Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Here we go with another batch of the good, the bad, and the ugly in horror.
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: BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979)
Retro-review: GHOST TOWN (1988)
Retro-review: WARLOCK (1989)
ALIEN: REIGN OF MAN (2017)
GHOST NOTE (2017)
DAY OF RECKONING (2016)
RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA (2017)
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN (2017)
And finally…Sonny Fernandez’s LAKE VILLA VAMPS!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Severin Films!
BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979)aka BLUE HOLOCAUST, HOUSE 6: THE TERROR CONTINUES, BUIO OMEGA, ZOMBIE 10, BURIED ALIVE
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Written by Ottavio Fabbri (screenplay), Giacomo Guerrini (story)
Starring Kieran Canter, Cinzia Monreale, Franca Stoppi, Sam Modesto, Anna Cardini, Lucia D'Elia, Mario Pezzin, Walter Tribus, Klaus Rainer, Edmondo Vallini, Simonetta Allodi
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There’s a lot of twisted stuff out there, but director Joe D’Amato always pushes the envelope whenever he gets behind the camera. I’ve always admired the director since I saw ANTHROPOPAGUS, a film that is difficult to forget once seen mostly due to its iconic imagery of a man overcome with madness and eating a newborn baby and eventually his own intestines ripped from his own body. Those grossed out by that sentence should steer clear of the madness that is BEYOND THE DARKNESS, as this taboo donkey-punching film is one that’ll sear itself into your brainpan.
Kieran Canter plays Frank, a clingy momma’s boy who doesn’t know what to do with himself when his wife Anna (Cinzia Monreale) passes away. So he and his live in nanny Iris (Franca Stoppi), who has always carried a torch for Frank and tends to breast feed and jerk him off during times of stress, decide to steal his dead wife’s body from her grave, stuff her like a prize game hen, and maintain the illusion that she is still alive in Frank’s guest room. While Frank seems overcome with both grief and a compulsion to eat human flesh, Iris seems determined to cover up his transgressions in hope of winning his heart and marrying him. But a nosy mortician, a pushy hitchhiker, a flirty jogger, a slutty club goer, and Anna’s twin sister just won’t leave Frank alone with his corpse bride. Eventually, Frank’s overwhelming love for a corpse and his compulsion to bite chunks out of people catch up to him in an emotional and twisted finale.
There’s a lot to be offended by in this film for those stuffy enough to be offended. Necrophilia, cannibalism, incest, murder, rape, bodily dismemberment, gratuitous autopsy scenes—this one has it all. While I’ve seen a lot in my exploits with AICN HORROR, this one pushes even my hard limits. Still, there’s an amazing balls to the wall, toss a bunch of shit against the wall and see what sticks mentality to BEYOND THE DARKNESS that few films dare to have and I admire the distance “out there” this one travels in terms of taboo subject matter.
What adds to the utter ookiness of this film is the conviction with which the cast performs these heinous acts and the convincability of the effects. Canter has a man-boy-ish quality that is absolutely creepy in whatever he does, be it changing a tire and forgetting to put on the bolts, sucking on his nanny’s teat, or making out with his dead wife. There’s a young Emilio Estevez-ness to him that makes everything he does both fascinating and disturbing. Adding to that is the stern, hot teacher vibe given off by housekeeper Iris (Stoppi) that adds to the uncomfortableness of it all as she presents as a straight laced person, but behind closed doors is as comfortable jerking Frank off as she is hacking one of his victims to bits with a meat cleaver. Props go to Cinzia Monreale for being able to maintain utter lifelessness as Frank makes out with her as a corpse. As I said, this is twisted and depraved stuff.
The effects of this film will have you wondering how many real life corpses were used in the aiming of this film and whether D’Amato should receive praise with such realistic effects or a life sentence for really killing people. Simply tricks of the camera and pig intestines are used give a feeling of authenticity to every morbid scene. I absolutely loved the depravity and disgust on display in BEYOND THE DARKNESS. Most other films pale in comparison in terms of sheer ballsiness and guts to go places most fear to tread. While reminiscent of PSCHO in terms of matriarchal/Oedipal issues mixed with taxidermy and human corpses, BEYOND THE DARKNESS burrows down any depraved rabbit hole most would never dream of descending into. See this forgotten classic, my creepy readers. It’s simply amazing stuff.
Retro-review: New in the Empire Pictures BluRay Box Set Collection from Full Moon Entertainment!
GHOST TOWN (1988)Directed by Richard Governor, Mac Ahlberg
Written by Duke Sandefur, David Schmoeller
Starring Franc Luz, Catherine Hickland, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Penelope Windust, Bruce Glover, Zitto Kazann, Blake Conway, Laura Schaefer, Michael Alldredge, Ken Kolb, Will Hannah, Henry Max Kendrick, James Oscar Lee, Charles Robert Harden, Edward Gabel, Jackson Fisher
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.
This little ditty from Empire feels a lot more like a lost episode of TWILIGHT ZONE than an actual full length feature. Still there’s a lot to like about the 80s cowboy ghost tale GHOST TOWN.
While searching for a kidnapped woman in an abandoned desert town, Deputy Langley (Franc Luz) finds that the town is not as empty as it seems. It appears this ghost town is actually haunted by ghosts of outlaws from the Old West. Armed with a revolver from a fallen gunman that actually harms ghosts, Langley must rescue the girl and get back to his own time.
Old West ghosts meets a man out of time is the age old plot here. Some of my favorite episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE focused on someone stumbling through a rift in time and space and ending up in the Old West. There’s something about the simplicity of those Old West days that seems to be great fodder to fall back into, and it makes for a fun story here as CRAWLSPACE writer David Schmoeller and co-writer Duke Sandefur toss out some fun little moments where Old West scoundrels meet modern justice. Luz is a strong enough lead, though he isn’t given much of an arc here. In fact, no one really gets one as the story sort of just follows Luz’s Langley as he stumbles over corpses and stumbles into clues behind the missing girl. It feels like for budgetary reasons, the film really didn’t have enough pesos in order to bring the entire town to life, so while the dead rise, it still seems to be in the ghost town and not in the past where everyone is still thinking they are living. This makes the ghosts sort of the repeater variety, stuck in their own time while their surroundings age and wither. It makes for an interesting way to distinguish the film from the TZ episodes, as the cowboys look more like zombies than anything else (thought they do walk and talk quite eloquently).
But while the story really doesn’t do too many cartwheels, the film itself looks great. The ghost effects are nicely done, as each cowboy still has the scars that befell them long ago. The cobwebby and dust-crusted town looks amazing as well, and really does add to the ambience of the whole film. And finally, without a decent director catching it all, the set wouldn’t matter squat. Luckily, director Richard Governor and the uncredited director Mac Ahlberg make everything look creepy, especially the opening scenes as Langley walks through the tumbleweed-filled streets and ramshackle buildings. There’s a specific scene in which Langley is walking through town and he sees the corpse of a woman hanging from a tree that disappears in the dust that is both eloquent and bone-chilling. Scenes like this elevate the film from a schlocker to a pretty effective little scare-fest with some great set design.
In the end, with the use of the magic gun, things get a little too comic booky, but that added to the TWILIGHT ZONE charm to this film for me. There has been many a horror western since GHOST TOWN, but this one has a ghost town that actually sends chills. Lacking in a solid story or amazing actors doling out lines, GHOST TOWN takes advantage of a great setting and some fantastically fun themes despite its shortcomings.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from the Vestron Video Collector Series!
WARLOCK (1989)Directed by Steve Miner
Written by David Twohy
Starring Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant, Mary Woronov, Kevin O'Brien, Richard Kuss, Allan Miller, Anna Levine, David Carpenter, Kay E. Kuter, Ian Abercrombie, Kenneth Danziger, Art Smith, Robert Breeze, Frank Renzulli, Brandon Call, Nancy Fox, Harry Johnson, Juli Burkhart, Rob Paulsen, Peter Sherayko, Gyl Roland, Meta King, Bill Dunnam, Wendy Feiner
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I never really got into the WARLOCK phenomenon when the films first came out. While I recognized that there were talented people involved with the series, it just didn’t appeal to me. So I’m coming into this new WARLOCK Collection from Vestron Video with fresh eyes.
The original WARLOCK focuses on an eon spanning battle between a Warlock (played by Julian Sands) and a Witchhunter named Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant). After being sentenced to death, Warlock escapes magically, but not without Giles in tow. The two end up in the present day where Giles enlists the help of a local waitress named Kassandra (Lori Singer) to banish the Warlock for good. Lots of magic stuff happens.
Watching WARLOCK, one can see the moving parts writer David Twohy put together to make the film. Basically, WARLOCK is James Cameron’s TERMINATOR, but instead of the arch-nemeses being from the future, they come from the past. Once you realize this, the film kind of feels much more of a ripoff that I originally thought—with Giles being seen as a threat, Warlock rampaging through LA, and Kassandra bonding with Giles and finally defeating the Warlock. It’s pretty much beat for beat the same film. And while Warlock doesn’t rampage through a police station and repair his eye, you could pretty much give Arnie a blonde mullet and the film would play the same. Sure there are similarities to HIGHLANDER as well, but the TERMINATOR ties run deep in this one.
That said, with FRIDAY THE 13TH and LAKE PLACID vet Steve Miner directs a tight and thrilling TERMINATOR knock-off. And both Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant both offer up their best in these cheesy roles. Sands is particularly good as the cold and merciless Warlock. He’s not quippy. He’s just a threatening force of evil. And while his thin stature isn’t T-2000-esque, he still makes the threat imposing. And Grant does a great harbinger character as Witchhunter Redferne. It’s his role as he seeks to save Kassandra that his similarities to Kyle Reese ring strong. Still, he delivers his lines with conviction. Lori Singer always had a dirty, wild child aspect to her performances that always appealed to me. Here she does the same. So while things may ring familiar, there is some great talent in this one.
Magic never really sits well with me in fiction. There are seemingly no rules. With a wave of a hand, someone can levitate, create storms, turn people into frogs, leap through time. There are no limits. No boundaries. No rules. It is the antithesis of tension when all someone has to do is twitch a finger and they can do anything. There’s a lot of that going on in WARLOCK. Some spells work. Others for no reason, do not. I was hoping a few more rules would be provided in the script to give some type of meaning or form to this blob called magic. But nothing really happens, culminating in a big battle of wind blowing through mullets, grimacing, and clenched and stiffened arms and fingers. It is all a little goofy, but Miner at least makes it fun and the actors involved give it weight to be watchable.
New this week On Demand and on DVD November 14 from Uncork’d Entertainment!
ALIEN: REIGN OF MAN (2017)Directed by Justin Price
Written by Justin Price
Starring Khu, Torrei Hart, Deanna Grace Congo, Cameron White
Find out more about this film @pikshurezero and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
This ambitious little sci fi flick has bold ideas, big science, and a land filled with monsters. ALIEN: REIGN OF MAN doesn’t need the title that suggests it is a part of Ridley Scott’s Xenomorph franchise. Anyone expecting some kind of spinoff will be disappointed. Still, there’s some impressive stuff going on in this small movie.
A group of settlers look to find a new planet to populate since it seems we’ve gone and screwed up our world royally. Landing on a distant planet, the science officers and soldiers are scattered across the planet running into all kinds of monsters that have evolved on the planet’s malleable surface.
ALIEN: REIGN OF MAN is far from a perfect movie. The story is scattershot, following different pairings of humans investigating the surface of this new world. Because of this, it is kind of difficult to fit the puzzle pieces of the story together. One storyline follows a lone woman battling aliens in caves and an icy landscape. Another pair of investigators debate whether the mission is worth it on a shallow water filled reflection pool. Another group debates whether or not to test a new virus on a human subject. It is only the location that ties these stories together as most of them don’t even interact with one another and feel like scenes from different movies.
The acting is not great here either. It’s not horribly distracting, but even though the scientific gobbity-gook doesn’t have to make sense in the made up world of sci fi, the actors should be confident enough to recite the lines with some sort of conviction and a lot of these actors simply don’t have the chops.
That said, I admire this one for it’s balls and ambition. This seems to be a concept well developed by writer/director Justin Price. The story is kind of all over the map, but the effects are actually pretty cool and there seems to be a lot of imagination behind this world. My advice for this filmmaker is to tighten up the basic storytelling skills and while Price may know this new alien world from top to bottom, some clues for the rest of us as to what the throughway story is might have helped make this film more cohesive. As is, it is a collection of beautifully shot scenes with some decent effects desperately in need of a story retooling.
New this week On Demand from Midnight Releasing!
GHOST NOTE (2017)Directed by Troy Hart
Written by Troy Hart
Starring Alicia Underwood, Justin Duncan, Kenny Gardner, Allyn Carrell, Earl Browning III, Todd Jenkins. Kim Foster, Cassie Shea Watson, Martin Ezelle, Tiana Bratten, Alexis Viels, RaeLynn Bratten, April Hartman, Todd Essary, Justin Armstrong, Erin Marie Garrett, Jessica Willis, Bud Green, Bonner Kissel, Vicente Moctezuma, Stephen Brodie, Florencia Munoz, Pablo De Leon, Juan Salazar
Find out more about this film here, @ghostnotemovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A gory torture scene and some F-bombs try desperately to give this GOOSEBUMPS episode some edge. Sadly, the film simply falls apart by the end after a looooooooong buildup.
In 1971, a bluesman named Eugene (Kenny Gardner) sells his soul to a demon named Asteroth in order to produce the most bluesiest of blues. But an exorcist decides to take action, binds the demon, burns and beats him, and walls him into his work shed. Swoop forward to present day and a bratty teen named Mallory (Alicia Underwood) who is into Wiccan this week is sent to her grandmother’s house while her parents “reconnect” on vacation. Mallory is prompted to hold a séance by her cousins, wakes up Eugene, and evokes a curse on the entire family. Meanwhile, Mallory is reconnecting with Rodney (Justin Duncan ) her emo gearhead childhood boyfriend next door who writes dreamy love songs to Mallory in his spare time. Will Rodney and Mallory rekindle their lost love? Will Eugene escape and kill everyone? These questions and more are asked and re-asked ad nauseum in GHOST NOTE.
I’m all for films being geared towards kids. Every kid has to have some gateway drug into the horror genre. But this film wants it to have it both ways, making sure to douse the plot with gobs of teen angst and then trying to make things edgy by having a child kill her mother and Rodney talking about masturbation. In the end, this is not a film I’d really recommend to the teen ghost loving GOOSEBUMPS crowd because of some of the harsher moments of torture, patricide, suicide, and language. Yet the focus on the sloppy teen drama is going to cause massive eye-rolls to anyone over twenty. A bigger problem here is that the story is just all over the place. Subplots and characters are introduced extremely late in the game, only to be glossed over or forgotten by the end. A good half hour should have been carved off of this hour and forty-five minute turkey and it might have played better. Two minutes here of Mallory and Rodney petting horses or three minutes there of Rodney singing a song he wrote for Mallory (with flashback scenes interspersed in just in case we fell asleep five minutes prior in the film) would be great fodder for the floor of the editing room and it might have matured up the film a bit.
Kenny Gardner makes for a formidably scary antagonist in the demonic Eugene and I do like his Mad Max-esque mask. Underwood and Duncan may have great careers ahead of them, but the problem here is all in the directing who lingers on scenes too long and the editor who didn’t know enough to prune this shrub. In the end, GHOST NOTE is a decent premise, but overwrought with teen angst and not self aware enough to know how long is too long and which audience they want to play to.
New on DVD/BluRay and Redbox from ScyFy and Epic Pictures!
DAY OF RECKONING (2016)Directed by Joel Novoa
Written by Gregory Gieras
Starring Jackson Hurst, Heather McComb, Jay Jay Warren, Hana Hayes, Nick Gomez, Raymond J. Barry, Barbara Crampton, Randy Vasquez, Daz Crawford, Maz Siam, Luis E. Carazo, Ricardo Chacon, Vaughn Wilkinson, Timothy Charles Ryan Snyder
Find out more about this film @DORSyfy, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A drilling expedition drills a hole so deep it releases a swarm of creatures from the bowels of earth. The public believes a hole into hell has been ruptured, but after a large battle that spanned the globe, the creatures were driven back into the earth. But many believe an impending eclipse hearkens the second coming of these demon-like creatures and sure enough as soon as the moon passes by the sun, another army of monsters more powerful than before are unleashed. One family fights to survive the demon holocaust by holing up in a bunker, but not even raw steel seems to be enough to hold back these creatures.
This is one of those ScyFy monster of the week flicks that is so often churned out. And while the same level of cheesy effects are used, the script, while predictable, is at least written proficiently. With a sort of realistic take, the world reacts to these monsters in a pretty hopeful way, banding together to take on the global menace. But sure enough, things go back to normal and we start ripping apart ourselves soon after the battle is over. I like this sort of nihilistic/optimistic see-saw the world in this film is on as it seems pretty accurate. I also like the way they don’t jump straight to calling the monsters demons—with a mother explaining to her kids that some people think they are demons, but others just think they are creatures not discovered before in the earth’s core. So many films never take the time to approach a menace from different angles, but this one, surprisingly does—treating this menace like we would any other (with military action, of course), but also hypothesizing about a higher (and lower) power.
Still, this film moves along quickly, placing the family in the bunker and speedily making it evident that placing humans in a small area is much more threatening than the beasts rampaging outside. IN order to move things along, characters are rushed through the motions to get to the action bits. I also quite liked the designs of the monsters—some of them looking like bat-like dodos, others looking like tumorous bulls, and still others taking a more humanoid form. While not many answers are given by the end of it all, I found DAY OF RECKONING to be better than the usual fare one sees on ScyFy monster-fests.
New this week on DVD and Digital HD from Candy Factory Films!
BENDER (2016)Directed by John Alexander
Written by John Alexander, JC Guest
Starring Bruce Davison, Linda Purl, James Karen, Buck Taylor, Jon Monastero, Nicole Jellen, Reylynn Caster, Leslie Woodies, Grace McKeaney, Chance Caeden, Preston Brown, Cat Olson, Hannah Rikoon
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I found BENDER to be a twisted little frontier horror tale, but oh mah gawd it is soooooooo sllllloooooowwwww!
The story tells the tale of a frontier family that goes by the name of last name of Bender. This odd little family, comprised of elder patriarch (James Karen) and matriarch (Leslie Woodies), a young boy (Chance Caeden) and an unmarried daughter Kate (Nicole Jellen). Told from the perspective of two brothers (both played by Jon Monastero ) who have the unfortunate luck of crossing paths with the murderous Bender family.
Props to the filmmakers for bucking the ADHD addled convention of telling a story at a rapid pace. Too many films are set on strobe for the entire film and have forgotten the power a long, extended shot can carry. Sometimes, the scariest scenes are the patient ones (EXORCIST III: LEGION comes to mind). BENDER is the complete opposite of adrenaline paced stories for the gnat attention spanned audience. It moves at a leisurely and turtle like pace from start to finish. People talk slow. They walk slow. They eat slow. They move slow. And they kill slow too. There are times when it almost feels as if the film is being told in slow motion and I must admit, my urge to fast forward was triggered a time or two.
Still, despite the painfully slow pace of the whole film, I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained. I was fascinated with how this one was going to turn out as it is told in a unique manner, not focusing on the Bender family (who apparently actually existed), but on the two York brothers’ encounters with them. This elevates the threat of the Bender clan as a force of nature that sort of slowly blankets the plain frontier landscape with a deathly pall. John Alexander and JC Guest have crafted a truly unique film in BENDER. It’s not too bloody, though there are some morbid scenes. The acting is decent enough and it’s great to see the elderly James Karen in such a beefy role.
While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I found the pace, story decisions, and overall feel of BENDER to be refreshing in a nostalgic sense. Capturing the alluring beauty of the wild west but always seeding it with danger, BENDER is something you don’t see in horror too much these days and I recommend it just because of that fact.
New this week On Demand from Midnight Releasing/Brain Damage Films!
WTF! (2017)Directed by Peter Herro
Written by Adam Buchalter, Peter Herro, Christopher Lawrence Centanni
Starring Callie Ott, Nicholas James Reilly, Andrea Hunt, Benjamin Norris, Sarah Agor¸ Adam Foster, Johnny James Fiore, Perez Hilton, Shawn C. Phillips, Chloe Berman, Cheyann Dillon, Adam Blake, Anna Sambrooks, Colby Lemmo, Nick Stellate, Ana Dela Cruz, Angela Ware, Coby Connell, Miguel-Andres Garcia, & Nicolle Blair as the WTF Girl!
Find out more about this film here, @WTFTheFilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Earlier in the year, a movie called LAST GIRL STANDING was released and covered the same situation WTF! did, namely, what if the final girl in a horror film managed to get herself in the same situation with a second slasher after surviving the first one. If it could happen to John McClane, it could happen to someone else, right? And while I found LAST GIRL STANDING to be more impactful, WTF! does a great job playing with the same scenario.
Rachel (Callie Ott) survived a night with a serial killer at the cost of all of her friends. So she picked up, moved to a different town, and got a whole new group of friends. But when one of her friends suggest that their group go to a cabin in the woods, Rachel is of course wary that lightning could strike twice. Sure enough, as soon as the night falls, the bodies start falling as well. Oh yeah, all of Rachel’s friends are assholes.
What makes WTF! fun is the script. Sure the film is following a format well established in many films, but because pretty much everyone around Rachel are complete, selfish assholes, it’s fun seeing them go through the same motions we’ve all seen before. There was always a cathartic sort of reaction when we start seeing the bodies fall, but in this case, you really want to kill these jerkoffs calling themselves Rachel’s friends and when they start dying, it feels damn good.
WTF! has a rather hilarious script of asshole characters saying and doing asshole things. The film had me laughing quite a bit, simply because of the idiot antics of the group who just want to screw, get high, and get drunk and would do so in their own assholish way if not for that meddling serial killer. Not as annoyingly self-aware as SCREAM, WTF! is a lot of fun and while I could see the end coming, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Fans of the slasher genre will definitely be interested in checking out this twisted take.
New on BluRay/DVD from Sony Pictures!
RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA (2017)Directed by Takanori Tsujimoto, Alexander Von David
Written by Makoto Fukami (screenplay), Joe McClean (adaptation), Alexander Von David (script)
Starring Kevin Dorman, Matthew Mercer, Erin Cahill, John DeMita, Fred Tatasciore, Cristina Valenzuela, Arif S. Kinchen, Arnie Pantoja, Kari Wahlgren, Alexander Polinsky, Jason Faunt, Karen Strassman, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
Find out more about this film here and @bio_vendetta
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I can’t say I’m a big RESIDENT EVIL fan. I’ve seen a couple of the films and I guess the excessive CG addled films have a place when it comes to brainless horror films laced with action, but I don’t know if I’ve seen all of them, mainly because my investment was so little that I couldn’t find myself into it enough to care. I also am not a gamer, so seeing the film adapted on screen doesn’t have the same thrill I get seeing the four color heroes of comic books become 3 dimensional. I’m not knocking the fans of the films. I’m just saying that RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA really isn’t a movie for me.
That said, I can appreciate a good story and as long as the film doesn’t require too much homework to enjoy, which it didn’t, I’m willing to check it out. And that I did. The film is not impenetrable. I’m sure those of you who have seen the films and played the game might get more out of it, but I got the gist of it.
I’m not sure where on the RESIDENT EVIL timeline this film falls into and I don’t really care. The film focuses on two soldiers; one a straight laced company man Chris Redfield (voiced by Kevin Dorman) and the other a rebel risk taker named Leon S. Kennedy (Matthew Mercer). With them is scientist Rebecca Chambers (Erin Cahill) who has a vaccine for a deadly virus that turns everyone into zombies. The cause of the plague is a mad scientist with a vendetta (hence the name of the film) who has a death wish since his wife was shot down on their wedding day. In between all of this, there are some creepy military vs. zombie scenes, monster dogs, and a giant tumored hulk scenes to marvel at with the future of humanity at stake.
Done in an animation style that creeped the world out in THE POLAR EXPRESS where the uncanny valley between animation and human figures was just a bit too wide for the viewer’s comfort, this style actually works pretty well when is comes to the world of horror as creepy is an effect that is embraced in the genre. So that half-dead look on everyone’s face is actually kind of fun and adds to the decently directed scenes of military guys sneaking around a dark home infested with monsters. Taking pages from the first person shooter game, we are often put into the sights of the soldier’s rifles to see the monsters that leap out from them in the dark. I can imagine that this is a desired effect that will appeal to first person shooter games through taking the controller out of their hands is going to be a step back from interaction that I believe gamers will find distasteful with the film.
The story is engaging enough. The characters were as thought out as one might expect in a typical live action movie. And there are actually quite a few scenes of emotion, scares, and action that made the entire film pretty thrilling. While some of the bullet time shots were a bit tedious (seeing the bullet leave the gun was thrilling fifteen years ago, but now it just feels cliché), RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA feels at least on par with what I’ve seen from the films. I know it’s not a ringing endorsement, but from the outsider’s perspective, though it doesn’t really prompt me to see more RESIDENT EVIL properties or play the games, it was a pretty fun waste of an hour and a half.
Newly available exclusively on Shudder!
KUSO (2017)Directed by Flying Lotus
Written by Flying Lotus & David Firth
Starring Hannibal Buress, George Clinton, David Firth, Tim Heidecker, Arden Banks, Byron Bowers, Shane Carpenter, Regan Farquhar, Pretty Ricki Fontaine, Zack Fox, Bob Heslip, Anders Holm, Sandra R. Kisling, Mali Matsuda, Michael Pratt, Michael Pratt, Paul Pratt, Paul Preston, Iesha Rochelle, Jen Saunderson, Bethany Schmitt, Lexington Steele, Diana Terranova, Manuel Vazquez, Oumi Zumi
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
So yeah. Uhmm…KUSO is a movie. It’s got some recognizable actors in it like Eric Heidecker from Adult Swim’s TIM & ERIC, funkmeister George Clinton, and comedian Hannibal Buress. It’s also probably the most disgusting film you’re bound to see in this and pretty much any year.
The stage is set for KUSO when a massive earthquake hits Los Angeles. Flipping through four separate stories like a hyperactive kid with a remote control, the story is populated by some of the most creepy and disgusting people you’re going to see. “Sock” follows an Asian woman who eats cockroaches and seems to find herself falling into a bottomless pit, tormented by roaches, grafted together by the legs to an African American woman, and showing up as the star in her own sitcom filmed in front of a live audience. “Smear” follows a mutated child with bowel problems who ends up being force fed rotten beef, ridiculed at school, and feeding his feces to some kind of alien pods in the forest. “Mr. Quiggle” is about a man who comes to an abortion clinic to get over his fear of breasts by taking part in an unorthodox treatment from Dr. Clinton (George Clinton) involving a busty nurse, a funk-machine, some acapella rapping, another cockroach, and Clinton’s butthole. Meanwhile, another client at the abortion clinic actually wants an abortion after a black out drunk sex night with her clingy ex-boyfriend (Tim Heidecker) but has second thoughts and relies on some insensitive and intrusive advice from her two roommates—a pair of fuzzy TV faced monsters (one of them voiced by Hannibal Burress). As if that’s not enough, a couple deals with their own quirky sexual hang-ups resulting in a startling discovery of a sentient mole that proves at first sets a wedge between the man and women, but soon becomes the one thing keeping them together in “Royal.” In between, there are bits of crude animation and odd collages of photos.
KUSO is one of those films that will drive you crazy trying to find some kind of hidden meaning behind all of the bodily fluids, heinous acts, and simple dag nasty shit. I’m sure there is some kind of hefty theme happening here. I think it has something to do with the disgusting side of Los Angeles riddled with disease, apathy, sex, violence, vanity, and selfish behavior. There might even be some race issues going on here as the beat poetry opening and closing the film suggests and the fact that the bulk of the cast are African American. It could possibly be that this is a film that simply laughs at folks who are straining their brains trying to figure out and give meaning to what really is just a bunch of random, raunchy scenes threaded together with turds, spit, and other rankness.
Whatever the point, it is overshadowed by the over the top grossness of everything on screen. Every person has boils, sores, and pimples all over their faces. Every scene seems intent of seeing which segment can smear more feces and vomit the most. Ever asked yourself if a mole can give a good blow job? Or what George Clinton’s asshole looks like? Or if a cockroach can play a trumpet? No? Then you’re a normal person. The people behind this one certainly aren’t. I don’t want to shame or put these folks down, but they simply don’t think in the same way as you and I do.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some shining moments under all of that puss and puke. Some of the imagery using computer art effects is actually quite beautiful. There is definitely a frantic energy to this film that few films have. In many ways, this is next level TIM & ERIC shit that is even too graphic to be on Adult Swim (and they pressed the envelope quite often on that show). I appreciate that this film exists. It’s absolutely ape shit, stomach-churningly nuts. It’s also so overly focused on bodily fluids—mainly shit and farts, that it’s hard to sift through it to find the point of it all. If you’re looking for the opposite of eye candy, KUSO’s got it. I can’t recommend it, but shelve it next to oddity horror films like THE TAINT, THE GREASY STRANGLER, and other gross out horror films that test the gag reflex and it’ll be right at home.
New on BluRay/DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment!
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN (2017)Directed by Justin Barber
Written by Justin Barber & T.S. Nowlin
Starring Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews, Clint Jordan, Cyd Strittmatter, Jeanine Jackson, Matt Biedel, Ana Dela Cruz, Mackenzie Firgens, Jay Pirouznia, Tony Duncan, Richard Cansino, David Carrera, Serendipity Lilliana, Roberto Medina
Find out more about this film here, @PhoenixForgotten , and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Rarely do found footage horror films get theatrical releases these days. Most come from the bottom of the Redbox choice list or head straight to DVD or On Demand. PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is the third Phoenix Lights found footage film to be released in the last year and I’ve reviewed THE PHOENIX TAPES ’97 here and THE PHOENIX INCIDENT here. So let’s see how this high fallutin’ big budget PHOENIX FORGOTTEN measures up to my Found Footage Questionnaire, shall we?
What’s it all about?
Twenty years ago, an event dubbed “The Phoenix Lights” occurred where hundreds of people witnessed some kind of massive display of lights in the sky over Phoenix, Arizona. After filming this event, three teens ventured out into the Arizona desert to see what they could find. Twenty years later, one of the kids’ sisters is making a documentary about her brother’s disappearance and uncovers a tape that holds some of the answers of what happened that night in the desert.
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
For the most part, this film is well acted. Of the three youngsters who disappeared, Chelsea Lopez, the young actress playing Ashley is the best. She is full of energy and spunk and it’s no wonder both of the other boys on this trip are smitten with her. Most likely, she will be in bigger and better films in her future. The rest of the cast not only do a good job of acting like they aren’t acting, but also look like normal people and not runway models, which helps add to the believability of the film.
Does the footage found seem authentic and untouched by additional production (no omniscient editor making multiple edits between cameras or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
Because PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is filmed in a documentary style format, the use of music is not as distracting as the actual found footage feels less tampered with. There are a whole lot of edits and the film moves at a pretty rapid pace. Once we get to the found footage stuff—a whopping 50 minutes into the film, you get a whole lot of walking around, shaky cams, and shit happening just outside of frame. Those complaining of motion sickness in these films are going to need some meds for this one.
Why don’t they just drop the camera and get the hell out of there?
The other lead named Josh, played by Luke Spencer Roberts is a film geek, borrowing the camera from the AD department, so it’s sort of understandable when the unidentified flying shit begins hitting the fan that he doesn’t drop it. The camera is also used for light and as a means to identify landmarks in the desert so they can retrace steps later. That’s enough excuses for me to keep things rolling.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
Not really. Because the found footage stuff happens so late in the film, there really is no time for much extraneous and clichéd stuff one usually finds in these films. There is a lift away into the air if that counts and a scene where the camera drops from a high altitude, which I’ve seen in other UFO films, but other than that, it’s pretty original in the limited scares that occur in the final moments.
Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
Here’s the kicker with PHOENIX FORGOTTEN. The film spends way too much time building us up for something huge once the final video is found that nothing is going to live up to it. By filling almost the entire first hour with behind the scenes interviews taken by Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) really undercuts these found footage moments. So at the fifty minute mark, we get ten minutes of the kids walking and then all hell breaks loose, but the camera is so shaky, it’s really not clear what the hell is going on. Knowing UFO films and the fact that the three are missing, it’s assumed the three were abducted, but we never are given any information other than bright lights, strong winds, a twirling mechanism, and loud noises all lobbed at us at a rapid and shaky pace in the final moments. It just proves to be a little too little and a little too late in the game to be scary.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and, ultimately, is it worth watching?
Being the third “Phoenix Lights” film I’ve seen this year, it definitely feels as if PHOENIX FORGOTTEN doesn’t really have a lot to offer that feels new. While the characters are compelling and likable, the lack of an impactful revelation at the end when the footage is finally shown made me feel ripped off by the time the credits rolled. I’ve seen films with a much smaller budget to far more effective stuff in the found footage genre and this film’s biggest flaw is building up something that just lacked that final punch.
And finally…I’ve been a fan of Sonny Fernandez’s work since I’ve started this AICN HORROR column. He has been a prolific independent filmmaker who squeezes big ideas into micro-budget films. Recently, he has focused on animation and below is a new project he’s been working on for a while with vampires, werewolves, and demons called LAKE VILLA VAMPS. If you like what you see in this two and a half hour animated opus, check out Fernandez’s site here for more! Enjoy LAKE VILLA VAMPS!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is M. L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
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