Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I’m cranking out another bushel of reviews today—old, new, and from the FUTURE! Hope you enjoy them!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966)
Retro-review: LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
ASIAN GHOST STORY (2016)
THE CROOKED MAN (2016)
BORNLESS ONES (2016)
DON’T HANG UP (2016)
Advance Review: AMETHYST (2016)
And finally…Robert Resnikoff’s THE JOGGER (1984)!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966)Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Michael Carreras, Mickell Novack, George Baker, Joseph Frickert
Starring Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Percy Herbert, Robert Brown, Martine Beswick, Jean Wladon, Lisa Thomas, Malya Nappi, Richard James, William Lyon Brown, Yvonne Horner, Nikki Van der Zyl as the voice of Loana, Vic Perrin as the Narrator!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While it’s a bit of a stretch to cover ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. on AICN HORROR, it is considered a Sci Fi film though it takes place in the past and there are a few really great and horrific moments in the film itself. It also has the stop motion animatrics of Harryhausen and was made by Hammer Films, so you add all that up, and the epic film feels right at home here.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. follows the adventures of caveman Tumak (John Richardson) who is exiled from his savage tribe by his jealous brother Sakana (Percy Herbert) and his father Akoba (Robert Brown) and after wandering alone, is rescued by a more civilized tribe lead by Ahot (Jean Wladon) and the famous bikini clad cave gal from the posters Loana (Raquel Welch). After mending with the new tribe, Tumak finds it difficult to adapt to their ways and sets off alone again, this time followed by Loana who has since formed a bond with him. Tumak and Loana run into Tumak’s old tribe lead by Sakana which is less than peaceful bringing the two tribes together for all out war. Meanwhile, the various monsters roaming the world are picking off both tribes one by one and the giant mountain in the background erupts with molten lava that threatens to destroy all creatures on this primitive earth.
I love caveman movies. QUEST FOR FIRE, the beginning of 2001, CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, hell, even CAVEMAN with Ringo Starr are all some of my favorite films as a kid. I love the fact that so much can be communicated in them without uttering one word. Without and clear, distinguishable speech, these films show the power of images and action. ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is one of the biggest and best films of this sort, never uttering a word, yet by the end of the film, you know exactly what the story is and what it is about. That’s a powerful tale and so is this film. Utilizing expansive sets, elaborate costumes, state of the art of the time special effects, and monumentous sound, this film feels big from beginning to end.
Sure, Welch looks like she is wearing mascara and has her hair perfectly blow dried, as does our hero John Richardson in the lead role of Tumak. Sure, it’s ridiculous that Welch’s Loana carries around a little purse strapped to her shoulder. But this story tells a solid story of how man squabbles with itself while the world falls apart around them that is as relevant today as it was back when this film was released.
There are amazing special effects here as Harryhausen really goes all out by populating this world with all sorts of monsters. We know now that dinosaurs and man did not exist with one another, but still it’s fun to play that they did for two hours seeing little humans interacting with these beasts. There is an epic battle between a Tyranosaurus looking dinosaur and a triceratops that is truly breathtaking. Another scene depicts a pterodactyl abduction and battle to feed its chirping babies that is equally impressive. Another battle with a giant sea turtle insures that there are all kinds of stop motion dangers at every turn in this movie.
Not all of the terrors are stop motion though. There are some truly scary scenes of more primitive man-monsters that live in the nearby caves. Shadowed in darkness, Loana and Tumak hide in terror from these creatures in a fantastically thrilling scene of horror. There is also an early chase with a giant iguana where an actual iguana is used that adds to the variety of monstrosities faced here.
From start to finish, ONE BILLION YEARS B.C. is top tier. The monsters are titanic, the cave babes are shapely (not only Welch, but the rest of the gals too –especially Martine Beswick, since I prefer brunettes anyway), and the thrills occur from start to finish. You’re not going to find a better example of early special effects and everyone seems fully committed to making this film as big and authentic as possible according to the science of the era. Kino Lorber’s release has the international and American version of the film. I watched the international one which is a little longer and contains longer scenes of man versus beastie which were cut out to attain a wider audience in the States. While none of these battles are very bloody, they are a highlight of the film so I recommend if you do see this one, let it be the extended international cut.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Vestron Video/Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)Directed by Ken Russell
Written by Ken Russell (screenplay), Bram Stoker (novel)
Starring Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis, Stratford Johns, Paul Brooke, Imogen Claire, Chris Pitt, Gina McKee, Christopher Gable, Lloyd Peters, Jackie Russell
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
This disturbing, erotic, and surprisingly comic take on another classic by Bram Stoker is both indicative of Ken Russell’s unmistakable style and a damn odd bird of a film.
LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM centers on Irish folklore about a local landowner who slayed a worm or dragon or snake during Medieval days. When a Scottish scholar named Angus, of course, played by Peter Capaldi unearths the giant skull of a snake like creature while staying at a bed and breakfast in the Irish countryside, he seems to awaken an age old curse. Lady Sylvia (Amanda Donohoe) who lives next door to the B&B is the descendant of a pagan cult who warred with Christianity for centuries, culminating in a battle between Lord D’Ampton and a giant dragon. Now Angus and D’Ampton’s descendant James (Hugh Grant…yes, Hugh Grant) must take on Sylvia whose bite infects people with a vampire like virus, converting them to the cult of the white worm. All of this hubbub signifies the coming of a new white worm from deep in the caves on the D’Ampton property.
There’s a whole lot of wonky going on in this film. While the whole film is oddly comical, specifically during the emotional scenes, this is a very dangerous situation. Still, comedic beats prevail such as the fact that Turkish music sends those infected with the cobra virus into a slithering dance and bagpipes can do that job if you don’t have Turkish music. Grant is his usual charming self, though he has a prominent unibrow in this film, but he is definitely not really the hero here as any time there is some kind of problem, he conveniently leaves the scene, only to return later with a commentary on how dire the situation is. Sylvia plays a Chutes & Ladders game, with a snake replacing the chute, the entire White Worm legend is played out via an Irish punk band in the opening moments, and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with the aloof butler who finds barricading the chambermaids away in their chambers extremely funny. It’s just downright weird how this film doesn’t take itself seriously, despite the truly horrific stuff going on.
Despite the odd laughter this one’s going to infect you with, you really aren’t going to believe your eyes during the trippy hallucination sequences people experience when infected with Sylvia’s venom. THE DEVILS’ director Ken Russell surely loves his nun debauchery, and there’s a lot of it on display here as Romans attack a monastery. Sylvia wears an ivory tusk as a dildo and attempts to rape Catherine Oxenberg’s character during a sacrifice in another monstrous scene. And the white worm itself, often shown wrapped around the cross and gnawing on Jesus is an image that will sear into your brain and never leave. Even though the snake fangs the infected sport are slightly goofy, the gore they create isn’t. In terms of disturbing imagery, this film’s got it in spades. Russell has always been a hallucinatory sort of director, but this film, done in a slightly more modern sense, really does go all out with the trippy, using animation and montage photography to make every trippy moment electric and insane.
Amanda Donohoe is the real treat here as she eats up every scene with her over the top performance as the Snake Woman Sylvia. The way she slithers around, using just about every snake analogy and pun possible, it seems like she would be more at home as a BATMAN 66 villain than a modern horror film. Still, she is fascinating (and gorgeous) to watch as she switches wardrobes like an 80’s version of Lady Gaga. Her no fucks given attitude and undeniable sultriness make her a villainess to remember.
Those looking for straight faced horror are definitely going to want to search elsewhere. There is dry wit and very dark comedy at play throughout that makes you feel as if, despite the horrific things happening, no one is taking things seriously. The imagery is going to titillate the atheists of the group, but offend anyone even slightly religious. And the winks and nudges this film gives the audience really makes everything feel more like farce-filled rather than fear. LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM is an exercise in the grotesque. Sometimes it will make you laugh, other times it’ll make you wince, and sometimes you’ll do both at once.
This Vestron Video rerelease is filled with extras including commentary by Ken Russell himself, another commentary with Lisi Russell and Film Historian Matthew Melia, “Worm Food” interviews the special effects artists behind the film, “Cutting For Ken” talks with Editor Peter Davies, an interview with Sammi Davis, trailers and stills.
New on DVD from Rapid Heart Productions and MVD Visual!
ASIAN GHOST STORY (2016)Directed by David DeCoteau
Written by David DeCoteau
Starring Josh Van Meurs, Cassidy Darling, Nicholas Simmons, Miguel Rodriguez, Tyler Rozendal, Simon Oliver Fowler, Kevin Sheen, Cynthia Rothrock as the Narrator, & Tom Vuu as the Ninja Ghost!
Find out more about this film on its website!
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
So this…was a movie. I check out all kinds of films for AICN HORROR and even in the bad ones, I try to find a kernel of something positive to say about it. And what I will say about ASIAN GHOST STORY is that the initial premise, upon hearing it, had me saying, “How the hell can you fuck this up?!?!” Well exploitation director David DeCoteau showed me just how to do it.
In a long narration by kung-fu goddess Cynthia Rothrock (who deserves better than this film) at the beginning, we find out that many Chinese workers were brought over to work on the railroad system that ran across America and through Canada. We find out that they were treated horribly and put through harsh conditions, causing many to perish and die, only to be left for dead on the side of the railroad tracks they broke their backs making. It would only make sense that these tracks are haunted by vengeful spirits and a team of paranormal investigators arrive at a remote Canadian railway station to try to capture some footage for their TV show. They have all the necessary equipment, but they aren’t prepared for the ninja ghost haunting the tracks and fully willing and able to slice and dice anyone he comes upon.
This film centers on a ninja ghost. A ninja fucking ghost! How do you mess that up?
Well, first you lose track of focus and simply make this film a showcase for dudes to walk around shirtless for about 75% of the film. After the opening credits, the first twenty minutes of this film follows one dude walking and walking and walking along a railroad tracks with the occasional cut to a ninja stalking him in the woods. TWENTY MINUTES crawls by focusing on this guy walking around in only in jorts, then he finally gets killed off screen and bloodlessly. Surely, the plot will kick in after this extended opening kill? Right. Nope, we then cut to another dude who shows up at the cabin where the crew is supposed to meet. He immediately strips down to his underwear and walks around the house taking EVP’s. I understand horror and skin has always gone hand in hand, but this is the tiniest inkling of horror peppered in between extended scenes of dudes taking their shirts off and walking around. The film had so many shirtless dudes walking around, I had to stop and check IMDB to check and see if Victor Salva directed this one (ZING!)
DeCoteau doesn’t even try to make things scary as he reuses footage of the ninja slicing at the camera with a groan off camera over and over again. There is no interest in continuity (one dude is calling another gal who is supposed to be a few miles away, but he is wearing only jorts while she is wearing a coat and mittens), or even sense (the underwear dude taking EVP’s in the home comments that the home is ancient and probably doesn’t even have electricity, though an on/off switch can clearly be seen on the wall just over his shoulder and he looks back at it as he says the line…). All the power to DeCoteau for convincing these underwear models to strip down and wander around for him, but can he stop drooling at them long enough to even attempt to make an actual narrative out of it?
I can’t recommend this film to anyone, not even my gay friends who might appreciate the sight of shirtless dudes walking around aimlessly. No suspense. No mood. No creativity. There’s just nothing going on with this film but a filmmaker who obviously had one hand on the camera and another in his pants the entire time he was filming. What frustrates me the most is that this film could have been cool. How could a ninja ghost movie not be cool? I dare you to check this film out and find out.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual and Wild Eye Releasing!
FRESHWATER (2016)aka LAKE DEATH
Directed by Brandeis Berry
Written by Brandeis Berry
Starring Joe Lando, Zoë Bell, Alison Haislip, Amy Paffrath, Tom O'Connell, John Bobek, Christopher Biewer, Donnabella Mortel, Derrick Redford, Faisal Al-Saja, Marti Hale, John V. Ward, Kevin Wayne, Brian Waters, Elizabeth Beckwith, Sherri Eakin, Yulia Klass, Michael St. Michaels
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I’m giving FRESHWATER some credit for at least trying to add something new to the alligator/crocodile horror subgenre. While it has all of the trappings of a low budgeter, they are trying to do something a little different. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.
A new sheriff (Joe Lando) arrives in town just in time to investigate a series of crocodile attacks that signify a reptile of huge proportions. Croc researcher Brenda Gray (Zoë Bell) investigates and finds something odd about the attacks that signify something more devious is going on. Meanwhile, a group of twenty-somethings gather at a cabin on the lake to party and end up having an up close and personal look at the innards of an albino croc.
Without giving too much away, FRESHWATER tries to zig a little in the narrative to get you guessing that it may not even be a croc doing all of this killing. The early kills are off camera, and though there is a croc swimming away from the scene, you never really see the croc attacks. I thought this was due to the low budget and it very well might have been, but at least the filmmakers decide to throw in a few twists that keeps you guessing.
That said, the acting here is atrocious. This mainly seems to be due to the director who seems to have thought the takes he was getting were adequate enough to print. There are moments when the acting is ok, which suggests the actors were up to par and able to give an ok performance, but too many times, the camera keeps rolling when the line delivery is less than convincing. Add to the fact that the characters have nonsensical fights with one another, get angry for no real reason, and only act to serve the story, and you get a movie that is really tough to watch.
It doesn’t help that the CG croc looks like it was made with a Commodore 64. They smartly keep the thing off camera a lot, but any time it is on screen, it just looks too animated and will cause more laughs than shrieks of fear.
In the end, there is a nugget of a decent story here, but the filmmakers just couldn’t pull off the landing of these interesting beats. FRESHWATER is sub par ScyFy monster movie fare that even manages to make a decent actress like Zoe Bell look bad.
New this week on DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
THE CROOKED MAN (2016)Directed by Jesse Holland
Written by Jeffrey Schenck, Peter Sullivan
Starring Angelique Rivera, Cameron Jebo, Michael Jai White, Dina Meyer, Amber Benson, Reilly Stith, Alexis Wilkins, Brianne Tju, Marco Rodríguez, Dia Frampton, Daniel Booko, John Colton, Isabella Day, Lexi Underwood, ViviAnn Yee, Riley Shepherd, Morgan Bastin, Calico Cooper, Brett Wagner, John Burke, Rene Moran, Matt Merchant, Jordan Neely, Stephen Thomas, Jennifer Peo, Michael C. Mahon, and Dmitrious Bistrevsky as The Crooked Man!
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Straight to the point, THE CROOKED MAN is a completely adequate little horror film. It’s got a decent villain and sets up a few scenes that really are effective. The problem is that there are just too many films of this sort for it to stand out and above the herd.
THE CROOKED MAN is basically a Slenderman riff where a group of tweens have a slumber party and dare each other to sing a haunted song they find on the internet which evokes a large twisted monster called the Crooked Man. After one of the girls is murdered at the party, another one named Olivia is pegged as the murderer. Ten years later Olivia (Angelique Rivera) is released from an institution and returns home to find that she is not welcome as many believe her a murderer. Paired with a hunky police officer and a vengeance fueled Michael Jai White who has encountered the Crooked Man before, Olivia tries to clear her name and get to the bottom of just what is the Crooked Man.
Similar in tone to the Slenderman legend and the recent flop THE BYE BYE MAN, THE CROOKED MAN succeeds only with the design of it’s title character. The lengthy arms and legs of the monster are exaggerated even more as the character twitches back and forth, bending and shifting in odd contortions. It’s actually a strong effect and had this been a better film, I think THE CROOKED MAN would have taken off. The problem is that there really is nothing in THE CROOKED MAN that you haven’t seen in the other CANDYMAN rip-offs through the years. There’s the vengeful hunter (White) who is always fun in a grimacing and sneering way reminiscent of Steven Williams’ Creighton Duke character from THE FINAL FRIDAY and the bevy of twenty somethings who show up simply to be murdered seconds later.
With the recent release of the BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN documentary, this type of urban legend is on the public consciousness, but apart from the way the boogeyman looks here, there’s nothing new or interesting to add from this film. Still compared to the latest CROCO-SLOTH VS RABBIT-SHARK Asylum crap that shows up on ScyFy, this film is at least a step in the right direction in terms of making an actual horror movie worth watching.
New in select theaters and On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
BORNLESS ONES (2016)aka GOETIA, HAUNTED HOUSE ON THE HILL
Directed by Alexander Babaev
Written by Alexander Babaev
Starring Margaret Judson, Devin Goodsell, Michael Johnston, Mark Furze, Bobby T, David Banks, Victoria Clare, Gwen Holloway, Nick Saso, Rob Tepper, Lana Titov, Greg Travis, Pony Wave
Find out more about this film here, @bornlessones, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
If you boil down the ingredients of BORNLESS ONES, you get a healthy portion of EVIL DEAD mixed in with a dash of FAUST and a pinch of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. That’s a potent combination of movies that makes for a decent little cabin in the woods with demons movie.
After her mother dies, Emily (THE NEWSROOM’s Margaret Judson) and her husband Jesse (Devin Goodsell) are left to take care of her invalid brother Zach (Michael Johnston). Rather than take care of him themselves—which they are ill prepared for, the couple decide to move to a house in the country which is close to a treatment facility better equipped to take care of Zach. Emily and Jesse’s friends Woodrow (Mark Furze) and Michelle (the stunning Bobby T) decide to come along to help the couple settle in. Much frustration and secrets are shared between these two couples. Jesse is frustrated because Emily is taking care of Zach and neglecting his sexual needs. Michelle is pregnant after losing her first baby. And Woodrow is dealing with guilt from being a bully in school which lead to a tragic death. That’s a whole lot of negative vibes going on. And it just so happens that the house they just bought was once owned by a woman who sold her soul to have demons heal her sick daughter. Obviously this didn’t work out well, as she is no longer the owner, but the couples discover all sorts of weird sigils and text about summoning demons. Of course, they write it all off as crazy, but after a night of partying, Zach suddenly stands up and begins to speak for the first time. Now the demons are back and ready to exploit the sins of all of those in the house and pit them all against one another.
There is a lot of good in BORNLESS ONES. It’s bloody and gory at times. There are some really grueling images and nicely dark situations going on all over the place. And the story does a great job of dealing with each of the problems, sins, and frustrations of the group in a pretty naturalistic manner, allowing space for each of the dark secrets to come to light that doesn’t feel contrived or crowded.
If there are issues with BORNLESS ONES, it sadly has to do with the cast. Particularly the lead in Judson who really seems like she needed someone to pace her in her run through emotions. She is the one of the group without the dark secrets, so basically her job is to react to all of the others’ secrets as they come to light. While she nails some of them, the film seems to be rushing her through the emotions towards the end. This might be the fault of the script which seems to rush to a conclusion after relishing in the violence and secrets for most of the film, but sadly, Judson isn’t able to fix that with her performance. She seems to be a good actress with a lot ahead of her, but the way this role is written and the way she plays it just seems out of both the filmmaker’s and the actress’ reach.
That said, BORNLESS ONES is a cut above most cabin in the woods films I’ve seen. The demon possession bits are fun and the setup with the two couples plus one in the wheelchair serves as a nice wink towards TCM. You could do a lot worse than BORNLESS ONES. I know it’s not a shining endorsement, but it’s as much as this film could muster in me.
New this week in select theaters from Vertical Entertainment!
DON’T HANG UP (2016)Directed by Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot
Written by Joe Johnson
Starring Gregg Sulkin, Garrett Clayton, Bella Dayne, Jack Brett Anderson, Sienna Guillory, Robert Goodman, Michael Bodie, Connie Wilkins, Alex Dee, Jane Ryall, Edward Killingback, Parker Sawyers, Philip Desmeules
Find out more about this film @DontHangUpMovie and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Usually, films that utilize technology of the day bothers me. Films about evil texting or computer viruses with a mind of their own, J-Horror with all of the rules that are painstakingly laid out, or just simply tech that is at the moment cutting edge, but is immediately passé by the time the movie finally comes out; all of these types of films just make we pine for a simpler time when you didn’t have to come up with a reason for the cell phones not to work…because there were none and a killer could simply stalk and slash at their convenience.
Ahh, those were the days.
DON’T HANG UP is a prank phone call horror film that smartly whisks past the techie plotholes and simply focuses on the horror at hand. A pair of teens (Gregg Sulkin & Garrett Clayton) are best buds and looking to have some fun with their parents out of town, so they decide to do what they always do and prank phone call folks. Now, as seen in the intro, these pranks are much more extreme than the stuff found in the classic prank phone call film I SAW WHAT YOU DID AND I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!, this is next level shit such as calling someone in the middle of the night and telling them you’re the police and there’s a killer in the house. The teens don’t take it too well, though, when they call the wrong number and the voice on the other side turns the tables on them, threatening to kill their parents and friends if they hang up the phone.
What works here is that everyone is a pretty strong actor here. The two leads are equally likable and moronic in their own affable manner and I have to saw it is fun seeing their machismo melt as they realize how much danger they are in once the voice on the line starts threatening them.
While there are a few leaps in logic going on involving some real time phone to TV tech that I don’t think it common in most households yet, it’s not so much of a technological leap that one can’t imagine a well to do family in the suburbs might have something like that. And while this film lifts from the original SAW movie in one instance, it does maintain its menace all the way until the end of the film. DON’T HANG UP is not as annoying as I originally thought it was going to be with a convincing cast, a thoroughly menacing monster on the other end of the line, and some fun (albeit familiar) twists along the way. Kind of like prank phone calls themselves, this is harmless fun horror aimed for a younger audience that I didn’t find completely alienating for my age group either.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Magnet Releasing!
XX (2017)Directed by Jovanka Vuckovic (“The Box”), Annie Clark (“The Birthday Party”), Roxanne Benjamin (“Don’t Fall”), Karyn Kusama (“Her Only Living Son”), Sofìa Carrillo (bookend animation)
Written by Jovanka Vuckovic (“The Box” screenplay, based on a short story by Jack Ketchum), Roxanne Benjamin (“The Birthday Party”, “Don’t Fall”), Annie Clark (“The Birthday Party”), Karyn Kusama (“Her Only Living Son”)
Starring Natalie Brown, Peyton Kennedy, Peter DaCunha, Jonathan Watton, Ron Lea, Michael Dyson (“The Box”), Melanie Lynskey, Sheila Vand, Sanai Victoria, Clayton Jackson, Laura G. Chirinos, Joe Swanberg, Jay Chirinos, Ozzy Villazon (“The Birthday Party”), Angela Trimbur, Breeda Wool, Morgan Krantz, Casey Adams (“Don’t Fall”), Kyle Allen, Christina Kirk, Mike Doyle, Brenda Wehle, Lisa Renee Pitts, Ruben Pla, Morgan Peter Brown, Lisa Costanza, Curt Cornelius (“Her Only Living Son”)
Find out more about this film here. @xxfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While I try not to get too political, I do want to recognize that while there certainly have been prolific female horror filmmakers, it still has been a pretty male dominated genre. At last year’s New York Comic Con, during my quarterly “Reinventing Horror” panel, we discussed the fact that much of horror has been seen through one lens. Now, I try to stay out of gender politics for the most part, but I do want to give attention to a sort of opening of the gates in terms of horror from other genders, other races, and other cultures. What is terrifying to one culture, may not be so frightening to another (see the evil sheet from UNDER THE SHADOW that I felt to be less than terrifying). Still, there is something to be said about the human experience and some horrors are universal.
XX proves both points and while it is not an overtly political feminist statement, it is horror from the minds and cameras of female filmmakers. I didn’t know what to expect going into this film. Was it just going to be a bunch of castration scenes, or were these horrors going to be more sophisticated. Turns out it was the latter. XX is a horror anthology first and a female horror anthology second. This means that it never beats you about the head and shoulders that it is a movie made by women. It’s just a good movie and for that, I appreciate it all the more. XX had a limited budget, but still, all of the contributors seemed to have given their all and the end result is a mixed bag of fun, frightening, and thought-provoking horror that works. Sometimes, if you dig deep enough, there is a feminist message in there (you can do that with pretty much any kind of film, BTW), but those who want to come at this as simply a horror movie with a variety of scares are going to be surprised that this one can be viewed without taking politics into consideration. Then again, it’s there if you dg enough and I did so a few times in the below review.
The first segment is by former Rue Morgue Magazine Editor and producer of XX, Jovanka Vuckovic and I think was the perfect way to start off this anthology. The story is not overtly feminist in the least, but instead is more subtle with its message while never forgetting that this is a horror story. In “The Box,” a curious young boy asks a stranger on a train what is in a box he has on his lap. The man happily shows what is inside, despite his mother (Natalie Brown) attempting to keep her child from being nosy. When the boy gets home, he kindly refuses to eat dinner, to which his mother and father shake off as the boy sneaking snacks at school. But when this continues for days, with the child refusing to eat, the story gets much more dire. Soon, the boy is telling the rest of the family members, one by one, what the secret of the box is, leaving the entire family, save the mother, without hunger. The story exemplifies a fantastic build tension as each family member visibly withers away while the mother is forced to watch, not knowing what to do. This palpable dread is realized in an awesome, yet patient manner, progressing to a horrific end.
I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to look at this segment, and all of the others for that matter, through a feminist lens, as that is the point of this anthology. In this segment, it is the mother who works while the father is the stay at home dad. He is the one who gets emotional when the kids don’t eat, while the mother calmly observes and thinks nothing of it until it’s too late. I don’t want to read too much into this, but my interpretation is that “The Box” wants to address the real guilt women often get when leaving the home and going against gender roles. Brown’s mother character is rather distant at times, not pressing the issue or supporting her husband when he wants to make this hunger strike an issue. This reversal of gender roles in the household is a powerful way of subtly dealing with feminist issues, while all the while telling a compelling story with real heft. Patience, subtle musical cues, and some very miniscule CG to make people look emaciated make this a simple, yet powerful little opener.
Next up is “The Birthday Party” a fantastic dark comedy starring HEAVENLY CREATURES’ Melanie Lynskey. While this one plays shorter, it really does do a lot with very little as a well to do mother (Lynskey) tries to make her daughter’s birthday party the best it can be. Too bad father has died in his office over night. But Lynskey’s character doesn’t want to let that get in the way of a good party, so she does her best to try to hide the body from her child, her housekeeper, and all of the party guests. A lot of what makes this short segment so good is the fact that Lynskey is such a great actress with a lot of great comedic timing. The film, written by Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark (aka songstress St. Vincent) and directed by Clark, is best when it lets Lynskey shine in an almost Lucielle Ball like manner to try to cover up the body. Some nice musical cues set to slo mo towards the end makes everything nicely comedic and darkly dramatic all at once. This one was slickly produced, but very short. The final alternate title sequence for the short is equally entertaining.
“Don’t Fall,” written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (who also contributed to the SOUTHBOUND anthology) delivers as straight forward a monster segment as you can get. As with all of these shorts, this one breezes by very quickly , but delivers some nice performances from THE FINAL GIRLS’ Angela Trimbur and Breeda Wool as a group of campers find themselves in an unmapped territory with ties to ancient evil beings. The result is an assault on a trailer home that is pretty epic, albeit very short and to the point. What this installment showed me though is that Benjamin knows how to make her shots exciting and vibrant. We’ve seen attacks like this in many a horror film, but Benjamin makes it all feel new and electric with come creative shots and some fresh gore. While this one went by too quickly for my liking, I liked what I saw under Benjamin’s direction in that it takes a typical horror scenario and makes it atypical through creative camerawork.
The final segment “Her Only Living Son” is from THE INVITATION’s Karyn Kusama and much of the same notes of paranoia that permeated every scene of her comeback film from last year occur in this short as well. This one focuses on the sacrifices mothers make for their children. Paced nicely with some fantastically wicked little beats along the way, this short follows a mother (POWERLESS’ Christina Kirk) who is struggling with the knowledge that her son is turning 18 and becoming a man. While on the metaphorical sense, this segment is steeped in empty nest syndrome, Kusama casts a more devilish pall over the dilemma by adding in a secret conspiracy, a pact made long ago, and a looming monster who is intent on taking her son away from her. This film could have easily been a continuation of such films as THE OMEN or ROSEMARY’S BABY as they all deal with motherhood and the fear a woman has that what they have created would one day become evil. Kusama shows her sophisticated storytelling skills by pacing this one out perfectly and coming to a conclusion that is dramatic and epic, though it plays out simply and probably didn’t break the bank. All in all, this is a nuanced and resonant segment that made me want to call my mother afterwards.
Each segment is bookended by the surreal and macabre stop motion animation one saw in those old Tool videos like “Sober” and “Prison Sex.” These segments were created and directed by Sofìa Carrillo, these set the tone nicely for these four segments utilizing broken toys wandering through a gothic mansion. XX is a fantastic little anthology, filled with both heady and hearty horror. I found it to be less of a political statement about womanhood and more of a simple statement that there are quite a few female filmmakers out there who are able to make good horror. I hope to see more from each of these filmmakers as all four segments were well produced and successful in telling compelling and terrifying little ditties.
Advance Review: Coming Soon from Frolic Pictures!
AMETHYST (2016)aka PSYCHEDELIC GODMOTHER
Directed by Jared Masters
Written by Jared Masters
Starring Grace Klich, Valerie Miller, Derrick Biedenback, Olivia Yohai, Jared Masters, Vincent Joel
Find out more about this film here, @amethystmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Light on story, but heavy on style and trippy nuance, AMETHYST is one LSD trip appreciators of art house horror will definitely want to check out.
In this dialog-less experimental film, a pair of women take some LSD and go on a sometimes beautiful/sometimes haunting trek across a mansion grounds, a countryside, along a river, and through a cemetery.
So there’s not a lot by ways of story going on, but writer/director Jared Masters gives these two damsels room to explore the locale and come in contact with some pretty trippy things along this fantastical journey. Along this path is a pants-less guy in a top hat and cape that I believe represents a Pan or Trickster character. There’s also a female vampire ready to let loose the red stuff. As the maidens attempt to recover their sanity and find their way back to the real world, they lose and find themselves as well as seem to fall in love only to destroy it. All of this happens in a dream-like fashion as classical and synth music plays in the background.
Fans of more straight-forward horror steer clear, but if you’re more into the voyage rather than the destination, AMETHYST is going to be a psychedelic little pill worth popping.
And finally…I think I remember seeing this one on UP ALL NIGHT one night long ago. It’s called THE JOGGER (or as Ron Jeremy would put it “yogger with a soft J”) and it’s one of those old shorts with actual production values and smarts that you just don’t see anymore. It stars LOST’s John Locke/THE STEPFATHER’s Terry O’Quinn, Tom Morga who played Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING, and is directed by Robert Resnikoff, who went on to direct THE FIRST POWER with Lou Diamond Phillips. This one’s got switchblades, short shorts, sweat bands, and heart monitors, plus a song by The Police’s Stewart Copeland!?!?!. Check out THE JOGGER from 1984 and see if you remember this obscure little ditty. 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 17 years & AICN HORROR for 6. 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!