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.
How many shark films have you seen in your life that weren’t JAWS films? You can probably count them on one hand, I imagine. Seems with shark films, JAWS was kind of the end all be all when it comes to the subject. Anything else even attempting to tread those waters looks like a minnow in comparison. I kind of feel the same way about exorcism films. With THE RITE coming out this weekend, it’s hard not to bring up the godmother of all horror films THE EXORCIST when talking about exorcism/possession films. As well as reviewing THE RITE below, I dredged up a couple of other films about exorcism and possession that may not measure up to William Peter Blatty’s classic, but still ain’t half bad. But first we have a few things you might be interested in…
Though many of you also follow AICN COMICS, some might not, so I thought I’d direct you guys to some horror themed comics those ever lovin’ @$$Holes reviewed recently…
Lyzard finishes her coverage of Ancient Roman vampires in IDES OF BLOOD!
superhero praises Mexican border werewolves in FEEDING GROUND!
KletusCasaday check out GRIMMS FAIRY TALES MYTHS & LEGENDS!
Be sure to check out these horror comics reviews from AICN COMICS!
Before we start spitting pea soup, let’s announce our winners for the AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE CONTEST from last week. The below winners have each won a pair of tickets to see the documentary which premieres at the Cinema Village in New York City on February 4th. 5 lucky folks will be going to the Saturday night showing and 5 more will get tickets for the Sunday night show.
Eric Morris Eskenazi
Enjoy the show, folks. You’ll be getting an email soon with the info. I wish I could make it. But I did get to check out the film. It’s our very first review in today’s column!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2011)
LA BIMBA DI SATANA (SATAN’S BABY DOLL, 1982)
EXORCISMUS (LA POSECION DE EMMA EVANS, 2011)
THE RITE (2011)
And finally…SASQUATCH BIRTH JOURNAL 2!
AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2011)Directed by Elijah Drenner
Written by Elijah Drenner & Calum Waddell
Narrated by Robert Forster
Starring Joe Dante, John Landis, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Larry Cohen
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Although I won’t be able to make the premiere of AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE in New York, I’m kicking myself for missing seeing this documentary in a theater. This is the type of documentary I’d love to see more of. It’s informative, with awesome clips and guest appearances sharing insightful and fun anecdotes about an area of cinema that rarely gets the respect it deserves. One thing on my mind going into AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE was that I didn’t know exactly what grindhouse meant. Though most of the readers of AICN are familiar with the term, a direct definition eluded me until seeing this film. Sure, Tarantino and Rodriguez’ semi-homage to the genre was fun and I’d seen my share of trashy movies, but I didn’t know what distinguished grindhouse films from all of the rest. AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE goes out of its way to bring meaning to the term and provides scores of examples of grindhouse classics through the years.
What I loved about this documentary was the way it incorporates modern and classic directors, producers, writers, and stars with their own takes on what grindhouse is. The term grindhouse, originally given to those films made outside of the Hollywood code, played in seedy theaters that never closed. Films were played over and over, which gave the films that scratched, repaired, aged look that films go out of their way to computerize these days. AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE dubs a film called TRAFFIC IN SOULS (a cautionary tale about white immigrant slavery) as the first official grindhouse film, but also states that exploitation (a major factor of the grindhouse feature) was born when the very first images were captured on film. Though these films focused on taboo subject matter, it was the only place unfettered glimpses of “real life” could be seen. Hollywood’s glitzy and soft-lit view of life was fun, but grindhouse showed everything and anything, beautiful and ugly.
Some of the best stuff in AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE comes from John Landis, who seems to be especially enamored by this type of cinema and is shameless enough to admit that although most of them were pretty shitty, the films were extremely influential on his own work. The film goes through the varying eras of America and links them with trends of the grindhouse. During Viet Nam and the death of JFK, the films became more violent, when in the past they focused on more voyeuristic presentations. There is a great segment on Herschell Gordon Lewis, as he talks about his success with BLOOD FEAST that is worth the price of admission alone.
AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE is an excellent documentary that sports tons of clips of classic grindhouse films and interviews with some of the films’ most influential makers. It offers an in depth look at this gripping type of film through the years focusing on how the American society both loved and loathed the genre. Everything from FREAKS to THE MACK is featured. Narrated by Robert Forster, AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE is a documentary no reader of AICN should miss.
LA BIMBA DI SATANA (1982) Directed by Mario Bianchi
AKA SATAN’S BABY DOLL, A GIRL FOR SATAN
Written by Gabriele Crisanti (story/screenplay) & Piero Regnoli (screenplay)
Starring Jaqueline Dupre, Marianglea Giodano, Aldo Sambrell
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Under all of the shots of naked women and droning guitar and synth chords, Mario Bianchi has a halfway decent film in here somewhere with LA BIMBA DI SATANA. The “bimba” in question isn’t possessed by the devil as with the other entries in this exorcism-themed edition, but the structure of this story (especially the ending) owes a lot to William Peter Blatty’s Christ-compelling opus.
The film opens with a funeral, as a family gathers to pay their respects. Immediately, you know this is not your typical family with Antonio (a leering and domineering father), Miria (the virginal daughter), Sol (a nun…?), a priest and a paraplegic. They’ve gathered to say goodbye to Maria, Antonio’s wife and Miria’s mother. But what they don’t know is that Maria’s soul is not at rest and is eager to possess her daughter to enact revenge on Antonio.
In between all of that revenge and possession, there’s a hell of a lot of nudity, groping, and undressing. Bianchi lingers a little too long on these scenes to take LA BIMBA DI SATANA as a serious horror film. Then again, he does get points for putting a creative lesbian twist to Father Karras’ sacrifice at the end of THE EXORCIST. Bianchi also does a great job of taking advantage of the gothic mansion the movie is filmed in, snaking through immense winding stairs, halls with painted ceilings, and what mansion is complete without a dungeon?
Though the mood is right and the setting is grand, LA BIMBA DI SATANA from start to finish is a soft core Skinemax-ish feature where even the nuns wear thigh high stockings and every woman spends more time bare-chested than clothed. I’m not complaining, mind you. But had as much attention been paid to the scares as they were to showing the breasts of every woman in this film, LA BIMBA DI SATANA would be a masterpiece. Apparently, this is a remake of a more hardcore (sex-wise) film called MALABIMBA. Haven’t seen that one, but at least that one seems to have committed to one genre. LA BIMBA DI SATANA tried to get the best of both worlds sprinkling in horror and soft porn here and there, yet never settling on either. Bitchin’ cover art, though, with the devil embracing a naked woman. Too bad nothing like it shows up in the film…
EXORCISMUS (2011) Directed by Manuel Carballo
AKA LA POSESION DE EMMA EVANS
Written by David Munoz
Starring Sophie Vavasseur, Tommy Bastow, Stephen Billington, Doug Bradley
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
As I said in the intro, exorcism films have it tough--especially if they’re about a possessed little girl. Look at THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE and THE LAST EXORCISM, two somewhat successful modern films about exorcism. Both feature possessed teens attached to furniture. Both feature conflicted holy men spewing both gospel and holy water like a garden sprinkler. Both go through the same motions introducing an innocent girl and then twisting her into a foul mouthed, tongues speaking, fluid flinging, body contorting demon child. EXORCISMUS has all of the above attributes and you’d think that by now, I’d rather chug a bowl of pea soup than sit though another possessed girl rehash. But despite the similarities to THE EXORCIST and it’s modern day offspring, I found myself kind of into EXORCISMUS.
EXORCISMUS starts out ominously. Emma (played by the versatile Sophie Vavasseur) seems like a normal teenager. She fights with her parents about curfew and babysitting her kid brother. She has secret crushes and hangs with her friends. But all of a sudden her life is thrown into chaos when she experiences blackouts and hallucinations of white eyed demons, snakes, and cockroaches. Pretty soon, Emma starts attacking her family and when modern medicine fails to come up with an explanation, they turn to Christopher, a family friend and priest (played by Stephen Billington) for advice. It’s clear to Christopher that Emma is possessed and in need of an exorcism. There’s a bit of intrigue peppered in as the priest has some not so noble interests in Emma’s condition and wishes to videotape the exorcism in order to prove the existence of Satan. So the priest is more concerned with Satan showing his horny face than the well being of the child, which is a nice twist on the well-tread story that kind of sets EXORCISMUS apart from the herd.
Spanish director Manuel Carballo has a patient hand and though this film has some really disturbing effects and imagery, he’s slow in revealing them. For most of the film, Emma looks as if she may be just having fits and seizures—possibly some hallucinations here and there. Even when the exorcism goes full force, the effects are at a minimum relying on the actors to convey terror and menace rather than CGI. There’s no caked on makeup, just subtle creeps like the whitening Emma’s eyes while under the devil’s thrall.
Though EXORCISMUS walks down a well tread path blazed by THE EXORCIST when it comes to plot, it does so with talented actors, a patient script, and subtle and original imagery and effects. Plus Doug “Pinhead” Bradley makes an appearance as a priest which is a nice wink and nod to his Cenobite days. EXORCISMUS isn’t as bombastic as THE RITE or as iconic as THE EXORCIST, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out.
THE RITE (2011)Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
Written by Michael Petroni (screenplay), Matt Baglio (book)
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Alice Braga & Ciaran Hinds
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though it tries hard not to fall into the trappings of your typical exorcist movie, THE RITE never really gets to shine and I think that has a lot to do with the limitations the film set for itself. THE RITE has been advertised as a blockbuster, but I think it would have been more successful being a smaller film. I think that the director Mikael Hafstrom (1408, DERAILED) shows a lot of potential. The opening scenes set a mood for a dark and disturbing film as we watch our star, Michael Kovak (played convincingly by Colin O'Donoghue), preparing a corpse for showing at a funeral home. The opening had me expecting good creepy things for this film, but the longer I sat with THE RITE, the more I began to see how predictable it was.
One of the problems with this film is that it covers a large span of time in so little screen time at the beginning of the film. Michael decides to go to seminary school instead of becoming a mortician like his father (played by the sinfully underused Rutger Hauer). Immediately, it's four years later and Michael is close to graduation, but decides he lacks the faith to become a priest. So his professor (played by sinfully underused actor #2 Toby Jones) sends him to the Vatican to study exorcism where he meets another teacher (played by #3 sinfully underused actor, Ciaran Hinds) who after one class with Michael decides to send him to see Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) who has an unconventional style of performing exorcism. First off, that's a lot of shuffling around you get in the first half hour of the film. I know everyone wants to get to the scenes between Hopkins and his apprentice exorcist, but a scene or two explaining why Michael lacks faith would have been nice. Instead, the director sloppily decides to put it all in writing for us to read in an email Michael writes to his professor. Sounds like an important dramatic moment that was missed. There is a nice scene where Michael must give the last rites to a woman who is struck down in the street by a car, but by this time, he already is doubting his faith and we have no real clue as to why. Because we are not completely sure of Michael's absence of faith, it's kind of hard to really feel for all of the angst he's oozing in every scene he's in. And there's a lot of this going on.
But of course, this is a film about exorcism, right? THE RITE does have some nice imagery that makes things somewhat spooky. Hafstrom's camera lingers on religious iconography throughout the film which set to the right score can give anyone the creeps. The creeps never really pay off though. We have the typical contorting girl in a chair spitting and spouting secrets only a demon would know. For a film that tosses out the line, "What did you expect, pea soup and spinning heads?" it certainly doesn't go out of its way to make the exorcism itself very spectacular or original. The actress is somewhat creepy and there is a bit of coolness involving some vomited up nails that I wasn't expecting, but for the most part, I got more of a jolt from the jump scare involving one of the many cats littered about than in the exorcism scene itself. When a cat jump scare is the biggest fright in your film, you know there's a problem.
Anthony Hopkins is somewhat reserved as Father Lucas Trevant. I've seen Hopkins chew up the scenery more so in other films. I was expecting a hammy performance, but Hopkins really gives his all here and even at his age, offers a lot of physicality to the role. There are a few instances of his matter-of-fact way of moving on after a tense moment (something that annoyed the hell out of me in both of the Lecter films after SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) that is sometimes amusing, yet has become Hopkins' schtick. So those tired of said schtick should be prepared for more here. Hopkins does offer some convincing lines here and there and seems, for the most part, sincere throughout.
Colin McDonoghue carries the weight of this film on his shoulders as the faithless exorcist in training Michael Kovak. The newcomer is a charismatic actor, sort of a cross between Jason Patric and Ryan Gosling. I spent a good part of the movie thinking he'd be a good pick for the lead in a new Superman film, which doesn't say much for the movie itself, but says a lot about his performance.
THE RITE ended up being a capable film--one well shot, well acted, and one that conveyed a grim mood. But the conventions of age old exorcism cliches, the under-utilization of such great character actors such as Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and Rutger Hauer, and the scattershot way the main character is manipulated in order to get Hopkins on the screen as soon as possible really work against making THE RITE anything more than a movie that I didn't hate. Had THE RITE been a little more in depth as far as what goes into an exorcism or what kind of person could do this as a profession, it might have been a better film. That's not this movie. THE RITE doesn't want to go that deep, which is too bad. I would have liked that movie more.
And finally…here’s one of the coolest short films I’ve seen in a while. Debuting at Sundance this year, it’s the Zeller Brothers’ SASQUATCH BIRTH JOURNAL 2! I’ll be interviewing the Zeller Brothers about this short film in next week’s column, but until then, witness the beauty and wonder of a Bigfoot birth with SASQUATCH BIRTH JOURNAL 2!!! Enjoy!
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 names to purchase)!
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