AICN HORROR looks at THANATOMORPHOSE! THE UPPER FOOTAGE! NOSFERATU! I AM ZOZO! RAW CUT! SANGUIVOROUS! & other big scary words!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we’ve got retro-plagues, retro-vampires, retro-zombies, retro-ghosts, retro-gangs, retro-robots, and a couple of modern horrors as well. Let’s dive in!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR (1922)
Retro-review: THE TWILIGHT ZONE Box Set: Season 5 Episodes 22-29 (1963-64)
Retro-review: VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)
Retro-Review: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
CAESAR& OTTO’S DEADLY X-MAS (2012)
HOUSE OF GHOSTS (2012)
I AM ZOZO (2012)
UPPER: THE UPPER FOOTAGE (2013)
Advance Review: RAW CUT (2013)
Advance Review: THANATOMORPHOSE (2013)
And finally…Ferran Brooks’ M IS FOR MALTHUSIANISM!
Retro-review: Kino Classics’ 2-Disk Deluxe Remastered Edition!
NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR (1922)Directed by F.W. Murnau
Written by Henrik Galeen
Starring Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Alexander Granach, Greta Schroeder
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
As a kid, I didn’t know anything about classic horror. I knew the schlock I saw on Saturday Afternoon Horror Shows and Midnight Movie Macabres. So when I first saw clips of the film NOSFERATU set to Queen’s “Under Pressure” I was both mesmerized and scared shitless at this vampire the likes of which I had never seen and the most horrifically beautiful dance of lights and darks.
Since then, I’ve seen NOSFERATU probably ten or so times, but never have I seen it so clearly and gorgeously presented as it is in this new remastered edition from Kino Lorber. You can choose whether to have the restored original German version (with English subtitles, which was the version I chose to watch for the purpose of this review) or the standard English version. But that’s just the beginning of the tons of featured this BluRay set has in store for you.
The film itself is presented in a newly remastered format from the original print. Watching it feels like I was seeing a brand new movie with the images more clearer than ever before. The few scenes of daylight are vivid and rich while the many scenes of darkness are fathomable and full of black abysses instead of the nightmarish shadows previous versions I’ve seen had. Hans Erdmann’s original and haunting score has never sounded better in this new format. In addition to the film itself, this new presentation also sports a documentary made in 2007 called THE LANGUAGE OF SHADOWS which focuses on Murnau’s iconic use of lights and darks in great detail. Extended bits from Murnau’s other films JOURNEY INTO THE NIGHT, THE HAUNTED CASTLE, PHANTOM, THE FINANCES OF THE GRAND DUKE, THE LAST LAUGH, TARTUFFE, FAUST, and TABU (none of which I have seen) are previewed in the extras making me wish Kino Lorber will take the time to remaster those lost treasures as well some day.
I guess I should mention the story, though no self-respecting horror fan shouldn’t know it by now. This unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA is a bare bones retelling of the classic story with many of the subplots and tertiary characters omitted entirely, focusing mainly on Orlok, Hutter, and his wife Ellen. Hutter is sent from the fictitious German city of Wisborg to Transylvania to sell Count Orlok a home by his crazy boss Knock which lays beside Hutter’s own home. This inadvertently brings Orlok close to Hutter’s wife Ellen who Orlok has become enamored with. After barely surviving an encounter with Orlok in his castle, Hutter races back to Wisborg, trying to beat Orlok who travels travels by schooner to the town and stopping him from both unleashing a plague onto the city and enthralling his wife Ellen.
Two things make NOSFERATU one of the most effective vampire films ever made. The first is Max Shreck’s iconic performance as the walking carnivorous cadaver Count Orlok. His stiff armed walk and the way every angle of his body is extended into points (such as his ears, eyes, nose, eyebrows, and teeth) make him the scariest vampire ever to make its way onto the screen. The second being Murnau’s use of shadows to projected onto walls and across people as well as silhouetted forms of Orlok in entranceways which elevate so many of the scenes in this film to such an iconic status. Murnau’s attention to all things gothic are seen not only into the castle spires and entranceways, but in more serene scenes of Ellen on the beach, surrounded by askew tombstones and crosses.
A few observations about the film itself;
What’s up with Hutter’s creepy ass boss Knock with the wooden teeth who laughs maniacally into Hutter’s face when he sends him on his way to Transylvania? Sure he’s this version of the story’s Renfield, I guess, and most likely under Orlok’s thrall, but he seems to be cut of the type of nutzo that would never be able to manage a business.
The symbolic appearance of the hyena attacking the horses early on indicates that Murnau really did understand symbolism on a level that was before his time. Though the threat of the advancing plague is often seen as a symbol of Orlok’s impending threat, the appearance of the wolf-like creature, which was most likely uncommon to most viewers at the time, is an early indication of horrors to come.
I always found it weird that Orlok was his own chauffeur and that Hutter never really noticed that the bald, pale driver with the pointed nose and long fingernails looked a lot like his host. Times must be tough for the Orloks that he has no staff to take care of the mansion, do the chores, load the coffins and do the driving. This makes Orlok, though a devious and conniving monster, a considerate monster for giving his intended prey a lift and Hutter a dim bulb for not noticing the obvious.
Orlok’s carriage always scared the living shit out of me and still does the way its rickety frame bounds through the countryside towards the castle. And speaking of filling my drawers, Count Orlok’s first entrance from the shadows is one of the most pants-shittingly scary entrances ever in cinema.
Another scene which always jarred me was the fast moving frames when Orlok is the way Orlok stacks the coffins onto the horse and buggy as he packs for his trip to Wisborg. Both the way Orlok carries the large boxes with such uncanny strength and the stop motion way the lid magically covers him up after entering it are utterly surreal.
Filled with scenes that will make your toes curl and your bones shiver, NOSFERATU is one of those film classics that holds up and gives me the heebies each and every time I watch it. This fantastic new presentation by Kino Lorber is a must buy for everyone and anyone who frequent this site. See it as it has never been seen before!
Retro-review: Collecting the entire series in a new Collector’s Box Set on DVD from Image Entertainment!
TWILIGHT ZONE SEASON 5
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Episodes 22-29 (1963-64)
So I kind of never finished my review of Seasons 4 & 5 of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but it just so happens that Image Entertainment is releasing the entire TWILIGHT ZONE series in a sweet box set and because I’m obsessive compulsive like that, I’ll be continuing my coverage to all of the episodes, continuing my series of reviews I started a few weeks ago. Set let’s take a trip back into THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season Five!
Episode 22: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Directed by Robert Enrico
Written by Robert Enrico, based on the short story by Ambrose Bierce
Starring Roger Jacquet, Anne Cornaly
This is one of the best, if not THE best TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, mainly because it is so different than any of the others. While most of the episodes have a staged quality about them, this one is filmed out in the open hills and forests. The cinematography is advanced as well, as things don’t seem to be the standard two camera shots you usually get. Team that with a powerful story by Ambrose Bierce and you’ve got a winner on your hands. This is one of the first times TWILIGHT ZONE went outside of their own house and took this short film from an international film festival, which explains why it feels so different. I kind of wish TZ would have done that more often, as it would have gotten the series out of the rut of repetitious plots it often found itself in. As is, this desperate dream of a man who is about to be hanged is truly the entire series’ highlight.
Episode 23: Queen of the Nile
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Jerry Sohl
Starring Ann Blyth, Lee Philips, Celia Lovsky, Frank Ferguson
I found this episode to be rather blah, mainly because from the get go you know what the “big twist” is going to be. While the performances are ok, Lee Phillips is a bit overzealous as a news reporter investigating an anomaly as a cinematic star (played by Ann Blyth) doesn’t seem to be aging. Sure, it was a different time and there have to be accommodations because of the half hour format, but Phillips’ breaching of ethical boundaries happens way too quickly as he falls head over heels for this mysterious starlet.
Episode 24: What’s in the Box?
Directed by Richard L. Bare
Written by Martin M. Goldsmith
Starring William Demarest, Joan Blondell, Sterling Holloway, Herbert Lytton
WOW! Seeing MY THREE SONS’ Uncle Charlie (William Demarest) as an abusive husband kind of rocked my world. Joan Blondell plays Demarest’s punching bag (and gets some good licks in there herself) in this story about a television that predicts a violent and abusive end to a relationship that has a rocky foundation to begin with. The knock-down drag-out fight between Demarest and Blondell is a sight to behold as it appears the aging actors actually seemed to do their own stunts here. It’s impressive and disturbing all at once and a scary commentary on the way marriage used to be.
Episode 25: The Masks
Directed by Ida Lupino
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Robert Keith, Milton Selzer, Virginia Gregg, Alan Sues, Brooke Hayward, Bill Walker, Willis Bouchey
Quite possibly my favorite all time TWILIGHT ZONE episode just because of the coolness factor of it all. Rod Serling’s own twist on “If you make that face long enough, it’s going to stick that way!” is a morbid and macabre story involving a dying father, his greedy family, Mardi Gras, and a carton full of masks. The designs alone of the masks are creepy, but the special effects take this one to a whole new level of fear. As usual, Serling writes arguments like few others with sharp remarks full of tooth and venom, but occasionally the wordplay gets a little heavy. The twisted reveal is one that will definitely shock those who have never seen it before.
Episode 26: I Am the Night – Color Me Black
Directed by Abner Biberman
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Michael Constantine, Terry Becker, Paul Fix, Ivan Dixon, George Lindsey
Serling makes a bit of a metacommentary here about race relations which seems as real as the time it was made, with the only fantastical element being that a racially charged town wakes up to find the sun never rose and threatens never to rise again. On occasion, some of the most powerful TZ episodes serve as a warped view of our own world, and this one is definitely admirable in regards to its efforts and unconventional way of telling a story as it doesn’t follow the bigot, but follows the white man who killed the bigot and is now facing execution. A smart and complicated twist to a complex issue and another good episode showing mainly the dark side, but also a hint of good in humanity.
Episode 27: Sounds and Silences
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Rod Serling
Starring John McGiver, Penny Singleton, Michael Fox, Francis Defales, Bill Benedict, Renee Aubry
One of thee more goofier episodes revolving around a grumpy owner of a miniature ship shop who grew up in a house that demanded silence and now lives as loudly as he possibly can. When his hearing becomes so sensitive that a drip from a leaky faucet sounds like an explosion, we watch him slowly go mad for the rest of the episode. Everything from the acting to the ridiculous torment the manager goes through is over the top and played for comical effect. This was not my favorite episode, mainly as it’s tone feels more LOONY TUNES than TWILIGHT ZONE.
Episode 28: Caesar and Me
Directed by Robert Butler
Written by Adele T. Strassfield
Starring Jackie Cooper, Suzanne Cupito, Sarah Selby, Olan Soule
When I spoke of repetition earlier, I was talking about themes Serling often went to over and over again, but in this episode, they dusted off the dummy from the episode called “The Dummy” and placed him in this story of a weak willed man and a manipulative doll. While I prefer “The Dummy”, this episode does have a pitch black tone and has some creepy imagery such as the doll walking across the room and moving around on its own. Most likely this episode was influential not only to the Batman villain The Ventriloquist and Scarface (as the dummy has a scar on his cheek just like the one in the comic), but also to killer doll films like CHILD’S PLAY years later. A dummy with such an effect is worth using twice in one series.
Episode 29: The Jeopardy Room
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Martin Landau, John Van Dreelen, Robert Kelljan
The final episode of the week is a tale of intrigue about a Russian man (Martin Landau) who is visited by a mysterious stranger (John Van Dreelen). We’re told that someone will be dead by the end of the episode, but it’s how he meets his end that makes this claustrophobic tale interesting. The simplicity of this episode, as it is mainly one man in a room, is what makes it most effective, but of course the expert pacing of the script (by Serling) and a fledgling Richard Donner learning his craft of filmmaking are what makes this episode work. Trapped in a booby trapped room, Landau is fantastic as he fears triggering it, though he doesn’t know where or what the booby trap is. Though this installment doesn’t reach the emotional peaks of Shatner in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, this is a tense little number.
Season 4, Episodes 4.1-4.5
Season 5, Episodes 5.1-5.7
Season 5, Episodes 5.8-5.14
Season 5, Episodes 5.15-5.21
Retro-review: New on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION BluRay Box Set!
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles Beaumont (screenplay), R. Wright Campbell (screenplay), Edgar Allan Poe (original story)
Starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Skip Martin, Julian Burton, Gaye Brown, Verina Greenlaw, Doreen Dawn, Brian Hewlett
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Most assuredly the most artsy of all of Corman’s Poe adaptations, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a thrilling masterpiece of sin and color. Though much of the Poe adaptations are elaborate and beautifully shot, it seems Corman wanted this film to make some kind of statement in terms of how vivid, bright, and disturbing his colors could get.
Price is especially good here as Prince Prospero, a pompous ass of a man who sees the world and everyone in it as his own plaything. The film opens with Prospero showing he doesn’t give a fig about anyone in the village he princes over and his lack of respect with everyone be they noble or peasant is evidenced throughout. Price is at his sinister best here as he orders those he has deemed worthy to join him in his castle while a plague wipes out the country side to act as animals during a dinner party and playfully fires his crossbows at anyone who dare show up fashionably late.
The rest of the cast is amazing as well as Patrick Magee (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) plays an evil character as well, in Alfredo who would be the big bad in any movie if not for the fact that Price’s Prospero is a more diabolical shit. Magee’s conniving sneer is executed well and his final moments in the film are by far the most haunting as he receives his penance for the sins he gleefully enacts upon the weak. The gorgeous Jane Asher plays the peasant girl Francesca who catches Prospero’s eye and is spared from the plague only to be tormented inside the castle walls. And Skip Martin offers up a role reminiscent of Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister as a small person who is often ridiculed but proves he is a dangerous man to have as an enemy.
The party itself is full of debaucherous delights as the people dance and drink in brightly colored robes, gowns, and costumes through the vividly colored rooms. And while none of them really act like anything more than chess pieces to be manipulated, moved around, and knocked over whenever it amuses Prospero, they serve more as a symbol of his power and corruption than characters themselves.
The film ends with a lot of symbolism as a Prospero notices a red cloaked figure walking through the party and is upset as he has banned the color from the castle in response to the plague outside. Seeing Prospero desperately attempt to find out whom or what this red-cloaked person is will have you on the edge of your seat and while the payoff is highly symbolic, it is a resolution that reeks of poetic justice. And while I always felt the very end of the film as men in robes colored to represent the different plagues through the ages was a bit too obtuse for my tastes, I can’t help but be in awe of the imagery of it all. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is Price at his villainous best and contains a climax more shocking than most in this collection.
And look here for my WITCHFINDER GENERAL review, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and PIT AND THE PENDULUM and THE HAUNTED PALACE, 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.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)aka THE ANDERSON ALAMO, THE SIEGE
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter
Starring Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis Kyes, Peter Bruni, John J. Fox, Marc Ross, Alan Koss, Henry Brandon, Kim Richards
Retro-rviewed by Ambush Bug
ASSAULT OF PRECINT 13 is Carpenter doing what Carpenter does best before we found out this is the only type of story Carpenter seems able to tell. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, but everything one would expect from a Carpenter film is front and center, making this film interesting as a glimpse into the early development of a filmmaker but somewhat ponderous in regards to the filmmakers’ seeming lack of attempt to tell a different type of tale.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A bunch of different types of characters are trapped in a secluded place, cut off from the rest of the world, and picked off one by one by dark forces on the outside and some coming from within. Quick quiz: which John Carpenter film is this? A) GHOSTS OF MARS B) THE THING C) PRINCE OF DARKNESS D) THE FOG E) ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 F) VAMPIRES G) ALL OF THE ABOVE. If you answered G, you’re right, but ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 gets points, I guess, for being the first.
An LA police building is shutting down and a police officer (Austin Stoker) is assigned to be part of the skeleton crew to watch over the place on its last night. Earlier in the week, a group of gang members were gunned down by the police, causing a mass gathering of all of the street gangs to stage a war against the police, and a bus full of inmates makes an emergency stop at the closed-down precinct in need of refuge. All of these factors set the stage for a massive standoff between the gangs outside and the mixing of inmates, police officers, and civilian office workers inside.
What Carpenter does right is setting the stage perfectly for war. This really does seem like a situation dripping with tension and makes for a gritty setup that feels as if the stakes are raised as every second of the film passes. Carpenter’s score is, as usual, simplistic synth, but the repetitious sound of it makes for a slow and steady metronome that causes the nerves to stand on end. This is another common factor that Carpenter excels at: providing just enough simplistic sound to cause unease. It’s a sound that feels like Carpenter has the power to hear his own viewers’ heartbeat and play it out in music on the screen in front of them.
The acting is not the best, but there are some gritty and real performances here of note, mostly coming from the heroic Austin Stoker as the police officer and the noble but flawed inmate, Darwin Joston. They have a nice rapport throughout and are the most interesting folks in the room. The rest of the cast do a decent job. There’s even the midguided office worker who falls for the convict, seeing through the trappings of law in a bit of an over-romanticized detail to the story, but the tension is so well played here, I can look past it.
The annoying part of ASSAULT is that the gang members are given no character at all. They may as well be alien Nazi zombies for all we know, as the only part they play in the story is slinking around in the shadows, shooting at a building, breaking through windows and barricades, and being shot and killed. Something the remake did right was give the gangs a bit of character, but none of that is shown here, which is distressing because the impetus of this whole film hinges on their outrage at the deaths of some of their own at the hands of the cops.
So while the film seems to be unevenly interested in the ones who are trapped rather than the threat outside, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is a fun look at what is to come. Though I couldn’t help but be frustrated that Carpenter goes back to this well so often, seeing him do it for the first time was entertaining.
New this week on DVD and Video on Demand from MVD Visual!
CAESAR & OTTO’S DEADLY X-MAS (2012)Directed by Dave Campfield
Written by Dave Campfield & Joe Randazzo
Starring Dave Campfield, Paul Chomicki, Deron Miller, Ken MacFarlane, Linnea Quigley, Summer Ferguson, Scott Aguilar, Avi K. Garg, Samantha Barrios, Robin Ritter, Joe Estevez, Lloyd Kaufman, Debbie Rochon, Felissa Rose, Brinke Stevens, Robert Z’Dar
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having watched CAESAR & OTTO’S SUMMER CAMP MASSACRE just a few short months ago, I have to say I am impressed with the leap in quality this film accomplishes from one film to the next. Writer/director/Caesar actor Dave Campfield does a much better job with tightening the script here with CAESAR & OTTO’S DEADLY X-MAS, and while not all of the comedy hits it out of the park, it does have a much better batting average than its predecessor.
The film follows our lovable duo Caesar and Otto as the holiday season approaches. Attempting to make it big in Hollywood, Caesar continues to take low tier acting jobs as stand ins, background players, and in this film’s case department store Santas. Though it is not entirely original in concept, it’s Campfield’s chipper delivery which amps up the charm here. There’s also a nice subplot about Otto catching up with an old flame, and Caesar’s bumbling cohort always is worth a chortle or two as he inadvertently thwarts Caesar’s complex schemes for super stardom.
Don’t expect miracles from the acting department. But do expect cameos from Joe Estevez (Martin’s brother), Lloyd (TROMA) Kaufman, Debbie Rochon, Felissa (SLEEPAWAY CAMP) Rose, Brinke Stevens, Robert (MANIAC COP) Z’Dar, and Linnea Quigley, who reenacts her death scene from SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. This film serves as a regular Sunday afternoon at a comic convention autograph booth with the amount of B- to Z-listers showing up, but good for them for getting work.
The horror comes from a demented lunatic in a Santa costume who is checking off everyone who skipped attending Caesar’s holiday party, among others. Though relatively bloodless, there are a few scenes of gore that play for laughs rather than winces and work most of the time (especially the aforementioned SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT homage). This film does serve to homage quite a few horror films of old that are set during the Christmas season (everything from sequels of SNDN to Pheobe Cates’ Santa story in GREMLINS is referenced), and it’s this self-awareness that brings most of the charm here.
Again, this is low budget and campy to the nth degree, but having seen the last Caesar and Otto romp and this one, the improvements made to the script, directing, and most importantly the tightening of the bolts making up the comedy pairing of Caesar and Otto themselves have me looking forward to the comedy duo’s next adventure. Caesar and Otto, like Abbot and Costello and Tenacious D before them, are always an entertaining comedy duo to watch and bring a lot of genuine humor to the horror genre--a genre that needs to laugh at itself from time to time.
Available on DVD here!!
HOUSE OF GHOSTS (2012)Directed by Christopher R. Mihm
Written by Christopher R. Mihm
Starring Mike Cook, Justen Overlander, Michael Kaiser, Sid Korpi, Mark Scanlan, Stephanie Mihm, James Norgard, Catherine Hansen, Andrew Wilkins, Mark Haider, Anthony Kaczor, Christopher R. Mihm
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Christopher R. Mihm offers up another retro-gem with HOUSE OF GHOSTS, which has the writer/directed channeling his inner William Castle. The DVD itself comes with a Fear Shield to cover your eyes with if the terrors within the film become too frightful for the viewer. It’s little details like this that makes me respect Mihm’s talent both as a filmmaker and a captor of nostalgia whose trapping skills seem to be unparalleled in modern horror.
The story follows a group of people meeting in an old dark house, the setting for many a ghost story, and that’s what Mihm plays on so well. Because we have seen this scenario time and time again, it makes the film all the more gripping. The group performs a sort of séance and end up seemingly ripping a hole into the afterlife and summoning ghosts, ghouls, and even the Angel of Death.
While homage filmmakers such as Mihm might be laughed off by “serious” horror film fanatics, HOUSE OF GHOSTS seems bent on proving to the critics that Mihm’s stories can be scary, as this film is filled with bizarre and twisted imagery that is genuinely frightening. From a simple skeleton in a wig to a floating dog to a giant monster demon mask, Mihm’s direction adds a level of tension and terror to objects and situations that would otherwise be comical. For some reason, be it the situation, the actors involved, or just Mihm’s crisp direction, HOUSE OF GHOSTS works as a thriller on its own.
In my opinion, HOUSE OF GHOSTS is my favorite of Mihm’s films that I’ve seen so far. In terms of scenes of actual fear, the level of artistry and creativity in terms of effects, and the potency of story all factor in to make this film not only an homage to a scary movie, but a scary movie itself. While the humorous tone is there, it’s not as front and center as in other of Mihm’s films like THE GIANT SPIDER (reviewed here) and ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES (reviewed here), which amps up the effectiveness of the scares as well. Still campy, HOUSE OF GHOSTS makes me wonder how Mihm would tackle a more modern and straight up serious horror film.
New this week on DVD!
I AM ZOZO (2012)Directed by Scott Di Lalla
Written by Scott Di Lalla
Starring Kelly McLaren, Courtney Foxworthy, Demetrius Sager, Caleb Courtney, Caleb Debattista, Darren Wayne Evans, John Vejvoda
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A crafty handling of mood and atmosphere saves I AM ZOZO from being a complete waste of time, but still, it’s no WITCHBOARD.
Ouija boards never really scared me, mostly because knowing the fact that the board is mass-produced and put out by Parker Brothers takes away from the authenticity a bit. Sure, most spirit board films attempt to gloss over the availability of the item in question, but still, having people move around a little pointer at a board and asking questions always seemed unbelievable to me. And since the only films I’ve seen tackling these subjects are 80s cheesefests like WITCHBOARD (which is bathed in cheddar, yet still remains awesome), I think that there has yet to be a Ouija board film that truly gave my spine a tingle. I AM ZOZO tries its damndest, though.
Flipping back and forth between a found footage film, a mock doc, and a cinematically filmed movie, I AM ZOZO doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. While I do like the grainy stock the film was shot on, it is never made clear if the handheld camera work is that of an unnamed third party or just the “eye of god” capturing all of this on tape. The best parts of the film by far are the snippets from previous poor souls who encountered a demon named Zozo in between the splinters of the board, as their behaviors and especially the pixilated faces of the people involved make for a really creepy vibe.
I AM ZOZO is about one particular demon who likes to enter the body via a Ouija board. It’s a terribly destructive force of evil, and one that definitely leaves its fair share of bodies in its wake. The problem is that none of the elements at play here goes far enough for Zozo to be a valid threat. I wish the filmmakers would have elaborated upon the mock doc segments or maybe played more with the found footage motif, as if pushed a bit further it may have deepened the impact of the events that happen in the last portion of the film as a group of kids are picked off one by one by an unseen force.
As is, this film feels like a noble effort to capture that “Cabin in the Woods” graininess of the original EVIL DEAD mixed with an IN SEARCH OF episode. While the hint of the right direction is there, it never really succeeds in taking it any further than a bunch of kids playing with a Parker Brothers game and then screaming around in the darkness.
New on DVD, Video on Demand, & iTunes!
PHOBIA (2013)Directed by Jon Keeyes
Written by Anne Gibson
Starring Erica Leerhsen, Chase Ryan Jeffery, Matthew Tompkins,
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Sprouting from the very ancient stages of modern psychology is PHOBIA, a thriller with a heavy leaning toward pop psychology and how it can be accurate and inaccurate when delving into the realm of the dark and supernatural.
PHOBIA focuses on Dr. Lesley Parker (Erica Leershen), who poses as a male student in order to attend a school of modern psychology in 1885 in France. There she meets a young Sigmund Freud (Matt Moore) and a handsome young man named Val Dracul (Chase Ryan Jeffery). In an assignment ripped straight from the headlines, Lesley and Sigmund find themselves investigating a recent string of murders that have been occurring in France that signify the presence of a vampire, as their necks have been torn open and their blood drained. Surely this isn’t the work of a supernatural beast of myth--or is it? The doctors in training believe it is a severely psychologically twisted madman who thinks he is such, but the closer they get to the case and the more Lesley becomes entranced by Val, the more they are willing to accept that vampires may well exist.
The strength of PHOBIA lies in the way the filmmakers walk the tightrope, toying with the viewer as to what is fact and what is myth. They keep the answers pretty close to the vest most of the way through, and just when you think you have this film figured out for what it is, it reveals a detail that flips the script entirely. While some hate this type of obvious manipulation of tone, if handled well, and here it is, the story can be quite compelling as it’s difficult to guess where this story will be going.
That said, there are some aspects of the film that frustrated me. While lead actress Erica Leershen’s beauty is never in question, the ability to convey some of the more dramatic beats feels a bit out of her reach. She is capable in the film, but in comparison with some of the more talented cast members, it’s difficult to believe her performance in key moments, lessening the impact of the whole story itself.
The only other thing this film is lacking in is the budget to really pull off some of the effects work. While this film attempts to do some fantastical things, it just doesn’t seem to be in this film’s price range and when they do go there, the low quality is obvious. Hell, while Matt Moore (the actor who played Freud) does a decent job with the character, the beard he wears is pretty bad and an obvious fake that makes his scenes hard to watch with a straight face.
That said, I really loved the locked room mystery that transpired late in the film. I feel if this portion of the film would have been stretched to encompass the entire film, it would have been a stronger film because of it. The moments where a cast of phobic folks are all put in a room together are writing gold and a scenario that could go in an infinite number of places. Unfortunately, this is just a section of the film, but it is definitely my favorite of all of the portions.
PHOBIA’s handling of the workings of the mind and Freudian themes are fun to see, since what was seen as revolutionary understanding of the human brain then are the stuff of today’s pop psychology. With a script that jumps and flips like a Mexican jumping bean on a trampoline, PHOBIA is an entertaining little whodunit, that might be low on effects, but it will definitely keep you guessing whether the blood-stained fangs are real or all just in your mind.
New from on Video on Demand and DVD from MVD Entertainment!
SANGUIVOROUS (2011)aka KYUKETSU
Directed by Naoki Yoshimoto
Written by Naoki Yoshimoto
Starring Masaya Adachi, Ayumi Kakizawa, Ko Murobushi, Mutsuko Yoshinaga
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though I didn’t plan it to be this way, it’s some kind of weird serendipitous occurrence that NOSFERATU and the subject of this review, SANGUIVOROUS, are being released in the same week. Both are mostly silent (SANGUIVOROUS has some sporadic dialog throughout) and both depict vivid and surreal imagery that is bound to cause all kinds of chills. Oh, yeah--they’re also both about blood suckers.
SANGUIVOROUS’ story is pretty simple. A young woman becomes seduced and turned into a vampire and goes through a period of time metamorphosing into one herself. There are a few other tiny details, but as far as story, that’s about it. But it’s really not the story that’s interesting here.
What’s interesting is the visual and audio assault your ear and eye holes are going to experience with this film. Writer/director Naoki Yoshimoto does an amazing job with mixed stocks of film, blown out and overexposed footage, montages of bizarre imagery, and strange-looking people convulsing, spasming, slinking through the shadows, and lurking in the darkness. This isn’t a film you really need to follow in terms of story. It’s a film you just sit back and soak in.
Specific scenes involving an elder vampire, mostly naked, thin, and pale are some of the most striking of the film. Old vampy shakes and twitches in a room filled with dark and rolls around on a floor covered in blood. Meanwhile, an innocent-looking Japanese girl continues to be seduced by the dark and toothy side, her pale skin contrasting well against the ebon sea around her. These are images that are sure to stand out and scratch a ditch into your brain that will be filled with nightmares later on.
SANGUIVOROUS is an art house film, and if you’re the type that rolls their eyes at the pretention and the pomp of avant-garde cinema, then head back up to NOSFERATU if you need a little more of a skeletal story structure to support your viewing. But just because you’re watching a film doesn’t mean you have to have a complete grip on it. Sometimes you just ride the experience. SANGUIVOROUS is one of those films that is tough to latch onto, but it sure does look pretty in an absolutely grotesque sort of way.
New this week on Video on Demand here!
UPPER: THE UPPER FOOTAGE (2013)Directed by Justin Cole
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
For those of you frustrated and overtaxed at the overabundance of found footage films out there, director Justin Cole brings something a bit more extravagant, a bit more real, and a bit more complex to the table with UPPER, aka THE UPPER FOOTAGE.
To talk about this film you’ve got to have a little setup, and UPPER begins with just that: a lengthy montage of clips from ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, news clips and clippings and other entertainment sources talking about an actual video posted on YouTube depicting a bunch of high class kids partying while a young girl overdoses in front of them. The mystery deepens as names, places, and events are revealed and everything seems pretty valid. We’re told people have left the country. Arrests have been made. Clips have mysteriously disappeared as fast as they are posted on the internet. Rumors of blackmail, cover up, and even big names like Quentin Tarantino buying the property then having cold feet to release it were tossed about. By the end of this five minute prep for the film, the filmmakers reveal that the first attempt to screen the film was blocked by protestors and other “devious forces” but now, for the first time ever, the footage will be seen…
The problem with UPPER is that the buildup and the hype around it is the most interesting part of the film. The lengths the creative team went to for over four years to pepper this story into the public consciousness is actually pretty impressive, and in a day and age when nothing on the internet can be believed, I have to admit after watching the opening and the trailers leading up to it I was starting to believe this was an actual, really real thing. The fact that director Justin Cole used multimedia, was able to fool shows like EW and other outlets, and start a controversy is both admirable and scary. A lot of time has passed between BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and now. We’re a lot savvier, but really, kind of like Bigfoot and true love, we want to believe these things happen, and Cole played into that train-wreck craned-neck feeling we all get when we slow down at a traffic accident pretty perfectly. In terms of marketing, UPPER gets a standing O from me as I am not afraid to admit I definitely bought into the hype.
Usually in a found footage film, the events occurring give the viewer a pretty clear indication that it’s faked. As soon as ghosts, zombies, leprechauns, mummies, aliens, sea monsters, whatever, shows up we know it’s not real. Stories that really want to convince us that it’s real have to fool us mainly by depicting real life, but the thing is, real life is boring as shit. If anyone filmed any eight hours of anyone’s day (ok, maybe not Chuck Norris, but everyone else) you’d need a Kubrickian toothpick lid-prop and a crate of Five Hour Energy Drinks to keep your attention. As soon as the hint of narrative shows up, that suspension of disbelief is shattered. As soon as the camera is dropped perfectly in the right position to pick up the action, as soon as someone find some lame excuse to keep filming, as soon as any of that happens, even the dimmest bulbs will catch on that this isn’t real.
UPPER succeeds in making you feel like this footage is real because it all does seem so drawn out and, dare I say, boring. It’s because of this that even halfway through the film this felt like something that could actually exist. While I bought into the hype around this film and prepared myself for a grueling experience, the film that played out actually did make me think this was real for most of it. People talked over one another. The camera didn’t seem guided by narrative, but by a hyperactive attention span during one random party night with drugged up rich kids. The way the participants spoke to one another in this film felt real and the actors (though none of their names have been revealed) did a fantastic job of making this all seem like reality. But later in the film, key scenes just “happen” in frame and the camera keeps rolling far longer than it should. By the time the final moments come, it’s pretty obvious that we’ve been duped and this is all just an elaborate hoax.
Still, I’m not angry at this film for pulling a fast one on me. Actually, I admire it for doing so, and I must admit that while I began to loathe these rich assholes making racist, homophobic, and just plain hateful remarks at one another, I was completely engrossed by the events that played out and continued to be just that until the last second of the film. So while UPPER might not be exactly what it is claiming to be, it still is more effective as a found footage film than most. I suggest you watch the trailer and read some of the hype around it first as a warm up and then dive into the film and most likely, you’ll have the same type of enthralling feeling while watching the sad, sick world UPPER portrays all too well.
Advance Review: Recently premiered at the LA Femme Film Festival!
RAW CUT (2013)Directed by Laura Zoe Quist
Written by Daniel Ponickly
Starring Christopher Soren Kelly, Daniel Ponickly, C. Ashleigh Caldwell, Laura Zoe Quist, Jessica Rothert, Laura Robbins
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
RAW CUT is a mixed media thriller that becomes something pretty fantastic in terms of setting up a dark yet indistinguishable threatening tone from the very beginning and letting it grow organically as four people interact, bump, grind, and crash into one another.
The story follows Adam (Daniel Ponickly, who also wrote the film) and his new fiancée Stephanie (Laura Zoe Quist, who also directed the film) as a well to do couple getting ready to spend the rest of their lives together. Coming to visit them in their quiet yet beautiful Wyoming home are Adam’s college friends Jack (Christopher Soren Kelly) and Amanda (C. Ashleigh Caldwell), who are married and meeting Stephanie for the first time. Right off the bat, things feel a bit off in both relationships. While Jack and Amanda seem to have the typical money issues and struggles with the relationship because of them, Jack and Stephanie seem to have a darker side and some ulterior motive for having the couple come out to the middle of nowhere. It’s revealed that Stephanie, a wannabe filmmaker, wants to film a found footage film with Jack and Amanda as the stars. Going along with the whole thing, the couple find that there might be something more sinister at play here.
What RAW CUT is supremely successful at is establishing four likable yet curious characters that are fascinating to watch. Though all are among the beautiful ones, they still remain flawed, and the intricate script doles out the devious info about each of them ever so conservatively as the story goes on. In doing so, you immediately like these people and care for them once their flaws are revealed. RAW CUT unfolds expertly as a thriller, as it never really reveals the truth of the reasoning behind this whole visit and found footage film until the final seconds. This keeps the viewer guessing all the way through and makes it more like a Hitchcockian homage than any modern films in the thriller genre.
RAW CUT builds to a climax perfectly, using strong characterization and likable actors as solid brick and mortar. The film is deadly in its simplicity, may be a commentary on how females and males handle their problems, and also may be a comment that you can never really know or trust anyone—even those you think are your closest friends.
Advance Review: Available on DVD in January!
THANATOMORPHOSE (2012)Directed by Éric Falardeau
Written by Éric Falardeau
Starring Kayden Rose, Davyd Tousignant, Émile Beaudry, Karine Picard, Roch-Denis Gagnon, Eryka Cantieri
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Disgusting, beautiful, nauseating, surreal, morose, mesmerizing, haunting, morbid, and soul-shreddingly tragic are just a few words I’d use to describe Éric Falardeau’s film THANATOMORPHOSE, which is equal parts Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS, Polanski’s REPULSION, and Cronenberg’s THE FLY.
This is not a film for the squeamish. I repeat, this time with feeling: this is not a film for the squeamish! THANATOMORPHOSE, which I believe roughly translates into “becoming death”, is a film unlike any I’ve seen. In many ways, it’s a triumph—in practical special effects, in simplistic storytelling, in metaphorical storytelling, and in the depths and levels of tragedy it falls into and rots in. The story follows a young struggling artist (Kayden Rose) who is in a relationship with a brutish boyfriend that is going nowhere and is obviously extremely unhappy with her life. The film opens with a montage of oversaturated imagery which only after a while I was able to piece together as a surreal sex scene. Soon after, the young woman (Rose) sees a bizarre bruise on her arm, but thinks nothing of it. Thus begins a literal decomposition of the poor young thing and it plays out minute by meltingly painstaking minute.
There are people who will absolutely loathe this film for the depths to which it goes. Falardeau pulls no punches here and gives no shit as far as what he will show and won’t show. Vomit, blood, guts, gore, piss, shit, pus, bile—there isn’t a body fluid that isn’t addressed on screen in the most vile of manners as the woman decomposes in front of our very eyes over the hour and forty minutes of this film. For many, the simplicity and gratuity of the story is going to be an utter turn off because, basically, that’s really all there is to this film—one woman completely disintegrating mind, body (especially body) and soul before our eyes. For some it’s just going to be too much, and while I respect the opinion of those folks, I can’t help but wholeheartedly disagree.
What Falardeau has given us here can be seen as metaphor for the struggle any young woman goes through when trying to find herself and her way in life. The scope could be broadened a bit to be a comment on the death of art, since the main character is an artist who, even as she is falling apart, still tries to create. The view could even be expanded to evoke some kind of commentary about the inevitability of death for all of us. Whatever the metaphor at work here, this is my kind of film. Sure it’s artsy, but it’s definitely not insubstantial. My heart ached watching this poor woman try her best to literally keep herself together with thread, gauze, and duct tape as her world and body falls apart around her. A lot of that has to do with Kayden Rose’s courageous performance, as she is nude and exposed for 95% of this film (aside from all of the decomposition makeup, that is). The palpable torment she goes through in this film will leave your soul stinging.
From a practical effects point of view, I haven’t seen anything like this. In an age when CG shatters all semblance of reality in most films, modern horror makers should take note to see how tactile and effective practical effects can be. The makeup isn’t bulky or cheap. Rose is covered in slime and ooze, and her flesh actually falls off the bone by the latter portions of the film. There are effects in this film I have no idea how they pulled off, but somehow they do it and it feels all the more nauseatingly effective that they were done in the scene rather than added later with CG.
THANATOMORPHOSE is definitely not a film for everyone. If you have a strong stomach, an appreciation for the more artsy films, and can steel your soul in preparation for watching, you just might be ready for this film. I’ve warned the rest of you. This is a vile and disgusting film sure to cause feelings of unease, loathing, and utter urp-itude. It’s also one of the most tragically beautiful films I’ve seen in terms of effects, simplicity, and sheer guts on director Falargeau and actress Rose’s part. This is a film I most definitely will not forget.
And finally…here’s another M entry for the ABC’S OF DEATH 2. The top twelve have been announced, and though this one didn’t make it, this one is a devious little jam. I didn’t know the meaning of the word, but by the time M IS FOR MALTHUSIANISM is over, it was apparent. This one’s by Ferran Brooks and is a really well made little short! Enjoy!
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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