Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Due to my countdown, I got a bit behind last week, but that just means you’ll get two AICN HORROR Reviews columns this week!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Book Review: DISEASE Novel (2014)
Retro-review: DOCTOR MORDRID: MASTER OF THE UNKNOWN (1992)
Double Feature from Hell: HELLINGER/HOLY TERROR (1997/2002)
GRAVE HALLOWEEN (2013)
THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL (2013)
DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN (2013)
A GOOD MARRIAGE (2014)
OPEN WINDOWS (2014)
THE ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014)
Advance Review: VHS FOREVER? PSYCHOTRONIC PEOPLE (2014)
And finally…Donald Duck’s TRICK OR TREAT!
DISEASE Novel (2014)Written by M.F. Wahl
Published on Wahl’s website here!
Reviewed by Dr. Loomis
It's the special zombie story that can set itself apart from the pack these days. If you've read any horror fiction in the last ten years or so, chances are you've read some zombie fiction; and if you've read any zombie fiction in the last ten years or so, chances are you're pretty jaded when it comes to depictions of rotting corpses, bites and dismemberments.
The zombie subgenre continues to thrive largely because storytellers have shifted their focus away from the gore to concentrate on the human side of the story. That's the approach M.F. Wahl takes with his new novel DISEASE. The key to this approach is having a rich, well-rounded cast of characters for readers to invest in. Unfortunately, Wahl falls just a little short.
The book focuses on a pocket of survivors who've carved out a semblance of a society in an old hotel three years after the zombie plague. They enjoy a self-contained existence under the watchful eye of Lot, a woman who spent her pre-plague days as the leader of a small cult. The experience she gained in her former occupation has served her well in the new world; she's skilled at wielding both benevolence and fear to keep her flock in line, and she's quite adept at hiding her true nature from those who've come to depend on her.
Lot's careful balance is threatened by the arrival of two strangers - a woman named Casey and a young boy named Alex. Alex represents a particular kind of temptation to Lot, and his presence stirs a variety of emotions in both her and her surrogate son, Danny. Danny knows exactly what kind of attention Lot plans to lavish on the young boy, and he's consumed with a confusing mix of jealousy and revulsion.
It's a good setup with plenty of potential, but Wahl doesn't quite have the chops to elevate the material. The characters and relationships are thinly drawn; Lot lacks the kind of charisma crucial to making her story believable, Danny comes off more whiny than conflicted, and the depth of Alex's attachments to first Casey and then Danny never feels genuine, feeling more like a convenient plot device than a natural development. There are some jarring technical issues as well - clumsy shifts in the story's point of view, and an overabundance of exclamation points being the chief offenders.
But all of these issues are things that can improve as Wahl hones his craft, and there are several bright spots throughout the book. There are some tense, gory scenes that are handled well, and there's one scene in particular that is a brilliant example of misdirection when it comes to the fate of a character.
While those bits show promise for Wahl's future projects, they're not enough to fully redeem DISEASE. If you're a zombie completist that just has to have all the undead things, then go ahead and add it to the list; otherwise, give Wahl time to sharpen his skills and we'll see what he comes up with next.
Wahl is releasing DISEASE in a series of weekly installments. Check out his website for details!
“Dr. Loomis” is Blu Gilliand, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the fright-filled pages of DARK SCRIBE, DARK DISCOVERIES, SHROUD MAGAZINE, FEARnet.com and Horror World, among others. He also runs his own blog, October Country, devoted to horror and crime fiction. Feel free to stalk him on Twitter (@BluGilliand) at your own risk.
New from Full Moon Entertainment!
DOCTOR MORDRID: MASTER OF THE UNKNOWN (1992)Directed by Albert Band, Charles Band
Written by Charles Band (based on an original idea by), C. Courtney Joyner (screenplay)
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Yvette Nipar, Jay Acovone, Keith Coulouris, Ritch Brinkley, Brian Thompson, Pearl Shear, Murray Rubin, Jeff Austin, John Apicella, Julie Michaels
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I hope those who are getting ready to make DR. STRANGE steer clear from DOCTOR MORDRID: MASTER OF THE UNKNOWN. The character is definitely a rip-off of Stephen Strange and while pa and son directing team of Albert and Charles Band and actor Jeffrey Combs attempt to give the character some panache and charm, the film just proves to be too bereft of both ideas and the budget to pull it off.
Still, there is a lot of fun to be had here if you’re into hokey pokey movies such as this. There are a lot of animated and stop motion effects, as well as, bizarre matte painting and model work in the old school tradition. It does appear that Full Moon were attempting something big along the lines of a BATMAN, which was at its peak of popularity as this film was released in the same year as BATMAN RETURNS. While it isn’t really fair to compare a big budget Hollywood property like BATMAN RETURNS to DOCTOR MORDRID, it definitely seems like DOCTOR MORDRID is trying to cash in on the superhero biz.
Combs is great as the titular doctor. He brings an air of superiority, but also a bit of likable curiosity to the role. Cooped up in his apartment for too long and Mork-ing with his Orson-esque Master which consist of two eyes floating in space, events in the real world force him to leave his Manhattan apartment and fall for a pretty investigative reporter played by Yvette Nipar. Nipar is likable in the role, but doesn’t have the range and chops that Combs has. So he kind of overshadows her every time. FRIGHT NIGHT II’s Brian Thompson plays one of the lead baddies, a sorcerer that acts as the Sauruman to Mordrid’s Gandalf, flexing their fingers while animated lightning wafts between the two of them in mock sorcerer combat.
Don’t go looking for intricate plots or deft character development. But this one does have a pair of sorcerers duking it out in a museum resulting in a battle between two dinosaur skeletons in stop motion animation. The Bands’ definitely seem like this was a labor of love towards those old Harryhausen classics. And while it may not deliver on that level of awesome, there’s a goofy charm in Combs’ delivery and the barrel of random shit the Bands throw at him whilst quipping.
No, it would be best if those developing DR. STRANGE for the big screen turned a blind eye to this one (or maybe watch it to see how bad the concept can be in the wrong hands). But if you’re looking for a good film to mock and gaff at, DOCTOR MORDRID fits the bill nicely. Fun effects, campy acting, goofy story. It sounds like a typical Full Moon film that shoots for the moon, but just doesn’t get all the way there. Still, we love them for trying over and over again.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
Double Feature from Hell: HELLINGER/HOLY TERRORHELLINGER (1997)
Directed by Massimiliano Cerchi
Written by Gino Udina
Starring Artie Richard, Shana Betz, James M. O'Donoghue, Veronica Bero, Solomon Cobitt, Robert Cummins, & Wayne Petrucelli as Hellinger!
HOLY TERROR (2002)
Directed by Massimiliano Cerchi
Written by Massimiliano Cerchi (story), Fratelli DiNotte (screenplay)
Starring Beverly Lynne, Charlie David, Nick Armas, Jennifer Amanda Morgan, Yvette Lopez, Lindsey Labrum, Gregory Etchinson, Michael Brazier, Katy Moses
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m not going to spend too much time on this two-pack of low budget horror directed by Massimiliano Cerchi, a DYI filmmaking god in some circles, but for the life of me, after watching these films, I don’t know why.
HELLINGER is a tedious hour plus change film about an ancient curse following a lonely girl. The film is loosely threaded together with appearances by the Pinhead-esque Hellinger (Wayne Petrucelli) who shouts his lines laughably as if he were “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s downsy little brother and then steals people’s eyeballs. After a few gratuitous sex scenes that play the same shots over and over about three times of a woman riding a man topless, there’s somewhat of a showdown between Hellinger, the girl, and someone who looks like an extra from SONS OF ANARCHY. The whole thing is convoluted as all get out and doesn’t really pay close attention to things like pace, lighting, sound, camera direction, finishing their sets (the showdown takes place in a room painted black—except there’s a large space behind the actors in which they missed a few spots). I did find the wrestler-voiced killer priest to be mildly entertaining in a so bad it’s funny sort of way, but for me this felt more like torture to get through than any hell Hellinger could dole out whilst screaming as if constipated.
HOLY TERROR is worse, if you can believe it. Imagine a porno without the gratuitous nudity and sex and you pretty much have this film. Apparently, a house is haunted by the spirit of an evil dead nun and forces a realtor to sell it to innocent couples over and over to claim their souls. When one couple tries to bless the house, the realtor kicks them out and gives it two pretty people who invite more people over the first day they move in for a party. The cast seems to be made of former or current porn stars and the setup is all ripe for some decent porning, but despite another boring scene where the lead actress is riding the lead actor which is drawn out and repeated three times again as it was in HELLINGER (had I cared I would have rewinded to see if he just used the same scene for the two films—but I didn’t), there’s nary even a payoff of nudity to make up for the lack of scares, acting talent, art direction, or effects. This one shows a bit of development in terms of story as Cerchi seems to end on a cliffhanger of sorts which teases at some tension, but even then the film only clocks in at under an hour, so there’s not much to appreciate at all here.
I haven’t seen any of Cerchi’s other films and if there are those in the talkbacks who know of a film by the man that warrants the director/writer/producer’s indie hype, please let me know and I will seek it out. As is, I kind of think I would have been better off never seeing these two films as I found it hard to find redeeming value in either of HELLINGER or HOLY TERROR.
New this week on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment !
GRAVE HALLOWEEN (2013)aka THE LAST HALLOWEEN
Directed by Steven R. Monroe
Written by Ryan W. Smith
Starring Kaitlyn Leeb, Cassi Thomson, Dejan Loyola, Graham Wardle, Jesse Wheeler, Tom Stevens, Jeffrey Ballard, Hiro Kanagawa, Maiko Miyauchi
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s a lot of good and creepy stuff going on in GRAVE HALLOWEEN which is set in a fabled Japanese forest that happens to be the site of mass suicides through the years. While no one really knows why people come to the woods to end their life, it doesn’t stop a group of American college students to grab a camera and film one of them whose mother lost her life in that very woods. Thus is the setting for GRAVE HALLOWEEN, a pretty people in peril story where everyone looks like they stepped off of a runway.
What the film does right is soak in the creepy setting. The thick woods and tall trees that prohibit the sun from reaching in added to the prominence of deaths fabled to haunt the woods for years gives the entire film an aura of danger and destitution. The film is even colored in a colorless palette to add to that feeling. It also helps to have a few little Asian girls with their hair down over their eyes, which is an international symbol of the creep. But while this imagery is effective, it certainly isn’t original and this RING-esque girl makes an appearance over and over again here.
A new trend I see developing in horror is the “have it both ways” style of filmmaking as the movie is partially filmed in a first person POV style, but then it switches to the classic cinematic style when necessary, which I found to be rather annoying. Sure, this was done for years in horror from BLACK CHRISTMAS to HALLOWEEN and beyond. But now that shaky hand held first person POV has developed it’s own genre called “found footage” it just doesn’t feel right to switch back and forth like this one does. And while it may add a bit of tension, it also carries with it the baggage of a subgenre that growing more and more tiring by the day.
There are moments of genuine thrills and chills here, especially in the climax of the film as the woods itself begins to turn against these pretty people. Zombies, little Asian girls, and ghosts of dead mothers crawl from every dark corner and while things get intense towards the end, it doesn’t feel real because everyone has model good looks (and sadly acting abilities). And while it is being released in the month of October and it happens to be occurring in that month in the film, it has nothing to do with Halloween, so the reason why this film is called GRAVE HALLOWEEN eludes me. This isn’t a must see, but it does hold a few effective scares.
New this week on DVD and On Demand from RLJ Entertainment!
THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL (2013)Directed by Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates
Written by Kevin Gates
Starring Michael Bartlett, Criselda Cabitac, Sarah Catlin, Elaine Ellis, Andrew Fazekas, Kevin Gates, Mark Jeavons, Bill King, Mark Knight, Stephanie Lawn, Dee Lindley
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The filmmakers who brought us THE ZOMBIE DIARIES close the book on the war-time zombie found footage and crack open a new journal with THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL. This is another horror mockumentary—something I like to call a shockumentary, which focuses on one location in what seems to be the first in a series of faux paranormal investigations. Setting their shaky cams on the site known as Clophill in Bedfordshire, England, a team of investigators set out to find out if the rumors of the site being haunted are real or local urban legend.
What TPD:C gets right is setting this up as if it were a real investigative show, providing extensive backstory, previous evidence captured by past ghost hunts, and interviews with locals who insist that the run down church is the site of black masses, demonic rituals, and satanic rites. Interesting enough, this appears to be a real place which is in fact real, so while what occurs in this film is fictional, there does seem to be a sense of authenticity to the investigation, especially in the fact gathering portion of the film. Because of this, the lead in to the night investigation is done well, giving an ominous feel as night falls and the cameras start rolling.
But as usual, no matter how much the filmmakers may have tried to make this an authentic ghost hunt, not very much by way of substantial evidence was found in this investigation other than shadows seen in the dark (not sure how that happened, but it is described in that way by the investigators who fail to capture these suspicious movements off camera). In lieu of real evidence, the film takes a rather bizarre shift in narrative as it suggests the haunting followed the investigators home. So in the last fifteen minutes, this film takes a page from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY with multiple security cam shots and weird stuff happening in a home. I understand this isn’t a straight up documentary, but I would have rather seen the investigation and that’s it than a retread of stuff we’ve seen a million times end up being the climax of the film. Sure, not a lot was found at the site by way of evidence, but at least it would have felt legit if they would have left it at that. Adding some PA swipes at the end feels like a cop out.
THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL is a fun bit of ghost hunting shock doc until the end which makes everything feel less immediate and in the moment, and more like a desperate grab at having something of substance happen.
New this week on DVD and digital download from Cinedigm!
DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN (2013)Directed by Brian Netto
Written by Brian Netto & Adam Schindler
Starring Laurel Vail, Danny Barclay, Colter Allison, Rebecca Brooks, Lance Buckner, Rob Cobuzio, David Alan Graf
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s something precious about a pregnant woman that’s almost taboo in horror. When Jason murders the pregnant girl in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3, for me, it was one of the most shocking of his kills. Usually in horror, the pregnant one lives, mainly because of the message that the unborn is supposed to be the ultimate in innocence—there to be protected at all costs and the hope that something good can come from all of the terror we have witnessed. Yet in one of the most infamous pregnancies in horror, at the end of HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, and in many films afterward, the pregnancy is often used as that final shockeroo moment to keep the audience screaming. Still, what a pregnant woman is put in danger, I still can’t help but wince.
And that’s what makes DELIVERY such an effective film. Maybe it’s because of what I tried to explain above, or maybe it’s because I just became an uncle for the first time, but I found this found footage meets ROSEMARY’S BABY flick to be one of the more intense films of the subgenre. Centering around a reality television show, which at first had the intention of being a light hearted look at a couple during their first pregnancy, the tone of DELIVERY turns deathly serious when Rachel (Laurel Vail) has a scare with the baby in the pilot episode. Ever since that night, Rachel and her husband Kyle (Danny Barclay) begin to experience strange things occurring around them. Things get even more strange as the pregnancy progresses.
I want to keep things vague because I think you’ll enjoy DELIVERY if you go in expecting another hum drum found footage flick. I did that and couldn’t believe how powerful it hit me. The final moments of this film literally knocked the wind out of me. Again, the concept is one that evokes a protective feeling and Laurel Vail makes it all easy since she is extremely likable as Rachel. The set up, that the couple has experienced miscarriages before, makes it almost impossible not to root for them and the filmmakers take full advantage of that notion and use that investment to scare the shit out of the viewer time and time again.
Though the first section of the film is set up to be the pilot episode of the intended series and is set to strumming guitars and quick montages of the couple maneuvering through the city, DELIVERY quickly turns more into a documentary. Rick (Rob Cobuzio) the director of the DELIVERY series, talks stoically to the camera, explaining that the rest of the film is made up of raw footage taken from the rest of the unaired season. Deciding to have Rick pop in occasionally to explain what’s going on in the periphery at first feels as if the film is taking the wind out of the scares by announcing when something bad is going to happen. But Cobuzio does such a good job here that it feels like a blessing in disguise that he warns us before hand and definitely puts a dire tone to the film which starkly contrasts with the joy the couple is feeling in the opening moments. It also gives the promise that something horrible is going to happen and holy shit does it.
I was completely entranced by this film, internally begging for Rachel and Kyle to somehow have the baby of their dreams and fearing what kind of monster is growing inside of her. The final moments of this film are so intense, so frightening, and so real that even though you know it’s a movie, you’re going to be fooled by the reality of it all. The trailer below doesn’t do the film justice, as it makes the film feel like it’s a PARANORMAL ACITVITY riff and while the haters will dismiss this film immediately, DELIVERY is more effective than the last three PA films combined. If the final moments of this film don’t affect you in some way, you must already be dead. I was hit hard by this film which feels more like a documentary than a true found footage film. The scares are intense, the mood is dire, and the people in danger are worth rooting for. DELIVERY is one hell of a pregnancy horror movie and feels like a modern day ROSEMARY’S BABY. That’s high praise from this reviewer who holds Polanski’s film up to be one of the best of the best in horror.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Screen Media Films!
A GOOD MARRIAGE (2014)Directed by Peter Askin
Written by Stephen King (based on the short story by)
Starring Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephen Lang, Kristen Connolly, Will Rogers, Theo Stockman, Timothy J. Cox, Kris Lundberg
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A GOOD MARRIAGE was originally a novella by Stephen King from collection FULL DARK, NO STARS. And while this one sports an inspired cast and some typical King twists and mannerisms, it just doesn’t live up to some of the scribe’s better adaptations.
An almost unrecognizable Joan Allen plays Darcy, a happily married middle aged woman who still has the bod, the moves and the looks as she dances with her paunchy husband Bob (Anthony LePaglia) at a party help to celebrate his big business achievement. With their daughter (played by Kristen Connolly and grossly underused in this film) all set to be married, Darcy and Bob couldn’t be happier. They even have an active sex life as proven in the first few moments of the film, showing them doing the ooo-lala followed by some hot and heavy coin collecting (a passion both of them share). But when Bob goes on a business trip, Darcy stumbles upon a S&M magazine in the tool shed. After some investigating, she finds a little box filled with driver’s licenses. Surely this has nothing to do with the string of murders that have been going on in the county. Right?
The story is rather uninspired as it feels like a short story through and through with little expansion to fill the need of a full length film. Sure there is a moment where we are lead to wonder if it is Bob or one of the couple’s three kids doing the murders, but all of that tension is squelched when Bob comes right out and says he is the murderer. The rest of the film has Darcy pondering whether or not she can live with this knowledge that her husband likes to rape, torture, and murder women from time to time. I wish the film would have extrapolated a bit between Darcy’s discovery and Bob’s confession. Sure, it is another well tread path—the “is my husband a killer?” route, but at lead there would have been some mystery then. As is, the tension comes from whether Darcy can take sleeping next to a killer.
What transpires is up to you to find out, though I will say this is an unconventional narrative. Joan Allen is always good and while I hate to mention it in this review, I couldn’t help but be distracted by how much her face has changed since I last saw her in a film. I don’t want to sling rumors about plastic surgery, but I barely recognized her when she first appeared in this film. Still, she is stellar in the role, acting with poise and conviction. Same goes for LePaglia, who always had a rough and tumble, average Joe sort of delivery. Here he shines as a man confident in what he his and also confident enough with his marriage that he feels he can share these demons with his wife with no ramifications. AVATAR’s Stephen Lang rounds out the cast as a man investigating the murders. He’s solid here, as he always is, offering up the New Englander drawl speaking character that always seems to pop up in these King films.
Where the story sort of falls apart is after Darcy’s suspicions are proved correct and Bob confides in her. By keeping quiet, Darcy is basically valuing her happy marriage over murder and this woman you have been rooting for immediately is tossed into a dark place. And that would be fine too, if we got an ounce of insight as to what’s going on in Allen’s noggin. Unfortunately, like LePaglia’s Bob, we are left unaware until she acts. I haven’t read the original story, but I have to imagine it all worked out with a bit more suspense than the way this film worked out, which peaked at about the 40 minute mark and seemed to have about an hour long dénouement afterwards. This is a solid cast with pretty great performances. But the script was flawed. Be it because of the original tale or the screenwriters, I’ll leave that to the King purists, but the film seems to be morally unbalanced in terms of Allen’s character making A GOOD MARRIAGE a decent, but not a great film.
New this week On Demand from and in select theaters November 7th!
OPEN WINDOWS (2014)aka THE INTERWEB, BLACK HACKER
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Written by Daniel Mas (consultant writer), Nacho Vigalondo
Starring Sasha Grey, Elijah Wood, Neil Maskell, Nacho Vigalondo, Iván González, Scott Weinberg, Trevante Rhodes
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Much like another Elijah Wood starrer GRAND PIANO, OPEN WINDOWS is ¾ of a good movie. And sometimes that’s enough for me to give it a positive review. Like GRAND PIANO this is more of a suspense thriller film than straight up horror. But while this is a corner of horror that is rarely seen in modern cinema, it sometimes is the most effective kind of horror you can get.
Why is Elijah Wood doing these types of films? Not to be weird, but I think it really does have to do with his large emotive eyes. Wood is able to convey so much worry and tension in his face that you can even care for him when he is murdering people in MANIAC. Here he plays Nick Chambers, a website manager for a fansite dedicated to Jill Goddard (played by former porn star Sasha Grey). Nick has won a contest to have dinner with his favorite actress, but he is alerted by a mysterious online caller that she has cancelled the date. Confused and somewhat gullible, Nick believes the voice on the line, who then guides Nick on an elaborate scheme to get revenge for snubbing one of her number one fans. Nick’s intentions are not evil, but the hastiness of the call and the speed with which the series of events happen after the date is cancelled propels Nick on a high speed and tension filled get away involving murder and kidnapping. In over his head, Nick struggles to get out alive and maybe save the girl he has never met, but is obviously obsessed with.
As I said before, while Wood plays a pretty skeevy character who obsesses about an actress so much that he snaps every pic possible of her to download on his website, you can’t help but root for him as he is clearly in over his head here and being manipulated. Things snowball in this story quickly and it’s Wood’s strength as an actor who pulls you in that makes it all believable.
And there’s a lot to disbelieve. This film is seen entirely on a computer screen as seen through Skype messages, security and satellite can footage, and other aspects we all often see at play on our computer screens on a daily basis. While the multi-screen format is not a new one for cinema as it is a DePalma and Tarantino trope and seen often in shows like 24, director Nacho Vigalondo (who also directed the time twister tale TIME CRIMES) juggles the multi-screen technique pretty fluidly and seamlessly where after a while you forget you’re watching the film play out in that format. As far as the technology at play, Vigalondo explains the tech and expands upon it as the story proceeds, but never at a rate that I felt myself being lost. It’s kind of similar to the simple, yet effective thruway Vigalondo mapped in TIME CRIMES to tell one of the most uncomplicated time travel tales I’ve ever seen.
Acting and tech wise, this film is top notch, but in terms of story, it really feels like this one gets away from Vigalondo at about the hour twenty mark. There are a few last minute twists and turns that range between defying reason to being downright stupid that almost pulls the rug out from under this film. I won’t reveal these twists, but they happen in rapid succession and thinking back on it, I think I would have preferred the film end about fifteen minutes earlier for maximum effect.
That said, the ending didn’t ruin the film for me. OPEN WINDOWS uses modern and future tech to tell an age old tale of obsession and voyeurism, piggybacking on the risig paranoia that anything and everything we say or do can and will be caught on a camera and shared to everyone. These are base fears that Hitchcock exploited in many of his films, most importantly REAR WINDOW. With OPEN WINDOWS, Vigalondo has modernized these themes for the modern age and despite a flawed ending, the ride up to it was pretty fantastic.
New this week On Demand and in select theaters October 31st from Magnet Releasing!
THE ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014)Reviewed by Ambush Bug
So as I did with the first ABCS OF DEATH anthology, I’m writing the reviews directly after viewing each installment, so I can give my immediate reaction to the short based on each letter of the alphabet. At the end, I’ll chime in on how it compares to the original and how it is as an overall piece of entertainment. Here we go!
A is for Amateur
Directed/written by E.L. Katz
CHEAP THRILLS director E.L. Katz starts us off with a tale of a would be assassin. The story walks us through the perfect crime and then shows us how it really goes down. This one is light in tone, but dark and gory as all get out as it’s never as easy as it looks in the movies. Great music. Fun gore. Good installment.
B is for Badger
Directed/written by Julian Barratt
This one follows a wildlife documentarian (played by THE MIGHTY BOOSH’s Julian Barratt, who also directs the installment) investigating the disappearance of the badger population due to the species proximity near a nuclear power plant. The highlight is the hosts berating of his crew and what happens when he finds out that the animals he thought were extinct have actually survived and evolved. Filled with “biting” humor, this one is another fun one that ends a bit too soon for me.
C is for Capital Punishment
Directed/written by Julian Gilbey
From the director of PLASTIC and A LONELY PLACE TO DIE comes a gory look at punishment. While there might be a bit of humor in this one, it’s of the gallow’s type—literally. This one’s got one of the gorier executions I’ve ever bore witness to in film, making it much more grueling than some of the other lighter installments as it focuses on a man wrongly accused of murder and a race against time to stop the execution. Intense and horribly gory.
D is for Deloused
Directed/written by Robert Morgan
Animator Robert Morgan offers up a surreal masterpiece that is utterly fascinating and horrifically disgusting all at once. Nothing really makes a lick of sense here, but there are tons of insects, severed heads, demon bears, and one giant louse. Those who loved those old Tool videos are in for a treat here as Morgan uses all kinds of grungy materials for this stop motion messterpiece.
E is for Equillibrium
Directed/written by Alejandro Brugues
JUAN OF THE DEAD filmmaker Alejandro Brugues helms this one that feels more like a Bud Light commercial gone horribly, horribly wrong as two men stranded on an island think their prayers are answered when a woman washes up on shore. But that only fuels the fire of combat between the two. This one felt a lot like a Loony Tune episode with all sorts of cartoonish violence and music. Fun stuff and sure to shock those not prepared for the goofy gore.
F is for Falling
Directed/written by Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado
The directing/writing team behind BIG BAD WOLVES offer up this poignant and touching little number that almost seems out of place in this satiric and gory anthology. In such little time, you get to actually care about these two characters, one a female soldier from Israel, the other a young Palestinian militant. It’s a testament to Keshales and Papushado, who often put politics in their work, but in unconventional ways, that they are able to say so much in such a small screen time. If anything, this little snippet of violence and beauty has me chomping at the bit for what’s next by these two talented filmmakers.
G is for Grandad
Directed/written by Jim Hosking
Well, this is one out of the ordinary little ditty about an ungrateful young man who is staying at his grandfather’s place. From start to finish this is comic and weird and bizarre and utterly unpredictable. You’ve got finger knives and secret compartments in beds and teeth brushing. It’s a short you have to see to believe and even after that, I don’t think you’ll believe it. Truly odd indeed and I loved it.
H is for Head Games
Directed/written by Bill Plympton
And this ain’t no Foreigner song, that’s for sure. It’s a vivid and violent battle of the sexes between a man and a woman whose faces become all out arsenals against one another leaving both of them worse for wear. Anyone who has seen a Plymptoon knows that the man goes dark often and well and this installment is a prime example of what he can do without a net. Plympton does his animation like no other and this is exactly the type of oddball face off that was made for THE ABCS OF DEATH series.
I is for Invincible
Directed/written by Erik Matti
Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti drops us off towards the end of an inheritance gone horribly wrong as a seemingly unkillable old lady mocks her captors who seem to have tried everything in the torture handbook to kill the old broad, but nothing seems to work. While the violence is cartoony, the gore is rather gruesome as the wear and tear of each attempt looks all too real and while there is a lighter tone to this one as the ungrateful inheritors continue to hack away at their matriarch, the reality of it all gave be a bit of a shutter. Nice effects work all around and a fun little twist of an ending makes this one of the ones that’s going to stand out at the end of this alphabetical anthology.
J is for Jesus
Directed/written by Dennison Ramalho
Shifting the tone to deathly serious is short film director Dennison Ramalho who takes the horror into brave and bold new places with this bloody little bit of torture porn which delves a bit into MARTYRS territory as a homosexual man is bound and tortured by thugs hired by his disapproving father. While it is definitely uncomfortable to watch, the way this one plays out is rather fascinating especially when the stigmata begins to appear. Full of holy and unholy retribution the imagery in this one is tops and sure to leave a deep mark in your psyche.
K is for Knell
Directed/written by Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper
I absolutely loved this one which is filled with all sorts of terrifying moments from start to finish as a woman sees a swirling blob in the sky hovering over a neighboring apartment complex from her own balcony. Soon after all of the residents begin to murder one another and when most are dead, those left turn and see our heroine across the way. As the black swirl makes its way to her own apartment, the tension rises to a fever pitch and I couldn’t help but be swept away by the amount of primal fears twanged by the deft direction and suspense filled moments of this one. This one is absolutely horrifying stuff from the team that brought us last year’s surreal VANISHING WAVES.
L is for Legacy
Directed/written by Lancelot Imasuen
Nigerian director Lancelot Imasuen offers up a story of curses and duty set in against the backdrop of tribal conflict. While the effects here are rather rudimentary, I can’t help but be in awe of this new find of horror unleashed upon a tribe who fails to follow through his the orders of its king. The man-sized rat demon is a thing to behold as is the hell it unleashes upon the tribe. While it might read like a 50’s monster movie, there’s a rawness to this short that cannot be denied.
M is for Masticate
Directed/written by Robert Boocheck
This one got a lot of press because M was the open ticket for this ABCS OF DEATH feature and while I saw quite a few of the M tryouts, I do agree that this slo mo sequence involving a sweaty madman on a rampage in his underwear is the best of the best. Sure it ends on a rather predictable note, but the entire rampage itself is done in a manner that makes it all worth while. While watching undulating rolls of a fat dude is not necessarily towards the top of my must see list, this short makes it all feel like poetry.
N is for Nexus
Directed/written by Larry Fessenden
I was blown away by this RUN LOLA RUN-esque fast paced shortie from BENEATH director Larry Fessenden. As a man and woman rush to meet on a date, fate seems to have other things in store. Filled with memorable iconography that is steeped in reality, yet bizarre when set upon the backdrop of Halloween in the big city, this one is fun, yet tension filled from start to shocking finish.
O is for Olocracy (Mob Rule)
Directed/written by Hajime Ohata
The director of the mesmerizing HENGE brings a twisted tale of a world made of those who survived the zombie plague who are trying and sentencing those who killed zombies to death. One mother pleads her case in front of a zombie court. It all seems very silly but this takes a pretty dire twist in the latter minute which makes it all a bit more substantial than just a goof. The ending is pretty powerful as well as it proves the old adage “what goes around, comes around” to be correct.
P is for P-P-P-P-Scary
Directed/written by Todd Rohal
An old timey nightmare that melts into an acid trip. That sums up this installment up in a nutshell as three cartoonish convicts make their way through the dark as they escape from prison. They walk through a pitch black void until they happen across a man in a chair holding a baby. What happens next is something you might find in the most twisted episodes of the TIM & ERIC AWESOME SHOW GREAT JOB!, but set against the dark and filmed in black and white and you will be shivering more than laughing at this one. I couldn’t get enough of every creepy second of this one.
Q is for Questionnaire
Directed/written by Rodney Ascher Rodney Ascher, who directed the conspiracy theory laden ROOM 237, has fun with this wonky little number about a man taking a test cross-cut with the gory consequences of said test. It’s a pretty simple little story made fun by some extreme angles and gross-out operation room antics. There’s nothing here that’ll make your jaw drop, but it’s still light and fun. It doesn’t help that there’s a man in a pretty cheap looking monkey suit trying to make like a gorilla.
R is for Roulette
Directed/written by Marvin Kren RAMMBOCK and BLOOD GLACIER’s Marvin Kren offers up a not-so-typical Russian Roulette game that doesn’t really show its cards until the end. I was on the fence on this one until the end, but the way things wrapped up made it all the more fun. Kren plays with expectations here really well showing a lot of promise and while 90% of this short is something you may have seen a dozen times before, the ending is 100% unique.
S is for Split
Directed/written by Juan Martinez Moreno
This one was riveting from minute one. A man calls his wife on the phone just when someone is attempting to break into her house. As the wife hides, the intruder scours the home for her with the man on the other end forced to listen as his wife fights for her life. The whole thing is told in split screen, hence the title, and it’s done in a manner that would make DePalma proud. This one is raw and fierce, taking no prisoners and offering no apologies.
T is for Torture Porn
Directed/written by Jen & Sylvia Soska
While it lacks the dramatic punch of AMERICAN MARY, Jen & Sylvia Soska packed a whole bunch of perversity into this little short. There is a nice little build to the big reveal here as a woman is degraded and berated by men around her on what appears to be a porn shoot. Then things switch gears rather dramatically resulting in a barrage of sights and sounds that can only be described as unnatural. From the beginning, this one seems like it’s got something evil and menacing coming up, but I don’t think anyone would be able to predict where this one goes. Fun and horrific stuff.
U is for Utopia
Directed/written by Vincenzo Natali
This one brings forth a perfect future where everyone is beautiful and pristine…except for one chubby guy who happens into the joint. While this one is pretty predictable, it still makes for a powerful statement on how fortune favors the beautiful. Still, this one isn’t without a bite as I loved the bit at the end with the clapping kids. Not as visionary as SPLICE and CUBE, director Vincenzo Natali still manages to keep this one entertaining from start to finish.
V is for Vacation
Directed/written by Jerome Sable
This one seems a little more at home in a V/H/S/ film rather than this anthology as it takes place solely during a facetime call between a dude on a mancation and his girlfriend back home. When his tweaked out bro snags the phone, the caller is shown what the guys really have been doing. But that’s just the tip of the depravity iceberg as this one snowballs into something dark and ugly quickly. This one has a cruel streak to it that really packs a punch by the end. It’s not going to be a favorite with the ladies watching this one and this one is going to rank up there as being a guy’s worst nightmare. Even though it feels a bit out of place here, it’s still dark and entertaining. This one is directed by STAGE FRIGHT director Jerome Sable and continues to show that the director does macabre really well.
W is for Wish
Directed/written by Steven Kostanski
In the original ABCS OF DEATH, the latter few letters were by far the most bizarre and outrageous and it appears they did the same with this one as well. This one has a pair of kids wishing they could live in the toy fantasy land they love playing with, and sure enough, their wish comes true. You will see skeletons getting tortured and an old guy wearing a Speedo named Fantasy Man who rides a giant beetle and Jen & Sylvia Soska punching a hole in a guy. All of it brought to you by the twisted mind behind MANBOG and FATHER’S DAY, two films I revere. Here’s another winner of a short from Kostanski who I hope goes nowhere but up and up after this, another fantastically twisted little short.
X is for Xylophone
Directed/written by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo
Wow this one was pitch black and bloody. While the choice of xylophone for the word used for this short is somewhat uninspired, the story itself, about a babysitter driven nuts by a little girl playing a xylophone, is something to be admired. This one is gutsy and will surely offend, but there’s an absurdity that made me laugh even though I was cringing as the ending is something so very, very horrible. This one looks fantastic and utilizes sound in a way that would drive anyone insane. Brilliant stuff from Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, the deviant minds behind INSIDE.
Y is for Youth
Directed/written by Soichi Umezawa
Yet another batshit crazy one as a girl’s metaphors come alive as she is texting on the phone. People turn into dogs, vomit guitars, and battle giant hamburgers and penises. It’s fantastically warped stuff from an uncapped mind. This one completely encapsulated the rebelliousness and angst of youth. It looks as if Umezawa originally called this one M is for Middle for the M category, but with a little rejiggering it ended up fitting in nicely here towards the balls out end of the anthology. Fantastically surreal and utterly unique stuff in this one.
Z is for Zygote
Directed/written by Chris Nash
Well, they saved the most depraved and twisted for the end as a woman takes a special root in order for her to keep from having her baby until her estranged husband will return. How long can she keep the baby inside? Therein lays the horror as it appears this root guarantees that the birth won’t be for a long time. Soon the woman begins talking with the baby, now a grown child, inside of her and then it gets really fucked up. Lots of gore and grue ensue. I can’t believe how gross this one gets, but I’m glad they saved it for the end because it really is a show stopper.
While I liked the original ABCS OF DEATH, I have to say, I think as far as a consistently entertaining anthology, this sequel is much stronger. The first anthology seemed to have a lot of big names, but not a lot of them took things seriously enough to offer up anything but goofy, grossout scares. In this one, there are some goofy letters, but they are mixed with others that are deathly serious or utterly disquieting. All in all, as far as anthologies go ABCS OF DEATH 2 has so much variety, you’re sure to find something that scares, shocks, or tickles you. And if you don’t like one, the segments are short enough that the next may be your cup of blood.
BEWARE: The trailer below is extreme and red bandy and definitely not safe for work!
Advance Review: Set to appear at the UK’s Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films on Saturday 1st November 2014!
VHS FOREVER? PSYCHOTRONIC PEOPLE (2014)aka THE VHS PROJECT
Directed by Mark Williams
Written by Darren J. Perry, Mark Williams
Starring Ricky Baker, Mark J. Banville, Gary Baxter, Allan Bryce, Nigel Burrell, Tony M. Clarke, Evrim Ersoy, Harvey Fenton, Richard Gladman, Tom Hodges, Graham Humphreys, Lovely Jon, Caroline Munro, & Lloyd Kaufman
Reviewed by Doctor Karen Oughton
Following the lead of other horror documentary releases over the last few years is new title VHS Forever? Psychotronic People. Directed by Mark Williams and Darren J. Perry, the film recently premiered at the The Good, The Bad and The Unseen VHS Alldayer at the Genesis Cinema in London.
Covering the psychotronic film in the 1980s and 1990s while incorporating genres ranging from horror to martial arts, the film shows a marked contrast from other recent releases owing to its grassroots feel. This is literally the case with several contributors sitting nonchalantly in graveyards and coming complete with “psychotronic interference” – tongue in cheek video quality blips. The emphasis is on showing either archive material or focused interviews with the contributors and as a result the film has an air of authenticity rather than feeling like a product of back scratching producer PR.
Talking heads include critic and author Kim Newman, actress Caroline Munro, screenwriter and actor David McGilivray, graphic artist Graham Humphreys and the Tromatastic (and incredibly funny) Lloyd Kaufman himself. However, the lesser recognised heads also provide invaluable insight, with media movers and shakers Harvey Fenton (of the FAB Press), Allan Bryce (The Dark Side Magazine) and Tony M. Clarke of the infamous Psychotronic shop giving insight into the industry at the time. There are also a significant number of rarer finds, from producer Jonathan Sothcott to author David Kerekes and through to collectors and indeed yours truly. Presenting falls to James Mullinger, a windmilling ball of enthusiasm. There is material here that you will not have seen before elsewhere.
VHS Forever? Psychotronic People largely eschews the academic material that has featured heavily in other recent censorship documentaries. Instead it emphasizes the cultural landscape that caused the psychotronic genre – the maddest movies and the fans that love them – to thrive. It also has some fantastic footage of films you may not yet have had the pleasure of perving.
And finally…oooooooo, I can’t wait for Halloween. So in the spirit of my anticipation, here’s Donald Duck’s Trick or Treat, one of my favorite Halloween shorts! Bring on my favorite time of the year!
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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