Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Before we get to the reviews, here are a few little bits of horror for you to chew on…
I wanted to give a quick shout out to a new podcast out there for those of you interested in listening to streaming terrors for your ear holes. IT’S ALWAYS FRIDAY THE 13TH is the name of the show, and while it will be focusing on the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise for the first few episodes, it will soon branch out into other areas of horror.
As a fan of the F13 series, I can’t wait to hear what these guys have to say. So if you’re interested in more horror, check out John Evans, Vic Weet, and Mike Kuciak as they talk about Voorhees and beyond on IT’S ALWAYS FRIDAY THE 13TH!
I posted my review of HORSEHEAD multiple times here in AICN HORROR over the last few months, one just a few weeks ago to celebrate the release of the film on DVD/BluRay in Canada. Now the film is available for all to check out in the US too, through Artsploitation Films.
You can find out more about HORSEHEAD on its website here and on Facebook here. You can also read my review of the film here, but I can tell you, it’s a very cool flick about nightmares and dreams that should not be missed!
I’ll be reviewing BOUND TO VENGEANCE next week on AICN HORROR, but until then, check out this exclusive clip from the film. It’s described as:
A gritty thriller about a young woman, Eve (Tina Ivlev), who fights back and manages to escape a malicious abductor. However, after discovering she may not be the only victim, Eve unravels a darker truth and decides to turn the tables on her captor.
The film is coming from IFC Midnight and opening in theaters and On Demand/Digital today!
And here’s the trailer!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)
Retro-review: THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977)
Retro-review: PUPPETMASTER (1989)
Retro-review: DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST SHARK (2014)
THE ENCOUNTER (2015)
#1 SERIAL KILLER (2013)
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM (2014)
MEET ME THERE (2014)
Advance Review: CAESAR & OTTO’S PARANORMAL HALLOWEEN (2015)
And finally…KABUKIMAN’S COCKTAIL CORNER!
Retro-review: New this week on a BluRay Double Feature disk from The Shout Factory!
FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by H.G. Wells (portion of novel), Bert I. Gordon(screenplay)
Starring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker, Jon Cypher, Ida Lupino, John McLiam, Belinda Balaski, Tom Stovall, Chuck Courtney, Reg Tunnicliffe
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve been putting off watching FOOD OF THE GODS for a while now, mainly because I hate seeing animal suffering. Now, I’m not completely certain how the real rats in this film were eliminated, but the multiple slo mo shots of them reeling backwards in a bloody mess makes it seem like someone just sat on their ass and shot a pellet gun at them at close range while the director captured it all with glee. Now, rats aren’t my favorite animal. Living in the city, I see my fair share of them and there is a base instinct in me to recoil at the sight of them. Still, seeing them die over and over again onscreen made me feel for the little fuckers.
Based on snippets from HG Wells’ novel of the same name, FOOD OF THE GODS follows football star Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) and his agent Brian (Jon Cypher) on a hunting trip on a remote island in Canada. When one of their party is killed by a giant wasp, Morgan and Brian return to the scene of the crime to investigate the death to find an old lady (Ida Lupino) protecting a goopy fountain spurting what looks like pancake batter from the earth. Turns out any animal who partakes in the goop grows to mammoth proportions, and salesman Bensington (Ralph Meeker) thinks he’s discovered a goldmine hoping he can cash in on the goop to stop world hunger and line his pockets with money. But first, they have to get off the island as many of the forest’s animals and some of the old lady’s chickens have devoured the food and now have giant appetites to match their giant bodies. Morgan and a group of survivors are trapped on the small island, battling gargantuan chickens, massive maggots, titanic wasps, and scores and scores of super-sized rats for most of the second half of the film.
While this film only borrows portions of the original novel, it does make good use of the animals gone amok theme as it offers up not only a variety of awesome man vs. big animal action, but it also does so with some pretty phenomenal effects. Giant rat and chicken heads used in close-up shots (looks like some of them were reused later in DEADLY EYES, as they are very similar to the rat effects in those films, though no dogs were used in this one) are actually pretty convincing with some nice puppetry going on in those close-up gnaw shots. As with EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (reviewed here and also recently re-released by the Shout Factory), FOOD OF THE GODS uses split screen to pretty seamlessly integrate real animals in with the actors, making them look all the more menacing. The use of miniature houses and cars add to the effect to make it really seem like this world is overrun by giant rats. These days, it’d all be done with CGI, but I found the use of multiple modes of effects really made this film stand out in terms of effects, especially for the time it was made.
Still, the myriad of shots of rats meeting their end in real life makes this a rough film to sit though. Even if you don’t like rats, you’re bound to feel sorry for them as the proximity of the camera captures the look of shock and pain on these rats’ faces. Luckily for this film, PETA wasn’t as active back then or this film would have been in it deep for the actual animal deaths in this film. Still, it makes for one of the more convincing rampaging giant monsters en masse films I’ve ever seen.
Coupled with FROGS (which I reviewed a while back here), you’re not going to find another pairing of nature gets revenge films. While thematically this one doesn’t have as strong an environmentalist tone as FROGS or EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, the multiple scenes of rats attacking a house are really well done. There’s a bit of a message at the end as the food of the gods makes its way off the island and into the hands of some schoolchildren, but for the most part this film is about the spectacle of giant animals on the attack and does so in a creative and effective, albeit cruel, manner.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977)Directed by Don Taylor
Written by H.G. Wells (novel), Al Ramrus, John Herman Shaner, & Richard Alan Simmons (screenplay)
Starring Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, The Great John L., Bob Ozman, Fumio Demura, Gary Baxley, John Gillespie, David S. Cass Sr.
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While there are some uneven and disappointing moments in the 1977 version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, I have fond memories of watching this film on TV as a kid, so the film will forever have a special place in my heart despite its flaws.
This is the story of a man named Braddock (Michael York), a survivor of a shipwreck who washes ashore on a seemingly deserted island. But he’s not alone. The jungle is alive with wildlife, but not like any Braddock has ever seen before. Soon Braddock is introduced to Mongomery (Nigel Davenport), a gamesman with a gun close to him at all times, and his boss, the enigmatic Dr. Moreau (Burt Lancaster), who seems to welcome Braddock with open arms--but the longer Braddock stays on the island the more mysterious it becomes. Soon, the beasts in the woods come to light and it is revealed that these beasts have been given the shape and form of man. Once mindless boars, bears, tigers, and hyenas, they now walk on two legs in semi-humanoid forms. Seeing these experiments as an affront to all that is holy and right, Braddock rebels against Moreau and attempts to rescue the fair maiden Maria (Barbara Carrera), who is loyal to Moreau and has a terrible secret of her own. Terrified by the beasts in the woods, but more so by Moreau’s unholy experiments, Braddock makes a desperate attempt to escape this island of monsters.
By my fancy alliteration above, you should understand that I absolutely love this story. Be it THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, the controversial 1996 version of the film, or this version, there’s something intrinsically appealing about the mad science afoot in this story. While the actual procedure is glossed over, the effects showcase that is featured in the 1977 film is absolutely stunning. The full body prosthetics and costuming the man-beasts wear make for the perfect merging of man and beast. Without clunky CG, the creatures look absolutely amazing slouched over and grunting their way around the island. From an effects standpoint, there is very little to complain about in this film as the beasts all look both terrifying when they need to be and sympathetic once you get to know them.
Storywise, while the 1977 version does hit all the right beats from HG Wells’ tale, the attention to Braddock’s blossoming romance with Maria seems to overshadow the real conflict between Braddock’s morals and Moreau’s inquisitive nature. This is the real fascinating debate at play and here, while there are a few back and forthings between the two extreme opposites in mentality, it feels rather rushed and unrealized. What’s even more lackluster is the way Moreau is overtaken by his creations. Again, this becomes less of a mad science tale where the experiments turn on the creator and more about Braddock’s escape from the island. In my opinion, the monsters rebelling against their god and creator is much more interesting than a simple race through the woods. And while the film tries to encapsulate all of these themes, it really feels like Moreau’s conflict is more of an afterthought than a real focus.
That said, the performances are pretty amazing. York is awesome as Braddock, portraying a moralistic and manly man with a ripped shirt and strong jaw. Seeing him battle the beasts of the jungle is fun, though formulaic. Lancaster is impressive as the mad doctor, but again, his appearances are so few and far between that sometimes it feels like he has only a bit part in his own movie. Still, there are a few scenes where Lancaster’s Moreau commands the scene, as when the man-beasts are riled up and he strikes fear into them with a simple stare. These scenes make the doctor more interesting, possibly because of the little that is revealed as to the doctor’s origins and motivation. Montgomery gets the real short end of the stick here. Nigel Davenport is convincingly conniving, but again, just doesn’t get as much screen time to let us know why we should fear his jungle prowess.
I feel the perfect Moreau tale has yet to be told, and here’s hoping that someone (maybe Richard Stanley himself will return to give us his vision) comes along to give me the Moreau tale I’m yearning for. While this one nails all of the man-beast scenes and has a good hero in York, I feel the focus on the romance and escape far overshadowed the real interesting stuff in the 1977 film. Still, for some terrifying effects, some cool mad science and an awesome scene where a man-beast fights a tiger (!!!), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU ’77 delivers the goods. While light on extras, the film does sport a scene of the final unused reveal that Maria is actually one of the animals herself, something that is sort of glossed over in the film. I guess in the time it was made, the fact that York had just bumped scruglies with an ocelot might have been too much for audiences to take.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Full Moon Entertainment!
PUPPETMASTER (1989)Directed by David Schmoeller
Written by Charles Band, Kenneth J. Hall, & J.S. Cardone, (story), David Schmoeller (screenplay)
Starring Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Kathryn O'Reilly, Mews Small, Barbara Crampton, David Boyd, plus the puppets; Pinhead, Tunneller, Leech Woman, Jester, & Blade!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
As a kid, I enjoyed the PUPPETMASTER movies. I didn’t really remember much about the plots or any underlying themes or anything like that. All I remembered were the creative designs of the puppets and how amazing the first film was seeing them all do away with folk in their distinct, bizarre ways. Spawning nine sequels and prequels, Charles Band and his Full Moon Studios certainly got their money’s worth from the little shits’ mayhem, so sitting down with the one that started it all was interesting to me as I went in wondering what it was that made this film so worthy of nine follow up films. And though the film is filled with its fair share of cheesy moments, I have to admit it was a lot of fun to revisit the original PUPPETMASTER.
The film opens during World War II with the late, great William Hickey acting as Andre Toulon, a talented puppeteer who breathed life into the puppets he made. When Nazis make their way into his apartment, Toulon commits suicide. Flash forward years later and a group of psychics are gathered at a famous hotel named Bodega Bay Inn. A fellow psychic named Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) boasts that he has found Toulon’s secret stash, but as the psychics arrive, they find that Gallagher himself is dead. The conniving psychics stay in the inn with Neil’s virginal wife Megan (Robin Frates), who knows nothing of Toulon’s power or her late husband’s acquirement of it. But as the psychics circle, from Gallagher’s coffin springs come Toulon’s puppets who fan out and murder the psychics one by one in weird ways.
While the history of the power of Toulon is kind of vague, what impressed me the most is the mythology director David Schmoeller, producer/co-writer Charles Band, and writers Kenneth J. Hall & J.S. Cardone have mapped out. Puppets and characters that don’t really have much relevance in the first film appear later in the film series, suggesting that from the first installment there was a sort of plan in place here. That type of commitment to the mythology is impressive, and something I never really put together the first time I saw this. So while the final project wasn’t the most tightly written, best acted, or deftly directed film, I can appreciate that this was a first film in an intended story—one that, after seeing some of the sequels, is actually rather complex to follow.
Charles Band’s obsession with little monsters is prevalent here as Schmoeller does a fantastic job of offering up worm’s eye view POV’s and real forced perspectives throughout the films. While later Full Moon Features like DEMONIC TOYS and the like attempted to phone in these scares, the stop motion animation, the practical effects, and the designs of each of the puppets make the monsters in PUPPETMASTER actually quite effective. Throughout the film I attempted to find some deeper meaning to the designs of each of the puppets in the film. Were they a hodge-podge of weird and cool ideas, or was there some other theme afoot here? Having a history in Nazi Germany, it’s interesting to see the distinct design of the puppets which may reflect stereotypes and archetypes prevalent in that era. Does the spy trenchcoat and hook for a hand sported by Blade represent German spies from the war? Does the tiny skull and large hands and body of Pinhead represent some stereotypical depiction of the Jewish population of the era? The Tunneler puppet is clearly Asian and also wears a military uniform. Still, that doesn’t explain the weirdness of Leech Woman, who vomits live leeches on its victims. Some of these answers are given in the sequels, while others may never be answered.
The addition of the psychics is another weird element of the first PUPPETMASTER film. There’s a weird locked room murder mystery vibe here as the psychics are trying to get to the bottom of Gallagher’s intentions while trying to one up one another and steal what they can from Megan. Having each of them possessing their own distinct psychic power certainly makes them more interesting than your usual people in peril. Making them evil fuckers also leads you to root for the puppets to dole out their horrors on them rather than sympathize with them. The acting is cartoonish, but still fun in a cheesy, old timey horror manner.
But this is a film which seems to exist, at least at first, to highlight some very cool murders and puppetry effects. Whether the film intended to have a vast mythology as its legacy or the subsequent writers were just good at riffing off of what had come before is debatable, but the first in this series is damn good. I’m hoping to check out further PUPPETMASTER films soon to re-experience the whole series all over again. But while this film is heavy on the cheese in places, the gory and creative puppet antics make PUPPETMASTER worthy of spawning a franchise.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
DOG SOLDIERS (2002)Directed by Neil Marshall
Written by Neil Marshall
Starring Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, & Bryn Walters, Ben Wright, & Brian Claxton Payne as the Werewolves!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I know there are a lot of you out there that love DOG SOLDIERS, and for good reason. It’s got a fantastic cast, a fast pace, some decent werewolf effects, and is filled with badassery. If you’re looking for a more personal tale of man coping with his inner beast, you’re most likely going to come away from this film wanting. But if you’re looking for a horror actioner that basically swipes from many different action films and mashes it all together, then DOG SOLDIERS is the one for you.
I don’t mean to make it sound like I don’t like DOG SOLDIERS. I actually have enjoyed watching it quite a bit. The action is top notch as the pace and intensity is at top levels pretty much from beginning to end. There are moments of calm, but only to punctuate and prepare you for some more high octane action ahead. Still, the frantic pace always made me feel a bit distanced from this film, as if getting to know the characters was secondary next to the trapped in a house with werewolves throughway. I’m fine with it, but when I think about the film, I don’t think about Kevin McKidd’s Cooper or Liam Cunningham’s Captain Ryan, though they give fine performances and it’s kind of cool to play spot the HBO series cast member in this film. I think of military soldiers blasting away at werewolves with machine guns and explosives. And while the film is finely acted, again, it’s not the priority of the film and from someone who watches film for the character, this one just doesn’t have much of it.
Still, there’s a “give ‘em hell” tough guy way of life aura about this film that cannot be denied, not so much in one specific character (although Sean Pertwee is about as bad ass as it comes fighting off werewolves with his guts spilled out of his body for most of the film), but for the overall sense of grit everyone has. There’s not a lot of time for disbelief in things like werewolves. For this film, it’s all about surviving the mission and the target is the werewolves. After the soldiers discover the enemy is giant, hairy, and wolfen, the only goal is to get through the night alive. I love this film for this direct approach to storytelling, setting up one situation after another where the soldiers concoct a plan to get out of the house they’ve holed up in or take as many werewolves as they can to hell with them if they don’t make it. This is very much a classic WWII movie sensibility and it’s prevalent from beginning to end here.
Anything resembling a soul comes from McKidd’s Cooper, who fails an induction into a special ops unit because he simply won’t kill a dog for no reason. This theme that you must have something to fight for is used and then forgotten a few times throughout the film, as Cooper does seem to want to fight the good fight, but isn’t hesitant to kill the werewolves as soon as they show up. At the end, the struggle between killing for no reason and killing for a purpose is sort of revisited, but when the action occurs, it is tossed out the window. Then again, it wouldn’t be a good movie if the soldiers sat down with the werewolves with a cup of tea, so I understand in order to make an action film you’ve got to have some conflict. Writer/director Neil Marshall just heaped on the conflict so thick that some of the thematic heft gets lost and then rushed back to in order to be addressed only at the end.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about this film. The werewolves, for one, are pretty distinct looking, and while the stilt-wearing costume has been done before in the HOWLING series, these wolves look quite distinct with 80s rockstar haircuts and snarling muzzles. Going practical is the way to go with werewolves in my opinion, and this one goes all the way impressively and uniquely.
Still, this is ALIENS without the sci fi and more hair. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but for the most part, if you’ve seen ALIENS, PREDATOR, and DAY OF THE DEAD, you’ve pretty much seen DOG SOLDIERS. The filmmakers simply substituted the zombies and aliens with werewolves. Again, not a totally bad thing, but it isn’t the most original of premises. It works, though, for what it is, and while it lacks in the typical thematic conflict found in werewolf films, it proves that not all werewolf films have to be about that. In doing so, though, it kind of makes the werewolves less special as they do represent our darker side quite well and more interchangeable with pretty much any other movie monster.
This Shout Factory re-release is full of extras interviewing the directors and producers about the long road from the initial idea scrawled on a bar napkin to the film itself. Another feature talks with the effects men in charge of coming up with the werewolves’ distinct look, and another is more of a retrospective looking back on the film that is now 13 years old. Any fan of the film (and despite this critical review, I count myself as one of them) is going to be pleased with this packaging and production. While the film stock remains pretty grainy, it only adds to the gruff and grit this film exudes from every pore. DOG SOLDIERS is definitely distinct among its pack in the werewolf subgenre.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
RAIDERS OF THE LOST SHARK (2014)Directed by Scott Patrick
Written by Brett Kelly, David A. Lloyd, Trevor Payer
Starring Candice Lidstone, Jessica Huether, Catherine Mary, Dan Desmarais, Lawrence Evenchick, Richard Groen, Mel Guibz, Kitty Kamieniecki, Pavel Lubanski, Caren Macnevin, Scott McClelland, John Migliore, Duncan Milloy, Kelley Oliver, Angela Parent
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
So I actively sought out RAIDERS OF THE LOST SHARK in hopes that it would be a fun low budgeter. I’m a fan of shark movies, even the bad ones, as the thoughts of a giant fish eating me from the feet up has always been a fear of mine. Even when wading in a pool, I occasionally am overcome with the fear that a toothy predator somehow got in and is ready to chomp down on me like Quint in JAWS. So bad or good, I try to see every killer shark movie out there.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST SHARK is one of the bad ones, I’m sad to say. I should have known it from the preview, but still, I like to hold out some hope. Though the title would suggest the film would be set against the template of the Indiana Jones films (there’s even a tagline “Sharks…why did it have to be sharks!?!”), but this is just 90 minutes of one person going in the water and being eaten by a horribly rendered CG shark after another.
The film focuses on a megalodon, a prehistoric giant shark not unlike the Steve Alten book MEG which is being developed by Eli Roth, which is terrorizing the waters of a small coastal town. A teacher at a college had a run in with the shark ages ago, and now a bunch of kids decide to go to a facility where the shark has been unearthed anew and with a massive appetite. What transpires is uninspired, boring, and just plain frustrating to watch.
Worse than the usual fare we sit through on SyFy Channel, RAIDERS OF THE LOST SHARK is clever in name alone. Flying sharks, giant sharks, bad acting, and bad CG are all that waits for those brave enough for this film. This isn’t even in the category of so-bad-it’s-good, which was hugely disappointing for me.
Available On Demand and DVD this week from Uncork’d Entertainment!
THE ENCOUNTER (2015)aka FOREST FIRE
Directed by Robert Conway
Written by Robert Conway
Starring Clint James, Owen Conway, Megan Drust, Eliza Kiss, Paulina Vallin, Louie Iaccarino, Dan Higgins, Monica Engesser, Pat Kaye, Chad T. Krolczyk
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’m a sucker for UFO stories, especially the ones that center around the conspiracy angle. And while I’ve grown weary of found footage, add spaceships and grey aliens to a shaky hand held cam, and I still get wrapped up in it. Thankfully, THE ENCOUNTER has plenty of all of that.
THE ENCOUNTER follows four different cameras held by four different parties in a secluded forest park area. One camera is operated by a group out to party in the woods. One is held by a big, blue eyed forest rangerette out on a scout. One is held by a pair of good old boys out huntin’. And another is the footage being filmed after the events taped by the other cameras of a military task force coming in and sweeping the area. THE ENCOUNTER mixes these four styles of camera footage together inexplicably, jutting from one group to the next when things get too boring following one of the groups. All four cameras document a meteor shower that turns out to be a crashed spacecraft holding some bizarre pods and some creepy aliens. As night falls, the separated groups try to survive until daylight, but they are disoriented from some kind of alien mojo and hunted by giant alien beasties.
For all its faults, you can’t call THE ENCOUNTER boring as it moves at a frantic pace, bipping and bopping from one separate storyline to another and as they play “The Blind Men and the Elephant” we are made privy to a pretty complex plot of alien infestation as small pellets seem to infect humans, changing them on a cellular level into tall white creatures with no mouths intent on infecting and tearing apart as many humans as possible. The pace of this film is pretty fun, never giving the viewer a chance to lose interest long enough and cutting back and forth to each of these parties at crucial, cliffhangy moments.
There are some acting missteps here and there. At times, the actors are asked to stretch their muscles a bit past what they seem to be capable of. But for the most part, everyone is just screaming and running, so high drama is not really required here.
What is impressive is the amount of effects the filmmakers were able to fit into the film. Obviously the film is on a tight budget, but it seems all of the production costs went to the right places as the effects really are convincing and fun. Couple that with some well timed moments of tension as the campers discover the alien invaders and you’ve got a fun little aliens amok movie. A lot of the effects and details have been used before in either UFO films or docudramas you often see on the Discovery Channel, but still, it’s laced together to make a fun and breezy, albeit otherworldly and weird romp in THE ENCOUNTER—as long as the found footage angle doesn’t scare you away.
New this week on DVD and on iTunes from Indican Pictures!
#1 SERIAL KILLER (2013)aka CHINK
Directed by Stanley Yung
Written by Koji Steven Sakai
Starring Jason Tobin, Eugenia Yuan, Tzi Ma, Shoshana Bush, Kenzie Dalton, Rane Jameson, Gemma Massot, Christie Gaynor, Robert Cicchini, Cindera Che, Jesse Wang, Tiley Chao, Matthias Chrans, Romina Bovolini, Ellen Ho, Kasie Callaway, Michael Alton, Kylee Cochran, Eric St. John
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Formerly known as CHINK (a title smartly changed in my opinion, as it probably will be seen by more people without the racial slur), #1 SERIAL KILLER really does deserve an audience as it dives deep and immerses the viewer into the fascinating and often uncomfortable midst of a mind unwell.
Jason Tobin plays Eddie, the son of Chinese immigrants, who has endured so much physical and mental abuse through the years, that his has resentment has grown unhealthy. Obsessing over serial killer culture, specifically Ted Bundy, Eddie sets out to be the best serial killer ever when his attempt to make contact with his office crush Amber (Kenzie Dalton) goes sideways. Eddie makes the first steps to realizing his dream of being serial killer top dog just as a new Chinese co-worker Karena (Eugenia Yuan) begins to work at the office. As Eddie begins to realize his dreams of being a killer, he also begins to understand the Chinese culture that he has denied himself all his life. Eddie soon finds out that he can’t have both a good relationship and a good career as a killer, though he will try his damndest to do so.
While in many ways, this is your typical DEXTER/AMERICAN PSYCHO style serial killer film where the viewer is privy to all of the inner dialog going on in the head of the central figure (a serial killer). We witness the first kill, the disposing of the body, and the mastering of the craft. What makes this different is that this is viewed through the lens of a self-hating Chinese man who doesn’t want to feel comfortable with his own culture, yet doesn’t have the social graces to find a niche in any other culture either. It’s fascinating to watch Eddie tell racist jokes about Asians, avoid any association with his own culture, and even going as far as to avoid his own parents. When Eddie meets Karena, for the first time, he makes a connection with someone of his own culture and begins to embrace it, but by this point, the killing has begun and he can’t stop his killing urges. What plays out is a fascinating crisis inner crisis focusing on a man trying to sort out life and who he is. And for that, the film is rather fascinating to see unfold.
Not much by way of scares go on here. The kills are focused on at first, but as they get easier for Eddie, the film focuses more on the relationship he has with Karena and wobbles back and forth as to whether this positive influence in his life will take or not. Eugenia Yuan as Karena is fantastic here as an optimistic, yet not without her dark sides woman and well worth Eddie’s affections as she proves to be both smart and beautiful. But Jason Tobin really does take center stage here. As Eddie, he is so convincing as a man filled with so much rage and self loathing. The numerous scenes simply focusing on him talking to himself either berating his looks and culture or talking himself up to take chances with girls or murder are mesmerizing to see. Tobin really does give a performance here that is not so much likable, but definitely interesting.
#1 SERIAL KILLER is not a scare a minute film. It’s a deeply disturbed psychological drama focusing on the disintegration of the makeup of a normal human being into an inhuman monster capable of taking human life. Mapped out rather ingeniously and formidably acted across the board, if you’re interested in culture conflict and descent into madness tales, #1 SERIAL KILLER should be at the top of your list of to-see movies.
New on DVD, On Demand and on iTunes from Vega Baby! Releasing!
GHOUL (2015)Directed by Petr Jákl
Written by Petr Bok & Petr Jákl (screenplay & story)
Starring Jennifer Armour, Paul S. Tracey, Jeremy Isabella, Debra Garza, Alina Golovlyova
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While found footage films might make your eyes roll so fast they pop out of your skull, I urge you to chase those orbs down and pop them back in because just because there’s a lot of found footagers out there doesn’t mean some of them can’t still be good. Take GHOUL for instance.
A documentary film crew go to the Ukraine to investigate cannibalism in the 20th Century. The film gives us a little history lesson about the famine of 1932 in the region where many people were so hungry they had to resort to eating the flesh of the dead. One ghoulish story talks about a mother having to choose between her sons to decide which one would live and which one would be eaten. The crew; consisting of a plucky female host, her boyfriend who is also the cocky director, the jumpy cameraman, a super model-esque translator, an elderly gentleman who knows the area, and a creepy gypsy psychic, head out deep into the Ukrainian countryside to talk to one of the last remaining survivors of the famine, but soon they find themselves trapped in an abandoned house with all sorts of weirdness going on around them. Only the psychic has answers, but the crew doesn’t want to believe her—that the spirit of the first Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo inhabits the house and wants to dine on their souls.
While much of this film is setup for the freaky events that occur in the last forty minutes, what sets GHOUL apart from the rest of the found footagers is that the setup itself is quite fascinating. While the characters are pretty cut and paste, I found myself enrapt in the mystery and uncanny nature of the history of the famine as well as the grueling details that occurred during it. Add some weird mysticism and some even weirder occurrences caught on tape and this film doesn’t suffer from the lull most found footagers have for most of its runtime.
No cheats are really done here such as added soundtracks, but there are multiple cameras at work here and with the way things turn out, there’s no real reason for the ghostly ghoul himself to edit these cameras at differing angles together to make one seamless movie. But because everything else is done so well, I kind of have no problem overlooking all of that.
The final moments of this film are utterly terrifying as the crew find themselves in a series of tunnels under the rundown house they’ve been trapped in. After experiencing odd behavior the crew don’t remember doing and seeing all sorts of weird shit, I still wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the final moments of this film and found myself glued to the screen as the camera panned around frantically. GHOUL may be a found footager, but don’t hold that against it as it is a really cool mystery as well as a pretty chilling treat that just happens to use the found footage format to tell a compelling tale. And even though some of the characters are rather cookie-cutter, GHOUL had me wrapped around it’s ghoulish little finger from start to finish.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Candy Factory Films!
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM (2014)Directed by Sarah Adina Smith
Written by Sarah Adina Smith
Starring Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino, Ross Partridge
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Not all horror films have to have copious amounts of blood and gore. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is practically bloodless and focuses mainly on the relationships between three sisters as they reconnect to honor their recently deceased mother (DONNIE DARKO’s Sparkle Motion Mom Beth Grant). While this might be the making for a soppy melodrama, instead it turns into an effective little ghost story.
The three sisters are made up of; June—played by Lindsay Burdge, the youngest of the three and most introverted who is filming a documentary to commemorate this meeting and supplies the first person POV by holding the camera most of the time, Annie—the eldest daughter who moved away from home played by Jennifer Lafleur, and Isa—the middle and most outgoing sibling, played by BOARDWALK EMPIRE’s Aleksa Palladino. The highlight of this film is seeing these three sisters play off of one another in an effortless and all too believable manner. While each deal with death in their own way, the three sisters also come to terms with losing someone they sometimes loved and sometimes hated as she often times was more preoccupied with Wiccan rituals surrounding a particular lake. The entire film takes place in the lake house they grew up in which serves as a reminder for all of the good and bad memories the three sisters have survived.
What impressed me the most is that while this film isn’t your typical film one sees reviewed here in AICN HORROR, I was wrapped up in the story from beginning to end; mostly because of the nuanced and complex performances by the actresses playing the three sisters. Even without the bizarre elements which I’ll get into in a bit, this is a ghost story where someone who had just past haunts the living through their memories and shared experiences. The mother is ever present here; either through video tapes, photographs, through stories or reenactments the girls take part in. And while things do get good and scary by the end, the real thrill comes from the push and pull relationships these three sisters have with one another.
There is a mystical element to this film, but it’s never really made clear whether this is something from the other side or something manipulated by those overcome with grief. Part of the acceptance of death is to overcome the irrational elements that the spirit may still be around watching and manipulating things from the other side. From the beginning, when one of the sisters asks if they think their mother has been reincarnated, the metaphysics of death and how little we understand it is delved into here. When dead birds start slamming into windows, the camera is turned on by itself and filming things on its own, and when mysterious articles of clothing are found in the lake where their mother died, there is a mysterious charge to the film and an effective one at that.
But all of this is secondary to me as this is one of the more intimate and more effective found footage films I’ve ever seen in the subtle and nuanced way it works in the mystical elements into a story of these three sisters. While I should hate this film as it does involve a lot of girl talk over lattes and the usual “We girls are doin’ it for ourselves” air about it (there’s even a lip synched song number that isn’t annoying), I couldn’t find the rancor for it because of the overwhelming sense of dread hovering over each frame of this film and the gargantuan talents of Burge, Lafleur, and Palladino as the three sisters. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is not going to be for hardcore horror fans, but for me, this after hours dip felt refreshing as it caused unease and terror effectively in a real world relationship sense as well as an otherworldly one.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from SGL Entertainment!
MEET ME THERE (2014)Directed by Lex Lybrand
Written by Brandon Stroud, Destiny D Talley (story)
Starring Lisa Friedrich, Micheal Foulk, Dustin “Golddust” Runnels, John Gholson, Jack Jameson, Jill Thompson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some films come along and hook you in the beginning, then peter off. Others build there way to a whopper of an ending. Very few films are able to start and end strong, but that’s a feat accomplished by the indie horror film MEET ME THERE.
Directed patiently by Lex Lybrand, the tone of MEET ME THERE is set in the subtly threatening opening which is so much more effective than the “first kill” scenes that often describe what kind of threat the audience is in store for in the opening moments. What starts out like a PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES moment ends with a complete shock that comes out of the blue, which left me full of questions and intrigued enough to wait around for them to be answered in the following film. The threat is not completely described, but the slow build up to the explosive scene achieves a level of tension few horror films reach. This same level of patience and ability to slowly ratchet up the tension is exemplified throughout the film, reaching a crescendo that hits all of the right notes while leaving things just ambiguous enough to cause both scares and unease.
The main story follows a couple with a lot of problems. Micheal Foulk plays Calvin, an earnest and patient hipster who seems to be an unlikely match for his beautiful girlfriend Ada (Lisa Friedrich). She’s a couple of inches taller than him, slender, and gorgeous. He’s a tad overweight, shorter, hairy dude, but even though they might not match physically, the opening of the film shows how earnest and nice a guy Calvin is. So while on a purely physical level they might not be the couple of the year, one can see why a troubled girl like Ada would be with him. And Ada has lots of troubles. While Calvin clearly remembers his childhood, Ada’s is a blank, and during a particularly frustrating couple’s therapy session, they get the idea to go back to Ada’s home town and see if it shakes loose any old memories. The rest of the film is this road trip, and it’s one that starts out typical and ends anything but.
What makes this film so effective is the patience Lybrand has with Brandon Stroud and Destiny D Talley’s story. The small religious town of Ada’s birth is not a welcome one, as Calvin and Ada realize the first few seconds they enter it when Calvin is run out of a convenience store at gunpoint for looking “unholy.” After finding a strange druidic coin and seeing all sorts of weird characters lurking around the town and watching them, Calvin and Ada seek solace first at their aunt’s house (with comic book artist/writer Jill Thompson playing her Aunt) and then a local church (run by WWF wrestler Dustin “Golddust” Runnels). Finding that those places of refuge just as dangerous, Ada and Calvin flee blindly into the forest where even more weird things are going on. This Odyssey of sorts seems to get bleaker and bleaker as the seconds tick by, and while nothing really registers as completely dangerous, there is a looming sense of unease and evil just about everywhere in this film.
Filmed on a low budget, director Lybrand makes up a lot for it by taking full advantage of the wilderness and small town locale. Simple weird things like hooded figures, out of focus people in the background, and moody religious songs didn’t make me miss the big budget effects or locales. Lybrand manages the atmosphere like a pro, making the town an evil all-encompassing entity. While the ending might be frustrating to some, it’s clear enough what transpires, and that’s all I’ll say. The final scenes do culminate in ways I didn’t imagine, making every step of the way a surprise for me.
Some of the acting is a bit stiff, but at the same time, it makes it feel a bit more real because of that and therefore a bit more dangerous. Michael Foulk’s Calvin often has a flat delivery, but it only highlights how much of a babe in the woods he is in this situation. Lisa Friedrich’s Ada is a bit spacey as well, but again, this distant demeanor fits her troubled character. This is very much a film about two lovers trying desperately to save themselves and Foulk and Friedrich, despite being acting newcomers, made me believe they were this troubled couple, which is the most important thing. Reminiscent of some of the more subtle horror films which take their time to unravel and attack like the film of Ti West and Joe Swanberg, MEET ME THERE has a whole lot going for it in terms of tragic character, gothic atmosphere, and astronomical tension.
Available this week on iTunes and on Neflix on July 14th!
CREEP (2014)aka PEACHFUZZ
Directed by Patrick Brice
Written by Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Starring Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t say enough good things about CREEP. It’s one of those films that is brilliant in its simplicity, but by saying that it isn’t giving the film the credit it deserves. This film is the polar opposite of all of the big budget, wham-bang horror films we are used to seeing in that it focuses mainly on strong performances and a rock solid story in order to convey a film that is unlike any you’re bound to see.
CREEP follows a struggling young filmmaker named Aaron (played by director/co-writer Patrick Brice) who answers a Craig’s List ad which leads him to a secluded house in the hills. There he meets Josef (THE LEAGUE’s Mark Duplass who also co-wrote this demented gem), an eccentric who tells Aaron that he is dying of a brain tumor and wants him to film a day in the life, “kind of like the beautiful film MY LIFE with Michael Keaton” as Josef explains. To tell you more would be a disservice to the film but trust me, as the title of the film indicates, Josef’s story is not on the up and up and things get a whole lot creepier.
CREEP plays with our expectations from the beginning. Aaron has no idea what this job entails and hypothesizes to the camera as to what he will encounter once he arrives at the place. Once there, Josef changes his story over and over as a means to get Aaron to stay with him longer. Simply casting Duplass; who most know as one of the knuckleheads from THE LEAGUE and immediately will make those who know him from the show smile, is misleading as the more we get to know this friendly character, the more bizarre and frightening he becomes. Those expecting bromance antics here when they see Duplass’ name are going to have their world flipped at what he does in this film.
Still, the whole thing plays out perfectly as Aaron, who is good natured and sympathetic to Josef from the get go, is lead into Josef’s twisted web. Duplass plays Josef a little too uncomfortably real; a manipulative and dangerous character that many may recognize from real life who looks harmless on the outside, but is able to bend and twist situations to drain whomever he is focused on simply to fill a need inside of him that cannot be filled. This is a perfect example of a person who is too gullible and kind hearted getting pulled into the life of someone too selfish and manipulative. The dark places CREEP goes is enough to unsettle and disturb just about anyone and while you want to laugh at how weird Josef is, you can’t help but just stand back and wonder what new kind of craziness is going to happen.
Both Duplass and Brice are amazing in their roles, making this no budget film engrossing simply through their performances alone. For the most part, this film feels like it cost nothing to make as it seems only a camcorder, a mountain home, a pancake lunch, and a weird werewolf mask is the extent of costs necessary to make it all work. But though the budget is small, the talent of the two men behind this film is priceless. Told in the oft scoffed at found footage format of first person handheld POV, CREEP is a deeply disturbing film that is going to get under your skin, camp out, and won’t leave—no matter how hard you try to get it to do so.
Advance Review: Premiering this weekend in Miami at Florida SuperCon (June 25-28th) and released October 6th from Wild Eye Releasing!
CAESAR & OTTO’S PARANORMAL HALLOWEEN (2015)Directed by Dave Campfield
Written by Dave Campfield & Sean Steffen
Starring Dave Campfield, Paul Chomicki, Scott Aguilar, Andre Gower, Felissa Rose, Tiffany Shepis, Steph Barkley, Nicole Cinaglia, Debbie Rochon, Monique Dupree, Catherine Corcoran, Brinke Stevens, John J Thomassen, Vernon Wells, Sean Whalen, Shawn C. Phillips, Beverly Randolph, Michael Kean, JamieLee Ackerman, Maximo Gianfranco Sorrentino, Jack McGraw, Samantha Barrios, Deron Miller, Evan Seidlitz, Mike Johansen, Avi K. Garg, Jason Britt, Ken MacFarlane, Josephine Iannece, Scott Aguilar, Kyler Kasarda, Daniel Sullivan
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve reviewed a couple of CAESAR & OTTO films in my time doing this here AICN HORROR column and what I like about them is that it really seems like each time the quality of the filmmaking and the humor leaps forward in quality quite a bit. The latest, CAESAR & OTTO’S PARANORMAL HALLOWEEN does so substantially.
For those not in the know, Caesar and Otto are bumbling half-brothers who tend to get into horrific and absurd situations. Putting it in classic Stooges terms; Caesar is the Moe, egotistical, narcissistic, and aggressive, while Otto is more like the lovable but bumblingly moronic Curly, oblivious, yet optimistic and good natured. In this installment, Caesar and Otto unintentionally thwart a rampaging serial killer that looks and acts a lot like Michael Myers (though when he’s unmasked he looks like Rob Zombie), but are in need of a place to live. When they are presented with a key to the city, Caesar & Otto are also given access to a Congressman’s summer home which comes with its own horny gardener, cold hearted cook, warped neighbors, and a few restless spirits. As Halloween approaches, the horrors begin to pile up with Caesar and Otto trapped smack dab at the bottom of the dogpile.
The humor here is much more effective than in previous CAAESAR & OTTO films. There are quite a few winks and nods to the camera in terms of popular horror trends and some well worn clichés that are used in clever ways. While I can’t say I laughed at all of the gags, I will say about 75% of the time I was chuckling through this movie. This is mainly due to the fun nature of the film as both Caesar and Otto are likable enough despite their faults. The guest appearances by former scream queens like Brinke Stevens, Felissa Rose, and Debbie Rochon are all fun. And of course, any film with Tiffany Shepis ranks a higher score on my test indicator (here she plays one of the psycho neighbors).
I won’t say that this film has the highest production values because it doesn’t. This is fun low budget filmmaking filled with enough genre cameos and nods to the horror industry that will make anyone who ever attended a horror convention laugh more than a few times. If you’re missing the type of non-threatening terrors that the ABBOT & COSTELLO monster mashups used to specialize in, CAESAR & OTTO’S PARANORMAL HALLOWEEN is a nice modern equivalent.
And finally…looking for some irreverence that only Troma can deliver? How about an weekly shot from Troma icon, Sgt. Kabukiman. The old Sarge is hittin’ the sauce pretty hard these days, but he’s bringing us along for the ride as he tries out new drinks, checks out to seedy locales, and even offers up some musical numbers. There are four episodes of this webseries out so far with a new one hitting the Troma Channel on the YouTubes every Thursday, but here’s the first episode. This is one kooky Kabukiman episode of KABUKIMAN’S COCKTAIL CORNER entitled UNICORN SMACK! Enjoy!
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!