Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got some cool new horrors for you this week, but first, here are a few news items to wet your whistle…
Always looking to promote horror’s indie spirit, I want to keep folks updated on films reviewed here and when they’ll be available to check out.
PORN STAR ZOMBIES (reviewed here!) hits DVD Tuesday, January 24th.
Also, APOCALYPSE, CA (reviewed here!) is available for download on iTunes here!
One of my favorite and one of the most unforgettable films I’ve seen in the last year, THE TAINT (reviewed here!), was picked up for distribution by Troma (of course) and will be screened in select theaters in the spring 2012. Read more about this here!
And another one of my favorite films I had a chance to catch last year, INBRED (reviewed here!), has been acquired by Darclight Films, the horror-arm of Arclight Films, and should be available for all to see later in the year!!!
Finally, I interviewed Ti West director of the new haunted hotel film THE INNKEEPERS yesterday. If you missed it, you can check out the interview along with my review of THE INNKEEPERS here!
And now, on with the reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
HER HEART STILL BEATS Short Film (2011)
Advance Review: FRANKENSTEIN: DAY OF THE BEAST (2011)
AMITYVILLE HAUNTING (2011)
HOSTEL PART III (2011)
Advance Review: HAROLD’S GOING STIFF (2011)
And finally… Víctor Garcia’s T IS FOR TILES Short Film!
New on DVD from Creepy Kid Productions!
HER HEART STILL BEATS Short Film (2011)Directed by Christopher Di Nunzio
Written by Christopher Di Nunzio
Starring Fiore Leo, Leighsa Burgin, William Bloomfield, John Martellucci, Michael Capozzi
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Edgar Allan Poe’s THE TELL TALE HEART has always been one of my favorite Poe tales, but given the structure of the story, it probably is one of the hardest of his tales to bring to life on film. Since most of the tale is told through the eyes of a madman, it’s hard to hinge a full-length film on it. Maybe that’s why HER HEART STILL BEATS is so effective. In a short, half hour span, writer/director Christopher Di Nunzio is able to hit all the right beats in adapting and modernizing Poe’s classic tale.
Fiore Leo stars as Ed, a stressed out man who becomes even more stressed when he notices the eye of his wife Sarah (played by Leighsa Burgin) has become black and filmy. Di Nunzio chooses not to show this ocular metamorphosis, rather focusing on Ed’s psychosis gone into overdrive. Soon Ed is obsessed with his wife’s malady and is driven to madness. Anyone who has read Poe’s story knows where this is going, and Di Nunzio doesn’t deviate from the original story other than changing the owner of the disgusting eye from an old man to the lead character’s wife. A bold decision, but one that makes this story all the more effective.
Though the story makes a giant leap from sane Ed to his obsession with the eye, I have to give that up to the time constraints of this being a short film. I’m sure had this been a full length feature, his descent would have been a little less jarring. As is, this is an eloquently told tale of insanity and guilt. Choosing not to show the eye and leaving it in the mind of the madman was a brave move, but one that pays off. This decision offers little doubt that Ed is a madman, but nevertheless, his madness is convincing. HER HEART STILL BEATS is a short film worth checking out.
FRANKENSTEIN: DAY OF THE BEAST (2011)Directed by Ricardo Islas
Written by Ricardo Islas
Starring Michelle Shields, Tim Krueger, and Adam Stephenson
Find out more about this film here and here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though there have been many tales of Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation, I never tire of seeing new versions of Mary Shelley’s tale. Writer/director Ricardo Islas brings a low budget, but high concept take on the classic story of man attempting to be god. And for the most part, it is a quite successful film.
I have to stress that FRANKENSTEIN: DAY OF THE BEAST is a very low budget film. Don’t expect the gothic castles and expansive landscapes of the Hammer or Universal takes on the subject matter. Most of this film happens in what looks to be an abandoned church and a surrounding woods, but Islas does his best with the limited locale, choosing to focus on one portion of the Frankenstein story rather than the world spanning story.
If you are familiar with the story, things are going to sound familiar here. A bride is whisked to an island for a secret wedding. A handful of mercenaries stand guard on a secluded forested isle. And a monster is stalking them. By zooming in on one chapter of Shelley’s novel, Islas is able to make all that’s familiar new again. This is a fresh take on this old legend, choosing one of the most emotionally complex portions of the book to make into an entire movie.
I’ve seen takes on FRANKENSTEIN that dissect man’s right to do God’s work and ones that examine the complexities between father and son. This film focuses on the monster’s revenge and drive to destroy what Frankenstein holds near and dear; his love Elizabeth (played by Michelle Shields). The monster’s desire to plunder his master’s mate is the most complex and abhorrent detail in the original story. Here Elizabeth is treated as a delicate prize being guarded by a monster. Focusing on this emotionally impactful moment in the story is an interesting move by the filmmaker; making the story seem new again with the rest of the monster’s origin told through flashbacks throughout the rest of the narrative.
The acting is not the best. A lot of the characters seem to be played by non-actors and are not given many lines to speak, thankfully. Adam Stephenson does a decent job as Victor, though he is a bit young for the role. Tim Krueger, has little to do as far as emoting, but he does look very ominous as the bandaged, grey skinned monster. The fetching Michelle Shields does the best job here as the monster’s prize and Victor’s wife Elizabeth. She alternates between tough final girl and innocent delicate flower pretty fluidly throughout the film.
There are some interesting choices here as far as horror elements. The monster is able to remove his limbs and reattach them at will, leading to a nice ode to EVIL DEAD midway through. The monster also seems to have a zombie appetite, though I guess that makes sense since he is one of the living dead. Blood and gore is not over the top here, but when it does occur, it’s most of the time pretty realistic (despite the animated severed limbs, that is).
This looks to be shot in Chicago and I’m all for supporting the indie spirit in my town of residence. FRANKENSTEIN: DAY OF THE BEAST is definitely not the most conventional telling of the Frankenstein story, but its diversions from that story made me look past the rough edges that go along with low budget and amateur acting. Shelley-freaks will want to seek it out, but those who don’t have an appreciation toward low fi scares may not be impressed. I applaud the filmmaker’s derivations from the source material. It made FRANKENSTEIN: DAY OF THE BEAST a fresh experience for me.
New on DVD/BluRay from The Asylum!
THE AMITYVILLE HAUNTING (2011)Directed by Geoff Meed
Starring Luke Barnett, Devin Clark, Jon Kondelik, Tyler Shamy
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Square-peg-round-holing an established franchise into a current trend is always a risky thing to do and I’ve rarely seen it work (HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, anyone?). So I wasn’t expecting much when America’s most famous scary residence decides to go all found footage-y on us. Turns out my expectations were correct. Swiping directly from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and most other successful and not so successful found footage films, THE AMITYVILLE HAUNTING does little by way of scares and innovative ideas.
The story opens as a group of kids with handheld cameras and camera phones break into the famous Amityville house. It’s not long before they are a) naked and fucked and then b) dead. Not long after that, a new family decides to move in. Despite the fact that the realtor drops dead on the front lawn as soon as the paperwork is signed, the family proceeds with the purchase. The rest of the film follows this family’s destruction due to the house’s haunts.
Maintaining the hand-held camera motif, the annoying kid named Tyler (Devin Clark) follows his family around recording their every move. He is especially effective in catching secret moments between the family members such as intimate moments between his parents, his sister getting out of the shower, and tearful confessions from his mom that she wants to leave the home. The camera is coincidentally always around to catch the specific paranormal occurrences and the development of plot. It takes a pretty smart script to make this convenient way of telling a story believable. But this film does not have that script. Instead everything is ham-fisted together in order to promote creepy moments we’ve seen in other films.
As with most movies of this kind, the children are the first to know about the strange occurrences and the parents never listen. Clark may grow to be a fine actor one day, but his confessionals holding the camera to his face are painful to sit through, requiring emotional depth the actor doesn’t have yet. The parents aren’t much better, but I have to say that the depths the militaristic father (Jon Kondelik) sinks to as he discovers the truth of the house’s hauntings is pretty entertaining. Though I can’t say it’s good, it does incite a few laughs as the father drills his family as if they were an army troop, then crawls off cameras on his belly.
Most of the scares can be called minutes before they occur. Soon the paranoid father sets up cameras and the scenes made famous in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY begin, though no one seems to be checking these tapes. Otherwise they would have noticed the little ghost boy playing with their daughter, doors opening and closing on their own, and ominous shapes in the background.
Contrived and filled with copy-catted moments from better films, THE AMITYVILLE HAUNTING doesn’t offer anything new to the franchise. Hell, though there is one establishing shot of the famous house and it shows up on the cover art of the DVD, the close-ups of the house don’t even look like the residence. A few gory scenes at the end attempt to redeem this film, but by then I was too jaded with the uninspired writing and lack of original ideas by the filmmakers to care.
New on DVD/BluRay!
HOSTEL PART III (2011)Directed by Scott Spiegel
Written by Michael D. Weiss
Starring Kip Pardue, Brian Hallisay, John Hensley, Sarah Habel, Chris Coy, Skyler Stone, Thomas Kretschmann, Zulay Henao, Nickola Shreli
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It might have seemed like a good idea to move the HOSTEL torturers to Las Vegas from the Ukraine and it might have saved the filmmakers a lot of money, but HOSTEL PART III’s decision to remove the foreign mystique of the franchise ultimately castrates it. Though labeled as torture porn and panned by critics, I have to say that I was entertained by the original HOSTEL and even more so in HOSTEL PART II. With HOSTEL, I felt Eli Roth tried a little too hard to make his showcase of torture into an homage to Hitchcock. I liked HOSTEL PART II more in that Roth seemed to really want to flesh out this world of debaucherous millionaires and wailing victims. The ending, with the final girl snipping off the balls of her torturer and feeding it to the dogs, though crass, definitely made it’s mark in my mind. When rumors swirled that a third HOSTEL was in the making, my interest was piqued. When rumors swirled counter clockwise that the film was not to be directed by Roth and would be direct to video, my hopes diminished exponentially.
Basically, this is the torture porn version of THE HANGOVER as a quartet of guys hit Las Vegas for a bachelor party. The Johnny Storm-esque Kip Pardue plays the best man, a pampered rich kid who seems to get whatever he wants no matter how much the cost. The groom (Brian Hallisay) plays the part of the guy whose morals are tested as a stripper grinds his nethers. Rounding out this euchre team are the smart ass and the crippled guy we are supposed to feel for. The acting, I have to say, is on par with the first two films. This series seems to at least do well casting these soon-to-be-deads with capable thespians. It’s just that the story is uninspired.
See, there’s only so many ways to slice and dice a person for the sake of spectacle and I fear that HOSTEL may have shown them all in their first two segments. In this third part, we get a peeled off face, a human crossbow bolt pincushion, and a cockroach scene that seems better suited to an episode of FEAR FACTOR than HOSTEL. All of the psychosis of fear of other countries which tapped into nationwide fears after 9-11 is dropped in this most recent entry. That fear of all things foreign that was palpable in that age was highlighted as these youngsters wandered into a foreign land and fell victim to dark terrors. In HOSTEL PART III the horror is here at home--another statement that could echo powerful scares in the right hands, but I fear the filmmakers just don’t have it in them to do it just yet. Though the ending of PART II suggests that even the most innocent is capable of horrible things, here the ending rings hollow as the torturers again become the tortured in a throwaway schockeroo twist that lacks believability given the demise of one character in an earlier scene.
The most effective scene in the film involves a twisted torturer in a tribal mask brandishing a crossbow. Though the scene is all too brief, this masked and nameless character was a fright to behold and hopefully would return in the inevitable fourth entry.
Though the acting and direction is higher than most films of this kind and there are a few surprising twists, HOSTEL PART III lacks the punch and depth of the first two installments. Given that Roth loves classic grindhousey horror, I’d love to see him return for HOSTEL PART FOUR: THE FINAL CHAPTER, going back to the roots of this shady organization of sadistic billionaire bidders and their twisted torturers. As is, this THE HANGOVER meets FEAR FACTOR installment doesn’t hold up.
HARLOD’S GOING STIFF (2011)Directed by Keith Wright
Written by Keith Wright
Starring Stan Rowe, Sarah Spencer, Andy Pandini, Lee Thompson, Richard Harrison, Phil Gascoyne, Molly Howe
Find out more about this film here and here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I hear your complaints about zombie films, but with the subtitle of this column being “Zombies & Sharks”, it’s kind of hard not to give them coverage here on AICN HORROR. Like a lot of you, I’m getting sick of all of the zombie films out there with zero creativity and production value. That said, I don’t want to call a moratorium on watching zombie films because I know that if I do, I’d miss films like HAROLD’S GOING STIFF. Though the title may make you think we’re about to venture into porn territory, HAROLD’S GOING STIFF couldn’t be further from it. I think it’s safe to say that HAROLD’S GOING STIFF is going to be one of my favorite horror films of the year.
Harold is an elderly man suffering from a neurological epidemic called ORD (Onset Rigors Disease) spreading across Europe which begins with stiffness of the joints, then spreads to full on violent dementia. Because the culture has been so saturated with the films, these stiff-jointed madmen have been dubbed zombies. While scientists race to find a cure for the disease, vigilante groups have taken it upon themselves to take care of the zombies to prevent an apocalypse. HAROLD’S GOING STIFF depicts the life of Harold as he copes with his illness and forms a relationship with his nurse/physical therapist.
Filmed as a mockumentary, director/writer Keith Wright blends humor, drama, and horror to make one of the most unique and original zombie horror films I’ve ever seen. Wright doesn’t focus on the gore or the violence; rather, he rests his camera on Harold (played by the genuinely wholesome Stan Rowe) and Penny his nurse (played by the plucky and resilient Sarah Spencer). You can’t help but care for these two characters as we see them struggle with all the highs and lows of someone suffering from a debilitating ailment. These two characters are as endearing as can be, with Harold’s soft spoken pleasantry perfectly complimenting Penny’s vibrant optimism. As Penny’s therapy begins to work with Harold, I found myself rooting for both of these characters to conquer this disease.
The film cuts from this heart-warming friendship to follow a doctor who is dedicated to finding a cure, two workers at a volunteer shelter who are caring for ORD sufferers in the latter stages of the disease, and a trio of bumbling yet homicidal vigilantes offering a clear and expansive picture of how this disease has been effecting the UK society. The trio (played by Andy Pandini, Lee Thompson, Richard Harrison) work somewhat well together. One’s a brute, one’s an idiot, and one’s the leader who may be having some doubts about this mission. Again, unlike other zombie films, Wright takes his time to give these characters multiple layers, showing the good and bad parts, and allowing the audience to be sucked into their story.
I love every aspect of this film. Like all of the best zombie films, it actually has something to say. I took it as a metaphor for the treatment of the elderly in society—shunning them, outcasting them, shuffling them off to some facility to be forgotten and mistreated, and eventually deciding ourselves when to put them down. As Harold’s illness worsens, he is taken advantage of and manipulated by the “villains” of this film. Being the person he is, Harold softly sits by and takes the abuse, with Penny being his only supporter and true friend.
Though the themes may be heavy, I laughed out loud numerous times at HAROLD’S GOING STIFF. There are genuine moments of sheer and innocent joy between Harold and Penny. The bumbling vigilantes are often hilarious to follow as well; all of it captured in a documentarian style that adds to the hilarity. Like TROLLHUNTER, it follows this absurd subject matter convincing you that this is truth on film. Unlike TROLLHUNTER, this is a much more down to earth film, relying less on epic thrills and more on resonating heartwarming/heart wrenching moments.
I can’t champion this film enough. HAROLD’S GOING STIFF is one of the reasons I put this column together. It’s unique and fresh, offering a new take on a subgenre of horror that has very little life in it anymore. If you’re going through zombie film fatigue, one look at HAROLD’S GOING STIFF will definitely shut the haters up and prove that when done well, great zombie films can still be made. HAROLD’S GOING STIFF will make you feel feelings you never thought you’d feel while watching a zombie film. I laughed and cried and laughed again. It’s a truly endearing achievement of a film and should be sought out by all readers of this column.
At the moment, HAROLD’S GOING STIFF is touring the festival circuit. Stay tuned to AICN HORROR for more info. I will definitely let you know when this film is available for more people to enjoy. Trust me, and just put this film on your radar. It is sure to please.
And finally…one of the great things about the ABC’S OF DEATH is that this project inspired hundreds of filmmakers to make their own shorts. I can’t wait for the actual film with the winners, but I’d love to see a compilation of every short submitted. Here’s another great submission, Víctor Garcia’s T IS FOR TILES...
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 has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment. He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
(Just announced: NANNY & HANK is soon to be a major motion picture from Uptown 6 Productions!)
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