Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I’m working my way back on track and catching up with the shit ton of horror coming out On Demand, BluRay/DVD, and digital download this holiday season. Here’s this week’s batch of horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
The Boo Tube: THE TWILIGHT ZONE The Complete Series BluRay Collection (1959-1964)
Retro-review: THE LODGER (1944)
Retro-review: DRILLER KILLER (1979)
Retro-review: PHANTASM (1979)
Retro-review: CREEPSHOW 2 (1987)
Retro-review: SLIME CITY (1988)
The Boo Tube: FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Season Two Recap & Review (2015)
The Boo Tube: RAVENWOLF TOWERS: Episode One – Bad Mary (2016)
ABBY GRACE (2016)
AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BLOODSHOCK (2015)
PHANTASM V: RAVAGER (2016)
And finally… Jason Eisener’s TREEVENGE!
The Boo Tube: New this week collecting every episode of the original series on BluRay from CBS Home Entertainment (you can find it here on Amazon)!
THE TWILIGHT ZONE Original Series (1959-1964)Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A while back I covered every single episode of the TWILIGHT ZONE original series which ran for five seasons from 1959-1964 and churned out 156 episodes starring some of the biggest actors of yesteryear and written and directed by a who’s who of science fiction and genre writers back in its day. Below is a list of my reviews of every single episode and instead of taking up precious bandwidth reposting, I’ll put up the links for you all to peruse at your leisure. If you don’t have this collection, you can’t really call yourself a genre fan as this is genre TV at its best and was so good that it resonates even today in film and TV. Here’s my list of reviews. One of these days, I’ll finish covering the 80’s series that just wasn’t as good.
Season 1 (1959): Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.24, 1.25-1.30, 1.31-1.36
Season 2: Episodes 2.1-2.6, 2.7-2.12, 2.13-2.18, 2.19-2.24, 2.25-2.29
Season 3: Episodes 3.1-3.6, 3.7-3.12, 3.13-3.18, 3.19-3.24, 3.25-3.31, 3.32-3.37
Season 4: Episodes 4.1-4.5, 4.5-4.8, 4.9-4.13, 4.14-4.18
Season 5: Episodes 5.1-5.7, 5.8-5.14, 5.15-5.21, 5.22-5.28, 5.29-5.36
Season 1 (1985): Episodes 1.1-1.3, 1.4-1.7
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE LODGER (1944)aka JACK THE RIPPER
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Barré Lyndon (screen play), from the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Starring Laird Cregar, Merle Oberon, George Sanders, Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood, Aubrey Mather, Queenie Leonard, Doris Lloyd, David Clyde, Helena Pickard
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Directed by visionary John Brahm (who directed quite a few TWILIGHT ZONE episodes and the werewolf mystery THE UNDYING MONSTER – reviewed here), THE LODGER is a visual four course meal with all the fixins’. You and I have seen many a Jack the Ripper film, but I think I’ve found my favorite.
A mysterious drifter by the name of Mr. Slade (Laird Cregar) takes a room in the upper floor in a home in Victorian London right about the same time a series of murders are being committed in the streets. As the newspaper dubs the killer Jack the Ripper and the murders continue, the owners of the house believe Mr. Slade to be the murderer and Slade seems to have eyes for Kitty (Merle Oberon) the niece of the house owners.
That is the simple whodunit plot that threads this film together. This isn’t a film that explores the mystery of Jack the Ripper. More so, it’s a film that follows a bizarre man who shacks up in a well to do house that at the same time the Ripper is terrorizing the streets. Whether Slade is the Ripper is one of the mysteries of the film and I love the way the filmmakers decided to have you make up your own mind if the two are one in the same. This is a film that leaves you to think things through, which elevates it above most of the mystery thrillers of its age.
It’s that type of heady level filmmaking that also translates to the gorgeous way this film is shot. The camera pans across and around the foggy streets of London, following police officers patrolling for the Ripper and emitting nothing but amazing atmosphere of dread and danger. Shots are set up to highlight the duplicitous nature of Slade by having him discuss his methods and madness with Kitty in front of triple mirrors, all looming over the oblivious Kitty combing her hair. The climax is as exciting as anything you’re going to see, not only because Laird Cregar is a fabulous villain with his penetrating stare and sweaty brow, but because of the cross hatching of lighting that is cast upon him, again highlighting his duplicitous nature. There is a scene where Slade makes his way across the walkway above the stage with the shadows racing across his face as he moves towards and into the camera that I’m sure caused a gasp or two in audiences of its day. Again, this is filmmaking way ahead of its time in terms of camera, lighting, and use of shadow.
There are fun little details that soften the story of the ripper here. Instead of prostitutes, this Jack kills actresses, which I guess is indicative of the more innocent age it was made and puts Kitty in a more admirable light. There really is no gore to speak of, but in it’s place is a wonderfully dreary mood that makes up for it in spades. With a truly iconic performance by Cregar and a look that highlights John Brahm’s gift for atmosphere, THE LODGER is an all around thriller Jack the Ripper tale you won’t forget after viewing.
Sorry, couldn’t find a trailer for this one, but trust me, seek this one out!
Retro-review: New this week on a Collector’s Edition BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual
THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)Directed by Abel Ferrara
Written by Nicholas St. John (screenplay)
Starring Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth, Maria Helhoski
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
More interesting for its snippet of the punk scene in late 70’s New York than anything else, I doubt Abel Ferrara lists his first feature THE DRILLER KILLER among his best. Chock full of bad edits, over and under acting, and writing that meanders to and fro but not really anywhere, THE DRILLER KILLER opens with struggling artist Reno Miller (credited to Jimmy Laine in the film but actually played by Ferrara himself) who visits a church and encounters a bum. This freaks Reno out and though his girlfriend tries to calm him, it is apparent Reno has some problem with the derelicts. Turns out his father was a bum and this sets a series of events in motion to push Reno over the edge to go on a bum killing spree as he wanders the alleys in search of bums to drill holes into.
In between scenes of Reno yelling at people, there are some cool scenes of punk bands playing music (Ferrara provides much of the music as well), and though not all of it is good, it’s fun to watch. Much like BASKET CASE, I feel DRILLER KILLER’s main function is to show a side of New York seldom seen even in Scorsese’s films, which seem to focus only on specific neighborhoods and cultures rather than the city itself. Here, New York’s a seedy landscape filled with character much more representative of the time.
Though this film was put on the UK’s Video Nasty list, THE DRILLER KILLER is not that gory at all. Sure there’s a scene of one bum meeting a nasty death by power drill to the forehead which was often prominently displayed on the video box, but most of the time, the gore isn’t shown or really focused on. What THE DRILLER KILLER serves as is a more grungy version of TAXI DRIVER with a much longer rampage. The film itself feels more like a guy fooling around with a camera and filming whatever transpires rather than a clear narrative itself. A little research shows that Ferrara filmed this film over the span of a couple of years, which might attest to the disjointed story and how it becomes much more of a cohesive thriller by the end of the film.
The ending of this film is pretty effective, with a nice setup and a fade to black showing much more restraint than the young filmmaker showed throughout the entire rest of the film and showing a glimmer of the filmmaker who was soon to burst onto the scene with THE KING OF NEW YORK and BAD LEUTENANT. That said, THE DRILLER KILLER’s soundtrack, which I would love to find somewhere, and the effective ending make it an oddity worth seeking out. There’s just a lot of amateur minutia to sift through to get to the good stuff here.
Arrow’s re-release contains audio commentary by Abel Ferrara and Ferrara historian Brad Stevens, a brand new interview with Ferrara called “Laine & Abel”, a visual essay guide to Ferrara’s films by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and MULBERRY STREET a feature length documentary by Ferrara walking the streets of New York which was the main star of most of his early works.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay/DVD from Well Go USA!
PHANTASM Remastered (1979)aka MORNINGSIDE, THE NEVER DEAD, ZOMBIES
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Written by Don Coscarelli
Starring A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Terrie Kalbus, Kenneth V. Jones, Susan Harper, Lynn Eastman-Rossi, David Arntzen, Ralph Richmond, Bill Cone, Laura Mann, Mary Ellen Shaw, Myrtle Scotton, and Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There’s a wicked genius to the often nonsensical and creatively overstuffed film called PHANTASM. It was a film I have visited and revisted through the years. As I kid, I loved the endless waves of random monstrosities Michael, his hep cat brother Jody, and singin’ ice cream man Reggie confront in this film. But as I grew older, I began to understand some of the method behind director/writer Don Coscarelli’s madness.
Watching the film again in this review, I kind of finally understood what PHANTASM is about. Sure there is a lot of hullabaloo about other worlds, a corpse collecting Tall Man, silver flying balls, grunting Jawas, and toothy flies that just won’t go down the drain. But at its core, it’s about a young boy trying to understand that which is unexplainable—death. As an adult, it’s hard enough to understand why someone is taken from this mortal coil, but as a child, it’s even harder to fathom. As Michael (played by A. Michael Baldwin) tries to understand the death of his parents and ***SPOILER the death of his protective brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) END SPOILER***, he encounters one horror after another. Along the way, his brother appears to him, gives him advice, but then disappears just as quickly, leaving Michael to cope and understand the personification of death in the form of The Tall Man and his little Jawa monsters. A fan of scifi and horror as indicated by the posters and toys in his room, Michael of course incorporates familiar monstrosities from those films as physical threats to take him to the same place where they took his parents. We see this film through Michael’s eyes, and because of that, the narrative is choppy and nonsensical. People pop in and out of the scene with little explanation. Motives are murky. And nightmare logic randomness abounds. But that is the world of a mind that doesn’t fully understand what is happening after a tragedy. As the Tall Man appears again in the final moments, it’s a feeling that seems never ending and indefinable. In one scene, Michael even climbs into a coffin himself in order to hide from the Tall Man, experiencing what it is like to be dead as an attempt to understand it. This film is a nightmare through a child’s eyes with a childish understanding of it all. If you understand that, you’ll appreciate this film a whole lot more.
Then again, it is also a very amateurly made film. While symbolic significance can be applied to it, there are some very rough edges to Coscarelli’s PHANTASM. If you are of a more literal minded viewer, I’m sure there will be aspects of this film that will be unforgivable and downright unwatchable. A maid, never before mentioned in the film, pops up for a jump scare. A hair-brained plan to knock the Tall Man into a well is hatched at the last second. People die and then appear alive ten minutes later. All of this is what makes this film much more of a stream of consciousness nightmare you just ride out rather than rack your brain to make sense of. If you do that, this film is sure to give you a headache and you’ll be left wondering what the hubbub is all about with this movie.
In terms of ideas, PHANTASM is loaded with them, but the genius in the ideas comes from how this film seems to have been pieced together with whatever was around that particular day. They have an idea for a fly that grows from a severed finger, so a fake fly is used for the scene. Someone has a few extra robes? Well, let’s have the monsters be snarling Jawas. It’s that type of ingenuity that makes this do it yourself nightmare fun. This is before CG effects, but somehow, Coscarelli manages to create an entire world and mythos with this first film—a mythos that is elaborated on and developed in future installments. But the charm here is that nothing is really explained. It’s just random shit happening to Michael and his loved ones and this unpredictable nature makes the entire film a rapidly paced nightmare.
Sure the acting stinks. Seeing Baldwin trying to emote and not be nervous in the quieter scenes is wince inducing as are most of the other performances aside from the truly iconic look and feel of Scrimm as the Tall Man. It’s because of Scrimm’s every action that this film became the series it is today as everything about him makes him something that seems to have stepped from the most twisted childhood nightmare (he also seems like a distant relative to the Slender Man mythos that developed years later). But despite Scrimm, this is some rough thespian work exemplified here.
That said, this new restoration cleans up this film so well. It highlights the depths of the darkness Michael is running through and even delves in to clean up the effects by taking out the obvious wires the silver balls were floating on and making the movements of the Jawas a little faster and creepier. But the most significant improvement is the way this film sounds. Not only is the score cleaned up and sharpened, the creature effects make the whole thing feel all the more chilling; from the guttural grunts of the Jawas to the otherworldly hum of the silver orbs.
See this new version of PHANTASM if you can. If you saw it as a kid, you most likely didn’t pick up on the heavy themes of death and acceptance. It plays with the narrative and tries to fool you into following one POV (Jody’s), yet it is telling a story with an idealized version of that character seen through the eyes of his younger brother (Michael). Seeing it as an adult made me appreciate it more as well as long for that time when I simply marveled at the cool effects. It’s one of those rare films that is just as good seeing it later in life as it is when you first saw it and if you’ve never seen it; just hang convention at the door and just dive into the oblivion. You’ll enjoy it better that way.
Retro-review: New this month on a Collector’s Edition BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual Entertainment!
CREEPSHOW 2 (1987)Directed by Michael Gornick
Written by Stephen King (stories), George A. Romero & Lucille Fletcher (screenplay)
Starring George Kennedy, Lois Chiles, Philip Dore, Domenick John, Dorothy Lamour, Frank Salsedo, Holt McCallany, David Holbrook, Don Harvey, Paul Satterfield, Jeremy Green, Daniel Beer, Page Hannah, Stephen King, Richard Parks, Dan Kamin as Ol’ Chief Woodenhead, Tom Wright as The Hitchhiker, & Tom Savini as The Creep!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While CREEPSHOW 2 is nowhere near the level of awesome that the original CREEPSHOW reaches, I still kind of love this fucked-up little film. Sure, the music is horrible and sometimes ruins all sense of mood and tone the film is trying to go for. And yes, the animation is about as rudimentary as it comes, but there are some moments of real terror and gore that achieve all levels of cool throughout this off-kilter masterpiece of the macabre. This is very much a worthy successor to the EC horror comics of old, though more rough around the edges that its predecessor.
“Ol’ Chief Woodenhead” starts off the trio of terror tales, and though the story is a simple revenge tale, it’s the setting and the monster itself that sets it apart. George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour are shop owners in a dried-up town. Their good nature is taken advantage of by a group of punks with aspirations to make it out of the town who rob and kill them in their store. But the dime store wooden Indian out front won’t let them get away with it. The effects here are pretty amazing as Chief Woodenhead comes alive with some fantastic make up and some stilted movements. The concept of a wooden Native American enacting vengeance on those who wronged its owners is a concept that feels ripped straight from an EC comic. Light on story but heavy on cool, “Ol’ Chief Woodenhead” is a great starting point for this anthology.
And like that, we’re at the middle story of the film. If there is a major flaw in CREEPSHOW 2, it is that instead of the five stories in the original, the sequel only has three. But the middle story by far is the best executed. “The Raft”, another Stephen King tale, deserves to be seen by all as it is downright nail-bitingly, pants-shittingly scary at times and a barrage of amazing (and simple) special effects. Four kids, not ready for summer to be over, decide to go swimming on a cool autumn day, but once they make it out to a raft in the middle of a secluded lake, they find a weird oil slick circling them. When one of them is sucked into the toxic sludge, the rest are stuck in the middle of the lake with nowhere to go and a ravenous blob of ooze surrounding them. In such a short time, this story lets you get to know these kids pretty well and actually has you rooting for them instead of the monster. The story even delves into some pretty dark themes, as friendships are betrayed and boundaries are crossed among the survivors on the raft. The blob itself looks like a garbage bag with branches an leaves tossed across it, but some clever reverse special effects make it pretty dangerous looking. The frantic race for the beach in the final minutes will have you jumping out of your chair. This is a good one.
The final story is called “The Hitchhiker” and is a gorehound’s delight as a woman returning to her husband after a rendezvous with her lover hits a hitchhiker with her car and is then haunted by the same hitchhiker over and over again on the drive home. The best thing about it is that the hitchhiker gets more roadkilled as the story goes on until he’s just a blobby mess with a tongue and stumps by the end of the story. While the term, “Thanks for the ride, lady!” isn’t the most famous horror quote, after seeing this little segment, you’ll never think of anything else when you hear those words. Wonderfully acted and sporting a cameo by Stephen King himself, this one is a whole mess of fun even though it borrows heavily from the TWILIGHT ZONE episode with the same name.
The animated sequences tying this story together are pretty painful to sit through, as are the pitiful opening sequences. I wish the filmmakers would have spent a little extra to bookend this film with some live segments rather than the cheap animation. I think if that were done, CREEPSHOW 2 would have been better received and get the same level of respect that the original does. While CREEPSHOW relied on creature effects for the most part, this one relies a lot on maximum blood spillage. Still, the sheer deviousness and originality of the horrors makes CREEPSHOW 2 stand out as one of the better follow-up films out there.
Arrow’s re-release of the film includes a commentary by Michael Gornick, interviews with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, KNB Effects, actors Daniel Beer, Tom Wright, and a feature called “My Friend Rick” talking with Howard Berger about his mentor Rick Baker.
Retro-review: New this week on a double feature BluRay from Camp Motion Pictures!
SLIME CITY (1988)Directed by Greg Lamberson
Written by Greg Lamberson
Starring Robert C. Sabin, Mary Huner, T.J. Merrick, Dennis Embry, Dick Beil
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Totally and unabashedly gross, SLIME CITY knows how low budget it is and wallows in it like a pig in slop. Those looking for highbrow scares and pristine production values should probably avert their gaze and scroll down. But those who love their gore grimy and gross need to seek this one out pronto Squanto.
Alex and his virginal girlfriend Lori answer an ad for an apartment in an old New York building. At first it seems like the perfect place for Alex (who invites his girlfriend to move in but she’s not ready), but soon he meets Roman the beatnik neighbor and Nicole the goth siren next door and things quickly go pear shaped. Tempted into Nicole’s bed and Roman’s dinner parties, squeaky clean Alex finds himself wrapped up in sex, drugs, and the occult. After a trippy dinner at Roman’s, Alex is introduced to a slimy “yogurt” dish and an unlabeled liquor. Alex wakes up covered in slime and soon begins to melt ooze all over the place. His actions become erratic but after killing a bum, Alex finds that he returns to normal. Soon Alex realizes that if he doesn’t want to end up a pile of ooze, he must kill on a semi-regular basis. Of course, his girlfriend Lori takes issue with all of this.
Released in 1988, a few years after Cronenberg’s THE FLY, SLIME CITY has a lot of the same themes, albeit in a more lowbrow manner. As Alex’s humanity and body begin to puddle beneath him, the similarities between the two films are pretty jarring. Director Greg Lamberson does a great job of keeping everything together despite the limited budget and works well with what he has. The use of non-actors often times adds to the hilarity of the film (especially in a scene where a gang confronts Alex in a not so dark alley).
Though I’ve already mentioned THE FLY, SLIME CITY also reminds me of the gross out awesomeness of EVIL DEAD II. In the gory climax of the film, Lori and Alex face off with severed limbs and oozing slime. SLIME CITY spawned a remake/sequel called SLIME CITY MASSACRE (also by Lamberson) last year that I’m dying to see after the gory giddiness seen in every frame of this film. If you’re in the mood for gore to the extreme level, SLIME CITY is right up your alley.
This BluRay re-release comes with its remake/sequel SLIME CITY MASSACRE (which I will be reviewing in an upcoming column) as well as two director commentary tracks, a making of featurette, and trailers.
New this week on BluRay from Anchor Bay Entertainment!
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Season 2 (2016)Directed by Adam Davidson, Stefan Schwartz, Kari Skogland, Andrew Bernstein, Uta Briesewitz, Deborah Chow, Kate Dennis, Michael McDonough, Gerardo Naranjo, Daniel Sackheim, Christoph Schrewe, Michael Uppendahl, Craig Zisk
Written by Dave Erickson, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore, Kate Barnow, Kate Erickson, David Wiener, Brian Buckner, Carla Ching, Alan Page, Jack LoGiudice, Meaghan Oppenheimer, Marco Ramirez, Brett C. Leonard, Lauren Signorino
Starring Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Mercedes Mason, Colman Domingo, Lorenzo James Henrie, Rubén Blades, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Karen Bethzabe, Danay Garcia, Paul Calderon, Patricia Reyes Spíndola, Raul Casso, Ramses Jimenez, Andres Londono, Alfredo Herrera, Kelly Blatz, Alejandro Edda, Arturo del Puerto, Kenny Wormald, Marlene Forte, Shawn Hatosy, Rubén J. Carbajal, Sandrine Holt, Moisses Arath Leyva, Diana Lein, Brenda Strong, Katia López, María Antonieta Zapien Romero, Denitza García, Cuauhtli Jiménez, Daniel Zovatto, Michelle Ang, Dougray Scott
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
So being a huge fan of THE WALKING DEAD like many of you, I found myself intrigued at the notion of a spinoff series set across the country depicting what actually happened to the world while Rick was sleeping the Apocalypse off in a 30 day coma. And, like many of you, I tuned in to the first episode of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD when it premiered in August of last year, hoping I would be equally intrigued by this new cast of characters, new timeline, and new setting. After a truly bland first episode, I stuck around for two more before I decided that I wasn’t going to bother with this spinoff and just get my zombie fix from the original series. For reasons I will discuss in further depth below, these first three episodes just didn’t grab me and I didn’t really return to the series until I got a hold of the second season of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and decided to give it another shot.
But first off, I had to go back and see how the rest of season one turned out. And to my surprise, by episode four, things actually got better. The pace moved more briskly, new characters that I found interesting were introduced such as Ruben Blades’ loyal but calculated Daniel, his daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), and the conniving “Sawyer” of the group Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). As the group made their way to the coastline to Victor’s mansion, I ended up actually giving a shit about this cast, for the most part and was looking forward to the second season despite the fact that outbreak stories have been done to death in zombie movies for the last ten years. Still, I feel there are many strengths and flaws to FEAR THE WALKING DEAD as a whole. Eventually I’ll get to the second season, but first let’s look at the whole enchilada.
The reason why THE WALKING DEAD works so well is because of the cast. Andrew Lincoln is likable, even though his hair is always wet and he has become somewhat of a pushover in this current season. But what works in the original series is that it is about one person becoming a leader to a group of orphans and outcasts, forming a community and a bond out of their day to day fight to survive. Rick just doesn’t have one son in Carl to look after, but he has a whole family consisting of Michonne, Daryl, Maggie, Glenn, Carol, and the rest of the community to look after and he thinks for the community as a whole because he understands that if there is any way for them to survive, it must be together. Lincoln, through his raspy, “CARRRRRRLLLL!” screaming voice gives you something to root for every week. And characters like Maggie, Michonne, and Daryl give you even more well thought-out, scrappy, and likable characters to follow and cheer for.
And that’s the number one problem with FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. The focal point of the series is the Manawa-Clark family which is filled with some of the most unlikable characters you’re ever going to find in a TV series. Leading this pack is Kim Dickens’ Madison and her constant look of constipation. They are setting Madison up to be the Rick Grimes character here, but there’s a likability to Andrew Lincoln that Dickens just doesn’t have. Even moments where I was supposed to feel sorry for her, such as when she gets drunk in the hotel bar with Victor makes her seem like a crabby and abrasive character. Add to that the fact that Madison makes some of the stupidest and reckless decisions this season such as endangering the safety of all in the hotel by lighting the tower lights and this is the character that anyone watching the series is hoping will be occupying the lower intestine of a walker the sooner the better. Unlike Rick, who thinks of community, Madison only thinks of herself and her family…but mostly herself by wanting to force her family to do things that just aren’t in their nature.
Coming in at number two in the least likable character on the show is Nick (Frank Dillane), who spent most of the first season on his back recovering from drug addiction and this second season, running off on his own and basically putting everyone into danger by his selfish actions. In this second season, Nick throws himself in harms way over and over again. Nick is the Carol with a pinch of Morgan of this show, which means if you’ve seen any of the episodes focusing on Carol or Morgan in THE WALKING DEAD, that episodes focusing on Nick’s walking the earth to find his place in it are tedious as hell and feel like filler. I will say that as this second season went on and Nick seemed to become addicted to dousing himself in zombie guts and found himself wandering into a zombie-walled city, his character arc did get a bit more tolerable. Still, I can’t find myself liking this main character either.
That’s two of the main characters that I can’t stand and a quick perusal of some other criticisms around the web, I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there are some characters that are worth following in this series. Cliff Curtis has always been a strong actor and shows it here as Travis Manawa, a man trying to retain his humanity in the wake of its destruction. Reuben Blades’ Daniel is fascinating every second he’s on screen and I hope we see him again as his disappearance is sorely noticed in the second half of the season. And Alycia Debnam-Carey is fantastic as the youthful Alicia who seems to have more common sense and guts than both of her parents. She’s a solid young actress and adds a lot to the story. Add in the fiendishly fun Colman Domingo playing the opportunist and seducing Victor Strand and there are quite a few people to root for despite the boneheaded moves of Nick and Madison.
Season two takes the family to the sea for the first half of the season. These are some of the stronger episodes of the season as the family takes on obstacles as a unit. It was interesting to see this group take on zombies, the military, and various survivors already hardened and corrupted by the end of the world. But they couldn’t stay on the boat forever and once they hit land, the familial aspect of the story fell apart and they all go their separate ways. This may be seen as some kind of metaphor that not even family can survive the end of the world, but this family was pretty fractured in the first place.
The second half splits the family up and sends them on separate storylines giving the series more of a GAME OF THRONES feel where we are simply longing for the family to get back together and must endure the painstakingly slow moving journey for that to occur. So we have Nick finding God and a girl in a community surrounded by a wall of the dead for defense. Madison, Alicia, Victor, and Ofelia shacking up in an oceanfront hotel and trying to get all of the dead out of there. And Travis wandering the roadways trying to tame the out of control Chris who seems like he is becoming a budding psychopath. The latter portion of the season moves at a brisk pace and I rather liked the way the story of the individual family members circled and overlapped with one another. There’s some sophisticated storytelling going on by the end of this second season that actually give me hope that this series might find its own legs and not simply regurgitate different versions and situations of characters we’ve seen in THE WALKING DEAD. The hotel stuff was thrilling and maybe would have been a better season finale than the one we got. The moral dilemma with Chris and his father Travis was handled well also, mostly due to some great acting by Cliff Curtis.
Still, the use of covering oneself with blood is relied on way too many times in this season and shows a lack of imagination. I understand the “if it ain’t broke” mentality, but still with an entire episode from the first season (“Guts”) of THE WALKING DEAD dedicated to it, seeing the act being done over and over again is a game of diminishing returns and not only lessens the effect and actual, you know, fear of the walkers, it also is going to take some impact away from the Whisperers (who are downright awesome in the comic and yet to be seen in the TV series). And while the bad guys in THE WALKING DEAD have been iconic, the human antagonists in FEAR THE WALKING DEAD have been less than impressive and are taken care of way too easily.
The best thing about this show is not knowing what is going to be happening. As a reader of the comic, even though there are characters that don’t exist in the comic and the situations are tweaked here and there, they still are following the storyline from the comics pretty closely in THE WALKING DEAD. With FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, there is no comic to adapt from, which gives the spinoff the advantage of being more unpredictable. Sure this may mean that the writing is not as inspired as Kirkman’s monthly comic book adventures, but at least I don’t know who’s going to die and when.
I keep flip flopping in this review, but in the end I still will be checking out season three as I do like some of the characters and there are moments of downright cool such as when one man gets his nose bitten off by a walker or the scenes of underwater zombies floating around a plane wreck in the ocean. FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is not as good as THE WALKING DEAD, but it is entertaining. Some of the characters make head slappingly bad decisions and it is not as creative as THE WALKING DEAD, but it still is a cut above a lot of the TV shows out there (especially the horror ones). My advice for this series (not that is was asked for, but I’ll give it anyway) is to simplify and try to distinguish FEAR THE WALKING DEAD from THE WALKING DEAD. By Season Two, we are pretty much right where the original series is (or was by the second or third season), so the thrill of the outbreak is gone and these people are as much the walking wounded as Rick and his crew. So focus on what the title promises. Make it scary. Tell intimate stories that will get under our skin. Leave the sweeping epics to the main series and try something more experimental here. Differentiating the spinoff from the original is the only thing for this series to survive. It’ll never live up to THE WALKING DEAD, so don’t try. Just my two cents.
This BluRay collection comes with a full disk full of deleted scenes, a making of documentary, interviews with the cast and crew, the “Flight 462” Webisodes that ran in between THE WALKING DEAD and this series. Each episode also has commentary from writers, directors and actors in the series.
Airing this week on digital download at its Amazon page and on DVD from Full Moon Entertainment!
RAVENWOLF TOWERS: Season One – Episode: Bad Mary (2016)Directed by Charles Band
Written by Roger Barron
Starring Shiloh Creveling, Evan Henderson, Maria Olsen, Michael Citriniti, George Appleby, Sonny King, Jesse Egan, Rosemary Brownlow, Arthur Roberts, Willaim Paul Burns, Robert Cooper, Nihilist Gelo
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While Full Moon has been one of the kings of low budget horror, their output lately has been less than terrifying with Charles Band seemingly more interested in using his films to shamelessly sell merchandise than actually scaring someone or telling a real story. So I was hesitant when I clicked on the screener for RAVENWOLF TOWERS. To my surprise, this first episode seems to be the Full Moon Entertainment of the past that produced quality films like PUPPETMASTER and TRANCERS rather than the company responsible for shit like KILLER BONG and OOGA BOOGA.
Reminiscent of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL, RAVENWOLF TOWERS centers on a mysterious hotel with all sorts of creepy characters lurking about the halls. A new building manager is told to avoid the 11th floor at all costs as this is where the folks who permanently live in the building reside. Of course, he stumbles into the ominous level only to find a woman crawling across the floor towards him. Meanwhile, another couple is peeped at through a closet by a deformed man-monster and an elderly man clings to life and curses his family (made up of the always fun and creepy Maria Olsen and a pair of freakish twins who speak their own language). On other floors, a group of scientists are doing mysterious experiments with all sorts of wonky interdimensional hintings and what the hell is that weird clown doing leering around the corner?
All of these random and weird aspects are presented in a fun and occasionally moody manner. It’s nice to see Charles Band doing serious horror again as he does have a great eye for the stuff when he tries. The varied and odd cast of characters and the mysteries presented here are fun and it’s all set to an absolutely lovely score by Richard Band. The whole half hour episode feels decently produced and sets up a lot of interesting directions for the story to go.
Color me surprised, but I think I will be checking back in with RAVENWOLF TOWERS. New episodes are supposed to be dropped periodically through the next few months and I’m looking forward to checking them out as this one intrigued me enough to come back for more. I don’t understand what’s going on, but this first episode introduced some fun characters and was put together at a level of quality I haven’t seen from the house of Full Moon in quite some time.
New On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
ABBY GRACE (2016)Directed by Stephen Durham
Written by David Dittlinger, Stephen Durham
Starring Debbie Sheridan, Jacob Hobbs, Amber Gallaway, Semi Anthony, Jamie Hickman, Kirbi Mason, and Maggie McNabb as Abby Grace!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
This low budget horror film does a decent job of setting up a situation that might make for an interesting horror film, but ABBY GRACE falls apart by the end as the flat and uninspired direction undercut any chance of scares.
Ben (Jacob Hobbs) is a reclusive man suffering from OCD and hasn’t left the house in 23 years. When his mother dies, his sister Stacy (Debbie Sheridan) returns home to take care of her brother and uncovers a dark history that reveals the old house used to be a reform school for disturbed children. One such child is the titular character, Abby Grace. When Grace’s jewelry box is found and opened, it seems to awaken the evil spirit of Abby and she is bound and determined to kill anyone living in the home.
While the acting is actually not that bad for the budget the film has, the main problem with ABBY GRACE is that there really is no grasp of tension in the whole film. Abby, I guess, is a ghost, but because the film has no special effects, once she appears, she just sort of chases Stacy and Ben for the latter half of the movie around the home. As they run in and around the house, the whole story gets extremely tedious as the director seems to just point and shoot the action rather than really trying to make things feel scary or tense. So you get an adult dressed like a little girl clomping around the house with a butcher knife and folks running from her, hiding behind locked doors, and actually keeping it at bay as it can’t seem to go through walls. Towards the end, there is a scene where Ben runs around the corner of the house followed by Abby that simply looks like a game of tag rather than a run for one’s life.
I get no budget limitations and never fault a film for not being able to have the best CG or makeup effects, but a little creative camerawork can go a long way. It’s a shame because Hobbs actually does a decent job as someone afflicted with OCD and agoraphobia and the struggle of taking care of a person like that is exemplified well by Sheridan. It’s too bad the movie around them simply had no life.
New this week in a collector’s edition BluRay from Unearthed Films!
AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BLOODSHOCK (2015)AMERICAN GUINEA PIG 2
Directed by Marcus Koch
Written by Stephen Biro
Starring Norm J. Castellano, Barron Christian, Dan Ellis, Alberto Giovannelli, Lillian McKinney, Gene Palubicki, Maureen Pelamati, Shiva Rodriguez, Andy Winton
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Those who aren’t familiar with the gross-out series known as the Japanese GUINEA PIG movies, which stirred up quite the controversy as they were notoriously gory and realistic to the point that warranted a government investigation into whether or not they were actual snuff films, might want to count yourselves lucky. The films series even managed to do the impossible and freak out Charlie Sheen who thought it was a real snuff film when he saw one of them and reported it to the authorities. I haven’t seen these films and while I do have a morbid curiosity about them, I feel I need to keep my extreme horror-watching separate by a few months as they do tend to unnerve me. Unearthed Films, which released a box set of the famous Japanese films a while back, began producing their own version of the Japanese Guinea Pig films entitled AMERICAN GUINEA PIG. The first film, BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE I haven’t seen, but the second film, BLOODSHOCK, I have—or more accurately, endured.
I don’t want to convince anyone but the most hardcore of horror fans—the types who are either desensitized or titillated by the extreme gore on display in BLOODSHOCK, that it is worth checking out. I’m not judging fans of ultra-gore as everyone has their horror appetites and some have more extreme ones than others, but this is going to be too much for many and I want to warn folks about it.
The story is extremely simple; a man seems to be the subject of an experiment in intense pain. A nameless doctor tortures and then sutures up the man over and over with increased intensity in what appears to be an experiment in what extreme duress does to the blood. The doctor is shown numerous times injecting the patient’s blood into his arm and experiencing an intense rush. Meanwhile, back in his padded room, in between torture sessions, a man communicates with another patient in the next cell through small notes she slips through a crack in the wall. The two form a bond as their interactions seem to be the only sliver of light in this dark torturous nightmare. But as the torture intensifies, both patients are pushed to the physical brink and fear they will never get out of this hell alive.
The gore of this film is about as intense as it gets. Extreme close-ups of surgical procedures—scalpels slicing through flesh, needles sewing up the cuts afterwards, teeth pulled out with pliers, screws driven into bone and metal wire threaded through muscle—all of it done as realistically as possible. It’s intense and made my toes curl numerous times. Again, I was able to endure this. I didn’t enjoy it, but I made it through. After a short while I came to appreciate the story of the two patients and had to find out if this was simple torture porn for the sake of torture porn or if there was an actual story present. Turns out there was one with a resolution as gory as the intense operations in the first hour and fifteen were and I have to admit there was a form of bloody poetry to it.
While the gore is graphic and real as it possibly can be, what makes the film more potent is that is actually does have a story. BLOODSHOCK is not just torture porn. If you can endure the gross-out moments of surgical nightmare, there is an intense story of the bonds formed through shared sorrow that resonates. Not for the squeamish or sensitive, BLOODSHOCK at least has the story to make the arduous experience worth while.
This box set from Unearthed comes with a BluRay/DVD and CD with the soundtrack of experimental sounds.
BEWARE: There is some intense shit in this trailer! This is not for you sensitive types!
New this week on BluRay/DVD from Well Go USA!
PHANTASM V: RAVAGER (2016)Directed by David Hartman
Written by David Hartman, Don Coscarelli
Starring Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Kathy Lester, Bill Thornbury, Daniel Schweiger, Dawn Cody, Cesare Gagliardoni, Gloria Lynne Henry, Stephen Jutras, Cean Okada, Jay Oliva, Daniel Roebuck, Jonathan Sims, Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I have mixed emotions about the latest PHANTASM from Don Coscarelli (who didn’t direct, but only co-wrote the rumored “last” PHANTASM film). In some ways, it is a shoddily and amateurishly made film. Then again, it kind works as a perfect counter-point to the original PHANTASM.
PHANTASM V: RAVAGER opens with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) walking out of a dusty desert. He’s beat up. He’s weary. He’s too old for this shit. And that’s what this installment is all about. Just as how the original PHANTASM is a view of how death is understood through a child’s eyes, PHANTASM V: RAVAGER switches point of views and follows Reggie, who is nearing the end of his life and understanding death from that end. After some macho stuff where Reggie coolly acquires his car and battles some silver orbs, the scenery changes and Reggie finds himself in a wheelchair in an old folks home where it is explained to him that he is stricken with dementia and nearing his final days. Reggie then finds himself in a home with a young woman (Reggie always did like them younger—not in a creepy way, she’s legal, you pervs) and toying with the idea that he might be ok settling down with her. This cuts to a post-apocalyptic landscape where Reggie pairs with the same woman (played by Dawn Cody with a different name in each incarnation) who is partnered with a little person named Chunk (Stephen Jutras) to battle the Tall Man and his evil forces. Reggie then flashes to the past where he lays in a death bed beside the Tall Man himself (Angus Scrimm). The narrative flashes back and forth between these numerous realities, all of them telling one singular story of Reggie’s final battle with the Tall Man.
OK, let’s start with the good. Telling the story in separate planes of reality is a difficult thing to do. But as the Waichowski’s did with CLOUD ATLAS and Coscarelli sort of did with BUBBA HO-TEP and JOHN DIES IN THE END, Coscarelli and co-writer and director David Hartman to a good job of keeping the thruway story clear and concise. Reggie is conscious as he shifts from one reality to the next, providing a constant or touchstone needed for such a lofty story. Reggie is great here as the hero. He always was the best actor in the bunch and here he really does a great job both as the tough guy, but also as a man who is quickly approaching death and fearing it. On an emotional level, from a person who has followed most of the PHANTASM films, I was hooked and concerned for Reggie’s safety as he seemingly made his way closer and closer to the abyss.
It’s an interesting move to shift the perspective away from Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) in the first one to Reggie in this last one, but it also proves my point about the first being death through the eyes of a child. In that film, Reggie represents the elder and despite his beatnik ways, he is the wise one who consoles Mike in front of the fireplace in the final moments of the last film. In this one, the roles are completely reversed. Mike appears to Reggie in this one as a solace, a clarifier, a counsel, and a savior. Mike is the one who first informs Reggie that he is suffering from dementia. And he is there at the end of the film as Reggie is about to pass to the other side. Along the way, Reggie clings to his life; wanting to start a life with Dawn, continue fighting the Tall Man with Mike, or fighting the dementia and from drifting away into the arms of death in an old folks home. As much as this is an adventure story, at it’s core, PHANTASM V: RAVAGER is about a man in his elder years who is just not ready to die. And that, my readers, is a story that hit me like a brick to the chest. This is a powerful metaphorical tale that is the perfect bookend to the series from this storytelling standpoint.
The problem with PHANTASM V: RAVAGER is that it just isn’t scary. While there are some decent moments of good guy vs bad guy action, it just doesn’t have the nightmarish horror-feel of the first one or even the second film in this series. Mostly filmed during the daytime and away from the mortuaries and graveyards (where the other films were made), this is a film with shoddy CG and nary a scare. The late great Angus Scrimm never was the most agile of actors, but nearing the end of his days, Scrimm is practically immobile here, laying in a deathbed next to Reggie or standing at the end of the hall and yelling “BOY!!!” While it is great to see the actor again, he is not given much to do here that he didn’t do better in previous films.
There’s an ending that suggests this is only the tip of the iceberg and Reggie and the crew are off to have more adventures on the dusty road, but none of that is real and I hope a continuation never happens. This is the perfect end to the series and while it’s not scary, the emotional story and metaphorical heft is immensely powerful. Bannister is amazing here in the lead and I hope he shows up in other films soon. This fifth film in the series is not for folks who haven’t grown up with the PHANTASM movies. Instead of making it for the masses, this film was made to be a warped mirror reflection of the first, coming full circle and letting us know that no matter if you’re a child or a person in their twilight years, death is a mystery, an adventure, and something that we will always strive to understand.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment!
MORGAN (2016)Directed by Luke Scott
Written by Seth W. Owen
Starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Toby Jones, Chris Sullivan, Boyd Holbrook, Vinette Robinson, Michelle Yeoh, Brian Cox, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Crispian Belfrage, Amybeth McNulty, Jonathan Aris
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While more of a science fiction tale than a straight up horror one, MORGAN definitely has roots in the Mary Shelley’s classic. Well acted, vividly directed, and tightly told, MORGAN has a big budget cast but tells an intimate tale of science gone wrong.
Developed in a lab, Morgan (THE WITCH’s Anya Taylor-Joy), or Modified ORGANism, is kept in a secluded scientific facility with her every move watched and documented by a team of scientists. Looking like a sixteen year old, but only actually five, an incident involving some aggressive behavior has prompted corporate to send in two specialists (Agent Weathers played by Kate Mara and Dr.Shapiro played by Paul Giamatti) to evaluate whether or not to scrap the entire program. Though the first two versions of what Morgan is were deemed failures, this third one has developed to her creator Dr. Cheung’s (Michelle Yeoh) expectations, but this most recent incident (involving Jennifer Jason Leigh’s eye and a pencil) is a setback and the entire team working with Morgan including GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie, the always awesome Toby Jones, and the victim of the incident (Jennifer Jason Leigh) fear that all of the work they have put into the safety and caring of Morgan are going to be scrapped by suits who know nothing about her. What proceeds is an “us versus them” scenario where those caring for Morgan find themselves fighting against the funders who know nothing about her.
Doesn’t sound like too thrilling stuff, but what MORGAN is—is SPECIES or SPLICE done right (though I rather liked both of those films). It focuses on the relationships between Morgan’s caretakers and how irrelevant those caretakers and the work they do matter in the real world of numbers and money. Having worked in a mental health facility, I’ve experienced this first hand with management and admin passing rules and orders from their desks while those working with clients everyday are powerless in the client’s ultimate fate. Being familiar with this, MORGAN hit me on a more powerful level than most films of this type, but also because of the way this film unfolds in a simple, yet powerful way. MORGAN isn’t some sweeping epic film where the government is called in with machine guns to take on a disruptive and soon to be escaped experiment. It’s more of an ethical debate told through wonderful acting and intense scenes of action. Seeing this all play out assures me that someone involved in this film at some time in their lives worked in a mental health or medical facility and has seen this type of conflict played out between corporate and frontline before. That real world heft makes MORGAN a thinking man’s science fiction film rather than one about a sultry alien trying to fuck her way into taking over the world.
More akin with Joe Wright’s HANNA than SPECIES in terms of attention to character, MORGAN is excellently acted by Taylor-Joy who, as she did with THE WITCH, shows that she is a powerhouse of an actress and one to look out for. Kate Mara is the real surprise here as she commands the entire film. Moving almost robotically through the film as the determined Agent Weathers, Mara is an ass-kicking, no-nonsense soldier trained to take out Morgan if she has to, but also shares a few moments of humanity that shows something much more complex going on. Yeoh and Jones are great, but that’s to be expected and Paul Giamatti really makes for a convincing psychologist trying to manipulate things in a performance that is less over the top than his usual roles. Another true surprise is Rose Leslie’s nuanced performance as Dr. Menser who shares a bond with Morgan like no other in the film as her therapist. All of these roles are integral in the way this great wheel of a story rotates. None of them are chewing scenery or playing it porky. All of them, even Leigh—who really gets very little to do here other than writhe in pain from Morgan’s attack, serve a purpose to the story and play their part masterfully in this lean, yet potent story.
Looked at as a whole, there’s nothing particularly different in MORGAN that hasn’t been done before in a monster developed in a lab and turned on its maker tale like FRANKENSTEIN, EX-MACHINA, SPECIES, SPLICE, HANNA, and the like. It just does the whole thing with absolute perfection and that’s what makes it a must see, in my opinion. The attention to the struggle between the upstairs and downstairs players is what makes this film different and in many ways, much more realistic. A late in the game twist works awesomely in MORGAN as does the minimalist sci fi going on. It is quite possible, somewhere in the world, this type of experiment is happening or it will in the very near future. As all science gone wrong tales, this is a precautionary tale that is relevant today as Shelley’s was when she wrote FRANKENSTEIN.
In and out of the theaters, mainly because of what seems to have been a vague and misleading ad campaign, here’s hoping MORGAN finds an audience at home as it really is a ground level sci fi that deserves notice with performances by a cast of people you know and some who will be big, big stars soon enough. The BluRay/DVD release comes with a ton of special features, including deleted scenes, director Luke Scott’s commentary, Scott’s short film LOOM which has shades of MORGAN in it, as well as a behind the scenes featurette looking at the Making of MORGAN.
And finally…yeah, you’ve probably seen this before, but it still is a bloody macabre little holiday short that never gets old. Check out HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN director Jason Eisener’s TREEVENGE!!!
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.
Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!
Finally, if you are having an issue with the text overlapping the images, refresh your screen and that should fix it!