Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Plagues, plastic costumes, bad Arnold impressions, pig-nosed vigilantes, boobs, campus killers, Unidentified Flying Nessies, porno murderers, MONSTERS TV series, and of course, Bigfoot. Just another week at Casa de la AICN HORROR! On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: MONSTERS Season One Episodes 23-24, Season Two Episodes 1-6 (1989)
Retro-review: FINAL EXAM (1981)
Retro-review: THE LOST EMPIRE (1985)
ALIEN ENCOUNTER AT LOCH NESS (2012)
THE ZOMBINATOR (2012)
LUCKY BASTARD (2013)
Advance Review: THE DESERT (2013)
Advance Review: WILLOW CREEK (2013)
And finally…the Meteor’s “She’s a Zombie Now!”
Retro-review: Collected DVD Box Set new this week from eOne Entertainment!
MONSTERS: THE COMPLETE SERIES BOX SETSeries One: Episodes 23-24, Season Two: Episodes 1-5 (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 1.23: Mannekins of Horror
Directed by Ernest D. Farino
Written by Joseph Anderson, Robert Bloch (story)
Starring Glynis Barber, William Prince, Brian Brophy
Director Ernest D. Farino worked on effects for THE ABYSS & TERMINATOR before directing this episode, and I kind of wish he would have done more directing in this intense and nightmarish yarn about a genius doctor who had a breakdown and now resides in a mental institution and the clichéd yet horrific treatment he receives there. The patient has developed a passion for building clay sculptures of people with anatomically correct insides. What’s worse is that it appears that these little clay people can come to life and do the madman’s bidding. But you’ll be rooting for the crazy dude in this one, as his doctor is one mean sumbitch. This one is full of fantastic stop-motion animation as well as some horrifically moody atmosphere. The final moments are indeed horrific as man and clay mannequin (or mannekin, as it’s referred to here) mix and become one. This one was truly one of the scariest of the first season.
Episode 1.24: La Strega
Directed by Lizzie Borden
Written by Michael McDowell (teleplay), Richard Russo (story)
Starring Linda Blair, Rob Morrow, Maria Tucci, Anita Durst
It’s too bad they didn’t end the first season on a high note with “Mannekins of Horror.” Instead we end Season One with a plop. There’s a lot of talent behind the story of this one written by BEETLEJUICE & NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS writer Michael McDowell and THE ICE HARVEST writer Richard Russo. Still, that couldn’t save this one from making me yawn so hard I was afraid it would stick. The always stunning Linda Blair and NORTHERN EXPOSURE’s Rob Morrow play two people intertwined in a dangerous game of promises and temptations. Blair plays a witch who seems to have stolen a ring from Morrow’s mother. Morrow’s character aims to get it back, but finds himself in the thrall of the witch. Plodding dream sequences make this episode feel like it will never end, and is most definitely not indicative of the talent behind this short’s phenomenal latter works. This one’s got some creepy witch makeup, but little else.
Episode 2.1: The Face
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Benjamin Carr
Starring Imogene Coca, Gregory Grove, Gary Roberts
VACATION’s grandma Imogene Coca stars as an elderly victim of a break-in who ends up biting one of her attackers on the hand before biting it herself. The bite turns into a face, haunting one of the burglars to the point of madness. This is a goofy outing with some fun effects, but nothing about it indicates that the filmmakers behind the episode would go far. But far they did go as it was directed by Allen Coulter of THE SOPRANOS and BOARDWALK EMPIRE fame and written by Benjamin Carr who wrote 13 GHOSTS remake, HEAD OF THE FAMILY, some of the PUPPETMASTER films, and scores of other films for Full Moon Entertainment. Ultimately, this is a forgettable episode with an impressive pedigree.
Episode 2.2: Portrait of the Artist
Directed by Gerald Cotts
Written by D. Keith Mano
Starring Darren McGavin, Beeson Carroll, Laurie Kennedy
NIGHT STALKER Darren McGavin stars in this well-paced thriller about an eccentric artist who makes life-sized artwork of people-sized portraits. When people seeking their missing family show up, it’s pretty easy to piece together what’s going on. Still, some fantastic back and forthings between McGavin and Beeson Carroll make this a tension-filled episode which feels much longer than it actually is and views as much more substantial than your average MONSTERS episode. There’s some nice face-ripping mayhem going on here, but the artwork looks pretty crappy, if you ask me.
Episode 2.3: A Bond of Silk
Directed by Ernest D. Farino
Written by Michael Kimball
Starring Lydia Cornell, Marc McClure, Dale Brady
Ernest D. Farino, who worked on visual effects on everything from THE TERMINATOR to BALLS OF FURY to HBO’s FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON directed this episode which turns out to be a pretty fantastically harrowing experience as a young couple find themselves trapped in a honeymoon suite that comes with its own giant web and, at no extra cost, A GIANT SPIDER!!! Jimmy Olsen himself Marc McClure and TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT’s Lydia Cornell (you know, the smokin’ hot blonde sister) star in this action-packed piece that feels more like the set of a much bigger budgeted movie. The showdown between Cornell and the giant spider is intense as all get-out as she is trapped in an elevator with spider legs breaking through the walls. This is some great schlocky fun utilizing the age old Giant Spider motif to its fullest potential.
Episode 2.4: Rerun
Directed by John Auerbach
Written by Peg Haller, Bob Schneider
Starring Mark Nassar, Kaye Ballard, Mitchell Whitfield, Rachel Jones, Robert Weil
The most precious episode goes to “Rerun” from John Auerbach, who wrote STEPFATHER II but directed this one. The story is about a love triangle between a college-aged boy in love with a college-aged girl, but of course, the girl loves someone else--namely a bad-boy dead actor she once met over the previous summer. When the girl’s wishes come true and the dead actor returns to award her with his love and affection, his intentions are less than noble. Doing a bit of research (because that’s what nerdy college guys do, you see), the jilted guy finds out that the returned actor is actually sucking the girl’s soul via a hickey from her neck. The standoff that occurs between the boy, the girl, and the soul-sucking demon actor is fun and this one ends on a note that’s sweeter than gummy bear spit. Classic comedienne Kaye Ballard appears as the actor’s former agent spouting just enough exposition to push the story along, but this short but sweet episode doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it ever lose its charm.
Episode 2.5: Love Hurts
Directed by Manny Coto
Written by Edithe Swensen
Starring Olivia Brown, Henry Brown, Valentina Quinn, Fred Pinkard, Renn Woods
Blah. Be careful what you wish for…especially when you’ve filled out your organ donor card. A voodoo priestess wants to have her way with a married man, but family ties and obligations get in the way of their happiness. Just when it looks like the married man can have it both ways, having his body stay with his wife while his soul goes out for a little ooh lala, of course an O. Henry twist has got to show up. This episode feels like a lengthy joke leading to a punchline that is utterly predictable in the first minute of the episode. Still, there are some gory effects towards the end, but there were much better episodes to admire this week than this one. Manny Coto, director of DR GIGGLES and producer on DEXTER and 24, most likely would like to forget his involvement in this forgettable episode.
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.22
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
FINAL EXAM (1981)Directed by Jimmy Huston
Written by Jimmy Huston
Starring Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, DeAnna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, & Timothy L. Raynor as The Killer
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Who is killing kids on campus? The jock? The dork? The virgin? Is it the cook with a massive hipster beard? How about someone with no face or motivation?
You could almost go down a checklist while watching FINAL EXAM, checking off one slasher film standby after another. Shady killer—check. POV shots—check. Various forms of murder with various weapons—check. Stock characters with little by way of talent or depth lined up to be slaughtered—check. Final girl—check. On the surface, FINAL EXAM is nothing extraordinary.
I know there will be a lot of folks dismissing this relatively bloodless slasher film offering, but despite the one dimensional characters, despite the bad acting, despite the amateur psychology and lame plot twists, I liked this film for the fact that it has the guts to steer away from one slasher trope which most often is handled in the most ham-fisted manner. What I’m talking about is the reason the killer is doing the killing. So many times the killer’s bloodlust is explained away with a childhood prank gone wrong or an abusive parentage. In FINAL EXAM, there’s no such excuse.
In FINAL EXAM, time and time again the point is driven home that in most serial killings, the reason behind it is often never explained. The theme of the film is best explained by its serial killer expert geek character named Radish (WTF?) who touts amateur philosophy like “Senseless murders happen all the time” after a vanload of fratboys show up and perform a mock on-campus terrorist attack with machine guns and everything. A sign of the times, this brazen daylight prank would cause multiple arrests and federal investigations now, but only warrants a visit from one hick sheriff here. Maybe the director was trying to make a point about death having no real meaning when the first kill in the queue says when asked why she doesn’t want to have sex with the second in line to die, “I don’t have to have a reason.”
The killer in this film has no motivation. He just shows up and starts killing. Those who like everything explained will find this infuriating, but I liked the ambiguity to this killer who we never know; even as he tracks the final girl through the dimly lit campus, there is no time wasted on exposition as to the character’s motivations. And you know what? I kind of like that.
So yes, the acting is bad. The gore effects are next to nothing. The plot is paper thin. But the fact that FINAL EXAM refuses to give us the answers makes this film a little more intriguing than your typical slasher film.
Retro-review: New on DVD from Polyscope!
THE LOST EMPIRE (1985)Directed by Jim Wynorski
Written by Jim Wynorski
Starring Melanie Vincz, Raven De La Croix, Angela Aames, Paul Coufos, Robert Tessier, Angus Scrimm, Blackie Dammett, Linda Shayne, Kenneth Tobey, Tom Rettig, Angelique Pettyjohn, Art Hern
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Cheesy dialog, groan-inducing one liners, bad writing, bad acting, laughable pacing and editing, and a penchant to stall the camera lens on the chests of its lead actresses: THE LOST EMPIRE is the type of film you will have a blast with if you’re in the mood to MST3K the hell out a film. The story follows a trio of women (boobs) who stumble onto (boobs) an ancient curse leading them to (boobs) a lost island filled with (boobs) masked guards, a bald (boob) tour guide, and Angus (boobs) Scrimm as their diabolical leader. Enduring harrowing (boob) exercises and demanding gladiatorial (boob) challenges, the trio must use their (boobs) wits if they’re going to survive.
And there’re also a lot of boobs.
While the lead actress (Melanie Vincz) seems to be trying to act, the other two-thirds of the trio (Russ Meyer alums Raven De La Croix and Angela Aames) simply stand around, puff out their chests and try not to kill themselves while running through the underground caverns (since this was before the sports bra was invented). Loads of goofy ninja action, hokey special effects, and a laser in the shape of a penis and two testicles make this film absurdly laughable and all around awesome. I can’t recommend this film to any of you without a sense of humor, but if you’re in the mood to mock and mock hard, THE LOST EMPIRE is a classic.
New on DVD from Reality Films!
ALIEN ENCOUNTER AT LOCH NESS (2012)Directed by Philip Gardiner
Written by Warren Croyle & Philip Gardiner
Starring William Jobes, Steve Feltham, Jack Burrows, Karl Brown
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though I’m a believer in all things Bigfoot, I have to say the possibility of a prehistoric beastie living in a Scottish Loch is definitely something of a stretch. Still, stranger creatures have been discovered, so I’ll never say never.
The latest doc to be released from the low budget cryptid doc series from Reality Films is ALIEN ENCOUNTER AT LOCH NESS, and though it definitely stretches credibility a bit, the film does serve as a nice encapsulation of the Nessie mythos and collection of all the facts we know to date.
Not as fluent in my Nessie lore, it was fun to watch this doc which reports back to the first noted Loch Ness Monster sighting way back in 565 AD when St Columba of Iona cast the beast away with the word of the Lord. The doc also covers Nessie touchstones such as Colonel Robert Wilson’s famous photo (which later was revealed to be a fake, but of course that’s not really covered in this doc which makes us want to believe really, really badly). Virtually every pic you’ve seen in shows like IN SEARCH OF and the like are shown ,and while there’s not a lot of new info given, this doc does serve as a nice refresher for those who aren’t totally up on all things Nessie.
Where this doc lost me was when they try to tie UFO sightings to the Nessie phenomenon, suggesting that Nessie has ties with visitors to other planets. The “proof” offered up is “eyewitness testimony” from a “reputed researcher in the science community” who wishes to remain anonymous who claims to have experienced a UFO sighting and a Nessie sighting at the same time.
Again, I never say never, and maybe one day when we see Nessie scooting around in the Millennium Falcon I’ll be the one eating my words. But while this little doc does a decent job of reporting well known accounts, the “new evidence” isn’t that impressive, and the ties to aliens are weak at best.
This is a fun little doc (one of the better ones I’ve seen from Reality Films) that had me for quite a while, but lost me when they tried to tie too many phenomena to one cause.
New on DVD this week from Camp Motion Pictures!
LIZARDMAN (2012)aka LIZARDMAN: THE TERROR OF THE SWAMP
Directed by Peter Dang
Written by Francis Abbey, Steve Goldenberg (story)
Starring Michael Gaglio, Sherri Box, Michael Harding, James Arthur Lewis, Amber McConnell, John Karyus, Steven M. Blasini, Frankie Cullen, Micheal Donoghue, Tammy Klein, James Krokee, Matt Easton as the Lizardman!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Like many of you, I look at those old black and white schlocker films of the 50’s and 60’s with nostalgic warmth. Most of the time all the filmmakers had was a rubber suit, some non-actors, and a bare bones script, and that was enough to entertain. I don’t know how many afternoons and late nights I spent watching shock shows featuring films like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, and THE SHE-DEMON.
I take this trip to yesteryear because many would see the rubber-suited titular character to LIZARDMAN and laugh it off at how horrible it looks. And the costume does look pretty laughable, with its seams and zippers almost in full view for scrutiny. Still, though the budget is low, the costume is amateur, and the effects are minimal, I got that same hokey nostalgic charm feeling I get from those old timey films while watching LIZARDMAN.
The story follows a team of adventurers aiming to track down and take in a monster roaming the swamps and wetlands of Southern North America. After a daring pursuit (ok, well, it tries to be daring), the creature is captured and an opportunistic science show host wants to exploit it on national television and claim all of the glory. But when the love broadcast goes sideways and the creature escapes, it’s up to the sole survivor of the original capture mission to take the monster down.
LIZARDMAN’s script is not that original. It basically follows stories like KING KONG and especially MIGHTY JOE YOUNG beat for beat in venturing into the monster’s world, then taking the beast to show in the real world only for that show to go catastrophic. But if you’re going to riff on something, it might as well be the king, and LIZARDMAN does so with some amount of talent in terms of story.
The other thing that surprised me was that the acting wasn’t absolutely painful to watch. Given the look of the creature (which the script references as looking like a rubber suit—a detail I found to be rather clever), one would think that the acting would be pretty shoddy as well. But while these guys aren’t going to win any Oscars any time soon, they do deliver their lines with some amount of confidence.
LIZARDMAN is hokey monster mayhem fun. It’s harmless and almost the type of monster film that I would let a kid who thinks he likes horror watch. There are moments of goofiness that I couldn’t help but laugh at like the fact that it appears that the Lizardman actually slap-fights people to death instead of using his lizard claws. Because things aren’t taken so seriously, it’s hard to take LIZARDMAN seriously. Still, you’re in for a laugh or two, usually at the expense of the movie, if you take a chance with this low budgeter.
New this week on DVD and digital download from Inception Media Group!
THE ZOMBINATOR (2012)aka DEAD Z
Directed by Sergio Myers
Written by Sergio Myers
Starring Patrick Kilpatrick, Lucia Brizzi, Justin Brown, Diana Lotus, Jennifer Sulkowski, Scott Alin, Travis Bratten, Melvin Breedlove, Maria Desimone, Joanne Tombo, Michael Angelletta, Joseph Aviel as the Zombinator!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Writer/director Sergio Myers takes the kitchen sink approach with his new low budget film THE ZOMBINATOR, which is one of those films that could have either turned out to be a rare gem formed from a bunch of ideas colliding into one another or a complete mess.
Turns out it’s the latter.
The story takes zombies, government conspiracies, ghost hunting, urban legend serial murderers and a documentary about a fashion model, throws it into a blender and presses the frappe button. It feels like the intentions are there to attempt to be something different by glomming a bunch of different things together, but instead the film feels like an unfocused messterpiece. Even though everyone thinks that making a found footager is easy, Myers proves that it might be harder than one would think as he attempts to have realistic dialog, sans script, instead having the actors just riff off of one another when the shit goes down.
Now if you have experienced actors talented in the art of improv, you get some golden moments like CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. When you have amateur actors who lack timing, emotional depth, and any form of delivery skills, you get something that looks more like THE ZOMBINATOR.
The story follows a vapid model who is trying to film a documentary about herself, but keeps getting hijacked first by a local urban legend which occurred at the same place as the shoot, then by a wake for a fallen soldier brought back to the small town to be honored which the fashion doc crew wander into disrespectfully, and finally, by a full-scale (as full-scale as this low budgeter can manage) zombie apocalypse. Trapped in the sewers underneath the city, a group of Chatty Cathys talk over one another for the rest of the film as they are picked off one by one.
Oh, and a guy who looks like a bad Arnold impersonator walks around robotically killing zombies with a shotgun.
Little makes sense and it feels like, shy of splattering a bunch of extras with blood and letting a group of kids run around in the dark, little work was really done to even attempt to tell a story here. THE ZOMBINATOR seems like it really wants to be a lot of films, but lacks the talent or energy to even fart out a solid attempt. Had some effort been put into tying any of these random factors together, I would have praised this film for its moxy, but simply filming whatever happens and calling it a movie is not filmmaking.
New this week on DVD and digital download from Inception Media Group!
PIGGY (2012)Directed by Kieron Hawkes
Written by Kieron Hawkes
Starring Martin Compston, Ed Skrein, Paul Anderson, Josh Herdman, Neil Maskell, Louise Dylan, Ryan Winsley, Roland Manookian, Jumayn Hunter, Tommy McDonnell, Colin Burt Vidler
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A London version of FIGHT CLUB mixed with a bit of DEATH WISH describes PIGGY to a tee. Now, those are two pretty powerful films, and PIGGY seems to really want to rise to the same level, but because of a very predictable story, despite its strengths (and there are quite a few), PIGGY pales in comparison.
PIGGY is about a simple man named Joe (Martin Compston), who is the victim of a violent crime leaving his brother dead, killed by street thugs who bully him before his brother’s fatal attack. Blaming himself, Joe retreats into himself and seems bound for a nervous breakdown from the paralysis and feelings of helplessness he drowned in the night of the murder. At Joe’s door knocks Piggy (Paul Anderson), a rough-looking bloke who claims to be a long lost friend of Joe’s brother with a hankering to inflict vengeance upon those who killed him. Joe and Piggy proceed to capture, torture, and kill the entire gang of assaulters one by one until there aren’t any victims left. Meanwhile, Joe gets closer to his brother’s girlfriend and the possibility of leading a happy life gets closer, even though Joe’s nighttime revenge romps with Piggy ensure that that happy life will never happen.
On the one hand, PIGGY is a well-acted revenge film. Compston is restrained and subtle as Joe, seething with rage but lacking the spine to act any of it out. Anderson plays Piggy as a well-worn boot of a man, fast to fight and lacking in any form of remorse. Seeing Piggy act out Joe’s rage and tempt him to act for himself are some of the most interesting parts of the movie, and Compston conveys that shift very subtly and carefully.
The problem with PIGGY is that there’s a solid forty minutes in the middle that is repetitious as all get-out, and scene after scene is dedicated to the capture, torture (both verbal and physical), and killing of each of the gang members lingered upon in scenes that drone on more and more as the body count rises. It feels like this film really didn’t have the heft to carry an entire runtime, so the killings were elaborated on, but in the exact same manner from one to the next. In a revenge film, as those seeking revenge begin their climb to the main culprit, there should be a building intensity. Instead PIGGY lessens in intensity simply because we saw it before.
A late in the game twist that I could have called in the first frame is tossed out clumsily toward the end. Mentioning what this film is reminiscent of in the opening paragraph is going to tell you what it is, but I won’t outright say it. There was a time when a twist like this would have raised eyebrows, but given the brutality of the violence in this film, the voice-over, and the theme of having a pushover growing a pair, it’s not hard to call this twist early.
Despite that, if you see PIGGY, it’s the performances that are going to make it stand out. While it’s like a whole lot of other films and too much like one in particular, the actors set it apart slightly, though not enough to forget the familiar surroundings.
New this week On Demand!
LUCKY BASTARD (2013)Directed by Robert Nathan
Written by Lukas Kendall & Robert Nathan
Starring Don McManus, Jay Paulson, Betsy Rue, Chris Wylde, Catherine Annette, Lanny Joon, Lee Kholafai, Deborah Zoe
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Recently making some waves for being rated NC-17 by the ratings board, LUCKY BASTARD deals with a whole lot of uncomfortable and controversial topics. People deal with humiliation in vastly different ways. Some retreat, curl up in a ball and cry. Others branch out and drown themselves in drugs and alcohol. Then there are the twisted few who try to inflict that humiliation on others in retaliation. That’s what LUCKY BASTARD is all about.
This is another found footage film, and before you groan, at least this one has an original concept. Rather than trying to find ghosts or Bigfoot, this film centers on a porn website which chooses one lucky bastard to sleep with a real live porn star. With millions and billions of creepy people logging onto porn sites at all hours of day and night, what are the chances that the lucky bastard chosen would be a psychopath?
Well, under the watch of a volatile director Mike (Don McManus, best known as that guy you’ve seen from that movie like SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION or PUNCH DRUNK LOVE) and quirky cameraman Kris (THE REVENANT’s Chris Wylde), the stunning Amber Saint (Betsy Rue from the HALLOWEEN II and MY BLOODY VALENTINE remakes) is convinced this is going to be a safe and profitable venture, though she has many doubts. Amber chooses Dave G (Jay Paulson from CAN’T HARDLY WAIT and GO) who looks harmless on paper, but gives off a creep vibe as soon as she meets him. Though they convince her to go through with it, as soon as Amber touches Dave he…well, he performs prematurely and is ridiculed by the cast and crew. Disgruntled, Dave leaves only to return shedding his nice guy persona and going on a murder spree, all caught on tape by the reality show cameras where the porno is being shot.
Let’s be honest here. I, like many of you, have seen my fair share of porn. And I found this film to be pretty interesting to see the seedy underbelly of the industry. The film takes its time to get to the murder spree, but never in that time was I bored or urging the film to “Come on already with the action!” This is mainly due to the charismatic performance by Betsy Rue, who has a great presence here as a jaded porn star that can turn on and off the sexy in a second. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, making this all feel like reality, though casting recognizable actors hinders that a bit. If anything, when Dave returns gunza-blazin’ I was disappointed that the behind the scenes stuff was ending.
In the opening scenes, we get some footage of some cops walking through the crime scene, so we kind of know what’s about to happen, making the final scenes less shocking. But still, LUCKY BASTARD is a brave film that isn’t afraid to show it all, the ugly and the pretty of porn. In the opening minutes, the filmmakers tell us that porn sites have been pushing the envelope for years and that sooner or later that envelope will leave one hell of a paper cut. Well, this paper cut was pretty deep with LUCKY BASTARD, and the film deserves props for trying something different with the found footage genre.
Advance Review: Screening at Cannes 2014!
THE DESERT (2013)aka EL DESIERTO
Directed by Christoph Behl
Written by Christoph Behl
Starring Victoria Almeida, Lautaro Delgado, Lucas Lagré, William Prociuk
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
When is a zombie movie refreshing in this day and age where zombie movies are a dime a dozen?
Why, when a zombie movie isn’t really about zombies at all. That’s when.
EL DESIERTO (or THE DESERT to us gringos) is an Argentine film set in a post-apocalyptic world where society has fallen, the world is a mess, and zombies roam free. Though this is not something that told to the viewer, it’s safe to assume this is all happening outside of the small compound three survivors have holed themselves up in. The entire film takes place inside this small hovel the trio call home, but through some clever sound and visual techniques, it’s pretty evident the world has gone pear-shaped outside of the secure walls.
The fact that only one zombie makes an appearance in this film is a true testament to the restraint writer/director Christoph Behl uses here. This zombie doesn’t really come into play until the halfway point in the film, though. Until then, the only indication of some kind of hell going on outside is a speaker system the survivors have set up outside to hear whoever gets close to their small fortress. Utilizing sounds and never really showing what’s going on out there is a clever way to a) keep the budget low and b) hint at the danger and leaving the viewer’s imagination to fill in the horrors (which in my opinion is always more interesting than seeing them). Because of this deft use of sound and restraint in terms of tried and true horror tropes, THE DESERT becomes all the more effective in terms of scares and shivers.
But THE DESERT isn’t really about any of that. It’s about a love triangle between these three survivors. Ana (played by the infectiously adorable Victoria Almeida) is the central point in this triangle, with her boyfriend Jonathan (William Prociuk) having the best of both worlds by spending his days and nights with his girl and his best friend Axel (Lautaro Delgado). But things get complicated when Ana finds out Axel has been pining for her since she arrived at the compound. This is where THE DESERT becomes much more about the dangers of seclusion and living in close quarters with others. Though a very beautiful woman, Ana often behaves like a child, not really understanding why Axel distances himself from the two lovers. She insists on the three of them to bare their souls in video taped confessionals, but doesn’t know that Axel watches Ana’s private tapes and longs to be with her. Scarring his body with tattoos, Axel seems to be punishing himself for falling in love with Ana, who at first is oblivious to his unrequited love, but upon realization of his feelings, she finds herself feeling something as well.
Like most stories about love triangles, someone is bound to get hurt. And that does happen here in the most tragic of ways. But the drama isn’t played out at melodramatic levels here. Behl’s smart story doesn’t allow the tone to get schmaltzy. In fact, things get extremely sweet and endearing before everything goes horribly, horribly wrong, making THE DESERT feel all the more real in the complexities of its characters.
Christoph Behl is definitely a talent to watch as he smartly makes a movie that takes place in an extremely small place, but never feels cramped or as if corners were cut. There are some scenes (most of them focusing on the lovely Victoria Almeida) that are absolutely gorgeous to behold and make you forget this is a horror film. The restraint Behl practices with his horrors in this film make them all the more potent when they do show up. Make no mistake, THE DESERT is without a doubt a horror movie, it just that the multi-dimensional characters and the way they pull the viewer into this complex relationship make it all the more horrific when the bad stuff finally does occur.
THE DESERT is an emotionally powerful and complex film that just happens to have zombies in it.
Advance Review: Recently played at the Chicago Critic’s Film Festival 2014 and available in June On Demand!
WILLOW CREEK (2013)Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Written by Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having done two Bigfoot-centric AICN HORROR columns (here and here, I was beginning to think that finding a good Bigfoot movie was damn near as hard as finding the elusive creature itself. Having sat though my fair share of mediocre to horrible Squatchploitation flicks, it got to the point where I was dreading seeing this subgenre of movies. Then along comes Bobcat Goldthwait, an unconventional director and one I definitely wouldn’t expect to be able to deliver a film that just might be the best Bigfoot film I’ve ever seen. But deliver he did with WILLOW CREEK, a film I saw this week at the Chicago Critic’s Film Festival.
Filmed in the first person POV that might cause many to let out a groan of Sasquatchonian levels, WILLOW CREEK follows an amateur documentary filmmaker Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) as they travel to the legendary site where the Patterson-Gimlin footage of what looks to be an upright ape walking through the wooded areas of Bluff Creek, in northern California was filmed. Jim’s intention is to walk the same steps Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin walked the day they captured something fantastical on their camera. Soaking in the local culture which is heavily influenced by the Bigfoot mythos sporting Bigfoot burgers, various carved statues, and Bigfoot hotels, Jim and Kelly find themselves immersing themselves deeper and deeper into this phenomenon with Jim playing the role of steadfast believer and Kelly acting as the skeptic. Much of the earlier part of the film is dedicated to getting to know Jim and Kelly while they attempt to film this documentary, while the latter half follows them on a perilous journey through the wilderness challenging the beliefs of both would-be documentarians on whether the Sasquatch really exists. And actors Johnson and Gilmore do a fantastic job of making themselves likable and relatable by seeing them at their most comfortable and most vulnerable before they even step one foot into the wilderness. Both are talented actors able to hold the attention of this viewer for the extended amount of time that occurs before they set out to follow the trail.
A lot might be said about this film being a found footager, and more of a comment on making a documentary than an actual found footage film. Jim is a believer and therefore doesn’t really have an objective point of view here, seeking adventure and discovery rather than really trying to be a fly on the wall capturing the truth. Numerous times throughout the film, different takes are used in order to show Jim trying to act natural, a trait Jim really isn’t good at as he has a lot of difficulty containing his enthusiasm once he gets closer to the site. At the same time, as found footagers go, Goldthwait keeps everything sensible. The camera is never propped just right to catch anything. There are no illogical cuts or edits by some omnipotent editor. And there are no musical bangs on an invisible piano from an invisible orchestra. Everything happens during the filming of the raw footage of this documentary, which makes it feel more genuine and all the more effective in grabbing me and keeping me in the film.
Most importantly, this is a scary movie. There’s a nineteen minute sequence in this film that had me paralyzed with fear. The extended intro where we follow this couple around and get to know them does its job because it allows the viewer to rely on that connection during the last half of this film when the peril begins to intensify exponentially. Goldthwait goes for simplicity here, and in doing so offers up the most powerful of scares: simple sounds and then silences, unexpected mutterings and moans, pitch darkness and the power of the great unknown are elements Goldthwait plays with perfectly, leading to an ending that is both shocking upon experiencing it and then doubly so after the fact when it’s made clear what was happening out there in the darkness and making some of those odd sounds.
Much like Goldthwait’s other films SHAKES THE CLOWN, GOD BLESS AMERICA, and WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, the filmmaker exemplifies his unique eye for offbeat cultures and the under the radar details with WILLOW CREEK. This is not just a found footage film. It’s a smart use of found footage, incorporating elements of humor and utter fear expertly in order to scare the hell out of the viewer. For believers in Bigfoot like myself who had been becoming skeptical that there would ever be a truly great Bigfoot film made, Bobcat Goldthwait and WILLOW CREEK, thankfully, proved me wrong.
And finally…playing at the end of THE DESERT is “She’s a Zombie Now” from the Meteors, a grungy rockabilly song that stuck in my brain like an undead virus long after I heard it. So now, I will infect you all with this catchy little ditty. You’re welcome.
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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