The Belle Starr Story

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“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

Blowtorch

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“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

Bleeding Hearts

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“Not bleeding awful – but close.”

Stumbled across this low-budget horror flick almost by accident when I was Googling the similarly-titled but very different, Bleeding Heart. The premise was kinda intriguing: five successful half-sisters (doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc), living in a small town, take a month off each year together and vanish off the grid. What the townfolk don’t know, is they kidnap various obnoxious menfolk under the guidance of leader Leslie (Robbins), subjecting them to unspeakable tortures and eventually killing them, before returning to everyday life. Into this town comes documentary film-maker Oliver Jaffe (Diamond), who starts to investigate the odd situation, after his car breaks down in town.

The same director previously made Scavenger Killers, which was kinda like a sleazy version of Natural Born Killers, also starring Robbins – this is similarly low-brow, apparently attempting to be as offensive as possible. If you’re not prepared to cope with a naked man in a cage on his haunches, being violated with a wire-brush, this is probably not for you. Though you’d be forgiven for wondering if there’d been some kind of mix-up with the DVD at the beginning, which starts as a social satire in which Santa (the late Charles Durning, in his last feature appearance), Jesus and Satan share a house, occasionally being harangued by God (Tony Todd). Turns out, this is a film-within-a-film, being made by one of the sisters’ targets this year.

Even as someone who IS prepared to cope with the extreme content, I found the results were actually kinda tedious: if ever a film is guilty of trying too hard, it’s probably this one. There’s no shortage of nudity from the actresses, to the extent I began to wonder if this was filmed in its entirety at an adult film convention. But it’s curiously uninteresting and ineffectual, since you’re never really given any reason to care much. The structure is weird too: there’s so little connection between the two halves of the story, right until the end, I wondered if Diamond and Robbins would ever meet (just as I strongly suspect Todd’s scenes were filmed separately from everyone else’s, since you don’t see him and anyone else in the same shot).

Instead, Diamond’s half feels almost like complete filler: there’s no real sense of “investigation” since the audience already knows the truth about what’s going on. Or, most of the truth, at least. While there’s a last reel twist or two, these are no more effective than most of the other aspects. You may be left to wonder why they bother having five sisters, when there’s no more than 2.4 personalities between them – Leslie, and perky foot-model Candy (Lorraine) being responsible for the great bulk of that. This is one of those cases where I can see how the various pieces of the jigsaw could have been fitted together into something potentially transgressive and interesting. It never gets there though, and the likes of Todd, Durning and even Robert Loggia, who plays the local sheriff, are not well-served by this at all.

Dir: Dylan Bank
Star: Rachael Robbins, Dustin Diamond, Suzi Lorraine, Melantha Blackthorne

Bleeding Heart

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“When good yoga instructors… GO BAD.”

Yoga instructor May (Biel) is delighted when she finally tracks down her long-lost biological sister, Shiva (Mamet) whom she has never met. However, the reunion is soured because May discovers the abusive relationship in which Shiva is embroiled. Worse is to come, as she finds out that Shiva is actually a hooker, and her significant other, Cody (Anderson), is more pimp than boyfriend. May’s efforts to help her sibling run into stormy water – not just from Cody, but also her own boyfriend, Dex (Gathegi) and adopted mother, who think Shiva and Cody are just shaking May down. Eventually, the point comes where May has to come out of this middle-class comfort-zone, because the downward dog position isn’t going to help her and Shiva escape their increasingly perilous situation.

As director Bell – herself, once a yoga teacher – put it: “It’s easy to be peaceful and feel blessed when everyone around you is like that. But… what is the correct choice, when confronted with someone who doesn’t want to sit down and have peaceful talks?” For it’s a relatively uncommon, even subversive, idea proposed here, especially in a Californian indie film [although Bell is a fellow Scot, the setting here is 100% Los Angeles]. While non-violence is clearly preferable, any realist must admit, it’s not necessarily the solution to every problem, and there are times when more direct action is not only justified – it’s required. It’s also interesting that both the conventionally villainous Cody and “nice guy” Dex are portrayed as controlling their women: one physically, the other psychologically.

I guess “interesting” is a good word to sum this up in general – it’ll make you think, rather than feel. Not that there’s anything wrong with thoughtful film-making as a concept. It’s just that the particular topic is one which should affect the viewer on a gut level. I kept thinking, “Is this the scene which will make me angry?”, and it never quite gets there, with my emotional needle failing to go past “somewhat annoyed.” It’s perhaps partly a result of the two leads being almost stereotypical in their lives: May, in particular, embodies just about every trope of the happy hippie chick.

The film becomes rather more satisfying after she realizes that pacifism and chanting are not going to address this particular problem. Especially amusing is the scene in which she bursts into the house where Shiva is working, ending in May bidding the client farewell with a cheery, “Namaste, motherfucker.” It’s a cheap shot, for sure, yet it worked for me. More of this intensity would be welcome, though since we enjoyed her in Blade: Trinity, Biel’s credible performance as a bad-ass didn’t come as a particular surprise. The trailer and cover do pull something of a bait and switch, significantly emphasizing the thriller elements over the dramatic ones. However, I can’t confess to feeling cheated: what it provides over and above expectations, balances out those shortcomings, and the venture proves to be a satisfactory overall experience.

Dir: Diane Bell
Star: Jessica Biel, Zosia Mamet, Joe Anderson, Edi Gathegi

Black Widows

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“Bland misandry masquerading as female empowerment.”

Three women friends – Darcy (Elizabeth), Nora (Graham) and Olivia (Kocee) – are all having shitty luck with their relationships. Olivia is in the middle of an ugly divorce from Adam. Nora’s boyfriend Ryan is a control freak. And while Darcy’s new friend Blair (Brown) initially seems fine, he turns out to be the worst of them all. After he refuses to take no for an answer, the trio decide revenge is a dish best served naked in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately for him, Blair ends up lacking a pulse. Unfortunately for the film, it takes forever to get to this point, and for the vast majority of its running-time the promised “dark comedy” is neither dark nor comedic.

The writer of this was a date-rape victim herself, and it pains me to say so, but this might be the problem. According to the director, “This was an opportunity for her to wrestle with her demons.” It would probably have been better if she’d gone to therapy, written bad poetry or anything, rather than trying to turn those demons into a movie – especially one apparently trying to occupy any subgenre of comedy. For what comes over here is a relentless, bitter tone of (probably understandable, I will admit, given the writer’s history) distrust and loathing of the opposite sex, which permeates every scene of the film to such an extent that any potential humour is strangled. You can’t even call it dark, it’s closer to… jaundiced.

If the film had started with the three women standing over Blair’s body, and gone forward from there, it might have worked. For the trio have a cheerfully apathetic approach to the escalating mayhem, and there finally is dark comedy present, in the way they bicker about trivia like getting blood on their shoes. However, it is the very definition of “too little, too late,” and any interest and attention was already pushing up the daisies by this point.

As an aside – and because I’ve otherwise run out of things to say about this almost entirely forgettable item – I’ve been around the IMDb long enough to know a page stuffed with fake reviews. The obvious giveaway is when the glowing reports are almost entirely from people with precisely one review to their name. That’s what we find here, almost two-third of all write-ups being dated the week beginning August 9, the week of its release. Those 16 authors have reviewed a total of three films: this one 16 times, and two others, none more recently than 2012. At best, there was an email blast from the director to her mates, begging for reviews. At worst, paid astroturfing (though I doubt the budget went that far). It’s all painfully obvious, because it’s almost impossible to see how anyone other than a shill could have genuinely liked this mess.

Dir: Venita Ozols-Graham
Star: Brigitte Graham, Shelby Kocee, Jordan Elizabeth, Jake Brown

Body

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“Bah, humbug.”

It’s the festive season, and Holly (Rogers), Cali (Turshen), and Mel (Molina) are bored. At the suggestion of Cali, they head over to her uncle’s fabulous mansion – conveniently, he’s out of town for the holidays – for a little par-tay. Except, it’s not actually her uncle’s house. Worse is to follow, ending with the caretaker (Fessenden) lying, apparently dead, at the foot of the stairs. The three young ladies are left having to decide whether to ‘fess up and face the consequences, or cover up and create an alternative version of events.

According to Wikipedia, the three characters “represent Sigmund Freud’s model of the id, ego, and superego.” I guess that’s something you don’t see every day. Certainly, they’re radically different characters, to the extent you wonder somewhat, quite why they’re hanging out with each other. Cali is prepared to go to absolutely any lengths, to avoid responsibility. Holly is at the other end of the spectrum, convinced they are only making things worse for themselves by committing further crimes. Mel is the undecided voter, and it’s her shifting support which largely drives the second half, as Cali and Holly solicit her support. Who knew teenagers were such sticklers for the democratic process?

bodyIt kinda works, mostly for the dynamics between the trio of leading ladies. At first, Cali’s approach seems sensible, arguably a legitimate way to make the best of a bad situation. However, a change in the scenario shifts things seismically, and even the toughest of her supporters would have to admit an unpleasant streak of psychopathy is opened in her make-up. Evil sometimes wears a pretty face, and Turshen reminded me more than a little of Denise Richards in Wild Things – manipulative and . Less successful, to the point of entire irrelevance, is the boyfriend who shows up and yells for a bit. I suspect, given the slight running time of 75 minutes, his presence may have been a late-added necessity in order to reach feature length.

However, if the ending is probably when the film is most fun, it’s also where the script seems to be weakest. The eventual conclusion would likely not withstand scrutiny, by anyone with even a passing knowledge of forensic investigative techniques. In the film’s defense, that might be the point. Though given one of the girls is supposedly looking to attend law school, her pre-legal knowledge inexplicably appears about the level obtained from a few episodes of C.S.I. On the other hand, Berk and Olsen have done a fairly good job of crafting a story that fits within their resource limitations,

Dir: Dan Berk and Robert Olsen
Star: Helen Rogers, Alexandra Turshen, Lauren Molina, Larry Fessenden

Black Amazon of Mars, by Leigh Brackett

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Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2action2

Normally, I like to start a series at the beginning. But I chose to read this second novella of Brackett’s Eric John Stark series, as my long-awaited first introduction to her work, because Amazon offered me the chance to read it for free on my Kindle app. (And yes, I’ll definitely be buying a paper copy!) That means there are unanswered questions here about Stark’s origins and background, and about the Martian world –what kind of “beasts” are used as mounts here, for instance, or what the economic base of a city-state like Kushat is– that probably have answers in the first book, or earlier stories. (The author wrote about the character in both formats, and not all of the corpus is still in print.)

Genre giant Brackett stands in the Romantic tradition, and represents SF’s “soft” school; she’s known for her “swords-and-planet” tales of adventure and derring-do on mostly low-tech worlds, and her style was shaped in the hey-day of the pulp magazines. Stark himself has affinities to the typical Burroughs hero, or to some of Robert E. Howatd’s protagonists; the appeal of “primitivism” (which I’ve discussed elsewhere) is clearly present here, though in Stark’s case, he’s not a refugee or escapee from civilization. (Of Earth stock, he was born on Mercury, and apparently grew up in a rough setting and circumstances, with trauma that left him carrying a lot of psychological damage.) He’s a bit more rough-edged than , say, John Carter, and indeed can at times seem almost feral. But he’s clearly a person of principle, with a strong sense of loyalty and duty, and a willingness to put his life on the line for what’s right when it really matters.

Fans of this site, however, will be as (or more) interested in the title character here. Given the title and the cover art, we know she’s definitely a fighting female. For perhaps the first half or more of the book, however, some readers might wonder when she’s going to show up. Don’t worry, though –Brackett incorporates one plot element here, at a crucial moment, that’s meant to come as a major surprise. It does to Stark (of course, he didn’t see the cover or read the title!), but it probably won’t to most readers. Not to share any spoilers, but the phrase “hidden in plain sight” might come readily to mind. And our ax-wielding lady’s fighting prowess won’t disappoint.

Of course, if she’s judged honestly and fairly, it has to be admitted that she’s pretty much a villainess in the legitimate definition of the word; she’s motivated by selfish personal ambition for power and status, and she’s quite ruthlessly willing to inflict suffering and death on any number of people who defy that goal. But she’s also a nuanced villainess who does have some genuine good in her, which shows itself in actions. (And sometimes, when the chips are down, a nuanced villainess with some genuine good in her might find that she has the stuff inside to add “heroine” to her resume’….) That degree of nuance makes her an interesting character (at least to me).

Like many SF authors who wrote before the advent of space exploration by unmanned probes, Brackett imagined the other inner planets of our solar system to be much more hospitable to human life than they actually are. Her Mars is a cold, arid world whose fragile ecology depends on the annual summer melting of much of the polar ice cap; but it’s a world with a human-like native race (if they differ from Earth humans in any way, it’s not stated here), with a civilization originating a million years earlier, in the time of a culture hero called Ban Cruach. Much of his story is forgotten and mysterious; but at the end of his life, he passed through the Gates of Death, the high pass that is the only way through the mountains enclosing the uninhabited, permanently frozen region around the North Pole itself, after leaving behind an enigmatic talisman in the northern city of Kushat (which controls access to the pass). Now, at the behest of a dying friend, who stole the talisman years before, Stark is journeying through the bitterly cold Martian winter and across the wild, mountainous North (a region much less civilized than southern Mars) to return the object to Kushat.

Brackett’s world-building is much more plausible than that of Burrough’s Barsoom novels, and (allowing for the basic premise) the science isn’t, to a lay reader like myself, glaringly off-beam. (How the high technology –yes, there is some here, but I’m not writing any spoilers– works isn’t explained, and it’s not extrapolated from any existing technology, but that’s because we’re in the realm of soft SF; the author’s purpose isn’t to speculate about what high technology might someday do, but to use it to tell and enable a story about people in a particular dramatic situation.)

Brackett’s imagination is genuinely original, in a type of story that often wasn’t handled with great originality in the time period when she wrote. The plot covers just a few days, and incorporates a lot of action, usually violent action (corpses at one point are lying in “windrows”), but there’s no graphic wallowing in violence for its own sake. Our main characters here aren’t plaster saints, and we might disapprove (big time, in some cases!) of some of their actions; but they’re each vibrantly alive, understandable men and women whose fate we come to care deeply about. They’ll face conflicts and challenges here that involve extremely high stakes, and that will tax physical, mental and moral strength to overcome (IF they’re overcome….); and the personal interrelationships are complex and emotionally evocative.

Bottom line, if you like an old-school pulp action sci-fi yarn in which the gal gets to swing the sword (or, in this case, the ax) as well as the guy, I think you’ll find this a very good read of the type!

Author: Leigh Brackett
Publisher: Aegypan, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay

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“Zombies vs. wrestlers.”

battle-girlA meteor crashes into Tokyo Bay, creating a cloud of “cosmo-amphetamine” that infects everyone in the area. When they die, that drug immediately takes over, bringing them back to life as flesh-eating zombies. Colonel Kirihara is leading the rescue mission, and sends his daughter, K-ko (Suzuki) into the contaminated zone to scope things out. She finds that one of his underling, Captain Fujioka, is using the chaos to carry out human experiments, deliberately infecting survivors with the cosmo-amphetamine, in order to turn them into an unstoppable force of undead soldiers. He’s not willing to let anyone get out alive, least of all K-ko. Fortunately, her father gave her a battle suit, which helps to even the odds against the living dead army she faces.

It’s a small-scale production, though has had more than the usual thought put into it. I appreciated, for example, the scene inserted at the beginning, to explain why the power remains on in the city, despite the unfolding disaster. The first half is nicely put together, with K-ko making her way through the city, encountering the “Battle Kids”, a bus-driving group of black marketeers, and uncovering Fujioka’s evil pans for those unfortunate enough to be inside the quarantined area. It’s less effective down the stretch, becoming not much more than a series of human vs. zombie battles, that blur into each other without much sense of escalation. It’s no spoiler to say it leads to the inevitable battle between K-ko and the soldier-scientist. Albeit, only after an unconvincing gobbet of exposition, with clumsy lines like, “If the world powers dare to wipe out our nation, we’ll counter attack with 35 meltdown-ready nuclear plants in Japan and a cosmo-amphetamine mutant army which has no fear of death.”

At the time, Suzuki was one of the biggest stars in Japanese women’s pro-wrestling, and acquits herself fairly well in the action scenes. These are blocked and shot in a similar way to puroresu, with a minimum of editing, and some of her ring rivals also show up as members of Fujioka’s “Human Hunter Unit,” including Devil Masami, Shinobu Kandori and Eagle Sawai. This explains why the combat includes moves not normally seen in hand-to-hand battles, including the tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and tombstone piledriver. It does not, however, explain the battle bikini, worn in particular by one opponent. You’ll know her when you see her. Or them, if you know what I mean and I think you do…

Overall though, time has been fairly kind to this 1991 Japanese video production. A quarter of a century later, it appears to have had a significant influence on the Resident Evil films, particularly Apocalypse. It has perhaps also benefited from the renaissance in the zombie genre over the past few years. While still unquestionably low-budget, what seemed somewhat underwhelming when I originally watched it in the late nineties, now seems quite acceptable, and maybe even ahead of its time.

Dir: Kazuo Komizu
Star: Cutie Suzuki, Kera, Keiko Yahase, Kenji Otsuki

Black Rock

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“Naked and afraid”

black rockMaybe I’m getting old and deaf. Or maybe it’s just not a good idea to have dialogue that appears to consist largely of characters yelling (or whispering) over the top of each other. Either way, probably a negative the muddy audio is the main thing I remember about this survival horror film. Childhood friends Sarah (Bosworth), Abby (Aselton) and Lou (Bell) re-unite for a weekend on an island near where they grew up. There’s some reluctance here, Abby and Lou not having been on speaking terms for some years, due to the latter having slept with the former’s boyfriend years previously. The island is supposedly deserted, so they’re surprised to encounter three men hunting there, one of whom is known to Lou. A drink leads to another, and before you know it, Abby has fended off advances, in lethal fashion. The two survivors don’t take kindly to this, and begin hunting the trio to take revenge for their friend.

A credible alternative title for this one would be Stupid Decisions, Volume I. For if you’re not yelling more sensible choices at the screen, almost as soon as the action here kicks off, you are simply not paying attention. Indeed, even earlier, such as when one of the women here lies about having cancer – always a great way to build sympathy. Perhaps the nadir is the shouting match while they are supposedly trying to sneak across the beach: another wise idea. Fortunately for them, this is strictly equal-opportunity in terms of idiocy, since the men are no better equipped in the smarts department. Supposedly ex-soldiers recently returned from deployment in the Middle East after being “dishonourably discharged” [hello, giant red flag!], one suspects they wouldn’t have made it through basic training, based on the competence level they display here. The wisest approach to surviving would be to hole up and wait for the guys’ to shoot themselves in the head. It could only be a matter of time.

The film presents an awkward mix of empowering feminism and shallow exploitation. One moment, “No” means “I’m going to bash your head in with a large rock.” The next, the women are stripping out of their wet clothes for an extended sequence of running around the woods naked, after one of their many ill-advised choices, in this case a midnight swim out to a boat moored offshore. It seems equally unsure about whether it wants to destroy the tropes of the horror genre, or simply imitate them. Either way, it doesn’t do an effective job. There are only a couple of moments that pack any wallop, and you have a trio of lead characters that rarely manage to rise above irritating. Lou manages to come out the best, at least relatively: 90 minutes of her battling for survival on her own, without all the girlie chit-chat, would likely have improved this considerably.

Dir: Katie Aselton
Star: Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, Kate Bosworth, Jay Paulson

The Bride

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“Tree’s company”

thebrideAbout to get married, Kira (Riddervold) and Marco (Campos) head out for a last quiet weekend together, at a luxurious cabin in the woods. Unfortunately, they become the target for the local rednecks and their kidnapping plot. This goes wrong, leaving Marco shot dead and Kira raped, then shot dead. Both bodies are buried in the woods, but – what are the odds? – it’s at the base of a tree where a native American woman was similarly slain by American soldiers in the mid-19th century. The spirit of that victim resurrects Kira out of her grave, in order for her to take her vengeance on those responsible.

The problems from here start early, beginning with the inability to spell the word “battalion” in the opening titles. Yes, it’s a small thing, but a low budget is no excuse for such sloppiness. Things continue wobbly, with both leads clearly having English as a second acting language; Campos, in particular, is often borderline unintelligible, and I wondered if this was perhaps filmed deep in the forest territory of the lesser-known Belgian Apaches. Things perk up a bit once the kidnap kicks in. There’s a suggestion Kira might be military trained, as her hand-to-hand skills are clearly non-standard issue. This is rapidly discarded, and never mentioned again; you wonder why they bothered, especially since the main thread is supernatural power.

There are some other issues too. Too much time is spent on the bad guys, who are little more than shallow and uninteresting stereotypes – save the one who admits to a fondness for Elton John because “his music soothes me.” I did like that. Partly as a result of this padding, as well as an excess of Kira/Marco shenanigans early on, the entirety of her revenge ends up shoe-horned into the last 30 minutes, when it should certainly be the focus of the majority of the movie. On the plus side, the film goes old-school for its (fairly copious) gore, using practical effects instead of the bad CGI we see too often these days in low-budget films.

Riddervold is somewhat better when not burdened with the lumpy dialogue the film inflicts on her. I mean, who comes up with lines such as, “Fuck it in a bucket”? Probably the same person who thought it was a good idea to simulate FaceTime with video superimposed on a very obvious still photo of a hand holding a phone. Those kind of blatant and entirely unnecessary mis-steps are all too common. Sadly, they tend to rob the film of the intermittently entertaining energy it possesses, at least when concentrating on the revenge which should have been the main topic.

Dir: Marcello Daciano
Star: Henriette Riddervold, Lane Townsend, Burt Culver, Charles Campos