Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. As we ring in the New Year, there still are horror films to review. Enjoy this week’s terrors!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972)
Retro-review: AXE (1974)
Retro-review: TENTACLES (1977)
Retro-review: ELIMINATORS (1986)
Retro-review: VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987)
Retro-review: TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT (1995)
8 Movies To Die For: MURDER IN THE DARK (2013)
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
Advance Review: CHERRY TREE (2015)
And finally…Sonny Fernandez’ HALLOWEEN!
Retro-review: New this week in the BLACK CATS Collection from MVD Visual/Arrow Films!
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972)aka EXCITE ME, EYE OF THE BLACK CAT, GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES, IRENE
Directed by Sergio Martino
Written by Adriano Bolzoni, Ernesto Gastaldi, Sauro Scavolini (screenplay), Luciano Martino (story), Edgar Allan Poe (original story “The Black Cat”)
Starring Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino, Angela La Vorgna, Daniela Giordano, Marco Mariani, Nerina Montagnani,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having one of the longest names of a film I’ve seen in quite a while, YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY is the other half of the two disk BluRay collection from Arrow which focuses on retellings of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous tale’s “The Black Cat.” You can find my review of Lucio Fulci’s THE BLACK CAT here. And while I enjoyed Fulci’s film, I kind of prefer this sleazy and sultry film by Serfio Martino (director of such Italian genre greats THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, ALL THE COLORS OF THE NIGHT, and TORSO).
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (which I will refer to as YOUR VICE for the rest of the review for my sanity’s sake) is a sophisticated and sleazy retelling of the Poe tale. As always, this is a tale of deception, murder, and guilt, but Martino chooses not to make this into a mystical caper about a curse as Fulci did with his version of the tale. Instead, Martino focuses on the abusive relationship between a writer Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) and his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) who he cheats on, humiliates in front of party guests, tortures, and rapes with great frequency. When Oliviero’s young niece Floriana (the gorgeous Edwige Fenech) arrives, he immediately falls in love and plots to leave his wife and continue his abusive ways with Floriana. But while Floriana gives in to Oliviero’s desires, she also seems interested in Irina. Meanwhile, someone is killing young women and all fingers point to Oliviero as the obvious culprit, but as I said before, this is a tale of deception. There’s also a black cat wandering around and meowing named Satan.
I loved the way Martino uses Floriana to dance back and forth between Oliviero and Irina seductively kind of like the cat that this story takes inspiration from. While the final moments are rather obvious and line up with Poe’s tale, Martino takes liberties with the characters, their motivations, and their sins that lead to the murder, the cat’s cry, and the newly plastered wall. I liked the way this film kept one guessing all the way through as to how the story would eventually line up with “The Black Cat” and was pleased with the way it did as well at the extended story that lead me there.
Fenech is ravishing as the object of everyone’s desire. Her doe eyes will make you melt. Pistilli will make you want to see him hurt, and thus does a great job here as the abusive husband. And rounding out the cast is Strindberg who offers up probably the most complex performance here as Irina, the seemingly fragile doormat. All three actors do a fantastic job of twisting and twirling around one another, occasionally bumping into one another in either passionate or destructive ways. This was an interesting Collector’s Set that Arrow has put out as it is fun to see the same story told through two vastly different styles. While YOUR VICE adopts the more classic Giallo murder mystery plot, Fulci’s version seemed more interested in the spookier aspects of the tale. Both are entertaining in their own ways and are worth revisiting for fans of Giallo, Poe, and fun classic murder/mysteries.
Retro-review: New on a double feature Bluray from Severin Films!
AXE (1974)aka LISA, LISA, CALIFORNIA AXE MASSACRE, CALIFORNIA AXE MURDERS, THE AXE MURDERS, THE VIRGIN SLAUGHTER
Directed by Frederick R. Friedel
Written by Frederick R. Friedel
Starring Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Green, Frederick R. Friedel, Douglas Powers, Frank Jones, Carol Miller, George J. Monaghan, Smith Hart, Scott Smith
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I love stories like this from the days where films had multiple names, multiple cuts, and multiple distributions. Severin has collected two films by filmmaker Frederick R. Friedel; AXE and KIDNAPPED CO-ED—two films which were put out two years apart, but as the documentary included in this disk explains, writer/director Friedel lost the rights to the film and it was exploited and repackaged over and over again by a greedy producer. But this story has a happy ending as Friedel was able to get the films back and rereleased by the good folks at Severin. This disk even includes a reedited version combining both films into one big film called BLOODY BROTHERS. I’ll be reviewing all three of these films over the next few weeks, starting with Friedel’s first film, AXE.
Clocking in at just over an hour, AXE tells the story of three mob lackeys who murder a gay couple and then go on the lam, forcing their way into the lives of a shy young girl named Lisa (Leslie Lee) and her invalid grandfather. Believing themselves to be safe from the frail girl and wheelchair bound old dude, the thugs sit back and relax in the rustic environment. But Lisa isn’t as innocent as she seems and begins picking off the three goons one by one.
While the story is rather simplistic, Friedel does a really good job of establishing each of the characters and setting the mood for something awful to happen. Reminiscent of the home invasion scene from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE if the invaders were the goons from RESERVOIR DOGS, AXE is much more than a simple stalk and slash. And while the acts of violence aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, it’s orchestrated in a gritty and grimy manner that makes it very unnerving.
This film isn’t really dialog heavy. In fact, it often feels as if the actors are making stuff up as they go along. But that leaves a lot for the camera to soak in and the cast of relative unknowns do a great job. Leslie Lee in particular is haunting as the young innocent who seems to be in some kind of daze during the entire experience.
Friedel (who also stars as one of the thugs and sports an afro that would make Bob Ross drool) is not a filmmaker I was familiar with, but he did a lot with very little in this film, orchestrating some tense scenes and really delivering with the bloody carnage doled out by a wide-eyed beauty. I’m interested to see what KIDNAPPED COED and BLOODY BROTHERS have to offer.
Retro-review: New this week on a double feature Bluray from The Shout Factory!
TENTACLES (1977)Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis (as Oliver Hellman)
Written by Jerome Max, Tito Carpi, Steven W. Carabatsos
Starring John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Henry Fonda, Claude Akins, Delia Boccardo, Cesare Danova, Alan Boyd, Sherry Buchanan, Franco Diogene, Marc Fiorini, Helena Mäkelä
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh?
That horrible joke is funnier than any word Shelley Winters mutters as the comic relief in TENTACLES, a ripoff of JAWS that is funny when it isn’t trying to be and horrible unfunny when the film does.
Paired with REPTILICUS (reviewed here) most likely because both films have beach attack scenes and involve big corporate angering nature, TENTACLES is another nature strikes back flick as an underwater mining company stirs up the hackles of a giant octopus that retaliates by attacking anyone in and near the water of a California beach town. Shelley Winters plays the 70’s version of Melissa McCarthy, attempting to lighten the mood between octo-attacks. Winters plays the thrice divorced sister of reporter John Huston attempting to uncover the cause of the attacks and also acting as our exposition tool whenever we need an octo-fact to keep the plot going.
The first thing that hit me about this film is that the amazing cast. You’ve got class acts like John Huston and Henry Fonda fraternizing with down-home good ol’ boys Bo Hopkins and Claude Atkins, a bevy of hot Italian actresses in bikinis, and of course, Shelley Winters. That’s a pretty potent package of talented folk gathered to sell what is basically a z-grade monster movie. I don’t know what director Ovidio G. Assonitis (I knew a guy in college that caught Assonitis once and it wasn’t pretty) had on this group of actors, but their presence really elevates some pretty laughable material. Most likely the whole crew needed a car payment and thought it was lucrative to cash in on the JAWS craze. Huston especially adds a lot of heft as an investigative reporter acting on a hunch that there’s corporate shenanigans going on that’s prodding the attacks.
The attack sequences are pretty amazingly bad. Cut between a real octopus and what looks like some kind of puppet of some sort, the beast is not as terrifying as the shark from JAWS. There is a pretty well orchestrated attack on a woman in a boat that actually is quite chilling, but this is due to some classy editing rather than the beast itself. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a scene where the octopus follows a pair of kids in a boat like a shark with the top of his head sticking out of the water like a shark’s fin that is so hilariously bad it’s rather amazing.
Expect the usual Shelley Winters whining and under her breath attempts at snide remarks. The film is pretty damn ruthless in terms of who ends up in the grip of the angry octopus. Babies, young kids, beautiful women; they all look like lunch to this monster. I have to give this film props for not backing out and simply murdering crusty sailors the whole time.
For the most part, though, this is a film worth scoffing at. I wish I could see this cast together in a better film as they are pretty much wasted here. And while some of the octo-attacks are thrilling, the fight between the killer whales and the octopus in the end is pretty awful as it appears puppets were used in the final scenes. TENTACLES is not the best of films, but it is indicative of what was popular at the time and how cinema is often shameless in its rip-offs.
Retro-review: New this week as a double feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!
ELIMINATORS (1986)aka DESTROYERS, MANDROID
Directed by Peter Manoogian
Written by Paul De Meo, Danny Bilson
Starring Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby, Patrick Reynolds, Conan Lee, Roy Dotrice, Peter Schrum, Peggy Mannix, Fausto Bara, Tad Horino, Luis Lorenzo, José Moreno
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
ELIMINATORS is a low rent STAR WARS with a lot of charm that makes up for the hokey effects and lack of originality. Attached to THE DUNGEONMASTER (which I reviewed here), ELIMINATORS don’t really eliminate anything, but the members of this rag tag band of adventurers are kind of fun to watch.
After a devastating crash, a pilot (Patrick Reynolds) is revived part man, part machine, part plastic as Mandroid. When he escapes from the lab that created him, Mandroid searches for the one doctor who invented the tech that saved him (Denise Crosby), before the evil Dr. Reeves (Roy Dotrice) can find him and destroy him. There’s also time travel, robot sidekicks, boat races, cavemen, martial arts, and a skimpy wet T-shirt to be seen in this grandma’s stew of a movie.
The filmmakers behind this one tried their damndest to toss in every cool thing in cinema here and hoped the final recipe doesn’t taste too shitty. Because the budget was so low, it looks like after the Mandroid costume, nothing really was left to make things look futuristic, so they went post-apocalyptic and simply filmed most of the film along a dingy river. Obvious riffs on STAR WARS include a cantina scene, but instead of all sorts of aliens we get hillbilly boatmen complete with a butch Bayou Betty as a scallywag trying to vie for the job to transport Mandroid and his doctor friend through the rivers. But THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN’s Andrew Prine wins the fight and serves as the Han Solo of this one. Prine is actually kind of fun here, though he really needs to beef up a bit as he looks a bit too much like the Helicopter pilot from THE ROAD WARRIOR to be a leading man as they are trying to sell him here.
There’s an obligatory wet T-shirt moment that most likely will have STAR TREK: TNG fans drooling as Crosby strips down and goes diving. But like everything else in this film, it’s simply tossed in just to see if anything can come out cool. At least the wet boobs work as entertainment compared to the low rent martial arts and bad makeup on the cavemen. The whole thing ends just barely wrapping up the main plot of wiping out the evil doctor, but nothing really is resolved in terms of somehow getting Manborg into a getup that isn’t so clunky or the crew returning to some kind of civilization. The whole thing ends in a He-Man laughing freeze frame that simply completes the film most likely because the cast and crew simply got sick of trying to ape other films.
ELIMINATORS is much more entertaining than THE DUNGEONMASTER as it isn’t just a random bunch of shorts starring the same cast clumsily laced together. SO it has that going for it. While the effects are hokey, there’s at least something fun in this film trying to convince us that it’s STAR WARS meets ROBOCOP; without all of those annoying things like good effects, engaging acting, and fun story.
Retro-review: New on a special DVD/VHS Combo pack from Camp Motion Pictures!
VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987)Directed by Gary P. Cohen
Written by Gary P. Cohen
Starring Art Neill, Jackie Neill, Joseph Kordos, Kevin Haver, Judy Seplowin, Lisa Cohen, William Toddie, Linda Herman, David Christopher, Gary Schwartz, Chick Kaplan, Robin Leeds, Paige Price, Bill Biach, Bart Sumner, Chris Williams, Ricky Kotch, Jennifer Biach, Karen Oujo
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While it’s kind of like picking the best hernia you’ve ever had, VIDEO VIOLENCE is the best film I’ve seen in this shot on video 80’s horror collection from Camp Motion Pictures. Being a fan of DIY filmmaking, I have a special place in my heart for these types of films, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, especially at a site that specializes in reporting news and reviews about the biggest of big budget films. Still, if you were around in the 80’s and ever frequented a video store in that time, I think VIDEO VIOLENCE will give you a warm feeling too.
A video store owner with a receding mullet (Art Neill) finds a video in the overnight drop box that isn’t one of his. When his clerk puts it in the player, it shows a person being tortured and killed. Soon more of these videos start popping up and the store owner and his wife are on the case to get to the bottom of it, even though the town sheriff seems to have difficulty believing the films the clerk is receiving are real snuff films.
VIDEO VIOLENCE is one of those films that captures a particular culture extremely well. When I was a kid, we would rush to the video store and get three to four films to watch for the weekend. It was a regular thing and from the crowds we would see there, I wasn’t the only kid whose family did this. In many ways, VIDEO VIOLENCE is a precursor to clerks, where some video store employees borrowed the equipment and filmed inside their place of business with some gore effects bought out of the back of an issue of Fango. The setting is believable because it isn’t some Hollywood made set of a video store. It was filmed in an actual video store with most likely actual video store workers and customers. There’s just something awesome about that type of passion.
The gore isn’t bad either. Much of it is rudimentary splatter, but it still is a lot of fun. This makes up for the very bad acting, slow pace, and flat directing. There’s just not a lot technically great here.
The story though is pretty sophisticated as the video store clerk makes like a mulletted Kojak, trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious tapes. This is some kind of low fi detective story and while it’s not very deep or surprising, it still does all the right things in terms of presenting both the mystery and the trail to solve that mystery. Out of all of the films on this interesting low budget collection from yesteryear, VIDEO VIOLENCE has the strongest narrative which makes it much more enjoyable despite it’s budgetary shortcomings. I’ll be checking out VIDEO VIOLENCE II, the final film in this collection, in a future AICN HORROR column.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT (1995)Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop
Starring Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Brenda Bakke, CCH Pounder, Dick Miller, Thomas Haden Church, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Tim DeZarn, Sherrie Rose, Ryan O'Donohue, Tony Salome, Peggy Trentini, Graham Galloway, John Larroquette, David Wurawa, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, Ponti Butler, Elaine del Valle, & John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I remember seeing DEMON KNIGHT in the theaters and really being blown away by it. Having some distance form it, I am able to see the comic booky faults of the film I overlooked as a starry-eyed teen, but still there’s a lot of fun to be had with this extended episode of the amazing HBO horror series TALES FROM THE CRYPT.
First off, what is up with Billy Zane? Like Hansel and Zoolander, I think their friend Billy Zane is a cool dude and I always enjoy his hammy, yet dashing performances. But Zane never really broke out into the big time after flirting with it as the heavy in TITANIC. In DEMON KNIGHT, he plays the Collector, a fork tongued demon from the netherworld looking to collect a set of keys that will unlock the gates of hell and unleash hell on earth. While occasionally Zane gets a bit too Freddy Krueger-y with the one liners, for the most part (especially in a scene where he seduces the prostitute played by Brenda Bakke), he exudes a charm and gift for both chills and comedy that very few others are able to do. I know THE PHANTOM flopped and he made some sexy made for Cinemax flicks in the nineties, but rewatching Zane in this film really made me wish he would have risen to the level to match his obvious talents.
But Zane isn’t the only cast member of note here. DEMON KNIGHT is filled with all kinds of recognizable faces as the ensemble cast trapped in the hotel with the demons outside really were an eclectic bunch. Another underrated actor, William Sadler (who often appeared in at least one episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT each season) plays the Demon Knight himself, protecting the magical key and attempting to find the next Knight should he fall. Sadler is another with a gritty charm, but his southern drawl often got him cast as the dumb hillbilly in the film. Here he does a great job as the desperate holder of the key and while his performance isn’t necessarily what you think of for a leading man, he does a surprisingly good job with it.
The future Mrs. Smith, Jada Pinkett also is good here as the spunky teen help at the hotel who seems to hold both the Knight and the Collector’s attention. While the script seems to favor the Collector and the Knight in terms of cool things to do, Pinkett’s attitude and deliver make her stand out despite all of that and she is sexy as hell covered in blood and battling demons, I must admit.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT was famous for it’s great casts and this one also had Bakke, fresh off of WINGS Thomas Hayden Church, the always great CCH Pounder, Roger Rabbit himself Charles Fleischer and the irreplaceable Dick Miller to brag about. Seeing all of these character actors play off of each other is a blast, especially when things get demony.
But while the premise of DEMON KNIGHT is fun, it kind of loses steam about a third through the film. As the demons close in and the Collector starts temping each of the cast with special deals that will never be awarded (which happens a little too late in the film, in my opinion), it turns into a by the numbers “run from the monsters” film. It’s a good thing that there’s a lot of great effects going on in this film. The demon’s themselves are impressive as all get out, though occasionally they seem to lose their balance as they seem to be supported by cloven hooves and wires. Some of the carnage is amazing as well as in the case of Zane punching through the back of a cops head and his fist getting caught inside the cop’s ripped off head. I remember these effects to be crowd pleasers in the theater I saw it in and it still is pretty thrilling to see in this rerelease.
It was also fun to see the Crypt Keeper segments, though I always thought the writing for the Crypt Keeper was beyond lame. The iconic look of the Keeper and the amazing puppetry by Kevin Yagher (and of course that laugh by John Kassir) were fun to revisit. Special features on this BluRay include audio commentaries by director Ernest Dickerson, effects coordinators Todd Masters, John Van Vliet, Thomas Bellissimo, and Demon actor Walter Phelan. There’s a making of featurette, stills, and a panel discussion with Dickerson and Dick Miller. All in all, a lot of fun is packed into this one.
Newly available On Demand and on iTunes!
SIREN (2013)Directed by Jesse Peyronel
Written by Jesse Peyronel
Starring Vinessa Shaw, Robert Kazinsky, Bess Wohl, Ross Partridge, Christian Winsor, Stephen O'Neil Martin, Ben Hanson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Reminiscent of last year’s horror romance film SPRING (reviewed here), SIREN is much less horror and more suspense and romance. Still, if you’re looking for a horror-esque film that your squeamish girlfriend might actually not wince at too much, SIREN might be something worth checking out.
Leigh lives a quiet life by herself in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. She tends her own garden and is pretty self-sufficient, which is a necessity since she seems to exude pheromones that make her look like the perfect object of desire to anyone who crosses her path. After one man succumbs to her unintentional allure, a drifter by the name of Guy (Robert Kazinsky, who is starring in the new SECOND CHANCE series and most likely this film is being released now after being made two years ago) happens by her house. Turns out Guy’s nose doesn’t work so well and he is unaffected by Leigh’s curse. Leigh becomes interested in Guy as he seems to not fall madly in love with her at first sight and invites him to stay in her guest house to help her with repairs that she cannot fix around the house in her exile. But Leigh also works for a seedy government organization which harvests her power for their own seedy means. It’s up to Leigh and her Guy to find a way for her to break free of the curse and the secret organization’s gas masked guards sent to bring her in.
While there are supernatural elements, SIREN is basically a Nicholas Sparks romance wish fulfillment where the central girl is the object of everyone’s desire except for the guy she is interested in. I hate to generalize, but there is a portion of women (and men for that matter) in the world who aren’t interested in someone if they show any kind of interest in them and choose to pursue the unattainable. In this film, Guy isn’t unattainable, he simply looks at Leigh as a normal person and that exhilarates her. Seeing this all play out is interesting and done in a carefully thought out and realized manner, though it’s not necessarily horrifying or even that thrilling.
I don’t want to rip on this film too much. It just isn’t really a horror film and this being a horror-centric column, it’s hard to recommend this one to my readers. The film is capably made, well acted with endearing characters. The initial attack upon Leigh is rather terrifying, albeit confusing because Leigh’s power isn’t really explained yet. The theme of being cursed with obsessed people who believe they are your soul mate is a terrifying one, but the terror isn’t really explored to its fullest potential here. Instead, the budding romance between Guy and Leigh is the focus and that’s where this film lost me.
I don’t want to make it sound like I can’t enjoy romance films, it’s just that even more so than horror, they follow a particular formula that really doesn’t interest me. SIREN attempts to coat itself with the shell of a fantasy film, but the romantic aspects simply overpower that outer shell and the film proves to be too bland and down to earth to be interesting. The film even ends on kind of a whimper of a note, not really matching the emotional thrill of the opening moments where Liegh’s predicament is plotted out. Whereas SPRING at least had some gore and scares to go with its heavy romantic tone, SIREN sifts out the thrills and instead focuses on the relationship between these two talented actors. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not my bag and I think it’s most likely not going to interest regular readers for the same reason.
Newly available for from the 2015 8 Films To Die For Series (you can see this film On Demand and download this film on iTunes and Amazon)!
MURDER IN THE DARK (2013)Directed by Dagen Merrill
Written by Dagen Merrill & Chris Wyatt
Starring Luke Arnold, Phil Austin, Yann Bean, Samrat Chakrabarti, Kiran Deol, Eme Ikwuakor, Simone Tang, Mary Kate Wiles, Murielle Zuker
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I wasn’t impressed with MURDER IN THE DARK going into the film, having seen snippets of the trailer and knowing nothing about how the film was made. But the further into this film the more impressed I became with it and having sat through the entire thing, I have to say, next to BASTARD and LUMBERJACK MAN, this is one of the best of the 8 Films To Die For films of the bunch.
The premise if pretty simple. A group of college aged researchers, their mentor, and his daughter go on a trip to Turkey in order to see the sights and inspect some ancient ruins that jut out the side of the mountain. The decision to pick up a hitchhiker begins an intricate tale of wrong turns and mysterious deaths until only the murderer and the final victim remains. This AND THEN THERE WERE NONE premise has been done before, but not in this type of fashion.
The actors of this film were not given a script, rather they were given cues by the director and asked to ad lib and go with the flow with certain scenes. None of them know who the killer was and who was going to die next. From start to finish, it feels like this would have been a fascinating film to work on. It also must have required extremely tight coordination from filmmakers Dagen Merrill & Chris Wyatt, so I have to give credit where its due as this film could have been an absolute disaster if not well orchestrated. Because of the technical cartwheels that must have gone into making MURDER IN THE DARK, this is an impressive little bit of murder mystery filmmaking.
That said, there are some problems along the way in terms of the script actually making sense all the way through. As an experiment in filmmaking it makes for a fun film, but the story within the film really fails to hold up all the way through. While the acting is pretty great and the setting of the place is filled with corridors, decrepit and fallen down buildings and walls, and nature’s overgrowth, the story itself kind of feels as if it was made up as it went along in order to keep the viewer (and the actors) guessing. Again, I admire what this film is doing, it just has some speed bumps along the way in terms of actually connecting it all together in the end, specifically that anyone could coordinate a series of events that follow a game of chance that is played before the murders begin called MURDER IN THE DARK. Because of this impossibility, the film itself just doesn’t hold water in terms of feeling like it could happen and this being a murder mystery and not a mystical flick, for it to be a good murder story, it all needs to make sense in the end.
That said, I am fascinated with MURDER IN THE DARK and how it all was made. I think the making of featurette of this film will most likely be more interesting than the film itself, but still, I will be returning to this one for a second viewing, which I don’t often do.
THE WICKED WITHIN
New this week on BluRau from RLJ Entertainment, also available on iTunes!
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Written by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Patrick Wilson, Kurt Russell, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Kathryn Morris, Sid Haig, Sean Young, Michael Paré, Zahn McClarnon, Jamie Hector, Geno Segers, Jay Tavare, Jamie Hector, James Tolkan
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While BONE TOMAHAWK could use a few minutes or two trimmed from a few scenes, it’s still a unique and pretty excellent mix of Western and horror with a cast to die for. And for those who couldn’t get enough of Kurt Russell’s unique soup catcher, those impressive chin whiskers are front and center in this film as well.
When his wife is captured by natives, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) a cowboy, sets out to find her, despite the fact that he has a broken leg. Accompanying him on this quest is Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), his noble Second Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), and gentleman gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox). The four cowboys head out to uncharted territory to face a primitive tribe of natives who eat human flesh.
A cannibal Western is territory that’s been sort of charted before in a serious way in RAVENOUS and a less so manner in CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL, but neither of them have felt as much like a genuine Western as BONE TOMAHAWK. From start to finish, this one feels as if it follows a conventional Western path, with a group of cowboys heading out to undiscovered country to save a damsel from monsters. There’s a knightly quest aspect of this as well, but for the bulk of this film this is simply four very different cowboys trying to get along with one another on horseback.
Now that alone isn’t really that interesting, but considering this is Kurt fucking Russell in a Western, accompanied by not too shabby actors Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox, with Richard Jenkins added much needed comic relief as well as more heart than I was expecting, and this all of a sudden becomes a character piece like few others with four fantastic actors bouncing off of one another in a most entertaining way. Simply seeing these four brave the elements with only a horse, some rations, and a whole lot of firepower is going to be cause alone for people to want to see this movie and this film delivers everyone I expected as all four give their all making us care for them and root for them through this ordeal. Wilson in particular is great as the wounded cowboy who won’t quit until he finds his wife and Fox is amazing as the cold blooded killer of the group whose only soft spot seems to be for his own horse. Russell is as amazing and gruff as one would expect, but Jenkins surprised me as he really is the beating heart of this film, providing innocent, though dim-witted observation and naïve loyalty to his sheriff. All in all, this is a quartet of leads that I would follow anywhere.
Once the four get to where they are going, this film veers from being a typical Western in many ways. First and foremost, things get extremely bloody and gory. I was taken aback at the ruthless level of violence this film delivers as the four men bite and scratch for their lives against these savages, described as Troglodytes, who eat human flesh. But cannibalism isn’t their only sin. These creatures are more primate than human, adorned with jewelry stuck into their windpipes to make a roaring sound and some of them even have tusks. These are not your typical feather wearing noble Native American warriors. These are primitive creatures straight out of a horror film and their wrath is horrifically vicious. What little glimpses we see of their culture is pretty monstrous to behold.
The shift from Western to horror film is not as jarring or trite as something like FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. We are told early on that these natives are monsters, so when they do finally arrive, we sort of know what we are getting. I loved how each of the actors, none of them known for hardcore horror films (sure Russell did THE THING, but that was twenty years ago, and I certainly don’t count Wilson’s INSIDIOUS turn as this level of hardcore), are fully committed here in delivering a solid Western that just happens to end in an utterly horrific manner. The final scenes of this film will make gore hounds cheer and others who are less appreciative of the red stuff wince like hell. Still, even with the monsters they fight and the horrors they endure, the four stars are cowboys all the way through.
This is a unique film that straddles two genres (that of the Western and the horror story) and does so with utter respect for both. While it might be a little long in the tooth for some (the film clocks in just a bit over two hours), I wished I could have spent even more time with these amazing actors fighting monsters with six guns and cowboy hats. Russell is amazing and again plays the ultimate cowboy badass. Fox, Wilson, and especially Jenkins are all stellar every second they are on screen. If you’re a Western fan and don’t mind some gruesome gore and some truly horrific monsters, BONE TOMAHAWK is going to be for you. For horror fans, this is probably as perfect a Western horror film you’re going to get. I savored every bloody, gritty minute of this film. Highly, highly recommended.
Advance Review: Available On Demand and in select theaters on January 8th (Friday) from Dark Sky Films!
CHERRY TREE (2015)Directed by David Keating
Written by Brendan McCarthy
Starring Naomi Battrick, Patrick Gibson, Anna Walton, Sam Hazeldine, Leah McNamara, Caroline Murphy, Valerie O'Connor, Minnie Phipps, Elva Trill
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and it would be pretty good if not for one tiny detail that kind of ruins the whole thing for you? That pretty much sums up my experience with CHERRY TREE, a new witchy movie from the director of WAKE WOOD—another story of witchcraft from a few years ago.
Faith (Naomi Battrick) is a troubled teen. Picked on by her peers in school and plagued with worries about her father who is dying of leukemia, Faith is a powder keg ready to explode. But her new field hockey coach Sissy (Anna Walton) sees potential in the young girl and makes her an offer; become pregnant and give her the baby and Sissy will use witchcraft to heal her father. Faith is desperate and agrees, but given her rebellious nature, she has trouble keeping up her end of the deal. Now Faith is about to have her baby and Sissy expects her to pay up with her baby’s life.
This film is filled with all kinds of creepy goodness. While not every aspect of the wiccan magic is explained, this is the grimy and earth bound magic that feels much more real and palpable. It also helps that whenever Sissy is using her magic centipedes begin crawling on the walls, across the ceiling, and burrow into flesh. There’s also a gruesome mix of blood with roots and cherry juice which comes off as nauseatingly effective. All in all, the grounded magic at play here does its job of being utterly alien and unnerving. The same type of witchcraft was played with in WAKE WOOD, as parents were making a bargain to bring their dead son back. Here the same type of subject matter is being dealt with and in an equally chilling manner.
Battrick is mesmerizing as the fiery teen Faith here. She is likable, vulnerable, and sweet, but also sports a dangerous side. Though she is young, there seems to be an experience and knowledge in her eyes. This young beauty is going to be a big name some time and is fantastic carrying this movie. The sultry Anna Walton (who plated Princess Nuala in HELLBOY II) is perfect as the witch and has quite a transformation at the end of this film which is both beautiful and horrifying.
So what about that aspect that kind of ruins things for me about this film? Well, that would be the very last beat of this film. Every plot twist and forward movement was so spot on, pulling me into Faith’s plight completely. But the decision to use bad CG for the final beat of the film (along with a painful one-liner) just kind of leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. It’s shocking to see the film end on such a bad note, given the high quality of the rest of the film and once you see it, I’m pretty sure you’ll feel the same
Everything up to the last second of this film is pretty great. Battrick and Walton are fantastic. The story really does pull you in. The depiction of witchcraft is tactile and unnerving. And those damn centipedes are nasty as all get out. The final moments of CHERRY TREE don’t ruin the film completely, but it came darn close to doing so for me and it left me wondering who thought it would be a good idea to end the film in such a lame way.
And finally… here’s yet another short animated film from the indie no-budget director of THE ABORTED, THE LAST BATTLEGROUND, THE COMPLEX, and HIGHWAY 91. This time around Sonny Fernandez delivers us his spin on HALLOWEEN in another Liquid Television-esque short cartoon. Enjoy!
See ya next time, 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.
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!