AICN HORROR looks at ANTISOCIAL! 13/13/13! FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER! IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES! MACABRE! AMNESIAC! TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE! EXIT TO HELL! THE VISITOR! THE WEREWOLF! APPARITIONAL! & LAST DAYS ON MARS!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Let’s leap right in with this week’s reviews which has a little of everything from a ghostly prison to a haunted castle to a murderous sheriff to a cannibalistic mother to felt monster puppets!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE WEREWOLF (1956)
Retro-review: VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960)
TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE Season 2: DEAD AIR/CAPER (2013)
EXIT TO HELL (2013)
IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES (2012)
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)
THE VISITOR (1970)
Advance Review: APPARITIONAL (2013)
Advance Review: ANTISOCIAL (2013)
And finally…Douglas A. Plomitallo’s FACING DEATH: A HALLOWEEN TALE!
Retro-review: New from the Sony Pictures Choice Collection!
THE WEREWOLF (1956)Directed by Fred F. Sears
Written by Robert E. Kent & James B. Gordon
Starring Steven Ritch, Don (Dan) Megowan, Joyce Holden, Harry Lauter, Ken Christy, S. John Launer, George Lynn
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
MOD (Manufacture On Demand) Productions is releasing some films that have never been on DVD before, and I’ll be checking out some of them over the next few weeks. The Sony Pictures Choice Collection is available through Amazon.com, TCM.com and Warner Archive or from the MOD Productions website .
First up is 1956’s THE WEREWOLF. While THE WEREWOLF has many of the classic wolfman standbys of a monster on the loose, fleeing from an angry mob while pulling at the heartstrings of the audience, this classic is a standout in the werewolf subgenre for numerous reasons.
First and foremost, the werewolf makeup and transformation (a must for all lycanthropy films) are top notch. While it strays from the classic Lon Chaney Jr. design, it still maintains the feel, with large wispy eyebrows and a prominent row of gnarly teeth. The classic fade through various stages of transformation is both cheesy and impressive. The main distinction from other wolfman films is that actor Steven Ritch, who plays the werewolf, isn’t cursed by a demon or bitten by a werewolf; instead he’s a product of science. Late in the film, a pair of scientists are introduced who set out to eliminate their escaped mistake. Adding a scientific element to the mix makes this somewhat more an Atomic Age take on science gone wrong rather than a classic Universal take on the beast.
THE WEREWOLF is high on drama, with multiple scenes of talking heads (a detriment to many a monster movie of old)--due to limited budget, most likely. The high amount of melodrama might ring as schmaltz for some, but it also adds to the fun when the Werewolf’s family is negotiating with him as he hides out in the woods. Don Megowan plays the gung ho sheriff set to bring the monster in for murder, while his nurse girlfriend Joyce Holden pleads for him to play nice. Steven Ritch amps up the sympathy factor as well, and deserves some extra props for walking through snow in bare feet!
Much old timey fun is to be had with THE WEREWOLF: every bit the classic of Universal’s WOLFMAN, with a bit of a modern sci fi twist thrown in for distinction.
New on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Bluray Box Set!
EDGAR ALLAN POE’S FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960)aka THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE MYSTERIOUS HOUSE OF USHER
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Edgar Allan Poe (story), Richard Matheson (screenplay)
Starring Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
If you’re looking for a tale that epitomizes the works of Edgar Allan Poe, look no further than FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, Poe’s tale of a reclusive madman in a gothic castle plagued by lost love and fearing a premature burial. With only a cast of four people, some gothic sets, and a whole bunch of creativity, Roger Corman captures and exemplifies probably the most perfect rendition of a Poe story in 1960.
Casting Vincent Price in the lead role as Roderick Usher was probably the best decision Castle made, as Price eats up the role. Deathly serious, Price brings real passion to this character who believes he is doing every dastardly deed for the good of the world, no matter who falls before him. Price’s slender build and delicate demeanor is perfect here, as he often is quite snivelley playing the last male Usher of the line who is sensitive to sight, sound, touch, smell and taste to the point of torment at all times. The way Price winces when our hero, Phillip Winthrop, yells at him is somewhat comical, but also makes you feel sorry for how afflicted Price’s character is. You almost feel sorry for him, though he is a conniving shit.
The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Mark Damon (no relation to Matt, I believe) is rugged and noble, though he does seem to have trouble opening and closing doors throughout the film as he seems to have a tendency to push in on outward opening doors and pulling out when trying to open doors that open in. Despite his trouble with entrances, he offers up a highly capable role emoting heavily as the tormented lover of Roderick’s sister Madeline (Myrna Fahey, no relation to Jeff Fahey, I believe). Fahey is great as the sole living female Usher who Roderick can’t let go of and would rather kill than see leave. Fahey is especially awesome when she finally goes batshit and stalks the hallways for her prey. Rounding out the cast is Harry Ellerbe (no relation to…oh, never mind) as Bristol, the doting butler who serves his purpose to explain things when things need to be explained and then die when a good death is necessary.
The story focuses on the Ushers, a family of horrible people—one generation worse than the next. Roderick wants the horrible line of Ushers to stop with his sister and himself and locks them in a castle to seal the deal. But Winthrop is dedicated to marrying Madeline, and will stop at nothing to save her. Much of the film focuses on a battle of wits between Winthrop and Roderick as they argue over Madeline’s fate.
The film is filled with ambiance of the spookiest caliber, as the castle itself seems to have a life of its own as the foundation shifts and the walls crack. Even the fireplace seems to be somewhat testy. Corman does a fantastic job of making this castle feel aged and lived in, as if it were as much a corpse as the occupants of the Usher’s cellar mortuary. On top of the décor, Corman experiments with some fantastically horrifying dream sequences as Winthop is plagued by nightmares of the dead Ushers attacking him and a grinning Roderick making off with Madeline just out of his reach. Though he does this much more in later films such as MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, Corman experiments with filters here, and the blue hue of the nightmare makes for an extremely unsettling sequence.
While I prefer Price’s portrayal of Matthew Hopkins in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is right up there toward the top. Seeing Price make this role his is a beauty to behold, and Corman’s camera eats it all up. Next week I look at another cursed locale Price shocker, THE HAUNTED PALACE. And look here for my WITCHFINDER GENERAL review and here for my review of PIT AND THE PENDULUM, both of which are in the new BluRay box set. As an added bonus, Price introduces all of the films and shares some fantastic anecdotes about each. This is a set no fan of Vincent Price should be without.
New on CD or digital download here!
TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE SEASON TWO (2013)Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A while back I covered the first season of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, a radio show-style anthology series from the mad mind of JUGFACE/YOU’RE NEXT star and BENEATH/HABIT director Larry Fessenden. Fessenden has gathered another cadre of talent to bring this new season to life. Here are the final two episodes for this season.
Episode 2.7: DEAD AIR
By Simon Barrett (writer), Larry Fessenden (director)
Starring Jonny Orsini, Joel Garland, Matthew Stephen Huffman, John Speredakos, Alison Wright
Simon Barrett, writer of A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, YOU’RE NEXT, and V/H/S, offers up this short that is oozing with both atmosphere and old school “things go a bumpin’ in the night” charm. This story of a college radio disc jockey who is forced to work the night shift in a haunted area of a school made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and salute. Though there are many of these TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE that are effective in chills, this one is my favorite of the bunch as Barrett mixes a familiar modern voice with old school creeps and hauntings. I loved every spine-tingling second of this offering. Though I knew Barrett was good, this little ditty makes me want to see what other kinds of short horror the scribe has up his sleeve.
Episode 2.8: CAPER
By Larry Fessenden (director/writer)
Starring James Le Gros, Matthew Stephen Huffman, John Speredakos, Jonny Orsini, Mark Margolis, Joel Garland
The last episode of the season is written by the maestro behind the TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE operation, Larry Fessenden. CAPER feels a lot like a twisted supernatural version of RESERVOIR DOGS/UNUSUAL SUSPECTS, as a bunch of seedy types are brought together on a mission seemingly in a random fashion, but as in all good stories, the methodology of bringing this crew together is anything but random. Fessenden creates some fun characters to follow into darkness and a heist that is just complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex as to be difficult to follow on a radio show. The results are a satisfying and fun little crime tale where things go into the realm of horror quickly and efficiently. This is a strong entry in a series and ends the season on a high and scary note.
Check out all of my reviews of this season’s TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE here and here and here and here. Recorded in front of a live audience, all of these mini-radio plays are available for download and purchase on the TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE website.
New this week on DVD from Midnight Releasing!
AMNESIAC (2013)aka WYKE WREAKE
Directed by Martin Rutley
Written by Andrew Rutley
Starring Gemma Deerfield, Leon Florentine, Katya Greer, Edwina Lea, James Marsh, Jon Stoley
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though I can’t fully recommend AMNESIAC, I will admit that the weirdness of this little film grew on me, and the longer I stared into the abyss that was this film, the more entranced I got. In the end, it was a lot of weird slap-dashed together, but I’m not sure it’s something I feel was worth experiencing.
AMNESIAC starts out with a man covered in blood walking around some rocky hills and swampy moors. Though his accent is thick, I can make out some kind of poetry about a life once lived and dreams shattered. While we are left wondering what the hell this film is about, the scene switches to a trio in a room covered in torn newspaper clippings, old photographs and art made from doll parts. The three people are using a Ouija board to summon a dead spirit. As the three people bicker about the validity of the board and one’s need to contact this spirit, they soon find that contact has indeed been made and the spirit won’t let them leave the room. All the while, we flit back to this guy in a peacoat wandering the swamps, tearing apart animals and people, reciting lines you’d find in an emo teen’s poetry journal, and then covering himself with blood.
About halfway through, I believe I started understanding AMNESIAC as it seemed that the three summoners were in the real world and the wanderer who seems to be making contact with these three is in some kind of personal hell for killing someone in his past life. Then the script is flipped and we see things from the wanderer’s perspective and it seems the summoners are ghosts haunting his waking life. It’s all quite topsy-turvy, and while the imagery in the film is fascinating, the story isn’t really as there’s a lot of dire and desperate talk paired with some really twisted people saying the lines which makes the story kind of ponderous, as if trying to make sense of a madman’s ramblings. But the thing is, the ramblings are not able to be deciphered because the ones muttering them are mad.
Acting-wise, all seem to be giving their all, especially Gemma Deerfield, who plays Kate, a young girl who loses her baby and feels as if she’s a kindered spirit with the wanderer who identifies himself as Wyke Wreake. The actor playing Wreake is pretty good, even though the poetry will make your eyes roll and his accent is very thick. Had the script been a bit more grounded, I may have appreciated their performances more.
In the end, AMNESIAC gets sort of lost in its own pretension as if the director didn’t really care to tell a cohesive story and instead just throws one disturbing image at us after another such as an awesome gas mask with a baby head on the end of it and some other equally disturbing uses for doll parts. Couple that with the truly upside down logic going on as perspectives shift and POVs are exchanged and AMNESIAC is more of a chore to get through than entertainment. Sure, the images are something out of an awesomely twisted night terror, but that doesn’t make up for a story that seems to jump off the rails completely by the end and not really care if it all makes sense or not.
New this week on DVD & BluRay from The Asylum!
13/13/13 (2013)Directed by James Cullen Bressack
Written by James Cullen Bressack
Starring Trae Ireland, Erin Coker, Jody Barton, Calico Cooper, Tiffany Martinez, Jared Cohn, J. Scott, Bill Voorhees, Greg Depetro, John Andrew Vaas
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
James Cullen Bressack (writer director for MY PURE JOY, HATE CRIME, and TO JENNIFER) has yet another film released this year called 13/13/13 which may be a bit of a stretch, but still contains a lot of over the top “I can’t believe this guy is going there” moments to warrant a viewing.
So according to this film, Leap Year has a more sinister intention. While most everyone believes it to be a weird day that sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t every four years or so and the cause of some 45 year olds to say they are actually 15, it seems the Mayans put it into play because it adds a day to the calendar every so many years so that when the stars align on the 13th year of the 13th month on the 13th day after the millennium, it’s then and only then that the true apocalypse occurs. This apocalypse takes the form of everyone going apeshit crazy and killing one another. It’s new to me and a bit of a stretch, but there are more insane things that I’ve rolled with for the sake of forming an investment in a horror film.
Still, while Bressack seems to have an uncanny talent of taking those who view his films into the realm of true discomfort, 13/13/13 is somewhat flimsy in actual story. Basically, the tale follows two people who are afflicted with the 13/13/13 disease and killing tons of people and another two who are unaffected and trying to get home. For much of the film, the unaffected ones are trapped in a room and seem to know far more about this phenomenon than they should given the suddenness of the event. The other two actors who are affected are cut back to on occasion to show that they are just hanging out at home, occasionally taking pot shots with guns out their window at passersby on the street and threatening to kill each other. Other than that, it’s a bunch of people going crazy and killing others.
One of the things that makes Bressack’s films appealing to me is the personal level which he is unafraid to venture to. Films like TO JENNIFER and MY PURE JOY take psychosis to a new level and tell stories that might be uncomfortable to watch, but still take you to dark places few films dare to go. 13/13/13 lacks this level of depth and is more of an infected/zombie film more akin to Garth Ennis’ comic book CROSSED than anything else with a much more modest budget.
13/13/13 does have some very effective scenes, mostly involving kids who get either caught in the mêlée or affected by the disease, but for the most part it doesn’t plumb the depths to which Bressack’s other films dare go. It’s cool to see Bressack expand his repertoire by making a film with a much bigger scope, but I hope that the next Bressack film (which should come out soon, as the guy seems to be a machine at chucking out one film after the next) retains some of the tormented soul that was so prevalent in his earlier films.
Available this week on iTunes!
EXIT TO HELL (2013)aka SICKLE
Directed by Robert Conway
Written by Robert Conway, Justin Anderson
Starring Kane Hodder, Tiffany Shepis, Rena Riffel, Dustin Leighton, Tarin Carter, Owen Conway
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
“Put this on!”
“What is it?”
One word describes this film: GRINDHOUSE-A-LICIOUS!
There are tons of films out there trying to pass as grindhouse these days, but few really sink to the depths of what grindhouse really is. While the scratches in the film stock and bad edits are a feature of a lot of those old grindhouse films, it takes a little more than that to be considered grindhouse in my book. A grindhouse film should make you yell “Awww yeah!” while leaving you with a feeling of both shame for liking it and the need for a shower. EXIT TO HELL, formerly known as SICKLE (because that’s the lead mother effin’ character’s name, mother effer) is without a doubt chock full of that stanky grindhouse flava.
The story begins with two burnouts making a getaway to the border and making a wrong turn, leading them to a one-horse town called Red Stone, populated by the lowest scum of the earth. What better man to be sheriff of this seedy town than Kane Hodder himself as Sheriff Sickle, a lawman who drives a souped-up police car and likes to lop off heads with a farmer’s sickle? After Sickle makes short work of these two wastoids, the real story begins about another crew of scum who make a wrong toin at Albe-koiky and end up in the town. Soon the crew finds themselves in a showdown with Sickle, and it gets mighty bloody before the final credits roll.
EXIT TO HELL is not a good movie by any means, but it’s not trying to be. It’s all about the spectacle of boobs and blood and sometimes both in the same scene. The gore is over the top, as are the multiple layers of villainy at play with Sickle being the judge, jury, and executioner of them all. But the acting is surprisingly good, and it’s great to see Hodder taking on a role that doesn’t require a whole lot of makeup, as it is obvious the guy has a whole lot of personality he’s been hiding under there. That said, Hodder’s part as Sickle is left very ambiguous and I might even go so far as to say underwritten, which is both a shame since I wanted more but also a blessing because, maybe, the ambiguity is what’s so cool about it and a lengthy origin story might just ruin it.
The film also stars Tiffany Shepis, who continues to get the scream queen/stripper roles (she even makes a comment as such in the film), despite the fact that she is one of the most beautiful and definitely one of the more talented actresses in the genre today. Methinks a better agent should be hired, because Shepis is fantastic here and pretty much elevates any film she appears in.
EXIT TO HELL is one of those films that you can’t help but love. It splashes around in grime and gore like a fat kid in a mud puddle with an attitude of no fucks given from start to finish. Here’s hoping enough people see EXIT TO HELL to warrant either a sequel or more notice and bigger films for the filmmakers responsible for this true grindhouse gem.
New on DVD and Digital Download from The Collective!
MACABRE (2009)aka RUMAH DARA
Directed by Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Written by Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Starring Ario Bayu, Shareefa Daanish, Julie Estelle, Ruly Lubis, Daniel Mananta, Mike Muliadro, Arifin Putra, Dendy Subangil, Imelda Therinne, Sigi Wimala
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
MACABRE was released quite a few years ago, but it’s just now making it’s way to DVD and digital download, which is a good thing because that means more people get a chance to see a wickedly awesome film. While MACABRE might not be the most original film to hit the genre, it does do what it does right, and sometimes that’s all it takes to get a recommendation from my end.
MACABRE is a story set in Indonesia, which I remember doing a report on in the 6th grade. From that report I remember that it was an exporter of sugar cane, is populated with all kinds of wildlife including sloths and orangutans, and that Jakarta is its capital city. What I didn’t include in that report was that it housed an ages-old family of cannibal butchers lead by a wicked, wicked mother.
The narrative follows TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE more than any other film as a group of young adults, including a newlywed couple, on a trip in a van, run into a woman in distress on the road named Maya (Imelda Therinne). The woman states that her home is not far and on the same path the travelers seem to be taking. Being decent folk and not wanting to leave the seemingly harmless gal on the side of the road, the group decides to drop her off on their way, but when they do, they meet Maya’s creepily intense brother Adam (Arifin Putra) and the mostly silent weirdo brother Armand (Ruly Lubis) and finally the poised matriarch of the family Dara (Shareefa Daanish) who insists that the group stay for dinner as gratitude for saving Maya from the elements. Though it wouldn’t be a horror movie if the group declined; all signs point to crazy cannibal family from the start, from the bizarre little gestures the family makes to one another to the trophy room full of hunting gear and stuffed animal heads. Throwing caution to the wind, the group stays and ends up trying and mostly failing at avoiding becoming the next course on the crazy Indonesian cannibal family’s menu.
While the premise is not very original (THE INDONESIAN CHAINSAW MASSACRE would have been a more apropos title here), the execution is highly energetic and feels fresh. Everything from the initial kills to the frantic way the group fights to survive is electric, and just when you think someone is dead and written out of the film, they pop back up, bloody and maybe missing a few body parts, but still kicking and fighting. This intense thrill ride doubles in power when, after a lot of the group has been perished, a quintet of cops shows up to investigate their disappearance and soon they are pulled into the crazy cannibal vortex as well. Directors Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto (who are also responsible for the exhaustive energy drink of a bloodbath “Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2) have a way of handling non-stop violence and carnage that few filmmakers have. One violent act spurs another in this film, and the semi-realistic way that people just don’t die from one wound as they often do in most horror genre films and return to continue fighting is something that makes this film stand out.
For creating a level of intensity that is unsurpassed and an iconic character in the mother figure Dara (in which Shareefa Daanish absolutely rules in and makes me hope and pray she returns in some kind of sequel), MACABRE is a true standout in modern horror and deserves to be experienced. Sure this one may have been released in one form or another in the past or played prominently in festivals, but now is the time to experience one truly horrific and truly unique international horror film with MACABRE.
New this week on DVD!
IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES (2012)Directed by Gabriel Carrer
Written by Angus McLellan
Starring Lindsay Smith, Ryan Kotack, Ryan Barrett, & Henry Rollins as The Voice
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though the premise isn’t all that new, with some tight and crisp direction and fantastic performances from its cast, IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES is definitely a film to look out for. Directed by Gabriel Carrer and written with heart-wrenching dialog from Angus McLellan, IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES works because you actually like the two people in peril and want them to live on despite the harrowing experience they find themselves in.
Two lovers (Lindsay Smith and Ryan Kotack) are enjoying a relaxing summer day at an amusement park in the city. When they go to their car, they smell some kind of chemical and quickly pass out only to wake up in a small basement room with four locked suitcases, a phone, and nothing else. Though they have each other, the lack of food, water, and hope of rescue start to eat away at their relationship, a stress compounded by a mysterious voice on the phone taunting them with accusations, revelations, and directions to do things to one another. This seemingly random and senseless abduction is the kind of peril we see a lot in films these days, most of the time with home invasion films. Here instead of the familiar setting, we are enmeshed in a familiar and seemingly perfect relationship between these two talented actors and the story is all the more effective because of it.
Henry Rollins provides the voice on the phone telling the couple things to do and say to one another. The performer has a commanding voice which is instantly recognizable. I know it is a selling point for this film as Rollins is the biggest name in the film, but some part of me wishes I didn’t know it was Rollins until the end. Still, the horrifying things Rollins instructs the couple to do are all the more effective given his authoritarian tone.
Given the single locale and limited setting of this film, one would think that the story would get repetitious or boring. Since most of the film takes place in the concrete basement of a shack, Gabriel Carrer was faced with the challenge of making everything look interesting and does so with flying colors. Extreme close-ups of insects, puddles, and piles of dirt on the floor help perk up the pace of the film. It is as if the director is forcing us to look at the little things that we would usually just glance over and not notice. Here the couple’s confinement is all the more claustrophobic in that we are pulled in and forced to see every crack, crevice, and blemish.
I can’t praise IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES enough for how successful it was at making such a simple story so emotionally taxing, so intricately detailed, and so heavily nuanced. The film’s resolution doesn’t make it easy on the couple or the viewer, making it all the more of a harrowing experience. Put this film on your horror must see list. It most definitely deserves a reserved spot for its tight directing and fantastic performances.
In select theaters December 6th, available now on iTunes and Video On Demand!
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)Directed by Ruairi Robinson
Written by Sydney J. Bounds (short story), Clive Dawson (screenplay)
Starring Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen, Yusra Warsama
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While Hollywood’s last two decently budgeted films which dared venture to our neighboring red planet (MISSION TO MARS and RED PLANET) sort of tanked at both the box office and in the quality department, it seems a decade later the planet is being explored again in THE LAST DAYS ON MARS, a modestly futuristic sci fi yarn with plenty of horror tropes to fall back on. While one might think a movie about outer space and trips to uncharted planets would be something more fitting in an AICN SCI FI column (if there were such a thing), the presence of some familiar horror standbys make it feel right at home in these here parts.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS documents exactly that--a scientific team’s final days on the red planet before they are relieved by another team of scientists. As with any project, as the end approaches, a rainbow of feelings often arises. Everything from disappointment to desperation to feelings of not accomplishing enough or haste to accomplish too much at the last minute make this final leg of the trip the most difficult. Each of the 8 crew members seems to represent one of these feelings, and the talented cast represent them well. Their leader, Elias Koteas (who it is always a pleasure to see working), is a compassionate commander who wants to go home as much as anyone and seems to he buckling a bit under the crown of leadership. Olivia (RUSHMORE) Williams is just the opposite as a scientist who is pissed that she has to leave the planet just when she feels she’s accomplishing something. At the same time, Live Schreiber plays a space-weary and burnt out astronaut who is experiencing anxiety attacks at the least opportune times. This is a very unsettled and unstable crew as the end of their mission approaches, and director Ruairi Robinson allows every actor to spread their wings without the film feeling overcrowded with too many characters to keep track of.
Robinson also does a fantastic job with what looks to be a pretty small budget. Film a desert with a red lens over the camera and blammo—Martian landscape. And this landscape looks good, especially with the cool rovers silently crossing the desert plains. I also really liked the set design on the space ships, which both feel lived-in like the comfortable and time-worn tech from MOON mixed with some nice scenes of pure blacks and whites more reminiscent of films like ALIEN and 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY. Everything looks like it is technology just around the corner from being invented, making this sci fi film much more relatable than your average space adventure movie.
It wouldn’t be a Mars movie without some kind of horrific tragedy occurring. This time around, the turmoil takes a strangely conventional turn as bacteria is discovered deep under the surface and the astronauts become infected with it upon contact. Sure this is reminiscent of ALIEN, but the fact that it’s the astronauts themselves that turn into the monsters rather than a monster itself is somewhat different. I’ve waited this far into the review to say it because I do want to let people know that this is a film worth seeing, but I know as soon as I type out the following two words, people are going to tune out….here goes…
Yep, that’s basically what this film is all about. Instead of being bitten by a monkey or caught in some radioactive blast, these infected people act like the same infected from 28 DAY LATER for the most part. I know zombies make people want to shoot themselves in the head these days, but because of the extremely strong performances from Olivia Williams, Elias Koteas, the enchanting fresh face of Romola Garai, and especially Liev Schreiber in a role that is refreshingly vulnerable, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is a damn great achievement as both a horror and sci fi movie. Don’t let the zombie fatigue keep you away from this impressive sci fi yarn.
In limited theatrical release now from Drafthouse Films!
THE VISITOR (1979)Directed by Giulio Paradisi
Written by Ovidio G. Assonitis, Giulio Paradisi (story), Luciano Comici, Robert Mundi (screenplay)
Starring John Huston, Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Franco Nero, Sam Peckinpah
Find out where and when you can see this film here Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Those of you who haven’t experienced the oddity known as THE VISITOR should probably do so just to say you have. It’s one of those films that is definitely not a good film as it borrows heavily from both THE OMEN, STAR WARS, and believe it or not The Bible, so heavily that some might say they are direct swipes rather than a sharing of ideas. Either way, THE VISITOR is a film you are surely not going to forget once seen.
The story begins as John Huston looking a lot like Obi Won Kenobi walks across a bleak landscape. Another hooded figure appears and soon, the desert turns to snow. A standoff of wills I guess happens as both figures just stand there as someone blows a wind machine and drops fake snow in front of it just off camera. It’s a moody standoff but takes a little too long and takes itself a lot too seriously; which is how I can describe the rest of the film as well.
The story of THE VISITOR meanders about and never really ends up making too much sense. There is an age old battle between good and evil as a corporation of old white guys in suits seem to represent the Empire, while the Jedi seem to be represented by old Hollywood talent John Huston and Shelly Winters. Had THE VISITOR gone on to be successful, I imagine the Yoda character would have been played by Herve Villechaize. Huston and Winters and the shadow cabinet of old guys are after a little girl who seems to be exhibiting extraordinary powers, but also happens to be a total asshole. Both forces seem intent on secretly gaining control of the girl while she goes around causing chaos for her mother, the police, and a bunch of older teens at an ice rink. The story builds to a standoff between the kid who may be too far gone to be saved and Huston who still has faith he can convert her to the lighter side of the Force.
Looking at the visitor from a metaphorical standpoint, the old white guys in the room could represent corporate Hollywood trying to manipulate and control the next generation of talent to conform and bend to their ways, while Huston (one of the most prolific directors) literally represents the bold, independent ideas of the independent scene which was in full bloom by 1979 when this film was released. This theory is supported by having director Sam Peckinpah and actor Glen Ford play prominent roles in the story. Though the story and execution is quite a mess, the ideas behind it are actually quite interesting and might be the reason director Giulio Paradisi was able to get such an eclectic cast of talent for this film.
That said, there are some head-slappingly humorous scenes that are not supposed to be funny throughout this film. For some reason, the subject of child molestation is often referred to, but only in passing. For example, when Huston shows up at the child’s house and says he’s the babysitter from the agency, the parents just accept it and go out on their date, not even questioning whether or not he’s a child molester until they’re driving away on his date. Ahh, those were innocent times. There are also aspects of this film so awesome they should be in every movie such as the detail that John Huston has his own theme music which belts out at full volume every time he appears on screen, which I have to repeat, is awesome.
While comparisons to STAR WARS are always made when talking about THE VISITOR, I think it’s much more in line with the prequels as the focus is on whether or not a child will grow up to be evil (though she already appears to be a fucking twat) and how two forces battle to help manipulate her destiny. Who knows? Maybe George Lucas, who borrowed heavily from other films to build the STAR WARS universe saw this film around the time he was thinking of THE PHANTOM MENACE and pulled out his little notebook from that beard of his. Whether or not that’s the case, THE VISITOR is entertaining as an oddity (much more entertaining than THE PHANTOM MENACE), and worth checking out if it is playing at a theater near you this week end.
Advance Review: Currently touring fests!
APPARITIONAL (2013)Directed by Andrew P. Jones
Written by Andrew P. Jones
Starring Jeffrey Johnson, Linara Washington, Charley Koontz, John Zderko, Bill Lithgow, Dee Wallace, Peter Mayer
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This little ghost-hunting goodie is going to be entertaining for those who love those types of shows where you follow experts in the paranormal around in the dark looking for things that go bump in the night. But unlike those shows which rarely produce any evidence, in APPARITIONAL the ghosts get real.
I’m a fan of those ghostbusting shows like GHOST HUNTERS, and what I liked about APPARITIONAL was the way it portrayed the team as real people. We get a little peek behind the scenes as Dee Wallace makes a cameo as the producer of the show who is sick of the investigations resulting in nothing and insists that either the team turn in a memorable brush with the paranormal or they can pack their bags. Desperate but determined, the team has a haunted prison case plopped into their laps and before they know it, there are some real happenings paranormalling about.
What I liked about this film is the way it follows the blueprint of a regular GHOST HUNTER show, with the opening explaining the sordid history of the prison, then on to the interviews, then the set up of the equipment, and finally on to the investigation itself. For much of the film, it feels like a real investigation. When the ghosts do show up, there’s a backstory there and the haunts are even more effective because of them. Though there is a bit of reliance on CG, especially with the overused stretched out mouth routine that’s common in so many of these types of ghost films for some reason, the film does take advantage of its ghostly set with plenty of spooky corners and open cells to hold all sorts of spooks and specters.
Having worked on a ghost-hunting show right after I graduated college, I have a special place in my heart for these types of shows and the horror movies that use them as a backdrop. APPARITIONAL is effective in that it builds a great backstory and resolves it in a satisfying manner. While the budget is low and the acting is a bit choppy at times, APPARITIONAL is a ghost-hunting procedural that hits some of the right notes in terms of scares and atmosphere.
Advance Review: Currently touring fests!
ANTISOCIAL (2013)Directed by Cody Calahan
Written by Cody Calahan, Chad Archibald
Starring Michelle Mylette, Cody Thompson, Adam Christie, Ana Alic, Romaine Waite, Ryan Barrett
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m old enough to remember when cell phones were a thing of the future, or at least something that was the size of a brick like Zack’s phone on SAVED BY THE BELL or connected to cars by a curly wire. So there’s a part of me that looks at the way people are so obsessed with their telephones and Facebook and internet today and it makes me want to stand in my yard in black socks and flip flops yelling at the world to “Get your nose out of the computer and live in the now!” Then again, when I forget my iPhone on my nightstand on my way into work, I’ll waste precious time and gas money to drive all the way back home to retrieve it because I can’t live without it. I have gone to work without a belt and lived with it. I’ve gone to work with two different colored socks, and said screw it. Even showed up with two different shoes on one groggy hangover-filled morning. But if I don’t have my phone, I can’t function. So I guess I’m guilty as the next guy for being addicted to the internet.
I go off on this little diatribe because at first glance, the cast of ANTISOCIAL should be annoying as shit to me. They constantly update pictures and comments and deep thoughts to a social media website called RedRoom and basically fill their entire time with browsing the website for updates and comments and things for them to update and comment on. But then I realize I spent the last month updating and counting down a list of horror over the last month, and online obsession isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m just as bad as these kids.
Turns out, though, that the RedRoom has some nasty side effects after its latest update and those on the site begin to act like amped-up zombies after a short while of usage. So while everyone is partying and updating their phones on one of the busiest cell phone times of the year (New Year’s Eve), a virus is spreading rapidly. ANTISOCIAL follows one group of kids getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash, but finding themselves boarding up their home and doing the last thing they should be doing--that is, checking online for reasons why folks are going crazy.
ANTISOCIAL has a smart social message-style feel the early George Romero films had paired with a genuine feeling of paranoia I haven’t felt in a film since the 70’s version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The film sets up an amazing premise and runs with it, taking full advantage of our addiction to everything online and exploiting it, and by the end of the film made me a little leery about picking up my iPhone again (well, at least I thought about it for a tick before picking it back up). Writer/director Cody Calahan and writer Chad Archibald have some up with a new type of zombie for the online age, and it’ a pretty compelling one at that as it plays with our own obsessions and twists it in monstrous ways. This type of smart handling of what’s going on right now is what innovative horror is all about.
While the premise is strong and so are the performances by the young cast, there are a few decisions along the way that will have you slapping your forehead raw. It’s hard to recommend a film for its strong premise when there is a scene where a girl has to use a power drill to operate on her own brain…
Let that sink in a bit. I know Rambo is bad and all and can stitch up a wound like no one’s business, but even he doesn’t have to grit (or the brains, for that matter) to do a self-brain operation. But somehow, this 100 lb girl has the intestinal fortitude to do so. I also think the filmmakers could have come up with a different way to represent the zombies as they sort of just resemble the frantic infected from 28 DAYS LATER. That said, there are little sparks of genius here as the infected post in real time video whatever they see in front of them online, which makes for some really creepy scenes.
So while there is a misstep here and there, I can’t help but praise ANTISOCIAL for its innovative premise, insightful view on this particular time for our culture, and of course the real time eye thing. The film is fast-paced and begins with a bang and never really stops until the end, which feels more RESIDENT EVIL than anything else, but I loved it nevertheless. Here’s hoping the filmmakers have enough success with this ultra-modern take on a well-tread genre to make a sequel as this film suggests. If only there was a way for the masses to see it.
Hey, I know. I’ll just post it online…right after I update my FB status.
All cuteness aside, this is a really fantastic film and I’ll definitely be letting folks know when ANTISOCIAL can be spread to the masses.
And finally…Halloween’s a week past and I still can’t get enough of holiday-themed horror. Here’s a short from Douglas A. Plomitallo called FACING DEATH: A HALLOWEEN TALE about a man mourning the death of his wife who died a year prior on Halloween. Enjoy this somber little creeper!
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 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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