Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Ehh, not one of the best weeks in horror, sad to say. But I manages to find a few goodies as I sifted through the mire.
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: INVISIBLE GHOST (1941)
Retro-review: A GAME OF DEATH (1945)
Retro-review: AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLEN POE (1970)
Retro-review: THE SEVEN VAMPIRES (1986)
Retro-review: ROBOCOP II (1990)
ATTACKED ON SET (2012)
DEAD WEST (2016)
DEATH PASSAGE (2015)
NINA FOREVER (2015)
Advance Review: MAYHEM (2017)
And finally…Annette Jung’s THE TELL-TALE HEART Animated Short Film!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
INVISIBLE GHOST (1941)aka MURDER BY THE STARS, THE PHANTOM KILLER, PHANTOM MONSTER
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Written by Helen Martin & Al Martin (story)
Starring Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Terry Walker, Betty Compson, Ernie Adams, George Pembroke, Ottola Nesmith, Fred Kelsey, Jack Mulhall, Robert Strange, Lloyd Ingraham, Fred Aldrich
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
INVISIBLE GHOST is a devious little number from the early days of cinema starring one of the most iconic stars of early horror, Bela Lugosi. While it is filled with the type of melodrama and broad strokes storytelling that permeated cinema of this era, it definitely had a bit more tooth and claw than the normal monster movie.
Lugosi stars as Charles Kessler, a man tormented with loss after his wife disappears. When what seems to be the ghost of his wife (Betty Compson) appears outside of his window, Kessler switches from a reserved nobleman to a kill-crazed madman, set to strangle anyone who crosses his path. As the bodies begin to pile up, an investigation mounts to uncover who the killer is and the authorities point to a pair of identical twin brothers (both played by John McGuire) while no one suspects that it is Kessler, an upstanding member of the community.
Even though this was made in a more innocent era of cinema, I was surprised at the gruesome aspects that detail the story of INVISIBLE GHOST. Kessler talks with his dead wife and has his manservant serve her a full plate of dinner and act as if she is still alive. A man is seemingly murdered, but when his wife enters the morgue to identify him, he wakes up and the wife screams in horror, “He’s alive! Get him out of this place!” An early kill has Lugosi ascending a staircase like a zombie towards the camera, his arms outstretched and eyes wide which I’m sure caused screams from those easy to startle of the era. All of these add up to a rather macabre little story of murder.
The film also has a message that rings just as true today as it did back then about those with money and power being untouchable in the eyes of the laws of the common man. The “Invisible Ghost” is a murderer unseen by the authorities because he is a rich and powerful man, even though he is standing right in front of them all. Everyone besides Kessler is a culprit and is suspected by the investigators. A little more looking into Kessler’s direction and it would have been obvious he is the culprit, but because of his station, he is the last person people suspect.
Lugosi is great here, perfectly cast as a proper and dignified man. He is downright gentle to his daughter and sympathetic as he pines over the painting of his missing wife. But when the lights go down and he gives that Dracula stare, he still is able to carry a menace few possessed at the time in movies. INVISIBLE GHOST is another wicked and obscure little treat fans of the early says of horror will be thankful once seen.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
A GAME OF DEATH (1945)aka DANGEROUS ADVENTURE
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Norman Houston (screenplay from the story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell)
Starring John Loder, Audrey Long, Edgar Barrier, Russell Wade, Russell Hicks, Jason Robards Sr., Gene Roth, Noble Johnson, Robert Clarke
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I’ve always loved versions of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME stories. Maybe it’s because I read it in high school and the story stuck with me. Or maybe it was because the story has been told and retold many times, such as SURVIVING THE GAME with Ice T and Rutger Hauer. Whatever it was, a film with a hunter, a jungle island, and a man on the run is a surefire way to get my attention. It may not necessarily be horror, but it is twisted enough to be covered here.
While A GAME OF DEATH is not the first time Richard Connell’s story was adapted, but it is an early version of the story put to screen. In A GAME OF DEATH, John Lodger plays Don Rainsford, the sole survivor of a cruise ship that is mislead to run into a barrier reef just off of the shore of a private island owned by an eccentric and reclusive millionaire named Erich Kreiger (Edgar Barrier). But Don isn’t the only person who found themselves shipwrecked on the island and now the guests of Kreiger. The lovely Audrey Long plays Ellen Trowbridge who along with her brother Robert (Russell Wade) also finds themselves trapped on the island in Kreiger’s mansion. One by one, the “guests” of Kreiger disappear with no explanation, but soon Don and Ellen find out that Kreiger is setting them loose in the jungle and hunting them with a bow and arrow, a rifle, and a savage pack of dogs! Soon it will be Ellen and Don’s turn at this most dangerous game.
The old school Saturday matinee tension is taut and primed here in A GAME OF DEATH right from the get go as the ship runs into the reef almost immediately and the crew fall into shark infested waters. With rapid fire editing, Robert Wise (director of some of the most influential films in history such as THE SOUND OF MUSIC, STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, and of course, THE HAUNTING) is able to immediately convey a sense of high stakes danger and intrigue. Wise is no Michael Bay, but he does make every minute count. There really are no lulls at all in this fast paced actioner as Wise is either dolluping on the tension and suspicion as Don and Elle try to figure out what is happening to the guests or tossing them into the jungle for a mad chase across the island with mad dogs nipping at their heels. This is Wise doing a popcorn movie and one can almost taste the kernels of the matinee while watching this film. I was smiling from ear to ear while watching. Though I missed the day and age of the matinee theaters, I still felt nostalgic for the simplicity of the action and story playing out here.
If you’re a fan of old school action cinema as well as the hunter/hunted scenario immortalized in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and copied and remade over and over again through the years, you’re going to eat up A GAME OF DEATH with a spork. Lorder is powerful as the barrel chested hero. Barrier is manacing and conniving as the moustache-twirling villain. And while the dog attacks look a lot like the Great Danes are simply having a lot of fun wrestling around with their “prey” the dangers are still palpable and intense. This release from Kino Lorber comes with a commentary from film historian Richard Harland Smith.
Retro-review: Available in the Vincent Price Collection III from the Shout Factory!
AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE (1970)Directed by Kenneth Johnson
Written by Edgar Allan Poe (stories), David Welch & Kenneth Johnson (television adaptation)
Starring Vincent Price
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There is no other actor (past, present, or future) more qualified to read the works of Edgar Allan Poe than Vincent Price. Having realized so many of Poe’s characters through the camera lens of Roger Corman, one would think that Price would have been sick of taking on Poe’s works. Thankfully, he apparently didn’t think so as AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE is yet another picture perfect realization of some of Poe’s best works performed as an exquisite one man show by the first, last, and middle name of terror—Vincent Price!
Four tales are told here as TV director Kenneth Johnson spins his camera around, over, and beside Price as he acts out Poe’s tales as if it were a fine Shakespearian performance. While I’m sure there were a few takes, but Price recites these works in long bursts of perfectly pronounced perfection.
Be it the manic confession of the narrator in “The Tell Tale Heart” or the whimsical punch line that is “The Sphinx” or the schizophrenic portrayal of both Montressor and Fortunado in “The Cask of Amontillado” or the suspense fueled torment in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” each of the four installments feature Price in a different gothic background and in a different costume perfectly representing the characters of each story. AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE is absolute bliss and I’m glad I saved this hour-long special for last of this collection to enjoy. If Price hadn’t already cemented himself as a master of cinematic macabre, he does it here with a conviction, style, and grace that is unmatched. This is a fantastic showcase of Price’s unparalleled gift to give heft to horror by reciting these amazing works by Poe. It really is an unprecedented feat and one that hasn’t been repeated since. No horror fan should miss AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE and Price’s awe-inspiring readings.
DIARY OF A MADMAN
TOWER OF LONDON
CRY OF THE BANSHEE
MASTER OF THE WORLD
Vincent Price Collection Volume 2 Reviews
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
THE TOMB OF LIGIEA
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
THE RETURN OF THE FLY
Vincent Price Collection Volume 1 Reviews
THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
THE HAUNTED PALACE
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES
Retro-review: New on DVD as part of the A WEREWOLF IN THE AMAZON Collection from Camp Motion Pictures!
THE SEVEN VAMPIRES (1986)Directed by Ivan Cardoso
Written by Ivan Cardoso (story), Rubens Francisco Luchetti (story & screenplay)
Starring Andrea Beltrão, Dedina Bernardelli, Tania Boscoli, Neusinha Brizola, Ramos Calhelha, Pedro Cardoso, Simone Carvalho, Ariel Coelho, Ivon Cury, Danielle Daumerie, Mariozinho de Oliveira, Felipe Falcao, Wilson Grey, John Herbert, Leo Jaime, Zezé Macedo, Nuno Leal Maia, Susana Matos, Carlo Mossy, Bene Nunes, Nicole Puzzi, Colé Santana, Lucélia Santos, Alvamar Taddei
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
It’s been a lot of fun delving into the films collected in Camp Motion Pictures A WEREWOLF IN THE AMAZON Collection, which highlights some of the schlockers from Brazilian filmmaker Ivan Cardoso. While these films are not the best, they do show an admiration for US filmmaking as well as a little flavor from Brazil as well.
Cardoso shows his hand in terms of admiration by directly lifting from the Master of Suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock. They say if you’re going to imitate something, imitate the best, and Cardoso out and out steals not only the soundtrack to PSYCHO to score THE SEVEN VAMPIRES, but also steals an intro from one of Hitckcock’s ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and simply dubs over him in Brazilian to intro this feature about a dance troupe calling themselves “The Seven Vampires” being stalked by a seemingly real life vampire in a cape and mask. All of this has something to do with a carnivorous plant a scientist attains from the jungle.
The story is confusing, switching gears from screwball comedy to soft core skin flick to murder mystery to monster movie, giving a patchwork feel to the entire thing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it definitely never gets boring. Every time things get too serious, Cardoso tosses in another shot of a lady in some form of undress or a bumbling cop who couldn’t solve a case if it unfolded in front of him – and in this case, it does. The “vampire” gore is rather impressive as is the man-eating plant puppet that looks like it’s about to mutter “Feed me, Seymore!” at any moment. And while the acting is over the top and the editing chops the story up all to hell leaving a nonsensical mess of things, THE SEVEN VAMPIRES is a fun little hodgepodge of a monster movie that is almost adorable in the way it emulates a great filmmaker of old.
A WEREWOLF IN THE AMAZON
THE SECRET OF THE MUMMY
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
ROBOCOP II (1990)Directed by Irvin Kershner
Written by Frank Miller (story). Frank Miller & Walon Green (screenplay), Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner (characters)
Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Felton Perry, Dan O'Herlihy, Gabriel Damon, John Glover, Mario Machado, Leeza Gibbons, John Ingle, Roger Aaron Brown, Mark Rolston, Thomas Rosales Jr., Brandon Smith, Michael Medeiros, Galyn Görg, Linda Thompson, Clinton Austin Shirley, Angie Bolling, Jeff McCarthy, Ken Lerner, Willard E. Pugh, Phil Rubenstein, John Doolittle, Robert DoQui, Stephen Lee, George Cheung, Wanda De Jesus, Tzi Ma, Gary Bullock, Fabiana Udenio, James McQueen, Jerry Nelson, Harold Burns, Irvin Kershner, Frank Miller
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The original ROBOCOP could have fit into AICN HORROR for many reasons. It was an effects masterpiece with some absolutely gruesome effects (the toxic sludge dude was amazing as was Murphy’s death scene, especially the uncut version). It was also a Frankenstein-like tale of a man made of undead parts, machinery, and electricity. And while ROBOCOP II didn’t go the route of Frankenstein and whittle up a bride for Murphy, it still offers up some great social commentary, as well as a message about becoming obsolete—making it less horror, but definitely just as sci fi as the original.
The tale picks up some time after the original film, with Robocop still whirring and clicking his way through the streets of Detroit, but in this one, he’s taking on new menaces—a drug called Nuke, a pusher named Caine (Tom Noonan), and of course, trouble from all powerful corporations. Robo must face new programs from a conglomerate of investors which confuse his circuitry as well as the second generation of Robocop which is made from the body of essentially the ED-209 and the Nuke addicted brain of Caine.
While there is a high level of cynicism and nihilism present in the script for ROBOCOP II, the nuance and bitingly smart satire is tossed out in favor of the broad strokes storytelling of Frank Miller. While the villains of the original were far from nuanced, at least they were played by fun characters. Here, even though Caine is pretty awesome, the rest of the crew are definitely lacking any star power or bite. Sure there’s an evil kid named Hob (Gabriel Damon) and there’s a bit of oddity seeing a kid as a drug lord, the rest of the baddies (minus Caine) are simply pylons for Robo to knock over. Whereas Robo is taking on the world in the original, this one focuses on obvious bad guys with depth that’s under ankle-deep. Robo is given one moment with Hob as he meets his end and shows his young age finally after acting like an adult for the whole time, but this is the only moment of real depth in the entire film from any character at all.
The only other character that gets any attention here is Caine (Noonan) who always brings an air of menace to every role whether he’s a bad guy or not. His otherworldly quality is present here as the callous and cold drug dealer turned second generation robot policeman. His addiction to Nuke, his affection towards his main gal, and his rage towards Robocop is as deep as his character goes though.
And that’s the main problem with ROBOCOP II. It fails to deliver any depth at all and barely focuses on Robo at all. If you look at the conflict and story structure, Robo’s main conflict is his new initiatives which are decided by the board at OCP and the initiative are so many that it overloads his circuitry. Once out on the street, Robocop is flustered—reading rights to a dead man, firing on a person smoking in a no-smoking zone, and generally being overloaded with regulations so that he is rendered ineffectual. This is a great conflict and indicative of how cops are often stymied by trying to please many groups and never pleasing all of them. It’s a theme that is even more important today and it’s too bad that the script chooses to take care of this problem within the first forty minutes of the film.
This leads a whole second half of the film that focuses on Caine and not Robocop at all. Sure Robo is there in the end to take on the monstrous Caine in the big robot body, but his conflict was resolves and we are now seeing Caine as the central figure, motivating the plot and basically taking the lead from Weller’s Robocop. This is the problem in many a Batman movie where the villains steal the show, leaving Batman simply there to swoop in and pick up the pieces at the end with the villain leading him around by a leash. The later Batman films seemed to resolve this slightly with the Nolan films giving Batman a conflict that equals or surpasses the importance of the villain’s journey in the film. Good writing intermingles the two plotlines of hero and villain where both of the journeys strengthen the other. But ROBOCOP II forgets Weller all together and instead of a Frankenstein story, we just get a story about a monster of a man turned into a worse monster through science (maybe that’s more of a Jeckyll/Hyde story, I guess). Either way, it has nothing to do with Robo’s character and it’s weird watching a ROBOCOP film without ROBOCOP in the entire last act until the final conflict when he shows up with a big machine gun. Had Robo’s convoluted new programming went all the way until the end when he takes on the out of control Caine, I think the story would have felt more evenly told.
Weller and Allen are wasted here, especially Allen who gets maybe five minutes of screen time and usually then it’s wearing a riot helmet. Weller doesn’t fare well either as most of the time you see his face, it is a practical effect of him blown up torso and head. It could have been anyone under the helmet, which is probably why this was the last time Weller played the character. Some could say that the II in ROBOCOP II refers to the second generation of Robocop, so the focus on Caine as the main character is sort of believable, but ROBOCOP II fails mainly because it forgets who the hero is and doesn’t give him much to do. The action is fun in parts and the final battle between the two Robocops is pretty brutal (love the brain-smashing scene), but because the script is so flawed trying to squeeze Verhoven’s initial sequel script which focused mainly on Robo taking on the corporations together with Miller’s good cop/bad cop script making an unsatisfying sandwich of a sci fi movie.
This new BluRay is chock full of robo-extras such as; a new audio commentary with author/CG supervisor Paul M. Sammon, a new audio commentary with The Makers Of "RoboDoc: The Creation Of RoboCop" Documentary – Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths And Eastwood Allen, new featurette Corporate Wars: The Making Of ROBOCOP 2, new Machine Parts: The FX Of ROBOCOP 2 featurette, new featurette Robo-Fabricator – an interview with RoboCop Armor Fabricator James Belohovek, new featurette “Adapting Frank Miller's ROBOCOP 2” with comic book writer Steven Grant, new featurette OCP Declassified collecting rare archival production and behind-the-scenes videos including interviews with director Irvin Kershner, actors Peter Weller, Dan O'Herlihy and a look at the filming of deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, TV spots, deleted scenes, & still galleries!
New on BluRay/DVD from LC Films and on Vimeo On Demand here!
ATTACKED ON SET (2012)Directed by Tom Novell
Written by Tom Novell, Forrest Warren, Joel C. Warren
Starring Alicia Clark, Joshua David Evans, Dominic Ryan Gabriel, Jeff Hatrix, Heather Hintz, Randy Holloway, Lauren Iovan, Michael Justice, Adam Lorenz, Kristina Martin, Cassandra Sawden, Sean Scarlett, Joseph Victor, Nathan Wakefield, Martin Wolkens, Robert P. Young
Find out more about this film @attackedonset, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While this film is labeled as a horror movie, ATTACKED ON SET seems much more interested in nudity and cocaine than delivering on any scares or thrills.
A low budget film director tries to wrangle all of the actors, crew, and investors, but a maniacal masked killer on the set seems hell-bent on making his own horror film instead. That’s the premise of ATTACKED ON SET, but it appears that, in the first hour at least, cocaine and boobs are the main distraction from getting the film made as everyone is burying their face in one or the other. Gratuitous nudity and drug use seem to be the main motivator of this film with the killings shoehorned in sporadically through the first out. In the last twenty or so minutes, they finally remember that this is a slasher film and the killer then catches up with some quick deaths. But by that time, my interest had diminished as much as the coke supply. Lame humor is tossed about, but none of them really hit home. And even the attempts at gore and suspense fall flat from the lackadaisical acting and uninspired camerawork.
ATTACKED ON SET tries to regain its edge by the end with multiple bloody slashings and some attempts at a twist ending, but the establishing boobs and coke filled first hour just failed to make me care enough to worry about anyone surviving this one. This is just an uneven film, distracted by its own excesses and forgetting the point of it. Had ATTACKED ON SET evened out the coke, boobs, and kills a little more, I think I would have liked it better. But because the horror seems to be forgotten until the very last second, It just doesn’t work.
Available on DVD and On Demand from RLJ Entertainment!
DEAD WEST (2016)aka LADYKILLER
Directed by Jeff Ferrell
Written by Jeff Ferrell
Starring Jeffrey Arrington, Atrain, Jerry Bell Jr., Thomas Brophy, Scott C. Brown, Eden Campbell, Lisa Coronado, Angela DiMarco, Michael Draper, Bethany Jacobs, Meagan Karimi-Naser, Linda Jensen, Katie Michels, Carollani Sandberg, Aurelio Voltaire, & Brian Sutherland as The Ladykiller!
Find out more about this film here, @ladykillermovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While low budget and relatively low of gore, DEAD WEST makes do with what its got well and manages to spotlight a solid, yet twisted killer with misguided but still somehow sweet intentions.
Brian Sutherland plays a nameless cowboy with slicked back hair and a smirk that wins ladies hearts who is eager to settle down with a gal of his own, but seems to find himself disappointed in every girl he crosses paths with. And when this cowboy is disappointed, the disappointer ends up dead. The brother of one of the cowboy’s victims (Jeffrey Arrington) is set on tracking the cowboy down and killing him. But the cowboy is forever optimistic and keeps on trying to find a new gal that fits his specific tastes. Will the vengeful brother track down the cowboy before he finds Mrs. Right?
With nary a big name star in its roster, DEAD WEST turns out to be an endearing tale of twisted love. Sutherland does a decent job as the moseying killer who is quick to give his heart and get it shattered by the smallest of infractions. Sutherland plays this well and is equal parts charming and terrifying. Arrington is equally good as the brother who will stop at nothing to find the cowboy, but doesn’t really know what to do with him once he finds him.
The main problem here is that the film is relatively bloodless and most of the kills occur off screen. I think a little more of the red stuff would have given this film a little more bite and made the stakes feel a bit higher. As is, this film has some great performances by some stars that most likely will be seen again sometime soon in bigger films. While the serial killer’s MO is developed well, I personally wanted to see a bit more of the gruesome stuff involved in it. What we get feels a little more like a TV movie than a serial killer flick with teeth.
New this week on DVD and On Demand from Breaking Glass Pictures!
DEATH PASSAGE (2015)aka LEMON TREE PASSAGE, THE PASSAGE
Directed by David Campbell
Written by Erica Brien, David Campbell
Starring Jessica Tovey, Nicholas Gunn, Pippa Black, Tim Phillipps, Andrew Ryan, Tim Pocock, Piéra Forde, Dean Kirkright
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Modern urban legends are great fodder to explore in horror films, especially in age of captured video footage on the internet. An Australian ghost story with evidence evidently captured on camera is the basis of the story of DEATH PASSAGE, a decent, yet uneven little thriller.
Legend has it that if you speed down a certain stretch of Australian highway in the middle of the night, a bright light will appear behind you. But while the story behind the glowing specter is told to a group of partying kids, the real story is much more horrifying. Like a twisted game of telephone, this film deals with how legends morph and change through the years as a ghost attempts to get revenge despite the fact that it has nothing at all to do with the legend told over campfires. A group of kids are creeped out by the tale and decide to give it a try, but after speeding down the highway and seeing the mysterious light behind them, they begin to experience trippy and paranormal phenomenon where the past and present collide and the true story of Lemon Tree Passage (the original title of the film) is told.
An hour and a half is often a tough amount of time to fill with goodness. Some save the good stuff for the end, hoping that the viewer has the patience to make it all the way through. Others top load the film in order to impress, but just end up blowing their load early—leaving the film to fizzle out by the end. This film is the latter as things start out strong with the telling of the tale and appearance of the lights. There are some devious and twisted little set pieces where each kid is tormented to the lengths of their sanity before they meet their makers. Some of them bloody, others just cleverly and viscerally disconcerting, but all of them are fun and morbid.
The problem is that this just doesn’t last until the end and I found myself not really giving a care by the final act when the true story behind the legend comes to light. It’s one of those stories where the buildup just isn’t as good as the punch line and while DEATH PASSAGE has a lot of nicely orchestrated moments of horror and a haunting little soundtrack and use of music, by the end, the whole trip just runs out of gas.
Available on SHUDDER!
NINA FOREVER (2015)Directed by Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Written by Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Starring Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, David Troughton, Elizabeth Elvin, Sean Verey, Javan Hirst, Richard Sandling, Phelim Kelly, Lee Nicholas Harris, Bill Holland, Katharine Bennett-Fox, Tamar Karabetyan
Find out more about this film here, @ninaforeverfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Chock full with the type of quirk and sickness that I haven’t seen in a horror film since Lucky McKee’s MAY, NINA FOREVER turned out to be the right type of wrong for me and if you’re looking for a film that highlights the more twisted side of love this is it!
Described as “a fucked up fairy tale,” NINA FOREVER follows an outcast named Holly (the beautiful Abigail Hardingham) who studies to be a paramedic and works her days away at a local grocery store. When her boyfriend proves to know nothing about her, they break things off and Holly immediately takes interest in a dark, brooding coworker at the grocery named Rob (Cian Barry), who recently lost his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) in a traffic accident and is grief-stricken. As the two grow close, Holly begins to find out more about Rob’s ex and respects that he is still getting over her (and most likely is more attracted to Rob because of his overwhelming grief). When Holly and Rob finally make love, though, this guilt and sadness seems to bring Nina’s ghost back from the dead as she sprouts from the mattress stained in blood, sort of like HELLRAISER, but more romantical. Of course, both Rob and Holly are freaked out by the naked and bloody corpse writhing and talking to them from the blood stained mattress, but when Nina keeps on appearing to keep Holly and Rob from having sex, fear gives way to frustration and though Rob and Holly’s love is strong, Nina’s bloody ghost is a big, gory wedge getting in between their happiness.
As gory as this film is, it is quite heartfelt and sensitive to feelings of loss and guilt, as well as potent in capturing that magic that happens when two people meet and hit it off for the first time. This is a film that has powerful feelings as its backbone driving the story forward and all three actors (Hardingham, Barry, and O’Shaughnessy) convey this grab bag of emotions extremely well. The fact that Holly decides to roll with the fact that the ghost of Rob’s ex hanging around is a testament to the power of their love, but the film doesn’t really stop there in that these ghostly interruptions push Holly to the breaking point. Sure there’s a bit of comedy at the fact that everywhere Nina shows up is smeared with blood and gore, so the couple have to keep throwing out their sheets and cleaning the walls every time they have sex because Nina’s gory intrusions, but the film plays with the metaphor of how death affects a relationship and how one looks at relationships after one has experienced loss in a way that elevates it past mere comedy to a deeper and more soulful level.
The odd thing about NINA FOREVER is that it is told from Holly’s perspective. This all makes sense by the end of the film, but for most of the runtime, one would think this would be the type of tale told from Rob’s perspective as he is the one who experienced the loss of his girlfriend and is dealing with her return every time he is intimate with his new girlfriend. Sure we are given snippets into Rob’s morose world where he visits Nina’s grave and has dinner at her parent’s place every Sunday, but most of the real emotion comes through the experiences we endure from Holly’s perspective. Because of this odd point of view, everything feels a bit off kilter. This isn’t horrible, it’s just another aspect of this wonky and unconventional film that makes things feel even more out of whack, but Holly is such a likable character that I didn’t mind following her around most of the time.
Often wickedly funny, often sweetly sexual, but just when you find yourself laughing or falling for these characters, things flip to being potently poignant and then downright morose, NINA FOREVER is a film for folks who like unconventional love stories with endings that aren’t so happy. The lead three stars are going to be big someday if their performances here are any indication, especially the uniquely gorgeous Hardingham who is equal parts sexy and twisted all at once as Holly. If you’re the type who love stories that stray from the norm, NINA FOREVER may be the right kind of fucked up for you too.
In select theaters and new this week on SHUDDER!
PREVENGE (2016)Directed by Alice Lowe
Written by Alice Lowe
Starring Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis, Eileen Davies, Dan Renton Skinner, Mike Wozniak, Marc Bessant, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Tom Meeten, Leila Hoffman, Sara Dee, Grace Calder, Della Moon Synnott as the Baby!
Find out more about this film here, @PrevengeMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Pregnancy is a horrifying time for women. As a man, I’ll never truly understand it, but PREVENGE does a great job of illustrating the horror one might feel whilst knocked up though its biting dialog and twisted story.
SIGHTSEERS’ Alice Lowe plays Ruth, a recent widow who finds out she is preggers soon after her husband dies in a freak mountain climbing accident. Though we don’t know specifically what her motivation is and how she is picking her victims, the film follows the eight month pregnant widow as she stalks, meets, and kills seemingly random people because the voice from her belly tells her to. As the kill count rises, Ruth begins to doubt her own sanity and dreads what she is about to give birth to.
Lowe was actually pregnant while this film was being made and this seems to add an air of legitimacy to the film through Lowe’s dialog as she describes what it is like to have a small person living inside of her, compelling her to do things she wouldn’t normally do, and controlling every aspect of her life. While this film takes it to an extreme and we can actually hear the baby telling Ruth who to kill, when to do it, and how to do it, the metaphor for the overall experience of being pregnant as a whole is pretty obvious here. Lowe is unbelievably honest about the discomfort she feels about having a person inside of her as well as taking on the responsibility of raising a life without the love of her life, making this one a truly tragic little tale. Even though Ruth is doing some pretty heinous things (like MURDER!!!), you can’t help but be sympathetic to her in her plight as we see her agonizing about killing people and dealing with the guilt afterwards.
Lowe delivers a smart and rich script that is heavy on darkly comedic situations and even blacker ways of getting out of them. The film is sort of one comedic situation stacked onto another and another until the end, but while the film repeats itself a few times, there is a point to it and an endgame in sight, even though it isn’t really shared with the viewer until late in the game. Punctuating these moments of murder are equally entertaining visits to a midwife who is concerned about whether Ruth is fit for motherhood. Though the midwife (Jo Hartley) is clueless as to how on the nose Ruth is when she describes the baby inside of her as a monster making her do horrible things, the double entendre that comes from these conversations about the highs and lows of motherhood are pretty brilliant.
If there is a problem with PREVENGE it is that it really isn’t all that scary. It’s not all that gory either, though the film does relish in taking the viewer along with Ruth into some extremely uncomfortable situations. This makes me pause a bit before recommending this film as a good horror movie because the normal feelings I feel during a horror movie just aren’t there. It’s more of a tragedy than anything else as if focuses on a truly desperate and cerebrally cracked woman trying to deal with the hand she was dealt and failing miserably at it. Lowe is deft in setting up darkly comedic situations to fall into and I laughed a lot here. And though this film didn’t really scare me much or gross me out (though the Cesarean scene is rough to watch), PREVENGE makes for an amazing little character study that is both metaphorically rich and emotionally potent.
Recently played at SXSW! Currently touring festivals!
MAYHEM (2017)Directed by Joe Lynch
Written by Matias Caruso
Starring Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts, Mark Frost, Claire Dellamar, André Eriksen, Nikola Kent, Lucy Chappell, Olja Hrustic, Bojan Peric, Annamaria Serda, Jovana Prosenik, Nina Senicar, Scott Alexander Young
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While we might have a DANTE’S PEAK/VOLCANO, DEEP IMPACT/ARMAGEDDON, GHOSTBUSTERS/huge pile of donkey shit-style synergy zeitgeist thingy happening here with MAYHEM and THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, Joe Lynch’s new corporate carnage film is a dream come true for anyone who has sat across the desk from their boss and wanted to strangle the living shit out of them. This film is pure, uncut catharsis for the frustration that is going on in the world around us at the moment. It’s one of those films that makes you feel rode hard and put away wet by the end, but are damn thankful for watching it because now you have a hell of a tale to tell your grandkids. Put simply, MAYHEM is the tits!
THE WALKING DEAD’s Steven Yuen (GLENNNNNNNNN!!!) stars as Derek Cho, an upwardly mobile corporate man who lost the time and energy to question why he is so eager to get to the top long ago. Going through the motions of his corporate job of buying and selling lives at the swipe of a pen stroke, Derek is visited by Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving) who pleads to have Derek’s corporation give her clients a little extra time to pay the banks so they don’t lose their home. Meanwhile, plans are set in motion to make Derek the scapegoat for a blunder made by the top brass of the organization. But amidst this corporate intrigue, a virus that has been spreading across the world has somehow infiltrated the office building. With those infected acting out on their most base and primal of impulses, the government quarantines the building until the virus burns itself out. Meanwhile, the people inside of the office building, including Derek and Melanie, are tearing, rampaging, and fucking themselves apart. With the bigwigs locked away on the top floor until the smoke clears, Derek and Melanie fight their way up each level of the building in order to confront the fat cats who have wronged them. Shit gets brutal. Shit gets bloody. Shit gets real.
Over the opening moments of MAYHEM, Gioachino Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” is played which was made recognizable from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. This indicates that we should prepare ourselves for a little bit of the ultra-violence and this film does not fail to deliver on that promise. From beginning to end, MAYHEM is fast and furious with biting office banter and rapid fire carnage. It’s a caffeine and cocaine fueled gauntlet where the cutthroat tactics of the board room take a literal and gratuitously physical form. Lynch is able to deliver an adrenaline fueled, gritty and gory film that doesn’t pull punches. But this isn’t just ugly violence. It’s smartly funny as well, which makes this more of a raucous celebration of violence than a condemnation of it. I love the way Lynch makes us wince and laugh at the same time over and over again.
I was also surprised at how well Yuen carried this entire movie. While he was often reduced to a sappy and whiney character in THE WALKING DEAD, here Yuen shines with charisma and chutzpah. He’s awesome at delivering the funny and savage when doling out the hurt on the suits above his pay grade. Samara Weaving channels her inner maniac here as Melanie. She’s both crazy and sexy as she wails away at folks with a hammer and nail gun and is a fantastic partner in crime for Yuen’s Derek. Rounding out the cast is Steven Brand as the coke snorting, golf club whacking Big Boss at the top of Derek and Melanie’s violent ascension and Yuen’s THE WALKING DEAD co-star Dallas Roberts standing out as The Reaper, the company’s HR man who handles all of the firing. Both actors are fantastic an distinct obstacles for Derek and Melanie to ram into.
It’s OFFICE SPACE meets THE RAID infected with the virus from 28 DAYS LATER are the core components that make up this potent cocktail of hardcore violence. Bitingly funny, rapidly edited, intensely action-packed, genius-ly satirical, MAYHEM is everything you want in onscreen ultra-violence. Extra points for the awesome fight set to Faith No More!
As soon as you can, dive into MAYHEM and splash around in the beautiful carnage Joe Lynch hath birthed!
Sorry, no trailer yet. But as soon as one is available, I’ll post!
And finally…lets circle back to the Master of the Macabre with a retelling of my absolute favorite Poe tale, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” This one is told in animated form by the talented Annette Jung. I love how twisted the artwork is here. It totally matches the tone of this utterly bent story. Enjoy “The Tell-Tale Heart!”
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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