Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Make way for a bunch of fun films for those with a taste for terror!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: FROGS (1972)
Retro-review: ISLAND OF DEATH (1976)
Retro-review: ENTER THE NINJA (1981)
Retro-review: THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II (1989)
Retro-review: BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II (1993)
SAMURAI AVENGER: THE BLIND WOLF (2009)
BLOOD SLAUGHTER MASSACRE (2013)
THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT (2014)
DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2015)
LET US PREY (2014)
And finally…James Busche’s PREDATOR: DARK AGES Fan Film!
Retro-review: New this week on a double feature Bluray from Shout Factory!
FROGS (1972)Directed by George McCowan
Written by Robert Hutchison, Robert Blees, Starring Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark and Lynn Borden
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Horror films aren’t afraid to be redundant, especially when it came to the Sixties and Seventies when there was an inundation of nature gone wild films or films with the theme I like to call “Don’t fuck with Mother Nature!” In these films, usually some kind of pollution or intervention of man overturns the delicate applecart of nature and nature bites back. A veritable zoo of animals had films dedicated to this phenomenon, but you’re not likely to find one more outrageous than the 1972 film FROGS. In this film, nature is hoppin’ mad as hell and it isn’t going to take it anymore!
Though this film has an abundance of the croaking amphibians, FROGS would have been more appropriately titled REPTILES, in that it’s all forms of reptile and amphibian that rise up and attack the island of a Southern aristocrat and his family. I believe the main reason for using all forms of cold-blooded creatures in this films is that frogs aren’t really that menacing and don’t really have a means to attack someone. One could argue that they do stage an aggressive assault on a wheelchair-bound Ray Milland (who I saw recently and reviewed in previous columns in THE PREMATURE BURIAL and X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES) in the film’s climax, but I attribute his passing to a heart attack rather than the hoppers’ direct involvement.
FROGS is an often redundant snoozer for most of the film because of the lack of ferocity of the title monsters. Scenes of frogs slowly descending on the giant mansion follow more scenes of hopping frogs. Occasionally snakes, lizards, and alligators are injected to liven up the stew, but ultimately, scenes of animals swimming through water or walking through grass aren’t really that scary.
This film is worth checking out, though, for the performances. FROGS is extremely well acted, and though they are dealing with a ridiculous menace, Ray Milland adds a lot of class to this film and a young and beefcakey Sam Elliot serves as a better than typical macho leading man. The film plays on Elliot’s hunkitude by requiring multiple de-shirtings, reminiscent of the fetishistic bare-chestedness of the TWILIGHT films. Joan Van Ark and Lynn Borden add some more acting weight here in key supporting roles.
The aforementioned final sequence as the frogs break into the house Milland resides in is by far the highlight of the film. Fisheye lenses and forced camera angles amp up the uneasiness as the frogs break through the windows and climb all over Milland, who falls out of his wheelchair. This harrowing scene almost makes up for the tedious and laughable scenes prior of frogs hopping closer and closer to the house. Director George McGowan seemed to have a lot of fun with the frog motif, tossing everything from frog paintings to frog statues all over the island. In the end, I had a lot of fun rediscovering FROGS. Though it takes patience to sit through some outrageous death scenes and an overly clunky message of animals rising up due to pollution of the swamp, the climax of FROGS proved to be worth the wait.
Next week, call PETA. I’ll be reviewing the flipside of this double feature, FOOD OF THE GODS!
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!
ISLAND OF DEATH (1976)DEVILS IN MYKONOS, CRUEL DESTINATION, ISLAND OF PERVERSION, A CRAVING FOR LUST, PSYCHIC KILLER 2, KILLING DAYLIGHT, DEVIL’S ISLAND
Directed by Nico Mastorakis
Written by Nico Mastorakis
Starring Robert Behling, Jane Lyle, Jessica Dublin, Gerard Gonalons, Jannice McConnell, Ray Richardson, Marios Tartas, Efi Bani, Clay Half, Jeremy Rousseau, Elizabeth Spader, Nikos Tsachiridis
Find out more about this film here
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Whoo, this was one fucked UP movie! Understandably on the UK’s Video Nasty list, ISLAND OF DEATH seems to go out of its way to offend everyone it possibly can think of and then just in case it didn’t, it’ll double down on the seedy sickness.
In doing a bit of research on the film, Nico Mastorakis said that he saw TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and said he wanted to do something more offensive. But while Mastorakis might have matched the level of depravity or even surpassed it, in simply trying to one up another offensive film, it seems Masrorakis missed the point completely and failed to cast one likable character in the entire film. At least in TCM, we were rooting for Marilyn.
The film opens in a misleading fashion. A seemingly loving couple (Christopher, played by Robert Behling and Celia played by Jane Lyle) arrive at the Greek island of Mykonos on holiday. The affectionate couple paw at each other, giggle, and snap photos like a set of tourists as they take in the sights. Things seem pretty idyllic until Christopher calls his mother and mentions that he is making love to Celia as he talks to her over the phone. The elderly woman, of course, is shocked at the act, but we are only teased with the true perversity at play in this scene. Things start to go sideways when Christopher notices a man watching Celia in a bar and decides to mislead the man into thinking Celia is his cousin, opening the opportunity for the man to openly flirt with her. But it isn’t until Christopher wakes the next day and is turned down for sex by Celia that we really see that this idyllic couple is not what they seem. While Christopher is the first to show his perverse hand by having morning sex with a nearby goat, it isn’t until Celia makes love to the man from the bar later in the film and then takes part in crucifying him in front of a church that you realize that this is a story focusing on a pair of serial killers on vacation. The levels of depravity and just plain wrongness continue to escalate until soon, the crimes the couple commit are just too much for them to escape from.
Yes, this is a shocking film and because of the depths this film goes, it is one of the more horrific films I’ve witnessed in some time. Seeing Christopher justify his actions while labeling everyone he encounters perverts and monsters shows how deep the character’s hypocrisy and mental illness goes. Seeing Celia tag along, mostly because she doesn’t really think for herself and allows Christopher to lead her through these heinous acts, makes Christopher an even more despicable character. But while the shocks are potent in ISLAND OF DEATH, as I said before, it rings hollow and done purely for shock’s sake here as no one is likable in the least. Even Celia, who is just a simple-minded follower, is a wretched person because of her weakness here. In many ways, this film feels like the precursor for such films as TRUE ROMANCE and especially NATURAL BORN KILLERS. NBK doesn’t have too many likable characters either, and much of the exploits found in that film are evident here. And while NBK is more of a sophisticated film (both in style and substance), ISLAND OF DEATH plays like its inbred cousin.
You could go down a checklist of horrific acts that go on in ISLAND OF DEATH: rape, incest, bestiality, murder, homophobia, cruelty to the mentally handicapped, ageism, sexism, classism. I know of some people whose heads would explode if they ever bore witness to the film. I’m sure director Mastorakis had that checklist and enjoyed ticking off each of them as he filmed them for this diabolical film. In some ways, I want to admire the film for the balls it takes to bring this stuff to life on screen. In other ways, knowing how the filmmaker just wanted to out-gross other films, the shallow reasoning behind it is definitely a turn off. Still, Mastorakis at least admits to doing something that many, many filmmakers are too proud or pompous to admit--that he did this simply for the money. Personally, I’m more offended by hollow shocks than the actual acts themselves. No matter how you’re offended, ISLAND OF DEATH is bound to have your number. It’s somewhat beautifully shot, but the scenery almost makes it impossible to not be so.
This Arrow rerelease is pretty amazing and I’m glad the company is releasing this forgotten little monster of a film. The extras include a making of featurette, “Return to the Island of Death”, following Mastorakis returning to the places the movie was filmed, an interview with Mastorakis, an alternate opening sequence, a soundtrack to the film (filled with some groovy yet hauntings songs), a featurette looking at the rest of Mastorakis’ films, and an illustrated collector’s booklet.
BEWARE: This trailer contains many, many wrong things that will definitely keep you from getting that raise you want at work!
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from Kino Lorber!
ENTER THE NINJA (1981)aka NINJA I
Directed by Menahem Golan
Written by Dick Desmond (screenplay), based on the story story by Mike Stone
Starring Franco Nero, Susan George, Shô Kosugi, Christopher George, Alex Courtney, Will Hare, Zachi Noy, Constantine Gregory, Dale Ishimoto, Joonee Gamboa, Leo Martinez, Ken Metcalfe, Subas Herrero
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Trip down memory lane time: when my brother and I were kids, we watched ENTER THE NINJA, RETURN OF THE NINJA, and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION over and over and over again. Every time it was on, my brother and I were glued to the TV and afterwards we would leap from one couch to the next, attempting ninja flips, kicks, punches, lunges, and all sorts of chop-sockery. We avidly read NINJA MAGAZINE, which had awesome painted fold-out posters and ordered shurikens, tonfa sticks, and shuko climbing claws (though they were too big to fit our hands) out of the backs of the magazines. We had our own ninja outfits and would attempt to sneak up on our dogs using our own finely honed ninja invisibility skills (though they always managed to see us). We loved ninjas and we loved ENTER THE NINJA. So when I found out Kino Lorber was releasing Blurays of ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (Shout Factory released NINJA III: THE DOMINATION and I reviewed it a few months ago here), I had to check them out.
Maybe for most, ninjas might not equate to horror as much as most creatures of the night, but NINJA III was about possession, so that qualified to be covered in AICN HORROR. The first NINJA film, the subject of today’s review, is much more of a straight up action/revenge film about an American ninja named Cole (DJANGO’s Franco Nero), who heads to the Philippines to visit an old friend who is fighting with a land baron out to acquire his property. Being a good friend, Cole steps in and takes on the big industry’s goons one by one with much ninja kicking, chopping, and weaponry. He also takes the time to bang his friend’s hot wife (STRAW DOGS’ Susan George). Looking for someone to match Cole’s ninja prowess, the big boss hires Hasegawa (the ultra-badass Shô Kosugi), who already has a problem with an American learning the ways of the ninja. Much ninja-ing ensues.
So yes, this is an action movie first. But then again, it’s about a man lurking around in the dark and killing multiple people with all sorts of weapons. That description screams horror to me in the broadest sense, in that the film exists to introduce new and creative ways to kill people when looked at through horror-colored glasses, and highlighting weaponry in action is what this film does best as evidenced right from the opening credits where a ninja is featured brandishing one weapon after another and exhibiting both skill in wielding the weapon and how deadly it actually is.
It also helps to have some pretty amazing kung fu at play here. While much of the time the ninjas are brandishing weapons, when they do fight hand to hand, Franco Nero seems to be pretty formidable in a Chuck Norris sort of way (he’s even got a substantial moustache). But Kosugi is the true highlight of the film for me. The legendary martial arts star’s name was as big as Bruce Lee in my household growing up and in this film, facing off against the American ninja, I found myself rooting for the black ninja all the way as he flips, kicks, and blend into the shadows to do his evil ninja business.
So maybe this isn’t a film full of horrifying sights and terrifying sequences of tension, but there’s a beheading in the first few minutes and though it is a product of its time, the simple action movie setup and showcasing of the amazing weaponry doesn’t get old. ENTER THE NINJA is a lot of fun. It’s not really scary, but you’re bound to have a good time with it.
If I’m not entering the traction after watching ENTER THE NINJA and jumping around on my couch like a ten year old, I’ll be back next week with a review for its sequel, REVENGE OF THE NINJA (also released this week)!
Retro-review: New on Bluray from Troma!
THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II (1989)Directed by Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
Written by Lloyd Kaufman (story), Gay Partington Terry (screenplay)
Starring Ron Fazio, John Altamura, Phoebe Legere, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tsutomu Sekine, Mayako Katsuragi, Shinoburyû, Lisa Gaye, Jessica Dublin, Jack Cooper, Erika Schickel, Paul Borghese, Michael Jai White, Lloyd Kaufman
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
The pride and joy of Tromaville is back in this occasionally entertaining, undeniably racist, and truly tasteless sequel to Troma’s most famous film.
But to call a Troma film tasteless is something of an oxymoron. It’s a company that prides itself on being over the top, in your face and occasionally up its own ass and ours. And while this is a film that was made in a different time, when comedy towards others, specifically other races, was a bit more widespread, it still doesn’t make it any easier to sit through given the number of racial stereotypes tossed around here. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II continues almost right where we were left with the first film with Melvin Junko (alternating between Ron Fazio and John Altamura, but who can really tell under all of that lumpy makeup) transformed into a walking mass of muscle and toxicity in love with his blind girlfriend Claire (the sizzling hot Phoebe Legere, who replaces his other blind girlfriend named Sara played by Andree Maranda in the original film). When the dastardly Apocalypse Inc. destroys a home for blind people, they unleash the wrath of Toxie. But even though he wipes the floor with the lot of them (including future SPAWN Michael Jai White), Toxie can’t get over his failure and goes on a quest to find his real father, rumored to be hanging out in Japan somewhere. Once in Japan, Toxie finds that there is just as much evil there as there is in the great town of Tromaville.
The film is split into two chunks. The first is an extended fight scene between the Toxic Avenger and scores of bad guys. It’s during this first half that it feels more like the gritty, gory original film. Sure there is a scene where a short person is squished into a basketball for Toxie to slam dunk, but the way Toxie gets rid of his foes here, especially the bomber himself who blows up the home for the blind, is uncomfortably gory as Toxie dismembers him and squishes him in a wheelchair leaving what almost looks like pieces of a corpse left after he’s done with him. It’s in these opening scenes that the tradition of gore to the maximum is upheld from the quite gory original. There’s a jet black comedic tone to the gore, but it’s much more gruesome than what occurs in the latter half of the film.
Once Toxie takes his trip to Tokyo, things get cartoony almost immediately as Toxie sailboards across the ocean and then arrives in the harbor like Godzilla. Seeing the Japanese folks running from Toxie in mock fear is only the first of many somewhat mean-spirited jibes on Japanese culture in the latter half of the film. While there are evil people doing bad things, for the most part, the latter half of the film is a sort of travelogue with Toxie basically being filmed interacting with Japanese people and checking out the sites. It’s a cheap way of filming things, just following your main character walking around the street with a camera, but it’s the type of low budget ingenuity that I have come to expect from Troma. The thing is, the cartoony and stereotypical way the Japanese bad guys are dealt with is definitely going to offend folks in this ultra-sensitive day and age. Seeing one mobster being turned into a human won ton soup in a sauna and another made into a fish cake isn’t honoring the culture as much as it’s lampooning it and for some reason, it just didn’t sit right with me as I watched it. And just for good measure, the film manages to work in some homophobic riffs in a well.
That said, aside from the occasional racist and homophobic jibes, the sequel to THE TOXIC AVENGER is good-spirited as Toxie is never cast in a negative light and is always a hero to be looked up to. Sure occasionally his Tromatons cause him to rage and tear folks apart, but his victims are all moustache-twirling baddies, so his violence is justified in the eyes of this film. As always with Troma, the film sort of devolves into some kind of street party in the end and as the credits get closer, it feels more like the filmmakers didn’t know how to end it, so they just threw a party and filmed it. It’s something that is quite common with Troma films and part of the reason their films are so watchable in that they are so shamelessly outrageous that it doesn’t seem like the endings are as important as the fun it is making the film. To me, that’s endearing.
With curiosities like the creative kills, the smoking hot performance by artist Phoebe Legere as Toxie’s blind GF, and the fun in seeing Michael Jai White treat his role as black karate thug #2 as if he's going for the Oscar, THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II is definitely something worth seeking out if you haven’t experienced it. Just be prepared for some insensitive treatment of others here as this film is bound to offend. Still, Toxie retains his likability and at least for this sequel, the concept still feels pretty fresh--fresher than some of the sequels turned out to be, that is.
Retro-review: Remastered and available on DVD from Full Moon Entertainment!
BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II (1993)Directed by Ted Nicolaou
Written by Charles Band (original idea), Ted Nicolaou (script)
Starring Anders Hove, Denice Duff, Kevin Spirtas, Melanie Shatner, Michael Denish, Pamela Gordon, Ion Haiduc, Tudorel Filimon, Viorel Comanici, Viorel Sergovici
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
The SUBSPECIES movies reflect a time when Full Moon really was cookin’ with gas. While many of the Full Moon flicks are steeped in camp, the SUBSPECIES films seemed to actually try to be both scary and taken seriously. While BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II aka SUBSPECIES II: BLOODSTONE isn’t as good as the first installment, it still is better than most of the campy product Full Moon represents these days.
The film begins almost exactly where the original leaves off, with the dead still laying where they dropped in the previous film, Michelle Morgan (Denice Duff) reeling from a bite she received from a vampire, and the diabolical Prince Radu (Anders Hove) in pursuit of her. A mystical relic called the Bloodstone is the treasure everyone is after, possessing power Radu wants and Michelle possesses. Michelle escapes Radu’s castle while Radu enlists the help of his mother, a blind witch (Pamela Gordon), to track her down. Meanwhile, Michelle’s sister Rebecca (Melanie Shatner, daughter of William!) is trying to find her sister with the aid of police officer Mel (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7’s final guy Kevin Spirtas). Much languishing about being an immortal bloodsucker ensues.
While there is a lot of musing by Michelle trying to cope with her newfound hunger for blood and trying to protect her sister from her pangs, this film really is one long chase scene, which makes it pretty fun to watch all the way through. While the level of intensity wavers from time to time, I admire the simplicity of the plot and had a lot of fun watching vampires chase vampires, humans chase vamps, and vamps chase humans. Using the titular Bloodstone as the grand prize for all, while it might not be the most complex of plots, the clarity of this quest makes this film straightforward and fun to watch. What is frustrating is that despite all of the running around in this film, things end pretty much where they began with the only change being Michelle’s acceptance of being a vampire. This inches the plot along a skosh, but really only serves as a thruway for another sequel.
That said, the amount of creative effects and bloody gore reign supreme in this film. The iconic yet simple facial prosthetics giving Radu the distinctive SUBSPECIES look is something both laughably 80s, but still pretty frightening to see. The extended fingers, long nails, and rat-like features Radu sports (though it’s weird that Michelle doesn’t sport the same type of look) are reminiscent of the classic look of Max Schreck’s NOSFERATU, yet the rock and roll hair makes it more Fabio-like, which reminds me of both THE LOST BOYS and Anne Rice’s vampire rocker Lestat.
But it’s not just the copious amount of blood and the look of the vampire that makes the vamp in SUBSPECIES II effective, it’s the attention to shadow director Ted Nicolaou uses throughout. Scenes of Radu’s shadow creeping across walls and through windows with light and shadow, shows that Nicolaou was at least trying to be scary and creative with the scares, though much of it was done before in NOSFERATU and Coppola’s DRACULA. Little stop motion animated demons and the witches’ spell effects add to the fun. And BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II is a lot of fun, in a low budget, 80’s retro kind of way. It really feels like those behind this film did their homework and wanted to make a legit horror film and they ended up succeeding, at least with this action-packed sequel.
New this week on Bluray from Synapse Films!
SAMURAI AVENGER: THE BLIND WOLF (2009)aka LONE WOLF: SAMURAI AVENGER
Directed by Kurando Mitsutake
Written by John Migdal, Kurando Mitsutake
Starring Kurando Mitsutake, Jeffrey James Lippold, Domiziano Arcangeli, Megan Hallin, Kyle O. Ingleman, Lorne Leutcher, Mariko Denda, Aki Hiro, Tegan Ashton Cohan, Masami Kosaka, Noriaki Kamata, Gregory Blair, Amy Bloom, Curtis Buck, Hidetoshi Imura, Amanda Plummer
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Made to look like it is a forgotten film from the Grindhouse era, SAMURAI AVENGER: THE BLIND WOLF is something that once seen will definitely not be forgotten.
A man with no name other than The Blind Wolf (Kurando Mitsutake) wanders into frame in the first moments of this film saying very little and seeking vengeance. We learn that his wife and child were killed by a madman named Flesher (Domiziano Arcangeli) and that Flesher has set up seven assassins for the Blind Wolf to face before the Wolf reaches him. This is the setup for the action spectacular that is part classic samurai film, part educational program, and part Austin Powers.
While some might find the over granulated and scratchy filters used to make this film feel like a grindhouse feature annoying, that never bothered me and it doesn’t bother me here. As long as the material is entertaining, seeing all of the scrapes and random hairs in the camera lens just adds to the fun, but I know that annoys some folks and if that’s you, this movie will definitely give you something to complain about. The thing is, the film has done its homework, not only knowing the template with which old samurai/kung fu movies are made, but also samurai culture as the film stops occasionally for a narrator to explain some key terms you might have not known about the way of the samurai, such as hitting an opponent with the blunt end of the sword and key moments in a character’s origin at just the right moment in the story. While this may skid a film to a halt in other instances, here it adds to the fun as overlapping graphics and the professorial tone of the narrator had every little derivation cause a smile to form on my face.
The film’s main fault is that the actors involved aren’t the best swordsmen or martial arts masters. Slow moving at almost a comical rate, the actors swing swords tentatively and just don’t seem as agile as the story would like to lead us to believe. For me, though, that only adds to the charm as it makes it obvious that this is a film celebrating and often lampooning a time when we didn’t have the more tactile and rapid fire action from THE RAID and Tony Jaa films.
The over the top gore and the overly serious tone had me entertained from beginning to end. Though clichés are used, the film celebrates, rather than makes fun of, a subgenre of filmmaking that is often too serious for its own good. Still, it manages to have a genuine heart to it as the Blind Wolf is never made the butt of the joke and his feelings of vengeance are real and palpable. Here’s hoping there will be a sequel as the end titles suggest. I’d love to see me some more Blind Wolf. For those who like to laugh along with their gore and swords, I present to you SAMURAI AVENGER: THE BLIND WOLF. I loved this film and I think most of you will too.
New on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing!
BLOOD SLAUGHTER MASSACRE (2013)Directed by Manny Serrano
Written by Louie Cortes, Manny Serrano
Starring Matt W. Cody, Mike Roche, Byron M. Howard, Carmela Hayslett, Melissa Roth, Darlene Heller, Danielle Lenore, Bradley Creanzo, David Garelik
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
What makes something a throwback sort of film is the ability of the filmmaker to look back to a time when that specific type of film was en vogue or popular and capture something unique about it. To me, a throwback is often a statement encapsulating an entire subgenre, but having the hindsight enough to recognize the positive and negative aspects of that particular niche and showcase them in a clever way. Otherwise, without original ideas, why make the movie in the first place? I don’t know if making a throwback was the intent of filmmaker Manny Serrano and his co-writer Louie Cortes, as many of the same mistakes made in the slasher genre of old show up seemingly unintentionally in BLOOD SLAUGHTER MASSACRE.
The film starts as most slasher films often do. There’s an initial kill, establishing that there is a murderer on the loose murderizing people. Then it sets out to introduce the bowling pin people set to fall at the hands of the killer. For the most part, the opening hour of the film is a by the numbers slasher film set to the Michael Myers template, with a headstrong investigator after a silent killer. The fact that pentagrams are carved into the chests of the killer’s victims is new, but the killer wears an emotionless clown mask, walks slowly, and uses butcher knives as his choice of weaponry. Later we find out he’s a killer who was captured and seemingly destroyed by angry parents, so of course he’s after those parents’ children for revenge, so there’s an A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET riff going on as well.
The problem with BLOOD SLAUGHTER MASSACRE is that it starts out just going for a sleazy “every girl gets nekkid before dying” horror film, but then tries to overthink itself into something original, but swipes directly from popular slasher films in order to do so. So much time in this film is spent trying to explain the killer’s overly-complex modus operandi that any momentum this film might have made as a simple sleaze and slash fest is skidded to a halt. By trying to have it both ways, guttural and cerebral, BLOOD SLAUGHTER MASSACRE ends up being neither.
There’s an impressive body count here, though the effects are pretty cheap. The fact that every woman in the film is required to take their top off might be a plus for those who are looking for blatant titillation, but if you’re looking for a solid slasher throwback, this isn’t going to impress any horror fans I know. BLOOD SLAUGHTER MASSACRE doesn’t seem to want to be anything but a run of the mill film that blends into the rest of the slasher herd we saw in the 80s. There’s definitely a love for the genre, but the final product just doesn’t have a clear picture of what it wants to be.
New this week in select theaters from Sunset Studios/Breaking Glass Pictures!
KRUEL (2014)Directed by Robert Henderson
Written by Robert Henderson
Starring Kierney Nelson, Dakota Morrissiey, Adam Vernier, J.T. Chinn, Elizabeth Brewster, Ansley Gordon, Cooper Henderson, Keegan Henderson, Rita Manyette, Tom Riska, Tom Siedle, Matthew Weidle, Nicholas Williamson, Ericka Winterrowd, Colleen Yorke
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m a fan of evil clown films. My most recent comic PIROUETTE (which will be out soon…I just am not sure when, sadly) is chock full of them, and I’ve made a habit of watching clown horror films just to try to delve into the reasons why so many people find clowns to be so damn scary. I wish KRUEL had that much interest in it, but instead of getting to the root of clourophobia or any scares at all, there are other areas the film prefers to focus on and sadly, that makes for one boring and by the numbers movie.
Kierney Nelson plays Jo, a young woman going through young woman problems. In the opening moments of the film she finds out her boyfriend Ben (the mumbling Dakota Morrissiey) cheated on her, her mom is on her about staying out late, and to make matters worse, now the clown driving an ice cream truck swipes the kid she is babysitting right from under her nose while she is arguing with her boyfriend. Can’t a girl get a break? But though her parents and the police don’t believe her theory that the clown took the kid, Jo and her ex decide to take matters into their own hands and investigate, but Willie the clown (J.T. Chinn) is waiting for them and has plans of his own for Jo.
The main problem with this film is that the focus is on the wrong thing. In trying so hard to make the viewer invested in the characters in peril (namely Jo and Ben) by focusing on their relationship problems, this film forgets to add in any scary or tense moments. Apart from the opening scene, which hints that the clown is outside of the car as Jo finds out about Ben’s unfaithful behavior, the entire first forty or so minutes are comprised of Jo arguing with Ben, Ben pleading with Jo to take him back, and Jo taking time to sulk on her own. Tossing the two characters together time and time again, I quickly grew wary of the repeated attempts by Ben to rekindle the relationship paired with Jo’s reluctance to do so. Toss in a random useless scene where a friend is trying to set Jo up with a new boy and you’ve got a whole lot of drama that has nothing to do with clowns abducting kids in their ice cream trucks.
It’s understandable that writer/director Robert Henderson would go this route, as the scenes with Willie the Clown are some of the weakest of the film. Actor J.T. Chin just isn’t scary, especially since in the final scenes he isn’t even wearing the clown makeup. Sure Henderson sets up a couple of worthwhile scenes, one of which takes place as Jo and Ben sneak into Willie’s place which is decorated with all sorts of old timey toys and photographs that look like they were picked up at a rummage sale held at THE WOMAN IN BLACK’s house, but these scenes are sandwiched in between more endless talks about Jo and Ben’s relationship.
Absolutely misguided, the film can’t even decide on who the hero is going to be or what Jo’s role is going to be during the climax. She switches from trapped victim to aggressor and back again, and the film flip flops between Ben and Jo’s father as the role of her rescuer. It doesn’t help that everyone is stretching their acting chops way beyond their retention length and going for the gold in every overacted scene. Somewhere in KRUEL is a solid little story about a scary clown, an ice cream truck, and a little boy. It’s just too preoccupied with talking endlessly about a teenage relationship to know it.
New this week on DVD/Bluray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
NIGHTLIGHT (2015)Directed by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Starring Shelby Young, Chloe Bridges, Carter Jenkins, Mitch Hewer, Taylor Murphy, Kyle Fain
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I know folks are getting almost as sick of my found footage spiel as they are of the found footage films itself, but I do feel that there are those who will just tune out once the concept of found footage is mentioned. This review is for people like me who still get engrossed with the first person POV technique despite the shaky lens and all of the other confinements of the found footage genre. Sure I have to review these films because they are sent to me, but with a film like NIGHTLIGHT, I think I’d seek it out anyway to watch if given the chance, as it tries something new and does a compelling job of doing things we might have seen before.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a group of teens go out into the woods and find themselves lost and at the mercy of horrific forces all around them. In this instance the locale is the Covington Forest, which is rumored to be a playground for the supernatural as folks are rumored to find themselves disoriented, seeing specters in the dark, and compelled to leap from the cliffs to their death. Of course, this is a place ripe for some kids to go out, drink, have sex, and ultimately get killed. After one depressed kid goes to the Covington Forest alone and commits suicide, his not-so-popular friend joins a group of popular kids on a night filled with flashlight games such as hide and seek, the train dodge, and other weird games I really haven’t heard of before. What they don't realize is that they are in a horror film, so that means most are going to die.
The thing that differentiates this film from the found footage herd is that the camera isn’t a camera at all. In NIGHTLIGHT, the camera is actually the flashlight one of the kids uses in all of their games. There’s still the motif of dropping the camera, forced POV, and the camera shutting on and off, but instead of having to worry about how a camera can take this type of beating or when the tape will run out or when the battery dies, this film at least alleviates this fallback by not acknowledging it’s a camera at all. So technically, this isn’t found footage, per se; it’s just a story told from the POV of a flashlight. It sort of reminds me of the V/H/S/2 segment where the story is told through Adam Wingard’s artificial eyeball instead of an actual camera.
Boiled down to basics, though, this is a story about a bunch of kids running around in the woods getting offed by evil spirits/creatures/specters/fairies/whatever. The acting is pretty solid. The throughway story about a girl infatuated with one of the other guys while dealing with the suicide of her close friend isn’t groundbreaking, but compelling enough to have held my attention the whole way though, and the simple effects are actually pretty decent with floating bodies, demon dogs, and glimpses of some type of monsters roaming the forest.
Writers/directors Scott Beck & Bryan Woods handle the first person POV well, with some solid scares and some situations that actually are quite effective at ratcheting up the tension such as mad run through some caves and a path lined with motion sensitive lights that light up as you walk along it and then turn off, only to be illuminated by an unseen force as it approaches the kids. These sequences prove that it really does take some talent to make these types of films effectively, even though the found footage subgenre is often scoffed at as lowbrow filmmaking. And while a lot of the moves are the same, there’s enough effort and ingenuity added to NIGHTLIGHT to differentiate it from the rest of the found footagers you all usually roll your eyes at.
Available now in select theaters, On Demand, and digital download. Coming soon to home video (Check here for when and how to get it)!
THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT (2014)Directed by Caryn Waechter
Written by Marilyn Fu (screenplay), Steven Millhauser (short story)
Starring Georgie Henley, Kara Hayward, Willa Cuthrell, Olivia DeJonge, Kal Penn, Laura Fraser, Gary Wilmes, Neal Huff, Hudson Yang, Morgan Turner, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Juliana Sass, Evan Kuzma, Orlagh Cassidy, Deema Aitken
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
In many ways, THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT is a teen afterschool special about the dangers of online bullying, and I’m sure there are those who would shy away from calling this film a horror film at all. But those people will have missed the point of this film which has its roots buried deep in some of the oldest horrors imaginable and does so with an ingenious, modern twist.
When a group of outcast girls form a secret club called the Sisterhood of the Night exclude Emily (MOONRISE KINGDOM’s Kara Hayward) from the group, she starts a blog trying to expose the club’s rituals as something akin to cult activity. News about the Sisterhood travels fast in the small town, and soon the entire town is out to find out the secrets of the club. Maintaining a vow of silence and a bond of friendship, the group of girls are outcast, ridiculed, and publicly tormented by the nosy townsfolk eager to label the Sisterhood and anyone associated with them as cultists, deviants, and witches.
The power of this film is twofold. The first is the cast, with Hayward acting her butt off as the outcast among the outcasts who wants desperately to be in this girls club. That spunky hard-headedness that she had in spades in MOONRISE KINDGOM is front and center here, but in this film, she is determined to be a part of something she can’t have and it turns sour fast. By manipulating the entire town, Emily gets exactly what she longs for, acceptance, attention, and popularity, but getting these things only brings out the worst in her and, in turn, brings out the worst in the town. The flipside to Hayward’s Emily is the fascinating Georgie Henley (CHRONICLES OF NARNIA) who plays Mary. Mark my words, Henley is a superstar in the making. Bold, ballsy, confident. She commands every scene she’s in much like Angelina Jolie did in her younger years. As the leader of the Sisterhood, she evokes some of the dangerous charisma Faruza Balk did in THE CRAFT, but in a much more refined and less batshit manner. The strength of her performance is crucial to this story, as it is more about what is unsaid and the power of keeping a secret than what she says and does.
Director Caryn Waechter cleverly walks us through a story written by Steven Millhauser and adapted by Marilyn Fu in a manner not unlike HEATHERS in that it plays on the gullibility of the weak-minded and how fast rumors can swirl into tornados that destroy all in its path. It’s a modern day Salem Witch Trial-style film about the power of hearsay and how modern technology can make one single lie absolutely devastating. It’s not a story about monsters or demons or supernatural powers, but a power much more damaging and close to home.
The film ends on a high note that will make the more jaded of the audience roll their eyes for sure. The ending almost ruined it for me, to tell you the truth, as it becomes more of a story about healing and growth, moving forward and making the best of things, rather than the dark retribution and foreboding evils we are used to seeing here in AICN HORROR. I’m willing to bet that those who watch this film expecting something like THE CRAFT are going to be pretty disappointed at the more meaningful and poignant way things are wrapped up. But the horror here is that this is film deftly lays out how after all of these years since people were burned at the stake, we really haven’t learned much at all. Utilizing this common and awful trait of humanity in ways I felt were downright genius, THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT is a film depicting real life horrors using what we expect against us and then shoving our faces in these common rush decisions in this media/technology-obsessed society we live in. This is a fantastic film, low on gore or scares but high on intriguing ideas and performances from a young cast who are destined for greatness.
New this week on DVD and BluRay from Anchor Bay Entertainment!
DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2015)A Joint Rolled by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee & Bill Gunn
Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Joie Lee, Felicia Pearson, Jeni Perillo, Katherine Borowitz, Donna Dixon, Chiz Schultz, Lauren Macklin, Steven Hauck, Stephen Henderson, Rafael Osorio, Cinqué Lee
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Spike Lee’s remake of GANJA & HESS, Bill Gunn’s faux-blaxploitation film about African American culture, religion, and vampires, is ambitious and textured, though if you’re looking for pointy-toothed scares, this is not going to be the film for you.
Hess is a well-to-do African American scholar living in Martha’s Vinyard surrounded by African artifacts he has collected through the years. In the opening moments, Hess’ associate Lafayette joins Hess at the university where he attains an ancient African dagger used in blood rituals. When Hess returns home, he begins to realize Lafayette is unhinged, first trying to kill himself and then stabbing Hess with the ancient dagger through his heart. Wracked with guilt and with no one there to stop him from suicide, Lafayette murders himself just as Hess returns to life with a powerful thirst for blood. When Lafayette’s wife Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) arrives at Hess’ home looking for her missing husband, she is enamored with Hess and finds herself wrapped up in Hess’ struggle to maintain his dignity along with his thirst for blood.
Right off the bat, I have to warn you, this is not your typical vampire film. While there may be those who love or hate Spike Lee, I find the director fascinating because he is definitely someone who has a vision and is not afraid to show it. Whether I agree with all of his politics or beliefs or not, I know catching a Spike Lee Joint is always going to give me something to talk about. With DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, Lee really does pay homage to the original GANJA & HESS in an almost beat for beat retelling of the story. Now with the original film being more of a cult classic and obscuriosity, I don’t have the disgust for the film as I do with most modern remakes as this one brings light to a lesser known film that deserves to be unearthed and rewatched.
Lee’s film does well by the original in theme as it delves deeply into African American identity without pointing the finger at “the man” or “the establishment.” There are only a few white people in the film. Most of the time the film takes place with only Hess and Ganja, with the rest mostly spent with an African American cast. This is refreshing to see, as it is not accusing others of the problem as often seen in movies about race (even in previous Lee films). Instead the film goes intdepth on the way African Americans often are their own undoing. Hess is a historian and while he is fascinated with African culture, he lives in a posh palace in Martha’s Vinyard, drives a Rolls Royce, hob nobs with socialites and is as distanced from the typical street life as they come. When he is stabbed by the African knife, he is overcome with desires and urges that bring him to dark clubs and slums searching for his victims. Yet when he is at his lowest, Hess is drawn to a church, a place a vampire would be compelled to avoid, but in Hess’ case, it seems to be the only place of solace he has. I don’t want to assume what Lee is saying here, but it feels almost like Hess represents the modern African American man, torn between his roots in Africa (rich in culture, yet primitive in spirit) and a modernized world where modern society has delegated many African Americans into impoverished slums (which are rich in spirit as represented by the various lively church scenes, yet downtrodden as a culture). Hess’ conflict between man and vampire is but a metaphor Lee plays with as the various directions a modern day African American man is torn on a daily basis.
But enough of me trying to psychoanalyze the film. Stephen Tyrone Williams and Zaraah Abrahams are absolutely amazing as Hess and Ganja. Williams is reserved, walking through his life as if in a dream and wound so tight that you think he’s going to burst at any moment. The flip side of the coin is Abrahams’ Ganja who is lively and spirited, not afraid to speak her mind, and dignified enough to know she is royalty (at least in her mind). Abrahams is especially convincing as her arc moves her from grieving widow to entranced lover to coping enabler through the narrative, and she is wonderful to watch as she goes through this variety of emotions. From a performance perspective, this film is engrossing.
But as a horror film? Not so much. Lee has made an art house film on the black experience in America today. He uses vampirism as a metaphor and doesn’t resort to crosses, coffins, bats, or fangs. Yes, there are scenes of vampires lapping up blood spilled frrm their victims off of the floor, but those of a literal mind need not take a chance with this film. If you’re the type of filmgoer who likes to think a bit and take in multiple meanings to the story playing in front of you, DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS might be up your alley. As a filmmaker, I think it’s a bold move to tell a story talking about race without using cartoon versions of the opposite race to prove your point. Lee did that already with DO THE RIGHT THING and some of his other early films. With DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS Lee uses a much more reflective storytelling, looking not only at race relations to other races, but at how races relate to themselves and how, no matter what the race, we often make our own beds and fashion our own situations. Sure, he does this reflection in metaphor, but still it makes for a fascinating, albeit scare-free, vampire film.
New this week On Demand and DVD/BluRay from Dark Sky Films!
LET US PREY (2014)Directed by Brian O'Malley
Written by David Cairns & Fiona Watson
Starring Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Douglas Russell, Niall Greig Fulton, Jonathan Watson, Brian Vernel, James McCreadie, Sophie Stephanie Farmer, Andrew Parker
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While you can probably match each scene of this film with another movie, the way all of these puzzle pieces fit together make one exhilarating little movie in LET US PREY.
The film opens with a mysterious trench-coated man (GAME OF THRONES’ Liam Cunningham) seemingly appearing at the edge of the ocean amongst the rocks, the waves, and swooping crows. The man makes his way along the coast to the city, where we find Police Officer Rachel Hegge (Pollyanna McIntosh) waking from sleep, doing fist pushups, and donning her uniform to go out on the night shift. Almost immediately, she encounters the trench-coated man (later identified as Six) standing and staring at her from the end of the road, but before she can investigate, a drunken youth speeds by her and plows into Six. Though there is no body to be found, Officer Hegge takes the driver into the station and tosses him in lockup with a few other offenders who have been picked up through the night. The body of Six fails to turn up and just as they are about to let the youthful offender go, Six walks into the police station bleeding and catatonic. What seems like a meeting of happenstance between 9 people turns into something much more meticulously planned out by forces much more powerful than the law.
Bits and pieces from everything from THE PROPHECY to DEVIL to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 to RESIDENT EVIL to SE7EN to PRINCE OF DARKNESS to ANGEL HEART to just about any other film that has to do with the battle between good and evil with man caught in between are at play in LET US PREY. It plays out like an extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the Devil is kept in a jail cell surrounded by prisoners and guards alike who deserve to be taken to hell. I don’t want this to come off as too critical, as these elements are laced together rather seamlessly and produce a product that is very much entertaining; it’s just that this is one derivative film.
Yet it’s an exciting one. Part of that goes to Liam Cunningham’s fantastic performance as the enigmatic Six. His calm yet dangerous demeanor and his dignified line delivery makes every word uttered sharp and wicked. I was first made privy to Pollyanna McIntosh after seeing her mesmerizing performance as the title character in THE WOMAN; here she offers up a dignified yet highly physical performance, and I think McIntosh is one noticeable film away from breaking through and becoming a major star. She commands every scene she is in, yet here she plays a complex character who is hard because she is covering up a very damaged and soft center. The actress is able to pull off both ends of the spectrum with ease. She’s starred in quite a few genre films, and the horror genre would be better with McIntosh in more of them.
Electrifying edits and some visually engrossing scenes signify that director Brian O'Malley knows what he is doing. The bombastic ending that goes all fire and brimstone may be somewhat clichéd, but still it had me on the edge of my seat wondering which souls would make it out and which would be dragged to hell. LET US PREY may remind you of a slew of films at first, but I found myself being so enthralled with the action and the horror of it all (amplified and made more effective by the altogether talented cast) that I soon quit trying to place where I had seen these elements before and just enjoyed the ride. Much more so than most action/horror mashups, LET US PREY is a gory, dark, and twisted film that pulls no punches and drives the impact of the brutal action right up until the end. If you like some demonic fun with your action-adventure with a healthy dose of John Carpenter mood, LET US PREY is for you.
And if you like the movie and are the gaming sort, there’s also a related game - Let Us Prey: Surrender to Hell - based on the movie that’s available for free in iTunes and Google Play that you can check out by clicking this link!
And finally…James Busche is one mega-fan of the PREDATOR movies, so much that he made his own fan film about the hunters from space. Here’s the description of the film: Set during the Crusades, the faith & fighting skills of a group of Templar Knights is put to the test when they encounter the Predator. Their battle is the thing Myths and Legends are born from.
Starring Adrian Bouchet, Amed Hashimi, Sabine Crossen, Ben loyd-Holmes, Jon Campling, Joe Egan and Philip Lane, here’s James Busche’s PREDATOR: DARK AGES! And you can find out more about Busche’s work here!
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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