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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. As we inch closer and closer to Halloween, I’ve got another batch of horror goodies for all of you to enjoy. A lot of decent indies on tap this week and a few classics for folks to sink their teeth into. On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: NIGHT TIDE (1961)
Advance Review: HUNGER UNHOLY (2013)
Advance Review: THE DEVIL KNOWS HIS OWN (2013)
And finally… Gonzalo López’s M IS FOR MYTH!

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber/Redemption!


Directed by Curtis Harrington
Written by Curtis Harrington
Starring Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Gavin Muir, Luana Anders, Marjorie Eaton, Tom Dillon, H.E. West, Marjorie Cameron
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

This wouldn’t be what I would call a horror movie per se, but it does have some elements of the supernatural as well as a very creepy vibe. Pair that with the fact that it stars one of the best genre actors (and overall actors) of all time, and I think it’s worth mentioning in this here column.

NIGHT TIDE is an odd little ditty about Johnny Drake, a sailor on ship leave (Dennis Hopper) who meets Mora, an enchanting woman who works as a mermaid in a boardwalk entertainment side show (Linda Lawson). Immediately taken by the raven haired beauty, Johnny follows her home and talks with her in a scene that would play out as creepy as all get out today, but for some reason has charm in the 60’s setting this film is made in. Agreeing to a date, Mora and Johnny begin a relationship, but Johnny is warned by everyone he runs into that Mora is trouble and that everyone she’s been involved with has wound up dead. Ignoring all of the warnings, Johnny falls head over heels, but soon finds that the warnings may be valid and that Mora might in fact be a mermaid.

I understand that mermaids are not the most horrifying of creatures. SPLASH kind of killed the mystique of the horrific sirens of the deep when Darryl Hannah nudely encountered Tom Hanks. But NIGHT TIDE does a good job of making Mora mysterious and odd right away. She stands out to Johnny because she is not like any girl he’s ever met as she devours seafood like it’s made of crack and tends to be lured into the ocean from time to time. The sea witch which shows up on occasion to creep everyone out with her wide unblinking eyes doesn’t help Johnny shake the feeling that something’s off with this broad.

Still, Johnny’s in love, and if this overlong TWILIGHT ZONE episode has any faults it is that it spends way too little time establishing why Johnny is in love and way too much time of him mulling over reasons to be mopey and stare off into the darkness feeling sorry for himself. Still, seeing Hopper as a young man is refreshing to see, especially in this surprisingly reserved performance. So while the character himself isn’t the most compelling, the actor most definitely is, especially knowing the iconic actor Hopper turned out to be.

Things don’t really get creepy until the last twenty minutes of this film and when they do, there are some surprisingly disturbing images given the time this movie was made. While the bulk of it is a love story about boy meets girl, the latter half justifies its coverage here as it does get sinister and weird. NIGHT TIDE is blood-free and the only effects go to the fake fish tail Mora wears in her sideshow performances, but still, some creepy turns make it a memorable movie.

New this week on BluRay from the Shout Factory!


Directed by Michael Reeves
Written by Ronald Bassett, Edgar Allen Poe (poem at the beginning), (Screenplay) Tom Baker, Michael Reeves, Louis M. Heyward
Starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hillary Dwyer, Robert Russell, & Rupert Davies
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. WITCHFINDER GENERAL was one of those films I saw as a kid on one of those Saturday afternoon matinee TV shows and even though I’ve revisited it over and over, I could never get sick of seeing it. It’s a brutal, evil little film which doesn’t pull any punches and bites deep into any viewer’s heart brave enough to watch it.

Director Michael Reeves does a fantastic job of making this film look and feel authentic. There are so many shots of the English countryside in this one, it is almost a beautiful movie if not for the brutal acts depicted in it. When watching WITCHFINDER GENERAL, you might notice that it’s more of a Western than anything else, following an anti-hero as he rides into town on horseback. It’s easy to shoehorn this film into the horror genre, but Reeves’ attention to character, setting, and authenticity to the time make it so much more. The shots of the characters racing across the screen on horseback--some to save the day, others to ruin it--are the stuff of John Ford’s best cowboy films.

Michael Reeves provided the amazing camera work and direction, but WITCHFINDER GENERAL is what it is because of Vincent Price’s callous and conniving portrayal of Matthew Hopkins. Though it was rumored that Price and the director battled with one another on set, it doesn’t show at all in this, in my opinion one of Price’s best performances. He is absolutely evil in this role—his dead eyes staring at the burning “witches”, his pompous posturings as he rides into town to pass judgment. Price owns this role and sheds his usual wink and smirk one often sees in his other horror film roles that were indeed schlocky. Price leaves the schlock at home here and plays it completely straight. In Matthew Hopkins, Price gives us one of the most evil men in the history of cinema.

What more can I say? I love WITCHFINDER GENERAL. I loved it so much, when I had a chance to write a prequel to it, I did so for Bluewater Comics’ VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS comic ( you can pick up a copy of VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL here if interested ).

Though named after Edgar Allen Poe’s THE CONQUEROR WORM here in the States, apart from a line at the beginning of the film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL has nothing to do with the poem. Nevertheless, it’s such a solid movie filled with a memorable villain, delicious direction, and characters you care for. It’s an unflinching film that looks at a terrible man doing terrible things. It’s not a witch film, per se, but about a persecutor who would stop at nothing to fulfill a misguided quest.

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


Directed by Curtis Harrington
Written by Henry Farrell
Starring Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters, Dennis Weaver, Micheál MacLiammóir, Agnes Moorehead, Helene Winston, Peggy Rea, Logan Ramsey, Paulle Clark, Yvette Vickers,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Chuggin’ along through this four pack from The Scream Factory, glomming four dissimilar horror films together in one cheaply priced pack, I am now half way through and I’ve yet to find one I can actually recommend. The four films include THE OUTING, THE GODSEND, THE VAGRANT, and WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? So far, I’ve been unimpressed with both THE OUTING (full review here) and THE GODSEND (full review here). Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be watching them all.

I don’t want to spend too much time on WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? It’s got decent performances, I guess, from Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters, who play mothers of serial killers who relocate in order to avoid the constant hounding of the press. While Reynolds’ character Adelle is adjusting to her new life well by living her dreams of running a beauty pageant-style talent agency, Helen (Winters) is fraying at the ends, paranoid that those obsessed with the mothers that spawned killers have tracked them down in their new life. Winters is great here as the worrywart who can’t seem to get anything right, just as Reynolds seems to be getting all of the breaks by meeting a millionaire and leaving her past behind her.

I don’t know if this was intentional, but there’s an undercurrent of lesbianism as Helen seems to be hurt as Adelle moves further and further away from her. It isn’t until Adelle decides that Helen’s constant worrying and paranoia is too much for her that Helen really goes off the deep end, the final moments being pretty creepy, but not worth the hour and a half long wait for the inevitable cracking of Helen’s sanity.

Another unintentional creep inducer in this film is the child beauty pageant contestants that Adelle teaches. Whiffs of both Jean Benet Ramsey and Honey Boo Boo in the scenes where these made up pre-teens waltz on the stage and slink around in adult clothing give me the ever-lovin’ creeps, though I’m sure the intent of these scenes was to lighten the mood. Here, I was overwhelmed with the opposite effect.

These unintentionally creepy moments make for an interesting, albeit boring for the most part, film filled with worried and overprotective mothers trying to start their lives over in their middle years. In that sense, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? is kind of like CAGNEY & LACEY except with more creepy kids, murder, and hinted lesbianism.

I’ve only got one more film, THE VAGRANT, a film I’ve seen before but don’t remember a lot about other than I think it’s got somewhat of an offbeat and quirky tone to it. Here’s hoping the last of this quartet of films is the best, as the first three have been three shades of poop.

And for shits, here’s the theme song for CAGNEY & LACEY…

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


Directed by Damiano Damiani
Written by Tommy Lee Wallace (screenplay), Hans Holzer (book)
Starring James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Prine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, Ted Ross, Erika Katz, Brent Katz
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Last week, I checked out the first AMITYVILLE HORROR film (full review here) and recognized it for some scary scenes in an otherwise pretty mundane film. I can recognize the film for the classic it is since it did influence a ton of haunted house movies afterwards in sequels and other franchises. That said, I think I find the sequel AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION to be a much more creepy endeavor.

While the original AMITYVILLE had James Brolin and Margot Kidder (both fine actors) ,the sequel has something much better: PAULIE! That’s right--fresh from his stint as the lovable drunk in ROCKY, Burt Young plays Anthony Montelli, patriarch of the Montelli family which took residence in the Amityville house before the first movie occurred. Young basically plays Paulie in this film too, though in much more of a drunk, abusive and asshole-ish manner. Rutyana Alda (from MOMMIE DEAREST) plays the abused yet hopefully religious mother and Jack Magner plays Sonny, who becomes possessed by a demon residing in the house.

And then there’s Diane Franklin. Sigh. Let me pause this review right now to admit that one of my biggest screen-crushes was on that French Girl from BETTER OFF DEAD, one Diane Franklin. Franklin’s plucky demeanor, sunbeam smile, and caring brown eyes had me at Bonjour in BETTER OFF DEAD, and though she kind of fell off the map, she’ll always be an actress that puts a little extra spring in my step every time I see her in a film.

Well, my screen crush is raped by her demon-possessed brother and then develops an incest crush on him that lasts through most of the film, which fucked my world up when I saw this film not long after I developed my crush on the actress. Her performance in AMITYVILLE II is really well done as she plays the naïve victim suffering probably the worst fate of the Montelli family, as she actually cares about her brother who rapes her, as she confesses later to a priest, “to punish God.” Incest in order to piss off the maker is a far cry from a house whispering “Get out” in the first film, and AMITYVILLE II is a much darker and more disturbing film because of the incest subplot as well as the shocking night when Sonny cracks and takes out the family with a rifle.

AMITYVILLE II is not a perfect film. Because it’s a possession pic, there has to be the obligatory priest showing up at the door and ascending upon the house ominously and from the shadows. Holy water must be sprinkled and rites have to be shouted at pitched volumes. There’s much wind out of nowhere and lightning crashing and furniture tossing as if the filmmakers were reading straight from THE EXORCIST playbook. Had the film chosen to end with Sonny’s killing spree, I think it could be revered as a damn fine and creepy film, but they had to go ballz deep with this one and have a special effects extravaganza with pulsing vein and cracked open head prosthetics. Tonally, the over-usage of special effects just doesn’t fit the slow burn of the first hour of this film, but I guess they wanted a barn-burner ending.

Crappy over-effected ending aside, I’ll take the first hour of AMITYVILLE II against any haunted house flick any old day. With the creepy-ass incest vibe and the slow possession along with the creepy religious symbolism running rampant in the first hour, it makes for one film you’re not going to forget. If you haven’t seen AMITYVILLE II be prepared for a trip to some dark corners of that infamous house. And though her role is creepy as it gets in this film, another plus is that the lovely Diane Franklin is featured prominently. So you’ve got that to look forward to.

New on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing!


Directed by Richard Griffin
Written by Lenny Schwartz
Starring Jamie Dufault, Samantha Acampora, David Adams Murphy, Nick Apostolides, Elyssa Baldassarri, Timothy Bonavita, Theresa Dern, Jesse Dufault, Christopher L. Ferreira, Dana Haley, Aaron Peaslee
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

From the director of EXHUMED (which I liked a whole hell of a lot) and THE DISCO EXORCIST (which I found to be pretty amusing) comes MURDER UNIVERSITY, a fun blend of horror and humor set in that wellspring of nostalgia, the ‘80s.

The best part about MURDER UNIVERSITY is the way it doles out its hokey humor just like those raunchy college comedies that flooded the market after ANIMAL HOUSE hit it big. In MURDER UNIVERSITY, there’s lots of sex, gay dancing, wet t-shirt contests, a grumpy guy who tells a guy who wants to plow his daughter not to plow his daughter, and even a MILF or two. Director Richard Griffin captures the fun of those films of that era with all of the hokey and hammy trimmings that went along with them.

On top of all of the raunchy comedy, MURDER UNIVERSITY is filled with buckets and buckets of gore. Heads are lopped off by axes. Bodies are cut in two by axes. Limbs are chopped off at the joint by axes. Did I mention the axes? Well, there’s a lot of axe murdery murder in this film, mainly because there are three axe wielding murderers wielding axes and murdering folks through this entire film. And the gore is actually pretty primo stuff, as quality as the copious amounts of laughs that go along with this one.

None of the actors in MURDER UNIVERSITY are going for an Oscar, but the films from the 80’s this one homages weren’t doing that either, so the hammy acting feels fitting here. The story about a nerdy student in his first days of college running into bullies by day and axe-wielding murderers at night is a pretty compelling one, and I have to give the film credit for the ballsy ending which actually wraps things up on a pretty profound and somber note.

MURDER UNIVERSITY isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s got its fair share of solid laughs and tons of the red stuff splattered everywhere. If you’re a child of the Eighties and didn’t know better, MURDER UNIVERSITY just might have had a home at that mom and pop video store you used to go to.

New this week on DVD, BluRay, & Digital Download!


Directed by David Damiata, Michael Matteo Rossi
Written by Britton Hein (story), Michael Matteo Rossi (story)
Starring Randi Leigh Borden, Charlie Glackin, Melvin Gregg, Matthew Jordan, Chris Tyler Link, Trevon Morales, Chris Petrovski, Reggie Range, Elijah Vegas, 'Ace Primo' Niko Warren
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

There are a lot of found footagers out there, and though I am not the type to dismiss a film because it is following a well tread path, I do want to give note to any filmmaker out there planning on making a found footage film: please make an effort to do something different. Maybe it’s focusing the found footage motif on a subject matter that hasn’t been filmed in this way before. Maybe the method of recording is different. Maybe (and I shudder to think this) the story is something we haven’t seen before. Anyway, if you don’t have anything new to say with your found footage film, honestly, there’s no reason to do it.

Case in point: LOSS OF LIFE a new found footage film, shot so cheaply you can almost see the tags on the wardrobe so it can be returned after the shoot. Now, I am a fierce supporter of all things indie. When I see an indie film, I’m not the kind of person who shies away from it or puts it down for the budgetary limits. But in this film, three kids are trapped in a van with two hooded axe and gun wielding masked killers stalking outside of it. The kids know the killers are out there. The killers know the kids are in there. But nary a door is hacked open or a window is shattered for the killers to get the kids. Why? Because it wasn’t in the budget to break a car window, that’s why. If you find yourself making a found footage film (or any film for that matter) and you get to a scene where the most logical thing to do would be to break something and it’s not in your budget to do so, don’t have your characters go there and put a flashing sign on how low the budget is!

Then again, there’s not a lot of originality or thought put into LOSS OF LIFE. Again, if you find yourself making a found footage film and you have the urge to do an “up the nose” POV a la BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, you might want to return to the creativity well with a giant bucket because you’ve run out of ideas. LOSS OF LIFE has an “up the nose” POV confession in it, but that’s not the reason I can’t support this film.

The reason why LOSS OF LIFE was maddening for me was the fact that, without the credits, this film is around an hour and twelve minutes long. Of that hour and twelve minutes, the first 28 minutes consists of 6 young African American kids mugging in front of the camera, talking over themselves, and being utterly uninteresting. That’s almost a solid half hour of guys preening and pimping in front of the camera thinking they’re the funniest guys in the room spouting jokes that would make Tyler Perry roll his eyes. It isn’t until the half hour point that there’s even the hint of danger or story, and if you happened upon this film and didn’t know what it was, you’d think it was something some kids taped to pass the time and turn it off in five minutes.

And I guess, because of that last fact, LOSS OF LIFE is a decent found footage film as it reflects real life in a manner in which it would probably happen. That doesn’t mean it’s interesting, but if a camera followed anyone around all of the time it’d be as boring as the first 30 minutes of this hour plus twelve minute long film is. In an attempt to add some kind of resonance, there’s a bit of footage “recovered” by police added on at the end telling the motif of the two masked assailants who stalk the kids for the whole film. This ends the film on a somewhat interesting angle, and had the POV been shifted to the assailants rather than the victims, there might have been a story there. But the filmmakers and the kid actors themselves think they are the most interesting in the room, so the real story only gets about three minutes towards the end before the credits roll.

It is an accomplishment that the folks behind this made a film. Congrats, it’s finished and done. My humble advice is to now make a movie that isn’t an urban BLAIR WITCH PROJECT without a witch and maybe add a little story to the mix as well. I hate to be harsh, as I know this is someone’s baby I just shat on, but I just can’t recommend LOSS OF LIFE to my readers.

Advance Review!


Directed by Nicholas Holland
Written by Nicholas Holland, Colin Wilson
Starring Nate Burud, Laura Kriss, J.T. Taylor, Nicholas Holland, Jordan Kantola, Lillian Lamour, Benjamin Ashley
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Being a werewolf movie fan is tough. Aside from the tried and true HOWLING, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, WOLFEN and some of the classic Hammer, Amicus, and Universal takes on the creature, the werewolf really doesn’t have a lot of films to brag about (I’m sure I’m missing some which will most likely be pointed out in the talkbacks). While this film is undeniably indie and low budget, I’m looking past all of that because the strengths by far outweigh the budgetary weaknesses here and it represents lycanthropy in a way that it not often used.

To go into the use of lycanthropy in HUNGER UNHOLY would reveal a little too much, but I will say that the metaphor of the werewolf representing man’s id—his more base, animalistic and instinctual side--is represented well in this film. Seeing the beast unleashed here is a strength of this story--one delved into more here than in most of the werewolf films out there.

The story follows Gabe, whose brother recently passed away mysteriously. A group of Gabe’s friends go with him to his brother’s home to gather up his things and sort everything out, but before Gabe arrives at the home, they run afoul of a redneck neighbor, causing a series of actions that lead to a monster being released and a whole lot of bodies left mauled and dead-ified.

The werewolf costume in this film leaves a lot to be desired. In many ways, it looks like one of those monkey suits you see in a drug store Halloween aisle. But some creative camera work by director Nicholas Holland does a good job of covering up the seams for the most part, and some clever lighting makes things moody. Holland had the forethought to realize that seeing this monster in full light is going to inspire ridicule rather than scares, so he keeps things tightly edited and darkly lit, giving only the hint of the monster rather than full-on showing it. It’s this type of smart low budget filmmaking that makes HUNGER UNHOLY one of the better ones.

Some stiff acting doesn’t help things much, but still, I can’t help but recommend HUNGER UNHOLY for the strength of its story and the execution of a werewolf tale that is unlike the norm. If you’re the type who is going to mock a film for not having a triple figure budget, move on by, but if you can sift through all of that, I think you’ll be impressed by the story of HUNGER UNHOLY.

Advance Review!


Directed by Jason Hawkins
Written by Jason Hawkins
Starring Dara Davey, Eileen Dietz, Patrick D. Green, Alicia Rose, Natasha Timpani, Michael A LaFlamme, Simon Scott, Jason Hawkins
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Another low budgeter that is touring fests at the moment is THE DEVIL KNOWS HIS OWN. The film deals with haunting and horrifying tortures that took place in the past and how they have a tendency to creep into our present tenses. The characters in this film are all running from something, and it’s the depth of this story that makes it resonate stronger than most.

Jessica (Dara Davey) and Ethan (Patrick D. Green) did not have the happiest of childhoods. Raised by their abusive grandmother, Jessica and Ethan were made to wear plaster masks and abused horribly both physically and mentally through most of their childhood years. With the death of their grandmother, they return to her home for the first time since they ran off only to find that though their grandmother is dead, the horrors still run rampant in the house. Part ghost story, part tale of abuse, THE DEVIL KNOWS HIS OWN is a strong statement about how the past never really is too far behind you no matter how far away you run.

The lead actors Davey and Green are both strong here, as are Natasha Timpani as Jessica’s girlfriend and especially Alicia Rose, who plays Ethan’s drug-addicted significant other. Though fully grown, the siblings are deeply scarred and still experience nightmares in their adult years. While most films seem to handle these symptoms that occur in adult survivors of childhood abuse as clichéd, writer/director Jason Hawkins does a great job of fleshing out these characters and making them act in ways not expected or usually seen. The bond between brother and sister is especially well developed in this film, as are the very real flaws they have because of the abuse they withstood and how their abusive pasts show up in their new relationships and how they live their own lives. All in all, this is a mature and refreshingly nuanced take on the subject matter.

There are some definite scary images and scenes throughout THE DEVIL KNOWS HIS OWN. It’s a film littered with flashbacks, hallucinations, and delusions tormenting the tortured minds of the cast. The final scene of the film is especially resonant, though I won’t reveal it here. Plus the creepy as all get-out masks the children were forced to wear are the stuff of pants-shitting nightmare.

THE DEVIL KNOWS HIS OWN needs about fifteen minutes trimmed from the first hour, as there are some scenes that linger around past their expiration date which establish the characters. A crisper edit and a snip here and there will make things move a whole lot faster and make the payoff at the end all the more horrifying. Still, I found a lot to like about THE DEVIL KNOWS HIS OWN, which serves as a well-realized cross-section of tormented souls scarred seemingly beyond repair by terrors from the past.

And finally…here’s another entry for THE ABC’S OF DEATH II Letter M competition, Gonzalo López’s M IS FOR MYTH. With all of these quality entries, I’m having trouble picking one I like best. Enjoy!

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 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

Find out what are BLACK MASK STUDIOS and OCCUPY COMICS here and on Facebook here!

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