Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week’s picks have just about everything I love about horror: sharks, zombies, cannibals, serial killers, evil legends, ghosts, and giant monsters!
But before we start, I have a trio of Kickstarters to make you aware of!
KATRINA HATES THE DEAD is a comic with a premise that sounds super fun. Here it is: Katrina is a sacrilegious horror comedy with tons of monster killing, action, and a trip to Hell to confront the Devil! Described as a sort of LEFT BEHIND, but with more monster decapitations and a trip to Hell, creator Russell Nohelty is trying to garner enough money to publish this book. Check out the preview of the book below in the Kickstarter pitch video and if you think it’s worthy of your hard earned money, you can make a pledge here!
Another project attempting to gain funding from is THE HIGHRIDGE MASSACRE, a bloody and violent slasher webseries from writer/director Luke Brady that is described as: BETH and her so-called friends head to Highridge Woods for a debauched weekend, but after an altercation upon the group’s arrival, things spiral out of control when they cross paths with the Venners--a savage family of tattooed gypsies who cut, burn, and dismember their victims, leaving a trail of blood and carnage wherever they go. As the Venners maim and kill, Beth's medication wears off and she starts to join in the killing spree. Suddenly the Venners have a problem on their hands, the hunters become the hunted and Beth begins to wreak havoc amongst friend and foe.
Check out the awesome pitch video below that pretty much sums up what this is going to be all about. If you like, head over to THE HIGHRIDGE MASSACRE Kickstarter page and give them some support!
Finally, here’s a horror game from horror director Akçay Karaazmak called THE DARK INSIDE ME. I don’t know much about gaming (I spend too much time with comics and movies), but the Kickstarter pitch video below is pretty well done. If you’re a gamer and love horror, this one seems to be capable of delivering the goods. Check out the snippets from the game below, and if you think it’s worth it, click on this link and support the film with your hard earned ducats!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: SAVAGE WEEKEND (1979)
Retro-review: CHRISTINE (1983)
Short Cuts: THE BABYSITTER MURDERS (2015)
DEATH’S DOOR (2015)
QUEEN CRAB (2015)
DARK REVISIONS (2013)
SHARK LAKE (2015)
A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT (2013)
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015)
THE GREEN INFERNO (2014)
And finally…Mark Fratto’s FIRST NIGHT IN THE NEW HOUSE!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
SAVAGE WEEKEND (1979)aka THE KILLER BEHIND THE MASK, THE UPSTATE MURDERS
Directed by David Paulsen, John Mason Kirby (uncredited)
Written by David Paulsen
Starring William Sanderson, Christopher Allport, Jim Doerr, David Gale. Devin Goldenberg, Marilyn Hamlin, Caitlin O'Heaney, Jeff Pomerantz, Yancy Butler, Adam Hirsch
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
This movie is kind of awesome, and if the surprise in that statement is not evidently communicated, I really was taken aback at how much I liked SAVAGE WEEKEND. Though filled with painful dialog and hammy performances, the atypical story and grungy style really did win me over by the end, plus it has some performances by some recognizable faces that I found to be pretty damn endearing.
A group of 70s upper crust decide to rough it in the country for the weekend and check out a boat one of them is building. Helping him is the Sam Elliot-looking David Gale (RE-ANIMATOR) and his hillbilly helper Otis (DEADWOOD and NEWHART’s William Sanderson). But while these preppies work on their tans and make out in the buff, someone is stalking and killing them one by one. All things point to Otis, who once attacked his ex and burned an H on her chest for “hore” (Otis doesn’t spell well), but this film isn’t your typical slasher film, and all is not as it seems.
The fact that this film predates FRIDAY THE 13TH is crucial, because the well-known tropes of slasher films today weren’t really set yet in 1979 (of course, HALLOWEEN had come out a year before that and it does seem to be heavily influenced at least in the fact that the killer has to have an iconic mask, an attempt that SAVAGE WEEKEND fails at miserably). Because of this, the film plays fast and loose with the rules of horror as we know it, making this film a little less predictable than your typical slash fest. Still, the film does feel like it takes a lot from TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE as it incorporates both the redneck demeanor and, of course, the chainsaw in the story. The film plays with expectations and presuppositions. Red herrings are tossed out as to who the masked murderer is, and the story really does play with prejudices townies have towards those living in less populated areas quite a bit. This factors into who turns out to be a hero and who is the victim, and made my ability to predict the way this film plays out pretty difficult.
William Sanderson has made a career of playing one type of hillbilly or another, and in the special features he admits that Otis from this film was the template from which NEWHART’s Larry and his brothers Daryl and Daryl were born. Sanderson’s later work in BLADE RUNNER and DEADWOOD made him a genre favorite, and it’s fantastic to see that even in the more tertiary role of Otis he still has the charisma to make this film his any time he is on screen. Sanderson delivers a few monologues that are actually pretty poignant and heart-wrenching, yet still carry a level of creep as the unshaven and dead-eyed performance reflects.
There are tons of sex and boobs to be seen in SAVAGE WEEKEND. HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE’s final girl is bubbly and fantastic here, as is TV actor Christopher Allport as an openly gay man taking on bigoted townsfolk with a broken bottle and a Brooklyn attitude. While the dialog is often cringeworthy, the actors spouting the lines have a lot of talent, so most of the time it sells. And while the budget is low, including the dime store mask the killer wears, SAVAGE WEEKEND is one slasher flick that excels because it is so different from most of the others you’re bound to have seen. I highly recommend this film to fans of the slasher genre, as the performances and twisty story are bound to please.
BEWARE: This trailer contains savage boobies! NSFW!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment!
CHRISTINE (1983)Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Stephen King (novel), Bill Phillips (screenplay)
Starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Christine Belford, Roberts Blossom, William Ostrander. David Spielberg, Malcolm Danare, Steven Tash, Stuart Charno, Kelly Preston, Marc Poppel, Marc Poppel, Robert Darnell, Richard Collier, Bruce French, Douglas Warhit, Keri Montgomery
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I never liked CHRISTINE. I admire King and Carpenter as the modern masters of horror that they are, but there was always something about the performances by the cast of CHRISTINE that I never bought or found to be likable in the least, so it was difficult for me to muster up the interest to even sit down again with it, but I did anyway for the sake of this review.
And surprisingly, I actually kind of liked it this time around. Still, there are reasons for my frustration with the film, but the plusses definitely outweighed the negatives by a long shot. Most folks know the premise; nerdy Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) happens upon a beat up red Plymouth Fury for sale that the previous owner has dubbed Christine. In the first few moments of the film, we see two people feel the wrath of Christine as a man gets his hand crushed by the hood and another asphyxiates inside. But Arnie and Christine share a special bond and as he fixes the car up to be a sweet ride, Arnie goes through a transformation as well, getting cooler and more aloof and callous the longer he spends with the mean machine. This sparks the concern of his best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) and possible girlfriend Leigh (the doe eyed Alexandra Paul). But their concern intensifies when the bullies who have tormented Arnie at school are hunted down and run over by the car. It’s a story of love between a boy and his car with the soul of Arnie at stake.
For some reason, I always hated Keith Gordon’s performance in this film. I can’t exactly pinpoint it, but when he starts to become “cool” it never felt convincing to me. Maybe that was the point, but Gordon’s performance as Arnie just never really sang to me and since he is the central figure of the film, I found that to be the main reason why this film never really connected with me. When he’s nerdy, he’s so pathetic you want to punch him. When he’s acting cool, I wanted to do the same. I’m sure Gordon is a perfectly nice dude, but for some reason, in this film, I just wanted someone to throttle him unconscious.
That said, there is a lot of other parts to like about CHRISTINE. Mainly, the fact that somehow Carpenter was able to make a car scary—at least for a few scenes. While the concept of a car that repairs itself is more entertaining than scary, I have to admit, the scenes where Christine is driving down the bullies is both satisfying (since they’re assholes) and frightening (especially the scene where Christine is lit on fire and still barreling after one of the bullies. Most of the time, the concept of an evil car ranks more on the “ooooo cool” scale rather than the fear scale, but there are solid moments of auto-terror at play here that Carpenter does his best with.
The car effects here are great. Seeing Christine repair herself is pretty astounding to behold and again adds to the cool factor of this film. But it never really hit me as scary, per se. Of course the Carpenter soundtrack is always fantastic to listen to. The driving beats seem made for a film that takes place on a dark and dangerous road. But then again, Carpenter gives Christine personality by having her play old rock and roll tunes and as effectively cinematic as Carpenter’s synth score is, the boppy rock and roll definitely kills any and all sense of horror. So while there are some fine moments of terror in CHRISTINE, for me at least, the film shoots itself in the foot quite a few times and counters every scare with a scene that feels either lame or forced. I understand many claim this to be a classic, but for me, CHRISTINE runs on fumes.
Playing festivals: Premiering at Fantastic Fest!
THE BABYSITTER MURDERS (2015)Directed by Ryan Spindell
Written by Ryan Spindell
Starring Caitlin Custer, Ben Hethcoat, Alison Gallaher, Mike C. Nelson, Bradley Bundlie, DeMorge Brown, Trian Long Smith, Joe Hartzler, Barak Hardley
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Writer/director Ryan Spindell offers up a short homage to slasher films with quite a few twists and turns to make it all feel new and interesting.
The short begins typically, with a babysitter alone in a house on a dark and stormy night, but throughout this short film things that we think are typical horror tropes end up to be clever ways to mislead and flip the script. Playing with movies within a movie layers this film with numerous levels of reality, each one compelling and fun. Once the real story occurs, it veers into a more unconventional direction. Telling any more would ruin the short, but the ending is gory and thrilling.
Well acted and tensely directed, THE BABYSITTER MURDERS (the title alone is a tribute, as that was to be the original title of HALLOWEEN way back when) is a short that will leave fans of the slasher genre smiling. It’s quickly paced and highly energetic while still offering up some well-timed scares. When it’s available online for all, I’ll repost at the bottom of this column, but if you can’t wait, the short is playing at Fantastic Fest now!
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
DEATH’S DOOR (2015)Directed by Kennedy Goldsby
Written by Kennedy Goldsby
Starring Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Obba Babatundé, Chico Benymon, Andrew Cappelletti
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I try to be pretty nice to low fi indie horror flicks. Even though the budgets are low, when a film is made with an obvious and evident love of the genre , I will recognize that and it will instantly make the film more watchable for me. DEATH’S DOOR is an indie film, but it feels like none of the cast or crew gave two shits about making an effective horror film and because of that, I have no love to give to it at all.
While the script is pretty hard to follow, what I gleaned is that a magician’s assistant has an affair with a magician’s wife and ends up killing him and his giant monosyllabic assistant, Tommy Lister (FRIDAY). Now the ghost of the magician haunts his mansion, and a group of twentysomething pretty people are invited to a party in the mansion and are subsequently locked in and killed one by one.
If I was feeling generous, I’d say there was a NIGHT OF THE DEMONS vibe going on with this film as, for the most part, it follows the story structure pretty closely. The problem is that there are too many pretty people in peril here, and absolutely none of them are developed one inch as distinct characters. For an hour and a half, these uninteresting underwear models scream at one another only until they die one by one. There’s no real reason for them to be angry at each other, but for some reason they all decide that, instead of trying to figure out why they are trapped in the house, it’s better to scream insults at one another and then split up occasionally so some of them can fuck.
The thing is, being a horror fan I have to be forgiving on the acting, and I’m more than willing to look past that if there are interestingly crafted scenes and maybe some cool kills to make up for it. The problem is that there isn’t a story here, or at least there’s no real attention paid to it, and the deaths are so badly put together that it makes you wonder if those behind the film had ever seen a horror film at all. Instead, the focus here is on giving each of these horrible actors a chance to scream as if they were going for an Oscar at one another. The only thing that is scary in the least are these performances. Characters simply disappear, and when they do turn up they are covered in CG blood and rats. To add insult to injury, the film doesn’t even give a shit enough to have an ending, as it simply freeze frames and a voice over explains how each of the victims were found by police.
Lister’s rugged presence is completely wasted here. He’s covered in bad burn makeup and doesn’t say much more than a grunt through the entire film. This is just a big bunch of nonsense filled with screaming people who took a week off from the gym and the tanning bed to shart out a movie. I most likely have put more work into this review than the filmmakers did with the script, so I’ll end it here. DEATH’S DOOR is soulless and senseless and just not worth anyone’s time.
New this week from Wild Eye Releasing!
QUEEN CRAB (2015)Directed by Brett Piper
Written by Brett Piper
Starring Michelle Simone Miller, Kathryn Metz, Rich Lounello, A.J. DeLucia, Steve Diasparra, Danielle Donahue, Ken Van Sant
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (reviewed here) involved a mollusk of sorts, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film about a giant crab running amok across the countryside (I’m sure there will be someone in the talkbacks to correct me on that statement), so I guess QUEEN CRAB can be proud of being the first and only giant crab monster movie.
A little girl loves her pet crab so much she feeds it some plants from her father’s laboratory when he isn’t looking, and the crab grows to mammoth proportions. Years later the girl has grown into a curvy little country girl, but her love for the crab has never faltered. But when the crab begins wandering off her property and eating some of the cows next door, the local police and the military are called into to take care of a wicked case of giant crab.
This throwback giant monster movie is going to impress only those who love the Atomic Age of horror, when all it took was a sip of radioactive waste or a passing comet to trigger growth in obscure monsters that look like puppets or stop motion clay creatures. Back then, we could see the fins glued to the iguanas or the zipper in the monster suit, and today we heap praise on those films for their kitschy goodness. Today’s rudimentary effects take the form of bad CG and while I often hate it when I see bad CG, I feel I need to temper my rage and just remember those old monster movies where the monsters didn’t look real in the frame either.
That said, QUEEN CRAB isn’t trying to be a sophisticated film. The acting is hammy, the effects are shoddy, and the story is as predictable as your next bowel movement. But it does involve planes and tanks battling a giant CG crab, so there’s an undeniable fun factor that made me kind of love this little low fi movie. QUEEN CRAB is not a great flm, but it is a lot of fun if you’re a fan of those giant monster films of old.
New this week on DVD from SGL Entertainment!
DEADLY REVISIONS (2013)Directed by Gregory Blair
Written by Gregory Blair
Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Mikhail Blokh, Cindy Merrill, Lise Hart, Gregory Blair
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Bill Oberst Jr., who seems to be popping up everywhere in low budget horror these days, does it again with DEADLY REVISIONS, a tale reminiscent of some of the better Stephen King stories about a writer dealing with the horrors of both writer’s block and having the story begin to take over one’s life.
Oberst plays Grafton Torn (which even sounds like a King character), a man who wakes up in a hospital with little knowledge of how he got there. Trying to get back into his life, he remembers that his wife has left him and his world seemed to be crumbling around him. Right off the bat, Grafton is plagued by nightmares that seem to be ripped straight from the horror novels that made him famous. Taking solace in his busty therapist, his effects guy best friend, and his ex-wife, Grafton tries to piece back together the night he took a tumble down the stairs and still keep his fraying sanity together.
The strengths of DEADLY REVISIONS definitely outweigh the weaknesses. The nightmares and waking horrors Grafton encounters are pretty frightening—-a hangman, a man with an axe, and especially a corroded baby doll appear out of nowhere (always accompanied by a Don Music piano head butt), but I have to admit, these starts got me every time. Tying everything together is another strong performance by Oberst, who really has shown skill in morphing his face from someone to sympathize with to someone to loathe and distrust in a heartbeat. Told through his own eyes, this story more than once made me wonder whether or not to trust what I was seeing, since Oberst plays unhinged quite well.
My criticism comes from the ending, which rang a bit too much like a Scooby Doo story for my tastes. Things are wrapped up pretty well by the time the credit roll begins, and while the finale may have left me a bit wanting, the strong performance by Oberst and the genuinely fun jolts throughout make DEADLY REVISIONS a writer horror story worth delving into.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Screen Media Films!
SHARK LAKE (2015)aka THE LAKE
Directed by Jerry Dugan
Written by David Anderson, Gabe Burnstein
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Sara Malakul Lane, Lily Brooks O'Briant, James Chalke, Michael Aaron Milligan, Ibrahim Renno, Lance E. Nichols, Miles Doleac, Frederick Douglas Plunkett Jr.
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
See Dolph Lundgren punch sharks!
If that sentence intrigues you then you’re the type of person (like me) who will find SHARK LAKE entertaining despite its many shortcomings.
Dolph plays Clint Gray (an action movie name if I’ve ever heard it), exotic animal smuggler and stay at home dad. He’s not very good at either of these things, because the film opens with Clint barreling down the highway to get away from police officer Meredith Hendricks (the gorgeous and talented Sara Malakul Lane from SUN CHOKE – reviewed here). Arrested for his crimes, Clint is sent away to prison, but not before crashing his truck with a live bull shark in tow into the lake. In a happenstance that is only seen in movies, Meredith attains custody of Clint’s daughter Carly (Lily Brooks O'Briant). Five years later and Clint has served his time. At the same time, inexplicably, the bull shark starts attacking people in the lake, so it’s up to Officer Hendricks and Clint to take on the sharks (the bull shark was preggers when it crashed into the lake) or be eaten in the process.
Every action movie cliché is touched upon in this film except JAWS, and it’s because of that refusal to simply remake JAWS that I love this movie. The mayor doesn’t pressure for the beaches to be opened. Instead, they wage a full-scale war against the sharks, resulting in casualties. Because every other shark movie made follows the JAWS template, good shark movies are hard to find. Now, don’t get me wrong: SHARK LAKE isn’t a great movie, but it does get points for taking the path less followed. Still, the action movie clichés abound as Dolph is forced by crooks to get back into the exotic animal trafficking business, or it means curtains for his daughter. There are some clichéd action sequences involving Clint’s reluctance to get back into the life that result in some punching, kicking, and weaponeering. Still, if you’re a fan of Dolph (and who isn’t, really?) the elder action star still seems to have the muscle and skill to perform these scenes. He even shows a softer side in his interactions with his estranged daughter that I was impressed with as well.
What this film needs, though, is better sharks. Most of the time, only a badly CG-ed fin is animated into frame. There are some fun underwater shots of the sharks swimming through the murky deep and a pretty decent looking practical shark that Dolph punches repeatedly (which to me was the highlight of the entire flick), but the attack shots are messy, and not in a gory way. Quick bursts of water and some fake blood spilled for effect are all we get to see with these attacks, so don’t go expecting to reel back in horror as a shark clamps down on a diver’s leg.
Still there are a couple of creepy scenes involving a marine biologist snorkeling as well as the aforementioned shark-punching scene that were enough for me to give this one a positive review simply for being fun. The acting, specifically from Dolph and Sara Malakul Lane (who will definitely be a big star someday once the beauty snags the right film), is better than what you usually get in this type of picture. Don’t expect JAWS-level tension and horror, but this film smartly acts as if the film didn’t exist. Go expecting some awesome Dolph vs. shark action and I think you’ll be as tickled with SHARK LAKE as I was.
New this week on DVD from Wild Eye Entertainment!
A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT (2013)Directed by Benjamin Roberds, Jordan Reyes
Written by Benjamin Roberds
Starring David Chandler, Maxwell Moody, Eva Boehnke, Kaylee Bridge
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Wow! This was a fantastic film! It’s the type of film that you give to folks who are sick of zombie films to show them that there is still room for fresh and new ideas in the zombie genre. Yes, there are too many zombie films, but some of them are actually well done, and this is one of the best zombie films you’re going to see this year.
David Chandler plays Clay, one of the survivors of the zombie apocalypse that didn’t really destroy society as it only lasted about 20 minutes. Now life is pretty much like it was before the zombies rose; the only difference is that there are now laws protecting the zombies, as an act of violence towards the zombies can trigger them to be violent and begin eating humans again. Leave them be and they simply wander around and prefer oats to human brains. Kept in fields where they can roam and be visited by their loved ones, a peaceful coexistence has formed. But when Clay’s sister Mia (Eva Boehnke) refuses to move on after her boyfriend becomes a zombie, Clay takes matters into his own hands and decides to do away with her boyfriend in order for her to form a relationship with his best friend and roommate Todd (Maxwell Moody). This single act of violence towards a zombie triggers an all new zombie apocalypse and forces Clay to run for his life with hordes of zombies on his tail.
A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT is overflowing with fun and exciting new ideas that take what we know about zombies and turn it on its ear. The film smartly offers a fresh perspective, playing with the notion that if we hadn’t reacted violently to the zombies in all of those films, maybe there would have been a way for us and them to coexist peacefully. Sure it’s a bit of a pacifist stance, but after enduring so many films taking a more aggro approach, it’s like a breath of fresh air to see the whole zombie apocalypse seen from another viewpoint. The themes of A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT are also intriguing as, while early zombie films could be used as a rich allegory for consumerism, racism, militarism, or whatever, more recent zombie flicks have cut out those themes and just made it about us versus them. But this film rips its thematic heft straight from the headlines, as a single act of violence triggers a response of apocalyptic proportions. While this feels like a response to the Ferguson riots and the Michael Brown case, it also is reminiscent of the assassination of Kaiser Wilhelm to spark the beginning of World War I. A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT is the type of film that you want to talk about with those you watch it with after the film, and when was the last time you saw a zombie movie that could do that?
On top of the thematic depth of A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT, once the zombies reignite the film is a non-stop chase sequence that moves at a pace akin to FURY ROAD in the fact that it punches the accelerator and lets it ride for a solid forty-five minutes up until the resonant end. There are scenes during this chase that are brilliantly framed and constructed, such as a blind zombie in an abandoned building that charges at the smallest sound. This is a film that knows how to scare and keep the heart racing.
While some of the makeup is dodgy, the film also has some creepy effects, such as the aforementioned blind zombie makeup. The acting is an oddity as well. It’s not necessarily bad--just otherworldly, as if the actors are aliens trying to act like humans. Maybe this is a statement about how a worldwide catastrophe makes people distant and inhuman, or maybe it’s just a stylistic choice by the director. But all inhumanity washes away once the zombies start running, as I was fully invested in the well-intentioned efforts of the protagonist. A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT was probably made for a fraction of the budget of a single episode of THE WALKING DEAD. Nevertheless, it is a powerful and potent film no fan of horror with depth and resonance should miss. Made a few years ago, this film was finally released, and it’s a powerful entry in the zombie genre.
New today in select theaters and available On Demand next Tuesday, October 6th from The Shout Factory!
GRAVY (2015)Directed by James Roday
Written by James Roday & Todd Harthan
Starring Michael Weston, Jimmi Simpson, Sutton Foster, Lily Cole, Molly Ephraim, Paul Rodriguez, Gabriel Luna, Lothaire Bluteau, Ethan Sandler, Dule Hill, Gabourey Sidibe, & Sarah Silverman
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
GRAVY is a hyperkinetic and wicked comedy that goes to some impressively dark places. With a talented cast of comedic actors and a frantic style of direction and story, this is definitely some good GRAVY.
The story opens with the Charlie Day-esque Anson ( Michael Weston) bopping into a convenience store singing Tears For Fears’ “Sowing the Seeds of Love” and meeting the girl of his dreams Bethany (Sarah Silverman). But Anson is late for a very important date with his friends Stef (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY’s Jimmi Simpson) and Mimi (THE MOTH DIARIES Lily Cole) which involves taking the staff of a Mexican restaurant hostage (among them is comedian Paul Rodriguez, character actor Gabriel Luna, PRECIOUS’ Gabourey Sidibe) and eating them. Because these three cannibals are kind of idiots, their plan to eat the chefs, waiters, and waitresses of the restaurant does not go off without a hitch. Wacky and gory comedy ensues.
The comedic strength of the cast is what makes GRAVY infectiously watchable. Seeing these actors, who mostly have done TV work, bounce off of one another in this obscenely odd situation is pretty fun. The fact that this occurs on Halloween and everyone is in costumes makes it even better. The plot of the three cannibals is pretty ingenious in a THREE STOOGES kind of way as they figure killing and eating their prey in a restaurant allows them to have easy access to the cooking part of the process. It’s just that the restaurant workers just won’t die and that’s what makes this gory fun. In the meantime, victims fall in love with cannibals, cannibals fall for their victims, and all sorts of weird interactions occur. This is the type of film where gory action punctuates snappy banter and it goes on like that until the end.
Those looking for some kind of sincerity in this film are going to have to look elsewhere. While I guess Weston’s Anson possesses the heart of this movie, GRAVY feels more along the lines of an IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY or THE LEAGUE episode where the characters are “on” all of the time with the banter and the insults and the gory action. If that type of film annoys or makes you feel uncomfortable, this is one you’ll want to skip.
I laughed quite a bit at GRAVY and the gorehound in me was satiated as the entire cast ends up covered in tons of blood and other forms of bodily harm. The deeply dark humor was appreciated by this fan and there are some great stylistic choices to some of the key scenes involving slo mo as well as mixing schmaltzy 80’s music with moments that are supposed to be deep between two characters. I understand this type of wonky and wet comedy is not going to be for everyone, but if you don’t mind laughing while your face is splattered with blood, GRAVY is going to be something you’re going to want to slurp up.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand, & iTunes from RLJ Entertainment!
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015)Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Written by James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Jason Filiatrault, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Starring William Shatner, George Buza, Percy Hynes White, Oluniké Adeliyi, Rob Archer, Jeff Clarke, Jessica Clement, Corinne Conley, Robert Coughler, Zoé De Grand Maison, Amy Forsyth, Glen Gaston, Ken Hall, Adrian Holmes, Shannon Kook, Debra McCabe, Paige Moyles, Michelle Nolden, Alex Ozerov, Alan C. Peterson, Joe Silvaggio
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It seems people start preparing for Christmas earlier and earlier every year, which explains the reason why A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is released in the first week in October, I guess. But while it may look like it is similar to the upcoming big budget KRAMPUS film, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY proved to be much, much more. More akin to KRAMPUS director Michael Dougherty’s TRICK R’ TREAT in structure, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is an interlocking anthology film taking everything we know and love about the holidays and giving it a macabre slant.
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is tied together as it takes place on one specific night, which is the anniversary of a pair of murders of some high school kids at a local school. Each of the four storylines cuts back and forth to one another as the story goes on, but all still occupy the same universe. I don’t want to give too much of each story away, but it’s all tied together by a radio DJ played by William Shatner who joyously gets drunker and drunker as the night goes on. Shatner is not too over the top here, and actually does a great job selling his role as the jolly soul who loves Christmas despite all of the evil things going on in the city.
All of the stories intermingling with one another are pretty compelling and do a good job of twisting holiday tropes up into bloody little bows, my favorite being a family going to a secluded forest to cut down their own Christmas tree, only to find that their son has been replaced by something quite sinister. This story does a fantastic job with happenings in the forefront of the frame coupled with horrific things happening in the background. This one is bloody and imaginative, utilizing the tradition of cutting one’s own tree to really pull you in, and then it attacks.
One of the stories that seems a bit out of place from the rest is about Santa Claus fighting a horde of zombie elves at the North Pole. This story offers up some of the most dramatic and exciting moments, but it feels out of whack with the rest of the more reality-grounded film. This inconsistency is rectified by the end, and while it is an outlier, seeing Santa go nuts and beat the shit out of rabid elves and the Krampus itself is pretty amazing.
While the storyline with a trio of student filmmakers making a documentary about the murders a year prior is moody and well acted, this one seemed the blandest of the bunch, mainly because we’ve seen this premise with a school project investigating a murder before in other films, but I will admit I jumped the most in these scenes as the kids roam around in the dark and may be tormented by ghosts of the past.
The fourth story is most like the other Krampus movie coming out in about a month about an ungrateful family visiting their relatives in order to get a handout. The family is made up of a bunch of real shits, and the actors are quite convincing in their roles. This one does a decent job with the Krampus myth and has some nice gory scenes as well as a pretty impressive full body Krampus suit.
If there is a problem with A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY it’s that it is full of great ideas, but the resolutions to these stories end up being kind of a let down. I don’t want to spoil things too much, but while some of the films have a pretty potent bite in terms of wickedness and gore, the way things are resolved are rather predictable and tame. I guess I’d liken the experience to seeing a bright and shiny present and then tearing it open only to be disappointed with what’s under the paper. The stories aren’t necessarily bad, it’s just that the endings just don’t have as much punch as the initial concept had.
That said, I laughed and jumped quite a bit at A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. It’s a fantastic celebration of everything gruesome and festive all mixed together into one grab bag of gory goodies. Well acted and directed, this is a strong film and worth seeking out, though it’s tough that it came out so early and will most likely miss its market as it would be a ghoulishly great film to watch during the holiday season.
Currently in theaters!
THE GREEN INFERNO (2014)Directed by Eli Roth
Written by Eli Roth & Guillermo Amoedo
Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Magda Apanowicz, Ignacia Allamand, Daryl Sabara, Nicolás Martínez, Sky Ferreira, Eusebio Arenas, Richard Burgi, Matías López, Ramón Llao as the Headhunter, and Antonieta Pari as the Elder!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It was interesting to me reading the talkbacks after Capone’s review of THE GREEN INFERNO the other day. The talkbacks lit up with a lot of Eli Roth hate and a lot of ire towards cannibal films in general. Now, I understand why folks might not like cannibal films. Some people have a tolerance for those types of films (I’m one of those who is pretty fascinated with this subgenre of horror) and others hear the premise or even the notion of cannibalism and immediately start up the negative responses. I understand that cannibalism is a taboo subject and there is also a form of prejudice going on with these types of films, but still,
The same thing seems to be true for Eli Roth who is a friend of the site, but personally, I’ve never had any personal interaction with the man (living in Chicago prevents me from going to Austin events with the rest of the AICN folks, so those ties between Roth and the site don’t really apply to me). Still, I don’t hate the director like a lot of you seem to do. In fact, I think a lot of the hate towards Roth comes from the fact that his films sort of ushered in a dark time for horror known as the torture porn era. While the HOSTEL films were very influential, I think the hatred is kind of misplaced as those films were definite throwbacks to a lot of schlocky Italian horror films and blaming Roth for the inundation of tasteless torture porn films after he made a debatably successful and iconic film utilizing the core elements of torture porn seems wrong to me. Roth’s HOSTEL films weren’t perfect, but they did something different in an era of horror that was stuck in a self-referential meta loop through the Nineties and just aping and remaking tons of J-horror films. For me, this return to gore in Roth’s films was welcome, though I feel that there have been a ton of films after HOSTEL I and II that are simply vile and despicable. I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but I feel some props should be given to Roth for sparking a subgenre of horror that lasted throughout the Oughts.
Going a bit deeper, maybe Roth’s HOSTEL and the torture porn films that came after which for the most part highlight a person strapped into a chair and feeling helpless while being taken apart piece by piece was a response to the helplessness the world felt after 9-11 as viewers sat in horror watching the towers fall. Maybe it is that feeling that filmmakers were able to tap into at the time with torture porn and as society began to cope with and move on from those events, they grew more and more disdainful towards those feelings, and thus have the same disdain towards those types of films and their poster boy, Eli Roth. I eventually want to get to THE GREEN INFERNO, but I had to get that little rant off my chest before going into the film.
THE GREEN INFERNO is a film that again owes a lot to Eli Roth’s love of classic Italian horror. For the most part with a little modern tweaking to make it more timely, the film follows the template of so many cannibal films before it. Basically, the entire point of the film is to get a bunch of “civilized” folks to the middle of the jungle so they can be captured, tortured, and eaten by the natives. THE GREEN INFERNO goes a little deeper into the lives of its well-intentioned cast of characters. Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is a wide-eyed freshman looking for some kind of cause to latch onto and attracted to campus rabble-rouser Alejandro (Ariel Levy), who organizes protests like health care for janitors and the like. Disgusted by a class that goes into gory detail about vaginal mutilation in tribes across the world, Justine latches onto the latest cause Alejandro and his protesters have chosen, saving a native tribe in the Amazon which are in danger of extinction as government officials are destroying the rainforest and any tribal camp that gets in their way. Justine convinces her father, a United Nations official (Roth regular Richard Burgi), that the trip to the Amazon will be safe, but as soon as they land it is apparent that everything is not on the up and up. Tossing themselves in between construction workers and militia and the trees they plan to destroy, Justine and the protesters end up attaining their goal to raise awareness by live tweeting and filming this event, but their victory is short-lived, as their plane crashes just as they take off and they end up in the clutches of the very tribe they came to protect. Things pretty much go downhill from there.
The thing that should be noted here is that this is probably the best produced, best acted, and best effects in any cannibal film ever made. For that alone, I have to give this film a positive nod as I am a fan of these cannibal films, but will admit that most are shittily put together and acted. Roth does a great job of soaking in the vibrant green landscape the film is named after. In contrast, the clay-covered natives’ red skin gives them an alien feel which immediately suggests danger. It’s this simple color palette that makes this film beautiful to look at. Even the gore, which there is plenty of, is represented in vivid Italian film crimson, again a standard in these films. Roth definitely shows he can capture imagery in a grander scope here, something a lot of horror filmmakers often have difficulty with as horror is so often an intimate experience.
All of the cast do a good job here at being scared out of their minds, and the indigenous tribes that filmed with the crew do a great job as well. Izzo is definitely the highlight here, as she is expected to endure the most and go through the most complete arc coming into this job as a wide-eyed virginal noob and ending up much wiser to the gray-shaded world around her. Izzo’s wide eyes were most likely the thing that got her the part as she is taking in everything for the first time with fascination and innocence. The rest of the cast is decent as well, with Levy’s Alejandro providing some nice beats as a completely arrogant asshole and some more sincere moments from Aaron Burns as Jonah, the stereotypical fat kid with a crush on Justine. Comedic beats are provided pretty much solely by SPY KIDS’ Daryl Sabara, and he is pretty funny as the cocky weed smoker. The other two performances of note are Ramón Llao as the Headhunter and Antonieta Pari as the Elder, but while these performances are good, most of the scares comes from the costume design making them look like paint-covered monsters.
This film is definitely a devious one in tone and theme. It’s not the deepest theme, but one that I never get sick of, that being the hypocrisy of man. Having literal babes in the woods go save the “poor” savages has been a common misconception for hundreds of years. Religious groups have just been replaced by social justicers who often naively pontificate just to hear their gums flap. Again, this isn’t a new theme (hell, it was the prevalent theme of the last RAMBO film), but it still is a powerful one to see these folks eat crow while they are being eaten themselves.
My criticism in this film does lay in the fact that Roth repeats himself here in theme and basic story structure. Once again, a group of tourists go where they are not supposed to and are captured and tortured for an extended length of the film. The change in locale makes it feel somewhat different, but taking a longer step back and it’s not that much different than HOSTEL. Also, apart from the social justice angle, the film really serves as a greatest hits version of every other cannibal film you’ve likely seen from Italian horror cinema.
Still, there is something to be said about being the latest, best looking, and most highly produced cannibal film you’re ever likely to see. The gore is very gratuitous, but while it will gross out teens who have never watched a cannibal film before and consider the height of horror to be the INSIDIOUS movies, it really doesn’t go any farther than most other gorefests readers of this column would likely see. THE GREEN INFERNO is a well made cannibal film. There’s even a guide to the history of the cannibal film towards the end of the credits. If you don’t like Roth or this subgenre of horror, it’s not going to do anything to convince you otherwise. But if you’re a fan of either or both, I think you’ll be impressed at the quality of Roth’s homage to a type of horror film he obviously cares quite a bit about.
And finally…here’s a spooky five-minuter from writer/director Mark Fratto starring Katelyn Marie Marshall & Miriam Roth. This one’s high on the right combination of mood and ambience and does a lot of really cool things with sound. Try to have a good night’s sleep after watching FIRST NIGHT IN THE NEW HOUSE from Insane-O-Rama Productions!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!