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 have kind of a hodgepodge of horror with films about starving artists, murderous butchers, cannibalistic sailors, and witch-fearing athletes. Though I didn’t set out to have a theme this week, it looks like most of these films are about one of my favorite themes, the descent into madness. The thing is, in horror films, though the central figure in the story is often thought of as nuts, there’s usually something horrifically real causing said descent.
But first, I have a few horror related comics you might be interested in from your favorite comic reviewers the @$$Holes at AICN COMICS…
Lyzard reviewed the horror noir RYDER ON THE STORM here!
Henry Higgins is My Homeboy loves the latest THE WALKING DEAD!
And I dug HACK/SLASH creator Tim Seeley’s THE OCCULTIST here!
Be sure to check out these horror comics reviews from AICN COMICS!
So let’s tumble down the rabbit hole and enjoy the shows…
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)
CANNIBAL MAN (1972)
LEFT BANK (2008)
And finally THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF MR. HOLLOW!
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Starring Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, and Julian Burton
Retro-review by Ambush Bug
If A BUCKET OF BLOOD proves anything, it seals the deal that hipsters were just as annoying fifty years ago as they are today. I don’t want to get all curmudgeony here, but there’s nothing more annoying than a wool cap wearing, bearded, dirty hipster sitting and drinking and pondering the heavier questions in life such as “why shower?”, “did Daddy deposit my check?” and “can I look MORE like a garden gnome?” But I digress. This isn’t about my personal peccadilloes against today’s culture, it’s about a beat poem serenade from the King of Low Budget Horror himself, Roger Corman.
A BUCKET OF BLOOD is somewhat of a statement about the vapidness of the Bohemian hipster generation of the fifties. Walter, a bumbling busboy in a coffee shop (played by the irreplaceable Dick Miller), dreams of becoming an artist while clearing off the tables of pompous art snobs. After being verbally beaten up by the clientele and his boss alike, the busboy returns home with 50 pounds of clay determined to become an artist. Soon, though, he realizes he doesn’t have a creative bone in his body--that is, until he accidentally kills his cat who is stuck in the wall (which immediately made me think of the episode of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILIDELPHIA when Sweet Dee’s cat gets caught in the wall and then I thought of Charlie’s Kitten Mittens and I giggled for quite a while.)
Digressing again. Sorry.
So Walter covers his dead cat in clay and tries to pass it off as art. And it works. The Beatniks eat it up and soon Walter is the toast of the town with an audience hungry for his next masterpiece. Though it happens accidentally (again), Walter kills an undercover cop and covers him in clay. Miller does a great job of playing the bumbling busboy turned attention-thirsty killer. His descent into madness is pretty seamless. Though blips in narrative occur frequently like the occasional musical number and poetry session, Corman moves the story along pretty swiftly and uses a lot of camera tricks to make up for the low budget (which is, of course, Corman’s specialty). In the end, the story plays out as a nicely gruesome morality yarn fallen on ears too deaf because they’re stuffed with coffee and beard hairs.
Ironically, A BUCKET OF BLOOD is pretty bloodless. There are a few decent kills and the tone is darkly funny. I think Corman’s commentary on how shallow the hipster culture is and how easily it can support and turn on an artist is pretty insightful. Corman’s stance on the subject is by far my favorite part of this film. If you’re like me and like seeing coffee shop lurkers meet a gruesome end, you’re probably going to enjoy this film. If you’re a hipster yourself, you might find A BUCKET OF BLOOD a little too close to home to watch. But all I have to say to that is, “TAKE A BATH!”
CANNIBAL MAN (1972)AKA LA SEMANA DEL ASESINO (WEEK OF THE KILLER), APARTMENT OF THE 13th FLOOR
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Written by Eloy de la Iglesia
Starring Vincente Parra, Emma Cohen, Eusebio Poncela
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though the title is misleading, that doesn’t mean that CANNIBAL MAN isn’t worth checking out. This story about one man’s descent into loneliness, despair, and murder is more like TAXI DRIVER than anything else. Much like TAXI DRIVER, too, the story does tend to be a bit ponderous and heavy handed. Though with that film you get an explosive finale as a payoff for all of the wait, in CANNIBAL MAN the murders happen throughout. But between the murders, there’s a whole lot of moping and staring off into the distance, which may prove to be more grueling than the worst gore for some. A bit or research showed that this film was promoted as a gore-fest as the company passed out barf bags with tickets to this one (probably due to the graphic depictions of cattle dismemberment in the slaughterhouse scenes). Though these scenes are a tad graphic, CANNIBAL MAN most definitely isn’t a gore film.
Marcos seems to have it all: a good job at the slaughterhouse, a pretty young girlfriend, and plans for the future. But when he accidentally kills a taxi driver, it sets off a series of events that destroy everything in his life. CANNIBAL MAN is pretty bloodless (despite scenes of a real slaughterhouse at the beginning of the film) with most of the murders happening quickly. Sitting through this one expecting extreme gore or pulse-racing action may prove to be a chore for some people, but folks who like drama along with their morbid themes may want to check this one out. The name of this film is a bit misleading. There’s no real cannibalism going on. Marcos hides his bodies in the meat packing plant, so rather than being a cannibal, he’s creating cannibals by mixing dead bodies in with the meat. Kind of a cool concept if it were explored, but this act of hiding the corpse is merely a means to move from one scene of Marcos moping to another.
There’s an interesting subplot about a man who obviously has feelings for Marcos who has been watching him the entire time during this descent. You’re not sure if he knows Marcos has been killing people, but he understands that he is a lonely outcast and identifies with that. He tries to offer Marcos help, but by the time he does, Marcos is too far gone. This is probably one of the more interesting parts of the film since it deals with homosexuality in a mature and non-stereotypical manner.
Yes, this is another slow descent into madness film with a man digging himself deeper and deeper into a hell of his own design. It’s one of those films that had the main character zigged instead of zagging at the very beginning things would have turned out drastically different. Though the pace is heavy, you do get a cool Italian smooth jazz score and some wicked 70’s style clothes and apartment decors. CANNIBAL MAN isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re looking for more meat and drama with your gruesome themes, you could do far worse.
ANTHROPOPHAGUS: THE GRIM REAPER (1980)AKA ANTHROPOPHAGUS: THE BEAST, THE ZOMBIE’S RAGE, MAN-EATER, & THE SAVAGE ISLAND
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Written by Joe D’Amato & George Eastman
Starring Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Serena Grandi, & George Eastman
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
ANTHROPOPHAGUS is known mainly for two scenes: the one where the killer pulls a baby from a woman’s belly and eats it and the scene depicted on the cover of the DVD where the killer is eating his own intestines. Now if the descriptions of those two scenes disgust you, press on, pilgrim.
Of course, you stuck around. This is a horror column, right?
Literally meaning a person who eats human flesh, ANTHROPOPHAGUS is not only the title of the film, but a descriptor of its star. Sure there is your usual gaggle of twenty-somethings here who stumble upon an island whose entire populace has been eaten by a giant cannibal, but it’s the monster that is all important here, right?
And what a monster it is! The best part of this film is George Eastman’s portrayal of Nikos Karamanlis, a man driven so crazy that he eats his own family while adrift at sea on a life raft. Eastman is an imposing figure. His first appearance in the film, shot from a worm’s eye view, makes him look like a rotting giant as he lumbers toward the camera after his victims. Though the film is quite cumbersome itself, every scene Eastman’s monster is in is pretty damn fantastic.
By now, fans of horror will know the motions ANTHROPOPHAGUS goes through. The story is not very original. Young adults on a boat land on a deserted island and are picked off one by one until it’s the giant invincible man-monster VS the most virginal female of the group in the final moments of the film. Then again, ANTHROPOPHAGUS was made in the late seventies, before this story was beaten to death by FRIDAY THE 13th and its million knock-offs. This is another slow starter, but once the monster appears, it really does quicken the heart rate. And not only does the monster look terrifying, his acts are equally horrific. The fetus eating scene (which was actually a skinned rabbit) is grueling to watch and the moment where the monster eats his own intestines is the stuff of the goriest nightmares and harkens back to Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Child” painting. I found out recently that this film was remade a few years ago. I haven’t seen that one, but the imagery of the original ANTHROPOPHAGUS will definitely stick with me for a long, long time.
LEFT BANK (2008)AKA LINKEROEVER
Directed by Pieter Van Hees
Written by Christophe Dirickx, Dimitri Karakatsanis, Pieter Van Hees
Starring Eline Kuppens, Mattias Schoenaerts, Sien Eggars
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Girls can go crazy too. Take LEFT BANK, for example.
Marie, a young athlete, suffers from an injury keeping her from competing in the Olympic tryouts. She immediately starts a relationship with a handsome young archer and rather quickly she moves in with him whereupon she finds out that the previous tenant in his apartment building disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Stuck in the apartment, Marie begins to investigate her disappearance, finding a lockbox with what looks to be research into the occult, a piece of paper with part of the name smeared out, and neighbors who know only bits and pieces of the girl. Now, had Marie seen ROSEMARY’S BABY, she may have beat feet out of the apartment in the Left Bank at Jump Street, but what kind of horror film would this be if she did that?
Though a bit slow, Belgium’s LEFT BANK is a pretty effective horror thriller set in the Left Bank riverside region of Antwerp. Director Pieter Van Hees takes his time introducing the audience to Marie, her roguish boyfriend Bobby, and setting up what would be a mystery--or maybe Marie’s just going a bit nuts. Had I not known this was a horror film, this might have been a bigger treat. But going into this with prior knowledge that this is a horror film, I think I started to become somewhat antsy as Marie slowly uncovers the truth.
Though I don’t want to spoil things, I’m sure you can guess that there’s something not right in the apartment building. Marie begins to have bad dreams filled with pretty heavy metaphors. Upon injuring her knee, weird coarse hairs start growing from Marie’s wound. And I think they may have added three or five too many scenes of Marie vomiting. Van Hees, though he may have been overly patient to bring forth the horror in LEFT BANK, does fill most of the film with a heavy sense of dread. A lot of that comes from Marie (played by Eline Kuppens), who looks a little bit like Liv Tyler in need of some Zoloft. She’s not the most chipper of actors, but the few times she does smile; turns out she is really appealing. Another rich character of the film is the Left Bank region. The gloomy beaches and parks, the stark and plain buildings, the dimly lit streets--all contributors to the palpable feeling of dread of LEFT BANK.
As I said before, LEFT BANK owes a lot to ROSEMARY’S BABY and even the original THE WICKER MAN. For a large portion of the film, Marie is the only one experiencing this case of paranoia as her life crumbles around her. Up to a point, it could go either way, but as soon as a black pit of nothingness appears in the basement and the former boyfriend of the missing girl shows up with new info, you pretty much know that even though everyone around her tells her she’s going bug nuts, something diabolical is happening.
But LEFT BANK is a pretty effective horror film once it gets going in the last half hour. Though it’s a bit of a slow starter, LEFT BANK ends with some of the more horrific and original climaxes I’ve seen in a while. From the twisted imagery of a meat-masked druid right down to a real life birth scene, Van Hees knows how to convey mood and terror like few I’ve seen from modern horror-meisters. To get to that point, though, you’ve got to be somewhat patient.
And finally, this was one of my favorite short films I saw at a film festival a few years ago. Totally creepy and gorgeous. Enjoy THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF MR. HOLLOW!
See ya, next week, folks!
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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)!
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