Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got some of the good, bad, and ugly in horror this week. As usual, an eclectic set of scares because no one is scared of the same thing.
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: CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1940)
Retro-review: Z.P.G. – ZERO POPULATION GROWTH (1972)
The Boo Tube: RAVENWOLF TOWERS: Episodes 2-3 (2016)
The Boo Tube: WOLF CREEK Season 1 (2016)
KILLER CLOWNS COLLECTION: SLOPPY THE PSYCHOTIC (2012)
CHILD EATER (2016)
HERE ALONE (2016)
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015)
Advance Review: THE DARK TAPES (2017)
And finally… James Dearden’s THE CONTRAPTION!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1940)aka THE DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS
Directed by Norman Lee
Written by Edgar Wallace (novel), John Argyle (treatment), Gilbert Gunn & Norman Lee (screenplay)
Starring Leslie Banks, Lilli Palmer, Romilly Lunge, Gina Malo, Richard Bird, David Horne, J.H. Roberts, Cathleen Nesbitt, Harry Hutchinson, Philip Ray, Robert Montgomery, Aubrey Mallalieu, Ross Landon, George Street
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Less of a horror movie and more of an atmospheric caper film, CHAMBER OF HORRORS might not live up to its name in terms of chills, but it does not fail to entertain nevertheless.
Knowing that his millions may attract all sorts of nefarious types, a millionaire on his deathbed makes it extremely hard for anyone to get his money by bequeathing seven keys to his nephew and other beneficiaries that can open a vault holding a fortune. When a young woman named June (Lilli Palmer) comes into the possession of one of the keys, she finds herself targeted by masked men in the shadows. Seeking the aid of a private detective, June meets Dick Martin (Romilly Lunge), a PI who aids a “super sleuth” by the name of Sneed (Richard Bird) who spends most of his time sleeping off a hangover in this film. June, Dick, and June’s horny friend Glenda (Gina Malo) arrive at the millionaire’s estate and meet a host of evil characters out for her key including the evil Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks) and mute manservant Hevelock (David Horne).
If you’re looking for scares and chills, this film comes with very little and you’re going to be disappointed. CHAMBER OF HORRORS is one of those detective crime tales with some wonky slapstick and goofy characters tossed in. It’s clearly trying to have a good time and it ends up succeeding at being a mixed bag of a little of everything by the end. There are some creepy moments of setup as the millionaire dies on a dark and stormy night and a trip to the family mausoleum adds more creep to the atmosphere, but just when things get too serious, there is a scene where someone looks through the eyes of a painting or someone pulls the rug out from under some goons in order to get the upper hand. There is also a whole lot of snappy banter that would make Billy Wilder proud between June and he PI pal Dick and her gal pal Glenda. All of this keeps the dull parts from seeping in too much and maintains a solid clip all the way through.
The character work is what makes this one worth seeking out. Palmer, Lunge, and Malo are great in the lead roles of the good-hearted souls caught up in this mess. Richard Bird is awesome as the oblivious and hung-over Sneed and Leslie Banks (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) is great as the moustache twirling villain. Props also go out to David Horne who sports the Spock haircut long before STAR TREK.
Light on chills, but heavy on chuckles and charm, CHAMBER OF HORRORS is another Saturday matinee gem more people should see. Some of the bad guys are fun in a cartoonish way and the slapstick brawls between the good and the bad guys look like they actually hurt the way the wrestled around on the ground like that. Add in Norman Lee’s eye for atmosphere and a few twists and turns to the story and it ends up being a great time even without the scares. This Bluray comes with an audio commentary by film historian David Del Valle and filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
Z.P.G. – ZERO POPULATION GROWTH (1972)aka EDICT, FIRST OF JANUARY, DEAD KIDS, POPULATION ZERO, ZERO POPULATION GROWTH
Directed by Michael Campus
Written by Frank De Felitta, Max Ehrlich
Starring Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon, Diane Cilento, Sheila Reed, Theis Ib Husfeldt, David Markham, Bill Nagy, Aubrey Woods, Birgitte Federspiel, Anne-Lise Gabold, Torben Hundal, Ditte Maria,
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Good sci fi bases their concepts on modern problems. Look at some of the cooler ideas in sci fi and most likely, there is a human element attached to a concept that is just an era or two in the future. Thus is the case for Z.P.G.—which stands for Zero Population Growth, which basically addresses the rising problems in famine and overpopulation that faced the world back in the seventies when this film was made and even more so today.
One of my favorite actors Oliver Reed and daughter of Charlie Chaplin Geraldine Chaplin play Russ and Carol McNeil, a couple living in a utopian society where it is unsafe to walk around outside without a gasmask, all forms of nature and wildlife has gone extinct, and the world has become overpopulated. The powers that be have decided that the only way to fix the problem is to outlaw any births for an unspecified amount of years until the population decreases. So after having sex, the woman must sit in a chair that irradiates and aborts the fertilized egg and people with a pang for parenthood are given robot dolls that look and act like children. Russ and Carol are horrified by the world they live in and decide to buck the system and have a child under the radar in the bunker under their apartment. But after successfully having the child, Russ and Carol find it harder than ever to keep it a secret from the rest of the world which will execute them if their secret gets out.
In a day and age of morning after pills and internet pets, the utopian future of Z.P.G. isn’t that hard to imagine. Even the vague government mandates that have no specific limits in terms of time and scope are things that are all too familiar. That is what makes Z.P.G. so fascinating. The world inside this film is not so out of the norm that one couldn’t image it happening in some near future. If anything it is the doomspeak one side of the political spectrum predicts will happen if another side gets their way. The world is pretty smartly fleshed out with restaurants selling synthetic food that almost tastes like the real thing and flying speakers announcing the new mandates of the day. It’s heavily influenced by 1984 and other stories of an oppressive and controlling government where free speech is outlawed, but because it focuses on issues of fertility, overpopulation, and a person’s right to choose what happens to their bodies, it succeeds in making things feel fresh and innovative rather than a retread of other sci fi films.
Next to maybe Jack Nicholson in his heyday and maybe Daniel Day Lewis, you’ve not going to find a more intense actor than Oliver Reed. Here he is more subdued and beaten by the system. While he is not without his own thoughts about the horrors of the world, he is less the intense powerhouse he is in other films in Z.P.G. Chaplin is the one who is more of the rule-breaker here and while she often appears like a frail porcelain doll, most of the ballsy moves here are up to her which makes for an interesting challenge for both lead actors as they seem to be playing against type.
There are a lot of horrific and suspenseful moments in Z.P.G. most having to do with the oppressive government which will sentence lawbreakers to death in a heartbeat. But on top of those instances, the scenes with the robot kids are particularly unsettling as these little walking automations look more like zombie babies than live ones. Their dead eyes and lifeless voices asking for their parents’ love is truly terrifying. Z.P.G. escalates to a tense climax once news of the baby gets out and by then, you’ve spent so much time with the McNeil’s that you really want them to be successful in this cover-up. This makes for a truly suspenseful and insightful sci fi epic that doesn’t have over the top effects, but the sci fi stuff that does show up are thought provoking and ingenious. This BluRay comes with an audio commentary by film historian Steve Ryfle.
Newly released on digital download at its Amazon page and on DVD from Full Moon Entertainment!
RAVENWOLF TOWERS: Season One – Episodes 2-3 (2016)Directed by Charles Band
Written by Roger Barron
Starring Shiloh Creveling, Evan Henderson, Maria Olsen, Michael Citriniti, George Appleby, Sonny King, Jesse Egan, Rosemary Brownlow, Arthur Roberts, Willaim Paul Burns, Robert Cooper, Nihilist Gelo
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
RAVENWOLF TOWERS is Full Moon Entertainment’s new half-hour serial which seems to have a new episode released on a bi-monthly basis. Set in an old hotel building, there are shades of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL here, but Charles Band and Co. offer up enough to make it feel different enough so as not to make it seem like a copy. While the budget is pretty low, Band is no foreigner to tight budgets and the decent acting and twisted little tale unfolding keeps you distracted from the low fi way this one is put together. It sort of reminds me of the old DARK SHADOWS soap opera, utilizing few sets, but dealing with morbid subject matter.
Episode 2, entitled “Bonds of Blood” offers up a gratuitous lesbian scene, another scene of a couple making love, and some clarification that the saccharine-sweet damsel in distress Mary, (who won the heart of Jake, the new handyman hired in the first episode) is not so sweet after all as despite her youthful appearance, she is actually the matriarch of the twisted La Velle family of freaks who live on the upper floors of the towers. Meanwhile, Jake is starting to have questions about all of the horrors happening and tries to prevent a pair of lesbians from being the next victims of the towers. This episode answers a few questions (like how Mary fits in with the family) and leaves a few more to be answered in future episodes (like what’s up with that clown guy who spouts ominous lines and creeps back into his room).
“Secrets in the Walls” is the title of Episode 3 and in this one we start to see the battle lines being drawn between the good guys and the bad guys, though even the good guys are not to be trusted here. This one focuses on Dr. Lorca, a mad scientist working for the La Velle’s and a vampire hunter/occultist Ivan Ivanov, who has a giant intellect housed in a small person’s body. There is also some clues dropped that our hero Jake may be hiding some dark secrets of his own.
While I wouldn’t call RAVENWOLF TOWERS high drama or nail-biting terror, it does deliver a rather chilling vibe with its dark hallways and creepy characters. The real draw is the eclectic cast, specifically the underrated Maria Olsen who is becoming somewhat of an icon in horror these days what with her appearances in STARRY EYES, SOUTHBOUND, and just about any other horror film made these days. She’s like the female version of Larry Fessenden and Bill Oberst Jr. combined. Richard Band, as always with Full Moon films, provides a score that elevates the material to new heights. RAVENWOLF TOWERS isn’t essential viewing, but it is a fun genre romp that uses all sorts of genre staples in twisted ways.
You can read my review of the first RAVENWOLF TOWERS Episode here!
New on BluRay/DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
WOLF CREEK Season One (2016)Directed by Tony Tilse (Ep. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Greg McLean (Ep. 6)
Adapted for television by Peter Gawler, Greg McLean, & Felicity Packard, and based on the WOLF CREEK films written, directed & produced by Greg McLean
Starring Lucy Fry, John Jarratt, Dustin Clare, Andy McPhee, Damian de Montemas, Jessica Tovey, Eddie Baroo, Fletcher Humphrys, Jake Ryan, Greg Fleet, Cameron McKinnon, Taylor Wiese, Andreas Sobik, Travis Jeffery, Jamie Hall, Matt Levett, Felicity McKay, Rachel House, Steve Parker, Deborah Mailman, Liana Cornell, Richard Cawthorne, Sarah Nemet, Jack Charles, Antoine Jelk, Jed Rowlands, Keith Hodgetts, Kim Liotta, Robert Taylor, Cameron Caulfield, Maya Stange, Isaac May
Find out more about this film here, @WolfCreekTVSeriesOfficial, and on Facebook here
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Having loved a lot of the parts of both WOLF CREEK and its sequel, I found myself extremely interested at how Greg McLean would continue the story in an episodic format of a TV series. Turns out, the shift from feature to serial actually strengthens the concept and irons out some of the rough criticisms I had with the two films.
The WOLF CREEK films focused on Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) a madman who roams the outback of Australia hunting and killing pretty much anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. While his motivations were varied in the two films, he seems to have a particular disliking towards tourists—killing them in vicious ways as if they were trespassing upon his land. My main beef with the two WOLF CREEK films is that while the films were rich in soaking up the beautiful and harsh outback setting, the action was fast paced, and the kills were nice and gruesome, both films end up having the main victim tied to a chair or bound up in some fashion so Mick can prance around and gloat, which usually leads to his undoing. I don’t have problems with the gloating, but the tied to a chair torture sequences felt like every other HOSTEL-style torture porn flick that was released in the early 2000’s. I was hoping we would get a lot of the same scenic stuff soaking in the land of Australia and less of the torture porn clichés with the TV series.
Turns out, my hopes and prayers were answered and while the finale of the series ends with one person bound and tortured a bit, it definitely isn’t as prevalent as it is in the first two films. Most of the season focuses on Eve (Lucy Fry) the sole survivor of an attack at the hands of Mick. Left for dead, Eve buries her parents and brother and sets off to take on Mick herself. But along the way she runs into a few escaped criminals, an aborigine, a Maori truck driver, and a cop who is willing to break the law in order to keep Eve safe. Stealing a file of unsolved cases, Eve sets out to find Mick at any cost and travels across the continent and back to do it.
Fry is good in the lead role her as Eve. She has a Juliette Lewis feel to her—as if she is innocent one second, psychopathic the next. While she isn’t as formidable as Mick in terms of killing, you see her getting tougher and more hell-bent on catching Mick through the series and this evolution is believable all the way through. Jarratt, by now, IS Mick Taylor and plays the character with maniacal glee, snickering while his prey walks closer towards his snare. Like Robert Englund and Freddy Krueger, I couldn’t imagine anyone else but him playing the role of this Australian killer. There’s a pervy, gruffness in the way Jarratt plays the character. We get to see a little bit of what’s under Mick’s hat here in the final episode of this series (directed by McLean himself), but even this snippet of who Mick really is doesn’t take away from the menace of the character.
While some of the episodes are redundant at times as Eve stumbles into one former murder scene after another, usually running into a few seedy characters along the way, this is a very straight-forward and quickly paced little series. There are one or two all too convenient moments where Eve and Mick almost cross paths, but they miss each other by mere feet and minutes sometimes. It makes for a strong momentum, but I don’t know if it is a concept that can be expanded into yet another season (this series was renewed for a second time around).
The series is only six episodes and is totally worthy of a Sunday binge. This first season disk also contains featurettes “Cinema to Series: The Legacy of Wolf Creek,” “Making a Television Series,” “Meet the Stars,” “Discovering the Outback,” “Visual Effects,” and “Meet the Supporting Cast.”
Newly released in a Killer Clowns Collection from MVD Visual!
SLOPPY THE PSYCHOTIC (2012)Directed by Mike O'Mahony
Written by Erich Ficke & Mike O’Mahony
Starring Mike O’Mahony, James Costa, Fred Ficke, David Folger, Lauren Ojeda, Julie Ann Hamolko, Lou Beaver
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Always game for a little clown horror, this two disk collection of a pair of clown movies is very low budget, but this one is going to be for the DIY fans out there and those who get freaked by laughing painted madmen. Still, I don’t want to spend too much time on this no budget film. Clowns are always fun to put through hell, and when cast through the lens of horror, one can’t help but love seeing a something that’s supposed to be a childhood instrument of joy be turned into a morally corrupt killing machine. Still, SLOPPY THE PSYCHOTIC seems to take the easy route when it comes to writing, and it makes for a fun yet uninspired little film.
Shat on by his friends, fired from his job, and broken-hearted by his girlfriend, Sloppy has seen better days, but I guess one has to be a bit bent to put on makeup and try to make children laugh, so that’s pretty much all it takes to push this clown over the edge into psychoville.
Once nuts, Sloppy actually has some pretty inspired kills as he runs over some mentally handicapped people with his clown car, blows up a man’s head with an exploding cigar, and drowns a bum in his own piss. The sheer number of murders is quite impressive, as Sloppy spends all of his time doing so in the film. I also really liked the ending, as Sloppy performs his tricks in front of his parents in an especially shocking manner that leaves the film with a pretty powerful closing joke.
That acknowledged, SLOPPY THE PSYCHOTIC goes on for about twenty minutes too long with one kill after another and a painfully acted scene during a backyard birthday party that drones. Still, even that scene has Sloppy making a dick and balls balloon animal and handing it to a little girl, which made me giggle.
While there are a lot of obvious jokes and bad acting, for no budget, this has some pretty twisted moments. Plus there’s the added benefit of clown sex, which is always amusing. All in all, as far as sleaze goes, SLOPPY THE PSYCHOTIC is better than most no-budgeters.
New this week On Demand from Uncork'd Entertainment!
PEELERS (2016)Directed by Sevé Schelenz
Written by Lisa DeVita & Sevé Schelenz
Starring Wren Walker, Caz Odin Darko, Madison J. Loos, Cameron Dent, Al Dales, Momona Komagata, Kirsty Peters, Nikki Wallin, Victoria Gomez, Rafael Mateo, David Torres, Edwin Perez, Andrea Rosolia, Manny Jacinto, Emma Docker, Richard Olak, James Challis, Jason Asuncion, Mark Anthoney, Rob Scattergood, Katherine Blaylock, Lauren Martin McCraw, Diego Hernández de la Rocha, Sevé Schelenz, Todd Giroux, Lisa DeVita, Brendan Smith, Preston Shannon-Meischl, Tim Chisholm, Geoff Anderson
Find out more about this film here, @peelersthefilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While stripper horror seems to be a dime a dozen (or is that a crisp dollar bill?), PEELERS turned out to be surprisingly entertaining. With some boobage, some knee slapping humor, and a copious amount of blood and guts, PEELERS ended up one strip club horror show worth investing your ones into.
Blue Jean (Wren Walker) is the owner and manager of Titty Balls, a typical strip club where unsavory types stop in for a view of unattainable women and drinking themselves into oblivion. With business going downhill and a rich investor buying the place at midnight, Blue is packing up shop and getting ready for her last night open to customers. But when a quartet of miners come in after work covered in an oily liquid, it turns out they are infected with some kind of crude crude-oil that turns them into spastic zombies that are tough as hell to kill. Now the bouncers, the bartenders, the strippers, and the patrons must join forces against these greasy monsters eager to chomp on their brains and tear them into bloody bits.
What works is both the humor and the attention to character here. Sure there are clichés a plenty—the bouncer with a heart of gold, the pregnant stripper still on the pole, the newbie stripper who needs shots to get up on stage, and the owner who has seen it all and is getting too old for this shit. But enough character is injected into each of these characters to make them a little more than the clichés they stand for. Props go to the script by Lisa DeVita & director Sevé Schelenz which actually is quite punchy and funny at times. It makes the clichéd backdrop for the horror to be more believable as it really feels like actual interactions one has at a bar rather than some kind of Hollywood cartoon version of it.
Add on top of that quite a few scenes of sloshy and down n’ dirty gore and you have one hell of a fun time at the strip club. PEELERS is a little gem of a film that never tries to be more than it is, but it does what it does (namely blood, boobs, and belly laughs) really well. It’s lowbrow horror, but good lowbrow horror.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
CHILD EATER (2016)Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen
Written by Erlingur Thoroddsen
Starring Cait Bliss, Colin Critchley, Dave Klasko, Brandon Smalls, James Wilcox, Melinda Chilton, Andrew Kaempfer, Kara Durrett, Weston Wilson, Jason Martin as Robert Bowery!
Find out more about this film here, @childeatermovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A solid monster makes for a rather unsettling little movie in CHILD EATER, a gothic modern fairy tale that might have you covering your eyes while watching.
Legend has it that there was a serial killer living just a few neighborhoods away who was going blind and believed that by eating the eyeballs of little children, he could retain his vision. Turns out that urban legend is real and Robert Bowrey (the eyeball eating madman/monster played by Jason Martin) has his sights set on a little boy named Lucas (Colin Critchley) and his babysitter Helen (Cait Bliss). When Lucas disappears from his room, Helen follows his screams into the forest and into the dark clutches of a goggled monster who rips peepers out of heads and chomps on them.
This leads to some gory moments of socket gouging and cornea chomping. The film takes place all in one night and is set in a dark wooded area, so there is enough atmosphere to choke on in this one. Everything is played straight and there really isn’t much by way of humor to release any of the tension. This turns out to be a good thing as Helen and Lucas find themselves deeper and deeper in Bowrey’s clutches. There are more than a few scenes of woodland terror from this Jeepers Creepers style monster who is shaped like a man but feels like something much more mythical.
I like the use of urban legend here and there’s a deft handling of both the way the gore is presented and the dank, dark atmosphere the two kids find themselves trapped in. This one ends on a rather lame jump scare, but all the way up to the end is potent stuff. I’d be interested in seeing more of this Child Eater as he is a unique sort of monster realized with some heinous gore and some fantastically dark cinematography.
New in select theaters and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment!
HERE ALONE (2016)Directed by Rod Blackhurst
Written by David Ebeltoft
Starring Lucy Walters, Gina Piersanti, Adam David Thompson, Shane West, Ryken A. Whitfield
Find out more about this film here, @herealonefilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While survival horror is dangerously getting just as tiring as zombie horror, HERE ALONE manages to be compelling from beginning to end due to some tense direction, creative storytelling, and simplistic, yet powerful performances by a terrific cast.
HERE ALONE isn’t the first movie to shift the perspective of the zombie apocalypse to the survivors and their ordeals rather than brain-spattering/brain-eating zombie mayhem, it does so with a confident hand. THE WALKING DEAD has basically shifted the zombie threat to the back burner and HERE ALONE feels a lot like a one-and-done episode of the series in some ways as the story focuses on one couple attempting to make their way out of the city and into the wilderness and then shifts to the future where only the woman Ann (Lucy Walters) has survived on her own by living alone in the wilderness and protecting herself when she does go to get supplies by smearing herself with feces in order to cover up her scent. Ann meets another survivor Chris (Adam David Thompson) and his step-daughter Olivia (Gina Piersanti) and reluctantly accepts them into her camp, which ends up unsettling the fragile order she has established for herself.
What sets HERE ALONE apart from most zombie films is the intimate and meticulous way it displays Ann’s daily routine she sticks to in order to survive on her own. The story that unfolds explains why Ann prefers to be alone and why she is so cautious to stick to the routine she has learned. It’s a harrowing story makes it understandable why Ann is so careful as it plays out. Still, it is equally understandable when Ann lets her guard down when Chris and Olivia cross her path. The best thing about HERE ALONE is that it gets these intimate and emotional moments so right that it sucks you in and makes you care about the welfare of these survivors.
The horror of the zombies doesn’t really bring much new to the table. Filmmaker Rod Blackhurst keeps the zombies blurry, out of focus, and in the background for most of the time. The guttural howls that echo through the forest offer up enough menace in the dark and honestly, the absence of the zombies make them all the more scary once they rear their decayed heads in the final act. The appearance of the zombies themselves isn’t the most horrific scenes of HERE ALONE. It’s the quieter scenes when you realize a character you’ve found yourself caring about get into the worst kind of danger.
Still haters of the zombie and survival genre are going to find a lot of familiar things to hate on here. If you aren’t into characters you can sink your teeth into and patient horror that hits you more on an emotional than visceral level, this isn’t going to be for you. But if you watch zombie films to get into the character rather than the brain-eating and want to see some well developed characters acting out potent emotional scenes of torment, guilt, and strength of will, HERE ALONE is worth viewing.
New exclusively on DirectTV this week and to be released in select theaters, On Demand, and digital download on April 28th from AMBI Distribution!
RUPTURE (2016)Directed by Steven Shainberg
Written by Brian Nelson & Steven Shainberg (story), Brian Nelson (screenplay)
Starring Noomi Rapace, Peter Stormare, Kerry Bishé, Michael Chiklis, Lesley Manville, Paul Popowich, Ari Millen, Joel Labelle, Percy Hynes White, Sergio Di Zio, Morgan Kelly, Jean Yoon, Jonathan Potts, Brendan Jeffers
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While there are some pacing issues with RUPTURE, a few story beats that take away from the tension, and some clichéd moments, star Noomi Rapace gives a powerful performance and the film is filled with some powerfully paranoid and phobia-laden moments.
Divorced mother Renee (Noomi Rapace) lives a stressful life of trying to parent her troubled son, have a semi-cordial relationship with her ex-husband, and maintain some kind of normal life. But all in all, it is a pretty uneventful life and she plans to spice it up by going skydiving with a friend. After dropping her son off at his father’s house, Renee is abducted my a mysterious group of people (including Michael Chiklis, Kerry Bishe, and Peter Stormare) who insist that she has alien DNA within her and extreme fear induces a metabolic change that will trigger her transformation into her true alien form. Renee does not believe them, of course, and thinks they are crazy, but that does not stop the group from trying to induce extreme fear in Renee by taking advantage of her extreme fear of spiders in order to spark a change.
The good of this film is all about the cast. Not only does Rapace offer up a strong performance as Renee who has been thrust into this bonkers situation, but the supporting cast is strong as well, with Chiklis, Bishe, and Stormare offering up some awesome, alien-like weirdness to counter Renee’s boring life. It is because of these performances that I am going to give this film my recommendation because they really do a great job of convincing the viewer that this crazy situation is possible.
I also liked the way the group try to incite intense fear in Renee via spiders. She is forced to wear a mask that contains spiders and lets them crawl over her face and tubes releasing spiders are often unloaded onto her skin. This would creep anyone the hell out and the film shows these scenes in such a way that I imagine will make even the strong-willed squirm.
The problem with RUPTURE is that it just isn’t confident enough with the reveal as to whether or not Renee is an alien or not. This is made evident by the trailer below, which gives away the major plot point and by a scene where one of Renee’s captors shows her true alien face. While this makes for a chance to show off special effects, I think the film would have been much more suspenseful if it held their effects sequence for the final scene where we see whether or not Renee is alien or not. While the alien effect is rather subtle, the reveal would have been much more substantial had we not seen what the aliens look like before hand. As is, it feels as if the director, not confident in the reveal at the end, needed to take the viewer by the hand and reveal the truth of the situation rather than allow the audience to question what is real and what isn’t until the very end. I know had the filmmakers been a little more confident with their reveal and left the audience in the dark, leading them to question whether this group that has kidnapped Renee were crazy or actual aliens, it would have been a much more suspenseful film and the ending would have been far more satisfying. Because we know that the captors are aliens when the alien nurse reveals her true form to Renee, this kills the suspense all together.
As is, there are snippets of a great film in here. While there is a lull in the action in the middle portion as Renee shimmies through the air ventilation system of the facility (why the hell do they make them big enough for people to crawl through?), the spider scenes are skin-crawlingly good. And this cast is always fun to watch. RUPTURE is potent in parts, but the whole is just shy of great.
New on Direct TV and in select theaters from A24 Films!
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015)aka FEBRUARY
Directed by Oz Perkins
Written by Oz Perkins
Starring Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, James Remar, Emma Holzer, Peter J. Gray, Jodi Larratt, Matthew Stefiuk, Douglas Kidd, Heather Tod Mitchell, Cameron Preyde, Rose Gagnon
Find out more about this film here, @TheBlackcoatsDaughter, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While I know THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is not going to be the type of horror film everyone is going to be getting behind, it definitely is the type of horror film I like. If you like slow-burning, unsettling little films that make you feel weird even though you can’t exactly put your finger on exactly why; THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is going to be for you. I guess a true test would be if you liked Oz Perkins last film, the Netflix ghost story I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, you’re most likely going to be able to make it through this one and most likely will like it as much as I did.
The film opens ominously with a young girl leaving her home and setting off to go to an all girl private school. The girl, Kat (Kiernan Shipka), is then seen talking with her counselor about a performance she is about to do for the entire school and how disappointed she is because he won’t be there. While the conversation seems innocent enough, the way it all plays out feels utterly unsettling. Enter one of Kat’s schoolmates, the elder classmate Rose (Lucy Boynton) who is having problems of her own with her boyfriend involving a missed period (and we aren’t talking about classes). Both Kat and Rose seem to be stuck on the school grounds during winter break as both their parents have failed to pick them up for the break. This leaves the school counselor to ask Rose to look over Kat and though she doesn’t intend to, she reluctantly agrees to make the counselor happy. This leaves Kat and Rose alone in the school together with Rose trying to scare Kat with stories about the school headmistresses being in a cult and Kat acting absolutely batshit crazy and paranoid whenever Rose leaves her alone. Meanwhile, a girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) is trying to make her way to the school by foot and hitches a ride with a couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly), not knowing that there is something underhanded and evil going on there as well. Both stories intersect, though you aren’t aware that they do until its too late.
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER formerly known as FEBRUARY in the festival circuit, was actually made before I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, though was released afterwards. Both films excel in enveloping the viewer in a paranoid, indefinable discomfort from beginning to end. Both are tales where you trust nothing at face value and culminate in a potent, yet quiet climax that resonates long after the credits roll. THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER in particular is effective in immediately tossing you into the darkness as Shipka is utterly hypnotizing as the seemingly innocent, but undeniably off Kat. The stilted and subtle way she interacts with people is creepy because you can’t exactly put a finger on why she is so creepy. Her later actions seal the deal in why we have this foreboding sense of horror whenever she’s on screen, but from the first moment, there is dread in droves.
On top of Shipka’s haunting performance, the other actresses in THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER are awesome as well. Boynton’s Rose has her secrets as well and while she comes off as the typical school bully picking on an under-classmate, this isn’t all there is to her. Whether she knows it or not, she’s in danger dealing with Kat and the fun lays in the fact that she believes she has the upper hand all the way through. Emma Roberts’ Joan is another nuanced character, seemingly innocent and fragile, but carrying her own dark secrets. As evidenced here and in I AM THE PRETTY THING, Perkins is gifted in telling nuanced stories with female characters.
But if you’re looking for flashy effects, jarring jump scares, and horrors rehashed for the ga-billionth time, look everywhere but this film. THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is a tale of human darkness that will leave a dark stain on your soul if you let it in. It’s subversive. It’s patient, quiet, and creeping. The type of stuff that creeps into nightmares rather than jolts you out of them. Perkins is a filmmaker to watch with this one two punch of I AM THE PRETTY THING and THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER. I can’t wait to see what he does next. Fans of subtle, lingering, skin-crawlingly potent horror drenched in mood, atmosphere and dread like last year’s THE WITCH are going to find a lot of the same elements in THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER.
Recently premiered in LA! Will be available for digital download on iTunes as well as Google Play, Vudu, On Demand, Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity, Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo from Epic Pictures on April 18th!
THE DARK TAPES (2017)Directed by Vincent J. Guastini (“To Catch A Demon”), Michael McQuown (“Amanda’s Revenge”, “Cam Girls”, “PsychoTherapy”, “The Hunters & The Hunted”, “Wraparound”)
Written by Michael McQuown
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Annalisa Guidone, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Stephane Kay, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Kari Lane, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O'Connor, Olivia Leigh Nowak, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Stephen Zimpel, Ryan Allan Young
Find out more about this film here, @TheDarkTapesMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Lately I’ve been using my Found Footage questionnaire against the latest releases in the first person POV style. Since this is an anthology of sorts and I don’t want to be repetitive in covering each installment, I’ll just boil it down by saying that for the most part, THE DARK TAPES passes my found footage test with flying colors. Everything going on in the tapes seem like they were inclusive to only what we see. There’s no music added in. There are no tired clichés like REC pull-aways or BLAIR WITCH up-nose confessionals. While the film is edited together and sometimes uses multiple angles, this does feel like someone is compiling some kind of strange phenomena here and putting it to one tape, so it even sort of makes that believable. All in all, THE DARK TAPES works in every technical way. On top of all of that, it is a film rich in fun ideas, creepy imagery, and often shocking twists and turns.
The first segment and wraparound is called “To Catch a Demon” and basically does a decent job of hypothesizing about what exactly we are seeing play out in these installments. A paranormal research team is experimenting with the concept of between-time psycho-phenomena. Basically, there is a world playing out in between the seconds of our own world that we don’t perceive and in that world, there are inhabitants and occurrences that happen so fast that the human mind does not register it. These occurrences are perceived subliminally in the form of flashes and odd feelings. The team is experimenting on this theory which leads to an encounter with something from the other side. The handheld/night vision usage in these connecting tissue installments are what make these parts work so well. On top of that, there are some amazing practical effects that add to the horror. While wraparound segments are usually the segments least developed in most anthologies, here these segments are crucial in understanding the rules and guidelines that are applicable to the other stories in this anthology.
Tape two is called “The Hunters and the Hunted,” which starts out as a sort of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY riff, becomes a GHOST HUNTERS style show, and ends…well, you’ll just have to see it. A couple experiences weird things happening in their homes and call some paranormal investigators when it gets too intense for them. This one has some great suspenseful moments, made more so when things get crazy and you are forced to see every turn around the corner and every descending of stairs from a fixed angle guided by the cameraman investigator. A long creepy hallway, some footsteps heard from the floor above, and a toy ball all factor in to a very intense installment that pays off unconventionally.
The third tape is called “Cam Girl” and while it changes format a bit by showing footage from computer cams, in this day and age where we know it is possible for people to record from our TV and laptop cams without us knowing, the fact that this footage exists is more believable than ever. This one focuses on a pair of cam girls who are not without their own peculiarities choosing a random viewer (a poor schlub named Gerry – played convincingly schlubby by Aral Gribble) to enact a ritual of sorts that ends very badly. This is simple, but Gribble is particularly convincing as the weak-willed computer geek who gets wrapped up in something way over his head. While the speed at which this segment plays out is kind of brisk and Gerry is convinced to do some pretty horrible shit rather quickly, given the fact that this is a short, I’m willing to forgive it.
The final tape is called “Amanda’s Revenge” where a young girl (Amanda—played by Brittany Underwood) believes something is happening to her in the night that she cannot capture with electronic devices or see with the human eye. Utilizing some ancient equipment and enlisting the aid of lifelong friend, Amanda is able to finally capture what it is that is happening to her. Again, the simple setup of a camera on a tripod and a long hallway makes for some very scary scenes that made my hair stand on end. It helps that Underwood is a really good actress and sells the scene no matter how outlandish it gets.
What impressed me the most about THE DARK TAPES is that it seems to have a distinct universe and guidebook applying to the all of the stories playing out here. Unlike films like V/H/S that feel more like a grab bag of ideas from different directors, the singular vision of writer/director Michael McQuown along with his co-director Vincent J. Guastini makes this feel like he is building a singular universe and the stories captured on camera here are all linked to a bigger tale. The opening and closing narration, which is an ominous warning of the existence of these creatures that live between the eye-blinks and seconds and how close we are to discovering their existence makes this anthology feel more like puzzle pieces to a tale yet told. As the filmmakers promise a second installment to this film, which was a hit on the festival circuit and now will be seen by the population, I can’t wait to see more of this twisted and unusual universe hinted at through these stories. All installments of THE DARK TAPES really work and are successful in delivering the scary with clever uses of darks, practical effects, smart editing, solid acting, and a thorough set of ground rules for the world it is taking place in. THE DARK TAPES is potent nightmare fuel and deserves a viewing for those who love heady Lovecraftian horror and found footage fans.
And finally…here’s another old short I used to see on UP ALL NIGHT called THE CONTRAPTION. It’s a slow burner, but has a hell of a payoff. This one is from 1977 directed by James Dearden. Enjoy THE CONTRAPTION!
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.
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