Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Let’s not waste any time. Too many good horror films to get to!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Retro-review: SCARECROWS (1988)
Short Cuts: BARROW (2014)
THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (2013)
PRIVATE NUMBER (2014)
HAYRIDE 2 (2015)
HOW TO SAVE US (2014)
WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT (2014)
THE NIGHTMARE (2015)
And finally…Alex DiVincenzo’s THE HORRORS OF AUTOCORRECT!
Retro-review: New as a Bluray double feature from The Shout Factory!
EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by H.G. Wells (story), Jack Turley (screenplay), Bert I. Gordon (screen story)
Starring Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson, Albert Salmi, Jacqueline Scott, Pamela Susan Shoop, Robert Pine, Edward Power, Brooke Palance, Tom Fadden, Irene Tedrow, Harry Holcombe, Jack Kosslyn, Ilse Earl, Janie Gavin
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some ingenious yet rudimentary special effects make EMPIRE OF THE ANTS one squirmy good time if you’re into schlock and awe horror.
Oooooo, those pesky barrels of radioactive waste! (shakes fist at the heavens) Why do you keep working your way loose from trucks, freighters, and trains? You would think after so many creatures have been spawned from poorly secured toxic waste transport someone on the board would invest in some stronger bungee cords. But alas, another barrel gets loose and washes up on the shore of the Florida Everglades, turning the ants on the beach into giant man-eating monsters. Shady real estate agent Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins) just happens to be leading a group of investors around the swampland the property occupies when the giants ants arrive to spoil the picnic.
This is yet another of the nature run amok films that were prevalent in the late Seventies and early Eighties that carried the not so subtle message: man is destroying the planet, but Mother Nature is a bitch and will fight back tooth and claw. The setup to these films are practically the same; the film opens with an errant crate/barrel/bucket/trash can filled with some kind of toxic substance that causes the animals in the area to rise up and attack their fellow man, usually after growing to gargantuan sizes. While the message is as subtle as a short guy driving a big truck, it’s still ripe for a fun story of monsters picking off a group of humans one by one.
What separates EMPIRE OF THE ANTS from most of the other films of this kind is the fun way they accomplished the visuals. Not only does this film go all out by crafting giant ant heads, mandibles, antennae, and legs to poke in from off screen to terrorize screaming aged actors, but they also went the extra mile to deftly use split screen incorporating screaming actors onto microscopic shots of ants crawling all over one another. Sure, in this day and age this type of effect is somewhat laughable, but for the time it was made, these scenes are surprisingly effective, especially when incorporated with the shots of the giant ant parts bonking the actors about the head and shoulders.
The film does sport a pretty impressive cast. Joan Collins in the swamp is pretty hilarious as is, as the upper class MILF shows this is not the environment she is accustomed to pretty effectively (most likely, this was not an act). Veteran actor Robert Lansing does a great job as the crusty boatman who puts Collins in her place over and again. CHiPS sergeant Robert Pine plays a handsy womanizer who manhandles hottie Pamela Susan Shoop (who is quite gorgeous here, and I recognized from her skintastic role as the nurse who bites it in the hospital hot tub scene in HALLOWEEN II) almost immediately after he meets her.
While the nature strikes back motif is apparent, the real disappointment in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS is the late in the game revelation that there’s a much more insidious plot at play here. The film spend the bulk of its time in the swamp as the investors and real estate agents are trying to elude the ants, while the real motif of the ants is revealed to be much more than a physical threat to the humans as they are trying to turn us into their worker drones. This detail most likely is from H.G. Wells’ original story, but it is sort of crammed in at the last minute in the film. While I detest remakes, one that focuses more on the ant mind control and less on being lost in the swamp would be very interesting.
That said, there still is a lot of fun to be had with EMPIRE OF THE ANTS. If you’re one to squirm at the sight of an ant, this one will shock you. And if you’re the type to love watching those types of people squirm, this is going to be a must see. I’ll be reviewing the other side of this BluRay double feature, JAWS OF SATAN, in the coming weeks.
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from The Shout Factory!
SCARECROWS (1988)Directed by William Wesley
Written by William Wesley (story/screenplay), Richard Jefferies (screenplay), Larry Stamper, Marcus Crowder, & Stephen Gerard (additional dialog)
Starring Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan, Kristina Sanborn, Victoria Christian, David James Campbell, B.J. Turner, Dax Vernon, Tony Santory, Phil Zenderland, Mike Balog, Don Herbert,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Maybe I’m just so sick of zombies that anything, even monsters that resemble zombies, is refreshing to see. Maybe I’m just smitten with killer scarecrow films, as I grew up in Ohio where there is an abundance of cornfields and an abundance of scarecrows protecting them. Either way, I remember loving the stuffing out of SCARECROWS as a kid and having revisited the film this week for this review, I’m happy to say that the love is still strong.
The film begins ominously, as a camera slowly zooms into a lifelike scarecrow hanging from a cross in an overgrown field during the credits sequence. It looks as if the scarecrow is about to come alive and spring right at you…but it doesn’t. And that makes it even scarier--the anticipation that this horrific-looking thing is going to spring to life when you least expect it. It’s on that creepy beat that we cut to a quintet of bank robbers in an airplane who have just made off with the payroll from Camp Pendleton and hijacked a father and daughter pilot team. When one of their number betrays the rest and parachutes out of the plane with the loot, the rest of the crew follow him with murder on their minds. They all land on a seemingly abandoned farm surrounded by overgrown cornfields and scores of weird-looking scarecrows. Confirming that the place is abandoned, the crew continues to search for the traitor and the money, but find murderous scarecrows instead.
Simple story, yes. But within this simple story are some pretty horrifically gory scenes of scarecrow violence, with sharpened edges slicing and dicing through flesh. This being made in the Eighties, there is an abundance of red, wet gore at play with each kill gorier than the next. But the effects don’t stop there as the scarecrows themselves are absolutely terrifying, with burlap sacks wrapped tightly around what look to be skulls with bits of bone and teeth jutting through at odd angles. The fact that this is a very dark film, happening all in one night, makes the danger feel all the more palpable.
SCARECROWS is not the best acted piece of cinema. Though anger and rage is pretty much all of the emotion most of the actors have to wrestle with (and these being pretty easy since they’re just yelling all of the time at one another), this isn’t high quality acting going on. Still, the actors make themselves despicable enough for us to want to have them murderized by creatures stuffed with hay, so they do what is necessary for the roles.
The mystery of why these scarecrows are able to walk around and kill isn’t really delved into, but there are some fun hints to make it seem like director William Wesley had more at play here that he was willing to let on, and I think I remember reading in an old FANGORIA that the director planned on making a sequel which went into more about the whys and hows the three Fowler farmers in the broken picture in the farmhouse became these shambling slashers, but alas it was never meant to be.
While they are few in number, the scarecrow is a particularly terrifying brand of monster: manmade totems to ward off bad luck, evil spirits, and ill fortune for one’s crop, land, and livelihood. While we often think of Jason Voorhees’ first mask or THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN when we see the sack-faced killer, the thing that really terrifies me about that visage is that they look like scarecrows come to life. Films like DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW and more recently HUSK (reviewed here) reaffirm my notion that these seemingly harmless creatures can make for some potent movie monsters. SCARECROWS is fast-paced, hard-edged, gory fun using these monsters to their full scary potential.
Short Film Review: Currently touting fests (Find out when and where you can see this film here)!
BARROW (2014)Directed by Wade K. Savage
Written by Peter Gurbiel, Wade K. Savage,
Starring Amanda Woodhams, Caris Eves, Michael Mccall, Nick Britton
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Sometimes short films feel like the tip of the iceberg to a greater idea that would make for a pretty amazing full-length film. Then there are some folks who are masters at the craft of short storytelling and the story that unfolds is just the right, satisfying amount of time. Wade K. Savage and Peter Gurbiel are the latter, and their film BARROW is perfect the way it is.
The 15 minute short opens with Carly (Amanda Woodhams), a young girl collecting beetles in a field. Returning home, she witnesses her father attacking her mother with an axe. Fleeing to her room, the little girl places the beetle she finds in the field in a small cabinet on her dresser and hides in her room where something amazing and odd happens. We aren’t privy to what occurs in the room as we flash forward to Carly as an adult, now a forensic investigator specializing in insects. It’s obvious she has survived the experience, though even Carly really can’t explain how, exactly, to her friend. Returning to her childhood home with her friend in tow, Carly sets out to find answers.
That vague description is all I will give you, as experiencing this short is half the fun. There’s wonder and mystery to be had in this short, which begins with a nightmare and ends on a beat that will have you cheering. Wade K. Savage and his writing partner Peter Gurbiel have really constructed the perfect little horror gem full of suspense and curiosity with very simple effects, some creepy bugs, and a rock solid performance by Amanda Woodhams as Carly, the inquisitive, determined, and haunted adult trying to find answers to how she survived that encounter with her deranged father all those years ago.
Again, it’s a shame more folks won’t be able to see a short like this, but if it’s playing in a festival near you, don’t miss it. I still think companies like BlumHouse, who seems to be the only company putting out horror in theaters these days, would really benefit from placing shorts like these in front of their films as Disney and Pixar do with their films. It would give these shorts access to a wider audience and prepare them for the horrors ahead. Alas, the only way most will view this is when it is accessible on Youtube and when it is, you will be sure to find it at the bottom of this column in the “And finally…” section.
New this week on DVD from Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment!
THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (2013)aka YOU WILL LOVE ME
Directed by Stephen McKendree
Written by Kimberly Britt & R. Presley Stephens
Starring Marina Petrano, Christopher Ingle, Rhea Rossiter, Weston Adwell, Nicholas Barrera, Jason Beck, Rebecca Barrow Hall, Cortland Woodard, Chris Cook, Lisa Shorts, Mary Trzcinski, Chris Wandembergh, Mary Chauvin, Ryan Carter, Charish Harvey
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A young girl named Paige (Marina Petrano) accidentally brings back a ghost to her home when she dares venture out into the haunted Borley Forest outside of town. While her parents are off on vacation, it’s up to Paige, her brother, his wife, and a few close friends to ban together to take on the ghost and send it back to the forest it came from.
This film is low, low, low budget, so you may want to scroll south if you prefer horror of the more pricey kind. There are a lot of problems with this film in terms of simple fundamentals especially in the lighting, sound, and acting departments. Outside noise, birds chirping, inside rumbling, and mumbling actors do not make this a film worth listening to. The dim lighting and deadpan line delivery doesn’t help as actors flop their lines out of their faces and stand around awkwardly, not knowing what to do with their arms when they don’t have lines and are still in the scene.
I wish I could say positive things about the story, but the pacing is so slow here, dedicating way too many minutes to relational stuff that lacks pizzazz as Paige falls for an older guy while struggling with her ghost (which is creepy in itself, given the seemingly large difference in age between the two). The fact that the story awkwardly shifts perspective, jaunting from one of Paige’s teenage girlfriends to another, shows a lack of focus throughout, and while the final moments of the film do contain a somewhat interesting and unexpected twist, the tedious portion before it is going to make it hard for most to stick with this film long enough to get to the twist.
I’m a fan of indie horror, but for some reason, this one just didn’t do anything for me. I liked the twist, and some of the rudimentary effects for the ghost are actually fun to see, but there’s a pacing issue throughout the entire film. The budget isn’t the problem here; it’s just the lack of oompf that permeates the entire film. THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST has a nice twist or two, but the drudging pacing and the inexperience on all involved really act as more of a detriment to it rather than giving it an indie charm some low budgeters possess. Here’s hoping that now that the filmmakers have made this first film, they can look back at what worked and what didn’t and improve upon their next filmmaking endeavor.
New this week on DVD and digital download from After Dark Originals!
ASYLUM (2014)Directed by Todor Chapkanov
Written by Chris Mancini and Tex Wall
Starring Stephen Rea, Bruce Payne, Velizar Binev, Dimiter Doichinov, Caroline Ford, Valentin Ganev, Radoslav Ignatov, Iana Kuzova, Joe Montana, Curtis Nordstrom, Edward Joe Scargill, Hristo Shopov, Stefan Shyerev, Steve Toussaint, Jason Wong
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I think we have our lead contender for worst movie of the year, right here, folks.
Snark is easy. It requires no work, aside from a smart attitude. It gives off the notion that you are not affected or do not care about anything. And if you don’t care about anything, you’re safe, because why give your own opinion and put yourself out there when you can just sit back behind a computer screen or in a dark theater and tear down those brave enough to do something creative. This is because once someone invests in something, they’re bound to get hurt. Now, as geeks, we’ve been hurt a lot. Let’s not even count the real life hurt that we all have to deal with. I’m talking about being hurt when we believed in something (like STAR WARS) and then ended up getting reamed without lube going into THE PHANTOM MENACE with starry eyes and hope-filled hearts. So I can understand why snark is always the flavor du jour in the talkbacks and around the geek community (optimistically, though, it’s not usually prevalent in AICN HORROR talkbacks, which goes to show that horror fans aren’t scared to show brave feelings like appreciation, agreement, adoration, or just plain hopefulness). Still, I think I’ve come to a point where I’ve out-snarked myself and grown weary of never getting a serious emotion from others in this age of ever-growing distance between people.
I go into this long diatribe about snark because despite the trailer below and the somewhat dark poster above, ASYLUM is chock-full of snark. The film consists of a movie that is only partially completed about a military team sent into an asylum where the inmates have taken over. With them are a hostage negotiator (played by Stephen Rea) and a former addict/now sergeant (PASSENGER 57’s Bruce Payne). Once inside, it’s clear that something demonic is afoot as the inmates/zombies whittle away the military team. The answer to whom or what is behind the entire jailbreak is elusive and overly complex, but while the film itself is not all that original, it certainly isn’t the worst premise I’ve seen. Filmmaker Todor Chapkanov and writers Chris Mancini and Tex Wall lack so much confidence in their film that it feels like halfway through the production they decided to scrap it and just make fun of their own film, so parts of the film take place in an editing room where two snarky editors make like MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 cast members and spew one snark-laden comment after another while the movie is playing. I shit you not. Instead of sucking it up and trying to make a movie, it looks like the money ran out, so some producer thought it would be innovative to go meta with it and have the movie turn on itself.
I loathe this, mainly because they miss the point of MST3K by a mile. MST3K worked because there was some distance between the cast and the movies they were ripping on. It was funny to see them tear into the film, mainly because they had no association with it. When you do that to your own movie, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. At least those old movies tried to do something (though they often failed), but this film doesn’t even have the balls to do that. I would have at least respected this film more had it just sucked it up and released a bad film than see them try to make it clever by going the snark route.
And while some of the snark is mildly amusing, I absolutely hated the voiceover by the two editors simply because it’s shitting on itself and acting as if it was all meant to be. The movie itself is, in fact, a mess. But I hope I never have to sit through another film structured like this. It’s not fooling anyone. It’s trying to lather a laugh track over a horrible movie and call it original. For shame to After Dark Originals to even distribute this, as they’ve put out some pretty decent shockers in years past. The movie alone is bad enough, but having to listen to the self-deprecating humor to cover up your own shitstain of a movie is a level of low I don’t ever want to see again. Avoid this film at all costs.
New this week on DVD 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 seems to be an idyllic life for Michael and his wife is 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 to another subplot, and 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 DVD/Bluray from Freestyle Releasing!
HAYRIDE 2 (2015)aka HAYRIDE 2: FEAR THE LEGEND
Directed by Terron R. Parsons
Written by Terron R. Parsons
Starring Sherri Eakin, Jeremy Sande, Jeremy Ivy, Corlandos Scott, Richard Tyson, John DeLong, Rachel Varela, David 'Shark' Fralick, Adam Cardon, Defecio Stoglin, Brett Luciana Murray, Ashley Bonds, James Rawlings, Andrew Comer, Bennett Wayne Dean Sr. as Pitchfork!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of the coolest things about writing this AICN HORROR column for these last four years is being able to watch writers and directors evolve and grow. Now, this doesn’t always happen. Some filmmakers don’t seem to learn from their mistakes and churn out the same type of film over and over and over and over again. But there are some that really seem to want to learn and improve and grow in their chosen craft, and for that I have to tip my hat to those evolving filmmaking animals. Writer/director Terron R. Parsons is such an animal. While I didn’t think his first film HAYRIDE was anything all that original or spectacular (I reviewed it a year or so ago here), it was a capable slasher yarn. Parsons is back with HAYRIDE 2, and it feels like Parsons is growing as a filmmaker and writer in the interim.
The story focuses, once again, on two brothers (Jeremy Sande & Jeremy Ivy) having survived the night at a haunted hayride set up every year by their father (THREE O’CLOCK HIGH’s Richard Tyson). This film opens with them trying to pick up the pieces after their father’s death and the death of many of their friends at the hands of the local legend Pitchfork, a man mountain of a murderer who wears a TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN-esque burlap sack and uses a pitchfork as his weapon du jour. When one of the brothers’ wives is abducted by Pitchfork in a hospital, the race is on to rescue her before he sticks a fork in her and makes her done. Meanwhile, Detective Loomis (yes, his name is Detective Loomis) is on the case, uncovering new secrets of the legend of Pitchfork which tie in with the history of the two brothers.
This is a very derivative film. From the look of Pitchfork, which pretty much is the same look Jason Voorhees sported in F13 Part 2, to the fact that the first half of this film takes place in a hospital with Pitchfork wandering around the dark halls silently in search of the brothers and the wife, which is almost a beat for beat redux of Michael Myers’ trip to the hospital in HALLOWEEN II, HAYRIDE 2 is not very original in terms of premise or story. While it feels like filmmaker Parsons is conscious of these swipes (naming the detective Loomis is not just a coincidence), I feel what the filmmaker may be thinking is coming off as homage feels a little too on the nose to be taken seriously. Parsons even borrows direct quotes from SE7EN during the police detective scenes and accompanies them with the same types of swells in music that were throughout Fincher’s film. All of these similarities are going to be way too much for some who come to movies to see things they haven’t seen before, and not cut and pasted cool bits from more successful slashers and detective tales put together to make up one unoriginal film.
That said, everything from the pacing of the story to the intensity of the editing and way the scenes are put together to the acting is kicked up a notch from the previous HAYRIDE. There’s some depth to the characters this time that fell flat in the original. The kills are downright brutal and, dare I say, awesome in parts. While the original caused heavy eyes for this reviewer in the first hour, only to be followed by a quick succession of murders to make up for lost time in the last 25 minutes, HAYRIDE 2 is pretty exciting all the way through with the kills distributed more evenly and the action pumping the story along. Everything from the writing to the directing to the acting improved in between these two movies.
Terron R. Parsons is on the right track here. He’s improved his story of a pitchfork-wielding madman in almost every way in this sequel. While the film is still highly derivative of films that come before it, this is a much more capable effort by a filmmaker who seems to want to grow and improve. Here’s hoping Parsons continues this evolution either with another HAYRIDE film or with something a bit more original. HAYRIDE 2 is a huge improvement from the low budget original. Though there is a continuity between the two films, enough is revealed in exposition and over the opening credits to catch you up. With some vicious kills and some less than subtle nods to slashers from the past, HAYRIDE 2 is a lot of fun, if you’re a slasher fan. Just expect to feel some déjà vu while watching it.
New this week in limited theaters (You can request the film in your town here on Tugg!
HOW TO SAVE US (2014)Directed by Jason Trost
Written by Jason Trost
Starring Jason Trost, Coy Jandreau, Kate Avery, Tallay Wickham, Ryan Gibson, Michael Gupta
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A lot of ingenuity and a whole lotta heart make this low budget film of a paranormal outbreak absolutely compelling and undeniably engrossing.
When the government evacuates Tasmania, deeming the entire island unsafe and infected with a mysterious outbreak, those who stayed behind are never heard from again, but when Brian (played by writer/director Jason Trost) gets a weird message from his brother Sam who is still inside Tasmanian borders, he sets out to sneak back onto the island and rescue his brother. Along with the message is a handbook of sorts illustrating just what is going on in Tasmania; it’s being haunted by ghosts who will stop at nothing to add more living to their number. The guidebook is entitled “How To Save Us” and serves as a manual on how Brian can survive against the ghosts.
The bulk of HOW TO SAVE US consists of Brian making his way across the wasteland that used to be Tasmania. There’s definitely a 28 DAYS LATER vibe here as the streets and buildings are barren and deserted. This would be a very boring film of one man walking through a wasteland, but what sets it apart are two things. The first is the mythology developed for this film. This is a very lived in world, and a sophisticated and well thought out style of monster haunting it. The film goes into much detail as to what attracts the ghosts, how to avoid them, how to communicate with them, and how to destroy them. It’s this attention to detail and the time spent in developing a whole manual as to how to interact with the ghosts that haunt this world that is what impressed me most. This film adds a lot of fun little detail to surviving the impending paranormal apocalypse and utilizes these modes of survival in creative ways that really drive the story.
On top of that, there’s a really compelling backstory behind Brian’s trip to Tasmania to rescue his brother involving abuse suffered by Brian and Sam when they were children. In many ways, this is a highly personal story of one man returning to his home in order to conquer specters from his past that have haunted him into adulthood. The fact that the island is actually haunted by ghosts is almost beside the point, as the main conflict is between these ghosts Brian has been attempting to conquer long before the island was shut down, so metaphorically, this is an absolute goldmine of rich material and writer/director Trost handles the material deftly.
Using minimal effects involving creeping ghosts as seen through camera lens night vision, HOW TO SAVE US’ main strength is in the writing. This is a solid effort from Trost, who proves he doesn’t need a huge budget to get solid scares, substantial mood, and abundant characterization. I’d love to see what Trost could do if given a bigger budget. As is, it’s a solid end of the worlder that doesn’t use the tired zombie motif as its antagonist. If you’re looking for a low fi adventure that drives an EMP wave straight through the heart, yet doesn’t forget to haunt, HOW TO SAVE US is going to be the spookfest for you.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand, and on iTunes!
WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)Directed by Ted Geoghegan
Written by Ted Geoghegan, Richard Griffin
Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, Michael Patrick Nicholson, Kelsea Dakota, Guy Gane, Elissa Dowling, Zorah Burress, Marvin Patterson, Connie Neer
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
WE ARE STILL HERE is the type of film they just don’t make anymore, and that’s a shame because it’s the type of film that I love. It’s a lived in film--one that feels like the world in which the film exists is well thought out and fully realized, so you don’t so much as watch the film as you experience it, as writer/director Ted Geoghegan (with his co-writer Richard Griffin) patiently immerses you in this house and this horrifying situation to make a film that utterly transfixing.
Having just lost their son to a car crash, devastated parents Paul and Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensing and RE-ANIMATOR’s Barbara Crampton) move into an old home in a New England town to start over. But upon entering the home, Anne almost immediately feels a presence and, being overcome with desperation, she believes it is her son reaching out from beyond the grave to communicate to her. Anne invites her friends Jacob and May Lewis (writer/director/actor/all around great dude Larry Fessenden and Tim Burton’s ex Lisa Marie), who are sensitive to the paranormal, to give the house a reading. But what none of them understand is that the house has a long and horrific history, and the Sacchetti family is just the latest in what seems to be many families who move into the home and never leave.
The most prevalent aspect of this film is the pacing. While this might be a film that infuriates the ADHD masses, I found the long shots of the exteriors of the household interspersed with close up shots of the seemingly banal details of the house to set a mood that you can almost touch. One scene in particular focuses on the tendril-like trees with the bare limbs free of leaves due to the winter weather with the house in the background, then cuts to a close-up of a rusty hook on the side of the house. Little moments like this may seem throwaway, but they are crucial in ratcheting up the tension. Geoghegan channels his inner Kubrick here by patiently letting the scene envelop the viewer and pull them in to dangerous places. The long shots of the car driving at the reader down the snowy roads as well as the 80s style clothing reminded me so much of THE SHINING; though the story and content was vastly different, the tone is definitely the same type of creeping unease that permeates that classic film.
Another admirable aspect of the film is that this really feels like the tip of the iceberg in terms of the story involved. This film focuses on two different families’ plights, but there’s a greater evil at play here as you’re not really sure whether the recounting of the tragedies of the town are accurate or some elaborate ruse to cover up something more sinister. It’s this kind of ambiguity that adds to that sense of unease, as if the blacked-out spaces we don’t know make things all the more dangerous. The things we do see are horrifying. Geoghegan teases us with some clever play with shadows and forms in the background, but it’s the burning touch of the white-eyed ghosts with charred black skin that really up the horror. These original-looking specters are horrifying and reminiscent of the dark pirates from John Carpenter’s THE FOG in the way they look and move.
There are a few blips in the delivery of information that feel a bit info-dumpy, as when a neighboring couple stop by to educate the Sacchettis about the history of the house and again when the couple appear later in the film in a restaurant. Still, this exposition is necessary in filling in some of the gaps in the story. For the most part, WE ARE STILL HERE is proof positive that Geoghegan has not only done his homework on what causes effective scares, but is fully capable of delivering retro frights while making them feel fresh and new. All four of the main leads (Crampton, Sensing, Fessenden, and Marie) deliver rock solid and splendidly believable performances, with Crampton once again proving that her best acting years are ahead of her and not behind her in FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR. More horror films should take note of the patience used in this film. The need for a jump scare every two minutes is an insult and often leaves me feeling hollow upon leaving the theater. It’s almost impossible to leave this film unsatisfied as it is chock full of scares, thrills, and absolute horror. Highly recommended.
New this week on DVD from IFC Midnight!
ASMODEXIA (2014)Directed by Marc Carreté
Written by Marc Carreté, Mike Hostench
Starring Lluís Marco, Clàudia Pons, Albert Baró, Marta Belmonte, Pepo Blasco, Roser Bundó, Ramon Canals, Marina Durán, Irene Montalà, Mireia Ros
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Coming up with an original exorcism tale is kind of like trying to make an original shark movie. No matter how good it is, the shark flick is going to be compared to JAWS and the exorcism flick is going to be compared to THE EXORCIST. While some exorcism films like THE LAST EXORCISM and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE relied on found footage and court procedurals to separate themselves from the Friedkin classic, they still had scenes that couldn’t help but feel like familiar territory. The REC films, which make the possessed more like infected zombies, were more successful in doing something original. Now we can add ASMODEXIA to the short list of films that actually take exorcism to another level, bringing something new and original to the small subgenre.
The film opens with a shocking birth scene from the past, as it appears that a possessed woman is giving birth to a child. An exorcist, Eloy Palma (played by Lluís Marco), chants and performs the rites of exorcism around the woman as she screams and contorts, both because of the birth and because it appears she is possessed. The opener is definitely a scenario we haven’t seen before, though devil babies seem to be all the rage these days with the ROSEMARY’S BABY remake (reviewed here), THE DEVIL INSIDE, and the excellent DELVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN (reviewed here) out this year. To separate it from those films which deal with the fear of something evil growing inside oneself, this one cuts to the chase with the evil birth and then a flash forward to today, which is many years later in the narrative. Eloy is still at it in the exorcist game, and has recruited his granddaughter Alba (Clàudia Pons) to be his successor. The two travel by foot along the dirt roads of Spain to one household afflicted with possession after another. Cut in between these scenes of the wandering exorcist and his granddaughter are scenes of a woman in a mental institution who seems to be possessed herself. News reports on the TV indicate the rise in exorcisms performed in Spain and around the world as the Mayan calendar ticks down to the Day of Revelation. The exorcist and his granddaughter exorcist in training appear to be on a collision course with the mental hospital, and all signs point to this one ending with a massive exorcism which in the context of the film seems fitting, but it is definitely something we’ve seen before.
But then, just when this film feels like it’s going to venture down familiar and well tread territory, it veers left and continues to zig and zag all over the place in ways that makes it one of the most unique exorcist films you’re going to see this year. As you can tell by the description, ASMODEXIA is told on a pretty grand scope—much bigger than a little girl in her room battling it out with a priest as we’ve seen time and time again since THE EXORCIST. And while the budget is not massive, the film managed to pull off this sense of grandiosity and huge import rather perfectly. Utilizing techniques I can only relate to Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS, ASMODEXIA is able to make the events that are occurring in the film feel as if they are rippling around the world of the film and as the film ends, it only feels like it will expand upon that after the credits roll.
The performances throughout are pretty top notch. Lluís Marco carries the film as the weathered yet still strong elder exorcist, and Clàudia Pons is haunting as Alba, who has been raised for one purpose only by her grandfather, and even though there are a few scenes where Alba is tempted to engage with kids her age, she seems to carry a weight with her throughout that is well beyond her years. Alba is also kind of a badass in this film as she meets all of these hissing and spitting demons with a cold stare and an all business-like demeanor.
The scenes of possession and exorcism themselves feel fresh as well. While the makeup is pretty grungy and real, the film makes sure not to bind anyone to a bed (iconic exorcism imagery, but something that’s been referenced and lampooned to death, causing me to cringe any time someone uses it these days) or rely on scenes we’ve seen before in other exorcism flicks. There’s a particularly effective scene where a man who was just in a car accident is possessed and brought into a diner that is definitely something this horror connoisseur has never seen before. And again, the way this film wraps up is something that really hasn’t been done in this genre.
While you might think you know what’s going on with this film, it’s pretty likely you don’t. Down is up. Right is left. Dogs are cats. Things definitely are going loopy as the time clock for the end of the world ticks away in this film. ASMODEXIA is not your typical exorcism flick, which makes it all the more interesting. It’s the type of film that will make the heads of those who have become jaded with the exorcism subgenre spin.
New this week in BluRay/DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment!
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT (2014)aka MONSTERS 2
Directed by Tom Green
Written by Tom Green, Jay Basu
Starring Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, Kyle Soller, Nicholas Pinnock, Parker Sawyers, Philip Arditti, Sofia Boutella, Michaela Coel, Jesse Nagy
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I liked MONSTERS (and reviewed waaay back in one of my first AICN HORROR columns here), though I understand why folks didn’t and fully understand why some feel that the decision to bring Gareth Edwards in to bring the new GODZILLA to life was somewhat of a mistake. Both films focused on the drama unfolding between the people scrambling below the monsters and, at least with GODZILLA, folks would have preferred to see more of the drama with the monsters themselves. Still, in MONSTERS at least, the story of two people as opposite as they can be coming together with giant monsters squirming around in the background was pretty compelling from what I remember.
Four years later, the sequel to MONSTERS, subtitled DARK CONTINENT, is released wide and while it is a whole different movie, it continues the themes started in the original pretty deftly. MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT opens with a world overcome by giant creatures that seem to be unable to be reasoned with, and simply exist to wander across the landscape, destroying anything in its path. The US military has taken it upon themselves to rid the world of the monsters, but in doing so, of course, there are those who oppose them. And it’s not only the monsters that are against their own extinction; some of the residents in the Middle East don’t necessarily see the monsters as a threat and are more than willing to fire back on US soldiers coming in and blowing the hell out of them, often resulting in more destruction of property and the loss of innocent lives that get caught in the middle of the conflict. A group of friends from the wrong side of the tracks in Detroit enlist to “go kill monsters” and find out that once in the Middle East, things just aren’t that simple.
So yes, this film has a not so subtle metaphoric tone about the military experience overseas and asks the age old question “should we be over here in the first place?” While this is often a politically divisive question to ask, I prefer to leave the politics out of it and just acknowledge that this film is definitely slanted towards the pointlessness of war as it depicts the gung-ho mentality of one soldier, Michael (played by the wide-eyed Sam Keeley), as he begins to see that there is more to the fight than they expected on one fateful mission that goes sideways fast. This anti-war message is not new. Pick any war movie out of the batch and you’ll find the same themes. But through Keeley’s eyes, writer director Tom Green, along with his co-writer Jay Basu, does make the argument in a compelling and heart-wrenching style.
Much more akin to APOCALYPSE NOW than ALIENS, after most of his squad is killed by militant rebels against American occupation, Michael and his staff sergeant Noah Frater (Johnny Harris) must make it across the monster-ridden landscape to survive. Green and Basu make this journey a harrowing one, pushing both men to the limits of their sanity as they encounter not only the monsters, but the horrors the military has wrought upon the innocents. While some might find this a bit too overly sentimental, I found myself compelled beyond belief and rooting for the survival of Michael. The all-business attitude of Frater, himself motivated to survive, make for a fantastic flip side to Michael’s growing sensitivity to the situation. Frater’s response to this trauma is to remain more focused than ever on the task at hand and once accomplished, he will be able to go home and see his wife and kid. But we are given quite a few quiet moments with Frater to see that the war has chipped away at his soul. What fuels this movie are the convincing and powerful performances of Harris and Keeley. These scenes of quiet despair are tough to watch without feeling something.
The effects in MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT are pretty amazing. Reminiscent of the cheap but capable effects from DISTRICT 9, the monsters (large and small) are seamless in the scene with the filmed environment and people around them. The original knotted and twisting forms are mimicked from the original, but this film introduces us to an evolved set of monsters that seem to be adapting to the environments they encounter. The agile monsters racing across the desert like wild stallions are both grotesque and beautiful and feel almost like they are actual living creatures. Same can be said about the younger and smaller monsters that are seen participating in dogfights and being kept as pets by some of the locals. Much like DISTRICT 9 and ALIEN NATION, the way society has adapted around this new race of creatures from the stars feels very well thought out and nicely realized, as the monsters aren’t so much the spectacle as they are just a part of everyday life.
There are moments of great spectacle as the giant monsters from the first film roam the desert and swing their strong tendrils at passing helicopters. Yes, this isn’t a story about the monsters themselves, but how we as a society adapt to the monsters and how despite proof that there is life beyond Earth, human nature seems to come in and muck up everything. So if you’re looking for a GODZILLA tale of old where the focus is on big monsters beating the crap out of one another, this isn’t it. But if you liked the tone of MONSTERS and don’t mind the monsters taking more of a backseat to the human drama, DARK CONTINENT is more of the same. It’s less romantic than the original, but the humanistic soul remains.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand, and iTunes!
THE NIGHTMARE (2015)Directed by Rodney Ascher
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I have found that, depending on the subject matter, I can either be completely enthralled by a documentary or be bored to tears. Now, I don’t want to take away from the art and effort put into making a documentary, but I think for myself and (I don’t want to assume but what the hell) for some other viewers, if you’re just not into the subject matter being delved into, it’s going to affect the way you take in the film. I found that to be the case watching THE NIGHTMARE with a friend recently ,as we were decidedly split on the entertainment quotient of the film.
The director of ROOM 237 (a film I had high expectations for and was somewhat disappointed in; read my review here), Rodney Ascher, sits with 8 people and discusses their experiences with sleep paralysis. The film not only shows these people who actually suffer from the malady, but provides imaginative reenactments of some of the more frightening aspects of their harrowing tales.
As depicted in this documentary, sleep paralysis is a broad term associated with night terrors, nightmares, and odd phenomena while one feels like one is sleeping. Symptoms are described as not being able to move, having difficulty breathing, lucid or waking dreaming where you know you are dreaming, and out of body experiences. Other details include the presence of shadowy or bizarre looking forms walking into the room, standing next to the bed, and speaking with the sleeper all giving off a threatening vibe to the sleeper. Needless to say, whether this is all in the mind of the sleeper or an actual medical condition is not important. What is important is that this condition affects the sleeper dramatically and the fact that the testimonies of these 8 people, all from different regions of the world, are so similar.
And this is where I think the divisive factors come in. Having experienced sleep difficulties in the past, with some of these testimonies hitting a little too close to home, I was engrossed with this film, soaking in one testimony after another. Seeing others who have experienced the same sensations and sleep difficulties I had through the years was both a frightening and cathartic experience for me as it made me feel less alone with my own sleep problems. That said, my friend, who sleeps like a baby, was bored with the film, citing it was redundant in darting between the 8 different people who were basically recounting the same type of details over and over. I can see where this would be repetitive, but still, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ascher does his best to tie some type of similar throughway between the stories (much like he did with the different THE SHINING theories in ROOM 237), but here the connections are much more solid. Ascher’s reenactments are vividly made with horrifying imagery of shadow men standing and growling over beds, animations of synapses firing, and clips from films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, JACOB’S LADDER, and INSIDIOUS showing how Hollywood has represented sleep paralysis through the years. All of these aspects made the experience all the more real for me.
All of that considered and playing devil’s advocate, there could be something said to the mental stability of those interviewed. These conditions could also be attributed to the power of suggestion and people making connections that really aren’t there. Part of the curse of sleep paralysis is that once it is told to someone else, those experiences occur in the next person as well almost as if someone were infected with a PONTYPOOL like virus. This adds to the ominous threat of the condition, but also attests to this being some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for folks with minds that can be more influenced by others. Still, Ascher makes a compelling argument for this being some kind of phenomenon rather than word of mouth.
Films like the recent SHADOW PEOPLE (which I reviewed here) have been pretty successful in dealing with this topic and making it scary. Be it a chemical imbalance or something supernatural going on, this condition does affect the sleeper dramatically, and while THE NIGHTMARE doesn’t provide answers, it does give voice to these people in a manner that really made an impact on me. Watching this film in the dark was not a smart thing for me to do, as it made what little hair I have left stand on end and caused me to look behind me more than once in fear that a person would be standing there in the shadows. I can’t speak for those of you who get a peaceful night’s sleep on a regular basis, but for those of you who have ever feared for your safety while laying on your back in the dark, THE NIGHTMARE is going to impact you in ways you might not be comfortable with.
And finally…here’s a short from Eli Roth’s Crypt TV Youtube channel that takes a classic urban legend and gives it a modern twist. The film stars LAID TO REST’s Nick Principle and Jaquelyn Fabian and is directed by Alex DeVincenzo. Be on the lookout for an awesome NEW YORK RIPPER reference. Find out more about Crypt TV here Terror has a cell phone…and large thumbs in THE HORRORS OF AUTOCORRECT below!
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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