Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week I’ve got possessed nuns, giant lizards, killer vocals, mad artists, religious cults, ice mutants, transvestite swordsmen, tentacles, an indie anthology, theme park surrealism, and more MONSTERS episodes!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: MONSTERS TV Series Collected Box Set: Season One – Episodes 19-22 (1989)
Retro-review: Jess Franco’s THE DEMONS (1972)
DEAD SHADOWS (2012)
MR. JONES (2013)
BLOOD GLACIER (2013)
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW
STAGE FRIGHT (2014)
THE SACRAMENT (2013)
Advance Review: HI-8 (2013)
Advance Review: DER SAMURAI (2014)
And finally…Light’s Out “The Devil’s Due!”
Retro-review: Collected DVD Box Set new this week from eOne Entertainment!
MONSTERS: THE COMPLETE SERIES Box SetSeries One: Episodes 19-22 (1989)
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Ahhh, MONSTERS. It’s one of those TV series that warms my heart. Back in the late 80’s, when practical effects were king, Mitchell Gallin and Richard P. Rubinstein, the producers of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE TV series, decided to put together a show which highlighted a different story about a different monster every week. In my region, the show was broadcast late at night, and it was a thrill to be able to stay up late and watch it. Now, given the amount of years since I’ve watched it, I’m bound to be disappointed at the way some of them present upon reviewing. But still, this was a fun series deserving of this look back, episode by episode, of this quaint little shock series. I’m currently looking back on the TWILIGHT ZONE series as well, so for the time being, I’ll be flipping between TZ and MONSTERS every week looking back on TV horrors of yesteryear episode by episode!
Episode 1.19: Rain Dance
Directed by Richard Friedman
Written by Michael Kimball
Starring Kent McCord, Teri Copley, Antonio Hoyos, Betty Carvalho
ADAM 12’s Kent McCord and WE GOT IT MADE’s Teri Copley play a pair of fortune hunters in a foreign land who are given a bizarre statue by an old lady. Typically for this type of episode, the statue comes to life and makes them pay for their greedy ways, but atypically the statue turns the couple into stone. The highlight here is definitely not the acting and not the directing either, though that’s to be expected as this one is from Richard Friedman, the director of one of the worst and one of my most favorite horror films of all time, DOOM ASYLUM. No, here as usual, the effects take center stage. Everything here is awesome; from the drying statue makeup signifying the couple’s transformation to the cool statue which is obviously a little person in a monster suit, but still every creepy with bulging eyes and monster teeth. This one is all about the effects.
Episode 1.20: Cocoon
Directed by John Gray
Written by Edithe Swensen
Starring Silvana Gallardo, Kim Johnston Ulrich, Billy Drago, Erik Holland
Soap stars Silvana Gallardo (DAYS OF OUR LIVES) and Kim Johnston Ulrich (PASSIONS) vie for UNTOUCHABLES’ Billy Drago’s affection in this offbeat monster tale about a woman with amnesia who may have millions of dollars and a greedy detective and a psychic trying to get some of her money. The episode is directed by HELTER SKELTER’s John Gray and is pretty a pretty straight forward noir, but it’s the creativity of the monster that makes it worth viewing. Though hints are dropped that the amnesiac might be a vampire, it turns out she’s some kind of spider creature who weaves webbing by eating and regurgitating her own hair (ewww). Points to this one for its visceral hair in mouth inkiness which ends up saving a by the book episode.
Episode 1.21: All In a Day’s Work
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Maureen McHugh (story), Jule Selbo (teleplay)
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, James Morrison, Brandon Bluhm, Eddie Velez
The always lovely Adrienne Barbeau stars as a wiccan in this episode directed by BOARDWALK EMPIRE/SOPRANOS director Allen Coulter. When 24’s James Morrison shows up on the witch’s doorstep complaining of being followed by his doppelganger, all sorts of demonism starts a happening. This one’s got strong performances all around and plays like an unused TV series plot more than an actual one off as I would have loved to have seen Barbeau’s witch take on all sorts of demons and earth terrors with her demon slave, inquisitive son, and witchy magic. This episode in particular has some great demon designs including a frog headed demon and a little red fish like demon that is all sorts of weird. One of the stronger episodes of the week though it does wrap up rather cleanly for my tastes.
Episode 1.22: Satan in the Suburbs
Directed by Warner Shook
Written by Barbara Boatner (story), Jule Selbo
Starring Chris Noth, Deborah Strang, Danny Gerard
The dud of the week goes to this one starring SEX IN THE CITY’s Mr Big (Chris Noth) as a devil who wins a suburban single mom’s soul in a bet. Playing out like the worst of sitcoms with horrible comedy, goofy hijinks and misunderstandary abounding, the only thing lamer than the plot here is the look of the demon that is signified by wearing a red sweater. Ugh. There are some demon appliances used later in the episode, but for the most part this one plays out like an episode of SMALL WONDER only worse. Really bad story and worse execution here and one Noth most likely would love to forget.
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber/Redemption!
THE DEMONS (1972)aka LES DEMONS, SHE-DEMONS, THE SEX DEMONS
Directed by Jesús Franco (as Clifford Brown)
Written by Jesús Franco
Starring Anne Libert, Britt Nichols, Doris Thomas, Karin Field, Cihangir Gaffari, Luis Barboo, Howard Vernon, Alberto Dalbés
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Morally skewed and completely perverse, there’s still a lot to dig if you take a chance and check out Jess (Jesús) Franco’s THE DEMONS. While it definitely delves into nunsploitation territory with multiple scenes of debauchery dripping nunnery going on, but Franco also speckles in some devil possession and torture just for kicks, making it feel more like a horror film rather than fetishistic soft core porn.
But don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole lot of naked nuns in this film. There is much rolling around naked on the bed, sensual touching between women, moaning and groping going on in THE DEMONS. For some reason, women in this film get immense pleasure simply by rolling around on a bed. Sure they are supposed to be in the throes of passion and entranced by the touch of Satan, but while there is a little touchy-touchy going on from time to time, most of the time the women just look like they can’t get settled into the bed. Franco really shows his cards here by letting the camera linger an uncomfortably long time in these scenes.
The story itself is rather fascinating as it sets up a conflict between a group of witch hunting inquisitors capturing, torturing, and killing any who they deem touched by Satan and those who are actually possessed by the devil and spreading his word with a group of nuns caught in the middle being manipulated by both sides. The moral barometer is kind of wonky in this film as the nuns seem to be very much possessed by Satan, which means that the sadistic inquisitors and witch finders are cast as right and fighting for the forces of good here. Since their method of revealing the witch is through torture and death, sometimes through false accusation, it’s hard to root for anyone in this film.
That said the performances are pretty good and the effects are pretty convincing as the tortures such as sticking the witch with needles seem to be actually happening here, adding to the ookiness of it all. While there are touches of sado-masochism during the whipping scenes, the whole thing amounts to being a pretty nightmarish experience through and through.
Though about a half hour too long (mostly due to gratuitously extended scenes of lesbianism, masturbating nuns, and sex with a fellow in red representing Satan himself), the film is actually pretty horrific with witches and torturers going head to head in a battle of two evils. The film really kicks into gear in the third act as the witches get sick of being persecuted and fight back against the witch hunters in seductive and devious ways. The final coup de grace of THE DEMONS, which I won’t reveal here, is actually pretty ingenious, signifying that when Franco wasn’t perseverating on gyrating women and 70’s bush, he can actually cause a fright or two.
Couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s a bizarre clip from the film…
New this week on DVD from Polyscope Media!
GILA! (2012)Directed by Jim Wynorski
Written by William Dever, Steve Mitchell, Jim Nielsen, Paul Sinor
Starring Brian Gross, Terence Knox, Jesse Janzen, Christina DeRosa, Madeline Voges, Gerard Pauwels, Rich Komenich, Chase Adams, Callie Burk, Kelli Maroney, Julie McCullough
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This remake of 1959’s THE GIANT GILA MONSTER actually stands out from most of the ScyFy giant monster run amok fare in that it is set in the late 50’s rather than just some kind of reimagination or amalgamation of a monster set loose on the backdrop of a Spring Break locale. Jim Wynorski’s GILA! uses a lot of the old standbys from those old 50’s horror films to make this film feel less lame and more nostalgic in a good way.
GILA! blames their giant monster lizard on tried and true illegal radioactive dumping and gets the cause out of the way in the opening moments so as to make more time for lots and lots of rampaging lizard action. The action is actually pretty fun as this giant gila is quick on its four feet and able to outrun speeding cars pretty easily. It is also pretty darn hungry as it devours quite a few people whole. The monster itself is undeniably CG and though this one is rendered better in this film compared to other ScyFy monster movies, it’s still low quality work.
But that doesn’t really bother me that much with GILA! as Wynorski seems to have a respect for those age old 50’s monster movies, filling the film with all sorts of monster mayhem in between car races in the street, macho posing at the malt shop, and even a concert with boppin’ rock-a-billy music. The film feels like a 50’s throwback made by someone who knows and loves those old films. Because Wynorski seems to respect the roots of this type of film, it makes it much more digestible than modern monster amok films that lack both style and substance.
I don’t want to oversell GILA! It’s got low fare CG, a miniscule budget, and it isn’t the most creative of films. Still the cast seems to be taking things seriously (though they are obviously doing send-ups of films they love) and doing a good job at screaming at a monster that isn’t really there. The gila monster itself is fun and there’s some unexpected gore towards the end that is fun. With a slightly more than a cameo role from NIGHT OF THE COMET’s Kelli Maroney who has held up quite nicely through the years and a full on appreciation towards rampaging monster movies, GILA! proves to be a cut above your typical low fare ScyFy movies that we all love to hate.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from the Shout Factory!
DEAD SHADOWS (2012)Directed by David Cholewa
Written by Vincent Julé
Starring Fabian Wolfram, John Fallon, Blandine Marmigère, Gilles Barret, Laurie Cholewa, Margaux Devy, Caterina Perazzi, Johanna Seror
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Films like DEAD SHADOWS is frustrating in that it does a decent job of setting up a tale and running with it, yet stumbles into the last moments leaving you with a horrible feeling of wasted time by the end.
DEAD SHADOWS is a French ode to NIGHT OF THE COMET and JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING, with a healthy heaping of HP Lovecraftian monstrosity tossed in. A comet passes over the earth, causing everyone to fear the end of times is near. So of course everyone’s going to Wang Chung on the last night of existence. Chris, a young recluse (the Justin Bieber-esque Fabian Wolfram) ventures outside of his abode at the request of his attractive neighbor to go to the end of the world party only to find that his first night out is filled with tentacle monstrosities, rampaging gangs, and military response. Apparently, this sort of thing happened years ago, but young Chris doesn’t remember it, though his reclusiveness seems to be the result of the last comet’s passing. Now out of his home for the first time, Chris and his would be girlfriend must survive the night.
Though it’s not original by a long shot, DEAD SHADOWS makes things fun for the most part. The story swipes details from the 80’s end of the world party movie NIGHT OF THE COMET while offering a glimpse of the underground artsy party scene, which is gothic and moody and much like most goth bars you’ll go to in America full of style over substancers and posers galore. The music is fresh and fun though and director David Cholewa’s most successful scenes are the ones where Chris is fumbling around the party like a fish out of water as the alien-like people he avoids in everyday live slowly evolve into real alien tentacle beasts. There’s a really creepy scene where Chris stumbles into a room where a middle aged man is having tentacle sex with a young woman that is perverse and gory, yet Cholewa is able to highlight the voyeuristic fascination Chris is experiencing watching the whole thing well.
Once it’s made clear that there are monsters among us, the acting continues to build as Chris and a few survivors take shotguns and bats to the streets to get to a safe place away from the mayhem. While it might be a bit of a stretch to believe the bone skinny arms Chris could really do much damage with a baseball bat, the fight choreography is well done as well. This trek across the city full of monsters offers up more creepy sequences as an exhausted Chris is seduced by a spider-woman creature in an alleyway.
It’s too bad all of this awesomeness occurs as I am not completely sure what happens at the end of the film. There are survivors, the sun rises, and then half of Paris explodes. The end. This left me with a true what the fuck feeling, as if the writers just decided to end the film when they ran out of ideas. DEAD SHADOWS is a fun ride, but the sudden and befuddling ending made the whole thing feel like somewhat of a waste of time. Still the first hour of this film is filled with nice special effects, a dark mood, fun action, and decent performances. Too bad the ending had to sour it all.
Beware, the below trailer contains the boobs of a spider-woman creature, so if that sort of thing will get you in trouble at work…then don’t watch it there!
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Anchor Bay!
MR. JONES (2013)Directed by Karl Mueller
Written by Karl Mueller
Starring Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, Mark Steger, Faran Tahir, Stanley B. Herman, Ethan Sawyer, Jordan Byrne
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Let me start of by clarifying that, for not one second does the pop rock band Counting Crows appear at all in this film. And neither does Richard Gere, for that matter. Now that that’s cleared up, let’s get on with the review.
Most found footage films make me go down a laundry list of rules that separate good found footagers from the unsuccessful ones. But MR. JONES kind of tosses all of that out the window. The film opens with aspects that usually yank me by the shorthairs out of a found footage film an invisible orchestra provides a soundtrack from nowhere and the film itself seems to have some kind of omniscient editor splicing everything together. As I said, because the immediacy of the first person POV shot film is its most effective asset, any hint of tampering of the footage found is less believable for me. I am not saying that I believe that the film is actually real, but if we are to believe this is a footage found, I think the mystique of maintaining the found quality of it and shucking post-production conventions such as editing and soundtracks is the best way of making it feel all the more authentic.
MR. JONES says “Fuck that noise!” right quick as from the get go, it lets you know this is definitely a found footager unlike most you’ve seen. There’s a moment in the film where an omniscient third camera appears that is not only jarringly creepy, but it makes for the type of true paradoxical moment I’ve only seen before in last year’s visionary RESOLUTION (reviewed here) where the filmmakers become part of the movie they are filming, witnessing themselves in the movie while they are being filmed by an invisible camera. It’s a level of meta that makes my head hurt, but this level also makes MR. JONES much more than your run of the mill first person POV shot film.
Leading up to this trippy switch in POV later in the film, filmmaker Karl Mueller does a great job of offering up a lot of information on an enigmatic man dubbed Mr. Jones by the art world who produces twisted scarecrow like sculptures and sends them to people as gifts. Why does Mr. Jones do this? What is his inspiration? Who knows? But his work brings in six figures to the right collector and Scott and Penny (Jon Foster and Sarah Jones, respectively) have happened upon his reclusive home next door to their own summer artists retreat in the middle of a deep and secluded woods.
The film takes all kinds of twisted twists and crooked turns which kept me guessing if Mr. Jones was protecting the young couple from some unseen evil or leading them to their doom. The curious young couple are definitely deserving of some comeuppance as they decide to break into his home and root around. Still I liked the couple and was really caught up in this story which will most definitely keep you guessing until the end. While things end on a vague note, there is some kind of resolution by the time MR. JONES ends. And while the monsters themselves are left rather unclear, Mr. Jones’ purpose and the fates of the young couple are made clear and definitely take a haunting turn by the end. I found myself impressed with MR. JONES which doesn’t give all of the answers, but provides some twisted imagery, some genuinely scary moments, and offers up a refreshing type of found footage we’re not used to.
New On Demand & in theaters from IFC Midnight!
BLOOD GLACIER (2013)aka THE STATION, BLUTGLETSCHER
Directed by Marvin Kren
Written by Benjamin Hessler
Starring Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Brigitte Kren, Santos, Hille Beseler, Peter Knaack, Felix Römer, Wolfgang Pampel, Murathan Muslu, Michael Fuith, Adina Vetter, Coco Huemer
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
BLOOD GLACIER aka THE STATION is a fun film that is more like John Carpenter’s THE THING than the recent remake of the film. Comparisons between this film and the Carpenter classic are a gimme given that both have a chilly setting, an amorphic monster, and a dog. But BLOOD GLACIER is not an immediate knockoff. Instead, it simply uses familiar elements to tell a tale that makes it fun guessing what’s real and what’s CG as well as who will survive.
A science station set in the Austrian Alps near the Arctic Circle is the setting for this flick. The film opens on a preachy note condemning humanity for melting the ice caps and thus sealing our own fates. But it’s not just rising tides and unpredictable weather our addiction to hair spray in the 80’s have wrought upon ourselves, under the ice lays terrors that have been frozen for years…until now!
Yes this creature is all tentacley and twisted anatomically, but BLOOD GLACIER separates itself from THE THING in that it is not as fast acting as the 80’s monster. The monsters in this film have been gestating for a while, mixing animal DNA and being birthed violently from their stomachs more like the Xenomorph in ALIEN than anything else. In fact, the procession of the way the Xenomorph takes on the characteristics of its host (as in ALIEN3), seems to serve as a closer relative to the monster in BLOOD GLACIER. The result are roaming beasties like a fox-beetle-louse, a ram with moth wings, and a soaring and swooping bird-insect, turning this film into a menacing menagerie movie than your typical alien other flick. The paranoia that ran rampant in THE THING is not really what BLOOD GLACIER is all about. So similarities in the design of the beasts might be present, but the powerful theme that made THE THING such a classic aren’t. This makes BLOOD GLACIER quite a bit less effective.
But don’t get me wrong, the effects in this film are a blast and a half. Director Marvin Kren has mixed CG and practical effects pretty seamlessly here (much more successfully than in THE THING remake), only using CG when it makes sense such as long shots of a monster flying through the air and static/extended shots that give the monstrous animals life and movement a ruby dummy can’t really convey. Because of this smart usage of effects both computer generated and ones done by hand, the entirety of the film feels more uniform; as if the CG effects were used on an as needed basis when it required something that practical just couldn’t accomplish. I wish more filmmakers were more conservative with their CG. It would make for much more interesting horror and sci fi films, I guarantee.
The story itself isn’t too shabby, though it’s follows the story of THE THING (again without all of the paranoia, mind you) beat for beat. For the most part it’s your typical monster outside trying to get in film, though there is a late in the game subplot introduced about one cast member aborting a baby fathered by another cast member. Having these two characters separated until about an hour into the movie was over makes investing into this subplot seem too late in the game and tacked on as the monsters are right outside the door at that point, which skids the entire film to a halt when the two decide to have words about the abortion. I’m not against delving into this area in horror as its ripe with potential, but I do have issue with the fact that it comes up so late in the story and serves as a distraction from the real interesting stuff like the ram-moth!
Creative monster design, deft use of both CG and practical effects, and a tried and true story serve as the strengths to this Austrian flick. The version I got to see what dubbed in American from German language and the voice acting was more than a bit leaden, making the experience a little less enjoyable had it been left alone and just subtitled. The acting seems ok, but the deadpan delivery of lines makes it hard to tell if the acting is bad or just the voices. There are some standout roles, such as the director’s mother playing one of the people stuck in the station that has a tendency to scream and yell at everyone. BLOOD GLACIER turns out to be most successful technically rather than thematically. Though they try to get deep late in the game, it’s almost too late for that since I for one just wanted to see monsters eating people at that point. There are a few really well orchestrated scenes of gore and carnage that make BLOOD GLACIER worth seeing, but the ending is a head scratcher. While making sense with the science offered up in the film, I don’t know anyone who would make the decisions the survivors make at the very end. Still it’s got a ram-moth, which means it can’t be all that bad.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Cinedigm Entertainment!
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (2013)Directed by Randy Moore
Written by Randy Moore
Starring Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady, Lee Armstrong
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is a film I meant to see in theaters, but missed out, despite urgings from everyone I know for me to see this film. I heard all of the hype around it and read some of the reviews touting it as the second coming of surrealist cinema. But if you go in expecting to have your face melted off, I doubt you’ll ever be pleased and I try really hard not to believe the hype in overblown reviews because nine times out of ten, I’m disappointed with the film once I see it.
That said, I will recognize ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW as an achievement in gonzo cinema, making a film set in the middle of the biggest entertainment parks in the world without consent. It’s a throwback to the rogue cinema of the 70’s that you saw in New York by the likes of Scorcese, Ferrarra, and Henenlotter; filmmakers who captured the surroundings of New York because little to no prep work was done in regards to filming it. It was true guerrilla filmmaking, dodging authorities asking for permits and solely focusing on telling a bare bones story of a place and the people in it. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW has it easy though, as Disneyland is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world. So carrying a handheld camera and filming everything going on without consent is commonplace as this always recording lifestyle seems to be a step away from having recording cameras and mikes surgically implanted into our skulls. So while it’s ballsy for the filmmakers to film this and distribute it without permission of Disney, filming it itself probably wasn’t that difficult.
The story itself is rather simple. An every man named Jim (Roy Abramsohn) and his family are on the last day of their trip to Disneyland. At the beginning of the day, Jim finds out he’s lost his job, but instead of burdening his family about all of this and ruining the vacation, he decides to keep it from them. Jim, his wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and their two kids go about the usual morning chaos of getting the kids ready, fed, and making it to the park in good time. Upon arriving, Jim takes notice of a pair of young girls giggling and having a great time with themselves. What starts out as a family trip slowly becomes a dissent into madness as Jim becomes transfixed on these two energetic nymphettes and begins seeing all sorts of weird happenings on the seemingly innocent rides and attractions scattered about the park.
I was fascinated with Jim’s character as he is first shown as a somewhat weak-willed but protective father thinking of his family over the news of his layoff. Immediately, I felt for the guy and this was a smart move by the filmmaker Randy Moore because Jim goes down some dark pathways as this movie goes on. The two girls Jim is transfixed on are literally half his age if not more and underage at that. I’m sure many will find this fact to be a deal breaker in terms of liking Jim, but because he’s been set up as a likable loser, I couldn’t help but feel for this guy who is definitely having a very rough midlife crisis here. Yes, it’s icky to see him thinking about running away with these two teens, but the film adheres (and some may say perverts) the basic themes of Disney where Jim is venturing where many of Disney’s characters go. He is being tempted to run off into this dream like world, leaving all problems behind him and having all of his wishes come true. Why is it acceptable for young girls like Alice or Wendy to do this, but not ok for Jim to dream in this way? Especially when the park itself advertises that it’s a place built for kids of all ages. Morally grody or not, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW will definitely incite debate about the subject.
But the thing that’s really going to offend and disturb is the way Randy Moore peppers in the surreal gingerly throughout the film. A warped face here and misperception there turns into a full blown explosion of sights and sounds by the end as it is very unclear as to what is real and what isn’t by the end. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is going to be a film that will leave some scratching their heads as to what has actually transpired. Never wanting to be too literal, I don’t want to assume everything that goes on in the latter half of this film occurs in the story. I perceive it as the slow disintegration of the mind of a man who is extremely unhappy with his life and unable to cope with the awkward juxtaposition of real world responsibility slamming into a place where you’re encouraged to give into your fantasies. In that sense, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is a crisis of conscience; give in to your dreams or give them up—with the decision not being an easy one and one that will leave many hurting no matter what course of action is taken.
Or maybe it’s just a hodgepodge of weird imagery, odd sounds, bizarre happenings, perverse situations, and very bad decisions. I’m sure it could be read either way and like many great works of art, literature, and cinema, it can be taken to mean many different things by many different people.
So yes, it’s cool this film was made on the down low under the noses of the fat cats behind Disney. But the real achievement of ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is that it’s a film that will make you think. It will cause discomfort. It will dazzle and disgust and cause all sorts of reactions we all love to feel, just not all at the same time. In many ways, in experiencing this film, we get to feel that weird sense of nostalgia lost; it’s that feeling you get when you watch that HE-MAN cartoon you loved as a kid and realize, that’s not that good…what the hell was I on to have liked this shit? Or worse yet, that your eyes have grown and you just can’t experience the sights and sounds in that same wide-eyed wonder you once did. It’s maddening, off-putting, and more than a little sad, which is exactly the way I felt after watching this bizarre little gem of a movie.
Available now on iTunes & On Demand! In theaters May 9th from Magnet Releasing!
STAGE FRIGHT (2014)Directed by Jerome Sable
Written by Jerome Sable (screenplay), Jerome Sable & Eli Batalion (music & lyrics)
Starring Minnie Driver, Meat Loaf, Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Kent Nolan, Brandon Uranowitz, Ephraim Ellis, Melanie Leishman, Thomas Alderson, James McGowan, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, Eli Batalion, Ryan Bobkin, Leanne Miller, Adrianna Di Liello
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
My friend and co-editor on AICN COMICS Sleazy G has a deep hatred towards musicals. While he can acknowledge that PHANTOM OF PARADISE is a decent flick (I think it’s amazing BTW and indicated so in my review of it here), the aspect of it being a musical drives him batty. Having sat through REPO THE GENETIC OPERA and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL with him, I take some form of perverse satisfaction in seeing films where people burst into song at any given moment with him as he represents an extreme fraction of the audience that I don’t identify with. Personally, I don’t mind musicals and even enjoy them from time to time. Call me unmanly. Call me a wuss. But being an appreciator of music of all forms, there’s a part of me that wishes I could burst out into song during particularly troubling/particularly joyous times, so seeing someone do so in film doesn’t really bother me all that much. Again, though, I realize, especially in a horror column, I might be in the minority here.
Slight spoilers lurk in this paragraph. STAGE FRIGHT is a horror musical—kind of a mad combo of GLEE and SCREAM as it is a slasher film set upon the backdrop of a summer vocal camp. Much like Wes Craven’s modern classic, the film’s focal story revolves around a central character with a troubled past. This Sidney’s name is Camilla (played by Allie MacDonald from HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET and THE BARRENS) whose mother (Minnie Driver) was murdered the night of her big debut in a presentation of “Haunting of the Opera” ten years prior. Camilla and her brother Buddy (BIG LOVE’s sister-mother lovin’ Douglas Smith) were taken in by her mother’s old manager (Sir Loaf of Meat) and the fraternal twins work in the kitchen of a summer vocal camp with Camilla pining from the sidelines seeing others act out her dreams in song on the stage. When a the chance to appear in a reprisal of “Haunting of the Opera” arises, Camilla leaps at it and vies for the lead part her mother premiered in all those years ago, but a shadowy and sadistic figure is lurking backstage wiping out choir kids and staff one by one as opening night approaches. End spoilers…see, that wasn’t that bad.
There are definite slasher tropes being used here a plenty as the killer has a distinct look (donning a mix between the SCREAM hood and mask and a kabuki theater player), a varied taste at modes of death, and a mysterious identity. While I won’t reveal who the killer is here, I had a pretty good idea who it was well before the third act reveal. Still, as slashers go, this maniac is a good one, more reminiscent of a rock and roll Phantom of the Opera than anything else, with a twinge of the spastic masked beast from FUNHOUSE tossed in—in regards of movement and manic energy. The killer makes like a gothic lead singer to an old metal band and screeches like the Crypt Keeper on speed. This could easily come off as annoying, but the creepy kabuki mask and whirlwind-like destructive energy from the actor behind the mask really does set him apart as this Tasmanian Devil of a monster out for blood.
The brutality of the kills also should be noted as there are a lot of them. Stabbing once is for wusses, apparently, as this guy not only goes for the jugular but for every other major vein and artery as well. Stabbings in unconventional places (like the back of a Volkswagen?)…like through the hand and through the roof of the mouth also make the kills we’ve all seen feel somewhat creative and fresh. Again, the violent energy that accompanies the attacks and the shrieking Noid-like frantic nature of the killer also make it something entirely unique.
The film lines up quite a few red herrings to keep the audience guessing from moment one as to who is the baddie. Going in and looking at the cast, I thought I nailed it, but I was wrong…sort of. But as I said before, the identity of the manic maniac is pretty evident by the time the final act begins. Still, by that time, I felt completely satisfied at sitting through a horror movie that goes by the slasher rulebook, but gets creative in following those rules.
The cast is a very talented lot. Allie MacDonald has a virginal quality about her and fits nicely into the final girl mold, but there are times when she is downright sizzling as she is attempting to get used to the casting couch ways a career in the stage require. While she doesn’t go full on and have sex (this film does abide by some slasher rules), she gets damn near close. The rest of the cast including Meatloaf (who is surprisingly good), Minnie Driver (for the limited amount of time she’s on the screen), Brandon Uranowitz (who is great as the sleazy wanna-be stage director of the summer camp), Melanie Leishman (from TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL, who shows talent in both acting and singing as Camilla’s competition for lead in the play), and little cute little lispy Adrianna Di Liello, all give fantastic performances throughout the film. The biggest surprise of the bunch is Douglas Smith who never really impressed me on BIG LOVE, but does a surprisingly good job with the small role he has here.
I left the singing and music until last since I’m sure that’s least important in a horror column, but I will say that the songs are surprisingly good and catchy with smart lyrics that ring as funny most of the time too. The actors singing the pieces are particularly strong across the board and it doesn’t feel like anyone was cast for looks, rather their ability to carry a tune. All in all STAGE FRIGHT is one of those rare treasures of a horror film that gets the humor, the scares, and yes, the music right. I especially loved the medley of tunes screeched out by the killer over the end credits. I will admit it. I like musicals, but films like STAGE FRIGHT make that easy as it not only is a strong musical, but a fine example of how to do a fresh and exciting slasher film in a day and age when not many have the balls or know-how to do so.
New this week on iTunes/On Demand and in theaters June 6th, 2014 from Magnet Releasing!
THE SACRAMENT (2013)Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
Starring AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I had a chance to check out Ti West’s new film THE SACRAMENT which played this weekend at the Chicago International Film Festival. The director continues to impress me with his patient hand at storytelling as well as his decisions to not repeat himself. THE SACRAMENT is very unlike his previous films in tone, subject matter and style and by far his biggest budget yet, all of which makes for the director’s best film to date.
The story follows a VICE reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and his cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg) who during an interview with Patrick, a photographer (Kentucker Audley) find out that his drug-addicted sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) had gone missing and that he had received a letter from her recently telling him that she is ok and living in a religious commune called Eden Parish. Smelling a good story, Sam and Jake follow Patrick who is invited to visit the commune which is at an undisclosed location and can only be reached by helicopter. All of this is setup which occurs in the first ten minutes of the film, the rest follows the gonzo reporters as they try to figure out what the appeal of the commune is to the bright faced people they meet upon arrival and soon uncover that not everything is cheery at Eden Parish.
I don’t want to reveal too much more of the plot mainly because it is a very simple one as the original goal to get Caroline home from the parish changes rapidly to everyone and doing anything just to get out alive. This being a horror film, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that the commune is not on the up and up. The beauty of this film is in the way West doles out the suspicious activity in tiny, growing beats first with some strange things happening here and there and ending in a full scale Armageddon. The fears that Caroline is in a cult is there throughout with West spending the better part of the first half of the film trying to convince us otherwise.
One might think that the film would be boring with most of the action happening in the last 40 minutes, but because of compelling performances all around, even the quiet bits are utterly engrossing. AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg are two actors I never try to miss. They are fantastic genre stars in their own right, but paired together as they were in A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE and YOU’RE NEXT and you’re bound to find gold. Here the two actors offer up somewhat restrained performances—more restrained than I expected, I have to admit. Bowen is especially likable in this film as Sam, who has a pregnant wife at home about to give birth. This is a detail that makes you root for him to get out of this alive all the more. Swanberg’s Jake is equally likable and seems to have an almost Zen mellowness about him. While I was disappointed there was less snark and witty banter between these two character actors, I understand why West might have not wanted that in this film as it might have steered the film from its serious tone. There does seem to be a friendship between the two characters in the film, but it feels like the characters were there to do a job and were doing it with no time for smart remarks. My disappointment was only momentary though as their performances were strong throughout.
The standout role though goes to Gene Jones who most will remember from the “Friendo” scene in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Jones plays the commune leader dubbed Father by the parishioners. Every second of the time he is on camera he commands the scene. The film builds to an interview between Sam and Father which is held in front of every member of the commune. During these moments, Father is probably the most terrifying character you’re going to see in a film this year. His kind Southern drawl and tendency to quote the bible to give reason to everything is both convincing and menacing all at once. Bowen and Jones are amazing in this scene with the role of manipulator and manipulated changing hands throughout. Bowen shows range he hasn’t before in this scene and Jones’ verse-coated threats are mesmerizing.
Shot in a faux documentary style, West does toss in some editing cheats here and there in order to tell the story he wants. If you are to believe that this footage has been edited and processed in some kind of tell-all documentary format, the cuts are understandable, but the film is not presented in that manner at the beginning. Had this started with the opening credits to the VICE HBO specials, it would have been more believable. But I doubt the more candid behind the scenes stuff at the beginning would have made the cut in a real doc. West also uses a score in this film which supports the faux documentary feel, but again, the opening hour was presented more as a found footage film and the score just doesn’t fit. The music during the scenes of tension and suspense were appropriate in a cinematically shot film, but here it raised more questions for me about the format and had me looking for a keyboardist and a cellist playing in the Eden Parrish pasture.
Those bits aside, the final moments of the film are as shocking and horrifying as you’re going to get. West’s slow buildup only works if the payoff is worth it and as all hell breaks loose in the final moments, I found that the wait was most definitely worth it. Like West’s previous films, this isn’t a film that’s going to give you a jump scare every five minutes. What THE SACRAMENT does is invite you in and gets you comfortable before it shows its claws and because of that, it left an undeniable mark on my psyche that I will be haunting by brain for days to come. It’s a fantastic film with performances that will be seen as classics some day and a tone that will trap you unsuspectingly.
Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!
HI-8: HORROR INDEPENDENT-EIGHT (2013)Directed by Tim Ritter (“Switchblade Insane”), Brad Sykes (“The Scout”, wraparound sequence), Marcus Koch (“A Very Bad Situation”), Ron Bonk (“Gang Them Style”), Donald Farmer (“Thicker Than Water”), Todd Sheets (“The Request”), Chris Seaver, & Tony Masiello (“The Tape”)
Written by Tim Ritter (“Switchblade Insane”), Brad Sykes (“The Scout”, wraparaound sequence), Marcus Koch (“A Very Bad Situation”), Ron Bonk (“Gang Them Style”), Donald Farmer (“Thicker Than Water”), Todd Sheets (“The Request”), Chris Seaver, & Matt Hill (“The Tape”)
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
High cinema, this film is not. But that’s the point. HI-8 is a tribute to shot on video films of the 80’s that cluttered many a video store and entertained those looking for the simple things in cinema; blood, gore, boobs, and violence. Some of the best of the best in low budget directors have been gathered to pay homage to those old pointless gorefests of old we all remember renting. Multiple takes, lengthy schedules, adherence to the plot; they don’t belong in this dojo. But if you’re like me and grew up in the 80’s renting from mom and pop video stores and watching all sorts of horror at an age much younger than I should have, this is a film that will thrill you despite it’s low budget and rough edges. Eight shorts make up HI-8 and below, I go into a bit of detail about each of them.
The first short is one by Tim Ritter (TRUTH OR DARE? series) called “Switchblade Insane;” a fourth wall breaking story about a serial rapist and his wife who knows about his deviant lifestyle. The wife struggles with her love for her husband and versus the crimes he commits and goes to some uncomfortable areas once the cat is out of the bag. The twist is that his wife actually starts to understand and shares his fascination. It’s a turn that is a bit rushed, but this is a short film, so there’s not a lot of time for lengthy soul searching. Ritter is a low fi legend and able to get some nice visceral scenes and touch upon some deep psychosis in such a short space of time.
Short number two is called “A Very Bad Situation” by Marcus Koch (100 TEARS) which depicts a world overcome by aliens after a meteor shower hits the earth. Points go to this one taking a situation that most would require a multi-million dollar budget and setting it in a single locale to amp the tension. Decently acted and tensely paced, this one does a fantastic job with very little. Just a gory head, a monster hand puppet, and a garage is all this one needs, highlighting director Kock’s scrappy nature making a lot of impact with very little.
Tony Masiello’s “The Tape” from the director of SOV: THE TRUE INDEPENDENTS is next. This one has shades of V/H/S as it deals with the death of the video store and a particularly weird SOV (shot on video) tape one unlucky guy happens upon. The film within a film, “Bloodgasm” is pretty gory and realistic, as if it used real animal parts for realistic effect. Fascination turns into obsession as the man tries to track down the maker of the tape. This one’s got gore and boobs and caters to those who loved those plotless gorefests of old (which can be said about most of the shorts in this film).
Next we dive head first into the cheesy goodness that is “Gang Them Style” by Ron Bonk (THE VICIOUS SWEET) about a gruff-voiced man named Mongoose makes his way to a retirement home during a zombie apocalypse to rescue his mommy. “Gang Them Style” has a wicked sense of humor and harkens back to a time when all you needed was a bandanna to be cool. I laughed quite a bit at the sheer, joyous hokiness of this installment. Turns out trying to save a bunch of old people is very hard, especially when the van is ten feet away from the door. This one was great fun.
FILTHY MCNASTY’s Chris Seaver offers up a story about a peeping tom stalking a chubby girl as she goes about her day to day activities of cleaning the pool, running, sunbathing, and jumping on the trampoline in this voyeuristic one off called “Genre Bending.” This one tries to be creepy, but in the end is more goofy and tasteless than anything else, reminding me of the fetishistic, early Russ Meyer flicks like THE IMMORAL MR TEAS with some sleazy John Waters tones tossed in. Not that stalking and raping is a laughing matter, but this one tries to find the humor in it. Out of all of them, this one’s sure to offend someone.
Next is ZOMBIE BLOODBATH’s Todd Sheets directing “The Request” about a radio DJ who gets a bizarre call from a hauntingly familiar listener. This one has decent acting, fun pacing, and a strong sense of tension and suspense, making it a true standout among the rest of the more amateur entries in the film. For some reason, phone call stalkings always send a shiver up my spine and this one, despite it’s DIY aspects, did the trick as well.
“Thicker than Water” by Donald Farmer (SAVAGE VENGEANCE) is a twisted little entry that goes places that I didn’t really expect as it starts out with a boyfriend and girlfriend sitting and watching a horror film and ends up being a pitch black take on jealously and insecurity in relationships. Hinging this one on emotions that all of us have felt from time to time, this one says a lot and proves to pack every minute with power. Simple and sweet, Farmer gets under the skin with his warped look at a relationship taken to an extreme level.
Brad Sykes (CAMP BLOOD trilogy) does the final entry “The Scout” about a couple going to a remote locale in the desert to scout for a film shoot. This one really takes its time to soak in the creepy surroundings of decrepit buildings in the middle of a barren land. Sounds like the perfect time for the car to break down, right? Yes, it’s cliché, but this one relies on our familiarity with this type of film to cut corners to the good stuff. Foolishly deciding to walk home, the girl finds herself alone and vulnerable. Things get a bit meta and surreal in this final episode which is actually the best of the bunch in terms of premise and execution.
The wraparound piece tying the entire film together is also done by Brad Sykes who produced this entire anthology. It focuses on a three man (ok, two man and one woman crew) bare bones film crew making a low budgeter in a secluded area. While it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it does pay homage to the do it yourself nature of the entire collection. The makeup effects in the final scenes are top notch and the final monster is surprisingly effective at inducing scares.
If you’re the type who feels big budget is the only way to get big thrills and scares, HI-8 is not the film for you. But fans of the video tape generation and low budget chillers are bound to find something to like among the eight shorts collected for this series. Anthologies seem to be on the rise these days thanks to the popularity of the V/H/S and ABC’S OF DEATH series. That’s what makes HI-8 all the more essential viewing as it remembers the day and age of horror done on the cheap and knows how to squeeze every drop of blood from every dollar spent while still being able to deliver the big scare.
Advance Review: Recently played at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival!
DER SAMURAI (2014)Directed by Till Kleinert
Written by Till Kleinert
Starring Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blachnik, Ulrike Hanke-Haensch, Christopher Kane, Ulrike Bliefert
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man struggling with his darker side is a theme commonly dissected in horror films. Everything from your classic wolf man story to every variation of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr Hyde deals with the inner battle. Freud identified this struggle as a clash between the animalistic id and the more rational ego which was constantly occurring in every man’s head throughout his day to day life deciding whether to think through a problem or pounce and tear the head off of it. Set against the thematic backdrop of man’s struggle with his sexual orientation, DER SAMURAI is ripe with symbolism and thematic depth.
Jakob (Michel Diercks) plays a suburban policeman lives a relatively quiet existence building model neighborhoods and playing cards with his grandmother who he lives with. A man-child of sorts, Jakob is not taken seriously by anyone in his burb. The gangs laugh at him and his boss and peers in the police department belittle him. When a wolf from the surrounding forest begins to threaten the suburb, Jakob chooses the path of least resistance and decides to lure the wolf deeper into the woods by feeding it, hoping that it will prefer the leftovers from the butcher to the trash of the neighborhood which endangers the villagers. This act of kindness is not taken as such by his peers in the force who continue to laugh behind and in front of him for his gentle demeanor. When a sword arrives at his home in the mail, Jakob is perplexed, but he becomes even more perplexed when the sword’s owner calls to have Jakob deliver it to him. What he finds in the abandoned residence is a long haired man in a white dress (Pit Bukowski) hunched over in front of a mirror, making animalistic noises and tempting Jakob in ways he never even considered.
Dealing with the subject of homosexuality is going to be difficult for a lot of people. First and foremost, gays don’t need another psycho in a dress to represent them as too often than not, their lifestyle is often looked at as deviant and wrong. So I can understand why some gay and gay-sensitive viewers might get their feathers ruffled at the way this subject matter is approached. On the other hand, there are going to be some just not comfortable watching a film dealing with the subject matter of a man having an inner battle between his hetero and homo sides. As much as I respect the gay perspective, I also respect the perspective of those who think that this film may just not be for them. It’s a controversial subject and bound to offend someone no matter what side one takes. At the same time, it’s about conflict and conflict is the makings of many a great film and DER SAMURAI is indeed a great film.
Filled with dark action and gory carnage, the unnamed samurai leaps with uncanny and animalistic speed cutting down all of those who taunted and belittled Jakob in the opening moments of the film. In many ways, this samurai is doing what Jakob can’t; which is mainly stand up for himself. At the same time, the samurai represents a side of Jakob he might not even know about himself due to his fear of conflict. The bulk of the film is Jakob trying to subdue, capture, and stop this animalistic swordsman who leaves a bloody trail of parts of people Jakob never really liked in the first place. This wholly honest and primal conflict is deled into in the most violent ways, escalating into a literal climax that reeks of symbolism as much as it hits with brutal impact.
DER SAMURAI is not an easy film to watch. It’s gory and brutal and involves questions, answers and themes some folks are just not ready or willing to talk about. But it is a fantastic piece of cinema with gorgeously orchestrated transitions between scenes and violence that is both beautiful and blood drenched all at once. Pit Bukowski gives a memorable and bestial performance as the samurai, a movie monster that deserves recognition. And writer/director Till Kleinert delivers in DER SAMURAI a horror film unlike most but also a horror film in its truest, most basic form about a man against a monster inside of him. Such an absorbing piece of cinema that respectfully, will be simply too much for some.
And finally…here’s yet another episode of the classic horror radio series Lights Out. This one, a dark and demonic tale called “The Devil’s Due.” Turn down the lights and listen close to horrors that scared the bejeezus out of your grandpappy! 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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