Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week make way for a double dose of zombies, an unstoppable killing machine, cannibalistic gladiators, some good old fashioned vengeance, a natural disaster, mad science, horror in the woods, carnie terrors, music to die for, and a book review!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Book Review: A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES Novel (2014)
Retro-review: AVALANCHE (1978)
Send in the Clowns: DARK RIDE (2006)
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC (Director’s Cut 2014)
THE HUNTED (2013)
DISASTER L.A. (2014)
AUTUMN BLOOD (2011)
EVIL FEED (2013)
THE BATTERY (2013)
THE GUEST (2014)
And finally… Jason Torrey’s BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE!
Book Review: Available here!
A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES Novel (2014)Written by Luke Smitherd
Reviewed by BottleImp
Not all that long ago, whenever I happened upon a book bearing the unfortunate legend “self-published”, a very definite negative connotation would arise in my mind. I imagined clichéd plots, cardboard-thin characters and grammar that would make a third-grader shake his head in disdain. And sadly, I have happened upon this trifecta many a time when reading self-published material. But to be fair, I’ve also seen numerous examples of these literary sins in professionally published works as well (coughDanBrowncough). I soon came to realize that the publishing industry (much like film and television) has become one afraid of taking chances on the new when a much safer bet on paper is sticking with the old, known quantities. So for a new writer to share his or her voice, sometimes the best (or even only) way to do that is to put their work out themselves. And sometimes, these new authors write books that make one wonder what the hell is wrong with all those short-sighted publishers, anyway?
I first learned of Luke Smitherd when I read his fantastic science fiction novel THE STONE MAN (reviewed here). This was followed by his brilliant sci fi/horror serial THE BLACK ROOM. Now Smitherd once again treats readers to his masterful blend of genre storytelling and fully-realized, complex characters with A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES.
What begins prosaically abruptly shifts as the reader is shunted into a nightmare where people worldwide begin violently attacking those around them--friends, family and strangers alike. But these occurrences are just a piece of the puzzle Smitherd has crafted. The scope of the story is far grander than it first appears, and the violence committed by the self-proclaimed Brotherhood of the Raid is revealed to be merely a symptom of a greater looming disaster—one with implications both for our living world and for what comes after we draw our last breaths.
A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES is a shorter book and a quicker read than Smitherd’s previous two, but it is by far the most densely packed with ideas. The Brotherhood of the Raid, psychic cults, reincarnation and a brilliantly new and weird concept of the afterlife—any one of these ideas could have served as the basis for a stand-alone novel. It’s a testament to Smitherd’s skill as a writer that he is able to blend these concepts together into a single narrative. One negative aspect of having so many ideas packed into one story is that there are times when Smitherd falls into the trap of heavy plot exposition rather than telling the story through the actions of the characters. Thankfully, these passages do not overshadow the impact of the novel created by Smitherd’s strong storytelling skill and deeply human characters. At the core of the novel is an examination of our basic need of human contact. This is a theme that also figured prominently in Smitherd’s two previous books, although in A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES that search for a connection takes even stranger twists and turns than Smitherd conceived of before.
I’m deliberately keeping vague about the book’s plot; one of the greatest joys for a reader is to be genuinely surprised by a new book. So often (and especially in the cliché-littered genres of horror and science fiction) familiar plot devices are trotted out, tropes are repeated and recycled ad nauseam, and the reader knows exactly where the book is going pages—and sometimes even chapters—before reading. With Luke Smitherd’s novels, however, the reader gets to experience that wonderful and rare marvel of experiencing something new and original. I had no preconceived idea of what to expect with A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES, and every time I thought I knew where the storyline was heading, Smitherd deftly turned down a new and unexpected path.
In a field of genre fiction overflowing with mediocrity and stale ideas—published by large and small press alike—Luke Smitherd stands out as a truly new and original voice. A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES isn’t just thought-provoking science fiction, or intricate thriller, or creeping horror (though it is all three), it’s a great story. If you’re bored with the cookie-cutter offerings on display on the shelves at the few remaining bookstores (or more likely popping up as recommendations on your Amazon.com page), see what the world outside of the large publishing houses has to offer, and check out the work of Luke Smitherd—an author from whom I expect even more great, imaginative fiction in the future.
When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
AVALANCHE (1978)Directed by Corey Allen
Written by Corey Allen, Corey Allen, Claude Pola
Starring Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, Robert Forster, Jeanette Nolan, Rick Moses, Steve Franken, Barry Primus, Cathey Paine, Jerry Douglas, Antony Carbone, Peggy Browne, Pat Egan, Joby Baker, X Brands, Cindy Luedke
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
More disaster film than horror film, I couldn’t help but check out AVALANCHE mostly because of the cast of Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, and Robert Forster. And it’s fun seeing these three act out a sort of lover’s triangle as Farrow’s character Caroline visits her husband David (Hudson) who she is separated from and ends up falling for David’s buddy Nick (Forster). David lives the swinger lifestyle in his mountain resort but continues to hold a torch for Caroline, and while she has feelings for him, she can’t help but fall for the rugged manliness of Forster’s Nick. The true highlight of the film for me was seeing Hudson do his best Austin Powers as he makes his way through the various bars and parties (there’s one scene when a woman attempts to hug him, they’ve obviously slept together, and Hudson simply mutters something like “Hey, let’s take it easy, baby” and dismisses her in hopes to win back his wife). Farrow is great as the object of everyone’s desire and is much stronger than the character of Rosemary here, and Forster is all man braving the blistering cold and treacherous conditions. The film really is overly romantic, with plenty of scenes with Caroline pondering who she wants to choose. Meanwhile, there are happenin’ swinger shindigs, celebrity skier/ice skaters, and winter resort debauchery going on everywhere.
Oh yeah and then there’s an avalanche that falls upon this winter resort version of Sodom and Gomorrah like the rumbling wrath of god, burying the whole place under snow, so the second half of the film deals with the search and rescue of specific characters.
While the scenes of avalanches are mostly made of stock footage from nature shows that give the feel of a genuine natural disaster going on, the film stocks don’t match up and can’t help but be hokey. There are a few scenes of special effects as the snow follows and engulfs skiers and racing snowmobiles down the mountain, but the most fascinating scenes for me were the actual avalanches with half a mountain crashing down.
With all of the remakes out there, I think that now that effects have caught up with ideas such as this, a film like AVALANCHE has the potential to be remade into a pretty poignant film. The film tries a lot to depict the debaucherous people living in the resort as deserving this snow wave from god, and themes like that could work today. The film itself ends on quite a downer of a note which I won’t spoil, but this one definitely ties up loose ends in a neat little bow. So while the effects are just so so, the performances and themes at play here are what makes this disaster film not so much of a disaster.
Send in the Clowns: Bug celebrates the release of his 4-issue miniseries comic book PIROUETTE by checking out some clownie horrors!
DARK RIDE (2006)Directed by Craig Singer
Written by Robert Dean Klein, Craig Singer
Starring Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Patrick Renna, David Clayton , Alex Solowitz, Andrea Bogart, Jennifer Tisdale, Brittney Coyle, Chelsey Coyle, Jim Cody Williams, Damon Standifer, and Dave Warden as Jonah!
Find out this film on Netflix here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While I found myself mostly unimpressed with the “After Dark HorrorFest: 8 Films To Die For” a while back, one of the ones which always stuck out was DARK RIDE, a conventional yet effective little update on Tobe Hooper’s FUNHOUSE meets John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.
While there are no killer clowns to speak of, DARK RIDE is dripping with carnie goodness as a group of vacationing teens decide to go on a trip to an amusement park and decide to break in and spend the night. Coincidentally, this happens to be the same weekend a lunatic who used to live in that very funhouse escapes from a mental institution and decides to return home. When the teens meet the killer, there’s a lot of the usual that happens--namely murder, dismemberment, and death.
It’s a simple plot. The funhouse killer was used best in Tobe Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE, which I already reviewed a while back in a previous Send in the Clowns post, but here on this DARK RIDE, the wicked and surreal atmosphere is done to ghoulishly good effect. And while the story is familiar, the funhouse fun is damn fun and offers up a lot of decent scares along the way. Giggling dummies, ghosts popping out of doors and windows, and all kinds of off-kilter lighting and mists make for an uneasy and unpredictable environment for a typical stalk and slash.
Another thing that stands out here is that the killer, named Jonah, is actually pretty horrifying as well. Tall and lanky Dave Warden is definitely channeling Michael Myers in the insititution break-out scene (which harkens back to Rob Zombie’s gory escape rather than John Carpenter’s suspenseful one in the original HALLOWEEN). Jonah is a silent but violent killer of undeniable strength and a twisted frame, which definitely makes him unsettling to watch. His limping gait and baby-face mask (reminiscent of another Send in the Clowns horror, DOLL-BOY – reviewed here) gives this killer a bit of originality cast upon the background of the carnival fun house.
What isn’t great is the acting. I remember this being a big deal because it starred Meadow from THE SOPRANOS, aka Jamie-Lynn Sigler, but she doesn’t really do much here bit scream and argue with the other kids on the trip. Also showing up is ALPHA DOG’s Alex Solowitz as a sex-crazed jock and THE SANDLOT’s Patrick Renna tries oh so hard to be creepy, charismatic, and funny all at once and doesn’t really get there on any of them. It doesn’t help that this group of kids pretty much hates each other, and it doesn’t really make sense that they would all agree to go on a trip together. I usually take trips with my friends, not people I loathe.
But there’s a lot that really doesn’t add up in this film--mainly the sheer coincidence that the group goes to the funhouse the exact same night the killer escapes from the loony bin. Now, there are a lot of intricate pranks at play between these vacationing kids, but I don’t think any of them could coordinate a happenstancial jailbreak, and the jailbreak itself is rather goofy as it appears the smell of red meat sends the killer into such a rage that he is able to break his bindings. Still, it all makes for a cool-looking escape scene nevertheless.
And that’s what DARK RIDE offers: a bunch of decently coordinated kills set in a genuinely spooky place, enacted by a killer with gusto onto a group of kids who deserve being hacked up. So while the plot has more puncture wounds than Jonah’s victims, if you ignore all of that, you might just get a thrill out of this DARK RIDE!
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!
New this week on DVD and On Demand here!
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC (Director’s Cut 2014)Originally released in 2008
Directed by Pat Higgins
Written by Pat Higgins
Starring Victoria Hopkins, Lucy Dunn, Jess-Luisa Flynn, Gary Delaney, James Fisher, Cy Henty, Scott North, Geoffrey Sleight, Chandrika Chevli, Richard Collins, Rebecca Herod, Eleanor James, Alan Ronald
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of my favorite subgenres in horror is the mockumentary, though in terms of horror I guess shockumentary is more accurate. Though it’s often lumped in with the found footage genre, it really is its own monster altogether, embracing the notion that this is a real life documentary on a fictional subject, most of the time relying on footage that is found and gathered by different media. While found footage was part of that description, it avoids the mistakes many found footagers make by relying on the camera falling to get the exact shot necessary, by somehow incorporating music when there’s no orchestra pit to be seen within camera shot, and most importantly, the presence of editing which allows for the shifting of point of view, the passage of time, and whatnot. The presence of any or all of these factors in a found footage film is a surefire way to pick my investment and suspension of disbelief up and toss them out. The presence of these factors in a shockumentary is all a welcome part of the game. So in a shockumentary, you get the immediate first person POV as well as an air of truth which often accompanies the found footager without all of that stuff that makes you scoff at the genre. Best of both worlds.
And speaking of the best, one of the best shockumentaries to come by way recently is THE DEVIL’S MUSIC, a recounting of some shocking events that occur on the last tour of fictional rock performer Erika Spawn (DOGHOUSE’s Victoria Hopkins). Spawn made a name for herself as a shock rocker who used blood and taboo subject matter in her songs and performances (think of it as a cross between Alice Cooper and G.G.Allin by way of GWAR). The film begins as a young fan by the name of Stephanie Regan (Lucy Dunn) is found backstage and taken in by the band. Her handheld camera footage is used throughout the film as she is given the role of documentarian for the tour. When Stephanie is filmed at night having bizarre dreams and often mutters incomprehensible gibberish, the bandmates are leery of her, but Erika seems drawn to her even more. What happens next I’ll leave up to you to find out, but it’s intense, fascinating, and the stuff of rock and roll nightmare.
Writer/director Pat Higgins (who helmed an installment in the fun ANGRY NAZI ZOMBIES anthology – reviewed here) keeps this film full of surprises, opening the film ominously yet smartly holding back on all of the gory details until the right moment. Popping back and forth between interviews with bandmates, the publicist and manager of the band, psychologists involved in the case, and those who stand against this type of music, Higgins offers up a broad interpretation of the events of that are captured by the handheld footage. All of the performances as well are solid here as every band acts and looks the part of the grizzly UK rock and rollers they are portraying. I especially loved the inclusion of the main adversary of the film being a soft rock crooner who speaks out against Spawn’s type of music. All in all, if I didn’t know this wasn’t a documentary, I might have been fooled by it.
Another aspect I noticed and respect is the smart decisions made in terms of making the best of a small budget. Many scenes of this film take place on stage supposedly in front of a large audience, but while you hear the screams and cheers from the crowd, you never see them. I imagine renting out a concert hall, filling it with extras, and putting on a show might have been a bit more pricey that this film was willing to spend, but Higgins smartly keeps the stage scenes close and fast moving, so the lack of a crowd isn’t as distracting as one would think.
One criticism for the film is that the music isn’t very good. Thankfully, the film focuses on the Erika and the band, but the snippets of songs aren’t really that much to bang your head to. That said, in terms of making a fake world and mythos seem so very, very real, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC is horror’s equivalent to THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The buildup of tension and horror that takes place in here is outstanding and Higgins makes the entire thing feel like the real thing. This Director’s Cut apparently has extended scenes involving the psychiatrist involved in the case and some more bits and pieces. I didn’t see the original, so I can attest to whether or not this makes the film better or worse. THE DEVIL’S MUSIC is low budget, but it’s hard to see it as you’re too busy getting possessed by the violence and horror that this film culminates in. Highly recommended to those who like their horror documentary style.
New on DVD, On Demand, and digital download from Entertainment One (available here)!
THE HUNTED (2013)Directed by Josh Stewart
Written by Josh Stewart
Starring Patrick Rizzotti, Brett Forbes and Josh Stewart
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Like an unsuspecting doe, this film crept up on me and formidably shot arrows of fear down my spine. THE HUNTED is a found footage film. It’s an imperfect found footage film, but still, it does have what it takes to hit you where it counts in terms of scares.
The film opens stating that it is based on true events, something I’m always suspect of when I see film credits since some films have outright lied about this aspect just to add some kind of air of legitimate and real life terror to it all. Taking place in the backwoods of West Virginia which is scary in and of itself to a city boy like me, THE HUNTED follows a two man team of a camera man and a wanna-be famous hunter who aspires to gain fame by filming a big hunt on a recently opened hunting land. The film opens showing what Jake the hunter (played by Josh Stewart from THE COLLECTOR & THE COLLECTION – reviewed here) is doing this all for: a wife and two ornery kids at home. With hopes that he can use the film as a pilot for a cable hunting show, Jake sets out to bag a prize buck. But the hunt is interrupted when Jake and his cameraman Tony (Skipp Sudduth) begin to hear screams in the woods. Who or what is making the screams is a question that turns this routine hunting trip into a nightmare.
What works here is the simplicity of the scares. THE HUNTED harnesses some primal fears and exploits them to a grand extent, intensifying the encounters the hunters have with this bizarre thing in the forest as the film goes on. Without revealing too much (and there’s not a lot to reveal since the film keeps things tight-lipped as well), the thing making the screams haunts these hunters as the days tick by and their desperation to catch a prize buck grows. The use of sound in this film struck such a nerve in me that I seriously was spooked long after the film went dark. Sure I watched it late at night in a darkened room, most likely the ideal setting for this type of film, but I’m no sissy and this film genuinely scared me at times.
That said, in terms of technical aspects, THE HUNTED has a few problems--mainly the fact that the film uses a score to punctuate the scares, which for me is a cheat in a found footage film. For it to be true found footage there would be no chance to add music, and oftentimes the music serves to shoot the scare in the foot as it escalates during a particularly tense moment. Sure this is the perfect place for a music swell in a regular film, but here, it’s a surefire way to pull me out of your found footager.
Musical annoyances aside, THE HUNTED is an effectively paced, taut little scareshow. Aside from the music, the use of sound in terms of the screaming monster is concerned is phenomenally terrifying. In the special features, the star/director/writer of this film Joah Stewart reveals his own encounter with a screaming creature in the woods of West Virginia which serves as the impetus for this film. This recount is equally enthralling and well worth watching. Those of you who are weary of investing in yet another found footage film might want to check out THE HUNTED. While the film doesn’t really have a big reveal, it does do its job of offering up a solid chunk of scares for an hour and a half with a steady build and capable performances all around.
New this week from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment!
DISASTER L.A. (2014)aka APOCALYPSE L.A.
Directed by Turner Clay
Written by Turner Clay
Starring Justin Ray, Ali Williams, Stefanie Estes, Ron Hanks, Jerod Meagher, Tasha Dixon, Michael Taber
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Turner Clay, who also directed the zombie apocalypse film STATE OF EMERGENCY (reviewed here), returns to the end of the world with DISASTER L.A., which feels more like a remake of NIGHT OF THE COMET than anything else. The film centers around a meteor storm which rains down upon LA, emitting noxious gasses which turn those who breathe it in into ravenous zombies. Only a handful of survivors who partied the night before the meteor shower and were too hung over to be wiped out in the initial onslaught survive and find themselves running for their lives through the decimated streets of LA.
As with STATE OF EMERGENCY, DISASTER L.A. is able to tell a pretty fun apocalyptic story utilizing pretty seamless computer effects to make it look like society as we know it is a-crumblin’ down. Computer generated air strikes, flaming skyscrapers, and a bombed out landscape all look really good here—better than most of the CG stuff we see on SyFy Channel flicks. All in all, Clay is able to convey the notion that the populous areas of LA has been cleared out by meteors and zombies.
The zombie effects are a little less logical as the infected seem to take on an EVIL DEAD possessed look rather than your typical zombie for no particular reason I could gather. The zombies did act awesomely—moving as if they are just learning how to walk again with bizarre centers of balance and awkward movements. Simple looks like twitching and running with stiff arms may be the stuff of old timey movies, but they are done to great effect here. So while the enlarged browlines and elongated heads are a bit much, the drooling and the movements are downright freaky at times.
The acting is ok throughout. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s great, but lead actor Justin Ray who plays John here seems to have the charisma to hold his own here. The rest of the cast are less talented and charismatic, but there’s not a lot more for them to do than run from zombies and die, so they do that well. And I don’t know if the actor who plays John’s brother (the Alex Winter-esque Jerod Meagher) is as tweaked out as he plays or if he just does a great job of playing a tweaked out dude, but he managed to get my sympathy later on in the film despite his annoying first moments on screen.
All in all, Turner Clay seems to know what he’s doing in terms of apocalyptic movies. The action is pretty intense throughout with very little time to catch breath before the next horror comes barreling around the corner at our survivors. Clay writes, directs, edits, and does the music here and all of them range from capable to downright impressive. While there’s a lot of DISASTER L.A. that is predictable, Clay shows potential in making a film which does a lot with little and keeps the pace moving at a breakneck stride from start to finish. DISASTER L.A. isn’t the film that’s going to change many people’s minds about zombie movie fatigue, but if you’re not sick of zombie apocalypse movies yet, this one is bound to entertain.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from ARC Entertainment (available on DVD October 21st)!
AUTUMN BLOOD (2011)Directed by Markus Blunder
Written by Stephen T. Barton, Markus Blunder
Starring Sophie Lowe, Peter Stormare, Maximilian Harnisch, Annica McCrudden, Gustaf Skarsgård, Samuel Vauramo, Tim Morten Uhlenbrock, George Lenz, Nelly Gschwandtner, Jacqueline Le Saunier, Jonas Laux, Hansa Czypionka
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Director Markus Blunder and his co-writer Stephen T. Barton offer up a beautifully shot and simplistically powerful little revenge thriller in AUTUMN BLOOD. The story follows a nameless teenage girl and her little brother, both of which were witnesses to violence at a young age when they saw their father shot down by the local mayor (played stone-faced and sternly by Peter Stormare—is he ever not stone-faced and stern?). Living in a beautiful mountainous area in a cabin, the two children survive on their own with a social worker checking up on them from time to time. Though the events that left them there were tragic, the two kids seem to have set themselves up in an idyllic mountain paradise. But when a hunter happens upon the girl (played by Sophie Lowe) bathing naked in a nearby stream, he rapes and beats her. Now in order for the girl to survive, she is going to have to protect her young brother and their home by fighting back.
What makes this film stand out is that, for the most part, it’s a silent movie. AUTUMN BLOOD relies on the powerful landscape and broad strokes storytelling to offer up a film that feels somewhat like a fable without fantastical elements. The land that is captured beautifully throughout the film is presented in a dream-like manner and the girl wanders around it as if it were so. But while director Blunder cannot set up the nature scenes, he does place his characters in them to make the imagery feel iconic and memorable.
This is a harsh story, but there is a distance here from these mostly silent characters running around in the story. Because of this, the film lacks a lot of the intimacy other films dealing with striking back after a crime often has. In some ways, the characters feel more like symbols or Jungian archetypes representing more than just a single character, but a type of character. None of the characters have much personality, but they appear simply as silent human symbols doing horrible things to one another in this gorgeous land. There’s a beauty in the broad strokes sort of storytelling that makes it feel much bigger than it really is.
Stormare is solid here, but again, he’s not given a lot of character other than his stony, graven visage. The music and landscape bear the weight of most of the emotional heft here. And while AUTUMN BLOOD depicts horrific acts done to others, you can’t help but be swept away by the beautiful place all of these deeds occur in. This is a slow burner of a film, but if you’re patient and like to stop and enjoy the scenery, you’re going to get something out of AUTUMN BLOOD.
New this week on DVD and On Demand from Screen Media Films!
EVIL FEED (2013)Directed by Kimani Ray Smith
Written by Aaron Au, Kimani Ray Smith, Jana Mitsoula, Ryan Nicholson
Starring Laci J Mailey, Terry Chen, Alain Chanoine, Alyson Bath, Derek Gilroy, Bishop Brigante, Curtis Lum, Sebastian Gacki, David Milchard, Carrie Genzel, Johnson Phan, Doug Abrahams, Fraser Aitcheson, Chris Casillan
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
What’s got kung fu, cannibals, and loads and loads of ultra-gore?
EVIL FEED, mother fukkas!
Filled to the brim with a subtle blend of testosterone and blood, EVIL FEED is the kind of film that lives to please fans of action and violence. Set in a restaurant called The Long Pig (slang cannibals use for human meat), Terry Chen plays Steven, an evil bastard who kills his father to take over the business of serving high class clientele human meat and providing gladiatorial games, massage parlor action, and other sinful delights. Chen is delightfully evil in the role as lead baddie in a film full of all kinds of baddies. Chen’s wide-eyed mania is countered by his girlfriend Yuki (Alyson Bath), who stole the show for me as the molten hot evil siren who makes covered in blood look sexy beyond belief.
On the side of the good guys is Jenna (the bombastic Laci J Mailey) and her allies who train at her dojo who are in search of their missing sensei. The trail leads the kung fu warriors to The Long Pig, and the group must go against the bloodthirsty gladiators, the maniacal Steven, and the sultry Yuki. Making up the team are a trio of unlikely heroes:Tyrone (Alain Chanoine) , Carlos (Bishop Brigante), and Brian (Derek Gilroy), all three offering up hilarious performances and also exhibiting some great martial arts skills to boot. Mailey is fantastic as well as the heroine and quite the martial artist herself balancing delicate beauty with hard-nosed ass kicking. These kung fu fighters have met their match with the cannibalistic gladiators in The Long Pig’s employ.
Reminiscent of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA with a nod to EVIL DEAD, this slice and dice chop socky film is a hybrid with all of its parts playing strong. As an action yarn, the film delivers hard hitting kung fu as multiple disciplines collide in the arena for sport. As a gore fest, there are tons and tons of gory scenes of red stuff to wallow in. All of it cast against a comedic and cartoony backdrop that caused me to laugh throughout the whole run time. There’s a fiendish tone to the funny here as the villains are moustache-twilrlingly fun and the heroes are mostly idiots as well, but lovable idiots you can’t help but root for.
EVIL FEED is a film that plays pitch perfect throughout, balancing horror, action, and humor seamlessly. When this film finally makes it to the masses, it’s going to be an instant classic. EVIL FEED is a cannibalistic all you can eat buffet served up by way of Tex Avery that should not be missed.
New this week on BluRay from The Scream Factory and available for digital download on iTunes, Amazon, VuDu, and CinemaNow!
THE BATTERY (2013)Directed by Jeremy Gardner
Written by Jeremy Gardner
Starring Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Niels Bolle
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Available this week from The Scream Factory is THE BATTERY, a film I hooted and hollered about last year and will continue to do so as it’s one of the best zombie films of the last decade. Below is my review of the film which I ran last year.
There are those who hear that a film is about vampires or zombies or found footage and immediately write them off. Sure, those folks are protecting themselves from scores of pretty bad films, but by doing so, you miss out on the occasional gem to come along and really tell a new and original story involving one of these subgenres. Sure, I have to watch a bunch of crappy vampire films, but if I didn't I would have overlooked KISS OF THE DAMNED (reviewed here). If I'd have turned up my nose to all found footage films, I would have cheated myself out of seeing the surprisingly fun THE DINOSAUR PROJECT (reviewed here). And had I turned a blind eye to all zombie films, I would have missed my favorite zombie film of the year, THE BATTERY.
THE BATTERY's genius lies in its simplicity. Peel back the rotted, decayed layers and you'll see at its core, it's a movie about friendship--a strong friendship between two guys who just happen to be wandering around in a world infested with zombies. Though the first moments begin with a literal bang, quite a bit of the film consists of the quiet time showing the highs, the lows, the differences, the embarrassing moments, and all of the complexities of friendship. Because who would you rather spend the zombie apocalypse with other than your best friend?
Not to get too schmaltzy, but this is the type of film that really highlights the importance of friendship and illustrates it well by placing two friends in the most dire of circumstances. Though one might think these two characters--star/writer/director Jeremy Gardner (who plays the free-wheeling Ben) and actor Adam Cronheim (who plays Mickey, the more uptight one), would tear each other's throats out since they are as different as can be in the way they approach this zombie plague, this Odd Couple of the Apocalypse work well together. The title of the film is explained later as the two friends, exact opposites, act as a battery, positive and negative charges looking out for one another or in baseball terms (a sport they both love) someone throwing the ball and another one catching it. Throughout the film both of their personalities prove crucial in their survival as Ben keeps things fun in order to retain their sanity and Mickey being neurotically careful making every one of their moves.
A film such as this, which relies on quite a bit of conversation and interaction, would not be able to hold water if the performances weren't good. Fortunately, both Gardner and Cronheim do a fantastic job in making things feel as if they have been friends forever. Gardner especially does a great job here and is given the most emotional turmoil to go through as the story goes on. Gardner's Ben also gets to show off his dancing skills as he lets off steam to some of the fantastic music from Mickey's music collection. This soundtrack works itself in and out of the narrative, sometimes lightening the mood, sometimes offering the perfect time for a release of tension, and other times illustrating a haunting overtone. Gardner peppers in fantastic tunes from Rock Plaza Central, The Parlor, Wise Blood, El Cantador, and Sun Hotel which I immediately downloaded after hearing in the film (something I rarely do).
What sets THE BATTERY ahead of the zombie herd is the attention to structure in the story as well. The film starts out with these expansive scenes of open forests, lakes, and fields. Being the savvy survivors that they are, Mickey and Ben get out of the populated areas and stick to the open spaces. But just a few wrong turns--mostly perpetuated by Mickey's need for something more than living a vagabond existence (an existence Ben is more than comfortable living), Ben and Mickey go from expansive spaces to the exact opposite: cramped in the back of a keyless station wagon surrounded by hungry zombies. As calm and serene the first half of this film is, the tension is cranked to the limit once Ben and Mickey, pushed to the limits of their friendship, are forced into the small quarters with nothing but liquor, beans, a baseball bat, and a gun with six bullets. The story becomes a test of will for the two men, seeing not if they survive, but how long they can survive.
The ending of this film is absolutely heartbreaking, another testament to Gardner's talented story, the cramped direction of the camera inside of the car, and the performances by Gardner and Cronheim themselves. It's a story that resonates long after the credits and makes you want to rewind and enjoy the journey all over again to see these two friends interact with one another. So likable, these two actors make you wish you could backpack with them across these fantastic locales.
THE BATTERY is not your typical zombie movie in that it's about much more than plagues, spectacle, and world wide catastrophe. It's a small film that hits harder than most big budget yarns; making you laugh, cry, and root for these two friends to survive despite the odds against them. Sure films like WORLD WAR Z are going to have the spectacle, the big budget promos, and the star power, and I'm sure that PG-13 zombie film might have its merits, but you're not going to find a zombie film this year that is more original, more touching, or simply more entertaining than THE BATTERY.
If you’re looking for more on THE BATTERY, check out my interview with the director Jeremy Gardner here!
New this week in select theaters from A24 Films!
TUSK (2014)aka WALRUS YES
Directed by Kevin Smith
Written by Kevin Smith
Starring Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp, Harley Morenstein, Ralph Garman, Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Melody Depp
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Oh, Kevin Smith. What are we going to do with you? Like many of you, I was blown away by CLERKS when it came out and remained fascinated with Smith’s gift for gabby films through CHASING AMY, MALLRATS and even DOGMA, but somewhere around JERSEY GIRL I started seeing the cracks in Smith’s work, and after a few tirades against those who dare criticize films like COP OUT any interest in the man’s films sort of disappeared. While I still haven’t seen RED STATE, from what I hear, the film is pretty polarizing, but after seeing TUSK, I feel a stronger need than ever to check out that film as well.
TUSK is not a bad film. In fact, for the most part, it’s downright entertaining throughout. Those criticizing the film for basically being an iteration of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE are not far off, and if the mere mention of that film causes you to wring your hands and run away pooh-poohing, then most likely you’ll do the same with TUSK too, as it involves a man disregarding another’s humanity and using rudimentary medical knowledge to experiment on him and change him from a human being into something less so just because he can. But while THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE focuses on and highlights the operation itself pretty much from start to finish, TUSK takes some times to explain who these characters are, which is the main thing that differentiates the two films. There’s definitely much more of a touch of humanity at play here as an immature and obnoxious podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long) stumbles across an ad for a room for rent placed by a reclusive and retired sailor named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Wallace searches for weird and interesting people to interview for his goofy podcast, and the eloquently written note he finds seems to ensure that Howe has many interesting stories to tell. When Wallace is drugged the first night he arrives at Howe’s house in Canada, his co-podcaster Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and his smoking hot girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) go looking for him with only a garbled phone message to aid in their search.
For some reason, I was conscious of the music in this film right from the very beginning because despite the wonky and crude humor that takes center stage in the first thirty minutes of the film, the music wants to drum it in you that this is a serious and dire situation. So while you are laughing (and I do admit that I find Justin Long to be pretty damn funny), there’s this booming music that is trying to tell you that this is serious business, even though Long’s Wallace isn’t taking it that way. This schizophrenic tone continues through the entire film, where goofy behavior is offset by dire circumstances or music, which left me in a state of unease as to whether I wanted to laugh with the character or let out a guffaw of relief because of the bizarre circumstances that unfold.
Which leads me to whether or not I think folks will like this film. TUSK is definitely not for the mainstream. It’s offbeat. It’s weird. The things that happen to these characters are horrific and dire. It’s not a mystery that the premise is that Howard wants to turn Wallace into a walrus and while writing that is rather odd, in the context of the movie, Parks’ performance makes you buy it. Yes, he’s batshit, but still he explains it in a way that it makes some sort of crazy sense. Those willing to ride the crazy train will be able to stick with this film as Wallace goes full walrus. But I imagine there will be those who go to the movies to see light things happen to people and everyone coming out the other end unscathed and back to square one, learning a wonderful life lesson, but not really being too much worse for wear—I imagine those people are going to either tune out this film or walk out of the theater at the halfway point.
Being a sucker for the theatre of the weird, I was fascinated how far Smith went with the premise of this film. I have to admire Smith’s guts to go full walrus here and push the limits. At the same time, I feel Smith wasn’t confident enough to go all the way and make a straight up horror film, as he seems to retreat back to familiar lowbrow humor just when you begin to be impressed with the horrors unfolding in front of you. It’s not just that Wallace is turned into a human walrus—that’s just the tip of the walrus tusk in terms of horrors Smith has in store for you. But every time I was grossed out and fascinated at the horror, Smith injects a fart or poop joke. It almost feels like Smith was afraid to tell a straight up horror story, so he had to inject the off color humor so he can sarcastically say later that he doesn’t really care about it and neither should you. So while there are scenes that chilled me to the core, Smith undercuts it and almost ruins it with a comical scene right after.
Which leads me to the worst part of the movie—namely, Johnny Depp’s more than a cameo performance as Guy Lapointe, an eccentric private investigator who is on the trail of Howe. It seems Depp is trying to combine Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau with Peter Falk’s Columbo, but the entire time he was on screen I was gnashing my teeth at how utterly embarrassing his performance is. While there are a few lines worth tittering to, for the most part, you can see right through Depp’s performance here. He’s just trying too hard and failing miserably. There’s a scene where Depp’s Lapointe and Parks’ Howe meet on a porch in a chance encounter. Howe is acting like a mentally handicapped person while Lapointe is belching out a half-assed French Canadian accent. The scene is long and horrifically boring, but worse than that, it’s just painful to see these two great actors talk in horrible accents back and forth for what seems like eons.
In terms of the effects, I have to say I was blown away by the gore and twisted science at play here. From partial transformation to full on walrus, the whole way is painfully and grotesquely amazing. I do feel that Wallace’s transformation does happen a bit too quickly. There is a large leap from human to walrus and I would have liked to have seen a few more intermediary stages of the transformation, but this is most likely due to budget more than anything else and it’s forgivable. The final walrus costume has to be experienced to be believed, and Long behind the makeup makes it all feel more tragic and horrific. This is a perfect example of an amazing actor taking advantage of fantastic makeup and making it all work. Long communicates such tragedy in his eyes alone, making what would be laughable in the hands of lesser actors sympathetic and heart wrenching.
The horror is there and it’s potent in TUSK. I just wish Smith were confident enough to go full out with it and not feel like sheepishly retreating to potty mouth territory every time a chance is taken. I liken this film to someone who says something dire and serious and immediately follows each sentence with the phrase “Naw, I’m just kiddin’.” While Smith is an accomplished director, I think he has yet really given his all in a film because that means bravely putting himself out there in an honest and admittedly scary way. Why do that when you can just use sarcasm, snark, and bad words to cover the fact that maybe there’s something worth delving into there? The film ends with the snippet from Smith’s Smodcast where he originally came up with the idea for TUSK. As most podcasts go, there’s a lot of snark and laughing and joking around. And while this conversation is pretty funny, it again undercuts a dramatic ending that dared to be somewhat emotional and poignant. I can hear those of you saying, “This is a movie about a man who gets turned into a walrus. How can you take any of it seriously?” But if it’s done well, I’ll believe a man can turn into a fly by using a teleportation machine. I’ll believe one woman and a kid can destroy a giant alien queen and its brood. I’ll believe a family of cannibals could live unnoticed in Texas. How am I to take Smith seriously as a director if he refuses to do it himself?
And while I was blown away by Justin Long’s brave performance showing that he is a very talented actor who definitely has the skills carry a movie himself and Michael Parks’ powerfully batshit delivery which makes the downright insane seem almost sane, I couldn’t help but wonder what this film would have been like had the director gone as full walrus as the characters in this story did.
New this week in select theaters!
THE GUEST (2014)Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
Starring Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick, Tabatha Shaun, Chase Williamson, Joel David Moore, Alex Knight, Ethan Embry, AJ Bowen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Warning; I’m going to use the word “cool” a million and one times in this review. And while I do own a thesaurus and try by hardest to use it as often as I can, there’s one word that I keep returning to when I think of THE GUEST and that’s “cool.”
To call THE GUEST a horror film would not really be accurate. While THE GUEST certainly has horrific elements and a sense of mystery, it really does feel more like a mission statement from (up to now) horror director Adam Wingard and (up to now) writer Simon Barrett to let everyone know that this is a writer/director team worth paying attention to. While I liked last year’s YOU’RE NEXT quite a bit, I feel like it was a fun sort of rollercoaster ride, but looking back on it, the film felt rather uneven—as if it didn’t know what kind of film it really wanted to be. THE GUEST is a much more confident film. It’s its own monster and comfortable being that, which makes it a much more entertaining film in the end.
The story begins with an enigmatic guest who calls himself David (played by DOWNTON ABBEY heartthrob Dan Stevens) arriving at the modest Peterson home. Identifying himself as serving with their deceased son in the war, the family invites the stranger into their home and while David is charming as all get out, soon we see that he’s not the peachy-keen nice guy he wants them to believe. I don’t want to reveal anything else other than the fact that this is a film that narratively snowballs to gargantuan proportions by the end of the movie, swelling to sizes and proportions I haven’t seen in a movie since the early days of Carpenter and Cameron; two directors that this film owes a lot to.
The highlight of the film is watching Dan Stevens charm his way in and out of every sticky situation he faces. In this movie, Stevens is the always the coolest guy in the room and while later in the film, cracks in the cool armor begin to show, he maintains that level of awesome that will make this film THE film people refer to when Stevens becomes a big star. Whether he is fighting in a bar, shooting someone in the face, or just carving a jack o’ lantern, Stevens commands every scene comfortably and confidently in this star-making role.
But it would be pretty boring if Stevens just sat there and did nothing but look cool for the duration of the movie. That’s where the unpredictable and downright brilliant story by Simon Barrett comes in. Unfolding like a typical action movie, Barrett channels films like THE TERMINATOR, LITTLE NIKITA, UNCLE BUCK, NOWHERE TO RUN, THE WRAITH, and tons of 80’s simple but awesome action films and funnels it through Adam Wingard’s eyeball (which as you all know from watching V/H/S/2 is a camera) who imbues it with John Carpenter-esque music beats and a heavy dose of the electro-magic that permeated another retro-cool film DRIVE.
By the end of this film, the action, dialog, and story has escalated to such a level of ridiculousness that I should have checked out of THE GUEST, but since everything leading up to it was so…cool, I didn’t give a shit. In the end, there are bullets, fire, kicks, mist, knives, blood, punches, music, and pulse-pounding action. All of it was stuff I’ve seen in other films before, but this particular amalgamation of it all felt so original that I couldn’t help but just sit back and quit trying to remember what movie this part reminded me of and just soak in the coolness. From it’s awesome electro-emo soundtrack to the fantastic performances by the entire cast (especially the fantastic Maika Monroe who is going to be overshadowed by Stevens here, but should garner equal praise in a fair and true world), THE GUEST is a film that will make you stand up and cheer by the end of it.
And while I don’t think a sequel explaining things going on leading up to this film and continuing after it is necessary, I’d love to see one. The ambiguity of THE GUEST, though, is part of its charm and I kind of hope this film just remains a little gem of a film and stays like that while everyone involved moves on to bigger things as a result of it. No explanation is necessary here. THE GUEST doesn’t try to explain itself. It simply is. And what it is—is cool!
And finally…a few years ago, I reviewed the low fi indie film BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE and while I acknowledged that the film is definitely low budget in every way, I also made sure to drive the point home that that isn’t always a quality a kin to bad films. Jason Torrey recently released the film for free on Youtube, so I figured I’d post the whole darn thing here for those who like their horror on the indie side! Enjoy Jason Torrey’s BLOOD WAS EVERYWHERE!
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!!
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