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AICN HORROR looks at TOAD ROAD! ZOMBIE A-HOLE! THE SCAR CROW! A DAY OF VIOLENCE! HELL! A look back at BLACK MAGIC RITES! Plus…change your drawers after watching MAMA!!!

Logo by Kristian Horn
What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Before we dive into the new horrors of the week, I have a few newsbits of interest.

First up, we have the winners of the Kino Lorber / Redemption Contest from earlier in the week. Congrats to the five readers listed below; you will be receiving copies of Redemption re-releases of BLACK MAGIC RITES, TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES, and LIVING DEAD GIRL.

Patrick O'Leary
Joe Sherlock
Bill Crawford
Jeremy Thompson
Brian Marotta

Congrats to the winners and thanks to all involved. Look for reviews of these films in future AICN HORROR columns and you can pick up your own copies of the films in BluRay or DVD by checking out Redemption’s website!

Andrew Traucki has been a busy guy since the release of his last film THE REEF ( which I loved and reviewed here ). His entry in THE ABC’S OF DEATH is playing with the rest of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness on September 14-16. Traucki also just finished principal photography on his next project, THE JUNGLE. Here’s the official synopsis; the story of an Australian Leopard conservationist who ventures into the remote Indonesian jungle with his documentary filmmaker brother; to investigate reported sightings of an endangered species of leopard. Their trek into the jungle becomes ever more bizarre and sinister - with the realization they are being stalked by a deadly unseen predator. I can’t wait to check out both of these projects from this truly talented director.

FILM4 Frightfest is also upon us, if you’re in the UK that is. The Pierce Brothers, the writers/directors behind the zombie comedy DEADHEADS (which I reviewed here) are premiering their new short horror comedy, SMUSH! at FILM4 FrightFest tomorrow. I truly enjoyed DEADHEADS and found it to be a nice mix of gore and humor. Find out more information about FILM4 FrightFest here!

FILM4 FrightFest will also have the premiere of Ryan Haysom's much talked about short YELLOW which drips of Italian Giallo in so many good ways…or so I’ve heard. Haven’t seen this one yet, but if you’re over in the UK, you can see it on Saturday at 3:30pm at FILM4 FrightFest!

One of my favorite films of last year, INBRED (reviewed here) can also be seen at FILM4 FrightFest this Saturday at 1:00pm! So don’t say I never warned ya!

Closer to my home, if you’re in or near Chicago and are a horror fan, you probably already know about the Music Box Theater. This year, they are once again doing their 24 Hour Music Box of Horrors Movie Marathon on October 13-14! Films showing will be THE BURNING, THE GOLEM, CHILD’S PLAY, PHANTASM, THE DEADLY SPAWN, BLOOD DINER, and HOWLING 2: MY SISTER IS A WEREWOLF. THE Sybil Danning and Jeff Lieberman will be there in person. For more information, click here!

Now let’s get on with the reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-Review: BLACK MAGIC RITES (1973)
HELL (2012)
Advance Review: TOAD ROAD (2012)
And finally… Andy Muschietti’s MAMA!

New on DVD/BluRay from Redemption!


Directed by Renato Polselli
Written by Renato Polselli
Starring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Christa Barrymore, Raul Lovecchio
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

A whole lotta moaning turn of the century babes going on. That kind of sums up BLACK MAGIC RITES in a nutshell. Though I can appreciate this film for some pretty stunning cinematography and fancy camera work for its time, story wise, BLACK MAGIC RITES comes up short. Maybe even the story is decent, but with the non actors spouting the lines, it’s kind of difficult to get into.

Convoluted beyond belief, the story follows a few maidens in distress. The film starts out with a surreal nightmare as a woman dreams of being tortured by a group of men in red spandex. Though a lot of the films imagery is somewhat horrifying, Renato Polselli tends to linger on scenes of groping cultists and writhing maidens with one or two boobs provocatively peeking out from their torn shirts. Of course there’s a gothic castle. Of course, there are devious things going on behind the scenes. Of course it involves Satan and vampires and all forms of witchery. There’s a lot of contrivance, including a romanticized vampire in search of a mate. But even though this film was made in the early seventies, theater-goers had already seen this sort of thing in plenty of Hammer films. Just because it goes full nude from time to time does not make it rise above most vamp films of the era and before.

As I said before, what this film does have going for it is atmosphere. Polselli, while having that lingering camera problem, still knows how to stage some gorgeous shots. One in particular takes place at a huge witch burning pit as the witches scream and run in circles as they are engulfed by smoke. Sure from time to time you get the occasional rubber bat and snake, but for the most part, the fever-dream imagery is something that impresses.

Fans of T&A will have a lot to squawk about as every woman in this film (and there are many) either has a sex scene, a torture scene where their clothes are ripped off, or both. Women in this film serve only to have their clothes torn off and made love to. And though the ladies of BLACK MAGIC RITES are easy on the eyes, even the most horniest of horn dogs are going to get bored looking at them in various forms of undress for no apparent reason. Though it’s heavy on the boobs and butts, when it comes to scares, aside from some creepy atmosphere and some middle aged men in red spandex, there’s not a lot of horror going on in BLACK MAGIC RITES.

Here’s the trailer in glorious Italian!

New on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Andy Thompson & Pete Benson
Written by Andy Thompson & Pete Benson
Starring Anna Tolputt, Maryasia Kay, Kevyn Connett, Tim Major, Michael Walker, Darren Mcilroy, Gabrielle Douglas
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Movie two this week is another witch fest. Though this one is much more steeped in horror than the previous one. THE SCAR CROW may be lacking an E in the title, it isn’t lacking in gore.

And gorehounds are going to be the ones who are going to be most satisfied with this film. Three young ladies watch their mother being burned at the stake by a witchhunter. Their abusive (both sexually and physically) father both blames them for her death and resents them for their power, all the while feeling them up under the dinner table. One night, the girls had enough and kill their father, but his soul haunts them from the scarecrow in the backyard of their English countryside home. Soon a quartet of dudes happen upon the three girls’ house and in order to appease their father’s unrested spirit, they must tempt and dispose of the boys so they can finally be at peace.

That’s the premise of this one in a nutshell. Though the title suggests another entry in the scarecrow horror subgenre, very little by way of scarecrowing goes on (though there is a gore soaked scene as a scarecrow crawls through a bed a man is lying on and through his body cavity tearing him apart in the process). This is a story about witchcraft.

Though the moments of gore are inspired as the three witches dispose of the quartet of boyish goons who show up on their doorstep, there’s a lot of unintentionally laughable moments in this one. The three witches, all of them downright gorgeous, must learn how to cast spells like their mother. How do they do it? Through a musical montage of course. I damn near expected to see the witches running around the back alleys of Philly trying to catch a chicken. There is also some weird time warp thing going on as the boys who show up to be murdified by the trio of Broom Hildas appear to be modern blokes, the witches themselves seem to be out of Medieval Times. The guys themselves are a laugh riot as well. Sometimes intentionally, as they puff out their chests in order to impress these corseted honeys in distress, but other times, as in when they scream like little girls at the top of their lungs, they just seem downright goofy and it’s a relief to see them in line for the chopping block.

New on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Darren Ward
Written by Darren Ward
Starring Nick Rendell, Christopher Fosh, Victor D. Thorn, Tina Barnes, Steve Humphrey, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though A DAY OF VIOLENCE is firmly nestled in the mob subgenre, the amount of gratuitous gore in this one definitely qualifies it for this column. If this film doesn’t make you wince, then you need to check your wince muscles to see if they’re still active.

Nick Rendell plays Mitchell Parker, the type of thug Vinnie Jones usually plays in Guy Ritchie films. He’s all business, brawn and scowls. But he’s also got some smarts. When Mitchell sees an opportunity to get some quick cash, he takes it, and this once loyal thug has now betrayed his boss. Assigned to track down who took the money, Mitchell’s guilt builds as he tracks down people he knows doesn’t have the money (because he does, you see) in order to save his own skin.

Writer/director Darren Ward has constructed a really tight narrative around Mitchell’s dilemma. Rendell makes Mitchell likable despite the fact that he is beating the snot out of folks and a thief to boot, Ward casts him as the most likable character in this film by making the bad guys even worse. Though the script is serpentine, sliding from one locale to another as Mitchell’s guilty conscience grows, Ward should be commended for keeping the focus on Mitchell and telling a pretty searing personal drama on top of all of the violence.

And speaking of violence, GODDAMN does this film have teeth. Over the top violence is what this baby serves up and whether it is exploding squibs blasting out of those on the wrong end of Mitchell’s shotgun or the torture scenes which involve baseball bats, hedge clippers, and other tools of indecency, it serves it up in heaping amounts. The effects in this film are low budget, but damn if it doesn’t have that gritty MANIAC type feel of uncomfortably real looking wounds and effects. The final scene has Mitchell’s face looking like a slab of chopped liver and if you’re like me, you’ll be amazed at how authentic this his hamburger face looks.

One mistake I think Ward made in this script is by starting out the story with Mitchell on a morgue slab. In doing this, the viewer immediately knows the protagonist is going to die. It kind of kills the whole vibe of getting to know and like this guy by telling us from the get go that he’s eventually going to die. Sure the road to the slab is the interesting part, but I think his eventual death would have been all the more effective without me knowing that from frame one.

That said, A DAY OF VIOLENCE is a really decent film that pulls no punches and makes sure that every one of them leaves a deep bloody mark. Fans of Guy Ritchie films who wish he would go a little more intense with the red stuff will want to check this one out.

New on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Dustin W. Mills
Written by Dustin W. Mills
Starring Brandon Salkil, Josh Eal, Jessica Cook
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I’m beginning to think that filming a movie through a computerized Grindhouse filter is the new found footage trend, if films like ZOMBIE A-HOLE come out of it, I won’t mind it at all.

ZOMBIE A-HOLE is a damn fun film. Following a religious cowboy with powers of the occult on his side hunting a demon zombie who is offing twins across the country is definitely a premise I have never seen before. Though this is a zombie movie, per se, it bares no similarity to most zombie films you’ve ever seen. Here you have your usual mindless, moaning flesh-eaters. Those are easy pickens. The hard part for our cowboy is to track down a serial killer zombie which became the undead through a unholy medallion. So no plague, fallen satellite, or toxic spill made this zombie. This Zombie A-Hole is born from the bowels of hell!

The aforementioned Grindhouse effect is used expertly in this film. Whereas the effect was used off and on and completely forgotten towards the end of Tarrantino/Rodriguez’s GRINDHOUSE, here the filmmakers commit to the effect until the very end, offering up scratchy images, wobbly film, and a really cool way of highlighting rudimentary special effects. Though this film was probably made pretty cheaply, the clever way the effects scenes are filmed make this look like a million dollar baby. Sure, it’s likely the skeletons our cowboy is blasting away are probably ten inches tall, some clever camera work makes them seem like human sized and makes for both a fun effect to watch play out, but the manner of which they are blown apart by the cowboys’ holy pistols is damn gory.

The acting here is pretty amateur, but some of that is played as homage to Grindhousers in the past. There are some problems with the score of the film, as it relies waaaay too much on a few repetitious harpsichord stanzas in too many scenes. At the same time, though, the film sports a damn fine soundtrack with some nice underground rock and electronica.

As with the harpsichord, I lost count of the number of times the zombie tracks down a pair of twins in an apartment. While one twin sits and stares into space before the zombie puts the hurt down on her, the other twin declothes and gets into a shower. I shit you not, this happens almost ten times in this film. Which is maybe two too many, in my book.

Repetition aside, the script does do a decent job of wrapping itself around some pretty kooky other worldly concepts and props to the filmmakers for going to GATES OF HELL route with the zombies rather than the old tried and true route. For that, some damn inventive effects (especially the use of silly string as both intestines and zombie acid spit…yeah you read that right), and a nice use of the old Grindhouse filter, those worn out from your typical zombie yarn but still in love with the subgenre will most likely be as revitalized as I was after watching ZOMBIE A-HOLE!

Here’s the trailer with that glorious NOT SAFE FOR WORK smell!

New on DVD/BluRay!

HELL (2012)

Directed by Tim Fehlbaum
Written by Tim Fehlbaum, Oliver Kahl, Thomas Wobke
Starring Hannah Herzsprung, Lars Edinger, Stipe Erceg, Lisa Vicari, Angela Winkler
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Is it bad that the highlight of this film for me was hearing “99 Luft Balloons” in the soundtrack or that “99 Luft Balloons” is played in this film?

HELL is a noble effort from producer Roland Emmerich. It’s possible director Tim Fehlbaum’s vision of a post apocalyptic future where the o-zone layer has melted away leaving the entire earth’s surface a desolate wasteland would be interesting and mind-blowing…if not for the fact that we’ve seen this film a million times before. Basically, this is THE ROAD without the solid performances by Viggo Mortensen and crew. A woman, a man and a child try to make survive in a world where society has crumbled and man has become bestial towards his fellow man. It’s THE ROAD WARRIOR without the charisma of Mel Gibson, the cool cars, the cool scenes, the cool story, the cool direction, and Humongous. Basically, HELL is a bunch of really dirty people running around getting dirtier where every image has all of the color blown out and dingy.

I had difficulty really investing anything at all her because of the familiarity to so many other better films. Nothing stands out as particularly awful. The acting is ok, as is Tim Fehlbaum’s eye for directing a scene. The problem here is the lack of new ideas set in a drab environment where time just doesn’t tick fast enough in my book.

I could list a million other post apocalyptic films that at least has something new to offer. Even the notion that the earth has become unlivable during the day and direct sunlight can kill you is lifted from THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. Tim Fehlbaum seems to have some potential as director, but in order for his next film to stand out, I’m hoping for just a few ideas that don’t have that “not so fresh” feeling.

Here’s the trailer in glorious German!

Advance Review: Recently played Fantasia Film Festival 2012!

TOAD ROAD (2012)

Directed by Jason Banker
Written by Jason Banker
Starring Sara Anne Jones, James Davidson, Whitleigh Higuera, Jamie Siebold, Andy Martin, Damon Johansen, Jim Driscoll, Scott Rader, Donnie Simmons
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Before starting out with this review, I must admit a bias on my part. Much like last year’s hipster laden surreal grab bag BELLFLOWER, TOAD ROAD is a film which focuses on younger teens and twenty-somethings that seemingly have little do to other than get fucked up on drugs, spend daddy’s money, and pontificate while looking off into the sunset about how deep life is. To be completely honest, people like that annoy the shit out of me. Call me the old man on the porch screaming at those pesky kids on my well coiffed lawn, but if in doing so distances me from the type of person this film focuses on, I will gladly pull my black socks up as high as they can be, slip on my house slippers and boxer shorts and do so.

Admitting my bias towards the very culture TOAD ROAD depicts, I can honestly say that despite that bias, TOAD ROAD is an interesting snippet of the dangers of drug use and how tempting it can be toward the younger culture to lead them down a path of doom. This theme is literally examined through the eyes of James (James Davidson) who when not being fucked up beyond comprehension (the first moments of the film see him drunkenly wrestling with girls at a party, then being dragged down a hallway to a bathroom—his pants around his ankles and full most likely smelly ballsack and rod there of millions of viewers to see so that he doesn’t piss/shit/both in the middle of the party) is watching his inexperienced new girlfriend Sara (Sara Ann Jones) develop from innocent waif to full on Timothy Leary drug experimentalist.

Having seen this road taken by more than one of my friends, the horror in seeing someone taking things just a step too far with drugs is one that hits close to home. So there was a level of connection I had watching James witness Sara become more engulfed in the drug culture. From walking her through her first mushroom freakout in the middle of a cave outside of town to trying to talk her our of visiting Toad Road—an urban legendary road which is sectioned off by seven gateways, one more disorienting and trippy than the next, you actually start feeling for James and realizing that despite his drunken douchebaggery, he is a genuinely nice guy looking out for his girlfriend.

The metaphor here is far from subtle as Sara’s fascination with these progressing gateways mirrors her experimentation with increasingly more powerful drugs. Sara becomes fascinated with looking into the mirror, attesting that she is close to some kind of drug addled breakthrough. It’s in this slow progression that Jason Banker’s undeniable talent as a filmmaker shines through. As things begin to get direr and Sara convinces James to go with her down Toad Road, the film finally begins to get creepy. The fascination with drug culture which annoys the shit out of me slowly turns into a much more interesting avant-garde-esque BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Unfortunately, the creep comes a little too little and a little too late for me. It’s obvious Banker’s real interest in this film is the hard partying drug culture as he spends almost an entire hour showing us one idiotic drug binge after another with James, Sara, and their useless friends. Had the palpable creep of the legend of Toad Road been ventured down sooner, I think this would have been a much more effective film. In the end, though, TOAD ROAD spends a little too much time lingering around the toilet bowl than actually trying to scare you, and much less time on even the loosest semblance of story. Sure some might say that Banker shows a lot of restraint and patience in immersing the viewer in this culture, but it is a culture so unappealing that the immersion shows the filmmaker's cards in where his interests really lie and in doing so misses an opportunity to embrace a truly potentially harrowing urban legend story.

KIDS meets BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with a little too much KIDS and not enough BLAIR WITCH for my tastes; that’s TOAD ROAD in a nutshell. There’s real talent in James Banker’s directing and while this unscripted film does cast an unblinking lens as a specific culture, it doesn’t hide the fact that the culture in frame is utterly uninteresting. Even some truly dire moments in the last fifteen minutes didn’t save this film for me which spends too much time glorifying a culture which thinks it needs to be glorified too much anyway.

And finally…this short film scared the shit out of me. So simple, yet, so very, very scary. My hat is off to the filmmaker Andy Muschietti for making one hell of a frightening short! If this doesn’t scare you, you are one jaded mofo. Enjoy MAMA…

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 late 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 March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.

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