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AICN HORROR looks at new frights from Fantastic Fest Part II with HENGE! CRAVE! COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES! & a look back at the Australian classic WAKE IN FRIGHT!!!

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

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Always keeping my feelers in the air on the lookout for new horror, this special column will focus on horrors from this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX! Though I’m not at the festival itself, I have had a chance to check out quite a few of the more obscure horror treats the fest has to offer. Below are a quartet of horror films that you’ll want to look out for in the coming months! Have no fear, once these films are released, I’ll be letting you all know when and where to see them…

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-Review: WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)
HENGE (2012)
CRAVE (2012)

Playing this week at Fantastic Fest 2012!


Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Kenneth Cook (novel), Evan Jones (screenplay)
Starring Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle, Al Thomas, John Meillon
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Much like CRAVE (which I review later on in this column), which deals with manhood in the modern age, WAKE IN FRIGHT does so as well and serves as a reminder that no matter how civilized we think ourselves to be, we are but one impulsive decision away from barbarism. WAKE IN FRIGHT takes a bitter but educated man, (Gary Bond as John Grant) serving his sentence as a “slave” for the school system educating kids from the outback in order to pay off his debt and move on to bigger, better things serving in a job he feels is more fitting for himself and serves him up a foul tasting plate of crow as he experiences the outback firsthand and is pushed to the edges of his own sanity.

In many ways, this is a good old descent into madness tale with Grant making one impulsive decision after another leading him down a dark path. If that path wasn’t so grimy and foul, this sequence of errors would be humorous, but the way FIRST BLOOD director Ted Kotcheff depicts the land down under as something that is more akin to a land of nightmare. Drenched in boredom, inopportunity, and of course, alcohol, the men of the outback are at a point of stunted growth. Doing nothing but drinking, wrestling around with one another, and killing things, the men of the outback are folk Grant would normally look down-snoutedly at if not for the fact that he is flat broke and stuck among them. Though the men are hospitable to Grant, there is a constant air of threat that hovers everywhere in this film as if at any moment any of these drunk and smiling characters could easily turn on you for nothing more than a sideways stare. Kotcheff does this by showing the blokes rumbling around with one another, sloshing down alcohol, and joking around in the roughest of manners. This clearly isn’t Grant’s way and it shows early on as the town sheriff (Chips Raferty) buys him drink after drink in a bar then hands him off to the town doctor played by the ever-creepy Donald Pleasance. Pleasance’s blank blue eyes are piercing and pants-shittingly intense throughout as he makes subtle and not so subtle sexual advances toward Grant at every turn. Once rough and tumble Jack Thompson wrestling around drunkenly shows up, it is clear that Grant is not within his comfort zone.

Of course, alcohol is the great social negotiator, and in this film it is consumed by the keg-load. The boyish revelry takes the group to the outback where Grant has an uncomfortable sexual encounter with a farmer’s daughter followed by a kangaroo hunt which is bound to make folks uneasy. I had a lot of difficulty watching these kangaroos being blown away by the hunters. Apparently, a real roo hunt was filmed and they actually were killed, but this was done by licensed hunters. Still, it’s not for the soft of heart to sit through the vicious hunt the quartet of men go on in their night of drunken debauchery. Wrestling a roo with one’s bare hands and killing it was just too much for me to stomach.

If anything, this film serves as a statement about men with too much time on their hands and too little rules to live by. It feels like a cautionary tale as Grant is pulled into this smarmy world of sex, violence, and gluttony, all filmed with an unblinking eye with a little soot in it to stank things up. With performances that are absolutely haunting, this isn’t your standard horror fare, but it will most definitely cause unease, tension, and discomfort as this civilized man is dragged through the mud.

Though no easy answers are given at the end of this film, it does come to a sensible conclusion. WAKE IN FRIGHT most definitely bucks Hollywood standards as a boy is quickly changed into a man whether he likes it or not here. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous despite the unfavorable actions of the people staggering around it and you can taste the dirt in your teeth just by watching the dust storms blow by.

Not for the squeamish or for those looking for typical Hollywood rules, but if you want to see Donald Pleasance at his creepiest and a true and ugly picture of the Australian outback, WAKE IN FRIGHT is a real life horror film that delivers in spades and leaves you squirming and wanting a shower afterwards.

Playing this week at Fantastic Fest 2012!

HENGE (2012)

Directed by Hajime Ohata
Written by Hajime Ohata
Starring Kazunari Aizawa, Aki Morita, Teruhiko Nobukuni
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I was blown away by this emotionally charged rampaging monster film. Though the actual rampage starts small, it grows to Godzilla-like proportions by the end of the film and with director Hajime Ohata’s usage of both practical and computer effects, it makes the rampage all the more effective.

The story focuses on a young married couple who are experiencing difficulties in their marriage. The husband begins having seizures of unknown origin, baffling doctors and psychologists alike. As the couple run the gamut of medical, psychological, and even religious options, the story becomes a metaphor for the struglle a marriage can be faced with when one has a disease such as cancer where multiple treatments can be taken, but a positive outcome is not guaranteed.

As the husband’s condition worsens and his body begins going through physical transformations, the story goes from Cronenbergian to Clive Barkerian when the wife begins bringing home unsuspecting suitors in order for her husband to feast on them. The inner turmoil and crisis of conscience is painful to watch as the wife struggles between her better judgment and the love of her husband in pain.

Of course, this series of murders can only go on so long and as the husband continues to metamorphosize and grow, the wife can no longer satiate his bloodlust. In a scene reminiscent of THE ELEPHANT MAN, the woman helps her misshapen husband across a train station in hopes of escape. As the police corner the man, the stress triggers more growth and soon there’s a giant monster rampaging Japan again.

Part THE FLY, part HELLRAISER, part GODZILLA, HENGE is definitely a “man in suit” film for those who like a little drama with their rampage. Convincingly acted and maintaining a serious tone throughout, this is a whole other level in giant monster movies. The heartbreaking ending is satisfying, but left me wanting to see more rampaging as the mixture of practical and CGI are seamlessly interwoven. This 50 minute short was paired with Hajime Ohata’s noir story BIG GUN at the festival, but HENGE is the one those with an eye for horror will want to seek out.

Playing this week at Fantastic Fest 2012!

CRAVE (2012)

Directed by Charles de Lauzirika
Written by Charles de Lauzirika & Robert Lawton
Starring Josh Lawson, Emma Lung, Ron Perlman, Edward Furlong
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Comparisons to TAXI DRIVER are somewhat accurate as a man struggles with his own sanity making his way through life in the big city. I know many a woman who will most likely get a creepy vibe from this film, as it depicts a man, not sure of himself, dealing with a lack of confidence, a lack of purpose, and a lack of understanding of the world around him, while desperately trying to find something special and worth hanging on to amidst it all. On the other hand, I find this film to be more along the lines of FIGHT CLUB dissecting what it is like to be a man in this complex day and age of relationships and apathy.

Josh Lawson plays Aiden, a freelance photographer taking shots of crime scenes and selling them for a living. On the side he takes wedding photos. The rest of his time he has to himself, which proves to be not so good for him. Aiden is a loner. One of those quiet types who thinks too much and acts too little. We’re clued into this early on as he witnesses a woman being harassed on the train. In his mind, Aiden springs into action, scaring away thugs with a handgun and receiving the heart and sexual attention from the woman passenger. In reality, he is not so heroic and leaves the woman to be handled by cops who enter the train as he is scared off. This sets the stage of Aiden’s conflict throughout the film. Should he listen to that voice inside to be the hero, be the gentleman, do what’s right. Or should he look out for only himself, stay quiet and basically be alone forever. As Aiden runs into the enchanting Virginia (the gorgeous and talented Emma Lung) outside of his apartment fighting with her boyfriend and perfectly cast Edward Furlong, he begins to fantasize about her choosing him over her skeevy boyfriend.

Turns out, this actually happens, as Virginia breaks things off with her boyfriend to start a relationship with Aiden, which begins with an impulsive hookup and evolves into what could be a relationship. Though something inside of her tells Virginia that Aiden is dangerous, she takes the leap and finds herself being the uncomfortable center of Aiden’s world. Which is a problem because a) Aiden is not a stable person, and b) her instincts were correct.

CRAVE takes a lot of time allowing us to get to know Aiden through internal monologue and the gory fantasies where he smashes people’s heads in with sledgehammers for talking affectionately in public to one another. Aiden is impulsive and dangerous, barely able to keep his own thoughts in his head and occasionally muttering out phrases without knowing it. Basically, this is the beginning stages of the guy on the train talking to himself, wearing twelve layers of clothing, and a tin hat. A schizophrenic in the making, Aiden looks well put together and is able to keep the crazy at bay as he forms this relationship with Virginia.

At least at first. Through an extremely patient script, we see things slowly unravel as Aiden becomes more and more obsessed with Virginia. When Virginia becomes creeped out by his intensity, she pumps the breaks and returns to Ravi (Furlong), shattering Aiden’s world. This is where the film takes a pitch black turn as Aiden fights his inner demon who is urging him to fight for Virginia, convinced that she loves him and is in need of a white knight to come in and vanquish the dragon that is Ravi.

Complex and painstakingly patient, this slow descent into madness is expertly crafted and fascinating to watch. If anything, guys trying to date in the city should watch this as an instructional video on how not to form a relationship, though at less of an extreme, if we’re honest with ourselves, I’m sure all guys would recognize some of the mistakes Aiden makes as hitting a bit too accurately on the mark.
It’s to the screenplay and director’s testament that we still actually feel for Aiden despite all of the horrible things he does. He’s a deeply sick person, but still likable and actor Josh Lawson deserves credit as well to making him all the more likable. The cast is rounded out perfectly as Furlong finds himself in the middle of the worst murder botch up in cinematic history and comically and tragically plays the part to perfection. Ron Perleman serves as Aiden’s Jiminy Cricket, a cop who is also in AA with Aiden and futilely attempts to steer him in the right direction.

Clocking in at almost two hours, I think with a proper edit here and there, this could be a fantastic companion piece to TAXI DRIVER and FIGHT CLUB, two films I hold in extreme high regard and though this film doesn’t achieve those epic levels of cinematic awesome-itude, CRAVE explores some of the same dark alleyways.

Playing this week at Fantastic Fest 2012!


Directed by Matthias Hoene
Written by James Moran & Lucas Roche
Starring Georgia King, Lee Asquith-Coe, Michelle Ryan, Alan Ford, Harry Treadaway, Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Tony Gardner, Dominic Burns
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I said this about found footage films. I’m not sick of the amount of found footage films out there...I’m sick of watching bad ones. As long as the film offers me something new and exciting, I’m in. I’m the same for zombie films. Though many write off all new zombie films at first glance because of the amount of zombie films shambling about the new releases today, those same people might be missing out on the next great zombie film.


A pair of construction workers stumble across a tomb while digging the foundation for a new building and upon opening it up in hopes to find treasure, instead they stumble upon a bunch of trapped living corpses. Plain, simple, BAM. This set-up happens in the first two minutes, which gives the rest of the runtime the chance to just have fun with the zombie apocalypse.

And it does, in spades. The thing about zombie films is that it is not about the zombies themselves. They don’t have personality. They aren’t characters. They are just fodder for interesting people to go up against. If that group of survivors are interesting well developed characters, then all the better a movie it is. In COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, the group of survivors in question is a group of East End, working class London folk known affectionately to the world as Cockneys; a group known to be tough, no nonsense sort of folks who may not be the most civilized bunch, but are generally good people. Basically, if you’re looking for the equivalent in my home town of Chicago, we’re talking about Southside White Sox fans.

Pitting this type of group against the living dead offers up a lot of fun opportunities and this film takes those opportunities and runs with them. Basically, this is a Guy Richie film with zombies. LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING ZOMBIES, if you will. When a group of amateur criminals try to save their elderly grandparent’s retirement community by robbing a bank, everything goes pear-shaped when zombies come in and muck up the works. Expect a lot of colorful language. Expect a lot of tough guy posturing. Expect a lot of zombies, and you’re bound to be pleased.

Some might criticize that this film has already been made with SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Comparisons are bound to happen, but while SHAUN focused more on one man-child’s journey into manhood via hilarious zombie tomfoolery, this film doesn’t go as deep. SHAUN, despite its hijinx, had some deathly serious moments. In COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, the tone is lighter and the laughs are not as sophisticated. Still, the laughs are there. There are some downright hilarious scenes as zombie futbol fans of different teams meet each other in the street and we find out that team spirit beats zombie appetite every time. There’s a baby scene that is so wrong, but hilariously right in the way it is played out. Plus a character with a metal plate in his head proves to be difficult to kill once he becomes a zombie. Over and over, this film had me laughing out loud at the inventive and downright genius comedic scenarios constructed.

But the true highlight of the film are the elderly folks taking on the zombie masses. From a low speed chase as a man in a walker runs as fast as he can (which isn’t fast at all) from a slow zombie to the scene where a zombie gnaws on a wooden leg, this film is filled with fantastic old person vs zombie action. Leading the grey haired pack is tough guy actor Alan Ford (SNATCH’s Brick Top) who takes on the zombies with a sneer and machine gun.

There is a lot to enjoy from COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES. Though not very deep thematically, it makes up for it with laugh out loud moments a plenty. There’s nary a groaner (despite the zombies, of course) when it comes to the comedy. The cast of young actors are talented in acting dim-witted and the elderly thespians show that they can kick zombie ass just as well as the young folks. Before you dismiss this as “just another zombie movie”, take a moment. Out of all of the zombie films made today, there’s got to be a good one every now and then. COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES is one of those good ones.

See ya Friday for our regular column, 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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Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 25, 2012, 1:37 p.m. CST

    Excellent Choices! That Wake In Fright looks very interesting!

    by Baron Von Penguin

  • Sept. 25, 2012, 2:35 p.m. CST

    Wake In Fright

    by fitzcarraldo2

    Wake In Fright is a damn good film. It was basically suppressed in Australia for many years as it supposedly painted the country in a negative light but I don't really think it does. The review here gives away a little too much. I ended up disliking the protagonist as a self-righteous, stuck-up prick. The aggressive Aussie hospitality on show is pretty amusing, basically "have a drink mate or I'll knock yer teeth out".

  • Sept. 25, 2012, 3:30 p.m. CST

    I refuse to give up on zombies!

    by Beezbo

    "Cockneys" looks good. I'm a big fan of some other recent ones too, like "Juan of the Dead", "The Horde" and "Rammbock: Berlin Undead". You just have to weed through the lousy stuff like "Zombie Diaries" and the like.

  • Sept. 25, 2012, 3:39 p.m. CST

    There's a film called HAROLD'S GONE STIFF roaming around festivals

    by Ambush Bug

    That I love with the deepest of passion. It's a mockumentary about the zombies treated as if it wasn't a world wide menace, but a slow onset of a disease with help groups trying to give these people treatment as they become the living dead. At the same time, there are idiots roaming around thinking it's the zombie apocalypse killing these poor people with the disease. It's a fantastic film that I had the pleasure of seeing early in the year and will be highlighted in my Best of the Best since last Halloween in a few weeks. It's proof positive that there's still life in the zombie genre.

  • Sept. 25, 2012, 7:34 p.m. CST

    Still Life in the Zombie Genre...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...could be the title of the single greatest zombie film ever made, Ambush. All you have to do now is make it.

  • Sept. 25, 2012, 8:19 p.m. CST

    I'm seeing it as a 70s Argento style giallo...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...that slowly blossoms into a full out Nightmare City style zombie apocalypse. Or maybe eighties up the mood just a little with an opening like the Cozzi movie, Paganini Horror. No, Stendahl it up. See, there's a painting, done in the 17th century, maybe somebody like Poussin, but instead of him bumming around Europe before he ended up in Rome have him have made a sojourn to the Middle East. The painting gets found in... ...wait change this up...the painting gets found in the underground ruins of a hospital used during the Italian plagues of the early 1600s, during the 30 years war. The paintings just nightmarish, some central terrible figure surrounded by the suffering dying and the rotting dead. And of course some Italian director decides to declare it his inspiration for his newest film. The first act--maybe even the first two acts play as an old school giallo. The masked figure from the painting takes a toll on anyone around the painting while rumors swirl about of a curse or a publicity stunt by the movie's producers. Start of the third act the movie opens, the masked figure slashes the painting to pieces and...well, you know the rest. The key to ending it should probably be someone recapturing the horror in a new painting, or a photograph, and of course they try but fail, but I'm thinking you need a twist on it to stick the landing and I've already spent a good twenty minutes thinking about it, which is really too long for me to be thinking about this.

  • Sept. 25, 2012, 9:05 p.m. CST

    No forget that...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...go with a guy/girl painting a mural of New Orleans at Mardi Gras or maybe Carnivale if you want to go international. He/she paints the significant other into the scene, some physical beauty who of course proves untrue. The painter repaints them as dead, and as they do the person dies. Which is fine, as far as it goes, until the painter, stricken with remorse, paints them as living once more. What then plays out across the festival is reflected in the painting, the zombies in this playing out more as the mad revelers in Masque of the Red Death than your typical Romero shamblers. At the end the painter is absolutely isolated, the lone human not transformed by his/her artwork, forever separated from a mad revelry that their initial inability to join began the whole sequence of events. Or maybe go social satire, with a Banksy style artist who tags things with depictions of bankers, politicians, the media, whatever he/she doesn't approve of, as zombies. But as these sectors of society are zombified they become the new normal. It becomes accepted by much of the population that it's the due of these pillars of society, these achievers and job creators to feast on the flesh of the underclass. Becoming a zombie is celebrated in pop culture. Shooting one in the head comes to be considered an act of terrorism. And even though the zombies remain a very small percentage of the overall population they are supported by a huge segment of the population on which they feast. The Banksy guy/girl responds by zombifying large segments of the least fortunate in society, who are, of course, immediately declared a menace and hunted to extinction. The tagger, vilified and finally apprehended, paints him/herself as a zombie just before being shot in the head. Or something else. Anyway, it's a great title.

  • I said it before! Wake In Fright is ALMOST an observational documentary. I'm old enough to recall the furore Wake In Fright caused upon it's release and I can tell you it was the 'roo shooting' that really upset people NOT the way us Aussies were portrayed. Granted we come across as barely evolved beer drinking hicks but thats indicative of the make-up of many 'frontier' towns in that era. Bluecollar, hardworking people with little or no access to education or anything more sophisticated when it came to recreation than darts down the pub with a few mates. While some attitudes and opportunities have changed in remote communities since then not much else has. It's a hard life in the bush and is not for everyone. I know, lived in country Western Australia for fifteen years.

  • Sept. 26, 2012, 8:52 a.m. CST

    @Mr foles36, since you are an australian, i want to ask you a question:

    by albert comin

    Ford Falcon or Holden Monaro?