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AICN HORROR takes the terror to the road with DUEL! ROADKILL! THE BLEEDING! & DRIVE ANGRY 3D!!!

Logo by Kristian Horn

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. So look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms: retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.

This week, with DRIVE ANGRY three-dimensionally hitting theaters everywhere today, I thought it’d be good to focus on terrors of the road. So along with a review of DRIVE ANGRY, I’m also checking out the mother of all road horror films, DUEL, and a few newer additions to the freeway of fear, last year’s FANGORIA FRIGHTFEST’S ROADKILL and the new action/horror mash-up THE BLEEDING (released on DVD/BluRay next week!).

So rev your engines and get ready for some horror on the open road!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

DUEL (1971)
And finally…BEEP! BEEP!

DUEL (1971)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Dennis Weaver
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

How could I start this column off without mentioning DUEL? I know folks have formed their opinions about Spielberg these days, but in his early years, the man was ON! I think there’s a consensus that this is one of his most effective films (maybe I’ll be proven wrong in the TBs). Like his later film, JAWS, Spielberg tells the tale of one man versus a monster—but in this case, instead of a shark, it’s a filthy Mack truck barreling down the highway.

Taken from a short story by Richard Matheson, DUEL is a simply constructed masterpiece. The plot is beautiful in its simplicity. A meek man named David Mann, who admittedly does not wear the pants in his family, is forced to man up when he is challenged on the open road by a never-seen tailgater driving a truck from hell. That Spielberg was able to stretch this simple concept to the span of an hour and a half is a testament to his skills as a director.

My apologies, but I can’t help but “Harry” out here. I can’t watch DUEL without thinking back to the first time I saw the film. I was at my grandparents’ house and happened upon it on TBS (which was probably where I saw most of my films as a kid). I remember being riveted in front of the screen. As a kid, nothing was more frightening than seeing this lone man frantically try to get away from this unrelenting mechanical monstrosity. To this day, I can remember the palpable fear of almost every second of my first experience with DUEL and upon multiple viewings after, I must admit that it doesn’t lose its effect.

Seeing this film as an adult, I notice that Spielberg stretches the concept a bit thin by the end of the hour and a half mark. The constant cuts between the frenzied Dennis Weaver and the railroad tie-bumpered truck and back again did get a trite bit tedious. It soon becomes obvious that DUEL was a short story and would have benefitted from a shorter running time. But that doesn’t take away from the intensity Spielberg was able to achieve with some quick cuts, a strong concept by a master of modern storytelling, a good actor behind the wheel, and a monstrous truck riding his his ass.

ROAD KILL (2010)

Directed by Dean Francis
Written by Clive Hopkins
Starring Bob Morley, Sophie Lowe, Georgina Haig, & Xavier Samuel
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though it’s not going to blow your car doors off, ROAD KILL (originally called ROAD TRAIN before Fangoria decided to make it part of their Frightfest series last year) is a fun and inventive tale of road terror. The concept of a driverless vehicle has been around for ages (the excellent DUEL and campy cool THE CAR are the first to come to mind, then much later with lesser efforts like CHRISTINE and MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE), but I have to give the makers of this one credit for being somewhat inventive about the concept of wheels powered by the unseen forces of evil. Filled with ideas that I’d love to have seen more elaboration on, ROAD KILL never seems to match the velocity of its potential.

Not that I’m a fan of obvious over-explained horror, but there are a few too many questions in ROAD KILL that are left unanswered for me. Obviously, this truck is haunted and it tends to run people off the road then possess them into continuing the ride down the lonely highway. The desolate Australian outback proved to be an awesome backdrop for the ROAD WARRIOR and it serves to the same effect in this film. Director Dean Francis does a good job of isolating a quartet of twenty-somethings in this predicament in the vast landscape.

The actors do a decent job with this one, especially Georgina Haig (who effortlessly alternates between vulnerable and deadly) and Bob Morley (who has a sort of dangerous leading man quality that seems to come from all Australian male actors these days). But there’s an awful lot of time spent developing a sort of love quadrangle between the four stars. In fact, I’d have loved to see a bit less of the lyrics from the J. Geils Band’s LOVE STINKS song playing out in this one and more explanation as to why this rig runs on blood and seems to have guts instead of an engine.

Though the relationship stuff slows things down, there are enough creepy scenes in ROAD KILL to make this stand out among your typical haunted vehicle yarns. Making the rig into some kind of organic monstrosity is original, but not realized to its fullest potential.


Available on DVD March 1st!
Directed by Charlie Percini
Written by Lance Lane
Starring Vinnie Jones, Michael Matthias, Michael Madsen, DMX, & Armand Assante
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE BLEEDING is one of those films that owes a lot to other films. JOHN CARPENTERS’ VAMPIRES and BLADE came to mind while I was watching this one. It also reminded me of THE FAST & THE FURIOUS and maybe a hint of THE ROAD WARRIOR and, of course, HIGHLANDER. And while THE BLEEDING may not live up to those classic films (though it might be a stretch to call THE FAST & THE FURIOUS a classic), it does have a certain appeal that fans of those films will definitely want to take notice to.

All of the right elements that should make a kick ass action horror film are here, but in the end it falls just short of great. The positives of this film lay in the directing. Charlie Percini does a good job of making this film feel kinetic. Quick cuts, ballsy stunts, and an especially deft use of different film stocks and lighting make this feel more like a comic book film than a horror film. This isn’t a knock toward THE BLEEDING. The vivid lighting doesn’t go the gaudy Schumacher route, but really conveys a creepy mood, especially in the scenes of the vampire night club.

Unfortunately, the script Percini has to work with isn’t the strongest. Maybe THE BLEEDING is trying to be campy. Maybe things are being played seriously. The film shifts in tone from deadly serious to “are you freaking serious?” from one scene to the next and back again using action and horror clichés with wild abandon. Montages set to a grinding guitar score of our hero running up stairs with a full backpack and thinking and screaming about his destiny, sudden outbursts of anger from characters (especially Madsen), exposition that drops like an anvil: it’s all here by the truckload. If THE BLEEDING’s script is meant to be serious, it’s flawed. If it’s mean to be camp, it’s just not campy enough.

Like THE FAST & FURIOUS, there’s an attention to muscle cars driven by even more muscular men. A car doesn’t drive away, it peels out. Most of the shirts worn in THE BLEEDING don’t have sleeves on them. It’s the type of tone that oozes from every installment of the FAST/FURIOUS movies and it’s prevalent in THE BLEEDING. Or maybe it’s the fact that the film’s star, Michael Matthias, looks a lot like Vin Diesel that makes me think this way. Matthias plays Shane Black, an ex-Marine, who is searching for the killer of his parents and finds a den of vampires and his own destiny. One of the main problems with this film lies in the fact that Matthias looks like an action star…but, unfortunately he acts like one too. Who knows? Maybe Matthias has it in him to be a great actor one day, but his delivery of lines is pretty uncharismatic and his presence is stilted and wooden throughout. He does look the part of a tough guy, though.

Both Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones chew the scenery here like they haven’t eaten in weeks. You can tell they’re having fun with the film and are playing it for camp. Madsen plays a cowboy hat wearing, tommy gun toting priest who helps Matthias down his path of destiny. Jones is the main vamp and does his best to be menacing in a long black wig and leather pants. Both of these actors are used to playing tough guys, but not like this. Madsen is filled with quirk while Jones goes completely over the top as the baddie. Unlike DMX (who is as good here as he has been in all of his other films…that is to say, not very), the scenes with Madsen and Jones are a hoot to watch

The film begins and ends with a pretty thrilling action sequence as Matthias (in a rig) is being pursued by a ROAD WARRIOR-esque army of motorcycles and muscle cars driven by vamps. Like DRIVE ANGRY (which I review next), THE BLEEDING is more of an action movie than a real horror film. There’s one scene of gore, but for the most part, the bloodletting is pretty miniscule. Far from perfect, THE BLEEDING serves to highlight some potential in Percini’s directing. Matthias may be good someday, but he needs to loosen up and stop flexing in every scene…and maybe buy a shirt with sleeves. Who knows what the guy could do with a better script. All in all this is a film that looks like an action movie in that it’s got the muscles, the babes, the stunts, and the cool cars. If it would have just taken a few cues from Madsen and Jones and taken itself a bit less seriously, it’d be some damn good camp. But I honestly don’t think that was the route THE BLEEDING was intended to take.


In theaters today!
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Written by Todd Farmer & Patrick Lussier
Starring Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, David Morse, & Todd Farmer
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I had a chance to see DRIVE ANGRY a few weeks ago care of one of Capone’s AICN Premieres here in Chicago. Though I was tempted to write up a review directly after, I decided to sit on it a bit and think it through before starting my ramble (and of course, build an AICN HORROR column around it). I never really miss a Nic Cage film. Not sure why. A lot of them are awful, but for some reason, I keep coming back for more. I think a part of me watches his films just to see how bad Cage’s hairpiece du jour is and despite the quality of the film, sue me if I always have fun watching his faux locks flow in dramatic slo mo. Turns out I liked DRIVE ANGRY quite a bit, mostly for the same reasons I liked MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D. While both are somewhat simplistic in the story department, both films have a giant set of brass balls and handle 3-D in a manner that makes the rest of the 3-D films out there look like you’re peeking through a View Finder (BTW, remember those things? I had one when I was a kid and spent hours looking through it. Man, I miss those…but I digress).

DRIVE ANGRY doesn’t try to fool anyone. From the opening scene, it makes it painfully clear that this is not a cerebral film (unless you count brains splattered on a windshield and spewing toward your face in three-dimensions). It is a rock ‘em sock ‘em action film that speeds out of the gate and doesn’t really slow down until the end. In that first scene when Nic Cage rams his car into a pair of thugs’ car then blows them away with a shotgun, you know you’re in store for a campy good time. Now, camp can be fun as long as everyone involved knows it’s camp, plays things straight, and doesn’t make it obvious that it is camp. As soon as there’s a wink to the audience or an acknowledgement that there’s some cheesy shit going on, it usually falls flat on its face. But Cage plays this pretty straight. Delivering lines as if they were Shakespeare, Cage gives a low sensual hug to the world of cheeseball lines made classic in 80’s actioneers. Though most of his lines are cornier than Orville Redenbacher’s shit, he delivers them with conviction and his serious as hell demeanor adds to the fun of this film. I wouldn’t say this was Cage’s best film, but it sure as hell is better than his turn in the Crusades-revising SEASON OF THE WITCH flop from a few weeks ago or the woman punching hilarity/awfulness/awesomeness of WICKER MAN.

Cage plays Milton, who escapes hell in search of the man who seduced/killed his daughter and now has his granddaughter. In hot pursuit is the Accountant played by William Fichtner who is by far the best part of this film as the demon who must bring Milton back to hell. Along the way, Milton runs into the nummy-licious Piper (played by Amber Heard, who was last seen chasing Jesse Eisenberg around his apartment as a sexy zombie in ZOMBIELAND) who tags along for the ride mainly to serve as something hot and curvy to look at for 100 minutes. Along the way, Billy Burke shows up as the object of Cage’s quest. Burke is somewhat miscast here and though he doesn’t do a bad job as the Manson-like cult leader who lures young girls under his thrall, I can’t help but think that a bigger name (possibly Fichtner himself or the wasted David Morse) would have been a better choice for this role. Rounding out the cast is David Morse in a somewhat missed opportunity of a role as he doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film and only serves to get the heroes out of a hole they can’t get out of themselves.

So you know the tone. You know the story. But should you go spend your well earned shekels on DRIVE ANGRY this weekend?

I say, yes. The main reason is that, though this has a fraction of the budget, this film uses 3-D almost as good as if not better than AVATAR. Lussier does a fantastic job of layering this film and giving it a depth I haven’t noticed before in other 3-D films. I’m not just talking about axes flying toward the camera. I’m talking about backgrounds with layers of depth that go on seemingly forever. Simple scenes we’ve seen times before like a car crashing under a bridge provide an endless depth seen in few films before. And as in all good 3-D films, there are plenty of scenes to make you reel back in your seat with that “comin’atcha” feel that Hollywood loves to give off.

On top of that, performances by Fichtner with his droll delivery and especially the scenes with the writer of this film Todd Farmer are a boatload of fun. Farmer (a member of my horror panel in last year’s San Diego Comic Con) once again takes full advantage of being both a writer and actor here by writing himself a nude scene with a beautiful woman as he did in MY BLODDY VALENTINE 3-D (I’d do it and you know, if you could, you would too).

DRIVE ANGRY is a loud and ballsy film. Though it’s more of an actioneer, it is heavy on the gore to satisfy readers of this column’s appetite for horror. Subtlety does not exist in DRIVE ANGRY’s dojo, so don’t go looking for nuance here. Go to this film to have fun and I guarantee you’ll have it.

And finally, this song used to scare the hell out of me as a kid. Not sure why it scared me so much, but it seems fitting to end this column with it. Enjoy!

See ya, next week, folks!

Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns on AICN Horror’s Facebook page!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the names to purchase)!
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