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

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. But as always…before that, there’s this!

I reviewed the supernatural and superfun horror film from Singapore, TWISTED a while back and liked it a whole hell of a lot. I promised then to let you all know when you’ll be able to have a chance to check it out. Now, it’s not being released wide yet, but it is playing in Somerville, Massachusetts at the All Things Horror Third Anniversary Show tomorrow (January 19th), so if you’re in the area and love international horror, follow this link and check out how you can get tickets!

I also have the release of the new film out of Sundance called IN FEAR. If posters are any indication of quality, this looks to be a good one. Here’s the official synopsis to IN FEAR; A young couple gets lost in a maze of country roads and attempt to survive a night-turned-nightmare. IN FEAR starring Iain De Caestecker (U.K. TV show The Fades), Alice Englert (the forthcoming Beautiful Creatures), and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey). IN FEAR can be seen at the following dates and times; Sunday, January 20, Midnight, Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Sunday, January 22, 9:30pm, Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City
Monday, January 23, 11:30pm, Prospector Square Theatre, Park City
Tuesday, January 25, 11:30am, Redstone Cinema 2, Park City

Can’t wait to check this one out myself.

Let’s get to the reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: WAKE IN FRIGHT
THE GHOUL (2012)
MAMA (2013)
And finally…MAMA

Retro-review: Available this week on DVD/BluRay from Drafthouse Films!


Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Kenneth Cook (novel), Evan Jones (screenplay)
Starring Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle, Al Thomas, John Meillon
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Filled with blokes with dealing with manhood in the modern age, WAKE IN FRIGHT serves as a reminder that no matter how civilized we think ourselves to be, we are but one impulsive decision away from barbarism. WAKE IN FRIGHT takes a bitter but educated man, (Gary Bond as John Grant) serving his sentence as a “slave” for the school system educating kids from the outback in order to pay off his debt and move on to bigger, better things serving in a job he feels is more fitting for himself and serves him up a foul tasting plate of crow as he experiences the outback firsthand and is pushed to the edges of his own sanity.

In many ways, this is a good old descent into madness tale with Grant making one impulsive decision after another leading him down a dark path. If that path wasn’t so grimy and foul, this sequence of errors would be humorous, but the way FIRST BLOOD director Ted Kotcheff depicts the land down under as something that is more akin to a land of nightmare. Drenched in boredom, inopportunity, and of course, alcohol, the men of the outback are at a point of stunted growth. Doing nothing but drinking, wrestling around with one another, and killing things, the men of the outback are folk Grant would normally look down-snoutedly at if not for the fact that he is flat broke and stuck among them. Though the men are hospitable to Grant, there is a constant air of threat that hovers everywhere in this film as if at any moment any of these drunk and smiling characters could easily turn on you for nothing more than a sideways stare. Kotcheff does this by showing the blokes rumbling around with one another, sloshing down alcohol, and joking around in the roughest of manners. This clearly isn’t Grant’s way and it shows early on as the town sheriff (Chips Raferty) buys him drink after drink in a bar then hands him off to the town doctor played by the ever-creepy Donald Pleasance. Pleasance’s blank blue eyes are piercing and pants-shittingly intense throughout as he makes subtle and not so subtle sexual advances toward Grant at every turn. Once rough and tumble Jack Thompson wrestling around drunkenly shows up, it is clear that Grant is not within his comfort zone.

Of course, alcohol is the great social negotiator, and in this film it is consumed by the keg-load. The boyish revelry takes the group to the outback where Grant has an uncomfortable sexual encounter with a farmer’s daughter followed by a kangaroo hunt which is bound to make folks uneasy. I had a lot of difficulty watching these kangaroos being blown away by the hunters. Apparently, a real roo hunt was filmed and they actually were killed, but this was done by licensed hunters. Still, it’s not for the soft of heart to sit through the vicious hunt the quartet of men go on in their night of drunken debauchery. Wrestling a roo with one’s bare hands and killing it was just too much for me to stomach.

If anything, this film serves as a statement about men with too much time on their hands and too little rules to live by. It feels like a cautionary tale as Grant is pulled into this smarmy world of sex, violence, and gluttony, all filmed with an unblinking eye with a little soot in it to stank things up. With performances that are absolutely haunting, this isn’t your standard horror fare, but it will most definitely cause unease, tension, and discomfort as this civilized man is dragged through the mud.

Though no easy answers are given at the end of this film, it does come to a sensible conclusion. WAKE IN FRIGHT most definitely bucks Hollywood standards as a boy is quickly changed into a man whether he likes it or not here. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous despite the unfavorable actions of the people staggering around it and you can taste the dirt in your teeth just by watching the dust storms blow by.

Not for the squeamish or for those looking for typical Hollywood rules, but if you want to see Donald Pleasance at his creepiest and a true and ugly picture of the Australian outback, WAKE IN FRIGHT is a real life horror film that delivers in spades and leaves you squirming and wanting a shower afterwards.

Advance Review: Touring festivals!


Directed by Luis Carvalho
Written by Luis Carvalho
Starring Brinke Stevens, Cesar Perreira, Jocelyn Padilla, James Barrett, Ryan Boudreau, Nicole LaSala, Rob Roy, Aaron Peaslee
Find out more about this film here! and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

This little indie flick is something straight from a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode as a group of kooky kids reanimate a vengeful spirit via a Ouija board. JONAH LIVES is definitely on the lower budgetary side, but it’s got some fun moments that make up for it.

The story itself focuses mainly on a group of six twenty-somethings playing kids who hang out in their parent’s basement while the old folks are having a party up there. Bored out of their minds, the group elect to use a Ouija board and through their incantations, they raise a corpse who used to be the husband of a gold-digging partygoer (Brinke Stevens) and end up fighting for their lives.

The scenario is fun—kids raising the dead with a witchboard—but the execution is not all stars and unicorns. The plot moves pretty slowly and takes its time before getting to the point where the dead rise. Instead, the filmmaker decides to focus mainly on the kids, how they interact with one another, and what secrets they tell each other. While I’m sure some of these fresh young faces will go places, the script doesn’t really give them a lot to work with here. Stiff deliveries also hinder these opening moments where we get to know this cast. All of that equals to a lot of ho-humming in the opening scenes before the spirits start getting evoked.

On the plus side, the effects are pretty awesome, especially the make up for the corpse Jonah, which is both highly detailed and functional as the old corpse has a lot of action going on despite its decrepit-ness. Once Jonah does rise to wreak vengeance with his dusty fists, the film picks up and turns into your typical monster-picks-kids-off-one-by-one flick, which has been done to death, but still proves to be exiting.

With pacing problems that litter the first portion of the film, JONAH LIVES feels like a good short film stretched out beyond its length. It makes up for it in the latter half of the film, but you have to trudge through some tedium to get there.

Available on DVD!


Directed by D. Kerry Prior
Written by D. Kerry Prior
Starring David Anders, Chris Wylde, Louise Griffiths, Jacy King,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE REVENANT has been a film I’ve been trying to see for quite some time, but never got around to it. I’ve heard good things and even read that early review Harry wrote about it many moons ago. Well, last week I happened to be watching THE REVENANT cable the same time someone asked about it in the talkbacks, so I figured that even though it has been available for a while and is now playing on cable, the film is good enough to warrant a few hundreds words from me.

THE REVENANT starts out with a war overseas and a group of military types charting across the desert in the night. While the rowdy bunch of guys rip into each other and have a merry old time, the driver Bart (HEROES’ David Anders) accidentally hits a child and though his fellow soldiers urge him to press on, he stops showing us that he is an all around good guy. Of course, Bart is mowed down by enemy fire and sent home for a hero’s funeral. At home, his girlfriend (Louise Griffiths) and best bud Joey (Chris Wylde) grieve as only his closest relationships do and have sex the night of his funeral. But the jokes on them because soon after he is buried, Bart rises from the grave and carries on as if he never perished. And so begins the uneven but thoroughly entertaining THE REVENANT.

As with some of the best horror films and some of the funniest such as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE REVENANT doesn’t make fun of itself or the genre it wallows in. The humor comes from the horror, organically putting the cast through bizarre and gruesome situations rather than making the genre and the cast the butt of the jokes. Most of the humor works really well. There are moments of comedic genius between the undead Bart and his best bud Joey. As they stumble through their discovery of just what Bart is and the rules around that, there’re some great bits of comedy going on. Through happenstance, Bart discovers blood makes him feel better, so Joey and Bart become nighttime vigilantes killing gang members and armed robbers. There’s a great scene where Bart attempts to rob a blood bank and a scene where a dildo is used in a highly creative manner.

But I say uneven above because the film shifts tone back and forth and back again. The opening scenes are pretty dire, with very little to laugh at. A dead child. Best friends sleeping together. Funerals. Then the hijinks begin between Bart and Joey. Somewhere along the line, the filmmakers remember that Bart had a girlfriend and she pops back into the story only to leave in an extremely jarring manner, then the dildo scene, and a pretty somber ending with a pretty cool last shot. There’s not a lot of transition between dire seriousness and the kooky hijinkery, making the film feel all the more rollercoaster-esque.

Now, while horror, I’d shy away from calling this one a straight up horror comedy like DEAD HEADS or TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL, but the humor in THE REVENANT does match the guffaws found in those films. More than anything, THE REVENANT is a decently acted, yet weird little loop-de-loop between straight up horror, action, and comedy, not really knowing what to cling on to. The effects are fantastic and Bart being part zombie and part vampire is a nice twist on a pair of old monsters. In the end, I found myself endeared to the characters despite the jarring and unpredictable ride I just took part in. THE REVENANT is definitely going to please gorehounds, but I think the humor and horror could have meshed a bit more seamlessly.

Available on DVD!


Directed by Fernando Barreda Luna
Written by Fernando Barreda Luna
Starring Cristian Valencia, Clara Moraleda, Chus Pereiro, Rafael Amaya, Javi Doz Guzman, Jose Masegosa, Sergi Martin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

This found footage film from Spain is one I’ve been itching to watch for quite a while. Though from the preview, it may feel a lot like BLAIR WITCH and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, ATROCIOUS does do a decent job of distancing itself from those go-to’s in the subgenre with some likable characters and very creepy ambiance.

A pair of kids have to stay at a summer island home with their father and mother and decide to bring their video cameras along for fun. We find out that the kids run a webseries that investigates spooky hauntings and happenings and that the island they are staying on is haunted by the ghost of a missing girl named Melinda. Though they are told not to, the teenage boy and girl explore the grounds only to find an overgrown and over-creepy garden maze out back with bizarre altars and even a very scary well in the middle. Tedium sets in and when the family pet is lost, the two junior investigators set out to crack the case only to find something quite real and horrible in the dark.

Though there are night vision scenes and jittery camera work a plenty in ATROCIOUS, what keeps it fresh are the wide eyed leads Chritian (Cristian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda) who banter back and forth, making fun and looking out for each other like siblings do. When things start getting dire, you really feel for these characters as they get lost in the maze and realize someone or something is after them. The utter likability of these characters is what sold this film for me.

Cheating a bit, the film cuts between news coverage of a slaughter and back between the found footage from the camera. Though there are clues as to what kind of evil is lingering in the dark, I was truly surprised in the final moments which turn out to be extremely effective in the scare department. The final scene especially is effective, especially when played in a dark room as I saw it.

If you are a fan of found footage films, ATROCIOUS is a good one. If you hate the subgenre, this one has everything you probably loathe. By this point you know which camp you’re in. Personally, I am always sucked into a good hand held first person POV film and the combination of a garden maze creepier than the one in Kubrick’s THE SHINING and some convincing leads made ATROCIOUS a goodie in my book.

New on DVD!

GHOUL (2011)

Directed by Gregory Wilson
Written by William M. Miller (screenplay), Brian Keene (novel)
Starring Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila, Trevor Harker, Catherine Stewart, and Barry Corbin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I had a chance to check out the yet to be completed film GHOUL, adapted from Brian Keene’s novel. The film reminded me a lot of the works of Stephen King paired with some of the Amblin films of children in real peril that we all grew up loving. Though GHOUL’s budget is considerably lower, it still retains that youthful spark and wonder that permeated those old films. From the producers of THE WOMAN, a lot of the issues that arise in that fantastic film do so again here as family conflict and real world horrors almost overpower the legend of the Ghoul itself.

The acting here could be better. There’s always a chance taken with child actors, and though a lot of the lines and situations director Gregory Wilson puts the kids in are extremely heavy, some of the child actors lack the experience to pull it off completely. I also feel the script could have been punched up as well, with some of the lines lacking the emotional weight the story seems to be going for.

GHOUL does deal with a lot of emotional baggage here with sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and murder all issues these kids have to deal with. At first, I felt as if this were a lighthearted romp with a bunch of kids meeting an old town legend, but things get dark pretty quickly, leaving me with a “holy shit, I can’t believe they went there!” feeling. These heavy themes again prove to be a challenge for this film because the kids experiencing these issues are lacking in experience to carry their weight.

In the end, I found myself enjoying GHOUL due to the balls the filmmakers have in putting the children in dangers both real and imaginary. It gets pretty bloody occasionally, but those scenes pale in comparison to the pitch black tone that arises as soon as these “Goonies”-type kids start revealing that one’s father abuses him with fists while one’s mother sexually molests him.

Like THE WOMAN, GHOUL pulls back the curtain of what looks like typical small town America showing that the true terrors are the ones occurring in the homes rather than the shadowy caves below. The power of the emotions involved in the story make it easy to look past the dodgy acting and low budget of GHOUL.

New this week on DVD/BluRay!


Directed by Robert Green Hall
Written by Robert Green Hall
Starring Bret Harrison, Laura Prepon, Kevin Gage, Ashley Laurence, Bob Penny, Lucas Till, Shannon Eubanks, Hal Sparks, Jonathan Spencer, Josh Todd
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

When I was a kid, my religious aunt got a hold of my collection of FAMOUS MONSTERS and FANGORIA Magazines and threw them away as a means to somehow cleanse my soul from evil spirits. Though that blasphemous act angered me, it didn’t stop me from going back out and picking up the next issue of FANGO and plaster all sorts of horror posters all over my wall in defiance. If you have a similar story like the one I just told, you might want to check out a little gem called LIGHTNING BUG.

Made in 2004 and just released this week on DVD by the director of LAID TO REST and CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2, LIGHTNING BUG is a coming of age story that readers of this column, fans of FANGORIA and FAMOUS MONSTERS, and all horror film geeks will be able to identify with. Bret Harrison plays Green Graves, a poor kid from the trailer park who spends every last nickel he has on special effects make-up mixes and fake blood. With his hopes to one day become a special effects wizard like the ones he reads about in FANGO constantly challenged by his drunk stepfather (HEAT’s Kevin Gage), the town deputy who happens to run a local access talent show (Hal Sparks) and the town Jesus freak (Shannon Eubanks), Green presses on and doesn’t lose heart in his dream. When he catches the eye of the video store slash bad girl Angevin (played by a smoking Laura Prepon, who happens to be the Jesus freak’s daughter), things start to pick up in Green’s life. He’s got a hot girl. He’s getting better every day at effects. And the owner of the haunted house just accepted his offer to do the decorations inching Green that much closer to his break in Hollywood as the next Tom Savini.

There’s an awful lot of melodrama going on here and for the most part it’s decently handled, though heavy handed. Green’s life is like a country and western song and his hot mom (Ashley Laurence) doesn’t help by drinking and bringing home scumbags to beat her and the kids. There are scenes I feel were done better in films like DONNIE DARKO and SAVED! as a commentary about the hypocrisy religion, but still the point it made well here.

If I could sum this film up with a word, it is charming. The fact that it’s autobiographical and that one look on IMDB shows that director Robert Green Hall not only has a successful horror franchise under his belt in LAID TO REST 1 and 2, but also has a list of special effects credits longer than your arm makes it all the more of a success story. And while the drama is not the most subtle and the leads weren’t the best in emoting said drama, the story itself and the victory won by the filmmaker in making this and many other successful films is enough for me to appreciate LIGHTNING BUG. It’s a film with a lot of heart and some scenes any movie geek is going to recognize from his/her own childhood.

In theaters today!

MAMA (2013)

Directed by Andres Muschietti
Written by Neil Cross, Andres Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti
Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Having written my own little comic book tale of feral children in THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope (the sequel is coming out in February, if you’re curious), when I saw those dirty little girls in the trailer for MAMA, I knew I had to see this film. Having done so, I think Guillermo Del Toro has once again picked a winner of a film to back as MAMA is more along the lines of the excellent THE ORPHANAGE than ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

If you’ve seen the trailers (and who hasn’t by now since they’ve seem to show up in between every other commercial), you know the story. A pair of girls are left in the wild to be raised by some kind of creature in the middle of a secluded forest for five years. Once discovered by hipster parents Lucas (GAME OF THRONES’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Annabell (ZERO DARK THIRTY’s Jessica Chastain)—you know they are hipsters because Lucas wears a wool hat in the summertime and Annabell has a full sleeve of tats—the girls are brought home to live with them. Immediately these girls are proving to be too much to handle as they sleep under the bed and talk to invisible people in the walls, but given a house to live in and a psychologist (Daniel Kash) to study them, the couple try to make it work. But the force only known as Mama won’t let the girls bond with their new family and therein lies the conflict of the story.

What works best in this film are the creepiness of the little feral girls. The CGI way they scurry across the floor like rats, the bizarre way they sleep with their eyes open, and the animalistic performance, especially by the younger one Lilly (played by Isabelle Nelisse) was fascinating. Sure it may be a bit far fetched that these two girls survived in the forest by themselves with only a dirty retarded ghost and a shit-ton of cherries, but the performances by Nelisse and older sister Victoria (Megan Charpentier) made the film for me. Seeing these two girls laugh and play like normal children one second, then explode with animal fury the next was mesmerizing.

For the most part director Andres Muschietti was able to pull off a whole lot of scenes of high tension and creepy chills. There were quite a few genuine jump scares at some truly horrific and spooky imagery in this one, most of which had to do more with some clever directing than CGI. Once the cover is blown on Mama though, Muschietti lets the computer effects team go nuts with the contorted and deformed Mama in all of her smudgy and furry glory. These scenes work, but still when the camera is allowed to linger on Mama, she looks more like a cartoon and less like something scary. Personally, I’d have preferred a whole lot less of Mama in the last half hour of the film.

The other thing that didn’t work for me was believing that Coster-Waldau and especially Chastain were the young hipsters the film wants to make them out to be. Maybe I’ve seen Chastain in too many elegant ball gowns or Coster-Waldau in too many royal crowns, but both seem somewhat miscast here. Chastain doesn’t really convey the struggling musician vibe and isn’t believable when she tries to be tough and callused toward the girls. When things get dire towards the end and she knows what’s going on, she’s a bit more believable, but for the most part she seemed like she didn’t fit very well in this role.

Coster-Waldau is rendered pretty useless in the final scenes (and throughout the whole movie for that matter) either knocked into a coma or unconscious making me wonder why he was even given a part to play in this film or why the character really needed to be there. This story is all about the two girls, Chastain, and Mama, and while Coster-Waldau does a decent job here with what little he has, he isn’t really integral to anything but adding about ten minutes to the runtime if that.

Story-wise the film suffers from being top heavy in the good idea department, but unravels into somewhat of a mess in the final twenty minutes. Chastain somehow becomes supernaturally aware enough to bring along a specific item just in case she might need it in the final confrontation (and sure enough she does). The showdown between Mama, Chastain, and the feral girls is beautiful to behold as Mama’s flowing black dress waves and cascades in the wind off a cliff, but ultimately proves to be drawn out and over slow-mo-ed.

Boiled down to basics, MAMA is the scene in PET SEMETARY where the emaciated Zelda rushes towards the camera cranked to 11 for modern audiences. The scene from the short film is replayed late in the film and caused a big scream in the audience, but I was surprised it showed up as late as it did given that many have already seen the short by now.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked MAMA. Though I’m picking nits (and I’m sure those dirty kids’ heads are full of them), there were a lot of effective scares and the look of MAMA is definitely horrifying. With some fantastic work from the two lead child actresses, some decently directed scenes of tension, and some admittedly beautiful imagery, MAMA is going to be a crowd pleaser this weekend and it deserves all of the hype is has heaped upon it. If anything, it should be acknowledged for not being a sequel or a remake and bringing something original to the stale type of horror we see in mainstream cinema these days.

And finally…Aw, what the hell, let’s watch the short film that started it all again. Here’s MAMA for the two of you out there who haven’t seen it yet…

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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