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Plot: princess Aurora falls into a deep slumber. Can a warrior save the kingdom?

No doubt filmed in response to Casper van Dien’s Sleeping Beauty (2014) and shot on a budget that couldn’t possibly have extended beyond a few Twinkies, some Skittles, and whatever pocketchange was on hand among cast and crew; Rene Perez’ Sleeping Beauty elevates cosplaying, not of the advanced variety but rather the one on the wrong side of cheap, to an artform. The historical basis for Sleeping Beauty was the Brothers Grimm fairytale Little Briar Rose from 1812, which itself was a retelling of La Belle au bois dormant from Charles Perrault. That version of the story can be found in the Histories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals or Mother Goose Tales (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités or Contes de ma mère l'Oye) collection from 1697. Perrault in turn based his writings upon the earlier Italian fairytale Sun, Moon, and Talia by Giambattista Basile as written in his 1634 work, the Pentamerone. As with The Snow Queen (2013) before it his Sleeping Beauty also deviates quite a bit from the beloved fairytale from whence it came. Sleeping Beauty tries to overcompensate by having early Perez babes Jenny Allford, Gemma Donato, and Raven Lexy disrobe early and often. While it’s certainly superior to The Snow Queen (2013) that isn’t saying much at all.

In an arboreal kingdom princess Aurora (Jenny Allford) is en route to negiotiate a truce with evil witch Carbosse (Raven Lexy). A member of the Royal Guard (Haref Topete) tries to convince Aurora that she’s walking into a trap, but she presses on anyway. Having reached the witch’s castle she wanders the interiors for a while until she comes across an enchanted spindle. She’s drawn in, stings herself, and falls into a deep slumber. Once word gets back to the kingdom William (Robert Amstler), the brave Commander of the Guard, embarks on a perilous quest to vanquish Carbosse and awaken the princess. On his travel he saves displaced and desperate Elf seer Alondra (Gemma Donato, as Gemma Danoto) from an assault by a brute barbarian (Joseph Aviel). Alondra realizes that her magic is not strong enough and that they require the counsel and help of wise wizard Samrin (John J. Welsh, as John Welsh). Meanwhile Carbosse instructs her henchman Enkrail (David Reinprecht) to find a maiden (Heather Montanez) that looks like Aurora so she can lay a trap. As the fellowship travels across the kingdom they are beset by many dangers, and William faces off against the demonic Octulus (Robert S. Dixon). When they finally reach the witch’s castle, one final confrontation awaits. Will the magic of Alondra and Samrin, as well as William’s blade be enough to withstand the malefic Carbosse?

Sleeping Beauty dares answer the question that nobody asked: “what would Lord Of the Rings have been had it had bare tits?” Or what would Game Of Thrones (2011-2019) have looked like on a budget that couldn’t even cover Emilia Clarke’s wardrobe. It’s a painful example of what happens when you let ditzy California girls play Elfs, regal princesses, and evil sorceresses. There’s a point to be made that every girl wants to be a princess and Sleeping Beauty offers enough of a counterpoint that not every buxom blonde beach babe should given the keys to the kingdom. The cast consists of the usual stuntmen and models, and nobody can really act. There are different phases in Perez’ career, roughly divided into everything that came before Playing with Dolls (2015), and everything that came after. Little Red Riding Hood (2016) is an exception of sorts. While it features Alanna Forte in a non-speaking part, it looks as if it was shot before Playing with Dolls (2015), but only released after. It’s purely conjecture on our part, but Irina Levadneva is curiously absent. Levadneva was one of the early Perez muses, but she was never seen again once Rene started helming Playing with Dolls (2015), and its series of sequels, as were Gemma Donato, and Raven Lexy for that matter.

What little production value Sleeping Beauty has comes from location shooting at Castle Noz in San Joaquin Valley, and Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. If anything, even this early Perez knew how to frame a scene, and there are some truly idyllic landscapes from Redwood National Park, San Joaquin Valley, and Shasta County to be seen. The blue demon that imprisons Aurora in the castle sort of looks like the Jem'Hadar shock troops of the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999). As with The Snow Queen (2013) the year before Sleeping Beauty takes many liberties with the source material, and it never quite becomes the American fantastique it ought to have been. What it lacks in production value or good writing it makes up in ample amounts of exposed flesh with Allford, Donato, and Lexy each having extended nude scenes. The visual effects are somehow better than in the later Little Red Riding Hood (2016) and Sleeping Beauty is not nearly as prone to meandering atmospheric padding scenes that add nothing. Perez did better features before and after with both The Snow Queen (2013) and Sleeping Beauty being vastly superior to Little Red Riding Hood (2016). While we would have loved more Donato and Lexy in later features they, along with Irina Levadneva, were never seen again in the post-Playing with Dolls (2015) years.

Seeing Sleeping Beauty almost makes you wish Perez would do an American take on The Nude Vampire (1970), Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (1971), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Black Magic Rites (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), Seven Women For Satan (1976), or The Living Dead Girl (1982). In fact knowing Perez and his predilections he would be ideally suited to continue the cinematic legacy of Jean Rollin, Luigi Batzella, and Renato Polselli. If his later work is anything to go by he himself seems not interested in such a thing in the slightest. No, first and foremost Rene Perez is an action-oriented director who loves classic exploitation, something which Death Kiss (2018) and Cabal (2020) would amply evince years down the line, and atmospheric Eurocult inspired ditties aren’t his forté. He could probably lens a giallo if he ever found a decent writing partner and some high-end urban locations. Arrowstorm Entertainment does the entire indie fantasy thing way better than Perez ever could. As it stands Sleeping Beauty is one of the better early Perez features but it doesn’t and can’t hold a candle to the vastly superior and better realized Playing with Dolls (2015) and most that came after. Rene Perez has grown a lot in the year since and Sleeping Beauty is an example of his earlier rougher, more unrefined style.

Plot: archeology students unleash spirit of cursed mummy.

Isis Rising: Curse Of the Lady Mummy (hereafter Isis Rising) is probably the worst mummy movie this side of Dawn Of the Mummy (1981) and Paul Naschy’s veritably insane The Mummy’s Revenge (1975) (which at least had the good grace of having both Helga Liné and María Silva in its cast). Indo-American adult star Priya Anjali Rai headlines this genderswapped riff on Karl Freund’s classic Universal horror feature The Mummy (1932) (with Boris Karloff) along with fellow adult star James Bartholet and an array of regular TomCat Films warm bodies. Written, produced, and directed by platinum blonde one-woman-industry Lisa Palenica and filmed at Mesa Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona Isis Rising is fairly typical TomCat Films fodder that could have been a whole lot worse, but also a whole lot better. As a debut outing Isis Rising is none too shabby an effort and Palenica has enough potential as a filmmaker to carve out a decent career for herself if she ever lands a project with a good script and decent funding. We sincerely hope that Lisa Palenica will be able to exchange TomCat Films and The Asylum productions for greener pastures. Supposedly those that are artistically more fulfilling than this drab.

Everybody has to start somewhere. In case of director Lisa Palenica that was Isis Rising. Not only did she direct; she wrote, produced, and starred in it as well. The only other recognizable name is Priya Anjali Rai who both played the title role and served as an associate producer. In her solitary non-porn production Priya Rai hardly fares half as good as her colleague Veronica Ricci. It makes you wonder when the inevitable TomCat Films production with Xev Bellringer, Bella Brookz, or Kayla Kiss as the female lead is bound to turn up. Isis Rising is one part a contemporary take on The Mummy (1932) and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) with a dash of Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) and a resurrection spell straight ouf of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981). It’s the Osiris myth from the Pyramid Texts, a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts dating to the Old Kingdom, reimagined as a low-budget slasher horror with poster art that probably served better as a Nile or Septicflesh album cover. It’s one of the better TomCat Films production of recent memory, although that bar isn’t exactly high to begin with. Maybe TomCat Films is the new Troma, only time will tell…

In a time before time the glorious kingdom of ancient Egypt was ruled over by primeval god Osiris (Cameron Tevis) and his queen Isis (Priya Anjali Rai, as Priya Rai). His jealous brother Set (Wilman Vergara Jr.) has his sights set upon the throne and murders Osiris in cold blood to crown himself the new ruler of the kingdom. Isis’ attempts to resurrect Osiris with her ritual black magic come to naught when Set catches her in the act and scatters the remains of Osiris across the land. Isis vows to avenge the slaying of Osiris, the true monarch of Egypt, and that promises she and her king will rule over the land once more. In present day Egyptologist Dr. Nasir (Seth Gandrud) has been given the opportunity by curator Nancy Reginald (Judith Eisenberg) to catalog a cache of artifacts recently donated to the museum. To that end he has invited his good friend Professor Robert Shields (Randy Oppenheimer) and the current graduating archeology class – bookworm Amy (Aria Song, as Jing Song), stoner Jay (Michael C. Alvarez, as Michael Alvarez) and his girlfriend Felicia (Lisa Palenica), as well as airheaded jock Dustin (Joshua DuMond) and his girlfriend Serrena (Shellie Ulrich) - to assist him in that task. As Nasir and Amy study The Book of the Undead and set to translate the tablet containing The Lament of Isis, the others fool around in the basement and smoke an ancient herb used in Isis’ resurrection ceremonies. As Isis comes to life in her sarcophagus and vows to slay the descendants of her betrayers, the students one by one fall victim to the curse of the lady mummy…

It goes without saying that Isis Rising, even by the most forgiving slasher standards, is pretty damn tedious and aggravating. The screenplay jumps from one cliché plot contrivance to the next and not one stereotype is avoided. The “spam in a cabin” is the oldest of cheap horror archetypes and Isis Rising conforms to the worst conventions of its American variant. Palenica certainly has done an admirable job under what must have been far from optimal circumstances but that doesn’t remove how boorish Isis Rising is most of the time. There isn’t a whole lot to redeem what little value Isis Rising might have. The digital special effects work is tolerable but isn’t going to win anybody any prices, the cast is what charitably can be called a ragtag bunch of enthusiastic nobodies.

Aria Song and Lisa Palenica are, by far, the best among these assembled warm bodies. Aria Song and her TomCat colleague Ginny You definitely deserve something better than low-hanging cinematic fruit like this. Song and You could hold their own a Netflix, Hallmark, or LifeTime feature. That Veronica Ricci made to the jump to regular cinema is at least understandable as she could reasonably act a bit. Priya Rai on the other hand can’t and doesn’t. Perhaps with a different leading lady Isis Rising could have been something. This clearly isn’t it. Rai is a lot of things but a Valerie Leon, or Helga Liné she most definitely is not. Apparently what little budget there was was spent on bodypainting Rai’s oversized breasts rather than on important things like props, a good writer, or a decent cast.

What mostly kills Isis Rising is how unbelievably turgid and belabored it is. By the 2010s the American slasher had a history spanning three decades (with its European cousin pre-dating it by one or two more) and the mummy had been a staple at least since the old Universal Horrors in the 1930s. In other words, there was plenty of precendent and countless of avenues to take the material in. This has neither the production value of The Mummy’s Revenge (1975) nor the sheer gore of Dawn Of the Mummy (1981) and falls somewhere in that maligned shadowy region of nineties “horror” that was neither sexy nor scary. Obviously the budget was limited as Isis Rising is restricted to about one or two locations with very sparse special effects work. Most effects work is of the reviled digital variety as the budget probably didn’t allow for old fashioned practical – and prosthetic effects. All the usual low-budget criticisms apply: the cinematography from Webb Pickersgill is shoddy at best; nobody except Palenica, and Song can really act; the score is fairly typical of TomCat fodder. Short on both carnage and nudity (some versions optically fog out Raj’s exposed breasts) Isis Rising is horror for people who don’t watch horror. In her defense at least Lisa Palenica knows her horror classics. If only she could prove her directorial prowess with a decently funded production.

Most insulting perhaps is that Isis Rising could have been a halfway tolerable slasher had it been produced by anyone else than TomCat Films. Isis Rising is both torturously overwrought and horrendously undercooked at the same time. As such it is tediously predictable and predictably tedious. By the most forgiving and lowliest of slasher standards Isis Rising has both underwhelming kills and a severe lack of sleaze – and Rai’s massive mammaries alone hardly are enough to keep the viewers’ attention. In hindsight it’s understandable that Priya Rai chose to return to porn after Isis Rising as it’s even more difficult to make it as a mainstream actress (even in the margin and the dregs of Hollywood) than as an adult performer. More damning is that Isis Rising never comes around to fulfilling what little potential it had. A slasher is the easiest, most cost-effective horror subgenre known to man yet somehow Isis Rising manages to make a bodycount movie terminally uninteresting. The brunt of the blame shouldn’t be heaped upon Lisa Palenica. She made the best of what little she was given. The blame falls squarely on TomCat Films for this one. Not even The Asylum would be caught redhanded with dross like this. It makes you wonder what Palenica could do for Arrowstorm Entertainment – or what she could conjure up when paired with Rene Perez or Neil Johnson.