Nikos the Impaler (aka Nikos) DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by Cinema Images Productions
Directed by Andreas Schnaas
Written by Ted Geoghegan (based on a story by Andreas Schnaas)
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 100 minutes, Not rated
Joseph Zaso as Frank Heller/Beryx
Felissa Rose as Sandra Kane
Andreas Schnaas as Nikos
German director Andreas Schnaas' first American film is a gorefest (as you might expect from the director of the Violent Shit movies) that gives a low-budget impression of what Friday the 13th Part XIII: Jason Takes Manhattan might have been if it were any good at all. In an interview included on the DVD, Schnaas calls his film "loud, fast, brutal and ... very funny." He's right on the mark: This film is a gorehound's delight.
The plot is simple, in the finest no-frills, cut-to-the-chase horror tradition: A centuries-dead barbarian madman is accidentally resurrected in modern New York, and kills everything that he gets his hands, sword and other things on, while a pair of history professors witness firsthand, then try to stop, his rampage.
Director Schnaas dons the mask of Romanian terror Nikos, a guy who allegedly makes the region's more famous impaler, Vlad, look like a wimp. Schnaas may not have 20 lines in the entire movie, but he's a big man who handles the role of lumbering, unstoppable killing machine with an obvious enthusiasm.
The rest of the actors are the usual "C movie" mixed bag. The finest actress is undoubtedly the horror favorite Felissa Rose (the child star of Sleepaway Camp), now all grown up and playing the leading lady, professor Sandra Kane, with solid looks, character strength and skill. She also gets to deliver the film's best laugh line. Leading man Joseph Zaso (who, as with any such movie, wears multiple hats, including line producer and American distributor) is handsome and a charismatic actor, if a touch hokey at times, as Kane's peer and love interest, professor Frank Heller.
Among the cannon fodder, the best are a trio of students who attend the ill-fated Romanian art exhibit that includes Nikos' mask. As Daisy, Brenda Abbandandolo has the unfortunate task of delivering most of the expository lines as the know-it-all student of Romanian history, but has the solid delivery to handle her role. Fun-loving Pete and Ryan are played by Joseph Michael Lagana and Joe Lattanzi (respectively) with enthusiasm and, despite somewhat flawed acting, they certainly make should-be-likable characters just that. However, the most telling statement on the acting in general is that veteran soft-core actress Darian Caine, on hand for the obligatory gratuitous nudity, provides some of the most polished acting in the film — and, fortunately, the best looks — in her very brief (read: clothed) dialogue scene.
But this is not a film about acting. This is a film about one thing: Blood.
And, despite obvious budget limitations, "Nikos" delivers. Special makeup effects are credited to Marcus Koch and Jesus Vega, and they deserve a nod. There may be some inconsistency in quality (some kills are obvious dummies, for instance), but in general, it's clear where the money went on this film: The blood and (in some cases, literally) guts.
To get an idea of what the effects crew had to come up with, quality shots include a torn-out heart, a sword to the mouth, a torn-off breast, one genuine impalement, multiple severed heads and cut throats (probably the weakest aspect, actually) and a cleaving reminiscent of the camper-split scene in Jason Goes to Hell. The list could go on and on, but why give everything away?
This is the place for a longer summary of the plot, but really, none is necessary. Suffice it to say Nikos kills a variety of unimportant people, in a variety of entertaining ways, in a variety of entertaining locations. These include a movie theater that features far, far too many pitches for other Schnaas films, a lesbian biker bar and a video store that includes cameos from Troma favorites Lloyd Kaufman and Debbie Rochon and yet another Schnaas-film pitch. (As you can guess, the film has plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments.) In fact, in the credits, the supporting cast is listed by where they appear on-screen (and, thus, die).
One questionable moment comes toward the end, when Nikos develops some magical powers (besides that whole back-from-the-dead thing) and conjures up, among others, Adolph Hitler. Some might question the judgment of a German director using Hitler in an unnecessary cameo, but in fairness, Schnaas admits the scene pokes fun at Germany's unfortunate past, and it is clearly played for laughs.
At least, unlike the mainstream movie it most resembles, Jason Takes Manhattan, Nikos actually was filmed in New York and Long Island.
Video and Audio:
The "anamorphic widescreen" label on the box suggests the makers of this independent film pulled out all the stops when it comes to quality, but unfortunately the reality is that the disc does not reflect their ambitious hopes.
The picture is not particularly impressive, though no doubt that at least in part reflects the quality of the source material. The colors are somewhat muted, the blacks muddy and the dark scenes grainy. And in the DVD format, there is noticeable digital noise and many of the flaws, particularly the grain, become even more pronounced. There is a general lack of sharpness throughout, and again, this is only compounded by the digital format.
Given the low-budget nature of the film, however, and the assumption that most of the budget was spent on the gore, this is almost an expected problem, and really not one that takes away from the enjoyment of the movie.
As with the "anamorphic" video, the promise of a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix shows both the filmmaker's ambitions and passion for the product. Again, however, the reality is less appealing, and in this case, the flaws grow from "too bad it didn't work out" to sheer disappointment.
First of all, the menu's top-billed Dolby 2.0 mix is a solid track with a mono feel, but solid front-oriented sound. The dialogue is generally clear and in good balance with the pounding metal music.
But the 5.1 mix is sheer frustration. It feels like nothing so much as the 2.0 mix spread evenly across the five speakers, 20 percent to each, without any surround effects. The end result is a muted "5.1 mono" feel that requires a higher volume setting to be heard at all and in no way resembles mainstream 5.1 mixes, particularly in the bass department.
There are German, English and Spanish subtitles.
Beyond the ample gore of the film, this is where the DVD really shines.
For many viewers, the major extra is an uncut version of Darian Caine's shower scene, clocking in at an impressive seven-plus minutes. It is inferior in production quality to the finished film version, but features all of that skin and more, with none of the pesky horror movie included to interrupt. The clip is every bit as gratuitous (and welcome) as it sounds, even though it does lock up the DVD at the end, thanks to some kind of production flaw.
There are, however, some truly impressive, more traditional extras. The first is an audio commentary, in English, featuring Schnaas and metal score composer (among other things) Marc Trinkhaus. Schnaas does 90 percent of the talking, and his German accent is not a burden. The commentary is consistent, with few dead spots, and it is clear Schnaas enjoyed making, and is proud of, his film. Though not the most insightful commentary out there, it contains its share of useful information, and is certainly a plus. One item of interest comes late, when Schnaas mentions the DVD version of the film has an extended ending of sorts.
There is also a nice 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, "Nikos: Behind the Screams," which features a very extensive look at the makeup and effects and some fun footage of the cast and crew, including several talking about their favorite horror movies, the portly Schnaas having his belly painted with dark makeup and Felissa Rose vamping for the camera.
Another great feature is a shorter "making-of" featurette by Schnaas' fellow German director Rainer Matsutani, covering the video store scene he acted in. This 11-minute clip is, regrettably, heavily pixellated and with a good chunk in unsubtitled German, but it offers a great behind-the-scenes look at two of the movie's better kills.
Also of note is a photo gallery/slideshow that changes action/effects and behind-the-scenes pictures every three or four seconds for almost 12 minutes, managing to be both interesting and interminable.
Among the other extras, Lloyd Kaufman offers a brief endorsement clip (as an aside, his name is misspelled in the menu, another of several minor, but annoying production errors) that features the Troma honcho's usual shtick. There is an interesting interview with Schnaas and Trinkhaus that covers more than just Nikos and a couple of short film clips from the premiere (regrettably without dialogue; maybe it was in German). An extensive soundtrack selection includes six tracks, one a long segment of the metal score, plus five of the songs featured in the film. There are also two music videos, including one that includes clips from another Schnaas film, Demonium. A short, German film, Kalte Tage, featuring Schnaas, also is included. Trailers for Nikos, as well as Schnaas' Goblet of Gore and Demonium, also are present.
Nikos the Impaler is a limited edition of 6,666, but without an Anchor Bay-style number, there's no way to tell if this is a rush-out-and-get disc as far as availability goes. (Zaso, the American distributor, indicated via e-mail the disc was selling well.)
|– It's tough to be fair to, and not overly critical of, a movie like this. By any reasonable standard, the film is cheap and cheesy. But the fact is, it's also gory, entertaining and fun. And in the low-budget horror world, that's what counts.
|– The Dolby 5.1 mix is a disaster, but the 2.0 is an acceptable alternative.
|– This is a quality package that puts many major mainstream discs to shame.
|– This is a fun film on a mediocre DVD, but, honestly, it's for the gorehounds, and any quality issues don't affect what they care about.
Nikos the Impaler is an earnest effort and an entertaining bloodbath that overcomes its plot and acting flaws with buckets and buckets of the red stuff. The DVD itself is somewhat of a disappointment in terms of picture and sound, but it passes the two tests of a low-budget indie disc: It's certainly better than VHS, and it has some nice special features.
(Reviewed in August 2003 on a Panasonic 27" TV with a Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player and Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers.)