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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week I continue reviewing THE TWILIGHT ZONE, plus there are a few new flicks available this week worth noting. But for some reason, it’s a rare slow week for horror, so I’ll be looking into the future and doing a handful of advance reviews of some fright films you’re going to want to be on the look out for. On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: TWILIGHT ZONE Season Two Episodes 1-6 (1960)
CHARIOT (2013)
Advance Review: QUEEN OF BLOOD (2014)
Advance Review: THE DEATH OF APRIL (2012)
And finally… Ryan Coopersmith & Charles Muzardv’s LAZY BOYZ!

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


Episodes 1-6
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

With the release of the Complete Season Collector’s Box Set of TWILIGHT ZONE on DVD from Image Entertainment a few months ago, I’ve been celebrating by checking out each episode and tossing out my two cents on a semi-weekly basis. Now that I’m also looking back at the MONSTERS TV series, which was just released in a swanky box set, I’ll be switching back and forth between the two series on a bi-weekly basis to cover both over the next few months. Having covered the last two seasons of TZ a while back, I’ve decided to go back to the beginning. Season One was where Serling was honing his talent as a storyteller, amassing a collection of talented writers, directors, and stars, 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 with THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season Two…

Episode 2.1: King Nine Will Not Return
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Bob Cummings

This one’s a pretty strong entry with a somewhat nonsensical ending. Bob Cummings stars as a pilot who crash lands in the desert and struggles with his own sanity when his crew disappears and it appears he is the sole survivor. This is a slightly more psychologically horrific piece about coping with guilt, abandonment, and the turmoil of other emotions related to those who participated in the military during wartime and what happens after that war is over. The resonant themes shows Serling’s continued interest in the conflict between war and peace in our society, but the last minute inclusion of a “TZ twist ending” makes it all seem kind of trivial. Also, Cummings himself struggles with the pacing of this episode as he descends into madness a bit too quickly to be believed.

Episode 2.2: The Man in the Bottle
Directed by Don Medford
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Luther Adler, Vivi Janiss, Joseph Ruskin, Lisa Golm

While goodhearted in tone, this is a sour little story about a couple who run a precious vase/bottle business who happen across a genie in one of the bottles. I’m conflicted with this episode, which allows the kindly couple four wishes then shows how those wishes can come back to haunt them. Had the couple that found the bottle been somewhat evil or unlikable, I would’ve been fine with the way their wishes turn out to be nightmares, but the fact that these are likable and kindhearted folks makes this episode feel particularly acidic, giving the message that no matter how well-intentioned one can be, you have to be careful what you wish for.

Episode 2.3: Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room
Directed by Douglas Heyes
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Joe Mantell, William D. Gordon

This one is a great episode that takes place in a single room, focusing on Joe Mantell as a spineless man who can’t seem to get a break. While the pressure for him to take part in a murder mounts, the man’s reflection taunts him to man up and act out with some guts. It’s common to see someone practice standing up for one’s self in front of the mirror, but this episode takes that concept and warps it as a pep talk turns into a struggle between two personalities, and that little room is only big enough to house one. Mantell does a great job as both the weak-willed and the hardnosed versions of the same character.

Episode 2.4: A Thing About Machines
Directed by David Orrick McDearmon
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Richard Haydn, Barbara Stuart, Barney Phillips, Margarita Cordova

Richard Haydn stars as a persnickety man who has a particular hatred towards machines. While the episode starts out kind of goofy with a clock that doesn’t stop ringing and a typewriter that types for itself, the episode ends on a massively creepy note as the man’s own car chases him through the streets. The pace of this one picks up and continues to escalate from the beginning until an ending reaching a fever’s pitch is attained. Haydn is great playing this unlikable character who you can’t help but feel sorry for by the end of the episode, mainly because the final chase is so frantic and effective.

Episode 2.5: The Howling Man
Directed by Douglas Heyes
Written by Charles Beaumont
Starring H.M. Wynant, Robin Hughes, John Carradine, Frederic Ledebur, Ezelle Poule

This is one of the best of this week’s episodes, mostly because of Douglas Heyes’ off kilter and askew camera angles making this entire episode oozing with unease. While most of the TZ episodes are highlighted for their original premises or fantastic stories, this one really is one of the best directed episodes I’ve seen. The constantly moving and hovering camera paired with the heavy diagonals and tilts make this entire episode feel like some dangerous nightmare. The premise is strong as well, as a man happens upon a monastery full of monks with a howling man imprisoned in a room. When the man asks about the man, the monks reveal it’s the devil himself. This is a fantastic tale of obsession, temptation, and altered perception. While the depiction of the devil is cliché in its look, the transformation scene is ingenious, using pillars to cut between transitions. All in all, this is one of the most effective episodes of the season and even the series itself.

Episode 2.6: The Eye of the Beholder
Directed by Douglas Heyes
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Maxine Stuart, William D. Gordon, Jennifer Howard, Edson Stroll, Joanna Heyes

This comment on the complexities and prejudices in terms of the way one looks in a society obsessed with beauty is debated and debated in this high concept episode where no one’s face is shown for the bulk of the episode. One woman in a hospital is bandaged after a procedure she has undergone in which her “scarred and ugly” face has been operated on to make her look “normal.” The faces of the hospital staff and doctor attending to their patient are covered in shadows and extreme angles as well. This one is an interesting spin on society’s shallowness in terms of looks, as well as an interesting argument of individualism vs. conformity and uses some unique special effects in order to communicate these messages. Still, much of this film is spent biding time for the “big reveal” towards the end, which is a shockeroo, but still, this episode—while one of the more memorable for the intensity of its shock, feels more like an extremely long joke with a quick final punchline rather than a story that resonates the whole way through.

Previous TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews!
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.24, 1.25-1.30, 1.31-1.36
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!

New this week on CD or digital download here!


Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A while back I covered the first season of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, a radio show-style anthology series from the mad mind of JUGFACE/YOU’RE NEXT star and BENEATH/HABIT director Larry Fessenden. Fessenden has gathered another cadre of talent to bring this new season to life, and here are my reviews of all of the segments that are included in the new box set that was released this very week!

Episode 2.1: RAM KING

By Joe Maggio
Starring Owen Campbell, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tobias Campbell, Brenda Cooney, Larry Fessenden, Joel Garland

This tale from medieval times focuses on a young boy who questions his belief in a tribal god known as the Ram King. The story is a gritty tale of the strength of belief and legend, and how that can be used to show strength and be perverted to one’s own will. There is some nice voicework here, and the final moments are really harrowing as there is a scene of torture and monstrous retribution.

As a way to start out this new series of horror tales, this is one that really feels like a campfire tale, based in legend and oozing with spooky ambiance. Written and directed by Joe Maggio who brought you BITTER FEAST, RAM KING is a story I’d love to see expanded some day as I’d love to see what this horned monster god looks like.

Episode 2.2: Like Father, Like Son
By Clay McLeod Chapman
Starring Larry Fessenden, Tobias Campbell, Bonnie Dennison, Joel Garland, Vincent D’Onofrio, Brenda Cooney, Owen Campbell

This Frankensteinian tale is a gritty and dire story that most likely will churn your stomach and make you twist with unease. It’s a somber tale about a scientist working on a formula which reanimates dead tissue and, wouldn’t you know it, on the night he is celebrating his breakthrough, he gets into a car accident resulting in the death of his son. You see where this one is going, right? Sure the concept is predictable, but what makes it so effective is the fantastic voicework from Fessenden as the distraught scientist and the other members of the cast, especially that of the reanimated son. The sloshy and sloppy way the monster speaks brings forth all sorts of imagery, which is what these radio plays are supposed to do. The final grueling scenes are gory and splattery and all sorts of wrong, and I loved every second of it. With the use of sound effects and some slurred speech, in my mind this was a story that would have made H.G. Lewis proud in the way the grue is wallowed in. Another fine episode from one of the coolest radio series around.

Episode 2.3: STRANGER
By Jeff Buhler
Starring Matthew Stephen Huffman, Helen McTernan, Jason Yachanin, Kate Lyn Sheil, John Speredakos, Brenda Cooney

I’ve said it before in this column: abduction stories send shivers down my spine like few other stories. Maybe I’ve been abducted before and it’s hitting a little too close to those repressed memories. Or maybe I’m just chicken shit. Either way, STRANGER by Jeff Buhler is a keeper of an alien abduction story that manages to be typical, yet frightening nevertheless. The story follows a group of campers who, after seeing some weird lights off in the forest, run into a strange man who tells them an even stranger story. The buildup to the big scares is slow, as we get to know the campers and get interested in the stranger’s tale, but the real highlight to this particular show is the use of otherworldly sounds and noises during the abduction sequences. Using all sorts of audio effects and strange musical instruments, this show assaults the eardrums with noises unfamiliar and accompanies them with the screams--utterly terrifying. This is definitely one you’ll not want to listen to alone in the dark. I know I did, and I’m regretting it.

Episode 2.4: DEAD MAN’S SHOES
By Ashley Thorpe & Glenn McQuaid
Starring Larry Fessenden, Michael Cerveris, Brenda Cooney, John Speredakos, Tobias Campbell

This one starts out as your typical haunted house yarn, but of course, having heard a bunch of these TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE episodes, there’s no such thing as typical. Here the story follows an out of work husband who tweaks his resume to get a job even though his ability to translate texts isn’t what the employer needs for the job. As things begin to get spooky, the man realizes he’s in over his head and that even the whitest of lies can have dire ramifications. As with STRANGER, this one is a slow build, but there’s a big scary payoff in the end involving a ghost and an ancient text. This one feels like old school fun with a bit of a modern twist.

By Kim Newman (writer), Glenn McQuaid (director)
Starring Leila George, Alison Wright, Richard Mazda, Aidan Redmond, Larry Fessenden

ANNO DRACULA’s Kim Newman brings forth a wicked tale of a dog walker who finds herself in a predicament, solves it, and then finds herself in another one. I want to be vague because the fun is in the details of this devious little number. Though this one feels shorter than most of the tales I’ve heard so far that lie beyond the pale, it is no less effective. And though there are dire things happening in this tale, it is one of those dark little stories that makes you chuckle evilly under your breath. If you have a wicked sense of humor as I do, you’re going to love SARAH MINDS THE DOG.

Episode 2.6: THE CRUSH
By Glenn McQuaid (writer/director)
Starring Sean Young, Matthew Stephen Huffman, John Speredakos, James Le Gros, Larry Fessenden

Sean Young offers her voice to this haunting yarn of down-home backstabbing in wine country. This one is a deviously black tale which ends somewhat predictably, but with Young as the lead, the delivery has an oomph that makes it unique. I especially love the descriptions of the ghost/corpse creatures that show up later on. This one has a more classic feel that makes the listen feel like one of those classic radio plays of old. Nice and creepy.

Episode 2.7: DEAD AIR
By Simon Barrett (writer), Larry Fessenden (director)
Starring Jonny Orsini, Joel Garland, Matthew Stephen Huffman, John Speredakos, Alison Wright

Simon Barrett, writer of A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, YOU’RE NEXT, and V/H/S, offers up this short that is oozing with both atmosphere and old school “things go a bumpin’ in the night” charm. This story of a college radio disc jockey who is forced to work the night shift in a haunted area of a school made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and salute. Though there are many of these TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE that are effective in chills, this one is my favorite of the bunch as Barrett mixes a familiar modern voice with old school creeps and hauntings. I loved every spine-tingling second of this offering. Though I knew Barrett was good, this little ditty makes me want to see what other kinds of short horror the scribe has up his sleeve.

Episode 2.8: CAPER
By Larry Fessenden (director/writer)
Starring James Le Gros, Matthew Stephen Huffman, John Speredakos, Jonny Orsini, Mark Margolis, Joel Garland

The last episode of the season is written by the maestro behind the TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE operation, Larry Fessenden. CAPER feels a lot like a twisted supernatural version of RESERVOIR DOGS or UNUSUAL SUSPECTS, as a bunch of seedy types are brought together on a mission seemingly in a random fashion, but as in all good stories, the methodology of bringing this crew together is anything but random. Fessenden creates some fun characters to follow into darkness and a heist that is just complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex as to be difficult to follow on a radio show. The result is a satisfying and fun little crime tale where things go into the realm of horror quickly and efficiently. This is a strong entry in the series and ends the season on a high and scary note.

Also accompanying this box set is an additional disk entitled BEHIND THE CURTAIN which is a documentary on the history of this radio play project, which also includes snippets from the first volume of this series as well. And it looks like Fessenden and Co. are not finished with TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, as two new episodes of the series are being recorded live at this weekend’s Stanley Film Festival, taking place in the hotel that inspired the movie THE SHINING. Recorded in front of a live audience, all of these mini-radio plays are available for download and purchase on the TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE website, and for those who love those horror radio plays of old, this is going to be a must see…I mean, hear!

New this week on DVD from Sterling Entertainment!


Directed by Mark Polonia
Written by Mark Polonia
Starring James Carolus, Elizabeth V. Costanzo, Marie DeLorenzo, Steve Diasparra, Danielle Donahue, Jeff Kirkendall, Ken Van Sant
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

If you’re like me, you can’t wait until DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES comes out this summer. I absolutely loved the first film and look forward to being dazzled with the follow-up. As much as I love this modern take with CG monkeys, I do have a soft spot for the old school men-in-monkey costumes method, and because of that soft spot, I think I am going to be a bit more forgiving to the Z-grade film released by Mark Polonia, EMPIRE OF THE APES; which attempts to cash in on both nostalgia and that anticipation some like me feel for the upcoming film.

A trio of scantily clad female prisoners escape from a prison spaceship and crash land their escape pod onto an unknown planet that looks a lot like a neatly mowed backyard of a farmhouse in the country. The escapees are just happy to be out of lockup until they are captured by the indigenous lifeforms on the planet: guys in badly fitting, dime-store monkey masks! Engorged with enthusiasm and aspirations, these ape-men see the ship from the stars as a sign for their race to repopulate the world by mating with the human women and then taking to the stars to overpower the world and make…an empire of apes!

Don’t get excited yet thinking this is some kind of wank show you might happen across on Skinemax. Nary a nether is shown, though the women are hardly clothed throughout. And while the hint that the mating between ape and these hot ladies might be seen as titillating to some, the film doesn’t seem to want to go for that and plays it safe, suggesting that the monkey on woman love happens off screen.

As I mentioned before, this is a no budget film. The masks are loosely fitting and the voices of the apes are muffled. Only one of the mouths on the masks has the ability to move, making it all the more pitiful when the camera doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they’re masks. The props are beneath rudimentary as well, made of metal sheeting and foam core to represent futuristic environs and hanging rugs and blankets to represent the apes’ more meager habitat. Even the weapons seem to be held together by spit and duct tape. And the acting across the board…well, it’s not really mumble-core—it’s just mumbling.

Still, there’s a charm to this no-budgeter. It’s a charm that wants you to say “Good job!” to your kid who draws a stick figure of a special needs person who finishes his first broom. The writing is ambitious, despite the lack of a means to translate it to film and again, seeing monkeys fighting humans is just something that gets me all warm inside. Check out the trailer below, which basically shows the whole movie in a nutshell and gives a prime example of the low budget that is in store if you dare check out EMPIRE OF THE APES!

If you’re very forgiving, you might get the same kick out of it that I did.

Available now on DVD, digital download, and Video On Demand from Breaking Glass Pictures!


Directed by Chris Sun
Written by Chris Sun
Starring Michael Thomson, Billi Baker, Allira Jaques, Holly Phillips, Sean Gannon, Darrell Plumridge, Christian Radford, Mirko Grillini
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Don’t get me wrong. If I had a daughter and she was kidnapped, raped, and murdered, I might fantasize about trapping the killer in my basement and torturing him for days. On paper, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL might seem like a film with some kind of message, or maybe some kind of cathartic experience for the filmmakers if they, heaven forbid, ever lost a child, but that doesn’t necessarily make for an entertaining movie or a movie I really would want to watch. But since this is a review column and DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL is being released this month, watch it I had to do.

Michael Thomson plays Derek, a divorcee trying his best to take care of his precious little girl Georgia (played by the adorably toe-headed Billi Baker). When Georgia is abducted from her home and later found dead on a beach, Derek is distraught at the loss and catatonic for months until he happens upon a piece of evidence the police overlooked. Instead of turning the evidence over to the police, Derek abducts the abductor, bolts him to his pool table in the basement, and sets out to torture him for six agonizing days.

In no way am I feeling sorry for the abductor. The torture he goes through in this film is pretty deserved by anyone who would destroy a young life. But just as I don’t want to see the heinous act against the child (it is not shown in the film, thank god), I don’t really feel the need to see the torture of the kidnapper either.

And boiled down to its base elements, that’s what DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL is: a lengthy, tasteless, grueling torture sequence bookended by the crime itself and the aftermath. Sure the filmmakers might be trying to make a point with the violence, but highlighting it in this manner gives off the notion that it’s the violence that is the point and not the harming of a child. Spotlighting a 40 minute torture sequence is not making a point. It’s pounding that point into the ground so deep that you forget why you started pounding in the first place.

The torture porn subgenre seems to have run its course, but occasionally a film like DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL surfaces and reminds you that there was a time when every other film was like this. I wasn’t a huge fan of the genre then, as it attempted to explain itself by saying it was conveying a message when in fact it only highlighted the torture and gore. Seeing a torture porn film now is like having someone show up to a dance club and do the macarena, expecting people to act like it’s something fresh and new. The film will make you wince and groan at the acts committed by both the torturer and criminal. In that sense, I guess it is an effective torture porn film. DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL is capably acted, well shot, and deftly made, but with the bulk of the film focusing on the decimation of a body piece by piece, no matter how valid the reason, it’s still torture porn to me.

New this week on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing!


Directed by Cary Hill
Written by Cary Hill
Starring Nicole Beattie, Doug Bradley, Steve Rudzinski, Kailey Marie Harris, Dean Jacobs, Tyler Kale, Ian Lemmon, Alicia Marie Marcucci, Nivek Ogre, Kyle Riordan, Wendy Wygant, David “Scar” Carpenter
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

On the surface, this is a brainlessly typical slasher film—something that doesn’t really stand out from the million and one other slasher films out there. All the beats are there, front and present. Masked killer. Multiple weapons used in the kills as well as different modes of murder. Unique and secluded setting. Annoying set of partying kids set out to drink, have sex, and die including the nerdy kid, the punk tough guy, the virginal final girl, and the girl with the big boobs who dies right after she goes topless. Yes, SCREAM PARK is very run of the mill when you first look at it.

But the thing is, what makes SCREAM PARK so much fun is that it feels like something you might have rented at a mom and pop video store back in the 80’s where there were still mom and pop video stores around. SCREAM PARK feels like it would fit right up on those shelves between 3 ON A MEATHOOK and DOOM ASYLUM, just to the left of AMERICAN GOTHIC and right above HUMONGOUS, yet under CLOWNHOUSE.

Writer/director Cary Hill has probably seen all of those old slasher films and probably a million more, and he seems to have adopted the basics well in this film, which almost feels like a tribute to all of those old slasher films. Beat for beat, the film goes through the basics, secluding a group of kids at night and alone from each other, then picking them off one by one. Mixing a bit of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with Tobe Hooper’s FUNHOUSE, Hill offers up a charming little throwback slasher film that made me smile as if I were seeing an old friend after a long absence.

The story follows the final night of Fright Land, a horror theme park (or SCREAM PARK) and a group of kids who work in the park and decide it’s a good excuse to party on down. There are two masked murderers, a Voorhees-esque mute wearing a burlap sack on his head and a TCM Hitchhiker-like spaz (played by Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy fame) who sometimes dons a plague doctor mask until it gets in the way of trying to rape and kill his victims. Both killers are pretty frightening, exemplifying the two types of killers you often got when you picked any slasher film at random—the Michael Myers/Leatherface/Jason type who are just big and bulky and don’t talk and the Freddy/Hitchhiker/Chop-Top type who are more frantic and filled with darkly humorous quips and rants.

Though the gore here is not over the top, there is a lot of blood spatter and the viciousness of the kills make up for the lack of spectacle one often associated with the slasher. And the story itself is rather clever despite itself, in that it doesn’t reveal its final card until the last second of the film, which made me leave it with a smile. Doug Bradley’s cameo is fun as the park owner, and the reason these killers are at the park is pretty clever. In the end, SCREAM PARK feels familiar, but it does the familiar really, really well.

Available now on DVD, iTunes, and on Video on Demand!

CHARIOT (2013)

Directed by Brad Osborne
Written by Eric Vale
Starring Anthony Montgomery, Ian Sinclair, Brina Palencia, Michelle Sherrill, Leslie Hippensteel, Joe Nemmers, David DeLao, Larry Jack Dotson, J. Taylor, Frederic Doss
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though technically I’d categorize this peril on a plane flick more of a thriller than a horror film, it still plays out (at least at the beginning) as somewhat TWILIGHT ZONE-esque as a group of six passengers wake up on an airborne plane without any knowledge of how or why they are there. In these opening moments, the sense of unease and terror is made incredibly powerful by both tight directing by Brad Osborne from Eric Vale’s quickly paced script and some solid acting across the board.

Front and center is STAR TREK’s Anthony Montgomery, who plays a Texas trucker who has no idea why he’s on a plane. The rest of the clueless passengers are not sure why they are there. Their occupations--White House intern, computer hacker extraordinaire, linguist, Secretary of Transportation--at least indicate it’s no coincidence they are all occupying the same plane. When a single cell phone is found with a message indicating that there has been a major attack on American soil and that the plane is taking them to a secure location, the normal concerns for families, their livelihood, and the nation itself arise.

The film plays on paranoia as well as distrust in the government, as these passengers were snatched from their homes to be put on this plane. The level of fear is pretty intense for a good portion of the film, as the actors portraying these passengers are all pretty strong. The opening is almost pitch perfect in throwing the audience into a crazy situation with little answer as to what’s happening. Pared down to its basic core, CARRIER is a film like many disaster/zombie/monster films in which a group of different-minded people are trapped in an enclosed space in order to survive. In that sense, while it’s using age-old tropes, the premise and opening is highly effective.

Those intrigued by the lost Malaysian flight will definitely get a twinge of excitement from this film about a flight that seems to be shrouded in mystery. The mystery is a good one, but like most ambiguous-opening films, once the answers start to be doled out, some of the luster fades a bit. There are a few decisions by the passengers that are stretching credibility a bit, and another instance when the entire group seems to turn a blind eye to who is in the group and who has disappeared to talk on a secret cell phone. There is definitely a political message at play here as there are at least portions of this film that are based on fact, as well as references to the Patriot Act. I think this film works much more as a mystery than a political statement, though. CHARIOT may over leap the believability a skosh, but I have to admit the rock solid opening and great performances by Montgomery and some of the other actors involved made me ignore the weaknesses and take this CHARIOT ride until the end.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from Magnet Releasing!


Directed by Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Written by Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Starring Guy Adler, Lior Ashkenazi, Dvir Benedek, Gur Bentwich, Doval'e Glickman, Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Nati Kluger, Kais Nashif, Menashe Noy, Ami Weinberg
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Most likely one of the best, if not THE best horror film of the year is BIG BAD WOLVES. Though it is not horror in the sense of having monsters with giant teeth and fangs or insubstantial ghosts or walking corpses or handheld cameras, it does convey the horror of humanity in a manner that will hit you hard with a gripping story, powerful acting, and scenes that will most assuredly leave a deep gash in your heart.

Much like their previous accomplishment RABIES, writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado map out an intricately charted tale that involves a lot of moving parts, character intersections, and plotlines that twist and turn in all directions. Though the cast is somewhat smaller than RABIES, the motivations of all of the players involved flow in and out of the story and all seem to come together in the ultra-powerful ending. Keshales and Papushado do a fantastic job of not only juggling these storylines so that they make sense from start to finish with the viewer, they also thread them together in ways you could never guess. Though comparisons are going to be made to Tarantino, I often find his plot construction to be much more obvious and failing in terms of subtlety. More like Hitchcock, Keshales and Papushado deal with multiple storylines, but do so with a gentler, more deceptive handling of suspense and pacing. Scenes which we know will end badly are prolonged to the nth degree just to make the viewer and the unfortunate person strapped to a chair squirm all the more.

BIG BAD WOLVES deals with the theme of child abduction and victimization and how the accusations of these crimes can ruin a person. It also deals with the weight of the crime itself, as well as the reactions we all have when the young are endangered. Looking at this concept from such a broad scope might be difficult to pull off, but the filmmakers do this expertly by casting memorable characters which represent each standpoint. But though each of the characters involved represent one view, the actors Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan, and Doval'e Glickman portray them as real characters and not just visual representations of an idea.

Though there’s much more to the story, here’s the basics. A series of child abductions and murders have plagued the city for a while now. Lior Ashkenazi plays Miki, a burnt out cop who recognizes the faults of the system and relies on his gut, which tells him that Dror (Rotem Keinan), a school teacher, is responsible for the abductions. Tzahi Grad plays Gidi, the father of a girl who has gone missing and has the same feelings about Dror. Though he isn’t convicted of the crime, Dror finds himself bound in the basement of Gidi’s home. The rest of this film plays out mostly in this basement, and this latter half of the film is made of stuff tighter than the highest trapeze wire.

Though I don’t recognize any of the Israeli actors, all of them deliver performances of the tip toppest of calibers. Ashkenazi is fantastic as the desperate cop whose life is crumbling around him. Keinan juggles the truth like a circus clown, and while one minute you’re convinced he did the crime, the actor flips and you believe he is falsely accused. Grad’s calm demeanor is haunting to watch. He is a shell of a man without his daughter and is out to make someone pay. And despite the fact that he looks somewhat similar to Larry David, Doval’e Glickman is fantastic as Gidi’s father, the comedic relief/voice of morality of the film. Seeing these four actors slam into one another is amazing.

Be they long takes of the camera following a hammer down a long hallway or tight shots of the facial reactions of Dror strapped to his chair or the calm demeanor Gidi seems to have through it all, the filmmakers make every scene count big, working towards an ending that resonates on levels upon levels. I was moved so much by the ending of this film and feel it’s one of the most powerful in modern cinema.

BIG BAD WOLVES doesn’t have big stars or over the top effects, but it is packing some of the most potent emotional power you’re going to find in a film this year. Keshales and Papushado are going to be huge once they hit the mainstream. See BIG BAD WOLVES and their previous film RABIES now and be one of the cool ones who knew them before they broke out.

Recently played in Chicago from Glass City Films and available now on VHX and Vimeo on Demand!


Directed by John Klein
Written by Ben Kurstin
Starring Sara Gorsky, Cole Simon, Tanya Thai McBride
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Last year at Chicago’s Fantastic Fest, I happened upon a booth with a simple flyer advertising a new film called CHRYSALIS. Intrigued by the comic book-esque illustration of a pair of survivors dressed for a harsh winter staring down what looks to be a decimated apocalyptical setting, I asked the representatives at the desk about it and my interest grew as they talked about the upcoming project. Fast forward six months and the film is complete and had its premiere two days ago in Chicago. This is yet another reason why these festivals are so cool. If not for that festival, I would have never known about CHRYSALIS and most likely would have missed out on a truly harrowing and genuinely heartwrenching theatrical experience.

Josh (Cole Simon) and Penelope (Sara Gorsky) are a pair of survivors making their way across a seemingly decimated and uninhabited landscape with what seems to be a purpose, but ends up being simply to survive. The two are obviously very close, with Josh assuming the dominant role of leader and Penelope happily following Josh’s lead. But this is a caring relationship--one which doesn’t seem to be based solely on who’s leading who, but one sincerely formed out of a strong love for one another. In the opening moments, Josh narrates the distance they have crossed, the things (or lack thereof) they have seen, and their feelings about it all. We also see that the land is not only populated by packs of roaming and hungry dogs, but infected zombie-like creatures.

Unlike most zombie films, this isn’t a showcase of gore or the amount of zombies or even identifying what other group the zombies are up against. CHRYSALIS is much more like THE WALKING DEAD, as it is about survival and how close and even dependent these two people can become on each other in this dire situation. Penelope most definitely relies on Josh to be the protector, but later in the film, it’s evident that Penelope is equally important in this equation as she gives Josh purpose in that he exists as her protector. While this might make for a weak characterization of Penelope, actress Sara Gorsky does a fantastic job of giving her quirks and personality enough to make you understand why Josh would be so much in love with her. When another survivor Abira (Tanya Thai McBride) shows up, Penelope is immediately suspicious, not only because she is a stranger, but because she is seen as competition and seeing how Abira is pretty good at taking care of herself, Penelope is smart enough to realize that the burden would be less if Josh had a relationship with her. These deeply realized emotional conflicts make CHRYSALIS much more emotionally depthy than your run of the mill zombie flick.

But it’s not all emotional resonance and deep feelings. CHRYSALIS has some absolutely terrifying moments throughout the film as the zombies are used smartly, always a reminder of the threat that is just steps behind these survivors. There’s an especially excruciatingly scary series of events that happen towards the end of this film where the use of absolute darkness and flickering flashlights make my bones shake and rattle. The intensity of these final scenes where the survivors are running around in the dark with just a single beam of light between them and the advancing zombies achieves scares few zombie films are able to accomplish.

At this point, it takes something pretty special for me to be impressed with a zombie movie, but CHRYSALIS absolutely blew me away. The level of acting, as well as the deft use of character by Ben Kurstin and the solid direction by John Klein, make CHRYSALIS much more than the typical zombie fare overpopulating the genre. By focusing on survival rather than gore and body count, they’ve successfully made a film that stands out up and above the rest of its genre and deserves to be seen. Though it lacks star power and huge distribution, CHRYSALIS is one of the strongest zombie films of the year.

See it. CHRYSALIS is a film that reminds us why zombies can be so scary.

Advance Review: Touring festivals from Autonomy Pictures!


Directed by Chris Alexander
Written by Chris Alexander
Starring Nivek Ogre, Shauna Henry, David Goodfellow, Carrie Gemmell
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I reviewed BLOOD FOR IRINA (reviewed here) a while back, recommending it for those horror fans who like their scares a bit artsier than the norm, as it was a film that was heavy on mood, light on dialog, and steeped in what some might describe as pretension. Still, the film was entertaining as a showcase of sights and sounds, choosing to use well-known imagery to convey a sense of feeling and experience rather than tell a conventional tale.

Chris Alexander’s follow up, QUEEN OF BLOOD, is a sequel of sorts as it continues the story of Irina the silent but violent she-vampire as she makes her way through wooded areas, devouring the blood of all of those who cross her path with her fingertips while looking as if she is in need of some coffee most of the time. This time around in her somber journey, Irina happens upon a pregnant woman and takes the child as her own vampiric brood.

Not only is this film a sequel in that it continues the story of a specific character from BLOOD FOR IRINA, but it also continues the style and mood that oozed from the original film. This is a slow paced film--one that soaks in the wooded environment, which is a shift from the more urban exteriors seen in the first film and much more interesting due to the shift in locale. Those with a heavy fast forward finger will be tempted to skip a few beats here and there, but those who prefer to soak it all in and enjoy this experience will find it rich indeed.

Alexander also elevates the material with gothic and haunting music, both classical and synth. In doing so he continues the feeling of the uncanny and macabre, which only makes it more of a horrific experience. The inundation of dripping blood and clanging chords make it all feel like it is stuff ripped from nightmare.

Though there is a lack of dialog, the performances are interesting, but not really the highlight to the film. The appearance of Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy as a vampire hunter spices things up and the actor (who also appeared in SCREAM PARK—reviewed above) no doubt has a presence about him and the theatrics that go with performing music live do him well here in this silent film.

At times, I must admit, I felt the words “Just get on with it!” forming in my mouth. I can appreciate artsy horror for what it is. The film is reminiscent of Jess Franco’s art house vampire films of old, and props to this film for not going the complete cliché route and having the vamp suck blood through her fingers (which is common among vamps of lore in some other cultures). While some can perceive this simply as a tale of a vampire who washes ashore on a river and kills a couple of people with her finger straw, then wanders off with a new baby from a murdered pregnant woman, I can appreciate the point of the steady slow pace and how effectively creepy it can be if doled out in the patient manner Alexander does in QUEEN OF BLOOD.

Advance Review: Currently touring fests and awaiting distribution!


Directed by Ruben Rodriguez
Written by Ruben Rodriguez
Starring Katarina Hughes, Adam Lowder, Chelsea Clark, Travis Peters, Stephanie Domini Ehlert, Amy Rutledge, RayMartell Moore
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE DEATH OF APRIL is more reminiscent of the excellent mockumentary LAKE MUNGO (reviewed here), though aspects of this film do feel like found footage and the film itself is made up of footage of a video diary found by police on a laptop. Still, there are those who will write this one off simply because it is filmed in a more handheld, first person POV, talking to the camera style which many find immediately off putting.

But doing so would definitely be a mistake, as THE DEATH OF APRIL feels much more like a “Dateline NBC” episode, crafted to build interest and tension, than anything else. The film is interspersed with interviews with the family of Meagan Mullen, a young bright-eyed girl who moved from her home on the West Coast to New Jersey for a change and to follow her dreams. But right off the bat, as Meagan begins filming an online journal reporting her adjustment to her new apartment and new life, things seem to be slightly off.

Though there is the occasional blip in the video or a weird shadowy movement in the corner, for the most part the first forty minutes is all build up with the family talking in foreboding tones about Meagan in the past tense, suggesting that their relationship with her is gone. Whether that means Meagan is dead or what is unclear and remains a mystery throughout the entire movie, as the audience is made privy to her journal entries one at a time. A sparkly-eyed twentysomething with the whole world ahead of her disintegrates into a paranoid soul obsessed with the story of the apartment’s past resident named April, who was killed in her apartment mysteriously. As the strange happenings intensify and the family’s stories get more emotional and remorseful, it’s evident something dire is going to happen.

What works in THE DEATH OF APRIL is the ever-growing sense of dread and horror that begins slowly at the beginning, but enlarges to an immense weight by the end of the film. The film will definitely keep you guessing, hoping for the best for this likable young girl, but fearing that all signs point to things getting horribly worse.

The problem is that because of the buildup, the final scenes lacked the heft I was expecting, and while there are some amazingly tense and frightening scenes speckled throughout the film, the end feels a bit lackluster by comparison. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the simplistic way things end up left me wanting.

That said, both Katarina Hughes (who plays Meagan) and Adam Lowder who plays her brother Stephen, and who looks a lot like a young Christopher Reeve, do phenomenal jobs in this film. Hughes makes you like her immediately when she appears in front of the screen as Meagan, and the concern she causes her brother is resonant through the eyes of Lowder. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, and because of these performances, the film is all the more naturalistic and convincing.

Though the ending didn’t blow me away, I have to give it up for THE DEATH OF APRIL. The overall sense of horror that begins small and grows to massive proportions is doled out in a conservative, yet ever increasing manner. Writer/director Ruben Rodriguez proves he is a patient director who painstakingly holds back on the punch, yet hints that the blow could come from almost anywhere. Because this indistinguishable sense of danger looming in the dark corners of Meagan’s apartment is so well realized, it makes up for the letdown by the end. If you’re looking for a movie that will creep up on you and stick with you, THE DEATH OF APRIL is definitely it.

And finally…here’s a little encouragement to get your butt off the couch and enjoy the spring. That piece of furniture might be comfy, but it could end up killing you! Enjoy Ryan Coopersmith & Charles Muzardv’s LAZY BOYZ!

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.

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

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