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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Here’re more horrors old and new for you to scroll past, judge, and possibly seek out to satiate your own taste for terror!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: SALOME (1972)
Retro-review: THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974)
Retro-review: THE DEVIL HUNTER (1980)
Retro-review: METAMORPHOSIS (1990)
POD (2015)
SINISTER 2 (2015)
Advance Review: THE DEMOLISHER (2015)
And finally…”The Horror of Dead Lake!”

Retro-review: New this week on DVD/BluRay as a Clive Barker Origins double feature from MVD Visual!

SALOME (1973)

Directed by Clive Barker
Written by Clive Barker and Oscar Wilde
Starring Doug Bradley, Anne Taylor, Graham Bickley, Clive Barker, Phil Rimmer, Lyn Darnell, Julia Blake
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Student short films are often pretty arduous to watch. Dripping with pretension and obvious references to the classics scream nascent filmmaker without a two original thoughts to rub together. But sometimes, early works can show the seeds of a truly imaginative soul. A new re-release of Clive Barker’s first two short films was just put out with reduxed sound and a cleared up picture and I feel the seeds are present in the great work Barker had for us in the future, but still, there’s that whiff of pretention that can’t be denied.

This time around, I checked out SALOME, a silent and black and white representation of Oscar Wilde’s biblical play about a dancer named Salome who enchants and entices all with her sweet dance moves and causes the murder of John the Baptist; his head presented on a silver platter at the end of the piece. In Barker’s version, Salome’s groove entices an angelic being down from heaven. When the beauty of her dance kills the being, Salome is punished and killed.

The cross between the biblical and the diabolical, which are always present in Barker’s work, are front and center here as is the tender balancing act between the grotesque and the gorgeous. Doused in heavy shadows, the film (which runs a little over 17 minutes) still has a rather tedious pace to it, lingering on Salome’s dancing form and the dancing of lights and darks. Though it’s not the most exciting of shorts, it does show Barker’s creative strengths in the visuals that he captures. SALOME is probably only going to please die hard Barker fans as it doesn’t really feel like a fully realized story. Rather, it feels more like Barker just playing around with the camera and seeing what he can do with it. Still, this is an interesting short as it shows an undeveloped, yet obviously talented soul behind the lens.

Below is an interview with Mr. Barker talking about the two short films SALOME and THE FORBIDDEN which is also included in this disk.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Glass Doll Films!


Directed by John Peyser
Written by Arthur Marks (story), Bob Peete (screenplay)
Starring Andrew Prine, Jaime Lyn Bauer, Aldo Ray, Dennis Olivieri, Janet Wood, Teda Bracci, Tallie Cochrane, Paula Shaw, John Hart, Ray Danton, Francine York, Jeremy Slate, Mike Mazurki, Jennifer Ashley, Kitty Carl, Ruthy Ross, John Denos, Janus Blythe, Tiffany Bolling, Connie Strickland, Anneka Di Lorenzo
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS is not a particularly great film. For the most part, it’s a pretty exploitative feature that simply shows tame T&A and then kills said T&A pretty quickly after that. But the time this film was made makes it an interesting film to talk about.

Made in 1974, well before the slasher film template was made with scores of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH films and their ilk, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS goes a different route and jumps from one soon-to-be murder scene after another instead of focusing on a specific female final girl and her friends for the bulk of the film. We sort of follow maniac Clement Dunne (THE TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN and GRIZZLY’s Andrew Prine) as he leafs through a girly mag not unlike Playboy and then stalks and kills them because he believes them to be impure by showing the world their naked bodies. But instead of getting any insight into Dunne’s character—his motivation is pretty much what he says it is to the girls he phones and warms, though he does seem to take some kind of enjoyment in watching the models disrobe over and over, we simply jaunt from one woman to the next in pretty quick succession with Dunne and the murders being the only through-way in the film until finally one of the models gets the better on him and the film abruptly ends.

This makes for a rather disjointed little film. One portion follows a group of freewheeling hippies who are being stalked and killed, but no one survives and we follow Dunne as he stalks another group of models on an island, and then another one in the city. If this were a modern film, all of these models would be set up in a Hefner style mansion with a grotto and the killer would off them one by one until the final girl takes him out. But in this film, the scope is a bit broader and the slasher template (not yet fully realized) simply follows one act of violence after another.

And while this film is low on scares and blood, the unconventional framework of the film at least made it interesting to watch. It made THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS much more unpredictable and had the scares, the acting, the script, and the gore been a bit more prominent, I feel THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS would have been an influential film, rather than the dusty lost film it actually is. So while you most likely won’t be scared much and there’s not a lot of blood, those who like narratives that you can’t predict might be interested in checking out THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS as it kept me interested because it is so unlike most stalker films I’ve seen.

Retro-review: New on a double feature BluRay from Severin Films!


Directed by Jesús Franco (as Clifford Brown)
Written by Julián Esteban (as Julius Valery), Jess Franco
Starring Ursula Buchfellner, Al Cliver, Antonio Mayans, Antonio de Cabo, Gisela Hahn, Werner Pochath, Melo Costa, Aline Mess, Claude Boisson & Bertrand Altmann as the Devil!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Paired with CANNIBAL TERROR (which I reviewed last week), THE DEVIL HUNTER is more sexploitation/monster movie than a straight up cannibal yarn that we’ve all seen so many times.

Jesus “Jess” Franco directs this foray into the dark jungles of South America. When a supermodel named Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner) is kidnapped by thugs and taken to a cannibal encampment, she is offered up to their Devil God as a sacrifice. But adventurer Peter Weston (Al Cliver) is hired to go in, battle the tribes and their monster god, and get her out alive.

While the setting is different, there are a lot of familiar traits seen in many of Franco’s films. The bondage and S&M themes are prevalent for most of the film as the cannibals strip Buchfellner nude and chain her up for most of the runtime. Franco, always one to relish in savoring the sight of a woman’s form, takes his time showing one scene after another of Buchfellner writhing and screaming in terror. She doesn’t have a lot of character at all in this film. As with much of Franco’s work, the lead actress is an object to be tortured, ogled, and possessed as she is passed on from one party to another and is seen as an object of desire for the press, an object to rescue for Weston, and an object to sacrifice for the cannibals.

The true oddity of the film is the Devil God, a bug eyed and naked giant African American man who lumbers around like he can’t see through his makeup. There are some glossy and moody POV shots here that show us that Carpenter wasn’t the first at seeing the horror through the monster’s eyes. While the Devil God looks goofy sometimes, he often is actually quite scary as he pretty much looks exactly like the totem pole the cannibals worship. Reminiscent of the old monster movies of yesteryear like THE CREATURE FROM THE BACK LAGOON, the Devil God is pictured carrying Buchfellner around lying across his arms.

THE DEVIL HUNTER isn’t a good film by a long shot, but as with most Franco films, there is a higher class of artsy-ness prevalent in this film that gives it a boost up past most of the cannibal exploitation films. Incorporating a good level of sleaze that is often present in Franco’s work and shifting it a bit to fit the cannibal mode makes it a unique little film. The goofy, yet creepy monster also makes this one a bit more watchable, though the runtime is rather long.

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


Directed by George Eastman
Written by George Eastman
Starring Gene Lebrock, Catherine Baranov, Harry Cason, David Wicker, Jason Arnold, Stephen Brown, Tom Story, Anna Colona, Wally Doyle, Laura Gemser, Serina Steinberg, Wayne Potrafka, Tim Wright, Allison Stokes
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Heavily influenced by David Cronenberg’s THE FLY and Ken Russell’s ALTERED STATES, but done on about a quarter of the budget and a fractional amount of brain cells is George Eastman’s METAMORPHOSIS; not to be confused with METAMORPHOSIS: THE ALIEN FACTOR which was made in the same year.

Gene Lebrock plays brilliant geneticist Dr. Peter Houseman who is onto a breakthrough in cracking the genetic code bridging the gap between man and his next evolutionary stage. Though his social skills need a lot of work, Peter has caught the eye of his colleague Sally Donnelly (Catherine Baranov) and while he is forming a relationship with her, he is also testing his new methods on himself. Awakening a more bestial side in him, Peter believes he is dreaming of wandering the streets at night and tearing apart women. But he realizes these are not dreams a little too late as his body is beginning to transform into something inhuman.

From the get go, George Eastman decides to follow the typical mad scientist template step by step. It’s not that he does this badly; it’s just that he does it with so much lack of creativity that makes METAMORPHOSIS easy to ridicule. Everything from the love affair with his co-scientist to the attempt to make Peter sympathetic as he undergoes this transformation is forced and unconvincing. While there are moments of fun such as Peter, half-formed into some kind of lizard being, escapes from the hospital in a trench coat after killing a visiting colleague. But these moments are few and far between and stretched out with really bad attempts at beefing this film up dramatically. Most of this failure to be convincingly resonant rests on the shoulders of the actors who just aren’t up to par with the emotions the story is asking of them.

It is entertaining to watch Gene Lebrock freak out as Peter becomes more and more like a man lizard. Looking like Christian Bale’s long lost older brother, he epitomizes the eighties douche Bale characterized so well in AMERICAN PSYCHO, but the problem here is that Lebrock just can’t help it while Bale was acting.

The effects are absolutely laughable. While Peter’s midway transformation is decent prosthetics, his final form is brought to life as a paper-maché monstrosity. The man-sized T-Rex is barely articulated and obscured by tons of smoke and shadow, most likely because Eastman understood how goofy the thing looked and wanted to hide as much as possible to avoid embarrassing himself. Well, the director didn’t really succeed and METAMORPHOSIS is a stinker of a film with a final scene that takes the cake at being absolutely idiotic.

Paired with BEYOND DARKNESS on this Bluray double feature, I’m hoping the second feature (which I’ll be reviewing in a future column) is better than what this film turned out to be.

New this week on DVD from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Jake Hawkins, Andy Phelps
Written by Jake Hawkins, Andy Phelps
Starring Eric Colvin, Jim Sweeney, Danny Brown, Simon Burbage, Jade Colucci, Joe Rainbow, Rachel Nottingham, Shamiso Mushambi, Georgia Winters, & Rupert Phelps as the Messiah!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While zombie films have become a bit passé these days, ZOMBIE RESURRECTION at least tries to give us something new. That doesn’t mean it’s a stellar film, but it makes things a bit more interesting than your usual zombie yarn.

ZOMBIE RESURRECTION opens rather typically with a group of mismatched survivors wandering around and occasionally encountering a zombie or three. There’s a few soldiers, a teacher type, an 80’s looking hottie, a schoolgirl and a schoolboy, a pregnant woman and a scientist in prison overalls; all thrown together simply because they’ve survived long enough. Soon they encounter a different kind of zombie; something faster and more aggressive. Turns out there is a zombie messiah raising the dead from being dead and changing zombies back to humans. Of course, this is a major discovery and while they aren’t busy trying to kill one another, the humans try to save themselves and see if this zombie messiah can somehow reverse this zombie apocalypse.

Though comics like DEADWORLD have breached the subject of a zombie messiah, this is a relatively new concept in the world of cinema. So I’ve got to give it to this film for trying something new. The main problem here is that it takes its sweet time to get to the new stuff. The bulk of the movie is made up of the same old WALKING DEAD tropes of mismatched survivors trying to live and get along with one another. Most of them being assholes, this is a hard thing to do and while the human drama is always the real conflict of these zombie films, this one is made up of characters that aren’t that depthy and therefore not very interesting.

About halfway through the film the twist of the zombie messiah shows up and things get more interesting. Some fun is had with folks believing in the zombie messiah or not, while more fun is had with the messiah reviving dead folks or changing undead ones. This is the highlight of the film as it delves into some new territory involving belief and faith; something that isn’t often breached in other zombie flicks. The problem is that this film is rather uneven because it takes its sweet time to get to the new stuff. Once there, the film takes off and becomes something a little more interesting, but you have to be patient to get to these parts.

Had this film peppered in the zombie messiah stuff more evenly, I think I would have liked ZOMBIE RESURRECTION a bit more. As is, it feels uneven. It looks pretty fantastic with a cold and highly contrasted look and some of the scenes of zombie carnage are pretty gory and great. It’s just too bad it takes so much time to get to the new stuff. So if you’re looking for a decent zombie movie that turns into something pretty unique by the last half, ZOMBIE RESURRECTION will fit the bill. It just doesn’t get to the new stuff until it’s almost too late to save it.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from Magnolia Pictures!


Directed by Simeon Halligan
Written by Ian Fenton
Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Lee Williams, Joanne Mitchell, James McCreadie, Dominic Kay
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Formerly known as WHITE SETTLERS, American audiences are treated to this film under the less racial sounding title, THE BLOOD LANDS. But whatever it’s called, I found THE BLOOD LANDS to be much more interesting in theme than execution.

The film dissects what ownership really means. If a piece of land is in one’s ownership for ages, does that still give the people living on it a right to be there? Or should land, like everything else in this age of the almighty dolla, be bought and sold to the highest bidder, tossing tradition by the wayside in favor of profit? Questions like these are asked in this story of a young couple who buy a patch of land in the middle of Scotland only to find the original owners not so ready to give up their homestead.

The true standout here are the performances by THE WOMAN’s Pollyanna McIntosh and Lee Williams as the couple who are trying to start anew, moving from England to a farmhouse in the Scottish countryside. The land is the couple’s dreams come true until they find themselves invaded by men dressed in pig masks carrying knives and hatchets. What transpires is a game of cat and mouse in and around the house and through the thick Scottish forests surrounding the land.

While very violent and tense, I found the story of THE BLOOD LANDS to be rather simple. Given the strong performances by McIntosh and Williams, I was hoping that there was a story here to match their skills. Unfortunately, this is a pretty straightforward chase tale that takes about fifteen minutes to build to and never lets up until the end. And while I can appreciate movies which base themselves on mostly action for the most of the runtime, when the action itself is rather run of the mill, it’s hard to get excited about it.

McIntosh is a powerful presence here. The scenes where she fights back against the invaders is visceral and the actress really gives her all in physicality (as seen in the aforementioned THE WOMAN). It’s too bad the story isn’t stronger to support her performance. Much of this film has been told before in other home invasion tales and what is original comes and leaves in seconds, not really allowing the viewer enough time to establish these stabs at individuality. There are quite a few thrilling moments and some nice scenes of uber-violence, but the film left me wanting. Leaving a lot of unanswered questions isn’t a make or break thing with me and movies, but with so few questions posed, you’d think one or two would be answered by the end. Instead, THE BLOOD LANDS feels somewhat flimsy in terms of story as it runs and runs until it gets almost winded and then just sort of ends with no real satisfaction.

New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment!

POD (2015)

Directed by Mickey Keating
Written by Mickey Keating
Starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Dean Cates, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden, John Weselcouch, & Forrest McClain as the Pod!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Sometimes writing this column is a chore. There’s a lot of crap to sift through on a weekly basis, but I try to chug through hoping that by sifting through the turds, sometimes you find that rare diamond of a horror film worth screaming about. POD is one of those diamonds.

Ed (Dean Cates) is worried about his brother Martin (Brian Morvant). A war vet, Martin suffers from mental instability and after leaving a frantic message on Ed’s phone, Ed decides to gather up their little sister Lyla (THE WOMAN and JUG FACE’s Lauren Ashley Carter) and go out to Martin’s cabin in the woods to check up on him. While the family bonds are strained, Ed convinces Lyla to go out to the cabin with him, but they are not prepared for what the encounter when they get there as Martin is delusional and unhinged, ranting about a monster trapped in the basement and mind control. While Ed and Lyla try to calm Martin down and get some answers, the real question is; is there a monster in the basement or is it all in Martin’s head?

Monsters in the basement aside, POD is a film about paranoia. And being about an intangible concept like paranoia, whether or not it is effective relies firmly on the shoulders of the cast. Bad cast equals zero convincibility. Good cast and you’ve got a winner. POD is a winner because on all sides, the cast is phenomenal. This is a small film; reminiscent of a play where three characters are trapped in a single locale, but while the scope is small, the stakes are made monumental by the fantastic performances by all three of the main cast. Staunch and by the book, Cates’ Ed really does well as the overstretched connective tissue of a family that has come apart at the seams. He is utterly convincing as the overburdened caregiver older brother. Morvant’s Martin could easily come off as laughable as he rants insanely about conspiracies and monsters, but he doesn’t at all, divulging enough information in his mad rants to make us wonder if there is something real going on here or if he’s just nuts. The real character to latch onto here is Carter’s Lyla. While she is absolutely beautiful, she is also making quite the career for herself appearing in one excellent horror film after another. Here she is somewhere in between the two opposite brothers, just loopy enough to have Martin listen to her and just together enough to understand why Ed is concerned about him. The way the three of these siblings interact with one another is complex and utterly convincing. Add in a short part by character actor/writer/director Larry Fessenden and it seals the deal that this is a cast to die for.

So convincing, in fact, that I was on the edge of the edge of my seat for most of this film transfixed on whether or not the creature was real or not. As the story goes on, it’s almost unimportant, as the relational stuff between the siblings is so well done. But when we go into the basement, writer director Mickey Keating delivers nerve shredding moments of tension and terror. Using forced perspectives, creative shadowing, and other camera tricks, I was wondering just what I was seeing and overwhelmed with a fear of the reveal more so than most other films I’ve seen this year.

POD is an excellent slice of tension and I couldn’t recommend this film more. Every frame oozes paranoia. It’s fantastic to see director Keating deliver so much scares and thrills with such a simple story and so few effects. A strong cast and a firm grasp of what we get to see make this film a winner from the first to the last frame. Highly, highly recommended.

Available on BluRay/DVD from MPI Home Video and on digital download!


Directed by Onur Tukel
Written by Onur Tukel
Starring Onur Tukel, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Jason Selvig, Juliette Fairley, Dakota Goldhor, Alex Karpovsky, Dustin Guy Defa, Max Heller, Vanna Pilgrim, Jerry Raik, Melodie Sisk
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I was a little late to the party in checking out SUMMER OF BLOOD. I remember seeing the trailer last year, but when the film was released on DVD a few months ago, I missed it and given that films like this rarely have a long, if any, theatrical run, I was surprised to see it show up on cable this month. So while this may not be the timeliest of reviews as SUMMER OF BLOOD was released late last year, it’s a film I wanted to let folks know about because I haven’t laughed so hard at a horror film in quite some time.

Writer/director Onur Turkel plays Erik Sparrow, a middle aged slacker with low motivation and little interest in anyone else but himself. He does have a relationship with Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman) but she is quickly seeing that the relationship is going nowhere and with her biological clock ticking, she wants to settle down, get married, and have kids and is wrestling with the fact that those things are not even on Erik’s radar. In the opening scene, Jody proposes to Erik at their favorite restaurant, but when Erik cringes and begins giving her excuses for them not to marry each other, it proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and Jody leaps at the opportunity to leave him when she happens to meet an old flame as they are walking home. Though he wants to display a cool demeanor and keep the illusion that he cares about little in life, breaking up with Jody is devastating for Erik who begins cruising the dating sites and hitting on his co-worker at the office out of desperation. After a string of bad dates and a run in with Jody and her new boyfriend, Erik doesn’t think his life can get any lower until he runs into a vampire on the street who bites him and turns him into a creature of the night hungering for blood...that is, if he can get enough motivation to stop procrastinating and do so.

In a world where Louis CK can become a household name for doing the same type of show Larry David perfected with CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, it’s about time the horror world got their own lovable loser to say things others are afraid of saying. Onur Turkel is instantly likable as the down on his luck everyman lead here. First and foremost, even before he gets bitten by a vampire, I could have followed Erik through his banal misadventures of going on dates and running into random people on the street for an entire television season (in fact a TV series starring Turkel based on this film would be downright amazing). Turkel has that same likable, yet no shits given attitude that makes us all root for Larry David and Louis CK as heroes because they do and say things we don’t really have the guts to say and do in real life. Nothing really phases Turkel’s Erik as he embodies mellow laid back-ness to the nth degree, so when a vampire happens to cross his path, he just rolls with it just like everything else in his life. There’s something absolutely appealing about Turkel and it makes this a movie you will not want to end because it means we can’t follow him anymore.

But just below the surface of this seemingly apathetic movie is a big, sweet heart as through his misadventures, we see Turkel is really decimated by the loss of his girlfriend and as the film begins to take purpose after a fantastically meandering first half, I found myself engrossed in Erik’s well being and rooting for him to get the girl in the end. Through much he constantly pines for his lost love and along the way is learning how to be a full fledged vampire, Erik just can’t ever seem to do sincere right which makes it all the more fun to see him screw up over and over.

This is definitely a comedy with horror elements rather than the other way around, but it doesn’t shy away from copious amounts of blood and arterial spray. There may be those sticks in the mud who will be annoyed with Turkel’s character and his carefree attitude. Comedy is subjective, so I can’t guarantee you’ll be as enamored with the character of Erik Sparrow as I was. But if you’re a horror fan and also happen to be a fan of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, it’s a safe bet SUMMER OF BLOOD is going to be right up your alley. SUMMER OF BLOOD made me laugh pretty steadily throughout as it highlights the multitalented Turkel in a light that will definitely lead me to keep an eye on his next project whether it be horror or comedy or both.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Adam MacDonald
Written by Adam MacDonald
Starring Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop, Eric Balfour, Nicholas Campbell
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Dedicated readers of AICN HORROR know that one of my most basest of fears is of sharks. I don’t go into the ocean because of this fear and while I love watching killer shark movies, the films often chill me to the bone and effect me in ways that most everything else in the world of horror don’t….that is, except for bears. Bears are not cute cuddly things that eat honey and put out forest fires. Bears are land sharks and the same great fear I have of sharks goes double for bears as can avoid the ocean, but I spend 100% of my time on land. The good news is that I love being scared and films about bear attacks definitely send my old spine a tinglin’. BACKCOUNTRY is such a film which possesses one of the most realistic and terrifying bear attack sequences I have ever seen. While the scene is brief, the build to this scene is amazingly tension filled as we fist notice the tracks, then a gored animal, and finally the bear itself in ways that only heighten the tension to a pitch that is nerve-shattering. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

BACKCOUNTRY is a story of a couple heading out on a trip into the wild. Alex (Jeff Roop) is a self proclaimed woodsman, but like most city boys, it appears that his woodland training (which consists of going into the Canadian wilderness with his parents as a kid) is rudimentary at best. In the opening moments, it’s established that he’s a bit of a jerk, somewhat self centered, and not the best boyfriend as his girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym ) takes a boyfriend test in a magazine and he fails it gloriously. Still, Alex is not portrayed as a total jerk. Through tender moments, we see Alex being a decent and affectionate guy, genuinely wanting to share an experience from his youth which he holds near and dear with his girlfriend. When Alex and Jenn cross paths with Brad (a Scottish brogue blurting Eric Balfour) who challenges Alex’s masculinity and makes him feel inadequate in front of Jenn, the couple’s seemingly good relationship starts to show its weaknesses. But Brad’s advances aren’t the only predatorial urges at play in this film. There’s the aforementioned bear stalking the periphery and circling close that pushes the couple to the limits of their relationship.

What works best with this film is the fact that writer/director Adam MacDonald fills this film with all sorts of strains on Alex and Jenn’s relationship. While the ties between the two are not perfect, both are very likable and this is key in order for any of the threats to work. So if you have issues with either of these characters, putting them in peril is only going to make you root one of them will soon be coming out of the south end of a north bound bear. MacDonald does a great job of keeping the threats vague for a great while as well. While it is evident something predatorial is stalking them, we don’t see it and for a long time I was wondering if this was a man vs. nature story or a man vs. man in nature story. Turns out it’s a little of both as the couple do a lot to threaten their own relationship themselves even before anything monstrous arrives. This threat from multiple fronts is part of the appeal of the film and since I found myself enmeshed with this couple and wanting them to work past their differences in order to survive, when the claws do come out (both literal and metaphorical) it makes the danger all the more palpable.

The bear attack in this film is legendary. It’s the kind of scene people will reference because it is so well paced and edited. While it’s highly choppy, MacDonald almost treats this scene like the shower scene in PSYCHO; focusing on one tiny detail after another and placing all of the puzzle pieces together on screen for the viewer to piece together. Seeing it all play out was absolutely horrific as not only do we piece together the carnage, but we hear it in gory, vivid detail as teeth and claws rip through flesh and gnaw at bone until it splinters. BACKCOUNTRY has been called OPEN WATER WITH BEARS. The description fits, but comparing it to OPEN WATER makes it feel like an uninspired copy. BACKCOUNTRY is not. It tosses you right into the bear pit with nothing but your own hands to protect you from what you’re witnessing. Those who love films highlighting the horrors of mother nature and man’s tendency to think he can somehow overcome it are in for a true treat with BACKCOUNTRY and those who plan a camping trip might want to either watch this film as a precautionary tale or steer clear of it lest you have many a sleepless night in your tent in the middle of the woods.

The fact that this film made me shake from head to toe makes me give this film a high recommendation. It’s more than just one bear attack that makes the film as the performances, the atmosphere, and the thematic heft are all great. But damn that is one doozy of a bear attack nevertheless.

In select theaters and On Demand from Radius Films!


Directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby
Written by Rasmus Birch (screenplay/original idea), Christoffer Boe & Jonas Alexander Arnby (original idea)
Starring Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Sonja Richter, Jakob Oftebro, Stig Hoffmeyer, Mads Rissom, Esben Dalgaard Andersen, Gustav Dyekjær Giese, Benjamin Boe Rasmussen, & Tina Gylling Mortensen
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

The beautiful scenery highlights an intimate and delicate tale of lycanthropy and family to make a memorable, albeit typical werewolf flick.

Marie (Sonia Suhl) is an outcast sixteen year old in her Danish fishing village. She takes care of her catatonic mother, abides by her father’s rules, and visits her doctor regularly. But as she is nearing womanhood, she is becoming more impulsive and asking questions about the medications her mother and herself are on and what they are for. Taking a job at a fish packing company, Marie experiences the real world for the first time, catching the eye of a hunky deliveryman and being picked on by her brutish coworkers. As she begins to have normal feelings of budding sexual awareness as well as understanding what it is like to be a sex object in the eyes of her macho coworkers, her body begins experiencing changes as well. It turns out Maria has inherited a curse from her heavily medicated mother and her bestial side is beginning to show itself.

WHEN ANIMALS DREAM is a solid little addition to the werewolf movie subgenre. The story is rather typical; a coming of age tale about a young girl not understanding the changes that are happening to her as she reaches adulthood. The bestial nature of werewolf films makes for a good allegory about puberty, raging hormones, and the confusion a teen often experiences at that age. While setting the film in Denmark offers up some beautiful shots of scenery and of the simple coastal life the people live, this film doesn’t cover much more metaphorical ground that the GINGER SNAPS films didn’t already cover about a young woman coping with changes. Because of this, I felt the film was rather typical in its premise. Still it looks really good while telling a familiar tale.

The transformation scene is always crucial in werewolf films and here, Marie’s transition between Danish waif to dangerous predator is as subtle and delicate as everything else about this film. The symptoms appear as simple tufts of fur appearing on Marie’s chest and an increased level of impulsiveness. But when she does go full on wolf, it is rather beautiful as we see he bones shift subtly and blonde hair grow down her back and across her forehead. The film does a good job of highlighting the horror of Marie’s transformation as at first she attempts to shave the hairy parts and cover her bleeding fingernails as they are being replaced by new talons. The sharp Danish features of actress Sonia Suhl mesh well with the makeup to give us a werewolf that looks different than any we have seen before.

I liked WHEN ANIMALS DREAM quite a bit and while the overall theme of a girl going through puberty is familiar, the way the town reacts to this family curse makes this one a bit more distinct and layered than most werewolf on the loose films. The way director Jonas Alexander Arnby captures the gorgeous skies over this Danish fishing village makes everything (even barrels full of fish heads) beautiful and rich with culture. Like it’s volatile but fragile lead character, WHEN ANIMALS DREAM is a delicate film; poignant and peaceful at times with an underlying, brewing danger growing from its shadows. The town dealing with a secret angle is new, but it is overpowered by the familiar coming of age symbolism we’ve seen in scores of werewolf films before.

In theaters now!

SINISTER 2 (2015)

Directed by Ciarán Foy
Written by Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Lucas Jade Zumann, Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden M. Fritz, Olivia Rainey, & Nicholas King as Bughuul!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I have come to realize that there are two different kinds of horror movies made for two different kinds of people and I guess I have to be ok with that, though everyone seems to lump both kinds all together into one blob they call horror. There are the films that really get under your skin and tap into ancient primal fears that still coil and writhe around back there in the animal portions of our brains and then there are films that are made to simply activate these portions of fight or flight reflexes by jolting you with a blast of music and something sort of scary jumping out at you. The latter is a sort of drive by scare that really doesn’t stick around too long and are usually forgotten within a few minutes because there’s no heft to it. The former sticks with you long after the film. Now, there are folks who prefer the drive by scares because it’s easy to deal with by laughing it off and then checking your cell for new messages. Then there are horror fans that prefer their scares to run deep and be something meaningful. SINISTER 2 isn’t really a film for folks like those who frequent this column and myself. It’s for the drive by scare fans who don’t want too much to deal with. And that’s…ok, I guess.

SINISTER 2 picks up a couple years after the original with the unnamed Ex Deputy So & So (James Ransone) making his way across the country burning down the residences where he believes Bughuul to be doing his devious deeds to the children by turning them on their families. For those who didn’t see the original, Bughuul is a demon who haunts families by showing them old movies of previous kills and driving them to eventually do the deed themselves. While we had Ethan Hawke playing a dad trying to uncover the mysteries in the original, the sequel relies on the lesser acting chops of Ransone as the lead. Also in the center stage is Courtney Collins (the lovely and talented Shannyn Sossamon) who is hiding out in one of Bughuul’s haunted homes with her twin kids Dylan and Zach (Robert Daniel Sloan & Dartanian Sloan, respectively). Already, Bughuul has been haunting the dreams of Dylan and sending the child ghosts of previous families to taunt him into watching these films in hopes to manipulate him to murder. But as Bughuul tightens his grip on the family, the real world horrors of the abusive dad (Lea Coco) intensify as he tracks Courtney and her family down. It’s up to Ex Deputy So & So to save the family from both the father and Bughuul.

I liked the original SINISTER, though I felt the mythology was a bit overly complex. Any film that requires an info dump multiple times throughout the narrative is simply overwritten and both SINISTER and its sequel have multiple occasions where someone is introduced solely to explain something crucial and then discarded just as quickly as they surfaced. In the original, Deputy So & So and researcher Prof Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio) drive the info dump truck for Ethan Hawke’s Elliot Oswalt to pick up. Here, since D’Onofrio apparently had the sense not to come back for the sequel, Prof Jonas’ research partner Dr. Stromberg (Tate Ellington) backs up the truck explaining something about the history of the Boogieman aka Bughuul as well as referencing some bizarre HAM radio broadcasts with a piano and a little girl. Props to the filmmakers for incorporating this actual mysterious phenomenon into the narrative (though the film THE BANSHEE CHAPTER does a better job with the material), but while utilizing radio, music, and art into the mix as a way Bughuul can be summoned is a nice way of making him a danger even before the tech for home movies was invented, it also muddies up the water even more with complex steps to conjure the demon. Pair it with the goofy rule that the family leaving the home Bughuul haunts is what triggers the deaths and the narrative just seems to have too much convolution going on for its own good.

Much of what made the original film effective is still there. Bughuul is still creepy and the movies he shows the kid are too. These home movies look and sound like rejected Nine Inch Nail videos, but paired with industrial sounds and unsettling noises, the home movies are still the best parts of the film. This time around, though, they lack the bite of the previous ones (save for one of the earlier and more potent kills shown that actually has a rather large bite in it that I won’t reveal here). While I respect that they aren’t pushing Bughuul to the center stage and revealing his origin or giving him Freddy-like one-liners (which would be hard since he has no mouth), the reliance on the ghost kids tempting and taunting the twins kills the scares a bit. The kid actors are decent and the makeup of having their faces somewhat cracked like porcelain dolls are ok, but the more lines these kids were given, the less scary they were.

Ransone is just ok here. His big goofy eyes kind of make it hard to take him seriously and the Barney Fife way of doing things make for decent comedic beats, but these mannerisms act as a detriment when he is required to be the hero. Sossamon is really good as the paranoid and protective mother and really conveys the complexity of being stuck in a situation that she has no control over. The scenes where she is trying to protect her children, but is powerless to do so are some of the more touching moments of the film; and most of that has to do with Sossamon’s big brown emotive eyes. While she slips in and out of her country accent throughout, Sossamon definitely delivers some much needed heart to the film. Finally the twin child actors playing Dylan and Zach are surprisingly good here with both dealing with some heavy issues of abuse, bullying, and sibling rivalry.

Still, the BlumHouse method of bang the keyboard as hard as you can is what will really cause a jolt if you see this one in the theater. Over-scoring the film and shocking you with a blast of sound seems to be the recipe for horror for this franchise (which happens to be the same recipe for INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING). It’s too bad the jump scare is so prominent here because there is material in the story that can definitely get under your skin. The fact that Bughuul seems to rely on destroying families is pretty horrific (though I’m not sure why—or maybe I do know why—they made him look so much like Michael Jackson) and the home movies continue to have some punch to them. But instead of relying on these real terrors, banging the keyboard seems to be a requirement at the House that Blum built. Director Ciarán Foy gave us the pretty stellar little agoraphobia tale CITADEL a while back (I reviewed it and interviewed the man here) and this film shines when the more real world horrors of abuse are centered upon—less so when things get all Bughuul-y.

If you’re the type of filmgoer who simply check out horror films to have a quick, non-threatening scare and then quickly move on to wonder what you’re going to eat for dinner tomorrow, SINISTER 2 is going to deliver the goods. It’s a film franchise that seems to be torn in two directions as to how it wants to scare the viewer peppering in some solid imagery and concepts with resonance, but just can’t help itself from banging the keyboard every chance it can get. Of all of the franchise horrorfilms BlumHouse seems to be putting out, this one seems to have the best of intentions of actually delivering something palpable but it still gives in and delivers lowest common denominator scares and chance it can get making it a hard film to take seriously.

Advance Review: Recently played at Fantasia Fest 2015!


Directed by Gabriel Carrer
Written by Gabriel Carrer
Starring Ry Barrett, Tianna Nori, Jessica Vano, Duncan McLellan, Gerrit Sepers, Bruce Turner, Duane Frey, Andrew Bussey, Owen Fawcett, Rich Piatkowski, Reese Eveneshen, Ashley Awde, John Cross, Brendan McKenna, Christian Burgess
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Bursting at the seams with rage and frustration is the walking frayed nerve of a film called THE DEMOLISHER.

The revenge film is a subgenre in and of itself that often straddles the line between action and horror. When the film simply focuses on the act of revenge, it tends to be seen in the action section with someone like Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Damm in the lead role. But when the revenge runs deep and the film isn’t afraid to follow it, it can be the stuff of the most potent of psychological horrors as it shows what the human mind is capable of if the right things are taken away. That’s the type of film THE DEMOLISHER is. It highlights the horror of losing something and how that can be a devastating blow to one’s psyche.

Bruce (THE DROWNSMAN’s Ry Barrett) is a cable TV repairman whose police officer wife Samantha (Tianna Nori) was crippled and assaulted by a local gang. Overflowing with rage, Bruce dons riot gear and goes out at night beating the living shit out of gangs in hopes to track down the ones who hurt his wife. Meanwhile, Marie (Jessica Vano) is coping with violence herself in her own way in a support group. This tale of the impact of violence and the horror it often unleashes is intense from beginning to end as it opens with Bruce punching a thug over and over again in the middle of the street. As Bruce and Marie’s paths cross, it becomes clear that once subject o violence you remain forever changed. Bruce is coming undone at the seams with his rage overflowing into his day job, while Marie finds herself haunted by the violence that she endures during every waking minute. It’s a two pronged assault of the impact of violence and this film is not afraid to show how hard that impact can be.

While much of the film is without dialog and we simply see Bruce wandering the streets in full riot gear looking for a fight, the film speaks volumes in the distressed face of Bruce, the disappointed and understanding face of his wife Samantha who is aware of his vigilante exploits, and the pained look of despair in Marie’s face as she recounts the night she crosses paths with Bruce. The violence is ever present as Bruce stares in absolute rancor at the viewer and we become privy to the primal dreams he has of simply destroying everything in his path. These dream sequence are fantastic and surreal, yet terrifying. Equal in effectiveness are the scenes of Bruce wandering the streets in riot gear surrounded by the empty Toronto streets. Misguided and looking for anyone to hurt, Bruce is not discerning in who he massacres with his billy clubs and fists. If you’re on the street at night, you’re a threat in his eyes, and the scenes of him on patrol are terrifying because we as the viewer are privy to his skewed perspective.

Unrelenting and powerful; THE DEMOLISHER is a bold statement on untapped rage. From start to finish, this film had me shaking with anticipation as to how far down the thorny rabbit hole the characters are going to plummet. If you like your horrors resonant and angry, THE DEMOLISHER will decimate expectations and show you what real anger is.

And finally…here’s another old time radio play from CBS Radio Mystery Theater hosted by E.G. Marshall. This time around, we have the deadly sea monster tale called “The Horror of Dead Lake!”

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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