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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Crime > Korea > Horror > Supernatural > Exploitation > Serial Killer > Fantasy > Medieval > Monst > Beasts Clawing At Straws (2020/Artsploitation Blu-ray)/Dark and The Wicked (2020/RLJ Blu-ray)/Dahmer (2002/Blu-ray*)/Dragon Soldiers (2020/DVD**)/Game Of Death (2020/Cleopatra DVD/*both MVD)/Smiley Fa

Beasts Clawing At Straws (2020/Artsploitation Blu-ray)/Dark and The Wicked (2020/RLJ Blu-ray)/Dahmer (2002/Blu-ray*)/Dragon Soldiers (2020/DVD**)/Game Of Death (2020/Cleopatra DVD/*both MVD)/Smiley Face Killers (2020/Blu-ray/**both Lionsgate)/Train to Busan presents Peninsula (2020/Well Go Blu-ray)

Picture: B+/B+/B+/B-/B-/B+/A- Sound: B+/B+/B+/B-/B-/B+/B+ Extras: D/B-/C+/D/C/C/C Films: C+/C+/C+/C-/C/C-/A-

And now for more creepy (and sometimes dumb) horror and thriller releases....

An award winning and quite wild South Korean crime thriller, Beasts Clawing At Straws (2020) debuts on Blu-ray disc in America from Transplantation films and is the debut feature of Kim Yong-hoon. The film has a very strong visual style akin to a foreign Guy Ritchie with lots of colorful sets and close up cutaways. The film wonders the age old wonder and question of the allure of money and how far one would go to secure a large sum.

The film stars Shin Hyun-bin, Jean Do-yeon, Jung Ga-ram, Jung Woo-sung, and Kim Jun-han.

A Louis Vuitton bag full of cash is up for grabs and a wide variety of unusual characters are trying to capture it for themselves. Gangsters, a cop, a crooked customs official, a gym attendant, a prostitute, her husband, her boss, and yes, even her boyfriend all violently fight tooth and nail to get their hands on this bag full of cash.

Beasts Clawing At Straws is presented in 1080p on Blu-ray disc with a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and a Korean DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless audio mix with English subtitles. The film is very sleek and stylistically photographed and looks very nice in HD here.

No extras except for other Artsploitation Trailers.

From the Director of The Strangers and under the Shudder banner comes The Dark and the Wicked (2020), which takes place on a farm that is very dark and atmospheric.

Taking place over the course of a week, The Dark and the Wicked centers on an older man who is dying in his bed and his wife who is becoming very depressed. As the two grown children visit, they start to notice that their mom is acting a bit more defeated than maybe she should be. (The real tip off is when she chops her fingers off in a quite unnerving scene!) Soon, the two of them start hallucinating and succumb to the dark force that is overtaking the farm. The Dark and The Wicked is a slow burn and has some gory moments that are pretty intense.

The film stars Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley, Lynn Andrews, and Julie Oliver-Touchstone. The film is directed by Bryan Bertino.

The Dark and the Wicked is presented in 1080p on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec and a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with a lossless DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 mix. The film is beautifully photographed and has an intense soundtrack that comes across nicely here. This is a very nice HD presentation from RLJE that is highly effective. There is particularly some nice sound design done here in some of the dark night exterior scenes at the farm where you can hear the shaking of trees and the farm animals becoming frightened. There's a nice dark mood that is captured here that I found pretty effective.

Special Features: Fantasia Q&A with Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.

Before he was an Avenger or nominated for an Oscar for his performance in The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner starred in the disturbing biopic Dahmer (2002) which is based on the life of homosexual serial killer Jeffery Dahmer. This is the film's first time on Blu-ray disc with a new 4K master struck from the original camera negative and presented for the first time in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio.

The film also stars Bruce Davison, Dion Basco, Lily Knight, and Artel Great.

The film follows the disturbing life of real life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered 17 young mean in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His humble beginnings stars as a distraught factory worker and lead into a bridge of personal affliction and pain to becoming a murder.

Dahmer is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec and a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a lossless English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 mix and an English LPCM 2.0 Mono mix. The film doesn't look too bad in HD and is certainly an improvement over previous releases in standard definition formats.

Special Features:

Audio commentary by director David Jacobson and actors Jeremy Renner and Artel Kayaru

Making of Featurette

Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery

Story Boards

Red Band Trailer

Original Theatrical Trailer

The film has some disturbing moments, but can't quite shake the feel of being a made for TV type movie.

Most films or shows that feature dragons do so in a medieval setting or a fantasy world like Game of Thrones. This dragon based film, Dragon Soldiers (2020), is a low budget romp where modern day military soldiers and a park ranger go up against a dragon that terrorizes a mountainous Colorado town. Using the Predator-style storytelling formula, a group of soldiers are stalked by a dragon, and picked off one by one. The moments where you actually see the dragon is quick and the CG ranges from barely passable to god awful, but still this at least tries and succeeds at being pure camp.

The film stars Arielle Brachfeld, Tarkan Dospil, Antuone Torbert, Dan Sinclair, Anne McDaniels, Ruben Pla, and Motown Maurice. The film is directed by Hank Braxtan (Snake Out of Compton).

Dragon Soldiers is presented in standard definition on DVD with an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and a lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The compression issues are apparent from the get-go with many nice mountain shots that I'm sure look way better in higher definition. The camerawork on the whole isn't too bad as I can tell cranes and the sound design is laughable to say the least. I think at one point I heard a trademark 'Godzilla' roar soundbite for the dragon. The score screams stock music as well...

Dragon Soldiers is a silly Z-grade monster movie with a highly predictable plot. You can tell some love went into the making of it, and despite its safe storytelling, has a cool dragon for the price tag. These things aside, it's not very memorable or recommendable.

There's a trailer for the film and other Lionsgate releases, but nothing else.

Imagine Jumanj with a horror spin and you've got Game of Death (2020) - and no not the famous Bruce Lee film of the same name. Here a group of seven teens end up playing this board game where if they don't kill someone then their heads will explode. It's kill or be killed in this wacky and bloody film. Some of the acting is a mixed bag and there's a lot of shaky camera work and yelling going on, but the film does have some interesting moments and decent effects.

The film stars Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Emelia Hellman, Catherine Saindon, Ernie Baez, Nick Serino, Thomas Vallieres, and Jane Hackett.

Game of Death is presented in standard definition on DVD with an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and a 5.1 lossy Dolby Digital mix. The film is nicely shot and compression issues aside doesn't look too bad on DVD here.

Special Features: Slideshow and a Trailer.

From the mind of Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) is The Smile Face Killers (2020), which stars Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Charlie's Angels (Barrymore films)). Based on the true Smiley Face killers urban legend / conspiracy theory, which is about a group of black hooded killers who travel around and stalk and kill young men - mainly by drowning them - and leaving the tag mark of a smiley face at the scene.

Flipping the usual slasher killer movie formula, usually a young female is the killer's target but in this case it's a handsome young male college student. The first hour of the film is slow burn nonsense will beautiful cinematography, but a plot that drags on and on. The Smiley Killer stalks the guy in white van (as if that idea hasn't been played out), and the killer slowly starts to play mind games with him (hacking his phone, etc.) until finally... FINALLY... they abduct him. A good twenty minutes of the film is complete nonsense about the young kid's sex life and a party on a beachside that is mind numbingly boring. While I won't ruin the ending, it's highly predictable and silly. The only thing this movie has going for it is a decent makeup job on Crispin Glover as the killer and some nicely composed images. Otherwise, it is about as entertaining as watching paint peel. There are a few sudden gross out gore scenes, but nothing you haven't seen before.

The film also stars Ronen Rubinstein, Mia Serafino, Amadeus Serafini, and Ashley Rickards. The film is directed by Tim Hunter (River's Edge).

The Smiley Face Killers is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec and a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and a lossless English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 mix. The score to the film is ambient and electronic and adds something to the long and drawn out shots that desperately needed shortened.

Special Features:

Behind the scenes featurette with cast interviews

The Smiley Face Killers is just a long and drawn out slasher with a few nice looking gore scenes and some a pretty young cast, but nothing that could be labeled as even necessarily scary.

Finally, four years after the Busan incident, Korea has been quarantined off from the rest of the world. Former soldier Captain Jung-Seok (Jung-hyun Lee) is a survivor and is sent back in when to recover a truck full of money in the heart of the city of zombies. But what he and his team didn't expect to find was survivors ...survivors who would do anything to get off the peninsula.

In Sang-ho Yeon's Train to Busan presents Peninsula (2020,) Jung is a survivor of Korea's zombie apocalypse, but he is traumatized by survivors' guilt, the people he left behind and also not being able to save his family. 4 years later he is living in the slums of Hong Kong, but a chance comes to change his life he is sent back in to recover a truck full of money. He and his team are able to find and recover the truck, but before are able to call for their pick up, they are then ambushed and attacked by survivors living in Korea who use outsiders as 'entertainment' in zombie survival game. Jung then is saved by 2 sisters (one with mad driving skills) from another group of survivors. Turns out the 2 sister and their group were some of the people Jung left behind 4 years ago. Now their only way off the peninsula is to find and recover the satellite phone and before the other group survivors discover he has a way off the peninsula.

This was the sequel to Train to Busan movie, a zombie survival movie where it basically proves again what is scary isn't the zombies, but the human survivors. It was basically it was like a Mad Max movie mixed with a zombie apocalypse. There are plenty of zombies fight scenes along with several wild car chase scenes, using trucks as a battering rams against the zombie hordes.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is an HD shoot (this was also issued on 4K Blu-ray, but the cameras are not has high in definition) and the style is effective, consistent and clear enough. Atmosphere helps too. The lossless Korean Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for older systems) is pretty good, though you have to have a system to really get the most out of it, but it is fine and about as good as the picture.

Extras includes making of the movie, interviews and trailers.

- Ricky Chiang and James Lockhart



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