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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. What an eclectic handful of horror do I have in store for you this week! There’s cannibalistic hotel owners, another creepy clown, an obsessed algorithmatician, a yeti, a monster with the itch to beat stuff up, a game of terror, two baby horrors, an apocalyptic caretaker, a zom rom com, more TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, and an HP Lovecraft rock opera!

Whew! On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

The Boo Tube: THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season 3 Episodes 13-18 (1961)
Retro-review: MOTEL HELL (1980)
Short cuts: DISENGAGED Short Film (2014)
Send in the Clowns: THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT (1998)
DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera (2014)
LOGOS (2013)
LYLE (2014)
PROXY (2013)
And finally…PJ Wolfe’s 9 MINUTES!

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


Episodes 13-18
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. Image Entertainment is also releasing THE TWILIGHT ZONE ESSENTIAL EPISODES, covering all of the best episodes of the series including “Time Enough at Last,” “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “To Serve Man,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and more! You can pick up the this collection by clicking this link here!

Now, let’s continue with THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season Three…

Episode 3.13: Once Upon a Time
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod and Leslie Goodwins
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Buster Keaton, Stanley Adams, Jesse White

This is a truly unique episode of TZ which starts out as a silent film, becomes an old timey talkie, and then reverts back to a silent film. Starring an aged Buster Keaton, this one focuses on a bumbling janitor who happens upon a clunky time helmet and is whisked from 1890 to 1960, where everything is pricier and much louder. While many of the TZs have a theme of returning to a better time, this one seems much more personal. Seeing this silent film star pining to return to the simpler days felt like such a personal story for Keaton, who shined brightest during the silent film era. There’s a lot of charming and hilarious slapstickery going on with some fantastic sequences of Keaton running from the police. Less of a TZ and more of a celebration of the silent film era of moviemaking, this episode is bound to make you smile.

Episode 3.14: Five Characters in Search of an Exit
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Written by Rod Serling
Starring William Windom, Susan Harrison, Murray Matheson, Clark Allen, Kelton Garwood

One of the most popular and well known episodes of the third season, this one focuses on a quintet of people who wake up not knowing who they are, but only what they believe themselves to be. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t reveal the ending here, but it’s a whole lot of fun. Seeing these vastly different characters banging into one another is fun, with the clown getting most of the best lines making light of the situation and the major’s serious demeanor. This is a well-acted and fantastic conflict of five completely different stereotypical characters representing one aspect of the human self--sort of like HERMAN’S HEAD, in a way. Seeing them all work together in the end has a poeticism to it. There’s a reason why this is a classic episode, and it’s as much because of the simple premise and the fine acting as it is the big reveal at the end.

Episode 3.16: A Quality of Mercy
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Dean Stockwell, Albert Salmi, Jerry Fujikawa, Leonard Nimoy

While most of Serling’s war stories end up being preachy, this one has a premise that actually makes things intriguing. Much like the tragic first sequence in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, a green and gung ho lieutenant fresh on the field and hungry for battle orders a battle-weary squadron to attack a group of Japanese soldiers holed up in a cave. Just when they are about to attack, something wonky happens and the soldier becomes Japanese and experiences the whole thing from the flip side. A white man dressing up in Japanese-face wouldn’t be able to be done today due to political correctness, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful, especially when it’s the likes of Dean Stockwell as the lieutenant with the always amazing Albert Salmi as a weary soldier and Leonard Nimoy playing another one in a bit part. This is one allegory that resonates and puts some of Serling’s other attempts at examining the futility of war to shame.

Episode 3.16: Nothing In the Dark
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Written by George Clayton Johnson
Starring Gladys Cooper, Robert Redford, R.G. Armstrong

Though I saw the twist coming a mile away and you will too, most likely, this was one of the more heart-wrenching episodes, mainly due to a fantastic performance by Gladys Cooper as an elderly lady who has barricaded herself into her home during wartime. When she lets a wounded soldier (Robert Redford) in for shelter, she has a discussion about all things life and death with him. Character actor R.G. Armstrong makes an appearance as another soldier, but more powerful than either of them is Cooper’s tragic loneliness and fear of death. This one touched me deeply and will most likely bring a tear to anyone who watches it with fantastic performances all around and an ending that echoes in the heart.

Episode 3.17: One More Pallbearer
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Written by Rod Serling
Starring Joseph Wiseman, Katherine Squire, Trevor Bardette, Gage Clark, Josip Elic

This small scale tale of a giant chip on one’s shoulder is elegant in its simplicity. An angry man traps those who have wronged him in a bomb shelter, tells them the world is going to end, and then offers them sanctuary if they can only do one thing; tell him they are sorry. The thing is, the folks gathered haven’t really done anything wrong, so it’s a battle of wills between a man too proud to admit his own mistakes trying to force people who haven’t to admit to ones they haven’t made. The poeticism of it all is nicely done as bitter people arguing back and forth has always been something Serling always wrote well. This one also ends on a resonant note, making it an all around great episode.

Episode 3.18: Dead Man's Shoes
Directed by Montgomery Pittman
Written by OCee Ritch
Starring Warren Stevens, Joan Marshall, Richard Devon, Ron Hagerthy, Joe Mell, Ben Wright, Harry Swoger

This tonally lopsided episode follows a homeless man who happens upon a well shoed and very dead man in an alley. After putting on the corpse’s foot attire, the bum seems to become possessed by the dead man’s spirit and goes on a mission to avenge his death. The episode starts out rather comically as the bum encounters a few other bums who are jealous of his new street-beaters, but evolves into a solid gangster story. Not that TWILIGHT ZONE ever offered any explanation for the bizarre shit that happens in any given episode, but there’s no real explanation as to how the gangster had the power to return from the grave and possess the living like he does. Unlike most TZ’s this one lacks the poeticism or at least the irony that is a standby of most episodes. The whole thing just feels off.

In two weeks we continue into the third season. See you next week with more MONSTERS Season Three episodes!

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, 2.19-2.24, 2.25-2.29
Season 3: Episodes 3.1-3.6, 3.7-3.12
Season 4: Episodes 4.1-4.5, 4.5-4.8, 4.9-4.13, 4.14-4.18
Season 5: Episodes 5.1-5.7, 5.8-5.14, 5.15-5.21, 5.22-5.28, 5.29-5.36

Look for more TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews soon!

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


Directed by Kevin Connor
Writer: Robert Jaffe, Steven-Charles Jaffe, Tim Tuchrello , Frank Cotolo
Starring: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Paul Linke, and Wolfman Jack!
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug

God, I love this movie. I mean, really love this movie. I remember as a kid, I would see the previews on Showtime and try my damnedest to stay up late to see it, but I would always fall asleep and miss it. When I did finally see the film, it blew my mind. This is one of those films where you ask your friends if they've seen it, praying the answer is no, so that you can sit and watch them experience it for the first time. MOTEL HELL is filled with so many cool ideas: the cannibal farmers, the human head garden, the hypnosis machine, the pig head chainsaw fight. This movie seems like a hodge-podge of good ideas from multiple movies all glommed into one. And the thing is, it works!
The best thing about MOTEL HELL is that it confidently knows that it is a horror film and never apologizes for it. Sure there are comedic elements to it, but most of the comedy in this film is of the blackest kind. The way Ida toys with the heads in the garden. The story Vincent tells at the picnic about grandma cooking and eating the dog. The confused S&M couple who finally realize that it isn't nitrous gas in the gas mask. These are dark, dark scenes, but at the same time, they make me laugh every time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I have to assume there are some of you who haven't seen this film. MOTEL HELL is the story of Vincent and Ida Smith, siblings who own the Motel Hello (the O in the sign is burnt out, you see) and Vincent has a side business selling smoked meats. His tag line, "All types of critters go into Farmer Vincent's Fritters!" has made the farmer a local hero. But right away, the movie lets us know that that friendly smile etched across Rory Calhoun's face hides the something quite sinister. Turns out the secret ingredient to Farmer Vincent's Spiced Meats is pigs of the two legged kind. Vincent and Ida keep a secret garden behind their hotel filled with people buried up to their necks. Their vocal chords are severed and they are fed a special vitamin concoction before they are processed and packaged in their barn for wholesale.

Incorporating elements of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, PSYCHO and a ton of other horror films, MOTEL HELL is one of those hokey concepts that shouldn't have worked, but it did. The main reason is due to the solid performances from Rory Calhoun and Nancy (PORKY'S) Parsons. Calhoun especially shows great acting range here, all at once giving off a Mr. Rogers vibe then switching on a dime to go completely Gary Busey on someone. There's a fantastic scene where two little girls have been scared after wandering too far into Vincent's barn. The girls run screaming out of the barn, past their parents, and straight to the backseat of their car. Vincent is the perfect salesman, never missing a beat in his pitch to sell a gift set of his famous smoked meats to the children’s parents, saying that he will take care of the kids then screaming as loud as he can in their faces to shut them up. This switch from gentle grandpa figure to menacing beast occurs in the blink of an eye; then Calhoun is again smiling at the frozen kids' parents as if nothing happened. Parsons herself gives a phenomenal performance as Ida, the childish kid sister of Vincent who doesn't want the careful balance of their twisted world disturbed and will kill to make sure it isn't.

The iconic look of Vincent & Ida wearing the pig head is an image that one can't soon forget. Recently this look has been used in Grant Morrison's BATMAN & ROBIN comic as well as the torture porn THE BUTCHER (which I'll delve into in another column), but there's something about the fiendishly evil simplicity of a chainsaw-wielding villain wearing a pig head that hits you on a guttural level. What's that head like on the inside? How do you see out of it? What's it smell like? God, just thinking of the answers makes me cringe a bit.

At its heart, MOTEL HELL is a romance, focusing on Vincent's advances toward a plucky blond victim. And though many dismiss this film as a goofy, gory yarn, the film does have an emotional core that is more complex than most horror films of its time. Ahead of the curve in terms of acting, dark comedy, heavy emotional themes, and especially scenes that touch one on a visceral level, MOTEL HELL is one of those classics that I can watch over and over. The chainsaw duel climax alone makes this one worth seeking out. Add that to the fact that it stars John "Cliff Claven" Ratzenberger and a guy who looks a lot like Jurgen Prochnow, but isn't. And then there's Wolfman Jack, playing an outspoken televangelist who lights up the screen for just a small time, but makes every moment he's in frame fun. There aren't too many films that equally disgust and entertain the way MOTEL HELL does. It isn't a mystery why it's a film that folks want to revisit and remake.

Special features in this Bluray include a new making of MOTEL HELL featurette, commentary from director Kevin Connor, special interviews with Connor, and writers/producers/brothers Robert & Steven Charles Jaffe, actors Marc Silver, Paul Linke, & Rosanne Katon, and stunt coordinator Gene Hartline, and a new special focusing on the character of Ida and the actress who portrayed her so memorably Nancy Parsons. As usual, Shout Factory went all out with this one, presenting one of my favorite horror films in a clear and gorgeous way as it’s never been seen before.

Currently touring festivals; playing next at MonsterCon in Greenville, South Carolina!


Directed by Christopher G. Moore
Written by Eryk Pruitt
Starring Alena Koch, Katie Carpenter, Gilly Conklin, Tracey Coppedge, Lisa Gagnon, Nick Karner, Jarod Kearney
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’ve got a slew of short films to catch up on, so over the next couple of weeks expect more Short Cuts Short Film reviews. This week I’m checking out DISENGAGED, which has won quite some recognition at fests around the country, and after seeing the film I know why.

A woman seems to be going about her humdrum day, reading the paper and sipping a coffee, seemingly getting ready for her daily routine. Things don’t get weird until we realize what that routine is. Seems something in the sky made everyone on Earth (at the very least, everyone in this woman’s neighborhood) turn into living statues, frozen in place looking towards the sky. Unfortunately, it appears these guys are decaying and the woman’s duties seem to be to check up on the folks in her neighborhood to make sure they don’t rot away so quickly.

What makes DISENGAGED so much fun is the matter-of-fact way the woman goes about her business, sponging down the human statues and chit-chatting them up while doing so. There are some creepy moments here as well that are as finely tuned as the comedic ones, and when things begin to darken towards the end, that’s handled well too.

Not wanting to reveal too much, things take a turn for the worse in the last minute or two of this 14 minute film. It’s a turn that I saw coming, but still made for some fun viewing nevertheless. With some nice pacing and just enough info to let us know what’s what without being too extraneous, DISENGAGED is a great short with a terrific bite at the end. It’s currently touring fests, so if you have the chance to see it, I recommend you do so.

Send in the Clowns: Bug celebrates the release of his 4-issue miniseries comic book PIROUETTE by checking out some clownie horrors!


Directed by Jean Pellerin
Written by Kenneth J. Hall
Starring Christopher Plummer, Margot Kidder, Sarah Lassez, James Duval, Tatyana Ali, Melissa Galianos, J.P. Grimard, Ryan Bittle, Liz Crawford, Vicki Marentette, Jonathan Barrett, John Bluethner, Pauline Broderick
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’m continuing my coverage of clown/circus related horror films and reminding folks about my own circus horror comic book PIROUETTE, which hits stands in September (Previews item code JUL14 0937 and issue #2 item code AUG14 1131). Today’s clownie horror is A CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT. While this film can’t be more indicative of the time it was made, it’s funny how mainstream horror hasn’t really changed much in fifteen years. Not funny haha; more sad, really, as this is another pretty people in peril story as a group of kids who have nothing in common are forced to clean out an old theater which happens to be haunted by ghosts of the past. There’s the jock, his ditzy girlfriend, the gay guy, the nerdy girl, the black chick with attitude, the loner, and the virginal final girl with a dark past—this is a veritable BREAKFAST CLUB and tries very hard to make us believe it with the usual boring bickering taking up time between the real reason why anyone would watch this film: the murderous clown doing his thing and whittling away the cast.

The theater the crew is cleaning up has a macabre history reminiscent of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, where a performer dressed as Pagliacci from the performance of the same name kills the leading lady in a fit of jealousy. Years later, one of the Breakfast Club, the shy Kate (Sarah Lassez) who happens to be daughter of the songstress the clown killed all of those years ago, returns though she is haunted by visions of ghosts and clowns. Along for the ride is also FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIRE’s Tatyana Ali and Gregg Araki fave, the Keanu-eque George (James Duval), as two others roped into cleaning the theater. Adding to the recognizable star power of the film is a post-manic attack Margot Kidder who for some reason wears a man’s suit for her limited screentime as the teacher calling the shots and Christopher Plummer, who is definitely slumming it here as the theater owner.

The whole thing is set up as a SCREAM-esque whodunit as we are left wondering who is dressing up like a clown and killing all of these people. Red herrings flop around everywhere trying to convince us that the obvious answer isn’t the killer. In the end, it is the obvious one and everything plunks out pretty much by the numbers. Though slickly produced, you’re not going to see anything you haven’t seen before in THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT. At the time it was released, SCREAM had been out a couple years and it was eating its own tail in its sequels. Everyone was tossing in some recognizable youngsters and mixing them with genre stars in order to draw the teens and the geeks to the horror. I’d say it was a product of its time, but that’s the exact formula that still goes on with horror today, so maybe it wasn’t so much of a fad in the first place. Like SCREAM, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and FINAL DESTINATION, THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT has the much-abhorred floating heads poster, which doesn’t do much to distance itself to those films either.

I will admit, while the kills are pretty bloodless, they are pretty brutal and the killer is one of the more gruesome versions of clown you’re bound to see. The film does get the context right, as the title and premise refer to Lon Chaney’s classic line “A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?” This film at least gets that simply having a clown isn’t scary. Put it in the right context and it is effective, and while there are a lot of faults most likely due to studio dabblings, at least THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT gets that right.

And here’s the creepy clown of the week!

Previous Send in the Clowns Posts!


And don’t forget to tell your comic store to order Ambush Bug’s new comic PIROUETTE #1 (July Previews item code JUL14 0937) and the new issue #2 available to order in August Previews (item code AUG14 1131) from Black Mask Studios!

Support your old pal Ambush Bug by checking out his new comic book!

Available for download and purchase here!


Produced/Directed/Composed by Mike Dalager
Based on the short story by H.P.Lovecraft
Starring Soma Allpass, Stuart Ambrose, Daniel Arevalo, Jody Ashworth, Seth Ayott, Masato Baba, Patrik Bonnet, Sean Branney, Mike Dalager, Alaine Kashian, Johan Kollberg, Bruce Kulick, Chris Laney, Ulf Larsson, Conny Laxell, Andrew Leman, Douglas Blair Lucek, Lisa McClennahan, Jesse Merlin, Nalle Pahlsson, Anders Ringman, Ray Rochelle, Peer Stappe, Marc Thomas, Liny Wood, Lennart Ostlund
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I happened upon producer/director/musician/composer Mike Dalager at a booth at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. After introducing myself, he proceeded to talk about a version of a Lovecraft classic he guaranteed I’ve never experienced before and produced a small CD case to me with the words; DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera on it.

Many of HP Lovecraft’s stories have been deemed unfilmable due to the writer’s tendency to write in a vague and abstract manner in terms of the terrors in his stories. Most of the time, it was the way Lovecraft structured his stories down to the basic sentences and how they attached to one another and played out that made it all resonate on a level that chilled the spine. Lovecraft had a way to make those swirling, shapeless things seen only in glimpses in the dark more horrifying by adhering to the less is more model and because of that, there have been so many different attempts, and many of them failures to bring them to life on the silver screen. Now, music on the other hand speaks to us on a level that goes beyond mere sight. Listening to a sound often helps up piece things together and bereft of any visual stimulation, it forces our minds to wander and fill in those dark spaces with terrors of our own creation. Maybe that’s why this rock opera concept album set to HP Lovecraft’s DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE is so much more successful than any other version of the story, as it creates not only blood curdling sounds, but melodies, chords, and rhythms to guide us through the dark and realize the story in ways its never accomplished before.

The album is extremely faithful to the original Lovecraft story. In some instances, it reads the story directly, while other places are filled in with musical interpretations and elaborations. Beginning with a desperate man seeking out the advice of a priest in regards to a friend who tapped into something evil and otherworldly and has now disappeared. Through numerous songs, we find out the residence the man lived at used to house a witch and her curse still haunts the halls, enticing its residence to sell their souls for knowledge beyond their wildest dreams. As the story unfolds, what begins as a simple confession, evolves and changes into a Faustian tale of lost souls and other-dimensional monsters peeking into the world we live in. While this is a theme of many a Lovecraft tale, DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE definitely feels much more personal than most, describing not only the frightened man and his missing roommate, but also spanning time to get into the head of a persecuted witch and her familiar, a human-faced rat monster called a brown jenkin. Culminating in a breach between our world and something much more twisted, the story unfolds from a simple plea into a cosmic scream.

As with any album, some of the songs are more successful, more catchy, and more entertaining than others. Though I’m not a music critic, I will say that Dalager and the cast of musicians and singers he’s amassed for this album is a talented one. The style is definitely rock of the harder material; reminiscent of everything from King Diamond to Evanescence to Type O Negative to System of a Down. The first song, DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE is extremely catchy and I found myself singing it long after hearing it. I did the same with a few of the other ones as well, though some of them are less so and teeter on the melodramatic side utilizing odd voices and feeling more theatric than straight up musical.

Still, you’re not going to hear anything like this version of the Lovecraft tale, which seems to raise to a thunderous crescendo by the end filled with all sorts of alien sounds and melodies. If you’re a Lovecraft fan, this is something you can’t miss. But even those who aren’t familiar with the lore are not going to have a difficult time following this one and this might even serve as a great gateway into some of the books if you like what you hear.

While not all of the songs were my cup of tea, I ended up liking quite a bit of them and enjoyed the entire album as one work immensely as it realized the Lovecraft tale more than any other adaptation of his work has before. Hopefully, Dalager will work his musical magic on some other Lovecraft stories in the future. You can download the entire album here and below is the video for one of the songs, the Evanescence-esque “No Turning Back” featuring Alaine Karshian!

Available for purchase or rent on!

LOGOS (2013)

Directed by Michael Sorokorensky
Written by Paul Hine, Michael Sorokorensky
Starring Paul Hine, Sara Alcorn, Ted Carr, Michael Ducharme, Ann Hsieh
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While it might be odd to have this philosophical take on grief, remorse, and the existence of evil included in a list of horror films, as a firm entry in the cinema of the weird, LOGOS fits right in.

This hour-long dissection of grief and loss is an introspective journey which reminded me a lot of Aronofsky’s PI in many ways. For the most part, both films talk a lot about abstract ideas and set them against a bleak, hopeless, and oblivious landscape of people who just can’t see what the star is able to see. Reeling from the events of 9-11 which resulted in the death of his father, James Carroll (Paul Hine) has developed an algorithm to try to make sense of it all. While on one level it’s a complex story of numbers and equations, on the other it’s a deeply emotional journey of one lost man-child trying to make sense of a senseless attack which resulted in the taking of one of the most influential people in his life.

While watching a man quietly walk through life in a non-combative and downright introverted manner doesn’t always make for a compelling watch, writer/director Michael Sorokorensky and his co-writer Paul Hine (who also stars in this film) make it all compelling by mixing media such as black and white photography, artwork, and rudimentary yet effective animation. By switching stocks and styles, the film reflects the different and complex feelings the narrator is going through.

Some of the dialog comes off as somewhat pretentious, I have to admit, but this is also a part of the character of James, who in many ways is a stereotypical teen judging the world around him as if he knows much more than anyone else. But the film suggests that he might have actually gotten to the root of evil with his work, which is an intriguing yet grounded form of sci fi to delve into.

The point of the film seems to be to have the viewer come to the rationale of how violence effects all involved. It takes the time to examine the complex minutiae swirling around in our heads in a post-9-11 world. And while it may not have come to a complete solution, LOGOS does raise some interesting questions about life and death, grief and loss, and good and evil. It’s not a thrill a minute, but if you like your sci fi on a more philosophical and cerebral level, you might be interested in checking out this low fi attempted remedy for a national tragedy that effected us all.

Currently played on Discovery Channel, find out when here!


Directed by Leon Rawlski
Starring Mike Libecki, Maria Klenokova, Donnie Eichar
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Originally aired on June 1st on the Discovery Channel, I caught RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES in rerun and given my love of all things Sasquatchonian, I was compelled to write a review about it.

In 1959, a group of 9 Russian campers went on a hike across the Northern Ural Mountains. They never returned and when they were found, their bodies were mutilated. The cause of death for these hikers continues to be a mystery with all sorts of theories popping up attempting to explain that occurred to them. Some blame it on the military, stating that the R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile test was occurring right around the same time as the campers’ disappearance. Some blame the murders on the indigenous Mansi people who have been known to attack trespassers who venture too close to their hallowed ground. Then there are the fantastical theorists who believe it was everything from aliens to yetis who murdered and mutilated the campers who apparently ran from their tents in the middle of the night without their clothes into the middle of subzero temperatures to their ultimate doom.

From the title alone, RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES, it’s pretty obvious which theory the makers of this docudrama adhere to. While they entertain the notions of military involvement, in the end, they blame it all on the so-called Abominable Snowman which has been seen in the region for years. And while professional adventurer Mike Libecki, who has appeared on numerous Discovery Channel adventure shows, does a lot of research into the other possibilities, what this show is really after is the same thing many shows of this kind have been trying to prove for years: proof of the existence of the yeti/bigfoot/sasquatch/skunk ape/name your big furry man-ape creature from your favorite region. Those of you, like me, who love these shows, are definitely going to find this extensively researched semi-documentary fun. But those who are on the more skeptical side aren’t going to find anything to sway their opinions here, either.

What is both fascinating and unsettling is that I’m not sure what’s real and what’s made up in this so-called documentary. While I used to trust Discovery to deliver factual info, I did end up catching the dreadful MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND and MERMAIDS: THE NEW EVIDENCE, obvious mock-documentaries, but ones that don’t go out of their way to let the audience believe the footage is real. While RUSSIAN YETI is nowhere near as hokey as MERMAIDS, it does raise the question whether any of this “new evidence” is real or something made up. Being someone who is a believer in the existence of something giant and hairy roaming around unnoticed somewhere in the world, it’s frustrating to see this film being played off as fact and then see the “some parts of this film have been dramaticized” show up in the end credits making you wonder if this was just a slickly produced BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or a stab at some actual research. And while Libecki is an actual explorer who has appeared in many Discovery shows, there’s a part of me that just doesn’t trust any of this.

I blame IN SEARCH OF for that. The classic series hosted by Leonard Nimoy made a habit of “happening” upon some lost footage or capturing something exciting, making the show less about facts and more about capturing compelling footage that fostered the mystery and compelled the viewer to want more. Done to an excess these days, every ghosthunting and cryptozoology show simply has to have something happen, no matter how small, in order to keep the viewers captivated. In RUSSIAN YETI, thankfully, a large portion of the film is focused on the history and possible explanations behind the bizarre events that happened at the foot of the Ural Mountains in 1959. While some cannot be backed up as it is supposed to be from anonymous sources, the research presented is compelling and the interviews, at least most of them, help in trying to come up with an explanation for the disappearance of the team.

Writer Donnie Eichar, who wrote DEAD MOUNTAIN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT, is interviewed and after seeing him here, I need to read his book ASAP. Still, while Eichar states that the yeti theory may be a more fantastical reason for the deaths, he goes into other areas much more believable. Of course, the film doesn’t delve into those theories when we can slap a camcorder on the adventurous host and have him go running and screaming through dark caves. That’s what happens in the latter half, which seems to take a much more produced and predictable turn.

It’s a shame the film decides to go the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT route in the end. It doesn’t go as far as to suggest the filmmakers died while making this film, but it does end with come very clichéd found footage stuff. I’d have preferred a documentary on the facts, exploring all of the options. In the end, all we get is a recording of an unidentified animal. And while the believability of this evidence is a tough pill to swallow after the dramaticized scenes prior to it, there is other unearthed evidence--such as a missing photo of a shadowy man, proof that the tent was cut from the inside suggesting that the campers saw something and then ran for their lives, slicing through the tent in the process, and files that indicate a military objective to track a large hairy beast in that area at the same time of the murders. Still, while bombs in the night sky and military testing may be the case here, Libecki uses that as more fuel for the fire supporting the yeti theory, suggesting that the yeti was frightened by both the bombs and the military and lashed out at the campers like a cornered animal. It’s feasible, but by this time, all faith in Libecki’s claims are damaged due to some pretty scripted interactions and some mighty powerful coincidences involving unearthed footage.

Personally, the film didn’t convince me either way. Be it bomb, alien, yeti, or the military, the film does lay out the facts pretty well, but obviously favors the yeti angle and runs with it. Had the whole thing been handled with a more even-handed manner, exploring all the options, I’d have been more into this one. And again, making up shit and calling it a docudrama is going to infuriate believers who are trying to be taken seriously and only add more fuel to the fire to those who don’t believe. So while RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES is an eye-catching title, it can’t even make up proof to back up what the title claims. I had fun with it, but parts frustrated the hell out of me. Here’s hoping Discovery tries a little harder in presenting their next crypto-caper with a more factual approach. I left RUSSIAN YETI not knowing what to believe, and that’s not a good feeling to have after watching a film. Airing a film like this and making it vague as to what is real and what is doctored for TV also hurts the credibility for the entire Discovery Channel network, who established itself on documenting science and nature specials based on factual evidence. Airing this not only makes one question the validity of this show, but all shows the channel airs.

RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES was intriguing. It presented most of its info in what seems to be a well researched manner. Still, the recording of what could be a yeti from the final moments not only feel a little too coincidental, but also make for a pretty feeble climax and bring back those IN SEARCH OF shows of old, but while I remember those fondly, this feels more like a cheaper, less interesting knockoff. For more on the Dyatlov Pass tragedy, check out Renny Harlin’s surprisingly fun DEVIL’S PASS (reviewed here). It’s not factual, but it’s a rollercoaster of a fright flick.

New this week on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment!


Directed by A.D. Calvo
Written by A.D. Calvo (story), Rick Dahl (screenplay)
Starring Renee Olstead, Shelby Young, Guy Wilson, Valentina de Angelis, Spencer Daniels, Robert Romanus, Deborah Twiss, Luz Alexandra Ramos
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though parts of THE MIDNIGHT GAME feel very familiar and worn, the film does manage to pull off a somber mood and a pretty interesting twist at the age old “playing games you shouldn’t be playing” motif.

Three fourths of THE MIDNIGHT GAME can most likely be interchanged with a million other Ouija board films out there. The film revolves about the urban legend of a mysterious game that, once played, shreds sanity and twists reality. Of course, this is too tempting for this group of teens to turn down, so they give it a go and while they think they messed it up because nothing seems to have happened, soon they realize they are trapped in the game itself in a never-ending loop of terror.

The usual jump scares and sound sharts occur in this one about every five minutes just to make sure people are awake and honestly, without them, I might not have been. The characters are clichéd and the details of the game are as vague as they come. Not until the end, when a pretty formidable-looking demon shows up, do things get interesting. I think those who stick through this film through the banal first 50 minutes will be surprised as things start to pick up towards the end. Writer/director A.D. Calvo seems to have woken up and realized that he had a scary movie to make in the last fifteen to twenty minutes in this film and manages to end on a somewhat redeeming, yet creepy note.

I can’t go so far as to recommend THE MIDNIGHT GAME. Had the filmmakers behind this one made the rest of the film as original and creepy as the ending, I think it might be worth seeking out. But as is, if you happen to catch this on cable some day, don’t worry about missing the beginning. You’ve seen it all before and this one seems to have saved the quality stuff for the end.

Available for to watch for FREE here during the duration of the team’s Kickstarter campaign for their next project PUTNEY, the second of three upcoming female-focused horror films!

LYLE (2014)

Directed by Stewart Thorndike
Written by Stewart Thorndike
Starring Gaby Hoffmann, Ashlie Atkinson, Kim Allen, Rebecca Street, Michael Che, Ingrid Jungermann
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

There seems to be a slew of pregnancy horror coming out lately with DELIVERY ( reviewed here), THE DEVIL’S DUE, the ROSEMARY’S BABY remake, and the like all dissecting and rehashing the horrors of pregnancy and becoming a parent. Horror being an equal opportunity genre, we can’t leave out same sex couples when it comes to the subject of something afoot with the baby bump.

LYLE is a story of a lesbian couple expecting their second child. The film opens with the couple; aspiring artist June (Ingrid Jungermann) and the just-showing, house frau Leah (UNCLE BUCK’s Gaby Hoffman all grown up), being shown a new apartment by a peculiar older landlady Karen (Rebecca Street) who despite her old age, attests that she hopes she is pregnant too. Shortly after moving in, a horrible accident befalls the couple, forcing June to work more since her career is taking off and Leah to spend more time home alone. But while bizarre events start occurring leaving Leah to think she is not as alone as she thinks, she also feels the pangs of paranoia set in as the baby inside of her gets closer to its birthday.

If the story above feels familiar, it is. LYLE is basically a retelling of ROSEMARY’S BABY with a lesbian couple. It isn’t a blatant copy of Polanski’s amazing film (one of my all time favorite horror films, mind you), but it does follow a lot of the same beats as that film does. Playing up the paranoia aspect and the tendency to write women off as hysterical rather than listen to them are two factors that carry over and are conveyed expertly by writer/director Stewart Thorndike through the stellar acting talents of Hoffman. As with Rosemary, we go along for this ride on Leah’s shoulders; questioning everyone and uncovering clues that only make it feel more certain that indeed, the world is out to get her. Moreso than other ROSEMARY’S BABY knockoffs, Thorndike is able to juggle the question if this is paranoia or is the world really out to get Leah pretty capably and up to a point in this film, it really does feel like it could go either way, which is a testament to the director’s skilled hand.

Bloodless and jump scare free, LYLE is a tale of terror by inches, slowly ratcheting up the tension until you’re as terrified as it’s characters. This is an edge of your seat thriller that manages to end up being just different enough to not be a complete knock off of the Polanski classic. The ending is resonant and powerful, as are the last fifteen minutes leading up to it as the world around Leah swirls at a dizzying rate. Clocking in just over an hour, there are parts of this film I really did want to see lengthened, but for the most part, LYLE stays just as long as it needs before its powerful climax. Like all good horror films, this one has many layers; this one involving women’s rights, gay and lesbian themes, and the challenges of parenthood and especially motherhood. Though the story is familiar, LYLE ends up delivering a unique set of chills in terms of quality and visceral horror.

LYLE trailer // FREE on // AUGUST 4th from Stewart Thorndike on Vimeo.

Available now on DVD (order here)!


Directed by Greg Franklin
Written by Johnny Ryan (adapted from the comic book by Johnny Ryan)
Starring James Adomian as Cannibal Fuckface, Blake Anderson as Jizzra, Kyle Kinane as Rabies Bloodbath and Rottweiler Herpes, and Rick Shapiro as the Prison Guard
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Being an avid PRISON PIT reader and admirer, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I picked this DVD up at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. I’ve reviewed almost every book of PRISON PIT so far (Book One review, Book Two review, Book Four review, Book Five review, and interviewed Johnny Ryan about it all at SDCC last year) and each installment blew me away at the depths it goes and the awesomeness that abounds from each and every page.

Well, the folks at Six Point Harness Studios (who inexplicably also did work for the COSMOS series) have adapted every single page of the first book of this series into an animated format—and I’m talking every blood, bile, and semen splattered page. If anything, this new animated version of the story kicks it up a notch by adding movement and especially sound to the mix. The story is the same; basically following the main character, Cannibal Fuckface as he is imprisoned on a desolate planet to do battle with anyone and anything he comes in contact with. Basically, this is the type of story a kid has going in his head when he is banging his toys together in a sandbox…ok, maybe an X-rated version of that. The narrative is loose and simple. Cannibal Fuckface meets someone, they fight, beat the crap out of CF and then CF finds the intestinal fortitude to come back meaner and tear the creature into tiny pieces. This occurs a couple times in this short adaptation which turns out to be about 16 minutes long, comprised of three chapters.

What I admire most about this series as a whole is the way creator Johnny Ryan has tapped into some kind of primal animalistic id with this book. It puts to paper all of the deepest and darkest thoughts most are only afraid to talk about. Having met Ryan, you wouldn’t know he’s the creator of this book, as he is a mild mannered and pleasant individual, but it makes sense since he gets all of that ugliness out there on the page. The film and the books feel cathartic to read, as if reading them is some kind of way to a) see Cannibal Fuckface do to others what you might have the urge to do on occasion in traffic or at work, and b) that there’s someone out there maybe a bit more deranged that you who thought up all of this.

While rudimentary, the art in both the books and the film (which is basically done in the exact same style) is effectively simplistic. Not a lot of details are drawn, except for the uncomfortably close shots, which I will leave for you to enjoy without spoilers. I’ve said this before in my reviews, but in doing so, this almost feels like something a troubled teenager draws on the back of his trapper keeper in school while bored in biology class—something that, if the teacher were to see it, the kid would be sent to the guidance counselor for evaluation. This isn’t a knock on Ryan’s work. For him to tap into that nether-realm that most have had hammered out of us through adulthood is something special. Sure there’s semen, blood, guts, snot, and pus in every scene, but under all of the childish fascination with bodily fluids, Ryan is also telling a complex story of eternal conflict.

The film’s got a cool pedigree of talent behind it. On top of the film being directed by COSMOS director Greg Franklin, COMEDY BANG BANG’s James Adomian provides the guttural voicings of Cannibal Fuckface. WORKAHOLICS’ Blake Anderson plays Jizzra, who makes a blobbish suit of power armor made of…semen and LUCKY LOUIE’s Rick Shapiro uses his vocal talents as the various prison guards. Rounding out the group is comedian Kyle Kinane playing the dual role of Rabies Bloodbath and Rottweiler Herpes (god I love these names). Packaged with the short feature is also PRISON PIT: THE FUCKUMENTARY which goes behind the scenes of the makings of the cartoon. In it, we get to meet the cast, creator, and publisher of PRISON PIT, delving into its history and finding out what Ryan’s peers (like MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE/THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY’s Gerard Way) think of the book—spoiler; they love it. The documentary also reveals how the voice actors get those guttural, wrestling voices they use in the film; by eating lots of pudding, apparently, to coat the throat with ickiness.

Part wrestling match, part brutal sci fi, part uncorked id let loose on a rampage, seeing PRISON PIT alive, moving, and speaking is a thrill this long time reader loved. I recommend this book to anyone who needs a break from cerebral comics and just like seeing a symphony of violence and bodily fluids play out. If you’d like to see this and more PRISON PIT episodes, and you bet your sweet patoot that I do, click here to see how you can make that happen. Here’s hoping this is the first of many adaptations to this hilariously brutal and basely satisfying book.

New this week on BluRay from IFC Midnight!

PROXY (2013)

Directed by Zack Parker
Written by Zack Parker & Kevin Donner
Starring Alexia Rasmussen, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

PROXY is truly one of the most mesmerizing and horrific films I’ve seen all year this year or any year, for that matter. There’s something about a pregnant woman that instinctively makes people defensive. We want to protect them from harm. We criticize sharply when we see someone smoking or drinking around them or, god forbid, seeing them do it. It’s one of the few precious images that is almost universally wholesome and promising, as a pregnant woman is a symbol that life goes on and there’s a future ahead for humanity. Maybe that’s why horror films that involve pregnant women are so effective. Think of films like ROSEMARY’S BABY, or more recently the found footage shocker DELIVERY, and you automatically get a chill because it involves the endangerment of the mother and her child.

PROXY is a raw and unflinching look at the twisted side of motherhood. The places this film goes are going to be too dark for some, but I found the horrific depths of the characters involved too terrifyingly fascinating to turn away, even though every muscle of my body was telling me otherwise. In the opening moments of this film, there is a scene so utterly brutal it’s going to be a deal-breaker to some. But all that opening sequence does is prepare the strong for the harrowing experience this film is.

With its unconventional plot and complex themes at play, PROXY is an ingeniously smart film tackling an intricate disease known as Munchhausen By Proxy, which involves a darker take on motherhood. Those who know the condition understand how horrific it can be and motherly martyrdom, while often the subject of comedy in cinema with a nebbish mother seemingly enjoying the attention she gets from friends in the sewing circle, has never been portrayed in film in such a manner that is so nerve-shatteringly real and terrifying.

Zack Parker blew me away with the ROSHOMON-style tale of abuse and neglect SCALENE last year, and proves that he is a filmmaker of spectacular talent. As I pondered this film long after seeing it, I couldn’t help but notice the PSYCHO-esque aspects to the score. Giving it more thought, this is a much more psychologically perverse and finely crafted version of PSYCHO. There’s even a horrific scene in a bathroom. As I realized this connection, I understood that even beyond the visceral shivers this film induces, there’s so much going on thematically as well in terms of comments on motherhood, society’s obsession with celebrity, and relationships as well.

Acted superbly by the entire cast, aside from the always great Joe Swanberg who delivers a smoldering and subtle performance here, I was unfamiliar with the rest of the players in this dark tale. But this is a star-making film for all involved, especially the ghostly tragic Alexia Rasmussen, who fleshes out a character more haunting than any movie monster you can think of. The other two actresses include Alexa Havens, who plays the seemingly perfect housewife to perfection, and the gruff and tough Kristina Klebe, who adds layer upon layer of soul to her role. These four characters and the incredibly knotted way their lives are all intertwined is pure genius from a writing standpoint all the way down to the performances.

PROXY is one of those films that leaves a deep scar after viewing. It’s not the Hollywood horror with jump scares, CGI, and Don Music head slams on the keyboard for audience reaction. It’s a film that will grab you and shake you and leave you devastated, but done in a manner that feels all too real and all the more tragic. PROXY pulls no punches and is some brave and bold horror that some might not be prepared for, but I hope to see much more of from director Zack Parker, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors working today.

I couldn’t recommend this film more if my life depended on it. Just superb filmmaking from start to finish.

In select theaters today and available On Demand from A24 Films!


Directed by Jeff Baena
Written by Jeff Baena
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, Garry Marshall
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Unfortunately, I know from experience that the number one thing people feel after someone close to them dies is regret. There’s always that nagging feeling that something was left unsaid or something should have been given more attention. You never know when the last moment you spend with a person will be, so you’re bound to take it for granted until you can’t have any more moments with that person. Under all of the zombie makeup and comical situations, that’s the serious and universal theme that hides beneath the surface of LIFE AFTER BETH, the first time directing effort from I HEART HUCKABEES writer Jeff Baena.

Because this film deals with some uncomfortable themes about death, I think there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t like this film. That said, if you have a ghoulish sense of humor and an appreciation for the cathartic act of letting go of a loved one, I think LIFE AFTER BETH has the makings of a true cult classic. Yes, at face value this can be seen as a rather goofy film about a boy who refuses to let his girlfriend (who he was already having difficulty with) die and then has to deal with the reality that she has come back as a zombie. But because of the comedic acting talents of all involved paired with the serious way the entire cast takes the material despite the crazy situations around it, LIFE AFTER BETH feels much more resonant that it should be.

Dane DeHaan, who has had some pretty big roles of late from CHRONICLE to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 to A PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, shows much more here in this movie that I gave him credit for. For the most part, DeHaan’s Zach is the Winona Ryder character in both HEATHERS and, especially, BEETLEJUICE who mopes around in mourning of his girlfriend Beth’s (played by Aubrey Plaza) death, which occurs in the opening moments of the film. Dehaan plays the straight man here, mourning cartoonishly at the loss, but also exemplifying the melodramatic goth vibe often seen in teens (though both DeHaan and Plaza clearly look older than teenagers in this film). DeHaan sits silently during the family meal (with his family made up of Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, and his overly macho brother played by Matthew Gray Gubler) and leafs through his all-black wardrobe for the right black shirt to wear. Towards the beginning of the film, I was especially impressed with the scenes DeHaan shares with John C. Reilly, who plays Beth’s dad. After losing Beth, Zach instantly starts forming a bond with Beth’s dad which develops into bordering on stalking. DeHaan does this straight-faced and serious, never really overplaying the situation for comedic effect and hitting every note right along the way. This is a range I’d never seen in the actor before and it impressed me.

Plaza is equally good here as the resurrected Beth. When she does return to life, she’s not the Romero-style zombie. In fact, despite some minor memory loss (like that she wanted to break up with Zach right before she died) it’s hard determining if she’s alive or dead, so everyone is less freaked out and more relieved when she mysteriously shows up on her doorstep. Plaza obviously had fun in this film as she basically devolves into a monosyllabic “Hulk Smash!” state as the film goes on, only calmed by smooth jazz and sex with Zach. Much of the comedy in the latter half of this film is seeing Beth’s transformation unfold and having her normal girlfriend gripes like “You never took me flamenco dancing” devolve into caveman-esque screams of “FLAMINGO!”

Despite all of the serious themes of grief and loss, there’s a lot to laugh at here. There’s quite a bit of gore at play here, while still refraining from overuse. And while the scares are at a minimum, the emotional core of the film is going to hit a lot of people just right. Reminiscent of the Billy Connolly zom com FIDO from a few years back which dealt with some of the same themes in a funny way, LIFE AFTER BETH retains its dark tone, casting very human reactions to death against the ridiculous concept of the dead rising from their graves and not remembering that they died and attempting to assume their previous lives. It doesn’t hurt that some of the funniest people on the planet are saying all of these lines and reacting to these situations. Yes, there are some inconsistencies involving “the rules” of how the dead are getting up and walking around with embalming and burying corpses they way they are today, none of that is really taken into consideration here, but this film is not really about those kind of details. It’s about seeing a loved one just one more time and being able to say what you needed to say, all set with a darkly comedic tone. Seeing CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM’s Cheryl Hines and MAD ABOUT YOU’s Paul Riser react to zombies is priceless, as is seeing Jerry Marshall come back as a complaining zombie grandpa. With solid comedic performances, a consistently pitch black comedic tone, and a story that never makes fun of the genre, but has funny people react to it instead, LIFE AFTER BETH is a comedic horror film that will make you laugh while bringing up themes about loss that horror films rarely touch upon.

And finally…written and directed by PJ Wolfe and starring BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s Joshua Leonard (JOSHHHH!!!!!) and a dog named Jett, this genuinely scary sci fi short is all sorts of awesome. Wolfe is not stopping there as he is in the middle of a Kickstarter for his next film, SINNER’S HOLIDAY, which is described as a celebration of B-movie bad girls, motor-psycho outlaws, switchblades, kinky cops and rock 'n' roll. You can support Wolfe’s film by clicking here.

Enjoy 9 MINUTES!

9 MINUTES from P.J. Wolff 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. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

Be sure to tell your comic shop to order his new comic PIROUETTE from July’s Diamond Previews (item code JUL14 0937) today and the new issue #2 available to order in August Previews (item code AUG14 1131) from Black Mask Studios!!

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

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