Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Though I was busy bringing you all the @$$ies this week for AICN COMICS, I still was able to churn out another batch of horror reviews for you all to scroll through. Whew, going to pass out now…
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: A*P*E (1976)
Retro-review: DEADTIME STORIES (1986)
PLAN 9 (2015)
THE CREATURE BELOW (2016)
IT LIVES IN THE ATTIC (2016)
THE INSTITUTE (2017)
ARBOR DEMON (2016)
WE ARE THE FLESH (2016)
GET OUT (2017)
Advance Review: STREAMER (2017)
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
A*P*E (1976)aka APE, ATTACK OF THE GIANT HORNY GORILLA, SUPER KONG, HIDEOUS MUTANT, THE NEW KING KONG, THE KING APE, A.P.E.: ATTACKING PRIMATE MONSTER!
Directed by Paul Leder
Written by Paul Leder, Reuben Leder
Starring Rod Arrants, Joanna Kerns, Alex Nicol, Nak-hun Lee, Yeon-jeong Woo, Jerry Harke, Larry Chandler, Walt Myers, J.J. Gould, Charles Johnson, Paul Leder, Choi Sung Kwan, Bob Kurcz, Jules Levey, and ??? as the Giant Ape!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The story of KING KONG has been a staple in cinema since the dawn of the medium. Versions of Kong not only utilize the same imagery, but also represent the unique era they were made in. While some are more flawed than others, each are amazing in their own way.
But none of them are as laughably awful as A*P*E.
After capturing a 36 foot gorilla from an island in the middle of the ocean, the gargantuan monster escapes from the freighter transferring it to Disneyland, wrestles with a shark, a snake, kung fu fighters, and toy military vehicles and crashing through downtown Seoul, Korea in the process. Meanwhile, the love between a reporter named Tom (Rod Arrants) and an actress named Marilyn (GROWING PAINS’ Joanna Kerns) is strained as the ape goes on a rampage. Eventually, A*P*E falls in lust with Marilyn and snags her…yadda, yadda, yadda…King Kong.
First off, the math in this film is off by a lot as the gorilla is supposed to be 36 feet tall, but that would only make him about the size of an average football goalpost. From the perspective shown in this film, our A*P*E is 3 to four times that size given that he is swatting helicopters out of the sky and palming people as if they were GI Joe figures. Of course, that rough estimate of the monster’s size alone is more thought put into this film than was put into the entire script. Horrendous dialog, meandering plot, ADHD attention where we follow unnecessary side plots and characters that have no real function in the story; all of this is makes watching this film from a story perspective an absolutely painful experience.
Thankfully, A*P*E makes up for it’s basic lack of story (which is simply pit the big gorilla against one challenge after another until it remembers that it’s a Kong rip-off and then mimics the Fay Wray scene where Kong reaches in and snags her from her hotel room) with a “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks no matter how batshit crazy the concept” style attitude. Immediately after escaping the freighter, A*P*E fights what looks to be a dead shark bought in a fish market. He wrestles around with it in the water for a while, flipping the limp shark through the water and air until he finally delivers a final blow of ripping the mouth of the dead shark open. This scene alone is nuts and worth seeking this film out to see, but he also tosses a boa constrictor into the camera (this is a 3D movie, you know), steps over a toy cow, and chases a toy hang glider across the countryside. A*P*E also apparently know his sign language as he flicks off the military after they attack him and sits nonchalantly in a tree waiting for something new to fuck up.
Meanwhile, we have to have a human element in these films for some reason, so we get some terrible drama between a reporter (Arrants) and an actress named Marilyn (Kerns). She seems to be filming what looks to be a rape movie as every scene we are shown has her being beaten up and tossed around by her onscreen lover. I guess this can count as foreshadowing because as soon as A*P*E sees her, her seems to be aroused by her. The subtle love affair between ape and woman suggested by the Coldplay ads for Jackson’s KING KONG are a far cry from the simple porno subtlety going on between Marilyn and A*P*E who seems to want to take her back to a cave and attempt to mate with the tiny lass, if not for those annoying helicopters and military jeeps getting in the way. Marilyn even shouts the line, “Take it easy, big guy.” and seems almost eager for the challenge of some 3-story tall gorilla on 5 foot tall woman lovin’.
A*P*E was made in 3D and director Paul Leder takes full advantage of making things come at’cha over and over again. Snakes, flaming arrows, kung fu feet, spears, and all sorts of in your face monkey action occurs making me wish I could actually see this one in the theater. This ridiculous film is presented in both 2-D and 3-D formats for this BluRay release and if you’re looking for a film to have a whole bunch of dumb fun with, this is it.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay/DVD from The Shout Factory!
DEADTIME STORIES (1986)aka FREAKY FILM TALES, FREAKY FAIRYTALES, THE GRIEBELS
Directed by Jeffrey Delman
Written by Jeffrey Delman, J. Edward Kiernan, Charles F. Shelton
Starring Scott Valentine, Nicole Picard, Matt Mitler, Cathryn de Prume, Melissa Leo, Kathy Fleig, Kevin Hannon, Timothy Rule, Anne Redfern, Casper Roos, Barbara Seldon, Leigh Kilton, Lesley Sank, Lisa Cain, Michael Berlinger, Fran Lopate, John Bachelder, Bob Trimboli, Harvey Pierce, Rondell Sheridan, Brian DePersia, & Michael Mesmer as Uncle Mike!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While anthologies always offer a mixed bag, it’s hard to find the good stuff in this typically 80’s and downright goofy assortment of horror shorts known as DEADTIME STORIES.
I’ll give this film one thing. The framing device of DEADTIME STORIES is one of the most fun. While today, it seems post production animation is the only creative ways folks can thread an anthology together, back in the eighties when the anthology got popular again due to the success of CREEPSHOW, they took time to at least try to make the whole thing feel like a knit together movie. Here a kid is being babysat by his drunk uncle who only wants to watch the Miss Nude World pageant, but keeps getting interrupted by the kid’s night terrors. So what’s a derelict uncle to do? Tell him creepy, overtly sexual, and twisted versions of classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales, of course. I got a kick out of these segments the most as they had a Louis CK quality to them as the drunk uncle doesn’t really give a shit that his perverse tales are probably going to be sending the kid into therapy sooner rather than later.
Now the meat portion of this anthology sandwich is kind of stale. The first story focuses on a pair of witches attempting to bring their third sister back to life. Their apprentice is a wannabe warlock (MY DEMON LOVER and FAMILY TIES’ Scott Valentine), eager to help them, but not really able to stomach the blood. This is a predictable tale filled with lame humor and slow pacing, but especially cool effects. This was the era of effects over substance in horror and that theme is prevalent for the bulk of this film. If as much time was spent on the story as was the reformation of the third witch sequence, this would have been a stellar segment.
Story two doesn’t get much better story wise as it attempts to modernize the Red Riding Hood tale. A curvy brunette who likes to jog contemplates losing her virginity to her boyfriend on her way to grandma’s house. But when she mistakenly picks up the wrong prescription at the pharmacy, the other pill popper goes nuts and tries to get the essential pills back before the full moon. Of course, this leads to a werewolf transformation, which again, is pretty strong in the practical effects department. Sadly, the story is extremely slow and the script is downright uninspired with a final moment twist you can see coming all the way from over the hill and through the woods.
Out of all of the sequences, the third is my favorite. None of these are great by any means, but at least the third segment adapting “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” simply dives off a cliff into Batshit River. Cathryn de Prume stars as Goldi Lox, an escaped mental patient with telekinetic powers to match her psychotic need to murder every man who flirts with her. She’s hiding out at a house formerly owned by the Baer family, and when they escape from the loony bin as well, they find Goldi squatting in their house. Meanwhile, Lt. Jack B. Nimble and Captain Jack B. Quick (see what they did there) are utilizing the entire police force to search for the quartet of escaped loonies. Oscar winner Melissa Leo probably leaves her performance as Mama Baer off her resume, and none of the acting is very good here from the rest of the cast either. But this one has a cartoonish feel that reminds me of old Troma with lots of sex, violence, blood, and idiot behavior.
The film opens with an extremely lame rock song set to a bunch of monster hands turning the pages of the fairy tale book that is so bad it is good. DEADTIME STORIES isn’t one of the better anthologies of the eighties, but at least, for the most part, it doesn’t take itself as award winning material either. This one is for the horror anthology completists out there. Special features include; a commentary by director/co-writer Jeffrey Delman, “I Like The Grotesque” an interview with Delman, new interviews with actors Cathryn de Prume, Melissa Leo & Scott Valentine, “The Black Forest” – an alternate cut of the first story, deleted scenes, and trailers.
Available now on Amazon Prime from Cinema Epoch!
DELUSION (2016)Directed by Christopher Di Nunzio
Written by Christopher Di Nunzio
Starring David Graziano, Jami Tennille, Irina Peligrad, Kris Salvi, Justin Thibault, Carlyne Fournier, Renee Lawrie, Jessy Rowe, Christine Perla, Ronnie Oberg
Find out more about this film here, @thefilmDelusion, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
DELUSION is a film that deals not with the fear of death, but of the horror of living after a loved one passes away. This is a sensitive and heart-breaking tale of one man trying to cope with the death of his wife and battling his own personal demons along the way.
David Graziano plays Frank, a widower who is trying to piece his life together after his wife passed away mysteriously. After finding a note from his wife explaining how much he loved him, he is trying to move on and meets a woman in the park he feels might be the perfect one to move on with. Turns out, though, that she’s a succubus, looking to sap Frank’s soul and leave him for dead.
This low budgeter highlights filmmaker Christopher Di Nunzio’s skill at moody direction through experimental horrors. Through some well placed dream sequences, Di Nunzio is able to convey a strong sense of dread and terror as Frank dreams of being attacked and sucked dry of blood by a woman wearing skull-face makeup. Di Nunzio uses very low lighting and high contrast to make these scenes pop.
While Graziano is not the best at line delivery, he has a sort of charm that made me want the best for him and made me invested in the way this film turned out. He is a bit of a sad sack and his Boston accent helps accentuate his maudlin demeanor, but there’s a lot of charm on display here as he attempts to get back on the horse after being married for so long.
This is not for folks who aren’t used to low fi horror. Most of the acting feels as if the actors are being fed lines from off camera. The pacing is off with this one as well and I think this would have been stronger as a short film rather than feature length. That said, having seen his previous short film HER HEART STILL BEATS and this one, Di Nunzio definitely has an eye for horror and an ambition to tell terrifying tales from the heart.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
PLAN 9 (2015)Directed by John Johnson
Written by John Johnson (screenplay), based on the film by Edward D. Wood Jr.
Starring Brian Krause, Mister Lobo, Sara Eshleman, Matthew Ewald, James Rolfe, Matt Sloan, Monique Dupree, John Johnson, Conrad Brooks, Addy Miller, Amy Hart, Jay Barber, Doug Bari, John Patrick Barry, Nora Bauer, John Birmingham, Talon Borrelli, Frederick Cowie, Eleanor Drew, Chris J. Duncan, James 'Ike' Eichling, Eric Hart, Royce Hobson, Kerry James, James Judice, Jarod Kearney, Camille Keaton, Rachel Rose Lynch, Justin Martucci, Jerry Moore, Bruno Munkus, Angela Pritchett, Chad Runyon, Kevyn Settle, Cooper Shaw, Ted Taylor, Tori Lee Teller, Bruce Whited, Brian Wimer, Lana Young, Hal Handerson as the Count Zombie, John R. Price II as Zombie Inspector Clay, & Terry Chandeline Nicole Westfall as Vampira Zombie!
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While many claim PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is the worst film ever made, horror fans, regular readers of this column, and I myself know this not to be true. Every week I cover some downright stinkers that make Ed Wood’s film look like Oscar material. One would think remaking PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE would mean all this film could go is up in quality. And PLAN does have better production, preparation (as in script) and execution (as in direction), though it still has all of the trappings of a low budgeter, which will scare off those who loathe the original.
PLAN 9 takes place in a town called Nilbog, the setting for another stinker, TROLL 2. When a meteor crashes into the town, a force wave flows across the town making the undead get up, walk around, run after people, and eat them. A band of survivors do everything in their power to survive the night, while the military are making their way into the town to wipe it clean of all of the undead and the survivors. Meanwhile, an alien force seems bent on destroying the planet and all of the populace, and the undead is only the first step of the plan.
PLAN 9 is a decent remake and actually improves on the concept used in the original. It utilizes a whole lot of humor (both self-referential and self-effacing) to keep the ball rolling, and it also has some decent effects (some CG while others effectively practical). All in all, this feels like a film made by horror fans for horror fans. I’m not going to go so far as to say it is a great film, but it kept my attention and does good job as delivering a lot of the fun the original did. There are even a few effective scenes of true horror (a mother feeds her bitten daughter pills to put her out of her misery and then strips naked and guilt-riddenly walks into the middle of a zombie horde) that feel somewhat out of place in this farcical film, but still manage to show that filmmaker John Johnson actually shows promise and isn’t only interested in winking at the camera.
Fans of low fi horror are going to be impressed with what PLAN 9 has to offer. There are quite a few funny lines. The cast seems dedicated on delivering a farcical romp of a film and accomplishes that feat most of the time. PLAN 9 is much better than Ed Wood’s classic, but embraces those indie DIY roots that the original was grown from.
New this week On Demand and DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures!
THE CREATURE BELOW (2016)aka THE DARK BELOW
Directed by Stewart Sparke
Written by Stewart Sparke, Paul Butler
Starring Anna Dawson, Michaela Longden, Daniel Thrace, Johnny Vivash, Zacharee Lee, David Shackleton, Libby Wattis, Cal O'Connell, Dave Jameson, Paul Toy, Natalie Roe, Alex Woodcock, Paul Butler
Find out more about this film here, @thecreaturebelow, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Just because a story is a familiar one doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth telling again. There are elements of THE CREATURE BELOW taken from films like FRANKENSTEIN, HELLRAISER, and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but the film does a decent job of pieces them all together into a mad science tale of tragedy.
Deep sea diver and researcher Olive (Anna Dawson) has developed a deep sea diving suit that can go deeper than any has before. She forces a science team to allow her to do a dive into the deepest parts of the ocean. When she does, she encounters a giant tentacled creature and passes out. Once she is retrieved and brought to the surface, the research team doesn’t notice that a small egg has been planted within Olive’s diving suit. Olive keeps this from her research team and begins studying the creature in her basement lab at home, where she lives with her overly-understanding boyfriend Matthew (Daniel Thrace). While Matthew loves it that Olive is home, he feels a distance between them as Olive begins having flashbacks to her time in the depths encountering the beast. As the creature grows, it develops a relationship with Olive with her acting as its surrogate mother. Soon, Olive finds that the creature feeds on human blood and when she cannot sustain enough blood from her own arm, she decides to take out anyone around her that she deems worth less than the life of her baby tentacle creature. Luring people to the basement to feed her monster, Olive becomes less and less human herself.
So yeah, this feels a lot like Lydia from HELLRAISER meets Seymor from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, though the film tends to lean more on the serious, twisted, and morose side Clive Barker was going for rather than Roger Corman. And this is one somber tale, told in muted tones and grays. It strays from what one has come to expect of horror lately, which always seems to have to have some comic relief to outweigh the heavy themes. The symbiotic relationship between Olive and the creature is nicely realized here and her descent from decent person into cold blooded killer is carefully and believably shown. And while the story has an air of predictability to it, it was still fun to watch.
This being a low budgeter, the filmmakers smartly decided to keep most of the creature off camera or only show parts of the creature and not show the whole thing. This was probably a good idea as what is shown is somewhat rubbery and unreal looking. Still, the film isn’t afraid to douse the entire set and cast in blood, so it makes up for the lack of top notch effects.
This is definitely not the feel good film of the year as this unflinchingly tells a tale of madness and obsession. The theme of science gone too far is always fun territory to revisit in horror and this revisit turned out to be nicely acted and wonderfully grim.
Available for digital download on Amazon and on DVD at Big Biting Pig Productions!
IT LIVES IN THE ATTIC (2016)Directed by Steve Hudgins
Written by Steve Hudgins
Starring Steve Hudgins, Michael Coon, Jessica Leonard, Felicia Stewart, Jonathan Humphrey, Rob Miles, P.J. Woodside, James Gibbs, Andrew McGregor, April LaRae, Sean Leonard, Emily Beeny, Megan Jones, Alyssa Reisinger, Lucy Turner, Marty D. Cook, Kenneth R. Root, Jordan Livingston Powell, Brittney Meredith-Miller, Lissa Graham-Schneider, Debbie Gibbs
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Since AICN HORROR began back in 2010, I feel I’ve been reviewing Big Biting Pig Productions film. The company, run by producers P.J. Woodside and Steve Hudgins, specializes in low budget do-it-yourself horror. They don’t do monster movies that much. But instead keep the concepts small, focusing on telling a compelling story with interesting characters going through personal horrors, rather than aspiring to mountain high concepts and out of reach plots. Big Biting Pig knows their limitations in monetary backing and star power, but makes up for it where it counts in the script, story, and plot. All of which can be realized with great success with very little money spent. I love Big Biting Pig’s movies because they are often challenging and delving into new terrors rather than revisiting old ones for the umpteenth time. I recommend you check out BBP’s library of films if you’re an indie film fan. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.
Woodside and Hudgins seem to alternate between films as to who gets to direct and write, Last time it was Woodside’s FRANCIS STEIN, a clever twist on the Mary Shelley classic. Now we have IT LIVES IN THE ATTIC, by Hudgins, and once again a Big Biting Pig film blew me away.
The story is told from three perspectives; a couple named Andy & Ellie (Michael Coon and Jessica Leonard) and a lonely man named Barney (played by Hudgins himself. The film tells the story of these three people as their worst fears and basest sins are thrown into their faces. Andy is a man filled with frustration, just wanting to be left alone for some peace and quiet. Ellie wants to feel loved and needed. As does Barney, who is as alone as Ellie, yet unmarried. The narrative jumps back and forth and back again ROSHOMON style telling these three tales sometimes out of order, sometimes backtracking to replay scenes, but from different perspectives. This leads to a bloody trip to the woods, an underground sex club, and a house of horrors.
There’s a sophistication to the storytelling in IT LIVES IN THE ATTIC that is unlike most you’re going to see. Comparable to PULP FICTION in the way it circles around and around these three characters, this film is definitely well thought out and executed in a way that would give most writers headaches. Still, the logic of the film holds firm, and by the last reel, it all makes sense why these three people are being lead down a dark tunnel to their fates. This is a dark film that doesn’t really offer any type of happy ending for anyone, but still manages to leave you with a feeling of dread, sadness, and horror.
With very little effects used, local talent that actually do a great job in front of the lens, and a rollercoaster of a story, IT LIVES IN THE ATTIC is one of the best indie horror films you’re going to see this year. Reminiscent of another experimental narrative by Hudgins HELL IS FULL where you follow the story of a zombie infection from one person to another backwards until we find out where the initial outbreak came from, IT LIVES IN THE ATTIC juggles expectations as to what a story is supposed to look like and therefore makes it all the more special. I highly recommend those who want to see chances taken with story to check out this film. Try not to down-snout it due to its low budget and you’re going to be surprised how good it turned out to be.
New this week in select theaters, On Demand, & Digital HD from AMBI Media Group and Samuel Goldwyn Films!
LAVENDER (2016)Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly
Written by Ed Gass-Donnelly, Colin Frizzell
Starring Abbie Cornish, Dermot Mulroney, Justin Long, Diego Klattenhoff, Peyton Kennedy, Lola Flanery, Sarah Abbott, Mackenzie Muldoon
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Strong performances and some twisted buried memories make LAVENDER a wicked little thriller worth seeking out, though the film is guilty of being predictable.
Abbie Cornish plays Jane, the mother of a beautiful little girl Alice (Lola Flanery) and wife to hard working husband Alan (Diego Klattenhoff). Jane suffers from nightmares and hallucinations that date back to the night her parents were mysteriously killed and she was left alive and catatonic. After a car accident where Jane swerves to avoid hitting a little girl who turns out to be another hallucination, Jane suffers a head injury which causes partial amnesia, but also unlocks keys to her past. Jane’s doctor Liam (Justin Long) thinks it’s a good idea to return to her childhood home to deal with some of these repressed memories and reknit the loosened ties with her family. But this return home seems to awaken horrors both physical and supernatural as Jane struggles to make sense of it all and learn what happened that fateful night when her parents died.
What I like about this film is the way it deals with the psychological heft of repressed memories. While there is a lot of supernatural stuff tossed into this film, the core of the film is about abuse Jane sustained that she just simply wasn’t ready to deal with at the time. This mental malady is depicted in a fascinating manner and Cornish does a great job of carrying the weight of this film as literally the whole film centers on her.
That said, the final act can be predicted from a mile away. As soon as certain characters show up, you know how they factor into the situation and while I won’t give anything away here, I will warn you that even from the trailer below, you can piece together the “big mystery.” Still, the road to the end of this film is paved with decent performances and twisted psychology. I could have done without the ghost children. This story didn’t really need that angle to tell the tale, though it does offer up a rather haunting last frame of the film. LAVENDER is creepiest when the lens focuses on Cornish and her mental struggles.
New in select theaters and On Demand from Momentum Pictures!
THE INSTITUTE (2017)Directed by James Franco, Pamela Romanowsky
Written by Adam Rager, Matt Rager
Starring James Franco, Allie Gallerani, Joe Pease, Lori Singer, Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Josh Duhamel, Eric Roberts, Amber Coney, Val Lauren, Beth Grant, Zoe Sidel, Cynthia Murell, Pamela Anderson, Melissa Bolona, Carmen Argenziano, Dominic Rains, Tamzin Brown, Robyn Cohen, Bella Popa, Gabrielle Haugh, Ben Youcef, Jessica Starr Folger, Roy James Wilson, Nina Ljeti, Nana Ghana, Lidiya Korotko, Rachel Scorpio, Bianca Rusu, Erin Johnson
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
With a strong story and cast, the historical tale of madness and corruption entitled THE INSTITUTE is somewhat hindered by a slow pace and a dryness of delivery.
Set during the 19th Century in Baltimore, THE INSTITUTE tells the story of well to do debutante Isabelle Porter (Allie Gallerani) who sought a place to convalesce at the Rosewood Institute due to her stubborn and curious nature. Once there and under the treatment of Dr. Cairn (James Franco), Isabelle is pushed to the edge of sanity through verbal manipulation coupled with mind altering drugs. As the “treatment” intensifies, Cairn entices Isabelle to shun the outside world and seek the abuse she receives at the hospital, eventually leading to Isabelle being used as a sex slave for masked socialites not unlike that depicted in EYES WIDE SHUT. This story follows Isabelle as she goes from sane to insane and back again.
This is a whole hell of a lot of a movie and I found the story of THE INSTITUTE to be fascinating. It really does a fine job of taking the viewer along with Isabelle as she continues to lose herself in the torturous treatments she endures. At times though, I also feel as if the filmmakers might have bitten off more than they could chew. The most compelling parts of this film have to do with Isabelle struggling with her own curiosity, her desire to ask questions, and go where ladies dare not go in that era. While this could have been a film about Isabelle’s strength, there is quite a lot of attention paid to Isabelle’s “breaking” and only a small amount about her coming back from the abyss. As is the case with many torture porn films, the justification or comeuppance due to the torturers having endured the entire film filled with one person taking advantage of another is all too brief at the end. This leaves the film feel less than satisfying by the time the credits roll. Now, this film is less about a man strapped to a chair getting taken apart piece by piece and more about one’s will being dissected and exploited, but by the end of this film, I was left with the same kind of feeling I leave with most films that are often labeled torture porn.
The performances are quite good all around. Gallerani is strong here in the lead role as Isabelle and this role most likely was both physically and mentally demanding. Despite the hardships, she does deliver a brave performance by showing both her character at her weakest and strongest. Franco is powerful and conniving as the manipulative doctor, and while he does not show much more than his evil side, he does play the part well. Both Lori Singer and Tim Blake Nelson deliver powerfully evil performances as the head nurse and mortician, though again, they seem to have less dimensionality here other than simple moustache twirling badness. Actors like Pamela Anderson and Beth Grant are listed in the credits, but I’ll be damned if I saw them in this film. I would assume their parts were cut down for time or they played background cameo roles I didn’t catch because of the drab lighting of the whole film.
This colorless and dour manner by which the entire film is bathed in definitely gives one a feeling of utter despair. It’s palpable while watching the film the hardships and horrors Isabella endures in al all too convincing manner. At times, though, this is a fault of THE INSTITUTE as it tells the tale in a straight forward manner with very little flourish and flair, leaving it with a rather dry delivery one might associate with DOWNTON ABBEY. This would be ok if the performances were electrifying, but given that the bad guys seem to be bad just to be bad and the good guys are the oblivious and weak-minded, it makes for some rather dreary viewing that lacks the usual pomp that comes with stars of this caliber. I don’t want to take too much away from this film, as it is cool to see such big names taking part in an “evil asylum works with the Illuminati” style film, but I wish the direction would have been a little livelier. Those behind the camera worked maybe too hard to make things feel authentic and of the time, but did so in exchanged some of the liveliness for it. In the end, THE INSTITUTE is an interesting present of a film offering up a strong cast and engrossing story inside but wrapped in dour wrapping paper.
New On Demand platforms such as Directv, AT&T Uverse and Charter. Also available on iTunes, on Amazon, on Google Play, Sony Playstation, etc.!
ARBOR DEMON (2016)aka ENCLOSURE
Directed by Patrick Rea
Written by Michelle Davidson, Patrick Rea
Starring Fiona Dourif, Kevin Ryan, Jake Busey, Michelle Mills, Rob Bouton, Bruce Williamson as the Creature in the Woods!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I reviewed this film a while back when it had the much cooler title, ENCLOSURE. While ARBOR DEMON isn’t the most compelling of titles, the film itself makes up for it. Setting a couple in the woods where they encounter an unknown force is not entirely original either, but add some great performances and a few creative twists and ARBOR DEMON turns out to be something quite special.
Dana (Fiona Dourif from CURSE OF CHUCKY and daughter of Brad) and her husband Charles (Kevin Ryan) are an adventurous couple who pursue their desires to get the most out of life and don’t really have room for children in their lives. But when Dana finds out she is pregnant, she keeps it from Charles and goes on a weekend hike in the wilderness with him as planned. But the deeper into the woods they get, they begin to hear bizarre noises and it seems those making these noises have a special interest in Dana’s motherly state. Dana and Charles find themselves trapped in a small fabric tent with some kind of forest creatures swarming outside.
First and foremost, this is a fantastically acted film. Dourif is a fantastic actress and deserves to be in more films (hopefully more genre films, as she is great as a powerful, yet sympathetic lead). As Dana, she offers up a complexity and likability that other actresses couldn’t pull off. This is basically a situation where she is lying to her husband, but never do we not sympathize with her and it takes a good actress to make that work like Dourif does. The rest of the cast is solid as well. Kevin Ryan is another role that could easily be written as a selfish person, but his honesty is an admirable trait making him likable. Jake Busey, who is the scumbag in this film, is even given a nice arc showing a little vulnerability that he normally doesn’t get to play with in his usual sneering jerk roles. Seeing these three working with their characters in this small tent is a fun dance to see play out.
The other strong aspect of ARBOR DEMON is the sound. Everything from the fantastically unusual whoops and screams from the creatures to the score of this film which incorporates chanting and tribal music, this is an utterly unique film in terms of sound. These sounds make for an unsettling experience through most of the film. On top of that, the practical effects are equal parts creative and effective as the monsters are something you haven’t seen before this side of Mordor. The bark and moss covered creatures are something that seems more comfortable in a fantasy film, but by putting them in this horror film, it feels surprisingly fresh.
ENCLOSURE may seem familiar on the surface, but once you delve into this film, you realize it is something completely new. Patrick Rea has often been featured here in AICN HORROR as he seems to constantly be making short films in between his feature films, such as the impressive tornado monster flick NAILBITER. Each film (short or feature length) seems to be better than the last. ARBOR DEMON makes you care about these trapped people and offers up a unique threat you haven’t seen before, making it a hugely successful little horror film worth seeing.
New on DVD/BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
WE ARE THE FLESH (2016)Directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter
Written by Emiliano Rocha Minter
Starring Noé Hernández, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel, Gabino Rodríguez, María Cid
Find out more about this film @tenemoslacarne, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A good thing to know going into WE ARE THE FLESH is that it can be summed up with one word—Jodorofsky-esque. Now, if you don’t know what that means, then go see EL TOPO or SANTA SANGRE or HOLY MOUNTAIN and then come back and thank me for sending you in that direction. If you come back offended at the graphic sexuality, arguably blasphemous religious iconography, and sadistic violence, then most likely, WE ARE THE FLESH is not going to be for you. But if those types of shocking metaphors and loose narratives strike something inside of you, you are the type of viewer who will most likely find something worthwhile here. I find myself somewhere in between these two camps as I can enjoy a powerful metaphor as much as the next film scholar, but there has to be something more than just shocking imagery to move me and I just don’t know if WE ARE THE FLESH has it in it to do that. The following is my extremely conflicted review.
A pair of sibling youngsters wander into a warehouse inhabited by a busybody vagrant who is busy taking drugs, cooking, making gasoline out of fermented bread, and turning the inside of the building into a womb like structure with wood, duct tape, and cardboard. After agreeing to let the two stay with him, as the world outside is said to be an uninhabitable apocalypse, the vagrant begins to mentally break down the two siblings to act out their most primal of instincts. This includes breaking almost every taboo known to man including incest, rape, cannibalism, murder, and sexual acts such as drinking menstrual blood, urination, and masturbation. All the while, the vagrant waxes philosophic about life, death, borders, and crossing them to his captive audience.
Everything about this film is metaphor—from the Adam and Eve-like siblings wandering into the building to the building itself which is transformed into a womb like haven for them all. Wide eyed and open to suggestion, the two younger kids at first distrust the vagrant, but eventually come to live by his every rule and move. Using psychological torture, whispered commands, and so-called words of wisdom in his owned warped way, the vagrant has these two kids wrapped around his finger. And while they resist this control at first, when he leaves them, he proves they are helpless without his guidance. Everything, from the in your face sex and fetishism to the symbolic eating of steaks and then human beings, seems to reflect some kind of carnal sin these kids are being tempted with in this womb room to prepare themselves for what is outside. By the end, when they do emerge from the room and out into the street, merged into one form, it still feels like the movie is trying desperately to tell us something about how we are made up of the sins of our parents and the environment around us. And only by succumbing to these sins can we prepare and steel ourselves for that the real outside world has in store for us.
While I appreciate metaphors a whole hell of a lot, the excess of shocking imagery is going to be too much for many people. The mid-way menstruation scene is going to be the breaking point for some, but even by this time you would have endured the rape, incest, masturbation, on-screen fellatio, cannibalism, and urination. I understand that the filmmaker was trying to shock the viewer with the inundation of all of these distasteful acts and while the metaphor is there, filmmaker Emiliano Rocha Minter’s lack of nuance and narrative consideration is evident. Minter simply wallows in the sin of it all and asks the viewer to go along with it. Personally, I like a little more story with my metaphor and found myself not necessarily shocked, but somewhat bored as Minter rolls out one means to shock after another. The whole things looks extremely beautiful, specifically the womb room and the fantastical lighting and trippy way everything is shot. But then someone eats period blood and I’m just thinking that the method with which Minter is trying to tell us his message is just overkill.
The one thing people can take away from this film is the undeniable power of Noé Hernández who plays Mariano the vagrant. He is a mesmerizing actor who exudes the type of fanatical power that it would take to manipulate people to do such horrific acts. I’m hoping we see more of this intense actor who commands every scene he is in whether he is simply staring maniacally at someone, singing a national anthem, or taunting the siblings like the devil himself. The other two young actors (María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel) are really good here, but are simply overshadowed by the impact of Hernandez’ rampage through this film.
Sadly, WE ARE THE FLESH is not a film that you need to think much about because it spells out everything to you and shoves it in your face. With its throbbing score, vaginal like setting, trippy lighting, and horrific acts going on in every corner, it doesn’t leave much room for nuance or subtlety. While I appreciate the beauty of the sights and sounds Minter unleashes in WE ARE THE FLESH, I left longing for a stronger narrative and more to this film rather than just shock and awe.
In theaters now from Universal Pictures!
GET OUT (2017)Directed by Jordan Peele
Written by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, LilRel Howery, Ashley LeConte Campbell, John Wilmot, Caren L. Larkey, Julie Ann Doan, Rutherford Cravens, Caren L. Larkey, Julie Ann Doan, Rutherford Cravens, Geraldine Singer, Yasuhiko Oyama, Richard Herd, Erika Alexander, Jeronimo Spinx, Ian Casselberry, Trey Burvant, Zailand Adams
Find out more about this film here, @GetOutMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
In these disgustingly politicized times, people race to the polar opposites and gather their weapons and ready for battle any time any time a social issue comes up like some kind of twisted version of THE HUNGER GAMES. People are eager to argue with one another over these topics, standing firm and screaming in ALL CAPS or shouting in people’s faces rather than having a discussion that actually might enlighten both sides to the fact that we are all sharing this planet and it would be a whole lot better if we could just tolerate each other. I give this preemptive work of sentence-ry as a means hopefully quell those who are ready to jump to the talkbacks for a bare knuckle talk-brawl over this film. It is, after all, just a movie. And I think it’s a pretty damn good movie. It’s not perfect. It’s not a homerun. But it is a good horror film venturing down familiar avenues wearing a different shade of skin color.
GET OUT is at its best when it follows the lead of films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE THING, THE INVITATION, and films of this kind where, with increasing intensity, a person finds themselves in a world unlike his or her own and it seems like everyone is in on the joke (or oblivious to it) save the protagonist. Now in GET OUT’s case, this is a black man (Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya) taking steps into a upper scale white community. Being a white dude, I don’t know what it is like to be a black man walking through a white community, but I do know what it is like being a white man doing the same though a mostly black community in South Side Chicago, as I used to have to take the train to work to Harvey and walk six blocks to my job while I heard calls of “Five-O!” and “What you doin’ here, white boy?” on a daily basis, so I think that’s relatable. Writer/director Jordan Peele gives us a taste of what it is like to be a black man in a white neighborhood in a wonderfully orchestrated scene of pure suspense at the beginning, as a black man is walking alone and finds himself followed by a car in a white neighborhood. This sets the stage that something insidious is going on, but you soon forget it, because Peele introduces us to Chris and his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) as they prepare to meet her parents, even though she tells Chris that she hasn’t told them he was black. Once they arrive at the home, after narrowly avoiding a situation where Chris is harassed by a local cop, they are met with open arms by Rose’s dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) and mother Missy (Catherine Keener). All of Chris’ worry seems to be for naught, until Chris sees that all of the servants in the home are black. While this is addressed and quickly explained away by Dean, Chris still is wary of everything around him. Turns out, Rose’s visit home coincides with a yearly gathering at the home of other well to do white folks, and Chris is paraded out on Rose’s arm forced to meet and make small talk with the locals who are full of rushed assumptions, veiled stereotypical remarks, and worse yet, being pandered to by people seemingly filled with white guilt (Dean admits he would have voted for Obama for a third term as a means to connect with Chris, as if this benefits Chris in some way). Of course, this being a horror film, cracks begin to show and the real reason Chris is there for the weekend is revealed involving a teacup, some hypnosis, and an auction.
For a first time horror director, Jordan Peele impressed the hell out of me. I understand that comedians are often labeled as dark and are usually very good at drama, but Peele displays a really sophisticated sense of timing and pacing here—all good things necessary for great horror. He also knows how to inject humor in a scene (of course, since KEY & PEELE is probably the funniest show I’ve ever seen on television) to quell some of the more uncomfortable moments, such as the dinner party (the Tiger Woods line got me rolling). In terms of a straight-up, paranoia-fueled horror film about the world coming down around you and no one can be trusted, Peele delivers a rock solid film. Borrowing a page from THE STEPFORD WIVES, through Chris’ suspicious eyes, we are questioning everything going on as it appears the black folks Chris run into are acting like everything is completely ok when they obviously are not. And while at first, it appears Chris might be a bit overly cautious about the whole trip, eventually we see he is right in his assumptions and something horrible is going on. Peele takes the viewer extremely slowly down a staircase into the darkness at a smart pace that never skips any crucial step in making everything feel believable and natural to all of the characters. Sure, we know it’s a horror movie, but we don’t know to what extent, and Peele packs in some fantastic surprises along the way that are bound to shock and startle audiences.
Another positive is that the cast is phenomenal. Kaluuya as Chris seems like a great guy—flawed to a tee and cursed with guilt about the passing of his mother at a late age. This actor is going to have a long career in the biz. The only problem I had with him is that his eyes constantly looked watery, as if he were stoned or tearing up the entire time. While there are scenes where he is supposed to be crying and it’s appropriate, he seems to have that glassy eyed look all of the time and it made my eyes begin to water up just looking at his. Other standout roles are, of course, Bradley Whitford as Dean. He injects the right amount of regal-ness along with a dry wit to make him charming, yet suspicious. Paired with Catherine Keener who carries her own sense of wry humor laced with dark undertones to every line she utters and this is one pair of movie bad guys that are truly memorable. I also have to give a shout out to Stephen Root, whose character is only on screen a short while, but his presence is overpowering throughout. Finally, Caleb Landry Jones is becoming one of my favorite actors. With small roles as Banshee in X-MEN: THE FIRST CLASS and the twisted brother in THE LAST EXORCISM and the lead in Brandon Cronenberg’s ANTIVIRAL (an excellent flick, BTW) under his belt, the actor never fails to deliver a memorable role. Jones’ role as Jeremy, the overly aggro brother eager to show off his MMA skills to Chris, is riveting. Even as a young actor, Landry is a force of nature and is able to display his more horrific side here amazingly.
This film has been marketed as a satire. It’s supposed to hold a funhouse mirror up to society and gives a broad strokes version of reality to get people talking. And while the subject of race is prominent, I do not feel like it is a “Hate whitey” film, as some folks have complained about. It definitely talks about race and begins a conversation that is necessary in this day and age. But those rushing to paint it overly liberal or lob the word SJW around are missing the point that the reason Chris is wanted is not because of his race specifically. I think this was an interesting decision for Peele to make as it really allows the audience to fall into assumptions that the movie isn’t necessarily trying to make and points the accusing finger at the more subtle forms of racism and prejudice in society than those screaming for the death of one group or another. Through the bulk of the film, it’s the pandering that is going to make you squirm; the white people trying to deal with guilt by making sure they say they voted for Obama, the references to black athletes in Chris’ presence, even Dean’s explaining away Chris’ suspicions about the black help and Chris’ quickness to accept those excuses speak more about today’s society than any of the overt racism spouted by Jeremy about blacks being a superior athletic race. In GET OUT, it’s the stuff right under the surface that is the real terror, not the sheet wearing racists, but those who overcompensate in order to be accepted and get in close to be trusted. This makes the overall theme of the film more gray than simple black and white. Yet that’s why there are a few things about GET OUT that annoy me.
I know Jordan Peele knows that not all white people live in affluent houses and are independently wealthy. I also can assume Peele has met some white folks that aren’t racist or evil or evilly racist or racist-ly evil. But watching GET OUT, one would assume that not to be the case. There isn’t a white person to be seen in this film that isn’t up to no good. And while at least the worst of horror films inject a black person in there (which is equally deplorable, since it is so obviously just trying to grab a demographic rather than tell a story), there is no such character in GET OUT. All whites are bad in this movie. They may not all be racists, but they are all bad in one way or another. A satire is supposed to make one laugh and be shocked, but in the end relate to something in the real world outside of the cinema that makes the viewer look at that world differently. Peele is successful in painting a world where people are duplicitous and underhanded, but he does so at the cost of simply painting in a broad swath and casting all whites at the oppressors and all blacks as the victims fighting against those oppressors. For me, that’s not really a bold statement, but a perpetuation of a divisiveness that is already happening in America. Had there maybe have been one redeeming white person or hell, even a token white friend who just gets killed off first, I think it would have been a more powerful statement as to the way blacks are often pigeonholed in cinema and in a greater sense the world itself.
Also, as ballsy as this film is at times, I feel the film really shits the bed at the end. I don’t know what I wanted to see. Maybe not the “happy” ending we get, but something more real and horrific that again drives the point home that there is a long way to go before racism and prejudice is extinguished from this country. Instead, we get an ending where we are laughing our way out of the cinema instead of scratching our chins and actually thinking about what transpired. The last thing we get is a release of all of this tension through laughter, which makes it easier to forget the serious and well thought out things that occurred and themes explored. As effective as everything was, wrapping things up in a bow like that feels like a cop out.
There is a version out there of this film that has a lot of the stuff you’ve seen in previews but don’t show up in the actual movie. The scene where Chris is startled by the skeleton of a deer is not there. The scene where Jeremy is wearing a Medieval battle helmet and seemingly on the attack in the rain isn’t there either. I’m not sure why these scenes were cut and left in the previews, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they fit into the film in the eventual uncut/director’s cut version.
Recently at the last few comic conventions I’ve attended, I have lead an AICN HORROR panel focusing on “Reinventing Horror” and in these panels, the topic of race/gender always comes up (I’m doing another one at C2E2, BTW in April). I think it’s kind of unfair to prop this film up as a movie made by a black director. I would much rather categorize this film as a good, if not great movie, and leave it at that rather than pigeonhole it. Still, if this film means more black directors get a shot to tell their version of what horror is, I think that GET OUT is important in that sense. Hopefully, we will get more films that take on serious issues and, most importantly, take on serious horror, like this and less like BOO!: A MADEA HALLOWEEN. If GET OUT paves the way for more smart, well acted, well produced, and high concept horror in theaters from men and women of all cultures and colors, then GET OUT is definitely an important movie and that result would definitely be a good thing. Seeing the lily white blah that was the trailer for WISH UPON before GET OUT only drives the point home that we need more horror from different perspectives to be made.
Currently touring fests (find out when and where here!
STREAMER (2016)Directed by Jared Bratt, Vincent Pun
Written by Jared Bratt, Vincent Pun
Starring Jared Bratt, Tanya Lee, Brennan Pedde
Find out more about this film here, @streamerfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I deal with a lot of fears here in AICN HORROR, but the one fear that is probably one of the most common ones is the fear of loneliness. And while STREAMER might not exactly be what one particularly thinks of as a horror film, it does deal with that fear of being alone in a thoroughly unique, often touching, and scarily heart wrenching way.
We first meet Jared (played by co-writer/co-director Jared Bratt) as he is recording a confessional to be placed on YouTube explaining how lonely he is, how he feels he deserves a girlfriend, and that he is a virgin at 29 years old. This confession is interspersed with clips of Jared making his way through life painting himself as a solitary loner-type. While frequenting online chat rooms, Jared happens upon Ivy (Tanya Lee), a beautiful cam girl who he takes a liking to. It just so happens in a coincidence that only occurs in the movies, that Ivy actually lives in the same apartment complex Jared lives in and though she does not know it, he tries his hardest to run into her in the laundry room or near the parking garage. Eventually, his plan works and he ends up befriending Ivy, but while she seems to be charmed by Jared’s sensitivity and adoration, she is oblivious to the fact that he is obsessed with her. What unfolds is a scenario that will be creepy to some, uncomfortable to others, and downright sad to see unfold.
The beauty of STREAMER is that it opens with Jared’s confession which immediately makes the viewer feel sorry for him. So right off the bat, I felt myself rooting for Jared, despite insurmountable odds, to get the girl of his dreams and be happy. Of course, Jared being the open wound that he is, and this film showing up in AICN HORROR, one can imagine that things don’t go that way. Still, this film kept me rooting for our flawed main character to catch a break the whole way through.
This is mainly due to a fantastic performance by Bratt, who channels the poor schlub in all of us, just wanting to have someone come into his life and fix everything for him. If the viewer is honest with themselves, they will be able to recognize this guy as all of us at our weakest and most vulnerable, which leads to some uncomfortable viewing, I assure you. Still, horror is all about feeling discomfort, and this film definitely does a good job of placing the viewer in the shoes of someone we will never admit to being, but deep down, is sometimes all too familiar. Being able to harness that type of raw nerve emotion is not easy, but Bratt does so in his performance and through his slow, but engrossing story as Jared’s obsession grows throughout the film.
Though some of the dialog is stilted, it seems to be pointedly so, as Jared is not the most social of people. So the uncomfortable scenes where Jared and Ivy interact are clunky and tough to sit through. Still, one can understand why Jared is so much in love with Ivy as Tanya Lee does come off as someone likable, and easy on the eyes as well. This is a film where both of the lead characters are at fault, with Jared obviously smitten with Ivy, yet too shy to take the plunge, and Ivy soaking in the adoration and not really taking a second to notice the doe eyed stares Jared is lobbing her way. If anything, this is a film that will trigger some interesting conversations about relationships and how messed up they can become.
STREAMER is a simple, yet explosively effective film. Filled with awkward silences and scenes depicting thoughts and feelings so personal, they’ll make you squirm, STREAMER deals with the horror of obsession, not with blood, guts and jump scares, but with raw, flayed nerves and powerfully painful emotions.
And finally…speaking of BOO! Here’s a short film called BOO that celebrates early horror films like Murnau’s NOSFERATU and Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN. I couldn’t get enough of this old timey Universal horror spoof. I love it that the guy talks about gridlock in Congress causing problems, showing that some things never change. 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!