Two AICN HORROR columns in one week? Whaaaa? Damn skippy! Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This was meant to be done by Friday, but I’m sadly still catching up from SDCC, so it’s a few days late. Worry not though, I will have another column this Friday and we’ll be all caught up.
If you missed it last week, here’s my other batch of horror reviews from Thursday! On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: DERANGED: CONFESSIONS OF A NECROPHILE (1974)
Retro-review: CONTAMINATION (1980)
Retro-review: THE GODSEND (1980)
DARK SUMMER (2015)
THE UNWANTED (2013)
SILENT RETREAT (2014)
LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2014)
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT (2015)
IT FOLLOWS (2014)
And finally…Peter Duke’s SWEET MADNESS!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
DERANGED: CONFESSIONS OF A NECROPHILE (1974)aka DERANGED
Directed by Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby
Written by Alan Ormsby
Starring Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson, Robert Warner, Marcia Diamond, Brian Smeagle, Arlene Gillen, Robert McHeady, Marian Waldman, Micki Moore, Pat Orr
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
While DERANGED can be dismissed as a TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE rip-off, I found it interesting to discover that the film was released in February of 1974, while TCM was released in October, later that same year. So while the structure of the two films really feel similar, it looks like both tapped into the zeitgeist around the same time and produced very different but equally disturbing films. While TCM got all of the praise, I think it’s a shame DERANGED remains one of those obscuriosities in horror cinema.
While the names are changed, this is pretty much a straight up biography of infamous cannibal ghoul Ed Gein, who dug up human remains and eventually resorted to murder and cannibalism as his mental illness persevered. Inspiring everything from PSYCHO to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to TCM, DERANGED sticks closer to Gein’s real life horrors than any of them. Narrated by a bespectacled newscaster who appears in frame with the story itself as it plays out, he introduces us to the pathetic man-child who, in order to protect the innocent, is named Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom). When Ezra’s mother passes away, his life is sent into a tailspin and he begins to hear his mother’s voice urging him to exhume the corpse and bring her back home. Following mother’s orders, Ezra’s grave robbing leads to desperation to preserve his mother’s remains, and Ezra needs fresh flesh to do it. When digging up corpses proves to be less successful in preserving mother, live flesh is substituted and Ezra begins stalking and killing females, all the while muttering confessions to townsfolk who pay no mind to the simple minded farmer.
What makes DERANGED stand out from the rest of the Gein-influenced films is the utter quirkiness of the whole thing. Structuring it much like the Bob Balaban role in MOONRISE KINGDOM or a Monty Python skit where he narrates in the scene as the action is going on gives everything a sense of whimsy and kookiness despite the deranged subject matter unfolding within the scene itself. The narrator has a deadpan delivery that makes everything feel almost like a farce, but the story itself remains quite macabre. Juxtaposing the two is so odd that it adds another level of weirdness to the entire film. Other scenes such as Cobb’s confessions that are never quite heard by those around him and an especially weird séance scene with BLACK CHRISTMAS’ housemother Marian Waldman only add to the insane tone of this film.
But it’s Roberts Blossom who steals the show here as Ezra Cobb. Probably best known as Crazy Old Guy in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, or maybe you’ve seen him as Crazy Old Guy in HOME ALONE, Blossom shows great range from beginning to end as we see Ezra doting on his mother, at blissful play with children on the swing set, drunk off his ass in a bar, leering at young girls and sucking his gums, muttering confessions to those close to him, and breaking down in tears when he loses his mother. Seeing Blossom dive into this role headfirst and wear human flesh, dissect his victims, and murder without abandon is truly disconcerting, but there’s also a level of comedy to his performance that teeters on camp without toppling over. Seeing Blossom pout his lip out as if he’s eaten a bad pear is hilarious, but seeing him do the same kind of leering towards a woman while waiting in the dark and ready to pounce is terrifying.
With effects done by a then up-and-coming effects guy named Tom Savini, DERANGED has some of the most convincing dead body effects this side of Savini’s later gore opus MANIAC. The bodies look real, seem to have real weight, and bend in all the right places, making it feel like legitimate corpses were used in the making of this flick. The dissection scenes are equally disgusting, as green embalming fluid seeps from slits and pours all over. The skin Cobb wears and forms around various furniture once again adds that extra amount of detail to sell Cobb’s house of horrors in creepy ways.
As far as how the story structure plays out, DERANGED follows the tried and true TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE format to a tee. The scene where the waitress stumbles into Cobb’s display of corpses, all set up in bizarre poses with a skin-wearing Cobb hiding among them, feels like something straight out of Tobe Hooper’s film. As Cobb chases the waitress out of the house and into the farmland, once again, it feels reminiscent of Leatherface sans chainsaw after his prey. There’s even a twisted dinner scene where the waitress is introduced to Mother.
Did Tobe Hooper run into Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby before making this and blab details about his TCM script? Or is this just one of those happy coincidences that DERANGED and TCM were released in the same year? Who knows? All I know is that this is one powerfully creepy movie due to some uncomfortably real looking effects, an inspired performance by Blossom, some quirky direction decisions, and inspiration from one of the most despicable men in US history. DERANGED may be lesser known than TMC, but it is just as powerfully bizarre and terrifying—maybe even more so as it is a film less in the public eye.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!
CONTAMINATION (1980)aka ALIEN CONTAMINATION, CONTAMINATION: ALIEN ON EARTH, ALIEN DROME, TOXIC SPAWN, THE ASTARON
Directed by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
Written by Luigi Cozzi & Erich Tomek (screenplay),
Starring Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn, Carlo De Mejo, Carlo Monni
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Not all films have to be amazing to be good. Take CONTAMINATION, for instance. At face value, it’s an ALIEN rip-off answering the question “what would happen if the xenomorph eggs ever made it to Earth?” Pair it with some creepy old school INVADERS FROM MARS/INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS riffs, and CONTAMINATION feels like a cheap rip-off not worth your time.
And it kind of is a cheap rip-off, but I wouldn’t necessarily encourage folks to write it off. The film has an undeniably dumb charm to it that is hard to put to words, but I’ll try for the sake of reviewing it here.
The overly-convoluted plot begins as a pair of astronauts return from an investigative voyage to Mars. Upon returning, the astronauts come back seemingly unharmed, but changed men. When a cargo of green, pulsating eggs roll into the New York Harbor on an uninhabited ship, a New York cop named Tony (Marino Mase) and a plucky military scientist Stella (Louise Marleau) are assigned to the case to investigate the eggs, discover what they are capable of, and uncover a plot to use these alien relics as weapons of mass destruction. After a crate of the eggs are captured and some terrorists end up exploded from the inside out, Tony and Stella are paired up with another military science-type Ian Hubbard (ZOMBIE and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST’s Ian McCulloch) to travel to South America, where the eggs are supposed to have come from. While there, they discover a plot for world domination with origins from the Red Planet next door.
Full of terrible acting, confusing twists, tedious plot detours, and very little logic, CONTAMINATION’s fun comes from its no fucks given mentality in terms of simply entertaining its audience. If a scene calls for some wanton destruction or gory dismemberments, it’ll pay off in spades. So much of this film simply exists to show off its amazing effects, it almost feels like a showcase for the SyFy show FACE-OFF. But the effects are the best part of this film. Chests burst with explosive force, tearing open clothing and splattering innards in all directions. The pulsating eggs are equally impressive, though a bit too much of an exact copy from the eggs from ALIEN. The Cyclops, a one-eyed alien producing the eggs who devours humans after hypnotizing them, is another FX masterpiece put on full display in the film’s climax. While the acting, directing, and writing may be done with a heavy hand, the effects are full of impact and creativity.
Adding to the madness is a score by Argento’s go-to horror maestros Goblin which not only provides some tantalizing music to back the gore and the semi-intriguing moments, but also provides the bizarre tones that pulsate from the eggs themselves which, once heard, will bore into your brain and never come out (trust me, it took days for the sounds to leave my cranium).
Hokey sci fi beats are out-and-out swiped for the sake of making this patchwork plot work. People are eaten by a big alien only to be reproduced as mindless drones doing its bidding. Chests literally burst much like the chest-burster pubescent alien from ALIEN. The standoff with the alien monster is much like the climax of INVADERS FROM MARS, as a big pulsating brain creature is at the heart of all of this conspiracy. But fitting these pieces together with the Elmer’s glue that is bad directing, writing, acting, and exceptionally good fx makes this film infectiously watchable and undeniably hard to turn away from. Fans of good bad films are going to have a heyday with CONTAMINATION.
Special features include a segment focusing on Luigi Cozzi’s take on the film, a filmed Q&A, “The Sound of the Cyclops” which focuses on the bizarre score of the film, a bit about why Luigi Cozzi used a pseudonym as the director/writer and charting his life as a filmmaker, a segment talking about the similarities between this film and ALIEN called “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery”, a graphic novel about the film, trailer and commentary tracks. If it’s been written, filmed, or recorded about this film, it’s on this comprehensive Arrow Video BluRay.
Retro-review: New on a Double Feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!
THE GODSEND (1980)aka HORROR-BABY
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
Written by Olaf Pooley (screenplay), Bernard Taylor (novel)
Starring Malcolm Stoddard, Cyd Hayman, Angela Pleasence, Patrick Barr, Wilhelmina Green, Angela Deamer, Lee Gregory, Piers Eady
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Children are creepy, with their big eyes and lack of ability to do complex stuff and their reliance on adults for simple things like food, shelter, and protection from larger animals. Sure we hold children near and dear to our hearts, but what happens if this kid is just downright evil? That’s a question posed but never really answered in the killer kid schlocker THE GODSEND. Based on a novel by Bernard Taylor, judging from the film, I wonder what was left out as the movie is one insubstantial event linked after another by a creepy albino kid who stares a lot.
Though I had fun watching THE GODSEND, the alarming way a family of four flits through their lives and adopts this obviously devil-spawned kid made me think that they actually deserved the horrors that befell them. When a freaky-eyed pregnant stranger (played by Angela Pleasence, who looks scarily too much like her father Donald) shows up on their doorstep looking for shelter in the rain, the parents of a large family kindly take them in. She goes into labor and then disappears the next morning, leaving the child behind for the family to adopt. Soon their own kids start dying, mostly due to the fact that the parents leave their children alone entirely too much, and the culprit seems to be this innocent looking-girl (at least to anyone with half a brain, which doesn’t include the idiot parents).
It takes five of their kids dying for them to get savvy to their adopted kid’s murderous tendencies, and while the viewer is supposed to feel for this family, I couldn’t feel anything but frustration because they are the stupidest parents this side of the Octo-mom. Seeing the death of children is always horrific, but when it happens with such wanton stupidity and milked for the most dramatic effect by some very hammy actors, it’s hard to shed anything but barbs of sarcasm for the characters.
THE GODSEND is one of those films that is made to shock and appall, but does neither because they fail to make the characters investment-worthy. Sure no one wants horrible things to happen to characters in films. You want to root for the good guys to survive and triumph, but when they are as stupid as the parents are in this film, it’s almost impossible to do so, leaving this film hollow and forgettable because of the shallow attempts at melodrama and poor execution.
Sorry, I could only find the French trailer of the film below.
New this week on DVD from ARC Entertainment!
AWAKEN (2015)Directed by Mark Atkins
Written by Mark Atkins, Natalie Burn, Scott Martin, Ryan Priest, & Michael Thomas Slifkin
Starring Natalie Burn, Daryl Hannah, Edward Furlong, Vinnie Jones, Robert Davi, Jason London, Michael Paré, David Keith, Michael Copon, Christa Campbell, Augie Duke, Benny Urquidez, Mykayla Sohn, Daz Crawford, Philip Tan, Adrienne McQueen, James Young
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Mark Atkins, director of the bleh SAND SHARKS (reviewed here) and the surprising HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE (reviewed here) tries his hand at a more action-oriented thriller with AWAKEN.
Billie (Natalie Burn) wakes up on a beach on a seemingly deserted island. Disoriented, she soon runs into camouflaged hunters (including Vinnie Jones and Michael Pare) and a group of folks they are hunting. Befriending the hunted, Billie meets Quentin (Robert Davi), who has lived on the island longer than any of the folks who blacked out in a bar and woke up on the beach. Turns out these people are being harvested for fresh organs for an entrepreneur Rich (Jason London), his sideways-glancing assistant Kat (Christa Campbell), and his scruffy doctor (played by David Keith). When an eccentric buyer named Mao (Daryl Hannah) shows up with her ailing daughter, it’s harvesting time and Billie and the rest of the island’s unwilling inhabitants are hunted once again.
Atkins tries really hard here to incorporate all sorts of twists and turns throughout this tale that takes pages from both THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and the organ harvesting urban legend. While I didn’t find many of these turns and twists very surprising, the story is a pretty capable yet standard action/thriller. Atkins keeps the pace moving swiftly enough to sustain my interest all the way through. The themes of harvesting organs and hunting humans have always been favorites of mine and while there is very little gore and true terror, the stakes are pretty high here.
The most entertaining aspect of AWAKEN is playing a game of spot the B/C list actor while watching it. Seeing the likes of Robert Davi, Vinnie Jones, Michael Pare, Jason London, David Keith, Daryl Hannah, Eddie Furlong, and Christa Campbell all in one sitting is pretty amazing, and while these stars may not be shining the brightest at the moment, each are given some fun things to do here occasionally. By the way, the older Furlong gets, the closer he resembles Peter Lorre. Here’s hoping he embraces this and goes for more creepy roles as he does here.
Another real treat is the physicality of Natalie Burn, who offers up both martial arts skill and real presence in this lead role (she co-wrote the film as well). While she needs a bit of work in the acting department, Burn really does carry this movie on her muscular yet still sexy frame alone. The flashbacks to her father’s judo lessons are a nice touch, though the film does suffer some pacing problems as it relies a bit too much on having all of its characters having some kind of origin story. The story often skids to a halt in order to give the spotlight to too many characters, which proved tedious by the end. Still, as a straight up actioner with a cast of a lot of folks we all grew up seeing in some of our favorite films, AWAKEN delivers.
New on BluRay/DVD from IFC Midnight!
DARK SUMMER (2015)Directed by Paul Solet
Written by Mike Le
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Grace Phipps, Peter Stormare, Maestro Harrell
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Paul Solet directed GRACE, a film I really thought was palpably terrifying about post-partum depression through the lens of an undead baby. It was well acted, well paced, and made me squirm in all the ways I want to while watching a horror film. So when I heard Solet had a new film coming, I got pretty excited going on what I’d seen by the director and not much else. Unfortunately, DARK SUMMER is not something to get excited about.
DARK SUMMER focusing on a creepy kid named Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) arrested for stalking a quiet girl from school named Mona (Grace Phipps) and hacking into all of her online accounts, resulting in him being on house arrest with a beeper on his foot that alerts his probation officer (Peter Stormare) if he’s gone online or left the property he’s jailed on. His pals from school Abby and Kevin (Stella Maeve and Maestro Harrell) smuggle in some drugs and some hacking equipment, allowing him to break his bindings, but that only leads to more problems as Daniel gets a Skype call from Mona who offs herself in front of him. Soon after Mona’s death, strange things start happening in Daniel’s home and what first is a story about online stalking quickly turns into one about the supernatural as Daniel is seemingly haunted from beyond the grave by Mona’s vengeful spirit…or at least that’s what it seems.
This movie frustrated the hell out of me. So many aspects of it, from the navel-gazing emo cast to the off-kilter sense of who we should give a shit about, are completely wrong. Apart from Stella Maeve, who has an interesting arc and conflict, being the Eponine to Daniel’s Marius who is blinded with love for his Cosette (Mona), none of the characters are very likable at all. Daniel in particular is utterly dislikable from the get go as it seems we are to feel sorry for him, though he is accused of stalking a woman online, breaking into all of her Twitter, Facebook, and email accounts, and basically making Mona’s life a living hell. The film follows Daniel’s plight and yes, there is a turn of events that makes him slightly more sympathetic that I won’t spoil here, but even with this revelation, he still is an asshole who treats his friends like crap, mopes around with his shirt off listening to emo music, and (poor baby) swims his sorrows away in his backyard pool. This type of privileged boy angst might have been interesting in the 90s, but seeing Daniel slumped over his computer pining for his lost love for the umpteenth time in this film made me want to put my foot through the screen.
Aside from all of that, in the world of DARK SUMMER, there are absolutely no parents to speak of. Daniel’s mom is out of town. When the kids do leave the house for Mona’s home, no parents live there. Abby decides to stay over at Daniel’s house to make sure he’s ok. Does the teenager check with her parents? Nope, because no one but these three kids, the ghost, and apparently the only adult in this world Peter Stormare exist in this film. I understand low budget, but at least make it feel like a world folks live in. This doom and gloom-painted ghost world the characters schlep around in is a plodding navel-gazing hardship.
Tack on some overly complex spells that need to be done in specific order in order to work and this entire film feels like a slightly more mature GOOSEBUMPS episode you’d see at 9pm on the Disney Channel, geared towards scaring tweens before they go to bed. What frustrates me most about this is that I feel there might have been some potential here. The final scene is actually kind of cool and ties the entire film together thematically with a conversation had at the beginning. The concept of online stalking is interesting, as are the spells that are being tossed around. But for some reason, this particular combination of all of these elements fails miserably. Here’s hoping director Paul Solet is able to recover from this stumble of a film, as GRACE really showed a lot of potential. DARK SUMMER does not have such qualities.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE UNWANTED (2013)aka CARMILLA
Directed by Bret Wood
Written by Bret Wood & Sheridan Le Fanu
Starring Hannah Fierman, Christen Orr, William Katt, Jane Bass, Kylie Brown, Chris Burns, Neal R. Hazard, Elizabeth Hunter, Tracy Martin, Lynn Talley
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Using vampirism as a metaphor for lesbianism and other countercultures outside of what is often referred to as the “norm” is not uncommon in horror. There have been plenty of screen versions of the story of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s CARMILLA which have mixed same sex relations with creatures of the night, Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS being probably the most popular. Carmilla has been the vampy antagonist in many films. Here all forms of metaphor are shucked away and in its place is a good old Southern gothic horror film about two lost souls coming together through adversity.
THE UNWANTED begins when a homeless woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) shows up at the a farm house in search of information about her mother Millarca (Kylie Brown), who disappeared not long ago. The home is owned by a man named Troy (a scruffy looking William Katt) and his daughter Laura (V/H/S’ “I like you” monster Hannah Fierman), and though Troy turns Carmilla away at first, Laura finds herself drawn to the drifter. Soon Carmilla is staying with the two in the guest room and old skeletons come falling out of the closet. Seems Troy’s deceased wife Karen (Lynn Talley) had an affair with Millarca years ago, which ended suddenly. Troy is obviously keeping secrets from his daughter and Carmilla, but when Carmilla and Laura become close, these secrets begin to boil to the surface as Troy sees history repeating itself.
What I respect about THE UNWANTED is that while dropping all vampire traits of the story, it still possesses all of the power that often goes along with vamp flicks. There’s passion, lost loves, powerful forces at play, magnetism, forbidden desires, and all the usual fodder that shows up in most romanticized vampire movies. There’s even bloodletting of a different kind, in that Laura is a cutter and loves to have Carmilla drink from her wounds while they make love. Cementing this film in reality ups the ante for more tension and even more realistic scares as Troy begins to act violently once the structure of his small family is endangered once again. Bret Wood has constructed a rock solid story which talks about how family can often get in the way of relationships, be they same sex or otherwise. Never in Wood’s solid adaptation did I miss the mystical element of the vampire as the horrors that occur to these well thought out characters are so well realized.
THE UNWANTED has quite a few great performances. First and foremost, this is the best performance William Katt has given in years. He offers up a nice amount of menace as a once-burned man who will do anything to protect his daughter from suffering from the same fate. While the relationship between Fierman and Orr is intense and rather melodramatic, this is a relationship between young adults which often goes to those places, so this didn’t really bother me. It’s definitely more believable and less pain-inducing than the romance we’ve had pounded in our heads in a TWILIGHT film or TRUE BLOOD, mostly due to the powerful performances and the intensity of the story.
While I’m all for the kind of less romanticized version of the vampire film where the creatures of the night tear into humans like monsters, when done well, a more romantic take is ok too. In THE UNWANTED, the film takes what we know of vampires and sets that upon the canvas of a real life scandal, so while there are no bats or inhuman abs of steel, THE UNWANTED has a dark and painful soul that makes it engrossing to watch and made me unable to turn away in the highly suspenseful (and surprisingly violent) final moments. Seek out THE UNWANTED if you’re the type who likes unconventional horror. You’re bound to be pleased.
New this week on DVD!
SILENT RETREAT (2013)Directed by Tricia Lee
Written by Corey Brown & Tricia Lee
Starring Chelsea Jenish, Sofia Banzhaf, Robert Nolan, Jen Pogue, Matthew Romantini, Mark Buck, Jennie Foster, Katie Buitendyk, Jenna Jade Rain
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While sound is often essential in film, the absence of it also can speak volumes. Look at films like GRAVITY and THE SHINING as the silences in those films hit like sledgehammers more powerful than the shrillest of screams. SILENT RETREAT is a new film which incorporates silence pretty effectively, though I wish it would have been the case through the entire film.
Chelsea Jenish plays Janey, a troubled teen who is sent to a radical treatment center in the middle of nowhere for aggressive behavior. The treatment center is led by a man simply known as Doctor (Robert Nolan from the excellent horror short FAMILIAR – reviewed here) and his two sons. This center is a silent retreat, meaning there is no talking, no music, no computer, no movies at all. It’s supposed to be a place of reflection where the troubled girls are to look inward in order to become rehabilitated to return to their homes with a fresh, new, more appreciative, and more appropriate outlook on life. Right away Janey begins to see weird things happening at the retreat. She loses time. Girls are escorted away in the middle of meditation to a locked shed. While most of the other girls at the camp want nothing to do with her, she does find companionship with another girl, Alexis (played by the spunky Sofia Banzhaf), who has as much disregard for the rules as she does. Soon they plan on escaping the facility, but even if they do get out of the camp, there’s something in the woods that they could never dream of.
While I don’t want to reveal much, this is a film that turns out to be a whole lot of fun. The concept of silence is played with, but more so, it’s used as a metaphor for the degradation and silence women often face. In many ways this seems like a women’s lib horror film about thirty years too late and while it may be a dusty concept, it still makes for fun fodder to play with. Still, I wish overcoming the silence wasn’t so prominent here and actual silence would have been used more effectively here. The scenes where the girls are walking around in silence are somewhat powerful, and I wanted more of them to accentuate not only that power, but also highlight the times when sounds do occur. While touched upon, I don’t know if this concept was reached to its full effect.
Though it’s bound to cause some groans, there is a THE VILLAGE vibe to this film as a community in the middle of nowhere is haunted by some kind of monstrosity in the woods. But while the big twist reveal in M. Night’s gave everyone the bends, this one has solid creature effects throughout and a very unique monster that reminded me somewhat of the creatures in another girl power film, THE DESCENT. What is it with girls and pale cave creatures, anyway?
The film is solidly acted all around, with Robert Nolan proving to be one of those actors I can’t wait to see break big. He has a sharp yet callous tone reminiscent of Bob Gunton’s performance in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and is an actor that makes for a great villain. Newcomers Chelsea Jenish and Sofia Banzhaf are both likable and root for-able and seem filled with that scampy spirit needed for these teen rogues.
SILENT RETREAT turned out to be a tense little beast of a movie that has some powerfully terrifying moments interspersed with some even more impactful silences. While it left me wanting a bit more in terms of stylization of the silences, what I got was pretty rock solid.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Doppelganger Releasing!
ALLELUIA (2014)Directed by Fabrice Du Welz
Written by Fabrice Du Welz (screenplay), Romain Protat (adaptation & dialog), Vincent Tavier (co-writer)
Starring Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Héléna Noguerra, Édith Le Merdy, Anne-Marie Loop, Stéphane Bissot
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Loosely based on the Lonely Hearts Killers Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck, director Fabrice Du Welz offers up a powerful and grotesque film about how ugly love can be in ALLELUIA.
VOLVER’s Lola Duenas plays Gloria, a single mom who has accepted her loneliness as inevitable and refuses to make a change in her life. When her friend sets her up on an online date with Michel (Laurent Lucas), she is reluctant to go, but soon finds the quirky shoe salesman attractive and interesting. Flinging herself into the relationship, she is quickly taken advantage of as Michel swindles her out of a large sum of money and then disappears. But while she is tempted to fall into depression, Gloria seeks out Michel who is in the middle of a new con. Instead of lashing out for his deceit, Gloria instead seems to understand why Michel does what he does and sets out to help him in his cons so that the both of them can accrue a large amount of money and live happily ever after. But Gloria doesn’t take into account how insanely jealous she can be and the non-violent cons Michel is used to pulling off soon turn gory as hell. Leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, Michel and Gloria bop from one rich widow to the next trying to find happiness.
The effectiveness of this film lies in the fact that we are watching a deeply disturbed individual in Gloria. Duenas is unhinged from the first scene in the film, like THE BABADOOK, she is a stressed out and lonely mother who is barely keeping things together. But unlike THE BABADOOK, in which the stresses of motherhood pick at the protagonist’s psyche, ALLELUIA takes a more extreme route and allows for Gloria a bit of happiness. All it takes it this glimmer of something special in her life again, and Gloria tosses out everything to attain it. Leaving her child behind with her friends, Gloria embarks on this doomed mission to find happiness with Michel becoming more and more insane as the film goes on. Still, as evidenced after her first kill when Gloria sings a sad little song over the body of her first victim in front of her and wishing Michel safe travels, Gloria is an absolute nutcase. Seeing Duenas lash out in explosive fury at seeing Michel with another woman time and again is disturbing because you know Gloria is a mother and has so much to lose, yet cares nothing for any of it in favor of her own happiness.
If this were a Hollywood film, somewhere along the line Gloria would realize the error of her ways and find some way to return to her daughter, but this is not that type of film. This is a film that deals with the absolutely horrific side of love, where you lose oneself in the futile pursuit of finding happiness solely by being with someone else. This is not a comfortable feeling and in turn, this is a truly uncomfortable movie for folks to sit through. While there is a lot of sex, none of it is there for titillation. It’s to highlight even more how ugly and misshapen this love between Gloria and Michel truly is. The horror in ALLELUIA comes from the twisted form the love between these two damaged individuals takes shape.
Unsettling, unremorseful, and utterly soul crushing, ALLELUIA is an effective horror on a personal level some folks won’t be comfortable with. But through the fantastic performances by Duenas and Lucas and the grotesque lens writer/director Fabrice Du Welz views this twisted love, it is a film that is hard to shake long after the credits roll.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Severin!
LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2014)Directed by David Gregory
Starring Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Hugh Dickson, Oli Dickson, Peter Elliott, Bruce Fuller, Michael Gingold, David Grasso Jr., Marco Hofschneider, David Hudson, Graham Humphreys, Kier-La Janisse, Paul Katte, Fiona Mahl, Rob Morrow, Emile Nicolaou, Edward R. Pressman, James Sbardellati, Robert Shaye, Tim Sullivan
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Having read the vague reports in FANGORIA as a kid and talked with Richard Stanley a few years ago about the subject of this documentary, I was chomping at the bit to dive into LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. While the true film Stanley envisioned will most likely never see the light of day (though one can hope), this documentary is the closest thing to seeing the film itself as it takes you step by step through the arduous and catastrophic voyage of this seemingly jinxed film from first inkling to final shot.
While key players like Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Bruce Willis, Ron Perlman, and obviously Marlon Brando and John Frankenheimer (since they have both passed on) are absent from this documentary, the film does offer up an impressive set of interviews and recountings from actress Faruza Balk, producer Edward Pressman, New Line President Bob Shaye, and most importantly Richard Stanley himself. Stanley is a fascinating director to me, having shown such promise with HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL. There was something about the director that really felt distinct and special; kind of in the same way Clive Barker burst into the scene all of those years ago. His films were unpredictable, often times difficult to describe in a singular sentence, and imbued with a mysticism that took the viewer to new and dangerous places. The film does a great job of mapping out Stanley’s fascination with H.G.Wells story as it shows the mountains of sketches, storyboards, and ideas cluttered around Stanley’s office to this day. Stanley knows his material as he recounts his feelings of previous incarnations of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and its knockoffs like THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE. He talks about how he envisions how H.G. Wells would make a modern day Moreau tale as well. These opening scenes as Stanley still enthusiastically recounts his own ideas as well as praises toward the depth of Wells’ ideas as well. In terms of understanding the jist of the material, Stanley had it all down pat.
But as the film plays out expertly, there were forces against Stanley mounting almost from the beginning. Interviews with Pressman and Shaye indicate that they never really felt Stanley could handle the film and while this would have been a great opportunity for Stanley to impress the hell out of them and make them eat their hats, hurricanes, unfortunate accidents, and seemingly Stanley’s inability to direct on such a large scope worked again him which resulted in Stanley being replaced with John Frankenheimer. And while the film goes on the follow the film after Frankenheimer is attached to the film, this doc is firmly following Stanley as its thruway; depicting his depression and mental breakdown after losing the project and the now infamous measures he took to check in on the project even after he was banned from the set by donning a dogman costume and mingling among the extras. As if this loony story isn’t weird enough, by the time they get to the scenes talking about Stanley in costume as a dogman (he himself pointing out the irony of how just as Moreau is a dethroned god in the film, he himself is delegated from overseer/director of the film to one of the dogmen extras), I couldn’t believe how crazy this whole journey really was.
Interviews with PA’s and extras help flesh out the behind the scenes stuff about Brando and Kilmer’s rivalry and downright sabotage of the film. The film does a fantastic job of illustrating how bringing Stanley, Brando, Kilmer, and Frankenheimer all together is the perfect storm of cinematic catastrophe. The levels of lunacy in the making of this film are epic with one story out-crazying the previous by often hilarious proportions. And still, at the heart of it all, the director manages to anchor us all down with all of Stanley’s imagination and flaws as both a person and a director. The youthful glee about the entire film may have been the one thing that destroyed his chances and at the heart of this film, it is an extremely sad film to see how Hollywood can chew up dreams as they did here.
Those of you who were paying attention to the stories swirling about the creation of Stanley’s THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU will definitely want to check LOST SOUL out as will those who appreciate such films that were never made docs like MAN OF LA MANCHA and JODOROWSKY’S DUNE. But LOST SOUL is much more akin to the APOCALYPSE NOW doc HEARTS OF DARKNESS as it seems both films were destined never to be made. APOCALYPSE NOW overcame the odds. Stanley’s THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU did not, which makes this tale all the more heartbreaking and effective. This is one of my favorite films of the year and no one who has ever reached for the stars and found themselves fighting for every inch should miss this tragic, entertaining, often hilarious, and downright soul-wrenching documentary.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand next week from IFC Films!
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT (2015)Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Written by Tim Talbott
Starring Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, Logan Miller, Johnny Simmons, James Wolk, Nelsan Ellis, Olivia Thirlby, Matt Bennett, Jesse Carere, Brett Davern, James Frecheville, Miles Heizer, Jack Kilmer, Callan McAuliffe, Benedict Samuel, Chris Sheffield, Harrison Thomas, Albert Malafronte, Danielle Lauder, Jim Klock, Kate Butler, James C. Victor, Fred Ochs
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT is not really a horror film, but there are moments in this film that stand out as some of the more horrific moments I’ve seen in film in recent memory. Because it definitely qualifies as a psychological thriller, I feel comfortable covering it in AICN HORROR and any fan of asylum/prison/psychologically dense films should put THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT on their must see list.
Though his monster is a place and not a creature made of parts of the dead, Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) can definitely be considered a Dr. Frankenstein of sorts. Zimbardo is interested in how people fall into specific roles given the situation and in an experiment crafted to illustrate how the prison system effects the state of mind of not only the prisoners, but also the guards, he devises an experiment which takes 24 men and placing them in a mock prison built in the basement of one of the college buildings abandoned for the summer. Randomly assigning 12 of the men to be prison guards and 12 to be inmates, Zimbardo and his team are shocked to see how fast the guards became abusive and how difficult it was for the inmates to become demoralized at their mistreatment. Though the experiment was to go on for two weeks, it was shut down after six days when things got entirely too real and dangerous.
This film was utterly engrossing in the way it plainly plays out the experiment and how it crumbles around Dr. Zimbardo so quickly. Portraying Zimbardo as somewhat easily influenced and eager to jump into the role of the warden of the prison immediately compromises the integrity of the experiment, but Billy Crudup plays the character as too close to the project to notice how unethical he has become. As the guards and prisoners continue to develop a rancorous relationship; the guards getting more extreme in their punishment and downright torture of the prisoners, and the prisoners staging revolts and losing their minds, Crudup’s Zimbardo watches wide eyed and frazzled at what is transpiring. And while his cohorts watching the experiment from a secret control room urge him to stop the experiment, Zimbardo refuses, wondering how far it will go. Crudup is amazing here as the scientist who blindfolds himself from how much of a toll this experiment is taking on the subjects with only the results in mind all the way.
From start to finish, my fingers were clenched as the stakes are raised by the minute. This is a true story with much of the events reenacted almost exactly to tapes recovered from the experiment. Knowing that from frame one makes everything feel all the more hard to watch as almost immediately, the guards’ power goes to their head and they begin abusing the helpless prisoners. I’ve always been fascinated by the way the mind works and seeing these guards corrupted with power is both heart-wrenching and fascinating all at once. Like Crudup’s Zimbardo, I wanted to see how far these guards would go and horrifically, they go very, very far indeed.
Leading the guards abuse of power is Michael Angarano’s Christopher Archer. Hardly recognizable in a beard, Gary Oldman from THE PROFESSIONAL hair, and dark sunglasses, Archer plays up the prison guard role as if he stepped right out of COOL HAND LUKE with a Southern accent and everything. Angarano is a delight here as he ups the ante by the day in terms of abuse and coldly barks out orders, all the while maintaining a charm as if this work he is assigning the prisoners is a blessing and himself a saint for giving it to them. Angarano has been in the Jet Li/Jackie Chan flick THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM and SKY HIGH, but never has he shown such talent and ferocity as he does here. If there is a standout performance here, its Angarano and after seeing his performance I am immediately interested in what he’s doing next.
But Angarano and Crudup are just two actors that make up a phenomenal cast of actors you’ve seen in many other films. None of them may be huge stars yet, but in two years, I guarantee this film will be one of those movies that gathered tomorrow’s stars and highlighted their varied skills. Names like Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Keir Gilchrist, Johnny Simmons, and practically everyone else in this film may not be household names, but they are names that will decorate marquees of tomorrow given their heart wrenching and engrossing performances here.
Filmed with no frills and in a colorless stark haze, THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT is a modern day A CLOCKWORK ORANGE with heavy doses of LORD OF THE FLIES all viewed through the lens of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Making this all the more horrifying is that it all really happened. Filled with absolutely amazing performances and moving at a grueling unflinching pace, THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT is a terror that will fray your mind and make you wonder about the horrors the human race is capable up given unchecked power and the opportunity to lord it over the weak. Highly, highly recommended!
New this week on BluRay, DVD, On Demand, and digital download from Dimension/Anchor Bar/Radius!
IT FOLLOWS (2014)Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Written by David Robert Mitchell
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Jake Weary, Debbie Williams, Ruby Harris, Leisa Pulido, Linda Boston, D.J. Oliver, Loren Bass, Carollette Phillips, Ingrid Mortimer, Kourtney Bell, Alexyss Spradlin, Mike Lanier, Claire Sloma, Scott Norman, Erin Stone, Joanna Bronson, Don Hails, Ele Bardha
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I stayed silent about one of the most talked about horror films of the year, mainly because I wanted to check out the film without the baggage of all of the praise. I saw the film in theaters a while back, long after it was released, but didn’t write a review, because I felt, in order to do justice for it, I would have to see it again as it is a depthy little film that deserves more than just a quick review. That said, I am one to occasionally be influenced negatively when a movie is praised so highly. Either it’s the rebel in me that doesn’t want to agree with the masses or just that I fine tune my critical eye to seek out weaknesses that I may give other films a pass on. Whatever the reason I haven’t covered IT FOLLOWS until it is being released on BluRay/DVD, I feel I’ve been able to view it a few times and sit with it long enough to properly give the film the dissection it deserves.
What makes IT FOLLOWS so good are many things. The soundtrack and score is utterly unique and can only compared to Carpenter-esque mood synth music. The characters and the actors playing them are likable, realistic, and relatable. And the premise is a winner in the fact that it is stylistically unique and metaphorically rich. I’ll be delving into all three of these aspects here as I feel that these are the things that make this film as effective as it is.
But before that, the main reason why IT FOLLOWS works, in my mind, is that it follows the tropes etched in stone by John Carpenter with HALLOWEEN almost as if it were following the film as a roadmap in the dark. In the original HALLOWEEN, the threat isn’t Michael Myers, but the Shape, a silent monster that stalks its victims. He is often seen in the background, obscured by the focus on the main characters oblivious to the approaching threat. Look at the scenes of the tree lined streets in HALLOWEEN as Laurie Strode and her friends walk home from school and compare them to the final scene in this film and they are structured almost exactly alike. Up to about the midway point and even a bit beyond that, beat for beat, key scenes in IT FOLLOWS can be almost replaced with scenes from HALLOWEEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The classroom scene where the passages taught in class vaguely relate to the impending threat is featured in both HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE. Just like Laurie Strode and Nancy Thompson, IT FOLLOWS lead Jay (THE GUEST’s Maika Monroe) is barely paying attention to this important lesson being spoken to her in school and instead is distracted by the threat she sees out the window. Also like NIGHTMARE, Jay has a relationship with a boy across the street (Daniel Zovatto who even looks like a young Johnny Depp) and is unable to alert him as the monster gets closer to him. The similarities between IT FOLLOWS and HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE are abundant if you look for the tropes.
That’s not to say that IT FOLLOWS is not an original and amazing film. Horror is all about tropes; well worn avenues with which to build suspenseful situations. IT FOLLOWS just does this in a manner that is both reminiscent of some of the best horror films out there, yet still wholly original in execution. If you’re going to copy something, copy from the best and IT FOLLOWS pulls from some of the best films in horror in terms of story beats.
But it’s the music that helps set the tone from the first frame. Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpiece fills this film with resonant dread. Even in scenes that are meant to be lighter, as the kids are watching old horror films, there’s a dull din in the background. Much more subtle than Carpenter often in your face synth, Vreeland does a fantastic job of making this film sound so much different than any other horror film you’ve seen before. And while the attention to music and how it leads the tone is all Carpenter, again, this film takes that first notion and makes it its own pushing key scenes to deafening levels of suspense.
A good cast also helps and IT FOLLOWS stars some of tomorrow’s hit list actors. While everyone talked about Dan Stevens in THE GUEST, I was most impressed with Maika Monroe’s subtle and melancholy performance in that film. That spectral sadness is again conveyed in Monroe’s Jay, who is possibly a child of abuse herself as she lingers on the photos of her father and reacts to the follower who looks like him with such terror. Jay is likable and plucky, but still carries with her a heft that most kids her age shouldn’t have to carry. For such a young actress, she is believable in every scene she is in and carries this entire film on her shoulders. Big things are in store for Monroe and it’s fantastic to see her in these genre films. But around Monroe are equally talented actors. DARK SUMMER’s Keir Gilchrist does a fantastic job without many lines himself. He says it all in the way he looks at Jay and while at times he is somewhat creepy, it’s interesting to see that Jay had a follower even before the curse was put upon her. Seeing Gilchrist’s Paul change from creeper to hero in this film is a somewhat wobbly road, but he makes it work. The third actor to stand out for me was BENEATH’s Daniel Zovatto who looks so much like a young Depp, it’s uncanny. Again, this is not a flat character. Zovatto’s Greg is somewhat noble, but also a player. He’s likable, but dangerous. It’s the same kind of complexity that Depp conveyed early on before he got all Burton-esque. Finally, I can’t fail to mention Olivia Luccardi who plays a small role here as the quirky Yara, but her character is so odd with her thick glasses and clamshell iPhone that she feels as if she has a story of her own going on outside of this film and it’s equally interesting.
But the real thing that sets IT FOLLOWS apart from the rest of the hook. Sex and death is a metaphor often played with in horror, but this film links the two in a way that is truly original and because of this concept that a curse can be passed on through sex is so distinct, immediately making me forgive the film for any aping it does to horror classics. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has come up with a winner of an idea. An endless paper trail of sex and terror that goes back to an unknown and dark infinity that is never dealt with in this film. The threat plays on urban legend. It is relevant to the times we live in. And also hits that emotional core of the risk one takes giving their heart and body to someone and how that trust can be manipulated and damaged. The creativity behind the threat itself is what makes IT FOLLOWS stand out as one of the best horrors of the year.
So while there is a lot of familiar aspects to IT FOLLOWS, the film manages to add enough elements (music, cast, hook) to make it seem like something wholly original. The film comes with a few features, one of which is a commentary track from AICN’s very own Quint (Eric Vespe), among other horror critics talking about much of what I have discussed above. IT FOLLOWS may follow the blueprint of great horror films, but it does so with style and flair that makes it hard not to watch and love.
And finally…with SDCC 2015 still banging around in my head, I still can’t get over how cool that new SUICIDE SQUAD trailer was.
Keeping with the horrific comic character vibe, here’s SWEET MADNESS, a fan film focused on one of the stars of SUICIDE SQUAD, Harley Quinn (played here by Madeleine Wade). Check out this film by Peter Dukes honoring the popular and undeniably batshit crazy comic book anti-heroine!
And feel free to check out Dukes’ company Dreamseekers 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.
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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!