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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 theater specters, a funky psychopath, celebrity cannibals, a post-partum psycho, pimpin’ Nazis, a real canine cop, Amsterdam undead, a haunted house, another bushel of MONSTERS TV episodes, and a fake Jason!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Celebrate Friday the 13th with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
AICN HORROR Book Review: LIFE’S LOTTERY Novel (2014)
The Boo Tube: MONSTERS Season Two Episodes 11-17 (1990)
Video Nasty Retro-review: THE GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY (1977)
Retro-review: RAVENOUS (1999)
HAUNT (2012)
WOLFCOP (2013)
And finally…Joe Patnaud’s THE COLD HEART OF CRYSTAL LAKE!

Get the FRIDAY THE 13TH The Complete Collection BluRay here!


Directed by Danny Steinmann
Written by Martin Kitrosser & David Cohen (story), Danny Steinmann, Martin Kitrosser & David Cohen (screenplay)
Starring Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Juliette Cummins, Carol Locatell, Vernon Washington, John Robert Dixon, Jerry Pavlon, Anthony Barrile, Dominick Brascia, Tiffany Helm, Richard Lineback, Suzanne Bateman, Bob DeSimone, Jere Fields, Ric Mancini, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Corey Parker, Rebecca Wood, Ron Sloan, Deborah Voorhees, Corey Feldman, & Dick Wieand & Tom Morga as “Jason”
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

In no way will FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING ever be mistaken as a good film, but through the years, the film itself has come to mean numerous things to me. As a child growing up loving the F13 series and watching a new F13 film being released every year, the film was a refreshing testament that Jason would never die, even after his so-called FINAL CHAPTER. As a pre-teen, I appreciated A NEW BEGINNING for its gratuitous nudity, which I will get to in a minute, but still needs to be mentioned when talking about this film. And as an adult who loves the genre but is able to recognize its faults, I find it somewhat of a turning point for this film series.

At the end of PART 4, we were lead to believe that Jason Voorhees was dead and buried. As Tommy Jarvis thwacked him in the head with a machete and he slid down the length of it upon falling to the floor, it seemed that Jason had heard his last “Kill Kill Kill Ma Ma Ma!” But box office numbers proved to be more powerful than any massive head wound, and less than a year later, a new FRIDAY THE 13TH film—this one redundantly titled A NEW BEGINNING--was churned out. Director Danny Steinmann was set to direct the sequel to LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but when that production went belly-up, he was shuffled over to Crystal Lake. With the way FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING ended up, it appears a rape/revenge saga may have been a better fit for him. Steinmann’s takes and retakes for the nude scenes in this film are much talked about in CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES, the book documenting the making of the F13 series, and one that leaves a kind of bad taste in my mouth rewatching the film.

Still, as a teenage boy, I remember drooling like a dog at the amount of nudity in this film (which consists of only three scenes, but these scenes are about as gratuitous as one can get in terms of maximum boobage). One of my most vivid recollections about F13 PART 5 was seeing it in the theater sitting next to my mom (I was 12 in 1985 and unable to see the film without her being there). When the voluptuous Deborah Sue Voorhees removes her top and reveals her…ahem…large assets, I clearly remember an older teen a few rows back exclaiming “Oh my god!” at the glorious sight. It’s one of those mixed emotional moments that littered my youth, where the budding man in me wanted to laugh and maybe ogle a bit, but the embarrassed kid in me sitting next to my mom wanted to simply and completely disappear.

Nude scenes aside, F13 PART 5 should be commended for continuing the story of Camp Crystal Lake and its most infamous resident practically right where the last one left off. Opening with what turns out to be a flashback scene, Corey Feldman returns briefly as Tommy Jarvis, spying on a pair of grave robbers digging up Jason Voorhees’ grave only to find him alive and stabbing in his coffin. As the dark eyes of the hokey mask focus on Tommy in the pouring rain and advances, a much older Tommy (played woodenly by John Shepherd) awakens in a car on his way to a mental facility. We learn Tommy has been shuffled around from one mental facility to another in the ten years since the night he took on Jason, but the ghost of that night and the killer himself seems to be appearing in the periphery, haunting his waking hours as well as his dreams. The mental facility provides quite a lot of fodder for a killer if this were a proper FRIDAY THE 13TH film, but Jason’s dead, right? This becomes fuzzy when the bodies start piling up, and while all fingers point to Tommy as the killer, the sheer randomness of the kills and the distance between them might say otherwise. And the bodies do pile high, as Steinmann revealed that part of the deal he had with the studios was that a kill had to happen every 8 minutes in this film.

A few things are worth mentioning here. Corey Feldman was apparently set to star in PART 5, but he decided to pass in favor of a little film called GOONIES from some obscure director instead and his role was lessened to a cameo. His scene in the film is fun, but it still makes me wonder how cool it would have been had Feldman reprised the role. The appearance of DIFF’RENT STROKES’ Dudley (Shavar Ross) and his weird importance to this storyline may be attributed to the fact that a kid was written into the script thinking it would have been Feldman and a rewrite kept the kid role in there. Still, Ross is present all through the climax of this film, but oddly disappears after the showdown in the barn.

As far as kills, most of them are pretty uneventful and unspectacular. For the most part, stabbings seem to be the soup of the day this Friday the 13th, and aside from scenes like a road flare to the mouth and a belt wrapped around someone’s head, and maybe that hatchet scene, most of the killings happen simply to up the body count with little other purpose. Still, standout kills like Vi’s horrible breakdance leading up to her death and the aforementioned Deborah Sue Vorhees’ bouncy death scene make some of them worth watching. Steinmann tries to make this one a mystery, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that the killer is not Jason, but anyone with three brain cells can put together who the culprit is with his obvious dialog and pretentious staring at the camera every time he’s in frame.

I find it interesting that the seeds of one of the most annoying aspects of a later F13 film (JASON GOES TO HELL) were first planted in F13 PART 5—this being the fact that Jason is more of an infection rather than a singular killer. The fact that numerous people are perceived as possessed by the soul of the killer are hinted at numerous times in this film with two different people. Tommy himself fights urges to kill, and while there is a hokey motive motivating the real killer in PART 5, it could be argued that Jason was haunting him from beyond the grave. Yes, it’s a leap, but given the possession/body swapping that goes on in JASON GOES TO HELL, it’s interesting to see that there was evidence supporting this five films before it.

All of the franchises have their missteps. A NIGTHMARE ON ELM STREET has FREDDY’S REVENGE. TEXAS CHAINSAW has THE NEXT GENERATION. HALLOWEEN has SEASON OF THE WITCH (which is still a fun film, but a bad sequel). There comes a time in every franchise when the studios see that the same old same old was starting to lose its luster and new elements are injected in order to revitalize the franchise. But changing FRIDAY THE 13TH back into a whodunit, even though it is the type of film that began the franchise in the original, was a mistake. Without Jason, there is no FRIDAY THE 13Th, and studios quickly brought him back zombified and stronger than ever in PART 6. Still, it was a ballsy move to try to bring the mystery back to the series. Some ballsy moves succeed. Others fail.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING ended up being a prime example of why folks turn up their nose at this franchise. It’s filled with senseless kills, gratuitous nudity, and a threadbare plot. While the first four tied together somewhat not only in timelines, but also in theme, A NEW BEGINNING boiled the films down to basics and instead of exploring themes of innocence lost, mother/son relationships, authority challenged, and disregarded youth, it was death and sex and more death and big, big boobs. While I don’t hate the film, it annoys me that this is the one that seems to give those who dislike the series ammunition against the series as a whole.

Extras for F13 PART 5 on the FRIDAY THE 13TH The Complete Collection BluRay include a commentary track by Steinmann and some of the cast, as well as a behind the scenes interview short featuring Corey Feldman talking about his brief cameo and what he would love to do if he ever returned to the franchise as Tommy Jarvis. There’s also another episode from the TALES FROM CAMP BLOOD series that makes the actual films seem downright dense in terms of character and story, and Part II of THE CRYSTAL LAKE MASSACRE--a faux tabloid news show tying the story of Part 4 and Part 5 together that was actually pretty fun, as well as a making of feature talking with key cast members including talking with both men behind the masks in this episode (Dick Wieand, who played Roy, & Tom Morga, who was the stuntman who played Jason), director Steinmann, and composer Harry Manfredini & the below theatrical trailer. Fun supplemental stuff, but nothing utterly jaw-dropping is revealed in any of it—still a must for any self-respecting F13 fan.

Links to previous FRIDAY THE 13TH Coverage!
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)/FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982) Review

AICN Horror Book Review!

LIFE'S LOTTERY Novel (2014)

Written by Kim Newman
Published by Titan Books
Reviewed by Lyzard

Summer vacations are typically a time to catch up on those books you said you'd read months ago but never got around to and to finally give them the attention they deserve. And that is exactly what the re-release of Kim Newman's LIFE'S LOTTERY needs: attention. A mature choose-your-own adventure novel, LIFE'S LOTTERY isn't a book you simply pick up and down, wearing out a flimsy bookmark. LIFE'S LOTTERY is the type of literary work that forces the reader to become involved, though the amount of time you dedicate to it is completely up to you, or should I say your choices.

The basic premise of LIFE'S LOTTERY is the consequences of all decisions you make in your life, no matter how earlier on or how trivial they may seem. You could read a story that has few supernatural occurrences, but if you do get to the horror, don’t expect the typical Newman affair. This isn’t a monster-filled book, unlike his ANNO DRACULA series. Here the monsters are much more mysterious, hiding in the shadows. Depending on your decisions, you may never get an explanation as to what lurks beyond.

Reading LIFE'S LOTTERY makes me feel like a guinea pig in some sadistic literary experience. I'm not new to the genre, growing up in the heyday of Bantam’s illustrious series of publications, but even those stories provided most individual readings with some answers and interesting (though usually painful) conclusions. LIFE'S LOTTERY reminds me of Dara O'Briain's sketch on the difference between video games and other art forms:

“You cannot be bad at watching a movie. You cannot be bad at listening to an album. But you can be bad at playing a video game and the video game will punish you and deny you access to the rest of the video game.”

With LIFE'S LOTTERY you can be bad, and not just in a moral sense. You can make choices that result in an underwhelming tale with little to take away from it. I guess in this way it forces you to re-read the book, trying to improve the plot, but it can also be rather frustrating.

To make matters that much more difficult are the instructions, the guide mapping out your choices. If you choose "A" go to 26, if you choose "B" go to 22. Typically this means turn to page 26 or page 22, but not in the case of LIFE'S LOTTERY. Here you have to find section 26 or 22 and as there is no table of contents to assist you, this results in a great deal of page flipping back and forth. Then there are the instructions that render a bookmark useless, such as "read 13 and come back here." Let's say you read section 13 and take a break for a day or so. You come back to the instruction "Go on" at the end of section 13, so if you don't remember the prior instructions there goes that storyline. You can get even weirder instructions like "Go to... who cares where you go to." Actually, that last one is pretty cool, and there are a few others that break up the monotony and provide a great example of the dark wit Newman is capable of.

I had to read LIFE'S LOTTERY with a notepad next to me in order to keep track of my choices...and to write down the many questions I had. Turns out there are annotations in the back meant for American audiences. Maybe Anglophiles have a favorite Blake-7 character or an understanding of modern British political figures, but I am not one of those, and without footnotes or a reference to endnotes, my choices were a metaphorical roll of the dice, which does to some extent tie into a book that has the word "lottery" in the title.

I have a love-hate relationship with LIFE’S LOTTERY. I love what it tries to be, but it just misses the mark. There is a truly great story, or stories, within these pages. It is a nice break from the typical monster fare out on the market today and can be a refreshing reading experience, when the system isn’t broken.

So if you want a change from the ho-hum summer reading, a book that makes you question morality, a tale of the supernatural that will have you viewing even our own reality in a new way, Kim Newman's LIFE'S LOTTERY may work for you. Who knows, maybe enough sales will result in an e-book release from Titan, where LIFE’S LOTTERY can best be told and experienced.

Lyzard is Lyz Reblin, a graduate student at the University of Texas pursuing a master's degree in Media Studies... which is just a fancy way of saying she plays a lot video games, watches far too many horror films, and then tries to pass it all off as "research."

Retro-review: Collected DVD Box Set new this week from eOne Entertainment!


Season Two: Episodes 11-17 (1990)
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Ahhh, MONSTERS. It’s one of those TV series that warms my heart. Back in the late 80’s, when practical effects were king, Mitchell Gallin and Richard P. Rubinstein, the producers of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE TV series, decided to put together a show which highlighted a different story about a different monster every week. In my region the show was broadcast late at night, and it was a thrill to be able to stay up late and watch it. Now, given the amount of years since I’ve watched it, I’m bound to be disappointed at the way some of them present upon reviewing. But still, this was a fun series deserving of this look back, episode by episode, of this quaint little shock series. I’m currently looking back on the TWILIGHT ZONE series as well, so for the time being, I’ll be flipping between TZ and MONSTERS every week looking back on TV horrors of yesteryear episode by episode!

Episode 2.11: Half as Old as Time
Directed by Christopher Todd
Written by Thomas Babe (teleplay), Taenha Goodrich & Jake West (story)
Starring Leif Garrett, Valerie Wildman, Nick Ramus

This short but sweet story has some fun with old Native American legend with the search for the fountain of youth mixed in. Leif Garrett under a ton of old age makeup (at least at the beginning) stars as an archaeologist who is approaching the end of his days. After reaching out to his daughter who has been able to get friendly with the local Native Americans, he tries to get her to reveal their secrets for eternal youth. Things go bad quickly and this one ends on a note that really is haunting, though it was somewhat of a rush to get there. The effects here are definitely not the highlight, as this is much more of a story that highlights the morality of the evil deeds done.

Episode 2.12: Museum Hearts
Directed by Theodore Gershuny
Written by David P. Beavers (story), Theodore Gershuny (teleplay)
Starring Patrick Breen, Louise Roberts, Sarah Trigger, Pamela Dean Kelly

Writer/director of the creepy SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT Theodore Gershuny brings us a weird little tale about a playboy museum worker who is caught cheating in the basement of the museum by his wife, but the three of them find themselves having to bury the hatchet since they find themselves trapped underground with a bog woman creature after them. Things get rather mystical and the bog woman ends up banding with her sisters to attack the male, Patrick Breen who is recognizable from MEN IN BLACK & GALAXY QUEST. The creepy bog woman makeup is what makes this episode worth checking out.

Episode 2.13: Habitat
Directed by Bette Gordon
Written by David Morrell
Starring Lili Taylor, Frederick Wessler

David Morrell wrote FIRST BLOOD and also wrote this tale of isolation and its effects on the human psyche. A super young Lili Tayor appears as a woman who apparently has been chosen to take part in an experiment where she is trapped in a room that looks like an ill-lit dance club. Taylor does a decent job carrying the entire episode on her shoulders, talking expository blocks to the camera that are supposed to be keeping her sane, but also giving the viewer a little backstory on this vague experiment. The odd twist and comment on humanity’s need for both isolation and connection seems rather heavy-handed and not fully realized, and the episode is tough to sit through given that Taylor’s acting abilities hadn’t fully matured yet for this episode to make her interesting enough to watch for the whole thing alone.

Episode 2.14: Bed and Boar
Directed by Sara Driver
Written by David Odell
Starring Steve Buscemi, Jodie Markell, Charles Kay-Hune

The director of this episode was Sara Driver, who helped write the Bill Murray film BROKEN FLOWERS, and the writer was David Odell, who wrote episodes of THE MUPPET SHOW, SUPERGIRL, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE THE MOVIE, & THE DARK CRYSTAL, but even that pedigree plus the appearance of a very youthful Steve Buscemi can’t save this episode from being a stinker. A twist on the ancient Greek myth of Circe, traveling salesman Buscemi finds himself enamored with the girl he discovers in the hotel room next door to him and petrified by her husband, who is half-man/half-pig. Buscemi is great here in this pre-RESERVOIR DOGS role, but doesn’t give any signs of the greatness he rises to. This is a fun episode with some unconventional pig makeup, but nothing spectacular.

Episode 2.15: Mr. Swlabr
Directed by Warner Shook
Written by Steven L. Nelson (story), Jule Selbo (teleplay)
Starring Kate McGregor-Stewart, Robert Oliveri, Danielle Ferland

Directed by Warner Shook, who had bit parts in Romero’s KNIGHTRIDERS, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and CREEPSHOW and starring HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS’ Robert Oliveri, this episode plays out like a special needs version of ET where a young boy happens upon a small monster that ends up making his horrible life better through lots of slime, fart noises, and a little harmless fun. The cartoonish take on this episode makes everything feel disposable and almost immediately forgetful, and the dinosaur-like creature puppet is horribly done as well. This is one of those episodes all involved, including the audience, is better off forgetting.

Episode 2.16: Perchance to Dream
Directed by Paul Boyington
Written by Michael Reaves
Starring Raphael Sbarge, Sarah Buxton, Kenneth Danziger

Michael Reaves, who did quite a lot of work on cartoons such as GARGOYLES, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS wrote this episode directed by Paul Boyington, who was the Visual Effects Director from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S DEAD. Boyington injects a lot of the pop psychology he learned from ANOES into this Freddy-lite episode of MONSTERS. Raphael Sbarge (best known for MY SCIENCE PROJECT and RISKY BUSINESS) plays a young man plagued by nightmares. His girlfriend (ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL FOREVER’s Sarah Buxton) brings over a sleep specialist, and into the dream world the couple go to conquer his sleep problems. Bad green screen effects ensue in this weird little caper of an episode, as a man from the subway seems to have insidious plans for the sleepless couple. This episode is filled with really bad effects, yet retains a hokey charm because of it.

Episode 2.17: One Wolf’s Family
Directed by Alex Zamm
Written by Paul Dini
Starring Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Robert Clohessy, Amy Stiller, Karen Shallo

Alex Zamm, who directed such classics as JINGLE ALL THE WAY 2, INSPECTOR GADGET 2, BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA 2, and let us not forget Carrot Top’s CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD directs a script from comic book master Paul Dini (known for BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, SUPERMAN, & BATMAN BEYOND) which stars real life couple Jerry Stiller (SEINFELD/KING OF QUEENS) and Anne Meara (also KING OF QUEENS). But more of the Stiller brood show up here as their actual daughter and Ben’s sis Amy Stiller makes an appearance as well, in this tale about a werewolf father coming to terms with his werewolf daughter planning to marry another species of were-creature. Though rich in metaphoric potential, this one goes for easy humor, overacting, and broad strokes storytelling. Not scary in the least, this episode is fun because of the performances by the character actors involved and a few fun bits of gore tossed in for good measure..

Previous MONSTERS Episode Reviews!
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.22, 1.23-1.24
Season 2: Episodes 2.1-2.5, 2.6-2.10

Look for more MONSTERS Episodes in two weeks!

Retro-review: New on DVD from Intervision!


Written by Cesare Canevari (screenplay), Antonio Lucarella (screenplay),
Starring Adriano Micantoni, Daniela Poggi, Maristella Greco, Fulvio Ricciardi, Antiniska Nemour, Caterina Barbero, Domenico Seren Gay, Vittorio Joderi, Pietro Bosco, Pietro Vial, Renato Paracchi
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I felt like I needed a shower after watching THE GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY, I am glad of seeing it so I can knock another Video Nasty off of my “to see” list. While some of the films on that list of banned UK films boggle my mind as to why they were included, having viewed the film which mixes torture, rape, nudity, cannibalism, revenge, genocide, and of course, Nazis, I do understand why this particular film was on there.

The story follows a young Jewish girl named Lisa (Daniela Poggi), snagged from Jewish homes and singled out due to her attractive appearance during the war. The group of appealing ones are sent to a camp that is run more like a brothel with a Nazi Commandant, Conrad von Starker (Adriano Micantoni), acting as the head of the facility, but himself describing his role as a glorified pimp. Instead of the usual camp horrifics we have seen in more recent (and most likely more accurate) renditions of the Holocaust, the commandant’s camp is a house of the basest of sexual desires where it is pounded into the troops that the Jewish woman is an object and not something to have feelings for, and the Commandant goes out of his way to prove that by debasing and torturing the women into submission and using them as playthings for the Nazi troops to get their wartime frustrations out. The dead-eyed Lisa piques the interest of the Commandant, who makes it his personal goal to make her feel for something and thus want to live, so he can take that life away. As is, Lisa wants to die and giving her what she wants is not what the Commandant gets off on. The rest of the film follows the twisted game of to care or not to care between Lisa and the Commandant, interspersed between scenes of gratuitous sex and torture.

Let me say right off the bat that this type of film is not my bag. I don’t get off on the torture of women, or anyone else for that matter. If there’s no story, it’s simply gratuitous and be it gratuitous comedy, drama, religious themes, political rhetoric, or whatever, it is happening for no reason and I am not really interested. I will say that if there is a story involved, I can take just about anything and while the film’s scenes of torture and sex are extreme, I have to stand up for GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY, despite my distaste for the extreme lengths it goes, for having a story. With all of the gratuities peeled away, this is a revenge film about a woman who was pushed to the edge and takes her time to get her revenge on those who wronged her. It’s not a complex tale, but at least the story is compelling. And while many might argue that this is a pro-Nazi film, if you stay until the end, the bad guys get their just desserts. Still, the revenge in this film happens in the last 30 seconds of the film, while the Nazi rhetoric, torture of women, and sexual objectification lasts the whole rest of the runtime, so you be the judge on which direction this film leans in terms of what it’s about.

Masochistic and sadistic as this film is (every horrible fetish and perversion one might think of peeks up its head here be it eating shit, incest, rape, or cannibalism), director Cesare Canevari does show that he knows what he’s doing in terms of storytelling and filmmaking. The extended opening which follows a car slowly driving through the countryside while Nazi war crime trials are being played in voiceover is a bizarre juxtaposition at first, but turns out to be the perfect metaphor for the patience Lisa exhibits in order to inflict her revenge. Other scenes such as the initial orgy scene and particularly the dinner scene in which both gentle and sadistic philosophies collide within the ranks of the Nazis are particularly well orchestrated and constructed. While the content of these scenes are vile, I have to admit there is talent behind the lens at bringing these atrocities into focus.

Seeing films like GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY make me wonder why folks made such a to do about the torture porn trend that peaked not too long ago. This type of film which focuses on the destruction of the human body, mind, and soul and decides to show that process every step of the way has been around for a very long time. While a lot of the 00s torture porn seemed to be pointless (and a lot of the Nazi torture sex films are too), there were those that seemed to have a few things like plot and filmmaking skill behind them that made them watchable. Same goes for these Nazi films. GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY is despicable and utterly gross in its content, but the compelling yet simple story makes it more watchable than most.

ACHTUNG! Nazi boobs and all sorts of depravity are ahead in this trailer!

AICN HORROR’s Video Nasty Reviews Checklist!


Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!


Directed by Antonia Bird
Written by Ted Griffin
Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, John Spencer, Stephen Spinella, Neal McDonough, Joseph Runningfox, Bill Brochtrup, Sheila Tousey
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

RAVENOUS is one of those rare gems that shouldn’t be. I mean, I wish there were more films like RAVENOUS out there, sure, but you rarely see a well crafted, gory, star-studded masterpiece such as this film. And the fact that star-studded, gore, and finely crafted rarely appear in the same sense when describing a horror film, while a shame, also makes me appreciate RAVENOUS all the more.

The tone of RAVENOUS is what always struck me as the true oddity of the film. Throughout there’s a humor of the blackest quality. Even the most intense scenes are done with a wry, sort of evil smile. While things get deathly serious, I can’t help but smile when I think of the film’s dark tone and how that is present through the whole darn thing. Sampling from the Donner party platter, director Antonia Bird sets her tale of cannibalism in Fort Spencer, which lies in the heart of the cold American frontier, and populates it with all sorts of unique and fun characters. And while there are many aspects of this film to admire, the cast itself is something to be in awe of.

Guy Pearce (pre-MEMENTO, yet post-LA CONFIDENTIAL) stars as Captain John Boyd, who in an act of cowardice had fate shine kindly on him. Playing possum on the battlefield, Boyd was tossed into the bottom of a pile of his dead American compatriots during a particularly rough battle in the Mexican-American war. As the blood of his fallen brethren seeped into his mouth at the bottom of the pile, he gained an almost inhuman strength and animalistic disposition, allowing him to gain the upper hand behind enemy lines and capture the Mexican army commanders. As a result, Boyd was rewarded and sent to Fort Spencer because his Sergeant recognizes Boyd’s achievement as a falsehood. At the fort he meets the talented on-screen character actor Jeffrey Jones (I won’t debate his off screen controversies here) as the offbeat head of the fort. Alongside him are a gung ho soldier (Neal McDonough), a pothead goofball (David Arquette), and a stuttering coward holy man (Jeremy Davies), each of these character actors not really playing anything but shades of characters they’ve played before, but doing so in this extreme setting and jumbled all together like they are here and it’s instantly entertaining. When a delirious man who we later know as Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) wanders into the camp with tales of desperation and cannibalism among his exploration party, the group sets out to rescue what’s left of his party, and given Boyd’s previous experience with consuming human matter, he’s especially interested in how this effected Colqhoun’s sanity.

Thus begins a tale of man against nature and man against his true bestial nature as Colghoun and Boyd match off against one another, first in the open and snowy hills and then in a blood-splattered mêlée inside the fort itself. This final battle between Boyd and Colghoun is one for the books, as the two men tear each other apart with whatever they can get their hands on with Boyd trying to hold onto any last shred of humanity he has left and Colghoun utterly ignoring his own. The results is one of the best final fight scenes you’re bound to find.

Sure it’s gory. Sure it’s star-studded. But even if this had B-listers and not a drop of blood, the production of this film is impeccably great. Bird soaks in the beauty of the snowy landscape, highlighting treacherous rocky hills, trees with jagged edges, and heights that will make your stomach flip. And on top of the sights, the sounds Bird chose to accompany this cannibalistic Heart of Darkness by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn is utterly unique; as bizarre as it is beautiful, using sounds and rhythms unconventional, yet feeling authentic to the more primitive time. If I weren’t so engaged with the action, scenery, and gore, I’d wonder what the hell kind of alien instruments are making these noises.

But questions like that don’t really matter. This is a perfect story, realized through a talented lens and played out by actors who are the highlight in any film they appear in. RAVENOUS is a brutal film you won’t forget; more about the beast inside every man and how all it takes is a few wrong turns down the right rocky terrain to find it.

The Shout Factory’s BluRay contains all sorts of fun including audio commentary by the late great Antonia Bird herself. There are also commentary tracks from Robert Carlyle by himself, and screenwriter Ted Griffin (who went on to write OCEAN’S ELEVEN) and Jeffrey Jones. There are also the usual trailers, deleted scenes narrated by Bird, an interview with Jeffrey Jones, behind the scenes photos, and a particularly awesome musical track. This edition of RAVENOUS is definitely presenting this odd gem of a film in a way its hasn’t before.

New on DVD from Brain Damage Films!


Directed by Jeff Ferrell
Written by Jeff Ferrell
Starring Brian Sutherland, Lisa Coronado, Eden Campbell, David A. Crellin, Ramona Freeborn, Jeff Ferrell, Russell Hodgkinson, Dennis Kleinsmith
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I was surprised with GHOSTLIGHT, a simple yet effective ghost story set in a haunted theater. The film follows well-tread paths in terms of ideas, but stands out for the careful and imaginative ways in which it takes those paths. The film centers on Andrew (Brian Sutherland), who wins an opportunity to pay for a monumental pile of doctor bills if he can stay the night in a haunted theater. There’s a backstory to the doctor bills that I’ll keep to myself in this review, but it does deal with the heartwarming/heart-wrenching backbone of the film that motivates Andrew and his distraught wife Mira (Lisa Coronado) through the entire film.

The film is structured almost like your typical episode of GHOST HUNTERS, where Andrew is given a guided tour of the haunted theater and an extensive and tragic history of the site is given explaining why the unexplained phenomena occur in this particular locale. At this particular theater, there was a tragic romance between the organist, a stage actress/singer, and the director of a film starring both of them. This spooky triangle is mirrored in the present between the now owner of the theater, Andrew and Mira. If there’s a weakness to this setup it’s the fact that the power of the present day triad isn’t represented or given as much attention as the triangle from the past, and while I can see and appreciate the texture writer/director Jeff Ferrell put into the similarities between these relationships, it just doesn’t feel rightly rendered in the present.

Still, the effective outweighs the ineffective here. The use of sound and especially music is done masterfully here. There a fantastic use of score including what sounds like Tuuvan monk throat singing mixed with actress Ramona Freeborn’s haunting alto vocals in Jeff Farrell’s song “Sleepless.” This song in particular is haunting in both execution as well as the words being sung, as Freeborn’s low tones feel like the moanings of a lost spirit. These sounds set the mood wonderfully and make this theater a place I wouldn’t want to spend the night in.

Farrell also sets up scenes and uses suspense deftly throughout, making Andrew’s wanderings around all the more terrifying as he explores the theater. While the ending felt rather rushed and somewhat too wrapped up in a little bow, it does convey the intense sense of fear and unease that permeates every minute of this movie. GHOSTLIGHT uses old school effects, patient timing with the camera, and a strong story instead of the CG fest and jump scares I’ve become weary of recently. And for that, it’s well worth checking out.

Ghostlight (2013) - Official Trailer (HD) from Jeff Ferrell on Vimeo.

New this week on DVD from IFC Midnight!

HAUNT (2013)

Directed by Mac Carter
Written by Andrew Barrer
Starring Jacki Weaver, Liana Liberato, Harrison Gilbertson, Ione Skye, Brian Wimmer, Danielle Chuchran, Ella Harris, Carl Hadra, Sebastian Michael Barr, Brooke Kelly, Maggie Scott, Jan Broberg
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A few well-placed scares and some night CG creature effects make HAUNT a bit more effective than your usual teen horror franchises. HAUNT feels kind of like a movie with two heads, as one head clearly wants to appeal to the lost TWI-hards seeking something new in safe horrors to latch onto…as long as there’s mopey love tying it all together. The other head is a straight up horror yarn which goes for the jugular in terms of jump scares. It’s not that one of the heads beats the other. Instead, it feels like both war with one another until the end with neither coming out the clear winner.

The story opens with a moody sequence of a man fiddling with a contraption that seems to be some kind of electronic voice phenomenon device, attempting to make contact with someone on the “other side.” This ends badly with a highly effective jump scare, and though the man who bites it isn’t moping around contemplating lost love and wearing a hoodie, the opening scene is indicative of the types of scares this film has to offer. Flash backward to the history of an old house that used to be the residence of a family of pediatricians. But when patients start dying, the house begins to get a bad reputation. The children of the owners of the house fall victim to a series of accidents and suicides, resulting in more bad mojo around the house. Cut to present day, when a new family moves in who of course ignore all of the telltale signs of haunting and buy the home for cheap. Bonehead conventions that we’ve seen in everything from THE HAUNTING to POLTERGEIST to THE CONJURING appear thereafter, as the new kids in the house seem to be coming into close contact with the deadly spirits that creep around the shadows of the home.

There’s some weird logic and sense of right and wrong in HAUNT. Sam (Liana Liberato), a girl from a neighboring home, meets Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) the boy in the house, and she spends the night in his room which barely raises an eyebrow of his oblivious and absent parents played by Ione Skye (where the hell has she been?) and Brian Wimmer. In fact, she ends up staying numerous nights at the home, and this seems to be ok with his parents, with Skye even having a nonchalant girl talk session with Sam about not breaking Evan’s heart. This conversation seems to be something more akin to a talk between friends, not one between a girl and the mother of the boy she’s sleeping with. This film is going to make you scream “Where the hell are the parents?” more times than any other film in recent memory. Sure there are the occasional resentment and guilt barbs shot to the parents by the older parentified sister, but still, this is a film with a skewed moral center.

There’s a lot of mopey lovey dovey talk between Evan and Sam, whose love intensifies as the spiritual phenomenon grows. Sure this may make a teen’s heart swoon, but it did nothing for me. But just when you’re about to fill a bucket with vomit from teen angst overload, the film has a jump scare or two where a ghost or a ghoul pops out at you accompanied by a Don Music piano headbutt. This is the cheapest method of scare, as all it does is contract ultimate silence with a sudden burst of noise, causing more of a jolt than a real scare capable of haunting the viewer. It’s the light fluffy popcorn scares that don’t resonate and end up actually pissing me off if it happens in as quick a succession as it does here.

I will give it to the film; the ghostly specter haunting the house does look cool in a CG Crypt Keeper sort of way. But even though the cobweb-covered ghoulie is neat looking, the story around it is more typical than anything else and the overuse of teen melodrama seals the deal that HAUNT just isn’t the film for me. If you’re in need of safe horror, reliant on the easiest of scares and filled with good looking people doing bonehead things, HAUNT will be right up your alley. But those looking for real scares and original storytelling, search elsewhere.

New on DVD/BluRay this week from RAM Releasing!


Directed by Jung Huh
Written by Jung Huh
Starring Mi-seon Jeon, Jung-Hee Moon, Hyeon-ju Son,
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While this might feel like a home invasion film in parts, Jung Huh offers up a bit more in terms of suspense and tension than the type of home invasions we see stateside. Incorporating childhood innocence with urban legend, HIDE AND SEEK is a cut above most abode terrors you’re bound to see.

HIDE AND SEEK begins typically, in terms of horror, with an opening kill. While this may be a clichéd way of opening things, Huh fills the scene with scares and jumps as a woman is followed home by a person in a biker’s helmet and black jacket. Though the person enters the apartment next to hers, the woman feels as if the helmeted guy has been spying on her and sets up a camera in her apartment to catch him. The opener does all of the right things by sticking to horror movie tome, but also delivering on some real scares, a promise to fans that the film ahead will be intense and brutal. And after seeing the whole thing, HIDE AND SEEK delivers on all of that.

Cut to a family which is the focal point of the film. A child’s voiceover says that there is an urban myth about squatters who live in one’s apartment when one is not at home, and when you come home and see a lamp moved or a beer from the fridge gone, it’s these squatters who are doing it and not our own absent-mindedness. This is a strong premise to play with and for a while, I was thinking that we were getting a kind of FIGHT CLUB-style film where the twist was that the helmeted assailant in black is going to be all a part of someone’s twisted imagination, but that’s not where this one goes. It remains much more in the here and now with a family home being invaded by someone who simply wants to blend in and take over, rather than steal it outright. The opener compares these squatters to baby owls who nestle into other bird’s nests after they’ve been accommodated and comfied up by the original owners.

Director/writer Jung Huh makes this a fast-paced film with a lot of action and movement. There are numerous chase scenes that are as tense as they come, and while most home invasion films seem to occur in one fell swoop in American home invader movies, this one spans numerous locales and beyond. In many ways, this is more like a haunting where the ghost follows the family after they’ve moved from the house, only to find that they are still being haunted in their new home. Once the helmeted intruder is identified, the movie is far from over, as a dangerous cat and mouse game is played involving the two lead children of the film.

Placing children in danger is about as easy as it comes to capture the audiences’ interest, but like those awesome Amblin films which really pulled no punches in term of kids in peril, HIDE AND SEEK makes you feel like these kids are not protected by Hollywood PC standards and that the danger they are facing is much more real and deadly. Seeing children elude and get captured and escape again from the helmeted assailant are a series of scenes that will most likely cause one to jump from ones’ seat and curl in a ball while watching. I know that’s the effect this film had on me.

More Hitchcockian than anything else, Jung Huh shows a masterful management of space, motion, and tension that few other filmmakers can do. HIDE AND SEEK is a tough as nails thriller that plays on everyone’s fear of what happens when one isn’t home like a cat with a ball of string.

New this week on iTunes & DVD from Black Fawn Distribution!


Directed by Renaud Gauthier, Marie-Claire Lalonde
Written by Renaud Gauthier
Starring Jérémie Earp-Lavergne, Catherine Antaki, François Aubin, Sandrine Bisson, Nancy Blais, Catherine Castellucci, Katherine Cleland, Ivan Freud, Sibylle Gauthier, Francesca Gosselin, Nicolas Laliberté, Pierre Lenoir, Mathieu Lepage, Christian Paul
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Holy cow, I loved this film!

Set in 1976, DISCOPATH opens with an homage to the New York we have grown accustomed to from films like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and Scorcese’s films of that era, with a Brooklyn boy working in a pizza shop being distracted by a gaggle of kids who walk in with disco music playing on their radio. When he is fired for lazing on the job, he skips over to the local roller park and meets a sweet gal. The film feels like it’s going to be one of those quirky slice of lifers set in a specific era, but soon derails into one of the most entertaining serial killer films I’ve seen in ages.

Much like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, where the lead character is sent off the deep end when events in the present cause deep-seated psychosis to erupt in the present day, DISCOPATH substitutes Santa with disco music with similar results. While the reasons for the deranged killer’s derangement are revealed midway in the film, it’s pretty evident early on that Duane Lewis (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) is pretty nuts from minute one, and the level of goofy serial killer mayhem reaches comically monumental levels by the film’s end.

Jérémie Earp-Lavergne looks like a slightly less wooden Hayden Christensen and has a lot of his mannerisms, which actually adds to the creepy quality the character exudes. His reactions to the disco beats are sometimes comical (such as donning a nun’s costume in order to hide out) and sometimes unbelievably disturbing, as he is shown later in the film dancing in his secret lair nude and covered in blood with two severed heads. There’s also a subtle and creepy effect used here as Lewis’ eyes become completely dilated, causing his eyes to look completely black in times of his super serial killer rampages.

DISCOPATH feels like a true throwback to the 80s when horror was simpler and all it took was some childhood trauma to push a guy to kill. The unconventional narrative switches gears midway as Lewis flees to Canada after his first spree and the time jumps four years to 1980, when Lewis is pushed over the edge again. As if the locale and time shifts weren’t jarring enough, the film all of a sudden is subtitled in French for the latter half of the film. But while I might fault some films for this shift in tone, locale, and even era, it adds to the charm DISCOPATH exudes like a thickly layered cologne on a crowded dance floor.

What I love about this film is the reckless abandon that occurs in terms of gore. It isn’t enough that Lewis stabs a woman in the wrist with a knife. He later rips the hand clean off. A beheading is too boring in and of itself; it’s better to desecrate the bodies and shove multiple records into the torsos. And the scene where Lewis rams a hearse and the dead body topples out of it is going to put you through the roof. It did so for me, especially when the slo mo shot makes sure to highlight some mysterious blood coming from the corpse’s crotch…

This film with satisfy retro-freaks and gore hounds, and pretty much anyone who loves the over the top takes on slashers that went on in the Eighties. Rhyme and reason is thrown out as this simple-minded serial killer goes on a simple-minded rampage with genius results. Those of you who wish they could go back in time and destroy the disco era now have a film to idolize. Set to all sorts of painfully awesome disco music (especially an inspired use of the song “I Was Made For Loving You, Baby”), DISCOPATH is fun from kooky start to its absolutely batshit finish.

In select theaters today from Cine Coup and Raven Banner!

WOLFCOP (2014)

Directed by Lowell Dean
Written by Lowell Dean
Starring Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, Sarah Lind, Aidan Devine, Corinne Conley, Jesse Moss, James Whittingham, Ryland Alexander
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Much has been said by myself and others at this site leading up to the release of WOLFCOP. For me, every pic and clip I saw from the film looked altogether fun and cool. But you never know. Having not seen the film, I could have been the victim of a coolly edited trailer and precise pics and it wouldn’t be the first time I was fooled by an ad campaign that a movie was better than it actually was. When I had a chance to see WOLFCOP over the weekend, I approached with caution, having been burned before, but with hope that it would be as cool as it seemed.

I’m so happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed. WOLFCOP is not the scariest of films. It’s not the best acted or best directed, though those are pretty strong and evidence that writer/director Lowell Dean knows how to work within budgetary parameters as well as stretch the dollar in areas worth stretching. But what WOLFCOP is is fun, through and through.

Reminiscent of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, which has a title that is not only fun but a film that delivers that fun, WOLFCOP backs the fun truck up and unloads. Beginning with a likable loser of a star in Lou (Leo Fafard), a down and out police deputy drunk more than he is sober and barely clinging to his job, the story follows Lou as he discovers the existence of a cult and falls victim to their witchy rituals, finding himself cursed with the mark of the beast and forced to get all wolfy as the moon grows full (which in this film seems to happen around 10:01PM). But though Lou’s wolfy state is monstrous, it’s only the tip of the iceberg in seedy and evil behavior that is spreading in his small town. It’s up to Wolfcop and his plucky fellow officer Tina (the beautiful Amy Matysio, who recently was seen in space with Christian Slater in the sci fi snoozer STRANDED) to take on the scores of baddies.

The cast of WOLFCOP, though made of relative unknowns, is solid. Leo Fafard is great as the drunken cop who seems to be fueled by alcohol. His sunken eyes and lackadaisical posture suggests a cop on his last leg. While not a lot of explanation went into why Lou has staggered down this path bathed in booze, his immediate reaction and sudden acceptance of the curse is pretty fun to see. Stronger here is Matysio as Tina, Lou’s fellow police officer. She is the brains and experience on the unit, picking up the slack often left by Lou and surprised at his new lease on life once the curse takes hold.

But with this being a werewolf movie, let’s get down to what’s important—the effects. And the effects in WOLFCOP are spectacular. The spectacle of the transformation is always an important factor in every werewolf film. Here, they choose to go the route where Lou actually tears through his skin in order to transform. It’s a gory mess with lots of tearing flesh, oozing, pussing, and gore everywhere. The furry appendages actually burst through the skin as it melts away in clumps. It’s no AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but it is memorable and somewhat different (especially with the shit CG werewolves we’ve been getting lately). The carnage Wolfcop lets loose is also impressive and limps are lopped off, claws slice through flesh like tissue paper, and in the most memorable scene, a man’s face is ripped off and he runs around as a screaming skull until he bleeds out. All of these effects appear to be pretty practical and well done.

If there’s a silver bullet weakening WOLFCOP it’s the rather generic villains who end up getting more interesting towards the end, but so much time is spent having Wolfcop getting used to his transformation (and then more time is dedicated to a gratuitous and hilarious lovemaking scene) that the villains feel rather cardboard in the end. I also think more time could have been dedicated to Wolfcop’s initial crawl into the bottle and why that is. But as I said before, the real focus here is the transformation into the wolf, so there’s not a lot of time left for these details.

But what we get is a whole lot of fun. From the goofy yet cool Wolfcopmobile to the outstanding effects to some pretty fancy character work from the leads, WOLFCOP is a film too fun to miss and should please folks who like a little humor injected into their classic horror tropes.

And finally…Let’s finish up this week’s column with another FRIDAY THE 13TH fan film, this time set in the winter time called THE COLD HEART OF CRYSTAL LAKE from director Joe Patnaud! Happy Friday the 13th to all and to all a good night!

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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