Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Vengeful demons, cannibals, hobo killers, a somnambulist, tentacles, Renfields in training, a mad doctor, Iranian vampires, Japanese schoolgirls, Michael Myers, and a whole lot of sparrows are but a scroll away…
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Book Creeport: THE PHANTOM CABINET (2014)
The Boo Tube: PENANCE Episodes 1 & 2 (2012)
Retro-review: THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
Retro-review: HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)
Retro-review: THE DARK HALF (1993)
Retro-review: PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS (1993)
Retro-review: MONDO CANNIBAL (2003)
THE KILLER 4 PACK DVD Collection: EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS (THE DAY OF THE DEAD, 2007)
H.P. Lovecraft’s THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP (2014)
THE CARETAKERS (2014)
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
And finally…Roger Clinton’s “Just Like You”!!!...?
THE PHANTOM CABINET Novel (2014)Written by Jeremy Thompson
Cover Illustration by Erik Wilson
Published by Necro Publications
Reviewed by Mr. Pasty
There's a great scene toward the end of STICK that has the title character – played by 70s/80s tough guy Burt Reynolds – slam a car door into the leg of Chucky, one of the lead antagonists, then lean on it until he's extracted every last bit of emotion from his helpless, whimpering soul. That's kind of how I felt reading THE PHANTOM CABINET, a brutish tale about life, death, and everything in between. I did not feel good after digesting this book and I think that's the mark of an effective thriller, one that manages to race by, even at nearly 250 pages. What's interesting about this story is that it takes the concepts of heaven and hell and just tosses them right out the window, so I probably won't be recommending this book to religious zealots.
Fans of science fiction and ghost stories, on the other hand, are in for a real treat. That's assuming you don't mind getting repeatedly hit over the head with awful scenarios that not only include death, but slow and painful torture. This book is easily rated R. But Jeremy Thompson has a steady and methodical hand, so it's not a round-robin of cheap shocks or incessant gore. Instead, his carnage works to complement the story, which takes place just about everywhere you can think of, including deep space and some hick's dilapidated basement. So, what's it all about? Well, it's hard to get into THE PHANTOM CABINET with any defining details without dropping a few spoilers, but it's essentially a tale about what happens when you die, where your spirit goes, and how it affects the living. When everything works the way it's supposed to, there is no issue. But when someone or something upsets the apple cart, things run amok. That means good people vs. bad poltergeists and as luck would have it, there's never a proton pack around when you need one.
Probably the best thing going for THE PHANTOM CABINET is that it has a little something for everyone. The question is whether or not the reader can handle the dark themes. I'm talking like Buffalo Bill's basement kind of dark. I have a fairly strong constitution and I found myself left with feelings of dread and disquiet. It's not anything you wouldn't find in a dozen horror movies or gross-out video games, but your own imagination is probably a lot more terrifying when it comes to coloring in the lines. Thompson knows it, exploits it, and delivers a well-written and expertly arranged novel that belongs up there with any big-name horror book currently shelved in bookstores.
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.
New this week on BluRay and On Demand from Doppelganger Releasing/Music Box Films!
PENANCE: Episodes One & Two (2012)Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Kanae Minato
Starring Kyôko Koizumi, Yu Aoi, Eiko Koike, Sakura Ando, Chizuru Ikewaki, Ryo Kase, Ayumi Ito, Mirai Moriyama, Teruyuki Kagawa, Hirofumi Arai, Kyusaku Shimada, Kenji Mizuhashi, Tomoharu Hasegawa, Masaaki Akahori, Manatsu Kimura, Tetsushi Tanaka, Hazuki Kimura
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This week I’m taking a peek at some overseas television at a series by acclaimed suspense horror filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa. PENANCE is a tale of vengeance, murder, and poetic justice. At times it’s haunting and other times it’s shocking. But every episode focuses on one of four children witness to the abduction and murder of one of their peers from a playground after school. In interviews after the murder, none of the girls can identify the murderer, but it’s made clear they all clearly see who it is (even though the viewer isn’t given that info). What proceeds is a true whodunit as the mother of the slain girl curses the four girls to serve a penance for not being able to identify her daughter’s killer.
Episode One: The French Doll - The first episode is feature length since it has to set up the entire mystery of the murdered girl. Afterwards, we find out what happens to one of the witnesses, a shy girl who grows up to be a nurse. The story involves her meeting an intended suitor who has admired her since childhood. But while the suitor’s intentions seem noble at first, there is a more perverted side to him that he can hardly contain. While this episode is low on any type of gore, there are still moments that left me chilled to the bone. The flashback were the nurse dreams of the murderer flinging and slamming the murdered girl onto the ground over and over like the Hulk slamming Loki in the AVENGERS movie was absolutely horrifying as are the final moments when the suitor’s intentions are made real. Kurosawa goes for the palpable suggestion of something grotesque here rather than show it in gratuity, which makes it all the more potent. This is a fantastic way to grab a viewer and once I saw this opener, I was hooked for the long haul.
Episode Two: Emergency PTA Meeting - This episode focuses on one of the other witnesses of the crime, Miko, who grows up to be a school teacher. When she witnesses a stranger entering the school and threatening the children, her memories flood back to her to the moment when her friend was abducted in front of them. Her reaction is violent and destructive; which is first received with adoration, but later changes into fear as people realize her reaction was much more brutal than necessary. This meek school teacher is cast as a threat pretty quickly resulting in some extreme reactions from her students and other faculty. There is a glimmer of hope though, as clues to the identity of the murdered girl’s killer are revealed.
I found these first two episodes to be absolutely engrossing. While the pace is slow, there is an ever-present sense of dread in the air. Like the curse itself set forth by the mother, everything seems to have sinister undertones. But so far, despite some bizarre psychological terrors, the curse if more of a weight of guilt the four girls must carry and there are no supernatural aspects to the story as of yet. I still have the final three episodes to plow through for next week, but if the same quality continues through the final three episodes, this is a mystery thriller that is up there with THE KILLING in terms of quality murder fiction. Less about the investigation and more about the exploration into the guilt of having witnessed and surviving a crime, PENANCE serves up a type of horror that is all too human and horrifyingly effective.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)Directed by Robert Wiene
Written by Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I first encountered THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI in college during a film studies class. As a means to explain what the Expressionistic movement was in art and cinema, CALIGARI was shown. Upon first seeing it, I didn’t really see the film in the context in terms of the time of history the film was made. I was enthralled by the distorted backgrounds, painted sets, twisted characters, and dream-like story, but the underpinnings involving an outspoken leader guiding people to follow the words of a sleeping monster and resulting in murder eluded me until after repeated viewings. But like much of art, the real message of what lies in Dr. Caligari’s cabinet has many interpretations.
To some it may be seen as a film predicting the growing Nazi movement in Germany at the time. Whether this is a warning or a wish is debatable, but the flip flopping of perspectives of the film as well as the question as to who is insane and whose word is fit to follow is asked over and over again. The ending leaves things pretty open for interpretation; is it Caligari who is evil or is this all just the delusion of a madman?
What’s not up for debate is that this is a film that looks magnificent in terms of special effects for the time, as well as the film being a sterling example of amazing stage effects and make up. Werner Krauss gives Caligari a cartoonish look, but his heavily shaded face, large flowing jacket, and striped black and white hair makes him immediately iconic; recognizable as a bad customer. Cesare (Conrad Veidt) is equally horrifying with his thick makeup and stilted, Max Shreck-like stiffness and gait. Seeing these two monsters against the painted and skewed backdrops offers up an image from the most unsettling of nightmares.
The restored BluRay by Kino Lorber is pretty amazing. With the film comes a German documentary about the film as well as other influential films of the era. This doc helped in understanding some of the historical significances to the film as well as some of the more subtle themes going on as offered up by film scholars across the entire world. I found the 50 minute doc to be as enthralling as the film is was about as it really delves into what kind of meaning we can attribute to it. For me, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI lures you in with a compelling first few acts and lulls you into a comfortable murder caper where you think you know all of the facts. But like all good films, it doesn’t sputter out at the end. In the latter acts, when the film knows it has you, the film literally spins out of control; upending you and making you wonder which end is up. You can look at it as a political statement, an artistic act of ultimate expressionism, or just a freaky fever dream. The blacks, whites and all of the grays in between offer up a landscape like few others in cinematic history.
Retro-review: New this week as a BluRay Box Set HALLOWEEN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION available from Scream Factory and Anchor Bay Entertainment!
HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard
Written by Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard, Shem Bitterman
Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Jeffrey Landman, Tamara Glynn, Jonathan Chapin, Matthew Walker, Wendy Foxworth, Betty Carvalho, Troy Evans, Frankie Como, David Ursin, Harper Roisman, Karen Alston, and Don Shanks as Michael Myers!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
In my opinion, HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS is the last great HALLOWEEN movie. There are those who think that anything past 2 is shit. Hell, there are those who think anything past the original is tripe. But I’m not one of them.
While the film is heavily flawed, I really love the fifth installment of this series. In true HALLOWEEN fashion, this sequel is to part 4 as part 2 is to the original in that it picks up practically right where we left off in the last film. Most of the characters return as well as Jamie is institutionalized and mute since she attacked her mother with a pair of scissors at the end of the last film. Loomis is still being the worst psychiatrist in history working in the same facility Jamie is staying as his bedside manner consists of invading Jamie’s personal space and wheezily screaming threats at her. And Michael crawls out a little cave at the bottom of the well he was blasted into at the end of the last one, only to pass out from exhaustion in the arms of a river hermit with a parrot and going into a year long hibernation. Now, while it is rather odd that this old guy kept this masked guy in overalls and numerous bullet wounds in his shanty for a year, we jump a year later so quickly in this film that you’re really not given a chance to wonder about that. Michael wakes, and showing how ungrateful Evil on Two Legs really is, immediately kills his savior and again makes a b-line for his niece Jamie.
This being the fifth installment in the series, those guiding the film series decide to put in some supernatural elements. Sure, a man who can withstand being shot and stabbed over and over is pretty supernatural, but adding a psychic link between Jamie and Michael is something that is a bit of a stretch. Still, in part 4, Jamie did have dreams predicting the attack by her mask-wearing uncle before she met him, so a sort of bond had already been established, but while it was more subtly done in part for, I can understand how the overt nature of the link in part 5 turns some people off. Another aspect added is the druidic symbology not so subtly placed throughout this film in the Myers home, tattooed on Myers wrist, and on the wrist of the Man in Black who shows up at the end of the film. While I was iffy with the psychic connection, I was damn intrigued by this druidic stuff as it not only tied in with the Samhain references from the sequel, but also the masks in part 3. Again, though, I understand why folks might not like this because, A) it isn’t really resolved in this film which left folks with a WFT feeling after the credits began to roll, and B) because purists just wanted to see Michael walking stiffly after screaming women and didn’t like that supernatural shit.
But if Part 5 is guilty of anything, it’s that story wise it really doesn’t do anything different than part 4. Again, Jamie is being chased by Michael. Again, it comes down to a showdown between him and Loomis. Again, Michael is killing everything in his path to get to Jamie. Michael might be even more of a great white shark here as he really doesn’t go out of his way to take out the power, the phones, or the police department as he had in the past, so those wanting a straight forward Michael slasher film really do get a barebones, straightforward delivery of this kind. And while I can appreciate the filmmakers trying to deliver something that pleases both people, the over-handed way the supernatural is dealt with here is a bit of a distraction.
Danielle Harris really shines in this film as Jamie. Sure she was totes adorbs in HALLOWEEN 4, but she was more of the protected child in that film, with her caretakers taking the brunt of the abuse. But damn, in this one, little Jamie is put through all types of hell. The scene where she is trapped in the delivery shoot with Michael stabbing his knife into the sides of the wall is horrifying. The look on Harris’ face feels real, as if the little darling is experiencing absolute horror and the filmmakers really were putting her through this hell. I’m sure she was fine, but the terror on her face is haunting. Loomis also does his usual great job here. He wears some slightly better burn makeup here than in part 4 and still has all of the best lines like, “I prayed that he would burn in hell, but in my heart I knew hell would not have him!”
I can’t finish this review without talking about a few things I absolutely hate about this film.
1. God I hate Billy. That stuttering annoying kid who tries to befriend Jamie grates at my soul every time I see this movie. I hate to say it, but when he gets knocked into the woods by the car, I couldn’t have been more pleased to see the character (not the kid) bite it.
2. But more so than that, what makes me want to tear out what little hair I still have on my head is the music that accompanies the bumbling policemen who find Rachel’s dog. Yes, it is often necessary to have comic relief in these types of horror films, but when you need cartoonish whistles and horns to communicate it, it feels like you’re trying to make another movie entirely.
3. The unmasking tease in this film isn’t really what annoyed me, but the fact that his face doesn’t appear to be scarred at all after the blast and fire in part 2 really did get under my skin at the time as this series did seem to really want to adhere to some kind of continuity. Making Michael “look just like” Jamie was a pretty stupid thing in my eyes. I understand at this point, they were trying to make us sympathize with Michael, but part of the appeal of this series is that we were not supposed to like the monster. While both Jason and even Freddy to some extent had an origin that places them as the victim, what made Michael so cool was that he seemed to have no remorse for his actions so having him connect with Jamie and worse yet shed a single tear felt horribly out of place. Even using “Revenge”in the title seems off to me as it places Michael in the more sympathetic victim role. Who exactly is Michael getting revenge on?
But for every asshole kid, balling psychopath, and stupid cop music, there are awesome scenes with Michael taking the time out to scratch up an asshole’s car with a garden hoe and Michael with a huge sickle. And while Michael dons a caveman mask for a bit in the film, the real accomplishment is the creepy, yet completely different look to the iconic Shape mask in this film. More gritty and form fitting, the long snouted face of Michael really does amp up the horror in this film. Along with that, Don Shanks really does give off a much more brutal and menacing take on Michael than George P. Wilbur’s stiff and arched shouldered performance in Part 4.
The best way to view Part 5 of this series is to watch it immediately after Part 4. The way the two films seep into one another really is the type of interconnectivity that you rarely see in horror films these days. With some pretty gruesome kills, a stunning climax at the house, followed by a cliffhanger that really does grab you (too bad it doesn’t really deliver in Part 6 thought), and an astounding performance by Danielle Harris, HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS is another worthy sequel and at the time, really did make me supremely excited about the series. Again, the letdown begins with the next installment, but that’s to be covered in a future column.
HALLOWEEN II (1981)
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
THE DARK HALF (1993)Directed by George A. Romero
Written by Stephen King (novel), George A. Romero (screenplay)
Starring Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Kent Broadhurst, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Tom Mardirosian, Larry John Meyers, Patrick Brannan, Royal Dano, Royal Dano
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having seen the zombie and non-zombie Romero films, I have to admit that THE DARK HALF is one of Romero’s best. Sure, the film gives in to some of the usual, old school Romero excessiveness, but still, the film is a fantastically distorted mirror story about Stephen King himself.
Timothy Hutton plays Thaddeus Beaumont, a writing instructor at a community college whose penname George Stark is quite a success in the trashy detective paperback business. When confronted by a blackmailer threatening to out his alter ego, Thad decides to release a statement, outing himself as Stark and burying the character for good. But this is a King story, and you just don’t bury your bad side without complications. The rest of the film is a game of wits as both Thad and Stark try to inhabit the same body, with only one of them able to do so. It’s a fight for survival which involves a lot of murder and destruction. Oh, and a lot of sparrows.
Though the King-isms like quirky characters, dark totems (in this film it’s the sparrows who are the transporters of souls), and fraying edges of sanity are somewhat well played out these days, THE DARK HALF is a particularly fresh take on that type of film. As with other King films, Thad plays a man who is misunderstood and even chastised for his gift (in this case, the gift being channeling a dark half of his soul into his writing), as throughout this film he is being accused of murder by the local sheriff (Michael Rooker). And like other stories like THE SHINING and MISERY, King once again delves into the perils one encounters while writing. In THE SHINING, it was writer’s block. In MISERY, it was having to write something you don’t really want to write. In THE DARK HALF, it’s more about trying on a darker character and the fear of being succumbed by that. All of these themes are fascinating, and translated rather well to the screen, but Hutton really brings it to life here as Thad/Stark. Hutton switches roles pretty effortlessly, giving worthwhile performances in both.
But what really impressed me was that this is a Romero who really does seem to have his head in the game here. Watching Romero’s modern films like SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD really left me wondering why I loved the director in the first place. But seeing some of the things that occur stylistically in THE DARK HALF remind me why he is who he is. And while gore is always something that comes up in the same sentence as Romero in discussions of his work, there are specific scenes here (such as a particular kill where Stark slices open a throat that occurs off-screen, but the blood splatter mimics the movement across the mirror (another symbol in this film since we’re talking about doppelgangers and reflection selves).
Still, the second half of THE DARK HALF proves to be the most tedious. Clocking in just shy of two hours, the film definitely could benefit from a twenty minute edit here and there. The final scenes in the log cabin drone on forever as Thad and Stark have their massive confrontation, and I was reminded of the more tedious scenes of banality in the mid-portion of DAWN OF THE DEAD during these times. Still, this is Romero in his prime with a big studio backing from one of the more viscerally memorable King novels, so THE DARK HALF is definitely better than most of the collaborations between the two titans of terror.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS (1993)Directed by Jeff Burr
Written by Constantine Chachornia, Ivan Chachornia
Starring Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye, J. Trevor Edmond, Hill Harper, Alexander Polinsky, Mark McCracken, Steve Kanaly, Gloria Hendry, Lilyan Chauvin, Caren Kaye, J.P. Manoux, John Gatins, Joe Unger, R.A. Mihailoff, Linnea Quigley, Kane Hodder, Will Huston, Chuck Aronberg & Roger Clinton as Mayor Bubba!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Peeeeeee-yewww! My god, what’s that smell? Did a moose die on a rotting bum carcass and then sit out in the sun for a week and a half?
No, that’s just PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS; one stinker of a movie.
I’ve seen bad sequels in my time, but for LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III director Jeff Burr to miss the boat this big is something to take note of. While the first PUMPKINHEAD movie had the solid performance of Lance Henriksen to support it and the deft eye of Stan Winston on effects and directing duties, this one really doesn’t have a lot going for it, save for a few memorable scenes.
But while the scene with Linnea Quigley riding Leatherface actor R.A.Mihailoff only to be murdered for no particular reason by a poorly articulated Gourd-Noggin was fun, the rest of the movie makes not a lick of sense. Why would the teens all of a sudden decide it’s a good idea to read from a Book of Shadows? How does Punky Brewster know what a Book of Shadows is? Why can we see wires moving Pumpkinhead’s arms in the final showdown with the posse and why is he wearing tennis shoes when he bursts through the wall? Why are the kids who torture Rocky Dennis’ uglier brother so inexplicably evil? And who thought it was a good idea to invite Presidential Embarrassment Sibling Roger Clinton to the party?
All of these questions and more will not be answered in this film.
I don’t want to say Stan Winston’s original was a masterpiece, but one thing the film did was make Pumpkinhead look menacing. There were a lot of quick cuts, sharp angles, and obscured shots of the monster. Burr doesn’t like all of that, it seems, and wants to show this makeup in much longer and less nuanced shots. And while at first glance, Pumpkinhead is menacing, if the camera lingers too long, the stiffness and awkwardness of the costume really begins to show through. The longer Punkin-Puss is in the scene, the more he looks like a cat walking around in Kitten Mittens. This is evident in the final scene as the Pumpkinhead costume is hung up empty and dangling, it’s limp arms dangling and being articulated by visible strings. Winston’s deft eye for what works in the scene and what is best left unseen is a skill Burr just didn’t seem to have for this one.
And this film should be much better. HELLRAISER’s Andrew Robinson plays the police chief. MY TUDOR’s Caren Kaye plays a hottie mom. SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT’s Mother Superior Lilyan Chauvin as the swamp witch, who is unrecognizable under tons of makeup. There are cameos by Kane Hodder, the aforementioned RA Mihailoff, and Linnea Quigley (with gratuitous nudity, of course). Plus it has two attractive young actresses in Ami Dolenz and Soleil Moon Frye in main roles. The eclectic cast all showed up. It’s just too bad the script is so awful and the story simply serves to set up a group of old guys to murder and then set up a group of teens to murder for no reason.
I haven’t seen parts 3 and 4 of this series, but I don’t think they can get any worse than this film. For the true horror collector, this is a film you’re going to have to own, but as far as the casual horror fan, it’s something you can skip. I am curious how they made two more films out of this series though, so hopefully Shout Factory will be releasing those as well.
Retro-review: New on DVD from Intervision/Severin!
MONDO CANNIBAL (2003)aka CANNIBAL WORLD, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST 2, HORROR CANNIBAL 2, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: THE BEGINNING
Directed by Bruno Mattei
Written by Bruno Mattei, Giovanni Paolucci
Starring Helena Wagner, Claudio Morales, Cindy Jelic Matic, Antoine Reboul, Kevin Maxwell, Brad Santana, Michael Garland, Foster Howard, Eniko Bodnar, Zsilvia Chernel, Chan Lee
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I went on my xenophobe rant last week in covering IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS, the sister film to this week’s cannibal offering MONDO CANNIBAL. The film was rumored to be shot at relatively the exact same time, using the same sets, effects, and actors as the other film all at once. It’s pretty ambitious for writer/director Bruno Mattei and while I can’t say he is completely successful making these two films in this manner, it’s something that is pretty impressive.
That said, the quality of IN THE LAND OF CANNIBALS was pretty low and the same standards are set for MONDO CANNIBAL too, but for some specific reasons, MONDO CANNIBAL was a much more interesting movie for me. It’s not for originality’s sake as the film is basically a remake of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (in some places in the world, it was actually marketed as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST 2), as a camera crew set out to make a documentary about the indigenous cannibalistic tribes of the jungle. But when things get a little too boring for the crew, they decide to spice things up by causing their own horrors. What ensues shows the basest of human evils in the crew themselves until they find themselves up against actual cannibals.
While I can’t say it is enjoyable to see this crew of assholes murdering, pillaging, and raping these clueless tribes, it does prove to be a more intriguing plot than the remake of PREDATOR that IN THE LAND OF CANNIBALS was. The performances by the leads are pretty stilted and over the top (plus it was all dubbed from Italian, so that doesn’t help things either). But there’s a sense of poeticism going on in MONDO CANNIBAL that is absent in its sister film.
I hate to compare the two. It’s like trying to figure out which one of the Barbarian brothers is more intelligent (I’m pretty sure that statement dated the hell out of me). If you have to see one cannibal film made by Bruno Mattei in the 00’s released on DVD from Intervision/Severin this year, MONDO CANNIBAL is by far the more entertaining. While there is only one animal mutilation (a poor lizard is killed for dinner), the story is much more engrossing and when the crew become the main course on the cannibals’ menu, you are kind of rooting for the cannibals at that point.
The film attempts to give some heavy handed social commentary and some kind of highbrow downsnouting of American media, but it’s hard to take seriously when the misspelled caption “Some mouths before…” appears. MONDO CANNIBAL is low fi cannibal schlock, but compared to others, it’s better than most of the low fi cannibal schlock.
New collection of four films THE KILLER 4 PACK available this week from SGL Movie Store!
EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS (THE DAY OF THE DEAD) (2007)Directed by Ricardo Islas
Written by Ricardo Islas
Starring Lily Alejandra, Salomón Carmona, Max Da'Silva, Christina De Leon, Kris Desautels, Ben Dubash, Cyn Dulay, Rosa Isela Frausto
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
For the next four weeks, I’ll be checking out four low budget films that can be found collected in one disk called THE KILLER 4 PACK from SGL Movie Store. The films lean more on the DIY side and while I wasn’t really excited to crack this one open, the first offering I checked out proved to be much better than I had expected.
With nary a zombie in sight, EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS (THE DAY OF THE DEAD to us gringos) still is able to pack in a few chills and thrills in its runtime. The film follows Ana Lucia (the pretty young Rosa Isela Frausto) a Mexican girl without papers trying to find a job in Chicago. She crosses paths with a group of thrill killers who usually set their sights on the homeless, but spot the young girl at the job center desperate for work. Unable to speak English and out of money, Ana Lucia accepts a ride from one of the attackers who lead her to their lair. Bad things happen.
But this is no torture porn. At least that’s not the focus of this film. It’s more about the ramifications and possible spiritual disturbance this foul act these five miscreants face after attacking the young girl. Is it supernatural or something more human, yet filled with vengeance? The answer is actually pretty fascinating to see unfold.
While EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS is saddled with some amateur acting, the direction and writing is actually pretty well done. The film takes its time allowing us to get to know Ana Lucia before the horrible act, which only makes it more devastating. The film comes to a resolution that is a bit confounding, but somewhat satisfying in terms of certain players getting their comeuppance.
All in all this film was much better than I was expecting. And while many groan at the concept of DIY and low budget horror, I would never have seen EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS if I hadn’t given it a chance. And while it might be a bit more scruffy when held to big budget standards, the film has a lot of disturbing and unsettling scenes that most likely will hit you on a level that most big budgeters only dream of achieving.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!
THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP (2014)Directed by Tom Gliserman
Written by Mary Jane Hansen
Starring David Bunce, Susan Cicarelli-Caputo, Mary Jane Hansen, Ron Komora
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Adapting Lovecraft seems to be something many filmmakers have difficulty doing. The author is often singled out because of his use of indescribable horrors, but what always stands out to me, is how the author can capture and put to word the utter dread and horror one feels that is often beyond words. Because of this, many read Lovecraft’s work and are affected by it, but very few seem to be able to describe how or why that particular story caused these feelings in them. Try translating that to film and it proves to be a task most filmmakers just aren’t up to.
This isn’t a quality only attributed to Lovecraft, some of Poe and King’s more heady and psychologically twisted stories such as SURVIVOR TYPE and THE TELL-TALE HEART have yet to be adapted to its fullest potential simply because the conflict is too much in the head of the narrator and that doesn’t often make for the most compelling of films. One route to go is try to take the story in a more palpable and tactile territory, changing settings, themes, and characters to the point where it doesn’t even look like the original story. The other route to go is the more literal translation; a route THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP takes and for the most part it’s a pretty successful adaptation.
The story focuses on a college professor Daniel Upton (played by David Bunce), whose long-time friend Edward often shows up on his doorstep asking for money, a place to stay, and other ways to bail him out of his irresponsible way of life. Being a good friend and a good person, Daniel always lends a hand to Edward, something his wife does not approve of. But things change after Edward meets a medium named Asenath. Edward begins to change personality wise and even physically. Soon things get other-dimensional, as Daniel begins to realize Edward is in over his head and when Edward comes to Daniels doorstep, he has changed to the point that he doesn’t even recognize him anymore.
The thing that makes THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP so effective is that it is rooted in such great human emotion and circumstances that really are part of everyday life. Everyone has a friend they bail out all of the time. Everyone understands how this act of kindness can often morph into something negative. Amp this up a bit and add some tentacles and other worldly presences and this isn’t a tale that is too far fetched. Thematically, it is one of the more resonant Lovecraft stories as it is rooted in such basic human emotion.
The film is acted in a pretty straight forward manner. All actors involved are not the kind of actors that stand out and make a splash, but they are capable and deliver a performance that is both believable and digestible. That said, the budget here is very low and many of the scenes rely on CG of not the highest quality in order to deliver some otherworldly scares. But because of this lack of big budget effects, the film relies on shades of color, overwhelming darks, otherworldly looking imagery, and practical effects slightly tweaked by CG in order to give that “slightly off” effect that really does its job well.
This film may be guilty of stretching the material in Lovecraft’s short story a bit much in making this film as there are some lags in the flow of things around the midway mark. But if you’re a Lovecraft fan, THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP is a must, and if you’re the type who sat through many a bad Lovecraft adaptation and are wondering what all this Lovecraft hubbub is all about, this is one of the more successful adaptations that might show you why folks keep returning to Lovecraft’s stories, trying to capture the indescribable in film.
Available now on DVD from Big Biting Pig Productions!
THE CARETAKERS (2014)Directed by Steve Hudgins
Written by Steve Hudgins
Starring Nick Faust, Michael Coon, Bill Johnson, Joe Estevez, Brittney Saylor, PJ Woodside, Steve Hudgins
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Borrowing themes from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and its American remake, THE CARETAKERS focuses mainly on those who take care of the vampires and how that life effects them rather than the vampires themselves.
I’ve covered quite a few of the Big Biting Pig Productions films through the years (THE CREEPY DOLL, HELL IS FULL, LUCID, SPIRIT STALKERS) and while all of them share a DIY low budget style, there is also a heavy focus on substance in terms of story. And while I might not be dazzled by special effects, I always know a film from writer/director/producer Steve Hudgins and his co-producer PJ Woodside will be narratively nuanced and stylistically effective in terms of creepy moments.
THE CARETAKERS is no exception. This multi-faceted story focuses on three different sets of vampire caretakers; one weary caretaker who is handing off his duties to younger, more capable hands, one man who feels the need to track down and murder people so his vampire girlfriend doesn’t have to, and a father and daughter who are saved by a vampire from a serial killer. THE CARETAKERS juggles a pretty large cast quite capably as the characters bob and weave through one another pretty effectively.
Instead of copious amounts of guts and gore, this film focuses more on establishing creepy scenes, giving characters fun vignettes to recite (there’s one particularly great one about the existence of God and ones faith in him), and effective actors playing the parts. While no one here will be up for an Academy Award for their performances, all play their parts well.
THE CARETAKERS is another capable effort by Big Biting Pig Prodictions. The film offers up some pretty intriguing new scenarios in terms of the complications one faces at being a vampire. And while you might immediately be thinking of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN upon first viewing THE CARETAKERS, this one goes to dark and emotional places that proved to be surprisingly depthy for a low budget film.
New this week on DVD from MVD Visual and digital download from its website here!
SKINLESS (2013)Directed by Dustin Mills
Written by Dustin Mills, Brandon Salkil
Starring Brandon Salkil, Erin R. Ryan, Allison Fitzgerald, Dave Parker
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s just by sheer coincidence that I reviewed THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES in the same column as Dustin Wade Mills’ latest and quite possibly greatest film, SKINLESS. While Mills has blown my socks off over the last year or so with back to back low budget gems like ZOMBIE A-HOLE, PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE, NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES, and especially BATH SALT ZOMBIES, Mills shows a maturity and growth with this new film that I haven’t seen in previous efforts filled with explosive nudity, gore, and other perversities.
Don’t get me wrong, SKINLESS does have nudity and gore in droves. It wouldn’t be a Mills’ film without that. Every female character (and one of the male characters) is nude at some point in this one. Mills pulls no punches in going full on exploitation when it comes to nudity in his films filling them with attractive alterna-girls next door rather than super model unattainables, giving his films a more ground level and thus more visceral feel to them.
Though Mills’ go-to star Brandon Salkil plays Skinless Pete himself (and does so very effectively), it’s the gore that takes front and center stage here as all kinds of goop and goo oozes all over Pete (sans skin) and his hapless victims. Pete’s ability to spew out a disintegrating acid on his victims causes them to melt into a puddley goo and Mills never lets his camera blink for a tick watching it all bubble and fall off. Anyone sick of CG needs to check out this effects cornucopia to see practical effects done right.
The story itself follows a pair of scientists dedicated to find a cure for skin cancer. Dr. Pete Peele (Salkil) is brilliant but reckless and is often led by his heart and gut, while Dr. Alice Cross (played by the enchanting and talented Erin R. Ryan) is emotionally distant and ethically rigid. There is an attraction between the two, but Alice keeps her eyes on the prize while Pete has eyes only for her (despite the fact that he has a girlfriend). When Pete reveals he has cancer, he performs some radical tests on himself and presto-chango we’ve got a Skinless Pete on our hands. My earlier mention of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES was done so because of the way Pete wears his own skin over his melted face which, like Price’s Phibes, looks real, but cannot emote or move, so there’s a grotesque mannequin feel to his face. Here, Pete’s false face is given an even more twisted look by just kind of hanging over his real face and moving erratically when he does. There’s a Cronenberg THE FLY vibe here too as Alice feels bound to Pete to help find a cure for his condition as Pete’s mind as well as his skin liquefies in front of her.
This is a tragic tale that hits all of the right notes to be somewhat of a tear-jerker despite the nudity and gore. Pete is a demented soul, but because his motivation is to live so that he can have a life with Alice, I couldn’t help but root for the twisted fuck. Fantastically acted, expertly gored, and narratively sound, SKINLESS is Dustin Wade Mills’ finest film to date. With enough homage to classics of the past, yet enough ingenuity to stand out as an original, this is one independent horror film you should not miss.
In select theaters today from Kino Lorber!
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Written by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Milad Eghbali, Reza Sixo Safai, and Masuka the Cat
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
People talk to much. In movies. In books. In comics. Gab, gab, gab. Jaw, jaw, jaw. Blah, blah, blort. Why say something directly when you can stammer out 150 more words to describe it? That seems to be the motto of most writers (and most people) these days as the cinema, book and comic pages are filled with words and words. It takes a film that revels in the silences and the unsaid to really bring notice to that, but A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT did that exact thing for me.
Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is rich in theme involving women’s rights and Iranian culture, but it was the stylistic choices Amirpour chooses is what really interested me in this film. This is a patient movie. One that allows you to settle in and soak in the atmosphere of the oil drills plowing away in the background like a heartbeat rhythm of the fictional locale known as Bad City. While this city might be as nameless as the Iranian vampire (played amazingly by Sheila Vand) who walks the streets at night like a ghost collecting the blood of the not-so-innocent, enough is given to make it feel like the wrong side of the tracks in any town in the world. This is a place filled with quiet streets, where people hide behind their doors and those out at night are most likely either the cause of trouble or about to get into it.
That’s where the girl (Vand) meets Arash (Arash Marandi) a mid-level drug dealer and all around nice guy. Arash is tormented by his asshole drug boss and cursed with a father who is addicted to the very drugs he pushes. One night, while drunk and high, Arash meets the Girl and while this would normally be an occasion for the Girl to have another meal, something else happens. Yes, this is a love story between a vampire and a human, but before you roll your eyes and try to lump it in to a bundle with TWILIGHT, understand that the handling of this budding relationship between Arash and the Girl is much more realistic and mature than the overwrought with angst and overworded with romantic babble and pablum you see in most Hollywood films.
Here it’s the lack of words that gives this film power. Glances, recognitions, and realizations don’t need to be explained because Amirpour captures so much in a slow bat of an eyelash or a tilt of the head. Most of the real story beats of this film happen without dialog. Vand’s Girl is a woman of very few words, but when she does talk, it’s mesmerizing. The final act of this film is practically wordless as two lovers make a realization of what they are and decide if they can accept that or not. It all plays out in a beautiful silent barrage of emotion and depth. Plus the reaction of the cat in the final scene is pretty damn priceless.
Everything about this film feels new and somewhat trendy, which isn’t always a bad thing, reminding me of the slick feel of Refn’s DRIVE. Much can be said about the silences, the vampirism, and how that relates to the culture of Iran in relation to women and I’m sure it can be said much better to me. But this film struck me in its ability to capture my attention from start to finish with a mesmerizing and star making performance by Vand and gorgeous black and white scenes by Amirpour. With a hip and trendy soundtrack filled with Iranian music, this film is bound to strike the fancy of those who like their vampires with a little edge. Gorehounds might be a bit more disappointed here as aside from some cool looking choppers the Girl sports, there’s very little by way of blood. Still the image of the Girl wearing her chador like a vampire’s cloak is a pretty effective and terrifying one cast against the dark streets of Bad City. Seeing her flit like a ghost and calmly stalking her prey is chilling without having to see copious amounts of grue. So while fans of the more extreme kind of horror or those looking for a jump scare every five minutes might be put off by the patient and more introspective mannerisms of A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, but those looking for some emotional meat in their films and appreciate the beauty as much as the beast will definitely want to seek this one out.
And finally…the true horror from PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS comes in the form of the theme song from the movie, “Just Like You” performed by Bill Clinton’s younger brother Roger Clinton. It’s horrific. It’s terrifying. It’s something that will bore into your soul and fester. Prepare yourself for…Roger Clinton’s “Just Like You”…with footage from the original PUMPKINHEAD instead of the sequel it appeared in!
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.
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