates. Ok, film: safe to say, you have acquired our attention. [Not for the first time the director has managed this: the opening scene of his Suicide Circle is one we still vividly remember, 15 years later]

What follows is an extremely hyper-violent gallop through a series of scenarios, with Mitsuko and her friends becoming the target for assaults by everyone from teachers to bridesmaids. Can she figure out what the hell is going on, with matters not helped by her apparent amnesia, with no memory of everything prior to the bus? And, more importantly, is the film going to be able to deliver any kind of rational explanation for this?

The further this went on, the less convinced this would be possible. However, I have to say, it ends up making far more sense than I expected. It even explains things as disparate as the fairly lecherous costume choices (the schoolgirls’ skirts are more like broad belts, and frequently fly up in anything more than a light breeze) as well as the extremely drone-heavy cinematography. On reaching the end, I immediately wanted to watch this all over again, armed with the provided explanation, and see what other clues I had missed.

There’s a lot to admire here: it plays almost like a cross between Sucker Punch and Run Lola Run, combining the slick visuals and “anything can happen” mentality of the former (and has been similarly condemned), with the latter’s… Well, mostly its running. Seriously, Triendl (who is Austrian-born, hence her non-Japanese surname) racks up as many miles in this 85 minutes as an entire series of Doctor Who companions. But not just her, because even more confusingly, her character is played by multiple different actresses across the various scenarios.

Interestingly, until the very end, there are almost no men in the movie at all, save the pig-headed bridegroom, to who our heroine will be wed. Perhaps that’s a clue in itself to the nature of the multi-verses around which Mitsuko finds herself bouncing. It’s fascinating to watch everything unravel, and the lead actresses do very well, in a role or roles that could have been little more than a place-holder. Watch the emotions flickering across Triendl’s face, for instance, as she tries the virtually impossible task of explaining to one of her friends what she has gone through.

There’s no denying the strongly feminist subtext here, providing you can look past the chauvinist trappings and arterial spray. Sono is both embracing and critiquing the exploitation world in which he has largely operated, although does so with a light enough touch, you can simply enjoy it as a blood-drenched action film, rather than having to worry about its philosophy. And the less you know about it going in, perhaps the better.

Dir: Sion Sono
Star: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai

Female Fight Squad

starstarstarhalf
“Clubbed to death.”

This was originally known as Female Fight Club. I presume the title was changed after a strongly-worded letter from David Fincher’s lawyers, perhaps to evoke thoughts of its star’s stunt work on Suicide Squad. It’s interesting, because Amy Johnston’s previous feature, Lady Bloodfight also underwent a similar title change before release. Unfortunately, this isn’t as good. It reminds me a bit of the films Zoë Bell appeared in, early on in her career. She was usually the best thing in them, but they still weren’t up to much, because Bell was still finding her feet as an actress. Similarly here, there’s no denying Johnston’s talents in motion, yet this does not offer a good setting in which they can be appreciated.

For where Bloodfight played to her strength and packed in wall-to-wall action, here she’s required to do the dramatic lifting here and… Well, let’s just say, when you’re out-acted by Dolph Lundgren, it’s never a good thing.  The story is no better than boilerplate nonsense as well. Rebecca (Johnston) is a former fighter who now works in an animal shelter, because cute puppies. She is forced out of retirement to help her sister, Kate (Palm), who is a hundred grand in debt to some very nasty people. They are led by the creepy Landon Jones (Goyos) and his well-stocked freezer, which is used not solely to store his chosen variety of ice-cream. And he just happens to run an underground all-women fight ring, which Rebecca can enter. What are the odds? Meanwhile, the sisters’ father (Lundgren) is in prison, serving time for a crime he may or may not have committed, and has his own issues to deal with there.

Cue the rolling of eyes. It all rumbles along, from one cliché to the next, and if you’ve seen as many straight-to-video action flicks of the past couple of decades as I have, you’ll understand why this one largely failed to register. The only saving grace are the fights, which are well-enough staged. Johnston clearly knows her stuff, and there is good support from other women with a similar background, such as Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, playing Landon’s top fighter, known as “Claire the Bull”.  The problem is, there just aren’t enough of these scenes, and the film escalates, inexplicably, to a fight between Rebecca and Landon. The latter was never established as any kind of bad-ass previously, so this makes little or no sense.

I’m still excited to see where Johnston goes from things like this. Right now, she has some room for improvement, both on the acting side and in her choice of projects. But both of these are areas where more experience should naturally lead to positive development. That’s exactly what happened with regard to Bell, who has worked her way up to become of the more reliable action actresses. I get the feeling Johnston has much the same potential, and there’s certainly room for them both in the field.

Dir: Miguel A. Ferrer
Star: Amy Johnston, Cortney Palm, Rey Goyos, Dolph Lundgren

Last Girl Standing

starstarstar
“In the beginning was the end.”

The horror genre has a tangential connection to the action heroine one, most directly through the concept of the “final girl” – when the last person left alive is a woman who confronts and defeats the threat. From Halloween to Alien, this has been a staple of the genre, but whether it qualifies a film for inclusion here, depends largely on what has gone before. For example, 10 minutes of frantic action at the end can’t counterbalance the first 80, if the focus there was not on a female lead.

Here, we instead jump right to the “final girl” section, with Camryn (A. Villalobos) pursued by a masked psycho known as “The Hunter” (Vines), who has already killed everyone else. She survives, and he is apparently the victim of one of his own traps. Fast forward five years, and understandably, Camryn is still damaged by the events. Shunning the media circus which followed, she now works in a dry-cleaners, all but avoiding human contact and unable to find closure. New colleague, Nick (B. Villalobos) tries to bring Camryn out of her shell, with the help of Danielle (Ploeger), who understands what trauma feels like. But a series of unsettling incidents leave Camryn increasingly convinced she is being stalked again. Is the Hunter really dead, and if not, can she save her friends from him this time?

The key factor here is largely whether what Camryn – and only Camryn – sees can be trusted, or if her sanity has finally cracked. Unlike some, the film does firmly and definitively answer that, and the final 15 minutes have a nicely cyclical nature, with Camryn’s new friends doing a great deal of running and screaming. While I can’t say much more there without spoilerage, until then, the script does a decent job of keeping the two alternate possibilities plausible, helped by the supporting characters. Most amusing there is likely Maelyn, who is firmly convinced Camryn is a loonie – and, to be honest, given a fondness for acts such as smashing bottles on people’s heads, you can see Maelyn’s point.

This does make the growing relationship between Brian and Camryn fairly  implausible, since the latter’s instability seems like a huge red flag – especially without, say, raging hotness which could cause us men to overlook it [Been there, done that, deeply regretted it!] However, it’s an interesting touch to have a husband and wife playing the two leads, perhaps giving things here a needed dash of authenticity. But this is most fun at the blood-soaked end, when Camryn is in full-on “final girl” mode, and the film gets to wallow in some gorey – and non-CGI, I’m pleased to report – mayhem. An earlier commitment to this direction might have been preferred, rather than the over-familiar “is she or isn’t she?” uncertainty. The lead performance was good enough to keep me interested though, and the structure offers some fresh takes, in a genre not exactly noted for them.

Dir: Benjamin R. Moody
Star: Akasha Villalobos, Brian Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger, Jason Vines

The Belle Starr Story

starstar
“A blandly over-cooked platter of spaghetti”

This is virtually unique, in being almost the only spaghetti Western with a female lead, and certainly unique in being the only one directed by a woman. Unfortunately, beyond these novelty aspects, it’s really not very good. Indeed, the overall attitude on view here is so remarkably retrograde, the gender of its director would likely be a surprise, if you didn’t know what it was going in. The film certainly keeps it quiet, disguising Wertmüller – who, seven years later, would become the first woman ever to receive a Best Director Oscar nomination, for Seven Beauties – under the pseudonym of “Nathan Wich”. Whose brother is called Sam, presumably. 

The anonymity is perhaps because she wasn’t originally intended to direct. She took over from Piero Cristofani, some sources say as a favour to leading lady Martinelli. Wertmüller then rewrote the script to reduce Woods’s role, with whom she reportedly had on-set battles. A bit like the more recent, yet similarly cursed Western, Jane Got a Gun, it’s perhaps remarkable the makers managed to come up with a finished product at all. And also similarly, the behind-the-scenes saga is likely a good deal more interesting than said finished product.

There’s no denying Martinelli looks the part, as renegade, gambler and outlaw Belle Starr. She falls for the charms of fellow poker player Larry Blackie (Eastman), and they begin a tempestuous romance, which my wife sarcastically described as “Hit me! Kiss me! Rape me! Love me!” It’s this aspect which seems especially at odds with the rest of Wertmüller’s filmography, much of which is populated by strongly feminist characters. Here, Belle seems both to crave Blackie’s attentions and loathe him with a passion. She declines an offer to bring her on board for his planned robbery of a diamond shipment, instead setting about assembling her own crew, which will beat him to the loot.

Before we get to that, there’s a long, long flashback, covering Starr’s life to that point. In its entirety. In real-time. Or perhaps it just seems that way. It certainly brings the story grinding to a halt. We see how she was brought up by an abusive foster uncle, from whom she was rescued by the outlaw Cole Harvey (Woods). He tries to rape her – yeah, you may be forgiven for detecting a bit of a theme here – and is killed for his pains, which helps set Belle off on her life of crime, poker and questionable romantic choices.

Beyond Martinelli’s look, there’s very little to recommend this, particularly for the first hour – it does pick up somewhat late, as Belle and Larry simultaneously stage their robbery attempts. Until then, even getting beyond the dubious sexual politics on view, this is poorly written, and just not very interesting. Wertmüller can’t even shoot a poker game properly; she’ll show you the cards, and half the time, you don’t know whose they are. Sad though it to say this, you can certainly understand why it was a case of “one and done,” both for spaghetti Western heroines, and Wertmüller’s genre efforts.

Dir: Lina Wertmüller
Star: Elsa Martinelli, George Eastman, Robert Woods, Francesca Righini

Asphalt Angels

starstarstarhalf
“More carbon-copy than asphalt.”

While the lack of resources is frequently and painfully obvious, I’m inclined to look kindly on this. My tolerance is due to the abiding love for our genre possessed by writer-director Krueger, shown in the influences, both obvious and subtle, on display here. From Faster Pussycat to Female Prisoner 701, he seems like the kind of man whose DVD collection reflects my own. Hell, despite being set in America, a character here even uses the greeting stance beloved of bad girls in pinky violence movies: knees bent, right arm outstretched, palm up. I can’t truly hate a film made by someone who knows what that is.

The heroine is Casey (Renee), leader of an all-girl gang, but who wants to keep her sister Virginia (Gomez), an up-and-coming BMX champion, out of the criminal lifestyle. Two things derail Casey’s life. Firstly, while rescuing li’l sis from the predatory clutches of another gang, she kills one of their members, and leader Dante (Epperson, shamelessly channeling a young Kevin Bacon) vows revenge. Secondly, a jewel heist goes wrong: she takes the fall so the other members can escape, and ends up in prison, where she has to survive the unwanted attentions of a sadistic lesbian guard, as well as the other inmates. Her absence is particularly bad news for Virginia, since her sibling’s absence means there’s nobody to protect her, when Dante and his crew decide she’s a suitable target for their vengeance.

This production is certainly guilty of trying to go in too many directions. Is it a heist film? A women-in-prison movie? A gang flick? Revenge film? Krueger would have been better off concentrating his efforts in one area, especially given the extremely limited raw materials available to him. The prison, for example, appears to consist of a softball park and a field. There are almost no interior scenes at all. Worst of all is Virginia’s BMX career, which includes copious shots of her waving to an entirely non-existent crowd, nowhere near any BMX track. Really, just make her an honor student at high school and it would have been far easier for everyone involved.

It’s also rather tame for a film with grindhouse aspirations, though this is somewhat “explained” by bookend sequences which make it look as if it’s a late-night movie on seventies network TV. That’s an issue, because the bottom line here is, no matter how adoring a fan letter to the genre this is, it remains that: just a fan letter. Krueger’s heart is in the right place, so it’s not like this is some kind of cash-in “mockbuster”. However, the harsh truth is, you’re simply a good deal better off watching the films that inspired this. For no matter how much Renee tries (and, bless her heart, she certainly is trying), she’s never going to be Tura Satana or Meiko Kaji. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, to be sure.

Dir: Christopher Krueger
Star: Justine Renee, John C. Epperson, Hillary Cook, Blanca Estella Gomez

Hell’s Rejects by M.R. Forbes

Literary rating: starstarstarstarhalf
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2action2
“I am going to die, surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.”

The heroine in this enjoyable slice of space opera is Lieutenant Abigail Cage. She’s a “breaker” – effectively, a hacker – although one who is highly trained in combat. Her latest mission is to enter a rebel compound and recover a laptop, but the job goes awry, and she finds herself framed for treason after a cache of weapons goes mission, and sent to Hell. No, literally: that’s the name of the planet, and it’s an entirely apt one.

Once imprisoned there, two competing forces come into play. One has interest in using Cage as the guinea-pig for a program to unleash an army of superhumans. The other is Captain Olus Mann, who needs her for quite a different task. Because the rebels have stolen two cutting-edge spaceships, the Fire and the Brimstone, which could tip the balance of the ongoing conflict. Someone needs to find and retrieve them. That someone is Cage, together with a motley crew of other convicts, liberated by Capt. Mann from Hell.

The first in the “Chaos of the Covenant”  series, it strikes a decent enough balance between telling a self-contained tale and luring you in to the next volume. As the tagline at the top – not an actual quote from the book! – suggests, it falls somewhere between, and owes a big debt to, both Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad. With a side order of La Femme Nikita. There’s a big sprawling universe out there, and Cage has to try and wrangle her motley crew of species through a task which rarely seems less than an impossible assignment.

Fortunately, if a little conveniently, Mann has a very discerning eye for personnel, and put together a good team as backup, out of the pieces to hand in the prison. For instance, one is an incredible pilot, another a wiz with machinery, etc. Cage, meanwhile, can keep them all in line, both through her force of personality and with force if necessary. She’s desperate to complete the mission, win her freedom and return to her daughter – who doesn’t even know Mom is in prison, let alone has been broken out in order to chase a stolen spaceship across the galaxy.

Meanwhile, there’s also the side-effects of the experimental injection she received while in Hell. If only apparently half of what she could have received, the effects are impressive, effectively rendering her near-bulletproof. [She can still be shot, it just… doesn’t appear to have any real effect] This could have ended up being a real “Mary Sue,” in the sense of a heroine who is utterly unstoppable. Except those responsible want to track Cage down, and send Trin after the heroine. She is another woman who has gone through both halves of the process, making her a particularly tenacious adversary. This leads to the final epic battle, in a series of what must be said, are largely epic battles.

Yeah, if you’re fond of large-scale destruction, this book certainly delivers. The carnage begins with the scene where the two spaceships are stolen, that escalates into the demolition of an entire spaceport: like many sequences, it seems written with one eye on a cinematic adaptation. Refreshingly free of romantic distractions, this does an excellent job of setting up its universe and populating it with interesting characters, each of whom have their own, interlocking agendas. Indeed, it may perhaps be slightly overstuffed with ideas, species and technology. Better too much invention than too little though, and it’s a series I can see myself picking up subsequent volumes down the road.

Author: M.R. Forbes
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, available through Amazon, both as an ebook and a paperback.

Blowtorch

starstarstarhalf
“A mother’s love is relentless.”

Ann Willis (Robbins) is a single mother, working as a waitress and trying to keep family together after the death of her husband from lung cancer. To help out, son David (Abrahamson) abandons his plans to attend college and gets a job in a local factory. But he falls in with some questionable company there and, lured by the prospect of easy money, starts dealing drugs for the local mobsters, run by Canarsie. Things go from bad to worse after his supposed “friend” Mike (Falahee) frames him for the disappearance of some product, and things end with David’s dead body floating in the river, having been beaten to death by his associates. The cops, and in particular, Detective Frank Hogan (Baldwin), investigate – but to be honest, aren’t particularly interested in one drug-dealer being killed.

Ann, however, is made of sterner stuff, and is determined to get to the truth; she doesn’t have the legal limitations which hamper the police either. She realizes that Mike, addicted to the drugs he sells, is the weak link in the cartel. She begins to pick away, relentlessly, at the guilt he feels for having caused the death of David. This brings her into conflict with Det. Hogan. He is not only concerned for her safety in this dangerous world – Canarsie is growing increasingly aware of Ann’s activity – but also the waves she is causing, that threaten to capsize his more measured investigation.

It’s not a terrible film, anchored by a very solid central performance from the thoroughly convincing Robbins. Her mother positively oozes steely determination, and refuses to back down, despite being faced by some authentically unpleasant bad guys. That’s part of a generally good sense of place here: Breslin is born and bred Big Apple, and comes from a family well aware of the scummy side of life. By which I should quickly explain, his father, Jimmy, was a long-time and renowned New York journalist who wrote about organized crime, and was also written to by the “Son of Sam” during the latter’s seventies crime-spree.

However, the script here contains too many missteps to be considered even somewhat successful. Not least is the relationship between Ann and Mike, with Ann acting unfortunately like some kind of revenge-driven MILF. I suspect the intent is to show her “by any means necessary” approach; yet it seems severely out of place with the character established in the first half. The final take-down of the perpetrators doesn’t ring true either, reliant upon that most obvious of saws, criminals who can’t keep their mouths shut – even when, as here, they’re talking to the mother of one of their victims. Really? The net result is a film which builds a solid foundation, and does a good job of populating its world, only to go off the rails increasingly, as it then moves through its story.

Dir: Kevin Breslin
Star: Lois Robbins, Jared Abrahamson, William Baldwin, Jack Falahee

Undead Pool

starstarstar
“Buffy the Zombie Slayer goes for a dip.”

I strongly prefer the alternative name (as given in the credits below, though in some territories this was also known as Inglorious Zombie Hunters) – it’s one of the finest exploitation titles of all time, both describing exactly what the film is about, while simultaneously reeling in the potential viewer. Certainly beats something which sounds more like an Asylum “mockbuster” version of a certain, snarky Marvel superhero. If the product itself doesn’t quite live up to it’s own name, this mostly a case of, really, how could it?

New transfer student Aki (Handa) has the misfortune to arrive at the school on inoculation day, and ditches class to the stress of her new situation, so doesn’t get her jab. This turns out to be extremely fortunate, as the supposed “vaccine” turns out to be the plot of an evil scientist, and those injected with it – both students and teachers, the latter receiving a particularly strong version – turn into flesh-eating zombies. Despite Aki’s strong aversion to water, she finds some allies in the shape of Sayaka (Hidaka) and her colleagues on the girls’ swimming squad, because it turns out the chlorine in the pool negates the effects of the compound. It’s up to them to defend themselves from the hordes, and also resolve the murky nature of Aki’s previous history, which turns out to be not entirely disconnected from current events. Oh, yeah: there might be some lesbian canoodling as well. Just so you know.

The zombie aspects in particular are well-executed: energetically messy, with plenty of blood and a sense of self-deprecation that helps to counter-balance negates the obviously low-budget approach, most apparent in the rubbery nature of the severed limbs, flying through the air. It’s as if the film is saying, “Yeah, we know we’re cheap, come along for the ride anyway.” It helps that the zombies retain some of their pre-infection character, rather than being just mindless flesh-eaters. For example, there is the maths professor who continues to mumble about a problem involving apples, while wielding an inexplicably razor-sharp yard-stick around. Mind you, this is a school which leaves chainsaws lying around, and than there’s also Aki’s spiked swim-fins [which looks and acts like the iron fan beloved of martial arts flicks]

There is, as you’d expect, copious fan service – though the title does at least explain the swimsuits, which are likely less gratuitous here than in, say, D.O.A. This is probably the least interesting aspect, and I was reminded of Fred Olen Ray’s comment that nudity is the cheapest special effect. The finale, where Aki reveals one particularly startling special talent, likely doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either: quite how she acquired the skill is never adequately explained. While there was still enough here to keep me entertained, this mild recommendation should come with a caveat that I’m significantly more tolerant of low-budget goofiness than most people.

Dir: Kōji Kawano
Star: Sasa Handa, Yuria Hidaka, Hiromitsu Kiba, Mizuka Arai, More
a.k.a. Attack Girls’ Swim Team vs. the Undead

Even Lambs Have Teeth

starstarstar
“Romy and Michelle’s Vicious Vacation.”

Katie (Skovbye) and Sloane (Prout) are teenage BFF’s, who head off to spend time on an organic farm – though their real goal is the weekend shopping in New York which will follow it. On the way, they are distracted by a couple of bits of prime young, rural manhood. But before you can say “roll in the hay,” they are drugged, the pair waking up to find themselves chained to duplex shipping containers, from where they are rented out as sex slaves to anyone interested. Their sudden dropping off the grid concerns Katie’s uncle Jason (Richards), who happens to be an FBI agent. He heads to the area to investigate, unaware the local sheriff is in on the plot. However, there’s only so far you can push a person, before they break. When Katie and Sloane snap, and escape, rather than heading for safety, they decide to stick around, so they can get thoroughly medieval on those responsible.

This could have gone thoroughly grindhouse, as is the usual approach in the rape-revenge genre. Credit Miles, therefore, for zigging in another direction, with the actual assaults far more implied than actually shown. This is something of a double-edged sword: there isn’t the same resulting sense of horror or outrage, but on the other hand, I’m always far more about the revenge half of the equation. As the review tagline above implies, the film also manages to be surprisingly light in tone, given the subject matter. That’s particularly the case in the second half. For instance, the ladies get the shopping spree they want – except, it’s in the local hardware store, picking up tools for their vengeance, rather than going down Fifth Avenue.

It’s also as much about the relationship between the two women, with the switch in their characters between the two sections. Initially, Sloane is the outgoing and dominant one; however, it’s Katie who instigates the switch from passive to active, and takes charge thereafter. When they were making up alternative personas for the trip, shortly before departure, let’s just say there were apparently good reasons why she chose “Ripley” as the name of her alter ego.

The main weakness is likely the overall sense of restraint, which unfortunately applies equally as much to the revenge – precisely the aspect which needs to be ramped up to 11. And, really, given the entire town is apparently in on it, including the police department, I was expecting much more of a reaction from the locals. Even when Katie and Sloane drive through town in a stolen truck, dragging the body of one victim behind them… nobody so much as notices. There’s not any sense of escalation either. Arguably the worst fate, happens to their first target, although some credit is due for imaginative use of a weed-whacker.

The results are all amiable enough entertainment – and that’s probably the first time I’ve ever used the word “amiable” in regard to a rape-revenge flick. If these lambs have teeth, this movie is more an affectionate nibble than a fully-fledged bite.

Dir: Terry Miles
Star: Kirsten Prout, Tiera Skovbye, Michael Karl Richards, Garrett Black

Goddess of Love

starstarstar
“My super crazy ex-girlfriend.”

Right from the start, it’s established that Venus (Kendra) is not the most mentally stable of creatures, alternating between emotional fits in the bathtub, drug abuse and her day job as a stripper. That’s pretty much the trifecta of Stay Away for any man. But she ends up dating one of her strip-club customers, Brian (Naismith), a photographer who likes Venus because… she reminds him of his late wife. Which as opening lines go, I’d imagine would rank highly as Stay Away for any woman. While initially working far better than you’d expect, that only makes the eventual crash and burn of their relationship, all the more brutal.

It begins when she sees the name “Christine” (Sandy) pop up on his phone, setting off a downward spiral of insecurity and paranoia. Brian admits it’s an old flame, whom he still uses as a model, but Venus suspects there’s a lot more going on than photography. This doesn’t endear her to Brian, who stops replying to her text messages, and tries to end their relationship. Which works about as well as you’d expect – especially if you ever saw Fatal Attraction. Venus decides that the best way to Brian’s heart apparently lies through… Well, Christine’s rib-cage – though getting there requires some ramping up of their rivalry. And it turns out Christine has a vicious streak of her own, when pushed far enough. But how much of what’s unfolding has any basis in objective reality – as opposed to being merely shrapnel from Venus’s disintegrating psychological state?

It’s a tale as old as time, true as it can be: don’t stick your dick in crazy. But it’s still a topic worth revisiting, albeit likely for entertainment value, more than any educational purposes. The movie benefits by a good performance from Kendra, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Knautz. That likely helps defuse some criticisms of exploitation – while the stripper angle does appear to exist, largely for titillation, Kendra the writer can hardly be exploiting Kendra the actress. On the other hand, it’s not exactly what anyone would call a sympathetic portrayal of mental illness. The only person who shows even some concern for Venus’s plight is colleague Chanel (Scott), and that doesn’t make it to the end of the movie intact.

Still, it’s not unpleasant as potboilerish entertainment, particularly when Christine and Venus start going at it. I also appreciated the gradual slide into a state where you can never quite be sure of the accuracy of what you’re seeing. Everything is experienced from Venus’s point of view (which is where it differs from Fatal Attraction), and the unreliability of that perspective becomes increasingly called into question as the film proceeds. Technically, it’s reasonably sound, though a few rough edges did stick out, to remind me of its low-budget nature. But it’s perhaps best taken as a modern-day version of a morality play: don’t cheat on your significant other, do drugs, or date strippers. Rules we can all strive to live by.

Dir: Jon Knautz
Star: Alexis Kendra, Woody Naismith, Elizabeth Sandy, Monda Scott