Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Signpost up ahead reads LOOK OUT FOR: giant crocs, scarred stalkers, man-babies, missing persons, doomsday cults, mermaids, newlyweds, footage found, hopping vampires, and singing slashers!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE BABY (1973)
Retro-review: BLOODY MOON (1981)
Retro-review: LAKE PLACID (1999)
MAKING OFF (2012)
RIGOR MORTIS (2013)
STAGE FRIGHT (2014)
Advance Review: APOCALYPTIC (2014)
Advance Review: NYMPH (2014)
Advance Review: HONEYMOON (2014)
And finally…51 Deep’s A BLOODY SHADE OF RED!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Severin Films!
THE BABY (1973)Directed by Ted Post
Written by Abe Polsky
Starring Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill, Susanne Zenor, Tod Andrews, Michael Pataki, Beatrice Manley, & David Mooney as The Baby!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I don’t know where it was, maybe on an episode of HBO’s REAL SEX or some kind of 60 MINUTES bit or wherever, but I remember seeing a report on men who get off on being treated like a baby. It absolutely creeped me out at the sight of these grown men who function in businesses and offices during the day, then act infantile, wear baby clothes, and have themselves taken care of by their significant others by night. With the upward trend of making men look like total infantile idiots in comedies these days like STEPBROTHERS and basically anything by Apatow, Rogan, Farrell, and their ilk, it seems a film like THE BABY is more relevant a statement than ever of the horrors of a man who simply won’t grow up.
In THE BABY, Ann (Anjanette Comer) is a social worker who seems to be throwing her all into her new case with the Wadsworth family. It’s an odd family, made up of a matriarch (Ruth Roman) and two adult female children who act like teenagers (Germaine, played by Marianna Hill, and Alba, played by Susanne Zenor), but while the elder Wadsworths are odd in their childish demeanor, the youngest sibling, simply called Baby, takes the cake. Baby (David Mooney, credited as David Manzy in the film) is a grown man who acts like a baby. Now, this behavior doesn’t seem to be due to any physical retardation or brain injury. It seems like Mrs. Wadsworth simply just won’t let Baby grow up. Ann takes special interest in Baby, pushing him to stand on his own, take steps, and develop his infantile brain, but Mrs. Wadsworth and her two daughters simply won’t have it and soon it becomes a battle of wills over how much nurturing Baby needs.
Readers of this column and my reviews know that by day I work in the social services field as a therapist, so viewing this take on how far a social worker should go in terms of investment in her clients was fascinating to me. While there is the occasion when I find myself endeared towards my clients, I always maintain a professional boundary that I will never cross. THE BABY actually acts as a precautionary tale in this sense as, not only is the parenting of Baby coming from a twisted place, but the social service Ann provides is off kilter as well. In setting up this situation, writer Abe Polsky and director Ted Post really makes it hard to offer us someone to root for in this situation. In some ways, life would have been going on peachy keen with Baby had Ann not come into his life. Then again, infantilizing a grown man could be considered abuse—that’s not even considering the other tortures the Wadsworths were doing behind the scenes involving physical and suggested sexual abuse. So during the climax of the film, when Ann and the Wadsworths’ war intensifies over who gets to have Baby, I was left hoping all of them would end up perishing and Baby would have a chance to wander off and hopefully find someone who wasn’t bugnutz.
But since this is a horror film, I was comfortable with that unease I felt with no one really to side with. This film definitely succeeds in taking things to an uncomfortable level. Just looking at the man-sized Baby cooing in his crib gives me a shiver down my spine. It’s not the stuff of horrific, pants-wetting nightmares, but a sight that juxtaposes two things that just shouldn’t be. While this was a PG rated film, the fact that behind the scenes things like the sexual relationship Germaine has with Baby and the abusive one he has with jealous sister Alba are not completely shown or realized makes it all the more ooky. Thinking that extended breast-feeding is in the news all of the time, I’m sure if a remake of THE BABY was made, that aspect would be added as well and while it’s not suggested here, there’s enough ambiguity to how and why Baby is like he is to think that it might still be going on.
David Manzy aka David Mooney is utterly unsettling as Baby. His performance is so spot on that his cooing, child-like cries, infantile play, and nuzzling (which could be done in a comic way) strikes a chord that will definitely make you squirm in your chair while watching. There’s something about the serious way he plays it that is both impressive and disgusting all at once. Ruth Roman is fantastic and convincing as the overbearing Mrs. Wadsworth, while Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor are only half as impressive as the Wadsworth girls. Rounding out the cast, Anjanette Comer really does a great job of tricking the audience into being on her side for at least half of the film until things get unethical. Pulling this off would not be an easy task, as the audience is given no reason not to trust her at first (though her appearance looking at pictures of Baby is quite ominous), so I went along for the ride thinking she was the good guy. But having her make the shift to another motif entirely is as much a testament to her acting as it is to the swift writing of the film.
THE BABY is not a comfortable film to watch, but it is a true horror film. While the body count it low, and the blood is at a minimum, the true horrors come in putting two things together that are not supposed to be there. Seeing a man acting like a child in this way may be seen as comical, but in the light presented in this film, it’s the stuff of nightmares and I’m sure after watching THE BABY, you’ll too be unsettled more than after watching ten slasher films.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Severin Films!
BLOODY MOON (1981)aka DIE SAGE DES TODES, THE BLOODY MOON MURDERS, THE SAW OF DEATH
Directed by Jesús Franco
Written by Erich Tomek (screenplay)
Starring Olivia Pascal, Christoph Moosbrugger, Nadja Gerganoff, Alexander Waechter, Jasmin Losensky, Corinna Drews, Ann-Beate Engelke, Peter Exacoustos, Antonia García, Beatriz Sancho Nieto, María Rubio, Otto Retzer, Jesús Franco
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though things happen in BLOODY MOON that don’t make one lick of sense, I can’t help but love this gory love song to Bava that filmmaker Jesus Franco has put together. The film itself follows a scarred man with a horrible haircut named Miguel (Alexander Waechter) who attempts to rape a woman during a Halloween party wearing a Mickey Mouse mask and posing as another man. When he is captured, he is sent to an institution, but is released five years later into the care of his sister Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff) and his wheelchair-bound mother. On his train ride home, Miguel encounters a young student, Angela (Olivia Pascal), and immediately becomes obsessed with her. When Angela begins getting obscene phone calls and sees someone outside of her house, she believes it’s Miguel the creep, but though Miguel does have a tendency to lurk in the shadows, it’s possible someone else is offing Angela’s friends in creative ways.
Though FRIDAY THE 13TH was becoming a franchise of its own in 1981 with a sequel out that same year, it’s apparent Jesus Franco had to have been taking notes after seeing Mario Bava’s A BAY OF BLOOD (reviewed here) ten years prior. Shots are lifted almost exactly from Bava’s blueprint for the stalk-n-slash genre and placed into BLOODY MOON. While Franco has never been the most original of directors, he does have quite an interesting style here, throwing every jump scare and false start at the viewer he can before shocking them with the real thing. For its time, this film was pretty creative in terms of its kills as all sorts of creative ways to die are implemented on the cast, most notably a rotating rock-cutting saw cutting through the neck bone and beheading one woman in a wet gory mess.
There is no place for logic in BLOODY MOON’s dojo. There are scenes that will make your head flip clean off as people ignorantly go into dark corners as if they’d never seen a horror film in their lives. There’s one scene where Angela actually sees Miguel lurking in her room and when she runs out and finds someone to help, she lets herself be convinced by others that she is seeing hallucinations. In order to propel the angle that Angela isn’t believed by anyone she encounters, huge leaps of logic are asked to be bought by the audience. Before she began being stalked she was seen as a perfectly sane woman, yet all of those around her would rather think her loopy than believe her rants about a stalker with a scarred face. Sure it moves the story along, but it makes it all feel pretty ridiculous.
But though the story is highly flawed, there are some great scares and moments of gore in BLOODY MOON, as well as some creepy suggestions of incest as Miguel lusts after his see-through nightgown wearing sister almost as much as he lusts after Angela. Towards the end, there’s even a PSYCHO lift that will more likely make you roll your eyes than cover them.
Still, this feels like Franco was sensing a new trend coming in horror and wanted to offer up a film comparable to all of the stalker/slasher films out there. You can name ten other films this one swipes from, but still Franco manages to keep things moving fast and fun. Still, BLOODY MOON made the notorious Video Nasty list back in the day, most likely due to the incest and the over the top gore, but it’s nowhere near the depravity that some of the other entries offered. While the script is all over the place and the Italian translation is goofy as hell, BLOODY MOON proves to be a winner in terms of gore and sports an amazing electronic soundtrack that has to be heard and appreciated by any fan of retro-European horror.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE)
NIGHT OF THE DEMON
NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS
THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL
BAY OF BLOOD
GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
LAKE PLACID (1999)Directed by Steve Miner
Written by David E. Kelley
Starring Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, Betty White, Meredith Salenger, Mariska Hargitay, Natassia Malthe, Tim Dixon, David Lewis, Jed Rees, Richard Leacock
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having reviewed LAKE PLACID: THE FINAL CHAPTER a while back, I’d forgotten how fun the original “alligator in the lake” flick really was until revisiting it last week for this column. What had devolved into by-the-numbers overly CGI-ed SyFy fare really did start out strong. And while Steve Miner’s return to lake-land horror isn’t flawless, it does do a whole lot right.
Like JAWS before it, LAKE PLACID begins with a quiet swim, this time a diver inspecting a clogged damn due to beavers. Sitting in a boat above the surface is Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson), thanking his lucky stars he doesn’t have to squeeze his sizable rump into a wetsuit and ordering his diver to take care of the boring business of unclogging the dam. When the diver is attacked and bitten in half by an unseen monster (after quite a few corny jump scares from two fish and an overzealous beaver), the Sheriff pulls his legless body aboard the boat just in time to watch him die. The attack not only raises the interest of the local game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), but also a paleontologist with relationship woes, Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda), and kooky scientist/crocodile guru Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt). The meeting of the four professionals is cause for the main friction of the film, which is more about said differences in personal philosophies than a giant hungry gator.
In JAWS, the highpoint for me was the interaction between Quint and Hooper, one representing book and lab science, the other the embodiment of hands-on experience in the wild. This same dynamic occurs in LAKE PLACID between Platt’s Hector and Gleeson’s Sheriff Keough. Though it’s taken to a cartoonish extreme and played out in a much more safe manner, Platt and Gleeson are the highlight of this film and seeing them not see eye to eye will make even the most stone-faced of viewers guffaw a time or two.
Written by ALLY MCBEAL and THE PRACTICE’s David E. Kelley, the film does play out at a sitcom level of silliness, with people immediately disliking one another for childish reasons and those squabbles perpetuated for most of the film. Pullman’s Wells dislikes Fonda’s Kelly because she’s city folk. Kelly hates being there but is sent out in the wild because she was schtupping her boss and just broke off the relationship. Added to the aforementioned Platt/Gleeson rivalry, there’s a whole lot of bickering going on. To some this will be like nails on a chalkboard, but Miner knows enough to pepper in some meaty scenes of crocodilian goodness throughout enough to make it all digestible.
Rounding out the cast is the true standout, Betty White as Mrs. Delores Bickerman, who plays a foulmouthed old lady who feeds her cows to the croc as if it were her pet. This served as a reminder for many of White’s substantial comedic timing and presence, sparking an upswing in her career which continues to maintain its altitude to this day. White does put a lot of bite into her performance in a role that could have easily been a throwaway one. The devious nature of her line delivery makes even the most diabolical of acts sweet coming from her seemingly innocent demeanor.
As I said, the effects in LAKE PLACID are fantastic. The thrilling action sequences both under the water and on land are orchestrated with a lot of skill, and scenes happening between the surfaces as with the one pitting croc vs. helicopter prove to be key factors as to why this film sparked three sequels. The climax on the beach is filled with all sorts of jumps and jolts, even after you see the size and scope of the monster itself.
There’s a whole lot right on with LAKE PLACID, as long as you don’t get turned off by the script which feels very made-for-TV and simplistic. Miner’s eye for action is superb here, and proof that with the right budget, he’s got what it takes to deliver the goods. The strong cast also elevates this from typical monster schlocker to solid actioner with loads of fun gore (the deputy beheading scene always makes me jump). While it’s not the best alligator/croc monster flick, it’s by far the one with the biggest scope and most impressive cast and crew, plus the fact that Betty White steals the show in very few scenes makes LAKE PLACID one monster flick worth revisiting.
New this week on DVD/Bluray in the UK from Second Sight Films!
ABSENTIA (2011)Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mike Flanagan
Starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, & Doug Jones
Find out more about this film here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
BUG NOTE: I reviewed this film quite a while ago, but since it is being released this week on DVD, I figured it would be good to remind folks about it. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Actually, I owe ABSENTIA a lot. When the teaser trailer was sent to me a while back, I posted it on AICN and suggested that I was thinking of doing an AICN HORROR column. Most of the responses were pretty positive, and I loved being able to talk about a film that was relatively unknown and full of potential given what I saw in the trailer.
ABSENTIA opens silently as Tricia (played by a very pregnant Courtney Bell) wanders around the neighborhood posting MISSING posters on telephone poles, replacing ones faded, giving a clear indication that she’s been doing this for quite some time. We find out that Tricia’s sister, Callie (played by Katie Parker), is coming to visit her to be with her for the birth of her child. The tone of the film is very serious and as the sisters go through the motions of grieving the disappearance of Tricia’s husband and accepting the fact that he’s most likely dead. This isn’t a bunch of hyperactive teens crying while a boy band ballad is twanging in the background; ABSENTIA is a mature look at loss through the lens of a horror film. It reminded more of the tone of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 GRAMS than any horror film I’ve seen, dealing with death in such a dour and serious manner. ABSENTIA works because the actors, though I’ve never seen them in anything before, have the chops to pull off the serious weight of dread that permeates the film. Both actors playing the sisters do a great job of making you feel for them and feel their pain.
But though the mood is deathly serious, there’s a lot of fun to be had with ABSENTIA. Turns out Tricia’s husband wasn’t the first to disappear, and that there is a series of disappearances leading back hundreds of years all around the same tunnel running under a road across from Tricia’s home. Though no one believes it at first, when more folks start disappearing and ghosts of the abducted start showing up (including a very creepy Doug Jones), Tricia and Callie are forced to consider that some kind of creature is taking these people.
Director/writer Mike Flanagan does a fantastic job of juggling both the dramatic and the fantastic moments here. There’s a real sense of terror as these ghosts try to warn the living of the bug-like monster that is stalking them, and peppered throughout are some true classic moments of fear. Flanagan never really shows you what the monster looks like, but his mastery of making the most of the dark is near perfect. Though I really wanted to see the beast, what I did see was pretty damn terrifying.
ABSENTIA is not your typical modern horror film. It’s not dumbed down. It’s not badly acted. It doesn’t feature tired clichéd monsters. What it does have is powerfully scary moments, themes with heft, and an impact that will leave you remembering this film long after the credits.
Available for digital download here!
MAKING OFF (2012)Directed by Cédric Dupuis
Written by Cédric Dupuis
Starring Olivier Bureau, Céline Berti, Mickael Collart, Jérôme Thevenet, Nathalie Van Tongolen, Sébastien Ventura
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
To describe MAKING OFF as a disgusting film is an understatement. There are things that occur in this film that are simple too horrifying to recount, though I’ll try to talk briefly about it in this review. But the real question I asked myself when the film was over was if it was good or not…and I’m kind of still deciding that.
A filmmaker (Cedric Dupuis, played by Olivier Bureau) sets out to make the best horror film of all time, but he has no budget and only his friends as actors and assistants on the film. Quitting his job and vowing not to sleep until the film is finished, Cedric is disappointed in the footage he is seeing in the dailies of the film--so disappointed that he strikes out against his girlfriend and violently kills her. Seeing this as a chance to make the most shocking film of all time, Cedric scraps his old idea and decides to film a snuff film, and the rest of the film focuses on the unhinged director offing his cast in the most disgusting ways possible, finishing each kill with his signature move—fucking the corpse.
If I didn’t lose you in that last paragraph, you might be the type of person who will get a kick or two from MAKING OFF. Reminiscent of MAN BITES DOG and BEHIND THE MASK, MAKING OFF does have a gallows sense of humor that most definitely made me laugh a bit. There are also scenes that fall flat as they were just too self-referential or just too gratuitous for even my jaded eyes. Olivier Bureau offers up an impressive albeit arrogant performance as Cedric (which coincidentally is also the name of the writer/director of the film). He’s not likable, but he is somewhat charismatic in his own bent way.
The gore in MAKING OFF is truly impressive. There will be times while watching this film that you will ask yoursel, “Is this really a snuff film?” While some of the digital splatter is distracting, I dare you not to wince at the belt sander scene or the mechanical saw scene. Technically, purely from an effects standpoint, this film is a gorehound’s delight.
But is it good? Is it worth watching a man senselessly kill and then fuck the corpses of woman, men, and even animals he has murdered in front of the camera? While I found myself wishing these despicable and disgusting acts were not shown on camera, I do have to admire the film for trying to show and do what no other film has done before. Not since NEKROMANTIC have I been so disturbed by a film. But does that mean it’s good? I’m not sure. I do know that MAKING OFF will offend, disturb, nauseate, creep out, and maybe even piss you off. Watch it at your own risk. You’ve been warned.
New on BluRay from Well Go USA Entertainment!
RIGOR MORTIS (2013)Directed by Juno Mak
Written by Lai-yin Leung, Philip Yung
Starring Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Kara Hui, Hoi-Pang Lo, Richard Ng, Hee Ching Paw
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
With the inundation of vampire and zombie films that all of us have grown weary of, I long for an undead film that is different from a tired Bram Stoker rewrite, a trendy teen comedy, or a pairing of zombies with some other obscure group. Close to twenty-five years ago, I was lucky enough to happen across a copy of MR. VAMPIRE, a chop-socky masterpiece that not only had amazing kung fu, but incorporated horrific Hong Kong legends, the rituals to raise the dead, and the horrors these spells are capable of inflicting. In MR. VAMPIRE, a complex tale is told involving ghosts, vampires, undead, and diabolical humans. Almost thirty years after MR. VAMPIRE was first released, Juno Mak brings the classic hopping vampire and all of the mysticism that made MR. VAMPIRE so fun all those years ago back for RIGOR MORTIS, a new take on ancient Hong Kong lore that plays like the perfect mix of old and new, pulling from a variety of genres to dazzle the eyes and ears and shoot a full body shiver straight down one’s spine.
Fuck the vampires that knock on your door, asking to come in and then getting all romantical. Hopping vampires don’t sparkle, they terrify. More undead zombie than actual vamp, the origins of these creatures of the night lie in mythology and mysticism. But while most vamps want to tap an artery, this one is liable to kung fu your ass in two and drink from the ensuing spatter. For ages, I’ve waited for someone to come along and shed some light on this classic version of vampires and with most recent vampire flicks (I’m looking at you DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA, TWILIGHT, and VAMPIRE ACADEMY) that have failed to have anything resembling teeth, RIGOR MORTIS offers up a specific species of undead that is uncommon and refreshing, baring enough resemblance to the vampires we know, giving them a much needed goose.
Like MR. VAMPIRE, the story of RIGOR MORTIS is rather complex. A washed up actor moves into an apartment complex with the intention to kill himself, but instead finds that this building is teeming with dormant and not so dormant spirits, two of which are just itching to possess anyone with a hint of blackness inside of them. These two souls are the restless spirits of twins who used to live in the building and died violently.
But that’s not all of the story. On different floors of the building live a pair of exorcist/vampire hunters who are on the outs and have hung up their stakes and totems in retirement. When the mystic stuff starts to splatter across the floor and all over the walls, they are called out of retirement to help cleanse the building of evil spirits. But that’s still not all, as on another floor, an elderly man takes a tumble down the stairs, and not wanting to let go of her husband, the elderly woman chooses to use an age-old ritual to bring him back to life and unknowingly creates a hopping vampire in the process. The real problems begin when all of these forces clang together violently in the third act—and this clang is almost deafening.<br.
Visually, RIGOR MORTIS is a feast and a half--everything from ultra-slo mo shots of the twin ghosts bouncing up and down the hallways to the ever-changing claustrophobic interiors which turn from water to mud to fire, depending on what spells are being cast. There are parts of this film that were reminiscent of THE MATRIX, and while some may criticize that these lifts are too on the nose, I found it to be refreshing to be experiencing a film which may be on par for horror to THE MATRIX for sci fi in terms of visual delights.
This is a scary-ass film as well. There are some scenes, especially the ones involving the twins, which again are reminiscent of THE SHINING meets THE GRUDGE, but altogether original in their presentation nevertheless. Director Juno Mak puts together some utterly terrifying sequences that caused goose bumps in ways few films have been able to for me. Sure, it’s tapping into some primal fears as the twin ghosts move in a skittering, rat-like manner while the long shots of the imposing vampire hovering across the corridors dragging his feet behind him push different fear reflexes, as Mak isn’t all for flash all of the time and is able to set up a tense scene masterfully as well.
The fact that some of the elder actors in this film were also actors in MR. VAMPIRE makes RIGOR MORTIS a must see for fans of the hopping vamp subgenre. While there are all sorts of lifts from other fear and action films, RIGOR MORTIS does so and incorporates it all brilliantly. The film also serves as a wonderful gateway into a whole world of horror that is probably unfamiliar to most, but will most likely be a welcome change to vamps in this worn out age of the hoodie-wearing navel-gazing variety we’ve all become bored with. Mak is fantastic, as are all of the cast, and successful at bringing a different type of horror film to light. Full of acrobatic and absorbing sequences of horrific elements, I hope RIGOR MORTIS is a new trend in horror that plumbs the less-charted corners from the past and gives them a shiny new coat of visual dexterity and power. RIGOR MORTIS hits you like a whirlwind with horror from baser levels of darkness in ways that feel fresh, yet all together terrifying.
New this week on BluRay 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 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 with regard to movement and manic energy. The killer makes like a gothic lead singer from an old metal band and screeches like the Cryptkeeper 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 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.
Advance Review: Available on DVD & Digital Download September 17th!
APOCALYPTIC (2014)Directed by Glenn Triggs
Written by Glenn Triggs
Starring Jane Elizabeth Barry, David Macrae, Geoff Pinfield, Tom McCathie, Rachel Torrance, Ashleigh Gregory, Zoe Imms, Janice Paull, Natalia Nespeca, Donna Pope, Nalini Vasudevan, Felicity Steel, Meghan Scerri
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Religious-themed horror such as THE SACRAMENT (reviewed here) and HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (reviewed here) has shown that you can definitely get a high quotient of scares and thrills from the devout. Next up on the horrific holy rollers front is APOCALYPTIC, another found footage film, but while many will groan when they hear that, it definitely is one of the better POV-shot films to come down the pipeline.
APOCALYPTIC follows a two person documentary team who start out filming a story about a support group for addicts, but due to a confession by one of the members of the group, they become intrigued by a tale of a religious sect in the woods who follow the word of a man they call the Prophet. The Prophet (also known as Michael, and played eerily by David Macrae) lives in a secluded commune with no electricity or connection with the civilized world. When the documenters Jodie (Jane Elizabeth Barry) and Kevin (Geoff Pinfield) arrive, the find a gaggle of women dressed in simple garb, and no men save for Michael. Intrigued by tales of an oncoming apocalypse, the two-man crew experiences the cult and finds themselves becoming enmeshed in it in ways they never thought possible.
The strength of APOCALYPTIC rests of the pasty-white and bony shoulders of Michael (actor David Macrae), who offers up a performance worthy of a thousand shivers. Reminiscent of the old man Kane from POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE, Macrae is able to be pleasant one second and hauntingly threatening the next. Multiple times throughout the film, Michael sits with the documentarians and debates the merits and drawbacks of living in this secluded society. These back and forthings are the same kind of debates we saw in THE SACRAMENT and HOLY GHOST PEOPLE, where the believers are trying to understand how one can follow an invisible savior so faithfully and without doubt. In each of these films and exemplified well in APOCALYPTIC, it feels like this is a question many are having these days as the world falls apart around us and we are seeking some kind of answer or meaning to it all. The fact that these documentarians are approaching this pious man with respect is interesting to me in that it reflects that some actually want to believe, but logic keeps them from doing so. Both documentarians in APOCALYPTIC seem to have a crisis of faith and conscience in this film, and that conflict is well-written and realized.
Those with strong religious beliefs are bound to be offended by APOCALYPTIC (but if you feel this way, there’s a pretty good chance that you wouldn’t be reading this column in the first place). It’s a film that doesn’t suffer from the trappings often fallen into by many found footagers, as the technical aspects of it all seem to match up. This film is compiled only of footage taken by the two documentarians, and there is an air of legitimacy about the whole thing, making the suspension of disbelief that this is a film hold well. The acting is quite good as well, with Michael’s female flock being very convincing in their roles as devout followers. The documentarians themselves and their moral and ethical conflicts as documentarians vowing not to interfere and only report are done in a manner that is both convincing and seemingly unscripted—another difficulty for most found footagers.
All in all, this film is technically well done as well as fascinating from a story and character standpoint. While the ending of APOCALYPTIC gets into some clichéd territory, the trip there is fascinating, mainly due to some strong performances and an intriguing conflict and debate.
Advance Review: Touring festivals! Coming soon to FANTAFESTIVAL, Rome on July 14th-15th & GROSSMANN, Ljutomer on July 16th-19th from Epic Pictures Group!
NYMPH (2014)aka MAMULA, DARK SEA
Directed by Milan Todorovic
Written by Milan Todorovic (story), Barry Keating & Milan Konjevic (screenplay)
Starring Kristina Klebe, Franco Nero, Natalie Burn, Dragan Micanovic, Miodrag Krstovic, Slobodan Stefanovic, Sofija Rajovic, & Zorana Kostic Obradovic as Scylla the Nymph!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I dug this monster under the water film quite a bit, as NYMPH takes a lot of time letting us get to know the pretty people in peril before sending in the killer mermaid to off them one by one. Now, giving this much attention to the cast is often dangerous for horror films, as it more times than not, is often the place for pretty low talent in terms of the thespian. Thankfully, this is a talented cast assembled and that makes it all the more capable of forming some kind of investment in these characters being chased by this mythical beast.
Having watched those god-awful faux documentaries citing that “Mermaids are real! Caught on tape!” as seen on Animal Planet of all places, I was hesitant to press play on this film when it crossed my path. Like Bradley Whitford in CABIN IN THE WOODS, I wanted to see a merman (in this case it’s a mermaid, but beggars can’t be choosers), but was fearful that there wasn’t anything scary about them. Writer/director Milan Todorovic not only delivers on some potently scary scenes of underwater horror, he also takes us to an exotic locale as well as the film is made in the Mediterranean, where the skies are clear and the waters look crystal by day, yet haunting and black at night. The setting is very much important here, as the two main characters (Kelly--Kristina Klebe and Lucy--Natalie Burn) play American tourists experiencing this beautiful locale for the first time. Todorovic soaks in the scenery for the first half of the film, making us wish we could come along for the trip before sending out the fish people and making us thankful we aren’t there.
Klebe (who was last seen as the lesbian with a vendetta in PROXY—reviewed here) plays our moralistic eyes and ears as Kelly, a good girl who just wants to have fun and maybe meets a hot guy on this Mediterranean trip. Natalie Burn is supermodel quality here as Lucy, and is a bit more risqué and morally lenient. The two go off to meet up with a college friend they haven’t seen in years, Alex (Slobodan Stefanovic ), but Alex has some surprises in store for the two, one of which is his beautiful fiancée Yasmin (Sofija Rajovic). Lucy, who once dated Alex in college, is taken by surprise upon hearing about Alex’s engagement, thinking that she might have a fling with him while on vacation. Drama ensues, but before it gets too heavy and melodramatic, the group get stranded on a prison island they were warned to stay away from by crusty seaman Niko (played by the original Django in DJANGO, Franco Nero) and awaken a man-eating mermaid with claws that tear through flesh and a voice which hypnotizes men.
As I said earlier, the acting makes the first forty minutes whiz by pretty quickly. As tough as Kristina Klebe was in PROXY, here she shows real versatility as the much softer Kelly. Everyone is pretty likable here, and even though all of them are incredibly good looking, the personality is also there, which immediately kept me from my usual impatience to see them face their dooms.
And while the mermaid is not the most frightening thing I think of when visiting my fears of the briny deep, this film does a great job of making her pretty scary be giving her some weird flesh-colored tints along with a full mouth of sharp pointy teeth which are all the better to chomp into our likable cast. Not a lot of personality is had by this maid from the murky depths played by another pretty person Zorana Kostic Obradovic, but she is quite monstrous when she’s all CGIed up as the half fish creature. The CG is actually pretty good for most of the film. It’s a cut above the usual low fi crap we see on SyFy, but still not completely perfect, as proven in some of the latter scenes where she is in full view.
I really liked the ending which not so much resolves things, but instead just kicks the danger up a notch for those who have survived their first encounter with the fish people. Whether or not we will ever see a NYMPH 2 is up in the air, I guess, but this first endeavor was a lot more fun than expected and one worth dipping your pinky toe into, though you might just get it chewed off.
Advance Review: Currently playing festivals – showing soon at Fantasy Film Fest!
HONEYMOON (2014)Directed by Leigh Janiak
Written by Leigh Janiak & Phil Graziadei
Starring Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber, Hanna Brown
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
They say that once you get married, things change. And I’m sure that’s true (maybe I’ll find out one of these days), but here’s to hoping that things don’t change as drastically and as horrifically as they do in Leigh Janiak’s fascinating and engrossing new horror film HONEYMOON.
GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie and ATTACK THE BLOCK’s Harry Treadaway play Bea and Paul, respectively--honeymooners returning to the cabin home of Bea after a long time living into the city. Upon their arrival, Bea and Paul can’t keep their hands off of one another, impulsively making love in every room in the house and never leaving each other’s sight, but after Bea runs into an old boyfriend at a local restaurant, she disappears from the cabin and is found naked and shivering in the woods. Not knowing what happened, Paul becomes increasingly concerned as Bea’s attitude and temperament changes.
I’m hesitant to reveal much more of this film, as not knowing what type of film this is going in is what makes it all the more effective. This is a slow burn of a movie, but the sizzle definitely sets in as things get direr in such a short span of time for Paul and Bea. The film really taps into the fears and turmoil suffered by many in relationships when you realize you really don’t know much about your significant other. It’s that feeling of fear when you wonder if jumping into that big lake of love is worth it or if it was a mistake to trust someone with everything. Janiak and co-writer Phil Graziadei really take their time doling out the scares, but there’s an ever-increasing pouring of a solid stream of paranoia that begins at about the twenty minute mark and never lets up.
Stars Leslie and Treadaway are definitely ones to look out for. Rose Leslie has a spunkiness that isn’t common; it’s the kind of rough tomboy-ishness quality, but never losing that appealing femininity. Treadaway plays his character in a nuanced fashion, suspicious, yet wanting so much to take his wife at her word, even when everything else tells him otherwise.
In the latter half of this film, there are some really gory moments sure to cause a wince or two. But the nighttime scenes where dark unknowns are lurking about are the scenes that’ll really creep under your skin. Reminiscent of ROSEMARY’S BABY and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, HONEYMOON is a film that will make you look over your shoulder or wonder if that person you’re sitting next to and holding hands with is who they think they are. This is an excellent bit of filmmaking with some performances that hit all the right notes to make one creepy little horror thriller.
And finally…Here’s a tribute to all things giallo from the madmen at 51 Deep! Prepare thyself for John Keefer’s A BLOODY SHADE OF RED!
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. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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