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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. As I head out to New York for Comic Con, I leave you with another batch of horrors to partake in…

On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

WEIRD. DARK. A STRANGE SCIENCE FICTION BOX SET Short Story Collection (2015) / HE WAITS Short Story Collection (2015)
EATERS (2015)
JUNE (2015)
And finally…Kevin Forte’s SIN REAPERS!

A Book Creeport: you can buy these books here and here!

WEIRD. DARK. A STRANGE SCIENCE FICTION BOX SET Short Story Collection (2015) / HE WAITS Short Story Collection (2015)

By Luke Smitherd
Reviewed by: BottleImp

While I love a good novel, I’ve always had a passion for reading short fiction. Short stories have a few things going for them. First, they’re short (obviously), which means that I can easily fit in at least one complete tale even on my busiest days. Second, their length forces authors to be particular and concise with their writing style. Too often even the best writers fall victim to what I call “The Bloat”—filling novels with pages and pages of what amounts to filler material that serves little to no purpose in advancing the narrative. Easy to do when typing up 500 pages worth of words, but when you’re limited to thirty pages, or twenty, or even ten? Brevity becomes king. And third, I find that the short story format is ideally suited for the Science Fiction and Horror genres. When the length of a novel can lead to boredom, destroy the reader’s suspension of disbelief, and make the terrifying seem mundane (or worse, ridiculous), the quick, sharp jab of a short story can deliver excitement, wonder, and fear with amazing precision.

Luke Smitherd is an up-and-coming author whose novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing in the past here for AICN (if you haven’t read them already, you can check out my thoughts on THE STONE MAN, A HEAD FULL OF KNIVES, and IN THE DARKNESS, THAT’S WHERE I’LL KNOW YOU. Now Smitherd has released several short stories that have all the imagination, wonder, and horror contained in his novels, but with all the advantages found in the short story format mentioned above. By now if you’ve read those previous reviews, you know that I’m a fan of the man’s work. Smitherd’s greatest strength is his imagination; his books are always surprising and never predictable. This quality, along with his ability to craft genuine, fully-realized, wonderfully human characters, is made for short fiction, and I’m happy to say that every story in these two collections is crackling with emotion and imagination.

WEIRD. DARK. collects four tales that would feel right at home in either “The Twilight Zone” or, more fittingly, nestled in with works of the likes of Clarke, Heinlein, Kuttner, Bradbury, or Sturgeon—they’re the kind of science fiction that is as much about the human mind as it is faster-than-light warp drives or life on other planets. HOLD ON UNTIL YOUR FINGERS BREAK, in particular, is the kind of time-twisting mystery that reminds me of the classic SF of Robert Heinlein. This is not the cliché cause-and-effect time travel paradox, but something much more intriguing… and much more devastating. THE MAN ON TABLE TEN starts simply enough, with a young waitress at a pub taking a lunch order from an old man seated at the titular table. But when the man tells her his story, the waitress must decide if the man is a liar, or insane, or if she and everyone else on Earth has only months to live. MY NAME IS MISTER GRIEF tells the story of a man who has the strange ability to take someone else’s pain and anguish and draw it into his own body. But what price does Mister Grief pay for doing so, and worse, what price is paid by the one whose pain is being drawn? The ending had me thinking for days after I read it; looking at it one way, the story ends happily with the characters getting what they desired, but in another way, the ending is one of utmost horror. Smitherd’s fertile imagination runs amok in the shortest of the quartet, THE CRASH. Though what happens in this tale could serve as the seed of a full-length novel, Smitherd chooses (wisely, I think) to write THE CRASH as just a moment of the strange and unusual intruding upon our everyday world.

While these stories fall most clearly under the SF banner, the two tales contained in HE WAITS are pure horror. The title story deals with fear and death—two common themes in Smitherd’s writing—while maintaining the strong sense of emotional human connection that also permeates the author’s body of work. Though the story has a satisfying story arc and truly nightmarish moments, it is the second story in this collection, KEEP YOUR CHILDREN CLOSE that I found to be the most terrifying. And much like Smitherd’s novels, I never knew what was coming next in this story. When a family camping in the Welsh countryside finds that their car won’t start and the father goes for help, he comes across an odd pair of mechanics driving an old truck who seem initially reluctant to help, then almost frighteningly eager once they reach the campsite. What appears to be the beginning of the type of backwoods horror excelled at by authors such as Joe Lansdale is ultimately revealed as something altogether different, and even scarier. In the horror genre, familiarity absolutely does breed contempt, and Smitherd obviously knows this. Why else would he be so talented at expertly crafting stories that defy expectations?

For me there is no greater joy than seeing an artist excel at his craft, and these two collections prove that Luke Smitherd is not an author content to rest on regurgitating past successes. WEIRD and DARK, yes, but more importantly, his short fiction is exciting and imaginative. Whether you’ve read his novels and are already a fan or these short stories are your first introduction to Smitherd’s work, you’ll be blown away by the abundance of ideas that can be expressed in a small number of pages.

The BottleImp is in reality Stephen Andrade, an artist and sign maker who lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife and baby daughter. Once every hundred years or so, in between work, painting, and changing diapers, he manages to review the occasional comic book, movie, or novel for AICN. You can see his artwork at!

Retro-review: New this week in Warner Brothers Horror Classics Volume 1 BluRay Box Set!


Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Bert Batt (screenplay), Anthony Nelson Keys(from an original story by), based on characters created by Mary Shelley
Starring Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters, Maxine Audley, George Pravda, Geoffrey Bayldon, Colette O'Neil, Frank Middlemass, George Belbin, Norman Shelley, Michael Gover, Peter Copley, Jim Collier
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

For some reason, I’ve never been a huge fan of Frankenstein films. It’s the same problem I have with Dracula films: there’s only so many times I can watch the same story before I just get bored with it. I think that’s one of the main reasons I love the Hammer films (though there is a lot to love). The Hammer films used the original Dracula and Frankenstein stories as tome and then made interesting sequels to them. While the Dracula films were great, I loved what they did with Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, as his character is taken down darker and darker paths as the films go on--and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is a really dark film.

Opening with a bloody murder, we find a masked Baron once again in need of body parts for his diabolical experiments. This fifth installment in the Hammer Frankenstein films, the concept of making a human has become somewhat passé and Frankenstein is instead interested in transferring one person’s brain into another’s. Locked in an asylum is Dr. Brandt (George Pravda), a competitor and colleague of Frankenstein driven mad by his own experiments. Still on the run from his deeds in the previous films, Frankenstein blackmails an asylum doctor named Karl (Simon Ward) and his lovely fiancée Anna (Veronica Carlson) to break out Brandt and perform a brain transplant on him, as he is the perfect subject according to Frankenstein, who is presuming that insanity is in the body and taking Brandt’s mind from it will cure his mental illness.

As with some of the other Hammer films, I love seeing Frankenstein’s own evil intentions and skewed scientific hypotheses at work in this film. Cushing is amazing in his conviction that he is absolutely just and right in every one of his evil moves. It’s amazing the way Cushing sells Frankenstein’s conniving ways as he easily blackmails the young lovers into being his personal Igors throughout this film. In this film, there’s a depth to Frankenstein’s performance that few other actors have ever brought to the character as he manipulates, lies, tortures, and even acts in jealousy towards a contemporary who threatens his own intellect and represents how obsession leads to madness (something that plagues Frankenstein as well).

While I have read that the rape scene in this film was a late add on, it really does highlight Frankenstein’s full metamorphosis into the monster he created in the original story during this scene, which mirrors the scene between the Monster and his wife. The scene is very uncomfortable to watch, as Cushing really does act take control of every aspect of the lovers’ lives, and while the moment is a despicable act, it fits into the grand devolution of the character very well.

The “monster” in this film is less of a patchwork man than it is a funhouse mirror image of Frankenstein as Brandt, in his new body, does appear to be cured. While her husband’s mind in another body is something that is too much for Brandt’s wife to take, it is interesting that Frankenstein is successful in his intent to cure Brandt. Though his intentions are not on the up and up, it is interesting to see that Frankenstein actually did something positive for a change (but I guess that is the point of the first film, with him creating life as well). Still, as in the first story, Frankenstein’s bent mind is his ultimate downfall and this one ends rather abruptly, but in a very exciting fashion.

I’ll be reviewing the rest of the horrors in this Horror Classics BluRay Collection from Warner Brothers. FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is another richly textured and psychologically complex take on the classic character, but Christopher Lee-free. The rest in this collection are all starring Lee and Cushing together, which will be a treat to revisit.

New this week on DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!

EATERS (2015)

Directed by Johnny Tabor
Written by Johnny Tabor
Starring Marcelle Bowman, Robert Dean, Tristan Parrish Moore, Jonathan Haltiwanger, Hannah Risinger, Algernon D'Ammassa, Jack Lutz, Michael Ryan Cunningham, Jason Rivera, John Hutchinson, Karin Keesling, Anthony Ford, Derek Weikel, Connor Sanders, Patrick McKinley
Find out more about this film on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Have you ever watched a film or heard a song or checked out a piece of art and if it wasn’t for one part of it, it would be pretty enjoyable? And while you can enjoy whatever it is for what it is, that one nagging thing is the thing that kind of ruins it? That’s exactly how I felt while watching EATERS, a weird little flick with a lot of promise…except in this case, the one thing that almost ruins the whole thing is the acting.

A group of hipsters are on a road trip when they run afoul of a biker gang at a truck stop. When one of the girls goes missing, the hipsters assume the bikers took her, so they barrel down the highway to catch up with them, but they don’t find their missing friend with the bikers. Instead they find a ghost town filled with people wearing bags over their heads, and these bag-wearing townies are weird as shit and very, very deadly.

There is a simplicity to both the story and threat here that I truly appreciate. Not much is revealed about the town full of bag-headed eaters other than the fact that they like to vivisect and possibly (if their name is correct) eat people. We don’t know their motives, their beliefs, their origins, or even what’s under those bags. This ambiguity makes you fill in the blanks yourself with unspeakable horrors, and that’s kind of fun. Just enough is shared to give you an altogether ooky feeling about them, and that’s it, so if you’re the type that likes all of the answers given to them, this is going to be a maddening movie for you, but if you don’t mind not knowing every bit of detail about the monsters of this film, you might like it as I did.

What I absolutely didn’t like was the abysmal acting from pretty much the entire cast. The film does such a great job of setting up the threat and even leading us along a compelling story, but the actors involved are just plain terrible. Flat, bland, and dead-eyed deliveries are offered up from most of the cast, save maybe for Marcelle Bowman, who seems to have some talent at being a pretty person in peril. This film was almost ruined for me by the horrible acting from a cast that was either made up of friends of the director or were given parts because of a lost bet.

My advice to the filmmakers is to actually be a little choosy with the cast you pick. This film has a lot of fun ideas and really is effectively creepy at times, but when lines are delivered with no emotion or soul, it can really ruin a film. EATERS has potential, and maybe the idea can be expanded upon with a better cast as the ending suggests, but man this film tried really hard to get me to hate it, and it almost worked.

New this week on BluRay/DVD, digital download from Universal Home Entertainment!


Directed by Don Michael
Written by John Whelpley
Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Ernest Ndhlovu, Lawrence Joffe, Zak Hendrikz, Natalie Becker, Emmanuel Castis, Brandon Auret, Daniel Janks, Jarrod Pinto, Rea Rangaka, Ian Roberts, Sello Sebotsane, Pearl Thusi
Find out more about this film here on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I think I might have missed an installment or three of the TREMORS franchise. The first is a modern classic, with an amazing cast and an imaginative monster. I seem to remember watching the sequel and being introduced to the little walking monsters, but very little else rings a bell. While TREMORS 5: BLOODLINES has a bit of the fun of the first one, it definitely doesn’t have the cast or the story to back it up.

FAMILY TIES’ Michael Gross seems to be the only cast member from the original ensemble who is dedicated enough to the franchise to continue appearing in these films. Gross’ Burt Gummer is a survivalist, attempting to make a buck by filming a cable survival show and highlighting his experience battling the Graboids (giant sand worms that burrow through the earth and eat you with their tentacle tongues). When his cameraman gets another assignment, Burt is introduced to Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy), an extreme sportsman who has an interest in Burt’s exploits. While Burt immediately takes a disliking to Travis, the two are given an offer to track down a Graboid that is attacking locals in a small African village. Attesting that Graboids do not exist outside of the American Southwest, Burt reluctantly goes to find the mother of all Graboids attempting to reproduce in Africa and secure itself at the top of the food chain.

I have to admit, it’s fun to see the sand worms bursting through the ground and chomping down on people and animals. The flying Assblasters, which fart flames that propel them through the air, and the Shriekers, which walk around on two legs and screech at their targets while chasing them, are along for the ride as well, though this being Africa all three species of creature are bigger and meaner than ever. Sure the effects aren’t as fantastic as the mostly practical original, but the CG worms here are better than the usual SyFy fare. The final battle with the worms is pretty intense and really well rendered, so as far as the monsters are concerned, this is a winner.

Now, the in between parts between Gross and Kennedy…not so much. Gross is fully committed as Burt Gummer and really is the best thing (besides the Graboids themselves) about this film, as he has played this character for four movies now and is pretty comfortable with the character. The addition of Jamie Kennedy, though, is just kind of lame. I understand a new cast member, most likely that will be committed to churn out a few of these films, is necessary, but the story connecting Burt and Travis is hokey and sitcom-y. The conflict between the two characters is forced, as is its resolution. Any time the two are arguing on screen, I just wanted a Graboid to pop up and chew them both up.

Still it’s impressive that the TREMORS series has made it to five and the fun that was teeming in the first film is still there in parts of this installment. Gross is great here as Gummer, and that level of conviction should be applauded. Kennedy’s lines and deliveries, though, are just painfully bad and really don’t add much to the film besides groans. If you’re a fan of this series, I’m sure this film is something you’re going to want to see. But having seen the first two installments, I know there are at least two films in this series better than this one.

New this week on DVD from Brain Damage Films!


Directed by Josh Hasty
Written by Kenny Caperton
Starring Mariah Brown, Frank J. Aard, Anjali Alm-Basu, Katie Bearden, Roberto Bricchi, Kenny Caperton, Ethan Dunn, Ann Hale, David Hensley, Rachel Jeffreys, Madge Maril, Samantha Mills, Andy Perry, Joan Schuermeyer, Laura Weil
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Honeyspider don’t care!

No, this isn’t a lispy documentary about the badassedness of a particular species of spider. This is a story about Jackie Blue (Mariah Brown), who celebrates her birthday 21st birthday (and every other birthday, I guess) on Halloween and is experiencing all sorts of weird dreams and hallucinations involving creeping spiders and skull-headed monsters in the woods. While she is trying to get through her birthday by working and studying at the local theater, Jackie becomes more and more sick, vomiting up spiders and being attacked by old smiling men. Turns out a particular cult has an interest in Jackie, and this interest may prove deadly for the birthday girl.

This is a low, low budgeter that really does try to inundate the viewer with creepy imagery and sounds, and some of the imagery is rather successful in causing some gross-out chills, specifically the spider vomiting scene. But vomit always grosses me out, so I don’t want to give this film too much credit.

The problem with this film is that it sort of starts out with a solid story structure, but comes apart at the seams and turns into a trancelike walk through a hallucinatory realm where you’re really not sure what is dream and what is real. I’m not against this happening, but this film reminded me a lot of Rob Zombie’s LORDS OF SALEM, which sort of had a likable protagonist (which is debatable) and then sort of devolved into music video shock footage. Less capably shot and realized, HONEYSPIDER never really has a point to begin with, so when things unravel, it’s really hard to care. The music is dreary, and we simply watch Jackie moan and stumble through alleyways and streets filled with trick or treaters until we get to a ceremony in the woods performed by a trio of witches.

I think HONEYSPIDER would be best played in the background in a club or Halloween party, simply because the story doesn’t matter as much as the imagery. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, but the meandering and drudgerous story really made this one difficult to get through.

New this week on DVD and digital download on iTunes from RLJ Entertainment!

JUNE (2015)

Directed by L. Gustavo Cooper
Written by L. Gustavo Cooper, Sharon Y. Cobb
Starring Casper Van Dien, Victoria Pratt, Kennedy Brice, Aiden Flowers, Eddie Jemison, Addy Miller, Lance E. Nichols, Rachel Whitman Groves, Juliette Beavan, Theodora Greece, Kevin Will, Cindy Hogan, Chad Graham, Thomas R. Martin, Towns W. Sanford, Joshua R. Todd
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While it doesn’t bring a lot of new material to the table, JUNE is in possession of more than a few nice scares and creepy moments.

The film opens with a sort of ritual where a little baby is to be sacrificed on an altar, but the mother of the baby steals it and leaves the hooded cultists chasing after her. Flash forward a few years and the baby, June (played by the talented Kennedy Brice), has been shuffled from one foster home to another. Her DCFS worker Victor (OCEAN’S ELEVEN’s Eddie Jemison) fights to get her out of her current abusive home and into a caring one. That home happens to be owned by Dave and Lily Anderson (Casper Van Dien and Victoria Pratt), a couple who thinks they are prepared for the ups and downs of foster children, but turn out to be unprepared for this telekinetic and possibly possessed child. June is occasionally taken over by a spirit she calls Aer which causes horrific things to happen when June feels threatened or anxious, and that means bad news for anyone who gets in her way.

So, yeah, this is a possessed child film. But there are no priests Christ-compelling or bedpost knots to be seen here, which is refreshing. Shades of CARRIE are present throughout, but there is no bible-thumping mom, either, so in terms of story, at least JUNE doesn’t take a conventional route. There are quite a few nicely timed scares here, though it’s pretty evident when June is going to Aer out by the music and the convulsing. June in full Aer mode is rather menacing, and Brice does a really great job switching from evil entity to sweet child. The rest of the cast do a good job as well, with Dien showing more depth than he usually does as a husband who wants to make this work, but doesn’t see how they can take care of June the way she is. Pratt is decent here as well, though her motivation shifts unexpectedly more than once throughout the film.

And that’s where this film sort of falls apart. There is a late in the game reveal that really doesn’t make a lot of sense, as one character’s secret means that person has been lying to the viewer and everyone else since the beginning. Many scenes show this character alone having difficulty with June, and this character’s motivations shift and then shift again throughout the film, making it unnecessarily confusing for the viewer. This really wraps things up on an unsatisfying note as the perspective of the film, and the reveal’s effectiveness, really does change throughout the film. I’m trying to maintain some kind of spoiler-free description here, but basically the film would work if it were told from the perspective of one character, but because it isn’t, the reveal really isn’t that big and the reasoning behind it doesn’t add up, especially when the ending tries to play it off as if this is the best ending for everyone.

Sorry again for that last vague paragraph. I guess basically what I was trying to say was that while there are decent performances, the motivations of characters and the unnecessary complexity of the story at the end just lost me by the time the credits rolled. There are some creepy fun moments and culty aspects of JUNE, but the logic of the film just doesn’t hold up as the perspective the story is elusive and the motivations of the characters get murky as the story goes on.

New this week on BluRay/DVD from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Guillermo Amoedo
Written by Guillermo Amoedo
Starring Lorenza Izzo, Aaron Burns, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Gnecco, Nicolás Durán, Eric Kleinsteuber, Alessandra Guerzoni, John Allan, Pablo Vila, Elvis Gonzalez, Sally Rose
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Eli Roth produced this vampiric mix of elements from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and NEAR DARK, though it lacks the heart that is evident in both. Still, THE STRANGER is a better than average fang flick.

A stranger walks into a small Canadian town and visits a home where a woman named Ana used to live. Though he tells the stranger she doesn’t live there anymore, the boy at the door takes the stranger to Ana’s grave. When the stranger is beaten up by the son of a policeman and his gang, the boy takes the stranger in, not knowing that this dark unknown man is a bloodsucker!

The biggest hindrance to this film is that this is a Chilean film set in a Canadian town, so though everything is done in English, there’s a vague and indistinct accent in the dialog, sometimes almost as if the actors themselves don’t know the meaning of the lines they are saying. There’s also a dubbed feel to the film, as if some of the actor’s voices were redone either because of sound quality or thick accents. I don’t know a lot about the film and usually I don’t have problems with this in older films, but for some reason, in this modern day and age of high quality sound, it really didn’t help me in connecting with any of the characters.

The narrative here is simple: Stranger comes into town, stranger gets beat up and seemingly killed, stranger turns out to be a vampire. The simplicity of the narrative and lack of dialog is reminiscent of some of Carpenter’s early flicks or some kind of vampire spaghetti Western (this aspect most likely prompted Roth to place his name on this as a producer, given the director’s love for Italian cinema). The film is also reminiscent of another recent film, THE GUEST, as it involves a dangerous man of mystery coming into town and changing the lives of a family drastically. There’s a grittiness here, as none of the actors are well known and everyone is put through the meat grinder by the end as the vampire curse (here the stranger treats it like a virus, as he is afraid to affect others with his malady) begins to spread to folks not as responsible as the stranger. This morality of the vampire reminds me again of films where we get to know the vamp and their plight, such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and NEAR DARK. Unlike most films which cast the vampire as a monster, this one understands and feels the guilt and responsibility that comes with the curse.

This definitely isn’t the feel good vampire movie of the year, as the entire cast feels like it is in definite need of a caffeine boost. While I was rooting for the boy and the stranger to make it out of this predicament alive, I can’t say I got to know them very much during this film. Director Guillermo Amoedo does have a gift for conveying down to earth action and an overall sense of tension and dread. This is one dark film, and aside from some dialog and sound issues, I think there will be a lot out there who will like it. While it does suffer from being derivative, it conveys a strong tension and heavy mood that makes this intense and grounded monster flick worth seeking out.

New this week on BluRay/DVD from Doppelganger Releasing!


Directed by Fabrice Du Welz
Written by Fabrice Du Welz (screenplay), Romain Protat (adaptation & dialog), Vincent Tavier (co-writer)
Starring Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Héléna Noguerra, Édith Le Merdy, Anne-Marie Loop, Stéphane Bissot
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Loosely based on the Lonely Hearts Killers Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck, director Fabrice Du Welz offers up a powerful and grotesque film about how ugly love can be in ALLELUIA.

VOLVER’s Lola Duenas plays Gloria, a single mom who has accepted her loneliness as inevitable and refuses to make a change in her life. When her friend sets her up on an online date with Michel (Laurent Lucas) she is reluctant to go, but soon finds the quirky shoe salesman attractive and interesting. Flinging herself into the relationship, she is quickly taken advantage of as Michel swindles her out of a large sum of money and then disappears. But while she is tempted to fall into depression, Gloria seeks out Michel, who is in the middle of a new con. Instead of lashing out at him for his deceit, Gloria instead seems to understand why Michel does what he does and sets out to help him in his cons so that the both of them can accrue a large amount of money and live happily ever after. But Gloria doesn’t take into account how insanely jealous she can be, and the non-violent cons Michel is used to pulling off soon turn gory as hell. Leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, Michel and Gloria bop from one rich widow to the next, trying to find happiness.

The effectiveness of this film lies in the fact that we are watching a deeply disturbed individual in Gloria. Duenas is unhinged from the first scene in the film. Like THE BABADOOK, she is a stressed out and lonely mother who is barely keeping things together. But unlike THE BABADOOK, in which the stresses of motherhood pick at the protagonist’s psyche, ALLELUIA takes a more extreme route and allows for Gloria a bit of happiness. All it takes it this glimmer of something special in her life again, and Gloria tosses out everything to attain it. Leaving her child behind with her friends, Gloria embarks on this doomed mission to find happiness with Michel, becoming more and more insane as the film goes on. Still, as evidenced after her first kill when Gloria sings a sad little song over the body of her first victim in front of her and wishing Michel safe travels, Gloria is an absolute nutcase. Seeing Duenas lash out in explosive fury at seeing Michel with another woman time and again is disturbing because you know Gloria is a mother and has so much to lose, yet cares nothing for any of it in favor of her own happiness.

If this were a Hollywood film, somewhere along the line Gloria would realize the error of her ways and find some way to return to her daughter, but this is not that type of film. This is a film that deals with the absolutely horrific side of love, where you lose yourself in the futile pursuit of finding happiness solely by being with someone else. This is not a comfortable feeling and in turn, this is a truly uncomfortable movie for folks to sit through. While there is a lot of sex, none of it is there for titillation. It’s to highlight even more how ugly and misshapen this love between Gloria and Michel truly is. The horror in ALLELUIA comes from the twisted form the love between these two damaged individuals takes.

Unsettling, unremorseful, and utterly soul-crushing, ALLELUIA is an effective horror on a personal level some folks won’t be comfortable with. But through the fantastic performances by Duenas and Lucas and the grotesque lens which writer/director Fabrice Du Welz views this twisted love with, it’s a film that is hard to shake long after the credits roll.

New this week on BluRay/DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment!


Directed by Gil Kenan
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), based on the 1982 screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, & Mark Victor
Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Saxon Sharbino. Kyle Catlett, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun, Karen Ivany, Patrick Garrow, Soma Bhatia
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Even a fun performance by Sam Rockwell can’t save this watered down and limp remake that only serves to remind you that the original POLTERGEIST was an amazing film that shouldn’t have been remade in the first place.

While the story tries to convince you that this is more of a sequel than a remake, the only thing that really differs from the original is the fact that the original was paced in a manner that allowed you to get to know and really care for this family. In the original, each member of the Freeling family felt like you knew them. They were flawed but likable, and while Rockwell does his best to match the balancing act of charm and jerkishness of Craig T. Russell’s Steve Freeling, he only barely scratches the surface. None of the rest of the family really get enough character moments to garner an inkling of interest.

The problem here is that this film wants it all and it wants it now. Steve Freeling struggled to keep his family provided for and for the most part, POLTERGEIST was his story, attempting to keep his family together through all of the turmoil. There’s an inkling of that with Rockwell’s Eric Bowen, and I think not focusing on the talented actor as the anchor of the film is the biggest mistake the film made. Instead, the heroic moments and big arc belong to little Griffin (Kyle Catlett), the young boy who is overcome by a fear of everything. So while Carol Anne is the focus of concern in the original, things shift inexplicably to be a building of courage for young Griffin to provide all of the heroic beats throughout the whole film, even to the point where it is up to Griffin to leap into the void and bring back his younger sister Madison (this time played by the equally cute Kennedi Clements) after being sucked into the closet by restless spirits.

Yet another heroic arc is given to the unnecessary TV paranormal investigator character Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), who is called in when this film’s Tangina, Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), can’t do the job of making this house clean. It’s kind of alarming in this day and age of female empowerment that this film relies on all of its male characters, even the kid ones, to save the day. Here, Harris is the equivalent of Malcolm MacDowell as Dr. Loomis in Zombie’s HALLOWEEN remake. This glory hound role seems to be a necessity for all remakes, as the FRIGHT NIGHT remake had it too, and none of these roles matched the level of importance or iconic status of the originals. I find it interesting that the wiser, older experts who had all of the answers in the original films are reduced to preening clowns in the remakes.

Adding insult to injury, more is better in this version of POLTERGEIST. There’s a scary clown in the first one; let’s have a bunch of scary clowns in this one. There is a voice in the TV in the original; let’s have tons of hands on the screen in the new one. There’s a creepy tree in the original; well, this creepy tree has CG tendrils that reach around the entire house. Everything is done to excess, with half of the effectiveness because the director doesn’t have the patience to build up a lick of suspense. The scene where the kid counts the seconds between the thunder booms is something that I remember to this day. Here, there is no time for counting thunder claps when the tree is breaking through the windows.

None of the patience, none of the scares, none of the investment, and barely anything new being brought to the table makes POLTERGEIST one of the most unnecessary of reboots I’ve seen in quite a while. While films like THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS owe a lot to POLTERGEIST, at least those films are trying new things. POLTERGEIST is a shallow carbon copy of the original and is the perfect example of the unnecessary remake. Leave well enough alone and get behind some original horrors, Hollywood.

New this week on DVD from Cinedigm!


Directed by Tyler Shields
Written by Adam Prince (screenplay), Stephen Scarlata, Alejandro Seri, & Johnny Silver (story)
Starring Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Logan Huffman, Cameron Bright, Alexander Ludwig, Reece Thompson, Emma Paetz, Gracyn Shinyei, Francesca Eastwood, Desiree Zurowski
Find out more about this film here on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Well acted and interestingly premised, FINAL GIRL still seems like the tip of the iceberg of the potential this film had. Still, it’s a pretty entertaining little movie.

Young Veronica (Gracyn Shinyei, later played by Abigail Breslin), sits at a table with William (Wes Bentley) staring at her intently. In the opening moments, we find out all we need to know. William seems to have lost someone close to him, and knowing the pattern that often takes place in slasher films, he trains a young girl to fight back against the murderers in the world and…uh…murder them. As Veronica completes her training, William has chosen a quartet of young men who woo girls, take them to the nearby woods, and hunt them for sport. But this time, these young wannabe crooners have met their match.

I found FINAL GIRL to be a fascinatingly flawed film. From minute one, I felt this film would have been a better pilot for a TV series rather than a film, as it never quite gets into the nitty gritty of what drives William to train this girl and how these particular killers came into the team’s sights. I would have loved to see more than just a training montage as Veronica grows into the tiny warrior she turns out to be after the ten minute intro. That said, I also wanted to see Veronica take on other sorts of killers that challenged her in different ways. I guess, in terms of just about everything with this film, I wanted more.

What I did get was a nice little story about four assholes who abuse and kill women until they finally meet their match. The buildup to this meeting of the murderers and Veronica is well done, introducing us to the four killers just enough to know their strengths and weaknesses (which come into play later) in some stylistic scenes including one of the psychos singing old timey music into his axe. The way Veronica battles these four guys is equally impressively realized, and it made for an exciting final half hour of the film as Breslin really gets violent with these guys in pretty brutal (in both psychological and physical) ways and does so in a pretty convincing manner.

But again, as fun as the scenes in the woods were, I liked the tension between the vengeance-driven William and his trainee Veronica. I wanted to see Veronica use more than one trick to take out her opponents. I wanted to see her take on more villains. It’s doubtful this film will ever have a sequel, so why not go balls out with this film? Restraint is this film’s biggest problem, but for what it is, FINAL GIRL is a lot of cool ideas and performances, but not enough scope to match them.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from Dark Sky Films!


Directed by Ted Geoghegan
Written by Ted Geoghegan, Richard Griffin
Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, Michael Patrick Nicholson, Kelsea Dakota, Guy Gane, Elissa Dowling, Zorah Burress, Marvin Patterson, Connie Neer
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

WE ARE STILL HERE is the type of film they just don’t make anymore, and that’s a shame because it’s the type of film that I love. It’s a lived in film--one that feels like the world in which the film exists is well thought out and fully realized, so you don’t so much watch the film as experience it, as writer/director Ted Geoghegan (with his co-writer Richard Griffin) patiently immerses you in this house and this horrifying situation to make a film that is utterly transfixing.

Having just lost their son to a car crash, devastated parents Paul and Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensing and RE-ANIMATOR’s Barbara Crampton) move into an old home in a New England town to start over. But upon entering the home, Anne almost immediately feels a presence and, being overcome with desperation, she believes it is her son reaching out from beyond the grave to communicate to her. Anne invites her friends Jacob and May Lewis (writer/director/actor/all around great dude Larry Fessenden and Tim Burton’s ex Lisa Marie), who are sensitive to the paranormal, to give the house a reading. But what none of them understand is that the house has a long and horrific history, and the Sacchetti family is just the latest in what seems to be many families who move into the home and never leave.

The most prevalent aspect of this film is the pacing. While this might be a film that infuriates the ADHD masses, I found the long shots of the exteriors of the household interspersed with close up shots of the seemingly banal details of the house to set a mood that you can almost touch. One scene in particular focuses on the tendril-like trees with the bare limbs free of leaves due to the winter weather with the house in the background, then cuts to a close-up of a rusty hook on the side of the house. Little moments like this may seem throwaway, but they are crucial in ratcheting up the tension. Geoghegan channels his inner Kubrick here by patiently letting the scene envelop the viewer and pull them in to dangerous places. The long shots of the car driving at the reader down the snowy roads as well as the 80s style clothing reminded me so much of THE SHINING--though the story and content was vastly different, the tone is definitely the same type of creeping unease that permeates that classic film.

Another admirable aspect of the film is that this really feels like the tip of the iceberg in terms of the story involved. This film focuses on two different families’ plights, but there’s a greater evil at play here as you’re not really sure whether the recounting of the tragedies of the town are accurate or some elaborate ruse to cover up something more sinister. It’s this kind of ambiguity that adds to that sense of unease, as if the blacked-out spaces we don’t know make things all the more dangerous. The things we do see are horrifying. Geoghegan teases us with some clever play with shadows and forms in the background, but it’s the burning touch of the white-eyed ghosts with charred black skin that really up the horror. These original-looking specters are horrifying and reminiscent of the dark pirates from John Carpenter’s THE FOG in the way they look and move.

There are a few blips in the delivery of information that feel a bit info-dumpy, as when a neighboring couple stop by to educate the Sacchettis about the history of the house and again when the couple appear later in the film in a restaurant. Still, this exposition is necessary in filling in some of the gaps in the story. For the most part, WE ARE STILL HERE is proof positive that Geoghegan has not only done his homework on what causes effective scares, but is fully capable of delivering retro frights while making them feel fresh and new. All four of the main leads (Crampton, Sensing, Fessenden, and Marie) deliver rock solid and splendidly believable performances, with Crampton once again proving that her best acting years are ahead of her and not behind her in FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR. More horror films should take note of the patience used in this film. The need for a jump scare every two minutes is an insult and often leaves me feeling hollow upon leaving the theater. It’s almost impossible to leave this film unsatisfied as it is chock full of scares, thrills, and absolute horror. Highly recommended.

New this week on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand from Magnet Releasing!


Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
Written by Anthony DiBlasi & Scott Poiley
Starring Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, J LaRose, Natalie Victoria, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger, Mary Lankford Poiley, Randy Molnar
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I knew absolutely nothing about this film upon going into it and was subsequently knocked on my ass at the mood, ambience, and pants-shittingly scary moments LAST SHIFT is filled with.

A rookie cop named Jessica (Juliana Harkavy) is assigned to guard the last shift of a closed down police station. But as the shift goes on, strange and paranormal things begin happening linking to a horrific series of event that occurred in the past at the police station.

Simple, succinct, and precise: that’s what this film is in the way it is set up and executed. This is a simple alone in the house story, but LAST SHIFT is done with so much ambiance and attention to light, lack of light, sound, and the absence of sound that it really does assault your senses as Jessica tries to make her way through the labyrinthine station and find out just what the hell is going on. Unfolding almost like a first person shooter video game, we are on the shoulders of Jessica the whole way through, taking every tentative and terror-fuelled step with her.

This film would have fallen apart had the wrong person been cast as the lead, but Harkavy exudes the right amount of grit and innocence to really convince you that she is both a dedicated cop, but also way out of her depth here. As Jessica she is the daughter of a police officer, and through very few lines she is able to communicate the weight she carries to follow in her father’s footsteps. Little beats such as the way Jessica recites the officer’s code when she is entering a particularly terrifying hallway or dark room give you just enough insight into this character who is trying to be tough, but experiencing the most terrifying night of her life. Harkavy is definitely someone we are going to be seeing in more films, as this is an impressive debut for her as pretty much the sole person in this film and the center of attention the entire time.

But there are other creatures in this “abandoned” precinct, and the horrific imagery is truly terrifying. While there is a sort of SILENT HILL vibe going on, the film really does a lot with very little, such as bloody bags over the faces of hanged corpses, the sound of creaking bones as a ghost crawls up from behind, and the pentagram-carved face of the Manson-like killer. This is a film filled with images that will disturb and haunt you.

Paired with the haunting imagery is director Anthony DiBlasi’s expert use of wide shots to symbolize Jessica’s isolation and use and absence of sounds. The film really does everything it can to pull you into this station along with Jessica. It’s a film where those too afraid to watch the screen will have to somehow cover both their eyes and ears as both senses are masterfully taunted and haunted in this film.

This is a simple premise, sort of like an ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 by way of REC, but it is truly excellent in terms of building tension and delivering bone-rattling scares. I highly recommend LAST SHIFT to be placed on your must see list, as it is the type of sleeper hit you’ll be grateful for finding…that is, until the lights go out and you try to go to sleep afterwards.

And finally…check out this home invasion gone paranormal. It’s a rough and gritty short from director Kevin Forte called SIN REAPERS! Check out the Youtube page here for future installments of SIN REAPER as this is only episode one!

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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