Monday, January 11, 2021

THE EPITAPH VOL. 32: SKY SHARKS (2020) - RENT-A-PAL (2020) - STRANGER ON THE RUN (1967)

THE EPITAPH VOL. 32 
UMBRELLA ENTERTAINMENT DVD EDITION!

This week we zero in on Australian label Umbrella Entertainment, they are one of my favorite Aussie distributors whom I discovered for myself over a decade ago when they started releasing their Ozploitation collections which was my first proper introduction to a few ozploitation classics like Patrick (1978), Mad Dog Morgan (1976) and the adult film Felicity (1979). If you're not aware of them do yourself a favor and check out their website HERE, they have a ton of stuff on Blu-ray you cannot find elsewhere, including some fantastic ozploitation titles like Heaven's Burning (1997), The Dark Age (1987), Chain Reaction (1980) Razorback (1985) and Fair Game (1986), plus the terrific Drive-In Delirium trailer compilations. They also have specialty imprints like Sunburnt Screens that celebrates Australian cinema like Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1977), and the fantastic Worlds on Films: Beyond Genres line-up that includes the The Quiet Earth (1985), the Re-Animator franchise, and Stuart Gordon Dagon (2001). Umbrella are an outfit well-worth keeping an eye on, and we are happy to spot light a few of their recent DVD-only releases here. 

SKY SHARKS
(2020) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: 4 (NTSC)
Rating:
Duration: 103 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (No Subtitles)  
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Marc Fehse
Cast: Thomas Morris, Barbara Nedeljakova, Eva Habermann, Oliver Kalkofe, Michaela Schaffrath, Amanda Bearse, Naomi Grossman, Tony Todd

In the German produced but English-friendly gore-fest Sky Sharks (2020) an arctic research team discovers an enormous Nazi warship long thought to be lost trapped inside the ice of a glacier. Within it they find the last remaining remnants of the Third Reich, a regiment of elite undead Nazis armed with genetically engineered, jet-propelled, artillery-equipped  sharks, who are of course set on destroying the world! This spunky but clunky flick is full of bad digital effects, tons of blood-soaked gore and a bunch of not unappreciated gratuitous nudity. If you're a fan of the stupid-shit like the Sharknado franchise and also dig WWII fantasy stuff along the lines of OverlordBlood Vessel and Iron Sky I think you will find something here to enjoy. While I would not say that this is a good movie it is certainly over-the-top and ambitious in a junk-cinema sort of way. That said, I will admit I did fall asleep three different times while watching it, but I was at least intrigued enough to keep coming back to finish it off, so that's something, right? The indie flick has corny cameos from Robert LaSardo (The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)) and Lynn Lowery (I Drink Your Blood) opening scenes, as well as brief appearances from Mick Garris (director of Sleepwalkers), 
Amanda Bearse (Fright Night), and Tony Todd (Candyman), and while most of them are gone in a geyser of blood before you can blink Tony Todd at least gets a bit of an extended role. The thin storyline has a former Nazi scientist turned American tech-industrialist named Klaus Richter (Thomas Morris, Schindler's List) assigning his super-spy daughters Angelique (Barbara Nedeljakova, Hostel II) and Diabla (Eva Habermann) to stop the undead Nazis and their flying sharks from destroying the world. At over an hour and a half the movie is a bit long and over-padded with unnecessary scenes that don't serve the thin plot, like I said I fell asleep several times. The best stuff here are the assortment of carnage with a mix of bad digital and somewhat impressive practical gore, including a scene that seems to homage the opening moments of Ghost Ship (2009), but on an airliner instead of a luxury boat. Sky Shark is not good but it is also not un-fun, if low-budget gore, undead Nazis and flying sharks sound like a good time to you have at it. The DVD from Australian distributor Umbrella Entertainment is Region 4 locked and presents the movie in anamorphic widescreen with lossy English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, but there are no subtitles and no start-up menu. If you are in North America please note that the movie is getting a Blu-ray release from U.S. distributor Dark Sky Films on February 2nd, which also looks to be barebones. 

RENT-A-PAL (2020)

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: 4 (NTSC) 
Rating: 
Duration: 108 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (No Subtitles) 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Jon Stevenson
Cast: Amy Rutledge, Brian Landis Folkins, Kathleen Brady, Wil Wheaton
    
In the realm of sad-loser cinema we have Rent-A-Pal (2020) which is set in the VHS-friendly era of 1990. In it sad single-guy named David (Brian Landis Folkins, Hoax) cares for his aging and quickly deteriorating mother (Kathleen Brady, Breaking Bad) who suffers from dementia. He spends his free time listening to tapes of his late father's jazz music, watching his dad's vintage porn collection, and 
submitting VHS tapes to the video dating service Video Rendezvous. He obsessively calls the dating service to see if anyone has swiped right so to speak on his profile, but there's never a match. He also begins to watch a weird VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal, a "video friend" tape hosted by the creepily charismatic Andy (Wil Wheaton, The Curse). The tape offers him some much needed "virtual" friendship, but what starts off as a harmless though deeply sad ritual grows into an increasingly disturbing influence on David. Eventually the Video Rendezvous dating service finds a match for David, a caregiver named Lisa (Amy Rutledge) who seems to have a lot in common with him. She understands the stress and emotional toll of caring for the elderly, she loves jazz, and they seem to hit it off. However, the Rent-A-Pal VHS tape continues to have a dark psychological effect on David and seemingly becomes a bit jealous when David spends more time with her than with his Rent-A-Pal VHS tape. David, increasingly influenced by his video-pal Andy begins to feel change, now openly venting his formerly hidden anger at his  mother, believing that she was the reason his father died. Eventually David becomes so deranged that he lashes out at the only people around him resulting in violent and disturbing finale that leaves no one unscathed. This is the first film from director Jon Stevenson and I enjoyed it quite a bit, it is well-directed, the characters are strong, and while it's not a gore-soaked by any means but is an interesting character study of a deranged, lonely man who has gone of the deep end. 
The Region 4 locked DVD from Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in anamorphic widescreen with lossy English Dolby Digital audio but no subtitles and no extras. Note that in North American the flick is getting a Blu-ray from Scream Factory/IFC Midnight with a handful of extras on March 9th. 


STRANGER ON THE RUN (1967)

Label: Umbrella Entertainment

Region Code: ALL (NTSC) 
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (No Subtitles) 
Video: Full Frame (1.33:1)
Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Henry Fonda, Anne Baxter, Dan Duryea, Michael Parks,
 Madlyn Rhue, Michael Burns, Zalman King 


This made-for-TV western was directed by the Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and stars Hollywood legend Henry Fonda (The Swarm) as a washed-up, booze loving vagabond named Ben Chamberlain. Chamberlain arrives in a dusty railroad town at the start of the film after literally thrown off a train car after illegally hitching a ride in one of the cargo holds. He has arrived in search of a woman named Alma (
Madlyn Rhue, Operation Petticoat), the daughter of a friend he owes a favor to, but the local Sheriff McKay (Michael Parks, Kill Bill) and his trigger-happy deputies who rule the town with no small amount of corruption are intent on making his stay as unwelcoming as they can. The whereabouts of the young girl he is seeking is shrouded in mystery and when he finally finds her she has been freshly murdered, and he is fingered for the crime. This leads to him being chased through the desert by the corrupt Sheriff McKay and his deputies, managing to take refuge at a farm owned by a kind-hearted woman (Anne Baxter, All About Eve), which puts her at odd with her wanna-be lawman son Matt (60's TV actor Michael Burns) who is part of the sheriff's posse. It's a wonderful little TV western drama with good production value and some solid turns from the notable cast, Fonda is dynamite as the drunk looking for redemption and Michael Parks plays the corrupt sheriff with gusto, not to mention a sweet walrus-mustache. We also get a great performance
from 
Dan Duryea (The Hills Run Red) as an aging gunslinger with a conscience, in one of his final film roles before dying. Zalman King (Blue Sunshine) also makes a memorable appearance as a crooked deputy, alongside Sal Mineo (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) in a smaller role. Director Don Siegel (The Shootist) doesn't seem too restrained by the TV budget here, the western looks quite good with some wonderful western backdrops . I think this is a hidden gem of a TV western with a terrific cast and a tightly told wrong man story that I found quite compelling. This region-free DVD from Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in anamorphic widescreen with lossy English Dolby Digital mono audio but no subtitles and no extras. If you're a fan of the film and/or want to see it in HD it is currently slated for an early 2021 release on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber here in North America! 

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