Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. At bat this week are a pair of campground horrors, a Medieval jaunt, rampaging raptors, a one-armed push-upping vampire, post-partum psychosis, dangerous writer’s block, mass suicides, & MONSTERS TV Series! On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: MONSTERS Season Two Episodes 6-10 (1989)
Retro-review: Dan Curtis’ DRACULA (1974)
Retro-review: DEATH SPA (1989)
CAMP BLOOD: FIRST SLAUGHTER (2014)
THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT (2013)
CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER (2013)
HOUSE IN THE ALLEY (2012)
Advance Review: DEADLY REVISIONS (2013)
Advance Review: MEET ME THERE (2014)
And finally…Horror Bizarre’s M. R. JAMES SYNDROME!
Retro-review: Collected DVD Box Set new this week from eOne Entertainment!
MONSTERS: THE COMPLETE SERIES BOX SETSeason Two: Episodes 6-10 (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 2.6: The Farmer’s Daughter
Directed by Michael Warren Powell
Written by Bob Balaban, Kenneth Pressman
Starring Soupy Sales, Stephanie Phillips, Bobo Lewis, George Hall
The age-old story of the salesman shacking up with the farmer’s daughter is delved into in this episode of MONSTERS, which was co-written by the ever-entertaining Bob Balaban (MOONRISE KINGDOM, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND). And while the story has been told before, Balaban and his co-writer Kenneth Pressman along with director Michael Warren Powell deliver one of the better episodes this week. There’s some great pacing going on, and things don’t go exactly the way I thought—though I knew it would go bad, since this is a TV series called MONSTERS. The effects for this creature that the daughter turns out to be are pretty top notch, but nothing is more frightening than seeing Soupy Sales make out with a young beautiful woman. Ugh…I still get chills at that image.
Episode 2.7: Jar
Directed by Bette Gordon
Written by Steven W. Davis (story), Peg Haller & Bob Schneider (teleplay)
Starring Fritz Weaver, Richard Edson, Gina Gershon, Ed Kovens
CREEPSHOW & MARATHON MAN’s Fritz Weaver stars as a hotel owner which is the crossroads where a femme fatale (played by a super-young Gina Gershon) meets a stereotypical detective (Richard Edson, best known as one of the parking attendants who steals Cameron’s car in FERRIS BEULER’S DAY OFF). While this one is riddled with more clichéd detective verbal back and forthings than you can shake a Maltese Falcon at, it is entertaining. There’s also a monster—what episode of MONSTERS doesn’t have one?--which is cool and slimy and tentacley which has a memorable effect on those it touches. This is another out-and-out good episode with top quality actors as well as monster effects.
Episode 2.8: The Demons
Directed by Scott Alexander
Written by Martin Olson, Robert Sheckley
Starring Richard Moll, Jeff Silverman, Karen Hensel, Louis Mustillo, Eddie Deezen
This goofy fable has an alien-demon played NIGHT COURT’s Richard Moll accidentally blundering a spell and instead of summoning a demon, he nabs an insurance salesman from Earth. In order to get out of this spell the insurance salesman himself must conjure his own demon, which turns out to be eternal dork Eddie Deezen. While the plot is rather convoluted and complex, it all sort of works in the end with a certain type of serendipitous sense. Everything is played cartoonishly which is definitely a turn off here, but the effects are fun, as is the story (written by Scott Alexander who went on to write everything from ED WOOD to AGENT CODY BANKS to THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLINT), which saves this episode from being a total failure.
Episode 2.9: Reaper
Directed by Jean Patenaude
Written by Josef Anderson (teleplay), Robert Bloch (story)
Starring Barbara Billingsley, George Wallace, Curt Lowens, Catherine Blue, Mary Dean
This Robert Bloch story deals with the age-old battle with the Grim Reaper himself. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER’s Barbara Billingsley plays an attendant at an old folks’ home attending to a new arrival, played by George Wallace. On his first night, the old man is visited by the Grim Reaper claiming to be a doctor, but the old guy sees right through all of that. Revealing his true intentions to take him away, the Reaper strikes a deal with the old guy and soon, others in the home begin to pass on. This one’s got a great twist ending, and though he looks a lot like Skeletor from MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, the Grim Reaper looks pretty imposing here. Not the best of episodes, but the wicked little ending redeems it quite nicely.
Episode 2.10: The Mandrake Root
Directed by Brian Thomas Jones
Written by Harvey Jacobs
Starring Melba Moore, Frankie Faison, Byron Minns, Claudia Silver
Brian Thomas Jones, who also wrote and directed THE REJUVENATOR, directed this overtly sexual episode about a couple who clean out their dead grandmother’s mansion. The wife (singer/actress Melba Moore) happens upon an old box and a root growing from the basement floor, but when she cuts her finger and bleeds on the root, it becomes a giant bo-hunk covered in bark who promises to love her forever in ways her husband (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS/HANNIBAL prison guard Frankie Faison) never can. While she gives in to the lunk of lumber, he drinks her blood through little teeth in his hands which he stabs into her breasts. Luring her husband in to feed the demon-tree man’s hunger, the wife is given a choice between living with a demon chiseled out of wood (who…ahem…bleeds white liquid…not touching that one) or her faithful and dependable husband. Full of sexual innuendo, this is one of the more risqué episodes, and one of the more effective ones of the week with solid acting and a story that feels utterly original.
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.22, 1.23-1.24
Season 2: Episodes 2.1-2.5
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from MPI Home Video!
DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (1974)aka BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Jack Palance, Simon Ward, Nigel Davenport, Pamela Brown, Fiona Lewis, Penelope Horner, Murray Brown, Virginia Wetherell, Barbara Lindley, Sarah Douglas
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While director Dan Curtis nails the gothic atmosphere, as he should being the creator of DARK SHADOWS, still he delivers a rather drab and flat version of one of the most made and remade stories in film history. I don’t want to rip too much into this version of the Bram Stoker classic, but watching this one only reminded me that I’m really getting sick of seeing Bram Stoker’s tale told over and over.
By now most can retell the story in their sleep. A young realtor, Jonathan Harker, visits a wealthy Count Dracula in Transylvania to sell him a slab of land called Carfax. Upon dining with the Count, Harker reveals his wife/girlfriend/lover Lucy, or sometimes Mina, which seems to be the resurrected lover of the ageless Count. The Count has his brides seduce Harker, makes his way back to Carfax and begins seducing Lucy and/or sometimes Mina which is ultimately his undoing, as Harker (with a little help from an expert in vampirism named Dr. Van Helsing) destroys the Count, sometimes with a stake, sometimes with sunlight, sometimes by beheading.
Out of all of the horror tales remade, this is one that has been the fodder for so many filmmakers to redo that I fear I’ve grown weary of it. Every time someone bitches about a new zombie film or found footage film, I want to remind them that at least those stories try to do something different. Most every DRACULA (and NOSFERATU) film follows this same story beat for beat, yet no one seems to mind.
What makes DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA so different than the others? It certainly isn’t the dry performances by the actors playing Harker, Van Helsing, Lucy, or Mina. And the gothic atmosphere seems something straight from the Hammer lot and somewhat flat (which is understandable, given the soap opera-esque quality of those old DARK SHADOWS episodes). The one thing that makes this stand out is the hissingly terrific performance by Jack Palance. Palance is really good here—whipping his cape, bearing his canines, and cringing at both sunlight and crosses alike. There’s an air of aristocracy that Palance possesses, but also his cold, flat, blank face makes for one menacing mug--like he could rip you in two without so much as an eye-blink. If anything sets this film apart from the others it’s Palance’s strong performance.
But aside from that, this is a typical beat for beat redux of a story we all know. Palance is fun, and I guess that makes for a good excuse to pick this Bluray up. And the inclusion of both bloopers and extended cut scenes also make for some interesting viewing. But I just couldn’t get excited for this film whenever Palance was off screen.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Gorgon Video!
DEATH SPA (1989)aka WITCH BITCH
Directed by Michael Fischa
Written by James Bartruff & Mitch Paradise
Starring William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Ken Foree, Robert Lipton, Alexa Hamilton, Chelsea Field, Shari Shattuck, Tane McClure, Karyn Parsons, Francis X. McCarthy, Hank Cheyne
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s funny, give a movie twenty years and no matter how bad it is, it’s still considered a classic. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some DEATH SPA, but I can still recognize the film for what it is; boobs and everything in a gym turned into a weapon…and more boobs.
Cashing in on the spa craze, this paranormal schlocker turns just about every aspect of a gym into an instrument of death and when it runs out of ideas, it simply makes shit up. DEATH SPA takes place; you guessed it, in a gym filled with high tech gadgetry. Set in the near future, every aspect of the Starbody Health Spa has been automated from the nautilus equipment to the saunas. The film focuses on how technology has invaded every aspect of our life and like CHOPPING MALL, WESTWORLD, and even JURASSIC PARK; it shows that science isn’t always our friend. In fact, it can be quite deadly.
The reason to see DEATH SPA is for the kills. They’re not so much creative as they are incredibly stupid and desperate ways to murder people. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but somehow the shower room heater gets so hot the tiles shoot off the walls. A weight lifting machine gets heavier and rips a man in half. The sauna melts someone. The swimming pool diving board falls off. There’s also a death by frozen fish…what, what? Basically, it’s like the filmmakers actually walked through a gym, looked at all of the equipment and imagined how many ways they could kill someone. And that’s…kind of awesome in it’s stupid simplicity.
DEATH SPA is also a veritable who’s who in obscure actors. Keen eyes will catch THE LAST BOY SCOUT’s Chelsea Field, HOT SHOTS PART DEUX’s Brenda Bakke, DAWN OF THE DEAD’s Ken Foree, STAR TREK II & III/SQUARE PEGS’s Merritt Butrick, ALTERED STATES’ Francis X. McCarthy, YOUNG & THE RESTLESS’ Shari Shattuck, LONGMIRE’s Hank Cheyne, and FRESH PRINE OF BEL-AIR’s Karyn Parsons. Seems everyone on the B-list was invited to the DEATH SPA.
The story itself takes some twisted turns involving possession, jealousy, and transvestism and if I were one to look deeply into horror film themes (and I am), these three themes kind of have a lot to do with the objectivism that goes into the growing obsession with one’s outer appearance and making the body beautiful. It might be a stretch, but maybe this DEATH SPA is deeper than I first thought.
But it ain’t that deep. The spotlight here shines brightly on boobs and kills and while there might be a hint of intellectualism going on, at it’s core, DEATH SPA is a proud schlocker through and through.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
CAMP BLOOD: FIRST SLAUGHTER (2014)aka CAMP BLOOD 3
Directed by Mark Polonia
Written by Mark Polonia
Starring Houston Baker, Elizabeth V. Costanzo, Steve Diasparra, Sarah Elizabeth, Kelsey Kaufmann, Jeff Kirkendall, Joshua Pollitt, Ken Van Sant, Cindy Wheeler, Ashley Wray
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
FRIDAY THE 13TH is a film series I hold in high regard. Sure, the story is repetitive, the acting is shit, and the series’ all-around quality lessened with each entry. Still, there’s something about campground horror that gets me in a nostalgic, fun way. The classic film series must have had the same effect on others, since films like CAMP BLOOD: FIRST SLAUGHTER exist, which has a lot of the same qualities I described above. Now, I don’t want to mislead. Comparing the FRIDAY THE 13THs to the CAMP BLOOD films is like comparing Shakespeare to some SyFy movie of the week. Still, if you’re a fan of the former, you’ll most likely be the target audience for the latter.
CAMP BLOOD: FIRST SLAUGHTER is the third film in the CAMP BLOOD series. I haven’t seen the first two, but something tells me, apart from more bloody kills, I doubt I missed much. The story here is threadbare, as basically it is one person after another set up for slaughter. The filmmakers try for a story about an urban legends class investigating the legendary Camp Blood Clown murders. When the class takes a trip to the nearby site of the murders, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know they’re next on the chopping block.
What CAMP BLOOD: FIRST SLAUGHTER lacks in editing, acting, directing, and story, it makes up in fun rudimentary gore. The old cut away machete gag is used numerous times, and copious amounts of blood abound in this one which may satiate the gore tooth in you.
The film is annoyingly filmed in a first person found footage sort of technique. Sometimes it’s successful, but more often than not it proves to be contrived as it falls victim to the worst of the found footage clichés—omniscient editing, happenstance camera falling to get just the right shot, and so on. The story itself is repetitious as well, as one couple stumbles across a Camp Blood sign and then gets murdered, and then the same sign is found, and they get murdered, and so on and so forth.
It seems the filmmakers of the CAMP BLOOD series must be pleasing someone as this is the third installment, but there’s nothing really original here. DIY gore aside, you’re most likely going to want to skip this one if you’re the type to poo poo the F13 series already and even for this F13 fan, this was a tough film to choke down.
New this week on DVD from Uncorked Entertainment!
THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT (2013)aka RAPTOR RANCH
Directed by Dan Bishop & Michael Beberashvili
Written by Dan Bishop, Shlomo May-Zur
Starring Lorenzo Lamas, Jana Mashonee, Cole Brown, Donny Boaz, Cody Vaughan, Alexandra Hulme, Kimberly Matula, Rowdy Arroyo, Marcus M. Mauldin, Declan Joyce, Carrie Newell, Jack Gould, Ines Brigman, Al Burke, Kyle Little
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Dinosaur films are not usually the kind of movies you see done in a low budget fashion. Usually they are the stuff of big effects from the big houses. But THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT somehow manages to make things entertaining while keeping things on the cheap.
The story is simple. A group of kids out partying run into a singer and his two backup singers who were just run out of town for being pretty awful and for being too “colorful” for the local disposition, with their meeting spot happening to be the same location where there have been recent attacks by what looks to be a large animal. In the first scene we’re clued in that these animals are not coyotes, but velociraptors, long thought to be extinct. Turns out a local crazy is bringing up a herd of raptors (and one tyrannosaurus rex, of course) at his ranch and when the crazy falls ill, the raptors get hungry and go wild. This is bad news for all involved.
There are definitely aspects of this that feel a whole lot like a SyFy movie, and in many ways it is. The effects are not the best, with the renderings of the CG dinos being slightly off when animated over the film stock. The movements of the dinosaurs and the use of weight is off too--always a good indicator of cheap effects. So when I actually saw the scenes with the dinos, visions of SHARKNADO, DINOGATOR, and MANSQUITO came popping into my head.
But the difference between RAPTOR RANCH and those other SyFy flicks is that the acting isn’t as bad, and there appears to be someone human other than 1000 monkeys writing the script. A lot of the humor here works, with the deliveries from the mostly unknown cast members actually showing some skill behind them. And though I don’t often associate Lorenzo Lamas with good acting, he adds a little heft to his role as an FBI investigator and does a decent job of being the name talent associated with this film.
THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT is goofy fun and not to be taken seriously for one tick. My initial head-shaking toward this film comes from being burned by one too many stupid SyFy films, but THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT is the type of film those dull and uninspired SyFy films wish they could be.
New on DVD & On Demand from Midnight Releasing!
AXEMAN (2013)aka AXEMAN AT CUTTER’S CREEK
Directed by Joston R. Theney
Written by Joston R. Theney
Starring Elissa Dowling, Tiffany Shepis, Brinke Stevens, Jamie Bernadette, Erin Marie Hogan, Arielle Brachfeld, Chantelle Albers, Joston R. Theney, with Scot Pollard as the Axeman
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While in many ways AXEMAN is your typical stalk and slash camping twentysomething serial killer film, writer/director/actor Joston R. Theney makes this one stand out from the herd by imbuing a little maturity and some complex relationship drama into the mix.
AXEMAN (formerly advertised as AXEMAN AT CUTTER’S CREEK) begins as so many other campground horrors begin: after an initial killing sequence—this one involving scream queen Tiffany Shepis as one of three gang members who cross the Axeman’s path--we jump to some time later, meeting a group of excited hikers set to party it up in the woods. But instead of these twentysomethings playing teens, they actually play twentysomethings, which is refreshing. This group used to be college best friends who now have grown up (well, not all of them), and their lives have become pretty complicated.
Well, not too complicated. Basically this group is made up of who wants to sleep with who, who is sleeping with who, and who used to sleep with who, which is pretty accurate in most groups of friends, sadly. Now, while this doesn’t make any of them too likable, it does make them interesting and for a while, as I got to know the intricacies of these relationships, I forgot about the Axeman lurking around the woods. This says a lot about the script, which is quite zippy and funny at times. Plus there’s a lesbian couple played by Jamie Bernadette and Erin Marie Hogan that is hotter than all get right out!
Once the titular character starts whittling away the hikers one by one, you are reminded you’re watching a slasher flick in a big way. Some of the CG blood is rather distracting, but still, the film highlights some solid kills and makes for a better than average slasher flick. While the backstory of the legendary and enigmatic Axeman is left hazy, the fun of seeing him swing his axe is ever-present in the latter half. Appearances by scream queens Tiffany Shepis and Brinke Stevens are always a plus for any horror film, and while AXEMAN isn’t reinventing the slasher genre, it does feel like a throwback to a time when the slashers weren’t so passé.
New this week on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand from Phase 4 Films!
CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER (2013)aka SAGA: CURSE OF THE SHADOW, THE SHADOW CABAL, RISE OF THE SHADOW WARRIOR, DRAGON LORE
Directed by Lohn Lyde
Written by Jason Faller, Kynan Griffin
Starring Danielle Chuchran, Richard McWilliams, Paul D. Hunt, James C. Morris, Eve Mauro, Danny James, Kyle Paul, James Gaisford, Bailee MyKell Cowperthwaite, Adam Abram, Andrew Liston
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Yes, I know--this isn’t really a horror film. But since I’m not quite ready to commit to do an ongoing AICN SWORDS & SORCERY column, this is going to be as good a place as any to review CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER, a film that really wants to be THE HOBBIT and more succinctly LORD OF THE RINGS, but things like budget seem to have gotten in the way.
But just because it doesn’t have the wizards at WETA backing them up with state of the art effects, that doesn’t stop CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER from being a throwback to a time when low budget sword and sorcery films like HAWK THE SLAYER, THE BEASTMASTER, and DEATHSTALKER kicked all sorts of ass. CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER would fit right in with those old fantasy films with its epic story, tragic and flawed heroes, and swooping musical score.
The story opens with an epic scroll telling us that humans have sided with elves and dwarves in an alliance called the Order against the forces of evil, consisting of dragon-riding orc cultists. One of the knights of the order Keltus forms an uneasy alliance with an elf bounty hunter named Nemyt and an exiled Orc prince named Kullimon to stop the cultists from unleashing the lord of the dead upon the land. Everything is grand in scope and the stakes are as dire as dire can be here, as it always is in these types of tales.
While there’s a lot of typical serious medieval speak thrown around and many elements like theoOrcs are lifted directly from LOTR and movies like it, CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER gets points for filling in the blanks that would often be filled with CGI with some pretty fantastic fight choreography. Director Lohn Lyde does a lot with very little here, and while the runtime is a bit chunky (coming in at one hour forty-five minutes), the film really does move at a fun pace and keeps things lively with a big ol’ fight every now and then.
Part of what makes this work is the cast. Danielle Chuchran, who plays Nemyt (whose previous credits list her as Thing One in THE CAT IN THE HAT), is both beautiful and intense in her performance as the tough as nails elf merc for hire. Keltus (Richard McWilliams) is a good enough leading man who is immediately likable, and under all of that orc makeup Paul D. Hunt does a great job as the Little John/Chewbacca of the group who is all heart despite his monstrous exterior. Writers Jason Faller and Kynan Griffin are not doing anything particularly new with these character tropes, but they do a good job and give them fun things to do and ways to interact, which is all I ask for.
My expectations were low coming into CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER. Burned by SyFy Channel fantasy shit, I thought this was just going to be another turd to add to the pile. Now, those who are only dazzled by CG barrel chases and giant dragons on piles of gold aren’t going to be impressed with this film. But if you remember the fantasy films of the 80’s with fondness, I think CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER will surprise you.
New this week on DVD from Pathfinder Films and Shout Factory!
HOUSE IN THE ALLEY (2012)Directed by Le-Van Kiet
Written by Le-Van Kiet
Starring Thanh Van Ngo, Son Bao Tran, Van Hai Bui
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Being touted as the first true horror film out of Vietnam, HOUSE IN THE ALLEY deals with both some horrific themes as well as women’s issues in the same sense as such classic horror films as ROSEMARY’S BABY and even more recently THE ORPHANAGE, THE DESCENT, GRACE, and INSIDE. In HOUSE IN THE ALLEY, the focus is on postpartum depression and losing a child--not uncharted territory in the realm of horror, but seen through an international lens, it all feels brand new.
Director Le-Van Kiet starts mid-action as Son Bao Tran’s character Thanh is helping his wife Thao (Thanh Van Ngo) during a difficult labor. As the blood starts spurting by the bucketful, he knows something is wrong, and while Thanh flails around uselessly, his wife ends up losing the baby. Flash forward a week, and Thao is still depressed and bedridden over the loss of the child. Soon, bizarre events suggest that something is wrong with Thao and it looks like Thanh is going to take the bulk of the punishment.
For the most part, HOUSE IN THE ALLEY is a ghost story about a young spirit haunting a couple after losing a child. It’s got all the trappings of a ghost story—bumps in the night, the sounds of bare feet running across the floor, ghostly images of children in the periphery. Thao is haunted too, not acting like herself and devolving into a more animalistic state. Thanh, being the loving husband that he is, sticks with Thao through the thick of it, a testament to his character as I would have been out the door as soon as I saw my first pale white ghost.
But HOUSE IN THE ALLEY has a lot of rich texture going for it thematically. Thanh’s mother doesn’t understand why Thao is so depressed, and lacks compassion as Thao is looked at as weak for being overwhelmed with emotion. Thanh’s friend pushes him to be the man in the relationship and demand her to get out of bed and get over it. Still, Thanh stays noble to his wife when everyone else has given up. That’s the heart of this delicate yet devilish little movie which highlights the fragility of life while showing the ugliness one can undergo when dealing with death. Though deathly serious throughout, Le-Van Kiet maintains a tone that feels like he is dealing with this subject matter with a soft hand. All of the effects themselves are simple, be they a ghostly image of a boy reflected in the television or footprints burned into the ceiling. All of these images are impactful within their simplicity.
There’s a lot of rich theme regarding womanhood and what the Vietnamese culture sees it as in this film. More so than any horror movie, that can scare a lot of folks who are not used to thinking about women’s rights. Here, in HOUSE IN THE ALLEY, Le-Van Kiet explores that metaphor of the strength of womanhood and the role of it in the family structure with a tender touch, yet doesn’t flinch when it comes to scares.
Advance Review: Currently touring festivals all over the place (check here for more details)!
DEADLY REVISIONS (2013)Directed by Gregory Blair
Written by Gregory Blair
Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Mikhail Blokh, Cindy Merrill, Lise Hart, Gregory Blair
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Bill Oberst Jr., who seems to be popping up everywhere in low budget horror these days, does it again with DEADLY REVISIONS, a tale reminiscent of some of the better Stephen King stories about a writer dealing with the horrors of both writer’s block and having the story begin to take over one’s life.
Oberst plays Grafton Torn (which even sounds like a King character), a man who wakes up in a hospital with little knowledge of how he got there. Trying to get back into his life, he remembers that his wife has left him and his world seemed to be crumbling around him. Right off the bat, Grafton is plagued by nightmares that seem to be ripped straight from the horror novels that made him famous. Taking solace in his busty therapist, his effects guy best friend, and his ex-wife, Grafton tries to piece back together the night he took a tumble down the stairs and still keep his fraying sanity together.
The strengths of DEADLY REVISIONS definitely outweigh the weaknesses. The nightmares and waking horrors Grafton encounters are pretty frightening—a hangman, a man with an axe, and especially a corroded baby doll appear out of nowhere (always accompanied by a Don Music piano headbutt), but I have to admit, these starts got me every time. Tying everything together is another strong performance by Oberst, who really has shown skill in morphing his face from someone to sympathize with to someone to loathe and distrust in a heartbeat. Told through his own eyes, this story more than once made me wonder whether or not to trust what I was seeing since Oberst plays unhinged quite well.
My criticism comes from the ending, which rang a bit too much like a Scooby Doo story for my tastes. Things are wrapped up pretty well by the time the credit roll begins, and while the finale may have left me a bit wanting, the strong performance by Oberst and the genuinely fun jolts throughout make DEADLY REVISIONS a writer horror story worth delving into.
Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!!
MEET ME THERE (2014)Directed by Lex Lybrand
Written by Brandon Stroud, Destiny D Talley (story)
Starring Lisa Friedrich, Micheal Foulk, Dustin “Golddust” Runnels, John Gholson, Jack Jameson, Jill Thompson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some films come along and hook you in the beginning, then peter off. Others build their way to a whopper of an ending. Very few films are able to start and end strong, but that’s a feat accomplished by the indie horror film MEET ME THERE.
Directed patiently by Lex Lybrand, the tone of MEET ME THERE is set in the subtly threatening opening which is so much more effective than the “first kill” scenes that often describe what kind of threat the audience is in store for in the opening moments. What starts out like a PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES moment ends with a complete shock that comes out of the blue, which left me full of questions and intrigued enough to wait around for them to be answered in the following film. The threat is not completely described, but the slow build up to the explosive scene achieves a level of tension few horror films reach. This same level of patience and ability to slowly ratchet up the tension is exemplified throughout the film, reaching a crescendo that hits all of the right notes while leaving things just ambiguous enough to cause both scares and unease.
The main story follows a couple with a lot of problems. Micheal Foulk plays Calvin, an earnest and patient hipster who seems to be an unlikely match for his beautiful girlfriend Ada (Lisa Friedrich). She’s a couple of inches taller than him, slender, and gorgeous. He’s a tad overweight, shorter, hairy dude, but even though they might not match physically, the opening of the film shows how earnest and nice a guy Calvin is. So while on a purely physical level they might not be the couple of the year, one can see why a troubled girl like Ada would be with him. And Ada has lots of troubles. While Calvin clearly remembers his childhood, Ada’s is a blank, and during a particularly frustrating couple’s therapy session, they get the idea to go back to Ada’s home town and see if it shakes loose any old memories. The rest of the film is this road trip, and it’s one that starts out typical and ends anything but.
What makes this film so effective is the patience Lybrand has with Brandon Stroud and Destiny D Talley’s story. The small religious town of Ada’s birth is not a welcome one, as Calvin and Ada realize the first few seconds they enter it when Calvin is run out of a convenience store at gunpoint for looking “unholy.” After finding a strange druidic coin and seeing all sorts of weird characters lurking around the town and watching them, Calvin and Ada seek solace first at their aunt’s house (with comic book artist/writer Jill Thompson playing her Aunt) and then a local church (run by WWF wrestler Dustin “Golddust” Runnels). Finding that those places of refuge just as dangerous, Ada and Calvin flee blindly into the forest where even more weird things are going on. This Odyssey of sorts seems to get bleaker and bleaker as the seconds tick by, and while nothing really registers as completely dangerous, there is a looming sense of unease and evil just about everywhere in this film.
Filmed on a low budget, director Lybrand makes up a lot for it by taking full advantage of the wilderness and small town locale. Simple weird things like hooded figures, out of focus people in the background, and moody religious songs didn’t make me miss the big budget effects or locales. Lybrand manages the atmosphere like a pro, making the town an evil all-encompassing entity. While the ending might be frustrating to some, it’s clear enough what transpires, and that’s all I’ll say. The final scenes do culminate in ways I didn’t imagine, making every step of the way a surprise for me.
Some of the acting is a bit stiff, but at the same time, it makes it feel a bit more real because of that and therefore a bit more dangerous. Michael Foulk’s Calvin often has a flat delivery, but it only highlights how much of a babe in the woods he is in this situation. Lisa Friedrich’s Ada is a bit spacey as well, but again, this distant demeanor fits her troubled character. This is very much a film about two lovers trying desperately to save themselves and Foulk and Friedrich, despite being acting newcomers, made me believe they were this troubled couple, which is the most important thing. Reminiscent of some of the more subtle horror films which take their time to unravel and attack like the film of Ti West and Joe Swanberg, MEET ME THERE has a whole lot going for it in terms of tragic character, gothic atmosphere, and astronomical tension.
And finally…another goodie from Horror Bizarre. This one is a supernatural story about a strange painting and the mystery of what happens to the girl that finds it. It’s called M. R. JAMES SYNDROME!
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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