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.
Well, shit crappened last week and because of the hustle and bustle that was C2E2 (the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo), I wasn’t able to do a column last week. Apologies all around, but to make up for it, I have an extra special column of horrific bits and pieces for you. Not only do I have a handful of new and indie horror films to check out, but I also have a review of the Korean masterpiece I SAW THE DEVIL. Plus, my fellow reviewer from AICN COMICS, Johnny Destructo, has a review of the new Stephen King collection of novellas FULL DARK, NO STARS! But first we have a few things you might be interested in.
If you missed it, the @$$Holes have reviewed quite a few horror comics recently. Check out these horror reviews from AICN COMICS.
Prof Challenger checked out THE GRIM GHOST!
Mr Pasty steered attention to the indie weirdness of GATOR BUTCH #1!
Though my stomach churned, I had to recommend NEONOMICON!
Optimous Douche applauded DC Vertigo’s THE UNWRITTEN Volume 3!
Henry Higgins is My Homeboy swooned over THE WALKING DEAD!
I steered those looking for indie adventure to NINJAS VS ZOMBIES!
Optimous Douche recommends more zombie goodness with iZOMBIE Vol 1!
Optimous Douche loved the weirdness of XOMBI!
I savored every page of GODZILLA: KINGDOM OF MONSTERS!
I had a chance to talk with FAMOUS MONSTERS last week and they alerted me to their Imagi-Movies Film Festival that’s going on in LA at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills located at 9036 Wilshire Blvd from April 8-10th. This three day film festival will celebrate films Forrest J. Ackerman loved and any fan of this column in the area should get their tickets now by going to the imagimovies website. Check out a trailer for the fest below.
Damn, it looks to be so cool. I love festivals like this. I wish I was able to go. Anyone who goes and wants to send me a report for this column, please do so!
OK, let’s get with those reviews, shall we?
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
FULL DARK, NO STARS Novella (2011)
THE LAST LOVECRAFT (2009)
BREAD CRUMBS (2011)
VAMPIRE BOYS (2011)
THE LAST BATTLEGROUND (2010)
I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
And finally…THE ZOMBIES ATE HER BRAIN!
FULL DARK, NO STARS NovelAuthor: Stephen King
Reviewed by Johnny Destructo
Growing up, having tried to read several of King's novels but only succeeding in finishing a select few, I decided to dub him "The author that just likes to TYPE". This phrase carried a mostly negative connotation, and was meant to imply that his books could use some more editing. In my aforementioned attempts, I grew annoyed that Mr. King would give the reader a little too much information. I didn't care that the room was a grayed-out yellow with smoke-tinged flowered wallpaper, good sir. What I cared about was what was happening to the characters. I cared about the STORY, not the details. Maybe it was just my ADHD-addled young brain, or maybe he's gotten less obsessed with the details, but as an adult, I now find myself really enjoying his work. Not the least of which is his new offering: FULL DARK, NO STARS.
FD,NS is King's latest work, a collection of four novellas, all dealing with the theme of retribution (according to the wikipedia page), and I suppose that much can be said for most horror stories. I prefer to take the collection's name most literally though, as a gaggle of stories that explore the darkest recesses of the human heart, where no light, not even the eons-old dwindlings of a long dead star can permeate.
1922 - The first story is written in the form of a letter to the reader. It takes place around the time period of the title and tells the story of a simple family farm and the horror that takes place there, dwelling more on the consequences of the act then the act itself. It's a fine period piece and one that has stayed with me.
Big Driver - This one feels more like a Richard Laymon story than Stephen King's. Richard Laymon is one of my favorite horror authors due to his unabashed handling of gore and terror. This is a revenge story, with a couple twists added in for good measure. One of the best parts of this story? I love what King does with the character's GPS navigation system.
Fair Extension - This story reminds me of the classic tv series "Tales From The Crypt" but without the silly Crypt-Keeper punning away. It deals with a man at a road-side stand that sells, well...Extensions of any sort. Have a marriage that is lacking in passion and need a love extension? Feeling inadequate about your man-hood and need a penis extension? Hell, going bald and just need a good old hair extension? Or, what if you're like the cancer-ridden Dave Streeter, the focus of this story, and need a life extension? How far would you go to extend your life?
A Good Marriage - This one may even be my favorite of the lot, and a great one for King to end with. This story goes into the ins and outs of a successful, loving marriage in such a way that it's at once scary as hell and just beautiful at the same time. What does a woman do when she discovers her husband's terrible secret, carefully hidden away in the garage? This story was just elegant and thought-provoking.
This picked this book up on a lark, not really expecting to enjoy it all that much, feeling as I previously have about Stephen King's work, but I enjoyed the bloody Dickens (there's a visual) out of it!
I even grew to appreciate the cover photograph that, at first, I didn't quite "get". You can see in the image above that it's a curled up woman, in such a position as to immediately make my illustrative, graphic designer brain translate her into either a "9" or a comma ",". I kept looking at it like a puzzle, something to be discovered by the form of it. But after finally (and reluctantly) putting down the book, I saw the image with new eyes. Not illustrative at all. No, there was pure emotion in that image. The woman is hiding her face from the viewer, cowering in a ball, not wanted to be looked at, while simultaneously pushing the viewer away with her outstretched hand. It was so obvious that I'm a little ashamed to say I didn't immediately settle on its meaning.
So yes, this story does deal with retribution in it's many forms, but it's substance is more a serving of dark deeds and even darker thoughts. These tales do not shy away from the truth, as the woman on the cover attempts. It dwells on the void that lives within us all. Therein lies the trouble with the title, though. Sure, the stories are about the darkest part of ourselves, but King shines his writer's light over these secrets, bringing them bubbling up into the brightness of day, if only for a bit, before they get sucked, gurgling back down into the darkness.
While this book deals with the darkness, the writing itself is pure light.
JD can be found hosting the PopTards Podcast, discussing movies, comics and other flimflam over at www.poptardsgo.com, graphically designing/illustrating for a living, and Booking his Face off over here.
THE LAST LOVECRAFT: THE RELIC OF CTHULHU (2009)Directed by Henry Saine
Written by Tom Konkle & Devin McGinn
Starring Kyle Davis, Devin McGinn, Gregg Lawrence, Martin Starr, & Ethan Wilde
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE LAST LOVECRAFT is more of a comedy than a horror film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun movie. Though some of the acting is somewhat less than great and the humor doesn’t always hit the mark, THE LAST LOVECRAFT’s intentions are in the right place and I found myself liking the final product quite a bit.
The story follows a young dreamer (Kyle Davis) who spends most of his time goofing around with his opportunist and slightly deranged best friend (Devin McGinn, who also wrote the film). The two are working on a comic book, both sabotage each other’s chances for women, and the friendship couldn’t be more Kevin Smith-ish if it tried. In fact, THE LAST LOVECRAFT is very much like CLERKS, MALLRATS, CHASING AMY, and even FANBOYS for that matter in that it puts the spotlight on geek culture with a slight bend for action.
As I said, this film aims high and though it may not be the blockbuster it’s trying to be, there are a lot of fun scenes as these geeky manchildren attempt to be heroes and save the world from an other dimensional menace. There’s some above average effects in this one and quite a few times, I found myself laughing out loud. Cthulhu heads will have to see this film and while Kevin Smith seems to be trying to do grindhouse films and then retiring, it’s good to know the genre he kind of spearheaded is still going strong. Steeped in Cthulhu and geek speak, THE LAST LOVECRAFT will cause those in the know with all of this stuff to chuckle quite a bit, but if you’re not privy to the mythology, you may not see it as endearing.
BREAD CRUMBS (2011)Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Anthony Masi (story), Sam Freeman (screenplay)
Starring Jim J. Barnes, Steve Carey, Amy Crowdis, Marianne Hagan, Alana Curry
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
With RED RIDING HOOD in theaters right now, you might find yourself in need of some more fairy tale horrors. BREAD CRUMBS might just be the ticket. For the most part, BREAD CRUMBS is your run of the mill group-of-kids-stuck-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods-with-a-killer-outside films, but with a pretty fun script by Anthony Masi and Sam Freeman and some clever directing from Mike Nichols, it turned out to be something a little better than what I’ve usually come to expect from the sub-genre.
First off, these kids in the woods happen to be part of a porn shoot. So it’s kind of fun to see the whole “sex & death” motif that was always so heavy in FRIDAY THE 13th taken to the Nth degree here. Here there are no virginal surviving final girl/guys, they’re all “sinners” when looked at under the puritanical viewpoint these slasher pics often take. Another cool twist is that the killers in this film are a pair of kids or maybe they aren’t. One thing’s for sure, they’re pretty creepy with the little girl humming eerily all the time and her delayed brother schlumps around in the shadows. When the porno actress with a heart of gold (who just so happens to be filming her last porno which gives this a nice LETHAL WEAPON twist), tries to save the children who she thinks is lost, she realizes they may not be as innocent as they seem.
BREAD CRUMBS also turn things on it’s head as the entire cast and crew find out the evil intentions of this pair of kiddies early on. So instead of being picked off one by one with the rest of the cast being oblivious, they must band together to take out the brats. I found BREAD CRUMBS to be capably acted and directed. The twists and turns are appreciated. And I truly wasn’t sure where the film was going to go, which is something that can’t be said about 99% of the slasher films out there. Though it’s not the bloodiest film I’ve seen, BREAD CRUMBS has a lot going for it and may be worth your while.
VAMPIRE BOYS (2011)Directed by Charlie Vaughn
Written by David S. Sterling (story), Jeremiah Campbell (screenplay)
Starring Christian Ferrer, Jason Lockhart, Dylan Vox, & Jess Allen
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Well, I have to say that VAMPIRE BOYS is not your typical horror film. It’s got vampires in it. And boys. And most of the boys don’t wear shirts. And though I didn’t know until about three minutes in, turns out it’s a gay horror film. Which is fine. It’s just that…well, I had no idea what I was getting into when I slid this disk into my DVD player, though the four shirtless men posing on the DVD cover should have clued me in.
I think the makers of VAMPIRE BOYS intentions are in the right place. They want to tell a typical vampire story set against the backdrop of the gay lifestyle. The problem is that the script is not the best. Exposition is lobbed around clumsily over coffee on the veranda and sunbathing (shirtless of course) in the grass. Everything is filmed in a soft filter. Of course, these shirtless vamps aren’t affected by sunlight. And pretty much all of the stuff that makes vampires vampires (the weaknesses, that is) doesn’t really effect them. Scenes seem to be threaded together only with the intentions of the vampire boys to take their shirts off and take the shirts off of their boy victims and then make out. A love story is told here. Jasin, the leader of the vampire boys is about to reach his hundredth year birthday and must find a chosen one to drink from. He’s been trying to find the one for quite a while, but he’s been looking at the wrong sex. He drops his intended wench when he crosses paths with Caleb, a farmboy from Ohio who never fit into his hometown. Soon the two fall in love, but one of the other vampire boys doesn’t approve of the leaders choice in mates. Lots of tension and shirtlessness ensues.
There’s a lot of gay innuendo flung around. There’s no blood to speak of. Not a lot of action, though two of the vampires hiss at each other repeatedly in one scene. In fact, aside from a lot of talking and shirtless posing, there’s not much else going on here. I guess if you’re gay and like vampires, VAMPIRE BOYS is something you might want to check out. It just wasn’t my thing.
THE LAST BATTLEGROUND (2010)Directed by Sonny Fernandez
Written by Sonny Fernandez
Starring Liz Dokter, Kim Haarman, Chelsea Hagel, Justin Kavlie, Sam Ova, & Dan Sorenson
Find out more info on this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
“The TV ain’t tellin’ us nothin’. What the fuck are we supposed to do if the TV ain’t tellin’ us nothin’?”
It’s hard to look around and see a true independent spirit in film. Even micro-budget films like MONSTERS are filmed for at the very least thousands of dollars and that’s before the million dollar ad campaign touting that it was filmed on the cheap. I remember growing up and filming mini-monster films with my friends. My goals were lofty and my intentions were in the right place. Of course, soon after filming one epic scene or two, my attention would go elsewhere or my stars would have to go home for dinner and another blockbuster was left unfinished. I imagine Sonny Fernandez did the same thing. The difference is that he decided to stick with it, write a great script, and piece a film together with a zero budget, and distribute it. There will be those that call Sonny Fernandez’s film THE LAST BATTLEGROUND amateur trash. And sure, if you’re comparing it to standards of studio released films, it doesn’t really hold up. But I found in this film a charm and spunk that I haven’t seen in too many studio films in recent memory.
“I don’t need to have a grammatical discussion with you right now.”
Fernandez’s appeal lays with the lofty goals he sets in his story and the lengths he goes to achieve them by spending the least amount of money possible. The cast appears to be a bunch of Fernandez’ friends; a bunch of normal to nerdy looking dudes and a handful of cute, pierced indie chicks (love me some pierced indie chicks, BTW). But every one of them, despite their amateur acting status, are giving it their all. Performances such as the deadpan delivery style of the two hitmen and especially the standout performance from goth chick Lisa Doktor rise above the rest as pretty damn effective. I’ve seen worse acting in full budget films, so that’s saying a lot.
Fernandez has filled his film with likable losers banding together to face a giant world-threatening Lovecraftian menace and though the story is lofty and beyond its own budget, he saves the day with a pretty punchy script. I’ve interspersed some of the more memorable lines in the film in this review. Sure, at times the delivery is Tarrantino-ian, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I laughed out loud at Fernandez’s smart dialog and fun twists.
“Trust me. We killed a Mexican last week.”
A huge part of the charm of THE LAST BATTLEGROUND is Fernandez’ monsters which look to be made from paper-maché and tape and tin foil. Again, there will be those who scoff and guffaw at this amateur make-up effect, but to me I found myself giggling with glee as the actors ran in fear from these not so scary monsters. It reminded me of the schlocky horror films of the 50’s and 60’s where a man in a monster suit chases around folks and though it’s not scary either now, it is fun to watch.
“Now you have a knife in your arm. This is what happens when you try to get dates.”
I don’t want to oversell THE LAST BATTLEGROUND. It’s amateur hour, but it’s also a lot of fun. Fernandez has a few more films under his belt and I look forward to checking those out too in future AICN HORROR columns. The guy’s got moxie. He writes his films, directs them, edits them, does the effects. He’s a true indie spirit in horror and one deserving of attention. It’d be interesting to see what this filmmaker could do with an actual budget. For now, if you’re in the mood for an unpolished, yet charming as hell horror film, THE LAST BATTLEGROUND fits the bill nicely.
I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Written by Hoon-jung Park
Starring Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
What if the final scene of SE7EN ended with Kevin Spacey’s John Doe escaping and Brad Pitt’s character goes on a relentless quest to track him down at all costs and they filmed a movie about that? That pretty much sums up I SAW THE DEVIL. Though that comparison is somewhat simplistic, I think it fits. There were a few scenes in I SAW THE DEVIL that reminded me of SE7EN, but besides that, it’s probably one of the best serial killer films to grace the screen since David Fincher’s masterpiece.
South Korea’s Jee-woon Kim constructs a technically dynamic dance between a monster and a man who can’t help but become one. Byung-hun Lee plays Kim Soo-hyeon, a young government agent whose fiancée is the latest victim of a serial killer. Broken and fueled by revenge, he vows to track down the killer and destroy him utterly and completely. Kyung-Chul (played by OLDBOY’s Min-sik Choi) is the serial killer and he plays one of the best villains I’ve seen on film in years. Jee-woon Kim allows us to get to know both characters and fills them with details and scenes where we both sympathize and understand them. At the same time, they are both doing things that should make us hate them. Jee-woon Kim makes this an uneasy film to watch because of the moral ambiguity of the hero and the human flaws of the villain.
He also fills this film with violence and gore of the highest caliber. But this isn’t a gorefest highlighting the red stuff. The carnage these two inflict upon one another serves a purpose and that purpose is to show how easy it is for someone to lose what makes one human and become capable of despicable acts of violence. And believe me, these two characters tear each other apart.
I could go on about the awesomeness of the cab scene or the garden scene or the hotel scene, but I don’t want to ruin a bit of this film for folks. I will say that it is a tense and gritty drama that hits you where it hurts while satiating one’s hunger for action and horror. The complete arc Min-sik Choi’s character Kyung-Chul goes through is amazing to watch. Though both lead actors are strong, Chul’s story is the most fascinating as he goes from hunter, to befuddled prey, and then back to manipulating hunter once again while Byung-hun Lee’s Kim Soo-hyeon character is a cold tool of revenge for most of the film. Seeing Chul realize that, despite the horrific torture Soo-hyeon is inflicting on him, this game of cat and mouse is actually fun to him, is a revelation that makes this film shine above all others of its kind. Then again, Byung-hun Lee saves his character from becoming completely unlikable by reminding the audience that he has lost everything. Lee does a great job of convey pain in his cold stare, even when he isn’t speaking. Choi, on the other hand is a force of nature; relying on unstoppable animal impulse swayed by no rules. Seeing these two extremes bash into each other is a thing of gory, action-packed beauty.
Holy shit, do they kick the snot out of each other!
Though the events that appear at about the hour twenty mark are somewhat distractingly similar to SE7EN and the beating these two characters enact upon each other would have killed a normal man a thousand times over, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a phenomenal dramatic, technical, and kinetic work of cinema. Though it may strike the ire of purists, it is a film that screams for American adaptation. Even while watching it, I could see Joseph Gordon Levitt playing the young agent out for revenge against a monstrous Michael Shannon. As it is, I SAW THE DEVIL is an instant classic with scenes you will be talking about long after the film is over and performances that burn into your soul with power and complexity. I can’t wait until this gory and intense masterpiece hits the states for a wider audience to see. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
And finally…hey, we didn’t cover any zombies this week. I’ll remedy that right now with this…The Creepshow’s “The Zombies Ate Her Brain”. Enjoy!
See ya, next week, folks!
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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