Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week there are reanimated corpses, power tool-wielding maniacs, reanimated corpses from the moon, disco maniacs, alien squids, drugged up maniacs, and puppets! So let’s get on with it!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE SOUL OF A MONSTER (1944)
Retro-review: VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)
Retro-review: SEAN WEATHERS PRESENTS VAULT OF TERROR: THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)
Retro-review: JOHN CARPENTER PRESENTS BODY BAGS (1993)
ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES (2011)
THE VERY BEAST OF TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION (2012)
STANDARDS OF LIVING (2012)
AS NIGHT FALLS (2010)
Advance Review: FATEFUL FINDINGS (2013)
Advance Review: DISCOPATH (2013)
And finally…Darren Callahan’s UNDER THE TABLE!
Retro-review: New from the Sony Pictures Choice Collection!
THE SOUL OF A MONSTER (1944)Directed by Will Jason
Written by Edward Dein
Starring Rose Hobart, George Macready, Jim Bannon, Jeanne Bates, Erik Rolf, Ernest Hilliard
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 .
THE SOUL OF THE MONSTER is a quirky, but effective little morality tale about Dr. George Winson (George Macready) a selfless doctor who comes down with a deathly malady, but on his deathbed, his wife Ann (Jeanne Bates) makes a deal with the devil to save his life. Of course, when dealing with the devil, one has to be careful for what one wishes for, and in this case, the doctor does return, only a little lighter in the soul department.
I really liked this little twist on the Faustian fable as it’s not the doctor himself who sells his soul, but someone who cares about him. Though the beginning and end of this film is a bit heavy handed with quotes from the bible and whatnot and the singing choirboys belting out “Ave Maria”, the pro-God vibe of it isn’t beaten into us in the story proper. Instead, we get to see Ann and her friend and George’s partner Dr. Roger Vance (Jim Bannon) first rejoice at George’s speedy recovery and not question how he got better until much later when the dog ends up dead. Ann and Roger finally catch up with the program when they realize how soulless George really has become. While the story is told in broad strokes, there’s a lot of depth here about death and the lengths some will go to avoid it.
The true standout of the film is Rose Hobart who plays the frightening Lilyan Gregg who appears from the darkness to tend to Dr. George on his deathbed after the deal has been made. It’s obvious from the way her hair is done up to resemble horns that she’s not on the side of the angels and her entrance onto the scene is the highlight of the film as she causes explosions, car accidents, and blackouts while venturing to the Winson home. If anything makes this film memorable, it’s her performance.
THE SOUL OF THE MONSTER isn’t a barn burner, but Will Jason does some great work with light and shadow here especially in the scenes with Hobart as she is usually bathed in shadows or seen in silhouette. As an exercise in chiaroscuro, THE SOUL OF THE MONSTER is an engrossing and vivid sight to see, despite the simplistic morality tale underneath.
Sorry, no trailer for this one.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Bluray Box Set!
THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles Beaumont (screenplay), Edgar Allan Poe (poem), H.P. Lovecraft (story, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), Francis Ford Coppola (added dialog)
Starring Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr., Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon, Elisha Cook Jr., John Dierkes, Milton Parsons, Cathie Merchant, Guy Wilkerson, I. Stanford Jolley
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This week’s pick from THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION BluRay Box Set is THE HAUNTED CASTLE, another film, like WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which has very little to do with Edgar Allan Poe, though it is credited to be an adaptation of his work. The film is actually an adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, but apparently Poe was much more marketable at the time, and just as WITCHFINDER GENERAL ended with a few words from Poe’s THE CONQUEROR WORM, this film ends with a reading from Poe’s poem THE HAUNTED PALACE.
Though the title and attributes might be a bit wonky, the film most certainly is not as Price offers up another classic portrayal of a man plagued with madness, this time taking the form of being possessed by an ancient ancestor. The ancestor, played by Price as well, is a demon-worshipping shit named Joseph Curwen who enthralled the women of the village into his demonic activities, which of course raised the ire of the rest of the villagers. While he is being burnt at the stake, Curwen curses the town of Arkham forever. When Charles Dexter Ward (Price) shows up a hundred years later, he meets the cursed descendants of the town who believe the return of Ward means more trouble for the town. Sure enough, they’re right as Ward becomes possessed by Curwen’s spirit and begins his demonic rituals anew.
Price seems to be having a whole lot of fun with this role as he switches back and forth between the sympathetic Ward and the conniving Curwen in a heartbeat. Though seeing everyone try to make sense of the situation while Ward and Curwen switch control is somewhat comical at times, Price, as usual, takes everything deathly seriously and though his acting may be considered melodramatic, he doesn’t go too far over the top with it. This delicate handling of a ludicrous theme keeps THE HAUNTED PALACE from turning into a complete farce.
As usual, the set design and production of this shot on a stage film is top notch, as is the case with most of Corman’s early films. The interiors are dark and moody, as is the time-worn tree where Curwen met his final punishment. The film is not as extravagant and bold in direction as THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, but it does convey a bit of an otherworldly sense. In the afterword by Price himself (a bonus feature for all of these BluRay presentations), Price notes that the tight exteriors contrast the spacious interiors of this film, giving is a sense of surreality that few films achieve.
Though Price maintains a serious tone throughout despite the goofy scenarios outlined in the story, no amount of acting skills can make up for the laughable special effects here. The demon from the pit is actually a rubber puppet pushed toward the camera and quickly cut away from (a smart move by Corman not to linger on the goofy effect). The monstrosities that are the offspring of the cursed townsfolk are more successful in giving chills, but are only used sporadically.
Not my favorite Price film and far from the best movie in this collection, THE HAUNTED PALACE is goofy fun if you don’t take it too seriously. Click these links to read my reviews of WITCHFINDER GENERAL, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and PIT AND THE PENDULUM, all 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.
Next week, we don THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH!
Retro-review: Collected in SEAN WEATHERS PRESENTS VAULT OF TERROR available here at Full Circle Filmworks
THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)Directed by Abel Ferrara
Written by Nicholas St. John (screenplay)
Starring Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth, Maria Helhoski
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I received this odd collection of films to review called SEAN WEATHERS PRESENTS VAULT OF TERROR, which consists of a couple of classic films and a pair of films I’ve never heard before. Each film is preluded with what sounds like a podcast or radio broadcast of a couple of guys (which includes Sean Weathers himself) talking about the film that’s about the play. It looks like Weathers has something to do with the last film, which I will cover last as I chart through this collection of low budget films from yesteryear which seem to be in public domain, which is most likely why they were grouped together. Here goes.
More interesting for its snippet of the punk scene in late 70’s New York than anything else, I doubt Abel Ferrara lists his first feature THE DRILLER KILLER among his best. Chock full of bad edits, over and under acting, and writing that meanders to and fro but not really anywhere, THE DRILLER KILLER opens with struggling artist Reno Miller (credited to Jimmy Laine in the film but actually played by Ferrara himself) who visits a church and encounters a bum. This freaks Reno out and though his girlfriend tries to calm him, it is apparent Reno has some problem with the derelicts. Turns out his father was a bum (which I got from the intro by Sean Weathers, not really the film, which is a testament to the sloppy writing), and this sets a series of events in motion to push Reno over the edge to go on a bum killing spree as he wanders the alleys in search of bums to drill into.
In between scenes of Reno yelling at people, there are some cool scenes of punk bands playing music (Ferrara provides much of the music as well), and though not all of it is good, it’s fun to watch. Much like BASKET CASE, I feel it shows a side of New York seldom seen even in Scorsese’s films, which seem to focus only on specific neighborhoods and cultures rather than the city itself. It’s a seedy landscape filled with character much more representative of the time.
Though this film was put on the UK’s Video Nasty list, THE DRILLER KILLER is not that gory at all. Sure there’s a scene of one bum meeting a nasty death by power drill to the forehead, but most of the time, the gore isn’t shown or really focused on. What THE DRILLER KILLER serves as is a more grungy version of TAXI DRIVER with a much longer rampage. The film itself feels more like a guy fooling around with a camera and filming whatever transpires rather than a clear narrative itself. A little research shows that Ferrara filmed this film over the span of a couple of years, which might attest to the disjointed story and how it becomes much more of a cohesive thriller by the end of the film.
The ending of this film is pretty effective, with a nice setup and a fade to black showing much more restraint than the young filmmaker showed throughout the entire rest of the film and showing a glimmer of the filmmaker who was soon to burst onto the scene with THE KING OF NEW YORK and BAD LEUTENANT. That said, THE DRILLER KILLER’s soundtrack, which I would love to find somewhere, and the effective ending make it an oddity worth seeking out. There’s just a lot of amateur minutia to sift through to get to the good stuff here.
New this week on BluRay from the Scream Factory!
JOHN CARPENTER PRESENTS BODY BAGS (1993)Directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Written by Billy Brown, Dan Angel
Starring John Carpenter, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper, Robert Carradine, Alex Datcher, Peter Jason, Molly Cheek, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, David Naughton, George 'Buck' Flower, Lucy Boryer, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Kim Alexis, Greg Nicotero, Deborah Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, John Agar, Roger Corman, Charles Napier, Eddie Velez
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Originally planned to be Showtime’s answer to HBO’s highly successful TALES FROM THE CRYPT series, it’s pretty obvious why BODY BAGS didn’t get picked up and was instead lumped together to play as an anthology instead. With John Carpenter himself channeling his inner Crypt Keeper in his role as The Coroner, a pasty faced ghoul who took joyful glee in looking into the body bags which housed the tales that unfolded, BODY BAGS feels a whole lot uneven in terms of an anthology, though seeing some of these stars in major roles or in cameos does make this a whole lot of fun.
Segment one is by far the least creative, as it focuses on a young woman working in an all night gas station while a serial killer is on the loose in the city of Haddonfield (no, it’s not Michael Myers, but that would have been awesome). Instead we get some fun cameos by David Naughton, John Agar, Wes Craven, George ‘Buck’ Flower, and Robert Carradine as a parade of creeps who frequent the all night shop. There’s some cool gore towards the end, but for the most part, “The Gas Station” is the least interesting of this anthology.
The second installment is “Hair”, and being follicularly challenged myself I shared Stacey Keach’s pain as he pines over the loss of his hair and seeks out one fad fix after another. Keach does a fantastic job of emoting the suffering one feels while realizing ones mortality, and while I decided to nip Mother Nature in the bud and shave it all off, Keach’s character decides on a more radical approach by taking part in an experimental hair growth procedure. This is a wonderfully comic installment and truly the highlight of the film. Though some of the snakelike CG hairs are a little roughly rendered, the performance by Keach, more fun cameos by David Warner, Debbie Harry, THE WALKING DEAD’s Greg Nicotero, and Sheena Easton, and some cool gross out effects make this a hair plug worth plugging.
The last installment is entitled “Eye”, and while it too has some fun cameos by Roger Corman and Twiggy in a more substantial role, its pitch black tone makes it stand out as the oddball in this trilogy of terror. Mark Hamill plays a pro baseball player who has a car accident which damages his eye, but the doctors perform a radical procedure, taking the eye from a dead person and placing it into Hamill’s noggin. Of course, the eye’s previous owner was not a choirboy and Hamill starts having horrific visions and hallucinations. There’s an extremely graphic sex/rape scene here that is uncomfortable to watch as Hamill jabs his lightsaber into Twiggy with Force…sorry, I couldn’t help myself. And the dangling feeling you get after this installment finishes is a really bizarre way to end the film.
The very end has another cutesy installment with Carpenter’s Coroner character with cameos by Tom Arnold (who seemed to pop up everywhere in nineties horror) and Tobe Hooper which is fun, but really offsetting in tone after the somber “Eye” segment. Nowhere near as fun as any of the TALES FROM THE CRYPT episodes, JOHN CARPENTER’S BODY BAGS is worth a laugh or two at the goofy effects and the fun cameos.
Available here on DVD!
ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES (2011)Directed by Christopher R. Mihm
Written by Christopher R. Mihm
Starring Michael Cook, Shannon McDonough, Michael G. Kaiser, Sid Korpi, Douglas Sidney, Daniel Sjerven, Robert Arndt, James Norgard, Stephanie Mihm, Christopher R. Mihm, Robert Silinghia, Maggie Schultz, Anthony Kaczor, Aaron McFarland
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Christopher R. Mihm has made a career of putting together throwback films which feel like they were actually made in the era of horror when hokey monsters, kooky science, and remedial plots were king. I grew up watching reruns of all of the atomic age monster movies on afternoon spookshows, and it appears I wasn’t the only one, because Mihm seems to be an expert on films from this genre. A while back I took a look at Mihm’s giant spider movie called THE GIANT SPIDER ( reviewed here), and I’ve got a few other films from Mihm to plow through in the coming weeks. This time around, I’m checking out the courageously titled ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES!
Our story begins with a cartoon of a spaceship travelling to a station on the surface of the Earth’s moon where a team of scientists are doing sciencey things when they aren’t sitting around being completely bored. The coming of a new team of researchers has the science teams all a-twitter because it means more supplies and possibly more women, as it’s a 95 to 4 ratio of men to women on the space station. Mihm patiently allows us to explore both the moon station and the individual personalities of the team before introducing any type of threat.
The main threat is boredom for the crew, and while those of today’s audience who need scares and splosions every couple of minutes are bound to be bored as well, this slow pacing is a conscious decision by Mihm, as those old timey monster films were high on dialog and exposition with the occasional monster snippet thrown in. A lot of the characters go on long-winded rants explaining this and that or just rambling on with paragraph-long lines that would be summed up in one or two words in a modern film, but that’s part of the fun of Mihm’s movies and lends to the authenticity of the way they present themselves.
In the latter half of this film, the research crew is transformed one by one into plant-like zombies which spew spores in the faces of humans in order to cause the change. The fungus spreads to almost the entire crew except for the doe-eyed science gal, her dashing but hard-headed boyfriend, and a wizened scientist father figure type. Oh, and a black guy who even comments that he can’t believe he’s lived this long. The effects are pretty fun, and when I say fun, I mean low fi costumes of cabbage-headed and bean-fingered zombies that feel like they’ve leapt from a Sid & Marty Krofft show. The threat is never that scary, but seeing the wide-eyed plant zombies inch towards the hero and heroine in mock suspense does tickle those bones of nostalgia.
If you’re looking for serious bone-chilling horror, ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES ain’t it. But if you enjoy the types of films that often showed up on MST3K even before they started heckling the film, Mihm’s films should be right up your alley. ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES is a lot of goofy fun, but occasionally the lengthy expositional bits give it a lull that might turn off some folks.
Available on DVD here!
THE VERY BEAST OF TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION (2012)Created by Michael J. Heagle & Gordon Smuder
Starring Gordon Smuder, Michael J. Heagle, Charles Hubbell, Laszlo Nemesi, Michael Huyck, Troy Antoine LaFaye, Renee Werbowski, Jeff Neppl, Amber Greenlee
Check out all of the episodes here and here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Like most of you who frequent this site, I grew up watching and loving SESAME STREET and THE MUPPETS, but while most loved the cuteness of Big Bird, Kermit and Gonzo, I was more partial to The Count, Grover, and whenever Alice Cooper hosted THE MUPPET SHOW. I loved the fact that aside from all of that cutesy colored felt and googly eyes, these were monsters I was watching on screen. Sure they were kid friendly monsters, but still, they were monsters. Now, I love MEET THE FEEBLES as much as the next guy, but there were times in that film (who am I kiddin’, a whole lotta times) where the idea of a more mature version of THE MUPPETS was good, but the execution was more infantile than any SESAME STREET episode. Though I am now a grown-ass man, I still find myself entertained by puppets with an attitude, but the last Muppet movie just didn’t cut it. What’s a guy to do?
Well, Michael J. Heagle & Gordon Smuder have the answer: TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION, an entertaining variety show put on and starring felt puppets fashioned after the designs of the late great Jim Henson. I walked past the TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION booth at Chicago’s Wizard World and was immediately stopped in my tracks at the level of skill and artistry of the puppets on display there, and when I found out that this series has been playing on television and on the web over the last few years, I had to see the episodes for myself. THE VERY BEAST OF TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION is just that--the best of the best of Heagle and Smuder’s felt-made brainchild, and their best is quite funny indeed.
The premise of the show is that Count Valdemere LeShock broadcasts a television show from his castle in Transylvania with a little help from his broadcast team Furry J. Ackermonster (an orange albino yeti), a rat, a zombie, a demon, and a Frankenstein’s Monster named Dwayne. The characters are as imaginative and distinct as any Muppet ever was, with their own quirks and personalities, which makes watching them all the more fun as they rowdily bump into one another. My favorite character is a tie between the kind-hearted but monstrous Furry J. Ackermonster and The Count, who is such an evil shit you’ve got to love him.
While not afraid to go there, TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION often avoids the obvious potty humor and is just plain funny, but don’t mistake it for a kids show. In the first episode featured on this collection, a discussion is held about a more colorful way to say “breasts”, with some hilarious suggestions from the entire cast. Right away, this says “This is not your father’s Muppets!”, but still maintains some semblance of humor that doesn’t strictly revolve around the toilet. Skits such as “Activities with Dwayne” are cleverly played out, as we learn the art of child-rearing which goes about as bad as you can think. You also learn that children have hair made of piano wire and birds for eyes…
Other things I learned from TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION is that tequila is an acceptable substitute for shame, and the answer to the question “What happens when you 3-D a 3-D movie?” We find this out in one particularly creative episode as a new invention brings the monster from “Night of the Thingy” into the studio where TRASYLVANIA TELEVISION tapes. My favorite skit of all of them involves Count LeShock called “Interviews with the Vampire” as The Count talks to an off-screen interviewer about how much he hates popular writers of vampire fiction like Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer.
TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION is the right kind of humor for me, and if your heart longs to race more with hilarity rather than fear all under the guise of felt monster mayhem, this show is something you need to seek out. It may be a bit too adult for younger kids, but it definitely entertained the inner child I keep trapped in my ribcage. I highly recommend you go to TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION to see felt puppets done right and with an adult edge. It’s much better than the Muppets that have been released upon us recently.
Available now for free here!
STANDARDS OF LIVING (2012)Directed by Aaron Mento
Written by Aaron Mento
Starring Bill Ferris, Kevin M. Glover, Derek Houck, Rolland Kiroloss, Emily Marsh, Terry McCoy, Randy Raphael, Nicola Singer, Scott Yarborough
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Ambitious is the word that immediately came to mind after watching STANDARDS OF LIVING. A film shot entirely with an iPad, which is ambitious and inventive in its own right, the ambitious part of STANDARDS OF LIVING mainly has to do with the story writer/director Aaron Mento is presenting, and while I’m not sure the film achieved the lofty goals the story was shooting for, it does make for an interesting viewing experience—especially since they are allowing anyone and everyone to watch it for free on their website.
The story starts with Peter, a stand up comedian who looks a lot like SPONGEBOB’s Tom Kenney, who bombs on stage after telling one unfunny joke after another. Though Peter wakes up from this nightmare, he realizes that the dream was very real and that his life is pretty pathetic as he lives in his friend’s bathtub and doesn’t have anything but his lucky circus peanut to his name. A mysterious call sends Peter to the house of an eccentric millionaire who leads him on a journey that bends space and time itself. The millionaire demonstrates a trick to Peter in which he makes an object disappear and reappear twenty minutes later with the object being in better condition that it was when it left upon its return. Intrigued, the millionaire convinces Peter to be disappeared himself and in doing so, he is sent to an alternate dimension/time where things aren’t exactly the way they seem.
Now, space/time warping stories are not my favorite as most of the time people seem to be making up the rules as they go along, but STANDARDS OF LIVING keeps the overly scientific or fantastical stuff to a minimum, focusing mainly on developing Peter’s character into someone you want to see walk away from this mess. Effects are nil here as trick camera work makes things disappear and reappear and the shifting of realities is unnoticeable to the human eye. This makes for an uneasy feeling, as if you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. Because the budget is so low, Mento relies on the story to propel the audience along and it does so pretty well. In fact, through much of this film, you don’t even notice the lack of effects and expansive sets as the story really does unfold pretty ingeniously and comes to a resolution that would give any TWILIGHT ZONE twist a run for its money.
Smartly written and cleverly plotted, it’d be interesting to see what Mento could do with a camera crew and a budget. As is, STANDARDS OF LIVING is not going to impress those who need a lot of special effects and whatnot in order to go along with the story, but if you’re willing to look past all of that you’ll see that there are some really interesting and big ideas at play in this film.
Here’s the trailer.
And watch the whole damn movie for free here!
New this week on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures!
AS NIGHT FALLS (2010)Directed by Joe Davison
Written by Joe Davison
Starring Debbie Rochon, Deneen Melody, Rod Grant, Raine Brown, Julie Anne, Lily Cardone, Ken Anthony II, Joe Davison, Jeremy King, Grace Chapman, Stacci Sastre Reed, Tyler Cross, André Reissig, Dwight Cenac, Brian Kahrs
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s a fun energy to Joe Davison’s AS NIGHT FALLS that cannot be denied. It’s no doubt that this film was most likely a lot of fun to work on, and the actors involved seem to be having a blast battling ghost zombies from a haunted pit, but while the energy is infectious, I wish a little of that energy would have been put into the story.
AS NIGHT FALLS starts out in the past with a little girl fleeing and finally succumbing to some kind of unseen horror, and then flashes forward to the future where a family who live on the same property begin to experience weird phenomena that culminates in a battle royale with ghosts, zombies, demons, swords, rock music, and vans.
Sure, this sounds like a lot of fun, and on some level of low budget filmmaking appreciation it is. But while this film is clever and funny sometimes (especially in terms of script), AS NIGHT FALLS makes the mistake of thinking it’s too clever and funny as well which is never a good thing. I loved the riffs the lead rocker and the sheriff brother were having with each other as they challenge and question each other’s masculinity, but the scene goes on way too long and there are too many scenes like this in the rest of the film.
The resolution of the film is anything but with this film feeling almost like the prelude to the movie Davison wants to raise funds to make with the thought-defeated family of zombie ghosts rising again for a battle royale and a small child being abducted, causing the cadre of heroes to leap into a van and drive it into a mysterious well that leads to the nether realms.
While the lead heroine is hot, some of the other heroes are kind of funny some of the time, and there are badass elements of gore, swordplay, and rock and roll, AS NIGHT FALLS ends up being a rather pointless demo reel to help seed funds for a bigger budgeted movie. The thing I think that was forgotten was that this movie has to be good first in order to make that next one..
New this week on DVD, BluRay, Video On Demand!
JUNKIE (2012)Directed by Adam Mason
Written by Adam Mason, Simon Boyes
Starring Robert LaSardo, Daniel Louis Rivas, Tess Panzer, Tomas Boykin, Andrew Howard, Caroline Guivarch, Ian Duncan, Sara Rivas, Julia Sandberg Hansson, Charisse Sanzo, Sarah Uslan
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
As with CRAWLSPACE, JUNKIE is a film which feels somewhat derivative of other iconic films, especially FIGHT CLUB and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. And again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that since it gives nods to other films it’s not worth checking out.
Vividly filmed as if through a grimy lens with surprisingly bright colors, JUNKIE feels like an actual drug-induced haze at times. Though the film mostly takes place inside a ramshackle house filled with labyrinthine rooms, dirty dishes, roaches, unpainted walls, and barely intact furniture, director Adam Mason makes it all feel like an expansive and mind-bending trip with an assortment of colors and multiple creative angles to gaze at them. The camera darts around the scene like a gnat with IBS searching for a bathroom, and anyone who gets exhausted by that type of MTV style in yo’ face camerawork are going to find themselves overwhelmed quickly.
The story follows Danny (Daniel Louis Rivas), who wakes up one day and decides to get off the drugs and go sober. His roommate and brother Nicky (Robert LaSardo) thinks that is a bad idea and urges his brother to call his dealer and get more drugs for them to enjoy. That’s at least what the filmmakers want the viewer to believe here, but as the running time goes on, it’s unclear whether or not Nicky exists or is actually a product of Danny’s own drug-addled brainpan. As people float in and out of the apartment akin to a sitcom, Danny and Nicky fight back and forth as to whether or not he should jump back on the horse or not.
That’s the main conflict of the film, and if this were two guys sitting in a room shouting “Yay drugs!”/”Boo drugs!” back and forth to one another, this would be one hell of a boring film. But Mason doesn’t do that. Instead he keeps things spinning as everything in Danny’s world is filled with jagged angles, intense characters coming in and out of his life, and colors that are so vivid it almost makes one’s eyes bleed. Mason does a great job of conveying the viewer into the place of Danny, who is slowly losing his mind while fighting his addiction.
Daniel Louis Rivas does a great job as Danny as he conveys a sad desperation quite capably. But the real standout is Robert LaSardo. You know this actor. You’ve seen him in a ton of films. His whole body is covered in tats and he looks like the devil incarnate. Definitely someone you don’t want to fuck with. As Nicky, though, LaSardo is able to show that he actually has a lot of acting skill under all of those tattoos as he switches from likable to threatening to sympathetic and back again (sometimes in the same scene) and does so with ease. Here LaSardo shows he’s got better acting chops than most action movie stars today, specifically the entire cast of THE EXPENDABLES. I’d love for this actor to get a break and have a badass actioner centered on just him being a badass.
Toss in a meth-head zombie wandering around the apartment and multiple murders, and this quirky slice of drug cinema fits well into the category of horror, though I could see some folks objecting that it is featured here. Though it vividly depicts the horrors of drugs, there are enough genre elements to pique any regular reader of this column’s interests.
JUNKIE isn’t a comfortable trip, but it definitely feels like an accurate depiction of the hyper-aware,semi-reality one may experience while using/recovering from drugs. Filled with bizarre imagery, eccentric performances, and a non-linear story structure, JUNKIE feels like it is filmed in the same house as Jack and Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB and may be riddled with all forms of drugs and states of consciousness as with REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but the performances by its stars and the trippy trip they take throughout this film is distinct. I’m interested in seeing what Adam Mason has in store for us, given his capable handling of this film.
New on DVD this week from IFC Midnight!
GRABBERS (2012)Directed by Jon Wright
Written by Kevin Lehane
Starring Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Lalor Roddy, David Pearse, Bronagh Gallagher, Pascal Scott, Clelia Murphy, Louis Dempsey, Micheál O'Gruagain, Ned Dennehy
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Horror films that take themselves seriously are great. I love it when winks and nods to the audience are shunned and you get a film that concentrates more on tingling your spine and actually experiencing the thrill of fear. But I also know that not all horror has to be this way. Sometimes, you just have to have fun, and shining that fun through the lens of horror is as good as any way to go. GRABBERS, for instance, shines that fun brightly, setting its luminosity on blinding in terms of laughs and horror set against the backdrop of those classic monster run amok movies of old.
Most of this fun comes in the form of the premise, which is most definitely contrived, but also leading to a whole bunch of comedic moments you don’t normally see in horror films. Much like SHAUN OF THE DEAD and, more recently, THE WORLD’S END, where the cast imbibes alcohol in order to deal with the horrors around them, through a series of wonky events the humans living in the small Irish fishing village which is being overrun by multi-tentacled space squid uncover a weakness in this otherworldly menace—namely, alcohol-laced blood. While the grabbers are out for the humans’ blood, blood mixed with alcohol kills them, so what do the humans do? They get shit-faced, of course!
Seeing the cast, among them lightweight non-drinker Ruth Bradley who plays Garda, take on the interstellar beasts out of their mind squiffy on suds is a beauty to behold. Laughs aplenty come right and left as these drunk geezers and geezettes, impaired in their thinking by the drinking, try one bone-headed scheme after another to get rid of the menace. A comedy of errors, this one is a winner. I found myself laughing quite a bit at the drunk cast who were either really shit-faced or do a damn fine job of acting it throughout the entire second half of this film.
Jon Wright directs from a clever script by Kevin Lehane, both of which make sure to include classic monster film tropes such as the initial landing of the beastie in the middle of the ocean via comet (reminiscent of THE BLOB), the discovery of the monster by some crab fishermen, and the all-out rampage of the giant monsters through the town (reminiscent of giant monster movies of old and GREMLINS as baby squiddly-diddlies terrorize the town as well). Sure, the premise has been used before, but douse it with alcohol and it turns out to be a damn fresh take. There’s not a lot of scares throughout the film, but there are some fantastic and thrilling sequences of drunken adventure as the cast stumble and bumble around to save the day. The CG effects with the wriggly creatures are well done, too.
Seek this out for some damn fine comedic performances by the aforementioned Bradley, as well as Lalor Roddy as the town drunk who ends up being the key to everyone’s survival, Russell Tovey as a nerdy scientist who finds he rather likes liquor, and an especially great performance by unlikely hero Richard Coyle, who is normally drunk on the job as a cop but stays sober in order to maintain the peace among the sauced up township. All in all, you’re bound to get a whole lot of laughs, especially if you drink right along with the cast while watching this one with friends. GRABBERS doesn’t take itself seriously, but not all horror has to do so in order to be worth checking out.
Advance Review: In theaters January 19, 2014
FATEFUL FINDINGS (2013)Directed by Neil Breen
Written by Neil Breen
Starring Neil Breen, Danielle Andrade, Jennifer Autry, Brianna Borden, Klara Landrat
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Fans of the cinema of the strange, rejoice! Move over THE ROOM. Make way MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE. There’s a new contender for the crown of bad movies.
FATEFUL FINDINGS begins with a pair of kids roaming through the countryside and happening upon a mushroom that turns into a trinket box holding a lucky stone and a pile of other gems. It’s a magical day for the kids. We know this not only just because they happen upon this morphing mushroom, but because the kids say it…twice. And then they write it down in a journal and show it to the camera just in case we didn’t get it the first two times. Now, in terms of child actors, these kids are pretty bad, but I’ve been known to look past child actors because a) they don’t have the insight or the knowhow to offer up anything but what their directors tell them and b) they usually don’t know any better. The problem is that the cardboard performances of the kids were a precursor for the true curiosity of cinema that was to come.
“I have a damn master’s degree…in computer science…and I turn out to be a writer…of NOVELS!”
I had a chance to see Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM a while back and while I admire the fact that the guy has made a career out of making one god-awful movie into some kind of cult phenomenon, I still can’t forgive the man for making the movie itself. Wiseau seems to have made a name for himself acting like the film was made intentionally bad, but I fear that the truth is that the guy just doesn’t understand how to make a film and is now trying to make up for it like that fat kid who falls in gym and then acts like he meant to do so.
”He is very weak…semi-comatose. It’s very serious.”
I mention THE ROOM and Tommy Wiseau because I think I have found his long lost and equally cinematically-challenged brother; a man by the name of Neil Breen. Like Wiseau, Breen not only wrote, directed, and edited his film FATEFUL FINDINGS, but he stars in the film as well. And like Wiseau who seems to not understand one thing about cinematic storytelling as evidenced by THE ROOM, Breen has stepped up and made the perfect double feature to be shown with the film as his understanding of how a story is told is truly something alien to me and anyone else with half a good sense of taste.
”I have great family genes…but I’m still a man.”
I don’t have enough space here to go into all of the problems with FATEFUL FINDINGS. I’ll start with the acting which is pretty bad, but made worse by the awful editing which allows way too much space in between lines with actors seemingly speaking as if they were all in a Lynchian dream. The thing is, with Lynch, when his actors talk in this slow and spaced out manner, it’s meant to cause a level of dream-like, other-worldly unease. He’s setting a tone. Here it’s just bad editing—as if Breen has never observed, participated in, or listened to a real conversation in his life. The robotic tone everyone has in this movie befuddles me, it’s as if they are reading from a script written in another language and sounding it out phonetically.
”I’m going to continue hacking into these government systems…to see what I can find out…about all of this national AND international corruption that I know is going on.”
The story is all over the place and nowhere at once. Breen’s character is hit by a car but the magic stone he found as a child somehow heals him. His wife becomes addicted to his pain pills. His best friend is in a sexless marriage and has a daughter who creepily flirts with Breen. There’s a bizarre lovemaking session where Breen throws computers and papers all over the place for way too long. Breen occasionally drifts off to a nightmare room lined with trash bags. Much like Zoolander, Breen seems to have a problem with books and computers as he likes to throw them around the room when he is frustrated. People come and go for no reason. Things happen for no reason. Plot points come up and then are forgotten only to bob up for air forty minutes later. If it weren’t for the fact that it feels like everyone is reading directly from cue cards, I’d think there was no script at all.
“I can’t believe you committed suicide, Jim. I can’t believe it. I can’t help you out of this one Jim.”
Now it very well could be that Breen intentionally set out to make this a bad film to rival the likes of THE ROOM. If that was his intention, well, he’s got a winner on his hands and this guy is a genius because it’s equal in almost every way to Wiseau’s film (minus the sex scenes). Breen has tapped into some kind of other-worldly code that follows the same formula as Wiseau, but making some kind of alien film for people who have never seen human culture, starring people who don’t act human. The film seems ego driven as Breen casts himself as the hero hacking into government files, a loverboy rekindling his marriage only to fall in love with his childhood sweetheart and have his best friend’s daughter fawn all over him, and in the end a savior for releasing all of that top secret information to the public. In this film, he’s the man everyone wants to be, everyone wants to admire, and every woman wants to be with (despite the fact that he’s at the very least twenty years older than the actresses, including the thirty-something actress who is supposed to be his same age).
”I resign today as president…of the Bank. We were all under pressure to operate under a deceiving way…and cheat the customer. Goodbye.” BANG!
FATEFUL FINDINGS ends with a bunch of people committing suicide and dammit if I wasn’t tempted by the time the credits rolled. Given a decent edit and deletion of repetitious scenes, this 100 minute film could actually clock in at a tight 75. But I doubt even that could save it. While FATEFUL FINDINGS might be marketed as an intentionally bad film, I think that’s giving the film way too much credit. FATEFUL FINDINGS may very well be the next big cult classic in bad cinema. There are cinephiles that eat this stuff up. They get high or drunk or both, gather a few friends, and treat shit like Shakespeare. If that’s your thing, you’re going to have a field day absorbing this uncanny and alien world Breen has put forth upon the screen. You only have until January 19th 2014 to wait for FATEFUL FINDINGS. Let it be known that I gave the world its warning.
Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!
DISCOPATH (2013)aka DISCOPATHE
Directed by Renaud Gauthier, Marie-Claire Lalonde
Written by Renaud Gauthier
Starring Jérémie Earp-Lavergne, Catherine Antaki, François Aubin, Sandrine Bisson, Nancy Blais, Catherine Castellucci, Katherine Cleland, Ivan Freud, Sibylle Gauthier, Francesca Gosselin, Nicolas Laliberté, Pierre Lenoir, Mathieu Lepage, Christian Paul
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Holy cow, I loved this film!
Set in 1976, DISCOPATH opens with an homage to the New York we have grown accustomed to from films like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and Scorcese’s films of that era, with a Brooklyn boy working in a pizza shop being distracted by a gaggle of kids who walk in with disco music playing on their radio. When he is fired for lazing on the job, he skips over to the local roller park and meets a sweet gal. The film feels like it’s going to be one of those quirky slice of lifers set in a specific era, but soon derails into one of the most entertaining serial killer films I’ve seen in ages.
Much like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, where the lead character is sent off the deep end when events in the present cause deep-seated psychosis to erupt in the present day, DISCOPATH substitutes Santa with disco music with similar results. While the reasons for the deranged killer’s derangement are revealed midway in the film, it’s pretty evident early on that Duane Lewis (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) is pretty nuts from minute one and the level of goofy serial killer mayhem reaches comically monumental levels by the film’s end.
Jérémie Earp-Lavergne looks like a slightly less wooden Hayden Christensen and has a lot of his mannerisms, which actually adds to the creepy quality the character exudes. His reactions to the disco beats are sometimes comical (such as donning a nun’s costume in order to hide out) and sometimes unbelievably disturbing, as he is shown later in the film dancing in his secret lair nude and covered in blood with two severed heads. There’s also a subtle and creepy effect used here as Lewis’ eyes become completely dilated, causing his eyes to look completely black in times of his super serial killer rampages.
DISCOPATH feels like a true throwback to the 80’s when horror was simpler and all it took was some childhood trauma to push a guy to kill. The unconventional narrative switches gears midway as Lewis flees to Canada after his first spree and the time jumps four years to 1980, when Lewis is pushed over the edge again. As if the locale and time shifts weren’t jarring enough, the film all of a sudden is subtitled in French for the latter half of the film. But while I might fault some films for this shift in tone, locale, and even era, it adds to the charm DISCOPATH exudes like a thickly layered cologne on a crowded dance floor.
What I love about this film is the reckless abandon that occurs in terms of gore. It isn’t enough that Lewis stabs a woman in the wrist with a knife. He later rips the hand clean off. A beheading is too boring in and of itself; it’s better to desecrate the bodies and shove multiple records into the torsos. And the scene where Lewis rams a hearse and the dead body topples out of it is going to put you through the roof. It did so for me, especially when the slo mo shot makes sure to highlight some mysterious blood coming from the corpse’s crotch…
This film with satisfy retro-freaks and gore hounds, and pretty much anyone who loves the over the top takes on slashers that went on in the eighties. Rhyme and reason is thrown out as this simple-minded serial killer goes on a simple-minded rampage with genius results. Those of you who wish they could go back in time and destroy the Disco Era now have a film to idolize. Set to all sorts of painfully awesome disco music (especially an inspired use of the song “I Was Made For Loving You, Baby”), DISCOPATH is fun from kooky start to its absolutely batshit finish.
No word yet when this film is going to be released, but it is making the festival circuit and should be sought out then it boogies near you.
And finally…I loved this twisted farce on a tried and true fear. This blood drenched short is a verifiable messterpiece and one I couldn’t wait to share with you guys after seeing it. Behold, Darren Callahan’s UNDER THE TABLE!
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.
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!