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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we have experiments gone awry, voodoo, ghosts, doppelgangers, cannibals, bat creatures, a creepy skinny guy, and a terrifying cloud of evaporated water. On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season One Episodes 7-12 (1959)
Retro-review: Drive-In Collection - THE THIRSTY DEAD (1974)
Retro-review: THE FOG (1980)
SHADOW (2009)
PLUS ONE (2013)
Advance Review: SILENT RETREAT (2013)

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


Episodes 7-12
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Let’s go back to the beginning. I’ve had a chance to look at the last two seasons of THE TWILIGHT ZONE over the last few months. Now we’ll jaunt back to the first season to see where it all began. This was a season where Serling was honing his talent as a storyteller and the series was just beginning to show the signs of being one of the most influential horror/sci fi series of all time. Let’s proceed into THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season One…

Episode 1.7: The Lonely
Directed by Jack Smight
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Jack Warden, Jean Marsh, John Dehner, Ted Knight, James Turley

This episode is memorable mainly for the heart-breaking performance of Jack Warden as a man sentenced to life on an unpopulated asteroid as punishment for involuntary manslaughter. You really can sense Warden’s desperation, especially in scenes that reminded me of those last BREAKING BAD episodes when Walter White was secluded in the cabin. Here, Warden’s sadness when his jailers don’t have time to play a game of chess with him is palpable. The sci fi elements also remind me of the recent film HER, in which the lines between machine and human are blurred given the desperation of the person interacting with the machine. It’s funny that this episode brought up so many modern stories, but it’s just indicative of how powerful some of these TWILIGHT ZONE episodes were.

Episode 1.8: Time Enough At Last
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling, based on short story by Lynn Venable
Starring Burgess Meredith, Vaughn Taylor, Jacqueline DeWitt

Probably the most memorable episode of season one, this was the first time I sat down and really watched it with my full attention and realized how mean-spirited this episode really is. All Burgess Meredith’s character really wants to do is read, but he’s surrounded by assholes who try to stop him. Not sure what point Serling was trying to make with this episode, other than make it the ultimate tragedy for someone who is already downtrodden, but the final moments of this one are as sad as they come. Meredith is as always amazing; a little too nebbish at times, but still one of the most memorably tragic characters of the series.

Episode 1.9: Perchance To Dream
Directed by Robert Florey
Written by Charles Beaumont
Starring Richard Conte, John Larch, Suzanne Lloyd

This odd little number delves into some of the same themes that A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET deals with twenty-some years later, in that a man tries to stay awake in fear that if he falls asleep he will die in his dreams. The nightmarish and surreal imagery is especially effective here, but Richard Conte’s deadpan delivery almost kills it. I love John Larch in this episode as an irreverent psychologist trying to get to the bottom of Conte’s sleep disorder, but it’s the imagery of looming buildings, creepy cat ladies, and lurking shadows in a bizarre carnival that make this one a goody.

Episode 1.10: Judgment Night
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Nehemiah Persoff, Hugh Sanders, Ben Wright, Deidre Hall, James Franciscus

Oftentimes, Serling used THE TWILIGHT ZONE as a platform to comment on his thoughts about war. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s like this episode, which is saved by the superbly creepy acting by the Peter Lorre-esque Nehemiah Persoff as a man who wakes up on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, not knowing how he got onto the boat but plagued with the sinking feeling that the boat is in danger. As he slowly remembers who he is and what he does, it becomes fairly obvious what’s going to happen. Though this story will most likely be found to be about as predictable as they come to those who are looking for that TZ twist at the end, I suppose it was shocking to those experiencing the series for the first time. Still, Persoff is great here as the jittery and paranoid passenger on a doomed vessel.

Episode 1.11: And When The Sky Was Opened
Directed by Douglas Heyes
Written by Rod Serling, based on a short story by Richard Matheson
Starring Rod Taylor, James Hutton, Charles Aidman, Maxine Cooper, Paul Bryar, Gloria Pall

Three astronauts go up in a space shuttle and only two come back. Then only one. And then none. This is a fantastic little fable about conspiracy, mystery, and the unknown as Rod Taylor shows a lot of range here, going from joking flyboy to paranoid hysteric in a short but logical descent into madness as the newspaper headlines he keeps seeing change from three survivors to none. It’s enough to drive anyone bonkers. Maybe I’m reading into this too much as I tend to do, but maybe Serling was trying to make a point about how quickly we forget our heroes, as these astronauts not only fade from the headlines in this story but also from existence. Because of Rod Taylor’s performance, though, the underpinnings involved become somewhat unimportant since this is essentially a fantastic endeavor into suspense and paranoia.

Episode 1.12: What You Need
Directed by Alvin Ganzer
Written by Rod Serling, based on a short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore
Starring Ernest Truex, Steve Cochran, Arline Sax, Read Morgan

Who knew the Stones were TWILIGHT ZONE fans? Although I don’t know the secret origin of one of the Rolling Stones’ most famous songs “You Can’t Always Get What You Want?”, it sure seems like the song could have been the soundtrack to this episode about an angry man named Renard (Steve Cochran) who meets Pedot a peculiar old man (Ernest Truex) who seems to know exactly what everyone needs just at the right time that they need it. Realizing that the old man must have some kind of precognitive powers, Renard bullies Pedot into continuing to use his power to get him what he needs. It’s a simple story, but an effective one, made so by strong performances from both Cochran and Truex. Ending more like a fable with a moral than a true TZ twist, this is a fun one that had me humming that famous Stones tune throughout. There are some contrivances for sure in this episode and the ending is so predictable, you may think you yourself may be a precog.

Previous TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews!
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6
Season 4: Episodes 4.1-4.5, 4.5-4.8, 4.9-4.13, & 4.14-4.18
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: Available on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome!


Directed by Terry Becker
Written by Terry Becker & Lou Whitehill (story), Charles Dennis (screenplay)
Starring Jennifer Billingsley, John Considine, Judith McConnell, Tani Guthrie, Fredricka Meyers, Chiqui da Rosa, Elena Sampson, Mary Walters, Rod Navarro, Vic Diaz
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

The pairing of THE THIRSTY DEAD and BLOOD THIRST (which I reviewed last week) seems like a no-brainer. Both were American films made in Manila, both tell a story of a blood cult that makes a living kidnapping young women and draining them of their vital juices, and both feature a supporting performance by Vic Diaz as a police chief. But apart from those attributes, the two films bunched together in this Drive In Double Feature from Vinegar Syndrome are pretty different from one another.

THE THIRSTY DEAD begins with a young nightclub dancer being abducted after a performance by hooded weirdoes, followed by another woman being abducted by the same monks after a date. After both are loaded into a canoe in the sewers of Manila, they find themselves rowing through a jungle river leading to a mountain temple filled with youthful men and women wearing pastel robes who are looking for a prophesized woman who will lead them to immortality.

What I found to be most fascinating with THE THIRSTY DEAD was how nonchalant the women are in this film after being abducted by this creepy cult. Sure they are a bit unnerved, but one of them seems to be getting off on the chance to visit exotic lands while the rest walk around as if they’re high the whole time. This is the type of film where women really don’t have much of a backbone, save for the spunky blonde who is prophesized to be the savior, of course. All I’m saying is that this isn’t a film that women’s libbers will be supporting any time soon.

That said, you can’t deny that this is one weird-ass, trippy ballz film. The cult worships a head in a glass of red liquid which opens its eyes and speaks single word sentences. The costumes the cultists wear are something out of a Teletubbies cartoon with their leader (John Considine, who looks like a cross between Hugh Laurie and Sam Neill) wearing a collar that looks more like a dog head-cone cut in half. This guy would be easy to sneak up on, given that the collar gives him no peripheral vision what-so-nevah! The old age makeup and pointy nails seem to be the only kind of effects at play here, but the story moves quickly at a pace that makes the whole thing unpredictable.

There is just all kinds of kooky fun to be had in this pretty inane little trip to an exotic land. Both of the films grouped together in this double feature release are fun little obscuriosities that most likely haven’t been seen by anyone in years. This is a fun release, and here’s hoping Vinegar Syndrome will dust off some more drive-in hits in the future.

Retro-review: Available on Bluray from The Shout Factory!

THE FOG (1980)

Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

One of John Carpenter’s goofier outings, THE FOG isn’t without its merits. The filmic follow-up to HALLOWEEN, THE FOG was Carpenter’s first shot at fame with a bit of a budget to work with and paved the way for him to give us some of his better efforts from the eighties like PRINCE OF DARKNESS, CHRISTINE, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and of course, THE THING.

The story follows Antonio Bay, a small New England town with a dark secret buried in the walls of the local church. As the 100th anniversary of the settlement of the town approaches, weird things begin happening. A plank of a ship washes ashore from a crashed vessel, a fishing boat goes missing, and a thick, glowing fog is moving in from the ocean against the wind. When a journal is found in a caved in wall of a church, the sordid story of a boat full of lepers looking for shelter was intentionally crashed onto the rocks by the locals of Antonio Bay and the gold aboard was used to build the town to what it was today. But everyone knows, you can’t get in between of a sea leper and his gold…well, everyone but the people of Antonio Bay. Now the leprous and water-logged sea ghosts are back for their gold and will fishhook anyone who gets in their way. Of course, since this is a Carpenter film, the big finale involves a standoff between a group of people trapped in a building and a terrible force trying to break in and destroy them.

The one thing that is a standout here is the cast Carpenter and his longtime co-writer/producer Debra Hill amassed for this film. Not only do we see Carpenter mainstays like Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis, and George 'Buck' Flower, but THE FOG also has HALLOWEEN heroine Jamie Lee Curtis as a hitchhiker who ends up sticking around for the rest of the film, her mother PSYCHO-actress Janet Leigh as a community worker setting up the centennial of the town, and the incomparable Adrienne Barbeau as a radio DJ who is the voice of the town broadcasting from a lighthouse in the bay. Sharp eyes will also catch Rob Bottin (effects God from THE THING, who also provided the much more subdued effects in this film) and John Carpenter himself in cameo parts. That’s a pretty stellar cast and reason enough to seek this film out to see all of these talented folks bumping into each other.

The film also opens with John Houseman playing a grandfather telling a group of children the campfire tale of the pirates in order to scare them. This was a really fun way of introducing the tale the whole story is based upon and a fun scene seeing Houseman in a role that is a bit out of character for the dignified actor.

That said, much like M. Night Shyamalan’s stinker THE HAPPENING which had a terrified population running away from the wind, THE FOG is a movie about people running away from fog. Sure there are spike wielding pirate leper ghosts in the fog taking form in silhouette, but there are ridiculous lines in this film like “If you see the fog coming your way, turn around and run in the other direction!” to counter those scares. Shot after shot of creeping dry ice and fog machine product set to Carpenter’s trademark synth soundtrack get pretty tedious after the umpteenth viewing and while the shadowed pirate leper ghosts are kind of creepy, aside from the reading from the journal by a priest (Hal Holbrook) early on, they have no personality and don’t really exude the rage these leper pirate ghosts should have. That is, until the very last shot of the film. Because it’s really hard to get a shadow to emote, it’s difficult to be afraid of theses slow moving specters with glowing eyes.

There are some scenes in this film that are face-palmingly inane. Barbeau’s character gets hysterical on air when she hears the fog is on a collision course with her home where her son is at. But when Adkins and Jamie Lee rescue him, she is relieved without really having any way of finding out if he’s ok or not. I guess her motherly intuition kicked in and she just “felt” he was ok. I also couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the Adkins/Jamie Lee relationship. It seems to be required in Tom Adkins’ contract that he must sleep with the young lead shortly after meeting them in every Carpenter film he appears in. Here he nails hitchhiker Jamie Lee Curtis the very night he picks her up. I guess that was a different era, but one would think the true leper would be Adkins who apparently has the promiscuous power over the ladies. And who can blame him, he is awesome.

But despite the hokey story, Carpenter does pull off some amazing effects shots and creative imagery that make the film iconic. The black shadowed hands crashing through the colorful church windows struck me as oddly beautiful and it’s always been the thing I think about when this movie comes up. It’s also safe to say that fog wrangling is probably very difficult and the way the effects guys were able to make the fog creep around corners, over mountains, and across streets is something to be admired. While Bottin was due to marvel us in THE THING shortly after this film was released, there’s really nothing in terms of gore effects that indicate as such. The way the pirate ghost lepers are silhouetted blocks out any real definition of the makeup save for one scene where Barbeau kicks one in the face and we see some kind of worms squiggling around on one’s cheek.

This new BluRay release contains quite a few fun special features including two making of featurettes, one interview with DP Dean Cundey and one with Jamie Lee Curtis. There are also storyboards for the film, a look at the film locations that had a personality of their own in this story, and the usual outtakes, sfx tests, and trailers. There are also a pair of commentary tracks, one from Carpenter and Hill and the other with Adkins, Barbeau, and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace. All in all, it’s a great package for the Carpenter enthusiast. Released a couple of months ago, this is a solid release from The Shout Factory and the film has never looked better in this BluRay format.

Available now on Netflix!

SHADOW (2009)

Directed by Federico Zampaglione
Written by Federico Zampaglione, Domenico Zampaglione, Giacomo Gensini
Starring Jake Muxworthy, Karina Testa, Nuot Arquint, Chris Coppola, Ottaviano Blitch
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I live to please my readers, and when Talkbacker sawyersolo brought up SHADOW in last week’s talkbacks, the description and the TBer’s enthusiasm about the film made me want to check it out. I try my best to see everything and anything in terms of horror, but I’m one man and this one slipped through the cracks when it was released a while back, so I was happy to take a look at it and give my two cents. Here goes…


SHADOW did in fact turn out to be a solid little surprise. While I agree with sawyersolo that the ending is very derivative of films like JACOB’S LADDER, I can’t give the film much shit for it as JACOB’S LADDER was derivative of AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE and CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Still, despite all of this derivation, if the last seconds are the only thing worth talking about, it isn’t much of a movie. And the ending itself, while familiar, approaches things in a very different manner that felt pretty original if you ask me.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story is about an Iraqui war vet named David (Jake Muxworthy) who travels to Europe to ride his dirt bike on a challenging trail ominously called the Shadow. The film opens with David pedaling his way through rough terrain and stopping into a local pub where he runs into a beautiful rider named Angeline (the lovely Karina Testa) and two asshole hunters named Fred and Buck (Ottaviano Blitch & Chris Coppola). It’s nice to see that America doesn’t have the market cornered on rednecks as the two assholes bully their way to Angeline’s table until they are stopped by the noble David. Later when David and Angeline foil the hunters shot at a prize buck, they are chased by Fred and Buck in a pretty exciting chase scene through the rough terrain. Cornering the bikers in a foggy and spooky area of the forest, the group become the captives of a mysterious pale man called Mortis (Nuot Arquint) who desperately needs a sandwich. Things get much darker from here on out for our weary travelers.

What works here is just about everything. The acting is really good on all points with the assholes being particularly despicable, yet you end up feeling for them once they have been captured by the man-monster that is Mortis. David and Angeline also are pretty good here as though this is a rushed romance, the two are likable enough to root for. The standout of the cast is definitely Nuot Arquint as Mortis who is silent but as creepy as they come with his lanky physique, blank features, and exquisitely precise and peculiar way he moves around his chamber of horrors.

Though things threaten to devolve into HOSTEL torture porn territory, it never gets so gratuitous and that’s mainly because of how scary Mortis is in this film. This truly is a chamber of horrors and though it might have flirted with torture porn aspects, writer/director Federico Zampaglione focuses more so on the chase, capture, and escape action that basically makes up most of the film than de Sade trappings. This is a fast paced yarn and though I’ve seen chase scenes a million times over, the uniquely rugged terrain and the fact that it’s an SUV vs. dirt bike race, it makes it more exciting than the norm.

Thanks, sawyersolo, for bringing SHADOW to my attention as I might have overlooked it had you not done so. Currently available on Netflix Instant, SHADOW is definitely a film made with a skilled sense of suspense, terror, and thrill with a villain you’ll be seeing in your nightmares soon after watching.

New this week on Video On Demand from Screen Media Films!


Directed by Michael Oblowitz
Written by Theodore Gildred III, Michael Oblowitz
Starring Taylor Cole, Ryan Donowho, Toby Hemingway, Rumer Willis, Laura Wiggins, Holt McCallany, Dominic Purcell, Billy Zane
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Four extremely good-looking model types try to convince us that they are in fact, normal human beings capable of being scared in THE GANZFELD HAUNTING, an attempt to mix psychic phenomena with science in an experiment which goes horribly wrong.

The film is capably made, filled with some really nice and jarring cuts juxtaposed with some creepy imagery to give the viewer an overall sense of unease. The experiment in question involves isolating a person in a room (test subject A) and having another person stand in another room looking at a card (test subject B). Test subject A is supposed to clear their mind and try to tap into the mind of the other person, guessing what is on the card. It’s a relatively harmless experiment. Peter Venkman and Egon seemed to be doing a version of it to college students using electroshock the first time we see them in GHOSTBUSTERS. But whenever you throw four ridiculously good-looking twenty-something grad students in an isolated area, expect copious amounts of drugs, alcohol, and sex, which kind of throws the experiment into a tailspin when the initial experiment becomes too intense for any of them to handle.

I understand when casting these films it is important to fill the film with good-looking characters. It’s the Hollywood way, and there’s no real way around it, but what made the old films scary was not just the monsters and the stories putting people in peril. It was the fact that the audience could relate to the people in the films. Now, I’m no cover model, but I’m not brown-bag worthy either. Still, I have trouble relating to actors who look like they stepped out of a catalog, and when they are in peril, in all hoesty, I really don’t give a shit what happens to them. In fact, I sometimes root for their deaths because they are just not human to me. Even the most relatable character in the film, THE GLADES’ Taylor Cole who plays the nerdy one who tries to adhere to the guidelines of the class assignment and complete the experiment to the end, is spray-tanned and heavily make-upped with abs you could bounce a quarter off of. No attempt was made to make these people look like actual students. Everyone is done up like they are heading out for Oscar Night.

I should be used to this. It’s not like it’s a new thing in cinema, but this film, with both females prancing around in their bras and panties for the entire time, goes to the point of ridiculousness in terms of unattainable, unidentifiable, unstudent-like characters. Because these actresses are made up to the nines and the actors look like they walked off a boy band video, I found this film completely unrelatable. I don’t understand why filmmakers don't get that if you want normal people to relate to the people in the film, which ultimately makes the horrors of the film more effective, then fill the film with normal-looking people.

In regards to the star names you see in the cast, don’t look too hard for them here. Billy Zane gets a few minutes as an evil daddy from the past, while PRISON BREAK’s Dominic Purcell and LIGHT’S OUT’s Holt McCallany show up for two minutes as sweaty cops at the end. So if you’re looking for meaty roles here, you’ll come back wanting.

Like I said, this is a decently made film. The story involves some deeply twisted horrors from the past and how they are unearthed by this experiment. Mixed with copious amounts of drugs, the four go to a realm that is both scary and surreal. Capably edited with choppy but gory imagery, there are some effective moments--that is, only if you can look past the model types speaking the lines. If you can do that, you might have a decent time with THE GANZFELD HAUNTING. I just couldn’t relate to this ridiculous, extended Victoria’s Secret commercial enough to give a fig.

New this week on DVD!


Directed by Walter Boholst
Written by Walter Boholst
Starring Danny Trejo, Ryan Caltagirone, Kerry Knuppe, David Thomas Jenkins, Treva Etienne, Tomas Boykin, Nancy La Scala, Abe Spigner, Catherine Kim, Marie-Fransoise Theodore, Sloane Morgan Siegel, Gabe Eggerling, Darius Devontaye Green
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Back in the day, there used to be a blurb put on the cover of comic books when the story inside didn’t have anything to do with what’s going on in the image on the cover itself. The blurb would literally read, “The scene on this cover doesn’t necessarily appear in this story!” Having seen the pretty neat-o cover art for VOODOO POSSESSION on the left there, I kind of feel like going around with a sharpie and writing that blurb on each and every copy of the DVD. The cover would suggest that this is a story with zombies in it and paired with the voodoo in the title, I actually thought that the film was going to be…you know, about voodoo zombies. Call me kooky for believing that, but that’s what the cover art indicates. And that would have been cool since with all of the zombie films out there, the voodoo type of zombie is one we haven’t seen much of lately in films and in a market that is bogged down with zombie films, I was looking forward to something different.

Well, imagine my surprise when I ended up watching VOODOO POSSESSION and seeing nary a zombie; instead we get a pretty lame version of SERPENT & THE RAINBOW with a fraction of the budget and even less talent in the story department. The film is about a pair of brothers with beaucoup problems. When one of the brothers goes missing in Haiti, the other brother gathers a group of friends to go find him. The trail leads to an insane asylum, and basically the entire film takes place in this uninspired locale instead of exploring the Haitian culture. As the group gets closer and closer to finding the brother, they are sucked into a voodoo world where they experience their worst waking nightmares.

I understand limited budgets can really cut into a film, and the fact that everything seems to have been filmed in one single warehouse is an economical way to go about things, but it really feels like this film was made by decorating the same room differently over and over and over--but just not enough to fool anyone. The problem is that had the story been intriguing enough, I would have been more forgiving, but the story itself plods through one sappy soap opera cliché after another. The one brother sleeps with his brother’s wife. Daddy beat one brother more than the other. The schmaltz is on high throughout this entire film, skidding any excitement or scares to a halt in order for each of the less-than-capable actors to audition for an Oscar.

I will say that there is a creepy voodoo crazy with his face painted into a tribal skeleton face whose appearance is somewhat scary at times. But I attribute those scares to coulrophobia (fear of clowns) as the painted face looks rather clown-like. Adding insult to injury to the deceitful nature of the cover art, Danny Trejo’s name appears prominently as the star when in actuality he appears only for about five to ten minutes of the film as the mental institution manager who also knows a bit about voodoo and tells us about it in an expository fashion. The second cover art of the film even shows Trejo with a snake around him making him look pretty badass. Again…not in this movie.

Maybe I’m a bit hard on this film, but honestly, I don’t like being lied to. For the deceptive nature of the cover, the overstatement of Trejo’s role, and just the misleading notion that this is even a horror movie, this film isn’t what it is trying to fool us into believing. At best, it’s a film about two brothers with a ton of baggage with the occasional creepy clown houngan dancing around from time to time. Skip this crap movie, and if you want your Trejo fix, go for MACHETE KILLS.

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


Directed by Scott Rutheford & Ben Peyser
Written by Scott Rutheford & Ben Peyser
Starring Carlos Santos, J.R. Villarreal, Fernanda Romero, Tony Cavalero, Meghan Falcone , James Babson, Scott MacAuthor & Craig Stott
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I reviewed this one last year when it was touring the festival circuit, and I told you all I’d let you know when it was available for everyone. Well, huzzah! That day has come. Those of you who felt bummed at the latest PARANORMAL ACTIVITY geared toward a Hispanic audience might want to set your sights on this film. Though it might not be very scary, it will make you laugh your ass off.

GHOST TEAM ONE was one of the most entertaining horror films I’ve seen in quite a while. Mixing horror and comedy is an extremely difficult thing, taking either a gratuitous or subtle hand to pull off. Spoofs like SCARY MOVIE and A HAUNTED HOUSE make fun of a genre they don’t seem to fully understand or even like, filling the runtime with one broad, obvious joke after another. Films spoofing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in particular are even more painful to sit through because all of the jokes seem to have been told already. Unlike all of that, GHOST TEAM ONE does something that none of the spoofs do: inject real characters and, most importantly, make them funny in their own right, not just making fun of the genre.

As we meet Sergio(J.R. Villarreal) and Brad (Carlos Santos) they are hosting a wild party. The more outspoken Brad is more than willing to embarrass the more reserved Sergio, who notices a beautiful party-goer named Fernanda (Fernanda Romero). When a drunk Sergio runs into a ghost at the end of the night, the footage from the camera he pasted to his head during the party becomes the first footage captured of a ghost that seems to be haunting their apartment. Soon, the three form Ghost Team One, mainly because both Sergio and Brad want to sleep with Fernanda, who is fascinated by the ghost. The first person POV film becomes a comedy of errors as Brad and Sergio try to one up each other in pursuit to get Fernanada out of her pants. Oh, and maybe encountering a ghost along the way, too.

The thing that works the best in this film is that both Sergio and Brad are such likable characters. They are the best of friends, but are more than willing to cock-block one another in their desire to woo Fernanada. It’s this constant competition between the two of these friends that makes this film so enjoyable from beginning to end. Though the humor is often crude and raucous, it also seems to have a lot of depth as the characters play everything straight, as if the insane occurrences aren’t so insane and are actually never as important as the libido of these two would-be ghost hunters.

GHOST TEAM ONE has a lot of heart, as both of its main players have genuine moments of heart in this film despite the fact that they are two complete idiots. The three dimensionality of these characters make you root for them despite their moronic behavior.

The film gets a bit too goofy in the final act, but by the time that comes around, I was already invested in these overly likable characters to care. Seeing Sergio and Brad bounce off and into one another was what made this film so much fun for me. Though the found footage genre seems to be eating its own tail at the moment, GHOST TEAM ONE proves that there’s still life in the old girl yet. Genuinely funny and smarter than most horror comedies combined, you’re going to laugh a lot at GHOST TEAM ONE. It’s a film that will most definitely show up in my Best Horror Film of the Year list next year, as it masterfully comments on an overused subgenre while never failing to entertain and being genuinely hilarious to boot.

New this week on DVD from IFC Midnight!

PLUS ONE (2014)

aka +1
Directed by Dennis Iliadis
Written by Bill Gullo (screenplay), Dennis Iliadis (story)
Starring Rhys Wakefield, Logan Miller, Ashley Hinshaw, Natalie Hall, Rohan Kymal, dam David Thompson, Ronald Ogden, Bernard D. Jones, Brad Mills, April Billingsley, Peter Luis Zimmerman, Josh Warren, Chelsea Hayes, Joey Nappo, Marla Malcolm
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though time travel stories are probably one of my least favorite sub-genres, I am all for new ideas and PLUS ONE is a film full of new and fun ideas. I guess what it takes for a good time travel film is a firm handle on the entire situation of what’s going on. If a storyteller is able to look at the layout with all of the various moving pieces of a time travel story and is able to maintain a constant thread throughout without losing the audience, that’s going to be a successful film. The problem is, keeping watch over this ever-changing, ever-evolving chessboard is about as difficult as it comes in terms of writing a story.

Director Dennis Iliadis, who directed the remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, seems to be one of those storytellers as he shows some deft plotting skill in his latest film PLUS ONE. For the entire duration of the film, I was waiting for things to skid off the rails and have the story betray its own rules in accordance with the time travel trickery that’s going on. But though I looked for it shrewdly, I couldn’t really find a single misstep as he tells a story of a party that echoes back on itself twenty minutes into the past when a mysterious comet crashes near the happenings. As time passes, the two realities begin to converge and the closer they get to one another, the more pertinent the following question intensifies; “What happens when two realities try to occupy the same space?” The answer is fun and full of surprises.

The constants in this film are four fascinating characters, all of whom are privy that their past doppelgangers are close to their heels. Rhys Wakefield plays David, a slacker whose foot seems to take permanent residence in his mouth, especially around his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw), who catches him kissing another girl he mistook for Jill. David’s snarky friend Teddy (Logan Miller) tries to tell David that he should see this as a blessing and he should take advantage of his newfound bachelorhood to live life day by day as he does, but David won’t let up and as everyone descends on the Party of the Century bringing those who went off to college together again with those who stayed in town, David wants to confront Jill and convince her that they were meant together.

Sound like the million other teen party comedy movies like CAN’T HARDLY WAIT and their ilk? Yes, it’s exactly like those films, and that’s what makes PLUS ONE all the more interesting: it is a successful teen party movie even before things get all sci fi. There are the obligatory scenes of douchebaggery and binge drinking. Lots of dancing and moments that will either scar or cause smiles for lifetimes ahead. This is definitely a party worth remembering, and Iliadis does a great job of making it so, interspersing little moments that you know will be touchstones when things double up on themselves like a girl puking or someone tossing ice on someone or someone passed out on a sofa. And though these moments are obviously placed there for us to remember later in the film to happen again, it’s done pretty naturally.

When things do get fantastical and the double us-es show up, we already have a firm hold on the world established. It’s a world those who remember those party years will be familiar with, and relying on this familiarity, Iliadis goes into some interesting places by interspersing some subplots for us to cling to so as we don’t get lost in the time paradoxes.

One of my favorites was Teddy’s story as he is having the night of his life, hooking up with Melanie, his dream girl (played by the scrumptious Natalie Hall), who never used to pay any attention to him in high school. When the time paradox happens and Teddy and Natalie’s 20 minutes into the past them shows up to cock block his big night, past Teddy is pissed. When present and past collide, it immediately changes both groups and makes them a paranoid, panicking mob. This paranoia has both versions of the party paranoid that the other group are some kind of pod people replacements, when in fact they are just as misplaced in time as the other group. As the minutes between the two groups lessen, the eventual collision when both groups must take up the same space looms. The results are absolutely amazing.

I know my wordy explanation of the film will not do it justice, so put plainly, this film has great performances by the youthful cast, a fantastic concept that doesn’t lose steam, and a pitch black and brutal ending that basically gives the finger to both optimists who want a love story to end well and a pessimist who can’t stand those sappy endings so prominent in those John Hughes movies we ate up when we were kids. PLUS ONE is one of the best time-twisting trips you are bound to take in recent memory due to the director’s firm hold on the concept and how far he’s willing to let it unravel. It's just a fantastic little sci fi gem.

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Directed by Jim Mickle
Written by Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Starring Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Parks, Nick Damici
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Making a remake almost always sets a filmmaker up for a failure. Make the film too like the original and you’re bound to get flack for unoriginality and the unnecessariness of the existence of the sequel in the first place. Deviate too far from the original and you’re likely to lose the audience that is already built in who liked the original. While history has proven that Americanized remakes of foreign horror films are rarely as good as the original, every now and then there needs to be an exception to the rule. Jim Mickle’s WE ARE WHAT WE ARE—a tale told that may very well live in the same universe as Jorge Michel Grau’s film with the same title--is one of those exceptions.

I saw Grau’s WE ARE WHAT WE ARE a few years ago ( full review here) when it played at the Chicago International Film Festival, and was blown away at this operatic tale of how family tradition can make people stay together while at the same time tear them apart. While the film is simply about cannibalism, it also delved into the complexities of family relations and roles members in a family play with one another. When one of the parents dies, that family dynamic shifts, and Grau’s story describes how destructive that shift can be using cannibalism as a metaphor for how loss can shatter a family, yet also make it stronger.

While shuffling around the sexes of the family members, Mickle’s version does the same thing as the Parkers are devastated when their mother (played by EVIL DEAD 2’s Bobby Joe herself, Kassie Wesley DePaiva) dies, leaving the patriarch Frank Parker (played by AMERICAN PSYCHO and PRECIOUS actor Bill Sage) to take care of the family. Frank is devastated, shown weeping uncontrollably when he learns of his wife’s demise, and these moments play out like hammers to the heart. Seeing the innocent yet worn faces of the two daughters (older sister Iris played by THE MASTER’s Ambyr Childers and Rose the younger played by THE LAST EXORCISM 2 and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE’s Julia Garner) only deepens the blow, and for quite a long time in this film, you feel sympathetic for this family for their loss. The casting of this film is what is key here, as Sage is a battleship of a presence in this film as the fractured man trying to lead the family, and both Childers and especially Garner play roles that should definitely lead them to stardom. The weight of carrying on the family tradition is communicated not only in the heavy story of hardship we see playing out, but in the silent and sad-painted faces as the family copes with the loss and reshuffles in order to survive. Though dark deeds are suggested from the very beginning of this one, the teeth of cannibalism aren’t really shown for quite awhile. When it does happen, it’s a powerful revelation--one that could have come off as hokey in less capable hands and played by less capable actors. Thankfully, that’s not the case on either part.

What impressed me the most about WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is the leap in quality and patient restraint director Mickle takes in his handling of the film in comparison with his last effort, STAKELAND. While that film had a lot going for it, it was still squaloring around in the ooze of genre. Sure WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is about cannibals, but aside from that it’s a powerful drama about loss. The blood and gore that happens later in the film might put off some as they are pretty gratuitous, but the fact that Mickle was so patient with doling out the darkness and so deft at showing us the tragic lives of these characters proves that he is a director of immense talent.

While I prefer the operatic finish of the original film, the ending of Mickle’s version is just as satisfying. Leaving things somewhat open-ended, Mickle proved himself to have what it takes as a director who can make something as outlandish as cannibalism seem like something real rather than the over-the-top meat eaters we see in the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE films, and in turn makes the story all the more frightening. With fantastic smaller roles by the astounding Kelly McGillis as a nosy neighbor, Michael Parks as the town coroner, Wyatt Russell (Kurt and Goldie’s son all growed up and surprisingly good here) and STAKELAND’s Nick Damici as the sheriff, star-making performances by newcomers Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner and a thunderous performance by Bill Sage, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is the type of film that makes me proud to be a horror fan and one I show to others when I say that just because it is horror, that doesn’t mean it always has to be lowbrow. Just as powerful as the original, yet very much different, Mickle’s WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is a horror masterpiece that bites deep into the heart and swallows it.

Advance Review: Premiered at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 and currently touring festivals!


Directed by Tricia Lee
Written by Corey Brown & Tricia Lee
Starring Chelsea Jenish, Sofia Banzhaf, Robert Nolan, Jen Pogue, Matthew Romantini, Mark Buck, Jennie Foster, Katie Buitendyk, Jenna Jade Rain
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While sound is often essential in film, the absence of it also can speak volumes. Look at films like GRAVITY and THE SHINING as the silences in those films hit like sledge hammers more powerful than the shrillest of screams. SILENT RETREAT is a new film which incorporates silence pretty effectively, though I wished it would have been the case through the entire film.

Chelsea Jenish plays Janey, a troubled teen who is sent to a radical treatment center in the middle of nowhere for aggressive behavior. The treatment center lead by a man simply known as Doctor (Robert Nolan from the excellent horror short FAMILIAR – reviewed here) and his two sons. This center is a silent retreat, meaning there is no talking, no music, no computer, no movies at all. It’s supposed to be a place of reflection where the troubled girls are to look inward in order to become rehabilitated to return to their homes with a fresh, new, more appreciative, and more appropriate outlook on life. Right away, Janey begins to see weird things happening at the retreat. She loses time. Girls are escorted away in the middle of meditation to a locked shed. While most of the other girls at the camp want nothing to do with her, she does find companionship with another girl Alexis (played by the spunky Sofia Banzhaf) who has as much disregard for the rules as she does. Soon they plan on escaping the facility, but even if they do get out of the camp, there’s something in the woods that they could never dream of.

While I don’t want to reveal much, this is a film that turns out to be a whole lot of fun. The concept of silence is played with, but more so, it’s used as a metaphor for the degradation and silence women often face. In many ways, this seems like a women’s lib horror film about thirty years too late and while it may be a dusty concept, it still makes for fun fodder to play with. Still, I wish overcoming the silence wasn’t so prominent here and actual silence would have been used more effectively. The scenes where the girls are walking around in silence are somewhat powerful and I wanted more of them to accentuate not only that power, but also highlight the times when sounds do occur. While touched upon, I don’t know if this concept was reached to its full effect.

Though it’s bound to cause some groans, there is a THE VILLAGE vibe to this film as a community in the middle of nowhere is haunted by some kind of monstrosity in the woods. But while the big twist reveal in M. Night’s gave everyone the bends, this one has solid creature effects throughout and a very unique monster that reminded me somewhat of the creatures in another girl power film THE DESCENT. What is it with girls and pale cave creatures anyway?

The film is solidly acted all around with Robert Nolan proving to be one of those actors I can’t wait to see break big. He has a sharp yet callous tone reminiscent of Bob Gunton’s performance in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and is an actor that makes for a great villain. Newcomers Chelsea Jenish and Sofia Banzhaf are both likable and root for-able and seem filled with that scampy spirit needed for these teen rogues.

SILENT RETREAT turned out to be a tense little beast of a movie that has some powerfully terrifying moments interspersed with some even more impactful silences. While it left me wanting a bit more in terms of stylization of the silences, what I got was pretty rock solid.

And finally…here’s a pitch dark fantasy inspired by the works of Great Bard himself. Joshua A Siegel wrote and directed this cool little tale that has more to do with a cursed book than the actual Shakespeare tale, but still it’s a lot of fun and I hear they are trying to make a feature out of this, which I’d like to see. Sure the costumes are a bit cosplay, but nevertheless, this one gets muchos points for concept. Enjoy A MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARE: THE BETRAYAL!

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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