Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I’ve got a couple of advance reviews at the bottom of the column, but also quite a few films you can see right now. But before that, there’s this!
The folks behind the making of documentary UNEARTHED & UNTOLD: THE PATH TO PET SEMATARY are at it again. This time they are making a documentary on the making of the IT television miniseries called PENNYWISE: THE STORY OF IT. Here’s the official description:
From the makers of 'You're so cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night' and 'RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop' and the director of 'Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Path to Pet Sematary' comes this brand-new documentary celebrating the legacy of 'Stephen King's IT' and the legend Tim Curry. With over 30 interviews and hours of behind the scenes footage this is YOUR opportunity to support this independent project and make it a reality.
If you’re interested in supporting the IndieGoGo campaign to make PENNYWISE: THE STORY OF IT happen, click this link and show it some support!
Another crowdfunding campaign frequenters of this column might be interested in is the Kickstarter for HORROR BOARDS, a collectible, expandable horror game system. Here’s the official description of what looks to be an extremely fun game;
Ever wondered who would win in a horror movie battle royale? Horror Boards let's you settle the score with the highest body count!
Again, if you like what you see below in the pitch video, click this link and help make HORROR BOARDS happen!
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: BLACKENSTEIN (1973)
Retro-review: TROLL (1986)
Retro-review: DARK HARVEST (1992)
Retro-review: EVIL ED (1995)
#FROM JENNIFER (2017)
AARON’S BLOOD (2016)
BE AFRAID (2017)
BERLIN SYNDROME (2017)
SEOUL STATION (2016)
Advance Review: CENTRAL PARK (2016)
Advance Review: INHERITANCE (2017)
And finally…Light’s Out: The Meteor Man!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Severin!
BLACKENSTEIN (1973)aka BLACK FRANKENSTEIN, THE RETURN OF BLACKENSTEIN
Directed by William A. Levey
Written by Frank R. Saletri
Starring John Hart, Ivory Stone, Joe De Sue, Roosevelt Jackson, Andrea King, Nick Bolin, James Cousar, Karin Lind, Yvonne Robinson, Bob Brophy, Liz Renay, Gerald Soucie, Beverly Haggerty, Daniel Fauré, Andy C, Cardella Di Milo, Marva Farmer, Robert L. Hurd, Don Brodie, Dale Bach
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Despite it being a blacksploitation film, BLACULA and its sequel SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM were excellent films. BLACKENSTEIN…well, BLACKENSTEIN simply isn’t.
BLACKENSTEIN opens rather ominously on a laboratory straight out of a classic monster movie with electrodes buzzing and lightning sparking all around. As our heroine Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) enters the mansion/private hospital of Dr. Stein (John Hart), she explains that her husband Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue) has returned from Viet Nam as an invalid having lost his arms and legs from stepping on a landmine. Dr. Stein informs Dr. Walker that she is in luck because he has developed a process to make her husband a whole man again. But unbeknownst to both doctors and Eddie, Dr. Stein’s assistant Malcolm (Roosevelt Jackson) has fallen in love with Dr. Walker and sabotages the serum causing a freak reaction to the process and creating…BLACKENSTEIN!!!
Hokey as this film is, it is a lot of inane fun. None of the science really matches up and no one even tries to make any sense of it. It’s just electrodes, diodes, and other beeping and flashing machinery all put together and presto, Eddie has arms and legs, a pronounced browline, a square afro, heightened aggression, and a tendency to walk super slow. Once he becomes Blackenstein, Eddie escapes the lab, goes on a rampage killing any random people in his path, returns to the lab, only to leave again. While the original FRANKENSTEIN had the Monster kind of ambling about across the countryside, at least he didn’t bop back and forth to the lab for no particular reason. Still, there needs to be a body count, so a wandering this Monster will go, tearing apart people in a pretty gory fashion for its time.
It’s inevitable that this film be compared with BLACULA, but the two films don’t even compare. While BLACULA had a ridiculous name, but the filmmakers took it seriously that they were making a horror film and William Marshall gives one of the best Dracula performances you’re going to see. BLACKENSTEIN is cast completely with non actors tepidly blurting out their lines as it they were reading them at gunpoint. The design of Blackenstein is just a square afro and a cheap Frankenstein suit. The film lacks any sense of danger or suspense as the sombering monster somehow catches all of its running prey. Add on a bizarre ending that not only pairs up Dr. Walker with some random cop, but also culminates with Blackenstein battling a pack of police dogs that apparently are trained to rip off arms and legs. With the film’s main plot resolved at the hour fifteen mark, it’s almost like the final scene with some random white woman and a pack of dogs were tacked onto the end to extend the runtime.
Thematically, I guess the film could have things to say about the walking wounded feel of returning Viet Nam vets—that they feel like ostracized monsters returning from a warzone. One can also comment on the racial significance of BLACKENSTEIN as a monstrous black man breaks up random white couples (mostly white couples, but there is a black couples Blackenstein interrupts as well) and how that might equate to some kind of white fear of black cuckolding. While both can be argued, BLACKENSTEIN never really cares enough to delve into heady thematics too much. It delivers on the simple schlock that the title suggests and seems pretty proud of it, despite its shortcomings in filmmaking, writing, and acting. BLACKENSTEIN is still the definition of big, dumb fun.<br.
This Severin Collector’ Edition of BLACKENSTEIN features; both a theatrical release version (78 minutes) & video release version (87 minutes), “Monster Kid” an Interview with writer/producer Frank R. Saletri’s sister June Kirk, an archive news broadcast on the murder of writer/producer Frank R. Saletri, Featurette: producers/directors/actors Ken Osborne & Robert Dix remember writer/producer Frank R. Saletri, “Bill Created Blackenstein” featurette on an interview with creature designer Bill Munns, theatrical trailer.
WARNING: This trailer has boobs…wondrous boobs!
Retro-review: New in the Empire Pictures BluRay Box Set Collection from Full Moon Entertainment!
TROLL (1986)Directed by John Carl Buechler
Written by Ed Naha
Starring Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Noah Hathaway, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart, Barbara Sciorilli, and Phil Fondacaro as Torok the Troll!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Empire Pictures made some amazing films in the 80’s. The precursor to Full Moon Entertainment stretched their budgets and put varied and extremely creative images on screen. These mini-epics tackle horror, sci fi and beyond and now they’ve collected them all in one huge, badass box set. I’m going to be covering each film in this collection over the next few weeks, but if you’re a film collector, you’re going to want to grab this set as soon as possible as there are only 600 of them. Check out this sizzle reel featuring some of the iconic films collected in this Box Set.
There’s a lot of endearing qualities about TROLL, and that doesn’t even include the spastic “Rat burgers!!!!!” moment!
Michael Moriarty plays, I shit you not, Harry Potter Sr., patriarch of the Potter family who are moving into a new apartment building filled with eccentric characters; a wannabe actress and her boyfriend (Julia Louise Dreyfus and Brad Hall fresh off of SNL), a exercise freak (Gary Sandy), a little professor (Phil Fondacaro, who also plays the title character), a swingin’ bachelor (Sonny Bono), and a sorceress (LOST IN SPACE’s June Lockhart). Early in the film, Potter’s daughter Wendy Ann (Jenny Beck) is abducted and replaced by a troll. Only his son, also named Harry Potter (THE NEVER ENDING STORY’s Noah Hathaway) notices though. As the troll changes everyone in the building into creatures of myth, young Harry befriends the sorceress and tries to save his family.
This film is a lot of fun and seems to have a well intentioned aim for a younger audience. That doesn’t mean that it’s not something adults can enjoy. It’s just that the film is basically told as if it were an Amblin film where the only people with a clue are the kids, with the adults are either stumbling into trouble/death or completely naïve as to what is going on right under their noses. While the film lacks a lot of the story and production know-how as those kiddie films, the spirit is there and while there are some somewhat grisly moments, the overall feel of the film is simply fun.
Adding to that fun is the excellent practical effects work and puppetry of director John Carl Buechler. Yes, many of the monsters of the film are puppets with limited movement, but Buechler shines with his highly emotive face and costume for the Troll itself. Plus there’s a singing mushroom that is all kinds of squeaky cute. Buechler doesn’t abandon his roots in horror for the fantasy though as the transformation scenes as the tenants become monsters are green and gory.
And while TROLL 2 gets a lot of flack for being the worst film ever made, the original is not without its WTF moments. Most notably is Michael Moriarty who is obviously not giving a shit about how he looks or acts in this film. He enters the scene wearing a goofy hat, which for a while, was a Moriarty trademark in every movie he showed up in. But only Crispin Glover’s dance in FRIDAY THE 13TH THE FINAL CHAPTER compares to Moriarty’s interpretive dance moves he busts out with in this film.
Add an awkward scene where Wendy Anne asks Phil Fondacaro (a little person) if he’s an elf and then invites him to dinner where her family talks about his height challenges. The film actually gets kind of poignant and touching as Fondacaro explains what it is like to be a little person. I don’t remember seeing a film give this much time to give time to bring some understanding to the life of a little person and it definitely highlights a depth of performance I didn’t know the actor had in him.
The eclectic cast is what really makes this one fun, especially the appearance of Julia Louise Dreyfus who prances around almost naked as a woodland nymph. While John Carl Buechler may not have achieved the magic that was in those Amblin films of old, he gave a noble effort. Quirky and simply weird performances and some great effects make this something rather spectacular.
Retro-review: New on DVD from Intervision!
DARK HARVEST (1992)aka BLOODY HARVEST
Directed by James I. Nicholson
Written by James I. Nicholson
Starring David Zyler, Jamee Natella, Debbie O'Der, Cooper Steve Anderson, Patti Negri, Tina Moore, Tracy Vivat, Dan Weiss, Dawn DeNoon, Victor Orlando, Keith Williams, Walt Woodson, Tina Pearl, Lonn Wade, Sean Wade, Robert Rundle, Danya Bellenson, Roe Collins, Dick Belcher, Randall Duncan, Kelly Sullivan, Stacy Bell, Dayna Beilenson
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There is an endless supply of shot on video, do it yourself horror from the eighties and nineties when everyone thought all you needed was a video camera and some moxie to make it in the biz. Funny, with found footage films being all the rave these days, not much has changed in all these years. Like those found footage films, goof DIY/SOV films are hard to come by. Take DARK HARVEST for example…please!
A group of hikers set off in a van into the middle of a desert to ride horses, but when the van breaks down and they decide to walk the rest of the way, they get lost and are hunted by creepy scarecrows and mystical visions.
Bad acting. Muffled sound. Scenes too dark to discern what the hell is going on. Script seemingly done on the fly. It’s all front and present in DARK HARVEST. While the ambition of the filmmakers behind this one is there, the failure to achieve any of the heights of horror this one strives to reach is rough to watch. There are some fun ideas here and there like the endless loop the group find themselves in and some of the mystical visions each of them experience, but man this one was hard getting through. DARK HARVEST wants to be THE HILLS HAVE EYES meets SCARECROWS in a desperate way—attempting to mix inbred hill folk on the attack with a haunted locale that won’t let the hikers leave. It just didn’t have the money, creativity, or chutzpah to make it work. There’s some boobage tossed around freely and what you can see through the murky darkness occasionally is atmospheric, but I can’t recommend this one to anyone but the most hardcore DIY fan.
Special features on this disk which also features the lost low budget Vincent Price anthology ESCAPES (which I will be reviewing in an upcoming column) include; a pair of featurettes of actress Patti Negri and actor Dan Weiss remembering DARK HARVEST, and a feature with distributor Tom Naygrow on ESCAPES director David Steensland.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
EVIL ED (1995)aka CENSOR!
Directed by Anders Jacobsson
Written by Anders Jacobsson, Göran Lundström, Christer Ohlsson
Starring Johan Rudebeck, Per Löfberg, Olof Rhodin, Camela Leierth, Gert Fylking, Cecilia Ljung, Michael Kallaanvaara, Hans Wilhelmsson, Anders Ek, Memory Garp, Christer Fant, Odile Nunes, Ulf Landergren, Jenny Forslund, Therese Malmer, Estelle Milbourne, Sanna Hansson, Niklas Hättström, Thomas Lewart, Vasa, Monia Botngård, Fredrik Johansson, Gun Fors, Carina Tell, Fredrik Hauge, Johan Harnesk, Göran Lundström, Kelly Tainton, Natalie Kay, Dan Malmer, Kim Sulocki, Anders Jacobsson, José Jiménez, Andreas Beskow, Heming Kulø, Lena Neogard, Roger Olsson, Carina Ristholm, Åsa Svegen, Karin Hallheden, Carina Sundgren, Marie Bergenholtz, Hanna Elfvin, Sven-Erik Olsson, Robert Dröse, Sten Grettve, Jenny Wigge, Joachim Lindman, Kurt Nilsson, Joel Rhodin, Hannes Rhodin, Kaj Steveman, Kara Killen, Kathy Reilly, Joachim Seisay, David Nerge, Jeremy Frere-GilChrist, Tom Zimmerman, Joachim Klatzkow, Izzy Young, Marian Gräns, Ronit Hasson, & Bill Moseley
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I shouldn’t like EVIL ED. The plot itself, which I will get to in the next paragraph, goes against everything I believe in and have believed in about movies, specifically horror films. That said, despite the basic premise of EVIL ED, as a horror fan, I can’t help but love the way it celebrates senseless violence, gore, bad taste, and practical effects. And this rerelease of the film means more people and love and hate it like I do. EVIL ED is one of those lost films from the nineties that people may have heard about or even seen at the video store, but its been unearthed and given the king’s treatment here for the masses to enjoy.
EVIL ED is a story about Ed Swenson (Johan Rudebeck), a mild mannered editor for a small arthouse firm. When the editor of a neighboring studio blows his brains out with a grenade, Ed’s firm loans him out to Sam Campbell (Olof Rhodin), head of a splatterhouse studio specializing in a never-ending slasher series called LOOSE LIMBS. At first, Ed tries to edit the gory films down to be more suggestive and artsy, but his boss continues to insist less editing in blood, gore, and nudity. Though Ed complains that the constant stream of violence and debauchery is wearing on his mental health, his boss threatens for him to continue his job or he will never work in the business again. Soon Ed cracks and he is sent to a mental ward where Ed goes on a murderous rampage inspired by the LOOSE LIMBS series. It all culminates in a symphony of splatter, blood, guts, brains, innards, boobs, bullets, and blades with a now-insane Ed in the middle of it.
I am a firm believer that movies, specifically horror movies, are a form of catharsis. The horrifying and disgusting imagery often seen and suggested in horror films serve as a way for some people to let out their demons. Want to strangle your boss? Feel the urge to ram your car through traffic? Watch a horror film and see it happen from the safety of a theater seat or a couch instead of spending the rest of your life in prison. The belief that became popular in the eighties that horror films somehow inspire people to do dangerous and evil things just didn’t sit well with me. I don’t believe it. Sure there are going to be some twisted minds out there, but more than likely, it is not horror films that made them that way and pointing the finger at the horror genre is a sad excuse. It’s paltry blame shot at an all too easy target rather than addressing the real problem of mental illness, parental neglect, and a society the does its best to quell independent thought, promote conformity, and abolish taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
EVIL ED is all about blaming horror films for loss of sanity and the terrible actions of the titular character. It’s written from the perspective of the folks who ban dodge ball, keep the Boba Fett figure from shooting a rocket, and get SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT taken out of theaters because it attacked core values and endangered weak-minded people. It takes the same closed-minded stance as book burners, Bible-thumpers, the dreaded MPAA of the 80-90’s, and yes, given recent shameful events, even modern college campuses that try to tamp out different, creative, innovative, imaginative, intellectually/morally challenging, unconformist, outside of the box kinds of thinking. Back to the point, EVIL ED says that if you watch a lot of horror films, you’re going to go insane and kill people and I couldn’t disagree with that sentiment more.
The thing is, though, EVIL ED is one hell of a good time. It relishes in the gore. It splatters it around and plays with the filth like a baby with an open diaper. Be it ultra-intense scenes of bodily dismemberment to fantastical monsters eating and swearing in a refrigerator to a pale demonic Satan-creature that is just a thin hair less as cool as LEGEND’s iconic Darkness, there are so many effects scenes to savor and enjoy in EVIL ED that it will satisfy even the most grue-starved gore-hound. EVIL ED might be considered a satire as it doubles down on the intense and outlandish horror the longer the film goes on. It does have very funny moments. It is filled with references to other horror films of the era and tons of posters of much better horror films adorn the walls. A lot of the outlandish gore and cartoonish violence wouldn’t exist without films like EVIL DEAD or DEAD ALIVE before it. I don’t think this is a film that intentionally sets out to condemn the horror genre, it just seems a little misguided in where it puts the blame for Ed’s actions. And the fact that the film’s resolution doesn’t really switch gears and try to find the real reason Ed goes nuts suggests that it’s not as much of a satire as some might believe.
EVIL ED also has a Tom Six/Tommy Wiseau quality as it seems like it is being made in a world outside of the one you, I, or anyone else we know lives in. The actors don’t seem be really understand the English words they are speaking and there really is a bizarre stream of consciousness style of storytelling that makes everything feel like a fever dream. But while the acting is not that great, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, and its moral compass is somewhat misguided, it is filled with the kind of gore and violence we all love. Once Ed flips, it’s pretty much a non-stop rollercoaster water park ride replacing water with blood and guts.
This massive EVIL ED Collector’s Edition from Arrow Films includes; two versions of the film (original release and newly remastered/newly expanded version), reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, collector’s booklet with new writings on the film, Discs 1 & 2 are the BLU-RAY & DVD SPECIAL ED-ITION CUT world premiere running at 95 minutes, “Keep ’Em Heads Rollin’” making-of documentary, “Reconstructing Edward” a featurette on the creation of the Special EDition cut, deleted scenes, bloopers, teasers/trailers, still gallery, Disc 3 BLU-RAY of the original cut (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE) running at 93 minutes, “Lost in Brainland” featurette of a never-before-seen extended 3 hour version of the making-of documentary. That’s a ton of stuff for a super fun, little seen film that needs to be seen by more people despite the weird message.
New On Demand from Sector 5 Films!
#FROMJENNIFER (2017)aka FROM JENNIFER, TO JENNIFER III: FROM JENNIFER, TO JENNIFER 3
Directed by Frank Merle
Written by James Cullen Bressack (characters), Frank Merle
Starring Danielle Taddei, Meghan Deanna Smith, Tony Todd, Derek Mears, Aaron Abrams, Trae Ireland, Sarah Allyn Bauer, Curtis Kingsley, Kurt Scholler, Mike Capes, Neil W. Garguilo, Raymond Vinsik Williams, Emily Dahm, Justin Michael Terry, Travis Richardson, Charles Chudabala, Kurt Maloney, Matt Holbrook, Chrissy Cannone, Christopher Mathieu, Alex Napiwocki, Jenny Brezinski, Devin Reeve, Ryan Marsico, Emlee Vassilos, Christian Ackerman, Jordan Mitchell, Flannery Maney, Jason Murphy, Keith Korneluk, Erin Killean
Find out more about this film @FromJenniferMovie and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
#FROMJENNIFER is the third film in the (blank)JENNIFER series after the surprisingly creepy #2JENNIFER sequel of the James Cullen Bressack film that started it all #TOJENNIFER. This has been a rather interesting series, all recorded on iPhones or GoPros, meaning that they are done on the cheap, but the thing that makes the series stand out is that each film has been a pretty striking depiction of obsession, madness, and batshit craziness.
In the first film, the protagonist sets out to find his girlfriend Jennifer who he believes has been cheating on him. In the second, the protagonist is obsessed with the first JENNIFER film and sets out to make an unauthorized sequel. This third installment once again is a story about the world the protagonist lives in versus the real world around him or her. As with the first two, the titular Jennifer (Danielle Taddei) finds out that her ex filmed them having sex and posted it on the internet which pretty much ruined Jennifer’s dream of becoming an actress. So after being fired by her manager (Tony Todd), Jennifer sets out to make the ultimate revenge for revenge porn video and hires well intentioned, but dim-witted Butch (Derek Mears) to be her muscle in order to enact her elaborate plan. The problem is that the impulsive Butch has a tendency to wig out and kill people. After a few false starts where Butch accidentally kills some folks, Jennifer lures in three men known for posting revenge sex videos online, binds them, and…well, the last part of Jennifer’s plan is pretty fucked up and let’s just leave it at that.
While the first two JENNIFER films were descent into obsessive madness films, #FROMJENNIFER is more of a comedy of errors. The plan from the start is flawed and the heartbroken Jennifer is definitely not firing on all cylinders from the get go. But while the first two films has the protagonists descend into a type of madness that is ugly, terrifying, and frighteningly realistic, this one seems more interested in lightening the tone and being more of a black comedy. While there were darkly comedic elements to the first two, the pitch black tone and the depths the madness reaches are just not as deep here. This switch in tone doesn’t mean it’s not a good film. The acting is actually pretty awesome compared to the first two films—specifically Derek Mears who is surprisingly great as the Lenny from OF MICE & MEN-esque Butch and the two leads Taddei (who plays Jennifer) and her fellow actress/friend/competition Stephanie (Meghan Deanna Smith) are both likable and representative of the dog eat dog world of cutthroat acting in Hollywood. Still, fans of the series will notice a shift in tone from realistic madness to cartoonish violence and while the talent in front of the camera has improved as this series goes on, the teeth this series has gets a little less sharper as the sequels go on.
#FROMJENNIFER is interesting in that it tries something new for the series by lightening the tone and relying more on comedy than gore and madness, but those latter factors are what made the series stand out and without them the film loses a little of its gnarly and insane luster.
New in select theaters this week and On Demand and digital download June 9th from Gravitas Ventures!
AARON’S BLOOD (2016)Directed by Tommy Stovall
Written by Tommy Stovall
Starring James Martinez, Trevor Stovall, Michael Chieffo, Farah White, David Castellvi, Michael Peach, Laurie Seymour, Michael Lopez, Luke Barnett, Noah Heekin, Olivia Reinhold, Justin Roberts, Winston Cox, Trevor Robins, Nicholas Small, Matthew Raymond, Linda Damita, Crystal Hoyle, Susan Obijiski, Madison Ottinger, J.C. Lawler, Thekla Hutyra, Katie Love, Jade Scott Lewis, Sarah Ann Lesslie, Serenity Starr Foreman, Patricia Wheat, Xandy Lifson, Morgan Chamberlain, Eva Marie Dragos, Bob Obijiski
Find out more about this film here, @aaronsblood, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
When his hemophiliac son Tate (Trevor Stovall) requires a blood transfusion after an injury at school, single father Aaron (James Martinez) finds out that after a miraculous recovery, Tate begins showing signs that he is becoming a vampire. Aaron desperately tries to cope with the fact that vampires exist and how he can save his son from becoming a creature of the night.
What I really like about this film is that it has a strong core centering on the concept of family before anything else. Martinez offers up a strong performance as a father clearly out of his depth, not only as an overwhelmed single dad, but also as someone trying to cope with his son having a disease. Now, while in this case, the disease is vampirism, this could just as easily been a story about AIDS or some other kind of contagious disease accidentally given to the son from a hospital. As events unfold, Aaron’s fight to save his son grows much direr as he begins drawing blood from himself to satiate his son’s urges and Aaron grows more desperate to find a cure. All of this is done with a tender and emotional hand by director Tommy Stovall (who directed the film HATE CRIME which is as brutal as this film is sensitive). Even when Aaron tracks down the vampire who turned Tate, the vamp himself seems to be a giver of mercy rather than your typical sadistic blood-sucker.
That said, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this film is rather light when it comes to scares, gore, or even intense moments (though there is a beheading or two, so I guess I’m not being completely accurate about the “no-gore” thing). While there are some harsh language bombs lobbed around, the film itself is still pretty PG with nothing in this film that you wouldn’t see on nighttime network television these days. Those in the mood for a gory, violent vamp outing are going to be disappointed. Then again, AARON’S BLOOD feels a bit more like a family drama with a couple of pointed teeth that takes the material seriously and handles the family matters in an adult and sophisticated manner. That acting is pretty solid and the pacing is patient focusing on building familial bonds rather than speeding through any developments. This would be a good “gateway drug” horror film for a horror loving dad to watch with his son this Father’s Day. AARON’S BLOOD is a strong story about the unbreakable bond between father and son, it just tells that tale with the addition of vampires.
New this week On Demand and digital download from AMBI and Samuel Goldwyn Films!
BE AFRAID (2017)aka WITHIN THE DARK
Directed by Drew Gabreski
Written by Gerald Nott
Starring Brian Krause, Jaimi Paige, Louis Herthum, Jared Abrahamson, Michelle Hurd, Michael Leone, Noell Coet, Sade Kimora Young, Kevin M. Horton, Eric Chandler, Todd Goble, Michael Chandler, Callie Thorne, Kevin Grevioux, Jonathan Visser, Bill Laing, Kevin Corrigan, Tracey Turner, Rachael Smith-Murray, Gerald Nott, Shawn Zerfoss, Don Hosey, Ian Hollobaugh, Jeffrey T. Miles, Brooklyn Decker, Jett Gabreski, Xander Gabreski
Find out more about this film here, @beafraidthemovie and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
When I was a kid, I suffered from night terrors. As an adult, I occasionally have sleep paralysis and after seeing films like SHADOW PEOPLE, THE NIGHTMARE, and even the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, it is somewhat comforting to know others have experienced the same thing. Now, I know that the cause of these nighttime horrors is mainly due to anxiety and stress, something I am no stranger from, but I always get a kick out of films that put a paranormal slant on these common occurrences. BE AFRAID is the latest film trying to do just that.
BE AFRAID follows the Chambers family, lead by Dr. John Chambers (Brian Krause) and his new wife Heather (Jaimi Paige) who move into a small New England town with their young son Nathan ( Michael Leone) and John’s son from his previous marriage Ben (Jared Abrahamson) who has recently dropped out of college. Turns out this town has a secret involving a being in black creeping into the homes and psyches of families living on the edge of the surrounding forest. The story delves deep in the Chambers’ family troubles before coming to the town as well as a lot of angst going on with others in the town who have lost family members to this shadow creature.
I’m conflicted with BE AFRAID as a large portion of this film is very good. The acting, despite being cast with genre actors who have been in a lot of stinkers, is particularly good. Brian Krause does a damn fine job in the lead as does Jaimi Page. It’s also good to see character actor Louis Herthum in a meaty role as the sheriff and gravelly voiced Kevin Grevioux in a soulful and against type role as a father who has lost his daughter to the shadow men. A lot of time is spent on the family stuff, which would usually bore me to tears, but because the acting was on such a high caliber, I didn’t mind. This is also a good looking film, specifically the establishing scenes that soak in the lush fall colors of the New England countryside and the expansive shots of the cave which seems to be the hub of all of the supernatural weirdness spins from.
Still, because they do such an in depth job of setting up the many difficulties facing the family, both emotional and paranormal, the last act feels rushed and overstuffed with elements of other films. The latter portion forgets a lot of the suspenseful and emotional stuff that occurs in the first hour and devolves into a monster movie slash POLTERGEIST slash ELM STREET rip-off. Not only does the creature look a lot like Freddy with long claws and even a fedora, but there is even a bathroom scene where someone falls asleep in the tub and other conscious and waking nightmare goings on. I understand that Wes Craven pulled the iconic image of Freddy from this shadow person phenomenon, so this has come full circle. But in this post-Freddy world, it is just a bit too close to not cause an eye roll or two. Add in a missing kid and a family’s desperate attempt to nab that kid from the other side after being abducted by the shadow men and you’re a Tangina away from POLTERGEIST.
It’s too bad BE AFRAID tried to backload this film into a monster movie as it is a really strong drama with supernatural elements that tries to be an over the top spectacle horror film too late in the runtime. Had the film gone a little more subtle and not turned the shadow men into just your typical monster fest finale, I would have recommended it wholeheartedly. As is, it’s a well acted, slightly interesting delving into sleep paralysis/night terrors, that flies off track by the end.
New in select theaters from Vertical Entertainment!
BERLIN SYNDROME (2017)Directed by Cate Shortland
Written by Shaun Grant (screenplay), Melanie Joosten (novel), Cate Shortland (additional material)
Starring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron, Lucie Aron, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading, Thuso Lekwape, Nassim Avat, Viktor Baschmakov, Matthias Russel, Lara Marie Müller, Christoph Franken, Elmira Bahrami, Nadine Peschel, Mascha Wolf
Find out more about this film here, @BerlinSyndromeFilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While BERLIN SYNDROME sets up a harrowing situation and is able to orchestrate some searing moments of tension, a lengthy runtime, an off-kilter resolution, and a lack of character makes the film worth watching, but deeply flawed.
WARM BODIES’ Teresa Palmer plays Claire, an Australian tourist on her own traveling through Europe with her backpack, a camera, and a head full dreams. On her last night in Berlin, she runs into Andi (SENSE8’s Max Riemelt) and is charmed by his accent, his interest in the arts, and his awkward flirtations. The two part ways at the end of the night, leaving Claire dreaming of what could have been. Choosing to stay one more day in Berlin, Claire spends the day wandering, hoping to run into Andi again and sure enough she “coincidentally” does. After a night of wining, dining, and some schnitzel play, Claire ends up asleep and content in Andi’s arms. But when she wakes the next day, Andi is gone and the apartment is locked from the outside, leaving Claire barricaded inside. When he returns, Andi tries to act as if locking her in was an accident, but when he does it on the second day, Claire realizes that Andi doesn’t intend to let her leave…ever.
Turning every young gal’s dream to travel Europe and meet a suave Jean Luc waiter to have Earl Grey tea with into the ultimate ‘girl on her own’ nightmare is a decent enough scenario to build a horror film around. And BERLIN SYNDROME has a lot of fun making Claire regret taking the trip at all. The film is trying very hard to be a cautionary tale, warning young, impressionable girls that traveling alone is not a very good idea. Like the much better film LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, which ends with a harrowing scene of a party woman (Diane Keaton) taking the wrong man home with her from a bar, Claire makes some pretty foolish decisions to follow Andi home after just meeting him. There is even a moment in the film where Andi calls her out on these foolish actions. This isn’t giving Andi a pass for the horrible things he ends up doing in this film, but it does not paint Claire as a very intelligent, reasonable, or likable person. This is why the ending bothered me. I won’t give specifics, but I feel this would have been a more powerful cautionary tale had things worked out less rosy for Claire in the end. A film where the heroine makes stupid moves and then gets out of the predicament just doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it would if she ultimately pays the price for those boneheaded moves. If there’s a lesson to be learned in BERLIN SYNDROME, it would be that it’s ok to go traipsing around in strange places alone and go home and have sex with strange people, because while there might be a hardship or two, everything will be ok in the end. The film refuses to put any of the blame on Claire, but none of this would have happened had she a lick of common sense.
As one can probably tell by this review so far, this film frustrated me. Not only does Claire make head-slappingly bad decisions over and over again, but we get practically no back-story of her at all explaining these actions. Maybe this cements her role as the everywoman, but Claire is a complete cipher when she first appears. Why is she so desperate in the first place? When we first see her, Claire is pale, frail, her hair matted, and her eyes are sunken in and circled with shadow. It already looks like she has just escaped from a year-long prison. Why does she look this way? What is she running away from or looking for on this trip? It’s never explained. Claire has no past, no motivation, no real presence in this film other than being wooed and then kidnapped by Andi. Even when Andi shows his hand and Claire realizes she is in trouble, she waits a day to even try to call her mom. Why? Is the relationship with her mom estranged? No clue. And after Claire is captured, why does she not fight tooth and nail every moment to get out? Instead, after a few attempts, she simply accepts her role as captive. This may be the reason why the film is called THE BERLIN SYNDROME, echoing the Stockholm Syndrome in which a hostage begins to sympathize with their captors, but because we don’t know Claire’s motivations throughout the film, it’s hard to really understand anything but magical thinking that being captured and held for a period of time makes this syndrome occur. One would think a little more meat would have been provided and some context would have been given to show what kind of person would be most likely to fall for that. Claire simply has no history before she appears at the beginning of this film. This is almost a two hour film and honestly, though a lot the time is spent with Claire, you only see her scrambling together one scheme after another to get out and not much by way of insight into why her character makes these dumb moves and why she accepts defeat so quickly. Then again not much back-story is given to Andi either. We find out his mom left him, his dad was somewhat strict on him, and he has a penchant for weird breathing chairs (an oddity that should be seen as it is one of the creepier aspects of the film). Still, why has Andi gone to such extreme measures to get himself a girl? When did this weird kidnapping hobby start? I guess the breathing chair and a few obscured pictures give a tweence more motivation for Andi than we get for Claire, but the immediate and present story seems more pertinent to these filmmakers.
Another reason for my frustration is that this film has some really well plotted out moments of tension. From the realization of Claire that she is trapped to the numerous times she is attempting to get out, these were well realized moments of edge of your seat-ness. Filmmaker Cate Shortland really has a deft handling of suspense and makes the two hour movie seem like half as long. If only as much attention would have gone to building characters and a resolution that feels less like a fairy tale and more aligned with the powerful cautionary tale this film could have been, this review would have been much more positive. Both Palmer and Riemelt both do a good job in the lead roles here and are able to convey some complex emotions between captor and captee. I especially like the way the two characters grow closer and apart from each other numerous times in the story. The main problem with BERLIN SYNDROME is with the writing and the utter lack of history beyond what occurs on screen, a mistake that sort of ruined a fine film for me.
New this week on iTunes!
SEOUL STATION (2016)Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Written by Sang-ho Yeon
Starring Seung-ryong Ryu, Franciska Friede, Joon Lee, Sang-hee Lee, Eun-kyung Shim
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While technically, I believe it came out first in Korea before its sequel TRAIN TO BUSAN, SEOUL STATION is finally being released here in Amerrrrrica and the film serves as a perfect counter-punch to its sequel. Seen combined and keeping with boxing terminology, it’s a bonafide one-two knockout punch for completely different reasons.
Those who have seen TRAIN TO BUSAN or any other zombie movie will be familiar with the setup to this one. At the beginning of SEOUL STATION, a homeless man with a bite wound wanders the streets of Seoul, Korea in search of help, but no one will give it to him. Of course, it turns out he is infected with a virus that kills people and then brings them back to life as a leaping, sputtering, bone-cracking, teeth-gnashing zombie that attacks and kills anything living in its path with little regard for things like gravity or the density of its own flesh and bone against glass, concrete, and steel. Meanwhile, across the city, a young man is forcing his girlfriend Hye-Sun into prostitution due to their financial hardship. When Hye-Sun’s father is informed that his daughter is on an internet escort site, he makes his way to the city and sets up a date with the boyfriend in order to find Hye-Sun. Sounds like a good plan if not for the fact that the zombie apocalypse has just begin and the streets are teeming with the undead that are infecting the living at an alarmingly fast rate. Connected only by Hye-Sun’s telephone, the two parties make their way above, through, and under zombie hordes to get to one another.
While TRAIN TO BUSAN is a blockbuster-esque rollercoaster ride of an awesome film, SEOUL STATION tells a much smaller, and surprisingly more nuanced story set in the same apocalypse. Both films deal with the usual zombie film stuff we’ve seen a million times in these films, but I was as shocked as I was with TRAIN TO BUSAN at how these tropes felt fresh and vividly new in the hands of the filmmaker of both films Sang-ho Yeon. While TRAIN TO BUSAN centered on the almost saccharine sweet relationship lesson between father and daughter, SEOUL STATION focuses much more on broader and weightier themes of class structure such as how the homeless are seen in society and how certain groups are sectioned off from safety when the shit hits the fan. Because of some coincidences and rushed assumptions, the police think that the problem is that the homeless are going crazy and having some kind of uprising. We know that is not what is happening, but the government breaks out the hoses, batons, and eventually firing squads in order to try to contain and quell the situation. There is even a scene when a well to do man who dedicated his life to working for the government finds himself trapped in with the unwashed masses and demands to be let through the barricade. He is confronted by a homeless man that also served in the military. It’s a conflict like this that elevates SEOUL STATION to something way more meaningful than a simple zombie cartoon.
And while SEOUL STATION again is about a father and daughter relationship, this one plays out in a much more sinister and pitch black fashion by the end. I don’t want to spoil this one. You have to see it yourself. But I found the ending to SEOUL STATION just as moving as the relationship between father and daughter in TRAIN TO BUSAN—just for completely different reasons. The variety in which this same theme is handled in both films shows how deft a storyteller Sang-ho Yeon really is. Just when you think the filmmaker is going to repeat himself with themes through both movies, the rug is pulled out right from under you. I was blown away by the way this one resolves itself.
Those writing off SEOUL STATION as “just an anime movie” or worse yet “just a foreign language cartoon” are missing out on a truly scary, highly energized, emotionally acrobatic horror film of the highest caliber that very much compliments and adds to the awesomeness of TRAIN TO BUSAN. If you loved TRAIN TO BUSAN, you’re going to love this one. This is no cartoony and spastic anime, this is a high tension nosedive into terror that just happens to be animated. See SEOUL STATION. It will energize your love for zombies all over again.
Coming soon: Premiering this weekend at the Dances With Films Festival!
CENTRAL PARK (2017)Directed by Justin Reinsilber
Written by Justin Reinsilber
Starring Grace Van Patten, Marina Squerciati, Ruby Modine, Sarah Mezzanotte, Michael Lombardi, David Valcin, Nicole Balsam, Jordyn DiNatale, Charles Borland, Aaron Roman Weiner, Claudia Peters, Justiin A. Davis, Guillermo Arribas, Deema Aitken, Shumerria Harris, Malika Samuel, Renauld White, & Justin Reinsilber as the Man!
Find out more about this film @CPtheMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Since CENTRAL PARK takes place in the heart of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, it’s not entirely accurate for this film to be called a “cabin in the woods” style horror film, but it does tick off all of the boxes to be one. The self-aware style horror of the past thirty years since SCREAM seems to have finally given way to straight up horror. Which is totally fine by me, as CENTRAL PARK takes its horror seriously while playing a tune of modern day crime in the background.
A group of private school kids decide to head into the heart of Central Park for the sex, the drugs, and the partying. One of the kids’ fathers has just been convinced of fraud and has skipped town with a shit ton of money, which weighs heavy on him, yet he takes off with the rest of the group to try to forget it. Meanwhile, a man is lurking in the shadows, and once night falls, the kids start getting offed one by one.
There is something pretty typical about most of CENTRAL PARK. For all intents and purposes, the film shows all of the clichés from the partying kids who each go off one by one and abnormally long distance from the camp to take a piss or make out, only to be killed. The deaths are rather quick and brutal, less of a showcase of the gore as we’ve seen in slashers from the eighties and nineties, and more shocking because they occur so fast and are so intense. The look of the killer himself, who tapes his head up with duct tape before heading out on his spree is definitely effectively creepy as well. All of these things are positives that make CENTRAL PARK indicative of your typical slasher film.
If there is a problem with the film it’s the meandering first half hour. The film plays around with the viewer’s expectations spending time with one kid and then another, so you don’t know who really is the central focus of the story—aka the final victim. In doing so, I liked that they were trying to throw the viewer off, but it does feel like time wasted when a lot of development is spent on one kid, only to have that kid die shortly after. The ending is almost TOO subtle in what is going on and I think a lot of viewers are going to miss what happens if they aren’t paying attention. I won’t ruin it, but I think the filmmakers should have tossed out a tiny bit more info as to what is going on so that more people could understand. I’m not asking the film to dumb down it’s ending, but I feel that the subtlety of what transpires in the last few minutes muddies things up rather than clears it.
That said, CENTRAL PARK is a solid and straightforward entry in the slasher genre with shades of films like THE PARK IS MINE and believe it or not, FIRST BLOOD, with the homeless vet trying to live a peaceful life in the woods if not for those meddling kids and cops.
Coming soon: Premiering this weekend at the Dances With Films Festival!
INHERITANCE (2017)Directed by Tyler Savage
Written by Tyler Savage
Starring Chase Joliet, Sara Montez, Dale Dickey, Drew Powell, Jim Ortlieb, Krisha Fairchild, Tim Abell, Ashley Spillers, Kate Norby, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Murphy Dunne, Sebastian Sozzi, Lauri Johnson, Alex Dobrenko, Jake Carpenter, Julie Ivey, Paul Henri, Shawn H. Smith, Vincent Van Horn, Kevin Kolmogorov, Olympia Garcia, Cassandra Wilson
Find out more about this film @INH.film and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
More of a psychological dramatic thriller than an out and out horror attempt, INHERITANCE is a dour and dread filled tale of personal struggle that may not be the feel good film of the year, but it still is confidently made and acted.
Ryan (Chase Joliet) has just found out that his estranged father has passed away and he has been left the house his father owned. With his newly pregnant girlfriend Isi (the charming Sara Montez), Ryan moves in and almost immediately overcome with depression and an undeniable “off” feeling about the house the longer he stays in it. An ominous note from his father telling him to sell the house immediately and some run ins with some eccentric locals (GOTHAM’s Drew Powell and Krisna Fairchild) begin to clue Ryan in on the type of man his father used to be and the more he finds out, the more it endangers himself and his family.
INHERITANCE is a highly soulful little movie. It doesn’t have big time effects or any explosions, but it does a deft job at showing how one’s personal demons and history can chip away at one’s psychosis. Joliet does a fantastic job of capturing seething and brooding tension much like Jack Torrence’s descent into madness in THE SHINING. There are hints that something has been off with his character Ryan since childhood as hinted at by conversations seen with his sister, but the acquisition of this house seems to have been the thing that pushes him over the edge. Joliet doesn’t go over the top and this film does a great job of capturing his ever-building, quiet, yet deafening silent rage. This entire movie balances on the shoulders of Joliet and he does a great job of supporting and communicating these complex emotions that could make you hate the lead if he weren’t so sympathetic and likable.
His co star Sara Montez who plays girlfriend Isi is another bright shining star on the rise. Here she offers up the tough role of seeing the one she loves fall apart and not knowing what to do about it. Background players like Drew Powell, who plays Butch on GOTHAM, is fun as the cousin Ryan never knew he had and Krishna Fairchild is soulful as the neighbor who knows some key things about Ryan’s father. All of these actors deliver powerful performances which make up for the lower budget.
With long shots of shadowy beaches, stormy skies, and a darkness drenched house, INHERITANCE conveys a somber story. Reminiscent of the silent but powerful fury captured in BLUE RUIN, the film tightens like a guitar string through most of the film and when that string is tightened too much, the break is rather impactful. The finale of INHERITANCE is brutal and filled with dark suspense. This film deals with dark secrets hidden away and unearthed in a deft, mature, and confident hand by filmmaker Tyler Savage. INHERITANCE is a film for the patient and those who like drama with heavy doses of dread.
And finally…Arch Obler delivers another chilling tale, this one with a hint of sci fi, from the old time radio play series Light’s Out, here comes “The Meteor Man!” It…is…later…than…you think!
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 CultPop and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!
Interested in advertising with AICN HORROR? Click this link and talk with me about how to help keep this column running strong!