Color, 2011, 104m.
Directed by Eric Stanze
Starring Emily Haack, Jason Christ, Sarah Swofford, Alex Del Monacco, Ryan Bax, Amanda Pemberton, D.J. Vivona
Wicked Pixel (VOD, DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

It's been a little while since the gang at Wicked Pixel have unleashed their latest unflinching horror offering, and judging from their past efforts (ranging from a moody ghost story to some of the harshest indie films ever made), you always know they'll never repeat themselves. Company owner Eric Stanze has earned himself a solid fan following with his directorial efforts since the fiesty bloodbath of Savage Harvest in 1994, and during the '00s, the company was churning out an imposing number of releases every year from both Stanze and his familiar and talented partners in crime like Jeremy Wallace, Jason Christ, and Emily Haack, all of whom can be found in his latest and most ambitious film, Ratline. Since this is his first time behind the camera in four years since Deadwood Park, one can only wonder what he's been dreaming up in the meantime...

Not surprisingly, things start off with a bang as the viewer is plopped in a sleepy midwestern town where multiple subplots are already in motion. A couple of locals, Ryan (Bax) and Anna (Pemberton), decide it would be a great idea to have a naked satanic ritual out in the woods after some new arrivals hit town, lesbian drug money thief Crystal (Haack) and her half-sister, Kim (Del Monacco). That night some disturbing stuff goes down (partially involving a bow and arrow and a cute basset hound), and things start taking left turns every few minutes as their local host, Penny (Swofford), has a family secrets involving Nazi occult experiments that appear to be the obsession of a murderous stranger named Frank (Christ) with a mission of his own.

Unlike most low-budget horror films, Ratline doesn't just offer a twist or two; the whole plot is a maniacal rollercoaster of sudden reversals and multiple plot strands that only start to really tighten together in the last 20 minutes, but the ride getting there is so much fun you'll almost forget to keep track. There's the usual hefty helpings of skin and red stuff (including a really well-done B&W celluloid flashback to Nazi Germany with Stanze popping up for an amusing cameo), but the cast composed of both Wicked Pixel vets and newcomers does a terrific job of keeping the increasingly outrageous proceedings grounded and gripping. It's hard to compare all of Stanze's films given the extreme contrast from one to the next, but this might actually be his best yet.

Though not yet released on DVD (but announced for a September 20th release complete with the usual hefty helpings of extra goodies), Ratline is currently available as a downloadable rental or purchase; it should be noted that DVD screeners have been sent out and look great, so the final transfer should be impressive as well given Stanze's skill with making digital video look nice and moody. It's also packaged in a great battered film reel can that ties in with the content of the film itself, but presumably that touch will be too expensive to pull off on a larger scale when the disc comes out as a general release. No matter how you see it, this is one seriously crazy, fearless ride from a bunch of guys who keep managing to top themselves.

Reviewed on August 7, 2011.