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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. So I’m trying to catch up on all of these Halloween releases and I tell you, it is murder! In an attempt to cover as much as possible, here’s an extra column this week with a gaggle of horror film reviews for you to enjoy! Don’t worry, I’ve got another column coming this Friday with more reviews too!

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On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
And finally…Will Frank’s “Blood of a Saint!”

Retro-review: New this week on Special Edition BluRay from MvD Visual/Arrow Films!


Directed and written by Wes Craven
Starring Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

What more can be said about the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES? It is simply a classic tale of terror about a battle for survival as two families (one your typical mid-western unit, the other a clan of savage feral people) smack into one another with the body count heavy on both sides. Much has been written about how both families functioned on screen; how each had complex relationships and histories, and how each react in times of stress and turmoil. In essence, like most classics, THE HILLS HAVE EYES is much more than the horror film is claimed to be.

Done when writer/director Wes Craven was on top of his game, the film has moments that would resurface in his later films (such as the fighting back sequence involving intricate mechanisms seen in both this film and in the climax of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the attention to a family’s complex reaction to stress which is also prevalent in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), but here there’s a guttural and gritty quality to both the family systems at play in the Carter Family and the Jupiter Clan and the defenses and war plans each take in order to survive. This is an all out war between the two sides with the Carter Clan slowly turning more like the savages that have chosen them as prey.

One of the things I can’t help but mention is the scene where Bob Carter (played by Russ Grieve) is burned in a fire. This occurs early on and sets the stage for the brutal acts to follow. But the reaction from Virginia Vincent (who plays his wife Ethel) to this scene when she sees his body is one of those horrific moments in film history that with no doubt stick with you forever. Ethel’s screams of “That’s not my Bob!” is both shocking and heartbreaking at once. And as the family scatters like an overturned antfarm with their patriarch gone, Craven has never filmed a scene more dire and wrenching.

The cast of this film is fantastic as well. Everyone is swinging for the cheap seats in this one, especially the Carter family which includes a young Dee Wallace Stone. This also marks the debut of the quintessential weirdo Michael Berryman as Pluto. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is a brutal film that pulls no punches, takes no prisoners, and gives everything from family values to Hollywood convention the middle finger and a curb stomp. There was a time when the name Wes Craven on a film meant something horrifyingly raw, yet bitingly intelligent. I wish Mr. Craven would have revisited the style of this classic film in his later films, as Hollywood polished all of the grit off of his work as time went on. As is, I’ll rewatch THE HILLS HAVE EYES over a SCREAM sequel any old day.

Arrow’s re-release of THE HILLS HAVE EYES is packed with all kinds of bells and whistles including; a limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the HILLS franchise by Ewan Cant, illustrated with original archive stills, a brand new audio commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer, another brand new one with academic Mikel J. Koven, an archived commentary by Wes Craven and Peter Locke, a making of featurette “Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes,” brand new interviews with actor Martin Speer and composer Don Peake, never before seen outtakes, an alternate ending in HD, trailers, an image gallery, and the original screenplay!

Retro-review: In select theaters this week for it’s 30th Anniversary from Dark Sky Films!


Directed by John McNaughton
Written by John McNaughton & Richard Fire
Starring Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER came at a time when American cinema seemed to be in love with the idea of the mass onscreen murder. FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET were breaking box office records and showing up as everything from children’s costumes and toys to TV shows. But while the audience were used to making these serial killers cool, they were unprepared for the smack back to grimy reality that HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER possessed.

The film follows real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas (Michael Rooker), who committed multiple murders along the Midwest. The story focuses mainly on Henry’s time in Chicago, living with his former prison cell-mate Otis (Tom Towles), and continuing his random killing spree. After a night of partying, Henry and Otis end up killing a pair of protitutes and Otis becomes fascinated with Henry’s killer instinct. Henry takes Otis under his wing, teaching his philosophies of how to kill and not get caught. Meanwhile, Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) leaves her abusive husband and moves in with Henry and Otis. Henry immediately takes notice of her and her to him, which can’t mean good things for fragile relationship between the serial killer and his protégé.

There would be no DEXTER if not for this film, as many of the themes explored in that series are perfectly truncated in this little hour and a half film. Henry’s code of never killing with the same weapon, never staying in one place too often, and always killing strangers, is one that shows up in crime and murder fiction later on, but here it is orchestrated in such a perfect way. As much as Henry is the perfect serial killer here, Otis is his counter point and most likely, the worst. McNaughton offers up a fantastic moral tale of chaos versus order here and just happens to set it to the template of the serial killer genre.

McNaughton’s film is not about glorifying the serial killer, as often found in popular culture of the 80’s. His was a story that didn’t hold back, but went against the grain. He doesn’t show Henry’s murders in the chilling opening segment; instead focusing on the carnage left in his wake as the camera slowly pans across disheveled rooms and finally stopping on a lifeless and ravaged corpse. It’s not until later in the film that we see Henry kill, but by juxtaposing Henry going about his day in a trance-like, emotionless state with the bodies he has left behind makes the murders more uncomfortably resonant than “cool” as they were often depicted in the Jason and Freddy films of this era. Later, Henry’s techniques come to light only when his moral code is compromised, such as when he is set against the wildly uncontrollable nature of Otis or the way Henry contradicts himself by becoming close to Becky.

And this is what makes this such a compelling story. Henry is a zombie, movie through life with no emotion. As soon as that emotion comes to the surface, this controlled life he has made for himself is in danger, which brings out the humanity in Henry that he has worked very hard to bury. Rooker plays this character with a haunting blankness. Sure, Dexter attempted to do so, but then every show began with him smirking at the camera and showing more emotion than he ever said he possessed. In HENRY, Rooker never breaks this stoic and emotionless state. His face is an actual mask, as AMERICAN PSYCHO’s Patrick Bateman was prone to say. It’s this statue like demeanor that makes the horrific things Henry does all the more powerful. Even in the end, as Becky proclaims her love her him, Henry knows what he is and that makes the final moments of this film all the more chilling.

Tom Towles also gives a performance that is utterly chilling because, unlike Henry who seemingly kills because he has to, Otis kills because he takes sadistic pleasure in it. While he may have been pigeon-holed into a sleazy character role in later films (such as his fantastic turn as Harry Cooper in Savini’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake), he does sleaze well. I just discovered writing this review that he died this year in April of a stroke. It’s a shame the actor never really got out of this kind of role as he really is a freight train in human form in this movie.

While there is quite a bit of gore at play all throughout HENRY, it’s the underlying sense of danger every time Rooker and Towles are on screen that really makes this film unnerving. Seeing these monsters doing everyday things like normal humans is what gets under your skin. Day to day shopping, playing cards, having drinks, and such are actions one does not attribute to those capable of the carnage depicted on screen. And that’s what makes HENRY so effective. It highlights those quiet moments of humanity that Henry struggles with in between murders and unsettles us knowing that there might be even a shred of the same genetic material shared between this killer and ourselves. Filmed with an unblinking eye and subtle yet expert use of sounds of murder over pictures of the mundane, McNaughton crafted one of the most chilling serial killer films ever made.

New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Written by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, Rebecca Whitehurst
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Incorporating hands-on, old school scares makes THE INHABITANTS a charming little ghost story.

THE DISCO EXORCIST’s Michael Reed and newcomer Elsie Couture play newlyweds Dan and Jessica, who fulfill their dream of opening their own bed and breakfast when they purchase an old mansion once owned by a women accused of witchcraft. The house holds many secrets, including a monitor room spying on the guests, passages behind the walls, and a few ghosts with intentions of possession.

While the film really doesn’t bring a lot new to the table, THE INHABITANTS does do the chills and thrills rather capably and scarily. I found myself endeared to this film much like I love films like THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE HAUNTING. It does the whole bump in the night thing we all have seen time and again, but because the film does such a good job of introducing us to the characters and the capability of the actors involved, I found myself more interested in this film that I thought I would be. There are some really solid scares throughout, as the Rasmussen brothers know how to pace out a really tense scene and don’t find the need to inject the jump scares that modern horror is riddled with these days.

Again, Reed and Couture are really convincing here. Both play the happy newlyweds well and seem comfortable with one another. If there is a flaw to their performance it’s that after Jessica is possessed, Dan is somewhat dim when it comes to catching on that something is amiss. Sure she’s not climbing the walls and her head isn’t rotating, but something is definitely off and the film goes on a bit long before Dan catches up with the program. This only services the story and distances the viewers (me) from caring about a character the film worked so hard to care for in the beginning.

That said, there’s something undeniably cool about the traditional scares in THE INHABITANTS. Those weary of theatrical horror releases with all of their loud piano bangs and fluffy jump scares should check out this film for how a real haunted house film works.

New this week on DVD, On Demand, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu from Candy Factory Films!


Directed by Jeremy Benson
Written by Jeremy Benson
Starring Charisma Carpenter, Juliet Reeves London, Jeremy London, Lee Perkins, John Still, Shaun Benson, Lauren Bayleigh White, Rezia Massey, Ross Williams
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Rocky acting hampers what is otherwise a pretty solid psychological nightmare in GIRL IN WOODS.

Grace (Juliet Reeves London) and her boyfriend Jim (Jeremy London) are off to the hiking trails of the Smokey Mountains, but after he proposes to her, tragedy strikes, leaving Grace all alone in the woods. The problem is that Grace is schizophrenic. Lost, alone, and running out of her meds, she is slowly going insane as she finds herself deeper and deeper in the woods.

GIRL IN WOODS is a pretty compelling story. The character of Grace is fleshed out in flashbacks and through hallucinations she experiences as she begins to run out of food and water. I liked the patient way Grace’s mind, confidence, and sanity are stripped away as the film goes on. The story does so in an interesting and somewhat realistic manner resulting in many gruesome and shocking developments involving murder and even cannibalism by the end. In terms of “going there,” this film definitely does so in an unflinching and pretty ruthless manner that I really appreciate.

That said, Juliet Reeves London just doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the entire film. There are times when she is convincingly stubborn or vulnerable or even vicious, but the longer this film goes on and the more she is forced to stretch those acting muscles, the flaws start to set in and I just wasn’t completely convinced of her plight. A lot of clever editing between the past, the present, and the images appearing in Grace’s mind cover up the more unbelievable acting moments, but still, Reeves London just isn’t quite there yet.

What frustrated me is that I kind of love the way this film ends up. Without revealing too much, she becomes somewhat of a legend lurking out in the woods and terrorizing anyone who crosses her path. I almost wish the film would have been wrapped around the stories that show up in headlines that appear during the credits sequence with Grace’s backstory of how she ended up in the woods peppered in with the flashbacks and hallucinations. That’s not the movie we got here though. GIRL IN WOODS works, for the most part, due to some solid editing and directing, as a descent into madness tale. Though the steps to insanity aren’t completely convincing from the lead, the overall film works enough to overshadow all of that.

New this week On Demand!


Directed by Kyle Broom
Written by Kyle Broom
Starring Jesse Woodrow, Tamzin Brown, Chris Carlisle, Ana Corbi, Amber Friendly, Lisa Valerie Morgan, Christopher Heltai, Nicole Stark, Tim Padilla, Emerson Becker-Spector
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

There seems to be a movement of genre films making comments of the entertainment and art industry this year. This may be due to the fact that many filmmakers/screenwriters are writing what they know and the life of the starving artist may be all they do know. Still, the tale of someone trying to make it big in an overcrowded field in an industry to seems to reward the most reprehensible can be the stuff of compelling storytelling and this is the case with TABLOID VIVANT.

Struggling artist Max (Jesse Woodrow) is developing a new art technique and captures the interest and heart of art critic Sara (Tamzin Brown) who feels his work may just spark a new movement in modern art. Or maybe this is wishful thinking from an art critic who becomes biased when she falls for the artist she is critiquing. Or maybe the art is not so revolutionary and just a way for these two tortured souls to come together and destroy one another. Or maybe it means all of this or none of this. Like art itself, TABLOID VIVANT is open to interpretation and offering mine in this review is immediately making me part of the problem this film, I think, is trying to dissect.

As Max and Sara seclude themselves from the rest of the world in order for Max to develop this new technique and Sara to write about it, they forget things like eating, sleeping, washing, and taking care of themselves and throw themselves into an obsession with the art and, ultimately their mutual goal of becoming famous though that art. While this feels like a vapid goal, it does seem to be the motivation for both of these well rounded characters to be bright shining stars in a world they are too cool to admit they are a part of. It’s this complex presentation of these vapid characters that sets TABLOID VIVANT apart from most films which emulate the arts by showing the pomposity of it all in an aloof and shallow presentation. Instead of playing things shallow (I’m talking about you, THE NEON DEMON), this film delves deep into the psyches of these two tortured souls, showing their motivations, their flaws, their desires, and their nightmares. In doing so, TABLOID VIVANT paints a horrifying portrait of the tortured artist at his very worst.

Stylistically, this is a highly original film as well. The opening sequence of the Black Dahlia murder, which factors later into the film in regards to the pursuit of fame despite self harm, is a gorgeously filmed black and white sequence that makes the well documented murder look distinct and unique. Other portions of this film use multi-media such as still photography, obvious green screen while driving, quick edits, snippets from the scrawled on script itself, and even computer animation to show this story from multiple angles and like much of modern art, proclaiming that this film is a product of many art forms that came before it.

TABLOID VIVANT is a smart film that at its core is about how far one will go in the name of art. It’s not a new tale as Roger Corman even delved into these themes with A BUCKET OF BLOOD, but it’s a story that continues to be an important one to tell. These tragic characters go a bit too far and pay the price, which makes this a nihilistic yet moralistic tale to be heeded by any artistic moths attracted to the flame of fame.

New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Candy Factory Films!


Directed by Sarah Adina Smith
Written by Sarah Adina Smith
Starring Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino, Ross Partridge
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Not all horror films have to have copious amounts of blood and gore. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is practically bloodless and focuses mainly on the relationships between three sisters as they reconnect to honor their recently deceased mother (DONNIE DARKO’s Sparkle Motion Mom Beth Grant). While this might be the making for a soppy melodrama, instead it turns into an effective little ghost story.

The three sisters are made up of; June—played by Lindsay Burdge, the youngest of the three and most introverted who is filming a documentary to commemorate this meeting and supplies the first person POV by holding the camera most of the time, Annie—the eldest daughter who moved away from home played by Jennifer Lafleur, and Isa—the middle and most outgoing sibling, played by BOARDWALK EMPIRE’s Aleksa Palladino. The highlight of this film is seeing these three sisters play off of one another in an effortless and all too believable manner. While each deal with death in their own way, the three sisters also come to terms with losing someone they sometimes loved and sometimes hated as she often times was more preoccupied with Wiccan rituals surrounding a particular lake. The entire film takes place in the lake house they grew up in which serves as a reminder for all of the good and bad memories the three sisters have survived.

What impressed me the most is that while this film isn’t your typical film one sees reviewed here in AICN HORROR, I was wrapped up in the story from beginning to end; mostly because of the nuanced and complex performances by the actresses playing the three sisters. Even without the bizarre elements which I’ll get into in a bit, this is a ghost story where someone who had just past haunts the living through their memories and shared experiences. The mother is ever present here; either through video tapes, photographs, through stories or reenactments the girls take part in. And while things do get good and scary by the end, the real thrill comes from the push and pull relationships these three sisters have with one another.

There is a mystical element to this film, but it’s never really made clear whether this is something from the other side or something manipulated by those overcome with grief. Part of the acceptance of death is to overcome the irrational elements that the spirit may still be around watching and manipulating things from the other side. From the beginning, when one of the sisters asks if they think their mother has been reincarnated, the metaphysics of death and how little we understand it is delved into here. When dead birds start slamming into windows, the camera is turned on by itself and filming things on its own, and when mysterious articles of clothing are found in the lake where their mother died, there is a mysterious charge to the film and an effective one at that.

But all of this is secondary to me as this is one of the more intimate and more effective found footage films I’ve ever seen in the subtle and nuanced way it works in the mystical elements into a story of these three sisters. While I should hate this film as it does involve a lot of girl talk over lattes and the usual “We girls are doin’ it for ourselves” air about it (there’s even a lip synched song number that isn’t annoying), I couldn’t find the rancor for it because of the overwhelming sense of dread hovering over each frame of this film and the gargantuan talents of Burge, Lafleur, and Palladino as the three sisters. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is not going to be for hardcore horror fans, but for me, this after hours dip felt refreshing as it caused unease and terror effectively in a real world relationship sense as well as an otherworldly one.

New this week from IFC Midnight and The Shout Factory!


Directed by Bo Mikkelsen
Written by Bo Mikkelsen
Starring Mille Dinesen, Marie Hammer Boda, Troels Lyby, Mikael Birkkjær, Ole Dupont, Benjamin Engell, Ella Solgaard, Therese Damsgaard, Rita Angela, Diana Axelsen
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Those who are sick of infected/zombie films are going to immediately go sour on WHAT WE BECOME, but if you do stick around, you’re in for an intimate, potent, and narratively sound little horror flick.

Everything seems keen in the idyllic town of Sorgenfri, Denmark. That is until reports of people getting sick in an old folks home lead to the quarantine of an entire neighborhood as gas-masked military patrol the streets, gunning down anyone who leaves their homes, and performing mysterious experiments in the neighborhood school. When teenager Gustav (Benjamin Engell) leaves his home to check in on Sonja (Marie Hammer Boda) the girl across the street who just moved into the neighborhood, he starts a series of events which endanger both families as the military move out and the infected roam the streets and try to claw their way into their quarantined home.

There are things in WHAT WE BECOME that are very typical in many infected/zombie movies. There’s the barricading of doors and windows, there’s the infected but not turned person kept inside the home, there’s the temptation to leave the secure home and venture out for answers, and the voracious attempts by the infected to get inside. All of these elements have showed up in a million and one films of this type. In many ways, WHAT WE BECOME is a very typical infected/zombie film.

That said, the combination of some solid acting, great narrative progression, and a focus on simply what is going on inside one household within one group of people makes WHAT WE BECOME a compelling piece of survivalist cinema. While things are familiar, these familiar features in this type of film are done in a competent and compelling manner. Filmmaker Bo Mikkelsen makes every scene drip with desperation and heart as we watch this family attempt to stick together and survive this horrific ordeal.

One frustrating flaw about this film is that the poster reveals a key plot point of the film. That doesn’t take away from the deft filmmaking from Bo Mikkelsen who relies very little on dialog and more so on the establishment of a dour mood, grey toned atmosphere, a Carpenter-esque synth score, unflinching action. and simple straightforward story. Though there are a lot of infected/zombie films out there, very few of them can be truly categorized as great. WHAT WE BECOME definitely is one of the great ones.

And finally…here’s something that is not for everyone and definitely not something safe to play at work. Still it is something that falls under the banner of horror, so it’s free game here in this column. Prepare yourselves for some pretty heinous shit going into “Blood of a Saint” a puppet horror film which may be crudely made, but it still will manage to effectively creep you out and make your stomach and morals churn. Prepare thyself for some gnarly puppetry and all kinds of wrongness with “Blood of a Saint” by Will Frank!

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

A quick plug for my own work. I have a new comic book coming out this December called THE JUNGLE BOOK HOLIDAY SPECIAL: BAGHEERA’S SECRET. It’s a one shot reteaming my original JUNGLE BOOK artist Carlos Granda and myself (the same team who created PIROUETTE) and it is available to order now via Previews order# OCT162113. I’m getting pages of this book by the day and this book looks absolutely amazing so far. Fans of jungle adventure are going to love it! Please support me by telling your local comic book store to order tons of issues of this comic! Much appreciated, folks.

Look for Johnny Destructo, Stephen Andrade, Christian DiBari, and my own ramblings about random horror films on CultPop/PoptardsGo and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday (or so…)!

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