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AICN HORROR: New Horror Catch-up! Docu-horror CROPSEY! Scarecrow-horror HUSK! Genre-mashing-horror NINJAS VS VAMPIRES! Twin-horror SECONDS APART! Plus a review / interview with the folks behind wilderness-horror YELLOWBRICKROAD!!!

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.

Welcome to day two of our AICN HORRROR: New Horror Catch-up. If you missed yesterday’s column, click here to check it out. Go ahead…we’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve checked our yesterday’s horrors, you’ll be all ready for more. But first, here are two tidbits of horror news you might enjoy!

One of AICN HORROR’s first films to review was the indie horror anthology SLICES OF LIFE and it’s finally getting released on DVD, & BluRay on June 7th. Check out this special exclusive clip below then go check out this fun indie horror film ( available for purchase here).

THE CORRIDOR will be reviewed here soon on AICN HORROR, but you can see this film about a male bonding weekend from hell at the Dances with Films Festival on June 7th at 9:30PM at Laemele’s Sunset 5 (8000 Sunset Blvd) with the Director, Writer and Producer in attendance. Find out more info on the film festival here. And check out the trailer for THE CORRIDOR below.

And now, scroll down and enjoy more new terrors, folks.

(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Q&@ with the folks behind YELLOWBRICKROAD!
HUSK (2011)
CROPSEY (2009)
And finally…Zombie A Go-Go!

Q’s by Ambush Bug!


Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton, & Cassidy Freeman!

The folks at Bloody Disgusting are releasing a quartet of horror films this summer, the first being YELLOWBRICKROAD, a wilderness horror film which takes its hikers down a path of insanity. Below is my review of the film, but before we get to that, I had a chance to chat with the writer/director team of Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton and producer / star Cassidy Freeman (known for her role as Tess Luthor on SMALLVILLE). I’ll be checking out all of Bloody Disgusting’s films this summer, so stay tuned to AICN HORROR for more on this fun and smart set of films.

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): YELLOWBRICKROAD is a harrowing journey through darkness and insanity. Tell me where the idea for the film came from? Are you guys hikers yourselves?

JESSE HOLLAND (JH): We are indeed avid hikers, spending many weekend days exploring the canyons of Malibu, and when time permits (which is increasingly less and less) taking extended backpacking trips in the Sierras and Rockies. It is escapism in its truest form, and some inspiration for YELLOWBRICKROAD came from accounts of individuals who escaped permanently. We thought, wouldn't it be scary if an entire town did what Chris McCandless did, as depicted in INTO THE WILD? Don't many of us have that occasional sudden impulse to run away from it all?

We also thought - and this is a semi-spoiler alert - that 30's ballad music emanating from the deep wilderness was just a scary idea, and our favorite kind of scary - the kind that evokes the Uncanny - that which shouldn't be present, but is.

BUG: What was it like filming in the wilderness of New England? Despite the subject matter, it looked like a gorgeous landscape to shoot.

ANDY MITTON (AM): It was a huge challenge, but also a great adventure and tons of fun. We watched THE THING before we left, wanting to get inspired by the ways that the location can become a main character, one that plays off every actor and informs every scene, every performance. We wanted the authenticity of real bugs and real rain and also the added production value of shooting an area of woods that's never been used in a feature before, the northern-most tip of New Hampshire. And it IS gorgeous, but in a way that supports the story without overwhelming it - for instance, we considered shooting in Alaska, but the landscape there is so majestic it can actually be a distraction from the story rather than a clean canvas. We're glad we made the decision to film on location, but I know some of the crew wish we hadn't gone during black fly season.

CASSIDY FREEMAN (CF): It was so special to be able to actually be in the environment in which the story actually took place. We didn't have all the amenities that someone has when they shoot in LA or another city that is equipped with film world things, but that also meant that we could be super focused and really get down to telling a story. It also meant that sometimes we had to make due with what we had, and that is a learning experience in and of itself. Nothing like taking a 4-mile run and jumping in an ice cold lake on your day off...or watching snow fall, depending on the day.

BUG: Cassidy, how did you become involved in this film and what goes into the role of producer?

CF: CASSIDY: I went to college with Andy and Jesse and we had all relocated, at different times, to Los Angeles. We all worked together out here creating theatre and performances, and then Andy and Jesse spoke about this script that had a brother and a sister in it. We all kinda scratched our heads and went...hmmm. It really worked out. I was honored to be involved and getting to Executive Produce for the first time was also interesting. I don't think I'm quite seasoned enough to fill you in on the role of a producer, as our producer Eric Hungerford did such a good job of carrying boulders and making them seem like pebbles, but I can say I hope to do more of it. I have much more to learn.

BUG: The opening of the film is especially effective with the audio recording played over still photographs of the missing townsfolk. Can you give me a little insight on the decision to start the film in this way?

JH: We give the audience a slow-burn, character-driven, mounting-dread movie where the shit doesn't really hit the fan until about the 40-minute mark. To offset that, we start the movie off with a few jarring, visceral scares. And of course, it serves the double purpose of providing the necessary exposition to kickstart the movie. Some of those photographs were taken of crew members by our production designer, Joe Varca, and some were stock footage of real wartime slaughter.

BUG: Are there any truths behind the mythology of the film about the missing town? There seem to be shades of Roanoke at play here.

AM: Roanoke's certainly the most common thing that comes to people's minds, but we only heard about that after we'd made the movie. We did, however, read about an Eskimo village that had disappeared, and we took a few details from there, and were especially disturbed and intrigued by the account that the townspeople who had vanished had left their dogs tied to posts to starve. But yeah, mostly we just made it up. Friar sounded like a cool name and the rest of the details were tailored to suit our larger purpose, like setting it just after the release of THE WIZARD OF OZ and also trying to steep it in a Stephen King-esque sense of old school New England folklore.

BUG: Cassidy, were you originally intended to star in the movie?

CF: I don't think I'd have to ask Andy about that one, but I think the idea for me to be in it came when we realized what a great opportunity it would be for Clark and I to actually play brother and sister in a film.

AM: Truth be told, even though Cassidy was a longtime friend and we were also in a band together, she was also on SMALLVILLE and getting famous and it was a smaller role than we thought her talents deserved. But then when we heard she was interested and might also Executive Produce, it all locked perfectly into place.

BUG: What went into picking the other roles in the film?

JH: One advantage we had going in was that we knew talented stage and film actors who we already had a level of trust with, so we decided to save the money on a casting director and handle it ourselves. We were able to reunite with friends, colleagues, and former classmates in the case of Sam Elmore, Tara Giordano, and Alex Draper. Andy had directed Michael Laurino in several plays in Los Angeles and he was in talks to play Teddy since the earliest days of the script. Then there were those we hadn't worked with but immediately fit right into our sensibility and our little family - Anessa Ramsey we saw in THE SIGNAL and loved, Laura Heisler had serious NYC Theater cred, and Lee Wilkof is a well-known and brilliant character actor who we were so lucky to have with us for a few days.

BUG: I talk about a descent into madness in my review of the film and how it is often difficult to pull off because in a short time, the writer has to somewhat logically show someone or in this case, a group of people slowly going insane. Was this a difficult thing to write in the film?

AM: Yes, it was extremely difficult because there's almost a paradox in what you're going for - on one hand you want the audience to feel that the sequence of events is logical and earned, and on other hand you want to SURPRISE them, that's really what you want most of all. So you want to show a progression and build tension, but you don't want to give away your surprise. There's a very thin line between “I didn't believe that shit when it happened and it sucked” and “I never saw that shit coming and it ruled.”

BUG: Tell me a little bit about the use of sound in YELLOWBRICKROAD. It was a very important and unsettling factor in the film.

AM: Yes, in tackling the slow-burn horror story, we knew atmosphere was key. The first line of our screenplay is a note to the reader, telling them that everything in the soundtrack is natural sound - there's never any score. We knew even then that if we were patient with the dry, natural sound and allowed it to set there and start to simmer, that when we began to introduce the music, we would really feel the full weight of the uncanny discovery. In the end, we actually DID end up putting in a few small pieces of scored music, a classical piano bit that plays twice, but all in all we stayed true to that vision. The real magic happened when I collaborated with Dan Brennan at Soundtrack NY. Dan also happens to be my seventh grade lab partner and one of my oldest friends, so we got to turn knobs together and test the boundaries of what a little patience in the front half of your movie allows you to get away with in the back half.

BUG: Cassidy, what was it like acting with your brother (Clark Freeman) in the film? That fight between you two seemed pretty real at first…

CF: It was a dream to work with Clark. I'm blessed to have two bothers that are also very dear friends and fellow artists, so to be able to share that relationship with work and bring it to the screen was amazing. Clark and I have had our fights, and getting to that point with him is probably easier than it would be with a stranger, but we've always found a way to love each other without inflicting too much bodily real life, that is.

BUG: For what looked like a pretty low budget, you guys were able to pull off a slick looking film. What was your secret to making such an effective horror film on the cheap?

JH: Andy and I come from two worlds, theater and post-production. From theater, we were able to honor the actors, make them a priority, and get as much production value as we could from their performances (and they saved our asses on numerous occasions). From post-production, we were able to make YELLOWBRICKROAD on a tiny post budget. Our resources went towards the sound design and a few VFX artists. We mostly edited the film ourselves, working nocturnally over a summer (the editing bay was open to us at night), and bringing in the excellent Judd Resnick at the very end to do a pass and improve on the things we couldn't see.

BUG: Have you guys always had an affinity for horror?

AM: Jesse and I are huge horror fans. Back in college, we used to write short horror one act plays and put them up in the black box theater. It was good training, cause scaring people in live theater is really hard because you don't have editing or any of the usual movie tricks. However, when you spray the blood, it actually lands on them sometimes, so…there's that.

CF: I've never been a huge horror fan, but if I get to work with people I love, I'll dive into a genre I'm not familiar with, and learn. I watched a lot of horror films in preparation, and had many, many nightmares.

BUG: What horror films inspired you upon embarking on making this film?

JH: Primarily THE SHINING, but also the 70s greats CARRIE, ROSEMARY'S BABY, and DELIVERANCE. Our favorite movie of all time is THE EXORCIST. Hopefully, YELLOWBRICKROAD takes a touch of what's good about the films of the past while still feeling like it's happening right now, before your eyes, in the present.

BUG: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about YELLOWBRICKROAD. Can you let folks know how and when they can see it?

AM: Sure, we're lucky enough to be playing in 25 cities throughout the month of June in select AMC Theaters. Showtimes are Wednesdays at 10pm and Fridays at midnight and you can check out Bloody Disgusting Selects website to find the theater nearest you.

We should mention in closing that getting covered by Ain’t It Cool was a dream of ours, being longtime readers ourselves, so it's a huge honor for us.

BUG: Thank you and best of luck with YELLOWBRICKROAD!

Limited release June 1st / Part of Bloody Disgusting Selects!


Directed by Jesse Holland & Andy Mitton
Written by Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland
Starring Michael Laurino, Cassidy Freeman, Clark Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Lee Wilkof, Alex Draper, Laura Heisler, & Tara Giordano
Find out more info on the film here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

YELLOWBRICKROAD is a wilderness-horror film about a group of researchers investigating the disappearance of an entire town in New England in 1940. The film starts out ominously with aged photos of the abandoned town with a voice over of an audio interview conducted with the lone survivor. Though most of it is inaudible, it does prove to be an ominous opener to a very spooky film.

Soon, we meet our crew of researchers in the present day. Teddy (Michael Laurino) is lead investigator and feels drawn to this story for relatively unknown reasons after receiving information on the fated townsfolk by mysterious means. The rest of the crew is a likable bunch consisting of a psychologist, an intern, a guide, a local, Teddy’s wife, and brother and sister cartographers (Clark & Cassidy Freeman—best known as Tess Luthor from SMALLVILLE and the most recognizable of the bunch). The first half hour allows us to get to know this bunch and unlike other lost in the woods films, these guys are relatively likable. Those townsfolk that weren’t found dead disappeared down a woodland trail and as the research crew follow the same path, they begin to hear music from the 1940’s. Soon the fun begins to chip away as the crew begin to doubt their sanity. Multiple references to THE WIZARD OF OZ and the Yellow Brick Road appear, giving the story some depth and a nice mythos to follow, though the similarities are not poured on too thick. This isn’t a horrific version of Oz, but themes are swiped along the way.

The story falters only briefly as transitions from everything being ok to things turning ominous are occasionally less than subtle. It takes a bit of finesse for a descent into madness story to be effective and in the best of them, you follow the descender along the path and don’t even see the tilt into crazy-town until it’s too late. Here a few of the seams of the transition are noticeable on one or two of the beats (there’s a scene where Teddy has a breakdown that seems to come from nowhere midway through). It’s not a jarring transition, but there were one or two times when I was able to point out, “OK, here’s where things start going nuts.” And sure enough, they do. Not a huge complaint, but it’s something that took me out of the film a second or two as the writing process was a bit noticeable. It was fairly obvious these guys were going down a dark path from the beginning, but the road has to be believable to work. Here, for the most part it is, but there are a few potholes along the way.

Where YELLOWBRICKROAD is successful is the sense of dread the hikers feel along this trail. With haunting old music echoing through the high, swaying trees, the mood is contagiously dire. Using the video camera as a sort of psychological confessional, we see the psychologist of the group chart this descent in a fascinating manner. It’s a smart and subtle way to show how the sanity is beginning to fray at the ends. There is top notch acting throughout, even from the minor players. High in character and low in budget, you never miss the big budget effects. Director/writers Holland and Mitton go for an increasing sense of unease from start to finish until the last shreds of sanity are gone. YELLOWBRICKROAD is one of those films that makes you sit in the theater long after the credits role, thanking that you aren’t one of the poor souls on that trail.

New on DVD & BluRay!


Directed by Justin Timpane
Written by Justin Timpane
Starring Jay Saunders, Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi, Devon Marie Burt, Karla Okouchi, Kurt Skarstedt, Melissa McConnell, Paul Sieber, Daniel Mascarello, & Liz Christmas
Find out more on NINJAS VS VAMPIRES Website
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Better writing, better acting, better directing, better effects, and better jokes—NINJAS VS VAMPIRES is one of those rare examples of a sequel that exceeds the original. Though this film was shot on the budgetary low, don’t let that scare you away from checking it out. I was charmed by last year’s NINJAS VS ZOMBIES, but not blown away. This time around, there are a lot of clichés tossed about; there are also a lot of jokes that hit their marks. As far as the acting, effects, action, and direction goes, it’s hit and miss, but far above the much more amateurish NINJAS VS ZOMBIES. So it looks like the filmmakers are learning along the way.

The story centers around two longtime friends, Alex and Aaron. Just as Aaron, who wants to get out of the friend zone pal Alex sees him as, is professing his love for her, wouldn’t you know it? Vampires and ninjas show up. In order to save Alex, Aaron must learn the ways of the ninja. But before Aaron can get the girl and save the day, the ninjas must face all sorts of vampire terror. The story is pretty comic booky, but it works. Filled with all kinds of interesting and funny characters, NINJAS VS VAMPIRES is a low budget horror gem.

You can tell the folks behind this film are huge genre fans. References to comic books, sci fi, wizardry, and of course, vampire horror abound. But NINJAS VS VAMPIRES falls somewhere between a fan film and an actual one. The scope is more epic and though occasionally there are moments where the budget is apparent and the range of the actors are tested, I still had a good time watching these ninjas take on vampires.

New on DVD & BluRay! Part of the After Dark Originals


Directed by Antonio Negret
Written by George Richards
Starring Edmund Entin, Gary Entin, Orlando Jones, & Samantha Droke
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I reviewed this film a while back when it was in limited release as part of the After Dark Originals series. It’s been released on DVD & BluRay so I figured I’d report the review since you all have a better chance of catching it this time around.

Think DEAD RINGERS meets HEATHERS with a peppering of THE FURY and you’ve got this little After Dark Original down to a tee. Highlighting the simple eeriness of twins themselves, SECONDS APART is a surprisingly effective little horror film. The twins, Edmund and Gary Entin, are pretty fantastic as the leads with their soulless eyes and identical movements. There’s just something creepy about people moving in tandem, looking and moving in the same manner. It’s been the subject of many a horror film through the years.

I mentioned DEAD RINGERS because SECONDS APART could be retitled DEAD RINGERS: THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS. The story starts with a creepy Russian Roulette sequence where everyone ends up dead. Then we cut to the dead eyes of the twins watching a video of the game and attesting that they feel nothing while watching it. From the get-go, we know the twins are behind the murders. Finding a way to prove it is the problem, and these talented twins have the power to make proving it difficult. The narrative is reminiscent of Cronenberg’s twin opus as a girl comes between brothers and proves to be the one thing that can get through the psychic armor they’ve erected around themselves.

Orlando Jones flexes his dramatic muscles here. Though I’m not sure if the role fits him perfectly, most of the scenes he’s in work decently. I think the main problem with Jones' obsessed cop schtick is that it’s a bit overwritten and melodramatic. Had Jones played the role a bit more subtly, I think he would have been a better antagonist for the evil twins.

Director Antonio Negret does a great job of setting a feeling of unease, especially in the scenes involving the twins using their powers, yet even more so in the scenes following the twins through their everyday lives of serving their parents breakfast, riding their bikes, and playing piano in tandem. His camera hypes up the surreal nature of the double even while doing the most common of acts. SECONDS APART is definitely worth checking out when it becomes available on DVD. I’ve seen three of these After Dark Originals now and all of them have been fantastically original and fun. SECONDS APART highlights the creepiness of twins to maximum effect, even during the moments of banality.

New on DVD & BluRay! Part of the After Dark Originals

HUSK (2011)

Directed by Brett SimmonsWritten by Brett SimmonsStarring Wes Chatham, C.J. Thomason, Devon Graye, Tammin SursokReviewed by Ambush Bug

I reviewed this film a while back when it was in limited release as part of the After Dark Originals series. It’s been released on DVD & BluRay so I figured I’d report the review since you all have a better chance of catching it this time around.

I’m a big fan of scarecrow horror dating back to when I saw DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW as a kid when it was broadcast on TV. But I also know there’ve been some pretty shitty scarecrow films out there and when I heard that HUSK was going to have some killer scarecrows in it, I plodded forward with a skeptical wrinkle to my brow.

Had there been a camera been on me while I watched this film (and the voice in my fillings often says there always is), you would have seen my wrinkled brow smoothen as I realized that HUSK is probably one of the best straight up horror films I’ve seen in quite a while. The writing is pretty fantastic. The concepts are original and scary. And the cast of annoying youngsters…well…actually they weren’t that annoying. I found myself rooting for these kids to make it out of this cornfield alive and that’s saying something with the cliché being that the kids in these films are always annoying.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How many times have you heard of this when describing a horror film: five kids set out for a summer trip to a cabin…? Yeah, I know, when I read that, I rolled my eyes too. But writer/director Brett Simmons plays with a whole lot of clichés here and has put together a quite unconventional film that zigs and zags unexpectedly from start to finish. And Simmons doesn’t waste time with lengthy exposition. The film starts. Kids drive into a murder of crows and crash their car into a cornfield. Creatively horrific shit happens and doesn’t stop happening until the final second of the film.

I don’t want to ruin a moment of HUSK for anyone. It is filled with grisly gore and genuine scares. HUSK also features a cast of actors who are likable and Simmons has created a horror so intense that you will find yourself doing the impossible…rooting for the kids to survive. If there is one criticism it has to do with the climax of the film where the kids try to take out the threat themselves rather than just get the hell out of the cornfield. I know if I had to face the grisly horrors of HUSK, I would leave first and plan on destroying the threat forever from far far away from any cornfield.

A couple of times a year, I drive from Chicago to my home state of Ohio. On that drive there are miles and miles of cornfields. I now have to thank the twisted mind of Brett Simmons for making that ride truly terrifying with his little film HUSK. It’s a horror film that flips every convention, is filled with creative horrors, and thrills right up until the final frame.

HUSK is part of the After Dark Originals Horror Fest 2011. I don’t care how you see it, just see HUSK. It ranks right up there with DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW as one of the best scarecrow horror films. I can’t wait to see what Brett Simmons has in store next.

New on BluRay & DVD!

CROPSEY (2009)

Directed by Joshua Zeman & Barbara Brancaccio
Written by Joshua Zeman
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

It’s been labeled as a real life BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which isn’t particularly accurate, but CROPSEY does induce chills, mainly because it is a documentary and not an actual horror film. There’s something comfortable watching a horror film, knowing that, even if it is labeled a found footage film, you know, in the back of your mind, that it’s not real. You don’t have that feeling with CROPSEY which is what makes it such a riveting and suspenseful film.

CROPSEY follows filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, two life-long residents of Staten Island who recall the urban legend of a child killer named Cropsey, told to children in order to get them to stay close to home and eat all of their vegetables. The film follows the two investigators as they interview Staten Island residents, dig through old newspapers and archives, and explore the thick wooded forests in the middle of the island which used to house a tuberculosis and mental hospital, now in ruins. CROPSEY gives a pretty powerful account of the events leading up to the abduction of a handful of Staten Island children who go missing in the very area they were warned was haunted by the evil Cropsey. The filmmakers explore the idea this may be a case of life imitating myth and builds a pretty solid case against a single homeless man who has been serving time for the abductions, Andre Rand.

The film is at its best when it sticks to fact. The story of Andre Rand and his connection with the missing children is both the stuff of nightmares and makes for such an interesting story. The multiple photos of the man wide-eyed and drooling are enough to implicate him of some kind of mental illness. The facts are presented in a fashion that makes one doubt it’s not a work of fiction, with so much stacked against the bizarre Rand, but just as many shady hypothesis making one doubt that he was working alone or even did it at all. If anything, the film provides too much of an objective view, making me ask more questions and feeling more than a little unfulfilled by the end. Then again, it’s just a fraction of the feeling the relatives and friends of the children probably feel in this as yet, unsolved case.

I know it was probably marketing who tagged the BLAIR WITCH stuff to this film, but to be honest, the nighttime investigation is in only a small portion of the film and is by far the least compelling part of the film. Sure trouncing through the ruins with a flashlight and a camera is scary (proven so in the aforementioned BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and countless GHOST HUNTER TV series), but this was the point of the film that showed the filmmakers hand the most as trying to add something dramatic with a payoff that amounts to nothing. I kind of wished they wouldn’t have even included that scene because it cheapens an otherwise engrossing documentary of the crossroads between frightening fiction and nightmarish fact. CROPSEY is a fantastic documentary about some horrific crimes, but is a bit guilty of manipulating the audience on the side of cinema not factual information in a few well commercialized moments.

And finally…how about a “Zombie A Go-Go!” by Captain Clegg & the Night Creatures!?!?!


See ya, next week, folks!

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 covers to purchase)!

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