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Ambush Bug counts down the best horror films on AICN HORROR since last Halloween – Number 19!!!

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

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here. 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!


Though THE TALL MAN seems to draw and quarter viewers between those who believe in the issues that come up in this story of a kidnapper in a small, run-down town and those who vehemently are against it, while others feel the story works with all of its twists and ambiguous characters and others who feel the film falls apart after a second viewing, Pascal Laugier’s follow up to the devilish MARTYRS resonated with me. I know this pick is bound to piss some off, but the fact that it angers so many people makes this film interesting to me. From the talkback responses I got when I posted the below review in August, I’m sure there will be plenty disagreeing with me on my number 19 pick, but I liked the dark places it took me.


Directed by Pascal Laugier
Written by Pascal Laugier
Starring Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, Jakob Davies, William B. Davis, Samantha Ferris, Katherine Ramdeen
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I think a lot of people in the world today don’t like it when they don’t know what’s going on when it comes to film. When a director gets the better of a viewer and is successfully able to pull the wool over the eyes of them, more often than not, I think the most common reaction is that of anger and frustration. Shortly thereafter, the words, “This sucks!” bellows out from that person’s lips, mostly because if they discredit the film, then they can’t admit that it got the better of them. I go to films because I want so desperately to see things I have never seen before. When a film comes along and I can honestly say while watching it that I have absolutely no idea how it’s going to end up…man, there is no better feeling in the world for me than that feeling. This feeling is so cherished for me mostly because I’ve seen so many films (particularly horror films) in which I can call the story beat for beat, that when a horror film comes along and truly challenges my expectations, I instantly fall in love with it. THE TALL MAN is such a film.

Having seen the film twice now, once having absolutely no prior knowledge of what to expect and a second time with a group of people who knew nothing about it, I am truly impressed at how the film holds up as an initial shocking experience as well as one that continues to thrill even after one knows the ending. Director Pascal Laugier who blew my socks off with MARTYRS, does so again by toying with viewer expectation like a kitten does a ball of yarn. Laugier knows what the audience expects and zigs when zags are expected, in doing so, the audience knows not where things will end up, leaving them in a constant state of discomfort. Modern audiences hate that and I’m sure there will be plenty of folks out there who dislike this film as well, but I love it because of that fact.

On top of that, Pascal is playing with one of cinema’s taboo subjects; that is, the importance of family. Much of horror is about returning to the status quo. The monster is ultimately defeated. The serial killer is destroyed. Whatever beast or baddie has come in and mussed up the ant hill is gone and the dust settles, giving the audience a sense that despite the horrific events, things are going to be ok. The TALL MAN is not that movie. While family has always been a constant, rock solid concept in film, here it challenges that notion. Without getting too far into spoiler territory (a previous review here on AICN did that, if you’re looking for spoilers), Laugier suggests that maybe being with one’s family isn’t the best case scenario and again, that is going to be a tough pill for some to swallow.

THE TALL MAN is about an urban legend made real. The children of a poor mining town are going missing without a trace. Police are baffled. Townsfolk are scared. And the local vet Julia (Jessica Biel) seems to be the only strong person left among them as shown in the opening scene as she is the only person qualified in the town to oversee a young girl giving birth in secret. Fearing scrutiny from the townsfolk and possibly another abduction by the Tall Man (which the more superstitious of the townies have dubbed the abductor), Julia agrees to keep the info about the baby to herself. Soon, Julia returns to her own home to visit with her own child. The two share a loving relationship as seen through some endearing moments of play between Biel and the young actor David (played by DIARY OF A WIMPY KID’s Jakob Davies). But when the lights go out, Julia is awakened by a crash in the night and encounters the Tall Man in her house with David in tow about to disappear into the night.

What looks to be a child abduction tale turns out to be anything but. When I was trying to explain this to my friends without giving too much away, I told them that it is one of the most unconventional horror films I’ve ever seen. But then again, because of the social commentary going on in this film, it’s also hard to categorize this as a horror film at all. There are definitely moments of sheer terror as the separation between a person and their child is one of the most tragic occurrences imaginable, but what it truly shocking is the reason for the disappearances and how this film peels away layer upon layer, slapping aside all assumptions one might have as clues are dropped.

Jessica Biel with her performance in this film has leapt from just another beautiful actress to one with definite balls after her brave portrayal of Julia in this film. Not only is she put through hell physically in this film, but her arc is complex and shatters all expectations one might have of her going in. Additional strong performances are offered up by PONTYPOOL’s Stephen McHattie, X-FILES Smoking Man William B. Davis, and SILENT HILL’s little girl Jodelle Ferdland. In a film which requires so many emotions being shredded and toyed with, the whole cast does a fantastic job at conveying them.

As with MARTYRS before it which was without a doubt one of the most shocking films in the last twenty years, THE TALL MAN opens with an extremely close viewpoint then gradually throughout the film pulls back revealing a much bigger world than what one first expects. Just as MARTYRS evolved before your eyes from a film about madness and inner demons to one of existential torture and transcending beyond what the sane mind can truly withstand, THE TALL MAN morphs and evolves as the running time speeds by. Though I won’t reveal the twists and turns here, I will say that the multiple times the story pulled the rug from under me got me big time. I’m not afraid to admit this film got the better of me and I love it for doing so. If you’re the type of person who gets pissed at being surprised, I know right now that THE TALL MAN just won’t be for you. But if you go to a film to be shocked, to be manipulated, to be surprised, THE TALL MAN delivers all of that in spades.

Looking for a truly creepy story of a kidnapper? Try Fritz Lang and Peter Lorre’s classic tale of heinous crime and guilt M. This black and white masterpiece is something you won’t forget once viewing with Lorre turning in both a sympathetic and abso-fucking-lutely creepy performance. Available on DVD, check out M as today’s alternate pick.

The Countdown so far…


See ya tomorrow, folks, with number 18 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.

Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns
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Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 14, 2012, 6:39 p.m. CST

    number 1 will be sinister

    by Redhead_Redemption

    No reason at all that this site is raving about it while every other site hates it... no reason at all

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 7:01 p.m. CST

    Horribly bad movie.

    by Kabukiman

    Just awful.

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 7:16 p.m. CST

    Wanted to like this, but couldn't get into it

    by Collin Armstrong

    It wasn't necessarily the twist that ruined it for me, either - I appreciated the atmosphere and actually thought Biel was pretty good, but the story just felt manipulative and heavy-handed. Still like MARTYRS and HOUSE OF VOICES, tho.

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 7:25 p.m. CST

    i just saw Sinister, it's pretty damn good

    by Monnie Knapp

    It doesn't hold up to Cabin in the Woods or Woman in Black, but one of the better horror films I've seen this year.

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 9:36 p.m. CST

    (slight spoiler inside)

    by ChaunceyGardiner

    Personally, as an educator and someone who has studied to a degree the phenomena, this story resonated with me as it seemed to tell the story of the cycle of abuse, how the victim of a crime as a child sometimes grows into a perpetrator of the same crime as an adult in their attempt to comprehend and control what it is that has happened to them: their victimization. Also, morally, this film challenges assumptions of imperatives and superiority of one system over another. A tough little movie that is more bothersome in retrospect; the true horror is the idea of it, and not so much the realization (which is as purposefully as confuseing as any film since "Barton Fink").

  • Oct. 15, 2012, 8:40 a.m. CST

    @Mr chaunceygardiner

    by albert comin

    My favorite thing in the movie is how it ends. Though the movie might imply that what really matters is the welfare of a child, there still the unanswered question in the end. The movie deliberatly allows the doubt to even the best intentions. "Right? Right? Right?" Such an hauting ending, perfectly delivered by the expression from actress Jodelle Ferland (what a fantastic young actress!!). I bet in your line of work you must have found some kids asking that very same question. Has to be heartbreaking. And that's what the movie never is coy about, to deliver the heartbreak of all what would involve this events. The heartbreak of the people of good intentions, the heartbreak of those who get made martyrs, the heartbreak of those who have to leave soembody behind, the heartbreak of those who have good hearts but ruined lives, the heartbreak of the dedicated and fair cop who wants to understand and pities the people he works for and knows, the heartbreak of families whose kids disapear never to be seen again,the heartbreak of kids who live lifes of poverty and sadness, the heartbreak of kids seperated from their families... etc. The thing this director can do so brillantly is put the feeling of heartbreak in his movies. Heartbreak is the best description i can give to how i felt after watching "The Tall Man", and it goes double for "Martyrs". This guy really doesn't pussyfoot. As for Jessica Biel's performance in the movie, all i need to say is that she can finally go home justified.

  • Oct. 15, 2012, 11:47 a.m. CST

    @scirocco & chaunceygardner

    by Ambush Bug

    I totally agree. I work in the foster care agency and while everyone wants to say "Let's return the children to their parents and work toward that goal; helping parents become capable caregivers, tying to work within the courts system which moves like a glacier, and finally and most importantly, provide care for the kids and help them either way the decision goes." the reality is that most of the time the parents ARE the problem and there is no interest in changing or receiving treatment and hand the kids off saying "Fix him/her" and wait for them to come back into the exact same environment that was a major factor in their difficulties anyway. What the film doesn't do, mainly because it is trying to be a horror film, is go into this problem with a character who might not WANT to go. In the case in the film, the kids are either happy to go or too young to understand. I found the fact that a horror film that makes us even have this conversation is a damn good one.

  • Oct. 15, 2012, 11:49 a.m. CST


    by Ambush Bug

    SINISTER isn't number one. Not because I didn't like it. But because I haven't seen it. It also falls outside of the rules I've put together for this column; mainly that it was covered on AICN HORROR between October 1st of last year and October 1st of this year. If it's as good as I hear it is, though, I'm sure it'll be up there next year.

  • Oct. 15, 2012, 1:59 p.m. CST

    Bah! It's not really THE TALL MAN without his BIG SILVER BALLS.

    by Buck_Futt

  • Oct. 16, 2012, 5:15 a.m. CST

    Martyrs was just fucked.

    by V'Shael

    Nothing to do with the film getting the better of me - it just seemed to heap gore upon gore and every time it looked like it might be coherant, someone got shot and it went off the rails again. And as for the ending - not only did it make no sense, it was clearly trying to sound deep and insightful or something. And failing badly.

  • Oct. 18, 2012, 11:07 a.m. CST

    I liked The Tall Man

    by clupula

    but I just can't see it as a horror movie. It's a straight-up drama with a horror movie lure. If it had been directed by anyone but the guy who did Martyrs, I don't think anyone would be considering it a horror movie.

  • He died for our sins, isn't that lovely.

  • SPOILERS Martyrs questions the morality of holding martyrdom up as some wonderful thing in religion. Martyrs offers that such suffering, even the suffering of one person, is never worth it, no matter what the supposed greater good is. The morally bankrupt cult in the film are no different that the morally bankrupt cult that wear crucifixs around there necks. He died for our sins, isn't that lovely. Well, no, that's horrible! That's grotesque! I find it appalling that God would allow his son to be tortured and killed, I don't care why, I don't care if it was for the greater good. It wasn't worth it. Martyrs is an incredibly compassionate film, putting forward that the suffering of one person is no less outrageous than the suffering of a thousand. Also, couldn't God have washed the world's sins away without allowing his son to be tortured and murdered? He is omnipotent supposedly.