Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. But before diving into the column, here are a few news bits you might find interesting.
First up is another entry into William Wilson’s “Never Got Made” Files. This time William delves into the obscure THE FLESH TWISTERS, a film so damn rare that nobody but the filmmakers apparently heard of it. THE FLESH TWISTERS was planned in the late 1970s by two guys from Iowa. They were hoping to cash in on the dying drive in circuit. Ads were placed and a promo reel shot, but it never got off the ground. Follow this link to check out the fascinating story of THE FLESH TWISTERS!
One of the most twisted films I’ve ever seen was THE TAINT (reviewed here). It’s one of those insane films you just cannot unsee after it’s shat into your eye holes. Well, the madmen behind THE TAINT are at it again with SCIENCE TEAM and it looks like another stroke of mad genius from Drew Bolduc and his crew of lunatics. Check out the clip below that was just taken out of the oven and find out how you can support SCIENCE TEAM and the filmmakers on their IndieGoGo page.
Science Team Promo from Drew Bolduc on Vimeo.
A few of you guys were asking when you’ll be able to see a film I reviewed a while back called SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY (reviewed here). Well, turns out the film will be available on Video On Demand on July 17th and in select theaters on August 9th! Check out the brand spankin’ new exclusive premiere of the poster of the film by clicking the image on your left, and also check out the keen pull quote from someone you might know!
Another IndieGoGo campaign for an upcoming horror film called THE NEWSCASTER is up and running. The plot synopsis is as follows: Aging local newsman mixes work with pleasure to keep from losing his lead anchor position. Unfortunately, his pleasure is murdering young women. Sounds like a horror version of ANCHORMAN, which isn’t a bad idea. This film is being made by the team that brought you the excellent A CADAVER CHRISTMAS (reviewed here). I’d love to see this film see the light of day, and if you would too zip over to the IndieGoGo page here and find out how you can support the cause! This campaign is close to being over and it needs all the help it can get, so support indie horror!
From the makers of the science gone pear-shaped yarn CELL COUNT (reviewed here) comes DEEP DARK, the story of a failed sculptor who discovers a strange talking hole in the wall. The hole has the power to fulfill his wildest dreams, or it might just become his worst nightmare. I love that synopsis and can’t wait to see what kind of hells will be coming out of DEEP DARK. Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here. And I’ll let you know more about this film as it develops!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET COLLECTION Retro-review: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988)
9 DAYS: WHIPPED, CHAINED, & TORTURED BY A PSYCHOPATH (2013)
STATE OF EMERGENCY (2011)
JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012)
Advance Review: CHEMICAL PEEL (2013)
Advance Review: HIDDEN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Advance Review: KISS OF THE DAMNED (2012)
And finally…Ryan Spindell’s KIRKSDALE!
Retro-review: New on BluRay (Covering all seven films of the collection: Part 4 of 7, Find this film on Netflix here!)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988)Directed by Renny Harlin
Written by William Kotzwinkle, Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Starring Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Andras Jones, Rodney Eastman, Danny Hassel, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Brooke Bundy, Nicholas Mele, Toy Newkirk, Brooke Theiss, Jacquelyn Masche
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While I can only attest to being scared of Freddy once or twice in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET SERIES, mostly from moments in the first film and maybe snippets of the third, I think most will agree that after the first three films, the scare factor of Freddy lessened exponentially after DREAM WARRIORS. Case in point: this video by the Fat Boys which was released in conjunction with the fourth installment of the NIGHTMARE series…
Now that you have that permanently engrained into your eye sockets and ear holes, let’s talk about Freddy circa 1988. Basically, MTV was at its peak at that time, proving to be a central part of the culture and a rift between those who wanted their MTV and those who didn’t understand it. With so many of the young (I was one of them) gorging themselves on three minute mini movies, popular films had to catch up and the staccato method of filmmaking taught those young minds to process information at a rapid pace.
All of this was reflected in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, which truncates the story behind Freddy to a one liner (“filthy child killer”) and focuses mainly on squishing as many kills into the film as possible set to the tune of as many pop rock songs as possible. In this film alone not only do the Fat Boys beat box their way into Freddy’s world, but Sinead O’Connor’s duo with MC Lite “Put Your Hands On Me” is used multiple times. There are also tracks from the Divinyls, Girl Talk, Blondie, and countless others crammed in for good measure. Freddy made appearances on late night TV Shows, his commercials were on prime time television, and even Freddy dolls and child costumes were marketed in pharmacies and malls across America. Freddy had become a phenomenon after the commercial success of DREAM WARRIORS, which for all its faults was a pretty damn fun roller coaster ride of a movie.
Finnish director Renny Harlin was an odd choice for the follow up. The NIGHTMARE series was New Line’s biggest cash cow, and though people know Harlin now for CLIFFHANGER, marrying Geena Davis, and other stuff, at the time he had only done one other film, PRISON (reviewed here), which was a decent film, but nowhere near the carnival ride NIGHTMARE 3 was in tone. Harlin did continue the rapid fire kills and story technique, but the creativity behind the kills in NIGHTMARE 4 pales in comparison.
More so than in Part 3, which began the trend, characters ceased to be characters and began to be manifestations of phobias, fears, and quirks. Names of the characters, aside from the final girl, cease to matter and instead what we get is asthma girl, the chick afraid of cockroaches, and the kung fu guy. And while the effects continue to be impressive, nothing even comes close to the wickedly evil Freddy worm or the painfully devious finger syringes from part three. Sure, the cockroach scene looks cool, but was it scary? Nope. Just a cool visual and decent effects. And who’s afraid of a pizza full of souls in the shape of meatballs, anyway?
The effects had to be creative since this film is relatively bloodless. Sure, this was a time when the MPAA was on a crackdown against blood and gore in movies, but even when Freddy gores his victim in the guts, nary a drop is spilled. Instead, we see Robert Englund in drag, Freddy as a doctor, Freddy on the beach. The boogeyman seemed to have run out of tricks by this one in favor of sight gags and bad costumes.
In making Freddy more digestible for the masses, New Line also made him less scary. In this installment, Freddy kills the last of the Elm Street kids and branches out to enter everyone’s dreams. Sure, making Freddy a global threat to the masses made it so no one was safe from the crispy creep, but it also made him the Don Rickles of horror: more likely to lamely poke your funny bone with Arnold-bad one liners than slice and dice you.
I will say that Harlin does a few things right in Part 4. Lisa Wilcox is a decent final girl here as Alice, and though I believe I heard that originally they were trying to get Heather Langenkamp back to play a mysterious Dream Master who turns out to be Nancy from parts 1 and 3, Wilcox does a great job kicking Krueger’s ass. Secondly, the final couple of minutes of this film made for some fun effects. Sure it was bloodless, but seeing Freddy torn apart by the souls he so proudly boasts about was a cool effect. Third, Harlin does a creative dream loop effect here as Freddy traps Alice and her boyfriend in a looped scene while he kills one of their friends.
For these moments, PART 4 is watchable, but as I revisit these films in succession, it not only is an interesting look at the era it was made, but it is also a sad indication that PART 4 was the beginning of the end as NIGHTMARE 4 tries to ride on the coattails of PART 3.
New on DVD from Chemical Burn
9 DAYS: WHIPPED, CHAINED, & TORTURED BY A PSYCHOPATH (2013)Directed by Samuel Johnson
Written by Samuel Johnson
Starring Maura Murphy, Chris Schleicher, Simone Frajnd, David Alan Graf, Jennifer Lawrence
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One would think that with a title like 9 DAYS: WHIPPED, CHAINED, & TORTURED BY A PSYCHOPATH the movie would be about as torture-porny as one could get. And while this film has a lot of qualities one might find in your average torture porn films, I found it to be pretty interesting from start to finish and full of surprises one rarely finds in the torture porn subgenre of horror.
A runaway named Danielle (played by the lovely red-haired Maura Murphy) is picked up by a seemingly harmless driver named Virgil (Chris Schleicher) and taken to his home to rest before she continues her journey to Hollywood. But instead of a trip to Tinseltown, she ends up skipping through the nine levels of hell after being chloroformed by Virgil in her sleep and chained up in his basement. According to Virgil, Danielle must endure various forms of torture for nine days in hopes to either cleanse her of her sins or kill her in the process. Also according to Virgil, this is a process he’s underwent himself and has done many times before with other girls. The rest of the film follows Danielle as she undergoes this metamorphosis/spiritual cleansing which includes drowning, tasers, and laying in ice, to name a few, all the while, Danielle must listen to Virgil’s twisted style of preaching.
I think it was the actors playing these roles that kept me interested. Set to Dante’s 9 levels of hell, the tortures are supposed to take Danielle to the brink of sanity. Maybe I’m jaded, but as bad as they were, I felt that I’ve seen far worse torturings in far worse films such as SAW and HOSTEL. Sticking to the details from DANTE’S INFERNO may have been fine inspiration, but for some reason, I think the modernizations of these levels needed a bit more creativity behind it. That said, I was intrigued to see where these fascinating characters would end up. Sure there are only about three scenarios that could happen--she survives the process, she dies, she gets free--but the performances made me want to stick around to find out which one happens.
The resolution of the film (which I won’t reveal here), while poetic, did seem to come rather abruptly. With so much of the torture focused on for the better part of the movie, the ending wrapped things up far too quickly for my tastes.
Still, despite the lack of oomph in the ending and the somewhat uninspired tortures, you do get to see a lot of scrumptious actress Maura Murphy, and seeing Chris Schleicher dole out and receive the De Sade treatment was pretty fascinating. I’ll give it up to writer/director Samuel Johnson for making 9 DAYS: WHIPPED, CHAINED, & TORTURED BY A PSYCHOPATH very watchable despite the fact that I am usually put off by films that hinge on torture for their horror.
Available on DVD/BluRay this week!
JACOB (2011)Directed by Larry Wade Carrell
Written by Larry Wade Carrell
Starring Grace Powell, Dylan Horne, Krystn Caldwell, Larry Wade Carrell, Leo D. Wheeler, Parrish Randall, Joe Grisaffi, Jeremy James Douglas Norton, Jennifer Blanc, with James Hampton and Michael Biehn
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This low-budget entry relies on a strong sense of mood and a genuinely creepy tone to make it stand out as a really effective indie horror gem. JACOB is the name of the title character, a hulking, bald man-brute in overalls that can only be calmed by his little sister. When Jacob’s family is threatened, though, the man-monster goes on a rampage and seemingly cannot be stopped.
But there’s more at play than a learning-disabled man-boy on a rampage. There’s a fantastic little ghost story going on with JACOB as well, as an inheritance of a house is accompanied by a curse. Michael Biehn makes a cameo appearance as the inheritor of the residence and quickly succumbs to the evil forces that seem to be passed on to Jacob later in his life. The supernatural aspects of this film are subtle. Director/writer Larry Wade Carrell does a great job of keeping within the parameters of the budget, and the seams are never seen despite some pretty fantastic action sequences of gore and violence.
Genuine acting chops are shown by the director/writer Carrell, who also stars in a dual role as twin brothers--one a cop trying to track down Jacob after his rampage and the other an abusive drunk husband who sets Jacob off. It wasn’t until very late in the film that I realized that Carrell was playing the two roles. Instead of trying to do hokey split screen, Carrell relies on putting both characters in different scenes, so the two roles rarely share screen time. In doing so, it made this film feel bigger than it was as well.
The story is pretty expansive, as it starts out with a trio of kids in the present daring one of them to enter the decrepit house then flashing back to just before Jacob’s rampage and then flashing back again to see how the origins of Jacob’s seemingly otherworldly strength began. Carrell does this without making things complex, and is able to tell a pretty straightforward story without losing the audience.
At times, some of the rest of the cast stumbles--due to lack of experience, I assume. The cast does their best, but a few overwritten scenes here and there (like an overlong scene in a bar) make for some lulls in the narrative. I do have to commend this film for the awesome use of the old Terri Gibbs song “Somebody’s Knocking”, which I have always found to be damn creepy.
JACOB is one of those indie films I can’t help but root for. It is surprisingly bloody, and the violence echoes off of the screen with some clever uses of cuts, camera angles, and action sped up at just the right time of impact. The house where the horrors take place is something out of a Tim Burton nightmare, and Carrell uses what he has with an effectiveness that makes me want to pay attention what the writer/director has in store for us next.
New this week on DVD!
STATE OF EMERGENCY (2011)Directed by Turner Clay
Written by Turner Clay
Starring Jay Hayden, Andy Stahl, Tori White, Scott Lilly, Kathryn Todd Norman, & McKenna Jones
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though I’ve heard that this film was shot on a low budget, this zombie flick sure doesn’t seem that way. Borrowing from both 28 DAYS LATER and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, STATE OF EMERGENCY proves that the zombie genre is still alive and twitching.
Describing the beginning of this film might make a few roll their eyes. An explosion at a chemical plant infects a town and the government soon quarantines the entire area. A solitary man, after losing his wife, must make his way through a post-apocalyptic world in search of safety and maybe other survivors. The bulk of this movie is a lone man against the unknown tale as he tries to figure out what has happened and what to do about it. Though we are fed snippets of the events leading up to the man’s solitude, we aren’t told straight away, which is part of the beauty of this film. Like I said, the first moments of this film had me thinking I was watching 28 DAYS LATER all over again. The use of the same font for a title didn’t help much either.
Yet there are some fantastic scenes which save the film and set a dire mood in STATE OF EMERGENCY where the lone man, played by Jay Hayden, views a solitary zombie from afar. These scenes are haunting, in that most recently excess in zombies is the new trend. We’re so used to seeing masses of zombies “comin’ atcha” that I think it’s a lost art to focus on one lost soulless undead figure and capitalize on how horrific that can be. STATE OF EMERGENCY does this extremely well.
Strong performances by the actors, some cleverly edited scenes of action and violence, and some really great computer-generated images to widen the scope that make the limited locales look like it is actually happening in a war zone make STATE OF EMERGENCY the type of zombie movie I’d love to see more of. If more zombie films like this existed that maximize character and scares over convention and excess, that been-there-done-that feeling one gets when seeing yet another zombie film available would not be so common today. Though it doesn’t offer a cure for the zombie holocaust, STATE OF EMERGENCY is the surefire antidote for zombie movie fatigue.
New on DVD & BluRay from Magnet Releasing (Find this film on Netflix here)!
JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012)Directed by Don Conscarelli
Written by Don Conscarelli , David Wong (novel)
Starring Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Glynn Turman, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I reviewed PHANTASM II not long ago, and in that film I categorized and praised it as one of those films where the filmmakers threw a bunch of shit at the wall and went with whatever sticks. Well, if I were to categorize JOHN DIES AT THE END from the same master of horror filmmaker Don Coscarelli, I’d say that it too is one of those films that tosses a bunch of shit against the wall and went with whatever sticks…and maybe even some that doesn’t.
Adapted from David Wong’s novel which I ashamedly have not read yet, JOHN DIES AT THE END is a trippy ride through multiple dimensions, states of consciousness, spiritual worlds, and maybe a few Cthulhuian portals. Boiled down to basics, the film is told by David Wong (Chase Williamson) to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) in a Chinese resturant and focuses mainly on a drug he calls Soy Sauce, which is actually some kind of LSD which opens the mind to see and experience things that the normal mind can’t and shouldn’t experience. Because it bends and shreds all forms of reality, the Soy Sauce is the story’s permission to get as insane as it can. And it does so, basically for the entire run time of the film.
Meat monsters are fought. David and his pal John are worshipped as deities by a church full of masked nudists. Cthulhu-like tentacles sprout from beneath. Past, present and future overlap and collide. A bear sits in the corner and drinks margaritas…ok, I made that last one up. But there’s an anything goes feel to this movie where you’re not sure what kind of concept or idea or scene will be thrown at you next.
For the most part, telling this story in a manner where the only rule is that there are no rules once the Soy Sauce is ingested is risky. The film must convince the viewer to strap in and just go with it, rather than judge it by any sense of reality. Literal thinkers and those who like every detail explained will be scratching their heads and looking at their watches with JOHN DIES AT THE END, but those who are familiar with Wong’s books, dig David Lynchian weirdness, and fawn over Coscarelli’s PHANTASM films which often toss out logic in favor of cool scenes will feel right at home here.
What makes it work is that the two leads, Chase Williamson and the title character John (played by Rob Mayes), are extremely likable characters and good actors. You trust these guys and like them, so they become the constant, the touchstone, the everymen which the audience can relate to because they react in pretty much the same way we are reacting in the audience to this stuff. Because they go with it, so does the open minded audience.
For me, this crucial identification worked for about two thirds of JOHN DIES AT THE END. It wasn’t until the climax of the film that I really felt as if my hold on the concepts was slipping and it wasn’t because the film began to get too heady, but because I started not caring. It was fun seeing David and John get into these kooky predicaments filled with kookier characters, but there came a point somewhere around the time the Cthulhu tentacles and the skull-faced torch mask appear that I began to be ready for the credits. And having seen this film twice, I honestly don’t know why.
Maybe I had reached the edge of my level of identification with the characters. Maybe I understood that a logical conclusion was not going to come and anticipated being let down when the kook just stopped kooking. I’m not sure why. I do know that the cast was excellent, as were the effects. I also know that much of the film worked for me, especially the first half of the film, which did a great job of introducing this insane world and all of the impossibilities in it. Though the end of the film left me wanting, I will give it up to JOHN DIES AT THE END for jamming in more insanity, surreality, and edge of consciousness brain-fuckery in one film than one would find in twenty, and Coscarelli should be commended for bringing this crooked little story to life.
CHEMICAL PEEL (2013)Directed by Hank Braxtan
Written by Dan Sinclair
Starring Natalie Victoria, Arielle Brachfeld, Stephanie Greco, Lacy Fisher, Leigh Davis, and Lony'e Perrine
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Because this film takes a group of women and places them in the middle of a secluded locale and then puts them through holy hell which endangers not only their relationships but their own sanity and lives, comparisons to THE DESCENT will be inevitable when talking about CHEMICAL PEEL. THE DESCENT was a hell of a film, allowing for some high drama to unfold as the horror began to descend. In the same fashion, CHEMICAL PEEL throws a bachelorette party in the woods and turns that party into a horror show.
The film opens with a group of women crawling from the wreckage of a car crash which takes the lives of one of the passengers. Driving the car was the victim’s sister, and also in the car was another sister. A year later, the group meets for a bachelorette party in a secluded cabin in the middle of the woods which gets underway in the usual fashion, with lots of screamed hellos, talks about boyfriends and husbands, and a vibrator gift or two. But when a train wrecks nearby spilling out its noxious contents all over the forest, the chemical mist begins to seep into and around the cabin. Soon the women are fighting for their lives, trying to get away from the fumes and chemicals in the air and attempting to avoid melting into a gooey mess.
While this film could have easily fallen into the same ridiculous hole as M. Night Shyamalan’s THE HAPPENING, where the cast must outrun the wind in order to survive, writer Dan Sinclair and director Hank Braxtan avoid such cheesiness by giving us characters we care about and making the conflict among the women in the group just as toxic as the chemicals outside. Though I’m sure I’ll get shit from this, in my experience, any time you place a group of women together in a small space things often become pretty catty post haste. Here it does as well, as one sister blames the other for the third’s death while the rest of the crew are dealing with their own quirks and challenges. As death comes knocking and creeping under the door, the bride to be becomes an actual bridezilla and tears into the rest of the women in hopes of surviving to see her wedding day. All of this is played straight and deadly, with the effects of the chemicals in the air making the danger all too real and palpable.
Aside from the strong story and actresses involved, the effects in CHEMICAL PEEL are a gorehound’s wet dream as what look to be practical effects were used throughout, and done so in a truly creepy manner. Skin boils. Parts fall off. Puss oozes and drips. This is not a tidy film, and those weak of stomach (and what the hell are you doing here then, if that’s the case) might find themselves looking through shivering fingers and holding down their lunch in their gullets.
No word yet when CHEMICAL PEEL will be released, but when it does, I will surely let you know. As is, it’s one of those films that creeps under your skin by getting you close to the characters and then melting their faces off. Cheers to the gory fun that is CHEMICAL PEEL!
HIDDEN IN THE WOODS (2012)aka EN LAS EFUERAS DE LA CIUDAD
Directed by Patricio Valladares
Written by Patricio Valladares, Andrea Cavaletto,
Starring Siboney Lo, Serge Francois, Carolina Escobar, Jose Hernandez, Daniel Antivilo, Domingo Guzman, Carlos Candia, Nicole Perez, Marcelo Valladares
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Recently picked up by Michael Biehn’s Blanc Biehn Productions for remake is the Chilean wilderness nightmare, HIDDEN IN THE WOODS is as grindhouse as it is horrific from frame one to the last. Because the film shows both the heroes and villains doing horrible things, I found it very difficult to find anyone to root for.
That doesn’t mean HIDDEN IN THE WOODS is not an effective and harrowing horror film. It is in every sense possible. Much more like films like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE that anything else; HIDDEN IN THE WOODS feels most like a revenge film than straight up horror. The narrative follows the perilous lives of two young women, Ana (Siboney Lo) and Anny (Carolina Escobar) who are the victims of rape and incest by their lecherous, drug dealing father resulting in the birth of Ana’s child, who grows up feral in a barn. When the police come to investigate accusations that there is abuse in the house, the father goes nuts, kills two cops with a chainsaw and is arrested. Having grown up in seclusion, the girls and their feral son/brother go on the run from the police and the crooks who believe the kids know where their father has stashed their drugs. The merry chase culminates in a shack in the woods where the animalistic side of the three youngsters comes out en force with not a crevice or surface left unsplattered with gore and grue.
I will give HIDDEN IN THE WOODS this—it is a devious and unforgiving film. Brutal in both the depictions of rape and violence as well as gory as all get out, if you’re looking for some imagery that’ll make your soul curl, this film out to do it. The violence is hard and rough and pulls no punches and one cannot leave this film without feeling something; be it satisfaction that justice is finally served for the kids or revulsion at the lengths with which they achieve it. As a straight up bare-knuckle bashing film of uberviolence and ultragore, HIDDEN IN THE WOODS excels.
But aside from that, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at the way all of the characters were very shallow and simplified. By the entire cast of men, the two girls are looked at only as sexual objects with which to mount. No manner of restraint is taken as every male who crosses these girls path must lay their hands on them. Every male in this film is a sweaty, panting penis just trying to get close to the two female leads. Ana and Anny do a decent job of screaming and fighting and crying and wallowing in lots of blood, but they aren’t given a lot to do other than be victims and then fight back. Still, they are the only ones who actually go through character arcs here, especially Anny who, unlike the older Ana who has a sense of both right and wrong and how to function in the real world, is haunted by childish nightmares and animalistic urges. Seeing Anny struggle with the beast within her and then let it overcome her was fascinating. Too bad every other character had to be so one dimensional in contrast to the sisters.
I’m conflicted with HIDDEN IN THE WOODS. I love the story of feral children forced to come to terms with the society just over the next hill while being stripped of all humanity by everyone who crosses their path. But at the same time, the simplification of the males in this film was extremely off putting and makes the film much more shallow because of it. I was struck with the violence and horror of HIDDEN IN THE WOODS. As all good horror films do, it left me with a sense of unease. It wasn’t a fun film to experience, but it was an effective, albeit characterizationally flawed, horror film. I liked enough of this film to be very interested in what Biehn has in mind for the Americanization of the film and am hoping the character vacuum plaguing this film is corrected in this newer version (directed by the same director).
Available Now On Demand and in select theaters May 3rd from Magnet Releasing!
KISS OF THE DAMNED (2012)Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Written by Xan Cassavetes
Starring Joséphine de La Baume, Roxane Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Anna Mouglalis, Michael Rapaport, Riley Keough
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though the sensuality of vampirism has been the focus of many a horror movie, not until recently with the TWILIGHT phenomenon has it cause so many a fanboy to groan in pain. Anyone trying to highlight that the intake of blood as an intimate form of contact is going to make most tune out immediately. While some filmmakers have tried to go the opposite route (STAKE LAND for example, reviewed here) and bring the grit back to being a vampire, filmmaker Xan Cassavetes (daughter of John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands) has decided to take the concept of the sensuality of vampires back to the realm of serious filmmaking with KISS OF THE DAMNED.
The title of KISS OF THE DAMNED is very reminiscent of Jean Rollin’s classic erotic vampire films of the seventies and eighties and in tone, it’s much like those surreal vamp films. Cassavetes amps up the sexuality as Tony Scott did with THE HUNGER and Hammer did with their lesbian vampire films of the late sixties and early seventies in this modern telling of boy meets girl vampire, girl vamp turns boy, boy and girl vamp try to make things work in a world filled with sunlight half the time. Throw in a crazy vampire sister and you’ve got a whole lot of drama.
The cast is top tier as Joséphine de La Baume plays the gorgeous Djuna, a vampires who lives a quiet life until she runs into Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) at a late night video store. Immediately, there is a spark and though it is against Djuna’s instincts to stay away, she goes with her gut (or maybe something a bit further south) and lets Paolo into her home. Though she drops plenty of clues like telling Paolo she has a rare skin condition and watches an old black and white vampire film in front of him, Paolo just doesn’t get it. Even when she chains herself up to the bed, Paolo still is just attracted to this kinky doll, and though it takes him a while to truly understand what it is he had fallen in lust with, his decision to become a creature of the night is pretty hasty. Soon, Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up and immediately causes trouble for the couple as she brings couples home to screw and drain, attacks anyone who shows up at the house with a pulse, and tries to seduce Paolo right under her sister’s nose. All of this is done with style as the confident cast is able to amp up both the sensuality and drama exquisitely.
If KISS OF THE DAMNED has any flaws, it has to do with showing how Mimi’s interventions effect the relationship between Djuna and Paolo. Much time is dedicated to showing Paolo and Djuna’s initial attraction and development into a couple, but after they come together, the focus is shifted to Hurricane Mimi and the carnage she leaves in her sultry wake. Sure there are scenes of Paolo and Djuna coming back together after the things Mimi does, but music and stylish cuts cover up what should have come out in some drama. Cassavetes chooses to skip over these scenes which some might find boring as the couple try to understand, develop, and eventually save their relationship behind the scenes, but the film is somewhat lacking in depth in the final act as all eyes focus on Mimi and her destructive ways.
Still this is an exceptional vampire film. Don’t worry. All of drama is bathed in copious amounts of blood and some stylishly orchestrated shots of vampire debauchery. There are some nice nods to how vampires react to the modern treatment of their species in current cinema and references to TRUE BLOOD which I found to be amusing. And it’s all set to an absolutely delicious retro score which borrows heavily from the Italian giallo films and makes this film feel more like a lost film from the seventies rather than something recently produced. Though I found the story lacking a bit in the last act, there’s a lot Cassavetes did right with this film, especially considering it’s her first feature length movie. KISS OF THE DAMNED is the antidote for all of the crap vamp films horror fans have had to endure through recent years and well worth seeking out.
And finally…a while back I reviewed the short film KIRKSDALE and now it’s finally been put online for all to enjoy. Check out this stylish mental hospital gone awry flick. Enjoy Ryan Spindell’s KIRKSDALE!
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 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s 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 from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
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