Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Puppets, sharks, ghosts, ninjas, and a heaping helping of revenge; just another week here at AICN HORROR!
But before we get started, I want to let folks know that if you’re on your way to next week’s San Diego Comic Con, I’ll be there as usual doing my annual Reinventing Horror in Comics & Film Panel. This year, my fellow panelists include SPRING directors Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson, SHELTERED comic book writer and horror enthusiast Ed Brisson, and Black Mask Studios Publisher and GODKILLER writer/director Matt Pizzolo. It’s a small group this year, but the conversation about the future of horror is always lively. So be sure to check out the panel if you’re at the con and hopefully, I can report back to you guys with a video of the panel when I return! Reinventing Horror in Comics & Film is scheduled for 6:30pm on July 10th at SDCC in Room 5AB! Hope to see you there!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983)
Retro-review: GHOST HOUSE (1988)
Retro-review: NEEDFUL THINGS (1993)
Short Cuts: THE HARVEST Short Film (2015)
COSPLAY FETISH BATTLE DRONES (2013)
AVALANCHE SHARKS (2013)
ALL AMERICAN BULLY (2011)
CLOSER TO GOD (2014)
Advance Review: THE HOSPITAL 2 (2015)
Advance Review: THE SHELTER (2015)
And finally…Rose McGowan’s DAWN!
Retro-review: New on Bluray from Kino Lorber!
REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983)aka NINJA II, WAY OF THE NINJA
Directed by Sam Firstenberg
Written by James R. Silke
Starring Shô Kosugi, Kane Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, Arthur Roberts, Mario Gallo, Grace Oshita, Ashley Ferrare, John LaMotta, Mel Hampton, Mel Hampton, Professor Toru Tanaka, Joe Pagliuso, Don Shanks
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
For those of you sticklers who will get all assed up because I’m covering a ninja film in a horror column, as I said before when I covered this film’s predecessor ENTER THE NINJA and its sequel NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (which was a definite possession flick), when you whittle these films down to basics, it’s about a killer or killers sneaking around in shadows and killing people with various forms of weaponry. With seemingly mystical powers and mastery of all forms of armaments, I’ll qualify ninjas as monsters any old day.
And of the three NINJA movies produced by Cannon in the 80’s, REVENGE OF THE NINJA is by far the best. Steeped in action movie tropes and set up basically as a revenge flick, martial arts master Sho Kosugi plays Cho, a ninja who has hung up his sword when living the way of the ninja resulted in the death of most of his family by a rival ninja clan save for his elderly mother and his infant son (later played by ever-so-cute Kane Kosugi, Sho’s actual son). Scuttling to America and attempting to start a new life as an art dealer, Cho is pulled back into the ninja life when his friend Dave (Keith Vitali) uses Cho’s hand crafted dolls as a means to smuggle heroin into America and corner the heroin market in LA, much to the local mafia’s ire. Dave is secretly a ninja himself, donning a silver demon mask and offing any Mafia goons that stand in his way of being the new Kingpin of LA. When Cho’s handcrafted dolls are stolen and his son sees that Dave is involved, Kane is kidnapped and Cho is forced to crack the old sword out of the sheath and become the ninja one again.
As with ENTER THE NINJA, there are moments in REVENGE OF THE NINJA that are so laughably bad they can’t help but be entertaining. For some reason, the mafia has the most stereotypical Native American stooge complete with tomahawks, feathers, and braids who for some reason is a match for Cho’s ninja prowess, at least for a little while. Later in the film, Cho confronts the most ridiculous gang of thugs you’ll ever see. I kid you not, they look exactly like the Village People sans the Native American who was dispatched earlier in the film. The climax has our heroine strapped inside a hot tub with the jets pointed at her face to drown her, and even more insane is that this white-shirted woman prances around after Kane rescues her in a see thru white and wet shirt with her breasts right at the 8 year old kid’s eye level. Some of this shit makes this the most unintentionally hilarious movie I’ve seen in ages.
But making up for all of this insanity are some truly amazing action sequences highlighting why Sho Kosugi is one of the best martial artists of his era. The first sequence as the ninjas attack Cho’s place is fantastic, as Cho singlehandedly massacres the ninja clan in revenge for the death of his family utilizing the ninjas’ own weapons against them. Later in the film, there is an amazing chase sequence as Cho chases down a van full of thugs, and just when you think the van gets away, Cho cuts through alleys and leaps over cars in order to dive onto the roof of the van and flip through the windshield for a close quarters brawl inside the van. The whole sequence ends with Cho being dragged along the pavement as he clings to the back of the van. The look of determination on Sho’s face is intense to the Nth degree. The aforementioned fight with the Village People looks ludicrous, but actually utilizes a park playground in fun ways with Sho brandishing fans to fight his opponents defensively (and even slice off half of the Village People’s cowboy’s moustache). These sequences, choreographed by Sho himself, are the highlight of this movie and make it truly worth seeking out.
The other thing that makes this film feel right at home here in AICN HORROR is the abundance of really gory kills. This is no bloodless series of people being stabbed and falling. It’s downright gory when a shuriken is embedded into the eyeball of a mob informant. Blood spatters all over the place in this film in huge spurts, as Cho and the evil ninja Dave massacre anyone in between them as they prepare for their final bloody showdown at the film’s climax. Cho himself is often beaten to a bloody pulp, but this only adds to the intensity of this action yarn.
So while there are cartoonishly bad beats here and there and the acting couldn’t be more wooden, the non-stop chop sockery is amazing, and the gruesome aftermaths of their ninja wrath are bloodier than most FRIDAY THE 13THs were. Sho Kosugi proves he is one of the best martial artists you probably don’t know and his son, Kane Kosugi, who is ever so cute in his little pink Izod sweater, kicks ass when he has to as well (I recently saw Kane all grown up on the AMERICAN NINJA CHALLENGE TV show, and I hope he is an action star in the making carrying on his father’s great film legacy). For those who love blood with their action and want to experience why ninjas can be much more formidable than just fodder for heroes to dispatch easily, REVENGE OF THE NINJA is most likely the best you’re going to get.
Retro-review: New this week as a Double Feature Bluray from The Shout Factory!
GHOSTHOUSE (1988)aka GHOST HOUSE, EVIL DEAD 3, Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Written by Sheila Goldberg (dialogue), Umberto Lenzi (story), Cinthia McGavin (screenplay)
Starring Lara Wendel, Greg Scott, Mary Sellers, Ron Houck, Martin Jay, Kate Silver, Donald O'Brien, Kristen Fougerousse, Willy M. Moon, Susan Muller, Alain Smith, William J. Devany
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Someone--I don’t want to name names, but someone--saw POLTERGEIST and really, really liked it. That’s the sole thought I had in mind as I watched GHOST HOUSE, a double feature paired with WITCHERY from the Shout Factory this week.
The film opens with a spooky house and a family. There are rumblings in the basement, and when dad goes down to investigate he finds his daughter Henrietta, a clown doll and some really eerie music that sounds like a cross between some music you would find in a Jess Franco flick and that odd radio phenomenon depicted in THE BANSHEE CHAPTER (reviewed here). When the family is brutally murdered, the narrative shifts ahead quite a few years and the horrors of the abandoned home echo into the present. We meet Paul (Greg Scott), a radio enthusiast who happens upon the same weird music on his radio, along with what sounds like a murder, and somehow tracks it to its source (the house), bringing his gal pal Martha along with him, who serves as the annoying person who constantly wants to leave for the entire film. At the house they meet three other youngsters, Mark, Tina, and Susan, who are investigating the weird happenings around the house. Soon enough, all of this Scooby Doo Gang (sans dog) are caught up in strange apparitions of the little girl, a sort of creepy clown, a pool of clam chowder, and a worm-faced reaper.
You can watch this film and pluck out complete scenes from POLTERGEIST. By 1988, the film had already been out 6 years, but maybe it hadn’t gotten around to Italy yet, or director Umberto Lenzi might have thought people would have forgotten the iconic imagery from the film in that time. Either way, the scenes with the clown and especially one scene where the character of Mark falls into a pool of what looks to be clam chowder with skulls bobbing around with him are lifted right from the Spielberg/Hooper classic.
That said, if you’re looking for a film to scoff at, this one has all the marks. While some of the scenes are kind of spooky (I’m thinking of the scene with the worm-faced skull), for the most part, this is a film to laugh at rather than shudder to. Even the little girl and the clown are laughable, as the little girl seems to be trying way too hard to be scary and the clown toy just isn’t as terrifying as the one in POLTERGEIST. Here’s hoping WITCHERY is better, as GHOST HOUSE really didn’t impress me all that much.
Retro-review: New on Bluray from Kino Lorber!
NEEDFUL THINGS (1993)Directed by Fraser Clarke Heston
Written by Stephen King (book), W.D. Richter (screenplay)
Starring Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon, Duncan Fraser, Valri Bromfield, Shane Meier, William Morgan Sheppard, Don S. Davis, Campbell Lane, Eric Schneider, Frank C. Turner, Lisa Blount, Gillian Barber, Deborah Wakeham, Tamsin Kelsey, Lochlyn Munro, Bill Croft, Dee Jay Jackson, Ann Warn Pegg, Gary Paller
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
In the 80s and 90s we were inundated by every Stephen King adaptation under the sun. Some were very, very good (THE SHINING, PET SEMETARY, CARRIE, MISERY) and some were not so much (SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, THE LANGOLIERS, SLEEPWALKERS, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE). But one of the ones I never think of when I’m thinking of some of the best Stephen King adaptations, though I should, is NEEDFUL THINGS. While there are problems in the final act of this film, for the most part I have always had a soft spot for this film.
Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) has moved his shop of curios and knick-knacks called Needful Things (like the title of the moooovie!) into the small town of Castle Rock. It’s a town where everyone knows everyone and because of that, it’s a town full of secrets, resentments, and capped frustrations. Keeping a lid on this simmering pot of a town is Sheriff Alan Pangborn (who also appeared as a character in THE DARK HALF, played by Michael Rooker and this time played by Ed Harris) who dates the town’s milf waitress Polly (Bonnie Bedelia) and keeps the peace with a stern look rather than a hand on his pistol. Hoping for some peace and quiet after working in the big city, Sheriff Alan is unsettled to see his town unglued after Gaunt arrives selling the residents of the town their heart’s desires, but at a price much more personal than money. Gaunt manipulates the town against itself in a series of small tasks he assigns specific people in the town. which culminates in a fiery confrontation of neighbor on neighbor violence the likes with which I have rarely seen.
The highlight of the film is to see the Rube Goldbergian complexity of Gaunt’s methodical plan. Gaunt doesn’t pit adversaries against one another; instead he tasks a third party to make it seem like one rival has done something to another. This leaves the town in beautiful chaos, and director Fraser Clarke Heston (with the help of King’s novel as a template and W.D. Richter’s tight script) realizes it all beautifully.
The melody “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” from Peer Gynt Suite composed by Edvard Grieg is the music that best describes this film, and is aptly used in one of its central scenes as Amanda Plummer’s character plants sticky notes all over JT Walsh’s office calling him every dirty name in the book and then some. The way this song rachets up one notch as a time to a cacophony of mayhem really does capture the way Gaunt’s manipulations start from meager interactions and quickly spiral into deadly confrontations between the quiet people of this peaceful burb. The music is often used in trailers for the film, and Heston utilizes the tune well in this scene and places it right in the middle so as to represent everything that had gone on before.
The third act suffers here as all hell breaks loose, and all it takes is Ed Harris losing his shit and screaming in a voice that cracks like a teenager to calm the town down for him to have a vocal standoff with Gaunt in front of his store. After the carnage that occurs between Amanda Plummer and the turkey farmer, I was hoping for a more balls-out confrontation than the one we got (though most likely Von Sydow’s age limited the amount of actual physical conflict that was possible). Still, the film culminates in a moralistic and quiet manner that is somewhat contradictory to the rest of the increasingly bombastic movie that led up to the end. Having not read the book, I don’t know where the film deviates from its source material, but it all comes together just a little too clean and smooth for my tastes.
NEEDFUL THINGS is filled with amazing performances from an equally entertaining cast. Von Sydow, who battled the devil in THE EXORCIST, is cleverly cast and seems to have a lot of fun, though for the most part his role consists of him manipulating folks and then giggling fiendishly at his manipulations. Still, the addition of Harris, Bedelia (who is subtly smoking hot in this film), the batshit craziness of Amanda Plummer in her PULP FICTION prime, and a fantastic performance by the late great JT Walsh (who plays a paranoid embezzler who has an addiction for the tracks and is fascinated by a racing toy which predicts races) makes NEEDFUL THINGS one of the best acted and expertly crafted in terms of the way the characters back-stab and front-stab one another throughout the film. While the tone is black comedy, there’s definitely a hard R feel to this film, as there are some significant murders and grotesque situations that I can’t believe they got away with in the 90s. All of this makes for one of my favorite King adaptations, and it’s amazing that Kino Lorber has rereleased the Bluray of this film for more people to see it.
Currently touring festivals!
HARVEST (2015)aka HOSTEN
Directed by Martin Sonntag & Kim Sønderholm
Written by Martin Sonntag, Kim Sønderholm, & Bastian Brinch Pedersen
Starring Kim Sønderholm, Siff Andersson, Slavko Labovic, Julie Kunz, Michael Larsen, Dorte Rømer, Joan Dalgaard
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some fun twists and turns lay ahead for you if you’re one of the lucky ones to catch the Danish horror short HARVEST at a film festival near you. While it does deal with some age-old organ harvesting tropes, it still managed to surprise me by the time the end came around.
HARVEST, or HOSTEN in its Danish language, centers on an organ harvester named John (co-writer/co-director Kim Sønderholm), who has seen better days. Though he has achieved some success supplying kidneys for the black market, the stress of his job has caused him to be a bit sloppy, and the latest product he delivers is less that top tier, so if John is to keep his job and his neck he must get a new set of healthy kidneys with a specific blood type before midnight. What’s a desperate harvester to do? Check the online sex blood fetish sites, of course. Finding what looks to be the perfect match, he arranges to meet a woman in a bar in hopes he can relieve her of her kidneys before deadline.
Setting up a literal race against time adds to the tension at play in HARVEST. While the dialog is minimal, the emotion does run pretty high as the clock ticks away. This tension also acts as a good distraction for other things happening that came off as pretty unexpected once played out. Without revealing too much, this date has a lot of twists and turns that are not expected. Decently acted and wonderfully gory, in a short 19 minutes HARVEST tells a full tale of gore, deception, and desperation.
No trailer for this one yet, but when it is available for the masses, I’ll be sure to include HARVEST in my “And finally…” spot at the bottom of the column. Until then, if HARVEST is playing a festival near you, be sure to check it out!
New on DVD and digital download available here!
COSPLAY FETISH BATTLE DRONES (2013)aka STRUGGLED REAGANS
Directed by Gregg Golding
Written by Gregg Golding
Starring Kawal Arora, Aleksey Calvin, Mark Edwards, Gregg Golding, Carly Jean, Leland Mapp, Nathan Matthias, Liza Moore, Kathleen Rees, Samuel Vasquez
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Looking for something a little bit out of the norm? Not so worried about films made without a budget? Interested in a mash-up of beat poetry and MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS? Well, then COSPLAY FETISH BATTLE DRONES might just be the right type of weird for you.
Amateurly acted and paced rather horribly, COSPLAY FETISH BATTLE DRONES is not what I would recommend for those who judge a film by the size of the craft services table, but those who thrive on oddball surreality may find this trippy little number quite fascinating. Taking place in a world that really does not exist outside of our windows, the film begins with a lengthy introduction of all of our characters, each of them experiencing some sort of perverse peccadillo distinguishing them from the rest. So we end up with Rangers…I mean, Drones called Dangling Eyeballs, BTK Killer, Dripping Faucet, Aborted Fetuses, Stopped Time, and Vaginal Cucumber. Each of the members of this group inexplicably called the Struggled Reagans is drawn together by a talking obelisk in order to rid the world of glowing other-dimensional tumors. Using their bizarre powers, they have the right combination of kink to save the planet—if only they can stop arguing amongst themselves.
What impressed me is the stream of consciousness beat poetry vibe I got throughout the entire film—sort of like a less cohesive and unpolished version of a Chuck Palanhuik novel. Members of the team speak gobbledygook lines to one another and little sense is made, but despite all of that, it’s all pretty entertaining. I don’t mind a little illogic from time to time, and inexplicable is a quality that this film is overflowing with. Weird animation, odd non-sequiturs, pointless characters doing more pointless and perverse things--that’s what this film is all about.
Those of you who prefer a more grounded sense of reality in their films should probably move on to the next film. That’s not what COSPLAY FETISH BATTLE DRONES is about. It’s raunchy, it’s crude, and a lot of it doesn’t make a lick of sense. But if you’re interested in channeling your inner kink, this indie homage to a 90s kiddie show I never really got into might be the right type of wrong for you.
New this week on Digital HD and On Demand!
AVALANCHE SHARKS (2013)aka SHARKALANCHE, SNOW SHARKS
Directed by Scott Wheeler
Written by Keith Shaw
Starring Alexander Mendeluk, Kate Nauta, Benjamin Easterday, Eric Scott Woods, Kelle Cantwell, Richard Gleason, Gina Holden, Jack Cullison, James Ouimet, Nicole Helen, Emily Addison, Mike Ruggieri, Erin Ross, Patrizia Cavaliere, Matt Gunther
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Something you need to know going into this: in reality, snow cannot be swum through. If you try it, you will not glide around under the snow like a frosty Michael Phelps. You may end up buried or dead under tons of semi-frozen water, or most likely just look like an idiot attempting to do so. But in AVALANCHE SHARKS, the titular monsters aren’t really swimming through the snow as much as they are demonic manifestations of sharks swimming through snow, so at least the laws of physics are obeyed in this film somewhat.
The problem with shark movies is the same problem with exorcism movies: they all follow the exact same story as JAWS (and THE EXORCIST) almost beat for beat. While most horror films rely on a certain set of tropes in order to tell their tale, when a film like JAWS and THE EXORCIST comes along which is so iconic, when a film with a similar threat comes along comparisons are going to be likely. Copying story structures like the concerned cop trying to close the resort versus the establishment who wants to keep it open is just going to make the film feel like a cheap rip-off. And that’s what AVALANCHE SHARKS basically is.
The shark in question here is a skookum, a demon shark of Native American myth which swims through the snow like water--and according to this film, they love “people meat.” There are lots of bikinis, hot tubs, snow bunny action, and stock shots of extreme snowboarding, snow skiing, and skiing. The film is filled with blonde bunnies that look exactly alike, as if the casting director only had one type of girl he preferred for his couch. But basically, folks are set up and introduced simply to die, with little or no time given for us to actually get to know them or form some investment.
The CG is cartoonishly awful here, not really feeling as if they even tried to make the sharks seem like they are in the same plane as the real life action. I will give the film props for giving the snow sharks their own distinct look, as they are more scaly and look like they have thicker hides for the extreme temperatures.
But more so than most SyFy-esque creature features, there are at least a few moments scattered throughout to make this film fun to watch. While it isn’t very creative narratively, one thing this film has to offer is that at least this film seems to be having fun with this concept. A guy and a girl get into a fight on the side of the mountain, and just when the guy hesitates to say “I love you” to her, she is bitten in half by a snow shark. Later, the same guy professes his love to the world out of guilt and is devoured by a pair of snow sharks while screaming “LOVE!” An old dude who looks like the inbred child of FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Crazy Ralph and Clint Howard goes around warning the skiers about the sharks, but of course no one listens, and there’s an asshole ski-cop who seems to be the embodiment of the Coach from Adult Swim’s HOME MOVIES cartoon that I found to be pretty hilarious throughout.
So while there is very little by way of story to be impressed with here and the scares and effects are low grade, it feels like at least the screenwriters and some of the actors had fun with it. Don’t take AVALANCHE SHARKS too seriously and you might too.
New this week on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing!
ALL AMERICAN BULLY (2011)aka THE INNOCENT, AMERICAN BULLY
Directed by Jason Hawkins
Written by Jason Hawkins
Starring Adrienne King, Daren Ackerman, Alexander Fraser, Alicia Rose, Dara Davey, Patrick Ford, Darren Hicks, Bob Olin, Brian Walker, Lissie Lewis, Chuck Elam, Aaron Gregory Austin, Hollie Olson
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While the themes of ALL-AMERICAN BULLY are somewhat timely and poignant, the ADHD-style execution of the plot, as it bobs and weaves around its various characters, really takes away from what could be something special.
Devon (Alexander Fraser) is a typical teen outcast. He likes D&D, has nerdy talks with his friends, and gets picked on by the school jock John (Daren Ackerman) who used to be his best friend when they were kids. After one such bullying session, John steals a classic D&D guide from Devon which results in an ass-whupping and a YouTube video posting of said ass-whupping for all of the school to see. But when Devon reveals that John once wrote him a love letter when they were kids, Devon’s new girlfriend Becky (Alicia Rose) decides to out him to online. But the threat leads to secrets much darker than Devon and Becky could ever imagine. Meanwhile, Principal Kane (FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Adrienne King) is unstable having found out that her adult son is gay and dating one of the teachers in the school.
The biggest problem with ALL-AMERICAN BULLY is that it doesn’t know what kind of message it really wants to get across and because of this indecisiveness, it plays more like a half-hazard after school special with blood, boobs, and swears. Does it want to make a statement about bullying? Yes, but when Devon and Becky’s decision to turn the tables includes just as heinous an action as the original bullying by outing someone as gay online, it makes it kind of hard to root for them. And then the tables are turned once again and the big secret Devon and Becky plan to reveal turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg as John is much more fucked up than we originally thought, things turn more into a somewhat perverse descent into madness tale with rape and other sexual perversions. This last portion of the film is the most potent as it deals with some pretty fucked up material, but by then, there is no one to root for. On top of it all, the subplot of Principal Kane mistreating one of the teachers in her school because her son is dating him against her wishes is brought up only to be completely forgotten after the first hour. So you end up wondering how all of this angst and drama is going to wrap up, but in the end, it’s never even addressed again.
Originally titled THE INNOCENT, I can understand why the title was changed sine aside from the gay couple, there really isn’t anyone innocent in this film. ALL-AMERICAN BULLY is gifted with a somewhat powerful last half hour as John goes off the deep end. But the dangling plot threads make the film rather infuriating the watch. It’s great seeing Adrienne King again and while her character is rather over the top here, seeing Alice all grown up is a treat for this old school F13 fan. Aside from some decent performances by the young cast and genre actor Bob Olin as Devon’s worrying dad, the story really ends up working against this film in the end.
Available now on DVD on its Etsy page here and for digital download here!
HEAD (2015)Directed by Jon Bristol
Written by Jon Bristol, J.R. Calvo, Brian Woodman
Starring Manda Vasas, Nick Foreman, Mike Finland, Sally Arlette-Garcia, Ben Farley, Jon Bristol, Keith Paul, Jim Williams, Russ Bird, Theresa Elizabeth, Gabe Finkenstein, Steph Neagle, Richard Passmore
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
HEAD is a production from the Elmwood Puppets crew which seems to be hatched from the mind of writer/director/puppeteer Jon Bristol. It’s always interesting when the genres of puppeteering and horror mix. You could go all out like Peter Jackson’s gross-out horror felt fable MEET THE FEEBLES, or just have fun with it and do a light version of horror like something you would see on THE MUPPET SHOW (which occasionally scared me as a little kid, especially the Alice Cooper episode). HEAD does something different with it, and the results are rather fascinating.
The film opens with a ghoulish host of a horror show introducing a short film called THE WALKING PATH and then on to the main film HEAD. THE WALKING PATH is pretty one note, about a pair of guys watching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and then going on a walk where they encounter real (well, felt puppet) zombies. While rather simplistic, the short does offer up some creepy moments as the featureless zombies crawl towards the camera to attack the two hapless puppet dudes. In this short, the theme of treating this material as if it were just real actors doing real things is shown, a stance taken later in HEAD and one that sets this puppet horror film apart from others.
I know it’s an odd little subgenre of horror, but puppet horror (where the entire story is told through puppets) is real. Dustin Mills’ PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE ( reviewed here) is one such film that goes for the gross-out and extreme route pretty amazingly. But with Jon Bristol’s HEAD, a pretty standard story about a group of kids who camp out in the woods with a maniac in the dark collecting heads, the true distinction with this 50 minute film is that it plays everything straight, as if these aren’t puppets at all. The fact that this film plays things straight makes for a pretty entertaining film despite the plot’s typicality. The way the felt puppets confide in each other with their heart’s desire or their deepest fears is done in such a straightforward manner that, as the runtime passes, you sort of forget these are puppets talking, but real actors in peril. It’s the fact that everything is done in such a convincing manner that makes HEAD so much fun.
As I said, the story is pretty typical, and I think that the film suffers for such because HEAD is so much like all of the other campers in the woods with a killer tale…except with puppets. But the puppets look great, there are some nice gory moments with gooey blood and abundant felt nipples bared, and while the fact that the puppets are playing it straight is impressive and distinct, I look forward to seeing more chances taken in the story department is there are more Elmwood Puppet productions in the works. HEAD shows that Bristol and his crew have a unique style in the mini-genre of puppet horror, and here’s hoping this in only the beginning of it.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand, and digital download from Breaking Glass Pictures/Uncork’d Entertainment!
CLOSER TO GOD (2014)Directed by Billy Senese
Written by Billy Senese
Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, Isaac Disney, Glenn Cartwright, Rebecca Lines, Joshua Childs, Anna Garges, Piper Hoppe, Emily Landham, Olivia Lyle, John Schuck, Jake Speck
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This modern-day take on the IT’S ALIVE concept is one of the most compelling and well-realized Frankenstein-themed films of the year. CLOSER TO GOD is poignant, resonant, and downright jaw-droppingly good at times, showing you don’t need a huge budget or giant names to make a horror film work—just some strong ideas and a solid cast.
Jeremy Childs from TV’s NASHVILLE plays Victor (obviously a reference to Victor Von Frankenstein), who has secretly cloned a human child using some of his own DNA. While the entire operation has been done in secret in order to evade the law and the press, a mole in Victor’s team is leaking information to the media, and when little Elizabeth (another nod to the Mary Shelley classic) is born, the board rushes to get ahead of the press and issue a news conference making the announcement. As the child continues to grow stronger, so does the opposition protesting outside of the lab she is housed in as religious groups and pro-cloning groups battle it out on the sidewalks out front. But things get really tense when Victor moves Elizabeth to his own gated home. Though his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) is supportive, she is terrified of what this means to Victor’s actual two daughters and the sanctity of their home. When the protesters show up outside their home, tensions reach a boiling point. But the real twist is that Elizabeth is not the first baby Victor has cloned, and the reject clone, given to the groundskeepers and kept in a bolted room on the same grounds, is proving to be too much to handle.
From the description above, it’s evident that there’s a lot going on here. The moral debate as to whether we should create life is always smack dab in the center, but the film does a fantastic job of showing the big picture of how the revelation that a human has been created though scientific means ripples out into something truly horrific. The film gives some screen time to many of the opinions shared by those differing viewpoints screaming at one another holding picket signs, and really handles the whole thing with a mature and sophisticated hand that you normally don’t see in horror films these days. The film moves along as if some omniscient god (aka the screenwriter/director Billy Senese) is moving chess pieces in a tension-filled game where every move is well thought out and makes complete sense every step of the way.
I’ve never seen NASHVILLE and am not familiar with actor Jeremy Childs, but he does an absolutely phenomenal job here as our mad doctor Victor. Childs is not your typical Hollywood leading man. Bespectacled, balding, and sweaty, instead of polished studio good looks, Childs more resembles what you think a scientist would look like; casting Childs in the lead role is a ballsy move for director Senese, and it works in the film’s benefit in making it all the more believable. Childs offers up a subtle performance that some might see as distanced, but in his nuanced glances at Elizabeth you can really tell he cares about this child he created—probably more so than his own children, which says a lot about his character as well. Not knowing Childs from previous roles made things all the more convincing for me as this doctor struggles with how the world accepts his creation.
The subplot of the rejected child given to the housekeepers is also handled especially well. Shelean Newman’s role as Mary the housekeeper is especially riveting as an overworked and conflicted keeper of Victor’s secret first child, Ethan. The toll it takes to care for an unpredictable special needs child is reflected in every grey hair on her head and every wrinkle in her face. Her plight as a caring person pushed to her limits, and being terrified of the monster the baby has become, is palpable in this story, and Newman conveys that amazingly. I absolutely loved the way the rejected child’s story comes to the forefront as the tension mounts and Victor is forced to confront Ethan, his dirty secret, at the most inopportune time, and the confrontation between maker and his first rejected creation is about as powerful and gut-wrenching as any Frankenstein and his Monster confrontation I’ve ever seen.
While there are significant effects in this film, this is not a film that is used to highlight these effects and put them on display. The effects are there simply to function as a means to show the science at play, and while Ethan’s visage is quite horrific, it is only glimpsed at here, as his actions are much more monstrous that his actual looks.
CLOSER TO GOD is one of the best films of the year. Anyone who never grows tired of reinterpretations of Mary Shelley’s classic novel will be impressed at the limits this film pushes and the real world ramifications entertained in the story. It’s a smart and modern take on an age-old tale that breathes new life into it in ways that are both heart-wrenching to witness and challenging to one’s very morals. I loved this film, and I think regular readers of this column should make sure to put CLOSER TO GOD on their “to see” lists.
Advance Review: Coming soon! World Premiere at 2015 Tennessee Weekend of Horrors on September 26, 2015!
THE HOSPITAL 2 (2015)Directed by Jim O'Rear, Daniel Emery Taylor
Written by Jim O'Rear, Daniel Emery Taylor
Starring Shawn C. Phillips, Debbie Rochon, Betsy Rue, Christina Schimmel, James Azrael, Jim O'Rear, Daniel Emery Taylor, Megan Emerick, Megan Hunt, Ernest Douglas Nichols, Eric Branden, Lisa Marie Kart, Alicia M. Clark, Scott Tepperman, Melanie Contreras, Ruben Wehunt, Lara-Louisa Piacquadio, Nicholas Huntsman, Jason Henry, Cheyenne Oliver, Constance Medrano, Lisa Krick, Dessa Blackthorn, Miles Spence, Lauryn MacGregor, Kealani Hughes, Tobias Elmore, Tom Komisar
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
When I reviewed the original film THE HOSPITAL, I found it to be a pretty heinous film. Depicting multiple rapes and tortures, I definitely wanted to warn people that this is the type of film that is not exactly my cup of tea and not for the squeamish or easily offended. The sequel, aptly titled THE HOSPITAL 2, is just as deplorable, but I have to appreciate the depths this film goes to despite my dislike for the subgenre is seems to want to settle into.
After the horrific events at the end of THE HOSPITAL, two of the final girls escape and try to piece their lives together, and the rapist/murderers played by director/writer Jim O’Rear and his co-writer Daniel Emery Taylor shamble away as well to open a halfway house for battered women, which they find to be fertile grounds to find new victims to rape, murder, and stream live online for millions of pervs to wank to. Joining O’Rear’s sadistic and maniacal Alan and his gigantic friend Stanley (Taylor) is Alan’s daughter Samantha (Megan Emerick) who, like Harley Quinn, is enamored with her sadistic pop and wanting to participate in the family business. Many women are raped and killed by the trio until the final girls from the original make their way back to them in the final moments.
Let’s start with the positives. Being a film made by the same folks who made the original, there’s a strong sense of continuity here. Being a person who loves that sort of thing in horror (specifically the first few FRIDAY THE 13THs and some of the HALLOWEENs), it’s nice to see these indie filmmakers stick with their film series and take it to the next level. While the actions depicted are very graphic and awful, they are consistent, and those who were shocked and dismayed by the events in THE HOSPITAL are bound to get more of that here.
That said, I do think that the almost two hours of rape, murder, and depravity need quite a bit of editorial shaving. There’s a suspenseful movie in here somewhere, but the camera lingers on the horrific acts way too long, and some edits might lessen the depravity a bit and make it less gratuitous and more digestible.
But maybe that’s not what this film wants. It really does seem like the filmmakers of THE HOSPITAL and THE HOSPITAL 2 just want to get all of the ugliness they can onto the screen for all to see, wince at, and squirm to. There’s room in horror for films like that, and I think in terms of making the viewer uncomfortable, this one definitely fits the bill. There’s an underground whiff of danger all around THE HOSPITAL 2, and while I wouldn’t recommend this film to fans of mainstream horror or those who shudder at the mistreatment of women in films, those deviants out there who enjoy a healthy dose of sadistic depravity mixed in with their terror will most likely be the target audience for this one.
Advance Review: Coming soon/Currently playing festivals!
THE SHELTER (2015)Directed by John Fallon
Written by John Fallon
Starring Michael Paré, Lauren Alexandra, Rachel G. Whittle, Amy Wickenheiser, Gayle James, David M. Lawson, Brigette Rose, Thomas Johnston
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While there are some pacing problems here and there in THE SHELTER, for the most part Michael Pare makes this film worth watching for the range he displays that I didn’t think he had in him as a man haunted and overwrought with guilt over the loss of his wife and child.
THE SHELTER is pretty much a one man show as we follow a drunken and desperate, yet still rather charming ,Thomas (EDDIE & THE CRUISERS’ Michael Pare) who has sex with a floozy and is kicked out before her boyfriend gets home. Walking the streets, Thomas mugs a guy, takes his money, and buys some liquor with it, and proceeds to get shitfaced for the rest of the film, flashing back on the happy life he had before it all went to shit. In his desperate trek, Thomas makes his way to his former home, now abandoned, and is haunted by flashbacks and hallucinations of his lost daughter, wife, and mistress.
In my day job as a therapist, I am constantly made aware that one left instead of right or one yes decision to a no question could leave me in a similar place I often see my clients in. All it takes is one tipping of the dominoes and anyone’s carefully structured life can come crumbling down, and that’s what this movie is all about. Thomas seemingly had it all, but he got selfish, cocky, and arrogant and now it’s all gone. While this is about a man haunted by his past, it’s more of a story steeped in regret rather than the paranormal. Writer/director John Fallon conveys this theme of loss and regret clearly and expertly. Sure, that makes for the exact opposite of the feel good movie of the year, but it does make for a pretty fantastic character study of a man who has crumbled to almost nothing.
Pare really gives it his all here, plunging to emotional depths I never thought he was able to do and doing them with a real sense of soul. Pare still has the rugged good looks that made him a star in the Eighties, but it feels like, at least in the character he plays here, he really does understand what it is like to have it all and lose it. The regret and fear in his eyes when he encounters the ghosts of his past really are some of the most convincing in the film.
Pacing-wise, this story does feel like it is a short film extended to be the runtime of a full-length feature film. As a TWILIGHT ZONE episode, this would rock with a little of the fat trimmed away. But that doesn’t take away from Fallon’s handling of the material and Pare’s fantastic job of conveying it. Again, this is about as somber as it comes, so if you’re looking for a film that will leave you in a place a bit more remorseful and a bit more down than you come into it, then this definitely is a film for you. It captures that voyeuristic and sadistic pang in all of us to some extent to see the suffering of others on the screen. THE SHELTER is resonant in tone and spot on in execution, just a bit overlong and may be too heavy for some viewers to take.
And finally…Rose McGowan premiered her short film DAWN at Sundance to rave reviews. It’s her directorial debut, and a mighty strong one at that in terms of originality and strength of the theme of a young girl coming of age and how that is a time of life that is filled with wonder, thrills, and a slight undercurrent of threat. DAWN shows that McGowan knows what it takes to make a scene feel both sweet and dangerous all at once. The film isn’t so much about monsters or nightmares; it’s more about the fear you feel as we follow young Dawn (played by Tara Lynne Barr) as she crushes on a seemingly harmless gas station attendant Franklin (John Grady) and throws caution to the wind and goes on a date with him and his friends. The 17 minute film is short and not so sweet, but packs a whole lot of power in such little time. Check out DAWN for free below for as long as the link lasts and see if you are impressed as I was at McGowan’s debut film.
Enjoy Rose McGowan’s DAWN 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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