Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column! Because I was tooling around the corridors of C2E2 last weekend, I wasn’t able to post this column last Friday as intended, but here it finally is! Sorry for the delay and look for a whole ‘nother AICN HORROR column on Friday!
On with the reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET COLLECTION Retro-review: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD (1989)
Retro-Review: THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978)
ALL AMERICAN ZOMBIE DRUGS
COLD PREY (2006)
COLD PREY II (2008)
LORDS OF SALEM (2012)
And finally…Patrick Rea’s TORTURE PORN!
Retro-review: New on BluRay (Covering all seven films of the collection: Part 5 of 7 (Find this film on Netflix here!)!
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD (1989)Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Written by John Skipp, Craig Spector, Leslie Bohem
Starring Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Kelly Jo Minter, Danny Hassel, Erika Anderson, Joe Seely, Beatrice Boepple, Whit Hertford
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Most likely I’ll get some flak for saying this, but I kind of dug A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD. Don’t get me wrong. The acting is atrocious. Freddy’s one liners are more painful than ever, and cuts make this to be one of the more bloodless (and also one of the lowest body counts) of the series. Still, tonally, this film has a black soul I can appreciate.
Lisa Wilcox once again plays Alice, who gets knocked up by her boyfriend and her baby becomes the perfect gateway for Freddy to make his newest return into the real world. Borrowing shades from mostly all of the NIGHTMARE sequels, this fifth installment in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of originality. There’s Freddy taking over Alice’s body and splitting out of her a la Jesse in part 2, a bit of DREAM WARRIORS as Marc, the comic nerd, becomes his comic book super hero in his dreams to take on Freddy, and even a DREAM MASTER-esque arch nemesis which Freddy fears in the form of Amanda Krueger, whose ghost still haunts the halls of the asylum where the bastard son of 100 maniacs was conceived.
Still, there are some creative effects in this one. I can’t help but love the Freddy baby sequence as the bony puppet scuttles across the ground, eventually evolving into a fully adult Freddy. There is also a fun sequence where a motorcycle literally morphs with its rider, shooting wires and pipes into his hands, calves, and face that looks downright painful and is actually a pretty marvelous effects sequence. There’s also an M.C. Escher-ian dream world full of doors and stairs that shatters all sense of up and down and gravity.
You also get an opening sequence as Alice re-experiences Freddy’s conception through the eyes of Amanda Krueger which is very well done. Robert Englund sans burn makeup is seen slinking around the room filled with filthy lunatics, and seems to lead the group into raping Amanda after she is accidentally locked in the asylum over the holiday. The dream within a dream sequences that Renny Harlin used in DREAM MASTER are revisited, as Alice wakes from a dream only to find herself only dreaming that she woke up and finds Englund in her bed, making the opener a one two punch of a way to start the film.
But my favorite part of the film is the black soul it has involving Freddy taking possession of an unborn child. In more sophisticated hands, I think this could have been one of the darkest of the series as Alice contemplates abortion, albeit for a brief instant. But still, imagine if Alice is put under to get an abortion and has to literally fight Freddy who is trying keep the baby from being aborted, or if Freddy takes possession of a dozing doctor and tries to fuck up the unwanted pregnancy procedure. Ripe with the sickest of ghoulish potential, but nevertheless wasted here. There are also dark themes of bad parenting which was prevalent in most ELM STREET films. Here more than any, director Stephen Hopkins highlights how different the teens are from their dysfunctional parents. Again, this is not maximized to its fullest potential, but the hint is there nevertheless.
Of course, I’m sifting through the shit to find the diamonds here. And there’s a lot of shit to be had here. Freddy is full on schtick, with Englund delivering every line as if it were supposed to be both pants-shittingly funny and iconic. Sadly, none of them are and most come off as just painful to watch, especially when Freddy buffs up and claims he is “Super Freddy!” Ugh. Kill me now.
Add one of the lamest endings and some of the worst acting in the series so far, and there’s a lot to hate about this one. I’m not even going to get into the fact that Freddy at this point was a household name and all scare had been drained from the character. Case in point: this Whodini video, which was released in conjunction with the film’s release. I have no idea what this has to do with the movie, but it does have breakdancing Freddies, so that’s something, I guess…
We are getting towards the darkest point in Freddy’s cinematic history. If DREAM MASTER was the beginning of the end, THE DREAM CHILD dug the grave for the once king of horror, with the next installment FREDDY’S DEAD being the final nail in the coffin, at least for that era.
The Blu does offer some insight into how Hopkins was chosen for the film as director, some behind the scenes stories on the writing by Skipp and Specter, and some of the more impressive makeup effects. Still, despite the fact that this was not a very good entry, I liked it more than DREAM MASTER for the Freddy baby and some of the untapped potential of the themes presented.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from Kino Lorber/Redemption (Find this film on Netflix here)!
THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978)aka LE RAISINS DE LA MORTE, THE RAISINS OF DEATH, PESTICIDE, THE VILLAGE OF THE LIVING DEAD
Directed by Jean Rollin
Written by Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, Christian Meunier, Jean Rollin
Starring Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand, Mirella Rancelot, Michel Herval, Brigitte Lahaie, Paul Bisciglia,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Wow--this was the best Jean Rollin film I’ve seen so far. Too many times, in my opinion, Rollin relied on uncomfortably staring at naked writhing women in see-through garments to be bothered with things like story or scares. But in GRAPES OF DEATH it’s as if he really wanted to scare the viewer and for the first time, at least for me, it worked perfectly.
The story is simple. Some pesticides used on a vineyard prove to be toxic, causing the workers to develop skin abrasions and burns and eventually turning them into shambling zombies. But some of the zombies actually retain their minds, which makes this film feel a bit more like THE CRAZIES than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Still, the aimless way most of the villagers wander around will remind you of Romero’s first classic film.
One survivor (Marie-Georges Pascal) makes her way through the countryside searching for refuge, but she’s not very successful as everywhere she ends up seems to have infected people in it. Pascal does a good job of running and screaming though the entire runtime in search of her lost love, but only finding those afflicted with the disease until she runs into a blind girl and another woman who believes she cannot be afflicted.
There are some fantastic moments of sheer fright as the blind woman walks aimlessly while the silent zombies walk toward her. Rollin keeps the camera at a distance to see the space between the blind girl and the undead lessen, and keeps it there to make you squirm seeing what she doesn’t.
THE GRAPES OF DEATH also sports some truly gruesome FX as one woman gets her head chopped off with an axe while another is stabbed through the gut with a pitchfork. Given the rudimentary effects, these scenes still strike a visceral chord and make for some intense moments of weird. All in all, if you’re looking for the least artsy and most effective Jean Rollin film, THE GRAPES OF DEATH is sure to please.
New on DVD from Midnight Releasing (Find this film on Netflix here!)
ALL AMERICAN ZOMBIE DRUGS (2010)Directed by Alex Ballar
Written by Alex Ballar
Starring Beau Nelson, Wolfgang Weber, Susan Graham, Natalie Irby, Alex Ballar, Bobby Burkey, David Reynolds, Aidan Bristow, Russ Cootey
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Have you ever been out with a bunch of people and been the only one there who is sober? Usually, it’s a drag because everyone is laughing and having a grand old time and you just don’t get what’s so damn funny. That’s kind of what I felt as I watched ALL AMERICAN ZOMBIE DRUGS.
According to the opening dialog, the film seems to want to be a comedy about a group of stoners who believe they are tapping into some kind of world and seeing reality better than anyone sober ever does. While the group attempts different types of drugs according to their moods and time of day and whatever they have handy, it takes about a half hour before it happens upon some kind of plot. That said, there’s a drug which seems to make the user think he sees zombies and may even create zombies as well.
Not a bad plot, mind you. If this is an anti-drug film with some kind of social message (something zombie films are oft to have), that would be a great way to tell a zombie film. The thing is, despite the fact that in the final moments one of the stars decides to give up drugs cold turkey, for the most part, the glorification of the drugs shows where the filmmaker’s fascination truly lies.
So even though the message is a bit whopper-jawed here, this is still a comedy so at least maybe there’re some laughs to be had, or maybe since this is a zombie movie, there’ll be some cool effects? Nay on either front. The humor seemed like someone who may be high on drugs might laugh at, but it just wasn’t my taste in funny. In the same way, the film is relatively bloodless, with cheap makeup being used for the zombies and their victims.
I hate to be hard on indie films. The filmmakers behind them put their all into it. But ALL AMERICAN ZOMBIE DRUGS just wasn’t for me. That’s not to say it might not be for you. I’m just saying that I didn’t laugh much at this film, and it didn’t have that much to be frightened or grossed out at, so for me, as far as a comedy horror film, this one was a miss. The film is capably made with some decent performances from the actors, but I just couldn’t find anything to laugh or scream about with ALL AMERICAN ZOMBIE DRUGS.
Find this film on Netflix here!
COLD PREY (2006)aka FRITT VILT
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Written by Thomas Moldestad, Roar Uthaug, Martin Sundland, Jan Eirik Langoen, Magne Lyngner
Starring Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Endre Martin Midtstigen, Viktoria Winge, Rune Melby, Erik Skjeggedal, Tonie Lunde, Hallvard Holmen
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Since COLD PREY II is being released this week on DVD, I felt the need to go back and check out the first installment of the Norwegian slasher series. Many view COLD PREY to be one of the most perfect slasher films, and I have to agree the film does get a lot right, but nothing is perfect.
After a montage opener which feels a lot like SE7EN’s opening credits sequence, COLD PREY dives into what most will agree to be the typical opening moments of any slasher film. A group of rowdy kids decide to go off into a secluded area to party, drink, eat, and do some outdoor activities (which, in this case, is snowboarding). Most slasher films begin this way, giving us just enough character bits from the group of kids for us to distinguish them from one another as they get picked off one by one by the slasher. Nothing deep is understood about this group; one’s a jokester, two are horn dogs who can’t keep their hands and lips off of one another, and the last two have been in a relationship for a long time and are having difficulties. As the kids frolic in the snow one of them breaks his leg, which forces the kids to take shelter in an abandoned hotel.
Of course, this hotel isn’t completely abandoned as a hulking monster of a man with a penchant for sharp instruments resides there and doesn’t appreciate being disturbed as the kids make themselves at home, helping themselves to the leftover food, drink, and rooms in the hotel. Soon, as with most horror films, the killer whittles away the cast one by one until it’s down to the final girl battling the hulking man monster at the edge of a snowy crevasse.
The description I just mapped out isn’t anything different than the million other slasher films you and I have seen. It’s not that COLD PREY does anything specifically different than most slasher films; it’s that the film does all of the clichés very, very well. Though the buildup to the initial confrontation between the man monster and the kids doesn’t really begin until about a half hour in, when the pickaxe does start to swing, it hits the bull’s eye over and over again with brutal and bloody kills and non-stop action for almost a solid hour of run time.
The final moments of this film are extremely intense, made moreso with the nice acting from lead actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Jannicke, who kicks all sorts of ass and is quite inventive in order to get away from the murderer. Though the monster’s motivation is hazy throughout, we are given clues as to his origins and the look of the slasher, especially set with the snowy locale, makes this for a fantastic place to set a horror film. The revelation in the end is also somewhat vague, but does answer some questions posed in the beginning, but not all.
I can understand why folks love COLD PREY. It’s a really great slasher film, but don’t go into it expecting brand new things. You’re going to see everything you’ve seen before, but what you are going to see is going to be done extremely well. COLD PREY was quite the phenomenon, spawning two sequels, one of which I will be covering in the next review…
New on DVD this week (Find this film on Netflix here)!
COLD PREY II (2008)aka FRITT VILT II
Directed by Mats Stenberg
Written by Thomas Moldestad, Martin Sundland, Roar Uthaug, Axel Hellstenius, Marius Vibe
Starring Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Kim Wifladt, Johanna Mørck, Fridtjov Såheim, Per Schaanning, Andreas Cappelen, Mats Eldøen, Vetle Qvenild Werring, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, Robert Follin, Viktoria Winge
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though not as intense as its predecessor, I found COLD PREY II to be equally enjoyable, mainly if you realize that this film is not only a sequel to one of the coolest international slasher films ever made but also a fantastic homage to HALLOWEEN II, one of the most classic sequels ever made.
Picking up almost directly where the last film left off, Jannike (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) is found standing in the middle of the road catatonic, in shock, and holding a pickaxe. She is taken to the only hospital nearby for treatment and when she wakes, she tells the authorities about the crevasse we saw in the final moments of COLD PREY and the bodies buried in it. The bodies are recovered, including the body of the man-monster slasher, and brought back to the hospital. The problem is, the monster is still alive and goes on another rampage with Jannicke being the only one who knows who this thing is and how to kill it.
Shades of Ripley and ALIENS are more than evident in this film, as the authorities choose not to believe Jannicke’s outstanding story and she is forced to take action on her own in order to survive and save anyone else in the hospital. But though this isn’t the most original of films, it does serve as a great homage to some fantastic sequels.
For some reason, horror films these days don’t like to interconnect. Marketing likes to package them as singular one offs, I guess because they don’t want to alienate anyone who hasn’t seen the first films before diving into later chapters. But there was something awesome about how the FRIDAY THE 13 and HALLOWEEN films interconnected in their earliest installments, and with the latest TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE ( reviewed here) proving that connecting the stories actually can work, I hope this is a trend we can see more of in the future. With COLD PREY, it makes the film an awesome double feature as we follow the continuing story of Jannicke and the man-monster after her.
Though some might write COLD PREY II off as too derivative, I found it to be a worthy successor of the original, which was derivative in itself. That’s not to say the COLD PREY series is not an effective little slasher series. By swiping some of the best bits from successful horror sequels, COLD PREY II ends up being pretty damn good. I plan on seeking out the third installment of the series, aptly titled COLD PREY III, which is a prequel film, soon for review here on AICN HORROR. Until then, I recommend seeking out COLD PREY and its sequel for some good old-fashioned slasher fun!
In theaters now!
THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012)Directed by Rob Zombie
Written by Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Judy Gleeson, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Andrew Prine, Richard Fancy, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig, Torsten Voges, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Richard Lynch, Daniel Roebuck, Christopher Knight, Camille Keaton, Flo Lawrence, Gabriel Pimentel, Brandono Cruz
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Every time I hear Rob Zombie is making a film, I root for the guy to succeed. With HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, the bizarre imagery was there, but it turned out to be a pretty messy film otherwise. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS let me know the guy was able to tell a compelling story and make an entertaining film. With the HALLOWEEN films, I still feel that if HALLOWEEN wasn’t in the title, they wouldn’t be so reviled. As imagery and story ideas trickled in, I felt myself hoping Zombie would be able to prove his critics wrong and capture that lightning in a bottle that he dazzled us all with on THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. I wasn’t able to see an advance screening of THE LORDS OF SALEM. I don’t know if there was one for critics or not. My AICN HORROR status hasn’t given me the clout to get into that sort of thing yet, so I had to check out THE LORDS OF SALEM after it was released, so I apologize if this review of the film may be out after the film leaves theaters.
From start to finish, THE LORDS OF SALEM is a slow burner. Like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films (Oren Peli is listed as one of the producers), Zombie takes us through one week in the life of Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a radio DJ/recovering addict/resident of Salem, Massachusetts. Marking each chapter by the day of the week, THE LORDS OF SALEM is a slow boiler, opening creepily and ratcheting up the tension inch by inch until the over the top ending. As a throwback thriller, for the most part of the running time, THE LORDS OF SALEM succeeds with some truly creepy imagery and the best performance Sheri Moon Zombie has given to date. I have to admit, given Zombie’s previous performances in her husband’s movies, I was a little leery of a film that focused solely on her, but she does a fine job as a woman plummeting into a world of witchcraft and madness, able to evoke sympathy through her tough tattooed and pierced exterior.
Director Zombie has once again assembled an eclectic cast as DAWN OF THE DEAD’s Ken Foree shows up as another DJ and one of the Geico Cavemen, Jeff Daniel Phillips, acts as Heidi’s best friend who actually loves her (he looks a lot like Zombie himself in this film). Cameos litter this film aplenty, and shrewd eyes will be able to pick out Michael Berryman, Sid Haig, Lisa Marie, Udo Kier, Barbara Crampton, and many more obscure stars from classic horror films. It’s become somewhat of a fun thing for me to try to pick out these familiar faces in Zombie’s films. BERSERK’s Judy Gleeson, THE HOWLING’s Dee Wallace, and ROCKY HORROR’s Patricia Quinn play a trio of witches set to tempt Heidi to the dark side, while an almost unrecognizable (and frighteningly nude) Meg Foster plays the ghost of a witch burned at the stake long ago. Rounding out the cast is Bruce Davidson as a scholar on witchcraft who is trying to piece all of these weird things together.
And good luck to the WILLARD star, because as the days creep by, sense leaves the building in favor of overdone anti-Christian symbology that we’ve seen in rock videos since the 80’s. Zombie does a decent job of tossing in scares here and there throughout. There are some decent jump scenes of unseen witches in the periphery watching Heidi as she sleepily shambles through her life. But as Heidi’s madness takes over, the film begins to fall apart.
I will give it to director Zombie. He incorporates interesting music with arguably blasphemous images like few others can or want to do in modern cinema. There are some fun turns of musical/visual juxtaposition throughout--Zombie’s use of the Velvet Underground during the final scenes come to mind--indicating that as a film director, Zombie makes a good music video. But extended shots of Heidi straddling a stuffed goat flailing her pigtails around and midgets with burn makeup wearing pope hats were shocking in Alice Cooper’s heyday, were made mainstream when Trent Reznor did it in his “Closer” video, and were branded tedious by the time Marilyn Manson came around twenty years ago. Now these images are just lame, and really makes one wonder if Zombie’s retro-sensibilities are something best left in the past.
THE LORDS OF SALEM is not a horrible film. Though it doesn’t compare to the greatness that was THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, it is in no way as bad as his HALLOWEEN endeavors. I feel Zombie tried to hold back and make a more subtle film with THE LORDS OF SALEM, and he did so up until the final twenty or so minutes, but wasn’t able to restrain himself from resorting to well-tread shock imagery.
Here’s hoping that Zombie continues to practice restraint for his next horror joint. I feel the director has it in him to do it as, for the most part, he attempts to do an alternative rock and roll ROSEMARY’S BABY-style film with THE LORDS OF SALEM. Zombie isn’t able to capture the paranoia that Polanski did with his film, mainly because of his penchant for focusing on main characters most filmgoers cannot relate to. Though the film loses its steam by the end, I feel that there’s a lot to like (the use of music, Sheri Moon’s performance, and the slow pacing of the beginning half) with THE LORDS OF SALEM.
And finally…NAILBITER director Patrick Rea has done quite a few horror shorts which I have highlighted here on AICN HORROR. This is one of his earlier ones, satirizing the upsurgence of torture porn at the time. Check out TORTURE PORN, a clever take on a genre that I feel has worn out its welcome.
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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