Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got another batch of horrors, old and new, but as always, before that…there’s this!
If you’re in the Chicago area, be sure to keep your schedules clear next weekend as the DAYS OF THE DEAD Horror Convention takes place in at the Chicago-Schaumburg-Marriott, 50 N Martingale Road, Schaumburg, IL on November 16th-18th! You can pick up tickets for the convention here! I’ll be moderating the panel for the upcoming film THE COLLECTION, the sequel to THE COLLECTOR, with director Marcus Dunstan, writer Patrick Melton, and stars Emma Fitzpatrick & Josh Stewart. The panel will go on at noon on Saturday, November 17th. Join me and the folks behind the film and celebrate all things horror at the convention and find out more about THE COLLECTION at its website here! Hope to see you there! Below is the trailer for the film.
Towards the top of my list of favorite horror films from two years ago was INBRED ( reviewed here). I told you guys when INBRED was going to be released, I would let you know. Well XLRator Media has purchased INBRED and will be releasing the film early next year. No exact date has been set, but just know that you will be able to bathe in the gore and horror of one of my favorite films in the last few years very, very soon. Here’s the trailer to tide you over.
Though Turkey Day is a few weeks away, here’s a clip from THANKSKILLING 3 to tide you over until then. Find out more about THANKSKILLING 3 by clicking on this link!
One of my favorite comic book creators is Rick Geary, who’s true crime graphic novels are dense dissections of some of the most heinous crimes in history. Geary’s graphic novel THE BEAST OF CHICAGO (check out an interview I did with the talented Mr. Geary here), depicting the diabolical life of H.H. Holmes is being adapted by Libby Larsen as THE PECULIAR CASE OF DR. H.H. HOLMES and is available free for download by clicking here. Check out this fascinating recording is now available as a free download on the Florestan website here and on the NBM blog here.
And now, let’s get crack-a-lackin’ with those horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-Review: THEY LIVE (1988)
Retro-Review: SANTA SANGRE (1989)
BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE (2010)
DEER CROSSING (2012)
Advance Review: CREEP VAN (2012)
IN THEIR SKIN (2012)
Advance Review: AMERICAN MARY (2012)
And finally…Robert Mearns’ PRANK!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Scream Factory!
John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE (1988)Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Ray Nelson, John Carpenter
Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George 'Buck' Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques, Jason Robards III
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
You know, when I first saw THEY LIVE all those years ago, all I could marvel at was the machine guns and the weird looking aliens and the fights and the explosions and the cool WWF hero spouting some of the coolest dialog in the history of cinema…
But now, after revisiting the film, I can’t help but admire how prolific John Carpenter and his co-writer Ray Nelson were in making this gritty modern western set in a civilization overrun by alien controllers using subliminal messages to numb the population into being mindless drones while they take over the world. Sure, it’s an apathetic and somewhat downer of a world view, but I feel it’s a pretty accurate description of the way the bulk of our sheep-like population thinks and acts today. In that, watching THEY LIVE caused me to admire Carpenter’s power to point his camera towards the future, while at the same time feel sorry for the world it predicted.
Rowdy Roddy Piper stars as a drifter who wanders into town in search for work. Seeing the lines at the unemployment office and the sad state of THEY LIVE’s world is almost like looking out of the window today. If one didn’t know it, the first moments of this film, before any skin-less faced aliens show up, feel as if this film were made today made from headlines ripped straight from today’s papers. Piper does a fantastic job here as the everyman core of the film, representative of the hard working, good hearted soul of America…that just so happens to get his ass kicked at every turn. Through luck and some shrewd observation, he begins to see what others don’t; first when a pirate broadcast attesting there are aliens among us is sounded out by the blind preacher who no one pays mind to and later, when he finds some special glasses that allow him to see past the cloaking devices and gander at the hidden messages printed on our magazines, our billboards, and street signs. He also can see past the aliens disguises. Though trying to draft others to see what he sees proves to be difficult, especially when those other people happen to be Keith David. What transpires is probably one of the best (and longest) fight scenes ever filmed. Take a look.
Chock full of manliness, Carpenter makes no bones about this being an action film. But the way he juggles genres and themes is masterful here. More so than most any other one of Carpenter’s films, THEY LIVE is social commentary at its best using creative themes to warn us of possible futures. Though with the way things are today with consumerism, collective hive-mind thinking, and face-value imagery all ruling over things like free thought, creativity, and substance these days, it makes me feel as if the aliens won.
When this film was released, I was all about the wrestling and loved it that my favorite wrestler of all time, Rowdy Roddy Piper was the star here. It really surprises me that, aside from HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and this film, he didn’t become a bigger action star after this film. He was certainly buffer than he ever was on the mat in this film and presents himself with at the very least more charisma than Van Damme and Chuck Norris. He’s no Jeff Speakman, but his performance here shows that the guy can act decently.
The aliens themselves are both creepy as shit and goofily designed with hardly any articulation to their Halloween mask-like faces. Sure their bug-eyes are pretty shiver-inducing, but ad their mouths been able to move a bit more, I think they would have been creepier.
My only other complaint about the film has to do with the score by Carpenter, who has been known for his simplistic and iconic chords in his films. Here he relies on the same “dum-ba-daaaaa-dump” baseline waaaaaaay too often to the point of being monotonous. I understand Carpenter was trying to drive home the point that life on the streets was hard with this drudging score, but it literally feels as if you are listening to the musical equivalent of someone trying to walk hip deep in mud. Point taken, but if overused, as with this score, it makes the story feel like mud sludgery as well.
That said, THEY LIVE is as entertaining now as it was back then and more relevant by a long shot. With over the top macho posturing and ‘splosions THEY LIVE is one of those films you can enjoy as a mindless sheep or a wily coyote super genius. The new BluRay not only has an interview with John Carpenter, but a commentary by Roddy Piper and Carpenter which should not be missed.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Mr. Bongo Films!
SANTA SANGRE (1989)Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Roberto Leoni, Claudio Argento
Starring Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Faviola Elenka Tapia, Jesús Juárez, Sergio Bustamante, Gloria Contreras, S. Rodriguez, Zonia Rangel Mora
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I forgot how truly fucked up this movie was. I also forgot how much I loved it. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s epic SANTA SANGRE is all sorts of wrong and all sorts of right all at once. Filled with bizarre imagery and insane situations, this film is a closed minded viewer’s nightmare and a delight for those who love the gorgeous cinema of the weird.
Litmus test, if you think the following scene is too weird, then SANTA SANGRE is not for you.
The story is epic in scope, opening in an asylum where a man acting like a bird (Axel Jodorowsky) is fed a raw fish by orderlies. The nurse notices a giant phoenix tattoo on his chest and we are taken via flashback to the inmate’s childhood. There, we see an elaborate circus full of glitz and grime as the man, now a child is called Fenix (played marvelously by a young Adan Jodorowsky) and serves as a child musician in the circus under the wing of his knife throwing father. His mother is across town, a part of a religious cult worshipping an armless goddess, whose church is about to be decimated by the governor. Though by this time, we’re already treated to fabulous circus imagery, things start getting dark immediately as little Fenix witnesses his mother catching his father flirting with a curvy tattooed lady and then sees them having sex. Immediately after, he witnesses the death of an elephant and then the death of his parents as his mother’s jealously and father’s infidelity ends with their demise. Flash forward back to the asylum and a chance encounter with the tattooed woman causes Fenix to snap out of his daze and escape the asylum after he sees his armless mother outside the asylum gates. Soon, we come to find every woman Fenix comes into contact with ends up dead and all fingers (no pun intended) point to mother. But that’s not exactly what’s happening.
Though I don’t usually go into that much detail with plot synopsis, but summing this film up in one or two sentences is impossible. Its complex, it’s textured, and it’s full of Freudian phallic symbolism with arms being cut off and blood leaking trunks. Jodorowsky is definitely not subtle with these metaphors, but there’s something about the on the nose-ness of them, especially the scene with the giant snake jutting out of Fenix’s pants when he is overcome with desire upon seeing a female bodybuilder that made me laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it and marvel for the balls to film such a thing. There are all kinds of mommy issues explored here too making me think that this would be a fantastic film to watch with PSYCHO as a double feature as many of the same themes parallel between the two films.
Jodorowsky’s propensity to use real life people with physical deformities appears here once again with little people, fat people, Down’s syndrome children, and all forms of freaky looking clowns used to line the streets. It may be too much for some to see these unfortunate souls put on display like this, but Jodorowsky has a way of doing so without exploiting, especially with the tender scenes of the Down’s Syndrome children playing with one another innocently.
The story of the love of a boy and his mother is the central theme here. Jodorowsky keeps in tune with that by casting family in key roles here. The relationship between Fenix and his mother is a fascinating one, as Fenix literally becomes his mother’s hands and begins to lose himself in doing so. The ending is dark and pathologically complex, once again steeped in symbolism that is both in your face and ingeniously played out.
By far one of the more literal and narrative of Jodorowsky’s works, SANTA SANGRE is a true achievement in surreal filmmaking and a must for those who love fringe films. Gory at times, filled with vivid colors and actions performed by characters of all shapes and sizes, SANTA SANGRE is a movie experience few will be able to shake after viewing.
New on DVD!
BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE (2010)Directed by Jason Torrey
Written by Jason Torrey
Starring Ashley Arnold, Kimberly Simone, Larry Holden, Vanessa Leigh, Phillip Ristaino, John Westcott, Kevin Hayes
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I understand why more folks don’t try independent horror films. As a film lover, I love to be able to immerse myself in the story and when you can see the seams of reality creeping in such as budget limitations; it is a tough pill to swallow. Still despite the fact that the effects may be slapdash, the acting is spotty, and the camerawork is often static and uninspired, there’s something I appreciate in low budget films that I often see lacking in polished studio produced blockbusters and that’s passion. Somewhere there’s someone damn proud BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE was put together and completed and those filmmakers should be. It’s more than you and I have ever done and for that I give it up to this film for putting forth the effort.
I try very hard with low budget horror to recognize not only recognize the inspiration the filmmaker may have drawn from but what the filmmaker did to try to achieve this goal. In BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE, it seems the filmmaker was going for a Linklater vibe akin to SLACKER and WAKING LIFE with a dose of senseless violence tossed in and tying these stories and characters together. Like Linklater’s early work, BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE relies on non-actors who aren’t necessarily trained or even comfortable in front of the camera, so if that sort of thing annoys you, this isn’t for you.
I appreciate the senseless violence motif going on in this film. The killer is not identified in the film and neither are his motivations and I kind of like that aspect of the film. Somehow that’s feels more real than the old abusive mother/father excuse.
That said, this film definitely needs a strong edit. What made Linklater’s stories so compelling is that they moved from one vignette to another quickly, never letting the audience get bored with the mundane stuff being discussed. In BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE, though, the conversations go on way too long. I can understand fleshing out the story and characters, but when the killer’s motivation is so senseless, we don’t have to rely so much on getting to know why these characters deserve to die. Here a lot of time is spent talking about nothing. Just chit chat, as if we’re just biding time for the killer to strike.
As much as I appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do here, it still feels a little unfocussed and in need of a tight edit. As is, there are some decently choreographed kills, though ironically there really isn’t a lot of blood in this one despite the title.
New on DVD!
DEER CROSSING (2012)Directed by Christian Grillo
Written by Christian Grillo
Starring Christopher Mann, Laura L. Cottrel, K.J. Linhein, Ernie Hudson, Doug Bradley, Tom Detrik, Carmela Hayslett, Jennifer Butler
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Another low fi schocker on tap, this one is about a down home country freak (not as bad as WRONG TURN country freaky, but close) who happens upon a woman and her kid in a car wreck and instead of calling the authorities, he keeps them trapped at his farm for ten years. Though the authorities have given up hope, a random phone call alerts the father/husband of the missing people that they may still be alive. That’s the core of this film and it’s a decent one. Having just watched and reviewed Jennifer Lynch’s CHAINED (reviewed here), I can’t help but see the similarities, but still there’s enough differences to keep the two from schmelding together in my mind.
One thing DEER CROSSING has going for it is the supporting cast. While the top liners are not anyone I know, fun appearances from Ernie Hudson and Doug Bradley make the story work well. Bradley (who appeared in WRONG TURN 5, reviewed here last week) shines and shows that he’s becoming a fun character actor to watch whatever role he chooses. Bradley’s role as down-home sheriff is a meaty one as he attempts to accommodate Christopher Mann’s detective who has tracked the missing people to his quiet town. Hudson has a lesser role here and doesn’t get enough scenery to chew, but is fun to see.
Though brutal, the scenes where the creepy bearded hillbilly tortures and torments his captives were the most engaging bits here. There is also a decent side story about Mann’s past and the loss of his wife that, though tangented the storyline a bit long, made me root for the character.
The narrative takes a few zigs and zags I wasn’t expecting and had some of the other actors been able to carry the emotional weight of the script; I think the various twists would have been pulled off better. The story does pull no punches in depictions of cruelty to the captive mother and son, providing some unsettling scenes of rape and torture, so it’s easy to despise the crusty actor, K.J. Linhein in this film.
Not for everyone, this is another low budgeter that isn’t going for Oscar in the acting department, but has enough unsettling material to make some noise. A tighter narrative would have helped, as it felt DEER CROSSING went on a little too long towards the end, but the ride there had some nice twists and turns.
Advance Review, available December 11 on DVD!
CREEP VAN (2012)Directed by Scott W. Mckinlay
Written by Jim Bartoo, Adam Jahnke, Ian Michaels, Scott W. Mckinlay
Starring Brian Kolodziej, Amy Wehrell, Gerald Emerick, Collin Bernsen, Tonya Kay, Veronica Adkinson, Justin Kolodziej, Lloyd Kaufman, & Mike Butler as the Creep!
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One last low fi indie horror film before we leap into the big budget territory. CREEP VAN is a fun throwback to such films as THE CAR and THE HEARSE, as a creepy dude in a creepier van stalks and haunts a down on his luck guy without a car. Though little by way of rhyme or reason is applied here, it does have quite a few moments of grossout glee and memorable mayhem.
The fun thing about this film is the fact that it feels like an 80’s horror film from top to bottom. Not a lot of acting skills went into this one as the lead is about as uncharismatic as they come, as are most of the other folks involved, but there’s something fun about seeing these non actors trouncing through scenes and dodging speeding vans. There is some humor used here to various degrees of success to spice things up, but there are definitely some clunkity clunkers peppered throughout too counteracting the good laughs. Obviously, this film was made by a bunch of friends and there’s low budget charm to that.
The gore is pretty solid, especially a few of the choice van mayhem scenes as one woman is bisected by the van against the wall, leaving her legs still standing and a couple is splattered all over their living room when the van makes a house call. These scenes of over-the-top gore are what kept my interest in this film going.
The story, though, needs a lot of work, as the van driver doesn’t really have a lot of motivation here other than the fact that he’s a creep and he drives a van. Sure it works to explain the murders off as the senseless acts of violence, but still I’d like to know a bit more about why this guy is so creepy and maybe even where he got that creepified van of his in the first place.
If low budget gore is not for you, I’m advising you to steer clear of CREEP VAN, but this is another one of those films done on the cheap that makes you appreciate the hard work put into it. CREEP VAN isn’t going to know your socks off, but the gore will entertain some.
Available on VOD and Digital Outlets (SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBOX Zune, Playstation Unlimited) and in select theaters this week in limited release from IFC Midnight!
IN THEIR SKIN (2012)aka REPLICAS
Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal
Written by Joshua Close
Starring Selma Blair, Joshua Close, James D'Arcy, Rachel Miner
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Working with kids as I do in my day job (I know, pretty creepy I have that job, right?), I hear probably ten times a day, “He’s copying me! He’s copying me!” I can understand the unease one might have in knowing that there’s someone out there wanting to be just like you, especially when you know being you isn’t always ideal as one might think. IN THEIR SKIN deals with that uncomfortable subject matter in a more sophisticated manner and is extremely successful in doing so.
HELLBOY’s Selma Blair and THE MASTER’s Joshua Close play Mary and Mark Hughes, a couple with one child and another recently lost in an accident. In the opening moments, we see them attempt to have a normal, loving life. Blair does a great job of playing a character dead inside, but trying to find a way to live, while Close is trying to get the fire of his relationship with his wife back, but failing at every turn. This is a couple on the way towards complete apathy in the beginning, forgetting what it is like to be happy and in love.
Well, it’s a good thing a crazy family from down the way happens to invite themselves into their lives in hopes to step in and replace Blair and Close in their seemingly idyllic home. Nothing like an outside threat to bring the family closer, I always say.
CLOUD ATLAS’ James D’Arcy plays Bob, the patriarch of this family of copycats who exudes a level of creep I haven’t seen in film since…well, since Norman Bates (which coincidentally is the role he is reprising as Anthony Perkins in the upcoming HITCHCOCK film). He is both plain enough to blend in the background and psychotic enough to wish you hadn’t underestimated him to place him back there. BULLY’s Rachel Miner plays Jane…his wife(!), a naïve crazy-eyed waif, not unlike Blair in stature, but definitely more deranged and desperate. Much like the role Juliette Lewis played in KALIFORNIA, Miner is kind of along for Bob’s crazy ride of wanting to simply slip into the shoes of the Hughes family.
The levels this film goes is pretty dark and perverse as the Hughes get a sideways vibe from this mysterious family that showed up with smiles and invitations and after an extremely tense dinner conversation, things start getting dire when Bob’s cards are shown. Never does this film take things to a level that is not feasible or realistic, which makes it all the more effective (more like the original STRAW DOGS than the remake). As Bob goes to extreme lengths to have the Hughes act out their most intimate moments at gunpoint, you’re definitely going to be uneased by what plays out on the screen before you. I sure did.
I didn’t really mention the child actors in this, but both couples have a son, making them a sort of cracked mirror image of one another. Both actors aren’t bad, but they are definitely overshadowed by the much more interesting pair of parents and mostly are used as tokens to make the situation more dire.
As a character study and a white-knuckle edge of your seater, IN THEIR SKIN is a winner. The four main actors are some of the best in the biz at what they do and here they do it well. Filled from frame one with a voyeuristic look at a shattered family which has to first fall to pieces in order to be put back together, IN THEIR SKIN is a film that will most definitely get under your own skin.
Advance Review: Currently touring festivals and recently played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival winning Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Canadian Feature!
AMERICAN MARY (2012)Directed by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
Written by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
Starring Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holliday, Nelson Wong, Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska, Paul Anthony, Travis Watters, Marius Soska
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
If one has never seen recreational body modification in its various forms, I can understand why some folks would be seriously ooked-out by AMERICAN MARY, the latest in what seems to be a new wave of body horror films which may have been restarted with HUMAN CENTIPEDE, but has really taken shape with this past year’s VICTIM (reviewed here), THE SKIN I LIVE IN (reviewed here), EXCISION (reviewed here) and ANTIVIRAL (haven’t seen it yet), to name a few. I don’t mean to be jaded, but while I don’t have any body mods myself, I have seen my fair share in my time. So on that initial shock level, I wasn’t taken aback as much as I imagine one unfamiliar with the subculture would be.
That said, AMERICAN MARY is one hell of a movie. It’s well acted by GINGER SNAPS’ Katharine Isabelle and newcomer Antonio Cupo. Both actors do well with their characters, exhibiting an attraction, yet an inability to show that toward one another because of the situation they have found themselves in. The story follows Mary (Isabelle) a down and out med student in need of a quick buck answering an ad as a stripper in a gentleman’s club. While there, Mary’s skills as a future surgeon is called upon when she is offered $5,000.00 to illegally operate on an associate of the bar with his eye gouged out. Mary takes the offer and finds herself spiraling down the rabbit hole into dark subcultures and deviant body modification for an immense amount of profit which would shut those student loan callers the hell up.
The way this film is put together is eloquent and delicate, yet somewhat cold. Even the opening scene, as Mary practices her operating skills on a dead plucked turkey, the camera zooms in to show this delicate operation with thin instruments making precise cuts. That’s how this film is throughout. AMERICAN MARY is slow to development and shows a patient hand storytelling-wise, but I wasn’t bored a tick as we see Mary get further and further entrenched in this shadowy world. The directors, Sylvia & Jen Soska, twins who also appear in the film as…what else…twisted twins with a unique request for Mary’s operating skills, keep things pretty distant though, only showing us slight peeks as to what’s going on inside of Mary with only a few scenes of her reacting to these intense situations like vomiting and taking a shower in her clothes (which are both pretty cliché). The music is amazing, mostly consisting of Rod Stewart songs and prove to be amazing juxtapositions with scenes of medical nightmare operations. And the gore is pretty intense with quite a few brutal kills, scenes of torture and more than enough scenes of medical procedures. This film is definitely something I can see gore hounds delighting in.
While showing these procedures is enough to gross out some, I found myself wanting to see more of Mary’s struggle with tossing her dreams of taking the Hippocratic Oath out the window for profit and once tossed, seeing her struggle with the increasingly bad decisions she makes as the story goes on. The Soskas seemed uninterested in the inner tickings and more interested in showcasing the body mod, which gives me a sense that the filmmaking duo had less of a grasp on how a doctor creating all of these body manipulations might deal with the inner conflict modifying a body unnecessarily would create, especially one as unfamiliar with the culture as Mary is at the beginning. In the end, Mary comes off as jaded, which I felt to be somewhat of a cop out. It’s almost as if the Soskas were too close to the subject matter to be objective about it and give us a real picture of how this conflict would play out to the uninitiated.
Aside from that, I really liked the film. Sure, the ending is a bit rushed, but that goes back with me wanting the character of Mary to be fleshed out more substantially over than the pacing of it all. AMERICAN MARY is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen this year in its attention to a subculture that has been relatively unexplored in horror films and some extremely effective scenes handling some extremely sensitive subject matter (rape, torture, body mod). It’s a testament to the actors and the filmmakers that I wanted to get one step closer to this film and learn more about the conflict in the central character even more.
And finally…though Halloween is over, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for some harmless…and not so harmless pranks. Check out this little number from writer/director Robert Mearns called PRANK! 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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