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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Let’s get right to this week’s reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-Review: DEADLY BLESSING (1981)
Advance Review: JUG FACE (2013)
And finally…Gary Mellor & Ben Wilkinson’s AMY’S TORCH!

Retro-review: New on BluRay/DVD from Scream Factory!


Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Glenn M. Benest, Matthew Barr, Wes Craven
Starring Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner, Jeff East, Colleen Riley, Douglas Barr, Lisa Hartman, Lois Nettleton, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Berryman, Jonathon Gulla
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I tell you, those creepy Amish with their butter and their straw hats and their moustache-less beards. Well, technically, the religious folk in this film are called Hittites, but they are a radically more religious sect of the Amish and on top of that, damn, fucking scary. DEADLY BLESSING is an early work from Wes Craven. After the HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but before he burst onto the scene with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Keeping the chronology in mind, it does turn out to be quite an interesting, yet flawed little thriller.

The story follows a widow Martha (the gorgeous Maren Jensen, Athena from the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and in her last film appearance) who recently lost her husband in a freak barnyard accident (that may not be an accident. Martha, a city girl married into the Hittite defector and returned to the Hittite community, but was never accepted and called an “Incubus” by the Hittite elders and ever-creepy man-child Gluntz (Michael Berryman). After her husband’s death, Martha’s city girl friends Lana (a super young Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) come to the rescue, urging her to leave, but Martha wants to stay. Meanwhile, the Hittites are boiling, with Ernest Borgnine leading the way with the harsh words of spite and heresy. Hittite bodies start piling up to add to the mix and soon the three women feel more unwelcome than usual as their dreams are assaulted with religious iconography, all forms of slithery creatures, and creepy whisperings and indications point that there’s a real life stalker in their midst as well.

This was the film Craven did before A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and many of the same themes apply here. Dreams factor heavily into the story as Lana dreams of being swallowed and then swallowing a spider while Vicky feels drawn to the local Hittite Willie Ames clone John (Jeff East, which sounds like a porn name to me). Martha continues to be wracked with guilt about her husband’s death, so there’s lots of angst, pathology, and temptation for Wes to play with here. This interest in psychology definitely shows up in Craven’s later works, but here it feels as if he’s just skimming the surface, as if this is the film he showed his interest in the subject.

The scene where Martha is slipped a snake in the bathtub shows up in the famous Freddy glove between Heather Langenkamp’s legs from NIGHTMARE. Here the terror is very real, but just as terrifying. There are numerous expertly edited sequences (dream and real) as Craven takes full advantage of the farm environment with stark open fields and imposing creaky barns. Surprisingly, some of the most effective scares come in the Sharon Stone scenes who may have missed her calling as a scream queen as she takes part in a truly terrifying chase scene in a barn involving a lot of hay, a stalker, and a spider then has a great dream sequence which is mimicked on the poster (though the image looks nothing like her) as a pair of hands force Stone’s mouth open wide as a spider drops from above.

Some of the performances here are laughable. Berryman’s performance is straight out of the creep handbook and interesting in that he basically plays the same character as Crazy Ralph in the early FRIDAY THE 13TH films and suffers the same fate early on. Still Berryman’s serpentine smooth visage is much ookier than Ralph’s any old day.

The main theme here which is reiterated numerous times in the nice little extras focusing on the lead actress, the writers behind the film as they collaborated the film, and the FX folks behind the final sequence which I will get to in a bit is that anything that is oppressed is bound to come back with deadlier, triple fold power. Centering on the highly religious culture of the Hittites with rigid rules and mores, the film proves for a fantastic backdrop for discussion about how strict religion can cause more problems than good. While many films covered here on AICN HORROR are somewhat disposable fluff with cheap scares and thrills, DEADLY BLESSING is definitely fodder for a meatier discussion afterwards.

The ending is the only part of DEADLY BLESSING that I felt missed the mark and I’ll put a SPOILER ALERT here to make sure to preserve the ending for those not wanting it revealed. The entire film centers on how strict belief in something often oppresses and causes a negative effect when not addressed. This comes up, for the most part, in the form of sexuality as the Hittites are known for calling women who don’t follow their beliefs whores and heathens. The film is very much firmly rooted in reality, with some fantasy sequences taking part in the form of dreams, never once suggesting something supernatural is going on. Sure, by having a demon and a ghost appear in the final moments is a hell of a shockeroo, but really does betray the tone and feel of the rest of the movie. It’s explained that Craven and the other folks behind this film had their hands tied when the studios wanted a shock ending like FRIDAY THE 13th and CARRIE, so while the bursting demon sequence looks cool, it still just doesn’t feel right. It’s funny that this same type of nonsensical ending was again used in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but that one can be attributed to a dream sequence. Here the final girl is most definitely abducted by a demon which betrays the rest of the excellent film we have sat through.

Final seconds aside, DEADLY BLESSING is a hell of a great time. Filled with quite a few fun extras from Michael Berryman, the FX crew, writers, and actresses, this new BluRay is definitely worth checking out.

New on DVD from MVD Entertainment Group!


Directed by Henrique Couto
Written by Henrique Couto
Starring Sandy Behre, Ruby Larocca, Josh Lively, Zane Crosby, Justin Channell, Jason Pollock, George Hrab, Henrique Couto
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I’d prefer to watch a film that’s effective all the way through, there are some cases that a powerful ending can save a film. At the moment, I’m bereft of examples of such a statement, but I’m sure some folks in the talkbacks can think of a few great scenes from horrible films (HALLOWEEN 3 perhaps?). In BLEEDING THROUGH, the film’s got a pretty powerful ending, but it takes a lot of patience to get there.

BLEEDING THROUGH is an ultra-indie, ultra-low budget version of Lucky McKee’s MAY in some ways. Both films focus on a young awkward girl who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the world, despite trying to do so desperately. Both films get you to sympathize with the main character and then once it’s dug it’s claws in, the harrowing actions of the final few minutes definitely pack a punch. MAY is a much slicker and superior film, but structurally and emotionally they have their similarities.

As I said above, this is a low budgeter and with low budget comes less acting skills. In fact, this feels as if a lot of the lines were made up on the fly without a script and it kind of shows as most lines come off as cardboard and uninspired. Lindsey (Sandy Behre) is a shy girl who is still recovering from her parents’ sudden death a year ago. Withdrawn and anti-social, she still uses the excuse of her parents’ death whenever she is called for her lack of enthusiasm, investment, and skill. When a punky girl befriends her, she develops a crush, but when she decides to stick her head out of her shell, it proves to be the straw that broke her fragile insanity’s back and she snaps.

The final scenes of this film are pretty effective as Lindsey enacts vengeance upon all who have wronged her, but leading up to it, there’s a whole lot of navel gazing and drawn out scenes. Paired with the lack of thespian skill in the acting makes the first hour of BLEEDING THROUGH tough to take. It’s overly emotional, melodramatic, and definitely dripping with emo mumblings, but if slice of life drama is your thing, this feels less cinematic and more real. Writer director Henrique Couto also stars as Linsdey’s brother, and does a decent job on all fronts, especially making some of the more surreal moments towards the end interesting to feast my peepers on.

All in all, the ending of BLEEDING THROUGH makes up for the tedious trek there, but only by a little.

New on DVD this week from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Maurizio del Piccolo, Roberto del Piccolo, Trevor Gittings
Written by Roberto del Piccolo
Starring Andy Callaghan, John Doughty, David Drew, Alice Knapton, Nasif Malik, Maddie Moate, Danny Shayler, Paul Tonkin, Vicky Vatchers
Find out more about these films here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE HOUNDS is a truly unexpected little find, filled with moments that zag when zigs are expected and plays with genre staples smartly and capably.

Starting out as a million other horror films do, THE HOUNDS centers on a group of friends who meet in a pub and decide to go to a trip camping in the middle of the woods for some partying, fooling around, and maybe have a run in with a woodland serial killer. Turns out all three are on tap, but just when you think this is going to be the same movie you sat though just last week, some weird things start happening.

Corpses appear and then vanish. Some people die and then come back to life. Some people’s consciousness leaves their bodies while others feel as if parts of their body are being literally ripped from them by monsters in the woods. Meanwhile, a detective in the city is on a case that may or may not have something to do with it all.

What works with THE HOUNDS is that it toys with ones expectations and relies on the fact that the viewer has most likely seen (or believes he/she has seen) a movie like this before. When things start going sideways, and it does so pretty early in the film, what originally looked to be a typical film all of a sudden becomes atypical and at every twist and turn, the film becomes all the more fun.

I don’t want to ruin the ending and I will warn you that the trailer below foolishly hints at it (if not outright tells you), so if you want to go into this one like I did without knowing what to expect, I feel you’ll get the maximum effect. Filled with decent acting, a modest but effective budget, some creepy effects, and some expert moves with the camera from the trio of directors (Maurizio del Piccolo, Roberto del Piccolo, Trevor Gittings), THE HOUNDS is definitely not what you’re expecting and a breath of fresh air from a winded “Cabin In the Woods” subgenre.

New this week from Kino Lorber!


Directed by Charles Evered
Written by Charles Evered, Marty James and Eric Barr
Starring Michael A. Newcomer, Michael O'Keefe, Olesya Rulin, James Van Patten, David Naughton
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

It’s not just these troublesome times that horror films are under attack for influencing the destruction of modern decency, civil living, and life as we know it, but it may feel like it. With people scurrying to point the finger at genre films for glorifying violence, it’s no wonder a film like A THOUSAND CUTS was made, but smartly, this film raises for questions than provides answers and while in the end, there’s a sort of morality tale going on here, it doesn’t go so far as condemn the genre it is firmly entrenched in but it does question it.

Fucktard movie producer Lance (Michael S. Newcomer) is having a swanky Hollywood shindig full of short skirted wannabe actresses, hungry screenwriters itching to have Lance look at their script, and low level celebs like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON’s David Naughton. We know Lance is a fucktard because in the opening moments we are inundated with one fucktard move after another as Lance tempts an actress to take off her clothes by offering to pay her student loans, pushes a screenwriter in the pool and laughs, and does drugs with a clown in the doghouse. When the lights go out in the party, it breaks up, leaving Lance alone. But when he comes across Frank (Michael O’Keefe, an actor you’ve seen in plenty of films including MICHAEL CLAYTON & THE GREAT SANTINI) who crashes the party disguised as an electrician, he and Frank begin a cat and mouse game of words and desperate actions.

Lance has produced a film series called A THOUSAND CUTS, a SAW like film in which a killer uses the old torture technique of 1,000 cuts before inflicting death. Without revealing too much, Frank, though not in the film industry, had his life changed significantly by Lance’s film and he aims for revenge for it. As Lance and Frank battle it out over a real life crime influenced by film, both are inching closer towards one of their deaths.

The script by Charles Evered, Marty James and Eric Barr is smart and covers a lot of territory in a little time as both Lance and Frank have valid points about who’s to blame in the death of a woman. There are a few times that the script calls for some acting that might be a bit out of Newcomer’s range, but for the most part, this film is well acted too.

Building to a fever pitch, A THOUSAND CUTS ends nicely with both men changed for good and both leaving with deep wounds, validating both points at once. In the end, this is a nice film to incite debate over who is the cause of real life crime while providing a pretty entertaining story to cast the debate on.

New on DVD from The Asylum!


Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante
Written by Jose Prendes
Starring Dee Wallace, Brent Lydic, Stephanie Greco, Clark Perry, Adrian Bustamante, Jasper Cole, Sara Fletcher, Mariangela Pagan
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

No doubt trying to cash in on the recently released HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS which came out this weekend, The Asylum has their version of the fairy tale for your DVD and BlurRay to devour this month. Though unlike the cinematic treatment, this version is more of a modern retelling of the tale.

In this version, Hansel Brent Lydic) and Gretel (Stephanie Greco) play a modern pair of kids who find themselves trapped in the bowels of a meat pie cooking business run by Lilith (Dee Wallace) and her two deformed and feral man-children. Though this story follows the narrative of the old fable a bit closely, it still has a few inspired moments.

Mainly the fun comes in some random scenes tossed in involving Lilith’s house of horrors. One especially creative scene has Hansel trapped in a room filled with sticky candy. When the candies stick to his flesh, he is compelled to eat them, tearing at his own flesh with his teeth and leaving a bloody mess.

Had the rest of this film been this imaginative, I’d be recommending it a whole lot more strongly, but for the most part, this is HOSTEL meets Grimm’s fairy tales. Dee Wallace is actually quite good as Lilith, shouting frantically and eating up the scenery as the evil witch abductor. But then again, things get yawny when the film resorts to women in chains and guys who are having a bit too much fun torturing them. Director Anthony C. Ferrante returns and lingers to these scenes a bit too long for my tastes.

With a few worthwhile and creative scenes of grue and gore, HANSEL & GRETEL proves to be somewhat appetizing, but when it ventures into torture porn territory, my interest began to wane. See it for Dee Wallace’s over the top performance alone and go in expecting the kind of candy you get from your grandmother’s house and you’ll most likely be surprisingly entertained, but don’t go expecting top shelf treats here.

New this week on DVD from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Brenton Spencer
Written by John Sheppard
Starring Mittita Barber, Victor Zinck Jr, Aslam Hussein, Chelsey Reist, Christie Burke
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I’m a fan of found footage films, even I can attest that I’m getting a bit sick of covering them week in week out. With the rolling hand held camera replacing the clichéd zombie at top movie monster these days, I’m longing for some steady, solid storytelling for a change. CROWSNEST is not going to revolutionize the subgenre of the found footage film, but it does do some things right while making the same mistakes a lot of these movies make as well.

Justin (Victor Zinck Jr) is a douchebag who gets a new video camera for his birthday. And what do douchebags do when they get a new camera? They film their girlfriends getting undressed, try to tape them having sex, and peep on the neighbors across the street, of course. On his birthday trip, Justin, his girlfriend (Mittita Barber), his best friend and his girlfriend (Aslam Hussein & Chelsey Reist), and third wheel grumpy sister (Christie Burke) load up into an SUV for some camping in a desolate wooded area in the middle of nowhere. Forgetting to buy beer, the kids get lost, then find themselves in the seemingly abandoned town of Crowsnest. After an encounter with a creepy girl and some locals, the group find themselves in a DUEL like battle with a monstrous RV. When their car breaks down, the crew are relentlessly pursued through the woods and find out that the men after them want them for dinner.

What this film does right is play with expectations. Just when you think some one is dead or going to die, they aren’t. Just when you think the guy holding the camera is going to be safe since the film has to keep rolling to tell the story, the guy isn’t safe. There are some smartly paced scenes of sheer terror as these city kids battle it out in the woods with cannibals and I have to give it to this film that during these scenes, it had be undivided attention. There’s a scene inside the RV that is really well done and by far the best in the movie.

What this film does wrong, though, is make the handheld jerkiness out of fucking control to the point where I got somewhat motion sick (and I never get motion sickness). The scrambling is so frantic at times in this film for long periods of time that it will definitely even the most forgiving out of the film. Also there were quite a few too many times when the camera is dropped in the exact right spot to capture what’s happening for my tastes. It’s hard to not do this in these found footage films, but here, it’s a little too obvious.

The film does take the found footage theme seriously, only showing what was captured and being real with how much it can tell. Because of that, the ending of the film is abrupt and most likely will disappoint those who need things all bow wrapped and tidy. The lead to the ending though is nicely choreographed and though it does have it’s rough edges and an extremely unsteady hand shooting the action, there are definitely some good bits in CROWSNEST. Just take some Dramamine before watching and it’ll be a decent found footage experience.

Available on VOD and in limited theaters this week!


Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Written by Justin Benson
Starring Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Bill Oberst Jr., Kurt David Anderson, Emily Montague,
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

High school buddies Michael (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran) have been friends forever, but while Michael has married, expects their first daughter, and is becoming successful in his life, Chris has developed a drug problem and hangs out at the edge of town doing crack in an abandoned house and shooting at birds. After receiving a video message that Michael feels is a cry for help sent by Chris, he sets out to break him of his unhealthy crack habit by locking him in a cabin for a week to sober up. Being a good friend, Michael decides to wait it out with his buddy through this tough time.

That was the plan anyway. But soon tings start going sideways. There happens to be a mental hospital nearby and the patients tend to escape from time to time. The house is near a Native American ceremonial ground and the local tribe isn’t too happy Mike is squatting there. And what about the mysterious books, videos, films, and recordings that keep showing up? And where’d that knife come from?

While this can be easily dismissed as a story of consensual descents into madness, that’s not really what’s going on. This film gets insane with time twisting, choose your own adventure style antics going on from some unseen force. This film goes through a tremendous amount of crazy shit, especially towards the end as Mike and Chris try to outrun fate which they have already experienced.

The premise of this film, which I won’t completely reveal here nor do I completely understand it having just seen the film once. Is ballsy and original. There’s a slice of MEMENTO, some TIME CRIMES, and maybe a dash of LOOPER going on here, though it keeps things much smaller than that. The film also reminds me of the of THE CORRIDOR (reviewed here), another story about unseen forces manipulating a friends in diabolical ways.

What makes this film work so well are the performances by the two leads. Peter Cilella as Michael embodies a purely good intentioned person, too blinded by his good deeds to notice he’s walking into trouble. Vinny Curran’s Chris is fantastic as the pitiful, yet quite personable and funny crack addict who still has the charm that made his friendship to Michael so strong in the first place. Both of these actors play the roles subtly, down to earth, and keep things very real in their reactions to the crazy events going on around him. I’ve gotta mention Bill Oberst Jr. (last seen scything zombies as ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS ZOMBIES reviewed here) ) who makes an appearance as a strange scientist with connections to the weird property Michael has chosen for this particular intervention with his friend. His cold stare and bizarre giggling monologue about the paranormal is absolutely riveting.

You have never seen a horror movie like RESOLUTION. I guarantee you that. The filmmakers Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead are able to tell an ingeniously creative and spooky story with a ramshackle cabin, some old video footage, some weird locations, and just a few suggestions of something-not-right here and there. Both a testament to the effectiveness of low fi horror and a marvelous achievement in doing something completely original, RESOLUTION is bound to be a memorable experience for all who watch. Fantastically acted and subtly horrific, you’ve got to make a resolution yourself to see this film.

Advance Review: Recently played at Slamdance!

JUG FACE (2013)

Directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle
Written by Chad Crawford Kinkle
Starring Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Larry Fessenden, Katie Groshong, Alex Maizus, Daniel Manche, Sean Young
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Recently premiering at Slamdance is JUG FACE and if you’re a fan of this column, you’re definitely going to know I loved this film a helluvalot as it is produced by director Lucky McKee, stars two of the stars of one of my favorite horror films in recent years THE WOMAN, and even has a soundtrack by the same musician, Shawn Spillane. Though this is an entirely different film, one can’t help but feel the magic captured in that film in this new film JUG FACE.

The story is an unconventional one focusing on a community of hillbillies in the woods of Tennessee. Lead by patriarch Sustin (Larry Fessenden, the mastermind behind the excellent teleplay series TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE), the family worship a creature that lives in a shallow pit. In order to appease this beast, a sacrifice must be made and when the potter of family Dewai (played by THE WOMAN’s Sean Bridgers) receives a vision, a ceramic jug with the face of the sacrifice is made. This is a ritual that seemingly has gone on for ages and it is viewed as an honor for those chosen by the put to death at its edge, but the wide-eyed Ada (THE WOMAN’s Lauren Ashley Carter) finds out she is to be the next sacrifice and hides the jug before anyone can see. That’s not the only secret she has as she has had an incestuous relationship with her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) under the nose of her protective mother (played by Sean Young). Hiding the pot and the unborn incest baby in her belly, Ada causes a series of events that topple the delicate peace treaty the hillbilly family has with the beast in the pit.

Oozing with everything from hillbilly culture to Chthulhuian cultism, director Chad Crawford Kinkle plays out an intricate plot of love, betrayal, and a pit monster. The talented actors who make up the cast make everything engaging. Every one of the actors give it their all and Carter shows star chops carrying most of the film with her petite frame, but powerful performance. Sean Bridgers who was so good at being bad in THE WOMAN, is equally talented here as the slightly delayed psychic link to the beast in the pit. And Fessenden and Young play overprotective parents and religious zealots well making them dislikable and likable all at once. Every character is developed well, which made the story easy to dice into.

There is plenty of horrific scenes as the sacrifices are bloody and many. As people are bled out into the pit, others are left as piles of guts and gore after the beast attacks. Though some of the effects shots are definitely of the lower budget caliber, it still makes for some creepy scenes of ghostly specters and creepy monsters.

Some will be disappointed as the beast in the pit is not revealed, most likely due to budgetary constraints. Also, the film seems to loose steam in the last act as the emotional whirlwind that goes on in the first hour seems to die down and the final scenes are spent dealing with the revelations and ramifications of Ada and Dewai’s actions.

The film also ends abruptly and though I was thoroughly entertained by the performances, I was left a bit nonplussed by the end with the story resolving in an abrupt manner. Still, the drama and intensity of the script as spouted by the talented cast make up for the lackluster final moments.

JUG FACE in no way is tied to THE WOMAN, though it does seem to have a lot of the folks in front of and behind the camera involved in it. Still, I couldn’t help but feel as if these two films are linked in some way as they both deal with unconventional and ugly family rules, mores, and customs and how those things can become twisted manacles around the ankles of those who have the unfortunate luck of being born into it. JUG FACE has some fantastic acting and offers up an interesting view on the hillbilly culture. It’s also quite bloody to appease my appetite for that type of thing. Though not as controversial as THE WOMAN, it does get pretty intense and if you’re a fan of McKee and Ketchum’s film, you’re bound to find things to like with JUG FACE as well.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this film to make sure to pass the word along to you all when it is available for all to enjoy.

And finally…here’s a short but surprisingly effective take on the old Monster Under the Bed story by Ben Wilkinson and Gary Mellor called AMY’S TORCH. It got me. How about you?

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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