Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Here’s another fresh batch of new horrors; some smell like roses, some not so much. Nevertheless, on with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: REPTILICUS (1961)
Retro-review: SPIDER BABY (1967)
Retro-review: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)
Retro-review: WOLFEN (1981)
Retro-review: SLEEPAWAY CAMP III : TEENAGE WASTELAND (1989)
Retro-review: THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)
THE AMAZING BULK (2013)
BADGER GAME (2014)
ANARCHY PARLOR (2015)
TIME LAPSE (2015)
BURYING THE EX (2014)
And finally…Aaron Mento’s CHOOSE THEIR KILL!
Retro-review: New this week on a double feature Bluray from The Shout Factory!
REPTILICUS (1961)Directed by Sidney W. Pink
Written by Sidney W. Pink (original story & screenplay) , Ib Melchior (screenplay)
Starring Bent Mejding, Asbjørn Andersen, Povl Wøldike, Ann Smyrner, Mimi Heinrich, Dirch Passer, Marlies Behrens, Carl Ottosen, Ole Wisborg, Birthe Wilke, Mogens Brandt, Kjeld Petersen, Mai Reimers
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While the effects are going to make you laugh and there’s nothing really original about REPTILICUS, I still had a blast laughing at and with this old school monster movie.
Pop some popcorn and rev up the snark-o-meter because this film deserves it. REPTILICUS begins with what looks like some stock footage of a Danish drilling detail who drill into a carcass of a reptilian creature preserved far below the surface. The drillers are able to unearth the tail of the monster, which is frozen and shipped to a research facility in Copenhagen where it melts due to a lab accident and regenerates into a giant monster. The monster goes on a rampage through Copenhagen while the military and some curvy female scientists work on a solution to stop the beast which eats people whole and spits burning green goo all over people.
Filmed as a collaboration between US and Danish filmmakers, most of the actors seem to be of Danish origin and while it does a decent job with the dubbing, sometimes it just doesn’t quite fit. Most likely a response to the GODZILLA sensation of the time, REPTILICUS follows the film almost beat for beat once the beast is grown and on a rampage. The story attempts to link a few scientific facts together in order to justify the beast’s existence, but I’m pretty sure that even back in 1961 when this was released the science didn’t quite gel. Add in some idiotic slapstickery from a bumbling janitor who inadvertently causes the beast’s tail to melt and reactivate and you’ve got a film that, if it didn’t get the MST3K treatment, it deserved to get it.
Making it so that the runtime was long enough for a feature, the camera lingers on footage of scenery around the Danish country and the culture. The film often feels like a travelogue film, as it has the same type of elevator music throughout but lacks the narration. The same style of stock footage is used in abundance as military soldiers, tanks, and other weaponry are used on the giant reptile. It is impressive to see the number of extras they got for this film (though maybe this is stock footage as well) as the film really does make it feel like hundreds of people are fleeing the streets and cities from the green goo-spewing beastie.
The true draw to the film is the rudimentary puppetry and effects of the film. The loose neck is led around by what looks to be invisible string on one of those Chinese snake toys you hold by the tail. The animation for the green goo is equally bad, but hilarious in execution, and seeing the animated people slide down the monster’s gullet is what made me laugh the hardest. While these effects are as bad as can be, still, I had to admire the gumption the filmmakers had to try it, given their obvious limited resources. Not really funny when it tries to be, REPTILICUS is often hilarious when it doesn’t. There’s the same kind of anti-war message that was deftly interlaced in GODZILLA, though this time it’s about as subtle as Reptilicus itself as the scientists and military types argue about how to stop the monster. REPTILICUS is a fun example of dreams too big for the technology of the time. Paired with TENTACLES in this double feature (which I’ll get to in a future column), this old school monster masher is not really going to scare many, but those with an appreciation of those old rampant reptile movies like me are bound to be entertained.
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!
SPIDER BABY (1967)aka CANNIBAL ORGY, THE MADDEST STORY EVER OLD, ATTACK OF THE LIVER EATERS, THE LIVER EATERS
Directed by Jack Hill
Written by Jack Hill
Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Sid Haig, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer, Mantan Moreland
Find out more about the film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I don’t know if this is the actual “maddest story ever told”, but I’m sure at the time of SPIDER BABY’s release it definitely ruffled some feathers. The film is definitely an odd bird, filled with some classic comical and surreal moments that are hard to forget.
The film opens with soap opera actor Quinn K. Redeker who plays Peter Howe, who looks professorial as he talks with the camera about Merrye Disease, a disease so rare that it only occurs in the one family it is named after. A sort of special needs Benjamin Button-style disease, Merrye Disease causes its victims to get to a certain age and then age backwards, so as they become older, they behave in a more infantile way. Going one step beyond the era-spanning Brad Pitt vehicle, those with Merrye Disease regress to a prenatal and animalistic state that causes them to become mindless cannibals (and I think THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON would have been much more enjoyable had it added that little detail). We then cut to a delivery man with a package informing the occupants of the Merrye home that their estate has been transferred over to their next of kin (the aforementioned narrator Peter Howe and his snotty wife Emily, played by Carol Ohmart). The nosy mailman meets his end in an offscreen yet disturbing kill by one of the Merrye girls, Virginia (Jill Banner), who believes she is a spider. We are also introduced to the “sugar and spice and everything nice” woman in girl’s clothing Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), their mentally deficient man-monster brother Ralph (the incomparable Sid Haig), and their caretaker/driver Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.). Accompanied by the Howes’ shyster lawyer Mr. Schlocker (the cartoonishly comical Karl Schanzer) and his assistant Ann (Mary Mitchel), the stage is set for a group of people to meet this bizarre family. Though they know that the Merryes are eccentric, the Howes and their lawyer have no ideas the horrors they are in store for.
While much of the film has a John Waters level of camp flowing through it, the horrific acts that occur in the truly chilling opening scene and the final moments cast an ominous pall of danger over the entire film. The initial scene where Virginia appears from the shadows from the home bearing two knives like stingers on a spider is terrifically terrifying in the way it juxtaposes a young-looking girl in a sundress bearing horrible edged weapons. Throughout the whole film, the seemingly harmless gets flipped on its head over and again to be absolutely life threatening, making the tone of this film itself not to be trusted. One minute a goofy dinner is served with bizarre foods the kids have gathered around the grounds and the next Ralph is raping someone in the dark. Like an untamed animal, this is a film that will startle you just when you start to get comfortable. It had that effect on me now. I can only imagine what folks were thinking back in the day when this was released.
The performances here across the board are top tier. Sid Haig offers up his all as the childlike monster Ralph, who has deteriorated the most in terms of the Merrye Disease (itself revealed to be a cause of inbreeding among the Merrye family). Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn are amazing as the two women in little girls’ clothing, grinning innocently from ear to ear as they sharpen their knives behind their backs. Quinn K. Redeker provides a Hugh Grant/Cary Grant kind of huckster charm as he actually likes the eccentric family, while his spouse Emily (Carol Ohmart) is the typical icy bitch very much playing the same role Madeline Kahn plays in YOUNG FRAANKENSTEIN years later. Finally, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Bruno is over the top, but his tearful eyes really do convey the strong sense of family that ties the Merryes together. Though I’m not sure of it, it really does seem like Tobe Hooper took some type of inspiration from the Merryes to whip up his own family of weirdo cannibals for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The strong sense of family that occurs in the film, despite the obvious insanity, it evident throughout SPIDER BABY.
Catoonishly comical and diabolically cruel all at once, SPIDER BABY is not a film for those easily offended. While some moments go over the top with goofiness, the film seems to do so in order to lull you into its web for it to strike deadly and fast. Among the myriad of extras in this absolutely necessary Arrow Bluray release are interviews with the director Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Mary Mitchel, and SPIDER BABY superfan Joe Dante, as well as a panel discussion with Hill, Haig, Redeker, and Beverly Washburn in 2012 at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Merrye house is revisited and an extended opening reel is featured as well. This is a fantastic release for a truly unique and horrifying little terror tale--a must have for those who love films that you don’t know when to either laugh or cry at!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)Directed by Kevin Connor
Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel), James Cawthorn & Michael Moorcock (screenplay)
Starring Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, Anthony Ainley, Godfrey James, Bobby Parr, Declan Mulholland, Colin Farrell, Ben Howard, Roy Holder, Andrew McCulloch, Ron Pember, Grahame Mallard, Andrew Lodge
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though not really connected with AT THE EARTH’S CORE (another Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation by Amicus starring Doug McClure, reviewed here not long ago), THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT looks and feels like a prequel to that film (and THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, which is the actual sequel of sorts released later) because of the similar production values, effects trickery, and of course the inclusion of brawny actioner Doug McClure in the lead. This Burroughs yarn directed by Kevin Connor (who directed one of my favorite horror films, MOTEL HELL) has a lot going for it to satisfy fans of action, horror, and fantasy alike.
During the height of World War I, the survivors of a sunken British ship happen upon a German submarine and quickly overtake the vessel. Though attempts are made to contact British military, the Krauts smash the communications system and the Brits (including McClure’s character Bowen Tyler, whose father built submarines so he explains that this is the reason why he knows so much about subs; osmosis, I guess) are forced to signal the warships, but when the ship begins firing upon the German sub, they are forced to submerge. Turned around and lost at sea, the U-boat surfaces at the face of a warm water stream, and after a tricky maneuvering through the caves leading to the river’s mouth, they find themselves in a land where dinosaurs and cavemen live together. Bowen and the German and British must put their differences aside to survive in this savage land.
The thing that impressed me the most about this film is that for the first 40 minutes, this is an enthralling U-boat action film. Before one monster appears, there is some great tension between the Brits and the Germans as they overthrow the ship and crew. In this day and age where we race to the scary/thrilling/fantastical bits, not relying on the audience just to go for the ride and trust the film, it is refreshing to see this film just evolve slowly like the creatures itself in the Land that Time Forgot.
Once inside this wild world, the monstrous sights and sounds are pretty amazing for the time. While this isn’t stop motion Harryhausen giant lizards, the puppet monsters are pretty amazing to behold. Fans of the Toho GODZILLA films will have a lot to love as the monsters open their mouths wide to chop down on dummies and props. Miniature monsters of all kinds are present and offer up a kitschy cool that you can only find in old monster gems like this.
The film is open ended, resolving the core conflict between the Brits and Germans while leaving threads to be picked up in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT. I’m sure one day I’ll be covering that one, but for the time being a strong lead performance by Doug McClure, some surprisingly great U-Boat tension, and some classic practical effects to die for make THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT one for those wondering where the roots of JURASSIC WORLD began. Highly recommended.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Warner Brothers Classics!
WOLFEN (1981)Directed by Michael Wadleigh
Written by Whitley Strieber (based on the novel by), David Eyre (screen story), Michael Wadleigh & Eric Roth (screenplay)
Starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines, Tom Noonan, Dick O'Neill, Dehl Berti, Peter Michael Goetz, Sam Gray, Ralph Bell, Max M. Brown, Anne Marie Pohtamo, Sarah Felder, Reginald VelJohnson, James Tolkan
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of my favorite wolfy horrors of all time is not really a werewolf film at all. Still, many of the old standbys of werewolf films come into play as man takes on beast in WOLFEN.
Albert Finney is hard drinkin’, hard livin’, hard lovin’ Detective Dewey Wilson who has seen and done it all walking his New York beat. When a rich developer and his wife are savagely murdered by what at first looks to be a large animal, Detective Dewey teams up with a mortician named Whittington (Gregory Hines), a sassy new partner Rebecca (Diane Venora), and an expert in lupine behavior (Tom Noonan) to figure out who or what is killing folks in the battered down slums of the South Bronx, populated by a large Native American population and something not human. Much gritty, urban mystery and horror ensues.
What sets WOLFEN apart from other wolf-themed films is that these are not actually men turned into wolf form, but advanced wolves with an almost human intelligence which have either evolved into civilization-wary beasts from interacting with man through the years or evolved naturally due to lack of human intervention. There is a mystical nature given to the wolves in the film as well, as the local Native American population worship and idolize the beasts known as skinwalkers--beasts that act like men, keepers of ancient rituals and lands defending their turf from the destructive white man. So while most of the time the werewolf film is about the transformation of a man to animal and back again, representing man’s struggle with the instinctual and animalistic id and the intellectual and civilized superego, WOLFEN is more akin to the eternal struggle of man vs. nature--an equally compelling albeit altogether different canvas to cast a wolfen shadow over. Here the struggle is man intervening where he shouldn’t belong and nature striking back, in this case with the tooth and claw of giant wolves.
Still, this film is altogether crafty in the way it presents this team, suggesting a more human monster at first and slowly shifting the tone as Finney’s Detective Dewey gets closer to the truth. It doesn’t help that halfway through Dewey encounters an animalistic local (Edward James Olmos) prancing around on the beach naked full of howls and snarls. So the fact that WOLFEN is often lumped in with other werewolf films is somewhat understandable, but by the end, the theme of man = bad/nature = good is prevalent as Dewey comes face to snarling face with the beasts.
What stood out to me other than the themes at play is the gritty atmosphere of the crumbling city this action plays out in. The site where the buildings have been destroyed and knocked down looks like something one would see in videos of Middle Eastern turmoil, but this destruction of buildings where the poor lived and the rich intend to expand upon is as prevalent here as the wolves themselves. The city in WOLFEN is a rotting and infected sore, falling apart and dying.
On top of the gritty effects at play, the kills in WOLFEN are tactile and sopping. The blood pours out in spurts and limbs are lopped off uneven and painfully. Seeing one detective continuing to fire his handgun though the hand holding it has been lopped off by a wolf is something I have never seen in films before this one. Same goes for heads. This is a film that isn’t afraid to go gory, but does so to convey how dangerous these beasts are. Other effects such as the wolves’ senso-vision which picks up heat signatures more than seeing things directly, are distinctly done. Sure these concepts have been copied in movies since, but giving the monster not only a POV but a distinct way of looking at the world definitely helps in making this beast unique. The fact that the government is using similar technology in this film to root out whether people are telling the truth or not due to shifts in body temperature also supports the fact that these wolves see things in a manner more akin to man and his technology than mere mindless animals.
Finney does a great job of acting out the macho detective clichés. He drinks, eats bad, and sleeps with a woman without a word, and still has time to go for a brisk jog every morning. While he does convey a sense of authority and expertise, the macho is upped to such an extreme that at times I found myself laughing at his over-the-top manhood. Hines is fun here as well and serves as perfect comedy relief for the overly serious Finney. And while their roles are small, Olmos and MANHUNTER’s Tom Noonan offer up some memorable turns as well in this distinct hybrid of a monster movie. Many of the same clichés are there that we’ve seen time and time again in wolf outings, but with WOLFEN it’s just a small tweak in story perspective from man vs. himself to man vs. nature that makes it utterly unique.
Watch this no frills BluRay rerelease with THE GREY and you’re bound to have a hell of a wolfy good time!
Retro-review: New on DVD/BluRay from The Shout Factory!
SLEEPAWAY CAMP III: TEENAGE WASTELAND (1989)Directed by Michael A. Simpson
Written by Fritz Gordon (screenplay), based on an original idea and characters by Robert Hiltzik
Starring Pamela Springsteen, Tracy Griffith, Michael J. Pollard, Mark Oliver, Haynes, Brooke, Sandra Dorsey, Daryl Wilcher, Kim Wall, Kyle Holman, Cliff Brand, Kashina Kessler, Randi Layne, Chung Yen Tsay, Jarrett Beal, Sonya Maddox, Jill Terashita, Stacie Lambert
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s a shame for the SLEEPAWAY CAMP series that, just as modern society seems to be fixated on all of the Caitlyn Brenner hubbub, it chose to go the safe route and ignore the gender swap themes from the first and just plop out another unimaginative slasher. Maybe if chances were taken, this series would have maintained the bite that left a mark on so many with the original installment of the franchise.
Angela (Pamela Springsteen) is back and she’s masquerading as a camper this time to get back into the camp she unleashed her original killing spree upon, renamed Camp Rolling Hills. This high concept camp pairs up troubled youth with privileged youth with negative results that are to be expected when the poor and the rich are squooshed together. Finding that both the upper and lower crust have their faults, the highly moralistic Angela whittles them all away once again.
Shot back to back with SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS, this one is by far the weakest of the three SLEEPAWAY films as it doesn’t even have the gore that the sequel was bathed in. Off-screen and uninspired kills with sticks, lawnmowers, and bungee cords are Angela’s choice of weaponry this time around, so those who at least had the gore and gratuitous kills to look forward to are going to be disappointed here. Of course, there is a continuation of the gratuitous nudity, as it seems the female cast were required to take their shirts off in the first two minutes they are on screen, but the unoriginal writing and lame one liners from Angela after she kills her victims make this one hard to sit through.
Again, no attention is really paid to in regards to the gender confusion that sent Angela off the deep end. While Angela’s history is discussed in part 2, in this installment, aside from one scene where Angela takes off her top to reveal a very padded and protective bra that covers her whole torso (signifying that she may still be a very petite man), Angela’s motif that she was a confused and repressed boy who was made to look like a girl is totally lost for the safer, lamer, and more remedial moralistic motif where anyone who has sex, does drugs, or does anything outside of the norm is set for death. What frustrates me about this is that oftentimes FRIDAY THE 13TH films are stereotyped to be this simplistic, but in reality, it’s films like this one, where the kills, the backstory, the thematic heft, and anything technical that goes into filmmaking that give the slasher film a bad name and support all of the clichés attached to it through the years. The latter SLEEPAWAY series doesn’t homage F13; it mocks it and for that, I really am not a fan of anything past the first one.
I’ve never seen SLEEPAWAY CAMP IV: THE SURVIVOR or RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (helmed by the original writer/director Robert Hiltzik), but I almost have a morbid fascination to seek them out to finish out this coverage. Most likely the Shout Factory will not be releasing these films as the quality of this film franchise seems to diminish exponentially from one film to the next. SLEEPAWAY CAMP is an obscure gem with a lot of weird going for it, but these two sequel rereleases (I reviewed Part II last week here) are only for the ultimate collectors out there.
Retro-review: New on DVD/BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual
THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)aka KATAKURI-KE NO KOFUKU
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Ai Kennedy (translation), Kikumi Yamagishi (screenplay)
Starring Kanji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Tetsuro Tanba
Retro-review by Ambush Bug
What do you seek out horror films for? Some for the perverse thrill of seeing others suffer instead of ourselves. Some as a release of tension. Some for fuel for nightmares. Even some look at it as inspiration. I can't say that I've ever walked away from a horror film feeling upbeat and chipper, but I sure did when the credits started rolling for Takashi Miike's masterpiece mash-up of all forms of cinema, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. You can say you've seen a boatload of horror films, but until you've seen this one, you definitely haven't seen it all. Miike is one of those filmmakers that make my ears perk whenever I hear about one of his projects. He's been a director known for taking chances and following a path all his own when it comes to characters and the stories he puts them through. AUDITION, ICHII THE KILLER, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, GOZU; the list goes on and in each of these films, Miike makes his presence known and you almost always walk away seeing something you have never seen before.
How do I describe THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS?
Well, on the DVD box it describes itself as THE SOUND OF MUSIC meets DAWN OF THE DEAD, and I guess that's about as accurate description as any. THE HAPPINESS OF KATAKURIS is a mix of animation, claymation, and live action. It borrows from horror, family drama, romantic fiction, and musicals, so in any given scene you could have a cute little Japanese girl licking a lollipop, a claymation bird snatching a white angel/demon who makes off with a woman's uvula when she screams upon seeing the angel/demon in her soup bowl, a family happily singing and dancing across a countryside, and a zombie sumo wrestler crushing a Sailor Moon lookalike under his girth. If this juxtaposition of imagery doesn't surprise you, then you are either Takashi Miike or in need of some serious meds.
A multi-generational family is destitute and their main source of income is to take travelers in as lodgers along a worn country road. But things seem to be looking up as a bigger road is going to be made and it runs right past the Katakuri household, meaning mo' travellers and mo' money! Of course, folks have a tendency to move into the Katakuri household, but they rarely live past the first night. But it's not the family killing them. The lodgers, for one reason or another, just end up killing themselves or suffering from fatal accidents. Soon the family is doing all they can to stop people from staying at their place to prevent more deaths.
Did I mention this was a musical?
Throughout the entire film, folks bust out into huge singing and dancing numbers. Some of them are catchy, some not so much, but points for Miike pulling this off. If anything, the dance and musical numbers are the highlight of the film. Though the actors clearly are actors and not singers, all of them seem to carry a decent tune. The highlight number is a melodic exchange between the widowed daughter of Papa Kayakuri and a mysterious stranger she meets in a town restaurant. The sequence harkens back to 50's & 60's musicals with the music and dances chosen and showcases Miike's superior range behind the camera.
The use of claymation was the true highlight of the film for me. Remember the scene in I'M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA when the old black lady does the fight sequence and it is clearly a white guy with a moustache wearing an old lady costume doing the flips and punches? Well, think that, except when there is a call for something that requires the actors to do something dangerous, they switch to claymation instead. There's a perilous fight on the side of the cliff that switches from live action to claymation in a beat. The switch is both hilarious and ingenious making up for what looks to be a pretty small budget.
My main problem with this film is that it is somewhat disjointed. Did the angel/demon found in the soup at the beginning of the movie have something to do with the deaths? Maybe. Probably. But it's never really alluded to. Everything sort of just ends in a big dance number without answering many questions and upon asking specific questions about the outcomes of some of the characters, I found myself not knowing how their story ended. There is some kind of resolution in the end, and with a title like THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS it's not a shocker that this is a happy ending. But with all of the different genres and scenes Miike squishes together, it serves more as a grab bag of fun and positive energy, where elements of story aren't as important as the fun you have watching the film.
And I challenge folks not to have fun watching THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. It's the kind of film you see playing in a bar with loud music blaring in the background to make folks scratch their heads and say to their intoxicated friend "What the fuck is this?" Shit like that thrills me. And so does THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS.
New on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing!
THE AMAZING BULK (2013)Directed by Lewis Schoenbrun
Written by Keith Schaffner (story/screenplay), Jeremiah Campbell (story)
Starring Terence Lording, Shevaun Kastl, Randal Malone, Juliette Angeli, Jed Rowen, Deirdre V. Lyons, Mark E. Fletcher, Mike Toto, Jordan Lawson
Find out more about this film on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some films are done on the cheap. Usually that means bad lighting and sound, rough acting, uninspired directing, low fi effects, and a shallow story. Any one or two of these factors don’t kill a film for me, as I often am pretty generous towards low budgeters, looking for the sparkles in the rough rest of the stuff in the film. THE AMAZING BULK is one such film, and while the lighting and sound were decent, it’s tough for me to say anything else positive about the film.
Playing like an overly long extended skit on TIM & ERIC’S AWESOME SHOW GREAT JOB!, THE AMAZING BULK is made by non-actors acting against a green screen where everything else in the scene is pretty much CG generated. That’d be ok if the CG work was realistic or even fun to look at, but only the most rudimentary of CG effects are used to fill out this film. The titular Bulk character has about 5 different animated moves that are repeated over and again throughout this full length film and spliced with some stock animations that look to be test animations from CG effects houses, the effects work comes off in a truly remedial fashion.
And that’s a problem since 90% of this film is CG effects. The story follows the blueprint of THE INCREDIBLE HULK so closely, they might have a lawsuit on their hands if not for the fact that it’s obvious these guys don’t have two pennies to rub together looking at the budget. A youthful scientist hems and haws about asking the beautiful daughter of a military general for her hand while developing a highly unstable experiment that backfires and creates the giant, rampaging man-monster, the Amazing Bulk. This hairless Bulk is purple instead of green and wears no clothes, but other than that pretty much looks just like Marvel’s misunderstood monster; but those are the only similarities between this film and any of Marvel’s adaptations (including the TV show) as this one simply relies on the scientist turning into the monster and running through the streets and overturning cars.
Had this film gone the over the top route and upped the ante on the gore and mayhem, or just madcappery quotient, I think it would be worth your time. But so little effort was put into this film, it really doesn’t deserve to be watched. If you’re a fan of rudimentary computer effects maybe you’ll get something out of THE AMAZING BULK, but even then it feels like the folks in this film didn’t really even try to do anything innovative or mildly interesting. Focusing instead on lame attempts at humor (one of the bad guys is named Dr. Werner von Kantlove, who can’t seem to get it up for his horny wife) and repeated scenes of the same animations over and over, THE AMAZING BULK really misses the mark even as a farce. Instead this feels like someone found an old demo reel of bad CG and spliced it together with some live action and some stock photos of missiles exploding.
I had high expectations that this was going to be one of those so-bad-it’s-good style films that lampoons the recent superhero trend in films. Instead, THE AMAZING BULK is something that just wasn’t fun to watch.
New this week on iTunes!
THE BADGER GAME (2014)Directed by Joshua Wagner, Thomas Zambeck
Written by Joshua Wagner, Thomas Zambeck
Starring Augie Duke, Patrick Cronen, Jillian Leigh, Sam Boxleitner, Sasha Higgins, Marc Siciliani, Josh Eichenbaum, Aria London
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While technically this is more of a revenge/action/black humor film rather than a straight up horror film, it does feature a guy strapped to a chair and tortured for almost the entire film. And since that’s been a mainstay in modern horror, I’ll let it slide and deem THE BADGER GAME fit for AICN HORROR coverage.
THE BADGER GAME is a term I had never heard of, but it refers to the ruse of luring a philandering husband to cheat on his wife and then document it in hopes to blackmail him for the misdeed. Liam (Sam Boxleitner and son of Bruce) is one such husband with a wandering eye and genitalia and he’s done the dirty deed on his sugar mama wife with the wrong girl, Alex (Augie Duke). Alex has hatched a scheme formed over a fiery broken heart and she’s enlisted her best friend Shelly (Jillian Leigh, who knows how Alex feels because Alex slept with her boyfriend), her ex con brother Kip (Patrick Cronen), and another one of Liam’s lays, British stripper Jane (Sasha Higgins). What this team lacks in brains, the make up in guts as they plan to lure Liam in with Shelly’s innocent ways, kidnap him, and extort money from him using compromising photos of him as leverage. It’s a pretty complicated scheme and of course, this wouldn’t be much of a movie if it was accomplished without a few hitches. Turns out because these guys are not the brightest bulbs and they let their hearts get in the way of the prize, so this Badger Game looks to be doomed from the get go.
What makes this film as entertaining and watchable as it is are the performances by the talented up and coming actors and the comedy of errors that ensue guaranteeing this heist is flawed from the start. All of the actors are pretty darn talented in their own right here with Augie Duke as Alex and her friend Shelly, played by Jillian Leigh, leading the pack as both likable and flawed characters. Seeing Alex become blinded by her broken heart and how that begins to overturn this plan of hers is fascinating to see unfold. With Shelly, Leigh plays an innocent women tempted by darker urges and does so deftly. Patrick Cronen is another standout at a not so typical beefcake who in some ways is the most savvy of the crew calling this caper a bust before it gets started by chauvinistically pointing out that women think with their feelings rather than their heads and because of that, they won’t go through with it without his involvement. Surprisingly, this turns out to be just the case as tempers and feelings boil with Liam strapped in the chair.
The script is nice and tight, jumping right into the planning of the caper to the caper itself and allowing us to get to know these characters along the way without a lot of pace halting fluff scenes. Through the twists and turns that arise during this caper, writers/directors Joshua Wagner & Thomas Zambeck really make this trip fun with snappy banter, unexpected twists, and outrageous action and gore.
So while this is a film about a man tortured in a chair for about an hour and a half, I’d shy away from dubbing it “torture porn.” Reminiscent of the flawed heist films we saw a resurgence in after RESERVOIR DOGS and through the 90’s, THE BADGER GAME is a fun time following a bunch of would be kidnapper screw up over and over again with deadly, yet humorous results.
New On Demand and in select theaters from Gravitas Ventures!
ANARCHY PARLOR (2015)aka PARLOR
Directed by Devon Downs, Kenny Gage
Written by Devon Downs, Kenny Gage
Starring Robert LaSardo, Sara Fabel, Tiffany DeMarco, Claire Garvey, Jordan James Smith, Anthony Del Negro, Joey Fisher, Ben Whalen, Beth Humphreys, Gaia Urnieziute, Gracie Finlan, Nik Goldman, Andrew Pagana
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While it follows the HOSTEL/TURISTAS formula almost beat for beat, ANARCHY PARLOR has enough of a distinct personality to stand on its own due to solid and creepy performances by its human monsters.
Americans are dumb, ain’t they? That’s basically the message of films like the HOSTEL franchise, TURISTAS, and some of the CABIN FEVER films. Represented by spring breakers as the worst the US has to offer, the cast of these films are often away from home, taking risks and doing things they normally wouldn’t do, and basically shitting all over the culture they are visiting. So when they get strapped to a chair later on and vivisected in creative ways, it’s really more of a catharsis to see these wastes of humanity go rather than the viewer feeling any form of compassion. If you’re ok with those types of film—the ones dubbed torture porn--then ANARCHY PARLOR is going to be pretty entertaining. And while I have grown weary of the subgenre, I have to admit this film did entertain the whole way through, as a group of party hardy kids make their way through Lithuania, drinking, crashing parties, having sex with randos, and of course getting that tattoo that will make you remember this time fo’ evas! But this group walks into the wrong tattoo parlor--one run by a man known only as The Artist (recognizable bad guy Robert LaSardo), who traffics in the flesh of his victims and takes sadistic glee in torturing them.
So yeah. Torture porn. That’s what this is. But Robert Lasardo is the reason to check this film out. The calm yet threatening demeanor he conveys in his character The Artist is enough to send chills down my spine just thinking about it. Covered from head to toe in tattoos himself, you believe this is a role the actor was destined for and writers/directors Devon Downs & Kenny Gage give The Artist a rich backstory, motivation, and some simply awesome scenes of badassery to make the character one to remember. Not that I’m an expert (though I do have a few tattoos myself), I have to give points to this film for coming up with some original facts about tattoos that I wasn’t privy to and tying them up with a mythology that truly makes The Artist a unique movie monster.
This is a gory film as well. Skin is flayed from bones; orifices are stuffed and pierced. If this film doesn’t make you wince, you’re way too desensitized. The effects themselves, on top of being imaginative, are really well done. Most of it looks practical, which is another plus, giving it a feel that the actors enduring the pain really are going through it.
Across the board, the acting here is top notch as well. Sure, the lengths to which the actors have to flex their muscles is not far, but they are convincing little lambs to slaughter. And on top of Lasardo’s great performance as The Artist, I would be remiss for not recognizing Sara Fabel’s turn as The Artist’s assistant Uta, herself pierced and covered from head to toe with tats; though her demeanor is much more aggressive than the seething calm of Lasardo’s Artist, she is equally as deadly and sexy as all get out to boot.
Yes, ANARCHY PARLOR is another torture porn film, but the strong performances by Lasardo and Fabel as well as some gruesome effects and the twist of putting the horror into a tattoo parlor made it feel somewhat fresh in a subgenre that I thought was well past its expiration date.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from XLRator!
TIME LAPSE (2015)Directed by Bradley King
Written by Bradley King, B.P. Cooper
Starring Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary, George Finn, John Rhys-Davies, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak, Sharon Maughan, David Figlioli, Judith Drake
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While I am not a huge fan of time travel films, when done right, there is an undeniable appeal to them. TIME LAPSE is a tense and taut thriller featuring aspects of time travel that don’t get so heady that it’s difficult to follow and even when it does, it all still makes sense.
THE FLASH’s Danielle Panabaker plays Callie, one of three roommates who take care of collecting rent for their apartment complex. Her artist boyfriend Finn (Matt O'Leary, who played the young version of Matthew McConaughey in FRAILTY) and his best bud Jasper (George Finn) live with her, and the three seem to coexist pretty well. Finn tends to throw his all into his paintings and ignore Callie while Jasper lives a lifestyle on the edge, drinking, popping pills, and betting too much. But for the most part, the three seem to have an ideal situation going on. When one of their tenants (identified as John Rhys-Davies only in photographs) fails to pay rent, they go in to investigate to find a charred body in his storage space and a giant machine that seems to take photographs 24 hours into the future. Jasper immediately sees this as a moneymaking opportunity and convinces his roommates to follow his lead to riches, but Jasper’s winning streak raises the hackles of his loan shark who comes to investigate how Jasper is able to pick the winning races, and the pressure of getting the photos that come out 24 hours in advance becomes increasingly steep as the photos suggest even more evil misdeeds 24 hours into the future. Will this window into the future strain the three-way friendship to the breaking point, or will the trio be able to break the temptation to follow what the photographs tell them no matter what dark image the future holds?
TIME LAPSE, for the most part, unfolds like a Hitchcockian origami sculpture. While the threat seems light at the beginning, with each photo revealed, the intensity is kicked up a notch and reaches excruciatingly uncomfortable levels of complexity by the end. For the most part, co-writer/director Bradley King and writer B.P. Cooper are able to keep everything pretty grounded, establishing a set of rules the trio need to follow without making things so complex they lose the viewer. As things do get more complex and the trio are scrambling to make sure they are in the right places at the right time in fear of not getting it right and ending up charred and dead like the original owner of the machine, the logic starts to fray as well. But while this could be attributed to an abstract construct getting away from the writer in the scripting stage, it feels more natural as the mental states of the characters in the story become exhausted and frazzled to the point of relying on rigid rules they have set up in the story, so the inconsistencies or the head-scratching moments are more representative of the state of mind of the characters and not a plot hole in the story.
The three main actors are pretty phenomenal here. George Finn plays the likable troublemaker to a tee in Jasper. We root for him but can see his faults, and when things start going sideways a lot of the tension and action lies on his shoulders, which he carries capably. I haven’t seen this actor in anything, but if I had a camera that looked into the future, I’d predict bigger and better things for him. Matt O'Leary is amazing as the intense and distracted artist Finn. He’s very much the voice of reason here, and the only one looking at things in a rational and heady manner. If Jasper is all impulse, he is the opposite and in the realm of the story is crucial. O’Leary, too, offers up a star-making performance here undergoing a broad range of emotions and requirements in the story. The most challenging role, though, is Danielle Panabaker’s, and she does a fantastic job of playing an increasingly unlikable character. By the end of this film, you will end up disliking her quite a bit as the pressures of this machine weigh on her, but just because she plays an unlikable character doesn’t mean she is bad. Here, Panabaker’s Callie is the axis everything teeters on. I don’t want to reveal any more, but her shift from likable to unlikable is crucial in this meticulously calculated story.
Smartly constructed and snappily acted, there is a lot to like about TIME LAPSE. It’s not overly complex at the beginning and is able to lead you down a path of madness in a calculated and fascinating manner. Those who like their sci fi in small doses will definitely be in for this one, and it’s a true treasure find for those who live on thrillers dripping with suspense and tension.
New on BluRay and DVD from Drafthouse Films/Anchor Bay!
SPRING (2015)Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead
Written by Justin Benson
Starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar, Jeremy Gardner, Shane Brady, Francesco Carnelutti, Vinny Curran, Augie Duke, Holly Hawkins
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead blew me away with RESOLUTION last year. In an interview I did with them, they told me their next project was going to be a cross between romance and horror, focusing on the horror of that ambiguous and downright terrifying time when someone loves someone else, but is uncertain about what the other feels. Add in a breakup where little is explained and it feels ripe for material to be seen through an insidious lens. Knowing that these filmmakers have a truly unique take on the world, I couldn’t wait to see what they could produce given this interesting premise. Then again, many a filmmaker has blown my socks off with their first film only to succumb to that dreaded sophomore slump as they produce a follow-up that just doesn’t deliver the right goods that came with the first one. Either it’s the filmmakers’ first experience with bigger studios, or third party involvement by the studios who just want the filmmaker to repeat what has been done before, or the filmmaker giving into fan pressure to deliver what’s been done before; it’s more common than not to have the second film from a talented director suck balls.
I say all of this because while I was hoping for the best from SPRING, I had a fear of approaching this film. Turns out my fears were all for naught and Benson and Moorhead have overcome the sophomore slump and delivered a truly unique film experience that rivals RESOLUTION in creativity and originality, wrapped in a delicious fantasy/horror coating. The story follows Evan (the EVIL DEAD remake’s long-haired hipster Lou Taylor Pucci) as he deals with the death of his mother rather badly. Getting drunk with his best bud Tommy (THE BATTERY’s actor/director/writer Jeremy Gardner), he starts a fight in a bar with a punk who is beating on his girl and gets targeted by both the police and the man he assaulted. Evan skips town and goes to walk the earth in Europe, ending up in Italy, where he meets the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on, Louise (the gorgeous Nadia Hilker). After some flirtation between the two, they begin a relationship that begins hot and heavy, but just when Evan thinks it can’t get any better, Louise tells him she needs to end the relationship without a reason given.
This is the fodder for many a love story, where the boy must take on whatever hurdle in between him and the girl of his dreams. But it also happens in real life, and it’s not so romantic. I know this because it’s happened to me more times than I can count and on a visceral level, I was pulled into this film simply because I’ve been in Evan’s shoes before, and to this day, there are some relationships that ended that I have no idea why. Well, in this story, that great unknown is given tentacles and claws, as peppered through this romance we are privy to Louise going through some kind of odd transformation behind Evan’s back. Too starry eyed, Evan doesn’t see or just doesn’t want to see the flaws that Louise has, and even when he does find out, it is hard for Evan to be too creeped out as he is madly in love with her.
I don’t want to delve too much more into the plot, because I think a lot of the appeal of SPRING is the fact that it is such an unconventional love story with rich horror elements. In many ways, it is like Disney’s LITTLE MERMAID if it were told by the human dude who falls in love with the fish lady and the shock and conflict he must go through once he finds out that the girl of his dreams is actually the gill of his dreams (sorry, couldn’t help myself). The fact that Moorhead and Benson are able to craft such a realistic romance and pepper in these monstrous transformations and attacks, all the while still managing to make the viewer still want these two people to be together despite these tremendous odds, is a testament to their immense talent as storytellers. We are right there with this couple from first glance to the end, and in that time, we get to know them fully and realistically, and a lot of that has to do with the fantastic direction and writing of this film.
The rest lays on the shoulders of Hilker and Pucci, both of who are engaging and fantastic actors. Pucci’s character could so easily be unlikable. He drinks too much. Fights too much. Really doesn’t have a lot of places to go with his life and doesn’t seem like he has the character to change the lot he finds himself in. Still, as Evan, Pucci manages to convince us that he’s an all-around good guy who deserves a break like this awesome girl he meets. Sure, seeing him watch his mother die in the opening scene is one way to get the viewer to feel for the guy, but Pucci’s line delivery is infectious and convincing—teetering between overconfidence and no confidence at all, and enough is known about the character to root for him because of his flaws. Same goes for Hilker, who is a literal monster here, but because we see her struggle to hide her monstrous side from Evan and because we see how genuinely painful it is for her to undergo these transformations, you can’t help but feel sorry for her situation.
For a smaller-budgeted movie, the effects in SPRING are jaw-droppingly good. From subtle transformations to full-on monster blowouts, every scene is not overly computer generated and rendered real enough to fool even the shrewdest and most critical CG eyes. The original look and “ailment” of Louise is sometimes horrific, and sometimes just beautiful in the surreal twisting and undulating of the flesh that goes on here.
The film takes a tiny stumble in the last act as it feels things are played a little too comical at times (the church scene comes to mind) and a bit drawn out and overly expository, as Benson and Moorehead make sure even the dullest of dullards in the audience are able to understand Louise’s condition and a possible cure. It didn’t bother me much, but it does slow the pace down a bit and pander to the audience to make sure all are following. That said, SPRING is a romantic tale that will warm even the blackest hearts of horror fanatics. With likable characters, engrossing story and conflict, and effects that feel effortless, SPRING is as unique as some of the monstrous forms Louise takes. It truly is a film unlike any other I’ve seen this year, and manages to be both romantic and disgusting all at once. Not for the squeamish, but something for the ghouls with a romantic edge, SPRING should not be missed.
New this week On Demand, itunes and in select theaters from RLJ/Image Entertainment!
BURYING THE EX (2014)Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Alan Trezza
Starring Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario, Oliver Cooper, Ozioma Akagha, Gabrielle Christian, Archie Hahn, Stephanie Koenig, Wyndoline Landry, Katie Roberts, Mindy Robinson, Dick Miller
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some strong performances by some really talented stars save BURYING THE EX from being a run of the mill zom-com.
Anton Yelchin plays Max, a guy after my own heart who lives and breathes horror. He works in a horror shop and, though he hates the owner, dreams of having his own shop some day. His blogger girlfriend Evelyn (the TWILIGHT series’ Ashley Greene) sees Max as a fixer upper, and she will stop at nothing to keep Max living “green” and under her thumb (there’s a on opportunity for a green thumb quip here, but I just didn’t have the heart to go there). By happenstance (which often occurs in these romantic-style movies) Max and Evelyn happen into the ice cream store owned by Olivia (the scrum-dilly-icious Alexandra Daddario – two scoops, please!) and the shared interest in horror and obscure nerdery cause Olivia and Max to immediately hit it off and only makes the glaring differences between Max and Evelyn all the more evident to him. But when Max decides to break things off with Evelyn in a public place, she is mowed down by a bus. Little do they know one of the trinkets in Max’s store is not a movie prop, but an actual mystical item which grants wishes. This item is in proximity when Evelyn makes Max promise to love her forever no matter what, and faster than you can say plot contrivance, Evelyn rises from the dead just as Max begins to shove the guilt aside and think he can have a new relationship with Olivia. Whew! Got all that?
What transpires is your typical sitcom antics as Max tries to hide the fact that his ex-girlfriend is back from the dead from Olivia and attempts to hide his new girlfriend from Evelyn. This involves much hiding, goofy plans, and hijinkery. Too bad that much of this stuff was done before and better in every episode of I LOVE LUCY or even THREE’S COMPANY, as everything pretty much plays out without an ounce of surprise or real flair. Because the tone of the film is so light, it’s hard to watch the instances when someone actually dies or the actual feelings of these chess pieces are taken into consideration because of the wonky cat and mouse theme that’s prevalent throughout the film. The result is pretty uneven and often quite messy.
What isn’t messy are the performances. Yelchin’s Max is likable, and he plays the character light and fun. You can’t help but root for him (as he showed in the equally flawed ODD THOMAS film, reviewed here) and though the story is contrived, he does his best to make his performance likable. Alexandra Daddario is the real treat here. Sure she plays every horror fans’ dream girl, but the quiet moments between her and Yelchin where they are getting to know each other are some of the best of the movie. Again, on top of her beauty, she is utterly likable and easy to root for here. Greene as Evelyn is also pretty great as her role is more challenging since you are supposed to hate her. Her determination to have Max and the fact that she is oblivious to the faults in their relationship are really conveyed well here. Her comic timing as she begins to fall apart and succumb to her zombie needs are impeccable as well. All in all, this is a strong piece of work in the acting department.
But this is your typical zom-com. There are some fun moments of gore and some one-liners worth a titter or two. This is nothing here we haven’t already seen with the entertaining but hollow WARM BODIES (reviewed here) and last year’s more interesting LIFE AFTER BETH (reviewed here). And while there are some fun Joe Dante-isms at play here such as the Dick Miller cameo as a grumpy cop and the multiple TVs and posters in the background of various old timey movies, this definitely doesn’t feel like Dante giving it his all. But the actors in BURYING THE EX are, despite the lackluster script, and if you’re looking for something worthwhile in this film it’s Yelchin, Daddario, and Greene. These three save this film from being forgettable and while I’m sure all three of them are bound for bigger and better films, here’s hoping Dante can get that twinkle again that has permeated so many of his films through the years with his next project. This one just doesn’t have it.
And finally…here’s another series of shorts from Eli Roth’s Crypt TV station on Youtube. This is a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE style short from Aaron Mento where you are making the decisions along the way. Below is episode one of CHOOSE THEIR KILL and if you like that one, you can watch episodes two, three, four, and five here with new episodes appearing every Thursday. Check out the first episode of this fun series 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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Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!