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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Look out this week for zombies, an abusive bachelor, an oldy killer, a manhunter, some vampires, rabies carriers, doppelgangers, ghosts, and Josh Brolin with a hammer! Just another week at AICN HORROR!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: BLOODLUST! (1961)
Retro-review: The Cinema of Jean Rollin – The Vampire Collection Box Set: THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (1971)
ALTER EGO (2002)
I AM A GHOST (2014)
OLDBOY (2014)
IN FEAR (2013)
And finally…Peter Czikrai’s “A…”

Retro-review: Film Chest Media Group!


Directed by Ralph Brooke
Written by Ralph Brooke
Starring Wilton Graff, June Kenney, Walter Brooke, Robert Reed, Eugene Persson, Joan Lora, Troy Patterson, Lilyan Chauvin, Bobby Hall, Bill Coontz
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

This take on Richard Connell’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is fun and harmless, more likely to strum heartstrings for those who love this old timey horror than make it race. Still, BLOODLUST! occasionally manages to bare a tooth or two.

A quartet of youths charter a boat to do some skeet shooting and fishing (at the same time!) while the gals seem to be along to watch in awe at their manliness. Among the kids are Mike Brady himself, Robert Reed, as Johnny the bo hunk alpha male of the bunch, with Pete (Eugene Persson) playing his nebbish buddy. The gals, June Kenney and Joan Lora, play Betty and Jean, one a bit of a quick thinker and the other screams really well. Not the most forward-thinking of films, they are given a scene or two to show some womanly know-how.

But mainly, BLOODLUST! is a brawny man’s film about a great white hunter, Balleau (played especially moustache-twirly by Wilton Graff), who hunts down those on his island with a crossbow, and his silent henchmen who all wear striped shirts to let us know they’re henchmen. Though he’s no Victor Bruno (who played this character expertly in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME), Graff does a decent job as the diabolical hunter who admits to having an overpowering bloodlust for the hunt.

There are some nicely played bits of the macabre here as the kids stumble upon a woman soaking in formaldehyde in one haunting scene, and Balleau shows off his human trophies in another. The final moments as Balleau meets his fate are rather gory as well for the time, and there is a pretty effective scene of a wandering madman who is roaming the island, having survived the last hunt.

BLOODLUST! isn’t going to cause too many starts or shocks, but it does have a decent premise (although it was lifted straight from a more popular story). I have a soft spot for theses human hunting party films, so any variation on the theme is watchable for me. Action macabre is an acquired taste, though, and while the performances aren’t fantastic, the film ends up being wholly capable just the same. While watchable, don’t expect too much from BLOODLUST! and it’ll entertain just fine.

Retro-review: New DVD/BluRay Collection from Kino Lorber/Redemption Films!
The Cinema of Jean Rollin – The Vampire Collection Box Set


Directed by Jean Rollin
Written by Monique Natan, Jean Rollin
Starring Sandra Julien, Jean-Marie Durand, Jacques Robiolles, Michel Delahaye, Marie-Pierre Castel, Kuelan Herce, Nicole Nancel, Dominique
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Kino Lorber/Redemption has put together the essential box set of four of Jean Rollin’s classic erotic vampire films. I’ve covered some of them before, but this box set warrants my return to the material. Over the past few weeks I’ve covered THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (reviewed here), REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (reviewed last week), and this week’s film THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES.

Though rather goofy in execution, of the three films I’ve seen so far in this collection of Jean Rollin vamp flicks, this one feels the most coherent. The film tells the tale of a newlywed couple who go to an old castle which is owned by the bride’s relatives. When they get there, they are met by the Countess Isolde and her two vampire mistresses. In the opening moments, a lead male vampire kills himself in the castle, stating that death in the form of the Countess is on its way. Once in the castle, the bride is swooned away from her husband by the sensuous vamps, keeping them from spending their first night together, which causes friction in the new marriage and a conflict as the bride is seduced further and further into the dark side by the Countess, two scantily clad vampiresses and a pair of former vampire hunters turned into self-loathing vampires who share the bride’s bloodline. Though there’s a lot of twisty and turny drama afoot, the narrative is pretty cohesive in that vampirism is looked at as sin tempting a bride from her wedding vows, with the oblivious husband getting the wrong end of the deal.

And while there are plenty of Rollin vamp tropes--naked women taking off robes and dropping them to the ground, naked women putting on robes, vampire women making out with human women, and of course, long, extended shots of the seaside--the story itself is pretty sound. Unlike his other films, Rollin chooses to stop midway through the film for an info dump and have the three lead vampires meet in secret and talk endlessly about what has occurred in the film thus far, adding a bit of extensive backstory to boot. Ironically, this story is one of the more followable ones in Rollin’s arsenal, and I may have needed that kind of catch-up in some of his more opaque vamp flicks like REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE or THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE which relied much on surreal images, trippy music, and vague storylines.

The film itself has an extremely catchy psychedelic score that truly catches the odd mood of the film. There are moments of whimsy involving the two flamboyant male vampires who used to be Crusaders before succumbing to the bite of the vampire and who now spend their time equally loving eternal life and loathing what they’ve become. Other characters are less realized, as the two other female vamps simply have to look good in see-through robes and stare blankly off screen. Countess Isolde has a bit of character, but she too conveys the charisma of a rock most of the time, choosing to shoot Blue Steel looks and rely on the fact that she’s barely clothed to make an impact. Isolde is somewhat haunting, but the lanky vamp is in definite need of a sandwich as she makes her first appearance slinking out of a grandfather clock she’s been using as a coffin.

THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES is full of bizarre scenes as a man is trapped in a library and pummeled with books, and the aforementioned vamp from the beginning stabs himself at the top of a tower in the castle and his bright red blood dramatically pours down the entire side of the castle. Color is used in all kinds of trippy ways as the bride begins her path down the road of vampirism, as reflected in the way the castle itself is lit and painted in bright colors the longer she is in it, while she herself becomes more death-like. It’s as if the colorful life force of this woman was sucked out and plastered all over the castle walls.

Still, the ending is quite tragic for the fated couple as the two vampires dine on the bride on a beach, forgetting that the sun is coming up, and her husband firing his gun futilely at them and screaming his lost love’s name. It’s a truly haunting way to wrap things up--both poetic, yet strangely easy to follow. In an intro, Rollin explains that this is the first film he made with a studio, which might explain the cohesive narrative a bit as he may have been forced to run this by folks rather than just put it out. As is, THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES is a memorable yet somewhat silly little fanger. Full of bright colors of gore and iconic imagery, it’s proof that Rollin really did have some chops when someone forced him to make some kind of sense.

Next week, I’ll cover the fourth and final film in this collection where Rollin shucks all pretense and goes for the obvious with THE NUDE VAMPIRE. BEWARE! Thar be boobies in this trailer! NSFW!

New next Tuesday (2/11/14) on DVD from Indican Pictures!


Directed by Jason Lockhart
Written by Jacqui Holland, Jason Lockhart
Starring Dawn Wells, John Tartaglia, Lee Meriwether, David Proval, Rip Taylor, Camille Saviola, Jacqui Holland, Kiersten Warren, Martin Kove, Jerry Douglas, Shawn Harrison, Takayo Fischer, Robert Towers, Muffy Bolding, Délé Ogundiran, Eloyd Ray, Jason Lockhart, Bruce Vilanch, John Mancini
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While it’s nice to see some elder actors on the screen again as it appears the only people allowed to play old people these days on the big screen are Judy Dench and Helen Mirren, SILENT BUTY DEADLY made me wish I were watching some of these actors in a better film.

The premise is pretty flimsy. Someone is killing the septuagenarians residing in a retirement community. We see in the first reel that it’s a person wearing a hoodie and a cat mask whose mode de murder is a pillow to bonk and smother his victims. We are then introduced to Rose (Dawn Wells--that’s right, Marianne from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND) who is actually the star of this film, playing a new resident at the old folks home getting used to the new setting and the inhabitants puttering around it. With an overzealous shift manager Dale (John Tartaglia) and an even more chipper activity coordinator, Kitty (played by the scrum-dilly-icious Jacqui Holland), the folks there feel more tortured than taken care of. But when bodies start to pile up, the elderly residents must take matters into their own wrinkled hands in order to save their ill-fitting skin.

SILENT BUT DEADLY plays everything extremely light-hearted here with vague references to sex and violence, but most of it is handled with kid gloves, making all of this feel more like the premise for a sitcom than a real film. Some of the gaffs are chuckle-worthy, such as the activity coordinators giving a show geared toward educating the elderly about sexually transmitted diseases using hand puppets, but for the most part, it’s tough seeing these older actors doing their best with the script they have.

Hardly a drop of blood is shed in SILENT BUT DEADLY, and everything feels very soft-edged, but still, it was fun to see Dawn Wells up and working as well as Lee Meriwether and Rip Taylor in some fun roles. I could have gone without the bit with Bruce Vilanch, though. Still, if you’re able to put up with grandpa going on about a story you’ve heard twelve times at Thanksgiving dinner for the umpteenth time, you’ll find some of the charm in SILENT BUT DEADLY as well. Too bad these actors can’t show up in a film with better production and script, though.

New this week on DVD from Brain Damage Films!


Directed by Evan Marlowe
Written by Kerry Finlayson
Starring Kerry Finlayson, Don Donnelley, Christy Lee Hughes, Helen Soraya, Samantha Michelle, Emrhys Cooper, John Wuchte, Myles Cranford, Kaden Graves, J.P. Giuliotti, Danielle Reierson, Charles Iacuzzo, Graniston Crawford, Amanda Barton, David Alen Smith
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Low budget zeeks are a dime a dozen these days. It seems anyone with a minimal make-up kit, a video camera, and a few extras are trying to cash in. I can understand the inferno that blazes in the talkbacks every time a new zombie film is announced. There are too many zombie films out there. But for some reason, I find myself forced to watch as many as I can: the good ones, the bad ones, and the uninspired mehs. Now, BLOOD RUSH is a low budgeter, there’s no denying it, but though it borrows heavily from numerous higher-profile zombie films and shows such as DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE WALKING DEAD, and 28 DAYS LATER, it does so with charm and some attention to detail you don’t often find with the adrenaline-filled action zombie fests we’re used to.

The film begins slowly as our star (Kerry Finlayson, who also wrote and produced the film) makes her way through a blood-splattered house and finds her best friend zombified. After wrestling with her through the house and out into the yard, she overcomes the zombie and sets out to find more survivors. Meanwhile, in a nearby town, an oblivious town council debates about recent outbreaks of sickness in their community. Cut off from the rest of the world, they don’t know that the dead are rising and eating people; they are just concerned about the power and water outages. By focusing more on the way folks can be extremely self-centered, even in a time of dire crisis, BLOOD RUSH is actually a pretty insightful film. Though the narrative is split between fleeing survivors and oblivious townies, the film balances the two narratives nicely, peppering the action bits nicely between selfish town council arguments.

Sure there are all types of zombie scenes that we’ve seen a million times, but the quieter dissections of a crumbling society are what interested me most about BLOOD RUSH. The acting ranges from ok to amateur and the effects are minimal, but in terms of depth of theme, BLOOD RUSH is one of the stronger low budget zeeks out there.

New this week on DVD from Horizon Movies!


aka HUFF
Directed by Paul Morrell
Written by Sydney Corpuscle
Starring Charlie O'Connell, Natasha Alam, Clint Howard, Mayra Leal, Holly Weber, Elina Madison, Marie Bollinger, Jenna Stone, Elly Stefanko, Randy Blekitas
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Lordy, this was a bad one. It really seems like everyone was giving their all here, but sometimes that’s just not good enough. Basically, this is a story of an abusive monster of a man who torments his wife and his three stepdaughters with sex, violence, and just wretched behavior, and how they eventually try to fight back against him. Sure, good films have been made with less material, but this is just one guy acting like an asshole to all around him, and for some reason no one seems able to put this dog down where he belongs.

Jerry O’Connell’s brother Charlie, who has apparently made a name for himself by starring on TV’s THE BACHELOR, stars as Huff, a drug dealing, asthmatic, sexually abusive monster who in the opening scenes proves he can’t even chop wood effectively. I’m not sure why this scene was left in the film because sure, it’s manly to be chopping wood, but the way Huff whacks at the same piece of wood about twelve times ineffectively cutting it surely doesn’t instill any sense of power or threat. Huff then goes around molesting his daughters, screwing up drug deals, and basically making horrible life decisions for the rest of the film. All the while, in between having sex with multiple women and beating the shit out of folks, Huff wheezes and coughs because he’s asthmatic and must over and over again puff on his inhaler in order to get himself right.

You’d think his step daughters Brixi, Styx, and Shay (I shit you not, those are their names) would get wise and swipe the inhaler the first second they’d get (and Huff is passed out a lot, giving them ample opportunity), but that would lead to less rape, torture, and murder then, I guess. The three little piglets do end up swiping the inhaler in the final moments, but I doubt there will be many paying attention to this one by that time. I certainly lost interest by then.

O’Connell decides to go for the screaming every line mode of acting here, adhering to the credo that bigger is better. Sometimes that’s just not the case, and it makes him seem more of a moron whose intended victims just aren’t bright enough to kill him than any real threat. This film seems to take place in the one Southern town that doesn’t have guns, as a good shot would have put this big bad wolf out of its misery much sooner in the film. Ending on a note that suggests a sequel, here’s hoping this isn’t the case as BIG BAD WOLF relies too much on paper-thin metaphor, broad overacting, and multiple scenes of torture and abuse to pass as any kind of entertainment for my tastes.

New for the first time on DVD from Eagle One Media!

ALTER EGO (2002)

Directed by Issei Shibata (Takashi Shimizu, Supervising Director)
Written by Issei Shibata
Starring Nobuko Sakuma, Sena, Chieko Kawabe, Hideo Sakaki, Tarô Suwa, Chika Inada, Hiroaki Matsuzawa, Kanji Tsuda
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While this hour-long little J-horror is no JU-ON, it does have a lot of the same spooky qualities. ALTER EGO or MO HITORI IRU (since I’m calling THE GRUDGE JU-ON, I figured I’d include the Japanese name for it here too, you know, for shits…) plays around with the same material involving urban myths and curses, albeit on a smaller scale.

The story is set in a small urban town in Japan which seems to have no people. A reporter approaches a young woman on the street and says he recognizes her and though she doesn’t want to talk, the reporter insists on having her tell him her story. And after that ingenious little framing device is where the real story begins, as the girl is one of three schoolgirls approached by a photographer to snap some photos of “natural girls.” Though this sounds kind of scandalous, it’s all rather innocent as the cameraman tries his best to make the young trio of girls comfortable and guide them as none of them have ever modeled before. In between takes, one of the girls mentions an urban legend of making a wish in between two mirrors, and as luck would have it, it appears something hinky is going on as the camera crew and seedy producers start seeing their own doubles walking around. When caught alone with their double, the person crumbles into a ball like a deflated balloon. One by one the camera crew, producers, and the girls are picked off until the truth behind the doppelgangers is finally revealed.

What works is the surreal and eerie aspect of running into your own mirror self. This form of fright is done to expert degree in such films as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and to a lesser extent PRINCE OF DARKNESS (which involved mirrors, but no doubles). It’s also the creepy premise behind the upcoming film OCULUS and the short that inspired the film (reviewed here). If the film is successful at something, it’s capturing that feeling of seeing oneself in a mirror and not knowing a mirror is there. We’ve all done it and it does cause a start, but ALTER EGO does what all good horror films do and takes that initial scare and pushes it to the limit in multiple scenes and with multiple characters.

That said, the effects in ALTER EGO leave a lot to be desired. There’s nothing that happens in ALTER EGO that you can’t see in any tripped out low-fi CG-filled episode of TIM AND ERIC’S AWESOME SHOW. GREAT JOB! Distinguishing the doppelgangers from the real people is accomplished by a simple warp wheel you can download as a free app on any iPhone. Maybe this was somewhat revolutionary in 2002 when this film was made, but the effects haven’t aged well. I did appreciate the crumbled body carcasses effect left after meeting one’s double. It is genuinely creepy, but the CG stuff is pretty laughable.

Performance-wise, ALTER EGO is pretty well acted lead by an attractive trio of leading ladies, Nobuko Sakuma, Sena, and Chieko Kawabe. Though there’s not a lot of drama for them to lift, they do perform as running damsels pretty formidably. While this film is touted as Takashi Shimizu’s lost film, it was actually only produced by THE GRUDGE director. The actual director and writer, Issei Shibata, does a decent job with the material, but the film looks to be shot on digital camera and the lack of production value really shows here. That said, ALTER EGO is an effective and short little shocker with some effects that will make you titter, but that’s evened out with some nicely directed scenes that might send a few chills down the spine.

New this week on DVD from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Paul J. Porter
Written by Hayley Derryberry (story), Paul J. Porter
Starring Hayley Derryberry, Jessica Sonneborn, Brandon Stacy, Josh Hammond, Hannah Landberg, Paul J. Porter
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’ve got nothing but love for this quirky riff on the well-trodden cabin in the woods path. While the film is occasionally somewhat wobbly whether or not it is to be taken seriously, RABID LOVE’s overall tone and sense of humor makes it undeniably likable.

The films starts as all of these films starts out. A pair of nubiles whose shirts indicate that it must have been very chilly the day of the shoot (if you know what I mean) meet their end after prancing about in the woods. Soon we cut to your typical buncha-kids-in-a-car scene where we find out who’s screwing who (everyone), who’s the virginal final girl (well, virginal as Hayley Derryberry’s Heather is the only one who doesn’t get naked – Derryberry also co-write this film), who’s the asshole (that easily goes to the hilariously crude Josh Hammond as Adam), and basically determine the flimsy excuse as to why this group is together (in this case, it’s because they’re all long-time friends going on a hunting trip) and where they’re going (a cabin in the woods). Some unpacking, some partying, some truth or dare, and some sex follows. A stranger named David (Brandon Stacy) shows up, as does the local sheriff to warn the kids of a bear in the woods, and soon we start the slasher fun.

Now, what RABID LOVE lacks in originality, it makes up for with its personality. The actors are all really good here, each distinct as somewhat depthier clichés one usually finds in these films. Heather is in love with John (Paul J. Porter – who also directed and wrote the film), but his recent behavior as soon as they arrived at the cabin is scaring her. Summer (the perky Hanna Landberg) sticks by Adam, though he’s a pig, but isn’t above getting some on the side as acting pretty tough on her own when she wants to be. Same goes for Julie (Jessica Sonneborn), John’s tagalong sis, who begins to have eyes for David the stranger. It’s all about sex and love and lust with a lot of claws and blood tossed in for good measure.

The depth of the relationships and the performances of the actors involved really makes you care about this crew when the bodies start dropping. But while the horror takes its sweet time to show up, I didn’t miss it a tick as these actors carried the whole thing with their self-made drama. In many ways, these kids are self-serving monsters themselves, taking the place of the real monster that shows up later in the film. This is, of sorts, a monster film, and there is a beast out there in the woods, though I don’t want to reveal too much about it because the revelation of who or what the monster is is half the fun of RABID LOVE.

A quirky soundtrack which alternates between sappy love ballads, 80s synth pop, and hollerin’ crotch rock keeps everything moving at a rapid pace. The soundtrack of this film is completely in your face, and it feels as if the filmmakers had a blast making the music as obnoxious as possible while still managing to set the tone. See the steamy love ballad that occurs the night everyone hooks up/gets dumped for exactly what I mean about heaping on the schmaltz for pitch-perfect comic effect. There’s even a cool-guys-don’t-look-at-explosions scene that is so cheesy it’s cool.

And don’t worry: RABID LOVE has tons and tons of blood and violence. Everything is just done in an amazingly hammy way. Hitting every comic note and dousing it with blood, sex, and gore, RABID LOVE is one of those odd films I could see gaining some kind of cult status and deserves to be discovered. Undeniably a throwback to 80’s horror (the logo even uses the same font as FRIDAY THE 13TH), if you’re a fan of homage done right, RABID LOVE will definitely satisfy. While it may start out typical, the film plays out as anything but, gaining quality and momentum as the runtime ticks away. I guarantee if you try RABID LOVE and stick with it, it’ll endear itself to you as it did me. I just can’t help but love this film…rabidly.

New this week from DVD, Video On Demand, & Digital Download!

I AM A GHOST (2012)

Directed by H.P. Mendoza
Written by H.P. Mendoza
Starring Anna Ishida, Jeannie Barroga, Rick Burkhardt
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

If you’re the type of filmgoer who likes everything explained out in a cookie cutter manner, the experimental immersion that is I AM A GHOST is not going to be something for you. But if your definition of film is a bit looser, a bit more accepting of uncommon narrative structure, a bit less reliant on the typical, I’m thinking it’s going to have the same impactful effect on you as it did me.

The film opens silently as a woman wakes from her bed, goes about her daily chores, makes breakfast, and goes out for some grocery shopping. Everything focuses on this one woman, who we eventually come to know as Emily (Anna Ishida), who walks around in the same white dress in the same house doing the same routine over and over. Soon we see Emily look at something in a room we can’t see into, scream, and then run away. Then Emily and the viewer hear a noise in a scene that happens some time later. Then we cut to Emily getting sick in the sink and moaning painfully. Then there’s a shot of her holding a knife as if she is about to stab something that isn’t there. Then back to the same old routine, incorporating these more bizarre moments.

It isn’t until deep into the routine that Emily hears the voice of a medium, who clues Emily in that she is (as the title of the film suggests) a ghost and that the medium is there to guide her to her next destination—wherever that may be. Reluctant to believe the voice, Emily tries to rationalize this situation which leads to a dissection of her own mind and the reason why she is stuck in this old house reliving the same moments over and over. It’s a heady reason. One with not an easy answer. And the viewer must have a lot of patience to get to it.

The thing is, though it may take some patience to sit through the first three quarters of I AM A GHOST, the last quarter of this film contains images and actions that scared me in ways that took me back to childhood. Without giving away the final moments of I AM A GHOST, I will say that the horrific trip Emily takes is one that will jolt you right out of your seat. Actress Anna Ishida carries this entire film as she is, for the most part, the only one the camera focuses on and must convey a broad range of emotion here as a ghost trying desperately to find her way out of this house of horrors.

Presented with rounded edges as if it is being presented in an old timey picture album and filmed on grindhousey aged film stock, I AM A GHOST is a unique independent gem which saves its scares for last, but WHOA NELLY, what scares they are. I can’t recommend this film more. I AM A GHOST will definitely have your hairs standing on end in the final moments and patiently lures you in to its seemingly harmless confines before burrowing into your soul.

New this week on DVD, BluRay, & Digital!

OLDBOY (2013)

Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Garon Tsuchiya (manga), Nobuaki Minegishi (manga), Mark Protosevich (screenplay)
Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone, Max Casella, Linda Emond, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek, Lance Reddick, Hannah Ware, Richard Portnow, Hannah Simone,
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Having missed OLDBOY in theaters, I was looking forward to watching this BluRay of OLDBOY even though my initial feelings for the film altogether screamed “Why?” As unnecessary remakes go, this one ranks up there near the top for me. While it differed from the OLDBOY manga, Chan-wook Park’s emotional and visceral masterpiece is considered a classic by most (especially those who frequent this site). But unlike my online brethren who condemned this film, I wanted to approach Spike Lee’s remake with an open mind and try not to judge it too harshly for simply being before I actually saw the remake itself. Sure, the film bombed at the box office and has been panned by many, but I still didn’t want that to influence my opinion until after I saw it.

So saw it I did. And after doing so, I admit, that inner voice of “Why?” wasn’t really silenced. Why make this film? Unless you are too lazy to “read” a foreign movie or if you can’t take a film seriously unless it has American faces and locales, I don’t think audiences were clamoring for this type of remake. For the most part, OLDBOY follows the Chan-wook Park story beat for beat. Sure there are little details like Samuel L. Jackson’s mowhawk, and technology has leapt a bit in the ten years between the original and the remake, but those are minor details. From beginning to end, it’s still OLDBOY, only this time without those annoying words along the bottom of the screen making me multitask.

I joke about this, but American remakes of foreign films are probably the most offensive type of remakes out there in my book. To think that no one wants to go see someone of a different culture says that the studios think the audience is ignorant. And while the box office take for DRIVE ALONG might suggest that to be true, I want to give American audiences a little more credit than that. What if, instead of a remake, a remastered version of OLDBOY would be released wide in the States? Would anyone go? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I would have preferred that to the faded carbon copy I sat through.

For those of you who haven’t seen OLDBOY, the story of a man imprisoned for fifteen years in a small hotel room with no contact with the outside world is a powerful one. Though he doesn’t know who he has wronged to have earned such a fate, once he is released upon the world, he quickly finds his captor who threatens to kill his daughter is he does not remember who the captor is and why he would jail him in the way he has done. At its heart, OLDBOY is a tragic mystery, with the secrets uncovered flipping all reason, logic, and social mores. It’s a violent story about a man who will stop at nothing to find his daughter, yet who is ironically not prepared for what happens when he does.

Brolin does a decent job here with what he’s given. While the script is not a copy word for word, the addition to the script isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind. Sure beat for beat, the tale is retold, only this time, astonishingly, the script is incapable of conveying either the subtle nuances or the powerful resonances from the original. I’m glad the story wasn’t scrubbed clean. The dastardly deed that Min-sik Choi’s Dae-su Oh commits is the same one Brolin’s Douchett commits. So there’s no backing out, as I originally feared. But Lee and scripter Mark Protosevich don’t end this film nearly as poetically and enigmatically as Chan-wook Park did with his challenging original, which leaves you with a feeling of less remorse or sorrow, especially with the smile Brolin shoots at the viewer in the last moment.

What of the iconic hammer fight scene that thrilled many and had people applauding the original so much? Lee tries his damndest to coordinate a fluent fight scene, but just can’t get it right. There’s a stilted movement to Brolin in these scenes, and the generic bandana-wearing thugs fighting him feel like they’d be more comfortable dancing in a Michael Jackson video than in an action movie. It doesn’t help that Lee edits these scenes, and the fight feels half as long because of it compared to the unedited ballet of brutality in the original.

With a hammy performance by the moustache-twirling Sharlto Copely as the big bad and the over-the-top performance by Samuel L. Jackson, both of which had me checking the box cover to see if Joel Schumacher had directed this one, the cartoonishness of the villains made everything seem less than real and utterly unepic in scope. Sure, Elizabeth Olsen tries her damndest here to bring some kind of credibility to the piece (and has a pretty stunning nude scene for those Mr. Skin watchers), and it’s nice to see Michael Imperioli again. But for the most part, OLDBOY just can’t make itself either worthy or necessary enough to exist. Hopefully, Hollywood will take note of this failure and think twice about plans for an Americanized version of I SAW THE DEVIL, but I kind of doubt they will.

New this week in theaters and next week on DVD/BluRay!

IN FEAR (2013)

Directed by Jeremy Lovering
Written by Jeremy Lovering
Starring Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, Allen Leech
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A pair of road horror films came to mind while watching IN FEAR, a new tale of turmoil on wheels. Both DUEL and THE HITCHER seem to have been on the mind of writer/director Jeremy Lovering. And while those two films are mighty fine horror films in their own right, IN FEAR does a decent job of mixing up themes from the two films, while making it all feel pretty fresh as well. IN FEAR is not without flaws, but it is an intense knuckle-whitener.

The story opens with a nervous phone call made by a young man named Tom (played by Iain De Caestecker who most will recognize from AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.) to a young woman named Lucy (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES’ Alice Englert). Tom is obviously a bit on edge about setting up a date between the two to go to a festival, but as the story proceeds, it looks like Lucy is up for it. The two exit a pub and follow someone who appears to be a guide in a jeep taking them to the hotel where they are supposed to be meeting friends. But after the jeep leaves them at the beginning of a narrow road, surrounded by thick bushes and trees on either side, Tom and Lucy begin to become worried that there’s something off with this whole trip. What transpires is a car ride through a maze of horrors as the road they are on seems to have no end and no beginning and something in the woods seems to be out to get them.

IN FEAR works best during the middle scenes as the viewer, along with the two people in the car, are totally in the dark as to what the hell is going on. The way Lovering inches up the tension shows a talented hand in terms of story progression with each minute becoming tenser than the next. The way the forest on either side of the car is closing in on them is very successful in conveying a sense of claustrophobia, and the fact that neither of these two knows each other very well adds another layer of paranoia. Is Tom fucking with Lucy? Is Lucy fucking with Tom? Is someone fucking with the both of them? Lovering keeps these answers close to the vest for the most part of this film and the two actors De Caestecker and Englert do a great job of carrying this film between the two of them.

In the third act reminded me a lot of STRAW DOGS as a nebbish character must grow up and be a man in the face of adversity. While this is an interesting move, the addition of DOWNTON ABBEY’s Allen Leech as Max makes things begin to be rather obvious as to what’s actually going on here. Leech does a good job with what he’s given in the film, but I think if we were to know a bit more about his character and if he appeared a little earlier in the film, his role would have been much more effective.

I’m trying to be as vague as possible because this film is a really tense little number which plays out pretty masterfully as it made me scoot closer and closer to the edge of my seat up until the abrupt ending. Revealing who or what is the bad guy and who is the hero is going to spoil this one, but savvy movie-goers will be able to guess all of that around the halfway point. While I can see the influences of DUEL and THE HITCHER, especially in terms of the ambiguity of the motivation of the terrors that occur in IN FEAR, there’s a part of me that felt a bit cheated while the credits rolled. Sure the horrible situation and how the main characters react to it are interesting, but without knowing the motivation, it just felt like this one didn’t have a proper resolution. Lovering looks to be taking on the remake of the George C. Scott classic THE CHANGELING. While I wholeheartedly object to the decision to make the film, IN FEAR proves that he is good with setting up scares and ramping tension. Without a doubt, Lovering has a great sense of suspense and while there were parts of IN FEAR that I found troubling, the movie is a thrilling and downright scary joyride through the darkness.

And finally…here’s a short that took 2nd Prize at this year’s BloodyCuts Horror Short Film Challenge. It will have you guessing right up until the end. Enjoy Peter Czikrai’s “A…”!

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

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