Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Not the most powerful week in horror, but there are some goodies here to check out. This week, I bring you Ska stalkers, ghost hunters, stony twisters, a giant praying mantis, social network zombies, bad teachers, were-cats, reality TV killers, & Peter Cushing doing what he does best! On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season One Episodes 13-18 (1960)
Retro-review: FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)
Retro-review: CAT PEOPLE (1982)
PHANTOM OF THE GRINDHOUSE (2013)
DEAD OF THE NITE (2013)
DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA (2013)
Advance Review: TEACHER’S DAY (2014)
Advance Review: CAMP DREAD (2013)
And finally…Karl Holt’s NEGATIVE IMAGE!
Retro-review: Collecting the entire series in a new Collector’s Box Set on DVD from Image Entertainment!
THE TWILIGHT ZONE SEASON ONE (1960)Episodes 13-18
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Let’s go back to the beginning. I’ve had a chance to look at the last two seasons of THE TWILIGHT ZONE over the last few months. Now we’ll jaunt back to the first season to see where it all began. This was a season where Serling was honing his talent as a storyteller and the series was just beginning to show the signs of being one of the most influential horror/sci fi series of all time. Let’s proceed into THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season One…
Episode 1.13: The Four Of Us Are Dying
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling, based on the short story "All of Us Are Dying" by George Clayton Johnson
Starring Harry Townes, Ross Martin, Phillip Pine, Don Gordon, Beverly Garland, Bernard Fein, Peter Brocco
Steeped in noirish undertones of a cursed man walking the streets trying to make a name for himself by harnessing a power to become any person he wants to, “The Four of Us Are Dying” is a creepy little yarn. Though the changes are subtle from one character to the next, it’s the strength of the story that actually makes this episode work for me. While face-swapping isn’t something to ooo and ahhh at in this day and age, I’m sure it was much more unsettling to watch this human chameleon do his thing. I liked the way his changes came back to haunt him here and seeing a super young Don Gordon show up as a boxer persona was especially nice as the actor showed up later in the TZ series in a much more beefier role. I also liked John Brahm’s direction filling the background with neon lights making the whole thing seem like some gaudy dream.
Episode 1.14: Third From The Sun
Directed by Richard L. Bare
Written by Rod Serling, based on the short story "Third From the Sun" by Richard Matheson
Starring Fritz Weaver, Joe Maross, Edward Andrews, Denise Alexander, Lori March, Jeanne Evans
Utterly predictable and horribly preachy, “Third from the Sun” is rescued by some nice camera angles and bits of tension. While the acting is top notch, Serling is in full on preach mode against the military, war, and the business behind it all. While sci fi is often a good place for metaphor and allegory in terms of the state of present affairs, there are times when Serling goes paper thin with it all which makes for some of his weaker installments in the series. Having characters rant and rave surely will get your word across, but it’s the easy route and there are far better sci-fi yarns in this series that does a better job at it than this episode. Still Edward Andrews (Long Duk Dong’s adoptive father in SIXTEEN CANDLES and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW) is great here as a sweaty and suspicious company man.
Episode 1.15: I Shot An Arrow Into The Air
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Written by Rod Serling, based on an idea by Madelon Champion
Starring Dewey Martin, Edward Binns, Ted Otis
While “Third from the Sun” goes for the obvious stance against the ugliness of technology, war, and man’s dark side, “I Shot An Arrow Into the Air” is solid sci-fi goodness. While those privy to the TZ twist might be able to predict the ending, the fun is seeing the lost astronauts tear each other apart when they crash land in parts unknown. Some solid acting abounds from both Dewey Martin and Edward Binns who are immediately at two sides of the spectrum in terms of how they plan to survive in this barren desert the crew lands in and seeing them butt heads and come to blows and gunshots is what makes this all the more tragic a tale.
Episode 1.16: The Hitch Hiker
Directed by Alvin Ganzer
Written by Rod Serling, based on the radio play "The Hitch Hiker" by Lucille Fletcher
Starring Inger Stevens, Adam Williams, Lew Gallo, George Mitchell, Leonard Strong
Reversely-reminiscent of “The Hitchhiker” installment from CREEPSHOW 2, a woman repeatedly encounters a solemn hitch hiker over and over again as she travels across country by car. Inger Stevens’ PSYCHO-esque voice over adds to the tension, but it’s the pleasant yet insidious look on the hitch hiker’s face (played by Leonard Strong) that ratchets the scares over the top here every time he appears. This was one of the more intense episodes of the first season made so by clever pacing that doubles the tension and doubles it again as Stevens continues down this treacherous road trip. “The Hitch Hiker” is a fantastically nerve-rattling little episode that’ll creep under your skin.
Episode 1.17: The Fever
Directed by Robert Florey
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Everett Sloane, Vivi Janiss
I loved this episode featuring a couple who wins a trip to Vegas getting caught up in the thrill of gambling. You can’t help but feel for Vivi Janiss’ character who just wants to have fun and make the best of the trip, but her fuddy-duddy husband played by Everett Sloane will have no part of it…that is, until he gets a taste of winning at the slot machine which triggers a betting fever few have seen this side of that FLINTSTONES episode. This is a really tragic tale, made so by Janiss’ optimistic, yet doting performance as she wriggles uncomfortably under the thumb of her overbearing husband. You’re going to hate Sloane’s character by the end of this, but I guarantee this is one of those episode that has an ending that resonates far more powerful than most TZ episodes you’re bound to see.
Episode 1.18: The Last Flight
Directed by William Claxton
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Kenneth Haigh, Simon Scott, Alexander Scourby, Robert Warwick
A fighter pilot takes off in 1912 and lands in 1951 leaving everyone, including the pilot perplexed and befuddled. Though most of the time an episode focusing on the military is a call for Serling to dust off his soapbox, this one focuses on the makings of a hero in wartime. This one takes a while to unfold, but is gripping the whole way through. While some episodes are more one note, this one has one surprise after another with a TZ twist that is much more deeper and complex than most. Great performances by the cast only strengthen one of Serling’s better war episodes of the series.
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12
Season 4: Episodes 4.1-4.5, 4.5-4.8, 4.9-4.13, & 4.14-4.18
Season 5: Episodes 5.1-5.7, 5.8-5.14, 5.15-5.21, 5.22-5.28, & 5.29-5.36
New this week on BluRay from Millennium Entertainment!
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Anthony Hinds
Starring Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Robert Morris, & Thorley Walters
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m embarrassed to say that I had never seen FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN until recently. Although I try to get my Hammer on on a regular basis, this movie has eluded me through the years. I guess if it’s Hammer and Peter Cushing and it didn’t co-star Christopher Lee, it just wasn’t a priority. But with the film coming to BluRay, it was next on my cue, and I’m so glad I did check it out.
Though there is no neck bolt brandishing, stitched up zombie lumbering about, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is a pretty fantastic film and much like James Whale’s classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, it can be viewed as a pretty bold statement on both a metaphysical level as well as a statement about women at the time. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN revolves around a great plot of revenge as Hans, a peasant lad, and Christina, the scarred daughter of an innkeeper, share a romance, but it is short lived as Hans (played tough by not so tough looking Robert Morris who sports a fancy scarf that all the kids were wearing in the sixties) is framed for the innkeeper’s murder. After he is beheaded in a scene that mirrors an earlier scene where Hans witnesses his own father’s beheading, Christina commits suicide. Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments have shifted from reanimating the dead to focusing on the soul. Frankenstein notices that his experiments in the past have failed because he hadn’t taken the soul into account. With the two young lovers’ deaths occurring so recently, Frankenstein gets to grave robbing again and tries to bring back the both of them in one body using Christina’s body and Hans’ soul. Of course, shit goes wrong.
This shift from body to soul as the focus for Frankenstein is a nice evolution of the character. Peter Cushing reprises his role as Dr. Frankenstein in this fourth installment of the Hammer FRANKENSTEIN films. Whereas THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN stuck way too close to the Universal film for my tastes (even though it did have Christopher Lee as the Monster) and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN lingered around the same themes at the original as well, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN took Frankenstein’s interests into a natural evolution, having him acknowledge his mistakes of the past and try to improve on them. Cushing, as always, is superb, utilizing the bawdy and oblivious Thorley Walters as his lab assistant Dr. Hurtz to maximum effect as both a comedic break in tension and able bodied henchman. Hurtz is a fun addition to the cast (he appears as a different character in the follow up, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, as well). Walters plays a drunk, but someone who also knows his science, and though he rarely understands what Frankenstein is ordering him to do, he is more than willing to be the doctor’s hands since Frankenstein’s hands were rendered useless in the previous Hammer entry. Frankenstein makes his entrance in a nicely played scene where he is frozen and declared dead for an hour in an ice cabinet (a la FLATLINERS, one of Schumacher’s more digestible films), then brought back to life in order to see how long a soul remains in the body. Even without the heavy-footed monster, Cushing makes every frame worthwhile as the doctor dedicated to solving life’s riddles.
When Frankenstein and Hurtz bring Christina back to life, they also turn her from a shrewish looking brunette next door into a blonde bombshell. Susan Denberg was a Playboy Playmate and even when she’s supposed to be a scarred plain girl, she’s gorgeous. At the time, Playboy was busy showing the world what beauty was all about. In the framework of this film, set in the 19th Century, Frankenstein not only improves Christine by healing her scarred face, but makes her a blonde as well. Frankenstein acts as a Gothic Hugh Hefner, remaking women to be the perfect specimen while trying retain some kind of inner beauty as well, in this case a soul. The stories of the Playmates and their transformation from girl next door to centerfold are legendary. This film’s “monster” reflects the soullessness that one often sees in the pictorials of plastic surgery-heavy, bleached bombshells that frolic in the grotto.
It’s also worthy to note that Frankenstein doesn’t save Christina’s soul, but that of Hans. Maybe this signifies Frankenstein’s misunderstanding of women in that he places a man’s soul into a woman’s body. Anyone who has seen Rob Schneider’s THE HOT CHICK knows that a man in a woman’s body brings nothing but trouble. Where that film went for laughs (and failed), this one goes for the horror as Christina inherits Hans’ thirst for revenge and seeks out the actual killers of the innkeeper for bloody retribution. Christina uses her feminine wiles in order to lure the men close to her, then in true Hammer fashion, disposes of them in a bright red bloody manner. To add to the creep factor, Christina has stolen the head of her lover, Hans, chatting with it and carrying it around in a hat box.
Though this isn’t my favorite Hammer Frankenstein film, it is one of the most original. I loved the kooky science Frankenstein performs (freezing himself in a cryo-crypt, making an indestructible wine glass, transferring minds and souls from one corpse to the next). The science may not be that realistic, but when his work is dubbed magic by his assistant Hurtz, Cushing wryly replies “magic is simply science unexplained.” FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is an amazing film on many levels: as a commentary on women, on a metaphysical level, and most importantly, as pure entertainment.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
CAT PEOPLE (1982)Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by DeWitt Bodeen (story), Alan Ormsby & Paul Schrader (screenplay)
Starring Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Scott Paulin, Frankie Faison, Ron Diamond, Lynn Lowry, John Larroquette
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
There are dog people and then there is CAT PEOPLE, a film that didn’t really do a whole lot of business when it first came out despite the impressive people who were in front of and behind the camera. Directed and written by TAXI DRIVER/RAGING BULL/ROLLING THUNDER writer Paul Schrader (who has a lot of directoral achievements under his belt as well like AMERICA GIGOLO, HARDCORE, AFFLICTION, & PATTY HEARST), Schrader made what is basically a werewolf film into a thriller that oozes eroticism and sexual tension from every frame.
The animal within is the most common subject of most werewolf films. Caging it. Taming it. Owning it. And here in CAT PEOPLE, those themes are explored as well, though there’s a lot of nudity and sexy times in between all of those dissections of man’s more bestial side. Still, while things go more toward the torrid side of things, the basic theme her is obsession and owning something that cannot be owned. The story is two-tier, focusing on Irena (Nastassja Kinski), who ventures to New Orleans to live with her long lost brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) and realizes that the strange feelings she’s been having intensify when she gets closer to her sibling. A virgin, Irena spurns some creepy advances from Paul, yet finds herself drawn to a zookeeper named Oliver (John Heard). Oliver is the second tier of this story, as he immediately becomes transfixed with Irena (and who wouldn’t. Kinski is absolutely ravishing in this film), obsessing over her to an unhealthy level.
The thing is, Irena is a part of a species of people who turn into large wild panthers that date back to primitive times. Once the species has sex, they immediately turn into a large cat and can only turn back to a human if they kill someone. Paul knows this, but Irena doesn’t since she is a virgin, yet she has always known she was different. Though creepy ass Paul persists with the incestual flirtations, stating that the only way the species can survive is for those within the species to mate with one another, Irena goes for Oliver, thus putting him in danger, once the deed is done.
Sexually complex and some might say perverse, CAT PEOPLE plays with classic themes and gives them an early 80’s twist by diving into the sexually charged time period where the notion of sex literally turning one into a monster was charged by the rise of awareness of AIDS and STDs. While there are shades of moralistic sex/death metaphors, Shrader seems more akin to delving into Oliver’s obsession with possessing Irena, not matter what the cost to his own safety. Oliver knows sleeping with Irena spells his doom, but can’t stop himself. Neither can Irena, who urges Oliver to kill her in later scenes before she kills him.
Aside from all of this metaphor, there are some fantastic practical effects. Though AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON set the modern stage for werewolf transformation sequences, the fact that Irena and Paul turn into cats make for a somewhat different metamorphosis. The cat literally tears through their skins, as if it were incubating in there all along. Having the claws poke out of their knuckles and subtle applications to the face in the middle stages of transformation make for a memorable transformation scene.
On top of the leads, who are all amazing in their roles, you get a young Annette O'Toole as Oliver’s ex, Ruby Dee as Female, Paul’s keeper, Ed Bagley Jr. as another zookeeper, and bit parts for Lynn Lowry & John Larroquette. Giorgio Moroder supplied the fantastic score which is both haunting and sensual and makes David Bowie’s repetitive theme song “Putting Out Fire With Gasoline” much more tolerable by providing alternate versions for the score.
For those of you who love 80’s nudity, this one is chock filled with multiple upon multiple shots of the svelte Kinski slinking around in the buff. And just in case you get tired of Kinski, O’Toole and a few prostitutes declothe as well. There’s an especially gratuitous/hilarious scene where a prostitute survives a fall down a stairs without falling out of her bra, but as she turns around the bra snaps off which had me rolling at how it seems a requirement for every woman in this film to let them all hang out.
Extras include interviews with Schrader, Heard, composer Giorgio Moroder, Totes McGoats, and especially weird interview with Kinski herself who squirms around in front of the camera as if she’d never been in front of one before. Though there are variations from time to time, most werewolf films are pretty similar. Adding the eroticism element, Schrader made this one stand out from the pack. Schrader made a visually stunning film with everything from beautiful people to breathtaking shots of red misted deserts with panthers in trees to look at. CAT PEOPLE is fantastic from beginning to end, proving that beast within stories are not only for dog lovers.
New on DVD from Warlock Home Video and MVD Home Video!
PHANTOM OF THE GRINDHOUSE (2013)Directed by Chris Seaver
Written by Chris Seaver
Starring Desiree Saetia, Jason McCall, Andrew Baltes, Meredeth Host, Kate Lewis, Chip Rockcastle, Jamie Osborne, Chris Seaver
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
In the Rodriquez/Tarantino joint GRINDHOUSE: PLANET TERROR/DEATHPROOF, while I had fun with the main feature, I had much more fun with the mock trailers that played in between the films that I did the films themselves. The same kind of goes for PHANTOM OF THE GRINDHOUSE, which is frothing over with indie flavor, but the film itself can’t compare to the fun it seemed like the filmmakers had making mock trailers for the likes of the zombie glutton pic GLUTEN FOR PUNISHMENT, the confusing I WAS A TEENAGE WITCH-HUNTER FROM OUTER SPACE, the hilariously corny INVASION OF THE MUD SPIDERS, the schlocky amateur goodness of ON A DARK NIGHT, and the batshit craziness of SOMETHING! (which had better be this filmmaking team’s next film).
The film opens on a second run theater that has fallen on tough times. The colorful cast is made up of a post op tranny named Tenderoni, a guy who looks like Doug Henning called Salisbury, a typical punk girl, a nerd girl, a guy who acts like Michael J. Fox in BACK TO THE FUTURE, and the romantic lead played by the punked out Desiree Saetia who belts out a few songs in this film at random moments. This crew is all cliché and no character as each one of them but the lead has a joke characteristic which is beaten into the ground until each are killed off my the Phantom (Jason McCall) who murders them one by one as the movie marathon meant to save the theater draws closer.
McCall’s performance as the Phantom is pretty fun in a Craig Robinson sort of way as he acts out a weird combination of moves and quotes from both Prince and Michael Jackson. The gyrations and seductive voice is hilarious set to the overweight actors physicality and while his motivation is not as deep as previous Phantom renditions of the past, he makes most scenes he’s in memorable with goofy one liners and spot on impressions of Prince and the Prince of Pop.
As I said, while most Phantom films are centered on some kind of obsession, this Phantom simply seems to want to knock boots with the leading lady and that’s about it. Still, the film pretty much follows the classic PHANTOM OF THE OPERA plot right down to a hilariously anti-climactic unmasking.
PHANTOM OF THE GRINDHOUSE feels like a film a bunch of friends who hung out in the same bar made for shits and giggles. It’s definitely an indie that is rough around the edges and will be unwatchable for those who love their films polished by the Hollywood machine. That said, there are a lot of crude sexual and lowbrow jokes that I must admit made me laugh a few times and the SKA soundtrack will keep your toe tapping long enough to entertain for a short while.
New on DVD & Video On Demand from Midnight Releasing!
DEAD OF THE NITE (2013)Directed by S.J. Evans
Written by S.J. Evans
Starring Tony Todd, Joseph Millson, Cicely Tennant, Gary Mavers, Claudio Pacifico, Paul Fox, Simon Bamford, Suzi Lorraine, Simone Kaye, Stuart Boother, Rachel Whittingham
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While this one fits the description of a found footager, DEAD OF THE NITE is more like an extended episode of GHOST HUNTERS as most of it focuses on a television ghost hunting team who lock themselves into an abandoned and rumored to be haunted building only to find their dooms instead of high ratings.
While Tony Todd is prominently featured on the cover of this DVD, he only appears briefly in a few scenes most likely filmed long after or long before the rest of the film was made. Todd plays Ruber, the groundskeeper of the building who warns the group not to go in and is questioned by the cops after they end up killed by whatever went on in there. Interspersed throughout Ruber’s interrogation are scenes from the cameras found inside the haunted abode suggesting that the ghost of a serial killer is loose inside. The set up is one of the cooler ones, the follow through…
Well, DEAD OF NITE gets points for me for not going the CG route here. Most of the scares, thrills, and kills happen on panel or just off camera. The only problem is that these scares are as predictable as they come and are not really executed well. The main reason, most likely, is that the entire film was made in the dark filmed in night vision, so the actors most likely really didn’t know what was going on around them. This may make for some authentic acting, but it also causes the actors to walk around in a hesitant manner as to not get hurt. This is evident mostly right before we know and they know something is going to leap out and grab them. Because the actors are obviously preparing themselves for a scare, it just doesn’t work and there’s an amateur-ish feel to the scenes when the action gets rolling (another problem is that the film takes its sweet time to get to the action itself).
The killer wears one of those face masks that looks like the top of Charlie’s green man costume from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY. Sure the faceless look is creepy, but with the look being so prominent at sporting events, it’s hard to get scared by it. While Todd gives his all as he usually does in these films, it’s tough to get into any of the other actors who felt like they were more worried about getting really hurt in the dark than focus on their lines. DEAD OF THE NITE tries things old school, and I really do appreciate that, but the lags in acting and pacing really make it hard to believe in.
New this week on DVD!
STONADOS (2013)Directed by Jason Bourque
Written by Rafael Jordan
Starring Paul Johansson, Thea Gill, Sebastian Spence, William B. Davis, Jessica McLeod, Miranda Frigon
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Did you like SHARKNADO but didn’t really care for the whole shark business? Well, this is the film for you! From the director of SEATTLE SUPERSTORM and DOOMSDAY PROPHECY and the writer of DRAGON WASPS, SUPER ERUPTION, and RAGIN’ CAJUN REDNECK GATORS comes STONADOS; a movie about tornados that collect rocks and throw them at people!
And then the rocks explode!
Now, this is another one of those films you’d most likely catch on a ScyFy Saturday night. There’s a bar one lowers or maybe one lowers down to when watching one of these weather gone wild films that some people just can’t find themselves enough energy to do. For me, it depends on what type of world-ending weather it focuses on or what two monsters are spliced together for the film. Get the right combination and I’ll watch. The wrong and I can’t turn the channel fast enough. But more often than not, the kookier the concept, the higher the likelihood that my interest will be piqued.
Enter STONADOS, a pretty goofy meteorological horror about chemical gasses from a volcano being sucked into the atmosphere which creates tornados that shoot out boulders at the population of a East Coast city. To add insult to injury, once these boulders hit the ground, they explode! Improbable? Yes, but a science teacher (Paul Johansson) and a weather man (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Sebastian Spence) explain it with enough charm to make it digestible for at least 90 minutes.
While the cast is far from A-list, the whole crew seems to be both having fun with it and are able to actually have some decent chemistry together as Johansson and Spence work off of each other well as long time friends and former storm chasers. The story itself is ludicrous. Attempts at tension and suspense are downright laughable. There’s a particular scene which goes on forever as the weather team tries to drive through an alley filled with exploding tornado boulders. Another scene has the leads shoot a bomb in a plastic bazooka at a tornado to stop it. But it is all brainless fun, for the most part. STONADOS is better than your average ScyFy fare. Worth a Sunday afternoon viewing as long as you leave your good taste and common sense at the door.
New this week DVD from IFC Midnight!
DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA 3-D (2013)Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tentori
Starring Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, Rutger Hauer
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Wow, what a misstep of a film. I really am searching for something positive to say about Dario Argento’s take on the classic vampire tale, but aside from some beautiful women who are more than comfortable bearing all for the bloodsucker and Argento’s camera, I can’t find the words to do so.
Ultimately, when making a remake, you have to justify why you are doing so. Maybe you are taking a classic concept and giving it a modern take. Maybe the film is a lost treasure and someone is trying to shed light onto it. Whatever the reason, these days, if you want to make a positive impact, the reason better be damn good. But Argento’s take on Bram Stoker’s classic is as uninspired and unnecessary as they come. Argento follows the classic story to the beat for the most part, but fails to bring any type of life and more importantly reason for being to the film.
The main problem here is that the entire cast doesn’t really seem to want to be there. Marta Gastini is Lucy and does a decent job in the role, but just didn’t stand out to me as a particularly strong character or someone who would be friends with Asia Argento’s Lucy, who lacks the feisty innocence required for the role. Because of Asia’s age and dark demeanor, she would have made a better Tania, Dracula’s first wife of sorts, who has a surprisingly larger role in this film. The role of Tania is played by the voluptuous and oft nekkid Miriam Giovanelli, and if there’s a character that is most interesting it is her. Poppa Argento seems most interested in her as well as she gets a few subplots here that amps her up as almost a Goddess Hera character as she is pissed that her horny husband is out gallivanting with other chicks. If the film offers anything new, it’s the beefing up of Tania’s importance to the plot. Hell, it’s basically her story as she’s in the very first scene and is a threat throughout the film.
Rutger Hauer plays Van Helsing and honestly looks and gives a performance that screams jetlag more than anything else. He lazily lumbers from one scene to the next out of breath and seemingly forgetting the script as he looks around dumbfounded for most of his screen time. Making matters worse, Thomas Kretschmann plays the Count (he is also rumored to be cast as Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker in the upcoming AVENGERS sequel) and lacks the presence to really command the role. The actor is not particularly bad, just kind of a Liam Neeson blank slate of a man who doesn’t have that demeanor to really convince me that he’s this all-powerful evil entity with fervor to tear one apart mixed with passion to tempt all of the ladies. Dracula should own every scene he’s in. He’s the star of the damn movie, fer chrissakes, but unfortunately, Kretschmann gives a performance more akin to Renfield than the Prince of Darkness.
Or maybe it’s just Argento’s surprisingly flat direction. The film really feels to be made by someone who is too tired or bored to get out of their chair and move the camera around. Static shots, uninspired placement, shoddy editing; I understand working with a 3D camera is said to be cumbersome, but this film feels as if the people behind the camera were asleep most of the time.
And speaking of 3D shots, after films like AVATAR and every other big time Hollywood release, if you’re going 3D, go big or go home. Here I wish Argento would have dropped the 3D gimmickry because that’s all it really is as he resorts to the comin’ at ya tricks that are honestly better in films like FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 than here. And given the fact that most of the scenes lack the depth and look like they were shot on sets, the reasoning for adding a third dimension eludes me.
There are scenes that play as laughably bad as the film opens up with a lovemaking sequence that is on the level of Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM. It doesn’t get much better as computer generated owls and especially a bizarre sequence involving Dracula turning into a giant praying mantis that are horribly rendered and defy any real reason for being. The scene with the mantis is especially head-scratch worthy as the scene just kind of exists because there hadn’t been a computer effect in about fifteen minutes. This mantis scene shows off Argento’s off-base take on the film really is. Not one time did I sit through a DRACULA film and think, “You know what this scene needs? A praying motherfucking mantis.”
I really am flummoxed as to how bad this film is. It’s not even one of those “so bad it’s good” films. It’s one of those so bad it’s uncomfortable films that actually hurts the viewer in regards to how much of a miss it is by all involved.
I’m sure Argento has some fantastically horrific films in him to come and maybe he had to shat out this one in order to get to them. But man, this was a shitsmear of a movie. This is a film that will have you flex those apology muscles to the max if you’re a fan of Argento’s work as I am. I’d recommend it to those who love bad cinema and relishing in those missteps filmmakers often take. In the end, Argento made a film that adds nothing to the fine line of adaptations of Stoker’s classic novel (aside from that mantis scene, of course), and being unnecessary and uninspired is the biggest sin of all (and there are many here) DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA 3D commits.
New this week on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures!
ANTISOCIAL (2013)Directed by Cody Calahan
Written by Cody Calahan, Chad Archibald
Starring Michelle Mylette, Cody Thompson, Adam Christie, Ana Alic, Romaine Waite, Ryan Barrett
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m old enough to remember when cell phones were a thing of the future, or at least something that was the size of a brick like Zack’s phone on SAVED BY THE BELL or connected to cars by a curly wire. So there’s a part of me that looks at the way people are so obsessed with their telephones and Facebook and internet today and it makes me want to stand in my yard in black socks and flip flops yelling at the world to “Get your nose out of the computer and live in the now!” Then again, when I forget my iPhone on my nightstand on my way into work, I’ll waste precious time and gas money to drive all the way back home to retrieve it because I can’t live without it. I have gone to work without a belt and lived with it. I’ve gone to work with two different colored socks, and said screw it. Even showed up with two different shoes on one groggy hangover-filled morning. But if I don’t have my phone, I can’t function. So I guess I’m guilty as the next guy for being addicted to the internet.
I go off on this little diatribe because at first glance, the cast of ANTISOCIAL should be annoying as shit to me. They constantly update pictures and comments and deep thoughts to a social media website called RedRoom and basically fill their entire time with browsing the website for updates and comments and things for them to update and comment on. But then I realize I spent the last month updating and counting down a list of horror over the last month, and online obsession isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m just as bad as these kids.
Turns out, though, that the RedRoom has some nasty side effects after its latest update and those on the site begin to act like amped-up zombies after a short while of usage. So while everyone is partying and updating their phones on one of the busiest cell phone times of the year (New Year’s Eve), a virus is spreading rapidly. ANTISOCIAL follows one group of kids getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash, but finding themselves boarding up their home and doing the last thing they should be doing--that is, checking online for reasons why folks are going crazy.
ANTISOCIAL has a smart social message-style feel the early George Romero films had paired with a genuine feeling of paranoia I haven’t felt in a film since the 70’s version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The film sets up an amazing premise and runs with it, taking full advantage of our addiction to everything online and exploiting it, and by the end of the film made me a little leery about picking up my iPhone again (well, at least I thought about it for a tick before picking it back up). Writer/director Cody Calahan and writer Chad Archibald have some up with a new type of zombie for the online age, and it’ a pretty compelling one at that as it plays with our own obsessions and twists it in monstrous ways. This type of smart handling of what’s going on right now is what innovative horror is all about.
While the premise is strong and so are the performances by the young cast, there are a few decisions along the way that will have you slapping your forehead raw. It’s hard to recommend a film for its strong premise when there is a scene where a girl has to use a power drill to operate on her own brain…
Let that sink in a bit. I know Rambo is bad and all and can stitch up a wound like no one’s business, but even he doesn’t have the grit (or the brains, for that matter) to do a self-brain operation. But somehow, this 100 pound girl has the intestinal fortitude to do so? I also think the filmmakers could have come up with a different way to represent the zombies as they sort of just resemble the frantic infected from 28 DAYS LATER. That said, there are little sparks of genius here as the infected post in real time video whatever they see in front of them online, which makes for some really creepy scenes.
So while there is a misstep here and there, I can’t help but praise ANTISOCIAL for its innovative premise, insightful view on this particular time for our culture, and of course the real time eye thing. The film is fast-paced and begins with a bang and never really stops until the ending, which feels more RESIDENT EVIL than anything else, but I loved it nevertheless. Here’s hoping the filmmakers have enough success with this ultra-modern take on a well-tread genre to make a sequel as this film suggests. If only there was a way for the masses to see it.
Hey, I know. I’ll just blog about it online…right after I update my FB status.
All cuteness aside, this is a really fantastic film and should be spread to the masses.
TEACHERS DAY (2014)aka BLOOD SCHOOL
Directed by Jared Lee Masters
Written by Jared Lee Masters
Starring Lindsay Lamb, Steve Crest, Nikole Howell, Mindy Robinson, Dawna Lee Heising, Yasmine Soofi, Courtney Rood, Lonnie Alcide Gardner, Danika Galindo, Simone Wasserman, Andrew Phillips, Julia Faye West, Kelly De Vries, Art Roberts, Sunny Vachher
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This throwback to old school low budget slasher films has a lot of moments that made me smile, but it’s also wrapped in a package that is very much indie and low fi. Not that that’s a bad thing, but there are some who won’t give TEACHERS DAY a chance because of that fact.
And that’s a shame because aside from the rather hokey motivation for this teacher turned mass murderer, there are some great moments of gleefully gory and carnage laden scenes such as one scene where the killer, lacking anything else to kill his intended victim with, pulls up a mailbox and bashes his victim in the head with it, then of course skewers her with the pole. Moments like this had me out of my chair laughing at how outrageous it was.
The story itself is rather simplistic. A tightly strung teacher is let loose from his school because he interacted with a student via Facebook and snaps. While the leap is rather large from educator to madman, given the small scale of the film, it’s not anything too much to understand or follow. This is a horror film and the killer needs a reason to kill. Getting fired seems to be a good enough reason for a rampage as any given this tough economy.
There’s quite a bit of self poking fun going on in TEACHERS DAY in regards to the amount of education the students seem to lack and also some rather pointed stabs at the stupidity of pop culture with the ridiculous theme song, “Fruit on My Belly”. Writer/director Jared Lee Masters fills this one with hot babes in peril (something he also did with his previous film SLINK which I rather enjoyed when I reviewed it here). The film itself views like a modern homage to those old sleepover slashers like SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE and films of their ilk and serves as a worthy, yet rather rudimentary tribute. Still, there’s a really cool opening credits sequence and a lot of brutal gore to enjoy. TEACHERS DAY isn’t going to change the face of horror, but it does do slumber party horror with a wink, a nod, and a slash to fans who like low fi horror.
Advance Review: Available on DVD April 15, 2014 from Image Entertainment!
CAMP DREAD (2014)aka DEAD TV
Directed by Harrison Smith
Written by Harrison Smith
Starring Eric Roberts, Danielle Harris, Felissa Rose, Brian Gallagher, Ashley Sumner, Nicole Cinaglia, Montana Marks, Joe Raffa, Christopher Weite, Kyle Patrick Brennan, Angel Anthony Marrero, Davy Raphaely
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Being a lifelong fan of FRIDAY THE 13TH and films of its ilk like THE BURNING, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, and THE FINAL TERROR, a film like CAMP DREAD aka DEAD TV is right up my alley. There’s something about a killer in the woods film that strums both the strings of nostalgia and gets my heart pumping. Maybe it was all of those nights camping as a kid and really buying into those campfire tales. I don’t know for sure. All I know is, I dug CAMP DREAD a hell of a lot.
While comparisons to BATTLE ROYALE, THE HUNGER GAMES, and especially SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS are bound to be thrown at this film, CAMP DREAD manages to pay homage to campground terror along with the reality show competition angle which makes it somewhat of a unique little flick. The story follows a blacklisted director (Eric Roberts) who sets out to remake one of his most popular films, a campground horror film with shades of both FRIDAY THE 13TH and SLEEPAWAY CAMP (coincidentally, this film also stars Felissa Rose, the girl-boy killer from that series). Roberts has gathered a bunch of miscreant twenty-somethings, all in trouble with the law in one way or another, and reveals to them that they are the stars of a new reality show where the last man standing gets a cool mill. When the group starts dropping like flies one by one before the competition even begins, the surviving camp members start taking matters in their own hands and things get really, really bloody.
Though they’ve been stars in some pretty ripe stinkers of late, both Eric Roberts and Danielle Harris offer up some great scene-chewing here. Harris is always great. The short but strong trooper of an actress packs some powerful acting skills, but more often than not she stars in the worst of films. Here she offers up some nice attitude as a cop in a small town near the camp that all the action takes place in. The role Roberts plays is sleazy and unlikable and though I’m sure he’s a great guy in real life, Roberts is more than believable as the director who is in it for a comeback, no matter how the bodies fall. The aforementioned Felissa Rose is surprisingly good here as well as an actress turned counselor who really wants to reach out to these asshole kids.
And the kids are as assholian as they come. All are giving fine performances here as assholes, but assholes just the same. And as a testament to the writing of this film, they aren’t your typical assholes as it’s revealed all of them have pretty detailed and layered pasts. Even more atypical is that the cast isn’t your typical slasher film fare and able to handle these more complex roles. I think you’ll be surprised at how good the acting is in this one.
CAMP DREAD is campfire horror done right. Like FRIDAY THE 13TH (and unlike most of its predecessors) it’s filled with likable assholes who meet their demise in an extremely gory fashion. MONSTERMAN’s Cleve Hall supplies the over the top and visceral gore which echoes back to Savini’s more tactile kills from the first F13 and THE BURNING. Though the twist is modern, there’s a lot of old school slasher goodness at play at CAMP DREAD!
And finally…here’s a short film called NEGATIVE IMAGE. It won best of Shriekfest in 2011 and I think it definitely deserved it. Cleverly directed and downright scary in parts, this one was directed and written by Karl Holt. Find out more about this and other shorts from Holt on his website Darkline Entertainment here!
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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