Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Before we dive in, I want to let some folks know about some cool projects in the works and in need of the support of horror fans like you!
Here is an awesome new service for horror collectors out there. HorrorPack is a mystery box subscription service for Horror Blu-rays and DVDs, much like LootCrate or HorrorBlock, but only for physical media, no random toys or anything. So you sign up for the service and receive a whole box full of cool DVD’s and BluRays! It’ll be like a horror-style Christmas every day! Check out the cool promo video below and if you like what you see, click this link and sign up!
Being a fan of and having a pants-shitting fear of all things shark, this Indiegogo campaign definitely caught my eye. From the people behind SHE KILLS (which I’m reviewing later on in this very column), HOUSE SHARK is exactly what it sounds like it is: It’s JAWS…in a house. The project has about a month to go and looks to be a whole lot of fun. If this project piques your interest, click here to support HOUSE SHARK and check out the teaser trailer below.
Here’s a Kickstarter for a short film about lovesickness called LIMERANCE. It’s got a few more days to go and from the looks of the kickass teaser trailer below, it looks like it could be a lot of fun.
Here’s the synopsis: Phoebe, a lesbian whose powers and perceptions are fueled by her goddess namesake, lives an isolated life in the antique movie palace left to her by her absent parents. Although her brother, Alden, is supportive, he is at a loss to be helpful. When Tig, a confident and outgoing lesbian, turns up to hawk fliers for her play, Phoebe is a bug on a pin, instantly and overwhelmingly caught in Tig's unwitting spell. Phoebe undergoes a private trip down the rabbit hole, her intense longing transmuting into visions, dreams, and hysterical jealousy, which culminates in a stunning visual confession of desire and need for connection.
Check it out below and if you like what you see, give them your support!
Looking for something else to support? Check out Russell Nohelty’s MY FATHER DIDN’T KILL HIMSELF kickstarter, which is a novel classified as a black comedy about death, and loss, and junk. It looks to be a pretty fun book and writer Nohelty has a whole bunch of free stuff he’s doing as incentives. Check out the pitch video below!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958)
Retro-review: CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970)
Retro-review: HITCH HIKE (1977)
Retro-review: THE MUTILATOR (1984)
Retro-review: PRAY FOR DEATH (1985)
THE WITCH (2015)
Advance Review: SHE KILLS (2015)
And finally…Light’s Out radio play: House Is Haunted!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958)Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Written by Jerome Bixby
Starring Richard Anderson, Adele Mara, Elaine Edwards, Luis Van Rooten, Gar Moore, Felix Locher, Jan Arvan, Bob Bryant as Quintillus Aurelius, the Faceless Man!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Goofy as all get out, CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN is an atypical type of mummy, but a typical type of mummy movie. Still, it’s a whole lot of fun.
When an excavator uncovers a box of treasure at the base of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii, he also finds the petrified remains of an ancient gladiator named Quintillus Aurelius (Bob Bryant). But once the treasure is disturbed, the remains awaken and attempt to regain the treasure and reclaim a bride once lost. Maria (Adele Mara) is an archeologist targeted by the stony gladiator, but her scientist boyfriend Dr. Paul (Richard Anderson) doesn’t feel that’s possible. But when the faceless monster kidnaps Maria, he starts believing in the impossible.
CURSE OF THE FACELESS man is pretty much a mummy movie. No, the lead is not wrapped in bandages and doesn’t come from an unearthed tomb at the bottom of a pyramid, but still, it’s mainly about a slow moving preserved man who reliving his duties and feelings from a previous life. Though the Faceless Man’s exterior is stonier and impervious to bullets and axes (technically so was the mummy, as bullets just kind of went right through him), he still doesn’t speak, moves stiffly, and is quite powerful with the swats and blows, as exemplified with anyone who dares cross his path in this film. If you’ve seen a mummy movie, you’ve seen this one, but if you like mummy movies, then this is another you might not be too familiar with.
What’s fun is the drama and the scientific hokey-pokey the cast goes through trying to disprove and prove that the stone man is getting up and moving around with a vengeance. Numerous cast members disbelieve that the Faceless Man is alive until they see him move. Then new cast members come in and disbelieve until THEY see him move and kill. It’s repetitious, but still retains its fun throughout, especially when paired with scientific jargon. Seeing the main characters lean over smoking Bunsen Burners and test tubes as if they know “science” made me chuckle quite a bit.
Another awesome aspect of this film is the narration that basically tells us everything the Faceless Man is doing and thinking. While this betrays the show/don’t tell rule of storytelling, it makes for something downright quaint about this film. Add that to the fact that the face of the Faceless Man is covered in plaster of Paris and the eye hole is pretty clearly seen in the makeup, despite the claim that this monster is faceless, and there’s a whole lot of fun to be had here. This BluRay rerelease is low on bells and whistles, but it does present the film in a pretty clear and it does have an audio Commentary by Horror Cinema Historian Chris Alexander. But while there really isn’t anything in CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN that you haven’t seen in various Mummy and CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON movies, still the film does it all with a lot of hokey charm.
Retro-review: New this week in the Vincent Price Collection III from the Shout Factory!
CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970)Directed by Gordon Hessler
Written by Tim Kelly & Christopher Wicking
Starring Vincent Price, Elizabeth Bergner, Essy Persson, Patrick Mower, Hillary Dwyer, Carl Rigg, & Andrew McCulloch
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though this film is far inferior to Vincent Price’s other witch opus, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, it still isn’t without its own charm. CRY OF THE BANSHEE’s biggest problem is that aside from a freaky howl ringing out occasionally to add tension, there really isn’t a banshee to speak of in this film. Sure CRY OF THE BANSHEE is filled with witches, voodoo, Satan worshipers, mad dogs, mad noblemen, and something that might possibly be a werewolf or a demon, but I honestly don’t think the word banshee is mentioned aside from the fantastically gothic animated title sequence (by Terry muther grabbin’ Gilliam!!!).
Price plays Lord Edward Whitman, a proud man obsessed with ridding his township of witches. CRY OF THE BANSHEE opens with a scene of a witch execution, as WITCHFINDER GENERAL does. But where WITCHFINDER GENERAL moves on to tell a fascinating story of a man and a woman torn apart by an egomaniacal madman, CRY OF THE BANSHEE tells a convoluted story of the destruction of a family by obsession. The main issue with CRY OF THE BANSHEE is that there really isn’t a person one can identify or root for. Price is the head of the family, but early on the viewer is privy to his obsession for killing witches. His actions cause his family to be cursed when he kills the children of a powerful witch named Oona. The witches aren’t ones to root for either, as Oona (played maniacally by Elizabeth Berger in a performance reminiscent of the old creepy lady in Raimi’s recent DRAG ME TO HELL) is pretty evil herself, killing off Whitman’s brood one by one and chanting about Satan whilst poking voodoo dolls with pins. Whitman’s family is not very likable either. Some terrorize the women of the town, forcing them to undress and if they don’t give into their advances they are accused of witchcraft. Others are such milksops that their inaction makes them equally dislikable. Sure some of them disapprove of Whitman’s obsession, but none take action against it. Without a real side to take, you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of wishing the entire cast would just take each other out and be done with it.
I hate to keep comparing this to WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but the fact that both star Vincent Price (who as usual brings it all to this performance, but there are moments where it doesn’t seem like even he knows how to react; the scene where he gets into a fight with his adoptive son and his co-star from WITCHFINDER Hillary Dwyer and then for some reason they all burst into laughter as if it were a blooper reel comes to mind) and both handle matters of witchcraft and persecution almost force me to lump the two together. CRY OF THE BANSHEE handles the matter of the witch hunts with a heavier hand and although WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a more brutal film in its content and storyline, CRY OF THE BANSHEE seems to be more in your face with the brutality with multiple rapes and torture of women on screen simply for the sake of showing a couple more boobies.
The one thing CRY OF THE BANSHEE has going for it is that it has one hell of an ending. It’s choreographed in an almost DePalma-esque meticulousness as events unfold into a truly horrific finale. Though far inferior to Price’s masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the ending of CRY OF THE BANSHEE makes the film definitely worth a watch.
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Raro Video!
HITCH HIKE (1977)aka THE NAKED PREY, DEATH DRIVE, HITCHHIKE: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile
Written by Peter Kane (novel), Aldo Crudo (screen treatment), Ottavio Jemma, Aldo Crudo, Pasquale Festa Campanile (screenplay)
Starring Franco Nero, Corinne Cléry, David Hess, Joshua Sinclair, Carlo Puri, Leonardo Scavino, Robert Sommer, Ann Ferguson, Ignazio Spalla, Mónica Zanchi
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
HITCH HIKE is one of those films that takes one to uncomfortable places, especially if one is in a relationship. The performances are a little too convincing and it’s hard to pick a side as to who to root for, but the fact that it elicits such feelings makes it a relatively successful film of relational horror set against the cautionary hitchhiker tale.
Though it’s an abusive relationship Walter (Franco Nero) and Eve Mancini (Corinne Cléry) are trying to make the best of their cross country trip with their mobile home strapped to the back of their car. While Walter writes the great American novel, he also drinks to much and occasionally rapes his wife. Eve seems to put up a fight for a little while, but seems to love the brutish way Walter treats her, so it’s kind of a functional love/hate relationship going on. When they pass Adam (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT’s David Hess) on the road, Eve decides to pick him up, not knowing he is a psychotic criminal who recently performed a robbery. Adam immediately notices the animosity between Walter and Eve and exploits it to perverse and sadistic levels on this road trip to hell.
From the beginning, it’s really hard to like anyone in this film. Nero’s Walter is a drunkard and a rapist from the get-go, so of course, you feel for Eve. But Eve often encourages Walter by giving in to his brutish ways and acts as if it does turn her on. For some reason she stays with him and no real reason is given as to why this is. Once Hess’ Adam is introduced, I guess this is supposed to be a sort of reverse STRAW DOGS situation where instead of the nebbish husband becoming more manly in order to defend his marriage, in this situation, Walter suffers humility by watching Adam sexually and physically abuse his woman in front of him. This might be an interesting perspective to go, but after the rape of Eve, Walter doesn’t really seem to have learned anything and goes right back to being an asshole. Any moralistic point this film tries to make contradicts itself fifteen minutes later, so any kind of life lesson on might want to take from this film is not going to be very substantial.
HITCH HIKE does succeed in screwing with the viewer though. The rape of Eve is extremely hard to sit through, both because Walter must witness it and that she seems to sort of enjoy it in some weird way. Of course, this leads to a bloody climax of the film where Eve lashes out against Adam, but with the way Walter is, you are rooting for Eve to do the same to him as well, but nothing of that sort really happens. Instead, I was just left with a queasy feeling after the whole thing, as if this was trying to tell a morality tale, but failed miserably at it and only succeeded in existing to shock.
HITCH HIKE does indeed shock. Hess is great as Adam, but really he’s sort of just reprising his Krug character from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, so he’s not really going outside of his wheelhouse here. Italian tough guy Franco Nero is good as a braggart and an asshole, something that is quite different from the last time I saw him as the heroic ninja in ENTER THE NINJA (reviewed here). Corinne Cléry’s Eve is the most frustrating character as you want to feel for her, but she makes so many dumb decisions, it’s hard to. All in all, this is a frustrating movie to watch. It is an emotional rollercoaster and doesn’t promise a good ending, but the performances are strong. So there’s that.
BEWARE: This trailer has one boob! NSFW!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow/MVD Entertainment!
THE MUTILATOR (1984)aka FALL BREAK
Directed by Buddy Cooper, John Douglass
Written by Buddy Cooper
Starring Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers, Frances Raines, Morey Lampley, Ben Moore, Trace Cooper, Pamela Weddle Cooper, Jack Chatham as Big Ed the Mutilator!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Fans of the slasher genre probably already know about THE MUTILATOR, an unbelievably bad film that you can’t help but smile about when it’s brought up.
After an opening where a young boy accidentally kills his mother after cleaning his father’s shotgun, we flash forward ten years to find the same boy with his group of dimwit friends who decide to go to his estranged father’s cabin on the lake, not knowing that his father is there waiting with an assortment of weapons and fully ready to use them on the vacationing idiots.
Standard is pretty much the most accurate way THE MUTILATOR can be described. Every cliché mapped out in SCREAM and the million and one self-referential horror films it spawned are front and center here. People split up. People go off alone. People say “I’ll be right back.” Tools of murder are introduced early on, only to be used as tools of murder later. If you’re looking for a motive for this killer, it’s hardly there and never really cleared up. Big Ed is sore at his son Ed Jr. (Marr Mitler) for killing his mother, but as Ed Jr. takes his friends around Big Ed’s cabin, it seems he has had contact with his father throughout the years as Ed Jr. has a story connected to each and every knick knack that decorates the cabin’s walls. Big Ed also has psycho strength and seems to be impervious to pain and death, which again, isn’t bothered to be explained in the narrative other than he’s just a tough dude.
The thing this film does have, after quite a long lead in, is some pretty graphic and gory kills. Lots of heads are lopped off. Electric motors rend torsos to shreds. And the infamous fish hook to the woman’s crotch is as wrong and as gory as it sounds. For every plot hole and slasher cliché ticked off in this film, THE MUTILATOR makes up for it with a splash of blood and a whole lots of guts. The over the top battle between the final girl and boy and Big Ed is more gruesome than most slasher films, so in terms of the messy stuff, THE MUTILATOR delivers.
It’s a good thing the gore is prominent here as there is a lot of extremely lame and annoying shit going on in this film. The screenplay and line delivery from the cast is wretched and the boppy and braindead song “Fall Break” which is absolutely inappropriate for a slasher film, is used throughout the entire film, which basically kills any tension and mood the killings might have put in place. To add insult to injury, there’s a sort of gag reel at the end of the film that seems to have been put in to show the kid in the film wasn’t hurt. Still, a blooper reel in a horror film is pretty insane. As is this whole movie as it teeters on bad and gory good the entire runtime.
Arrow is always good with the extras and with THE MUTILATOR, it gets more than it really deserves. There’s an intro from writer/director Buddy Cooper and make up assistant Edmund Ferrell as well as a commentary from Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Mitler. There’s also another commentary from Cooper and star Ruth Martinez Tutterow as well as a special called “Fall Break: The Story of the Mutilator” which talks with the cast and crew as well as another special doc focusing on the makeup effects from the film. There are also opening sequence storyboards, an alternate opener, behind the scenes takes, the screenplay, screen tests of the cast, and a special focusing on the horribly inappropriate “Fall Break” song that is peppered throughout the movie. All in all, this Blu is a Mecca for any MUTILATOR film fan.
BEWARE: This trailer contains one nipple! NSFW!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow/MVD Entertainment!
PRAY FOR DEATH (1985)Directed by Gordon Hessler
Written by James Booth
Starring Shô Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Matthew Faison, Parley Baer, Robert Ito, Michael Constantine, Alan Amiel, Woody Watson, Charles Grueber, Nik Hagler, Chris Wycliff, Judie Stephen, Rodney Rincon, Marlene Mankey, Yosh
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
As I’ve said before, any film where a man leaps from the shadows and murders scores of people with edged weapons would be called a slasher film, except, for some reason, when it involves ninjas. I don’t understand it. But while ENTER THE NINJA (reviewed here) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (reviewed here) lean more towards action, PRAY FOR DEATH is definitely much more at home in this AICN HORROR column than any of ninja-master Sho Kosugi’s other kung fu efforts.
Akira (Kosugi) has tried to “put his shadows behind him” and is persuaded by his wife to move his family from Japan to America so they can open up a restaurant. With his sons Takashi and Tomoya (Kane and Shane Kosugi, Sho’s real life sons), Akira buys a warehouse and storefront from an elderly man. What Akira and his family don’t know is that the mob has hidden a rare diamond in the warehouse and when it comes up missing, the mob, lead by an insane mob boss named Limehouse Willie (James Booth, who also wrote this film), threaten and torture the family to give up the diamond. The torment becomes so intense that it drives Akira out of retirement and he unsheathes his sword and dons the suit of a ninja in order to get bloody revenge against the mobsters who have attacked his family.
In many ways, this is your typical action film. There are big chunks of this film dedicated to Kosugi showing off his amazing martial arts abilities such as leaping over a moving truck and battling it out on the flatbed of another truck. He also shows his mastery of just about every weapon as he unleashes his entire ninja arsenal on the mobsters. The format follows your typical revenge film tropes as Akira’s family is done wrong and it’s up to Akira to enact revenge. All of this, screams action movie.
But for as action-y as this film is, the latter portion of the film is downright horrifying in many different ways as the seemingly indestructible bad guy Limehouse Willie takes on Akira in a final battle that leads them into the middle of a creepy ass mannequin factory. As the two warriors literally bash each other to pieces, they are surrounded by parts of used mannequins—a juxtaposition that is successfully jarring for a typical action movie.
The gory battle between Akira and Limehouse is beyond intense as Limehouse keeps jabbing things into the open bullet wound on Akira’s leg. Gorier than your typical kung fu actioner, Limehouse frantically attacks Akira with all he’s got, which includes a chainsaw, showing that ka-razy is almost a match for karate. The bloody death of the big bad at the end is also quite gruesome and much more mean-spirited and relentless (though deserving) than I remembered. But all in all, in tone, this is a pitch black film highlighting what a badass Sho Kosugi truly is.
Still, the tone of this film is all over the place. At times it seems to want to make a serious comment on the myth of the American Dream and how Asian people are often stigmatized upon coming to America. It also has a very serious tone in regards to the brutal death of one key character. But just when you think this one is too serious, little Kane Kosugi shows up in a black Michael Jackson jacket and a souped up bike with a bunch of gadgets to kick some ass kung fu style in the cutest of ways. So along with all of that gruesome death from the edge of a tossed shuriken and a sword, there’s cartoonish gas bombs and kicks to the ding-ding by Sho’s little kid. It makes for a unique movie, that’s for sure.
I have a school paper I wrote as a ten year old somewhere packed away in a bunch of other shit that says “When I grow up I want to be a _________.” In that blank, for a long time, I always put ninja and then I would freak my teacher out at my extensive knowledge of edged weaponry I had gleaned from my monthly subscription to NINJA MAGAZINE. I love ninja movies still and PREY FOR DEATH is one of the best ones. This one appears to have some of the cut scenes restored so it’s much bloodier and more hard edged than most ninja movies of the era. This Arrow Blu comes with an early interview with Sho Kosugi demonstrating his ninja skills, plus an extended interview with Sho now looking back on his career.
New this week On Demand and digital download from iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, XBOX live and Playstation Network!
REFUGE (2013)aka THE MANSION
Directed by Andrew Robertson
Written by Lilly Kanso, Andrew Robertson
Starring Sebastian Beacon, Chris Kies, Carter Roy, Amy Rutberg, Eva Grace Kellner, Travis Grant, Mark Ashworth, Joe Manus, Anthony B. Harris
Find out more about this film here, on Facebook here, and @passerbyfilms
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Kind of like THE WALKING DEAD without those pesky zombies, REFUGE is a somber but effective experience in survivalist horror. After a plague ravages the world population, people are forced to take refuge in their homes in fear of the ever-spreading disease and the threat of survivors who have lost their own humanity and look to destroy any that is left in the world. The film follows a small makeshift family as they attempt to forage for food and supplies, defend their territory, and seek out a place of safety in a world upended by plague.
While a lot of this film feels like familiar territory covered in films like THE ROAD, THE DAY, and THE WALKING DEAD, with a focus mainly on humanity’s struggle with the fall of society as we know it, it treads through this territory confidently and effectively. And while some might see fault in this film for being so much like those other films, everything is done in a manner that is absolutely entertaining. The film is full of thrilling scenes of survival, shot in a manner by director Andrew Robertson that highlights the action creatively and heightens the dangers outside of the false safety of the survivor’s homes. Robertson does a very cool thing with the marauders by rarely showing their faces, dehumanizing them and often showing them from behind or out of focus in the background. In doing so, though they are very much human, they become something inhuman and monstrous. It’s one of many thematic decisions that make this film so effective.
If there’s a fault in this film it’s that there might be one too many characters in the survivors party. Especially since at first glance, a few of the actors look close to one another. Then again everyone looks grungy and the color palette is intentionally bleak, but there are enough distinguishing features to tell people apart. It’s just in the close-ups, it took me a second to distinguish one dirty white guy from the other one.
That said, REFUGE is as timely a movie as you can get as it really does offer a compelling and heart-wrenching look at a society overcome by a super-plague. It realizes our fears of disease effectively with slow boiling, yet intense action and offers up a makeshift family in crisis that you really care for. Looking for that same kind of investment in a group of survivors and not really wanting to commit yourself to 13 hours of a season of THE WALKING DEAD? REFUGE fills that void quite well.
In theaters today!
THE WITCH (2015)Directed by Robert Eggers
Written by Robert Eggers
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, Wahab Chaudhry as Black Phillip, and Bathsheba Garnett as the Witch!
Find out more about this film here, on Facebook here, and @TheWitchMovie
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The key to understanding the inner logic of THE WITCH is to look at the title itself. Not that this is a difficult film to understand, but if you consider the title “THE WITCH: A NEW ENGLAND FOLKTALE,” it is easier to understand the type of story the filmmaker was trying to tell. I say this because in the theater I saw THE WITCH, there were a few people scratching their heads. Now, I know a lot of times, pre-screenings of films aren’t always a good indicator as to the type of audience that will be seeking out THE WITCH, but I think it does indicate that there is a difference between horror movie goers—especially ones who only see horror in theatrical releases and diehard fans of the horror genre. THE WITCH is not your typical theatrically released horror film. I wish it were typical. I think horror wouldn’t get the stigma that it usually gets if there were more movies like THE WITCH, but alas, it’s simply not what you usually see in theaters.
You’re not going to find jump scares or cats jumping through windows or Don Music piano bangs in THE WITCH. THE WITCH is a rock solid story of William (Ralph Ineson), a simple New England farmer who has uprooted his family from a settlement to take off on his own and have a fresh start on a new plot of land. His spirited daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is becoming a young woman and his God-fearing wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) seems to want her daughter to leave the home as she seems to be somewhat threatened by her daughters blossoming. Meanwhile, William’s oldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is beginning to notice his sister’s blooming sexuality as well and while the two are close, this interests and frightens the young boy. While watching her mother’s infant child, Thomasin is dismayed when the baby disappears right from under her nose. Soon after Caleb goes off to look for the baby and returns feverish and with wild stories of a witch in the woods, Katherine believes Thomasin to be the cause of it all and that her daughter is bringing the pall of the Devil’s business over their home.
THE WITCH, at its heart, is a cautionary tale to be told by God-fearing people to warn their children about evils outside of the comfort zone of the church and home. While there isn’t a bookend to this tale with a camp leader telling a group of children a story around a campfire, that’s exactly what this film is. While many witch stories either illustrate the evil of man and how the threat of womanhood can be stamped down in the name of God (see THE CRUCIBLE or WITCHFINDER GENERAL) or go supernatural and show that there really is an evil presence that goes against the word of God (see CRY OF THE BANSHEE or any other cautionary possession film from ROSEMARY’S BABY to THE LAST EXORCISM), THE WITCH is the first film I can remember to illustrate both sides of the witch argument in an equally compelling and succinct fashion. For much of the film, there is a heavy dose of paranoia and persecution as Katherine’s fanatical belief in God and a series of unfortunate events lead to her claiming her own daughter has been possessed by the Satan. On the other hand, there does seem to be a malevolent presence in the woods and we actually see an old crone who takes the form of many different creatures or uses them as familiars as the story goes on. Embracing both the psychological view as well as the supernatural view is sophisticated storytelling and THE WITCH balances on this fence between the two quite deftly. At any time, this film could go either way (a more real world based tale of hysteria or a supernatural tale of evil forces unleashed) and I would have been ok with it.
Eventually THE WITCH shows its hand and we find out what type of film this is, but by then, I was chilled to my very core. The culmination of horrific scenes set upon the backdrop of the undisturbed forest crescendos to a deafening volume by the end. The horrific imagery that plays out in this film is iconic and bizarre. While witchcraft has been shown in films in many forms, writer/director Robert Eggers manages to fill this film with horrific sights and sounds I have never seen before and while it is patient to get to the horror, every moment is filled with a heavy dread that you are compelled to never look away--even during the most terrifying of sequences.
The cast of THE WITCH is phenomenal. As Thomsin, Anya Taylor-Joy is the heart and soul of this film. She is still a young girl, but her body is evolving and she is not fully aware of the threat that contains. She shifts from child to adult with ease and sophistication that many actresses of her age only dream of possessing. Ralph Ineson’s William is fantastic as the cavernous-voiced patriarch of the family who portrays a prideful man trying to keep it together, even after it seems he has made the gravest of mistakes for leaving the colony in the first place. Though she plays more of the stereotypical hysterical woman, Kate Dickie still gives her all as Katherine and this paranoia she exudes is terrifying to see evolve. But it was little Harvey Scrimshaw who shines brightest here as Caleb. The scene where he feels as if he is seeing God himself is the most mesmerizing performance I’ve seen from a young actor in ages. This little guy has the talent and soul that I haven’t seen in a young actor since River Phoenix. Here's hoping there will be much more of him to see in future films as his performance is both crucial to the plot and harrowing to witness as he takes on both the supernatural and the paranoid with a furrowed brow and a look of determination that is convincing despite his age.
Eggers is a true find in horror and I hope he sticks with this genre. Everything from the look of the outfits to the home to the music made with instruments of the times shows the type of patience that the horror genre is lacking in. Every second and every inch of this film feels absolutely authentic. I hate to throw around the “K” word, but there are quiet, yet earth-shattering moments that mesmerize in Stanley Kubrickian or at the very least Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN levels. I know films released in theaters in February are rarely up for Oscar, but this is a film I would love to see get that type of attention. It surely deserves it.
I really feel sorry for those who are going to criticize THE WITCH for being boring or slow. The film takes its time to map out a complex dissection of the typical American family of the time and all of the faults that go along with that concept. The characters are beyond compelling and Eggers keeps the characters evolving non-stop from beginning to end, so the static shots contained resonance to me and not a whiff of tedium. While I commend the House that Jason Blum built and all of the horrors the company have unleashed through the years, films like INSIDIOUS/CONJURING/PARANORMAL ACTIVITY/SINISTER have become so interchangeable that it’s hard to tell one plot from the other. It’s also conditioned modern audiences to expect a jump scare every five minutes and pandered to the waning capacity for patience in modern audiences. Instead of giving into that, THE WITCH plays with that lack of patience and stretches the anticipation to painful lengths, which will unease you if you’re that type of short attentioned, conditioned moviegoer. And unease is a good thing to feel in a horror movie. That’s what horror is. And THE WITCH is what good horror is. I can only hope people go out and see THE WITCH in theaters so hopefully, we can see more horror like it in theaters rather than the interchangeable crap we’ve been inundated with for the last decade.
Out now in select theaters (Check here for show times) and also available on iTunes and Amazon here!
SOUTHBOUND (2015)Directed by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Written by Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Hallam, Patrick Horvath
Starring Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Kristina Pesic, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks, Dana Gould, Anessa Ramsey, Susan Burke, Davey Johnson, Mather Zickel, Karla Droege, Zoe Cooper, Justin Welborn, David Yow, Tipper Newton, Matt Peters, Maria Olsen, Tyler Tuione, Kate Beahan, Gerald Downey, Hassie Harrison, Tallulah Mounce, Max Folkman, Nick Folkman, Karina Fontes, Roxanne Benjamin, Damion Stephens, & Larry Fessenden as the D.J.!
Find out more about this film Facebook here, and @SouthboundMovie
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While much of the horror ballyhoo this week is about THE WITCH (and the ballyhoo is definitely worth it), there’s another really great horror film that is being slowly released throughout the country that deserves your attention as well. SOUTHBOUND is an indie horror film from the twisted minds that brought you V/H/S and for those who thought that horror series was a bit disjointed, you might want to check this stream of consciousness nightmare out as it packs all kinds of thrills, chills, terrors, and screams in a much more streamlined way.
Five different vignettes make up SOUTHBOUND, but it’s told as if it is one never-ending Mobius loop of terror with one segment blending pretty seamlessly into another. A tale of a thieves fleeing inner demons flows into the story of three girls in a band breaking down on the side of the road mixes into an account of a man who runs over a woman with his car morphs into a parable of a man looking for his missing sister molds into a yarn about a family haunted by masked invaders in a hotel. Much like PULP FICTION, one story flows pretty smoothly into the next to tell a rather epic journey through a single stretch of road that seems to lead nowhere.
The most interesting thing about SOUTHBOUND is what it tells the viewers and what it keeps to itself. There are some points that are kept only to be revealed later in the film in another story, while other points are left ambiguous and open-ended, giving the entire film an unpredictable and dangerous tone as to what is actually happening here. I walked into this film knowing nothing about it (something I try to do with most horror films if I can help it) and found myself enrapt into every twist and turn this terror trip of a film took me. Each segment, directed and written by different filmmakers, really worked well together and off of one another, making the entire film feel much more epic than V/H/S which had its stronger and weaker segments. By taking away the hard break between the segments, this film really works as less of an anthology and more of a nightmare that changes directions randomly, yet maintains the same dire tone. As a whole movie, SOUTHBOUND is much more satisfying than V/H/S.
It’s harder to get into specifics here as the stories flow into one another. Some of the vignettes use the same characters from other stories while others stand alone. In doing so, I don’t know if there is one story stronger than another as it feels as if any of them weren’t in here, this movie version of a house of cards would tumble down. I love the way each story is distinct in the tale being told and the iconic and horrifying imagery that occurs. Each story has its fair share of gore, but all of them utilize it in different ways. One quiet scene of a man sliding his arm inside the body of another person to massage a lung back to life is horrifying. But it differs greatly from the horrific angels of death chasing a pair of robbers along a highway and from the disgusting lump of mystery meat that is served as a twisted dinner table. Each section is successful equally in unsettling and causing fear and terror.
I loved everything about SOUTBOUND and if it has to bear the qualification of anthology, I’d say it was the best anthology I’ve seen this year as all of the stories play out with the same morose and somber tone, but do so in a unique manner all the way through. On top of that, this film is filled with tons of genre stars and filmmakers. Stars like STARRY EYES’ Fabianne Therese and Maria Olsen, DELIVERY’s Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, and THE SIMPSONS’ Dana Gould accompany new fresh faces like Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks, Mather Zickel, and Hassie Harrison in the cast and all of them are extremely talented at the roles they play. Many of the directors here worked on the V/H/S and while the tone is just as horrifying, things are much more focused and effective here in this more linear tale.
SOUTHBOUND is a horror version of PULP FICTION that tears down the road unapologetically and offers up unique stories and even more unique visuals. They say that a good anthology is made up of stories that would work on their own. Each of these vignettes would be a great standalone. Put all together like this and it’s downright genius horror.
Advance Review! Advance copies available by participating in the IndieGoGo campaign for the new film HOUSE SHARK!
SHE KILLS (2015)Directed by Ron Bonkbr> Written by Ron Bonk
Starring Jennie Russo, Trey Harrison, Michael Merchant, Jody Pucello, David Royal, Martha Zemsta
Find out more about this film here, on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
SHE KILLS lets you know it is something extremely unconventional as Sadie (Jennie Russo) walks though a lovely field of wildflowers set to sweeping piano music. As she comes to rest on a grassy spot, she opens her blouse and tickles her nipple with a flower as a biker punk wearing a leather jacket with “The Touchers” painted across the back watches intently and licks his lips. Right off the bat, the film lets you know that it is not your typical movie. SHE KILLS is raunchy, gory, and altogether wrong in so many ways. It’s also a pretty damn good time.
As the credits attest, SHE KILLS is based on the fictional novel “She Kills with Her Crotch” by Sir Bertrand Covington. This may not be true, in fact, I’m sure it isn’t, but it only adds to the layers of raunchy fun this film oozes from every orifice. Taking the tone of some of the best Troma farces, SHE KILLS spoofs the grindhouse revenge genre with all kinds of clichés gone gory and wrong.
Sadie is a virginal young woman, looking forward to marrying her fiancée and starting a family, but on her wedding night, a ruthless gang named “The Touchers” murder her husband and as they attempt to rape Sadie, one whiff from her crotch whips them into an uncontrollable rage. The Touchers wake up the next morning to find out that they ate her husband and that Sadie’s honeypot has the power to drive people mad. Vowing revenge against the Touchers, Sadie goes to a mystic who says she is cursed with “the fire crotch” and that Sadie can have her revenge, though she can never be with a man again. The spell is performed and Sadie busts out to unleash some vaginal revenge on her tormentors.
So, this is a film that centers on rape and tosses every gory and crude thing plus the kitchen sink at you. And while rape is not usually a subject to take so lightly, this film does so in a way that is so wrong, you’re going to feel kind of raunchy just tittering at it. There will be those sensitive types that will get their panties in a bunch about the frivolous way the subject matter is dealt with, but this isn’t really a movie for folks who take things that seriously. There’s not a sincere bone in this film’s body and I have to admire the balls this film has for going full on grossout the way it did.
Balls are kicked so hard they are coughed up. Much 70’s bush is unleashed. People are dry humped to death. And you will believe a vagina will eat a human being. These are but a few of the horrifically wrong things that happen in SHE KILLS, a film made for a particular gore-minded folks who laugh uncontrollably at times when one is supposed to be offended. The cast and filmmakers of this film committed to make something truly disgusting and juvenile and they succeeded in spades. If you’re a fan of Troma films, SHE KILLS is going to be your flavor, guaranteed.
And finally…for your listening pleasure, here’s another haunted radio play from yesteryear! This one is about a curse, a house, and a long dark night. Pull up the covers and give a listen to “Light’s Out: House Is Haunted!”
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!