Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Yes, I know. There’s a new TWILIGHT in theaters today and the supporters are as vocal as the haters. Personally, anything to get folks to go see horror themed films (no matter how lame) is a good thing because that means if the theaters are filled with butts watching it, more horror films will be made. Though ultimately tame and schmaltzy, TWILIGHT can serve as (as writer Tim Seeley put it on my horror panel this summer at SDCC) a gateway drug steering a whole new generation in the direction of horror and that, my friends, is not a bad thing. So this week, I’m covering some newer and older horror films which definitely pack more bite than any of the TWILIGHT films. Below are films for all kinds of folks: homosexual vamps, 80’s retro Dracs, kung fu nosferatu, and a pair of angst ridden bloodsuckers. But first, here is a news bit to bite into…
Fan of PSYCHO?
Who isn’t, right?
Check out this cool story about an unmade PSYCHO sequel from 1980.
Special thanks to the article’s writer, William Wilson, for pointing me in this story’s direction. Great and interesting stuff.
Now, sink your teeth into this column, my children of the night.
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS (2002)
BITE MARKS (2011)
BLOOD JUNKIE (2010)
MIDNIGHT SON (2010)
And finally…NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE Short Film
MARTIN (1976)Directed by George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini, & George Romero
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Any horror aficionado worth listening to will tell you that GEORGE A. ROMERO’S MARTIN is a true vampire classic. And it is a great film. Though it is a film hindered slightly by amateur actors, Romero tells an intimate tale of a troubled young man who may or may not be a vampire. Though he does have visions of past lives where he lives out romanticized scenarios which are reminiscent of all of the old Hammer and Universal vampire films, Romero never plays his cards and tells us whether he’s just a man who thinks he’s a vamp or actually is one, and that’s why this film is a must see for all vampire fanatics.
Romero is at his best in this film during the silent moments. The opening scene on a train where Martin, reminiscent of today’s popular serial killer Dexter, sneaks into a woman’s cabin and shoots her with a needle: though lacking in Dexter’s knowledge of proper dosage recommended for immediate unconsciousness, there’s a stark reality to Martin’s attacks. John Amplas, who plays Martin, gives the character a vulnerability that makes him sympathetic even though he is doing despicable things to these women. His pleading with the women to just be calm, and that they’ll be asleep soon after poking them with a needle, is both horrifying and sad. Amplas does a fantastic job in these nervous moments and though it’s hard to sympathize with what looks to be a rape on screen, Romero and Amplas somehow make you root for Martin not to be caught.
A vampire is only as good as his Van Helsing, and in MARTIN, there’s a great one played by Lincoln Maazel. Maazel plays Martin’s uncle who immediately recognizes Martin as a Nosferatu. It’s somewhat comical the way this crazy uncle lobs accusations at Martin across the dinner table. The conflict between Martin and his uncle throughout the film escalates from laughable to deadly serious as Martin starts stalking his next victims in the neighborhood. Much like the awkward opening sequence, Martin’s night attack on a young woman he believes to be home alone turns out to be overly complex. In a day and age of cell phones, it’s also pretty entertaining the way Martin thwarts his victim’s attempts to call the police by picking up the phone and dialing random numbers when they try to dial for the police.
All the way up to the explosive finale, MARTIN is thoroughly entertaining. Cameos by gore great Tom Savini and Romero himself up the ante in the acting department and Amplas does a great job as the title character, but the rest of the players are a bit by the numbers when it comes to reading their lines. Despite that, fans of both vampire film and DEXTER will definitely get into MARTIN. Though you won’t see Martin turning into a bat or frying in the sun, you do see a scary, humorous, and thrilling depiction of a warped world through the eyes of what would be a vampire.
TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS (2002)AKA ERA OF THE VAMPIRE
Directed by Wellson Chin
Written by Tsui Hark
Starring Ken Chang, Michael Chow, Lam Suet, Chan Kwok Kwan, Anya, Yu Rong Guang, Horace Lee Wai Shing, & Ji Chun Hua
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Ever since I saw MR. VAMPIRE as a kid, I’ve been a fan of the hopping vampire film. Though wire fu is often criticized as being awkward and overly staged, I can’t help but marvel at the work put into this type of film to give the viewer a unique mix of fantasy, horror, and choreography. Yes, that’s right, choreography. Though it is looked at as a fighting style, when depicted on the screen in a manner where life and death is not at stake, it is choreography and though I don’t often get a chance to talk about such a subject here on AICN HORROR, TSUI HARK’S VAMPPIRE HUNTERS sure does give me the opportunity. Being a huge fan of kung fu all the way back to when I was a kid, rewatching this film for review this week had me grinning from opening to closing credits.
All of the standards are here. In the tradition of those old Kung Fu Theater shows (which I watched with my brother after Sunday WWF Wrestling on USA Network), I chose to watch the dubbed version of this film, which made it all the more enjoyable. You’ve got your slapstick overacting between the main four Vampire Hunters who often smack each other around like Moe, Larry, and Curly after too many Sake bombs. You’ve got your over the top sound effects where every movement requires an electrifying swish, whomp, or bloosh! And finally, you’ve got your elaborate sets and ornate weaponry, all gorgeously crafted and oozing with old world mystique.
But on top of all of that, the best part of this film is the expansion of the Jiang Shi, better known as the Hopping Vampire. Unlike Western culture which has differentiated between vampires and zombies, the Hopping Vampire is a combination of both. When a zombie tastes human blood it becomes a vampire. But unlike the romanticized version seen everywhere from the Universal to Anne Rice to TWILIGHT depictions of the vampire, the Hopping Vampire is a decaying corpse, stiff as a board, yet floating and hopping toward our heroes and damsels relentlessly. There’s something utterly scary about the way these inanimate objects move. Instead of shambling slowly like the American undead, they hop, which is a bit ridiculous looking sometimes, but fun nevertheless. Once turned to a vampire, though, the corpses float, their feet never touching the ground, and this is a damn scary effect. According to the film, these monsters spawn from the ancient Chinese custom of preserving the dead by dipping them in wax, making them human statues. Director Wellson Chin takes full advantage of these age old customs and making them absolutely chilling to experience.
On top of all of that, the kung fu is fantastic in VAMPIRE HUNTERS as four warriors (named Wind, Lightning, Rain, and Thunder) and their Master battle legions of the undead. There’s swordfighting, spear flinging, chain whipping, and all sorts of flips and wire fu going on. Rarely is there a moment without either a fight or a horror, keeping this film a brisk adrenaline ride.
There’s a little bit of everything in this one. Zombie wranglers, floating vamps, legions of hopping dead, killer golden cobras, and tons and tons of kung fu. Though the story is pretty simple--a quintet of warriors search out a vampire, lose their Master, and stumble into a plot to overthrow a powerful and rich family--the film itself is as dynamic as they come. I loved every flipping minute of TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS and if you’re bored of traditional vamps, this is the shot in the arm you need to see.
New on DVD this week from Breaking Glass Pictures!
BITE MARKS (2011)Directed by Mark Bessenger
Written by Mark Bessenger
Starring Benjamin Lutz, Windham Beacham, David Alanson, Krystal Main, & Stephen Geoffreys
More info on this film on its Facebook page and the website.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A while back, I reviewed a film called VAMPIRE BOYS. It was about gay vampires and I didn’t really give it a favorable review, not because of the subject matter, but because it wasn’t a good movie. But if you’re looking for a film about gay vampires that is actually entertaining, I’ve found the one for you. BITE MARKS is a fun romp, never taking itself overly seriously and with enough winks and nods to the audience to make it a film worth taking a look at. What I liked about BITE MARKS is that despite the film having homosexual overtones, it doesn’t dumb things town or preach to its audience. It’s a horror film with two gay characters, but doesn’t necessarily make it all about the two gay characters. This, I like.
Windham Beacham and David Alanson play a homosexual couple hiking across America in order to reconnect. They happen upon a good old boy trucker named Brewster (played by Benjamin Lutz) who has been questioning his preference in women of late. Hauling a load of coffins to an unknown location, Brewster decides to pick up the weary travelers and soon the trio find themselves trapped in the cab of the truck with the occupants of the coffins surrounding them. They have no choice but to wait the vamps out until morning.
This puts our trio of characters in the same place and forced to confront their issues. The couple must face their relationship problems while Brewster ponders his sexuality and is conflicted with his own prejudices toward homosexuals. Though there are a few humorous attempts that fall flat, for the most part this is a fun film, steeped with innuendo, but never shying away from gore or scares.
This film also has a really fun animated opening title sequence by Jovani Olivares incorporating some iconic images of vampires and other horror tropes, though the score of the film sounds very similar to the GREMLINS theme song. Additionally, the truck driver, played by Benjamin Lutz is called Brewster giving his brother, played by Stephen Geoffreys, a chance to repeat his famous FRIGHT NIGHT line, which teeters on the line between cool and hokey. These are just a few of the bits that make this film a damn fun experience.
Horror films, especially vampire films, are always ripe with innuendo. It’s great to see a sophisticated take on horror using all of the classic tropes that doesn’t beat the innuendo into you. BITE MARKS takes the more subtle approach, which to me makes it all the more effective.
New on DVD from Troma!
BLOOD JUNKIE (2010)AKA ROCKY TRAILS
Directed by Drew Rosas
Written by Drew Rosas
Starring Nick Sommer, Michael Johnson, Sarah Luther, Emily Treolo, Andrew Swant
More info on this film on its Facebook page and the website.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It took quite a while before I realized that BLOOD JUNKIE was a modern film made to look like an 80’s slasher film rather than one just filmed in the 80’s. Right from the opening sequence I wondered if this was untalented folks making a bad film or if it was talented folks going out of their way to make a good film that looks like a bad film. Turns out it is the latter.
I had a blast with this film. From the over the top soon to be victims who high five, guzzle cheap beer, and shout “Chicks!” to every camera cliché and trick in the book used, this is a love letter to bad 80’s horror for anyone who lived through and loved that era of horror films. The set up is paper thin. Two guys meet two girls in the parking lot of a liquor store. The girls have money for booze. The guys have the car. They get together and go camping. Of course, there’s a blood sucking killer in the woods as well. This film looks like it was filmed for about 12 dollars, but the filmmakers use this to their advantage, amping up the cheese and wallowing like a pig in shit in every low fi trick in the book.
If you’re a fan of A WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and lines like this
“This chick will melt like a stick of butter in the palm of my tongue.”
make you laugh, then this is the film for you. The film is surprisingly effective in the chills department once the blood starts flowing and in between it will have you laughing your ass off at how ridiculous the culture of the 80’s really was. Plus, unlike a lot of Troma films, the narrative doesn’t fall apart in the end. From start to finish this is a low, passionate, sloppy hug around all things 80’s horror. I’m addicted to BLOOD JUNKIE and will eagerly anticipate what director Drew Rosas has in store in future efforts.
Advance Review: Recently played at the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival and coming to FearNET January 2012!
MIDNIGHT SON (2011)Directed by Scott Leberecht
Written by Scott Leberecht
Starring Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish, Jo D. Jonz, Arlen Escarpeta, Larry Cedar, Tracey Walter
Find out more on the webite and on its Facebook Page.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
MIDNIGHT SON could be best described as a modern day MARTIN with a little bit of the indie film HABIT tossed in for good measure. Those familiar with those two films will see some of the same themes at play here. Though MIDNIGHT SON doesn’t pull any punches admitting that the title character named Jacob is undeniably a vampire, like MARTIN, it provides an intimate look at a man who doesn’t know what he is and it trying unsuccessfully to find out. Of course, his one detriment is that he doesn’t know where to find these answers in a world where vamps are only found in midnight matinees. Like HABIT, which highlighted the need for blood as a metaphor for drug addiction, once he tastes human blood, Jacob quickly starts a downward spiral into madness and chaos.
Despite its similarities to these two films, MIDNIGHT SON stands on its own when it comes to acting, direction, and story. Writer/director Scott Leberecht takes his sweet old time, relying on many a quiet moment allowing Jacob’s character to silently shine through as his hunger develops and overcomes him. This film definitely snowballs with Jacob first discovering a taste for raw meat, but when that fails to quell his grumbling stomach, he ups the ante by trying to break into a hospital hazardous waste dumpster looking for discarded blood. When an employee catches Jacob in the search for blood, he exploits the need, stringing Jacob along like a drug dealer to a junkie.
I also really loved the patience this story has and the unconventional ways it uses well tread vampires standards. We’ve seen the beast within rage uncontrollably during a sexually charged moment, but we haven’t seen the vamp rage within triggered by a cocaine nosebleed. Later moments depict the vampire’s aversion to the sun in effective and imaginative ways.
The acting here is top tier. Zak Kilberg, who plays Jacob, is reserved and teeters between being wholesome boy next door and quiet serial killer type. Looking a little bit like a cross between Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ed Norton, Kilberg does a great job bringing to life this complex character. Props should also be given to Maya Parish in a brave performance as a girl attracted to Jacob but sporting secrets of her own. Character actors Larry Cedar (DEADWOOD) and Tracy Walter (BATMAN, CONAN THE BARBARIAN) add some nice secondary performances here as well. With Jo D. Jonz offering a lot of bite as the despicable blood pusher taking advantage of Jacob’s addiction.
Though not necessarily original, Leberecht delivers a truly harrowing experience in MIDNIGHT SON as Jacob discovers that he is not a human being, but a creature of the night. This film is not without a heavy dose of angst, but unlike TWILIGHT, which dumbs things town to dullard degrees, MIDNIGHT SON is a sophisticated film about addiction, relationships, and understanding who one is. Lacking in schmaltz and lameness seen in heaping doses in TRUE BLOOD, VAMPIRE DIARIES, and TWILIGHT, MIDNIGHT SON is a much more effective and touching take on vampirism.
And finally…here’s a short film from the twisted minds that brought you MIDNIGHT ROADKILL called NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE. This fast and fun found footage mini-flick is brought to you by Owen Mulligan and DeadFi Productions . 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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