AICN HORROR looks at SEPTIC MAN! ODD THOMAS! LEGEND OF SIX-FINGERS! THE SHADOW! INDIE DIRECTOR! MEMORY OF THE DEAD! REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE! HYSTERICAL PSYCHO! BAD DREAMS! & THE CABINING!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Look out for vampires, zombies, lunatics, a fringe filmmaker, a swamp ape, a death cult, a pulp hero, a poop hero, and Taylor Dayne. All in all, a good week for horror!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: The Cinema of Jean Rollin – The Vampire Collection Box Set: REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973)
Retro-review: Scream Factory Double Feature - BAD DREAMS (1988)
Retro-review: THE SHADOW (1994)
INDIE DIRECTOR (2013)
HYSTERICAL PSYCHO (2013)
MEMORY OF THE DEAD (2011)
ODD THOMAS (2013)
Advance Review: THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS (2013)
Advance Review: THE CABINING (2013)
Advance Review: SEPTIC MAN (2013)
And finally…Taylor Dayne’s “Original Sin!”
Retro-review: New DVD/BluRay Collection from Kino Lorber/Redemption Films!
The Cinema of Jean Rollin – The Vampire Collection Box Set
REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973)aka REQUIEM POUR UN VAMPIRE, CAGED VIRGINS, VIERGES ET VAMPIRES, CAGED VAMPIRES, DUNGEON OF TERROR, SEX VAMPIRES, VIRGINS AND THE VAMPIRES, THE CRAZED VAMPIRE, THE CRAZED VIRGINS
Directed by Jean Rollin
Written by Jean Rollin
Starring Marie-Pierre Castel, Mireille Dargent, Philippe Gasté, Dominique Louise Dhour
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Kino Lorber/Redemption has put together the essential box set of four of Jean Rollin’s classic erotic vampire films. I’ve covered some of them before, but this box set warrants my return to the material. Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering all of the films: THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (reviewed last week), THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, THE NUDE VAMPIRE, and this week’s film, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE.
Having delved into the works of Jean Rollin last week with THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, I decided to be a glutton for punishment and go for round two even though I had some trouble getting through the first film. REQUIEM FOR THE VAMPIRE proves to be more of the same when it comes to Rollin’s penchant for navel-gazingly slow plotting and uncomfortably long scenes of eroticism consisting of impish women rolling around on the ground with men and other women, but at least this one has some interestingly surreal moments and some goofy vampires to laugh at unintentionally.
As much as I want to hold these Rollin films in high regard, the French filmmaker is doing a lot to keep me from doing so. First and foremost, the vamps in REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE are by far some of the goofiest-looking fangers ever put to film. The lead vampire looks like a graying Jeff Goldblum, while the prosthetic teeth stick out from all of the vamps’ mouths awkwardly and crookedly, more akin to a malformed sabertoothed tiger than any vamp I’ve seen. Throw in a puffy pirate shirt or two and these creatures of the night are more likely to incite guffaws than screams of terror.
Rollin also tends to linger a bit too long during the multiple scenes of sex and torture--and scenes involving both at once. Sure, these films were meant to titillate, most likely, but the same scene of S&M over and over or one drawn-out lovemaking scene that lasts eons made my fast forward finger heavy.
Apart from those criticisms, I did find REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE more digestible for its offbeat moments, especially the opening scene as some nubile young women are fleeing by car from another car dressed as clowns. The gunfight that ensues is the stuff of low budget 70’s grindhouse dreams, and the juxtaposition of the clown costumes and the deadly acts the two girls are doing is oddly cool. The two lasses drop the clown garb momentarily to roll around with each other in a graveyard, and almost get buried alive upon hiding from some gravediggers. This story, touted by Rollin as his favorite film because he wrote it in two days, flows like a stream of consciousness beat poem with jazz music playing as the girls flit from graveyard to countryside to gothic castle. Though the film later devolves into S&M territory with scenes of handcuffed virgins and masked whip-cracking, the first half of the film works as a gothic fever dream.
I’ve heard good things about the films of Jean Rollin, but these two films, THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, didn’t really do it for me. Though the surreal opener of REQUIEM works, the lack of ideas and drawn-out scenes of sex and torture lost me in the second half.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
The Scream Factory Double Feature
BAD DREAMS (1988)Directed by Andrew Fleming
Written by Andrew Fleming, (story & screenplay), Steven E. de Souza (screenplay), Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, Yuri Zeltser (story)
Starring Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Harris Yulin, Susan Barnes, John Scott Clough, Elizabeth Daily, Damita Jo Freeman, Louis Giambalvo, Susan Ruttan, Sy Richardson, Melissa Francis, Charles Fleischer
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I always viewed BAD DREAMS as the ugly step-cousin that never really caught on of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Though there are a lot of similarities, especially with THE DREAM WARRIORS, the film does stand on its own as a decent little horror show.
The film centers on a young woman named Cynthia (ANOES: DREAM WARRIORS’ Jennifer Rubin), who survived a Jonestown Massacre-style ritual suicide led by the charismatically creepy cult leader named Harris (Richard Lynch). Harris, like the rest of the members of the cult named Unity Field, perished in the fire, but Cynthia continues to be haunted by waking hallucinations and nightmares about her time with the group and is transferred to a new mental hospital, which is where the action of this film picks up. Soon, the rest of the patients and staff at the hospital begin to be killed off one by one and Cynthia begins to think that Harris is not as dead and gone as she thought he was.
The thing that is going to turn a lot of people off of BAD DREAMS is its obvious derivation from the Freddy Krueger films. Richard Lynch as Harris does haunt Cynthia in a very Krueger-esque manner, right down to the occasional one-liner. The patients around Cynthia are killed in various ways in a state between waking and dream, but the main difference between the two films is that Harris basically is represented in a manner that Freddy Krueger was beginning to shy away from. While Freddy was becoming more comical and cartoony (THE DREAM MASTER came out in 1988 as well, which represents the beginning of the downward spiral of the ELM STREET series), Harris is cold-blooded and haunting. And while the killings are various and different, they never reach the spectacle that the ELM STREET series had become. In many ways, BAD DREAMS felt like a throwback to the original ELM STREET series, and that is not the dream demon that was popular at the moment, and possibly at the time felt more like a step backward than anything else in terms of relevance.
The visage of Harris in his burn makeup is equally problematic, but also very creepy. In an attempt to be more realistic as well as be different than Freddy, burnt-up Harris looks more like a puffy and burnt gingerbread man, with his ears burned off and hanging in clumps from the side of his head and his lips burned back into a constant grimace. The look is so different than the slender and somewhat smooth burns of Freddy that it really could be perceived as much more nightmarish and uncomfortable. I think this realism added to this makeup actually was the downfall of it, because it looked too effective and real.
Richard Lynch himself is haunting as all get-out as Harris, a soft-spoken yet convincing religious zealot who convinces his entire flock to douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves ablaze. The late actor doesn’t appear in any of the featurettes that accompany this BluRay, but I am so very curious about what it was like for the actor to play a man who sets himself on fire. Lynch himself did the exact same thing in real life while on LSD, turning his once-handsome face into a scarred skin wrapping over his skull. The actor spoke about the incident in anti-drug speeches and documentaries and made use of these scars to play bad guys in many a film. Here as Harris, Lynch conveys someone who genuinely believes what he is doing is right, and while a lot of the role seems to be taken from cult leader Jim Jones, Lynch injects a lot of Charles Manson into the character as well in terms of charisma and utter conviction in the words he’s speaking.
Another similarity to ANOES: THE DREAM WARRIORS is that Jennifer Rubin plays a character in BAD DREAMS as Cynthia that is pretty much identical to her role in that film. Rubin’s role is definitely the central one on which the story is hung, but basically in both films she plays a person sent to a mental hospital and coping with horrific dreams. The support group that surround Rubin are about as clichéd as they come, with an appearance by E.G. Daily (PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE) being the best of the bunch as an innocent introvert. In the group is also Dean Cameron, whose witty banter leans closer to the annoying side, leaving me counting the seconds before he gets offed. RE-ANIMATOR’s Bruce Abbot plays another doctor here, who gets a little too close to Rubin and comes off as rather cardboard and unnecessary to the plot, as this is Rubin and Lynch’s show.
BAD DREAMS ends anticlimactically, with a showdown on the roof of a building. The BluRay also includes an alternate ending where Cynthia returns to the home she and her cult peers were burned in to confront her ghosts of the past, which feels much more creepy and also tidies things up a bit nicer. It’s bloodier, too, which is most likely why they decided on axing it. With a little further distance from BAD DREAMS, my feelings that it’s a knockoff fade a bit and my respect for it grows. Filled with all sorts of bad 80’s fashion decisions, but sporting a surprisingly trippy, 60’s soundtrack (except for the addition of Guns ‘N Roses over the end credits), BAD DREAMS’ only fault is that it was released in the time it was. Ten years earlier it would have been trailblazing; ten years later, nostalgic. As it is, it will forever be the side alley off of ELM STREET that few people go down anymore.
This film is paired with VISITING HOURS, which I reviewed last week.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
THE SHADOW (1994)Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Written by Walter B. Gibson (character The Shadow from stories), David Koepp
Starring Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller,Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters, James Hong
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t looking forward to checking out this new BluRay of THE SHADOW. I never really liked it when it first came out in 1994, and I wasn’t the only one. Ironically, the film was seen as too derivative of what Tim Burton was doing in the BATMAN films even though the creators of the Dark Knight admitted that The Shadow was one of the lead influences in the creation of the iconic character. Still, I plopped this BluRay in the machine and prepared to be underwhelmed.
But while the film does have its faults, I was pleasantly surprised with this revisiting as THE SHADOW is actually a darn fun little noir flick, honoring some of the aspects of the pulp hero that distinguishe him from Batman. While a lot of the backlash was that many felt Alec Baldwin was the ideal choice for Bruce Wayne anyway, Baldwin does a great job balancing the lighter and darker sides of Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow. Sure he’s known for both his rage-filled rants and his comedic performances nowadays, but back then, he was one of those suave leading man types who seemed perfect for Batman. Having Baldwin step into the shoes of a lesser-known character to the general populace and people out of the know in comics/radio plays/etc. seemed like a knockoff, but Baldwin seems to take the character pretty seriously without the nods and winks to the camera we are used to him doing these days.
If THE SHADOW suffers at all, it’s due to the generic villains The Shadow takes on. John Lone plays the direct descendant to Genghis Khan, Shiwan Khan, and does so with bawdy laughter and much moustache twirling as he wreaks havoc on the NYC populace, using his mind control powers on petty things like making a sailor leap from the Empire State Building simply for commenting on his garb. Sure, this is a scene that is pretty ballsy and violent for these types of PG-13 superheroes. Tim Curry’s Claymore is equally cartoonish as the backstabbing assistant to Ian McKellan’s Dr. Reinhardt Lane, who plays an integral role in Khan’s plans for taking over the city. Because the threats are cartoonish, nothing really seems at stake in the film and it lessens what could have been a more effective film. But at the time, superhero villains were all shouting lines, standing at laughing at carnage, and basically paving the way for bad superhero adaptations for years to come, so the film is simply following a trend.
Another annoying superhero comic to film translation annoyance which unfortunately hasn’t changed through the years is the fact that The Shadow must be unmasked and run around without his face covered in the closing scenes, because the audience needs to see be reminded that it’s a superstar under that mask. There seems to be a memo that went out starting with BATMAN RETURNS that every comic book movie hero absolutely must break character and take off their mask in the final act. I understand that this is a moment where the actor needs to emote the most and covering one’s face with a mask makes that difficult, but it’s a trend that could be countered with some good dialog or moments of action that delve out of the realm of cliché. The final moments of THE SHADOW follow suit as Baldwin loses the scarf, hat, and proboscis so we can see his face while he’s taking on Khan.
What THE SHADOW gets right are the powers of Cranston. It’s so much fun seeing Baldwin in a fake nose over his already pronounced proboscis. Even though effects have come a long way since this film, the effect of having The Shadow actually appear out of nowhere and emerge from flat shadows is pretty damn impressive and a very cool visual. Add two shiny blasting .45 caliber handguns and you’ve got a badass cinematic hero on your hands. I also love the way they changed Baldwin’s blue eyes to steely black while using his powers over perception and mind. It’s a subtle yet effective little look.
The additions of quirky little details such as The Shadow’s collapsible entrance into his secret lair, his old timey radio with a snowy picture of the police chief, and the use of old timey cabs and city landscapes all contribute to making this film feel like it takes place in a world very different from our own. Some scenes even use painted backdrops, adding to the comic book effect, but this is used sparingly and actually adds to the unevenness of whether this wants to feel like a comic book come to life on screen or one that is just barely translated to film. Either one works, but it seems director Russell Mulcahy wasn’t sure of which to do, and the overall look of the film suffers because of that.
THE SHADOW does a lot right in terms of realizing the character, shaping the world he lives in, and picking the right cast to take the material seriously. While the film lacks in the villain department and falls into some Hollywood superhero potholes, the tone is pretty dark and a lot of people actually die or are hurt because of the action in the film (unlike the action in MAN OF STEEL, where the collateral damage is something not to be bothered with). This new BluRay presents THE SHADOW in lights and darks deeper than ever before. Though it’s light on extras, it does have a nice retrospective that looks back on the film’s reception and how it is seen today. This is a fun throwback that isn’t as good as other pulp adaptations like THE ROCKETEER, but it veers closer to that film than something like THE PHANTOM.
New on DVD from MVD Entertainment!
INDIE DIRECTOR (2013)Directed by Bill Zebub
Written by Bill Zebub
Starring Stephanie Anders, Angelina Leigh, Clover St. Claire, Tiffany Loretta Carroll
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Filmmaker Bill Zebub has developed somewhat of a reputation through the independent film scene. With scores and scores of DIY films under his belt tackling such topics as rape, racism, independent filmmaking, rock and roll, and horror, Zebub is famous for his anything goes attitude and his controversial subject matter. But surely making so many films through the years has taught him something, right?
Zebub lets us know exactly what he has learned in his latest feature INDIE FILMMAKER, in which Zebub stars as himself trying to get a distribution deal, struggling with the pitfalls of making films on no budget, and what he needs to do in order to elevate himself to the next level of filmmaking without compromising his own morals in regards to the craft. The film is roughly cut together, with choppy edits, obvious ad libs and possibly a thread-bare script in terms of story, all set to a local scene level growl-metal soundtrack. While some may be put off by Zebub’s down and dirty filmmaking style in which he cavorts and fondles every woman on his set, rambles incessantly for way too long, and has an attitude and demeanor that is crude, to put it kindly, there was something about this film that made me unable to hit stop or fast forward on my remote control.
Maybe it’s because somewhere inside of Zebub’s nonsensical rants and sidebars, there’s a glimmer of that artistic spirit that shines through. And while there’s a lot of jibberish being spewed from Zebub’s bearded mouth, every now and then a nugget of wisdom clunks out. Proof that 1000 monkeys typing can make a pretty poem, or maybe just proof that under all of the bullshit, Zebub might actually not be that bad a filmmaker after all? Well, that’s for you to decide.
I was fascinated at this faux documentary that is more like a Larry David joint than anything else, as he basically travels from one person to the next getting into arguments or miscommunicating to the point of madness. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM drives some people crazy, but I love the back and forths that spawn from it. INDIE FILMMAKER is an unpolished and rough-edged version of that film which takes a microscopic look at micro-budget filmmaking from a master at that type of film. Bill Zebub is not the most agreeable of souls, but I found myself being able to look past the old rocker scuzz hair and wrinkled tee shirt attitude to find a person desperately wanting to create and fighting the good fight in terms of making films his way. His way is not necessarily mass marketable, but you have to admire the guy for sticking to his guns and making a film about it. INDIE FILMMAKER is an unconventional peek behind the curtain of a business that is not as glamorous as we all think it might be.
New this week on DVD from Indican Pictures!
HYSTERICAL PSYCHO (2013)Directed by Dan Fogler
Written by Dan Fogler
Starring Noah Bean, Randy Baruh, Kelly Hutchinson, Charissa Chamorro, Kate Gersten, Ariel Shafir, Thomas Sullivan, Sarah Slatzberg, Jeremy Silver, Lennon Parham, Nicholas Decegli, and Gilbert Gottfried
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Quite a while ago (2010 to be exact), I interviewed Dan Fogler at the San Diego Comic Con about a comic book anthology called MOON LAKE and the film he was working on at the time, called HYSTERICAL PSYCHO. As time passed, like many suggested projects I catch a whiff of at these conventions, I figured it was one of those projects that just didn’t work out. But when a copy of HYSTERICAL PSYCHO plopped on my doorstep not long ago, I was pleasantly surprised, as the film feels much like an extension of Dan’s fun and insane project MOON LAKE and also goes in places few horror comedies dare to go.
The closest thing in tone to HYSTERICAL PSYCHO is the 80s film STUDENT BODIES, a film which was very much ahead of its time in terms of making fun of the slasher film genre, and much scarier and wittier than later attempts like SCREAM and the SCARY MOVIES in terms of poking fun at the industry. The thing that reminds me of STUDENT BODIES is that, though there are all kinds of insane and bizarre things going on around the world of HYSTERICAL PSYCHO, it still doesn’t forget that it is a horror film. There are moments that will definitely make you laugh, but in between those guffaws, I found myself mostly impressed by the intensity and creativity of the scares.
The story follows a group of kids who decide to go to a cabin retreat in the woods—-a premise that you can interchange with any number of horror films, classic or not. Once cut off from the rest of the world, this cabin retreat just so happens to be off of a center for all things unnatural and horrific called Moon Lake, which is actually a crater made by a piece of the moon. Around Moon Lake swirl ghosts, demons, serial killers, and all kinds of horrors, and this group of twenty-somethings have just ventured right in the middle of it all. The rest of the film plays out predictably, but cleverly as well, as it relies on tried and true tropes established in a million and one cabin in the woods films to reel the viewer in to what they think is expected, only to upend the viewer immediately with one insane turn after another.
Even before the trip begins, there is all sorts of drama unfolding. In the group, people are cheating on one another behind their significant other’s backs, ulterior motives are being plotted, and other forms of despicableness occur to immediately make this group unlikable and allowing the audience to feel ok with the notion that most of these guys won’t be coming out of this trip alive. After the group arrives, a crazy caretaker, his deaf mute daughter, a mob hitman, and an unclaimed corpse all add to the craziness--and that’s all before the ghosts and demons start to arrive.
HYSTERICAL PSYCHO’s strength lies in its unpredictability. Fogler sets up jokes almost as expertly as he does his scary scenes. There are definitely quite a few scenes that made me jump, shocked at how effective the scare was. Fogler also pulls off some pretty iconic images involving some ghosts lingering around the cabin and lake, some effective kills, and some scenes that mix laughs and frights in ways I haven’t seen before. While many horror comedies take too much time making sure they are getting the parody of good horror films right, most forget to actually be scary, and to be honest, most forget to be funny, too. Here, Fogler juggles both as if he had an extra pair of arms, proving that the actor (who did a fantastic job in last year’s HANNIBAL, as well as the surprisingly haunting SCENIC ROUTE) is a talent to be reckoned with in front of, and now with HYSTERICAL PSYCHO, behind the camera.
While comedy is subjective as all get out, I loved the broad yet mercurial nature of HYSTERICAL PSYCHO. Some scenes will have you pausing a second to decide whether you want to jump or burst out laughing, and while the humor skews towards the more lowbrow, I was surprised at the effectiveness of it all. Sure, if you’re the serious type you’re most likely not going to want to give a comedy horror film like this a chance, but those who do approach this effectively performed and realized camp horror yukfest with an open mind will definitely have their minds blown like I did.
New this week on DVD and Video on Demand from Artsploitation Films!
MEMORY OF THE DEAD (2011)aka LA MEMORIA DE LA MUERTE
Directed by Valentín Javier Diment
Written by Martín Blousson, Valentín Javier Diment, Nicanor Loreti, Germán Val
Starring Horacio Acosta, Raquel Albéniz, Jimena Anganuzzi, Lola Berthet, Belén Brito, Ana Celentano, Rafael Ferro, Gabriel Goity, Flora Gró, Matías Marmorato, Pamela Rementería, Lorena Vega, Luis Ziembrowski
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I'm sure the filmmakers of MEMORY OF THE DEAD want this film to be seen as a sort of homage to Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD 2, but though a lot of the visuals are reminiscent of the film, the story is somewhat problematic. Still, MEMORY OF THE DEAD turns out to the impressive in many ways despite all of that.
The story begins with Alicia (played by Lola Berthet) dreamily walking with her husband along an idyllic countryside setting leading up to a lavish home. But soon, the husband breaks away from Alicia and we are given the first indication that things might not all be Kosher as a pair of children show up just outside of the gate spitting blood and chanting. When Alicia catches up to her husband, he is found at the bottom of an empty swimming pool with a cracked skull. Shocked, Alicia is even more shocked when her husband gets up, climbs back out of the pool, only to dive in headfirst again, landing with a gory splat. Cue cliché wake up from a dream scenario, and Alicia looks over at her husband beside her bed having a seizure and dying in her arms. Soon after, Alicia's family and friends gather to pay homage to their fallen friend/relative, but Alicia seems to have other things in mind during this wake involving a haunted house and a more haunted land with which the house rests upon. Soon ghosts and demons begin bursting out of the earth and slowly invading the home and the minds of those inside.
MEMORY OF THE DEAD's strength lies in the power of the nightmares depicted. There are genuinely disturbing scenarios at play here as each person attending the wake experiences their own private hell with their own demons from their pasts. But unlike many of the one note nightmares often seen in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, these folks have some deep and sordid skeletons in their closets. Everything from personal identity to incest to rape to patricide is addressed in these night terrors made real accompanied by some extremely visceral and disturbing imagery. Eyes are sewn shut. Teeth are pulled from mouths. Chocolate colored blood drips into mouths. And a child's drawing takes an insidious turn. While these sequences are definitely somewhat of a cliché as turning one’s own fears and nightmares against oneself is an oft used concept in horror, the base intensity of these terrors make these scenes stand out as something utterly unique. The effects in this film are equally impressive with a few scenes; mainly the scene where a woman sews her eyes shut, seem like she is actually doing the dastardly deed with no CG or prosthetics. These effects are seamless and impressive for such a moderately budgeted little film.
As I mentioned before, this film really wants to be EVIL DEAD 2. There are zooming shots of a camera racing ground level through a forest. There is a scene where all of the items in a living room come to life and move in their own, laughing at the screaming occupants with demonic little titters and guffaws. There is a comic and antic in your face feel that really does take you back to Raimi's classic sequel. Though the premise is different, the style is definitely takes the form of homage which I believe some will find annoying, while others will be impressed at this ode to a classic since it does do it in a capable way.
That said, there are quite a few shifts in perspective in this film. The movie starts out being Alicia's film trying to pay homage and possibly resurrect her lost husband on this haunted ground. But as the film goes on, there is a shift to another perspective that ends up being the one we end up with. I didn't have too big a problem with this shift, it’s just that the tone and direction of the film veers into somewhere completely different that had been established from the beginning. By the end, it feels like the story was secondary to the nightmarish effects, which definitely hurt the overall impact of the film for me. I wish as much attention would have been given to the story of MEMORY OF THE DEAD as it was to the effects, though. It would have made this film almost perfect. As is, the film is a compilation of utterly bone-shivering nightmares and seamless effects, which already elevates it to a level above more horror films these days.
New this week on Video on Demand and in limited theatrical release!
ODD THOMAS (2013)Directed by Stephen Sommers
Written by Stephen Sommers (screenply), Dean R. Koontz (based on the novel)
Starring Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin, Leonor Varela, Willem Dafoe, Matthew Page, Casey Messer, Barney Lanning, Nico Tortorella, Kyle McKeever
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Stephen Sommers, who gave us DEEP RISING, THE MUMMY, VAN HELSING, and GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, returns with ODD THOMAS, an adaptation of a series of Dean Koontz novels bearing the same name. While the film sports an impressive cast, the end result turns out to be an uneven little flick.
STAR TREK and FRIGHT NIGHT remake’s Anton Yelchin plays the titular character, and despite the fact that he is not the first person one would think of in terms of an action star, he does a surprisingly strong job with the material he is given. Thomas is somewhat of a supernatural trouble magnet, as he has a variety of powers which attract him to those in trouble as well as has that Haley Joel Osment sense to see dead people. He also has the power to see creatures known as Bodachs, otherworldly creatures that live in the periphery and are attracted to those who are about to die. When a Bodach is around, death follows and only Thomas can see them. When the small California town of Pico Mundo begins swarming with Bodachs, Thomas begins to get a bad feeling that something major is about to happen, and with his girl Stormy at his side, he sets out to find out what it is.
ODD THOMAS is a surprisingly smaller film than the over-the-top rollercoasters Sommers usually gets behind. At least at first, the film starts small with Odd chasing down a child killer at the behest of one of his recent victims to save the killer’s next intended victim. Sommers trades the usual grandiose set pieces we have come to expect from THE MUMMY series for the quaint small town flavor, but in doing so, Sommers also makes this mundane world a little too static and boring, as if the intensity sometimes seen in his films just can’t be matched in this suburban environment. Other directors are able to make the scene vivid no matter what the backdrop, but the plain environs highlight Sommers’ weakness of framing when a CG team isn’t present to spice things up.
The script, adapted by Sommers, is equally problematic, as characters who had just seen each other act as if they’ve been apart for an extended period of time, suggesting a sort of disjointed story--as if big chunks were cut that the viewer isn’t privy to. The script is also rather tedious, in that it reminds us that Odd Thomas is odd in just about every line of dialog in the first 40 or so minutes as one person or another can’t help but immediately notice how odd he is. We get that Odd is odd, not really because of what he does, but rather because it is beaten into us by every character, no matter what he does or doesn’t do.
That said, there are some pretty cool effects, mostly in terms of the Bodachs, who look like semi-see through insectoid people with backwards bending joints and mush faces. The final act of the film is also surprisingly effective and I give that to Yelchin, who despite the problematic script is a fantastic actor and able to convey a sense of sympathy and dynamism. In the final moments of this film, I have to admit, I was sucked in and enamored with the quirky Odd Thomas and hoping for further, better-written capers of the offbeat paranormal investigator in future films, as the ending suggests.
Advance Review: Available on DVD and Digital Download on June 24th!
THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS (2013)Directed by Sam Qualiana
Written by Sam Qualiana
Starring Andrew Elias, Sam Qualiana, Lynn Lowry, Bill Brown, Debbie Rochon, Kim Piazza, Alain Alvarez, Alexander S. McBryde, Daniel Arrasjid, Simeon Qualiana, and Tim O'Hearn as Six Fingers!
Find out more about this on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of these days, someone’s going to find Bigfoot and on that day, it’ll most likely look more like this film than any well-polished evidence we see in high budget/highly produced films like BLAIR WITCH. THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS wants to be BLAIR WITCH PROJECT desperately, but its low budget bogs it down quite a bit. That said, as far as found footagers go, this film feels more authentic than most of this subgenre.
The film focuses on two film students who are investigating the disappearance of pets and small animals in an area outside of town. The two investigators are likable enough. One (Neil, played by Andrew Elias) is a nerdy enthusiast in front of the camera, the other (Drew, played by writer/director Sam Qualiana) the doubting rebel behind it. We come to find, as the two get lost in the forest and are herded by a giant six-fingered Sasquatch-like beast, that the two have been best friends since kindergarten, which is why Drew follows the misguided Neil on this trip. As they get lost in the woods after capturing Six Fingers on tape, it seems more and more likely that they aren’t going to survive this trip.
Critics of the shaky cam are going to have a lot to criticize here. This is found footage at its most problematic in places, as much of the film is spinning around or facing the ground. As a means to be “more authentic”, it seems the filmmakers don’t mind making things pretty dull in the first 45 minutes, where some brief glimpses of the creature and some shaking branches spice things up every now and then. The problem is that the costume isn’t very convincing when shot dead on, and I think the film would have benefited with a “less is more” approach in terms of Six Fingers’ screentime.
That said, Elias and Qualiana are likable and cope decently with the obviously tight budget. This is a fun film, most likely made by ambitious filmmakers in their backyard or while on a camping trip. The appearance of scream queen Debbie Rochon classes things up a bit. Independent horror fans will eat this up, while those of you who pooh-pooh this type of DIY thing will not have your feelings changed by this one. THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS is not the most convincing found footage film, but it is proof that our fascination with Bigfoot and all of his cousins is still alive and well in cinema.
Advance Review: To be seen next at the Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival on April 15-25th!!
THE CABINING (2013)Directed by Steve Kopera
Written by Steve Kopera, David Silverman
Starring Mike Kopera, Bo Keister, Angela Relucio, Melissa Mars, Luce Rains, Richard Riehle, Mark Rademacher, Chuck Saale, Joseph Barone, Jackson Thompson,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Sticking a bunch of good-lookings in a cabin in the middle of the woods with a threat outside is a horror trope that’s been a skipping record through the years, even before CABIN IN THE WOODS did its best SCREAM on the subject. I thought CABIN IN THE WOODS would be the nail in the coffin for this type of film, forcing people to go back to the well of ideas to come up with a new way to scare us. But it feels that now more than ever, there’s a new cabin horror film every week, and it’s getting to be as bad as the zombie and found footage trends I continue to hear gripes about. Responding to this hype is THE CABINING, a slightly meta look at the popularity of cabin horror films, which focuses on a pair of writers writing a cabin horror film who go to a cabin and experience horrors in order to be inspired to write a cabin horror film.
Still following me?
Well, the film isn’t hard to follow at all as two likable loser writers, Todd and Bruce (Mike Kopera & Bo Keister), are stuck with their script and decide to go to a writing retreat in the woods called Shangri-La. As soon as they get there, they are introduced to a cast which is almost lifted from the game CLUE, and when the bodies start dropping, Todd and Bruce try their best to solve the case and be sure to take notes, since this would make a pretty keen movie.
While low budget, THE CABINING relies on some pretty strong performances from Kopera, who plays the uptight writer to Keister’s Bruce, who is all loosey-goosey when it comes to just about everything in his life. The two often clash, which leads to some of the strongest scenes in the film as seeing the two bounce ideas off of each other and then argue them to death is actually a lot of fun to witness.
THE CABINING is a peek behind the camera at the hardships writers go through to write a script and grasp that elusive good idea. While this definitely would be considered independent and low fi entertainment to some, THE CABINING has some hearty laughs and some clever twists within its runtime.
Advance Review: Premiered at last year’s Fantastic Fest!
SEPTIC MAN (2013)Directed by Jesse T. Cook
Written by Tony Burgess
Starring Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Robert Maillet, Tim Burd, Julian Richings, Stephen McHattie, Nicole G. Leier
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I have to say it…SEPTIC MAN is the shit!
This surreal swirl down the drain of sanity is going to disgust some, turn off a lot, intrigue gorehounds, and surprise many who take a chance on it. SEPTIC MAN may be about a guy trapped in a sewer and slowly going insane, but it definitely doesn’t stink.
The film begins with a woman in a bathroom having a rough time. Her filthy surroundings are covered in all kinds of liquids and semi-liquids of all sorts of disgusting colors. Soon, she starts spewing more disgustingness from both ends and ultimately dies in a puddle of her own juices. Cut to Septic Man Jack, the best at what he does, and what he does is fix problems with sewer systems. With the mayor (Stephen McHattie) declaring the city in a state of emergency due to contaminated water, the mysterious Phil Prosser (gaunt actor Julian Richings from THE LAST TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH and GAME OF THRONES) seeks out Jack with an offer to ignore the warnings to evacuate the city and investigate the contamination. Though his pregnant wife pleads with him to leave the city with her, Jack seeks monetary benefit from staying and taking the job. But when his investigation leads him to an off-the-map sewer system, the valve slams shut, trapping him in a dank underground sublevel filled with rats, slime, and tons and tons of toilet matter. The rest of the film follows Jack, whose body and mind are slowly corroding in this little room as he tries one attempt after another to get out and return to his pregnant wife.
Essentially a descent into madness tale, SEPTIC MAN is a film whose strength lies in its story. The simple tale of a man trapped in a sewer and slowly going insane could be a disaster or even worse, dull as watching paint dry in the wrong hands. But director Jesse T. Cook (who did the fun and bawdy MONSTER BRAWL – reviewed here) keeps everything moving with a weird giant and a skinny maniac occasionally popping their heads down the hole to keep Septic Man company. It’s not completely clear if the giant and the maniac are figments of Septic Man’s fractured psyche or what, but it does make for some interesting moments. But whether it’s real or not, Septic Man is changing down there in the sewers, and Cook does a good job of making that change gradual and tragic every step of the way.
The use of fantastically moody yet somewhat superheroey lighting is effective in making this film feel more like a DARKMAN or TOXIC AVENGER than your usual madness descent flick. Setting Septic Man up as some kind of antihero may be a bit deceptive, but it does lay the groundwork for a bitchin’ follow-up if the filmmakers chose to go that route. What the filmmakers saved in budget with the locale, they made up for in spades with the makeup effects as Septic Man’s look is altogether distinct, discomforting, and disgusting to look at. His face literally looks like it’s turning into a turd towards the end, which will definitely make some feel a bit queasy upon viewing this metamorphosis.
Actor Jason David Brown deserves credit for turning in a sympathetic performance despite the shit all over his face. You genuinely feel for this character who is festering away in this tiny room. This is not a film for those with an easy gag reflex. No body fluid is left unaddressed in this one. But SEPTIC MAN is a mind-bending, stomach-churning, heart-wrenching little film that will definitely do a number on you if you ride it out. With an ending that suggests that this may just be the beginning of the adventures of our crappy hero, SEPTIC MAN is a film gorehounds will definitely want to sniff out.
And finally…I have a true horror for those of you who can’t get enough of Alec Baldwin as THE SHADOW. Little did I know that Taylor Dayne hollered out the theme song for the film. So here it is, music fans, from THE SHADOW Soundtrack--Taylor Dayne’s “Original Sin!”
The horror…the horror…
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 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be an Uptown 6 Films feature film), Zenescope’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13, UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES, and the critically acclaimed THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark wrote/provided art for a chapter in Black Mask Studios’ OCCUPY COMICS. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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