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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Another week, another batch of horror! This time I’ve got killer cults, arcane brain controllers, gun-toting ninjas, demon bikers, rocker werewolves, and alien invaders! What more could you ask for?

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On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: DONOVAN’S BRAIN (1953)
Retro-review: THE BLACK SLEEP (1956)
Retro-review: MONSTER DOG (1984)
Retro-review: DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998)
ROWS (2015)
BLEED (2016)
And finally…Lights Out: What the Devil!

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!


Directed by Felix E. Feist
Written by Curt Siodmak (novel), Hugh Brooke (adaptation), Felix E. Feist (screenplay)
Starring Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Reagan, Michael Colgan, Steve Brodie, Lisa Howard, James Anderson, Victor Sutherland, Peter Adams, Harlan Warde, Shimen Ruskin
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

This intense mind control-filled drama may not be high on horror, but DONOVAN’S BRAIN has some fantastic performances and a kooky fun science premise.

Apparently, no one but Nancy Reagan cares about a monkey as she seems to be the only person who gives a fig when its brain is removed and kept alive in the first moments of DONOVAN’S BRAIN. When the plane of a billionaire named Donovan goes down near the lab of Dr. Patrick Cory (Lew Ayres), his body is rushed to Cory’s lab but cannot be saved. But having just had success with reviving the monkey brain, Cory tosses the Temple of Doom delicacy out and tosses Donovan’s brain into the experiment. Miraculously the brain survives and through telepathy, Donovan begins taking control of Cory. While his wife (the late great former First Lady Reagan) and his drunkard best friend (Gene Evans) worry about the effects of lending his mind for the evil brain’s to occupy, Cory is compelled to go out and salvage Donovan’s vast accounts in various places and keep them from falling into his investors’ hands. It turns out Donovan was a shit of a man who will even murder anyone who gets in between him and his money. While the brain of Donovan lays floating in a vat of saline, he is walking around and taking over Cory’s life.

Aside from some wonky ethics and a few scenes of mad science, DONOVAN’S BRAIN is basically a mind control film where the lead is influenced by dark forces. The film has your typical don’t mess with science and play god message, but this one focuses less on the test tubes and more on the intrigue of Donovan walking around in Cory’s body and carrying out his wishes. A more modern take on the film might get into some more lurid habits of Donovan, but this one keeps things pretty simple and has Donovan focus on the money. Even the method of the way Donovan attempts to off those in his way isn’t really inventive, as he resorts to choking anyone in his path.

Saving the film are the performances, specifically by Ayres and Reagan. It was fun seeing young Reagan (especially so close to her recent passing) and realizing that she was a fine actress in her day. Ayres is strong here as well, changing his tone, posture, and demeanor when he switches between Cory and Donovan. Falling more into the category of suspense-filled drama, DONOVAN’S BRAIN is a lot of fun, with some kooky science leading it off and some strong work by the cast carrying it the rest of the way to the sudden but satisfying end.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!


Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Written by Gerald Drayson Adams (story), John C. Higgins(screenplay)
Starring Basil Rathbone, Herbert Rudley, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Bela Lugosi, Patricia Blair, Phyllis Stanley, Tor Johnson, Sally Yarnell, Claire Carleton
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

This off the wall tale of mad science tosses everything but the kitchen sink at you, making THE BLACK SLEEP one of those odd little forgotten classics that deserves to be remembered.

Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone) explains that The Black Sleep is an ancient Indian drug that puts people in a death-like state. Cadman uses this drug to fool the authorities into thinking a fellow doctor Dr. Gordon Ramsey (Herbert Rudley), set for execution, has died. Smuggling the doctor to his mansion, Cadman informs Ramsey about his experiments on the brain and asks him to aid in Cadman’s operations, which end with the bodies going missing soon after surgery. Befriending the mad doctor’s daughter Laurie (Patricia Blair), Ramsey finds out that the corpses he is operating on are actually alive and living in the bowels of Cadman’s mansion. As the authorities close in to find the missing persons in the area, Cadman reveals the secret of why he is performing these experiments.

This is one kooky movie. Starring pretty much every classic horror actor working at the time, lovers of retro-horror are going to have to see this film. Seeing Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Tor Johnson, and Basil Rathbone all in one film is a horror fan’s dream come true. The only problem is that other than Rathbone, who seems to be having a blast with his role as the mad scientist with a secret, the other actors only have bit parts here. Lugosi himself, in a role that is debatably his last, doesn’t even speak in the film, Tor Johnson does his usual zombie Tor schtick, and Lon Chaney Jr. has a more substantial role, but one that takes advantage of his size rather than his acting. John Carradine is bugnuts as a religious zealot, but he only shows up in the last few minutes. So if you’re looking for all of these creeper heroes to interact, you’re going to have to wait for it.

The first hour of THE BLACK SLEEP, though, is rather slow. There are a lot of slow moments of exposition as Cadman and Ramsey debate the ethics and mechanics of the experiments. This is necessary, I guess, as brain surgery and anatomy were not as commonplace in the time this film was made, but still, it takes its time doing so. If you get through that first hour of subtle mystery and ethical debate, the final half hour is what makes this film worth the price of admission as things go absolutely crazy when the experiments escape and the secrets are revealed with the police circling outside.

THE BLACK SLEEP is one of those odd little films that has slipped through the cracks, but thankfully Kino Lorber is bringing it back for all to enjoy. The film is strangely structured narratively, but if you roll with it until the end, you’re definitely going to be surprised at how far down the rabbit hole it descends.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Scorpion Films/Kino Lorber!


Directed by Claudio Fragasso (as Clyde Anderson)
Written by Claudio Fragasso (as Clyde Anderson)
Starring Alice Cooper, Victoria Vera, Carlos Santurio, Pepa Sarsa, Pepita James, Emilio Linder, Ricardo Palacios, Luis Maluenda, Barta Barri,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

While it hasn’t aged well, MONSTER DOG possesses some fun werewolfisms amidst some truly awful moments. Still, if you’re a fan of the esteemed rock god Mr. Cooper, this is a must see.

Pop star Vince Raven (shock rocker Alice Cooper) returns to his father’s mansion after years of being on the road. With his band and manager/girlfriend (Victoria Vera) in tow, he returns to find the village he lived in overrun by packs of wild dogs and the townspeople not to happy to see him. Soon Raven and his Scooby Crew of bandmates are running all over the mansion and its grounds away from shotgun toting locals and chomping monster mutts. But what secret does Raven’s family have, and will Vince succumb to it?

Straight up front, I want to tell you this is not a great movie. The film opens with a hokey music video that only those who were around for the beginning of MTV would appreciate. The dubbing is downright terrible in this film, as it seems everyone but Cooper spoke Italian while filming, and the acting and script are pretty horrible, not really giving Cooper much to work with. Obviously, with Cooper’s love of the macabre he was hoping for the best with MONSTER DOG, but there’s a lot of rough stuff to plow through to get to the good stuff in this film.

But I still kind of love this film, mostly through the rose-colored shades of nostalgia, as I remember dying to see it on video when I was a kid and then thinking I was the luckiest kid in the world when I finally did. Having only known Alice Cooper from his appearance on THE MUPPETS, I thought it was fun to see him chase monster dogs and mad Englishmen with a shotgun. Looking at it now, I can appreciate quite a lot of the latter scenes orchestrated by director/writer Claudio Fragasso that are more action-centric and focus less on the weak dialog which this film is littered with. There are some really fun scenes where all hell is breaking loose in the mansion, and no corner is safe to turn in fear of seeing a snarling snout or a grimacing villager’s face.

The effects in MONSTER DOG are not fantastic, but Fragasso smartly only shows them in quick snippets, so the dog head puppets’ rudimentary nature is kind of covered. *SPOILER* One of the more impressive scenes is the transformation scene as Cooper begins changing into a monster dog. Through some solid transformative acting and capable effects, Cooper really sells this scene and makes it one of the more powerful ones in the film. *END SPOILER*

MONSTER DOG is definitely not the best werewolf/evil dog film around, but if you stick with it for a little while, it actually ends rather strongly. Still, the choice to place that horrible song “Identity Crisises” and the accompanying video at the beginning and the end of the film makes it hard to recommend this film to anyone but diehard Cooper fans and lovers of rough going cinema.

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


Directed by David Nutter
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Steve Railsback, Bruce Greenwood, Katharine Isabelle, William Sadler, Ethan Embry, Terry David Mulligan, Susan Hogan, A.J. Buckley, Derek Hamilton, Dan Zukovic, Tygh Runyan, P.J. Prinsloo, Michelle Skalnik, Lalainia Lindbjerg, Chad Donella, Natassia Malthe, Crystal Cass, Chris Owens, Fiona Scott, David Paetkau, Erin Tougas, Ryan Taylor, Jay Brazeau, Brendan Fehr, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Carly Pope, Andre Danyliu, Gillian Barber, Stephen J. Lang, Peter LaCroix, Lynda Boyd, Daniella Evangelista, Stephen E. Miller, Julie Patzwald
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

If you’re looking for one of the most bland horror movies of the self aware/teen horror era of horror which began with SCREAM and petered out well into the 2000s, look no further than DISTURBING BEHAVIOR. The film is not without merit; you just have to sift through the clichés and simply bad parts to get to it.

Bo-hunk Steve (future CYCLOPS James Mardsen) rolls into small town Cradle Bay Island with his family (which includes a young Katharine Isabelle…rrrrrraaaaoooooww—that’s for older Katharine, not the young one in this one) and attempts to assimilate into the school, which as usual is separated into the local cliques such as the nerds, the skaters, the gear-heads, and the Blue Ribbons, a preppie squad of jocks and clean cuts who hang out at the yogurt shop and tend to look down on anyone outside of their group. School counselor Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) has a breakthrough program which takes delinquents and turns them into Blue Ribbons and don’t you know it, there’s a form of mind control reprogramming going on. Now it’s up to Steve, outsider hottie Rachel (Katie Holmes) and outcasts Gavin (Nick Stahl) and his annoying ass albino buddy to take on the masses of brainwashed teens.

First and foremost, this film is guilty of the single most annoying thing that came out of the Nineties, which is the incorporation of a few seconds of an MTV-approved rock song at the top and bottom of every scene transition. These songs usually have just scant traces of something to do with what’s going on with the scene, usually only a line or two that obviously states what is going on, used before the record is scratched and another annoying hit by The Flys or Harvey Danger can be played. I understand MTV was big at the time and Hollywood thought all of the kids lived and breathed by it (by this time, though, the channel began tossing hour after hour of videos and replacing them with reality shows, so of course, Hollywood was ten years too late), but this type of thing worked well with THE CROW, but rarely since.

Speaking of pandering, not much is left for the viewer to put together as everything is explained, from a quick and oversimplified lesson in the pecking order at the school from Gavin (this, again, laced with MTV-esque music and pop culture references) to the explanation of what the process actually is. What isn’t overexplained is stolen from greater paranoia films like THE STEPFORD WIVES and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and crammed in with the dumbest rules possible; apparently all it takes is to have Katie Holmes leaning against a truck for the guys to go nuts (their circuitry is blown when they become turned on) and looking at James Mardsen drinking an obviously product-placed Coke breaks the fuse of the ladies. Thing simply happen in this film for no reason, and no one (no adult or student) bats an eye at it until the end when all hell is supposed to have broken loose.

This type of film has been made over and again from THE STEPFORD WIVES to THE FACULTY to ZOMBIE HIGH. I hear this film was cut to shit by the producers in order to appeal to the largest of masses. Snipped were character moments, interactions with adults because this was a film for kids and who wants to see adults in a movie, and an ending which has Steve turned into one of the Blue Ribbons (some of which are shown in the special features section with commentary by X-FILES/GAME OF THRONES director David Nutter, in which he seems almost remorseful looking back at these scenes). I don’t think that would have helped because all of the rest feels like it was a cut and paste Pod People script put together by unhip producers pandering to kids they don’t relate to. Somewhere in here is a decent homage to those types of films. There certainly are some decent performances by William Sadler, James Marsters, Bruce Greenwood, Katie Holmes, and especially Nick Stahl. It’s simply one of those films that ends up being so overproduced and whitewashed that anything that makes it interesting has been bleached out altogether--sort of like the Blue Ribbons themselves.

New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Bill Perrine
Starring Ruth Norman, Charles Spiegel, Lani Calvert, Decie Hook, Kevin Kennedy, Tracey Kennedy, Billie McIntyre, William Proctor, David Reynolds, Dan Smith, Diana Tumminia
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Far be it from me to criticize someone’s beliefs. I don’t want to have this review making fun of this group of people who built a religion and a community that made them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Religion, though, is a tough subject for me to breach because the way these people give their all to believe in something they cannot see is something I simply cannot fathom. But this documentary about the truly odd religion called the Unarian Academy of Science presents the CHILDREN OF THE STARS in a pretty detailed and respectful manner.

Started by Ruth Norman in 1973, the Unarians were a space-based community of free thinkers who started a commune in the middle of the mountains outside of San Diego waiting for a starship to come down and take them away. Of course, that never came and the way the believers justify it is what turns out to be both convenient and fascinating to see how they all buy it. The doc also delves into the religion’s belief that everyone is living their lives over and over again. Of course, many were famous people in past lives, in order to make them feel important and with a purpose, but again, it’s how much these people, even today, believe these things that really makes this most interesting. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the religion is that all of the science fiction, be it STAR WARS or SANTA CLAUS CONQUORS THE MARTIANS, is all believed to be real—that these films are simply aliens subliminally inspiring George Lucas and the rest to make them (which would explain THE PHANTOM MENACE and KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, I guess).

If there’s a criticism of this film I think it’s that it waits until just the last twenty minutes to have psychologists look at the community from an unbiased perspective and talking about the sociological and psychological explanations of communities such as this. While this film didn’t really do much to convert me, it did show that not all cults are particularly bad. The Unarians made decorative costumes and props to use in elaborate films and plays they would make for their own inspiration, entertainment, therapy, and recruitment. There is a nice sense of positivity in this film, despite the fact that these are a bunch of lost souls who came together when they needed it. The film highlights the oddity of it all, but does so without judgment and letting the Unarians themselves explain their religions and the movies to show their bizarre beliefs. This is an interesting doc that firmly nestles itself into the theater of the weird while being respectful of the people it focuses on. Those interested in bizarre cultures and unique sociology might just be the audience CHILDREN OF THE STARS is going for.

New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!


Directed by Jeremy Garner
Written by Jacy Morris
Starring Mike Bazanele, Nick Forrest, Joshua Lee Frazier, Leif Fuller, Ryan Gregg, Evan Hayes, Tommy Hestmark, Sarah Kobel Marquette, Big Dave Levick, April Mai, Ehren McGhehey, Hunter O'Guinn, Todd A. Robinson, William Ross, Jamison Smith, Joseph Sullivan, Casey Vann, D.L. Watson
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Shot with a grindhousey filter throughout, I can appreciate what ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE is going for even though it only rarely achieves it.

When a newlywed couple’s honeymoon is broken up by demon bikers from hell, God resurrects the groom to wreak some vengeance upon them, but the groom is not so good at vengeance wreaking and ends up dead over and over again.

Part comedy and part Satanic gorefest, ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE’s main problem is that it aims way too high for the abilities of its actors. Most of the cast just doesn’t have what it takes, or at least didn’t get the direction to convince me of the emotion and the events happening. The script calls for a literal battle between heaven and hell on the open roads, but apart from some solid and slick gore scenes of head bashing and shotgun blasting, the film really crawls when the unconvincing actors try to fill the in between scenes with not so clever dialog. A rewrite or a polish from a second writer might have punched things up, and a few more takes might have made things more convincing. Instead we have a film with some clever crude moments peppered in here and there and some solid gore, but little else to offer.

This being the first film made by director Jeremy Gardner, who seems to have much of his experience coming from special effects work, I think his strengths definitely lay in capturing the gore well, but a stronger script is needed for ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE to lace those scenes of soppy wet gore together better.

New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Gravitas Ventures!


Directed by Brian Ackley
Written by Brian Ackley
Starring George Katt, Jen Burry, Taylor Negron
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Those interested in dinner theater one act plays might want to take a chance with ALIENATED, a film that only slightly flirts with sci fi, but only really features two people interacting negatively to one another in a closed space for the entire film. Small films like this often intrigue me, but only if there is a point. And while there is, I guess, some kind of point to the argument between this unhappy couple, I can’t say it’s something I found particularly interesting.

George Katt and Jen Burry play Nate and Paige, a married couple that has seen better days. Their interactions are pleasant, but there’s a strain between the two, as if there is a mile of territory between them, yet they live in a small home in LA. While in the back yard, Nate sees lights in the sky and becomes fascinated with them, checking the skies frequently. But when he approaches his wife with a video he took of the UFO, she is tired from work and doesn’t want to check it out. What transpires is an hour and a half long argument between Nate and Page…

OK, this film was dedicated to the late Taylor Negron, who starred in FAST TIMES IN RIDGEMONT HIGH and played a peculiar neighbor of Nate and Paige in this film. Negron is fun in this enigmatic role here, but unfortunately, the rest of the film really grated my nerves to the nub. I guess I just don’t find it enjoyable to watch two people argue incessantly for such a long period of time. I don’t know if the film was ad libbed or scripted, but either way, the argument between the two really got old after the first five minutes. Extend it to a feature length angry back and forthing and it’s ventured beyond not entertaining and it eventually became unbearably annoying. The actors George Katt and Jen Burry do a good job at having what seems like a real life argument anyone who has ever been in a relationship might be able to recognize. Still, just because it’s accurately portrayed doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. ALIENATED alienated me by being a little too real and a little too much in love with its own words, forgetting that a film should not only be accurate, but interesting to watch as well.

New this week on DVD from MVD Visual!

ROWS (2015)

Directed by David W. Warfield
Written by David W. Warfield
Starring Hannah Schick, Lauren Lakis, Kenneth Hughes, Joe Basile, Nancy Murray
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

ROWS plays like an endless fever dream where up and down are unfamiliar concepts. It’s the type of movie that toys with you and makes you doubt your own senses, but still manages to entertain.

Rose (Hannah Schick) is asked by her father to deliver an eviction notice to an elderly woman who lives on his land. Reluctantly, she accepts and ends up being entranced under the woman’s spell, finding herself wandering the rows of the connecting cornfield between the two properties. Rose doesn’t know what is real and what isn’t and as time goes on, she doesn’t know if escaping this endless loop of cornfields and witches is even possible.

What I love about this film is that it does so much with so little. Simply by repeating scenes a few times, filmmaker David W. Warfield does a fantastic job of creating a dreamlike world easy to get lost in. The minimal effects are showy or even necessary, as the out of joint way this film’s narrative operates causes a sense of unease. The use of minimal dialog, often spoken slowly with lines repeating numerous times, makes it all feel as if you’re in some kind of David Lynch universe. Sitting with this film makes you feel as if you’re drifting through someone else’s dream and unable to escape.

Actress Hannah Schick does a great job of conveying the altered sense of reality. She roams the rows of corn desperately, but always has an air of strength to her. Schick is trying desperately to figure out what is going on and with little dialog, she conveys a lot. The rest of the small cast isn’t at the caliber of Schick’s performance, but they do help add to the bizarre tone—specifically the bubbly Lauren Lakis, who plays Rose’s friend Greta, who is lost along with Rose in the corn.

There’s a nice fairy tale theme going on in this film. Both Rose and Greta are names from popular fairy tales, as are Rose’s father Mr. White and a man they meet in the corn rows named Jack Briar. These nods to fables of old only intensify the sense of dream and wonder that permeates ROWS. It’s a low key creeper of a film that surprised me a lot in the atmosphere it was able to create, right up to the oddly toned ending that makes you feel as if you’ve experienced a horror-tinted fable.

New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Gravitas Ventures!

BLEED (2016)

Directed by Tripp Rhame
Written by Ben Jacoby, Tripp Rhame
Starring Chelsey Crisp, Riley Smith, Michael Steger, Lyndon Smith, Brittany Ishibashi, Elimu Nelson, David Yow
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Looking for an evil backwoods cult film? Try BLEED. Looking for a ghosthunting story in a spooky locale? Try BLEED. Looking for a ROSEMARY’S BABY-vibing film about the horrors of pregnancy and paranoia? Try BLEED. Splicing subgenres of horror is never a sure thing, but sometimes it works, and with BLEED most of it works.

Expectant mother Sarah (Chelsey Crisp) and her husband Matt (Michael Steger) are moving into a new home in the country. Their friends Bree (Brittany Ishibashi) and Dave (Elimu Nelson) are invited for a housewarming party, and Sarah’s brother Eric (Riley Smith) and his galfriend Skye (Lyndon Smith) show up uninvited. As the day goes on, the couples intermingle and get to know one another and soon the conversation shifts to amateur ghosthunting. When Dave brings up a nearby prison that burned down with the inmates inside, Eric and Skye urge the rest of them to check it out. Meanwhile, Sarah and a few others at the party begin seeing glimpses of hillbillies snarling and howling in the periphery. Agreeing to drive them to the burned out prison, Sarah leaves her husband and the rest at the site only to go through her own ordeal on the way home. Meanwhile, in the prison, the spirits are awakened and they are not friendly.

The good definitely outweighs the bad in BLEED, a film that tosses bits and pieces of many different styles of horror into a crock pot and makes for a pretty sumptuous broth. The film’s got a ghost who literally chomps bits from people from afar. It’s got a creepy locale where the ghosthunting occurs. It’s got a nice story of a family curse and a really dark tone throughout filled with well-timed and potent shocking moments. There are moments of sheer terror as the pregnant lead (Crisp) is put into danger and some downright awesome deaths by hillbillies alive and dead. While the runtime of the film itself is rather short (1:15 mins), I’m pretty impressed at how much director/writer Tripp Rhame and his co-writer Ben Jacoby were able to cram into this film.

The problem is that there might be a bit too much crammed into this film. The shift from a haunted house story with a curse to a ghosthunting story is rather abrupt. Though Eric and Skye are not really liked at the party they were not invited to, somehow they convince everyone but Sarah to go to this deserted locale. The transition is not a very smooth one, and I think a little more conflict or a stronger reason to get the group to the burned out prison is needed as it feels just a little too convenient.

That said, this film is filled with strong performances, be it the protective mother in Crisp’s Sarah or the annoyance from her husband Matt (Steger) or the flaky performance by Riley Smith as Eric and Lyndon Smith as Skye. I especially liked the performance by Brittany Ishibashi, who plays someone coping with schizophrenia and doubting all of the creepy events that are happening around them (again, it’s not believable she would even go into a haunted place, but her performance there, shrieking “Is this really happening?!?” is an extremely potent point in the film as she doubts her own sanity). The strength of the performances proves to be the glue that holds this patchwork quilt of a film together.

Another thing worth noting is the powerful ending of this film that doesn’t explain too much, but still ends with a sledgehammer blow that took me aback at the intensity of the final scene of this film. Filled with rock-shocking moments, BLEED is a unique endeavor in that is embraces many types of terrors (supernatural, natural, and psychological) and ends up being a lot of fun despite being rather uncategorizable. I’d recommend BLEED for those looking to take a terror trip that is far from the norm.

Coming soon: In select theaters and On Demand on April 8th from Drafthouse Films!


Directed by Karyn Kusama
Written by Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michiel Huisman, Tammy Blanchard, John Carroll Lynch, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Toby Huss, Karl Yune, Lindsay Burdge, Marieh Delfino, Aiden Lovekamp, Jordi Vilasuso, Danielle Camastra, Jay Larson, Trish Gates
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Some of the best horror taps into human emotion and amplifies those feelings of discomfort to fever pitch levels. There have been many films that rely on a heavy dose of paranoia to work. Recent films such as THE CONSPIRACY, and ENEMY, and classics such as JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING, REPULSION, and ROSEMARY’S BABY push the paranoia to deafening levels of intensity. Another film can be added to that list of nerve-shredding paranoid masterpieces: THE INVITATION.

Accepting an invitation from an ex and her new husband to join old friends for a dinner party, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) arrive at the lavish home of Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and David (Michiel Huisman) to find it full of their friends, partying and greeting them with smiles. As the night goes on, there is obvious tension in the group and it eventually comes out that Will and Eden lost their child, which ended up breaking up their marriage. This being the first time they have seen each other since the breakup, it’s obviously somewhat uncomfortable, but pleasantries are used by all--that is, until Eden and David start talking about a new life betterment program they have been following. As the night goes on and the wine begins flowing, Eden and David begin to push their newfound spiritual awakening on the group, playing a video of the spiritual leader (Toby Huss from CARNIVALE) in which a woman embraces death and dies on the video. This of course unsettles the group, but doesn’t seem to bother Eden and David, who feel it is a beautiful moment. Writing this off as some kind of eccentricity used to cope with the loss of Eden’s son, the group moves past it and continues with the evening’s drinking and feasting--save for Will, who from the get-go has a dreadful feeling that something evil is going on. But is Will being paranoid and insecure, having been confronted with his ex-wife and their loss, or is there really something horrible transpiring? The answers are given by the end of the film, but it keeps you guessing for most of the film’s runtime.

What this film achieves so masterfully is the sinking feeling that something is off. By focusing the camera on Will through this film, casting him as the outsider in this group of friends, THE INVITATION does an amazing job of making you question if the scenes we are seeing play out are suspicious because we are seeing this from Will’s depressed and troubled perspective or if this really is reality and something horrifying is happening under the partygoers’ noses. So many scenes focus on Will looking around corners, sneaking through the hallways and witnessing snippets of conversations that, again, could be taken either way. The masterful way in which this film teeters on either being a story of a paranoid man or a truly dire situation for such an extended period of time is what grabbed me by the collar and pulled me in off the edge of my seat and as close to the screen as possible.

Those who like the slam-bang style of action horror where there’s a jump scare every two minutes that you can giggle at into your sweetie’s shoulder will definitely want to take a pass on THE INVITATION. This is a film you must allow to slowly creep in to enjoy. It’s a film where you have to give up the need to release that tension that is building in the situation before you. The release will come, eventually, but the beauty in THE INVITATION is the way it patiently holds back the answers until the very last minute. That doesn’t mean that once the answers are given, the credits roll. It means that you don’t know if the situation or Will is nuts for quite a while, but once the ball is dropped, the resolution is definitely worth the wait, with a final scene that is infinitely powerful in its simplicity.

THE INVITATION conveys a sense of paranoia so strong it cannot be denied. It’s a film that deftly plays with your expectations and amplifies the senses to a level where you are suspicious of everything. The performances are fantastic, especially that of Marshall-Green and Blanchard as the former couple who are familiar with who each other were, but not who they have become. Add the always amazing John Carroll Lynch in yet another creepy-ass performance and you’ve got a cast of characters who we will look back on one day and recognize as the first time we’ve seen these superstars in action. If you’re the type who gets a thrill about movies that make you slowly look over your shoulder in fear, THE INVITATION is a film that accomplishes both an excellent build-up and an equally amazing resolution.

And finally…here’s another radio play from yesteryear! This one is called “What the Devil” from the LIGHTS OUT radio series. Turn down the lights and scooch closer to your computer speakers for this chilling tale…

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 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

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