Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. No blah blah blah this week. Let’s just jump into the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1963)
Retro-review: SHOCKER (1989)
Retro-review: THE BASEMENT (1989)
ALWAYS WATCHING: A MARBLE HORNETS STORY (2015)
MORITURIS: LEGION OF THE DEAD (2011)
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES (2013)
THE EDITOR (2014)
THE FINAL GIRLS (2015)
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2015)
Advance Review: ADALINE: THE CONJURED (2015)
And finally… Ghosts in the Graveyard’s “Better in Black!”
New on BluRay from Severin Films!
NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1963)aka LOVERS BEYOND THE TOMB, ORGAZMO, THE FACELESS MONSTER, NIGHT OF THE DOOMED
Directed by Mario Caiano (as Allen Grünewald)
Written by Mario Caiano & Fabio De Agostini
Starring Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné, Marino Masé, Giuseppe Addobbati, Rik Battaglia
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s the old tale of infidelity, envy, and revenge that plays out in NIGHTMARE CASTLE, a tame, yet wildly entertaining old dark house from Italian director Mario Caiano, who often went by Allen Grunewald in reference to Edgar Allan Poe. And Poe’s influence permeates NIGHTMARE CASTLE.
Married to esteemed scientist Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller), Muriel Arrowsmith (Barabara Steele) is caught with her lover and tortured and killed by the doctor who is driven mad with rage. Still wanting the benefits of Muriel’s fortune and castle, he hatches a plan to marry Muriel’s cousin Jenny (also played by Steele, this time in a blonde wig) and deem her insane and unfit to run the estate, thus shifting the ownership of the riches back to Stephen. The film follows the mad doctor’s plot to drive the already mentally unstable Jenny over the edge and prove to psychiatrist Dr. Dereck Joyce (Marino Masé) a strapping young doctor investigating Jenny’s sanity that she is too nuts for her own good.
Lies on top of duplicity on top of betrayal is the seven layer sandwich on the menu in NIGHTMARE CASTLE. The fun is seeing all of the back-stabbing and cheating unfold as even the damsels in distress here (Jenny and Muriel) are not without guilt. The fact that the “evil” doctor is justifiably upset about his cheating wives (Muriel with her suitor and Jenny with her psychiatrist) makes this an intricate play on the emotions. I understood and empathized with the doctor’s plight, but then again, he is portrayed as a conniving and sadistic bastard fond of whips and electrocution, so he’s not that likable either. It’s the topsy turvy way the script plays with who the viewer should side with that makes this all the more fun.
Dripping with gothic atmosphere, this film fits right in step with the classic Corman Poe flms depicting evil castles, mistrusting couples, and even notions of being buried alive. The dream sequences are pretty straight forward and there is a Castle-esque HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL vibe here as the doctor tries to trick Jenny into thinking she’s bonkers. But the quality of the cast (especially Steele and Muller) and the intricacy of the script make NIGHTMARE CASTLE feel wholly original and a blast for those who like their horror set in dark and drafty castles.
This BluRay rerelease contains a conversation with Barbara Steele, a special focusing on director Mario Caiano, trailers, and also two full feature films; CASTLE OF BLOOD and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE, which I will also be covering in future AICN HORROR columns!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
SHOCKER (1989)Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Wes Craven
Starring Peter Berg, Michael Murphy, Sam Scarber, Camille Cooper, Ted Raimi, John Tesh, Richard Brooks, Virginia Morris, Vincent Guastaferro, Janne Peters, Wes Craven, Brent Spiner, Timothy Leary, Heather Langenkamp, Michael Matthews as the Evil Lips, and Mitch Pileggi as Horace Pinker!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Wes Craven has crafted some deliciously depthy horror films that deliver in both long term resonance as well as immediate shocks. SHOCKER, unfortunately, isn’t one of those films. 1989 could be considered the height of the Freddy Krueger phenomenon. ‘87’s DREAM WARRIORS was a huge success, followed by another hit in ’88 with THE DREAM MASTER, a TV series FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES in syndication, kiddie costumes and lunchboxes based on the child killer in department stores, and with THE DREAM CHILD coming to theaters in ’89, it had to smart a bit for Craven who started it all but most likely wasn’t receiving any of the residuals on the evil bastard he created. So what do you do? You set out to make a new idonic horror monster, of course, and SHOCKER has that fragrance of desperation written all over it.
The opening sequence isn’t the only similarity between A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and SHOCKER, but it’s the most obvious one. Focusing solely on the hands of Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) brutishly wiring and fixing television equipment with a hunting knife and pudgy fingers, the close up shots are almost shot for shot of the iconic clawed glove-making sequence from the original ANOES. Cut to an info dump news report citing another chilling murder of an entire family and you’ve got a decent introduction of a brutal and evil monster. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t quite deliver on that initial scene.
There’s an overall hokiness to SHOCKER that I feel really revolves around central character Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg) who later in life turned out to be a pretty kickass director, but here shows that even good directors can give subpar performances in front of the screen. Here, Jonathan just isn’t very likable as the stiff jawed and whiny adopted child of police chief Don Parker (Michael Murphy) and boyfriend to hottie Alison (Camille Cooper). Sure Craven gives Jonathan a vulnerability in the clumsy way he runs into the goal post or falls over the water bucket like Adam Sandler in THE WATERBOY, but a lot of the reasons why this film didn’t grab me is because I just was annoyed with Berg’s performance from his initial intro to the goofy way he stands up to his birth father, who just so happens to be the murderous Pinker. I’m sure this isn’t a career highlight for Berg either as some of the scenes, as in the scene where Berg fights a reclining chair are just laughably bad.
But the real reason why I wasn’t really able to latch onto this film is because it seems Craven just wasn’t able to latch onto a solid concept in SHOCKER. Craven repeats himself numerous times by having Jonathan fall in and out of dreams where he witnesses Pinker’s murders. While dreams have always been a part of horror, one would think if one was trying to distance themselves from a horror icon they created which centered solely on dreams and establish a new one, Craven would want to distance himself from using the dream clichés. But he doesn’t and the fact that so much of this film relies on the dream Jonathan has makes this feel more like a rip off than an attempt to do something new. The film also latches onto the concept of body swapping made popular in films like THE FIRST POWER, THE HIDDEN, and later THE FINAL FRIDAY which lacks punch because all of the actors involved are not as charismatic or threatening as they feebly attempt to imitate Pileggi’s truly terrifying Pinker performance.
The real problem here, though is that I think Craven was on to something. The reason why A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was so successful was that it tapped into something all of us do, which is sleep and dream. SHOCKER makes a late in the game attempt to tap into another commonality among much of civilized culture—that being its addiction to the media. Though the television is pervasive through most of the film, it isn’t until late in the film that it seems Craven gets some ingenious ideas to play with as Pinker begins to manipulate the way we perceive television, leaping from one channel to the next within the TV world and travelling into people’s homes via cable TV. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t feel like Craven was able to grasp it completely and we are given the first draft of some really interesting stuff and some pretty lame stuff like Jonathan controlling Pinker inexplicably with a remote control, resulting in some really lame attempts at humor at the expense of the serial killer. While Nancy’s fight back against Freddy in the original NIGHTMARE was something to root for, Jonathan’s leap through the channels and vengeance via remote control just comes off as lamely comical and not really making a whole lot of sense. Centering the whole story on the power of love between Jonathan and his dead girlfriend being the thing that saves the day in the end doesn’t help in making this film more believable or consequential.
And if the lame love power tropes don’t make you gag, the reliance on hair metal and obvious attempts to make this film a cross-cultural success a la NIGHTMARE really does make this feel like a feeble last attempt at striking it big. Ironically, Craven did so not long after with SCREAM, but SHOCKER is riddled with attempts to nab the then popular hair metal MTV crowd with screeching guitars in the soundtrack and music videos scrunched in whenever possible. At the same time, John Tesh makes more than one appearance here indicating surefire publicity on the then uber-popular Entertainment Tonight (thankfully Tesh doesn’t sing). Like the obvious product placement in action movies, the inclusion of these details, scrunched into the story simply because the execs thinks that’s what the kids these days want, is more obvious at how out of touch with popular culture the film really is. In the end, the film feels like some kind of time capsule, showing off some of the worst trends of the late 80’s.
Apart from all of those negatives I listed above, there’s a really scary and brutal movie in SHOCKER somewhere. Pileggi gives an absolutely amazing performance as the rabid dog that is Horace Pinker. He is a brutal and relentless killer and though the horror he unleashes is often cartoonish and comical (most likely because of the MPAA restrictions). Still Pileggi is fully committed in this role to deliver something dark and dangerous. It’s too bad Craven chose to film much of the action in broad daylight or well lit rooms, automatically killing any sense of danger or threat. Had some nigh shots been incorporated or some creative shadows, I think this would have been a much more eerie film. Pileggi’s performance deserved to be in a movie filmed with a heavy amount of darkness, but that just didn’t happen.
I don’t blame Craven for making a film like this. If I saw the dump truck of dollars one of my creations was making and I wasn’t seeing any part of it, I’d probably go back and try to reinvent something equally potent as that original idea. But Craven tried to latch onto a concept that wasn’t fully realized yet and then tried to either lift completely in some areas while going in the opposite direction with others, making SHOCKER feel more like an act of desperation than anything else. It didn’t help that the similarly themed electric chaired serial killer film THE HORROR SHOW was released in the same year as well which kind of stole some of SHOCKER’s thunder. Having personally been won over in terms of the potential of the film, I hoped there would be some kind of sequel to the film starring the often horrifying Pinker as he was the best part of the movie. Maybe with Craven’s passing, some of the good ideas he had with SHOCKER could come to life in some kind of remake. This is one of the instances where I think a modern telling would be much better than the original.
The BluRay includes interviews with actors Cam Cooper and Mitch Pileggi, as well as a look at the hair band metal soundtrack, along with some previews, TV spots, and a smattering of other coverage. The BluRay actually looks really well and much clearer than I remember, especially the murky animations of a partially staticized Horace Pinker and the stick footage Pileggi and Berg fight through. While this is far from the perfect film, if you’re a Craven completist (or a glutton for punishment), you simply must have this Blu in your collection.
Retro-review: New on a special DVD/VHS Combo pack from Camp Motion Pictures!
THE BASEMENT (1989)Directed by Timothy O'Rawe
Written by Timothy O'Rawe
Starring Dennis Driscoll, Kathleen Heidinger, David Webber, Scott Corizzi, Traci Mann, Pamela Kramer, John Paul Fedele, J.R. Bookwalter, Scott Hart, Carl Burrows, Robin Maynard, Michael Parsons, John Kolbek, Joseph Kolbek, Linda Manzione, Nicole Sims, Tom Thatcher, Victoria Castle
Find out more about this film here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
THE BASEMENT is a good name for this film as it really is bargain basement quality scares. But what this low-fi anthology lacks in funding, it makes up for in love of horror as well as some pretty interesting stories
Opening up much like the classic TALES FROM THE CRYPT film, a quartet of people walk into a smoky basement only to meet a hooded and gaunt gentlemen who informs them that they are about to witness sins they will commit in the future. With the smoke machine on high and the acting barometer in the negative numbers, this scene plays out pretty straight forward and we jump right into tale #1, entitled “Swimming Pool” because it takes place in and around a swimming pool. Reminiscent of “The Crate” sequence from CREEPSHOW, a nasally talking woman reading a Stephen King novel by the pool, sketches ways she wants to kill her husband on the pages. When her husband takes a dip, a tentacled creature pulls him under and the woman proceeds to invite other friends she hates over for a dip in her evil pool. The performance from the leading lady is atrocious as she sounds like a more annoying version of Estelle Harris (SEINFELD, TOY STORY) and is obviously patterned after the Adrienne Barbeau’s Wilma character from CREEPSHOW. This is by far the worst entry in the anthology and it was good to get it over with early.
Entry two, entitled “Trick or Treat” proves that some ingenuity went into this film. Playing out much like Brian Cox’s grumpy old man installment in Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT, a widower hates Halloween and torments any kid who happens to ring his doorbell. But a visit from his the ghost of his dead wife warns him he will be visited by three spirits and he will be given a chance to change his evil ways. This is a rather clever twist on the Ebenezer Scrooge tale placing it on All Hallow’s Eve rather than Christmas Eve. While the story is truncated and the acting is not great, I found this to be a pretty imaginative tale with some awesome special effects mummies, witches, werewolves, and corpses. After watching this one, I was surprised how much I liked it for its creativity achieved through rudimentary means.
Tale three is called “Zombie Movie” and while the effects are ok, there is a cheesiness to this installment as it is about a hack movie director directing a bad zombie movie. It’s a little too meta for this film and if you’re going to make fun of the genre, you better do it well. Here the substandard production and worse acting just makes it a segment that pointlessly puts down the genre while trying to be a part of the genre. I didn’t like this installment in theory or in execution.
The final chapter, “Home Sweet Home” again is poorly acted and made, but there is a real sense of terror as a man buys a house without a care that it has had spectral hauntings in the past. Once he sets up there, his buddy comes over and disappears mysteriously. But our hero is pretty carefree and thinks his pal just wandered off, so he really isn’t cautious when his girlfriend shows up to see the new place. This installment had a trippy vibe to it reminiscent of EVIL DEAD and paired with the rudimentary effects, it ends this film on a creepy and pleasing note.
This film is not for everyone. It’s for the die hard VHS movie lovers who used to go through every film on the stands in the horror section of the video store. I was one of those kids and therefore, I kind of loved this low budget schlocker. This special presentation of THE BASEMENT comes with a VHS copy of the film, as well as other disks containing other lost Super 8 filmed messterpieces; CAPTIVES, VIDEO VIOLENCE 1 & 2, and CANNIBAL CAMPOUT. I’ll be covering each of these in future AICN HORROR columns.
New on DVD from Midnight Releasing!
WASTELAND (2013)Directed by Tom Wadlow
Written by Tommy Draper
Starring Shameer Seepersand, Jessica Messenger, Mark Drake, Rachel Benson, Gavin Harrison
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Yep, it’s another end of the world zombie film. But while most of these focus on a group of people tearing apart each other in a secluded location proving that we are the true monsters, WASTELAND instead decides to focus on one man’s survival, which makes it more interesting than your usual zombie fare.
Shameer Seepersand plays Scott, a single survivor living day to day in a zombie infested world. In the opening scenes through flashback, we see that Scott fell head over heels for a girl just before the zombies started showing up. But when the flesh hit the fan, Scott’s girlfriend wants to go to her parents’ house, though it’s quite obvious they’ve been turned and Scott doesn’t want to leave because they have hunkered down in a pretty secure location to try to sit this though and survive. But when Scott’s girlfriend leaves while he’s sleeping, he doesn’t follow. Instead, he decides to wait for her, occasionally leaving to scrounge for more food and supplies, talk on his HAM radio to survivors miles away, and occasionally murder a zombie or two.
The film does a really nice job of conveying a feeling of dread and loneliness. Actor Seepersand does a decent job in the lead, as he is given a lot of emotional beats to hit throughout this depressing narrative. But while the character is very much a sad sack, I found myself invested in Scott’s plight and rooting for his gal pal to come back. The horror is at a minimum here. This is much more of a story about hanging onto hope while the world falls apart around you and WASTELAND does a great job of fleshing out this world with a small budget and some well placed CG effects to the landscape. If you’re looking for an action packed zombie romp, this ain’t it. But WASTELAND has a lot of soul and is quite gripping in the tragic and lonely tale it tells.
Available now on DVD and On Demand from Anchor Bay Entertainment!
ALWAYS WATCHING: A MARBLE HORNETS STORY (2015)aka THE OPERATOR, MARBLE HORNETS
Directed by James Moran
Written by Joseph DeLage & Troy Wagner (web series "Marble Hornets"),Ian Shorr (screenplay), Victor Surge (characters)
Starring Chris Marquette, Alexandra Breckenridge, Jake McDorman, Alexandra Holden, Rick Otto, Shashawnee Hall, Blair Bomar, David Pevsner, Michael Bunin, Morgan E. Bastin, Graham Clarke, Tim Seitter, & Doug Jones as the Slender Man/the Operator!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Depending a little too much on the notion that simply seeing the Slender Man is enough to be scary, ALWAYS WATCHING: A MARBLE HORNETS STORY ends up being only partially successful in what it tries to be.
The filmmakers behind the Youtube sensation the Marble Hornets series which was critically acclaimed for its patience and subtle, creeping sense of unease, elaborate on the Slender Man mythos by having a television crew consisting of nebbish cameraman Milo (FREDDY VS JASON’s Chris Marquette), hunky producer Charlie (Jake McDorman) and the object of both of their affection and news reporter Sara (THE WALKING DEAD and AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Alexandra Breckenridge). On a routine assignment covering condemned and abandoned houses, the crew happen upon a home unlike the usual squalor they find on the repo beat. The house looks as if the family simply vanished and in a locked closet is a set of video tapes that tell a bizarre and paranoid tale of a tall lanky and faceless man (Doug Jones) stalking the family from a distance that can only be seen through the camera lens. Once in possession of these tapes, the trio begin experiencing similar sightings through the lenses of their cameras.
The concept of a pervasive and unrelenting force stalking someone that is unseen by the naked eye, but vivid in the lens is the type of horror that feels more at home with some of the J-Horror that was often based on new technology during the early 2000’s. Given that this film borrows from concepts of that era of horror as well as hacks into the current and wavering found footage trend automatically makes this film feel somewhat dated in the concept alone. That said, there are some really well done moments in ALWAYS WATCHING that make it somewhat worthwhile as the faceless monster gets closer and closer to the three protagonists. Having the Slender Man show up not only on the background, but also in the form of subtly placed mannequin dummies as they pass store windows, faceless art models sitting in the corner, and other forms make this film fun as you are constantly scanning the screen for the stalking Slender Man. Reminiscent of Michael Myers in this sense, I have to admit, it is pretty thrilling every time the Slender Man shows up.
That said, the vague rules of the Slender Man and the rather complex way the team discovers how to deal with him make this a rather broad story to follow. The team kind of stumbles their way into the rules of the game, some of it naturally, while other parts feel quite contrived with characters coming to conclusions simply because the story needs them to in order to move the story along. The bite of seeing the Slender Man kind of wanes with each viewing as he simply just stands there and stares at the camera with his no-eyed face. This scary image works a couple of times with some fancy edits having him jump forward and backward at the viewer without moving, but I found the skinny dude less scary upon repeated sightings and more of an annoyance as he really didn’t do anything but stand there with his arms limpy dangling to his sides; which is a total waste of Doug Jones physical acting chops, if you ask me.
That said ALWAYS WATCHING culminates in a rather satisfying and action-packed climax and while the Slender Man doesn’t do much physically, the swath he cuts into these peoples lives is pretty devastating. ALWAYS WATCHING: A MARBLE HORNETS STORY is successful here in doling out the suspense and tension pretty evenly, but it is a bit dated and bound to annoy those already sick of the found footage subgenre.
New this week on BluRay from Synapse Films!
MORITURIS: LEGIONS OF THE DEAD (2011)aka MORITURIS
Directed by Raffaele Picchio
Written by Tiziano Martella & Raffaele Picchio (story), Gianluigi Perrone (screenplay)
Starring Valentina D'Andrea, Andrea De Bruyn, Désirée Giorgetti, Francesco Malcom, Giuseppe Nitti, & Simone Ripanti
Find out when and where you can see this on the film’s website and Facebook page!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man, the premise of this one had me at “hello.” Gladiator zombies rise to inflict brutal death to a group of party-goers who stumble upon their burial grounds. Plus is an Italian horror film, none-the-fucking-less! Italian zombies! A new Italian zombie film and this time they are gladiator zombies? Hellz yes!
The opening credits of MORITURIS didn’t fail to impress, either, as a comic book-like rendition of the gladiatorial games with seemingly genuine old Roman music crashing and blaring in the background (click on the website here for a sample). I loved every gory second of it. The narrative slows a bit for a good portion of the film, though, as five party-goers make their way to a rave in the woods. Director Raffaele Picchio shows a lot of patience here as he lets these kids babble on for quite some time about seemingly nothing. But Picchio has something up his sleeve in this seemingly banal opener. I don’t want to give it away, but at about the 30 minute mark this becomes a movie I wasn’t expecting to see. This isn’t a bad thing, but some may be put off by the brutality of what transpired here. Again, I’m struggling not to reveal much, because this is an effective film, though some might become frustrated waiting to see gladiators who don’t show up until well into the latter half of the movie. That’s not to say that there isn’t some extremely brutal and twisted stuff going on until then, but there isn’t a zombie gladiator to be seen for a long portion of the film.
But when the zombie gladiators do attack, whoa nelly! Picchio takes full advantage of the gladiators’ arsenal of weapons to do away with the partygoers in brutal and sadistic fashion. Though one might wonder how these gladiators ever killed anything at the slow rate they move, they do prove to be formidable and evil bastards when they do catch up to their prey. It’s a face splattering, spear gouging, cat-o-nine-tails whipping, sword slashing, crucifyingly good time.
MORITURIS is definitely not what you expect. I’ll leave it at that. But in the end, it offers what you want out of a film about gladiator zombies: brutal kills and evil people. The less known about MORITURIS the better before going into it, but once in, gore and horror fans are not going to want this film to end!
New this week from RLJ & Image Entertainment (Find it here)!
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH (2013)Directed by Daniel Farrands
Written by Daniel Farrands
Produced by Thommy Hutson
Narrated by Corey Feldman
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
No true FRIDAY THE 13TH fan should go without watching CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH. As a fan of the series, it’s something I was dying to see from the first second I heard it was being made and knowing it was from the same folks you brought us NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, which looked at the entire A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, I knew the project was in good hands.
Based on the coffee table book of the same name, CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES by Peter M. Bracke, the doc clocks in at an expansive 7 and a half hours and looks at every film in the F13 series with painstaking detail in sequence. The book makes for a compelling read as we find out some juicy tidbits about each of the films, but seeing interviews playing out on camera makes for a much more compelling representation of the behind the scenes stories and with Daniel Farrands camera pointing at the actors, directors, make-up artists, and producers, the long and winding road from the inception of the first film in 1980 to the last remake which hit screens in 2009 has never been more fascinating.
Now, those of you who poo poo this series as lowest common denominator should just scroll on past this review. Only those who get that special tingle down their spine when they hear the “Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha” or the “Kill-kill-kill-ma-ma-ma!” for the purists will understand the thrill it is to see almost every living cast member interviewed and almost every kill dissected in succession. While I will admit that the F13 franchise is simplistic, there’s some kind of perfection in the simplistic repetition of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films, but somehow, Farrands tells the story in a way to make them all distinct and interesting.
Narrated by Corey Feldman, CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES isn’t without its own sense of humor. All of those who worked on the series know they were not doing Shakespeare, yet all of them seem to have a mutual respect for the films and more importantly, seemed to have a lot of fun doing it despite harsh filming conditions, low budgets, executive pressures, and of course dangerous weapons and effects being brandished about. This fun is conveyed in the amount of times I laughed out loud at this film as it played the clips and the participants’ reactions.
Much like the format of NEVER SLEEP AGAIN (reviewed here), each chapter of the documentary focuses on one film in the series, focusing first on inception of the film, the production, actors stories, the actor playing Jason, notable deaths, and finally box office, audience, and critical reaction. Sure it’s a repetitious format, but these are repetitious films and by formatting them in this manner, each film stands out as unique. Again, those not in the F13 camp are not going to understand why this is a hugely important and entertaining filmic experience, but if you are like me and are among the devotees that love the series, CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES is a must see.
Coming to BluRay/DVD on September 8th from The Shout Factory!
THE EDITOR (2014)Directed by Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy
Written by Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney
Starring Adam Brooks, Conor Sweeney, Matthew Kennedy, Paz de la Huerta, Udo Kier, Laurence R. Harvey, Tristan Risk, Sheila Campbell, Jerry Wasserman, Samantha Hill, Brent Neale, Lance 'The Snake' Cartwright, Jasmine Mae, John Paizs, William O'Donnell, Mackenzie Murdock
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
After dazzling me with the off kilter awesomeness of MANBORG and FATHER’S DAY, I was afraid the talented writers/directors/actors at Astron-6 were hanging up their funny and going a more serious route from what I saw of their newest feature THE EDITOR’s trailers. But this love song to all things Giallo is a tune set to a wonky beat as the film doesn’t so much as make fun of those Italian gore/mystery noir films of the 70’s as much as it just tells a goofy tale surrounded by what made those films so distinct in the first place.
The film follows a washed up film editor named Rey Cisco (writer/director Adam Brooks) who suffered a tragic editing accident which left him fingerless on his editing hand. He now wears four wooden fingers in a glove in order to look normal, but he relies heavily on his assistant Bella (Samantha Hill) to be his hands and cut the films for him. Forced to work on low budget crap films, Rey finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery when someone murders the film’s star and leaves him with stubs for fingers just like Rey has. Detective Peter Porfiry (co-director/co-writer Matthew Kennedy), who happens to be married to the film’s star Margaurite (Sheila Campbell) and also happens to look like a young Donald Sutherland as one character points out, is on the case to solve the murders. Meanwhile, second billed actor Cal Konitz (co-writer Conor Sweeney) is lapping up the opportunity to step into the role of star of the film. The expansive cast also stars Paz de la Huerta as Cicso’s sultry and conniving wife, HUMAN CENTIPEDE II’s Laurence R. Harvey as a priest with information about the ancient mystical history of editors, the legendary Udo Kier as a shrink looking to hospitalize all of them, and AMERICAN MARY’s Betty Boop Tristan Risk as one of the stars who is most likely not going to survive the film. Who is doing the killing? Who lives? Who dies? Eventually, after much goofing off, the mystery will be solved.
The beauty of THE EDITOR is how is straddles the line between being a serious film set in the Italian Giallo 70’s and a farce of those same films. Those films were melodramatic to the nth degree with ultra-machismo sensibilities, dubbed voices, and reactions that are way over the top and beyond. So the antics that go in on THE EDITOR aren’t really that far off from the way those “so bad they’re good” Italian movies from the 70’s actually played as. Most likely and obviously given the authenticity of the film, the folks behind this film feel like super fans of this genre of filmmaking as they are spot on with the gritty and Grindhousey way things were filmed, the overly-complicated plot twists, the obvious red herrings, and clichéd actions and dialog. While this film is absolutely outrageous at times, for a good long time, this film could play off as an unearthed gem from the seventies if no one were the wiser it was a farce. It’s this authentic method with which Astron-6 tells this story with attention to deep focus, layered action in the foreground and background, the color palette of deep crimsons and blues, stiff acting, bad dubbing, and the gratuitous gore and nudity that makes it all the more entertaining and fun.
Everyone, from the lead members of Astron-6 to the smaller roles given to key genre greats do a fantastic job in THE EDITOR. Brooks, Kennedy, and Sweeney bounce off of one another as if they’ve been acting out these antics for years with comedy timing that is impeccable. But add in creepy Lawrence Harvey who is dubbed a wizard, though he plays a priest and a pouty Paz De La Huerta and the ante is upped. Seeing these bigger named stars appear in this film with the goofballs of Astron-6 make it feel like these guys (most deservedly) have finally hit the big time. While FATHER’S DAY and MANBORG have indie sensibilities, with THE EDITOR, these filmmakers have reached a new level of hilarity, madcappery, and blood-drenched mayhem.
Loaded with gratuitous nudity, raunchy and ridiculous sex, uncoordinated action sequences, and sopping wet gore, THE EDITOR is a film you watch with your horror-appreciative friends with massive amounts of beer and a bellyful of laughs just waiting to escape. If you’re not familiar with Italian Giallo films THE EDITOR is paying homage to, first, I recommend you go out and check out as many of those films as you can as they are most definitely awesome. You can start with Argento and Bava and then move on from there. I could see this film falling flat for a lot of folks who have not experienced this type of cinema before. But if you’ve seen even a few Italian Giallo films from the 70’s and 80’s, you’re going to get a lot of the jokes and send ups here. I laughed out loud almost the entire way through THE EDITOR, a film that is equal parts gory farce and authentic Giallo. Astron-6 are a cadre of creative souls that I can’t get enough of and having conquered the world of Giallo here, it’ll be interesting to see what they will come up with next.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment!
THE FINAL GIRLS (2015)Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written by M.A. Fortin (screenplay), Joshua John Miller(screenplay)
Starring Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Devine, Tory N. Thompson, Chloe Bridges, Angela Trimbur, Lauren Gros, & Dan B. Norris as Jason Voor—I mean, Billy Murphy!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Knowing nothing about this film going in is the way to enjoy it the most. So if you don’t want to be spoiled in the least, know that THE FINAL GIRLS is good. Surprisingly good. So surprisingly good that it’s the type of film I can’t wait to pass on as a recommendation to friends. It’s a fantastic love letter to the slasher film that manages to pay homage without making fun of it. If you’re a fan of slasher films, then do everything and anything you can to see this film. Skip past my review below and just see it. OK?
Now for those who have seen it or those who don’t care about spoilers, here’s the synopsis. AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Taisa Farmiga plays Max Cartwright the daughter of a famous scream queen from the 80’s named Amanda (WATCHMEN’s Malin Ackerman). When her mother is killed in a car accident, Max is devastated, of course and when the film geek brother of her friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) finds out who Max’s mother is, he flips and invites her to a movie marathon celebrating her mother’s most famous role CAMP BLOODBATH PARTS 1 & 2. Max tentatively agrees to go with her friends to the show and marvels at her mom on the screen, but when a fire breaks out in the theater, the only way out is through the screen and Max and her friends end up trapped in the movie. Now they have to prevent the nubile youngsters, including Max’s mom, from following horror movie conventions in order to keep everyone safe and survive until the end of the movie.
Meta, yes. But while SCREAM made fun of the genre for its conventions, there is a quality about this film that celebrates all of the great stuff that goes on in those conventional horror movies. Though it obviously follows the FRIDAY THE 13TH formula right down to the machete wielding masked man monster wronged as a kid, THE FINAL GIRLS also pays homage to THE BURNING with the origin of its slasher Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris). Rules of who fits the final girl template are mapped out pretty concisely here and it really feels like writers M.A. Fortin & Joshua John Miller and director Todd Strauss-Schulson know and love these types of horror films as much as you and I do, celebrating slasher tropes such as have sex or show your boobs, you die, rather than ridiculing them for being there as the SCREAM films did.
But this mirthful trounce through the merry world of slashers wouldn’t be anything without the fantastic cast, all of which deliver comedy straight to your face. While there is plenty of over the top comedy, again, none of it is mean-spirited. It’s not going to make you leave this film feeling ashamed to be a fan of the slasher genre. In fact, the cast, the comedy and the story will make you love the slasher films and maybe even respect them even more. This is all due to fantastic comedic performances by fantastic Malin Ackerman, WORKAHOLICS’ Adam Devine as the overly-horny counselor, SILICON VALLEY’s Thomas Middleditch as the overzealous horror fanatic, and SILICON VALLEY’s Angela Trimbur as the counselor spastically eager to take her top off. Balancing out the comedy though is a surprisingly effective beating heart and soul in the performance of Taisa Farmiga as Max. This could have easily been a soulless comedy, but Farmiga beings depth to the movie as she is conflicted with seeing her mother (Ackerman) again after she had lost her in real life. The relationship between Ackerman and Farmiga grabbed me on an emotional level I wasn’t expecting. Both actresses show depth here that I hadn’t seen in their prior performances and director Strauss-Schulson deserves a lot of praise being able to balance not only the horror and comedy, but also some extremely strong and effective emotional beats in this film which only heightened my investment in the film.
The slasher films finally have their WIZARD OF OZ in THE FINAL GIRLS, a fantastic foray into a magical and fantastic world that just happens to be haunted by a seven foot man-monster with a machete. The comedy hits the mark, I’d say 90% of the time, and if the big beating heart this film possesses doesn’t reel you into the story, you might need to check your pulse. The final act of the film even manages to be pretty scary and action packed as director Strauss-Schulson (who previously only directed one film prior to this one, A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS) swoops the camera around at breakneck speed and puts out masked killer in actions that highlight how cool he can be. In a year where there isn’t a FRIDAY THE 13TH film for fans to enjoy, THE FINAL GIRLS is the next best thing and is probably the most gripping, fun, and exciting film of this type in ages. This is the film that deserves all of the praise films like CABIN IN THE WOODS and SCREAM for taking a look at the genre through a meta lens, but this film honors the proud tradition of the slasher in modern horror. It’s the type of movie that makes me proud to be a fan of horror. I can’t recommend this film more. See it, horror fans. I think you’ll love it as much as I did.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Radius Films!
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2015)aka ICH SHE ICH SHE
Directed by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
Written by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
Starring Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Hans Escher, Elfriede Schatz, Karl Purker, Georg Deliovsky, Christian Steindl, Christian Schatz, Erwin Schmalzbauer
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
In horror, more times than not, the goal is to lure the viewer or reader in and then attack them when their guard is down with horrifying images that often challenge ones perception of what is right or wrong, up or down, inside or out. The whole concept of tension is to lure the viewer in by having them trust the film, only to pull the rug out from under them and give them a thrill. From the very beginning; with the dream like setting and the playful behavior of twins Lucas and Elias (played by real life twins Lucas and Elias Schwarz), I just didn’t trust this film. It gave me an ooky feeling from the get go. Blame Serling or O’Henry or M. Night Shamalayan or whoever, but the surreal landscape and cold look of every scene in GOODNIGHT MOMMY made me proceed with caution. Because of that, I feel GOODNIGHT MOMMY is going to be another one of those polarizing films. The type of film that some folks love for the weirdness of it all and the type some folks will call stoopid because they were able to see through the mist and call the bluff of this film early on. As a person who appreciates the road traveled rather much more than the arrival at a destination, I felt this is one of the better horror films you’re going to see this year.
The aforementioned twins seem to have been left alone in a wild and untamed world of cornfields, serene lakes, dark caverns, and spongy earth. After a day of playing, they return home to find their mother home from the hospital, bandaged around her face apparently from a recent and nondescript accident. Testy and tired, Mother (played by Susanne Wuest) doesn’t put up with the behavior of the boys and not looking or behaving like the loving mother they know, the twins decide that this person, bandaged and weary, is not their mother. Whether or not that is true is left to be determined as the narrative unfolds and the twins test their mother to see if she in fact is someone alien invading their home and replacing their beloved mother.
This film deals with identity. Not only with the way one looks being the way you feel about a person, but with the way one identifies oneself within a family unit. Because their mother looks completely different that what they know, the twins believe her to be someone else. The kids love their mother, but the concept that the look of ones’ mother might change is something that is too much for a child-like mind and therefore, the sight of mother in a new form immediately shakes the twins world to their core. At the same time, because of some clever narrative twists, the twins begin to merge into one unit, losing their individuality and functioning as one as twins often do. The oddity of the mirror image in the form of a twin is examined thoroughly in this film as Cronenberg did in DEAD RINGERS in which the screen is often solely dedicated to twins doing something similar, doing something together, or saying lines at once. This also applies to Jungian archtypes of the twin. When presented with identical twins, the tendency of the human mind is to differentiate the two. When that is seemingly impossible, it immediately confuses the brain and makes for an uneasy feeling. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is filled with these instances and while this film is ripe with weirdness, the fact that it involves twins plays with ones perceptions in a surreal way that immediately makes you feel as if this is some kind of unreal and uneasy realm the story is functioning within.
Now on top of the twin stuff (which is weird enough), there is an abundance of surreal landscapes, silent action and imagery, hissing cockroaches, flames, sickly cats, and weird masks. Even if twins don’t freak you out, it’s more than likely that something from the list I just threw out there will. This is a film designed to unease from frame one until the last and I found it to be successful in doing so pretty much the entire time. The simplistic and cold way this film is presented doesn’t capture these imagery in a shocking fashion, which makes it all the more disconcerting that a dead cat floating in kerosene can be presented in the same cold manner as a beautiful green field and both have such an other worldly and serene presentation that it all feels like some kind of twisted dream you can’t get out of.
Actors Lukas & Elias Schwarz are phenomenal as they we see this film through their eyes. Watching these two play with one another in the bath and have burping contests immediately make you take their side and see the world through their seemingly honest and innocent eyes. But as I said before, this is a film that can’t be trusted. And letting your guard down just because these kids are seemingly innocent is a mistake their “Mother” and myself as the viewer made. As the story unfolds, it is evident that Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz are master filmmakers in the sense of creating a world where the bizarre occurs in a mesmerizing fashion.
I was able to pin down where this film was going early on and I’m sure savvy filmgoers will be able to do so as well. That said, this awareness of what was happening in the story didn’t take away from GOODNIGHT MOMMY being so damn effective in conveying a sense of uneasy dream with the threat of a dark nightmare looming just in the periphery. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is much more than just the hook and the twist. It’s about mood and playing with the way we perceive what is real and what is not supposed to be. Flipping expectations and what we know is right and wrong on it’s head, GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a film that will not be forgotten once seen.
Available from Summer Hill Films/TomCat Films!
ADALINE: THE CONJURED (2015)Directed by Bidisha Chowdhury
Written by Bidisha Chowdhury
Starring Jill Evyn, Lane Townsend, Jeremy Walker, Emily Claeys, Pamela Finney, Sergio Alejandro, C.S. Boris, Anne Hallinan, Val Garrahan, Elise Scarlott, Dixon Phillips, Cole Panther, Warren Serkin, Camille Grenier, Mackenszie Drae
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I try really hard to watch films all the way through, not matter how bad they are. ADALINE: THE CONJURED truly tested that rule as I just wanted this one to end. Some work on editing and pepping up the way a scene looks and plays could go a long way in making a film like this work. As is, ADELINE THE CONJURED just didn’t bring anything new to the table, and what it did bring needs a lot of work from a directing and editing perspective.
Jill Evyn plays the dual role of Adaline, a woman from the past tortured and killed for being a witch, and Daniela, a present day artist, down on her luck until she inherits a home from an aunt she didn’t know she had. Seeing this as a new start, Daniela moves into the old home, meets the locals, and begins seeing visions of Adaline’s struggles. Along the way, she meets the local special needs kid and a neighboring carpenter with an interest in her and a tendency to work without a shirt.
The intentions of ADALINE: THE CONJURED are noble. It tries to flesh out the lead character and make her likable, but clichéd and cardboard characters are littered throughout this flm and even if the characters weren’t so two dimensional, the pacing is horribly off. The film simply moves at a snail’s pace, lingering on conversations that lead nowhere filled with uncomfortable pauses in between cuts. This film needs a really good edit. As is, the scenes pass at a tedious rate. And while the name of the film might the slow minded that it is a part of the ADHD style scares of the CONJURING/INSIDIOUS films, ADELINE: THE CONJURED just doesn’t have the speed or muscle to even be in the race with those types of films. Not that those films are amazing, but ADELINE: THE CONJURED still doesn’t hold a candle to those theatrical releases.
And finally…being a big fan of the goth music the kids are listening to these days, I really liked this catchy new video from the shock rock band Ghosts in the Graveyard called “Better in Black!” If you like what you hear below, check out their website and Facebook page here!
And check out this macabre little ditty, “Better in Black” by Ghosts in the Graveyard below!
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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