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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we have an excellent batch on independent horrors, each one more frightening than the last. But before we do that, there’s this…

If you’re interested in even more excellent indie horror, check out my interview with the directors of the new film ENTRANCE from IFC midnight. I also reviewed the film further down in that article. I thought it was one of the year’s best horror films and you can catch it on VOD and in limited theaters starting today!

William Williamson has been doing a fantastic job writing up stories about films that began production but were never finished. In this article, he talks about 1993’s SEA OF SIN, a killer mermaid flick that I’d love to see, especially with the Harryhausen-esque stop motion mermaid monster (see the design to the left). Check out the full story here!

THE ADDICTED is a new film from the UK from writer/director Sean J Vincent. I will be checking the film out here on AICN HORROR very soon. Here’s the premise: In 1987, David is a resident at ‘The Manor’ Drug Rehab Unit. Whilst there he is being kept addicted to heroin by a Clinical Director Chris Hunter whilst he has an affair with David’s wife. Chris eventually poisons David with contaminated heroin, leaving him with horrendous facial disfigurement and chronic pain. David soon hangs himself. 25 years later we follow Chris’s daughter Nicole as she tries to break into TV journalism. Her boyfriend (Adam) suggests they spend a night filming with friends in the now derelict Drug Rehab unit. There have been recent reports of paranormal goings-on and they plan to try and film them. It soon becomes clear, however, that they are very much not alone… To whet your appetite, here’s a trailer for the film…

And now, how about some indie horror?

(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Advance Review: CELL COUNT (2012)
IN THE DARK (2012)
CARGO (2011)
Advance Review: MASKS (2012)

Advance Review: World Premiere this weekend at Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival in Brazil!


Directed by Todd E. Freeman
Written by Todd E. Freeman
Starring Robert McKeehen, Haley Talbot, Ted Rooney, John Breen, Adrienne Vogel, Sean McGrath, Eric Reid, Judd Eustice, Eric Newsome, Suzanne Owens-Duval, Christopher Toyne, Daniel Baldwin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

In the back of my mind, probably one of my greatest fears is of getting cancer. Having lost multiple loved ones to the horrible disease, every time I have an ailment and ache or just a sniffle, there’s a part of me that shudders at the thought of my body being eaten away at from within by my own cells. It’s this type of body horror, a genre practically created by the early works of David Cronenberg, that drives the central terrifying theme of CELL COUNT. Writer/director Todd E. Freeman has concocted a horror film that will make you quiver on a cellular level, taking the desperation one feels when confronting an illness, teasing it with hope, then driving a hard steel-toed boot down on all expectation.

Todd and Sadie Carpenter (Robert McKeehen & Haley Talbot) are a loving couple battling a life-threatening illness. Though it’s not identified in the film, all indications point to the illness being cancer or AIDS. As Sadie withers away in a hospital bed, Todd is frustrated that all he can do is watch his wife die. When Dr. Brandt (Christopher Toyne) offers a miraculous cure that seems too good to be true, they jump at the chance, but soon find themselves in the middle of an experiment that harkens a much worse fate.

Whisked to a facility not unlike a prison with sterilized walls and monochromatic colors, Todd and Sadie join a group of people who are all taking part in the experiment. Everything seems hunky-dory at first with Sadie having a miraculous and sudden recovery, but soon, symptoms of a different nature arise. Todd becomes sick. A dog explodes. Bizarre bruises appear on the participants’ legs and something is moving inside of them. To top it all off, there are two prison inmates who have volunteered for the experiment in hopes of a reduced term who pose an even more immediate threat to our cast. Freeman has set up a dire situation in one locale and takes full advantage of the claustrophobic feelings present in every frame with these captive people. The cast does a great job of showing both their desperation and ferocity once they realize they are mere experiments in a mad game.

Though one of the effects shots was a bit cartoony, for the most part, Freeman plays the effects close to his vest. Only when CGI is used does it get a bit hard to swallow, but the practical effects used in CALL COUNT are imaginative and gruesome. The scene involving an inmate whose vomited-up guts wrap themselves around his head is both reminiscent of ALIEN and completely original in itself. The fact that a tracheotomy is needed or the man will die adds even more ookiness to the mix. These scenes of complete amazement as the participants’ bodies betray them are the most effective of the film.

CELL COUNT skids a bit off the rails as it pulls the camera back and reveals a much larger story going on. Up until the participants leave the facility they are imprisoned in, this was a tight little horror film. I can appreciate the scope that Freeman suggests at the very end of the film, suggesting that the horrors for this group of survivors have just begun, but some of it feels tacked on and I think a much more overt ending would have been more effective.

That said, I quite loved CELL COUNT for its imaginative use of body horror and the claustrophobic feeling the cast and environment exuded. Freeman is a director to watch with an eye for unique horror that I have only seen come out of France in the last few years with MARTYRS, INSIDE, and FRONTIER[S]. CELL COUNT conveys intense emotion and even more impactful scenes of sheer terror. Given a bigger budget, I’d love to see the world this group of participants find themselves in at the end developed in a sequel. But as it is, CELL COUNT hits all the right notes, making it one of the better body horror films I’ve seen in years.

Available now on DVD & BluRay!


Animated and Directed by Jimmy ScreamerClauz
Written by Jimmy ScreamerClauz
Starring Ruby Larocca, Brandon Slagle, Joey Smack, Jimmy ScreamerClauz, Linnea Quigley, Victor Bonacore, Joshua Michael Greene
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Three depraved chapters; “Tainted Milk”, “Liquid Memories”, and “The Masks That Monsters Wear” make up the animated nightmare known as WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE. Now, this film is not going to be for everyone. In fact, only the most twisted of you will be the target audience for this one. This is not to say that this film isn’t well made. It’s just that the subject matter is a hard pill to swallow.

When children are placed in harm’s way, it’s always tough to see. Jimmy ScreamerClauz knows this and takes full advantage of that gut-churning feeling, but also, as with the films of Amblin which made their name with placing kids in peril, treats them as young adults with complex feelings and intelligent minds. The theme in all three of these twisted chapters is how the innocence of youth can be influenced and corrupted by dark forces, both physical and metaphysical. WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE just goes to dark, dark places to exemplify this in three interconnected stories.

“Tainted Milk” follows a neglected child whose parents are planning a divorce. Forced to make up his own playmates, the child begins talking with the neighborhood dog. Not totally unusual until the dog talks back filling in the blanks to the child’s unanswered questions about the birds and the bees—specifically where his mother’s unborn child comes from. Childish jealousy and make believe become warped as the child’s impulsive and neglected nature causes him to lash out at his parents while sleeping. It’s a gory scene; one not for the faint of heart.

Story two, “Liquid Memories” follows the grown up version of the child in the first story. Now a serial killer who murders people and pulls brain fluid out of their skulls with a syringe, hoping to absorb their memories, the grown boy runs into a prostitute and after killing her, he relives a dark memory from her past.

This leads to story three, the ominously titled “The Masks That Monsters Wear” about a deformed child who is forced to wear a ski mask by his abusive parents and how he forms a relationship with a little girl (the prostitute from story two). Though she looks perfectly normal, the girl is abused sexually by her own father and forced to have sex with strangers while he films the evil acts. This tale centers around the little boy and girl’s misperception of the world around them and despite its disgusting details of child abuse both physical and sexual, it turns out to be a tender tale of two lost souls in an ugly world. Of all three tales, the last is the hardest to handle due to the subject of child molestation, but though the subject matter is sick, the filmmaker doesn’t go exploitative. He is definitely not showcasing or highlighting these acts. He’s seems to be showing them for the disgusting deeds that they are.

All of these chapters are done in a mish mash style of rudimentary 3D computer generated imagery, animation over filmed images a la Bakshi, and 2 dimensional clip art. This crude juxtaposition of animation styles forms a unique style all its own and is quite effective. The entire thing reminded me of a rated hard R version of the basic animation once found on MTV’s LIQUID TELEVISION—if all of those different forms of animation were pureed in a blender and poured onto celluloid, that is.

I have to repeat the warning. This is harsh subject matter not for all, but as a twisted piece of art, I can appreciate WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE. Jimmy ScreamerClauz is a sick man, but one who has a firm hold on being able to tell a solid story, despite the warped and surreal places he side-trips to. His imagery of hellish landscapes and blood splattered murder scenes are the stuff of Walt Disney’s most bed-shittingest nightmares. Tread WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE at your own risk, but once the credits roll, you’re bound to not be the same.

Warning: this trailer is not safe for work!

Recently played the Chicago Fright Festival!

IN THE DARK (2011)

THE DUMMY Short Film
Directed by David Buchert
Written by David Buchert
Starring Olivia Bishop, Cooper Guy, William J. Harrison, Leslie Mills, Matt Rosenbaum, Gary Willis
Directed by Chris St. Croix
Written by Chris St. Croix
Starring Scott Aaker, Clay Brocker, Emily Byrd, Katie Groshong, Tristan Jackson, Adam Sanner, Jordan Stephens
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Two parts of an upcoming anthology IN THE DARK were shown at the Chicago Fear Fest a few weeks ago, with two more parts to be filmed in order to make a proper anthology. If these first two shorts are any indication, this is going to be one hell of an anthology.

First up is DUMMY, a riveting short that ratchets up the terror to epic proportions by the end with stunning visuals, tense moments, and a truly disturbing ending. Ventriloquist dummies in general are pants-shittingly horrifying, but this Dummy acts as the fastest acting laxative I’ve ever seen. Creepy as all get out, the image alone of our killer, who adopts the face of a dummy from the past, does things to my shiver reflex that I didn’t think was possible. The design alone is terrifying, but director David Buchert knows how to make it all the more terrifying with crisp edits and angles. The story follows a chubby kid, picked on by bullies and traumatized to the point that he can only speak through a ventriloquist dummy to his psychologist and mother. When a pair of bullies catch up to him in a forest by the sea, disaster strikes. Years later, when the kids are all grown up, they are haunted by what happened in the woods that day when a masked intruder dressed like the little boy’s dummy comes a knocking on their door. Every second counts in this 25 minute thriller as our masked monster torments the former bullies. And the ending, even though it might be somewhat predictable, still packs a wallop with the final beat, which comes from nowhere but makes complete sense. DUMMY is a fantastic short worth seeking out and one of the best shorts of the festival.

THE KEEPER by Chris St. Croix is the second short which is a more intense action piece. THE KEEPER centers on a group of swarthy ne’er-do-wells holed up in a mansion. St. Croix quickly establishes that these guys are not to be trifled with and it feels as if the gang wandered from the set of the original CROW movie. When an unarmed elderly man shows up in the mansion, most want to murderize him, but the leader is impressed by the stranger’s guts and decides to hear him out. Unbeknownst to them, the man is not what he seems, and with him is something far darker. Through the labyrinthine hallways of the mansion, the gang is hunted by an unimaginable force of nature. I have to give props to this film for the clever use of practical effects. There is a fantastic creature in this one with full armatures and everything. Though the story gets a bit lofty in the end and starts to feel like a comic book with its clear definition of good and evil, some clever camera work and the aforementioned practical effects make this a worthwhile short and an interesting coin flip compared to the more subtle THE DUMMY short before it.

IN THE DARK is two segments away from being a feature anthology and the filmmakers have started up an indiegogo campaign to finish it. Support this campaign here! From the looks of these first two installments, IN THE DARK is definitely an anthology worth getting behind. Look for more news on the rest of this awesome film here on AICN HORROR as it develops.

Available on VOD now!

CARGO (2011)

Directed by Yan Vizinberg
Written by Yan Vizinberg
Starring Natasha Rinis, Sayed Badreya, Philip Willingham, Raul Torres
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’m all for simplistic films, especially simple horror films such as OPEN WATER and FROZEN, which take a simple concept and amp it up to galactic levels of fear. CARGO attempts to do this and is somewhat successful, mainly because of some noteworthy performances by its two main stars, Natasha Rinis & Sayed Badreya.

Natasha, a Russian girl (Natasha Rinis), dreams of being a model in New York City and hires someone to take her across the Mexican border to fulfill those dreams. Soon, though, it’s pretty apparent that this dream has turned into a nightmare as her passport is taken away and she is stuffed into the back of a cargo van in handcuffs. Sayed Badreya, known for roles in IRON MAN, YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, and THE DICTATOR, plays the driver of the cargo van who knows better than to ask questions and is just trying to get money to help bring his family from overseas himself. The film follows both Natasha and the driver on the long terrifying trip from Mexico to New York.

As far as conveying the fear that Natasha is experiencing, the film excels. Though other slave trade films have been made, this one is small scale, focusing on one victim and her plight. It also develops a nice dichotomy between Natasha and her driver as they develop a sort of twisted relationship as the miles pass. Sayed Badreya has been seen before, but this is one of those rare films that allows a tertiary actor the chance to shine, and shine he does. Despite his despicable actions, Badreya’s character is left with no choice but to be a driver for very evil men. This crisis of conscience is written all over his face as he treats his prisoner with care at first, and after she is forced to attack him to escape, the frustration is in his eyes at the thought of not completing his job.

The film does tend to get repetitious, and it feels as if filmmaker Yan Vizinberg might have run out of ideas about an hour into the film. If this were a short film, with the extended shots of the van traveling down the lonely highways (the same highway driving scene is used numerous times throughout the film) deleted, this would be a stronger work. As is, the middle forty minutes drag a bit with most of the action settling at the beginning and the very end with what feels like filler in between.

That said, Yan Vizinberg developed two very interesting characters here. CARGO takes a very small concept and stretches it a bit too far, but is worth a view for the great performances by Rinis (who has a real spark of an upcoming star) and especially Badreya, who deserves to be given meatier roles given the depth he was able to exude in this performance.

Available now on DVD!


Directed by Justin Russell
Written by Justin Russell
Starring Brittany Belland, E. Ray Goodwin, Paul Moon, Eric Sarich, Beverly Kristy, Ali Ferda, Jo Bob Briggs, Jason Jay Crabtree as the Sleeper
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE SLEEPER owes a lot to the slasher films which ran rampant during the 80’s--more specifically the influential slasher films that came about during the late 70’s such as HALLOWEEN and especially the seminally awesome BLACK CHRISTMAS. As with BLACK CHRISTMAS, the killer, known only as The Sleeper here, calls a sorority house and whispers nonsensical threats into the phone. Much like some of the creepiest scenes in BLACK CHRISTMAS, it’s these momentary glimpses into the twisted mind of a madman that prove to be both the most horrifying and the most memorable in THE SLEEPER. Those who love this era of horror cinema will have a lot to like in this film, written and directed by Justin Russell.

There has been a lot of talk about this film, comparing it to another retro-masterpiece, Ti West’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. As with that film, from beginning to end, THE SLEEPER feels like it’s been transported from the past. Even the opening credits which simply focus on an old rotary phone suggest that this is a throwback film, done by someone who studied and loved the genre it honors. Set in the 80’s, THE SLEEPER is filled with things that have become cliché in this day and age: horny boyfriends sneaking in past curfew, a sorority full of women in nighties—both of which have the annoying tendency to ignore personal safety and wander off alone to be easily picked off by our killer. It’s this adherence to tried and true slasher movie guidelines that I found refreshing about this film. Instead of the tired self referentialism that has infected modern horror, THE SLEEPER just does it beat by beat. What makes it so enjoyable is the fact that it is a story we’ve seen before, but the skill in setting up a scene and the deft use of music in this film sets it apart from others in the sub-genre.

The amazing score is by Gremlin, which evokes some of the best 80’s synth music from Italian cinema. The overly synthed tones were made iconic with Carpenter’s simplistic HALLOWEEN theme, but here, it reminded me more of Goblin from Argento’s earlier films. Too many times modern horror films of this kind has pandered to trends and incorporated hit singles from popular bands. In doing so, it castrates all tension by having some chirpy pop tart spelling out themes. Here Gremlin shows much skill in building tension and keeping it afloat as our Sleeper stalks his prey.

The Sleeper himself, played by Jason Jay Crabtree, is fantastic. He mumbles and laughs twitchily at his own jokes. He dials up his clueless victims and practically tells them they are going to die before actually fulfilling that promise. His wincing and wriggling communicates true mania as he writes ZZZ’s all over headshots of his intended victims. Russell cleverly doesn’t show him in full view, keeping him off camera or shadowed, which only amplifies the menace.

THE SLEEPER does a fantastic job of diluting a subgenre of horror down to only what’s most effective. Atmosphere and tone are set with amazing lighting and a fantastic score. Russell takes this material seriously and never snickers at the audience, but is also not above adding an impromptu disco dance number at a club which had me rolling. The kills are gory as hell, another throwback to the more hardcore slasher films of the early eighties, with meaty hammer blows to the head and even more gruesome fists through the face being standout kills. The slasher era of filmmaking has taken a lot of flack, mainly because it can be a cheap way to make a horror film. But when done well, a slasher film can be truly terrifying. THE SLEEPER is one of those films.

Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!

MASKS (2011)

Directed by Andreas Marschall
Written by Andreas Marschall
Starring Susen Ermich, Magdalena Ritter, Julita Witt, Michael Siller, Sonali Wiedenhöfer, Teresa Nawrot, Michael Balaun, Dieter-Rita Scholl, Dörte Manske, Stephanie Grabner, Franziska Breite, Simon Baptiste Mayer, Norbert Losch
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Fame oftentimes turns people ugly. Maybe that’s why horror stories about fame are so effective. Harkening back to such films as last year’s BLACK SWAN, Lucky McKee’s THE WOODS, Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA, and even the 80’s schlocker CURTAINS and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MASKS follows an actress who will do anything to become a star and the horrors that can come from those lofty aspirations.

MASKS begins with a gruesome scene. Focusing on what looks to be a cult ending in a memorable fingernail breaking scene, the scene shifts to a fantastic animated opening sequence filled with Argento-ian harpsichord music and twisted red imagery. Though this film is German, it owes a lot to Argento in both style and plot as it is revealed that the cult at the beginning are actually a group of method actors following the tutoring of an eccentric and controversial acting teacher. When the film begins to focus on its central character, Stella (Susen Ermich, who looks a lot like Elizabeth Banks), many will be reminded of one of Argento’s most famous works, SUSPIRIA, in that in order to improve her acting skills Stella decides to enroll in an elite acting school. The shadowy hallways and corridors of the school serve as the perfect canvas to cast a mysterious and ominous mood and director/writer Andreas Marschall takes full advantage of creeping his camera in and around every nook and corner.

But even though SUSPIRIA is the most like MASKS in plot, the film is structured much more like Argento’s earlier giallo work such as DEEP RED, OPERA, and FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET in terms of elaborately executed kills and heavy attention to mystery and psychology. Argento isn’t the only giallo master Marschall pays homage to. While the kills are elaborate, they also embody some of the best kills from Bava's BAY OF BLOOD, as the camera follows the weapon instead of the killer. There are some absolutely toe curling scenes in this film, as if it were resting on the handle of the saber that is the killer in this film’s chosen weapon. Instead of switching kill tools like most slasher films, the killer in MASKS sticks with the saber every time, yet Marschall makes every kill inventive, fresh, and extremely scary. The thin line the saber cuts across the screen as it pierces through its victims made me jump more than once while watching this film. This has everything to do with Marschall’s excellent pacing and tendency to attack when expected, but the dire damage the saber does during the kills is more thrilling than every Hollywood kill sequence released this year and last combined.

Whispers of a secret method of acting that is not to be talked about resonate in the halls of the school, and Stella wants to find out all about it, but these aspirations end up biting her in the end. Channeling the darkest of emotions, this method proves to be absolutely chilling upon being revealed. Susen Ermich is perfect for this role as she embodies the defeated actress persona, yet is able to exude spunk and attitude making her stand out in class and ultimately puts her in line to follow the secret method. Julia Witt also shines in her role as Cecile, an older actress who is currently studying the secret method and warns Stella about it to no avail. Both actresses go through hell in this film, being beaten, drugged, hung upside down, slices with razors, and psychologically tortured.

Though, I felt I could predict how this one ended, the sheer energy MASKS exuded in every scene while echoing some of the best elements from some of the best giallo masters makes MASKS another film that will surely show up in my list for best horrors of the year. Currently touring the festival circuit, if you love the works of the Italian masters of horror, you should make it your duty to seek out MASKS.

And finally…Check out this awesome “short” film starring Bill Moseley, Penn Gillette, Adam Savage, Martin Klebba, Erica Taylor, Gary Morgan, Aye Jaye, James Hurley and Ed Herrmann and directed by Ezekiel Zabrowski & Frank Ippolito. This mash up of FARGO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had me rolling. I especially love Moseley’s story about the white deer god. Sit back, crack open a cold brewski, and enjoy NIGHT OF THE LITTLE DEAD!

See ya next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.


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