Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.
Producer David Bond and Dark Elegy Films have just wrapped their new film EXTREMITY and wanted to share a few exclusive pics with AICN HORROR’s readers. The film stars Dana Christina as Allison, a young woman with a severely troubled past who signs up for an extreme haunt called Perdition. She believes that putting herself through Perdition’s nightmarish trials will help her exorcise her internal traumas, but has no way of knowing just how shocking her ordeal will be—or what dark secrets buried in her psyche will emerge.
The film also stars quite a few horror greats such as THE GREASY STRANGLER’s Michael St. Michael, scream queen extraordinaire Tiffany Shepis, Kristina Klebe, SLEEPAWAY CAMP’s Felissa Rose, CHROMESKULL’s Nicholas Principe, as well as Chad Rook (War for the Planet of the Apes), Ashley Smith (international Playboy and Sports Illustrated cover model in her first feature), J. LaRose (the Insidious and Saw franchises), Japanese actress Ami Tomite (Antiporno, Meatball Machine Kodoku) and international cult director Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver). In addition, Nishimura created the film’s graphically gory makeup effects, while the eerie masks worn by Perdition’s denizens were designed by Simon Sayce, who was responsible for the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box that summoned the Cenobites in the classic Hellraiser films. EXTREMITY is directed by Anthony DiBlasi (Clive Barker’s Dread, The Last Shift). Bond also wrote the screenplay with Scott Swan (Masters of Horror, The Profane Exhibit). This looks to be another devious little gem and I can’t wait to see and hear more about it as it seeks distribution.
With October coming up, so comes my yearly recap of the Best of the Best in horror. Each day in October, I’ll count down the best films reviewed on AICN HORROR this year and I’m on the lookout for sponsors. I 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 SLAYER (1982)
Retro-review: SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN (1983)
Retro-review: ARENA (1989)
Retro-review: CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
THE EVIL IN US (2016)
THE OTHERWORLD (2013)
DAVE MADE A MAZE (2017)
And finally…Light’s Out Radio Play: Murder Castle!
Retro-review: New on Special Edition BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
THE SLAYER (1982)aka NIGHTMARE ISLAND
Directed by J.S. Cardone
Written by J.S. Cardone & Bill Ewing
Starring Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes, Sandy Simpson, Paul Gandolfo, Newell Alexander, Ivy Jones, Jennifer Gaffin, Richard Van Brakel, & Carl Kraines as the Slayer!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
This trippy little shocker predates A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET but turns out to be very similar to it while mixing in a lot of slasher tropes that were just getting revved up by the early eighties. Surprisingly, this is one I never saw on video back in the day, but turns out it is a rather sophisticated and potent nightmare of a movie.
A pair of siblings and their significant others decide to go for a weekend getaway in the country. Both couples seem to have their issues, but Kay (Sarah Kendall) is by far the most damaged of the foursome. Plagued with nightmares, Kay tries to cope by painting surreal and abstract imagery. Her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) seems to love her, but acknowledges that she is pretty nuts. Still, the two couples try to make the best of the summer home. But once taken to the island getaway, strange things begin to happen and Kay begins to believe someone or something is stalking the group and picking them off one by one. Sure enough, something is attacking the group and Kay seems to be the only one who knows what it is. It all winds down to Kay facing off against her own personal demon in this metaphysical and psychological horror tale.
THE SLAYER smears the borders between dream and reality quite a bit, which Craven did so well in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. Having Kay believe she is walking around in the real world, only to find herself dreaming is a scene used numerous times in the film and makes you untrustworthy as to whether any of this is real or not. While the film doesn’t go the cheap route by ending with an “it’s all a dream” scenario, the film does flip around and overlap upon itself coming full circle in the end. In the end, Kay comes off as a tortured soul trapped in a nightmare inside her own ill mind and it stays consistently dream-like throughout making the whole film feel like one long trippy experience.
Adding to the trippiness is the over the top acting. While the bonds of familial love are strong, having to put up with the hysterical Kay for the entire film would be grating on everyone. Kendall is great at playing a lunatic and hyperactively does so pretty much the entire film—staring with wide eyes and shouting most of her lines. The rest of the cast is somewhat overshadowed by Kendall’s performance as Kay—reacting with beleaguered attempts to soothe her, though they all seem extremely sick of her nutso antics. I found it hard to like Kay myself and grew weary of her exasperated rants and frightened stares, yet compelled enough by the story and how can they possibly wrap it up to stick with it.
The gore effects are actually rather impressive. There’s one specific gore effect where two doors slam onto someone’s neck that is most likely a hole cut between the doors so the actors head can fit through, but add a little torn skin, a lot of blood, and the wincing face of the actor and you have a pretty terrifying scene. While the monster itself that is tormenting Kay is nice and slimy, the face lacks articulation and feels very mask like when the camera lingers on it too long. All in all, THE SLAYER is a potent psycho-thriller with a good amount of blood and gore and a heaping helping of psychological twists and turns. This BluRay release from Arrow Films comes with a brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative, brand new interviews with cast and crew, and the original theatrical trailer.
THE VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE, ANTHROPOPAGUS, BLOODY MOON, THE BURNING, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL MAN, DEVIL HUNTER, THE DRILLER KILLER, EVILSPEAK, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, ISLAND OF DEATH, AXE, NIGHT OF THE DEMON, NIGHTMARE, MADHOUSE, A BAY OF BLOOD, CANNIBAL TERROR, CONTAMINATION, EATEN ALIVE, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, THE FUNHOUSE, SACRIFICE!, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, VISITING HOURS, THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, THE GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY, & TRAUMA
Retro-review: New on DVD from Intervision/Severin!
SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN (1983)Directed by Alan Briggs
Written by Meg Shanks
Starring Colin Chamberlain, Ginny Rose, Jon Hollanz, Nicola Diana, Mark Insull, Joanna Bryant, Sharnilla Babjee, Angela Hilton, Nicola Bratley, James Hillis, Ben Woods, Natalie Toubkin, Andre Toubkin, Julie Piper, Zeynup Turan, Tania Chivers, Paul Rawson
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While there’s a lot of low budgets setbacks to SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN, an explosive and rather shocking ending makes it pretty evident why the film ended up banned even before it was even released.
A peaceful orphanage in London is turned on end when a little mute girl named Elizabeth (Nicola Diana) is dropped off on their doorstep. The orphanage is run by the strict and straight laced Maurice (Colin Chamberlain) and the easy going and motherly Jenny (Ginny Rose). Right away, something seems off with Elizabeth and when accidents begin to occur to some of the kids, Jenny and Maurice begin to expect Elizabeth is the cause of it all. A popstar named Mick (Jon Hollanz) who used to be a part of the orphanage seems to be the only one who can connect with Elizabeth, but as she recruits other girls into her thrall in the night, he finds that he or any of the other adults are safe as it turns out Elizabeth might be to daughter of Satan himself.
If the bad sound doesn’t turn you away, the Commodore 64 computer credits will as SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN is about as low budget as they come in terms of production. Sure, there’s a sort of indie edge to the film, but the bad sound and sometimes inaudible overlapping lines make it hard to follow this one without subtitles, but even then the subtitler isn’t able to make out the words and simply types (inaudible) instead of the lines which itself is rather quaint. Still, that doesn’t take away from some fun nightmare sequences as Elizabeth takes over the children in their dreams and a truly horrifying rampage at the end where the kids violently and bloodily attack the adults with knives after chanting “Hail Satan” in the attic with Elizabeth. The harrowing scenes of these kids attacking the adults looks and feels real filmed in this DIY manner and I can understand why the censors went nuts when this film came out.
The story behind this lost little film is even more interesting as it was basically a school project with the backing of a good agent. All of the players were students in the children’s film school of the writer and co-producer of the film Meg Shanks. While there are laws and contracts today keeping schools from releasing the work done by their students, none of them really existed back then and director Alan Briggs, who also happened to be married to Shanks just directed these little thespians and then distributed the film in hopes of a profit. Because it involved children and warns the audience that this is a true story, the censors went nuts and banned it before it was even released. Something about the wording of the description which states that it “took place at 45 Kingston Road, New Malden, Surrey, England in August of 1984. None of these events were reported to the press and now the house is scheduled for demolition in the immediate future.” It also boldly states that none of the child actors were never seen or heard from after making the film. All of this is hype, but it adds to the aura of real danger to this film that made me pop it into my player immediately after I got it and if you’re a horror fan looking for a lost, low budget gem that really embraces some twisted horrors and some rather unbecoming eighties styles, SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN is going to be a must for you too.
Special features in this rerelease includes an interview with director Alan Briggs, an interview with critic John Martin about its notorious history, and the original trailer for the film, which is below.
Retro-review: New in the Empire Pictures BluRay Box Set Collection from Full Moon Entertainment!
ARENA (1989)Directed by Peter Manoogian
Written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Starring Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck, Armin Shimerman, Brett Porter, Charles Tabansi, Michael Deak, Jack Carter, William Butler, Grady Clarkson, Dave Thompson, Ken Clark, Cliff Lance, Wayne Brewer, Diana Rose, Steve Wang
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Empire Pictures made some amazing films in the 80’s. The precursor to Full Moon Entertainment stretched their budgets and put varied and extremely creative images on screen. These mini-epics tackle horror, sci fi and beyond and now they’ve collected them all in one huge, badass box set. I’m going to be covering each film in this collection over the next few weeks, but if you’re a film collector, you’re going to want to grab this set as soon as possible as there are only 600 of them. Check out this sizzle reel featuring some of the iconic films collected in this Box Set.
There would be no ARENA without STAR WARS, but then again, there are very few of the Empire films that don’t owe a lot to some better produced, more popular, and frankly more entertaining films. Still, check your brain at the door and try to forget everything you know about STAR WARS and STAR TREK, and even KICKBOXER, BLOODSPORT, GYMKATA, THE KARATE KID, and even ROCKY, and you might walk away entertained with ARENA.
With aspirations to return to Earth, blonde bohunk Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield) is duped into fighting in a space tournament when his friend Shorty (Hamilton Camp) gets in trouble with both the local law and a crime boss. Coached by the succulent Quinn (Claudia Christian) and taking on one monstrous monster after another, Steve might be the first ever human to become champion of the Arena!
OK, the acting is bad. The story is your typical sports movie where the hero works his way up through the ranks in a tournament and it all boils down to the big last fight with the big bad. You’ve seen this film a million and one times, but what makes ARENA watchable are the effects. No, they aren’t completely believable, but John Carl Buechler created almost 100 different alien costumes and appliances to populate the Arena and the space station. Most of them are ill fitting masks and some of them are direct swipes at designs from STAR TREK like the Ferengi, but some of them, like the giant alien with kangaroo legs that Armstrong first fights are downright awesome. And while the story is something we all can recite in our sleep, the effects on display are enough to keep one from slipping into slumberland.
Satterfield is passable as the lead. Christian is gorgeous. And the four armed antics of Camp as Shorty is fun. Basically ARENA is an extended film taking place in the STAR WARS cantina scene with lesser production values and while D-grade sci fi is a no-go for some, there’s enough spirit injected into this one, mostly due to the fun alien designs, that’ll entertain.
FROM BEYOND, PRISON, GHOULIES, GHOULIES II , TROLL, DOLLS, CRAWLSPACE, CELLAR DWELLER, ELIMINATORS, THE DUNGEONMASTER, CATACOMBS, GHOST TOWN, TRANCERS
Retro-review: New on 4K UltraHD format BluRay/DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is my review of CABIN IN THE WOODS that I wrote after watching it for the first time back in 2012, when this column was a little over a year old. Most of my criticism stands and while CABIN IN THE WOODS pokes a fun finger at horror, it still is wildly entertaining to watch as I have done so many times since its release all those years ago.
CABIN IN THE WOODS is an unabashed horror movie, and proud to be one with scenes consisting of fantastically timed jump scares and more complex ones that build in magnitude. In many ways, it is the apex of horror films, taking everything of what has been said and done before and smartly incorporating it all into one expansive story. Horror is itself as much about convention as it is about scaring you, and CABIN IN THE WOODS embraces this fact cleverly and capably. Certain tick marks have to be made on a well worn checklist for most modern audiences to enjoy horror films, and Whedon and Goddard do a great job of making those marks one by one throughout the story. There’s the cabin in the woods, there’s the group of rowdy teens, there are drugs, there is sex, there is an entire Mystery Machine full of Scooby Doo characters-- Fred the jock, Daphne the tramp, Shaggy the stoner, Scooby the noble nerd, and of course, Velma the virgin. The thing that separates this film from the herd is the fact that all of what we have come to expect are present and accounted for yet this doesn’t produce eye rolling at the adherence to convention; instead it views these archetypes with fresh eyes. All of these roles are smartly crafted and much praise should go to Whedon and Goddard for shedding a refreshing light on these old standbys.
Without revealing too much, I’m sure most of you know that there are behind the scenes machinations at work that our residents of the cabin are unaware of. This is the aspect which both sets this film apart yet also makes me a bit leery of what this film means for the horror genre. In many ways, this is the end all be all of horror films. It borrows quite a bit from scores of other films, and much like the archetypes of our young cast, it checks off all of these types of horror films in the same fashion. As self-referential as SCREAM was, CABIN IN THE WOODS does the same in a more complex fashion. Instead of verbally vomiting these rules off one by one as it occurred in Craven/Williamson’s flick which half the time mocked the genre it firmly rested in, CABIN IN THE WOODS creatively implements them. In doing so, this makes the film so much more enjoyable to sit through. It’s the filmic equivalent of explaining a joke as opposed to experiencing it, experiencing it being the much more satisfying option of the two.
For example, when a character suggests that they split up in order to investigate the strange goings on, instead of one of the characters stating “Every character in every horror movie makes the bad decision to split up and it always gets them killed!”, the character simply says “Really!?!?!” Same joke, but funnier because it avoids the tedious explanation and obnoxious wink at the camera. By having these characters go through motions we are very much used to seeing in horror films, yet restrictedly self aware in doing so, Goddard and Whedon makes it ok to see someone go off alone to investigate that bump in the night rather than running in the opposite direction, which would be the more realistic way of handling said situation. Without giving too much away, the filmmakers make every bone-headed move these cabiners make sensible in the context of the story.
But with CABIN IN THE WOODS hitting all of the right notes, does this mean that horror has hit such a level of self-awareness that there is nowhere to go? Surely, the way this film ends there really isn’t a lot of room for a sequel, but much like the tedious and repetitive aftershocks that the horror genre experienced from the annoyingly overly self-aware SCREAM (where every character must acknowledge they are in a horror film), I fear that the same will be a result of this film. And in a genre that has already been sucked dry by sequels, remakes, and films talking down to its audiences, it makes me fearful as to what Whedon and Godard have wrought with this film, which could be seen as the end result of the sum of all horror films.
Ramifications on the horror genre aside, Goddard has constructed a completely satisfying movie experience. The film does fall into its own conventions at times with its extremely good looking cast of campers (even the nerd has six-pack abs), but I’m willing to look past that due to the deft handling of scare scenes, fresh takes on old conventions, and expert construction of just about everything from practical effects to CGI to elaborate set pieces. The climax of this film does toss everything against the wall, but most of it sticks. Though the guest appearance at the end is a bit distracting, it is, like the rest of the film, an ode to horror convention and I didn’t take very much issue with it. As I mentioned above, there is a definite ending to this film, one that might be hard pressed to squeeze a sequel from, but the ending, like much of the rest of the film, is solid and satisfying.
I couldn’t end this review without talking about the performances by the actors. Unlike most horror films utilizing the cabin in the woods motif, most of the cast exhibit a great amount of acting skill. Standout performances include Chris Hemsworth, who adds a bit of depth to the bawdy jock stereotype, and Kristen Connolly, who takes the virginal character that is always present in these types of films and turns it on its ear. Fran Kranz plays himself as the comedic stoner wisenheimer character he perfected in DOLLHOUSE, and his comedy works almost all of the time due to Goddard and Whedon’s clever scripting. For me, though, the highlight of this film was Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford, who alternate at being both jaw-droppingly awesome and pants-shittingly funny every second they are on the screen.
CABIN IN THE WOODS is the type of film that horror freaks like me fiend for, yet also makes them cringe a little as it alerts general filmgoers as to how cool the horror genre is, yet it does so on a blockbuster tapestry the horror genre is rarely cast upon. It’s gory but not grossout. It’s scary without being overly disturbing. It’s safe, yet the filmmakers are skilled enough to make the whole thing such an enjoyable loop-di-loop that you can’t help but leave the theater with a smile so big you can taste your ears. Though horror fans love to be off in the corner thinking dark thoughts and flicking off film snobs, it’s bound to give those same fans a warm feeling that CABIN IN THE WOODS was treated with such skill and respect for the genre. In many ways, CABIN IN THE WOODS is validation that all of those low budget horror films which set these conventions in the first place are as cool as we all knew they were and may serve as an awesome gateway drug for those who see horror in a down-snouted manner. It may even prompt those folks to view those amazing films that influenced CABIN IN THE WOODS in a new light.
I can’t help but recommend CABIN IN THE WOODS for horror fans and those beyond that specific predilection and hope that this treatment excites other creative minds to the genre. Yet at the same time, the cynic in me recognizes that CABIN IN THE WOODS could possibly be, like SCREAM before it, a milestone in the genre and fears what that means for what happens next in horror.
Me again. OK, so CABIN IN THE WOODS didn’t break horror. It ended up being a fun romp and in my opinion horror has become more potent and impactful than ever since CABIN IN THE WOODS pointed out all of the clichés. While a lot of these clichés are still overused, maybe placing them in full view will lead more creative types to do something different in horror rather than rely on the same old tropes. I can dream, right?
For this 4K UltraHD release, special features include; audio commentary by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon, a making of featurette “We Are Not Who We Are,” visual effects featurette “Primal Terror,” make-up and animatronic featurette “An Army of Nightmares,” WOndercon Q&A, trailer, and Bonusview mode “It’s Not What You Think” feature, along with that hi def 4K UltraHD sights and sounds!
New DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment!
BESETMENT (2017)Directed by Brad Douglas
Written by Brad Douglas
Starring Abby Wathen, Marlyn Mason, Michael Meyer, Douglas Rowe, Lindsea Kline, Greg James, Hannah Barefoot, John T. Woods, Sonya Davis, Max Gutfreund, Liam O'Sruitheain, Sadndra Doolittle, Tanner McCullough, Ashley Layton, Nona Bigham, Edward Simper
Find out more about this film here, @besetment, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While there are some moments of bite in BESETMENT, the film undercuts its own impact with expository and repetitious scenes as well as some rough patches of acting. While it tries to shock and schlock you, the rough edges of this one just don’t make it stand out. Still, there are some scenes that I wish I could unsee, which is something impressive with my jaded sensibilities.
A young woman named Amanda (Abby Wathen) takes a job at an inn owned by the seemingly matronly Mildred (Marlyn Mason). It’s an offer too good to be true as Amanda is trying to move out of her home and get away from her verbally abusive and alcoholic mother. Leaping at the opportunity, Amanda fails to see the creepy signs on the wall and ends up bound to a bed with her mouth sewn shut, and preparing to be forced to wed Mildred’s grown yet infantile son Billy (Michael Meyer).
BESETMENT reminds me of the schlocky familial horror films of old like THE BABY, SPIDER BABY, MOTHER’S DAY, and SONNY BOY as well as the classic TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, where the antagonists trap an unwitting victim and force them to be a part of their twisted family. I can appreciate the twisted lengths this film goes in order to shock the audience, even though seeing a septuagenarian jerk off her fifty year old son is something I’m pretty certain I never wanted to see. Still, in terms of shock and awe, that scene makes this movie up there in the “that’s just fucking wrong” category. The twisted ceremony of the drugged up Amanda and her husband to be is another attempt as freakishness, this time reminiscent of the oft-repeated dinner scene in TCM where a common familial setting is shat upon and put away wet by the freakishness of the monsters of the film. In that sense, BESETMENT does a decent job of providing some offensive and downright scarring scenes that really get to the core of what abject and unsettling horror is all about.
The problem is that everything is handled so ham fistedly that the impact of these twisted scenes fall flat on delivery. The acting is below par, the direction and editing are clumsy, and the writing is redundant. Through dialog and some action, we are able to put together that Amanda has been raped the first night she was at the inn, but she remembers none of it. We can piece together that Billy is a simple-minded, yet good natured soul through his interactions with Amanda and that Mildred is the true evil force at play here. Still, instead of relying on us to get it through the way the story plays out, the filmmaker decides to actually show the scene AFTER we’ve already been given all the information. We don’t need that extended flashback scene that simply adds ten minutes to the movie—most likely it was done to get feature length runtime as it only runs an hour and eleven minutes. This clumsy storytelling, capped off at the end with a trail scene that feels like it was set on the NIGHT COURT stage, is what really killed this one for me.
While there are some really grotesque things at play here, the need to show it all and poor way everything from acting to story is presented just makes this one a film you can skip. Some ideas are best hinted at for better effect. Showing it all isn’t always a good thing and this is the case with BESETMENT.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
THORN (2009)aka LEGACY OF THORN
Directed by Mj Dixon
Written by Mj Dixon
Starring Jade Wallis, Mem Ferda, Paris Rivers, Craig Canning, Jane Haslehurst, Aaron Jeffcoate, Stephanie Jezard, Evie Constanti, Alex Tamaro, Dave Laurie, Nathan Head, Eirian Cohen, Sam Cullingworth, William Marshall, Damian Morter, Melissa Hollett, Ian Lawlor, Simon Craig, Lee Bibby, Nikki Webster, Robert Chapman, & Richard Daniel Thomas Holloran as Thorn!
Find out more about this film here and #thornmovie
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
From the director of the ARKHAM ASYLUM-esque film SLASHER HOUSE where a bunch of serial killers are set free in an asylum and a group of people have to try to make their way out comes a film about one of those killers named THORN. MJ Dixon continues to mix the superhero and horror genre with low budget, but well intentioned results.
Thorn is a serial killer who chooses a group of kids to kill every leap year. Not sure what he does on the off years. Maybe freshens up his arm tattoos or sharpens his knives. Last time around, Thorn messed up and left a few people alive, so this leap year, when he comes to settle the score, they are ready for him. While their trap works momentarily, it turns out the supernatural killer is much more powerful then they think and with an army of officers after Thorn to return him to the Slasher House (a nickname for a facility that only holds the worst of the serial killers), the kids are simply running for their lives. The rest of the film is filled with some redundant flashbacks of relational stuff between the kids, all of which is moot once they meet an end at the blade of Thorn.
MJ Dixon really seems to like comic books and FRIDAY THE 13TH films post PART 6. Thorn is basically zombie Jason where you can seemingly murder him, but he always comes back and can seemingly take an unlimited amount of punishment. There are some fun mystical elements to Thorn that are sort of dealt with, but only vaguely. Dixon also chooses to film the entire film through one kind of filter or another, be it moody blue or intense red. Add this to playing around with intense camera angles, and you’ve got a vibrant and pretty fast paced little film. The acting isn’t the best, but there is some fun action and gore. This is an ambitious world Dixon is creating from one movie to the next and it’s fun to see the director grow in visual style as he goes along this shared universe populated with monsters you’ve seen before in bigger and better monster movies, but is still breezy fun to watch.
JACKALS (2017)Directed by Kevin Greutert
Written by Jared Rivet
Starring Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Schaech, Nick Roux, Chelsea Ricketts, Ben Sullivan, Alex Kingi, Cassie Hernandez, Alex Castillo, Carol Abney, Alyssa Julya Smith, Jason Scott Jenkins,
Find out more about this film here, #jackalsmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The folks behind JACKALS, like all of us, saw THE STRANGERS. Unlike all of us, they made a movie pretty much like THE STRANGERS and called it JACKALS.
The Powell family hires a counselor named Jimmy (e-cigaretteer Stephen Dorff) to nab their lost son Campbell (Nick Roux) who has joined a cult and left his loving family, his girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts), and his newborn baby behind. Once bagged and brought back to the secluded Powell home, Jimmy attempts to deprogram Campbell and return him to normalcy, but the process takes time and that is not what the Powell’s have as the cult surrounds the home with the intention of bringing Campbell back into the fold.
It appears with AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s new season comes a whole new wave of films about secret cults. The tribal nature of humans is not a new observation, but it is one that seems to be coming back as a menace in horror cinema these days. And while it is a fun little subgenre to delve into, I don’t know if those behind JACKALS really want to do that. There is not a lot of attempting to understand why Campbell is so aligned with the masked cultists outside of the home or how they converted him in the first place. Everything in the film simply happens in one night as the cultists surround the place and look ominous. They don’t even talk. They just stand in the shadows and kill anyone who tries to leave. Only Campbell seems to be the chatty one, which makes me wonder why the cultists--who seem to be bereft of vocal chords or at least have taken a vow of silence of some sort, would want Chatty Campbell in their ranks? Still, it makes for a semi-compelling scenario, backed up with intense concern from the family of recognizables like Jonathan Schaech and Deborah Kara Unger as the parents trying to bring their son back. Everyone does a good job of being scared and saddened by Campbell’s situation and while the film is definitely a knockoff of THE STRANGERS, it manages to be a bit like THE HILLS HAVE EYES as well with an entire family working together as a unit once an outside threat arrives.
The problem with JACKALS, other than the fact that it is way too much like THE STRANGERS, is that while it makes sense to stay put in the house, everyone seems all for rushing outside for any given reason allowing the Strangers—I mean, the Jackals to murderize them. Seeing one family member after another rush outside one at a time seems ridiculous, but it even gets worse when they see that obviously they are going to be killed once it happens two or three times. In the end, the writers just didn’t come up with a compelling reason for the family to leave the home and that makes the entire latter half of the film kind of ludicrous.
Still, as far as THE STRANGERS-style horror films go, JACKALS have the visuals down. These masked folks outside look ominous enough. There’s even a dancing bunny-masked girl who likes to do slo mo kills, which is fun but ultimately pointless. I liked the idea of converting a cultist back to normalcy and wish they would have dealt with that a little more and tried to fit the whole thing into a mold of another movie less. The performances are ok. The first half is rather intense. But JACKALS kind of falls apart by the end and is too much like other films before it to recommend.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from RLJ Entertainment !
THE EVIL IN US (2016)Directed by Jason William Lee
Written by Jason William Lee
Starring Debs Howard, Danny Zaporozan, Behtash Fazlali, Ian Collins, Kylee Bush, Marina Pasqua, Tatyana Forrest, John Gillich, Robert Leaf, Gary Starkell, Becky Hachey, Jerome Velinsky, Matthew Mihaichuk, Patrick Gaites, Tirra Dent, Amanda Cryer, Marko Buljan, Gabriel Hamilton, Micky Mechalchuk, Moishe Teichman, Gabriel Carter, Bradley Duffy, Darren Andrichuk, Chris Allen, Dayleigh Nelson, Lee Tomaschefski, Dalj Brar, Tara Davies, David Aboussafy, Christine Mettcalfe, Darrell Berg, Jason William Lee, Dayah Brar, Lukas Gyori, Daniel Gyori, Chloe Gyori, Prabhjot Ragbotra, Martina Gyori, Kirk M Wilson, Josh Hallem
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
We life in a frightening time of political hysteria. No matter what party you affiliate with, it seems it is no longer enough to just disagree with it and possibly have a sensible debate. These “extreme” times seem to prompt the entire populace to wish for the utter devastation of the other party. One would think that this kind of divide would inspire some creative types to make some films that address these issues. Horror has always been a fantastic genre to tackle modern issues through metaphorical terrors and I don’t mind some allegory with my terror as long as it is doused heavily with scares and story. For a short time, I thought THE EVIL IN US was doing just that, but then, after a pretty stellar hour and fifteen minutes, it inexplicably tries to make itself politically relevant by stamping its foot down clearly on one side of politics. Suddenly, a twisted little tale about the dangers of drug use is turned into a film about GOP agendas and presidential aspirations and for me at least, it simply let the air right out of the balloon.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A group of pretty people load up the van with drugs, booze, and the intent to party hardy and head out to a remote island location in the middle of nowhere. Yep, it’s the cabin in the woods scenario that I write about probably once to twice a week here in this column. But this one is actually pretty compelling as somehow, this group of partying pretty peeps are somehow linked to a 911 call that ends with the police finding a locked room full of dead bodies that look to be chewed and torn apart. While the police investigate and zero in on the group, they imbibe in booze, weed, and coke. One by one, the group succumbs to their most animal and paranoid of urges, turning into snarling monsters and lashing into one another.
Let’s start with the good. While everyone in the film looks like they stepped out of a magazine, they all are pretty fine actors and likable ones at that. Sure they have chiseled looks, rock hard abs, 0% body fat, and perfect teeth, but they also have a lot of character and I can see a few of these guys actually going far with their careers. While the story bops back and forth between the police investigation and the partyers to spice things up in the first hour, not a lot of horror happens, but because the actors are charismatic, I didn’t mind the extended time leading up to the mayhem. This slow lead in is something that bogs down 90% of films that choose the slow burn route, but here it works. I also appreciated the horror once it does start as the actors also do a pretty solid job of freaking the fuck out and losing their minds. Once the animals are let out of the cages, these party people are downright ruthless and monstrous and the film doesn’t hold back on doling out the red stuff. So in terms of gore and violence, this one works as well.
Aside from the pacing issue, which some folks will be frustrated with, the film simply falls apart in the latter minutes. SPOILER ALERT: The laced drugs are revealed to be a part of a plan for a GOP Presidential candidate who leads a secret organization bent on dosing people in order to create a chaotic world for the candidate to use to his advantage with promises of change in the upcoming election. Yes, you read that right. It plays off as stupid as it sounds with some heavy-handed discourse, a devious Republican moustache-twirler, and a message so on the nose that it’ll cause a nosebleed. The filmmakers really does toss anyone invested in the film into the middle of a political expository drop and for me, I try not to go to horror so that I can hear the tired debate between the parties I see every day on the news. Writer/director Jason William Lee adds nothing to the debate and simply fellates one party while damning another like the rest of the bipartisan sheep we see braying on TV every day. For me, horror is an escape from all of that. While a horror film about politics might be interesting, injecting it into the end of this film while the rest of it had nothing to do with politics felt like a mistaken bite into a turd sandwich and had me wishing I’d have invested in something else. The problem is that there are other ways to lace in politics in a less “smack in the face” sort of way. Maybe have the partyers discuss politics a bit in the hour we get to know them. Or maybe they are taking this trip to get away from all of that discussion we are inundated with 24/7. Or maybe one of them has aspirations in politics. Or maybe the mastermind behind the organization has an altruistic goal by lacing the coke with a virus, causing everyone to give up drugs and make the world a drug-free place. It’s so fucking easy and frustrates the hell out of me that a cool movie about drugs that turn you into snarling monsters becomes that asshole in the bar talking politics when you’re just trying to enjoy your drink. END SPOILER
Had THE EVIL IN US dropped its political banner it would have been a much stronger endeavor. As is, the final moments of the film simply feel unnecessary and ruined the movie for me by reminding me that the world we live in is full of hysterical people who will say anything to win rather than do the right thing. I expect more out of horror and THE EVIL IN US simply disappointed me because it chose to wear its politics on its sleeve in the most clumsiest of ways undercutting the entire film before it.
New on BluRay from Severin FIlms!
THE OTHERWORLD (2013)Directed by Richard Stanley
Written by Scarlett Amaris, Richard Stanley
Starring Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Anything filmmaker Richard Stanley focuses on has me attention. He’s the twisted mind behind the classic sci fi horror film HARDWARE and the preplexing DUST DEVIL, and might be most infamous for the failed attempt to remake THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU in which he may have gone a little mad while filming and losing the project. That debacle was made into one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve seen in ages entitled LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) released by Severin a while back and Severin is behind the release of Stanley’s trippy documentary THE OTHERWORLD.
Richard Stanley acts as narrator and tour guide in this documentary about the transcendental spirit walks and trippy nightmares he experienced while journeying through the south of France into a land simply known as “the Zone.” The film goes through the history of the rolling hills, thick forests, open skies, and toppled castles which may include the actual spot where the Holy Grail can be found. The land is said to be a spot where Mary Magdalene retired to and it seems to have spiritual links to portals into another space and time. Stanley interviews historians and anthropologists who have studied the place, and local believers and non-believers before delving into his own bizarre experiences in the Zone.
Much of THE OTHERWORLD is pretty fascinating. Even if the cosmic stuff is a load of bunk, Stanley does a great job of laying out the case, the history, and soaking in the atmosphere of this beautiful countryside. Long shots of clear blue skies over lush green hillsides are simply breathtaking and the way Stanley’s lens captures the locals--including one eccentric hermit who has lived on the land for years, really is mesmerizing. Blanketed with new age music, simply sitting and watching the film kind of covers you with a calm that sort of reflects the admiration and awe for the land Stanley is showing the viewer. The final moments, where Stanley describes his own experience where he feels as if her was on the brink of being taken to another dimension is compelling. It’s not going to sway the views of the non-believers, but there’s something about Stanley’s voice and the mysterious sights he shows the viewers that makes you believe that at least Stanley believes what he is describing.
That said, there is an awful lot of film spent on long quiet moments of nature and the film takes its sweet time getting to the wondrous and terrifying events that Stanley experienced. I found the film to be a bit too unfocused on the fat around the story rather than getting to the real meat of the piece which is Stanley’s experience and while his tale is transfixing, I wanted more of it. Maybe a return to the spot where Stanley experienced this and an attempt to capture some of these events on film.
But with THE OTHERWORLD, Stanley isn’t really trying to be a paranormal investigator. He is simply acting as a messenger, conveying a story that either he thought he experienced or really did experience. What is evident is that Stanley still has what it takes to be a compelling storyteller whether you believe in his otherworldly spirit walks or not. THE OTHERWORLD is a mesmerizing little documentary about other realms and a possible doorway to them in France. It’s a story that had my full attention, and though it does get a bit extraneous in the middle, Stanley’s recounting of his experience with his partner and co-producer Scarlett Amaris make for an often scary and always engrossing tale.
In select theaters and On Demand this week (Find out when and where here)!
DAVE MADE A MAZE (2017)Directed by Bill Watterson
Written by Steven Sears & Bill Watterson
Starring Nick Thune, Kirsten Vangsness, James Urbaniak, Stephanie Allynne, Adam Busch, Scott Krinsky, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Timothy Nordwind, Scott Narver, Frank Caeti, Rick Overton, John Hennigan as the Minotaur!
Find out more about this film here, @DaveMadeAFanPage, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
DAVE MADE A MAZE might not necessarily be a horror movie, but that doesn’t stop it from being a damn fine little film with an enormous beating heart and an even bigger sense of creativity. The imagery behind this film is awe-inspiring in a homemade arts and crafty sort of way, but backing that up is talented acting, fun dialog, and a story that’ll make you root for the little guy.
Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) comes home to find her unemployed boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) has build himself a cardboard fort in the middle of their living room. Concerned, Annie asks him to come out and talk with her, but Dave attests that the fort is much bigger on the inside and that he simply can’t find his way out. Annie calls Nick’s friends to help him out, thinking he is having a mental breakdown, but once she enters the fort, she realizes that Dave is right. Dave has constructed himself a tesseract labyrinth in the middle of his living room out of cardboard—traps and a pissed off minotaur included. Now Annie and Dave’s friends must find Dave, which they do pretty quickly, but also find their way safely out of the maze.
This film has such a simple concept. A man loses his job and is now stuck at an impasse with no idea where to go next. Instead of making a decision, he builds this maze and gets trapped in it. The metaphorical beauty abounds here as Dave literally constructs a hurdle to keep him from making decisions and pressing on with his life after a failure.
And while the understructure of this film is firm and strong, it is fortified with rock solid acting from the gorgeous and talented Kumbhani and the witty Adam Scott-esque Thune. Their emotional story is amazing here as Annie is supportive but concerned about Dave who is becoming an increasingly heavy burden on her, but she still loves him. Dave’s plight is equally well intentioned as his unwillingness to move on weighs heavy on his as well. Seeing this couple struggle through this difficult time is the backbone of the film.
But enough about the emotional and thematic stuff, I haven’t seen a film with so much creativity in ages. An entire cardboard and crafty world created in DAVE MADE A MAZE is absolutely breathtaking. In some ways, the whimsy of Burton’s earlier stuff seems to be the inspiration for the film, but only if Burton could decorate his film with stuff he bought from an arts and craft store. The amount of creativity put into DAVE MADE A MAZE is infectiously likable with ribbons and yarn representing real bloody horrors and warped cardboard making up the terrifying minotaur’s horns. The entire film is a creative masterpiece in every way and while there are little scares and a surprisingly lack of any real resolution, the imaginative journey is one that’ll will put a smile on the faces of even the most stoic of viewers. DAVE MADE A MAZE comes highly recommended from me if you’re burnt out on angst and horror and just looking for a feel good, but never lame or schmaltzy time.
And finally…let’s turn down the lights, scoot in close to the speakers of your computers and take a trip to yesteryear when radio was king and everyone listened to LIGHT’S OUT. This week’s tale is called MURDER CASTLE! Enojy!
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.
Interested in advertising with AICN HORROR? Click this link and talk with me about how to help keep this column running strong!