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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 a really great crop of horror to look over including; banned movies, haunted lakes, another apocalypse, a weird vagrant, a killer ensemble, big budget cannibals, a masked killer, hopping vampires, more TWILIGHT ZONE’s, and a werewolf with a badge! On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Horror Book Review: DEAD MAN’S HAND: An Anthology of the Weird West (2014)
The Boo Tube Reviews: TWILIGHT ZONE Season Two Episodes 19-24 (1961)
DUST OF WAR (2013)
BORGMAN (2013)
Advance Review: SMOTHERED (2013)
And finally…Patrick Rea’s HOURGLASS FIGURE!

Horror Book Review!

DEAD MAN’S HAND: An Anthology of the Weird West (2014)

Edited by John Joseph Adams
Published by Titan Books (available here)
Reviewed by Dr. Loomis

I can count the number of actual Western novels I’ve read on one hand, but for some reason I’ve always been a sucker for the “weird west” subgenre. Something about the grittiness of the setting mixed with the surreal elements of horror and/or sci-fi enhances the impact of both in my tired old eyes. So when Titan Books offered to send along a copy of their new anthology DEAD MAN’S HAND for review, I didn’t make them ask twice.

Editor John Joseph Adams gives us a brief tour of the subgenre’s history in his introduction, tracing its lineage as far back as the 1930s to works by Robert E. Howard and Gene Autry. He goes on to cite a more recent novel, Joe R. Lansdale’s DEAD IN THE WEST from 1986, as a true trailblazer, and then opens the book with a new short story from Lansdale featuring that novel’s main character, Rev. Jebediah Mercer.

Lansdale packs a lot into “The Red-Headed Dead” – a cabin on the edge of a graveyard; a massive twister; an ancient inscription; and a nasty resurrection. He sets the bar high with evocative imagery, relentless pacing and authentic Western flavor, but the 22 authors tasked with following his lead don’t even flinch. For example, Alan Dean Foster chimes in with a tale about Mad Amos Malone, a mountainous cross between bounty hunter and shaman who is tasked with saving a man from a possessed prostitute, while Jonathan Maberry puts a bounty hunter of his own face-to-face with a ghostly parade of the dead.

Each author represented here clearly has a ball mixing Western tropes like card games, brothels and gunfights with dashes of magic, dangerous creatures, steampunk, and more. DEAD MAN’S HAND contains all original stories, some revisiting characters from the author’s other works and some all new creations. As is typical in collections like this, some stories work better than others, but you won’t find an out-and-out stinker in the bunch.

“Dr. Loomis” is Blu Gilliand, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the fright-filled pages of DARK SCRIBE, DARK DISCOVERIES, SHROUD MAGAZINE, and Horror World, among others. He also runs his own blog, October Country, devoted to horror and crime fiction. Feel free to stalk him on Twitter (@BluGilliand) at your own risk.

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


Episodes 19-24
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. Let’s proceed on with THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season Two…

Episode 2.19: Mr. Dingle, the Strong
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Burgess Meredith, James Westerfield, Don Rickles, Eddie Ryder, Douglas Spencer, Michael Fox, James Milhollin

This was a fun episode made so by the always amazing (especially in TWILIGHT ZONE) Burgess Meredith as a simple minded man who becomes an experiment for visiting aliens who imbue him with super strength. Now the meek Mr. Dingle; who was picked on relentlessly by the likes of Don Rickles (another one who is always amazing), has the brawn to fight back and does so through many hokey feats of strength like punching a hole in drywall, ripping phonebooks in half, and lifting statues. The one thing that sets this one apart from other episodes is the elaborate, yet stupid looking alien—a two headed monster with twirling gizmos and various blinking apparatus. And if you think the Martians are weird looking, you should see the child-like, yet bearded Venusians. Goofy as it is, it’s still one of the more fun episodes on tap for this week.

Episode 2.20: Static
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by OCee Ritch and Charles Beaumont
Starring Dean Jagger, Carmen Mathews, Robert Emhardt

Man, this one was tough to get through. There’s a lot of heart in this episode, but the soap opera filmed episodes that look more like stage plays than the usual cinematically filmed TZ episodes are beginning to wear on me. This one takes place at a retirement home with one old codger refusing to give in to the new hot trend of television and longs for the days of radio. When he dusts off his old radio from the basement, he starts feeling as if he’s going back in time. This one is melodramatic, made more so by the way it was filmed. Dean Jagger is decent here as the curmudgeon, but this episode was difficult to get through, despite the poignant ending.

Episode 2.21: The Prime Mover
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by Charles Beaumont, based on a story by George Clayton Johnson
Starring Buddy Ebsen, Dane Clark, Christine White

This morality tale follows BEVERLY HILLBILLIES’ Buddy Ebsen as a restaurant worker with telekinetic powers and his co-worker (Dane Clark) who wants to exploit those powers to get rich or die tryin’. You know where this one is going from the get go, but the vibrant performances by Ebsen and Clark make it all worth while. In many ways, this one feels like the perfect blend of OF MICE & MEN and RAIN MAN, as the fast talking Clark talks big, but the real wisdom comes from the simple minded Ebsen.

Episode 2.22: Long Distance Call
Directed by James Sheldon
Written by Bill Idelson and Charles Beaumont
Starring Bill Mumy, Lili Darvas, Philip Abbott, Patricia Smith

Despite the fact that this was another soap opera style filmed episodes, this one maintains it’s creep factor pretty well. Mostly due to the bizarrely manic performance by Lili Darvas as a dying grandmother who gives her grandson a toy telephone and then proceeds to call him from beyond the grave after she dies. While young Bill Mumy (LOST IN SPACE) has an air of innocence about him, this is one of the more sinister tales of a grandma who can’t let go of the ones she loves. This one was the scariest episodes of the week and definitely of this season.

Episode 2.23: A Hundred Yards Over the Rim
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Cliff Robertson, Evans Evans, John Crawford, Ed Platt

Cliff Robertson stars as a man who wanders ahead of a wagon train to find water and food for his desperate pioneer family and stumbles through time a few hundred years. Robertson is fantastic here as the earnest, yet cautious time traveler. This one is full of excitement and action as Robertson wanders away from people rising metal beasts (aka cars) and being dazzled by everyday mechanics in a malt shop. While it might read as hokey, Robertson nails it and makes his desperate race to get back to his dying boy make every minute of this episode count. This one was a really fun one with great performances from Robertson and a special appearance by Gomez Addams himself John Astin as a fellow pioneer.

Episode 2.24: The Rip Van Winkle Caper
Directed by Justus Addiss
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Oscar Beregi, Simon Oakland, Lew Gallo, John Mitchum

I loved this diabolical tale of time travelling crooks who think up the perfect getaway—going to sleep for a hundred years! Simon Oakland (aka the expositiony psychiatrist from the end of PSYCHO) and Oscar Beregi (who appeared in many a TWILIGHT ZONE) star as two of four crooks who think they are committing the perfect crime, but their evil ways end up thwarting it all in the end. While this is somewhat of another morality tale, it’s more fun just to see these deviants stab each other in the back in order to get their hands on a bundle of solid gold bricks. The hokey ending almost ruins it, but the level of evil this episode plums is a whole lot of fun to watch.

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 2: Episodes 2.1-2.6, 2.7-2.12, 2.13-2.18
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 DVD from Severin Films!


Directed by Jake West
Starring Julian Petley, Marc Morris, Andy Nyman, Xavier Mendik, Christopher Smith, Neil Marshall, Kim Newman, John Hayward, John McVicar, Geoffrey Robertson, Rik Mayall, Abel Ferrara, Margaret Thatcher, Bruce Campbell, Clint Howard, Udo Kier, Emily Booth, David Hess, Elke Sommer
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

For me, censorship is more terrifying than anything I’ve ever seen on the silver screen or read in a book or comic. The suppression of ideas, no matter how appealing or disgusting, is something that I strongly feel against and I feel the bile raising in my gullet every time someone tries to blame films, comics, books, or whatever for the deeds of a small percentage of neglected, unbalanced, or stupid people. Personal taste and opinion is one thing. If you don’t like it, don’t watch/read/support, but when you begin a crusade to stop something, believing that what you think is the only way to go—that’s when you venture into territories darker and more disturbing than any filmmaker has ever gone.

But in the 1980’s such a crusade existed in response to the video boom of the mid-eighties where mom and pop shops all sprung up all around the world. Suddenly owners of little shops were making a pretty penny renting out all sorts of high and low quality videos to anyone who had a buck to spare. I remember my video store fondly, which had a section of horror titles bigger than any I’d ever seen before. I remember being 10 years old, going down the rows alphabetically to check out one horror film after another. Sure I was too young for it, but no one gave a shit about all of that and while I’m not the sanest cat on the block, I grew up relatively stable.

But with an influx of money often comes the government behind it to cut out a piece for themselves. In response to all of this, over in England, the government started a list of films that were deemed detrimental to society. These films, dubbed the Video Nasties, grew infamous by being stocked by the government, swiped from video store shelves, and burned. Like something right out of 1984 or FAHRENHEIGHT 451, the government banned and burned films; thus choosing what is right and what is wrong for its public to watch. Of course, there was backlash. As seen before during Prohibition; outlawing something doesn’t really stop it—instead it just forces things underground. And while the Video Nasties were lifted from shelves, they became a must see for anyone into horror films. I myself have a running list of Nasties I’ve seen and haven’t seen and continue to chip away at the 72 films.

How do I know all of this? Well, I lived through it, rented videos at the time, so there’s that. But I also got a fantastic refresher on the whole thing by watching VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP, & VIDEOTAPE by director Jake West, which is one portion of the new VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION which compiles the intensive documentary of this troubling time in cinema, but also compiles the trailers for every one of the Video Nasties to enjoy on the other two disks.

The whole collection is a blast to go through—especially the trailers which, as said in the doc, rarely lived up to their notorious status that accompanied their place on the Video Nasty list. Still, this collection of grainy, horribly produced and acted, schlockers make for a fun bout of viewing as one trailer is worse than the next. A while back, I challenged myself to watch all of the Nasties and while I haven’t accomplished that goal, this documentary and collection has reenergized my vigor to accomplish it. It’d be fun to see some of the old timers in the Talkbacks recount their own personal Video Nasties experiences. Below is a list of the one’s I’ve covered so far in the three years I’ve done AICN HORROR. No self respecting fan of horror fan can call themselves that without seeing some, if not all of these films, no matter how bad they turned out to be.

AICN HORROR’s Video Nasty Reviews Checklist!


New this week on DVD from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Jeremiah Buckhalt
Written by Chad Coup, Ian H. Davis
Starring Danielle Lilley, Brandon Kyle Peters, Christopher de Padua, Jose Miguel Vasquez, Emily Cutting, Phillip Marunowski, Kelly Kilgore & Gabrielle Ann Henry as the Blood Widow
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

This simple, yet effective little slasher surprised me. While it doesn’t really do much to move the genre forward at all, it does do the age old stalk and slash some right justice.

BLOOD WIDOW beat for beat is your typical slasher film in story structure. There’s a first kill, followed by a group of young people stuck in a foreign locale with no phone reception (of course), there’s a spooky house next door that is too tempting to not go explore, and of course, a killer who does away with said kids one after another until one is left; which for some reason is much harder to do away with than the others. That’s BLOOD WIDOW’s story in a nutshell and you can hold that template to about a million and one other films and it all matches perfectly.

What makes BLOOD WIDOW stand out is that it does it all with a firm hand on building tension, built investment in the characters in peril, and gives us an interesting killer to shock us/root for. First things first, the Blood Widow herself is creepy as all get out. Wearing a creepy emotionless mask and leather dominatrix gear, she definitely has a look that sets her apart from the usual killers. Simply because she’s a female striking out against this crew spices things up a bit. But because she’s as silent and deadly a killer as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, it makes her all the more terrifying. More like Michael, the Blood Widow is eyeless and emotionless and apart from a scream of agony and maybe a little ecstasy towards the end of the film, the Blood Widow moves around in the shadows, out of the view of her victims and in the periphery much like Michael did in those first few HALLOWEEN’s.

Director Jeremiah Buckhalt patiently maps out sequences that most of the time pay off in terms of built tension. Again, he’s using a template mostly originated by John Carpenter in HALLOWEEN, but it’s one oft ignored by modern filmmakers who rely on the music bang/jump scare instead of the slow build which in my opinions always wins in the scare race (if there was such a thing as a scare race). The story takes it’s time as well to even reveal the bare snippets of info they do about this mysterious leather clad killer. Some scratchy photos and a few diary entries offer up just enough to make things uncomfortable and creepy, again the filmmakers (this time mostly the writers Chad Coup and Ian H. Davis) using that patient and conservative hand at doling out the scares.

There are moments where the acting is a bit dodgy and the party scene which is supposed to be off the hook looks way too staged and lame with too many extras looking at the camera, but these are minor details in a film which does a lot of stuff right in terms of making an effective slasher film. This mysterious and deadly new killer that appears in BLOOD WIDOW is definitely something I’d love to see more of, though hopefully, any potential sequels will use the same steady hand with the scares and info behind the killer.

New this week on DVD from Phase 4 Films/Uncork’d Entertainment!


Directed by Riccardo Paoletti
Written by Manuela Cacciamani, Carlo Longo (screenplay)
Starring Daisy Keeping, David Brandon, Joy Tanner, Martin Kashirokov
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

This is a week for surprising films that I had little enthusiasm about going into them. NEVERLAKE evokes the same kind of fairy tale whimsy that permeated films like PAN’S LABYRINTH and THE ORPHANAGE, yet manages to maintain the danger and scares that those films did so well.

NEVERLAKE centers on a young girl Jenny (Daisy Keeping) who visits her estranged father (a stoic David Brandon) in Italy and hopes to reconnect with him, yet finds him hard to reach and constantly distracted by work. This leaves Jenny on her own to explore the countryside where she feels drawn to a particular lake called Neverlake or the Lake of Idols. Reading poetry and sketching in her notebook, Jenny meets a group of children, all orphans and some badly injured who take her back to a dank and dreary hospital in the woods. A mystery of sorts unfolds as Jenny begins to find links between the Lake of Idols, the children, and her father’s secret work. It’s all nefarious and fairy tale like, mostly because it’s being told from the perspective of a young girl in a gothic atmosphere.

Atmosphere is key in these sorts of films and the dark waters of the lake composed with the seemingly always wet forest around it and the run down hospital provides a ton of it. Jenny’s cold and monotone narration and reading of poetry also adds to the haunting quality of this film which does hide some really dark secrets. Some of the secrets, I predicted from the get go (such as the true origins of the children), but there are others that took me by surprise at how dire and evil they turned out to be. Given the fairy tale tone, I guess I was expecting some kind of happy ending, but this one has nothing like that.

And I love this film for that reason. NEVERLAKE is well acted throughout, filled with actors I haven’t seen before, but will look for in the future. Daisy Keeping herself is really good and will grow to be a beautiful woman one day. She’s got an enchanting Jennifer Connely in LABYRINTH quality here. David Brandon is also really strong as the mysterious father who is able to switch the warm fatherly tone with a cold one at a whim.

Those who love the film of Guillermo Del Toro and the like are going to want to take a trip to NEVERLAKE. It’s filled with ancient mystic lore, a slightly overly CG lake monster, and a gothic atmosphere that oozes off the screen.

New this week On Demand & iTunes!

DUST OF WAR (2013)

Directed by Andrew Kightlinger
Written by Adam Emerson & Steven Luke (story), Andrew Kightlinger (screenplay)
Starring Steven Luke, Jordan McFadden, Gary Graham, Bates Wilder, Tristan Barnard, Aaron Courteau, Paul Cram, John Cromwell, Wade Everett, Paul Guggenheimer, Doug Jones, Tony Todd
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Man, the apocalypse is going to suck. Everything is going to be dreary and blandly colored. There’s dirt and dust everywhere. And it’s really going to be tough getting a kickball team together what with warring factions of humanity battling it out like Neanderthals over a prize mammoth. Nothing about DUST OF WAR is particularly bad, but then again, nothing about it is particularly new either.

The very Ryan Gosling-ish Steven Luke plays Abel, a wandering tough guy who has a knack for being captured and then escaping from the enemies in this barren ROAD WARIOR-esque apocalyptical setting the movie takes place in. Abel is a man of few words and a man of extreme action when the time is right. Luke is fine in the lead role, though it does seem like the director saw DRIVE, told Luke to watch DRIVE, and then instructed the actor to act as if that character in DRIVE were somehow swept up and deposited in the middle of a dirty, dusty apocalypse. Because of the actor’s look and behavior is so similar to Gosling’s iconic role in DRIVE, it proves to be less something the audience can identify with and more of an annoyance for me. Short of brooding and looking dirty, Steven Luke doesn’t do anything particularly bad, but also doesn’t bring a lot to the table here.

And the film hinges on Abel as the one man who is able to rescue a young girl named Ellie (Jordan McFadden) from a sadistic general (Bates Wilder). Ellie has some kind of unknown ties to the invading aliens which is the cause of all of this apocalypticy stuff happening in the first place and seems to be the one object that everyone wants in this film. Though the story doesn’t do a really good job of explaining why everyone wants her, it does keep the action moving at a brisk pace to distract you from asking that question until the very end when that answer finally comes.

Along the way, ALIEN NATION’s Gary Graham serves as Abel’s soldier buddy and a deserter named Gelman (Paul Cram) tags a long for comic relief. Also on this road to nowhere, Tony Todd and Doug Jones play performers who give shelter to a bunch of children in a traveling circus caravan. All of them fodder for the evil General and his forces to use as bargaining chips or target practice, depending on whatever compels them on that particular day. Graham is fun as the crusty older soldier too old for this shit, but Todd and Jones are mere cameos, though they do get top billing in the posters and offer up each of their individual charm in the short time they are on screen. The General (Bates Wilder) is a standout here as he delivers an atypical evil performance as a subtle and soft spoken bastard in charge. Wilder’s presence makes the stakes all the higher as he truly does a great job of being bad.

Director and co-writer Andrew Kightlinger delivers an especially 80’s-esque adventure yarn as a ragtag group of adventurers must band together against a common foe. Sure this spurned out of the STAR WARS template and DUST OF WAR definitely has the same type of grounded sci-fi vibe of the first of Lucas’ Trilogy, but done so on the budgetary low, more reliant on action, swordplay, and tense moments of grit. The film does get to be repetitious by the end as the group is captured and escape over and over from the evil General. Kightlinger seems to be shooting for the moon here in this ambitious feature which promises more to come in the end sequence. And while the aliens are kind of fun in the brief moments they appear, for the sake of budget, it feels like this is a promo reel for the real sci-fi actioner Kightlinger has planned. More money, more aliens, and less Gosling-esque brooding might make a sequel to DUST OF WAR worthwhile. As is, there’s a lot of DUST OF WAR that ends up paying a little more than homage to many films we all have seen before.

Opening this week in select theaters from Drafthouse Films!

BORGMAN (2013)

Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
Written by Alex van Warmerdam
Starring Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, Alex van Warmerdam, Tom Dewispelaere, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Elve Lijbaart, Dirkje van der Pijl, Pieter-Bas de Waard, Eva van de Wijdeven Eva van de Wijdeven, Annet Malherbe
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Move over David Lynch. Step aside DOGTOOTH director Yorgos Lanthimos. Outtatheway THE WRANGLER director Calvin Reeder. There’s a new filmmaker of the weird in need of the spotlight. Alex van Warmerdam offers up BORGMAN, a film that is as weird as it is fascinating to see unfold. BORGMAN tells its tale in an almost dreamlike fashion with not a whole lot of sense tying it all together, yet still grasping you by the collar and forcing you to never avert your eyes.

The story begins with a trio of hunters (one of them a priest) tracking something in the woods. Underneath the ground, a homeless-looking man (who we later know as Borgman played by actor Jan Bijvoet) awakes and quickly gathers whatever things he can carry. As the trio of hunters begin to dig into Borgman’s underground shanty, the roof caves in and Borgman flees, alerting other homeless looking people in their underground shanties to flee as he makes his way through the woods. Cut to Borgman approaching random houses and attempting to come in and use their bathtub and with a few unsuccessful attempts, Borgman lights the ire of one resident Richard (Jeroen Perceval) who kicks the shit out of Borgman when he reveals he knows his wife Marina (Hadewych Minis). With her interest piqued and her sympathies pulled, Marina sets Borgman up in their guest house unbeknownst to her husband and thus begins the subtle, yet persistent takeover of the house by Borgman and his gypsy-esque grifter bretheren.

Much more like an infestation movie than anything else, van Warmerdam is painstakingly patient as Borgman slowly works himself into the lives of Marina’s family to the point where he becomes the crucial hub and most controlling factor of the household, enveloping all of them from Marina all the way down to her small children and even the au pair into the palm of his hand. All the while, Borgman and the gypsy-grifters true intentions are left unrevealed. These home invaders definitely have some kind of plan as it appears they have done it all many times as evidenced by the way the grifters move about their business in an almost worker ant like state—runnign on pure instinct and never questioning or faltering in their plans. But the motivations and some very crucial details are left out making this film all the more mysterious.

One of the reasons why this film is so watchable despite the lack of knowing what the hell is going on is Jan Bijvoet’s inscrutable yet infectious performance as Borgman. At once he is endearing in a Charlie Chaplin/Roberto Benigni sort of way, yet a complete, almost alien enigma. His long hair and beard make you want to believe that this is a story about a well intentioned man fallen on hard times. Having his head kicked in during the opening moments adds to that sympathy. But once inside the home, it’s quite obvious that much like Marina, the viewer is also lulled into this man’s charm and we (along with Marina) don’t realize how dangerous he is until it’s too late. Bijvoet is a complete enigma here and while he does do a lot, his actions are utterly surprising and shocking every step of the way.

The dark unknown depths this film plunges into are deeper than any film I’ve seen so far this year. Are these guys aliens? Are they some kind of vampires? Or demons? Or some race of monster I have never heard of? I found myself asking these questions towards the end of this film and was preparing myself to expect anything since van Warmerdam really does show with this film an unreality that feels like it’s just off to the left of the worlds Lynch, Lanthimos, and Reeder have taken us in the past. It’s a dreamlike realm that looks like the world outside our window, but the longer we stay there the less it makes sense.

And like a dream, I think those taking a chance on BORGMAN this week will either react by snapping out of it and disconnecting when everything gets too wonky or riding it out to see what crazy new corner this film will turn. I stuck with it and being the type of viewer that doesn’t need everything over-explained and mapped out for me, I was ok with the ambiguous feelings I felt after watching Borgman and his crew wreck this family with their unconventional and often alien behavior. But I can see those who prefer more concrete storytelling being infuriated with the movie. Whether you like it for its overflowing cup of weirdness or not, BORGMAN is undeniably original and, for me at least, a surreal look at how little it takes to pull a family apart at the seams.

In select theaters today from Well Go USA Entertainment!


Directed by Juno Mak
Written by Lai-yin Leung, Philip Yung
Starring Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Kara Hui, Hoi-Pang Lo, Richard Ng, Hee Ching Paw
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

With the inundation of vampire and zombie films that all of us have grown weary of, I long for an undead film that is different from a tired Bram Stoker rewrite, a trendy teen comedy, or a pairing zombies with some other obscure group. Close to twenty five years ago, I was lucky enough to happen across a copy of MR. VAMPIRE, a chop-socky masterpiece that not only had amazing kung fu, but incorporated horrific Hong Kong legends, the rituals to raise the dead, and the horrors these spells are capable of inflicting. In MR. VAMPIRE, a complex tale is told involving ghosts, vampires, undead, and diabolical humans. Almost thirty years after MR. VAMPIRE was first released, Juno Mak brings the classic hopping vampire and all of the mysticism that made MR. VAMPIRE so fun all those years ago back for RIGOR MORTIS; a new take on ancient Hong Kong lore that plays like the perfect mix of old and new, pulling from a variety of genres to dazzle the eyes and ears and shoot a full body shiver straight down one’s spine.

Fuck the vampires that knock on your door, asking to come in and then getting all romantical. Hopping vampires don’t sparkle, they terrify. More undead zombie than actual vamp, the origins of these creatures of the night lays in mythology and mysticism. But while most vamps want to tap an artery, this one is liable to kung fu your ass in two and drink from the ensuing spatter. For ages, I’ve waited for someone to come along and shed some light on this classic version of vampires and with most recent vampire flicks (I’m looking at you DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA, TWILIGHT, and VAMPIRE ACADEMY) have failed to have anything resembling teeth, RIGOR MORTIS offers up a specific species of undead that is uncommon and refreshing—baring enough resemblance to the vampires we know, giving them a much needed goose.

Like MR. VAMPIRE, the story of RIGOR MORTIS is rather complex. A washed up actor moves into an apartment complex with an intention to kill himself, but instead finds that this building is teeming with dormant and not so dormant spirits, two of which are just itching to possess anyone with a hint of blackness inside of them. These two souls are the restless spirits of twins who used to live in the building and died violently.

But that’s not all of the story. On different floors of the building lives a pair of exorcist/vampire hunters who are on the outs and have hung up their stakes and totems in retirement. When the mystic stuff starts to splatter across the floor and all over the walls, they are called out of retirement to help cleanse the building of evil spirits. But that’s still not all, as on another floor, an elderly man takes a tumble down the stairs, and not wanting to let go of her husband, the elderly woman chooses to use an age-old ritual to bring him back to life and unknowingly creates a hopping vampire in the process. The real problems begin when all of these forces clang together violently in the third act—and this clang is almost deafening.<br.
Visually, RIGOR MORTIS is a feast and a half. Everything from ultra-slo mo shots of the twin ghosts bouncing up and down the hallways, to the ever changing claustrophobic interiors which turn from water to mud to fire depending on what spells are being cast. There are parts of this film that were reminiscent of THE MATRIX and while some may criticize that these lifts are too on the nose, I found it to be refreshing to be experiencing a film which may be on par for horror as THE MATRIX is for sci fi in terms of visual delights.

This is a scary ass film as well. There are some scenes, especially the ones involving the twins which again are reminiscent of THE SHINING meets THE GRUDGE, but altogether original in their presentation nevertheless. Director Juno Mak puts together some utterly terrifying sequences that caused goose bumps in ways few films have been able to for me. Sure, it’s tapping into some of the primal fears as the twin ghosts move in a skittering, rat like manner while the long shots of the imposing vampire hovering across the corridors dragging his feet behind him push different fear reflexes as Mak isn’t all for flash all of the time and is able to set up a tense scene masterfully as well.

The fact that some of the elder actors in this film were also actors in MR. VAMPIRE makes RIGOR MORTIS a must see for fans of the hopping vamp subgenre. While there are all sorts of lifts from other fear and action films, RIGOR MORTIS does so and incorporates it all brilliantly. The film also serves as a wonderful gateway into a whole world of horror that is probably unfamiliar to most, but will most likely be a welcome change to vamps in this worn out age of the hoodie-wearing navel-gazing variety we’ve all become bored with. Mak is fantastic, as are all of the cast, and successful at bringing a different type of horror film to light. Full of acrobatic and absorbing sequences of horrific elements, I hope RIGOR MORTIS is a new trend in horror that plums the less charted corners from the past and gives them a shiny new coat of visual dexterity and power. RIGOR MORTIS hits you like a whirlwind with horror from baser levels of darkness in ways that feel fresh, yet all together terrifying.

Advance Review!


Directed by John Schneider
Written by John Schneider
Starring Kane Hodder, R.A. Mihailoff, Bill Moseley, Brea Grant, Dane Rhodes, Malcolm Danare, Don Shanks, Rachel Alana Handler, Amy Brassette, Ritchie Montgomery, John Schneider, Michael Berryman, John Kassir, Aiden Flowers, Andrew Bowen, Wayne Pére, Shanna Forrestall, David Jensen, Adria Tennor, Jeff Galpin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Anyone who has been to a horror convention or a fan expo or a comic convention should know that the life of a con celebrity isn’t the most glamorous. Sure there are the big stars that are shipped in from the studios for the day, but those don’t count. I’m talking about the guys who go on tour with the cons, making money out of the obscure celebrity they’ve carved out for themselves from that one role in that one movie all those years ago. Anyone who has seen THE WRESTLER has seen a snippet of this kind of life and while I don’t want to make a broad comment that all of these convention stars are in the same boat, I’ve seen enough of them at cons and talked with many of them to know that it’s a hard life. Still, it’s a living and I respect these guys who I see over and over at the various cons I attend as much for living it as I do for starring in that one role in that one movie all of those years ago.

SMOTHERED is a love letter to all of those former/semi/past celebrities who you’ve seen lining the exterior of the cons; signing the glossies, smiling until their faces crack for photos, and living from one con to the next. The film itself stars quite a few celebrities of horror and at times, feels somewhat like an EXPENDABLES of horror, minus a few key horror icons like Robert Englund, Doug Bradley, and maybe Brad Dourif. Still the ones who did show up to star in SMOTHERED seem to have had a blast making it and also seem to still have a lot of talent to carry a movie themselves as they may have done all those years ago.

And what a cast it is. Kane Hodder is stepping into the lead role and as I’ve seen before in some of his more obscure and hockey-maskless roles (EXIT 33, THE AFFLICTED, & EXIT TO HELL), he is a good actor and a strong presence in front of the camera. Here he calls the shots of the group confidently, chasing dreams and being both optimistic and hopeful even when the bodies of his compadres start piling up. Along with Hodder, Don Shanks is the other true standout here and the biggest surprise as he owns every scene he is in, playing the coolest man in the room despite his age—buff as all get out and still possessing that cold stare he cast as Michael Myers many moons ago. Who’d have thunk he was able to be so confident, chilling, and strong in this pic? I didn’t but now, I kind of want to see Shanks star in everything and get a shot to show how damn cool he is to more people.

The rest of the cast have fun supporting roles. RA “TCMIII’s Leatherface” Mihailov has fun as the groups’ fraidy cat while TCMII’s Chop-Top Bill Moseley doesn’t have a lot to do with his character which is obviously supposed to have been for Robert Englund. Other obscuriosities such as Malcolm Danare who was the fat kid who was run down by the flaming car in CHRISTINE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES’ Michael Berryman, Crypt-Keeper John Kassir, and writer/director John Schneider himself appear in key roles. The lovely Brea Grant literally rounds out the cast with enormous fake boobs which may or may not have something to do with the title of the film (**SPOILER**they do**END SPOILER**). Grant seems to be having a great time turning the tables and inflicting the horror upon these icons instead of being on the chopping end of things as she usually is as the damsel.

The film itself is a little bit odd, a little bit genius, and a little bit off at times. There are genuine moments of laugh out loud funny as these horror icons aren’t too big in the britches to laugh at themselves. The timeline flips and flops around, but somehow Schneider never lost me despite all of this. There’s also a lot of typed out captions describing which character is which, what part of the timeline the movie is taking place in, and highlighting key lines from the cast. These captions bordered on annoying, but did serve a purpose for the narrative, so I understand why he did them. The quotes from the script is slightly masturbatory, but the cast at times is a lot of fun and waiting to see what the context the pull quote takes in the upcoming scene did add to the fun of this film.

The only minor annoyance is the fact that instead of Leatherface, when referring to RA Mahailov’s character he plays in the movies we get Quiltface. Instead of Jason, there’s Mason. Instead of Freddy, it’s Teddy. Surprisingly, typing out what these guy’s iconic roles were in their captioned bios is included, but naming them verbally seems to be a no-no. I’d have preferred not to name those names than coming up with corny alternatives, but that’s just a small pet peeve in an otherwise fun film.

The true highlight of the film lies in the honor director/writer John Schneider has placed on the shoulders of these horror icons. Like THE EXPENDABLES, he treats these guys like battle-scarred soldiers who can’ leave the war behind them (or in this case, the movies that made them famous). In doing so, he casts this motley crew in an instantly likable light, making us root for them as they search for a that golden goose at the end of the rainbow or that second chance at superstardom. Schneider’s adoration for these guys, this genre, and this lifestyle is present throughout SMOTHERED and while there may be a few stumbles along the way, it proved to be a fun film true horror fans are bound to appreciate.

And finally…here’s a short from friend of AICN HORROR Patrick Rea. This one is called HOURGLASS FIGURE! And it’s a good one. Enjoy!

The Hourglass Figure from Patrick Rea on Vimeo.

See ya next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 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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