Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. Look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
This week we take a look at two low budget thrillers worth a million bucks. But before we do that, I have a couple of horror related tidbits for you.
Though I’m not the biggest fan of the SAW films, the successful horror movie franchise is a powerhouse in the horror world. Mullholland Books website ran a pretty fascinating piece from SAW writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan on the Culture of Scary Movies and Writing the Saw series. With SAW 3-D being the number one film this last Halloween weekend, it’s interesting to read what these guys’ take on horror is. Follow the link here to read this piece.
Finally, I reviewed BELA LUGOSI’S TALES FROM THE GRAVE #1 in this week’s AICN COMICS REVIEWS Indie Jones section and it’s a comic you horror-fiends may want to check out. The book was released from Monsterverse this week. You can read my full review of this fantastic horror anthology starring everyone’s favorite classic vampire written and drawn by some extremely talented folks by clicking here.
And now on with the cheaply made, but not cheaply looking horror…
Today on AICN HORROR
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Written / Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring Scoot McNairy & Whitney Able
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Much of the attention given to this film has to do with the miniscule budget the maker of this film used to make it. It is an achievement that Gareth Edwards was able to make MONSTERS for the rumored 15K, but more so it’s a testament to the advancement of technology available today for pretty much anyone with a camera and a story to tell. I discussed this with a friend of mine recently, though, that because of successes of low budget horror like this film, it gives inspiration to wannabe filmmakers with a few thou to spare to think their low fi schlocker is worthwhile just because it was shot on the cheap. This means there’s going to be a hell of a lot of shitty new films out there for all of us to sort through, but also it means that every now and then a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY or a BLAIR WITCH or in this case a MONSTERS rises to the surface.
But enough about the budget, it was cheap to make. Groovy. Is it worth seeing?
Yes, it is. Gareth Edwards is a true talent, not only because he’s frugal, but because he’s crafted a beautifully shot story of a pair of twenty-sometings trying to make their way through an infected zone inhabited with creatures from outer space in order to get home. The story is simple, it’s a simple quest to get home. So Edwards doesn’t have to linger on trying to over-explain things. If anything, aside from a few words at the beginning talking about a fallen satellite and an alien virus, Edwards uses the threat of the creatures as a backdrop and chooses to focus on a more important story, which in this case is how two people are falling in love with one another.
I know it sounds sappy, but this is more of a romantic adventure than anything else. Two heroes, one a pampered rich girl (played by the nummy Whitney Able) and the other a gritty photographer (played by Scoot McNairy), are an unlikely couple that would have never met if not for the fact that they have to make it through a dangerous territory to get home. This couple is extremely likable, though. Able is not a snotty rich girl that you don’t like. She’s more of a lost soul. McNairy’s photographer character is kind of an @$$Hole, but shows a more delicate side as well. In the end, because these two people are so likable, you end up hoping the monsters don’t get them (which is something I can’t say for 97% of most other big budget horror films these days). Take CLOVERFIELD for example. I wanted those @$$clowns to get stomped in the end and cheered when they did. Here, every time the jungle goes dark, I felt a sense of urgency because these two people I had grown to like were in danger.
Comparisons to CLOVERFIELD and DISTRICT 9 are being thrown out all over the place when talking about this film and I can see where someone would do that. There are giant monsters in the background a la CLOVERFIELD. But if I had to compare this to any film, it would be more like LOST IN TRANSLATION in that, as that film served as a travelogue of all of the sights and sounds of Tokyo, this film does the same for the beautiful landscapes and culture of Central America. Director Edwards does a fantastic job of shutting his characters the fuck up and letting the world happen around them. As a result, you feel enmeshed in this film. You’re there in the jungle. Among the ruins. Floating through the rivers. Though this might not have been the intention, after watching this film, it made me want to travel to Central America to take in these beautiful sights. The more I think of it, right down to the last scene, the similarities to LOST IN TRANSLATION are pretty shocking. Edwards has made a totally different movie, but if you go into this film, I dare you not to see some of the similarities especially in the end.
If you’ve been paying attention to this review, you’ll see that I didn’t gush over the blood and guts or the alien design or anything like that. This isn’t that movie. In fact, aside from the monsters being the backdrop of this film, I would hesitate to call this a horror film, despite the title. It is a superbly looking, superbly acted, superbly directed film, but those of you looking for space battles, chest bursting aliens, and over the top gore are going to be disappointed. But I would much rather see this type of film because it’s a wonderful change of pace for the genre. The creature designs are impressive, though at times, I found myself straining to see some of it due to the amount of darkness, but again, the tentacled-beasties aren’t the point here.
Some of the best horror films out there aren’t horror films at all. Here, the monsters are just as much set-pieces as the jungle and burned out buildings. What makes MONSTERS so good is that it has characters you care about and it makes you cringe when they are put in peril. MONSTERS is definitely worth checking out in theaters, if and when they stop taking up theater-space with pap like SAW, that is.
SLICES OF LIFE (2010)
Directed by Anthony G. Sumner
Written by Anthony G. Sumner, Eric Richter, & Alan Rowe Kelly
Starring Kaylee Williams, Jack Guasta, & Toya Turner
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Low budget horror is tough to review. But as the above review of MONSTERS proves, just because something doesn’t rack in at a jillion million dollars, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth viewing. Looking back at some of my favorite horror films (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, for instance, which makes a cameo in this film), the horror came from the creativity of the filmmakers not the budget and if the talent is there, it doesn’t matter what style of camera was used or what the cost clocked in as. I’ve seen a ton of low budget horror of varying qualities and I will be the first to admit that a lot of horror is crap. But just because it’s a cheaply made film, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good. Take SLICES OF LIFE for instance.
SLICES OF LIFE is an anthology (which is a subgenre of horror I can’t get enough of), and as with most anthologies, some of the short stories are better than others. I have my favorite, but honestly, all of the shorts brought to life by these filmmakers are damn good and full of scares.
The first short, called “W.O.R.M.” follows a nebbish computer nerd who dreams of greatness. As with many folks at the bottom of the totem pole in the business world, our nerd has a unique perspective of the company he works for which is trying to develop new modes of interactive technology. This short has a Cronenberg-feel as a virus spreads via email turning the users into the walking dead. There’s an especially creepy sequence where our nerd has computer sex with another woman online and the keyboard and mouse turn into fleshy, sexual instruments. Early Cronenberg classics such as RABID, and VIDEODROME come to mind as obvious inspiration for this first bit. I’m all for new ways for the zombie plague to get around. Using the internet to spread the virus is something fun. Although using modern technology as a means to spread a virus has been done elsewhere (Stephen King’s CELL comes to mind), this short was a great way to lead off the film and lets one know that they’re in for a fun and gory ride.
Up next is “Amber Alert” which opens with a really chilling sequence involving a child abduction. The scene is well shot and amps up the tension but good in this story full of themes of the fear of children and the horrors of parenthood (themes also seen in the Cronenberg classic THE BROOD). The effects in this episode are especially chilling, as a pregnant woman is terrorized by visions of a ghostly little girl. This one was probably the scariest of the bunch, even though the ending is a bit predictable.
”Pink Snapper” is the next little goodie, a gory thriller that may have a few too many coincidences for my liking, but these types of things happen in stories like this. This story of a couple on the run after killing a cop. The couple stumbles across a home of what looks to be a serial killer, but nothing is what it seems in this one. Out of all of the shorts in this film, this has the best acting, and by far, the hottest cast for that matter (Daneen Melody and Judith Lesser both give pretty fantastic and sultry performances and even look good covered in blood, ai chi wha whaaa!). But when the red stuff starts splattering in this one, it doesn’t stop. Hell, after watching this little twist on ALIEN, TEETH, and another Cronenberg classic SHIVERS, I felt I had to take a shower to wash away all of that blood.
As with all of the best anthologies, this one is tied together with a story that plays out in the final moments. In SLICES OF LIFE, it’s tied together with a Barker-esque BOOKS OF BLOOD style story entitled “Sketcher” about a chick that wakes up with partial amnesia and keeps finding books made of flesh and blood. These creepy mid-segments are made creepier when older actress Helene Alter-Dyche steals the show as she throat-ily moans out sad songs and sips martinis in a nightgown and curlers. The actress adds a ick-factor that is pretty amazing.
Though a fair share of the folks in this film seem like non-actors or friends of the filmmakers (apart from the “Pink Snapper” sequence, that is), this film delivers on every other level. Even when some of the performances fall short, the filmmakers know how to make up for it by inducing scares and splattering bodily fluids around by the barrel-full. SLICES OF LIFE premiered at this year’s Horror Society Film Festival in Chicago at the Portage Theater and I hear the film got a standing O. Chicago being my base of operations, I was fully intending on going, but I busted my ankle up pretty good and ended up on crutches and vicodin for Halloween, so I missed it. Too bad. I would have been right there among the standing had I been there. I’m glad I had a chance to check out SLICES OF LIFE though. It’s a fun and gory anthology full of things that turn the stomach and tingle the spine.
More often than not, the more zeros in the budget equals the less actual frights. I’d much rather see my horror low budget and high in the fright factor than vice versa. MONSTERS and this film, SLICES OF LIFE give new meaning to the words “cheap thrills”. I hope to see more horror films like them.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the titles for purchasing info)! MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 & MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1. VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1 and #2 (interview, interview, preview, & review). VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL (preview, review). NANNY & HANK miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4(interview, interview, interview, preview, & review, Check out the NANNY & HANK Facebook Page!). Zenescope’s upcoming WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010. THE DEATHSPORT GAMES miniseries #1, #2, #3 #3, and #4 (in September Previews Order #SEP 100860, in stores in November 2010! Check out THE DEATHSPORT GAMES Facebook Page!).