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.
This week we have another batch of new horror films including my review of SCREAM 4 (released in theaters today) and a review of Jodorowsky’s classic THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (newly released on DVD/BluRay).
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
New on BluRay/DVD: THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)
THE ABORTED (2007)
HARPOON: THE REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE (2009)
THE COLLAPSED (2011)
SCREAM 4 (2011)
And finally…THE TRANSIENT!
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)New on BluRay & DVD!
AKA THE SACRED MOUNTAIN
Directed & written by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Zamira Saunders, Juan Ferrara, Adriana Page, Kurt Kleiner, & Valerie Jodorowsky
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal epic gets the BluRay/DVD treatment finally this month. There are those who deem the filmmaker a master and I have to admit, I admire the guy’s artistic skill, but out of all of the Jodorowsky’s films, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is the most frustrating. The film couldn’t be more artsy and I can acknowledge the value of that. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is a surreal treat for those looking to have their eyes stimulated with images that are both beautiful and bizarre. Looked at only as a visual exercise, you won’t be able to find a more warped treat, but if I wanted to introduce the work of Jodorowsky to someone unfamiliar to his work, I don’t think THE HOLY MOUNTAIN would be my first choice.
Basically, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN plays as a stream of consciousness journey as a Christ-like figure stumbles from one reality to another, meeting one offbeat character after another, and witnessing one mad act after another. If I were to have a party and wanted to play some trippy shit for folks to check out while talking, drinking and partying, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN would be the film to put in the BluRay player. As long as you don’t pay attention to the very loose narrative, this is a fantastic film. Sitting sober through this film, though, is a bit of a chore.
The religious iconography, I’m sure will piss some sensitive types off. Rabbits are crucified, Pope-like figures are found spooning a life sized crucifix, a statue of Christ’s face is eaten; even for me who is not a religious person, this was kind of tough to watch. Some of it, I’m sure Jodorowsky was going for shock value. And he achieves that goal here. Some of the other imagery is gorgeous, though. The temple the Alchemist resides in is a surreal masterpiece, with huge checkerboard walls and mounted goat statues. The scenes early on where frogs are dressed in Holy Crusader garb then blown up is another image that is both haunting, disgusting, and gorgeous all at once. Other imagery, though, mostly involving the crucifix, just kind of feel like lame attempts to piss off the establishment. I know this was filmed in 1973 and I’m sure the imagery was much more controversial then. But occasionally while watching THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, I felt like I was watching a lame art school student’s demo reel where he wants to rebel against his mom and dad who put him through art school in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong. Any fan of Jodorowsky must have this DVD/BluRay release on their shelf. It’s a gorgeous transfer and you’ll never find a better looking version. The imagery IS haunting, though the story is rather light. There’s an especially tedious sequence where people representing planets are introduced and given attributes relating to human society. Occupying numerous set pieces, this sequence goes on and on and on… The saving grace of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is the surreal craziness that has become Jodorowsky’s style that loosely laces the story together. I’ll be reviewing EL TOPO later this month (which has a much stronger narrative, in my opinion, though not as strong as SANTE SANGRE) which is also being released on BluRay/DVD. If you like surreal and disturbing imagery, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is for you. Though the story won’t blow you away, your eyes will be stimulated and your hunger for the bizarre will most definitely be filled.
THE ABORTED (2007)Directed by Sonny Fernandez
Written by Sonny Fernandez
Find out more at Sonny Fernandez’s Myspace Page!
Starring Sonny Fernandez, Chelsea Hagel, Justin Kavlie, Kelsey Parton, & Dan Sorenson
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
When we last visited a Sonny Fernandez film, I was utterly impressed by the true indie spirit every frame of his latest film, THE LAST BATTLEGROUND possessed. After viewing one film of this infectious creator, I had to check out another. THE ABORTED was next on my list, mainly because the filmmaker said that it was the film most folks respond to either with hate mail or praise. Intrigued, I checked it out. And you know what; I can see where some folks may have strong views about THE ABORTED. Abortion is always a hot topic for debate. But personal views on the subject aside, THE ABORTED is another indie gem worthy of support.
Sonny Fernandez’s films are not often well acted. They’re not often well shot. The effects are beyond zero budget. But despite it all (and I said this in my last review of one of his films), it’s the fact that Fernandez films these things on his own, writes them, edits them, makes the effects, and often stars in them, that impresses me the most. Reminiscent of that childlike enthusiasm all of us film geeks had trying to make our own films as kids, Fernandez cares not for his lack of funds, writes a bang-up script and just does it.
THE ABORTED begins with an amateur abortion performed by a goth chick in a bathtub. The scene doesn’t pull any punches and shows quite a few disturbing images of operation and extraction of an unborn fetus. The opening montage of stills of aborted fetuses is both an effective glimpse of things to come and stomach turning at the same time. Despite its attention to gore, the subject of abortion is taken surprisingly seriously here. And though this is a gruesomely bloody story about zombie aborted ghost babies attacking their parents in splooshy ways, the issue of abortion is handled carefully, maturely, and pretty fairly. I can understand why folks may cringe at the film, but despite the crude method of filmmaking, it is a strong examination of the subject matter. THE ABORTED is also one fun film by an amateur filmmaker who seems to have million dollar ideas and dreams and won’t let his lack of funds stop him from making them a reality.
And you can get THE ABORTED here!
HARPOON: THE REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE (2009)Directed by Julius Kemp
Written by Sjon Sigurdsson
Starring Pihla Viitala, Nae Yuuki, Terrence Anderson, Gunnar Hansen, Miranda Hennessey, & Aymen Hamdouchie
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
On the one hand, HARPOON: THE REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE is your typical line up a group of fodder for a family of freaks to slash through flick. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE on a boat or HILLS HAVE EYES on the open sea. In a lot of ways, that’s this film in a nutshell. On the other hand, it does the typical stalk and slash in an artsy and stylish manner with enough thrills and scenes of gore to be recommended here on AICN HORROR.
A group of tourists gather to go on a whale watching sea tour. The group is made up of an international cast, which at least gives the usual victims different accents and languages to differentiate from one another. After the whale watching boat takes off, the narrative cuts to another ship with a group of swarthy types talking about how annoying GreenPeace folks are. That seems to be the motivation behind this family of whale hugger killers (you’ve got to appreciate a family of killer pirates who hate sea hippies).
Gunnar Hansen’s name is on the cover of this one, but his role is very small here. At first, I thought he was the burly lead killer, but turns out he’s the Captain of the whale watching ship. And you know what happens to captains of ships like these in films like this. Soon, the tourists are adrift at sea, and though the ship on the horizon seems like their rescue, it’s really only assurance that this nightmare at sea is going to get a whole lot horrific.
HARPOON is a fun horror romp. The kills take full advantage of the sea boat setting; causing me to laugh out loud at how ludicrous they are. At the same time, HARPOON is pretty stylishly shot. Some of the scenes are chilling and beautiful all at once and the setting of the bleak Northern sea makes for a creepy backdrop. Though it goes through the regular paces of your conventional slasher family film, HARPOON stands out with enough original ideas, kills, shots, and locales to be a whole lot of fun. Bonus points are awarded for the effective use of Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” in two versions in the film (the thrash metal version over the credits being my favorite). HARPOON: THE REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE was recently released on DVD & BluRay.
THE COLLAPSED (2011)Directed by Justin McConnell
Written by Justin McConnell (screenplay) & Kevin Hutchinson (co-story)
Starring John Fantastia, Steve Vieria, Anna Ross, & Lise Moule
Official Site can be found here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
End of the world scenarios are a dime a dozen in film these days. Be it zombies or robots or plagues or alien invasions, it doesn’t matter. What matters in these films is the dissolution of society as we know it. The fragile framework of culture topples and man is reduced to beast. These films let us know that after all of the technology and evolution, the difference between civilized man and rampaging caveman are not so far as we would like to believe. THE COLLAPSED referred to in the title of this film is as much about the collapse of the modern family as it is about the collapse of society. It is also a film that is extremely effective in almost every way.
Though after the film’s credits rolled, I felt THE COLLAPSED viewed like an extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode, I was fully entranced throughout. The film follows one family as they make their way across a desolate countryside. They pass burned out buildings, abandoned cars, and the occasional dead body. Right away, we know society has fallen. How or why are questions not so easily answered and director / writer Justin McConnell takes his sweet time divulging any information. Instead, McConnell focuses on a single surviving family allowing us to get to know them intimately and get to like them. They are your typical nuclear family (mom, pop, sis, and bro) aside from the fact that they are packing heat, traveling light, and fleeing an unseen foe or foes, that is. I found myself caring quite a bit about this family and as shit starts hitting the fan, THE COLLAPSED turns out to be a pretty moving family drama, well acted, and meticulously paced for that maximum gut punch ending.
Though it isn’t particularly gory and at times, it feels like there’s more than enough false startles and amped up scenes of tension amounting to nothing in the long run, I have to recommend THE COLLAPSED for being a smart and stylistically end of the world thriller. Everything is not what you think with this film and with a convincing cast and a talented director / writer at the helm, THE COLLAPSED stands out above the herd of films of this type.
SCREAM 4 (SCRE4M)Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson
Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Anna Paquin, Kirsten Bell
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
SCREAM 4 (do I have to call it SCRE4M?) wants to have it both ways. It wants to make fun of the horror genre as if it was better than all of that, yet it still wants to function as a horror film itself. But in order to do this successfully, both the meta-criticism and the horror have to be top notch. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson pretty much achieved this in the very first SCREAM, but since then the SCREAM films became the horror clichés they tried oh so hard to comment on. As the movies went on, the plots got more predictable and scares got lamer. I was hoping that a decade off from the franchise would somehow give the folks behind the film enough time to harness what made the first one work. Sadly, that’s just not the case with SCREAM 4.
Those looking for a spoiler laden review naming the killer of the film and who will survive will be sorely disappointed here. Even though I didn’t particularly like the film, I won’t spoil the big mystery. Let’s just say that the reveal of who the killer is definitely is one of the lamer reveals of the series and leave it at that. The momentum screeching exposition by this character explaining each and every move they took to make sense of the film (which lobs out red herrings like a red herring cannon next to a pond well stocked with red herrings…ok, I know that was bad). But the identity of the killer is not what soured SCREAM 4 for me.
The film starts out promising and cleverly incorporates horror and comedy (the two elements that made the first one work so well) in a series of false starts that were genuinely fun. This opening sequence, by far, is the most enjoyable part of the film. It’s a clever and fun way of starting out this SCREAM like the other SCREAM’s while making it wholly original. I wish the fun would have continued at this level for the rest of the film.
The main problem of SCREAM is that it isn’t scary in the slightest. Due to multiple sequels and parodies, Ghostface just isn’t scary anymore, and here, the way Craven frames him, he is even less scary. Sure there are a couple of good jump scares, but I attribute them to the sound guy who mallet-fists a keyboard at full volume rather than the content of the scene. Every time Ghostface showed up, all I could think about was the SCARY MOVIE “wassap!” sequence. Craven and Williamson probably have it in them to make the character scary again, but with one or two exceptions (there was a good sequence where we think the killer is calling from the closet that works well), the killer just isn’t that scary.
Another problem is that the new generation of cast members aren’t nearly as likable as the original crew (or even that of the sequels prior). Sure there’s the chick from HEROES and there’s a Culkin, but none of them match the caliber of the original cast. The reason why the first worked was because the cast was filled with talented young actors (and Matthew Lillard…JOKE!). With SCREAM 4, it feels like casting just plucked whoever was at the food court on the WB lot at random and gave them a role. When you don’t care whether or not the cast lives or dies, you don’t give a shit when they are being chased by a killer.
The cast that do return (Cox, Arquette, and Campbell) just seem to be going for a paycheck here. Arquette’s Dewey has been elevated to sheriff status and spends the entire film arriving just shy of the nick of time and looking befuddled. Cox as Gale is given a bit of a meatier role with her character trying to write a new novel about the new murders while struggling with an understanding of the advancements in technology and media. Campbell has the same problem as Arquette, with her Sidney character serving only to react to all of the events around her and never really mattering in the equation. These three leads are barely present in the third act as the WB kids take center stage in the final showdown. Even professionals like Mary McDonnell fart through their lines with little to no energy. And don’t get me started at how ultimately lame Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody are as a pair of bumbling cops (one line in particular delivered by Anderson is definitely the biggest groaner of the film).
Speaking of groaners, the film is littered with them. The snappy dialog and sharp criticism of the genre just isn’t present in SCREAM 4. But here’s the thing, although I acknowledge the original SCREAM as a pretty good movie, I loathed what it represented and what stemmed from its success. Yes, the horror genre needed a reboot. It needed someone to stand up and call it out for its repetitive, formulaic trappings. SCREAM served that purpose and popped up at a time when horror was pretty stagnant. Being an avid fan of the genre, it got pretty annoying though after a time when every cliché listed in those films were deemed stupid or beneath the characters, writers, directors, and even viewers of the film. The thing is, a lot of those clichés, in talented hands still work. They’re still effective. They can still scare you. The most important failure in SCREAM 4 is that it has the balls to look down on scary films by casting the fans as nerds and weirdos, by listing aspects of the movies over and over and deeming them lame, by having the characters themselves not like horror films in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink fashion—without proving it can be scary itself. The final moments of this film are supposed to have us revved up to a fever pitch as the heroes and the killer battle it out. If I had the nerve to say how stupid these types of films are in a meta-commentary, I damn well better make a superior horror film. SCREAM 4 isn’t that as the last act fails miserably because of the lameness of the killer and the effectiveness of the story behind it.
At its best, SCREAM 4 is a remake of SCREAM. Though SCREAM made the slasher movie cool again with decent acting, funny quips (I still say “Liver alone!” on occasion), and somewhat astute observations on the genre, SCREAM 4 plays like the endless remakes that have overcome the industry these days with little else to add to the conversation. Though it started out strong, much like the bulk of the remakes out there these days, I could have done without SCREAM 4.
And finally, from the folks that brought you THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS VS A MUMMY, here is the full short film, THE TRANSIENT about a superhero hobo and his sidekick social worker as they fight a vampire Abe Lincoln. For more info, check out the website here. 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 covers to purchase)!
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