Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Before we head into this week’s reviews, I wanted to let folks know about my own new website MLMillerWrites.com, which will serve as both an archive for my thousands of horror movie reviews as well as updates on my own upcoming comic book projects. I’m just beginning the archive, but it will be a one stop shop for all of my reviews all categorized and lumped in one place. So zip over to MLMillerWrites.com and let me know what you think of it!
AICN HORROR has a new sponsor: Things From Another World—also known as TFAW!
TFAW carries everything from comics to toys and any kind of collectible in between. Show your support for AICN HORROR and TFAW and click the pic above. You just might find something you can’t live without, such as Cullen Bunn’s excellent southern gothic horror tale from Dark Horse Comics!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
The Book Creeport: THE LAST LASER SHOW Novel
Retro-review: TOWER OF LONDON (1962)
Retro-review: DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972)
Retro-review: SSSSSSS! (1973)
Retro-review: THE ZERO BOYS (1986)
Retro-review: BLOODY WEDNESDAY (1987)
Retro-review: DEATH BECOMES HER (1992)
VOLUMES OF BLOOD (2015)
CABIN FEVER (2015)
Advance Review: UNDERNEATH (2015)
And finally…Lights Out: The Sea!
The Book Creeport: You can find this book on Amazon here and for the next 5 days, THE LAST LASER SHOW will be available as a free kindle download!
THE LAST LASER SHOW novelWritten by Ian Avery
Reviewed by BottleImp
Though not strictly a science fiction story, THE LAST LASER SHOW is just off-kilter and quirky enough to make the reader feel as if he or she has been dropped into a parallel world where the average and everyday is twisted ever-so-slightly out of focus. And though there are no dripping corpses or axe-wielding maniacs that would drop the book into the swamp of the everyday horror yarn, there is present at times a sense of existential dread that succeeds in being both horribly soul-crushing and blackly hilarious. Come to think of it, there IS a version of an axe-wielding maniac…only here he’s a tuna-fish-slathered-on-a-baguette-swinging eccentric.
Ian Avery’s book follows the last chance trip of one Arthur Deadman in his quest to finally have his dream realized of having his screenplay be produced by the movie-making machine. His quest takes the form of a trip into London to an industry conference, where the movers and shakers of the showbiz scene—“The Laser Show,” as Deadman calls it—hold in their hands the key to everything that Arthur wants…or believes that he wants, at any rate. But once Arthur arrives at the Show, self-destructive habits, chance encounters, and unexpected connections interweave to show him a very different world than he expected.
Avery’s writing style can best be described as Hunter Thompson meets Douglas Adams, with a liberal sprinkling of Nick Hornby to blend the two together. From the surreal opening of the book where Arthur is given the world’s fastest ride to London by a suicidal railway driver right up through the darkly poignant ending, THE LAST LASER SHOW strikes a remarkable balance between absurdist humor and heartfelt emotion. Written in the first person and seen through Arthur Deadman’s eyes, Avery’s pseudo-stream of consciousness, snappy patter gives the book much of its quirky flavor, but what’s even more impressive is his use of incredibly odd real-life details that at once ground THE LAST LASER SHOW in a believable reality while simultaneously making our reality seem that much more bizarre. Just google “Sealand,” and you’ll see what I mean.
In addition to writing this story, Avery also produced the illustrations that grace the cover and interior. As I looked at these illustrations I was once again reminded of Hunter Thompson—or, to be more precise, the Ralph Steadman drawings that seem to go hand-in-hand with Thompson’s work. There’s also a great sense of dark humor in these drawings that makes me think of Tim Burton’s unconventional doodles; Avery, like Burton, is adept at blending the odd and the weird with a sense of empathy and even love.
THE LAST LASER SHOW is one of those wonderful books that deftly defies being comfortably pigeonholed into a solid category. It’s humorous, it’s romantic, it’s existential, it’s dark—and as I mentioned above, it even manages to dip its toes into the horror and sf genres. This seeming lack of a unifying tone is what gives the book its strength. THE LAST LASER SHOW is a pleasure to read, and its myriad moods will stay with you after you’ve finished the final sentence.
A href=http://www.amazon.com/Last-Laser-Show-Laugh-Comedy-ebook/dp/B01B1SKSFQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461824620&sr=1-1&keywords=the+last+laser+show target=_blank>You can find this book here and for the next 5 days, THE LAST LASER SHOW will be available as a free kindle download!!
Painting signs, exhibiting in gallery shows, trying to keep his toddler from doing irreparable bodily harm to herself—once in a blue moon Stephen Andrade finds the time to emerge as the BottleImp, writing reviews for AICN’s comics and horror columns and talking horror flicks on AICN’s Cannibal Horrorcast. You can see his work at sandradeillustration.com!
Retro-review: Available in the new Vincent Price Collection III from the Shout Factory!
TOWER OF LONDON (1962)Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Leo Gordon & F. Amos Powell, Robert E. Kent
Starring Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman, Robert Brown, Bruce Gordon, Joan Camden, Richard Hale, Sandra Knight, Charles Macaulay, Justice Watson, Sarah Selby, Donald Losby, Sara Taft, Eugene Mazzola
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Vincent Price often brings a Shakespearian air to his performances, despite how schlocky the film may be. In TOWER OF LONDON, Roger Corman and Price team up once again for a gothic horror-laden account of the rise and fall of King Richard III, a royal figure who was the central figure in one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
Richard III (Price) is the conniving brother of King Edward IV, and is snubbed at having his chance on the throne when the dying Edward awards their brother Clarence with the honor of looking over his young sons and wearing the crown. But the hunchbacked and malformed Richard has other plans, and murders his brother and plans to do the same to Edward’s kids to clear the path to the throne for himself. The problem is, every time Richard kills someone, he is haunted by their ghosts and it’s driving him mad!
While Shakespeare’s take on Richard III is a drama about loss and guilt and how much it weighs on the soul, the story fits rather nicely into the mold of a ghost story. Price is amazing as usual, putting a little extra oomph into his performance as the twisted Richard. Most likely the actor appreciated doing something in a more classical fashion rather than his usual horror films, even if it had a gothic and macabre hue. While this film isn’t high on scares, Price’s performance makes everything feel weighty and resonant. The ghosts are simply transparent images one has seen in many TV shows and movies and don’t look particularly scary, but Price makes it all feel heavier as he limps around with his hunched back and drops lines taken from the Shakespearian play.
Aside from lifting lines from Shakespeare, in the true Corman fashion of cutting corners and getting the biggest bang for his buck, he even used outer shots of the castle from the 1939 version of the film as well as filled out the outdoor battle scenes in the latter with scenes from that film as well, since the 1962 version was shot entirely on a soundstage. Still, despite the familiar castle setting that you often see in pairings between Price and Corman for the Poe adaptations, TOWER OF LONDON has a bigger feel to it because of these clever decisions by Corman and Price’s performance.
This film is accompanied by a short interview with Corman about the makings of TOWER OF LONDON. It also has a pair of episodes of the old serial SCIENCE FICTION THEATER starring Vincent Price that I may cover in a future column. TOWER OF LONDON is a fantastic little tale of madness, and Price is at the top of his game here.
CRY OF THE BANSHEE
MASTER OF THE WORLD
Vincent Price Collection Volume 2 Reviews
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
THE TOMB OF LIGIEA
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
THE RETURN OF THE FLY
Vincent Price Collection Volume 1 Reviews
THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
THE HAUNTED PALACE
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES
Retro-review: New this week collected in a limited edition BluRay box set DEATH WALKS TWICE: TWO FILMS BY MUCIANO ERCOLI from Arrow/MVD Visual!
DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972)aka CRY OUT IN TERROR, DEATH CARESSES AT MIDNIGHT
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Written by Sergio Corbucci, Ernesto Gastaldi, Guido Leoni, Mahnahén Velasco
Starring Nieves Navarro, Simón Andreu, Pietro Martellanza, Claudie Lange, Carlo Gentili, Ivano Staccioli, Fabrizio Moresco, Claudio Pellegrini, Luciano Rossi, Raúl Aparici, Alessandro Perrella, Elio Veller, Giuliana Rivera,
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I knew right from the beginning of DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT that I would end up loving this film. Having reviewed the other film in this collection a few weeks ago, it wasn’t until I started researching DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS (reviewed here) that I realized I had watched the films out of the order they were made. Nevertheless, this giallo murder mystery is a whole bunch of fun and a testament to the filmmaking abilities of Luciano Ercoli straight from the start, as the below haunting song introduces the viewer to the main character Valentina (Susan Scott, aka Nieves Navarro).
The story focuses on rich socialite, fashion model, and party gal Valentina, who experiments with a drug and has a vison of a woman being murdered by a man wearing sunglasses and an iron-clawed glove. Valentina is known for being one to hit the drugs and the sauce, so no one really believes her as she relentlessly searches for the killer and then ends up being stalked by him once she finds him. Turns out someone was killed recently and the killer, not knowing why Valentina knows intimate details of the murder, seeks to take her out in fear he will identify him. This puts Valentina in the sights of quite a few seedy individuals, with the inept cops picking up the pieces as she dashes for her life from one end of Barcelona to the other.
While DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT has all of the markings of the typical giallo, what with there being a witnessed murder, crazy characters, plot twists, and someone being tossed unwittingly into the middle of an intricate plot, this film distinguishes itself by having a few brutal scenes of gore as the murderer takes out his victim with a Wolverine-like iron glove. This, along with some fantastically madcap characters that seem more at home in a comic book movie than a murder mystery, make DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT something special. One of the characters reminded me of a cross between Chop-Top from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (reviewed here) and the Joker as he laughs maniacally while torturing his victims with throwing daggers and wears a brightly colored outfit. He even gets a face full of plaster in the end, making him look even more Joker-like.
What I love about the two Ercoli films I’ve seen are the over the top action-centric endings where the antagonists suddenly know all forms of martial arts and even the cops are skilled at unleashing a wicked karate chop. Ercoli’s villains are over the top and do have a fantastic bend to them both visually and in their insane motives. The villain’s tendency to stop everything and explain the over-complicated plot up until now is also undeniably cute. Ercoli used the beautiful and often hysterical Susan Scott, aka Nieves Navarro, in both DEATH WALKS films. But that’s not the only common actor, as Carlo Gentili may have different names, but he basically plays the same inspector in both films, aloofly failing to believe the antagonist’s pleas for help and then swooping in at the last minute to claim the victory.
Watching these two films back to back was a real treat, and once again cements my appreciation for Italian giallo murder mysteries and their undeniable influence upon filmmakers like DePalma, Roth, and Tarantino. Ercoli was one of the most unusual and best, and this DEATH WALKS collection highlights just how iconic the filmmaker was.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
SSSSSSS! (1973)AKA SSSSNAKE and HISS OF DEATH
Directed by Bernard Kowalski
Written by Hal Dresner (from a story by Dan Striepeke)
Starring Dirk Benedict, Strother Martin, Heather Mengies & Reb Brown
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Because one guy in the talkbacks demanded it, I took a look at SSSSSSS this week (that’s seven S’s, to be exact…don’t see SSSSSS, it pales in comparison). SSSSSSS is an animal gone wild horror film--the kind that was all the rage in the seventies with FROGS, SQUIRM, FOOD OF THE GODS, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS and tons of other films depicting animals rising up and wreaking vengeance on us pesky humans. Though SSSSSSS isn’t another environmental tale with the animals reacting to nuclear waste disposal or proximity to atom bomb testing, it still bears the credo I noted last year in this column when reviewing films of this kind: don’t fuck with mother nature.
Here a mad scientist type named Dr. Stoner (played by Strother Martin) chooses human test subjects and attempts to turn them into snakes. Eager college student David Blake (Face-Man Dirk Benedict) volunteers to be his lab assistant without knowing that the good doctor’s previous assistant has mysteriously vanished. Immediately, Stoner begins injecting Blake with green fluid (by now, shouldn’t folks know to be wary of syringes with green fluid?) as a precaution for snake bites and Blake begins to feel all slithery and scaly. At the same time he develops a romance with the doctor’s daughter, Kristina, who has an affinity for snakes herself, of course. The Seventies version of William Zabka (you know, from KARATE KID and JUST ONE OF THE GUYS?...look it up and you’ll know who I mean,) Reb Brown, best known as TV’s Captain America and Boomer in UNCOMMON VALOR, plays a vain school bully who serves as trouble for Blake and Kristina’s relationship and ends up snake food.
There are snakes galore in this one, and those of you with ophidiophobia might actually find SSSSSSS pretty scary. The scenes with actual snakes are impressive, especially the ones with the king cobra. The acting is pretty stiff and the camera work is pretty rudimentary, but the effects are better than one would expect from a B-grade movie. The scenes of the humans in mid-transformation and the carnival snake man are inspired, though seeing Dirk Benedict writhe around the floor losing control of his limbs is pretty laughable. The dramatic finale with Dr. Stoker going off the deep end, worshipping a king cobra while a snaky Dirk Benedict battles a mongoose, made the film for me.
SSSSSSS is a damn good time as long as you don’t take it too seriously, though with a name like SSSSSSS, I don’t think there’s a chance of that.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from MVD Visual/Arrow Films!
THE ZERO BOYS (1986)aka HEROS BOYS
Directed by Nico Mastorakis
Written by Robert Gilliam, Nico Mastorakis, Fred Perry
Starring Daniel Hirsch, Kelli Maroney, Nicole Rio, Tom Shell, Jared Moses, Crystal Carson, Joe Estevez, Gary Jochimsen, John Michaels, T.K. Webb
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I can’t believe I’d never seen THE ZERO BOYS before this week. It had all of the cool things I was looking for in a film in the late 80’s: evil hunters, paintball, survival games, bloody murders, and my adolescent crush, Kelli Maroney!
A group of weekend warriors who call themselves the Zero Boys celebrate their latest win on the paintball course by packing up and heading out to do some camping for the weekend. When they stumble upon an abandoned cabin in the woods, they decide to hunker in when the rain starts pouring, but soon they realize that they have wandered into the sights of a trio of hunters (led by Joe Estevez, who barely says a line in the film, but looks creepy) who like to track, torture and kill humans.
While everything about THE ZERO BOYS is typical--there’s the cabin in the woods, the kids who set out for drinks, sex, and partying, and the stalkers in the woods--the film surprised me in how seamlessly it blended action and horror. While there are plenty of goofy parts in the beginning sequence where the Zero Boys conquer their opponents on the paintball course (one of the guy is wearing a bright pink shirt under a camouflage vest and another is dressed as a full blown Nazi?!?), once out in the middle of the woods things move along as expected, but still at a brisk, exciting pace. The film also gets pretty gory, as one of the girls is tortured in a scene that feels more comfortable in the Oughts torture porn era rather than the stalk n’ slash Eighties and even manages to tap into the self-referential Nineties as the guys scare one another by stating that Jason (referring to the king of horror at the time, Jason Voorhees) is around every corner.
Another highlight of the film was to find a film I hadn’t seen with one of my favorite actresses from the Eighties, Kelli Maroney. Just as she did in NIGHT OF THE COMET (reviewed here), Maroney plays a spunky spitfire with a giant mound of permed blonde Eighties hair who doesn’t need saving—until she needs saving, that is. The gorgeous Maroney is definitely the standout actress of the film, and director Nico Mastorakis knows it by giving her all of the best action (hiding from a machete-wielding Joe Estevez) and the best lines (“I’m 5’6”, majoring in psychology, and I fuck on the first date” –hot damn!). The rest of the cast is pretty cut and dry with their lines, but Maroney made the film for me and reminded me of why I had such a huge crush on her back then as she takes on asshole boyfriends, over-protective jocks, and psychotic hunters with ease and outshines them all.
Those of you who think you’ve seen all of the slasher films out there (like me) might be surprised with THE ZERO BOYS. It may look and sound like a lame 80s action flick, but it really is a solid slasher film in disguise. This Arrow edition comes with an interview with Kelli Maroney (who still looks darn good!) about her role in the film, another focusing on filmmaker Nico Mastorakis, plus some commercials, TV spots, and music videos set to the score and soundtrack of the film.
Retro-review: New this week on DVD from Film Chest Media Group!
BLOODY WEDNESDAY (1987)aka THE GREAT AMERICAN MASSACRE
Directed by Mark G. Gilhuis
Written by Philip Yordan
Starring Raymond Elmendorf, Pamela Baker, Navarre Perry, Teresa Mae Allen, Jeff O'Haco, Linda Dona, Herb Kronsberg, Murray Cruchley, Dale E. Turner, John Landtroop, Richard Curtis, Jim Wilkerson
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Trainwreck-like is being kind in describing the descent into madness tale that is BLOODY WEDNESDAY--a film which claims to be based on real events yet doesn’t really offer up anything but cartoon psychology and acting.
If not for the occasional gore, BLOODY WEDNESDAY almost feels like one of those after school specials depicting real life issues, this one focusing on mental illness. While Harry (Raymond Elmendorf) experiences mild lapses of sanity in the early portions of this film (taking apart a car engine and forgetting how to put it back together, going to church naked), after he is released from an institution and set up in an abandoned hotel (always a good idea) his sanity continues to chip away. All of this culminates in a shootout in a coffee shop, which isn’t a spoiler because they tell the viewer about the coffee shop massacre in an opening monologue not unlike TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but with much less effect.
BLOODY WEDNESDAY was one of those VHS tapes I never bothered to rent in the 80s because even the box looked bland. Turns out my intuitions were correct, because the acting is tepid throughout this film and the shot-on-video way this one was made is a tough pill to swallow. At times the film is laughably bad, which sometimes maintains my interest, but that’s even a stretch for most of BLOODY WEDNESDAY. Some scenes are overwritten with terminology that was obviously beyond the actors vomiting up the lines. Other scenes are underwritten, like why is it now that Harry chooses to lose his mind? Obviously, he had it together enough to marry someone once. What was the inciting moment? You won’t find the answers here.
Fans of bad cinema will want to scarf this one down, but if you aren’t tolerant of low fi films, you’re going to want to pass this one up no matter how retro it is. I couldn’t find the trailer, but here’s an example of some of the amazing script and acting from BLOODY WEDNESDAY!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
DEATH BECOMES HER (1997)Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Martin Donovan, David Koepp
Starring Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Ogilvy, Adam Storke, Nancy Fish, Alaina Reed-Hall, Michelle Johnson, Mary Ellen Trainor, William Frankfather, John Ingle
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Some might wonder why DEATH BECOMES HER is showing up in this here column as it is an A-list star filled, big budget comedy, but it also is a unique blend of elements from both the Dracula and Frankenstein mythos of sorts and sports some truly innovative effects work, so calm down and let’s review this one.
Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) have been rivals since childhood. When Madeline, who grows up to be a movie star, steals Helen’s plastic surgeon fiancée Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), Helen is heartbroken and falls into a depression. But as time goes on, Madeline requires more and more plastic surgery to keep looking youthful for her fans and for her boytoy, who is half her age. Meanwhile, Helen has put herself back together and become a famous self-help guru and author. Returning into Madeline and Ernest’s life looking stunning, Helen starts the rivalry anew. Desperate, Madeline goes to a castle in the middle of Beverly Hills and meets with a witch (Isabella Rossellini) who grants her body youth forever, but the witch warns Madeline to take care of her body. This one warning isn’t taken very seriously by the overjoyed Madeline, which proves to be more of a problem than she had imagined.
Given the top tier cast, this is a very dark and diabolical movie about the vapidness of Hollywood and those who would do anything to stay forever young. Because the serum grants immortal youth but the body can still be harmed, this opens up director Robert Zemeckis and writers David Koepp and Martin Donovan to incorporate tons of twisted and surreal elements regarding a human body that takes a load of damage, yet continues to live. So when someone breaks her neck, her head twists backwards, yet still talks. When someone has a hole blown through them with a shotgun, she is still walking around with a giant football-sized hole. Zemeckis and crew blend the temptation of immortality from DRACULA with the mad science of FRANKENSTEIN to come up with something entirely new and fun. They also add some little moments that I appreciated. When Ernest takes Madeline to the hospital after her first accident, the doctor thinks she is dead and take her to the morgue. As he is wandering through the hospital he passes a trio of nuns who creepily float past him. The entire film is made with this type of whimsical horror that I can’t get enough of.
DEATH BECOMES HER is a revolutionary film in terms of special effects. Utilizing green screen is old hat today, but when this film was made, the stuff that goes on here was revolutionary. Making it seem like Streep has her head on backwards or Goldie Hawn has a hole through her belly still holds up for shock value. The whole thing feels like a Tex Avery cartoon come to life, though part of me wanted to see more effects rather than just these two main ones. Still, the effects were used to maximum effect.
All three main characters seem to be having a blast. Willis is playing the straight man in between these insanely jealous leading ladies. Both Hawn and Streep look amazing here, even when covered in CG effects. DEATH BECOMES HER comes with a pair of “Making of” featurettes--one old one which talks about the innovative effects, and a new one with this new BluRay that focuses on how innovative the effects were at the time, so you see a retrospective on it as well as one done while it was new. With fun performances from Willis, Streep, and Hawn, and the fun boppy tone which is often Zameckis’ style, DEATH BECOMES HER is a morbid comedy worth checking out again.
Available exclusively on BluRay and DVD from Legless Corpse Films!
VOLUMES OF BLOOD (2015)Directed by Jakob Bilinski, Nathan Thomas Milliner, John Kenneth Muir, P.J. Starks, and Lee Vervoort
Written by P.J. Starks, Todd Martin, and Nathan Thomas Milliner
Starring Jason Crowe, Roni Jonah, Alexandria Hendrick, Garret Smith, Louisa Torres, Jim O'Rear, Todd Reynolds, Jordan Phillips, Elissa Grant, Louisa Torres, Kristine Renee Farley, Kevin Roach
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
This new anthology is from the Midwestern low budget filmmakers behind such indie gems as THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH (Jakob Bilinski), HALLOW’S EVE: SLAUGHTER ON 2ND STREET (P.J. Starks), A WISH FOR THE DEAD (Nathan Thomas Milliner), NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, & BLUE (John Kenneth Muir), & GUN TOWN (Lee Vervoort). Pooling their collective talents seems to be the a good thing, as this anthology was one of the more spunky and inventive collections of shorts I’ve seen in quite a while.
VOLUMES OF BLOOD opens with your typical slasher scenario, which gets turned on its head and segues into the main story of four horror fans trying to one-up each other with a story of a modern urban legend, all set in a library. The library thing serves as a great way to limit the parameters of each storyteller’s tale, but it also most likely saved money by having the entire thing take place in one locale. This type of smart corner-cutting is part of the charm of indie films, but also the type of limitation that can really get the juices flowing in creative types up for the challenge, and these filmmakers and the storytellers who swap their tales in the story seem to be up to the task.
Of all of the tales, one of the least inventive is the first, which revolves around an energy drink delivered by Lucen Ferr (Jim O’Rear), which of course doesn’t really deliver exactly what was advertised to a weary student. The story gets nice and gory, but is rather predictable, with the name of the mysterious energy drink provider giving the punch line away early on. But the story is regaled as lame by the storytellers, which sort of makes up for its lack of inventiveness.
The second feature is by far the scariest, as a mysterious book simply cannot be shelved. Filmed in moody black and white, there are all kinds of scares to be had as the filmmakers pay close attention to the foreground and background action, which highlights a stalking ghost. This one builds tension by the second, and though it’s another quickie, every minute builds upon the next until the end. Simple stage makeup makes this ghost look more fearful than most big budget spooks.
Third up is a story of a girl who promises to meet her boyfriend by midnight, but falls asleep in the library instead and encounters a monster. With some dramatic lighting and an awesome synth score, this one reminded me a lot of some of Carpenter’s earliest works. The acting here is a lot of fun, and though the boyfriend is utterly douchebagerrific, he tempts his girlfriend to come to his mom’s basement after studying with the line “perfect set-up for a pregnancy scare.” The line had me rolling, and this is one potent little shocker.
After that comes the short about a grieving girlfriend whose ex killed himself soon after she broke up with him. After finding a book on Satanism, she decides to attempt to talk with deceased, with horrific results as a devil-faced madman stalks her through the rows of books. This one again had strong acting and some nice twists in the end.
The final segment gets meta, as we pull the camera back a skosh to reveal an obnoxious filmmaker who brags about his awards and berates his spiteful crew. Soon bodies start piling up, and while this one lacks some of the scares, it ends the film with some really nice gore and a wink and a nod to the audience that hits all the right notes. In the end, this anthology highlighted the ingenuity of all involved in front of and behind the camera of low budget films. As with most anthologies, some of the shorts are stronger than others, but placed together, VOLUMES OF BLOOD is a strong reminder that sometimes the biggest scares can be made with meager budgets.
Available now On Demand from IFC Midnight!
CABIN FEVER (2016)Directed by Travis Zariwny
Written by Randy Pearlstein (script), Eli Roth (original screenplay)
Starring Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Samuel Davis, Nadine Crocker, Dustin Ingram, Randy Schulman, George Griffith, Tim Zajaros, Aaron Trainor, Louise Linton, Laura Kenny, Derrick R. Means, Jason Rouse, Benton Morris, Dawson Doupé, Teresa Decher, Travis Zariwny, Michelle Damis, Ted Pfeifer, Eli Roth
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Ok, let’s set aside the fact that this is a needless remake. Sure CABIN FEVER was released 14 years ago, but anything released after 2000 seems like it shouldn’t be worthy of a remake yet. But I’m sure this is something like the way we got shitty PUNISHER movies year after year; the studios have to keep making these things or the rights revert somewhere else. At least that’s what I hope happened. Still, it’s not like CABIN FEVER 2 and CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO (reviewed here) were smash hits and I guess, if you’re going to make a new film, it’s best to return to the source since that’s the biggest hit of the bunch. Still—TOO SOON!
I’m going to try not to compare this film with the original too much in this review, but it’s hard not to with it being released not that long ago and this film not really doing much to distinguish itself as anything but an almost shot-for-shot/line-for-line remake of the original. Sure some characters have switched genders and some additional gore has been added, but let’s get this straight here right away: the original is infinitely better in almost every way. In fact, if I didn’t know better, Roth had director Travis Zariwny, who refers to himself pretentiously as Travis Z in the credits, do this as an ego boost to make his original look superior. Nevertheless, top to bottom Roth made a much better film 14 years ago.
Not like you need it, but here’s the recap. The film opens with a hunter returning from the hunt to find his dog exposed to some kind of plague-like disease. The mutt explodes in his face and we cut to credits. Next a group of kids make their way through the forest-flanked roads all geared up to party, drink, party, sex it up, and party. Arriving at the cabin, everything looks hunky-dory until the hunter from the pre-credits sequence shows up and begins spitting blood and gore all over the campers. Soon one by one gets infected, with the hillfolk attempting to contain the disease by murdering and burning them all.
CABIN FEVER 2016 pales in comparison to the original in every way: story, direction, pacing, acting, gore, comedy, scares, you name it. The actors in the original weren’t thespians, but at least they were distinct actors giving convincing performances. This new group of soon-to-be-infecteds are generic models, with very little by way of acting skills. The gore, scares, and tension were way more palpable in the original, mainly because Roth knew to give a scene room to breathe and space to build tension before zooming right in there and sopping us with some slimy grossness. This film feels like it is marking off storypoint boxes like the director is crossing off items on a grocery list: yes, the hillbilly boy attacks, but gone is the insane kung fu. Yes, the girl is exiled to the shed, but because the actress just doesn’t deliver anything remotely like a personality, we just don’t care. Hell, the first was able to even pinpoint the source of the infection, which was the water itself, but this story doesn’t even try to drive this point home. With the way it was edited and talked about in this film, the infection comes mysteriously from the woods and not from the toxic polluted waters Roth so effectively focused on in the original. The only thing that works that is even mildly interesting is that Deputy Winston, played so creepily by Giuseppe Andrews, is played equally if not more creepily by Louise Linton, who adds a new level of awkwardness to the role simply by repeating the same lines. Even the abrupt resolution of the film feels as if everyone wanted to leave work early, collect their paychecks as soon as possible, and put this film behind everyone involved.
I can’t blame Travis Zariwny (I refuse to call him Travis Z) for this. Much like the schlubs who remade MARTYRS (reviewed here), he was destined to fail. Make the film too different from the original and the people will complain. Make it too close, as he did here, and it’s the same. I can’t help but tear this film a new one, though. Watching this film so closely after watching the original, it’s easy to see what the filmmaker needs to work on to strengthen his craft--that being the lack of tension leading up to key scenes, reveals, and moments. Here’s hoping the filmmaker moves on to something a little more original, or even something that hasn’t been done in the last 15 years. As is, apart from curiosity, there’s no real reason to visit this unnecessary remake.
New this week on BluRay and DVD!
KRAMPUS (2015)Directed by Michael Dougherty
Written by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey, Zach Shields
Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Leith Towers, Maverick Flack
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While I’m going to have to get some perspective on it, I will say that Michael Dougherty (TRICK R’ TREAT) has made yet another (mostly) great holiday horror film.
Christmas these days seems more of an arduous task than an actual holiday with so many traditions to uphold, it’s hard to just sit back and realize what it’s all about. That’s pretty much the message KRAMPUS is trying to tell you as it follows young Max (Emjay Anthony) the sole believer in Christmas spirit in his family which is comprised of father Tom (Adam Scott), mother Sarah (Toni Collette), sis Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), uncle Howard (David Joechner), aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), drunk great aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), three horrific cousins, and sweet grandma Omi (Krista Sadler). Max is growing up and seeing the way his family acts around Christmas time makes the young boy sad as he remembers when Christmas was the most magical time of the year for him. Writing one last note to Santa asking for everything to be like it used to, Max becomes frustrated and tears up the note and tosses it into the night sky, unknowingly unleashing the fury of the Krampus; a not-so-mythical Anti-Santa who punishes the naughty rather than rewards the nice. Trapped without electricity or heat by a sudden blizzard, the family must band together (and maybe learn a little bit about the important things about Christmas) as the Krampus and his minions attack their not-so-happy home.
There’s an overall sense of sweetness that goes on through this entire film. From the slo mo montage of shoppers barreling through the doors of a store and running a violent gauntlet to get the latest Christmas deals in the opening, to the bucking of all holiday traditions because people are too busy or self absorbed to care, this is a film through the eyes of a child. Often referred to as an Amblin-esque sort of film, KRAMPUS feels more along the lines of TIME BANDITS in tone than anything like EXPLORERS, because there is a undercoating of pure evil to this film that those with more starry eyes may refuse to admit. People die in this film…horribly. And it really is a rather true and sad reflection of the times we live in that the actions of many of the characters in this film are pretty realistic. The ending especially is pretty diabolical in nature and had Dougherty chosen not to go this way with the wrap up, I might not have had such a favorable feeling about this film for its conviction to stay dastardly all the way through.
From a story perspective, I think there are some problems here. Dougherty seems to have a lot of fun highlighting the Griswald-esque shenanigans that are going on and illustrating why these folks are Krampus worthy. I don’t want to say it’s not entertaining. I laughed quite a bit at this portion of the film as it did, sadly, hit close to home numerous times. But while the film takes its sweet time soaking in the talented and comedic character actors playing these horrid people, it kind of forgets to establish what the Krampus is and what its powers and limitations are until later in the film. This makes things feel rather rushed in the climax in order to catch the viewer up as well as come up with the Krampus’ “undoing” in the end. In doing so, things get rather murky at the end as what’s left of the family take on the Krampus. Add that to the rather quick way each of the family members meet their end in the last half hour and things begin to feel a bit uneven here.
It’s not for lack of trying. There’s a fun animated bit in the middle as Omi (Sadler) explains what the Krampus is. I loved the animation in this film which looked like Christmas cartoons of old mixed with folksy paper puppetry. But this again seems to come a little too late in the game. This discourse as to who the Krampus is and how he was once defeated needed to be earlier so things could have felt a little more organically.
Effects wise, the film is pretty amazing. They seem to go practical for a lot of the effects which is a lot of fun seeing the monsters in the frame and attacking out horribly family. The toys and elves who accompany the Krampus were seriously awesome and nightmarish and Dougherty does a great job of both working in some creative and terrifying scenes highlighting each of Krampus’ monsters.
Despite the fact that there’s a hiccup in the pacing, KRAMPUS is a crowd pleaser of a film. It’s not too scary as to frighten away mainstream audiences, but it does have a diabolical kick to it that will make hardcore fans appreciate it. Filled with fun action and horror sequences and an even portion of sugar and spice, just as Doughtery’s TRICK R’ TREAT was something fun to find in your candy bag on Halloween, KRAMPUS is just as much a fun surprise to find under the tree.
Currently touring festivals!
UNDERNEATH (2015)aka THE WRONG HOUSE
Directed by Mike Lenzini
Written by Mike Lenzini
Starring Blake Farris, Mark D. Matthews, Darren Flores, Scott McAdam, Tara Lynn, Joey Supola, Jamie Carvelli
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A pair of phenomenal performances and a firm grip on doling out tension make low budgeter UNDERNEATH something you’re going to want to uncover!
Eric Linton (Blake Farris, who starred in Lenzini’s last film BEAST: A MONSTER AMONG MEN – reviewed here) has it rough. His wife left with his son, he’s being urged by her to sign the divorce papers, and now a would-be home invader (who we later come to know as Shane, played by Mark D. Matthews) wanders onto his doorstep asking for a phone. When Eric denies him, Shane becomes violent, eventually forcing himself in. But when Shane crosses Eric’s doorstep, he awakens a rage in Eric that is more powerful than Shane would ever expect. Will Shane be able to get out of Eric’s home alive, or will Eric’s rage give way to murder? That’s the question posed as the two have a battle of words and wills, with both lives hanging in the balance.
UNDERNEATH is a film reliant on a lot of words. It’s not a flashy film with big action scenes or exotic locales. The thrills come from the back and forthing between these two damaged men on the edge. Luckily, because Blake Farris is one of the more talented low budget actors out there today and Mark D. Matthews ain’t too shabby either, none of the flair is needed in this tense drama. While the home invasion film has been played out quite a bit, Farris and Matthews make it all watchable simply by being convincing with the words writer/director Mike Lenzini has provided, and that is the heart of why UNDERNEATH is such a successful film. Lenzini does a fantastic job of making us forget that most of this film happens in the basement of a house by having his actors tear each other apart with words and then somehow find a common ground, only to start the destructive wordplay back up again. This push and pull as to whether it’s all going to go even more wrong or start to mend is carefully constructed and successful at what it is attempting to accomplish.
I’m told this film cost only $12,000 and was made in the span of 9 days, but it certainly doesn’t look like that. Filmmaker Mike Lenzini seems to have a gift for stretching his dollars and making his low fi films look like big budgeters. It’s also evident that he is able to get the best out of his actors, too, as Farris and Matthews are amazing all the way through. UNDERNEATH is exquisite in its simplicity and full of tension. It’s a dramatic thriller that definitely keeps you guessing until the end, hoping for the best for these two doomed characters, yet putting all the pins in play for the worst to happen in expert and elegant ways.
And finally…here’s another “Light’s Out” Radio Play from yesteryear. This tale to keep you up at night is called “The Sea!” Enjoy!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
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