Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Hey, it’s another piping hot batch of horror reviews, just out of the oven! Be sure to let them cool or you’ll get that burned skin thing on the roof of your mouth and you know how that smarts…
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
The Book Creeport: KILL SOMEONE a novel (2016)
Retro-review: THE SURVIVOR (1981)
Retro-review: WILD BEASTS (1984)
Retro-review: PARENTS (1989)
ARISE FROM DARKNESS (2016)
ELDER ISLAND (2016)
FRANKENSTEIN: THE REAL STORY Documentary (2016)
HUNTING GROUNDS (2015)
ALL I NEED (2016)
And finally… !
The Book Creeport: Available on Amazon here and Audiobook available on Audible here!
KILL SOMEONE a novelWritten by Luke Smitherd
Reviewed by BottleImp
No matter how good a person you may think you are, I’ll guarantee there has been a moment in your life when someone has pushed you past the bounds of common annoyance. We’ve all thought it at one time or another: I could kill that guy. The thing is, if any of us were actually put to that test—if we were pushed to the edge with no other option, if not one, but five other lives depended on it—would we be able to do it? Would any of us, put up against an inescapable ultimatum, be able to kill someone?
That is the question posed in KILL SOMEONE, the latest novel by Luke Smitherd. The person questioned is Chris Summer, seemingly your average, run-of-the-mill twenty-something slacker. Chris has no real aspirations or goals in his life. He lives at home with his parents, works at a customer service call center, and is living a life of uneventful, un-ambitious indifference. Until a visitor at the door one early morning presents him with a literal matter of life or death. The basic rules are simple: Chris must kill someone. He must commit murder face-to-face—no long-range options such as guns, no vehicular homicides, no poisons—and he must do this within a certain prescribed amount of time, or else five people will be killed, one by one, only after suffering torture and mutilation the longer it takes for him to commit the deed. And the clock has already begun ticking.
Smitherd’s previous novels IN THE DARKNESS, THAT’S WHERE I’LL KNOW YOU, A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES, and THE STONE MAN (reviewed here) have all had a supernatural or otherworldly element to them; whereas KILL SOMEONE, for all its unbelievable premise, is grounded in a firm sense of reality. But never mind the labels that divide fiction into genres of horror or thriller or science fiction—the things that makes all Smitherd’s books worth reading is his incredible ability to write nuanced characters. KILL SOMEONE is no different; while I described Chris above as being run-of-the mill, the first-person narrative gives the reader insights into his thoughts and feelings that slowly reveal a fully-realized, flawed human being who journeys through hell as he tries desperately to fulfill the task given to him. In lesser hands the premise might have been written as your typical potboiler, Dan Brown-style thriller, with the focus on plot and action and a protagonist whose worldview remains boringly, unassailably pure. Smitherd seems to know how dreary absolutes can be, and instead has crafted an achingly human character to take us through to the shocking ending of his story.
For a book with such a grim plot, another remarkable thing is how much black humor Smitherd manages to inject into Chris’s mission. He tries his best to make a list of criteria that will allow him to kill someone who actually deserves it, leading to an amusing little one-act play as Chris tries to steel himself to kill a man and winds up bungling the job laughably. It’s a scene that would feel right at home in a Quentin Tarantino movie, but it also serves to ask a very important question of the reader: whom among us is so bad that they really, REALLY deserve to die… and whom among us is truly able to believe that they have the right to decide it?
As with Smitherd’s previous novels, I relished reading KILL SOMEONE for its rich characterizations, its intense mood, and for the fact that once again I had no idea where the story would wind up. For a jaded reader, there is no greater thrill than to experience a story that takes you down an unexpected, unexplored path. The final chapter of the book leaves certain questions unanswered, but nonetheless provides the reader with a sense of profound fulfillment… and perhaps even hope. Smitherd once again proven himself a master at his craft; KILL SOMEONE transcends horror, or thriller, or whatever genre label one would typically slap on a plotline of its kind. It is, quite simply, a fantastic story about life, death, and humanity that deserves to be read.
Painting signs, exhibiting in gallery shows, trying to keep his toddler from doing irreparable bodily harm to herself—once in a blue moon Stephen Andrade finds the time to emerge as the BottleImp, writing reviews for AICN’s comics and horror columns and talking horror flicks on AICN’s Cannibal Horrorcast. You can see his work at sandradeillustration.com!
Retro-review: New BluRay from Severin!
THE SURVIVOR (1981)Directed by David Hemmings
Written by David Ambrose (screenplay), James Herbert (novel)
Starring Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotten, Angela Punch McGregor, Peter Sumner, Lorna Lesley, Ralph Cotterill, Adrian Wright, Tyler Coppin, Kirk Alexander, Jon Nicholls, John Edmund, Denzil Howson, Edwin Hodgeman, Heather Steen, Brenton Whittle, Geoffrey Pullan
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Pilot error or supernatural terror? Well, it wouldn’t be in this horror column if it were the former. THE SURVIVOR is a quirky and somewhat murky film about a plane crash, a lone survivor, and some other weird happenings.
I wanted to start out by acknowledging how ticked I get when I see how air travel was pre-9-11. Filmed in 1981, the opening moments of THE SURVIVOR offers a view of air travel you just don’t get to see anymore. Folks are lighting up cigarettes, wandering around the plane, and everything feels so quaint and safe. I know there were plenty of plane crashes in that era, but seeing the way everything is depicted in the opening moments, one would think there wasn’t a care in the world in terms of flight danger. Now, it doesn’t take long to prove that even in the eighties, the skies could be unsafe in a moment, as a mysterious suitcase is opened, an explosion occurs, and Captain Keller (Robert Powell) calls to drain the tanks and get ready for a crash landing. Moments later, Keller is the only survivor of the plane crash as he walks out of the wreckage untouched by the impact. Keller has no recollection as to what happened as the plane crashed or how he survived, but a local preschool teacher (LOGAN’S RUN’s Jenny Agutter) seems to understand what happened and tries to walk Keller through the process of understanding. Meanwhile, someone or something is wandering around the crash site and its surroundings murdering people.
THE SURVIVOR is a weird little mix of slasher film, disaster movie, and ghost story. It does a somewhat decent job of combining the elements of all three, especially the disaster part as the opening crash is quite effective given the era this was made and the obvious limited budget this film had. The site of the wreckage is utterly impressive, looking like a dinosaur skeleton spread across a barren field. The film does a decent job of being a procedural mystery as well, walking us through what happens at a crash site and the intensive investigation that occurs in order to try to find the cause of the catastrophe. All of this plays out in a rather dry, but still fascinating fashion here. Director David Hemmings who is best known for his acting work in films like DEEP RED, BARBARELLA, and BLOW-UP, smartly injects some scenes of creepiness in between the investigation bits to keep the pace moving along. While this film definitely sags a bit in the middle, the initial crash and the resolution of the mystery are top notch, feeling much more like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE wrongfully extended to meet a feature length.
The slasher aspect of this film is what stands out at the true oddity. There are some supernatural things going on, it’s just that they are never fully explained until the very end. But then again, once the ending is revealed, it makes one doubt pretty much everything that happened after the crash. Things get extremely convoluted before everything is resolved and I think some simplification of some of the many red herrings and misguidings would have made for a more enjoyable viewing. Still, the scenes where ghostly figures whisper and moan in the wind as a stalker creeps up on its intended victim are rather effective. There is one walk through the graveyard that hits all the right notes—as does a later scene as a photographer develops photographs of those who died in the plane crash, all of them staring right at her from the photos. These scenes may not make a lot of sense if you think about them too hard, but they do deliver the chills.
Adapted from a novel by James Herbert (writer of the RATS trilogy of novels—which was later adapted into DEADLY EYES a personal favorite of mine), THE SURVIVOR seems to have been a bit too heady a concept for the filmmakers to wrap themselves around, as the final message is crystal clear, but the road there is a bumpy one. I was entertained all the way through with the great performances by the stoic Robert Powell (my favorite Jesus, BTW), the beautiful Jenny Agutter, and the all too brief appearance by Joseph Cotten, as well as the moments of stalkery goodness mixed with some ghost children, but all in all, this film is a bit of a mess. It’s a fun mess to sit through, but don’t think too much about it or it is bound to collapse upon itself.
The film also gets creepy points for opening and closing with that creepy hide and stalk game seen in THE ORPHANAGE. Such a weird little game. Special features on this rerelease take the form of a featurette called “Not Quite Hollywood” with interviews with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale, a featurette on “The Legacy of James Herbert,” a talk with Robert Powell about James Herbert, archive interviews with stars Joseph Cotten, Peter Sumner, David Hemmings, and Robert Powell, extended scenes, trailers, and TV spots.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Severin!
WILD BEASTS (1984)aka SAVAGE BEASTS, THE WILD BEASTS WILL GET YOU
Directed by Franco Prosperi
Written by Antonio Accolla,Franco Prosperi
Starring Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna, Louisa Lloyd, John Stacy, Enzo Pezzu, Monica Nickel, Stefania Pinna, Simonetta Pinna, Alessandra Svampa, Frederico Volocia, Alessandro Freyberger, Tiziana Tannozzini, Gianfranco Principi
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The most impressive thing about WILD BEASTS is its scope. Sure if this were made now, everything would be CG, but in the early eighties, a film of this size and scope was near impossible, but somehow Franco Prosperi (filmmaker of such cannibal “documentaries” as MONDO CANE and AFRICA ADDIO) is able to pull it off. Now that doesn’t mean it is any huge feat in filmmaking, but still I was impressed at what played out in front of the screen in WILD BEASTS, yet another animals gone amok film that was popular in the seventies and eighties.
The city is overrun by animals of all kinds when PCP is leaked into the water supply of a local zoo. But fear not, an open-shirted zookeeper Rupert (John Aldrich) bares his chest hair to empathize with the animals and turn on tormented mother Laura (Lorraine De Selle) who takes care of the most insane kid you’re ever going to see and ends up in the middle of an animal rampage across the city. Look out! Tigers, lions, cheetahs, elephants, polar bears, rats, and seeing-eye dogs are not to be trusted and are bound to attack any human they see in WILD BEASTS.
Folks who hate cannibal films where actual animals are hurt or killed are most likely going to have a lot to complain about in WILD BEASTS. While most of the larger animals seem to be treated ok, I’m pretty sure a whole lot of rats were killed in making this movie. Had the animals not been vermin, I might have been disgusted with the film, but since the world is teeming with rats, I just couldn’t squeeze out a tear for them. The rat attack scenes are pretty intense though as a couple having sex in a car are attacked by the pesky rodents in just one of the many animal rampage scenes. Most of these scenes are rather effective as the use of fake animal heads are used for close-ups and real lions and tigers are shown tearing mannequins covered in blood and guts to shreds. Prosperi edits these scenes together in a way that actually doesn’t look half bad and most likely convinced audiences of its time that this massacre was really going on. For the sheer abundance of scenes where different animals unleash toothy carnage upon their keepers, this film deserves some kind of recognition.
The human beasts in this film are another story all together as the actors are stilted and can barely muster up enough energy to emote in most scenes. Sure folks scream bloody murder when they are killed, but any dialog that doesn’t involve an animal attack is bound to put one to sleep. It doesn’t help that the dialog is either completely insane (as with a phone conversation between De Selle and her daughter that is impossible to decipher) or filled with so much made up technical speak that one simply tunes out. There is one scene where a woman is being chased in her car by a cheetah that would have been pretty amazing had the acting not been so atrocious.
Rat deaths aside, I had a lot of fun with WILD BEASTS. Through some fancy editing and convincing effects, Prosperi was able to deliver a pretty impressive film. PETA folks will shit bricks at the rat scene, but the impressive and abundant animal attack scenes (the polar bear chase was especially fun) are made from Hollywood magic at its best—or at least, as best as it could be for a low fi Italian schlocker.
Special features include an interview with Director Franco E. Prosperi, an interview with actor Tony Di Leo, an interview with Editor & Mondo Filmmaker Mario Morra, an interview with animal wrangler Carlo Tiberti, and a visit to director Franco E. Prosperi’s home called “House of the Wild Beasts.”
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series!
PARENTS (1989)Directed by Bob Balaban
Written by Christopher Hawthorne
Starring Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Bryan Madorsky, Sandy Dennis, London Juno, Kathryn Grody, Deborah Rush, Graham Jarvis, Helen Carscallen, Warren Van Evera, Wayne Robson, Uriel Byfield, Mariah Balaban, Larry Palef
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
PARENTS is one of those rare films that whisks the viewer away and takes them back to a more innocent and naïve time. Spielberg was able to do that. As well as a few others who are capable of capturing that childhood wonder on film. Turns out the dry wit of comedian/actor/writer/director Bob Balaban had that ability as well. And while Balaban’s view of the world is slightly more skewed than most Amblin-esque filmmakers, it still offers up a unique perspective from the eyes of a misguided little boy.
Bryan Madorsky plays the innocent and wide-eyed youngster Michael Laemle who, along with his parents Nick and Lily (Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) have moved to a quiet suburban town in ‘50’s era America. Even as they are settling into their new home, Michael is full of questions about his new school, his new bedroom, his new house, and why he is always eating leftover food for dinner, not knowing exactly what meal they are left over from. After accidentally walking in on his parents making love, Michael gets the crazy notion that his parents are cannibals. It doesn’t help that his new girlfriend at school Shiela (London Juno) is a pathological liar and his school counselor Millie Dew (Sandy Dennis) just doesn’t know what to do with him. Investigating further by following his dad to work at the science lab only seems to prove that Michael’s parents have a taste for human flesh.
But is this the wild imagination of a child’s mind or is there really something off with the Laemles?
The beauty of PARENTS is the fact that, for a great portion of the film, the answer to that question could go either way. Director Bob Balaban and writer Christopher Hawthorne keep that answer close to their vests until the last minute of the film. But this doesn’t mean that nothing happens in PARENTS. The genius of the film lies in the fact that, depending on how you look at it, the parents could either be ghouls or just well intentioned adults as perceived by the over-active imagination of a child. Balaban intensifies the suspicion by allowing us to see the world from Michael’s close to the ground point of view. Moody lighting, slightly skewed angles, and creative camerawork amplify the suspicion, casting the parents in a sometimes horrific light without really having them do anything macabre at all. The script could be taken as kind, yet firm words from concerned parents to an unruly child or veiled threats from suburban monsters. The fun comes from how long Balaban and Hawthorne prolong the mystery.
Adding to the horror is the saccharinated demeanor of both Nick and Lily (Quaid and Hurt). Hurt is genuinely concerned at Michael’s behavior and though she does seem like she has something to hide, underneath it all, she actually loves Michael and wants what is best for him. Quaid is another story all together. His performance is nuanced in the most delicious of ways, portraying the “Father Knows Best” demeanor, but always seeming to have a snarling monster just below the surface. Paired with Balaban’s creative way of framing the parents, and it makes for a surreal nightmare, even if it turned out that nothing was afoot.
There is practically no gore at all in PARENTS and while the tone is downright horrifying, you’d br hard pressed to find something specifically horrifying about PARENTS. In many ways, it’s a quaint movie. The genius comes from what we think we see, hear, and feel. Through manipulation of the camera and forced perspective of a suspicious little boy, PARENTS is a waking nightmare of a film that will unease you without really allowing you to opportunity to understand why you’re uneased until the very last minute. PARENTS is one of the more subtle horror films that hits you like a sledgehammer by the time the whole thing is through. Full of the blackest humor and the most dire doses of paranoia and suspicion, there are very few films dealing with the horror of finding one’s parents in a compromising and foreign position, but this one deals with just that in a primal, thorough, and ultimately powerful manner. Highly recommended.
New on iTunes, On Demand, and DVD from Indican Pictures!
ARISE FROM DARKNESS (2016)aka WHEN MY EYES GO DARK
Directed by Zachary Laoutides, Mónica Esmeralda León, La Raza or “The People”
Written by Zachary Laoutides
Starring Zachary Laoutides, Emmanuel Isaac, Mónica Esmeralda León, Samuel Younan, Alex Villarreal, Nathan Ayala, Sharo Yousif, Galilea Mendoza, Sol Camorlinga, Amparo Sanchez, Angel Reyna, Mickey Synteklas, Elizabeth Martinez, Claudia T. Ramirez
Find out more about this film here, @AriseFromDarknessMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While light on scares, ARISE FROM DARKNESS is a somewhat dark and fascinating art house tale of the possibility of not only life after death, but also the presence of both God and the Devil.
A man named Lazaro (writer/director Zachary Laoutides) is the victim of a shooting which kills his young daughter. In order to track down his killer, Lazaro has found that he is able to find clues to her murder by bringing himself to the brink of death over and over again. But each time he courts death, it is harder for him to come back. So the race is on to see if he can solve the mystery before he falls into the hands of death itself.
There’s a poetic beauty that cannot be denied with ARISE FROM DARKNESS. The film moves through its runtime in a leisurely manner, repeating key scenes and lines over and over. As the music drones on, the film is almost hypnotic in the way it reveals key elements to the mystery Lazaro is trying to uncover. Those who don’t really appreciate a patient, loose narrative will be tempted to tear your hair out as this film definitely takes its sweet old time to tell a pretty simple tale. I must admit, I found myself frustrated at times, hoping the pace would escalate, but it never really does, even after the main conflict is resolved.
What makes this film downright spooky is the fact that it uses actual recordings taken from exorcisms released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit to punctuate each of the vignettes focusing on Lazaro’s plight. These recordings are absolutely chilling and leave an indelible mark after watching. While the music is rather droning and the plot is repetitive and extremely slow, these recording serve to spice things up with a shiver down the spine every ten or so minutes. ARISE FROM DARKNESS is not going to be for everyone, but for the recordings alone, this film is worth taking a chance on if you can stand a little art house monotony.
New On Demand from Brain Damage Films!
ELDER ISLAND (2016)Directed by Darrin James
Written by Fabricio Cerioni, Darrin James
Starring Jamie Bernadette, Jordan Trovillion,Alora Catherine Smith, Dan Hicks, Melissa Anschutz, Michael Robert Brandon, Nate Scholz, Timothy Patrick Quill, Johnny Flynn, Donavan Darius, Jake Rotger, Sean Peavy, Christopher Hohman, Darrin James, Ben Blaesing, Jon Canniff, Erica Overholt, Skip Corris
Find out more about this film here, @elderislandmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
ELDER ISLAND is an ambitious little film that really does try to tell a different kind of tale—something more akin to THE WICKER MAN than a typical slasher film. And though it doesn’t quite get there, it does offer up some well done moments of religified terror.
A documentary film crew makes its way to a secluded island where the townsfolk all seem to be covering up a secret that began with the killing of a religious zealot years ago. Now the crew must figure out the mystery and get off the island if they are to survive.
I know I’ll get flack for saying this, but I think this film would have been better had it been filmed in the found footage format. The film follows a documentary film crew, and I think if it would have been kept within the world of the first person camera, occasionally shifting from one crew member to another, I feel the film would have been a lot more engaging and suspenseful. As is, filmed in a more cinematic narrative, it feels somewhat bland as the film crew barely scrapes the surface of the mystery before they are being pursued by a town made up of sinners and a seemingly resurrected ghoul with an axe. This makes for some fun scenes, a few decent deaths, and an ending that I felt was nicely done in a dark, dark way.
But the whole time, I was reshooting this movie in my head through a first person point of view and everything seemed like it would have been all the more powerful and I would have overlooked some of the less impressive details such as the acting, some script inconsistencies, and some of the blips in editing. ELDER ISLAND is not a bad film. It just feels like it should have had another go at the script to make it better before filming.
New this week on DVD from The History Channel/Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
FRANKENSTEIN: THE REAL STORY (1994)Directed by Richard Brown
Written by Richard Brown
Starring Bud Abbott, Nick Adams, Charlotte Austin, Rick Baker, Jeanine Basinger, Whit Bissell, Peter Bogdanovich, Ronald V. Borst, Kenneth Branagh, Mel Brooks, Robert Burton, Helen Chandler, Lon Chaney Jr., Mae Clarke, Colin Clive, Gary Conway, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Lou Costello, Peter Cushing, Robert De Niro, Robert Dix, Richard Dreyfuss, Dwight Frye, Gene Hackman, Marilyn Harris, O.P. Heggie, Valerie Hobson, Annette Insdorf, Boris Karloff, Sara Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Martin Milner, Roger Moore, Donald Murphy, J. Carrol Naish, Una O'Connor, Basil Rathbone, Jane Seymour, David J. Skal, Glenn Strange, Ernest Thesiger, Sally Todd, Edward Van Sloan, Gene Wilder, Leonard Wolf and Narrated by Eli Wallach
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
FRANKENSTEIN: THE REAL STORY is actually a collection of three documentaries focused on some of the more interesting, fun, and macabre facts behind the classic tale by Mary Shelley.
DECODING THE PAST: IN SEARCH OF THE REAL DR. FRANKENSTEIN is the best of the bunch and was filled with me most information I hadn’t gleaned before as it focuses on real life scientists, philosophers, alchemists, and forward-thinkers who might have served as the inspiration for Dr. Frankenstein. The doc goes through a quartet of mad scientists of the day that were doing all kinds of experiments with electricity, specifically galvanism, as well as alchemy—all of them attempting to crack the barrier between life and death. Through reenactments, some rather gruesome experiments are documented that I’m sure many Frankenstein fans will definitely want to check out. As I said, of the three documentaries, this one was the most compelling as it shows real life examples of science gone amok.
IN SEARCH OF HISTORY: FRANKENSTEIN is somewhat redundant in that it recants a lot of the same information you get with the first doc with less reenactments. This one adds to the theory that Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Shelley may have visited Castle Frankenstein, an actual castle owned by a family called Frankenstein in Germany. This doc is different than the first in that is takes a more feminist route in citing that Shelley’s mother was one of the very first feminists and Shelley’s classic is very much a feminist tale of male dominated culture. The fact that Shelley wrote one of the most famous novels in history at such a very young age, yet she was unable to claim this until her later years was also discussed. This was a rather dry documentary compared to the first and while the feminist dissections are interesting, it didn’t hold my attention as much either.
The final documentary is IT’S ALIVE: THE TRUE STORY OF FRANKENSTEIN, which was made in 1994. Hosted by Roger Moore and narrated by Eli Wallach, this one goes through the various incarnations of Frankenstein and his Monster on film. From Thomas Edison’s first films up to the shirtless Frankenstein Kenneth Branaugh portrayed in MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, almost every time the bolt-necked icon was on screen is documented. Full of clips and readings from writings of Boris Karloff, James Whale, Bela Lugosi, and Lou Costello, if you’re a fan of Frankenstein on the silver screen, this is the doc for you.
All in all, this collection of documentaries--each about 45 minutes in length, with the last a little over an hour, really does give a thorough back-story to Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. No fan of this particular horror icon should be without this one. Along with this collection is THE WOLFMAN: THE REAL STORY, which I will delve into soon.
New this week On Demand Uncork’d Entertainment!
HUNTING GROUNDS (2015)aka VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH
Directed by John Portanova
Written by John Portanova
Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Jason Vail, David Saucedo, D'Angelo Midili, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Connor Conrad as the Beast!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M.L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Always on the lookout for that elusive treasure known as a good Bigfoot film, HUNTING GROUNDS makes a lot of the right decisions and leads to one of the more entertaining films of the subgenre.
When I’m looking for a good Bigfoot film, I am looking for a few things; a situation I haven’t seen before involving Bigfoot, decent Bigfootin’ action, and most importantly, a good looking man-monster costume. HUNTING GROUNDS has all of that as it focuses on a father and son, recently having lost their mother, and trying to patch up their relationship and grieve in their own ways by starting over in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Though the son Michael (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) wants to go to college, his father Roger (character actor Jason Vail) attests that he doesn’t have the money for that. Reluctantly coming with his father to the cabin, Michael finds the cabin in disarray with broken windows, doors, and furniture. Thinking nothing of it, Roger invites his drinking buddy Sergio (David Saucedo) and his wife’s brother Will (D'Angelo Midili) along for some mancationing; which consists of drinking and hunting of course. But what this group of manly men don’t know is that there is something else out there in the woods with them.
The aforementioned criteria for a good Bigfoot film are all met here. Writer/director John Portanova (who wrote a pretty cool ghost story with THE INVOKING and the not so hot alien low budgeter THE DEVICE) fills his directoral debut with a decent situation and some capable actors willing to go the extra mile to make the drama necessary and believable. Seeing the film highlight the differences and similarities between the father and son here is really fleshed out well and tossing in a family of angry Bigfeets as a threat, shoves the metaphor of the struggles between familial relations front and center. From a storytelling and thematic standpoint, this is a well crafted little movie.
While some of the initial sightings and attacks of the Bigfeets are somewhat tame and run of the mill, when the family of monsters go on full attack mode, the action really does become quite impressive. This film doesn’t settle for one Bigfoot, but brings a whole gaggle of Sasquatch in for the massacre. And more importantly, the costumes of the Bigfoot look really good. Utilizing the actors’ real faces around the eyes makes these creatures look very distinct and the gait of the beasts seem as if they’ve stepped right from the Patterson Gimlin film itself.
HUNTING GROUNDS is reminiscent of THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK at times during the final attack on the cabin and avoids that Saturday night ScyFy movie feel most Bigfoot films have these days. With some strong story elements, along with some fun Bigfootin’ action and a cool costume design, HUNTING GROUNDS is a Bigfoot film worth stomping about.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from The Shout Factory and IFC Midnight!
ANTIBIRTH (2016)Directed by Danny Perez
Written by Danny Perez
Starring Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Meg Tilly, Mark Webber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Emmanuel Kabongo, Neville Edwards, Morgan Bedard, Corey Pascall, Lili Francks, Marie-Josee Dionne, Jessica Greco
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I don’t know what to think of this film. In some ways it’s a fascinating train wreck of a movie and in others it’s just a train wreck. Whatever it is, ANTIBIRTH is a weird look at irresponsible people doing irresponsible things and not really caring about the ramifications.
Lou (Natasha Lyonne) is thirty-something party girl who doesn’t really keep track of the amount of drugs and men she puts into her body. Going from blackout drunk to hung-over and back again, she works as a cleaning lady for a hotel simply to maintain the lifestyle that was sort of chic during her twenties, but now is just simply sad. The film opens with Lou and her equally drug addicted girlfriend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) partying with a bunch of folks in an alley before a stumbling Lou is guided away by one of the druggies, seemingly for some unsatisfying sex by a dumpster. But this is no ordinary roofie-rape as Lou wakes up feeling awful and almost immediately fears that she is pregnant from the strange encounter. With her belly swelling at an extraordinary rate and showing symptoms of pregnancy in its later terms in mere days, Lou sets out to figure out what the hell is going on as she attempts to remember events of the blackout which involves experimental government drug testing, trippy psychedelics, and horrifying creatures called Funzone Apes, which are the bargain basement alternatives to Chuck E. Cheese.
If you don’t understand the above paragraph, don’t worry, Meg Tilly crawls out from whatever rock she’s been hiding under to explain everything. And that’s the most important thing I took from this film—that it let me know where Meg Tilly and Natasha Lyonne has been in recent years. The performances are pretty fun in ANTIBIRTH as Lyonne moves through life in an aloof and reckless manner that will infuriate some (I was a more than a little disgusted by her behavior to be honest) and give others relief that their lives aren’t as bad. Lyonne plays this party girl character well and I’m a fan of her offbeat choice in films, but much of this performance feels a little too on the nose and while I don’t want to make accusations, this feels less of an act and more like she is just playing an amplified version of herself. Still, there’s a sadness behind this character that sometimes has a chance to shine through in certain parts of the narrative, specifically when she allows herself to collapse and sleep rather than simply fuck, snort, and drink herself into oblivion.
ANTIBIRTH is trying to be a grittier and gaudier version of THE HANGOVER where Lou is trying to piece the events of her blackout together while dealing with the ramifications of what happened. The problem is that Lou is a pretty disgusting character living a horrific lifestyle, so it’s hard to sympathize with someone who smokes like a chimney and drinks beer like she has a hole in her neck while being pregnant. Sure she is using this to cope with the horrors her body is going through—and these horrors are abundant, not only with the typical pregnancy stuff, but scaling skin, blistered feet, undulating belly, and psychedelic flashbacks are also detailed in an extremely gross fashion. Because this is such an ugly life Lou leads, it’s hard to care about a bit of it she can’t remember, especially when it involves a being impregnated by someone or something she doesn’t even know.
The ending of ANTIBIRTH is where the train cars start to pile up. Culminating in a trippy confrontation between all parties involved; including government agents, a hysterical Tilly trying to be Lou’s midwife, and Lou undulating on the floor giving birth to…something so ludicrous that you have to see to believe, ANTIBIRTH is a film I have to admire, but I don’t necessarily have to like. The film’s ending is pretty insane, but also quite inane, which is a good way to describe the film as a whole. While I can’t quite recommend it, as it doesn’t achieve what it ultimately sets out to achieve (that is, tell a sympathetic story with a very unsympathetic character), ANTIBIRTH is one of those beautiful disasters that seems to be made by someone living outside of our own morality and reality. This makes the whole mess interesting, for sure, but not necessarily good.
New On Demand and digital platforms such as Charter Spectrum, Comcast, DirecTV Cinema, Dish, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu, on iTunes here from Brainstorm Media and Twisted Pictures!
HAVENHURST (2016)Directed by Andrew C. Erin
Written by Andrew C. Erin, Daniel Farrands
Starring Julie Benz, Fionnula Flanagan, Belle Shouse, Josh Stamberg, Danielle Harris, Dendrie Taylor, Toby Huss, Douglas Tait, Matt Lasky, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Brian Howe, Currie Graham, Deep Rai, Carrie Armstrong, Natasha Goss, Gwen Holloway, Jennifer Lafleur, Theresa Laib, Matt O'Neill
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
An original and sometimes claustrophobic concept makes HAVENHURST a bit different than your usual stalker/haunted house film.
Recovering alcoholic Jackie (DEXTER’s Julie Benz) moves into an large apartment complex serving as a halfway house. Run by her strict landlord Elanor (THE OTHERS’ Fionnula Flanagan), the house hides more than one secret as we see in the opening moments as Jackie’s friend Danielle (the HATCHET and HALLOWEEN series’ Danielle Harris) is seemingly stalked and snared by the various trap doors and moving walls of the building after breaking her vow to quit drinking. Seems the building has a strict policy about breaking the rules that ends in eviction, but in this building; eviction means death. Jackie decides to stay in the building to find out what happened to her missing friend and copes with the guilt of her life as an alcoholic as well as pangs of responsibility to look after a neglected pre-teen who lives in the building with abusive parents.
There is a lot of good going on with HAVENHURST. I like the idea of an apartment complex that works like a clockwork machine. Reminiscent of the rudimentary mechanics often seen in the SAW contraptions (without the torture porn aspect), HAVENHURST does a lot on a limited budget. This has to do with some nice, quick filmwork by Andrew C. Erin as he never really reveals what exactly is going on until the last act. Doors open and close, walls slide, windows disappear, people fall through the floor, shadows follow people through the hallways, but one never knows if this is something supernatural or of the whole damn building is a prop from Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS. Because of this, I was intrigued through the entire film, wondering what the hell was happening. Once the truth is revealed (and I won’t reveal it here, but I’m dying to do so), it’s equally fascinating and I almost with the latter act would have gone into more detail about the history of the building and just who exactly built it.
Those looking for the always awesome Danielle Harris will be left wanting as, though she gets top billing, she is relegated to the Janet Leigh/Drew Barrymore role here and only pops up in the first five minutes. Julie Benz is decent as the lead and looks remarkably like Harris with dark hair, but for some reason the actress seemed to have low energy through the whole film. This may just be the way Benz is as she constantly has that whispery tone and laid back manner of dealing with catastrophe (as seen in DEXTER), but here there are a few scenes where she is supposed to be running and it looks like she can barely manage a jog. Granted, there are other scenes here where it seems to have been pretty physically taxing in the latter portion of the film, but her physical performance is inconsistent here and her laid back mannerisms take away from the more tension filled scenes.
HAVENHURST is full of really fun ideas and most of them pay off with some pretty sweet murder set pieces. The structure of this film is rock solid and while I think I might have rather seen the roles of Harris and Benz switched, the film itself is entertaining enough with enough twists and turns to get my recommendation.
New in select theaters and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment!
ELOISE (2016)Directed by Robert Legato
Written by Christopher Borrelli
Starring Chace Crawford, Eliza Dushku, Robert Patrick, Nicole Forester, Brandon T. Jackson, Nicole Forester
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Maybe it was because of the generic cover imagery with the floating heads, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting much going into ELOISE. Every town has a notorious shut down hospital that seems to be the location for many an urban legend. We would dare each other to see how far we could go into it before we lost the nerve, jumped on our bikes, and pedaled the hell out of there. Usually it was once we saw the first rusty gurney. So the setting of an abandoned hospital evokes childhood fears in me that are all too palpable. To my surprise, ELOISE does a great job of harnessing those fears as a tight little supernatural thriller.
When a sometime troublemaker named Jacob (Chace Crawford) finds himself receiving an inheritance, it teeters on one condition—find proof of death for his Aunt Genevieve (Nicole Forester) who is rumored to have passed away at the sprawling Eloise Mental Hospital which has been shut down for years. Jacob gathers his best friend Dell (Brandon T. Jackson), a bartender he just met named Pia (Eliza Dushku), and her brother/local kook urban explorer Scott (P.J. Byrne) to break into Eloise and retrieve records of his Aunt’s death. But once inside the hospitals dark rooms and confusing hallways, the group seems to have stumbled into ghosts of Eloise’s horrible past involving the sadistic Dr. H.H. Greiss (Robert Patrick), who even in the afterlife lives to administer his twisted version of shock therapy.
Given the pretty casting, I was expecting a ScyFy level of thrills and story. The film is filled with TV stars that haven’t been around for a while such as GOSSIP GIRL’s Chace Crawford and DOLLHOUSE’s Eliza Dushku. Still, it’s the script of ELOISE that elevates this film to a more elevated level. There’s a strong attention to psychological motivation of the characters that I was appreciative of. Phobias each character is afflicted with are not only exploited in a sort of Freddy Krueger manner, but the origins of these fears are explained later in the story. This is a depth of story that even the NIGHTMARE films never really attempted to delve into. The film also successfully melds a modern supernatural thriller with a sort of time travel story that not only makes sense, but also has a sense of poetry. It’s this thorough attention to not only story, but making everything feel like it should be in the same film that really works here.
ELOISE is not without fault. As much as it covers all the angles in the broader sense of storytelling, the film makes some illogical leaps in order to push the story along. People split up for no good reason, make boneheaded mistakes (one of them accidentally pours LSD on an open wound and goes on a wicked trip), and stick around when any normal person would have turned tail and ran. Still, these were not deal breakers for me because of the strength of story and the decent acting going on.
Dushku is still pretty great here, though occasionally she has that sleepy eyed look that makes it seem like she is only half-giving a shit about where she is and what she’s doing. Crawford is a charismatic enough lead and it’s always fun to see Robert Patrick let loose. ELOISE isn’t a barn burner, but it’s stronger than it looks and smarter than most films of its ilk. With a strong story, a deft handling of both real world and supernatural threats, and some fun cinematography distinguishing the present from the past and how they merge, ELOISE is strong enough for me to recommend.
New this week On Demand from Foggy Bottom Pictures!
ALL I NEED (2016)aka WAKE IN FEAR, I WANT YOU I NEED
Directed by Dylan K. Narang
Written by Dylan K. Narang
Starring Caitlin Stasey, Markus Taylor, Rachel Melvin, Leah McKendrick, Jonathan Erickson Eisley, Sorel Carradine, JT Vancollie, Katie Owsley, Kevin Cassidy, Holly Twyford, Gregory Lee Kenyon
Find out more about this film here, @ALLINEEDfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Simplistic, yet effective horror is what you find if you dare give indie gem ALL I NEED, formerly known as WAKE IN FEAR, a chance.
Chloe (Caitlin Stasey) wakes up bound, gagged, and stripped down to her skivvies in an unknown location without any knowledge of what she is doing there or how she came to be there. Beside her is another woman in the same type of entrapments who wakes up at moments later. Soon the door opens and Chloe’s new cohort in peril is dragged away by a man in a gas mask. That’s how ALL I NEED starts out and while occasionally we leave the labyrinthine rooms, hallways, closets, and air ducts of Chloe’s prison, for the most part we focus on her attempt to survive the night avoid what appears to be certain doom if she lets this masked man get a hold of her. Meanwhile, a man named Andrew (Markus Taylor), desperate for money to provide for his daughter and his estranged wife, follows directions from a man on a telephone whose guidance gets more dangerous as the film goes on. What do these two people in peril have to do with one another? That’s where the fun of ALL I NEED kicks in.
Most of the action in ALL I NEED is set in a singular location, which is what makes this film so impressive. Using a few rooms, an air duct, and a tight closet space, filmmaker Dylan K. Narang is able to ooze out every moment of tension he can from every inch of Chloe’s prison. Extended moments without dialog only highlight the talent this director has in creating tense situations and using them for maximum suspense effect. Narang is painstakingly patient allowing the magnitude of the peril sink in with long, slow shots of Chloe trying to wriggle her way out of her bindings to freedom. Never does a bump in the road to this freedom feel contrived. The story moves at a hectic, straightforward clip that really impressed me and while the narrative isn’t without it’s surprises here and there, Narang allows the suspense to seep in and really unnerve you.
Now, this film also kept my attention because not only is Caitlin Stasey a powerful little actress, but she is also extremely easy on the eyes wearing nothing but her unmentionables for most of the film. There is a huge cheesecake factor to this film. All of the girls who are scattered around Chloe’s prison (alive and dead) are all stripped down to their underthings and there is nary a fat cell among these scantily clad women. And while some might find this gratuitous, there is a point to the sheer amount of these skinny minnies that is reached eventually. This film doesn’t apologize for the sleaze factor here, focusing on Caitlin Stasey’s gorgeous form and amazing eyes, but though the cheesecake is thick, the tension and suspense built in each bloody, sweaty, and nerve-shredding scene makes you forget about all the skin shown. All you care about is how Chloe is going to get what little fat she has on her body out of the fire.
I’m sure the scantily clad women will offend some prudes, but this film really delivers the goods in terms of scares and thrills. ALL I NEED is a largely dialog-less, but nevertheless powerful testament to horror in its simplest form. Many filmmakers who are trying to ape Tarantino/Smith/Mamet could learn a lot from the patience and appreciation for silence that this film possesses. I highly recommend ALL I NEED. It’s low budget, but high in taut scenes that will make you tense up all the way through. Beautiful ladies aside (though that also makes this one worth seeking out), ALL I NEED is simple, powerful horror.
And finally…here’s a clever little ditty done after the style of Edward Gorey called “Everything Will Kill You” to pick you up if you’re feeling down. Enjoy!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is M. 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!