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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Merry Whatever and Happy Everything, ghouls and ghoulettes! Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that the non-stop train of terror that is AICN HORROR is slowing down. Here’s a special batch of terrifying (and not so terrifying) movies to succumb to! On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

The Book Creeport: EXPONENTIAL Novel (2014)
Retro-review: THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964)
Retro-review: DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973)
CAM 2 CAM (2014)
Advance Review: BIND (2014)
Advance Review: LIVE-IN FEAR (2014)
And finally… Eric Richter’s I HATE RACCOONS!

The Book Creeport: Available for purchase here!

EXPONENTIAL Novel (2014)

Written by Adam Cesare
Published by Samhain Publishing
Reviewed by Dr. Loomis

If Adam Cesare had been born a little earlier, his work would have been a staple of the 1980s video horror boom. His books so far, particularly TRIBESMAN and VIDEO NIGHT, would have been perfect fodder for those filmmakers specializing in direct-to-video fare, the adaptations no doubt featuring the latest in garish clamshell VHS cover technology.

Here's the thing about his latest novel, EXPONENTIAL: while it fits right in with the shock/schlock horror aesthetic that he's cultivated with his previous books, it does not - as those previous books have done - mark a step forward in his career. It's not a step backward, either, but sometimes standing still is a dangerous precedent for creativity.

While that may seem like the start of a negative review, it's really not. EXPONENTIAL is fast-paced fun, a rollicking monster movie in 200 quick-moving pages. It features a classic set-up: a dangerous organism smuggled out of a lab begins to mutate into something terrifying, and finds itself on a collision course with an unlikely group of survivors in an isolated location. It's even got one of those great, saw-it-coming-but-still-satisfying stinger endings that are the bread-and-butter of horror flicks.

What it doesn't have, and this is the part about the book I found problematic, is a cast of characters that's more compelling than the monster they're fighting. This is something Cesare has been able to do in the past, but in EXPONENTIAL it's definitely the monster that's the standout character of the book.

I don't want to give too much away, but I'll say this about the creature: it's a mix of the Blob and the T-1000, a rolling, sentient mass of gelatin and bone that can manipulate itself in a variety of lethal ways. It seems inevitable that this creature is going to cause widespread destruction across America, but first it has to contend with a small group of people huddled up in a bar, a group that includes a couple of meth heads, a former policeman, an accomplished hunter and a grieving bartender.

Cesare never takes his foot off the accelerator, and the 200 pages never feel padded. The creature continues to evolve its fighting strategy in ways that keep readers and survivors alike off-guard, but that still make sense within the rules Cesare establishes early. As I said above, the characters never really rose above the level of cannon fodder in my eyes, but it's not for lack of trying - Cesare does work to establish backstories for each of the survivors.

Over the course of his short career, Cesare has demonstrated huge promise as a writer of horror. EXPONENTIAL simply felt too safe to me, like a writer enjoying a cruise in his comfort zone rather than one who is continuing to push against his boundaries. Fans of Cesare's established style will find plenty to like in this book, but I hope his next release finds him once again straining to take his talent to the next level.

“Dr. Loomis” is Blu Gilliand, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the fright-filled pages of DARK SCRIBE, DARK DISCOVERIES, SHROUD MAGAZINE, and Horror World, among others. He also runs his own blog, October Country, devoted to horror and crime fiction. Feel free to stalk him on Twitter (@BluGilliand) at your own risk.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!


Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Written by Antonio Margheriti and Ernesto Gastaldi
Starring Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, Umberto Raho, Laura Nucci, Giuliano Raffaelli, Nello Pazzafini, Jeffrey Darcey
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’m always up for a cool witch hunting flick. The subject matter is almost always as relevant when it was set in as it is today, what with censorship always rearing its ugly head. Accusing someone of witchcraft back then is almost as bad as being called a member of an opposing political party these days as it is always a great way to immediately shush the person, rather than stop and maybe take the time to listen to something you don’t understand. And who better to center a witchy tale around than one of the best horror actresses of all time, Barbara Steele?

Steele stars as both Helen Karnstein and her daughter Mary Karnstein, who both steal the eye of men of power which results in the mother being burned at the stake in an elaborate opening sequence centering on a maze of burning haystacks leading to a stake where the witch is burned. Years later, the youngest Karnstein daughter marries a baron of a castle, but Mary appears from nowhere and steals the affections of the baron. When the baron plots to murder his own wife in order to be with Mary, he finds that this is all a part of an elaborate ruse for revenge.

The most striking aspect of THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, other than Steele’s piercing and beautiful eyes, is the imagery Antonio Margheriti decorates the entire film with. Be it Mary Karnstein kneeling at the base of a blazing witches’ stake or the gothic interiors of the castles and mausoleums, Margheriti makes everything look spaceous, haunting, and sumptuously rich in blacks and whites. Above all else, this is a beautiful movie to take in about some horrible people doing horrible things to one another.

Which is the second most notable aspect of this film: the fact that everyone is absolutely evil to one another. There really isn’t a member of the cast one feels sorry for, as the Karnsteins may have been persecuted at the stake, but then again they are witches and up to their own tempestuous behavior. The Baron surely isn’t very sympathetic, raping one Karnstein girl and then plotting to kill her in order to wed her sister. With this much evil popping up in this story, it’s just kind of fun to sit back and watch everyone get their just desserts.

And while this definitely shines a light on the hypocrisy of the time as men are often seen as lecherous rapists, taking what they want and then accusing the women of witchcraft once they are done with them, it also is a damn spooky story about the horrors of witchcraft itself. Full of gorgeous atmosphere and a dark mood, THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH is gothic horror that should not be missed.

Retro-review: New this week digitally restored and available on DVD from Film Chest Media Group!


Directed by S.F. Brownrigg
Written by Tim Pope
Starring Bill McGhee, Jessie Lee Fulton, Robert Dracup, Harryette Warren, Michael Harvey, Jessie Kirby, Hugh Feagin, Betty Chandler, Camilla Carr, Gene Ross, Annabelle Weenick, Rosie Holotik, Rhea MacAdams
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

While at times it’s amateurish and other times it’s downright boring, the lunatics overtake the asylum flick DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT does seem to get a lot right in terms of how these places used to be run and some of the problems mental health institutions often go through. I’m no expert on mental health in the 70s when this film was made, but having worked in the mental health care field for over a decade in and around the Chicago area, I’m sad to say some of the conditions and sequences in this film aren’t that far off from real life.

When the lead doctor is murdered by a patient in a sequence reminiscent of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING, it’s up to the resident head nurse and a newly assigned assistant nurse to run the secluded asylum, but they soon find that keeping all of these crazy cats wrangled is harder than they think. Soon, the crazies are taking over and the sane people taking care of the facility seem to be fraying around the edges as well.

Someone behind this film, be they the producers, the writers, or the director once worked in a metal facility because while some of the performances are over the top, none of them are the Hollywood crazy we often see in modern cinema. These patients seem to be a little more realized than that, which gives this film a little more of a palpable terror than most films of this kind. Actual psychosis seem to be referenced and the regular day to day stuff seems right on the money, so in terms of looking like the real thing, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT works.

But is DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT worth looking into?

Well, the acting is pretty bad and the story is not that strong. There are some sequences that seem to not really have a script so much as just acting out some kind of barebones blueprint of a scene, or maybe that’s just the amateurish deliveries from some of the cast. There really isn’t a lot of chills here, either, as the gore consists of just some blood running over the faces of the cast and there’s some random violence here and there among the patients, but other than that, it’s pretty chill-free.

Still, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT culminates in a pretty impressive climax where almost everyone ends up dead. It’s kind of fun seeing everyone go nuts on everyone, and this film definitely breaks the mold in that it isn’t so much about one killer offing people but a bunch of people offing each other in a BATTLE ROYALE sort of way. For this unconventionalism and eye for accuracy in the mental health field, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT ended up being a poorly acted but weirdly entertaining little messterpiece.

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


Directed by Clive Barker
Written by Clive Barker
Starring Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor, Daniel von Bargen, Joseph Latimore, Sheila Tousey, Susan Traylor, Wayne Grace, Johnny Venocur, Joel Swetow, Jordan Marder, Billy McComb, Vincent Schiavelli, Lorin Stewart, Barry Shabaka Henley, Barry Del Sherman, Ashley Tesoro, J. Trevor Edmond
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

When I think of Clive Barker films, I think of HELLRAISER first, with second a tie between NIGHTBREED and CANDYMAN (not directed by Barker), and maybe then some less popular ones he didn’t direct like RAWHEAD REX, BOOKS OF BLOOD, or MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. For some reason, I always overlook LORD OF ILLUSIONS; not on purpose, mind you, but because there were some subtle things I had issue with in terms of this film that always makes me forget about it. LORD OF ILLUSIONS is a subtle and much more mature film, if not the most mature film, Barker’s ever done and is much less in your face than some of his previous works, without sacrificing good ideas, strong storytelling, and stunning visuals. Still, there are things about LORD OF ILLUSIONS that I just can’t get past.

That said, I always felt Scott Bakula came off as kind of bland as Barker’s occult detective Harry D’Amour. Maybe it was because I was used to seeing him leap around in time on QUANTUM LEAP. Maybe it was because, back then, TV actors and film actors were more segregated in terms of potential crossover talent (again, not a case in this day and age, but there was a time when the two were decidedly separated). Or maybe because everything else in the film was so dynamic, that Bakula’s subtle and restrained performance just felt drowned out. Whatever it was, Bakula just didn’t do it for me in LORD OF ILLUSIONS and since this film basically rides on his back all the way through, that’s a hard hurdle to leap.

The other thing about LORD OF ILLUSIONS is that, while it is an extremely effective horror story with all sorts of gory spectacles, grotesque sights, and gruesome twists, in regards to it being a detective film, it feels rather run of the mill. Barker tosses the basics of detective stories involving femme fatales, hard-boiled detectives, shady suspects, and twisted secrets into this tale, but it all feels rather by the numbers in terms of a textbook description of what should be in a detective story rather than what makes for a compelling story. And while a lot of these scenes are fun, they are scenes I’ve seen in countless other detective movies, TV shows, and books.

Those negatives aside, LORD OF ILLUSIONS is the closest Barker comes to realizing every perverse and dark terror imaginable. Using somewhat rudimentary CG and advanced practical effects, everything from the hologram monster to Daniel Von Bargen’s creepy effective Nix makeup to the horrific visions of hell and beyond make this a visual delight to watch. So many different types of effects are used, but not just to show off what the effects department can do as many a horror movie often does--these effects enlighten the story and make it all the more nightmarish. Even more so than Barker’s NIGHTBREED, which felt at times too staged and too practically made up, this one peels back Barker’s scalp and illustrates all of the beautiful terrors we all love so well.

Barker tells an interesting story centered on the topic of performing magicians (a topic that really isn’t ventured into in depth since, except maybe ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), so it’s kind of fascinating the way Barker realizes this behind the stage world and teases in and out with whether the magic is real or illusions. In doing so, as with NIGHTBREED and HELLRAISER before this film, he makes a universe that is ripe with potential spinoffs and sequels, but alas none really came from LORD OF ILLUSIONS. And while I wasn’t bowled over by Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor and Daniel Von Bargen more than make up for it in their representation of the lighter and darker sides of magic.

Focusing on the goods rather than my most likely unpopular problems with this film, LORD OF ILLUSIONS comes off as a shining example of how to incorporate effects and actually make them a part of the story rather than something to fill it or slow it down. It’s also an amazing example of Barker’s immeasurable creativity and eye for the wicked and perverse. The BluRay has a few new behind the scenes features, but most of them are ones I’ve seen before talking with Barker, Bakula, and Von Bargen when they were much younger. I wish there was more material focusing on looking back on the experience now twenty years later, but the presentation of the film is clearer and more ghoulishly gorgeous than ever.

New this week on DVD from RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment!


Directed by Jeremy Berg
Written by Jeremy Berg, John Portanova
Starring Angela DiMarco, David S. Hogan, Kate Alden, Ben Andrews, Russell Hodgkinson, & Gabriel Congdon as the Visitor!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’ve talked about the fact that alien abduction films often get under my skin. Films like FIRE IN THE SKY, COMMUNION, and DARK SKIES really got to me, so much I wonder if I’ve been abducted a few times in my sleep myself. The fact that it didn’t really affect me in such a way is a good indication that THE DEVICE is not one of the more successful alien abduction movies.

A trio of campers find a peculiar object in the middle of the woods. The black spherical object is more bizarre than it is otherworldly, and the group decides to leave it where they found it so as not to disturb things, but one of them brings the object back and that’s when things get all abducty. Soon, the group is visited in the night by aliens and finds them experiencing dreams and flashbacks of weird goings on. All fingers point to the skies, as it seems the object belongs to aliens who are more than willing to pay house calls to get the object back.

The rudimentary and downright clichéd look of the aliens might be one of the reasons this film didn’t really make me believe. Though it is obscured by bright light and dark shadows, one can tell the alien is just a skinny guy in a suit, and you can almost make out the edges of the mask he’s wearing. Pair that up with some clichéd night lights sequences and floating objects and I found myself yawning more than gasping at this film.

A lot of this film dedicates itself to the drama between the three campers who find the mysterious orb, but because the movie is filmed in such a flat and blandly lit manner, everything lacks potency and power, so even though the acting is not bad, everything feels rather blah. Toss that in with one UFO abduction/night visitor cliché after another and you get a run of the mill movie. THE DEVICE is not bad, per se; it’s just a lot of stuff that we’ve all seen before made with a lack of vibrancy to even make the techniques of filming worth noting. I wish this was another film that made me afraid of the skies at night, but instead it damn near put me to sleep.

Available for digital download on it’s website here!


Directed by Johan Bromander, Bonita Drake
Written by Johan Bromander, Bonita Drake, Martin Wrench
Starring Lena Bengtson, Madeleine Borg, Benjamin Brook, Pär Camitz, Malin Dahl, Jonatan Dovner, Per Eng, Erika Eriksson, Robin Eriksson, Gabriel Freilich, Morten Halberg, Lana Hassan, Jennifer Korsgren, Aggy Kukawka, & Fredrik Hiller as the Demented Butcher!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

More entertaining than it should be, the goofy AMERICAN BURGER may be just what you ordered if you’re in the mood for fast food horror.

The small town of Kavetch in the middle of Western Europe is known for one thing, their American Burgers, but what a busload of high school kids on a European vacation don’t know is that the American Burgers are made with real Americans! When the bus stops for a tour of the American Burger factory, they are greeted by an overzealous cook named simply the Demented Butcher and an army of men in rubber scrub suits and facemasks all set to slice their throats and toss their bodies into the processing plant for their tender American meat.

Aside from a very minimal establishing scene which identifies characters as either jocks, cheerleaders, teachers, or nerds, this movie is pretty much one big chase scene from start to finish. The film is so focused on getting to the action that we aren’t even given proper names of these people. The kids in peril are simply identified as Jock, Quarterback, Nice Cheerleader, Adorable Cheerleader, Ponytail Cheerleader, Fat Nerd, Preppy Nerd, and Weird Eyes Nerd. Emotional and narrative depth has no place in this dojo, but that doesn’t mean that this film isn’t entertaining.

I did have a ton of fun with this film which is absolutely dumb and flails around in it proudly. Sure, it is representative of what foreign countries think American high school culture actually is (mostly from seeing movies set in high schools and music videos of the 80s), but then again, it is a pretty spot on depiction as these narcissistic and shallow brats are hunted down one by one and killed. It’s the matter of fact manner by which the faceless clean-up crew slaughters these kids that make things so entertaining. And while there is some character development along the way, it proves only to be setup for another scene of cartoony gore and comical violence.

Gratuitous scenes of one girl repeatedly losing her clothing to those pesky and grabby tree limbs until she’s down to wearing a single undershirt are the type of stuff that will drive those without a sense of humor bonkers. But for me, it just added to the ridiculous charm of the film. Add the fact that all of these actors playing the American kids are way older than the age they are playing, and on top of that the lines are read in thick Swedish accents attempting to pass as American, and this is one downright lovable little gore fest. From the reckless abandon with which the kills are performed to the maniacal joy exhibited by the Butcher, AMERICAN BURGER is a cult film in the making and should not be missed by those who don’t take their horror too seriously. AMERICAN BURGER was an absolute blast to watch, and is bound to please fans of foreign depictions of American culture, 80s high school flicks, and horror comedies.

New this week on DVD, digital download, and On Demand from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!


Directed by Christian E. Christiansen
Written by Karl Mueller
Starring Rufus Sewell, Colm Meaney, Jennifer Carpenter, Alycia Debnam Carey, Adelaide Kane, Leah Pipes, Ric Reitz, Jim McKeny, Katie Garfield, Nicole Elliott, Ethan Alexander McGee
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Being run of the mill is the biggest sin THE DEVIL’S HAND commits.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with THE DEVIL’S HAND, a film about six young girls born into a religious community, fulfilling an age-old prophecy of the devil being reborn into the world. This has the leaders of the religious community all in a dither, including the always good Colm Meaney, who plays the Elder Beacon and all around staunch asshole off the sect. Rufus Sewell plays a somewhat level-headed member of the community and father of one of the daughters who doesn’t really believe the prophecies to be true, while Jennifer Carpenter plays against type as the reserved Rebekah who lives and dies by what the church says. The children themselves, now teens, are all cute and still attractive in their plain dress, some giving into the temptations of the nearby townies with looser morals and some following the path of the straight and narrow. Someone is killing the girls one by one, seemingly to stop the prophecy from occurring and the devil rising. With the list of culprits pretty long, we are left wondering who is doing the killing and, more importantly, will the prophecy come true and will the devil once again walk the earth? Or is it just a bunch of religious bunk?

There’s a lot going on, and I kind of feel as if there are a few too many characters in this film for its own good. The story of the six girls is never really realized properly as they start dropping like flies pretty quickly, so the interesting conflict of growing up in a religious community with the temptations of the modern world just outside your door is only slightly realized here. Instead, the spectacle of each kill seems to take the forefront, making this somewhat of a typical “who bites it next” slasher film. With such heavy themes at play, I was kind of disappointed that things weren’t taken a step deeper here.

Still, the performances from all are rather well done, and the subtle effects are nicely rendered as well. Using religion as a means of terror isn’t new, but I think there’s still a lot that can be done with it if there is a creative mind behind it. Sadly, this one only plays “just the tip” with the religious themes and seems to have just too much it wants to cover in too little time. So while everything is there for a potent story of horror within organized religion, we get a breezy, Cliff’s notes version of all the typical beats.

Jennifer Carpenter isn’t playing the usual jittery and hysterical role she often does here and actually is quite effective as the staunch rule-follower, and Rufus Sewell and Colm Meaney are always good. With an ending that stays in form with the rest of the film, the movie does resolve itself in a satisfying manner. Still, I felt unfulfilled by the end of this film given the potential of the material presented. Not bad, but not remarkable either, THE DEVIL’S HAND ends up giving a rather limp handshake in the end with little conviction.

New this week on DVD from IFC Midnight!

CAM2CAM (2014)

aka c2c, DARKNET
Directed by Joel Soisson
Written by Marie Gautier & Davy Sihali
Starring Sarah Bonrepaux, Tammin Sursok, Ben Wiggins, Jade Tailor, Russell Geoffrey Banks
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

It’s interesting that IFC has decided to distribute CAM2CAM so soon after they put out another computer stalker called THE DEN (I reviewed it not too long ago here), as both films address similar topics of online addiction and how that can become deadly since often times, in chatrooms, we don’t know who is on the other end of the modem we are talking with. But while THE DEN falls apart in the last half, mainly due to the restrictions it set up for itself by making itself a first person POV film (most of the film takes place through the camera ot a computer screen), the choice to film cinematically proves to make CAM2CAM far more superior in comparison.

The film starts out silently as a girl chats with an anonymous person online in a chatroom. When things get sexual and the person on the screen takes her clothes off (we never see her face), the person urges the girl to do so as well. But when she notices that the image on the screen, whose hands are in plain view, is not typing, arousal gives way to suspicion and the conversation gets violent. Soon a knock at her door makes it clear that the seemingly distant safety of playing around on the computer has somehow made its way to her home.

Riffing off of the age old horror film motif of sex=death, CAM2CAM takes this concept into modern technology as the chatroom serves as a temptation for the young female cast and once they take the bait and give in to their secret sexual desires, the trap is sprung and it ends up biting them in the real world. Equating sex and death is not new. Jason Voorhees pounded that lesson into our heads long ago. But I really liked the way director Joel Soisson brings it home and updates it to be equally relevant in the tech-addicted age we live in.

Apart from the fun and updated concept, Soisson keeps things moving at a pretty rapid pace from start to finish and has a deft handling of suspense. Exemplified fantastically in the beginning sequence, Soisson knows how to ratchet up the thrills and tease us, thinking the heroine in peril is ok, and then springing the trap. But Soisson didn’t just spend his wad in the opening sequence, as a few others; one in particular which happens in a market street, shows that this guy really knows how to make things Hitchcockian when he wants to.

On the surface, CAM2CAM is one of those sex thrillers you might have seen on Skinemax ten years ago, but there’s a lot of talent behind the camera here and in terms of story. The actresses in the film, especially the lead played by Sarah Bonrepaux, are hot as all get out which makes the film alluring and only heightens the sensuality of it all, but there’s depth here that I wasn’t expecting. CAM2CAM is a thriller that teases before it bites you, making it all the more alluring and fascinating to watch.

Now available on DVD, iTunes, VUDU, and Google Play from Uncork’d Entertainment!


Directed by Haylar Garcia
Written by Haylar Garcia
Starring Joe Abplanalp, Troy Alan, Graham Emmons, Kathryn Gould, Michael Haskins, Taylor Hulett, Louise Macdonald, Patrick Sheridan, Jennifer Wilde
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Holy shit, did this film come out of left field and knock me on my ass!

I hesitate to talk much about the plot of AN AMERICAN TERROR since part of the reason I love this film so much is that it surprised me at every wicked and unexpected turn little turn it takes. Taking a page from FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, the film switches gears halfway through in a way that felt much more seamless than the Tarantino/Rodriguez shock twist. The manner by which this film switches subject matter and tone really does make for an absolutely shocking narrative, but never did I feel as if the filmmakers were doing it just for shock value alone. It just makes for an interesting and unconventional story.

OK, let’s SPOIL this a tiny bit. The story focuses on three teenage outcasts who have had enough with bullying jocks and berating cheerleaders and decide to go Columbine on them all. Much like Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT, these opening moments play out with the protagonists silently taking this abuse, then simmering in their homes, playing first person shooter games and watching violent movies and clips on Youtube. The problem is that these outcasts don’t have the funds to get an arsenal of weapons for this school shooting, so they hatch an elaborate scheme to steal a cache of guns from a local trash pickup man who happens to have a pro-gun sticker on his truck. The problem is that the kids don’t take into consideration what kind of person might put a pro-gun sticker on their truck bumper because…the guy’s a frikkin’ psychopath. While one of the kids continues to prepare for Armageddon at the Homecoming dance, the other two scheme to break into the trashman’s home and steal his guns. Things get twisted and weird quickly when the kids uncover more than just guns in the trashman’s underground lair. END SPOILER

What stands out here is the unconventional narrative loops this film takes and how strong it holds up, making every twist and turn both relevant to the story of these bullied kids and engrossing to see play out. There’s a doomsday clock scenario at play here ticking towards the night of the dance that intensifies with every passing second while one of the kids preps for the dance and the others fight for their lives to get the guns to do it. The way this film builds upon itself is a level of tension you don’t often see in low fi filmmaking and it’s a level of sophistication in storytelling that tells me that Haylar Garcia is someone to watch in the world of film.

The actors involved here are very good. The film itself has a kind of punk/outcast quality from its simple method of detailing the lives of these kids to the punk rock soundtrack that plays throughout. When this film gets gory, it does so in an intense and original way and when the action starts it plays out in ways I don’t remember seeing in a film before. AN AMERICAN TERROR is a highly unique and compelling film from start to finish, flipping genres and subject matter in a method that feels natural, but never pulling punches in terms of thematic power or relevant modern social issues. While the subject matter of school shootings is not something to be made light of, when dealt with on a sophisticated and mature level, it’s compelling stuff to see play out. AN AMERICAN TERROR treats this subject matter with respect, but also doesn’t forget to make it all engrossing and imaginative along the way.

This is one horror film that I highly recommend.

New this week on DVD/BluRay/digital download from IFC Midnight!


aka HOME
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Written by Nicholas McCarthy
Starring Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Arshad Aslam, Rob Brownstein, Tara Buck, Laura Kai Chen, Assaf Cohen, Nick Eversman, Kent Faulcon, Ava Acres,
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy caught my attention last year with his horrific ghost story of indescribable terror, THE PACT (reviewed here). He returns with his sophomore effort, AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, I’m happy to say he’s got another winner of a horror film on his hands.

Playing with both timeline and narrative structure, McCarthy offers up a somewhat complex tale of ghosts and demons with a little bit of witchcraft tossed in for good measure. The story is an unconventional one, but tells the tale of a demon with a singular purpose: find the one body that is right for him to take over completely. Throughout the story, this demon takes residence in a few people and as the tale spans different locales and times, the demon’s goal is the one thing tying it all together.

Three women are tragically linked to the demon’s designs. The opening scene has a young girl talked into selling her soul to a witch doctor by her boyfriend. We then trip forward in time to meet a pair of sisters, Vera and Leigh (GLEE’s Naya Rivera &, Catalina Sandino Moreno, respectively). Leigh is a real estate agent trying to sell a house with a dark past and Vera is an aimless artist who fears being alone all her life. When Leigh starts seeing the girl from the beginning of the film (Ashley Rickards from MTV’s AWKWARD) wandering around the empty house, she is led face to face with the demon--but Leigh is not who the demon wants.

The story is much more complex that your typical demon possession yarn. The demon possession is the common touch point of the film, and it’s established well and early, so no matter when or where the story goes, it’s easy to understand by following the demon’s burned footprints. McCarthy does a great job of making the leaps in time and place easy to follow, allowing the strength of the female leads to carry us along the way wherever they take us.

Lately, there seems to be a substitution of scares for Don Music head slams onto a keyboard. These sudden sharts of music are effective in unnerving the viewer, but these are empty scares filling space left for actual scary things to occur. There are plenty of musical whammies in AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, but what separates this film from the usual vacant fodder is that the musical punches are accompanied by equally frightening visuals. There are no false scares in AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, just creepily set up scenes and visuals (accompanied by the music bump) that are the stuff of pure, uncut nightmare.

AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR is an unconventionally told version of a common tale, but with some fantastic performances by the female leads, some absolutely horrific shocks, one scary-ass demon, and a handling of suspense that is more potent than any I’ve seen in recent horror films, this is one horror film that is anything but common.

Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!

BIND (2014)

Directed by Dan Walton, Dan Zachary
Written by Ken King (screenplay), Dan Walton (story)
Starring Chloe Bear, Lynn Csontos, Natasha Davidson, Eliza Faria, Deborah Finkel, Morgan Lindsay Lane, Darren Matheson, Mackenzie Mowat, Sasha Neuhaus, Alisha-jo Penney, Sierra Pitkin, Shayleigh Pruzina, Nathanael Vass
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While at times BIND is a little too on the nose with some pretty well-known haunted house/haunted family horror flicks, it still has a lot going for it in terms of effectiveness and chills.

BIND tells the tale of a family who moves into a home with a dark history. Apparently, the giant home used to be an orphanage and now houses a tormented spirit of a woman who killed herself there. The incoming family doesn’t know about this as the realtor decides to keep that little bit of info to himself, but upon the first night of moving into the home, the family realizes that something supernatural might be afoot.

What works is the structure and slow build of escalating terror that occurs in this film. While the strange goings on happen almost immediately as soon as they move in, it all feels like it moves on in a natural and comfortable pace. So when the oldest daughter vomits up maggots, it is taken somewhat seriously, but each member of the family is so caught up with themselves that they don’t really get the whole story until things get really bad. In this sense, BIND shows a kind of realistic modern family as it reflects the disconnected ways families interact these days. It’s not a pretty picture, but it at least it feels accurate.

Horror fans, though, might be put off by the similarities between the imagery and narrative choices in BIND and films like THE SHINING and especially THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as it almost follows the same story beat for beat with the father going apeshit slowly (he even has a beard like Brolin/Reynolds and carries an axe like Nicholson). If I were making a haunted house film, I’d try to make mine different than two of the most famous haunted abode flicks out there, but that’s just me. This one pays a little too much homage to those films and I fear it might hurt BIND because of it a bit.

That said, the monster in BIND is pretty horrifying. While the decrepit ghoulie would be much scarier with an articulated jaw (it appears her mask is just a wide and creepy joker smile), it still is pretty gross and terrifying, especially in the earlier scenes when we see only glimpses of her. But scenes like the one where the husband goes into the shower with the monster thinking she’s his wife still feels a little too on the nose with the similar scene from THE SHINING. Still, BIND has some nice twists, a cool monster, and an overall sense of dire mood and familial discord, which makes me look past some of the similarities to classic haunted house yarns.

Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!!


Directed by Brandon Scullion
Written by Brandon Scullion
Starring Sarah Greyson, Arielle Brachfeld, David Lautman, Chris Dorman, Nancy Wolfe, Geoffrey Gould, Myles Cranford, Charlene Geisler, and Maria Olsen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

LIVE-IN FEAR makes up for a smaller budget by taking advantage of the bleak and wintery atmosphere the action is set in. For some reason, horror films set in the snow always gets to me. Some of my favorite horror films like THE SHINING and THE THING take full advantage of the crisp and clean winter air to create a sense of isolation and suspense. Set in a winter resort, LIVE-IN FEAR captures these feelings well.

A quartet of young types make their way to a secluded winter resort in the wilderness, but as they draw closer, the happy and celebratory mood shifts as the driver Seth (David Lautman) tells a ghost story about a ghostly hitchhiker that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the film. As the group gets to the place, Seth acts even more suspicious as he doesn’t allow anyone to touch his bags. And what’s up with the ever so happy couple greeting them when they get here. Ghostly imagery and secretive moods abound as deep secrets seem to be unearthed as soon as the four kids get to the lodge. Soon they find themselves in conflict with these dark secrets made form by something residing in the snow.

What LIVE-IN FEAR has going for it is a nice sense of dread and danger that seems to creep in from all corners of the screen. The four actors are much more like people you and I know that the usual Hollywood pretty people which makes them much more relatable and thus, effects us as the viewer when they are put in peril. And none of the actors involved are bad here, all convincing in their dark roles they play.

I really like the ambiguous nature of the terrors in LIVE-IN FEAR. There’s not one thing that is the monster here, but something about the lodge that brings out the inner demons in all four lodgers. This makes for some interesting interactions as the lodgers’ fears and secrets interact with one another. There’s a PRINCE OF DARKNESS meets EVIL DEAD feel here as, one by one, the lodgers succumb to this invisible force—the evil passing on like an infection from one party to the next. The manner with which those overcome with the force reminds me a lot of PRINCE OF DARKNESS as they have a way of talking to one another as if they are in on some dark plan that the viewer is not. All we are made aware of is that it is dangerous and deadly.

Those who like their horrors spelled out for them are not going to like the abstract way in which the horrors of LIVE-IN FEAR play out. Everyone’s dark side is different, but they all seem to be lead by the same pied piper. Not a lot of the answers are provided here and the film kind of just stops ambiguously at the end without revealing all of its cards. I’m ok with that as the events that occur before the end are nice and dark and stuff I haven’t seen in films in a while, but those looking for easily explainable fears might not want to take a chance with the more sophisticated and complex chills at play in LIVE-IN FEAR.

And finally…here’s the fantastically funny short from local Chicago director Eric Richter that had me laughing from minute one. Here’s the short and sweet little horror, I HATE RACCOONS!

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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