Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II: THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959)
Retro-review: DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS SPECIAL SECTION (1976)
Short Cuts: WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU (2014)
BORDELLO DEATH TALES (2009)
TROPHY HEADS (2014)
THE REMAINING (2014)
BIG DRIVER (2014)
OPEN WINDOWS (2014)
SUBURBAN GOTHIC (2014)
And finally…TNMT’s The Fly!
Retro-review: New on BluRay as part of THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II from Shout Factory
RETURN OF THE FLY (1959)Directed by Edward Bernds
Written by Edward Bernds (screenplay), George Langelaan (short story "The Fly")
Starring Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, John Sutton, Day Seymour, Danielle De Metz, Jack Daly, Janine Grandel, Michael Mark
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While Vincent Price doesn’t really show up much in this film, it does sport some amazing visuals and a fun tale of science gone awry. RETURN OF THE FLY is one of those classics that will definitely bring a smile to the face of all who have seen it.
This direct sequel to 1958’s THE FLY continues the story of Andre Delambre, a scientist who has created a teleportation machine, but in a freak lab accident that only happens in the movies, a fly made it into the machine with Andre and the two beings morphed into one hideously deformed creature. This is the kind of freak accident that can only happen once, right? WRONG! In RETURN OF THE FLY, we follow that creepy kid who watches his father being eaten by a spider at the end of the first film. Now Phillipe Delambre’s all grown up and being played by actor Brett Halsey (who looks a lot like 3 O’CLOCK HIGH’s Richard Tyson), who is obsessed with his father’s teleportation device. Ignoring the warnings from his uncle Francois (Vincent Price), Phillipe partners with shady Englishman Alan Himes (David Frankham) to help him in his scientific endeavors. But the backstabbing machinations of Alan and Phillipe’s obsession end up being a curse as Alan betrays Phillipe, tossing him into the teleportation machine as a live test subject. To add insult to injury and to suspension of disbelief, there happens to be a fly in the lab and Alan catches it and tosses it in with Phillipe as well. Did I mention Alan is an asshole? The result is a giant-headed fly monster running rampant and rather clumsily through the streets.
I absolutely love this movie. The thing that works so well with the concept of the original FLY movies is so simple. It mixes things that just shouldn’t be and the result is an image that is extremely jarring. This effect is used over and over again in RETURN OF THE FLY, each time to great effect be it a hamster with human hands, a fly with a human head, or a man with the spiny and bulbous head of a fly. While this film can be seen as a showcase for some absolutely fantastic effects for its time, it also does a fantastic job of making those effects a true spectacle, placing the amalgamated creature front and center for the audience and this film’s damsel, Cecile (Danielle De Metz), to scream her French head off. Seeing Brett Halsey’s head on the body of a fly is something that will definitely make you titter, but it’s a nervous titter as the juxtaposition of images that just shouldn’t be causes a visceral reaction I couldn’t shake.
RETURN OF THE FLY is filled with all sorts of scientific clichés that were clichés even by the time the film was released: lots of boards with flashing lights, a booth that emits a blinding light, and lab technicians who put on and take off their safety goggles over and over and over again. Reminiscent of the rudimentary protection often seen in atomic bomb footage, it’s not a coincidence these scenes of scientific danger are shown over and over again, as there is an ever-prevalent theme that nothing good can come from science.
Reiterating that mantra many times in this film is Price’s Francois. Early in his career, Price adopts a very small role here and not a strong one at that. I lost count at the number of times Price faints at the sight of some kind of monstrosity created in Phillipe’s lab. Seeing Price, who often played strong yet somewhat prissy characters, place back of hand to brow and fall to the floor just adds to the comical aspects of this film. Sure it’s a realistic way of portraying someone who is still grieving the loss of his brother from the first film, but it doesn’t do anything to reinforce his heroic qualities here.
Filmed in black and white instead of color, as the original was, RETURN OF THE FLY is a much more entertaining sequel than the sequel to Cronenberg’s remake of the original. It takes a lot of the concepts explored in the first film and goes balls to the wall with them. Portraying science as a dangerous yet tempting thing to play with, RETURN OF THE FLY drives its themes home, yet does so in a manner that is bound to unsettle and titillate.
PIT & THE PENDULUM, THE HAUNTED PALACE, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, TOMB OF LIGIEA, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, THE RAVEN
Retro-review: New on DVD from Intervision!
DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS: SPECIAL SECTION (1976)aka DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS: SPECIAL SECTION, DEPORTED WOMEN, SS SPECIAL SECTION WOMEN
Directed by Rino Di Silvestro (as Alex Berger)
Written by Rino Di Silvestro (screenplay), Rino Di Silvestro (story), & Larry Dolgin (English version)
Starring John Steiner, Lina Polito, Erna Schurer, Sara Sperati, Solvi Stubing, Guido Leontini, Rik Battaglia, Paola D'Egidio, Stefania D'Amario, Ofelia Meyer, Felicita Fanny, Maria Renata Franco, Giorgio Cerioni, Cesare Barro
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I understand that for every niche, every interest, every perversion, there’s an audience for it, but I really don’t get the whole Nazisploitation wave. I guess it can be seen as a way for filmmakers to come to grips with the atrocities of WWII, but most of the time, watching these films makes it feel more like a celebration of it. So while I can’t say I enjoy any of the Nazisploitation films, I can say that it is successful in making the viewer uncomfortable, but every good horror movie should do in one way or another.
DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS: SPECIAL SECTION follows the same plot as many of the Nazi woman death camp/prison films. In the opening moments, we are introduced to a group of women on a train obviously headed to a concentration camp, though many don’t know that’s what’s happening. Upon arriving, we meet the stern and somewhat prissy Nazi commandant and the even more stern female warden, who of course has an eye for the fresh fish. After the obligatory shower scene, the plots of survival and then eventually escape arise. In between the entry into the prison and the escape, there are tons of perversions at play as the Nazi guards both despise and secretly desire to be with their Jewish prisoners.
So all in all, if you’ve seen one Nazisploitation film, you probably will be able to call this one beat for beat. What sets it apart is a pretty memorable performance by the fancy boy Nazi commandant Herr Erner, played by John Steiner. His performance is filled with such perverse glee that you want to reach into the screen and wring his scrawny neck. Molesting both prisoners and his manservant Dobermann (Guido Leontini), Erner recognizes one of the female prisoners from his youth and this rekindles a flame in his heart. Most of the film, Erner is trying to impress the young prisoner, who shuns his advances and offers for freedom as she despises his Nazi beliefs. Seeing Erner emasculated over and again in this film is almost as perverse as the acts he performs on his underlings. All in all, he’s a despicable yet memorable character.
Dubbed the first Nazisploitation film, I guess DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS: SPECIAL SECTION deserves some kind of recognition for being the first to establish these well-worn tropes of the subgenre. Still, this is a pretty despicable film which, in the end, does have the downtrodden rise up and regain some kind of freedom and the oppressors get their just desserts. Still, so much time is spent on the oppression and abuse, it feels much more like a gleeful celebration of the indignities suffered by the victims of the Holocaust.
Extended scenes of pubic hair shaving, scenes with copious amounts of nudity, sex, S&M, rape, sodomy, and just plain old abuse run rampant in this film. DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS: SPECIAL SECTION is not for the weak at heart or easily offended. It’s also not for me, but I will recognize it as effective in making this viewer extremely uncomfortable, though not entertained.
Short Film currently touring festivals!
WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU (2014)Directed by Rob Grant
Written by Rob Grant& Stu Marks
Starring Connor Jessup, Alex Harrouch, Aidan Greene, Steven Love, Luisa D'Oliveira, Jez Bonham
Find out more about this film on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
WHAT DOESN”T KILL YOU is already being made into a full length feature and after viewing it, I can see why. A subtle mix of sci fi and horror, all done with a young cast of good-lookings, and you can see why producers were slathering over this short film which premiered at TIFF last year.
As with most short films, it’s difficult to talk about without revealing the whole damn thing. Basically, the short opens with a bunch of teens being tormented by bullies from school as both a carload of bullies and the tormented teens barrel down the highway. Marshall (Connor Jessup) seems to be enjoying the thrill ride a bit too much while his buddies, Leonard (Alex Harrouch) and Durmot (Aidan Greene), are scared shitless that the bullies are going to kick their asses. But Marshall grabs the wheel of the car, crashing the car off to the side of the road. Marshall wakes up outside of the car to see his buddies burning inside. But soon, Leonard wakes up outside of the car moments later, unburned. As they pull Durmot from the wreckage, his back is broken, but Marshall believes that the three of them have gained the ability to come back to life unharmed after being killed. Now Marshall wants to kill Durmot, so he can return to life with an unbroken back. Is Marshall nuts or have the three nerds gained the power of immortality?
I’ve already said too much, but this short packs a whole lot of potential into one small 7 minute package. While it’s pretty obvious something supernatural or paranormal is at play, the film never tips its hat as to what it is. Director Rob Grant (who directed the excellent comedy of errors MON AMI- reviewed here) shows he excels in action and suspense as well, as the tension mounts and Marshall must make his decision to test his theory or not. It’s all wrapped up pretty quickly, but still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Still, it’s enough for me to be on the lookout for the in production WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU film. As always, I’m hoping when this short film is made public, I’ll be sharing it with you at the end of these AICN HORROR columns in my “And finally…” section. Until then, this one can only be seen at festivals.
Available on DVD and digital download here!
DRIFTER (2014)Directed by Joe Sherlock
Written by Joe Sherlock
Starring Dave Bowers, John Bowker, Sonya Davis, Shawna Dedek, Michael Hegg, Emily Howard, Richard Johnson, Bryn Kristi, Sabrina Larivee, Stephanie Lunceford, Rob Merickel, Roxxy Mountains, & Bob Olin as the Drifter!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This DIY indie is ambitious in that it tries very hard to make a compelling tale about a guy who simply kills everything in his path. Usually the drifter is the red herring in a film. The guy the police finger as the culprit while the real killer is slicing and dicing. Here, though, a madman drifts into town and then starts murderizing folks. Simple as that.
But the story really isn’t that simple and despite the fact that it’s very rough around the edges in terms of acting and pacing, there’s a really cool story buried under those low fi qualities. Joe Sherlock seems to be the one man film crew responsible for DRIFTER and I am always in awe of folks who can juggle everything from top to bottom of a film as it is a massive undertaking. While Sherlock may not be a master at directing yet and the film itself has some pacing problems, especially as the camera lingers on mundane conversations and actions just a bit too long, the film itself is entertaining in that it remembers the two B’s of B-movie filmmaking—blood and boobs.
And there is plenty of both in DRIFTER. While most of the cast is either middle aged, overweight, or both, it doesn’t seem to matter here as clothes are shed by all here. Copious nude scenes punctuate the gore and while I usually complain about the overuse of underwear model actors and actresses in horror films, this one could use a few of those as most of the actors are most likely Sherlock’s drinking buddies and gal pals. These non actors seem to have no compunctions to taking off their clothes and appearing in the buff, but I don’t know if everyone is going to find it all titillating.
One thing I was most impressed with was the effects. Most of the time in low budgeters, there’s always great quality gore and DRIFTER is no exception. Blood is splattered and spattered all over the place and there are some bloodless corpses that are actually quite gorgeously realized.
The story, which I am trying to be vague about, involves a drifter who makes his way into town and is drawn to a house called Blood House. In the basement, there is something horrific. And while the acting is not going to garner any Oscars, the copious amount of gore and chesticles on display were enough to make this a fun, low budget effort. Joe Sherlock shows that he’s got what it takes in the writing department. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if he got his hands on a budget and some real actors. As is, DRIFTER offers up some light and cheap eye candy style horror, which isn’t going to be for everyone, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Available from Chemical Burn Entertainment!
BORDELLO DEATH TALES (2009)aka BORDELLO OF BLOOD DEATH TALES
Directed by James Eaves, Pat Higgins, Alan Ronald
Written by James Eaves, Pat Higgins, Alan Ronald
Starring Eleanor James, Tina Barnes, Sam Dacombe, Harold Gasnier, Stuart Gregory, Cy Henty, Julian Lamoral-Roberts, Danielle Laws, Natalie Milner, Nick Rendell
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Usually when a film opens up with an extended scene inside of a strip club set to bad rock music, it’s a pretty solid indicator that the rest of the film is going to be pretty bad. BORDELLO DEATH TALES is the exception, as it simply serves as the opener for the first of three twisted tales involving sex and violence.
The first tale, called “The Ripper”, is a surprisingly twisted little tale that I thought I had a bead on until it threw me for a loop in the final moments. The story follows a quiet and seemingly angry man sitting in the aforementioned strip club who seems to be looking for a particular girl. When he finds her, he somehow convinces her to come back to his place. Soon the girl ends up on the slab and at the mercy of a serial killer dubbed “The Ripper.” While much of this film is consists of your typical torture porn stuff consisting of a screaming woman tied to a chair or slab with a blood-crazed torturer readying his power tools for some dissection, there is a late in the game twist that makes it all feel somewhat less clichéd. I like the way this film twists ancient mythology to fit in with a modern (albeit tired) subgenre of horror, and it’s definitely one torture porn you haven’t seen before. Filled with all sorts of animated and drawn imagery, along with some memorably chilling imagery such as the madman laughing to himself in the mirror and while the killer leaves, the mirror image remains, this one has a lot of entertaining sights and twists.
The second feature is my favorite of the bunch, a gothic Tim Burton-esque twist on the Frankenstein story. An old doctor whittles together the parts of prostitutes to make his perfect woman. Yes, it’s the plot of FRANKENHOOKER, but what makes this short different is the atmosphere chosen to cast the story upon. Reminiscent of old school German expressionist films like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, “StitchGirl” is a treat from start to finish. Even the somewhat jarring musical interlude where a clown sings a song about the girl with mismatched parts entertains. And I absolutely loved the somewhat fairytale, yet definitely devious ending.
The final short is called “Vice Day” and centers again on sex and violence, this time through the method of the cam girl motif. A gorgeous beauty lounges on a bed in front of a computer cam, waiting for her customers to call. When a famous actor connects with her, she is taken in by his conversation. All the while, she doesn’t notice that some strange happenings are occurring during this conversation. I don’t want to reveal much, but this one feels mundane--but it’s a story that creeps up on you. Filmed as if it were a reject from a V/H/S anthology, “Vice Day” is well acted and full of suspense.
What impressed me most about this anthology is that it come off as one thing at the beginning, but ends up being so much more if you’re willing to stick through it. Staying away from typical vampires, zombies, and slashers, this film used unconventional monsters to tell its twisted tales of terror. The filmmaking trio of James Eaves, Pat Higgins, Alan Ronald are also behind the surprisingly good ANGRY NAZI ZOMBIES (reviewed here) anthology and Pat Higgins also gave us the impressive shockumentary THE DEVIL’S MUSIC (reviewed here). And while BORDELLO DEATH TALES is low fi, it proves that these filmmakers have what it takes to deliver original and unique chills and thrills.
Available now on DVD, Blu and on Full Moon Streaming!
TROPHY HEADS (2014)Directed by Charles Band
Written by Charles Band (story), Roger Barron
Starring Adam Noble Roberts, Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Kristine DeBell, Darcy DeMoss, Denice Duff, Jacqueline Lovell, Robin Sydney, Jessica Morris, Irena Murphy, Jean Louise O'Sullivan, Maria Olsen, Amy Paffrath, Carel Struycken, Stuart Gordon, Gregory Niebel
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While it’s good to see Charles Band back at it behind the director’s chair, I don’t think TROPHY HEADS is going to be one of the films the classic horror director/producer will be remembered by.
No one ever accused Band of not being an opportunist, and Band uses this film to highlight some of his much better and more interesting films in his collection of low budget Full Moon and Empire Entertainment films he’s been a part of in the past. Gathering a flock of scream queens from the past, Band crafts a story about Max (Adam Noble Roberts) , a couch potato slacker who is upset that the stars of his favorite B-grade horror films are getting older and lamenting the fading of their stardom and decides to do something about it. Sure, he could put together a fund raiser to help these aging starlets out and give them a break. But Max is a psychopath and so is his enabling mother (Maria Olsen, who seems to be in everything these days, most recently STARRY EYES) and instead they decide to stalk these scream queens, capture them, and recreate their most famous roles. They also end up killing them and mounting their heads on plaques in Max’s basement.
I will say it’s fun playing place the scream queen as each of them show up in this film. Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Darcy DeMoss, Denice Duff, and Jacqueline Lovell all play themselves in this film and while time hasn’t been kind to some of them, they still retain their gifts for screaming and running frantically from monsters and killers. If you grew up in the eighties, I think just seeing these actresses play themselves and doing what they are best known to do will give you a bit of a thrill and cause a smile to creep on your face. I know this happened to me.
The problem is that TROPHY HEADS’ story is pretty bad. Filmed originally as a webseries, the story is very repetitious as the choice scream queen is captured, placed in a pen with the others, and then offed by a creature sort of like the creatures they faced in SUBSPECIES or SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE or HEAD OF THE FAMILY, then finally beheaded and mounted on a wall. This happens over and over again and gets pretty dull by the second time it occurs.
So while it’s great to see these actresses you usually see at horror conventions signing autographs onto pictures from yesteryear actually back on film, I wish the story itself would have been more interesting. Here’s hoping that now that Band has reconnected with these ladies, something with a bit more creativity can be done with them. Stalking, killing, capturing, and mounting them again and again just doesn’t cut it.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from Affirm Films!
THE REMAINING (2014)Directed by Casey La Scala
Written by Casey La Scala & Chris Dowling
Starring Johnny Pacar, Shaun Sipos, Bryan Dechart, Alexa PenaVega, Italia Ricci, Liz E. Morgan, John Pyper-Ferguson, Kim Pacheco, Hayley Lovitt, Erin Murphy
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Ok, so take THIS IS THE END and take out all of the funny bits and the raunchy bits and you know, the interesting and entertaining stuff and star power and what you would have would look something like THE REMAINING, a bible thump of a film with a pro-church message that is trying to masquerade itself as an apocalyptic horror film in hopes to maybe convert us heathens who watch this sort of thing all of the time.
Gathering together to see two of their friends marry, a group of young adults find themselves in the middle of the biblical Rapture from the New Testament as some of their friends and families fall dead immediately after a loud gong is sounded from the skies, followed by civilization crumbling before their eyes as planes crash out of the air into buildings, fires run rampant, and the skies at night are filled with flying demons more than willing to swoop down and nab any of the heathens left behind. A small group of survivors make their way across the post-apocalyptic city and take sanctuary in a church with others who did not pass on when the heavens opened.
Recent films like NOAH and EXODUS have taken biblical stories and made them interesting for all by injecting them with grandiose themes, big budget special effects, and A-list stars. This film has none of that. Sure some of the CG destruction is impressively rendered in the opening moments of the chaos, but for the most part, this is a bunch of kids running from one location to another experiencing drama. And the only thing more annoying than that is that this isn’t the usual kid drama, this drama is about a crisis of faith. All of these kids think of themselves as good people (most people do), but by the standards of the New Testament, those left behind just don’t stack up. So there’s a lot of hemming and hawing about how they didn’t believe, how they never went to church, or gave their all to the Lord.
And in the end, those left behind don’t find redemption; they’re already lost as the trip to heaven was just a onetime deal, which makes this one bummer of a movie and an even bigger bummer of a message. THE REMAINING is supposed to be a cautionary tale for everyone to faith themselves up because the End of Days is a-comin’. Anyone believing in other faiths, or worse yet, not believing at all and you know, just living their life as best they can—they’re fodder for the swooping demons. It’s this preachy kind of black and white thinking that turns me off of all things churchy in the first place, and it’s ever-present here in one clunky monologue after another with those left behind whining that they didn’t give themselves up to the Lord before all of this happened.
While the film does try somewhat to hide its religious message under the guise of a typical apocalyptic film, it doesn’t pull back basically from minute one in terms of religious preachings, so if you’re the type to run the other way as soon as the subject of religion (especially when it’s represented as the one and only way) is brought up, this is not going to be the tale for you. I found it interesting just to see how far this film will go to get its message across, and depicting anyone who doesn’t believe in a particular faith dying horrible, violent deaths makes the message pretty clear. So while I most likely would be one of those left behind if this tale were true, I find myself glad that both this film and the good book it emulates are both fiction. One is just better written, accepted by many people, and will most likely be around for a while. The other is a pretty forgettable and preachy disaster flick.
New this week on DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
BIG DRIVER (2014)Directed by Mikael Salomon
Written by Stephen King (short story), Richard Christian Matheson (teleplay)
Starring Maria Bello, Ann Dowd, Will Harris, Joan Jett, Olympia Dukakis, Jennifer Kydd, Andre Myette, Juanita Peters, Mary-Colin Chisholm
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I wasn’t aware of Stephen King’s short story called “Big Driver”, which apparently is from his anthology entitled FULL DARK, NO STARS. Having not read the source material, I cannot comment on how faithful or how much of a departure this version of the story is. All I can comment about is the film I saw and while I wasn’t jazzed when I saw the Lifetime Network logo appear at the beginning of this BIG DRIVER, I was pleasantly surprised how much teeth the film actually had.
Maria Bello plays Tess Thorne, a writer of a mystery series involving a group of elderly ladies who solve crimes. Her work has garnered much popularity among the old bitty sect and the film opens on Thorne arriving at a book signing at a ladies’ club, giving motivational speeches about writing and women’s lib. Taking a shortcut home given to her by one of the ladies holding the event, Tess gets a flat when she drives over a two by four with nails in it seemingly purposefully laid in the middle of the road. Soon a seemingly friendly truck stops to help Tess, but this kind citizen turns out to be anything but, attacking, raping, and leaving her for dead in a sewer filled with dead bodies who seem to have suffered the same fate. Crawling free, Tess’ first instinct is to call the cops, but guilt, fear, and paranoia set in and Tess soon decides to take the law into her own hands and enact revenge herself.
This I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE by way of MISERY story is a compelling one. There’s star power in the film, not only from Bello, but also from Olympia Dukakis (who plays Tess’ imaginary Jiminy Cricket and star of her book series giving her advice along the way though her path of redemption), Will Harris (who plays the man mountain known as Big Driver), and COMPLIANCE’s Ann Dowd as the head of the board of ladies who sends her on the fateful short cut. The film also offers up a cameo of sorts for rocker Joan Jett as a bartender who has seen her share of abuse. That’s quite the colorful cast and all of the players involved do a great job of it, especially Bello, who has an annoying habit of talking to herself (but she talks like a Stephen King character, so you can’t blame her for that).
While the film falls into conventional tropes in the latter portion, the initial rape and Bello’s arduous crawl back to civilization is realized surprisingly well. The scenes directly after the rape where Bello is disoriented and running down the middle of the road and given sideways glances as she moves through a convenience store beaten and bloody are especially effectively done. And while the final act is filled with your typical revenge flick scenarios, the potency of the way the crime itself and the immediately aftermath was filmed made it all feel satisfying as Bello’s Tess comes back to her perpetrators guns-a-blazin’!
Those who don’t have the stomach for rape films are not going to want to check this out. It’s surprisingly graphic in both the depiction of rape and the way Bello looks afterwards. And while she turns a bit into Charles Bronson at the end, Bello carries the film capably. So while BIG DRIVER isn’t anything revolutionary in rape/revenge filmmaking, it’s surprisingly effective in terms of edge and star power.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Cinedigm!
OPEN WINDOWS (2014)aka THE INTERWEB, BLACK HACKER
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Written by Daniel Mas (consultant writer), Nacho Vigalondo
Starring Sasha Grey, Elijah Wood, Neil Maskell, Nacho Vigalondo, Iván González, Scott Weinberg, Trevante Rhodes
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Much like another Elijah Wood starrer GRAND PIANO, OPEN WINDOWS is three quarters of a good movie, and sometimes that’s enough for me to give it a positive review. Like GRAND PIANO, this is more of a suspense thriller film than straight up horror. But while this is a corner of horror that is rarely seen in modern cinema, it sometimes is the most effective kind of horror you can get.
Why is Elijah Wood doing these types of films? Not to be weird, but I think it really does have to do with his large emotive eyes. Wood is able to convey so much worry and tension in his face that you can even care for him when he is murdering people in MANIAC. Here he plays Nick Chambers, a website manager for a fansite dedicated to Jill Goddard (played by former porn star Sasha Grey). Nick has won a contest to have dinner with his favorite actress, but he is alerted by a mysterious online caller that she has cancelled the date. Confused and somewhat gullible, Nick believes the voice on the line, who then guides Nick on an elaborate scheme to get revenge for snubbing one of her number one fans. Nick’s intentions are not evil, but the hastiness of the call and the speed with which the series of events happen after the date is cancelled propels Nick on a high speed and tension-filled get away involving murder and kidnapping. In over his head, Nick struggles to get out alive and maybe save the girl he has never met, but is obviously obsessed with.
As I said before, while Wood plays a pretty skeevy character who obsesses about an actress so much that he snaps every pic possible of her to download on his website, you can’t help but root for him as he is clearly in over his head here and being manipulated. Things snowball in this story quickly and it’s Wood’s strength as an actor who pulls you in that makes it all believable.
And there’s a lot to disbelieve. This film is seen entirely on a computer screen as seen through Skype messages, security and satellite cam footage, and other aspects we all often see at play on our computer screens on a daily basis. While the multi-screen format is not a new one for cinema as it is a DePalma and Tarantino trope and seen often in shows like 24, director Nacho Vigalondo (who also directed the time twister tale TIME CRIMES) juggles the multi-screen technique pretty fluidly and seamlessly where after a while you forget you’re watching the film play out in that format. As far as the technology at play, Vigalondo explains the tech and expands upon it as the story proceeds, but never at a rate that I felt myself being lost. It’s kind of similar to the simple yet effective throughway Vigalondo mapped in TIME CRIMES to tell one of the most uncomplicated time travel tales I’ve ever seen.
Acting and tech wise, this film is top notch, but in terms of story, it really feels like this one gets away from Vigalondo at about the hour twenty mark. There are a few last minute twists and turns that range between defying reason to being downright stupid that almost pulls the rug out from under this film. I won’t reveal these twists, but they happen in rapid succession and thinking back on it, I think I would have preferred the film end about fifteen minutes earlier for maximum effect.
That said, the ending didn’t ruin the film for me. OPEN WINDOWS uses modern and future tech to tell an age old tale of obsession and voyeurism, piggybacking on the rising paranoia that anything and everything we say or do can and will be caught on a camera and shared to everyone. These are base fears that Hitchcock exploited in many of his films, most importantly REAR WINDOW. With OPEN WINDOWS, Vigalondo has modernized these themes for the modern age and despite a flawed ending, the ride up to it was pretty fantastic.
In select theaters today!
SUBURBAN GOTHIC (2014)Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
Written by Richard Bates Jr. & Mark Bruner
Starring Matthew Gray Gubler, Kat Dennings, Ray Wise, Barbara Niven, Muse Watson, Sally Kirkland, Mel Rodriguez, Jeffrey Combs, John Waters, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Jack Plotnick, Ray Santiago, Shanola Hampton, Mackenzie Phillips, Jessica Camacho
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A problematic last act makes Richard Bates Jr.’s follow up to his excellent first film EXCISION (reviewed here) not as successful. Still, there are a lot of redeeming qualities bopping around this horrific take on life in the suburbs.
It’s kind of easy to make fun of suburban life. There’s a feeling one gets after moving away from home and having to return to the cookie cutter lifestyle we all think we have outgrown that cannot be denied. It’s cool to make fun of that, but also kind of boring to do so as it’s been done before in films like DONNIE DARKO, THE BURBS, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, HEATHERS, and Bates’ first film, EXCISION. This “cooler than thou” mentality runs rampant in SUBURBAN GOTHIC, a story of a business school grad who lives the slacker/hipster lifestyle being forced to move back in with his parents due to financial difficulties and finding age-old hells reawakened in doing so. This film feels like it would be a great double feature with the more recent “move back home to hell” film HOUSEBOUND (reviewed here).
The man-child is named Raymond here (played by Matthew Gray Gubler) and while the story posts him as an unlikable light, he is the glue which holds this film together. Gubler’s comic timing is impeccable. His quick retorts seem like something a kid who thinks he is better than everyone around him would say, and having his over-saccharinated and possibly over-medicated mother (Barbara Niven) and his domineering and bigoted father (Ray Wise) as parents he has good reason to hate the burbs. Raymond is rather sympathetic, as he seems to be haunted by childhood nightmares as soon as he steps foot into his old home. But these nightmares begin to take shape when some landscapers uncover a small coffin with a skeleton in it in the backyard. Raymond meets a sassy bartender (Kat Dennings, who basically plays her snarky self the whole time—would it kill her to be genuine for once?) and sets out to solve the mystery before the ghostly happenings do bad things to him, his ascot, and his tight pants.
Another shining gem in this film is Ray Wise, who is always awesome, but his oblivious bigotry is delivered in such a manner that he had me rolling from beginning to end. Seeing the way Wise seethes with disappointment about his non-athletic son makes for some of the most entertaining bits in the film.
As you see, I haven’t really mentioned the supernatural elements here. While many films try to juggle the comedy and horror evenly, this one doesn’t really give an even service to the horror department. The effects are rather rudimentary and while there are some GHOSTBUSTER-y/BEETLEJUICE-ian fantastic elements at play here, there’s not enough to make it stand out. This is one of the main reasons why the final act falls apart, since the budget didn’t seem to be in it for major fantastic elements playing out and the ones that did weren’t really anything that we haven’t seen before. These elements just weren’t strong enough to support the ending of the film when people have to stop joking and move the plot to some kind of resolution.
Looked at as a comedy with slight horror sprinkles, this film is much more successful than if looked at as horror comedy. This is vastly different than the potent blend of comedy and horror that EXCISION was. I guess it’s not fair to compare the two films, but EXCISION just seemed to be much more substantial than this follow-up. Gubler and Wise’s performances make this film worth checking out, but SUBURBAN GOTHIC kind of falls apart if you go beyond that.
And finally…let’s end this column as we started and bookend it with some fly-centric thrills. This one is a musical number set to the Fly episode of TNMT. Quite the amalgamation and also quite entertaining…Enjoy!
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.
Be sure to tell your comic shop to order his new comic PIROUETTE (out now!) from Black Mask Studios!
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!
Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!