Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Before we dive into the reviews, here are a few bits and pieces you might be interested in!
I wrote an advance review for STREAMER a while back and the film has a new trailer out that I wanted to share. Directed by Jared Bratt and Vincent Punn, it tells the tale of online obsession in a very intimate, haunting, and honest way. Check out this brand new trailer. I’ll keep you posted as to when STREAMER will be released!
One more reminder about my upcoming panel at C2E2 in Chicago this weekend. The panel takes place at the McCormick Place, Saturday night at 7:45-8:45PM in Room S405B. This will be the ninth year of doing this panel with horrors best, brightest, and up and coming stars in comics and movies. This year, I will be talking with Chicago filmmaker Dorian Weinzimmer (director/writer of CHICAGO ROT which I recently reviewed here), DC Vertigo/Image writer Justin Jordan (SAVAGE THINGS, THE SPREAD, LUTHER STRODE Trilogy), Marvel/Image artist Brian Level (DEADPOOL, THE MANTLE), acclaimed REVIVAL artist Jenny Frison, Chicago short film director Kellee Terrell (BLAME, which you can watch for yourself at the end of this very column!!!).
You can still get tickets to C2E2 here! So if you’re going to be at the con, come on out and see the panel Saturday night at 7:45-8:45pm in Room S405B at the McCormick Place! I hope to see you at the show!
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 NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971)
Retro-review: CRIMSON (1973)
Retro-review: CREEPOZOIDS (1987)
Retro-review: DARK WATERS (1993)
Retro-review: TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995)
THE BURNINGMOORE DEATHS (2010)
THE EYES (2017)
THE FOLLOWER (2016)
PIG PEN (2016)
THE DARK TAPES (2017)
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)
Advance Review: GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES (2016)
And finally…Kellee Terrell’s BLAME!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from MVD Visual/Arrow Video!
THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971)aka THE NIGHT SHE AROSE FROM THE TOMB, THE NIGHT THAT EVELYN ROSE FROM THE TOMB
Directed by Emilio Miraglia
Written by Fabio Pittorru, Massimo Felisatti, Emilio Miraglia
Starring Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Enzo Tarascio, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Umberto Raho, Roberto Maldera, Joan C. Davis, Erika Blanc, Ettore Bevilacqua, Brizio Montinaro, Maria Teresa Tofano, Paola Natale
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE is not only a mouthful of a title, but it’s got a lot to offer those with a hearty appetite for Giallo.
Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) suffered greatly when his red-haired wife Evelyn died. His shrink tells him to go out and get laid, but that only leads him to want to torture women with whips and chains. So when another ginger-haired beauty named Gladys (Marina Malfatti) crosses his path, he immediately falls in love with her and brings her to his estate to marry him. But almost as soon as Alan and Gladys move back into his castle, they both begin having visions of a skull faced ghost haunting the grounds. Alan thinks the ghost of his dead wife is back from the grave to punish him, but it’s possible something a little more insidious is going on.
THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE is goofy fun. From the odd S&M scenes where Alan tortures redheads simply because he doesn’t want to fall in love with them to the over-complicated plot that pushes Alan to the brink of sanity; this is one of those Giallo films with shady folks in the shadows lurk and plot while the main character feels like he is going mad. While usually in these types of Giallo films it’s a leading lady who is the witness to a murder and thought insane for believing a conspiracy is afoot, this one focuses on a man—though Steffan plays things equally hysterical here. There’s also the laughable ending where the villain must explain every detail of the complex plot that always makes me chuckle. While this is clichéd now, it’s quite quaint to watch in this film as there is no way this film could not have come to a resolution without a long monologue by a moustache twirling bad guy.
That said, the visions Alan experiences are actually quite terrifying—specifically the scenes of what appears to be Evelyn’s skeletal corpse rising from the tomb. These scenes are done really well, utilizing some shocking imagery and effects with fantastically dramatic lighting. As goofy as the plot gets, these scenes of terror do the trick and make this film scarier than most Giallo classics. This cult classic is extremely dark in tone and though it does fall into conventional Giallo goofiness, there’s something a bit more macabre about THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE than most of the films contemporaries. This disk comes with an interview with one of the fated redheads Erika Blanc, another with critic Stephan Thrower about the film as well as a commentary by Troy Howarth.
Retro-review: New on DVD in the UK from Maison Rouge and Black House Films and Screenbound Entertainment!
CRIMSON (1973)aka THE MAN WITH THE SEVERED HEAD, CRIMSON – THE COLOR OF BLOOD, CRIMSON – THE COLOR OF TERROR
Directed by Juan Fortuny
Written by Juan Fortuny (as John Fortuny), Marius Lesoeur (as A.L. Mariaux), H.L. Rostaine
Starring Paul Naschy, Silvia Solar, Olivier Mathot, Evelyne Scott, Claude Boisson, Gilda Arancio, Pierre Biet, Víctor Israel, Richard Kolin, Antonia Lotito, Roberto Mauri, Carlos Otero, Ricardo Palmerola, Jaume Picas, Muriel Renaud, Guy Verda, Jean Roville
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Probably my favorite film of this week and mostly any other week is CRIMSON. First and foremost, look at that amazing cover up there with the muscular arm holding Paul Naschy’s severed head. I remember seeing this on the cover art in the video store as a kid and though my ADD addled mind wasn’t able to sit through the entire film since it was subtitled, I still always loved that image. Secondly, it’s got a hell of a horror story woven together with a crime tale. On top of that, it’s got Paul Naschy…nuff said!
A crime boss named Surnett (Paul Naschy) is shot in the head after a jewel heist goes wrong. His crew takes him to a underworld crime doctor who admits he is in over his head and refers the group to a reclusive doctor in the hills named Professor Teets (BWAH! His name is Teets!...ahem, played by Ricardo Palmerola). Because Teets (BWAH!) has suffered from a lab accident resulting in his hands becoming useless, he enlists his wife to help him. The crime doctor has a list of donors with the same blood type as Surnett and it just so happens that Surnett’s nemesis, another crime boss named The Sadist (Roberto Mauri) is a perfect match. So the gang head out to nab the Sadist and chop off his head so that Teets (BWAH!) can transplant the Sadist’s brain into Surnett’s head. Once the Sadist is abducted and the surgery occurs, Surnett finds himself overcome with bouts of mania, attacking any woman who crosses his path and ravaging, raping, and killing them. As the police close in, the gang must decide what to do with their batshit crazy boss.
OK, so obviously, not much medical research was put into this film. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure brain transplants just don’t work that way. But aside from the wonky science, this is a pretty amazing little yarn about bad men doing bad things. It’s a crime story that takes a grotesque twist along the way with shades of both FRANKENSTEIN (with the brain transplant stuff) and THE SERBIAN FILM (with Surnett’s sexual rampage). I could definitely see this film get a modern remake and would love to see it happen as there are themes here worth delving into like what makes a man evil (the soul or the body) and how loyal bad men can be to one another before their own selfish desires ruin everything. These are themes at the heart of most heist movies and its front and center here in this intricately layered story.
Naschy is fantastic here, but really, he doesn’t have a lot to do until the last half of the film as he is unconscious on a medical table suffering from a bullet wound after the before credits sequence. Naschy is imposing here as the barrel chested crime boss Surnett. Sure he looks a little goofy with his head in bandages, but his heinous actions make him an extremely horrific threat. The actors playing Surnett’s gang are equally fun as they act like bumbling Igor’s trying to gather body parts for Teets (BWAH!) a la Dr. Frankenstein. Seeing these idiots contemplate on how to sever a head form a body is quite entertaining.
This being a French/Spanish exploitation film from the 70’s expect a lot of torn open dresses, a lot of love scenes with male buttocks doing an immense amount of pelvic grinding, and lots of nudity. There’s even a pair of weird dance numbers that really don’t add anything to the movie other than a few minutes of scantily clad women, just in case the multiple rape/sex scenes didn’t do anything for you. All in all, despite the high amount of masochism and machismo, CRIMSON is a top notch crime thriller with some deep horror connections. It’s an amalgam of horror and crime that really works and deserves a rewatch. Highly recommended for the sheer amount of awesome ideas and Naschy being the best Naschy he can be.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Full Moon Entertainment!
CREEPOZOIDS (1987)aka CREEPZONE
Directed by David DeCoteau
Written by Dave Eisenstark (as Burford Hauser), David DeCoteau
Starring Linnea Quigley, Ken Abraham, Michael Aranda, Richard L. Hawkins, Ashlyn Gere, Joi Wilson
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While there are plenty of things worth checking out in CREEPOZOIDS, two of them belonging to the lovely scream-queen Linnea Quigley, don’t come looking for an original story anywhere near this one.
While the film is set on a devastated earth in a post-apocalyptic future (basically think Earth circa-next year or so, with the way things are going globally), make no mistake, this is a blatant ALIEN rip-off. Though it lacks the budget, the set, the design, the effects, the acting, the direction, and pretty much everything else of ALIEN, CREEPOZOIDS follows the film beat for beat for most of its run-time. There’s even a sort of chest-burster scene at dinner, though in this case, instead of a symbiote hatching in a chest cavity and bursting through, this guy just vomits black stuff and his fingers meld together.
But if you’re a fan of horror, especially a fan of 80’s horror, you know that being a fan means you have to take the good with the bad in horror. Sure the film might lift from one of the best sci-fi/horror amalgams out there, but things like cool story beats, decent effects shots, fun ideas, and cool performances sometimes can make a movie worth checking out for those who love the genre. And CREEPOZOIDS definitely has a couple of those things. First off, Linnea Quigley is always awesome, but she was at her rebellious peak in the eighties. Here’s she’s a horny little survivor simply looking for a warm shower and a man to lay down with. Fortunately, she finds both…and then gets killed by an alien, but it’s always fun to see Ms. Quigley in action.
On top of that, while the effects are rather rudimentary, they still are damn fun. The full body monster suit is kind of clunky, but pretty nice. There’s a psycho baby monster that is an obvious puppet, but still manages to be creepy as all get out. And then there’s a rat monster that looks pretty authentic. All in all, the effects are pretty fun and (along with Quigley) make CREEPOZOIDS worth a look-see for those who love their sci-fi horror with heavy amounts of 80’s cheese.
This new BluRay comes with a commentary from director David DeCoteau, a rare photo gallery, and a bevy of Full Moon trailers!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Severin Films!
DARK WATERS (1993)aka DEAD WATERS
Directed by Mariano Baino
Written by Mariano Baino
Starring Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Mariya Kapnist, Lubov Snegur, Albina Skarga, Valeriy Bassel, Pavel Sokolov, Anna Rose Phipps, Tanya Dobrovolskaya, Valeriy Kopaev, Ludmila Marufova, Kristina Spivak, Nadezhda Trimasova
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
DARK WATERS (no relation to the J-horror DARK WATER and it’s American remake) is a pretty inspired nod to Lovecraftian lore with a little nunsploitation tossed in for good measure.
A young girl named Elizabeth (Louise Salter) returns to an island monastery where she was raised after the death of her father to find her childhood friend Sarah (Venera Simmons) and that the nuns on the island may be worshipping someone or something other than God. Ancient mysteries are awakened the deeper Elizabeth digs into the history and dark secrets of the island.
What works in DARK WATERS is the atmosphere. None of the places filmed look like set pieces. Rather they seem to take place in actual caves, murky caverns, and wave-crashed shorelines. There is a real otherworldly sense of this seemingly peaceful monastery as soon as the lights go out. The older architecture of the monastery, as well as the dank cave system underneath are really fleshed out and are as much a character in this story as Elizabeth and Sarah and it’s an evil and imposing one that really gives every moment of DARK WATERS a dark and dangerous feel. Most of this film incorporates the locale in a way that it enriches the story and makes it feel all the more dangerous.
And while there are definitely horrors to be seen in DARK WATERS (I especially like the blind artist nun who seems to have a hunger for human flesh), what really works is the unseen terrors. Again, the landscape adds to this, but there is something dark in the air of every scene and while we never really see a Cthulhu tentacle beastie, this film embraces that creeping unknown that Lovecraft was so adept at capturing in his stories. Through the actions of the characters and the atmosphere of the story, this is one of the more successful Lovecraftian inspired films I’ve seen.
Salter and Simmons are fantastic here as childhood friends who have gone in two vastly different directions in their road to adulthood. It’s really amazing to see these two actresses play off of one another. I also have to mention how great the score of DARK WATERS is as it reminded me of the old Empire films that used a grand orchestral style rather than simple synth. While this doesn’t adapt Lovecraft word for word, the writer’s influence is ever-present with old gods and unseen horrors referenced all the way through. DARK WATERS is an atmospheric gem of a horror film and it’s fantastic that Severin unearthed it for us to rediscover.
This special edition BluRay comes with an audio commentary from writer/director Mariano Baino, a featurette entitled “Lovecraft Made Me Do It,” another titled “Let There Be Water,” “Controlling the Uncontrollable” talks about the difficulties creating the distinct look of the film, and another featurette called “Deep Into the Dark Waters” offers more insight into the creation of the film. There is also an intro from Baino, some deleted scenes, silent blooper reel with audio commentary by director Baino, and a collection of three short films of Mariano Baino (with audio commentary): Dream Car, Caruncula, & Never Ever After.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995)Directed by Rusty Cundieff
Written by Rusty Cundieff, Darin Scott
Starring Clarence Williams III, Corbin Bernsen, Joe Torry, Samuel Monroe Jr., De'aundre Bonds, Wings Hauser, Tom Wright, Anthony Griffith, Michael Massee, Duane Whitaker, David Alan Grier, Brandon Hammond, Rusty Cundieff, Paula Jai Parker, Corbin Bernsen, Roger Guenveur Smith, Art Evans, Rosalind Cash, Lamont Bentley, Chris Edwards, Troy Cartwright, Brenden Jefferson, Tim Hutchinson, Christina Cundieff, Ricky Harris, Scotty Brulee
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The eighties had some fantastic little anthologies. CREEPSHOW. TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. Uhm…CREEPSHOW 2. Well, Spike Lee decided to get into the mix and produced a horror anthology set in the streets addressing issues that were relevant to the African American experience of the day. While people give GET OUT a lot of credit (and it deserves it) for being such a socially relevant horror film, it’s interesting to see a lot of the same themes explored, albeit in a more rudimentary and less insightful manner, in TALES FROM THE HOOD.
“Welcome to My Mortuary” is the name of the wraparound segment and it’s one of the best wraparounds in any anthology, mainly because it showcases just how creepy Clarence Williams III truly is. When three gangbangers show up to rob him, he instead turns the tables and piques their interest by taking them on a tour of his mortuary, showing him bodies, and telling the horrific tales of why they ended up there. Basically, it’s just Williams going from one coffin to the next, showing the rough teens the corpse, and then telling them a story, but Williams sells it.
“Rogue Cop Revelation” is the first official tale from this hood and it’s simply ok. While the cast is a nice mix of seedy character actors like Wings Hauser, THE CROW’s Michael Massee, and PULP FICTION’s Duane Whitaker playing bad cops who murder a social justice speaker and end up becoming part of the urban landscape when he rises from the grave a year later. It’s a simple tale of revenge and of course, all of the cops are bad guys, but still, it has some decent effects where one cop is melted into graffiti.
The best story of the bunch is the haunting “Boys Do Get Bruised” segment which stars director/writer Rusty Cundeiff as a teacher who gets involved with a kid who comes to school with bruises. The boy blames a monster and draws pictures of a large green man, but the teacher finds out who the real monster is when he meets his mom’s boyfriend, David Allan Greer. Greer’s performance is magnificent here and given that he usually plays comedic characters, it’s a shame we don’t see more of his dramatic side. Here he is every kid’s nightmare, switching from pleasant to evil on a dime. This one ends with some truly iconic effects, bringing back the fantasy to this all too real horror short. This is the highpoint of the film and should have been saved for last as all-around; from the ever-increasing tension of the story, to Greer’s performance, to the awesome effects.
Every horror anthology seems to have to have a killer doll sequence and so does this one. In “KKK Comeuppance,” Corbin Bernsen plays a congressman named “Duke” who used to have ties to the KKK (the metaphor really doesn’t run that deep here, if you’ve noticed). When he moves into a mansion once owned by slave owners, he disregards the painting of an old slave woman who used to live there surrounded by little voodoo dolls at her feet. But when the dolls start disappearing from the picture, strange things start occurring around the house leading to a battle between Duke and the dolls. This is a fun little story and the stop motion voodoo dolls are nicely realized. While this one is a little too on the nose in terms of metaphor, it still has some decent moments of little monsters creeping up on people and getting the better of them.
“Hard-Core Convert” brings things around full circle by doing what most anthologies forget to do—and that is make the wraparound count. This time around, the three kids being lead around the by sadistic Clarence Williams III factor into this final story about a gangbanger’s rehabilitation at the hands of Rosalind Cash. This one is a bit too preachy for my tastes and feels a little bit too on the nose to really make its point. I like the way this one wraps the whole story in upon itself, but the “big reveal” is pretty obvious by anyone with a functioning brain. Still, I give the film credit for at least trying to make this oft-ignored aspect of anthologies substantial.
TALES FROM THE HOOD is not the best of anthologies, but it’s not the worst. The attention to African American social issues is as relevant today as it was back then. There are a few really nicely realized segments, but as a whole, the film is a bit uneven, having blown it’s load a bit early right around the time when the dolls awaken and attack Bernsen. Cundeiff went on to work on THE CHAPELLE SHOW and THE WANDA SYKES SHOW, but it’s a shame he never really did any more horror as some of these segments were pretty impressive. This special edition BluRay comes with a new Making of featurette called Welcome To Hell featuring interviews with director/writer Rusty Cundieff, producer/writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen, Wings Hauser, Anthony Griffith, special effects supervisor Kenneth Hall, and doll effects supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo, plus an audio commentary with director/writer Rusty Cundieff, a vintage featurette, the original theatrical trailer, original TV spots, and still gallery.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
THE BURNINGMOORE DEATHS (2010)aka REALITY KILLS, THE BURNINGMOORE TAPES, THE BURNINGMOORE INCIDENT
Directed by Jonathan Williams
Written by J. Andrew Colletti, Jonathan Williams
Starring Geoff Tate, Tony Guida, Joe Pallister, Jen Weissenberg, Jon Conver, Dan Parilis, Frankie DiNapoli, Jonathan Williams, James Doheny, Matthew Parody, Joe Palumbo, Tina Cantillo, Matthew Joseff, Erin Baltsar, Vincent Palma, Brandon Riles, Gabriela Hersham, Tim Gallin, Maggie Rubin, Cort Bengtson, Michelle Wagner, Karen Rubin, Dan Rubin
Find out more about this film Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Because this film isn’t necessarily a found footage film, it’s more of what I like to call a shockumentary, some of the guidelines I apply to my criticisms of the found footagers don’t apply here, but I’ll still go through my questionnaire, because a lot of it transcends the pure found footager into this small subsection of the genre that is supposed to make one feel as if they are watching a real documentary.
What is the premise?
THE BURNINGMOORE DEATHS does a decent job of recreating a typical HARD COPY style murder documentary using “real footage” that occurred when a madman named James Parrish (Queensryche front man Geoff Tate) flips one day and goes on a killing spree, starting with his own family and then continuing to an abandoned home in Queens that just so happens to have been chosen to be the site of the pilot of a home improvement show. The first twenty minutes of the film give the back-story of Parrish, while the latter hour depicts the “shocking” footage spliced together to give a clear picture of what went on when the film crew met Parrish in the house on Burningmoore.
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
I guess. I mean, they are aping in front of the camera because this is supposed to be a “fun” Home Improvement show, so they guys are just as busy clowning around, pulling pranks on one another, and talking to the camera as if they are tough guys for the entire film. This is a film set in Queens and the accents and machismo is on 11 here, which didn’t do any favors in making the cast likable, but still, they were believable macho douchebags doing douchebag stuff and it didn’t seem like things were scripted.
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)?
This is where the film kind of goes off the rails. I understand that this is supposed to be a film comprised of footage taken from hours of footage that has been edited together. So the cuts from multiple cameras isn’t a problem. The produced documentary stuff at the beginning is fine and feels genuine as well, as it has over-dramatic music and a narrator that sounds like he is straight from DATELINE NBC. The problem is that dramatic and horror movie music is added in over the “found footage” aspect of the film to amplify scares, make moments feel ominous, and basically, indicate that this is a horror movie, rather than “raw footage.” There’s no real reason why someone trying to tell a story about a heinous crime spree would add in these orchestral sounds which definitely hinders the suspension of disbelief immensely.
Is there a valid reason the camera isn’t dropped and they just get the hell out of there?
Yes, the cameras are set up to record the entire house before the massacre occurs so they are rolling once the blood starts being let.
Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
I grew tired of watching the Home Improvement show crew interacting with one another. Every now and then there’s a shot of Parrish lurking in the background. But it’s not enough to make up for the long wait until the bloodbath. There’s just too much machismo for my tastes, but I guess if you’re from da neighborhood an’ wanna see guys bustin’ each otha’s bolls, dis moovie’s got plenty of dat, ya know?
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
There’s an up-nose shot, but it’s more of a way to make fun of BLAIR WITCH than to imitate it. So that was ok by me.
Does anything actually happen? Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is this one worth watching?
Well, I found out what the lead singer of Queensryche has been doing after all of these years. This mock-doc tries to make everything feel ominous and terrifying, as if they are setting up James Parrish to be some sort of Michael Myers, but just because he scowls really well doesn’t make Tate a great bad guy. Once the deaths start happening, the pace picks up, but there’s just too much lead in and too much stuff set up to make things feel much bigger than it already is. Plus there’s a scene where a pariah comes in and warns the crew that “This is HIS house!” that is just comical and seems way out of place in this film. In the end, suspension of disbelief was not really achieved and the characters in peril really weren’t compelling. On top of that, aside from some brutal deaths, the menace just wasn’t that menacing, mostly due to way too many scenes of him lurking in the periphery rather than actually doing anything. The film does sport a new song by Tate and his band Queensryche, so there’s that, but it ain’t no “Silent Lucidity.”
New in select theaters, premiering in New York today from Good To Be Seen Films!
THE EYES (2017)Directed by Robbie Bryan
Written by Robert T. Roe
Starring Nicholas Turturro, Vincent Pastore, Megan West, Ana Isabelle, Greg Davis Jr., Steven Hauck, Danny Flaherty, Carly Steel, Xiren Wang, Daniel Margotta, Jennifer Estlin, Mark Philip Patrick, Bahiyah Hibah, Terrence Clowe, Alan Fox
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
THE EYES is a decent little story that would make a good TWILIGHT ZONE episode, but extended to feature length highlights its weaknesses.
Six strangers wake up tied to chairs at a table in an open room. They are alerted that all of them share a secret and that in two hours, if they don’t vote one person to leave alive, all of them are dead.
This is a premise we’ve seen a lot of in recent years, from SAW to CIRCLE. And in those cases, the story works. But THE EYES faults come early as the script becomes repetitive pretty early on as these strangers simply fall into stereotypes, saying what one would expect a young hipster, an intellectual professor, a Texan farmer, a former porn star, a lawyer, and a military man would say. Lengthy conversations about cussing and repetitive catch-ups for those who wake up later than others really bog this film down.
The acting here is not bad with everyone pulling their weight despite the weak script. It’s nice to see Nicholas Turturro and Vincent Pastore again and Megan West and Ana Isabelle are both conniving and sexy as all get out. But the real capper to this film is the ending which just kind of plops instead of shocks. Once the curtain was lifted and the real story is revealed, I was more than a little disappointed in the hour and a half I sat through in order to get to the big secret.
I do think that the extension to an hour and a half weakens THE EYES. I think a tighter script with less repetition, exposition, and red herrings would have made the reveal at the end feel more impactful. As is, while the performances are decent, the story is what really strains THE EYES.
New this week on Digital HD and On Demand from MarVista Entertainment!
THE FOLLOWER (2016)aka THE MUSE
Directed by Damián Romay
Written by Damián Romay
Starring Erika Christensen, Val Lauren, Bethany Lauren James, Douglas M. Griffin, Jason Kirkpatrick, Wes McGee, Thomas Francis Murphy, Han Soto
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Comparisons to Stephen King’s MISERY are going to be undeniable, but at least this #1 fan meets the object of her obsession flick has some good performances and few diabolical moments.
THE FOLLOWER follows country singer Chelsea Angel (Erika Christensen) as she plans to take a break from her extensive tour to start a family with her beau. Five months pregnant and about to show, she decides it’s time to hang up the guitar for a while and announce that she is going on hiatus. But when Chelsea’s private plane goes down mysteriously after liftoff, her number one fan Evelyn (Bethany Lauren James) is there to scoop her up, take her back to her place, and chain her to her bed in order to convince her to keep on playing the hits.
While a lot of this film feels like it is more of a Lifetime movie, as there is very little gore or swearing, I did like the actors involved here. Specifically Christensen who always gives a good performance and newcomer Bethany Lauren James who is adept at playing a convincing psycho. James wide eyed fascination with her newfound possession is convincing and the young actress sells her psychosis well.
I also liked the way this one abruptly ends, leaving a lot of questions, but also finishing on a beat that will leave you more than a little rattled. This one isn’t going to be for hardcore horror fans as the scares are slight and the bloodletting is lighter. But I’ll recommend THE FOLLOWER as a gateway horror film that plays with a fair amount of obsession and psychosis well, even though a lot of it is going to be familiar to King fans.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
PIG PEN (2016)Directed by Jason M. Koch
Written by Jason M. Koch, Mark Leake
Starring Lucas Koch, Nicolette le Faye, Vito Trigo, Helenmary Ball, Michael Brecher, Josh Davidson, Steven Walker, Clay von Carlowitz, Wade Brown, Adam Dobelbower, Chet Hendricks,
Find out more about this film here, @pigpenmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While parts of PIG PEN are going to be reminiscent of slice of life in the dumps flicks like GUMMO and Van Sant’s ELEPHANT, the film gets more like Larry Clark’s BULLY as it goes on and ends up being an extremely gory little monsterpiece by the end that hits your soul like a sledgehammer.
Life is hard for Zack (Lucas Koch) an introverted outsider who the kids at school call Pig Pen because of his filthy clothes. While his mother Sandy (Nicolette le Faye) loves him, she can’t seem to get out of the destructive spiral of bad decisions. Her worst decision is her boyfriend Wayne (Vito Trigo), a self-proclaimed entrepreneur who abuses Sandy brutally when he is not pimping her out to his friends and threatening to hurt and kick Zack out of the house. Zack is forced to live on the street, but is worried about his mother, as Wayne’s sadistic streak is growing and Zack knows time is running out before Wayne snaps.
While there are no zombies, vampires, slashers, or werewolves in PIG PEN, it is undeniably a horror movie. And while the horrors Zack experiences are all too real—from witnessing a drug deal gone wrong to seeing a hobo being beaten to death in the street to experiencing the growing threat of Wayne to his mother’s life, they are nothing but absolutely monstrous. This is an unflinching look at man-made horror set in our time where desperation peels away humanity by the layers. Director Jason M. Koch offers up a “no-bells-and-whistles” approach to this film, instead relying on the barbaric actions of the people set against a decaying environment to send a violent message of hopelessness and despair through the eyes of Zack. Once the hammer drops, and the heinous actions get started, this film becomes a harrowing tale of modern horror like few I have seen.
Koch is fantastic as the soft spoken and wide-eyed Zack who really has no chance in this world of horror he is set up against. Le Yaye is a tragic character as well, trying to keep it together and provide for her son, while making awful decisions and paying for them terribly. And Vito Trigo manifests one of the most evil villains I’ve seen in ages as Wayne. Anyone who sees Trigo do his thing is going to hate him through and through.
All in all, this is a grimy, ugly, and gruesome film full of horrifying words and threats in the first half that morph into a bloody massacre by the end. If you don’t mind the gore and the fact that these monsters depicted in here are real and living not too far from your own home, PIG PEN is something worth enduring.
New On Demand and on iTunes as well as Google Play, Vudu, On Demand, Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity, Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo from Epic Pictures!
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.
New this week on DVD/BluRay and On Demand from Lionsgate/Saban Films!
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)aka SHE WHO BRINGS GIFTS
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Written by Mike Carey
Starring Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh, Tessa Morris, Elise Reed
Find out more about this film @girlwithallthegifts and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I promise you. While you’re going to have to fight back the urge to roll your eyes when I say that one of (if not THE) best horror films of the year is a zombie film, after watching this amazing new take on the well worn subgenre, you’re going to look folks straight in the eye and say it’s true. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a sophisticated and wonderfully original tale of the zombie apocalypse that you’ll never forget.
While we aren’t made privy to it in the opening sequences, the world has been overrun by zombie like creatures. The military and scientific communities have been working together for a cure and a defense against these rampaging beasts which spread their virus fast and cause those afflicted to sprint and bite anything and everyone in their path that isn’t afflicted. Meanwhile, a second generation of the affected has been discovered. A handful of children afflicted with the virus are being studied alive and dead to understand the virus better. One of these children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua) a polite and smart little girl who happens to also be afflicted with the virus. Every day Melanie counts down to the moment she is shackled to a wheelchair and taken to class with Miss Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) a kind hearted teacher who struggles with seeing the virus in the eyes of these innocent looking children. When the gates to the military facility are knocked down and the camp is overrun, Melanie, Helen, a gruff Sergeant (the always amazing Paddy Considine), and scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) continue the research and search for both a cure and a safe place to survive.
Right from the top, this film is absolutely amazing and most of that has to do with the bright hearted spirit of Sennia Nanua as Melanie. When we are introduced to her, we only see the inhumanity in the way she is treated in this prison cell where all she has is a few pictures of cats and families to give her hope. And despite all of the horrors around her, Melanie never seems to lose hope and look at the brighter side of horrific situations. She truly is a caged animal, only allowed out for a class she looks forward to and spending time with Helen, a person who actually shows her kindness. But instead of wallowing in self pity, Melanie never seems to have her spirit broken and this is a role that will make you go through a myriad of emotions through as we laugh with her when she is happy and cry when we see her still chin up even in times of true horror. Nanua has a bright career ahead of her and seeing the power in her performance here is something most folks will leave awe-struck. I certainly was.
The story itself, by comic book writer Mike Carey (who wrote LUCIFER and UNWRITTEN) is exactly what I am looking for in zombie film, in that it ventures into uncharted territory. This is not the same old outbreak film you’ve seen a million and one times. This is an altogether new monster as it focuses on humanity trying desperately to cling to this earth despite insurmountable odds. Sure there are scenes of zombies bursting through gates and humans battling masses of biting creatures. But while those scenes are intense, it gets those scenes out of the way for newer, more interesting scenes that takes the story into more of a DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS realm than your typical George Romero joint. The virus is more spore-like and grows like a weed out of the mouths and eyes of the zombies once they are spent and blossoming into something more beautiful and deadly. Again, by giving us something we haven’t seen before, THE GIRL WITH ALL OF THE GIFTS shines brighter than any zombie film I’ve seen in years.
Top level effects, nerve-shredding directing, and phenomenal performances from actors who rarely don’t give their all like Paddy Considine to big names who don’t mind getting grungy like Glenn Close. But the glue holding it all together is the amazing relationship between Melanie (Nuana) and Helen (Atherton). It makes the film all the more poetic, unique, and iconic from beginning to end. All of this makes for a shining gem in the crown of horror and something all who call themselves horror fans have no excuse not seeing.
Coming Soon: Currently touring fests!
GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES (2016)Directed by Hiroshi Katagiri
Written by Hiroshi Katagiri, Nathan Long, Brad Palmer
Starring Lance Henriksen, Patrick Gorman, Simon Phillips, Katherine Wallace, Sean Sprawling, George Kamea, Eva Swan, Maxie Santillan Jr., Justin Gordon, Matthew Edward Hegstrom, David Lansky, Mauricio Gomez Amoretti, & Doug Jones as the Creepy Old Man!
Find out more about this film here, @gehennamovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Some truly haunting practical effects and a intricately twisty and turny tale lies ahead in GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES.
A team of developers and guides head into Saipan, an coastal territory in Japan to plan the location of their new resort, but when they uncover a hidden bunker on the expedition, they find themselves crossing into a doorway to hell. Horrors that date all the way back to World War II and beyond are in store for these unsuspecting surveyors.
First and foremost, the highlight of GEHENNA is the quality of the visual effects that run rampant in this film. First time director Horishi Katagiri’s main gig is as an effects man and he shows his genius level skills throughout the entire film. From old age makeup to monster makeup to horrifying gashes and wounds, this is one gruesomely great looking monster movie. All of the effects are both visually beautiful and horrifying. They are effects that will make you want to look away, yet admire the technical skill and creativity gone into them. The full body makeup of Doug Jones alone is magnificent, but there are many more horrors to enjoy here.
I also really enjoyed the story GEHENNA’s effects flesh out. While I don’t want to ruin it here, the way the story twists and turns and folds in upon itself is quite an achievement. I loved the way this one wraps up all of its loose ends by the end of it. The way the story is interwoven with the characters shows an attention to narrative that many horror films simply don’t go for.
If there’s a chink in the armor of GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES it’s the acting from most of its cast. While Katagiri does a fantastic job with realizing the story he wants to tell and highlighting the many effects at play, I think the area in need of improvement is trying to get more from his actors. I think all of the actors involved were capable of delivering convincing performances, but some of the relationships that happen in this short span of time feel forced and unbelievable and I think a few more takes would have gotten some better performances to sell these beats in the story.
That said, this is a strong first effort from Katagiri and with this film under his belt, I’m excited to see what this effects wizard has in store for us in the future. GEHENNA is visually potent in terror and packs quite a few surprises into its story to make for a unique and grotesquely gorgeous little monster movie.
And finally…here is Chicago filmmaker Kellee Terrell’s haunting short film BLAME. Terrell is going to be appearing on my “Reinventing Horror” panel this weekend and I am really excited to have her on as she seems to be able to harness a strong grip on both powerful real life issues as well as the supernatural aspects we expect in horror. Metaphor seems to be unappreciated in this literal age we live in, but I think making a story about the specter of rape living on long after the act itself is something that resonates on a visceral as well as a heady level. BLAME was Terrell's MFA thesis film from Columbia College of Chicago and a surefire indication that she is a talent to watch as the film has played and gained critical acclaim from over 30 film festivals. The film stars Jerod Haynes, Kristin Anderson, Javoun Baker and Flavia Borges. With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, this is definitely a timely and powerful film to watch and share. Check out the haunting and poignant short horror film BLAME. Enjoy!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is M. L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!
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