Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week, I’m doling out two columns since there’s just so much horror coming out right now. I’m not saying it’s all great, but it’s all horror. Be sure to look for my second horror column tomorrow!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: X-RAY (1982)/SCHIZOID (1980)
RACE WAR: THE REMAKE (2012)
AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (2012)
DRINKING GAMES (2013)
HAROLD’S GOING STIFF (2011)
SCENIC ROUTE (2013)
And finally…Chad Crawford Kinkle’s ORGAN GRINDER!
Retro-review: The Scream Factory!
X-RAY (1982)/SCHIZOID (1980)Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
aka HOSPITAL MASSACRE, WARD 13, BE MY VALENTINE OR ELSE…
Directed by Boaz Davidson
Written by Marc Behm & Boaz Davidson<
Starring Barbi Benton, Charles Lucia, Jon Van Ness, John Warner Williams, Den Surles, Gloria Jean Morrison, Karen Smith, Michael Frost, Jimmy Stathis
X-RAY was quite possibly one of the most unintentionally hilarious horror films I’ve seen in a long time. I was initially intrigued by the premise, which focuses on a man obsessed with Barbi Benton’s character Susan, reworking her hospital records to make her have to stay in one of the creepiest hospitals ever. Though Susan cluelessly goes along with whatever the doctors tell her to do, the level of ludicrous is set to 11 from start to finish.
Where to start? Ok. How about the opening, which has a boy dropping off a Valentine’s card to a little girl only to be laughed at? After the girl goes in for some cake, she finds her brother hanging from a coat rack. It reeks so much of cheese, but still has that eighties quality of scare that is reminiscent of the first SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. X-RAY picks Valentine’s Day to obsess over and as we flash forward 19 years, we find out little Susan has grown up to be a former Playboy Playmate! And in the opening moments, she is such a horrible bitch to her ex-husband that it makes it hard to not root for her to get stalked and slashed. What’s more unappealing about the character is that she berates her ex-husband right in front of their child. After that mom of the year moment, Susan enters the hospital for a routine x-ray only to find that everyone in the hospital is creepy as fuck. I’m serious. Every man, woman, and child roaming around the dimly lit hallways eye-fucks Susan for the entire film.
The hospital also houses some of the most inept and callous doctors ever put on screen as they fail to inform Susan why they are keeping her and even force her to disrobe for an especially slow and uncomfortable examination from a silver-mulletted doc. Every movement, be it a simple shot for a blood sample, a blood pressure test, or even a reflex test, is performed in super slo mo to add to the creep effect. And Susan just let them do it. I understand this was a day and age before sexual harassment and the like was a major thing in terms of getting up in arms about it, but man does Susan put up with a lot. On top of that, they leave the examination window open so any old perv can walk by for a peek. And that actually happens.
Once trapped in the hospital, there are some definite creepy moments. There are some effective kills and a lot of who’s who as we don’t know who the grown up obsessed boy is, though lots of red herrings are tossed out since everyone in this hospital is a leering perv. Still, lots of blood is splashed around for the murders, there’s even a head in a box that’ll make you scream “What’s in the box!?!” in your best Brad Pitt SE7EN voice and a genuinely scary scene where the killer runs down the hall with a sheet after a nurse then injects her with a needle full of some kind of black fluid.
The creep factor is on infinity with this film, helmed by EXPENDABLES Producer Boaz Davidson. Davidson doesn’t miss a cliché and amps the scares to a level that encourage mocking. Still, I haven’t had so much fun with a film in ages and if you’re in for more unintentional laughs than scares and are seeking out a movie to mock, X-RAY is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Check out the scene below for an example of how laughable this film is!
Aka MURDER BY MAIL
Directed by David Paulsen
Written by David Paulsen
Starring Klaus Kinski, Donna Wilkes, Marianna Hill, Craig Wasson, Richard Herd, Joe Regalbuto, Christopher Lloyd, Flo Lawrence
Though far from being as entertaining as X-RAY, SCHIZOID has quite a few things going for it: a twisty turny plot, some nice American giallo-esque stylings, some Craig Wasson goodness, and of course, the incomparable Klaus Kinski.
The story is kind of wonky, as this was made in the 80’s when pop psychology and group therapy was a hip and trendy thing to do. Hot tubs were also pretty popular, and this movie mixes the two together like car trunks and hookers. The film pretty much starts off in a hot tub as we are introduced to our thinly developed cast of future corpses, who are all a part of the same support group helmed by Klaus Kinski as Dr. Pieter Fales. Each of the ladies has their fair share of problems, with our heroine Julie (played by Marianna Hill) leading the pack by putting up a good front but having all sorts of anxiety about her failed marriage and the budding relationship she is forming with Dr. Fales. As she decides to leave the group the rest of the members wind up dead, mostly at the edge of some silver, glistening scissors.
Kinski is the highlight of this film, as the actor can’t reel in the creep enough to make you think he is anyone but the killer wiping out the group. He peeps in on his troubled teenage daughter Alison (Donna Wilkes) in the shower, makes weird phone calls in the night from phone booths, and has full contact fights with his daughter while Julie is over for dinner. Let’s not even get into the ethical pretzel he is getting himself into by sleeping with his client. Here Kinski is intense as he ever was, even during the passionate love making scene which still oozes nothing but creep.
Twists and twirls abound as more than one cast member has motivations for being the killer, even though all fingers point to Kinski. Writer/director David Paulsen doesn’t want to make it that easy, though, and ended up surprising me in the end (which I won’t reveal here). Still, besides Kinski’s performance, there are quite a few well paced and suspenseful scenes of murder in this one.
SCHIZOID is much more of a subtle whodunit than the other film it’s packaged with in this two disc set, but with Kinski’s performance, Wasson delivering a nice performance that’s a bit different than his usual roles as a sensitive patsy, and the mystery of the killer flipping and flopping right up until the abrupt end, it is equally memorable. Buy this disk for X-RAY, but SCHIZOID won’t disappoint either.
New this week on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing
RACE WAR: THE REMAKE (2012)Directed by Tom Martino
Written by Tom Martino
Starring Howard Calvert, Jamelle Kent, Danny McCarty, Sam Rivas, Kerryn Ledet, Corey Fuller, Coady Allen, Tom Martino
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t say RACE WAR: THE REMAKE is a good film. It’s not. It’s amateurly shot, acted, and put together on a shoestring. Still, I have to admit, despite the crude way the film is slapped together, I found it to be surprisingly funny, delightfully crude, and surprisingly introspective in regards to intercultural relations. I know it’s surprising to hear that given the title, but hey, that’s what’s so appealing about this train wreck of a masterpiece of offensiveness.
My experience with the talk of the street is limited to old school 80’s and 90’s rap, so forgive me if my terminology is off.
Howard Calvert plays Baking Soda, an unapologetic thug who deals crack and lives the gangsta lifestyle. After putting in a long day of slangin’ rocks with his homie G.E.D., he spends the rest of the time sippin’ forties and maxin’ and relaxin’. Everything is chill until a new drug hits the streets that is stealing his clientele and Baking Soda is forced to pop caps and bust skulls on the evil white devils looking to steal profit from his business. Along with his homie G.E.D. and an alien named Creech, Baking Soda stages an assault against the cracka-ass crackers that are tryin’ to step up and steal his game.
Like an urban John Waters, writer/director Tom Martino isn’t above wallowing in the thug lifestyle thorns and all, both poking fun at black culture and embracing the coolness of it. The opener, a straight out homage to Blacksploitation films such as DOLEMITE and THE HUMAN TORNADO, shows Baking Soda exemplifying his kung fu moves to the camera over the credits. Baking Soda is personified as a true badass, but Martino also lampoons him by putting him in ridiculous and mundane situations.
While a lot of the situations are derivative of other better films such as FIGHT CLUB, THEY LIVE (the bubblegum line is borrowed and slaughtered here), and other macho films, causing me to groan a whole hell of a lot, the film also gets a lot of the humor right. Most of the time, this is due to repetition and consistency within the story. Creech, for example, never says a word other than dolphin squeaks and frog chirps set to old time monster movie music. But the fact that this music is played every single time Creech is on screen proved to be funny to me. Other idiotic moments of genius include a rap that G.E.D. spews while brushing his teeth entitled “I Brush Mah Muther Fuckin’ Teeth!” that had me rolling.
Crude, rude, and racist beyond belief, RACE WAR: THE REMAKE spoofs everyone including whites, Jews, Asians, Middle Easterners, and even African Americans in ways that will make any PC-minded person quake in their boots. Though at times the execution and presentation is as amateur as it gets, RACE WAR: THE REMAKE is pretty sophisticated in its presentation of cultural relations and how all of us are guilty of racism every now and then. It doesn’t offer any solutions or anything like that, but it does have its moments where we can laugh at everyone for how ridiculous we all can act sometimes.
New this week on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures (Find this film on Netflix here!)
AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (2012)aka REVENANT
Directed by Derek Cole
Written by Stephen Twardokus
Starring Stephen Twardokus, Liesel Kopp, Jon Gale, Wendy Haines
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of the more endearing aspects of old timey horror is the old sheet-wearing ghost. Sure, the flowing mattress cover is supposed to signify the ethereal and amorphous nature of a ghostlike entity, but unless you’re three years old, it’s most likely not going to scare you. AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY is a pretty great movie, but aside from all of that, the fact that it makes a person under a sheet scary deserves some kind of special recognition.
When a struggling writer decides to take up residence in a house that is rumored to be haunted for research on a new book, he finds his curiosity taking him to places he is not prepared for. Sure the premise has been done to death, but the execution of the story is what makes AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY shine. Lead actor Stephen Twardokus plays Paul, the aforementioned author obsessed with a house that has a history of haunting. His obsession forces him to ignore his wife and any warnings he might have tossed at him by previous residents and puts him in the line of fire of an actual haunting. After spooking his wife out of the house, Paul begins to experience his actual paranormal activity.
Twardokus also wrote this film, and his performance reflects that he is taking things seriously. He does a good job playing a driven writer and makes for an accessible person to cling to when the creepy things start happening. Again, the haunting stuff is nothing we haven’t seen done to death in everything from POLTERGEIST to PARANORMAL ACITVITY with drawers being opened, doors creaking, and furniture stacking. But once the sheets are used, this film becomes a whole different monster.
And it’s just a form under a sheet but the use of sound, some clever edits, and some great acting from Twardokus makes the simple sheet ghosts which appear throughout the second half downright bone-chilling right up to the last second of the film. Through simple quick movements, this film manages to make you think twice the next time you go to the linen closet.
AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY may be somewhat predictable, but it works, especially in the second half when the sheet hits the fan and ghosts start popping up all over the place. I didn’t think too much of this film when I started it, but by the end, I was surprised at how effective this little ghost story turned out to be.
New this week on DVD (Find this film exclusively on iTunes, Amazon Instant & AppleTV here!)
DRINKING GAMES (2012)Directed by Ryan Gielen
Written by Blake Merriman
Starring Rob Bradford, Blake Merriman, Nick Vergara, Mike Pennacchio, Katy Wright-Mead, Joshua Sterling Bragg, Riccarda Natalie, Adriana DeGirolami, Regan Lutz
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
You don’t always have to have a high body count in horror. Sometimes the most effective and creative horror films don’t have a body count at all. Death is almost the easiest horror to exploit in this genre, mostly because it is a fear we all have. But horror can be experienced in different ways. Some of the most effective films that I have been genuinely horrified by are the early films of Neil LeBute, specifically YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, and especially THE SHAPE OF THINGS as Rachel Weisz’s character builds up the hopes of hopeless schlub Paul Rudd only to decimate him in the end. These films highlighted the ugliness of normalcy, an ugliness we all have and possess within us should we choose to use it in regards to the way we interact with one another. I bring all of this up because at first glance, DRINKING GAMES is not a horror movie at all, but if you look at the way the characters treat one another, it truly is a horrifying experience.
The film takes place, for the most part, in a single dorm room-—small, compartmentalized, and filled with as much personality as two dorm mates can squeeze into such a miniscule area. Here we meet two guys, the straight-laced Richard (played by Blake Merriman, who also wrote the stage play this film was based on called DORM) and the well-intentioned but party-hungry Shawn (Nick Vergara), friends since grade school and living together in a small dorm. Both of them talk about sports, school, Star Wars, partying, and trying to lose their virginity-—the usual stuff guys talk about in dorms. But this particular night takes place at the end of the winter semester right before Snowmageddon, a party to end all parties that everyone is going to except for Richard. While this feels like the opening to the latest grossout teen comedy, the story instead takes a more sophisticated turn as the complexity of living in such close quarters and diverging in different directions as one matures from adolescence to adulthood are tackled head on in the span of the next 24 hours.
Adding to the chaos of Snowmageddon, which is taking place all around this room, is the force of nature known as Noopie (Rob Bradford). If you went to college, you know this guy. Charming and manipulative beyond his years, conscience nil, arch-nemesis to responsibility—-that’s Noopie in a nutshell. Shawn allows Noopie to sleep over even though he does not go to the school, or any school as far as we know. He’s just a guy who loves to party—-asically, everything Richard is not. Despite Richard’s best efforts, Noopie manages to worm his way into Richard’s home, his complex relationship with his friend/girlfriend, and everything else in his life. Richard and Noopie’s sensibilities (or lack thereof, in Noopie’s case) is the central conflict of the film with Shawn stuck in the middle.
As the drama plays out, some pretty despicable things are done back and forth, escalating in serious damage to both dorm room and body with more than one life changed by the outcome. The levels by which the intensity rises in this film exceed any expectations I had going into this one, and the performances from the entire cast are the types that make future stars.
DRINKING GAMES is a dangerous and bold film, shoving a whole lot into a very tiny space and watching it all crash into each other in order to get footing. With dialog that is crisp, funny, and diabolical all at once, this film will surprise you as it dives into depths one might not be prepared to go given the familiar setting.
Available this week in select theaters and Video On Demand!
HAROLD’S GOING STIFF (2011)Directed by Keith Wright
Written by Keith Wright
Starring Stan Rowe, Sarah Spencer, Andy Pandini, Lee Thompson, Richard Harrison, Phil Gascoyne, Molly Howe
Find out more about this film here and here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though I reviewed this last year, I told you all I’d let you know when it will be available for the masses and here it is! On with my review…
I hear your complaints about zombie films, but with the subtitle of this column being “Zombies & Sharks”, it’s kind of hard not to give them coverage here on AICN HORROR. Like a lot of you, I’m getting sick of all of the zombie films out there with zero creativity and production value. That said, I don’t want to call a moratorium on watching zombie films because I know that if I do, I’d miss films like HAROLD’S GOING STIFF. Though the title may make you think we’re about to venture into porn territory, HAROLD’S GOING STIFF couldn’t be further from it. I think it’s safe to say that HAROLD’S GOING STIFF is going to be one of my favorite horror films of the year.
Harold is an elderly man suffering from a neurological epidemic called ORD (Onset Rigors Disease) spreading across Europe which begins with stiffness of the joints, then spreads to full on violent dementia. Because the culture has been so saturated with the films, these stiff-jointed madmen have been dubbed zombies. While scientists race to find a cure for the disease, vigilante groups have taken it upon themselves to take care of the zombies to prevent an apocalypse. HAROLD’S GOING STIFF depicts the life of Harold as he copes with his illness and forms a relationship with his nurse/physical therapist.
Filmed as a mockumentary, director/writer Keith Wright blends humor, drama, and horror to make one of the most unique and original zombie horror films I’ve ever seen. Wright doesn’t focus on the gore or the violence; rather, he rests his camera on Harold (played by the genuinely wholesome Stan Rowe) and Penny, his nurse (played by the plucky and resilient Sarah Spencer). You can’t help but care for these two characters as we see them struggle with all the highs and lows of someone suffering from a debilitating ailment. These two characters are as endearing as can be, with Harold’s soft-spoken pleasantry perfectly complimenting Penny’s vibrant optimism. As Penny’s therapy begins to work with Harold, I found myself rooting for both of these characters to conquer this disease.
The film cuts from this heart-warming friendship to follow a doctor who is dedicated to finding a cure, two workers at a volunteer shelter who are caring for ORD sufferers in the latter stages of the disease, and a trio of bumbling yet homicidal vigilantes offering a clear and expansive picture of how this disease has been effecting the UK society. The trio (played by Andy Pandini, Lee Thompson, and Richard Harrison) work somewhat well together. One’s a brute, one’s an idiot, and one’s the leader who may be having some doubts about this mission. Again, unlike other zombie films, Wright takes his time to give these characters multiple layers, showing the good and bad parts, and allowing the audience to be sucked into their story.
I love every aspect of this film. Like all of the best zombie films, it actually has something to say. I took it as a metaphor for the treatment of the elderly in society—shunning them, outcasting them, shuffling them off to some facility to be forgotten and mistreated, and eventually deciding ourselves when to put them down. As Harold’s illness worsens, he is taken advantage of and manipulated by the “villains” of this film. Being the person he is, Harold softly sits by and takes the abuse, with Penny being his only supporter and true friend.
Though the themes may be heavy, I laughed out loud numerous times at HAROLD’S GOING STIFF. There are genuine moments of sheer and innocent joy between Harold and Penny. The bumbling vigilantes are often hilarious to follow as well, all of it captured in a documentarian style that adds to the hilarity. Like TROLLHUNTER, it follows this absurd subject matter convincing you that this is truth on film. Unlike TROLLHUNTER, this is a much more down to earth film, relying less on epic thrills and more on resonating heartwarming/heart-wrenching moments.
I can’t champion this film enough. HAROLD’S GOING STIFF is one of the reasons I put this column together. It’s unique and fresh, offering a new take on a subgenre of horror that has very little life in it anymore. If you’re going through zombie film fatigue, one look at HAROLD’S GOING STIFF will definitely shut the haters up and prove that when done well, great zombie films can still be made. HAROLD’S GOING STIFF will make you feel feelings you never thought you’d feel while watching a zombie film. I laughed and cried and laughed again. It’s a truly endearing achievement of a film and should be sought out by all readers of this column.
In select theaters tomorrow & available now on Video On Demand (Find this film on Netflix here!)
SCENIC ROUTE (2013)Directed by Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Written by Kyle Killen
Starring Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler, Miracle Laurie, Christie Burson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
SCENIC ROUTE starts off as if it is another buddy comedy that should have starred Zack Galifianakis and maybe Bradley Cooper as two likable guys head on down the road for a good old-fashioned road trip to recapture their youth as they grow into adulthood. It could be a comedy of errors about life, with both parties coming out of the whole situation with a new outlook on the world around them and their place in it. SCENIC ROUTE could be one of those films, but it’s not.
SCENIC ROUTE is actually the dark, twisted arch-nemesis of those types of movies. From the get go, it’s pretty apparent that Mitchell (played by Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) are not having fun on this trip. While Mitchell sleeps against the window and is distracted by his phone, it’s apparent Carter who constantly vies for some of his attention while rambling about the good old days has a motif to this trip that Mitchell is oblivious to. Pretty early, things come to a head as it’s revealed Carter suggested the whole excursion to get Mitchell alone to talk some sense into him about losing the fun friend he once had. More interested in his troubled marriage, his mortgage, and his daughter than continuing his failed music career, Mitchell fails to see Carter’s point of living in the now and flying by the seat of your pants. These two personalities clash hard verbally at first, but soon move to physicality, making this a true war between one man overwhelmed by responsibility and another who is afraid of it.
Though a few other cast members pop up here and there, this is Duhamel and Fogler’s time to shine as actors and they do a fantastic job with it. Both represent the extremes of adulthood (acceptance and refusal) perfectly and the roles they have played before, with Duhamel being often cast as the sensitive eye of affection for the ladies and Fogler being the slapstick comedian, work to the actors’ advantage as not a whole lot of their back story is told. It’s really just two guys in a car broken down in the desert slowly, yet violently picking each other apart.
Some may find this boring, and if you look at the posters or watch the trailer, you might even think you’re going to predict this film from beat one to the last. But though I had the same expectations, I was surprised at the level of violence this film escalates to as well as the almost Serling-esque conclusion it leads to. SCENIC ROUTE surprised me in the sense that it boldly decided to take some chances with narrative, specifically in the final moments.
In many ways, SCENIC ROUTE feels more like the grungy kind of man movies of the 70’s which really dissected what it meant to be a man in complex world. It challenges preconceptions and assumptions and forces its characters to look at the decisions they have made in life. Duhamel and especially Fogler (who has had a kickass year with this and his role on NBC’s HANNIBAL) are going to surprise you if you give this simple yet effective trip into terror a chance.
And finally…Chad Crawford Kinkle, the director of JUG FACE (reviewed here), has a very cool short film called ORGAN GRINDER about a woman who cleanses men possessed by demons in a very unique way. It’s most definitely a concept that I’ve never seen and more evidence that Kinkle is someone to be on the lookout for in horror. Check it out!
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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