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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got a cadre of films new to DVD and BluRay this week, plus a long overdue look at THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. So let’s get on with it…

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

APOLLO 18 (2011)
And finally…JohnMark Triplett’s RED HANDED Short Film

New on DVD from Raro Video!


Directed by Riccardo Freda
Written by Riccardo Freda, Antonio Cesare Corti, Simon Mizrahi, Fabio Piccioni
Starring Stefano Patrizi, Anita Strindberg, John Richardson, Silvia Dionisio, Martine Brochard, Laura Gemser
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Any self-proclaimed fan of the FRIDAY THE 13th films like myself would do themselves a service to check out the films of Mario Bava as well as his mentor Riccardo Freda. Though MURDER OBSESSION came out the same year as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, the Italian filmmakers of the seventies had already influenced the stalk ‘n slash genre by mixing POV shots, unseen killers stalking moral-addled teens, and a variety of kill tools. Though HALLOWEEN is often called the Grandfather of the slasher film, I feel it’s extremely American-centric to not recognize Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD AKA TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (released in 1971) as defining the subgenre and the myriad of Italian giallo films that were released afterwards. Though not without its faults, MURDER OBSSESSION is a strong representation of the genre with scares both hokey and genuine.

Stefano Patrizi plays Michael Stanford, the son of a composer who was accused of killing his father as a child in defense of his abused mother. The film opens as Stanford, an actor, gets a little too much into his role as a strangler and strangles his co-star for real on the set. Barely escaping with her life, the actress doesn’t seem to mind Stanford’s method acting, though Stanford is visibly unsettled. A few days at his mother’s mansion might to the trick, so he brings Deborah his lovely assistant along (played by the nubile Silvia Dionisio) home for a little vacation. Immediately, there’s a sense of tension between mother (played wickedly by Anita Strindberg) and son. On top of it all, there’s an eerie butler lurking around played by TORSO’s John Richardson. When Stanford’s camera crew and supporting cast show up to join in on the fun, the bodies start piling up. All fingers point to Stanford, who himself thinks he may be the killer, but then again there are other culprits about and that doesn’t explain the horrifying dreams and visions Deborah is having in her sleep.

Though it might seem like a bag of clichés in the description, at the time, this was probably interesting stuff. The mixture of haunting dreams and a stalking madman is reminiscent of both FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (there’s even a scene where a damsel is attacked in the bath and her friends say it was most likely a dream, a la the first NIGHTMARE film). Deborah’s waking nightmare, walking through the catacombs of the mansion and running into rubber masked monks and even more rubbery giant spiders, might be laughable compared to today’s FX standards, but still, Freda knows how to amp up the chills with extended POV shots, misleading shots of red herring culprits lurking in the shadows, and imaginative FX shots such as boot prints made in dust suggesting a walking ghost (an effect used recently in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies). Freda handles all of these with a capable hand and a steady camera.

Themes of sex and death abound in this film. A couple is stalked and killed while making love on a riverbank. Stanford’s relationship with his mother exudes incest from the get-go, with the implication of it ever-increasing throughout the film (reminiscent of PSYCHO). Though it seems like a mish-mash of a lot of the themes in some pretty popular horror films, again, in 1981 when this film was made, it was all ripe territory to be mined. MURDER OBSESSION may have some goofy effects, but it does do the slasher aspect of the film right and is worth checking out for that fact.

NSFW! Beware! There are boobies in this trailer! Beware! NSFW!

New on DVD from Brain Damage Films/Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Jim Townsend
Written by Jim Townsend
Starring Christine Egan, H. Lynn Smith, Jim Townsend, Kerry Kearns, Natalia Jablokov, Walter Smith, John Kelly
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Oh boy. Well, more often than not, I try to remain pretty positive when it comes to low budget fare, but I’m really having trouble saying too many good things about this latest “zombie” effort called ATTACK OF THE VEGAN ZOMBIES. First and foremost, there really aren’t zombies in this one. Well, there are, but they are more of the magical, green zombie variety. The films plot goes like this: pair of wine farmers has had their crops fail for the last time. The farmer’s wife urges her Wiccan mother to cast a spell to makes the crops grow, otherwise they’ll lose the farm. Unfortunately, the blood taken for the witchy ceremony is tainted with alcohol and the spell backfires, making the wine vineyard vines become thirsty for blood. Soon, the vines possess the field hands and you’ve got a zombie attack on your hands.

The acting is pure amateur hour with lines blurted out as if most of the cast were half asleep or in the bag during the shoot. The effects are crude. The sound and camera work is off as well. All in all, this isn’t a very good film. Even the tone of this one waffles from dead serious to farcical, as characters pontificate about losing the farm and family difficulties while ludicrous effects intervene such as a vine creeping up on unsuspecting swimmers in a lake.

Had the filmmakers stuck with a consistent tone, this could have been nice throwback to ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, but instead they went the possessed zombie route which is infinitely less interesting. I understand the allure of shoe-horning zombies into the film. It’s easy to throw green makeup on an actor and have him or her moan and stumble. But this film frustrated me in that they had a somewhat fun idea of a killer vine movie and muddied it up by tossing in the undead. ATTACK OF THE VEGAN ZOMBIES has one or two clever lines of dialog and the potential for a schlocky treat with the goofy vine effects, but gave in to the tempting siren song of the zombie, which turned out to be its downfall.

New on DVD from Brain Damage Films/Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Joel Paul Reisig
Written by Joel Paul Reisig
Starring Joel Paul Reisig, Jordon Hodges, Kaitlyn Wightman, Erica Blair, Stephanie Grote, Laura Henderson, Megan Marie Wilson, Aranzazu Diez, Darla Linnley
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I can’t find any images or websites to direct you to about AMERICAN SCREAM KING, I do want to recognize it for the gem it is. I sift through a lot of muck watching films here for AICN HORROR, but little surprises like this film make the whole ordeal worthwhile. AMERICAN SCREAM KING is as low budget as they come, but with some clever dialog and smart writing, it makes it easy to look past all of that.

Two jerk-offs decide to make a horror movie, but the catch is that they really want to kill their cast. Though the acting leaves a lot to be desired, the words falling from their faces are clever and often downright hilarious. Writer/director/star Joel Paul Reisig does a fantastic job of mixing elements of SCREAM’s self-referentialism with a CLERKS bare bones production mentality and self awareness. As Reisig and his partner in crime Jordon Hodges conduct casting calls for beautiful stars for their film, they call it like it is, citing BOOBS, BEAST, BLOOD = MONEY. Gratuitous boobage ensues throughout the entire film as the cast are blatantly asked and ordered to take off their tops, but it’s done in such a ludicrous manner that the subtle mix of masochism/chauvinism/ignorance turns out to be charming.

My favorite part of the movie is about an hour in when the two main characters note that they’ve only recorded about an hour of footage and need more to be a complete film. It’s that kind of wink and nod and full on donkey-punch to the audience that makes this film shine.

Equal parts IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILIDELPHIA (with its crass humor and unlikable yet likable characters), JERSEY SHORE (with the obvious douchebaggery permeating the two main characters), with heaping dollops of SAW as the killer filmmakers often barter for the survival by playing games with the victims, AMERICAN SCREAM KING is an indie surprise worth seeing.

Don’t expect stellar acting. Don’t expect epic storytelling. Don’t expect high profile gore. But AMERICAN SCREAM KING is filled with enough witty dialog and clever takes on the horror industry (and moviemaking in general) to make you laugh at the situations these two idiots have created for themselves in search of an easy buck and instant stardom.

New on DVD this week!


Directed by Kelly Smith
Written by Kelly Smith & Chris Andrews
Starring Sophie Linfield, Sam Hazeldine, Gordon Alexander, Gemma Harvey, Rhys Meredith, Jason Carter
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

DON’T LET HIM IN is a somewhat effective thriller as a group of English twenty-somethings travel to a cabin in the woods that just happens to be the home of a serial killer dubbed the Tree Surgeon because he hangs body parts from trees after he kills his victims. Cool concept, I guess, especially around the holiday season. But just because DON’T LET HIM IN is capably shot and decently acted, it doesn’t mean that it is without its faults.

The most blaring problem with this film is the leaps in logic the story goes through in order to show a cool scene. For example, early in the film, an art class is drawing in the woods. As the art teacher peruses her students’ drawings, she sees one student further in the woods. When she looks over the student’s shoulder, it reveals a tree with body parts hanging from it. The teacher reprimands the student for not drawing what she sees until the student points out that there are body parts hanging from the tree off camera. Sure, this leads to a shock and a scream, but it makes absolutely no sense at all. Why would the student not say anything immediately after seeing the hanging body parts? No reason other than to set up a shock, yet the shock makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The film is full of these leaps in logic. A maggot falls out of one actor’s eye for no reason at all other than to highlight a special effect. Other characters go through ludicrous motions just to push the story along to shocks and scares rather than having these scares occur naturally through the story. It’s as if a list of shocking moments was made and the writers had to reverse engineer the scene to fit these moments into them. Not really a sensible way to make a comprehensive story.

But as I said above, the acting is pretty good for this type of stalk and slash film. There are some fun twists throughout and red herrings are in abundance as to who the killer actually is until so many characters are killed off that it’s obvious who it is. DON’T LET HIM IN has taken note from all of the stalker movies we’ve all seen before, but when it tries to do something original, most of the time it makes no sense at all.

Don't Let Him In HD Trailer from Kelly Smith on Vimeo.

New on DVD/BluRay!

APOLLO 18 (2011)

Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego
Written by Brian Miller
Starring Warren Christie, Ryan Robbins, Lloyd Owen, Ali Liebert
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Ohh, man, I really wanted this film to be good.

I remember seeing the trailers for APOLLO 18 and chomping at the bit to check it out. It seemed like such a cool concept and as the release date loomed closer, I found my interest in the film growing. Then the film was released and I heard absolutely nothing about it. I think I was busy the weekend of the release, so I missed it in theaters. Turns out APOLLO 18’s stay in theaters was pretty short lived and it’s most likely you missed it too. Since the release, I didn’t hear anything positive about the film and as time passed, my interest subsided until I recently had a chance to check it out.

Having done so, I have to agree with most of the criticisms of this film that it is extremely slow paced and once the monster is revealed it is pretty lackluster, to say the least. 2011 appeared to be the year of found footage with shaky hand-held cams replacing zombies in the top spot. Though I do admit to being sucked into POV films, you have to at least make the subject matter being focused on interesting for it to work.

Three astronauts are assigned to go an a secret mission to the moon. Though the public only knows of 17 missions to the moon, Apollo 18 is supposedly the reason why we never went back. Having seen my fair share of horror films, I know that the opposite would most likely be true and had monsters ever been discovered on the moon, it is most likely that more missions would be sent rather than less. It would have to be something pretty horrific in order to deter scientists from wanting to know more about possible life on the moon…

Well, according to APOLLO 18, not so much.

Too many tedious static shots and shots for the sake of capturing something spontaneous pop up in this film for any believability to be had. You can almost call out when the jump scares will happen as the camera goes quiet or zooms in or just stays static until –dun-dun-dunn—a rock monster moves a pile of rocks in the background. Though there is one nicely done scene taking place in a dark cavern involving a camera flashlight and a dead Russian astronaut, even that scene is contrived to ridiculous standards.

Though the three main actors are giving their all, the frights just aren’t there in this film. I was rooting for it but as the runtime ran out, my hopes of pants-wettingly good scares began to dissipate.

With THE DEVIL INSIDE, it seems POV style films are not going away. Again, these films often suck me in. But with APOLLO 18, I was just too bored to care.

A long overdue review!


Directed by Tom Six
Written by Tom Six
Starring Laurence R. Harvey, Vivien Bridson, Bill Hutchens, & Ashlynn Yennie
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

So I know I’m a little late in the game to talk about THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE). Those who wanted to talk about the film either saw it on the festival circuit or caught it on Pay Per View or in its limited theatrical releases by now. And there are those of you who don’t want to see it and probably will not want to read a late in the game review about it. But screw it; I’ll toss my hat in the ring about this film anyway. Say what you will about the HUMAN CENTIPEDE films, but Tom Six did something memorable here and it looks like we’ll be getting a third entry in this series in the coming year, so rev up your ire, folks, there’s more to come.

In preparation for seeing the film and writing this review, I read a lot of online reviews. I usually don’t do that in fear that they would influence my own take on Tom Six’s sequel, but in this case, I really wanted to understand why people revile this film so much. Then I saw THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 itself. And having done so, I think a lot of that revulsion is pretty accurate, but in many instances, folks deemed the film shit and moved on, not really going into the reasoning behind it.

That’s not my intention here. I didn’t want to have an off the cuff, impulsive and spontaneous reaction to the film; I really wanted to think about why HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 causes this reaction in so many people and in doing so, understand further how I feel about this film myself.

Here’s the thing. Danny DeVito said it best on one of my favorite “It’s Sunny In Philadelphia” episodes: “Poop is funny.” Well, it is. As adolescent as it may seem, saying the word poop is hilarious to me. Farting too. And I think that’s the same for a lot of people. Sure, it’s an easy funny, but in the end (no pun intended) poop is funny.

Now, as funny as the word poop is, poop itself is not very funny. Actually it’s pretty damn disgusting. Anyone who ever had to change a diaper or clean up after their dog or cat knows that the touch, the sight, and the smell of poop is anything but funny.

So the sound of poop = funny.
But any other sensory interaction with poop = not so much.
To this we all agree, I hope.

For me, horror does its job when it causes unease, be it that chill down one’s spine when someone walks down a dark corridor or the gurgle in one’s stomach when they see something revolting. Does this mean it’s entertaining? No, but I feel a film can be successfully horrifying in that it causes unease without being all that entertaining. Hollywood proves it time and time again.

I think horror works for the masses when it is followed by a laugh or the revelation that the reason one jumps is a false scare or something not so scary at all. We laugh because of our own reaction to the thing on the screen, not so much the thing on the screen itself.

Films like HUMAN CENTIPEDE, MARTYRS, A SERBIAN FILM, THE BUTCHER—they don’t allow us to laugh. The stuff that goes on in these films doesn’t have a witty response or a false jump scare to cause giggles and because of that, films like these are less likely to appeal to a mass audience.

I guess it boils down to whether you are interested in story as entertainment or for the feeling it gives you. If you like being scared or grossed out, you may be able to stomach one of the films listed above, but if you like laughing away scary things, the films above will offer none of that. I kind of admire those films for their relentless depiction of fear and the grotesque.

I understand that most people watch films to be entertained. I do too, but having the dubious distinction of being an online reviewer (that’s sarcasm for those who don’t get it), sometimes you have to watch films because that’s the lot you’ve made for yourself. To compensate, I find it much more interesting to look at whether or not the film causes unease. As I said above, to me, that’s what horror is all about. It’s my interest in what is horrifying, I guess, that makes these films which might be lesser in quality (and I’ve seen a lot of them doing these AICN HORROR columns) still interesting to experience.

So after that long intro, I have to ask myself the question: is HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 a good film? Storywise, not so much. Tom Six, instead of giving us some folks to root for, focuses solely on one revolting, mentally unstable man, Martin Lomax (played by Laurence R. Harvey) to follow through the entire narrative. The much more interesting storyline hinted at in this film is that of Ashlynn Yennie, playing herself, one of the actresses from the previous HUMAN CENTIPEDE film who thinks she is meeting up with Martin for an audition to star in a Tarantino film. The five minutes she is on screen reminiscing about her experiences working on the original film were the highlight of HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 for me and the glimmering spark of potential this film had of redeeming itself. Like THE NEW NIGHTMARE, where Heather Langenkamp played herself dealing with the career hole she dug herself into by playing Nancy in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, Six might have had a better chance for the meta-commentary he was hoping to achieve had he followed her rather than Martin.

Is HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 a good film? Characterwise; that’s debatable. Instead of Ashlynn, we follow a much less interesting character, Martin, a man obsessed with the first HUMAN CENTIPEDE film, as he attempts to reenact the medical procedure (sans important things such as proper medical equipment or training) done by Dr. Heiter (played maniacally batty by Dieter Laser--fucking love that name, BTW) in the first film. Had Six chosen to show Martin in a more sympathetic light rather than a blaringly and offensively disgusting light, he may have been an interesting character to follow. But Martin’s “origin” is riddled with clichés (berating mother, abusive father, abusive psychiatrist spouting a most remedial understanding of psychology) and disgusting details such as masturbating with sandpaper, scrapbooking about his favorite film, and wheezing as he feeds his pet centipede. But though the story lacks a likable antagonist to follow, it gives us a pretty memorable character in Martin Lomax. If there was ever a person perfect to play the Penguin in a Batman film, it’s Laurence R. Harvey. Like Waters did with Devine, like Crispin Hellion Glover does so with the physically challenged subjects of his films, like porn does with the female form, Six fetishistically focuses on Harvey’s round shape showing him in various states of undress for most of the film. Aesthetically, in terms of the art of the grotesque, Harvey is kind of a fascinating subject to focus on, but that doesn’t make for an entertaining movie. Harvey does seem to understand nuance, though, and is able to convey a range of emotion despite his limited vocabulary and stilted demeanor. He revels in glee at the centipede he’s crudely made and shows frustration when it doesn’t work out according to plan. Though the story around him lacks a lot to root for, Harvey is a bizarrely interesting person to watch. Let’s just say, if you were people watching at a mall or an airport, he’d be the guy you’d focus on. Is it right? No. But there’s something fascinating about it anyway.

Is HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 a good film? Thematically, it’s all over the place. Six also seems to take a lot of pride in the concept of the human centipede and shows in vivid detail all of the gory details only suggested in the original. Is Martin’s amateur gastrointestinal connection procedure a commentary on the whole “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!” warning? Maybe. And if so, I definitely think Six got his point across in the close to forty minute scene of these poor actors connected together ass to mouth, but then again, because Martin’s fate doesn’t seem to turn out all that bad, I can’t say for sure that Six was going for the precautionary tale route.

Six filmed in black and white and many ripped him a new one for pretentiousness for doing so. But with the mention of Tarantino in the film, I think Six might be showing his cards here as, in order to combat the MPAA’s rating standards on blood and gore, Tarantino filmed the bloodiest sequences of KILL BILL Vol. 1 in black and white (or at least that’s what I’ve heard). Because this film is so permeated with gore of the highest order, Six may have chosen to film in monochrome for the same reason. I’m not sure if it was a successful decision, but it does make for a distinction from the first film—while that film showed a “real world” scenario, this one is seen through the simplistic black and white world viewpoint of its star.

Is HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 a good film? In believability, not a lick. “100% Medically Inaccurate” is a pretty good tagline for this film as its grip on reality is wholly inept. Martin somehow has the ability to know the exact place to hit with the exact force while doing so to knock out a victim each and every time with his crowbar. Things really get farcical when Martin starts attempting his amateur doctoring and somehow it works. *** SPOILER ALERT *** Seeing the world through the eyes of its star may be Six’s excuse for these inaccuracies, but the “it was all a dream” excuse is always a surefire way to piss off an audience. This may also explain the ire a lot have for this film and makes for this entry to be easily forgettable, in hopes that a third film takes a more interesting approach. Then again, Six isn’t Scorsese; while he knows how to make the crowd revile his imagery, he still has a lot of difficulty with narrative and POV. *** END SPOILER ***

How did THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) make me feel? The film disgusted me, to be completely honest. I’ve seen plenty of disgusting films and this one is absolutely stomach-churning. I honestly was pretty nauseous after this film and don’t plan on watching it ever again. There have been quite a few films I feel this way about (the aforementioned A SERBIAN FILM and THE BUTCHER being two that immediately come to mind). But I have to say that Six did cause a reaction in me. I felt disgust for the main character of Martin and, though more so because of sympathy for the actors who had to portray them, I felt bad for the victims. Had the victims been focused on more, I think this would have been a better film. Had the POV been from someone other than Martin, I think it would have been a better film. Had the subject matter been less graphically depicted, I think the bile tossed towards this film would have been less so.

Was I entertained by HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2? Not really. But it did make me feel horrified. In that, I think it is a successful horror film, just not one I really want to see again. I look forward to checking out Six’s next sequence in this Centipede series. If anything, it’s an interesting way to gauge reviewers’ and audiences’ gag reflex. Though THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) wasn’t necessarily an entertaining film, I feel it did do its job in causing a reaction. It’s just that when poop is concerned, it is best left heard and not seen.

And finally…here’s a cool little heist gone wrong yarn by filmmaker JohnMark Triplett called RED HANDED! Enjoy!


See ya, next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can pre-order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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