Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. But before we start with the reviews, here are a few tidbits for you to chew on…
Below is a trailer for the new descent into madness/revenge flick THE DEMOLISHER coming soon from Latefox Pictures Inc. The film is described as:
Bruce is a repairman tormented by a crippling sense of responsibility for his disabled wife Samantha, an ex-policewoman. Bruce’s increasing hypersensitivity to the injustice suffered by his wife steers him down a dark path of vigilantism. His disintegrating mental health, paranoia and overwhelming sense of doom causes Bruce to channel his rage towards a young woman. Both a character study and a psychological examination of trauma, The Demolisher is an unapologetic portrayal of what can happen when a fragile mind is pushed too far.
This is director Gabriel Carrer's fifth feature film and his follow-up to IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES (which I reviewed here) and I’ll be sure to let you know when the film will be available. Here’s the trailer.
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
Retro-review: HIGH SPIRITS (1988)
Retro-review: ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD (2007)
DEAD KANSAS (2013)
THE INTRUDERS (2015)
FINAL PRAYER (2013)
OUT OF THE DARK (2014)
DIGGING UP THE MARROW (2014)
And finally… Sylvain White’s QUIET!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)Directed by Emmett Alston
Written by Leonard Neubauer (screenplay), Leonard Neubauer & Emmett Alston (story)
Starring Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Chris Wallace, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz, Jed Mills, Taaffe O'Connell, Jon Greene, Teri Copley, Anita Crane, Jennie Anderson, Alicia Dhanifu
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
After the success of HALLOWEEN, no holiday was safe from the slashers. There really aren’t too many holidays left to plunder that haven’t had a madman with an edged weapon assigned to it. One of the films which rushed into theaters and looked the part was NEW YEARS EVIL, which combines WHEN A STRANGER CALLS with HALLOWEEN with semi-successful results.
When glam rocker Blaze (played by Roz Kelly, who played Pinky Tuscadero in GREASE) hosts a call-in music countdown concert on New Year’s Eve, she begins receiving calls from a man with a voice modulator referring to himself as “Evil” (get it? Like the name of the movie!) telling her he will kill someone at midnight. When the ball drops in New York, sure enough, someone is perished. A little too quickly, the police realize that the madman is killing people every time each time zone gets to midnight and celebrates the New Year. Blaze immediately is freaked out, but the show goes on and while bad punk bands sing lame tunes, the killer goes to painstaking levels of complexity to make a killing every hour until he reaches the concert hall she is at.
To its credit, NEW YEAR’S EVIL has a few decent twists and turns in it. The big reveal towards the end is definitely something that threw me for a loop. And while it does follow the typical slasher blueprint, the fact that the killer (played by Kip Niven) has a face and actually converses with his kills and lures them to be alone with him is something that is outside of the mute murderer norm which was established in HALLOWEEN. The murderer dons a fake mustache, and often dresses in different disguises from a priest to a police officer to a hospital orderly; this man of a thousand costumes at least has a motif that is somewhat original, although it is goofy as hell. There’ also a twist involving Blaze’s son who is obviously not the killer, but still is pretty bugnuts and adds some more weirdness to the mix in between kills from the actual killer.
That said, this is a pretty ridiculous movie. From the opening scene that is a reverse of the shower scene from PSYCHO to the opening credits scene which follows a bunch of punks who, for no reason at all, start fights with every car they pass until they walk into the concert. Also, it seems that everyone in this film has a switchblade as multiple characters, including the killer, brandish one. If this were a film where we have to guess who the killer is, I would understand the repeated appearance of a switchblade over and over with multiple characters. But since we are shown who the character is early on, there’s no mystery, so either at one point this was supposed to be a mystery or in the early Eighties, switchblades were the iPhones of the time.
This is a bad, bad movie, but not without its entertainment value. The lengths the killer takes to murder (or merrrrr-derrrrrrrr, as he likes to say) are unintentionally hilarious. The master plan of the killer is anything but, as the concert hall would have been much more convenient to kill these people as the clock ticks to midnight, but instead he just bops around the city chancing to run into people. At one point, there’s an inane chase with a biker gang (note: every film had to have a biker gang in it in the late 70s). NEW YEAR’S EVIL has limited bells and whistles on this Blu, but it does have some audio commentary by the director and some modern interviews with the actors looking back on the film. With bad acting, love gore, heavy cheese, and a horrible soundtrack by heavily made-up faux punk rockers Shadow and Made in Japan, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is one of those infectiously bad films that you just can’t turn away from.
Retro-review: New as a Double Feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!
HIGH SPIRITS (1988)Directed by Neil Jordan
Written by Neil Jordan
Starring Peter O'Toole, Daryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg, Beverly D'Angelo, Liam Neeson, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher, Martin Ferrero, Ray McAnally, Connie Booth, Tony Rohr, Donal McCann
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Neil Jordan really doesn’t show off his talents here as writer/director that he did on such films as THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, THE CRYING GAME, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, and even the more recent BYZANTIUM (reviewed here), with the rompy comedy HIGH SPIRITS. Still, seeing where the actors involved ended up today makes this goofy farce pretty fun.
The Irish Plunkett Castle has seen better days, and in order for Peter (Peter o’Toole) to keep the place, he decides to cash in by deeming it haunted by ghosts in order to attract tourists and amateur ghost hunters from around the world. As soon as the tourists arrive, though, real ghosts begin to appear, and soon Peter learns to be careful what he wished for, as not all of the ghosts are friendly.
The attractor here is the cast. Peter O’Toole alone makes a movie most of the time, but we also have Beverly D’Angelo, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson (who looks exactly like Austin Powers in this film), the always bouncy Jennifer Tilly, the always eyebrow-dominant Peter Gallagher, and, of course, 80s leading man Steve Guttenberg to fill this film to the brim with recognizable actors. O’Toole has had better roles and I feels like he knows it here as his character, and most likely in real life, is half in the bag for the entire film. The rest of the cast both international and yank do their best, but the girth of the comedy and its lack of impact really hurt this film in the end.
There are some pretty cool effects scenes, and had Jordan gone for a more even horror comedy and amped up the scares a bit, I think this might have been something more akin to GHOSTBUSTERS than NOTHING BUT TROUBLE. There’s a flock of scary nuns and some creepy fish heads that really do make this look like something that could have caused a scare or two had the director and the cast chosen to go that way, but they didn’t, and instead this is much more heavy on the comedy than anything else.
Some of the sight gags pay off. There’s a cool sequence of a stage play made of cardboard props about a great sea battle that comes to life and turns out to be pretty fun. There’s also a whistling fish that I found hilarious. But for the most part, the weird romance between Guttenberg and Hannah (who is a ghost here) and the even weirder way in which wife swapping is seen as something of a norm in this film makes HIGH SPIRITS one of those films that could have been so much better had the direction been right.
No special features on this double disk, but the second feature, VAMPIRE’S KISS, will be covered in next week’s column.
Retro-review: New on DVD from Severin Films/Intervision!
ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD (2007)aka ISLAND OF THE DEAD
Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Written by Antonio Tentori, Bruno Mattei, & Giovanni Paolucci,
Starring Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo, Alvin Anson, Ydalia Suarez, Jim Gaines, Thomas Wallwort, Gary King Roberts, Curtis Carter, Miguel Franco, Arash Donadoni
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Last week I reviewed Mattei’s sequel to this film, ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING, but having been a little put off at the way that film strictly adhered to the framework of ALIENS, I’m glad I watched this one out of sequence because ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD is a far more superior film.
The story follows a group of treasure hunters (bad ones at that, as they bungle the recovery of a crate filled with gold in the opening moments) as they wash up on an uncharted island which at first seems abandoned until the zombies and ghosts show up. Soon the group must decide whether the gold they find on the island is worth their very lives as the zombie onslaught seems never-ending.
What makes ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD far superior to ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING is that at least it seems like Mattei is trying to tell an original style story here. Notorious for lifting stories beat for beat from popular American films like ALIENS, RAMBO, and TERMINATOR, Mattei’s lifting is much less evident here. Still, this film is filled with all sorts of “inspiration” from other films in the zombie genre. Mattei lifts direct lines from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, monsters from the Blind Dead series, and the eye poking scene from Fulci’s original ZOMBIE. Mattei also lacks consistency here as there’s no real rhyme or reason behind the variety of zombies that show up. The film opens with some voodoo. Then some vampires show up. Then some Conquistador-hooded Blind Dead zombies are awakened. Some ghosts appear. There’s even a ghostly guitar that plays by itself. There are the hordes of zombies that regrow lost limbs by the hundreds. And don’t forget the vampire ghost zombies.
Plus this film has a ship captain named Kirk...ugh…
I have to give it to Mattei here, as the gore is pretty effective. There are lots of exploding heads and severed limbs here that are nice and juicy. The sequence where the dead regrow their limbs is rudimentary, but it does elevate the threat to another level of fun. And while the ghosts are just people in heavy stage makeup, the hooded zombie guardians were actually pretty scary and made me want to revisit the BLIND DEAD series (something I’ve been meaning to do for ages).
If you’re a zombie fan and especially if you’re an Italian zombie fan, you’re going to want to invest in this film and, maybe if you’re a completist, its sequel ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING. While it isn’t the most original, there is a very fun energy to ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD and as Mattei’s second to last film, I’ve definitely seen worse from the director.
Coming soon to Amazon Instant Video!
DEAD KANSAS (2013)Directed by Aaron K. Carter
Written by Aaron K. Carter & Nicholas A. DeNicola
Starring Erin Miracle, Alexandria Lightford, Aaron Guerrero, Michael Camp, Kevin C. Beardsley, Juliette Danielle, Irwin Keyes, Ben Woolf, Joe McQueen, Anthony Della Catena, Adam Ledezma, Juan Martinez, Jose Blackman Jr., Darryl Dick, Jorge Barba
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I won’t lie to you, those who are looking for slickly produced studio films should exercise that scrolling finger now. DEAD KANSAS is a film for those who appreciate low budget horror and all of the rough edges that go along with those types of films. For those who look at films as an art form and are able to pick and choose bits of inspiration and creativity despite lack of production values, this zombie holocaust film offers up a lot of things you haven’t seen before.
DEAD KANSAS’ ambitious story follows a rather large cast through a dead world filled with both alive and dead threats around every corner. A preacher and his daughter are holed up in a home with raiders outside trying to get to the daughter since there are very few women left in this world. Seems the zombie virus wiped out most of the women first, making the preacher’s daughter a hot commodity. After a twister hits the area and the raiders attack, the preacher is bitten by a zombie and his daughter must take to the road to find someone who can help them. Along the way they run into a community of freaks and a reclusive doctor protected by a giant. Yep, this isn’t your typical zombie story.
This DIY zombie flick is notable for a few reasons. One, it features Ben Woolf (Meep from AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW) as Squeak, the leader of a community of freak survivors who live in a commune in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Woolf passed away this week, so I wanted to make sure to review this film to honor the young actor’s passing. Woolf has a lot of fun with this role as the leader whose every footstep is accompanied by a squeak (hence his name). The actor has a lot of presence in this film, as he represents a fun juxtaposition of a small man wearing a large hat and calling the shots to an army of outcasts.
Secondly, while this is indeed a zombie film, not one zombie is actually seen in this film. When a zombie approaches, we see the world through their eyes, which makes for a fun directorial decision I hadn’t seen before and solidifies my initial feelings that there was a lot of heart and ideas put into this film, despite its small budget.
So while it would be generous to call some of the acting in DEAD KANSAS amateurish and the production values are pretty low, there is a lot of ingenuity on display with this film. Even the fact that the person playing the female lead changes halfway through the film rings more charming than amateur to me. Being a fan of all things horror, I have to love films like DEAD KANSAS, who do their best with what they’ve got and end up delivering something original and fun.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Sony Pictures Digital/Home Entertainment!
THE INTRUDERS (2015)Directed by Adam Massey
Written by Jason Juravic
Starring Miranda Cosgrove, Donal Logue, Tom Sizemore, Jenessa Grant, Austin Butler, Kelly Boegel, Claire Calarco, Michael Luckett, Jazmin Paradis, Mackenzie Ball
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Well, I guess we have to give Disney doll Miranda Cosgrove credit for not showing her privates as she is leaving a limo or releasing a sex tape online. Instead she is trying her hand at being a scream queen in THE INTRUDERS, a sort of haunted house-esque thriller that is available this week. Still, the little pixie who some with kids know from iCARLY on the Disney Channel and others know as the brown-nosing know-it-all from SCHOOL OF ROCK isn’t in a film that’s going to scare most who read this column.
Cosgrove plays Rose, who recently lost her mom and moved into an old home with her father (played by a very restrained Donal Logue). Immediately as Rose gets to the place, she doesn’t like it and things seem a little off. We find out her mother had mental illness and are reminded quite a few times in the film that both Rose and her father are taking medication themselves for depression. Soon, weird things begin happening as strange noises sound out in the night, the neighbors (one of which is Tom Sizemore) are odd, and who is this weird guy who just appeared in Rose’s home identifying himself as the contractor? Though Rose is getting more and more creeped out by the odd happenings she is experiencing, her father fails to believe her pleadings to leave the home, sSo it’s up to Rose to take on whatever is in the house by herself.
Somewhere in this film is an effective little thriller. While the whole thing barely ranges on the PG scale, it feels just a skosh more scary than your typical episode of GOOSEBUMPS, so those thinking this is Cosgrove’s chance to dive into hardcore horror will be sorely disappointed. Sure, there is a weird sense of reality going on: early in the film we see Rose throw out her medication, something that usually makes this wizened movie watcher suspicious of everything that occurs afterwards as it could just be altered perceptions. Many a horror movie has effectively plunged down the rabbit hole after something like this happening, and I actually love films that show a gradual descent into madness. THE INTRUDERS is not one of those movies. That’s a bit too cerebral for this film, and it just feels like something of that level of sophistication is not what anyone in this film was trying to accomplish.
Instead we have the admittedly beautiful and talented Cosgrove looking cute as she runs from weird noises into the arms of the floppy haired youngster with dreamy eyes who says things like “let down your wall” to her over and over again. This is the kind of stuff that makes the teens and tweens all gooey, but seeing lovers text each other and then wallow in self pity isn’t going to move anyone over 25. And while there is a pretty peppy sequence of action scenes at the end, the film really doesn’t deliver the chills that everyone is reacting to on screen.
So while this isn’t the film for most hardcore horror fans, I’m sure your brother or sister’s kids will eat it up like pudding. THE INTRUDERS wastes talent like Donal Logue and Tom Sizemore here and feels more like a calculated step to make Cosgrove more of a movie star than a TV one. This isn’t the film that will ease that transition.
New on DVD from Cinedigm Entertainment!
ALTAR (2014)aka THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE
Directed by Nick Willing
Written by Nick Willing
Starring Olivia Williams, Matthew Modine, Antonia Clarke, Adam Thomas Wright, Richard Dillane, Howard Lee, Jonathan Jaynes, Rebecca Calder, Steve Oram
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Director Nick Willing delivers a decent little thriller with a great cast, though much of the story of ALTAR is going to sound rather familiar.
Meg and Alec Hamilton (Olivia Williams and Matthew Modine) have packed up their wares and their two kids and moved to the Yorkshire Moors, into an old home Meg’s boss is renovating. While Meg and Alec are optimistic that the new setting will bring new opportunities for Meg (who is looking forward to fixing up the ancient abode) and Alec (who is taking advantage of the new environment to inspire his artistic endeavors), it isn’t long until strange things start occurring. Ghostly images are seen in the corridors and in the children’s rooms, the townsfolk are either standoffish or readily available to give foreboding warnings about the house’s sordid history, and Alec is becoming more and more reclusive in his studio beginning to mix his own blood with the clay he is sculpting. It’s not long until Meg starts to believe that the old house used to serve as a shelter for devil worshippers and supernatural forces.
Director/writer Nick Willing fills every moment of this film with mood and atmosphere. The Radcliff House is filled with all kinds of dark corners and cobwebbed corridors. Meg happens upon all kinds of secret rooms and bizarre décor in this new home, and Williams does a fantastic job of playing both inquisitive investigator and devil’s advocate for the sake of her kids and her husband, who seems to be fraying at the edges. Williams’ performance is the glue that holds this whole film together as she comes off as a complex and layered character pulled between her job and her family by these supernatural forces.
Where ALTAR falters is that is it too much like all of the other haunted house films out there. Remindings of THE SHINING and AMITYVILLE HORROR are inevitable as Modine’s Alec is swayed by the house’s evil influence. Modine is actually pretty amazing as the crazy dad who likes to cut himself and bleed all over his artwork, and it’s great to see the actor back on the silver screen as it’s been way too long since I’ve seen him. Still, his character is no different than Jack Torrance or George Lutz as he is overcome by the spirits of the past and takes it out upon his family.
ALTAR is an effective haunted house flick, but with many haunted house films following a specific blueprint in terms of narrative, it’s difficult to get to revved up about it since it really doesn’t offer anything new, apart from some solid performances by Modine and Williams.
New this week from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
FINAL PRAYER (2013)aka THE BORDERLANDS
Directed by Elliot Goldner
Written by Elliot Goldner
Starring Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle, Sarah Annis, Marcus Cunningham, Patrick Godfrey, Kevin Johnson, Luke Neal
Find out more about this film on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
If the fact that this is another found footage film doesn’t scare you away, you might actually find FINAL PRAYER to be a pretty effective spook-fest. I certainly did.
The Vatican sends a three man team of investigators to a church in the English countryside to investigate bizarre disturbances. The film follows a priest, a tech geek, and a ghost hunter to the small church and they expect the same kind of shams they usually find at these places which are looking to gain notoriety in ghost hunting circles. Instead of uncovering charlatans, the team actually finds real supernatural goings on inside and deep under the church.
An important factor in any found footage film is that the acting doesn’t feel like acting. Sure that’s the case in all films, but in found footage films, you have to make it feel like real life and not some scripted clever stuff people say in films shot cinematically. There’s a difference, and if you’ve seen enough found footage films you know good comfortable and real dialog from bad attempts at the same type of dialog. In FINAL PRAYER, all of the players look and feel real. This is no film casted out of a CW show. These are working guys who look like regular working guys, behaving what I’d imagine regular working guys would behave like. So in terms of delivery and helping lull us into the suspension of disbelief that what is taped is actually going on, the actors here do a fantastic job of it.
I also really loved the way the supernatural stuff is ratcheted up by the inches here. The subtle things that occur will make you want to watch every corner of the screen. But there are also some in your face scenes like the sheep on fire and the crawl through the tunnels that definitely made my hair stand on end. Sure films like THE DESCENT did the claustrophobic thing pretty expertly, but FINAL PRAYER really does a great job of making the walls creep in. More than once during these scenes I found myself gasping for air alongside the investigators as they shimmied through the bowels of the church in search for specters.
I’ve seen a million and one found footage films, and while this one definitely follows a well-worn path made by films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (with the multiple angle night shots) and BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (with the handheld descent into the earth), FINAL PRAYER had enough originality and a whole lot of mood to make this one stand out. With some fantastically realistic performances by the cast and some imagery that is truly creative and unusual, FINAL PRAYER is a found footage film that is worth uncovering.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
EJECTA (2014)Directed by Chad Archibald & Matt Wiele
Written by Tony Burgess
Starring Julian Richings, Lisa Houle, Adam Seybold, Mark Gibson, Justin Darmanin, Ry Barrett, Ari Millen, Cat Hostick, Tony Burgess
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
EJECTA is not your typical alien visitation/abduction story, but one wouldn’t expect your typical anything from PONTYPOOL writer Tony Burgess. And while EJECTA isn’t the perfect film, there’s a lot here that will make you think and jump out of your chair.
The ambitious story is split into two parts. In one portion a young reporter, Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold), seeks out famed alien abductee and enthusiast William Cassidy (Julian Richings) on the night of a mass ejection, aka a solar storm which is supposed to create chaos with technology and the atmosphere on a worldwide scale. The other part of this story takes place after Joe and William meet, as we find William strapped to a chair against his will and forced to explain the bizarre occurrences he experienced with Joe the night of the ejections to a pushy government operative named Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle, who also appeared in PONTYPOOL) who isn’t above using methods of torture to get William to talk. As the runtime goes on, both stories advance as we find out that the solar ejections coincided with a visitation of some sort by something alien.
The unconventional structure of EJECTA works to its benefit, as I feel both stories on their own might not be interesting enough to carry the weight of one film. Story one with Joe and William is made in the found footage format with Joe filming his interview with William and catching the lights in the sky and the crash of an alien spacecraft on film, as well as the alien’s attack upon their home later in the night. While occasionally difficult to follow, I found these scenes to pack the kinetic punch needed to make the more tedious segments of Dr. Tobin torturing and grilling William for information in the chair easier to get through. It’s not that the segments between Tobin and William are bad, but they tend to get repetitious as William isn’t talking and Tobin is forced to use one empty-handed threat tactic after another in hopes of getting information. These torture sequences simply serve to fill out the runtime and serve as wraparound segments for the found footage parts of the film.
There are quite a few fantastic images of alien spacecraft flying through the air, crashing to the ground, and then aliens running after Joe and William through the woods. These scenes are absolutely electric and serve to be the best parts of the film. There are some cool sequences of weirdness during the interrogation scenes as well, but a lot of them feel like weirdness for weird’s sake and are not bothered to be explained. Once sequence towards the end has a character blowing their brains out with a revolver over and over with little result, as despite the massive hole in the head, death doesn’t seem to follow. This is a cool image, but little to no explanation is offered for it. This is but one of many instances when weird shit happens for no reason in this film.
I would recommend this film to folks who are interested in alien abduction films, as it does offer a lot of bizarre imagery and hyper-kinetic action sequences of alien mayhem. William Richings is a truly unique actor and it’s nice to see a film feature him so prominently in a starring role. For that alone I support EJECTA. But while there’s a lot of alien nonsense going on, the odd structure, the fun performances from the cast, and the tension filled chase and sightings scenes make for a truly unique alien flick.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from !
OUT OF THE DARK (2014)Directed by Lluís Quílez
Written by Javier Gullón, Àlex Pastor, & David Pastor
Starring Scott Speedman, Julia Stiles, Pixie Davies, Alejandro Furth, Stephen Rea, Vanesa Tamayo
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Little monster children are the stuff of nightmares that fuels many a horror film from MAMA to THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE to THE ORPHANAGE. These films prey on our own fears of little things that go bump in the night. Add OUT OF THE DARK to that list of effective films that make kids something to be fearful of.
Sarah and Paul (Julia Styles and Scott Speedman) bring their adorable little daughter to Colombia so Sarah can take over the management of her family’s business, a plant which has been run by her father Jordan (Stephen Rea) for ages. Cozying up in a plantation home, Sarah starts familiarizing herself with the plant and its history in the region while her husband and stay at home dad Paul explores the nearby jungle and continues to practice his chosen craft, photography, in this exotic locale. Soon dirty little children ghosts start appearing out of the periphery and they seem to have set their sights on the family.
OUT OF THE DARK is a classically styled tale full of mood, thrills, and genuine scares. Working with some age-old ghost story conventions, the film takes those standards, blows the dust off of them, and makes them feel brand new. Filled with palpable danger made more real by the great cast, OUT OF THE DARK is a successful little trip into darkness and utilizes the creepy little kids in the shadows motif to full effect. There are some sequences that are really well done, specifically an especially creepy sequence involving the little girl’s room and a dumb waiter elevator.
While it takes advantage of the creepy plantation and the outlying jungle, I can’t help but feel like I’m a skipping record of late as there seems to be one story after another of a family moving into a creepy home so the mom can start a new job and the dad can practice honing his craft at photography/painting/sculpting/basket weaving/you name it. Then something spooky happens. Zombies and found footage get a bad rap, but I feel that horror in general often is on repeat in terms of story structure in every subgenre.
Stiles and Speedman are great here in the lead roles, and director Lluís Quílez crafts some highly tense scenes in a locale that is definitely out of the ordinary. Lil’ cutie Pixie Davies is actually a pretty fine little actress as well and Stephen Rea adds a lot of heft to the film as the elder statesman with a secret. Maybe I’m just getting jaded at this type of film, but while OUT OF THE DARK does a lot of things really well, I’ve seen it before (in this week’s picks of films, even).
New this week in select theaters, On Demand and on iTunes from RLJE/Image Entertainment!
DIGGING UP THE MARROW (2014)Directed by Adam Green
Written by Adam Green with characters created by Alex Pardee
Starring Ray Wise, Adam Green, Will Barratt, Rileah Vanderbilt, Josh Ethier, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Mick Garris, Sarah Elbert, Alex Pardee
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
HATCHET and FROZEN director Adam Green turns the camera on himself and makes one of his most interesting films to date with DIGGING UP THE MARROW, a mockumentary of monstrous proportions.
Green portrays himself as a person wanting to believe monsters exist so bad it hurts. He wants to believe this so much he answers the letter of a fan who reveals that he knows about a world under our own where monsters live, and that man is willing to show Green the evidence to prove it. So Green gathers up his cinematographer Will Barratt and goes to the home of William Dekker (Ray Wise) to find out more. Dekker guides Green and Barratt to the back of an old cemetery where he believes a portal to a world called the Marrow exists and promises that if they are patient, they will see monsters exist. Against Green’s better judgment, he follows Dekker into the dark and discovers that it is quite possible monsters do exist.
While Green has delivered quite a few great and entertaining films, he really does grab you by the throat with this one. I must distinguish this film from the found footage genre as it is more of a mockumentary horror (or shockumentary) as Green edits interviews with actual scenes of him out in the dark with Dekker and Barratt looking for monsters. Doing the film in this manner gives the viewer the found footage first person POV sensibilities of immediate danger, but it also allows for Green to do some cheats with edits and such that he wouldn’t be able to get away with in a straight up found footager.
The mythology as told by Ray Wise as Dekker is absolutely engrossing. There is something about Wise’s delivery that makes it all feel genuine and believable, and while the actor is recognizable from his plentiful offbeat character work, the method by which he tells a story is utterly convincing. It isn’t long into the film that Laura Palmer’s dad faded away and Wise was only Dekker, a man of many secrets and the key between our world and the Marrow. Much of the film is just Green and Dekker interacting with one another with Green playing to goofy question man to Wise’s straight-faced and ultra-serious Dekker. Seeing the two interact is often comic and sometimes horrific gold.
The design work on the monsters themselves is pretty amazing as well. Artist Alex Pardee, who is best known for his T-shirt, album cover, and comic book work, designed the various creatures that wander out of the Marrow. While most of the monster work suffers from the obvious lack of budget, Green makes due with what he has and is able to come up with some really creepy monsters here. Oftentimes, Dekker explains who or what these monsters are before they appear and shows a sketch by Pardee in order to illustrate his story. This is a clever way around the budget, as the image is already imprinted in the viewer’s mind, sSo when the monster does show up, even if it is only on screen for a short while, you know what it looks like from Pardee’s pictures that Dekker has shown us.
If there is anything critical that I have for DIGGING UP THE MARROW, it’s that Ray Wise’s recognizability did deter me from suspending my disbelief in the opening moments. Wise is amazing here, as I mentioned above, but the character does have the baggage of previous iconic roles, so when you first see him, you think “that’s Ray Wise” and don’t believe the name you are given at the beginning. But again, the longer Wise is on screen and the deeper we delve into this mystery, the more I forgot about this baggage and just went with it. Had Green went with an unknown actor, he might have avoided this, but this would have sacrificed a truly phenomenal performance by Wise as Dekker.
I found DIGGING UP THE MARROW to be an absolutely fantastic film full of great laughs and genuine scares. The film felt much like a roller coaster ride, causing me to question what was going to happen next and truly not being able to predict anything that was happening. The mockumentary format gave a real sense of urgency throughout, and both Green and Wise offer up performances that are rich in character, comic timing, and truly suspenseful moments. Long after viewing this film, I was still thinking about it and recommended it to many a friend to check out. It really is pretty amazing what Green was able to cook up with DIGGING UP THE MARROW using some subtle effects, solid performances, and some fantastic design work by Alex Pardee.
New this week on DVD and digital download from RLJ/Image Entertainment!
ZOMBIEWORLD (2015)Directed by Jesse Baget (“Zombie News”), Peter Horn & Jared Marshall ("Dark Times"), Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz (“Fist of Jesus”), Vedran Marjanovic Wekster ("How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse”), Phil Haine ("I Am Lonely"), Tommy Woodard ("Dead Stop"), Cameron McCulloch ("Home"), Zachary Ramelan ("Dead Rush"), Paul Shrimpton ("Teleportal”), Luke Asa Guidici ("Certified”), Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz ("Brutal Relax”), Adam O'Brien ("Marathon Apocalypse ")
Written by Stefania Mascato (“Zombie News”), Peter Horn & Jared Marshall (“Dark Times”), David Muñoz ("Fist of Jesus”), Vedran Marjanovic Wekster ("How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse”), Jonathan Brown (“I Am Lonely”), Tommy Woodard (“Dead Stop”), Cameron McCulloch (“Home”), Raven Cousens & Zachary Ramelan ("Dead Rush"), Alex Chandon, Paul Shrimpton, & Graham Taylor (“Teleportal”), Luke Asa Guidici (“Certified”), Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz ("Brutal Relax”), Adam O'Brien (“Marathon Apocalypse”)
Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Marc Velasco, Noé Blancafort, Jose M. Angorrilla, Lauren Brady, Trevor Snarr, Jamie McDowell, Jeff Newman, Zack Price, Matt Pendergast, Chris Spyrides, Mickey Conde, Charles Hamilton, Aaron Daynes, Charlotte Bulmer, Thomas Garner, Rebecca Spicher
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
With the sheer number of zombie films almost matching the amount of zombies that would be on the prowl in the eventual zombie apocalypse, it is rather fitting for this film to gather up zombie short films from around the world to make up a feature film. As with most anthologies, ZOMBIEWORLD is a hit and miss collection in terms of quality, but I think in this case the good by far outweighs the bad.
The film is connected by an up to date “Zombie News” broadcast starring the hardest working man in horror, Bill Oberst Jr. Oberst plays Marvin Gloatt from KPRS News, a typical ugly-suited anchorman who lives to tell the news even after being bitten himself. Seeing Oberst gradually change into a zombie between segments is a fun way to loop this whole anthology together, and Oberst gets to flex his comedic muscles here with some hilarious reaction shots in these segments.
The actual film starts with the short “Dark Times,” a first person POV-shot race at full speed with a group of survivors during what appears to be the first moments of the apocalypse. Sure, this is something we saw in V/H/S 2, but still, it does a great job of setting the frantic pace of the rest of the film that follows.
Next is my second favorite shortie of the bunch, “Fist of Jesus”, where we finally get an explanation as to what started this zombie apocalypse in the first place. It’s all Jesus’ fault. After a failed resurrection, Jesus inadvertently creates a horde of zombies and it’s up to Judas and Jesus to enact some holy vengeance on scores and scores of zombies. The sheer amount of ultra-gore in this one is something to be in awe of. Blood is spattered and lathered on by the gallon. Jesus’ weapon of choice is a fish, as he uses them as throwing as well as walloping weapons. When Jesus rips the spine of a fish out, it comes in handy as a serrated sword. And when Jesus gets his hands on a cross, whoa nelly, the zombie guts fly. This one sets a whole new standard for onscreen gory mayhem.
Sparced through the film in segments is “How To Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”, which comes off as very much like the instructional first segments of ZOMBIELAND, but still takes advantage of the motif to offer up some fun moments as a group of people are following the cues of a narrator on how to survive this mess. This section gets extra points for use of a bicycle seat as a weapon.
An Irish man comes home to find his flat mate dead, only to find that his flat mate didn’t like him much, in “I Am Lonely.” While this one is low on zombie mayhem, it does serve as a fun soliloquy from what could be the last man on Earth, and it turns out he’s a total idiot. Looking forward to goofing off with his flat mate or the apocalypse, the sincere yet moronic delivery of the lines is what makes this one memorably funny.
“Dead Stop” is all told from a police vehicle’s dashboard cam. This one is short and sweet and while it’s a new format to tell a zombie tale, it really doesn’t have enough by way of substance. It’s simply a cop stopping at a gas station and winding up in the middle of a zombie attack. It’s a quick and breezy one.
Australian short “Home” is a short I’ve featured before on AICN HORROR, and it’s cool that it is included here as more people will be able to watch and enjoy it in this format. The story is a sensitive and quiet tale of a woman seemingly alone in a world gone zombie deciding whether or not it is worth it to go on. While most of the short films featured in this film are in your face and balls to the wall, this one is a much more serious and somber piece. It’s also an emotionally powerful one as the woman edges toward the ultimate decision whether to persevere or not. This one also takes the time to soak in the beautiful Australian scenery.
“Dead Rush” is a Canadian short, another first person POV following three guys trying to make it through the zombie horde which is a bit too similar to the earlier “Dark Times” segment. Still, I think it’s worth acknowledging the difficulty it is to film a narrative in this format as there seems to be very few cuts, and the ones that do occur are done well in order to make it feel like everything is feeling immediate and real. So while the type of film is repeated from earlier, this one is longer and far more advanced in terms of technical filmmaking.
A guy playing a zombie first person shooter game on his game system that gets sucked into the game is what makes up the fun but all too short segment “Teleportal.” This one utilizes graphics in a pretty stellar way and gets points for being extra graphic with the gore.
A mailman and a little girl star in “Certified”, which proves that an overactive imagination and a well-told fib are all you need to send a shiver down the spine. This one delivers great performances all around, as the little girl has the mailman in the palm of her hand with a tale of the dead rising. This is one of the most solid and original shorts in the bunch.
The best of the bunch is saved for last with “Brutal Relax”, which follows a man discharged from a hospital and told to go to a place where he can relax. He ends up on a beach filled with vacationers just in time for aquatic pirate zombie demons to rise from the sea. While the recently discharged man wallows in a shallow puddle of mud and smears it all over him, the dead rise and massacre the beach. But when the man’s walkman runs out of juice, the zombies learn a new meaning of the word massacre as the man rips and shreds his way through the masses in a fury that I’ve never seen before on film. This segment by Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz, who also did the gratuitous “Fists of Jesus” segment, makes me want to pay close attention to these filmmakers and what they tackle in the future. Reminiscent of the ultra-gore funny that early Raimi and Jackson were able to harness in EVIL DEAD II and DEAD ALIVE, these guys take things to a whole new level of wrong and I loved every gory moment of it. By the time the man is headbutting his noggin through a zombie skull, I knew this was the best of the bunch. Spot on in comedic beats and bound to offend those of a weak constitution, this is the short that makes the rest of the film worth sitting through.
An additional short that talks about a zombie marathon is included as a special feature on the disk. It links to this website and talks about a real “Apocalypse Marathon” 5 and 10k which actually sounds pretty awesome. That is, if you’re fit enough to run and not get eaten.
If you’re a fan of zombie films, you’re bound to find something to your liking in this film. While things kind of lean more towards the ultra-gory side of the genre, there are enough quiet moments to even things out. I laughed quite a bit all the way through this film and if you’re not sick of zombies yet, you may too.
And finally…here’s a short film that debuted on HBO/CINEMAX in 2002 and was directed by Sylvain White who directed THE LOSERS not long ago. The subtle but effective short follows a man who slowly descends into madness, which is always a fun journey to view. Enjoy QUIET by Sylvain White!
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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