Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Here’s another slew of horror flicks; old, new, and from the future…!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: DIARY OF A MADMAN (1963)
Retro-review: REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1966)
Retro-review: DREAMSCAPE (1984)
Retro-review: MURDERLUST (1985)/PROJECT NIGHTMARE (1987)
BLOOD OF THE TRIBADES (2016)
BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF (2014)
KILLER PINATA (2015)
WOLF HOUSE (2016)
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Advance Review: RAW (2016)
And finally…Mystery in the Air presents “The Horla”!
Retro-review: Available in the Vincent Price Collection III from the Shout Factory!
DIARY OF A MADMAN (1963)aka THE HORLA
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Written by Guy de Maupassant (stories), Robert E. Kent
Starring Vincent Price, Nancy Kovack, Chris Warfield, Elaine Devry, Ian Wolfe, Stephen Roberts, Lewis Martin, Mary Adams, Edward Colmans, Nelson Olmsted, Harvey Stephens, Dick Wilson, & Joseph Ruskin as the voice of the Horla!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Reginald Le Borg director of THE MUMMY’S GHOST and THE BLACK SLEEP brings forth a truly effective jaunt into the mind of a psychopath and who better to bring that to life than the master of the macabre Vincent Price himself. Whenever I get down, I pop in a Vincent Price film and it is sure to raise the spirits and DIARY OF A MADMAN did just that.
Price plays Magistrate Simon Cordier, a man of high station and recent widower. After meeting with a death row inmate, Simon is possessed by a Horla; an invisible fiend which pushes people to kill or he’s just crazy as shit. Either way, we see the story through Simon’s eyes which glow green when the Horla possesses him. When Simon finds a new love interest Odette (Nancy Kovack), he discovers a new purpose and begins sculpting again, but this elation is momentary as the Horla takes control again and sends Simon on a killing spree once again.
It’s funny the Horla isn’t a creature used more often in horror films. Guy de Maupassant was really onto something when he created the creature that basically stands for someone’s id gone haywire. A little research shows that the Horla was an inspiration for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu who goes on to describe the Horla as “Relating the advent in France of an invisible being who lives on water and milk, sways the minds of others, and seems to be the vanguard of a horde of extra-terrestrial organisms arrived on earth to subjugate and overwhelm mankind, this tense narrative is perhaps without peer in its particular department.” Again, utterly intriguing—so much so that I expect Blumhouse to snag it and run it through their cookie cutter movie machine. Either way, it is used to full creepy effect in DIARY OF A MADMAN. From the green glow that lights the eyes to the fear of fire Simon later discovers it to have, the presence of the Horla really does make for some awesomely spooky and tension filled scenes.
Of course a lot of that has to do with the gentle balance of elegance and menace that is Price’s every performance. Price is once again fantastic here channeling a lot of his Poe dread as a man who lost his true love and desperately wants to find another. Price, an appreciator of the arts himself, most likely enjoyed playing a lost soul who finds peace, albeit short lived peace, by returning to the arts. Seeing the joy in Price’s face during the scenes where he is sculpting is really a lot of fun.
There are also some rather cool effects shots here. The best being the sculpture itself which changes through stop motion in front of our eyes as the Horla shows Simon Odette’s true gold digging nature in the clay. This is a really amazing little effect, as is a later shock when we see what is under the clay. Add some trick mirror work and Price’s performance with the voice of the Horla (played by Joseph Ruskin) and you’ve got a winner. This one also has eternal old butler actor Ian Wolfe as…you guessed it, Pierre the old butler. DIARY OF A MADMAN is an elegant and haunting tale. One of Price’s lesser known films, but still a highlight of why he was the king of horror.
TOWER OF LONDON
CRY OF THE BANSHEE
MASTER OF THE WORLD
Vincent Price Collection Volume 2 Reviews
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
THE TOMB OF LIGIEA
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
THE RETURN OF THE FLY
Vincent Price Collection Volume 1 Reviews
THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
THE HAUNTED PALACE
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Raro Video !
REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1966)aka SHE-BEAST, SATAN’S SISTER, SISTER OF SATAN, IL LAGO DI SATANA
Directed by Michael Reeves
Written by Michael Reeves
Starring Barbara Steele, John Karlsen, Ian Ogilvy, Mel Welles, Joe Riley, Richard Watson
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST starts out as a straight up horror film, it ends on an oddly comical note. This makes for an uneven, yet undeniably entertaining little witch film.
REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST aka SHE-BEAST begins with the capture and drowning of a monstrous witch in a lake via dunking machine by the witch hunters and religious folk of an 18th century European village. Flash forward to “present day” as a couple (Veronica played by Barbara Steele and Phillip played by Ian Ogilvy) lose control of their car and crash into the same lake the witch perished in years earlier. Phillip survives, but Veronica dies and is taken to a nearby inn. Soon, Veronica’s body rises possessed by the witch and Phillip, aided by Count Van Helsing (John Karlsen), seeks to retrieve her before she kills more people and possibly bring Veronica back.
The first hour of REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST takes elements from WITCHFINDER GENERAL with the witch-killing and pairs it with monster movies of old actually focusing on the old witch rather than the monstrous people killing innocent people accused of witchcraft. While they never really reveal why they are hunting and killing the witch, she is hideous looking and does attack the group as soon as they arrive at the entrance to her cave, so one would suggest that she’s done some pretty bad things. For all we know, she could have been a leper who just wanted to be left alone, but not enough is really given at the beginning to substantiate her judgment other than the fact that she is hideous looking (and if that were the case, I know a few people in need of a good dunking). Director Reeves takes advantage of this hideous look by focusing on her blackened and bloody face numerous times, often having the witch walk right into the camera lens (an effect that most likely had audiences pushing back into their chairs). There are quite a few effective scenes of the witch on the attack and these are both horrific and played straight, highlighting the weight of the dire situation Phillip is in looking to cure his possessed wife and the horrific trail of bodies she is leaving in her wake.
This dire tone of the first hour makes the turn in the last half hour all the more jarring as things get downright slapstick. Rumor has it that the second unit filmed the car chase scene at the end in which Phillip and Van Helsing try to track down the witch in a bright yellow Model T, which I dubbed the Helsing-Mobile. At one point, the two are tightly squeezed into the car with the witch knocked out in the back looking about as farcical as you can get given that Philip and Van Helsing are already scrunched into the tiny vehicle. Later, in a series of odd events, they end up losing the body and stealing a police vehicle. This leaves the police to squeeze into the Helsing-Mobile and give chase all the while looking not unlike the Keystone Cops. Making matters worse, the ominous score turns into boppy carnival music by the end of the film making it all the more crazy. While the banter between Van Helsing and Phillip is quite comical and full of personality, things go to a cartoonish level of absurdity that simply doesn’t fit the rest of the film leading up to it. I laughed out loud at these scenes, but that doesn’t mean it fit well. Apparently, after seeing the comical way the second unit filmed the latter portion of the film, Reeves was not amused.
So this is a weird little bird of a film. There’s an abduction, death, murder, sacrifice, and even a rape in the first half, followed by a cartoonish chase scene leading to the end. There’s another weird scene where the witch kills someone with a sickle, then tosses it across the room and it lands perfectly on a hammer making the Communist symbol, which is downright batty. It doesn’t make much sense, but all in all, I couldn’t get enough of this wonky little film. REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST is far from perfect, but it is in its flaws that the film really does show its charm. As long as you don’t mind a chameleon like tone of the film, I think you’re going to love the retro-oddity that is REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
DREAMSCAPE (1984)Directed by Joseph Ruben
Written by Chuck Russell, Joseph Ruben, David Loughery
Starring Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert, Kate Capshaw, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt, Larry Gelman, Cory 'Bumper' Yothers, Redmond Gleeson, Peter Jason, Chris Mulkey, Jana Taylor, Madison Mason, Kendall Carly Browne, Carl Strano, Brian Libby, Bob Terhune, Fred Waugh, Timothy Blake, Ernest Harada as “You too, Sakuda?”, and Larry Cedar as the Snakeman!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Released the same year as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, DREAMSCAPE is the Spielbergian/Cronenbergian/King…-ian model using a whole lot of the same themes. I don’t know what it was about dreams in that year, but with these two films tackling the same subject matter, it really does feel like they have all the bases covered.
Eternal everyman good guy Dennis Quaid plays Alex Gardner, a young psychic who left a government facility which was helping him develop his powers as a teen and now as a twenty-something lives under the radar, scamming race tracks by picking the winning horses. Since training Alex, Dr. Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow) has shifted his research to dream studies and has developed a method for psychics to enter the dreams of another person in order to help them through mental anguish. When the President of the United States (Eddie Albert) is haunted by dreams of nuclear Armageddon, he suddenly is against a nuclear arms agreement he was set to sign. This frustrates shady man in the shadows Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) who has a large investment in this arms deal. So Blair enlists Novotny to use his dream warriors to enter the President’s mind and cure him of his fears. Novotny seeks out Alex since he was one of the most powerful psychics he has ever worked for and convinces him to join the dream program, headed by big haired and beautiful scientist Dr. Jane Devries (Kate Capshaw). But once inside the dreams. Alex finds all sorts of horrific things lurking in people’s psyches.
So no, this isn’t about the bastard son of a thousand maniacs getting revenge. But the concept of entering people’s dreams and if you die in a dream—you die for real is as front and center as it is in Wes Craven’s classic. While A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET focuses on the adolescent anxieties that fill their heads, DREAMSCAPE offers up a pretty fantastic cross section of dreams that are a bit more sophisticated and mature. Dreams of sexual inadequacy and the overwhelming weight of responsibility are delved into as Alex slips into the test subjects’ heads. Sure there is one childhood boogeyman, and I’ll get to him later, but for the most part, this is a more adult handling of some of the same material. If anything, this is much more like THE DREAM WARRIORS, most likely one of the best NIGHTMARE films, in the way it uses psychology to really delve into the cause of these dreams and that same type of psychology to overcome the nightmares.
Quaid is awesome here as the lovable scamp Han Solo type Alex Gardner, quick to con someone for a drink and bed any beauty who crosses his path. With a sideways grin and a swagger, he cons everyone in this film and it’s fantastic to see him work. This is the type of role made for Quaid and it isn’t a surprise that the producers only approached him for the role. The rest of the cast is made up of some heavyweight players with Sydow, Plummer, and Albert giving their all in pretty substantial roles. It’s a wonder with the premise and performances that this film didn’t spin off into a sequel or a TV series, but I guess that’s what ANOES did.
The chemistry between Quaid and Capshaw is great too and it’s fun to see them flirt with one another while she is trying to be all business. The scene where he enters her dream uninvited is truly invasive, but it is key to the development of Quaid’s powers and the inappropriateness is addressed. It is also a great character move that Capshaw’s Jane cannot contain her excitement when she learns Alex can enter her dreams without technology, something that hadn’t been done before.
I saw this film as a kid and remember being both fascinated and horrified at the Snakeman which appears in the dream of a child suffering from night terrors. Much like all of the other dreams Alex hops into, this dream world is filled with Jungian archetypes and symbology like a long winding stairs, terrifying haunted house, and monsters representing the child’s fear of the unknown. The Snakeman’s design is truly horrifying and while this film could be considered sci fi for the most part, these Snakeman scenes and any of the other dream worlds for that matter definitely have two feet into the realm of horror.
Which leads to David Patrick Kelly, Alex’s rival dream hopper Tommy Ray Glatman—himself a powerful psychic and a sadistic madman as well. As if this film didn’t have enough similarities with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, we get a true dream demon in Tommy Ray. Kelly is astounding in pretty much any film he’s in be it THE WARRIORS, THE CROW, or TWIN PEAKS, but here he displays not only menace, but subtlety as well as he develops a rivalry with Alex. This turns into a bitter feud as the two enter the dream of the President and duke it out with all sorts of dream logic and abilities. Seeing him twirl nunchakas and morph into the Snakeman is reminiscent enough of the myriad of ways Freddy Krueger uses nightmares against his victims. But if that’s not enough, Tommy Ray grows finger knives in one scene and murders someone. Robert Englund was perfect was Freddy, but if there was anyone I would think would come in a close runner up, it would be David Patrick Kelly. He is a phenomenal baddie here.
DREAMSCAPE has it all and really is the kind of rollercoaster ride you often see in Spielberg style adventure (hell, even the poster looks like an INDIANA JONES one sheet). The government psychic program is straight from SCANNERS and the descent into dream horror is something not unlike some King stories. But while it might have been one of those DEEP IMPACT/ARMAGEDDON style zeitgeist moments as it was released in the same year as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, DREAMSCAPE has enough personality, star power, and psychological heft to exist in the same plane without feeling utterly redundant. I spent most of this review comparing it to other films, but it melds aspects of those films together successfully in a big budget, summer movie spectacular fashion.
As far as special features goes, this one is loaded with them; starting with commentaries by writer David Loughery, Bruce Cohn Curtis, and Craig Reardon. Two featurettes entitled “Dreamscapes and Dreammakers” and “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” focusing on the dreams depicted in the film. There’s a focus on actor Dennis Quaid and his long career as the everyman hero. There’s a conversation between Chuck Russell and Bruce Cohn Curtis about producing the film as well as behind the scenes footage of the creation of the Snakeman. Plus the usual stills and trailers. It’s the special edition BluRay you’ve been dreaming for…sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Retro-review: New this week from Severin/Intervision!
MURDERLUST/PROJECT NIGHTMAREMURDERLUST (1985)
aka MASS MURDER
Directed by Donald M. Jones
Written by James C. Lane
Starring Eli Rich, Rochelle Taylor, Dennis Gannon, Bonnie Sikowitz, Lisa Nichols, H. Burton Leary, Bill Walsh, George Engelson, Dayna Quinn, Martha Lane
PROJECT NIGHTMARE (1987)
Directed by Donald M. Jones
Written by Donald M. Jones, James C. Lane
Starring Charles Miller, Seth Foster, Elly Koslo, Harry Melching, LeRoy Hughes, Lance Dickson, Jeff Braun, David Constantine
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A pair of films from the filmmaking team of Donald M. Jones and James C. Lane are on the docket for this review. The films were made two years apart and seen side by side as they are packaged in this release from Intervision, it really does paint an interesting picture of both the era of filmmaking it was made and the talent these low budget filmmaker had.
First is MURDERLUST, a film reminiscent of HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER in that it doesn’t go for the sensationalism of murder. Instead it focuses on how normal a person can appear and how looks can be very deceiving. The film follows a man named Steve Belmont (Eli Rich), a Bible school teacher by day and alcoholic serial killer by night as his life spirals out of his control as he struggles to maintain his job, love life, and his passion for murder.
MURDERLUST was most likely filmed on no-budget with a bunch of friends of the filmmakers, but it tells a powerful story just the same. It really offers up an unblinking eye into the secret life of Belmont as he copes with failure through alcohol and death. Mapped out in a rather realistic and intimate fashion, we see him struggle with his sex drive when it doesn’t involve murder. In fact, the guy is so sexually repressed that he equates sex with death and gets more satisfaction killing that performing the deed. Sure this gives the excuse to show a couple of boobies, but it also feels more eerie and authentic to show how he angrily copes with this issue. With his creepy van and even creepier moustache, Belmont occasionally narrates this harrowing tale, justifying his rage and actions all the way until the end. Made a year earlier than HENRY, it’s interesting to see the same kind of horrifying authenticity in an era of horror when the slasher was king.
Offered as a second feature on this disk is PROJECT NIGHTMARE, a film I prefer to MURDERLUST for its ambition and ingenuity. PROJECT NIGHTMARE probably cost about twenty dollars or so more to film, but ends up being entertaining because it feels much more like a TWILIGHT ZONE episode than HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER on a smaller scale.
The film begins with a pair of hikers, Gus (Charles Miller) and Jon (Seth Foster) who seem to be running away from something only they can see in the skies. After hiking across a mountainous area, they arrive at the home of a woman named Marcie (Elly Koslo) who immediately invites them in for dinner and a place to stay. Everything is cordial and grand until Gus and Jon leave the next morning and find themselves again pursued by something off camera. This leads to a chase across a barren desert and into a government facility that seems to be behind all of this weirdness.
What intrigued me about this cheapie sci fi horror film is how it immediately tosses the viewer into the action. The viewer isn’t really made privy to what it is that is following Gus and Jon, but whatever it is has them terrified. Then suddenly they are sharing smores and stories with Marcie the next moment as if nothing has happened. Then they are running for their lives again. There’s something definitively odd about the story structure of this film that utilizes extremely rudimentary computer graphics and clips of old home movies to offer up a trippy and unsettling series of hallucinations or flashbacks or whatever these two are experiencing. The film is told in a linear fashion, but the non-linear reactions of the two actors (not the greatest of actors, mind you) to this craziness is what fascinated me with this film.
The entire cost of the film probably went into renting an twin engine airplane for a few key scenes and maybe a hundred bucks for the Commodore 64 computer graphics going on, but dammit if I wasn’t completely enthralled as to where this acid trip of a film was going. While Donald M. Jones and James C. Lane made MURDERLUST so authentic and real, they do the opposite here and churn out an experimental and utterly UN-real film with PROJECT NIGHTMARE. Jones is most notably known for THE FOREST, a low budget slasher film, but these two films show an impressive eye for the real and unreal on a very low budget. Fans of DIY 80’s shot on video horror will definitely want to check this out as it will take you back to the old video store days.
Newly available for digital download on Vimeo On Demand, Amazon, and other outlets (find out where you can find it here)!
BLOOD OF THE TRIBADES (2016)Directed by Sophia Cacciola, Michael J. Epstein
Written by Sophia Cacciola, Michael J. Epstein
Starring Chloé Cunha, Mary Widow, Seth Chatfield, Tymisha 'Tush' Harris, Kristofer Jenson, Zach Pidgeon, Sindy Katrotic, Simone de Boudoir, Stabatha La Thrills, Lilith Beest, Irina Peligrad, Maggie Maraschino, Dale Stones, Andrew C. Wiley, Savana Petruzello, Edrie Edrie, Wednesday Alice Edrie, Aurora Grabill, Melinda Green, Hugh Guiney, Scott Dezrah Blinn, Jake Vaughan, Warren Lynch, Porcelain Dalya, Shannon Keelan, Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Tracey Sturtevant, Kevin F. Harrington, Sean M. Kennedy, Sophia Cacciola
Find out more about this film here, @BloodofTribades, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Those majoring in post-modern feminist filmmaking in college might be the core audience for BLOOD OF THE TRIBADES, a film rich in symbolism but light on subtlety. The lesbian vampire is not new in the realm of horror, but whereas in the past, male filmmakers did their best to make lesbianism seem both erotic as well as the outcasted other, this film actually makes these vamps sympathetic and shifts gears to change the subject to male oppression versus judgment upon free-spirited feminine wiles.
An order of vampire hunters known as the Bathor are roaming the countryside shooting arrows from crossbows into any female vampire they come across. At first, the women cower and retreat to their sanctuaries, until one section of the order decides to fight back against these oppressors.
This is not a subtle film. With scenes of castration, breastfeeding cut short by an arrow between the boobs, and numerous talk of tamping the female order down to servitude, there isn’t a male character worthy of any sympathy or concern here. All of them are snarling, masturbating, and drooling beasts looking to sink their stakes (of the wooden and trouser kind) into these women of the night. The filmmakers try to have it both ways by focusing on and fetishizing the feminine form as filmmakers like Jess Franco did in the past, but this objectification of women is counteracted with the empowerment theme that runs throughout as the female vampires rise up against their oppressors.
The film itself is broadly acted on a very low budget, but still it does seem like a lot of thought went into this metaphorical tale of the power of the woman. There are some pretty beautifully filmed scenes of rolling hills, half naked nymphs dancing with scarves, and a lot of whipping with thorny roses. This one is chock filled with heavy symbolism and messages hammered down until the head is buried and if this is your type of thing, BLOOD OF THE TRIBADES is going to be for you. But if you are looking for a bit of nuance, venture elsewhere because this one drives it all the way through the heart and into the ground beneath you.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF (2016)Directed by Brendan Jackson Rogers
Written by Stephen Biro
Starring Fred Lass, Malone Thomas, Mitch Hyman, Gary Norris, Sara Humbert, Chris Stephens, Gail Fleming, Timothy Akers, Payton Atkinson, Dan Bedell, Teresa Carter, Minas Fakrajian, Gunni Ferraioli, Andy Gion, Brendan Jackson Rogers, Max Morgan, Will Phillips, Karen Poulsen, R.J. Rackley, David Santiago, Jenny Todd
Find out more about this film here, @bubbatheredneckwerewolf, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Adapted from a comic book, BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF is not filled with clever wit and deeply nuanced themes, but it is funny at times and I found the werewolf makeup to be pretty nicely done as well.
A hard drinkin’, hard livin’ dog catcher named Bubba (Chris Stephens) is transformed into a werewolf (played by Fred Lass), but even though he is furry on the outside, he still hasn’t changed much and spends most of his time hitting on waitresses, eating chicken wings, and downing beers. The whole thing ends with a drinking game with the Devil (Mitch Hyman) over his soul.
It’s a simple tale, but an entertaining one if you set your expectations on camp. Filled with lowbrow humor and maybe not the best actors, the film does have some guffaw worthy moments and I was most impressed by the practical effects, specifically the look of Bubba himself. Having not read the comic, I don’t know how accurate the film is in adapting the story, but there’s a lot of down home fun to be had here. And while not all of the laughs hit home, the finale battle with Devil over a game of quarters is the type of absurdist entertainment you don’t normally see in horror these days.
The perfect double feature to be seen with WOLF COP, BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF shows us that not all comic book movie adaptations have to have a multi-million dollar budget to be worth viewing.
New this week on DVD/BLuRay from LC Films and on Vimeo On Demand here!
THE KILLER PINATA (2015)Directed by Stephen Tramontana
Written by Megan Macmanus, Stephen Tramontana, Nick Weeks
Starring Eliza-Jane Morris, Lindsay Ashcroft, Nate Bryan, Billy Chengary, Sheila Edmiston, Elvis Garcia, Daniel Hawkes, Steven James Price, Joette Waters, Nick Weeks, & Davinia Palmer as The Killer Piñata!
Find out more about this film here, @KillerPinataMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Filmed just a few blocks north of my own apartment in Logan Square, Chicago comes KILLER PINATA, not to be confused with the ScyFy movie PINATA: SURVIVAL ISLAND. This indie horror film makes up for its low budget with some priceless comedy.
Desperate to get a piñata for his son’s birthday party, a man accidentally buys a piñata haunted by a vengeful spirit at a party store. But when the piñata ends up being unbroken and the parents leave for the weekend, Lindsey (Eliza-Jane Morris) and her horny friend Rosetta (Lindsay Ashcroft) decide to throw a party. But they don’t know a killer piñata is on the loose in the house and ready to turn the tables and split them open.
Raunchy comedy and even raunchier gross-out gore is in store for anyone who takes a chance with KILLER PINATA. While this film was definitely done on the cheap, the cast is made up of some talented actors and the comedy is some high caliber stuff. The film never takes itself too seriously and at times feels like a clever SNL skit extended to feature length. Most of the laughs hit their mark from a montage scene where the gang decides to make their own weapons out of stuff they have in the garage to fight the little beastie to one liners such as Rosetta wondering if her blind date is hung because “MOMMA NEEDS SOME MEAT!” This film isn’t afraid to go crass when it has to and that means in the gore department as penises are severed and a ton of vomit is spewed.
You’re not going to jump in terror, but I feel those looking for horror comedies that lean more towards the comedy will find this one downright hilarious. KILLER PINATA is low fi horror comedy at its best, If you take a chance and crack this indie gem open you’re bound to find it full of treats.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
WOLF HOUSE (2016)Directed by Matt D. Lord
Written by Ken Cosentino, Elizabeth Houlihan
Starring Jessica Bell, Ken Cosentino, Marcus Ganci-Rotella, Elizabeth Houlihan, Bill Kennedy, Marc Sturdivant, Rick Williams, Gabor Mechtler, Austin Gold
Find out more about this film here, @WolfHouseMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I was quite surprised at WOLF HOUSE, a found footage film that takes some chances and goes places I didn’t think it would go. While many found footagers seem to take you to the edge of the horror, cutting power or having the horror just outside of the camera view, this one actually captures some pretty grueling and horrifying stuff. As always with found footage, I judge it mainly on how it upholds the conceit that the footage was actually found and how real it actually feels. Below is my little found footage questionnaire set to this week’s subject; WOLF HOUSE.
What’s the premise?
A group of longtime friends decide to go on a trip to a cabin in the woods. But while on a hunting trip, one of them shoots what looks to be some kind of hairy humanoid creature. Thinking they may be due for a big payoff, they strap the beastie to their roof and take it back to their home, but almost as soon as they arrive home, their house is under siege by what looks to be werewolves and other mystic creatures.
Are the actors believably acting like they aren’t acting?
Ehhh, for the most part, but unlike most unscripted found footage films, this one seems to have more of a definite script they are following and some of the actors are better equipped than others in pulling that off. The action is so fast and intense that most of the time they are simply running through the house away from these monsters, but any time the pace slows down, the façade that these are real people and not just actors gets thin.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
Yes on both parts and this is where the acting gets a bit sketchy. The reason why the BLAIR WITCH confessional is so bad is mostly because this is the point of the film where one of the more dramatic characters seems to be going for the Oscar. It was pretty bad in the first BLAIR WITCH and gets worse after repeat usage in other found footage films. This is because the actor doing the confessional is usually trying his/her best to go over the top with an emotional reaching out via the camera to loved ones and that actor just doesn’t have the chops to do so convincingly. It happens every time and every time I cringe at how accurate it highlights the actors inability to be emotionally convincing. This type of confessional happens twice in WOLF HOUSE and both times I guarantee they will skid the momentum to a screeching halt for you and take you out of the movie because the acting was so bad.
The REC-drags away from and into the camera were less annoying because they weren’t used as the final shot of the film, just part of the action as it is going on around them. So it’s less obnoxious. That said, there is a part where a character is incapacitated and being dragged away by the monster with the camera on that felt like a new incarnation of the REC-drag that actually felt somewhat fresh (though it was used in WILLOW CREEK).
Does is seem like this footage was actually found and not untouched by additional production (which means there is no omniscient editor making multiple edits or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
Besides the use of two cameras (which really wasn’t necessary, but does offer up a view of multiple locations at the same time), everything happening in the story is actually going on in the story. So there are no weird cuts and no music to take one out of the movie.
Is there a valid reason the camera isn’t dropped and they just get the hell out of there?
In some instances the camera is simply laid down and accidentally left running. In others, the night vision helps them see with the lights out, which seems to happen on and off throughout the whole latter half of the movie. Other times, it seems the characters are simply running around so much that they forgot to shut off the camera. There are enough of these instances that make it all suspiciously convenient, but not so much so that it takes you out of the film. The action is pretty captivating in the latter portion of the film, so you most likely will forget about why they are filming. The line is also said to record everything because no one will believe this if it is not, so there’s that.
Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
No and that’s what really surprised me about this film. Pacing-wise, the film really does move at a nice clip. Just when you think the film is going to be a simple siege film in the cabin, they load up the dead creature onto the roof and change locales to a more populated area. Just when you think this is going to be a monster on the loose film, more werewolves and ghost people show up to kick it up to the next level. So while there is the usual fifteen minutes of gettin’ to know you time, you are quickly into the shit when dead animal bodies start showing up on the porch, giant animal tracks are in the lawn, and a werewolf has been shot.
Does anything actually happen?
The latter portion of this film actually feels reminiscent of the GRAVE ENCOUNTERS movies where the people are running through a large house and encountering one creepy thing after another in a funhouse style setup with creatures leaping from doorways and shadows. There is an extremely tense scene in the kitchen where one guy hides under a sink with the werewolf slowly approaching that is fantastically tense. Another scene where the group is upstairs arguing what to do with the body while another camera is capturing the supposedly dead werewolf coming back to life in the basement is also well done. The first appearance of the ghostly eyeless creatures is a pants-shittingly great jump scare. There are quite a few well orchestrated scenes such as this that really do amp up the tension.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is this one worth watching?
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about WOLF HOUSE, but it does keep the illusion that this is a found footage film alive all the way through. The ending has an In memoriam section and a slide montage of the victims which was a nice touch. And I also liked the fact that the footage being found is also captured on film for an extra meta layer. The film while pretty much done on a low budget has some impressively realized monsters. The werewolves themselves are pretty fantastic practical effects with the monsters walking around on stilt legs and the face of the beastie shows a lot of detail and articulation. The fact that the film goes past where other films would have cut off was what impressed me the most. Most movies would have kept the film at one locale and one night with werewolves gathering around the home and never really being seen. This one is more ambitious than that and I fully appreciate the guts of the filmmakers to push it to the next level. WOLF HOUSE falters during the confession scenes and some of the acting is not the best, but the general storyline, cool practical effects, and sheer amount of effective scenes of shock and tension make it one found footager worth seeking out.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Well Go USA Entertainment!
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Written by Sang-ho Yeon
Starring Yoo Gong, Dong-seok Ma, Woo-sik Choi, Yu-mi Jeong, Sohee, Kim Soo-ahn
Find out more about this film here, @traintobusan16, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Every year there’s a film that proves that there’s life in the old reanimated corpse that is the overspread subgenre of horror dedicated to zombies. This year TRAIN TO BUSAN is that film.
Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo ) is a workaholic father who agrees to take his daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-ahn) to see his estranged wide/her mother who lives in a neighboring city of Seoul, South Korea. As they board a bullet train, a passenger boards the train suffering from some kind of ailment. On the news, reports of a viral outbreak are ignored as people go on their day to day, so the last minute board isn’t thought about until she collapses, spasms, and awakens as an infected dead—ready to bite and spread a contagion from one train car to the next as those uninfected fight from car to car for their survival.
So yeah, it’s SNOWPIERCER with zombies or ZOMBIES ON A TRAIN instead of SNAKES ON A PLANE, but what this film did is remind me of why I love zombie movies in the first place. For one thing, there isn’t a self-referential, annoyingly ironic tone to this film as many modern zombie films have. This is a straight up zombie film that is occurring all over the Korean country (and most likely the world, but we aren’t made privy to that in the world of the movie). We see snippets of the outbreak at the beginning, some rushing police cars, and some reports on the news, but what makes this compelling is the personal story that takes place within the zombie outbreak. It’s the story of a disconnected father who plays the role of caregiver without really knowing what it takes to do so. Gong Yoo is great as the absent dad who is all business and connected to his cell at all times with clients, too busy to see his marriage crumbling and his daughter crying for attention. Through much of this film, the choice is made between what is good for oneself and what is simply heroic. It’s a strong and universal theme, broad enough to work in any situation and applied to this bleak scenario, it’s works amazingly here. The role of the self-centered vs. the heroic is exemplified by different characters here as THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE WEIRD’s Dong-seok Ma plays a noble husband protecting his pregnant wife. His character is often put into contrast with Gong Yoo’s to show just what the businessman/father is doing wrong. Dong-seok Ma’s presence is formidable here and I hope to see more of this gruff and buff actor in future films. These characters are painted with broad strokes, but serve their purpose to tell as story of what to do and what not to do as a parent.
But stealing the show is little Kim Soo-ahn, who plays Soo-an, the adorable little girl caught in the middle of this mess. This little kid is a hell of an actress and the main reason I was pulled into this movie so deeply. At such a young age, she is able to express emotions that will break your heart into pieces and those who don’t shed a tear during the emotional climax of TRAIN TO BUSAN might want to check for a pulse.
The zombies themselves are not exactly original, but presented in a way that feels fresh and new. These are fast moving zombies, but twitchy and oddly moving due to their animalistic mannerisms and disregard for the damage done to their bodies in their pursuit of prey. The film also borrows a bit from WORLD WAR Z, showing the zombies moving in a mass. It’s not as over the top as the zombie wave, but much subtler, and therefore more effective, as the zombies move like ants, clinging to one another to catch a speeding train or clumping together to move en masse in close quarters. This gives them an otherworldly feel that many zombie movies lack and the seamless CG helps immensely in making these zombies formidable and scary.
Strong performances, tight effects, a strong linear story structure, and treating old material in a fresh manner makes TRAIN TO BUSAN the best zombie movie of the year. You’re not sick of zombie movies. You’re sick of zombie movies that are redundant and suck. This is definitely not one of those movies. Seek out TRAIN TO BUSAN, it’s an emotional rollercoaster and a downright horrifying trip into dark undead territory.
Playing at Sundance this weekend from Focus World (in theaters March 10th)!
RAW (2016)aka FREAKING, GRAVE
Directed by Julia Ducournau
Written by Julia Ducournau
Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, Thomas Mustin, Marouane Iddoub, Jean-Louis Sbille, Benjamin Boutboul, Virgil Leclaire, Anna Solomin, Sophie Breyer, Danel Utegenova, Bérangère McNeese, Morgan Politi, Alice D'Hauwe, Pierre Nisse, Maïté Katinka Lonne, Amandine Hinnekens, Sibylle du Plessy, Denis Mpunga, Alexis Julemont, Lich Jaas, Helena Coppejans, Charlotte Sandersen, Christophe Menier
Find out more about this film here, @Rawmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There’s horror with monsters or slashers and then there’s a more sophisticated style of horror not unlike the films of David Cronenberg that delve into the horror of the human condition. RAW is the latter and it’s got more power and shock than most horror films you’re going to see this year.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is a young French girl about to leave home for the first time and attend a veterinary college. She’s a waify little thing and a die hard vegetarian. Her whole family is as her mother attests vehemently in the opening moments when a lunch lady serves a chunk of meat in Justine’s mashed potatoes. But when Justine begins rush week at the school and is forced to east raw meat in order to be accepted by her peers, she begins having cravings for meat stronger than anything she has ever felt before. Soon, she is overcome with this compulsion to draw blood—an act supported by her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) who is an elder classmate at the school and is more than hard on her little sis during this delicate time of self discovery. Thus begins the coming of age story of a young cannibal.
There is a level of gross this film achieves that I don’t think has been achieved since Cronenberg claimed the mantle of king of body horror. The gore in this film is not over the top. But there are scenes that actually made me feel nauseous and usually, I have a pretty cast iron stomach when it comes to gore on film. Maybe it is the fact that I dissected animals in school or maybe it’s the fact that I had a class in college that often visited the cadaver (most likely because my sadistic professor wanted to see our reactions to it), but this film got under my skin on so many levels that I am still twitching about it. There seems to be real cadavers of dogs and cows are used during these scenes, which skeeved me out because I know what that smells like. There is a scene where one of the students is armpit deep in a cow’s asshole that I can’t unsee. But while the animal stuff is gross, the cannibal stuff is even more so because it is done in such a microscopically intimate way. You see Justine first taste the blood, go into an orgasmic fury once she tastes it, and then she feverishly gnaws at the flesh in one scene. Because this scene is so up close and personal, it amplifies the grossout factor all the more. This is a film that those who get queasy easily will want to avoid at all costs.
But this is not some brainless gorefest. I don’t know what it is saying about vegetarianism--maybe that it is an immature act in itself that eventually gives way to a more mature appreciation for meat. Or maybe it’s just an allegory about a girl becoming a woman and trying to control her sexual urges. I think it might be a little of both, but filmmaker Julia Ducournau makes every second of this film count with an electrifying soundtrack (one scene where Justine makes out with the mirror is erotic as hell set to a French rap song) and all kinds of vivid colors being sloshed around. Thematically and visually, this film is an absolute feast.
There are little homages to films like CARRIE here and there in RAW as well as some themes that also arose in both the Mexican and American versions of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, but this film is a powerhouse. Little Garance Marillier dazzles with innocence personified in one second and then turns up the heat to sizzle by showing her bestial and sensual sides. While it’s a little hard to believe this film takes place during one pledge week of school, the transformation you see Justine undergo is mesmerizing every step of the way. This is a film with layers. There is a visceral grossness to it, but below that, there is a vivid and vibrant life full of metaphor, real character development, and a story that resonates off the screen. RAW is the odd type of film that dares you to look away from its brilliance and often does to grotesque lengths to try to get you to turn your head, but it ends up being so engaging that you simply can’t take your eyes away from it. Fantastically acted, realistically gory, and intelligently realized, RAW is a film you will never forget.
And finally…I have to give props to Southbridge Old Time Radio’s Brent Anrahmson who hosted this episode of Mystery in the Air which first aired on August 21, 1947. This episode focuses on “The Horla” and stars the fantastic Peter Lorre. This is the story that inspired DIARY OF A MADMAN, the first review in this column. So we’ve come full circle. Enjoy “The Horla!”
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!