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AICN HORROR looks at THE HAUNTING OF HELENA! PRANK! THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE! THE LAST EXORCISM 2! MARA! & LIFEFORCE!

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

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Hope you didn’t miss yesterday’s column, which covered the other half of this week’s horror picks (if you did here’s the link). And don’t forget my review of the fantastic zombie film THE BATTERY here. I’ve got a whole boatload of new picks for you in this column too, so dig in!

On with the horror reviews!

Today on AICN HORROR
(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: LIFEFORCE (1985)
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE (2013)
MARA
PRANK (2013)
THE LAST EXORCISM 2 (2013)
Advance Review: THE HAUNTING OF HELENA (2013)
And finally…Jeremiah Kipp’s CRESTFALLEN!


Retro-review: Available this week on DVD/BluRay from The Shout Factory (Find this film on Netflix here)!

LIFEFORCE (1985)

aka SPACE VAMPIRES
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Colin Wilson (novel), Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby, Michael Armstrong, Olaf Pooley
Starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris, Nancy Paul, Chris Jaggerm Bill Malin
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug


OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. HOLY BALLS OF SHITTING FIRE is Mathilda May hot in LIFEFORCE! I'm not ashamed to admit that I fondly remember fondling my member to the opening scenes of this film many times and I’m sure others can attest to this as well. Watching this raven-haired goddess prance around in the buff for the first portion of the film was one of the hottest moments in most likely all of sci fi history. So sorry to offend, but I had to acknowledge the shapely elephant in the room before going on with a proper review of this thing.

Now that that’s said, I can’t say enough good things about Tobe Hooper’s space vampire opus, which so masterfully blends sci fi and horror. Sure, it is reminiscent of a whole bunch of other sci fi films (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and ALIEN, for the most part), but Hooper does a great job of making somewhat of a hokey concept into a sci fi spectacular with lights and sounds and effects galore.

Sure, there’s a whole lot of old school serious acting over pretty ridiculous things. The concept of a spaceship hitching a ride on Haley’s Comet in hopes to conquer Earth one person at a time is about as ludicrous as the gratuitous nudity of Mathilda May throughout (not that I’m complaining). Still, the film has that kind of charm you just don’t see in modern films with actors such as Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard chewing up the scenery and treating it like Shakespeare.

The true highlight to this film is the effects, which look a lot like the living dead effects seen in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, mainly because it was done by some of the same people. Here those sucked dry by the space vamps turn into shriveled husks which still live right up to the point that they burst into dust when they don’t get their life force fix. The puppetry of these practical effects, but be a little hokey, but they animatronics of the faces make them extremely effective. Seeing the faces emote real feelings is a testament to the skill of these artists from what seems to be a long gone age these days.

Seeing LIFEFORCE makes me feel as if I snuck into an old forbidden movie theater as a kid. All of the naughty bits offer up that forbidden feel and the old school concept of space vampires makes it all so much fun. Tobe Hooper does a great job here working with a ton of fantastic effects, from expansive space ship models, to corpse puppets, to the animation of the life force being sucked out of someone. All of it shows his skill at juggling fantastical imagery and making it all feel detailed and real.

The Shout Factory’s release of this film on BluRay is, as usual, filled with extras, which will make it a must for fans of this film. First there’s a commentary track from Tobe Hooper, then they have a Making of LIFEFORCE with all kinds of interviews with the cast made back in the day with a matching retrospective as cast and crew members recollect stories in the present. All in all, this Blu treats this sci fi schlocker as if it were a masterpiece, which in some sense it truly is.






New this week on DVD/BluRay (Find this film on Netflix here)!

THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE (2012)

Directed by Justin Paul Ritter
Written by Ken Haeser & Buz Hasson (comic), Ryan Plato & Justin Paul Ritter (screenplay)
Starring Michael Villar, Marshal Hilton, Ryan McGivern, Conroe Brooks, Lee Perkins, Maxx Maulion, Maria Olsen, Claudine Claudio
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


I can’t help but support THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE because I think I’m not in the minority when I say I want to see more films like this one. Sure, Tim Burton has kind of cornered the market on animated horror films and might be able to get away with it having a big release, and anime is always good for some animated horror when you need it. But though the film has its share of problems, I am going to go ahead and recommend it to my viewers just so more films like this one can be made.

Based on a comic book series I sadly am not familiar with, the story of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE follows the lives of two people. One is John Romero, a man who passed away too soon leaving his grieving family behind him. The other is his son, who after his mother is killed in a zombie attack is sent to an orphanage to live and you know how hard orphanages in movies can be. Both are searching for each other, though John’s son doesn’t really know it. And while John tries to make his way through the different levels of hell, his son is being influenced by a mad doctor who has a scheme to do dastardly things.

Now, the story of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE is actually not really that amazing. It’s actually ripe with clichés (see the orphanage comment in the last paragraph). Every person who looks like a bad guy (except for Romero) is in fact a bad guy, and the story’s path is pretty evident as we all figure out toward the beginning that everything will culminate with father meeting son. This does happen, albeit all too briefly and truncated at the end, making the whole buildup feel a little anticlimactic.

That said, there’s some fun animation design going on. The looks of both Romero and the demons he battles with snake-like nose hairs writhing out and around the demons’ nose holes make for a pretty icky look. The animation itself isn’t bad either, but sometimes the figures feel as if they don’t have the type of weight and function in the world they reside in when compared to Pixar-style graphics. Still, this is impressive animation, most likely done at a fraction of what the big budgeters run.

I want more animated horror. It’s a realm of limitless potential, but one that won’t take off if no one supports films like these. Sure, the animation might be a bit off and the story is a little light, but THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE has the possibility of being a trailblazer in this subgenre and I have to support it for that reason alone. Take a chance with this one. With the hard rock music and funky animated fight sequences that pull no punches, there’s a lot to like and more to inspire other animated horrors with THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE.






New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!

MARA (2012)

Directed by Åke Gustafsson, Fredrik Hedberg, Jacob Kondrup
Written by Åke Gustafsson, Fredrik Hedberg, Pidde Andersson, Jacob Kondrup
Starring Angelica Jansson, Emelie Frantz-Nilsson, Phillip Hansell, PEO Möller, Cecilia Samuelsson, Martin Brandt, Mia Möller
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


This Swedish thriller set up as a CABIN IN THE WOODS style film turns out to be more akin to THE SILENT HOUSE without the hand held, real time stuff. Still, despite the fact that it’s derivative, there’s a lot to take notice of in MARA.

Now, let’s state the obvious. The lead actress, Angelica Jansson, is ridiculously good looking. If you’re looking for actors who look like real life people, this one is not as Jansson plays a woman haunted by her past, but I had a hard time getting past her supermodel good looks to see a lot of humanity there. Maybe it’s because it was also subtitled, but seeing this blonde beauty and reading her lines along the bottom of the page really made it hard to be concerned about her simply because she is unlike any person I’d think would be caught dead in a cabin in the woods. This is also the case because most of her co-stars pale in comparison in terms of beauty.

But despite all of that, the backstory involving Jansson’s character growing up with an insane mother who stabbed her father 57 times with a butcher knife is a compelling one and, for the most part, well paced throughout the movie as it is structured with Jansson telling her story to a police detective trying to piece together what occurred the night before as she was found wandering in the woods covered in blood and holding a butcher knife. A late twist in the story inches this film up a notch in my book, as it totally took me by surprise.

In the end, this possible descent into madness/possible slasher film/possible ghost story proved to be mysterious and enigmatic enough to earn my recommendation. Sure the lead is gorgeous and hard to relate to, but so are most Hollywood films (which is the reason why old school slashers still rock the most, since the victims felt more like people you’d meet next door and on the street instead of leaping out of magazine and WB shows, but that’s a different argument for a different day), but with some clever story decisions and some nice mood set in an angular house in the middle of the woods, MARA turned out to something pretty unique.






New this week on DVD & Digital Download (Find this film on Netflix here)!

PRANK (2013)

Directed by Yiuwing Lam
Written by Yiuwing Lam
Starring Nick Renaud, Henry Monfries, Gemmenne De La Pena
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


I felt PRANK was a see saw of a movie. It had me rooting for it one second, then being frustrated with it the next. Still, this is a film that incited emotion in me, and for that I felt like it was successful despite some of its faults. Let me explain…

I guess PRANK could be considered a member of the found footage subgenre of horror film, as the whole thing is shot on one handheld camera as a means for the main character Connor (Nick Renaud) to document his revenge on a high school bully with the reluctant aid of his best friends Jordan (Henry Monfries) and Chunk (Gemmenne de la Peña). Sure this is a bit contrived as a plot device to film everything, but since it is addressed numerous times as a full scale documentation of this act of retaliation after a particularly disgusting swirly incident involving a full toilet bowl, I was willing to give it a pass.

Regardless of the reason for filming, the subject of bullying intrigued me as it is often mentioned but rarely dissected in modern horror. This righteous form of revenge makes it somewhat hard not to root for Connor to successfully serve this cold dish to the bully, albeit for a short time as this prank turns deathly serious when tensions escalate. I was with this film from the beginning as the three misfits recite STAR TREK and STAR WARS references as justification for their actions. Knowing the language of geek will be helpful in watching this film, as those outside the know might miss some of the more obscure references.

The acting was strong throughout PRANK, but the main characters become really hard to like and downright obnoxious towards the end. Though this is most likely the point of the film, to show that bullying leads to nothing but trouble, putting the main characters in such a negative light made me uncomfortable seeing things through the first person forced perspective of the found footage lens.

Which leads me back to my initial conundrum. PRANK really got under my skin and because of that, I categorize it as effective. Despite the obnoxiousness of the two main stars, the film did make me feel uneasy as the violent actions snowball to gory levels. The twist ending takes the film into all the more dark of territories, making PRANK an experience worth taking in spite of any of its weaknesses.






New this week on DVD/BluRay!

THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (2013)

Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly
Written by Ed Gass-Donnelly, Damien Chazelle,
Starring Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs, Louis Herthum, Muse Watson, Erica Michelle
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


I really dug the original LAST EXORCISM and bought into the entire found footage vibe of the first film. I found the lead actor Patrick Fabian’s performance as Cotton Marcus, a charlatan exorcist who has set out to do one last exorcism before retiring, to be a really interesting protagonist to follow. I also found lead actress Ashley Bell’s Nell, the backwoods girl who may be possessed by a demon, to be a true find and still think that the actress will move on to much bigger and better things. When I saw THE LAST EXORCISM at an advance screening, with director Daniel Stamm present, one audience member asked the question which attempted to be deep: “Is this…THE LAST EXORCISM?” To which, Stamm answered, “uhmm…no.”

After seeing THE LAST EXORSICM PART II, lord, how I wish Stamm would have just said yes and been done with it.

It’s not Stamm’s fault, though. He had nothing to do with this sequel. Aside from Ashley Bell returning as the super bendy possessed girl and some brief cameos by her father (the equal parts stoic and fearsome Louis Herthum), no one else returned to THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, and they were smart to do so.

In every sense of the word, this is the epitome of the unnecessary sequel. Nothing more is learned about the demon Abalam. No truths are uncovered. No development of worth or need happens to Nell. She merely re-experiences the stuff that happened to her in the first film.

I had my hopes up. The poster for the film was pretty inspired, twisting Nell into the number 2 like it did, but aside from a pretty boring levitation scene where Bell proves once again to be ultra-flexible, there is very little in terms of frights or scares at play here. I will give it to the filmmakers that they did put together a couple of decent scenes in the beginning, one being the opening sequence when we first see Nell again and the other being Nell’s seduction in a hotel room as she hears two people next door having loud sex. Both of these scenes were decently played out, though altogether predictable.

So what went wrong? Well, losing the found footage angle really did hurt the film. BLAIR WITCH tried it with its sequel and look at the disaster BOOK OF SHADOWS turned out to be. With the found footage being such a major reason why the original was so effective, it surprises me that they couldn’t have come up with some reason to keep the camera rolling.

Secondly, as I said before, there was absolutely nothing new to offer in this film that we haven’t seen in a million possession movies. We know Nell is going to be possessed; the cat was literally out of the bag and stomped on in the first film on that one. Even the climax was completely uninspired, as a group of mystics show up out of the blue to save Nell in a futile attempt to eradicate the demon through an amalgamation of voodoo and medical means.

How would I have fixed this film? Glad you asked.

I would have kept the found footage motif and given the camera to the voodoo medicine men that seemed to have no problem combining modern technology and medicine with old school witchery. Have them stalk Nell, seemingly want to help her, and then have the big switcheroo ending. At least then, we could have had maybe a few shocks and scares with some first person POV and possibly recaptured some of that magic of the first film while making it different enough to make it not seem like a retread.

But hell, what do I know? I’m the idiot who went to see this movie a week after release, knowing that I heard nothing about it, which usually means it was pretty awful.

Credit where it is due: Ashley Bell is waaaay too good for this film. She is talented and spastic and bendy and all kinds of good. She almost makes the whole darn thing watchable just seeing her struggle to keep it together despite a script that really has little for her to do but quiver, giggle, and writhe. I predict the next LAST EXORCISM joint to go straight to video sans Bell in the lead role. This unnecessary EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE wannabe sequel should have been exorcized in the planning stages.






Advance Review: Available for Video On Demand now and in limited theaters today from Bloody Disgusting Selects and the Collective!

THE HAUNTING OF HELENA (2013)

aka FAIRYTALE
Directed by Christian Bisceglia, Ascanio Malgarini
Written by Christian Bisceglia
Starring Harriet MacMasters-Green, Sabrina Jolie Perez, Jarreth J. Merz, Matt Patresi, Paolo Paoloni, Giuliano Montaldo, Marco Fattibene, Lucrezia Tosi, Susanna Cornacchia as the Fairy
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Many a review of THE HAUNTING OF HELENA most likely will name films like THE ORPHANAGE, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, and even PAN’S LABYRINTH while describing this film, and for good reason. As with those films, THE HAUNTING OF HELENA feels much more of a fairy tale with attention to mythology, gothic atmosphere, and creative visuals. Though not as powerful as the aforementioned films, THE HAUNTING OF HELENA does do a good job of providing some worthy jumps and shivers.

The story focuses on Helena (of course), who lives with her single mother (played by Harriet MacMasters-Green) and moves into a new house while dealing with new transitions in her life. When her problems are compounded by losing her first tooth, superstition becomes nightmare as supernatural forces start occurring such as teeth raining from the ceiling and ghostly images of little girls appearing in windows. MacMasters-Green does a great job playing the frantic mother who is not taken seriously when she raises her concerns to her judgmental ex-husband and callous doctors studying both her and Helena’s mental states. Soon they uncover a secret history in the house they have moved into involving a man who abuses his wife by pulling her teeth out with pliers. Soon, the ghosts are swirling about and Helena seems to be their target and the mother will do everything in her power to stop them despite real and supernatural odds.

What I loved about THE HAUNTING OF HELENA is the way the film never lets you settle for long before either pulling the rug out from under you plot-wise or seriously creeping you out with stunning visuals such as the raining teeth or a simple shot of a girl with a mouth full of blood. This leads to a fantastic sense of unease and concern, since anything can truly happen to these characters and nothing is deemed safe. An especially American cliché is that children are pretty safe in horror films, but in independent films such as this, those rules often don’t apply and it definitely raises the stakes here in this American language, yet Italian shot, film.

Though the visuals are absolutely stunning, for some reason, some of the emotional investment isn’t as resonant as with many of Del Toro’s films mentioned above. This may have something to do with the two leads: the child actress (Sabrina Jolie Perez) and MacMasters-Green, the mother. Maybe this is because the child actress is just too young to pull off the performance necessary. She doesn’t do a bad job, but she also doesn’t have that connectivity as we got from an Ivana Baquero from PAN’S LABYRINTH. And while perfectly fine in the role, MacMasters-Green looks more like a supermodel than the much more identifiable misunderstood mother (Belén Rueda) from THE ORPHANAGE. The performances weren’t bad, per se. I just didn’t feel connected enough to fear for them as much as I wanted, making my investment less, if that makes any sense.

Still, if you’re a fan of Del Toro’s productions, you’re going to want to seek out THE HAUNTING OF HELENA. Be it haunting shots of blood- mouthed ghosts with its teeth torn out or the bizarre imagery of teeth raining from the ceiling, there’s a lot to be afraid of with this film. And that’s a good thing.






And finally…we have an experimental short from director Jeremiah Kipp and writer/producer Russell Penning. The music is provided by the always amazing Henry Manfredini of FRIDAY THE 13TH fame. This haunting and experimental film is full of vivid imagery and fantastic music. Kipp shows some real talent in juxtaposing the beautiful with the morose, barraging the viewer with imagery both gorgeous and nightmarish. Not the most linear of shorts, Kipp relies on weird images and amazing music to force your mind to put together what’s going on. The results are pretty moving.

BEWARE: This short contains some nudity, so be wary of the risk of giving yourself eye-boners! Enjoy…CRESTFALLEN!






See ya next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.


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