AICN HORROR looks at 4TH SESSION! LORD OF TEARS! BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE! NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR! MONSTER OF PHANTOM LAKE! TERMINATOR VAULT! & More!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we have mad doctors, mad killers, mad dancers, mad monsters, and mad ghosts! So let’s get right into the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Book Review: TERMINATOR VAULT (2013)
Retro-review: BLACK MOON (1934)
Retro-review: TWILIGHT ZONE Collector’s Box Set: Season 5, Episodes 30-36 (1963-64)
Retro-review: VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)
Retro-review: NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)
Retro-review: THE HORROR SHOW (1989)
THE MONSTER OF PHANTOM LAKE (2006)
THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE (2013)
LORD OF TEARS (2013)
Advance Review: CUARTA SESION (2013)
And finally…Rocky Curby’s HAPPY MEAL HORROR (with a side of chainsaw)!
AICN HORROR Book Review!
TERMINATOR VAULT (2013)By Ian Nathan
This book can be found here!
Review by Dr. Loomis
I know they’re commonly referred to as science fiction, but the Terminator films will always be horror as far as I’m concerned. Total global annihilation? An unstoppable killer robot covered in human skin? Yeah – that’s horror to me. My opinion was cemented during the first movie, when the exoskeleton bursts out of the flaming wreckage of that 18-wheeler in one of cinema’s all-time great jump scares. It made 13-year-old me levitate out of my seat the first time I saw it, and it still catches me off guard to this day.
Anyway, whether you call ‘em sci-fi or horror, we can all agree that the first two entries in the franchise deserve to be called classics. The third and fourth movies have their good and bad points, but they are mostly forgettable genre fare. Ian Nathan knows this, and that’s why he’s wisely focused on THE TERMINATOR and T2: JUDGMENT DAY in his lavish new making-of book, TERMINATOR VAULT.
This is one of those books that you’ll want to read cover-to-cover, as it traces the sometimes difficult journey that James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gale Ann Hurd and the rest of the casts and crews faced in getting these movies made. It begins with a rock-bottom Cameron desperately trying to resurrect his career after being fired off of PIRAHNA II: THE SPAWNING. A feverish bout of food poisoning results in a dream of a robot hitman, a dream Cameron leverages into the idea that will not only save his career, but set him on the path of becoming one of the most successful directors of all time.
The trouble with reading a book like this all the way through is that there are so many things you want to skip ahead and look at. The pages are packed with copious production stills, conceptual art, behind-the-scenes photos, and storyboards. And then there are the envelopes sprinkled throughout the book, each packed with its own little bit of coolness – some reproductions of handwritten casting notes, for example (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE’s Melissa Sue Anderson as Sarah? Mel Gibson? Christopher Reeve?), or a copy of the photo of Sarah that Kyle carried with him in THE TERMAINATOR, to name just a couple.
Nathan includes numerous sidebars and anecdotes that work with the main text to weave a complete narrative. As with any blockbuster film, it’s amazing to look back on the challenges and pressures Cameron and company had to face down in order to get their vision on the screen, and it’s a testament to their creativity, determination and skill that they persevered. Nathan’s book will open your eyes to the pure craftsmanship behind THE TERMINATOR and T2: JUDGMENT DAY, and will send you scurrying for your copies of the films to watch again. TERMINATOR VAULT is an absolutely essential addition to any Terminator fan’s bookshelf.
“Dr. Loomis” is Blu Gilliand, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the fright-filled pages of DARK SCRIBE, DARK DISCOVERIES, SHROUD MAGAZINE, FEARnet.com and Horror World, among others. He also runs his own blog, October Country, devoted to horror and crime fiction. Feel free to stalk him on Twitter (@BluGilliand) at your own risk.
Retro-review: New from the Sony Pictures Choice Collection!
BLACK MOON (1934)Directed by Roy William Neill
Written by Clements Ripley (story), Wells Root (screenplay)
Starring Jack Holt, Fay Wray, Dorothy Burgess, Cora Sue Collins, Arnold Korff, Clarence Muse, Eleanor Wesselhoeft, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Laurence Criner, Lumsden Hare, Henry Kolker
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 .
Made in 1934 (and it shows), is BLACK MOON, not the most politically correct of films but an interesting representation of fears of the African American culture overwhelming and overpowering “decent” society and folk. The story focuses on a group of well to do people set out to return to a tropical aisle where the natives practice voodoo. One of them, played by Dorothy Burgess, was abducted and retrieved by the tribe as a child, but now she feels compelled to return to and help them. The group, which also includes King Kong’s main squeeze Fay Wray and the dashing Jack Holt, are strangers in this land filled with bizarre rituals and a “black menace” surrounding and creeping into their gated mansion. The film climaxes with Burgess’ character being compelled by the natives to offer her daughter up for sacrifice.
Steeped with both “white guilt” (as represented by Burgess’ character) and the “black menace” as represented by the faceless and dialog-less masses of chanting and creeping African American tribesman who hop fences, break into the plantation, and basically serve as a dark threat to these “poor” plantation owners out to help the indigenous folk. Director Roy William Neill does a decent job of making the faceless masses frightening by having them creeping up to the plantation walls and windows. The constant chanting makes for even a more unnerving experience.
There’s no way a film like this would be made today (or maybe it would with a vague veil of the natives being blue aliens…nahh, that’s crazy), but given the time, I’m willing to cut this film some slack and chalk it up to being a curious snippet of some of the fears shared by many to the shifting and changing times that were to come.
Below is a clip from the film (couldn’t find the trailer).
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
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!
Episode 30: Stopover in a Quiet Town
Directed by Ron Winston
Written by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Starring Barry Nelson, Nancy Malone
The problem with this one is that the “stranger moseys through a strange and mysterious town” motif is used so often in TWILIGHT ZONE, it becomes hard to distinguish one from the next. While this one has some fun acting as Barry Nelson and Nancy Malone make their way through a seemingly abandoned neighborhood, the payoff is one of the weaker ones. It may have been shocking at the time, but here it just feels like a one-note joke. Then again, this one does have a stuffed squirrel in it that is good for a laugh or two.
Episode 31: The Encounter
Directed by Robert Butler
Written by Martin M. Goldsmith
Starring Neville Brand, George Takei
I was amused by this installment more so because we get to see a very young George Takei in a lead role. This one is about a WWII vet (Neville Brand) who runs into a peculiar yard worker (Takei) while cleaning out his attic and how this seemingly chance encounter isn’t really that. This is a compelling statement about feelings that many had after WWII and a well acted two-man play as most of the action happens in one little attic space. The ending is heartbreaking, but a final scream of “Banzai!” is hard to take with a straight face.
Episode 32: Mr. Garrity & The Graves
Directed by Ted Post
Written by Rod Serling, based on a story by Mike Korologos
Starring John Dehner, Stanley Adams, Percy Helton, Norman Leavitt, John Mitchum
This is my favorite episode of the week as I feel it would have made for a great feature film. Mr. Garrity & the Graves features a man who claims to be able to raise the dead (John Dehner) making his way through a one-horse Western town. It serves as a great commentary about how everyone is thought of as great once they are dead, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants them back. The ending takes an odd turn even for a TWILIGHT ZONE episode (feels a bit more like a NIGHT GALLERY episode for some reason), but the acting throughout and spooky mix of Westerns and ghost stories make this episode a winner.
Episode 33: The Brain Center at Whipple’s
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Richard Deacon, Paul Newlan, Ted DeCorsia, Jack Crowder
The TWILIGHT ZONE’s take on the future is always interesting to see as sometimes, it is spot on with the social commentary. In this episode, Richard Deacon is a manager in charge of replacing human workers with robots, but sweet, sweet irony proves to not taste so well when the shoe is on the other robotic foot. This is a light hearted one, again, not on par with Donner’s Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, but still a wicked yet throwaway social commentary.
Episode 34: Come Wander With Me
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Anthony Wilson
Starring Gary Crosby, Bonnie Beecher
Gary Crosby, punching ba—I mean, son of Bing Crosby, plays a hep cat rock-a-billy slidin’ through a country town on his way to his next happenin’ gig and encountering a sweet gal with an even sweeter tune on her lips. It’s a blast listening to all of the Daddio’s that are flung around, but for some reason, this feels like the TWILIGHT ZONE trying to attract a younger audience and not completely succeeding. Donner directs this one as well and fills it with moments of dream-like wonder during the musical bits and a surreal, nightmarish quality during the rest. Though it ends rather abruptly, I kind of dug this cut, man.
Episode 35: The Fear
Directed by Ted Post
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Hazel Court, Peter Mark Richman
Though this episode has a line like this; “I’ve got to fight that…with this!” It’s one of the more fun sci fi attempts at a monster movie TZ had to offer. Hazel Court is ravishing as a tough damsel in distress with Peter Mark Richman playing the police officer investigating strange happenings around her house. Though it’s odd that a police officer would stay the night to ensure a woman’s safety, I guess the fact that a giant monster alien outside makes the breach in protocol ok. The resolution to this one is comedic and though it’s not one of the most biting commentary on the times as some of TZ’s sci fi based episodes are, it is one of the more goofy and fun ones.
Episode 36: The Bewitchin’ Pool
Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Written by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Starring Mary Badham, Tim Stafford, Georgia Simmons, Kim Hector, Tod Andrews, Dee Hartford
For some reason, I never liked this episode. Maybe it’s because every time there’s a ScyFy TWILIGHT ZONE marathon, I seem to happen upon this one no matter what time I tune in. But that’s not this episode’s fault, just my own dumb luck. The story follows a pair of kids who flee from their arguing parents to their swimming pool where they find a Tom Sawyer type swimming. Not wanting to accept the fact that their parents are getting a divorce, the kids follow our Tom Sawyer type into the pool which transports them to a haven for kids watched over by the loving Aunt T. Nods to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD are obvious as the kids are named Jeb and Sport; like Jem & Scout from the book. While this is a sweet tale about the effects of divorce on the young (another subject that was most likely edgy at the time), the obviously dubbed and thick Southern accents of the children always annoyed the hell out of me. But barring my annoyance with the dialect and the fact that I’ve seen it too much, this episode, which coincidentally was the very last of the series, is one of the more poignant ones.
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
Season 5, Episodes 5.22-5.28
Retro-review: New on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Bluray Box Set!
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)aka THE CURSE OF DR. PHIBES
Directed by Robert Fuest
Written by James Whiton, William Goldstein
Starring Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, Virginia North, Peter Jeffrey, Derek Godfrey, Norman Jones
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
The last film to be reviewed from this absolutely amazing new BluRay collection of some of Vincent Price’s classic films is THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. The only film in this collection not based on a story or poem by Edgar Allan Poe, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES is fun in its own right. More schlock than shock, but dammit if this isn’t one of the most creative shlockers out there.
Vincent Price stars as the titular and downright abominable Dr. Phibes, a physician wronged by a group of surgeons who failed to save his wife’s life and bringer of vengeance in the form of the twelve plagues upon them. His performance here is one of his more peculiar ones as his visage varies between a scarred skull-face to a prosthetic mask that looks like Price’s face, yet does not move when he talks. Price eerily moves his throat and jowls, while clenching his jaws and lips to give Phibes a truly unique look.
The elaborate and extravagant nature of just about everything Phibes is a quality that makes this film stand out as a true classic. From the robotic band that plays Phibes’ wife’s favorite song to the Phibes-mobile which has the windows painted with his silhouettes, there’s nothing typical about any detail here. There’s a cartoonish quality to all of Phibes toys making it feel like the character was torn from a Silver Age comic book.
The kills are equally extravagant. Bats, locusts, snakes. No creepy crawlie is unused in Phibes’ grand scheme for revenge. My favorite of the bunch, a frog mask Phibes convinces one doctor to wear at a masquerade ball that tightens until the doctor’s head explodes inside. Truly ghoulish stuff and darkly comic.
In fact, the whole film has a darkly comic tone. If a criticism exists, it’s that the tone oddly flips from straight-on revenge flick to horror to camp quickly and often in this film. The investigators seem to be taking things serious as does Phibes himself as this is a truly tragic tale. But the comedic components always gave me a bit of a feeling of guilt to be laughing at such a morbid story. Though many will remember Price for his various roles bringing Poe’s work to life, Phibes may be his most extravagant and unique character of them all.
And look here for my WITCHFINDER GENERAL review, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE HAUNTED PALACE, and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, 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 on BluRay from Vinegar Syndrome!
NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)Directed by John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg C. Tallas
Written by Philip Yordan
Starring John Phillip Law, Richard Moll, Sharon Ratcliff, Arthur M. Braham, J. Martin Sellers, Merideth Haze, Rick Barnes, Anne Fairchild, Mark E. Ridley, William Charles, Byron Yordan, Ferdy Mayne, Tony Giorgio, Gabriel Whitehouse, Faith Clift
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Holy shit, this movie is goddamn crazy! I don’t know what kind of drugs the filmmakers responsible for NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR were on, but they were either some of the worst or maybe best kind you’ll ever find. Where to start…
OK, let’s begin with the opening prologue which plays like the worst 80’s dance video you’ve ever seen with dancers twirling around in neon, a lip synching lead singer, a female drummer obviously not playing on beat, and a saxophone player snapping his fingers to the beat because that tune doesn’t have a sax in it. These first moments are meant to make this film seem like a hip and happening flick done by people who have no idea what is hip and happening. It’s kind of like an 80’s MTV dance video if made by Tommy Wiseau. But this is all set up because the train this SOLID GOLD dance squad is occupying also has two other passengers; God and the Devil, who are sharing a booth and staring out at the night sky, waiting for the train to crash in the morning. But before that happens, they look into the stories of three other people’s lives play out through the window beside them.
As bad as the opening music video is, I was shocked at how fun the dialog between God and the Devil is. Though a lot of the lines are clichéd, they’re fun to see and personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a film where God and the Devil just talk with one another on a train while someone is filming a bad eighties rock video in the next car. With some crisp dialog and some cosmic special effects, that would be a damn fine remake. But I digress…
What we get are three tales about three people who are definitely more on the side of the Devil, but possibly redeemable, which is why God and the Devil are watching the stories play out on this all-white version of SOUL TRAIN.
The first story involves a playboy named Harry Billings who is drugged, hypnotized and kidnapped by twisted insane asylum employees so that he can go out and find attractive women for them to harvest human organs and sell them on the black market. Yes, that’s what the first story is about. I know this because the unseen narrator tells us every step of the story annoyingly—a trait that occurs through all of the tales. Highlights of this installment include a lot of boobs, Richard Moll (Bull from NIGHT COURT) as a sadistic orderly, and more boobs.
Story two involves a money-grubbing woman named Gretta Connors who is seduced by a millionaire at a carnival who just so happens to get his kicks as part of a death cult. When Gretta actually falls in love with a new beau, the millionaire does his best to mess things up. Highlights of this installment includes; more boobs, a giant stop-motion hornet, and hilarious blood being splattered into people’s faces.
The final installment goes deep following an intuitive lass named Claire Hansen who is investigating the anti-Christ and a bunch of immortal warriors dead set on finding and killing him. The most ambitious story of the bunch involves more rudimentary stop motion, more painful narration, and boobs, but also has some disturbing moments. All in all, it was a smart move to leave this one till the last since it is the one that highlights the best aspects of the first too. It’s also got Richard Moll in it in a different role.
Honestly, I don’t know if this film is genius or so bad it’s good, but it deserves to be seen by more people. The effects are rather fantastic and while the acting and narrative are flawed beyond belief, there are times when the script is crisp and clever.
NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is not the best anthology around, but it certainly is the most insane train trip you’re bound to take.
Retro-review: New on DVD from The Scream Factory!
THE HORROR SHOW (1989)aka HOUSE III
Directed by James Isaac, David Blyth
Written by Allyn Warner, Leslie Bohem
Starring Lance Henriksen, Brion James, Rita Taggart, Dedee Pfeiffer, Aron Eisenberg, Thom Bray, Matt Clark, Lewis Arquette, Lawrence Tierney
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Back in the 80’s when I was all about serial killers and slashers, when FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET were breaking records at the box office with a simple formula, there were a few standouts that tried desperately to reach icon status but failed. Like DANTE’S PEAK/VOLCANO and DEEP IMPACT/ARMAGEDDON, THE HORROR SHOW made its way to theaters right around the same time SHOCKER did. Both featured killers tried, convicted, and executed in the electric chair. Both focused on police officers desperately trying to make people believe that the killer somehow survived the execution and still haunted the world. Both were made by filmmakers who created popular slashers but somehow lost the rights and were taking a second stab at making a new iconic slasher. Both also failed to catch on with audiences and create a franchise.
THE HORROR SHOW, though originally slated to be the third HOUSE installment, quickly became a monster on its own. While the HOUSE had a light hearted and comedic tone to them, THE HORROR SHOW’s tone is black as pitch and more akin to the dismal and grotesque STRANGELAND than any horror comedy I’ve seen. The story follows serial killer Max Jenke (played fantastically by BLADE RUNNER/CRIMEWAVE character actor Brion James) whose weapon of choice is a giant meat cleaver and his past time includes shocking in a homemade electric chair so that he can transcend to another plane at the time of his eventual electrocution. Now while this makes for a cool story, the fact that Jenke planned to be caught and electrocuted makes his deeds all the more diabolical as he seemed to be trying to rack up a high kill count in order to ensure a trip to the chair.
On his ass is police officer Lucas McCarthy, played by an especially grumpy Lance Henricksen who grumbles through this film like a grizzly with his nuts caught in a bear trap. He strangles his wife in his sleep, screams at his family, stabs the turkey with a butcher knife at Thanksgiving, and shoots the TV in the living room. The guy is definitely clenched up and Henricksen does this with ease here, but stumbles when the story calls him to be tender. Don’t get me wrong, Lance is always a pleasure to see in a film, but he’s responsible for some rough moments in this film when he tries to play a loving family man. But this isn’t ORDINARY PEOPLE, this is THE HORROR SHOW and the reason for seeing this film is to see Henricksen and James square off, which they do brutally throughout the film.
THE HORROR SHOW is crueler than most slashers, as Jenke goes for Lucas’ family in the most sleaziest of ways. Transcended to a sort of dream realm between reality and death, Jenke travels around Lucas’ subconscious, filling his head with perverted and surreal hallucinations. Not only does he tease Lucas about his sex life with his wife, but he knocks up his daughter as well. Hell, the first time we see Jenke he beheads a little girl right in front of Lucas. Actor James gives his all to make Jenke one of the most hateful villains in the slasher pantheon. Trying to mix a bit of both Jason and Freddy, James is an imposingly tall man and partial to cutlery, but is also able to move around in this dream-like hallucino-world taking the form of the talk show host on TV and even morph into the Thanksgiving turkey.
THE HORROR SHOW is an effects extravaganza as the fans of slasher films (particularly the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series) had grown tired of just a knife being stabbed into a person. Here, Jenke gets quite creative with his real life kills by lopping off body parts and putting them in deep fryers and microwaves and equally creative in his hallucinations such as the weird turkey monster and exploding heads. While these effects are obvious machinations made by FX gurus, they are extremely fun to see, especially since we don’t really get to see that kind of stuff anymore in this CG world. The expansive scene where Jenke gets the electric chair is especially effective as his skin bubbles and cracks before he meets his demise for the first time.
So what happened? Why didn’t Max Jenke become the next Jason Voorhees or Leatherface. Well, I think for one thing, the tone of this film is darker than almost all of the horror franchises combined. Every other word is of the four-letter variety and the personal nature by which Jenke goes after his family really doesn’t make the guy a slasher one would want identify with, which seemed to be, for better or worse, what those slasher films became. While at this point, the most popular slashers were watering their tones down to be accepted by the general public and made into lunch boxes and costumes for the kiddos, Jenke might have had too much balls and teeth for the masses. Or maybe people were just not ready to move on, as both NIGHTMARE and F13 continued to have successful installments after the grand opening and closing of this film.
Produced by Sean Cunningham, the brainchild behind Jason Voorhees, it’s too bad THE HORROR SHOW didn’t take off, as another 75 minutes of Henricksen and James tearing each other to bits might have been fun. But with James passing and the era of the slasher doing the same, it was never meant to be. Still, if you think all slasher films are the same, THE HORROR SHOW will definitely stand out as the one that was too bad to be included with the rest.
Available on DVD here!!
THE MONSTER OF PHANTOM LAKE (2006)Directed by Christopher R. Mihm
Written by Christopher R. Mihm
Starring Josh Craig, Leigha Horton, Deanne McDonald, Brad Tracy, Lindsey Holmes, Justen Overlander, Rachel Grubb, Michael Cook, M. Scott Taulman, Dustin Booth, Michael G. Kaiser as the Monster!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Another goofy effort by Christopher R. Mihm, king of the modern monster homage. THE MONSTER OF PHANTOM LAKE takes pages from to goofy creature features of old—mainly CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but also the more hokey ones like SHE-CREATURE.
A group of campers out for a darn good time and a pair of researchers meet at a secluded lake only to find it haunted by a muck monster! That’s basically all the plot Mihm gives us here and really, it’s all the plot we need as he fills every minute with moments that feel as if Mihm owns a cinematic time machine and able to capture the goofy essence of those old B-movies. There’s dancing and necking and singing. There’s a monster costume that barely hides the zipper. All of the hokiness people criticize those monster movies for and all of the things those who love those films love.
A back-story of sorts allows us to feel a bit about this monster and a moral is to be learned in this one; that being, even if you’re a nerdy schoolgirl, there is a guy (or in this case, a monster) out there for you. More so than in other films from Mihm, this one seems to have quite a few moments where innocent conversations and happenings have a bit more of a risqué tone, but the film retains it’s corny sweetness throughout.
The film has an especially fantastic musical number as our hero scientist picks up a guitar and starts strummin’ a tune. The obvious lip synching and whistle syncing is ingeniously played here to full comic effect.
In fact, here’s some uncomfortable conversation followed by the infectiously finger-snappin’ tune, A ROCKIN’ A ROLLIN’ ALL THE WAY A RAMBLIN’, below…
While HOUSE OF GHOSTS (reviewed here) felt more genuine in its scares, THE MONSTER OF PHANTOM LAKE is firmly in the comedic homage category THE GIANT SPIDER (reviewed here ) and ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES (reviewed here ) occupy and is rather light on scares. Still the only thing you’ll find more genuinely 50’s monster movie-esque is a monster movie made in the actual 50’s, which is just a testament to writer/director Mihm’s skills at making these types of films.
You can only get this film on its website here!
THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE (2013)Directed by Dustin Mills
Written by Dustin Mills, Brandon Salkil
Starring Brandon Salkil, Erin R. Ryan, Allison Fitzgerald, Dave Parker
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s just by sheer coincidence that I reviewed THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES in the same column as Dustin Wade Mills’ latest and quite possibly greatest film, THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE. While Mills has blown my socks off over the last year or so with back to back low budget gems like ZOMBIE A-HOLE, PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE, NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES, and especially BATH SALT ZOMBIES, Mills shows a maturity and growth with this new film that I haven’t seen in previous efforts filled with explosive nudity, gore, and other perversities.
Don’t get me wrong, THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE does have nudity and gore in droves. It wouldn’t be a Mills’ film without that. Every female character (and one of the male characters) is nude at some point in this one. Mills pulls no punches in going full on exploitation when it comes to nudity in his films filling them with attractive alterna-girls next door rather than super model unattainables, giving his films a more ground level and thus more visceral feel to them.
Though Mills’ go-to star Brandon Salkil plays Skinless Pete himself (and does so very effectively), it’s the gore that takes front and center stage here as all kinds of goop and goo oozes all over Pete (sans skin) and his hapless victims. Pete’s ability to spew out a disintegrating acid on his victims causes them to melt into a puddley goo and Mills never lets his camera blink for a tick watching it all bubble and fall off. Anyone sick of CG needs to check out this effects cornucopia to see practical effects done right.
The story itself follows a pair of scientists dedicated to find a cure for skin cancer. Dr. Pete Peele (Salkil) is brilliant but reckless and is often led by his heart and gut, while Dr. Alice Cross (played by the enchanting and talented Erin R. Ryan) is emotionally distant and ethically rigid. There is an attraction between the two, but Alice keeps her eyes on the prize while Pete has eyes only for her (despite the fact that he has a girlfriend). When Pete reveals he has cancer, he performs some radical tests on himself and presto-chango we’ve got a Skinless Pete on our hands. My earlier mention of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES was done so because of the way Pete wears his own skin over his melted face which, like Price’s Phibes, looks real, but cannot emote or move, so there’s a grotesque mannequin feel to his face. Here, Pete’s false face is given an even more twisted look by just kind of hanging over his real face and moving erratically when he does. There’s a Cronenberg THE FLY vibe here too as Alice feels bound to Pete to help find a cure for his condition as Pete’s mind as well as his skin liquefies in front of her.
This is a tragic tale that hits all of the right notes to be somewhat of a tear-jerker despite the nudity and gore. Pete is a demented soul, but because his motivation is to live so that he can have a life with Alice, I couldn’t help but root for the twisted fuck. Fantastically acted, expertly gored, and narratively sound, THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is Dustin Wade Mills’ finest film to date. With enough homage to classics of the past, yet enough ingenuity to stand out as an original, this is one independent horror film you should not miss.
Available only from the website here!
LORD OF TEARS (2013)Directed by Lawrie Brewster
Written by Sarah Daly
Starring Alexandra Hulme, Euan Douglas, David Schofield
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though there are moments of sheer terror in LORD OF TEARS, the tone feels much more akin with Guillermo del Toro’s directed and produced films such as PAN’S LABYRINTH and THE ORPHANAGE which takes more of a modern fable route than straight up horror. The story follows a middle aged man named James (Euan Douglas) returning to his boyhood home to find it a place filled with equal parts wonder and the macabre.
The beauty of LORD OF TEARS is in its simplicity. Through gorgeous shots of nature around the old home and its gloomy interiors, director Lawrie Brewster captures the serenity of the days and the deep darkness creeping in at night. Leaning more on the artsy side, these establishing shots patiently celebrate the Scottish highlands in tight close-ups of a drop of rain dripping or a spider spinning a web then pull back with expansive shots of the rolling countryside. Much of this film consists of Brewster soaking in the beauty and the dreariness in even doses. Moving indoors, Brewster does the same with the interiors of the ancient home, almost making the residence breathe and gasp when necessary to the story.
By zooming in and out to experience every detail, Brewster allows us to really step into this place as James does, re-experiencing it as if for the first time. While James knows he suffered some type of psychotic break in the old home, the details are fuzzy. Luckily, a mysterious girl named Eve (Lexy Hulme) from a neighboring home takes an interest in James (despite the fact that she is much younger and way out of his league) and seems to be propelling him along on his journey of rediscovery. But the longer James stays in this place, the more terrifying the night becomes as an ancient evil seems to be advancing in from the forests and into the home in the form of the Owl Man (voiced ominously by THE EXPELLED’s David Schofield).
While Euan Douglas is great as the nebbish, yet likable James, the real standout of this film is the enchanting Lexy Hulme. From her infectious smile to her retro style, Hulme is a star in the making and offers up a powerful, yet enigmatic performance here. Her’s is a complex role in LORD OF TEARS, being both sexy and motherly whenever James needs it and she plays all roles marvelously. I look forward to see where and when Hulme turns up next.
The Owl Man itself is used to great effect in the film. The effect of the owl-headed man simply standing in the forest is the stuff of nightmares. The film dissects the meanings of the owl in various cultures and highlights just what makes the common forest creature so damn creepy. The rest of the film most likely was made on the budgetary low, but because of Brewster’s skill to amp the scares with quick cuts and jarring juxtapositions of nature and the aged home one wouldn’t know. The owl mask itself is pretty simple, but terrifying nevertheless.
LORD OF TEARS is available only through its website. The care in making this film moves past the filmmaking to the packaging as each film is accompanied with a soundtrack and a book adding to the mythos. The package I received was also wrapped in black tissue paper and topped with a black feather (which my cat loved, BTW). All in all, from the actual film to the way it is packaged, LORD OF TEARS is a unique experience and should be an experience fans of gothic horror will want to seek out.
CUARTA SESION (2013)aka THE FOURTH SESSION
Directed by Ferran Brooks
Written by David B. Martin
Starring Virginia Muñoz, Carlos A. Diego, Frederic Guillaume, Juan Bertuchi, Ángel Baena
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
OK this is a found footage film. But CUARTA SESION deviates from the norm in a few ways to make the viewing experience a bit more refreshing. Most found footagers follow the same format as there’s a getting’ to know you portion where the intent of the hand held filmmakers are set, the personalities are established and the reason for the whole thing to be filmed is explained. Then there’s usually a lot of very small stuff captured on camera, bending the suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking as the camera keeps rolling despite the fact that any sane and rational person would have dropped the camera and ran early on. In the case of CUARTA SESION, none of that really happens; making it one of the more unique found footagers out there.
If there’s a film CUARTA SESION can be compared to, it’s [REC] in some ways, not because the film is in Spanish, but because it follows an online reporter (Carol, played by Virginia Munoz) as she talks to an unseen audience throughout the film. Unlike [REC], this show investigates paranormal phenomenon as Carol intentionally goes into places rumored to be haunted and she is her own camera man, so most of the film is either a camera set up, with Carol talking to it, or Carol holding the camera selfie-style. Carol suffers from a syndrome called Urbach-Wiethe Phenomenon, which means her brain is unable to detect risk. It is this quality that makes her a perfect paranormal investigator as she goes into places many are too afraid to go. She sets out to investigate a hospital abandoned mid-construction when the financer’s daughter fell to her death into an open elevator shaft. Since then, everyone is afraid to go inside at night time and even though the surrounding abandoned buildings are occupied by gangs and hobos, they steer clear of the building. Sounds like the perfect place for our fearless reporter to investigate.
There are some really smart moves at play in this one showing that the filmmakers were thinking everything out as logically as possible to make this found footager more feasible than most. Making Carol unable to feel fear, it’s understandable that she doesn’t drop the camera at run at the first sight of the paranormal. Having her be alone in this building rumored to be haunted immediately gave me the feeling of fear for her and reeled me in emotionally. And finally, having her filming herself requires the audience to see behind Carol as she is reporting from the dark, allowing mysterious things to happen behind her that she is unaware of. All of these conscious decisions make this film superior to most found footagers and GHOST HUNTER type shows.
The scares in CUARTA SESION are most definitely potent. Instead of having a slow build, we are introduced to Carol and then the building in question almost immediately (well, after the first fifteen or so minutes, which is a good enough amount of lead-in time). Because 75% of the film is actually in this scary locale, the atmosphere and tone is definitely much more effective than most of this type which film about 75% banal activity and 25% action and scares. Making our way through the dusty corridors and dark levels of the hospital, hearing voices, and seeing shapes in the distance occurs for most of this film, building to a chilling level of intensity. As Carol meets up with another paranormal group holding a séance/Ouija session in the building, the tension raises as Carol desperately tries to keep up with the group once the weird shit starts happening on the titular fourth session of taping.
CUARTA SESION (FOURTH SESSION) ends rather peculiarly with the camera being put down and real world events are filmed cinematically. It’s an odd choice by the filmmakers, but once again sets this film apart from the norm. For some, this decision might kill that first person POV intensity, but I rode with it and it didn’t bother me that much. CUARTA SESION is a smart and effective film occupying an overcrowded genre known for its unoriginality.
And finally…here’s a twisted little animation from a Disney Animator named Rocky Curby. It’s a tale that goes well with this time of year where we feast until our guts burst. For some reason, I really love the part with the chickens. Time to dig into HAPPY MEAL HORROR (with a side of chainsaw)!
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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