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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend! Though I stuffed myself like one of Norman Bates’ birds, I still made time to bring forth another batch of horror reviews! And here they are!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: BLOOD & LACE (1971)
Retro-review: GHOST STORY (1981)
STAR LEAF (2015)
8 Films To Die For: RE-KILL (2015)
And finally…Light’s Out Radio Play: THE BATTLE OF THE MAGICIANS!

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay/DVD from The Shout Factory!

BLOOD & LACE (1971)

Directed by Philip S. Gilbert
Written by Gil Lasky
Starring Melody Patterson, Gloria Grahame, Milton Selzer, Len Lesser, Vic Tayback, Terri Messina, Ronald Taft, Dennis Christopher, Peter Armstrong, Maggie Corey, Mary Strawberry, Louise Sherrill, Joe Durkin
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Interesting that HALLOWEEN is so often referred to as the first slasher film. Some will say BLACK CHRISTMAS was. While others bring up Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD. But not many would mention BLOOD & LACE, though they should as it predates both of those films (BAY OF BLOOD was released two months after, though released in the same year) and uses a lot of the slasher tropes that are indicative of the subgenre.

BLOOD & LACE opens with a first person POV making its way into and through a common house. A drawer is opened and a weapon is taken out (in this case, a hammer). We follow the hammer up a flight of stairs and into a bedroom where two people are sleeping on a bed. The hammer raises—claw forward, and comes down hard onto the faces of both the woman and man sleeping in the bed. After the bloody bodies cease to move, a lighter ignites the curtains and the whole place goes up in flames. Apart from the flames and the hammer (and lack of a distinctive synth score), the opening moments of BLOOD & LACE (aka and more appropriately named THE BLOOD SECRET) opening looks and feels exactly like Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

The film veers from that convention after this sequence, following a troubled young woman Ellie Masters (played by Melody Patterson) sent to a home for wayward youth after her parents were murdered in the opening sequence. Who killed them is the not-so-mysterious mystery of the film, but that’s not the only horrible secret this film has in its docket. In order to stay open, the group home (lead by Ms. Deere – Gloria Grahame and skeezy handyman Tom – longtime character actor Len Lesser) is hiding kids that seem to have been killed due to the abuse the horrible caregivers unleash on them; stacking them up in the meat locker and carting them out and putting them in beds in the infirmary when the social worker visits in order to do a headcount. Ellie proves to be too much of a pistol for the group home workers to deal with and they plan on doing away with her as well. But don’t worry, she has a horrifically creepy cop Calvin (Vic Tayback) to protect her, who not only wants to protect Ellie, but he also would like the marry the troubled girl who is thirty years his younger.

This film is oozing with sleaze from start to finish as everyone is oogling Ellie and Ellie seems to pretty much enjoy the perverted attention she is receiving and uses this to her advantage numerous times in the film. Though she’s definitely not the typical final girl, it’s interesting that she still remains clothed and unsexed throughout the film—though not for a lack of trying. And while genre savvy viewers will spot the double edged plot twist a mile away in the end, the end still manages to be creepy as all get out in both tone and delivery. BLOOD & LACE is low on blood and gore, but the twists and turns this film is brave enough to take does make for an interestingly squirmy experience.

This BluRay release is low on special features; an alternative opening which simply flashes the alternative title THE BLOOD SECRET and a trailer. There’s also a new commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith. But anyone interested in the history of the slasher film should check out this twisted little trendsetter. Though the acting is stiff from some of the younger actors (which includes a super young Dennis Christopher), Tayback, Lesser, and Grahame are all a lot of fun here. Plus one could make a drinking game out of how many times Ellie’s mother’s whorish ways are mentioned. BLOOD & LACE isn’t really something to shout about on its own, but given the time it was made and the level of sleaze it’s willing to descend into, it’s definitely a fun watch.

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


Directed by John Irvin
Written by Lawrence D. Cohen, Peter Straub (novel)
Starring Craig Wasson, Alice Krige, Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman, Patricia Neal, Jacqueline Brookes, Miguel Fernandes, Lance Holcomb, Mark Chamberlin, Tim Choate, Kurt Johnson, Ken Olin, Brad Sullivan
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I get the feeling of equal parts griminess and undeniable charm when I think of the movie GHOST STORY that I’m going to try to get to the bottom of in this review. Either way, the film is a pretty fantastic tribute to the art of telling a scary story, as well as a spotlight on some pretty fantastic actors.

The story follows a group of elderly men calling themselves The Chowder Society who gather every weekend to tell ghost stories to one another as a means to reminisce and celebrate their long friendship with one another. The four men (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman) have been friends since childhood and with such friendships come secrets as well. And this group has a doozy. But the film doesn’t really want to reveal this until later, so I won’t ruin it. It does have something to do with a young woman named Alma (the ephemeral Alice Krige), known as Eva to the Chowder Society, who seems to be haunting them all as well as one of their sons Don (BODY DOUBLE’s Craig Wasson) and his twin brother David who dies by falling from a skyscraper in the opening moments of the film. As the Chowder Society members begin dying, Don and the surviving members begin to piece together that something supernatural is happening.

I think the reason why I get skeezed out about this film is that I saw it as a very young kid and seeing Craig Wasson’s flopping penis in the first few seconds of this movie made an indelible mark. Add quite a bit of sex between Wasson and Krige, an attempted rape, a skull-faced naked woman, and a bout of erectile dysfunction and this is a film steeped in uncomfortable sexual moments. Even seeing this film again as an adult, it’s a bit heavy on the sex. There are some shock moments, but they whiz by almost too fast, while director John Irvin seems to want to highlight the carnal pleasures and displeasures quite a bit here. Add the fact that, for some reason, I always got a skeezy feeling from Craig Wasson who in every movie seems to always be naked and scrogging people while peeping on them and killing them, and this is one altogether ooky film.

The film definitely highlights Rick Baker and Dick Smith’s designs as every time Kirge appears in ghostly form, she looks completely different from the last. Be it the aforementioned skull faced nudie or the goopy faced monster from the marsh or even the often seen on FANGORIA, but cut from the film monster mouthed no face creature; each of these apparitions are distinct and nightmare inducing. But again, while these images are horrifying, they are few and far between and the moments in between just fall short of scary for me. I wish the filmmakers would have highlighted more mood and ambience than just shock value monster makeup clips and GHOST STORY may have lived up to its name.

Still, the performances by the elderly cast are fantastic to see and Wasson and Kirge are great too. Though abundant in monster makeup jump scares, the story just didn’t scare me and ended up creeping me out more because of the preference to perversely ook you out rather than cause real nighttime terrors. This Bluray edition includes a new commentary from director John Irvin, new interviews with author Peter Straub, actress Alice Krige, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, producer Burt Weissbourd and matte photographer Bill Taylor, photo gallery, and trailers.

Available now on DVD and on iTunes here!


Directed by Jimmy Lee Combs
Written by Kevon Ward
Starring Kevon Ward, Andy Hankins, Heath C. Heine, Irene Leonard, Jimmy Lee Combs, R.J. Wagner, Brad Wagner, Ryan Manley-Rohrer, Dakota Moore, Stefan Knowles, Perry B. Anthony, Krista Psykome Silvers Nelson, Bria Law, Lyle DeRose, Scott Croushore, Jeff Cavazos, Kevin D Wilson, Brian Coleman, Libby Ward, Emma Moody, Nate Patrick Siebert, Maggie Bevard, Brandan Rader, Cassandra Valdes, Matt Powell, Michael Lakota Dillon
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

HANS CRIPPLETON: TALK TO THE HANS is a fun idea for a short film stretched uncomfortably to the length of a feature film. The joke is that Hans is a freakish hillbilly who travels to Halloween haunts and gains some kind of notoriety because of it. Had this film been about that, I think this would have been a much more successful film. But the film has higher ambitions than just a rise to greatness story and basically has Hans fall and then redeem himself; a story that is worth telling, but I don’t know if the character Kevon Ward is playing is deep enough to have us care that much about all of that.

Whether the character warrants such an epic story is beside the point. The main difficulty I had with this film was that Hans and his inbred family are all just plain disgusting. There’s disgusting in a DUMB & DUMBER sort of way, where the characters are lewd, but also have redeeming qualities such as blissful ignorance and naïveté. Then there’s Hans who is both physically and mentally gross through and through. With his ego soaring, even this rags to riches tale lacks that foothold that allowed me as the viewer to latch on and want to get to know him. Lacking any likable qualities, it makes it really hard for the viewer to root for him and eventually, I just tuned bout by the hour mark when I realized that aside his gross little fake hand and penchant for moonshine were about as deep as this character would go.

I think the intentions of the folks behind this film are noble, they just forgot to make Hans likable and therefore just missed the boat here. Shot as a mockumentary, HANS CRIPPLETON: TALK TO THE HANS attempts too much and achieves too little in terms of likable characters and engaging story. Crippleton is probably a lot of fun at his appearances at Halloween Haunts and Horror Conventions, it’s just that this story didn’t provide the details to make him worth spending and hour and a half with. Low budgeted, but with decent effects using green screen for severed limbs and the like (though the use of fake CG blood is always a no-no), fans of Crippleton might find this interesting, but those who have never heard of him are probably going to wish they hadn’t after seeing this overlong and unsympathetic film.

Crippleton’s the little hand made me laugh a couple of times and he does pull off the creep very well. It’s just not enough to make a movie about.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from MVD Visual!


Directed by Mark Netter
Written by Mark Netter & M.J. Rotondi (story & screenplay)
Starring Andrew J. West Mei Melancon Googy Gress Ivan Shaw Nicholas Guest Caitlyn Folley Bret Roberts Tonya Kay Albert Thakur Regi Huc Jamie Parker Paul Yen Wes Whitehead Jamie Van Dyke Steve Bralver Erika Schickel Isabella Cuda Jamie Wollrab Steve Rizzo
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While the technology on display is sophisticated, the story is somewhat simple and predictable in NIGHTMARE CODE.

Brett (Andrew J. West) has been called in to work out the kinks in a computer program that needs to be passed yesterday. The previous computer programmer, Cotton, went nuts, went on a killing spree in the office, and then blew his brains out. While most think that this is just another case of a mentally unstable person cracking under pressure, there are others who think something more sinister is afoot. The program is supposed to be able to make predictions in behavior by reading subtle facial and posture cues which can help aid in catching a criminal before he commits a crime, but almost immediately, as Brett begins working on the program, he starts realizing that the program is capable of not just behavior predictions, but may also incite evil behavior in those it targets.

The idea of an evil computer program may not seem to be that horrific (though EVILSPEAK is a pretty awesome film about the subject), but the depiction of the acts this program makes people do is pretty well done. While NIGHTMARE CODE is limited budgetarily, it does offer up some pretty great performances which make up for it. The program not only reads what we keep inside and makes the viewer privy to that insight, but it also manipulates the user into doing things they want to do, but may not necessarily have the guts to do, so the workplace violence partially is linked to the user seeing what ones’ peers think of them and partially linked to the violent impulse the program stimulates. This combination is played out pretty well throughout, and while the violence is relatively undynamic as it mostly takes the form of people shooting people, it still resonates due to the performances of the cast of unknowns.

Not exactly found footage, NIGHTMARE CODE is comprised of security camera and computer camera POVs, so those adamantly against this derivation of first person POV will most likely have issue with the film. Still, the perspective this film chooses to take is distanced and gives the film a more immediate sense of danger, which is intensified in the latter scenes when the shit really hits the fan. NIGHTMARE CODE is a moralistic tale asking the age old Goldblum-ism “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” It has some really cool ideas and while it is not the most sensational of films, it still tosses around concepts and tech that really is scary, mainly because it seems like the tech involved is just around the corner.

New this week on DVD from Leomark Studios (also available on digital download on iTunes here and Google Play here)!

STAR LEAF (2015)

Directed by Richard Cranor
Written by Richard Cranor & Hugh Berry
Starring Julian Gavilanes, Shelby Truax, Tyler Trerise, Richard Cranor, Russell Hodgkinson, Svetlana Soutirina, Kevin Jolly, Aleena Ober, Kiki Yeung
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I just want to go on record and say I really don’t like stoner movies. Most stoner films go for the easy laugh or worse than that, they simply mention something about marijuana and stoners start laughing as if it’s the funniest thing ever. Relying simply on the feeling you get when you are high, stoner films usually leave me cold because simply stating something just isn’t funny or entertaining to me.

That said, STAR LEAF is not a stoner film as it tries to tell a pretty solid story of how people often go to drugs to deal with PTSD. This story focuses on two military vets who have returned from the war. James (Julian Gavilanes) just got back and is trying to cope with these frustrations and agrees to go on a hiking/surfing trip with his war buddy Tim (Tyler Trerise) and his girlfriend Martha (Shelby Truax). Along the way, Tim wants to stop by a secret grove where a pothead boasts to have weed that is out of this world. James reluctantly goes, though he doesn’t buy into the whole “get high to avoid your problems” thing. Once there, the trio not only finds this transcendental weed, but they also run into a psychotic forest ranger (writer director Richard Cranor) and some grey aliens intent on protecting their intergalactic sweet leaf.

I have to give it up to this film for its positive intentions and messages it conveys. It really does seem to want to say something about the damaging effects of marijuana and how it is something people hide behind in order to cope with real life problems. Most of this comes from James who seems to be smart enough to see what is happening to his friend and wants to do something about it. At the same time, though, the film tries to have it both ways by celebrating the high the star leaf gives the trio. Sure it all ends up sideways with weird aliens haunting them in the woods, but the attempt to make the trip seem intergalactic and cool contradicts the anti-drug message it tries to sport.

While the CG in STAR LEAF is pretty decent, the aliens are mostly seen in broad daylight, so they aren’t really scary in the least. This is basically a scared straight video about the horrors of marijuana, but the horrors themselves aren’t all that horrific. The aliens just kind of peek around trees over and over and while the psycho ranger is threatening, again the crisp, clean, and brightly lit sequences simply lack the mood and ambience to make it feel like our trio are in any kind of danger.

This is kind of a harmless film. Thematically, it wants it both ways, but it kind of lacks the fangs to really make the threat feel palpable. But it actually is kind of a sweet film—decently acted, albeit rather blandly directed. There’s a BLAIR WITCH moment where the actor talks down to a camera, and it doesn’t make it any better that the actor acknowledges it’s a BLAIR WITCH moment—it’s still lame. Still, after seeing so many horror films out there with intentions less noble, it’s nice to see a film with an actual message that doesn’t feel preachy and actually seems to really want to say something positive about PTSD.

New this week on BluRay/DVD from Intervision/Severin Films (also available on iTunes)!


Directed by Joshua Wagner, Thomas Zambeck
Written by Joshua Wagner, Thomas Zambeck
Starring Augie Duke, Patrick Cronen, Jillian Leigh, Sam Boxleitner, Sasha Higgins, Marc Siciliani, Josh Eichenbaum, Aria London
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While technically this is more of a revenge/action/black humor film rather than a straight up horror film, it does feature a guy strapped to a chair and tortured for almost the entire film. And since that’s been a mainstay in modern horror, I’ll let it slide and deem THE BADGER GAME fit for AICN HORROR coverage.

THE BADGER GAME is a term I had never heard of, but it refers to the ruse of luring a philandering husband to cheat on his wife and then document it in hopes to blackmail him for the misdeed. Liam (Sam Boxleitner and son of Bruce) is one such husband with a wandering eye and genitalia and he’s done the dirty deed on his sugar mama wife with the wrong girl, Alex (Augie Duke). Alex has hatched a scheme formed over a fiery broken heart and she’s enlisted her best friend Shelly (Jillian Leigh, who knows how Alex feels because Alex slept with her boyfriend), her ex con brother Kip (Patrick Cronen), and another one of Liam’s lays, British stripper Jane (Sasha Higgins). What this team lacks in brains, the make up in guts as they plan to lure Liam in with Shelly’s innocent ways, kidnap him, and extort money from him using compromising photos of him as leverage. It’s a pretty complicated scheme and of course, this wouldn’t be much of a movie if it was accomplished without a few hitches. Turns out because these guys are not the brightest bulbs and they let their hearts get in the way of the prize, so this Badger Game looks to be doomed from the get go.

What makes this film as entertaining and watchable as it is are the performances by the talented up and coming actors and the comedy of errors that ensue guaranteeing this heist is flawed from the start. All of the actors are pretty darn talented in their own right here with Augie Duke as Alex and her friend Shelly, played by Jillian Leigh, leading the pack as both likable and flawed characters. Seeing Alex become blinded by her broken heart and how that begins to overturn this plan of hers is fascinating to see unfold. With Shelly, Leigh plays an innocent women tempted by darker urges and does so deftly. Patrick Cronen is another standout at a not so typical beefcake who in some ways is the savviest of the crew calling this caper a bust before it gets started by chauvinistically pointing out that women think with their feelings rather than their heads and because of that, they won’t go through with it without his involvement. Surprisingly, this turns out to be just the case as tempers and feelings boil with Liam strapped in the chair.

The script is nice and tight, jumping right into the planning of the caper to the caper itself and allowing us to get to know these characters along the way without a lot of pace halting fluff scenes. Through the twists and turns that arise during this caper, writers/directors Joshua Wagner & Thomas Zambeck really make this trip fun with snappy banter, unexpected twists, and outrageous action and gore.

So while this is a film about a man tortured in a chair for about an hour and a half, I’d shy away from dubbing it “torture porn.” Reminiscent of the flawed heist films we saw a resurgence in after RESERVOIR DOGS and through the 90’s, THE BADGER GAME is a fun time following a bunch of would be kidnapper screw up over and over again with deadly, yet humorous results.

Newly available for from the 2015 8 Films To Die For Series (you see this film On Demand and download this film on iTunes and Amazon)!

RE-KILL (2015)

Directed by Valeri Milev
Written by Michael Hurst
Starring Bruce Payne, Scott Adkins, Daniella Alonso, Layke Anderson, Roger R. Cross, Rocky Marshall, Jillian Batherson, Mike Mayhall, Angelena Swords, Rob Boltin, Kanesha Washington, Dean J. West, Ian Casselberry, Yo Santhaveesuk, Lindsay Clift, Dimiter Doichinov, Raicho Vasilev, Owen Davis, Jesse Garcia, Claire Garrett, Randall Kamm, Ashton Leigh
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Some fun details makes RE-KILL slightly more watchable than your typical zombie flick.

I hate to admit it, but I think I’m finally zombied out. I know this is late in the game and many of you have already checked out of the zombie craze, but I still found some zombie flicks worth seeing in the past year such as EXTINCTION, A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT, DEAD SNOW 2, and WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD. But for every MAGGIE, there’s a million soulless zombie films out there to choose from that basically tell the same story. What I’m looking for is something I haven’t seen before and while RE-KILL doesn’t really give me that, it does present it in an enjoyable package.

In RE-KILL, the Outbreak News Channel covers all things zombie apocalypse 24 hours a day, every day. Its #1 show is called RE-KILL, a COPS style show that follows around military squads as they root out and destroy zombies. The world is trying to move on and the outbreak is supposed to be contained, but as one soldier puts it, all it takes is one bite to start the whole thing over again. Now the world is trying to repopulate and heal from the horrific outbreak. We find this out not only from the RE-KILL programming, but also the commercials that play every fifteen minutes or so that look back on personal experiences during the outbreak, and advertise for therapeutic and pharmaceutical needs to cope with the plague and encourage people to procreate to repopulate the world.

There are clever moments of satire here reminiscent of the commercials from Paul Verhoven’s ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS which gave us snippets of a world very different than our own. Seeing these windows into the changed but surviving world is something we don’t often see in zombie films. It’s this aspect of RE-KILL that distinguishes it from the rest. The problem is that this is only a small part of the film. The rest of RE-KILL is your typical military versus zombie stuff we’ve seen time and time again. Sure there are some fun performances from Bruce Payne and Scott Adkins, but the bulk of the film plays out like something we’ve all seen before.

It’s too bad the fun put into the commercials didn’t seep over into the main story of a military group venturing into a quarantined Manhattan against hordes of zombies. While there are some decent scenes of gore and zombie terror, it just seems so unoriginal and tired. RE-KILL isn’t a bad zombie movie. If it had dropped ten years ago, maybe it would have felt a bit fresher. As is, it’s just too much like things we’ve seen before.

Other 2015 8 Films to Die For Reviews!

New this week in select theaters from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Steven C. Miller
Written by Scott Milam
Starring Rosa Salazar, Talulah Riley, Jonathan Bennett, Tim Daly, Cody Christian, Mario Van Peebles, Samuel C. Hunt, Willa Ford, Denzel Whitaker, Sam Daly, Giles Matthey, Mario Perez
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

The strongest parts of SUBMERGED pays homage to the old Hitchcockian single locale thrillers of old. A group of young good-lookings wake up trapped in a sealed limousine at the bottom of a body of water. Opening with these scenario, you are immediately asking questions like “How did these guys get here?”, “Who are they?” and “How do they get the hell out of this?” All will be answered in Steven C. Miller’s new thriller.

Steven C. Miller, the director of SILENT NIGHT (reviewed here), UNDER THE BED (reviewed here), and THE AGGRESSION SCALE (reviewed here), is back with a story steeped in reality about crime, relationships, and tension. The filmmaker has shown a penchant for vivid style, but this film really highlights that style like never before as the opening moments follow the limousine sinking to the ocean floor. We go through the tailpipe, through the engine, and into the inside of the car in a really nicely done opening sequence. It’s a fun way of letting us know that inside of this cramped space is where the bulk of the action takes place. Miller repeats this swooping camera technique later in the film as guns are drawn and the camera zooms around and up and down the extended arms of the gunmen. There are sequences that make films memorable and these are two of them that show Miller’s eye for kinetic action like few other new directors I’ve seen recently.

The film is not entirely set inside the car and I think that’s the only thing that bothered me about this film. I think that it would have been stronger had this been more in the car and less outside of it telling the tale of how this group of kids ended up in there. Sure some flashbacks are necessary, but I think a stronger script could have made this a really awesome locked room mystery. The cramped locale is what makes this film unique. I just wish there was more time spent there.

The acting here by the pretty cast is decent. There are a few instances when things get hairy or when more complex emotion is necessary that is not quite achieved by the young cast. There is a lot of time spent on the whole cast screaming at one another that gets old pretty quick. The lead, Jonathan Benner is pretty good (though his eyebrows remind me of Peter Gallagher for some reason) and appearances by Mario Van Peebles and Tim Daly give the cast a little heft.

The tension conveyed in SUBMERGED is good as Miller’s attention to how he moves the camera can elicit a feeling of unease and thrill for the viewer. More of a crime thriller than a straight up horror film, the claustrophobia and terror of being trapped underwater are communicated well in this film. So while the cast might bog the film down at times and I think that it was a mistake to have so much outside of the limo, if you appreciate a strong directorial eye, you’re going to find something to appreciate here.

New this week on BluRay/DVD (also available from iTunes) from RLJ Entertainment!


Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Written by James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Jason Filiatrault, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Starring William Shatner, George Buza, Percy Hynes White, Oluniké Adeliyi, Rob Archer, Jeff Clarke, Jessica Clement, Corinne Conley, Robert Coughler, Zoé De Grand Maison, Amy Forsyth, Glen Gaston, Ken Hall, Adrian Holmes, Shannon Kook, Debra McCabe, Paige Moyles, Michelle Nolden, Alex Ozerov, Alan C. Peterson, Joe Silvaggio
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

It seems people start preparing for Christmas earlier and earlier every year, which explains the reason why A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is released in the first week in October, I guess. But while it may look like it is similar to the upcoming big budget KRAMPUS film, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY proved to be much, much more. More akin to KRAMPUS director Michael Dougherty’s TRICK R’ TREAT in structure, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is an interlocking anthology film taking everything we know and love about the holidays and giving it a macabre slant.

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is tied together as it takes place on one specific night, which is the anniversary of a pair of murders of some high school kids at a local school. Each of the four storylines cuts back and forth to one another as the story goes on, but all still occupy the same universe. I don’t want to give too much of each story away, but it’s all tied together by a radio DJ played by William Shatner who joyously gets drunker and drunker as the night goes on. Shatner is not too over the top here, and actually does a great job selling his role as the jolly soul who loves Christmas despite all of the evil things going on in the city.

All of the stories intermingling with one another are pretty compelling and do a good job of twisting holiday tropes up into bloody little bows, my favorite being a family going to a secluded forest to cut down their own Christmas tree, only to find that their son has been replaced by something quite sinister. This story does a fantastic job with happenings in the forefront of the frame coupled with horrific things happening in the background. This one is bloody and imaginative, utilizing the tradition of cutting one’s own tree to really pull you in, and then it attacks.

One of the stories that seems a bit out of place from the rest is about Santa Claus fighting a horde of zombie elves at the North Pole. This story offers up some of the most dramatic and exciting moments, but it feels out of whack with the rest of the more reality-grounded film. This inconsistency is rectified by the end, and while it is an outlier, seeing Santa go nuts and beat the shit out of rabid elves and the Krampus itself is pretty amazing.

While the storyline with a trio of student filmmakers making a documentary about the murders a year prior is moody and well acted, this one seemed the blandest of the bunch, mainly because we’ve seen this premise with a school project investigating a murder before in other films, but I will admit I jumped the most in these scenes as the kids roam around in the dark and may be tormented by ghosts of the past.

The fourth story is most like the other Krampus movie coming out in about a month about an ungrateful family visiting their relatives in order to get a handout. The family is made up of a bunch of real shits, and the actors are quite convincing in their roles. This one does a decent job with the Krampus myth and has some nice gory scenes as well as a pretty impressive full body Krampus suit.

If there is a problem with A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY it’s that it is full of great ideas, but the resolutions to these stories end up being kind of a let down. I don’t want to spoil things too much, but while some of the films have a pretty potent bite in terms of wickedness and gore, the way things are resolved are rather predictable and tame. I guess I’d liken the experience to seeing a bright and shiny present and then tearing it open only to be disappointed with what’s under the paper. The stories aren’t necessarily bad, it’s just that the endings just don’t have as much punch as the initial concept had.

That said, I laughed and jumped quite a bit at A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. It’s a fantastic celebration of everything gruesome and festive all mixed together into one grab bag of gory goodies. Well acted and directed, this is a strong film and worth seeking out, though it’s tough that it came out so early and will most likely miss its market as it would be a ghoulishly great film to watch during the holiday season.

New this week on BluRay/DVD and On Demand from Radius Films and Anchor Bay!


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
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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.

And finally…here’s another old and spooky tale from the olden days before cell phones, cable television, and sushi restaurants on every other corner. Here’s a tale of dueling magic from the old radio series LIGHT’S OUT called THE BATTLE OF THE MAGICIANS! Enjoy!

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.

Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!

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