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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Here’s my second horror column this week. For some reason, there’s a shit-ton of scares being released this week--so much that I needed two columns to cover it. Be sure to check out yesterday’s collection of horror reviews as well!

On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Short Cuts: SWINE (2012)
WITHER (2012)
YOU’RE NEXT (2011)
And finally…Colin Campbell’s THE GIRL AT THE DOOR!

Retro-review: Kino Lorber/Redemption (Find this film on Netflix here!)


Directed by Jesús Franco, Jean Rollin
Written by Jesús Franco, Paul D'Ales
Starring Christina von Blanc, Britt Nichols, Rosa Palomar, Anne Libert, Howard Vernon, Jesús Franco, Paul Muller,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’m hit and miss on the films of Jesus “Jess” Franco and Jean Rollin. Franco often relies heavily on the erotic side to the point of uncomfortability for me, while Rollin occasionally can be too artsy for my tastes. Still, there are films from both directors I can’t help but love, such as Rollin’s OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (reviewed here), FEMALE VAMPIRE (reviewed here), EXORCISM (reviewed here) and even COUNTESS PERVERSE (reviewed here) and Rollin’s GRAPES OF DEATH (reviewed here), LIVING DEAD GIRL (reviewed here), THE DEMONIACS (reviewed here), and TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES (reviewed here). One of the products made by both Rollin and Franco was the damn fine ZOMBIE LAKE (reviewed here) which I think highlighted both of the filmmakers’ strengths and canceled out their weaknesses. Pairing Franco’s gift for mixing the grotesque with the erotic with Rollin’s artsier thrills and chills seems to be the right elixir for me since I really loved Kino Lorber Redemption’s latest classic release, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD.

The story starts out mysteriously, as a woman is making her way to a mansion to meet family she has never met before. Though all of her requests for directions are met with furrowed brows and careful warnings that the mansion she seeks has been abandoned and avoided for ages, our heroine Christina (Christina von Blanc) presses on. Upon arriving at the castle, sure enough there are folks living there, but they are cold to the touch and weird as all get out. Still, she wants to know about her inheritance and her history, so she stays in the creepy castle. Wide-eyed and innocent, Christina is met with all forms of bizarre visions and erotic sensations as her dreams and nightmares mix with reality and by the end of the film, not even the viewer is going to know which is which.

The imagery in A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD is pretty amazing. A giant dildo tempts Christina from her bed in one dream while vampiric lesbians tempt her in another. There’s a gripping sequence where Christina follows her long-dead father through the woods, his form appearing to her as a hanged man dangling from a moving and floating rope. There’s a final march into a murky swamp that feels more like the surreality of a Jodorowski film than a Franco one, but also reeks of Rollin artfulness. No matter what part you watch of this film, you’re definitely going to take away images you’ve never seen before.

The metaphor of a virgin being tempted by both the world around her as well as the inner temptations of her sensual mind isn’t hard to discern here. This is well-tread territory for Rollin and Franco, and here they address the material with little subtlety, but with a lot of skill nonetheless. This rerelease has an even more erotic-laced version of the same film on the disk retitled and reedited as CHRISTINA: PRINCESS OF EROTICISM, which tempers down the scares and gore while amping up the sex for those of you who feel like the sex isn’t spelled out enough in the horror version.

Shrewd eyes will also pick up the appearance of Marvel Comics’ Zombie Simon Garth character in the cover art of this one, wearing the Amulet of Damballah and everything. I’m not sure why the comic book anti-hero shows up on the cover, but it’s awesome nevertheless.

If the title of the film doesn’t give the surprises in the story away, you probably won’t be dulled by the inundation of obvious metaphor at play in A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. Though the title character is clueless, the surreal and creative imagery throughout makes this worth experiencing.

SWINE Chapters One – Three (2012)

Directed by Daniel Levitch
Written by Daniel Levitch, Cuitla Huezo, Ari Levitch
Starring Gregory Lee Kenyon, Åsa Wallander, Kellsy MacKilligan, Drew Hinckley, Louis C. Oberlander, Diana Hardesty, Christopher George Wiley, Emily Chetner, Kelley Gallagher, Brett Davis, Alex Rapport
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

There’s a lot to like about SWINE, an ambitious and creative series of post-apocalyptic shorts. Writer/director Daniel Levitch seems to have developed a pretty interesting scenario, as a group of survivors called the Vox Populi fight an uphill battle with the malevolent armies of the Northern Warlords. There’re a lot of Mad Max-like qualities at play here, which can sometimes be painful to watch, but Levitch’s hard work on both the script, the characters, and the story helps elevate the clichés often associated with this type of thing.

It really feels as if Levitch has developed an entire world here, as multiple characters and storylines play out in the three episodes I got to check out on this disk. There’s a higher level of narrative going on as different episodes are dedicated to different aspects of the SWINE world, attacking the premise of a powerful ruling force being resisted by a small but powerfully motivated army from various angles. Cool characters and talented actors make the story all the more interesting to follow.

In many ways, SWINE is a western, as technology is both advanced in terms of weaponry but dusty and dirty like the spaghetti westerns of old. This mixture of genres makes for something that feels much more genuine than overblown-budgeted, genre-mixing flops like COWBOYS & ALIENS and WILD WILD WEST.

There are plenty of tumbleweed locales outside of Hollywood, making these post-apocalyptic films feel cheaply made. Throw a quarter at some of the last remaining Blockbuster racks and you’re bound to hit a flick that takes place at the end of civilization. Still, there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to an oversaturated subgenre and SWINE is one of them. Sure the designs are straight out of Mad Max, but with the attention to story and the production values on the higher end paired with some quality acting and some cool finer details like the attention to military techniques and old/new weaponry, SWINE makes for something outside of the norm and some fun genre viewing.

New this week on DVD!


Directed by Matthew Bora
Written by Matthew Bora
Starring Anna Kendrick, Kevin F. Barrett, Matthew Bora, Don Evans, Jared Michalski, Elana Safar, Stephen Sherman
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend FEAR THE FOREST to everyone, I will say that the film has two major things going for it: it’s a Bigfoot movie, which immediately makes me interested in it despite the quality of the film (longtime readers of this column know that Bigfoot films are my Kryptonite) and the plot and story of this film is actually really, really well done.

Watching the trailer below, I’m sure you’ll notice the actors here are not the best. Hell, they spurt out lines with very little affect or emotion and for a lot of folks, that’s a deal-breaker. But I was able to look past it because of the story which not only spans decades, but also incorporates karate, motor biking, camping, serial killers, mountain rapists (to be clear, rapists who live in mountains, not guys who rape mountains), vigilantes, and politics. Writer/director Matthew Bora shoots for the moon in terms of story and for the most part makes it all work. He even has a few clever twists at the end which explain away some of the hokier scenes early on.

If as much effort had gone into some decently trained actors as it did into the story, this might be a damn fine flick. As is, the acting really hurts this one, plus one of the two Bigfoot costumes is nothing but a monkey suit bought from a thrift store costume shop (though, as I said, it is explained in the end). The second Bigfoot costume, though, with a mechanical moving mouth, is a keeper and makes for a unique version of Sasquatch I haven’t seen before but also looks a bit like the Muppets’ Sweetums.

So while FEAR THE FOREST does have a rough exterior, the gooey inside that is the story is solid (I understand I’m mixing metaphors here, but just go with it), making me curious to see what Bora has to offer in future projects.

New on DVD this week from MVD Visual (Find this film on Netflix here)!


Directed by Kevin Dobson
Written by John Jarratt and Cody Jarrett
Starring John Jarratt, Craig McLachlan, Sacha Horler, Jessica Napier, Chris Haywood, Angela Punch McGregor, Rebecca Smart
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

When I talk to creative types about criticism, one of the most common things I hear is that getting the criticism of “meh” is the hardest to take. Good or bad reactions are fine, but when a film, book, whatever comes along and it causes not really any reaction at all, it is by far the worst feedback one can hear. I am not going to say that I flipped over SAVAGES CROSSING, nor will I say I hated it, but it is regretfully middle of the road.

Not for lack of trying on everyone involved’s part, I’m sure, but SAVAGES CROSSING is one of those thrillers where a group of people are forced to be in the same locale with one another. Secrets abound, there is drama between many of them, and the dangers outside are almost as bad as the dangers the group faces when trapped together. It’s the stuff of dynamic drama and that dramatic level reaches those levels of excitement occasionally throughout this film, but in the end, I found most of it to be something I most likely won’t be remembering soon after I write this review.

The standout role here is John Jarratt, the swarthy outback manhunter from the chilling WOLF CREEK. Here Jarratt plays a different type of heathen, more sophisticated and pathetic all at once. Jarratt shows his range here, which is by far the most interesting aspect of this film as he finds himself trapped in a diner with a group of people with a flood raging outside. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, but Jarratt is given the most to do here and the most to work with.

Pursued by a crooked cop and forced to take refuge, it’s pretty obvious Jarratt’s character is up to no good and the situation soon gets ugly. Again, this might be a chance to amp up the danger, maybe toss in some gore, a few scenes of psychological or physical torture or both--something to make this story stand out as different--but those options are never used.

What we get is something predictable, which is something a good film never should be in my opinion. Though Jarratt proves again that he can be great when the camera focuses on him, I wish the story had as much charisma as the actor has.

Decently edited together and sporting a decent soundtrack, SAVAGES CROSSING could have been one of those gritty Australian flicks that makes you want to shower afterwards, but this thriller didn’t make me sweat a drop or do anything else for that matter, save for shrug my shoulders when it ended.

New this week on DVD from Artsploitation Films!

WITHER (2012)

Directed by Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Written by Sonny Laguna, David Liljeblad, Tommy Wiklund,
Starring Patrik Almkvist, Lisa Henni, Patrick Saxe, Johannes Brost, Amanda Renberg, Jessica Blomkvist, Max Wallmo, Anna Henriksson, Ingar Sigvardsdotter, Ralf Beck, Sanna Ekman, Julia Knutson
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Tell me which movie you think this is the premise of: a group of kids decide to go to a cabin in the woods. While there, they are possessed by evil spirits one by one until only one man remains. If you guessed that this is the premise for the original EVIL DEAD, you’d be right. You may have guessed that it was the plot for EVIL DEAD II, and you’d still be right. But did you know if you guessed WITHER, you’d also be correctamundo?

Holy crap, this movie was awesome! Straight out of Sweden comes the EVIL DEAD remake we all were hoping for. WITHER pretty much follows the story of Sam Raimi’s original low budget masterpiece, but manages to bring enough to the table to not be a complete remake. Though I didn’t hate the EVIL DEAD remake as much as many of you, I do feel that the film relied too much on big budget studio scares and lost track of the subtle things that made the original so effective in the first place. Had the actors in WITHER spoken English and the title EVIL DEAD been slapped over the box cover of this one, I think there would be a lot more happy Deadites out there.

The big difference between WITHER and the original EVIL DEAD, besides all of that Swedish being spoken, is that there’s no Book of the Dead to be found. The evil spirits are more tied to the land and the horrors are less the fault of the goofy campers as it is just their dumb luck of happening into the wrong wooded area. There’s something about the fact that the horror isn’t something the victims brought upon themselves that I like. It feels more real that way and less poetically motivated and more natural and real. Horror and violence is often unexplained and unmotivated; here these monsters that possess the cabiners cross paths by happenstance.

The second huge difference between the films is that it has modern advantages such as good acting, well shot and choreographed scenes of violence and gore, and very little by way of slapstick and humor. Yes, EVIL DEAD II was a laugh riot and I love it as much as the next guy, and EVIL DEAD was a classic in low budget horror. But in both of them, one has to admit the acting was pretty bad. In EVIL DEAD’s case, the effects were very rudimentary (there’s Claymation, for chrissakes, which is cute, but really not scary). And in EVIL DEAD II’s case, the gore was played for laughs instead of squirms. In WITHER, this is straight up, bone-chilling horror from start to finish with top notch blood and gore and violence that will astound you at the level brutality it reaches.

I hate to diminish WITHER by comparing it so much to Raimi’s classics, but this really is a modern version of the best aspects of both of his EVIL DEAD films. Hell, the hero even wears Ash’s trademark blue shirt. And while Bruce Campbell is fun, the level of emotional intensity Patrik Almkvist faces when his character must deal with his possessed girlfriend reaches dramatic levels the EVIL DEAD films dream of achieving.

Horror fans, if you are looking for a modern equivalent of a horror classic, find WITHER and let this amazing homage swallow your soul.

Available now on Video on Demand, digital download, & in select theaters from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Renny Harlin
Written by Vikram Weet
Starring Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley, Gemma Atkinson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

These days, most horror fans wish found footage films were never found, and with the inundation of these cheaply made films in the past few years, I understand the sentiment. Still, a good movie is a good movie, found footage film or not, and a likable cast and some pretty gripping moments of horror and suspense make DEVIL’S PASS, formerly known as THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT, footage you might find interesting.

Directed by CLIFFHANGER, DIE HARD 2, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 director Renny Harlin, one might think a director of this caliber would shy away from filmmaking often reserved for first time and amateur filmmakers. While THE BAY proved to be somewhat of a disappointment despite the fact that it was directed by an established director like Barry Levinson behind the camera, DEVIL’S PASS shows the scruffy Finnish Harlin going back to his more renegade style of filmmaking which landed him his chance at doing NIGHTMARE 4 in the first place. Here, Harlin is able to capture big thrills and avoid a lot of the contrivances often found in these types of film.

Sure, occasionally the camera falls in just the right spot one or two times in order to capture some key scene and there might be an occasional moment where the cameraman should probably drop the camera and run for his life instead of filming, but these moments are few and far between and Harlin keeps the action moving at a breakneck pace from the beginning of this school trip, which hopes to follow the exact route a team of explorers took in 1959 only to be found soon after, dead by mysterious means in the snow. The fact that this incident is a real mystery only adds to the ominous tone Harlin creates.

While everything from nuclear testing to UFOs comes up as possible explanations for the explorers deaths, Harlin crams a whole bunch of them into one potent mixture with ingredients I’ll keep secret since I think the combination of these elements make this film all the more special. All I can say is that somehow, Harlin makes it all work and comes up with a possible albeit far-fetched explanation as to what happened to the explorers and the students following in their footsteps in this film. Sure the explanation presented here is not very probable, but it makes for an entertaining yarn nevertheless.

The likable cast led by the spunky Holly Goss is better than most actors found in these types of films and does a good job at keeping everything flowing naturally. I also loved the things that happen in the periphery and behind the filmmakers that they don’t notice, such as creatures crawling through the snow in the background or through a tunnel in the distance. This adds more to the found footage aspect because it again embraces the immediacy of something accidentally caught on camera without it feeling staged. Add in some decent (yet not perfectly rendered) CG monsters and other fantastic effects and you’ve got a truly unique found footager that is a cut above the low budget fodder usually found in this genre. This one is definitely one of the better caught on camera style films I’ve seen this year and makes for a thrilling ride pretty much from its ominous start to its wickedly clever finish.

Opens today in theaters!

YOU’RE NEXT (2011)

Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
Starring Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, AJ Bowen, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, L.C. Holt as Lamb Mask, Simon Barrett as Tiger Mask, Lane Hughes as Fox Mask
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

YOU’RE NEXT is finally hitting theaters today, and while the film was made a few years ago and it feels like I’ve been hearing about it for ages, it’s important to note that it doesn’t feel like a film made that long ago. Though in the interim between the making and the releasing there have been a slew of successful and not so successful home invasion films, YOU’RE NEXT supplies enough scares and thrills to make it one of the better ones of the subgenre.

The story begins simply enough, with a scene that is very reminiscent to THE STRANGERS as a man and a woman are slaughtered in their home while creepy music is played in the background. Though in the grand scheme of things, other than providing a first kill thrill in the opening moments before the story actually starts, there’s not a lot of reason for this scene, it is a suspenseful opener to the whole thing. Plus the scene features actor/writer/director Larry Fessenden, who is always fun to see.

The rest of the film plays out like many home invasion films do, as a trio of masked invaders surround the house and start picking off the folks inside. But while we’ve seen that scenario play out numerous times in films like THE STRANGERS, HOME SWEET HOME, KIDNAPPED, THE AGGRESSION SCALE, MOTHER’S DAY, and scores of others, there are a few things that set YOU’RE NEXT apart from the herd.

First and foremost, this cast is amazing. It’s a veritable who’s who in up and coming horror here, with the aforementioned Larry Fessenden making an early appearance, but also Ti West (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS), Joe Swanberg (A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE), AJ Bowen (A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, RITES OF SPRING, HATCHET II), and Simon Barrett doing double duty as writer of this film and also one of the masked attackers. Joining that talented group of guys are genre great Barbara Crampton in a role that highlights both her ageless beauty and her acting chops and character actor Rob Moran, both of which are meaty and important roles.

But this film also features a breakout role for Sharni Vinson, who proves she can be both kickass and be sympathetic all at once. Vinson commands every scene she is in and despite the fact that, unlike the rest of the dynamic cast I recognized and respected, I have never seen her before in anything, she manages to stand head and shoulders above the rest with her performances. I do have to add, in terms of the cast, that Joe Swanberg is gold in every scene he’s in here. His comic timing and deadpan delivery makes me wish he appeared in every movie I see. Some of the funniest moments of this film belong to Swanberg, and while many of us know the writer/director/actor, this may be the film that educates the masses about what we already know about him and why we love him.

You’ll see that I have yet to mention the story, and I really don’t want to. It’s clever. There are twists. There are surprises, though many of which are telegraphed early on and will most likely be caught by savvy viewers. Still, director Adam Wingard keeps everything moving at a breakneck pace the whole time and will most likely please the crowd with quite a few genuine scares and well choreographed scenes of tension and danger.

The most important part of YOU’RE NEXT is that, despite the fact that it is part of a subgenre of horror that is teetering on being the next found footage or zombie movie onslaught, it is an original horror film that isn’t a remake or a sequel. Because of that alone (and the fact that Wingard delivered a great movie filled with suspense and some great moments of gore and brutality), we who call ourselves horror fans should go out this weekend and see it. If we don’t support it, expect more remakes, rehashes, reboots, reimaginings, sequels, etc. that lack creativity and any of that horrific spirit that made us fans of the genre in the first place.

And finally…Director Colin Campbell brings us this short sexy horror film called THE GIRL AT THE DOOR. Though it’s not gratuitous, this might be considered Not Safe For Work, so you’ve been warned…

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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