Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Two columns in one week? Damn skippy! If you missed the last column, here’s a link to it here! Now on to today’s batch!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: INVADERS FROM MARS (1986)
WITHIN MADNESS (2015)
HOOKED UP (2013)
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF WILLIAM ZERO (2015)
THE VOICES (2014)
Advance Review: CANNIBAL FOG (2014)
And finally…Matthew Forte’s WEDNESDAY’S CHILDREN!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
INVADERS FROM MARS (1986)Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Richard Blake (based on a screenplay by), Dan O'Bannon & Don Jakoby (screenplay)
Starring Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Eric Pierpoint, Christopher Allport, Donald Hotton, Kenneth Kimmins, Charlie Dell, Jimmy Hunt, William Bassett, Virginya Keehne
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I have mixed feelings about Tobe Hooper’s ode to old school sci fi. While I love the production design, the monster effects, and a lot of the work that went into the film to make it absolutely unique for its time, Hunter Carson, the child actor that this film is centered upon, makes me cringe every time I see him.
A young boy named David is a bit of an outcast and troublemaker. His astrophysicist father (Timothy Bottoms) and goofy mother (SNL’s Laraine Newman) are loving enough as they joke with him constantly and sit and watch the stars, encouraging his curiosity as to what is out there in the galaxy. But when he is tucked in for bed one night, he witnesses a large spacecraft land over the hill. Soon, David’s parents begin acting strange, as do his domineering teacher (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST’s Louise Fletcher) and other folks in his small community. Only his caring school nurse Linda (Karen Black) believes his rants about aliens landing and taking over the community. Soon, Linda and David find themselves in the middle of a full scale battle between alien mind-controllers and the US Army, with the fate of the world at stake.
Having proved that he could deliver all-ages style terrors with POLTERGEIST, Hooper decided to go the Amblin route again. When I say Amblin, I don’t mean that it was actually produced by the company, but that the film he made was much more akin to the children in peril escapist adventures such as GOONIES, EXPLORERS, and the like. In these types of films, the kids are the ones in the know, they usually are portrayed as smarter and more observant than the adults around them, and they often swear and act like mini adults. INVADERS’ David does all of the above in the film, cementing it in the subgenre. Still, this kid annoys the hell out of me as he is not that great of an actor and not very cute to boot. Since David is the center of this film’s universe, not liking the kid is huge and really makes me dislike this film despite its accomplishments.
Hunter Carlson being Karen Black’s actual son is probably the reason he got the part here, but to me he came off as unbelievable annoying as the center of this film’s universe. Yes, (SPOILER) this is all supposed to be a child’s dream and David is ordering around every adult in the film and saving the day all plays a part of that, but I think there could have been a little more subtlety at play in order to make this a bit more convincing. The film really loses steam when the army becomes involved and David begins barking orders at them, as it stretches the suspension of disbelief past its retention length. Seeing this annoying kid calling the shots drove me absolutely nuts, dream or no dream. So while this film has a fairy tale, escapist nightmare/dreamlike tone, the kid swears and shows more confidence, put-togetherness, and insight than everyone around him, and since he’s a little too old to be cute, it comes off as annoying. This works for the first half of the film where David experiences the paranoia and feelings of being an outsider as the people in his life begin changing. Hooper is able to harness that same type of paranoia that was so prevalent in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, where everyone and anyone could be not what they seem. Hooper does a fantastic job of making the world around David come closing in on him; mainly, though, the movie is carried by some solid acting by the adult actors, some fantastic paranoia music, and some clever lighting that changed the same sets which had a Norman Rockwellesque feel to it just minutes before.
Still, as with the elaborate settings in TCM, LIFEFORCE, TCM2, and other Hooper films, this film looks fantastic. The expansive sets are so intricately made that it makes you feel immersed in the level of detail at play. Stan Winston’s creature designs are amazing as well, using the man-in-suit motif in new and elaborate ways to make these creatures move and act unearthly by having two people in one suit and having them walk backwards instead of forwards.
What does it say about me that I can’t help but feel Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS is one big statement about one boy trying to understand his sexual issues? In this dream, he witnesses his father taking his mother over the hill and is shown squirming when he sees them be affectionate with one another. He orders around the hottie nurse for the whole film and she blindly follows (yes, I know it’s the actor’s mom, but not in the script). Later, the nurse gives David the keys to her apartment. And then there’s the ending, which suggests that the whole thing is not a dream and that the invaders are real, but it could also be seen as a boy bursting in the middle of his parents’ room in the middle of the night and catching them doing something he doesn’t understand. Even as a young boy, the bizarre way this film ends, with the viewer never seeing what the boy is screaming at before the credits, leaves the whole thing open to interpretation, and going the Freudian route was not a stretch for me.
Still, the expansive sets, the amazing practical effects, the use of lighting, the fun cast, and all of the other bells and whistles almost make me look past the icky subthemes and shoddy acting by the child star. Hooper incorporates goofy little details like the “incredibly slow moving mind-control needle” device and an alien leader that looks like a squished frog. INVADERS FROM MARS is a fantastic but flawed love letter to cool sci fi. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot of fun stuff to be experienced with this new BluRay release. The disk also comes with a behind the scenes look back at the effects, the cast, and the production that shares even more insight into the dedication, blood, sweat, tears, and copper pennies shed to make this film. Seeing the bonus feature made me appreciate the film more.
New on DVD/BluRay from Legless Corpse Films!
WITHIN MADNESS (2015)Directed by J. M. Stelly
Written by J. M. Stelly
Starring Matt Story, Kaci Champion
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Leaning more on the experimental side, WITHIN MADNESS is an effective little look into the mind of a severely damaged person.
Made with a combination of worn down imagery on film, stock footage of bondage and S&M sessions, and other scenes of sexual abuse and torture, WITHIN MADNESS is interspersed with scenes of one man (Matt Story) looking at the camera and talking about his paranoia, his anger, and his bent outlook on the world.
Writer/director J.M. Stelly takes what could be a pretty boring piece of cinema and gives it a goose by switching the images from S&M stock footage to scenes of torture depending on what the man is telling the camera, offering us a glimpse into the way he sees things. In doing so, the viewer is made privy to how differently this man perceives things compared to our own perceptions. This is a dark film, and though there are extended scenes of the lead character talking to himself, the content of his speeches and the rapid fire imagery makes everything compelling.
WITHIN MADNESS goes to very dark places, and I found all of these unlit corners rather fascinating. Seeing this lunatic work himself up to a murderous frenzy because his neighbor is mowing the lawn without his shirt on is both funny and disturbing because of how out of his mind he escalates to. And while the build is subtle, the whole film comes to a climax that is beyond words disturbing.
Those who don’t have the stomach for experimental fare will most likely want to give WITHIN MADNESS a pass. It’s a film that stars mostly one person, and another close to the end. In between stock footage of torture is a man talking to the camera the whole time, so if you’re the type that balks at torture porn, this is most likely not up your alley. Though there are a few stylistic cheats where the lead is in frame and the camera pans as if someone else were in the room with him, though it has already been established that he is alone, WITHIN MADNESS is a bit more meaty than your standard torture porn fare, and the horrific mind that is laid out for all to see in this one is terrifying because of how twisted and, more importantly, how real it all feels.
New this week On Demand and in select theaters from Uncork’d Entertainment!
INFERNAL (2015)Directed by Bryan Coyne
Written by Bryan Coyne
Starring Andy Ostroff, Heather Adair, Alyssa Koerner, Jose Rosete, Noelle Bruno, Lisagaye Tomlinson
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Devil child films seem to be one of the more popular subjects of the found footage trend as of late. Some films, like DELIVERY, utilize the found footage format in inventive and effective ways and still remember to toss in a nursery full of scares at you. I wish I could say the same for INFERNAL, but aside from some strong performances by the cast, there’s not much else the film has going for it.
Nathan (Andy Ostroff) and Sofia (Heather Adair) are a happy young couple who seem to be leading a perfect life. When they have their daughter Imogene (Alyssa Koerner), though she is diagnosed with autism, they still love her with all their hearts. But when weird things start happening around Imogene in her room and around the house, the couple start to think their little angel isn’t so angelic. In fact, she’s downright evil.
The biggest flaw in this film is that there is no real reason for this to be a found footage film. The couple tape their every moment and set up cameras in their bedroom as well as their daughter’s room, seemingly to see their autistic daughter in her every day life without her knowledge to understand her more. That justifies the cameras in the daughter’s room, but not around the rest of the house. Everything from the couple’s therapy sessions to banal dinners are taped, and while some of the cast ask why everything is filmed, the excuses are pretty darn flimsy. The logic as to why this is all being videotaped is just not provided, making the whole film hard to buy.
The thing is, INFERNAL would have been a decent film had it not been found footage. There are a few effective scares and downright jarring moments (mostly towards the end). Had the filmmakers just not gone the tired found footage route, I think it would have been much stronger, as the cast is strong. Instead, this feels like a poor man’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY with the usual rotating still cams showing people sleeping until something weird happens.
Before the rather shocking last fifteen minutes, there are quite a few rather lame attempts at scares. A pretty shoddy demon creeps out of the closet on occasion in the daughter’s room a la INSIDIOU,S and there’s some comical demon laughs that are supposed to frighten but don’t. All in all, INFERNAL feels a little misguided in execution, aping only the most popular of found footagers and not really adding to the genre.
New this week On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
HOOKED UP (2013)Directed by Pablo Larcuen
Written by Pablo Larcuen & Eduard Sola
Starring Jonah Ehrenreich, Júlia Molins, Stephen Ohl, Natascha Wiese
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While I guess it is an accomplishment to have this entire film made on an iPhone, some basic found footage cheats sully and otherwise pretty decent little thriller.
Two bros (not actual brothers, but the type you see in bars hanging all over one another—but they’re not gay, really, not gay!) decide to pack up and take a trip to Barcelona after one of them is left by his girlfriend. The two set out to party and, of course, film the entire thing on their iPhone with a never diminishing battery life. After getting wasted in a club, the two dudes snag a pair of hot Euro babes and go back to one of their homes. Turns out it’s haunted or one of the girls is a psycho or something.
The main problem in this film is the fact that the two dudes aren’t likable in the least. One’s an idiot party animal who doesn’t take anything seriously, and when the shit goes down, he turns into a weepy mess. The other spends half the time sulking for his lost girlfriend and the other half screaming in an unconvincing rage at the camera at his bro for getting him into this predicament. Because both are annoying as hell, it’s hard to really give a shit about this footage found, and I was hoping one of them would drop the phone and break it in order for the whole thing to end.
But that doesn’t happen. In fact, for no reason whatsoever these two dudes keep on filming and even run back (putting themselves in danger) to get the phone after it was dropped. Add some music from nowhere, and the suspension of disbelief which is crucial in these found footage films is shattered. Seeing these two dudes run frantically through hallways back and forth through the house away from psycho women and then after them makes for a pretty redundant experience.
That said, there are some pretty solid shocks and scares in HOOKED UP due to the forced perspective that occurs in these found footage types. These are basic funhouse/carnival scares of things jumping out at you from the darkness. But a few decent scares does not a good movie make, and the rough acting from the two leads, paired with their low likability, makes HOOKED UP a tough one to root for. It’s cool that money was saved in order to film this film on an iPhone. The premise is decent,as are a few key scares. But without characters worth giving a damn about, it’s hard to put up with all of the shakiness.
New this week from Midnight Releasing!
EXILE (2014)aka THE SUNDERLAND EXPERIMENT
Directed by Sean Blau, Adam Petke
Written by Sean Blau
Starring Dylan O'Brien, Katie Reed, Dennice Cisneros, Fabianna Borghese, Jonathan Brophy, Matt Reed, Ryan Finnerty, Sianna Marie Greene, James Petke, Teresa Petke, Cyrus Short, Shawn Tilton, Tyler Tilton, Justin Little, Eli Irwin
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though crude and twisted, if you’re looking for a good low fi sci fi film, EXILE is it!
The story focuses on a world not on the brink of an alien takeover, but at the end of it. The aliens have won, and now the human species must be subservient to their strange will or die. A group of teens have questions about this world they have grown up in. Their parents have already been taken over by the aliens, and are teaching the youth in desolate rundown buildings and preparing them to be controlled by the aliens as well. When one of the youngsters (Dylan O’Brien) begins putting two and two together despite his rudimentary knowledge and vocabulary, he begins questioning what he is being taught in school, which leads to a mini-rebellion of sorts as the youth join forces and fight to become individuals and not a part of a worldwide system that has taken over their parents.
Rich with allegory and metaphor? You betcha. And filmmakers Sean Blau & Adam Petke take advantage of the desert landscape to paint a world not unlike the ones we see in the MAD MAX films. Despite the fact that the budget is significantly lower, the filmmakers are able to use decent performances, some cool twists on language and culture, and some sparse but well-timed CG and practical effects to make a world that feels much more expansive than what’s on screen playing out. I was really impressed at how big and wide this world felt in the film, as if the entire landscape and culture was fully realized, even though it wasn’t all used on screen. The simple use of language and tiny details suggest a once-abundant and thriving civilization now decimated by this takeover.
This isn’t a utopian future, but one utterly stomped down by this nightmarish alien race. All sorts of filmic tricks are used to make these monsters. Referred to as “angels”, the aliens look like anything but, with elephant-like legs and swirling tentacles. In a nod to “Alien”, the “angels” impregnate the humans and plant a seed inside them that grows into a full-fledged alien. Again, the intricacy and detail to the alien takeover method is impressive and shows the filmmakers really do want to make this world and the aliens that have taken it over seem believable. The amount of gore in this film is equally impressive, as it doesn’t shy away from things that squish and slime.
Not all sci fi has to be sporting a huge budget. Small tales like EXILE are refreshing in that the filmmakers are forced to fill the screen with ideas rather than fancy CG. I’m extremely curious to see what filmmakers Sean Blau & Adam Petke have up their sleeves next, as EXILE is a fantastic little sci fi yarn juggling gore and horror with a skill I haven’t seen in a while.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Psychopia Pictures!
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF WILLIAM ZERO (2014)aka THE PROXY
Directed by Dan Bush
Written by Dan Bush & Conal Byrne
Starring Conal Byrne, Amy Seimetz, Tim Habeger, Adam Fristoe, Scott Poythress, Lake Roberts, Melissa McBride, AJ Bowen
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This tale of twisted science may be low on scares, but it does have a strong cast, solid story, and a lot of charm, making THE RECONSTRUCTION OF WILLIAM ZERO one very effective, albeit subtle, sci fi gem.
When William (Conal Byrne) wakes from a five week coma, he is obviously a little wobbly. His twin brother Edward (also Conal Byrne) greets him when he awakens and lets him know that he has experienced amnesia, and that he will help William get his life back. While Edward seems genuine, there is definitely something off, and when he leaves to go to work at the genetics lab, things start falling into place as to what William really is.
While I don’t want to reveal too much, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on from the get-go. The early revelation about William/Edward’s involvement in genetic cloning is more than just a coincidence. This mystery is cleared up in the early moments, when an ethics committee comes to the lab to investigate some equipment and crucial cloning drugs that have gone missing. Meanwhile, William leaves the house and begins to follow urges he is feeling, like seeking out Jules (YOU’RE NEXT’s Amy Seimetz), Edward’s estranged wife, to reconcile their relationship. Confused? Don’t be. It’s much more simple to understand in the film than when I’m explaining it here. In fact, it’s the simplicity of the story that makes it so compelling. Helmed by another director, I think this could have been a Cronenbergian extravaganza, but director Dan Bush keeps things tight and simple. And while the story never takes a moment to get boring, it doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles to make it effective--just some weird-looking lab equipment and a strong cast.
This is a very strong cast, with Conal Byrne doing a fantastic job in the dual roles of William and Edward. He must play completely different characters, and does so with ease. One is a blank slate, the other a somewhat cold and remorseless scientist so desperate to solve a scientific mystery that he forgets the reasons he is doing it. Amy Seimetz is always good, and adds some much-needed heart to the film. A surprise appearance by AJ Bowen is always good to see, as he plays an investigator here, and THE WALKING DEAD’s Carol, aka Melissa McBride, makes a brief appearance as a fellow scientist. All in all, the cast is amazing on all fronts.
THE RECONSTUCTION OF WILLIAM ZERO is not about laser battles or alien visitors, but it is about the future of science and how, in the wrong hands, it can be a very dangerous thing. Top tier acting and a solid story makes this one very much worth a view.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
THE VOICES (2014)Directed by Marjane Satrapiv
Written by Michael R. Perry
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Adi Shankar, Ricardia Bramley, Paul Brightwell, Aaron Kissiov, Valerie Koch, Alessa Kordeck, Gulliver McGrath, Michael Pink, Helena Prince, Ella Smith, Stephanie Vogt
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Using big stars in genre films can go either way. Sometimes it can prove that the actor, who usually stars in safer, bigger, and broader films, still has an edge and is willing to take some risks with his or her career. Then again, attaching a big name to a horror film can also mean you’re going to get a tamed down version of horror no one likes because too few risks are taken. Seeing a big star version of THE OMEN with Liev Schreiber & Julia Stiles feels like a watered down remake with star power compared to the provocative and controversial original starring Gregory Peck & Lee Remick (equally big stars in their time). But for every lame attempt to make big star horror, there’s a film like MANIAC with Elijah Wood which takes risks and more with the material. THE VOICES, while much less bloody, feels much more akin to MANIAC than with safer horror, and Ryan Reynolds delivers one of his best performances in years in this somewhat more dangerous territory.
I’ve always been a fan of Reynolds from the get go, and seeing him fumble with GREEN LANTERN was frustrating because I feel he’s an amazingly talented actor in both dramatic and comedic roles. Here he straddles both genres as Jerry, a socially awkward man just trying to meet a nice girl. For him, it seems all he needs to do is meet that one special person and then, finally, his life will make sense. In the meantime, he talks with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. I talk with my cat. Nothing wrong with that, but the problem here is that Bosco and Mr. Whiskers talk back to him, and the advice they give him is not always the best. When a series of events puts Jerry alone with one of his female coworkers (Gemma Arterton), things don’t work out well, and soon Jerry is on a reluctant killing spree due to the voices he is hearing from his pets.
Now, taking the reasoning behind the Son of Sam killings and turning it into a quirky horror comedy seems like it is in bad taste, but Reynolds gives it his all here. As Woods did in MANIAC, Reynolds relies on the likability built from previous films to allow you to be lulled in and maybe even feel sorry for him as Jerry. You want Jerry to make the right decisions and get the girl in the end, but it’s pretty obvious early on that this isn’t that type of movie. This is the type of rabbit hole movie many people used to seeing Reynolds in VAN WILDER and other characters Chevy Chase would have taken thirty years ago are not going to like, because it takes this likeable character and really puts them, and you by proxy, through the ringer. Sympathizing with the character is crucial here, and at least for me, Reynolds had me hooked. Being an animal lover myself, it wasn’t hard to root for the guy with the cat, but Reynolds portrays a deeply fractured man here and the dark places he goes are going to be too dark for the mainstream crowd.
But I’m not part of that crowd, and if you’re a reader of this column, you probably aren’t either. The straight South direction this film goes really impressed me, as writer/director Marjane Satrapi (who also directed the animated PERSEPOLIS and CHICKEN WITH PLUMS) really pulled no punches in terms of making Jerry’s history equally painful and sickening. Seeing the dichotomy between the world Jerry lives in on his meds and off is subtle, but still jarringly effective, and Satrapi does a fantastic job distinguishing the two states of mind. The final sequence might feel jarring to some, but as the camera zooms in close on Jerry’s eyeball and we actually enter his head, it is fascinating to see the idealistic and simple world he has been living in throughout the entire movie. So while ending a horror film with a musical number might feel trite, it really does capture the difference between what Jerry sees and what the rest of us do.
THE VOICES is an intelligent movie about a man with debilitating social anxieties and schizophrenia. It feels well researched in terms of the turns the story takes, and realized in an equally effective fashion as acted out by Reynolds who took a risk here and, at least for me, it paid off. Those interested in the psychological side of horror are going to be interested in this one.
Advance Review: Touring fests!
CANNIBAL FOG (2014)Directed by Jonas Wolcher
Written by Jonas Wolcher
Starring Malte Aronsson, Linus Karlgren, Kim Sønderholm, Ida Karolin Johansson, Lars Lundgren, Vargman Bjärsborn, Johanna Valero, Anders Dahlberg, Anoshirvan Parvazi, Kjell Häll Eriksson, Juznur Siuleymanova, Caroline Stråle Svensson, Gustav Magnarsson
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Fans of film on the more experimental side are going to be the ones who get something positive out of this review. If you’re in the mood for straightforward storytelling with everything making sense and thrive on literal elements in their movies, please see some of the other cool films in this column. CANNIBAL FOG by Swedish experimental director Jonas Wolcher is about as off the beaten path as you can get, and is pretty amazing because of it.
The film begins with a pair of men in white shirts running towards the camera. As they get closer, you see that they are smeared with blood and look as if they are about to eat the viewer until they get so close that they are right on top of you. We then jump to the past, where one of the men from the beginning is eating fries just when someone near him is shot. The blood spatters all over the fries, yet the man continues to eat and feels intoxicated by the taste. This simple chocolate meets peanut butter moment sparks a hunger in the man that he cannot feed with sex, drugs, or alcohol. Soon he becomes wrapped up with a cannibal counterculture where people willingly offer up their bodies to be eaten by others who are more than willing to dine on them.
Thematically and from a storytelling standpoint, CANNIBAL FOG is strong as iron. The way the story interlaces itself between a blossoming cannibal and a more wizened one is complex, and writer/director Jonas Wolcher handles it all with a lot of grace and style. Wolcher films in an anything goes style, as if he really wasn’t interested in getting the best line deliveries from his cast, and a lot of the film seems to be made on the fly, but these rough indie edges are part of this film’s appeal. It seems very real, this descent into cannibal madness, and it all makes for some fascinating viewing.
Intercut with all sorts of weird detours about cooking, underground cannibal eating clubs, visitations from an angel of death, and the finale where the two cannibals go on a biting frenzy taking nips and chunks out of the arms and necks of random people on the street, make an altogether unique and unusual film experience. Again, CANNIBAL FOG is not for those who like their horror polished and clean. Dodgy acting and edits thrive during this film’s runtime. But there’s an underground appeal to this film that makes it all the more effective for me, specifically in the final moments when the cast give into their cannibalistic urges. Odd, eccentric, experimental, CANNIBAL FOG is a refreshing order from off the menu.
And finally…here’s a little indie zombie ditty from writer/director Matthew Forte called WEDNESDAY’S CHILDREN. It stars Rebecca Canavan, Alexander Zarbis and Kevin Forte and is described as Christina, a pregnant young woman struggling to survive in a living dead world, has to make a choice that will dramatically affect her and her unborn child
You can find out more about this film on its Facebook page here!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
Be sure to tell your comic shop to order his new comic PIROUETTE (out now!) from Black Mask Studios!
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!
Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!