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’s horror column is all about the ladies. I’ve chosen some fright flicks with female themes for this week’s horror helping. Some delve into serious issues regarding the feminist movement, while others are just girly fun. But before get in touch with our feminine sides, I have a few horror tidbits to share…
Tonight (Friday December 3rd) the Portage Theater at 4050 N Milwaukee Ave in my town of residence Chicago, IL will be hosting TERROR IN THE AISLES 7; a triple movie marathon featuring Romero’s original DAY OF THE DEAD (8pm, with special guest stars Lori Cardille & Gary Clar in person), the Midwest Premiere of BLACK DEATH (10pm) with Sean Bean, and Canadian exploitation horror film IF A TREE FALLS premieres with cast and director present at midnight. The doors open at 7:00pm and it’s only 10 bucks for advance tickets ($12 at the door)!!! I’m going to be checking out this mini-marathon tonight. If you’re in Chicago and love horror, you should too! Find out more about this event here!
I reviewed FEEDING GROUND (a damn fine werewolf book) in last week’s Indie Jones!
Optimous Douche reviewed VICTORIAN UNDEAD: SHERLOCK HOLMES VS ZOMBIES & SHERLOCK HOLMES VS VAMPIRES here!
Mr. Pasty was kind enough to give my own THE DEATHSPORT GAMES a positive review here!
Be sure to check out these horror comics reviews from AICN COMICS!
Don’t get your panties in a bunch, the girls gone horror column starts now!
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Anthony Hinds
Starring Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Robert Morris, & Thorley Walters
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m embarrassed to say that I had never seen FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN until recently. Although I try to get my Hammer on on a regular basis, this movie has eluded me through the years. I guess if it’s Hammer and Peter Cushing and it didn’t co-star Christopher Lee, I wasn’t too interested. But since I was putting together a woman-centric column for the ladies, I decided to check this one out and I’m so glad I did.
Though there is no neck bolt brandishing, stitched up zombie lumbering about, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is a pretty fantastic film and much like James Whale’s classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, it can be viewed as a pretty bold statement on both a metaphysical level as well as a statement about women at the time. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN revolves around a great plot of revenge as Hans, a peasant lad, and Christina, the scarred daughter of an innkeeper, share a romance, but it is short lived as Hans (played tough by not so tough looking Robert Morris who sports a fancy scarf that all the kids were wearing in the sixties) is framed for the innkeeper’s murder. After he is beheaded in a scene that mirrors an earlier scene where Hans witnesses his own father’s beheading, Christina commits suicide. Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments have shifted from reanimating the dead to focusing on the soul. Frankenstein notices that his experiments in the past have failed because he hadn’t taken the soul into account. With the two young lovers’ deaths occurring so recently, Frankenstein gets to grave robbing again and tries to bring back the both of them in one body using Christina’s body and Hans’ soul. Of course, shit goes wrong.
This shift from body to soul as the focus for Frankenstein is a nice evolution of the character. Peter Cushing reprises his role as Dr. Frankenstein in this fourth installment of the Hammer FRANKENSTEIN films. Whereas THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN stuck way too close to the Universal film for my tastes (even though it did have Christopher Lee as the Monster) and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN lingered around the same themes at the original as well, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN took Frankenstein’s interests into a natural evolution, having him acknowledge his mistakes of the past and try to improve on them. Cushing, as always, is superb, utilizing the bawdy and oblivious Thorley Walters as his lab assistant Dr. Hurtz to maximum effect as both a comedic break in tension and able bodied henchman. Hurtz is a fun addition to the cast (he appears as a different character in the follow up, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, as well). Walters plays a drunk, but someone who also knows his science, and though he rarely understands what Frankenstein is ordering him to do, he is more than willing to be the doctor’s hands since Frankenstein’s hands were rendered useless in the previous Hammer entry. Frankenstein makes his entrance in a nicely played scene where he is frozen and declared dead for an hour in an ice cabinet (a la FLATLINERS, one of Schumacher’s more digestible films), then brought back to life in order to see how long a soul remains in the body. Even without the heavy-footed monster, Cushing makes every frame worthwhile as the doctor dedicated to solving life’s riddles.
When Frankenstein and Hurtz bring Christina back to life, they also turn her from a shrewish looking brunette next door into a blonde bombshell. Susan Denberg was a Playboy Playmate and even when she’s supposed to be a scarred plain girl, she’s gorgeous. At the time, Playboy was busy showing the world what beauty was all about. In the framework of this film, set in the 19th Century, Frankenstein not only improves Christine by healing her scarred face, but makes her a blonde as well. Frankenstein acts as a Gothic Hugh Hefner, remaking women to be the perfect specimen while trying retain some kind of inner beauty as well, in this case a soul. The stories of the Playmates and their transformation from girl next door to centerfold are legendary. This film’s “monster” reflects the soullessness that one often sees in the pictorials of plastic surgery-heavy, bleached bombshells that frolic in the grotto.
It’s also worthy to note that Frankenstein doesn’t save Christina’s soul, but that of Hans. Maybe this signifies Frankenstein’s misunderstanding of women in that he places a man’s soul into a woman’s body. Anyone who has seen Rob Schneider’s THE HOT CHICK knows that a man in a woman’s body brings nothing but trouble. Where that film went for laughs (and failed), this one goes for the horror as Christina inherits Hans’ thirst for revenge and seeks out the actual killers of the innkeeper for bloody retribution. Christina uses her feminine wiles in order to lure the men close to her, then in true Hammer fashion, disposes of them in a bright red bloody manner. To add to the creep factor, Christina has stolen the head of her lover, Hans, chatting with it and carrying it around in a hat box.
Though this isn’t my favorite Hammer Frankenstein film, it is one of the most original. I loved the kooky science Frankenstein performs (freezing himself in a cryo-crypt, making an indestructible wine glass, transferring minds and souls from one corpse to the next). The science may not be that realistic, but when his work is dubbed magic by his assistant Hurtz, Cushing wryly replies “magic is simply science unexplained.” FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is an amazing film on many levels: as a commentary on women, on a metaphysical level, and most importantly, as pure entertainment.
THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975)Directed by Bryan Forbes
Written by William Goldman from a novel by Ira Levin
Starring Katherine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson, & Tina Louise
Retro-review by Ambush Bug
I love horror films as social commentary. Horror is such a great genre to explore some of the juiciest issues and because it’s horror, it can do so in the goriest, grittiest, and sometimes the most real and terrifying manner possible. In 1975 the Feminist movement was well underway. The image of June Cleaver in the kitchen cooking and cleaning may be something to be scoffed at by modern woman, but in 1975, it was still an image folks found all too familiar. Change takes time and some folks fight it tooth and nail. That’s what THE STEPFORD WIVES is all about.
THE STEPFORD WIVES, like ROSEMARY’S BABY (which was written by the same author), is a horror story where the true terror lies in the power of paranoia. And like ROSEMARY’S BABY (which is one of my favorite horror films of all time), it is an effective horror film reflecting its time, not because of the copious amounts of blood and guts spilled, not because of the torture or maiming depicted, not because of elaborate CGI or make-up effects. There’s none of that in this film. THE STEPFORD WIVES is scary as hell because it deals with a real issue (man’s difficulty with a woman’s rise of power) in a manner that isn’t too far from the norm (a secret men’s club conspire to turn their liberated wives into subservient house fraus). Sure robot wives sounds kooky, but director Bryan Forbes plays the sci fi on the low here and instead focuses on making this into a bleak descent into madness. But really, in this day and age when a love doll can be purchased for a couple of hundred dollars (not that I would know, of course…ahem…), it doesn’t sound like a plot that is all too “out there.” Like ROSEMARY’S BABY, Ross’ character finds the world around her shrinking as those against her start stacking up. Even the shrink she goes to is somewhat cold and dismissive (there’s a part of me that thought for a while that the shrink was in on the conspiracy as well and that she was actually a HE in drag, but the movie never goes there). THE STEPFORD WIVES is one of those films that makes you look over your shoulder thinking that those feelings one often gets that the world is out to get them may, in fact, be more on the money than one would hope.
THE STEPFORD WIVES is acted perfectly with standout performances by Ross and Paula Prentiss. And yes, that is Tina (Ginger from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND) Louise as a sassy gold-digger who gets converted into a robot early on in the film. The men here are portrayed as lecherous and evil. Ross’ husband Walter isn’t even in her league; in fact, none of the men in this film’s wives match up, and that’s the point. The President of the Men’s Club, Dale Coba, (played by Patrick O’Neal, who later in his career pops up in THE STUFF and UNDER SEIGE) even says in his villainous monologue at the end, “They’re perfect. They will love us even after our skin gets saggy and we grow old.” Eww. Pretty creepy stuff. Director Forbes fills the film with creepy lines like this reflecting the horrors of subservience and chauvinism.
So what does THE STEPFORD WIVES say? Well, I won’t ruin the ending, but it is a horror film, so you can guess it doesn’t turn out well. I will say that our liberated damsel puts up a good fight to not become a brain dead love toy for her middle aged businessman husband. The horror here is at an extreme but the reason why this is a powerful film is that it is something everyone can relate to. No one wants to be a mindless slave. Everyone at one point or another has felt that way though—helpless, worthless, as if your opinion doesn’t count. And THE STEPFORD WIVES plays on those feelings masterfully. Films like this are great because they inspire debate and take stands on issues that affect you and me. Sure it’s freaky when one of the wives gets hit on the head and she starts repeating herself like a stuck record, but the real terror lies in the cards being stacked against one woman standing up for herself. This is cerebral and political horror,and there’s not enough of it out there. With the inundation of brainless horror in theaters these days, it’s nice to know that you can return to some classics to show that just because it’s horror doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down. THE STEPFORD WIVES is the perfect example of brains and brawn when it comes to scares.
WOMEN’S STUDIES (2009)Directed by Lonnie Martin
Written by Lonnie Martin
Starring Cindy Marie Martin, James A. Radack, Laura Bloechl, Melisa Breiner-Sanders, Judith O’Dea, & Tara Garwood
Retro-review by Ambush Bug
WOMENS' STUDIES can be seen as the Bizzaro-World version of THE STEPFORD WIVES (one of the characters even says so in the film), though it tries to communicate a lot of the same messages. Instead of a bunch of male chauvinists trying to deprogram strong willed women, it's militant feminists trying to fight back against male oppression. In the end, it's got one of the sexes trying to dominate the other, so pairing them up in this column was a no brainer. Though WOMEN'S STUDIES is a low budget horror film, it definitely has enough good things to make it worth your while if you're into horror with a bit more of an intellectual slant.
I found the longer I sat with WOMENS' STUDIES the more I liked it. At times, the budgetary limitations are obvious with the lack of extras, some choppy sound here and there, and some fundamentally basic cinematography, but the ideas behind the film made the whole thing entertaining. A quartet of friends find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere. The group consists of three women and one of their boyfriends. Stranded at a diner, the quartet meet a pair of Lilith Fair attendees whose conversations about the domination of the fairer sex grows more agitated as their night goes on. Contemplating breaking up with her boyfriend, Mary (Cindy Marie Martin) finds the conversation fascinating. Her boyfriend Zack (James A. Radack) obviously doesn't and neither does her best friend, Beth (Melisa Breiner-Sanders), while the innocent misfit Iris (Laura Bloechl) stares wide-eyed absorbing it all in. Soon the crew is invited back to a secluded women's college where there are no boys allowed and the student body tend to meet in the nearby woods for fun college stuff like rituals worshipping the Earth Goddess involving human sacrifice and the like. You know, girl stuff.
Of course, not all is pillow fights and painting toenails at this all girls’ school. Those who are interested in joining the order of feminists are welcomed with open arms, but if you don't or if you've got some junk betwixt your legs, you may just end up with the wrong end of a dagger sliding across your throat. WOMENS' STUDIES is most effective in the scenes where the women go wild and enact vengeance on men. There's a really effective scene where one of the feminists is giving birth to a boy, while a group of other feminists attack Iris' home where she was raped as a child. The cross cutting between these two locales was intense and well played. Although shot cheaply, the editing here is sharp, maximizing the tension.
Though some of the rhetoric these feminists are spouting may not be altogether original, it does adhere to the ultra-feminist philosophy. In the final reels, it gets really creepy as the mastermind behind the entire group is revealed. The dialog here is pretty strong as are the visuals of zombified man-servants serving hors d'oeuvres and licking up spilled wine. I found myself wishing they would have gotten to this point sooner, though, because these horrific scenes were definitely the horror highlight of the film. Seeing knife-toting she-warriors slice and dice men into ribbons is cool, but the blank stares of the man-servants are what really stuck with me when this one was over.
Though not superbly acted, the actors do a decent job in WOMENS' STUDIES and the ladies are definitely not your typical feminists I've seen. Most were very attractive which makes for some easy viewing. WOMENS' STUDIES true power is in the ingenuity of its ideas and its gentle tweaking of the feminist ideal. Writer/director Lonnie Martin did a good job of twisting the feminist idea ever so slightly to make the believers into true movie monsters.
VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009)AKA KYUKETSU SHOJO TAI SHOJO FURANKEN
Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura & Naoyuki Tomomatsu
Written by Naoyuki Tomomatsu (screenplay), Shungiku Uchida (manga)
Starring Yukie Kawamura, Takumi Saito, & Eri Otoguro
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though it may not be as bold a statement in feminism as some of our other films featured in this column, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL is a pretty damn cool way to round out our horror of the feminine kind column. Adapted from the popular manga, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL is a horror action comedy that works amazingly well. The effects shots in this one round out to about 350, and each and every one of them are equal parts fantastically gory and undeniably fun.
The story of VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL is pretty simple: boy meets girl, girl turns out to be a vampire, boy’s ex-girlfriend is turned into a Frankenstein monster, ex-girlfriend and girl fight over boy. It’s the multitude and creativity of the effects used that truly makes this one special. There are so many scenes in this film that are truly original. The opening fight sequence pitting Monami the Vampire Girl against three patchwork females sets the tone that this movie isn’t going for complexity of plot; it’s going for splatter awards. Faces are ripped from skulls, knives are made from blood, and of course, gory kung fu! There are things that go on in this film effects-wise that will be aped and copied in American rip-offs for years. This is gore taken to an EVIL DEAD level and I loved every bloody drop of it.
Though VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL is a lot of fun, it occasionally gets too full of itself and becomes a bit too referential for its own good. There’s a mad science teacher who poses as a vice principal in Vampire Girl’s school. He’s obviously an archetype of Dr. Frankenstein. Why do I know this? Because he comes right out and says it. The scenes with this over the top mad scientist are by far the lamest and threaten to make the entire movie cheesy. It detracts from the real humor involving all of the fun gore and turns the film into a kind of lame WE ARE THE SPARTANS style parody. Luckily, the narrative darts from one scene to another with such a rapid pace that the scenes with this doctor never bring the film’s quality down too much.
VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL also threatens to set back Japanese/African American relations about a thousand or so years by brandishing a subplot involving ganguros, Japanese women in blackface. Basically, they are the equivalent of the suburban American wannabe white kids who talk ebonics taken to an offensively farcical level (see Seth Green in CAN’T HARDLY WAIT or pretty much any Jamie Kennedy film for reference), but of course, these girls go extra racist by wearing big afros, sporting sweat suits Run DMC would be ashamed of, and flapping inflated and plate lip make-up that you haven’t seen on screen since those racist Loony Tunes cartoons were banned. I swear to god, one of them is carrying a spear. These scenes prove to be some of the most uncomfortable ones of VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL and again threaten to toss the film completely off course.
But despite the annoying performance of the mad doctor and the racist ganguros, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL is a pretty fantastic work of gore cinema. Blood flows by the barrel in this film. Vampire-bitten necks spray high into the air. Murder weapons splatter gore all over murderers creating crime scenes that would make Dexter drool. All forms of body parts are used as weapons (Frankenstein Girl screws her arm on top of her head and spins it like a propeller and flies, while Igor uses an extended ribcage and spine as a Jet Li style roped blade). There’s even a tasteless cutter competition where depressed students compete to see who can slice their wrists the most effectively plopped into the middle of the story for no real good reason other than to use about fifty more buckets of blood.
As I’ve said quite a few times in this review, this is a gore film. Plot is secondary and things making sense…well, that’s a concept thrown out the window. There are numerous scenes where our lovestruck teens are lamenting their undying love to one another on a rooftop, then there’s an extended cut to another subplot for about five minutes, then there’s a cut back to rooftop and the kids continue their conversation. Sure this is a bit jarring, but because the interrupting scene was so fun, I found myself forgiving the film for it.
It’s so hard these days to make something truly original and fun, but despite its faults, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSEIN GIRL is nothing short of fantastic. The final fight between these two tiny titanesses atop the Eiffel Tower is the stuff of legend, as is the battle between the mad doctor’s reanimated lab assistant and Vampire Girl’s bone armor-wearing assistant Igor. VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL is a cinematic gore-de-force that must be seen. Plot-wise, the film comes up somewhat lacking, but VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL makes up for it with blood, guts, and creativity with said grue.
And finally, my pal Matt (GODKILLER) Pizzolo and his production company Halo-8 are bringing you a new illustrated film from the cracked mind of artist / writer Ben (30 DAYS OF NIGHT, WORMWOOD - GENTLEMAN CORPSE) Templesmith called BLACK SKY. The project is described as BAND OF BROTHERS vs. alien squid. I’ve had a chance to talk a lot with Matt and Ben about BLACK SKY over the last year or so and with every conversation, I anticipate seeing this illustrated film a little more. Check out the tentacle filled preview below to see what I mean…
See ya, next week, folks!
Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns on AICN Horror’s Facebook page!
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, and #4 (in September Previews Order #SEP 100860, in stores in November 2010! Check out THE DEATHSPORT GAMES Facebook Page!).