Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week, we’ve got a new batch of gory and gruesome delights for you all to enjoy. So let’s get right to it, shall we?
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
HORROR EXPRESS (1972)
THE OPEN DOOR (2008)
And finally…Christopher Moore’s BURSTERS!
New this week on BluRay/DVD!
HORROR EXPRESS (1972)Directed by Eugenio Martín
Written by Arnaud d'Usseau & Julian Zimet
Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Silvia Tortosa, Julio Peña, Telly Savalas, and Alberto de Mendoza
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Horror usually abides by a lot of rules, or at least it used to. There were certain conventions that studios such as Hammer, Universal and Amicus would abide by and audiences would come to expect certain things from those films. My favorite films, though, chuck those conventions and tell a new kind of story--which is exactly the kind of weird odd gem HORROR EXPRESS is. With unconventional concepts, characters, and monsters shuffling between train cars throughout the film, HORROR EXPRESS proves to be ahead of its time with a sort of “throw a bunch of shit against the wall and see what sticks” attitude that other films of its era were afraid to have.
The biggest selling point of this film is its two lead actors, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Usually at odds in horror films, this time around they have a weird pairing as dueling archeologists putting their heads together to uncover a mystery surrounding an archeological find Lee happens upon during a Himalayan excavation. Lee brings this creature he finds in the ice on a train and immediately weird things start happening. Christopher Lee has a big ol’ Vlad Tepes moustache and Cushing, who outside of the film had recently lost his wife, appears more gaunt than usual in his role. Both Cushing and Lee are almost upstaged by Alberto De Mendoza as a holy man who becomes transfixed on the creature. Also threatening to steal the show is Telly Savalas, who shows up very late in the film for about fifteen minutes, but makes each of those minutes count as a boisterous Cossack running the train.
Elements of this film show up in many a latter monster movie, most notably John Carpenter’s THE THING and even PREDATOR. Much like John Carpenter’s THE THING, the two deduce that the creature travels from one body to the next, with the best indication of possession (or infection, depending on if you favor science or religion) being close inspection of the eyes. The creature also mimics the voices of passengers on the train much like the monster in PREDATOR as it turns out the hairy beast is also a pretty good whistler. There are moments of ludicrousness, though, as the beast, frozen in ice for a millennia, somehow knows how to pick a padlock with a bent nail. The camera really amps up the menace of the creature in close-ups with its glowing eye and hairy body, but when they pull back, the lumbering beast loses its effectiveness.
On top of the monster itself, Spainish director Eugenio Martin adds screeching and wailing music, reminiscent of a train’s wheels breaking, that is as haunting as the subject matter itself. The autopsy scenes performed by Lee and Cushing are amazingly gory for its time, showing much more of the red stuff than Hammer or American studios were used to. This most likely is due to the fact that the rise of Italian filmmakers such as Bava, Argento, and Fulci rather than the more romanticized horror of American and English directors of the time. The white eyed and bloody stares of the possessed characters of this film makes this film all the more terrifying.
Editor’s note: white eyes seem to be a theme in this week’s column. As you read on, you’ll see what I mean.
Though like most films of its time, the film ends abruptly, HORROR EXPRESS is full of shocks, surprises, and innovative ideas and performances. It’s a tale of a monster running amok on a train--a simple concept deftly plumbed for all its worth and a film that most definitely will not be forgotten once viewed.
New this week on DVD!
THE OPEN DOOR (2008)Directed by Doc Duhame
Written by Doc Duhame
Starring Catherine Munden, Sarah Christine Smith, Ryan Doom, Daniel Booko, Mike Dunay, & Guy Wilson
Find out more about the film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This looks like a week for surprises for me as I wasn’t expecting much upon viewing THE OPEN DOOR. While the film may not blow the roofs off of horror fans looking for over the top gore and evil, THE OPEN DOOR does have more bite than I originally gave it credit for. Think of this as Christian Slater’s PUMP UP THE VOLUME for horror fans, and you’ll get this small story about a group of high schoolers who fall victim to a mysterious pirate radio show. The film opens with a murder suicide with the father sporting white pupil-less eyes (similar to those seen in HORROR EXPRESS above) shooting his family then taking himself out, so right off the bat, you’ve got some intense yet somewhat bloodless action.
Though occasionally the teenage drama that ensues becomes somewhat tiresome, the acting it better than usual plus there’s a trio of hot girls to ogle over before the radio starts possessing folks. The rampage at the house once the possessing starts is surprisingly brutal with the kids turning on each other and basically tearing each other apart.
Light on the effects but heavy on the creep and brutal, THE OPEN DOOR ends of a shockingly dour note which gives this film more teeth than I originally gave it credit for. Die hard horror aficionados might scoff at this, but if you’re looking for a gateway drug somewhere between the over the top angst of TWILIGHT and the chills of the original SCREAM, THE OPEN DOOR fits the bill nicely.
New this week on DVD/BluRay!
HELLDRIVER (2010)Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Written by Yoshihiro Nishimura & Daichi Nagisa
Starring Yumiko Hara, Eihi Shiina, Yurei Yanagi, Kazuki Namioka, Kentaro Kishi, Mizuki Kusumi, Minoru Torihada, & Guadalcanal Taka
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I knew I was in for something out of the ordinary when the film just sort of starts out of the blue with the madness and then one hour into the story, the opening credits appear. As unconventional as that is cinematically, it makes for a pretty damn cool experience to know you are in for one hell of a long drive (especially since that first hour is filled with zombie gore and mayhem already). HELLDRIVER is an epic from Yoshihiro Nishimura, the mad mind who brought you TOKYO GORE POLICE and THE MACHINE GIRL. If you’ve never experienced either of those two kinetic masterworks of gore and awesome, I pity you…or maybe I’m jealous that you get to experience these blood-soaked gems for the first time.
HELLDRIVER takes bits from those two films and amps it up to 11. The film is a celebration of over the top and gross out special effects. Though much of the effects are completely unrealistic, the film jumps into the blood headfirst and never comes up for air. Five minutes never goes by without a dismemberment, a fountain spray of blood, or some offbeat monster creation of body parts and nightmare stuff. Nishimura pulls nary a punch and though he lingers quite a bit to make this more of a showcase of effects and splatter rather than an actual cohesive story, the narrative does make sense most of the time.
The story, as far as I understand it, goes like this; a brother and sister team of serial killers attack a family brutally in the opening scene. Just as the sister is about to kill her final victim, she’s hit by a comet from the sky and spews black ash all over Tokyo. When inhaled, the ash creates zombies with horned pineal glands which are both their source of power and their greatest weakness. A band of warriors recruited by the government is the only force stopping the rampant destruction from the horned zombies. Kika (played fiercely by Yumiko Hara) leads the way with her chainsaw sword…
Yep, her sword has a rotating chainsaw blade around the edge. Pretty damn sweet, I know.
And this is what this gore-fest is all about. It’s a bunch of cool ways for these warriors to take on these monsters. Heads explode. Nipples are bitten off. Still-walking bodies are eaten down to the bones before falling over. Each minute tries to out-mindfuck you more than the last. I mean, a woman who just gave birth swings her undead newborn around like a biting, giggling weapon on an umbilical rope. A man sword fights a monster with his car. It rains biting zombie heads. A woman with doll parts on her face and at least ten arms swordfights our heroine. Things blow up for no reason. Cars are made out of body parts. Every minute is delightfully daffy.
HELLDRIVER is not a film to be taken seriously. It’s something to turn on in the background during a party as a collection of odd and grotesque imagery. But beware; the images are so damn fantastically insane that it’s likely to take over the whole situation and you’ll have a party of people with their jaws on the floor watching in awe. Enjoy this film for the trip down a bloody rabbit hole it is. Don’t try to make sense of it. Just let it wash over you like a crazy rainstorm. Trust me, even if you’ve seen other Asian horror splatterfests, you still won’t be ready for HELLDRIVER. This two hour long all-you-can-eat buffet of swords, zombies, gore, and just plain cool comic book mayhem has to be seen to be believed.
New this week on DVD!
NEEDLE (2010)Directed by John V. Soto
Written by Anthony Egan & John V. Soto
Starring Michael Dorman, Travis Fimmel, Tilby Glover, John Jarrat, & Jane Badler
Find out more about the film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
What starts out as your typical “cast of ridiculous good-lookings get offed one by one” flick ended up being a pretty fine whodunit. The acting here is especially exceptional here with Michael Dorman turning in an impressive lead performance as Ben, a college student who receives an antique box from his dead father’s estate that turns out to be part Barker’s Lament Configuration and part voodoo machine. When Ben’s friends starts dying in mysterious and gory ways, he is forced to work with his estranged brother, Marcus (played by Travis Fimmel) to figure out who’s using the mysterious box for murderous deeds.
Many things about NEEDLE surprised me. First and foremost, and you wouldn’t know it by the photos I was able to scrounge up, this is a damn gory film. As needles are lit red hot and burned through wax figures, the wounds show up on the victims. When the doll is broken, body parts do the same. The results are pretty darn gruesome and NEEDLE turns out to be bloodier than most slasher films of this type.
In addition to the impressive amount of gore and despite the fact that the cast is annoyingly good looking, the young stars are actually quite talented, turning in some pretty convincing performances throughout. Sure, at face value you’ve got your typical cardboard cut-outs; the jock, the geek, the rich kid, the loner, the nerdy hot chick, the lesbian couple, the black guy. But surprisingly, each actor not only looks good, but acts good as well. The actors playing the two brothers (Dorman and Fimmel) are the standouts here and it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw these two actors again in bigger roles in bigger films (though for better or worse, Dowman reminds me of a young James Spader). As an added bonus, WOLF CREEK’s Ozzie killer John Jarrat shows up as a coffee swilling coroner. I don’t know if it’s leftover creep from that film or what, but every time the actor graces the screen is ghoulishly cool.
When you see a poster like the one on the left here, I don’t know about you, but I immediately write the film off as crap. I don’t know when this SCREAM-style line-up poster is going to disappear, but usually it is the sure-fire sign of a 90-minute waste of my time. But ignore the shitty poster in this case; NEEDLE has a lot going for it. Though my suspicions as to who the killer actually was turned out to be true, the ride to the revelation at the end turned out to be a well-acted and deliciously gory one. Give NEEDLE a shot. I think it’ll surprise you as much as it did me.
New this week on DVD! Directed by Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin & Tim Sullivan
Written by Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin & Tim Sullivan
Find out more about the film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
In the great tradition of such anthology films as CREEPSHOW and TWILIGHT ZONE, and even TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE and TALES FROM THE HOOD, CHILLERAMA takes some of horror’s freshest new voices and gives them a half hour to have a hell of a good time with. The film is not absolutely perfect, but hell, no anthology is. Even with CREEPSHOW, we have to sit through the Stephen King moss meteor segment. But the difference between CHILLERAMA and its predecessors is that the passion and creativity is evident in each segment. The route taken with this film definitely steers more towards gross out humor and over the top horror. The acting, though over the top, is well done, and the effects give a deep, low embrace to the horror films of yesteryear by being as practical and as rudimentary as they come. I think right about the time I wanted to go to the drive in to see creature features, the drive in died in America. Very sad, really. But CHILLERAMA serves as a love letter to that drive in experience with each short film serving as a snapshot of a different era in horror. WADZILLA
Written & Directed by Adam Rifkin
Starring Adam Rifkin, Ray Wise, Sarah Mutch, Eric Roberts
WADZILLA is the first segment of the film and serves as an ode to classic Harryhausen monster films such as THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. I loved this segment which was directed, written, and stars Adam Rifkin (with acting chops I found quite admirable) as mild-mannered Miles Munson, a bumbling man with a low sperm count who goes to see quack doctor Ray Wise for a cure. The cure is a special experimental drug that goes horribly, horribly wrong as Miles’ sperm count doesn’t increase, but the size of his sperm sure does. Though this film has a grindhousey feel to it, it still embraces the genre of the monster run amok creature feature as toy tanks led by battalion leader Eric Roberts fire missiles at the toothy and testy teste-batter which once ejaculated, grows to monstrous proportions, sprouts teeth, and starts eating people. Though the tone is pure raunch, there are a lot of gross out laughs to be had with this segment. Rifkin proves that he is an accomplished filmmaker when it comes to slapstick. The segment almost reminds me of old Raimi, which if I was to choose a Raimi style, I’ll prefer that to Nu Raimi any old day. Not to be taken seriously, WADZILLA packs a full gross load of cartoony, potty-humorous fun right up to its splattery “climax”.
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR
Written & Directed by Tim Sullivan
Starring Sean Paul Lockheart, Anton Troy, Lin Shaye, Gabby West
Out of all of the tales told in CHILLERAMA, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR feels like the most developed. Whereas others are treated with a heavy comedic hand, this short definitely has laughs, but also carries a complex message beneath its goofy exterior. Lauding John Waters or Greg Araki as much as it does the teen angst-monster tales of old like I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, Tim Sullivan tells a story of a man not only deciding is he is gay or straight, but also what kind of gay man he will come out as. Like Waters and Araki’s films, the innuendo is over the top, but the message here is somewhat subtle in the subtext of whether or not to walk out of the closet with one’s head held high or come screaming out like a banshee. Though the effects are as crude as some of the humor, this thirty minute segment seemed to be the one tale in this anthology that would actually make it as a full feature film and transcends a lot of past the more humorous fare in the other segments. With catchy songs straight out of the BEACH BLANKET BINGO and GREASE, I found Sullivan’s segment to be a pleasant surprise.
DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN
Written & Directed by Adam Green
Starring Joel David Moore, Kristina Klebe, Kane Hodder
The combination of the over the top humor, the winks and nods to bad filmmaking, Joel David Moore’s impromptu German phrasings, and Kane Hodder’s groovy dance sequence secures Adam Green’s DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN as my absolute favorite segment of the film. I watched and rewatched this gut-burstingly funny segment twice, since in the first viewing, I didn’t realize Joel David Moore is making up German words rather than speaking actual German dialog, and laughed till shit jiggled both times. Some of the gags in this segment are pure gold, though some have been seen before in other comedies, but Green still knocks this one out of the park. The fact that this is Kane Hodder under the ridiculous Meshuggeneh Monster make-up gives me new found respect for the former Jason Voorhees. Though I felt I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR could have been a feature, DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN feels just the right length, and the ending will have you laughing your ass off. Fun, fun stuff. More joke than horror, but still, great fun.
Written & Directed by Joe Lynch
Starring Corey Jones, Kaili Thorne, Cecil Kaufman, Brendan McReary
Joe Lynch has the unfortunate task of tying this whole thing together and he does so with a pretty capable hand, despite the fact that the narrative of this wraparound story is interrupted by the others. The surrounding story of a closing drive-in has all of the things we love about drive-in; crotchety but lovable drive in owner Cecil (OFFICE SPACE) Kaufman, star crossed lovers, concession stand romance, and of course zombies, Zombies, ZOMBIES. Some of the momentum of his story is stalled in the earlier segments to make room for the three features by his colleagues that are being shown on the giant drive in screen, but Lynch goes for broke once the zombies start advancing and he really seems to get into gear in the final scenes as the drive-in turns into the setting for a zombie apocalypse. Again, practical effects make this all the more enjoyable. Lynch is responsible for making this a seamless film rather than a jarring switch from one director to the next and he is very successful in doing so. His DEATHICATION trailer is as hilarious as it is disgusting, with poop used in ways that you’ve never imagined. It’s a heinously funny sequence you can’t unsee despite how many Drano to eyeball rinsings I performed.
Though not all of the humor hits its mark, this film, which showers itself in bad taste and pridefully parades around in it, is something to be admired. Films like these don’t happen often and as a fan of the anthology, I hope this one is successful enough to spawn a sequel. Though the brow is low and the tongues are firmly planted in cheeks in CHILLERAMA, you’re definitely going to have a lot of fun watching it.
And finally…here is a little Cronenbergian treat from director Christopher Moore. It’s sure to blow your mind! Enjoy BURSTERS!!!
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 October (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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