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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we travel into the minds of monstrous ids run amok and virus-orphaned children. There’re Nazi voyeurs and witches and drugs and serial killers and obscene phone callers. All of those perversions and nightmares are ahead...

But first, are you looking for some last minute gifts for that ghoul or monster in your life this holiday season? Well, check out FRIGHT RAGS for all kinds of horror apparel and goodies!

On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: TWILIGHT ZONE Collector’s Box Set: Season 4, Episodes 14-18 (1963)
Retro-review: Scream Factory presents TV Terrors – ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? (1978)
Retro-review: THE BEAST WITHIN (1982)
Retro-review: CRAWLSPACE (1986)
TOAD ROAD (2013)
And finally…Chávez Olmos & Shervin Shoghian’s SHHH!

Retro-review: Collecting the entire series in a new Collector’s Box Set on DVD from Image Entertainment!


Episodes 14-18
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

SEASON 4 of THE TWILIGHT ZONE is a bit of an anomaly of a season. Not only does the series mysteriously drop the THE in the title, but it also extended itself to an hourlong format. This makes for some extended viewing that sometimes took its toll on my patience. While some of the TWILIGHT ZONE stories would be great with a little wiggle room to go into more detail and get to know these characters more, other hourlongs feel extremely drawn out with either redundancies occurring throughout or scenes put in simply to extend the running time. Personally, I love the quick in/quick out feel of the half hour episodes. Here are four more episodes from disk four of Season Four from the box set.

Episode 4.14: Of Late I Think of Cliffordville
Directed by David Lowell Rich
Written by Rod Serling, based on the short story "Blind Alley" by Malcolm Jameson
Starring Albert Salmi, John Anderson, Wright King, Julie Newmar, Guy Raymond

Albert Salmi delivers an amazing performance as a business tycoon who has everything and sells it all to the devil in order for him to gain it all over again in this morality tale written by Rod Serling. This episode has some of Serling’s most biting dialog and plays out expertly in the hourlong format, but suffers in that it is yet another story of an older man wishing he were young (a theme often seen in TWILIGHT ZONE episode and perhaps indicative of Serling’s introspection as he became older during these TZ years) and a deal with the devil, which is also a theme oft-visited in the Zone. Now, there are plenty of ways to skin a cat, but seeing this theme seems to be indicative of the idea well running a bit dry. Still, Salmi’s amazingly acidic performance makes it all worth while.

Episode 4.15: The Incredible World of Horace Ford
Directed by Abner Biberman
Written by Reginald Rose
Starring Pat Hingle, Nan Martin, Ruth White, Phillip Pine, Vaughn Taylor

Tim Burton’s Jim Gordon, Pat Hingle, plays a grown man baby who pouts and tantrums through life fondly remembering his youth and longing to return to it. It’s another story about an adult faced with responsibilities who would rather be anywhere but the life he is living in as TZ continues to repeat themes. While Hingle does a great job acting like a mentally unstable adult and the supporting cast of Nan Martin and Ruth White are equally good as his wife and mother who are forced to cope with an adult suffering a midlife crisis and mental instability, I felt like I’ve seen this story many times before in this very season. Hingle is almost too effective as a man-child, making his tantrums annoying as well and running around as if he were ten years old. There’s a creepy kid missing a tooth who seems to be tempting Hingle’s Horace Ford into the past and an overall vibe of discomfort as if watching someone close slipping away, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed so much with the titular character that this episode did nothing but leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Episode 4.16: On Thursday We Leave for Home
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by Rod Serling
Starring James Whitmore, James Broderick, Tim O'Conner, Jo Helton, Daniel Kulick

Serling writes a haunting one here with James Whitmore starring as a leader of a colony of outcasts who left earth long ago to start fresh on a new planet, but found that the planet itself is a barren wasteland. Now, thirty years later, a ship lands with a promise to take the colonists home, but Whitmore has difficulty letting go of his leadership role. This is a deeply personal and heartbreaking tale of a man who takes great pride in his purpose in life and not knowing what to do when that purpose is taken away. Reminiscent of his iconic role thirty years later as Brooks in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Whitmore once again offers up a soul-searing and memorable performance of a complex individual. While this is a good science fiction story, it is a great character study and one of Serling’s best written episodes.

Episode 4.17: Passage on The Lady Anne
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Written by Charles Beaumont
Starring Lee Philips, Joyce Van Patten, Gladys Cooper, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Cecil Kellaway, Cyril Delevanti

This was a haunting episode about a couple whose relationship has lost their way who agree to take a voyage on a mysterious old ship filled with elderly passengers. Though it’s pretty apparent that the ship and its passengers aren’t completely normal, the oblivious couple don’t seem to notice until the last moments with them being preoccupied with ignoring each others needs in the relationship. This one moves at a patient pace but has a nice build of tension within the allotted hour-long episode and by the final moments, there’s a real sense of stress and dread in the air. This was a nicely done and suspense filled episode.

Episode 4.18: The Bard
Directed by David Butler
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Jack Weston, Henry Lascoe, John Williams, Burt Reynolds, Marge Redmond, Judy Strangis

They saved the worst for last in this tedious stinker of an episode as Jack Weston stars as a troubled sitcom writer who enlists the help of William Shakespeare himself to help him write a hit TV series for him. Watching this episode literally stopped time for me as the punch line is revealed way too early in the episode and the ending, which is even more inane than the rest of the episode as the writer enlists the help of other historical figures for more writing help, couldn’t have come soon enough. Not sure why historical figures would be perfect writers for TV in the first place, but I ended up not caring enough to ask by the end. The only thing this episode serves is a sort of wink to the audience as this episode goes meta into the mind of a writer out of ideas and even comments on stretching half hour shows to hour-longs which is why this season four was probably the most tedious of all of the seasons with the series returning to half hour long episodes with the fifth and final season.

Well, that’s it for Season 4. We’re starting from the beginning with Season 1 after the new year!

Previous TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews!
Season 4: Episodes 4.1-4.5, 4.5-4.8, & 4.9-4.13
Season 5: Episodes 5.1-5.7, 5.8-5.14, 5.15-5.21, 5.22-5.28, & 5.29-5.36

Look for more TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews soon!

Retro-review: New this week on DVD from The Scream Factory!

TV Terrors Double Feature: ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? (1978)

Directed by Walter Grauman
Written by Judith Parker (teleplay), Richard Peck (based on the novel)
Starring Kathleen Beller, Blythe Danner, Tony Bill, Robin Mattson, Tricia O'Neil, Dennis Quaid, Alan Fudge, Scott Colomby, Ellen Travolta, Randy Stumpf, Magda Harout, Sandra Sharp
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Just as THE INITIATION OF SARAH (the other film paired with this one in this TV Terrors Double Feature) was a direct knock off of CARRIE, ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? is a shameless ripoff of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and BLACK CHRISTMAS. Differentiating ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? from INITIATION OF SARAH is the fact that for the most part, AYITHA proves to be a somewhat effective ripoff…at least for most of the film.

Opening on a young woman (Kathleen Beller) beaten and bloody on the floor of a house, the film opens on an ominous note that grips you from the beginning. As the young woman is taken to the hospital, she reveals that she has been raped and that her attacker had been watching her for a while. Cue wavy lines flashback. The young girl, Gail, is a carefree teenager; not as outgoing as her friends, but still eager to meet boys and go on dates. Her overprotective mother played by Blythe Danner isn’t an evil woman, but one who is leery of Gail trying to spread her wings as she married young and now seems to be regretting it. The flashback begins with Gail agreeing to go on a double date with her girlfriend Allison (Robin Mattson) and her boyfriend Phil (played by an ultra-young Dennis Quaid) and a new boy, Steve (CADDYSHACK’s Scott Colomby). Soon after Scott and Gail become more than friends, she starts receiving notes in her locker and obscene phone calls at both her home and at the home where she babysits. As the messages grow in perverse intensity threatening rape and death, Gloria becomes afraid of everyone and anyone around her. But who is the obscene messager with poor grammar skills? Is it the new boyfriend? The old boyfriend? The creepy teacher? The father who just lost his job? Or some random dude we are never introduced to?

That’s the basic mystery here, and as long as that mystery is maintained, AYITHA is a powerful little thriller. Due to some fine acting from the stunning Kathleen Beller, whose large doe eyes are entrancing and conveying of the right amount of innocence to make you worried for her as she is being stalked and isn’t given good advice from anyone she reaches out to, from her mother who is too involved in work to help to her school guidance counselor (played by Ellen Travolta) who practically blames her for possibly leading on her attacker.

Everything leads up to the night of the attack, and once the killer is revealed, one would think the film would be over. But this is when the film takes a swerve into an after school movie with a message that oftentimes the rapist walks away from the crime as it is the woman’s word against her accuser. Though technology has advanced to the stage where rape kits and DNA samples can finger a rapist almost immediately, this movie was filmed in a different time and the shame often shrouding the raped person is evident in this story. The abrupt ending where Gail explains in a voiceover what happens to her rapist after the final moments is indicative of the well of ideas running dry, the need for a speedy resolution to fit into the two hour time slot the movie required for its place as the movie of the week, and the views on rapists and the raped in the era this film was made.

For a solid hour, though, ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? is as solid a phone stalker film as both WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and BLACK CHRISTMAS, mainly because they all have relentless scenes of screaming telephones, babysitters walking alone through a house, and first person POV stalking cameras. But once the killer is revealed, this one begins to show its cards as a Lifetime movie of the week made before its time.

Retro-review: The Scream Factory!


Directed by Philippe Mora
Written by Tom Holland (screen story and screenplay), Edward Levy (novel)
Starring Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Katherine Moffat, L.Q. Jones, Logan Ramsey, John Dennis Johnston, Ron Soble, Luke Askew, Meshach Taylor, Boyce Holleman
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

CHILD’S PLAY/FRIGHT NIGHT writer Tom Holland’s story of a woman raped by a monster and how a family copes with dealing with the baby spawned by the horrid act is one of the thicker themes of THE BEAST WITHIN, and the one that interested me most while watching the film. While this is a movie with glaring problems in terms of acting and a slightly convoluted story, the underlying theme is what stands out as what makes this one memorable to me. The film also seems to have some Lovecraftian influence as one of the characters is named Dexter Ward, a name taken from Lovecraft’s THE STRANGE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD which, like this story, involves a man killed by townsfolk who comes back to life by possessing an ancestor

In many ways, THE BEAST WITHIN is a werewolf story with cicadas and a family curse taking the place of wolves. The story is about the duality of man, with the intellectual ego and superego battling it out with the animalistic id, with the id biting and clawing its way to victory. These psychological aspects are always good fodder for horror, as man’s struggle with his lighter and darker halves is always fun to watch. Here, this story not only dissects this struggle, but it also touches upon the whole nature vs. nurture argument as well.

Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch play Eli and Caroline McCleary, a loving couple whose wedding night is destroyed when some kind of monster abducts and rapes Caroline when the McCleary wedding car gets stuck on the side of the road. Caroline is found naked and covered in blood and filth by Eli in a horrific scene in the opening, followed by a flash forward 17 years to the present. A child was conceived from that unfortunate incident, and though Eli is a dedicated father to his son Michael (played by a pudgy Paul Clemens), recent medical issues have made it crucial for Eli to come to terms with the fact that Michael is not his natural son and that the real father may hold the key to his son’s medical problems. Eli and Caroline return to the small town where the rape occurred many years ago in order to find answers to the identity of the rapist and the key to their son’s survival. Meanwhile, Michael is acting more and more irrational, breaks free from the hospital and feels an unnatural compulsion to return to the small town as well. Propelled by a paranormal urge and a rampant sex drive, Michael seems to be following in his rapist father’s footsteps.

This film proves to be a riveting metaphor for the question of whether sin is passed down from father to son, as Michael’s compulsion to destroy and ultimately consummate with a female in order to keep the bloodline alive becomes all-encompassing for the tormented teen. A metaphorical take on teenage hormones is also at play here as well, as Michael cannot control these urges, eventually shedding all humanity in order to become a growling and aggressive monster bent on reproducing with a pretty young teenager that has caught human-Michael’s eye. The cyclical nature of violence is represented as this is exactly the same type of act occurred in the opening moments when Caroline was raped.

While there are strong performances throughout this film, which is filled with too many recognizable faces to count, I always found Paul Clemens’ performance to be the weakest of the bunch. The pudgy teen just seemed kind of off-putting (even whiny) to me, even before he starts his transformation. It’s hard to sympathize with the guy when you are annoyed with the actor from the get go. I think a stronger actor would have made me feel the torment both the actor and the parents felt in this film. That said, the rest of the cast is amazing, with Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch offering up great scenes, as well as THE HOWLING’s R.G. Armstrong as the town doctor, PAPILLON’s Don Gordon as a judge, THE WILD BUNCH’s L.Q. Jones as the Sheriff, ROLLING THUNDER’s Luke Askew as the mortician, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS’ John Dennis Johnston as the town brawler. All of these actors have been in tons of memorable roles, and it’s awesome seeing them all in one place acting with one another.

The film itself devolves as most werewolf films unravel: into a big transformation scene where everyone must skid the story to a halt in order for the FX team to do their thing. The transformation scene where Michael spasms and evolves into a completely inhuman man-monster is impressive as multiple bladders inflate and bubble Michael’s head and torso to the point of bursting and then deflating to become something entirely different and monstrous. The bulging eyes of the final monster was always somewhat goofy looking to me, but the transformation itself is effective as it hit me on a grungy, guttural level that few scenes of its kind accomplish. The FX team consisted of top talent like Fred Cramer (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS) and Thomas R. Burman (who also created Sloth for GOONIES, as well as many other iconic horror film fx), and it shows in these transformation scenes, as narratively halting as they are.

Fans of fx are going to be entertained by the original way Michael has his transformation, and those who like some thematic weight to their horror have plenty to chew on as well. THE BEAST WITHIN Blu comes with commentaries from director Phillip Mora, actor Paul Clemens, and writer Tom Holland.

Retro-review: The Scream Factory!


Directed by David Schmoeller
Written by David Schmoeller
Starring Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery, Carole Francis, Tane McClure, Sally Brown, Jack Heller, David Abbott, Kenneth Robert Shippy
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

CRAWLSPACE takes some of the voyeuristic creep directly from psycho and meshes it with even more creepiness by way of Nazi nostalgia and then throws one of the most influential and batshit crazy actors of our time into the stew to make one loony little broth of a film.

The story opens mid-creep as landlord Karl Gunther (Klaus Kinski) peeks in on a gorgeous tenant from the ventilation shaft in her apartment. Immediately this film gets DePalma-esque as Karl views another man peeping into her window and seems to get rather peeved at someone trying to out creep him. Soon the man at the window enters and attacks the girl, while Karl scurries back to his secret room which contains scores of Nazi paraphernalia, rats, a little white kitten, and of course, what is a secret lair without a female gimp in a cage? After killing a woman who infiltrates his apartment, Karl sits at a white table, puts a bullet into a gun, spins the revolver, points it to his temple, and clicks the empty round. Muttering “So be it.” it’s pretty clear that this is going to be one of the more offbeat horrors you’ve ever seen.

Kinski’s performance here is the reason to seek this film out. He is full on madman here, shouting and then whispering, glomming on makeup and saluting Hitler, and branding his victims with swastikas. Kinski seems to be having a blast with this one, giving is lunatic all. The rest of the cast is decent as well with THE KINDRED’s Talia Balsam playing the part of Lori, a new tenant who catches Karl’s voyeuristic eye. While things get rather slasher-esque when Karl decides to clean house and kill all of his tenants, the real fun occurs when Karl gets his cat-and-mouse on when Lori uncovers his perverse preoccupations.

The extended chase scenes are fantastic to see unfold. Schmoeller keeps things tight and claustrophobic taking full advantage of the prezteline maze-work throughout the building. The chase never gets boring and Schmoeller does a great job of throwing everything but the kitchen sink in Lori’s way as she tries to escape the pursuing Karl. Things get really nuts when Karl jumps onto his little Crawlspace-mobile, a plank with wheels that allows him to scoot through the ventilation system faster.

Though it does add to the creep, the inclusion of the Nazi stuff in this one seems like an odd detail to Karl’s demented persona. Home movies and flashbacks flesh out that Karl is a twisted soul, but one look into Kinski’s whirlwind eyes could have told you that as well. He might as well have been Amish or Martian or Caveman and seeing Kinski would have made it all seem bonkers. That is just what the thespian did best and he does it perfectly here.

The BluRay release has got audio commentary from director David Schmoeller (who also directed PUPPETMASTER and TOURIST TRAP) as well as a fascinating short film called PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI made by Schmoeller, who discusses how difficult Klaus Kinski was to work with while making the film and how he ultimately survived the experience. Makeup man John Vulich also offers up a commentary.

New on DVD and Digital Download!


Directed by Benjamin Cooper
Written by Kenneth L. Province Jr.
Starring Matt O'Neill, Kristin Lorenz, Jeff Ryan, S. Daxton Balzer, Reggie Bannister, Mayank Bhatter, Bruce Brown, Philip Colaprete, Carl Edge, Susan Fulton, Rachel Riley, Elliott Kwong, Anastasia Savko, & Gregory Paul Smith as the Monster
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Seeing the cover art for this film, I immediately thought this was another bigfoot movie, and those of you who have been long time readers of this column know I love me some bigfoot movies. Turns out it’s not, but it’s a funny kind of coincidence that this film shows up in the same column as THE BEAST WITHIN, as both films have the same themes running through them.

The story follows Martin (Matt O’Neill), a special effects guy/stuntman who has a reputation for losing his temper on the set. After doing so again and getting himself fired, he agrees to go to therapy, where hypnosis unlocks a monster inside of him. Upon hearing of his mother’s passing, he returns to his home town, and coincidentally the bodies start piling up being torn to shreds by some kind of monster. Turns out Martin’s id is on the loose and tearing through anyone who crosses him. When his girlfriend shows up to help, it puts her in the sights of the beast within’s rampage.

I appreciate this film’s willingness to try something new. Basically, this is a film about a man whose savage side is out of control, and anything delving into that type of psychological subject matter is automatically interesting to me. The film does a good job of not going to places that are too easy or obvious, and it looks like writer Kenneth L. Province Jr. wants to make something akin to THE BEAST WITHIN or some type of Jekyll/Hyde/werewolf film trying to dissect man’s bestial side. The film does this by doing a little research into repressed anger and hypnosis, which is fun to watch play out, since PHANTASM’s Reggie Bannister shows up as the no-nonsense psychologist. These are moments where PRIMITIVE shines.

That said, this is an ultra-low budgeter with a costume that looks like something from the rack. Sure the bestial face of the monster is detailed, but it’s basically an oversized Halloween mask, and while some filmmakers can get around that stuff with some creative lighting and fast edits, Benjamin Cooper chooses to let the camera linger on the beast and films in broad daylight, which makes all sense of danger somewhat difficult to feel.

Bannister’s fun performance and some deft attention to psychology makes PRIMITIVE digestible, but the monster itself isn’t going to cause too many nightmares.

New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Jason Figgis
Written by Jason Figgis
Starring Catherine Wrigglesworth, Emily Forster, Ellen Mullen, Adam Tyrrell, Jennifer Graham, Anna Elizabeth McGrath, Sinead O'Riordan, Justine Rodgers, Matthew Toman, Darren Travers
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A definite need of a solid edits stops CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN from being better than it could be.

The ominous opening credits tell the viewer that a virus is spreading first across Europe and then the rest of the world which causes adults to have flu symptoms, then violent and unhinged behaviors, finally resulting in death. This leaves the Earth’s populace solely children fending for themselves. Unorganized, cold, and hungry, kids have begun to form groups in order to survive. Though they are not wild pack animal children yet, the slippery slope of desperation shows signs that that is exactly where they are headed. The story follows sisters Evie and Fran, two such orphans who are sticking together and getting by in this adultless world. After seeing their parents’ minds and bodies wither away in front of them, they are traumatized and desperate to find a safe place. Soon they run into a group of children who have their own difficulties and don’t take well to newcomers.

CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN tries to go the reverse version of CHILDREN OF MEN here, with a lot of LORD OF THE FLIES tossed in for good measure. This band of lost children are somewhat ferocious in their actions towards one another, but for the most part, these evil deeds come to fruition in the form of endless bickering between the group that becomes somewhat of a maddening ordeal to endure as a viewer. Minutes go by numerous times in this film, as these children argue back and forth with no real reason other than that they are upset over losing their parents. But since there isn’t a steady head among them, the argument isn’t resolved. The only thing stopping the argument is that the warring parties move to another part of the house they are holing up in to argue with another group. These endless conversations might have been interesting to write out in the script, but go nowhere as far as advancing the plot. Characters seem to hate one another simply because the script needs them to, such as one girl immediately noticing her boyfriend finding the new girl attractive and forcing him to say that he is attracted to this girl they all just met. It’s funny that these moments are rushed, since this is such a slow-paced film.

Adding to the snail’s pace are the flashbacks, which are definitely unnerving as each of the children have experienced the deterioration of their parent’s personalities and bodies. But we are treated to every one of their flashbacks numerous times in the film, even though all of their stories are similar. Is this a statement about Alzheimer’s disease? Possibly, as the victims of the virus fail to recognize their own children in the latter stages. It’s a harrowing allegory if it is, and the scenes are haunting to watch. That said, though, there are few scenes in the here and now other than the endless arguments and one big brawl that resonate even nearly as much. It makes one wonder why the story was set after the plague, when the emotional core of the film takes place while it is going on.

There is another flashback representative of a possible future of the children where the kids turn to cannibalism in order to survive. This is another unnerving scene, but again, one told to us in flashback rather than acted out in the present, which takes a lot of the weight from it. CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN could have been a film of harrowing horror, but the fact that the script needed a nip and tuck and most of the action occurs in the past takes a lot of the impact away from it.

New this week on DVD!


Directed by Swamy Kandan
Written by Jason B. Whittier, Swamy Kandan
Starring Jonathan Bennett, Ali Faulkner, Richard Riehle
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Experimentation with how a story unfolds is tricky. Personally, I like it when storytellers find new and exciting ways to spin a tale, but I’m not all people and for some, when a filmmaker strays too far off the narrative path, he is in danger of losing an audience that may not have the patience or investment to follow. I think that’s the fork in the road for a film like THE SECRET VILLAGE, which relies on the audience to ride the wave that builds from the beginning of the film all the way to the end to get the full effect.

The story opens with Rachel (Ali Faulkner from the TWILIGHT saga) investigating a story for a journalism project involving bizarre happenings around a quiet New England town. After meeting with an informant who has roots within the society (Richard Riehle, who seems to pop up in a lot of horror films these days), Rachel is sure there’s some kind of coven of occultists haunting the town after night fall. When mysterious men begin following her around town and she starts getting odd phone calls and visits from mysterious strangers, it seems there definitely is some truth to Rachel’s theories. As she falls deeper and deeper into the small town’s conspiracy, Rachel as well seems to be fraying at the edges.

THE SECRET VILLAGE is both a descent into madness story as well as a conspiracy tale, both of which rely on heavy doses of paranoia. While the story wants us to follow Rachel through her investigation, writer/director Swamy Kandan seems intent of making us not trust what we are seeing. Kandan plays with the timeline of this story and tells a somewhat unconventional and definitely nonlinear story, as Rachel seems to be remembering things she experienced earlier in the film for the first time as if she did not know it occurred at the time. While this is a somewhat interesting manner of telling a story, it does take a lot of attention and concentration to follow along. I’m not particularly afraid of films that challenge the parameters of storytelling, but there are some who might find this offbeat mode to tell a tale somewhat difficult to follow or, worse yet, not worth following.

Well acted throughout by Faulkner and her mysterious roommate Greg (VAN WILDER: FRESHMAN YEAR’s Jonathan Bennett), the likability of these actors was enough for me to go with the flow of this tale, which never shows its cards until the very end. The ending is a whopper, and if you’re paying close attention, it’ll all make sense. So if you’re the type who likes to pay close attention and trust a story to make sense by the end, THE SECRET VILLAGE will be your type of thriller. If not, you’ll most likely shut this one off in frustration midway through.

Download this film on Youtube here!


Directed by Jason Hawkins
Written by Jason Hawkins
Starring Jason Hawkins, Natasha Timpani, Bob Olin, Dara Davey, Areana Cirina, Alicia Rose, Mayan Lewis
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

The one thing I look for the most in films these days after seeing way too many so far in my somewhat young life is that something that I haven’t seen before. It can be a billion dollar budgeter or one hundred dollar one, and it doesn’t matter as long as the film is able to take me to a place that I’ve never been before and experience things I haven’t experienced before. While 15: INSIDE THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER is not a film for everyone, it definitely dares to dive into darkness few filmmakers in horror dare even dip their pinky toe into.

Jason Hawkins (who also wrote and directed the film) plays Edward Payne, a serial killer who reaches out to Brenda (Natasha Timpani), a journalism student eager for a story, and Jack (Bob Olin), a cameraman eager for a paycheck, to have them film his day to day activities which include tooling around his acres of land, fixing his lawnmower, and stalking and killing young women. At first, Brenda and Jack think Edward is just an eccentric and maybe a little crazy, but no killer; but as their time together passes, it’s evident that Edward isn’t lying and Brenda and Jack have ventured too far into his den to get out unscathed.

This is a found footage flick that passes itself off as a film in progress. This particular subgenre of found footage is a subtle derivation from most found footagers, which only happen to capture the footage that is found. Films like this one, though, know that there is a threat (or in this case are hired to film a serial killer, though they don’t believe it) and that’s the reason why the film is being made. This kind of film shares similarities to LONG PIGS (reviewed way back in the first days of AICN HORROR here), BEHIND THE MASK, and MAN BITES DOG as a camera crew is hired to follow the life of a man who takes others lives without conscience and speaks more to society’s fascination with violence and more specifically the media’s obsession with the subject, as they would throw aside all common sense and respect for human life and law in order to get a good story.

15: INSIDE THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER is not a comfortable film to watch. The horrors the film shows are not the sensationalized versions in mainstream horror but the stuff that makes you feel awful after watching. There are times when I think that I’ve seen so much horror that I’ve desensitized myself, but then comes along a film like 15 to remind me that I’m human and there are awful things in this world that still get under my skin.

Because of that last sentence, 15 is an amazingly effective slice of horror. It will disgust you. It will shock you. It will make you want to stop the movie. And in my book, anything that makes you feel that way is pure horror. Hawkins is so good as Edward the serial killer his mood swings and subtle peculiarities sent my serial killer radar into overdrive the first time he’s on camera. His performance is amazing as a man who barely keeps the monster inside. Timpani and Olin also are fantastically believable as they go through horrendous terrors in this film and act like they are not acting throughout. Across the board, 15: INSIDE THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER is a film that will definitely leave a scar after watching. Instead of staying away from this one because it’s found footage you should ask yourself if you’re ready to see horrors reminiscent of the final scenes of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in terms of inhumanities inflicted upon the innocent. It’s not for the squeamish, but those of you who like your horror set to extreme are going to want to venture into 15.

Available now on Video on Demand, iTunes, and digital download here!


Directed by Tony Trov and Johnny Zito
Written by Tony Trov and Johnny Zito
Starring Falon Joslyn, Beverly Rivera, Nicole Cinaglia, Nikki Bell, Julie Chen, Ron Jeremy, Schooly D
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I was surprised, and I think you will be too, at ALPHA GIRLS, a new take on an old concept of mixing the sisterhood of sororities with the sisterhood of the occult. While the film starts out with some gratuitous T&A, the opening is deceptive as what follows is a decently acted and pretty effective low-budget take on THE CRAFT set in a college sorority rather than high school.

Morgan (the gorgeous Falon Joslyn) transfers to a new college and attempts to join the Alphas sorority as she is a legacy pledge, but while the grueling ordeal of pledge week is tough on Morgan and her sister pledges, dark forces begin to rear their ugly heads. One of the other pledges, Cassidy (played by the equally beautiful Beverly Rivera), is a descendant of gypsies and calls evil spirits to enact revenge on the sadistic sorority for treating them so awfully. But once the revenge is acted out, Morgan, Cassidy and the other pledges must deal with the curse that goes along with it.

This is your basic story of four outsider girls who dabble in witchcraft and the occult in order to attain popularity, power, wealth, and good grades. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s something that’s touched upon in films like THE CRAFT, and even other horror outings such as GINGER SNAPS (substituting witchcraft for wolves) and HEATHERS (substituting witchcraft for serial killing). While ALPHA GIRLS follows a well trod formula, it does so well and gives a whole lotta bang for what looks to be a pretty low budget.

Still, the acting is pretty great as Joslyn and Rivera steal the show as the sometimes BFF/sometimes arch-nemesis fledgling witches. Both actresses have a presence that indicates that while their careers are just beginning in this business, they’ll be faces you’ll see again in bigger films soon. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, showing acting ranges that are way higher than the budget for SFX which can be somewhat hokey at times, especially during the demonic séance scenes. And speaking of surprising performances, not only does porn icon Ron Jeremy play a Catholic priest in this film, but he plays the whole thing straight and convincing rather than the nudge-poke-wink cameos we often see the guy appear in for other films.

The filmmakers behind ALPHA GIRLS shun the budgetary issues, and it seems like all involved wanted to make something special instead of the T&A that is suggested in the beginning. While the film lacks some oompf in the fx department, there are copious amounts of blood, and let us not forget the fantastic performances by Falon Joslyn and Beverly Rivera, two actresses I’d love to see more of.

New on DVD & Digital Download!


Directed by Richard Schenkman
Written by Jesse Baget (story), Richard Schenkman, Eric D. Wilkinson (screenplay)
Starring Noell Coet, Ally Walker, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Richard Riehle, Erica Leerhsen, Charlie O'Connell, Stephanie Erb, Shannon Makhanian, Ian Bamberg & Adam C. Edwards as the Intruder
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

There’s something to be said about a film that goes the traditional path. While I spent a bit of the second half of MISCHIEF NIGHT looking for some type of twist, I soon realized I was missing a fun little stalker film by thinking too much about it.

MISCHIEF NIGHT is about a young girl named Emily (Noelle Coet) who was somatically blinded as a child after a car accident which took her mother’s life. Her psychiatrist says there’s nothing physically wrong with her, but the guilt she feels about her mother’s death keeps her from seeing anything. When her father leaves to go on a date, Emily finds herself home alone on Mischief Night, and what begins with pranks like eggs on the windows and spray paint on the garage door ends with a creep in a yellow raincoat and mask stalking her in the shadows. It’s your typical babysitter horror story, with the twist being Emily’s blindness and a lot of the scares in this film happening when the killer is right there in the room with her and she can’t see them, but we can.

In terms of tense scenes, this film’s got a lot of them. Coet is a likable actress, which immediately makes you want her to stay out of trouble, and writer/director Richard Schenkman puts her in a lot of those situations. There are quite a few red herrings lobbed around during this story, which had me guessing who was under the mask, and you might find yourself in the same place I was during most of this film--distracted from the more tension-filled scenes by guessing who’s hiding under the mask--but this film doesn’t seem to be about all of that. Sure, I was looking for a reveal that tied more into Emily’s blindness, but the more random factors of the attack do add a bit to the deadliness of it all.

The acting here is solid, especially from Coet, who is an easy character to root for showing a spunky charm despite her disability. There are a couple of moments in the story that left me scratching my head. People pop back and forth in and out of the narrative, and while Emily is never really alone, it’s always her and someone else and never two people at once. There’s another subplot that never really gets addressed as Emily really wants to go snow skiing in Colorado despite her blindness that had me scratching my head. Call me crazy, but a blind person skiing sounds like a pretty bad idea.

Despite that head-scratcher, MISCHIEF NIGHT is a fun Halloween holiday stalker tale with some definite scenes of tension as the creep in the mask lurks in the shadows unseen by Emily. The film ends rather abruptly, and the reveal of who the killer is proves to be somewhat of a letdown, but the scares are solid throughout. MISCHIEF NIGHT does the stalker film justice by being old-school enough to know what to expect, yet it still does the job of scaring anyway.

New this week on DVD from Artsploitation Films!

TOAD ROAD (2012)

Directed by Jason Banker
Written by Jason Banker
Starring Sara Anne Jones, James Davidson, Whitleigh Higuera, Jamie Siebold, Andy Martin, Damon Johansen, Jim Driscoll, Scott Rader, Donnie Simmons
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Before starting out with this review, I must admit a bias on my part. Much like last year’s hipster-laden surreal grab bag BELLFLOWER, TOAD ROAD is a film which focuses on younger teens and twenty-somethings that seemingly have little do to other than get fucked up on drugs, spend daddy’s money, and pontificate while looking off into the sunset about how deep life is. To be completely honest, people like that annoy the shit out of me. Call me the old man on the porch screaming at those pesky kids on my well-coiffed lawn, but if in doing so it distances me from the type of person this film focuses on, I will gladly pull my black socks up as high as they can be, slip on my house slippers and boxer shorts and do so.

Admitting my bias towards the very culture TOAD ROAD depicts, I can honestly say that despite that bias, TOAD ROAD is an interesting snippet of the dangers of drug use and how tempting it can be toward the younger culture to lead them down a path of doom. This theme is literally examined through the eyes of James (James Davidson), who when not being fucked up beyond comprehension (the first moments of the film where we see him drunkenly wrestling with girls at a party, then on to a friend dragging him down a hallway to the bathroom—his pants around his ankles showing a most likely smelly ballsack and rod there of millions of viewers to see, so that he doesn’t piss/shit/both in the middle of the party) is watching his inexperienced new girlfriend Sara (Sara Ann Jones) develop from innocent waif to full on Timothy Leary drug experimentalist.

Having seen this road taken by more than one of my friends, the horror in seeing someone taking things just a step too far with drugs is one that hits close to home, so there was a level of connection I had watching James witness Sara become more engulfed in the drug culture. From walking her through her first mushroom freakout in the middle of a cave outside of town to trying to talk her our of visiting Toad Road, an urban legendary road which is sectioned off by seven gateways, one more disorienting and trippy than the next, you actually start feeling for James and realizing that despite his drunken douchebaggery, he is a genuinely nice guy looking out for his girlfriend.

The metaphor here is far from subtle, as Sara’s fascination with these progressing gateways mirrors her experimentation with increasingly more powerful drugs. Sara becomes fascinated with looking into the mirror, attesting that she is close to some kind of drug-addled breakthrough. It’s in this slow progression that Jason Banker’s undeniable talent as a filmmaker shines through. As things begin to get more dire and Sara convinces James to go with her down Toad Road, the film finally begins to get creepy. The fascination with drug culture which annoys the shit out of me slowly turns into a much more interesting avant-garde-esque BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Unfortunately, the creep comes a little too little and a little too late for me. It’s obvious Banker’s real interest in this film is the hard-partying drug culture, as he spends almost an entire hour showing us one idiotic drug binge after another with James, Sara, and their useless friends. Had the palpable creep of the legend of Toad Road been ventured down sooner, I think this would have been a much more effective film. In the end, though, TOAD ROAD spends a little too much time lingering around the toilet bowl rather than actually trying to scare you, and much less time on even the loosest semblance of a story. Sure some might say that Banker shows a lot of restraint and patience in immersing the viewer in this culture, but it is a culture so unappealing that the immersion shows the filmmaker's cards in where his interests really lie and in doing so misses an opportunity to embrace a truly harrowing urban legend story.

KIDS meets BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with a little too much KIDS and not enough BLAIR WITCH for my tastes: that’s TOAD ROAD in a nutshell. There’s real talent in James Banker’s directing, and while this unscripted film does cast an unblinking lens at a specific culture, it doesn’t hide the fact that the culture in frame is utterly uninteresting. Even some truly dire moments in the last fifteen minutes didn’t save this film for me, which spends too much time glorifying a culture which thinks it needs to be glorified too much anyway.

And finally…love you some Guillermo Del Toro? So do I! And apparently so do filmmakers Freddy Chávez Olmos & Shervin Shoghian, as they’ve used Del Toro’s stories of lucid dreaming as the template to cast a story about a boy who learns how to control his nightmares at night and overpower a monster causing them. For more info about this amazing short, check out their website and Facebook page! Enjoy SHHH!

SHHH from What is F? on Vimeo.

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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