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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.

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On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962)
Retro-review: THE STUFF (1985)
Retro-review: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)
Retro-review: EDGE OF SANITY (1989)
Short Cuts: THE MILL AT CALDER’S END (2015)
Advance Review: CORD (2015)
And finally…Online Premiere of Frederic Lefebvre’s HOME SWEET HOME!

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


Directed by Ray Milland
Written by Jay Simms, John Morton (screenplay), Ward Moore (writer of short story “Lot” ad “Lot’s Daughter”
Starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel, Joan Freeman, Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman, Richard Garland, Willis Bouchey, Neil Burstyn, O.Z. Whitehead, Russ Bender, Shary Marshall
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO is much more of a “how to,” or maybe more accurately a “how not to do,” manual about what to do when the nuclear bomb drops. This being quite a scare for folks in the ‘60’s (hell, it’s still a scare now!), the film goes over some do’s and don’t’s should a foreign country decide to rain atomic death upon us all. In the end, though, it feels more quaint than educational, and more than a bit morally off base.

The film opens with the Baldwin family, lead by father Harry (Ray Milland, who also directed this film), pile into the family car with a camper in tow at 4:00AM to get a leg up on traffic. Son Rick (Frankie Avalon) and daughter Karen (Mary Mitchel) complain about the early start, which wife Ann (Jean Hagen) smooches her hubbie on the cheek for being so gung ho about this family vacation. Not long after they leave LA, the Baldwins see a bright light in their rear view mirrors. Upon trying to return home, they are met with scores of fleeing vehicles and people mobbing hardware and grocery stores in a panic. It looks as if the bomb has been dropped. Harry makes the decision to continue on the family vacation, only this time, packing for the long haul, so he heads to the local hardware store and grocery to stock up. Along the way, Harry’s grasp on morals slips as business owners attempt to hike up prices opportunistically. But Harry will have no part in it and begins to think of only the protection of his own family, putting others in danger and even willing to rob and kill in order to make sure they are ok. But their problems only begin when they get to their seemingly-secluded vacation locale and find that the sins that brought them there end up following them.

One thing that stands out in this film is the importance of family. If this were a modern film, Harry and his family would be stopping along the way to help others, but this film is single minded in protecting one’s own, sometimes at the sake of the betterment of one’s fellow man. This shift in morals made me think of how this film would fare today. Though family is important, modern films would test those bonds. Here, Harry rules over his family with an iron fist, but I could see a modern film have sis sneaking off to be with her boyfriend and mom chiding dad over going back to check on the rest of the family. But no one questions Harry as patriarch and it’s pretty significant of the time that this doesn’t occur. Sure his wife Ann is hard to convince that the crimes Harry commits are necessary, but in the end, father knows best.

I was also surprised at the risqué stuff included in the film’s later minutes. Sure it’s shocking to see Harry decide to rob a hardware store and light a highway on fire in order to get to his destination, but the real shock (for the time this film was made, that is) was the pretty blatant rape that goes on. The actual rape is not shown, but it sure is implied, not once but on two occasions in the film. For a 1960’s film to deal with this subject is pretty ballsy and Milland does a decent job of suggesting what happened without overtly saying it.

Milland is commanding as usual and it’s fun seeing Frankie Avalon brandishing a gun instead of a surf board, though a lot of time he seems like an over-eager Burt Ward listening to directions from Milland’s staunch and serious Batman. PANIC IN YEAR ZERO is quaint in places as nuclear fallout and radiation isn’t really considered. The real danger here is one’s fellow man and Milland goes out of his way to show that the only way to stop the destruction of mankind is a firm fatherly hand holding together a family. Even the ending has the military admiring the family for sticking together. In these jaded times, this might seem outdated, but there was something downright cute about the way this film sticks to its guns about the theme of father knowing best for his family.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!

THE STUFF (1985)

Directed by Larry Cohen
Written by Larry Cohen
Starring Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom, Brian Bloom, Danny Aiello, Patrick O'Neal, Alexander Scourby, Russell Nype, Colette Blonigan, Robert Frank Telfer, Harry Bellaver, Beth Tegarden, Rutanya Alda, Edward Power, Brooke Adams, Laurene Landon, Eric Bogosian, Patrick Dempsey, Mira Sorvino, and the late great Abe Vigoda!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Biting social commentary that is just and relevant today as it was back in the mid-eighties made me look past some of the rougher script decisions that make up THE STUFF!

Discovered bubbling out of the ice in the arctic, a product called the Stuff is sweeping the nation as the eating fad to beat all fads. But when David 'Mo' Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is hired by greedy competitors to find out just what it is inside the Stuff that makes it so damn delicious, he uncovers the truth behind the Stuff, a micro-organism that takes over your mind once ingested.

Riffing off of the yogurt and New Coke trends of the mid-eighties, old school horror filmmaker Larry Cohen was able to create a new type of conspiracy/paranoia film in THE STUFF. Sure the production values didn’t match that of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from the previous decade, but the idea was still there and prominent throughout the entire film as millions of consumers were inundated with TV commercials, billboards, and other means of advertising for the new food that you can’t get enough of…the Stuff. Tossing in commercials and other ad projects that were common for the decade showed audiences that they had become sheep to corporate campaigns, following along and consuming whatever they were told by sparkling starlets and good looking leading men in well produced commercials. This isn’t that different than today with multi-million dollar ad campaigns selling everything from websites to erectile dysfunction pills to political party candidates. Cohen was on to something with this film, but maybe it hit a bit too close to home during the Decade of Consumption that was the 80’s and it’s became a cult classic rather than a big hit.

Conspiracy theories aside, the real reason why THE STUFF wasn’t such a huge hit is because the script is pretty awful and the cutbacks on budget were pretty evident. In spite of Michael Moriarty’s always charming and watchable performance, there are a lot of goofy moments that permeate this film and make it rough to watch without chortling at its shortcomings. Be it the thinly veiled conspiracy layerings or the over the top performance by Paul Sorvino as an extreme conservative right winger with his own army of militants ready to strike out against the government, THE STUFF lays it on thick whenever social commentary is used, so even the most dense of viewers can get it. On top of being spoon-fed the conspiracy, the reliance on one little boy to sort of save the day reminded me of the child-like wish fulfillment themes of another fantasy conspiracy film INVADERS FROM MARS, as a young boy ends up calling the shots for adult militants in order to defeat the baddies.

On the plus side, there are some amazing effects in THE STUFF. Not only are there cool Blob-like animations, stop motions, and simple twists of physics to make it look like the Stuff is alive and shamblin’, but the effects of the hollowed out Stuffies who have consumed so much stuff that there is nothing left inside of them is pretty horrifically realized with puppets stretching proportions of the face, other effects that indicate how the Stuffies are easily punched through, and simple shots of people barfing up globs of the Stuff when it needs to move about in its most basic form. One can only wish the script had as much smarts behind it as the effects did.

Despite it’s scriptic weaknesses, there’s a lot of charm in THE STUFF. Mostly, this comes from Moriarty’s performance as a likable detective, a super strong theme (though the execution is not as good), and a solid handling of the effects. Still, as a film that exemplifies the shortcomings of a decade, THE STUFF is rock solid in it’s delivery.

I was especially impressed at the hour long documentary on the Making of the Stuff that accompanies this release as it goes into great detail about the conception of the idea behind the film, some hurdles the film had to leap at the time, and some ad campaigns such as real commercials for THE STUFF that didn’t let people know it was a movie until the week before release. These commercials were never made because the producers lacked guts, but it would have been a William Castle-esque snafu if it would have occurred. Darren Lynn Bousman provides a short narration of the commercial and how influential it was on him upon first seeing it. All in all, this is a fully stuffed package of goodness that fans of THE STUFF are not going to get enough of.

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


Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by L.M. Kit Carson, Tobe Hooper
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Lou Perryman, Ken Evert, Harlan Jordan, Kirk Sisco, James N. Harrell, Barry Kinyon, Chris Douridas, Judy Kelly, John Martin Ivey, Kinky Friedman, Wirt Cain, Dan Jenkins, John Bloom, and Bill Johnson as Leatherface!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

I think I pretty much became a hardcore horror fan in the summer of 1986. I read FANGORIA religiously, and followed the harrowing road to theaters taken by THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 as the film was battered by the MPAA and awarded an X rating. That meant my little town of Lima, Ohio would not be getting the film in theaters and I had to wait until the film came to video in order to see it. Released as unrated, I was able to see it despite the fact that I was only fourteen at the time, which was awesome, but the first release was heavily edited and I heard those edits would most likely never be seen. In the meantime, much to my family’s disgust, I bought the TCM 2 “Breakfast Club” poster and proudly displayed it on my wall and even dressed as Leatherface a few times, making my own skin-mask out of the remnants of Frankenstein masks I bought at the costume store. The film itself was a sort of teenage bucket list item for me to experience and when I did, I wasn’t disappointed. It delivered much in terms of shocks, gore, and perversity; though there are some who dislike the film for the comedic, slapsticky leanings the narrative takes. Well, that’s my tale of obsession with TCM 2, my first X rated horror film and I was pleased as punch to be able to reexperience this film, in probably its most remastered and glorious form in this new BluRay rerelease from The Shout Factory.

The story continues 17 years after we last left the cannibalistic Sawyer family with Nubbins the Hitchhiker flattened by a semi truck, the Cook screaming as usual in the Sawyer home, Sally Hardesty laughing insanely in the back of a getaway pickup and Leatherface doin’ the dance as the sun rose across the Texas landscape. Things really haven’t changed much. Sure Sally is catatonic in an asylum and written out of the story, but the Sawyer family are still killin’ and cookin’, as evidenced by an early scene showing the Cook aka Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) accepting first prize in a state wide chili cook-off. When two yuppie scumbags are massacred in their car while calling into a radio show, their deaths are recorded by the station, making local DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) a target for the secretive cannibal clan who has thus far kept their existence under wraps from the authorities. Meanwhile, a vigilante lawman named Lefty (Dennis Hopper), who is the uncle of Sally Hardesty, sets out to prove his niece’s ramblings true by tracking down the Sawyer clan. Lefty convinces Stretch to re-play the tape of the murders on the radio and Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and his manic brother Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) lay siege on the radio station to get the tape and murder the witnesses. It all culminates in a battle royale in an abandoned amusement park which the Sawyer’s have been using as a hideout. Let the chainsaw battles begin!

What I love about this film is that it offers up a pretty elaborate world the Sawyer family live in. Through the ramblings of the insane family, you can piece together the history of sorts of the Sawyer family through the years and how it’s kept itself secret and in business for all of these years. Viet Nam vet Chop-Top (who was absent from the first film because he was in service at the time, BTW there’s a movie in there somewhere that I’d die to see) rambles on how his Veterans benefits helped start up the business the Cook is so worried about. The Cook continues to be the sort of patriarch of the family, constantly disciplining Chop-Top and Leatherface, despite his diminutive size, but they all call Grandpa—Grandpa, so does that mean, through incest with Grandma Chainsaw, the Cook is the father/brother of Chop-Top, Leatherface, and the Hitchhiker (their dead brother who they still cart around)? And while the switch from Sawyer to Hoggett is most likely a production rather than a creative decision, does this mean that, after the Sawyers were wiped out, Leatherface made his way across Texas to distant relatives for the Platinum Dunes produced films or maybe vice versa with Leather face leaving the Hoggett’s and ending up with the Sawyers, since those films were remake/prequels rather than sequels? If any family needs a Jerry Springer episode dedicated to it, it’s this one. I know I often over-think these films, but the mythos is rather fascinating if you try to put together the films, and that’s exactly why I like the Big Four slashers of the 80’s—fitting them together as an extended mythos is pretty damn fun and has been the subject of hours upon hours of online conversation by fans.

While Hooper argues that the original is very much a comedy, the comedy is front and center in this sequel. Immediately, the organ heavy and boppy soundtrack which plays over the credits lets the viewer know that this tone is a little different than the original. In my opinion, one of the worst aspects of the film is the score as it is missing the weird flashbulb screeching sound effects that caused so many nightmares in the original. TCM2’s score feels more like it would be at home in a RE-ANIMATOR movie than in this one. Having a film take place in a radio station requires some kind of popular-ish music, and some very cool tunes by the Cramps, Blondie, and other alternative and punk bands make listening to this one pretty fun. Still, the score that made the first so shart-inducing is nowhere to be heard.

The comedy is prevalent throughout, but it is of the darkest hue. Tom Savini’s effects are over the top. Heads are sawed in half and slowly slide off, Chop-Top’s famous plate is not likely possible, but it looks creepy as all get out. The over the top gore continues either through slapstick gore; as Leahterface gets a chainsaw through the gut and still keeps coming and the Cook gets sawed in the ass, giving room for the line “at least it took care of my hems!”, or though excessive gore as with Chop-Top’s vicious hammer assault on radio station manager L.G. (Lou Perryman) and the horrifying skinning sequence where Stretch is forced to wear L.G. skin on her face. This is gore the likes that was only hinted at in TCM. Here its gratuitous, overt, and over the top; but when you have Tom Savini doing your gore, of course, you’re going to swing for the cheap seats.

Some of the more perverse bits in TCM2 are its best as Leatherface literally uses the chainsaw as a mock penis, trapping Stretch and caressing the blade of the chainsaw in between her legs. Sure, the lines Stretch says to Leatherface, who is enamored with her, are pretty ridiculous as she says “Let’s talk about this.” and “I don’t think this is going to work out.” referring to their relationship, but this film at least gets points for going overtly Freudian. Leatherface is definitely overcompensating as he humps the air with his chainsaw between his legs. Hopper even has Leatherface come to climax in the uncomfortable scene and then going on a rampage in the radio station out of confusion, rage, and embarrassment. It’s this type of twisted sexuality that adds a layer or two to this film that most horror fears to go.

Thematically, one of the more interesting aspects of TCM2 was lost on the editing room floor as there were plenty more scenes involving the famous “Red River Rivalry” between the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma football teams. Given that this film series very much deals with the basest of behavior of one man against another, it’s not a coincidence that the carnivorous rivalry between sports fans is featured in this film. One of the deleted scenes involves fans of the rival teams facing off in a parking lot only to be interrupted by Drayton’s food truck with Leatherface and his trusty chainsaw jumping out of the back of it and lopping off limbs to and fro. While I’m glad Hooper deleted these scenes from the final film as they really are poorly executed and make for a goofier tone for the film, it does drive the man vs the animal within theme home.

Another aspect that gives this film a bigger than life feel are the cartoonish multi-colored lights that pop up all through the film. The radio station is drenched in red, indicating that this is a scene of absolute danger and sure enough it is. The final scenes are lit by a rainbow of colors significant of the insane carnival of horrors that take place during the climax. While the bone sculptures and odd body sculptures are reminiscent of the original TCM, the lighting is much more indicative of Hooper’s other early horror film EATEN ALIVE (reviewed here), which was lit with otherworldly lights as well.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is filled with all sorts of amazing performances. While Hopper has said he hates the film, he does a fantastic job of being batshit crazy with revenge. Caroline Williams does frantic superbly and just as Marilyn Burns did so convincingly in the first film, you really believe she is petrified in these scenes. Jim Siedow in his final performance is cantankerous as ever as the Cook, constantly babbling and complaining, yet becoming creepily normal on a dime when it benefits him. Bill Johnson is not my favorite Leatherface, but he does pull off some rather uncomfortable scenes with Stretch. But stealing the show in this film is Bill Moseley as Chop-Top. He even is the one who challenges our final girl in the end, and not Leatherface himself, which leaves the Leatherface/Stretch romance storyline dangling, but gives the action to the most compelling bad guy of the bunch. Moseley continues to offer up memorable roles, but this is the iconic one that put him on the map.

With unique performances, brave themes, ballsy gore, and a sure handed grasp on pure insanity, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 gets more right than it does wrong. Sure Hooper repeats himself by having a damsel tied to a chair with Grandpa swinging away with a hammer at a dinner party scene, but that’s become a TCM standard and at the time, it was more of a throwback than an imitation. The whole TCM series offers up a warped mirror to the modern American family and this film strongly upholds that tradition by articulating a rather deep commentary on small business and the importance of family. In my opinion, TCM2 was as watchable as it was all those years ago and if you’re a fan of the series, this is something no Leatherface fan should miss.

This special edition Collector’s BluRay is filled with more extras than you can shake a hand-held chainsaw at. Disk one is a new 2016 2K HD scan of the film from the Interpositive Film Element, a new audio commentary with Director of Photography Richard Kooris, Production Designer Cary White, Script Supervisor Laura Kooris & Property Master Michael Sullivan, another commentary with Tobe Hooper, yet another with Actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and Special Effects Makeup Creator Tom Savini. There’s a new extended outtakes feature called “It Runs In The Family” Featuring L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman, a new Behind-The-Scenes Footage Compilation From Tom Savini's Archives, an alternate opening credit sequence, deleted scenes, a still gallery of posters and lobby cards, Behind-The-Scenes photos, stills & Collector’s Gallery, theatrical trailers and TV spots.

If that’s not enough, there’s a whole other disk with MGM's Original HD Master with color correction supervision by Director of Photography Richard Kooris, a new featurette called “House Of Pain” featuring an interview with Makeup Effects Artists Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale and John Vulich, another new featurette called “Yuppie Meat” featuring an interview with this film’s first kills Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon, yet another new one called “Cutting Moments” with an interview with Editor Alain Jakubowicz, another new one called “Behind The Mask” interviewing Stunt Man and Leatherface Performer Bob Elmore, a new Horror's Hallowed Grounds which revisit the locations in the film hosted by Sean Clark plus a special guest, the original “It Runs In The Family” featurette which is a 6-part feature-length doc featuring interviews with Screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson, Lou Perryman, Special Makeup Effects Artist Tom Savini. If that doesn’t fill you TCM2 fans up, I don’t know what will!

BUTCHER BOYS Unofficial Chainsaw Sequel 2013)

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


Directed by Gérard Kikoïne
Written by J.P. Félix, Ron Raley, Edward Simons (screenplay), based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Starring Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, Sarah Maur Thorp, David Lodge, Ben Cole, Ray Jewers, Jill Melford, Lisa Davis, Noel Coleman, Briony McRoberts, Mark Elliott, Harry Landis, Jill Pearson, Basil Hoskins, Ruth Burnett, Carolyn Cortez, Cathy Murphy, Claudia Udy
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Perverse and demented, EDGE OF SANITY always gave me a kind of disgusted feel any time I thought back on it. I guess that signifies that it accomplishes what it sets out to do and succeeds at being disturbing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s enjoyable to watch.

Anthony Perkins plays mild-mannered Dr. Henry Jeckyll, who is dedicated to learning more about a new drug he is developing to numb the senses of his patients. Jeckyll is testing on himself which ends up awakening childhood trauma of a young Henry witnessing a prostitute having sex with his father and then being beaten by his dad for witnessing it. Jeckyll becomes addicted to this new drug which can be an allegory for heroin, crack, or cocaine depending on your drug preference and scours the streets of London as Mr. Jack Hyde, killing prostitutes or anyone else who may get in his way of his drugs and acting out his darker urges. With Scotland Yard in hot pursuit of the Ripper and Jeckyll becoming more and more unpredictable as Hyde, things do not look good for the doctor.

This is a very down and dirty film. It contains gratuitous sex and drug use and shines a bright, yet dingy light upon the whole lifestyle. Some of the décor is done rather well as the brothel’s Hyde visits are decked out in red walls and lighting from top to bottom, but still this film makes you want to shower after watching. The film is impressive in that it really bores down into the core of what could cause one to be a sex fiend, suggesting Henry’s initial association between sex, death, and pain would have come from the abuse he endured after seeing a sex act at an early age, but the sheer amount of sleazy scenes makes this one difficult to endure.

It doesn’t help that Anthony Perkins looks like a strung out Iggy Pop as Hyde. His wet hair, sunken features, pale skin and outwardly jaw really does make Perkins look like more of a sickly addict than a movie monster. I guess this can be seen as an achievement as it supports the drug addiction theme that overwhelms the story, but it doesn’t make Perkins any easier to look at. While great things have been done with simply the way one’s face is lit, positioned, and contorted in other DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE films, I don’t know if I would call this attempt by Perkins to be one of the more memorable.

Director Gérard Kikoïne offers up a somewhat too convincing display of the seedy underbelly of London and all of the miscreants who squirm around down there, so much that it just isn’t really enjoyable to watch. Perkins as well is all too convincing as a cracked out creeper. Props to Perkins for going all in for the role, but he was a little too good at it here. EDGE OF SANITY is successful in offering up a filthy world riddled with drugs, disease, and heinous act of sex and violence, but it forgets to make the story compelling enough to care.

Short Film Review: New available for direct download and a special edition BluRay from The Spirit Cabinet!


Directed by Kevin McTurk
Written by Kevin McTurk (story), Ryan Murphy
Starring John Alexander, Jason Flemyng, Piotr Michael, Barbara Steele
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

The world of puppetry seems to be on the upswing with Charlie Kaufman’s ANOLMALISA being such a critical smash. While that film occasionally used stop motion (at least that’s what I’ve heard, I haven’t seen it yet), Kevin McTurk seems to go all-in with his life-like puppets telling a dark Victorian era tale of buried secrets and ancient curses.

THE MILL AT CALDER’S END follows Nicholas Grimshaw (voiced by go-to Guy Richie actor Jason Flemyng) as he investigates a page of text he finds in his home which leads him to the bowels of an old mill and face to face with a witch and a skull faced monster. While the puppets mouths don’t often move, through the movement of the arms, body positioning and deft camera work, Kevin McTurk makes a film that works as a frightening bit of cinema, drenched in mood and atmosphere and filled with effects that will keep you scratching your head as to how they pulled that off. In the span of a very short time, a rich story is told filled with wonderful tension and character designs that are reminiscent of stuff one would find in a Del Toro film, but still completely original looking.

I’d love to see McTurk take a stab at a feature film with these gothic puppets. The skill at making these inanimate objects move is immense and at times, I forgot about the whole puppet thing and just dove into the story. The puppetry sculpting and manipulation is that good.

THE MILL AT CALDER’S END played in festivals around the world, including Fantastic Fest, Fantasia, and Sitges. It won several major awards including the Grand Jury Award for Best Animated Short at the Seattle International Film Festival, the Golden Bat Award at the FantaFestival in Rome, the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film at the H.P.Lovecraft Film Festival, and the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Short Film. It will also be a Featured Short on Alaska Airlines as part of their in-flight entertainment for the month of June, so if you’re there stop by his booth to see how he made this amazing short!

New on DVD from Brain Damage Films!


Directed by Sixto Melendez
Written by Sixto Melendez
Starring Wes Martinez, Monica Engesser, Maria Olsen, Rebekah Kennedy, Tyler Osterkamp, Carrie Fee, Andrew Tenorio, Gloria Jean Robertson, Kimber Leigh, Kendra Davis, Ted L. Quinn, Hunter Meeks, Chris Cox, Katie Sordahl, Desmond Baker
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

A slow moving plot and some clunky dialog makes THE CONDUIT somewhat of a drudge to get through. Still, the film is saved by some solid scares and a decent story of demons, possessions, addiction, and relationships.

THE CONDUIT is a film that focuses on some dire stuff. Eddie (Wes Martinez) has just been divorced and his life is like a sad country song. Drawn to him in his self help group, Amy (Monica Engesser) has her own set of problems, but the two of them seem to make each other feel better when they are around one another, so it’s kind of a functional relationship. That is, until Eddie wakes in a bed full of blood, the dog next door is killed, and the neighbor girl goes missing. Turns out Amy is bad news, but how bad is something Eddie could never guess. It all involves demons and possession, spirits and ghosts, and a bunch of other morbid stuff.

I’m usually ok with dire and morbid stuff, but everyone in this film is so mopey and dreary that it’s really hard to get into or care about any of the characters. The acting is not the best and worse yet, it’s hard to believe that someone like Monica Engesser’s Amy would fall for a somewhat overweight schlub like Martinez’s Eddie. It all makes sense later as it seems it is Eddie’s depression that is actually what Amy is attracted to, but this mopeyness doesn’t really make me want to root for the character. It’s this difficulty liking the lead that really hindered me from connecting with this film.

THE CONDUIT goes big in the final moments with all sorts of demons and effects, but these effects come a little too late in the game to save things. There are a few solid scares and decent effects, but I just can’t recommend this downer of a movie.

New on DVD from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Marc-Andre Samson
Written by Marc-Andre Samson
Starring Walter Peña, Scott Anthony Leet, Alexis Raben, David O'Hara, Rob Macie, Andrew Patrick Ralston, Barry Saltzman, Greg Bryan, Michael Simon Brandon C. Greene, Nicole Pierce, Marissa Nans, Brittany Fiola
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

An unconventional plot and some decent dramatic turns by the cast make WHERE THE DEVIL DWELLS somewhat of a twisted little surprise.

Hispanic Nicholas Cage lookalike Walter Peña plays Lenard the psychologically fragile son of a famous serial killer. Released from a mental institution, Lenard is put under house arrest for a crime he did a while ago. The local sheriff doesn’t trust him, his assistant who runs his errands for him (since he can’t leave the house) wants to know everything about him, and either his thought-dead serial killer father (Davis O’Hara) has returned from the grave or he’s going insane again. All that and the fact that a satanic cult who worships his father seem to be scurrying around the property is making Lenard feel like his life is spinning out of control.

What works here is the fact that this film is sort of uncategorizable. It’s kind of a slasher film. It’s kind of a descent into madness film. There are possibly supernatural elements going on. And then there’s the cult aspect. All of it inexplicably takes place in 1989, which is maybe so because it talks about the popularity of slashers in cinema and name drops FANGORIA once. But other than that, and the fact that cell phones haven’t been invented yet, there’s no real reason the film has to be set there. It’s this unconventional nature of the film that keeps it interesting through the entire runtime.

What doesn’t work is that actor Walter Peña is kind of a peculiar choice for a lead. He does a somewhat decent job, but he looks distractingly like Nicholas Cage in certain scenes and, worse yet, sounds exactly like him too. Not only that, but Peña swings for the fences in true Cage-like fashion as he is trying to cope with is chipping sanity and the oddball collection of characters that seem to be swirling around him. The choice to place Peña in the lead is an odd one, but somehow it only adds to the quirkyness of this film, despite the fact that Peña is laughably over the top at times.

Some gutsy action and decently timed switcheroos in the story make WHERE THE DEVIL DWEKKS one weird little petunia of a film that you might want to take a chance on if you’re in the mood for something different.

New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment!


Directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (“Valentine’s Day”), Gary Shore (“St. Patrick’s Day”), Nicholas McCarthy (“Easter”), Sarah Adina Smith (“Mother’s Day”), Anthony Scott Burns (“Father’s Day”), Kevin Smith (“Halloween”), Scott Stewart (“Christmas”), Adam Egypt Mortimer (“New Year’s Eve”)
Written by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (“Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”), Gary Shore (“St. Patrick’s Day”), Nicholas McCarthy (“Easter”), Sarah Adina Smith (“Mother’s Day”), Anthony Scott Burns (“Father’s Day”), Kevin Smith (“Halloween”), Scott Stewart (“Christmas”)
Starring Madeline Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, and Rick Peters (“Valentine’s Day”), Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey, and Peter Campion (“St. Patrick’s Day”), Ava Acres, Petra Wright and Mark Steger (“Easter”), Sophie Traub, Aleksa Palladino, Sheila Vand, Jennifer Lafleur, and Sonja Kinski (“Mother’s Day”), Jocelin Donahue and Michael Gross (“Father’s Day”), Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush, Harley Quinn Smith, Harley Morenstein, and Shelby Kemper (“Halloween”), Seth Green and Clare Grant (“Christmas”), Lorenza Izzo and Andrew Bowen (“New Year’s Eve”)
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

The newest anthology on the block snags up some talented folks to tell a terrifying tale of various holidays. Like most anthologies, HOLIDAYS has its fair share of hits and misses, but overall, it’s one of the strongest anthologies I’ve seen this year. While the concept of individual holidays has been fodder for many a horror film, this anthology challenges some up and coming and some established horror-meisters to come up with new scares occurring the whole year round. I’ll be doing a little write-up for each of these segments in the paragraphs below.

Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (the writers and directors of STARRY EYES) open this one off with a twisted tale of high school crushes and bullying. This installment is really nicely filmed with tons of fun musical beats as well as a truly creepy cast. For some reason, all of the people in this installment, from the “normal” popular kids to the CARRIE-like kid being bullied had an odd psychopathic quality about them. This “Valentine’s Day” segment is one of the stronger ones and a good choice to lead off things showing that there is an off-kilter feel to this film as a whole as well as a dark sense of humor.

One of the most surreal of the bunch is the “St. Patrick’s Day” segment which goes back to the ancient origins of the holiday and focuses on St. Patrick ridding Ireland of all of its snakes. It looks as if one creepy little ginger girl (played amazingly by Isolt McCaffrey) has dark designs for her teacher who wishes she can become pregnant and ends up doing so, but not really getting what she expected. This one ends on with a surreal nightmare that is both ludicrous and haunting. Gary Shore may have misstepped a bit with DRACULA UNTOLD, but in this segment, he shows a dastardly sense of humor as well as a gift at turning the world on end and still keep it relevant to the story. But this one owes everything to the creepy little girl whose penetrating stares are the stuff of sheer nightmare.

Next up is another horrifying yarn set to “Easter” from director/writer Nicholas McCarthy who dazzled me with THE PACT. This segment starts out simple enough with a young girl worrying if she is going to be getting Easter candy in the morning and asking her mother what the Easter Bunny has to do with the resurrection of Jesus. But the curiosity of innocence gives way to grotesque answers as the little girl witnesses just what goes on while the kiddies are sleeping on the eve before Easter. This one has some fantastic effects shots of a half-bunny/half-Jesus creature that is truly iconic. Plus once you see how little Easter chicks are born, you’ll never want to eat a Peep again!

While the “Mother’s Day” segment is a bit more subdued than the rest of the shorts and lacks the sense of humor that most of the one’s thus far had, it still is a thrilling little tale of a young woman who gets pregnant every time she sleeps with a man who is sent to a commune for women who cannot get pregnant. The director of the sublime THE MIDNIGHT SWIM (Sarah Adina Smith) returns with a nicely paced and seductive tale of nuanced evil. Though the theme of motherhood was already addressed in the “St. Patrick’s Day” segment, this one uses the same themes yet gives it a much more insidious and weighty feel. The shocker ending works well, and while it doesn’t make sense at first, it all makes sense if you listen to some of the lines hinting at what is happening while the expectant mother is in a drug induced haze. Nicely structured with a shocking payoff.

Anthony Scott Burns (writer/director of DARKNET) offers up my favorite story of the bunch with “Father’s Day.” This segment is a master class in how to build tension to a level that actually made me sit up in my seat and curl my knees to my chin. Through some simple and beautiful shots of HOUSE OF THE DEVIL’s Jocelin Donahue walking along an abandoned beach community listening to an audio cassette from her missing father, Burns ratchets up the tension so tightly it strips the screws. All of this culminating in a scene that pays off so perfectly that I had to watch it over again immediately to get the effect again. This “Father’s Day” segment is the best of the best, telling a story that is perfectly paced and expertly realized. It makes me excited to see what Burns has in store for us in the future.

We go from the best segment to the worst pretty quickly here as TUSK’s Kevin Smith offers up a tasteless and remedial entry for “Halloween.” Sure there have been tons of films dissecting All-Hallows Eve, but surely, if someone put their mind to it, they could come up with something new. And Smith does come up with something new, only new doesn’t always mean good. Focusing on a sleazebag who runs a Cam Girl sex business, this childishly gross segment tries to be funny and shocking and succeeds in neither. Even more crass is that Smith casts his teenage daughter as one of the sex cam girls who revolts against their handler. What does this have to do with Halloween? Very little. This feels like a segment square pegged into a holiday segment and is proof positive that Smith is outclassed and out-talented by everyone else involved with this film. Such a dismal and stupid segment.

DARK SKIES’ Scott Stewart skips to “Christmas” and focuses on the nightmares of holiday shopping as Seth Green plays a dad who does a naughty thing in order to get his kid his dream X-Mas present. But before this turns into a dark JINGLE ALL THE WAY, the real thrills start when the Virtual Reality Occulus Rift technology toy he gets his son begins replaying the dirty deed every time Green puts on the headset. Seems the tech displays the deepest secrets of its wearer, which proves to cause more problems than fun for Green and his family. This segment is pretty short and plays as rather one note, but Green is a fun comedic performer to watch. It’s a light and boppy segment, with a fun punch line ending, but somewhat fluffy and forgettable.

Finally, we end with “New Year’s Eve” directed by SOME KIND OF HATE’s Adam Egypt Mortimer from a script by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (who return from the “Valentine’s Day” segment to wrap things up). There’s a lot to love about this final installment as a serial killer and stalker decides he wants to hang out with someone who actually wants to kiss him when the ball drops at midnight, so he offs his current victim and hits the online dating websites. This close to perfect match is Eli Roth’s go-to gal Lorenza Izzo and while the date is awkward, both decide to hang out on NYE. Twists and turns abound in this action heavy and gut-burstingly funny installment proceeds. This installment is loud and lively, which is the perfect way to end the anthology.

All in all, out of the eight stories, only one or two were duds, which is a pretty decent number. The shorts go by pretty quickly, so if one of them isn’t your taste, another is coming up soon. This film highlights some of the top tier talent in horror today and pays off with some truly memorable and terrifying sequences. Not only will I be sharing HOLIDAYS with my friends, but I’ll be rewatching some of the films these prolific directors have done before (some of which I haven’t seen like DRACULA UNTOLD and DARKNET). And here’s hoping a sequel will happen either tackling some of the other holidays not used like Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Memorial Day, Presidents Day, Arbor Day Earth Day, and Labor Day, to name a few or just revisit some of the holidays covered in this film in new and different ways. As far as anthologies go, HOLIDAYS hits the target more often than misses with a unique blend of humor, grotesque images and effects, and talented direction.

I posted this just a few weeks ago, but it opens this weekend and I want to make sure folks go out and see this masterpiece of a film!
Opening select theaters this week from A24 Films!


Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Written by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart, Joe Cole, Mark Webber, Callum Turner, Eric Edelstein, Taylor Tunes, Macon Blair, Kai Lennox, October Moore, David W. Thompson, Brent Werzner, Mason Knight, Samuel Summer, Colton Ruscheinsky
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

I have witnessed one of the most intense cinematic experiences this year and it comes from the director who brought us one of the most intense films from a few years ago. The filmmaker is Jeremy Saulnier and the film from a few years ago, if you didn’t already know, is BLUE RUIN (reviewed here). But the most important thing you should take from this review is that you need to get out and see GREEN ROOM as it is one of the most horrifying film experiences I’ve seen in years.

Made up of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner), the Ain’t Rights, a punk band who makes their way across country in a van by swiping gas from cars along the way, have fallen on hard times. So when an opportunity to make $350.00 comes up, they don’t ask too many questions about it. Turns out, their latest gig is at a Nazi skinhead bar and when the band witnesses a murder, they hole up in the Green Room where the band gets ready to go on stage What transpires is an all out war between the trapped punk band inside the room and the murderous skinheads outside trying to make everything, including the Ain’t Rights, disappear.

What impressed me the most about GREEN ROOM is the immersive way the film engulfs the viewer. Sure it helps to know a thing or two about the punk scene, but really, this is a film, not unlike ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, there a group is trapped in a small place and surrounded by murderous maniacs looking to get into the fortified place the group is hiding. While the punk band is trapped in this small room, there is no way for the skinheads, lead by a super restrained and deathly powerful Patrick Stewart and BLUE RUIN’s soulful and subtle Macon Blair, to get in, so there’s a standoff here of epic proportions. This high standard is achieved because we get to know and like this band in the opening moments and sympathize with their struggle to simply make enough money to get to their next gig. Because these opening moments are so genuinely engaging, I was rooting for the band to get out of this one alive, no matter how perilous the threat.

And that’s exactly what Saulnier does here by making these Nazi skinheads, which are already pretty deplorable by name alone, truly menacing threats. As the band saunters into the backwoods bar and watches the scowling faces ready to take out their aggressions through angry music and much mosh pitting, Saulnier patiently scans the entire facility to plainly show this dire situation even before the band realizes what kind of hell they’ve wandered into. Keenly played negotiations between the band and the skinheads outside as Yelchin and Steward act as the mouthpieces for each group could be seen as tedious, but the performances are so good here and the setting has become such a character, that the scenes are chock-filled with tension and scares.

GREEN ROOM is much more of a gory and horrific action movie than a true horror film, though there is lots of blood, scares, and horrific things going on. Those scares are potent. The stakes are dire. The characters are likable, mainly because Saulnier has padded this film with top tier talent. This is one gut punchingly good film that never holds back and spits suspense, fire, sound, and gore right in your face from start to finish. Don’t miss GREEN ROOM as it truly is one of the most in-your-facey, edge-of-your-seaty, balls-to-the-wallsy films you’re going to experience this year!

Plus it’s got an amazing soundtrack to boot by pretty much all of the punk bands you’re every going to need to know!

Recently played at the Berlin Genre Festival from One Eyed Films!

CORD (2015)

Directed by Pablo Gonzalez
Written by Pablo Gonzalez, Camilo Salazar Prince
Starring Laura de Boer, Michael Schumacher, Christian Wewerka
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Some of the best sci fi take tiny bits of aspects and modify them to make things seem like a totally futuristic and different world than the one we live in. CORD offers up a scenario that hopefully will never be, but unfortunately the way the world is going, it might just be a little too close to what we can expect and that’s what makes it such a scary good film.

It’s the near future and the rise in disease has made it impossible for physical contact. This means masturbation is the only way for folks to really have any fun. Christian Wewerka plays Czuperski, a scientist who lives alone in this harsh world. When a young sex-addict named Tanja (Laura de Boer) arrives on his doorstep, she agrees to be his guinea pig in exchange for physical contact. What develops is some mad science, some twisted obsession, a lot of grimy sex, and maybe the key to humanity’s salvation through the orgasm and some twisted medicine.

As you can assume from the above description, CORD is not a film for immature minds. Reminiscent of the way Cronenberg approached his body horror in the late seventies and early eighties, CORD splices technology and biology in a way that makes it hard to distinguish what is man-made and what is something natural. This goes for the relationship between Czuperski and Tanja as well as they have risky carnal sex, but only in exchange for Czuperski to experiment on Tanja with new tech that pushes the limits of human pleasure and pain to places that normal man and woman have not gone before. These are somewhat heady issues being dealt with here paired with some raunchy sex which is a dichotomy that really does make this film rather unique in the way it has one foot in philosophical theories about relationships and intimacy and the other foot in the gutter with some pretty gratuitous sex scenes.

And while these scenes are pretty down and dirty, the story of a man and a woman trying to make a connection in a world that prevents them from doing so is a powerful tale to tell. There is real emotion between Wewerka and de Boer despite the fact that the actors have an expanse of years between their ages. After agreeing to stay with Czuperski, the scientist and his patient are practically the last people on earth in the world of his film. The small cast makes this an intimate and tragic tale climaxing with a choice to futher science or the relationship as both cannot proceed in tandem in this world.

Fans of Cronenberg and headier sci fi will want to seek CORD out. It’s not the typical film I review in this column, but it definitely falls firmly in the theatre of the odd. Filmed in a stark and grimy manner, CORD is certainly unlike most sci fi out there today, making it a quirky, tragic, smart, and downright dirty little gem of a film.

CORD (TRAILER) from Pablo González on Vimeo.

And finally…here’s an online premiere of a short from director/writer Frederic Lefebvre who brought us MADAME BOLDUC. HOME SWEET HOME has been touring the festival circuit, but now it’s available online for the first time. Check out this horrifyingly surreal and heart-wrenching tale below!

2015 Home Sweet Home ENGLISH SUBTITLES from Frederic Lefebvre on Vimeo.

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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