Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.
I ran into friend of AICN HORROR, Aaron Christensen (writer of HIDDEN HORROR), at the Music Box Massacre last weekend and he let me know about some fun he is coordinating for a good cause this weekend. Every year, Christensen does a pledge drive he calls SCARE-A-THON where he watches 100 films through the month of October and blog about them all. If you’re interested in pledging and sponsoring Aaron’s immersion into horror, all funding goes to Planned Parenthood and Chicago’s Greenhouse Shelter, a domestic abuse shelter which provides safe refuge and support for women and their children taking their first brave steps to ending abuse. You can follow Aaron’s progress and support this worthy and admirable cause here! Happy Halloween viewing, Aaron!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE BLACK CAT (1981)
Retro-review: HUMAN CENTIDEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) (2011)
THE DEATH OF APRIL (2012)
THE HORROR NETWORK (2013)
THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2015)
8 Films To Die For: UNNATURAL (2015)
THE LAST BUCK HUNT (2014)
BLOODY KNUCKLES (2014)
CRIMSON PEAK (2015)
Advance Review: THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)
And finally…Nick Lyons’ SPOOKY SIGHTS!
Retro-review: New this week in the BLACK CATS Collection from MVD Visual/Arrow Films!
THE BLACK CAT (1981)Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci & Biagio Proietti (screenplay), Edgar Allan Poe (story)
Starring Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck, Al Cliver, Dagmar Lassander, Bruno Corazzari, Geoffrey Copleston, Daniela Doria
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
“Cats take orders from no one.” I love this line from Lucio Fulci’s THE BLACK CAT, a surprisingly straightforward interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale which features a man full of hate cursed with a black cat he can’t seem to get rid of. While Fulci has been known to be extremely influential to modern horror, this film in particular feels more like Fulci being influenced by horror at the time.
The film open with a walking man being followed by a black cat only to find the same cat in the back of his car once he thought he had lost it. Seemingly hypnotized by the cat, the man crashes his car and dies while the cat slinks away. We are then introduced to two integral characters in this macabre film, a psychic who can talk with the dead, Professor Robert Miles (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’s Patrick Magee) and photographer Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer). Miles is seen communicating with the man who died in the opening and cursing the cat which he claims to haunt him. Meanwhile, murders are happening, all at the paws of the cat who seems to be guided by evil forces. When the police need a photographer for the murders, they seek out Jill who proves to be the one investigator open-minded enough that a black feline is the cause of the murders. But the closer Jill is to solving the case, the closer she is to her own doom.
What I loved about this film is the adherence to Poe’s story. The film elaborates upon the tale by broadening the scope of it all, incorporating some new murders and setting it in the modern day. But for the most part, this is a film that fully understands the pathos at play in most of Poe’s work. Multiple people are buried alive here, both literally and metaphorically. There is a person buried in the wall and a cat does give it all away as in the original tale, but a couple is trapped in a boat cabin and suffocates to death as if they were buried alive. And Prof. Miles is buried by hatred towards humanity and especially the cat, which is ever present.
But this definitely feels as if Fulci was going for an international success here as it feels more like a Hitchcock tale than a Giallo or gore drenched horror from Italy. This is most apparent with the music. While the theme song is definitely along the Italian vein, the music for the rest of the film is much more conventional than the usual Italian snyth score. In actuality, it’s more akin to PSYCHO and later Manfredini’s FRIDAY THE 13th scores with some of the music direct riffs from those themes. Still, it provides a sense of fear with the way the strings sound like a stabbing like action that occurs whenever the cat is onscreen.
Fulci’s THE BLACK CAT has some very rich performances especially by Farmer and Magee and it is pretty impressive the way they got the cat to act throughout. While Fulci’s camera doesn’t really capture the feline in any ferocious way, the cat is around constantly. The opening sentence does seem to apply here as the cat simply does whatever it wants, most of the time just slinking across the panel, still Magee and Farmer’s performances are more than able to spice it up with some devilish mayhem. This impressive box set is loaded with features including a book entitled BLACK CATS, looking at both films featured in the collection as well as offering up some nice stills, a transcription of the final interview with Lucio Fulci, an essay on the film “9 Lives of the Black Cat” by Michael Koven, and the original story by Edgar Allan Poe; plus more info on YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY, which I’ll get into next time when I review that film. The film itself has impressive supplementary info as well with new commentary from Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, a special “From Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness,” an interview with Dagmar Lassander called “Frightened Dagmar,” an archive interview with David Warbeck, and the theatrical trailer. That’s a lot of special features on a very cool film from one of horror’s true maestros.
Retro-review: New HUMAN CENTIPEDE (THE COMPLETE SEQUENCE) Collection from IFC Midnight!
HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) (2011)Directed by Tom Six
Written by Tom Six
Starring Laurence R. Harvey, Vivien Bridson, Bill Hutchens, & Ashlynn Yennie
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Starting with the most uncomfortable “middle” spot (mainly for my own sanity’s sake as this month has been hell with so many films to review and countdowns to countdown that I felt like starting with one of the films I’ve already reviewed in a previous AICN HORROR column), I’m going to be taking a look at each HUMAN CENTIPEDE film from this new BluRay box set which collects all three films and is front and back loaded with an assload of supplementals. Here’s my review of HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE). Bon appetite!
Being a horror critic, sooner or later I knew I was going to have to talk about the HUMAN CENTIPEDE films. Those who were dying to see the film either saw it on the festival circuit or caught it on Pay Per View or in its limited theatrical releases by now. And there are those of you who don’t want to see it and probably will not want to read about it, so you might as well scroll on to the next review. Say what you will about the HUMAN CENTIPEDE films, but Tom Six did something memorable here.
In preparation for seeing the film and writing this review, I read a lot of online reviews. I usually don’t do that in fear that they would influence my own take on Tom Six’s sequel, but in this case, I really wanted to understand why people revile this film so much. Then I saw HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) itself. And having done so, I think a lot of that revulsion is pretty accurate, but in many instances, folks deemed the film shit and moved on, not really going into the reasoning behind it. As I said above, being a horror critic, I simply can’t do that.
That’s not my intention here. I didn’t want to have an off the cuff, impulsive and spontaneous reaction to the film; I really wanted to think about why HUMAN CENTIPEDE II causes this reaction in so many people and in doing so, understand further how I feel about this film myself.
Here’s the thing. Danny DeVito said it best on one of my favorite “It’s Sunny In Philadelphia” episodes: “Poop is funny.” Well, it is. As adolescent as it may seem, saying the word poop is hilarious to me. Farting too. And I think that’s the same for a lot of people. Sure, it’s an easy funny, but in the end (no pun intended) poop is funny.
Now, as funny as the word poop is, poop itself is not very funny. Actually it’s pretty damn disgusting. Anyone who ever had to change a diaper or clean up after their dog or cat knows that the touch, the sight, and the smell of poop is anything but funny.
So the sound of poop = funny.
But any other sensory interaction with poop = not so much.
To this we all agree, I hope.
For me, horror does its job when it causes unease, be it that chill down one’s spine when someone walks down a dark corridor or the gurgle in one’s stomach when they see something revolting. Does this mean it’s entertaining? No, but I feel a film can be successfully horrifying in that it causes unease without being all that entertaining. Hollywood proves it time and time again.
I think horror works for the masses when it is followed by a laugh or the revelation that the reason one jumps is a false scare or something not so scary at all. We laugh because of our own reaction to the thing on the screen, not so much the thing on the screen itself.
Films like HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE), MARTYRS, A SERBIAN FILM, THE BUTCHER—they don’t allow us to laugh. The stuff that goes on in these films doesn’t have a witty response or a false jump scare to cause giggles and because of that, films like these are less likely to appeal to a mass audience.
I guess it boils down to whether you are interested in story as entertainment or for the feeling it gives you. If you like being scared or grossed out, you may be able to stomach one of the films listed above, but if you like laughing away scary things, the films above will offer none of that. I kind of admire those films for their relentless depiction of fear and the grotesque.
I understand that most people watch films to be entertained. I do too, but having the dubious distinction of being an online reviewer (that’s sarcasm for those who don’t get it), sometimes you have to watch films because that’s the lot you’ve made for yourself. To compensate, I find it much more interesting to look at whether or not the film causes unease. As I said above, to me, that’s what horror is all about. It’s my interest in what is horrifying, I guess, that makes these films which might be lesser in quality (and I’ve seen a lot of them doing these AICN HORROR columns) still interesting to experience.
So after that long intro, I have to ask myself the question: is HUMAN CENTIPEDE II a good film? Storywise, not so much. Tom Six, instead of giving us some folks to root for, focuses solely on one revolting, mentally unstable man, Martin Lomax (played by Laurence R. Harvey) to follow through the entire narrative. The much more interesting storyline hinted at in this film is that of Ashlynn Yennie, playing herself, one of the actresses from the previous HUMAN CENTIPEDE film who thinks she is meeting up with Martin for an audition to star in a Tarantino film. The five minutes she is on screen reminiscing about her experiences working on the original film were the highlight of HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) for me and the glimmering spark of potential this film had of redeeming itself. Like THE NEW NIGHTMARE, where Heather Langenkamp played herself dealing with the career hole she dug herself into by playing Nancy in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, Six might have had a better chance for the meta-commentary he was hoping to achieve had he followed her rather than Martin.
Is HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 a good film? Characterwise; that’s debatable. Instead of Ashlynn, we follow a much less interesting character, Martin, a man obsessed with the first HUMAN CENTIPEDE film, as he attempts to reenact the medical procedure (sans important things such as proper medical equipment or training) done by Dr. Heiter (played maniacally batty by Dieter Laser--fucking love that name, BTW) in the first film. Had Six chosen to show Martin in a more sympathetic light rather than a blaringly and offensively disgusting light, he may have been an interesting character to follow. But Martin’s “origin” is riddled with clichés (berating mother, abusive father, abusive psychiatrist spouting a most remedial understanding of psychology) and disgusting details such as masturbating with sandpaper, scrapbooking about his favorite film, and wheezing as he feeds his pet centipede. But though the story lacks a likable antagonist to follow, it gives us a pretty memorable character in Martin Lomax. If there was ever a person perfect to play the Penguin in a Batman film, it’s Laurence R. Harvey. Like Waters did with Devine, like Crispin Hellion Glover does so with the physically challenged subjects of his films, like porn does with the female form, Six fetishistically focuses on Harvey’s round shape showing him in various states of undress for most of the film. Aesthetically, in terms of the art of the grotesque, Harvey is kind of a fascinating subject to focus on, but that doesn’t make for an entertaining movie. Harvey does seem to understand nuance, though, and is able to convey a range of emotion despite his limited vocabulary and stilted demeanor. He revels in glee at the centipede he’s crudely made and shows frustration when it doesn’t work out according to plan. Though the story around him lacks a lot to root for, Harvey is a bizarrely interesting person to watch. Let’s just say, if you were people watching at a mall or an airport, he’d be the guy you’d focus on. Is it right? No. But there’s something fascinating about it anyway.
Is HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) a good film? Thematically, it’s all over the place. Six also seems to take a lot of pride in the concept of the human centipede and shows in vivid detail all of the gory details only suggested in the original. Is Martin’s amateur gastrointestinal connection procedure a commentary on the whole “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!” warning? Maybe. And if so, I definitely think Six got his point across in the close to forty minute scene of these poor actors connected together ass to mouth, but then again, because Martin’s fate doesn’t seem to turn out all that bad, I can’t say for sure that Six was going for the precautionary tale route.
Six filmed in black and white and many ripped him a new one for pretentiousness for doing so. But with the mention of Tarantino in the film, I think Six might be showing his cards here as, in order to combat the MPAA’s rating standards on blood and gore, Tarantino filmed the bloodiest sequences of KILL BILL Vol. 1 in black and white (or at least that’s what I’ve heard). Because this film is so permeated with gore of the highest order, Six may have chosen to film in monochrome for the same reason. I’m not sure if it was a successful decision, but it does make for a distinction from the first film—while that film showed a “real world” scenario, this one is seen through the simplistic black and white world viewpoint of its star.
Is HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) a good film? In believability, not a lick. “100% Medically Inaccurate” is a pretty good tagline for this film as its grip on reality is wholly inept. Martin somehow has the ability to know the exact place to hit with the exact force while doing so to knock out a victim each and every time with his crowbar. Things really get farcical when Martin starts attempting his amateur doctoring and somehow it works. *** SPOILER ALERT *** Seeing the world through the eyes of its star may be Six’s excuse for these inaccuracies, but the “it was all a dream” excuse is always a surefire way to piss off an audience. This may also explain the ire a lot have for this film and makes for this entry to be easily forgettable, in hopes that a third film takes a more interesting approach. Then again, Six isn’t Scorsese; while he knows how to make the crowd revile his imagery, he still has a lot of difficulty with narrative and POV. *** END SPOILER ***
How did THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) make me feel? The film disgusted me, to be completely honest. I’ve seen plenty of disgusting films and this one is absolutely stomach-churning. I honestly was pretty nauseous after this film and don’t plan on watching it ever again. There have been quite a few films I feel this way about (the aforementioned A SERBIAN FILM and THE BUTCHER being two that immediately come to mind). But I have to say that Six did cause a reaction in me. I felt disgust for the main character of Martin and, though more so because of sympathy for the actors who had to portray them, I felt bad for the victims. Had the victims been focused on more, I think this would have been a better film. Had the POV been from someone other than Martin, I think it would have been a better film. Had the subject matter been less graphically depicted, I think the bile tossed towards this film would have been less so.
Was I entertained by HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE)? Not really. But it did make me feel horrified. In that, I think it is a successful horror film, just not one I really want to see again. I look forward to checking out Six’s next sequence in this Centipede series. If anything, it’s an interesting way to gauge reviewers’ and audiences’ gag reflex. Though THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) wasn’t necessarily an entertaining film, I feel it did do its job in causing a reaction. It’s just that when poop is concerned, it is best left heard and not seen.
This is another collection loaded from the rooter to the tooter with extras. For HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE), this collection offers a new color version of the film, audio commentary from Six and Harvey, tour of the set, an interview with Tom Six, the audition tape of Laurence R. Harvey which is extremely interesting, one deleted scene, an alternate poster gallery and a making of the poster piece. Next time I’ll be back with the final segment of this highly controversial and utterly grotesque trilogy.
New this week on DVD from Independent Entertainment/MVD Visual!
SCAREWAVES (2014)Directed by Henrique Couto
Written by Jeremy Biltz (segment “Painting After Midnight”), John Oak Dalton (segment “Fair Scare”), Ira Gansler (segment “Office Case”), Henrique Couto (segment “Worth the Wait”)
Starring Joe Kidd, Erin R. Ryan, Iabou Windimere, Tara Clark, Rachael Redolfi (“Painting After Midnight”), Joni Durian, Titus Young Wolverton, Vincent Holiday (“Fair Scare”), Adam Scott Clevenger, Geoff Burkman, Ira Gansler, Rachel Carter, Eric Widing, Michael William Ralston (“Office Case”), Josh Miller, JoAnna Lloyd, Haley Madison (“Worth the Wait”), John Bradley Hambrick, Mike Hilinski, Christy Faulkner, Tonjia Atomic (wraparound “On the Air”)
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s been a lot of anthologies coming out lately. The most successful seem to have a strong focus and a nice variety of short stories which highlight a somewhat broad spectrum of what horror is and can be. Despite its low budget, SCAREWAVES does that in offering up a nice variety of horror and some fun twists thrown in at the end. This is definitely a DIY style film, but there are some promising moments in these tales, all hosted by a late night talk radio DJ with a few secrets of his own.
Segment one, entitled “Painting After Midnight,” is a nice indication of the style and scope of terrors to come. This one, about a painter who steals the souls of his nude models for a dark demon who arrives at the stroke of 12 is a nice little TALES FROM THE CRYPT-like short. Like the rest of these shorts, there is gratuitous nudity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the creature itself from Hell is a lot of fun in a rudimentary sort of way.
Segment two is entitled “Fair Scare” and focuses on a pair of criminals who made off with a huge score, but a greedy wife and a good dose of paranoia make it so they don’t get to enjoy their loot for long. This one is simple in execution, but it offers up a decent tale of morality and immorality.
Part three is called “Office Case” and it’s the broadest in scope as it follows a corrupt policeman trying to cope with all of the bad deeds he’s done. This one may have benefitted from a tighter focus as the multiple instances where the cop simply kills the perp is repeated a few more times than necessary. Still, there’s some fun, yet amateur performances in this one.
“Worth the Wait” is the final segment which follows one woman as she waits for word from her boyfriend that he has killed his wife. This one hinges on the simple theme of impatience, something we all have faced from time to time. I liked the way this one darted from fantasies to dreams to reality as the time seems to creep by for one lonely person.
What I find to be most fun about this film is the fact that someone with little budget or backing was able to make a full length feature film. The ideas, for the most part, are within the budget, and it’s nice to see filmmaker Henrique Couto keep things grounded and within the confines of what he could make on that budget. It would be interesting to see what this filmmaker could do with a few more coins to rub together. As is, SCAREWAVES is a fun little low fi anthology.
New this week from MVD Visual!
THE DEATH OF APRIL (2012)Directed by Ruben Rodriguez
Written by Ruben Rodriguez
Starring Katarina Hughes, Adam Lowder, Chelsea Clark, Travis Peters, Stephanie Domini Ehlert, Amy Rutledge, RayMartell Moore
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE DEATH OF APRIL is more reminiscent of the excellent mockumentary LAKE MUNGO (reviewed here), though aspects of this film do feel like found footage and the film itself is made up of footage of a video diary found by police on a laptop. Still, there are those who will write this one off simply because it is filmed in a more handheld, first person POV, talking to the camera style which many find immediately off putting.
But doing so would definitely be a mistake, as THE DEATH OF APRIL feels much more like a “Dateline NBC” episode, crafted to build interest and tension, than anything else. The film is interspersed with interviews with the family of Meagan Mullen, a young bright-eyed girl who moved from her home on the West Coast to New Jersey for a change and to follow her dreams. But right off the bat, as Meagan begins filming an online journal reporting her adjustment to her new apartment and new life, things seem to be slightly off.
Though there is the occasional blip in the video or a weird shadowy movement in the corner, for the most part the first forty minutes is all build up with the family talking in foreboding tones about Meagan in the past tense, suggesting that their relationship with her is gone. Whether that means Meagan is dead or what is unclear and remains a mystery throughout the entire movie, as the audience is made privy to her journal entries one at a time. A sparkly-eyed twentysomething with the whole world ahead of her disintegrates into a paranoid soul obsessed with the story of the apartment’s past resident named April, who was killed in her apartment mysteriously. As the strange happenings intensify and the family’s stories get more emotional and remorseful, it’s evident something dire is going to happen.
What works in THE DEATH OF APRIL is the ever-growing sense of dread and horror that begins slowly at the beginning, but enlarges to an immense weight by the end of the film. The film will definitely keep you guessing, hoping for the best for this likable young girl, but fearing that all signs point to things getting horribly worse.
The problem is that because of the buildup, the final scenes lacked the heft I was expecting, and while there are some amazingly tense and frightening scenes speckled throughout the film, the end feels a bit lackluster by comparison. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the simplistic way things end up left me wanting.
That said, both Katarina Hughes (who plays Meagan) and Adam Lowder who plays her brother Stephen, and who looks a lot like a young Christopher Reeve, do phenomenal jobs in this film. Hughes makes you like her immediately when she appears in front of the screen as Meagan, and the concern she causes her brother is resonant through the eyes of Lowder. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, and because of these performances, the film is all the more naturalistic and convincing.
Though the ending didn’t blow me away, I have to give it up for THE DEATH OF APRIL. The overall sense of horror that begins small and grows to massive proportions is doled out in a conservative, yet ever increasing manner. Writer/director Ruben Rodriguez proves he is a patient director who painstakingly holds back on the punch, yet hints that the blow could come from almost anywhere. Because this indistinguishable sense of danger looming in the dark corners of Meagan’s apartment is so well realized, it makes up for the letdown by the end. If you’re looking for a movie that will creep up on you and stick with you, THE DEATH OF APRIL is it.
New this week from Wild Eye Releasing!
THE HORROR NETWORK (2013)Directed by Joseph Graham (“Edward”), Manuel Marín (“Merry Little Christmas”), Lee Matthews (“The Quiet” & “3:00”), and Brian Dorton (“The Deviant One”)
Written by Joseph Graham (“Edward”), Manuel Marín (“Merry Little Christmas”), Lee Matthews (“The Quiet” & “3:00”), and Brian Dorton (“The Deviant One”)
Starring Nick Frangione, Artem Mishin, Jan Cornet, Brian Dorton, Charlotte Armstrong, Jenni-Lea Finch, Brad Anderson, and Macarena Gómez
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE HORROR NETWORK isn’t really concerned about coming up with a catchy way to thread a few short films together such as adhering them to spelling out the alphabet or having them all be found footage or anything like that. When producers Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner chose 5 short films out of over 200 short films to make this horror anthology, they were looking for quality scares over some kind of connecting tissue. The result is one of the most successful anthologies I’ve watched in ages as all five of these shorts are abundant in quality scares and moments that will make your bones rattle. Below are a few thoughts on each installment.
“3:00”: The anthology starts out with a moody and chilling “call in the middle of the night” scenario as a woman receives a phone call at the same time every night. This one takes complete advantage of the dark atmosphere of a quiet house in the country at night, panning into and outside of the house to show how utterly alone this woman, assaulted by the deafening ring of a telephone truly is. The sound in this installment is intentionally shrill and made my ears ring and quake and while this one ties up pretty quickly, the note it leaves you on is terrifying to say the least.
“Edward”: Much more of a cerebral type of horror until the very end, “Edward” centers on a psychologist and his patient having what seems to be a typical session. Even though this installment is mostly conversation, the actors involved make it all easily digestible as the patient is on the defensive and then the attack the whole time. Cutting in an out and relying on some great close-ups, this installment feels as if we are eavesdropping in on a conversation we were not meant to hear. When things get action oriented, it definitely takes a turn for the bizarre and while these final scenes are brutal and shocking, the ominous lead in to the end makes it most compelling.
“The Quiet”: Another great one about a young deaf girl who gets bullied off of the bus early and does not receive a crucial text from her mother before leaving her phone on the bus. What transpires is a terrifying cat and mouse sequence as a man in a blue van pursues the deaf girl through the forest. Filled with moments of utter silence, as heard from the perspective of the deaf girl, this one makes good use of the quiet as well as forced perceptions we all might have in this dangerous age we live in. And while this one focuses a lot on the quiet, the moments that shook me the most were the bombastic bursts of sound that occur periodically throughout this short. Though somewhat predictable, this one is thrilling throughout.
“Merry Little Christmas”: This one is the best of the bunch, filled with all sorts of perverse and twisted imagery as seen through the eyes of an off-kilter child who witnessed violence as a child and now has a warped perspective of the world. Taking surreal imagery from a child, this installment brings these images to life in all of its twisted glory with visuals that are both awe-inspiring and utterly grotesque all at once. This Spanish speaking short is not easy to forget and Manuel Marín is a director/writer I will be on the lookout for after seeing how dark he can go here.
“The Deviant One”: The final short is a simple, yet perversely effective tale of bending morals and twisting beliefs. The way this one is set up, the ending is rather predictable and not as shocking as the filmmakers probably wanted to it to be, but that doesn’t make what comes before it any more chilling. Filmed in cold black and white, this one seems to be a statement about the hypocrisy of the church by interspersing bible quotes with acts of terror one person is inflicting upon another.
Every one of these installments are rock solid and producers Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner seem to have a good eye at spotting talent. Here’s hoping this HORROR NETWORK has more volumes and as long as the installments are as good as the ones used in this film, I’m looking forward to watching what else these producers can find as this is a strong batch of short film work that deserves to be seen.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from 20th Century Fox!
THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2015)Directed by Steven R. Monroe
Written by Matt Venne
Starring Sarah Lind, Devon Sawa, Gina Holden, Peter MacNeill, Daina Leitold, Julia Arkos, Tom McLaren
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Maybe if you’re part of the tween set and have never seen an exorcist film before, you might get a thrill or two from this film. But if you’ve seen THE EXORCIST, EXORCIST III, STIGMATA, or THE OMEN, you’re going to see a whole lot of familiar territory covered in THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY.
This sequel to THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY (a film I haven’t seen), opens with the titular Molly (Sarah Lind) is somewhat of a savant graduating with a Masters at 21 and at the top of her class. But on the night of her 22nd birthday, she shocks her friends by making out with a couple in a club and then asking them to her place. When the couple is found dead and Molly has no recollection of what happened, Molly is committed to a mental institution where Dr. Laurie Hawthorne (Gina Holden) and Father Barrow (Devon Sawa), a shamed priest who failed to save a pregnant possessed woman, work. Immediately Molly has an effect on the patients, the orderlies, and the entire asylum, but Dr. Hawthorne attempts to explain it away with science. Meanwhile, Father Barrow is becoming more and more spooked at what is increasingly looking like an exorcism is required.
Everything, I mean, everything about exorcism and possession in this film is taken from any notable exorcism, occult, or devil film you’ve likely ever seen in this film. I don’t know if there just isn’t anything new to say about exorcism and possession, but the concept of a priest standing at the bed of a bound woman is just dog-tired. The film attempts to spice things up with a jump scare every five minutes whether the scene called for it or not, but none of the imagery or actions of the possessed are frightening in the least because you’re too busy thinking where you’ve seen it before.
Direct lifts from THE EXORCIST are made as a priest dives out a window with a possessed woman. In another scene, the nanny’s suicide in THE OMEN is aped as a hospital worker announces the coming of evil before diving off a high ledge of the hospital. Even the setting, the mental hospital, is lifted from EXORCIST III and if you’ve seen STIGMATA, the opening scene of Molly partying is almost exactly like Patricia Arquette’s blackout scene in the club showing her “wilder” side on the dancefloor. I don’t know if the writer of this film should be charged for plagiarism or commended on a snapshot history of exorcism in cinema. Either way, it makes the film pretty damn horrible to sit through.
I don’t want to believe that, like JAWS and shark films, once a hugely iconic and successful film about exorcism has been made it becomes impossible to make a fresh and interesting version of about the subject. I do know that copying direct scenes from the most popular possession flicks isn’t the way to do it though. THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY is a blatant rip-off of films you should be seeing if you’re interested in exorcism films and very little else. Shame on this film for not even trying to do something new.
Newly available for from the 2015 8 Films To Die For Series (you see this film On Demand and download this film on iTunes and Amazon)!
UNNATURAL (2015)Directed by Hank Braxtan
Written by Ron Carlson, Arch Stanton
Starring James Remar, Sherilyn Fenn, Ron Carlson, Graham Greene, Allegra Carpenter, Ray Wise, Ivana Korab, Q'orianka Kilcher, Stephanie Hodes, Gregory Cruz, Mark Hodos, Ron Martino, Luke Martino Roberts
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
In the 50’s, monsters came from the wake of the atomic bomb. There were scores of films made lecturing the public about the horrors the bomb could unleash. While the threat of nuclear annihilation has become somewhat passé in this apathetic day and age, it seems climate change has become the new cause of all kinds of monsters in recent films. One such film to tell us to quit using Aqua Net while driving our SUV’s is UNNATURAL, a film that somehow connects a giant killer polar bear with the fact that the globe is warming. Goofy as that may seem, this does turn out to be a fun monster movie.
A corporation decides to combat global warming by experimenting with the DNA of animals in order to make them stronger and more resistant to the changes to the environment us pesky humans have wrought upon them. The result is a genetically enhanced super polar bear which escapes from a lab and goes a hunting near a lodge where a ranger (James Remar) and his Native American crew live. At the same time, an asshole photographer and his ditzy models come to pose in bikinis in the snow (this is as ludicrous as it sounds, but thankfully the film acknowledges this). All of them, including a scientist (Sherilyn Fenn) who escaped being eaten the lab by the beast. All wedged into the same little cabin, the beast has targeted the group and decides to pick them off one by one (like monsters do in these types of films).
This is a conventional monster movie, meaning that you can probably take the giant snarling polar bear out and substitute it with an especially mean mackerel, an alien from Uranus, or a deformed killer and it would pretty much be the same. The monster is outside and for a while, no one knows it’s there, until someone does, and then the people still manage to split up long enough for each of them to be picked off one by one, except for the select few the camera lingers on the most. Because it follows this particular pattern, UNNATURAL really is a pretty predictable movie.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. I have a special place in my heart for killer bear movies and this one at least has a cool, snarling polar bear to kill the stupid people in this movie. While the budget obviously limited the way the bear turned out, it is a pretty effective puppet/man in bear suit. Sure some CG bears or even a real polar bear would have been nice (though it’s doubtful any majestic beasts are trained enough to be on film and take directions), but it looks like the budget was most likely spent on the name actors in the film and not on the monster. Still, director Hank Braxtan does a good job of shooting around the monster, only showing him in snippets and quick cuts, which almost covers up the rudimentary effects at play here. Hats off to the director for at least trying to make up for the fact that the monster isn’t horribly convincing.
Still, the pacing here is brisk and intense. The acting is surprisingly above average compared to most monster movies with James Remar, Sherilyn Fenn, and Ray Wise offering up their own brand of caliber to this film. I must admit my inner TWIN PEAKS geek went a little gaga seeing Wise and Fenn on screen together. And while the script isn’t going to win any awards (there’s a scene later in the movie where one character yells “Add this to your DNA!!!” to the beast that made me laugh out loud), the actors do a good job of conveying the story and more emotion than you usually get from these creature feature type films. UNNATURAL may be somewhat formulaic and the bear isn’t the most convincing, but it still was a really fun monster movie with a fantastic cast. I’ll be reviewing all of After Dark’s 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR over the next…you guessed it, 8 weeks. So be on the lookout for more fun horror films from this always entertaining film collection.
New this week and available on digitial download on your computer, iPhone, Roku, or Chromecast through VHX as well as Vimeo's VOD service here!
THE LAST BUCK HUNT (2014)Directed by Becky Sayers, Nicholas Sayers
Written by Becky Sayers
Starring Zack Gold, Cathan Bordyn, Briana Chicha, Scott C. Brown, Jon Lee, Dave Shecter, Nicholas Sayers, Andrew Tribolini, & Danny Bauer as the Creature!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
As a kid, I grew up in a central Ohio hunting family. I was taken out on hunting trips at a very young age and watched my father and grandfather as they walked around the forest in search of deer, squirrel, rabbit, whatever was in season, enjoying the jovial nature of men out in the wild contrasted against the seriousness of the hunt and taking the life of something that was living just a few seconds prior. I never really had the makings of a hunter. I always felt for the animals that were killed, but going on those trips were some of the most fun experiences of my childhood. I take this trip down memory lane because while there is a serious tone to THE LAST BUCK HUNT at times, most of the time, the film revels how much fun the outdoors can be. It also is an entertaining statement as to the asinine nature of most reality shows you see on television.
THE LAST BUCK HUNT is a behind the scenes-style film following prize buck hunter Kenny Wayne (Zack Gold) as he searches for an elusive buck who has been known to attack hunters and townsfolk who wander into the a particular wooded area in the Northwest. Dripping with machismo and bravado, it’s pretty easy to see that Kenny is an idiot. A bona fide daddy’s boy, he attempts to live up to his father’s legendary huntsman prowess and while he does talk the talk, he walks the walk a little more clumsily. Behind the scenes, his cameraman Steve (Cathan Bordyn) and sound gal Alex (Briana Chicha) mock and are often mortified by Kenny’s unprofessional and bone-headed tactics, such as accidentally shooting a faun instead of a prize buck and losing himself in the woods over and over again. When word gets out that there’s a giant killer buck out there, Kenny thinks this is his chance to hit the big time and gathers his crew to film himself bagging the vicious buck in his syndicated television show “What the Buck?” But instead of a killer buck, Kenny and his crew encounter something much more dangerous in the woods.
While portions of this film are played out on a handheld, this isn’t a found footage film. It’s more of a mockumentary THIS IS SPINAL TAP sort of thing where the dramatic moments play out on cameras in and out of frame. In mixing this up from the beginning, the film doesn’t really have to jump through the hoops set up in most found footage films. The POV can shift. Questions like “Why is the cameraman filming this instead of running to safety?” don’t have to be asked, and you don’t have to see the tried and true scene taking place in front of a meticulously placed yet accidentally dropped skewed camera angle. So instead of my inner critic being preoccupied with trying to poke holes in the suspension of disbelief which is so important in found footage films, I can just sit back and watch the film play out and enjoy it for the cinema that it is, which is rather refreshing.
And as it played out, there’s a lot to love about this movie. Zack Gold’s Kenny Wayne is oftentimes hilarious as the overzealous hunter out to prove himself, as are the antics of the crew who are bored to tears and nonplussed at their boss’ bravado. Seeing the crew play out scenes of PREDATOR in the wilderness is something I would do were I to be stuck in such a situation, and it’s a hilarious scene to see unfold. And while some of the humor is dark as pitch, there’s a gentle and light-hearted tone to the whole thing as Kenny’s efforts to be the best there is happens to be downright charming in his own stupid way, as are the plight of the crew and their dreams of getting the hell out of this production and move on to better things once this last hunting trip is over. All of the humor is well timed and capably acted, making the cast and their struggle all the more relatable.
In the latter half, as it becomes more apparent as to what it is the hunters are actually hunting, my interest intensified. Fans of AICN HORROR know I have an affinity for a certain type of wilderness monster and while I won’t reveal it here, I’m sure you can guess what it is. The monster itself looks much more convincing than I would assume for such a modestly budgeted film, but it appears that the money was saved for the creature’s look and it was money well spent. Funny, well acted, and downright outrageous at times, THE LAST BUCK HUNT makes fun of hunters, but also somehow manages to give it some proper recognition and respect in the end. Seeing the goofy and serious scenes play out in an equally effective manner makes me recommend the big beating heart present in every scene of THE LAST BUCK HUNT wholeheartedly.
New this week on BluRay, DVD, digital download from Artsploitation Films!
BLOODY KNUCKLES (2014)Directed by Matt O.
Written by Matt O.
Starring Adam Boys, Kasey Ryne Mazak, Gabrielle Giraud, Ken Tsui, Dwayne Bryshun, Steve Thackray, Tim Lok, Jason Asuncion, Kent Leung, Robin Jung and Krista Magnusson
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Films like IDLE HANDS, THE HAND, and even the Fahey-tastic BODY PARTS have delved into the notion of the phantom limb after a hand is severed. In most of those films, the return of the hand is bizarre and unnerving, yet the hand itself represents something about the person who lost it. This is an interesting concept to delve into and paired with the fun concept of freedom of speech in terms of what art can and can’t represent, it makes BLOODY KNUCKLES much meatier than what it would like you to initially see.
Comic book creator Travis (Adam Boys) lives to shock folks with his underground comic but when he chooses to set his sights on a Chinatown crime lord, the crime lord fights back by severing his drawing hand. Thinking this is the end of his creative career, Travis spirals into depression, but when his hand returns he thinks he’s finally lost it. Turns out, the hand is not a figment of Travis’ imagination and the hand has a plan to prod Travis to strike back and take on the crime lord with his wits and his creativity. And does so in goofy, bloody, and gory ways.
I think I love the message this film is trying to tell a little bit more than the film itself. Not to say the film is bad, it’s just that there are some rough acting moments from the leads and some of the humor is a bit too broad with more than a few groaners along the way. The gore is done well and the severed hand effects are convincing and effective.
That said, the message of the power of the pen (or in this case, the artist’s pen) is so infectious and amazing in this film. I really loved the way this film celebrates the artist and the will one has to fight against those who would try to silence free speech and free artistic expression. One of the characters I found most fascinating was a leather-clad gay vigilante who took inspiration from Travis’ comic and became a real life embodiment of that character. Not only does Travis’ hand prod him to keep making the comic he created and continue sticking it to the man, but this character also shows how the creative work of one person can inspire others. It really is an amazing message to convey and one unique for a horror film.
BLOODY KNUCKLES has a lot of fun gore and definitely delivers a ripe load of potty humor, but beneath all of that is a really strong theme of the power of creativity and encouragement to anyone to not give up despite the deck seemingly stacked against you. You don’t often get feelings of inspiration and encouragement from a horror film, so for that, BLOODY KNUCKLES definitely gets a positive recommendation from me.
In theaters now!
CRIMSON PEAK (2015)Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Jonathan Hyde, Bruce Gray, Emily Coutts, Alec Stockwell, Brigitte Robinson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While it’s not really big on scares, CRIMSON PEAK makes up for it with a rich and gorgeous look and fiendishly splendid acting from its top tier cast. Del Toro might not deliver the scares he had with CHRONOS or THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, but he does offer up a tale that drips with a macabre flavor, reminiscent of only the best of Hammer films.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is the daughter of successful businessman Carter (DEADWOOD’s Jim Beaver) and seems happy to die unmarried as long as she can spend time writing fiction. But when an English socialite Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on the scene looking for investors in the red clay that is abundant on his land, she immediately takes notice. Thomas and Edith immediately take a liking to one another, much to the distaste of her father who smells a rat. But love conquers all and after an unfortunate incident, Edith and Thomas are thrown together and she moves back to England to his mansion which rests on a bed of red clay which seems through the floor and walls and turns the snow blood red when it hits the ground. Unbeknownst to Edith, who received a message from her mother’s ghost as a child to avoid a place called “Crimson Peak,” she finds out that is the name of the place where Thomas’ mansion rests. Thomas and his clingy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) welcomes Edith to the new home, but it becomes evident that her father’s warnings to stay away from Thomas are valid and Edith is haunted by both the ghosts that haunt the halls of the mansion and the Sharpe siblings themselves.
CRIMSON PEAK plays like a decadent and lavish Hammer Film with all of the fancy trimmings, costumes, and décor. Being a fan of those types of films, I found every moment leading up to Edith’s discovery of the Sharpes’ evil intentions to be fun in a throwback sort of way. That said, the crowd who need a jump scare every two minutes are most likely going to find this elegant and elaborate slow burner a chore to get through. For me, I was engrossed in soaking in the tactile atmosphere and small details Del Toro added to his frames, but I understand that’s not what everyone wants in a horror film. Del Toro obviously set out to make a Hammer film with a much broader scope than the lavish castle sets that decorated those films and for me, at least he succeeded in doing so.
One thing missing from CRIMSON PEAK are the actual scares. The performances are fantastic and the whole thing sounds and looks great, but here, more so than in PAN’S LABYRINTH or Del Toro’s other spooky yarns, the effects just don’t feel scary. I understand Doug Jones did a lot of the motion capture and his lanky frame is noticeable here, but the CG smoke and ghouls just didn’t raise the hairs on me neck as they have in past Del Toro joints. This one is more about character and the lavish look of the place, which impressed, but I can acknowledge that I really didn’t find this one scary at all.
The film is rather perverse and diabolical in tone and there are some really horrific things involving how this tale of tainted love and twisted betrayal. The unflinchingly diabolical story really does make up for the lack of solid scares and ends up giving me chills that are definitely more palpable than most popular theatrical horror. I really liked CRIMSON PEAK, more so because of the rock solid performances by the cast. HIddleston, Chastain, Wasikowska and Beaver (who I’m thrilled to see in such a substantial role here) are all fantastic. The themes are really effective and creepy, but they are not the kind of scares and creeps modern audiences are used to, so be prepared not to jump every few minutes, but definitely feel an overpowering sense of unease once the whole thing is over. For fans of old school Hammer horror, you’re in for a really succulent treat that looks good enough to eat.
Advence Review: Recently played at Chicago’s Music Box Massacre 2015!
THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)Directed by Sean Byrne
Written by Sean Byrne
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco, Tony Amendola, Arthur Dale, Jack Dullnig, Shiela Bailey Lucas, Marco Perella, Richard Rollin, Jamie Tisdale
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Assaulting both the ears and the eyes with imagery and sounds out of the most depraved and diabolical nightmares, Sean Byrne’s THE DEVIL’S CANDY is an absolute treasure trove of scares! Ethan Embry plays painter Jesse, husband to Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and cool father to Zooey (Kiara Glasco). When they move into a new home, Jesse begins hearing voices while he paints, the same type of voices the previous owner Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) used to hear while living in the house before he killed his elderly mother and father. Haunted by these voices and inspired to take a new dark path with his artwork, Jesse becomes obsessed, feeling the dark inspiration flow through him like a conduit in his painting. But while Jesse is being seduced by the voices, Ray returns home and that means terrible things for his family.
This is a fantastic film. Start to finish, this is an assault on the eyes and ears with all sorts of sights and sounds I haven’t seen or heard before. Director Sean Byrne (who burst on the scene with the fantastic THE LOVED ONES) delivers a film that really does take you to new and frightening places. Be they faint satantic voices muttering in the background or Ray banging away at his guitar to drown them out, this is a film to be heard loud. The hard rock influences, be they the metal Jesse listens to while painting or the audio assault Ray uses to keep the voices away is ever present here and done so in a way that doesn’t feel cheesey as in metal films like TRICK OR TREAT.
The thing is, this film uses a well worn motif of a new family moving into a new house. Next to death and being fired, I know moving is one of the biggest stressors to a person. I moved five years ago and vowed not to do it again for a while simply because it was so hard to upearth everything and put it back into order somewhere else. Maybe that’s why so many films are about this weird process. Still, THE DEVIL’S CANDY is interesting that it chooses such a familiar path, yet it never feels stale.
This is mainly because of Ethan Embry is absolutely fantastic as the lead here. The actor has had a comeback of sorts with LATE PHASES, CHEAP THRILLS, THE WALKING DEAD, and that car commercial where he is pulling a Clark Griswald. Here he proves that he can be a solid lead, playing a flawed but absolutely likable person who definitely cares deeply about his family. Through Embry’s puppydog eyes, even covered in stubble, tattoos, and paint, he shows how much he loves his family which proves to be the beating heart of this film and makes you follow it down its treacherous path.
Pruitt Taylor Vince, who previously has only appeared as the weirdo in snippets in films is rock solid with this much more substantial role as Ray. His tortured performance as a man tormented by these voices all his life and is now on the breaking point when a new family moves into the only place he calls home is simply astounding. Vince delivers lines that are bone-chilling here and like Embry, hopefully this highlight of his talents will lead to more substantial roles of this kind. The rest of the cast is amazing as well, with Kiara Glasco delivering a really amazing turn as Zooey, Jesse’s rocker daughter. She is a young actress that will definitely go far and we will hear a lot about her in the coming years, I’m sure as her soulful performance of a youth trying to fit in despite her rebellious looks is layered and well done.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY is most astounding because this isn’t very much a ghost story as much as it is about flawed and over-stressed minds pushed to the breaking point. Ray believes he hears the devil, but we don’t see it. So those looking for a red painted horned guy are going to be disappointed. This is a film about the horrors unleashed from sick and obsessed minds, a much scarier version of horror than a ghost or monster story. THE DEVIL’S CANDY really taps into the dank and dark places inspiration often comes from and splashes it all over the screen. It captures the sometimes ugliness of the artistic process and of the human soul like few other films I’ve seen. I highly recommend THE DEVIL’S CANDY, it’s gorgeous and grotesque, poetic and unnerving, terrifically acted and splendidly directed. It’s an all around fantastic horror film that needs to be seen by any horror and metal fan.
No trailer yet unfortunately…sad face.
And finally…here’s a little treat for the kiddies in the audience and for those horror fans who want to induct their children into horror early in order to create horror hounds of the future. It’s a three part horror series called SPOOKY SIGHTS from creator Nick Ryan. It’s about that spooky house we all grew up avoiding and telling horror stories about as kids and the first episode is called “The Home of Dr. Batty!” Enjoy the animated fun of SPOOKY SIGHTS part one below!
Happy Halloween, 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!