HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VOID (2016)

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THE VOID (2016)

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The Void is not only a trippy tribute to horror films of the 80s and the practical make-up and gore effects used in them, but a bloody good time and a creepy monster flick in it’s own right. The film opens with a young couple being chased by two men, with the man (Evan Stern) barely escaping and the woman being shot and then brutally burned alive. The man is found by local policeman, Dan (Aaron Poole) and brought to a nearby hospital that is in the process of closing down after a recent fire. There the cop and minimal staff and patients find the building soon surrounded by mysterious and lethal hooded figures, while inside it starts to turn into a house of horrors, as staff murder patients and the dead return to life transformed into creatures from out of a nightmare. Can Dan, his nurse wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) and the remaining survivors figure out what is happening and how to get out alive?

Written and directed by the team of Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, this is a mash-up/homage to the films of John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon, among others. There are elements of Assault On Precinct 13, The Thing, In the Mouth Of Madness, as well as Re-animator, From Beyond and a host of other cult classics. But Kostanski and Gillespie make it their own with their tale of other dimensions and nightmarish activities and the film is filled with some really unsettling imagery and a host of practical creatures and gore, along with it. The story itself is a bit convoluted at times and the filmmakers don’t spoon feed you everything, but that works far more in the film’s favor than it doesn’t. It’s a disturbing ride, loaded with atmosphere and we do gradually find out enough of what’s going on to satisfy, as the deliberately moderate pace carries us to an unsettling conclusion right out of Fulci’s The Beyond. Sure the acting is a bit wooden here and there and the FX are a bit rubbery, but it’s the charm of what the filmmakers are trying to do and of the many cult classics they evoke, that makes it so enjoyable and fun. Not to mention the filmmakers do conjure some of their own goosebumps along the way. It may not make total sense, but it is enjoyably creepy and when the gore hits the fan, it hits delightfully hard and spatters everywhere. There is some effective cinematography by Samy Inayeh and a cool soundtrack by Blitz//Berlin, who did the soundtrack for Extraterrestrial.

I enjoyed this love letter to many a classic 80s film, including Galaxy Of Terror…which I just re-watched…yet one that didn’t loose it’s own identity. It’s a weird flick that is part Lovecraft, part Carpenter with a few other pinches of famous names of horror thrown in. It has some effectively designed creatures and some delightfully gory moments and gives us some spooky visuals along with the thrills and chills. You may scratch your head a bit here and there, but it’s fun throwback that may have introduced us to two filmmakers to keep an eye on. Also stars Art (Black Christmas, The Brood) Hindle as a state trooper and Scott Pilgrim’s Ellen Wong as an intern in over her adorable head.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scalpels, because I didn’t want to spoil any of the weirdness.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BASKIN (2015)

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BASKIN (2015)

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Baskin is a Turkish horror film from Can Evrenol that is sort of a mix of Hellraiser, Martyrs and Caligula. In essence a family film! Flick has a squad of tough guy cops called in to a remote, rural area as back-up for some sort of investigation in progress. They get into an accident when they arrive and meet some strange locals who lead them to an abandoned police precinct. There they find a lone survivor of the previous squad babbling incoherently and once they investigate into the bowels of the rundown building, the men find themselves literally in a hell on earth that there may be no escape from.

Evrenol directs from a script he co-wrote with Ogulcan Eren Akay, though there really isn’t much of a story as it is just a very basic set-up to the carnage. He does create a very thick and lasting atmosphere of dread from the opening dream sequence and paints his tale of demonic horror with an intense and very disturbing visual style. He also splashes his canvas with gallons of blood and entrails, acts of horrific violence and some ugly sexual perversion, too, just in case you were missing the point. And that’s were this film does stumble, there really doesn’t seem to be much point to this once it’s all over. After over 90 minutes of some very disturbing sights and acts, the film ends as mysteriously as it began. Who are these people that live in the bowels of the abandoned police station? What exactly is their purpose in torture and murder? Did these men somehow bring this on themselves? The ambiguity works to a degree, but it also gives us a bit of a hollow feeling instead of being truly horrified. The film may be disturbing and downright disgusting at times, but it’s never really ever scary and ultimately is much ado about nothing. It does seem like Evrenol doesn’t have much of a goal here other than to present a series of nightmarish sequences, although he does do that very well. The characters are also not all that endearing and some are outright unlikable, nor do we get to know them all that well. Because of this, we aren’t very attached or empathetic to them once they start being savaged. On a production level the gore is really well done and Evrenol’s nightmarish visuals are well captured by Alp Korfali’s lens and accented by a really effective score by Ulas Pakkan. As for the cast, they are obviously Turkish actors unknown to most movie goers outside their native land, but they all were all fine and effective with their parts…which consisted mostly of yelling and being evicerated.

This isn’t a movie you can say you liked in the true sense of the word. It is very effective in many ways, such as the nightmarish atmosphere and some horrific visuals and acts of perversion and violence that chill. On the downside, the characters aren’t all that well-rounded or likable and we don’t get much of a story to go with the gallons of blood. It’s more of a set piece that we should be more emotionally invested in for it to really wow us, but we aren’t. An effective visceral horror, but a little shallow on the emotional investment side.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 creepy frogs.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DEMON’S ROOK (2013)

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THE DEMON’S ROOK (2013)

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In many ways James Sizemore’s supernatural horror is quite an impressive low budget flick with heaps of imagination and some really great and abundant prosthetic FX. The story finds an imaginative young boy named Roscoe (Emmett Eckert) who constantly draws a demon named Dimwos (John Chatham) and claims the being visits him. No one takes him seriously, until one night the demon kills the boy’s parents and lures the lad into his underground lair to be his student and eventual successor. Years later, an adult Roscoe (James Sizemore) escapes from Dimwos and unintentionally releases three far more malevolent demons in the process. Returning to his home, Roscoe seeks out his childhood friend Eva (Ashleigh Jo Sizemore) for help, while the demons pursue him slaughtering any human they come across.

Sizemore does make an impression here with the film he directs from a script co-written with Akom Tidwell. While the flick is never scary, it is imaginative with it’s story and execution. Seizmore has a good eye for spooky visuals, accented by some atmospheric cinematography by Tim Reis, and the design of the creatures and settings is original and effective for a low budget crowd-sourced film. The prosthetic make-up is truly remarkable with it’s demonic entities, legion of zombies and abundance of extremely gory demises. In an age of filmmakers all too eager to go CGI, this is a refreshing throwback to the 80s style of filmmaking complete with a very 80s transformation scene from human to demonic creature. There are also a bevy of good looking ladies, some who don’t mind shedding their clothes, to add some old fashion titillation to the proceedings. Where this valiant effort stumbles, is that after about an hour, the carnage wears out it’s welcome a bit. The story never really goes anywhere and there is at least a half hour that feels like filler with a parade of bloody sequences of the demons happening upon hapless locals to slaughter. It gets tedious after a while and the film seems to be just spinning it’s wheels to pad the flick out to feature length, till we get the the climactic confrontation between Roscoe, Eva and the demons…and then it’s over a little too quickly. After 90 minutes of gory dismemberment and disembowelment, you expected a little more out of the battle between Roscoe and his foes. On a technical level,the filmmakers did a good job with meager funding and the acting may be unremarkable, with the parts acted out by the filmmakers themselves and a bunch of unknowns, but is adequate enough to get the job done.

In conclusion this is a very impressive low budget flick with some really well-done prosthetic make-up and gore. It has a nice visual style to add to the carnage and the filmmakers definitely put their hearts into it. If the film has any weak points it’s that the story isn’t enough to support it’s over 90 minute running time and the bloody sequences start to get repetitive and give the impression of filler to give the film a feature length. A nice effort, thought from James Sizemore and company.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Roscoes

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE MUTILATOR (1984)

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THE MUTILATOR (1984)

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Written and directed by Buddy Cooper, The Mutilator is a bit of a mixed bag, but worth watching for the 80s nostalgia and some very explicit gore. The story opens with young Ed Jr. (Trace Cooper) wanting to impress his father (Jack Chatham) for his birthday by cleaning his gun collection. Never a good idea. Ed Jr. accidentally shoots his mom (Pamela Weddle Cooper) which drives dad a bit over the edge. The story then shifts to Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler) now in college and going out to his father’s beach condo with friends for the weekend to close it down for the winter. Little does Ed Jr. and friends know, that Ed Sr. is waiting for them and planning to finally exact the revenge on his son and his companions for the accident that took his wife’s life so many years ago.

For the most part this is a slow paced flick at a time where the pace of horror thrillers was starting to pick up. The acting is very wooden, as the dialog is sometimes stilted and amateurish. There is little mystery to it, as we know right away it’s Ed Sr. who is stalking our weekend partiers and there is little suspense as victims are seen from a mile away. Ed Sr. also has almost no dialog, so we never really get much of a character developed besides that he is apparently nuts. The actor does exude some menace, so at least there is that. What does make Buddy Cooper’s horror worth watching is the exceptional and very graphic gore from FX legend Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II, Phantasm II & III, Elm St. II & III) and Anthony Showe. The killings may be few and far between, but the kills are inventive, vicious and extremely graphic leading to both an unrated and R-rated cut when released directly to VHS. Despite the film being a bit amateurish otherwise, the gore is quite shocking and very well-rendered. The heavy 80s atmosphere also helps too and turns a mediocre flick into something that can be a good time.

The cast are all fairly wooden and most never went anywhere except for lead Matt Mitler doing voice work for the Pokémon series and Francis Raines, who had a brief film career during the 80s. They are all fairly amateur here with killer Jack Chatham, as said earlier, exuding a bit of menace as Ed’s deranged dad. None of them are bad enough to really damage the film, but none are really that strong either. Rounding out the cast as Ed Jr.’s friends are Ruth Martinez as Pam, Connie Rogers as Sue, Morey Lampley as Mike, Frances Raines as Linda and Bill Hitchcock as jokester Ralph. Not an unlikable bunch, but not anyone memorable either, except maybe for looney Chatham.

This is still worth a look due to the exceptional and very graphic kill scenes. Other than that, there is not much to recommend, as far as, acting, mystery or suspense. There is some nice 80s nostalgia along with the bloodshed and a fun 80s electronic score by Michael Minard, which helps. If you’re an 80s purist and haven’t seen this one, it is worth watching and can be fun, especially within a movie night of similar titles.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2  fisherman’s gaffs which are used quite painfully.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)

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THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)

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The Deadly Spawn is an 80s low budget Sci-fi/horror with it’s heart firmly planted in the 50s. The story opens with two campers in the woods seeing a meteorite crash-land nearby a la The Blob. They go to investigate, but are soon attacked and killed by the meteorite’s passenger. This venus flytrap on steroids crawls into the basement of a nearby house and not only begins to snack on the house occupants, but grows and multiplies, it’s spawn spreading out into the neighborhood, during a fierce rain storm. The house survivors desperately try to find a way to fend off the alien creatures, while the rest of the neighborhood is slowly being added to the menu.

It’s difficult to be too hard on a film that is basically an ambitious home movie. The flick was made in my home state of New Jersey for just $25,000, which was dirt cheap even in the early 80s and has developed a cult following. The film is a strictly bargain basement but fun movie written and directed by Douglas McKeown from a story by he and Special FX man John Dods and producer Ted A. Bohus. There is a lot of heart here, but it is still very amateurish on a production level. The film is directed rather by-the-numbers by McKeown and there are some scenes that are obvious filler and seem to go on and on and not accomplish much. A lot of the sequences are also clumsily staged, especially the laughable neighborhood clean-up in the last act where people are obviously just wandering around without much purpose or direction. What makes this work is some impressive monster and gore effects done with far more ingenuity than cash and while the budget doesn’t afford us too much monster on the loose stuff, what it does gives us is rubbery and bloody fun. There is plentiful gore and while the acting is wooden across the board and the dialog downright terrible at times, there is still fun from watching the effort by cast and crew to give us a 50s monster flick 80s style. There is a very 80s electronic score by Michael Perilstein to add nostalgia and atmosphere and the film looks pretty good for such a low budget shoot under Harvey M. Birnbaum’s cinematography. A cheesy labor of love from a group of Jersey monster movie fans that may be strictly amateur, but has a lot of heart and some delightfully rubbery critters to go along with it’s cliché characters and table top miniatures.

This is an ultra low budget flick that looks and feels it, too. The makers did have a love for what they were doing and obviously, for the films that inspired them and that makes up for a good deal of the cheesy, low budget badness the film carries. Sure the dialog is terrible, the acting awful and the directing very-by-the-numbers, but it has charm and is a noble effort with some entertainingly rubber monsters and surprisingly effective gore. A cult favorite flick that deserves it status and shows what you can accomplish with very little when you give it your heart into it.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spawns.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: PIECES (1982)

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PIECES (1982)

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Pieces is a Spanish made slasher that has a reputation, especially since it was decades before we got to see an uncut version here in the US. I wasn’t all that impressed when I first saw it at Fort Lee’s long-gone Linwood theater back in 1982 and recently revisited it to see if the added nostalgia might change my mind.

The film opens with a young boy being caught by his mother putting together a nude pin-up puzzle. She freaks out and starts to rant and rave, collecting all the boys hidden nude magazines. The boy does what any child would do and chops her up with an axe and saw. The film jumps four decades later as a killer dressed all in black and armed with a chainsaw, starts hacking up pretty girls on a campus and taking parts with him. If we don’t already get the idea, we are constantly treated to shots of the killer putting together that same bloodstained nudie puzzle and fondling mom’s bloody clothes. Police Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) is out to stop the killer and enlists a former tennis pro turned cop (Linda Day)…cause that sounds quite common…to go undercover as the campus tennis coach. Is it the hulking groundskeeper (Paul Smith)?…or is it the creepy anatomy professor (Jack Taylor)?…as the bodies pile up, the police are baffled as to who is chopping up the campus cuties and taking…Pieces!

Despite a lot of gore and bloodshed, Juan Piquer Simón’s flick is kinda dull and a tad silly. The script written by John W. Shadow and Dick Randall isn’t necessarily clever and just seems to take our murder mystery through it’s paces without really trying to make a good story out of it. The killer’s sudden reemergence after 40 years and why he wants to reconstruct his mother after all this time, is never explained, even after the last act reveal. There is little suspense in the investigation and we can see victims coming a mile away. There is some entertainment value here, though. There is the previously mentioned abundant gore and some generous nudity, as well as, some very unintentionally funny scenes, including Linda Day’s encounter with an over-zealous kung fu instructor and trained police officers not noticing a man hiding behind curtains right in from of them. There is some laughably bad dialogue and the performances are pretty wooden across the board. Only Christopher George’s scenery chewing and then wife Linda Day’s over-acting give the film any life.

As someone who loves 80s movies, I still say the film is worth a look. It has a reputation, though I’m not sure I agree with it, and it is not without some entertainment value along with the 80s nostalgia. It may not…in my opinion…be the classic some have proclaimed it, but it is part of a classic era and shouldn’t be ignored either. Not a favorite, despite the personal nostalgia, but a film that has gained a place in 80s horror infamy and I respect that, if not fully agree with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 chainsaws.

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WARNING: TRAILER IS QUITE GRAPHIC! NSFW!

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BARE BONES: DEATHGASM (2015)

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DEATHGASM (2015)

New Zealand horror/comedy is written and directed by Jason Lei Howden and tells the story of outcast and death metal-head, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne), who is forced to live with his straight-laced uncle and family after his mom is arrested. He meets rebellious Zakk (James Blake) and together they form the death metal band Deathgasm. A chance encounter with reclusive, former death metal star Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure) puts them in possession of the Black Hymn, a piece of music that can summon the king of all demons. They play the song and all hell breaks loose…literally. Now can Brodie and Zakk undo the nightmare they have unleashed?

Sure, this flick appears to be written by and for fourteen year-old metal-heads, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are some legitimate laughs and a delirious amount of giddy and well-orcestrated gore, as our metal-heads battle a town full of demon possessed zombies while trying to figure out how to stop the king of demons from rising. There are some slow moments and it is all very silly, but there are some clever bits, too and some, just raunchy enough and bloody enough to elicit continual chuckles…such as a scene were Zakk and Brodie battle demons with dildos, vibrators and butt-plugs…yes, you read that right. Maybe not a classic, but it is fun and certainly has some memorable moments. A death metal Spinal Tap meets Dead Alive, if I were to paraphrase…and while it’s not quite as good as those flicks, it has it’s black heart in the right place. Also stars Kimberley Crossman as the apple of Brodie’s guy-liner adorned eye, Medina.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MEXICO BARBARO (2014)

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MEXICO BARBARO (2014)

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Mexican anthology horror has eight short stories told by eight different Mexican directors and despite how intriguing that sounds, sadly the flick is a disappointment, overall. There are definitely some effective moments and there are some disturbing and spooky sequences peppered throughout, but none of the stories really stands out or grabs you as a whole. There is also a startling lack of variety in tone and telling, almost negating the effect that it is made by eight different filmmakers. Very few tales seem to really go anywhere and a couple of stories seem to just exist for the sake of being gross, vulgar or perverse…or all of the above. Maybe a lack of deep understanding of Mexican culture or folklore may have hindered the enjoyment of some of these tales, but a well told story should still make it’s point and have effect regardless of cultural differences.

As a side note…It was interesting in how women are portrayed in some of the tales. There seems to be some attempt at social commentary about the abuse and mistreatment of women in the final tale called Día de los Muertos, though earlier in the anthology that message is seriously contradicted when the mistreatment is portrayed in an almost gleeful manner such as in La cosa más preciada, about the gruesome loss of one pretty teen’s virginity by a strange creature. Not only is pretty Valeria (Sara Camacho) raped repeatedly by this horrid being, she is also vulgarly accosted by two vile gas station attendants earlier on. Her final fate almost seems to be played as a joke. Valeria never seems to be treated as a human being at any point of the story, even her eager boyfriend just seems to be concerned with getting in her pants. In other tales women are portrayed in a number of unflattering ways, too,  as either victims, bitches, killers, or murderous spirits…as in the film’s most effective story, Jaral de Berrios. In Lo que importa es lo de adentro, a mother is cruel and verbally abusive to her handicapped daughter while languishing affection over her son. Not sure if this is an attempt at some overall commentary about how women are treated or viewed in Mexican society or something that happened through happenstance, but it was troubling to see how women were portrayed by the different filmmakers or the implications of how they are viewed by their culture. I found this aspect of the film perhaps more interesting than the film itself.

There were high hopes for this, but, overall, it was a disappointment. There are some shocking and disturbing moments and some spooky bits, but the film seems more about violence, gore…which is abundant and well done…and some unsettling perversity. That would all be fine if it’s stories were more involving and effective, instead of just being violent, vulgar and gross for the most part. Perhaps a little more variety in tone and story would have improved this a bit, but the films could have been all made by the same director, which is the most disappointing aspect of all, as one hoped to see at least a few promising talents among those assembled.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 skulls.
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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BABY BLOOD (1990)

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BABY BLOOD (1990)

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This blood-drenched French horror is one of those flicks that, when it’s over, you just stare at the ending credits, only occasionally blinking, trying to decide what the hell you just saw…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Oddball flick tells the story of a parasite-like creature that has been around from the beginning of time, waiting for a chance to find a human female host and be born into a more substantial form. We know this because the creature narrates the opening scene telling us as much. It finds it’s away through an animal host to voluptuous but abused circus performer Bianca (Emmanuelle Escourrou) and climbs inside her to gestate. The creature needs human blood to grow, however and takes control of the young woman, sending her out into the world…well, France…to find and slaughter victims for their blood…and a slaughtering the reluctant Bianca does go.

Directed by Alain Robak and co-written by he and Serge Cukier, this is a loopy horror that is delightfully over-the-top with it’s gore and quite generous with nudity from the buxom Miss Escourrou. The film can be disturbingly gruesome one moment, as Bianca is beheading a victim brutally and amusingly goofy the next, as she has outright discussions/arguments with her parasitic guest…who, obviously, talks. It’s actually kinda entertaining in it’s audacity to be presenting all this very seriously as we witness a young woman turned into a savage murderess while having intense discussions with the larva-like creature that has taken over her body. It’s like a disturbing Odd Couple with Manic level gore scenes. Robak is so confident with his creation that he even has the audacity to have a poster for Blood Baby 2 appear in one of the scenes as if you could possibly follow something like this up with a sequel…which actually did happen 18 years later, so what do I know. This is definitely midnight movie material and what makes it as unnerving as it is unintentionally funny, is that the gore is really well-rendered and some of the kills are downright brutal. The last act is worth the watch alone for it’s blood-soaked birth in the back of an ambulance and the newly born creature’s attack on a bus filled with horny soccer players…yup, you read that right. It’s quite a hoot.

Basically, this is a one woman show and Emmanuelle Escourrou is quite the trooper in terms of what she is asked to perform. Bianca…as she is referred to in the subtitles, though the credits list her as “Yanka”…gets drenched in blood quite often, and sometimes while wearing little or no clothes. Escourrou handles the carnage…and prolonged nudity…quite well, just as she plays her conversations with the parasitic tenant in her womb with equal seriousness. The actress makes an impression considering just how ridiculous it all is and how seriously she takes her part.

I had a fun time with this bizarre French horror. From it’s creature talking from the womb, to the frequent scenes that erupt into blood baths, this is an entertaining midnight movie that has the balls to take itself very seriously. It’s a ‘so bad it’s good’ fun time and definitely a treat for those who like gore films, foreign horror and cult classics. Worth a look for those who like a little lunacy with their entrails. Spawned a sequel almost 20 years later titled Lady Blood that returned Emmanuelle Escourrou to her role.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Biancas…or Yankas depending on subtitles or credits.

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