Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)
Retro-review: THE SENTINEL (1977)
Retro-review: TURKEY SHOOT (1982)
Retro-review: CAPTIVES (1988)
Retro-review: LISA (1990)
Short Cuts: Clive Barker’s THE FORBIDDEN (1978)
NIGHTMARE CODE (2014)
PAY THE GHOST (2015)
THE VISIT (2015)
Advance Review: GERMAN ANGST (2015)
And finally… Adam Stephen Kelly’s DONE IN!
New on BluRay from Severin Films!
TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)aka CEMETARY OF THE LIVING DEAD, COFFIN OF TERROR, 5 GRAVES FOR A MEDIUM, TOMBS OF HORROR
Directed by Massimo Pupillo (as Ralph Zucker)
Written by Ruth Carter & Cesare Mancini (adaptation), Romano Migliorini & Roberto Natale (screenplay & story), Edgar Allan Poe (story)
Starring Walter Brandi, Mirella Maravidi, Barbara Steele, Alfredo Rizzo, Riccardo Garrone, Luciano Pigozzi, Tilde Till, Ennio Balbo
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
The release of NIGHTMARE CASTLE on BluRay (reviewed here) from Severin Films also featured a pair of lost films: CASTLE OF BLOOD ( reviewed here) and the subject of this review, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE. This trio of films is by far one of the coolest collections I’ve waded through all year, mostly because they are filled with cool ideas and also that I had never seen them before. All three Italian gothic films feature the danger-filled radiance of Barbara Steele and are inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Also, all three are frikkin’ awesome.
An attorney, Albert Kovac (played by the Joe Pesci-esque Walter Brandi), journeys to a dark castle to find the owner deceased and his wife Cleo Hauff (Barbara Steele) and lovely daughter Corrine (Mirella Maravidi) to be haunted by visions and strange occurrences. The castle was used by the doctor as a hospital to treat plague victims, and is rumored to be haunted by their tormented souls. As the anniversary of the doctor’s death approaches and the suspicious events begin to be revealed concerning the doctor’s death, there are threats both natural and supernatural afoot at the castle.
As with the films on this disc, the horrific imagery in this lost film feels like it may have inspired modern masters of horror, specifically Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD, as an audio recording of the dead father seems to stir the spirits of the dark castle. There is also a scene where a frightened girl is tormented by the trees as she flees the mansion. I don’t want to say Raimi ripped off these scenes, but they simply reminded me of elements from his film. But the amazing imagery doesn’t stop there. Among the doctor’s trophies is a collection of hands from the victims of the plague, which twitch and flex later in the film. Beating hearts in jars and all sorts of bumps and boils also add to the icky ambience of the dismal castle once cursed with the plague. The collection of imagery makes this a film that is both creepy for its dark atmosphere but palpably makes your skin crawl from the symptoms of plague on display.
Counterbalancing the creepiness once again is another brilliant performance by Steele, who once again plays a wife with a dark and conniving side. While Steele may have been typecast as the femme fatale, she does a fantastic job every time. Having seen all three of these films on this disc, she does play versions of the same character, but she is able to add little nuances to each distinguishing the roles. Here she is somewhat reluctant to betray her husband, yet possesses a spiteful and venomous demeanor later in the film, much more vicious than in CASTLE OF BLOOD and NIGHTMARE CASTLE.
I’m seriously impressed at this trio of films, and I hope Severin continues to unearth these lost gems from horror’s past. All three films were fantastically produced, capably acted, and most importantly, filled with ghoulishly imaginative scenes of terror and suspense. I highly recommend anyone who wants to experience horror’s roots to seek out this disc.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
THE SENTINEL (1977)Directed by Michael Winner
Written by Jeffrey Konvitz (novel), Michael Winner(screenplay)
Starring Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, John Carradine, Martin Balsam, José Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Deborah Raffin, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D'Angelo, Hank Garrett, Robert Gerringer, Nana Visitor, Tom Berenger, William Hickey, Gary Allen, Tresa Hughes, Kate Harrington, Jane Hoffman, Elaine Shore, Sam Gray, Jeff Goldblum, Zane Lasky, Fred Stuthman, Lucie Lancaster
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I remember being freaked out by this film as a kid, but aside from John Carradine in old age makeup and white eyes, I didn’t remember one detail about this film when I plopped this new BluRay rerelease into the player. Turns out, that uneasy feeling still permeates from this film as my horror socks were knocked clean off by the absolute weirdness and undeniable diabolical mix of religion and horror of THE SENTINEL
High class model Alison Parker, played by Christina Raines, seemingly has it all: a luxurious lifestyle, decadent friends, and a hunky lawyer boyfriend, Michael (FRIGHT NIGHT’s Chris Sarandon). Moving into a new apartment, Alison is introduced to her neighbors, an eccentric cat owner (Burgess Meredith) and an outgoing lesbian couple (Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo), but she is most interested in the reclusive priest living above her (John Carradine). After moving in, Alison begins to experience blackouts, nightmares, and begins seeing bizarre religious imagery. Through some fancy lawyer detective work, Michael uncovers a plot involving a doorway to Hell and the guardian of this gateway, dubbed The Sentinel. Seems the sights have been set on Alison to be the new Sentinel to the gates of Hell, whether she wants to or not.
There is so much to love in this film. First and foremost is how it incorporates religious iconography and tradition in ways that definitely highlight how odd and often scary it can be. Much of this film revolves around the church, but this isn’t the welcome place folks congregate for solace. This church and its people are frightening and mysterious, filled with secrets and foggy intentions. At the same time, this film takes bible verses literally and gives form to heavenly and hellish aspects in an ominous light. The tone of this film is deathly serious and dire, which gave me a feeling of utter dread as to how far into the blackness this film would go.
Turns out THE SENTINEL gets pretty bleak and horrifying, touching upon deep dark secrets from Alison’s past involving a sexually abusive father and widely scoped conspiracies that burrow to the core of the Catholic church. The flashback scenes and nightmares Alison experiences in her apartment are absolutely horrifying, as Alison encounters her dead father and brutally attacks him in a scene involving a knife and a foaming eyeball effect that I still have no idea how they did it. On top of the gruesome effects, THE SENTINEL is full of scenes that will cause all sorts of unease such as Beverly D’Angelo silently masturbating in front of Alison, a cat slowly eating a bloody bird in the hallway, and the freak-filled finale as the gates of Hell burst open and unleash monsters of all shapes and sizes.
While this film does seem to take a rather exploitative approach towards the misshapen actors playing these demons from Hell, highlighting these actors’ real deformities and calling them demons is definitely something I don’t condone or support, but director Michael Winner does have guts to do this in such a blatant and ugly way. Much like FREAKS and, later, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films using deformed actors from circuses to populate their scarefests, Winner uses these poor souls in an effectively creepy fashion. Mixing effects by the legendary Dick Smith with these real life circus freaks makes for a level of oddity that some may not be able to take.
On top of the fantastic effects and unusual imagery, THE SENTINEL is a veritable who’s who of New York actors who would one day be superstars. Everyone is in this movie from Christopher Walken to Jeff Goldblum, Eli Wallach to Jerry Orbach, Tom Berenger to Joe Ferrer, all of them in small supporting roles long before they were household names. Richard Dreyfuss can even be seen by shrewd eyes in the background of one scene. THE SENTINEL is fun simply playing spot the famous actor in each scene.
While there are similarities to ROSEMARY’S BABY, I absolutely loved this film and am so glad the Shout Factory dusted it off and made it look prettier and more horrific than it has ever been in this BluRay release. Light on supplemental material, this film is a fantastic lost gem that I feel really holds up as a creepy and often grotesque classic. Highly recommended.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Severin Films!
TURKEY SHOOT (1982)aka ESCAPE 2000, BLOOD CAMP THATCHER, SLAUGHTER GAME
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Written by Jon George (screenplay), Neill D. Hicks (screenplay as Neill Hicks), George Schenck, Robert Williams & David Lawrence (story)
Starring Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig, Carmen Duncan, Noel Ferrier, Lynda Stoner, Roger Ward, Michael Petrovitch, Gus Mercurio, John Ley, Bill Young, Steve Rackman, John Godden, Oriana Panozzo
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Let’s take a trip into the future…all the way to the year 1995! It’s a place where if you’re not in full support of the utopian order of things, you’re shackled and shipped off to reeducation camps run by sadists and the rich. While the film is a 1984 knockoff, the Australian-made TURKEY SHOOT combines genres in a fun and action-packed manner that you can’t help but cheer for.
ED GEIN’s Steve Railsback plays Paul Anders, one of three new residents of a prison camp run by Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig), a sadistic white-haired warden who runs a side project giving the rich and powerful the chance to hunt humans for sport. Olivia Hussey plays Chris Walters, another new recruit who is wrongly accused and thrown into the camp as well. Tossed into the hunt, Paul and Chris pair up to survive and just might be on the cusp of a full-fledged rebellion.
This film is chock full of tropes from all sorts of movie subgenres. TURKEY SHOOT is a prison flick with the obligatory drive into the prison, shower scenes, and attempted breakout, but it’s not just a prison film--it’s a look into the future commenting on the increasingly oppressive hand of the government on the lives of normal folk. While the technology is not necessarily futuristic, the futurism mostly involves the way government becomes a major decisive factor in every aspect of our lives and how scary that can be. But there are also elements of horror, as TURKEY SHOOT evokes the worst in humanity by incorporating the story of one of my favorite action horror premises: THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. The manhunt scenes, while brief, are fun as the hunted incorporate their wits to survive in the harsh conditions of the island and the beasts that inhabit it. There’s even a man-monster recruited to spice things up that feels a bit out of place, but still makes the film all the more fun.
But while TURKEY SHOOT is all of these things, it is also a pretty hardcore action film with exploding heads, machine guns and machetes, and all sorts of gritty violence you only saw in 70s and 80s cinema. Not only do you get the exploitive shower scene with Olivia Hussey (rrrrrrraaaooow!) but you also see the waify lass unload on her oppressors with a giant machine gun like a skinny Rambo. And the film doesn’t skimp on the gore, either, as the evil upper crust are disposed of in truly gory fashion.
TURKEY SHOOT is not a good movie by a long shot, but it is a whole lot of fun. Steve Railsback is not your typical hero, but he gets the job done as the stubborn prisoner who won’t quit. I’ll watch Olivia Hussey watching paint dry, as the actress is gorgeous and has a unique quality of aristocracy mixed with grit about her. Criss-crossing genres with reckless abandon, there’s tons of fun to be had with TURKEY SHOOT.
Retro-review: New on a special DVD/VHS Combo pack from Camp Motion Pictures!
CAPTIVES (1988)aka MAMA’S HOME
Directed by Gary P. Cohen
Written by Gary P. Cohen
Starring Jackie Neill, Art Neill, Lisa Cohen, Linda Herman, Neil Cerbone, Zach Cohen, Barry P. Cohen, Denise LeDonne
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Part of the combo pack released from Camp Motion Pictures, CAPTIVES is the three dollar rendition of the already cheaply made LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. While I found THE BASEMENT to be somewhat charming in its simplicity and low fi charm (check out my review here), it was a chore to get through this mess of a movie.
The film opens with two families waking up and going about their morning routine. One, a well to do family, while the other is made up of a trio of miscreants. When Barry (played by writer and director Gary P. Cohen) leaves for work, the trio of lowlives break into his home, tie up his wife and mother. But this is no random home invasion. Nikki (Jackie Neill) has a dark secret to tell Barry’s wife about her husband.
I don’t mind low fi movies, but there has to be a point when you’re watching your low budget movie and realize that things just aren’t going well. This film was made when recording equipment was made available to the masses so there is a charm in someone with very little talent or technique picking up a camera and attempting to make a masterpiece. Still, this was a chore to get through and while there is a compelling story in this film somewhere, the acting is absolutely amateur and everything from sound to directing is just hard to witness. The main problem is that to make it even halfway tolerable, there should have been a huge edit of about 45 minutes from this movie as it trudges along at a pace so ponderous, I felt the need for a Clockwork Orange style mechanism to maintain consciousness. CAPTIVES is definitely not a film I would recommend to even the most die hard of DIY horror fans. If anything, it’s a film to watch to see how not to make a film. Though I’m not expecting much from the rest of the films in this collection, here’s hoping they’re at least a little better than this craptacular attempt at cinema.
Sorry couldn’t find a trailer for this one.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
LISA (1990)aka THE CANDLELIGHT KILLER
Directed by Gary Sherman
Written by Gary Sherman, Karen Clark
Starring Staci Keanan, Cheryl Ladd, D.W. Moffett, Tanya Fenmore, Jeffrey Tambor, Edan Gross, Julie Cobb, Michael Ayr, Lisa Moncure, Tom Dugan, Frankie Thorn, John Hawker, Drew Pillsbury, Elizabeth Gracen, Dennis Bowen
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
From the director of perverse gems DEAD & BURIED and POLTERGEIST III, Gary Sherman gets ultra pervy, yet tells a subtly nuanced tale of the tempestuous nature of budding sexuality in LISA. While there is definitely an uber-creepy vibe to this tale, there’s a lot of surprisingly great attention to character here that you don’t often find in this type of thriller.
Lisa (MY TWO DAD’s Staci Keanan) is a 14 year old girl curious about sex, but not really understanding how her curiosity places her into dangerous situations. A characteristic common among the children of a single mom, Lisa is more of a best friend with her mother Katherine (Staci Keanan), and while Katherine longs for companionship, she is also reluctant to be seen as a hypocrite for having a relationship and going out on dates when she doesn’t allow her daughter to do so. Still, Lisa plays games with her best friend Wendy (Tanya Fenmore), imagining what it would be like to have sex, making crank phone calls to older men, and taking random pictures on the fly with men they find attractive and then scrapbooking about it. It all seems innocent, but when Lisa sets her sights on Richard (D.W. Moffett) she doesn’t realize the dapper gentleman is actually the serial killer the media has dubbed the Candlelight Killer. Using her feminine charms to get her target’s phone number, Lisa begins flirting with Richard over the phone. Intrigued and itching for a new victim, Richard makes it his goal to track down Lisa.
While in many ways this is your typical 90s LA thriller often found in heavy rotation on Cinemax and Showtime with a screeching saxophone score and filled with sex and violence, usually of a rather tame nature, LISA is different because of the depth of the performances by Keanan and her onscreen mother Ladd. This relationship is not only played well, but fleshed out in a way that is uncomfortably believable. Lisa very much emulates her mother and sees herself as her equal, thinking she doesn’t need to grow up a little in order to have relationships. At the same time, the single mother plight Katherine shows is not only common, but believable. The bulk of this relationship makes a typical stalker flick much more worthy of investment, and when mother and daughter are placed in peril, I found myself pulled in more so than I would have expected upon placing this disc in my player.
While the actual killings in LISA aren’t that spectacular (Richard tends to simply strangle his victims), there are a few moments of high tension that Sherman really knocks out of the park, such as Lisa’s first meeting with Richard and a scene where she is hiding in the back of Richard’s car. On top of those fine suspenseful moments, there are some bits of unintentionally hilarious behavior not only from the obviously bad late Eighties hair and clothing styles, but from one scene where Wendy’s bratty little brother bursts into the room when they are on the phone and barrages his sister and Lisa directly in the face with balled up and soaking wet toilet paper, and a much later scene when Richard head-butts Lisa with her own mother’s head--twice!
Don’t believe me? Check it out!
LISA is not a scare a minute, nor is it gory in any way, but it is a nicely crafted thriller with some strong performances throughout. I loved the fully developed mother/daughter relationship, and the thought put into the film which shouldn’t be as depthy as it is. The film takes some risks involving teenage feelings, and impulses that are quite ballsy for its time and even might be considered risqué in this day and age. Consider LISA firmly set in the “better than I thought it would be” category.
I couldn’t find the trailer for this, but I did stumble upon Siskel & Ebert’s review of the film, which I found to be equally, if not more, interesting.
Shot Cuts Retro-review: New on DVD/BluRay as a Clive Barker Origins double feature from MVD Visual!
THE FORBIDDEN (1978)Directed by Clive Barker
Written by Clive Barker
Starring Peter Atkins, Clive Barker, Doug Bradley, Phil Rimmer, Lyn Darnell, Julia Blake
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Short films can be indicative of raw talent, honing its craft. Then again, it can also often be a lot of pretentious shit. Especially short experimental films that choose to linger on odd visuals and abstract imagery rather than tell a cohesive tale. I can appreciate film as art and understand that narrative is not always the most important thing, but personally, I prefer something that tells a story. Clive Barker’s second early short film definitely skews more towards experimental, but there are enough clues in the loose story going on that hint at some of his more interesting tales and films to come to hold my interest.
You can see pepperings of HELLRAISER throughout THE FORBIDDEN. The film begins with a man stuck in a prison, attempting to figure out an equation that seems to unlock doorways between worlds. As he solves the puzzle, he becomes transported to a place that looks serene and beautiful, but ends up torturing him by peeling his skin off in a slow surgical fashion ending with the man presenting himself to the viewer, skinless, yet seemingly free of his prison.
While the story is very abstract, this can very much be the initial nugget of the story of Frank Cotton from HELLRAISER and witnessing Barker play around with these ideas does make for a fascinating view. Then again, there are scenes that linger on way too long. While the scene where the main character (played by future Pinhead Doug Bradley) gets his skin peeled off slowly is rather grueling to watch, while retaining its entertainment. I could have done without scene after scene of Barker himself dancing around naked with a full erection. Many scenes repeat themselves over and over. I’m sure Barker had a point to this, but at the same time, it would make for a much more interesting film had it been about ten minutes leaner. That said, seeing the seed from which HELLRAISER grew is pretty fascinating, so if you’re a Barker die hard, you’re going to have to check this one out.
Below is an interview with Mr. Barker talking about the two short films SALOME and THE FORBIDDEN which is also included in this disk.
New this week On Demand!
NIGHTMARE CODE (2014)Directed by Mark Netter
Written by Mark Netter & M.J. Rotondi (story & screenplay)
Starring Andrew J. West Mei Melancon Googy Gress Ivan Shaw Nicholas Guest Caitlyn Folley Bret Roberts Tonya Kay Albert Thakur Regi Huc Jamie Parker Paul Yen Wes Whitehead Jamie Van Dyke Steve Bralver Erika Schickel Isabella Cuda Jamie Wollrab Steve Rizzo
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While the technology on display is sophisticated, the story is somewhat simple and predictable in NIGHTMARE CODE.
Brett (Andrew J. West) has been called in to work out the kinks in a computer program that needs to be passed yesterday. The previous computer programmer, Cotton, went nuts, went on a killing spree in the office, and then blew his brains out. While most think that this is just another case of a mentally unstable person cracking under pressure, there are others who think something more sinister is afoot. The program is supposed to be able to make predictions in behavior by reading subtle facial and posture cues which can help aid in catching a criminal before he commits a crime, but almost immediately, as Brett begins working on the program, he starts realizing that the program is capable of not just behavior predictions, but may also incite evil behavior in those it targets.
The idea of an evil computer program may not seem to be that horrific (though EVILSPEAK is a pretty awesome film about the subject), but the depiction of the acts this program makes people do is pretty well done. While NIGHTMARE CODE is limited budgetarily, it does offer up some pretty great performances which make up for it. The program not only reads what we keep inside and makes the viewer privy to that insight, but it also manipulates the user into doing things they want to do, but may not necessarily have the guts to do, so the workplace violence partially is linked to the user seeing what ones’ peers think of them and partially linked to the violent impulse the program stimulates. This combination is played out pretty well throughout, and while the violence is relatively undynamic as it mostly takes the form of people shooting people, it still resonates due to the performances of the cast of unknowns.
Not exactly found footage, NIGHTMARE CODE is comprised of security camera and computer camera POVs, So those adamantly against this derivation of first person POV will most likely have issue with the film. Still, the perspective this film chooses to take is distanced and gives the film a more immediate sense of danger, which is intensified in the latter scenes when the shit really hits the fan. NIGHTMARE CODE is a moralistic tale asking the age old Goldblum-ism “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” It has some really cool ideas and while it is not the most sensational of films, it still tosses around concepts and tech that really is scary, mainly because it seems like the tech involved is just around the corner.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand & iTunes!
PAY THE GHOST (2015)Directed by Uli Edel
Written by Tim Lebbon (novel), Dan Kay (screenplay)
Starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Veronica Ferres, Lauren Beatty, Kalie Hunter, Jack Fulton, Lyriq Bent, Susannah Hoffmann, Janet Lo, Caroline Gillis, Rosalba Martinni, Jamillah Ross, Leah Madison Jung, Matteo Ghazni, Iain Becking, Erin Boyes, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Juan Carlos Velis
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While far, far, far from a great film, I have to give it to Nic Cage for having the balls to return to the world of pagan witchcraft after…well…you know…
Cage stars as literature teacher Mike Lawford, who is husband to Kristin (THE WALKING DEAD’s Sarah Wayne Callies) and father to cute kid Charlie (Jack Fulton). After his work forces him to miss out on trick or treating with his son, Cage (I’m going to refer to him by the actor’s name because Cage doesn’t play anything but Cage here) tries to make it up to him by taking him to a street carnival occurring a few blocks from their home. But Charlie keeps seeing visions of large vultures and shadowy figures following him, and right from under Cage’s nose Charlie is abducted. Cage isn’t aware that otherworldly forces are responsible, but as the year passes he begins to see visions and starts piecing together a trail back to the very origins of Halloween that hopefully will lead to finding out what happened to his missing son.
How can one critique the thespian Nicholas Cage? I mean, what happened here? Cage started out as an actor who picked interesting roles and gave inspired performances. Where did it all go wrong? Whatever happened and whenever it did, I hope one day Cage can go back to his quirky roots and start playing performances I care about, because PAY THE GHOST is definitely not the film that does it. Cage sleepwalks through this film and plays everything straight and boring. No quippy one liners. No Interesting quirks. Nothing. We don’t even get any of that Mel Gibson RANSOM-esque rage. Instead Cage simply needles a police officer for most of the film to find his son. This is definitely a film done for a paycheck, because there’s not an ounce of passion on Cage’s part.
The rest of the film around Cage is rather blah as well. Some of the Halloween lore is interesting, but it’s only touched upon in discourse-heavy monologues from the various folks Cage encounters. One woman has all of her organs burned from the inside, and there’s a creepy screaming woman that is decently computerized. The ghost children are ok in terms of spookiness, but none of it caused much of a start for me. All in all, aside from maybe a moment or two from the perspective of a little boy seeing things in the dark and some decent CG vultures, the thrills were as bland as Cage’s performance.
Say what you will about the THE WICKER MAN remake, but at least Cage gave a performance that has gone down in history as being one of the most classically bad performances. Maybe Cage realizes that when it comes to witches (as if he didn’t prove it with SEASON OF THE WITCH), he really has nothing more to give acting-wise. PAY THE GHOST certainly seems to have been done for the paycheck.
Currently in theaters!
THE VISIT (2015)Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Samuel Stricklen, Patch Darragh, Jorge Cordova
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve often talked about this phobia with friends and associates, but old people scare the shit out of me. Maybe it has something to do with the fear of my own mortality or some deep-seated trauma from my youth, but I just get creeped the hell out by oldies. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest attempt to regain the faith moviegoers one had with him is THE VISIT, which is a step in the right direction, though it will definitely feel like a desperate attempt to cash in on the fading found footage subgenre by a director in need of a hit by the filmmaker’s critics.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are set to visit their grandparents’ house, a locale that they have never been to before. Their mother (played by the usually comedic but surprisingly dramatic Kathryn Hahn here) left home as a teen and has severed ties to her parents for reasons we aren’t made aware of at first, so this will be the first time the kids have come into contact with their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Becca, a budding film director herself, has decided, of course, to document the entire trip. At first Nana and Pop Pop seem to be your typical yet somewhat absent-minded old folks, busying themselves with chopping wood and cooking all sorts of goodies in the kitchen. But the kids come to realize that something seriously off-kilter is happening when darkness falls, and it seems to get weirder as the week-long trip proceeds.
Save for some establishing shots of nature that suggest a little more skill than the teen director should have and more than a few instances where the camera falls or is dropped in the exact specific place to capture some kind of action, Shyamalan at least makes a capable found footage film that feels somewhat authentic. The fact that a lot of the actors involved are played by actors we’ve all seen before in other films kills the mystique of the believability that this is footage found, but this being a major release, I guess that is an inevitability.
Believability is crucial in found footage films as we as the audience are supposed to be pulled a little closer into the action on screen with the first person POV, and that’s one of the issues I had with THE VISIT. While the child actors playing the leads would be decent in any Spielberg monster action adventure for the entire family, I found the attempts to make them cute and clever to be sometimes annoying and other times intolerably grating. Tyler is a wannabe rapper and performs three freestyle raps throughout the film. The little white kid even has a Ralphie-like lisp and decides to say pop singers’ names instead of curse in the film. Becca uses vocabulary words that indicate that she is intelligent beyond her years and has an extensive knowledge of filmmaking terms. Isn’t that adorbs? Not really. Again, in a theatrically made film this would be forgivable. I have accepted that Spielberg kids are simply mini-adults barking lines and doing deeds that no kid would really do. Place that same aesthetic in a film that is supposed to look and feel real and it makes the kids feel even more alien. Shyamalan often uses kids in this way. It’s a common way he portrays kids in his films, but it doesn’t make them any more authentic feeling. The overly scripted JUNO-speak remarks just seem out of place in a format that is supposed to feel immediate and unrehearsed, and really took me out of the film from the get go.
One thing that is prevalent in Shyamalan’s films is the cyclical and somewhat poetic way problems are dealt with. Done decently in SIGNS with the dying woman’s premonition for Mel Gibson which come back to factor in to the film in the end and rather clunkily in LADY IN THE WATER, here there is a serendipitous nature in which the weaknesses of both children in the film factor into how things pan out in the climax. While it’s done with some finesse here, it still is quite blatant when these weaknesses are introduced that there will be a scene later where the kids will have to deal with these phobias and sure enough, during the climax, factors fall into place where both kids have to deal with their fears in order to survive.
Criticisms aside, I did jump quite a bit during this film and there are some really well set up moments of tension throughout the film. In terms of scares, at least for this oldie-phobic viewer, THE VISIT delivered in most of the instances. Shyamalan touches upon pretty much all of the creepy and gross things associated with growing older and losing control of one’s body, including old person nudity, absent-mindedness, and loss of control of one’s bowels. There are a few scenes in THE VISIT where I actually couldn’t believe they went there in terms of gross-out and dynamic scares, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at the teeth this film bared.
I also laughed quite a bit at this film, as its gallows humor really does hit the mark more often than not. So while the kids may not talk or act like real life kids, the scares in THE VISIT often work, and Mr. Shyamalan delivers something not as effective as his first three films, but possibly slightly more effective than THE VILLAGE (which I found to have some merit, though that is not a popular opinion). If you’re creeped out by getting older and all of the problems that have to do with it and aren’t yet tired of first person POV-filmed horror, THE VISIT isn’t great, but it’s potent enough to deliver more thrills than I expected.
Advance Review: Playing tonight at Fantastic Fest 2015!
GERMAN ANGST (2015)Directed by Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall
Written by Jörg Buttgereit (FINAL GIRL), Goran Mimica & Michal Kosakowski (MAKE A WISH), & Andreas Marschall (ALRAUNE)
Starring Lola Gave, Axel Holst, Michael Zenner, & Mucki the Guinea Pig in FINAL GIRL, Andreas Pape, Matthan Harris, Annika Strauss, Denis Lyons, Martina Schöne-Radunski, Daniel Faust, Lucy Lane, Grzegorz Sala in MAKE A WISH, & Milton Welsh, Kristina Kostiv, Désirée Giorgetti, Rüdiger Kuhlbrodt, Daniel Gärtner, Katja Bienert, Magdalena Ritter, Moon Suk, Ludo Vici, Daniel Westrick in ALRAUNE!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The draw here with this anthology is definitely NECROMANTIK director Jorg Buttfereit. I remember dropping my jaw in awe at the grisly and gory lengths the director went to tell his story of man and woman on corpse love in the Nineties. Returning to the screen after a long hiatus, my interest was piqued to the Nth degree knowing this new anthology had him in it. That said, this trilogy of short films, all roughly a half hour in length, turned out to be one of the most shocking and gut-churningly disturbing films I’ve seen in a long time. So while Buttgereit may be the big name here the rest of the guys, Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall, prove to be not so shabby as well.
The film starts out with Jorg Buttgereit’s FINAL GIRL. Those used to Buttgereit’s more harshly filmed NECROMANTIK I & II will be surprised at how soft and sometimes beautiful this half hour short turned out to be. Following a young girl waking up and petting her guinea pig, she proceeds to give us some fun facts about the common household pet that I wasn’t aware of. But apart from learning something about hamsters, this short has a darker and much more perverse undertone that comes to light pretty surprisingly. I was expecting something extreme and horrifying, given the films this director has doled out in the past, but what I got was shocking to say the least. Again, as with the NECROMANTIK films, Buttgereit’s effects are so authentic looking that it causes a real sense of unease. Still, what impressed me the most was the way Buttgereit starts out so delicately before he pummels us with the gore. While there is an ever-present undertone to the words the young girl narrates throughout, there’s a poeticism to it all that I hadn’t seen from this filmmaker before. This was a fantastic way to begin the film, as it lures you in gently before it drives its teeth in.
MAKE A WISH is the second installment, from Michal Kosakowski. This is a brutal tale of racism and violence about a magic totem which enables two souls to switch with one another. The totem is given from one deaf/mute man to his deaf/mute girlfriend, and a tale is told about how a Polish girl attempted to change the tide of WWII with the totem; instead the girl was shown how infectious evil can be. This is a twisted tale of the human condition once granted power. It’s a story of oppressors and oppression and how the fine line between the two happens to be the slightest circumstance. Full of violence that will shake your soul, Kosakowski tells a complex story that has no easy answers. Look for a standout performance by actor Andreas Pape as a skinhead transformed into something worse.
The final installment from Andreas Marschall, who delivered upon us the soul-searingly haunting MASKS (reviewed here), brings forth ALRAUNE, a Barker-esque escapade through pleasure and pain. A man named Eden (Milton Welsh) tempts a woman from an online chatroom to meet him at a club, but he finds himself bargaining his soul for the love of a woman he doesn’t even know. Shades of EYES WIDE SHUT also come to mind, as Eden is thrown into an underground club where every pleasure and pain is possible. Things get trippy by the end, but before it goes completely bonkers there are some really intimate and grueling scenes of gore that you won’t forget. I’d love to see what Marschall could do with a Barker story, as this film captures the seediness and the dichotomy of the pleasure and pain centers to the extreme degree. You’ll most likely want a shower after this segment, but it’ll definitely stick in your brain.
This trilogy of terror is definitely something fans of intense horror should not miss. It’s not for the squeamish or the easily offended, but if you like gore and don’t mind situations that will make you squirm, GERMAN ANGST is the type of anthology you’ll die for. It serves as a testament to the talented directors involved, and here’s hoping that this ushers in a new renaissance in extreme horror from these talented and twisted filmmakers.
Bevvare mein fruend, zere are tittens in ze trailer below! NSFW!
And finally…let’s end this with a somber, deviously patient, and wickedly clever little soliloquy that I reviewed a while back and is finally made available online for free! This short is called DONE IN and it’s by Adam Stephen Kelly. Check it out!
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.
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!
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!