Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This is one of those rare catch-up weeks where I’m scramblin’ to cover two weeks worth of content in one big @$$ column. Last week, I was hip deep in all things geeky and fun at C2E2, but fear not, I’m back this week at full force and I’ve got a ton of reviews to share. On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE (1970)
Retro-review: CLASS OF 1984 (1982)
Retro-review: GHOULIES (1984)
Retro-review: CARRIE (2002)
THE VATICAN EXORCISMS (2013)
JONAH LIVES (2014)
DEEP IN THE DARKNESS (2014)
PRIVATE NUMBER (2014)
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
Advance Review: 7 IN THE TORTURE CHAMBER (2009)
And finally… Ryan Oliver’s AIR CONDITIONS!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from MVD Home Video/Arrow Films!
BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE (KAIDAN NOBORI RYU, 1970)Directed by Teruo Ishii
Written by Teruo Ishii, Chûsei Sone (as Yoshitada Sone)
Starring Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satô, Hideo Sunazuka, Shirô Ôtsuji, Tôru Abe, Yoshi Katô, Yôko Takagi, Tatsumi Hijikata, Shirô Yanase, Shinzô Shibata, Ryôhei Uchida, Bumon Kahara, Akira Takahashi, Yûzô Harumi
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
This Japanese classic may not be your typical horror story, but it does have witches, black cats, curses, and bright red blood bursts, so I think it qualifies to be covered here.
BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE is a story of redemption as warring clans of swordsmen and women battle one another for land, honor, and bragging rights. It’s basically a gang turf war style story (I could easily see this film being remade in an urban setting in anytown USA someday), but what sets it apart from other shogun crime stories is that a mystical element is introduced when the fiercest warrior of a clan named Akemi (played strong and powerfully by Meiko Kaji) swipes her sword at an opponent and accidentally blinds the daughter of a rival gang lord named Aiko (Hoki Tokuda). After Akemi’s clan takes over the opposing gang’s turf and kills them, they seemingly live it up, ruling without opposition. But soon members of Akemi’s clan begin showing up dead, and a pesky black cat keeps hissing and floating around the village. Realizing that she’s been cursed, Akemi attempts to track down Aiko, who has become a powerful witch of sorts, to break the curse.
This is a weird film, but I think it stands out for a few reasons--first because of the unconventional narrative and bizarre settings with which the film is made. What makes this film amazing is the epic battle sequences and the otherworldly landscapes director Teruo Ishii is able to convey. Most likely Tarantino saw this film in his formative years, as there is a KILL BILL feel to the whole thing. Seeing Akemi and her group try to cope with these mystical curses with swords and bravery is fun as they seem to be no match for the blind witch and her traveling carnival of oddities.
The second reason I was impressed by BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE is the fact that it focuses on a strong female lead versus a strong female villain. Akemi is every bit the match for any man and then some. She is seen putting men in their place and rules over her clan with confidence I didn’t think was allowed in the time this movie was made (forgive me if my foreign women’s lib is off, though). Kaji really is the backbone of this film, and she commands the screen every time she is on it. Equally impressive yet much creepier is Tokuda’s performance as the Aiko the Blind Woman. Seeing these two take on one another not in the traditional chop-sockey way, but more as a battle of wits and strategy using Akemi’s men as pawns, is the core that is so interesting here.
BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE is somewhat goofy at times. Seeing the cat flying across the screen on strings was too much for me, first because it was a goofy image and second, because I was hoping the cat was ok. Those liking a little magic along with their sword-swinging mayhem will definitely want to partake in this Japanese treat of old.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
CLASS OF 1984 (1982)aka GUERRILLA HIGH
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Tom Holland (story), Mark L. Lester, John C.W. Saxton, Barry Schneider (screenplay)
Starring Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Roddy McDowall, Stefan Arngrim, Michael J. Fox, Keith Knight, Lisa Langolis, Neil Clifford, Al Waxman, Erin Noble, David Gardner, Steve Pernie, Robert Reece, Joseph Kelly, Elva Mai Hoover, Vincent Abbatino, Linda Sorensen, Tracy Kinsella, Helena Quinton
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
The blurb at the beginning of this film reads “no high school is as bad as Lincoln High...yet” and while this can sort of be seen as sci fi at the time, director Mark L. Lester really didn’t look too far into the future when he made CLASS OF 1984 in the year 1982. Placing the action two years in the future, Lester took a lot of real life occurrences in schools around the country to make this morally-apocalyptic view on the deterioration of the education system in the US. Biting social commentary or not, CLASS OF 1984 is a brutal film, full of rape, murder, torture, degradation of women, civil unrest, bullying, drug use, and revenge. While it’s pretty vile now by today’s standards, I can imagine the stank that it caused when it was released back in the day.
The film opens with TV’s RIPTIDE’s Perry King playing Andrew Norris, a new music teacher at Lincoln High, the most crime-ridden and filthy school in California. Norris is appalled by the metal detectors in the doorways and the behavior of the kids. But despite the jaded warnings of his fellow teacher friend Mr. Corrigan (FRIGHT NIGHT’s Roddy McDowall), Norris still holds hope he can reach some of these kids. Almost immediately, these high hopes are challenged by Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten from TV’s THE MASTER) and his gang of punks, who rule the school with an iron fist dripping with anarchy. Stegman proves he’s got talent by twinkling out classical music on the piano, but has no interest when Norris reaches out to offer him guidance. Taking a perverse thrill out of tormenting the new teacher, Stegman ups the ante inch by inch until Norris reaches his breaking point.
The grit and grime accumulated on this film through the years only makes it all the more effective. I’m sure the whole thing wasn’t clean when the film was first made, but seeing the age only makes it feel that much more deplorable. Seeing the good-intentioned Norris pushed to the edge is something Charles Bronson was doing in his sleep by the time this film was made, so it wasn’t really breaking new ground in terms of revenge flicks, but still, the callous and evil nature of the battle between Norris and Stegman truly does reach epic levels by the end.
Seeing that many of the horrors involved in this film have already come true makes this film all the more scary. While metal detectors and security cameras are something that is sadly the norm in today’s world, I imagine it was pretty shocking to see then. It’s interesting how much Lester got right as stories of kids and teachers bringing firearms to school are more and more frequent stories in the news. And while King’s Norris is portrayed as idealistic, you can’t help but root for him as he does represent everything the school system should be.
The film is filled with fun performances. The aforementioned King, McDowall, and Van Patten are superb, but this one also has a very early role for Michael J. Fox (credited as Michael Fox) who plays the same type of nerd be soon became famous for as Alex P. Keaton on FAMILY TIES. FEAR NO EVIL’s Stefan Arngrim plays Drugstore, one of the freakier gang members, while HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and THE NEST actress Lisa Langolis plays Stegman’s babe who gets off on watching people raped and murdered and Keith Knight (who is recognizable from MY BLOODY VALENTINE and MEATBALLS) plays the monosyllabic and unibrowed man monster Barnyard.
This is a pitch black and gnarly movie. There’s no silver lining and no one comes out of this film unscathed. It’s a pretty harsh yet sadly accurate portrayal of the public educational system of today. If you have a kid in public schools, came from public schools, or god forbid teach in public schools, CLASS OF 1984 is going to hit you on levels you may not be prepared for. I went to public schools and saw the system teetering on the edge of the hellhole this film is played out in as I passed through it. For me, this film was a very uncomfortable experience to sit through and by the end, I was cheering for Norris to get his revenge on those little fuckers. It’s a testament to this film’s power and foresight that it got so much right and is able to build up that much ire while I watched it.
Retro-review: New this week on a Double Feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!
GHOULIES (1984)aka BEASTIES
Directed by Luca Bercovici
Written by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Starring Lisa Pelikan, Peter Liapis, Michael Des Barres, Jack Nance, Peter Risch, Tamara De Treaux, Scott Thomson, Ralph Seymour, Mariska Hargitay, Keith Joe Dick, David Dayan, Victoria Catlin, Charene Cathleen, Bobbie Bresee
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
After the success of GREMLINS in 1984, the chic thing to do in horror was to come up with a wee beastie to terrorize folks en masse. While CRITTERS were unleashing the rolling interstellar thunder shortly thereafter in 1986, GHOULIES went full-on occult and Empire seemed to shit out this film to cash in on the mini monster craze without really taking the time to add in things like characters and an original story, or even decent effects. Still, if you’re looking for a horror film that is indicative of the 80s, GHOULIES is it.
The film opens with a ritual gone wrong. A baby is to be sacrificed by hooded cultists. Everything is theatrical with smoke machines, cartoonish lights, and of course, the hint of the devil himself coming out to say hi. But when the sacrifice is interrupted by the baby’s momma, the child gets away while the mother ends up on the wrong end of the sacrificial dagger. Twenty years or so later, that baby is all grown up, named Jonathan (played by Peter Liapis), and returns to the house of his birth which was left to him and his fiancée Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Though the house is in rough shape, something compels Jonathan to restore it, put on a goofy robe, and hold an incantation which first unleashes little ghouls, followed by two midgets in medieval garb, and finally, the priest himself risen from the grave (played by Michael Des Barres--no relation to El de Barge…I think). While all of this occultism is going on, Jonathan and Rebecca find the time to partay like its 1999, inviting their friends over to drink, be merry, and breakdance. Shit goes wrong when the little monsters meet the 80s dance video rejects.
Made at a time when MTV was taking over the nation, this film is bathed in drug, dance, and music culture. Of course, with the budget as low as this one was, none of the music, dances, or language was ever hip, but still this one tries. I hate to assume, but something tells me that writer/director wasn’t totally familiar with the MTV and all the culture that went with it. From the horrid white guy dancing to the awful soundtrack to one of the most painful attempts at break-dancing I’ve ever had to endure, this feels like a movie an old guy makes when he thinks he is making something hip. None of the pop culturisms really work here and only add to the cheesiness of this entire film.
The script isn’t much better, populating this story with characters like Toad Boy, who speaks in a weird voice and then wonders why he doesn’t get laid, and a lothario named Dick (but you can call him Dick) who somehow gets girls to swoon over him. Jonathan and Rebecca are the only characters with weight here. Lisa Pelikan seems to have the acting chops, but isn’t given much to do but react to Jonathan’s transformation from preppy to cultist (which practically occurs overnight here). It’s cool to see ERASERHEAD’s Jack Nance in a role as the gatekeeper of the casa de Ghoulies, but he is onscreen so little that he really doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. In fact, it’s kind of weird that he appears and disappears so much in this film without much of a reference about where he is most of the time while the party is going on.
The puppets themselves are fun and really are the only reason why folks should check this film out. Yes, they are rudimentary and have very little articulation other than moving eyes and mouths. Still, some creepy design work went into these little Muppet rejects and while they don’t move much, they still are able to unleash the horror when need be. There are also some fun scenes of random horror like when the priest turns into a seductress and makes out with a dude only to wrap him up with her tongue (something we had seen before in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, but still it makes for a rather weird scene). Another memorable moment involves a life-sized clown doll that appears and reappears throughout the story (though, again, this was swiped from POLTERGEIST).
Knockoffs are hard to review. Most of the time, it angers me that someone merely lifted a few effective scenes from here and there and tries to pawn it off as an original piece of work. Still, enough time has passed since this one was made that I feel it’s become somewhat of a classic in terms of bad cinema. GHOULIES is a film to laugh at and while I bet those making it felt differently, it’s not a film to be taken seriously. Still, if you’re in the right goofy mood, the puppets are ghoulishly fun and there are some fun scenes with the clown. The evil sorcerer midgets are a bit much, as was the zombie priest’s over the top acting. I also hate the ending, which basically negates everything that happened in the movie and sets things back to status quo. Flawed beyond belief, GHOULIES is bad cinema that you can’t help but have fun with.
This is as good as it gets, sadly, as next up is GHOULIES II, which, if I remember correctly, isn’t much better.
Retro-review: New on a Double Feature Bluray from The Shout Factory!
CARRIE (2002)Directed by David Carson
Written by Bryan Fuller (teleplay), Stephen King (novel)
Starring Angela Bettis, Patricia Clarkson, Rena Sofer, Kandyse McClure, Emilie de Ravin, Tobias Mehler, Jesse Cadotte, Meghan Black, Chelan Simmons, Katharine Isabelle, David Keith, Miles Meadows, Sean Tyler Foley, Laurie Murdoch, Michael Kopsa, Jodelle Ferland
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Out of all of the CARRIE films, the original excluded, this 2002 retelling is much more stomach-able than both the awful sequel (which I reviewed last time and occupies the other half of this Bluray double feature from Shout Factory) and last year’s big time Hollywood regurge starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
Anyone reading this column knows the story, so I’ll be brief. Picked on by her schoolmates for being weird and sheltered by her bible-thumping mother, poor little Carrie (this time played by MAY’s Angela Bettis) can’t seem to get a break. But after she gets her period in the shower and the sheltered teen is tormented for not understanding that menstruation is a natural thing that happens during puberty by her peers, one of her bullies, Sue Snell (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Kandyse McClure), feels bad for her and sets her up on a date to the prom with her hunky boyfriend Tommy (Tobias Mehler). Not everyone is feeling sorry for the waif, most of all Chris Hargensen (LOST’s Emilie de Raven), who rigs an intricate set up to douse Carrie in pigs’ blood in front of the whole school during prom. The prank backfires as no one realizes that Carrie is in possession of the power of telekinesis, but once doused the whole school realizes why bullying is a bad idea.
For the most part, the entire story from De Palma’s classic is intact here. There are even shots here that feel lifted directly from the original CARRIE, making a lot of the film feel very redundant. This is was a TV movie, so it gives the film a little more time to delve into some of the more twisted stuff with Carrie’s mom (played by the always amazing Patricia Clarkson) and the bullies at school. Still, any expansions are minimal, and aside from the added police interviews with survivors of the prom massacre, there really isn’t much different from the original except for the end. Not having read the book, I don’t know if this one is more accurate to King’s original or De Palma’s, but I will say that this ending definitely lacked the impact the 1976 version packs to this day. Like the latest remake, the filmmakers found themselves in a pickle since the original ending was such a shocker. Imitate the shock, which never works because you can’t tell the same joke twice and expect the same reaction, or do what the 2002 and 2013 versions did and try to do something vastly different--unfortunately, in both instances the ending fails miserably.
To say the film is shoddily made is an understatement. The film looks as if it were shot on a second rate video camera, grainy and soap opera-esque, which definitely doesn’t add to the atmosphere and drama unfolding. To add insult to injury, the CG is so unbelievably bad they might as well have just made them cartoons and forgotten about making the floating objects seem to be in the same scene as the actors. Cars wrapped around telephone poles, floating furniture, fake fires and, for some reason, giant fireballs from the sky which make no sense whatsoever are nothing but a detraction from the drama going on.
But what I liked about CARRIE 2002 (and I’m sure by this point you’re wondering if there was anything at all) was the performance by Bettis, who really does a good job as Carrie. Seeing her twitch and shudder like an epileptic leaf in the breeze is really something, and I couldn’t help but guffaw when she cutely asks the librarian how to use the internet. Bettis is really just recycling her role as MAY here, but still, it seems as if she was trying to bring something new to the character and not just ape what Sissy Spacek did in the original. Emilie de Ravin really doesn’t get a huge chance to shine here as she basically just acts like a bitch, but we get to see her and AMERICAN MARY’s Katherine Isabelle prance around in their underthings, so it ain’t all that bad. McClure gets a little meatier role here as Sue, but the script doesn’t really let her shine very much either. Still, Clarkson brings some dignity to the film as Carrie’s mom and is much more subtle than Piper Laurie’s fantastically evil performance in the original.
Nothing will match CARRIE 1976, and I wish they would just stop trying. But if I had to rank my CARRIE films, I’d have to go CARRIE 1976, CARRIE 2002, CARRIE 2013, and finally THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 in terms of descending quality. Though shoddily made, the 2002 version has its moments, which is more than can be said about the sequel on the other end of this double feature.
New this week on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment!
THE VATICAN EXORCISMS (2013)Directed by Joe Marino
Written by Mauro Paolucci, Salvatore Scarico
Starring Piero Maggiò, Joe Marino, Anella Vastola
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m…I’m kind of not sure what this film is trying to be. I believe it’s trying to be a mock doc. It sets out to be a tell-all, pulling back the curtain behind the Vatican and secret sex orgies and rituals that have been going on behind the scenes for centuries. Then halfway through, the film switches gears and follows exorcists around performing exorcisms on people. Finally, it tries to convince you that the filmmaker went nuts while making the film and disappeared, seemingly possessed by the demons inhabiting the possessed souls they were filming.
The problem is that none of it is scary in the least. The film seems to want to have it all--all of the immediate scares of a found footage documentary style film where we are supposed to believe that what is happening in front of us is real and uncut, except that the footage is heavily edited with music added to punctuate scenes and add a creepier factor. As I’ve said before, to me that’s a cheat, using music and edits to elicit and scare because these are tricks a dramatic filmmaker uses and not one trying to document real life. In real life, there are no orchestral background musics or oddball edits to cut out the boring bits. Real life is boring and uncut, and in the context of a well-made found footager can really grab you and give you a sense of danger that can’t be achieved in more theatrically produced films. THE VATICAN DIARIES fails at both because the “real” material we see isn’t really that scary and the music and edits don’t really add any scares to the mix.
The music was especially odd here, as it ranged from electro-clangs and pings to noises you can get from a drugstore Halloween spooky sounds recording. The fact that it appears out of nowhere and is placed in scenes simply to cause some kind of buildup to a scare that is not there makes it all the more ineffective and distracting.
On top of it all, the text used in this film to explain what was happening in the interim between tapings was way too small on my TV screen and worse yet, doesn’t give one enough time to read it all. I found myself having to pause this film every time text appeared just to read it all. The fact that for added spooky effect the words shake about the screen doesn’t help. I imagine if this film were seen on an actual movie screen without the pause option, it would have been infuriating work to read that would have most likely ended with me not giving a shit what was on the screen. Many of the subtitles had the same haste to them, and while a lot of what was being said in another language was your typical “The power of Christ compels you” schtick seen in all exorcism flicks, it still appeared and disappeared onscreen way too quickly.
I hate to be so down on this film because I think there was a good idea in there somewhere. The beginning info given to us regarding some kind of secret pagan society within the Vatican was some fun stuff, and it built the film up to be something more akin to the excellent conspiracy theory yarn THE CONSPIRACY (reviewed here). But the sharp left turn this film takes once they begin following the exorcists on their daily rounds makes it feel like suddenly the filmmakers found a more interesting subject to follow and forgot about the Vatican cult stuff. And while I can appreciate the fact that these exorcisms shied away from the “woman tied to the bed and spitting broth all around” cliché, sitting and watching the minutes tick away as the exorcist spouts the gospel at a writhing possessed person isn’t an entertaining alternative. The bizarre way the film ends with almost no climax at all makes this a true oddity in terms of narrative, as THE VATICAN DIARIES simply sputters to an end instead of coming to any type of resolution. But since this ADHD-addled film doesn’t seem to have the attention span to focus on one subject for long, this type of non-ending shouldn’t have been a surprise to me.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
AUTEUR (2014)Directed by George Cameron Romero
Written by James Cullen Bressack, JD Fairman, Michael Sean Gomez
Starring Tom Sizemore, B.J. Hendricks, Ian Hutton, Madeline Merritt, Eli Jane, Matt Mercer, Ace Marrero, Elina Loukas, Val Mulligan, L. Stephen Phelan, George Cameron Romero
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This low fi mock doc has some creepy moments and an underlying sense of dread. While some who like their horror big and scary might not be too impressed with AUTEUR, there’s definitely an indie charm to the flick.
The film follows fledgling and struggling filmmaker Jack Humphreys (BJ Hendricks) as he attempts to track down a missing and wildly independent filmmaker named Charlie Buckwald (Ian Hutton) who disappeared during the filming of the fictitious possession film DEMONIC. Through a series of interviews with the cast (including Tom Sizemore, playing himself) and crew, Jack attempts to track down one of his film idols and find out what went on while filming DEMONIC. But the closer Jack gets, the more he starts to think that the possession in the film weren’t just movie magicks.
George Romero’s son George Cameron Romero directed this one with a script from a trio of writers including AICN HORROR fave James Cullen Bressack (who wrote and directed HATE CRIME, BLOOD LAKE: ATTACK OF THE KILLER LAMPHREYS, TO JENNIFER, MY PURE JOY, 13/13/13, and the upcoming PERNICIOUS). And the best part of this film is the way the story unfolds and reveals tidbit by tidbit, putting the pieces of this mystery of the missing filmmaker together right there along with Jack. The film does a decent job of laying out all of the pieces and hinting at the answers in foreboding ways. There’s a real sense of danger here that is consistent from start to finish.
That said, the acting from the lead BJ Hendricks is just a bit too down-home, aw shucks for me. Hendricks comes off as a genuine fan, more of a fanboy really, as he attempts to go legit by documenting this mystery every step of the way. But he is such a doofus at times it’s hard to take anything he does seriously and as the film gets deeper into the mystery and darker, Hendricks tone doesn’t shift, which is very distracting to the heft of danger the film is trying to convey.
The other problem with AUTEUR is that the film itself that is being investigated really doesn’t look all that scary in the first place. We are only shown bits and pieces of it, but for the most part, it’s just not convincingly creepy or evil enough to match all of the hubbub attached to it by the filmmaker, the crew, the cast, and Jack. Still, the mystery is well laid out, so I have to give the film credit for that and seeing Sizemore act tough again is always fun, even though he seems to be focused on talking about himself a little too much here instead of really participating in this movie. AUTEUR is a flawed film in that it isn’t the scariest and the lead just fails to carry the film, but there is a strong narrative which kept me invested enough to make me want to see how it all turned out.
New on DVD from Wild Eye Entertainment!
JONAH LIVES (2012)Directed by Luis Carvalho
Written by Luis Carvalho
Starring Brinke Stevens, Cesar Perreira, Jocelyn Padilla, James Barrett, Ryan Boudreau, Nicole LaSala, Rob Roy, Aaron Peaslee
Find out more about this film here! and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This little indie flick is something straight from a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode, as a group of kooky kids reanimate a vengeful spirit via a Ouija board. JONAH LIVES is definitely on the lower budgetary side, but it’s got some fun moments that make up for it.
The story itself focuses mainly on a group of six twentysomethings playing kids who hang out in their parents’ basement while the old folks are having a party up there. Bored out of their minds, the group elect to use a Ouija board and through their incantations, they raise a corpse who used to be the husband of a gold-digging partygoer (Brinke Stevens) and end up fighting for their lives.
The scenario is fun—-kids raising the dead with a witchboard-—but the execution is not all stars and unicorns. The plot moves pretty slowly and takes its time before getting to the point where the dead rise. Instead, the filmmaker decides to focus mainly on the kids, how they interact with one another, and what secrets they tell each other. While I’m sure some of these fresh young faces will go places, the script doesn’t really give them a lot to work with here. Stiff deliveries also hinder these opening moments where we get to know this cast. All of that equals a lot of ho-humming in the opening scenes before the spirits start getting evoked.
On the plus side, the effects are pretty awesome, especially the makeup for the corpse Jonah, which is both highly detailed and functional as the old corpse has a lot of action going on despite its decrepitness. Once Jonah does rise to wreak vengeance with his dusty fists, the film picks up and turns into your typical monster-picks-kids-off-one-by-one flick, which has been done to death, but still proves to be exciting.
With pacing problems that litter the first portion of the film, JONAH LIVES feels like a good short film stretched out beyond its length. It makes up for it in the latter half of the film, but you have to trudge through some tedium to get there.
New this week on DVD and On Demand from Lionsgate’s After Dark Originals!
BEDLAM (2015)Directed by Chew Barker
Written by Chew Barker
Starring Guy Edmonds, John Boxer, Peter McAllum, Cassandra Swaby, Gary Boulter, Greg Hatton, Amanda Marsden, Chase Hope, Steve Maresca, Adam Hatzimanolis, Mark Dessaix
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
BEDLAM is less a horror movie than it is a psychologically focused survival tale of a schizophrenic man named George (Guy Edmonds) who checks himself into an asylum after a recommendation by his psychiatrist Dr. Black (Peter McAllum). But once inside, the doctor’s medieval treatments and brutal abuse from the guards make George fear that he will never be able to see freedom ever again.
This is a strength of human spirit story we’ve seen in such films as A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, and PAPILLION set to brutal conditions that to this day unfortunately occur in the mental health field. The film really does do a pretty good job of portraying this barbaric system of treatment through an unflinching and often horrifying lens. While this film is set in Australia in the 1940s or 50s, the story can be seen as somewhat of a metaphorical tale of indomitable will through hardship. Filmmaker Chew Barker (which when said fast makes me even more impressed with the film as I have no idea how a Wookie knows so much about both filmmaking and early mental treatment) does tend to get a little too Kubrickian at times as George is given one inhumane treatment after another, most of which is set to booming classical music. Because it is a bit too on the nose, specifically in comparison to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST, the material feels a little unoriginal.
On top of that, the script is laughably bad at times as George lectures his doctor that “You might take my body, buy you will never take…MY MIND!” with all of the subtlety of an electroshock treatment without the tongue depressor. But despite some awful lines and line deliveries, this was a pretty decently acted film. Guy Edmonds isn’t bad as George, but Gary Boulter does a spot-on Tiny Tim impression as the self-harming Cutter, and the stunning Cassandra Swaby is a star in the making as the trapped starlet Sofia Louis. And while the asshole guards are rather clichéd and cartoony dressed in all black and wearing weird white suspenders like some kind of 80s New Wave band, John Boxer and Greg Hatton do a good job as sleazy orderlies who enjoy tormenting the patients a little too much.
Again, this isn’t really a scary film, but the hardships the patients had to endure are horrifying. And while it shares the name and a lot of the themes with the 1946 Boris Karloff film, this BEDLAM doesn’t seem to be a remake. Decent performances and some creative storytelling make up for some rough lines and deliveries here and there. And while it reminded me of a lot of other “held prisoner in a mental institution” films I’ve seen through the years, BEDLAM turned out to be an arduous film to sit through, but I can’t say it wasn’t interesting.
New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory/Chiller!
DEEP IN THE DARKNESS (2014)Directed by Colin Theys
Written by John Doolan (screenplay), Michael Laimo (novel)
Starring Sean Patrick Thomas, Dean Stockwell, Kristen Bush, Blanche Baker, Dina Cataldi, Anthony Del Negro, Cara Loften, Steven A. Miller, Athena Grant, Ron Komora, Marty Gargle, Kathleen Huber, Bastian, Kyle Durand, David Weindel, and Christina Costello, Azumi Tsutsui, Jacqui Denski, Yanina Hope, Merphy Betancourt, Jerry Dwyer Jr., John Trent, Jon Denski, Eva Marie Wasko, & Joey Johnson as the Isolates!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
ScyFy’s slightly more sophisticated half-cousin Chiller has had slightly better luck with their made for TV horror flicks. Granted I’ve seen a ton of shitty MEGA-SHARK VS CROCO-SAURUS and the like from ScyFy and only really seen Chiller’s DEAD SOULS (reviewed here), but while that had its own faults, at least it was trying to do something genuinely scary rather than just go for CG/cartoony campiness.
DEEP IN THE DARKNESS is another quality attempt at scares and this one is much more successful at them than DEAD SOULS. The story follows young Dr. Michael Cayle (Sean Patrick Thomas) moves his wife Cristine (Kristen Bush) and child to a small town called Ashborough. While everything seems hunky-dorey with Dean Stockwell and everyone else in town welcoming the new doctor with open arms, Michael can’t shake the feeling that something is off. Little things like people walking around with weird scars, the almost cult-like dedication to town rituals, and maybe the sacrificial stump in the middle of the woods has Michael perplexed. But the more he digs, the weirder things get as Michael uncovers a race of subhumans living under the town that hold the townsfolk in a deathgrip.
What works is the interesting and original concept of a race of monsters controlling the city above them and forcing to serve them or else be ripped to shreds. An underground civilization of monsters is not a truly unique concept, but at least it’s not giant monsters running amok, zombies, or aliens. From someone who has seen more than enough clichéd monsters running around in a million and one movies, it’s refreshing to see something slightly more original. And the designs of the monsters are just that as these underground beasts known as Isolates look like a cross between a caveman and a goblin with glowing eyes, long claws and teeth, and skin covered in clay. These are monsters I haven’t seen before and I give this film credit for that.
The unconventional monsters also are running around in an unconventional script as I honestly wasn’t sure where this film was going as the Isolates recruit Michael to be their personal physician and drag him underground to help their sick. While the cult like townsfolk angle was interesting, the true fun here is to see the culture of the monsters and how they influence the land above them. Seeing the evolution of Michael’s character from wide-eyed optimistic doctor to vengeful man on a mission shows range that I didn’t know actor Thomas had in him. But Thomas does a great job as an unconventional lead that reminded me a bit of Edward Woodward’s performance in THE WICKER MAN.
With an ending that was rather shocking, monsters that really are kind of cool and unusual, a fun weird vibe in a town full of loonies, and some strong performances, DEEP IN THE DARKNESS really surprised me. It’s not one of those films that stands out, but it is a solid little horror flick nonetheless and I’m hoping Chiller ignores its half-cousin network’s output and produces more films like this one.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Arc Entertainment!
PRIVATE NUMBER (2014)Directed by LazRael Lison
Written by LazRael Lison
Starring Hal Ozsan, Nicholle Tom, Judd Nelson, Tom Sizemore, Joel Michaely, Ray Stoney, Kyle T. Heffner, Ali Costello, Kamber Hejlik, Gary McDonald, Eric Sweeney, Diana Elizabeth Torres, Scott Logan, Anastasia Roussel, Morgan Peter Brown
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This schizophrenic flick just doesn’t know what it wants to be and ends up taking itself so seriously that it really doesn’t matter in the end. There are a lot of interesting ideas in PRIVATE NUMBER, but nods and full on lifts from other films end up making this film way too overloaded for its own good.
Michael (Hal Ozsan) is a recovering alcoholic and a writer struggling to follow up on his last hit book. His loving wife wants a baby and his publisher wants his book. But when the phone rings in the middle of the night saying “Remember me?”, Michael is pushed to the edges of his own sanity trying to solve a mystery. Soon his wife becomes possessed by evil spirits, ghostly apparitions are appearing nightly, and the phone is ringing off the hook from beyond.
Does it want to be SE7EN? Does it want to be FIGHT CLUB? Does it want to be a Stephen King writer story? Does it want to be a supernatural thriller or a hard edged serial killer flick? The answer to all of these questions is “Yes.” which is the main problem here as writer/director LazRael Lison really wants to let us know he’s seen a lot of movies by jamming them all into one single film. The tone just isn’t consistent from one moment to the next here. First it’s a story about a writer struggling to get through writer’s block and things are mapped out in a very Stephen King-like way as what seem to be an idyllic life for Michael and his wife are seemingly upended by the stress of not getting over that writing hurdle. But then the ghostly happenings begin and you’re not sure if it’s Michael going nuts or it’s really going on. Then his wife sees the ghosts and starts to have physical reactions to their presence. So what does Michael do? He starts investigating unsolved murder cases and uncovering a pattern that no one has ever uncovered before between the killings. By the time it all reaches the conclusion, I felt as if I’d witnessed four movies all at once, and was left unsatisfied by all of them.
The alcoholic subplot is probably the most engaging aspect of this film as it feels very well thought out and real. This is mainly due to Tom Sizemore’s performance where he again basically plays himself attending an AA meeting and baring all to the group as to what addiction has done to his life. While it feels a bit off kilter the way Sizemore appears here and in the aforementioned AUTEUR, both making mini-discourses on his own addiction, these moments are the highlights of both films. Sizemore definitely still has star power and I hope he overcomes his personal demons, but mentioning his addiction in two films in a row I’ve seen him in makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
While the acting is not bad in PRIVATE NUMBER (though the lead Hal Ozsan is more than a bit too smug to be likable), the loopy narrative is. It’s not a fun experience to see a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Dancing around from one genre and another subplot, never taking more than ten minutes with each makes for a very uneven movie. PRIVATE NUMBER could have been a decent serial killer flick or an intriguing struggling writer story or an enthralling ghost story, but in attempting to be all three, it ends up being none of them.
New this week on deluxe BluRay/DVD from Kino Lorber!
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Written by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Milad Eghbali, Reza Sixo Safai, and Masuka the Cat
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
People talk to much. In movies. In books. In comics. Gab, gab, gab. Jaw, jaw, jaw. Blah, blah, blort. Why say something directly when you can stammer out 150 more words to describe it? That seems to be the motto of most writers (and most people) these days as the cinema, book and comic pages are filled with words and words. It takes a film that revels in the silences and the unsaid to really bring notice to that, but A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT did that exact thing for me.
Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is rich in theme involving women’s rights and Iranian culture, but it was the stylistic choices Amirpour uses that really interested me in this film. This is a patient movie, one that allows you to settle in and soak in the atmosphere of the oil drills plowing away in the background like a heartbeat rhythm of the fictional locale known as Bad City. While this city might be as nameless as the Iranian vampire (played amazingly by Sheila Vand) who walks the streets at night like a ghost collecting the blood of the not-so-innocent, enough is given to make it feel like the wrong side of the tracks in any town in the world. This is a place filled with quiet streets, where people hide behind their doors and those out at night are most likely either the cause of trouble or about to get into it.
That’s where the girl (Vand) meets Arash (Arash Marandi), a mid-level drug dealer and all around nice guy. Arash is tormented by his asshole drug boss and cursed with a father who is addicted to the very drugs he pushes. One night, while drunk and high, Arash meets the Girl, and while this would normally be an occasion for the Girl to have another meal, something else happens. Yes, this is a love story between a vampire and a human, but before you roll your eyes and try to lump it into a bundle with TWILIGHT, understand that the handling of this budding relationship between Arash and the Girl is much more realistic and mature than those overwrought with angst and overworded with romantic babble and pablum you see in most Hollywood films.
Here it’s the lack of words that gives this film power--glances, recognitions, and realizations don’t need to be explained because Amirpour captures so much in a slow bat of an eyelash or a tilt of the head. Most of the real story beats of this film happen without dialog. Vand’s Girl is a woman of very few words, but when she does talk, it’s mesmerizing. The final act of this film is practically wordless, as two lovers make a realization of what they are and decide if they can accept that or not. It all plays out in a beautiful silent barrage of emotion and depth. Plus the reaction of the cat in the final scene is pretty damn priceless.
Everything about this film feels new and somewhat trendy, which isn’t always a bad thing, reminding me of the slick feel of Refn’s DRIVE. Much can be said about the silences, the vampirism, and how that relates to the culture of Iran in relation to women, and I’m sure it can be said much better than by me. But this film struck me in its ability to capture my attention from start to finish with a mesmerizing and star-making performance by Vand and gorgeous black and white scenes by Amirpour. With a hip and trendy soundtrack filled with Iranian music, this film is bound to strike the fancy of those who like their vampires with a little edge. Gorehounds might be a bit more disappointed here, as aside from some cool looking choppers the Girl sports, there’s very little by way of blood. Still, the image of the Girl wearing her chador like a vampire’s cloak is a pretty effective and terrifying one cast against the dark streets of Bad City. Seeing her flit like a ghost and calmly stalk her prey is chilling without having to see copious amounts of grue. So while fans of the more extreme kind of horror or those looking for a jump scare every five minutes might be put off by the patient and more introspective mannerisms of A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, those looking for some emotional meat in their films who appreciate the beauty as much as the beast will definitely want to seek this one out.
Advance Review: Coming soon on DVD from Indican Pictures!
7 IN THE TORTURE CHAMBER (2009)aka 30 DAYS TO DIE, CRYSTAL LAKE, GIRS GONE DEAD
Directed by Griff Furst
Written by John Case, Griff Furst, Marc Sheffler
Starring Shirly Brener, Wendy Carter, Amy Brassette, Laurence Cohen, Brendan Connor, Samantha Cope, Kevin Kazakoff, Kristina Kreyling, Gina La Piana, Marc Sheffler, Kady Zadora, Victor Webster, Lina Esco
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This oddball of a film is difficult to peg down, which is one of 7 IN THE TORTURE CHAMBER’s most endearing qualities.
The film opens with a first kill that really does work well, as it is filled with scary moments punctuated with some really nice gore. While there is a healthy dose of gratuity with a scantily clad girl trouncing about her house before being offed by our masked killer, who seems to be wearing a Ronald Reagan mask with its eyes painted over, the opener works because of how little we are given before we are tossed right into the carnage.
After that things get a little weird, as we are made aware that this film is taking place in Crystal Lake. Yes, the same Crystal Lake where Jason Voorhees likes to do his summer recreations. But while yours and my favorite hockey-masked murderer isn’t mentioned in the film, setting it in his backyard seems a bit weird. It’s as if the filmmaker was trying to make a FRIDAY THE 13TH film without permission to use Jason. Instead there’s another killer making his way around the area slicing up pretty girls, which kind of makes for an interesting tertiary tale to the FRIDAY THE 13th mythos and a fun little sidebar to experience between movies.
The problem here is that the plot really has nothing to do with the slasher (though he does factor in later), as the real story here follows a young junkie who is sent by her parents to an attitude adjustment camp run by a sadistic woman and her three potty-minded orderlies. The camp is filled with reckless young women sent to the camp for all sorts of malfeasance and for most of the film, it plays out as a women in prison style flick with all the clichés of those films played out as if it were done for the first time: there’s the fresh fish initiation scene, the prison guard rape scene, the shower rape scene, the wicked warden scene, the bargaining with the sleazy guard scene, and the escape scene. The middle portion of this film that focuses on all of this well-worn material is the toughest part of the film to get through, not because it’s gratuitous (though it is), but because it is something we’ve seen in tons and tons of other women in prison films.
Unlike most women in prison films, the acting is actually pretty good here from mostly the entire cast, and I must admit there are a lot of attractive girls in this film to ogle. But while 7 IN THE TORTURE CHAMBER may sound like a torture porn film, it really isn’t. It’s a slasher/women in prison mashup that wobbles during the women in prison parts in the middle, but sort of redeems itself when it decides to be a slasher with a solid opening and an ending that has a few fun twists and turns. Far from original and even farther from perfect, 7 IN THE TORTURE CHAMBER is better than I was expecting--in parts when it’s not too busy being clichéd, that is.
And finally…a few weeks ago, I reviewed Ryan Oliver’s RESTORATION, a ghost in a car flick that was strong in style and story (you can read that review here). AIR CONDITIONS is Oliver’s first short film, and it focuses on a man trapped on a roof with something dark and evil. Again, this short shows Oliver’s flair for making the simple and banal look gorgeous. This filmmaker’s got a lot of talent, and I can’t wait to see what he has brewing up next. Luckily, AIR CONDITIONS is available in its entirety online and I’m sharing it right here with all of you AICN Horror-philes. So without further ado-wacka-do, here’s AIR CONDITIONS!
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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