Ambush Bug counts down the best horror films on AICN HORROR since last Halloween – Number 15!!!
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 film released since last October and covered in this here AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. 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 quite a few films I’ve seen advance screenings of at festivals and other outlets, and I’ll try to update you when you can see these films.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked over my AICN HORROR columns over the last year after October 1st (which happens to be the birthday of this little column two years ago!) 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!
I break my own rule to cover only films I’ve taken a look at in AICN HORROR twice in this countdown (the other shows up later at number 7, I believe), but considering I saw the film in the Oct 1, 2011 through Oct 1, 2012 window timeline and that I’m waiting to post the review until it’s release wide on DVD, I figured it’s ok to include V/H/S. I know there are those who think this is the best horror film of the year and all the power to them. I felt it was good, but either it failed to live up to the hype or I’m just getting jaded by all of the found footage films out there. V/H/S does have some great segments and it deserves a place on this list somewhere.
V/H/S (2012)Directed by Joe Swanson, Ti West, Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence
Written by Joe Swanson Ti West, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Nicholas Tecosky, Simon Barrett, Tyler Gillett
Starring Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Jas Sams, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Drew Moerlein, Jason Yachanin, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella
Find out more info about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I went into V/H/S hoping the hype behind it would be accurate. PR was rampant at how horrifying this film was, stating that people had fainted from viewing it and that it was the scariest film of the year. I don’t know if it was because of this hype that my socks weren’t blown off by the film or maybe…quite possibly, it wasn’t as good as it touted itself to be.
Don’t get me wrong. This film has a lot of stuff going for it that I love. Some of the ideas are pretty strong. Some of the way the found footage motif was used was fun. And there are definitely some moments of inspired gore and scares.
Let’s examine each chapter.
The wrap around segments tying this film together follows a group of internet daredevils choose to break into a house and steal a package, all the while catching it on video to later be posted on the web initially is a decent way to wrap together these stories. The deviants happen upon a dead body sitting in an easy chair and a room full of VHS video tapes. While some of the guys scour the house for booty, one of the thieves decides to see what the old guy was watching on his VCR.
The overall flaw of the film, though lies in this moment, as the tech used to take the camera footage and the societal need to film every waking moment in one’s life wasn’t really around at the time of the VHS tape. So unless old dead guy in the chair spend a hell of a lot of time needlessly converting all of the digital footage to VHS, there’s really no reason these shorts should be recorded on VHS.
But that’s nitpicking, I guess.
Story one, directed by David Bruckner, is called “Amateur Night” and is by far going to be the one that goes down as the iconic short of the film. A group of partying friends equip their nerdy friend with a pair of web glasses which records everything the wearer sees. They pick up a few girls at a club and bring them back to the room they are staying in and soon find that one of the women is not what she seems to be. The segment is well plotted, with a nice buildup to a shocking reveal. The acting is pretty good, meaning the three partying guys act like total idiots. But the true standout is Lily, the strange girl from the bar played by Hannah Rose Fierman, who’s creepy line delivery of “I like you.” Has become somewhat of a phenomenon. This segment does deliver in thrills and chills, though the shaky movement of the camera is about as frantic as I’ve ever seen in a found footager. I jumped numerous times in this segment and it is my favorite of the bunch.
Ti West helms “Second Honeymoon” which follows Joe Swanberg and Sophie Takal as they go on a vacation, get on each other’s nerves, and make up in an extremely banal fashion. What makes this segment stand out are the well done moments of sheer tension, proving that there may be hope for some variety in the way found footage can play out. Here, a nighttime visitor in a hotel room steals the vacationers camera and terrorizes them while they sleep. West’s story is the stuff that gets under your skin and festers, but I did find the ending to make things somewhat trite and too quickly wrapped up. Redeeming factors include an extremely gory death and some fun following Joe Swanberg around.
“Tuesday the 17th” is one of those stories which was probably awesome in its initial idea, but didn’t translate well when put to film. The story is pretty confusing as the rules of reality changes at the whim of whatever needs to happen at the moment. There are some cool scenes of a stalker which can’t seem to be picked up by the camera, but I felt that director Glenn McQuaid doesn’t have enough time to explain the rules of the world this story lives in and didn’t flesh them out in a manner any way other than confusing.
Joe Swanberg returns to direct “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” which trumps PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 by having the entire segment filmed via Skype style computer camera. While initially this story is pretty innovative, I kind of groaned once the curtain is pulled back and we realize what is actually happening in this story. Still, Swanberg comes up with some extremely tense moments and some nice scares, though a lot of them require us to suspend a lot of disbelief in order to be effected by them.
The final segment focuses on another group of partying guys who video tape everything as they head out to a haunted house party which turns out to be a real haunted house. Again, there are moments of fun and some decent scares, but by this time of the film, I feel the movie ran out of innovative way to take advantage of the found footage medium or original ideas and things resorted to the sort of ScyFy GHOST HUNTERS style filming techniques we’ve all seen before. The film looked like it took a lot to pull off technically, and while that’s appreciated, I felt this segment entitled 10/31/98 by Radio Silence was the weakest of the bunch.
Which brings us back to the wraparound segments, which build to a fever pitch, but ultimately ends with a WTF. The film just kind of ends with a lot of potential started and never followed through. For example, multiple times, the camera is set up to see the thief watching television in front of him, with the dead man in the chair in clear view behind him. Though later in the film, when we return, the chair is empty, there’s never a moment to suggest some type of movement from the scary old guy. Maybe the director of these segments YOU’RE NEXT’s Adam Wingard didn’t want to do the obvious, but personally, I felt this was a huge missed opportunity.
In the end, as with many anthologies, some of the stories were better than others. There were solid scares throughout and some innovative ways with which the constraints of the found footage film were dealt with and overcome. For that, V/H/S is successful and had the hype been a little lower, I know I would have liked it better. But this is a flawed film. A good flawed film, but a flawed film nevertheless.
If it’s an anthology you’re looking for CREEPSHOW is the way to go. So if you’re looking for good horror of the anthrological sort with an all star cast and some stellar talent behind the camera, CREEPSHOW is it. The “They’ll Creep Up on You” sequence always gets me squirming and I laugh every time Adrienne Barbeau gets chomped by the monster in “The Crate”.
The Countdown so far…#16: THE DIVIDE
#17: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
#18: LITTLE DEATHS
#19: THE TALL MAN
#20: KILL LIST
#21: MOTHER’S DAY
#22: THE INNKEEPERS
#23: THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS
#24: THE PACT
#25: THE WRONG HOUSE
#26: SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE
#27: SPIRIT STALKERS
#28: THE MOTH DIARIES
#29: THE SLEEPER
#30: THE AGGRESSION SCALE
#31: SICK BOY
See ya tomorrow, folks, with number 14 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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Oct. 17, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST
I recorded this a few days ago, and now I can hopefully enjoy watching it without expecting the "greatest horror movie ever".
Oct. 17, 2012, 9:58 a.m. CST
Definitely a fun first film - too bad the second had two very weak entries (Chief woodenhead and the hitchhiker). "The Raft" was pretty good however.
Oct. 17, 2012, 10:44 a.m. CST
The 'the scary old guy' in the wraparound is Frank Stack, art professor at the University of Missouri
Guy's a local art legend. Great watercolor artist. I took a watercolor class from him on the way to my own art degree. Strange and funny to see him in this context, and yet somehow it seemed in character with his sense of humor!
Oct. 17, 2012, 11:19 a.m. CST
Hit= House of the Devil Miss= The Innkeepers and his VHS segment.
Oct. 17, 2012, 11:37 a.m. CST
I don't fucking think so.The anti british sentiment on this site is getting too much. You've all been hanging with Mel Gibson a little too long.
Oct. 17, 2012, 11:51 a.m. CST
but I agree that House of the Devil was the scarier of the two. Ti West is great at pulling off the slow burn
Oct. 17, 2012, 11:56 a.m. CST
by Collin Armstrong
I could take or leave the rest. The payoff in the first segment is a doozie, but the characters are so unlikable I stopped caring what happened. I was kind of shocked by how bad Ti West and Glenn McQuaid's segments were, because I tend to like their stuff - theirs were oddly paced, boring, and poorly produced. Swanberg's segment was clever and fun (a lot of credit ought to go to writer Simon Barret for the set-up and pay-off), and Radio Silence pulled off a great low-budget FX freakout in 10/31/98. The wrap-arounds... eh. Kind of a fun way to frame the story, but Adam Wingard has done - and no doubt will do - much better work.
Oct. 17, 2012, 11:58 a.m. CST
All the stories had problems with logic, so no reason to single this one out for that. It was the most schizo of all the stories, but the creativity of how they visually/sonically handled the killer in this segment was the highlight of the whole film for me - the creativity of that alone was striking. I thought the changes in 'rules' from one part of the story to the next created an edgy, unsettled quality to the whole thing that made you wonder just what was going on. When the 'protagonist' lost control of the situation and the bizarre killer effect took over, it was a terrific moment of tension and urgency. Coming this close to horror cliches, even in the title, while still pulling of something fresh was a feat, in my mind. Though this story did have the single biggest plot hole of the entire movie: if going to this place resulted in immediate, deadly danger, how did the protagonist manage to set all of those traps? It would have taken days of work to construct all of that stuff. And the killer thing/s just waited 'til she was ready and came back with the other people?
Oct. 17, 2012, 12:04 p.m. CST
by Collin Armstrong
Dead of Night - final seg, Bobby, is terrific Trilogy of Terror - also a great final seg, Amelia (the Zuni doll bit) Trick R Treat - mid-to-late seg with the kids being chased by the ghosts from the bus crash... great!! Grim Prairie Tales (this needs a re-release, so I can retire my laserdisc) The Thai films 4bia (sometimes Phobia) 1 & 2 Torture Garden Tales that Witness Madness
Oct. 17, 2012, 1:05 p.m. CST
...and the wrap-around story of C2 was awesome as well. "The Creep", as he's called was pretty, well, creepy and the animation was fun and loose - made for a good break between each segment. So that said, I liked VHS a fair bit and have gone back to watch AMATEUR NIGHT and TUESDAY THE 17TH a few times since the first viewing. They're both fun, entertaining and well-paced. The rest of the movie is sorta meh to me...but again I think it says something for the film as a whole that there isn't one particular part that everyone seems to dislike. Everyone finds something to hold onto in VHS, which I think makes the project a success. It was the same with BLAIR WITCH, where you had some people who absolutely HATED that it just 'ended' the way it did, some who liked the realism (since events in real life usually don't hit a dramatic climax - they actually just end) and some (like me) who didn't much care about the ending because the film was all about remembering being a kid in the woods and all the 'what if there was a ghost...?' stuff that came along with it.
Oct. 17, 2012, 1:33 p.m. CST
Nothing in here was that fresh and coupled with some dodgy acting and a high proportion of douchebag characters there was a couldn't care a less feeling that crept over me. The Emily story, whilst in the end a bit naff, had the jumpiest scares in it. The others you could almost predict the path the stories were going to take. First story was good although again not a lot new but was destroyed by the over the top shaky cam in the final moments. Feels like we are really scratcing around for decent horror films if this makes number 15 in the last year.
Oct. 17, 2012, 1:53 p.m. CST
Agreed, this one should get a re-release and/or be available via streaming service. While it's no Creepshow, it was quite enjoyable (from what I remember 20 years ago).
Oct. 17, 2012, 2:33 p.m. CST
When the guys, frightened for their very lives, run into the WINDOWLESS, INESCAPABLE motel bathroom to get away from the girl... with the door to said bathroom being RIGHT NEXT TO THE DOOR OUT OF THE MOTEL ROOM. She was quite occupied as they were running away, too. They could have made it out the door and probably been driving away in the car before she moved on from what she was doing. Every one of the segments had some kind of forehead-slapping moment that sucked the plausibility out the window. The one I mentioned above and this one were what stood out on initial viewing. Some people don't like where/how the first story ended - thought it went too far and ruined suspension of disbelief. I thought it was nice, especially visually. Took the story all the way from frat-boy hijinks to near-Lovecraft territory, and made the found-footage element something special.
Oct. 17, 2012, 10:47 p.m. CST
What? They had to cross the entire room to get out of it. I personally loved the last segment (10/31/whenever) and I like the Swanberg one for the most part (except the ending) and the first (non wrap-around) segment, mostly because of the girl. I do find it funny how many people question the fact that they're on VHS tapes. Have none of you heard of tape traders? It's an old guy's house so he probably isn't so tech savvy, so he gets tapes of shit. It's not really a big stretch to understand it and I would think that a bunch of film fans would know some basics about trading tapes.
Oct. 19, 2012, 12:06 p.m. CST
They had to cross the entire room? But they did cross the entire room, to get to the bathroom. The bathroom door was right next to the exit door. Why not cross the whole room and leave it, rather than crossing the whole room and then making a turn into the bathroom to stay in it? Seems like the 'flight' instinct would overcome the 'hide in a little box right next to the bad things that are happening' instinct, especially since they subsequently bolted from the room a few moments later. It was a cheap device to ramp up tension and set up another kill. Probably read well on paper, but didn't make as much sense in the room they ended up using. You're right about the tape trading, though it's a little more of a stretch to have multiple Skype conversations on VHS tape. :) I liked the Tue the 17th and couple-vacation segments the best in that regard, because they made the most interesting use of the 'medium' - the former with the cool and scary way the killer affected the sound and video on the tape, and the latter with the most realistic (and creepy) use of POV filming.
Oct. 21, 2012, 5:42 p.m. CST
No, the kid with the glasses gets freaked out so he goes to the bathroom to pull himself together. The second guy gets bit, so he goes into the bathroom. They come out and would have to pass the bed to leave the room, but when they get the bed she's all fucked up and they freak out and run back to the bathroom because it's easier to get there than to pass her to get out.
Oct. 29, 2012, 12:27 p.m. CST
I had no interest in watching this movie but I did and I loved it. This was seriously experimental and scared the living shit out of the me. Ti West's section is beyond violent. That stabbing is one of the worst I've ever seen. Truly disturbed me. The women monster was the best. Loved that!
Oct. 29, 2012, 12:28 p.m. CST
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