Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972)
Retro-review: JAWS OF SATAN (1981)
Retro-review: ZONE TROOPERS (1985)
Retro-review: GHOST TOWN (1988)
Retro-review: I, MADMAN (1989)
Short Cuts: UDBRUD (2015)
HOUSE ON THE HILL (2012)
THE CHOSEN (2015)
ALIEN OUTPOST (2014)
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014)
And finally…The Bloody Jug Band’s “Beautiful Corpse!”
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from Kino Lorber Redemption!
THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972)aka THE RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE EROTIC EXPERIENCES OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF FRANKENSTEIN
Directed by Jesús Franco
Written by Jesús Franco, based on characters created by Mary Shelley
Starring Alberto Dalbés, Dennis Price, Howard Vernon, Beatriz Savón, Anne Libert, Fernando Bilbao, Britt Nichols, Luis Barboo, Daniel White, Doris Thomas, Lina Romay, Jesús Franco, Eduardo Calvo, Eduarda Pimenta
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
A fun idea is mired in Franco’s usual attention to dream-like erotic imagery of vivid colors, skull-faced monks, and the writhing female form in THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Jess Franco retells the Mary Shelley classic with his own perverse twist here, as Dr. Frankenstein and his Igor-like slave (played by Franco himself) are murdered just as their monster is brought to life. Picking up the pieces is Dr. Seward (Alberto Dalbés), one of the few scientists Frankenstein trusted. But the evil spirit of Cogliostro (one of Franco’s go to bad guys in the 70s, Howard Vernon) wants Frankenstein’s monster to mate with his own creation in order to create the perfect life form for his spirit to inhabit.
That’s the twisty little plot at play here in between Franco’s slow camera movement across females in various forms of undress. Paired with multiple scenes of torture and time on Doc Frankenstein’s table in which the process of resurrection seems to be very painful as the monster and the reanimated Dr. Frankenstein writhe in pain while riding the lightning bolt, the narrative is less important to the director than the scenes of torture, torment and the human body are. I’m afraid to see how short this film would be without these scenes, which obviously fascinated Franco the most. There are so many of them that the ending itself feels truncated, as if they ran out of time and instead one of the actresses simply announces to the camera and the viewer what will befall the evil Cogliostro instead of us seeing it ourselves. This blatant show-don’t-tell faux pas doesn’t make THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN one of Franco’s more tightly told tales.
What the film does deliver is some pretty bold and nightmarish imagery. Franco has always had a flair for the surreal, but here he bathes scenes in unearthly bright red and blue colors. Robed monks move in unison down dark stairways to a drumming beat like some weird medieval Daft Punk video, while Frankenstein’s monster himself looks utterly unique painted all in silver (though his pronounced brow is still intact, but looks fake as ever and barely glued on). The actor playing the monster (Fernando Bilbao) is quite good. His monstrous physique really delivers a menacing performance, especially the scenes where he is painfully being brought back to life.
Franco offers up a unique and sometimes fascinating take on FRANKENSTEIN, choosing of course to focus on the copulation between the monster and his bride (who looks like a half naked Poison Ivy). With a name like THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, I guess heavy doses of sex and T&A are to be expected, but there’s enough surreal imagery to satisfy the less literal crowd here, and if you’re into trippy takes on classics, this is a fun but narratively breezy one.
BEWARE: This trailer is in French, I believe, and looks out for lots of 70’s topiary!
Retro-review: New on a Double Feature Bluray from The Shout Factory!
JAWS OF SATAN (1981)aka KING COBRA
Directed by Bob Claver
Written by James Callaway (story), Gerry Holland(screenplay)
Starring Fritz Weaver, Gretchen Corbett, Jon Korkes, Norman Lloyd, Diana Douglas, Bob Hannah, Nancy Priddy, Christina Applegate, John McCurry, Jack Gordon, Allene Simmons, Mary Lyons McEvoy, Bill Gribble, Jamie Lawrence, Mark Richards, Jordan Williams, Denise Cannon
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
If you are looking for a film to get absolutely shitfaced to and make fun of with a group of friends, you can’t go wrong with JAWS OF DEATH, also known as KING COBRA. The film is filled with downright terrible moments and not an ounce of logic so that you can’t help but work those guffaw muscles overtime.
For no real reason, a giant king cobra escapes from a circus train and goes on a rampage in a small Midwestern town. The snake represents many things throughout the film. It’s a focus of study for Dr. Maggie Sheridan (Gretchen Corbett) and Dr. Paul Hendricks (Jon Korkes), who find the rise in snake attacks in the area peculiar. It’s something to be covered up by the local mayor, who is trying to get his dog track open and can’t be bothered by news of a snake epidemic and won’t let it hinder the chances of the track being a big success. And to Father Tom (Fritz Weaver), the snake is Satan itself. The film sort of splits itself into three different films: a nature strikes back film, a JAWS-style man vs. nature film, and finally, and the most weird subplot of the bunch, a story of man vs. the devil.
In all cases, the stories are rather muddied and don’t make a hell of a lot of sense as it feels like the movie wants to be a little of everything and thus is nothing much at all. Still, the film has some unintentionally hilarious scenes that deserve to be listed as they are even funny spelled out. Here goes:
Dr. Maggie encounters the evil cobra in her bedroom and has enough time to call for help to snake wrangler Dr. Paul, who is in a hotel across town and races across town to get there just in time to nab the spitting reptile.
In a scene that belongs in a completely different film, for no real reason other than to put Dr. Maggie in peril again, a biker runs her off the road and attempts to rape her at gunpoint.
Snake wrangler Dr. Paul gets into a helicopter (because…helicopter, I guess) in order to look for the perfect places the killer snake could hide; the logic here is that it’s easier to spot an eight foot snake from super-high in the air.
The brainy stuff keeps on keepin’ on, as snake wrangler Paul at an hour ten into the film and ten victims in decides it’s about time to get some anti-venom.
Father Tom frantically runs from the camera matching him at eye level (suggesting the snake is slithering at him at full speed at about six feet tall) through a graveyard.
All of this and we get little Christina Applegate hugging a kitty and screaming in terror when she is bitten by a snake (her fate is never really revealed, as the all too abrupt ending doesn’t really allow for it).
The snake attacks and the bite makeup are pretty well done here. Most of the time a real snake was used, which is always impressive. Here, though the glass can be seen (it’s also seen prominently in the snake scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), a pane of glass separates the actors from the snake itself but still it makes for some nice close ups of the actors and the snakes. But you’re not going to have enough time to be thrilled at these details, because the laughter barfing from your mouth at JAWS OF DEATH will drown all of that out.
Paired with a much more creepy film, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (reviewed here), this is a fun double feature and well worth it to folks who love the nature run amok films that permeated the Seventies and early Eighties.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
ZONE TROOPERS (1985)Directed by Danny Bilson
Written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Starring Tim Thomerson, Timothy Van Patten, Art LaFleur, Biff Manard, William Paulson, Peter Boom, Max Turilli, Eugene Brell, John Leamer, Bruce McGuire, Alviero Martin
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Fans of old timey war films might be the right audience for ZONE TROOPERS, an often goofy but genuinely entertaining little throwback.
Familiar in tone to the way the military was handled in the 1986 remake of INVADERS FROM MARS crossed with the broad strokes acting of HOGAN’S HEROES more than the gritty sensationalism of STARSHIP TROOPERS is ZONE TROOPERS, a low budget horror film that does a good job of trying to convince the viewer that it was filmed in the 1950s as a ragtag group of commandos lead by the crusty and unkillable Tim Thomerson discover a crashed alien ship as they battle Nazi soldiers during WWII. While the aliens creep out the soldiers at first, they realize that they have more in common with them than their Nazi foes, so they team up to vanquish the Krauts with ray guns that make people disappear.
If you’re going into this and trying to take things seriously, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This is the film equivalent of a SGT. FURY & THE HOWLING COMMANDOS comic, with a kooky bunch of soldiers talking in 50s lingo while taking on the Nazis. The whole film is unbelievably wholesome and reeks of mom and apple pie, which is kind of refreshing to see in the apathetic age we currently inhabit. Many a war movie cliché is worn here as Thomerson gives a gruff performance as “The Sarge,” CLASS OF 1984’s Timothy Van Patten is the wide-eyed fresh fish Joey, and the tough and dependable Dum Dum Dugan of the crew, Mittens, is played by the always fun Art LaFleur. These talented character actors are playing it straight and are fully willing to play with the 50s dialect and starry-eyed patriotism that permeated WWII. Seeing it all might be hard to swallow in this day and age when patriotism is a four letter word, but there’s something undeniably awesome about how black and white things are in this film.
The effects are as low as low can be, as the lead alien has a giant bug-head that sort of moves. The disintegration rays are hilariously bad, as the filmmakers can’t seem to keep the camera stationary enough in order to make the disappearing effect work. The action in this film is equally unbelievable, as this is cartoon war through and through with nary a blood droplet spilled. This is not a film that reflects the carnage of war in a realistic light. Look for A-Team type action here where trucks crash, but the drivers safely jump away from the vehicle before the explosion.
I don’t want to rag on this film too much. It’s cartoonish and innocent fun, and I believe it was intended to be. Listening to the big band music soundtrack and seeing G.I.s reading comic books and swapping baseball cards on the battlefield may not be completely accurate depictions of the war and pale in comparison to the gritty reality shoved down our throats in today’s war films, but ZONE TROOPERS harkens back to a simpler time and gave me a warm feeling while watching its goofy action, 2D characters, and wonky effects play out.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
GHOST TOWN (1988)Directed by Richard Governor, Mac Ahlberg
Written by Duke Sandefur, David Schmoeller
Starring Franc Luz, Catherine Hickland, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Penelope Windust, Bruce Glover, Zitto Kazann, Blake Conway, Laura Schaefer, Michael Alldredge, Ken Kolb, Will Hannah, Henry Max Kendrick, James Oscar Lee, Charles Robert Harden, Edward Gabel, Jackson Fisher
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
This little ditty from Empire feels a lot more like a lost episode of TWILIGHT ZONE than an actual full length feature. Still there’s a lot to like about the 80s cowboy ghost tale GHOST TOWN.
While searching for a kidnapped woman in an abandoned desert town, Deputy Langley (Franc Luz) finds that the town is not as empty as it seems. It appears this ghost town is actually haunted by ghosts of outlaws from the Old West. Armed with a revolver from a fallen gunman that actually harms ghosts, Langley must rescue the girl and get back to his own time.
Old West ghosts meets a man out of time is the age old plot here. Some of my favorite episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE focused on someone stumbling through a rift in time and space and ending up in the Old West. There’s something about the simplicity of those Old West days that seems to be great fodder to fall back into, and it makes for a fun story here as CRAWLSPACE writer David Schmoeller and co-writer Duke Sandefur toss out some fun little moments where Old West scoundrels meet modern justice. Luz is a strong enough lead, though he isn’t given much of an arc here. In fact, no one really gets one as the story sort of just follows Luz’s Langley as he stumbles over corpses and stumbles into clues behind the missing girl. It feels like for budgetary reasons, the film really didn’t have enough pesos in order to bring the entire town to life, so while the dead rise, it still seems to be in the ghost town and not in the past where everyone is still thinking they are living. This makes the ghosts sort of the repeater variety, stuck in their own time while their surroundings age and wither. It makes for an interesting way to distinguish the film from the TZ episodes, as the cowboys look more like zombies than anything else (thought they do walk and talk quite eloquently).
But while the story really doesn’t do too many cartwheels, the film itself looks great. The ghost effects are nicely done, as each cowboy still has the scars that befell them long ago. The cobwebby and dust-crusted town looks amazing as well, and really does add to the ambience of the whole film. And finally, without a decent director catching it all, the set wouldn’t matter squat. Luckily, director Richard Governor and the uncredited director Mac Ahlberg make everything look creepy, especially the opening scenes as Langley walks through the tumbleweed-filled streets and ramshackle buildings. There’s a specific scene in which Langley is walking through town and he sees the corpse of a woman hanging from a tree that disappears in the dust that is both eloquent and bone-chilling. Scenes like this elevate the film from a schlocker to a pretty effective little scare-fest with some great set design.
In the end, with the use of the magic gun, things get a little too comic booky, but that added to the TWILIGHT ZONE charm to this film for me. There has been many a horror western since GHOST TOWN, but this one has a ghost town that actually sends chills. Lacking in a solid story or amazing actors doling out lines, GHOST STORY takes advantage of a great setting and some fantastically fun themes despite its shortcomings.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
I, MADMAN (1989)aka HARDCOVER
Directed by Tibor Takács
Written by David Chaskin
Starring Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook, Stephanie Hodge, Michelle Jordan, Vance Valencia, Steven Memel, Vincent Lucchesi, Murray Rubin
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While it’s not really fair to lump I, MADMAN into the late 80s slasher trend, it still feels like the film was vying for something franchisable in the way it was presented to the masses. I remember seeing this film in theaters, and both the trailers for it as well as the cover of FANGORIA stating “Look out Freddy, there’s a new Madman in town!”made it seem like the folks behind the film were looking for the birth of a new icon. Released right around the same time as THE HORROR SHOW, SHOCKER, BAD DREAMS, and THE FIRST POWER, Malcolm Brand from I,MADMAN was always one of my favorites of the second tier slashers of the late 80s.
The film centers around bookish LA wannabe actress Virginia (NEAR DARK’s Jenny Wright), who devours old pulp novels like potato chips and is especially fond of the bizarre works of enigmatic writer Malcolm Brand (FX guy Randall William Cook), who wrote two novels in his career: MUCH OF MADNESS, MORE OF SIN and I, MADMAN. Having loved the first novel and the way the book seemingly pulled her into the narrative, Jenny searches the bookstore she works in for I, MADMAN to no avail. But when Jenny stumbles upon a crate and discovers the book, she finds the story of a mad plastic surgeon who falls in love with an actress to start occurring in real life. In the story Malcolm Brand operates on himself, transfixing the facial features of different beautiful people onto his own to make himself the perfect Adonis to win her affection. Brand starts showing up in Jenny’s waking life, wearing a scarf to cover his hollowed-out features and professing his love for her. Soon Jenny’s friends are murdered one by one, and Brand is appearing to her with the hair of one friend, the nose of another, and so on grafted onto his own head.
Much more morbid than most of the slashers, THE GATE director Tibor Takács brings an air of gothic noir to this film. There’s a very dark quality to everything about I, MADMAN from the town the story occurs in to the scores of stacked books Jenny surrounds herself with. Takács pays close attention to adding many angles and layered levels to the chase scenes as Brand pursues his victims through worn-down buildings and smoky streets. Brand also has a monologue in a rough baritone voice, giving the already creepy looking film even more layers to get under your skin. The film feels much more like a noir thriller than a modern slasher, as it incorporates a lot of the elements from Brand’s books which are set in the 40s and 50s-era LA.
The effects here are equally intense and unique, as FX man on THE GATE Randall William Cook pulls a Lon Chaney and wears his own makeup as the scarred stalker. Draped in thick scarves and an overcoat, Brand gives off a Phantom of the Opera vibe in his visage as well as his choice to be his own canvas in terms of makeup, as Lon Chaney did all those years ago. There is a tactile way the effects work as we see the process Brand undergoes as he adds each body part of his victims and then shows his face off to Jenny every step of the way with macabre pride trying to woo her. Again, like the Phantom, Brand’s motivation is love, giving his reason for killing a much heavier tone than most of the faceless slashers of the age.
The Jackal Boy, a stop motion monstrosity from the book MUCH OF MADNESS, MORE OF SIN who itself leaps from the pages throughout the film, is again something unique in form and in the way it shows up in the film. Like THE GATE, Takács incorporates both practical and also stop motion Harryhausen-esque effects, making this feel like an effects bonanza--again indicative of the effects-heavy horrors of the Eighties. But there’s an imagination here that showed up in THE GATE that layers these horrors in ways most one dimensional films don’t have as they rely on just one kind of monstrosity. Mixing a romantic stalker heavily made up with practical effects with a stop motion monster is a level of ambition that elevates this film, and seeing these two creatures go at it toe to toe is absolute, uncut awesome.
The throughway in the film is having a main character who is so into the book she reads she feels transported into the narrative itself. Though this is somewhat of an original concept, given that the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films were in full swing by the time this film comes out, it’s not a lot different than the dreams the characters in that franchise were pulled into. Though very similar, the additions of the gothic tone, the twisted romantic plot, and the mix-up of monsters distinguishes the film from the NIGHTMARE series, though they both have to do with being transported to a fantasy world.
I, MADMAN is something special and one of the few slasher films of the late Eighties that I feel deserved a sequel. It might have hurt the film that Robert Englund’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (reviewed here) came out in the same year and also depicted a madman in love with a performer who sews the skin of his victims onto his own face. Nevertheless, we never got I, MADMAN II: MUCH OF MADNESS MORE OF SIN or THE NEXT CHAPTER or whatever it might have been called. Still, with great performances by Jenny Wright and Randall William Cook in the leads (with JUST ONE OF THE GUYS’ Clayton Rohner as Virginia’s unconvincing cop boyfriend), and skillful direction by Takács and again unique and bold effects by Cook, I, MADMAN is one of those hidden 80s gems worth rediscovering.
Available for purchase on DVD by sending an email here!
UDBRUD (2014)Directed by Henrik Anderson
Written by Henrik Anderson & Kim Hermansen
Starring Anne Stenholt, Tina Peterson, Andres V. E. Eriksen, Mads Reng-Andersen, Niklas Pedersen
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Danish zombie film UDBRUD opens with a lengthy monologue talking about nature’s way of thinning the herd by telling us about the Black Plague and how that leveled the playing field when the amount of people in the world was growing faster than it should. Citing that once again man has grown too overweight and abundant for the world to sustain it, it gives this film the excuse to have a new outbreak of epic and undead proportions to be unleashed. It’s not the best reason behind the zombie phenomenon, but it’s not the worst either.
While here in America we may be a bit wary of anything with the word zombie attached to it, this is the first Danish zombie film, so this is sort of a monumental albeit short movie. Clocking in at about 30 minutes, the short follows a twenty-something woman playing the role of a teenager. As her parents go through the mundane morning chores in a seemingly idyllic neighborhood full of guys in shorts doing yardwork waving to kids playing in the street waving to mailmen, this unnamed woman (Anne Stenholt) is oblivious to the horrors that are about to occur. The film depicts the norm as a cartoonish yet fun reality, just asking to be upended by chaos.
And sure enough, when mom picks a pus-filled boil on dad’s temple, the ensuing pus explosion contaminates the family just as the rest of the block erupts into tumor-ridden zombie anarchy. The amount of gore in this short is impressive, as the tumors and pus-filled sacs on the faces of the zombies really do make for some stomach-churning scenes. As our protagonist escapes, we flash forward an extended period of time to see her grown hard and crusty surviving the zombie apocalypse and taking on both zombie and survivor alike in a battle royale of carnage. The hokey costumes of the apocalyptic punks are somewhat hilarious as each member of the survivor party seems to be evoking a different end of the world trend, be it holocaust skater punk or apocalyptic cowboy; still, it makes for a balls to the wall ending with much grue spattered in every direction.
This is pretty low fi cinema, only for the zombie lover who must see everything, but there’s a foreign charm to the whole thing that made it interesting to me. The absence of political correctness is kind of charming as well as the cover to this disc saying the movie is rated R for Retarded. I’m sure that pisses off some, but knowing that other parts of the world aren’t as overly sensitive to things like that is refreshing to me for some reason. The film also has some great Goblin-esque music that elevates things a notch or three.
All in all, UDBRUD is a fun and gory low budget flick that is made cooler as it makes you realize this modern zombie fascination isn’t just an American thing.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
HOUSE ON THE HILL (2012)Directed by Jeff Frentzen
Written by Jeff Frentzen & Nicole Marie Polec
Starring Stephen A.F. Day, Sam Leung, Naidra Dawn Thomson, Shannon Leade, Kevin McCloskey, Laura Hofrichter, Brenna Catherine Briski, Crystal Nelson, Tya Adams, Olivia Parrish, Rachael Devlin, Elissa Dowling, Erin Young, Bud Watson, Jordan Bunniie
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
San Francisco serial killer Leonard Lake and his accomplice Charles Ng were sick men. Because they deemed themselves not attractive to women (and seeing real life photos of them and footage from a confessional tape Lake made, they were pretty spot on with their assumptions), they decided to punish as many women as possible for it by abducting them and taking them to a secluded house in the middle of nowhere to use them as sex slaves and servants. Even with the most skilled hands at filmmaking this would be tough content to deal with, but toss in that this is a no budget movie done by amateur actors and this is a rough film to sit through.
I can’t say I enjoyed much of HOUSE ON THE HILL. It lingers a bit too much on scenes of rape and torture and sort of emulates Lake (Stephen A.F. Day) and Ng (Sam Leung) by giving them the meatiest parts in the film. I understand following the serial killers is a horror movie trope, but when these despicable acts really did occur in real life, I find something rather deplorable about making an entire movie about them. The film does seem to follow one of the few survivors of Lake’s house of horrors, but and gives her a bit of an arc, but the actress is just not there in terms of conveying much for than trembling fear (which she does a lot of), so I would say the film really doesn’t make her into a compelling character to follow. The film also tries its damndest to be poignant and dramatic focusing on the survivor retelling the tale to an investigator, but it is painful to see these non-actors going for the Oscar here.
If there are strong performances here, Day and Leung do a capable job of playing totally heinous and unlikable people as Lake and Ng. They are the best actors of the bunch, and at least lend a sense of menace to the film.
Unfortunately, the most chilling moments of the film are from actual video taken of Lake planning the murders and confessing to the crimes he’s about the commit while lounging back in his easy chair. His balding head tilted back and beer belly jutting out, this would be something rather comical, but the cold way Lake doles out his plans is pretty terrifying. The fact that he pretty much does everything he plans and recites to the camera later in the film makes it all the more uncomfortable. The movie that builds itself around those videos is not as effective in the least. So while the filmmakers had some disquieting inspiration to build a movie on, HOUSE ON THE HILL is just too low fi to be effective in any way.
New this week on Vimeo On Demand!
THE CHOSEN (2014)Directed by Ben Jehoshua
Written by Ben Jehoshua, Barry Jay, Andrew J. Scheppmann
Starring Kian Lawley, Elizabeth Keener, Angelica Chitwood, Chris Gann, Dayna Devon, Wiley B. Oscar, Mykayla Sohn, Casey James Knight, Emily Killian, Barbara Goodson, Melissa Navia, Johnny Alexander, Stefanie Estes, Lexi Flores, Brent Alan Henry, Harv Popick, Penelope Richards, Hannah Sohn
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Taking heavy inspiration from IT FOLLOWS, THE CHOSEN possesses some potent scares despite its familiar themes of a curse passed on from one person to another. IT FOLLOWS wasn’t the first film to focus on this type of curse. J-horror and its American remakes practically cornered the market on the subgenre during the 2000s, mixing it with technology as with THE RING or just straight up passing from one person to the next with THE GRUDGE. So while IT FOLLOWS immediately popped into my head while watching THE CHOSEN, it’s different enough as it also riffs on films like INSIDIOUS with a child haunted by a demon from hell being its main conflict. Still, in the first paragraph of the review, when I am automatically comparing it to other iconic films, that’s never a good sign.
The modern family is a pretzeline sort of beast. With divorces and surrogate families all over modern society, the nuclear family is a tough thing to come by. So it’s no wonder this film is occasionally hard to follow, as the relationships between the characters are rather murky and unclear. Cameron (Kian Lawley) is the somewhat rebellious yet completely parentified child in a dysfunctional family. Mom (Elizabeth Keener, who looks too much like Katherine Keener to not be her younger sister) goes on long business trips, leaving her teen and tween kids to fend for themselves. Dad is out of the picture and raising his own new family in another state. Grandpa is wheelchair-bound and at death’s door with his senile wife not far behind him. Uncle Joey is a macho asshole. Aunt Jean is a drug addict. All of this negligence leaves little Angie (Mykayla Sohn) easy pickins for a demon to come in and steal her soul. Now Cameron must find five souls in his family to offer the demon in order to break the family curse and get Angie back. With a shit family like this one, it shouldn’t be hard for Cameron to fulfill this demonic exchange.
I like the SOPHIE’S CHOICE-like concept here where Cameron must choose between members of his family in order to save the soul of his innocent sister. Pretty much every person in Cameron’s family has given him a reason or two for him to choose them for the sacrifice. Then again, it challenges the “blood is thicker than water” credo that I have always felt was important in my own life. Here Cameron doesn’t really have those ties as his family is pretty despicable, and I think because the family is comprised of assholes it really doesn’t make this choice very hard at all for Cameron and thus the personal conflict isn’t as potent as I feel it could have been. Once the absolute shits of the family are taken care of the choices are a little harder for Cameron to pick from, but still, I don’t think the conflict is stretched to the maximum here and I was left wanting a bit more drama. As is, I think the setup is a winner and it makes for a fun time to see Cameron decide who lives and who dies and how far he will go to achieve it, but the story makes it easy for Cameron to make the choice and stories should never take it easy on their characters.
While the acting is pretty convincing across the board, the one thing that irked me about this film is that Cameron becomes somewhat of an expert spellcaster by the final act, fully accepting the dark arts, smearing his blood in sigils, and cursing folks left and right. It just felt like this evolution of the character moved way too fast to be convincing enough for me given the amount of time Cameron had to learn these curses. The world of the curse isn’t really fleshed out, either. We are given a magic book and it pretty much has everything you need to know about Angie’s predicament in it. I guess a book is better than Lin Shaye spouting a long diatribe about the Further, but still, neither makes for compelling cinema. This felt like lazy writing, and I would have liked to have seen the information come to Cameron a little more organically than just reading it from a book.
THE CHOSEN is not a bad film. There are some competent scares throughout (though the CG isn’t the best). The look of the possessed girl with black eyes and the no-mouthed demon from the poster are both pretty effective, and while there are some real groaners in terms of lines (the line “Let’s go to hell!” made me wince so hard I almost sprained something), there’s enough here in terms of solid acting and thrills to have a decent time with.
New on BluRay from IFC Midnight!
ALIEN OUTPOST (2014)aka OUTPOST 37
Directed by Jabbar Raisani
Written by Blake Clifton, Jabbar Raisani
Starring Brandon Auret, Adrian Paul, Douglas Tait, Reiley McClendon, Rick Ravanello, Joe Reegan, Sven Ruygrok, Darron Meyer, Matthew Holmes, Nic Rasenti, Andy Davoli, Scott E. Miller, Jordan Shade, Kenneth Fok, Justin Munitz, Michael Dube, Tapiwa Musvosvi, Khalil Kathrada, Tyrel Meyer, Craig Macrae, Stevel Marc, Lemogang Tsipa
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Evocative more of STARSHIP TROOPERS than ALIENS, ALIEN OUTPOST is a rock solid mix of action, sci fi, and horror, but those wary of the first person POV/found footage style might not be interested.
A documentary crew is sent with a military relief team to Outpost 37, a remote military base located in the Middle East in the heart of combat between the allied military forces of many different countries against an alien army whose motivations are rather vague, but they are definitely not here on a peace mission. While the first touchdown of the alien ships were thought of as natural disasters resulting in mass destruction in major cities, what originally looked to be comets falling to earth turned out to be mammoth structures full of alien warships and armored alien invaders. A massive united strike against the alien warships leads to a retreat by the alien force, but some ships remain and the aliens continue to fight. A grid of satellites covers the globe, blocking the remaining aliens from communicating with their homeworld, leaving the military to clean up the stragglers who won’t go down without a fight. While the story of the war was big news the ADHD media has moved on to other stories, leaving the military undermanned and underfunded, yet still forced to pick up the pieces and take care of the remaining aliens. That’s where this story starts, as the team of Outpost 37 investigates strange occurrences in the desert around their compound.
The film utilizes the shockumentary format well, interspersing interviews in between key moments in action as the military discover what looks to be a secret alien base and a plot that could destroy the world. While the handheld format is old hat by now, the fact that this is a military film makes it somewhat different enough from just a bunch of kids with a camera, so my interest was held for the duration of this film as the cameras jump in close to the action and add a sense of hyper-realism to make you feel part of the battle. There are some wonky cuts here and there, but considering this film is put together as if it were a documentary which has been compiled and edited, it makes these cuts feel more natural in the world where this film might have been made, so it’s at least pretty believable to watch.
The action here is pretty intense as tensions between members of the unit begin to chip away at the ranks. High ranking military intervention begins to pop up, causing more problems, and the aliens themselves make everything difficult. The film is full of solid action scenes, yet the film slows things down so we get to know the weary but youthful grunts who long to return home to see their girlfriends and the mothers. This is a standard of military movies, but it’s done capably here and makes for some poignant death scenes later in the film. The military stuff going on here feels legit, but there are times when the grassy yet hilly landscape looks like this is being made on the outskirts of LA rather than the Middle East.
If ALIEN OUTPOST has a fault, it’s that the aliens themselves are rather uninspired looking and feel like cartoon designs rather than any type of monster that would appear in this believable military world. The bulky armor and reptilian head just isn’t distinct enough and feels like it is swiped from a video game. But ALIEN OUTPOST has a fully fleshed out story and world all of this military sci fi is occurring in, which adds to the quality of the film. Strong in writing and effective in the way it was filmed, as long as you’re not looking for a brand new-looking alien, you’re bound to be entertained by ALEIN OUTPOST.
Availble on BluRay, DVD, iTunes, Netflix, and On Demand!
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014)Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Jonny Brugh, Stu Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Rhys Darby, Jackie van Beek, Elena Stejko, Jason Hoyte, Karen O'Leary, Mike Minogue, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Ian Harcourt, Ethel Robinson, Brad Harding, Yvette Parsons, Madeleine Sami, Frank Habicht, Kura Forrester, Simon Vincent, Cohen Holloway, Duncan Sarkies, Nathan Meister, Tanemahuta Gray
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s going to be hard to find a horror comedy funnier than WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, which mixes humor smart and lowbrow wirh everything we know and love about vampires.
A camera crew was given access into the hidden world of the vampires. They were promised not to be harmed and given full access to the nocturnal lives of their undead world. At the beginning of the film, we meet Viago (Taika Waititi), a kind hearted vampire who accepted the invitation of the filmmakers to film this documentary and acts as the den mother to a quartet of vampires all living together under the same roof. Viago introduces up to Vladislav (FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS’ Jemaine Clement) an egotistical vamp who has fallen on hard times since a creature he dubs the Beast harmed him deeply and left him a hollow man, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) a self-proclaimed ladies vamp who is labeled the “badboy” of the group, and Petyr (Ben Fransham) an ancient Nosferatu-esque vamp who is crabby in his old age and hisses at any attempt to invite him to house meetings. The camera crew follows the banal day to day (or more accurately, night to night) happenings in the home as they argue about who does the dishes, the difficulty of getting into clubs without being invited in by the bouncers first, and occasional run-ins with a gang of werewolves lead by FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS’ Murray aka the hilarious Rhys Darby.
The film also has a lot of fun with vampire tropes such as the aforementioned setback of not getting into a club without being invited first and the vamps difficulty maintaining spells of hypnosis according to their current confidence level and state of mind. Again, lines about “you can’t eat the cameraman” are infinitely more funny coming from Jermaine Clement’s monotone voice, so it’s the fact that I loved FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS that helped me love this movie to its very core. Another bit in the film is about the way the vamps treat their human servants, leading them on for years squeezing out as much servitude they can from them with the promise of turning them into vampires. Seeing the cast make excuses why they can’t change their servant Jackie (Jackie van Beek) into a vampire is hilarious as the only reason they are prolonging things is because they are lazy and like it that Jackie does anything they want, which usually means cleaning up after their messes.
The movie also has a lot of fun with effects as the vamps constantly get into arguments and challenge one another by hissing and then launching into the air. It’s something we’ve seen in vampire movies for years, but the fact that these vamps will go into full on hissing mode over unwashed dishes is what elevates things to a level of lunacy that evoked so much laughter. It’s also fun to see the vamps go all out in one scene as Clement’s Vladislav turns into a cat with Jermaine’s face to terrify one of their house guests and Viago stumbles into a lovemaking session with Vladislav acting like Gary Oldman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA rolling around with two women on the wall with silk sheets. This film is filled from start to finish with little one notes that never failed in their delivery for me.
But this is not just a collection of one notes. Each character gets an arc of sorts and comes out the other end of this film a changed person because of it. That’s what elevates this from a SCARY MOVIE-style horror farce to one that feels more like something Christopher Guest would make. The level of character here is fantastic and while each character is goofy in their own way, you can’t help but like these weird vamps as they go though life’s ups and downs.
I’d be remiss not to point out Rhys Darby and his crew of werewolves as they are easily one of the most interesting sidebars this film goes to. As in FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS where Bret, Jermaine, and Murray would meet a rival gang on the street as if they are acting out a scene from WEST SIDE STORY, here the vamps keep crossing paths with Rhy Darby’s group of werewolves who seem like they would be equally interesting to follow with a camera crew should this film ever want to have another go at it with a sequel. Darby chastising one of his gang about swearing so much, stating “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.” remains one of the funniest lines on the film every time I hear it.
I absolutely loved this movie as it both pokes fun at modern culture’s fascination with vampires by having these vamps just as fascinated with it and also takes these characters seriously enough to make me care about them. This type of comedy, which hits you on multiple levels of funny, be it lowbrow or highbrow, doesn’t often come around and while the vamps in WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is often downright hilarious, I never felt like it was making fun of the horror genre or coming from a place where respect wasn’t given to vampire movies. It takes what we all know about vamps and what society has made of the mythology and makes it all to human and real. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS should be a must see for everyone and while it has a few bits of gore and pitch dark humor, I think even those who don’t like horror films will get into this one.
New today in select theaters and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment!
EXTINCTION (2015)aka WELCOME TO HARMONY
Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas
Written by Juan de Dios Garduño (novel), Alberto Marini, Miguel Ángel Vivas
Starring Matthew Fox, Jeffrey Donovan, Quinn McColgan, Valeria Vereau, Clara Lago, Eduardo Fedriani, Matt Devere, Alex Hafner, Jeremy Wheeler, Katharine Bubbear
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While zombie movies have become passé these days, I really think folks are just sick of uninspired zombie films retreading material we’ve seen a thousand times before. Add a new element or give it a new spin and zombies can be just as terrifying as any old monster. This is the case for the excellent new zombie flick EXTINCTION, which may have a somewhat uninspired name (I kind of like the original name of the film WELCOME TO HARMONY myself), but it delivers on just about every level a good zombie movie should.
The film opens with Patrick (LOST’s Matthew Fox) and Jack (BURN NOTICE’s Jeffrey Donovan) packed into a school bus filled with people on their way…somewhere. Right off the bat we are not really told what type of film this is, but you definitely know the mood is dire and everyone is terrified. When the bus ahead comes to a stop the second bus becomes even more concerned, and when one of the armed soldiers goes to investigate, an outbreak occurs and we see how fast this undead virus passes from one person to the next as well as how violent these infected become. Reminiscent of the outbreak scene in 28 WEEKS LATER, this opener packs a huge emotional and suspenseful punch and is an excellent opener to the white knuckle intensity that follows for pretty much the entire film.
Skipping ahead nine years, the situation has changed dramatically with Patrick and Jack not talking to one another and the baby who was born in the first moments of the film, which happens to be Patrick’s, is now being raised by Jack. This nine year old child named Lu (Quinn McColgan) is full of energy, questions, and a streak of rebelliousness that strikes the fear of god in Jack, whose rigid and controlled lifestyle has been crucial in surviving in this post-apocalyptic world. Though something has happened in between the opener and this new time in which the story takes place, the viewer isn’t let in on the secret until much later. The relationship between Patrick, Jack, and Lu is the driving force for the film and it’s a strong one as Patrick and Jack seem to have a bitter hatred towards one another, but not so much that Patrick has moved any further than the house across the street from where Jack and Lu live. Drinking the nights away and reaching out on a ham radio to find survivors, Patrick is a shell of a man in an arctic northern tundra seemingly far away from the threat of the infected. But when a naked and pale monster in the shape of a man crawls around outside in the snow sniffing for prey, it looks as if the infected have evolved into something even more menacing and adapted to the cold weather, posing a new threat that might be just the thing to repair the three’s strained relationship.
Matthew Fox and Jeffrey Donovan are fantastic here as best friends pushed apart by the toll of the plague that befell humanity. Fox is soulful and grief-stricken at what he has lost (at times reminiscent of the season on LOST where he returns home and is down and out), but retains his humor at times which comes out as he plays loud music and gives mock radio shows to no one drunkenly over the loudspeakers surrounding his home. Next door, Donovan’s Jack is trying his best to keep a rambunctious pre-teen entertained, educating her to survive, but also trying to be the father Patrick is not able to be. The contemptuous relationship between the two is amazingly fleshed out and really makes for some fine drama as these two are avoiding one another but can’t bring themselves to move away from one another given that they need each other to survive. Even as bitter enemies they have each other’s backs, and there’s something awesome about how this movie conveys this relationship.
The zombies themselves have evolved into something much more threatening in EXTINCTION. Reminiscent of the underground monsters from THE DESCENT with their noses and lips frost burnt off, these creatures make this much more threatening than your usual zombie fodder. The way the creatures move, interact, and attack are all unique, which also makes this zombie film so good and unlike the rest.
The arctic setting is another win for this film, as I have a tendency to love most horror films set in the snow. Something about the bitter cold and the stark landscape that looks innocent but is deadly adds to whatever beastie is lurking about in the shadows. Here the bitter cold is used as protection from the monsters, but as they have evolve it becomes just another obstacle for our heroes to be entombed in as the monsters descend on their homes.
Director Miguel Ángel Vivas has delivered a gorgeous movie which soaks in the golden sun, the twinkling and stark snowdrifts, and simple settings within the homes. Vivas also delivers all the right emotional beats that made me fall in love with these characters and root for all of them to survive. The climax of the film is jaw-droppingly good as Vivas splits the action into three locales, moving the camera through walls and across spaces vertically and horizontally to take in all of the action. It’s the type of sophisticated storytelling through camera movement you don’t normally see in films and a true indication that Vivas has many amazing films ahead of him.
So don’t be scared away thinking EXTINCTION is just another zombie movie. It’s filled with amazing action, drama that will make your heart swell and burst, and monsters that have evolved past your typical zombie fodder. If more films evolved the zombie concept like this, much of the stigma attached to zombie films would be dispersed. As is, EXTINCTION is an amazing little slice of cinema that thrills on all levels.
And finally…Wubba wubba wubba! I’m making like Downtown Julie Brown here as I introduce The Bloody Jug Band’s new video “Beautiful Corpse.” It’s a catchy mix of dirty country and metal that actually is quite catchy and has a lot of morbid funeral home imagery. Plus it’s got corpse lapdancing! If you like what you see here, you can find out more info on The Bloody Jug Band here and it’s producer Abyssmal Entertainment here!
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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