Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Another week, another (mostly) strong batch of horror helpings for you to dig into.
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: CRASH! (1977)
Retro-review: HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998)
Short Cuts: PITY Short Film (2014)
Hauntings 4 Pack – THE HAUNTING OF FOX HOLLOW FARM (2011)
GNOME ALONE (2015)
ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER (2014)
IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES (2012)
THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE (2015)
Advance Review: DEVIL’S TOWER (2014)
Advance Review: THE SHOOT (2014)
And finally…MYERS: RISE OF THE BOOGEY MAN Fan Film!
Retro-review: Available on DVD and digital download from Full Moon Features!
CRASH! (1977)aka AKAZA THE GOD OF VENGEANCE, DEATH RIDE, DEVIL CAR, FULL CRASH
Directed by Charles Band
Written by Marc Marais
Starring José Ferrer, Sue Lyon, John Ericson, Leslie Parrish, John Carradine, Jerome Guardino, Reggie Nalder
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
God, I loved this stupid little indie schlocker. CRASH! is one of those films that really is as straight forward as possible. It’s about a car speeding down the highway, needlessly crashing into one thing or another over and causing lots and lots of explosions. It feels like it was made by a rambunctious child who just loves to mash his toys together and make loud explosion sounds with his mouth while doing so. A young Charles Band is that kid here, and he makes a huge, watchable mess with this film.
The story centers on Kim (Sue Lyon), a young woman trapped in a loveless and abusive relationship with Marc (José Ferrer), an older wealthy man who is refined to a wheelchair. At the beginning of the story, Kim purchases a small idol on a key chain called the Akasa from a street vendor (SALEM’S LOT’s Nosferatu Reggie Nalder). Mystical powers seem to abound in this film as the totem she buys turns out to be a powerful relic fueled by vengeance. After refusing to remain in the home after a fight with her jealous husband, Kim goes off in her convertible, only to have Marc send his Doberman out to attach her. After her car crashes and the Dobie runs off, Kim is scarred and struck with amnesia. Meanwhile, for some reason not really revealed until the final act of the film, a car without a driver speeds through the highways and side streets causing all sorts of collisions, chaos, and explosions.
Obviously, Band saw DUEL and said “I can do that!” and made CRASH! The high drama of the troubled marriage is punctuated by one high speed chase after another as police chase after the driver-less vehicle and end up being ‘sploded. And while the car chase scenes are fun, what makes it more so is how it appears to have nothing to do with the drama. Turns out Band is playing with time here as the car is basically coming to the rescue of Kim in the final act as she finds her way back to Marc and becomes possessed by the totem’s vengeful spirit. This allows for some awesomely bizarre scenes involving a possessed wheelchair, a battle between a Dobie and a wheelchair, and of course, a showdown with the car.
Historically this film is interesting because it was filmed almost at the same time as ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA (reviewed here) which used both the Doberman Pinschers from that film in this one, and also managed to throw in José Ferrer and Reggie Nalder in with the deal as both of them star in that film as well.
This Full Moon Grindhouse release of CRASH! features a behind the scenes quickie from the film’s #1 fan as well as a mini-behind the scenes moment with Keith, David, and John Carradine. But none of that measures up to the unbridled enthusiasm and sheer dumb fun of this film. CRASH! most definitely isn’t Shakespeare, but it is the kind of brainless fun we all should have more of in our lives.
Retro-review: New this week as a BluRay Box Set: HALLOWEEN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION available from Scream Factory and Anchor Bay Entertainment!
HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998)aka HALLOWEEN 7: THE REVENGE OF LAURIE STRODE
Directed by Steve Miner
Written by Matt Greenberg & Robert Zappia
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Janet Leigh, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Branden Williams, Nancy Stephens, Beau Billingslea, Matt Winston, Larisa Miller and Chris Durand as Michael Myers!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Touted as one of the most profitable of the HALLOWEEN franchise, HALLOWEEN H20 may have garnered a lot of press and the crowds may have showed up for Laurie Strode’s “last” battle with Michael Myers, but numbers do not always (and most of the time, never) indicate quality.
Twenty years after Lauries Strode thought she was defending the kids she was babysitting from the Boogey Man, we find Laurie under an assumed name and relocated life, teaching in a school in a gated community outside of Haddonfield. She is having an affair with the school counselor, she’s got a son who is about to turn 18, and she is still plagued with nightmares from the night her brother came home. With no real tie in to the ambiguous ending of part 6, Michael tracks Laurie down by somehow finding Nurse Marion from the second HALLOWEEN and uncovering Laurie’s new whereabouts. The kids, Laurie’s kid among them, stay back from a school trip to drink have sex and make out to Creed music on the night Michael decides to make a visit. Now, Laurie must once again defend the children and face her past, taking on Michael once and for all.
HALLOWEEN H20 ignores the druidic mysticism and curiosity of the Thorn Saga (HALLOWEEN’s 4-6) and mostly takes the first two installments of the HALLOWEEN series into consideration. I guess it was a smart thing to ignore the Thorn Saga. While there were aspects of this period of HALLOWEEN history, it did devolve into a convoluted mess in the sixth installment. So the powers that be went back to basics and aside from Michael’s penchant to not stay dead when shot/stabbed/dropped from the second story window, all mysticism has been dropped in this installment.
Seeing as how Steve Miner was making a bit of a comeback with LAKE PLACID being his next film after this one, it wasn’t a horrible decision to bring in a FRIDAY THE 13TH director to helm this one. Miner wasn’t above referencing his past slasher dabblings as there are tons of references to FRIDAY THE 13TH as the opening sequence occurs on Cypress Pond Road (a rather lame alliteration of Crystal Lake) and Joseph Gordon Levitt showing up wearing a hockey mask. But what really struck me about HALLOWEEN H20 was how flat and soap opera-y this film was filmed. Sure clean and crisp were a sign of the times, but if they really were going back to their roots, I would have love to have seen the gritty, hand held style Carpenter utilized in the first. So while the story may harken back to the original, the way the film was made isn’t. Miner seems to have bolted down the camera here, never really understanding that what made the original so effective was how Michael was never really completely defined in the frame. He was off in the distance, or we as the viewer were Michael seeing through his POV or right over his shoulder. Unlike Jason and Freddy who are much more visible in their films, Michael was always kind of the ninja of the slasher world, appearing from the shadows and hiding in plain sight. Sure seeing Michael advance at Michelle Willaims and Josh Hartnett as they fumble for the keys is full of tension, but seeing Michael pursue someone at a slow gait just isn’t that scary. Miner doesn’t seem to understand that here and thus, delivers one of the more scare free HALLOWEEN films to date.
The cast is indeed impressive, with a lot of the actors going on to bigger and better things. Still, this was the age of SCREAM and everything from the movie poster to the cast of youngsters with witty self aware banter made it painfully obvious that the studios were trying to morph this franchise into what was popular at the time rather than continuing any kind of thematic thread to the originals. Still, little things about the cast annoyed the hell out of me like Josh Hartnett’s hair which looks like it was cut with a chainsaw, but there are scenes where he weirdly looks like the Michael Myers mask itself and the uneven cut may have been an attempt to show how Laurie Strode’s character is haunted by her experiences with Myers all around her. Jamie Lee herself for some reason looked much more like the William Shatner mask itself as well. Aged and with shortly cropped hair, it was interesting seeing the two come face to face as there does seem to be family resemblance (at least to me, but I tend to read into these things).
If anything, HALLOWEEN H20 is a victim of the time it was made. Everything from the movie poster to the self-referential hints to the attractive young cast feels like the producers wanted more of a SCREAM sequel rather than an installment in the HALLOWEEN series. Aside from the focus on the young cast, there’s stunt casting for demographics here with LL Cool J playing a security guard slash wanna be screenwriter, who can’t be killed in horror films for some reason, gives everyone their self-referential, meta-commentary SCREAM fix with some clumsily written scenes that sometimes parallel some of the action going on. If someone CG-ed a SCREAM mask and robe over Michael, major parts of this film feel much more like a SCREAM movie than HALLOWEEN. This is not a good thing.
Speaking of masks, Michael’s mask changes from one scene to the next throughout the whole movie. In the behind the scenes featurette, it’s explained the Miner and the studios battled it out as to which mask to use with a much whiter KNB mask showing up sometimes and a more muted John Carl Beuchler mask appearing in close-ups. There’s even one awkward scene where someone went in and used bad CG to add shading that is absolutely jarring to see. The switch between masks is a great metaphor for the mess this movie really is, not understanding what the HALOWEEN identity really is and having too many cooks in the kitchen once Jamie Lee became involved and the Weinsteins smelled money to be made.
Which leads us to the ending which again, feels like it should have been in another movie entirely (namely Miner’s old stomping grounds FRIDAY THE 13TH). Not to give the wizards running the show behind the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise any ideas, but a beheading is much more fitting for Jason than Michael, since that’s the way his mother went. Putting a final nail in the coffin by having Laurie behead Michael is just a terrible move (even though the next film explains it away that Michael switched his mask with a security guard and that basically killed an innocent man in the final moments of this film). Still to try to off your bread and butter in such a final way may be shocking, but still it is definitely going to be disliked by hardcore fans. And while it is a bold move, again, thematically, it just didn’t fit with the rest of the film and contributes to the kitchen sink aspects of the movie.
That said, the standoff between Laurie and Michael is fun. Some of the kills are gory and brutal, and again, playing the who’s who game in this one is especially satisfying as many of the cast are still in movies today. A new Making of featurette talking with Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, the writer Robert Zappia, producer Malek Akkad, and other members of the cast and crew that tell the story of how the film came to be which addresses the decision to drop what had come before and just tell it from the Laurie Strode story. They talk about the use of multiple masks in the film, the backgrounds fighting between Moustafa Akkad and the Weinstein, the rejected John Ottman vs the used the Marco Beltrami score, and the controversial ending and its alternatives. And while all of the making of featurettes are self congratulatory, this one actually provides quite a bit of info I didn’t already know and some insight into the excitement behind the movie. Whether or not that translated onscreen is another story entirely.
Next up in this collection we bust a rhyme with Busta Rhymes in HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. Be afraid, we are heading into some horrifying territory.
HALLOWEEN II (1981)
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)
HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)
HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS vs. HALLOWEEN 666 (1989)
Currently touring festivals!
PITY Short Film (2014)Directed by John Pata
Written by John Pata, based on the short story "Prowler in the Yard" by J.R. Hayes
Starring Jake Martin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I reviewed John Pata’s fantastic indie zombie survival film DEAD WEIGHT last year and now the writer/director has a new short film touring festivals called PITY. The film focuses on a man in a car for most of the film. While the rain beats down outside, the man pontificates and procrastinates about the woman in the house he is watching and how she has done him wrong. While there are snippets of the woman in question as she walks past the windows and in a picture in the car, the entire short takes place inside this car and while that might mean for some boring cinema to some folks, I found every second of this short to be pitch perfect.
What works here is the tight and to the point dialog juxtaposed with the scenes of a man that is obviously on the end of his rope. He chugs alcohol and pops pain pills, waves a gun around, and tearfully gazes at pictures of better days. While we don’t know what exactly went wrong with the relationship, we get enough info to both feel sorry for the guy, but also fear him since his obsession is obvious and most likely the reason why he is out in the rain in the first place.
What adds to the tension is some amazing editing. It could be an exercise in tedium if it were just one camera set up watching a guy piss and moan about his lost love, but Pata zigs ad zags at all kinds of extreme angles which made no shot seem the same and all of them interesting. Again, with quick cuts and some sharp dialog, this short seven minute film zips to the end quickly, though it leaves you feeling like you’ve had a meal and not a light snack. The ending itself left me wondering what was going to happen next, which is always a good thing.
Below is a teaser for the short. I’m told the film will be released online around April, so I’ll be sure to share it then at the end of the column in my “And finally…” spot.
Available on as part of the HAUNTINGS 4 Films from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment!
THE HAUNTING OF FOX HOLLOW FARM (2011)Directed by Dan T. Hall
Starring Tracy Bacon, Myrna Cooke, Alex Hall, Marilene Isaacs, Christopher Lein, Michael McDowell
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
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. All of the films in this set are passed on real life events, which most of the time lends an air of scare to films. Surely there has to be at least one good haunted house flick in the bunch. The first of this quartet of close quarters hauntings, GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE, was…not so good. How about THE HAUNTING OF FOX HOLLOW FARM?
Well, this one is a little better, I’d say. Pattering itself after the GHOST HUNTERS shows on ScyFy, THE HAUNTING OF FOX HOLLOW FARM definitely delivers in terms of chills, focusing on a real life killer (Herb Baumeister) who lured scores of young men to his secluded farm only to kill them and scatter their remains in the surrounding woods. The film goes into great detail as to what kind of man Baumeister was and his methods of murdering and disposing of his victims. Interviews with neighbors, police investigating the case, and forensics team supply a lot of evidence that this was one disturbed man. But there are also reports of ghostly happenings around the area and the belief is that, while Baumeister killed himself long ago in fear that he was going to be caught, his spirit might be haunting the grounds at Fox Hollow. A team of paranormal investigators trounce through the grounds at night using night vision cameras in hopes to find evidence of the haunting.
If you’re a fan of the GHOST HUNTERS shows, this one is geared towards you. Personally, I got sick of the shows after watching way too many episodes where absolutely nothing happens with people screaming “What the hell is that!” instead of maybe shutting the fuck up and letting the viewer see and hear what’s going on. Why those shows never put a camera on the investigators’ shoulders so we can see all of the “evidence” they catch out of the corner of their eye is beyond me. This hour long film is one of those episodes, but there are some spooky happenings caught on tape and film. All sorts of EVP’s are captured. Of course, if you scoff at that type of evidence, you’re not going to be impressed here.
The film itself is rather weird as it does a decent job of presenting the evidence, but does so in a rapid and scattershot manner, cutting from the investigation to an eyewitness and back again with no rhyme or reason. Some consistency, and a little more organization, and this might have been a decent little flick. But while not perfect, it was entertaining for the hour it was on. So while it can’t be considered really a film in the cinematic sense, it was a compelling hour of entertainment.
Two more films are on this disk. With GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE being such a lame turd, here’s hoping I’ll discover the real fun is yet to come.
New this week on DVD and digital download from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
GNOME ALONE (2015)aka LEGEND, GNOME
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr., John Michael Elfers
Written by Lauren De Normandie (re-written by), John Michael Elfers (additional scenes), Glenn Ennis (screenplay)
Starring Kerry Knuppe, Bill Oberst Jr., Marlon Young, Ross Bagley, Josh Berger, Matt Cinquanta, Willow Hale, Jolyne Lowery, Andrew Olson, Travis Eberhard as the Leprechaun & Verne Troyer as the Gnome!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
After watching LIFE IS TOO SHORT on HBO, I kind of sympathize with Verne Troyer and understand why he would try to break out with a new possible franchise, much like Warwick Davis did with LEPRECHAUN. But while LEPRECHAUN is not what I would call high class cinema, it sure seems like it compared to this steaming pile of squat which goes by the weird, and unfitting name, GNOME ALONE. Apart from the fact that it rhymes and sounds like a popular film series about a neglected child desperately trying not to be killed by thieves, GNOME ALONE is not a really accurate name as the Gnome in question neither seems to give a shit he is alone and for the most part, he’s not really alone in the first place. Now, if this film were about a gnome who was left home by himself over St. Patrick’s Day while a pair of thieves were outside and trying to get in, this might have been an interesting yarn. But that’s not what we got.
What we got was a horribly written attempt to build a franchise without crucial things like a decent story, a plot, decent acting, a good hook, interesting characters, or you know, a point to it all to make us want more. The story opens with some kind of weird connection between a bunch of witches and a leprechaun and his gold. For some reason, a gnome is introduced and for the rest of the film, the gnome (Troyer) offs one person after another because a modern day woman who bears the mark of the witch (Kerry Knuppe) fancies wishing terrible people on folks. When those horrible things start happening to the folks who do her wrong (due to some less than clever kills by the gnome), she finally pieces together in the last act that her wishes are coming true. Even tertiary characters that slightly annoy the girl are in danger of uninventive kills followed by a much more lethal pun.
Nothing about this film is scary. OK, maybe if you are so shallow that short people freak you out, you might get a twinge from this film, but there surely isn’t anything scary going on. A bit of gore and a short guy in a mask is not the only ingredients you need in order to get a scare. Things like suspense and tension are no where to be found here. Instead there’s just one pointless kill after another. Sure a penis is cut off and a head is smashed. There’s a bit of decent gore, but it’s framed with such 80’s style lameness, all luster is squashed.
In the end, I just kind of feel sorry for the people in this film. I’m sure this movie was touted as the next LEPRECHAUN (which in itself is rather pathetic), but in order for an icon to be made, something special (be it Warwick Davis’ conviction to the role or Jennifer Aniston’s original schnoz) has to happen in order for it to become memorable. Nothing of the sort happens here and though the film ends on a somewhat powerful note, everything leading up to it is not worth the effort. I’m advising everyone to leave this gnome alone and choose something else to watch.
New this week on DVD and available on digital download here!
ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER (2014)aka THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER
Directed by Chris Ethridge
Written by Jayson Palmer
Starring Robert Pralgo, Nicholas Brendon, Amber Chaney, Tiffany Shepis, Mike Stanley, Catherine Taber, Matt Kabus, William J. Harrison, April Bogenschutz, Tomi Lavinder, Ray Lloyd, Antonio Madison, Adam Drescher, Jens Rasmussen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The director/writer team of the engaging Stephen King adaptation SURVIVOR TYPE short film (reviewed here) returns for a full-length mystery serial killer yarn that makes up for its low budget with some suspenseful moments, an engaging cast of genre actors, and a few effective surprises in ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER.
While the title may make you think this is another low budget SyFy monster movie flick, THE ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER is actually a pretty taught police procedural as a madman in a ceremonial mask is stalking and killing criminals in a small town. More like THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN than TWO HEADED SHARK ATTACK, ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER is a nice little mystery yarn that isn’t afraid to let you get to know the characters involved before putting them into jeopardy.
Robert Pralgo plays Sheriff Tom Haulk, an easygoing sheriff who bets on the football game with his deputy (Tiffany Shepis), loves his wife, and goes fishing and drinking with his childhood friend Mark (Nicholas Brendan). Mark’s wife is dying of cancer, and there’s a heap of this movie that allows us into Mark’s sad life, showing the tragic day to day things Mark must do to help his ailing wife who he loves so much. These scenes are interspersed between low level JUSTIFIED/LOW WINTER SUN style street drug thuggery as a trio of dealers attempt to outwit one another and the law. Mark gets busted trying to buy his wife marijuana to ease her suffering. This is just the beginning of what turns out to be a crisis of conscience for Sheriff Haulk as he must decide between his friendship, which he holds dear, and the law, which he chooses to uphold. Oh, and there’s a freak wearing a ceremonial mask knocking off one creep drug dealer after another.
The film turns into a whodunit as there are a ton of suspects lined up for the viewer to pick from. Director Ethridge and writer Palmer leave just enough black holes in the plot so the killer could be anyone in the film, slowly revealing more and more about the killer and his MO as the body count rises. This is done with a patient and deft hand, with events seemingly not involved with the murder case actually proving to be vital tidbits for a larger mystery. This film snuck up on me and proved to be much more engaging than I expected. Ethridge and Palmer are great at making you care about the fates of these characters before putting them into dire circumstances, and a film I wasn’t excited about watching all of a sudden gained my full investment in the way this film shows its cards slowly.
There are some juicy scenes of gore and quite a bit of great and layered mysterious layers in ATTACK OF THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER. It’s a film that will take you by surprise with its talented cast and clever story.
New this week on DVD from Black Fawn Distribution!
IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES (2012)Directed by Gabriel Carrer
Written by Angus McLellan
Starring Lindsay Smith, Ryan Kotack, Ryan Barrett, & Henry Rollins as The Voice
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though the premise isn’t all that new, with some tight and crisp direction and fantastic performances from its cast, IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES is definitely a film to look out for. Directed by Gabriel Carrer and written with heart-wrenching dialog from Angus McLellan, IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES works because you actually like the two people in peril and want them to live on despite the harrowing experience they find themselves in.
Two lovers (Lindsay Smith and Ryan Kotack) are enjoying a relaxing summer day at an amusement park in the city. When they go to their car, they smell some kind of chemical and quickly pass out only to wake up in a small basement room with four locked suitcases, a phone, and nothing else. Though they have each other, the lack of food, water, and hope of rescue start to eat away at their relationship, a stress compounded by a mysterious voice on the phone taunting them with accusations, revelations, and directions to do things to one another. This seemingly random and senseless abduction is the kind of peril we see a lot in films these days, most of the time with home invasion films. Here instead of the familiar setting, we are enmeshed in a familiar and seemingly perfect relationship between these two talented actors and the story is all the more effective because of it.
Henry Rollins provides the voice on the phone telling the couple things to do and say to one another. The performer has a commanding voice which is instantly recognizable. I know it is a selling point for this film as Rollins is the biggest name in the film, but some part of me wishes I didn’t know it was Rollins until the end. Still, the horrifying things Rollins instructs the couple to do are all the more effective given his authoritarian tone.
Given the single locale and limited setting of this film, one would think that the story would get repetitious or boring. Since most of the film takes place in the concrete basement of a shack, Gabriel Carrer was faced with the challenge of making everything look interesting and does so with flying colors. Extreme close-ups of insects, puddles, and piles of dirt on the floor help perk up the pace of the film. It is as if the director is forcing us to look at the little things that we would usually just glance over and not notice. Here the couple’s confinement is all the more claustrophobic in that we are pulled in and forced to see every crack, crevice, and blemish.
I can’t praise IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES enough for how successful it was at making such a simple story so emotionally taxing, so intricately detailed, and so heavily nuanced. The film’s resolution doesn’t make it easy on the couple or the viewer, making it all the more of a harrowing experience. Put this film on your horror must see list. It most definitely deserves a reserved spot for its tight directing and fantastic performances.
New this week on DVD!
WOLVES (2014)Directed by David Hayter
Written by David Hayter
Starring Jason Momoa, Lucas Till, Stephen McHattie, Merritt Patterson, Kaitlyn Leeb, John Pyper-Ferguson, Jennifer Hale, Adam Butcher, Miriam McDonald, Melanie Scrofano, Alain Moussi, Adam MacDonald, Robert Homer Mollohan, Matthew Currie Holmes
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man, why’s it so hard to make a good werewolf film? It seems that besides the obvious AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING, with A COMPANY OF WOLVES and WOLFEN getting honorable mentions and DOG SOLDIERS and GINGER SNAPS being the best in terms of modern movies can get, the age of good ol’ werewolf scares is over. I don’t want to discredit David Hayter’s WOLVES too much. For what it is, it ain’t bad. But it’s a far cry at the moon from great.
Slightly toothier than TWILIGHT, but only by a hair, to call WOLVES a conventional Hollywood studio film is kind. There’s not a lick of this film that hasn’t been done better in other films and while it may elaborate on your typical “person gets bit by a werewolf and copes with the transformation” werewolf story by a skosh, there isn’t an unpredictable moment in this film from start to finish. The film centers on Cayden (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS’ Havok Lucas Till) who begins feeling different towards the end of high school. He was always good in sports, but during a high school football game at night, he lashes out animalistically on one of the opposing team causing many to raise their eyebrows. Later at Lover’s Lane when he cannot control himself with his high school girlfriend, she runs off and he blacks out only to find his parents in pieces when he awakens and the cops on his tail. Taking to the road, Cayden is directed by a scurvy werewolf in a biker bar to go to Lupine Ridge (Lupine, get it?), a town infested with werewolves. Once there, he butts snouts with the local leader of the pack named Connor (GAME OF THRONES and future Aquaman Jason Mamoa) and catches the eye of a young beautiful bar owner named Angelina (THE HOLE’s Merritt Patterson). The two fall in love in a conventional manner, but as usual, it ain’t easy to stay in happily ever after land.
Writer/director David Hayter made his name on comic book films such as X-MEN and WATCHMEN, but here it feels like Hayter originally wanted to make a WEREWOLF BY NIGHT film and when he couldn’t get the rights, he just made a TWILIGHT-esque film version of it. Cayden is a pure werewolf, which means he doesn’t have to be bitten to be cursed. Adding this element to the film is the one original thing that occurs in Hayter’s script which is otherwise as conventional as they come. From the clichéd high school scenes to the conventional meeting of the leading male and the spunky female leads to final act montage set to rockin’ music, this is the kind of Hollywood film that gets made fun of in SOUTH PARK. Everything is overly complex and emotional. From structure to script, this plays out like a defanged LOST BOYS.
There are a few saving graces for this film. Jason Mamoa is really great here. He seems to be having a ball all done up like an animal skin clad biker. He struts and howls animalistically and really seems to be the only one having fun with his role as the bad guy. Stephen McHattie is always good and here he’s trying really hard to make us care for these characters as the elder historian who explains the long and pointless history of the town and the werewolves. The presence of these two character actors elevates this film to watchable status given their fun performances.
Lucas Till is an ok actor in his own right, though this role requires a bit more of a tough edge than the boy-faced actor can muster up. And while the makeup does make things a little more fun, a lot of the makeup makes everything feel like Halloween masks rather than iconic prosthetics. There are some nice CG teeth in this one as jaws are extended and incisors are enlarged, but don’t look for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON style transformation scene here. All in all, with a highlight on the love story between two characters destined to be with one another, this feels more like a film that has its fangs filed down in order to appeal to a mass audience of tweens. Given that it isn’t going to be playing wide, I think it will most likely disappoint hardcore horror fans and get missed by the teens that only see films at the mall. With standout performances by Mamoa and McHattie being the only saving graces of WOLVES, this sadly isn’t the next big thing in werewolf horror it tries to make itself out to be.
Available DVD/BluRay/On Demand now!
MOCKINGBIRD (2014)Directed by Bryan Bertino
Written by Bryan Bertino (story & screenplay), Sam Esmail (story)
Starring Todd Stashwick, Audrey Marie Anderson, Alexandra Lydon, Barak Hardley, Emily Alyn Lind, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Lee Garlington, Spencer List, Benjamin Stockham, Natalie Alyn, Isabella Murad, Kai Caster, Colby French
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Count me as one of those who was scared shitless by THE STRANGERS, Bryan Bertino’s first film which delivered a lot of stuff we’ve seen before, but in a way that was relentless and brutal. So maybe it’s the fact that I had such high regard for Bertino’s first film that made MOCKINGBIRD such a hard pill to swallow.
A family, a single woman, and a man living with his mother are all given a box marked that they have won the opportunity for some kind of prize. All they have to do is continue filming with the camera they have been awarded with. All four winners are ecstatic at the promise of a large prize, but are clueless as to how they were entered and what they are to win.
Some believe they entered some kind of sweepstakes at the mall, but it’s pretty obvious to everyone else that this is a little weird. But if the folks put down the camera and walked away from this bizarre contest, there would be no movie, so for the sake of having a film, I guess you’ll have to suspend any disbelief you have for the film or just walk away at the five minute mark. Those who stay will be treated with some decent scenes of escalating tension as well as some decent acting from the entire cast (especially from BOUNTY KILLER’s Barak Hardley as a fanboy man-boy who lives with his mother and forced to put on clown makeup to accomplish his portion of the contest). All around the cast delivers the type of acting that is consistent with the chops displayed in Bertino’s first film from Speedman and Tyler as the everypeople in trouble.
Where the film sort of falls apart is the ending, which I won’t reveal, but I will say that Bertino runs a danger of repeating himself here. While MOCKINGBIRD doesn’t really have the emotional gut punch that THE STRANGERS did, it does end with a vague explanation as to who is behind the contest. And while it is somewhat interesting, it lacks the potency as Bertino’s first film. Judging this film on its own merits, MOCKINGBIRD does build up to the ending rather well, segmenting each section off with title cards introducing our players along with the challenges each of them have to do. But the ending left me with a “…that’s it?” feeling, and that’s something I did not get from THE STRANGERS.
Bertino is currently working on a new film and here’s hoping that this sophomore slump is just that as he showed such promise at setting a mood, building tension, and then delivering with his first film. It just didn’t happen here. I didn’t even mind the found footage format here as it makes for some interesting scenes. But if one of these players had zigged left instead of sagging right, this film would have fallen apart and it makes the film read as overly contrived and unable to carry the weight upon the second viewing. So while Bertino delivers a few tense moments with MOCKINGBIRD, it really fails to deliver the big reveal it sets up for itself, which in the end, hurts the entire film in my opinion and left me with the feeling of being suckered, which is never something you want your audience to feel after watching your film.
New this week on DVD/BluRay/Digital download from Anchor Bay Entertainment!
THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE (2015)Directed by Chris Sparling
Written by Chris Sparling
Starring Rya Kihlstedt, William Mapother, Sharon Maughan, John Rubinstein, Bill J. Stevens, Gerald McCullouch, Julian Acosta, Anne Betancourt, Carlos E. Campos, Jake Carpenter, Brian Chenoweth, Hannah Cowley, Aaron Craven, Suzanne Jamieson, Ilya Pikus, Lauren Rubin, Karen E. Wright
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While found footage has become something of a bore these days, those who inject a little bit of creativity into the mix still end up giving me some hope that there is still some life in the subgenre of horror. THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE is such a film which takes a rather unconventional approach and instead of the same old humdrum found footager, director/writer Chris Sparling delivers something wholly unique and intriguing.
Filmed as if it were a documentary comprised of interviews, still photographs, and the occasional snippet of security camera footage, THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE follows the studies of one Dr. Henry West (LOST’s William Mapother) who opens a Charles Xavier-ian research center which studies parapsychology. Reminiscent of the opening moments where we meet Egon and Venkman in GHOSTBUSTERS, where subjects are given tests such as naming a card being held behind a screen to measure psychic powers, Dr. West is dedicated to prove that paranormal abilities exist in humans. When Judith Winstead (Rya Kihlstedt) walks into the small research facility, West gets what he wanted as Judith begins exhibiting powers beyond anything they could imagine. But soon, the writhing and contorting Judith proves to be too much for the researchers to handle and when the government gets wind of her power, they take over and do their own tests. Turns out its not psychic powers Judith possesses. In fact, Judith herself is being possessed by a demon.
What immediately makes this film watchable is that, if you didn’t know it was a movie and happened upon this film on TV late one night, you’d swear it was real. Aside from me recognizing some of the actors from other films, everyone looks and acts rather mundane and real. This air of reality Chris Sparling is able to capture is what makes the film so strong. Pieced together as if it were a documentary, the film feels legit, so when things get nuts, there’s a level of danger you just don’t achieve in standard cinematically filmed movies. Reminiscent of the excellent LAKE MUNGO (reviewed here), Sparling varies the method of telling the story between compelling still photographs, interviews with witnesses, and security camera footage. What is amazing here is that so much of this film is still photography and interview. Very little action actually takes place and what does are just snippets of what’s happening. Still, Sparling is able to tell a compelling story of government intervention into a private case. Through Judith’s ordeal, we see how horrifying, callous, and downright obnoxiously overconfident the government can be. And the horrors that happen in this story are terrifying.
What’s really interesting with THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE is that the only weaknesses I saw in the film have to do with the limited security cam and lab documentation camera footage that occurs involving CG effects. Things move fast and loose in these snippets, but whenever blood or other body fluids (this is an exorcism flick, you know, so there’s gotta be copious fluids) it’s obviously CG and not good CG. Still, the format is so compelling by which this story is told, I’m willing to forgive some lackluster CG.
Making up for the CG is an astoundingly physical performance by Rya Kihlstedt as Judith. The way she squirms around in her chair and becomes overpowered by the being inside of her is truly unique. You both fear and sympathize with her in these scenes. I was engrossed in this film from beginning to end and while you might be compelled to stay away, knowing this is a found footage style film. It’s one of the better ones and definitely breaks the found footage mold. I can’t recommend this film enough as THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE delivers in tension, shocks, and horror in abundance from beginning to end.
Advance Review: Coming soon from Phase 4 Films!
DEVIL’S TOWER (2014)Directed by Owen Tooth
Written by Adam J. Marsh
Starring Roxanne Pallett, Jason Mewes, Frances Ruffelle, Jessica-Jane Stafford, Emma Buckley, Peter Barrett, Alison Carroll, Eddie Webber
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
DEVIL’S TOWER is another UK tenement apartment complex horror film, using the low rent housing as the backdrop for all kinds of creeping terrors. Like TOWER BLOCK, CITADEL, ATTACK THE BLOCK, and even DREDD and THE RAID: REDEMPTION, this setting does lend itself to a lot of solid action, dark corridors and endless stairwells. But while DEVIL’S TOWER has a setting similar to those films, its tendency to aspire to heights it just doesn’t have the talent or budget to reach makes it a weak entry in that particular niche of horror.
After being kicked out of her home by her alcoholic mother, Sarah (Roxanne Pallett) moves into a high-rise low rent housing project in a shady neighborhood. We know the place is shady due to the riff-raff hanging out in front of the place as Sarah moves in, but also because of the weird happenings with ghostly monsters appearing and killing folks who dare venture on some of the unoccupied floors of the building. Sarah is quite a forgiving soul, despite her predicament as she puts up with one overly friendly neighbor after another, but also seems to forgive two thugs (one played by CLERKS’ Jason Mewes) after breaking into her place. Mewes plays Sid, who is the junkie with the heart of gold and the film seems to quickly want to slam Sid and Sarah together so that they can take on the weird forces at play in some of the abandoned rooms of the housing project.
Starting with positives, DEVIL’S TOWER is able to convey a lot of creepy ambience. Maybe the building was already like this before filming started, but whether a production team went through and made it dingy or it already was a slum is not really important. The scenery seems like the perfect place to film a horror film with dark corridors, a crappy elevator, and all sorts of dingy hallways and nerve-wracking corners and turns.
The problem here is that the script seems much more interested in focusing on things like an extended scene of an aerobics class, a few sex scenes, and some more aspects that often feel like the makers would have rather made a raunchy comedy one would be likely to see in the 80’s. The horror feels almost like an afterthought after these obligatory and uncomfortably placed slices of sex are thrown in for no reason. Also, the script wants to make things happen, but doesn’t really get there believably. I’m mainly talking about the relationship between Mewes’ Sid and Pallet’s Sarah. There’s an extremely awkward scene where a spirit possesses them and they fawn all over one another. The fact that Sarah would give Sid the time of day isn’t really believable as he is a) a junkie/homeless person, b) just broke into her home, and c) Sarah herself is a bit of a snit to everyone but Sid in this film. Plus there’s no real chemistry between the two of them other than the script calls for the two to be in the same scene together over and over.
But there is some fun gore and a creepy old ghost lady watching a television in an abandoned room, so it’s not all bad. The film culminates in a big zombie bash, but just kind of falls flat and shambles off in the end, not really knowing how to wrap up all of e loose ends. So instead the film decides it’s not really worth it or ran out of budget and just rolls the credits. And while fans of Mewes work as Jay might deem this necessary viewing, I think most of you are not going to be too impressed by the troubled script, but the good looking ambiance of DEVIL’S TOWER.
Advance Review: Coming soon!
THE SHOOT (2014)Directed by John Adams, Toby Poser
Written by John Adams, Toby Poser
Starring John Adams, Sam Rodd, Toby Poser, John DiMaggio, Keith Allan, Doug Spearman, Elad Ziv, Nathaniel Meek, Marina De Carvalho, Claire Denis, Billy Portman, Robert Lund, Ryan Smith, John Laux, Theo Cohn
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While not entirely a horror film, THE SHOOT is a damn fine comedy of catastrophic and bloody errors that can’t help but be both infectiously and deviantly charming. Sure, this is the type of film that ran rampant in the 90’s which relies heavily on talk followed by pretty gratuitous violence, but twenty years later it feels rather refreshing to see play out.
Tommy (John Adams) is a middle-aged rocker who has dreams of making it big, but may be getting too old for these dreams. Borrowing a large sum of money from a gangster, Tommy’s bills are due and when he hears about his makeup assistant girlfriend’s (Maddy played by Toby Poser) upcoming modeling shoot in the desert, he grabs his band mate and best brah Dougie (Sam Rodd) and heads to the desert to swipe some million dollar jewels that are the subject of the shoot. Not being experienced in this sort of thing, Tommy and Dougie botch the heist up and the shoot crew find themselves stranded in the desert with their desperate assailants trying to wrap up the loose ends. What starts out as a harmless snatch-and-grab becomes something much darker and bloodier.
Aside from some blood spatter and a severed foot, THE SHOOT is a pretty cheaply made film. This doesn’t mean that the film looks cheap, but that it relies heavily on the characters and the script rather than expansive locales, elaborate gore, or gratuitous CG. From start to finish, there’s a heavy reliance on script. Fortunately, co-writers/actors/directors John Adams and Toby Poser show a lot of skill in the scripting of this film, parenthesizing each act of violence with a nice little diatribe between two or more characters. While this is something often seen, and expected in a Tarantino film, I feel the shift is often jarring from action to “hey let’s stop everything and chat about something tertiary for a minute and a half” in some of Tarantino’s films (especially of late). But here, the shift is less obvious and feels much more natural as it really feels like the characters are trying their hardest to prolong the violence and adds to the character rather than the one-dimensional cool often seen in A Band Apart flicks.
While much of the acting is pretty good here, this film does suffer in places as the drama required is a little more than the actors can live up to. That said, this film definitely has a fun and boppy style to it. Accompanied by some tinny yet twerky electro beat soundtrack, the film itself is cut along with the jarring music which conveys a high level of tension throughout. There are a lot of fun directorial decisions at play here and I found that this is definitely a fun film to look at because of them.
THE SHOOT is a film I couldn’t look away from. From the cast made of lovable losers to the tension filled script which escalates to nosebleed heights before the end, this is a fun film that fans of chatty violence and bumbled heists.
And finally…continuing to scour the interwebs for decent HALLOWEEN Fan Films to share every time we cover a HALLOWEEN film here on AICN HORROR, I stumbled across this tight and tense little ditty focusing on Michael in his formative years called MYERS: RISE OF THE BOOGEYMAN and while I think the kid in the short talks too much to be the Michael I grew up with, there’s a lot this little short does right in such a short time!
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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