Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week’s serving includes vampires, fatty killers, mind controllers, UFO abductees, amnesiacs, triple dog-darers, and of course, zombies. Same ol’, same ol’ here at AICN HORROR!
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HIDDEN HORRORS (2013) Book Review
Retro-review: Retro-review: The Cinema of Jean Rollin – The Vampire Collection Box Set: THE NUDE VAMPIRE (1970)
Retro-review: THE FLESH & BLOOD SHOW (1972)
Retro-review: THIRST (1979)
Retro-review: DEAD KIDS (1981)
BATTLE OF THE UNDEAD (2012)
ALMOST HUMAN (2013)
CHEAP THRILLS (2013)
Advance Review: FAT CHANCE (2014)
And finally… Adam-Gabriel Belley-Cote’s INVECTUM!
HIDDEN HORROR: A CELEBRATION OF 101 UNDERRATED AND OVERLOOKED FRIGHT FLICKSEdited by Aaron "Dr. AC" Christensen
Order this book here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m a huge fan of books about movies. I have a collection of books compiling the best of the best of horror films, the most obscure, and specifying in certain subgenres of horror, certain movements, and certain themes. As much as I like watching horror films, I love dissecting them with words which is one of the reasons I continue to write this column each and every week.
Because of my love for books on horror films, I wholeheartedly recommend HIDDEN HORROR: A CELEBRATION OF 101 UNDERRATED AND OVERLOOKED FRIGHT FLICKS. It’s a compilation of essays focusing on some obscure and some not so obscure films that may have slipped through the cracks, but are deserving of attention. Films like X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES, TOURIST TRAP, PIN, SOCIETY, THE DEVILS, MAY, CURTAINS, and FRAILTY are just some of the films dissected, reminisced, and applauded as worthwhile films of yesteryear which somehow didn’t or don’t receive the credit they deserve. Most likely, you have a favorite horror gem you hold near and dear to your heart that shows up in this list as well.
And the talent editor Aaron Christensen has amassed for this project is equally impressive. FANGORIA’s Tony Timpone, RUE MORGUE’s Dave Alexander, mix with writers from VIDEOHOUND, FEARNet, and TWITCH to make the voices speaking about these films as varied as the films themselves. Plus Christensen kept the format of each installment loose so you might find a scholarly dissection of THE HILLS HAVE EYES next to a personal tale of the first time one writer saw THE ENTITY. Everything from formal to informal style is used here and fits the tone of these offbeat films perfectly.
I can’t recommend HIDDEN HORROR more to those of you, like me, who eat, sleep, and breathe horror. It’s fun to see who picked what movie and why for this book. Films like HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH may be a dud to some, but this book proves that it’s someone’s secret fave. If you’re the type like me who can sit and tell a story about almost each and every horror film he’s seen, then this is the type of book you’re going to want to add to your collection of horror lists as it not only serves as an academic encyclopedia of forgotten gems, but also as a fascinating amassing of personal accounts of how horror can affect a viewer on a personal level.
Those interested in checking out Dr. AC’s horror blog can find it here and you can grab yourself a copy of HIDDEN HORROR here!
Retro-review: New DVD/BluRay Collection from Kino Lorber/Redemption Films!
The Cinema of Jean Rollin – The Vampire Collection Box Set
THE NUDE VAMPIRE (1970)Directed by Jean Rollin
Written by Jean Rollin & Serge Moati (story & screenplay)
Starring Maurice Lemaître, Caroline Cartier, Ly Lestrong, Bernard Musson, Jean Aron, Ursule Pauly, Catherine Castel, Marie-Pierre Castel, Michel Delahaye, Pascal Fardoulis, Paul Bisciglia
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 last few weeks I’ve covered THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (reviewed here), REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (reviewed here), THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (reviewed last week), and finally this week we get to the fourth and final film of the set, THE NUDE VAMPIRE.
I think if you’re looking for a straight up story that you won’t need a bong and a glance at wiki to understand, last week’s THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES is the place to go in terms of this four disk set. This week’s film, the final in the set, is THE NUDE VAMPIRE and it is definitely Jean Rollin without a net.
While some revel in the obtuse and I admit, I often have an appreciation for it, I just couldn’t get into this one as we open on some sort of ritual setting with a woman disclothed (of course, this is a Rollin movie, so she’s gotta be uncloaked at some point) save for a red mask which is later explained to not let her see the real world. The problem is that the mask has small eye holes, so you know, she can actually see out of the mask, but that’s thinking about this too logically. A syringe is produced and stuck into the woman’s arm and we then cut to a woman’s hand on a rock set to funky tunes and beat poetry drums as the title credits roll. More rituals follow as people wearing masks that look like a kindergarten’s craft group went bonkers with chicken headed and deer headed paper mache masks atop bodies in black spandex. A pair of twins with hanging circles barely covering their naughty bits stand and stare inscrutably off camera. An old guy with a bad comb-forward hairdo and a robe pompously preens for the camera. Everyone moves slowly, as if sleepwalking. There are extended close-ups on nipples. And then the beach with crashing waves. Again, all to the beat of a bongo drum with the occasional twang of some kind of instrument you often see at your weird uncle’s dinner party.
There is a point to all of this tomfoolery as the story loosely follows the Lady Bathory story as a woman is believed to be a descendant of the bloodlusty noblewoman. Because of this belief, she is kept from sunlight, injected with blood, sheltered and protected from the real world by her cultish captors. But after a whole lot of nakedness, weird masks, the occasional sex scene and of course bongos, it turns out that she truly isn’t a vampire at all. In an attempt to be clever and use this situation as a means to make a comment on the state of man, the woman isn’t a vampire at all, but a normal human and it is humanity which is the true vampire attempting to suck the last true human dry of her lifeblood.
As tedious as that sounds, it is rather poetic and I can appreciate the story Rollin is trying to convey. Still, the road there is a rocky one that made my eyes as heavy as my fast forward finger. Long stints without dialog and static imagery made this one a chore to sit through and made it most definitely my least favorite of this box set.
Rollin is a tough sell. Sure there are boobs in these films, which are always nice to see, but too many times I feel that Rollin attempts to tell his tales with too much aplomb. His most accessible, THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, is a decent little flick with ups and downs, twists and turns, but still has the tendency to linger on nubile forms and gothic landscapes. Rollin seems to be fascinated with the female form in various stages of undress as well as depicting the vampire as the victim while it is humanity that is the most diabolical. I can get into these themes, but Rollin seems to lose his footing with all of the pretty bodies and imagery around him and forgets about the story itself. While those willing to take the long meandering way might be satisfied with the heavier themes of man’s conflict between civilized vs the sexual monster within and the monstrosity of humanity, I seriously doubt these films will convey a sense of horror or fright. I could be wrong. As art pieces, the images in these films are pretty stunning, but the way the camera lingers on the female form and the faceless roles they often play in his films seem to show Rollin’s true intentions on making these films.
Do I really have to warn you about boobies in this trailer for THE NUDE VAMPIRE?
Retro-review: New next week on BluRay from Kino Lorber/Redemption!
THE FLESH & BLOOD SHOW (1972)Directed by Pete Walker
Written by Alfred Shaughnessy
Starring Ray Brooks, Jenny Hanley, Luan Peters, Robin Askwith, Candace Glendenning, Tristan Rogers, Judy Matheson, David Howey, Elizabeth Bradley, Rodney Diak, Penny Meredith, Sally Lahee, Raymond Young, Carol Allen, Alan Curtis
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m an unabashed Pete Walker fan ever since I caught FRIGHTMARE a few years ago, but FRIGHTMARE is going to be covered in next week’s column. A while back, I reviewed a quartet of Pete Walker films collected in a box set from Kino Lorber; DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE!, HOUSE OF THE WHIPCORD, SCHIZOID, and THE COMEBACK; all of which are definitely worth seeking out. This week, we take a look at THE FLESH & BLOOD SHOW which plays as Walker’s ode to the thea-TAH which immediately made me think of the old SNL skit with John Lovitz.
THE FLESH & BLOOD SHOW opens with two things that are paired together much in this slick and sleazy little flick; blood and boobs. There’s a lot of both and in the opening moments with two “roommates” sleeping together mostly naked and woken up with a banging at their door. One of the girls, the bustier one, gets up to answer, not bothering to put on anything, and opens the door to find an Emo Williams looking guy with a knife through his belly. Flopping and floundering on their floor, the buxom beauty is terrified, but of course it’s all a prank and the wisenheimer turns out to be a fellow actor who blonde nudie number one acted with in a previous show. Turns out all three of the cast we’ve met so far are auditioning for parts in a new theater performance that is playing in an old worn down theater with a dastardly past.
The creaky old theater is a pretty effective little place to stage a slasher film and as the actors pair up, shack up and cross & double cross paths, the decrepit rooms backstage and under it turn out to be the perfect place for a killer to be offing these young thespians one by one. There’s a reason for these murders and in true Wakler style, it’s one filled with sleaze and complexity. Walker seemed to be somewhat obsessed with the PSYCHO phenomenon as he dropped a pinch of the Hitchcock film in all of his movies. Here the psycho-killer has issues not with his/her mother but with his/her cheating wife/husband and he/she takes this rage out on all actors, since serial killers apparently like to simplify things.
I won’t reveal who the killer is here, but the flashback 3D sequence (yes, there’s a 3D sequence in this film for some reason) shifts this film abruptly off course, especially when you find out who the killer is and why he/she does what he/she does. Up until the big reveal, this was a tight little thriller with some really creepy scenes as the actors wander around the building, disappear, and are getting accosted on the grounds around the theater. It’s too bad the payoff had to be so weirdly hamfisted into the film like this, because everything else is gold.
THE FLESH & BLOOD SHOW delivers on both copious amounts of boob flesh (like the side-boob over there on the left…nice, huh?) and a nice helping of blood along with the perversity that usually accompanies Walker’s films. While this one isn’t as narratively sound as most of Walker’s films, it does have some great moments of creep and would be good through and through if not for a troubled ending.
Look out! There are boobs below in this trailer!
Retro-review: New this week DVD/BluRay Collection from Severin!
THIRST (1979)Directed by Rod Hardy
Written by John Pinkney
Starring Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps, Henry Silva, Rod Mullinar, David Hemmings, Rosie Sturgess, Robert Thompson, Walter Pym, Amanda Muggleton,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
THIRST is an extremely successful descent into or out of madness tale depending on which perspective you’re looking at it from.
The story follows Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) a normal woman plagued by blood-stained nightmares. Sought out by what seems to be a bizarre cult, Kate’s humanity is chipped away piece by piece to reveal an aspect of herself which had been long forgotten. The cult turns out to be a hidden culture of vampires, worshipping Kate from afar as the second coming of Elizabeth Bathory, but not everyone is convinced that Kate is who they think she is, including Kate herself who seems to be repulsed by the sight of blood.
I loved THIRST in that it’s a deeply psychological study of how, with enough elbow grease, anyone is bendable, no matter how the outlandish the story. The film delves into areas not unknown to vampire stories such as TRUE BLOOD, BLADE, and DAYBREAKERS as the vampires are organized and part of an underground society, using humans as blood banks, hooking them up to machines and draining them little by little while keeping them locked up and zombie like in compounds. Organized vamps might not be new in this day and age, but (and I may be wrong) THIRST is the first time I think this concept was explored. Making bloodletting big business seems like a no brainer in these economically conscious times, but for this Australian film to come up with it in the late 70’s is pretty impressive.
The film is rather slow paced as we see every layer of Kate Davis’ onion peeled back by this evil organization, looking at her life as a human with the same revulsion we as humans would look at the life of vampirism. Basically the entire film is dedicated to this sanity slide as the vamps up the ante by locking Kate in a room by herself with blood dripping from the walls. Those with patience will appreciate the way director Rod Hardy takes his time with this material, but I’m sure it may move at a pace which will bore some.
It interesting that THIRST should come up in the cue the same week THE NUDE VAMPIRE does as both involve cult like organizations working to prove that the subject in question is or is not a vampire. While THE NUDE VAMPIRE is much more obtuse, the material involving manipulation is used expertly in both films. In THIRST, while it’s not overly explained, the film has a much firmer foothold on the real world.
THIRST is the type of film that deserves to be sought out for it’s innovative ideas and patient hand. While it might feel rather tame in this modern age, I’ll bet it blew the mind of many a movie-goer in its day. While most of the gore takes the form of spilled and spattered blood, the real terrors in THIRST have to do with the way the lead’s mind is assaulted and manipulated throughout the runtime.
Retro-review: New on BluRay/DVD this week from Severin!
DEAD KIDS (1981)aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR, SMALL TOWN MASSACRE, MASSACRE BRUTAL, HUMAN EXPERIMENTS, SHADOWLANDS
Directed by Michael Laughlin
Written by Bill Condon, Michael Laughlin
Starring Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, Dan Shor, Fiona Lewis, Arthur Dignam, Dey Young, Marc McClure, Scott Brady, Charles Lane, Elizabeth Cheshire, Beryl Te Wiata, Jim Boelsen, Billy Al Bengston, Nicole Anderson, Bill Condon
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Released in the States as STRANGE BEHAVIOR, this mind control film would be right at home with some of David Cronenberg’s less visceral body horror films. The story focuses on Pete Brady (the Scott Caan-esque Dan Shor), a young son of a police officer who is livin’ up his teens going to parties, getting into mild trouble in and out of school, and flirting with girls with his buddy Oliver (Jimmy Olsen himself Marc McClure). In need of cash, Oliver lets Pete know about a science lab on the outskirts of town which pays big money for kids volunteering to be guinea pigs for some kind of new behavior management technique. Pete goes for it, despite the rash of seemingly random killings going on in town. If none of this was connected this wouldn’t be much of a horror film, now would it?
The story deals in operant conditioning in which a positive stimuli is given to a test subject for doing something right and a negative stimuli is given to something for doing the wrong thing. Additional drugs and treatments, one of which is a rather uncomfortable needle to the eye which has gotta smart, are used to make these teens who come in for fast cash the perfect mindless assassins taking out those who are trying to shut down the science labs ethically-dodgy research. This is a nice enough motivation for some effective scenes involving kills as mindless teens are turning on their loved ones and some rather uncomfortable scenes of lab torture, most of which involve the eyeball syringe that I mentioned earlier.
There are some really well choreographed kills in DEAD KIDS as one scene has a woman finding a severed hand and then the rest of the body in the bathtub, which then becomes a chase scene through the house as the killer was interrupted during the kill. A nice touch in this scene occurs when the woman makes a call to the police and was she is talking on the phone, the killer slices both the phone cord and the woman’s throat with one swipe. The most memorable scene in the film involves a TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN-esque kill as the killer, masked in a Tor Johnson mask, stalks and kills a couple making out on lover’s lane.
Despite the cool kills and nice moods, DEAD KILLS is filled with laughable 80’s dialog and trends. Everyone has feathered mullets and while there is a pretty decent soundtrack, the choreographed dance number is something that will make you either roll with laughter if you weren’t alive during this era, or bury your head deep in the pillow if you were.
But despite the fashion tragedies on display, the film is pretty effective with some quality scares and some decent performances from Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher and Dan Shor. Sure the baddies are kind of moustache-twirly in the end, but that doesn’t take away from some no-frills kills that occur earlier in the film. DEAD KIDS/STRANGE BEHAVIOR/whatever you want to call it, is a fun little flick that is pretty harmless, hiding a few nicely choreographed scenes under all of that 80’s schlock.
New on DVD this week from Horizon Films!
PIG (2011)Directed by Henry Barrial
Written by Henry Barrial
Starring Rudolf Martin, Heather Ankeny, Keith Diamond, Ines Dali, Pamela Salem, Henry Barrial
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The PIG in the title of this film refers to guinea pig as in lab experiment, but PIG doesn’t really let us know that right off the bat. In fact, the effectiveness of this film lays in the secrets it holds pretty close to the vest for most of the film. It is one of those films which has a late in the game barn-burner of a secret that does make sense after a second viewing, but the strong performances make PIG a bit more than just a last minute thrill.
The story follows an amnesiac (Rudolf Martin), who was most recently seen in BELA KISS ( reviewed here), who wakes up in the desert, bound with his hands tied behind his back and without a clue as to how he got there or who he is. But the unnamed man is resourceful and begins to search for clues as to who he is immediately. And he turns out to be pretty good at it too and as the clues fall into place, the truth is something he may not be prepared for or worse yet, may not be allowed to find.
I wouldn’t say that Rudolf Martin is the most charismatic actor, but I did find myself empathizing with the guy as he tries desperately to find out his true identity, but is knocked down like a whack-a-mole every time he gets to close by forces much more powerful than him. Because of the mystery and the viewer’s lack of footing for most of the film, like Martin, we are as desperate for the truth as he is by the end. And while this is a low budget film, the power of PIG comes from that emotional connection established with the actor which definitely occurred with my viewing.
Dealing with everything from man’s desire to find out who he is and where he came from to conspiracy theories galore, PIG is a nice little paranoid thriller. It’s not one of those big budget sci-fi epics we are used to seeing, but it does deal with new discoveries and how those discoveries affect the human experience. It also says a lot about the human condition and how one will fight tooth and nail to make sure one will fit into this world. PIG is not a barn burner, but a slow burn which will definitely give you a sizzle at the end once the pieces fall into play. Part MEMENTO, part UNKNOWN, PIG is a small but potent little sci-fi for those who don’t need to be dazzled by ‘splosions and CG to be entertained.
New this week on Video On Demand and next Tuesday on DVD from Screen Media Films!
BATTLE OF THE UNDEAD (2012)aka CANNON FODDER
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Written by Eitan Gafny, Amit Lior
Starring Emos Ayeno, Liron Levo, Roi Miller, Gome Sarig, Yafit Shalev,
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I always find it interesting to watch foreign films when they try to make their version of a Hollywood movie. This is not meant to be a put-down to foreign filmmakers. More often than not, my favorite horror films of the year are often ones made outside of American borders. Still, when it comes to films like Israel’s BATLE OF THE UNDEAD previously reviewed here on AICN HORROR as CANNON FODDER, the first zombie film ever to be made in the country, one can’t help but feel as if most of the influence comes from 80’s actioners more than anything else. But just when you think this is just an 80’s action movie through another country’s lens, this movie ingeniously shows what it’s really about.
This makes for an interesting viewing experience. BATTLE OF THE UNDEAD borrows heavily from the Rambo films, and especially PREDATOR, as a group of black ops types are ordered to cross the Israeli border into Hezbollah to acquire a doctor. No more info is given to Doron (played by Liron Levo), who leads the group of grunts who are too busy being surly by tossing out racist slurs, chewing toothpicks, and cocking and recocking their guns in the transport over the border to question the lack of intel on their target. Turns out this doctor has created a plague of biblical proportions, causing the dead to rise and threatening to cross the border of Hezbollah over to Israel and the group are being sent into a zombie hot zone without knowing it.
Though the characters are stock performances from a million other 80’s action films, the greatness in this film lies in the message it holds. Sure, one might look at the predicament and see that this Israeli film might be propaganda making the people of Hezbollah the cause of the zombie apocalypse, but look a bit deeper and it highlights a bigger threat that unites the two warring fractions against a common enemy: the zombies. As the group finds a lone Palestinian woman survivor, they are forced to ignore their differences and rely on one another to survive. Though it’s a horror film, there’s a kind of beauty in that I can definitely appreciate.
The film itself is dynamically directed and well acted. The gore is there, but it’s not gratuitous or spectacle, though heads are split and blown apart when necessary. There are some nice action bits, but really, they aren’t anything I haven’t seen in a ton of other action or zombie films.
What makes BATTLE OF THE UNDEAD stand out is the message it contains underneath. More so than any other movie monster, the zombie has proven time and again to be the one capable of the most thematic depth. They can represent the consumer, the homeless, those stricken with AIDS, or even man’s fear of death itself. Here, oddly enough, the zombies represent that shared love of life that unites even the most bitter of enemies. Touring the festival circuit, BATTLE OF THE UNDEAD is a zombie film I can’t help but cheer for in the thematic depths of its message and for the loads of action tropes and mayhem riddled throughout.
In limited theatrical release and available now for Video On Demand and digital download on iTunes, Amazon, Playstation, Hulu, & Xbox from IFC Midnight!
ALMOST HUMAN (2013)Directed by Joe Begos
Written by Joe Begos
Starring Graham Skipper, Vanessa Leigh, Josh Ethier, Susan T. Travers, Michael LoCicero, Jami Tennile, Tony Amaral, John Palmer, Chuck Doherty,and Jeremy Furtado
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve said this before in this column, but there’s something about alien abduction films that really spooks me the fuck out. I guess it’s because there have been so few films made on the subject that didn’t convey that sense of fear so well. It’s weird that a simple light from the sky in a wooded area, some mood lighting, and some suspicious sideways glances can get to me so much, but it does. Maybe I was abducted at some point and don’t know it.
ALMOST HUMAN is a very smart lesson in filmmaking for those who want to make an effective horror film on a tight budget. While I tend to pay attention to this type of thing, I’ll bet there are going to be a lot of people who watch this film and imagine it was made for a lot more than it really was. Using simple illusory techniques, some tight edits, and strong performances from the cast, makes ALMOST HUMAN feel like a production much bigger than it was, which is a testament to the skill behind the camera of writer/director Joe Begos. Though a shitload of blood is used in this film, for the most part, the only other effects are a light from the sky, a few squished skull appliances, and an alien tongue-tube thingy. Everything else is conveyed on camera and edited and filmed in a manner that amps it to the most frightening degree.
The story itself is part of that strength as a man named Seth (Graham Skipper) rushes into the apartment of his friend Mark (Josh Ethier) reporting that their mutual friend was whisked away by bright lights in the sky. Soon, a deafening noise shakes the house and Mark is compelled to walk out of the house into the yard where a light bears down on him from above and he disappears. Seth is accused of murdering Mark, and though he remembers nothing from the night, he continues to claim he is innocent. Years later, the same type of lights occur again and Mark appears naked and covered in goo in a forest. It’s pretty apparent early on that this is not the same Mark who left as he becomes a one man killing machine, murdering anyone in his path and attempting to seemingly lead the charge in a world invasion from the stars.
What works in ALMOST HUMAN is that it is a small story about big ideas, but writer/director Begos keeps everything grounded and in check. Put plainly, this is a story about a man on a rampage. If not for the ungodly loud screeches coming from his mouth and maybe the six foot tongue/tentacle/tube he uses to impregnate humans with some kind of alien egg, it’s just a guy making a B-line to his old life and killing everyone who crosses his path in gory and bloody ways. An invasion seems to be on the horizon and there are earth-shattering things occurring, but never does the story leave this small town and the film benefits from it because of that face. Because it is a grounded alien run amok story, it’s all the more believable.
On top of all of the minimal, but effective effects, the performances throughout ALMOST HUMAN are strong as well. The film rest squarely on Skipper’s shoulders and the actor does a good job with the responsibility. Ethier has less to do because he’s an emotionless killing machine, but still, with some well placed gore-splatter, the actor pulls off menacing without having to do much. ALMOST HUMAN is not a typical big budget sci-fi yarn, but that’s what makes it so special. Keeping it small in scope and high on shocking moments with an ever present tone of danger makes it an abduction film more effective than most.
Coming to select theaters on March 21st and available now on Video On Demand!
CHEAP THRILLS (2013)Directed by E.L. Katz
Written by David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, Amanda Fuller
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having heard about CHEAP THRILLS for what seems like years now, I was so glad when I finally had a chance to see it, but also was a bit leery that I had elevated it to such a mythic status that there is no way it could be as good as what I’ve heard or the film I had already seen in my mind.
Turns out I was wrong.
CHEAP THRILLS seems to have gotten a bit of the YOU’RE NEXT treatment in which it was the apple of critics eyes at fests, but it was shelved for so long that it started to show its age in between all of the initial hype and its eventual release. But it looks like the film is finally going to be able to be seen by the masses in theaters soon and now on Video On Demand. And I’m here to say that the hype was well deserved.
CHEAP THRILLS is a simple game of truth or dare with the truth portion tossed out the window. The basic tale of four people who happen upon each other one night in a bar and the horror the night becomes as it proceeds. In many ways, it’s a nightmarish game show with David Koechner playing Monty Hall, Sara Paxton playing the quiet Vanna White, and Pat Healy and Ethan Embry playing the dim witted game show contestants.
The story opens with Healy’s Craig waking up next to his wife RED, WHITE & BLUE’s Amanda Fuller. His meager apartment and lifestyle barely gives Craig enough time to pursue his writing career and we come to find that he has to make ends meet working in a car garage changing oil. Though his wife encourages him to ask for a raise and the eviction notice on the door makes additional pay all the more important, Craig instead comes to find that he has been terminated once he gets to his place of employment. Too ashamed to go home, Craig goes to a bar to drown his sorrows for a bit and runs into long lost high school buddy Vince (Embry). As the two catch up, they cross paths with a boisterous Daddy Warbucks named Colin (Koechner) and his nonplussed wife Violet (Paxton) who manages to toss a smirk up at them before returning her attention to her phone. When Colin begins tossing out money, both Craig and Vince see this as a way to make their dreams come true. But as Colin continues to up the stakes and both the bets and the rewards get bigger, the friendship Craig and Vince have is put to the side over the pursuit of the all mighty dollar.
What works best with CHEAP THRILLS is the careful and steady way that it dissects the complexities of old friendships--how two buddies who grew up together could grow apart and time often can make rekindling these friendships a difficult thing to do. When Vince and Craig first meet, it’s as if they’d never been apart with laughter and old war stories, but when money becomes involved, the two are like a pair of dogs in a dogfight ready to tear each other apart. This shift from BFF’s to bitter enemies is a subtle one mapped out ingeniously by director EL Katz and writers David Chirchirillo & Trent Haaga with the mature hand of expert surgeons, filling every moment with an ever-increasing tension as old rivalries and resentments emerging between these two old friends, making every round of this nightmarish game more fascinating to watch.
This is a film that could not have worked had there been four other actors involved. All four make each role distinct when it could have easily delved into the realm of cliché. As Craig, Healy possesses a pushover quality that could make one frustrated as it is apparent the guy rarely fights to attain anything in life. Still it’s impossible not to like Healy’s character and root for him because we as the viewer know his dire situation. Embry is every bit that friend from high school that you shouldn’t have hung around with, but did because he was so damn fun in his role as Vince. Embry’s smile, which always rang as somewhat naive, has taken on a charm as the actor has aged and this role hopefully will open new doors because in many ways Embry is the heart of this movie. David Koechner as Colin could have been your typical loudmouth, but reels it in here. Sure we all know him from his many over the top comedic roles, but here he is able to show a serious side, a quiet side that is somewhat of a ticking timebomb and downright frightening at times. Sure he’s likable, but there’s a scene when he explains that Craig and Vince will remember this night for the rest of their lives that is both chilling and inspiring and Koechner shows depth and range I’ve never seen him do before.
Finally, holy shit, Sara Paxton! Sure she was adorable as all get out in THE INNKEEPERS, but as Violet, Paxton sizzles as an inscrutable temptress, an innocent looking flower that is poisonous to eat. The simple glances she tosses in this film to manipulate are priceless and the actress shows she isn’t all sugar and spice and everything nice in this role. Seeing all four of these characters bounce into and off of each other in this film is something special indeed.
In many ways, this is a modern retelling of Tarantino’s FOUR ROOMS final segment which in itself is a riff off of an old ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode where a desperate man is offered a large sum of money to cut off his finger. I could see some criticizing this film for being as such. But it’s the performances here that make every nook and cranny of this film shine like polished silver. Filled with moments of laugh and gasp out loud behavior, yet bathed in an ominous tone that makes you feel like nothing good is going to come of all of this, CHEAP THRILLS is anything but. It’s a film that will make you laugh, cry, and shout—a full blown evening that not only the characters involved but you as the viewer will not forget.
Advance Review: Screening in select theaters and fests beginning with on April 12th at Marble City Comicon, Knoxville, TN!
FAT CHANCE (2013)Directed by Daniel Emery Taylor, Jim O'Rear
Written by Daniel Emery Taylor
Starring Daniel Emery Taylor, Jim O'Rear, G. Larry Butler, James Hampton, Scott Tepperman, and John Dugan
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m not above lowbrow humor and feel that anyone who feels they are need to take life a little less seriously. FAT CHANCE is filled with the type of humor most would call lowbrow humor. I’m talking about poop and fart jokes, mind in the gutter, fat guys falling down, fat guys stepping in poo, and all forms of sexual innuendo and just blatant sex jokes. If that’s not your bag of donuts, then you know now to scroll on down and skip this review.
Now those that are still here are the ones who don’t really find the above qualities as deal breakers and because of that I think FAT CHANCE is going to be the type of film that has the potential to entertain. Sure there are some definite rough indie edges that are evident. Writer/director Daniel Emery Taylor and director Jim O'Rear have tried their best here with non-actors and possibly some amateur actors to fill this story about a serial killer at a fat camp with a lot of chubbies for the killer to take out. Still there are some fun moments of goofiness and some especially gory kills that will keep you entertained if you’re willing to look past the indie glow over the whole thing.
The most problematic thing about FAT CHANCE is the run time which is a little over two hours. If the filmmakers would trim some of the fat of FAT CHANCE, I think it would be a much more tolerable experience. While the film is filled with humorous moments, not all of them need to be there and if an editor would take a machete to this film and trim about forty-five minutes of navel gazing, it would be a much stronger film.
That said, the quality gore, fun tone and premise, and the simple fact that it has fat guys falling down and trying to do action qualifies FAT CHANCE as entertaining to me. While some time on the treadmill is needed, especially around the mid-section of the film, there’s more than a thin promise in making FAT CHANCE something worth checking out.
And finally… here’s a short that ranked 3rd at this year’s BloodyCuts Horror Short Film Challenge. Adam-Gabriel Belley-Cote brings us INVECTUM! Enjoy!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 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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