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AICN HORROR looks at new horrors RETREAT! PLAYBACK! HOUSE HUNTING! THE CALL OF CTHULHU! A look back at FINAL EXAM! Plus THE DEVIL’S PAWN!

Logo by Kristian Horn
What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got another heaping helping of new horrors for you this week. But before we get to that, there’s this!


Still in production, THE SEASONING HOUSE looks to be one twisted movie. Here are a few pics from the film to show you what I mean. Written and directed by FX guru Paul Hyett and starring Sam Pertwee, Rosie Day, and Anna Walton, this story follows a little girl trying to escape a house of horrors during an unspecified war. I’ll be taking a look at THE SEASONING HOUSE soon and will let you all know when and where to check it out. You’ll have to be satisfied (and a little disturbed) with these pics until then! Hell, even the title of this one creeps me out. Find out more about THE SEASONING HOUSE here!




Another film that we will be sure to be featuring here on AICN HORROR in the coming months is ZOMBIE RESURRECTION, which promises to be equal parts Romero-ian social commentary and SHAUN OF THE DEAD-like comedy. Check out the two pics on either side here. Though it may look like your typical zombie comedy, the film also introduces us to the zombie Messiah who has the power to raise the dead, which offers a unique take on religion and society as a whole (as all good zombie films do). Find out more about this film here at Charmed Apocalypse. And look for more coverage of this film in the coming months here on AICN HORROR.


And now, on with this week’s horrors…

Today on AICN HORROR
(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-Review: FINAL EXAM (1981)
CALL OF CTHULHU (2005)
RETREAT (2011)
Advance Review: PLAYBACK (2012)
Advance Review: HOUSE HUNTING (2011)
And finally… Chris Heck’s THE DEVIL’S PAWN!


New on DVD from Scorpion Releasing & Katarina’s Nightmare Theater!

FINAL EXAM (1981)

Directed by Jimmy Huston
Written by Jimmy Huston
Starring Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, DeAnna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, & Timothy L. Raynor as The Killer
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Who is killing kids on campus? The jock? The dork? The virgin? Is it the cook with a massive hipster beard? How about someone with no face or no motivation?

You could almost go down a checklist while watching FINAL EXAM, checking off one slasher film standby after another. Shady killer—check. POV shots—check. Various forms of murder with various weapons—check. Stock characters with little by way of talent or depth lined up to be slaughtered—check. Final girl—check. On the surface, FINAL EXAM is nothing extraordinary.

I know there will be a lot of folks dismissing this relatively bloodless slasher film offering, but despite the one dimensional characters, despite the bad acting, despite the amateur psychology and lame plot twists, I liked this film for the fact that it has the guts to steer away from one slasher trope which most often is handled in the most ham-fisted manner. What I’m talking about is the reason the killer is doing the killing. So many times the killer’s bloodlust is explained away with a childhood prank gone wrong or an abusive parentage. In FINAL EXAM, there’s no such excuse.

In FINAL EXAM, time and time again, the point is driven home that in most serial killings, the reason behind it is often never explained. The theme of the film is best explained by its serial killer expert geek character named Radish (WTF?) who touts amateur philosophy like “Senseless murders happen all the time.” after a van load of fratboys show up and perform a mock on-campus terrorist attack with machine guns and everything. A sign of the times, this brazen daylight prank would cause multiple arrests and federal investigations now, but only warrants a visit from one hick sheriff here. Maybe the director was trying to make a point about death having no real meaning when the first kill in the queue says when asked why she doesn’t want to have sex with the second in line to die, “I don’t have to have a reason.”

The killer in this film has no motivation. He just shows up and starts killing. Those who like everything explained will find this infuriating, but I liked the ambiguity to this killer who we never know; even as he tracks the final girl through the dimly lit campus, there is no time wasted on exposition as to the character’s motivations. And you know what? I kind of like that.

So yes, the acting is bad. The gore effects are next to nothing. The plot is paper thin. But the fact that FINAL EXAM refuses to give us the answers makes this film a little more intriguing than your typical slasher film.






CALL OF CTHULHU (2005)

Directed by Andrew Leman
Written by H.P. Lovecraft (short story), Sean Branney (adapted for the screen by)
Starring Matt Foyer, John Bolen, Ralph Lucas, Chad Fifer, John Klemantaski, Jason Owens, D. Grigsby Poland, David Mersault, Barry Lynch, Daryl Ball, John Joly, Jason Peterson
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


After reviewing THE WHISPERER IN THE DARKNESS a few weeks ago,
I figured I’d take a look at another Lovecraft gem put to celluloid. Though this film has been out a couple of years, it still is one fans of unknown terrors might have missed when it was first released. Like WHISPERER, THE CALL OF CTHULHU is a throwback film made as if it were a silent era film. Also like that film, THE CALL OF CTHULHU shows a deep-seated respect for Lovecraft’s work, something filmmakers wanting to put their own personal stamp on the mythos seem to forget.

THE CALL OF CTHULHU, as far as what I remember of the original tale by Lovecraft, is an extremely faithful adaptation. Unlike other takes on Lovecraft’s work which seem to feel the unnecessary need to change story elements, this one sticks pretty close to Lovecraft’s classic story. The story focuses on multiple accounts found during an investigation into some paperwork a young man finds in a deceased relative’s belongings. The stories recount a cult tied to murder and other mayhem that lies just under the radar of the general public. Though these stories reek of the conspiratorial rantings of a madman, the journal entries talk of midnight rituals and otherworldly gods.

The film itself jumps all over the place, from a backwoods ritual site to a prison to an insane asylum to a boat lost at sea. But as I recall, so does the original story, which is more of a collection of recounts by witnesses. Through these multiple stories, though, there is one constant thread—there is a dark god named Cthulhu and he wants to enter our world.

The choice to film this both in black and white and silently was a good one. There’s something to the grainy quality of this film that makes it all the more convincing, yet the effects and acting throughout are much more convincing than one would expect of a film made in this manner. The stop motion Cthulhu is most ambitious, and pretty convincing in a Harryhausen sort of way. I was even more intrigued by the story of the police raid on the cult deep in the woods. This scene reminded me a lot of Indiana Jones and Short Round happening upon Mola Rom’s heart-ripping scene in TEMPLE OF DOOM.

While capturing the thrills of the Saturday afternoon serial with modern effects and performances, THE CALL OF CTHULHU is another adaptation of Lovecraft’s works that fans of the author can be most proud of. If you long for old timey scares, it would behoove you to make THE CALL OF CTHULHU part of your collection.






New on DVD/BluRay!

RETREAT (2011)

Directed by Carl Tibbetts
Written by Janice Hallett & Carl Tibbetts
Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell & Thandie Newton
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


RETREAT is a drama along the same lines as STRAW DOGS with a bit of a psychological twist and a heavy dose of zombie/end of the world paranoia mixed in. A couple (Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy) heads to an island retreat away from their jobs and city life. They are trying to rekindle their relationship, which has been faltering after the loss of their unborn child. As things start to settle into the mundane, a man (Jamie Bell) washes ashore claiming that there is a plague outbreak on the mainland and that they should barricade themselves into their stone house and not contact any outsiders.

Though limited to the three actors, the film becomes dynamic pretty quickly with Murphy and Newton deciding whether or not to believe the frantic man. The dynamic between the three shifts from fellow survivors to captive/captor to almost a twisted kind of makeshift family throughout the film, with Bell alternating roles as if he were a newborn in need of care at first, a fellow person taking refuge against a harsh world, and finally someone threatening to break the family apart and separating from them by the end, mirroring a child’s development and addressing the couple’s lost child that is haunting them.

As far as horror is concerned, it shows up in the form of psychological. Though RETREAT is relatively bloodless for the first hour, there are some gruesome moments toward the end, but the highlights here are the fine performances by all of the actors involved. Due to the singular locale, it plays almost like a stage play, with the bulk of the story relying on the trio’s performances rather than effects. The ending is satisfying, but is somewhat predicable and abrupt.

Those looking for a fast paced thriller might get a little bored with it, but I admire RETREAT because it plays a lot with the expectations one has with an end of the world film. Almost an anti-end of the world film, this one zigs when zags are expected, and though there isn’t much by way of plague-infested zombies pounding through doorways, it suggests enough to keep that feeling present throughout. There are enough of those films anyway, so something a little more subtle is a welcome treat.






Available now on VOD and in limited theaters March 9th!

PLAYBACK (2012)

Directed by Michael A. Nickles
Written by Michael A. Nickles
Starring Christian Slater, Johnny Pacar, Ambyr Childers, Toby Hemingway, Jonathan Keltz, Alessandra Torresani, Jennifer Missoni
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Years after the mass murder of a family by the son, we come to find out that the actions of the murderer might have supernatural origins when the handheld video of the murders is discovered by a teen working as a video editor. After the viewing the video, the teen Nate (played by Toby Hemmingway) is possessed, for lack of a better term, by an unseen force and the killings begin anew. That’s pretty much the plot of PLAYBACK, a new horror film set to go into limited release in two weeks and that can be caught now on VOD.

PLAYBACK plays like an amalgamation of a lot of other films. The self-aware teen cast with advanced knowledge of horror films looks and acts like they stepped off the set of SCREAM. The plot borrows elements of THE RING with its possessed video tape, while the opening lifts from both HALLOWEEN with the POV shots and family killing mixed with the hand held found footage style which can be found in too many films to count these days. Sitting through this film, I lost count of plot points that were swiped from other films.

That said, there are quite a few nice and gruesome kills throughout and the cast is much better than what one usually gets with this type of film. Now only does Johnny Pacar fill the role of hero nicely, but main hottie Ambyr Childers (along with most of the other girls in this film) are indeed hot. Christian Slater makes an appearance as a perverted cop who pays Nate big money for his secret cam recording of the women’s locker room at school. You’ll also recognize Alessandra Torresani (the cutesy Cylon daughter from CAPRICA) as one of the soon-to-be-dead teenagers.

Though capably made and decently acted, I’m lukewarm on PLAYBACK. Director Michael A. Nickles weaves it all together in an entertaining way, and I’d be interested to see what else the filmmaker has up his sleeve given more original material to work with, but this time around PLAYBACK feels like a clip show of other popular horror films.






Available now on VOD!

HOUSE HUNTING (2011)

Directed by Eric Hurt
Written by Eric Hurt
Starring Marc Singer, Art LaFleur, Hayley DuMond, Janey Gioiosa, Paul McGill, Rebekah Kennedy, Victoria Vance
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Ghost stories come and go, but it’s the rare one that really gets under my skin. Too many times, I tune out to stories with things going bump in the night. But the thrills and scares that occur in HOUSE HUNTING dug in deep and festered there, making the viewing an altogether ooky experience.

Though the budget here is on the lower side, the scares are through the roof as two families happen upon an open house in the middle of the woods for sale. Both families are dealing with their own drama. Both consist of husband, wife, and teenage child. On the surface they are very similar. But when put into peril, the real faces of these families start to seep through. Soon, as things begin to get dire, the families begin to tear each other apart.

What I loved about this film were the subtle horrors going on that felt much more like dark nightmares. Much like a recent episode of FRINGE where the Fringe team find themselves stuck in a town and no matter what road they try to leave from, they wind up back in town again, when either family tries to leave through the road through the woods, they end up back at the house. As the day is wasted through numerous attempts, both families realize they aren’t going anywhere and decide to stay the night in the house. The mystery furthers when the seven cans of food the family eats as the days pass are replaced seemingly magically the next day. Though it appears the families are stuck in a loop, the only things changing are the constitutions of the families, which are slowly turning on one another.

HOUSE HUNTING can be seen as a horrific statement about the gentle structure of the family or a comment on the cutthroat world of house hunting in a damaged economy. However you read it, it is filled with extremely effective chills played out by talented actors.

Oh yeah, did I fail to mention that the frikkin’ Beastmaster is in this film? That’s right. Marc Singer plays the father of one of the families with long time character actor Art LaFleur playing the other father. Just seeing Singer’s face made me smile and whisper “Good for him” as he delivers a commanding performance trying to keep his family from succumbing to this horrific loop of violence, scares, and family destruction. It was awesome seeing the Beastmaster again in a lead role and Singer delivers in spades here.

I was really pleasantly surprised with HOUSE HUNTING. Though I’ve seen and heard tons of ghost stories in the past, this one proved to be both original and well made. Director Eric Hurt proves to be capable of real scares and a feeling of dread with a limited budget. I’m interested in seeing what the filmmaker has up his sleeve next. With a cast of folks you will definitely recognize, I think if you take a chance with HOUSE HUNTING and order it on VOD now, you’ll be as shocked as I was. I highly recommend this atypical ghost story.






And finally…with my interest in silent film piqued by THE CALL OF CTHULHU, I figured I’d offer up another silent treat. This time, we’ve got a friendly game of chess in Chris Heck’s THE DEVIL’S PAWN! Enjoy!



The Devil's Pawn from Chris Heck on Vimeo.



See ya, next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.


Check out the FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND Website!


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Check out AH Digital: the source for international cinema!


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Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 24, 2012, 8:14 a.m. CST

    Have to peep 'The Retreat'

    by Judge Briggs

    Cillian Murphy is a cool ass actor (no-homo) ... The premise sounds promising too. Anyway- The Seasoning House does look very disturbing ... perhaps on the same level as Martyers? Tough but great flick!

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 8:24 a.m. CST

    House Hunting

    by The PimpDragon

    Gotta love The BeastMaster vs. The Babe (from The Sandlot)! All the films on this week's list seem somewhat entertaining. Thanks for the info!

  • my favorite element is how they portrayed the landscape of the strange island risen from the sea- cubist, but also para-dimensional - and accompished very well for being what is essentially 2-D set work. the strange angles and planes they came up with were what was in my mind's eye having just read the story- and a nice touch was having the one sailor somehow 'fall into' the corners of the cubic landscape at one point.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 8:56 a.m. CST

    the one thing that bugged me about CTHULHU:

    by zom-bot.com

    the main actor. everyone else was great, but the main actor kept such a pained and morose look on his face the whole time, it was like an impersonation of Bub from Day of the Dead. if he'd looked normal and then devolved into this expression as he learned more and more about Cthulhu, it would have made more sense....but right off the bat he has the silent-movie-sourpuss on. Yeah it's very accurate to a silent movie actor having to oversell a look or emotion, but his portrayal just distracted me too much.... But if you can get past that, keep watching. Everyone else is great in their part.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 9:13 a.m. CST

    Cillian Murphy is a cool ass actor (homo)

    by DangerDave

    I have a man crush on him, and yes I would go gay for him. Just saying.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 9:41 a.m. CST

    The next Yank I hear call Cillian Murphy "Sillian"...

    by loafroaster

    ...I will punch square in the face. Same goes for "Seeran" Hinds. You wouldn't call Coors "Soors", would you dumbasses?

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 9:43 a.m. CST

    Call of Cthulhu was pretty boss. (spoilers)

    by frank

    The stop-motion Cthulhu was particularly impressive, and I agree that the R’lyeh landscape was cool as well. My main problem with the film is the same one that I have with the story, which is that (even though I liked the special effects) the encounter with Cthulhu is a bit anticlimactic. I kind of don’t like that he actually appears in the story at all. When Cthulhu rises from his tomb it should be a massive, cataclysmic event, but instead the guy just rams him with his boat and goes on his way, and Cthulhu gives up the chase. One other issue I had with the film is that I thought the Louisiana(?) cult scene was kind of given short shrift. The story got more into the shadowy demons that lived in the swamp, and some kind of nameless horror that lived deep in the woods. I think the film references the presence of the demons, but it could have been built up a bit more. Anyway, I love the story and this film is really cool, too.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 9:47 a.m. CST

    But we would say ‘serulean blue'

    by frank

    or ‘sivil discourse.’ or ‘sytoplasm.’

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 9:47 a.m. CST

    Lighten up loafroaster

    by ReefShark

    (In my best Sgt. Hulka voice."

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 10:01 a.m. CST

    The next Brit I hear correcting grammar . . .

    by Olsen Twins_Fan

    Pronounce cicada, then pronounce Cillian. Pronouncing it "Sillian" is probably the least offensive grammatical error of all time. His own grandma fucks it up like half of the time.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 10:33 a.m. CST

    The Seasoning House...

    by 3774

    Hyett says, 'The Seasoning House is a cross between Martyrs, Pan's Labyrinth and Die Hard, a harrowing exploration into tense claustrophobia, hard-hitting action and rollercoaster suspense.' He continues, 'I’ve been thinking about directing for a few years now. I’ve worked with some of the best directors in the world and have gained lots of experience from watching them filming. I’ve worked with some of the worst too and have also learned what not to do.' Well, he sold it. Hopefully not way too much, though.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 12:08 p.m. CST

    cite, city, civic, cent, century

    by Olsen Twins_Fan

    Sillian Murphy is the one breakin' the muthafuckin' rules!!!!!!!

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 6:08 p.m. CST

    Thanks, Ambush...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...can always count on your column to draw my attention to a horror movie I hadn't heard of. This time it's House Hunting. Can't wait to check it out.

  • Feb. 24, 2012, 6:46 p.m. CST

    Re: Cillian Murphy

    by madmental

    And yet, Glesca's green side is pronounced "Seltic" (of course, they're not really as Irish as they'd like to believe, but still...). Deep breaths, my friend.

  • Feb. 25, 2012, 2:07 p.m. CST

    Whole island of dumbasses if you ask me

    by MrD

    circus, cilia, cigar, circle, cichlid, cider, cinema, cinnamon, cinch, cinder, cipher, circuit, circus, citizen, cirrhosis, cirrus, cist, citadel, cite, city, civil, civit and the hundreds of derivative terms, all pronounced with a soft "c", yet they can't pronounce Cillian correctly? Go figure.