Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Before we get to the movie reviews, here are a few news bits worth noting.
A while back, we talked about CREEPSHOW 2 in our semi-regular CANNIBAL HORRORCAST horror podcast. In that episode, we talked about a lost CREEPSHOW episode entitled “Pinfall” about zombies in a bowling alley. The short never got made, but some ambitious fans want to make the short story themselves and are asking for support to get it made. Being a fan of the original two films and always curious about this missing segment, this is definitely something I could get behind. If this is the type of thing you want to support, click the link here and help these guys bring the Stephen King/George Romero short segment that never was to life!
Here’s the teaser trailer for the film!
From the folks who brought you DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN (reviewed here) comes SHUT IN; starring Beth Riesgraf (LEVERAGE), Martin Starr (SILICON VALLEY) and Rory Culkin (SIGNS). The film is having its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival tonight, Friday, June 12, 10:50pm and Wednesday, June 17th, 6pm.
I can’t wait to check out this film! Look for a review of it soon on AICN HORROR, and if you’re in the LA area, you should make sure to check it out!
I reviewed a bag-head slasher film called THE REDWOOD MASSACRE a while back and it’s finally being released on DVD and On Demand July 7th from Uncork’d Entertainment!
Below is an exclusive clip from the film.
And here’s the trailer!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962)
Retro-review: SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS (1988)
Retro-review: SOCIETY (1989)
Short Cuts: HOWL OF A GOOD TIME (2015)
THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (2013)
STRANGE BLOOD (2015)
AMERICAN BACKWOODS: SLEW HAMPSHIRE (2013)
THE STRANGER (2014)
And finally…Alex Weight’s PRANK!
New this week on Bluray from Kino Lorber Redemption!
THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962)aka THE HANDS OF THE DEADMAN
Directed by Jesús Franco
Written by Pío Ballesteros, Juan Cobos, Gonzalo Sebastián de Erice, Jesus Franco
Starring Howard Vernon, Hugo Blanco, Gogó Rojo, Fernando Delgado, Paula Martel, Ana Castor, Turia Nelson, Georges Rollin, Serafín García Vázquez, Ángel Menéndez, María Francés, Manuel Alexandre
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
If you’re looking for a film more linear and conservative than Jess Franco’s more psychedelic or artsy efforts, yet still maintaining that sado-masochist bite, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS might be the Franco film for you.
Set in the German town called Holfen, Ludwig (Hugo Blanco) a descendant of an infamous sadist and murderer Baron Von Klaus (Howard Vernon, a regular in Franco’s films) moves into the local castle where the murders took place. Ignoring the townsfolk rabble about evil spirits haunting the land, Ludwig sets out to clean up the castle and bring back some dignity to the Von Klaus name. But events occur suggesting that Von Klaus’ ghost still haunts the halls of the castle bordering a swamp and the beautiful women of the town are in danger of being stripped, tortured, and murdered.
Structured as a whodunit, it’s pretty obvious who it is who dun the evil deeds given the title, but still Franco bathes this film in gothic atmosphere. This was Franco’s second horror film after THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, so it seems he was still developing his own style and still lifting stylistically from others such as the Hammer films which were just getting some play and Mario Bava’s early work such as BLACK SUNDAY. There are less trippy scenes and Franco is much more concerned with his camera lingering on the curvy forms of his actresses in and out of clothes. Sure this is titillating up until the torture scenes which are much more suggestive than torture and for the most part feature naked women in chains looking really tired. This might have been risqué for the time, but it definitely is low on the horrific quotient.
With restraint also come some rather overlong scenes as the pacing in THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS is rather off. For example, the matriarch of the Von Klaus family lives long enough to mutter out slowly the exposition involving the family curse in a death scene that rival’s Yoda’s in RETURN OF THE JEDI in terms of “isn’t he dead yet?” That said, even this early on in his career, you can see Franco’s eye for beauty, both in admiring the form of curvy women and soaking in the dark, yet rich scenery. This one wasn’t one of my favorite films from Franco, but it certainly isn’t a bad one.
BEWARE: This trailer is in French!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS (1988)Directed by Michael A. Simpson
Written by Fritz Gordon, based on an original idea by Robert Hiltzik
Starring Pamela Springsteen, Renée Estevez, Tony Higgins, Valerie Hartman, Brian Patrick Clarke, Walter Gotell, Susan Marie Snyder, Terry Hobbs, Kendall Bean, Julie Murphy, Carol Chambers, Amy Fields, Benji Wilhoite, Walter Franks III, Justin Nowell
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
There were some unanswered questions at the end of SLEEPAWAY CAMP. “Why was Angela’s aunt such a freaking weirdo?” is at the top of that short list. What happened after Angela was found nekkid and holding a severed head is probably next? Unfortunately, the powers that be behind the sequel really didn’t want to delve into any of those issues. Instead, they just made an uninspired slasher yarn.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS flash forwards ahead about ten years to find Angela playing camp counselor at the camp next door to the setting of the original film. There are rumors of a sex change operation in a mental institution. A more believable theory tossed back and forth over the campfire is that Angela grew up and is now starring as Jo in FACTS OF LIFE (I have to admit, that one made me chuckle). But no matter what happened in the interim, Angela is back in her killing element and she’s taking her job as head counselor very seriously; by murdering anyone who breaks the rules. What transpires is a by-the-numbers camp slasher film where someone commits a misdeed and is subsequently punished for said misdeed in a gruesome manner. This goes on until there are no more misdeeders to misdeed.
What is frustrating is that instead of going an interesting route which could venture into some pretty risqué material (for the time) involving gender confusion and operations to convert one gender to another. This story is alluded to in the opening, but man, I wish this film would have delved into that sticky wicket rather than just trounce down the well worn trail of the slasher. By 1988, Freddy, Michael, Leatherface, and Jason had killed scores of folks; so not wanting to mess with a well worn formula, the producers just tossed Angela into the role of the slasher. This lack of creativity is evident throughout the entire film. From acting to writing to directing; this is just one run-of-the-mill movie.
Pamela Springsteen plays Angela as a chipper killer, ready to flash the pearly whites every time she makes a kill and lob off a more painful on-liner as well. Springsteen isn’t a horrible actress, but she isn’t given anything to do other than kill someone and then walk around as if she isn’t doing anything wrong. Some inventive kills occur. One woman is drowned in an outhouse in an especially grueling scene. But others are just painful to sit through as Angela dons a Freddy Krueger glove, a skin mask and a chainsaw, and a hockey mask to kill folks in homage to the great slashers of the time. This comes off as one would expect; clumsy and the worst crime a horror movie can commit; unscary.
The film just kind of ends as there is no one left to kill. There is no sense of tension as we are shown Angela killing a woman who picks her up hitch-hiking. When the car rolls up to pick up the final girl, we know its Angela in the car. This is a film made by someone who has no idea how to make things feel tense, unexpected, or unsafe. It’s a film that tries to be clever, but doesn’t know how to lace two sentences together. It’s a carbon copy film that fails to push forward an iconic shock character in horror film history an inch. I know SLEEPAWAY CAMP is pretty uninspired itself, with only the shockeroo being the part everyone talks about. But there’s a part of me that respects the weirdness of that film (like the weirdo aunt) and wishes this sequel had more of that. Instead, they just gloss over the fact that Angela used to have boy parts and just kill people for the sake of a high body count. Shout Factory is also releasing SLEEPAWAY CAMP III which I will be covering next time. Here’s hoping that it is given a bit more of the oddness of the original; though I am not holding my breath.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Home Visual!
SOCIETY (1989)Directed by Brian Yuzna
Written by Rick Fry & Woody Keith
Starring Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson, Charles Lucia, Concetta D'Agnese, Patrice Jennings, Heidi Kozak, Ben Slack, David Wiley, Tim Bartell, Brian Bremer, Maria Claire, Conan Yuzna, Jason Williams, Pamela Matheson, David Wells
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While Hollywood these days would much rather CG the shit out of everything, I often find it refreshing to go back to the eighties when the impossible was accomplished with real blood, sweat, and other bodily fluids. Many films are remembered for their actors’ performances or some witty writing twists or some sharp direction, but when I think of SOCIETY, my mind goes right towards the amazing and disgusting effects that this film is riddled with. The mixture of the minds of Brian Yuzna and effects artist Screaming Mad George made SOCIETY one of the most notorious and awesome films of the late eighties in terms of effects.
SOCIETY tells the story of Billy (soap opera star Billy Warlock), as an accomplished basket-baller (his not so mad skillz are demonstrated early in the film) and debate club champion, who still feels like an outcast in his own well to-do family who live in a mansion in a ritzy neighborhood. Billy sees a psychiatrist and discusses dreams of incest, metamorphosis, and shifting realities, and as his sister’s “coming out” party approaches, these surreal nightmares start creeping into his waking world. When his sister’s ex-boyfriend does his best Kevin McCarthy from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS impression and claims that there is a conspiracy afoot involving the posh upper class of the burb they live in, Billy starts buying into it. It all leads to the “shunting”; a scene too surreal and mad to describe but it turns out that there actually is something squirming around that confirms Billy’s suspicions.
If you can look past the eighties styles (and this film is riddled with tons of 80’s fashion faux pas and culture no-no’s), this is a pretty solid paranoia yarn. Putting the “shunting” aside for a second, Yuzna crafts a slowly ratcheting tale of the world coming apart and surrounding one confused young man. There is a strong allegory of sexual confusion and the ambiguity and terror of sex in this film that is almost palpable as we witness Billy’s first sexual encounter and explore the bizarre feelings and urges he has. Taboo subjects like finding your sister attractive and other incestual urges are explored as well, but all of this circles around Billy’s feelings of being different and alone in the world he lives in. Yuzna is really able to stack the deck around Billy in this film, though the acting and eighties clichés often shatter the tense moment from time to time. But the first hour is a nicely paced paranoid thriller in the vein of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and ROSEMARY’S BABY with Billy first feeling suspicious, then having these suspicions that everyone is out to get him confirmed.
Once these suspicions are confirmed, the paranoids thriller quickly becomes an effects showcase. I often find fault in werewolf films because all momentum of story is paused so the viewer and the future victim of the werewolf stop everything to watch the man turn into a wolf, when in reality, the future pile of werewolf dung should be taking this opportunity to beat feet in the opposite direction. The same sort of can be said here as the story sort of stops at the half hour mark as Billy (and the viewer) become witness to “the shunting” sequence; a surreal orgy where those disguising themselves as the upper crust of society shed their clothes and human forms—wrapping their bodies around one another and twisting into all kinds of bizarre body horrors that would give David Cronenberg a solid oak woodie. This scene serves as confirmation of Billy’s worst fears and it is done in true nightmarish fashion, but story development stops and really goes away after the first hour as the film sort of just ends as if someone tripped on the electrical cord powering the camera. So while “the shunting” serves as a highlight of the film, SOCIETY really doesn’t have much of a resolution after Billy’s fears are confirmed.
But this film is all about the effects and artist, performer, musician Screaming Mad George goes balls out here with so much sticky, gooey body rollercoasters that it’s hard to keep track where the effects begin and where the actors end. Some of the more complex effects such as the amalgamation of Billy’s mother and sister are somewhat crude, but these effects are made up for the “butthead” scene where Billy’s father’s face comes out of his asshole and the aforementioned “shunting” scene where goo and slime covers everyone and forms are twisted into knots of disgusting and fascinating complexity. The final sequence looks like a surreal nightmare that is steeped in eroticism, as men and women parts swirl around together in a blob of flesh. Screaming Mad George worked on other films, but this was definitely the best stuff he ever did.
The film looks fantastic—a quality that always coincides with the Arrow Video branding. There are a few behind the scenes featurettes with director Brian Yuzna talking about how the film came to be (originally it spawned from a paranoid story of a woman who finds out all men are from another planet from another horror titan Dan O’Bannon) and how he collaborated with Screaming Mad George to come up with the creature effects. Screaming Mad George gets his own featurette where he shows off his original sculptures of each effect and reveals some of the secrets of “the shunting” sequence. This dive into the artist’s mind was fascinating to see and a must watch after experiencing the movie. Commentary tracks and trailers round out this presentation of a classic effects masterpiece of the late eighties. While the story and performances are not the best, this one makes up for it in effects like none you have ever seen and if you miss those days, this presentation of SOCIETY is going to be a must have for you.
Short Film currently touring festivals (playing at Days of the Dead in Indianapolis next on the 26-28th)!
HOWL OF A GOOD TIME (2015)Directed by Patrick Rea
Written by Patrick Rea
Starring Morgan Collar, Tamara Glynn, Leslie Easterbrook, Renae Geerlings, Chris Lazzaro, Isla Hale, Zoe Hale, Tomithy Welch, Mike Brabender, Ari Show
Find out more about when and where to see Patrick’s short films on Patrick Rea’s Facebook page here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Patrick Rea is a master of the short film at this point. The NAILBITER director’s short horrors have occupied the final segment of my AICN HORROR pages for years and he’s back with a new one called HOWL OF A GOOD TIME.
As the title suggests, the tone here is lighthearted and almost Amblin in nature. A trio of little girls makes their way through a line to get in to see a horror movie at the local movieplex. When they arrive at the ticket counter, they are turned away and told that it is a private showing, but one spunky girl won’t take no for an answer. Upon entering the theater, the little girl realizes that this is no regular showing and the patrons soon find out this is no regular little girl.
I don’t want to reveal too much else. This is a fun little one-note short featuring some fun monsters and a great nod to cult queen Leslie Easterbrook who plays one of the theater ushers. While the tone is downright goofy, it still has a lot of black humor to toss around in its 9 minute runtime.
Once HOWL OF A GOOD TIME is available on Youtube, I’ll be sure to place it in the lucky thirteenth “And finally…” spot. Until then, keep an eye out for this one playing at your local festival. It indeed is a good time and will take you back to a more innocent age. Not to high on scares, HOWL OF A GOOD TIME has a lot of heart right up until the explosive end.
New on DVD from RLJ Entertainment!
INFECTED (2013)aka THE DEAD INSIDE
Directed by Andrew Gilbert
Written by Andrew Gilbert, Julian Hundy
Starring Luke Hobson, Nicky Paul Barton, Roger Fowler, Samuel Hogarth, David Wayman, James Harrison, Simon Mathews, Elizabeth Quinn, Abby Simpson, Simon Nader, James Callàs Ball, Stuart J. Prowse
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
You know it’s going to be a rough review when the best thing I can say about INFECTED is that it has some nice computer generated bullet animation and some decent gory and bloody head shots throughout.
Otherwise, what you get with INFECTED is an overlong and overwrought telling of your basic zombie outbreak scenario where a bunch of dudes out on the town are the last to find out that the world is ending with a zombie infestation. They hole up with some cops, some futbol players, and some gals in a gated school; but with tension mounting inside between each other and more zombies showing up daily, what’s a group of survivors to do?
The intention of the filmmakers is noted and recognized. They are going for the long story approach, giving almost two hours of runtime to the bickerings between the survivors inside the fences, but the problem is; none of this stuff is anything we haven’t seen before in Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, or TV’s THE WALKING DEAD. Add truly amateur performances, horribly lighting, dragging plot, and lace it together with news reports that obviously were made by a different production team at a different time (most likely for a different movie), and this is nothing you haven’t seen a billion times before.
If you decide to make a zombie film, the only thing you can do at this point is try something different. There are so many films like INFECTED on the shelves (some of them zombie films actually named INFECTED, as I reviewed such a film here not long ago), it just makes it hard for any of them to distinguish themselves from the next one. So apart from some meaty headshot FX (which look to be CG, but still are pretty well done), you can shamble right on past this zombie snoozer.
New this week on DVD and on iTunes from Level 33!
THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (2013)Directed by Arthur Luhn
Written by Arthur Luhn
Starring Ethan Embry, Eric Roberts, Courtney Gains, Alex Rocco, Jessica Sonborn, Kati Salowsky, Josh Hammond, Nick Apostolides, Dakota Shepard, Sara Murphy, Michael Malvesti, Michele Mortensen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This odd little movie has glimmers of potential, but lack of focus and purpose really do evict THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET to the not-worth-checking-out pile.
Jessica Sonneborn plays Amy, a seemingly fragile, yet somewhat snotty gal new to the neighborhood after renting an apartment from Ethan Emery (who is having a pretty solid comeback apart from this film with LATE PHASES and CHEAP THRILLS). Immediately after moving in, she begins to have an interest in the house across the street with her. Some bizarre happenings occur such as a woman being hit by a car and then disappearing and comings and goings occurring at all hours. Soon Amy seems to be involved in some kind of mystery, continuing to snoot her way into the shady business across the street and not heeding the warnings from THE GODFATHER’s Alex Rocco, CHILDREN OF THE CORN’s Courtney Gains, and smarmy police officer Eric Roberts. But is there something really going on or is Amy just paranoid as all get out? That’s the question that is…sort of answered in this film
The fact that I asked that last question should lead you to understand that this is a film about perception. Years of movie-watching has trained me to be sensitive to the switcheroo ending where everything we understand to be true is flipped on its ear. The fact that Amy’s ex shows up asking if she has been taking her meds and if she is alright indicate something is going on here and though this film does have some mysteries that aren’t revealed until late in the game, I don’t know if the story is compelling enough to drag viewers along for the ride.
This is mainly due to the lead performance by Jessica Sonneborn who really does not come off as sympathetic or likable one bit in the way she treats the people she knows and complete strangers she meets in this new neighborhood. The weird transitions and disjointed way the story unfolds also does its job of distancing itself from viewers. Once we see why Amy is the way she is and what is actually going on, I found myself not caring much as I spent most of the time wondering if the stuff going on was all real or in Amy’s head. This can make for a compelling place to put the viewer in, but if your lead isn’t very likable, it just doesn’t work.
Ethan Embry again shows he has some great acting chops here and it’s good to see Malachai again on screen (Courtney Gains). Alex Rocco is getting up in years, but is convincing as well and when it comes to smarm, Eric Roberts delivers it hard as the smarmy cop. But I feel without a solid hold on the reality of the film and enough likability for the star really held me back from enjoying the twists and turns this film wanted to take me through.
New this week on DVD/BluRay/digital download from Ketchup Entertainment!
DEBUG (2014)Directed by David Hewlett
Written by David Hewlett
Starring Tenika Davis, Adrian Holmes, Kerr Hewitt, Kyle Mac, Sidney Leeder, Jadyn Wong, Adam Butcher, Jason Momoa, Jeananne Goossen, Jessica Phillips, Allison Brennan, Dylan Harman, Kate Hewlett, Nathaniel Bacon, Meher Pavri
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
An intergalactic Nerd Squad sent in to debug a spaceship riddled with a man-made virus finds that the virus has become sentient and is harder to get rid of as first planned.
That’s the premise, but really it’s a chance to have a bunch of people have their worst fears and deepest wishes turned against them via the hallucinatory and hologramatic powers of the virus zipping through the computer system of the ship. Taking the form of Jason Mamoa, Iam the virus appears and tosses information we are clumsily made aware of in the few seconds we know this team back into their faces like a techno Freddy Krueger until it’s up to one debugger who fights back.
The problem with this film is that it feels like FREDDY X with Freddy Krueger turned into a virus and set loose on some folks on a spaceship. A lot of fun could be had with this if not for the fact that some of the acting is kind of dodgy and the nightmares the crew confronts aren’t that nightmarish. There are a few nice moments of gore, but the hammy performance by Mamoa doesn’t help make this a scary or imaginative endeavor.
The film even wraps things up with the final girl going into the virus’ world and fighting him as if she was Milla Jovovitch’s equally scruffy sister. And what’s a final battle in a virtual reality realm without a swordfight?
While the effects aren’t bad, the plot gets unnecessarily convoluted during the climax and the film is just too derivative of ELM STREET series to feel worth a watch. Mamoa’s part is pretty small here as he just comes off as a slightly more charismatic Hal fighting back against his creators. But the uninspired story is the real virus that corrupts DEBUG.
New this week on DVD from XLRator!
STRANGE BLOOD (2015)Directed by Chad Michael Ward
Written by Pearry Reginald Teo (story) , Chad Michael Ward (screenplay)
Starring Robert Brettenaugh, Alexandra Bard, Thomas O'Halloran, Anna Harr, Barbara Jadczak, James Adam Lim, Scott Harders
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Deftly mixing classical vampirism with Cronenbergian body horror, the low budget science horror STRANGE BLOOD does a lot with very little and turns out to be a film worth checking out.
The story focuses on a young scientist named Henry (Robert Brettenaugh) who has developed a cure-all solution to all disease by creating a living and breathing tumor named Ela. Henry’s intern Gemma (Alexandra Bard) is almost as brilliant, but more motivated by her heart as she has a crush on her mentor; though he is much more invested in his work to notice. When the overzealous doctor gets too close to Ela and it pokes him with her stingers, Henry begins a metamorphosis into a creature that needs the blood of the living to survive. Battling her own sense of right and wrong versus her heart, Gemma is forced to care for Henry as he changes into something more inhuman by the day.
If you immediately thought of Cronenberg’s THE FLY while reading the last paragraph, then you and I are on the same wavelength as I couldn’t get the Cronenberg classic out of my head as I saw Henry change throughout this movie. At the same time, with the watermelon-sized sentient tumor pulsing in the test tube, other body horror films of Cronenberg and his son Brandon with his film ANTIVIRAL come to mind. All of those films exude an icky, contagious feel while watching and director/writer Chad Michael Ward does a great job of capturing that tactile feel that really creeps under your skin with uncomfortable scenes of Henry’s metamorphosis as his body shifts and morphs, and equally intimate kills as Henry’s bloodlust takes over. Ward zooms in close to make these kills personal and almost sensual as Henry laps the blood up from the gushing throats of his victims. So while from a story sense, this may feel a bit too close to the template THE FLY adheres to, Ward gives the film an uncomfortably up close feel to it that suggests much more sophistication than a simple carbon copy style film.
While the two main actors are definitely not pros, they do a pretty great job here. Alexandra Bard has a nice innocence to her that gives this film steeped in science a bit of soul with Gemma, while the really impressive work comes from Robert Brettenaugh as Henry who brings a physicality to the performance that enhances the subtle effects. Brettenaugh really pays attention to posture and body language making the person he is before the infection and after the infection two entirely different looking people.
The effects are another highlight here as the pulsing tumor is something out of a science fueled nightmare. The way it moves and convulses like some kind of soft larval creature really does unnerve. The few times CGI were used are not good though, as when Henry cuts himself to reveal millions of little insect-like creatures roaming under his skin feels comically cartoonish. But the practical effects such as Henry’s transformation, the tumor Ela, and the murder sequences elevate what might be a more forgettable film to new levels of unease. STRANGE BLOOD is low fi with some rough bits of acting here and there, but the themes, the story, the direction, and especially the practical effects make it a disgusting and perverse, yet utterly effective body horror film.
New this week on DVD and digital download from RLJ/Image Entertainment!
ZOMBIEWORLD (2015)Directed by Jesse Baget (“Zombie News”), Peter Horn & Jared Marshall ("Dark Times"), Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz (“Fist of Jesus”), Vedran Marjanovic Wekster ("How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse”), Phil Haine ("I Am Lonely"), Tommy Woodard ("Dead Stop"), Cameron McCulloch ("Home"), Zachary Ramelan ("Dead Rush"), Paul Shrimpton ("Teleportal”), Luke Asa Guidici ("Certified”), Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz ("Brutal Relax”), Adam O'Brien ("Marathon Apocalypse ")
Written by Stefania Mascato (“Zombie News”), Peter Horn & Jared Marshall (“Dark Times”), David Muñoz ("Fist of Jesus”), Vedran Marjanovic Wekster ("How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse”), Jonathan Brown (“I Am Lonely”), Tommy Woodard (“Dead Stop”), Cameron McCulloch (“Home”), Raven Cousens & Zachary Ramelan ("Dead Rush"), Alex Chandon, Paul Shrimpton, & Graham Taylor (“Teleportal”), Luke Asa Guidici (“Certified”), Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz ("Brutal Relax”), Adam O'Brien (“Marathon Apocalypse”)
Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Marc Velasco, Noé Blancafort, Jose M. Angorrilla, Lauren Brady, Trevor Snarr, Jamie McDowell, Jeff Newman, Zack Price, Matt Pendergast, Chris Spyrides, Mickey Conde, Charles Hamilton, Aaron Daynes, Charlotte Bulmer, Thomas Garner, Rebecca Spicher
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
With the sheer number of zombie films almost matching the amount of zombies that would be on the prowl in the eventual zombie apocalypse, it is rather fitting for this film to gather up zombie short films from around the world to make up a feature film. As with most anthologies, ZOMBIEWORLD is a hit and miss collection in terms of quality, but I think in this case the good by far outweighs the bad.
The film is connected by an up to date “Zombie News” broadcast starring the hardest working man in horror, Bill Oberst Jr. Oberst plays Marvin Gloatt from KPRS News, a typical ugly-suited anchorman who lives to tell the news even after being bitten himself. Seeing Oberst gradually change into a zombie between segments is a fun way to loop this whole anthology together, and Oberst gets to flex his comedic muscles here with some hilarious reaction shots in these segments.
The actual film starts with the short “Dark Times,” a first person POV-shot race at full speed with a group of survivors during what appears to be the first moments of the apocalypse. Sure, this is something we saw in V/H/S 2, but still, it does a great job of setting the frantic pace of the rest of the film that follows.
Next is my second favorite shortie of the bunch, “Fist of Jesus”, where we finally get an explanation as to what started this zombie apocalypse in the first place. It’s all Jesus’ fault. After a failed resurrection, Jesus inadvertently creates a horde of zombies and it’s up to Judas and Jesus to enact some holy vengeance on scores and scores of zombies. The sheer amount of ultra-gore in this one is something to be in awe of. Blood is spattered and lathered on by the gallon. Jesus’ weapon of choice is a fish, as he uses them as throwing as well as walloping weapons. When Jesus rips the spine of a fish out, it comes in handy as a serrated sword. And when Jesus gets his hands on a cross, whoa nelly, the zombie guts fly. This one sets a whole new standard for onscreen gory mayhem.
Sparced through the film in segments is “How To Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”, which comes off as very much like the instructional first segments of ZOMBIELAND, but still takes advantage of the motif to offer up some fun moments as a group of people are following the cues of a narrator on how to survive this mess. This section gets extra points for use of a bicycle seat as a weapon.
An Irish man comes home to find his flat mate dead, only to find that his flat mate didn’t like him much, in “I Am Lonely.” While this one is low on zombie mayhem, it does serve as a fun soliloquy from what could be the last man on Earth, and it turns out he’s a total idiot. Looking forward to goofing off with his flat mate or the apocalypse, the sincere yet moronic delivery of the lines is what makes this one memorably funny.
“Dead Stop” is all told from a police vehicle’s dashboard cam. This one is short and sweet and while it’s a new format to tell a zombie tale, it really doesn’t have enough by way of substance. It’s simply a cop stopping at a gas station and winding up in the middle of a zombie attack. It’s a quick and breezy one.
Australian short “Home” is a short I’ve featured before on AICN HORROR, and it’s cool that it is included here as more people will be able to watch and enjoy it in this format. The story is a sensitive and quiet tale of a woman seemingly alone in a world gone zombie deciding whether or not it is worth it to go on. While most of the short films featured in this film are in your face and balls to the wall, this one is a much more serious and somber piece. It’s also an emotionally powerful one as the woman edges toward the ultimate decision whether to persevere or not. This one also takes the time to soak in the beautiful Australian scenery.
“Dead Rush” is a Canadian short, another first person POV following three guys trying to make it through the zombie horde which is a bit too similar to the earlier “Dark Times” segment. Still, I think it’s worth acknowledging the difficulty it is to film a narrative in this format as there seems to be very few cuts, and the ones that do occur are done well in order to make it feel like everything is feeling immediate and real. So while the type of film is repeated from earlier, this one is longer and far more advanced in terms of technical filmmaking.
A guy playing a zombie first person shooter game on his game system that gets sucked into the game is what makes up the fun but all too short segment “Teleportal.” This one utilizes graphics in a pretty stellar way and gets points for being extra graphic with the gore.
A mailman and a little girl star in “Certified”, which proves that an overactive imagination and a well-told fib are all you need to send a shiver down the spine. This one delivers great performances all around, as the little girl has the mailman in the palm of her hand with a tale of the dead rising. This is one of the most solid and original shorts in the bunch.
The best of the bunch is saved for last with “Brutal Relax”, which follows a man discharged from a hospital and told to go to a place where he can relax. He ends up on a beach filled with vacationers just in time for aquatic pirate zombie demons to rise from the sea. While the recently discharged man wallows in a shallow puddle of mud and smears it all over him, the dead rise and massacre the beach. But when the man’s walkman runs out of juice, the zombies learn a new meaning of the word massacre as the man rips and shreds his way through the masses in a fury that I’ve never seen before on film. This segment by Adrián Cardona & David Muñoz, who also did the gratuitous “Fists of Jesus” segment, makes me want to pay close attention to these filmmakers and what they tackle in the future. Reminiscent of the ultra-gore funny that early Raimi and Jackson were able to harness in EVIL DEAD II and DEAD ALIVE, these guys take things to a whole new level of wrong and I loved every gory moment of it. By the time the man is headbutting his noggin through a zombie skull, I knew this was the best of the bunch. Spot on in comedic beats and bound to offend those of a weak constitution, this is the short that makes the rest of the film worth sitting through.
An additional short that talks about a zombie marathon is included as a special feature on the disk. It links to this website and talks about a real “Apocalypse Marathon” 5 and 10k which actually sounds pretty awesome. That is, if you’re fit enough to run and not get eaten.
If you’re a fan of zombie films, you’re bound to find something to your liking in this film. While things kind of lean more towards the ultra-gory side of the genre, there are enough quiet moments to even things out. I laughed quite a bit all the way through this film and if you’re not sick of zombies yet, you may too.
New this week On Demand and DVD from Midnight Releasing!
AMERICAN BACKWOODS: SLEW HAMPSHIRE (2013)aka SLEW HAMPSHIRE
Directed by Flood Reed
Written by Flood Reed
Starring Dayo Okeniyi, Shawn Thomas, Tyler Rice, Jeremy Isabella, Flood Reed, Claire Dodin, Matt Hish, Mike Apple, Brian Allen, John Joyce, Michael Todd Schneider, Paul J Hennigan, Gaya Malakian, Stephen O'Neil Martin, Chip Kratzinger, Kevin Planeta, Eric Boring, Keven Scotti, Chuck Galle, Billy Houldcroft, Deek McDeekula
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Mixing ingredients is always a risky thing. There are those who just toss in a scene here and a theme there and a swipe here and an homage there and it all just doesn’t end up tasting right. Then there are those who are the filmmaking equivalent of a master chef and able to blend these elements with finesse and style. With tons and tons of low fi horror being chucked out on a weekly basis these days, everything seems to be derived from something that has come before. So it’s this delivery that makes the strong stand taller than the weak, and AMERICAN BACKWOODS: SLEW HAMPSHIRE is one of the strong ones.
A group of four horny college-bound kids pile into a truck and head out of their northeastern town to a strip club that is rumored to be the most awesome of the awesome in places where women fake interest in men for money. This group has a history together. One of them, Bags (played by writer/director Flood Reed), was injured when the four were horsing around on their snowmobiles. But while some of the guys are heading off to college and bettering themselves, others remain back in their small town of origin. Taking off for college is one of those crossroads moments in a young person’s life, and the group is strained because the band feels like it’s breaking up for good. Still, they’ve decided to head out on one last big fling following the white whale that is this fabled titty bar in the middle of nowhere. What they find are rednecks who go on a seasonal hunt for young men to trap, release, hunt, rape, and kill. But the bearded Duck Dynasty rejects aren’t the only threat in the woods. There seems to be a group of primal Neanderthal Norsemen running around massacring folks along the coast--and maybe there’s an even bigger threat out there as well. With so many monsters on the prowl in the New Hampshire woods, odds are many of our budding adults will not be making it back from this mancation alive.
Derivative? You betcha. Shades of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE are prevalent in the way the rednecks round up and track down the four teens. There’s also an opening blurb very reminiscent of the intro John Larroquette read in TCM. There is a heavy heaping of DELIVERANCE here as well, as the rednecks have rape on their mind as the end result of their big yearly hunt, and shades of Jack Ketchum’s OFFSPRING and the Ketchum/Lucky McKee collaboration THE WOMAN are prevalent involving the nomadic cave people living in the forests outside of society. Other films like SURVIVING THE GAME and other variations of THE MOST DANGEROUS game will pop into some folks’ minds while watching this film. It certainly happened to me. But writer/director Flood Reed binds this whole thing together really well by giving all of the “teams” equal screen time, and while some of the creative naming of characters may be a little too cute (all of the guys are named Bro, Buddy, Dude-guy, Kid, and Bags, since he’s the one with the baggage, while the kidnapped woman is named Stockholm), it also shows that Reed is putting a lot of intention into the entirety of the script and not just going for the big effects gore scene or bloody kills that most films of this kind are after. Thematically, this film is rich as well. Early on, Reed has a discussion with his buddies about how many societies function and thrive outside of the realm of man, equating it to tribes in Africa as well as today’s impoverished minorities, who are seemingly cut off from most of world and adapt in ways that are sometimes looked at as barbaric compared to high society’s standards. Isolationism and evolution is also delved into not only with the nomadic cavemen but the rednecks as well, as one of them suffers from depression after coming back from the war, isolating himself from his friends and family. Reed’s character Bags is also isolated from the rest of the group, as he is the only African American as well as the only one who is going to an Ivy League college. Seeing this film deal with this theme in such a vivid, textured, and multifaceted manner is something you don’t often find in horror films and is much appreciated by this reviewer. It only makes all the blood and gore that more impactful when there’s some meaning behind it all.
And man, is this film gory. The cannibalistic cavemen are brutal in their killings, tearing apart their victims in the most barbaric of ways. This film doesn’t turn a blind eye to the red stuff, and while oftentimes it’s heady in theme, the whole thing is evened out as Reed isn’t afraid to toss in some ghoulish gore to drive his point home.
This is not a perfect film. Oftentimes Reed relied on editing some shocking half-second scenes of violence in some scenes in order to punctuate a point or just shock the viewer. This is something that filmmakers like Oliver Stone have done pretty well, most notably in NATURAL BORN KILLERS (which is sort of paid homage to in this film in one particular scene in a car with an obvious greenscreen), but Reed uses this a little too often for my tastes here. And while this is a shocking film, I don’t think it needs the scattershot fast cuts to make it more so. The editing of this film, which was also done by Reed, seems to be something that the filmmaker seems to need the most work on as the story is tight, the film looked great, and his acting is pretty great as well.
That said, AMERICAN BACKWOODS: SLEW HAMPSHIRE was an intense and gory little surprise of a horror film. It serves as a hodgepodge of many of horror’s greatest and most effective films while still retaining a uniqueness about it. Some scenes, like a late in the game rape scene involving some picked berries and a broken leg, are almost too intense to take. This movie just keeps topping itself in brutality and shocks all the way until the end, which leaves things wide open for a sequel. While the name of the film may be a little goofy (and this film does have a rather wicked sense of humor), it definitely is one of the more intense low budgeters I’ve witnessed in a while. Highly recommended for those with a strong stomach and an appreciation for thematic heft.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
THE STRANGER (2015)aka BAD BLOOD
Directed by Guillermo Amoedo
Written by Guillermo Amoedo
Starring Lorenza Izzo, Aaron Burns, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Gnecco, Nicolás Durán, Eric Kleinsteuber, Alessandra Guerzoni, John Allan, Pablo Vila, Elvis Gonzalez, Sally Rose
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Eli Roth produced this vampiric mix of elements from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and NEAR DARK, though it lacks the heart that is evident in both. Still, THE STRANGER is a better than average fang flick.
A stranger walks into a small Canadian town and visits a home where a woman named Ana used to live. Though he tells the stranger she doesn’t live there anymore, the boy at the door takes the stranger to Ana’s grave. When the stranger is beaten up by the son of a policeman and his gang, the boy takes the stranger in, not knowing that this dark unknown man is a bloodsucker!
The biggest hindrance of this film is that this is a Chilean film set in a Canadian town, so though everything is done in English, there’s a vague and indistinct accent in the dialog, sometimes almost as if the actors themselves don’t know the meaning of the lines they are saying. There’s also a dubbed feel to the film, as if some of the actor’s voices were redone either because of sound quality or thick accents. I don’t know a lot about the film and usually I don’t have problems with this in older films, but for some reason, in this modern day and age of high quality sound, it really didn’t help me in connecting with any of the characters.
The narrative here is simple. Stranger comes into town. Stranger gets beat up and seemingly killed. Stranger turns out to be a vampire. The simplicity of the narrative and lack of dialog is reminiscent of some of Carpenter’s early flicks or some kind of vampire Spaghetti Western (this aspect most likely prompted Roth to place his name on this as a producer, given the director’s love for Italian cinema). The film is also reminiscent of another recent film, THE GUEST, as it involves a dangerous man of mystery coming into town and changing the lives of a family drastically. There’s a grittiness here as none of the actors are well known and everyone is put through the meat grinder by the end as the vampire curse (here the stranger treats it like a virus as he is afraid to affect others with his malady) begins to spread to folks not as responsible as the stranger. This morality of the vampire reminds me again of films where we get to know the vamp and their plight such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and NEAR DARK. Unlike most films which cast the vampire as a monster, this one understands and feels the guilt and responsibility that comes with the curse.
This definitely isn’t the feel good vampire movie of the year as the entire cast feels like it is definite need of a caffeine boost. While I was rooting for the boy and the stranger to make it out of this predicament alive, I can’t say I got to know them very much during this film. Director Guillermo Amoedo does have a gift for conveying down to earth action and an overall sense of tension and dread. This is one dark film and aside from some dialog and sound issues, I think there will be a lot out there who will like it. While it does suffer from being derivative, it conveys a strong tension and heavy mood that makes this intense and grounded monster flick worth seeking out.
And finally…here’s an award winning short from writer/director Alex Weight described as “the story of three young teenage boys Richie (Jesse Hyde), Bobby (Karl Beattie) and Sam (Benson Anthony) who come together for just one special night to catch up with an old friend they haven't seen in years. It's not until they arrive at their destination do things take a turn for the worse.”
Find out more about this deviously funny little ditty on its Facebook page here and enjoy PRANK 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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