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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Happy New Year! And with the new year comes a whole new slew of weekly horrors, beginning with today’s column!

On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

The Boo Tube: THE TWILIGHT ZONE Season One, Episodes 1.4-1.7 (1985)
Retro-review: DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS (1993)
ACEDIA (2012)
APP (2013)
TUSK (2014)
[REC] 4: APOCALYPSE (2014)
Advance Review: ALICE D (2013)
Advance Review: PHANTASMAGORIA (2014)
And finally… Jordan Downey’s CRITTERS: BOUNTY HUNTER Fan Film!

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


Season One, Episodes 4-7
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

From 1985-1989, Rod Serling’s classic series TWILIGHT ZONE was revitalized for the modern age. Starring some very recognizable faces, I barely remember watching these episodes, so looking back on each episode one at a time is sure to be fun. These hour-long episodes usually consisted of two or three stories, and with Image Entertainment releasing an awesome box set collecting every episode, the series can now be enjoyed again. Image Entertainment is also releasing THE TWILIGHT ZONE: 5th DIMENSION Limited Edition Box Set, which includes the complete TZ episodes from the first series (1959-1964) and the 80s series (1985-1989)! You can pick up the collection by clicking this link here!

Now that I’ve finished checking out the original series, it’s time to go back to the mid-80’s where the quality of the stories may not have been up to par with the original, it still had its own charm every now and then.

Episode 1.4: Little Boy Lost/Wish Bank/Nightcrawlers
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (Little Boy Lost), Rick Friedberg (Wish Bank), William Friedkin (Nightcrawlers)
Written by Michael Cassutt (Little Boy Lost), Michael Cassutt (Wish Bank), Philip DeGuere Jr. (teleplay from the short story “Nightcrawlers” by Robert R. McCammon)
Starring Season Hubley, Scott Grimes, Nicolas Surovy (Little Boy Lost), Dee Wallace, Julie Carmen, Peter Land, Harvey Vernon, Julie Payne (Wish Bank), Scott Paulin, James Whitmore Jr., Robert Swan, Exene Cervenka, Sandy Martin, Bobby Bass (Nightcrawlers)

Overall this was a decent episode all around. I need to stop comparing these to the far superior original series, I think and just enjoy the ride and I did so here with this triplet of terror. The first being the most interesting since it seems Scott Grimes and I were separated at birth given that the poor soul looked exactly like me as a kid. “Little Boy Lost” has nothing to do with “Little Girl Lost” from the original series, still it offers up a somewhat creepy and thought provoking little tale about a woman forced to make a decision between her career and starting a relationship with a new man who wants to settle down and start a family. Telling any more would be cheating, but the woman is followed by a young boy who seems to have some ties to her, which starts being creepy, but once the revelation is revealed, it loses its creep factor and substitutes real sentimentality.

The second part of this episode is a throwaway story which utterly wastes the talent of Dee Wallace who plays a house frau going to a garage sale and happening upon a magic lamp and three wishes. But when she is whisked away to a Wish DMV with lines that last a millennia and formalities to all of her wishes, she begins regret even rubbing the lamp. Quick and predictable, I’m not a fan of these little bit segments as they remind me of the lame one-off joke segments from NIGHT GALLERY.

I did love the final installment directed by William frikkin’ Friedkin himself! “Nightcrawlers” is complex for the short amount of time it takes and really delves into a fascinating concept of how a war affects a man and what he brings home from the war. In this one, a discharged soldier (Scott Paulin aka the B-list Scott Glenn) walks into a diner and the war literally follows him. I wish this episode was full length and had the budget to get an hour long treatment as the potential for great stuff here is oozing from every minute. Still, it’s a compelling little episode.

Episode 1.5: If She Dies/Ye Gods
Directed by John D. Hancock (If She Dies), Peter Medak (Ye Gods)
Written by David Carren (If She Dies), Anne Collins (Ye Gods)
Starring Tony Lo Bianco, Nan Martin, Andrea Barber, Jenny Lewis, John Gowans (If She Dies), David Dukes, Robert Morse, Carolyn Seymour, John Myhers, Andrew Masset, Patti Karr (Ye Gods)

Andrea Barber aka Kimmy Gibler from FULL HOUSE (I hate it that I know that) is in a car accident and Tony Lo Bianco will do anything to save his daughter. He’ll even believe in ghosts. This segment was pretty effective and teeters on being too sentimental until the final moments which take the whole thing into a realm of weird that I wish they explored more suggesting that little Kimmy didn’t come back at all and it’s the ghost of a girl inhabiting her body. No answers are provided and I kind of dig the multiple ways you could take this episode.

I wish I could say the same for “Ye Gods” but it was a struggle to get through this segment with the lame comedy, badly set up drama, and slow story pacing. The less said about this episode the better as it focuses on a convoluted relationship between the gods of love and how that effects a business man who is too busy for a relationship. Sappy, lame, and lame.

Episode 1.6: Examination Day/A Message From Charity
Directed by Paul Lynch (Examination Day/A Message From Charity)
Written by Philip DeGuere Jr. (teleplay from the short story “Examination Day” by Henry Slesar), Alan Brennert (teleplay from the short story “A Message From Charity” by William M. Lee)
Starring Christopher Allport, David Mendenhall, Elizabeth Norment (Examination Day), Kerry Noonan, Robert Duncan McNeill, Gerald Hiken, James Cromwell, Vanessa Brown, Michael Fox, Jennifer Parsons, Jack Wells, Phil Proctor, Barbara Lindsay (A Message From Charity)

David Mendenhall aka the kid from OVER THE TOP stars as a studious kid who can’t wait for a big Examination Day in the near future. But why are his parents so concerned? This is a short one, but I appreciated the story’s callback to the twist endings of the original series. I saw it coming from the beginning, but still, it felt right at home in a TWILIGHT ZONE episode.

“A Message From Charity” is as long as the first segment is short and suffers for it. Maybe running one commercial break too long, this segment has an intriguing premise; two people suffer a fever in the same place two hundred years apart from one another and develop a sort of psychic bond between the centuries. Unfortunately, talking to oneself may be seen as witchcraft in Charity’s world, so what begins as an innocent tale of two people getting to know and falling in love with each other through the centuries, starts having dire consequences for one of them. While the final moments are heart-warming, this one feels a bit long in the tooth, most likely because of the less than decent acting going on. Still, this one has James Cromwell as a stern pilgrim father, so that’s elevates it a bit.

Episode 1.7: Teacher’s Aide/Paladin of the Lost Hour
Directed by Bill L. Norton (“Teacher’s Aide”), Gilbert Cates (as Alan Smithee for “Paladin of the Lost Hour”)
Written by Steven Barnes (“Teacher’s Aide”), Harlan Ellison (teleplay for “Paladin of the Lost Hour” based on his short story "Paladin")
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Adam Postil, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Josh Richman, Fred Morsell, Susanne Sasson (“Teacher’s Aide”), Danny Kaye, Glynn Turman (“Paladin of the Lost Hour)

This entire episode really felt like a misstep and much indication that the folks behind this series didn’t seem to understand what it took to really call itself TWILIGHT ZONE. The first story, “Teacher’s Aide” feels like it is a rejected script from the MONSTERS TV Series as it tells the story of a beleaguered teacher (Adrienne Barbeau) who lashes out against her unruly students after being possessed by a gargoyle perched atop the school. While I couldn’t help but think that the level of violence Barbeau unleashes on the student would be grounds for a lawsuit by today’s standards, I must admit, it was fun seeing Barbeau let loose demonic fury on gang members (including RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Miguel A. Núñez Jr.). While the makeup on Barbeau looks creepy, nothing about this episode gives any indication as to why it was in this particular series.

And while more fitting for a TZ segment, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”’s offense is that it is horribly boring. I kind of like the concept by Harlan Ellison of an old man passing the torch of decency and responsibility on to someone of a younger generation and both Danny Kaye and Glynn Turman are great in the roles, but dammit if this wasn’t about ten minutes too long. The dialog and interactions were sweet between the two characters, but while it won me over the first two times they connected, a third and fourth sit and chat felt too extraneous, especially when the point was made in the first few moments of the segment.

Not the best week in terms of good 1985 TZ episodes this time around. Hopefully next time will be better.

Previous TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews!
Season 1 (1959): Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.24, 1.25-1.30, 1.31-1.36
Season 2: Episodes 2.1-2.6, 2.7-2.12, 2.13-2.18, 2.19-2.24, 2.25-2.29
Season 3: Episodes 3.1-3.6, 3.7-3.12, 3.13-3.18, 3.19-3.24, 3.25-3.31, 3.32-3.37
Season 4: Episodes 4.1-4.5, 4.5-4.8, 4.9-4.13, 4.14-4.18
Season 5: Episodes 5.1-5.7, 5.8-5.14, 5.15-5.21, 5.22-5.28, 5.29-5.36
Season 1 (1985): Episodes 1.1-1.3

Look for more TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Reviews soon!

Retro-review: Available in the DRIVE-IN COLLECTION Double Feature on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome!


Directed by Cirio H. Santiago
Written by Howard R. Cohen (screenplay), Cirio H. Santiago & Robert E. Waters (story)
Starring James Iglehart, Carmen Argenziano, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Jayne Kennedy, Joe Mari Avellana, Joonee Gamboa, Leo Martinez, Armando Federico, Cathy Sabino, James Monroe Iglehart, Allen Arkus, Tony Carreon
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

The Vinegar Syndrome has made a living distributing hard to find and thought lost old school grindhouse and soft core porn gems from yesteryear. And while I won’t be covering any of the porn here, I will happily guide you all through some of their cooler lost genre gems including this release called DRIVE IN COLLECTION which features a double feature of DEATH FORCE and VAMPIRE HOOKERS. Here’s what I thought about DEATH FORCE, which leans more towards the blaxsploitation action genre, but still feels odd enough to fit right in here at the AICN HORROR estate.

They used him and left him for dead on a deserted island. But they should have made sure he was dead…because now he’s back…and he’s got a samurai sword…and an afro…and a weird neck choker…

DEATH FORCE is the type of grindhouse film Tarantino creams his seams about. The story of a man wronged and back for revenge is oozing with shoddy acting, crazy bad karate, and still manages to be as cool as shoe full of ice cubes! This is mostly due to the now clichéd performances which were most likely kind of new and funky at the time. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS’ James Inglehart plays Doug Russell who is double crossed by his Vietnam vet buddies in a burgeoning drug empire and left for dead in the ocean. His body washes up on shore on an island inhabited with Japanese samurai left over from World War II. Learning their art of combat with a whole training technique we all are very familiar with from KILL BILL to THE KARATE KID where he is forced do menial tasks, but doesn’t realize this as training until they are put to the right use. Once off the island, Doug slices and dices his way back to his duplicitous former partners, but not before he gets a little lovin’ from former PLAYBOY Playmate Jayne Kennedy!

Filled with tons of clichés, this film was a hoot and a half to sit through. Seeing the afros fly as Doug fights his foes at sped up camera speeds is more comical than badass, but nevertheless fun. Plus there is quite a bit of gore as Doug kind of loves to chop the heads off of mother fuckas. And while the gore is rather rudimentary, the gritty way this film was made, the conviction of the lead, and the sleaziness of the two bad guys (played by PENITENTIARY’s Leon Isaac Kennedy and GODFATHER PART II’s Carmen Argenziano) really do make the whole thing infectiously watchable.

Those who lack the tolerance to grindhouse films; which definitely can be an acquired taste, will most likely want to give this a pass. Those in search of cinematic perfection, tread elsewhere. But if you like bad music, bad acting, bad blood, and bad mofos, DEATH FORCE is definitely going to hit all the right buttons.


Directed by Cirio H. Santiago
Written by Howard R. Cohen
Starring John Carradine, Bruce Fairbairn, Trey Wilson, Karen Stride, Lenka Novak, Katie Dolan, Lex Winter, Leo Martinez, Vic Diaz
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

The second half of this Drive In Collection double feature most likely was an inspiration to one of my favorite vampire flicks of the 80’s VAMP.

VAMPIRE HOOKERS is occasionally hilarious when it wants to be and only genuinely hilarious when it doesn’t want to be; otherwise it’s a pretty lame comedy about some sailors on shore leave looking for some action and some ladies of the night who are looking to give some…for the small price of a few gallons of blood.

The thing that makes this film infectiously watchable are the performances from pretty much all of the cast. I’m not saying this is a well acted film, but there is a lot of fun going on here. John Carradine plays a Shakespeare spouting vampire pimp who hates spilling blood on his white suit. Nathan Arizona himself Trey Wilson plays one of the sailors looking for love in all the wrong places. And I can’t forget Vic Diaz who plays Pavo, a bloated man-giant vamp wannabe whose main power seems to be super-flatulence (yeah, this movie has that type of humor).

Toss in a ten minute love-making session between one of the sailors and three lingerie clad vampirettes and a theme song called, what else, “She’s a Vampire Hooker” and you’ve got a pretty fantastic time at the movies.

Narratively retarded, fundamentally amateur, but lovable just the same, VAMPIRE HOOKERS can’t help but be awesome. Trey Wilson and Bruce Fairbairn give this film a slapstick/ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEETS DRACULA style vibe that echoes through this whole film and I must admit, I laughed at Pavo’s uncontrollable farts a few times as well. VAMPIRE HOOKERS is big, dumb fun and it doesn’t have any pretentions that it isn’t anything more than that.

BEWARE: There are hints of boob and side-boob in the following trailer! NSFW!

Retro-review: New on BluRay and available streaming on Full Moon Features!


Directed by Charles Band
Written by Charles Band (story), Craig Hamann (screenplay)
Starring Tracy Scoggins, Melissa Behr, Phil Fondacaro, R.C. Bates, Willie C. Carpenter, Peter Chen, Phil Brock, Frank Welker as Baby Oopsy-Daisy, 'Evil' Ted Smith as Zombietoid, Paul Salamoff as Jack Attack, and Tim Thomerson as Brick Bardo the Dollman!
Featuring songs by Quiet Riot (just thought I’d let you know )!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Before Marvel interconnected their movie universe, Full Moon Features laced together their properties by mixing the plots and stars of DOLLMAN, DEMONIC TOYS and BAD CHANNELS to make DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS. I guess DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS VS BAD CHANNELS was too long for a title.

I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s a good movie, but I will admit the wave of nostalgia that wafted over me as I began watching the film. It took me back to the days of mom and pop video stores, where every other film in the horror section was made by Full Moon Features and as hokey as they were, I gobbled up every one of them. DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS is barely a full length movie and the plot simply tosses the characters from the two films together awkwardly, seemingly because the miniature sets were already made and the studios decided to make use of them again.

The plot (simple as it is) follows a miniature interstellar cop and macho-whispering Brick Bardo aka the Dollman as he treks across the country in search of mini-crimes to solve and maybe, finding someone his size so he can love her. The logic here is that all he has to do is find someone who is three inches tall and she’ll be perfect for him. I think it would have been much more interesting if the only person his size is someone he cannot tolerate, but that would take an ounce of creativity and this story doesn’t really have that. After reading in a newspaper about the existence of a miniature Nurse Ginger (the nummy Melissa Behr) who was shrunk by aliens, Dollman makes his way to her home and instantly beds and bangs her. Meanwhile, Judith, a gritty street cop who likes to wear spandex (Tracy Scoggins) continues to be plagued by cursed toys that do the bidding of a demon god from another dimension (aka the Demonic Toys). Using the same mindset Bardo does, that size is the only qualifier of effectiveness, Scoggins enlists Bardo to take on the tiny toys. What plays out is pretty lame, but I have to admit, a lot of fun.

Band uses every trick in the book in terms of making his characters look tiny. Occasionally, there is split screen where the tiny Bardo interacts with full sized humans, but for the most part, it’s eagle-eye/worm’s eye forced perspective, diagonal lines to make the set look smaller, and giant props for Bardo and the toys to jump around and on top of to communicate their diminutive stature. Toss in some pretty gross humor where of a baby doll who is trying to rape Nurse Ginger in order to impregnate her with the second coming of a demon lord, and you have quite a weird little film.

Still, if you lived at the peak of the Full Moon/Empire period of video horror, you’re going to love Tim Thomerson’s attempt to do his best Clint Eastwood impression. Dollman’s gun is pretty badass, as it returns to his hand if knocked out of it and blasts some pretty huge holes in people. And the toys themselves are fun, though obvious riffs on the CHILD’S PLAY series which was popular at the time. DOLLMAN VA DEMONIC TOYS is a short and sweet little braindead number that views as pretty harmless to sit through.

Plus it’s got a soundtrack by Quiet Riot featuring “Rude, Crude Mood!” Bang your head to that awesome tune below!

Available to view on the film’s website here!

ACEDIA (2012)

Directed by Joseph Ciminera
Written by Joseph Ciminera
Starring Joe Ciminera Sr., Robert Arensen, John Basedow, Matthew Burns, Larry Costa, Julia Gregorio, Frank Riano, James Sferrazza, Bob Socci, James Terriaca, Tiffany Browne-Tavarez, Madison VanDeusen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Man, the concept behind ACEDIA is awesome. A demonic curse befalls the residence of a small community which will benefit from good fortune as long as they don’t tell anyone about it. But when guilt begins to set in, a group of holy men are called in to take on the evil forces. What arrives is a biblical Dirty Half-Dozen filled with priests, monks, and other holy men to drive out the evil spirits.

In concept alone, my mind races with how cool this film could be. Numerous religions banning together in order to take on a greater evil. The interesting theological discussions between the members of this group that could be had as well as some cool religious mythology at work. I’d be all for that…

Unfortunately, the idea is really the only innovative thing about ACEDIA as things like acting skill, pacing, and script get in the way of greatness. Filling this film with non actors and child actors is one thing, but it really feels as if no one was even trying to get good work out of these guys. The flat manner by which dialog is delivered is something painful to see. The story itself really falls flat as well, not really living up to the potential and relying on clichéd dialog and scenes to carry it to its predictable ending.

There are a few moments in this film that offer a glimmer of hope. The CG, while rudimentary, is actually kind of effective with weird looking ghost people, a backwards facing demon, and some other spectral imagery. I also think that the place this film was made really added some nice creepy ambience. Still, the acting made this one hard to get through and really did distract from the potential ACEDIA might have had on paper.

New this week on DVD and digital download from Brain Damage Films!


Directed by Bradley Creanzo
Written by Bradley Creanzo, Larry Baumer & Derek Rafanello (additional dialogue)
Starring Bradley Creanzo, Taylor Raftree, Stella DiFabio, Greg Huneke, Robert J. Huntley, Larry Baumer, Susan Bachmann
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

If Bradley Creanzo set out to make a hilarious spoof on 80’s horror films, he succeeds in spades with BIBLE BELT SLASHER 2: THE HOLY TERROR. But then again, if he set out to make a film we are to take seriously in any way, this film fails in all ways. That said, this film is ALMOST so bad it’s good, but even then, it’s kind of hard to sit through in its entirety.

The scariest thing about this film is that there seems to have been a BIBLE BELT SLASHER PART ONE out there which I thankfully missed. But have no fear, this film does its best to recap what the two or three folks who didn’t see the original might have missed in the opening moments. The story is about Jason Fry (Larry Baumer) a literal drooling madman who combines bible verses with bad puns like it was his job. After being captured and convicted of murder, Fry is thought to be gone for good, but his overzealous doctor, Dr. Ray Landers (Creanzo himself) fears it is only a matter of time Fry escapes and goes on another biblical rampage. Sure enough, Fry does escape and now seeks to kill the parents of the people he killed in the last film.

Got all that?

Where to start? How about the obvious? Larry Baumer’s performance as killer Jason Fry is not so much bad as it is awful. His puns are unfunny. His performance is over the top and beyond. Looking like a slightly more unhinged Chris Farley, spitting and drooling out terrible puns, Baumer’s killer is neither scary nor fun. It doesn’t help that Baumer has a line of drool dripping from his chin for the entire film which I found more nauseating than most of the horror I’ve seen this year. Trying to top Baumer’s horrific performance is the writer/director/editor/choreographer/sound supervisor/careterer/toe nail maintenance man/hair design specialist/and all around humble guy, Bradley Creanzo who seemingly had a hand in making every inch of this film. And maybe that was a bit of a mistake, as maybe if he were to concentrate on one of these jobs, he might do it well. As is, his Dr. Loomis inspired role as Ray Landers is uncomfortably over the top, sometimes out and out swiping lines from HALLOWEEN in his mad quest to stop the killer.

But the bad acting doesn’t stop there. Those who don’t scream their lines like they were acting from a bottomless pit to an audience at the top are farting their lines out of their mouth holes with so little enthusiasm that it feels like they were forced to be there. Creanzo obviously made this film on a shoe string budget with his own friends as actors. This is from top to bottom a DIY project and for that, I have to give the film props. But everything from Creanzo’s flowing yellow mane of hair to the inclusion of a horrifying music video (which of course has Creanzo as lead guitarist and lead vocals) makes this feel like a film made by a person with an ego run out of control.

Unfortunately, I watched this film alone. I have no idea how it would play with a crowd of rowdy drunk horror fans. Maybe I’m off and this is the most hilarious and intentionally bad films to have ever graced the screen. Or maybe it’s the piece of crap I think it is. Either way, I had an awful time trying to get through the entirety of BIBLE BELT SLASHER 2: THE HOLY TERROR.

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

APP (2013)

Directed by Bobby Boermans
Written by Robert Arthur Jansen
Starring Hannah Hoekstra, Isis Cabolet, Robert de Hoog, Alex Hendrickx, Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

APP is a new film from the Netherlands that is attempting something new. With the film, you can also experience the film through your own phone if you download an app and synch it with the film. Now, I don’t know how theaters are in the Netherlands, but I think it might be a bit counter intuitive to be promoting people to turn ON their phones while watching a movie. Especially in a day and age where people have been shot for messing with their phones while the movie is playing.

I did not download the app for APP prior to watching the film. I don’t need the distraction, mainly because I don’t speak Dutch and while I am a decent multi-tasker, reading subtitles and fucking with my phone are not a pair of things I can do at once. So I just sat and watched this film the old fashioned way; with my eyeballs and left my phone on the coffee table where it usually is.

APP itself is a tight little thriller which surprised me in how engaging both the story and the actors involved turned out to be. The film follows a young college student Anna (Hannah Hoekstra, who looks a hell of a lot like Emma Watson) as she struggles to keep up with her studies, have a social life with her giggly best friend Sophie (Isis Cabolet), and support her little brother who is undergoing rehab after a back injury that left him paralyzed. After attending a party where she runs into an ex, Anna wakes up hung over with an ad for an app flashing on her phone. When she groggily accepts it, her life begins to turn upside down as her phone begins acting as if it has a mind of its own, making decisions for her, helping her out when she doesn’t need help, and alienating her from her friends and family one by one. While Anna at first is fascinated by the new app, she soon realizes that it’s very dangerous.

Now, I don’t want to oversell this film. Movies of this kind are almost immediately obsolete as it involves an ever evolving technology. With programs like Siri functioning in almost the same manner, it definitely is a concept that applies to current technology, at least for now. Next year this time, the tech used in this film could be laughable, but for the moment, it all fits decently.

Director Bobby Boermans keeps things moving at a pretty rapid pace throughout the films short hour and fifteen minute run time, having Anna motorcycle her way across town to save her friends, then zip back again to save her crippled brother. Everything is dire and there are some extremes that out of context ring as pretty damn ridiculous (the scene where Anna gets out of a car seconds before it is wiped out by a speeding truck being one such moment). But things are moving so quickly and this film is over and done with so fast that you don’t really have enough time to question the validity. In the end, APP is a harmless fast-paced thriller with a gimmick that is almost as goofy as its premise, but the actors involved and the level of energy makes the ride a fun one.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from A24 Films!

TUSK (2014)

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 today in theaters, on iTunes and On Demand from Magnet Releasing!

[REC] 4: APOCALYPSE (2014)

Directed by Jaume Balagueró
Written by Jaume Balagueró, Manu Díez
Starring Manuela Velasco, Javier Botet, Paco Manzanedo, María Alfonsa Rosso, Ismael Fritschi, Críspulo Cabezas, Héctor Colomé, Khaled Kouka, Mariano Venancio, Javier Laorden, Cristian Aquino, Emilio Buale, Paco Obregón, Carlos Zabala
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

On its own [REC] 4 APOCALYPSE is a decent little action horror film about a plague on a ship that starts small and then goes postal all over the deck from port to starboard by the end of the film. Zombies on a boat may have been done before (though I can’t recall when) but for what is meant to be the final installment of the popular [REC] franchise, it sort of feels like something of a letdown.

The first two [REC] films were absolutely terrifying. And while some may criticize part two for copying everything that had gone on before in part one, I felt the way the second feature uncovered another more fascinating layer of the world TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) was reporting on quarantined in a building full of infected demon zombies was a stroke of sheer genius. Making the threat not biological as everyone assumed, but spiritual, took the series in a direction that made it distinct. Had the series continued to peel back the layers, I think it ultimately would have been a much more satisfying series as a whole, but Paco Plaza’s decision to tell another story all together kind of made everything feel much more like a rehash than the sequel which adopts the same style of storytelling. Now that I’ve seen all four films, I kind of dislike the third installment a little less because at least that film continued down the thematic road of demonic infection which was what I liked so much about the second film. Unfortunately, the fourth film almost drops the demonic infection angle all together and instead feels like a nod back to the first—an isolated biological infection movie. This would have been an interesting film to follow [REC], but unfortunately that was seven years ago and many infection films have come out since then which makes [REC]4 seem thematically, run of the mill.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. I mean, the scares from the original come from the concept of a spitting, screaming, and bleeding monster running up a hall at you. It’s the palpable in your face thrill of being in the first person seat when this occurs that made me reel back in my seat over and over. This very basic concept is repeated and done well here as there are plenty of scenes of screaming, bleeding, and spitting monsters running up a hall at the handful of non-infecteds in [REC]4. On a primal, shit-my-pants-if-this-would-ever-happen-to-me level, [REC]4 achieves this numerous times as the ship they are on consists of a labyrinth of dark hallways for the monsters to spit and scream down. That said, the fifth or sixth time this occurs kind of loses its luster, and aside from the inclusion of a swarm of infected monkeys descending on the boat, there’s not much by way of new stuff happening.

I think one of the missteps in this film is the moral debate of whether or not the greater good is worth fighting for. Because we were basically in Angela’s head for the first two films, there is a slight tendency to want to root for her. Then again, SPOILER if you’ve seen the second film, you know that she is infected with some type of slimy slug thing which the giant skinny lady barfed down her throat moments after she was dragged away in the first film END SPOILER. Knowing this little nugget of information, there’s a suspicion as to whether Angela is infected or a carrier or not, so my inclination was not to root for her. But this film seems to want you to root for Angela even though the “evil” doctor believes she is infected. It feels like this film wants us to save Angela simply because she was the star of the film and fuck the world the doctor is trying to protect. Because of this sort of misguided mentality which puts the star’s survival over the rest of the planet, I felt this film was a bit morally off base. In the end, I wanted Angela to die for the selfish and insensitive decisions she makes along the way in this film and I don’t think that’s a feeling they wanted me to feel upon viewing.

The gore and effects here are pretty darn good. I especially liked the monkey scenes as they look much more like actual monkeys than most CG you see in films. It helps that the little capuchins are either behind cages, heavily shadowed, or quickly cut to so it may have been the decisions made by the director that made the monkeys look so convincing.

I don’t want to rag too much on [REC] 4. It was a lot of fun and felt very much the roller coaster ride [REC] 3 was. But I wasn’t one of those who hated part three. So if you hated that the third was not found footage, you’re likely going to dislike the first person disconnect this film adopts. Personally, I think a fifth film which returns back to the first person POV would be preferred if not mandated given that in the end, nothing really is resolved, very little answers are given, and we don’t get any closer to understanding where from or what the origins of this demonic plague are. I’m all for ambiguous endings in a single film, but you can’t end a four film series with the same questions you had in the first.

So hopefully, the need for closure and producer pressure to have another sequel will give us the [REC] sequel we all have been clamoring for. I know by now, no sequel could deliver the awesomeness we all have dreamed of in the films in our heads, but at the same time, would it have killed them to put something with that lanky Medieros girl-monster in it this one last time? Seen as a standalone, [REC]4 APOCALYPSE delivers some solid thrills and chills. It is indeed a great little action horror film. But as a final chapter of the series, it just doesn’t deliver, especially with the lame faux ending which seemed straight out of a ScyFy monster of the week movie ending which suggests the terror is not completely over.

Advance Review: Currently touring fests!

ALICE D (2013)

Directed by Jessica Sonneborn
Written by Jessica Sonneborn
Starring Kristina Page, Megan Hensley, Aaron Massey, Kane Hodder, Michael Reed, Juan Riedinger, Al Snow, Jessica Sonneborn, Eliza Swenson, Josh Hammond, Julianne Tura, Chanel Ryan, Sarah Nicklin, Barry Ratcliffe, Kaylee Signore
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Cruel and unpredictable are two qualifiers I’d use to describe ALICE D, a twisted haunted house tale that defies convention and ends up being a pretty damn effective spookfest.

The film opens at the turn of the century as Kane Hodder plays Sr. Davenport, a sadistic old school brothel owner who gets his rocks off breaking the wills of his prostitutes, most of which are at the Davenport House against their will in the first place. One such young prostitute named Alice (who Sr. Davenport dubs Alice D) puts up the most of the fight and ends up being on the receiving end of rape, torture, and eventually death. A century later in the present day, Davenport’s descendant Joe carries on the Davenport misogynistic tradition, thinking he’s a pimp and treating pretty much every woman like a plaything he can chew up and spit out. Inviting his buddies up to the Davenport House for a weekend party, Joe hires a flock of prostitutes to come up and entertain his boys, one of which is his cousin Michael (Aaron Massey) who isn’t too keen on the whole prostitute thing. While the guys and gals commence partaking in drugs and alcohol, they begin to experience some pretty freaky phenomenon suggesting that the women, treated horribly in the house’s sordid past, may be in a state of unrest and ready to lash out against the modern day lords of the manor.

While this film is riddled with clichés involving partying kids hanging out in an old house with a dark history, I couldn’t help but love this film because it adheres to a well tread path and is still able to pull of some absolutely terrifying scenes of bloody horror. There were scenes in this film that were timed to such terrifying perfection that I was in downright awe at how palpably scary it all is. Simple CG, some effective practical effects, and some on the nose suspenseful direction really does make the last act of ALICE D one of the more effective haunted house flicks I’ve experienced in a while.

There are some pacing issues in ALICE D. The partying scenes do seem to go on a bit long and there are a few characters that really seem to only function to explain the some kind of extended discourse about the history of the house and then promptly disappear from the rest of the movie. It seems the kids in question here had a lot of fun in the extravagant digs of Davenport House and a lot of it seems like it could have been snipped here and there, along with some of the more extraneous dialog scenes, but because so much fun was had, they just threw it all in there.

Still, that ending delivers in spades and I found myself completely unnerved by the end of ALICE D. Writer/director Jessica Sonneborn definitely has a gift for building suspense, but more admirably, she delivers the knockout shock as well, which most directors these days forget to do. So while there are a lot of typicalities to ALICE D, the shocks and horrors in the latter portion make this haunted house flick much more effective than most.

Advance Review: Currently touring festivals!


Directed by Mickael Abbate (“Diabolique”), Tiziano Martella (“My Gift To You”), Domiziano Cristopharo (“A Snake with A Steel Tongue”)
Written by Mickael Abbate & Davide Chiara (“Diabolique”), Tiziano Martella, Riccardo De Flaviis, Lorenzo Paviano, & Raffaele Picchio (“My Gift To You”), Domiziano Cristopharo & Riccardo De Flaviis (“A Snake with A Steel Tongue”)
Starring Maya Dolan, Sophie Pâris, Dee Dee Barksdale, Agathe Teller, Michel Addams, Julien Bonfanti, Ilaria Balluchi, (“Diabolique”), Venantino Venantini, Cristina Puccinelli, Donata Inghirami, Marta Manni, (“My Gift To You”), Vittorio Castellano, Alberto Cattaneo, Poison Rouge (“A Snake with a Steel Tongue”)
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

The trio of vignettes that make up the film PHANTASMAGORIA are completely different from one another, save for the fact that they were made by French and Italian filmmakers and all have a unique giallo style to them. They are also, all three, quite worth your time.

Dissecting this anthology one film at a time, I’ll start with “Diabolique”, a trippy little number about a group of kids finishing up a documentary on UFOs only to find themselves compelled by an abandoned mansion with a dark history. While this is the shortest of the three tales, it is also the most psychedelic, as one of the kid’s experiences blackouts after bizarre visions that occur with greater frequency as the group gets closer to the old castle. While what happens once inside the castle itself proves to be brief, I have to admit, the way this film is cut together gives off a surreal and dreamlike kind of feel to it all. The entire sequence is filmed in a retro style that only adds to the ethereal themes and what it lacks in runtime, this one makes up in style.

”My Gift To You” is another one that moves in an almost dream-like gait as a young girl witnesses her grandfather’s suicide and comes across his journal explaining it all much later in life when she revisits her childhood home. Haunted by bizarre visions and ghostly spirits that seem to ooze from every dark corner of the home, there’s a perverse gut punch I won’t reveal here that takes the danger to a deeper and darker level. This effective segment takes innocence and gnaws on it like a chew toy. Filled with creepy and terrifying imagery, this little number blew me away.

The third segment entitled “A Snake with a Steel Tongue” is probably my favorite of the bunch as it really does embrace its Italian giallo roots with a low, creepy, and passionate hug. Beginning with a bloody murder of a man in a hotel bed by a woman with a razor blade, the story leaps ahead a year to the same site though the hotel has since closed down. A weary traveler happens upon the hotel and begs the caretaker to take him in, even though he attests the hotel is closed. Though the caretaker is reluctant, he lets the traveler stay the night. What unfolds is a story as delicate as a flower petal on the edge of a razor and while I found myself kind of predicting the end of the segment before it occurred, it surprised me as the story went on to a bit more than your typical slasher style murder-mystery after the cards were thought to be revealed. I found this one to be both engaging in that it felt like a genuine giallo treasure, but also surprising in the twists and turns it takes along the way.

I hate to be vague with the descriptions, but with the runtime so short on these three short tales, I don’t want to reveal too much as these really are a trio of stories that don’t deserve to be spoiled here. Just trust me that if you’re an appreciator of Bava and Argento, PHANTASMAGORIA is going to be the devious and perverse anthology you’ve been waiting for. The segments are separated with some great animation reminiscent of those old Tool videos, but that’s just icing on the rich and devilish three layer masterpiece that is PHANTASMAGORIA.

And finally… here’s a CRITTERS fan film by Jordan Downey that really captures the awesomeness and the fun from that series. With rumors of a new CRITTERS film being made, the powers that be behind this franchise should definitely check this out to see Downey’s talent at spinning a yarn about the Crites. Enjoy CRITTERS: BOUNTY HUNTER!!

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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