Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got another gaggle of horror films to enjoy this week, including one by popular demand from the TBs. But before we check out this week’s films, here are a few horror news bits you might find interesting.
Here’s something definitely out of the ordinary and most definitely not safe for work. It’s a comparison and contrast between two, count them two, porn versions of the horror film HALLOWEEN. William S. Wilson gives a detailed analysis and some pros and cons for each film.
Again, this is NSFW, but it is damn entertaining.
The cool guys at Geek Central City did a fantastic write up of my horror panel “Horror On the Paneled Page” that took place at this year’s NYCC. Follow this link to read a great description and some great insight into what transpired during the panel which starred Ben Templesmith (30 DAYS OF NIGHT), Menton3 (MONOCYTE), Matt Pizzolo (GODKILLER), Tim Seeley (HACK/SLASH), Brandon Seifert (WITCH DOCTOR), Alan Robert (WIRE HANGERS), David Quinn (FAUST), and Chris Monfette (HELLRAISER), moderated by me, Mark L. Miller.
Didn’t get enough Halloween film festivals last weekend? How about checking out a zombie film fest in North Hollywood, CA? The ZED FEST FILM FESTIVAL is going on this Saturday November 5th with doors opening at 6pm. Films playing include the extremely fun MILLENIUM BUG, which I reviewed here!
Click on this link for a the Zed Fest lineup and more information here!
And now let’s get started with the show, starting with a request from the talkbacks!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
By popular demand: SSSSSSS (1973)
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
THE OFFSPRING (2009)
THE WOMAN (2011)
And finally…WELCOME TO HOXFORD Short Film!
By popular demand!
SSSSSSS (1973)AKA SSSSNAKE and HISS OF DEATH
Directed by Bernard Kowalski
Written by Hal Dresner (from a story by Dan Striepeke)
Starring Dirk Benedict, Strother Martin, Heather Mengies & Reb Brown
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Because one guy in the talkbacks demanded it, I took a look at SSSSSSS this week (that’s seven S’s to be exact…don’t see SSSSSS, it pales in comparison). SSSSSSS is an animal gone wild horror film--the kind that was all the rage in the seventies with FROGS, SQUIRM, FOOD OF THE GODS, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS and tons of other films depicting animals rising up and wreaking vengeance on us pesky humans. Though SSSSSSS isn’t another environmental tale with the animals reacting to nuclear waste disposal or proximity to atom bomb testing, it still bears the credo I noted last year in this column when reviewing films of this kind: don’t fuck with mother nature.
Here a mad scientist type named Dr. Stoner (played by Strother Martin) chooses human test subjects and attempts to turn them into snakes. Eager college student David Blake (Face-Man Dirk Benedict) volunteers to be his lab assistant without knowing that the good doctor’s previous assistant has mysteriously vanished. Immediately, Stoner begins injecting Blake with green fluid (by now, shouldn’t folks know to be wary of syringes with green fluid?) as a precaution for snake bites and Blake begins to feel all slithery and scaly. At the same time, he develops a romance with the doctor’s daughter, Kristina, who has an affinity for snakes herself, of course. The seventies version of William Zabka (you know, from KARATE KID and JUST ONE OF THE GUYS?...look it up and you’ll know who I mean) Reb Brown, best known as TV’s Captain America and Boomer in UNCOMMON VALOR, plays a vain school bully who serves as trouble for Blake and Kristina’s relationship and ends up snake food.
There are snakes galore in this one and those of you with ophidiophobia might actually find SSSSSSS pretty scary. The scenes with actual snakes are impressive, especially the ones with the king cobra. The acting is pretty stiff and the camera work is pretty rudimentary, but the effects are better than one would expect from a B-grade movie. The scenes of the humans in mid-transformation and the carnival snake man are inspired, though seeing Dirk Benedict writhe around the floor losing control of his limbs is pretty laughable. The dramatic finale with Dr. Stoker going off the deep end, worshipping a king cobra while a snakey Dirk Benedict battles a mongoose, made the film for me.
SSSSSSS is a damn good time as long as you don’t take it too seriously, though with a name like SSSSSSS, I don’t think there’s a chance of that.
New on BluRay & DVD this week!
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)Directed by Rupert Julian (uncredited Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle, Edward Sedgwick)
Written by Walter Anthony & Tom Reid (titles, uncredited), Elliott J. Clawson & Raymond L. Shrock (adaptation, uncredited), Bernard McConville, Frank M. McCormack, & Jasper Spearing (treatment, uncredited), Richard Wallace (additional comedy material), (from the novel by Gaston Leroux)
Starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, John St. Polis, Snitz Edwards, Mary Fabian, Virginia Pearson
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This undeniable classic by Gaston Leroux is available on BluRay this week. I remember seeing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA ages ago. In the between time, I’d seen Robert Englund play the character, delighted at DePalma’s rock opera THE PHANTOM OF PARADISE, and even seen the live musical. It’s a testament to Leroux’s story that it has survived so many renditions and reimaginings through the years. But returning to the silent film that started it all, it’s obvious why the Phantom has gone down as one of cinema’s most notorious villains.
Lon Chaney is stellar as the Phantom. Even before his twisted visage is shown, his dramatic and bold movements instill a level of creep and power that few actors possessed at the time, much less possess now. Gotta talk a bit about the famous unmasking scene; I know there was a time that the scene would cause women to faint in theaters. Sure, we are jaded now, but I still get a little shaken at this scene as the Phantom is professing his love, playing the organ, and caught off guard when Christine (played by Mary Philbin) pulls his mask off for all to see. It’s a horrifying moment, not just because Chaney had stretched and pulled his face into an inhuman shape, but also because it is a moment of ultimate betrayal, as the woman he trusted reveals the misguided Phantom’s true, unprotected face. What makes the Phantom such a good villain is the fact that he is a tragic character; one who is guilty of not understanding society due to his disfigurement. He’s driven mad by his solitude and just wants someone to love. There’s something sad about that and even though Chaney is truly scary in every scene he’s in, there’s a melancholy sense of pity ever present as well.
Sure the story is famous for the unmasking and the fallen chandelier, but there’s so much more to this film. The Phantom has booby trapped the catacombs he lives in to be set off by playing his organ. He submerges himself under the water to attack those come to rescue Christine. The gondola ride is beautifully shot. The boat shaped golden bed in the Phantom’s chamber is exquisite, yet not overly stated. The vividly Technicolor masquerade ball where the Phantom shows up as the Red Death is both jarring in that all of a sudden there’s color, but enchanting nevertheless. And the carriage race away from the lynch mob is about as tense as it gets. The film ends with the Phantom’s ultimate deception as he fakes out the lynch mob one last time by acting like he has a bomb in his hand when in reality it is empty. A fantastic final “Fuck you!” to the society who shunned him and the Phantom laughs his wicked head off as the mob tears him apart.
This BluRay contains three versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA; the original 1925 version with a piano score by Frederick Hodges, the 1929 rerelease version done to the orchestral score of Gabriel Thibaudeau, and another brand new version with a score by the Alloy Orchestra. I chose to watch the original and loved every frame and plan on rewatching with the other scores later in the week. No true horror fan should be without this classic presentation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
New to DVD from After Dark Originals!
51 (2011)Directed by Jason Connery
Written by Kenny Yakkel & Lucy Muckerjee
Starring Bruce Boxleitner, Jason London, Rachel Miner, Vanessa Branch, John Shea
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The legend of Area 51 has been around for ages with many a wild theory tossed around as to what really goes on in the mysterious military establishment. Being an addict of Discovery Channel, Sci Fi and other reality TV documentaries and specials on cable, I was immediately interested in the concept behind the latest After Dark Original film 51. Though the material teeters between sci fi and horror, 51 has enough scares and monsters to qualify for a mention in this column.
51, though, is produced in conjunction with SyFy, the channel responsible for groaners such as SHARKTOPUS, MEGASHARK VS OCTOMOM and whatever the hell crap fests. Though 51 is a cut above most of the regular SyFy films, it still falls short of actually being something worth recommending. Bruce Boxleitner plays an army Sergeant in charge of the Area 51 facility prepping his troops for a visit by the press to finally uncover the secrets of the facility. Of course, they do not intend to give full disclosure as to the alien goings on that occur at the facility. Instead they intend to settle the public suspicion by giving away a secret or two. The plan is actually pretty well played, though clunkily carried out, with this deception only fooling the press momentarily. Of course, this wouldn't be a film if everything worked out well and when aliens start escaping the facility, the press are in for the story of their lives.
Well, not really. This film devolves into your typical monster on the loose plot pretty quickly with the reporters and some select military stuck in lockdown with a variety of aliens roaming around and picking them off one by one. To save money, one of the aliens is a shape shifter, much like the T-1000 shape shifter, who wanders around assuming forms when it fits the plot. The potential of the plot of a group of alien prisoners escaping a government facility is high, but budgetary limitations make it impossible to achieve the promise of cool. Shots are chopped in such a way so the viewer can't really see the man in a monster suit clumsily trying to move on camera which immediately takes away any dramatic tension.
The film sports some decent performances by Rachel Miner (who as usual delivers her lines in her shaky, tweaked out manner) and Jason London (who doesn't seem to really want to be there) as army soldiers who thought Area 51 was supposed to be a fluff job and are forced to dig deep within the well of heroism in order to survive. John Shea (LOIS & CLARK's Lex Luthor) takes a decent spin as a Geraldo type, and some of the monster makeup is fun (always nice to see a man in suit instead of horrid CGI). Plus, one of the aliens wears what looks to be a flesh colored body suit with thick brown veins which looks like a skin tone version Charlie's Green Man costume from IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILIDELPHIA.
Though better than most SyFy flicks, that's not saying much. Some thrills are within, but you have to sift through a lot of slack acting and lame effects to get them.
THE OFFSPRING (2011)Directed by Andrew Van Den Houten
Written by Jack Ketchum (based on a book by Jack Ketchum)
Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Jessica Butler, Kelly Carey, Holter Graham, T.J. Graye, Amy Hargreaves, Art Hindle, & Spencer List
Find out more about this film here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
When I was a kid, the reason I loved FRIDAY THE 13TH films is because I stumbled upon them by accident. Not knowing it was a series, I watched the first F13 and was shocked to see that another was on cable the next night. After that was shown, I found that a third one was on the next night, and finally Part 4, the rumored FINAL CHAPTER, premiered in theaters that Friday. It was one of those happy accidents that was one of the most memorable times in my childhood (I know, I’m a twisted shit).
Having just seen THE WOMAN twice this week and upon doing some research for my review, I found that THE WOMAN is actually a sequel to Jack Ketchum’s earlier novel THE OFFSPRING and that that book was made into a film. I had no idea this film existed, let alone Pollyanna McIntosh, who exhibited a star making performance in THE WOMAN, starred in THE OFFSPRING as well. I told myself I had to seek this film out, pronto Squanto! So I get home the other night, and my habit of recording movies all through the month of October on my DVR pays off in that I find that I had inadvertently recorded THE OFFSPRING when it played on IFC last week!!! I nearly did a backflip. Happy accidents like that don’t happen that often. So with great anticipation, I watched the film immediately after watching THE WOMAN.
Though director Andrew Van Den Houten is no Lucky McKee, he does give us a brutal story of a family of feral people roaming the coast of Maine and killing and eating everything in their wake. Still as beastly as ever, Pollyanna McIntosh hisses and growls out lines in a guttural caveman speak to her family. The actress, though a bit younger, continues to be a force to be reckoned with when the camera focuses on her. The rest of her brood is a bit less effective, especially the Thing One- and Thing Two-looking feral children, though the scrappy wild child who always smiles does resonate a high amount of creep. The brutality in this film is definitely there too, just not in the stylized and musically genius way McKee did with THE WOMAN.
Comparing this film to THE WOMAN isn’t really fair. McKee’s film is a modern masterpiece. THE OFFSPRING is a good film. Though the concept of the wild family striking out against modern family has been done to death with THE HILLS HAVE EYES and WRONG TURN, it definitely is a brutal film, full of terrifying moments that skate the line between horror and taboo. If you’re going to watch both films written by Jack Ketchum back to back, definitely watch THE OFFSPRING first. It’s a great lead in to the greatness that is THE WOMAN.
Advance Review: In select theaters now! Recently played at the Toronto After Dark Film Fest 2011!!!
THE WOMAN (2011)Directed by Lucky McKee
Written by Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee (based on a book by Jack Ketchum)
Starring Sean Bridges, Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Carlee Baker, Zach Rand, Shyla Molhusen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having seen Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN twice now, I feel like I’ve wrapped my head around it all. It is a fantastic film and had I seen it before the deadline of my Best of the Last Year of AICN HORROR, it definitely would have been high on the list. As is, there would have to be some pretty amazing horror films to knock it off next year’s list. This is a story that will disgust. It will cause debate. It will shock you. Having seen it with someone who isn’t really a horror fan, I have to say it does make for an interesting discussion afterwards, especially if that person is a female. In many ways, Lucky McKee continues to explore womanhood, a concept he touches upon in the film that made his name, MAY. But in this film, the director shows he is bolder, more experienced, and more skilled in the presentation. If I were to comparer this film to anything, I’d shy away from the torture porn some might think it to be and compare it more to films like DONNIE DARKO, HEATHERS and AMERICAN BEAUTY: films that that, at their heart, are twisted comedies about the complexity of the concept of family while offering a warped view of what the American ideal of family is all about. It is also a film which most definitely takes a stance on women’s roles, using the various female characters in the cast to represent the complex roles a woman plays. From abused housewife to angsty teen to bright eyed window into the future, even before exploring the role of the title character the story of THE WOMAN is rich with metaphor and ripe for a varied interpretation.
There will be those who pan this film as misogynistic and I understand why folks may misinterpret that. The Woman, played by the mesmerizing Pollyanna McIntosh, spends the bulk of her screentime chained to a wall in the cellar of a farmhouse. Female characters are abused, sexually molested, degraded, and viewed as objects rather than humans. If that’s not misogynistic, I don’t know what is. But in the hands of director Lucky McKee, he uses these uncomfortable scenes for a reason. His Woman is the harbinger of wrath for all of the abusers, the users, the takers, and those who sit idly by and watch it all happen. Though some could argue that the bulk of the film depicts an uncomfortable degree of abuse towards women, the dramatic and bloody finale rings as the point McKee is trying to bring across. If anything, this is a cautionary tale to respect the power of women.
On top of all of those heavy themes, McKee has made a fantastically entertaining film. His use of music in this is genius, twistedly juxtaposing Sean Spillane’s often poppy and folksy soundtrack with the dark secrets going on in the entire cast’s heads. The songs are quite catchy too, especially Spillane’s Cobain-esque “Distracted” which plays just before all of the shit goes down in the film. Immediately after finishing the film I downloaded the soundtrack into my iPhone.
This is not a comfortable film to watch. It’s gory. It’s demented. It’s perverse. It shows a part of America that folks are not willing to admit exists and are definitely not proud of. I’ve always said that films that cause unease may not be the favorites of most folks, but they are the most effective horror films. McKee has achieved both. Using Jack Ketchum’s fantastic screenplay and book as the backbone, THE WOMAN is a brain twisting, moral churning, hypnotizing film experience.
And finally…fans of Ben Templesmith’s werewolf opus WELCOME TO HOXFORD (and if you’re not, you should be) should rejoice at this fan made film based on Templesmith’s horror comic. This short by Julien Mokrani truly is something to be marveled at. Find out more about this amazing short film on its website found 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. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in November (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can pre-order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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