Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Here’s yet another batch of the good, the bad, and the fugly in horror this week!
Before we get started, here’s an exclusive clip from the new film STASIS which is described as; After a night out partying and being left behind by friends, Ava sneaks back home to find that she’s already safe in bed. But that’s not Ava... it’s someone who looks like her. A time-traveling fugitive has stolen Ava’s body, which makes Ava a virtual ghost, who is silent and invisible to the world. But Ava is not alone. There are other body snatchers secretly living among us, plotting to alter the future. Ava realizes she can stop these body snatchers and put the timeline back on course.
The sci fi thriller is directed and written by Nicole Jones-Dion and stars Anna Harr, Mark Grossman, Phyllis Spielman, & Tiana Masaniai. I’ll be reviewing STASIS here on AICN HORROR at the end of the month, but here’s the clip and trailer for the film.
I also wanted to give out an open call to advertisers interested in helping to keep this column running. Any inquiries should contact me here!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971)
Retro-review: DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973)
Retro-review: OGROFF MAD MUTILATOR (1983)
Retro-review: TEEN WOLF (1985)
THE NIGHT SHIFT (2016)
JUSTICE SERVED (2015)
VOLUMES OF BLOOD: HORROR STORIES (2016)
HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (2016)
Advance Review: O. UNILATERALIS (2016)
And finally…Sonny Fernandez’s Werewolf Animated Short Parts 1 & 2!
Retro-review: New on Special Edition Bluray/DVD from MVD Visual!
THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971)aka ZODIAC
Directed by Tom Hanson
Written by Ray Cantrell, Manny Cardoza
Starring Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch, Tom Pittman, Mary Darrington, Frank Sanabek, Ed Quigley, Bertha Dahl, Dion Marinkovich, Doodles Weaver, Gloria Gunn, Richard Styles, Manny Cardoza, Norma Takaki, Donna Register, Barbara Schillaci, Edna DeHart, Norma Michaels, Tom Hanson, Dennis Thomann, Werner Maahs, Dick Nedwick, Emanuel Nedwick, Brian Falkner, Stacy Videen, Robert Hanson, Jo Porrine, Arthur Porrine, Susie Knolan, Aaron Koslow, George Fryette, Sharon Ridgeway, Richard Garrison, Louise Keene
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Many films have tried to crack the case of the Zodiac killer who tormented the police, the news, and the populace in the late sixties and early seventies. David Fincher made what many feel is the most comprehensive depiction of the investigation. But that doesn’t stop the theories and films, such as AWAKENING THE ZODIAC (reviewed here) are still being released using the fact that the killer was never caught as fodder. But no story is as interesting as Tom Hanson’s, the director of THE ZODIAC KILLER. The story behind the film is almost as interesting as the film itself.
THE ZODIAC KILLER mainly focuses on a hypothetical situation that a mild mannered and put upon mailman was actually a cold, heartless killer who terrorized the San Francisco area, eluding the authorities and taunting them with phone calls and letters. In the film, we get to see that the killer is a rabbit lover, occasionally wears a Groucho nose and glasses, and often likes to buy rounds for the rest of the guys in bars. He also likes to worship otherworldly demons who promise to make his victims his own slaves in Hell. The film also follows another man that the police think is the killer, but even after they gun him down, the Zodiac Killer continues his rampage.
While director Tom Hanson and writers Ray Cantrell and Manny Cardoza take some liberties in fleshing out who the Zodiac really is, it does reenact the killings pretty painstakingly. These killings are actually quite shocking for the time as the killer basically comes up out of nowhere and blows away the people point blank. Other kills, are somewhat hard to believe such as the killer offering to change a lady’s tire and then smashing her over the head with it. Still other scenes seem to be made to taunt the killer right back by casting him as a loon who loves rabbits and worships demon gods as well as being afraid of women.
Director Tom Hanson states in the special features that he made this film with hopes to lure the killer out into theaters to admire his work. Police officers were hidden in theaters and public tauntings were posted with hopes to ferret out the killer. At the premiere of the film in San Francisco, the director had audience members fill out a questionnaire hypothesizing why the Zodiac does what he does. The writing samples were then analyzed with the Zodiac’s letters as another means of catching the killer. While it didn’t work (at least he wasn’t caught—though he may have just eluded capture once again and saw it), it is a pretty amazing story. The foreword at the beginning of the movie says that the director himself received threatening letters from Zodiac, adding yet another layer to the making of this film.
I found all of this to be fascinating and while a lot of the film rings as hokey and the acting is rough, there are some horrifying moments and clever imagery at play—such as blood from a victim seeping into the cracks on a sidewalk that eventually are animated into the Zodiac sign. The back-story described in the special features alone are entertaining as hell, blending the process of filmmaking with the investigation into the killings. This is just a fascinating film from top to bottom and should be a must see for True Crime fans and those caught up in the mystery of the Zodiac.
The film comes with a boatload of extras including; an audio commentary with director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick, an on-camera interview with director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick, an audio commentary with director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick, a whole ‘nother bonus movie: ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977) (which I will be reviewing soon in a future column), tabloid-horror trailers from the AGFA archive, and liner notes and director Tom Hanson interview by Chris Poggiali of TEMPLE OF SCHLOCK!
Retro-review: New on a Special Edition Double Disk from MVD Visual!
DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973)aka THE FORGOTTEN, BEYOND HELP, THE SNAKE PIT, DEATH WARD #13, DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT
Directed by S.F. Brownrigg
Written by Tim Pope
Starring Bill McGhee, Jessie Lee Fulton, Robert Dracup, Harryette Warren, Michael Harvey, Jessie Kirby, Hugh Feagin, Betty Chandler, Camilla Carr, Gene Ross, Annabelle Weenick, Rosie Holotik, Rhea MacAdams
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While at times it’s amateurish and other times it’s downright boring, the lunatics overtake the asylum flick DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT does seem to get a lot right in terms of how these places used to be run and some of the problems mental health institutions often go through. I’m no expert on mental health in the 70s when this film was made, but having worked in the mental health care field for over a decade in and around the Chicago area, I’m sad to say some of the conditions and sequences in this film aren’t that far off from real life.
When the lead doctor is murdered by a patient in a sequence reminiscent of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING, it’s up to the resident head nurse and a newly assigned assistant nurse to run the secluded asylum, but they soon find that keeping all of these crazy cats wrangled is harder than they think. Soon, the crazies are taking over and the sane people taking care of the facility seem to be fraying around the edges as well.
Someone behind this film, be they the producers, the writers, or the director once worked in a metal facility because while some of the performances are over the top, none of them are the Hollywood crazy we often see in modern cinema. These patients seem to be a little more realized than that, which gives this film a little more of a palpable terror than most films of this kind. Actual psychosis seem to be referenced and the regular day to day stuff seems right on the money, so in terms of looking like the real thing, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT works.
But is DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT worth looking into?
Well, the acting is pretty bad and the story is not that strong. There are some sequences that seem to not really have a script so much as just acting out some kind of barebones blueprint of a scene, or maybe that’s just the amateurish deliveries from some of the cast. There really isn’t a lot of chills here, either, as the gore consists of just some blood running over the faces of the cast and there’s some random violence here and there among the patients, but other than that, it’s pretty chill-free.
Still, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT culminates in a pretty impressive climax where almost everyone ends up dead. It’s kind of fun seeing everyone go nuts on everyone, and this film definitely breaks the mold in that it isn’t so much about one killer offing people but a bunch of people offing each other in a BATTLE ROYALE sort of way. For this unconventionalism and eye for accuracy in the mental health field, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT ended up being a poorly acted but weirdly entertaining little schlocker. Special features includes a commentary by Tony Browning, son of the director. Also with this special edition comes DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2 which I will be reviewing in an upcoming column.
Retro-review: New on Special Edition DVD from MVD Visual!
OGROFF MAD MUTILATOR (1983)aka OGROFF
Directed by N.G. Mount
Written by N.G. Mount
Starring N.G. Mount, Robert Alaux, Françoise Deniel, Pierre Pattin, Alain Petit, Jean-Pierre Putters, Christophe Lemaire, Michel Pratt, Fabrice Bourdon, Alain Cayol, Michel Chevalier, François Cognard, Michel Desangles, Nathalie Dumont, Carmen Garcia, Michel Gault, Philippe Grolleau, Jean-Claude Guenet, Liliane Kannouche, Sonia Kannouche, Benoît Lestang, Martine Masson, Stella Moutier, Marcel Ossowski, Fabrice Paillard, Marc Pont, Edith Pourquery, Roland Pourquery, Eric Putters, Josiane Ray, Olivier Richard, Bruno Terrier, Francis Lemaire, Howard Vernon, & Philippe Kaufman
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Big ideas and creative talent trumps budget every time. That’s why films like EVIL DEAD have become classics as Raimi knew how to stretch a buck around ideas to make a low budget film that resonates. While OGROFF MAD MUTILATOR never really achieved as much fame, with it’s meager budget, rudimentary effects, and unbridled enthusiasm for the genre, filmmaker N.G. Mount turns in a DIY messterpiece that I found to be truly inspiring.
Ogroff (Mount), as the title indicates, is a mad mutilator. He is also a crazy hermit in the woods who likes to cut up people who trespass into his woods, feed them to his dog, and to his army of zombies he keeps in his basement. After mutilating a family real good, Ogroff takes a liking to one of the women and brings her back to his shack in the woods. Turns out Ogroff has tried this a few times before, but surprisingly, this method isn’t the most effective way to find a mate. When one of his brides to be accidentally unlocks the latch to the basement, the zombies escape. But no worries, Ogroff is on the scene with his mighty axe!
Yes, this is a stupid story, but there are hints of brilliance here as well. Ogroff starts off as a monster, menacing anyone who comes even close to his woods. He even dismembers a kid, which is pretty taboo in horror. But the second act, humanizes Ogroff when we see his looking for someone to bond with. The biggest narrative turn comes in the third act when Ogroff becomes the hero, defending his bride to be from the attacking zombies. Sure it’s all pretty rudimentary, but that’s a pretty thorough and complex arc for such a low budget film, indicating that Mount at least knew how to keep a story moving and evolving. There are big budgeters released wide that don’t have that much character development.
The effects of OGROFF MAD MUTILATOR are pretty amazing as well. It appears chunks of real meat are used, as Ogroff likes to toss the remains to his dog that chomps them up lovingly. The use is Styrofoam heads, mannequin parts, and other cheap effects tricks gives this a Halloween funhouse feel. They don’t look real, but they convey the message. Mount also knows how to highlight the effects with some pretty amazing shots such as an axe across the eyeballs is cut to a POV shot of a bloodstained lens with fingers trying to wipe the blood away. Again, I was blown away at the effectiveness and ingenuity of these shots.
Mount clearly knew what he was doing in this film. Technically, it’s a great film. It’s just a no budgeter. Sure, it’s apparent that the filmmaker was trying to make his version of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but it works on it’s own despite it’s mimickery. This mostly silent, French film never stands still and is always giving the viewer something to wince or laugh at. From Ogroff decimating a Volkswagen to the zombie apocalypse and hell, let’s toss in a vampire for no reason too, OGROFF MAD MUTILATOR is schlocky, no budget amazement from start to gory finish. This Special Edition comes in a grainy original VHS version and a 2016 remastered version.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
TEEN WOLF (1985)Directed by Rod Daniel
Written by Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Starring Michael J. Fox, James Hampton, Susan Ursitti, Jerry Levine, Matt Adler, Lorie Griffin, James MacKrell, Mark Arnold, Jay Tarses, Mark Holton, Scott Paulin, Elizabeth Gorcey, Melanie Manos, Doug Savant, Charles Zucker, Harvey Vernon, Clare Peck, Lynda Wiesmeier, Richard Brooks, Tanna Herr
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
For some reason, the early eighties was the prime time to be a werewolf fan. You had THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THIRLLER, A COMPANY OF WOLVES, and WOLFEN all came out in the same chunk of time and did the subgenre right and while there have been a few exceptions (GINGER SNAPS, DOG SOLDIERS, LATE PHASES), werewolves haven’t really been as successful ever since. Of course, where there is success there are the spoofs, and TEEN WOLF, which was intended to be a rehash of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, is probably the biggest one of them. I guess, that’s something this film should be proud of.
The story follows a bumbling, yet aspiring basketball star Scott Howard (a strapping 5’ 4” and an all important half Michael J. Fox) who seems to be going through some changes in his teenage years. Not only is he sprouting hair in weird places, but his voice is becoming deeper and he is noticing women in a different kind of way. Yes, he is hitting puberty, but not only that, he is also hitting the right age to fall victim to his family curse of lycanthropy. Turns out his father Harold (James Hampton) suffered from the same curse, as many of his ancestors before him. But being the carefree kid that he is, Scott decides to make the most of his curse and becomes a basketball star, a hit with the ladies, and rider on the top of vans! The hilarity ensues as everyone from the principal (James MacKrell) to the hot cheerleader’s boyfriend (Doug Savant) are out to make sure Scott’s popularity comes to an end. Will Scott embrace his inner werewolf? Will be decide between the hot cheerleader or his nerdy tagalong Boof (Susan Ursitti) who is actually pretty hot herself? And will this film come to a clichéd slo mo foul shot featuring gallons of Michael J. Fox sweat? The answers will underwhelm you.
TEEN WOLF is a breezy little film likening puberty with lycanthropy and the theme works for the most part. While steeped in humor so broad that it’ll make you want to slap the writers, the film is entertaining in a harmless, nostalgic, and I’ll admit fun way. Having been at the right age to flock to the theater to see TEEN WOLF, I have to admit, seeing the film does give me a semi-warm feeling, but much of the film really hasn’t aged well. While Fox is his usual charming and quirky self, the writing simply isn’t there as it was in something BACK TO THE FUTURE. Instead we see a lot of lame jokes about hair growth and pubes jokes.
Still, what I did find entertaining was the back-story between the principal and Scott’s dad. I like it that the principal treats Scott badly because he knows he has the curse and that, deep down, he has a horrific fear of werewolves. I also have to admit the “Give me a keg of beer.” line still holds up and even the van riding scene is pretty far out. Props also goes to the effects team which really goes out of its way to make this werewolf look iconic. While the look later was swiped by Squatch, the mascot for the Seattle Supersonics, the way the werewolf’s hair flops around while running on the basketball court is a juxtaposition of imagery that caused a chuckle or two. Even the transformation sequences, while brief, are actually pretty decent.
I have not watched any of the new TEEN WOLF MTV series and don’t know how it ties into the original. Still, this is one that worked for me on a purely nostalgic level. It’s got Francis from PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (Mark Holton) playing an always-eating basketballer named Chubby. And lots and lots of van riding which I believe inspired a lot of amateur daredevil accidents in real life. TEEN WOLF is fun. Not a scare to be seen in it, but it does twist the werewolf genre and shows you can make a decent comedy about it if you have the right lead. The Shout Factory also released TEEN WOLF TOO starring Jason Bateman and I’ll be reviewing that turkey in a future column. This special edition BluRay features such bells and whistles as; “Never. Say. Die. The Story Of Teen Wolf” – a comprehensive documentary about the making and legacy of the film including brand-new interviews with cast and crew (143 minutes), original theatrical trailer, and a still gallery.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
THE NIGHT SHIFT (2016)Directed by Massimiliano Cerchi
Written by Anthony Werley
Starring Sadie Katz, Greg Chandler Maness, Vincent Rivera
Find out more about this film here, @thenightshifthorror, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
By now, you should realize I’m not your typical reviewer. I try not to give into buzz. I try my hardest to not be political. I also try to look at a film from various angles, be it technical work, outstanding performances, storytelling quality, ideas and images I’ve never seen before, sheer passion behind a project, and sometimes, simple gut feelings. You’ll notice that budget is never a factor. In many cases budget is a hindrance as the more money behind a project means more cooks in the kitchen and that means a dilution of the initial idea. THE NIGHT SHIFT is a film made on the super cheap, but I admire the passion behind this one a lot more than a lot of the big budget blockbusters I’ve seen today.
A security guard named Frank (Vincent Rivera) is assigned to spend the night looking after the place and trying not to fall asleep. Pretty soon, Frank starts hearing voices in the dark and when someone knocks at the front door and says it’s the owner’s daughter, of course, he lets her in as he is creeped the fuck out. More strange things happen and it is uncertain whether or not Frank is going to survive the night.
THE NIGHT SHIFT, for the most part, is a one man show, resting on the performance of Rivera. He does a good job here of carrying the film and is personable enough to root for. The scares are pretty low key with the gravelly voice sounding a lot like the voice of CLAW from the INSPECTOR GADGET cartoon and not particularly scary, though if I were to hear it at night in a house thought to be haunted, I’d be scared shitless. The pacing of THE NIGHT SHIFT is decent and while there is only one actor for the most part and an empty house, the film takes advantage of the unlit and spooky environment.
The abrupt ending adds a lot to this jarring ghost story as does the intense performance by Sadie Katz, who is developing into quite a formidable scream queen. THE NIGHT SHIFT is not for folks who equate dollars to quality, but I give it points for resourcefulness and not reaching beyond its means. If you don’t mind low fi frights, this one might be for you.
Available on DVD/BluRay from Silver Spotlight!
CAROUSHELL (2016)Directed by Steve Rudzinski
Written by Aleen Isley, Steve Rudzinski
Starring Sé Marie, Haley Madison, Chris Proud, Sarah Brunner, Chad Bruns, Ben Dietels, Cindy Fernandez-Nixon, P.J. Gaynard, Judy H.R. Kirby, Michael Mawhinney, Josh Miller, Steve Rudzinski, Teague Shaw, Shawn Shelpman, Jordan Streussnig, Andrew Zibritosky, Corella Waring, & Steve Rimpici as the carousel horse from Hell!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The comedic mastermind behind such DIY greats as RED CHRISTMAS, CAPTAIN Z & THE TERROR OF LEVIATHAN, EVERYONE MUST DIE!, and SLASHER HUNTER, Steve Rudzinski is at it again with CAROUSHELL, a low budget slasher film like no other…because it stars a disgruntled carousel unicorn who breaks free from its carousel prison and begins killing people.
When a social media addicted teen is forced to take her little brother to the amusement park for the day as their stripper mother is off working the pole, one carousel ride is too many for a frustrated carousel horse. Breaking free from the carousel, the horse crashes a party in searching for victims. Now if only he had the opposable thumbs to open the door…
This one has it all. Mutilations with various gardening tools. Death by hooves. An erotic love scene between the carousel horse and a My Little Pony fan. A fat kid named Lunchbox. Laser eyes. A pizza man who just wants to get paid. Those looking for serious horror should try another film. This one is simply fun from start to finish. The film is goofy, gory, and over the top. Much of it has to do with the outrageous gore, grossness, and acts of debauchery. From hooves kicking heads in to the carousel horse humping a girl horsey-style, this will offend the uptight and entertain those who love broad comedy.
But what is present in all of Rudzinski’s films is always a solid and downright funny script. Low on budget, the filmmaker makes up for it with clever, witty, and snarky dialogue that caused quite a few guffaws for this fan. For example, a pizza delivery guy (played by Rudzinski himself) reveals early on that his dog just died and his parents are on their deathbed and that’s why he is working as a pizza delivery guy. A few minutes later, while fleeing the attacking carousel horse is after the pizza guy and a few other survivors, they get into his car and it doesn’t start, to which Rudzinski screams, “Why does everything in my life have to die!!?!?!” It’s wrong. It’s dark. But it’s damn funny and I don’t do it justice by explaining it here.
Take a ride on this CAROUSHELL. It’s a fantastic low budgeter with a hell of a sense of humor and damn impressive effects.
New on DVD and On Demand from Breaking Glass Pictures!
JUSTICE SERVED (2015)Directed by Marvin Young
Written by Marvin Young
Starring Lochlyn Munro, Lance Henriksen, Gail O'Grady, Chase Coleman, Denyce Lawton, Christina Rose, Jay Giannone, Marvin Young, Sean Dillingham, Cathy Rankin, Erich Hover, Wendy Crawford, David Horn, Jeremy Gillett, Clinton Sparks, Lewis V. Johnson, Tobias Chandel Jones
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Young MC himself Marvin Young wrote, directed, and stars in the TWILIGHT ZONE-esque taking-justice-in-your-own-hands low fi thriller JUSTICE SERVED.
A group of seemingly random people are abducted by shadowy figures. Half of them are strapped to an electric chair and accused of a heinous crime. The other half happen to be victims of this crime, supplied with information that was unable to be used in court and a buzzer that lights up the electric chair. Guided by a voice coming from a loudspeaker, the victims are given the opportunity for a retrial at their own hands.
I really like the concept behind JUSTICE SERVED. It’s an ambitious first effort by filmmaker Young and while the film’s got a small budget, it has some decent performances, especially from Lance Henriksen as a particularly vicious man strapped to the electric chair who eluded a child murder case and surprisingly, Young himself giving a more comical take as another man in the chair who dodged a murder wrap.
While the mystery itself turns out to be kind of predictable by the latter half of the film, the setup is a winner, there are a couple of end twists that have a fun payoff, and this shows a lot of potential for Young as a filmmaker, given a bigger budget. JUSTICE SERVED is a little long in the tooth. It could use about fifteen minutes shaved off to move at a more entertaining clip, but all in all, it’s a breezy, but entertaining little thriller in the vein of Rod Serling’s finest series.
New on DVD from MVDVisual!
CHARLOTTE (2017)Directed by Patrick Rea (“ Counter Parts,” “Get Off My Porch,” “Howl of a Good Time,” “Raggedy Damned Wraparound”), Colin Campbell (“Dollface”), Corey Norman (“Tickle”), Calvin Main (“Good Evening”), Johnny Lee & J. Andrew Lee (“The Judas Cradle”), April Wright (“My BFF”)
Written by Patrick Rea (“ Counter Parts,” “Get Off My Porch,” “Howl of a Good Time,” “Raggedy Damned Wraparound”), Michelle Davidson (“Counter Parts”), John Sylvain (“Dollface”), Haley Norman (“Tickle”), Calvin Main & Anthony Fanelli (“Good Evening”), J. Andrew Lee (“The Judas Cradle”), April Wright (“My BFF”)
Starring Jessi Burkette, Akex Plas, Chloe Kerwin (“Raggedy Damned Wraparound”), Myia Zadi, Lonita Cook, Jim Schweers. Hala Finley, Jennifer Seward-DeRock, Misty Dixon, Stephen Matlock, Millie Milan, Kimberly Igla (“Counter Parts”), Kimberly Atkinson, Jen Dede, Nick Holmes, Roma Maffia, Shelly Wenk (“Dollface”), Sean Carmichael, Dennis J. Healy, Andrew Lyndaker, Daniel Noel, Casey Turner (“Tickle”), Steve Brewster, Brock Powell (“Good Evening”), Bradley Meehan, Ari Bavel, Katherine McNamara, Andrea Strickler, Jennifer Plas, Rich Zvosec, Jason Curtis Miller, Jack Powell, Sally Bremenkamp, Ty Jones, Aaron Laue (“Get Off My Porch”), Suzanne Quast, Franco Castan, Johnny Lee (“The Judas Cradle”), Kayla Madison, Sarah Agor, Stephen Blackehart (“My BFF”), Leslie Easterbrook, Renae Geerlings, Tamara Glynn, Chris Lazzaro, Michael Leavy, Mike Brabender, Morgan Collar, Tim D. Welch, Amy Perkinson Hale, Garrett Brenneman, Lola Grace Hale, Ari Show, Abby Brenneman, Zoe Sofia Hale, Isla Parker Hale, Tony Hale, Rebecca Brenneman, James Kendall, Jeff Allen, Jack Norman (“Howl of a Good Time”)
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Looks like someone out there is taking my advice and packaging up a group of shorts and releasing them as an anthology. With all of the talented filmmakers making short films out there, it’s about time someone gathered them up and presented them in this kind of format for more people to enjoy. CHARLOTTE is such a film. I’m sure it isn’t a coincidence that the film is being released around the same time as ANNABELLE 2 comes out as this one focuses on a haunted doll that captures and tortures a babysitter and forces her to watch horror short films on the tv. It’s not the most original way to present an anthology, but it’s better than no connective tissue at all. Here’s a rundown of the shorts gathered in this collection.
“Counter Parts” is a fun flick directed by NAILBITER and ARBOR DEMON filmmaker Patrick Rea, who contributes three times to this collection as well as takes care of the wraparound segment. This short focuses on twins who grow up with a pretty strong sibling rivalry. When one of them gets into a car accident losing her eyes and leg, she visits a voodoo witch to take her missing parts from her sister. As with most dark dealings, there’s a deadly hitch. I liked the dark humor at play in this shortie that felt very much like an old TALES FROM THE CRYPT comic or episode.
“Dollface” is a short I’ve seen and shared before here at the bottom of AICN HORROR. It’s a twisted little tale of a trick or treater a little too old to be trick or treating, a lost purse, some knitting needles, and a spooky house just a block away. I liked the little twists that occur throughout this short. There’s also a Tim Burton-esque otherworldly quality to the creepy doll-faced girl and the weird warehouse she lives in. This one is a whole lot of fun and the imagery will definitely cause a nightmare or two.
“Tickle” is another short featured at the bottom of this column about a babysitter’s bedtime story about a troll named Tic Tac who tickles children’s feet that are not under their covers and if they don’t laugh, he chops them off. Sure enough, when the lights go out, Tic Tac comes a callin’. I loved the way this one really gave life to childhood fears, plus the Tic Tac creature effects are downright spooky. This is another one that’ll keep you up at night.
Patrick Rea’s “Get Off My Porch” is another one I’d seen before, but I love this twisted take on the insistence of a pair of Adventure Girls who go above and beyond to sell their cookies to one grumpy guy who simply doesn’t want to buy them. I loved this one which reminded me a lot of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets THE STUFF. The little girls are creepy in a comedic way, but once they invade the house, this light hearted short takes a dark turn. Really fun stuff from Rea, who has become a master of the short horror film with his various shorties through the years.
“The Judas Cradle” is a weird little short that feels like we’ve plopped right in the middle of a full length movie. Not wasting a lot of time with lead in or back story, this one focuses mainly on the tension felt by a woman trapped in a room with a note and a man tied to a chair who seems to have something to do with the death of a loved one. I liked this exercise in story compression, focusing on the moral conundrum and the weight of the decision to take a life. This is a fantastic little bit of short filmmaking that really pushes the envelope in telling tales in a truncated manner.
“My BFF” has an awesomely dark sense of humor. It’s about a neglected little girl who finally finds her best friend in a doll that shows up on her porch one night after her mother leaves her home alone to go on a date. The girl is immediately taken with the doll named Samantha, but it gives her mother the creeps, so she tries to get rid of it over and over and over again. Those scared of dolls will definitely find something to shiver about in this short one. While I wanted a bit more meat on this piece of film, what does show up is pretty fun.
Rea tosses out one more goodie with “Howl of a Good Time,” which stars Leslie Easterbrook as one of the ushers in a special screening at a very special theater. When a trio of kids are denied access to the film, despite having a note from their dad, one of them breaks in to see the horror film. But it’s the patrons that she needs to worry about as nothing really is as it seems in this short film. This one has some great monster effects for a low budget and ends the anthology on a banging fun note.
As far as short film collections go, CHARLOTTE is a lot of fun. Here’s hoping more films like this come along which pluck some of the best short films from Youtube and repackage them in one fun piece to devour with glee. If you’re a fan of short horror or get creeped out by hollow eyed dolls, this one is for you.
New this week on DVD and digital download from find out where to pick this film up here!
VOLUMES OF BLOOD: HORROR STORIES (2015)Directed by Sean Blevins (“Trick or Treat”), John William Holt (“Feeding Time”), Jo Maynard (“Blood Bath”), Nathan Thomas Milliner (“Murder Death Killer” & “Fear, For Sinners Here”), Justin M. Seaman (“The Deathday Party”), James Treakle (“A Killer House”)
Written by Sean Blevins, Nathan Thomas Milliner, P.J. Sparks, John Turner
Starring Barbie Clark, Thomas Dunbar, Aric Stanish, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Gerrimy Keiffer, Kevin Roach, Christopher Bower, Jacob Ewers, Erin Troutman, Caleb Shore, Shelby Taylor Mullins, Tj Williams, Kevin Arnold, Bridgette Michelle Hoover, Jim O'Rear, Cassandra Baker, Chad Benefield, Troy L. Davis, Jacob Ewers, Eric Huskisson, Cindy Maples, Marty Moorman, Moses J. Moseley, Kat Mykals, Chad Ray, Brad Reinhart, Todd Reynolds, Alyssa Rhoads, Jessica Schroeder, Connor Starks, Julie Streble, Devin Taylor, Anne Welsh, Bethany Westerfield, Jay Woolston
Find out more about this film here, @VOBanthology, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Lately, folks slap together an anthology by gathering a few random filmmakers, having them do a bunch of unrelated shorts, and very little is done to actually glue them together in some cohesive manner. In the original VOLUMES OF BLOOD anthology (reviewed here), a lot of effort was made to tell a cohesive story tying one chapter to another. The same amount of care was put into the film’s sequel; VOLUMES OF BLOOD: HORROR STORIES and again, it is much appreciated. This installment might even be better than the first as it moves its locale from a library to a house being shown by a real estate agent. Each room has its own story and all of them are horrific…in a good way.
Even before the credits, the stories start with MURDER DEATH KILLER, a quick slasher story about three scurvy folks looting a warehouse that happens to be haunted by a mad slasher. The plot is thin, but I liked the script as the three criminals verbally rip into one another in every other line. Once the killing starts, the action is quick and gory. The film then gets meta as it follows a pair of goons watching the film in a theater getting kicked out for being unruly. After a few comments on how remakes are never as good as the originals, the two make their way home and become the stars in their own slasher film. This segment is mildly clever with everyone interacting with each other in a hostile, snarky, and bullying way. It makes for some good moments of putdowns and the blood runneth quite a bit during this breezy little opener.
Next is another short, more reminiscent of HALLOWEEN than FRIDAY THE 13TH as a woman is left alone on Halloween night and finds herself the object of a murderer’s obsession. I loved the skin hood the killer wears in this one and there are a couple of unexpected turns in this one making it a little more unpredictable. Plus one of the deaths is absolutely gnarly—extra points for the wonderful juxtaposition of candy corn around the victim of a curb stomp.
The next installment takes place in a haunted bathroom where a bathtub seems to have a life of its own. This one is a nice and gory shortie with some wonderful mind-fuckery going on. I have to give this one credit for its use of wild sounds coming from just behind the shower curtain. While I found this one to be kind of predictable, the gore ups the impact quite a bit.
Moving on to a Christmas tale that tackles the holiday in ways that I’ve never really seen before. Reminiscent a bit of the seminal Christmas horror film BLACK CHRISTMAS, this one focuses on one woman listening to Christmas carols while rapping presents. This installment is awesomely patient to unfold, focusing on the normal slowly becoming abnormal as the segment goes on. There are a few twists to be expected in this one and the final scene is a killer. This might be my favorite one of the bunch.
After that is a clever take on the old “monster in the closet” story. A teenage girl, home alone, invites a door to door insurance salesman into her kitchen. The girl then tries to get the salesman to help her out with a problem she has. Seems there’s a monster in her closet and she wants this big strong man to help her get it out. When the girl lures the salesman to her room, things go sideways fast. I really liked this tale as it felt like an old time campfire cautionary tale you might have heard as a kid. There are some great moments of tension and a nice amount of gore involved in this, one of the more twisted stories of the bunch.
The final official tale focuses on a birthday celebration for a senior citizen. When neighbors surprise the birthday boy with a cake, they get more than they bargained for when they interrupt him doing his favorite hobby—that being murder! This is a fun and breezy short with some twisted humor about hemorrhoids and a whole lotta gore. It’s a fun way the end this anthology.
But once the stories are done, this one isn’t over as the black masked slasher from the beginning once again rears his ugly head for a murder spree filled with mayhem and grisly carnage. While there is little plot, there is mention of an organization that all of these murderers belong to, suggesting once again (this was hinted at as well in the first film) that there is a bigger story involved here. But ultimately, this is just one last chance for some splattery bloodletting.
VOLUMES OF BLOOD: HORROR STORIES is superior to most anthologies because it really seems to care about telling an interrelated tales making up a distinct storyline. That’s extra loving care you don’t see in anthologies these days, but you’ll find it here in this blood good collection of terror tales!
Available now on Netflix!
HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (2016)aka FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET, DEMON GIRL, THE POSSESSION, A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET
Directed by Alastair Orr
Written by Alastair Orr, Catherine Blackman, Jonathan Jordaan
Starring Sharni Vinson, Dimitri Bajlanis, Carlyn Burchell, Zino Ventura, Steven John Ward, Gustav Gerdener, Nicole De Klerk, Monica Ann Fourie, Zelmia Bezuidenhout, Ter Hollmann, Gina Shmukler, Ashish Gangapersad, Mia Slabbert, Jonathan Taylor
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The caper gone wrong tale is often used to mix genres in horror films. While I guess the most famous one is FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, these types of stories are great fun as they challenge the viewer by presenting a cast of no-goodniks up to no good who then stumble into something much more darker and evil, making them saints by comparison. HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET is a caper gone sideways tale and it’s a pretty solid one at that.
A quartet of roughnecks decide to kidnap Katherine (Carlyn Burchell ) , a debutante in hopes for a big payoff in diamonds for ransom. But once the girl is bagged and taken back to their hideout, the kidnappers realize that there is something seriously wrong with Katherine. After the ransom call is left unanswered, the group returns to the house to find the bodies of Katherine’s parents and a few Catholic priests. The scene suggests an exorcism gone wrong and the kidnappers have brought the demon back to their hideout for it to feed off of their worst nightmares.
What HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET does well is setup a damn cool situation with some pretty meaty characters. Each of the kidnappers has both a dark motivation and a dark secret forcing them to take part in this kidnapping. This gives the demon a lot to chew on once unleashed as it appears as people from their past to haunt them and drive them mad. Story-wise, the setup works. I also liked a lot of the little decisions made in this film such as putting a little bell on the chain confining Katherine. This makes for some extremely well done moments of tension when the lights go out and all you can hear is that little bell clanging around. Director Alastair Orr does a decent job of setting up quite a few impressive moments that’ll turn the knuckles white.
That’s not to say this is a film without fault. As with many stories of the supernatural, the entire cast is pretty quick to just accept that there is such a thing as demons possessing people. No one is really surprised that much or taken aback when the subject of exorcism rises. The priests seem to know quite a bit about this particular demon who feeds off of woe and weakness and Katherine’s parents are pretty quick to agree to the exorcism (or at least we aren’t shown any moments of hesitation). The film itself really moves at lightning speed, but some slower moments of hesitation, doubt, and even snark might have made the whole demon thing a little more digestible. In the film we get, there’s no real room for much exposition (which is cool), but having characters simply go with the existence of the paranormal just rang falsely to me.
The ending is rather jarring. I don’t’ know if I was expecting a jump scare or a twist or switch-up or what, but it just felt a little too cut and dry with little resolution as to what happens to the survivors. With these films, there is often a double whammy of retribution where the bigger evil is vanquished, but the original bad guys also get their comeuppance as well. That just doesn’t happen with HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET. I did quite like the pace, the story, a lot of the performances, and the pretty impressive gore and grossness effects throughout enough to recommend this solid sideways caper shocker.
Available now on Shudder!
CREEPY (2016)aka KURIPI
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Yutaka Maekawa (based on the novel by), Chihiro Ikeda & Kiyoshi Kurosawa (screenplay)
Starring Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yûko Takeuchi, Toru Baba, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryôko Fujino, Masahiro Higashide, Haruna Kawaguchi, Misaki Saisho, Takashi Sasano, Naoko Satô, Masahiro Toda
Find out more about this film here, @creepy2016, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Some wobbly motivation of some of its characters doesn’t shake the fact that CREEPY is a film that truly lives up to its title.
After a disastrous case involving a police investigation of a serial killer, police detective Takakira (Hidetoshi Nishijima) retires and decides to teach a class on serial killer in college. But an unearthed cold case gets his detective Spidey sense a tingling, so he embarks on an investigation on his own to try to find out what happened to a family of three who disappeared without a trace six years ago, leaving only the daughter behind. Meanwhile, while Takahira is busy playing detective, his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) is trying to busy herself with their new home and trying to make nice with her new neighbors. One of her neighbors, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) proves to be truly odd, at one time accepting Yasuko’s friendship and at another being cold and rude to her. The lonely Yasuko finds herself compelled by the truly weird Nishino, even after his daughter Mio (Ryôko Fujino) reveals to Takahira that Nishino is a complete stranger and not her father. Turns out the two stories, of course, are interlocked and all lead to the truly creepy neighbor.
While it is more than a little convenient that Takakira would move in right next door to a suspect in a case he is investigating, the tension leading up to that discovery is palpable and intense. As Nishino weasels his way into Takakira’s family, Takakira inches closer to solving the case. This two hour film moves along at a slow and meticulous pace, but is never boring as these two chess pieces move closer together on the chessboard that is this film. It’s interesting to see these moving pieces shuffle around and switch places at times with Nishino surprisingly taking up space the distracted Takakira left in his home with Yasuko, despite the fact that his mere gaze is enough to send a shudder down your spine.
That said, there are some character decisions that really are hard to swallow in CREEPY. At the beginning of the film, an attack by a serial killer could have easily been thwarted had some police actually acted the way they should have. Later in the film, when Nishino does his creepy act, it is a pretty hard pill to swallow that he has the charisma to win over Yasuko and have her act as an obedient slave by the end. It’s just that while the mystery is compelling and the process of uncovering the truth is engaging, the reasons people do what they do just isn’t given that amount of attention and loving care, so people seem to act in a certain way because they are supposed to act that way to move the story along rather than moving at a more believable clip.
But CREEPY truly is a creepy film and all of that has to do with the invasive and inappropriate moves of actor Teruyuki Kagawa who plays Nishino who talks too close, laughs at weird times, tosses out odd phrases, and touches people in a way that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. His wrinkled smile, off-kilter walk, and even odd little haircut are all meticulously realized by Kagawa, intentional in giving you the willies and not really knowing why. His performance is the reason to watch this one. CREEPY is a fun little mystery with some contrivances and unbelievable actions by its characters. It’s got some really dark aspects once we enter the domicile of Nishino, but his performance is what really allows this film to earn its name.
Coming soon: Find out when and where @ounilateralis and on Facebook here!
O. UNILATERALIS (2016)aka O.U. – THE CONSPIRACY INDEX #8472
Directed by Bruce H. Bosley, Michelle Nessk
Written by Bruce H. Bosley, Michelle Nessk
Starring Michelle Nessk, Bruce H. Bosley, Danial Fields, Brian Lee
Find out more about this film @ounilateralis and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While filming on what appears to be a zero budget, this found footager makes up for it with a patient hand and some spooky atmosphere. I liked a lot of what goes on in O. UNILATERALIS as it keeps exactly what is happening about three campers going on a weekend vacation pretty close to the vest until the end. This film has some flaws, but it delivers the creep in spades. Here’s how it stacks up against my found footage test.
What’s it about?
Two best friends Troy and Keith (Bruce H. Bosley & Danial Fields) take a shy, Catholic girl named Abby (Michelle Nessk) on a weekend camping roadtrip. Revving up his trusty camera, Troy strains his long time friendship with Keith when he keeps being creepy towards Abby, who Keith obviously has feelings for. Abby seems determined to simply have new experiences this weekend, which may include drinking, doing drugs, and having sex for the very first time. With all of this emotional stuff going on, these three don’t realize something fishy is going on around them when they find an abandoned car with blood smeared on it and an empty town in the middle of nowhere.
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
The film pretty much rests on Nessk, Fields, and Bosley’s shoulders and while they aren’t the best actors, they are capable and for the most part are able to carry the film for the duration. There are a couple of times the script requires a bit too much that the actors are able to give though and the actors feel more like a bag of clichéd characteristics rather than real people.
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)?
For the most part, this film feels relatively untouched. No additional music. No multiple edits. Everything that happens in front of the camera seems to be pretty legit and untouched. An opening and closing sequence was put together and I don’t know if it really was necessary as it really doesn’t add much to the story other than another shocking death before the credits. The news footage over the credits is a much better ending to the film and feels more fitting.
Why don’t they just drop the camera and get the hell out of there?
The main reason these guys keep filming is because Troy is simply doing it as a recreational tool. For the bulk of the film, the three characters are oblivious and too caught up in being creepy, overly protective, or virginal to notice they should drop the camera and get the hell out of there. The reasoning becomes a bit hazy as the film goes on as Troy films himself hitting on and sexually harassing Abby. One would think no one in their right mind would want evidence of the shit Troy pulls, but for no apparent reason, he keeps recording.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
Not really, which is refreshing. This is a no bells and whistles sort of film, but it relies on its own story to propel it along and doesn’t rely on clichéd and overused camera trickery.
Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
The problem with this film is definitely the pacing. There’s a very long time when we are kept in the dark as to what kind of film this is exactly and it doesn’t reveal itself until pretty much the very end of the film. With the touch and go acting, it is only the subtle hints of strange happening in the background. Still, I don’t know if it is enough to keep viewers interested until the end.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and, ultimately, is it worth watching?
O. UNILATERALIS has a strong premise; people being caught up in themselves so much that they don’t realize horrible things are materializing in the background until it is too late. I also liked the way it plays with what the hell kind of story this film really is—is it a snuff film? A rape/redemption exploitation piece? Or are these guys wandering into territory that is really dangerous? I don’t mind the long lead in because the payoff at the end, though low fi, really does hit hard. The problem is that Troy’s character gets just too creepy by the end and there really isn’t a lot of motivation for him being that way. What initially felt like a film about a pair of guys luring an innocent young girl into the woods kind of gets lost in the shuffle by the end unfortunately. The film isn’t perfect, but O. UNILATERALIS is strong in concept and I enjoyed the multiple curve balls the story lobs at viewer.
And finally…here’s another pair of Sonny Fernandez’s Down Twisted Studios Animated shorts. This one is simply called WEREWOLF ANIMATED SHORT FILM Parts 1 and 2! Find out more about Down Twisted Studios here! Enjoy the animated horror!
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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