Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I have to admit, October always kills me. It’s a month with tons of horror releases, and juggling those releases, the many film festivals playing, and my month long horror countdown does take its toll. Still, I’m trying to keep these weekly columns regular and hopefully will have another one in a day or two with more horror new and old.
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Retro-review: THE MUMMY (1959)
Retro-review: MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)
Retro-review: THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)
Retro-review: BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)
Retro-review: SHAKMA (1990)
Retro-review: MOSQUITO (1995)
Short Cuts: THE INVOKING 2 (2015)
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 (2015)
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (2014)
THE INHABITANTS (2015)
TADFF Advance Review: PATCHWORK (2015)
And finally…Dave Campfield’s SON OF PIGGYZILLA!
Retro-review: New on BluRay this week from Kino Lorber!
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)Directed by Rupert Julian (uncredited Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle, Edward Sedgwick)
Written by Walter Anthony & Tom Reid (titles, uncredited), Elliott J. Clawson & Raymond L. Shrock (adaptation, uncredited), Bernard McConville, Frank M. McCormack, & Jasper Spearing (treatment, uncredited), Richard Wallace (additional comedy material), (from the novel by Gaston Leroux)
Starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, John St. Polis, Snitz Edwards, Mary Fabian, Virginia Pearson
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
This undeniable classic by Gaston Leroux is available again from Kino Lorber on BluRay this week. I remember seeing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA ages ago. In the between time, I’d seen Robert Englund play the character, delighted at DePalma’s rock opera THE PHANTOM OF PARADISE, and even seen the live musical. It’s a testament to Leroux’s story that it has survived so many renditions and reimaginings through the years. But returning to the silent film that started it all, it’s obvious why the Phantom has gone down as one of cinema’s most notorious villains.
Lon Chaney is stellar as the Phantom. Even before his twisted visage is shown, his dramatic and bold movements instill a level of creep and power that few actors possessed at the time, much less possess now. Gotta talk a bit about the famous unmasking scene; I know there was a time that the scene would cause women to faint in theaters. Sure, we are jaded now, but I still get a little shaken at this scene as the Phantom is professing his love, playing the organ, and caught off guard when Christine (played by Mary Philbin) pulls his mask off for all to see. It’s a horrifying moment, not just because Chaney had stretched and pulled his face into an inhuman shape, but also because it is a moment of ultimate betrayal, as the woman he trusted reveals the misguided Phantom’s true, unprotected face.
What makes the Phantom such a good villain is the fact that he is a tragic character; one who is guilty of not understanding society due to his disfigurement. He’s driven mad by his solitude and just wants someone to love. There’s something sad about that and even though Chaney is truly scary in every scene he’s in, there’s a melancholy sense of pity ever present as well.
Sure the story is famous for the unmasking and the fallen chandelier, but there’s so much more to this film. The Phantom has booby trapped the catacombs he lives in to be set off by playing his organ. He submerges himself under the water to attack those come to rescue Christine. The gondola ride is beautifully shot. The boat shaped golden bed in the Phantom’s chamber is exquisite, yet not overly stated.
The vividly Technicolor masquerade ball where the Phantom shows up as the Red Death is both jarring in that all of a sudden there’s color, but enchanting nevertheless. And the carriage race away from the lynch mob is about as tense as it gets. The film ends with the Phantom’s ultimate deception as he fakes out the lynch mob one last time by acting like he has a bomb in his hand when in reality it is empty. A fantastic final “Fuck you!” to the society who shunned him and the Phantom laughs his wicked head off as the mob tears him apart.
This BluRay contains three versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA; the original 1925 version with a piano score by Frederick Hodges, the 1929 rerelease version done to the orchestral score of Gabriel Thibaudeau, and another brand new version with a score by the Alloy Orchestra. I chose to watch the original and loved every frame and plan on rewatching with the other scores later in the week. No true horror fan should be without this classic presentation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and Kino Lorber’s rerelease gives it the treatment it deserves.
Retro-review: New this week in Warner Brothers Horror Classics Volume 1 BluRay Box Set!
THE MUMMY (1959)Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, George Pastell, Michael Ripper, George Woodbridge, Harold Goodwin, Denis Shaw, Gerald Lawson, Willoughby Gray, John Stuart, David Browning
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Out of all of the classic movie monsters, I feel the Mummy doesn’t get much respect. There’s the whole slow shambling thing the Mummy does, his aversion to fire, and the listless and emotionless way he goes about things, but through the lens of Hammer and the ever-talented Terence Fisher, I rediscovered THE MUMMY to be a true masterpiece in classic horror cinema.
It doesn’t hurt that this film has both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in it. Though they don’t interact that much verbally, they do tussle quite a bit in the third act of this film. Covered in layers of mud and bandages, this role of the Mummy (aka Kharis, an Egyptian priest in love with his queen Ananka) isn’t one of Lee’s most potent performances, but this film does highlight the vast physicality Lee possessed in many of roles. Through simple movements of the eye and a purposeful gait towards his victims, Lee carries much emotion even without a tongue in his mouth. The muck-covered face of the monster is amazingly emotive here, all a testament to Lee’s power as an actor.
His offscreen friend and often onscreen nemesis Peter Cushing has a much meatier role as John Banning, the son of an archaeologist who discovers Ananka’s tomb and disturbs it--a deed which begins a series of unfortunate accidents and disasters surrounding the treasures taken from the tomb and their proprietors. Cushing is fantastic here, crippled because of his dedication to archaeology but still powerful in intellect and insight. Cushing was quite young in this role, and I was surprised how much he looked like Michael Fassbender in this film (just an observation). While some of Cushing’s later roles cast him with a much younger leading lady, he seems much closer in age with Yvonne Furneaux, who plays both Ananka and the present day maiden Isobel.
By now, the story is well known. The tomb of a pharaoh (in this case an Egyptian queen) is opened and a curse is released, but Isobel is the spitting image of Ananka, which confuses Kharis the Mummy when he is sent to kill Cushing’s Banning by a vengeful Egyptian priest (George Pastell). Reminiscent of the way Jason was put down in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, the Mummy’s love for Ananka and her similarity to Isobel proves to be the Mummy’s downfall here. While the film ends abruptly, the climax is as thrilling as they come, and what really surprised me was the clever script by Jimmy Sangster, who gives everyone a quippy and fun tone despite the dire circumstances. I especially loved the repartee between Cushing and the police inspector, who thinks the archaeologist is nuts for thinking a mummy is after him. Really fun stuff that you don’t normally see in horror films.
THE MUMMY is the second of the four films featured in this Warner Brothers Classics BluRay collection. I reviewed FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED last week and will delve into the other two films (a pair of Dracula flicks with Lee and Cushing battling it out) in the next few weeks.
Retro-review: New to BluRay from Synapse Films!
MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)aka FINGERS OF FATE, THE LODGE OF SINS
Directed by Harold P. Warren
Written by Harold P. Warren
Starring Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Adelson, Harold P. Warren, Stephanie Nielson, Sherry Proctor, Robin Redd, Jackey Neyman, Bernie Rosenblum, Joyce Molleur, William Bryan Jennings, Bettie Burns, Pat Coburn
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though it was dubbed “The Worst Film Ever Made”, I’m not so proud to say I’ve seen worse reviewing for this AICN HORROR column for the last six years.
A family of three on a road trip take a wrong turn and end up in the lair of a madman with many wives and his retarded/drunk manservant named Torgo, all of which worship an evil deity named Manos.
That’s the very basic premise of MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, a film which takes its sweet, sweet time to get to wherever it’s going, as the actors as well as the cameraman never really seem to know what’s happening next. Extended shots of landscape at the beginning of this film indicate pretty early that this film is going to be a snoozer, as it feels like the pacing of the film is off by about fifty miles. This may be because Harold P. Warren, the director and writer of the film, also cast himself in the lead role of Michael, the patriarch of the lost family. If Warren had been behind the camera instead of in front of it, maybe the pacing would have been a bit more brisk. I don’t want to spend too much time trying to fix this film, but it does seem like a really solid edit of about forty minutes of the film would have at least made it more watchable. Some of the scenic scenes and the entire useless subplot of the cop repeatedly catching a couple necking in their car would have made this one at least feel less tedious.
But even with a solid edit, the script would require something to actually happen, and very little does in MANOS. A family arrives, people go missing, Torgo flirts awkwardly, Manos’ wives fight endlessly, and then the “twist” ending occurs. All in all, this is structured like a failed plot for a really bad TWILIGHT ZONE episode.
Still, I found myself somewhat fascinated with this film. This was mainly due to the utterly weird performance from Torgo (John Reynolds), whose oversized knees make him meander around drunkenly. His performance is filled with pregnant pauses and bizarre movements and ticks. He even has his own theme music any time the story stops to watch him stagger by. Throughout the film he is seen sleeping on the floor where he most likely just fell down, and his scene with Margaret (Diane Adelson) where he makes his love moves on her is fascinating in a train wreck sort of way. I want to say Torgo is unintentionally funny, but the performance is some kind of genius and definitely the most realized character of the bunch.
Personally, for me, the version to watch of this film is the MST3K version of the film above. The film is almost unwatchably boring without any constant chatter, and it is one of those films that is better with much alcohol and friends. It’s obvious “writer/director/actor” Warren knew very little about filmmaking and simply tossed in stuff he thought the kids would love (a move studios still do today) like necking and women wrestling for extended periods of time (a la the weird scene from THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, but much worse). Warren even found the time to have one of the hottie wives make out with him while he is tied to a post.
Still, without this film we wouldn’t have Torgo, a character who deserves proper recognition. Again, I often am burdened with sitting through horrible films (much different than horrifying), so I tend to cling to something to keep me watching, and Torgo’s arc is most fascinating in a remedial sort of way. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE is odd, awkward, slow, nonsensical, and just plain boring at times. Maybe I missed some of the subtle nuances Warren was going for, but I doubt it. I occasionally hear it will be remade, and could see someone like Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg getting ahold of this and making it fun. I can see Danny McBride as the Master and Jay Baruchel as Torgo. One can dream. Special features include an audio commentary track by the Master himself, Tom Neyman, and little Debbie Jackie Ray Neyman-Jones, a puppet version of the same story called FELT: THE PUPPET HANDS OF FATE, a featurette talking about the restoration of the film, as well as the unrestored version for comparison. All in all, it’s a pretty awesome presentation of an awful movie.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)aka YORGA RETURNS, THE CURSE OF COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE STORY
Directed by Bob Kelljan
Written by Bob Kelljan (screenplay), Yvonne Wilder(screenplay)
Starring Robert Quarry, Mariette Hartley, Roger Perry, George Macready, Walter Brooke, Philip Frame, Yvonne Wilder, Tom Toner, Rudy De Luca, Edward Walsh, Craig T. Nelson, David Lampson, Karen Ericson, Helen Baron, Jesse Welles
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Call me crazy, but I never felt Robert Quarry was one of the better screen vampires. His pudgy face and rather hammy delivery of his lines made it feel like he just wasn’t taking it all seriously. That said, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA is a pretty damn awesome movie despite my lack of faith in Quarry as a bloodsucker.
Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) just sort of rises from the grave and appears in the modern day near an orphanage where Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley) works. Nelson’s family lives nearby and after Yorga spots her, he immediately wants to take her as his new bride and attacks the entire family with his bevy of female vampires. This leaves Cynthia’s boyfriend Dr. David Baldwin (Roger Perry) searching high and low for the Nelson family and enlisting a couple of bumbling cops (including character actor Rudy De Luca and COACH himself, Craig T. Nelson) to believe the unbelievable--that a vampire has taken them.
Maybe I missed something having not seen COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE in ages, but Yorga’s return seems to be due to the Santa Ana winds. I don’t know why, though they try to relate the two a few times early on. Also carrying over from the original film, other than Quarry in the title role, is his manservant Brudah (a mute brute played by Edward Walsh) and Roger Perry, returning as a completely different character in this sequel. There really isn’t time wasted linking the first to the second film, which was helpful for me given I remember next to nothing about the original.
As I wrote earlier, Yorga himself is not really that impressive here. Paunchy, stiff, and adorned in what looks like a cheap Dracula outfit, it’s hard to take him seriously as a threat. What makes up for all of that is the absolutely brutal and unpredictable story that unfolds. The attack on the Nelson home is something I haven’t seen before in vamp movies as the entire family is massacred early on. This killing of established characters so soon in the story really makes this film feel dangerous, as if any character could perish at the end of a sharp fang. This makes the final assault on Yorga’s castle all the more thrilling, right up to the unconventional ending which took me by complete surprise.
Still, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA is cursed with following the Bram Stoker storyline, giving us a romantic vampire longing for the love of a living woman. Maybe this wasn’t as tired as it is now back when this film was released, but the film really lost my attention during the sappy melodramatic moments between the vamp attacks. Call me callous, but I just can’t take vamps with bleeding hearts anymore.
Still, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA is worth checking out for the crazy narrative and thrilling turns the film takes. Sure, Yorga looks like a school principal in a drug store vampire costume, but for the compelling story and for seeing Craig T. Nelson in his acting debut the film is definitely a unique little vampire movie. The film does utilize sound--especially the horrific wails of the vampires—well, and actually is quite scary when Quarry bares his fake fangs and charges down hallways at his victims.
This BluRay release has very little in terms of special features--a commentary track by historian Steve Haberman and actor Rudy De Luca, plus the usual trailers and stills.
Retro-review: New to BluRay from Kino Lorber!
BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Robert Marasco (novel), William F. Nolan and Dan Curtis (screenplay)
Starring Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, Lee Montgomery, Dub Taylor, Bette Davis, Joseph Riley, Todd Turquand, Orin Cannon, Jim Myers, Anthony James
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Much like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and THE SHINING (though it predates both of them), BURNT OFFERINGS provides a look at the dissolution of the modern typical family, as a seemingly homey household compels the patriarch to turn against his own. It’s a theme that seems to accompany many a haunted house film, which in itself often symbolizes how dreams of a perfect family life can easily turn into nightmares.
Marian (Karen Black) and Ben (Oliver Reed) Rolf think they are in for a sweet deal when they are offered to live in a mansion in the country for only $900.00. All they have to do is watch the grounds and…oh, leave a food tray for the elderly old lady who never leaves her room in the attic. Not sensing anything weird there, Marian and Ben move their son David (Lee Montgomery) and elderly Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis) in and prepare for a luxurious family getaway for the summer. Strange things begin to occur, such as Ben having visions of a ghostly smiling chauffeur (Anthony James) and Marian becoming more and more obsessed with the woman in the attic who no one has ever seen. Soon both Marian and Ben begin to neglect and abuse their son, and it is apparent it all has something to do with the house, which seems to be repairing and renewing itself as the family begins to fall apart.
Here the home, which is the symbol of family and the American Dream, literally pits the family against one another, pulling at Ben’s insecurity to protect his family be tossing childhood fears into his face (i.e. the visions of the evil chauffeur) and Marian’s maternal instinct to take care of someone new as her boy is getting too big to cuddle. While THE SHINING and AMITYVILLE seem to focus on the father’s inability to provide for his family, at least this is an equal opportunity haunt, showing that mom can be bad given a few supernatural pushes herself. Still, this is a film rich in thematic heft, turning a magnifying glass on the family and how easily it can crack under pressure.
Having seen this film as a kid, I remember being frightened by the chauffeur, but at little else. But now, grown, the film is definitely a bit more potent given the more cerebral fears at play. The mystery of the woman in the attic is well played, and really does factor in for a hell of an ending. I also found the disconnect between Ben and Marian to be fascinating, as the house seems to tear them apart as well as put them against their family in unique and distinctive ways. Compared to more modern straightforward haunted house films, this one is quite complex in the way the threats (be they animated vines, ghostly chauffeurs, or poolside shenanigans gone horribly wrong) attack the family.
In terms of performances, this one is filled with fun albeit sometimes campy ones. Oliver Reed is both aggressively powerful and surprisingly insecure here, in a performance that is much more nuanced that his usual bawdy characters, showing a more sensitive and vulnerable side as a man who is confronted with fears from his childhood. The arc he takes from happy and strong father to impotent vegetable is a powerful one, and Reed’s Ben is definitely someone completely different at the end of this film from who he is in the beginning. Black goes through a transformation as well, from wide-eyed and optimistic mother to the dark place she ends up in by the end of the film. In both cases this is a film where the actors are definitely changed for better or worse, and both actors are more than capable of showing this in their performances.
The supporting cast is fun as well, with Bette Davis really giving it her all as a plucky aunt sapped of energy once she enters the home, and Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, and Dub Taylor all shine in the brief moments they appear as the house’s caretakers. Finally, Lee Montgomery had to have been traumatized as a kid with the horrors he is put through here. From being drenched with blood, almost drowned, and attacked by trees to how he ends up in the end, the kid really isn’t as safe as in most modern horror films.
BURNT OFFERINGS is one of the more wicked little films, with a ballsy ending that apparently was changed by Curtis from the original book. The film pulls no punches in terms of the way it inundates the family with horror and really does get under your skin, more so in retrospect long after the film is over. Special features include interviews with actors Anthony James, who played the creepy chauffeur, Lee Mongomery who plays the little boy David, and screenwriter William F. Nolan, with a commentary by Nolan, Karen Black, and director Dan Curtis, plus a commentary by historian Richard Harlan Smith.
Retro-review: New this week on DVD from Code Red at Kino Lorber!
SHAKMA (1990)aka NEMESIS, PANIC IN THE TOWER
Directed by Hugh Parks, Tom Logan
Written by Roger Engle
Starring Christopher Atkins, Amanda Wyss, Ari Meyers, Roddy McDowall, Robb Edward Morris, Tre Laughlin, Greg Flowers, Ann Kymberlie, Donna Jarrett & Typhoon as Shakma !
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
One absolutely insane monkey makes SHAKMA a goofy but effective little monster on the loose movie!
Experimenting on a chip in the brain that manages aggression, researcher Professor Sorenson (Roddy McDowall) and his students play a role-playing D&D style game in their free time, locking down the building they experiment on apes in, wandering around in the dark with walkie talkies and collecting imaginary treasure. Turns out the experiments sometimes have the opposite effect on the apes, and a particularly fiery ape named Shakma has to be put down after he attacks one of the students. But death didn’t take for Shakma, and while the students are nerding it up in the dark hallways of the locked down building, Shakma is stalking them and ready to spaz out on them until they croak.
The best thing about this film is the fact that the monkey is absolutely insane. Using a real baboon named Typhoon whenever they could, watching the bulbous-assed and fuzzy-haired monkey charge toward the kids is truly nightmarish. There are multiple instances when Shakma goes apeshit, banging on a door and clawing at it that shows a level of aggression I have never seen in an animal, and had it been CG or a puppet, I don’t think it would have had the same effect. Turns out, a little research tells me that a female baboon was placed on the other side of the door on those spaz out scenes, so it’s no wonder the horny monster’s acting abilities were so convincing. Still, simply seeing a real ape barrel down a hallway after these clueless kids was worth the price of admission alone.
The thing is, this film is repetitious as all get out. Shakma bangs against doors over and over and over again. He chases folks down halls as if the disc I had was skipping. So much of the plot of the dimwitted kids involved doing and redoing things in order to trick Shakma that it really bogs down the story to a staggeringly slow pace. The attacks are brutal and the effects are quite effective, but after seeing Shakma do his thing thrice or four times, it gets rather boring.
The ending of SHAKMA does have some teeth, though. No one really gets out unscathed here, and it’s interesting to see this “monster in the house” film end so bleakly, especially since some of the cast, BLUE LAGOON’s Christopher Atkins, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s Amanda Wyss, and a schoolboy crush of mine, KATE & ALLY’s Ari Meyers, were decently well known at the time. All in all, SHAKMA delivers a lot of scares (though at times it feels as if they are on repeat), and that monkey is one insane animal I would never want to meet in a dark alley. Not much by way of special features comes with this one, but it does feature an intro by the lovely and dangerous Brit horror hostess Katarina.
Retro-review: New to BluRay from Synapse Films!
MOSQUITO (1995)aka BLOOD FEVER
Directed by Gary Jones
Written by Tom Chaney, Steve Hodge, Gary Jones
Starring Gunnar Hansen, Ron Asheton, Steve Dixon, Rachel Loiselle, Tim Lovelace, Mike Hard, Kenny Mugwump, Josh Becker, Margaret Gomoll, John Reneaud, Joel Hale, Guy Sanville, Patrick Butler, Patricia Kay Jones, Howard Brusseau Jr.
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Through and through, MOSQUITO is pretty much the definition of a guilty pleasure movie. It’s so shittily made, horribly acted, and ineptly put together that there really is no reason it should get a 20 year anniversary edition Blu-Ray rerelease except for the fact that there are a few things that make this film something you can just watch, laugh at, and basically have a brainless good time with.
Derivative of too many movies to count, MOSQUITO begins with one of those pesky meteorites crashing to earth and landing smack dab into the middle of a swamp where a nest of mosquitoes happen to hang out. They get meteor juiced and grow to the size of German shepherds and attack anyone who crosses their path including camping hicks, hunting hicks, and fishing hicks. With almost everyone sucked dry by the flying menaces, it’s up to a plucky forest ranger, her boyfriend, a biologist with a jeep, and Leatherface to kill as many of the blood-sucking insects as they can.
The film basically begins with a rip-off of THE BLOB and then, halfway through, turns into an Earthbound version of ALIENS as the few survivors happen upon the Mother Mosquito and its nest and must destroy the monsters with a countdown ticking bomb made with things you can find in your average log cabin kitchen. What plot this film has is lifted from better horror films, and the way it all unfolds, it’s reliant on the backs of the non-actors to ham-fistedly attempt to push it along. From a technical point in terms of filmmaking and storytelling, this one is shit.
That said, the little effort put into acting and originality is instead placed in the strength of the effects on display. This film was made just before CG came to be the go to place for effects, so there are tons of bulging eyes, dried out corpses, stinger stab wounds, and tons of giant practical mosquito creatures being swung around by invisible strings. Those who subscribed to FANGORIA as a kid will find this movie to be absolutely titillating.
And to add to the flavor, not only is this an effects masterpiece, but it is smart enough to throw Gunnar Hansen a chainsaw and have him go nuts on the mosquitoes in the final act. The effects and Hansen’s return to power tools are the reasons why MOSQUITO is worth checking out. The film plays to the gorehounds, and is at least smart enough to give them what they want, so it has that going for it despite its amateur setbacks. This 20th anniversary edition features commentaries from director Gary Jones, DOP and co-writer Tom Chaney, and producer David Thiry, as well as a Making of featurette and a couple of deleted, extended, and behind the scenes clips.
New on DVD from RLJ Entertainment!
THE INVOKING 2 (2015)aka THE INVOKING: PARANORMAL EVENTS
Directed by Jamie DeWolf, Jay Holben, Corey Norman, Adam O'Brien, Patrick Rea, Jamie Root
Written by Jesse Baget & Matt Medisch (anthology concept by), Trevor Botkin, Jamie DeWolf, Jay Holben, Julien Maisonneuve, Corey Norman, Haley Norman, Patrick Rea, Jamie Root, Dave Shepherd
Starring Andrew Fleming, Jessica Fratus, Chara Victoria Gannett, Allen Lowman, Meghan McNicol, Erik Moody, Andrew Sawyer
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While this film has absolutely nothing to do with the original film entitled THE INVOKING (reviewed here), I have to give this film props for doing something I’ve been wanting to happen for quite some time: compiling a bunch of short films into one format. A few of these shorts have been covered here in AICN HORROR in either my “And Finally…” or Short Cuts sections. I’ll go through each short below and let you know my two cents on them.
The film begins with U-TURN from director Jamie DeWolf, which depicts a story often told around the campfire about a ghostly woman hitchhiker and the unfortunate driver who picks her up. This short has a few last minute twists to make it interesting so it doesn’t follow the expected route too closely. Still, it’s pretty low fi and I don’t know if it’s the best one to start this series out with, as the scares are at a minimum. This one has a high level of creepiness rather than solid scares.
INSANE from director Adam O’Brien is a fun little trip through an abandoned insane asylum as a site supervisor shows a director around the grounds. Of course, the tormented souls that used to live in the facility are not at rest, much to the visitors’ surprise. Nice ambience and some cool jumps abound in this one.
ALONE by Jay Holden is an intimate descent into madness as a woman off her meds is haunted by inner demons. This one takes its time and really gets you comfortable before digging its talons in. The mood is dire, but this one is shot with a lot of style.
DO NOT DISTURB from NAILBITER director Patrick Rea is definitely one I’ve covered before, and it is fun every time I’ve seen it. It’s about a serial killer who just wants a good night’s sleep, but knocks at the door and a food cart with a severed head just won’t leave him alone. I loved the general sense of creeping unease that this one has, and it’s filled with some greatly paced tension-filled moments.
An experiment in body horror is the tone of NATAL from director Corey Norman. When a woman tormented by scratches in the night tries to get comfort from her boyfriend, she finds herself alone and without friends in this really well paced little slice of horror. The story is highly emotional and the acting is pretty top tier all around, plus the final moments are bound to churn even the most cast iron stomachs.
The final installment is a quick little ditty called MELISSA. Director Jamie Root cuts to the chase and focuses on one scene that seems to be from a larger movie about a woman calling the police about a strange man in a mask staring at her from her lawn. Focusing on action rather than any type of extended story, this one delivers a solid chill to end this compilation.
While some of the shorts aren’t the strongest I’ve seen, I still have to applaud the makers of THE INVOKING 2 for collecting these shorts and presenting them in this way. Hopefully more horror compilations of this kind can be made to give short horror filmmakers a chance to highlight their work outside of festivals and on Youtube. While it has nothing to do with the original THE INVOKING movie beyond the theme of paranormal activities, it’s still a noble effort to bring light to shorts most would not have seen otherwise.
New this week on BluRay from Sony Home Entertainment!
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)Directed by Leigh Whannell
Written by Leigh Whannell
Starring Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Michael Reid MacKay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck, Tom Fitzpatrick, Tom Gallop, Jeris Poindexter, Ele Keats, Phyllis Applegate, Phil Abrams, Erin Anderson, Joseph Bishara
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
As much as I found the original INSIDIOUS to be popcorny fun, every time this series tries to go back to that well and do another sequel it just gets lamer and more evident that they’ve run out of ideas. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 is indicative of everything wrong with mainstream horror these days and really should be the death knell for this series, though I doubt it will be.
Marked as a prequel, INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 and the film prior to this one in the series have been mired in unnecessary continuity, trying really hard to match up with everything from the first film for an audience who really isn’t invested enough to care. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 seems to serve mainly as an origin story for the through-way character Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who has a special connection with a dimension known as The Further, a place where the dead go when they don’t move on to…other places, I guess. In this film, a wheezing ghost torments a young girl named Quinn (Stefanie Scott) and her protective father Sean (Dermot Mulroney). Having recently lost her mother, Quinn reaches out to talk with her, but wakes evil spirits instead. Elise enlists the help of the bumbling duo who appeared in the first two films, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell – who pulls triple duty of writing and directing this film as well) for the first time and the dream team is made. Turns out Elise’s connection with The Further is deeper than we thought, as her husband was lost suddenly and is wandering around the Purgatory-esque place as well. Jump scares and piano bangs then occur with great frequency.
And that’s the problem. There are decently paced and orchestrated scares in INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3, but they are made less so with the idiotic “jump every three minutes” formula that all of these SINISIDIONJURING films from Blumhouse follow with devotion. So little faith is had in the audience that they would actually become invested in the shallow characters that the film simply must take a sledgehammer to the synth keyboard every three minute mark. Yes, this causes a jump, but it’s a hollow one that never resonates. In the first film this highlighted some definite horrific moments, but in this one, the musical exclamation points take the place of any real scares and show Whannell’s lack of faith in the intensity of the scares themselves. Even in scenes that should be effective, such as when the wheezing man and his ghostly menagerie are running towards someone in a slowly closing elevator, you have become so numb due to false scares that these scenes that are supposed to cause tension have lost their effect.
What’s worse is that they seem to want to make Lin Shaye into an action star. She actually gets a fight scene in this film, and despite the investment the recognizably talented actress possesses, seeing her knuckle up with a ghost just isn’t scary or tense. It’s just a stuntman in an old lady costume fighting another stunt man in a ghost costume. Seeing Shaye spout Schwartzeneggarian one-liners as she fights a ghost is insulting to both the audience and Shaye as an actress, and proves to be one of the biggest groaners of the film.
There are plenty of ghosts out there, and keyboard to destroy with excessively forceful fingers, so I’m sure there will be another INSIDIOUS, the next probably promising to be the last or something like that. But this series really is showing its age early. The first two fit together rather well, though the ghosts in old timey costumes simply weren’t that scary in the second one. But this third trip into The Further really should be the last. Again, if you’re hopped up on ADHD meds and caffeine, this film might do the trick with you, but any horror fan knows this is definitely safe and low impact horror from start to finish.
New on BluRay and digital download from Artsploitation Films!
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (2014)Directed by Iván Noel
Written by Iván Noel
Starring Ana María Giunta, Toto Muñoz, Sabrina Ramos, Lauro Veron
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While definitely low budget, CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT is filled with new and original ideas centering on vampire basics and makes for a wholly unique horror film that many won’t be able to make it through due to some complex themes at play.
Investigative reporter Alicia (Sabrina Ramos) hears about an orphanage housing children with a special illness and sets out to write up a story on them. Upon arrival she meets the matronly Erda (Ana María Giunta), who takes care of her wards who sleep by day and become active and lively when the sun goes down. Alicia realizes that the children of the community known as Limbo are vampires when she recognizes a young boy who appears not to have aged a day from her childhood. This boy, Siegfried (Toto Muñoz), still has love for the now adult Alicia, and the two begin an innocent but suggestive romance of sorts while the great grandson of Dracula, El Conde (translated to The Count and played by the equally cute and devilish-looking Lauro Veron), prepares the children for an all-out attack by vampire hunters who worship Bram Stoker, a traitor to the vampire race after he wrote a true tell-all novel about the king of the vamps.
Filled with fun ideas, there are those who will immediately go on a tirade about this Argentinian film due to the suggested relationship between Alicia and the forever 12 year old Siegfried. While for some reason the idea of an adult woman in a relationship with a pre-teen boy is slightly more stomachable than if the genders were reversed, it is still the creepiest aspect of this film. That said, there is no overt physical relationship here between the two (though Siegfried does ask Alicia if he could penetrate her, meaning bite her, but suggesting something a bit more sexual) and the relationship is played as a strong friendship more than anything else. Still, the suggestion is there and it will creep the hell out of a lot of folks.
The more interesting aspects of this film involve the backstory between Bram Stoker and Dracula and how these children came to be. The notion of ageless youth is definitely something often explored in vampire films, but this one really goes deeper than any Kirsten Dunst performance. Here there is a wicked juxtaposition between the childish energy the little vamps exude and the ultragore and heinous deeds they unleash which is pretty powerful. The final rumble between the white pajama-wearing bloodsuckers and the vamp hunters all decked in black is visually stunning, as the kids play soccer with severed heads and hopscotch with their innards. It’s definitely a gorefest of the highest proportion, and the kids seem like they had a blast.
All around the performances here are pretty stellar, especially the demonically cherubic performance by Lauro Veron as El Conde. His wide face and hollow eyes are pretty terrifying, but the way he coldly orders the kids around makes Vernon look powerful beyond his years. The film does have a hi def, shot on video quality that indicates that this isn’t the highest of budgets, but the infectious energy of the vampire attacks and the ambiguous and morally challenging themes make CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT a hard film to look away from.
THE INHABITANTS (2015)Directed by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Written by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, Rebecca Whitehurst
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Incorporating hands-on, old school scares makes THE INHABITANTS a charming little ghost story.
THE DISCO EXORCIST’s Michael Reed and newcomer Elsie Couture play newlyweds Dan and Jessica, who fulfill their dream of opening their own bed and breakfast when they purchase an old mansion once owned by a women accused of witchcraft. The house holds many secrets, including a monitor room spying on the guests, passages behind the walls, and a few ghosts with intentions of possession.
While the film really doesn’t bring a lot new to the table, THE INHABITANTS does do the chills and thrills rather capably and scarily. I found myself endeared to this film much like I love films like THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE HAUNTING. It does the whole bump in the night thing we all have seen time and again, but because the film does such a good job of introducing us to the characters and the capability of the actors involved, I found myself more interested in this film that I thought I would be. There are some really solid scares throughout, as the Rasmussen brothers know how to pace out a really tense scene and don’t find the need to inject the jump scares that modern horror is riddled with these days.
Again, Reed and Couture are really convincing here. Both play the happy newlyweds well and seem comfortable with one another. If there is a flaw to their performance it’s that after Jessica is possessed, Dan is somewhat dim when it comes to catching on that something is amiss. Sure she’s not climbing the walls and her head isn’t rotating, but something is definitely off and the film goes on a bit long before Dan catches up with the program. This only services the story and distances the viewers (me) from caring about a character the film worked so hard to care for in the beginning.
That said, there’s something undeniably cool about the traditional scares in THE INHABITANTS. Those weary of theatrical horror releases with all of their loud piano bangs and fluffy jump scares should check out this film for how a real haunted house film works.
Advance Review: Recently premiered at LA’s Screamfest and will be playing at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2015!
PATCHWORK (2015)Directed by Tyler MacIntyre
Written by Chris Lee Hill, Tyler MacIntyre
Starring Tory Stolper, Tracey Fairaway, Maria Blasucci, James Phelps, Eric Edelstein, Mark Hapka, Jon Rudnitsky, Craig Anstett, Seth Cassell, Amanda Markowitz, Corey Sorenson, Aaron Webman, Danny Jolles
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
As I’ve said before, the story of Frankenstein often bores me, not because it’s a snoozer of a story but because it’s been made and remade over and again. What doesn’t bore me to tears are new iterations of the tale, and PATCHWORK is one of the best uses of Frankensteinian themes I’ve seen since Stuart Gordon’s heyday.
Told in eight chapters, PATCHWORK follows three girls--the business-minded Jennifer (Tory Stolper), the bubbly Elle (Tracey Fairaway), and the wallflower Madeline (Maria Blasucci)--who all happen to be at the same bar one night and end up abducted and schmelded together into one patchwork woman by an underground medical facility. The lone survivor of the patchwork process, Jennifer/Madeline/Elle, escapes the facility and attempts to come to grips with having three minds and sharing the same body. Things get weird and bloody as these three women who have nothing in common must work together to try to figure out what to do next and cope with the aggressive urges to kill as well as newfound superstrength to do so much more capably than a normal human.
Splicing ALL OF ME with a pinch of 9 TO 5 and bathing it in a thick coat of horror, PATCHWORK is a film like no other. Much like Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR and Hennenlotter’s FRANKENHOOKER, this film has a wicked sense of humor while it tosses body parts into your face. The film pulls no punches with the ultragore, which is a part of all the fun. Those who long for the 80s blood-drenched horror films have a new film to fawn over as this film sloshes around in the red stuff with unabandoned glee.
But this is no simple gorefest. The story really has a soul, as it follows three very lonely women who deal with their loneliness in very different ways. Jennifer is unabashedly self-centered and turns away all her friends because of it, Elle turns the brain off and just gets drunk and parties with whomever will by her a drink, and Madeline’s insecurity stops her from even taking the plunge to meet new people. When all three are tossed into the same body, the relational pieces here are fascinating and actually pretty sweet to see unfold. This is something unique in that it’s a blood-drenched chick flick about women coming to terms with who they are, which is something I’ve never really seen in horror before.
All it takes it a pinch from one film and a dash from another to make a damn original take, and that’s exactly what PATCHWORK does splendidly. Sure we’ve seen Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin try to learn how to walk, and we’ve seen Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin team up to track down the person who wronged them in comedies before, but this film does so with originality and a wicked slant. Playing like a long lost sibling of RE-ANIMATOR and FRANKENHOOKER, PATCHWORK is something fans of gore, mad science, and complex characters will absolutely love. Highly recommended.
And finally…here’s a fun short from the folks behind the CAESAR & OTTO films. This one is featured along with more “Piggyzilla” films on the CAESAR & OTTO PARANORMAL HALLOWEEN DVD which you can pick up here! Check out the old school monster fun with Dave Campfield’s SON OF PIGGYZILLA!
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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