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Plot: can a maiden fair save the realm from the evil Snow Queen?

The early years and filmography of California indie director Rene Perez offers a wide array of features across a number of genres. Most notably among them the zombie horror franchise The Dead and the Damned (2011-2015) and the western / Predator (1987) crossover Alien Showdown: The Day the Old West Stood Still (2013). Unique to these early years are Perez’ European fairytale adaptations which typically play fast and loose with their source material. On the plus side many of these adaptations star early Perez muses Irina Levadneva, Nadia Lanfranconi, and Jenny Allford. In that sense it’s emblemic of the other two that would follow. The Snow Queen has little to nothing to do with the timeless Hans Christian Andersen fairytale upon which it is allegedly based, and largely exists as preamble to get Irina Levadneva, Aurelia Scheppers, and Jenny Allford out of their clothes. It even has the gall to insert a completely unnecessary and alien para-military subplot that comes across as a technical exercise for some of his later productions. Sleeping Beauty (2014) and Little Red Riding Hood (2016) both introduced foreign elements into their main plots, but at least they bore some vague semblance to the classic European fairytales which ostensibly served as their conceptual basis.

That The Snow Queen would bear almost no resemblance to the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale is a given. Only the Gerda, and Kai characters, and both the Troll and The Snow Queen are accounted for, both none of the plot remotely resembles the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. At heart The Snow Queen apparently wants to be a fantastique, a genre practiced primarily in France and Spain in the nineteen-seventies. As with many an early Perez feature The Snow Queen too is a victim of padding and is filled to the gill with atmospheric scenic shots that do nothing to forward the story. Sleeping Beauty (2014) suffered from much of the same defects, thankfully Rene would have remedied this tendency by the time he lensed the original Playing with Dolls (2015) and its many sequels. Just when you think that Perez is going to get to the meat of the story a completely unnecessary and alien para-military subplot, that feels not only wildly out of place, but should have been its own feature altogether, is introduced. The Snow Queen comes across as a barely concealed test-run for Playing with Dolls (2015) and like The Obsidian Curse (2016) a few years down the line feels more like a technical exercise than a movie. The fantasy mainplot hardly aspires to anything more than advanced cosplaying and never attains Arrowstorm Entertainment level of professionalism.

A distant kingdom has been plunged into eternal winter by a curse from the Snow Queen (Nadia Lanfranconi). The only thing that can stop the Snow Queen is a magic mirror. Wandering the snowbound forest fair maiden Gerda (Irina Levadneva, as Iren Levy) is happy when her man Kai (Robert Amstler) returns from the Crusades. The Snow Queen has dispatched a troll to capture whoever possesses the magic mirror. That just so happens to be Kai, and he’s imprisoned by one of the Snow Queen’s spells. In the village a cleric brother Liolinus (John J. Welsh) posits only innocent and pure Gerda can withstand the Snow Queen, and sends her on a perilous quest. Meanwhile, on the other side of time, the US Army has ordered Colonel Richard Wagner (David Reinprecht) to locate and retrieve an expensive prototype of body armor, and the culprit responsible for the theft. To that end he has tracked down deserter Valtranz (Robert S. Dixon) to a remote snowbound forest. In that same forest a trio of scientists – Walter (Ian Dalziel), Annika Hansen (Aurelia Scheppers), and Nichelle (Jenny Allford) – are conducting investigations into inexplicable energy surges in the area. What all three parties will come to realize is that they’re all drawn to the nefarious Snow Queen.

Aurelia Scheppers actually had a career prior to working Perez. She appeared in music videos from P!nk (‘Fuckin’ Perfect’) and Lifehouse (‘Halfway Gone’), and had guest roles in series as Lie to Me (2009), Bones (2009), The Young and the Restless (2012), and Switched at Birth (2014). Her highest-profile guest roles have been in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2015), GLOW (2017), and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2017). The same goes for Robert Amstler, and Raven Lexy. Amstler once played bit parts in A-list movies as Flightplan (2005) and The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), but now seems lost in low budget hell. Lexy from her side had bit parts in Entourage (2000), and Numb3rs (2008) and even starred alongside Jason Statham in Crank: High Voltage (2009). Like her colleague Irina Levadneva, Lexy appeared in only three Rene Perez features. The year before she was in Demon Hunter (2012), and the year after in The Dead the Damned and the Darkness (2014), which also featured Levadneva. Irina would make her final Perez appearance in his Little Red Riding Hood (2016).

Jenny Allford’s sole claim to fame is an uncredited part as one of the party chicks in Seth MacFarlane’s Ted (2012). From there she descended straight into the low budget hell known as TomCat Films. In that capacity she appeared in Captain Battle: Legacy War (2013), and Lizzie Borden's Revenge (2013). On both occassions she shared the screen with Marlene Mc'Cohen. In case of the latter that also meant that former porn star Veronica Ricci was on hand. You know that there’s trouble ahead when the porn star acts better than the alleged actresses, and the poster art is better than the movie. Not that that always is the case, mind, Ricci was pretty fucken abysmal in Mc'Cohen’s mockbuster Interstellar Wars (2016). Whether Allford’s lot has improved is entirely up for debate, but TomCat Films is a fate so awful that you wish it upon nobody. Well, it’s a step above Neil Breen, but we’re not sure how much that’s saying exactly.

As would sadly become obvious in the following years simple economics forced director Rene Perez to take quite a few liberties with the material he was adapting. All of which would be perfectly alright if actually served the story at hand. It doesn’t here. The Snow Queen desperately wants to be a fantastique, or the closest proxy to that. It isn’t. At best this could have been a loose remake of, say, Blood Of the Virgins (1967), Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971), Nude For Satan (1973), Seven Women For Satan (1973), Vampyres (1975), or even Huntress: Spirit Of the Night (1995) more than anything else. Most of the times it looks like an early Nightwish or Immortal music video, to be entirely frank.

Not that we begrudge Perez for attempting to do these adaptations when he has access to those scenic California woodlands, as well as Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley, and Castle Noz in San Joaquin Valley. It only speaks of ambition to attempt such a thing on the limited budgets he works on. Why attempt adapting a fairytale when a gothic horror throwback (with a gratuitous dose of blood and boobs) would have sufficed, or worked even better? Rene obviously has access to the locations, the babes, and the props/special effects to undertake such a venture. There’s no question that Rene can do much with what is obviously very little, but The Snow Queen is not that movie. Perez can, and would, do better in the years to come.

Plot: retired assassin is targeted for extermination

For the last twenty or so years Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (Death Angel in some regions) was the lowest that anybody thunk that Albert Pyun's once-glorious Nemesis franchise could fall. Gone were days of Hong Kong bullet ballet action, of robust desert action, and hell, even the science fiction aspect was becoming negligible or strenuous at best. The law of diminishing returns struck hard and swift on Albert Pyun's once stylish but surprisingly watchable Nemesis series. That Olivier Gruner didn't reprise the role that made him famous for the first sequel should have been plenty indication. Sue Price made the best of what little she was given. The blame for Nemesis taking a turn for the worse lies squarely with director-writer Albert Pyun.

Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (Nemesis 4 hereafter) abandons all pretense of even bothering with established continuity and has Pyun indulging some of the worst inclinations typical to trash directors under the double strain of non-existent budgets and compressed production schedules. Nemesis 4 was afforded a grand total of 5 production days while Pyun was engaged in re-shoots for Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996). Pyun was never a good writer to begin with, and even his best writing was marred by sketchy, paper-thin plotting and nearly non-existent characterization. Pyun, no cinematic wünderkind by any stretch of the imagination, usually is able to conjure up at least an interesting action set piece or two more than this unsightly monstrosity that supposedly is meant to give closure to the two or three, depending how you count them, Nemesis episodes. Fear not, however, as greater atrocities were yet to be visited upon the unsuspecting franchise.

Six years after the events of Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) a truce has been reached between the warring factions of the humans and cyborgs. With the war ending operatives from each side now work as mercenaries for private contractors. In some unnamed East-European city Alex Sinclair (Sue Price), who has shed her Raine surname and enhanced herself with cybernetic components, works as an assassin and is haunted by visions of a mysterious Woman In Black (Blanka Copikova). Hired to kill Carlos Jr. (Juro Rasla) Sinclair dons the disguise of an escort and completes her contract. When it is revealed that the hit was a setup to have her eliminated by her handler Bernardo (Andrew Divoff) Alex pieces together that her intended target is Earl Typhoon (Nicholas Guest). To get to him, and find those behind the conspiracy to disgrace and sully her name, she sets her sights on Tokuda (Norbert Weisser) and finally Bernardo. Amidst this chaos she also has a run-in with Johnny Impact (Simon Poland), a descendant of Merle Kennedy’s Max Impact in the original, and vastly superior, Nemesis (1992).

That it would come to this should surprise no one as the prior two sequels offered some spectacular devolution in their own right. Nemesis 4 at long last returns the franchise to the bleak urban cityscapes of the original but without an ounce of coherence and style. The pyrotechnics and stuntwork are conspicuous only by their absence and what once passed for low-rent action has been reduced to a softcore skinflick with occasional bouts of action. Nemesis 4 is neither here nor there. Had it starred Melissa Moore, Samantha Phillips, Tina Cote, or Julie K. Smith than it least could have been passed off as a marginally tantalizing affair. Sue Price was an award-winning bodybuilder, and not some sex-crazed femme fatale. Nearly unrecognizable without her cornrows and military garb this is not the Alex Sinclair you remember. Hell, this is not even the Nemesis you might remember with some fondness. Nemesis 4 is reductionist to the point of writing itself out of existence.

It's telling enough that the only big names in much of the promo material are Sue Price and... Blanka Copikova. Copikova was a featured extra in Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) where she played the demanding role of "additional cop". Sue Price, of course, had been the series figurehead in Gruner's sorely felt absence and for her to have to sink this low is beyond forgiving. To have the burnt-out urban hellscapes of Vukovar, Croatia and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina serve as the locales for something as drab as this begs the question why this was even deemed a good, or feasible, idea. Nemesis (1992) was a modest hit on home video and sequels were both expected and probably demanded, but not even a low-key action series as this deserved to be dragged through the mud quite the way it did. Pyun and his cohorts clearly dropped the ball on this one, and it shows. Does it ever show. For a primarily style-driven director as Albert Pyun this one distinctly lacks in showmanship and, well, basic style and decent cinematography even.

To have Nemesis, once a mildly promising franchise that went off to a surprisingly solid initial outing, reduced to this waste of celluloid is in itself not surprising. The two prior sequels at least hinted at such a devolution, but nothing quite pointed at a regression this dire. That Pyun went from a stylish John Woo heroic bloodshed imitation, through two sequels worth of cheap post-apocalyptic Mad Max (1979) knockoffs, to this unconscionably horrid waste of celluloid is frankly unforgivable. Pyun made better movies, often on the same limited budgets and timetables, than this. Were it not for the technical polish and reasonable cinematography Nemesis 4 could easily be mistaken for any late night skinflick. If it wasn’t for the dystopian science-fiction background, and the insistence of being a sequel to an established franchise, Nemesis 4 has little to differentiate itself from anything you could find on Skinemax or late-night softcore erotic trash.