Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.
Let’s get right on with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Short Cuts: BALLOON FEAST Short Film (2013)
Hauntings 4 Pack: HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE (2009)
ZOMBIE KILLERS: ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD (2015)
NINJAS VS MONSTERS (2013)
ABC’S OF DEATH II (2014)
THE VOICES (2014)
STARRY EYES (2014)
Advance Review: BLOOD REDD (2014)
And finally…HOW TO SURVIVE THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE Episode One: Release!
Currently touring fests!
BALLOON FEAST Short Film (2013)Directed by Willy Adkins
Written by Justin R. Romine
Starring Clarisse Behr, Joe DeBartolo
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This short played at last year’s Chicago Independent Horror Film Festival and having missed it then, I’m just getting around to reviewing it now. Like most shorts, it tells a simple tale as and abundance of details is not something that is available given the amount of time allotted to tell the story. Still, the best shorts can compel and astonish in a short amount of time, and this is one of the good ones.
Getting ready for his shift and loading some beer out of his car, a bartender finds a woman collapsed in the alley behind the bar. Bringing her into the bar and resting her on the pool table, he searches her for some kind of identification and instead funds a balloon filled with some kind of drug. Taking the drug, the bartender finds that this is no ordinary girl and no ordinary drug.
What happens next is trippy and freaky. With sights and sounds out of a funhouse ride in Wonderland, BALLOON FEAST takes you on a bender like few I’ve seen. Mixing audio and video clips from old movies with flashes and wavy animation, through some fantastic edits, the film captures that feeling of helplessness within a drug induced haze perfectly. Ending with a bang, this short is a lot of fun and while it doesn’t require much by way of budget, it still delivers a lot of creep and psychedelica.
You can check out BALLOON FEST for yourself here!
Available on as part of the HAUNTINGS 4 Films from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment!
HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE (2009)aka THE HOUSE OF SCARY GHOSTS
Directed by Mark Atkins
Written by Mark Atkins
Starring Lira Kellerman, Michael Holmes, Tomas Boykin, Kimberly Ables Jindra, Patty Roberts, Jennifer Smart, Rob Ullett, David McIntyre, Savannah Schoenecker, Sari Sheehan, Rya Meyers, Mitch Toles, Jefferson Wilmore, Frank Weitzel, George Michael Lampe
Find out more about this film 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. THE HAUNTING OF FOX HOLLOW FARM was a decent Ghost Hunters style flick Let’s see what’s happening with HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE.
While the words “The Asylum presents…” is usually enough to send me running and screaming the other way, this little riff on POLTERGEIST has its moments. The film revolves around two parents and their daughter, who after having engine problems, are forced to walk to their new home which happens to be a place haunted by all sorts of spirits. As the family settles in, the spooky stuff like moving shadows, sheets pulled off the bed, and weird old ladies creeping out of closets let them know that this is no ordinary home. But the family continues to live there until their daughter is abducted by a creepy old lady. As the parents struggle to find their daughter in the house, a medium shows up to help them through this arduous journey.
While things seem like they’re predictable with this film, I found myself surprised quite a bit as the revelations begin to emerge. Some fun filmmaking techniques make for some creepy imagery and some nice twists in the latter half of the film really took me by surprise. Now, the acting leaves a lot to be desired, but out of all of the films I’ve seen so far, HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE is by far the best in that it really seems to be trying to tell a compelling story. And while the CG effects are lackluster and the acting feels more dead than alive, there is real storytelling skill at play here and a lot of the practical effects are downright fun.
Available on DVD and digital download from Reality Films!
THE GHOSTKEEPERS (2012)Directed by Anthony D.P. Mann
Written by Anthony D.P. Mann
Starring Jenny Costanzo, Heidi L. Dennis, Gene Lee, Anthony D.P. Mann, Sherri Paterson, Christian Pawlowski, Carley Spellman, Declan Spellman, Jennifer Verardi, Barry Yuen
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Interesting in concept although a bit plodding in execution, GHOSTKEEPERS manages to drum up some decent scares, but feels like it takes a long time to get to its point.
A group of podcasters venture to the site where a cult classic film was made and invite two of the actors from the film to join them. Unbeknownst to the podcasters, the site actually appears to be haunted and while the group pair up and reminisce about age old relationships and memories from the past, it seems the house itself wants to make this trip down memory lane a scary one.
What works here is most of the acting as everyone feels right for the roles they are playing. The podcasters feel genuine without sounding like obnoxious extras from CLERKS. Anthony D.P. Mann (who also wrote and directed this film) plays one of the aged actors returning to where one of his most famous roles was shot and plays the part with much pomp and gusto with a hint of arrogance. Sherri Patterson plays his costar and does so with a lot of defensiveness and wisdom gained by being run through the Hollywood machine for years. While there is a lot of relationship drama going on with who is infatuated with who and who used to shag who else, at least the actors playing out this drama make it all feel genuine.
The problem here is that so much time is dedicated to the memory walks and the relationship drama that it feels like an eternity before anything even remotely creepy shows up. Mann peppers in a scare once every ten or fifteen minutes, but it really feels like the interest here was in the nostalgic and romantic factors going on rather than the scares themselves. In a way, that is kind of refreshing, but if you’re looking for pants-filling scares, this one doesn’t really deliver.
There is a scary ghost kid who is often rendered in CG to make even more scary and ghosty. So while there is a definitely sense of atmosphere in this fictional and legendary haunted house and the actors bumping around in the night are pretty decent, the lack of real scares is what ends up hurting GHOSTKEEPERS in the end.
New this week on DVD, BLuRay, Digital Download from Anchor Bay!
ZOMBIE KILLERS: ELEPHANTS GRAVEYARD (2015)Directed by Harrison Smith
Written by David Agnew Penn, Harrison Smith
Starring Mischa Barton, Billy Zane, Dee Wallace, Felissa Rose, Brian Anthony Wilson, Gabrielle Stone, Michael Kean, Ashley Sumner, Brian Gallagher, Kyle Patrick Brennan, Joe Raffa, Susan Moses
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Harrison Smith directed CAMP DREAD and THE FIELDS and delivers his best film to date here with the somewhat ridiculously named ZOMBIE KILLERS: ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD. After the explanation of the title, it makes more sense, but upon hearing about this, I was thinking this was going to be some kind of film like THE DEAD series which takes place in remote places like Africa and deals with the cultural aspects of zombie infestation.
But no dice! This is a pretty typical zombie survival drama more akin with THE WALKING DEAD than anything else. We join the story midstream as a small community seems to be thriving decently given the post-apocalyptic situation they have found themselves in. There is a rather fanatical, yet organized religious order. Showing where priority lays, a doctor aptly named Doc (Brian Anthony Wilson) is head honcho, but he rules with a semi-iron fist, taking no chances with a resurgence of infestation within the community and exiling anyone testing positive for infection off the premises. Then there are the titular Zombie Killers, led by Seiler (Billy Zane), who defend the community and kind of live as Doc’s team of enforcers. Meanwhile, the zombies are beginning to act rather peculiarly, moving in patterns and responding so some kind of mystical gong. Add in some weird zombie fish, wolves, and deer and it’s pretty evidence that this isn’t your run of the mill zombie film.
I like the new elements used in this film. Adding a somewhat mystical element, which is left out of the more grounded and realistic THE WALKING DEAD, makes the interactions that may seem like a knock off, rather fresh. Reanimating the dead is something seen in comics such as THE OTHER DEAD, but not so much in film, so it’s kind of cool to see a school of zombie fish leaping from a pond on the attack. Plus the reason behind the weird actions of the zombies is a fun concept and makes the threat all the more dangerous (hint: it has something to do with the title).
Add having Billy Zane in the film to the positives to this film. Zane’s Seiler is hilarious as he always brings an odd take on any character he plays. Here his nonchalant behavior in the face of absolute horror is the source for many of this film’s most entertaining moments. Zane’s quirky sense off humor really does spice things up and any time he’s on screen is gold here.
Negatives? Well, it’s a zombie movie. And there’s been so many zombie movies out there that the mere mention that it’s a zombie movie is enough to give anyone a negative feel about going into this film. But if you ignore those pangs of zombie fatigue, you’ll be treated with some fun performances by both Dee Wallace and her daughter Gabrielle Stone, as well as SLEEPAWAY CAMP’s Felissa Rose as a religious fanatic. Add some impressive, albeit somewhat cartoony CG, and an attention to character and emotion you normally don’t get in a zombie film, and ZOMBIE KILLERS: ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD is one zombie film that might cure your zombie fatigue.
New this week On Demand and DVD from Uncork’d and NinjaVS,com!
NINJAS VS MONSTERS (2015)Directed by Justin Timpane
Written by Justin Timpane
Starring Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi, Jay Saunders, Devon Brookshire, P.J. Megaw, Dan Guy, Carla Okouchi, Jasmine Guillermo, Sam Lukowski, Elliot Kashner, Daniel Mascarello, Lyon Beckwith, Mina Noorbakhsh, Vicki Parks, Tori Bertocci
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
From the makers of NINJAS VS VAMPIRES and NINJAS VS ZOMBIES comes the third and final chapter in the ambitious and fun series of chop-socky vs spooky-ooky action, NINJAS VS MONSTERS. And if you’re a fan of low fi cinema, this film is going to be something worth noting.
The story shoots for the moon as a bunch of friends, gifted with the powers of the ninja, must save the world and all they love from Dracula and his horde of monsters. There are flying fists, swinging blades, magical power blasts, and all sorts of creatures yanked right from the Universal Monster movies.
If you haven’t seen the first two movies in this series, I think you might be missing a bit here with this final chapter. This film has a pretty large cast and while the characters aren’t all that complex, there is an extensive back-story to catch up on if you haven’t seen the first two. Still, the core concept is a bunch of regular dudes getting ninja powers and then fighting monsters, so if you want to appreciate it at that level, this film delivers. This installment does sport much more affective and professional looking fights and choreography. While the first film seemed like something that could be filmed in one’s back yard, this one actually feels like an honest to gosh film. Having BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s Eduardo Sanchez as an executive producer probably helped with that. The effects at play here is much more impressive here as well, with all sorts of magic blasts, electro-shocks, blue portals, and fake but copious amounts of computer blood CG.
Now don’t go looking for top tier acting here. This film was birthed from indie DIY roots and this apple didn’t fall far from the low budget tree. And while some of the humor feels like something that was hip and now about ten years ago, there are some fun moments that made me laugh out loud here as well.
Still, this NINJAS VS series was fun to see unfold over the last few years. It mixes CLERKS style/Kevin Smith fanboy humor with well choreographed martial arts and special effects sequences. It’s ambitious in that it kept its core cast of actors and maintained a throughway in terms of story and character than you only see in the best of comics these days. These filmmakers, these actors, and this story evolved from one movie to the next but there is a consistency and genuine quality to all three that you can’t help but root for because it really feels like it was made by fans like you and me. NINJAS VS MONSTERS is by far the best produced of the series and brings it all to a fun and final resolution, leaving me with the question; now that the ninjas have beaten everyone and everything, what’s next for this filmmaking crew who shot for the stars and went very far with it.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Lionsgate/Haxan!
EXISTS (2014)Directed by Eduardo Sánchez
Written by Jamie Nash
Starring Samuel Davis, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Samuel Davis, Chris Osborn & Brian Steele as the Sasquatch!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
As most of you know, I have a soft spot in my cold black heart for Bigfoot films. It is a genre made of very bad films, though sometimes a gem appears in the rough and surprises you. I’ve said before that a good Bigfoot film is about as tough to find as Bigfoot himself, but this year in particular, two films of the Squatchy kind have stood out as worth seeing. The first is Bobcat Goldthwait’s WILLOW CREEK (reviewed here) and the second being the subject of this review, EXISTS.
Eduardo Sanchez is no stranger to urban myth as he rose to stardom having directed the found footage urban legend sensation BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Sanchez impressed me more last year with LOVELY MOLLY which shed the found footage trappings and knocked me on my ass with some stunning visuals, bone-quaking moments, and an engrossing story. Sanchez returns to the found footage motif with EXISTS. I like the hook of this film, that being written out for us at the beginning; “There have been many Bigfoot sightings through the years, and experts agree that they have not been violent unless provoked.” Whether or not you believe in Bigfoot or the word of Bigfoot experts will depend on the viewer. The plot, though plays with a simple revenge story motif that is instantly engaging; following a group of campers who accidentally hit a Sasquatch in the opening moments, only to find themselves the target of another Sasquatch’s vengeance. For me, making an engaging plot is important in a film about a creature whose existence is debatable as it gives Bigfoot’s involvement an understandably vengeful slant.
The cast is likable as well, though there’s not a lot of time for us to get to know them as they almost instantly hit the Bigfoot (they don’t find a body, but capture a glimpse of it on tape) and then are running for their lives from it for the rest of the film. Still, the acting feels pretty natural; an essential element of a found footage film.
My biggest problem, and it’s one I admit to be a personal issue in terms of found footage films, is that the film takes the easy route too many times. Doing this column, I’ve seen more found footagers than I can count. For me, the ones that hold up are the ones that obey a certain set of guidelines. For it to be found footage there should be no music. Unless there is a cello section hiding behind a bush, there shouldn’t be cellos or synthesizer or whatever in the film. I find it to be a huge cheat if you can’t convey a mood by using the actors’ reactions, the natural sounds that are going on in the scene, and some crafty scene setups and builds. Sure in a regular film, a score is common, but for a film that is supposed to be the closest thing to real life as it can be, nothing takes me out of a found footager faster than hearing music where music shouldn’t be happening.
Secondly, the film is made through multiple cams, often time switching POV’s and camera types mid-scene. And while, yes it is possible the survivors of this film would be able to collect all of the cameras and splice them together in order to make a sensible movie, the likelihood of this happening is small. On top of that, there is no indication that this film was spliced together from the different cameras. It worked in BLAIR WITCH because there were only two cameras filming, so cutting between the two wasn’t as big a deal, but in this film we cut from a dashboard cam, to a phone cam, to a helmet cam, to a hand held cam all in one scene. Again, if we are supposed to be believing this film is happening in real time, the presence of an omniscient editor or an omniscient orchestra only works against all of that.
A simple blurb at the beginning of EXISTS stating, “The following is comprised of footage found and put together by a forensics team in order to make sense of the events that occurred leading to the deaths of five young campers in the Northwest forests of blah—blah—blah…” In taking that extra step, it makes things much more believable and for me, if you want to justify that your film is meant to be found footage and not some way to cheaply make a film, then simple steps like this should be made to make it more believable. Knowing that this is the same director who made a country believe three hikers were missing after looking for a witch, one would think that this is something within his wheelhouse.
My personal POV perspective peeves aside, I challenge anyone to find a better looking Bigfoot than the one who shows up in this film. Not only the way it looks, but the action involving Bigfoot in pursuit and its strength in action are all top notch here. There are some genuinely frightening moments in this film despite the fact that it breaks some rules of the found footage rulebook. And though it’s not a perfect found footage film, EXISTS is a really well done Bigfoot movie worth seeking out for believers and non believers alike.
New this week on BluRay and DVD from Magnet Releasing!
THE ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014)Reviewed by Ambush Bug
So as I did with the first ABCS OF DEATH anthology, I’m writing the reviews directly after viewing each installment, so I can give my immediate reaction to the short based on each letter of the alphabet. At the end, I’ll chime in on how it compares to the original and how it is as an overall piece of entertainment. Here we go!
A is for Amateur
Directed/written by E.L. Katz
CHEAP THRILLS director E.L. Katz starts us off with a tale of a would-be assassin. The story walks us through the perfect crime and then shows us how it really goes down. This one is light in tone, but dark and gory as all get out as it’s never as easy as it looks in the movies. Great music. Fun gore. Good installment.
B is for Badger
Directed/written by Julian Barratt
This one follows a wildlife documentarian (played by THE MIGHTY BOOSH’s Julian Barratt, who also directs the installment) investigating the disappearance of the badger population due to the species proximity near a nuclear power plant. The highlight is the hosts berating of his crew and what happens when he finds out that the animals he thought were extinct have actually survived and evolved. Filled with “biting” humor, this one is another fun one that ends a bit too soon for me.
C is for Capital Punishment
Directed/written by Julian Gilbey
From the director of PLASTIC and A LONELY PLACE TO DIE comes a gory look at punishment. While there might be a bit of humor in this one, it’s of the gallows type—literally. This one’s got one of the gorier executions I’ve ever bore witness to in film, making it much more grueling than some of the other lighter installments as it focuses on a man wrongly accused of murder and a race against time to stop the execution. Intense and horribly gory.
D is for Deloused
Directed/written by Robert Morgan
Animator Robert Morgan offers up a surreal masterpiece that is utterly fascinating and horrifically disgusting all at once. Nothing really makes a lick of sense here, but there are tons of insects, severed heads, demon bears, and one giant louse. Those who loved those old Tool videos are in for a treat here as Morgan uses all kinds of grungy materials for this stop motion messterpiece.
E is for Equillibrium
Directed/written by Alejandro Brugues
JUAN OF THE DEAD filmmaker Alejandro Brugues helms this one that feels more like a Bud Light commercial gone horribly, horribly wrong as two men stranded on an island think their prayers are answered when a woman washes up on shore. But that only fuels the fire of combat between the two. This one felt a lot like a Loony Tune episode with all sorts of cartoonish violence and music. Fun stuff and sure to shock those not prepared for the goofy gore.
F is for Falling
Directed/written by Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado
The directing/writing team behind BIG BAD WOLVES offer up this poignant and touching little number that almost seems out of place in this satiric and gory anthology. In such little time, you get to actually care about these two characters, one a female soldier from Israel, the other a young Palestinian militant. It’s a testament to Keshales and Papushado, who often put politics in their work, but in unconventional ways, that they are able to say so much in such a small screen time. If anything, this little snippet of violence and beauty has me chomping at the bit for what’s next by these two talented filmmakers.
G is for Grandad
Directed/written by Jim Hosking
Well, this is one out of the ordinary little ditty about an ungrateful young man who is staying at his grandfather’s place. From start to finish this is comic and weird and bizarre and utterly unpredictable. You’ve got finger knives and secret compartments in beds and teeth brushing. It’s a short you have to see to believe and even after that, I don’t think you’ll believe it. Truly odd indeed and I loved it.
H is for Head Games
Directed/written by Bill Plympton
And this ain’t no Foreigner song, that’s for sure. It’s a vivid and violent battle of the sexes between a man and a woman whose faces become all out arsenals against one another leaving both of them worse for wear. Anyone who has seen a Plymptoon knows that the man goes dark often and well and this installment is a prime example of what he can do without a net. Plympton does his animation like no other and this is exactly the type of oddball face off that was made for THE ABCS OF DEATH series.
I is for Invincible
Directed/written by Erik Matti
Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti drops us off towards the end of an inheritance gone horribly wrong as a seemingly unkillable old lady mocks her captors who seem to have tried everything in the torture handbook to kill the old broad, but nothing seems to work. While the violence is cartoony, the gore is rather gruesome as the wear and tear of each attempt looks all too real and while there is a lighter tone to this one as the ungrateful inheritors continue to hack away at their matriarch, the reality of it all gave be a bit of a shutter. Nice effects work all around and a fun little twist of an ending makes this one of the ones that’s going to stand out at the end of this alphabetical anthology.
J is for Jesus
Directed/written by Dennison Ramalho
Shifting the tone to deathly serious is short film director Dennison Ramalho who takes the horror into brave and bold new places with this bloody little bit of torture porn which delves a bit into MARTYRS territory as a homosexual man is bound and tortured by thugs hired by his disapproving father. While it is definitely uncomfortable to watch, the way this one plays out is rather fascinating especially when the stigmata begins to appear. Full of holy and unholy retribution the imagery in this one is tops and sure to leave a deep mark in your psyche.
K is for Knell
Directed/written by Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper
I absolutely loved this one which is filled with all sorts of terrifying moments from start to finish as a woman sees a swirling blob in the sky hovering over a neighboring apartment complex from her own balcony. Soon after all of the residents begin to murder one another and when most are dead, those left turn and see our heroine across the way. As the black swirl makes its way to her own apartment, the tension rises to a fever pitch and I couldn’t help but be swept away by the amount of primal fears twanged by the deft direction and suspense filled moments of this one. This one is absolutely horrifying stuff from the team that brought us last year’s surreal VANISHING WAVES.
L is for Legacy
Directed/written by Lancelot Imasuen
Nigerian director Lancelot Imasuen offers up a story of curses and duty set in against the backdrop of tribal conflict. While the effects here are rather rudimentary, I can’t help but be in awe of this new find of horror unleashed upon a tribe who fails to follow through his the orders of its king. The man-sized rat demon is a thing to behold as is the hell it unleashes upon the tribe. While it might read like a 50’s monster movie, there’s a rawness to this short that cannot be denied.
M is for Masticate
Directed/written by Robert Boocheck
This one got a lot of press because M was the open ticket for this ABCS OF DEATH feature and while I saw quite a few of the M tryouts, I do agree that this slo mo sequence involving a sweaty madman on a rampage in his underwear is the best of the best. Sure it ends on a rather predictable note, but the entire rampage itself is done in a manner that makes it all worth while. While watching undulating rolls of a fat dude is not necessarily towards the top of my must see list, this short makes it all feel like poetry.
N is for Nexus
Directed/written by Larry Fessenden
I was blown away by this RUN LOLA RUN-esque fast paced shortie from BENEATH director Larry Fessenden. As a man and woman rush to meet on a date, fate seems to have other things in store. Filled with memorable iconography that is steeped in reality, yet bizarre when set upon the backdrop of Halloween in the big city, this one is fun, yet tension filled from start to shocking finish.
O is for Olocracy (Mob Rule)
Directed/written by Hajime Ohata
The director of the mesmerizing HENGE brings a twisted tale of a world made of those who survived the zombie plague who are trying and sentencing those who killed zombies to death. One mother pleads her case in front of a zombie court. It all seems very silly but this takes a pretty dire twist in the latter minute which makes it all a bit more substantial than just a goof. The ending is pretty powerful as well as it proves the old adage “what goes around, comes around” to be correct.
P is for P-P-P-P-Scary
Directed/written by Todd Rohal
An old timey nightmare that melts into an acid trip. That sums up this installment up in a nutshell as three cartoonish convicts make their way through the dark as they escape from prison. They walk through a pitch black void until they happen across a man in a chair holding a baby. What happens next is something you might find in the most twisted episodes of the TIM & ERIC AWESOME SHOW GREAT JOB!, but set against the dark and filmed in black and white and you will be shivering more than laughing at this one. I couldn’t get enough of every creepy second of this one.
Q is for Questionnaire
Directed/written by Rodney Ascher Rodney Ascher, who directed the conspiracy theory laden ROOM 237, has fun with this wonky little number about a man taking a test cross-cut with the gory consequences of said test. It’s a pretty simple little story made fun by some extreme angles and gross-out operation room antics. There’s nothing here that’ll make your jaw drop, but it’s still light and fun. It doesn’t help that there’s a man in a pretty cheap looking monkey suit trying to make like a gorilla.
R is for Roulette
Directed/written by Marvin Kren RAMMBOCK and BLOOD GLACIER’s Marvin Kren offers up a not-so-typical Russian Roulette game that doesn’t really show its cards until the end. I was on the fence on this one until the end, but the way things wrapped up made it all the more fun. Kren plays with expectations here really well showing a lot of promise and while 90% of this short is something you may have seen a dozen times before, the ending is 100% unique.
S is for Split
Directed/written by Juan Martinez Moreno
This one was riveting from minute one. A man calls his wife on the phone just when someone is attempting to break into her house. As the wife hides, the intruder scours the home for her with the man on the other end forced to listen as his wife fights for her life. The whole thing is told in split screen, hence the title, and it’s done in a manner that would make DePalma proud. This one is raw and fierce, taking no prisoners and offering no apologies.
T is for Torture Porn
Directed/written by Jen & Sylvia Soska
While it lacks the dramatic punch of AMERICAN MARY, Jen & Sylvia Soska packed a whole bunch of perversity into this little short. There is a nice little build to the big reveal here as a woman is degraded and berated by men around her on what appears to be a porn shoot. Then things switch gears rather dramatically resulting in a barrage of sights and sounds that can only be described as unnatural. From the beginning, this one seems like it’s got something evil and menacing coming up, but I don’t think anyone would be able to predict where this one goes. Fun and horrific stuff.
U is for Utopia
Directed/written by Vincenzo Natali
This one brings forth a perfect future where everyone is beautiful and pristine…except for one chubby guy who happens into the joint. While this one is pretty predictable, it still makes for a powerful statement on how fortune favors the beautiful. Still, this one isn’t without a bite as I loved the bit at the end with the clapping kids. Not as visionary as SPLICE and CUBE, director Vincenzo Natali still manages to keep this one entertaining from start to finish.
V is for Vacation
Directed/written by Jerome Sable
This one seems a little more at home in a V/H/S/ film rather than this anthology as it takes place solely during a Facetime call between a dude on a mancation and his girlfriend back home. When his tweaked out bro snags the phone, the caller is shown what the guys really have been doing. But that’s just the tip of the depravity iceberg as this one snowballs into something dark and ugly quickly. This one has a cruel streak to it that really packs a punch by the end. It’s not going to be a favorite with the ladies watching this one and this one is going to rank up there as being a guy’s worst nightmare. Even though it feels a bit out of place here, it’s still dark and entertaining. This one is directed by STAGE FRIGHT director Jerome Sable and continues to show that the director does macabre really well.
W is for Wish
Directed/written by Steven Kostanski
In the original ABCS OF DEATH, the latter few letters were by far the most bizarre and outrageous and it appears they did the same with this one as well. This one has a pair of kids wishing they could live in the toy fantasy land they love playing with, and sure enough, their wish comes true. You will see skeletons getting tortured and an old guy wearing a Speedo named Fantasy Man who rides a giant beetle and Jen & Sylvia Soska punching a hole in a guy. All of it brought to you by the twisted mind behind MANBOG and FATHER’S DAY, two films I revere. Here’s another winner of a short from Kostanski who I hope goes nowhere but up and up after this, another fantastically twisted little short.
X is for Xylophone
Directed/written by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo
Wow this one was pitch black and bloody. While the choice of xylophone for the word used for this short is somewhat uninspired, the story itself, about a babysitter driven nuts by a little girl playing a xylophone, is something to be admired. This one is gutsy and will surely offend, but there’s an absurdity that made me laugh even though I was cringing as the ending is something so very, very horrible. This one looks fantastic and utilizes sound in a way that would drive anyone insane. Brilliant stuff from Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, the deviant minds behind INSIDE.
Y is for Youth
Directed/written by Soichi Umezawa
Yet another batshit crazy one as a girl’s metaphors come alive as she is texting on the phone. People turn into dogs, vomit guitars, and battle giant hamburgers and penises. It’s fantastically warped stuff from an uncapped mind. This one completely encapsulated the rebelliousness and angst of youth. It looks as if Umezawa originally called this one M is for Middle for the M category, but with a little rejiggering it ended up fitting in nicely here towards the balls out end of the anthology. Fantastically surreal and utterly unique stuff in this one.
Z is for Zygote
Directed/written by Chris Nash
Well, they saved the most depraved and twisted for the end as a woman takes a special root in order for her to keep from having her baby until her estranged husband will return. How long can she keep the baby inside? Therein lays the horror as it appears this root guarantees that the birth won’t be for a long time. Soon the woman begins talking with the baby, now a grown child, inside of her and then it gets really fucked up. Lots of gore and grue ensue. I can’t believe how gross this one gets, but I’m glad they saved it for the end because it really is a show stopper.
While I liked the original ABCS OF DEATH, I have to say, I think as far as a consistently entertaining anthology, this sequel is much stronger. The first anthology seemed to have a lot of big names, but not a lot of them took things seriously enough to offer up anything but goofy, grossout scares. In this one, there are some goofy letters, but they are mixed with others that are deathly serious or utterly disquieting. All in all, as far as anthologies go ABCS OF DEATH 2 has so much variety, you’re sure to find something that scares, shocks, or tickles you. And if you don’t like one, the segments are short enough that the next may be your cup of blood.
BEWARE: The trailer below is extreme and red bandy and definitely not safe for work!
New this week On Demand and select theaters from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
THE VOICES (2014)Directed by Marjane Satrapiv
Written by Michael R. Perry
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Adi Shankar, Ricardia Bramley, Paul Brightwell, Aaron Kissiov, Valerie Koch, Alessa Kordeck, Gulliver McGrath, Michael Pink, Helena Prince, Ella Smith, Stephanie Vogt
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Using big stars in genre films can go either way. Sometimes it can prove that the actor, who usually stars in safer, bigger, and broader films still has an edge and is willing to take some risks with his or her career. Then again, attaching a big name to a horror film can also mean you’re going to get a tamed down version of horror no one likes because too few risks are taken. Seeing a big star version of THE OMEN with Liev Schreiber & Julia Stiles feels like a watered down remake with star power compared to the provocative and controversial original starring Gregory Peck & Lee Remick (equally big stars in their time). But for every lame attempt to make big star horror, there’s a film like MANIAC with Elijah Wood which takes risks and more with the material. THE VOICES, while much less bloody, feels much more akin with MANIAC than with safer horror and Ryan Reynolds delivers one of his best performances in years in this somewhat more dangerous territory.
I’ve always been a fan of Reynolds from the get go and seeing him fumble with GREEN LANTERN was frustrating because I feel he’s an amazingly talented actor in both dramatic and comedic roles. Here he straddles both genres as Jerry, a socially awkward man just trying to meet a nice girl. For him, it seems all he needs to do is meet that one special person and then, finally, his life would make sense. In the meantime, he talks with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. I talk with my cat. Nothing wrong with that, but the problem here is that Bosco and Mr. Whiskers talk back to him and the advice they give him is not always the best. When A series of events puts Jerry alone with one of his female co-workers (Gemma Arterton), things don’t work out well, and soon, Jerry is on a reluctant killing spree due to the voices he is hearing from his pets.
Now, taking the reasoning behind the Son of Sam killings and turning it into a quirky horror comedy seems like it is in bad taste, but Reynolds gives it his all here. As Woods did in MANIAC, Reynolds relies on the likability built from previous films to allow you to be lulled in and maybe even feel sorry for him as Jerry. You want Jerry to make the right decisions and get the girl in the end, but it’s pretty obvious early on that this isn’t that type of movie. This is the type of rabbit hole movie many people used to seeing Reynolds and VAN WILDER and other characters Chevy Chase would have taken thirty years ago are not going to like because it takes this likeable character and really puts them, and you by proxy, through the ringer. Sympathizing with the character is crucial here, and at least for me, Reynolds had me hooked. Being an animal lover myself, it wasn’t hard to root for the guy with the cat, but Reynolds portrays a deeply fractured man here and the dark places he goes are going to be too dark for the mainstream crowd.
But I’m not part of that crowd and if you’re a reader of this column, you probably aren’t either. The straight South direction this film goes really impressed me as writer/director Marjane Satrapiv (who also directed the animated PERSEPOLIS and CHICKEN WITH PLUMBS) really pulled no punches in terms of making Jerry’s history equally painful and sickening. Seeing the dichotomy between the world Jerry lives in on his meds and off is subtle but still jarringly effective and Satrapiv does a fantastic job distinguishing the two states of mind. The final sequence, might feel jarring to some, but as the camera zooms in close on Jerry’s eyeball and we actually enter his head, it is fascinating to see the idealistic and simple world he has been living in throughout the entire movie. So while ending a horror film with a musical number might feel trite, it really does capture the difference between what Jerry sees and what the rest of us do.
THE VOICES is an intelligent movie about a man with debilitating social anxieties and schizophrenia. It feels well researched in terms of the turns the story takes and realized in an equally effective fashion as acted out by Reynolds who took a risk here and, at least for me, it paid off. Those interested in the psychological side of horror are going to be interested in this one.
New this week on iDVD and BluRay from Dark Sky Films!
STARRY EYES (2014)Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Written by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Starring Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Marc Senter, Louis Dezseran, Danny Minnick
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The best horror films I can think of take a speck of the real world and tweak it to horrific lengths. That’s what STARRY EYES does--a bleak and twisted, albeit not so inaccurate, comment on the state of Hollywood and our dreams of stardom and fame.
Alex Essoe offers up an ironically star-making performance as Sarah, a waitress at a Hooters knockoff restaurant (managed by the always awesome Pat Healy) who dreams of becoming a star and is annoyed by her friends who also dream of stardom. After bombing yet another audition, Sarah has a breakdown in the women’s bathroom screaming and tearing her hair out by the roots. Unbeknownst to her, the casting agent is in the bathroom and witnesses the freak out and sees something in Sarah she did not convey in her audition. Asking her to audition again, we see how this girl we want to root for is really pretty unhinged as she freaks out in front of both casting agents, impressing them with her guttural and primal tantrum. This opens the door to stardom for Sarah, but with that stardom, of course, comes a price.
The standout of the film for me was Essoe’s performance. At first, I was drawn into Sarah’s plight. Having to wear skimpy clothing and serve fatty foods to mouth-breathing customers is something we think she has too much talent for. But after the freak out and as she progresses up the ladder to possible stardom, a darker and less likable side comes out and it is brave for this story and this actress to show it. While it’s subtle at first, as Sarah chuckles when a friend slips and falls, breaking her nose, this cruel streak grows and grows to gargantuan proportions as the film makes a comment that in order to become a star, all forms of humanity and soul must be left behind. What proceeds is not a comfortable film, but it is rich in subtext on how much you are willing to give in order to achieve a dream.
If there’s a criticism I have for STARRY EYES is that it’s coming out late in the game in terms of movies focusing on painful and awful transformation. Films like THANATOMORPHOSE and CONTRACTED were notable last year as both being very effective in depicting the deterioration of one person because of the lifestyle they were leading. In those films, the ugliness inside of them seemed to come out and visibly be seen as the movie progresses. This similar theme occurs with STARRY EYES as the latter half of the film depicts Essoe writhing and squirming in pain as whatever is happening to her after her “audition” seems to be changing her from the inside out. Only because I had seen two very effective films already this year depicting practically the same thing did these scenes lose the intended gross-out effect it was going for. But since some of you haven’t seen THANATOMORPHOSE or CONTRACTED, this may not be an issue for you.
The ending of STARRY EYES is bombastic, graphic, and poetic all at once. Kolsch and Widmyer highlight the ugliness and beauty of superstar aspirations evenly and all at once. And while STARRY EYES might not be a great film to watch if you have dreams to make it big one day, it is an entertaining and harrowing film that is very difficult to shake after viewing. Strong performances, a great ear for music, and a well executed theme make STARRY EYES stand out even if it is reminiscent of other recent body horror films.
Advance Review: Coming soon from TomCat Films!
BLOOD REDD (2014)Directed by Brad Palmer
Written by Brad Palmer
Starring Stephanie Hullar, Torey Widener, Julie Marie Hassett, Christopher Frainza, Peggy Ivene, Hayley O'Connor, Sean Pritchett
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though there are some indie low fi rough spots, this werewolf flick proves to be full of twists and turns that kept me guessing “who’s the wolf?” all the way through.
BLOOD REDD opens with a man bound to a chair wearing a muzzle. A pair of legs, seemingly female, walks up to him, drops her red panties and then becomes a werewolf and pounces. Cut to a month earlier and a chewed up body on a medical slab. A serial killer is hypothesized about by these investigators as they poke and prod over the gnarly remains. Apparently, this is one of a series of corpses showing up after the full moon. Cut to a young girl Lauren ( the bright-eyed and talented newcomer Stephanie Hullar), going through her everyday and trying to get out of visiting her grandmother’s house for the weekend as there’s a wicked rad party going on at the same time. But her parents are unflinching and off to grandmother’s house she goes. This trip to grannies turns out to be like no other Lauren has ever experienced.
While I feel like I’ve already given away too much, I think I left quite a bit of surprises in the synopsis above. This warped and twisted take on the Red Riding Hood and Rose Red fairy tales turns out to be anything but predictable. The advantage between wolf and human flip and flop numerous times here and while it’s hard to tell an original werewolf tale these days, BLOOD REDD really does seem to have something rather creative in terms of a storyline.
Also a plus is a fantastic performance by Hullar as Lauren. She has that “it girl” kind of manner to her that makes me think I’ll be seeing much more of her in the future. The confidence in her performance is really impressive and seeing her stand up to forces that most would cower to is something a lot of actresses couldn’t pull off, yet Hullar does in spades.
The budget is this film’s biggest enemy as the werewolf transformation scenes are either clichés in this post-AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON age or rudimentary in that the monster itself looks more like Rolf the Muppet. Still, director/writer Brad Palmer smartly doesn’t let the camera linger on these lesser points and leaves the screen time for the talented cast to do their thing. Wafts of GINGER SNAPS are prevalent throughout, but this still is a pretty different take on the subject of the tapping into one’s more bestial side. Heavy in character, yet light in convincing effects, BLOOD REDD isn’t your typical werewolf tale and in a subgenre that really doesn’t have a lot or originality, that’s impressive in itself.
And finally…we have a little instructional video for you in the inevitability of an uprising of the undead kind. This is the first in a planned web series and the folks behind the film have posted an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to complete the series. Decide for yourself is it’s worth your hard earned shekels and if so, check out the IndieGoGo campaign here and donate much and often. Here’s HOW TO SURVIVE THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE Episode One: Release…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.
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