Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Quite a few of this week’s selections have been covered before on AICN HORROR, but keeping my promise to let you all know when these films are available, I wanted to make sure you knew the week of the release, so here they are. Still, I managed to scatter a few new ones in there to spice things up!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Book Review: ALIEN: SEA OF SORROWS Novel
Retro-review: GRADUATION DAY (1981)
Retro-review: PUMPKINHEAD (1988)
Send in the Clowns: DEAD CLOWNS (2000)
BLOODSUCKA JONES (2013)
MINE GAMES (2012)
MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH (2013)
CRAWL OR DIE (2014)
WILLOW CREEK (2013)
AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (2013)
And finally…Christopher Wells’ CYNTHIA!
ALIEN: SEA OF SORROWS NovelWritten by James A. Moore
Published by Titan Books
Reviewed by Mr. Pasty
ALIEN: SEA OF SORROWS (ASOS) is the middle entry into the trilogy of ALIEN novels by Titan Books. The first was OUT OF THE SHADOWS (OOTS) and the last – due in November – will be RIVER OF PAIN (ROP). What I've enjoyed about this series is its ability to stay true to the source material, a gripe I had about the direction of the comic book franchise a few years back, which essentially started as ALIEN and gradually evolved into FIEVEL GOES WEST with a xenomorph replacing the cute little mouse. It's important to note that ASOS has a different author than OOTS and, as such, has a much different tone—and, sadly, no Ellen Ripley.
That's not to suggest that ASOS is an inferior read, but losing Ripley in anything ALIEN-related takes some getting used to. Fortunately, Moore is skilled enough as a writer to develop new characters and actually have them mean something, rather than settling for one-dimensional bait whose only purpose is to get mutilated. And make no mistake about it, people get mutilated. The fact that ASOS clocks in at nearly 350 pages was worrisome at first, and admittedly the middle of the book gets a little clunky, but it's a brisk read because Moore does a good job of creating suspense, something undoubtedly aided by memories of the atmospheric nightmares on film. That's probably the best – and worst – attribute attached to this book. It has all the familiar plot elements here including rampaging aliens, evil corporations, slimy antagonists, and gun-toting heroes. Unfortunately, some of it was a little too familiar at times, though I would consider this to be a minor gripe.
A lot of reviewers like to judge a “based on” book by how well it would hold up if you switched the title character(s) with generic replacements, meaning is it good enough to stand alone without the “name” attached? I don't really find that applicable here, since the entire reason for this book's existence is to further the ALIEN narrative. On that note, fans don't need to be familiar with OOTS, since ASOS is off and running in another direction, though I would not recommend going in completely cold. Why anyone who has not seen at least one of the ALIEN movies would randomly pick up the second entry in a series like this is beyond me, but it's probably worth mentioning anyway. Know your onions before diving in. If you do, you'll find ASOS a fun and rewarding book that gives you everything you've been missing in your life: more ALIEN! Can't go wrong with that.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at MMaMania.com here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
Retro-review: New this week on DVD/BluRay from Vinegar Syndrome!
GRADUATION DAY (1981)Directed by Herb Freed
Written by Anne Marisse, Herb Freed, David Baughn
Starring Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, E. Danny Murphy, E.J. Peaker, Michael Pataki, Richard Balin, Carmen Argenziano, Beverly Dixon, Virgil Frye, Hal Bokar, Denise Cheshire, Bill Hufsey, Linnea Quigley, Karen Abbott, Vanna White
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
GRADUATION DAY is not a good movie. Plain and simple. The story is predictable. The kills are incredibly lame. The comedy is lamer. And the mystery killer is predictable from the opening scene. That said, as far as cheesy slasher films, this one’s got a lot to laugh at. And sometimes laughing at a movie is ok, especially when it’s a bad horror movie.
Among one of the million and one films that came out in the wake of the popularity of holiday-themed horrors, GRADUATION DAY borrows copious amounts from many much better films (mainly FRIDAY THE 13TH) as it follows the Bava method by having the camera trail the murder weapon instead of the actual killer him or herself. While HALLOWEEN deftly put you in the head of the killer, the FRIDAY THE 13TH films (at least the earlier ones) put the weapon in your hand as well. While the handheld POV is an overused method of fear-making these days, this is a technique that isn’t really used much anymore, but it does offer up an effect that is equally engrossing no matter how horrible the film is. And what a bad movie this is.
Not only is the story pretty one note as it’s simply another “and then there were none”-style tale, but the logic behind the motivation of the killer is downright off kilter. A track star falls over dead of a blood clot at the end of an especially strenuous track meet and the killer is offing the rest of the team one by one, blaming them for her death. Now, I’m no brain surgeon, but I don’t think anyone can cause a blood clot in another person. But since the killer is obviously loo-loo-koo-koo when he/she is finally revealed in the end, this lack of logic behind the killings is kind of a moot point. Still, I think a simple lesson in human anatomy might have caused a whole lot of less death.
What is entertaining here are the killing tools used, which for the most part consists mainly of swords. Fencing swords, a bed of swords, and even a football sword (yes, that’s right, a football sword) are used as implements of death here. While it’s not varied, at least the killer spices things up by beheading some and gouging others. The football sword is classic, though, and a hilarious moment which needs to be seen to be believed.
What isn’t entertaining is the attempts at comedy here. For some reason, a cop who hates schools, a pedophile music teacher, a philandering boss and his ditzy secretary named Blondie are prominently featured with multiple scenes here though none of them are killed or have anything really to do with the plot or the motives of the killer. Maybe an idiot might see one of these time-wasters as a possible suspect, but as I said above, it’s pretty obvious who the psycho is from the first scenes.
What GRADUATION DAY has is a pretty creepy ending which evokes PSYCHO mixed with a little bit of CARRIE. While it’s not entirely original, the rudimentary makeup effects along with the creepy acting make it scarier than it should be. Another thing to note is that Vanna White makes one of her first clothed performances in this film, but her character isn’t even important enough to kill in this one. So if you’re looking for something to guffaw at for a while, GRADUATION DAY works, though it really doesn’t seem like anyone behind it is smart enough to have a high school education--at least, if the story is any indication.
Retro-review: New this week from The Scream Factory!
PUMPKINHEAD (1988)Directed by Stan Winston
Written by Ed Justin (poem), Mark Patrick Carducci, Stan Winston, Richard Weinman (story), Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani (screenplay)
Starring Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D'Aquino, Kimberly Ross, Joel Hoffman, Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Florence Schauffler, Brian Bremer, George 'Buck' Flower, Matthew Hurley, Lee de Broux, Peggy Walton-Walker, Chance Michael Corbitt, Dick Warlock, Devon Odessa, Mayim Bialik, & Tom Woodruff Jr. as Pumpkinhead!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of the most original-looking creatures to come out of 80s horror was Stan Winston’s design for Pumpkinhead. Utilizing practical effects and puppeteering, Winston and his crew created something special in a time when most of the horror world was mainly focused on slasher flicks. While the sequels sort of diluted the concept, the original film still packs a punch and shows that while Winston was a mastermind at effects, he also had it in him to direct pretty capably as well.
But apart from that, this is a revenge film in its purest form. And while the monster is always what we think of in this film, I also feel it’s one of Lance Henriksen’s strongest performances as a grieving and vengeful father who evokes an ancient swamp curse when a group of asshole dirt bikers run down his beloved son. Sure the monstrous visage and lanky frame of Pumpkinhead is nightmarish, but what I remember most about this film is the look of unrelenting rage and sorrow reflected in Henriksen’s face as he first discovers his son’s death and turns to look at the bikers who did it. This is a moment of this film that is without a word of dialog from Henriksen, but it is still etched in my mind as the most memorable scene of the film due to the look of utter dismay crossed with pure anger towards those who took away his only son.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the rest of the cast is up to Henriksen’s caliber here. While Lance used this as a vehicle to really highlight his talents, this film really does serve to showcase Winston’s skill with effects and animatronics. The giant 10 plus foot tall creature is highlighted early on and throughout the film, showing the creature taking vengeance over and over and not doing the usual withholding of the creature’s reveal until the last moments as done in most creature features. Here, you can tell Winston is proud of his creation and wants to show it as much as possible.
Though the story is a pretty straightforward tale of vengeance, it does manage to build quite an extensive history for the titular creature, though still leaving enough mystery to make it interesting. The old witchy effects for the old hag in the swamp are equally impressive as she exemplifies the swampy environment around her. Winston also bathes this film in orange colors, which is again indicative of his visual mastery and keeps with the tone of the pumpkin.
Winston and company created a modern monster full of originality, a simple yet appealing backstory, and a look unlike most anything else out there with PUMPKINHEAD. And while most creature features live to showcase the monster and effects, this one also had the power of Henriksen behind it to make it all the more watchable.
This new BluRay from Scream Factory includes the usual flurry of extras, such as a new tribute doc honoring Stan Winston and his amazing work on this film, which talks with the cast including Lance himself and some interviews with some of the other actors in the cast. Then there’s PUMPKINHEAD UNEARTHED, which is a making of documentary which shows not only the effects, but how they were implemented into the film, and the usual stills and trailers to ogle at. Not only is Scream Factory releasing this one, but they’re also doing the sequel next month as well. Here’s hoping they take a crack at III and IV as well (could we hope for a two-pack collecting both?). As is this one’s got everything you would ever want about PUMPKINHEAD.
Send in the Clowns: Bug celebrates the release of his 4-issue miniseries comic book PIROUETTE by checking out some clownie horrors!
DEAD CLOWNS (2004)Directed by Steve Sessions
Written by Steve Sessions
Starring Jeff Samford, Debbie Rochon, Brinke Stevens, William Riordan, Jeff Dylan Graham, Robyn Griggs, Kimberly L. Cole, and Lucien Eisenach, Eric Spudic, & Jenn Ruliffson as the Clowns!
Find out this film on Netflix here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t go so far as to say that Steve Sessions’ DEAD CLOWNS is a good movie. It’s a low budgeter, moves slow as molasses, and has a script that equals the talents of most of the actors involved (which is pretty low scale). But there’s a lot to say about the initial idea behind a movie and in that sense, DEAD CLOWNS is a winner and a half.
The story mixes elements of THE FOG with your typical NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario and instead of typical zombies, these walkers used to wear clown makeup in their previous lives. When a circus train crashes and sinks to the bottom of a gulf in a seaboard community, the drunk shipman gets away scott free because he’s related to the mayor. But when a hurricane unearths a particular clown car in the briny depths, it’s time for zombie clowns to attack. This is a concept I rather liked, and it has a lot of tidbits I am using in my own PIROUETTE miniseries should a follow-up ever occur. Because of this, I was rather fascinated at how the story unfolded.
Unfortunately, the unfolding is a long and tedious process as long stints of stock footage is followed by somewhat typical and uneventful attack after attack of the zombie clowns as they shamble one at a time after screaming people in their homes. The pacing of this film is horribly slow and it doesn’t help that the stock footage of hurricanes never really matches up with the rest of the film. Shots of trees blowing, waves crashing against the surf, and things blowing in the wind seem to be ripped from weather reports from many moons ago. Pair this with the slow lead-in to what the story is really about (there’s a scene where we follow scream queen Brinke Stephens from the airport to her home and for some reason a timer in the bottom right hand corner indicates the time of her journey every step of the way from touchdown to doorstep) and you’ve got yourself a film that is a surefire case of narcolepsy.
Still it’s a winner of an idea and the effects, as usual in these types of films, are better than everything else as it depicts the undead clowns with partially ripped open heads, burned faces, and broken bodies. The script and acting as well as sound and pacing do their best to bog this cool idea down, but a cool idea is just a cool idea, and while the execution is flawed, DEAD CLOWNS gets points for having a damn cool concept.
SPLASH AREA: NIGHT OF THE FREAKS/CLOWN HUNT
DOLL-BOY/ALL HALLOW’S EVE
THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL
FEAR OF CLOWNS I & II
CIRCUS OF THE DEAD
100 TEARS/KLOWN KAMP MASSACRE
ALL DARK PLACES
THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT
SLOPPY THE PSYCHOTIC
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 this week on DVD!
BLOODSUCKA JONES (2013)Directed by Justin Armao
Written by Justin Armao
Starring Preston Gant, Jessica Dercks, Justin Armao, Maria Canapino, Travis Woods, Matt Kelly, Erin Holt, William Cutting, Andy Cauble, Duncan Tran, Ray Chavez Jr.
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Watch yo’ back, Drac! Bloodsucka Jones is here to take out all the vampires! BLOODSUCKA JONES is a low fi horror comedy which makes up for its amateur makings with some pretty potent humor and some over the top gore. Don’t go looking for polished edges, giant stars, or big budget CG work, but if you are looking for some lowbrow laughs and plenty of the red stuff, this is the film that’ll deliver in spades.
The story follows a lovable loser who happens upon a young woman who turns out to be a vampire. Though they are warned by the vampire’s family to make tracks, the couple decides to power through it and when a magic sword is found that was owned by the lead vampire, the couple find themselves seeking out the aid of legendary badass vampire glute-kicker Bloodsucka Jones.
Don’t take a second of this film seriously. I didn’t, and while it feels very much like a slightly elevated backyard production, the quality of comedy throughout makes it all a whole barrel of fun. From Bloodsucka Jones’ propensity to toss his vampire hunters in training into battle blindly and without a lick of preparation to the vats of blood which explode from dead humans and vampires alike, this is one funny damn film. I especially like the way Bloodsucka Jones continuously defeats vampires by crushing their skulls under his white designer shoes.
Grab your favorite liquor and a bunch of buddies and watch BLOODSUCKA JONES when it comes to DVD later this year. The film makes fun of the vampire genre and almost every actor involved has a great sense of comedy and timing. Get yo’ ass ready for blood and laughs a-plenty with this low budget vamp flick.
New next week on DVD from Phase 4 Films!
MINE GAMES (2012)aka THE EVIL WITHIN
Directed by Richard Gray
Written by Robert Cross (story), Richard Gray, Michele Davis-Gray, & Ross McQueen (screenplay)
Starring Briana Evigan, Julianna Guill, Rebecca Da Costa, Joseph Cross, Rafi Gavron, Ethan Peck, Alex Meraz, Lindsay Lamb, Michael Guillod
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A couple of smart moves make MINE GAMES much more watchable than your typical lost kids in the woods scenario.
The biggest problem with most horror films is that so many of them start out practically the same. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a bunch of kids get together for a camping trip in the middle of nowhere. With no cell reception and partying on their minds, the kids don’t realize the danger they are in until it’s too late. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this setup before, and it takes something really special to stand out to me if that’s the scenario that’s going to be taken. But while MINE GAMES does start off that way, there are a few things that make this one better than most.
Firstly, the film has an interesting premise as it is basically a curse story where the partying kids enter a mine which begins a sort of cycle of horror for them. While the cause of the curse and the exact details and history behind it are left vague, they basically go in the cave as one group and leave as something totally different. The haunting concept of the ouroboros (the imagery of the snake eating its own tail) is delved into, as the kids stumble across the imagery as well as cryptic notes like “This is the first time…” and “Break the cycle” scratched into the wall. Soon the group finds dead bodies which look exactly like them and, well, things continue to spiral.
The best thing about this film is that the kids have actually seen a horror movie before. Sure they end up succumbing to the horrors, but they are cautious. They reference other horror films and urban legends that the scary scenario they are in reminds them of, all of this done in a much more subtle way than the SCREAM franchise. These are not moviephiles, but they are smart kids and it’s refreshing to see characters acknowledge that splitting up is stupid and walking into a dark house is dangerous.
The actors involved are all decent here. Sure they are a bunch of pretty people in peril, but Briana Evigan of the STEP UP movies, Julianna Gill from the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake, and Joseph Cross of STRANGERS WITH CANDY all stand out with strong and genuine performances. And with a weird and twisty concept and execution, MINE GAMES ended up being a solid little shocker for me. It still travels down well trodden pathways, but MINE GAMES does so smartly and capably enough to give it some distinction from the rest.
New this week DVD/BluRay from Parade Deck Films!
MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH (2013)Directed by Don Thacker
Written by Don Thacker
Starring Adrian DiGiovanni, Jeffrey Combs, Danielle Doetsch, Ken Brown, Pete Giovagnoli, Robert Kramer, Erica Highberg
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Like THEY WILL OUTLIVE US ALL, MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH focuses mainly on the occupants of one apartment for most of the film. Unlike that film, which has two human protagonists, MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH has one male protagonist and a talking pile of mold voiced by Jeffrey Combs. From that description alone there are going to be a few differences between two films using a single locale for most of the action.
The other similarity is that both films are awesome. MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH is a fantastic character study of a man defeated, sitting around with months worth of grime, filth, and hair growth on his body with a path carved through pizza boxes and other garbage from the couch to the bathroom to the door and back again. Though it doesn’t go into too much detail in regards to why Ian (Adrian DiGiovanni) is so down, the actor’s performance makes us forget about asking these questions since his performance is so captivatingly sad and fascinating all at once. Ian talks directly to the camera through the film, walking us through his humdrum life. In most cases, this would be horribly pretentious, but there’s a sense of real soul in his performance that loses all pretention and made me want to go along for the ride.
When Ian’s antique television he calls Kent dies on him, it motivates him to find other means of entertainment. Only able to sleep for so long, Ian futzes around talking to the camera about this and that until he realizes that something must be done about the faulty TV. When he slips and falls in the bathroom, hitting his head on the floor, a pile of mold in the corner forms a mouth and begins talking with him. And that voice sounds an awful lot like the Re-Animator. Combs does a fantastic job as the pile of fungi who becomes Ian’s motivator to get his life back together. Though it takes a while for Ian to trust the pile of goo, soon he finds that it is trying to help him and the two embark on a quest to put his life back together.
All taking place in one locale, the charm comes from scenes of utter lunacy as Ian eats pieces of mold sprouting from the pile and goes on some gravity-bending acid trips. Soon he’s starring in the television episodes he zoned out on, cleaning his apartment with new vigor, and shaving off his disgusting beard. The effects in the film are minimal, but the ones used are highly effective, especially the Muppet-like pile of mold that undulates convincingly. There are also some amazing sequences of 8 bit pixilation animation that prove to be fun, as well as the vertigo-inducing slo mo falls Ian tends to endure.
The fact that 90% of this film takes place with a guy talking to the camera on his couch, all the while maintaining a creative, interesting, and intelligent edge all the way through, is a testament as to how great MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH truly is. The alternating dark and light tones give this film a unique texture, never really letting on as to where it will go next. Sure to poke, prod, and play with your brain in ways normal cinema does not, MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Coming from someone who has seen a lot, it’s refreshing to see so much ingenuity crammed into one little movie.
New this week on DVD and digital download from Vertical Entertainment!
CRAWL OR DIE (2014)aka ALIEN CRAWL and CRAWL BITCH CRAWL
Directed by Oklahoma Ward
Written by Oklahoma Ward
Starring Nicole Alonso, Torey Byrne, Tommy Ball, Wil Crown, David Paul Baker, Tom Chamberlain, Clayton Burgess, David Zeliff, Larry Huitt, & Matthew Stephen Crabtree as the Creature!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I didn’t know I was claustrophobic until I saw this movie. Wow, CRAWL OR DIE is one grueling heartstopper of a movie.
Set in an indistinct future where Earth has been leeched of most of its resources and a new Earth called Earth 2 is being populated as a replacement. A group of military mercs are sent in to rescue the last fertile and healthy female on the planet and get her past a war zone against what looks to be a grungier version of Giger’s xenomorph. But in order for that to happen, they’ve got to crawl!
The simple concept and the perseverance to stick with it is what makes CRAWL OR DIE so effective. The film starts out with the military team acquiring the female (simply known as Package through the film) and after most of them are picked off by the pursuing alien, a small portion of the group are forced to shimmy through what seems like miles of cramped tunnels and close quarters in order to survive with the alien hot on their heels. And while THE DESCENT had its moments of close-quarters horrors, this film buries you and gives you little wiggle room to escape.
And though this is literally a film about some folks trying to crawl through tunnels the whole time, writer/director Oklahoma Ward keeps every second electric by switching up angles, getting intimately close to the trapped actors, and occasionally showing us just how far the actors have to go in order to get to the next, even more tighter area. But while the directing is rock solid, it would be nothing without the star-making performance by the gutsy and gorgeous Nicole Alonso as Tank, the Mohawk sporting uber-babe who shimmies her way through this entire film. Alonso loses all of her soldier gear to fit through these tunnels and if it all weren’t so intense and dire, it’d be sexy as hell seeing her stripped down to her skivvies to survive. While there is some cheesecake going on here, Alonso’s performance commands respect as she fights her way through tunnels that seem impossible to fit through.
The unflinching intensity of this film cannot be denied. Imagine if RUN LOLA RUN were set in a long, tight underground tube and you might get a feeling of the intensity of this film. Oklahoma Ward, Nicole Alonso, and everyone else behind CRAWL OR DIE (which originally sported the fantastic name of CRAWL BITCH CRAWL) have churned out a truly scintillating achievement in horror. Ward and Alonso are names you’re bound to hear more of and CRAWL OR DIE is a film you should not miss.
New this week on DVD/BluRay and digital download from Drafthouse Films!
BORGMAN (2013)Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
Written by Alex van Warmerdam
Starring Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, Alex van Warmerdam, Tom Dewispelaere, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Elve Lijbaart, Dirkje van der Pijl, Pieter-Bas de Waard, Eva van de Wijdeven Eva van de Wijdeven, Annet Malherbe
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Move over, David Lynch. Step aside, DOGTOOTH director Yorgos Lanthimos. Outtatheway, THE WRANGLER director Calvin Reeder. There’s a new filmmaker of the weird in need of the spotlight. Alex van Warmerdam offers up BORGMAN, a film that is as weird as it is fascinating to see unfold. BORGMAN tells its tale in an almost dreamlike fashion with not a whole lot of sense tying it all together, yet still grabbing you by the collar and forcing you to never avert your eyes.
The story begins with a trio of hunters (one of them a priest) tracking something in the woods. Underneath the ground, a homeless-looking man (who we later know as Borgman, played by actor Jan Bijvoet) awakes and quickly gathers whatever things he can carry. As the trio of hunters begin to dig into Borgman’s underground shanty, the roof caves in and Borgman flees, alerting other homeless-looking people in their underground shanties to flee as he makes his way through the woods. Cut to Borgman approaching random houses and attempting to come in and use their bathtub and with a few unsuccessful attempts, Borgman lights the ire of one resident, Richard, (Jeroen Perceval) who kicks the shit out of Borgman when he reveals he knows his wife Marina (Hadewych Minis). With her interest piqued and her sympathies pulled, Marina sets Borgman up in their guest house unbeknownst to her husband, and thus begins the subtle yet persistent takeover of the house by Borgman and his gypsy-esque grifter bretheren.
Much more like an infestation movie than anything else, van Warmerdam is painstakingly patient as Borgman slowly works himself into the lives of Marina’s family to the point where he becomes the crucial hub and most controlling factor of the household, enveloping all of them from Marina all the way down to her small children and even the au pair in the palm of his hand. All the while, Borgman and the gypsy grifters’ true intentions are left unrevealed. These home invaders definitely have some kind of plan, as it appears they have done it all many times as evidenced by the way the grifters move about their business in an almost worker ant like state—runnign on pure instinct and never questioning or faltering in their plans. But the motivations and some very crucial details are left out making this film all the more mysterious.
One of the reasons why this film is so watchable despite the lack of knowing what the hell is going on is Jan Bijvoet’s inscrutable yet infectious performance as Borgman. At once he is endearing in a Charlie Chaplin/Roberto Benigni sort of way, yet a complete, almost alien enigma. His long hair and beard make you want to believe that this is a story about a well-intentioned man fallen on hard times. Having his head kicked in during the opening moments adds to that sympathy. But once inside the home, it’s quite obvious that much like Marina, the viewer is also lulled into this man’s charm and we (along with Marina) don’t realize how dangerous he is until it’s too late. Bijvoet is a complete enigma here and while he does do a lot, his actions are utterly surprising and shocking every step of the way.
The dark unknown depths this film plunges into are deeper than any film I’ve seen so far this year. Are these guys aliens? Are they some kind of vampires? Or demons? Or some race of monster I have never heard of? I found myself asking these questions towards the end of this film and was preparing myself to expect anything since van Warmerdam really does show with this film an unreality that feels like it’s just off to the left of the worlds Lynch, Lanthimos, and Reeder have taken us in the past. It’s a dreamlike realm that looks like the world outside our window, but the longer we stay there the less it makes sense.
And like a dream, I think those taking a chance on BORGMAN this week will either react by snapping out of it and disconnecting when everything gets too wonky or riding it out to see what crazy new corner this film will turn. I stuck with it and being the type of viewer that doesn’t need everything over-explained and mapped out for me, I was ok with the ambiguous feelings I felt after watching Borgman and his crew wreck this family with their unconventional and often alien behavior. But I can see those who prefer more concrete storytelling being infuriated with the movie. Whether you like it for its overflowing cup of weirdness or not, BORGMAN is undeniably original and, for me at least, a surreal look at how little it takes to pull a family apart at the seams.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Dark Sky Films!
WILLOW CREEK (2013)Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Written by Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having done three Bigfoot-centric AICN HORROR columns (here, here, and here, I was beginning to think that finding a good Bigfoot movie was damn near as hard as finding the elusive creature itself. Having sat though my fair share of mediocre to horrible Squatchploitation flicks, it got to the point where I was dreading seeing this subgenre of movies. Then along comes Bobcat Goldthwait, an unconventional director and one I definitely wouldn’t expect to be able to deliver a film that just might be the best Bigfoot film I’ve ever seen. But deliver he did with WILLOW CREEK.
Filmed in the first person POV that might cause many to let out a groan of Sasquatchonian levels, WILLOW CREEK follows an amateur documentary filmmaker Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) as they travel to the legendary site where the Patterson-Gimlin footage of what looks to be an upright ape walking through the wooded areas of Bluff Creek, in northern California was filmed. Jim’s intention is to walk the same steps Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin walked the day they captured something fantastical on their camera. Soaking in the local culture which is heavily influenced by the Bigfoot mythos sporting Bigfoot burgers, various carved statues, and Bigfoot hotels, Jim and Kelly find themselves immersing themselves deeper and deeper into this phenomenon with Jim playing the role of steadfast believer and Kelly acting as the skeptic. Much of the earlier part of the film is dedicated to getting to know Jim and Kelly while they attempt to film this documentary, while the latter half follows them on a perilous journey through the wilderness challenging the beliefs of both would-be documentarians on whether the Sasquatch really exists. And actors Johnson and Gilmore do a fantastic job of making themselves likable and relatable by seeing them at their most comfortable and most vulnerable before they even step one foot into the wilderness. Both are talented actors able to hold the attention of this viewer for the extended amount of time that occurs before they set out to follow the trail.
A lot might be said about this film being a found footager, and more of a comment on making a documentary than an actual found footage film. Jim is a believer and therefore doesn’t really have an objective point of view here, seeking adventure and discovery rather than really trying to be a fly on the wall capturing the truth. Numerous times throughout the film, different takes are used in order to show Jim trying to act natural, a trait Jim really isn’t good at as he has a lot of difficulty containing his enthusiasm once he gets closer to the site. At the same time, as found footagers go, Goldthwait keeps everything sensible. The camera is never propped just right to catch anything, there are no illogical cuts or edits by some omnipotent editor, and there are no musical bangs on an invisible piano from an invisible orchestra. Everything happens during the filming of the raw footage of this documentary, which makes it feel more genuine and all the more effective in grabbing me and keeping me in the film.
Most importantly, this is a scary movie. There’s a nineteen minute sequence in this film that had me paralyzed with fear. The extended intro where we follow this couple around and get to know them does its job because it allows the viewer to rely on that connection during the last half of this film when the peril begins to intensify exponentially. Goldthwait goes for simplicity here, and in doing so offers up the most powerful of scares: simple sounds and then silences, unexpected mutterings and moans, pitch darkness and the power of the great unknown are elements Goldthwait plays with perfectly, leading to an ending that is both shocking upon experiencing it and then doubly so after the fact when it’s made clear what was happening out there in the darkness and making some of those odd sounds.
Much like Goldthwait’s other films SHAKES THE CLOWN, GOD BLESS AMERICA, and WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, the filmmaker exemplifies his unique eye for offbeat cultures and the under the radar details with WILLOW CREEK. This is not just a found footage film. It’s a smart use of found footage, incorporating elements of humor and utter fear expertly in order to scare the hell out of the viewer. For believers in Bigfoot like myself who had been becoming skeptical that there would ever be a truly great Bigfoot film made, Bobcat Goldthwait and WILLOW CREEK, thankfully, proved me wrong.
In select theaters today from IFC Midnight!
AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (2014)aka HOME
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Written by Nicholas McCarthy
Starring Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Arshad Aslam, Rob Brownstein, Tara Buck, Laura Kai Chen, Assaf Cohen, Nick Eversman, Kent Faulcon, Ava Acres
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Yes, I reviewed this last week in my Fantasia Fest recap. But this is a film worth reposting, especially since it’s available this week in theaters!
Filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy caught my attention last year with his horrific ghost story of indescribable terror, THE PACT (reviewed here). He returns with his sophomore effort, AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, and I’m happy to say he’s got another winner of a horror film on his hands.
Playing with both timeline and narrative structure, McCarthy offers up a somewhat complex tale of ghosts and demons with a little bit of witchcraft tossed in for good measure. The story is an unconventional one, but tells the tale of a demon with a singular purpose: find the one body that is right for him to take over completely. Throughout the story, this demon takes residence in a few people and as the tale spans different locales and times, the demon’s goal is the one thing tying it all together.
Three women are tragically linked to the demon’s designs. The opening scene has a young girl talked into selling her soul to a witch doctor by her boyfriend. We then trip forward in time to meet a pair of sisters, Vera and Leigh (GLEE’s Naya Rivera & Catalina Sandino Moreno, respectively). Leigh is a real estate agent trying to sell a house with a dark past and Vera is an aimless artist who fears being alone all her life. When Leigh starts seeing the girl from the beginning of the film (Ashley Rickards from MTV’s AWKWARD) wandering around the empty house, she is led face to face with the demon--but Leigh is not who the demon wants.
The story is much more complex than your typical demon possession yarn. The demon possession is the common touchpoint of the film, and it’s established well and early, so no matter when or where the story goes, it’s easy to understand by following the demon’s burned footprints. McCarthy does a great job of making the leaps in time and place easy to follow, allowing the strength of the female leads to carry us along the way wherever they take us.
Lately, there seems to be a substitution of scares for Don Music head slams onto a keyboard. These sudden sharts of music are effective in unnerving the viewer, but these are empty scares filling space left for actual scary things to occur. There are plenty of music whammies in AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, but what separates this film from the usual vacant fodder is that the musical punches are accompanied by equally frightening visuals. There are no false scares in AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, just creepily set up scenes and visuals (accompanied by the music bump) that are the stuff of pure, uncut nightmare.
AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR is an unconventionally told version of a common tale, but with some fantastic performances by the female leads, some absolutely horrific shocks, one scary-ass demon, and a handling of suspense that is more potent than any I’ve seen in recent horror films, this is one horror film that is anything but common.
In select theaters today from Magnet Releasing!
HONEYMOON (2014)Directed by Leigh Janiak
Written by Leigh Janiak & Phil Graziadei
Starring Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber, Hanna Brown
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
They say that once you get married, things change. And I’m sure that’s true (maybe I’ll find out one of these days), but here’s to hoping that things don’t change as drastically and as horrifically as they do in Leigh Janiak’s fascinating and engrossing new horror film HONEYMOON.
GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway play Bea and Paul, respectively--honeymooners returning to Bea’s childhood cabin home after a long time living into the city. Upon their arrival, Bea and Paul can’t keep their hands off of one another, impulsively making love in every room in the house and never leaving each other’s sight, but after Bea runs into an old boyfriend at a local restaurant, she disappears from the cabin and is found naked and shivering in the woods. Not knowing what happened, Paul becomes increasingly concerned as Bea’s attitude and temperament changes.
I’m hesitant to reveal much more of this film, as not knowing what type of film this is going in is what makes it all the more effective. This is a slow, slow burn of a movie, but the sizzle definitely sets in as things get direr in such a short span of time for Paul and Bea. The film really taps into the fears and turmoil suffered by many in relationships when you realize you really don’t know much about your significant other. It’s that feeling of fear when you wonder if jumping into that big lake of love is worth it or if it was a mistake to trust someone with the whole of you. Janiak and co-writer Phil Graziadei really take their time doling out the scares, but there’s an ever-increasing stream of paranoia that begins at about the twenty minute mark and never lets up.
Stars Leslie and Treadaway are definitely ones to look out for. Rose Leslie has a spunkiness that isn’t common; it’s the kind of rough tomboy-ishness quality, but never losing that appealing femininity. Treadaway plays his character in a nuanced fashion, suspicious, yet wanting so much to take his wife at her word, even when everything else tells him otherwise.
In the latter half of this film, there are some really gory moments sure to cause a wince or two. But the nighttime scenes where dark unknowns are lurking about are the scenes that’ll really creep under your skin. Reminiscent of ROSEMARY’S BABY and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, HONEYMOON is a film that will make you look over your shoulder or wonder if that person you’re sitting next to and holding hands with is who they think they are. This is an excellent bit of filmmaking with some performances that hit all the right notes to make one creepy little horror thriller.
And finally…here’s a haunting little number from writer/director Christopher Wells called CYNTHIA that hits all the right spooky notes. I especially like the all white makeup of the white ghost peeking through the door. Check out CYNTHIA if you dare!
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!!
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!