Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. So this week isn’t the best in horror. I’ll tell you that right off the bat. But if you look hard enough, there might be a cool one or two towards the bottom that tingle your spine. Still…whew! Rough week!
Oh well. Maybe these news chunks will be better…
Let’s start with a new app for your fancy phones you carry around and allow shady government agencies and greedy corporations to follow your every move (no judgment, I do it too!). This one is called “Night Terrors” and it’s an immersive horror experience that looks pretty damn horrifying. If you’re a fan of Found Footage films, this first person POV game is going to be right up your dark alley. Novum Analytics are now offering the game free (for a limited time) on the App-Store. You can check that out here. Here’s the trailer for the game. What do you guys think?
Filmmaker and graphic novelist Richard Kelly has an IndieGoGo campaign for a new film he is putting together centering on the Spanish Inquisition (“NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) set in 1808 called THE INQUISITOR. The film is described as; 2 women are held captive in a church. However, when released, these women aren't as innocent as they seems. The story is taken in twists and turns when Helen, a fellow captive, kills a prison guard and frees them all. However, this is by no means the end of the girls' problems.
The film seems to be pretty ambitious and set to lens as soon as its funded. If interested, check out the IndieGoGo page here and take a look at the pitch video below!
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 VAMPIRE BAT (1933)
Retro-review: CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959)
Retro-review: THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972)
Retro-review: HIDEOUS! (1997)
Retro-review: THE DROWNED (2006)
THE SLASHENING (2015)
BLACK ROSE (2014)
THE BLACK ROOM (2016)
ASYLUM OF DARKNESS (2017)
7 WITCHES (2017)
VOICES FROM THE STONE (2017)
Advance Review: TWO SENTENCE HORROR STORIES (2017)
And finally… Daniel Crosier & Dane Bernhardt’s ISOLATION MAN!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Film Detective Restored Classics!
THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)aka BLOOD SUCKER, FORCED TO SIN
Directed by Frank R. Strayer
Written by Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne, George E. Stone, Dwight Frye, Robert Frazer, Rita Carlyle, Lionel Belmore, William V. Mong, Stella Adams, Harrison Greene, Fern Emmett, William Humphrey, Paul Panzer, Carl Stockdale, Paul Weigel
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While the mystery is kind of goofy, the dark mood and gothic atmosphere of THE VAMPIRE BAT definitely make this early schlocker a must see.
A European village is besieged by a murderer in the night leaving its victims bloodless with two puncture wounds on their necks. Is it a swarm of bats? A vampire? The town loony? Or the doctor with questionable ethics growing a blood-drinking single celled organism in his lab? The townsfolk are getting edgy and the police are baffled as the murders continue to stack up.
There’s a lot of tongue and cheekiness going on in THE VAMPIRE BAT. Melvyn Douglas plays Detective Karl Brettschneider who refuses to believe to popular theory that the murders are done by a vampire, but this film does a good job of keeping you guessing for a bit. There are plenty of people and things that could commit the murders and what this film does a good job of is keeping those options open and showing how speculation can spread like a wildfire in a small town. One of the most effective scenes takes place in a cave as the townsfolk with glowing red torches corner the town loon-bird thinking he’s a vampire. It’s a scene that feels like it’s right out of OF MICE AND MEN, FRANKENSTEIN, SLING BLADE, and many other films where popular judgment and heresy give way to hard facts and the simple minded are fingered as the culprit. Dwight Frye plays a sympathetic, albeit weird Herman Gleib as the man everyone thinks is a vampire.
While relatively bloodless, there is definitely a dark streak to this film as descriptions of the horrors off-screen make for scenes that are just as harrowing as if they played out in front of the screen. The description of Frye’s fate is heartbreaking and horrifying, as are the descriptions of the bloodless victims. The reason behind the killings is just as evil, as the mad doctor assumes a sort of Dr. Caligari role commanding a mindless servant (once again taking advantage of those of lesser capacity) to do his dirty work and even trying to shove the blame on him at the last minute even though he has been caught red handed. All in all, the tone here is quite dark indeed.
This is probably why the comedic bits are played so broad and slapstick with multiple scenes featuring Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne) believing she is suffering all kinds of ailments and bothering anyone who can hear with her complaints. Add in an over-friendly great dane and some witty banter between Douglas and Fay Wray (who shamefully has nothing really to add here other than being the damsel in distress once the true evil is revealed), and you have a rather unevenly toned film. Still, while THE VAMPIRE BAT goes to extremes in black mood and comedic levity, it ended up being rather fun to endure in a light whodunit kind of way.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!
CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959)Directed by Riccardo Freda (as Robert Hamton), Mario Bava (uncredited)
Written by Filippo Sanjust
Starring John Merivale, Didi Sullivan, Gérard Herter, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Vittorio André, Daniele Vargas, Arturo Dominici, Nerio Bernardi, Rex Wood, Gail Pearl, Daniela Rocca, Tom Felleghy, Anthony La Penna, Daniele Pitani
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Though the plot tries really hard to make you believe that CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER is about an angry Mayan god running rampant on villages, cities, and across the land and not a blob movie. Make no mistake. CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER is a blob movie and it’s a damn fun one at that.
In the ruins of a Mayan civilization, a group of archaeologists experience a volcanic eruption and discover what they think of is an ancient treasure. The locals fear that an ancient god has been awoken from its slumber due to these interlopers, but this is no thunderbolt lobbing, toga wearing ancient god we are used to. It’s an undulating blob that is growing and reproducing after every warm body it consumes. Soon the blob grows to such an immense size that all civilization is threatened.
Mario Bava is said to have directed this fun little film and while films of such size and scope wasn’t really the director’s forte at the time this was made, this is similar to the hot young director getting a shot at doing a big blockbuster after a few indie hits. Bava’s influence seem to come more so in the character interactions, which are more complex than one might expect in such a film, as well as the attention to the “other-ness” of the tribal customs of the indigenous people in the territory this film is made. There is a sort of intricate and intrusive lens-play involved here as well as a mature handling of suspense that make this a cut above your typical blob popcorn flick.
That said, in terms of effects and awesomeness, this is one of the best blob flicks you’re going to find. The blob itself is not just a watered down Jell-O mold being squeegeed through doorways and across floors. I really don’t fully understand how Caltiki is made as it seems to have a solid form filled with ridges and almost scales, yet still undulates and squeezes itself through portals and around its victims. The burned/scorched/digested look of its victims is also quite jarring in a few awesome close-ups of extreme gore (for its time), which again suggests Bava’s influence. While THE BLOB was released a year earlier and was more iconic, CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER is definitely a better realized and more devastating blob by comparison.
I have a soft spot for blob flicks and feel it’s a subgenre of horror that really never gets its props. The way the unstoppable monster seeps in and consumes everything is a metaphorical hotbed representing everything from Communism to consumerism to any type of paranoid feeling moderns types are consumed with these days. CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER does a fantastic job of giving a history to this amorphous shape as well as a fantastic array of effects that I can’t completely understand. I love this film and it’s one of those underappreciated gems that needs to be re-discovered by modern audiences.
This Arrow Films release comes with all kinds of bells, whistles, and globs of goodness, including; the original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc), the newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack, optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack, a new audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of “Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark,” a new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of “The Haunted World of Mario Bava” and “So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films,” a featurette called “From Quatermass to Caltiki”, a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster movies on the film, another called “Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master,” an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa, “The Genesis of Caltiki” which is an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, an archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa, plus an alternate opening titles for the US version. I plan on diving head first into the special features of this disk soon as I am so curious on how these effects work as well as how this film all but disappeared in the public consciousness when compared to THE BLOB.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972)aka THE LADY IN RED KILLS SEVEN TIMES, HORROR HOUSE, BLOOD FEAST, FEAST OF FLESH, THE CORPSE WHICH DIDN’T WAN TO DIE
Directed by Emilio Miraglia
Written by Fabio Pittorru & Emilio Miraglia
Starring Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Marino Masé, Pia Giancaro, Sybil Danning, Nino Korda, Fabrizio Moresco, Rudolf Schündler
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES is another Giallo-esque film where a masked murderer slices his/her way through a cast while investigators work tirelessly to figure it all out before the audience does. As with most, the film is overly-complex and downright ludicrous at times, but still, THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES offers up some gorgeous cinematography and a bevy of sexy situations along with all of the carnage.
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES revolves around a ghost story told to a pair of sisters at a very young age about another pair of sisters who hated each other so much that one ended up killing the other. After that, every hundred years, a ghost returns killing six people—the seventh being one of two sisters. When a wealthy grandfather dies mysteriously and an inheritance is divvied up between sisters, they fear the string of deaths occurring in their circle of co-workers and friends is the work of the curse and one of the sisters will be the final kill.
Setting up seven kills in your title makes it really difficult to not make your film feel over-crowded and that’s probably THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES’ biggest faux pas. Too many of the actresses, all done up in early seventies hairdos, look exactly alike and until many of them are offed, it really is difficult to follow who is who. There’s also the filmmaker’s decision to open the film with two sisters and then skip forward fourteen years and another sister being inexplicably dropped into the story. Where the third sister is during the opening scene of the sisters as youngsters is not explained, but it does end up sort of making sense by the end where the baddie explains the whole mystery in a painfully long discourse which skids the action to a screeching halt during the climax. There are just too many inexplicable things going on to take this film as a serious mystery, but it’s that “throw anything against the wall and see what sticks” attitude that makes this film kind of lovable in a special needs narrative sort of way.
What this film has going for it is that it is extremely gruesome during its kill scenes. One woman is impaled under the chin with a spike as she tries to climb a fence. Another guy’s coat is caught in a car door and he is dragged along the road and finally killed when the driver runs him into the concrete curb. There is also a brutality of this film that will definitely cause some unease such as the rape of the leading lady, not simply because of the callousness of the rape, but how it isn’t even addressed in the rest of the film. The film is filled with plot holes such as this where some kind of heinous act is committed such as rape or adultery and no resolution is given at all. This left me with a feeling of incompletion once the credits rolled.
On the plus side: early scenes of Sybil Danning nakedess, which is always, always a good thing. And along with the goofy plot and ultra-violence, there’s an opening montage of one young girl making her sister miserable over and over that had me laughing maniacally. This disc contains a new interview with Sybil Danning about her role in the film, as well as archived interviews with cast and crew about the film, an alternate opening, and trailer. All in all, this Giallo mystery contained enough good gore and goofy plot twists to keep me entertained.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Full Moon Films!
HIDEOUS! (1997)aka DEFORMED FREAKS
Directed by Charles Band
Written by Neal Marshall Stevens (as Benjamin Carr)
Starring Michael Citriniti, Rhonda Griffin, Mel Johnson Jr., Jacqueline Lovell, Tracie May, Jerry O'Donnell, Andrew Johnston, Mircea Constantinescu, Alexandru Agarici
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
What is it with Full Moon Films and little monsters? THE CREEPS, THE GINGER DEAD MAN, OOGA BOOGA, DEMONIC TOYS, SHRUNKEN HEADS, the PUPPETMASTER films—all of them feature little beasties crawling out in the night, cutting tall folks off at the ankles, and crawling up hot girls’ chests in the night. HIDEOUS! is yet another one of those film.
How are these little freaks made? Well, it’s explained pretty quickly and cleanly in the opening where a trio of sewer stooges are chatting while keeping the sewer pipes unclogged. Seems all sorts of aborted and miscarried things end up caught in the pipes and there happens to be a high price for these little nasties for those in the freak collecting market. Two rival freak collectors go head to head for a prize collection of abnormalities, but what they don’t know is that the creatures themselves are still alive and filled with vengeance.
While HIDEOUS! isn’t representative of Charles Band’s excellent Empire Era films, it does kind of mark the end of a truly great era for Full Moon. This film represents Band when he still seemed to care about producing actual movies rather than the shot on digital stuff churned out by the company these days. As always, the bulk of the action takes place in a gothic castle and more atmosphere is provided by Band’s brother Richard who provides a score that elevates the material to a more professional level.
There are also some fantastically gooey effects to check out as the deformed beasties are damn gross. Plus there is the usual monster on the nubile chest routine (seen in everything from PUPPETMASTER to THE GINGER DEAD MAN), but Jacqueline Lovell is quite a fetching badass gal who doesn’t like wearing a shirt, spending most of the film in an open leather vest and bare feet. So there’s that!
This is just another little monsters running amok in a mansion flick. It’s goofy. It’s rather harmless. And it’s got gross puppets and boobs. What more do you want? If you like any of the early Full Moon Films, you might find this one worth a look. Don’t expect anything new, but at least, in his time, Band had a niche and knew how to exploit it. HIDEOUS! comes with a commentary from actors Mel Johnson Jr. and Michael Citriniti and a gaggle of Full Moon trailers.
New on DVD from Camp Motion Pictures!
THE DROWNED (2006)Directed by Bruce G. Hallenbeck
Written by Bruce G. Hallenbeck
Starring Stephanie Tanaka, Nick Miscusi, Helen Black, Jeff Kirkendall, Vincent De Paul, Susan Hallenbeck, Tom Mahon, Lynn Powell, Faity Tuttle
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I’m sure the folks behind THE DROWNED didn’t set out to hurt my brain. I don’t think any filmmaker intends on making a bad film. And while the intentions might have been to make a heart-wrenching drama with shades of psychosis and the supernatural, THE DROWNED ended up just being an extremely hard film to get through.
A young woman named Kate (Stephanie Tanaka) returns to her grandmother’s home and hopes to capture the wonder of the childhood she used to spend in her home and at the lake. But for some reason, Kate never heard about the sunken church and the drowned congregation that died there when the lake flooded. No worries though, she (as well as the viewer) is going to be told the story over and over again until we can recite it in our sleep. It’s no wonder she starts hearing whispers from the lake and seeing visions of elves, trolls, and ghosts.
The first indication that this film was going to be a stinker was the horrific acting going on throughout. I’m talking extremely bad, wooden deliveries of uninspired lines. Add in extremely flat and undynamic directing and editing, as well as a simple plot that simply tells you what is happening repeatedly, just in case no one got it the films time and a resolution twist that again, has a character simply explain to Kate (and the audience) what is going on, and you’ve got an extremely amateur and dull film. Clocking in at just under two hours, THE DROWNED was an ordeal to sit through and sit through it I did. While there is nothing wrong with the initial premise, the monster makeup is decent, and there is one scene one might find slightly scary when a ghost reaches up from the water and grabs a baby, THE DROWNED is just all around bad. Avoid.
The film comes with a commentary track that I didn’t listen to, but almost wanted to in order to hear from those responsible. But that would have meant I would have to sit through this film again and there’s no way I’m doing that.
New on a Double Feature BluRay from Troma!
THE SLASHENING (2015)Directed by Brandon Bassham
Written by Brandon Bassham
Starring Anna Callegari, Samantha Reece Schecter, Elyse Brandau, Lily Du, Dana Clinkman, Patrick Foy, Billy Bob Thompson, Langan Kingsley, Dan Hodapp, Dan Chamberlain, Frank Garcia-Hejl, Amber Sophia Nelson, Jim Santangeli, Jesse VandenBergh
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE SLASHENING is a spoof on 80’s horror slumber party films and while the budget is low, the amount of solid laughs is really high.
The premise is as simple as the premise of the films THE SLASHENING is mocking; a young girl named Lucy (Anna Callegari) is heartbroken about her breakup with her boyfriend, so her best friend Margot (Samantha Reece Schecter), her goody two shoes chum Eva (Lily Du), her freshly out of rehab buddy Beth (Dana Clinkman) and slutty gal-pal Ashley (Elyse Brandau) decide to throw a slumber party to cheer her up. As the antics begin, of course some boys show up, but so does a killer who murders anyone who comes near the party and then moves on to take care of the party guests. But the power of friendship is tough and the slasher has his work cut out for him.
This is a goofy film. Not heavy on gore or nudity, but high on laughs. The writing is witty and self referential. The actors all have their specific quirks and most of them feel as if they are from some kind of improve sketch group—the same improve group most likely because the strength of this wonky film is the way these actors interact with one another. There’s a real charm to everyone involved and I’m sure some of this cast is going to end up on SNL some day.
But while there is not a lot of blood, boobs, and gore, there is a lot of really great added bits that made me laugh out loud consistently through this one. The soundtrack in particular is great as it is all original music mocking the girl-power rock ballads of Taylor Swift, Adele, and their ilk. The lyrics are pretty hilarious in that they are not far off from the real songs of these artists taken to a slightly more ludicrous level. The music pops up at random times in this film, which makes you really want to listen to this one. There’s also a weird sound effect every time the slasher kills that sounds like someone muttering inaudible whispers which are a little creepy.
THE SLASHENING is not an over the top gore fest comedy like DUDE BRO PARTY MASSACRE II, but it does have the same rapid fire comedy pace as that film. If you’re a fan of the slasher genre, you’re going to laugh hard at the funhouse mirror THE SLASHENING holds up to those types of films.
New in select theaters today, and available On Demand and DVD next week from ITN Distribution!
BLACK ROSE (2014)Directed by Alexander Nevsky
Written by Brent Huff, George Saunders
Starring Alexander Nevsky, Kristanna Loken, Adrian Paul, Robert Davi, Robert Madrid, Oksana Sidorenko, Emmanuil Vitorgan, Olga Rodionova, Polina Butorina, & Matthias Hues
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A serial killer is murdering Russian immigrant prostitutes, so the LAPD enlists a Russian super cop (Alexander Nevsky) to help a rookie cop (TERMINATOR 3’s Kristanna Loken) track him down. That’s pretty much the plot of BLACK ROSE and if you think it sounds a lot like 80’s Arnold actioner RED HEAT, you’re right on the mark.
The problem with BLACK ROSE is that it feels like pretty much every 80’s cop action film from COBRA to the aforementioned RED HEAT and every TV cop drama you’ve ever seen. It’s got an unlikely partnership. A mysterious killer. And clues dropped all over the place so that you can figure it out before the cops do. Everything is extremely typical from the pairing to the mystery to the “reveal” of the killer who can be guessed by simply looking at the cast list.
Loken is the highlight of this film as she seems to be the only one not sleepwalking through the process. She embodies the eager, yet pressured rookie cop character well. Unfortunately, Robert Davi and HIGHLANDER Adrian Paul seem to simply be going through the motions. It’s nice seeing I COME IN PEACE’s Matthias Hues again, but he has little to do here.
The biggest problem with BLACK ROSE is Alexander Nevsky. The muscleman directs and stars in this one as the Russian cop. He’s playing the Swartzeneggar role here, but lacks Arnie’s charisma and confidence. Instead he mumbles through his lines and looks to Loken to carry any of the emotional baggage required for the viewer to have any investment.
There are some decent kills, though most are off camera and we are only privy to the bloody crime scene where a black rose is placed in the mouths of the victims. Shot way back in 2014, the current political climate with Russia might be the reason this film was de-moth-balled and released as a peace offering showing that Americans and Russians can work together (to solve crimes in LA, at the very least). Unfortunately, you’re going to find more cop intrigue and serial killer carnage on a typical episode of CSI or LAW & ORDER than with BLACK ROSE.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand May 9th from Cleopatra Entertainment!
THE BLACK ROOM (2016)Directed by Rolfe Kanefsky
Written by Rolfe Kanefsky
Starring Natasha Henstridge, Lukas Hassel, Lin Shaye, Dominique Swain, Augie Duke, Caleb Scott, James Duval, Tiffany Shepis, Victoria De Mare, Elissa Dowling, Nick Principe, Rachel Riley, Catherine Annette, Jill Evyn
Find out more about this film here, @theblackroommovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Mixing comedy and horror is always dicey. Balancing between the comedic beats and the horrifying imagery is trickier than one would think. See the million and one attempts to create the lightning in a bottle that produced GHOSTBUSTERS, HOUSE, EVIL DEAD II, and other examples of doing a comedy-horror film right. Add in a succubus, which tempts people into having sex whether one would like to or not and it’s going to be pretty hard to make that a laugh a minute—especially in these quick to be offended times. But that’s just what THE BLACK ROOM tries to do.
Paul and Jennifer (Lukas Hassel and Natasha Henstridge) are a happily married couple looking forward to settling into their new home, despite the dodgy way their realtor (Tiffany Shepis) describes it to them. Seems the place is fine as long as you don’t go into the bolted room on the basement. Inside resides a succubus demon which seduces and controls people, mainly through sex. This multiple people required to fix up a home offer plenty of fodder for the demon to possess, screw, and kill.
Unfortunately, THE BLACK ROOM is kind of all over the place in terms of tone. Sometimes it wants to be a wonky comedy. Sometimes it wants to be serious horror. Sometimes it seems like they are trying to pull off poignant drama or sweet romance. The problem is that had director/writer Rolfe Kanefsky gone all in for one of these tones, it might have worked. Unfortunately, you have a demon fucking someone with a giant penis that sprouts out her mouth a la JACOB’S LADDER mixed with scenes of a possessed Paul hitting on every woman in sight and comically being overwhelmed by the amount of hot ladies at a restaurant date with Jennifer. I kind of wish the film would have gone all THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY with the material and said fuck all pretention. But it seems like this film is just too hesitant to go all in with the raunchy comedy in a consistent manner and settles for sitcom style buffoonery instead. This makes it even harder to digest when we are expected to take the threat seriously in the final reel when the shit hits the fan. It’s all just so uneven and hard to get an emotional handle on.
I will commend the film for some decent practical effects. The demon makeup is pretty great and things do get slimy and messy. The cast is fun too with Henstridge offering up the best work here. Lukas Hassel’s take on the possessed Paul is one of the reasons why this doesn’t work. He is just too over the top here to give the danger any heft. In the end, this is a weird film that made me feel rather odd the way it trivialized consent to sex. Sure it’s what I would expect from demons, but seeing it portrayed in such a whimsical way made me feel like this was a film made in a less sensitive time and not in today’s PC world. There are elements of THE ENTITY here as well as the Shatner starrer INCUBUS here (even shades of Henstridge’s own SPECIES), but those films took the horror of sexuality seriously, where this one simply makes the horror a punch line.
New On Demand from Wild Eye Releasing!
ASYLUM OF DARKNESS (2017)Directed by Jay Woelfel
Written by Jay Woelfel
Starring Tiffany Shepis, Tim Thomerson, Nick Baldasare, Richard Hatch, Amanda Howell, Frank Jones Jr., Scott Summitt
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Reminiscent of the Bill Pullman/Bill Paxton/Bud Cort descent into madness shocker BRAIN DEAD, ASYLUM OF DARKNESS does a decent job of plopping the viewer right into the brain pan of an unsettled mind.
The film opens with Dwight (Nick Baldasare) spending time in an asylum flashing from his time in solitary to talking with his psychologist (Richard Hatch), wandering around a cemetery with his dream girl (Tiffany Shepis), swapping bodies with his doctor and returning home to his wife (Amanda Howell), and talking with his fellow inmate named Van Gough (Frank Jones Jr.) whose painting seem to become real. The narrative leaps all around and back again to these different spots to the point where you are as unsure as Dwight as to what is real and what isn’t. In the end, Dwight tries to come to terms with his own mental instability and how it fits into the multiple worlds he has created.
I admire this film for trying something experimental in terms of the narrative. While it isn’t as effective as say, a JACOB’S LADDER or even the aforementioned BRAIN DEAD in terms of the weightless and grounded-less existence of mental breakdown, Baldasare does a decent job of communicating this unwell mind. While Baldasare is not a typical leading man type at his age (sorry, but I have to call it like it is), his age and physical form does give the role an everyman feel that is surprisingly successful at pulling you in.
Shepis is wasted here, as I have found her often to be. She really is an amazing actress when given the material to shine, but doesn’t have much here other than being hot and mysterious. The late Richard Hatch and Thomerson are decent in their roles, but again they don’t really stand out. I did like a few of the twisted moments of dementia such as Dwight always seeing his doctor in some form of decay and Van Gough sacrificing his eyes for Dwight to see. These again show that while the direction is a bit of a mess here, the story itself is strong in terms of weirdness and twists. If you’re interested in a low budget version of the already low budget BRAIN DEAD with some fun and twisted little bits and pieces, you could do worse than ASYLUM OF DARKNESS.
New this week in select theaters from Indican Pictures!
7 WITCHES (2017)aka VOWS
Directed by Brady Hall
Written by Ed Dougherty, Brady Hall
Starring Persephone Apostolou, Megan Hensley, Mike Jones, Macall Gordon, Danika Golombek, Nancy Frye, Bill Ritchie, Ben Van Dusen, Kris Keppeler, Rory Ross, Lorraine Montez, Rod Pilloud, Kay LaVergne Jaz, Gordon Frye, Maureen Hawkins, Warren Roberts, Anna Giles, Simone Beres, Lydia Hayes, Teddy Shipley
Find out more about this film here, @7witchesfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A young woman named Kate returns from college (Persephone Apostolou) for her sister’s wedding after breaking off her engagement with her own boyfriend. She must now endure the weekend with her annoying family, spotlight stealing sister Rose (Danika Kari), and heartbroken boyfriend in a B&B on a New England coastal town.
Sounds like a setup for an eighties rom-com, right?
Well, not this one. This is a pretty effective little horror film with a lot going for it.
7 WITCHES is a dank and dreary tale of familial strife and witchcraft. The first thing that stands out here is the way the film captures the wet and dark mood of the weather-beaten New England town. Everything is cold and grey and looks as if it is decaying. Director Brady Hall is able to capture all of this well and is able to translate that into an overall pall that is cast over everything, even the lighter and more human moments of familial bickering. From beginning to end, this is a movie that is going to make you want to bundle yourself up in something warm and cuddle next to your sweetie in order to steal their warmth.
The acting is of high caliber as well. Apostolou is a strong lead as the rebellious and unshackled Kate. We see her in the first moments breaking up with her boyfriend and one would think that would make her an unsympathetic character, but somehow (maybe it is because her boyfriend is such a sad sack though the rest of the film) you feel bad for the predicament she is in when her boyfriend instead decides to stay, taking advantage of the weekend with their family as a desperate way to somehow save the relationship.
The film opens with masked gunmen firing on a family and murdering them in a ritualistic manner. That opening and the present day stuff with the witches are handled in a much more down-to-earth fashion than anything we saw in THE CRAFT or even THE WITCH. This witchcraft is more of a modern dark magic where the dark corners of the earth are worshipped and sacrificed too rather than brooms being ridden with black cat familiars on the end. This nitty-gritty kind of witchcraft only adds to the grounded, real world tone of this film.
In and out like a thief in the night, 7 WITCHES tells a simple tale involving interesting characters and then bows out soon after the action stops. This is no frills filmmaking, relying on the setting and actions of the actors to carry the piece and the whole thing worked rather well. While some scenes lacked that “pop” power, I attribute that to the dank mood of the entire film and is necessary in the way the film can be appreciated as a whole. 7 WITCHES surprised me and I think it will surprise anyone who gives it a chance as well.
New this week in theaters, On Demand, and digital download from Momentum Pictures!
VOICE FROM THE STONE (2017)Directed by Eric D. Howell
Written by Silvio Raffo (novel), Andrew Shaw (screenplay)
Starring Emilia Clarke, Marton Csokas, Caterina Murino, Kate Linder, Remo Girone, Lisa Gastoni, Edward Dring, Giampiero Judica, Nicole Cadeddu, Antonella Britti
Find out more about this film here, @voicefromthestone, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Reminiscent of films like THE OTHERS and THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2, which mixes period piece romanticism with the supernatural, VOICE FROM THE STONE is a bizarre and sometimes effective little ghost story.
Emilia Clarke plays Verena, an Italian au pair who has a gift with communicating with troubled children. Verena arrives at a gothic castle in 1950’s Tuscany owned by a widower named Klaus (Marton Csokas) who hires her to try to find some way to help his son Jakob (Edward Dring) who hasn’t spoken since his wife Malvina (Caterina Murino) passed away. Through some empathetic interventions, Verena attempts to talk with the troubled lad, but she still can’t make him talk, which is what his strict and grieving father demands. When she finds that Jakob sits at the wall at night listening to what he believes to be his mother’s voice, she at first thinks it is childhood fantasy or worse yet, signs of an even deeper psychological problem. But when Verena starts hearing the voices herself, she begins to suspect something much more otherworldly is going on.
What proceeds is an ethically twisted and morally fluid kind of story where a caregiver begins to take her job too personally and attempt to become that which her patient is missing, in this case, his mother. In many ways, this is a descent into madness story, where Verena comes into this lifeless stone castle believing in her experience and not some kind of unseen power when it comes to her connection with the children she sees, but events unfold to make Verena doubt this experience and fall into the same abyss filled with loss that Jakob and his father have fallen into. It’s a heady kind of trip. One that ends on an unconventional note that definitely doesn’t serve as a guide for anyone working in the social service industry, but it also serves as a rather interesting take on a ghost story where a person is manipulated to take the place of a dead loved one.
Clarke is able to shun the regal up-snoutedness she exudes as the Queen of Dragons in GAME OF THRONES and dresses down in baggy clothes in order to appear matronly here. Later she gets to shine a bit when she discovers the lady of the house’s wardrobe and Mr. Skin-O-philes will be happy to know she appears in the buff here. But more impressive than Clarke’s supple form is her conviction here as an obsessed caregiver who begins to care too much. While this is a slow starter, Clarke carries the film on her tiny shoulders and through those beautiful eyes, so when things start getting spooky rather later in the game, it doesn’t feel like you’ve wasted half the movie. A lot of this suspenseful atmosphere has to do with the cold atmosphere of the castle grounds, littered with toppled over stone statues made from stone in the quarry on the property. But a lot of the suspense comes from knowing that Clarke’s character is in real danger here, though she doesn’t quite know it and sees this, at the beginning at least, as a typical job.
VOICE FROM THE STONE is not a shock a minute spook-fest of the BlumHouse kind. It’s a period piece and character driven, propelled by slight paranormal whisperings at first that resonate and multiply to a deafening level by the end. This is a film you can watch with someone who doesn’t really like horror films that much. It’s not necessarily scary, but there are enough paranormal elements to cause a tingle or two. Clarke’s performance carries the film and the twisted plot will definitely keep you guessing as to the sanity of everyone on screen all the way through.
Short Film Premiering at Tribeca this weekend from Stage 13!
TWO SENTENCE HORROR STORIES: MA (2017)Directed by Vera Miao
Written by Vera Miao
Starring Mardy Ma, Wei-Yi Lin, Ayesha Harris
Find out more about this film here and @stage13network
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While I have found a lot of the “Two Sentence Horror Stories” found on Youtube to be pretty lame, I am surprised occasionally at how the power of two intricately worded sentences are able to send chills down my spine. Stage 13 is releasing their TWO SENTENCE HORROR SERIES this weekend at Tribeca and I had a chance to check out the first of the series entitled “Ma.” The premise is simple. Start the short with one sentence. Tell the story in the short. End the short with the original sentence as well as an additional sentence which reveals something quite chilling. At least, that’s the intention.
“Ma” succeeds with this format exceptionally. In the short fifteen minute film, we are made privy to a young woman named Mona, a shy and eccentric girl who lives with her mother in a small apartment complex. Mona is awakened one night when she hears music coming from the apartment next door and becomes intrigued by Erika, a new tenant. The two seem to be on the verge of having a relationship, but not if Mona’s mother has anything to do with it. Also, Mona seems to have telekinetic powers.
Vera Miao is able to squeeze a whole lot of emotion, patience, and a wallop of an ending into this fifteen minuter. While the meetings between Mona and Erika are sweet Miao counters that with scenes of Mona putting up with her mother’s commands and chatter about her television shows. Not one second of this film is lost and Miao is deft in making every second counts as it culminates to a truly twisted little ending I didn’t see coming. I mean, I knew this was a horror film, but I was thinking this was going to be a psychological horror film a la CARRIE with a lesbian twist, but the ending of this one is definitely going to shock you. Even the subtle telekinetic effects are fantastically realized. This is a powerful snippet of what a new director can do and I can’t wait to see what Miao has up her sleeve next.
Future TWO SENTENCE HORROR STORIES feature episodes directed by critically acclaimed horror creatives: Danny Perez (“Antibirth”), JD Dillard (“Sleight”), and Ryan Spindell (“The Babysitter Murders”) and if they are anything like Vera Miao’s “Ma,” I can’t wait to see them!
And finally…here’s a low budget mockumentary about a xenophobic superhero named the Vanishteer. Directed by the team of Daniel Crosier & Dane Bernhardt is an hour long film done on the cheap that contains some big laughs and a few insights that the world could learn from in these turbulent times we live in. The film is called ISOLATION MAN and it’s available for free to view below. If you’re interested in reading more about the Vanishteer, you can download the comic that inspired the film here!
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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