Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past, the present, and the future of 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: ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977)
Retro-review: NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981)
Retro-review: TRUTH OR DARE?: A CRITICAL MADNESS (1986)
WITCH HUNT (2016)
DEMON HUNTER (2016)
CUT SHOOT KILL (2017)
THE MONSTER PROJECT (2017)
UNION FURNACE (2015)
THE TRANSFIGURATION (2016)
ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017)
And finally…Sonny Fernandez’s THE NIGHTMARE MAN: A Freddy Krueger Animated Short Film!
Retro-review: Included as a special feature in THE ZODIAC KILLER Special Edition BluRay from MVD Visual!
ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977)aka HOSTAGES, SON OF SAM
Directed by Dave Adams
Written by Dave Adams
Starring Russ Dubuc, Cynthia Stewart, Robert McCourt, John Harper, Larry Sprinkle, Bill Brown, Bonnie Schrier, Kim Saunders, Pam Mullins, Garland Atkins, Joe Artero, Charles Reynolds, Richard Poyner, Carl Jones, Ann Owens, & Johnny Charro as himself!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Attached as a special feature on THE ZODIAC KILLER Special Edition Bluray (reviewed here), ANOTHER SON OF SAM is a confusing, yet compelling little slice of schlock that takes advantage of the name of a serial killer, yet really has nothing to do with the Son of Sam killings.
On the way to get electro-shock therapy, a psychopathic patient named Harvey escapes and goes on a murder spree, terrifying the entire town. Eventually, he takes a pair of co-eds hostage in their dorm room with the SWAT team ready to take him down outside.
While far from being a great film. it is interesting that this was filmed in the middle of a heat wave of serial killer activity. The opening scrawl lists a slew of events ranging from Jack the Ripper to the Hillside Strangler (reported to be still at large) and Ted Bundy (referring to him as simply “Ted” since he was still at large at the time as well). The film also mentions David Berkowitz, the actual Son of Sam killer, and hypothesizes about what might happen if a killer like that should escape. In this day and age of movies of the week and documentaries made seemingly the minute a story breaks, it’s interesting to know that this is not just a common sign of the times, but has been going on for ages.
In between the killings are chunks of filler in this hour and seven minute movie including the soupy sounds of Johnny Charro who sings a groovy song in big white bellbottoms and a shirt split open to his navel. While the film itself isn’t that scary, the styles worn b Charro truly are. This is another cinema experience of the odd, as if it were made by some kind of aliens not really knowing how real people talk or act. The script itself is all over the place, sometimes trying to be a hard cop drama, other times it is simply exploitative kills. The hair-brained schemes that the SWAT team come up with to capture the killer really do not seem like anything was thought out, as are the faux psychology lobbed around by actors playing the doctors.
Still, I loved little bits of this film like the first person POV of the killer that is tried and true now, but pretty revolutionary in 1977, especially since HALLOWEEN didn’t come out until 1978. I also loved the cut to still photographs in order to highlight the impact of the action. This method of filmmaking is a fixture of pure seventies grindhouse, but it is a detail that really resonates. There’s just a brutality to ANOTHER SON OF SAM that works, even through its rudimentary and exploitative.
Couldn’t find a trailer for ANOTHER SON OF SAM, but here’s a clip of the soupy sounds of Johnny Charro!
Retro-review: Newly released in the Paul Naschy Collection Vol.1 from The Shout Factory!
NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981)THE RETURN OF THE WOLFMAN, THE CRAVING, THE WEREWOLF, EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO
Directed by Paul Naschy
Written by Paul Naschy
Starring Paul Naschy, Julia Saly, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernández, Beatriz Elorrieta, Rafael Hernández, Pepe Ruiz, Ricardo Palacios, Tito García, David Rocha, Luis Barboo, José Riesgo, Pilar Alcón, Narciso Ibáñez Menta
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
If there is one thing Paul Naschy knew what to play—it’s the role of the tortured werewolf. NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF was the ninth time Naschy played the cursed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky and it wouldn’t be his last. Still, he is at his most vicious and sympathetic in this film.
Naschy’s Daninsky is the pawn of Elizabeth Bathory (Julia Saly) in this installment, cursed by the bloodsucking witch to roam the night as a snarling beast. In this film, it is Bathory who is the true threat with Daninsky caught in the middle of a curse Bathory put upon a land when her coven, Daninsky, and herself were murdered by the church. A few hundred years later, Daninsky’s body is exumed, he rises to become the werewolf again when the moon is full. Coincidentally, Bathory’s body is revived as well by a revenge driven woman named Erika (Silvia Aguilar) and the coven is born anew to wreak new havoc. Hoping to cure himself of the curse, Daninsky battles Bathory and her witches, as well as the beast within himself.
While continuity is tossed out of the window from one movie to the next, one thing is the same from one Daninsky werewolf film to the next, Naschy is awesome in the role. Naschy, as usual, plays both hunter and prey—both noble and scourge, in a complex role of man battling the beast within while confronting new terrors threatening everyone else. This places Daninsky into the role of the reluctant hero. In NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF, Daninsky doesn’t want to kill. He doesn’t want to serve Bathory, but he is beholden to because of the curse. This sets up an opportunity for Daninsky to be sympathetic and someone to root for despite his nightmarish appearance and heinous deeds. It’s this kind of depth that Naschy brings to his werewolf role that few others do.
On top of that we get some pretty gnarly effects. Naschy is at his best snarling and drooling as the werewolf. We get some nice bloodletting from Bathory and her gang. And let’s toss in some rotting corpses for good measure. All of the practicals are effective for their time.
And that’s what I love about Nachy’s werewolf films. They don’t settle with just telling the tale of a werewolf. They toss in witches, vampires, and all kinds of monsters to keep things interesting and put Naschy’s character in a sympathetic light. I guess with this being the ninth time Naschy played Daninsky, a film with him alone would be rather tired, so seeing him face off against a menagerie of other beasts keeps things interesting. If you’re looking for a schlocky good time, NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF definitely fits the bill.
HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB
Other Paul Naschy Films Reviewed on AICN HORROR!
A WEREWOLF IN THE AMAZON
Retro-review: Newly re-released on DVD from MVD Visual!
TRUTH OR DARE?: A CRITICAL MADNESS (1986)aka TRUTH OR DARE, PSYCHOSIS, ELIMINATOR
Directed by Tim Ritter
Written by Tim Ritter
Starring John Brace, Mary Fanaro, Bruce Gold, A.J. McLean, Priscilla Duff, Kerry Ellen Walker, D.C. 'Dash' Goff, Rick Paige, Mona Jones, Bruce Paquette, Edward L. Elliott II, Therese C. Elliott, Raymond Carbone, Geoffrey Miller, Tami Smith, Norm Rosenbaum, Asbestos Felt, Pam Weitzman, Terence Andreucci, Richard K. Day, Si Stillerman, Scott Weitzman, Angelina Rodell
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I remember as a kid being struck by the serial killer flick TRUTH OR DARE?: A CRITICAL MADNES. While many films of the age focused on the killer, this one didn’t both with a cast of characters for the viewer to get to know. This one simply followed the killer on one killing spree after another. While it’s do-it-yourself filmmaking, the film is kind of beautiful in its simplicity.
Mike Strauber (John Brace) is a mild mannered businessman with a wife, a two car garage, and a home of his own. But when he comes home to find his wife in bed with another man, he cracks. Reverting to his childhood, Mike becomes obsessed with the game “Truth or Dare” and begins playing the game in his mind, daring himself to dismantle his own body and the bodies of others. The film follows Mike on not one, not two, but three killing sprees as he escapes from a mental institution over and over, simply to murder everyone in the way of Mike getting back to his wife.
The singular vision of this film is what makes it a classic. There are no side-stories. Not an ounce of nuance. There are hardly even any side characters aside from Mike and anyone who ever gets in between him and his wife. Everyone Mike comes into contact with dies, be it a bunch of punks, random people at a bus stop, or a woman with a baby carriage. This is just mindless carnage from start to finish and it’s pretty glorious. How many times have you watched a horror film and thought to yourself, “Just get to the good stuff!” Well, this film is the answer to your prayers as all it does is kill and kill and kill until the very end.
The effects are pretty impressive as well. All it takes is some blood, some gory bits, and the right angle to shoot it from, and you’ve got a great gore scene and Tim Ritter knows how to do this marvelously. From exploding heads to slice off appendages, this film has it all. It’s a low budget gore masterpiece.
Sure the acting is horrifyingly bad (specifically the non-actors playing cops investigating these crimes). And yes, the film becomes rather hokey when Mike dons a copper mask to cover up the damage he has done to his face in his many games of “Truth or Dare” with himself. The mask seems to be an attempt to make Mike iconic like Jason’s hockey mask. Still, the mask is pretty creepy and I like it that it stays on all the way through to the end. TRUTH OR DARE?: A CRITICAL MADNESS is a film about a determined man set to get finish a mission he has set for himself and cops, doctors, and pedestrians are not going to get in the way of him achieving this goal. The film spawned a series of shot on video sequels by Ritter that I have yet to see, but hope to see some day. If you had a VCR in the eighties, it’s probable that you saw this VHS gem back in the day. It’s still stupid cinema. But it’s the right kind of stupid that gorehounds and classic DIY fans are going to love rediscovering.
New on Digital Download and On Demand from Wild Eye Releasing!
DEMON HUNTER (2016)aka TARYN BARKER: DEMON HUNTER
Directed by Zoe Kavanagh
Written by Tony Flynn, Zoe Kavanagh
Starring Niamh Hogan, Alan Talbot, Sarah Tapes Jenkinson, Kevin O'Malley, Nic Furlong, Michael Parle, Aisli Moran, Saorla Wright, Lauren Emma Bartlett, Stephanie Alken, Meaghan Gallagher, Margarita Grillis, Dave Duffy, Stephen Gorman, Mark Schrier, Shane Robinson, Séamus Hanly, Luke McKenna, Bob Robertson, Derek O'Sullivan, Aidan J Collins, Jonathan East, Tomas Hardi, Richard Mason, Vinny McHale, Brian Matthews Murphy, Aislinn Ní Uallacháin, Alan Rogers
Find out more about this film @DEMONHUNTERfilm and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Playing like a cross between THE CROW and BLADE, DEMON HUNTER rings like an interesting, yet familiar tune trying to mix super-heroism with horror.
After losing her little sister to a demon, a rebellious teen named Taryn Barker (Niamh Hogan) becomes an ass-kicking powerhouse tossing bullets, blades, and roundhouse kicks at demonic forces that seem to be running rampant in Dublin, Ireland. Teaming up with a detective who isn’t convinced this girl isn’t nuts and full of bunk, Taryn fights for her soul and the soul of her loved ones.
Trying to straddle the line between super hero flick and horror movie, DEMON HUNTER is just shy of greatness mainly because the budget just doesn’t fit the ideas presented in the story. The demons themselves aren’t that scary aside from some creepy scenes at the beginning. The action follows too many well worn super hero tropes, such as a suiting up montage, a training montage, and rapid fire edits to cover up the ineffective fight scenes. While the acting isn’t bad, there’s not a lot of depth provided to the characters other than anger, revenge, and hate. In the end, DEMON HUNTER feels more like a nineties attempt at a super hero movie and feels antiquated given the way super hero films have elevated these days. One of my main criticisms of Marvel and DC’s horror characters is that they treat the characters like super heroes instead of making them actual horror stories. DEMON HUNTER falls into that category as well, unfortunately.
New on BluRay/DVD from Legless Corpse Films!
WITCH HUNT (2016)Directed by Richard Chandler
Written by Richard Chandler
Starring Graham King, Tony Ramos Wright, Lilith Astaroth, Carver Riot, Richard Chandler, Lynn Julian, Sonya Joyner, Lucca Drummond, Nicole Sarmiento, Alexandra Bruno, Christian Cromwell, Georgia Rose Matlack, Hannah Heckman-McKenna, Jake Vaughan, Jessica Rockwood, Jack Shipley, Cailyn Sullivan, Jan Waldman
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Coming in at a mighty fifty three minutes, WITCH HUNT blurs the lines between witch and witch hunter, making both of them pretty despicable. Made on the cheap, this celebration of goth lifestyle takes itself way too seriously to be any fun.
A priest compromises his beliefs and hires a pair of goth witchhunters to cleanse a town overrun with witches. The priest tries to salvage his soul, but finds temptation and sin around every corner while the witchhunters (a brother and sister) make out, cast spells, and fight witches with firearms.
WITCH HUNT is just too overly dramatic to be effective. Everything is so dire and serious while everyone is filmed in a light that just isn’t threatening in any way shape or form. The thick accents of the lead two witchhunters give the film a Tommy Wiseau feel which doesn’t do it any favors. And while their actions are supposed to be taboo-bursting and shocking, it just rings as lame. The film’s got a decent metal soundtrack, but it also has all of the metal posing you’d have seen on any random Hairbangers Ball rock block in the late eighties.
New this week On Demand; find out when and where here!
CUT SHOOT KILL (2017)aka CALL SHEET
Directed by Michael Walker
Written by Michael Walker
Starring Alexandra Socha, Alex Hurt, Phil Burke, Jay Devore, Lexi Lapp, Zanny Laird, Josh Salt, Michael Oberholtzer, Lance Channing, Kett Turton, Ian Flanders, Nils Lawton, Keenan Jolliff, Henry Zebrowski, Kyle Harris, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Sebastian Beacon, Clay von Carlowitz, Catherine Curtin, Adam Ratcliffe, Jae Greene, Todd Ryan Jones
Find out more about this film here, @cutshootkillmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Things get meta as a shoot for a slasher film begins being a slasher nightmare of its own in the often clever CUT SHOOT KILL.
Alexandra Socha plays Serena, an aspiring young actress looking to make it big in the movie industry. Taking the advice of her agent, she decides to accept the lead in a slasher film directed by internet short horror film sensation Alabama Chapman (Alex Hurt). Once on the set, things seem to be going smoothly, but when Alabama tells the actors that there is a no cell phone policy on the secluded set, Serena begins to worry. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as Serena finds out about the accidental death of Alabama’s previous star actress and the behavior of the crew become more reckless and threatening. Serena finds out that there is a very real danger on this slasher set and her chances of survival are lessening the deeper she gets into the making of this slasher flick.
CUT SHOOT KILL is at its best when it is making comments on the horror industry. I loved the scene where Serena is asked to be in the sequel to this film and she confides in the producer that she doesn’t want to be a horror movie actress. It’s little insights into the ghettoization of the horror genre as a whole that isn’t dealt with enough in films. SCREAM lauded the genre, but also made fun of its tropes. But this film doesn’t do that. It actually separates those who look at the genre as a stepping stone to bigger and better movies from those with a real passion for the genre and I love it that this film identifies that difference.
While there are some decent action and gore scenes, CUT SHOOT KILL functions best as a somewhat self aware thriller as the viewer is wondering who on the set is in on this deadly ruse and who are just intended to be victims of this deadly film. The cards are shown by the end, but even then this one doesn’t play out as one might expect. CUT SHOOT KILL is an unconventional and fun take on the slasher genre that will surprise a lot of people—even those who have seen a ton of slasher films.
Newly available on Digital download; Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Xbox, and iTunes!
INTERIOR (2014)Directed by Zachary Beckler
Written by Zachary Beckler
Starring Christopher Carullo, Peg O'Keef, Piper Rae Patterson, Autumn Rae Shannon, Shannon Michael Wamser, Zachary Beckler
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though not found footage, the hand held camera is just one of the ways writer/director Zachary Beckler makes his film INTERIOR bore into your brain and send all sorts of chill down your spine.
An out of work filmmaker named Sam (Christopher Carullo) agrees to spend the night alone in the home of his ex-girlfriend Allison (Piper Rae Patterson), which she believes is haunted. Skeptical, but more than willing to work with his ex again, despite the fact that she is married and has a child, Sam sets up shots with a multitude of cameras and a mobile computer network to do some amateur ghost hunting in the home. Allison keeps tabs with Sam via Facebook and phone, but for the most part, Sam is alone in the house--at least for a little while.
This is your typical haunted house film where one man is trapped in a single location for the entirety of the film. This could be excruciating if the actor is not up to snuff at carrying a film or if not enough happens. Thankfully, Carullo is more than capable here as the lead and I can see the actor go far as he is likable, engaging, and downright hilarious at times. For the most part Carullo’s Sam is a moron, bumbling around the house looking for ghosts--looking through drawers he shouldn’t be looking in, playing with Allison’s daughter’s toys, and looking up Youtube videos of ghost sightings. These scenes are great and really do their job in endearing you to Sam’s character so that when things start getting real and spooky, I couldn’t help myself but hope he makes it out alive. Carullo’s likability was crucial here in order for the rest of the film to work, but if you’re the type to get annoyed by a specific type of character (in this case, the lovable loser) the movie’s going to be a completely different experience for you. Since I found myself liking the guy, it didn’t bother me that he is front and center in this film for practically 99% of this movie.
Writer/director Zachary Beckler shows a lot of talent here in terms of setting up one scary scene after another. Some scenes utilize bone-shredding audio of the ghost screeching and screaming. Others are time bomb-style scares where we know something is in the other room and we see Sam approaching it. Still others are more subtle scares playing with the found footage motif without committing to it, as in an early scene where the camera pans back and forth as Sam is on the phone talking with Allison, but then view pulls back and we see that we are looking through a camera which is being moved by unseen forces while sitting on a coffee table. This realization that the scene we just saw was manipulated by ghostly means is a very cool and subtle form of unease that this film is filled with.
Comparisons to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and other ghost in a home shows are inevitable. They even reference PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in the film. But while those films are all about a slow build and not much payoff, INTERIOR has an abundance of scenes that are absolutely chilling. While those looking for every answer might be frustrated with the resolution, I was happy with the way INTERIOR ended as its ambiguity only amplifies the scares. I jumped time and time again at the expertly patient way Beckler sets up his scenes of fright and horror, and I think you will too as the filmmaker utilizes sound, silence, activity, and the spaces in between to really play with expectations and make you scan every corner of the screen for something creepy going on. Once the monster is revealed, it’s equally terrifying, marking one of the few times when an intense buildup leads to a satisfying payoff. INTERIOR is a fright flick like few others, delivering a likable lead and authentically terrifying thrills.
Accompanying shorts were made to go along with this film, both of which are available to watch, so I’ve included them below. The first short, SÉANCE, serves as a prologue to the film and is mentioned in the movie.
And the short WHERE IS ALICE? is the epilogue to the film.
And here’s the trailer for the film itself!
In select theaters and On Demand this week from Epic Pictures!
THE MONSTER PROJECT (2017)Directed by Victor Mathieu
Written by Victor Mathiew, Corbin Billings, Shariya Lynn
Starring Toby Hemmingway, Murielle Zuker, Justin Bruening, Jamal Quezaire, Yvonne Zima, PeiPei Alena Yuan, Jim Storm, Shiori Ideta, Shayne Eastin, Phillip Sebal, Zac Cracknell, Steven Flores, Susan Stangl, Chase Olswang
Find out more about this film here, @tmpmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Breaking some crucial rules of making a found footage film feel genuine, I can’t help but still recommend THE MONSTER PROJECT for its clever story structure and late in the game decisions. So while it doesn’t fare well in my Found Footage Questionnaire, it does get points in the story department.
What’s it all about?
A pair of online pranksters decide to put an ad online asking for proof that monsters are real. After people claiming to be a vampire, a skinwalker (basically a Native American werewolf), and a demon all answer the ad, two other crew members are recruited and they all meet in a spooky abandoned house to film what transpires. Who’d of thought things would go all so very, very wrong?
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
For the most part, the acting is pretty strong throughout. The lead Justin Bruening plays Devon, a typical Hollywood d-bag convincing everyone that meeting people claiming to be monsters in an abandoned house is a good idea. Another acting standout is Toby Hemingway who plays Bryan, a recovering addict and possibly the most well thought out character in the film. The other two filmmakers, though, have some problems. Murielle Zuker who plays Murielle, seems like she is just being asked to act too emotional and angry at the situation all of the time and even se is exasperated by it. And then there is Jamal (Jamal Quezaire), who simply says “All hell naw!” in his best Will Smith voice every time something scary happens. Most of the flaws in the acting comes from the fact that these really aren’t well thought out characters and they aren’t given many lines to sound interesting, so they simply repeat themselves over and over again throughout the film every time a monster leaps out at them.
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)?
I think we need to roll out the doll to show the court all of the wrong places this film has been touched up in post. Now, with the way this film played out, I guess someone would be able to have the time to edit the multiple cameras together and add a score with all kind of piano bangs to accentuate the scares, but there’s really no reason to do it. The soundtrack undercuts all of the scares and simply shows that the filmmakers were not confident enough in the footage to let the scares happen alone. I think that’s a huge mistake, as I think I would have jumped a bit more in THE MONSTER PROJECT without the cellos and synth tones alerting me seconds before something frightening is about the happen. Additionally, there are some inventive POV shots as the camera is worn on the head of one of the crew and we even get a police vest cam worn by the Skinwalker as he chases the kids through the house. Still, there’s no real reason for the footage all to be edited together like this in the world of the film.
Why don’t they just drop the camera and get the hell out of there?
The cameras worn on the bodies of the crew and the Skinwalker are understandably not dropped, but there are some instances where there simply isn’t a reason for the film to be running other than to catch a random event that the story needs to move forward. This can be said about all of the footage, but when Murielle brings the head camera with her to curse out her ex-boyfriend Devon, it’s just too convenient that she is rolling the camera to catch them arguing. The same goes for the other filmmakers who are holding camera equipment. As soon as the Skinwalker showed one wild hair on his ass, I would have dropped the camera like it was scalding.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
There’s not a drag-away that I can remember, but there is an effective confession style sequence early in the movie (more footage inexplicably used simply to reveal character and push the story along) and though it feels pushed in with no subtlety. It does use the confessional as a means for Bryan to document his sobriety and is used to communicate to his family. Later he returns to the camera, screaming for help and revealing to his parents that he has been secretly using drugs, so it does fit into the story.
Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
What I really liked about THE MOSNTER PROJECT is that a whole hell of a lot happens. The crew finds three real life monsters, takes them to a house to interview them, and then ends up being chased by the monsters for the latter portion of the film. And after they take care of the monsters, because some of them have been bitten or infected by the monsters, they end up having to run away from each other very late in the game. That’s a fun little bit of circular storytelling that I can get behind. It’s obvious what is going to happen by the last portion of the film, but still, it can’t be said that THE MONSTER PROJECT is ever boring.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and, ultimately, is it worth watching?
Despite the fact that is it overly post-produced, the acting is spotty, and the actors need to learn how to react to frights with more than one catch phrase, the surprises in the final act of THE MONSTER PROJECT make it an overall breezy and fun experience. Had a little more time been given to the script as was given to the structure of the story, I think this would have been an all around hit. THE MOONSTER PROJECT highlights the amusement park funhouse/ rollercoaster style found footage experience. Like GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT and HELL HOUSE LLC, THE MONSTER PROJECT makes you feel like you’re walking through a haunted house strapped to a couch, It’s a fun thrill ride, just not a believable found footager.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from Metropol Pictures!
UNION FURNACE (2015)Directed by Nicholas Bushman
Written by Nicholas Bushman, Mike Dwyer
Starring Mike Dwyer, Seth Hammond, Katie Keene, Keith David, Kevin Crowley, Tara Bellando, Misa Farslow, Chris Griffith, David Hayward, Lyle Kanouse, Louie Lawless, John W. Lawson, Megan Morelock, John Newkirk, Benjamin Franklin Crawford Wallace
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
UNION FURNACE is the type of indie film I love to discover. Having not an inkling of what this film was about save for the image of the golden lion masked man in a clown colored shirt in front of an audience of masked onlookers who seem to be enjoying themselves at whatever they are coldly looking at, I was tickled to see the coolness that this film exudes from every second of screentime.
The title UNION FURNACE refers to the small Ohio town in which this film is filmed. Being a native Ohioan, I was surprised to never have heard of Union Furnace, but I’m more familiar with Northwestern Ohio than Southern Ohio where this film is located as references to Cincy (Cincinnati, OH) are made numerous times on the film. One Ohioan named Cody (Mike Dwyer) is down on his luck and buried in debt. Stealing a car from a church parking lot, he is followed by a shady individual later to be named Lion (Seth Hammond) who is the aforementioned dancing dude in the gold lion mask. Lion charms Cody with a wad of cash and promises him more if he is to meet him and take part in a friendly competition. Soon Cody finds himself among 8 contestants in a small lodge with the masked audience hooting and hollering for blood. The first game is a derivation of the board game Sorry and seems innocent enough, but as the contestants who lose begin to disappear, the stake rise and soon each contestant is out for each blood and the most desperate is the only one who gets the money and gets to survive the night.
Immediately, when the soupy torch song/retro-country mash-up plays over the credits, I knew I was in for something outside of the norm. The patient and stylistic way director Nicholas Bushman soaks in the poverty stricken and bland colored Ohio small town vibes conveys the mood of desperation. The director makes the mundane landscape pop with surreal music and a steady, unblinking lens. The scenes of Lion gyrating among the overweight and overzealous crowd wearing masks set to bizarre musics is both gorgeous and grotesque. Very much reminiscent of dirty oversaturation of Vincent Gallo’s BUFFALO 66, this film looks like a rusty relic found in an antique store and I immediately recognized it as something truly unique.
The story itself is not new. Films like INBRED, DELIVERANCE, and even hints of Illuminati conspiracy groups of the rich seeking the poor as entertainment as hinted at in EYES WIDE SHUT and THE CONSPIRACY came to mind while watching this film. But in truth, I love those types of films. Kubrick and Tarantino are definitely influences Bushman seems to be pulling from. And the actors themselves have a sort of David Lynch/David Cronenberg/Stanley Kubrick style disconnect from the way the rest of the world works that I found fantastic. As Lion, Seth Hammond proves he is someone to look out for as he exhibits a Matthew McConaughey sort of laid back manner and Mike Dwyer channels Tim Roth in scenes as the captive who seems to be Lion’s favorite to win. Keith David adds a bit of class to any role he plays and does so here as an uptight captive who wishes he wouldn’t have accepted Lion’s offer. While the rest of the cast are made up of faces I haven’t seen before, but all of them do a great job of playing either down and out types with their own unique back-story or the haunting masked crowd that could be made up of anyone, but still make for an ominous background to this twisted tale of human lives at stake for a profit.
UNION FURNACE is a unique tale shown through a lens that tells me that director Nicholas Bushman is someone to look out for. The richness of the way this film looks is unlike most I’ve seen and while Bushman borrows from other directors, he borrows from the right ones to spark my interest. As Bushman evolves into his own style, I’m hoping this evolution continues to focus on great character as seen through a lens that balances between the grotesque and the beautiful. UNION FURNACE is a powerful film that will definitely leave you wanting to soak in more of its bizarre imagery and sounds even after the satisfying end. Highly recommended for those who love a little quirk, ambience, and class war in their thrillers.
New this week On Demand and on BluRay/DVD from Well Go USA!
BLUEBEARD (2017)aka THAWING
Directed by Soo-youn Lee
Written by Soo-youn Lee
Starring Jin-woong Jo, Goo Shin, Dae-Myung Kim, Chung-ah Lee, Young-chang Song, Yoon Se-Ah
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A mystery? A descent into madness? A serial killer caper? BLUEBEARD is all of these mixed into one potent little film.
Seung-hoon (Jin-woong Jo) is a beleaguered doctor in a clinic which specialized in colonoscopies, a specialization that has proven to be most popular in this lazy South Korea town, which has been plagued with serial killings for decades/ Seung-hoon struggles with managing his busy schedule and getting used to living without his wife and son—as his marriage seems to have recently been broken up for unknown reasons. On top of this busy schedule, Seung-hoon notices that the butcher shop downstairs from his apartment may be the spot where some of the serial killings are taking place. But the deeper Seung-hoon investigates, the more he becomes obsessed with finding out the truth behind a mysterious bag that looks like it is covering a head. As people around him go missing, all roads lead to the butcher shop as the place where the murders are taking place. But is that what is really going on?
BLUEBEARD is a film that will frustrate some and fascinate others. If you’re the type who love a little mystery and enjoy perching on the shoulder of the lead as they piece the mystery together, this film delivers. But at the same time, it is a misleading film that pulls a whopper of a secret out its pocket late in the game and that might leave you with a ripped off feel as the film really does lead you by the nose in one way and then jerk you in another direction. I don’t mind being manipulated in this way and was definitely entertained as I watched Seung-hoon try to piece this mystery together.
Seeing the film from two different perspectives (one inside Seung-hoon’s head and another outside) is a whole lot of fun and without giving too much away, the film flips and flops in all directions until the very end, so just when you think you’ve figured it all out, it manages to go in a completely different direction. For the most part all of these misleadings, false clues, mixed perceptions, skewed theories, and red herrings make BLUEBEARD a film you should not so much as try to figure out as much as just sit back and experience. If you do that, you’ll be as enthralled as I was with the film. The gore is not over the top and neither is the violence, but there is a substantial amount of both to be found in BLUEBEARD. The film ends up being a rather tragic character study of an unfortunate and exhausted man at the end of his rope, places there by expectations from a strict and no-nonsense society focused on role, status, and reputation. Not the most chipper film to watch, but it’s another example of strong South Korean filmmaking—a true force in genre films these days.
New this week On Demand, on Netflix, and on Digital Download; find out how to watch it here!
THE TRANSFIGURATION (2017)Directed by Michael O'Shea
Written by Michael O'Shea
Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Moten, Dangelo Bonneli, Danny Flaherty, Anna Friedman, Jaquan Kelly, Tarikk Mudu, Carter Redwood, Tyler Rossell, Charlotte Schweiger, Luis Scott, Lloyd Kaufman, & Larry Fessenden
Find out more about this film here, @thetransfigurationfilm, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
One of the most interesting and unfortunately overplayed movie monsters is the vampire. There have been every variation of the vampire in film and book form explored in previous years, specifically during the TWILIGHT era, but even before that. Like many of you, I have taken a break from being transfixed with vampire lore, but every now and then, a new concept comes along and it makes the whole thing feel fresh again. This time around, that film is THE TRANSFIGURATION; a film that is not only a great vampire story, but it also metaphorically addresses how trapped we are in our own fate, no matter how big we dream. Sure it’s not the most uplifting of subject matter, but the film addresses this matter in such a somber and mature way that I believe it will resonate with even those who are not in love with the horror genre.
THE TRANSFIGURATION focuses on a young, troubled, African American boy named Milo (Eric Ruffin)—an outcast with no friends, no parents, and a weird belief that he is a vampire. Milo doesn’t only believe this, but in the opening scene we see him draining the blood from the neck of one of his victims in a public men’s room stall. Milo checks in with his social worker weekly, gets groceries for his shut in brother Lewis (Aaron Moten), watches vampire movies, and reads up on being a vampire. Milo’s life of avoiding bullies at school, keeping out of reach of the gang members who live in his building, and coping with the death of his parents changes when he meets Sophie (the utterly charming Chloe Levine), a street-wise white girl who takes interest in Milo because he doesn’t treat her objectively and rudely like the other boys do. What transpires is an odd little romance between a girl trying to find a place to be safe and a boy who thinks he’s a vampire.
This is an odd movie as it never really makes it clear as to whether or not Milo really is a vampire or not. Sure he has convinced himself that he is one and attacks pedophiles and bad people, draining them of their blood, but he is not a vampire in the supernatural sense that Milo sees in the vampire movies he watches all of the time. Reminiscent of Romero’s MARTIN, the excellent New York vampire film MIDNIGHT SON and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN/LET ME IN in terms of a young vampire befriending another youngster, writer/director Michael O'Shea isn’t concerned with telling a supernatural story, but a human one about two lost souls coming together. It is obvious that Milo is suffering from a mental disorder. His deadpan delivery and vacant stare is haunting and everyone around him knows it. Having found his mother’s body after her suicide, Milo broke inside and he has never been able to fix it. What this film does so well is depict Milo as a kid who is trying to understand who he is, why he is the way he is, and if he can interact with the world in a way that he sees others doing. It’s absolutely entrancing seeing Milo let down his walls to let Sophie in ever so slightly and trying to make connections with her in his awkward, twisted, and off-kilter way (his first date with Sophie is watching animal torture videos on his computer, which of course, freaks Sophie out). Just as it is fascinating to see Milo connect with Sophie, it is equally interesting understanding why Sophie might be interested in Milo. She likes that he is weird and is more attracted to him because he actually presents himself as having no feelings. Sophie just doesn’t know how deep these eccentricities go and the anticipation for that revelation is painful the closer it gets.
Both Ruffin as Milo and Levine as Sophie are true cinematic finds. Milo speaks volumes with no words at all. When he does smile and speak, he does so in an equally restrained way. It takes a lot to feel for a character who is first seen draining a man of blood in a men’s room stall, but Ruffin does it through the horrific situation he is in and his attempts to connect with Sophie in a way that you can’t help but root for him. Chloe Levine is amazing as Sophie. She is fragile and strong. She is street wise but still innocent. She’s a true tragic flower in a concrete jungle just waiting to be stomped, but somehow she survives and has a brightness in her eyes every time she encounters Milo. Looking like a young Charlize Theron, Levine is going to be a huge star—mark my words. Seeing the two of them walk along the sidewalk oozes more character than most Hollywood actors with Milo’s little shuffling walk with no movement in his arms and Sophie’s graceful stride as she crosses one leg in front of the other. It’s absolutely fascinating following the two of these characters as they get closer to one another and it’s also torture to watch because you know nothing good is going to come from this relationship in the end.
THE TRANSFIGURATION, like many vampire films, can be seen as a metaphor for the hopelessness and trapped feeling inner city youth feel every day. While Milo is obviously smart, his tragic past and dangerous environment almost ensure that his life is on the line every day. The numb and lifeless feel Milo exudes is a look I am all too familiar with working as a therapist for inner city youth for the last 15 years in Chicago. Not only is this a compelling little horror movie, with real chills, bloody gore, and powerfully dramatic moments, but it also depicts a lifestyle that is often glamorized in rap videos and looked past in bigger budget films. This is a grungy, close to the street film reminiscent of New York films by Frank Hennenlotter and Abel Ferrara. The film’s pace is slow, but I was so transfixed with the characters, their plight, and the overwhelming urge to hope these two can make it out of this together and alive, that I didn’t even notice. THE TRANSFIGURATION is a marvel of a movie with breathtaking performances, rich characters, and a story as compelling as they come. I absolutely loved this film and give it my highest recommendation.
In theaters now!
ANNABELLE 2: CREATION (2017)Directed by David F. Sandberg
Written by Gary Dauberman
Starring Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Grace Fulton, Samara Lee, Philippa Coulthard, Joseph Bishara, Kerry O'Malley, Brian Howe, Adam Bartley, Lotta Losten, Brad Greenquist, Tayler Buck, Mark Bramhall, Lou Lou Safran
Find out more about this film here, @AnnabelleMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Color me surprised that I actually liked ANNABELLE: CREATION quite a bit. Every time I think I’ve had my fill of James Wan’s universe of hauntings, demonic possessions, and things that go bump in the night, another film is released from Blumhouse that actually proves that, next to the Marvel Cinematic Universe) it’s probably one of the tightest and most entertaining connected set of films you’re bound to see in theaters in recent years.
ANNABELLE: CREATION focuses on the makers of the evil doll that starred in ANNABELLE and THE CONJURING were the doll what first shown. Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) who suffer a horrible loss when their bright and shining daughter Bee (Samara Lee) dies suddenly. After a lengthy period of grief and recluse, the couple believe that it is time to have the pitter patter of little feet in the home again so they open up their doors to a group of orphans lead by the compassionate Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Among the six orphans who arrive at the home are Linda (OUIJA: THE ORIGIN OF EVIL’s Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), two best friends who vow to be adopted together. One night, Janice is compelled to go into a room Mr, Mullins has deemed off limits and finds a creepy looking doll locked inside a closet wall papered with bible pages. Janice has no idea of the evil she has unleashed once the doll is free and all souls are on the table to be taken, consumed, and destroyed.
What I feel ANNABELLE: CREATION does well is actually put weight to the scares that have become a trademark to Blumhouse. In typical Blumhouse films, there’s about a scare every five minutes, be they hollow cat-jumping-through-a window scares or real ones, punctuated by a sound burst that causes more of a fight-or-flight response than any kind of weighty scare that actually affects the viewer. So by the end of it, you’re kind of exhausted from jumping and laughing over and over again. ANNABELLE: CREATION doesn’t really do that. This film really does a great job of allowing us the space to get to know these characters, sympathize with them, and then when they are put into peril, the peril is real rather than a simple burst of sound for no reason. With this film, this feels like a maturity to the CONJURING Universe, as there are long moments here that allow the film to breath and settle before the scary starts. I was impressed by the patience of LIGHT’S OUT director David F. Sandberg who really does a fantastic job of showing the scene, allowing the characters to be filled out, and really let the audience get comfy before things go creepy.
This makes the scares all the more potent. By focusing on telling a story and not making teenie-boppers jump and giggle every few seconds, the film pays off after a rather scare free first half hour-forty-five minutes. Sandberg sets up quite a few scenes that pay off big time later on as this house has all kinds of secret closets, dark corners, twisted dollmaking workshops, and a dingy sheds containing a terrifying scarecrow. Because Sandberg introduces these creepy elements in the first half of the film, the scares really hit home in the latter half of the movie when we revisit the creepy dark places after the evil is unleashed.
ANNABELLE: CREATION is a fun film with solid character work from LaPaglia and Otto and some strong performances from its two younger stars (Wilson and Bateman). The film knows how to introduce creepy elements and give them a payoff later. It also manages to nestle in quite nicely into the universe first seen in THE CONJURING and then expanded upon in the less-than thrilling ANNABELLE, all the while managing to connect rather seamlessly with THE CONJURING 2 its upcoming spinoff THE NUN in a surprising and entertaining fashion. There’s even a post-credit sequence confirming that THE NUN is the next offering in this universe. I don’t know what Wan is working towards with all of this. Maybe after AQUAMAN, he’ll return to make his CONJURING style AVENGERS film mixing all of these movies together. There even seems to be some kind of INSIDIOUS tie-ins in ANNABELLE: CREATION as the demon looks an awful lot like the red-faced monster that haunted the nightmares in INSIDIOUS. Whatever Wan has planned with this series, ANNABELLE: CREATION is a surprisingly high-quality, compelling, and potent popcorn scare flick. We don’t get enough of those these days, so when it happens we should celebrate it.
And finally…here’s another animated short film from low fi filmmaking genius Sonny Fernandez. This time he takes a stab at our favorite dream demon, Freddy Krueger. Find out more about Down Twisted Studios on Sonny’s Patreon page here. Enjoy THE NIGHTMARE MAN!
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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