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Ambush Bug counts down the best horror films on AICN HORROR since last Halloween – Number 29!!!

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

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here. Happy Birthday to AICN HORROR which celebrates its second year in October! Always hoping to pass on new and exciting films for all of you ravenous readers in search of worthwhile horror, I decided to compile a list counting down to my favorite horror covered in AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS since October 1 of last year. Some of these films might be new to you since there isn’t a lot of horror in theaters these days that aren’t toothless remakes or watered down sequels. Theaters aren’t where the horror is at these days, I’m afraid. Some of these films have only seen the light of day on Video on Demand or simply go straight to DVD/BluRay. I’ve also compiled a few films I’ve seen advance screenings of at festivals and I’ll try to update you when you can see these films when I can.

As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked over my AICN HORROR columns over the last year and worked and reworked a list until I had 31. No real method to my madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween toward my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion for those who can’t get enough horror that has something to do with the film I chose that day.

So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know how you liked the film I chose, how right or wrong I am, and come up with your own list…let’s go!


Coming in at 29 is a retro-slasher film called THE SLEEPER. This one might have snuck under your radar when it was quietly released on DVD earlier this year, but it definitely deserves to be seen. It takes standards set by hundreds of films made in the 80’s and makes it feel fresh and fun. Below is my review for the film from May of this year.


Directed by Justin Russell
Written by Justin Russell
Starring Brittany Belland, E. Ray Goodwin, Paul Moon, Eric Sarich, Beverly Kristy, Ali Ferda, Jo Bob Briggs, Jason Jay Crabtree as the Sleeper
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE SLEEPER owes a lot to the slasher films which ran rampant during the 80’s--more specifically the influential slasher films that came about during the late 70’s such as HALLOWEEN and especially the seminally awesome BLACK CHRISTMAS. As with BLACK CHRISTMAS, the killer, known only as The Sleeper here, calls a sorority house and whispers nonsensical threats into the phone. Much like some of the creepiest scenes in BLACK CHRISTMAS, it’s these momentary glimpses into the twisted mind of a madman that prove to be both the most horrifying and the most memorable in THE SLEEPER. Those who love this era of horror cinema will have a lot to like in this film, written and directed by Justin Russell.

There has been a lot of talk about this film, comparing it to another retro-masterpiece, Ti West’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. As with that film, from beginning to end, THE SLEEPER feels like it’s been transported from the past. Even the opening credits which simply focus on an old rotary phone suggest that this is a throwback film, done by someone who studied and loved the genre it honors. Set in the 80’s, THE SLEEPER is filled with things that have become cliché in this day and age: horny boyfriends sneaking in past curfew, a sorority full of women in nighties—both of which have the annoying tendency to ignore personal safety and wander off alone to be easily picked off by our killer. It’s this adherence to tried and true slasher movie guidelines that I found refreshing about this film. Instead of the tired self referentialism that has infected modern horror, THE SLEEPER just does it beat by beat. What makes it so enjoyable is the fact that it is a story we’ve seen before, but the skill in setting up a scene and the deft use of music in this film sets it apart from others in the sub-genre.

The amazing score is by Gremlin, which evokes some of the best 80’s synth music from Italian cinema. The overly synthed tones were made iconic with Carpenter’s simplistic HALLOWEEN theme, but here, it reminded me more of Goblin from Argento’s earlier films and Bava’s DEMONS. Too many times modern horror films of this kind has pandered to trends and incorporated hit singles from popular bands. In doing so, it castrates all tension by having some chirpy pop tart spelling out themes. Here Gremlin shows much skill in building tension and keeping it afloat as our Sleeper stalks his prey.

The Sleeper himself, played by Jason Jay Crabtree, is fantastic. He mumbles and laughs twitchily at his own jokes. He dials up his clueless victims and practically tells them they are going to die before actually fulfilling that promise. His wincing and wriggling communicates true mania as he writes ZZZ’s all over headshots of his intended victims. Russell cleverly doesn’t show him in full view, keeping him off camera or shadowed, which only amplifies the menace.

THE SLEEPER does a fantastic job of diluting a subgenre of horror down to only what’s most effective. Atmosphere and tone are set with amazing lighting and a fantastic score. Russell takes this material seriously and never snickers at the audience, but is also not above adding an impromptu disco dance number at a club which had me rolling. The kills are gory as hell, another throwback to the more hardcore slasher films of the early eighties, with meaty hammer blows to the head and even more gruesome fists through the face being standout kills. The slasher era of filmmaking has taken a lot of flack, mainly because it can be a cheap way to make a horror film. But when done well, a slasher film can be truly terrifying. THE SLEEPER is one of those films.

THE SLEEPER is available now on DVD. It’s definitely filled with old school scares. And if you’re in the mood for that perfect old school slasher yarn, I suggest one of the first and best, BLACK CHRISTMAS (available on DVD), Though I haven’t reviewed it yet (I’m saving it for an extra special X-Mas column on AICN HORROR), it is one of my favorite horror films of all time. Forget the remake, go for the original with Margot Kidder, Kier Dullea, and Olivia Hussey for the real deal. This one sends shivers down my spine every time I watch it.

The Countdown so far…


See ya tomorrow, folks, with number 28 of the best of the best covered in AICN HORROR since last year!

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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  • Oct. 3, 2012, 9:11 a.m. CST

    Loved this movie. And First.

    by Darth_AUGUSTUS

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 9:17 a.m. CST

    Is this available via Netflix streaming?

    by Judge Briggs

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 9:30 a.m. CST


    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...if this is your 29... ...I'm very interested in the 28 slots above. I don't think I could fill more than fifteen. Then again, I do have a prejudice for old school stuff, even imperfect old school stuff like this. I think I'm sure what your number one is. And yeah, it's mine too, even though I didn't like it as much as you. But the rest of the top ten should be fun.

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 10:35 a.m. CST

    I recall this getting a limited VHS release, ala House of the Devil

    by Collin Armstrong

    For such a low-budget offering, they really get the period details right. I wasn't quite as charmed by the film as others here, but you have to give the director and production team credit for pulling this together in such convincing fashion. And for my money, the original Black Christmas is as close to a perfect horror film as is just about possible. It's also one of those movies that, to me, feels timeless - the performances and direction are such that it feels like it could've been released yesterday. I'd throw The Innocents on that list too - even though it's from the '60s and is itself a period film, it feels like it could've been made by a contemporary filmmaker. To me, that's a sign that you did something very right.

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 10:50 a.m. CST

    So glad to see the BLACK CHRISTMAS love!!

    by REMcycle

    Bob Clark really hit it out of the park with that this day it's absolutely terrifying and some of the post techniques that make it so memorable (fish-eye first person crazy-cam, skipping frames to make attacks happen faster than humanly possible, etc) were so ahead of their time...still in the annual rotation and NEVER gets old. Also one of the best endings in the slasher genre. Looking forward to THE SLEEPER...thanks for this thread,'s fantastic so far! Also, if you haven't seen it you should check out MURDER BY DECREE, Bob Clark's take on Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. Alot of what worked in BLACK CHRISTMAS worked really really well in that film as well, and IMO it's by far the best Holmes film.

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 11:20 a.m. CST


    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...Black Christmas is one of the 50 best horror movies ever made. Simple as that.

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 2:57 p.m. CST

    ^ fact.

    by REMcycle

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 3:13 p.m. CST

    Jo Bob Briggs? You mean Joe Bob Briggs? Mr. King of the Drive In?

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    Does he give this 2 stabbings, 1 beheading, and 3 1/2 breasts?

  • Oct. 3, 2012, 11:54 p.m. CST

    I just watched THE SLEEPER...had to come back and comment...

    by REMcycle

    ...twas OK. Felt very much like a BLACK CHRISTMAS fan film; REALLY bad acting, not the best of direction, but pretty good photography and excellent post. It's funny how with most low-to-no budget features the post talent is just phenomenal while the on-screen talent is usually abysmal. I think it's because a lot of indie is still way less 'star-centric', simply unable to use big (and generally talented) names to put asses in chairs...instead, outside-of-Hollywood features get made because a few filmmakers get together with a story to tell and the technical/creative means to tell it (especially genre films like this), if only they had a good pool of actors to use... ...seen this same story play out down in Austin again and again and again...a HUGE pool of technical and creative talent in that town, and not a single remotely good actor to be found. All that said, if you're a genre nut you should check it out. As Ambush said above, it really does tackle the 80s slasher cliches comprehensively, my favorite being that one guy who's about to get laid behaving like he NEVER thought it could possibly happen to him (yep, it's in this flick too). Just don't expect too much from the "do this for me and I'll buy you beer" cast.

  • The Victorians believed nostalgia was a disease. I think Ambush Bug must be suffering. House of the Devil was dreadful, being retro does not make something a masterpiece, had that film been actually released in the 80's it would be buried under the true shlock gems of the time, real classics like Deadly Spawn and Killer Klowns.

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 9:05 a.m. CST

    Black Christmas

    by mad_taffer

    I really love that flick. The first POV of the killer shot and climbing the ladder is awesome. Also, the foul mouthed Margot Kidder is a real hoot!