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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’ve got quite a load of spooky films this week, all of them good in one way or another. But before we do that…there’s, as always, this…

I’ve been following the Australian Sasquatch film, THROWBACK, for a while now and posting their production diaries here at the top of the column. Here’s the official synopsis: Jack and Kent are two down-on-their-luck pest exterminators, hit hard by the Global Financial Crisis. One hot summer weekend, they venture deep into the jungles of Far North Queensland in search of a big score: the lost gold of legendary outlaw “Thunderclap” Newman, who vanished without a trace in the 1800s. But they find more than they bargained for when they encounter a Yowie, Australia’s answer to Bigfoot, a savage superprimate with a strong territorial streak. Lost in a green hell, Jack and Kent find themselves playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the Yowie, along with a feisty female park ranger named Rhiannon and an unhinged ex-cop named McNab. Now we have a trailer. Check it out below. I’m looking forward to seeing this indie Yowie monster adventure flick! Find out more about this film here.

I’ve also got a teaser trailer for the new film THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER which has an interesting cast in Nicholas Brendon, Tiffany Shepis, and Robert Pralgo. Here’s the synopsis: "The Morningside Monster" unfolds around the discovery of a brutally murdered corpse in the woods of the otherwise-peaceful small town of Morningside, NJ. Racing against time, Sheriff Tom Haulk and his deputy, Klara Austin, embark on a desperate journey to catch the killer, pitting them against friends, enemies and even each other. Find out more about this film here.

And now, on with the reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Short Cuts short film review: THE COLLECTIVE VOL.4

Available now on DVD!


Directed by Dakota Meyer, David Paul Bonnell, James Mannan, Jason Hoover, Jim Dougherty, Bryan Wolford, Jakob Bilinski, David Ross, Dustin Mills
Written by Dakota Meyer, David Paul Bonnell, James Mannan, Jason Hoover, Jim Dougherty, Bryan Wolford, Jakob Bilinski, David Ross, Dustin Mills
Find out more about this project here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

At this year’s DAYS OF THE DEAD Con in Schaumburg, IL, I happened upon a booth for THE COLLECTIVE, a project that I am really excited to highlight here. The folks from JABB Pictures have been making short films for a while, and in that time, they seem to have been influencing and getting to know other short filmmakers. One of my complaints about short horror is that there isn’t any place you can see these films other than doing random searches on YouTube. Well, JABB Productions seems to have felt the same way and have made it simple to see a bunch of cool shorts in one place. I got my grubby mitts on all five volumes of THE COLLECTIVE, an ambitious project where ten filmmakers are given one particular theme to work with and then turned loose to make whatever 10 minute film they wanted.

I reviewed the first volume of THE COLLECTIVE here which focused on the title “The Meat Eater”. Then I checked out Vol. 2 in which each filmmaker was given a small cardboard box to focus a ten minute film on. Last week I checked out Volume Three centered on the theme of “10 Minutes To Live” made by ten talented female directors. Volume 4 centers on something most of us have, “Emotions”. The next few paragraphs are some brief descriptions and thoughts on each of them.

In “Frankie” by Jason Hoover, grief is examined as the camera revolves around a bound couple being threatened in an unknown location. Tied back to back, the couple pleads with their abductor to let them go, but as time passes, it is revealed that there are reasons these two are in this situation. Though this one is light on story, the use of a single rotating take and particularly the acting is pretty good in this intense opener to this collection.

Jim Dougherty’s “Contrition” deals with regret as a scientist feels remorse for having created a monster. Props to this one for coming up with an original take on werewolves with a fun little ending to boot.

“Flash of Wire” by David Ross deals with schadenfreude, the pleasure coming from the pain of others. And though this is a bit of a trippy one, it does have some creepy dream sequences as well as a twisted little take on classical mythology. This one is beautifully shot in black and white.

The fourth entry is “Epidemic” by Justin Mills examines trust as an epidemic breaks out and a man experiences the symptoms in his apartment. As his body falls apart, his only salvation is to trust in the CDC help line for help. But should he trust them? This one is not for the squeamish, but despite the gore, this one plays well with ones expectations right up until the end.

James Mannan’s “Death Do Us Part” dissects lust as a paranormal investigator inspects a house that is haunted by a groom whose wife is killed tragically on their wedding day. This one is slowly paced, but actually turns out to be a pretty effective little ghost story.

Bryan Wolford’s “Myctophobia” focuses on fear, specifically the fear of sleeping with the lights out as a newlywed spends her first night alone away from her husband and decides that’s a prime time to confront her fears of the dark. This one is well paced and pretty damn scary as the woman confronts both real life fears and the ones that dwell in her head, both of which can be deadly. The ending is a bit out of nowhere, but up until then it’s pretty good.

“Luke 1:71, A Story of Hate” by Dakota Meyer is next and as the title indicates, it’s all about hate. This one is pretty raw, focusing on a youth boiling with rage at the loss of his parents through a tragedy. Short and to the point, this is a pretty angry little slice of a hate filled life.

“101 Taylor Street” by Jason Hoover explores denial as the camera scans rural locations as it tells the tale of Martha Louise Kemper, a seemingly innocent lady who turned out to be one of the worst killers in history taking place in Sheldon, Illinois. It’s a fascinating and harrowing tale told through cold narration with an even more fascinating cover-up because of the gruesomeness of the crime and a city’s unwillingness to accept it. Really riveting stuff.

“Happy Hooker Bang Bang” by David Paul Bonnell centers on an envious roommate of a female escort who decides she wants to follow in her friend’s footsteps, but chooses the wrong john as he first job. This one is grindhousey and gritty and leads directly into our last short…

“Bloody Hooker Bang Bang: A Love Story” by Jakob Bilinski which despite the title, is a story about rage. This one has more grindhousey, gory fun than the first as the two fun-loving gals in trouble must fight their way out of a tenement building filled with midget freaks, revenge crazed loonies, chainsaw warriors, and a smooth-ass white pimp. Can’t wait to check out more action from the Hook Squad. These two shorts were the ballz.

Overall, as I move through these collections of THE COLLECTIVE, the quality of the films are improving. It’s interesting seeing the filmmakers who have appeared in numerous volumes evolve as artists. Though this one was definitely one of the more downer of collections with many tales of woe and misery, it still shows that there are a lot of quality filmmakers in and around my fair city of Chicago.

For those of you who want to support that indie spirit out there, THE COLLECTIVE seems to be the place to go. I’m going to be diving into the final two of the five volumes over the next few weeks and the quality and creativity in these collections seem to grow with each volume. Highlighting some damn fine horrors from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and beyond, THE COLLECTIVE proves that indie horror is alive and well in the innards portion of America!

New on DVD!


Directed by Steve Rudzinski
Written by Steve Rudzinski and Derek Rothermund
Starring Nicole Beattie, Aleen Isley, Seth Joseph, Nick LaMantia, Zoltan Zilai, Rebecca Campbell
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I don’t want to oversell this film. EVERYONE MUST DIE is a no budget indie film with non-actors spouting lines to fill the space between killings by a maniac who simply kills a bunch of people. There are some pacing problems. There are some line delivery problems. And in the end, it doesn’t really explain much more than the fact that there’s a killer out there who wants to have a high body count…

But dammit if I didn’t laugh a lot at this farce on the slasher genre. EVERYONE MUST DIE has a ridiculous body count as a serial killer moves seemingly without motivation from one group of partying twenty-somethings posing as teens to another, whacking at them with a machete and shooting the ones who get out of slashing distance. The gratuitous body count is exceedingly fun to see pile up.

The best part about this flick is the script, which is filled with clever and snide comments piled onto more clever and snide comments. The actors delivering the lines may not be completely great with the timing and affect, but still there are some one liners that had me laughing out loud. At the same time, there are plays on slasher clichés that are equally clever. Case in point: four campers (a nerd, a white rapper, a biker babe, and a wiccan) who in real life would never be out in the woods together are out in the woods and when it’s time for them to pair off and go to their tents to screw (as all teen campers do), the ladies go off in their tent and the boys to theirs. It’s that way of bitch-slapping expectation that illustrates the snarky and self aware tone of this film.

Again, this is lo fi fare all the way, but if you’re looking for gratuitous kills, gratuitous nudity, off-color humor, self aware jokes, and snark by the boatload, this film delivers all of that. EVERYONE MUST DIE is one of those films that makes me interested to see what the filmmakers have up their sleeves next once experience, hopefully a talent scout, and some more cash are accrued. As is, EVERYONE MUST DIE heaps everything you’ve come to expect from a slasher film, tosses it in a blender, and frappes the hell out of it.

If your interests lean towards low budget slasher films, EVERYONE MUST DIE is definitely going to please.

New on DVD!


Directed by David Ryan Keith
Written by David Ryan Keith, Alisdair Cook, Liam Matheson
Starring Calum Booth, Steve Worsley, Claire McCulloch, Richard Currie, Liam Matheson, Lee Hutcheon,
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

As with the above film, EVERYONE MUST DIE, what would be a run of the mill horror flick is spiced up by a wicked sense of humor and a smart script. ATTACK OF THE HERBALS definitely didn’t spend its budget on effects. For the most part, any gore seen on the scene is fake blood splattered on the actors. But there’s more to this film than just splatter.

Apparently, the Nazis were master tea brewers. Who’d a thunk it? Toward the end of WWII, Nazi science developed a potion that brought the dead back to life, but when the zombies turned out to be uncontrollable, the concoction was boxed up in a crate and tossed into the ocean much like Perseus and his MILF of a mom in the original CLASH OF THE TITANS.

The crate had been floating around the sea apparently until present day, when it washes up onto shore of a Scottish Village, Lobster Cove. Around the same time, Jackson (Calum Booth) returns to the same home town after going away to the big city for big city schooling. The little community is in the process of being taken over by an asshole businessman named Bennett (Liam Matheson) and Jackson’s family business at the post office is the only business not folding under Bennett’s pressure. With their backs against the wall, Jackson and his dim-witted friend Russell (Steve Worsley) decide to use the contents of the crate to sell delicious tea to the townsfolk, who seem to find it addictively tasty. With the business booming, Jackson seems to think he has defeated Bennet until the tea turns the town into bloodthirsty berserkers.

Mad-cappery ensues.

Making up for the budget, this film focuses mainly on some strong comedic performances by its cast, especially Liam Matheson as the asshole businessman who golfs most of the time, shittily I might add, and takes it out on his mother/caddy. Matheson’s Bennett is moustache-twirlingly good as a villain here, making the performance one you love to hate. There are other tertiary characters that are equally memorable such as a track star named the Roadrunner who was hit by a car and put into a wheelchair and is still quite surly about the whole thing. These are the kind of quirky characters that one might have seen in an early Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi flick. Director David Ryan Keith has a great sense of comic timing and fills the film with quick cuts and extreme angles one used to see in Raimi’s earlier works.

Yes, this is a movie about a town that goes zombie because of Nazi tea. A ridiculous premise fully acknowledged by the filmmakers, but in doing so it makes for a damn entertaining film. Though you won’t see too many scares in ATTACK OF THE HERBALS, I guarantee lots of laughs, thick Scottish accents, and characters you’ll love to both love and hate. It’s a lighthearted romp, but a whole lot of fun.

On DVD from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Jon Knautz
Written by Jon Knautz, Brendan Moore
Starring Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern, Trevor Matthews, Vieslav Krystyan, Laura de Carteret, Ben Lewis
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

With a tone so dark and straightforward it’s downright dire, THE SHRINE mixes aspects of THE EXORCIST with BLACK SUNDAY and THE WICKER MAN to offer up a somewhat uneven trip of terror.

Aaron Ashmore (SMALLVILLE’s Jimmy Olsen), Cindy Sampson, and Meghan Heffern star as three journalists who decide to pick up from their low paying gig at an American newspaper and go overseas to investigate the disappearance of a young backpacker in Poland. Immediately I kind of questioned the logistics here, as this journalism trip seems to be funded by the journalists themselves since their J. Jonah Jameson of a boss won’t allow them to follow the story. I don’t know any up and coming journalists who can just pack up and fork over their own dough to do some sleuthing overseas, but I guess that’s a suspension of disbelief I’m supposed to check at the door in order to get these three into the middle of a foggy Polish forest.

Immediately, the three investigators find themselves in a community that doesn’t want them there and are chased out of town when they begin to venture into a forest covered by a weird looking fog. Making the argument that they didn’t come this far to turn back now, the three make a u-turn and sneak into the forest anyway. What transpires is a very effective scene as the mist seems to have mystical origins and each seems to be transported to an otherworldly place and get lost in the forest only to be reunited moments later. Soon the three find a tomb filled with bodies and cult members chasing them in the woods.

Up until the discovery of the tomb, this film had me. It was moody and atmospheric. The three investigators were wide-eyed and interesting to follow despite the fact that they wouldn’t be able to fund the trip to Poland out of pocket. But once the film starts to get demonic, it sort of falls apart. References to BLACK SUNDAY’s torture mask are littered throughout this film and add to the ever-crawling sense of creep, but in the end, THE SHRINE seems to want to shun its slow creepy trappings in favor of bigger effects as people suddenly start turning into demonic monsters. The effects are decent, but I feel I would have enjoyed the film a lot more if it hadn’t gone so extreme in the latter half hour of the film.

Released earlier last year from IFC Midnight, THE SHRINE does a great job of setting a dire and spooky mood. The acting is quite good as are some downright unsettling effects of torture and a creepy looking statue. Though THE SHRINE does seem to fall apart in the last scenes, the road there is a spooky one.

New on DVD!


Directed by Travis Betz
Written by Travis Betz
Starring Sarah Lassez and Dustin Fasching
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Just when you thought there couldn’t be another variation on the zombie film, THE DEAD INSIDE comes along and shakes things up a bit.

THE DEAD INSIDE tells the story of Wes (Dustin Fasching) and Fi (Sarah Lassez), a young couple who are trying to live happily together. Wes pays the bills with a job as a wedding photographer and loves Fi deeply. Fi is a struggling writer of zombie fiction who is having a lot of trouble with her latest story, which plays out in bits and pieces as she is writing it in the present story. But as Fi’s characters take a dramatic turn in the story, so does Fi’s personality as she shifts into what Wes first thinks to be mental illness, but soon finds out there are supernatural forces at work. As art and life mix, the story is a tragic one with two characters one can’t help but root for.

Oh yeah. This is a musical too.

A zombie musical.

What works here is arguably the most difficult task for most musicals: the music itself. Operatic yet catchy, coming from the yodel holes of Fasching and Lassez, the songs are surprisingly good with both clever lyrics and musical compositions. At the same time, each one is distinct, but all feel a part of the same concept album. Most importantly, each song feels as if it is moving the story along rather than stopping it in its tracks.

What also works is the two actors, who both seem to be classically trained singers and do a pretty good job with the lines as well. Moreso than anything, this feels like an especially diabolical episode of GLEE with people bursting into song when emotions are to be emoted. Sarah Lassez is especially good as Fi, who has a lovely voice inside of a equally lovely body.

There are a few pacing issues towards the end as it feels the angsty lyrical hysterics seem to overstay their welcome, but things wrap up in an especially devious manner making up for the lengthy moments that occur just before it. Relatively bloodless, save for some self mutilation, this film would serve as a wicked little gateway drug for those who dig musicals but want something with more bite. THE DEAD INSIDE is a rare combination of genres that works almost on every level. Great performances. Catchy tunes. Interesting story. If anything, it’s an accomplishment as a story set in a single location focusing on two actors for the entire running time and still maintains its quality until the ending. This indie gem should be seen by more people and I recommend it highly here.

Out now on DVD/BluRay!


Directed by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
Written by Laura Lau
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I reviewed the film SILENT HOUSE was remade from last year. LA CASA MUDA was an effective film, I felt, mostly interesting as a technical achievement as the film was shot all in one take (with a few cuts here and there) and played out in real time. It had its fair share of scares and moments of intensity, utilizing darkness and the sounds creeping around in it well. The ending, while projected, wasn’t overtly obvious and it went out on a note that rang more ghostly than anything else.

For the American version, we have up and coming star Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen is a surprisingly good actress as evidenced by last year’s MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and when I heard she would be headlining this one, I was somewhat excited to see it. In SILENT HOUSE, Olsen delivers in the acting department. She is likable, sympathetic, and someone you want to follow around for ninety minutes. We care for her when the lights go out and peril creeps in—when things are getting weird and scary. When she shakes and quivers in the dark, she has that connectability that makes you hope she survives this horrible, pitch black night. In Olsen, this film has a winner and she is the best part about this adaptation.

By now, you know the story of this one. A girl (Olsen) goes to a summer house to get it ready for sale with her father and her uncle. As the day goes on, it’s revealed that the house is often broken into by vandals. She’s visited by a girl her age who talks about knowing her when she was younger, but Olsen doesn’t remember her stating that she has holes in her memory. As the day turns into night, the girl starts hearing weird noises. Her father disappears as does her uncle. And it appears someone dangerous is in the house in the dark with her.

Where the original film goes subtle, this one goes obvious. In the original we stumble onto the clues with the focal girl. Never is there a scene where things are spelled out for us as to who or what this threat is lurking in the house. I saw the original and was affected by its intensity and admittedly shocked by the revelation in the end. I was able to understand who was doing what and what was going on without it being over explained and hinted at from the beginning frame. I’m no brain surgeon. I’m just a guy who likes to be scared and I was able to get it and so should you. In SILENT HOUSE, the need to over-explain the ending cancels out all of the intensity of the darkness and all of acting chops Olsen has. Some of the scenes, such as the Polaroid camera strobe, is almost the same as LA CASA MUDA and equally effective, but the fact that the ending was projected so early into the film kills any potential this film has going for it.

Save for a few effective scenes carried capably on the shoulders of Olsen, SILENT HOUSE’s biggest sin is that it assumes we are all idiots and need things explained and over-explained to us. Skip the Americanized version and check out LA CASA MUDA instead.

New this week on DVD/BluRay!


Directed by Jaume Balagueró
Written by Alberto Marini
Starring Luis Tosar, Marta Clara, Alberto San Juan, Pep Tosar,Petra Martínez, Iris Almeida
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Some directors do great action pictures. Others specialize in drama, but it takes an extremely talented director to do numerous genres well. Though thrillers may be inbred cousins with horror, in the three films I’ve seen from director Jaume Balagueró, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we’ve got an extremely versatile director at work here. With [REC], Balagueró proved himself to be innovative and gutsy as he brought back the found footage trend and made it cool again. Though some might say [REC 2] was repetitive, I think it did the impossible in retaining what made the first film amazing and expanded on it in ways we all wished most sequels could. After showing us that he can do “in your face” horror well, Balagueró has decided to reel it back and go for the more subtle route and like [REC] and [REC 2], he’s made something special.

I know it’s cliché to call a film which relies strongly on suspense Hitchcockian, but that’s exactly what this film feels like. Once again set in an apartment building, this film’s horrors aren’t from demonic viruses or the living dead, but from a more human horror. Though he looks harmless, Cesar (Luis Tosar) is anything but. He’s a sociopath, unable to feel any joy in his life except when causing pain in others. From behind his concierge desk, he seems to be harmless with his cherubic bald head and bushy eyebrows, but like Norman Bates, he proves that it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for.

The film opens with Cesar waking up early, getting showered and dressed, and kissing what looks to be his wife goodbye before starting his job as the doorman of an apartment building. Soon Clara (Marta Clara) awakes, groggy, but ready for the day. As Cesar goes about his banal routine at the front desk, she gets ready as well. When she is pleasant to Cesar, but not familiar with him, things start to take a dark turn until you realize that Clara has no idea Cesar is, sleeping in the same bed as her after chloroforming her in the night.

Every single woman’s nightmare is brought to light with SLEEP TIGHT as we follow Cesar as he stalks and watches Clara’s every move. Unlike the recent and tepidly bland Hammer film THE RESIDENT where Jeffrey Dean Morgan creeps on Hillary Swank from an intricate tunnel system through the walls, SLEEP TIGHT goes the simpler route and places this creeper under the bed where all good monsters hide. Cesar’s tendency to reside under Clara’s bed leads to some absolutely white knuckle moments of pure uncut tension as you can’t help but hope but root for Cesar to get caught. The fact that Balagueró is able to make us feel for this creepy bastard is alone a testament to his skill at a master manipulator behind the camera.

SLEEP TIGHT is expertly acted throughout with a stellar performance by Luis Tosar as the perverted peeper. His ability to churn a stomach, tingle a spine, and wrench the heart all at once exemplifies the actor’s range. Marta Clara does her job well as the object of Cesar’s desire, but the real standout female performance of the film is young Iris Almeida who plays the little girl in the building savvy to Cesar’s nighttime adventures. Some of the other actors I believe made appearances in the REC series. All around, this film is well done from the thespian perspective.

Numerous times in SLEEP TIGHT I felt my heart beating in my chest as Balagueró temps and teases with his camera, taking us to uncomfortable places with his perverse characters and forcing us to identify with them. As action-packed as the original [REC] was, SLEEP TIGHT is tension-filled and unrelenting. If you’re worried you wouldn’t be able to find horror on the more subtle side this Halloween, you can rest easy with SLEEP TIGHT.

Barely in theaters now!


Directed by John Luessenhop
Written by Adam Marcus. Debra Sullivan, Kirsten Elms, Stephen Susco
Starring Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Richard Riehle, Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Having read reviews around the internet, it appears that the attitude towards the newest entry in the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE series is relatively negative despite the fact that it’s reported to be the number one movie in the country last week. Recreating the lightning in a bottle that was the original film is impossible, proven by the other sequels released in the franchise, but after seeing the film this week, I have to say, it is not as horrible as one might be lead to believe.

Moreso than any of the other sequels, this one seems to be made under the right intentions. Tossing to the side the new flava Michael Bay series, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D instead decides to be a direct sequel to the original: not a rehash, not a reboot or an origin story, but a direct continuation, opening seconds after the original ended with Marilyn Burns wailing in the back of the pick-up and Leatherface doin’ the dance in the middle of the road. Now, all sequels are a cash grab, but here, at least the filmmakers are going back to the source material and making something that fits in as a direct link rather than Bay’s reinvention of the wheel which we’ve been seeing over the years.

The other thing that impressed me about this film is that it doesn’t try to retell the original story. Look at any of the other CHAINSAW sequels and remakes and it follows the same narrative almost to the beat with a group of kids stumbling upon a house. They are picked off one by one, until the final girl is bound to a chair and forced to have dinner with this fucked up family. Even good sequels like CHAINSAW 2 and my favorite sequel of the series, LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3, follow this pattern. In TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, sure there is a group of kids, but they are killed off in the first 35 minutes of the film; the rest of the film shies away of being a repeat of the original and dares venture into new and exciting territory.

This territory is both acknowledging that the original occurred and spins directly from that. As I said before, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D opens seconds after the first ends as a sheriff is the first on the scene at the Sawyer residence. Inside, the whole Sawyer clan has holed up with some of them just showing up as the sheriff arrives. It’s even acknowledged that the sheriff has turned a blind eye toward the Sawyers, but they can’t do it anymore. Inside, some familiar faces like Gunnar Hansen (TCM’s original Leatherface) plays Boss Sawyer and Bill Moseley (Chop-Top from TCM2) who steps into the role of Drayton Sawyer, the Cook (originally played by the deceased Jim Siedow) show up for cameos. After a harrowing standoff, the tables are somewhat turned as the townsfolk destroy the house from the original leaving only a small child as a survivor. Skip ahead and we find out this little girl all grown up and the sole proprietor of the Sawyer estate once her distant grandmmother (played by TCM survivor Marilyn Burns herself) passes away. But with the house comes a responsibility and a curse.

Without going into too much detail, the thing that the film does right (and the Bay films did wrong) was that it never strays away from the theme of the importance of family. In TCM, the entire film was a statement about the norms of family life and the responsibilities that went with it. Sally brings her brother Franklyn with her on the trip because she feels responsible for him. Is he a burden? Is he a snivelly shit and not comfortable to be around? Yes on both accounts, but she loves him and that point is made clear throughout the first half of the film. Leatherface can be seen in the exact same manner. He is a burden on the family, but they love and accept him, even if it means they have to watch him wear people’s faces and dress in women’s clothes. It’s about accepting family and doing what’s right for them. Why else would Tobe Hooper choose to center the climax of the film around the dinner table, the daily family meeting place?

In TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D from the get go, when the sheriff asks to send out Leatherface, Drayton refuses, saying he’s family, but the burden of taking care of the child has brought the law down onto the family, so they contemplate giving him up (ironically, it’s Gunnar Hansen’s character of Boss Sawyer who is most insistent to cut ties with Leatherface rather than have his whole family killed). Later in the film, Alexandra Daddario’s Heather understands that Leatherface is her kin and she is therefore responsible for him. So instead of a victim, this is the story of how Leatherface gets a new caretaker. Sure, it might not be the strongest story, but it sure beats seeing someone strapped to a chair and force-fed human feet for the umpteenth time in this series. I’d argue that more so than any other TCM film, this one is the most original in that sense. Does that mean it’s better than TCM2 or TCM3? No. I love those films despite the fact that they are basically retellings of the original. But still, the film shouldn’t be demonized for trying something new while adhering to the standards set by the original.

You’ve got to understand, like all of you die hard horror fans, I’ve sat through Jason Voorhees being tossed into space, fighting telekinetic girls, and taking a boat to Manhattan. I’ve seen Michael Meyers reduced from evil on two legs to an unloved trailer trash delinquent. Like you, I’ve seen franchises stray so far from the original film there is almost nothing in common with the sequels and the original. There’s something to be said about the filmmakers of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D trying to go back to the original and expand on it that I appreciate. This is a film clearly made with horror fans in mind, taking the film in a direction that elaborates on the original story rather than retelling it over and over. I commend the filmmakers for doing such a thing.

Now, this film isn’t perfect. There are some pacing issues as the action hits hot and heavy for the first 40 minutes then screeches to a halt once Heather is taken to the police department. Had the film kept up that level of intensity, I think it would have been a much better film, but I guess there needed to be a pause for breath somewhere.

The actors are not the best, though I’ve seen much worse, believe me. A major plot point between Heather and her cheating boyfriend Ryan (Tremaine Neverson aka Trey Songz, which means something to someone I suppose) that is never really resolved. Leatherface chases Heather into an amusement park which is a fun little monster run amok scene, but it is later explained that he is after her because the last time he left a witness, his whole family and home was burned to the ground, so he didn’t want to leave her alive. Following that logic, Leatherface now has to track and kill over a hundred witnesses who saw him chasing her through the amusement park with a roaring chainsaw. Another head scratcher of a scene has the sheriff and mayor watching one officer roam around the blood soaked Saywer residence via iPhone instead of sending in backup. And is the leap Heather takes towards the end of the film believable? Well, that is up to you to decide. Personally, knowing the shitty home life Heather had before knowing her ties to the Sawyer family, it’s understandable the decision she makes in the final moments.

I will also say that this is the worst looking Leatherface of the series. The face he wears looks more like a California raisin than human flesh, but given he’s been locked in a cellar for so long, I guess the old mask isn’t as fresh as it used to be.

Those bits aside, the 3D effects in this film are actually pretty astounding as the opening minutes of the film dimensionalize the key moments of the original film. There’s quite a few nice moments of in yo’ face chainsaw action that are decently choreographed and some especially gory scenes of chainsaw dismemberment which splatter right in your lap.

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D is not going to revolutionize the world as you know it. It doesn’t dive to the depths of the original, but it does take the story in an original direction without forgetting its sordid roots. One of the things I loved about the original FRIDAY THE 13TH series is that one seemed to fit directly with another in the first few sequels, as if I was getting another chapter to a bigger story. That is the same feeling I got with TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D and I love the film for that. It’s a shame that it took some searching for me to find a theater in Chicago showing TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D last week and it would be a shame if the film wasn’t seen by horror fans because of initial bad press. I found it to be fun and much better than I expected and hope it is still in theaters so folks can give it a chance this weekend. With some fun cameos and nods to the original and subsequent entries, despite its flaws, I rank TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D fourth in the CHAINSAW series just under the first three CHAINSAW films (maybe an even tie with LEATHERFACE: TCM3) and far above the two Bay remakes and the bass-ackward THE NEXT GENERATION.

And finally…just in case you didn’t get enough of Chainsaws from Texas, here’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: A FAMILY PORTRAIT, a documentary shot on video by Brad Shelldy released in 1988 with clips from the film, behind the scenes stuff, outtakes, and interviews with Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow and John Dugan. Enjoy!

See ya next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.

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