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.
What do you like to eat for Easter dinner? Chicken? Rabbit? Lamb? We’re serving it all up here at AICN HORROR this week!
But before we dig in, we have a couple of appetizers for you to check out that you might find tasty.
First up, I wanted to direct folks’ attention to an upcoming horror comedy called THE BLOODFEST CLUB, obviously a riff on THE BREAKFAST CLUB. The makers of the film describe it like this: “In THE BLOODFEST CLUB, a Chuck Norris-obsessed high school janitor is forced to confront the face of evil on graduation night.” Click here to find out more about THE BLOODFEST CLUB. And check out the trailer for the film below.
The zombie comedy DEADHEADS is having its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Fest in Los Angeles, CA on April 29th at 8:15pm. Unfortunately that showing is sold out, but the good news is that due to high demand they have added a 2nd one on May 3rd at 7:45pm. The entire cast and filmmakers will be in attendance at both screenings for a Q&A and to hang out with the audience. Also looks for "Zombies are People too" protests at the fest with people in zombie gear. You can pick up tickets for the event here. This seems like one of those events that if I lived in the area, I know I’d be there. You can find out more about DEADHEADS here. And check out the trailer for the DEADHEADS, here.
@@@ AICN COMICS HORRORS @@@
Ambush Bug loved the psychological horror comic ECHOES!
The Irish Rican thought James Wan’s MALIGNANT MAN was infectious!
Ambush Bug worships CALIGULA!
Mr. Pasty checks out KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER!
Ambush Bug talks with EVIL ERNIE writer Jesse Blaze Snider!
BottleImp loved THE AMAZINGLY TRUE TAILS FROM THE ILLUSTRATED MONSTERPEDIA!
Ambush Bug interviews AMERICAN VAMPIRE writer Scott Snyder!
Mr. Pasty ropes up some zombie cowboys in ROTTEN!
Ambush Bug checked out a quartet of horrors in Indie Jones: DISTORTIONS UNLIMITED, THE MOLTING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ANNUAL, and FEEDING GROUND!
And now on to our horrific Easter feast. Sure anyone can make a scary movie with a bear growling or a shark roaring or a wolf howling. The films below have monsters you’d never expect to find fearsome. But remember, just because these creatures are more silent, doesn’t mean they aren’t deadly…
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)
BLACK SHEEP (2006)
POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2008)
BITTER FEAST (2010)
And finally…Killer Bunny! RUN AWAY!
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)AKA RABBITS
Directed by William F. Claxton
Written by Don Holliday & Gene R. Kearney
Based on the Book “Year of the Angry Rabbit” by Russell Braddon
Starring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, & DeForrest Kelley
Retro-Review By Ambush Bug
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS is one of those films thats premise if so goofy it should be a comedy, but this story of giant killer rabbits plays things dead seriously. Much like FOOD OF THE GODS (which came a few years later in 1976) and many other giant monster movies before it, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS uses trick photography and live rabbits to make the thrills seem more real. The result is a somewhat creepy albeit goofy film that stands up even after all of these years in that it’s worth some good laughs and a few surprise scares.
The story starts out giving factoids and newsclips of real rabbit infestations in New Zealand and then shifting focus to right here in America, as disturbing footage is shown as thousands of rabbits are herded and slaughtered due to their tendency to reproduce and turn cropland into barren fields in days. This looks like actual footage, so one could see how audiences would see this film as timely as and probably much scarier than the jaded populace of today. Still, these black and white images of people bagging bunnies and rabbits diving headfirst into a rabbit proof fence (like from the movie RABBIT PROOF FENCE) to escape made even my black heart bleed a bit for the little critters.
The film then cuts to cowboy Rory (MOTEL HELL’s Farmer Vincent) Calhoun as he rides his horse across his land. And as if the animal rights people didn’t have enough to complain about from this movie, his horse steps into a rabbit hole and old Rory takes out his rifle and pulls a Lenny on it. One to the back of the head. Rory coolly walks back to his farm and the initial call is made to take care of the growing rabbit problem.
The theme of the film is a common horror credo: “don’t fuck with nature.” Rory calls DeForrest Kelley in search of a doctor, but this time Kelley is a university president, not a doctor (!), so Kelley refers him to Stuart Whitman (star of many a war movie through the 50’s & 60’s and played Pa Kent in the SUPERBOY TV series), who doesn’t really specialize in this type of thing, but knows science and that seems to make him qualified enough to tackle that rabbit problem. Like most scientists, Whitman brings his wife (played by Janet Leigh) and kid along with him everywhere he goes, which includes caves filled with bats and labs filled with experimental bunny formulas. Though Whitman is trying to record the sounds of bats, he decides to take Rory up on his problem. The main reason Whitman is chosen is because no one wants to kill the rabbits, they just want to find a humane way of taking care of them. Of course, this doesn’t work or we wouldn’t have a movie. The kid’s favorite rabbit is injected with an experimental hormone, she switches the rabbit with an uninfected one, and before you can say, “What’s up doc?” the rabbit escapes and somehow immediately effects the rest of the rabbits, causing them to grow to an enormous size.
But the science stuff isn’t really important here. We want to see giant rabbits stampeding through towns and eating people. After the rabbit escapes, this is where the film gets pretty fun. Director William F. Claxton does a great job of filming the rabbits and making them seem to be the size of Volkswagens. The slo mo shots make the rabbits seem as if they are bigger and their hops are more gigantic. The modeling of towns is pretty good, making the effect all the more convincing. Close up shots of bloody-snouted and foamy mouthed rabbits add to the coolness. There’s a particularly effective scene that really shows that the director was having fun with this film, but is also has the talent to map out a scary scene. Check it out below.
As you can see, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS isn’t shy about using the red stuff (apparently the growth hormone also makes them carnivorous--what kind of a monster movie would it have been if they weren’t?). In fact, for a 1972 major motion picture release, it’s pretty graphic with its scenes of bunny carnage. Though the performances are somewhat stiff and scientific logic is thrown out the window, as far as giant monster animal films go, this one is pretty effective. The main reason is due to the fact that real rabbits are used. Yes, the scenes of slo mo bunnies running in a herd down a street gets tedious after the umpteenth time, but the havoc that the bunnies cause is pretty fantastic.
In the end, the message the folks in this film tried to communicate, namely “let’s try to find a humane way to get rid of these bunnies”, gets tossed down the rabbit hole as all of the giant bunnies are slaughtered. But the message that scientists, especially ones who take the stupid chances that this one does (like bringing an annoying daughter to work to screw things up), shouldn’t fuck with nature still stands. Though the ending would have been more satisfying had the little twat girl been eaten and then shat out as a human-sized pellet by the big bunnies, the film still has enough wacky and cool scenes to warrant a peek.
This is a movie that is just asking to be remade into an over the top horror comedy. I wish Hollywood would stop remaking good films into crap and start remaking crap films into good ones. Clips of NIGHT OF THE LEPUS were featured in both THE MATRIX and NATURAL BORN KILLERS. It seems to have blazoned its place into movie mythos. I know after seeing it, I won’t soon forget it.
BLACK SHEEP (2006)Directed & written by Jonathan King
Starring Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, & Tammy Davis
Retro-Review by Ambush Bug
I’m going to fight very hard not to use puns in this review…
How many times do we have to tell you. “Don’t fuck with nature!” The folks in this film obviously had their fingers in their ears when we said it the last time. I first heard about BLACK SHEEP when Moriarty reviewed it a few years ago here on AICN. Since then, it’s been on my radar, but I just hadn’t been able to track it down. But after watching NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, it seemed like the perfect companion for that movie given that sheep are just about as threatening as rabbits are, at least outside of these films.
BLACK SHEEP was surprisingly fantastic. New Zealand director Jonathan King is going for the same tone as Jackson did with DEAD ALIVE in this gore fest. There’s over the top comedy and gore from start to finish with most of the jokes being pretty good and most of the gore being pretty bloody. I was surprised to see WETA in the credits as the special effects team. For all of those who wondered what a DEAD ALIVE film would look like with the tech that gave you the awesome effects of LOTR, look no further than this film. Seeing these genetically altered sheep feast on a crowd of people (biting off lips, pulling out innards, and ripping off limbs) was something that I never thought I’d see in a film, but dammit if it wasn’t awesome.
The story opens on a ranch in New Zealand as a two young brothers begin a sibling rivalry that starts with a gory incident that leaves one brother afraid of sheep even into his adult years. Returning home, the sheepish brother Henry (played by Nathan Meister) finds that his sheep phobia is going to be put to the test. In a scene that plays as both ludicrous and terrifying, Meister pulls off this phobia pretty well as he is trapped in a traffic jam with a herd of sheep flocked around the entire car. Yes, it is played for laughs, but the effectiveness of Meister’s performance and the whole movie for that matter lies in the tender balance between batshit crazy and truly horrifying.
Director King does a fantastic job of never taking this film into full parody. The threat of these sheep is real and despite their placid demeanor, there is something menacing about the inscrutable stare these sheep have on their faces when the camera focuses on them. Even mixed with some over the top moments (there’s a scene that seems taken straight out of SNL’s Toonces the Driving Cat that is hilarious), the film maintains its horrifying tone until the very end.
The film proceeds to follow a headstrong environmentalist named Experience and her hapless soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend as they infiltrate (pretty easily I might add) a genetic engineering facility and make off with a canister housing a wicked little lamb. The lamb attacks the ex right after Experience breaks up with him in a gory scene that is both cartoonish and brutal all at once.
Did I fail to mention that there are were-sheep in this film? A bite from these murderous beasts changes humans into a man-sheep that has to be seen to be believed. Soon, the countryside is overrun by carnivorous sheep and equally carnivorous sheeple.
Like NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, some of the most effective scenes in BLACK SHEEP involve the use of real animals. Unlike NIGHT OF THE LEPUS which plays the whole film straight faced, this film knows the ridiculousness of its concept, embraces it, then makes a horror movie around it despite that fact.
POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2008)Directed by Lloyd Kaufman
Written by Daniel Bova, Gabriel Friedman, & Lloyd Kaufman
Starring Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Alison Sereboff, Robin L. Watkins, Ron Jeremy, and Lloyd Kaufman
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
When watching a Troma film you have to be ready for the following: lowbrow humor, filthy gore, boobs, and an undeniable charm. For the longest time, Troma was top tits when it came to low budget sleazegore with such classics as THE TOXIC AVENGERS, RABID GRANNIES, REDNECK ZOMBIES, and THE KILLER CONDOM. You could always count on some splatterific gore, some jiggling chesticles, and a few belly laughs that sometimes made you feel a little bad for laughing. Though recent Troma efforts have kind of lost their steam, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD for the most part has all of the charm, tits, and gore that put Troma on the map in the first place.
The most surprising thing for me about POULTRYGEIST is that it’s a musical. Even more surprising than that, turns out it isn’t necessarily a bad one. Though the songs aren’t perfect some are astonishingly well written, especially the films’ opener, the surprisingly operatic “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Fried”…
Though my favorite is the romantic duet between the leads entitled “I Sure Miss Getting My Salad Tossed”, but I couldn’t find the video for that one. I was surprised by both the choreography and catchiness of all of these tunes and have to give it up to writer/director Lloyd Kaufman for giving his all to this film.
The story follows two star crossed lovers: Albie, a clueless guy just trying to get laid, and Wendy, his high school sweetheart who leaves for college and returns with a lesbian girlfriend and a hatred for corporate food chains. Brokenhearted, Albie decides to get a job at the American Chicken Bunker which was erected over the Native American graveyard where Albie and Wendy used to dry hump the night away. Of course, in true POLTERGEIST fashion, only the headstones were moved in order to build the chicken restaurant and soon, mysterious demon eggs are popping up in the value meals causing disgusting displays of poopitude, vomiticity, and other fluid-splat in the bathroom and turning all of the customers into chicken/zombie hybrids.
The performances by the nerdy Arbie (Jason Yachanin) and the nubile Wendy (Kate Graham) are pretty good and both leads have great singing voices, though their acting is a bit less convincing. Lloyd Kaufman shows up as a Chicken Bunker employee with a similar backstory to Albie’s and serves as a mirror into a possible future for the down and out kid. Kaufman and Albie share a well crafted song and dance talking about the future in the backroom of the shop which serves as yet another catchy moment of the movie. The rest of the cast doesn’t really have a lot to do other than provide opportunities for stereotypical humor such as a fat guy who blows up a bathroom after eating a contaminated egg and a homosexual Mexican man who masturbates into the food and gets turned into a Sloppy Jose. The stereotypical humor is sure to offend some more sensitive types, but the clichés are so broad, even members of the races, genders, or lifestyles lampooned here would have to laugh at the ludicrousness of it all. Probably the character in worst taste is Jihad Jane, an Islamic food service worker who brandishes just about every Middle Eastern cliché Kaufman could think of.
POULTRYGEIST falls apart in the last half hour when the attention is shifted away from the songs and character and more on wonky camera extreme close-ups on gore and somewhat shoddy special effects, but there’s a good hour prior that I was truly impressed by the skill, effort and charm put forth by the entire cast and crew to make this into a legitimate film. Though it wavers in the final act, the ending of this one is especially fun and turns out to be a nice saving grace. With some fun songs, some true Troma gore, lower than low humor, and some very attractive chickadees frolicking about, POULTRYGEIST is one of the stronger Troma efforts in recent memory.
BITTER FEAST (2010)Directed by Joe Maggio
Written by Joe Maggio
Starring James LeGros, Joshua Leonard, Amy Seimetz & Mario Batali
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The premise of BITTER FEAST is mapped out in the first seconds as a young boy reads from a notebook: “Man has the opportunity to play two roles in life; that of producer and that of destroyer.” In many ways, BITTER FEAST is the fantasy of any person ever to have created anything and then be the victim of criticism. There are folks who have made a living criticizing others. Having gone through art school myself, I understand the tender scars critical words can leave after throwing one’s work out for scrutiny. I also understand the irony of offering my own criticism to a film about a critic who has his own words jabbed back at him. In many ways, BITTER FEAST tries to be a biting satire about modern criticism and creativity. For the most part, the film is a successful look at these two conceptual extremes, pitting them against each other in a primal manner, but its ultimate message is murky.
James LeGros is Peter Grey, a meticulous and socially awkward celebrity chef. In the first moments of the film, we are treated to Grey’s cooking show where he grumbles through his recipes as his plucky co-host offers annoying chatter which makes the audience chuckle. Right from the get go (after a gory opener as two children—one of them Peter, we come to find out—play a game of hunter and prey in a forest with disastrous results), we see that Grey is an unhappy man. He’s successful, pompous and the public is seeing this because he soon learns that his show is being cancelled. Upon returning to his restaurant after hearing this news, Peter learns that an online critic has given him a scathing review resulting in the loss of all of his customers. Peter loses his job as top chef in the restaurant and the ball gets rolling for the film to turn into torture porn post haste.
The flip side to Peter’s (LeGros’) creative coin is Joshua Leonard’s JT Franks, a scurvy online critic who bulldogs his way through restaurants with little or no remorse for the power of his online criticism. Much like Peter, he’s an unhappy man, suffering from the loss of a child and a marriage that has never recovered from it. The problem with this scenario is that director/writer Joe Maggio doesn’t really give us a protagonist to like or root for. Both of these men are pretty despicable and while filmmakers like Neil LeBute have made a career on focusing on despicable characters (as exemplified in his excellent YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS and IN THE COMPANY OF MEN), here with BITTER FEAST, not enough is really given short of what I’ve mapped out above for the viewer to understand where all of that unhappy camperness is coming from. Because of this, the two characters are more like archetypes/cookie cutter symbols of two extremes serving only to fight one another. It makes it hard to root for one side over another, though I’m sure the filmmaker wanted this to be a criticism of critics. LeGros is so unlikable here and he gets worse as the film goes on. Sure some may get off on the revenge fantasy on display in BITTER FEAST, but any rational thinking person will see that LeGros isn’t someone to sympathize with.
My other issue with BITTER FEAST is that the ending is very lackluster and while it rings somewhat poetic, it felt like a full meal with no just desserts as JT’s character gets shoved to the wayside in order for the film to fall into slasher film trappings and have a final girl fighting the stalking monster. Joe Maggio’s stance wavers from sympathetic toward the creator to making the creator into a monster throughout the entire film, as if he wasn’t sure what to do or who to favor with this material. Maybe he’s trying to say that both creator and destroyer are assholes. Had he wanted us to sympathize with LeGros’ Peter (a la Michael Douglas in FALLING DOWN) he shouldn’t have made him seem like such a dickhead. In the end, a chance to say something really pertinent about the ying and yang of creators and critics is missed and BITTER FEAST devolves into a typical slasher/torture porn. There are ideas with sparks of greatness here. There are performances that are somewhat inspired, though ultimately unlikable. But the ending just flops aimlessly like a goldfish on a carpet gasping for air—or in this case grasping for age old clichés to ride out on.
BUNNYMAN (2011)Directed by Carl Lindbergh
Written by Carl Lindbergh
Starring Cheryl Texiera, Matthew Albrecht, Alaina Gianci, & Matthew Stiller
Find out more on BUNNYMAN’s MySpace page!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Inspired greatly by horror milestones such as DUEL and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, BUNNYMAN turned out to be warped fun. Though the Bunnyman's motivation is left mysterious and reasons why he chooses to wear a full sized Easter Bunny suit while torturing and killing twenty-somethings with blunt, sharp, and motor-powered instruments isn't really explained, BUNNYMAN remains a straight up slasher film that has done its homework and excels in the gore and splatter department. Light on story, but heavy on shock and grue, if you're looking for a good slasher flick, BUNNYMAN hits all of the right notes.
After a 35mm opener which is as grindhousey as they come with a dame in peril, a stalker, dirt, and lots of blood, BUNNYMAN jumps right into the action with another group of kids on a road trip. By now, folks should know that if you see a semi truck on a road, for Christ's sakes, do not, by any means, legally pass it on the left. Passing a semi on a two lane highway pisses the driver off big time! Why don't people in movies know this by now?!? A DUEL-like scenario ensues as six kids are followed, harassed, and run off the road by a dirty loud-honking semi truck. I'd have been screaming FOUL at this point had the director not cleverly flipped perspectives occasionally in this high speed confrontation to show that the driver behind the tinted windows of the truck is wearing a dirty Easter bunny costume.
Shit gets really crazy when the car is run off the road and the driver of the car (Victim #1) gets squished when he inspects the engine under the car when Bunny-britches rams the car with the Duel-mobile. This film reminded me of an obscure film I saw as a kid called LUTHER THE GEEK, another low budgeteer which simply plopped a crazy psycho in the mix with a bunch of victims and went for broke in the gore and batshit craziness department (note to self: seek out LUTHER THE GEEK for a future column...). Though this movie goes by the numbers as far as whittling down the young and beautiful cast members to a manageable number in quick fashion, the kills are amped to a maximum creepy level with rape, torture, and dismemberment all utilized in reckless abandon. Once the victims are leveled down to a manageable two, the audience is given another TCM dinner sequence to chew on which itself is filled with scenes we've seen before though this time viewed through a fresh and warped lens.
As I said above, don't expect a reinvention of the wheel with BUNNYMAN. This film is a by the numbers slasher flick, but the numbers aren't any sane numerology you or I know. Though the similarities to genre classics like TCM and DUEL are too evident not to notice (even the final shot of the film is a direct swipe from the original TCM), I have to admit seeing a giant man in a bunny suit beat, stab, chainsaw, run over, punch, dismember, and blast folks is something that is too bizarre not to recommend. The film ends the way it begins with 35mm home movies which are equal parts beautiful and horrific. The world of the Bunnyman may be familiar, but that doesn't mean it's not effective. BUNNYMAN will be released later this year. Fans of all things slasher will not want to miss it.
Follow when and where you can find BUNNYMAN on its MySpace page!
And finally, we can’t talk about killer rabbits without this. Don’t “run away” until you’ve checked this out…
Happy Easter, if that’s your bag. 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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