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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: THE AWFUL DR ORLOF (1962)
Retro-review: DARK ANGEL (1990)
Retro-review: THE MANSON FAMILY (2003)/GATOR GREEN (2013)
Short Cuts: A CHANCE IN HELL (2011)
RITUAL (2012)
ABSENCE (2013)
BAD MILO (2013)
And finally…Scorpio Film Releasing’s IT CAME FROM THE VCR Episode #1!

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


Directed by Jesús Franco
Written by Jesús Franco
Starring Conrado San Martín, Diana Lorys, Howard Vernon, Perla Cristal, María Silva, Ricardo Valle, Mara Laso, Venancio Muro
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Much like the early work of Mario Bava such as BLACK SUNDAY, Jesus Franco’s THE AWFUL DR ORLOF serves as a notable stepping stone between the classic Universal style monster movies, the teasingly sexy Hammer films and the soon to be dubbed Giallo murder mysteries that burst from Italy in the seventies, all the while honoring the classic Sherlock Holmes whodunits of old.

The story focuses on a twisted Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon) who works with his blind manservant Morpho (Ricardo Valle) and curvy woman-servant to rebuild his burned daughter who has been kept alive through black science and evil deeds. As Orlof and Morpho abduct women from the streets for their supple skin to graft onto their patient, a police inspector (Conrado San Martín) and his ballerina girlfriend (Diana Lorys who bears a striking resemblance to Eva Mendes) are on the case to find the killer.

Franco seems to borrow from quite a bit of places from the Jack the Ripper case in regards to Orlof to THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI with the look and gait of Morpho being almost a direct knockoff of the Somnambulist. Still, Franco’s skill at mood and particularly restrained way of doling out the lurid stuff shows the director’s early talents well. There are some scenes of a man in a top hat and cape walking the brick streets that feel gothic as all get out, as if ripped straight from the Universal lot. Still the low cut dresses and scantily clad actresses feel more like Hammer Films, though with more of a sleazy way as to how the women are filmed; an aspect of women as objects of desire that gains all the more momentum in Franco’s later, more blatantly sexual works.

Still, the multiple bad guys, a breezy-cheesy love story between the clueless inspector and the ballerina junior detective, and the Calgari/Orlac (MAD LOVE) tone of Orlof’s twisted goal and the Frankenstein’s Monster stature and behavior of Morpho make this one of Franco’s more accessible works. Drawing from so many other sources, Franco somehow makes it all work well together, paving the way for more erotic stories to come.

If you’re looking for a Franco film that doesn’t make you feel like you want to take a shower afterwards, THE AWFUL DR ORLOF may be the one for you.

Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Scream Factory!


Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Written by Jonathan Tydor, Leonard Maas Jr.
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Jim Haynie, David Ackroyd, Sherman Howard, Sam Anderson
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

From the director of ACTION JACKSON comes DARK ANGEL, known as I COME IN PEACE to everyone I know. This late eighties actioner checks off every action movie cliché as if it were a grocery list, but still manages to have enough charm and nostalgia to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside after watching it.

Upon reviewing this B-movie great, I realize now that the whole thing is about the transition from cassette tapes to CD’s which was going on that the time of this film. I remember the fear and frustration I felt when I realized that the cassette tape was going the way of the dodo. Here, in the opening moments when a man almost has a car accident while fiddling with his brand new state of the art car CD player, the point is driven home that while this is a movie about an alien drug dealer being pursued by alien cop with Earth just getting caught in the middle, it’s also a movie much more in tune with the state of the world around it than it probably knew. Hell, the main weapon of the aliens are spinning CD blades which bounce around the room and seemingly can only be stopped when stuck into a stereo speaker. The metaphor was always there, I just haven’t seen the film in ages and only noticed it now in rewatching it.

Dolph Lundgren plays a burnt out cop who has seen and done it all. The star of HBO’s DREAM ON, Brian Benben, plays the federal officer investigating the case. Of course the two are at odds since Benben plays it by the book while Dolph eats the book with hot sauce and waffles. And of course, as 80’s-90’s buddy cop movie law states these two opposite minded law enforcers must work together to solve the crime. There’s even the police sergeant who is constantly angry here and the lab tech who likes his pharmaceuticals. As I said, all of the clichés are present and accounted for.

What is interesting is the subtle yet jarring designs of the aliens and their tech. Aside from their deadly CDs, they also love to wear layers and talk in that voice we all can make, but when I do, I always end up coughing. It’s the same voice of the bad guy in the INSPECTOR GADGET cartoon. Also, apparently, though their tech is highly advanced and they have mastered space travel, their hairstyle sense is atrocious as both aliens have mullets, with the alien cop having a wicked receding mullet that makes him look pretty ridiculous.

Expect many, many unnecessary explosions and some banter between Benben (who I always found to be somewhat annoying) and Dolph who basically does what Dolph does in every movie with the way he chucks out lines as if he’s in between reps at the gym. Dolph gets to show off his kung fu with some wicked roundhouse kicks with those tree trunk legs of his in the final standoff between him and the alien. And who can forget that final one liner response to “I come in peace.”—“And you go in pieces!” All in all DARK ANGEL/I COME IN PEACE/whatever it’s called is a fun throwback with everything that makes you laugh at those old action movies with a nice little message from those of us who loathed that they had to buy new CD’s to replace their obsolete cassette tapes.

Retro-review: New from on BluRay from Severin (Find this film on Netflix here)!


Directed by Jim Van Bebber
Written by Jim Van Bebber
Starring Carl Day, Marcelo Games, Marc Pitman, Leslie Orr, Maureen Allisse, Amy Yates, Jim Van Bebber, Tom Burns, Michelle Briggs, Sherri Rickman, Nate Pennington, M.M. Jones, Marita Clarke, Daun Edmunds, Tina Martin, Geoff Burkman, Sharise Parviz, Samuel Turcotte, Charlie Goetz, John Lockwood,
Find out more about this film here and here
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Jim Van Bebber’s trippy ode to the family who followed Manson and the evil deeds they did was finally made available on BluRay from Severin a while back and I just got to it on my To Watch pile. As with other films which depict real life violence, I tread carefully because sometimes these films focusing on real life events don’t. Here though, there’s no doubt Van Bebber went to great lengths to show the highlights and lowlights of what it was like to be in Manson’s cult no matter how far out or disgusting they may be.

The main thing that stands out to me with Van Bebber’s film is the unconventional structure and how it makes the entire experience work so well. It’s one that’s been used before as we are jutted back and forth from present day to the birth of the Manson Family with a reporter (Jack Wilson played by real life television reporter Carl Day) doing a piece on the killers being the focal point of the film. We learn as he learns via video taped interviews with the key players what transpired, but while the saga of the Family plays out in front of him, a new wave of cultists threatens to rise in the present. Most films of this type lead up to one fateful night and logically that would be the murder of Sharon Tate, but Van Bebber doesn’t go the easy route and instead leads us on an experiential of what it would be like to be a fly on the wall from the beginning to the end of one of Manson’s followers.

We are there tripping acid right with them, having sex in cornfields, getting high and letting the nature soak in. Van Bebber takes his time with these scenes and focusing on the natural beauty while telling the story ROSHOMON style through the eyes of the different cultists in present day interviews. While everyone seems to have the same story at the beginning, as the narrative develops, we see rifts in what is talked about and what actually plays out, distinguishing who had a firm hold on reality and who was off their nut. Van Bebber seems to cling to the story of Mansonite Tex Watson (Marc Pitman) the closest, giving him the role of questioning some of Monson’s motives, though participating nevertheless. Right around the middle, during an orgy scene in the woods where Manson is crucified and all forms of monstrous acts are being performed in front of a blazing fire, the beauty of it all burns away to reveal how far the family had fallen, leading to a series of murders that to this day are infamous in their brutality.

Those final scenes are really tough to sit through, but at this point of the film, you’ve endured the trip and almost can’t help but go on with wherever Van Bebber takes us. While the acting is not the best, it’s surprisingly effective, but the true highlight is the amount of care Van Bebber takes in telling this epic tale. Surprisingly, while leaving an indelible mark with his presence, actor Marcelo Games, shows up very sporadically as Manson. But as the title suggests, this is more about his influence over his family than the man himself who is presented as somewhat of an enigma. After watching the documentary attached to this film, I realize Games may have had more screentime, but did not take part in later reshoots and reedits of this film which started filming in 1988 and ended in 2003. Still, the expansive time this film took to make gave Van Bebber years to contemplate how to make it both unique and the opportunity to film older versions of his actors looking back on their time in the film in character.

The film itself is somewhat of an enigma, having started and stopped production through the span of almost twenty years. It may be a chicken and the egg scenario, as a lot of films have come and gone in that time, but one can’t help of see shades of Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS and Rob Zombie’s videos and films in THE MANSON FAMILY. Were those similarities in the original story? Or as Van Bebber did and redid this film through the years trying to finish it up, did themes seep in? Who knows? But the film is an amazing experiential through a chaotic time and a desperate mind as Van Bebber himself attests that he went to the brink of madness and back in making this movie.

Loaded with special features such as interviews with cast and crew members leading up to the new release of THE MANSON FAMILY, trailers, and festival appearances, the most interesting special feature of the bunch is the inclusion of Jim Van Bebber’s GATOR GREEN, his newest film. When I watched this 16 minute short, which looked aged and cut in much the same crude way THE MANSON FAMILY was done, I couldn’t help but remember seeing Van Bebber’s commentary in one of the other special features that he wants to put the whole ordeal of making THE MANSON FAMILY behind him and forget about it. Seeing this film cut in the same style, using some of the same actors, and focusing on hippies shouting free love and peace made me think the guy was in some sort of creative stuck record. But as the story progressed it felt like something more that that was being said here.

In the short, Van Bebber plays a Viet Nam vet, returned from the war proud to be an American and to have done his duty, yet spiteful to those who spat at him when he set foot in the States. Sure this is ground covered in Oliver Stone’s films, specifically BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, but here Van Bebber boils it down to basics as the mad vet feeds the hippies to his pet crocodiles. In a grindhouse sequence, the pet crocks devour slabs of meat made to look like people in a gory and effective sequence. In this short, it feels as if Jim really is killing the hypocritical free love attitude adopted by the Manson Family and the trouble it took to make the film which had become such a burden on him through the years. GATOR GREEN thus becomes somewhat of a cathartic shedding of the skin for Van Bebber as he literally slaughters and devours his hardships of the past.

Or maybe I’m just reading too much into all of this.

THE MANSON FAMILY and GATOR GREEN both are a testament to the will and creative strength of Jim Van Bebber, who is a filmmaker who seems to often bite off more than he can chew and definitely tries to shoot for the moon with a BB gun, but still, despite all of the hardships, he got his film made. It took over twenty years, but he did it and the result is most definitely a memorable and worthwhile film experience. I wish Van Bebber well and eagerly await what new journeys lay ahead for this enthralling, rebellious and dangerous filmmaker.

Found at this year’s Flashback Weekend Chicago!


Directed by Tony Wash
Written by Johnny 5, Tony Wash
Starring Kevin Zaideman, Tony Lee Gratz, Doug Heiar, Bradley Fowler, Kendyl Lynch, James Barbee, Brandy Beauchamp, Cameron Cox
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A CHANCE IN HELL begins with those pesky ass Nazis experimenting with a young girl shoving a needle up her nose and injecting her with something that turns her into a rampaging monster. Soon the entire Nazi facility is overrun with frantic, bleeding, and drooling monsters hungry for anything that crosses their path and adding to their ranks by the minute. When an American squadron shows up to take on the Nazi’s they find a whole bunch of living dead folk instead.

A CHANCE IN HELL excels at pulling a lot of camera trickery to make you feel like you’re watching a legit, big budget war movie with some clever effects, some fancy editing, and some great cinematography reminiscent of everything from Snyder’s 300 to OLDBOY as the soldiers battle for their lives in a small medical facility overrun by the undead. The intensity level is high and with the use of a single locale, director Tony Walsh does a fantastic job of focusing mainly on giving us an extended action sequence.

While the story is pretty straight forward, the film is very stylized with all kinds of fun slo mo and CG effects thrown in to amp up the fun. So while everything is boiled down to basics in A CHANCE IN HELL, it’s awesome to see a director work within a tight budget and still offer such huge thrills and chills. The zombie designs are great as is the acting and if this is any indication of what Walsh can do with 30 minutes, I’d love to see what a full feature from his mind would look like.

A CHANCE IN HELL is playing the festival circuit and I believe you can get a copy at the website here. It’s definitely worth seeking out as it chomps the hell out of most of the full scale zombie horror released these days in a short bite size package.

New on DVD!


Directed by Christopher R. Mihm
Written by Christopher R. Mihm
Starring Shannon McDonough, Daniel Sjerven, Billie Jo Konze, Michael Cook, James Norgard, Mark Haider, Ware Carlton-Ford, Aaron Courteau, Elliott Mihm, Alice Mihm, Stephanie Mihm, Cherie Gallinati
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

As I walked through the aisles of Chicago’s Flashback Weekend a while back, the booth put together by Christopher R. Mihm caught my eye. First I thought the films stacked in front of him were classic releases I had never heard of before like DESTINATION OUTER SPACE, CAVE WOMAN ON MARS, and ATTACK OF THE MOON ZOMBIES, but I soon found out that these films were actually made within the last few years in and around Illinois. Of course, I had to check them out, being the lover and appreciator of not only new horrors, but remembering my roots as a small lad who grew up watching black and white monster movies just before cable came to be, when catching an old movie on late night theater or Saturday afternoon spook shows was the only way to see these films for a little ghoul in Central Ohio. I have a whole bunch of Christopher R. Mihm’s retro-monster films I’m going to be checking out over the next few weeks, starting with his latest, THE GIANT SPIDER!

With little or no explanation aside from a radioactive cave in the middle of the woods, a boy playing in the same woods discovers a giant spider roaming about. Narrowly escaping the eight legged beast, the boy (Mihm’s actual son) accidentally leads the spider to a populated area and soon the armed forces, the coalition of scientists, a rugged reporter and his Czech fiancée are the last line of defense between the roving multi-legged critter and the rest of the world.

Melodrama is set to scorching on this one as the talented cast do a great job at overacting in the manner that went hand in hand with old time monster flicks this one is homaging. The story is secondary to the chance to show the giant spider again and again crawling up behind someone and then looming in for the kill (which always happens off screen and none of the gore is ever seen, of course). Mihm does a fantastic job of aping the style of those old 50’s atomic monster movies right down to the retro costumes everyone is wearing and the manner of speaking coming from their gobs.

Though low on gore, the effects are delightfully cheesy as a real tarantula is used to depict the titular monster. Through the magic of split screen, Mihm bucks modern CG for old school techniques to bring the spider to life. Fun animation and old war footage spliced together to barely fit the film stock also adds to the charm this film is oozing from every frame.

If you’re one of those guys who mutters, “Oh that looks so fake!” whenever effects are used, this is not the film for you, but this being AICN, I imagine there are a lot of geeks out there that would dig this type of MST3K movie without the heckler shadows on the bottom. But if you really want new school snark to go with the old school movie, watch the film with the captions on which offer up hilarious terms for the sound effects and actions going on and add a whole new layer of fun to the mix. I’m looking forward to watching more of Mihm’s work over the next few weeks. THE GIANT SPIDER is his latest and it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Now available on Video On Demand!


Directed by Brandon Slagle
Written by Brandon Slagle
Starring Devanny Pinn, Britt Griffith, Noah Dahl, Alexis Iacono, Brandon Slagle, Cleve Hall, Jessica Cameron
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Coincidentally, my review of this film falls under the same column as THE MANSON FAMILY, another film which focuses on real life murders and the villainous people who do the deeds. Now, unlike THE MANSON FAMILY which delves into the minds and takes us on an experiential in regards to the depths and lengths the Mansonites go through, THE BLACK DAHLIA HAUNTING is less successful in coaxing us to step into the shoes of the infamous Hollywood starlet who ended up mutilated and left in a field.

The story follows Holly (played by reality show star Devanny Pinn), who disturbs the restless spirit of Elizabeth Short while investigating the death of her father at the hands of her brother. Holly sees her brother’s shrink (played by ScyFy’s GHOST HUNTERS Britt Griffith) to try to find out what happened while experiencing flashbacks of Short being tortured and mutilated at the hands of the unidentified Black Dahlia Killer (played by ScyFy’s MONSTERMAN Cleve Hall). The plot gets twisty and convoluted as it unfolds with double crosses and triple crosses happening. There’s serial killer worship and black magic involved and all the while, Holly is being possessed by the spirit of the dead starlet as she ghostily speaks in her ear and wisps in the shadowy periphery.

While I like my creepy atmosphere as much as the next guy, I feel too much was focused on trying to act creepy in this film and too little time was spent trying to let us get to know the characters enough to care here. Holly is almost immediately entangled with the spirit of the Black Dahlia, leaving us little time to really know if she was normal before all of this weird ghostly stuff starts happening. So when she is abducted and starts to experience the same tortures that Short did years prior at the hands of a Black Dahlia groupie, it’s kind of hard to distinguish whether or not she might be enjoying this whole thing.

Using someone as recognizable as Cleve Hall, who basically shows up looking like he does in real life, as the Black Dahlia leaves a bad taste in my mouth as it almost emulates the guy to a status of cool that the killer more than likely never had. It doesn’t help that, though Britt is a fine ghost hunter on TV, his acting need some work. Pinn is good at screaming and when she draws a giant grin on her face, she does make spooky really well, but the script gives her little to do besides be tormented by the ghost and then by the killer.

In the end, this treatment of the killer leaves me with an ooky feeling as if it were done by people who emulate the Black Dahlia Murder a little too much. Focusing on the creep and forgetting to make anyone relatable is a huge misstep when it comes to telling a story. THE BLACK DAHLIA HAUNTING is so caught up in being cool and alternative to convey a sense of how horrible the crime actually was.

New this week on DVD!


Directed by Brian Cunningham & Joe Laughrey
Written by Brian Cunningham & Joe Laughrey
Starring Richard Teachout, Janel Nash, Kenneth Schell,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Last fall, I reviewed THE AMERICAN SCREAM (reviewed here), a film focusing on those dedicated and downright obsessed with making their homes into haunted houses for the neighborhoods to enjoy during the month of October. I found this film to be full of heart, both allowing us to get to know and respect the reasons why these guys do what they do and also poke fun at how nuts they are to embark on such an insane task for an entire month of the year. MONSTERS WANTED takes it a step further and broadens the scope to a haunted theme park, specifically Louisville, KY’s Scream Park coordinated and put together from the ground up by Richard Teachout and his wife Janel Nash.

Though in many ways, MONSTERS WANTED is a lot like THE AMERICAN SCREAM in that both families of focus in these films go all in as far as giving their last drop of creative juices as well as their last penny in the bank in order to make their joy of horror a reality to be shared by all. But MONSTERS WANTED smartly focuses mainly on Teachout and his wife Janel instead of bopping back and forth between three haunted homes. In doing this, writers/directors Brian Cunningham & Joe Laughrey are able to give a more intimate look at how frustrating, challenging, taxing, and in the end, rewarding this whopper of a hobby can be on those involved.

What I liked the most is that we follow Richard Teachout from inception to when the first nail is hammered, right up until opening and then closing night of the Halloween season. We are right next to Richard when it seems all is lost and the credit cards are maxed and all of the preparation proves to be not enough to handle all of the random factors just waiting to jump out at every turn like so many of the haunt’s costumed employees. Following this group from start to finish, you really feel like you’ve gone on a journey and you really feel that exasperated sigh of relief when the last day of the park is closed and everyone gives their speeches, hugs, thank yous, and good byes. The directors capture this well as it really feels like they painted a broad picture of what it takes to do this thing and what it takes out of you.

One criticism comes in the latter half of the film as suddenly we visit a couple of other haunted theme parks in the Louisville area. This seemed like somewhat of an abrupt switch since the focus all the way up to the end had been on Richard and Janel’s park. Still, this did offer a brief glimpse of the competition and that all of the folks involved are very similar in their dedication and passion behind their haunted locales. Still, I either wish this section had been edited out or beefed up since as it is, it just seems like a five minute filler section out of nowhere.

That said, I loved almost every second of MONSTERS WANTED. From the chainsaw guy who goes a little overboard and accidentally hurts a co-worker to the sideshow entertainer who bursts a blood vessel when he staples money to his face to the little and big arguments captured when the stress is high and the time is nigh, all of these moments are captured and featured well in this documentary full of scares, thrills, and bloody dedicated and strongly beating hearts of all of those involved.

New this week on DVD from Screen Media Films (Find this film on Netflix here)!

RITUAL (2012)

Directed by Joko Anwar
Written by Joko Anwar
Starring Rio Dewanto, Hannah Al Rashid, Aridh Tritama, Izzi Isman, Sadha Triyudha, Jose Gamo, Marsha Timothy, Surya Saputra
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Playing with an audience’s expectations is a dangerous thing, but it appears Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar doesn’t really care about all of that. Fool them too much and they’ll turn on you. I have noticed that modern audiences don’t like to have the wool pulled over their eyes. Weaned on predictable Hollywood cinema, when things do happen as planned or are not projected a mile in advance, some folks’ world gets flipped ass up and there are some who aren’t comfortable with that feeling. Personally, I go to films to see things I normally don’t see. To be surprised. To not know what’s coming around the corner. Because I’m like that, I enjoyed the hell out of MODUS ANOMALI.

A man wakes up buried in a shallow grave in the woods. He’s disoriented and alone and can’t remember his name, his life, or anything. Soon he realizes he’s not alone in the woods. In the distance he sees a man with a machete, causing him to run and hide. Approaching a cabin, he finds the body of a woman and a video camera. When it’s played, he sees the murder of the woman in the cabin and soon finds himself in a fight for his life.

Immediately, I was enthralled by this film because it is a typical man vs. nature film as one man struggles to survive, forcing him to live off of his know-how and the land around him. Anwar keeps things moving right from the beginning as his film’s star, Rio Dewanto, runs through trees and woodland growth, hiding behind rocks and diving into the dirt. It’s to the director’s testament that he is able to follow his actor through the woods for so long without things becoming tedious or repetitive.

Dewanto is fantastic as the man seeking truth and survival from an unknown menace. Most of the time he is communicating through simple facial expressions and the rigorous workout he is put through leaping through the woods. The turns this character takes throughout the film require much from this actor, and all along the way from start to finish Dewanto makes things absolutely believable.

The turn this film takes toward the end is the reason for my rant in the first paragraph. Though somewhat logistically murky, the ending does make sense. Halfway through I began to suspect something was amiss with this scenario, but loved the ride nevertheless. The director takes painstaking time to make it all work out meticulously. I didn’t, but I’m sure some might find the whole thing a bit contrived.

MODUS ANOMALI is a grueling film experience, one that will definitely make you wince at the brutal action and gore. It’s not one anyone can predict outright, but it leaves enough breadcrumbs for the audience to figure things out by the end. If you like run of the mill films you can predict from the beginning, you’re going to hate this film, but MODUS ANOMALI doesn’t follow the well worn path and instead through clever directing and a convincing lead performance provided unexpected thrills and winces at what is playing out on screen.

New on BluRay, DVD, and Video On Demand (Find this film on Netflix here)!

ABSENCE (2013)

Directed by Jimmy Loweree
Written by Jake Moreno & Jimmy Loweree
Starring Lee Burns, Eric Matheny, Ryan Smale, Stephanie Scholz
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

It’s another found footager; this one focusing on the spooky subgenre of alien abduction as the subject matter with which it points its shaky camera at. Aliens are usually the stuff of science fiction, but cast through the lens of horror, I am always both impressed and affected by the results. Films like FIRE IN THE SKY, COMMUNION, even lesser effective films like THE FOURTH KIND and more recently the Keri Russell vehicle DARK SKIES, all hit me in places that usually don’t shiver and tap into that dark unknown that suggests a more sinister tone than an imaginative one. ABSENCE may use a subgenre that is somewhat overplayed what with new found footage films popping up every week, but the concept is pretty darn original.

While most found footage films follow a specific formula, namely having everything be somewhat normal for the first 30 or so minutes with only flits and suggestions of bad things to rain down on those in front of and behind the camera in the last 30 or so minutes, ABSENCE starts out with weirdness as we open in a hospital room with a weeping woman in a bed and a man who looks like a doting husband at her side trying to comfort her. Soon we find out that with no explanation, Liz (Erin Way), an expectant mother, suddenly loses her baby. And not in the regular miscarriage sense, she literally goes to bed one night seven months pregnant and wakes up the next morning with no baby in her belly and recollection of the night before. Her husband Rick (Eric Matheny) is distraught and befuddled. Her brother Evan (Ryan Smale) flies out to be with his sister in his time of need and while everyone is looking sideways at Liz as to where the baby went, only Rick and Evan are the only ones who believe her story of her baby disappearing without her knowledge to be true. The trio go out to a cabin in the woods to get away from investigators, news reporters, and prying doctors only to find weird lights hovering over the forest, shadowy figures peeking in windows, and all hell breaking loose in the wee hours.

This is a scary ass scenario and one well played out as it hits the ground running with the mystery first, then the gettin’ to know you part later. Sure there is a lull after the opener as the personalities of these characters are attended to in order for us to care once shit goes Strieber, but even during that time, the suspense is maintained because under it all everyone is wondering what the hell happened to the baby. Being in the audience and seeing the lights in the corner of the camera lens and the increasingly disturbing nighttime disturbances that happen without the cast remembering in the morning, we know it’s aliens lurking back there, but because we know what kind of movie this is, it makes the mundane stuff ring suspenseful because we know something the characters in the film do not. Sure this can be said for about all horror, but this film makes the unknown dangers happening behind the scenes more obvious because it is seemingly captured on camera rather than cut to as we see in regularly cinematically filmed movies.

The last half of this film is bugnuts with lights, earthquakes, floating people, and grey aliens. People go missing. Townsfolk are avoidant. And it’s getting pretty obvious that the allegations of Liz selling or getting rid of her baby are ludicrous. There’s an intensity in the last half hour of this film that is palpable, mostly emboldened by the strong performances by the three main actors. Way and Matheny are completely believable as the distraught couple, with only Smale the odd man out who alternates between absolutely annoying to downright funny about every five minutes of the film until the end.

The excuse to keep the camera rolling is that Smale’s character is a film student wanting to document this trying time his sister is going through so they can all learn from it. Why he keeps the camera rolling when things get Close Encountery is beyond me, but by that time, I was so into these characters that I barely noticed to ask. Smale kept the handheld pretty solid throughout despite some contrivances along the way. So while some of the usual fallbacks all of these found footage films have are front and present, ABSENCE proved to be an engrossing film that abducted my attention and as long as you feel like found footage films are the equivalent of an anal probe, you’ll more than likely feel the same way too about this one.

Available on Video On Demand today and in theaters October 4th!

BAD MILO (2013)

aka MILO
Directed by Jacob Vaughan
Written by Benjamin Hayes, Jacob Vaughan
Starring Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Warburton, Peter Stormare, Stephen Root, Mary Kay Place, Toby Huss, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kumail Nanjiani, Diana Toshiko
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

More reminiscent of the stylings of Frank Hennenlotter’s BASKET CASE and BRAIN DAMAGE than David Cronenberg’s more serious and disturbing body horrors, BAD MILO is surprising in a lot of ways in that it deals with a pretty gross and potentially hilarious subject while offering up a little heart as well.

THE STATE and WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER star Ken Marino plays Ken, an angsty man who has always had bowel issues. His beautiful wife Sarah (played by COMMUNITY’s Gillian Jacobs) is as forgiving and understanding as they come in regards to Ken’s pooper issues, much more understanding than his buck passing boss (Patrick Warburton), his deadbeat dad (Stephen Root), and his breezy mom (Mary Kay Place) who just married a man her son’s age (Kumail Nanjiani). But when the stress starts to mount, Ken’s issues with his bunghole continue to bother him and in the first minutes of the film, we find out that Ken has some kind of polyp that seems to be the heart of the issue. When tensions continue to mount, it turns out the polyp is actually a little demon living in Ken’s asshole and this little steamin’ demon likes to come out and play dirty every now and then!

Sorry, I had to say it.

As I said in the opening paragraph, BAD MILO surprised me in that, though it’s about a butt monster, it’s a surprisingly heartfelt tale with Marino and Jacobs actually giving some sincere performances playing a couple who love each other despite a physical ailment. It’s kind of a beautiful tale of tolerance and acceptance, two things I didn’t see coming from what I had heard about the film and the humor I often expect when THE STATE alum are involved. Milo himself is actually pretty damn cute and lovable, though I’m sure he smells pretty bad with the combination of puppetry and CG making the little guy look damn near alive.

That’s one of the issue’s I had with this film. I actually cared about this little guy, mainly because he can’t help what he is. And also because he is doing his best to “wipe” out the stressors in his host’s life for him, when Ken has to fight back against the little guy, you actually feel sorry for it. And feeling sorry for an ass monster is not what I thought I’d do going into this film.

While the humor is there, it’s not as over the top as I expected either. I laughed quite a bit at the well timed jokes and scenarios played out by the extremely talented cast; especially Patrick Warburton, Mary Kay Place, and Stephen Root, but also Peter Stormare as an open minded psychologist and Toby Huss as a no nonsense talking doctor. But as offbeat as the concept of the film is, things are pretty safely played as far as the poop humor is concerned. That’s not to say this film doesn’t go full on with the gore and red stuff, but for the most part this film, which could have more than likely turned the stomach, instead surprisingly warmed my heart. So if you’re looking to go into this one to find a gross out comedy, I think you’ll be shocked at how sweet this little stinker of a movie is.

And finally…Scorpio Film Releasing, the folks who brought you THE DISCO EXORCIST and NUN OF THAT are producing their own webseries called IT CAME FROM YOUR VCR. Below is the first episode and it’s full of overacting, hokey effects, and retro goodness. Enjoy this short, but not at work because it has the dreaded NSFW label!

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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