Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Short horrors, long horrors, horrors that shoulda been shorter, horrors that coulda been longer, and some that are just right! That’s what we have on tap in this incredibly eclectic week of AICN HORROR!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Short Cuts: THE MATCHMAKER Short Film (2014)
Retro-review: MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976)
Retro-review: CANDYMAN: FARWELL TO THE FLESH (1995)
SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT (2012)
REALM OF SOULS (2013)
FINDERS KEEPERS (2014)
OF SILENCE (2014)
DARK SUMMER (2015)
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT (2013)
Advance Review: SCIENCE TEAM (2014)
And finally…Bertrand Paré’s ITSY BITSY SPIDERS!
Short Film Review: Currently touring festivals!
THE MATCHMAKER (2014)Directed by Lonnie Martin
Written by Lonnie Martin
Starring Matthew Lucas, Cindy Marie Martin, Sarah Taurchini
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I wish they made a habit of showing short films before movies. Seems the only one whoes do it these days is Pixar and that’s a shame, as there are so many short films deserving to be seen, especially if it is the same type of film as the feature. So while I was watching this morbid little rom com, I began thinking what kind of film would it precede?
In doing so, I think it sort of deepened my understanding and appreciation for the film. THE MATCHMAKERis a simple little film with a dark sense of humor and a lot of charm. It focuses on a young mortician (Matthew Lucas) who works with a makeup intern who he has feelings for but is unable to express them to her. The 10 minute film takes us through the process those who watched HBO’s SIX FEET UNDER series are familiar with as the mortician putties up the facial scars on the body, while the makeup assistant provides the coloring to make the body look beautiful.
The fun comes when the body begins talking to the mortician and urging him to take the plunge with the pretty young makeup artist. No it’s not found footage or torture porn, there are no monsters or serial killers, but it is a nicely paced and performed little romance as seen through a really morbid lens.
THE MATCHMAKER is currently touring fests and when it is available for all to see on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll see it in my “And finally…” section in this column.
New on DVD and streaming at Full Moon Features!
MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976)aka EYES, EYES OF DR. CHANEY, HOUSE OF BLOOD, MASSACRE MANSION, THE TERROR OF DR. CHANEY, EYES OF THE LIVING DEAD
Directed by Michael Pataki
Written by Frank Ray Perilli
Starring Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame, Trish Stewart, Lance Henriksen, Al Ferrara, JoJo D'Amore, Donna Andresen, Marilyn Joi, Katherine Fitzpatrick, Katherine Stewart, Vic Tayback, Arthur Space, Del Negro, Patsy Sublime, Libby Chase
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I loved this quirky and definitely off kilter little tale of mad science. MANSION OF THE DOOMED sports some twisted medical ethics and some nicely gross effects.
Richard Basehart stars as Dr. Chaney, a dedicated and deluded surgeon who will stop at nothing to fix the eyes of his blind daughter Nancy (Trish Stewart). Chaney doesn’t have time to take the necessary ethical steps to come up with a process to give sight to the blind. He needs the fix now, and isn’t afraid of scooping the eyes out of his colleagues (including a super-young Lance Henriksen) in order to get the proper materials to make it so. Vowing to heal those he has stolen eyes from as soon as he heals his daughter, Chaney and his lovely assistant gather up quite a gaggle of folks in his basement trapped and eyeless in a cage, while his daughter rejects one eye transplant after another. Like all of the insane, Dr. Chaney believes in trying the same thing over and again, expecting different results. Soon the number of eyeless prisoners is too hard to manage and they seek to enact eyeless revenge upon the good/bad doctor.
MANSION OF THE DOOMED is awesome in that its premise is a simple and direct one: steal eyes from anyone you can and plop them into another’s empty eye sockets. The film is made all the more viscerally horrific by showing scenes from actual eye surgeries that will definitely make your toes curl. The effects themselves are actually pretty great, as facial appliances actually give those in Chaney’s cell an empty eye socket look.
Shrewd eyes will be able to pick out Mel the Chef from the sitcom ALICE as a police officer. I’ve already mentioned Henriksen’s role as the doctor’s first victim. But what impressed me most was the nuanced and completely in control attitude of Basehart’s Dr. Chaney. He seriously thinks he is doing something in the name of science for the greater good. This type of delusion could have been made maniacal and over the top, but Basehart is able to make it all subdued and convincing.
I’m sure the impetus of this film was that someone behind the film saw UN CHIEN ANDALOU in a film studies class somewhere, as the eye cutting scene in that experimental film is one of the most wince inducing pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen. MANSION OF THE DOOMED ups the ante a notch by showing clip after clip of eye surgeries, along with the gruesome look of the makeup after the surgeries took place. MANSION OF THE DOOMED is crazy fun: it’s an intricate and warped trip following a certifiable madman with twisted morals and clouded ethics.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995)aka CANDYMAN II
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Clive Barker (story), Rand Ravich & Mark Kruger (screenplay)
Starring Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, William O'Leary, Bill Nunn, Matt Clark, David Gianopoulos, Fay Hauser, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Timothy Carhart, Veronica Cartwright, Caroline Barclay, Michael Bergeron, Brianna Blanchard, Clotiel Bordeltier, Russell Buchanan
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m torn with CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH. I loved the original and after seeing it, I felt that out of the many films that tried to make a new iconic figure in horror with films like SHOCKER, HORROR SHOW, and the like, Candyman felt like it really was a contender. Bernard Rose offered up a complex urban legend made real and filled it with fantastic performances, amazing music, and the decrepit urban ambiance of Cabrini Green—a once notorious complex of low income buildings just a skosh north and west of downtown Chicago. DREAMGIRLS, KINSEY, and GODS AND MONSTERS’ Bill Condon stepped up to direct this installment and while this movie is flawed, it’s not because of his direction.
CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH is the first of two sequels to Clive Barker’s original short story “The Forbidden.” The film uproots its locale from Cabrini Green and plops it down into the Big Easy. Now, New Orleans isn’t without its flavor. I’ve been there twice and can attest to the city’s beauty and the almost mystical nature exuding from every street. There is a mystique to the entire city, so I understand the allure the producers felt in moving the locale. Also, I assume the bad press Cabrini Green got from the film and its complete overhaul over the last twenty years had something to do with it as well. For those of you who don’t know, the site where Candyman haunted is now a Target Superstore--a haunting image indeed. Still, even though the sequel captures a lot of that New Orleans flair, something special that was there in the original just wasn’t there once they moved out of Chicago.
One of the reasons this film frustrates me is that is does everything it can to demystify the man who became the Candyman, Daniel Robitaille, whose origin was only hinted at in the original. Here, the whole film is dedicated to going into details about the woman Daniel fell in love with and the retribution the racist town enacted upon him when the affair with the white woman was discovered. In some ways, it was inevitable that more about the Candyman’s origin would be examined in the sequels, but this one makes the entire story about it and instead of making the villain scarier, it makes him much more sympathetic.
But by making the Candyman a victim and highlighting it for an entire film, all it succeeded in was making him less scary. This iconic monster was instead made into a weeping romantic stalker type seeking out his granddaughter to…have some type of relationship with, I guess. This is an utter misstep in my opinion and it shows that the trend of sympathizing, demystifying, and over-explaining the villain as seen in the STAR WARS prequels, MALEFICENT, and even as recently as DRACULA UNTOLD is not something that began recently. The one thing tying all of these together is the audible groan heard when mentioning them, and I feel the exact same way thinking about this film.
It also didn’t help the film that it was released during the OJ trial. Seeing a man lynched for loving a white woman and then having that man stalk another white woman for an entire movie seemed to hit a little too close to home at the time it was released and the box office showed it. While the subject of race is something that could prove to be a very interesting topic to delve into in the genre of horror, this film doesn’t really do that. It just has a black man stalk a white woman for an hour and a half only to end with her killing him. And even if the movie makes him look sympathetic, he’s still a large scary man with a hook for a hand, a deep voice, and bees buzzing from his orifices.
It probably wasn’t intentional, but most of the film’s earliest scenes could be seen as out and out offensive as the scares come from red herrings which usually come in the form of a black man seen out of the corner of the eye or just off frame, as if the mere sight of the black man is meant to be scary. I’m not saying this was done on purpose. Every horror film peppers in the jump scares, especially a sequel trying its best to up the ante from the original. But it happens often enough in this film that it really made me uneasy.
The performances in CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH are pretty good, with Tony Todd once again playing things pretty ominously and Kelly Rowan doing her best as a tough debutante trying to give back by teaching in an underprivileged school. Veronica Cartwright is awesome, as usual, but basically the film has her do the shaky, scared scene she does in every horror movie she’s in. Condon makes it all look good with some nice Orleans flavor. Still, making the villain sympathetic was the biggest problem with this film, and it holds the film back from getting even near the greatness of the original.
New this week on DVD from Midnight Releasing!
SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT (2012)aka SICK
Directed by Ryan M. Andrews
Written by Ryan M. Andrews (screenplay), Chris Cull (screenplay)
Starring Christina Aceto, Richard Roy Sutton, Robert Nolan, Jennifer Polansky, Debbie Rochon, Sandra DaCosta, Devin Upham, Ry Barrett, Neil Green, Thomas Gough, Breanne TeBoekhorst, Astrida Auza, Margaret Jeronimo, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Rhys Wyn Trenhaile
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I hate to admit it because I want to believe that every subgenre of horror, despite the amount of films made about the monster, has something left to surprise me with. Just when I think I’m fed up with vampires or Frankensteins or werewolves or ghosts, some film comes along and reminds me that all it takes is a fresh look at the genre and it defies the tendency to scoff when a certain type of film is mentioned. I wish SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT was one of those films, but despite some really cool stylistic and story choices, it’s still a zombie film and there’s a lot going on here that we’ve all seen before.
Writers Ryan M. Andrews and Chris Cull try to make SICK something different by focusing on surviving with the undead walking around and seeking out the cure rather than the outbreak, which has been done time and again. The story follows Dr. Leigh Rozetta (Christina Aceto), who has aspirations to find the cure as she was unable to save her family from the plague that turned everyone into zombies. Now more determined than ever and on her own, she crosses paths with a pair of survivors, Seph and McKay (Richard Roy Sutton and Robert Nolan), who have lived through quite the ordeal and aren’t keen on trusting anyone new. The three form an uneasy alliance, but soon the plague outside and the problems with being a survivor begin to chip away at a little paradise the three have carved out for themselves.
Again, I don’t want to be too harsh on SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT as it is a really well made low budget film. The actors are above average, including SILENT RETREAT’s Robert Nolan, who seems to always bring a little something special to each performance he does, as one of the survivors. Here he’s overly cautious to take this new woman into his group and wary of his friend’s unstable mental capacity. Both Aceto and Sutton do a decent job of playing cautious survivors as well, but a little more hopeful than Nolan’s McKay and willing to think there might be some place where they can be safe and start over. The other cast member of note is the innocent but battle-hardened presence of Claudia (played by Jennifer Polanski). Her story is pretty great as well here as she has affections for Leigh, but is too afraid to tell her.
As you can tell, there’s a lot of character and story here that most zombie films simply don’t take the time for, which is much appreciated. The fact that these were characters in peril and not just bodies lined up to die separates this film from most zombie flicks out there. In terms of story, SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT is great too—especially the strong final moments of this film. The guys behind the film definitely have an eye for story and character, and hopefully this will show up in future work from them.
But at the end of the day, it’s still a zombie film. There are still shots of the undead shambling towards folks. There’s the fear of the bite and paranoia that others are infected. And there’s the concept that three people in today’s society, if trapped in a room together, will most likely tear each other apart no matter what the threat is outside. SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT is a top quality zombie film. It adds character and story where it usually is lacking in these, so if you’re interested in a zombie film, this is the one to try.
New this week on DVD from Brain Damage Films!
REALM OF SOULS (2013)Directed by Chase Smith
Written by Chase Smith
Starring Lance Paul, Ella Bardine, Chase Smith, Zoe Myers, Jon Bailey, Harley Shellhammer, Amber Erwin, Katie Blackburn, Rebecca Thomason, Kate Wasiele, Teal Haddock, Brian Kurtis, Blake Ivey, Jessica Schmahl
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
No one successfully bursts out of the gate with absolute greatness. I’ve seen this happen with those who do comics and films alike. Someone comes along with grand aspirations (which is great to have), but right off the bat, they want to tell their epic, two hour, 1000 page, multi-faceted masterpiece. So before learning the finer points and the essential techniques, these high-hopers end up delivering something that could have been great, but instead is riddled with problems. That’s pretty much my feelings about REALM OF SOULS, an ambitious yet highly problematic film.
A group of kids set out to camp in a haunted woods. Their intention is to investigate some paranormal activity found in the area. But as the night campfire blazes, the two couples pair up, get naked, and have sex, only to be slaughtered by an unseen killer who prefers edged weaponry. Soon after, we are introduced to another group of paranormal investigators, this one made up of multiple units, whose intention is to visit 13 haunted locales and try to capture actual footage of the paranormal. As team one is whittled away by ghostly things, their equipment is found by team two and then they are offed one by one by the spooks.
The intriguing part of this film is the seemingly never-ending loop of paranormal groups succumbing to the horrors in the woods. The point in the film where the new team finds the old team’s equipment is interesting, because it puts the team in the film in the seat right next to the viewer as they watch the other team investigate and get themselves murderized by the ghosts. I found this aspect of the film kind of a fun commentary on the overabundance of ghost hunter-type shows on TV today and how with so few spots actually being haunted, it’s just a matter of time before one crew runs into the other crew’s work. That type of stuff is definitely more meta and it might not be the intention of the filmmakers, but it rings loud and clear to this viewer who feels he has seen this type of story more than a few times before.
The problem comes from the first forty-five minutes of absolutely nothing going on that I had to sit through to get to the good stuff. Usually, the first portion of these types of films occurs simply to get us invested in the characters so we give a shit when they are offed later on. In REALM OF SOULS, there are so many characters you can’t get to know any of them and they certainly aren’t given too many distinguishing characteristics in the script for us to form any opinions about them at all, much less investment. So practically the first hour of this hour and forty five minute film is all for nothing, as things only pick up when team two finds team one’s equipment and shit only then starts going down.
This feels like an ambitious project, and I commend the filmmakers for trying to do something broad and ambitious in this ghost hunters style subgenre of horror. Still, the lack of character and the sheer waste of time getting to the good stuff makes it really hard to recommend the last forty five minutes of REALM OF SOULS.
New this week on DVD and digital download from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
FINDERS KEEPERS (2014)aka KEEPERS
Directed by Alexander Yellen
Written by Peter Sullivan
Starring Jaime Pressly, Patrick Muldoon, Kylie Rogers, Tobin Bell, Mark DeCarlo, Rio Mangini, Marina Sirtis, Justina Machado, Joseph Gatt, Steve Austin, Mary Pat Gleason, Trilby Glover, Joey Luthman, Lauren K. Montgomery, Tracy Mulholland
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
From the writer of THE DOG WHO SAVED HALLOWEEN and the director who was the cinematographer of MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS comes…this! I shouldn’t make fun, but I can’t help but mention the pedigree brought together to make this SyFy Saturday night yawner. This film lends itself to much mocking as it juggles clichés from better films without really even attempting to come up with even a moment of originality in terms of dolly horror.
Single mom Alyson (Jamie Pressly) moves into a new home with her daughter Claire (Kylie Rogers), who happens upon an ugly little doll in her new room. Claire is immediately taken with the doll, though Alyson tries her best to have her take interest in prettier dolls. Soon, strange things start to happen and Claire begins to get bruises and signs of abuse and all fingers point to Alyson, who is considered unable to cope with the stress of raising a child alone. The real culprit is the doll, which is actually a cursed totem housing the soul of an evil spirit trying to take over Claire’s body. As the bodies start to fall, Alyson and her ex-husband (Patrick Muldoon) take on the doll for the life of their child.
As you see in the picture on the left down there, all of this makes Jamie Pressly flare her nostrils really wide.
FINDERS KEEPERS is strictly run-of-the-mill cliché from start to finish. Trying to cash in on the semi-popularity of the dreadful ANNABELLE, the film is riddled with moments we’ve seen done better in CHILD’S PLAY and all of its sequels with a little dab of NIGHT GALLERY’s classic “The Ugly Doll” episode, which itself is derivative of TWILIGHT ZONE’s “The Doll” episode. If you’ve seen any of those films, you’re more than likely not going to be surprised by anything that occurs in this film. There’s the usual setup of the kid doing all of the murders, then the framing of the parent. People show up in this film simply to be killed with no real rhyme or reason. One moment the doll seems intent on compelling Claire to frame her mom for abuse and murder, then the other moment the doll is killing someone who has done the mother wrong as if to protect her. The script here is full of holes and paper thin, with not too many ideas that are even remotely original or interesting.
I will give it to little Kylie Rogers, who plays Claire. Possessed by the doll, she turns out to be one hell of a spunky little actress. I also kind of liked the voodoo doll aspect that protects the doll, as any kind of attempt to destroy the doll ends up hurting Claire too. I wish these aspects were delved into a little deeper here, and it might have been enough to differentiate the film from the rest of the herd of bad dolly films. But alas, if you’re counting on the “success” of ANNABELLE, FINDERS KEEPERS feels like an attempt to ride on the coattails of a pretty horrible movie in the first place.
Available for download on iTunes!
OF SILENCE (2014)Directed by Jeremiah Sayys
Written by Jeremiah Sayys
Starring Jeremiah Sayys, Masiela Lusha, Ashlee Gillespie, Najarra Townsend, Suzanne Ford, Paul Cuneo, Matthew Lawrence, Muse Watson, Will Rodriguez, Joseph Schell
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A whole lot of style and moody atmosphere make this simple little tale of loss deeply effective in terms of chills and scares.
OF SILENCE is a somber little piece of cinema about a man suffering from deep depression after losing his wife in a deep sea diving accident. Moving around his apartment in a depressed daze, his family and friends attempt to cheer his spirits, but nothing seems to help him. This is mostly due to the fact that somewhere in the shadows of his home lurk monsters and unsettled spirits.
OF SILENCE reminded me of a few films, namely ABSENTIA (reviewed here) and JACOB’S LADDER, two films which deal with our resistance to accepting death. In ABSENTIA, it’s about a wife refusing to let go of her abducted husband. In JACOB’S LADDER, it’s the titular character’s fight to stay alive and not be overcome by his own demons. Packing just as powerful a punch emotionally and viscerally, OF SILENCE capably puts us in the shoes of Colby (Jeremiah Sayys, who also writes and directs) and does a fantastic job of bringing us down into the darkness of depression. Through the use of pitch blackness, claustrophobic environs, and some shart-inducing sounds, Sayys does a lot with very little here and is successful in bringing on the terror, more so than most films with ten times the budget. Through careful edits, well-placed darkness, and some terrifying sounds, OF SILENCE really does deliver the scares.
That said, the film does get a bit repetitious. There are tons of scenes of Colby making his way around the house, hearing noises and seeing shadows move around the house. So many scenes, in fact, that it really does seem like this film might have been a much stronger film had it been a short film rather than being extended to being a full length feature. It’s not that the dark shifting shadows and guttural noises weren’t effective, but those things begin to lose their power by the fifth time we’ve seen it.
Still, big budget filmmakers should take note as Sayys really does deliver a powerful little piece of dread. While the film is not the feel good flick of the year, it does offer a powerful dissection of depression and loss and some really cool and dark demon things. OF SILENCE may be a bit overlong, but it does know how to scare better than most.
New in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
DARK SUMMER (2015)Directed by Paul Solet
Written by Mike Le
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Grace Phipps, Peter Stormare, Maestro Harrell
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Paul Solet directed GRACE, a film I really thought was palpably terrifying about post-partum depression through the lens of an undead baby. It was well- cted, well paced, and made me squirm in all the ways I want to while watching a horror film. So when I heard Solet had a new film coming, I got pretty excited going on what I’d seen by the director and not much else. Unfortunately, DARK SUMMER is not something to get excited about.
DARK SUMMER focuses on a creepy kid named Daniel (Keir Gilchrist), arrested for stalking a quiet girl from school named Mona (Grace Phipps) and hacking into all of her online accounts, resulting in him being on house arrest with a beeper on his foot that alerts his probation officer (Peter Stormare) if he’s gone online or left the property he’s jailed upon. His pals from school Abby and Kevin (Stella Maeve and Maestro Harrell) smuggle in some drugs and some hacking equipment, allowing him to break his bindings, but that only leads to more problems as Daniel gets a Skype call from Mona, who blows her brains out in front of him. Soon after Mona’s death, strange things start happening in Daniel’s home and what first is a story about online stalking quickly turns into one about the supernatural, as Daniel is seemingly haunted from beyond the grave by Mona’s vengeful spirit. Or at least that’s what it seems.
This movie frustrated the hell out of me. So many aspects of it, from the navel-gazing emo cast to the off-kilter sense of who we should give a shit about, are completely off-putting. Apart from Stella Maeve, who has an interesting arc and conflict, being in LES MISERABLES terms the Eponine to Daniel’s Marius who is blinded with love for his Cosette (Mona), none of the characters are very likable at all. Daniel in particular is utterly dislikable from the get go, as it seems we are to feel sorry for him even though he is accused on stalking a woman online, breaking into all of her Twitter, Facebook, and email accounts, and basically making Mona’s life a living hell. The film follows Daniel’s plight and yes, there is a turn of events that makes him slightly more sympathetic that I won’t spoil here, but even with this revelation, he still is an asshole who treats his friends like crap, mopes around with his shirt off listening to emo music for 95% of the film, and swims his sorrows away in his backyard pool (poor baby). This type of privileged boy angst might have been interesting in the 90s, but seeing Daniel slumped over his computer pining for his lost love for the umpteenth time in this film made me want to put my foot through the screen. The decision to have Daniel with his shirt off for most of the film is another odd one, mainly due to the actor’s need of a sandwich as his skeletal frame suggests. Seeing this walking emo skeleton mope around is the best way to make us sympathize with this character and acts as the main flaw of this film.
Aside from all of that, in the world of DARK SUMMER there are absolutely no parents to speak of. Daniel’s mom is out of town. When the kids do leave the house for Mona’s home, no parents live there. Abby decides to stay over at Daniel’s house to make sure he’s ok. Does the teenager check with her parents? Nope, because no one but these three kids, the ghost, and apparently the only adult in this world Peter Stormare exist in this film. I understand low budget, but at least make it feel like a world folks live in. This doom and gloom-painted ghost world the characters schlep around in is a plodding navel-gazing hardship.
Tack on some overly complex spells that need to be done in specific order in order to work and this entire film feels like a slightly more mature GOOSEBUMPS episode you’d see at 8pm on the Disney Channel, geared towards scaring tweens before the babysitter puts them to bed. What frustrates me most about this is that I feel there might have been some potential for a good film here. The final scene is actually kind of cool, and ties the entire film together thematically with a conversation that occurs at the beginning. The concept of online stalking is interesting, as are the spells that are being tossed around. But for some reason, this particular combination of all of these elements fails miserably. Here’s hoping director Paul Solet is able to recover from this stumble of a film, as GRACE really showed a lot of potential. DARK SUMMER, unfortunately, does not have such qualities.
New this week on DVD and On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
DESECRATED (2015)Directed by Rob Garcia
Written by Cecil Chambers
Starring Haylie Duff, Wilmer Calderon, Michael Ironside, Gib Gerard, Paul James, Gonzalo Menendez, Heather Sossaman, Adam Daniels
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
In a genre full of serial killers who prefer silent but deadly killing tools, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to see the psychopath in DESECRATED kills the old fashioned way…with guns and explosives.
DESECRATED is an offbeat little tale about a man named Ben (BREAKING BAD’s Gonzalo Menendez) who lost his family and subsequently his mind. Not knowing how to live in the real world, Ben was “rescued” by real estate tycoon Tom McClain (SCANNERS’ Michael Ironside), who had property in the middle of nowhere for Ben to be one with nature, go on night scouting missions protecting the area from squatters, and occasionally hunting and killing tourists. When Tom’s daughter Ally (Disney Channel’s Haylie Duff) takes her boyfriend and a group of friends to the property Ben patrols, she thinks the eccentric loner is harmless, but soon her friends start disappearing.
The war vet with no place to go in the civilized world is a common theme in films. It’s material covered in depth in everything from BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY to ROLLING THUNDER to THE GUEST. And it’s material that seems to always feel relevant since there’s always one war or another going on. The concept is a strong one, though I don’t know if the story is strong enough to support it. I could see this one really getting into the head of Ben, who is definitely scarred and unable to relate to anyone around him. This thematic goldmine is delved into slightly here, but only on the surface level, instead just kind of writing Ben off as a madman serial killer type like Jason Voorhees as he slinks through the night and offs campers one by one. While Ben talks and shows that he is all military and all business all of the time, it feels like the story really doesn’t know what to do but write him off as a psychopath.
Attempting to counter that is a gung ho performance by Gonzalo Menendez as Ben. He tries and succeeds most of the time to get us to feel for his character’s loss. Looking like a shaved Ryan Reynolds, Menendez has the charisma to make himself into a star given the right role. The script also manages to be pretty witty, with these campers holding no punches in terms of ripping each other a new one. Some scripts go too far by making you wonder why all of these guys are friends and why they would go with one another on this trip together if they hate each other so much. The script has the friends rip on one another, but there is still affection there and you believe they are friends despite their annoyances with one another.
While the kills aren’t necessarily creative, the fact that Ben is using jungle warfare and firepower against his prey does make this film stand out. It’s rather fun seeing him pick people off with a sniper rifle or blow them to bits with a well placed claymore. And it’s just enough of a difference from the norm to get my recommendation for you all to check out DESECRATED, which goes solo and off the grid from the slasher subgenre.
New this week on DVD/BluRay and iTunes from RLJ IMAGE Entertainment!
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT (2013)Directed by Bobby Roe
Written by Zack Andrews, Jeff Larson & Bobby Roe
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe and Jeff Larson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I love haunted houses. I’ve been going since I was a kid and, like many of you, I look forward to October because that means they’ll be popping up all over town. That said, like the characters in THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT, I am getting a bit jaded at the same-old same-old stuff you see at these types of attractions. There’s the lights out maze, the chainsaw chase, and of course, tons and tons of masked people jumping out at you in the darkness. So if someone were to come to me with a proposition to seek out an underground, extreme haunted house, I most likely, like the kids in this film, would probably go along for the ride.
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT is an effective blend of found footage and shockumentary. The film indicates at the beginning that this is a compilation of footage found after a group of haunted house thrill-seekers go on a trip to find the ultimate in Halloween haunts, so the heavy editing and splicing of the different cameras didn’t really bother me as it does with others of this sort who try to pawn the entire film, cuts from different cameras and all, as something “found.” The technical aspects of how this film was put together were presented in such a way that it didn’t rip me out of the film. THOB also intercuts interviews with Halloween haunters, most of them dressed in full or half costume, discussing urban legends about extreme haunts, recounting actual mishaps and deaths that occur in these types of places, and pontificating about the type of deviant that might be attracted to working this type of job where they have to scare people daily.
The mix of the filmmakers’ aspirations to find the most extreme haunted house, the news footage of actual mishaps, and interviews with all sorts of seedy characters really does set the tone for something pretty scary and for the most part, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT delivers a perfect bag of horrifying tricks and petrifying treats. The actors feel genuine in both their interactions with one another and their reactions to the scares (real and unreal) in front of them. And as the film goes on and the horrors get all too real, it feels like a natural progression of scares and not just a lot of the usual boring build up to nothing that often occurs in found footagers. The film opens with the group going through an actual haunted house, which I must admit made me jump quite a few times, then says “no, we want something better than that” and actually lives up to that promise. That’s a promise not many films of this kind keep.
As the haunters begin to haunt the group inside and outside of these roadside attractions, there’s a real sense of horror going on. The film feels like it peels back the curtain behind the lives of the people who work at these places, taking the viewer into haunter bars where they all go to hang out afterwards that are as twisted as the haunts themselves, and into chatrooms and websites designed to connect those who need the most extreme haunt and those who can provide it. This film ratchets up the strangeness from the ominous beginning and continues to screw with you until the end.
If you’re a connoisseur of side road spook shows, back road monster houses, and Halloween havens, there’s a lot to like in THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT. While it does utilize the tried and true technique of the found footage motif, it delivers with effective scares and a whole lot of carnie weirdness. From start to finish the film actually gives you the feel of going through a real Halloween haunt. So if you can’t make your way to a haunted house this Halloween season, don’t worry. You can stay home and check out THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT for practically the same effect.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand, and iTunes!
PREDESTINATION (2014)Directed by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Written by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig (screenplay), Robert A. Heinlein (from the story “All You Zombies”)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Elise Jansen, Cate Wolfe, Freya Stafford, Alexis Fernandez, Christopher Kirby, Rob Jenkins, Madeleine West, Jim Knobeloch, Ben Prendergast
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve seen PREDESTINATION twice now, and I can safely say that no other film blew my mind as hard as this film did so far this year. When the Spierig Brothers burst on the scene with UNDEAD, I wasn’t one of those who threw praises at the filmmaking team as I felt UNDEAD was kind of a mismatched mess of a film with admittedly cool ideas, but they were tossed together with little finesse or reason. Things looked better with DAYBREAKERS, an ambitious film about a world overcome by vampires searching for blood to sustain them. This one was much more fine-tuned and filled with all sorts of metaphor. It also had Ethan Hawke, which is usually a plus to have in your movie. The Spierig Brothers bring back Hawke for PREDESTINATION, and it’s their finest film to date and proof positive that these guys are the real deal, capable of testing the limits of our imagination and beyond.
It’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling the multiple brain-fucks it tosses at you throughout the entire film. The story is about time travel and focuses on one particular agent (Hawke) as he embarks on the mission of his life. The organization Hawke works for tweaks time in order to save lives and rights certain wrongs that have occurred. As soon as time travel is invented there’s going to be a cleanup crew needed in order to fix the messes that occur, and Hawke is that guy. One particular mess is an anarchist the media has dubbed the Fizzle Bomber. This madman’s terrorist attacks have killed thousands of people, and Hawke is dead set on stopping him by stopping the first domino that sets off a sequence of events that lead to the Fizzle Bomber’s creation. Supervised by the enigmatic Mr. Robertson, Hawke uses a time machine in the shape of a violin case to travel back and forth through time on his missions. Along the way, he meets a man named John who has a story to tell. Of course, this story has a lot to do with the case Hawke is on.
I can’t…I won’t reveal any more as the surprises that occur on Hawke’s trip are just too fun to ruin. Having seen the film twice, I’ve kept in mind the sequence the film is told in and at least to me, it all makes sense. And just making this complex and loopy tale of time travel all work out is a testament to the Spierig Brothers’ skill as storytellers. They reveal only one card at a time in this loaded deck of a movie, each reveal building into the next and culminating in a climax that will leave you breathless.
Now, I am not a fan of time travel films. I prefer my stories to have some kind of grounding in order for me to become fully invested in them. The story (which was originally by Robert A. Heinlein called “All You Zombies”) really does a fantastic job of explaining the parameters of time travel in a way that both makes sense and is easy to understand. Even though this film travels to multiple time periods and multiple locales, I was never lost. This has everything to do with the Spierig Brothers’ filmmaking might, keeping us focused on Hawke most of the time as the central touch point.
Through Hawke, we experience everything. He grounds us and his presence is the only thing really keeping this film together. Hawke delivers so much subtlety to this performance that you can only appreciate on a second viewing once you know all of this film’s secrets. His mannerisms, the way he stands and moves, the way he mutters phrases and the dialog he chooses to weave through this intricate story are all integral supports in this house of cards of a film that could easily have toppled given one misstep. But Hawke never fails here.
Sarah Snook is a true find here and will definitely be a household name if the world is fair and right. Snook plays multiple characters in the film through different time periods, and she excels in every scene. The film is mostly Snook and Hawke interacting with one another and while Hawke is used to that with his BEFORE SUNRISE movies, this film is as intense as those films are delicate. Hawke and Snook play off of one another so well here in a teacher and student sort of way. Snook’s face is often zoomed in on, and these close up shots really show the extensive vocabulary she has with just subtle smiles, eyebrow raises, and other facial gestures.
With outstanding performances by Hawke and Snook, twists and turns galore, and a sense of wonder that is infectious, PREDESTINATION delivers a sophisticated, imaginative, and mature genre film like few others in this day and age of found footage, zombies, and remakes. After seeing this film, I’m convinced that we are going to see some amazing things coming from the visionary powerhouse of the Spierig Brothers. I know it’s early in the year, but it’s going to be hard to top the excitement I had after watching this film and after watching it twice, I can’t wait to see it again.
Advance Review: Currently touring fests and available this Spring on DVD (find out when here)!
SCIENCE TEAM (2014)Directed by Drew Bolduc
Written by Drew Bolduc
Starring Vito Trigo, Richard Spencer, Emily Marsh, Matt Chodoronek, Mariea Terrell, Josh Potter, Michael Merchant, Dietrich Teschner, Suzanna Mancini, Alex Carriere, Reef Clem, Lloyd Kaufman, Tina Patterson, Stuart Kiczek, Conrad Cotterman, Fabian Rush
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
When I first started this here AICN HORROR column, I did it so that I could possibly discover some overlooked gems or some hidden masterpieces and share them with all of you as I do. One such film was THE TAINT, an irreverent and bizarre misogynistic nightmare about tainted water that turns men into boner-sprouting monsters who love to smash in the heads of everyone they encounter. The climax of that movie has the hero riding a BMX down the street, carrying the American flag and shooting the penises off of these madmen with deadly accuracy as he bikes down the street. Acting like a NAPOLEON DYNAMITE for the horror set, THE TAINT was the very definition of the type of hidden gem I was looking for (see my review of THE TAINT here). Now THE TAINT director Drew Bolduc is back with his second feature, SCIENCE TEAM, which is only slightly more subdued, but just as fun and insane.
The story structure of SCIENCE TEAM is as odd as everything else about the film. Opening with an ad to help fund SCIENCE TEAM (which I believe was used in the Kickstarter for the project), Joey Tweed (Richard Spencer) introduces us to Science Team in its nascent form, full of hope to conquer world menaces, take on other dimensional beings, and teach the world about things like…science. After the credits, we find Science Team much later and it looks as if things have been difficult in the interim as Tweed is seen depressed and pointing a gun to his head in a dark room. His suicide is interrupted by news of a pissed-off writer named Chip (Vito Trigo) who happens upon an alien being at his mother’s house after leaving his girlfriend in a huff. Tweed musters up enough courage to gather the Science Team and sends them out to investigate. The rest of the film is that investigation.
What stands out most to me is the Kubrickian/Lynchian weirdness going on in the world of SCIENCE TEAM that looks like ours at first glance, but isn’t. Sure, much of this film is made for laughs and the cartoonish weirdness is evident from the first to the last scene here, but no one in this film realizes the things going on are supposed to be funny. Seeing t-shirt and short shorts-clad women running in formation and doing calisthenics like Team Zissou from A LIFE AQUATIC across the Science Team grounds is something that occurs every day, even though everyone else is wearing lab suits and carrying on with their own science business. Chip beats up a person for no reason in his tirade from his cheating girlfriend’s house and walks off without anyone else batting an eye. Science Team founder Dick Willington (Matt Chodoronek) resembles and acts like Peter Sellers’ titular character from DR. STRANGELOVE and though he is obviously a textbook villain, no one seems to question his vision of mad science. There’s an abundance of Science Team players, but none of them really seem to be doing anything other than carrying one weird looking machine from one place to another. The over the top hissy-fitting Chip (Vito Trigo) is amazing as he fights with anyone who he crosses and proves to be too scrappy for the Science Team to handle. Some of the best moments of the film are when all investigation has to stop in order for the team to wrestle, subdue, and restrain Chip once again. It’s this other-worldly feel that makes this film instantly watchable. In this sense, SCIENCE TEAM is unpredictable and somewhat dangerous in a demented and sometimes developmentally delayed sort of way. SCIENCE TEAM entertains, and it’s not afraid to look stupid to do so.
There will be those who pooh-pooh and upturn their noses at SCIENCE TEAM. It’s goofy, pretty cheaply made, and done for laughs. It’s also very gory and while there is a story, it’s a pretty simple one. There will be those who think the film is just a bunch of idiots doing a bunch of stupid things and piecing it together to make a movie about it. And that might be true. But it’s because of all of that that I really love this film.
SCIENCE TEAM is irreverent and fun from beginning to end. The story could have gone on a bit more, I believe, as not many answers are given by the end of this film, but what we did see of this mission to recover an alien was definitely something you don’t see every day in films. SCIENCE TEAM is DR. STRANGELOVE meets A LIFE AQUATIC with an alien and a flamethrower. What’s not to love about that description? Highly recommended for those who aren’t afraid of a little insanity and cartoonish gore in their cinema.
And finally…let’s finish this week off with an amazing short film that out quirks anything Tim Burton has done in years. I absolutely loved every second of this imaginative little gem by writer/director Bertrand Paré which was recently featured on Film Shortage. Get ready for ITSY BITSY SPIDERS!
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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Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!