Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Hi ho! It’s another review column with some oldies but goodies, some newbies but baddies, and some soon to be classics!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: SACRIFICE! (1972)
Retro-review: VAMP (1986)
ATOMIC ZOMBIES!!! (2016)
24 HOURS TO DIE (2016)
THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN (2012)
HELL HOUSE LLC (2016)
THE MONSTER (2016)
Advance Review: BLOOD DYNASTY (2017)
And finally…Ghosts in the Graveyard’s Needs!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Raro Video/Kino Lorber!
SACRIFICE! (1972)aka THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, MONDO CANNIBALE MASSACRE, MONDO CANNIBALE, MIRAGE, DEEP RIVER SAVAGES
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Written by Francesco Barilli, Massimo D'Avak
Starring Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai, Prasitsak Singhara, Prasitsak Singhara, Sulallewan Suxantat, Ong Ard, Prapas Chindang, Pipop Pupinyo, Tuan Tevan, Chit, Choi, Song Suanhud, Pairach Thaipradit,
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
One of the first cannibal horror films released turns out to be one of the best. While there are a few hokey moments, for the most part, SACRIFICE! aka THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER is a hardcore, hard gore, and hard edged jungle adventure nightmare.
Ivan Rassimov plays John Bradley, a blonde bo-hunk photographer who journeys to Burma and decides to disregard the locals’ warnings not to go to the point where the river goes narrow and ends up being captured and enslaved by a native tribe. But after a time, he is accepted into the tribe, weds the daughter of the tribe leader, and helps lead an attack on a rival tribe of native cannibals.
While Rassimov plays John Bradley as a rather arrogant prick, you actually begin to care about him even though he stabs someone in a bar fight and flees the scene in the first few moments of the film with hardly a second thought or pang of guilt about him. His journey is a tragic one, so he ends up being rather noble by the end of this path to redemption epic. In modern times, he would have seen the inner workings of a cannibal’s lover intestine, but here, Lenzi decides to give him a chance to make his mistakes and then make up for them. This makes for a rather risky and undeniably fresh story in SACRIFICE as we are right on the shoulder of Bradley as he experiences these savages for the first time and begins to grow accustomed to their ways. In many ways, Bradley is the everyman, looking at this native tribe as if they are mere animals worth snapping photos of and made into a spectacle at first. But the message of this film seems to be that, once you look a little closer, these “savages” are a lot like the civilized world…at least until the cannibals come along and they are seen as the unwashed others, so the message here gets a bit murky in that sense.
There is surprisingly little cannibalism in this one despite what the covers and many names of this film might indicate. Most of the gore comes from the slaughtering of real animals (something that is repeated later in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and makes for the most uncomfortable parts of the film. Those who don’t have the stomach for real animal death depicted in film will want to skip this one. While I do not condone such things, this film does seem to want to highlight the indigenous rituals of the tribe and those types of sacrifices are common among them. The film is entitled SACRIFICE and the sacrifices that do occur in the film are in your face with these poor creatures, but Lenzi also manages to toss in some more subtle metaphorical sacrifices John Bradley must make throughout the story. Looking as how these sacrifices reflected themes Lenzi was trying to convey, I appreciated them a bit more—still, they made me wince quite a bit.
At its bloody beating heart, SACRIFICE is a love story that sort of develops between two cultures, one assimilating the other. There is a sweetness to this film in the moments between Bradley and his native bride, but for the most part, this film offers an unblinking eye inside a culture that is often categorized for its savagery. Sure there is a lot to suggest those prejudices are true when compared to what we call proper culture, but Lenzi seems to want to make more of a substantial statement here than mere exploitation of the strange “other” culture that often occurs in these cannibal films. Special features include the documentary CANNIBAL WORLD.
BEWARE: There be BOOBIES ahead! NSFW!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!
VAMP (1986)Directed by Richard Wenk
Written by Donald P. Borchers, Richard Wenk
Starring Chris Makepeace, Sandy Baron, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe, Grace Jones, Billy Drago, Brad Logan, Lisa Lyon, Jim Boyle, Paunita Nichols, Trudel Williams, Marlon McGann, Thomas Bellin, Leila Lee Olsen, Hillary Carlip, Francie Swift, Tricia Brown
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
As a kid, VAMP was one of those taboo movies to be because “oooooooo, it took place in a strip club” and while I eventually graduated to more provocative avenues of horror, for some reason, that stigma stuck with VAMP to this day with me. Revisiting VAMP clued me in at how clueless the film really is, yet through my more mature eyes, VAMP still has moments of bite.
For some stupid reason, Keith (Chris Makepeace) and AJ (WEIRD SCIENCE’s Robert Rusler) want to get into a fraternity in college and they think their way the two opportunists could get in is to provide them with strippers. Makes…sense? So the two head into the big city to nab themselves a few strippers (this was before cell phones and the internet, mind you). After convincing their friend Duncan (SIXTEEN CANDLES’ Long Duk Dong himself Gedde Watanabe) to use his car (this was before Uber, Lyft, and…taxis and mass transit apparently), they head to The After Dark Club to seek out their booty, so to speak. Once there, they meet Amaretto (the plucky DeeDee Pfeiffer) who shares a past with Keith and Katrina (the ever-enigmatic performance artist Grace Jones) the lead stripper of the club. Though slow on the uptake, the guys realize that they have walked into a den of vampire strippers.
Upon revisiting, a few things came to mind. The lead thought was how adorably naïve this film is. Not that this I am some strip club aficionado, but the setup of this strip club is wildly cartoonish as a single 60 year old mook (Brad Logan who plays Vlad) seems to be the only security, you can waltz right backstage if you want to in order to talk with the strippers, and that all liquor, no matter what the proof, is flammable. Sure you can argue that security is lax at the nightclub because the strippers might want a random meal wandering backstage, but still this view of strip clubs seems like it comes from someone who hadn’t been in a strip club in fifty years.
Still, there is an undeniable charm to this film. The quaintness of the simple quest by the two pledges. The fact that it is stripper Amaretto’s first week and she doesn’t actually strip in the film. The fact that this tries to be a lovely, boy meets girl story in the midst of vampire strippers. All of it feels as if it occurs in some kind of world where fairy tale Disney logic doesn’t really paint anyone (well, except for the main baddie Katrina) in a sour light. That said there are some fun twisty character moments where Keith distrusts Amaretto and keeps thinking she is going to vamp out on him throughout the latter half of the film and another as bar manager Vic (Sandy Baron, probably best known to modern audiences as Jack Klompus on SEINFELD) dreams of doing nothing but classing up the joint and move to Vegas. The film does seem to have fun playing with the concept of “who’s the vampire?” throughout, which again adds to the playful and cartoonish campiness of it all. Bathed in neon pink and green lights (even in the sewers!!!), this setting in and out of the bar is no world outside your window.
It’s the fun cast that really makes VAMP sing. I challenge anyone to not fall in love with DeeDee Pfeifer in this film. She’s un-annoyingly plucky and super stoked that she runs into Keith. Her frustration is palpable when he doesn’t remember their past encounter and if there is a heroic role that stands out in this film, it’s her adorable portrayal of Amaretto. AJ (Rusler) basically plays the same kind of asshole he did in WEIRD SCIENCE alongside Robert Downy Jr. though here he is only slightly more likable as the man with the plan to get the strippers. And Sandy Baron’s Vic, as I mentioned above, is downright quaint as he strives to meet his concept of classy, despite all of the bloodletting around him. Even the silent Vlad (Brad Logan) does a great job of conveying his undying devotion to Katrina throughout the film that makes you kind of feel for the big lug. While the logic and execution of the story might have its faults, the character work is actually pretty darn great here. Even the soulless albino gang leader (played by Billy Drago) gets a line or two that makes you feel sorry for the pigment-deficient moron for wandering into the wrong side of town.
Grace Jones is a force of nature here and really does steal the spotlight whenever she is in the scene. Be she in human form and baring all on the stage to her own music playing in the background or backstage seducing AJ, she is more a primal creature acting on instinct and bloodlust rather than a human being. Jones goes all out in the way she hisses and stalks her prey like a panther and once she does Vamp out, her costuming and makeup (with extended Nosferatu fingers and toenails) is the most iconic thing this film comes up with. There’s nothing quite like Grace Jones and there definitely has been no vampire like her Katrina before or ever since this film.
While Jones is as sultry and dangerous as they come, in many ways VAMP feels like a slightly toothier version of ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING. Sure it may have seemed racy when I was a kid, but looking at this charming and lovable little horror comedy now brings nothing but a smile on my face. Less effective than FRIGHT NIGHT, this vampire laugher still is fun, made so by strong and lovable performances by the entire cast (though Makepeace’s Keith has a bland Kirk Cameron quality to him) and a truly iconic take on the lead vampire in Katrina. Special features in this disk include; a making of VAMP featurette called “One of Those Nights” interviewing director Richard Wenk, stars Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe, rehearsal tapes, a new booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher, and a short film DRACULA BITES THE BIG APPLE by director Wenk.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
ATOMIC ZOMBIES!!! (2016)Directed by John McKechnie
Written by John McKechnie
Starring J. Ryan Hickey, Mercedes Luteman, David McKechnie, Jackie McKechnie, Shadowbeatz
Find out more about this film here, @atomiczombies, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Playing out like a DIY THE WALKING DEAD, ATOMIC ZOMBIES’ ambition is as infectious as a bite from those nuclear undead-heads.
When an atomic reactor explodes, the dead rise and begin eating people, but a group of survivors are able to ban together and fight the odds to survive against human and zombie alike.
If you’re a fan of THE WALKING DEAD, you’re going to recognize a whole hell of a lot here in ATOMIC ZOMBIES. Like the AMC series and the comic that inspired it, ATOMIC ZOMBIES isn’t so much about the living dead walking around, but the people who survived it. Moments of humanity are punctuated every now and then by a zombie attack, then the human moments continue. But that’s what Romero established in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and it’s been a firm foundation of most zombie films ever since. The enemy is never the zombies in these movies. It’s the living idiots we have to worry about and ATOMIC ZOMBIES gets that point and conveys it rather nicely.
Now if you don’t have a taste for no budget horror, you’re going to film plenty to criticize with ATOMIC ZOMBIES. The acting is stiff, the lines are clichéd at times, and the effects are shoddy as well. That said, there is some definite talent when it comes to writing witty dialog and humorous situations that I couldn’t help but fall in love with here. I laughed out loud numerous times in the film from a lone gunman introduced while cleaning his gun shooting at a zombie and then commenting that he now has to clean his gun again to sight gags like one of the zombies attacking in a Voorhees-style hockey mask. Wile THE WALKING DEAD goes for high drama, most of the time ATOMIC ZOMBIES is simply going for good natured laughs and it works.
I also admire the attempt at fun effects. In one scene, a man’s bright green shirt is used as a green screen for a zombie to punch a hole right through his chest. It’s stuff like that that you cannot help but smile at. For most of this film, I ended up smiling and if you’re a fan of the undeniable love of the genre that is DIY filmmaking and willing to take a leap away from the mainstream, there’s a low of low fi zombie fun to be had with ATOMIC ZOMBIES.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
24 HOURS TO DIE (2016)aka CAPTIVE
Directed by Stephen Patrick Kenny
Written by Stephen Patrick Kenny
Starring Rob James Capel, Bernie Coen, Nic Furlong, Emma Gunning, Mark Hutchinson, Bernie Kavanagh, Mike McNamara, Frankie Moran, Martin Nolan, Rachael O'Connor, Tom Ward, Martin Beanz Warde, Camille Yourell, Ian Casey, Gregory Marsh, John Sweeney, Jamie Burke, Niall Comer, Ultan Kenny, Danny Shea, Robbie Madden, Laura Dirrane, Deirdre Donnellan, Ryan Sheridan, Marwan Abbas, Connell Swords, Diarmuid Walsh
Find out more about this film here, @24HoursToDie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The elevator pitch is always a crucial part in every process of bringing a story to life. Without that, there is no story, no money, no film. As a basic premise, 24 HOURS TO DIE has a pretty awesome little premise, even though the execution is far from perfect.
12 people wake up in a locked room. Eventually they are told by a voice on a phone that they all have been injected with a virus that will turn them into raging beasts and the one person left alive is the only one who will receive the antidote. Now 12 absolute strangers must learn to defy their captor and ban together or listen to him and murder each other until there is one left standing.
That’s a damn cool premise. It’s not entirely original as films from the modern CIRCLE to the classic AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and even 12 ANGRY MEN on a metaphorical sense have dealt with the sole survivor scenario, but still, it’s an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, while some of the actors in the room are capable of carrying the weight necessary to convince us they are in a dire situation, not all of them do. Fortunately, the lesser actors are killed off pretty quickly. While the body count does rise at a pretty impressive clip (each death accompanied with a score sheet printed out for the viewer to keep track of at home), sometimes the heft of these deaths are undercut by the brevity of the amount of time we get to spend with these 12 people in the room. The solution would have been to cut the number of people in the room in half so we get to know and therefore care when one of them bites the dust. But they don’t do that here.
So what you get is a film that smartly doesn’t overshoot its already low budget by sticking inside one room for most of the time, yet kind of breezes through the kills so quickly you really don’t have time to get to know anyone. Occasionally, we get to see the decimated world outside of this warehouse, but these computer generated shots of devastation only highlights the low budget. So while 24 HOURS TO DIE has a great little premise, it often feels rushed and suffers any time you get out of the room to see the bigger picture. I did love the fact that the masked guards who are managing the 12 in the room lift the Darth Vader breath sound exactly as they breathe through their gas masks. They don’t even try to cover up the swipe and I’d watch out if I were the producers if I were them because Disney is nobody to mess with. Still, there are some nicely orchestrated scenes of human depravity as the desperation rises and the captured begin tearing each other apart. If you don’t mind the occasional blips in acting and the low fi budget, 24 HOURS TO DIE has a fantastic premise worth spending time with.
New this week on iTunes from One Eyed Films!
CORD (2015)Directed by Pablo Gonzalez
Written by Pablo Gonzalez, Camilo Salazar Prince
Starring Laura de Boer, Michael Schumacher, Christian Wewerka
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some of the best sci fi take tiny bits of aspects and modify them to make things seem like a totally futuristic and different world than the one we live in. CORD offers up a scenario that hopefully will never be, but unfortunately the way the world is going, it might just be a little too close to what we can expect and that’s what makes it such a scary good film.
It’s the near future and the rise in disease has made it impossible for physical contact. This means masturbation is the only way for folks to really have any fun. Christian Wewerka plays Czuperski, a scientist who lives alone in this harsh world. When a young sex-addict named Tanja (Laura de Boer) arrives on his doorstep, she agrees to be his guinea pig in exchange for physical contact. What develops is some mad science, some twisted obsession, a lot of grimy sex, and maybe the key to humanity’s salvation through the orgasm and some twisted medicine.
As you can assume from the above description, CORD is not a film for immature minds. Reminiscent of the way Cronenberg approached his body horror in the late seventies and early eighties, CORD splices technology and biology in a way that makes it hard to distinguish what is man-made and what is something natural. This goes for the relationship between Czuperski and Tanja as well as they have risky carnal sex, but only in exchange for Czuperski to experiment on Tanja with new tech that pushes the limits of human pleasure and pain to places that normal man and woman have not gone before. These are somewhat heady issues being dealt with here paired with some raunchy sex which is a dichotomy that really does make this film rather unique in the way it has one foot in philosophical theories about relationships and intimacy and the other foot in the gutter with some pretty gratuitous sex scenes.
And while these scenes are pretty down and dirty, the story of a man and a woman trying to make a connection in a world that prevents them from doing so is a powerful tale to tell. There is real emotion between Wewerka and de Boer despite the fact that the actors have an expanse of years between their ages. After agreeing to stay with Czuperski, the scientist and his patient are practically the last people on earth in the world of his film. The small cast makes this an intimate and tragic tale climaxing with a choice to further science or the relationship as both cannot proceed in tandem in this world.
Fans of Cronenberg and headier sci fi will want to seek CORD out. It’s not the typical film I review in this column, but it definitely falls firmly in the theatre of the odd. Filmed in a stark and grimy manner, CORD is certainly unlike most sci fi out there today, making it a quirky, tragic, smart, and downright dirty little gem of a film.
New this week On Demand and on digital platforms such as iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon from 108 Media!
PARASITES (2016)Directed by Chad Ferrin
Written by Chad Ferrin
Starring Sean Samuels, Robert Miano, Joseph Pilato, Sebastian Fernandez, Jeffrey Decker, Carson Nicely, Art Roberts, Suzanne Sumner Ferry, Robert Rhine, Tim Halpin, Eddie Kehler, Burt Culver, Wolfie Trausch, Shaun T. Benjamin, Silvia Spross, Francisco Ovalle, Rich Lee, Peter Mendoza, Scott Vogel, Kurt Bonzell, Abraham Martinez, David Z. Stamp, Elli Rahn, Casey Powell, Paul Louis Harrell
Find out more about this film here, @parasitesfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While it doesn’t have as epic a template or the wide scope of it, PARASITES is very much a modern day successor of Walter Hill’s classic THE WARRIORS, with shades of JUDGMENT NIGHT and TRESSPASS thrown in for good measure. At the same time, Chad Ferrin’s wrong turn horror film feels like a political statement not unlike Romero’s classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (which will make more sense once you watch the film, but I won’t spoil it here).
Three friends (Sean Samuels, Sebastian Fernandez, Jeffrey Decker) make a wrong turn off the highway and end up in skid row. Cruising slowly through streets littered with gangs and the homeless, they find themselves facing a gang of derelicts when they get a flat tire. What occurs next is an urban nightmare as the three find themselves stalked by the gang utilizing all kinds of weapons and their knowledge of the streets against the city boys.
If you think this is a film about the overlooked homeless masses that populate the city, trying to put a sympathetic face on them to pull at your heartstrings, you best go looking for another film. PARASITES, as the film’s title might suggest, portrays these guys as murderous thugs, organized and ready to strike at anyone who enters their turf. While I doubt most homeless have the wherewithal to ban together into a formidable gang, seeing a mass of hobos racing after college kids is rather terrifying. Filmmaker Chad Ferrin does a nice job of capturing the labyrinthine alleys and underpasses and making them into some kind of dark underworld. He also makes the bums rather gruesome as well, each of them named for the weapon they brandish. All of this is reminiscent of Hill’s THE WARRIORS which made the Warrior’s trek across New York City into an epic and dangerous one filled with all sorts of colorful characters.
The lead, Sean Samuels does a fantastic job as one of the kids in peril—his performance relying heavily on physical movement and harrowing fight scenes with each of these crazy bums. Robert Miano plays the lead bum and does so in a commanding manner. Cult legend Joseph Pilato also pops up in this one, though for the life of me I didn’t recognize him until I began looking up the cast for this film to write this review. PARASITES may not be politically correct in the way it casts its homeless, but it does make for an exciting and harrowing low fi thriller that’ll make you never get off the highway in a big city again.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN (2012)Directed by Jason Figgis
Written by Jason Figgis
Starring Ellen Mullen, Neill Fleming, Matthew Toman, Darren Travers, Adam Tyrrell, Nicole Bermingham, Kevin Buckley, John Campbell, Karinann Cosgrave, Ciara Devlin, Joyce Dignam, Jenny Dixon, Karim Elgendy, Emily Forster, Laurence Foster, Gareth Gilroy, Gerry Herbert, Laura Keane, Sorcha Kerins, Geraldine McComish, Stephen McDonald, Michelle Miley, Connor Monks, Killian O'Farrell, Mirjana Rendulic, Suzanne Ryan, Jason Sherlock, Conor Watson, Jody Kelly White, Saorla Wright, Eva Wyse, Saul Wyse, Emmet Kelly
Find out more about this film @IsabelMannFeatureFilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
THE ESCTASY OF ISABEL MANN is a truly unique little vampire film. I really have not seen anything like it, especially since the vampire boom from about five years ago (which coincidentally is when this film was originally made). It’s actually a good thing this film was shelved for a bit because now that horror has moved on to haunted houses and found footage, vampires almost feel refreshing to see these days.
But to call THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN a true vampire film is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually more about a person who thinks she is a vampire, though that really doesn’t matter to Isabel’s victims. At home, Isabel (Ellen Mullen) is a model daughter, helping out her father and two siblings after her mother passed away years earlier. It is an utter surprise to everyone when it turns out Isabel is luring people into the woods to murder them with what appears to be a group of other vampire-like people. While not everything is fully explained by the end of this film, one thing is apparent—Isabel is one sick young lady.
Drenched (and I mean, drenched) in blood, THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN is unlike other vampire films for many reasons. In many ways, it highlights how you can never really know a person as almost everyone in Isabel’s life is completely shocked when they find out about her murderous ways. As much as this film follows Isabel, she really is an enigma—sort of like a Laura Palmer-type who looks wholesome on the outside, but hides a dark, dark secret. But while the fact that this film completely demystifies and de-romanticizes vampirism, it also lays on some more surreal aspects through some clever directing, camerawork, and especially music as we witness some of these blood-soaked acts of violence. In the middle of everything, the film turns into a music video, pitting the events of slaughter against a ghostly pop song “Guyfriend” by Moho Mynoki. Sure it’s somewhat pretentious, but it actually works. Then, like that, the film snaps back to reality and we hear the screams that the music drowned out. This is a stylistic representation of the ecstasy and grief that Isabel alternately feels throughout the story.
THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN is not going to be for everyone. The narrative is experimental at times, yet relatively old school in the way it basically has a PSYCHO-esque monolog after the second act to sort of explain what’s been happening. Still, it doesn’t provide all of the answers. Did Isabel act alone or are there more vampires like her still in the woods? No clue. I do know that THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN is quizzical yet beautiful, harrowing yet sweet, honest yet stylistic, and you’re going to have a hard time trying to find anything else like it. Recommended for those who think they’ve seen it all in terms of vampire lore. This film proves that there still is room for creativity and brutality in the old coffin genre yet.
New this week ion DVD from Gravitas Ventures and MVD Visual!
BLEED (2016)aka THE CIRCLE, THE HARVESTING
Directed by Tripp Rhame
Written by Ben Jacoby, Tripp Rhame
Starring Chelsey Crisp, Riley Smith, Michael Steger, Lyndon Smith, Brittany Ishibashi, Elimu Nelson, David Yow
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Looking for an evil backwoods cult film? Try BLEED. Looking for a ghost hunting story in a spooky locale? Try BLEED. Looking for a ROSEMARY’S BABY-vibing film about the horrors of pregnancy and paranoia? Try BLEED. Splicing subgenres of horror is never a sure thing, but sometimes it works, and with BLEED most of it works.
Expectant mother Sarah (Chelsey Crisp) and her husband Matt (Michael Steger) are moving into a new home in the country. Their friends Bree (Brittany Ishibashi) and Dave (Elimu Nelson) are invited for a housewarming party, and Sarah’s brother Eric (Riley Smith) and his galfriend Skye (Lyndon Smith) show up uninvited. As the day goes on, the couples intermingle and get to know one another and soon the conversation shifts to amateur ghost hunting. When Dave brings up a nearby prison that burned down with the inmates inside, Eric and Skye urge the rest of them to check it out. Meanwhile, Sarah and a few others at the party begin seeing glimpses of hillbillies snarling and howling in the periphery. Agreeing to drive them to the burned out prison, Sarah leaves her husband and the rest at the site only to go through her own ordeal on the way home. Meanwhile, in the prison, the spirits are awakened and they are not friendly.
The good definitely outweighs the bad in BLEED, a film that tosses bits and pieces of many different styles of horror into a crock pot and makes for a pretty sumptuous broth. The film’s got a ghost who literally chomps bits from people from afar. It’s got a creepy locale where the ghost hunting occurs. It’s got a nice story of a family curse and a really dark tone throughout filled with well-timed and potent shocking moments. There are moments of sheer terror as the pregnant lead (Crisp) is put into danger and some downright awesome deaths by hillbillies alive and dead. While the runtime of the film itself is rather short (1:15 mins), I’m pretty impressed at how much director/writer Tripp Rhame and his co-writer Ben Jacoby were able to cram into this film.
The problem is that there might be a bit too much crammed into this film. The shift from a haunted house story with a curse to a ghost hunting story is rather abrupt. Though Eric and Skye are not really liked at the party they were not invited to, somehow they convince everyone but Sarah to go to this deserted locale. The transition is not a very smooth one, and I think a little more conflict or a stronger reason to get the group to the burned out prison is needed as it feels just a little too convenient.
That said, this film is filled with strong performances, be it the protective mother in Crisp’s Sarah or the annoyance from her husband Matt (Steger) or the flaky performance by Riley Smith as Eric and Lyndon Smith as Skye. I especially liked the performance by Brittany Ishibashi, who plays someone coping with schizophrenia and doubting all of the creepy events that are happening around them (again, it’s not believable she would even go into a haunted place, but her performance there, shrieking “Is this really happening?!?” is an extremely potent point in the film as she doubts her own sanity). The strength of the performances proves to be the glue that holds this patchwork quilt of a film together.
Another thing worth noting is the powerful ending of this film that doesn’t explain too much, but still ends with a sledgehammer blow that took me aback at the intensity of the final scene of this film. Filled with rock-shocking moments, BLEED is a unique endeavor in that is embraces many types of terrors (supernatural, natural, and psychological) and ends up being a lot of fun despite being rather uncategorizable. I’d recommend BLEED for those looking to take a terror trip that is far from the norm.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, GooglePlay, Vudu, Xbox, Playstation, and coming soon to On Demand!
HELL HOUSE LLC (2015)Directed by Stephen Cognetti
Written by Stephen Cognetti
Starring Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Jared Hacker, Ryan Jennifer, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins, Adam Schneider, Phil Hess, Lauren A. Kennedy, Kristin Michelle Taylor, Natalie Gee
Find out more about this film @HellHouseLLC and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I had the privilege of checking out one of the best found footage films of the year, HELL HOUSE LLC. Not only is it a terrifying little film, but it also does its best to try to be as authentic an addition to the subgenre as possible. I’ll explain as I put this film to the test of my criteria I apply to all of found footagers crossing AICN HORROR’s path.
What’s the premise?
A group of twenty-somethings with much experience in putting together haunted house attractions journey to the town of Abbadon and refurbish an abandoned hotel with a horrific history. We find out in the opening moments that something horrific happened on the opening night of the horror attraction, Hell House, and a documentary crew—through interviews, Youtube footage, and recently reacquired video of the night, intends to find out what happened and what was the secret of that fateful night.
Are the actors believably acting like they aren’t acting?
Yes, all of the actors featured here are really naturalistic and feel as if they aren’t trying to act, rather they are just being themselves in front of the camera. I know that’s kind of odd to say, but there is scripted and there is non-scripted—and while this film definitely has a narrative pushing the story forward, the actors really feel as if they are just being normal in front of the camera; meaning no discourses or lines that feel like you can almost see the screenwriter tapping on his keyboard.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
There’s one drag away and as I’ve said before, as long as that is not the last shot of the film as it is with REC (and its American adaptation QUARANTINE) I am willing to forgive it. Too many films have aped the REC ending as if they are inventing it themselves. That’s not this film which really does its best to defy the usual conventions seen in found footage films and bring us something new to chew on.
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)?
The film is framed as a documentary utilizing footage found at the site of the horrible events depicted on that night. So the edits between cameras aren’t distracting. We go back and forth between footage of that night and interviews with investigators, survivors, and historians, all of which adds to the feeling of legitimacy that is often lacking in found footage films. These interviews work well in tandem with the story unfolding in the footage leading up to the opening night of the Hell House. There is no music present, which again adds to the immediacy and effectiveness to the film as well.
Is there a valid reason the camera isn’t dropped and they just get the hell out of there?
I guess. The camera rolling constantly is justified by saying that they want to have footage for their website showing behind the scenes footage in the making of Hell House. The camera is also used by some to prove something off is happening as the days leading up to opening night, to be shown to the others in the crew. And while they don’t believe what is happening as the group is known to play tricks on one another, people are trying to document the weird stuff happening, thus leaving the camera rolling. There are a few scenes where picking up the camera might be the last thing I would do, as with a scene where one cameraman wakes to find what looks to be a ghost in his room and hides under the sheet with the camera on, afraid to lift the sheet to see if she is getting closer. While this scene is absolutely terrifying, the camera morphs in function to actually be the eyes of the person in peril rather than the tool with which he is looking through. It works in putting the audience one step closer to the horror that is going on, but doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think too much about it. Still, it makes for one of the most horrifying scenes in the film, so I am compelled to give it a pass.
Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
No. The film opens with YouTube footage that suggests something horrific happened that night, but the horror is vague and while we know people died, we are given very little information as to what happened. It opens with a mystery, which is a nice carrot to be propped in front of us propelling us to want to know more about this story. Then tapes are revealed documenting what went on leading up to the night which again progress in a tantalizing fashion—never giving us too much, but just enough to make us want more. This leads to a film that increases in tension from start to finish in ways that many found footagers (and cinematically filmed narratives) only dream of accomplishing.
Does anything actually happen?
A whole hell of a lot happens. As I said before, there’s a clever doling out of information here that really works. This is a tense film because we are made aware that something horrible happened on opening night. We are given an ambiguous glimpse of what happened. Then we are made aware of tapes that contain footage previously unrevealed and watch that play out. Then, as if that isn’t enough, once what went on that night is revealed, the film follows another documentary crew returning to the Hell House and follow what they find. That’s a lot of ground covered in one film and the whole thing is thrilling as hell to see play out.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is this one worth watching?
HELL HOUSE LLC adds to the genre by adhering to what some see as drawbacks to found footage films (no music, limited edits, naturalistic acting) while not stooping to some of the more frustrating trends in these types of films (the overly dramatic confessional, the drag away ending, the just-so camera drop catching particular action). It is unique in that it captures a compelling story, filled with all sorts of effectively scary scenes, in a manner that feels as if it really is footage that could have been found. Usually, there are one or two aspects of a found footage film that makes you disbelieve it actually is something that could have been recovered and watched without anyone touching it. This film does so by encapsulating the whole thing in a documentary format, relying on some great acting, and some fantastically organized moments of horrific chaos. HELL HOUSE LLC really does deliver the goods and I recommend it to anyone who wants to see found footage done right.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from A24 Films!
THE MONSTER (2016)aka THERE ARE MONSTERS
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Written by Bryan Bertino
Starring Ella Ballentine, Zoe Kazan, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas, Christine Ebadi, Marc Hickox, & Chris Webb as the Monster!
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
From the director who chilled your bones with THE STRANGERS comes THE MONSTER, an electric and emotionally charged powerhouse of a horror film.
Bertino may have made a small misstep in his last endeavor MOCKINGBIRD (reviewed here), but he is back on course with THE MONSTER which tells a painfully real story of parentified child Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) and her young, alcoholic, and irresponsible mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) whose car breaks down in the middle of a dark road one night and find themselves in a life or death battle against a monster in the woods.
THE MONSTER is not a premise that is unique or particularly groundbreaking. It’s your typical monster story, sort of like CUJO meets DUEL where most of the film takes place on a dark road and the small cast is trapped there and forced to work out inner problems while challenges are scratching their way at them from the dark. What makes this film so memorable and moving I the performances of the two leads. Mapping out the perfect scenario for disaster, Bertino gives us flashbacks to show just how dysfunctional Lizzy and her mother Kathy’s relationship is. Lizzy has to wake her mom up from her hangover and basically takes care of her as her mother battles alcoholism. She is embarrassed of her mother, yet loves her and roots for her. Little Ella Ballentine is going to be a superstar, if this role is any indication as she delivers a heart-wrenching performance as Lizzy. She’s a better actor than most actresses twice her age, able to be a scared little girl in one scene and a young powerful woman in the next. Alongside Kazan, who is equally good, this is one amazingly acted film.
I think if anyone is going to criticize THE MONSTER it might be in a few of the plot holes that occur in the film. And these aren’t necessarily plot holes as much as choices by the director on what to include about the monster and what not to include. The motivation of the monster itself, other than this being a horror movie and the monster has to attack anyone on screen, is as foggy as the night road. Is the monster hungry? Is it trying to feed its own offspring or its own ailing mother? Where did this creature come from and what exactly is it? None of these questions are answered and I imagine the director would say that they aren’t important in the grand scheme of things as this is a story about the troubled relationship between Lizzy and Kathy. Still, if you’re a stickler for these types of details, this one is going to bother you.
The monster design itself is impressive. It’s definitely practical, which I appreciate, yet the articulation of the face and the movement of the creature is very unique and fun. Looking almost like a hairless panther/bat hybrid, the monster in THE MONSTER definitely lives up to its name and Bertino films it in a way that it looks impressively scary throughout. THE MONSTER is a simply told story, but what makes it amazing are the actresses involved and the even scarier scenario one must face as a parentified child watching ones parent wither away in front of you. Bertino captures this complex and tragic feeling masterfully and that’s what makes this film a cut above most monster flicks.
Coming Soon: Exclusive Review!
BLOOD DYNASTY (2017)Directed by Chris Alexander
Written by Chris Alexander
Starring Shauna Henry, Cheryl Singleton, Holly Riot, Andre Becker, Ashley Desjardine, Jackson Alexander
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The director of BLOOD FOR IRINA and QUEEN OF BLOOD is releasing his latest installment in his art house vampire series following the bloody path of the vampire Irina (played once again by Shauna Henry).
If I remember correctly, BLOOD DYNASTY begins right where QUEEN OF BLOOD ends with Irina giving birth to a baby in a river. The narrative skips to present day where a young lady living in a lonely hotel calls for Irina to rise. And she does, biting the young lady and infecting her with the vampire virus. The film goes on to show how this young lady deals with the vampire virus under the guide of Irina.
BLOOD DYNASTY is a throwback to the artsy vampire films of Jess Franco. While the films are less focused on gratuitous sex and objectification of the female form and lesbianism, it does have painstaking patience with its scenes. Chris Alexander has his characters dreamily moving as a snail’s pace through a serene landscape. Those in need of constant action and quick cuts are going to have a tough time sitting through this. But Alexander’s films are not for that crowd. These are films that allow one to sit and soak in the feelings and actions conveyed. While the story of BLOOD DYNASTY is somewhat repetitive, it is realized so to point out the monotony of loneliness that creeps in even when major life changes occur (in this case, being turned into a lonely woman in a hotel to a lonely vampire in a hotel). Irina acts more like a guiding figure in this film, trying to pass her knowledge on to someone new, yet finding that the power of vampirism holds much peril.
Alexander captures serene scenes of beauty in a trancelike way David Lynch does. With droning music and an art house take on the material, BLOOD DYNASTY, as with the previous films in this Irina trilogy, is a vampire film many will be unfamiliar with. But if you are in the mood for something experimental and don’t mind the slow pace, BLOOD DYNASTY will definitely entertain. As with his previous films, this one ends on a sort of cliffhanger, so it appears this isn’t the last we will see of Irina and for me—as I tend to appreciate all kinds of horror, be they experimental or mainstream—that is a very good thing.
Sorry, no trailer for BLOOD DYNASTY yet.
And finally…I played the gory “Better in Black” video from Ghosts in the Graveyard. Here’s a new video from the goth rock group called “Needs” which is more of a Dracula story, but still a whole lot of fun. Check out more about Ghosts in the Graveyard here!
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!