Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ll be underway with the reviews here soon, but first here are a couple of fun horror tidbits worth getting excited over.
I had a chance to talk with LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS producer Andy Gunn and director Matt Jackson at SDCC last year. The film is described as “Two sisters travel to a cheesy tourist trap where they battle toxic monsters dressed in bigfoot costumes in order to save the ones they love.” Starring Doug Jones, Kane Hodder, and some other genre greats, this one looks to be a lot of fun. They’ve finally finished the film and will be releasing it on February 17th (just in time for Valentine’s Day) and here’s the new trailer for LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS below (and find out more about this film here).
I also wanted to mention the Boston Horror Show running next week on January 24th from 2:00-10:00pm at The Somerville Theater, Davis Square, Somerville, MA. They’ll be showing the modern zombie classic THE BATTERY, RESOLUTION writer/directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s new film SPRING, the modern grindhouse vamp flick SINS OF DRACULA, and a new plague flick called DYS~. Sounds like a killer line up. Find out more about this festival and how to get tickets here!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)
Retro-review: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)
Retro-review: AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)
Retro-review: Hauntings 4 Pack - GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE (1992)
Retro-review: SUPERNOVA (2000)
Short Cuts: MEAT.PUPPETS Short Film (2013)
SLASHER HOUSE (2012)
Advance Review: THE MEAT PUPPET (2012)
Advance Review: HORSEHEAD (2014)
And finally…Meat Puppets’ “Backwater”
Available On Demand and iTunes digital download here!
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (screenplay), Earl E. Smith
Starring Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope, Joshua Leonard, Andy Abele, Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Arabella Field, Denis O'Hare, Spencer Treat Clark, Wes Chatham, Morganna May, Jaren Mitchell, Kurt Krause, Lance E. Nichols, Geraldine Singer, Ricky Wayne, Lanee Landry, Lanee Landry
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN 2014 edition is a semi meta film, not as annoyingly meta as CABIN IN THE WOODS or SCREAM, but done so in a manner that still respects the original film that inspired it, building upon what has come before rather than knocking it down.
The story takes place in a world like yours and mine where the murders by a man called The Phantom by the press occurred and then in 1976, a film was made about the murders, which only proved to make things worse for the town. Still, people come from far and wide to see the town, rewatch the film on Halloween, and not let the ghostly feeling that haunted the streets of Texarkana ever die. Now, forty years after the film was released, a new string of murders are occurring that bear a striking resemblance to the original murders depicted in the original film, which were based on the real life murders that occurred in the town. One woman (ODD THOMAS’ Addison Timlin) is left alive after her date is killed by the Phantom to spread the word that the killings have begun again and that no one is safe.
What THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN gets right is a lot. The team behind AMERICAN HORROR STORY is responsible for this film with director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon making some very interesting stylistic choices from Roberto-Aguirre Sarcasa’s script. Little details like an overhead view of the cornfield as the killer searches for his crawling victim, a well timed hand waving just when someone says “Hello,” and the brisk pace by which this film catches the viewer up to the history of the murders and the original film are all stylistically original and compelling. This is a very exciting film, with little time to sit and relax. The interspersing of flashes from the original movie during murders of a similar nature is almost subliminal and fantastically done. Every kill, every build up, every beat of this film pops with an energy you usually don’t see in slasher films. Hell, they even made the weird trombone sequence cool.
This is also a really well crafted script by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also writes GLEE and the fantastic AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE comic book) which painstakingly respects and references the original killings and the film, not to the point of tedium, but as a way to build this world these new killings are taking place in. The fact that we visit the home of the original’s director Charles B. Pierce, filled with all kinds of memorabilia and a fantastic cameo by AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Denis O'Hare as Pierce’s conspiracy theorist son, is crucial to the story, yet also another layer of meta that makes this film celebrate the effectiveness of the original. I loved how Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa layered this film with basically the same blueprint of the original film, yet injected it with so much more so that fans of the original like myself, could still be left guessing.
The ending of this film, which I will not reveal, is the only misstep this film takes. The effectiveness of the original film leaves things ambiguous, as if the killer is still out there. Unmasking the Phantom here makes things feel like a SCREAM movie or worse-yet Scoobie Doo, with the villain discoursing about how he did it and why rather clumsily. For a film to spend so much time building this world, you would think the big reveal would have been handled in such a detailed and nuanced way. Instead it’s the Scoobie Doo unmasking and while things are left unanswered a tiny bit and a bit of the ambiguity is still there, this conventional ending takes away from a far superior film leading up to it.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that this is an amazing cast assembled here. Everyone here from wizened character actors like the late Edward Herrmann, Veronica Cartwright, and Ed Lauter to fun genre greats like Denis O’Hare, BLAIR WITCH’s Joshua Leonard, to scene stealers like Gary Cole and Anthony Anderson, to newcomers like Addison Timlin and the UNBREAKABLE kid Spencer Treat Clark; from top to bottom, everyone is taking the material seriously which makes this feel like a much more important film. Seeing so many genre faces at play in one film makes this something of a who’s who for horror aficionados as to which movie they’ve each actor in. Across the board, especially the lead heroine Addison Timlin and the always fun Denis O’Hare, this is a cast to die for.
I think fans of the original film are going to appreciate this new TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. The bag-headed killer looks fantastic and the kills have a brutality that suggests real rage. The cast is filled with folks taking things seriously, which is nice to see, and though there is a stumble in the end, the nuanced way in which the direction and the script pay homage to the original is pretty amazing. Like many of you, I groan loudly every time I see one of my favorite horror films of my youth is being remade, but if there were more remakes like this one, I think the stigma attached to those remakes wouldn’t exist.
Retro-review: Available on BluRay from Shout Factory!
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Written by Earl E. Smith
Starring Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Cindy Butler, Christine Ellsworth, Earl E. Smith, Steve Lyons, Vern Stierman, & Bud Davis as the Phantom Killer
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man, I remember back in the early eighties when my Dad used to steal cable with a coat hanger and tin foil and my brother and I were petrified when the slightly snowy screened trailer of THE TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN played on our shitty little television. Both my brother and I bought into the warning that this was a true story and though the town of Texarkana was miles and miles away from our home in middle Ohio, the movie nevertheless made my brother and I peek out our windows in the dark night in fear of who or what was lurking out there.
And that’s the beauty of the work of Charles B. Pierce. He may not have been the best filmmaker, but with this film, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (reviewed here), and to some extent THE EVICTORS which accompanies this BluRay release from Shout Factory, Pierce was able to make you think in the back of your mind, “Man, this shit really happened.”
The special features state that healthy portions of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN were made up. Actor Andrew Prine admitted that the film didn’t really have an ending and he helped make up the final chase through the woods and over the train tracks. But enough of the events in this film were real to make one shiver a bit while watching the murders and attempted murders pile up.
One of the things that differentiate this film from other slasher films that followed was that the Phantom Killer, as he soon became referred as, was not always successful in killing his victims. Instead, many of his victims lived after the attacks. While this doesn’t attest too much to the killers skill, it does make him stand out from most movie monsters.
The distinctive look of the Phantom Killer is probably the thing most remember from this film as it very much resembles the bag head mask Jason Voorhees wore in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 before he donned the iconic hockey garb. Personally, I think the amorphous mask which highlights the bulk of the head and the creepy as hell eyes underneath is eons scarier than any hockey mask and it’s proven every time the Phantom Killer is on screen.
This is especially true in the scene involving Dawn Wells (TV’s Marianne from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND) as the killer first appears in a window emerging from the darkness, then bursts into her home and shoots her in the face. The scene goes on as Wells survives being shot and crawls through a cornfield in order to escape her attacker. This scene alone is the stuff of nightmares—played completely straight using all of the night sounds and pitch blackness an on location in a corn field setting can offer and clearly the most effective in the film.
But while the scenes of attack are bone shreddingly awesome (yes, even the goofy in concept, but wickedly enacted trombone scene which I dare you not to shudder at), there are some painfully bad moments where the director feels he needs to lighten the mood of the film. Most of which come at his own expense since Pierce played Sparkplug, a dim witted Barney Fife type who at one point dresses in drag and at the same time drags the film to a screeching halt in the process. Still, bad humor aside, there are a shit ton of devilish moments of cat and mouse between the Phantom Killer and the down-home sheriff (Prine) and tough as nails lawman Ben Johnson who delivers an astounding performance. Most films that scared me in my youth fail to do so upon revisiting it in my adult years. I felt this way with BOGGY CREEK which lost its luster through the years. THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN didn’t do that and it’s definitely worth seeking out in this new BluRay format.
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from Kino Lorber!
AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)Directed by Kevin Connor
Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel), Milton Subotsky (screenplay)
Starring Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Cy Grant, Godfrey James, Sean Lynch, Keith Barron, Helen Gill, Anthony Verner, Michael Crane
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s interesting viewing AT THE EARTH’S CORE now after so many scifi films have been made over the years using Edgar Rice Burrows’ ideas as inspiration. Seeing this film after so many years, I couldn’t help but see how much the source material and the movie itself influenced films, especially the STAR WARS franchise. While Lucas surely borrowed from many places in order to make his grand space epic, I couldn’t help but think of the STAR WARS films while watching this film as much of the production design seems like something seen in Lucas’ films.
The story follows Dr. Abner Perry (a feeble looking Peter Cushing) who, with his worst student David Innes (the brawny Doug McClure) as they go where no man has gone before (unless you’re a character in a Jules Verne story)—the center of the earth! The story gets right to the burrowing into the earth and doesn’t really go into the technology or scientific lead in (these are aspects that would surely take up precious time in modern films), as Dr. Perry and David sit in a cockpit and describe how far they are going to the audience. Soon, they find themselves in a subterranean world filled with fantastical creatures and cultures of man and beast that are somewhat reminiscent of our culture in its primitive state. David becomes immediately enamored with Dia (Caroline Munroe—and who wouldn’t) while the doctor is fascinated by the culture which is dominated by bird-like creatures with psychic powers. The film becomes a liberation style film where the society of primitive, yet good hearted humans must rise up against the domineering winged creatures above. The doc and David seem to have the right amount of gumption to lead the revolution.
The most impressive thing about this film is the production design and amount of detail put into this world we’ve bored into. Everything from the giant creatures to the intricate landscapes we are lead through seems to be painstakingly made. Even the caves are lit with glowing crystals and the forests are lines with otherworldly plant life. The monsters themselves (men in monster suits filmed in a manner to make them look massive) are impressively designed, using parts of creatures we are familiar with, yet put together in alien ways to make everything seem of this earth, but not quite. Modern CG is great at times, especially when it some to the fun detail the advancements in computer tech allows for the creators to add in small and painstaking details, but seeing these small details done at such a grand scales with practical effects is an effort you normally don’t see in films and I couldn’t help but be in awe at it here.
That said, the practical effects lead to some very goofy moments in the film; mainly pertaining to the oppressive bird creatures which swoop down on visible strings and attack our heroes. Seeing the awkward and bulky monster suited stuntmen being swooped around a stage with visible wires takes this film to a goofy level of fun. Sure you can see the seams and all of the makings behind these giant props, but still that doesn’t take away how awesome it all it. The unnatural creases in the monster suits, the visible wiring, and all of the old school camera tricks make this one of the last and greatest films utilizing this filmmaking illusionism.
Making us all believe in this sometimes hokey/sometimes jaw-droppingly awesome world is Cushing and McClure. Cushing is amazing in the role as the over-caffeinated yet thin as a skeleton’s skeleton Cushing with lines like “You can’t hypnotize me—I’m British!” While he spends a lot of time huffing and puffing about, he offers up some great comedic lines and an air of authenticity as the good hearted doctor. McClure is equally entertaining as the heart of the film. With his fancy shirt ripped just enough to show his bulging (ok, not bulging, somewhat pudgy would be more accurate) man-arms, he plays the role of Ben Grimm to Cushing’s Reed Richards to a tee, basically reiterating all of the scientific mumbo jumbo for the layman to understand. Monroe is gorgeous as always, and while she doesn’t have a lot of lines, she makes great eye candy here (though it’s funny how tan she is, given that she lives in the center of the earth).
Still, seeing all of these visuals at play, I was reminded of the extensive Dagobah sets, the Ugnaughts in the bowels of Cloud City wear the same pig like makeup as the monster guards, and the lava works that fueled the underground reminded me of the carbon chamber from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as well. But that’s not all of the similarities. McClure’s battle with a crawling monster while chained to a giant rock is something straight from JOHN CARTER WARLORD OF MARS (another Burrows classic), but also seen in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. So if you’re an appreciator of scifi classic and modern, you’re bound to find something to make you smile with AT THE EARTH’S CORE. It may not have all of that fancy CG, it still has some effects that will make your inner fanboy drool.
Retro-review: Available on as part of the HAUNTINGS 4 Films from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment!
GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE (1992)THE HAUNTING ON HILLTOP DRIVE
Directed by John Patterson
Written by Gregory Goodell, from the book by Ben Williams, Jean Williams. & John Bruce Shoemaker
Starring Patty Duke, David Selby, Kiersten Warren, Blake Clark, Kelly Rowan, Jonelle Allen, Dakin Matthews, David Soul, Terry Davis, Maggie Roswell, Rick Fitts, James Lashly, Frances Bay
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
So I got my hands on a 4 pack of haunted house films from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment; a company who distributes disks with numerous films compiled into one DVD. Most likely put together due to the popularity of THE CONJURING, what intrigued me about this collection was that I hadn’t seen any of the films collected, so I thought it’d be worth my time and yours to go through all four films and let you know if the collection is worth picking up or not. Surely there has to be at least one good haunted house flick in the bunch. The first of this quartet of close quarters hauntings is GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE.
Aaaaand this isn’t the one that’s going to convince you to check out this collection. It’s a TV movie of the week and a pretty toothless one at that. GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE follows the Williams family who build a home on a lot that looks to be the site of a hundred year old slave cemetery. Of course, the realtors didn’t let them know about it when they sold it to the family and the bulk of the film focuses on the family’s plight to get rid of the home after they realize their dream home lives on unmarked graves.
Some pretty lame effects are at play here. Some bad animation gives us some moving shadows and a couple of goofy floating heads. The garage door goes up and down and the toilet keeps flushing. Sure the ghosts seem to be affecting the health of the Williams’ daughter, but other than that, the hauntings are pretty mild. Then again, there is a very creepy subplot about a cat that gets loose and comes back pregnant only to give birth to a deformed litter of kittens. This proves to be the most effective aspect of the film in terms of scares by the sheer weirdness of it.
GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE does have a decent cast with TV legend Patty Duke starring as the matriarch of the Williams family, DARK SHADOWS’ werewolf David Selby plays the Williams’ patriarch, STARSKY & HUTCH/SALEM’S LOT’s David Soul plays a neighbor who has his own ghost problems, HAPPY GILMORE’s grandma Frances Bay plays one of the house’s former occupants, and another Adam Sandler movie alum Blake Clark plays another spooked neighbor. But the impressive cast really does save this one from being by the book and limply melodramatic. The film itself just didn’t have the budget to meet the level of scares necessary to be effective and director John Patterson doesn’t do us any favors by making it all feel pretty flat and bland.
Here’s hoping GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE is the sole dud in this collection. I’ll be reviewing another one from this set next week.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Shout Factory!
SUPERNOVA (2000)Directed by Walter Hill (as Thomas Lee) , Francis Ford Coppola (uncredited), Jack Sholder (uncredited)
Written by William Malone & Daniel Chuba (story), David C. Wilson (screenplay)
Starring James Spader, Angela Bassett, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Wilson Cruz, Eddy Rice Jr.
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While the 1990’s through the 2000’s seemed to be a drought era for good scifi, SUPERNOVA eeks in at the turn of the century to bring the quality up a notch. Even though production behind the film was problematic what with Walter Hill leaving the project and the studios bringing in none other than Frances Ford Coppola in to help with the final edit, I found SUPERNOVA to be an uneven, but entertaining slice of scifi goodness.
A medical ship in the middle of deep space gets a distress signal just a dimensional jump away, so the captain (Robert Forster) decides to respond by jetting over to see if there are any survivors. The crew consists of 2nd in command Nick Vanzant (James Spader), medical supervisor Dr. Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), gung ho technician Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips), wide-eyed Nurse Danika (THE CRAFT’s Robin Tunney), and sensitive computer technician Benj (MY SO CALLED LIFE’s Wilson Cruz) and while not all of them agree with the captain’s plan, they go along with it and retrieve the signaling ship’s lone survivor Larson (Peter Facinelli). When the captain doesn’t survive the jump, it’s up to Spader to step up and lead this crew on the mission that almost immediately goes bad as Facinelli’s Larson reveals a glowing sphere which emanates a bizarre energy. Turns out the orb is a universe killing bomb, capable of evolving anyone who gets near it to super-human levels, which isn’t good for our all star crew.
The main problem with SUPERNOVA is how schizophrenic it is. The film doesn’t know whether it wants to be a horrifying monster amok film set in space or a melodramatic erotic space odyssey. Just when you think you have this film pegged as it shows some pretty horrific imagery of the captain being pulled apart by a space warp, you get scene after scene of one crew member hooking up with another. I mean, in this film, you’ve got an extended lovemaking scene between Lou Diamond Phillips and Robin Tunney. Then James Spader and Angela Bassett hook up in zero grav for a while. Then there’s another love scene between Robin Tunney and Peter Fracinelli. Plus there’s some computer/man lovin’ between Wilson Cruss and the ship’s computer. So many uglies are bumped in this film, you’d think it was a Skinemax flick. Everyone’s hookin’ up.
But just when you think everyone has hooked up with everyone, things get serious and Fracinelli puts on a pretty devilish performance as an evolved madman running rampant on the ship and tearing apart the crew with his bare hands. Now, things don’t get horrifically gruesome as in the far superior film EVENT HORIZON, but the subtle effects in this film in terms of Fracinelli’s transformation, the twisted death of the captain, and the brutality of the violence that occurs on the ship makes this one a pretty gritty auctioneer, which most likely has a lot to do with the original director Walter Hill’s input into the film as gritty action is his forte. Either way, the intensity of the latter half of this film more than makes up for the lovey dovey stuff in the first.
All in all, if it’s a space actioner you’re looking for, this one has it with the all star cast giving their all. As I said before, this film went through numerous hands before it was released and there is an unevenness to the film. This film was doctored to death a few times before it was finally released in 2000. I shit you not, the love scene between Bassett and Spader were actually mostly outtakes from the love scene between Robin Tunney and Peter Facinelli with Tunney’s skin darkened to match Bassett’s. The Making of featurette goes into some of the details of the rocky origin of the film, but it feels more self congratulatory and less interested in giving the true dirt on the behind the scenes stuff that occurred. Other bonus features include deleted scenes and an alternate ending that kind of gives a bit more closure to Facinelli’s Larson character and gives a much bleaker ending basically resulting in the extinction of our universe. By today’s standards, SUPERNOVA holds up pretty well, mainly because the awesome cast and the nice gory effects. It’s not perfect, but much better than I had remembered.
Currently touring festivals (Find out how to see MEAT.PUPPETS by contacting the director here)!
MEAT.PUPPETS (2013)Directed by Roger Scholz
Written by Roger Scholz & Tom Degroot
Starring Ashley Short, Jessica Rose Van Netten, Marjorie Pierson Yost, Larry Lutze
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of the things about short films that I love is the fact that it can often be enjoyed like a good joke. And like most jokes, the punchline is important, but the real talent comes in the setup. With MEAT.PUPPETS, the punchline is damn powerful, but it would be nothing without the potent setup to it all.
MEAT.PUPPETS open with a man dragging a woman by the hair through a forest, through an abandoned warehouse, and down into a cellar where he chains the woman up next to two other women. And then, the giant monster of a man gives a performance for the girls.
That’s about all want to say about the premise of the film, but I will say that what transpires is fun and unexpected. The short is only about ten minutes long and in that time, there’s quite a bit of setup indicating that this is going to be a HOSTEL-type torture porn style film. Being someone who doesn’t really care for that genre, I was beginning to groan at this film, anticipating what was coming next, which I was assuming was going to be gratuitous torture and dissection. What I got, though, was far from it and the short is effective because it delivers the unexpected.
I’ll be sure to post this little ditty at the bottom of my column in the “And finally…” section when it is made available on Youtube. Until then, if you see a fest and MEAT.PUPPETS is playing. You should definitely check it out.
Available from Chemical Burn Entertainment!
SLASHER HOUSE (2012))Directed by Mj Dixon
Written by Mj Dixon
Starring Eleanor James, Adam Dillon, Wellington Grosvenor, Andrew M. Greenwood, Alex Grimshaw, Blaze Bayley
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I wasn’t expecting much from this low budget slasher flick. The tagline “4 killers/1 girl” didn’t really leave a lot for the imagination and while that tagline might be somewhat of a spoiler, the people behind this film seemed like they really didn’t care if some plot points were spoiled or not. But sometimes, even the simplest of plots can have the potential to entertain. That’s kind of the case with SLASHER HOUSE.
SLASHER HOUSE is a “trapped in a box” style film doing exactly what the poster and trailer tells you; locking one girl in the same building with four serial killers. One by one our serial killers are introduced, each being unlocked from their prison cells a la the remake of 13 GHOSTS, with the release accompanied by a short vignette letting the audience know just how evil each killer is. With all four out and racing around, our girl named Red (Eleanor James) races around in circles simply trying to survive, but she is no damsel in distress as she is more than willing to fight back against these man monsters.
There are a few things I liked about SLASHER HOUSE. The simplicity of the premise is fun and what makes it more fun is the RESIDENT EVIL/comic book world this film takes place in. Not only is this a slasher film, but in this film feels like a comic book universe where magic, science gone wrong, and all kinds of fun stuff goes on. One of the killers is a skinny drooling madman without a monster mask, but once he dons the mask he becomes a giant meat cleaver wielding monster of a man able to rend steel easily. Red herself resembles the Milla Jovovitch character from the RESIDENT EVIL films and Elanor James seems to have the spunky demeanor to match Jovovitch’s. While this film doesn’t have the production values behind it, it definitely has the heart and feels like it can exist in the same universe where basically anything goes.
I also liked some of the directorial choices Mj Dixon makes here. Red wakes up naked in her cell, but because of well placed balloons and prison bars, we are treated to a fun Austin Powers-esque sequence where Red’s naughty bits are teased but blocked out. The origins of each of the players in this house of horrors are truncated, but fun examples of the deadly character’s specific skill. All in all, this feels like a breezy little action horror comic book movie without the comic itself. Other than some blood spattered about in copious amount, this isn’t a particularly gory film, but SLASHER HOUSE has more style than I expected and does a lot with the simple, yet effective premise.
Available this week On Demand, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, MGo, Microsoft X-Box, Sony Playstation, Vuduin in both Canada and the US!
THE SCAREHOUSE (2013)Directed by Gavin Michael Booth
Written by Gavin Michael Booth (story/screenplay), Sarah Booth (story)
Starring Sarah Booth, Kimberly-Sue Murray, Katherine Barrell, Jennifer Miller, Teagan Vincze, Emily Alatalo, Dani Barker, Ivana Stojanovic, Brad Everett, Jack Ettlinger, Alex Harrouch, Jonathan Dubsky, Sean Kaufmann, Tanya Bevan, Scott Cavalheiro, Braulio Elicer, Ted Jefferies, Rhys Wyn Trenhaile, Julie Williams
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Celebrating the release of this film, the folks behind SCAREHOUSE have released some fun reactions by the actors who were tricked into going to an actual haunted house before the premiere of the film. Check it out and then my review of the film below…
When THE SCAREHOUSE opened with a handheld camera being turned on and we began following a half a dozen girls pittering and chirping about talking about boys, dresses, and partying, I had a bad feeling this film was going to be a chore to get through. But it turns out that there’s a point to this annoying opening, and it’s a point that’s brought home in a pretty fantastic fashion in the film that follows.
Corey and Elaina (Sarah Booth, who also wrote this film with her husband and director Gavin Michael Booth, and Kimberly-Sue Murray) are among the screeching girls wearing various modes of underthings in the opening moments, but after the credits, we find that things have changed dramatically in two years’ time. Corey and Elaina have been recently released from prison after the night of the opening scene and the only thing on their mind is payback as they lure the rest of the girls from the video to a haunted house party, all souped up for revenge.
While there are parts of this film that will definitely make your torture porn gag reflex twitch, what saves it is the performances by Booth and Murray. Both actresses are absolutely engaging and full of infectious personality. They’ve obviously been wronged, but they don’t play the roles as simple bad girls. Sometimes they are wide-eyed and gleeful like children burning ants. Other times they seem remorseful, as if they feel they might be going too far. The two actresses take what could be clichéd roles and add a lot of hefty characterization to them. Both actresses are extremely talented, and should be seen in much bigger and better movies in the future.
But THE SCAREHOUSE is the opposite of a bad movie. It’s pretty engaging throughout, as the leads make short work of the first two girls who make it to their private haunted house shindig, but their plan goes south quickly as random factors begin to enter into the plan. This is where things get interesting because, since we’ve been following these two girls for most of the film, you kind of want their plan to come together. Then again, they are cold-blooded killers, so there’s a moral conundrum this movie gleefully guides you through.
Full of unexpected turns and twists, THE SCAREHOUSE is not your typical revenge film. It takes some inventive kills and some interesting plot swerves and injects two characters played by two fantastic actresses. Don’t dismiss this film as typical torture porn fodder. The performances and deft writing elevate it to a much more respectable status.
New this week in select theaters and on demand from Lionsgate!
JESSABELLE (2014)aka GHOSTS
Directed by Kevin Greutert
Written by Robert Ben Garant
Starring Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, Joelle Carter, David Andrews, Ana de la Reguera, Amber Stevens, Chris Ellis, Brian Hallisay, Larisa Oleynik, Lucius Baston, Elizabeth Rowin
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I am officially enamored with actress Sarah Snook. After seeing her in PREDESTINATION (reviewed here) and now in JESSABELLE, which is a much inferior film, I can safely say that no matter what Snook has planned with her film career, I’m going to be there watching all the way. Her presence in JESSABELLE elevates an otherwise capable but unremarkable ghost story.
Snook plays the titular Jessabelle, crippled in a car accident which killed both her fiancée and her unborn child, she returns to her father’s home in the bayou, trapped in both a wheelchair and his overbearing rules of the house. Through a series of strange occurrences in the house, Jessabelle happens upon a box full of VHS tapes with her name on it which turn out to be messages recorded before Jessabelle was born by her mother (JUSTIFIED’s Joelle Carter) who was dying of cancer. These messages were addressed to her unborn child (Jess) and serve to warn her of happenings that are happening in the present day. As the tapes continue to surface, Jess’ mother becomes more frantic as the tarot cards her mother reads spell doom and death for her in the present. What unfolds is a ghost story, as Jess is haunted by an African American girl covered in muck who seems to have horrible intentions for Jess and anyone around her she cares about.
Again, the main reason to see this film is to watch Snook in action. Through confident facial expressions and presentations, Snook looks and acts like a young Jody Foster. He is instantly likable and I couldn’t help but root for her to survive against these steep and ghostly odds presented to her. Though confined to a wheelchair, Snook is much less strong as her performance in PREDESTINATION, she commands every scene she is in. I can’t wait to see the heights this actress will reach to and it’ll be fun to see her reach them.
Unfortunately, the script for JESSABELLE doesn’t really offer much by way of cinematic achievement. There are some effective scenes here (the bathtub sequence is especially outstanding in its effectiveness in its ability to horrify) and there’s a nice sense of mystery that strings the viewer along for most of the film. Less conventional than most voodoo style haunting films which kind of fetishize religion, this one leads you along with a more curious inquisitiveness rather than morbid fascination in films like THE BELIEVERS, THE SERPENT & THE RAINBOW, and ANGEL HEART. Still, after a lot of buildup and decent performances by Snook and the rest of the cast, the film falls absolutely flat as a pancake by the end with a final beat that leaves you with more of a WT Frikkin’ F? than a sense of resolution.
So while the performances are at an elevation that is most likely higher than the script of this film deserves, the ending ends up swiping the feet out from under the viewer and left me disliking the film more and more for leading me on so. Still, it was a chance to see Snook in action. Hopefully, bigger and better things are on the horizon her this actress, who (as I think I made abundantly clear in this review), I dig a whole helluva lot.
New on BluRay, DVD, digital download!
OCCULUS (2014)Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard (screenplay), based on a short screenplay by Mike Flanagan & Jeff Seidman
Starring Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, James Lafferty, Miguel Sandoval, Kate Siegel, Scott Graham
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I interviewed director Mike Flanagan and reviewed his short film OCCULUS: THE MAN WITH THE PLAN quite a while ago here in the first year of AICN HORROR here. Having loved the short film, I was greatly anticipating the release of the full scale film with the same, but for some reason, I missed it in the theaters and just got around to seeing it last week. While the film has been lauded as one of the best of the last year, I missed it during my Halloween roundup. As a consolation, I think this film may likely end up on next year’s list as it is a really effective big-budget, theatrically released horror film.
An antique mirror is the center for numerous horrific murders and suicides through history and is also the central focus of this multi-tiered story. The tale unfolds both in the present with two children (Karen Gillen and Brenton Thwaites) grown up and damaged by a murderous rampage blamed on their father from their childhood, and through flash back as both grown adults remember it (both being vastly different from one another as Gillen believes in the supernatural qualities of the mirror while Thwaites has a rational explanation for every one of them). The story flips back and forth through time as Gillen lays out a plan to prove once and for all that the mirror houses evil and then plans on destroying it (something previous owners have been unable to do). As what is real and what is illusion mix together, it is obvious that the mirror is not easily destroyed and it will go to gory and twisted lengths to ensure its survival.
The strongest aspect of OCCULUS is its cast. Everyone from the children as adults played by Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites, to the parents Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane, to the child actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are marvelous here. Gillan offers up an intensity and thought I don’t know her from her DOCTOR WHO work, I understand why everyone is so smitten with her. Less famous, but no less effective is Thwaites who has a shattered innocence in his performance as a child grown up and able to explain all of the strange events around the mirror away with all of the psychology and medications he has had over the years. Rory Cochrane delivers a simmering Jack Nicholson-esque performance as the father being bent by the mirror while you can’t help but empathize with BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Katee Sackhoff as the beleaguered mother. But I think I was most impressed by the child actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, especially Brasso who deliver performances that suggests talent well beyond their years. Top to bottom this is a fantastically cast film and one of the reasons why it is so effective.
One of the problems I had with the film is the way it repeats a lot of the info from the short film. This is inevitable, as it is most likely very few people saw the original short and the bigger audience needs to be kept up with speed. It’s the same kind of disappointment seeing the scene from the short MAMA repeated in the full length feature. Still, it’s a necessary thing and understandable aspect of the full length film, even though as Gillan explains the rules and pain-staking preventative measures not to be overcome by the power of the mirror, I felt as if I’d seen this all before.
Though MIRRORS tacked somewhat of the same subject matter, OCCULUS definitely amps up the material a notch in intensity and sheer haunting imagery. There are some really effective scenes in OCCULUS suggesting that director Flanagan has what it takes to deliver the thrills beyond repeating himself from the short. The sequence with the light bulb apple (as promoted heavily in the trailers) and the ordeal with mother chained in the upstairs bedroom tickle horrors I haven’t seen before in films and felt undeniably fresh and electric. And while the ending wraps things up in an neat and tidy, albeit nihilistic conclusion, I feel there is enough in OCCULUS that will please fans of the short and terrify big-budget audiences who aren’t used to seeing horrors on a daily basis as I am. OCCULUS is definitely proof that Flanagan is someone to look out for in the genre of horror.
Advance Review: Currently touring fests (available soon from Tomcat Films)!
THE MEAT PUPPET (2012)Directed by Joe Valenti
Written by Keith Collins (story), Billy Pepitone & Joseph Pepitone (screenplay)
Starring Keith Collins, Geri Reischl, Brandon Ruckdashel, Gregg Valentino, April Hunter, Jamie Kovac, Billy Sample, Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, Gary Garver, Daniela Rivera, Billy Garcia, Erik Chopin, Gervase Peterson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE MEAT PUPPET wants to be a whole lot of creepy, but only capably makes it halfway there. Wanting to be a cross between the HANNIBAL TV series and AMERICAN PSYCHO, the film gives itself some unreachable goals which highlight the film’s faults, but in terms of being downright weirdness, THE MEAT PUPPET actually delivers quite a bit of it.
The story opens a la AMERICAN PSYCHO as we follow the specific regimen of Andrew Shelton (Keith Collins, who was also part of the writing team to come up with this story), a sociopath/psychopath who presents himself as a ladies man/man about town, but really is a cannibalistic madman who lures women to his home and eats them. At home, he also has a weird woman living with him who calls him her son, though she isn’t his mother. Andrew has his eye on a particular hostess at his favorite restaurant and while he gives the impression that he is cool as the other side of the pillow to everyone else, this hostess makes him the butterflies. Vowing that this girl will make him leave his cannibalistic ways behind him, Andrew attempts over and over to ask her out to no avail. In between attempts, he abducts more people and eats them.
What stands out here is Andrew’s odd origin story and his even more twisted pathos at play in the film. Actor Keith Collins plays up the macho angle with the ladies in the club, but behind closed doors there is a lot scarier stuff at play and while there is a level of unaware JERSEY SHORE douchebaggery going on with the lead character, the psychosis at play is actually quite impressive. It actually seems like the folks behind this film really wanted to go to some demented places and, for the most part, achieved it.
Still this is a low budget number with somewhat flat directing, some non-actors trying their best to act like they aren’t acting, and some sound issues throughout the film. I’m not saying THE MEAT PUPPET is a great film, but I will say that the film goes to dark places a lot of films are too afraid to go. Incest, sadomasochism, domination, cannibalism, manipulation, and sadism are all things this film plays with; all things that you don’t normally see in modern horrors.
So if you can look past the low budget exterior, there are some horrific themes at play in THE MEAT PUPPET and it might surprise you how far down the rabbit hole this film goes.
Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!
HORSEHEAD (2014)aka FIEVRE (FEVER)
Directed by Romain Basset
Written by Romain Basset, Karim Chériguène
Starring Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux, Catriona MacColl, Murray Head, Gala Besson, Fu'ad Aït Aattou, Vernon Dobtcheff, Philippe Nahon, Joe Sheridan, Paul Bandey, Shane Woodward, Nathan Willcocks, & Emmanuel Bonami as Horsehead!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Bad dreams and horror films have been linked together all the way back to THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. And while A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET kind of cornered the market there for night terrors for a while, there’s always room for another horror film centering on things that go bump in your brain while sleeping.
HORSEHEAD is more like the UK dream terror PAPERHOUSE than A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET as it follows one particular girl plagued by horrific dreams. Fascinated with these dreams, Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) studies the psychology in school and goes so far as to experiment with lucid dreaming and breathing in ether herself in order to control and deal with the nightmarish imagery every time she drifts off to sleep. When Jessica’s grandmother passes away, she goes back to her home but her nightmares follow her. Not helping things is Jessica’s mother, Catelyn (Catriona MacColl who appeared in such classics as THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) who berates Jessica every chance she gets while attesting to Jessica’s step-father Tom (played by “One Night in Bangkok” singer Murray Head) how much she cares for the girl. As Jessica’s nightmares intensify, Jessica’s intent on figuring out what the dreams mean do too, prompting her to spend more time drifting further and further into her dreams than awake. Determined to find the truth in the deep symbology of her dreams, Jessica runs the danger of being overcome by the vivid imagery of her dreams and never waking up.
Anyone interested in the power of dreams who has been either woken up by a profound image or ripped from a particularly fascinating dream will be interested in this imaginative and vividly made study of what goes on when we sleep. The nightmarish and surreal imagery at play in HORSEHEAD is breathtaking to witness. From gothic atmosphere to twisted Freudian sex, the film really does run the gamut in regards to the horrors once can experience inside the dream realm in our heads when the mind is often most honest and free of the shackles and responsibilities of reality and consequence. Jessica’s mind goes to some awful and perverse places here, the most horrific of all is space shared with a horse headed demigod wielding a scepter. Writer/director Romain Basset fills this film with imagery that walks the border between the beautiful and the horrific, filming the scenes of dream with colorful lighting, atmospheric backdrops, twisted images, and soft and harsh focus—just like a dream itself, shifting from one extreme to another.
The image of the horse headed being that haunts Jessica’s dreams is truly monstrous. While the face of the monster is obviously a mask, it is a horrific one, sculpted with gruesome detail. But while the face is horrific, I would have loved to see some articulation and movement of the mask. It obviously is not what the filmmakers had in mind (and more likely not within the budget to do so), but I so wanted to see the horse head’s mouth open and the head reel back with a horrific whinny. This doesn’t occur, but I wanted it to in order to go to yet another level of nightmare. Still, the horsehead in HORSEHEAD is an image I won’t soon forget.
The young lead actress playing Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) is a fantastic find—a fresh faced beauty with a lot of talent. But she is but one of the talented cast assembled here for HORSEHEAD. Well acted, gorgeously and nightmarishly executed, and excellently realized, HORSEHEAD offers a look at dreams like few other films have before. I highly recommend this gothic descent into terrifying nightmare.
And finally…well, with all of this talk of meat puppeteering in this column, how could I not end with the most popular song the band Meat Puppets put out. “Backwater” isn’t really horror, but it does have a really creepy clown and even after all of this time, it’s still a pretty groovy tune. Tap your toes and grunge out to Meat Puppets’ “Backwater!”
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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