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AICN HORROR looks at Guy Madden’s KEYHOLE! COUGARS! GARDEN OF HEDON! END OF THE ROAD! Dante Tomaselli’s TORTURE CHAMBER! THE SIGIL! and SPIRIT STALKERS!

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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week, we’ve got another scad of horror films of varying qualities and types. Included in the bunch is a new section I’m dubbing “What I got at Comic Con” because coincidentally it’ll be the place I highlight what I got at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. I was able to pick up quite a few obscure and hard to find fright flicks at this year’s con while roaming the floor with the masses. Those looking for obscure, indie, hard to find, classic, and low budget gems are bound to find something worthwhile, and I did, so I figure I’d share them with you over the next few weeks.

I also have included quite a few advance reviews this week and if you’re curious when and where you can catch these films, check out the start of my reviews for links to the films’ websites for more info on them.

Enjoy the spooks and scares, folks!


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

What I got at Comic Con: END OF THE ROAD (2011)
Advance Review: THE SIGIL (2012)
SPIRIT STALKERS (2012)
Advance Review: GARDEN OF HEDON (2010)
COUGARS Short Film (2011)
Advance Review: TORTURE CHAMBER (2012)
KEYHOLE (2012)
And finally…Zed’s Dead & Omar LinX’s THE LIVING DEAD!


What I got at Comic Con!
Touring festivals!

END OF THE ROAD (2011)

aka SPIRIT HUNTERS
Directed by J.P. Pierce
Written by Monte M. Moore, J.P Pierce, Ace Underhill
Starring Doug Jones, Danielle James, Michael Chandler, Jerome Murdock, Davina Joy, Dick Spenneberg, Hillary Lowe, Justin T. Woods, Michael Dorn, Zak Ward, & Robert Picardo
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


There’s been an abundance of found footage films out there these days. But this week, I found it interesting that three of the seven films I reviewed have decided to go a bit more meta with the shaky cam than just a straight up first person POV. Though some are more successful than others, it’s refreshing to see this subset of horror film evolving.

First up is END OF THE ROAD, which is a film about a ghost hunting show--the type of TV show that relies heavily on the found footage motif with a cameraman following a host through dark hallways and corridors, suggesting that there’s something out there in the dark, but rarely coming up with results. In END OF THE ROAD we are introduced to a likable camera man, his sound guy, and a director, all set to make a ghost hunting show. As they venture to the location, we are introduced to the rest of the cast: a pair of gorgeous hosts, a shifty right hand man, and an expert in paranormal studies (played by Doug Jones). Once the cast is assembled, the story doesn’t waste time with the strange happenings as weird lights appear, strange noises go bump, and things start to move on their own. Of course, the crew is excited that the pilot they are filming is off to a spooky start.

At least until the cast and crew’s bodies start piling up.

What commences is a fun romp-style adventure film, low on chills, but abundant in charm. The cast is likable (well, except for the intentionally unlikable ones) and the plot twists and turns, folds back reality, and keeps you on your toes until the end. With a great performance by Doug Jones (who actually shows his face in this one rather than have it covered with appliances and makeup) and fun cameos by Michael Down & Robert Picardo, END OF THE ROAD proved to be a pretty fun movie. Though it’s a movie about filming a found footage-ish ghost hunting series, it still serves as a nice commentary on the reality obsessed time we live in. I could definitely see this being shown on SyFy at some point.






Advance Review: Touring Festivals!

THE SIGIL (2012)

Directed by Brandon Cano-Errecart
Written by Nathan Dean Snyder & Brandon Cano-Errecart
Starring Devan Liljedahl, Nathan Dean Snyder, Brandon Cano-Errecart, Miki Matteson, Matthew Black
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Movie number two in our meta-found footage trio is THE SIGIL, which takes the found footage motif and does something different with it. While most of the films in the shaky cam first person POV subgenre are restricted to being stuck with one camera which must keep rolling until it inevidably runs out of battery, film, or a person to hold it, THE SIGIL begins with the hand held POV, then shifts frequently to the omnipotent cameraman found in films outside of this genre.

The story follows a young girl at a wake. It is revealed that she has recently lost her brother and after an extended period of him being missing, he is finally being declared dead. This does not sit well with the girl, who decides to set out and make a documentary with two of her friends trying to track down what happened to her brother. It’s a nice set up and I think it would have made a very compelling movie, but the desire to make a documentary out of a missing person case--especially a case that is so close to one of the ones making it--immediately smacks of shallow and opportunistic. I think a straight up film about a woman searching for her lost brother would have been more emotionally compelling and easier to connect to. The desire to make a documentary out of it makes it seem somewhat disingenuine.

After a filmed intro setting up the mystery, in comes the handheld cam, and the usual trappings of this motif are evident. There must be someone who has to keep filming. There must be others who curse at the camera for doing so. There must be amateur quick scans across the room and the camera has to feel as if it’s being held by an epileptic. All of these contrivances aside, the film inconsistently switches from hand held to static cam, giving the film a jarring uneasy feel throughout. Most of the time, the omnipotent shots of the crew serve only to fill in information that is unable to be conveyed from the hand held, which feels like it’s cheating to me. If the filmmakers would have tried a bit harder with the script, I think this would have been more successful and the need for a secondary cam filling in the gaps wouldn’t have been necessary.

As is, THE SIGIL has a decent plot involving mysterious disappearances, possible cult activity, and a creepy locale. There are a few decent scares and the actors do a somewhat decent job at all of this, though at times the drama is forced and it’s a bit out of the actors’ range to reach the emotional expectations of the script. THE SIGIL is interesting in that it is pushing the boundaries and limitations of the found footage genre. It is just not completely successful at it.






Available on DVD now from Biting Pig Productions!

SPIRIT STALKERS (2012)

Directed by Steve Hudgins
Written by Steve Hudgins
Starring Steve Hudgins, PJ Woodside, Jessica Dockrey, Nick Faust, Michael Coon, Jessica Reynolds
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


The most successful of the three found footage-ish films this week is SPIRIT STALKERS. I genuinely had chills watching this film which features a band of ghost hunters tracking strange activity in a mentally unstable woman’s house. Are the strange visions the woman is having part of her psychosis? Or is there something paranormal at foot? That’s what the Spirit Stalkers, the stars of a paranormal reality series, are trying to find out.

Like THE SIGIL, SPIRIT STALKERS switches from hand held POV to “reality” numerous times throughout the film, but unlike the jarring transitions between the two methods of filming, this frequent switch serves a purpose. While one end of the story tells the tale from the Spirit Stalkers as they attempt to get ratings and be the most accurate debunkers on TV, the standard shot segments reflect the woman’s struggles with the strange happenings in her home. There’s a purpose to these switches in film styles and I bought it with this film.

I also loved the Spirit Stalkers themselves. Unlike most of the ghost hunters on TV, these guys try hard not to create faux spook. Lead ghost hunter Steve Hudgins (who also directed and co-wrote the film) explains that his team searches with the lights on, basically calling out all of those ghost shows who go green and use night cameras in order to amp up the scares. I also love it that the team mentions how most ghost hunters go in trying to find ghosts, which automatically makes them assume every bump, squeak, and blip is caused by the paranormal. Anyone who watches those ghost/monster hunting shows (I have to admit, I’m an addict of the genre) has seen the ghost hunter jump to a paranormal conclusion first, so it’s nice that this is addressed here as Hudgins introduces his team and methodology.

Thought low budget, you wouldn’t know it by the performances from this talented cast. Hudgins and his writing partner PJ Woodside (who also stars in this film as the tormented woman) have crafted a highly intelligent and absolutely horrifying achievement. Don’t let the low budget fool you. I loved the twists and turns that occur throughout the story. Without giving anything away, all is not as we think going into this film and I’ll leave it at that. I will say that this is a smartly written, deftly acted and, most importantly, effectively scary film. More than once I was scared shitless as both the investigators and the tormented woman walked through the cavernous hallways of her house.

Seek out SPIRIT STALKERS. It has enough scares to go toe to toe with most big budget Hollywood horror films combined.






Advance Review: Touring festivals!
:

GARDEN OF HEDON (2010)

Directed by Kevin Kangas
Written by Kevin Kangas, Luke Theriault
Starring Richard Cutting, Danielle Lozeau, John C. Bailey, Beau Peregino, Andrew C. Ely
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


I have to admire GARDEN OF HEDON despite the obvious low budget slant to the whole thing. Though some of the acting is not top tier and the entire film needs a good polish in the editing room, what saves the film is a clever script and a heavy adherence to noir standbys.

A detective named Owen (Richard Cutting) awakens in a decadent household filled with seemingly hundreds of rooms filled with guests of all shapes and sizes. As Owen makes his way through the rooms, not only does he find out that this house serves as a place for all of its occupants to experience all forms of pleasure (from sex of all kinds to more banal addictions such as food fetishes, video game addictions, if there’s a way of becoming addicted to something, you can experience it in this house), but he also discovers a dead body. What unfolds is a classically influenced detective story that serves as a throwback to all of those amazing noir tales of yesteryear.

From the femme fatale, to the recruited sidekick, to the flawed detective, GARDEN OF HEDON has it all. And that’s where this film appeal lies. By adhering to the classic detective yarn and setting it in a decadent EYES WIDE SHUT style house of deviant behavior, the film feels fresh and exciting. I had a blast seeing actor Richard Cutting go through the motions of the hard nosed dick, hitting every detective cliché on the head. Though the other actors in this film are not going to be winning any awards, Cutting does a phenomenal job as the hard boiled gumshoe in every scene.

Those like me who have a soft spot for all things noir are going to have a lot of fun with this throwback flick. Don’t get me wrong, GARDEN OF HEDON is low fi, but with an obvious love of a genre of film I hold near and dear, it had me grinning from start to finish.






Playing at Fantasia Film Festival 2012!

COUGARS (Short Film, 2011)

Directed by Lonnie Martin
Written by Lonnie Martin
Starring Charlie Dreizen, Rebecca Hausman and Kendra North
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Lonnie Martin’s short film seems to be one of those concepts that makes one slap one’s head, thinking “why hasn’t anyone done this before?” While this short is planned on being expanded into a full length feature film, Martin was smart to whittle this short little ditty together on the quick before someone else does.

At the Chicago Fear Fest, Martin was present and said that he describes this film as CAT PEOPLE by way of AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. After seeing it, I can tell why, as much of the film is dedicated to the extended transformation sequence as Sasha, reacting negatively when her mother hits on the boy she brings home for a study date home, transforms into a snarling cat monster before our eyes.

The effects are quite well done and all practical. As with most werewolf films, the story screeches to a halt to show off the growing fingernails, stretching faces, and pulsating bladders underneath layers of fake skin. As a throwback, this is a fantastic homage to old werewolf films of the past.

Though the premise is somewhat of a one-note joke (horny older women turning into actual cougars), Martin does a good job of making it work for the duration of the short. It may prove to be more challenging to stretch this concept out to make it work for a feature, but having seen Martin’s WOMEN’S STUDIES, which focused on a women’s school run by witches, his skill as a filmmaker gives me confidence that he can pull it off.

As is, this short film made me chuckle at the premise and ooh and aah at the well done practical effects. Martin seems to be onto something and I can’t wait to see what he does with this premise as a feature.



COUGARS - Teaser Trailer from Lonnie Martin on Vimeo.




Advance Review!

TORTURE CHAMBER (2012)

Directed by Dante Tomaselli
Written by Dante Tomaselli
Starring Vincent Pastore, Christie Sanford, Lynn Lowry, Carmen LoPorto
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Though this tale of good versus evil is somewhat light on story, TORTURE CHAMBER makes up for it in spades with horrific ambiance and absolutely terrifying moments. Dante Tomaselli is known for films such as DESECRATION and HORROR and even though I haven’t seen those films, they are on my short list of must sees. TORTURE CHAMBER tells the story of a young boy who is committed to an asylum. While there he develops a cult-like following among the inmates—inmates who join him in an escape which leads to a gothic castle and a medieval torture chamber in its lower levels. Now no one, including the child’s family, is safe from the child who seems to be possessed and his followers.

Thick in creepy religious iconography, Tomaselli excels here when it comes to setting a dire tone and following through with bone-chilling thrills and terrors. A scarred boy in a cage, a masked boy seen from afar to be advancing toward a home, and a woman strapped to an expanding rack are just some of the horrific images I can’t unsee from Tomaselli’s truly warped imagination. It is in these scenes that the film is absolutely unforgettable. More than one scene here made me both jump and look sideways into my apartment’s darkened corners.

But while the imagery definitely sent my spine a tingling, the plot is somewhat thin here. The acting is not top notch either, which is also a detriment. Even the appearance of Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore as a police investigator doesn’t help this film out. I do have to mention, being a licensed therapist myself with a specialization in the expressive arts by day, I have to give props to this film for putting an art therapist in the mix as one of the demonic child’s victims. It’s nice to see the profession getting a little press.

A thin plot and some rough acting patches try their hardest to bog down TORTURE CHAMBER, but in the end, Tomaselli’s gift for heaping on the scares redeems this film and makes it worth seeking out when it comes to a festival near you. Seek this out for some genuine scares that are definitely the stuff of the darkest nightmares.






New on DVD/BluRay!

KEYHOLE (2012)

Directed by Guy Madden
Written by George Toles, Guy Madden
Starring Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Tattiawna Jones, Kevin McDonald, Brooke Palsson, Darcy Fehr, David Wontner, Cynthia Wolfe-Nolin
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


KEYHOLE is the type of film I should like. I want to like it, and it has enough going for it that makes me want to recommend it to folks. But as I watched it, there’s so much weirdness going on that I found it incrediby hard to relate to. Guy Madden, who has been responsible for such creepy and experimental films as BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD, and TALES OF GIMLI HOSPITAL, is definitely an uber talented chap and one with a unique filmic eye, but I just don’t know if he’s for me, to be quite honest.

The story here is somewhat bizarre in its own right. A gangster (Jason Patric) holes up in his childhood home with a female hostage and a gagged male hostage. Soon the rest of his gang shows up, including KIDS IN THE HALL’s Kevin McDonald. Haunting the hallways are Isabella Rossellini and a naked old man in chains. And while the situation seems dire as the gangsters start turning on themselves in the secluded home, I had difficulty following what the point of it all was.

Apparently, death doesn’t really stop people from walking and talking in this film, which seems to be occurring in some kind of in-between limbo place. It would be too trite to say that this is one of those CARNIVAL OF SOULS/AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE style films where the stars are dead and just don’t know it. Here the dead seem to know they are dead, though that doesn’t stop them from interacting with those around them. Other murky plot twists such as an electric chair and an approaching storm make the situation for the gangsters all the more dire, but with death playing such an ineffectual role here, it takes away the danger and makes you wonder what all the fuss is about.

It could be I’m totally missing the point of KEYHOLE. I know Madden loves to have to motif of returning to his childhood home in his films (a plot point which was also important to BRAND UPON THE BRAIN) and I will admit that the guy has a style that he has made all his own. Madden is a master at filming in black and white, taking full advantage of overlapping imagery, soft grays, and the pitchest of blacks. He is also downright Lynchian in making his films so surreal that they are difficult to understand without multiple viewings. But while Lynch often fills his multi-textural stories with imagery both titillating and obscene (which, I must admit, holds my attention), Madden just loses me. Not even the offbeat acting of Jason Patric, who wallows in Madden’s bizarre mirror world, saved this film for me.

Sure, I may lose some film geek cred in saying this, but more so than his other surreal nightmares, Madden’s KEYHOLE just didn’t do anything for me. The imagery is most definitely gorgeous and the black and whites make it all seem like the type of art house film we should all appreciate, but I just can’t find it in me to get into it.






And finally…here’s a video from a musical collaboration of Zed’s Dead and Omar LinX starring Zed himself called THE LIVING DEAD. Fans of PULP FICTION and the amazing CLEAN SHAVEN will want to check this electronic mish mash video featuring the awesome Peter Greene. Enjoy!





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 for all things horror!


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Readers Talkback
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  • July 27, 2012, 10:22 a.m. CST

    Want another Elm Street movie!

    by dead youngling

  • July 27, 2012, 10:25 a.m. CST

    Any word on the elusive Poughkeepsie Tapes being released?

    by Judge Briggs

  • July 27, 2012, 11:31 a.m. CST

    This week's list of favorites to least:

    by Ambush Bug

    1. Spirit Stalkers 2. Garden of Hedon 3. Torture Chamber 4. Cougars 5. Keyhole 6. End of the Road 7. The Sigil Seriously, seek out Spirit Stalkers. It's a lot of fun and a lot of scares.

  • ...it almost looks like a joke... surely a competent writer and director can get access to better equipment and digital effects... that trailer looks like it was edited in MSpaint, or by someone's aunt who is just learning photoshop to make the church newsletter. i'm really not trying to be mean...everybody has a first or early movie that looks like shit but may have a kernel of worth to it in the story

  • July 27, 2012, 11:48 a.m. CST

    Amazing how many movies Ghost Hunters has inspired.

    by impossibledreamers

    They need to get royalties.

  • July 27, 2012, 11:57 a.m. CST

    I don't think you'll lose any cred for not liking Maddin.

    by tonagan

    I love his stuff, but I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, and I get really irritated by people who say "You just don't get it!" if you don't like to a movie. You can "get" a movie, and still not like it. Heck, there's movies I don't care for that all the cool kids do.

  • July 27, 2012, 12:01 p.m. CST

    @judge briggs, Poughkeepsie Tapes sucks.

    by Jason Bartlett

  • July 27, 2012, 12:01 p.m. CST

    I have to admit...

    by Ambush Bug

    that trailer for Spirit Stalkers doesn't do that movie justice. I agree the trailer doesn't sell it at all.

  • July 27, 2012, 12:09 p.m. CST

    @jasonicus

    by Judge Briggs

    I want to see the movie because it's impossible to come by.

  • We couldn't make a mainstream movie if the nation depended on it.

  • July 27, 2012, 1:38 p.m. CST

    Sweet!

    by mitchfarger

    We made it as #2 on the favorites! Thanks for checking out the flick! The AICN Horror is an awesome column! Keep it up!

  • July 27, 2012, 3:30 p.m. CST

    Found footage films

    by The All Knowing

    I personally like found footage films. When done right they have the potential to be a lot more effective than conventional films. I love the horror genre but have been so completely desensitised to horror films that it is literally impossible to be scared by any movie shot in the conventional style. That being said, the found footage genre can occasionally give me an unsettling vibe. Take the film "The Tunnel" as an example, not brilliant and it has some flaws but the part where they find their camera and review the footage give me a chill. Spirit stalkers sounds similar to Grave Encounters, a film that would've been a lot better had it stayed more reality based and not ventured down the whole different dimension bollocks. I've lost count of the number of ghost films that mess it up by going too far. For me the film/one off tv drama that gives me the most chills has always been Ghostwatch. Yeah I know parts of it are cheesey

  • July 27, 2012, 3:38 p.m. CST

    Cont.

    by The All Knowing

    .... and it does what I previously complained about near the end but at least it saves itself with a creepy as fuck final shot and the scene of the scratch covered girl speaking in croaky voice was much scarier than anything in the exorcist (wow, as I typed that tubular bells just came on the tv as part of the Olympics opening ceremony, weird!) To digress a little bit, is anyone else utterly fuckin sick of people approaching things slowly? Seriously, watch the woman in black, an hour and a half of Harry potter approaching things slowly. Another film guilty of this is the intruders, it creates boredom not tension so just stop it!! Oh and just download the poughkeepsie tapes, it's readily available. It's a bit boring in places but one or two good bits, the bit where he meets the relative of a victim stood out.

  • July 27, 2012, 4:56 p.m. CST

    Correction

    by The All Knowing

    I meant the strangers not the intruders. Shut up, I'm tired.

  • July 27, 2012, 10:24 p.m. CST

    Grave Encounters

    by Killdozers Evil Twin Brother

    I was into it - until maybe the last 15. Then the inexperience of the filmmakers really showed through. I loved some of the ideas in it - time compression, halls/rooms growing out of nowhere, the desperate last ditch to travel through the tunnels not even knowing if it would work... But then they tried to throw in EVERY single genre cliche at once, supposedly for weight, but only ended up sinking the whole thing. made me so pissed. anyway - gotta be honest, nothing in this week's post looks worthy. Maybe The Sigil if it were available on NFStreaming or something... Hey Ambush - what about an entire article pointing out worthy First Person Cam/Found Footage films that we might not know about? There's gotta be at least four or five...

  • July 28, 2012, 6:08 p.m. CST

    Ask and ye shall receive, moozikmktr

    by Ambush Bug

    I did this column a while back. http://www.aintitcool.com/node/49719 There have been so many since, looks like I'll have to do a follow up.

  • July 30, 2012, 10:14 a.m. CST

    Keyhole

    by GarryDavid

    I'm a big admirer of Guy Maddin, but I agree that KEYHOLE is a bit subpar. I think the problem is it simply isn't as emotionally engaging and charming as his last two films, MY WINNIPEG and BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!, both of which are masterpieces (or pretty damn close), IMO.