Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Let’s get right into this week’s slew of horror films both new and old!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-Review: LIVING DEAD GIRL (198
RISE OF THE ANIMALS (2011)
SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SCREAM QUEEN ERA (2011)
EXTINCTION: THE G.M.O. CHRONICLES (2011)
THE MOTH DIARIES (2011)
Advance Review: SICK BOY (2011)
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Redemption Films!
LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982)Directed by Jean Rollin
Written by Jean Rollin & Jacques Ralf
Starring Marina Pierro, Françoise Blanchard, Mike Marshall, Carina Barone
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m not ashamed to admit that before this year, I had not seen a Jean Rollin film. But in the last few months, I’ve reviewed THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, and THE DEMONIACS and will be checking out TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES next week on AICN HORROR, so in a short time, I feel I’ve had a crash course in Rollin. Having received all of the films I’ve seen so far in a lukewarm fashion, I wasn’t really looking forward to checking out this new one in my cue. Rollin seems to definitely have an eye for style, atmosphere, and ambiance, but storywise, I found his films to be a bit too fartsy for my tastes, lacking substance and narrative appeal. Sure I can appreciate a film which simply serves as a feast for the eyes, but leaves the mind hungry. But too much of it just doesn’t hold my interest.
Though some may think LIVING DEAD GIRL is Rollin’s most commercial work, I think it’s his most interesting. Made in 1982, Rollin seems to drop a lot of the pretention found in his earlier vampire films and tell a more straightforward story which is much more like Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY than anything else, as a perfect storm of events cause the resurrection of a dead woman in a coffin. A pair of gravediggers happen to be robbing a tomb at the same time an earthquake knocks over a few barrels of toxic waste which seep into the ground and awaken Catherine Valmont (the sultry actress Françoise Blanchard), who like Robin Williams’ Mork, or—to keep things in the genre of horror--Frank from Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER, drinks through her finger. But instead of Mork’s favorite liquid, milk, here Catherine shoves two pointy fingers into the throats of her victims and starts sucking. The results are gruesome and gory.
But aside from the over the top moments of gore (and there are many), there’s a complex story of a relationship going on between Catherine and her childhood friend Helene (played by the sultry Marina Pierro…ok, let’s just make it a given that every woman in a Jean Rollin film can be described as sultry from here on out). The two are the best of friends, but having been reawakened from the dead, Catherine is a mindless monster. But as with Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER, each victim brings the bloodsucker back to humanity a little more. Wanting her best friend back as a whole, Helene begins setting up people for Catherine to drain, but as she returns to her normal self, guilt begins to set in and Catherine finds it harder and harder to kill. I love this complex conundrum of Helene, a friend who is willing to sacrifice her humanity for her best friend, but as her best friend’s humanity returns, she finds herself repulsed by what Helene has become. The humanity that was sorely lacking in all of the films I have seen from Rollin is present in spades here and in the end, I agree that this is both one of his most commercial films, but also one of his most engaging ones.
I think those who may be hesitant to check out Rollin because of his tendency to go the artsy route would be surprised at LIVING DEAD GIRL. Having only heard about this film through the Rob Zombie song, I was floored at how fantastic this little gem is. Really, it’s just a woman going around killing one person after the next, but under all of that it is about the love shared between two women and what we are willing to sacrifice to reclaim the idealistic past. Maybe it took all of those films from Rollin to finally get so deep, but whatever the reason, LIVING DEAD GIRL is the best Rollin film I’ve seen to date.
Though certain Rollin-isms perservere—the abundance of women stripped nude and then killed, the amount of time the camera lingers on said nudity and violence, and some truly haunting music, I found LIVING DEAD GIRL to be a fantastic mix of BLACK SUNDAY and HELLRAISER, two films I hold in high regard. Watching both HELLRAISER and this film, one can see Barker’s influences at play which is equally fascinating. In the end, the reason why LIVING DEAD GIRL is the film folks think of when Rollin is mentioned is because it is densely themed and a damn entertaining film with a powerful ending.
New on DVD from Midnight Releasing!
RISE OF THE ANIMALS (2011)Directed by Chris Wojcik
Written by Chris Wojcik
Starring Greg Hoople, Stephanie Motta, Adam Schonberg, Nikki Preston, Charles Bigelow, Phillip Musumeci, Katie LeVander, Melissa Orioli, Laura Blank, Tricia Dalusio, Brittany Cerra, Renee Radwan, Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A while back, I posted a sneak preview of RISE OF THE ANIMALS, and while there were those who aren’t afraid of a film whose budget most likely was low, the film got a lot of flack in the talkbacks and I was even accused of somehow being a part of the film to post such a preview. Though I didn’t have anything to do with this film, after seeing it, I am a little jealous about not being able to be a part of it because it looked like a damn fun time.
Yes, this film was put together on a shoestring. More money was most likely put into the poster than on any of the practical effects and computer generated effects combined. But somehow, that’s part of the charm of RISE OF THE ANIMALS. It knows its effects suck and doesn’t give a shit about it.
Remember the scene in I’M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA when Keenan Ivory Wayan’s momma gets into the bar fight? One scene it was an elderly black lady in a dress, the next it was a white guy with a moustache wearing a grey wig and the same dress kicking ass in a barfight—then the scene switches again and it’s back to the old lady. It’s that type of wink to the audience that this film is doing throughout its running time. The guys who put together RISE OF THE ANIMALS are winking right in the audience’s faces when they have sock puppets posing as animals chewing through walls and ripping off limbs. This isn’t a film that’s trying to take itself seriously and neither should you.
So this film, about a sudden shift in attitude in all animals from the elephant to the kangaroo changing from mild mannered beast to rabid flesh hungry monsters eager to eat people, turns out to be a lot of fun. The acting is quite stiff, the story is pretty simple, and the humor is definitely low brow. This isn’t one of those sittin’ and thinkin’ films, but it does have a lot of charm.
Maybe I’m alone, but the fact that the cast are reacting to cartoony CGI and hand puppets as if they were the most detailed and realistic effects imaginable makes me think of those old rubber suit monster movies of the 50’s or the Godzilla films that are still being made today. Yes, if you’re looking for convincing scares and pitch perfect quality, this is not the film for you. But if you want to see a CGI deer rip the arm off a woman and a stuffed animal cat being thrown in a sink and stuffed down a garbage disposal, RISE OF THE ANIMALS will have you guffawing and gnu-ing. No animals were harmed while making this film, but a whole lotta bad puppets were used to make some downright goofy and fun horror.
New on DVD this week!
SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SCREAM QUEEN ERA (2011)Directed by Jason Paul Collum
Written by Jason Paul Collum
Starring Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau, Kenneth J. Hall, Jay Richardson, Richard Gabai, Ted Newsom
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though none of the films with Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer were immense successes to the general public, if you are a horror fan like me, you’re sure to recognize their names as well as their shapely bodies which they were more than willing to show in just about every and any movie they made. Sure, these ladies were hired for their powerful lungs and their willingness to show the boob-flesh covering them, but despite the fact that most of the time the furniture had more character written for them in the schlocky horror films they appeared, these three vixens stood out as the ones who invented the term Scream Queen and, according to this film, they are damn proud of it.
My favorite aspect of this film was the clips of all of the old horrible films these three ladies have appeared in. Films like CREEPAZOIDS, SORRORITY BABES IN THE SLIME BALL BOWL-O-RAMA, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, and NIGHTMARE SISTERS are impossible to find but treasured memories of my misspent youth watching every horror film in my video store, so seeing this compilation was a thrill for me.
Director Jason Paul Collum does a great job of illustrating how these three women went from innocent waifs with stardom in their eyes to superstars whose names have become synonymous with the term Scream Queen. Though actors and directors are interviewed as well, most of SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS focuses on Bauer, Quigley, and Stevens through in depth interviews. The film talks about each of the trios’ rise to stardom and how distinct the three of them were while highlighting their similar paths. Collum patiently maps out how they got their most famous roles with in depth talks with filmmakers like Fred Olen Ray. It also showed the darker side of their stardom as each learned to walk the tightrope of embracing their fans and appreciating them while keeping deranged stalkers, creepy fans, and weird happenings at conventions at a distance. I also appreciated the bits about how the public and the actresses’ families reacted to their roles in these types of films.
Collum might be guilty of putting a little too much fanfare into this one in lauding the mad skills all of these girls are supposed to have. But these three ladies have accomplished a lot by being in so many trashy and schlocky films, so credit deserves to be given and is done so generously. SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS is one of those nice obscure documentaries that serves as a great dissection of a very specific corner of horror. At a running time of an hour, this little doc gives just the right amount of information about how a bona fide horror staple started for better or worse and how it is appreciated much more today than it was back then. Anyone who lived and loved the schlock of the eighties and nineties during the VHS boom should give this one a look see.
New on DVD!
PENUMBRA (2011)AKA GLOOM
Directed by Adrián García Bogliano & Ramiro García Bogliano
Written by Adrián García Bogliano & Ramiro García Bogliano
Starring Christina Brondo, Camilia Bordonaba, Sabastian Berta Muniz, Maria Nela Sinisterra
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve seen some slow burners in my time, but PENUMBRA takes the cake.
Though the film starts out with an abduction of a beautiful young lady, PENUMBRA, which translates to GLOOM, then goes on for what feels like ages before anything of substance occurs. When Marga (played by a feisty Christina Brondo) shows an apartment to a potential new renter, she is caught up too much in her love life, her business, and her chaotic lifestyle to notice the danger she is in. Though I’ve seen (and unfortunately dated) girls that seem to have their cell phones surgically implanted into their ears and texting fingers, this film illustrates how oblivious those types of girls really are to the world around them. A cautionary tale of too much phone time? Yes, that’s kind of what this movie is, though the filmmakers make one crucial mistake—making the path that leads us up to this cautionary beat worth taking.
The more I think about PENUMBRA, the more I think it would have been a much better short film. There is a lot of great symbolism at play, with an eclipse making the world act insane and how our heroine is oblivious to all of that due to her busy lifestyle, but the endless phone conversations this lead actress tangents onto really tried my patience.
But the ending of this Argentinean thriller is a whopper and plays out almost pitch perfectly. Had there been a little less chitter from our chattery female lead, PENUMBRA would have been a fantastic film. As is, it’s a film that made my fast forward finger twitch to get closer to an ending that really does leave an impact.
New on DVD!
EXTINCTION: THE G.M.O. CHRONICLES (2011)aka KRONIKI ZAGLADY
Directed by Niki Drozdowski
Written by Niki Drozdowski & Ralf Betz
Starring Daniel Buder, Luise Bähr, Jerry Coyle, Tobias Kay, Lee Rychter, Bina Milas, Christian Stock, Klaus Ebert, Heinrich Baumgartner
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though the intention is there, EXTINCTION: THE G.M.O. CHRONICLES just doesn’t seem to want to do anything too new or exciting with what it’s got. Think of any zombie film—all the beats, all the turns, all the moments that cause scares, jumps, and frights--and you’re most likely going to see it at play in this film.
A guy who looks like a supermodel with perfect hair is alone and cursed to be ridiculously good looking during the zombie apocalypse. Soon he runs into a couple of other survivors. Then a couple more. Just when you think the cast is going to be overflowing, you can always count on those pesky zombies to keep the cast to a manageable number. As the survivors forage for food, weapons, and supplies and hole up in an abandoned military bunker, EXTINCTION hits all the beats we have seen recently in zombie films which focus more on surviving rather than the initial shock of the zombies actually existing.
Though I can appreciate this subtle shift in perspective when it comes to the zombie subgenre, and it could be said that this is some thematic indication that we live in a time where the shock of 9-11 has given way to the apathy of the post-9-11 walking wounded, still, to stand out as a zombie film these days you’ve got to give me something new. The effects in this film are the most original part of it. The zombie plague manifests itself out of the blue and affects the infested with demonic attributes more at home in a SILENT HILL film than your typical zombie flick, especially one eyeless female zombie with an alarm-like scream.
But some cool looking zombie designs aren’t enough to save this one. There’s got to be an engaging story or cast or something and this films just doesn’t seem to have it. Though the atmosphere is moody and the effects are great, EXTINCTION takes most of its beats from THE WALKING DEAD and other zombie survival stories and does so capably, but its main offense is just not being different enough to stand out from the hordes of other zombie flicks roaming around these days.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from IFC Midnight!
THE MOTH DIARIES (2011)Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Rachel Klein & Mary Harron
Starring Sarah Bolger, Sarah Gadon, Lily Cole, Judy Parfitt, Melissa Farman, Laurence Hamelin, Gia Sandhu, Valerie Tian, & Scott Speedman
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Mary Harron, director of AMERICAN PSYCHO, offers up another sublime horror film with THE MOTH DIARIES, which like AMERICAN PSYCHO takes its time to play out dreadful mood and heavy ambiance before sinking its teeth in the jugular of the viewer. Though much less based in our reality and less heavy on the social commentary on the culture of a specific era, Harron’s gothic teen girl romance is a thinking person’s teenage horror film—the kind of horror you would wish kids were into these days rather than vapid vamp flicks like TWILIGHT where emotions and feelings are fathoms more complex than choosing between the brooding vamp and the shirtless wolf.
The film is filled with fresh young faces, specifically best friends Rebecca (played by Sarah Bolger) and Lucy (Sarah Gadon) and new girl in school Ernessa (played by the ethereal Lily Cole). As their year in boarding school begins, Rebecca is delighted to see her best friend again after the long summer break and the two seem to be besties again without a pause until Ernessa arrives at the school. Immediately Ernessa takes interest in Lucy, which concerns Rebecca. I understand in this explanation, one might want to recheck the top of this column to see if it’s AICN SOAP OPERA rather than AICN HORROR, but I assure you, things get creepy pretty quick.
Harron’s story, adapted from a book by Rachel Klein deals with the real connection young girls have with one another as they reach womanhood in a sophisticated way. Yes, there are themes of lesbianism throughout as Rebecca’s suspicions about Ernessa’s motivations are written off as jealousy at first, but as faculty and students start having unfortunate accidents and Lucy becomes less and less interested in being friends with Rebecca, Rebecca begins to believe that something much darker than teen jealousy is afoot. The story is dark in tone and deathly serious. As we see the film through Rabecca’s eyes, we see Ernessa walk through walls and lustily nibbling at Lucy’s throat in the midnight hours. Harron is not very subtle with the fact that Ernessa may very well be a vampire early on as in all horror films set in a classroom, the readings that dreamboat literature teacher Scott Speedman is teaching from in class are CARMILLA and DRACULA. As with most horror films, this is a cautionary lesson and though the metaphor lacks subtlety by blatantly stating it in class, the vampire tale here is definitely an ambiguous one here as Ernessa doesn’t resemble what one typically thinks of when we think of a vampire.
That said, the performances are absolutely fantastic in this one by the three lead girls. Bolger shows great range and maturity for her age as Rebecca; our eyes and ears of the story. But Cole is the standout though here as her porcelain doll face is otherworldly and lifeless throughout the entire film, looking more mannequin like as the story progresses. Though her look is distinct, it most definitely can be called beautiful in an absolutely horrifying manner in this film. Both girls are asked to do and feel a lot in this film and are able to deliver.
Though the more hardcore of the readers here at AICN HORROR will not really be into this film, which is more along the lines of THE LADY IN WHITE and also has the same sort of dark tone as Sofia Coppola’s THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, it definitely is a welcome change of pace from all of the torture porn, found footage, monster mayhem, and slasher flicks. Like a razor so sharp that you don’t know it has cut you until it is too late, THE MOTH DIARIES is dangerous in its delicacy; a modern Gothic tale that is more hauntingly beautiful than anything else.
Advance Review: Coming soon from Raven Banner Entertainment!
SICK BOY (2011)Directed by Tim T. Cunningham
Written by Tim T. Cunningham
Starring Skye McCole Bartusiak, Marc Donato, Debbie Rochon
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
SICK BOY is one of those films with a premise that definitely may seem familiar, but its power lies in the skill of the actors involved and the director/writer steering the wheel. Because of this, even though we may know the layout of this type of film, the road to the end remains interesting because of strong performances in front of and behind the camera.
The one thing that stood out immediately with this film was the acting. I’ve never seen Skye McCole Bartusiak before, but she’s definitely got the chops of a good actor and convincingly plays Lucy, an engaged girl who can’t seem to find a job she really wants to do. Her husband Kris, played by Marc Donato, delivers a nice performance as well as her loving but frustrated husband who is sick of hearing about how one job after another doesn’t work for his wife. Out of desperation, Lucy responds to an ad as a babysitter. Enter Scream Queen Debbie Rochon as Dr. Gordan, a busy woman with a sick child with an unusual disease. She immediately takes a liking to Lucy and hires her to watch over her son for the next few days. Her directions are just to sit in the house and never…ever…go downstairs into her child’s room, no matter what.
Now, as with HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, where a babysitter is set up to watch a house rather than the person upstairs, you know sooner or later, Lucy is going to ignore the warnings of her employer and for one reason or another she will be checking in on the sick boy in the basement at some time. It’s the tension between the hiring and the snooping that will either make or break this film and director Tim T. Cunningham creates this tension with expert precision as Lucy begins looking through drawers, solidifying what we already know—that she will be going into the basement at some time.
Now, the scary stuff doesn’t really happen until the 45 minute mark, which is usually an exercise in tedium for me with films that take this long to get running, but the time whizzes by mainly because Skye McCole Bartusiak completely owns every scene she is in. She’s energetic, likable, personable, and easy on the eyes. I could see her becoming a big star some day and given her performance here, she’s got what it takes.
SICK BOY does a fantastic job of amping up the tension. Telling you what subgenre this film belongs to or identifying what the sick boy is sick with would be giving away too much of this film. Let’s just lump it in with such fantastic “Babysitter in peril” films as HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and leave it at that. Effective in a nail-biting build-up to a climax that definitely is worthy of the wait, filled with blood, gore, and mega-violence, SICK BOY is one of those infectious little horror films that needs to be spread to more viewers. When this one is available for the masses, I’ll definitely let you all know. But for now, keep an eye out here and on the Raven Banner Entertainment website for when and where you can see it.
And finally…this one really made me jump by the time it was over. Sure the first person POV is always something that works with me, but the way this one is cut sent chills down my spine. Check out DISOWN below from Ramesh Laktharu, Muvindu Binoy, Pamuditha Anjana, & Praveen Aasith. See if it has the same effect on you. 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 late 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 March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
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