Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we’re trying something new and covering rom-com’s! So get ready for AICN ROM-COM with HIS GIRL FRIDAY, ANNIE HALL, 50 FIRST DATES, and of course, GIGLI!!!
Just kidding, we have horror reviews for you and a potent batch at that!
I also wanted to give out an open call to advertisers interested in helping to keep this column running. Any inquiries should contact me here!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE SKULL (1965)
Retro-review: DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)
Retro-review: FIRESTARTER (1984)
Retro-review: DEAD SILENCE (1989)/GOREGASM (1990)
Retro-review: THE CREEPS (1997)
Retro-review: MORRIS COUNTY (2009)
TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR (2015)
PLANK FACE (2016)
SHE WAS SO PRETTY (2016)
THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2016)
And finally… FRIDAY THE 13TH THE GAME THE MOVIE fan films!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE SKULL (1965)aka THE EVIL SKULL, THE SKULL OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Milton Subotsky (screenplay from the story "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade" by Robert Bloch)
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, Michael Gough, George Coulouris, April Olrich, Maurice Good
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The real joy of watching THE SKULL is that it gave me a chance to watch a movie starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing that I hadn’t seen before. Any time these two actors starred together it was always some kind of magic and this film is no exception. Still, for a horror movie, THE SKULL leaves a lot to be desired.
Cushing plays Christopher Maitland, a collector of arcane and occult artifacts. After losing a bid on some demonic statues at an auction to his friend Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), Christopher is given the opportunity to purchase a highly valuable item, the Skull of the Marquis De Sade. Those in possession of the skull has been driven to madness, but Christopher doesn’t really believe in all of that. That is, until he begins to go mad himself once he purchases the skull.
The true thrill of this film is seeing Lee and Cushing, friends in real life, not play monsters at odds with one another, but friends on the screen. Simple moments like the two actors playing billiards filled me with glee and are scenes no horror fan should miss. Cushing takes center stage here while Lee only has a small role in the film, but the moments these two share onscreen are the best ones in the movie.
Unfortunately, the rest of this film really isn’t all that great. Aside from some trippy little sequences of Cushing going crazy and an awesome “skull’s eye view” showing what it is like to be inside this cursed skull, the scares and thrills are not that potent. The latter portion of this film drags quite slowly with long dialog-less scenes of Lee sleuthing around his apartment and jumping at skull-like trippiness. THE SKULL feels like it would have been a better installment in an anthology and suffers from being stretched to feature length.
There is an overall fun sense of gloomy atmosphere and I never get sick of seeing films with Lee and Cushing, so I’ll definitely give THE SKULL my recommendation. But I’ve seen better films from both Cushing and Lee and there are more lulls in THE SKULL than chills. Special features include an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, a Kim Newman featurette on the film, as well as one from Jonathan Rigby, plus “Trailers From Hell" with Joe Dante.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Severin Films!
DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)Directed by Stu Segall
Written by John F. Goff,George 'Buck' Flower, Stu Segall
Starring John F. Goff, Steve Vincent, Douglas Gudbye, Verkina Flower, Robert E. Pearson, Catherine Barkley, Norman Sheridan, John Alderman, Jacqueline Giroux, Bruce Kimball, Martin Gatsby, Sandy Carey, Janus Blythe, Myron Griffith, George 'Buck' Flower, Stu Segall
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While this film leaves a lot to be desired in terms of acting, production value, and writing, DRIVE-IN MASSACRE ends up being a weird little riff on “true life horror” much in the same vein of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. The film itself isn’t great, but I left the film liking it a whole lot and hopefully, by the end of this review, I’ll understand why.
A serial killer seems to have targeted a local drive-in and his method of killing is a long samurai sword. Does this have something to do with the carnival that used to rest on the land the drive-in was built? Two tubby cops are on the case to find this killer hacking and slicing the horny teenagers right under their noses.
HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH had yet to come out and give slasher movies a template to follow when DRIVE-IN MASSACRE was made, so this one is less of a slasher film and more of a police procedural. Playing out like an early version of CSI, the murders are only peppered in between scene after scene of awkward police interrogation and investigation as Detective Mike Leary (John F. Goff) an Detective John Koch (Bruce Kimball) are on the case. Though they are working hard to crack it, the killer continues to kill at the drive-in and no matter how many suspects they find, arrest, and interrogate, nothing seems to be able to stop the murders. It’s fun seeing these overweight detectives try to crack the case, even though Goff and Kimball aren’t the best of actors. And while their detective work isn’t the swiftest, it is still entertaining as hell in a fun, old school manner as they press every suspect with tough guy banter.
The film lags here and there as characters and the plot seems to get lost as we follow one of the characters to a carnival as he apparently ruminates about his former years in the carnival. I guess this is the film’s attempt at a red herring and there are a few of them by the time the credits roll. The end is abrupt and inconclusive, which reminds me of the original TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN as both that film and this one claim to be based on real events and that the killer is never caught.
I love drive-in sleaze and slash films, so this one works for me. If you’re tired of the same old slasher formula that permeated the 80’s this is the remedy. It’s not well made, but DRIVE-IN MASSACRE is unconventional and seems to try to tell a story without a net. Bonus features include an audio commentary by director Stu Segall, an interview with star/co-writer John F. Goff, a featurette focusing on actor Norm Sheridan recalling the film, “Making the Massacre” interview with director Stu Segall, plus trailers.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
FIRESTARTER (1984)aka CHARLIE
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Stephen King (novel), Stanley Mann (screenplay)
Starring Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, Moses Gunn, Antonio Fargas, Drew Snyder, Curtis Credel, Keith Colbert, Dick Warlock, Jeff Ramsey
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Less visceral than CARRIE, SCANNERS, and THE FURY, FIRESTARTER is a psychic phenomena flick that excels with some strong performances and cool effects, but struggles to deliver something with teeth that you can really get into.
Little Charlie (Drew Barrymore) is as cute as a button on a button and looks like an every day girl, but the truth is she is a powder keg ready to explode. When her parents Andrew (David Keith) and Victoria (Heather Locklear) agree to an experimental study at a government sponsored research facility called “The Shop” they had no idea the drug they were tested with would amplify their own latent psychic powers and that their child would have destructive mind powers that cause things to burst into flames when she is angered or upset. Now on the run from the Shop, Andrew and Charlie try to avoid being captured by government goons and work hard to control Charlie’s destructive power. But the Shop, lead by Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen) has sent the enigmatic John Rainbird (George C. Scott) after Charlie and he never stops until he gets his man…er, girl.
King seems to be trying to tap into the lightning in a bottle that he achieved with CARRIE and THE SHINING by making Charlie the main focus on this story of government experiments and psychic powers. But instead of the film focusing on the battle between Charlie and the fire breathing monster within her (which Charlie hints at when discussing her powers), the chase, the action, and the spectacle of the fiery powers unleashed seem to be what director Mark L. Lester was more concerned with. Because less is focused on the inner struggle Charlie is going through to control her powers, FIRESTARTER feels more like a typical action chase movie than a psychic horror film. Sure people are burst into flames and Charlie ends up shooting fireballs in a bombastic finale against the entire Shop, but little is focused on the horror. Maybe this is because of the young age of Barrymore, but most of the macabre King-isms simply aren’t there in this one. Instead we get your road movie tropes like Andrew and Charlie being picked up by an elderly couple (the wasted Art Carney and Louise Fletcher) and then there’s the typical scene of the government agents showing up on the common folks’ lawn for a crispy showdown. In many ways, this is like a neutered version of LOGAN, with a psychic guy trying to save a little girl with similar powers from an evil corporation who relentlessly follows them across the country. While LOGAN had some grit to it, FIRESTARTER sadly has none.
That doesn’t mean FIRESTARTER is without merit. The cast is pretty excellent from top to bottom. David Keith is equal parts paternal and naïve as the dad with great intentions who is backed into a corner. There are some great scenes of Keith’s Andrew pushing people psychically in order to desperately find safety for Charlie. Barrymore shows a lot of sophistication here and does a decent job with some heavy lines and scenes dedicated solely to her. She holds her own with Keith, Sheen, Carney, and Scott, which is no small feat. One of my favorite actors ever, George C. Scott, is stands out as the truly weird John Rainbird, who apparently is Native American, but aside from his tribal robe and long ponytail, he doesn’t look it. Wearing and not wearing an eye patch whenever the hell he wants to, Scott shows awesome malevolence as a man who has somewhat devious and maybe even perverse notions when it comes to Charlie. Scott is the only one really willing to go to dark places in this film and he really adds heft to the threat on Charley’s heels.
The explosive, practical effects laden climax is impressive for its time. Fireballs are run down cords to look like they are shooting about and there are plenty of pretty ‘splosions, but this climax feels like much ado about nothing as if you’ve seen one exploding car and a man on fire, you’ve seen them all and there are a lot of them in this film.
Ultimately, it felt as if no one in the cast or crew (besides Scott, that is), wanted to make a horror film. Brightly lit and rather plainly choreographed, only the explosion scenes offer up any flair, but these lose their potency after the umpteenth time someone blows a hairdryer off screen under Barrymore to signify her fire powers. Had there been an attempt to realize the demon inside of her, some more about the trippy MK-Ultra like experiments of the lab (there’s only a brief second of a man tripping out and ripping his eyes out), and maybe some burn makeup been attempted, this could have maybe instilled more chills. As is, FIRESTARTER’s a great showcase of some fine actors and a miss in terms of the horror of psychic phenomena that King, Cronenberg, and DePalma had such a great handle on during this era of horror that was the progeny of the previous era of drug experimentation and government shadows.
This Collector’s edition BluRay includes a new audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester, a “Playing With Fire: The Making Of FIRESTARTER” featurette, a new “Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories” interviewing Johannes Schmoelling, a live performance of "Charlie's Theme" by Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream, plus trailers, radio spots, and stills.
Retro-review: New on DVD from MVD Visual here and here!
DEAD SILENCE (1989)Directed by Hugh Gallagher
Written by Hugh Gallagher
Starring Melissa Buhs, Brad Foltz, Paula Gallagher, Roger King, Flint Mitchell, Kevin Patterson, Ron Scroggins, Jodi Thyer, Cindy Weichbrodt
GOREGASM (1990)Directed by Hugh Gallagher
Written by Hugh Gallagher
Starring Gabriela, Rik Billock, Paula Hendricks, Paula Gallagher, Flint Mitchell, Debbie Patterson, Mick Voss, Kevin Patterson, Steven Vieth, Dave Johnson, Denis Hellrung
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
OK, there aren’t going to be many folks this review is for. DIY shot of video films definitely have a very niche audience as the production is terrible. I’m talking high speed chases in shitty cars down dirt roads. Horrible acting. Terrible edits. Repetitive synth music. Home made gore effects. Gratuitous nudity. Awful sound that is barely synched with the actors. DEAD SILENCE and GOREGASM have all of that and more shitty things.
The thing that is fun with this film is that it is a snippet of an era that is no more. Some may say that’s a good thing and this film is far, far, far from any kind of cinematic excellence. But for someone, somewhere, this was a fun ass time to make and you can almost taste the love of the horror genre in every wobbly video frame.
For some reason, in the late eighties/early nineties, the horror of the electric chair was made into a lot of movies including Wes Craven’s SHOCKER (1989), Brion James/Lance Henricksen starrer HORROR SHOW (1989), Lyle Alzado starrer DESTROYER (1988), and my favorite, the stylistic GUILTY AS CHARGED (1991). A bit of research shows that in January of ’89 was when Ted Bundy rode the lightning on the electric chair, so that well publicized case seems to have had a lot of influence on B-horror of the era. No matter if it was Bundy’s execution or the famously fake scene from FACES OF DEATH or just a coincidence that there were so many electric chair films in ’89, one obscure film was made, shot on video and tossed out to as many video stores as possible. And that film was Hugh Gallagher’s DEAD SILENCE.
Gallagher followed up DEAD SILENCE with GOREGASM, the first in his “Gore” trilogy that included GORE WHORE and GOROTIKA (which I’m sure I’ll be cursed to cover some day). Whereas DEAD SILENCE focused on a convoluted story of resurrecting an executed killer and immortal life, GOREGASM makes things a bit more down to earth and is simply about a woman who promises the ultimate climax in her ads in the back of skin mags, which turns out to be her killing the guy after the deed is done. While DEAD SILENCE seems more PG rated, Gallagher goes full on sleaze with GOREGASM as the lead is nude pretty much the entire movie.
Both films are downright awful, but still, I kind of sopped up both films with a biscuit and a smile as I admire the moxy of filmmaker Gallagher (who was the publisher of the magazine DRACULINA). This guy loves horror. He loves gore. And he loves scantily clad ladies. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He didn’t bother with learning how to make movies. He just rented a camera, grabbed some people willing to be in a movie (most likely friends, drinking buddies, and maybe some women of the evening), and did it. There is some growth in skill between DEAD SILENCE and GOREGASM as I guess video cameras got better and maybe Gallagher did as well. Still, both are going to be rough for those unappreciative of DIY/SOV homemade gems. Again, if you’re the type to poo poo these low fi films, just move on. There is a charm to the big dreamers who don’t let anything get in the way of making their films and Gallagher is one of those dreamers.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Full Moon Entertainment!
THE CREEPS (1997)aka DEFORMED MONSTERS, EVIL ZOMBIES
Directed by Charles Band
Written by Neal Marshall Stevens (as Benjamin Carr)
Starring Rhonda Griffin, Justin Lauer, Bill Moynihan, Kristin Norton, J.W. Perra, Andrea Harper, Jon Simanton as Wolfman, Joe Smith as the Mummy, Thomas Wellington as Frankenstein’s Monster, & Phil Fondacaro as Dracula!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While THE CREEPS has a kind of old school DIY yet still cinematically sound Full Moon charm that the company doesn’t make up for some of the more uncomfortable moments the feel exploitative to the little person actors involved.
When a mad scientist steals the original prints of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s The Mummy, and…whomever wrote the original Wolf Man story in order to resurrect the classic monsters of old under his command. But when the process is interrupted by a klutzy librarian (Rhonda Griffin) and a bumbling detective/video store clerk (Justin Lauer), the monsters are only partially brought back to life—thus their diminutive size. Now the librarian and detective must band together to take on these tiny monsters.
While there is definitely a sort of campy MONSTER SQUAD quality at work here with THE CREEPS, the fact that these short people are forced to say lines about how they are deformed and only half the monsters they used to be because of their smaller height kind of takes away some of the fun. It made me feel sorry for these actors, who of course are struggling to get roles with a little dignity, who have to demean themselves in this exploitative way. Sure the actors get to wear some pretty damn impressive practical effects and costumes and they get to grab the boobies of a few models in bondage, it’s still a bit unsettling the watch.
Fortunately, the leader of these little monsters is realized with quite a lot of flair from Phil Fondacaro as Dracula. Fondacaro was kind of a mainstay at Full Moon in the nineties and he delivers a surprisingly competent take on Dracula. Fondacaro knocks it out of the park here with his glowing red eyes and conviction to the role. It’s too bad the script didn’t give him much to do as, despite his size, he offers up a pretty awesome Prince of Darkness.
I don’t want to get too high up on the soapbox by pointing out the non-PC way the short people are treated in this film. They signed up for it and most likely got paid. I’m sure no little people were hurt in the making of this film and it’s certainly not the only group of people often typecast and stereotyped in the genre. It’s just that it is evidently clear this time with THE CREEPS which is also known as DEFORMED MONSTERS, an equally uncomfortable name. Still, the film itself is light on scares and drenched in camp. If not for Fondacaro’s performance as Drac, I wouldn’t recommend it. As is, it’s just a campy and breezy little film from a time when PC things weren’t so important.
Retro-review: Available on DVD from Unearthed Films!
MORRIS COUNTY (2009)Directed by Matthew Garrett
Written by Matthew Garrett
Starring Darcy Miller, Marc D. Donovan, Christian Davidock, Albie Selznick, Maren Perry, Robert Peters, Peter Ganim, Alice Cannon, Pamela Stewart, Erik Frandsen, Karen Adams, Joe Barlam, Jane Eary, Anthony J Giampetro, Veronica Heffron, Juan Herrera, Caitlin Jaffe, Keith Kelley, Chris Kelly, Lindsey Kruichak, David Lowry, John Nevin, Matthew R. Staley, Matthew Watkins, Jeff Zorabedian, Joseph Tornatore
Find out more about this film here, @morriscountymovie, and on Facebook here
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Horror is a genre that is supposed to take you into uncomfortable places and if this film is any indication, MORRIS COUNTY is definitely one uncomfortable place. Set up as an anthology of sorts, this film puts together three tales of horrifying things happening to people and people doing horrifying things. It’s an intimate portrait of suburban America that is not an easy film to watch.
The first tale, “Ellie” is the most visceral and difficult to watch as a young girl (Darcy Miller) seems to be bent on killing herself through drugs, alcohol, sex, and placing herself into violent situations. But once it comes out as to what is really going on, it is all the more shocking and heartbreaking. Miller does a fantastic job as a confused and unhinged person on the edge. Her secret is devastating and filmmaker Matthew Garrett does an amazing job of leading us through this harrowing day in the life of this unfortunate woman. This initial segment is horrifyingly intimate and sets the dark tone for the emotional horrors to come in the rest of the film.
“The Family Rubin”is the second installment and while it might be my least favorite of the three, it still packs a punch. This segment is somewhat predictable as it fleshes out a highly dysfunctional family willed with infidelity, sexual confusion, animal torture, and suicidal and homicidal feelings. Once again, this story makes you almost feel guilty for watching it because it is such an intimate tale of terror within a flawed family. This one culminates to a horrifying boiling point, but ends surprisingly on a rather uplifting note.
The final installment is about “Iris & Elmer” a couple in their elder years. Iris (Alice Cannon) is great in a role that made my heart bleed. Just when she is forced into retirement at the office, Iris tries to look at the bright side in that she will be able to spend more time at home with her husband Elmer. But when he dies on the first night of her retirement, Iris is left confused as to what she should do. Not wanting to be alone, she keeps Elmer’s corpse sitting on the couch, which leads to some very disgusting decomposition effects. This is a horribly sad little story about a lonely woman with good intentions, but twisted logic.
What impressed me most about all of these stories is how intimate and sincere they were. These are horrifying tales, but they aren’t supernatural. These are human problems spawned from mistakes that any person can make, but taken to morbid, grotesque, and often harrowing lengths. Matthew Garrett is extremely talented in highlighting the horror of the mundane. This is a tight anthology of quiet terror that claws at the heart rather than shocks it. MORRIS COUNTY is definitely not the feel good horror film of the year, but it is highly potent in gripping tales that’ll cause you lots of unease.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR (2015)Directed by Peter Bergin
Written by Peter Bergin
Starring Ronan Murphy, Bridget O'Connor, Corey Macri, Aaron Lee Reed
Find out more about this film here, @TerritorialBehaviorMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
As I’ve done with a few other films in this genre, I am going to put TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR to my found footage quiz to see how it measures up. Those hating on the found footage genre should scroll on, but I find that this subgenre still manages to surprise me every now and again.
What’s the premise?
Bailey Rhodes (Ronan Murphy) is a survivalist looking to make a video advertising his survival class he teaches those seeking to learn how to live in the great outdoors. Venturing out into the Montana wilderness alone armed with only a pair of cameras, Bailey starts out strong, offering up all sorts of fun tips to his audience, but when he runs into a pair of poachers, he decides to go further into the woods—not knowing that he has entered the territory of something more dangerous than poachers. Something monstrous.
Are the actors believably acting like they aren’t acting?
Murphy carries this entire film on his own and isn’t half bad. For the most part, he is performing in front of a camera and acting like a big, bad survivorman, but always keeping a teacherly tone. That is, until he begins to get lost and scared that something is following him in the woods. Then Murphy does a decent job of being scared shitless and he loses the professional tone that was on camera for most of the earlier part of the film. In both extremes, the actor is pretty convincing.
Does is seem like this footage was actually found and not untouched by additional production (which means there is no omniscient editor making multiple edits or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
There is no music added here, which gives it some kind of authentic feel. The film does skip from one camera to the next, but it is justified by having the footage Bailey takes by day being uploaded to his producer at night. So technically, the footage here could have been edited between the cameras by his producer.
Is there a valid reason the camera isn’t dropped and they just get the hell out of there?
Yes, Bailey is filming an instructional video, so initially, the footage he takes, even when he gets lost, is something Bailey thinks can be used in the video hoping that he is going to find his way out of the mess. But as the story goes on and Bailey feels eyes on him from the forest, he comments that he is recording out of habit and to make him feel more comfortable in the dire situation he finds himself in. So that’s as good an excuse as any to keep the cameras rolling.
Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
That’s pretty much the main problem with TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR. There’s an awful lot of wanderin’ in the wilderness time and very little scares. Specifically, the film pulls a BLAIR WITCH and never really shows what it is tracking Bailey through the woods. Sure, there are large footprints, glowing eyes in the dark, and a huge ape-like face pressed into the side of a tent, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out its Bigfoot, but you never see anything by the end of the film, unfortunately, making the trip there all the more frustrating.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
The whole film is a sort of confessional as the camera is on Bailey the whole time through thick or thin. There is a drag away and I wish these movies would just quite doing that, as it’s tired, clichéd, and will never be as cool as it was in the first [REC].
Does anything actually happen? Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is this one worth watching?
There are some suspenseful moments during the night as Bailey sees glowing eyes in the woods around him. The tent moments are rather intense as well. Still, if TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR would have offered something new after all of that time wandering through the woods, it would have been much more forgivable and recommendable.
New this week on DVD/BluRay and Amazon from ITN Distribution!
SLASHER.COM (2017)aka S/ASH.ER
Directed by Chip Gubera
Written by Chip Gubera & Chelsea Andes
Starring Jewel Shepard, R.A. Mihailoff, Ben Kaplan, Morgan Carter, Delious, Rebecca Crowley, Adam Boster, Jace Boster, Conrad Gubera, Jason C. Jones, Josh Kaplan, Sarah Kaplan, Rob Steinbruegge, Jessica Wallier, Dirk J. Westphal
Find out more about this film here, @slasherdotcom, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A couple of unexpected twists and turns make SLASHER.COM something a bit better than your typical slasher film, but only barely.
As a serial killer terrorizes those who go on online dates in the big city, Jack (Ben Kaplan) and Kristy (Morgan Carter) decide to have their first face to face date in the countryside where they think it would be safe. Unfortunately, the bed and breakfast they show up to is being run by an insane family of murdering monsters.
A couple of late in the game twists make SLASHER.COM a bit different from your normal slasher fare. And while this one doesn’t have the biggest budget, flashiest of directing, or greatest actors involved, it does have some decent moments of twisted horror as well as a cool appearance by R.A. Mihailoff (who played the lead in LEATHERFACE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III, one of my favorite sequels in the franchise). I have to give this film extra points for being as twisted and depraved as it is with suggestions of incest, twisted fetishes, perverse relationships, and some pretty gruesome murders. I also like the simplistic, yet fun way this one ends up. You can see it coming from a mile away, but it’s fun nevertheless.
So while SLASHER.COM isn’t really something to burn the barn down over, it is light, blood-drenched fun.
Available on DVD/BluRay from Bandit Motion Pictures and on Amazon here!
PLANK FACE (2016)Directed by Scott Schirmer
Written by Scott Schirmer, Brian Williams
Starring Nathan Barrett, Susan M. Martin, Brigid Macaulay, Alyss Winkler, Jason Hignite, Ellie Church, Dave Parker, Brian Papandrea, Lexi Thompson, Evan Lahee, Caleb Giles
Find out more about this film here, @plankfacemovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
PLANK FACE is a descent into madness and beyond set in a forested landscape. It’s a simple tale, but one that will definitely leave a deep, gushing wound in those brave enough to take this trip into the abyss, leaving all humanity behind.
Max (Nathan Barrett) and his girlfriend Stacey (Ellie Church) take a hiking trip into the forested area of Indiana. When another hiker ends up crashing their camp and raping Stacey, Max flips out and murders him. But just when the couple think their horror is over, Max is knocked unconscious and wakes up deep in the woods and bound to the floor by a family of feral people. With the patriarch of the family dying, Granny (Susan M. Martin) and her two daughters—the Bride (Brigid Macaulay) and the masked Bunny Girl (Alyss Winkler), look to make Max into the new head of the family whether he likes it or not. With a tree bark mask glued to his face and stripped of all humanity, the film maps Max’s horrific descent into the role of Plank Face.
What impressed me the most is how filmmaker Scott Schirmer and his co-writer Brian Williams simply tell a tale using character and environment rather than flash and flair. This is a story set in the middle of the forest with very little dialog about a man stripped of all humanity. It reminded me of a caveman film like QUEST FOR FIRE where no English is spoken, yet a strong story is told. This clan of feral people communicate in broken English and made up works not unlike Nell in the Jodie Foster film (yet scores less annoying). The film highlights the inhumanity of these people first, but as it goes on, it shows how this family lives and works together as a unit. Whether Max decides to function within this unit is where the fun is. Will he accept their ways or will his will be too strong for them? And once he does accept, is there anything that can bring him back from the bestial abyss? These are fascinating questions answered in PLANK FACE.
This isn’t a film for the squeamish. There is blood and gore galore. There are scenes of violence and rape. There are brave performances by the entire cast in the nude, not in a sexual manner (well, sometimes), but often simply because they are not bound by the same conventions of civilization. This is a man vs. nature/man vs. himself style film that goes to dark places most films are afraid to venture to these days.
The closest thing I can compare this film to are the introspective man/nature films of the late seventies/early eighties like DELIVERANCE, PAPILLON, and MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, where a man is forced to shed everything he has learned as a human in order to survive. This is an uncomfortable, grueling, tale that’ll be hard to swallow by some, but it definitely resonates as a powerful horror film that is a true test to endure. If you’re brave, give PLANK FACE a try. It’s a mesmerizing display of primal terror.
Available on VHS and Vimeo digital download from Dirt Candy Productions!
SHE WAS SO PRETTY (2016)Directed by Brooke Ewing
Written by Brooke Ewing
Starring Amanda Butler, Garrett Chewning, Justin Ewing, Whitlee Flinn, Jerry Larew, Elvis McComas, Chris Parsons, Natasha Parsons, Rayna Smith, Felicia Zartman
Find out more about this film here, @SheWasSoPretty, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
SHE WAS SO PRETTY is a patient and disturbing little creepshow that takes some risks that work and some that don’t. But overall, it is able to harness a skeevy and twisted feeling that most films only wish they could achieve.
Valerie (Whitlee Flinn) has the sinking feeling she is being watched—at the Laundromat, at the local ice cream parlor, when she’s out partying with her friends, but she has no idea how right she is when the creeper watching her from the shadows makes his move. When Valerie wakes up in the home of serial creeper Alfred James Ellis III (Jerry Larew), she is in for horrors she could never imagine.
SHE WAS SO PRETTY is the ultimate in creeper horror. For the first portion of this film, we bare witness to Valerie happenstancially meeting Alfred James Ellis III then having that meeting turn into full blown stalking and beyond. We see the silent Ellis stand and stare at her, sometimes in the background of the frame without one noticing. And as Ellis seemingly is waiting for a moment to strike make these scenes utterly terrifying as early on we see what Ellis often does with the women he stalks as he catches up to a woman in a parking garage with a knife and no place to go for the woman.
The film can almost be cut into two parts, as the film truly takes a plunge into perversity when Valerie is taken back to Ellis’ home. Decked out in what one would expect from a middle aged creeper in old timey décor as if he hasn’t changed things since his parents had passed, Ellis’ home is a thoroughly planned out den of horrors occupied by one woman he has already converted into a obeying slave and now the prison for Valerie who is going to need some convincing. Seeing Ellis silently manipulate these women is twisted and mesmerizing. It’s utterly perverse and not for the sensitive types. With a little gore and a lot of skeevy perversion, these scenes are going to make every inch of skin on your body crawl.
My only complaint about SHE WAS SO PRETTY is a late in the game twist with an over the top cop (Chris Parsons). His role is so odd it just doesn’t feel like it should occupy the same universe as Ellis. While Parsons is not bad in the role, it just sort of feels flippant and unnatural to the quiet creeping terror we have experienced in the first hour and a half of this film. On the other hand, James Larew is excellent in the role of the creepy Ellis. His blank stare, penetrating eyes, and slighted posture are like nails on a chalkboard and is definitely going to make you shiver.
SHE WAS SO PRETTY is not for the impatient. It’s not for those intolerant of low budget horror. And it’s not for those who cringe at icky situations. It’s perverse, morose, and sometimes just plain wrong, but for a film to do that, it definitely is doing something right when it comes to horror. I look forward to the sequel to SHE WAS SO PRETTY currently being filmed this year subtitled BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE, which apparently is going for a holiday feel added to all of that creepiness. Can’t wait.
New on BluRay from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
SOLACE (2015)Directed by Afonso Poyart
Written by Sean Bailey, Ted Griffin
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, Colin Farrell, Matt Gerald, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Marley Shelton, Xander Berkeley, Kenny Johnson, Joshua Close, Sharon Lawrence, Janine Turner, Luisa Moraes, Jordan Woods-Robinson, Niyi Oni, Carter Godwin, Autumn Dial, Tara Arroyave, Rey Hernandez, Bruce Taylor, Frank Brennan, Adam Drescher, Keith Ewell, Jake Lawson, Charles Lawlor, Kresh Novakovic, Michele Torres, David Weiss, Christopher Beanland, Russell Durham Comegys, Adam Boyer
Find out more about this film here, @DieVorsehung.Film, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While the premise is kind of goofy, the efforts of all of the actors involved, a strong script, and some ballsy gore speckled in makes SOLACE better than I expected it to be.
A serial killer seems to be murdering random people with swift accuracy. With no leads, FBI officers Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) are stumped. So Joe tracks down a psychic named John Clancy (Sir Anthony Hopkins) who used to help him on tough cases. While Katherine is a skeptic, she is amazed at the way John is able to pinpoint specific clues such as that each victim is suffering from an undiagnosed illness that will kill them in the future. This leads John to believe that the killer (Colin Farell) is a psychic just like him.
While there is a lot of convention being played with, from the skeptic/believer dichotomy to the way certain characters are taken out of the picture in a by the book manner you can tell just by looking at the cast list, SOLACE does have a pretty strong script. This because most evident once Farrell’s character gets screen time and his motives are made clear. While the premise sounds goofy as hell, I’ll be damned if Farrell and Hopkins don’t sell it. The argument, about taking a life before it is destroyed by a health condition is something resonant to every character in the script, so it all works thematically despite the fact that it’s wrapped up in a package that feels more at home in an X-MEN movie.
This is made convincing most by the fact that none of the cast is phoning it in. Farrell rarely does this and is convincingly cold and conniving as the bad guy here. Cornish is strong in the lead and has a great arc bringing her from skeptic to believer given her time with Hopkin’s character. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is becoming one of my favorite actors as he is as endearing here as he is deplorable in THE WALKING DEAD. He has a scene with Hopkins that really hits hard and shows how deep their friendship really is. But it’s Hopkins, who has been skating through roles since HANNIBAL with what seems like a no fucks given flippancy, who really shines as the lead. It really feels like Hopkins got into this role. It reminds you of why Hopkins became the megastar he is today.
There’s a fair amount of gore, specifically revolving around a tertiary killer who paints the walls with blood of his victims, and a solid premise here that makes we wonder why this film didn’t get wide release. I guess many folks had the same preconceptions once they heard the premise and thought the psychic angle was too goofy. Well, I’ll I’m glad I didn’t listen to my preconceptions and went along with this one because it is a solid paranormal thriller with fantastic performances by all in the cast.
In select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)Directed by Sean Byrne
Written by Sean Byrne
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco, Tony Amendola, Arthur Dale, Jack Dullnig, Shiela Bailey Lucas, Marco Perella, Richard Rollin, Jamie Tisdale
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Assaulting both the ears and the eyes with imagery and sounds out of the most depraved and diabolical nightmares, Sean Byrne’s THE DEVIL’S CANDY is an absolute treasure trove of scares!
Ethan Embry plays painter Jesse, husband to Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and cool father to Zooey (Kiara Glasco). When they move into a new home, Jesse begins hearing voices while he paints, the same type of voices the previous owner Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) used to hear while living in the house before he killed his elderly mother and father. Haunted by these voices and inspired to take a new dark path with his artwork, Jesse becomes obsessed, feeling the dark inspiration flow through him like a conduit in his painting. But while Jesse is being seduced by the voices, Ray returns home and that means terrible things for his family.
This is a fantastic film. Start to finish, this is an assault on the eyes and ears with all sorts of sights and sounds I haven’t seen or heard before. Director Sean Byrne (who burst on the scene with the fantastic THE LOVED ONES) delivers a film that really does take you to new and frightening places. Be they faint satanic voices muttering in the background or Ray banging away at his guitar to drown them out, this is a film to be heard loud. The hard rock influences, be they the metal Jesse listens to while painting or the audio assault Ray uses to keep the voices away is ever present here and done so in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy as in metal films like TRICK OR TREAT.
The thing is, this film uses a well worn motif of a new family moving into a new house. Next to death and being fired, I know moving is one of the biggest stressors to a person. I moved five years ago and vowed not to do it again for a while simply because it was so hard to upearth everything and put it back into order somewhere else. Maybe that’s why so many films are about this weird process. Still, THE DEVIL’S CANDY is interesting that it chooses such a familiar path, yet it never feels stale.
This is mainly because of Ethan Embry is absolutely fantastic as the lead here. The actor has had a comeback of sorts with LATE PHASES, CHEAP THRILLS, THE WALKING DEAD, and that car commercial where he is pulling a Clark Griswald. Here he proves that he can be a solid lead, playing a flawed but absolutely likable person who definitely cares deeply about his family. Through Embry’s puppy dog eyes, even covered in stubble, tattoos, and paint, he shows how much he loves his family which proves to be the beating heart of this film and makes you follow it down its treacherous path.
Pruitt Taylor Vince, who previously has only appeared as the weirdo in snippets in films is rock solid with this much more substantial role as Ray. His tortured performance as a man tormented by these voices all his life and is now on the breaking point when a new family moves into the only place he calls home is simply astounding. Vince delivers lines that are bone-chilling here and like Embry, hopefully this highlight of his talents will lead to more substantial roles of this kind. The rest of the cast is amazing as well, with Kiara Glasco delivering a really amazing turn as Zooey, Jesse’s rocker daughter. She is a young actress that will definitely go far and we will hear a lot about her in the coming years, I’m sure as her soulful performance of a youth trying to fit in despite her rebellious looks is layered and well done.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY is most astounding because this isn’t very much a ghost story as much as it is about flawed and over-stressed minds pushed to the breaking point. Ray believes he hears the devil, but we don’t see it. So those looking for a red painted horned guy are going to be disappointed. This is a film about the horrors unleashed from sick and obsessed minds, a much scarier version of horror than a ghost or monster story. THE DEVIL’S CANDY really taps into the dank and dark places inspiration often comes from and splashes it all over the screen. It captures the sometimes ugliness of the artistic process and of the human soul like few other films I’ve seen. I highly recommend THE DEVIL’S CANDY, it’s gorgeous and grotesque, poetic and unnerving, terrifically acted and splendidly directed. It’s an all around fantastic horror film that needs to be seen by any horror and metal fan.
And finally…I know it’s not Friday the 13th but, I had to share this new fan made FRIDAY THE 13TH short starring the purple Neca Jason from the old NES video game version. So you have a purple Jason doing what he does best with floating Mrs. Voorhees heads and zombies and all. Anyone who played this game as a kid is going to get a kick out of this. Find out more about director Michael Ramova on his website here! Enjoy FRIDAY THE 13TH The Game The Movie fan film!
And here’s a trailer for a different adaptation of the video game that is just as fun.
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!
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