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. So 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.
Get ready for some new horror this time around with killers possessed by rocks, a horrific love story, one nasty hemorrhoid, and of course, SHARKTOPUS! I have a lot of fun taking a trip to the past in these AICN HORROR columns, but looking at this week’s batch of new horror makes my cold dead heart feel all warm and fuzzy. Enjoy!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR (2011)
ROID RAGE (2011)
And finally…KILL THE ZOMBIES (BY SHOOTING THEM IN THE HEAD)
SHARKTOPUS (2010)Directed by Declan O’Brien
Written by Mike Maclean
Starring Karem Bursin, Sara Malakul Lane, Eric Roberts, & Hector Jiminez
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
SyFy Original Films are tough to figure out. As much as I like schlock and low budget stuff, I wish SyFy films would decide what they want to be. At the moment, most of the stuff I’ve seen featured on SyFy is trying to be a blockbuster, but failing pretty miserably. Played straight, I think, with the limited budgets, C to Z grade actors, and overly ambitious concepts really aren’t a combination for a lot of winners. Sure there are exceptions, but if the films would reel it back and make the best films with what limited budget and actors they have and focus on creatively using them, I think there’s a potential for some great movies.
or…I think if SyFy films would go for full-on camp…I mean, full-on cheese with winks to the camera, obvious rubber or bad CGI monsters, and equally bad actors, the films could be pretty fun to watch as well. As it is, the filmmakers of these things are shooting for the moon with a slingshot, utilizing not so great CGI and not so great actors to sell a story way out of their talent set.
SHARKTOPUS is a perfect example of what I’m trying to illustrate above. Obviously by the title, the film isn’t going to be some serious drama with horrific undertones. Just the name SHARKTOPUS is so incredibly ludicrous that it has the potential to circle the world of bad and somehow come out on the other side halfway watchable.
Despite that, there is a lot of good to be said about SHARKTOPUS. There are some scenes in which the camera comes in close and real life effects of a shark head chewing on actors flailing in the bloody water really do exude that visceral fear I speak about at the top of every AICN HORROR column. There’s something about sharks that hits me on a primal level, and there are scenes in this film that struck that chord in me. I was surprised at how much such a ludicrous concept could actually make me squirm at the edge of my seat as many times as it did. For a film called SHARKTOPUS to do that says a lot about it.
As usual, though, which is the case with most SyFy Originals, every time CGI is used, the film falls completely apart. The CGI is just plain bad in SHARKTOPUS, which again, I said above could be ok if you were going for pure cheese. For every close up scene of real terror as the shark’s black eyes close in on a swimmer and the teeth start gnashing and the blood starts flowing, there are a dozen badly rendered CGI effects that detract from the effectiveness of the few. There are creative ways to cover up cheap CGI and still make them look halfway decent, but the filmmakers don’t necessarily seem interested in doing that. It’s a shame that there had to be so many of these daytime scenes with the badly rendered CGI shark out of water eating even badlier rendered CGI people to take away from what could have been a surprisingly scary movie.
Eric Roberts knows what kind of film he’s in here and spends most of his time on a boat drinking scotch and barking orders to his scientist daughter. The ridiculously buff and shirtless scientist dude with a machine gun that never runs out of bullets and the doe-eyed and svelte scientist chickadee of the week are ludicrously appropriate for this film. And there are a few extremely campy bits in here that make for a big laugh or two, especially the silent scene involving producer Roger Corman walking on the beach as he admires a bent over beauty and the scene where a pair of chubby dockworkers are quickly added to Sharktopus’ kill list (one of them screams “NOT LIKE THIS!!!” as he’s being dragged away!).
In the end, SHARKTOPUS tries to be a little campy and a little scary, but I’m not sure if it was wholly successful at either. The camp and the horror were few and far between with the middle bits being pretty blah and repetitious. I was hoping for more, but dumb fun is unfortunately the best way to describe SHARKTOPUS. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “What the hell were you expecting, Bug? The film is called SHARKTOPUS not OTHELLO!!!” But I have a kooky concept; how about a horror film with a goofy title, coaxing folks in and then, to the audience’s surprise, it actually turns out to be good and scary? Excuse me for hoping for the best with this one and being a bit disappointed.
HEARTLESS (2010)Directed by Philip Ridley
Written by Philip Ridley
Starring Jim Sturgess, Clemence Poesy, Luke Treadaway, Timothy Spall, Joseph Mawle, & Eddie Marsan
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
With BEASTLY opening this weekend, your significant other may want to entice you to go out and check out the gothic horror fairy tale. Now, I haven’t seen the film myself, but BEASTLY looks about as tepid as it comes…like POWDER with tribal tattoos enmeshed in a plot that hinges heavily on soupy teen angst to satiate the TWILIGHT tweens. I think I’ll give that one a pass and maybe…just maybe, check it out when it hits cable. But if you’re in the mood for a gothic romance filled to the brim with horrific elements, you should seek out a little film quietly released toward the end of last year called HEARTLESS.
HEARTLESS tells the tale of lonely dreamer named Morgan (played by 21 and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE’s Jim Sturgess) who is scarred with a heart-shaped birthmark on the left side of his face. Morgan spends most of his time glooming around trying to steal glances at the models he sees at his job where he is a camera assistant. Morgan dreams of living a normal life and an encounter with one model in particular named Tia (the nummy-licious Clemence 127 HOURS and IN BRUGES Poesy, who has that subtle curve in her smile that says “Oim, a nawty gurrrl.” that drives me crazy!) is the object of Morgan’s desire. To have a normal life, Morgan would give anything. Even his own soul. What unfolds is one of the best Faustian stories I’ve seen in quite a while.
HEARTLESS owes much to other horror films; HELLRAISER, JACOB’S LADDER, and even FIGHT CLUB come to mind as the most prominent influences here, as reality’s edges fray and Morgan is placed on a quest to save the life of a little girl in order to save his chances at normalcy. The film is a relentless descent into madness/deal with the devil story with stunning imagery, unconventional twists, and an exceptionally amazing cast.
Though I would give this film a huge recommendation to any horror fan, I do think that it is somewhat guilty of trying to stuff too much into one package. I loved the deal with the devil portion. Morgan making a deal with the evil Papa B (played to sleazy perfection by Joseph Mawle) to heal his face in order to get the girl is played out at an operatic level. I loved every moment of it. But where HEARTLESS falters is when Morgan is distracted from his love quest in order to save a young child. Morgan safeguarding this metaphor for good in child form seems to come out of the blue and late in the film. I understand the “pure good vs dark evil with Morgan in the middle” symbolism writer/director Philip Ridley is going for, but it’s somewhat heavy handed and unnecessary in a film that already has an awesome plot of a man who makes a deal with the devil to find love.
The cast of HEARTLESS is superb. Sturgess is great as Morgan and hits every beat in this story that takes his character through the emotional wringer. Poesy is enchanting as his object of affection; she’s pure, gorgeous, and one can understand why Morgan is so smitten with her. Timothy Spall has a small but important role and offers some emotional heft as Morgan’s father. As I said above, Joseph Mawle plays the devil to greasy perfection, making his Papa B character look powerful and unearthly with nothing more than scar makeup. Finally, Eddie Marsan, a character actor you’ve seen in countless films, has a dinky role as the Weapons Man, who answers to Papa B and gives Morgan his demonic assignments after his wish his granted. The high quality of actors in HEARTLESS sets this film apart from your typical horror show.
HEARTLESS is not a perfect film. I think it has one or two ideas too many for its own good. But the gorgeous imagery of horror, the fantastic slant on the Faustian deal, and phenomenal actors make this film a must see despite its flaws. Director/writer Philip Ridley does a great job managing a variety of effects, horrors, and actors. I can’t wait to see what’s next for him. As an added bonus, Sturgess sings the theme song over the credits too which should please the two or three fans of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. HEARTLESS is a horror romance most definitely worth your while and deserves to be seen by more people.
THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR (2011)Directed by Brad Rego
Written by Brad Rego
Starring Morgan White, Brandon Beilis, Alyssa Mann, Elizabeth Drake, & Oleg Ossayenko
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This film hit me like the meteor that smashes into the earth in the opening minutes. When I popped it in my DVD player, I figured I was in for your typical slasher yawner, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a slasher movie and all of the cabin in the woods conventions are used to one extent or another, but THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR uses every slasher cliché, bends them over, and makes them its bitch with a likable cast and a strong script.
The strength of THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR lies in the writing. The script is witty and self referential without being annoying like most of the SCREAM films. The characters in this film are smart. They talk like normal friends, ripping each other apart one minute and then sharing tender moments the next, but none of the lines seem fake or as if they are just meant to move the plot along to get to the gory bits. Here writer/director Brad Rego takes his time and allows the audience to really get to know the main trio of characters and it turns out they are pretty damn likable. When the blood starts being shed, you actually give a shit, which is good because the method behind the madness of the moon rock killer is not really explained. But you are having such a good time watching the cast interact that I didn’t really notice.
Though the cast may be full of relatively unknowns, they are surprisingly good, especially the main three: Ted (Morgan White, the sensitive lead), Dan (Brandon Beilis, his impulsive buddy), and Claire (Alyssa Mann, the object of Ted’s desires who looks at him as friend-zone material). The back-and-forthings in this film made me forget I was watching a horror movie (which is what every horror movie tries to do, but most fail miserably at). Here, as one pair teams up to rag on the third, it really feels like these guys have been friends for a long time. These three look familiar, as if I’ve seen them in commercials or something, but there’s real talent here and as good as the script is, these actors spouting the witty and sometimes serious lines show the spark of future superstars.
This is a low budgeter, though. So those looking for slickly produced horror are probably going to find THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR a bit rough to digest. I was so invested in the characters that I didn’t realize the film was almost two hours long. The run time is a bit excessive and a nip and tuck here and there in the editing room maybe down about twenty minutes would make for a smoother film. Then again, I totally understand the director’s decision to keep in the relational scenes between the actors. They are what sets this film apart, but it does take a long time for the action to start involving the killer in the title of the film.
But once the killer is revealed and the grue starts flowing, THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR works as a horror film too with bone knives getting stabby, faces getting ripped off, and copious amounts of blood is splattered in the faces of the actors. Brad Rego has a fun independent horror film on his hands and though the budget is low, there’s a lot of potential in the movie I saw. Take, for example, this interaction;
One character rushes into a room: “I saw something outside.”
“Like the darkness!” responds another character.
C’mon, that’s some funny shit. Funnier than most of the stupid jokes in what studios try to pass off as horror these days. THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR may have a low budget, but it’s got a stellar script, smartly acknowledged horror clichés, and a likable cast of characters.
Find out more info on THE KILLING OF JACOB MARR and where you can see it on its Facebook page.
ROID RAGE (2011)Directed by Ryan Lightbourne
Written by Ryan Lightbourne
Starring Zach Canfield, John Russo, Ben Evans, John Archer Lundgren, & Grayson Lauffenburger
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There are few films I’ve been looking forward to seeing more than ROID RAGE. Ever since I saw the extremely crude trailer below, I knew it was going to be something that appealed to my sleazier side. I’ll come right out and say that ROID RAGE is not going to be for everyone. Slickly produced horror fans need not apply here. But if you like films with that grindhouse feel with humor of the pottiest of flavors, ROID RAGE is right up your alley.
The version of ROID RAGE that I saw is a short film, but it looks as if writer/director Ryan Lightbourne is looking to expand the concept and maybe even 3-Dimensionalize the film soon if the trailer during the credits are real. As it is, ROID RAGE is a fun and fast, deliciously disgusting venture into the realm of bad taste
Zach Canfield plays Sammy, who has a major problem; hemorrhoid problems, but this isn’t something a finger full of Anusol can help. Sammy’s hemorrhoid has a mind and bloodlust on its own. When dead hookers start piling up with their faces ripped off, it garners the attention of a pair of hard-nosed detectives. What plays out is gory and funny as hell.
ROID RAGE is as tasteless as old Troma. It isn’t afraid to go into a world of wrong and roll around in it like a pig in slop. If you love your horror dirty and tasteless, ROID RAGE is for you. I loved every second and hope Lightbourne is able to make his full length 3-D version very soon. I can’t help it…I have to say it…ROID RAGE is a film I can definitely get behind!
Find out where and when you can see ROID RAGE on its website here.
And finally…tap your decrepit toes to this little jingle, KILL THE ZOMBIES (BY SHOOTING THEM IN THE HEAD)! 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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