CRY HAVOC is the fourth film to date to feature mad masked killer Havoc. It follows PLAYING WITH DOLLS, PLAYING WITH DOLLS: BLOODLUST and PLAYING WITH DOLLS: HAVOC. But don't worry if you're among the uninitiated, no prior experience is necessary.

On to the film ...

A pre-credits prologue opens with a young woman named Marla (Spring Ines Pena) waking from her slumber to find she's in the middle of the woods, and a fire is raging in nearby bushes. Worse still, there's a chain cuffed to her right wrist and when she follows it to find where it leads ... the other end is cuffed to the arm of a huge, masked brute. That brute is the criminally insane Havoc (J D Angstadt), renowned for resembling an oversized member of Slipknot and carrying the largest, nastiest-looking cleaver you've ever seen.

Havoc is apparently unconscious, so Marla fancies her chances of grappling the cuff keys from his open hand and freeing herself. Naturally he wakes at the most inopportune of moments, chases Marla, punches her in the face, pins her down and rips open her blouse to expose her bare breasts (a recurring motif in this film).

I should mention at this juncture that all of this is caught on cameras which are strategically placed around the woodlands. They're monitored in a control room not so far away by a bearded guy who rather openly calls himself The Voyeur (Richard Tyson).

To this end, The Voyeur owns this private compound in the California woods and it's here where his pet project - Havoc - is allowed to play uninterrupted by the outside world. Armed guards surrounding the place offer assurance of that.

But these guards know they're not allowed onto Havoc's territory, otherwise he's likely to kill them too. Which is exactly what happens when one of them accidentally saunters onto the scene where Havoc is seconds away from hacking Marla's breasts off with a pair of garden shears. She's able to flee when Havoc becomes distracted by obliterating the trespasser's skull.

Okay, how about some opening titles so we can all catch our breath?

Now we're into the film proper, and we meet ambitious young news reporter Ellen (Emily Sweet) who's just rolled up into a small town nearby to meet with the shady Wallace (Linda Bott). Their tryst is observed from across the street by two of Wallace's beefed-up henchmen. Also, on another corner, a lone pipe-smoking cop (Robert Bronzi) in 70s attire pays great attention as the two women furtively talk. He follows them as they get into Wallace's car and, along with her goons, make their way towards the woods.

Once they reach the opening of the woods, the car stops and Ellen is taken on foot to the perimeters of the private compound. She's there to interview The Voyeur, who's proud to have just been added to the FBI's Most Wanted list. But first, all electrical devices must be taken off her - Wallace doesn't want to run the risk of Ellen being in cahoots with the authorities, and leading them to their man. Our unnamed cop arrives and watches from behind a tree as Ellen's frisked and blindfolded, then taken to a red-hued cabin where she's to prepare for her interview.

By "prepare", I mean remove her bra and change into a skimpy childlike summer dress in order to satisfy The Voyeur's very specific tastes. Her subsequent interview with The Voyeur reveals him to be a master criminal of sorts who shoots snuff films in the belief that he is creating important pieces of art. He enjoys a steady stream of young female victims by luring wannabe actresses to his compound "studio" with promises of fame and fortune awaiting them. The star of his shows is, of course, Havoc - who slays the women without mercy (cue several blood-soaked "flashback" clips from the previous Havoc films). We learn that The Voyeur met Havoc when they shared a cell together during a spell in an asylum for the criminally insane. And, while The Voyeur may be a bit bonkers, he believes Havoc to be so batshit crazy that he carries a gun with him at all times, even sleeps with one under his pillow, because he knows Havoc will kill ANYONE given half a chance.

Well, by this point Ellen is satisfied that she has all she needs to fashion a decent article. She's ready to leave the compound but ... but ... that was never going to happen, was it?! Using the power of knockout gas, The Voyeur renders Ellen unconscious. When she next wakes she's in the woods and Havoc is busy tying her to a tree.

Don't forget our Charles Bronson-lookalike cop lurking in the trees close by though. Can he get past the armed guards and into the heart of the compound in order to save the day? And, if he does, what of his daughter Marla? Will there be anything left of her for him to save?

Writer-director-cinematographer-editor Rene Perez not only helmed the first three Havoc films that were mentioned at the start of this review, he also directed 2018's DEATH KISS, a rather cheeky revenge thriller that (a) borrowed liberally from DEATH WISH and (b) starred Bronson-doppelganger Bronzi in its lead role. So it makes a strange kind of sense that he would now merge the two together.

The results are ... I don't know. I want to say "extraordinary", but I'd hate for that expression to falsely raise any potential viewer's hopes. CRY HAVOC (you have to wait until the very end of the film to hear those words uttered - and yes, you get the full Shakespeare quote) is a mash-up of gory slasher, torture-porn, cheesy shootout action flick and general all-round low-budget goofiness which is definitely being played straight.

The Internet Movie Database has this film's budget as being $4 million and that just seems preposterous, given that the majority of the actors are not only challenged in terms of talent, but also appear to have been given only one take at delivering their lines. And while everything appears to have been shot on fairly high-spec HD cameras, there's still a terrible cheapness to many scenes - murky, greyish colour schemes and poor contrast don't help at all in this respect.

The external shots were lensed in the French Gulch district of California and I'm confident a good cinematographer could've mustered some attractive, or at the very least interesting, compositions. Not so here, the visuals are very sterile and uninvolving, almost as if we're watching a cheap music video for the most part. Or SEED 2. If you've seen that, you'll know what to expect aesthetically.

What action there is, is hilariously clumsy in its execution. When Bronzi runs you feel for the guy because he's clearly well past playing the action hero. And the shootouts? Oh my lord, they are fun in ways I'm sure were never intended. Whoever choreographed the fight scenes must've spent approximately four minutes on the shoot; the plot makes no sense at all, is all over the place in terms of momentum (the interview really slows everything down for too long) and ultimately amounts to meaning nothing at all.

And yet, the above shortcomings inadvertently result in CRY HAVOC being good fun. I laughed out loud several times (the topless victim fleeing from her would-be killer but seemingly more concerned about cupping her boobs than saving her life was hilarious; Bronzi's Bronson impression - even down to his vocal delivery, which is sometimes spot on, sometimes baffling - is an enjoyably bizarre/bizarrely enjoyable spectacle; The Voyeur hastily covering his mouth and nose with his jacket collar during the knockout gas scene simply has to be witnessed to appreciate how unintentionally hysterical it is).

Oliver Mueller provides the practical FX, with some additional assistance from the always wonderful Marcus Koch. The gore effects are indeed plentiful, varied and always extremely splashy. Some work better than others (at times the blood is too watery, or the latex flesh too unrealistic) and along the way we get dismemberment, disembowelment, toe-severing, face smashing, stabbings, shootings, axe violence ... be honest, that's why you came. Ignace Aleya's digital effects are less successful. There aren't too many thankfully, but they're really noticeable when they ... fail.

So, if you're looking for a truly odd hybrid of cop thriller, shootout action flick and gory slasher, with a stoic macho lead who looks the spit of Charles Bronson and a cast of women who all get topless at some point ... congratulations, you've hit pay-dirt. CRY HAVOC is your film.

CRY HAVOC is available to stream On Demand now, courtesy of Midnight Releasing. We were sent an online screener link for review purposes.

The film was presented uncut at 85 minutes and 55 seconds in length. It looked pretty cheap, dark and washed-out in terms of colour for the most part. The exterior scenes were so pin-sharp that they gave events a rather home video aesthetic at times. English audio was generally good, serving the risible dialogue perfectly well.

Support independent horror and rent CRY HAVOC online! Make sure you've got a few beers in when you watch it, and you may just find yourself recommending it to others - with several caveats, of course. And, who knows, if we all watch it, Perez may just bless us with a fifth Havoc film ...

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Midnight Releasing