Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. It’s Halloween and I wouldn’t be doing my self-appointed job if I didn’t offer up an extra column of horror films for your consideration. But first…
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On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: BURIAL GROUND (1981)
THE DEVIL’S FOREST (2016)
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC (2014)
SCARE CAMPAIGN (2016)
Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016)
And finally…Kevin Forte’s SIN REAPERS Episode 5: HALLOWEEN!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Severin Films!
BURIAL GROUND (1981)aka THE NIGHTS OF TERROR, THE ZOMBIE DEAD, ZOMBIE HORROR, ZOMBIE 3
Directed by Andrea Bianchi
Written by Piero Regnoli
Starring Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli, Antonella Antinori, Roberto Caporali, Pietro Barzocchini, Mariangela Giordan, Claudio Zucchet, Anna Valente, Raimondo Barbieri, o
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Gory, fun, and utterly perverse, if you’re looking for a zombie movie that just doesn’t give a fuck about trying to stay within the lines, BURIAL GROUND is it.
I remember renting BURIAL GROUND, mainly because my brother and I were going through a zombie phase, most likely after seeing RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD for the first time, which lead to us seeking out anything with a zombie on the cover. We had plowed through the Romero stuff, and a lot of the Italian zombie fare, but when we came across BURIAL GROUND, it completely blew my mind.
The story is simple enough. A group of folks go away to a secluded castle in the middle of nowhere, most for a romantic getaway. One of the women in the three couples brings along her awkward and childish teenage son who does not approve of his mother’s relationship with a new lover. Almost immediately after arriving at the castle, zombies rise from a the catacombs of a nearby church and attack the castle.
But while this is all pretty standard old school zombie fare, with the zombie plague only hinted at and never fully explained and the group boarding the doors and windows in order to barricade themselves in from the ghouls outside, BURIAL GROUND gets into some extremely perverse material in terms of Oedipal thematics between Michael (Pietro Barocchini aka Pater Bark) and his mother Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano). In this film, instead of noticing the world around them and the zombies walking slowly towards them, every character has sex on their mind. All three couples can’t keep their hands off of one another, which often puts them in peril. Michael is the outlier. He’s the third wheel awkward kid who isn’t really supposed to be on the trip, but they probably couldn’t find a babysitter and he had to be dragged along. I’m sure this must have been annoying for Evelyn’s lover, who simply wanted to spend the weekend bonking Evelyn, but he’s a good sport and goes along with it. That is the setup for what seems to be a simple “sex & death” scenario we often saw in the eighties.
But this film goes darker into the abyss as Michael’s attachment to his mother is beyond normal. It doesn’t help that Michael is being played not by a child, but a little person. Peter Bark is absolutely unforgettable as this weirdly awkward man-boy with horrible clothes, too much hair, and an odd shaped head. The way he whines “Mummy” is all the more creepy and director Andrea Bianchi never fails to show us the perverse POV of the way he sees the world and his frustration with what his mother is doing. Once the world goes sideways, Michael goes for broke with his mom in one of the most toe-culringly uncomfortable scenes you’re bound to ever see in a horror movie this side of SPANKING THE MONKEY.
But apart from the odd mother/son love, BURIAL GROUND has some amazing effects. Flesh is torn, muscles and tendons are ripped, and chunks of human organs are devoured by the worm-faced zombies— each sporting a different, yet monstrous design. The coolest thing about these zombies is that they are actually pretty smart—setting traps for their human prey, wearing disguises, and even using tools to break through barriers. This undead is crafty and while most zombie movies make them seem like predators mindlessly hunting for food, the ghouls from this burial ground are much more malicious and crafty.
BURIAL GROUND is an utterly unique and diabolically twisted little zombie film. It’s one of my favorites because it isn’t afraid to go to dark places and show you sides of the human soul you’re bound to never forget once witnessed. While the outrageous mother/son stuff kind of distracts from the zombie onslaught, it makes this film one of the more unique films of its kind and makes Peter Bark’s Michael one of the creepiest horror characters you’re every going to see.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
THE DEVIL’S FOREST (2016)aka THE DEVIL’S COMPLEX, THE DEVIL WITHIN
Directed by Mark Evans
Written by Caroline Riley, Mark Evans
Starring Maria Simona Arsu, Patrick Sebastian Negrean,Marius Dan Munteanu, Adrian Carlugeo, Bill Hutchens, Tom Bonington
Find out more about this film on its website here!
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There’s one thing about remaking a film or even paying homage to a certain type of film. There’s another to simply copy it as much as possible and try to pass it off as something else. That’s what THE DEVIL’S FOREST does and quite simply, it isn’t good.
A trio of investigators fire up their camera and head out into the frozen woods of Transylvania to investigate paranormal events reported to have been occurring in the woods for ages. After hiring an eccentric tour guide, the trio find themselves lost with increasingly strange things occurring in the thick woods all around them.
So this is BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in the snow. And it doesn’t even try to differentiate itself from that film. There’s the gung ho reporter, the aloof camera guy, and the manly protector of the group all trying to get to the truth and promising to “FILM EVERYTHING!!!!” And while this might have been ok in 1996 or even passable in 2006, in 2016 for people to be making this same type of film these days without really doing anything new is downright unforgivable. The film has no budget at all (maybe a few gallons of stage blood are about the only thing by way of shocks or effects occurring here) and really is just three people walking around in the snow and arguing with one another. Very little suspense is allowed to occur due to the cardboard character interactions and blueprint plagiarism from a million and one other films of this ilk.
THE DEVIL’S FOREST is the perfect example of a film being made for nothing with hopes of big profit from rentals and overseas selling. It has zero creativity and offers nothing new to the table. It reeks of the worst side of horror—soulless, brainless productions that have no respect for the horror genre and see it as a way to get cheap money with little loss. It’s the bottom of the barrel of horror and if there are people still out there in the middle of a found footage film that simply follows a template instead of a creative guide, do us all a favor and just stop it. I hate to use this film as a target for my rant, but while THE DEVIL’S FOREST isn’t the only film guilty of being uninspired, it is part of the reason why the genre often feels unable to push forward.
New this week On Demand and on Amazon Prime!
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC (Director’s Cut, 2014)Originally released in 2008
Directed by Pat Higgins
Written by Pat Higgins
Starring Victoria Hopkins, Lucy Dunn, Jess-Luisa Flynn, Gary Delaney, James Fisher, Cy Henty, Scott North, Geoffrey Sleight, Chandrika Chevli, Richard Collins, Rebecca Herod, Eleanor James, Alan Ronald
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of my favorite subgenres in horror is the mockumentary, though in terms of horror I guess shockumentary is more accurate. Though it’s often lumped in with the found footage genre, it really is its own monster altogether, embracing the notion that this is a real life documentary on a fictional subject, most of the time relying on footage that is found and gathered by different media. While found footage was part of that description, it avoids the mistakes many found footagers make by relying on the camera falling to get the exact shot necessary, by somehow incorporating music when there’s no orchestra pit to be seen within camera shot, and most importantly, the presence of editing which allows for the shifting of point of view, the passage of time, and whatnot. The presence of any or all of these factors in a found footage film is a surefire way to pick my investment and suspension of disbelief up and toss them out. The presence of these factors in a shockumentary is all a welcome part of the game. So in a shockumentary, you get the immediate first person POV as well as an air of truth which often accompanies the found footager without all of that stuff that makes you scoff at the genre. Best of both worlds.
And speaking of the best, one of the best shockumentaries to come by way recently is THE DEVIL’S MUSIC, a recounting of some shocking events that occur on the last tour of fictional rock performer Erika Spawn (DOGHOUSE’s Victoria Hopkins). Spawn made a name for herself as a shock rocker who used blood and taboo subject matter in her songs and performances (think of it as a cross between Alice Cooper and G.G.Allin by way of GWAR). The film begins as a young fan by the name of Stephanie Regan (Lucy Dunn) is found backstage and taken in by the band. Her handheld camera footage is used throughout the film as she is given the role of documentarian for the tour. When Stephanie is filmed at night having bizarre dreams and often mutters incomprehensible gibberish, the bandmates are leery of her, but Erika seems drawn to her even more. What happens next I’ll leave up to you to find out, but it’s intense, fascinating, and the stuff of rock and roll nightmare.
Writer/director Pat Higgins (who helmed an installment in the fun ANGRY NAZI ZOMBIES anthology – reviewed here) keeps this film full of surprises, opening the film ominously yet smartly holding back on all of the gory details until the right moment. Popping back and forth between interviews with bandmates, the publicist and manager of the band, psychologists involved in the case, and those who stand against this type of music, Higgins offers up a broad interpretation of the events of that are captured by the handheld footage. All of the performances as well are solid here as every band acts and looks the part of the grizzly UK rock and rollers they are portraying. I especially loved the inclusion of the main adversary of the film being a soft rock crooner who speaks out against Spawn’s type of music. All in all, if I didn’t know this wasn’t a documentary, I might have been fooled by it.
Another aspect I noticed and respect is the smart decisions made in terms of making the best of a small budget. Many scenes of this film take place on stage supposedly in front of a large audience, but while you hear the screams and cheers from the crowd, you never see them. I imagine renting out a concert hall, filling it with extras, and putting on a show might have been a bit more pricey that this film was willing to spend, but Higgins smartly keeps the stage scenes close and fast moving, so the lack of a crowd isn’t as distracting as one would think.
One criticism for the film is that the music isn’t very good. Thankfully, the film focuses on the Erika and the band, but the snippets of songs aren’t really that much to bang your head to. That said, in terms of making a fake world and mythos seem so very, very real, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC is horror’s equivalent to THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The buildup of tension and horror that takes place in here is outstanding and Higgins makes the entire thing feel like the real thing. This Director’s Cut apparently has extended scenes involving the psychiatrist involved in the case and some more bits and pieces. I didn’t see the original, so I can attest to whether or not this makes the film better or worse. THE DEVIL’S MUSIC is low budget, but it’s hard to see it as you’re too busy getting possessed by the violence and horror that this film culminates in. Highly recommended to those who like their horror documentary style.
New this week on digital platforms such as on ITunes, Amazon and Google Play!
SCARE CAMPAIGN (2016)Directed by Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes
Written by Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes
Starring Meegan Warner, Ian Meadows, Olivia DeJonge, Josh Quong Tart, Patrick Harvey, Cassandra Magrath, Steve Mouzakis, John Brumpton, Jason Geary, Sigrid Thornton, Kaiting Yap
Find out more about this film on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Reminiscent of the twisted found footager LUCKY BASTARD (reviewed here), where a person wins a contest to have sex with a porn star and goes nuts when he can’t perform the deed, SCARE CAMPAIGN plays with the horror of having the rug tugged out from under you and that two second feeling of murder you feel after being had expanded to an extreme limit.
A practical joke scare show (much like ScyFy’s often hilarious and fun SCARE TACTICS with Tracey Morgan) is upended when the recipient of the practical joke turns out to be somewhat unhinged and strikes out against the pranksters. But while that might be one of the twists in SCARE CAMPAIGN, this film has quite a few other horrors in store for the viewer as prankster and prankee switches hands over and over again until you’re not sure who to root for.
What this develops into is a film you just can’t trust and there’s a potent type of horror in that sort of film. SCARE CAMPAIGN feels dangerous while viewing. In many ways, this is a Russian nesting doll of a film with each reveal leading to one prank after another. Being the wary film-watcher that I am, I am always looking for the other shoe to drop, but it turns out this film has more shoes than Imelda Marcos (is there anyone reading that gets this reference?) and I admire the film for keeping things unpredictable all the way until the end.
The acting here is pretty top notch as well with AMC’s TURN actress Meegan Warner playing the main actress in the show who convinces the prankee that all is on the up and up until the big reveal. Ian Meadows is fun as the “always thinking about the show” director, and the young Olivia DeJonge (from THE SISTERHOOD OF THE NIGHT and M. Night Shamalayan’s THE VISIT) as the horror loving newcomer eager to act in the show. All around, these strong performances are what makes these pranks convincing and worth investing in even though you feel as if you are about to get egg or in this face blood on your face.
SCARE CAMPAIGN is fun as it succeeds in toying with the idea of being surprised. It tickles that animal brain we all experience when being startled to either fight or flee. Gory and frightening at times, as well as a fun statement about the behind the scenes antics in the entertainment industry that is always looking for a bigger scare to top the last one, SCARE CAMPAIGN is a smartly executed and dangerously unpredictable little horror gem.
In select theaters and On Demand (Find out when here)!
Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016)Directed by Rob Zombie
Written by Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Kevin Jackson, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, E.G. Daily, Michael 'Red Bone' Alcott, Esperanza America, Andrea Dora, Tracey Walter, Ginger Lynn, Daniel Roebuck, Devin Sidell, Gabriel Pimentel
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
So Rob Zombie’s got another movie out. And this always intrigues me, as I don’t always like what the director delivers, but I respect aspects of all of his films. But while there is a strong shock factor in 31, there is little awe as it feels like a retread of things Zombie has done in the past, polished up and put into a new package.
In 31, Zombie returns to some well tread territory he visited in HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES as a group of weary travelers, this time carnie grifters which include his wife Sheri Moon Zombie and her LORDS OF SALEM co-stars Jeff Daniel Phillips and Meg Foster, among others who are simply traveling from point A to point B when their mobile home comes to an impasse adorned with scarecrows and they are abducted by clowns to take part in a game of life and death (mostly death) at the mercy of a debaucherous cult lead by Father Murder (Malcolm MacDowell), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson). Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her crew must face off against freakish clown-like gladiators in a warehouse maze for 12 hours. If they survive the time allotted to them, they are set free, but no one has ever survived.
By now, as with voters in the upcoming election, you have an opinion about Rob Zombie and there is going to be very little I say in this review that is going to sway that opinion one way or another. Either you think he is a genius who just hasn’t lived up to the potential he showed in his best film to date, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, or he is a one note hack who has an eye for the weird, but that talent would be better put to use in music videos rather than films. Personally, I am right in the middle believing that Zombie has a lot of potential, but often returns to the same well over and over, never really challenging himself to do anything different. And that ok. With his roots in music, where we often love to see our rock and roll idols play the same songs over and over in concert, on videos, and on albums, Zombie is kind of performing his directorial duties as if he is giving a rock concert with each show only slightly different than the next (possibly a shuffle of a set list or a new band member or two). If you liked THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, and the slightly obnoxious, yet still quite mesmerizing LORDS OF SALEM, I’ll bet there will be something in this film you’ll like too. But if HALLOWEEN and it’s sequel had you cursing to the heavens and vowing to hate Zombie forever, you’re most likely not interested in any review of this film anyway.
In it’s simplest state, 31 is Rob Zombie’s version of the 1987 Schwarzenegger/Stephen King film THE RUNNING MAN. It’s basically set up like an AMERICAN GLADIATORS episode if the participants were picked up and tossed into the show without their consent. Very little time is spent outside of the 31 arena warehouse and what we do get outside is a fleeting introduction and a quick ending. This film exists solely in Rob Zombie’s personally constructed funhouse of horrors which is pretty small in scope and most likely was not to expensive to make. I don’t mind the limited budget. Most of the films I review on AICN HORROR are made a fraction of the cost of the bulk of movies covered on this site, so knowing that Zombie made this film on the cheap actually endears me a bit more to it. While the structure of the film is as simple as they come; one insane clown tries to kill the group, a member dies, then another insane clown tries to kill the group, until there is only a handful left of both insane clowns and participants—Zombie’s scope of the film seems like he knew how to stay within those limitations and he made a decent looking film from that.
Now, I know this film was cut quite a bit in order to be released as an R rated film. That said, I feel the biggest flaw of 31 arises mainly in its editing. From past viewings of a Rob Zombie joint, you know you’re going to get grungy characters facing off against even grungier characters. But in previous films, the story itself was never as choppy as it is in 31. There are some action scenes where groups of people are facing off against other people where it is impossible to know what is exactly going on. This isn’t during times of gore, mind you. This is during times when two people are facing off against one another. Maybe the scenes didn’t look well. Maybe the multiple angles were just so good in editor the head of Glen Garland (and ultimately Rob Zombie himself) that they couldn’t decide which angle so they included them all. Either way, the staccato editing of practically every scene that involves some kind of action is cut like a Tasmanian Devil with a pair of Ginsu blades. And it’s too bad because some of the setups for the action sequences are pretty cool such as E/G. Daily character Sex-Head’s murder by seduction or the spastic Psycho-Head and Schitzo-Head’s double chainsaw attack. With the right directorial eye, these fights could have been as badass as they kind of sound. But hacked to bits as they are, you don’t really know what the hell is going on, who’s winning, or who’s losing until the action is over and you see who’s body is bleeding out on the floor. Not good.
It’s a shame because when Zombie slows down to let us soak some of this stuff in, it really does make an impact. But those scenes are so few and far between that it wouldn’t be a stretch to call them scant—I’m thinking of a slow zoom in on the wounded participants sitting in between rounds and catching their breath in particular and the opening introduction of Doom-Head (Richard Brake). Unlike the over-indulgent final scenes of LORDS OF SALEM, 31 keeps things pretty grimy and real. It’s definitely an ultra-violent film, but because of the editing, it’s hard to make out what body parts are being decimated. There is a whole bunch of brutal violence as well as effected suggested gore—I especially love the off-screen action that Doom-Head paints the red parts of his face with his own blood (and the blood spatter of his victims) as he punches his own face to pump himself up for the match. These are good ideas in a film I would call good looking if it would slow down the cuts to more than one millisecond at a time.
There are also some fun characters here. I like Jeff Daniel Phillips’ noble, but selfish Roscoe and Sheri Moon Zombie’s Charly is a nice tweak of her Baby Firefly character using her sexuality as a weapon at times, yet putting that aspect aside to fight tooth and nail to survive as the protagonist here rather than the antagonist in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. I am happy to say that E.G. Daily is still hot as a tamale on Texas asphalt and despite her scenes being edited to hell inside the warehouse, she sizzles here as Sex-Head. And Meg Foster is pretty amazing as the long-in-the-tooth, but physically formidable Venus Virgo is impressive. But the show is stolen by Richard Brake as Doom-Head. His performance is what everyone will take from the film as the most disturbing and most memorable. He’s given the coolest lines to say and the most evil shit to do. If anything, 31 has a great lead villain in Doom-Head and I hope this isn’t the last we see of this makeup wearing monster.
At times, 31 is underwritten with characters simply cursing to fill space and time. Then again, Zombie seems to be most interested in Doom-Head and gives him the best lines of the film. The opening monologue by Brake and pretty much any other time he opens his blood-stained mouth, it’s perverse, badass, and poetic all at once. Zombie loves his villains, it’s quite clear. I just wish Zombie would have spent as much time on making the story a bit more nuanced and given better lines to more characters. At least Zombie knows that the strength of this movie lays with Doom-Head and knows how to highlight during Brake’s scenes.
Rob Zombie is doing his thing and I don’t hate him for it. He made some missteps with the HALLOWEEN franchise, but this one falls somewhere in between LORDS OF SALEM and HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (which suffers from the same detrimental editing as this film did). I hope Zombie didn’t peak with THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and the director has more depravity to share. If he hires an editor that doesn’t believe in the strobe effect as a method of cutting scenes, I think he has more good nightmares to bring us. 31 is extremely flawed mainly in the way scenes and shots are put together, but the familiar but simple story, slick opening monologue, and fun cast of horror festival regulars, most importantly Richard Brake as Doom-Head, all make for a twisted film that is a solid editor away from greatness.
And finally…here’s episode 5 of Kevin Forte’s SIN REAPERS webseries, aptly entitled HALLOWEEN!
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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