Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Threequels; they usually aren’t so good. The trend is that a good sequel continues the story rather than repeat it. But most of the time it simply repeats it. By the time a second sequel comes, sadly, the idea well is empty and a second repeat of the same material is less potent than ever. Even if a good sequel veers in a different direction, the third installment is always there to promise a back to basics treatment—again, with lesser effect. I’m trying hard to come up with a part 3 in horror that is better or on par with the original. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS and EXORCIST III come to mind. Maybe you guys can come up with some more in the Talkbacks, but the third outings covered below, while some of them are decent, just don’t hold a candle to the original.
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!
I wanted to direct readers to this new Kickstarter I’ve been made aware of for a project called DARKNESS REIGNS. Below is the synopsis of the film which I think sounds pretty intriguing;
Darkness Reigns is a feature film about a filmmaker, Daniel Whitaker, who always thought he would hit it big, but was never able to fulfill his dream. Instead, he's been relegated to shooting behind the scenes documentaries for other filmmakers. But that all changes when he captures footage of unfathomable evil while shooting on the set of a horror film -- inside a reportedly haunted location. Will Daniel make it out alive and be lauded for being the first and only person to ever capture real, hellish paranormal occurrences? Ultimately, Daniel is forced to decide what price he is willing to pay to achieve the fame and fortune he'd always hoped for.
The Kickstarter doesn’t have much time left, so if the plot and the below pitch video strikes a nerve, send them some funds!
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)
Retro-review: PSYCHO III (1986)
Retro-review: SPECIES III (2004)
Retro-review: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE III: FINAL SEQUENCE (2015)
THE THINGY: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE PLACENTA (2013)
THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE (2015)
THE ABANDONED (2015)
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015)
Advance Review: BEACON POINT (2016)
Advance Review: IDYLL (2015)
And finally…Kevin Kopacka’s HADES!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
PSYCHO III (1986)Directed by Anthony Perkins
Written by Charles Edward Pogue, Robert Bloch (original story)
Starring Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Hugh Gillin, Lee Garlington, Robert Alan Browne, Gary Bayer, Patience Cleveland, Juliette Cummins, Steve Guevara, Kay Heberle, Donovan Scott, Karen Hensel, Jack Murdock, Katt Shea, Hugo Stanger
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The third PSYCHO outing took place not 23 years later as the last interim did between PSYCHO’s, but only three years after PSYCHO II brought Norman Bates back from a mental institution and back into his old home on the hill above his motel. While the last one left Norman on the edge of sanity (which by the way is the name of one of Anthony Perkins’ other films made in the eighties and reviewed here), but part three brings Norman back to form, talking with mother, and dressing up as her in order to take out the sluts and heathens that happen to shack up in the Bates Motel.
The film doesn’t begin at the motel, but at a nunnery where a young nun Maureen (Diana Scarwid) attempts suicide and ends up accidentally killing another nun. Leaving the church, Maureen makes her way on the road and runs into a drifter named Duane (Jeff Fahey) who picks her up and expects a bit much from her when they have to stop the car due to a rainstorm. Duane ends up working at the Bates Motel where we see Norman (Anthony Perkins) for the first time and are made privy to everything that occurred in the last film which ended with Norman killing a woman claiming to be his real mother and that she gave up Norman at a young age to her sister Norma. As Norman experiences some flashbacks, he also hallucinates that he is sewing a mummified hand instead of a dead bird he killed by poisoning the birdbath. Bearing the same initials as Norman’s original victim Marion Crane, Bates mistakes Maureen for Marion and when she arrives at Bates Motel soon after Duane, Norman is immediately smitten with her as he was with Meg Tilly’s character in the last film. But with a snooping reporter (Roberta Maxwell) asking too many questions, Duane out looking for way to rip Norman off, and Maureen tugging on his heartstrings, is it any wonder Norman is tempted to dust off the old wig, dress, and butcher knife?
Anthony Perkins directs this installment of the PSYCHO series and it actually works pretty well in terms of your typical slasher fare. Because this was the pun-laden eighties where everyone wanted to be quick with the one-liners like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Freddy Krueger, the script calls for Norman to shoot out a few himself here and there which feel a bit awkward and not very true to the PSYCHO model. Apart from there being more deaths in this film than in any previous PSYCHO’s, the death toll is still pretty low. Also a sign of the times, the violence is much more gratuitous than in the original (though one could argue if Hitchcock were making films in the eighties, he may have gone for the gore as well, since he loved to shock and provoke the audience). This installment gets a slit throat on the toilet that feels like it would be more at home in a FRIDAY THE 13TH film and a savage beating by guitar, but to make up for that gratuity there are a few elegant, callback deaths as one woman is killed in a phone booth set to the staccato edits reminiscent of the original shower scene and another key death happens when a character falls down the stairs onto the pointed arrow of the Cupid stature at the bottom, again like the stairs kill in the original. Perkins may not be as subtle as Hitchcock or even Richard Franklin who directed part II, but he really seems like he wants to continue to show facets of Norman and Norma’s characters that haven’t yet been explored as well as explore the psychosis and its murderous effect on the clientele of the Bates Motel in a manner respectful of the films prior.
And while PSYCHO III does feel like it is the most slasher-ish of the PSYCHO films, the film does include some tiny little beats that I found to be fantastically on cue with everything we know about Norman, his mom, and their twisted lives. For example, while we have never been shown any romantic moves from Norman with his victims, it is suggested in the first film. Here we get a scene where Norman kisses one of the corpses in the rain passionately before disposing of the body. Another fun detail has Norman (as Mother) straightening a picture knocked uneven on the wall as he walks maniacally up a stairwell towards his next victim. Perkins even channels some Joe Dante as an old Woody Woodpecker cartoon plays in the background during one of the kills. Little nuances like these make PSYCHO III not your typical slasher flick.
PSYCHO III also has some great performances. By now, Perkins slips into the Norman role pretty easily and he is pretty consistent with past performances. But Jeff Fahey stands out as he plays the skeeviest scumbag you’re bound to ever have the misfortune of running into. Fahey has a chance to really go over the top and rival even Norman on the Psycho-meter by the end. All in all, this is one sequel worth seeing as it maintains the level of quality in terms of story, direction, and performances from the previous films while moving the story into a new chapter by the end.
Special features in this Special Collector’s Edition include a commentary by screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, new interviews with Jeff Fahey, Katt Shea, and effects guy Michael Westmore (from TV’s FACE-OFF). This is an amazing presentation of a pretty solid threequel.
Retro-review: Available in a new Bluray Double Feature from The Shout Factory!
SPECIES III (2004)Directed by Brad Turner
Written by Dennis Feldman (characters), Ben Ripley
Starring Robin Dunne, Robert Knepper, Sunny Mabrey, Amelia Cooke, John Paul Pitoc, Michael Warren, Christopher Neame, Patricia Bethune, Joel Stoffer, James Leo Ryan, Savanna Fields, Matthew Yang King, & Natasha Henstridge as Eve!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Speaking of weak threequels, SPECIES III is a pretty bad one. The biggest selling point of this film is the fact that Sunny Mabrey is naked through most of it, which can also be said for the first two SPECIES as it definitely is never shy in showing Natasha Henstridge’s nubblies. But while the first two films excelled in special effects, the lack of imagination and budget shines through brightly in this third outing.
Picking up pretty much directly after SPECIES II (reviewed here) ends, a scientist and college professor (Dr. Abbott played by Robert Knepper) gets wind of the alien species, poses as a military policeman, and hijacks the ambulance that is transporting a dead and pregnant Eve just as she is about to give birth. The alien hybrid brood immediately kills Eve again and Abbot makes off with the young monster to raise and study it on his own. The child grows at a rapid rate and begins to attract the attention of the alien hybrids birthed in the last film, which have grown to full size just as this new alien (now known as Sarah – Mabrey) and are looking to mate with her. But Abbot has taught Sarah to respect life and doesn’t have the “mate or die” instinct her mother had. Teaming with his student Dean (Robin Dunne), Abbot tries to give Sarah the attributes to coexist on this planet with humans, but the rest of the Species clan are doing their best to reverse that.
The script of SPECIES III looks like someone took a Tommy Gun to it. The plot holes begin right off the bat with the inexplicable detail leaving one with the question; just how does Dr. Abbot, a college professor, infiltrate the top secret military and impersonate one of their officers, but they don’t end there. Why is it that this alien species, which seems to want to protect its own, would kill the mother of their species (Eve) instead of keep her alive (I know the answer to that question as it was basically a way to kill off Henstridge who at least makes a cameo in this film at the beginning only to be killed immediately, but still…)? How in the hell does a university possess a nuclear reactor as powerful as the sun itself and why would this technology even be built as a sun on the Earth’s surface would decimate pretty much everything? Why does the second female hybrid only show up in the last twenty minutes of the film out of nowhere? Why does Abbot let Sarah wander aimlessly in and out of the house knowing that most likely she is causing all kinds of hell when she does? All of these questions and more will not be answered in this “what not to do” lesson in scriptwriting.
The main reason people show up to see SPECIES is the boobs, which again, this one has aplenty. But the second reason is for some sultry and grotesque H.R. Giger effects. But instead of the breakthrough effects in the first two films, this one doesn’t even have that going for it. At least in the last few films, the directors knew how to film the effects in a way to cover up the flaws in the costumes the species aliens wear. Director Brad Turner (who also seems to have worked on a shitload of TV series) can’t hide the fact that these species people are simply wearing bodysuits and even worse, awkwardly walking around in them. And while the CG was dodgy in the first few films (mainly because the tech was just being developed), the effects in this film make those seem absolutely groundbreaking.
Sure, Sunny Mabrey has an absolutely flawless body. As does the other species alien played by Amelia Cooke. But that’s what the internet is for and I look for a little more in my horror than simply boobs. While they weren’t the deepest sci fi horror films, at least the first two films in the SPECIES series had cool effects, decent erotic threats, and some solid actors. SPECIES III one just doesn’t have any of that.
Retro-review: New HUMAN CENTIPEDE (THE COMPLETE SEQUENCE) Collection from IFC Midnight!
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE III: FINAL SEQUENCE (2015)Directed by Tom Six
Written by Tom Six
Starring Dieter Laser, Laurence R. Harvey, Bree Olson, Clayton Rohner, Eric Roberts, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Robert LaSardo, Tom Six, Jay Tavare, Carlos Ramirez, Akihiro Kitamura, Peter Blankenstein, Bill Hutchens, Hamzah Saman
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
As I’ve stated before in my HUMAN CENTIPEDE II review, I’m not the type that immediately sees red when the subject of Tom Six’s films show up. The first was impressive in the amount of ire it received and I think for a film to cause that type of reaction, it has to have something going for it. The second was Six’s way to out-gross the first and he succeeded in making a somewhat artsy and fartsy (pun intended) splatter (pun not intended) picture. I was curious what to expect plopping the third film into my BluRay player for this review. Six had made two films which hit the gag reflex on the world. Could he achieve this feat again?
The answer is simply; no.
What made HUMAN CENTIPEDE II interesting to me is the way it ended with Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), who daydreams up this elaborate horror and sees it through to the end to see how it would end badly for him. At the end, Martin decides not to make the choice to create his own human centipede and it served to be a cautionary/morality tale to not emulate something one sees in a film. That’s kind of a deeper message that one would expect from a film wrapped in skin grafts, ass-to-mouth fetishes, and lots of blood and poop. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE III: FINAL SEQUENCE begins much like the second film ends, with the revelation that HUMAN CENTIPEDE II is a film being watched by people in the “real world,” except instead of the watcher having the good sense not to do the deed, the films actually inspires assistant warden Dwight Butler (again played by Harvey) to bring this insane idea to his overworked and overstressed warden Bill Boss (played by the original HUMAN CENTIPEDE’s Dr. Heiter, Dieter Laser). The prison system is out of control and the inmates are determined to revolt against the archaic rule of Warden Boss. Forced to show some changes before the Governor (Eric Roberts) returns to the prison, Boss initially wants to water-board and castrate all of the inmates, but Dwight has a plan that is less painful and will make the inmates never want to commit crime ever again. His plan involves sewing the mouth of one inmate to the rectum to another in a long sequence; connecting their digestive system, and supplying food, water, and nutrients to the population via shots from the medical team. While Boss poo-poo’s (sorry couldn’t help myself) the idea at first, he warms up to it and shows the population the films before breaking the news of their upcoming attachment to one another. This is not taken in stride by the prisones, but that doesn’t stop Boss from bringing his ass-inine plan to life.
OK, I’ll start with the good/decent parts of this film, though there’s not a lot that is good or decent here. Harvey is actually pretty good in this film as Boss’ assistant Dwight who wants desperately to alleviate the problem and puts up with endless berating from everyone else. Harvey has a Peter Lorre quality that I hope gets him more work in horror after these films as he definitely has unique look and presence that is wholly his own, bordering between pathetic and horrifying. The film also sports a pretty solid supporting cast with porn star Bree Olsen playing an abused receptionist and showing some impressive range that would be expected. You might remember Clayton Rohner from I, MADMAN, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, and THE DESTROYER, though most will recognize him from JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, but it took me a while to realize this graying elder type was him. Once I recognized him, I also recognized the actor’s great comic timing and humble self-effacing demeanor he does so well. It was great seeing him in film again. Eric Roberts does what he does best playing someone sleazy and slimy. And while most of the inmates are faceless, head to toe tattooed tough guy Robert Lasardo and FRIDAY’s Tommy “Tiny” Lister bring personality to the masses as their usual strong, but psychopathic selves.
Rounding out the cast is the film’s biggest problem; Dieter Laser. As the reserved and solemn Dr. Heiter, Laser was great. He was just over the top enough, yet was able to exude some quiet menace with his thick sunglasses and slicked back hair. As Bill Boss, though, Laser chooses to scream all of his lines as if her took the Al Pacino school of subtle nuance. Yes, Boss is supposed to be out of his gourd on all kinds of drugs and alcohol, but it really is a wonder the actor didn’t have a coronary at the level of obnoxious intensity he delivered through this film. The other problem is that Six decides to give Laser’s tirade the bulk of the film, so the film is mainly an hour and a half of Laser screaming his lines in some kind of weird amalgamation between Texan and German. Most of the times the lines are unintelligible and after rant #2, it becomes repetitive and grating as hell. Laser gives a performance that is absolutely exhausting to watch and painful to behold. He succeeds in playing a truly despicable villain as he castrates, rapes, tortures, and does exhaustible heinous acts, but Laser overstays his welcome early in the film. I wish Six would have tried to reel him in a bit or maybe come up with something else despite focusing on him for the entire time. It would have made this film much more watchable. As is, this felt more like an endurance test for me than actual entertainment and it is all because of Laser’s beyond hammy performance.
Six actually appears as himself, which feels about as masturbatory and self-congratulating as it sounds as everyone in the cast has their moment stating that they have both seen his films and loves them. The actual centipede process is talked about a lot, but hardly rears its multi-pedal head until the last ten minutes. An armless/legless human caterpillar is introduced for shock value. And the end lacks a lot of the power that I talked about with the HUMAN CENTIPEDE II, as instead of this being a cautionary tale listened too, HUMAN CENTIPEDE III: FINAL SEQUENCE ends up being a cautionary tale ignored. The fact that there was thematic heft along with the gut-churning details of the plot is what incited so much ire with the first two films. With this third and hopefully final installment, the theme is tired and beaten into us, thus it isn’t even worth getting angry at.
This BluRay of HUMAN CENTIPEDE III: FINAL SEQUENCE comes with some deleted scenes that really don’t add much, an additional sequence of (I shit you not) of Laurence Harvey sucking Tom Six’s dick (god, for poor Harvey’s sake, I hope that was a prop), and an alternative ending that would have been much more satisfying which brings the whole thing back to square one with Dr. Heiter lamenting about his dead ass-to-mouth conjoined dogs. For the completists, I dare you to endure HUMAN CENTIPEDE III, but otherwise, steer clear of this turd.
Available for digital download on Troma Now!
THE THINGY: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE PLACENTA (2013)aka THE MIRACLE OF LIFE
Directed by Joël Rabijns, Yves Sondermeier
Written by Shana Lazou, Yves Sondermeier, & Joël Rabijns
Starring Pascal Maetens, Karel Vingerhoets, Céline Verbeeck, Jérémie Petrus, Andreas Perschewski, Sofie Hoflack, Koen Blauwblomme, Korneel Cornelis, Gert Jochems
Find out more about this film on its website here on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
And the AICN HORROR batshit crazy award of the week goes to THE THINGY: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE PLACENTA (formerly known as THE MIRACLE OF LIFE), a film that will most likely disgust and turn off people immediately after I describe it in the next paragraph and available now on Troma’s new streaming channel Troma Now.
While working her quads in a meathead gym, the mannish and musclebound Marianne (Pascal Maetens) gives birth, but while the baby is tossed out with the bathwater, Marianne keeps the placenta, names it Luke, and raises it as if it were a normal boy. And despite the fact that he is a shapeless blob, Luke is a pretty normal boy following a Christian lifestyle and wondering about his real father who was lost at war—at least that’s what mommy Marianne tells him. Following Luke into his teens, we see him beginning to develop sexual urges and going through puberty as he longs to find normalcy and a date with the most popular girl in school. Of course, being a deflated sac of umbilical fluids, that is a rather difficult thing to do.
This film goes to some tasteless and disturbing places. Sometimes it feels like something right out of a Troma film. But at other times it’s grossly serious. One second Marianne is bragging about the giant muscular arm she works out vigorously (leaving the other arm to be normal sized), then the next someone is shooting up the maternity ward in a hospital. There’s a teacher who blames his life’s failures on a stuffed bird and then comes some cannibalism right out of the blue. This is one warped and demented slice of cinema that is not for the easily offended or the queasy.
Still, there’s a brilliance to all of this depravity. Luke’s monotone delivery is disturbing coming from his sliver of a mouth just above his undulating sac-like body, and every so often there’s a moment that is downright poetic as Luke leaves a slime trail behind him as he tries to make it in life. There’s nothing typical about a minute of this film and for those who appreciate that kind of weirdness, you have a new film to emulate. But be warned, this is a grungy and perverse film, somehow made more so by the Belgian actors speaking English dialog and the grimy lens the film seems to be filmed with.
If you’re still reading this review and the above hasn’t turned you off to the point of finding a puke bucket, THE THINGY might just be the film for you. It’s definitely high on the meter in terms of odd, gore, gruesomeness, and morbidity. Reminiscent of BASKET CASE and other perverse body horror by Frank Hennenlotter by way of Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, THE THINGY definitely takes the cake in terms of cinema of the weird and though not many will be able to stomach it, it may just be a cult classic in the making.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from The Shout Factory!
THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE (2015)Directed by Andy Palmer
Written by Renee Dorian (story & characters), Ben Begley (story/screenplay)
Starring Robert Englund, Taryn Schubert, Scottie Thompson, Chasty Ballesteros, Courtney Gains, Ben Begley, Michael Eric Reid, Erick Chavarria, Robert Peters, Leigh Parker, Renee Dorian, Johanna McGinley, Matt Angel, Sterling Sulieman, and as our psychos; Candice De Visser as Dollface/Ms. Quinn, Jere Burns as Mental Manny, Clint Howard as the Taxidermist, E.E. Bell as Animal the Cannibal, Sebastian Siegel as Dr. Suave, Mars Crain as Rocco the Clown!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Maybe Warner Brothers should have been a little more patient and held onto that trailer they released for SUICIDE SQUAD last summer. They have to wait a whole year for the film to come out and it gives copycats a chance to throw a film together and distribute it first, which only lessens the impact of SUICIDE SQUAD when it eventually drops. Now, I guarantee THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE isn’t even able to hold the jock strap of SUICIDE SQUAD, but they do have the dubious honor of claiming the “First” spot.
A bold escape from a mental institution puts six psychopaths onto the street. All of them have been locked up for life, but instead of dispersing and never seeing one another again, these social rejects stick together and head to a nearby funhouse which is using the murderers as inspiration for the various scares. Murdering the actors in the funhouse, the psychos take their places and begin killing the patrons.
OK, so this is a comic book movie. There is a villainous breakout. And a hijinky scheme hatched by a mastermind. There’s even a plucky psycho clown girl credited as Miss Quinn (Candice De Visser) who wears a costume much like Harley Quinn from the BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM video game. The rest of the psychos are knock-offs of other Batman villains such as Killer Croc (Mars Crain as a hulking clown bruiser), the Ventriloquist (Clint Howard, here known as the Taxidermist), and there’s even a madman mastermind like the Joker (JUSTIFIED’s Jere Burns). The only thing missing is a Bat Signal and a Caped Crusader. Unfortunately, this being comic booky, also means that this is a film made with broad strokes. Everyone is pretty one dimensional. Everyone is crazy for crazy’s sake and the group of “heroes” is not so fleshed out either. The lunatics motivations simply are to take over a funhouse (which they do pretty easily), kill a bunch of folks, and nothing much seems to be planned after that.
That’s not to say THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE isn’t fun. It is filled with some really great comedic moments, many of them due to the comedic lines of Gerardo (Erick Chavarria) who dresses as Machete and attempts to act the part against these crazies. If more of the characters would have been forced to play the part of the costumes they were wearing (say, if someone was dressed as Batman), I think this one would have been much more funny than it was. There are some good times to be had here, but unfortunately there are just as many groaners—most of them coming from a bumbling Barney Fife like deputy.
With some impressive gore and a zany nod to comic books, THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE isn’t all that bad. The Robert Englund cameo always spices things up and seeing the pointy eyes of Jere Burns hamming it up for the crowd is always fun. Playing things as if it were a comic book doesn’t mean dumbing things down anymore, as evidenced by the top box office earners of the last few years. This is a film with comic book characters made by people who obviously don’t read or really respect comics. THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE is gory, zany, and out and out funny at times, but the lack of character and creativity is pretty evident.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from The Shout Factory and IFC Midnight!
THE ABANDONED (2015)aka THE CONFINES
Directed by Eytan Rockaway
Written by Ido Fluk, Eytan Rockaway
Starring Jason Patric, Louisa Krause, Mark Margolis, Ezra Knight, Brandon Kieffer, Carlos Velazquez, James Murtaugh
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some great atmosphere and a good cast makes THE ABANDONED, which is bound to anger some with its ending, worth a view.
Louisa Krause plays Streak, a single mother on her first night as a night watchmen in an abandoned historical landmark. In the opening moments, we find out Streak is recovering from addiction and some kind of mental breakdown and that this is her last chance to make money for her little girl. Paired with a grumpy co-worker Cooper (Jason Patric) on the graveyard shift, Streak is intrigued by the buildings ornate interiors full of vast ballrooms and a myriad of hallways, rooms, and levels. Frustrated with Cooper’s gruff demeanor, Streak leaves the guard station and goes on patrol only to hear noises coming from a locked portion of the building. When she breaks through the door, she finds a dark secret of the building pertaining to the former resident’s of the facility. That’s not the only secret THE ABANDONED has though, but you won’t get that secret from me in this review.
There’s a lot to like about this film. The setting is extremely creepy and director Eytan Rockaway does a great job of soaking it all in and amping up the tension by filling it with darkness and forced perspectives. There are some great diagonals in the frames here as Streak ventures through this labyrinthine building that give the whole film an uneasiness that few films of its kind have done before. Rockaway does a great job with visual clues that really does establish where the characters are in the film, despite the vast setting. Because of this, it’s easy to know where each character is compared to the next without a lot of clumsy exposition. This is a subtle thing about the film, but one I appreciated as it would be easy to simply shoot the same rooms at different angles in order to make the place look vast. In THE ABANDONED, there’s a real sense of being lost and trapped in this expansive building, but given the attention to the surroundings and the unsettling use of diagonal lines in the shots, it really makes for a unique viewing experience.
Jason Patric is pretty awesome here as the gruff and assholish Cooper. Though he’s played this character before in THE LOSERS and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, he has a nice depth to his character her that suggests he is more than just an asshole. There is an arc here for him and in the end there is a kind of redemption to the whole thing. Louisa Krause’s Streak is extremely likable and while some may be frustrated by some of the boneheaded decisions she makes along the way (like breaking into the locked room in the first place), by the end of the film, you quickly get over it when all is revealed.
But still, this is going to be a love it or hate it film. Any inconsistencies or questions I had with this odd and dream-like narrative were answered by the end. It’s just that this answer is going to frustrate some as it’s a method of storytelling that really comes out of the blue. It all makes sense and fits well together by the end, but trust me, some of you will be pissed. That said, there’s a lot of great stuff going on with this film and I was actually moved by the ending, as well as the performances by Patric and Krause. Mark Margolis is in here briefly as a homeless man who wants to come into the building out of the cold, but he doesn’t get a lot of memorable things to do here. Still, I think THE ABANDONED has enough going for it to warrant a positive recommendation from me as the directing and acting are both top tier.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from RLJ Entertainment!
MONSTERLAND (2016)Directed by Jack Fields, Erik Gardner, Andrew Kasch, Josh LaCasse, Patrick Longstreth, Sander Maran, Peter McCoubrey, Corey Norman, John Skipp
Written by Kaspar Ainelo, Jan Andresson, Jack Fields, Kate Fitzpatrick, Erik Gardner, Cody Goodfellow, Dick Grunert, Patrick Longstreth, Sander Maran, Peter McCoubrey
Starring Josh LaCasse, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Eileen Dietz, Trent Haaga, John Franklin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Our internet neighbors over at Dread Central have put together an anthology called MONSTERLAND. As a whole it feels a lot like the old MONSTERS TV series in that each installment focuses on a different kind of creature. It’s also very similar in that these installments are very hit and miss. As with all anthologies, I’ll go through each of the installments and give my views on them below.
The film is tied together with a threadbare bookend of a man running into a movie theater in the middle of what looks like a monster apocalypse. Seeing the projector running, the man snags a bucket of popcorn and heads in for some horror films to distract him from the horrors outside. The first segment is barely a segment at all as it seems to simply exist to add a few sets of boobs to the film and garner it an R rating. A monster pulls four kids under water while skinny dipping. Blood is squirted everywhere. And no monster, as well as no plot is ever seen. If the bookend isn’t strong, one should know to lead off on a strong story in your anthology and this is definitely not a strong story.
Segment two, entitled “Grey Matter” is a step in the right direction with some Hennenlotter-esque body horror as a man falls on the sidewalk and busts open his head only to find a talking maggot-like thing has crawled in while he was unconscious. The little guy and his host become friends as he steers him to gain enough confidence to ask out a girl from the office. It all culminates with a date that ends unexpectedly. There’s a boppy sense of fun throughout this entire episode as the characters cartoonishly don’t notice that the lead is wearing a hat to work to cover up his massive head-wound housing a grey maggot parasite. The acting is pretty solid here as is the effects work on the little maggot which reminded me a lot of Hennenlotter’s BRAIN DEAD parasite.
”Curiosity Kills” is the best segment of the bunch and maybe should have been the lead in as it is almost uncategorizably insane. A father brings home chemicals from his work at the plant and his nosy kid tosses it into his pet rat’s feed bowl. The results are a radioactive green glowing mouse with a thirst for blood and mayhem. There’s a Peter Jackson circa DEAD ALIVE style of humor/horror going on here as the kid comically tries to hide the infected rat from his unsuspecting parents. This segment had me laughing maniacally from start to finish and really does embody a Tex Avery cartoon brought to life kind of madness. It’s the type of humor/horror mix one might see in an Adult Swim show, but it’s my type of humor/horror mix.
Next up is “Stay At Home Dad” which is a decent little story about twisted medicine and Cthulhu monsters. A slacker dad finds a way to avoid getting a job by getting breast implants that actually give milk. Body horror gives way to a much more ancient evil. More than most, this one felt like an actual episode of MONSTERS. There was a light goofy tone, but the reveal at the end feels somewhat out of left field and while the effects are pretty awesome, this one goes out feeling rather light, fluffy, and easily forgettable in the end.
”Hag” is a rock solid take on night terrors as it really does capture the feeling one gets in the middle of the night when the lights go out and you think you hear something in the room with you. In this case, it’s a newlywed who finds his new wife is a sleepwalker. Turns out she is much worse as he himself begins to have nocturnal frights rendering him paralyzed as he watches a slimy hag creep on top of him in the middle of the night. Reminiscent of that old painting of the demon sitting on the chest of the sleeper (you know this one), this one strikes a terrifying chord with anyone who has ever had disruptions of sleep after dark.
One of the less imaginative installments is next as a man thinking he’s a vampire visits a dentist in the middle of the night and forces him to pull his teeth at gunpoint thinking he is a vampire. This one is way too predictable by the end and doesn’t really have much of a resolution to speak of. Sort of a dud of an installment unfortunately.
The final part of this anthology is definitely the most ambitious and damn fun to boot. “Hellyfish” seems like something that ScyFy would seriously consider for a monster movie of the week. It’s a completely tongue in cheek and campy take on the monster movie phenomenon, but still could have been considered for a full lengthier given the crap ScyFy okays in their programming. A pair of spies attempt to dive into international waters to retrieve a nuclear missile from a crashed sub and only unleashes the radiation that creates murderous Hellyfish of various shapes and sizes. The CG is cartoonish and gaudy, but it fits the tone and once the gargantuan jellyfish start taking on army helicopters and boats, you won’t be able to keep the smile from your face. Not to be taken seriously, this final installment is genuinely a lot of fun.
While MONSTERLAND definitely had its fair share of weak entries, a few cool shorts make it worth checking out. I loved about every other installment of this anthology, which isn’t necessarily bad in terms of most anthologies. Much of thee tone in this one is pretty campy and fun, so don’t go into this one hoping for giant scares (aside from the “Hag” segment which admittedly is pretty frightening), but if you give this one a chance, you’re bound to find one or two to your liking.
Available On Demand and digital download on Netflix, iTunes, and other digital download markets found here!
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015)Directed by Perry Blackshear
Written by Perry Blackshear
Starring MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying Drake, Mick Casale, Elena Greenlee
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While too many times low budget can be equated with amateur acting, bad sound, horrible lighting, rubber suited monsters, and edits that look as if it were performed by Leatherface, sometimes the right filmmaker comes along and knows how to get the ultimate bang for his buck. Such is the case for the expertly crafted, descent into madness spine-tingler entitled THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE.
Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is a nice guy and life seems to know it by walking all over him. When his old friend Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) shows up on his doorstep, he doesn’t want to ask for a place to stay, but obviously need it. Christian reads the signs and without a pause, invites him in. But Wyatt isn’t the same happy go lucky pal Christian grew up with, though Wyatt tries his best to be “normal,” the calls in the middle of the night and increasing suspicious activity Christian witnesses through the days he spends with Wyatt indicate that something is definitely wrong with his friend. Turns out Wyatt believes the world is being slowly taken over by evil creatures that only he and a few select people can see. After leaving his fiancé and suspecting her as one of these evil creatures, Wyatt has gone to his longtime friend for sanctuary, but how long will Wyatt be able to keep his paranoia at bay and trust that his friend hasn’t become one with this evil conspiracy.
I worked as a therapist in an outpatient mental health facility for adults with mental illness for a period of time. There was one occasion that stood out to me to this day. There was a common area where all of the clients and staff congregated for lunch. I was standing in line waiting for the processed, but necessary meal which would get me through the day and a client I did not know—a six foot five man who looks like he could crush me like a literal bug, looked at me and his face changed to abject horror. I knew he was experiencing a hallucination and another therapist who knew the man approached him and was able to talk him down. To this day, I wonder exactly what this man saw when he looked at me. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is probably the closest I am going to get to find out as it really does place the viewer right inside the head of Wyatt who suffers from textbook paranoid schizophrenia. After a series of failures, instead of rationalizing these problems, Wyatt believes he is one of a few chosen to fight a secret takeover by evil forces. He receives calls in the night and hears voices throughout the day reinforcing these theories and while Christian is away at work during the day, he is preparing for the worst in his apartment basement.
An amazing dichotomy set up in THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is that Christian listens to voices too. His voices come in the form of recorded audio tapes which he plays to build his confidence and motivation at work, at the gym, and on the bus in between. It’s really smart the way this film sets up the similarities between the lives of Christian and Wyatt. Both suffer from devastating failures; both seem to have lost their girlfriends recently and are trying to put their lives back together—Christian in a much healthier and “sane” way and Wyatt in a much unhealthier way.
What makes THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE the most is not necessarily the paranoia stuff, but the scenes establishing how strong of friends Christian and Wyatt truly are. There are a number of scenes where the paranoia is pushed aside in this story as we simply see Christian and Wyatt talk about old times, play a game of basketball, or even play around having sock wars or bouts of “blobby” where they cover themselves with comforters and wrestle like they did when they were kids. It’s heartwarming to see these two guys rekindle their friendship and you root for both Christian and Wyatt to come out stronger during this dark time in their lives.
But THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE absolutely sizzles during the scenes where Wyatt is overcome with paranoia. The film keeps flashing back to a scene where Wyatt is in bed with his girlfriend staring at her face in the darkness. Her face is obscured in shadow, but we see Wyatt’s eyes grow wide and hear something happening in the darkness. It’s an intense and palpable scene that doesn’t give away exactly what Wyatt is seeing, but captures the emotion expertly.
It really is amazing the level of horror filmmaker Perry Blackshear is able to capture with simple shifts in shadow, sound effects, and the amazing performances by this small cast. MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel are mesmerizing as the two leads and utterly convincing in their opposing roles that attempt to keep their friendship strong despite mental illness and paranoia trying to pull them apart. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the strong performance by Margaret Ying Drake as Christian’s new love interest who exudes personality in very few scenes. I hope to see Drake in many more films as she really is a standout here.
The simplistic effects and lack of a real monster will have those in need of blustery budgets and in your face shocks poo-pooing this film. But I found THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE to be mesmerizing from start to finish and watched the final moments through my fingers—expecting the worst, but rooting for this friendship to shine through the darkness. It’s both a realistic portrayal of paranoia and a remarkable account of a friendship worth rooting for. THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is just fantastic and simple filmmaking that could teach big budget scare-makers a thing or two.
Playing tonight June 10th at Dances With Films Film Festival (get tickets here)!
BEACON POINT (2016)Directed by Eric Blue
Written by Eric Blue and Traci Carroll
Starring Rae Olivier, Jon Briddell, Eric Goins, Jason Burkey, RJ Shearer, Takara Clark, Randall Taylor, Paisley Scott,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I like films that when you go in, you know it’s a horror movie, but you don’t exactly know what kind of horror movie it is. So many films reveal the subgenre of horror it fits into in the title or the poster that it was refreshing to watch a film and know there’s some type of threat lurking in the woods these hikers are hiking in, just not exactly what type of threat. I’ll try my damndest to keep the threat secret as I feel going into BEACON POINT and not knowing much about it is the best way to see it (of course, I’m sure the trailer below will ruin it for you, so tread forward carefully).
A group of wannabe hikers hire a guide and go on a ten mile hike through the Appalachian Trail, not knowing that their guide (Jon Briddell plays the guide Drake) accidentally just committed a crime and takes the trip in order to sort out what he is going to do next. Drake takes the group off the beaten path, promising to give the hikers a “real” experience rather than the same trip a million tourists have taken. The others in the group begin to sense something is off with Drake and begin to question him, but by this time other weird things are happening in the woods around them and as they discover a weird obelisk/totem pole thingy in the middle of a clearing, they realize that they are not safe off this beaten path.
What works in this film is the sense of mystery. Filmmaker Eric Blue and his co-writer Traci Carroll keep the “monsters” under wraps for quite a while and focus on the building tension between the hikers. They achieve this by actually giving each of the hikers a compelling backstory. Most films of this type forget to do this and the first 45 minutes of the horror film (the gettin’ to know your soon too be victims portion) is usually dull as hell. Because of some strong acting from leading lady Rae Olivier (HOUSE OF GOOD & EVIL), Briddell, and comic relief Eric Goins. All of these guys are likable (even Briddell who is playing the heavy here), which makes following them through the woods much more watchable.
One thing I found a bit distracting with BEACON POINT was the score which tended to be a little too melodramatic and on the nose at times. It felt that this film was trying to overcompensate on the emotion, but the actors seem to do this just fine without the extra attention to key scenes. It’s an ok score and I usually are not bothered by this type of thing, but for some reason it stood out here.
Once the threat of BEACON POINT rears it’s ugly head, it is quite menacing and quite a strong entry into this type of subgenre. Again, I don’t want to ruin it, but the film manages to avoid a lot of the clichés one usually sees in this type of horror and fills the film with more mystery than what it familiar. I was impressed with this film both in the way it kept its secrets and eventually divulged them. Check out BEACON POINT for some unconventionally chilling hiking-trail terror.
Comics soon! Recently played at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival!
IDILA (IDYLL, 2015)Directed by Tomaz Gorkic
Written by Tomaz Gorkic
Starring Nina Ivanisin, Lotos Sparovec, Nika Rozman, Sebastian Cavazza, Jurij Drevensek, Manca Ogorevc, Damjana Cerne, Matic Bobnar, Damir Leventic, Ajda Smrekar, Liza Marija Grasic, Kaja Janjic, Klemen Nadler, Polona Torkar, Luka Zivec, Nada Bozic, Kristof Modic, Jana Nucic, Tomaz Pangersic
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
IDYLL aka IDILA is the first horror movie produced and filmed in Slovenia and after viewing this one, I hope it’s not the last!
A pair of models, their manager, and a photographer go out to the countryside for a photo shoot and run afoul of a group of hillbilly cannibals who want to fondle, assault, and kill them for their blood which is distilled into a liquor called Idyll which has become highly popular in local pubs and clubs.
While the premise is quite simple and pretty much the premise of every TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and WRONG TURN movies; a bunch of people go out to the forest and run into hillbillies, IDILA follows the formula with a lot of style and class. Soaking in the Slovenian landscape makes the film immediately different than the usual backcountry environment one usually sees this type of film in. The amazing mountains and hills in the background, coupled with the ruins found overgrown with the fauna makes for a juxtaposition of the dangerous and the beautiful. In the same way, there is the same juxtaposition between the gorgeous Nina Ivanisin (who is a dead ringer for THE WOMAN’s and Nika Rozman and the deformed hill folk played by Lotos Sparovec and Jurij Drevensek (who wear makeup that looks so real, I’d swear they were actually deformed people). The performances by all are as fantastic as the scenery around them.
What separates this film from many of its ilk is that not only does this look different, but filmmaker Tomaz Gorkic has a firm grasp on how to milk a scene to its full capacity for tension. Partially due to the fine acting involved, this is a suspense filled film. But this is also due to the handling of pulse-pounding quiet moments as the models attempt to escape the monstrous madmen’s lair. This is one film that will make you occupy the edge of your seat for much of the film.
Some fantastic effects also make IDILA shine brightly. Again, it’s hard to tell if the actors are wearing makeup or not, but once the blood is shed, these moments feel chillingly real due to the complexity and subtlety of the gore shown. This is one good looking, harrowingly effective, sublimely acted, and gruelingly bloody film. IDILA or IDYLL, whatever it is called, is one international film that shouldn’t be missed as it shows once again that some of the best in horror happens outside of the American borders.
And finally…I reviewed Kevin Kopacka’s short film entitled HADES a while back and warned you that when it became available for all to watch online, I would share it with all of you. Well, I’m keeping my promise, so here’s Kevin Kopacka’s truncated jaunt into hell entitled HADES! 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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