Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. A lot of good stuff this week to check out at home and in theaters. Let’s rush right into it.
I also wanted to give out an open call to advertisers interested in helping to keep this column running. Any inquiries should contact me here!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: PRISON (1988)
Retro-review: VIOLENT SHIT 2: MOTHER HOLD MY HAND (1992)
Retro-review: WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999)
LAKE EERIE (2016)
THE CONTROL GROUP (2014)
AMERICAN EXORCISM (2017)
BEACON POINT (2016)
ANOTHER EVIL (2016)
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016)
And finally…Tommy Bardal and André Byman’s BOATBOY!
Retro-review: New in the Empire Pictures BluRay Box Set Collection from Full Moon Entertainment!
PRISON (1988)Directed by Renny Harlin
Written by Irwin Yablans (story), C. Courtney Joyner, Renny Harlin
Starring Lane Smith, Viggo Mortensen, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Tom Everett, Ivan Kane, André De Shields, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Stephen E. Little, Hal Landon Jr., Kane Hodder
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Empire Pictures made some amazing films in the 80’s. The precursor to Full Moon Entertainment stretched their budgets and put a varied and extremely creative images on screen. These mini-epics tackle horror, sci fi and beyond and now they’ve collected them all in one huge, badass box set. I’m going to be covering each film in this collection over the next few weeks, but if you’re a film collector, you’re going to want to grab this set as soon as possible as there are only 600 of them. Check out this sizzle reel featuring some of the iconic films collected in this Box Set.
PRISON is probably my favorite film in this collection, so I decided to start with that one. For most, PRISON is going to be one of those films that will make one wonder why they’ve never seen it before. With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, one would think this film would have seen the light of day on BluRay before now. Thank the Dark Ones for the awesome folks at The Shout Factory, who seem to be unearthing these amazing gems on a weekly basis these days.
PRISON is the first American film director Renny Harlin ever did, and a lot of the attention to thrilling and creative camerawork is present as we explore the haunted prison this film is set in. Bathed in all sorts of moody colors and positioned in all kinds of angles taking full advantage of the gothic architecture, Harlin makes this film as if it were a film noir classic. The crosshatched blacks and whites created by the prison bars really create a sense on containment in this film, and before even one character speaks, you already feel like you’re trapped inside with them.
On the acting front, this film again lucked out by having Viggo Mortensen in his first starring role as a new inmate at the prison. His LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 co-star Tom Everett joins him as Rabbit, a fidgety inmate who talks of escape before even setting foot in the prison. Other inmates include real life convict/stuntman Stephen E. Little and the always amazing Tiny “Zeus” Lister. All involved seem to be giving their all with fully developed characters, and not a real prison cliché among them. Well, maybe Hal Landon Jr.’s mean prison guard is a little cliché, but Lane Smith’s gruff and fiery warden makes up for it as the main bad guy.
The film is also an FX masterpiece as numerous practical makeups were used to show some creative kills. One man is burned alive as the hole becomes an oven while another is pierced by prison bars coming through the walls, all under the talented eye of FX guru John Carl Beuchler, one of the true legends of practical FX. The full body effect of the ghost seems to be a precursor to Beuchler’s iconic Jason look for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7.
This BluRay comes with an all new Making of featurette called “Hard Time,” trailers, a poster, and still gallery. Not the bulkiest of special features, but still good. The collection also features; METALSTORM, ELIMINATORS, THE DUNGEONMASTER, GHOULIES I & II, TRANCERS, CRAWLSPACE, FROM BEYOND, TERRORVISION, TROLL, DOLLS, CELLAR DWELLER, CATACOMBS, GHOST TOWN, ROBOT JOX, and ARENA. You can pick up the box set here. I’ll be checking out another film from this box set next week!
Retro-review: New on DVD in a Special THE VIOLENT SHIT COLLECTION from Synapse Films!
VIOLENT SHIT 2: MOTHER HOLD MY HAND (1992)Directed by Andreas Schnaas
Starring Andreas Schnaas, Anke Prothmann, Claudia von Bihl
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
MOTHER HOLD MY HAND is the subtitle of the sequel to Andreas Schnaas’ indie German gorefest VIOLENT SHIT (reviewed here). Coincidentally, it’s also something I scream when I am struck with a particularly bad bout with constipation. But I digress…
VIOLENT SHIT 2: MOTHER HOLD MY HAND inexplicably starts out with a Chinese drug deal gone wrong with two dealers fighting eat other with kung fu, slicing people open with their kicks and punching holes through them—of course massive spurts of blood burst from each wound. After the battle, out of nowhere, Karl the Butcher Shitter Jr. (Andreas Schnaas, who also played Karl the Butcher Shitter Sr. in the first VIOLENT SHIT) appears and kills the warrior with his machete and introduces himself into the camera. The film picks up where the last one left off with Karl Jr. being birthed from the dead body of his father. Grown to full size, he goes on to murder, slice, mutilate, pound, and mince everyone in his path—just like dear old dad.
What interests me is watching a filmmaker evolve over time, especially while making these low budget movies. While the production values haven’t taken a great leap in quality, at least Schnaas tries to inject a little more story in between all of that violent shitting. An investigative reporter is looking into the story of a captured serial killer who coincidentally had Karl Sr. as a cellmate. Karl’s rampage in the first film is very similar to this serial killer’s rampage twenty years prior. Now with Karl Jr. killing anyone who enters the woods where his mother lives, the story becomes a curse of murder and mutilation passed down from one generation to the next. This is much more sophisticated plot than the last one.
But don’t worry, there’s still a whole lot of violent shit going on in VIOLENT SHIT 2. There is plenty of head and limb lopping, some genital mutilation, and a little incest between mother and son. Again, the attention to spurting blood and absolutely nauseating gore is the focus an main goal of the film. The story suggests Schnaas developing as a storyteller, but he still is mainly about the red stuff. It’s even more outrageous as Karl likes to talk and sing to himself between and during kills and that he sounds a lot like a special needs Schwartzeneggar. There is even a shockingly well done massacre at a porn movie theater where Karl Jr. appears and murders the crowd who demands “We want porn!” that is almost…almost insightful.
VIOLENT SHIT 2: MOTHER HOLD MY HAND is pointless, gory, and gratuitous. It lacks taste and any real knowledge of how to make an entertaining and decent looking film. But it does show Schnaas’ conviction, love for horror (specifically the FRIDAY THE 13TH films) and his passion to make something from nothing and that is what makes this obscene amount of senseless violence undeniably watchable. There’s even a blooper reel at the end! How can you not love this crap?!?!
Retro-review: Newly released in the WISHMASTER Collection from Vestron Video/Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999)Directed by Jack Sholder
Written by Jack Sholder (screenplay), Peter Atkins (characters)
Starring Holly Fields, Chris Weber, Vyto Ruginis, James Staszkiel, Paul Johansson, Robert LaSardo, Carlos Leon, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Rhino Michaels, James Kim, Simon Kim, Scott Klace, Oleg Vidov, Gwen McGee, Viktor Ivanov, Levan Uchaneishvili, Timo Flloko, Bokeem Woodbine, Corey Haim, & Andrew Divoff as The Djinn!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Another wonky plot muddies up another fun WISHMASTER outing. While his motivations shift in this installment, it is still fun to see the Djinn twist folks wishes into nightmares.
The Djinn (again played by Andrew Divoff) was tossed back into his stone and cemented into an ancient statue at the end of the last installment of WISHMASTER. In this one, a botched robbery frees the stone from its prison and the Djinn attaches itself to the only surviving member of the heist crew, the goth-waif Morgana (Holly Fields). When Morgana escapes capture from the police, the Djinn as his alter ego Nathaniel Demerest is arrested for the crime and murder of the police during the getaway. So while Morgana deals with Catholic guilt with her former boytoy now turned priest Eric (Chris Weber), Demerest/Djinn is incarcerated and collecting 1000 souls in order to bring his version of hell on Earth.
The original WISHMASTER dealt with angels and demons and the eternal struggle between the two, with the Djinn tempting his wisher with three wishes. Once the last wish was made, the Djinn was free of his contract and free to unleash hell on earth. That’s kind of what the plot for this one is as well, except the Djinn is much more concerned with collecting souls than what he will do once he is top dog. This shift in plot muddies up an already somewhat convoluted attention to vocalizing specific wishes in a proper way for the Djinn to grant them. This leads to some rather goofy conversations where the Djinn basically tries to instruct idiots into framing their request in the form of a wish like some demonic Alex Trebec. Add the ultra-goofy concept of Demerest being in jail interacting with inmates for the bulk of the film and you have one narrative mess of a movie. It’s just weird seeing the Djinn walk around, forehead first and smiling at all of these inmates. Sure it gives us some fun scenes with the always awesome Robert Lasardo and equally cool Tiny Lister, but the whole WISHMASTER GOES TO JAIL concept is an odd one.
Fortunately, Divoff once again delivers his gravelly voiced demon with glee and looks amazing in his full body Djinn suit. The whole thing is almost too intricate and every time he is on the screen in costume, I was more interested in soaking in all of those cool details than the things he was doing and saying. The effects seem to have taken a bit of a plunge in the creative department here. It just seems that the lower budget took a chunk out of what the effects folks could do and while there are some pretty cool effects, like an insect like Djinn being birthed from a wall, by the end of the film, globs of blood and spaghetti seem to be used. That leads to some creative kills where a woman literally craps out coins at the craps table, but also to some simply weird and miscommunicated effects like when a lawyer is wishes to go fuck himself. I just didn’t understand that one.
So while the story has its peaks and valleys, Divoff was cool, Holly Fields is a better lead than the actress in the first one (plus she’s cuter, IMO), and there are a few (though not as many) effects sequences that make a mark. I’m interested to see what they do with the sequels of WISHMASTER, which I’ll cover in a future column. There was a mighty big leap in quality from the first to the second and if this series of films follows most, the leaps are just going to keep getting broader. Here’s hoping the folks behind the Divoff-less final two WISHMASTERS know how to stretch a buck and a story canvas a little better.
Check out my review of the first WISHMASTER film along with an interview with actor Andrew Divoff here!
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
LAKE EERIE (2016)Directed by Chris Majors
Written by Meredith Majors
Starring Meredith Majors, Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Betsy Baker, Al Snow, Jason K. Wixom, Anne Leigh Cooper, Ben Furney, Kevin R. Allen, G. Larry Butler, Victoria Johnstone, Chris Majors, Rocco Guirlanda
Find out more about this film here, @LakeEerieMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
LAKE EERIE wants to be a little bit descent into madness and a little bit supernatural thriller, but never really leaps into either pond all the way, making it kind of a floundering mess of potentially decent ideas.
Meredith Majors plays Kate, a widow who moves into the house of a famous archeologist in a quiet town. Immediately, ominous music and skewed camera angles clue us in the something off is going on. Kate keeps seeing shadowy figures in the night and experiences horrible nightmares, cluing the viewer in to something dark happening to lead her to her current situation. With only her nosy neighbor (Betsy Baker) and her pop (Lance Henriksen) as comfort, Kate seems to be losing her mind in this new home. Or is something wicked and supernatural going on?
The problem with LAKE EERIE mainly is that the actors just aren’t convincing enough to make you give a shit about whether Kate is nuts or not. Majors isn’t terrible, but she is inconsistent from one scene to the next, suggesting this film was filmed out of sequence and there really wasn’t anyone trying to keep consistency though the whole film. So Kate obviously experiences weird things in the night, but the next day scene she seems like everything is hunky dorey. This inconsistency of character made me think this was intentional and that this was a JACOB’S LADDER style film. But with the way things turned out, it just isn’t so. Any film where the lead “must take her pills” at the beginning is suspect of telling us a story from a skewed and unhealthy perspective, so because of this, everything was suspect.
Turns out all of that suspicion was wasted on a movie that this film isn’t. The third act of the film turns into an EVIL DEAD like story with a fraction of a budget where the scientist is pulled into a extradimensional realm and its up to Kate to figure out how to save him. Had all of this been part of Kate’s psychosis, I would have been a little more entertained. But the fact that Kate suddenly becomes some capable interdimensional adventurer just doesn’t really fit into anything we know about her in the first half of the film. So the whole film seems like puzzle pieces that just don’t fit together.
Add in Baker’s saccharine performance as an over-eager neighbor and Henriksen walking through this role like he was waiting at the bank to cash his paycheck and you have a movie with a lot of potential but simply fails to deliver on any of it.
New this week on DVD, digital download, and On Demand from Wild Eye Releasing!
THE CONTROL GROUP (2014)Directed by Peter Hurd
Written by Logan Gion, Peter Hurd
Starring Brad Dourif, Ross Destiche, Jenna Enemy, Justen Jones, Emily Soto, Shane Philip, Monique Candelaria, Jerry G. Angelo, Kodi Saint Angelo, Larry Laverty, Meisha Johnson, Taso N. Stavrakis, Luce Rains, Ian Pickett, Denise Mauer, Dustin Severson, Jamie Cooper
Find out more about this film @tcgmovie and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
It seems making a horror film in a specific subgenre has begun to be passé these days. I’ve been seeing a growing number of films that start out as one type of film and then take a dramatic detour into another. These kitchen sink films rely on our expectations as horror fans and then flip these expectations on their ass in order to cause confusion, surprise that the expected tropes are not there or changed in some way due to that shift. I can see where this can work. FROM DUSK TIL DAWN is probably the most famous film to do this, but there have been a few through the years that try to defy classification by schmelding a few subgenres together. The problem is that this pairing should fit together in a cohesive manner in order for it to be thrilling.
THE CONTROL GROUP tries this by at first, tossing the viewer into the middle of the action with a group of college friends waking up in an abandoned hospital in the middle of a scientific experiment utilizing hallucinatory drugs and psychological manipulation. Run by a mad doctor (who else but Brad Dourif), the film seems to be a reality show of course, where we the viewers are privy to the “directors” controlling these mice in the maze. The problem is that the scientists, the experiment and its subjects are turned on their ears when it turns out the abandoned hospital turns out to be haunted by evil and lost spirits.
It’s not that science gone wrong and the paranormal are such polar opposites that they can’t tell a cool story combined. The film THE DEAD ROOM (reviewed here) comes to mind as a nice mix of both science and ghosts. I just don’t think it works here. As is, THE CONTROL GROUP feels a little more like the excellent little reality show horror flick SCARE CAMPAIGN (reviewed here) up until the ghosts show up, but once they do, things just kind of spiral out of control and never slow down. By the end, there are so many people running around, it’s hard to keep track of who are the administrators of the tests, who are the subjects, and who are the ghosts.
And even worse, I don’t think I cared. The cast isn’t bad. Jerry G. Angelo is decent as one of the testing team with a conscience. Emily Soto plays a pretty good petite and helpful ghost. And a maniacal Brad Dourif is always a treat to see, though there really isn’t a lot he gets to do here. In the end, THE CONTROL GROUP is an ambitious and well intentioned experiment that just isn’t so successful at mixing subgenres and telling an engaging tale.
New on DVD from MVD Visual!
NACIYE (2015)Directed by Lutfu Emre Cicek
Written by Lutfu Emre Cicek
Starring Derya Alabora, Esin Harvey, Görkem Mertsöz, Ilgin Çakir as Naciye!
Find out more about this film @naciyemovie and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
NACIYE is a potent and surprising little thriller from Turkey with the main fault of really not having any sympathetic characters to care for.
The film opens with an introduction of the title character (played by Derya Alabora) who refuses to leave her childhood home, though she has failed to pay the mortgage, and murders the realtor who has rented the place out to a new family. We then are introduced to Bengi (Esin Harvey) and Bertan (Görkem Mertsöz), a couple with a complicated relationship. Bengi is pregnant, but has doubts that Bertan is the father and treats him like shit. While surprising someone by buying a new home does seem to be an act of desperation by Bertan to seal his relationship with Bengi, he still seems to love her truly. But Bengi is pissed at this and isn’t too happy to leave her apartment and start anew in a furnished home, even after she sees how nice the place is. What they don’t know is that Naciye is still living in the house, along with a few other twisted secrets and she doesn’t take kindly to these new guests in her home.
There’s a lot NACIYE does right. It builds tension well by showing the viewer how brutal a protector Naciye truly is in the opening moments, so as she sneaks around in the shadows, her threat is very potent. While an elderly Turkish woman may not be the most imposing of characters, her actions in the opening minutes made me fear her. The twisted story from the past behind Naciye’s connection with her home is told in tandem with the present tale of this new couple moving into the home and while sometimes the transitions between the two storylines are a little jarring (one takes place at night while another during the day, so the transition is a little wonky in places), both tales are engaging.
The main problem here is that Bengi is such a horrible person and Bertan is such a weak one that it really is hard to root for them not to be put out of their misery by Naciye. So while there is a lot of great moments of tension, I found myself rooting for Naciye to get these asshole trespassers out of her home more than feeling for the people in peril. One other oddity about the film is the weird guitar soundtrack that sometimes sounds like a ringtone and other times sounds like a seventies rock band solo. It’s just an odd choice of music for the film and the simplistic and repetitive nature of the score is more distracting than effective.
Still, NACIYE is a tense and dark little tale that takes some very twisted turns by the time the credits roll.
New this week On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
AMERICAN EXORCISM (2017)Directed by Tripp Weathers
Written by Tripp Weathers
Starring Braxton Davis, Michael Filipowich, Sicily Fontaine, Arun Kapoor, William McKinney, Jessica Morris, Jhana Parits, John Paul Sales, Brad Stocker, Kate Tumanova, Jennifer Lee Wiggins, Luke Wright
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I really like the idea of a modern, punk rock exorcist—one who is less interested in following the path of the Bible and getting Vatican permission, and more about getting down in the dirt with the possessed. One such film is THE ACCIDENTAL EXORCIST, which really does not paint a pretty picture of the exorcism biz and gives you a protagonist that is extremely flawed. Another is the subject of this review, AMERICAN EXORCISM, and while I do have a few nits to pick about some of the performances, this is an exorcism flick that tosses convention out the window and tells a story with less to do with a woman bound to a bed and spitting on a man of the cloth and more about veering from the the well worn path exorcism films often take.
Damon (Michael Filipowich) is a tortured man. Once possessed himself, he has been able to bury his demon and that gives him a unique understanding of the possessed. Well versed in many different religions, demonic rituals, and ancient spells, Damon tries to balance a normal life and family with an after hours job of attempting to heal the possessed. But when his work follows him home, Damon’s life is shattered and for the betterment of his daughter, he leaves the family for a life of solitude. Ten years later, his daughter Caroline (Kate Tumanova) is about to turn 18 and she is beginning to show signs of demonic possession, so Damon must return to estranged daughter and rekindle the fight with the dark side and battle both Caroline and his own demons.
In a lot of ways, AMERICAN EXORCISM plays out like a comic book. Damon definitely takes a superhero’s journey, though he is more of the dark, brooding hero like a Batman or Punisher, than a cape wearing hero to all. I love the look Filipowich brings to the character, covered in tattoos of different origins and a braided Mohawk. I also like a lot of the scenes where Damon takes on the possessed as it is very much again more of a physical battle with punches and kicks rather than brandishing a cross and muttering Christ compellings. The simple fact that this film goes out of its way to not be like THE EXORCIST gives it a leg up on most of the exorcism films you’ve seen since Friedkin’s iconic film.
Still, for all of the good this film delivers, I was taken out of the spell every time Damon begins speaking in tongues. It is just plain goofy and the gibberish and contortions Damon resorts to as he takes on the evil turn cartoony every time. So while I like his look and love the veering the story does from the popular exorcist route, this little detail really played as lame to me and soured the film a bit, making Filipwich seem more douchey (the man bun doesn’t help) than imposing. AMERICAN EXORCISM is a fun little horror film. It has subtle effects like glowing eyes and trippy existential flashes that add more to the look of the film than huge set pieces. If only Filipowich would knock off the dumb word salads, AMERICAN EXORCISM would have been a damn near perfect little exorcist film because it is unlike any other exorcism films out there.
Released this week On Demand from Uncork'd Entertainment !
BEACON POINT (2016)Directed by Eric Blue
Written by Eric Blue and Traci Carroll
Starring Rae Olivier, Jon Briddell, Eric Goins, Jason Burkey, RJ Shearer, Takara Clark, Randall Taylor, Paisley Scott,
Find out more about this film here, @beaconpointmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I like films that when you go in, you know it’s a horror movie, but you don’t exactly know what kind of horror movie it is. So many films reveal the subgenre of horror it fits into in the title or the poster that it was refreshing to watch a film and know there’s some type of threat lurking in the woods these hikers are hiking in, just not exactly what type of threat. I’ll try my damndest to keep the threat secret as I feel going into BEACON POINT and not knowing much about it is the best way to see it (of course, I’m sure the trailer below will ruin it for you, so tread forward carefully).
A group of wannabe hikers hire a guide and go on a ten mile hike through the Appalachian Trail, not knowing that their guide (Jon Briddell plays the guide Drake) accidentally just committed a crime and takes the trip in order to sort out what he is going to do next. Drake takes the group off the beaten path, promising to give the hikers a “real” experience rather than the same trip a million tourists have taken. The others in the group begin to sense something is off with Drake and begin to question him, but by this time other weird things are happening in the woods around them and as they discover a weird obelisk/totem pole thingy in the middle of a clearing, they realize that they are not safe off this beaten path.
What works in this film is the sense of mystery. Filmmaker Eric Blue and his co-writer Traci Carroll keep the “monsters” under wraps for quite a while and focus on the building tension between the hikers. They achieve this by actually giving each of the hikers a compelling backstory. Most films of this type forget to do this and the first 45 minutes of the horror film (the gettin’ to know your soon too be victims portion) is usually dull as hell. Because of some strong acting from leading lady Rae Olivier (HOUSE OF GOOD & EVIL), Briddell, and comic relief Eric Goins. All of these guys are likable (even Briddell who is playing the heavy here), which makes following them through the woods much more watchable.
One thing I found a bit distracting with BEACON POINT was the score which tended to be a little too melodramatic and on the nose at times. It felt that this film was trying to overcompensate on the emotion, but the actors seem to do this just fine without the extra attention to key scenes. It’s an ok score and I usually are not bothered by this type of thing, but for some reason it stood out here.
Once the threat of BEACON POINT rears it’s ugly head, it is quite menacing and quite a strong entry into this type of subgenre. Again, I don’t want to ruin it, but the film manages to avoid a lot of the clichés one usually sees in this type of horror and fills the film with more mystery than what it familiar. I was impressed with this film both in the way it kept its secrets and eventually divulged them. Check out BEACON POINT for some unconventionally chilling hiking-trail terror.
New on DVD at Kangas Kahn Films and streaming on Amazon Prime!
TERRORTORY (2016)Directed by Kevin Kangas (“Siren,” “Smiling Jack,” “Midnight Clown,” “Gotz”), Mark Wenger (“The Prowler”), Dan Doran (“The Drone Collector”)
Written by Kevin Kangas (“Siren,” “Smiling Jack,” “Midnight Clown,” “Gotz”), Mark Wenger & Matt Cloude (“The Prowler”), Dan Doran & Charlie Ward (“The Drone Collector”)
Starring Meadow Bosworth, Ryan Thomas, Logan Kangas, (segment "Siren"), Bianca Allaine, Justin Snyder, Sidney Allen, Season James, Russell Jozwiak, Victor Acord (segment "The Prowler"), Johnny Alonso, Melissa LaMartina, M.T. Smith (segment "Smiling Jack"), Richard Cutting, Sabrina Taylor-Smith, Erin C. Davis, Ben Kellner, Andrew J. Davis, Richard Wiser (segment "The Drone Collector"), Nadia White, Maddie Howard, Demetrius Stephens, Mikayla Kelley, Charlie Dreizen, Alex Neumeier, Hillary Styer, Frederick Cowie (segment "The Midnight Clown"), Laura Kiser, Brad Masters, M.T. Smith (wraparound segment "Gotz")
Find out more about this film on Facebook here, @terrortoryfilm, and at Kangas Kahn Films
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A new anthology to add to the must see list if you’re into short takes on big horrors is TERRORTORY. It’s a low budget scarefest with a variety of fun stories and while they all feel like they were cut from the same cloth, it still offers up a variety of scares in different shapes and sizes for folks to enjoy.
The film is tied together with a wraparound called “Gotz,” which sort of makes sense by the end of the film, but focuses on a couple vacationing in a cabin the countryside filled with life sized dolls. After they put their son to bed, the power goes out and the couple entertains themselves by telling ghost stories and urban legends about the area known as the Terrortory. While the husband tries to scare his wife into cuddling close to him so they can have sex, they are oblivious to a creeper creeping into the house. This is a fun segment that keeps the ball rolling and is enough connective tissue between the tales to make it all feel like an actual anthology with a theme rather than just a bunch of shorts pasted together like THE ABC’S OF DEATH. This attention to the oft-ignored wraparound is appreciated and it turns out this wraparound segment is pretty scary to boot.
“Siren” is a short and sweet little ditty that plays with perception as a hunter stumbles upon a scantily clad woman in the woods asking him, “Did you bring me meat?” Freaked out by the gorgeous goddess-like being, he tries to escape, not knowing that the hunter has already become the prey. Reminiscent of the V/H/S segement “Amateur Night” (reviewed here) which was coincidentally adapted into it’s own feature length film recently called SIREN (reviewed here), as both characters repeat a single line that can be interpreted in both sexual and darker ways. This one ends abruptly, but is still potent and trippy.
A movie shoot in the woods, a well swung pickaxe effect, and a literal take on the term “black face” makes up another quick short called “The Prowler.” There’s not a lot to this one more than a set up introducing us to a group of folks who then get murdered by a guy in a hoodie. The final shot is pretty shocking and the kills are definitely rather unique, especially the way the panicking crew begin killing each other once they know they’re in trouble. So while this one speeds by pretty quick and has a pretty basic story, but it does offer up a nice bit of action at the front end of the film.
“Smiling Jack” actually has a fun twist as a couple goes into the woods for a romantic weekend, but actually have other intentions in mind involving a local legend of a man wearing a pumpkin on his head killing people who enter the forest. This one turns pretty bloody and violent quickly as the couple underestimate the power of the masked monster. While I like the urban legend style to this one, it feels like the backstory of Smiling Jack could have been developed a bit more in order to build suspense. Just a scene or two more of info about his history and victims would have made for a more substantial tale.
“The Drone Collector” is a cool one about a group of people going out into the woods and being warned about bugs and ticks by an old man in the woods. But no one warned them about the danger of running into a swarm of insect-like robotic drones. This one could be developed into a feature length film and while it whizzes by as quickly as the other ones, this is one of the segments you’ll be thinking about after the film is over. Some nice POV shots and possible CGI (?) make this one a cut above the others which seem to be more of the stalk and slash variety stories. With drones being more and more common, this is an interesting idea I would like to see more of.
“The Midnight Clown” is a sort of found footage short, though it violates the code by adding in some music to accentuate suspense. This one still is a nicely paced film that peppers in some creepiness before an evil clown makes his move on another movie crew set to make a horror film in the woods. The acting here is pretty good and it’s got the bodacious and beautiful scream-queen in the making Nadia White (DON’T FUCK IN THE WOODS) and her two amazing assets, so that’s awful sweet. This one has a pretty funny script as well with more than few great lines about the “Terrortory” and its various monsters. Plus its got some great gory kills to boot and it ends with a haunting and iconic image.
The main problem with TERRORTORY is that it sort of just repeats the same story over and over—a group of people go out into the woods, and only changes the monster from one story to the next. It looks like this film made enough to get a sequel, so I hope that the next film tries to put some kind of variety into the setup of the stories as well as some of the back-story on the monsters and the Terrortory itself. The concept of TERRORTORY is a winner though and while it definitely was shot with a tight budget, there are a lot of cool ideas and fun scares to be had in this anthology.
New this week on DVD/BluRay and digital download from WellGo USA!
TUNNEL (2016)Directed by Seong-hun Kim
Written by Seong-hun Kim
Starring Doona Bae, Jung-woo Ha, Sang-hee Lee, Dal-su Oh
Find out more about this film here and @tunnel0513
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Man, South Korea really knows how to make movies. Films like BEDEVILLED, I SAW THE DEVIL, THE WAILING, and the smash hit TRAIN TO BUSAN show that the country has a fantastic taste for the macabre. While TUNNEL is more of a disaster movie than a straight up horror film, this one is filled with amazingly tense moments and if you’re claustrophobic, watching this film will be a nightmare for you.
Jung-woo Ha plays Jung-soo, a businessman on his way home for his daughter’s birthday. He drives through the entrance of a tunnel as he has done many times before, but this time, it just so happens that the ground shifts and the tunnel collapses all around him. Trapped and pinned in his car, Jung-soo tries to save the battery on his phone so he can have contact with the outside world. As the days pass, it seems that his rescue is impossible, but Dae-kyoung (OLDBOY and THE HOST’s Dal-su Oh) is determined to send his rescue team into the cave to save him. With his wife Se-hyun (THE HOST’s Doona Bae) beside herself with worry, Jung-soo tries relentlessly to escape under miles of rubble in the middle of a mountain.
TUNNEL is an electrifying disaster film that immediately leaps into the action. Within the first five minutes, the tunnel collapses around Jung-soo and we are in the rubble with him most of the film. Cutting between the rescue efforts, his wife’s growing fear and frustration as the days pass, and then back to Jung-soo in the tunnel, the film moves at a rapid pace despite it’s two hour runtime. This is an electric film that grips you from moment one until the very end.
It’s also a pretty funny film. While trapped under tons of rubble, Jung-soo is not alone down there as there are a few other cars trapped in the tunnel with him, including an annoying dog who continuously screws Jung-soo over and over again. So not only is he facing being crushed by falling rock, dehydration, and starving to death, but he has to deal with this shithead dog that he forms a sort of adversarial relationship with. Jung-woo Ha is a personable actor and easy to like and root for.
TUNNEL is not just about a guy in a hole. It’s filled with a ton of action set pieces as Jung-soo makes his way through the rubble and the rescue team futilely make one attempt after another to get him out. In the end, TUNNEL is a compelling, claustrophobic, and exciting film that really has it all and while it does feel like a blockbuster style disaster film, it also tells a compelling human story of never giving up despite having all of the odds stacked against you.
New this week in select theaters and on digital download from Dark Sky Films !
ANOTHER EVIL (2016)Directed by Carson D. Mell
Written by Carson D. Mell
Starring Mark Proksch, Steve Zissis, Jennifer Irwin, Dax Flame, Dan Bakkedahl, Steve Little, Beck DeRobertis, Mariko Munro
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
An off kilter tone and a truly fantastic cast enables this odd little ghost film to stand up tall and proud.
ANOTHER EVIL focuses on Dan (Steve Zissis from HBO’s TOGETHERNESS), the patriarch of a family of three who slowly realizes after a series of curious events that his summer cabin is haunted. After consulting with a co-worker (EAST BOUND & DOWN’s Steve Little) and being unfazed by a psychic (Dan Bakkedahl) who attests that he is lucky to have ghosts in his house, he is directed to a professional badass ghost hunter Os (Mark Proksch recently seen on BETTER CALL SAUL as the baseball card collector turned amateur drug dealer). Sending his wife and kid away for a few days, Dan meets Os ad is immediately impressed with Os’ gung ho talks about ghost hunting and his knowledge of the paranormal. Os says it will take a few days to perform an exorcism on the house, which Dan agrees to, but since hauntings usually occur only at night, Dan and Os have the day to simply hang out and bond. But as the days go on, Dan begins to realize that Os is simply an awkward man looking for a friend and becomes uncomfortable having him basically living in his house with him.
ANOTHER EVIL plays as a thematic brother of CREEP (starring Zissis’ co-star in TOGETHERNESS Mark Duplass) which also focuses on a man too naïve that he is letting a true weirdo into his life and becoming regretful of doing so a little too late in the game. Because there is a paranormal aspect to this film, there is enough of a distinction between this and CREEP, but as the movie went on and Os begins to form an unnatural bond with Dan and Dan becomes more and more uneased by this bond, the tone is surprisingly similar. Both Zissis and CREEP’s Patrick Brice do such a great job of conceptualizing the uncomfortable feeling of slowly realizing the truth of the situation that I think this film will definitely cause the same kind of unease as CREEP did in folks and made it such a divisive film for viewers. Like Zissis’ Dan, I felt a true sense of sympathy towards Proksch’s Os as he confides in Dan about his recent failed marriage and life troubles. We ride on Dan’s heavily burdened shoulders through this entire film and to Zissis’ credit, he handles the weight masterfully. This film illustrates how easily one can be taken advantage of and despite the spookiness of the ghosts lingering about, that is the true horror at play in ANOTHER EVIL.
That doesn’t mean that this film doesn’t have its fair share of scares. I was taken aback by the effectiveness of the scares that occur in the film. The ghosts don’t appear often, but when they do, they are presented in a tense and terrifying manner that definitely jars you our of the quirky comedy mode this film snuggles you into. The designs of the ghost themselves are unique in a simplistic way I haven’t seen before, which adds to the effectiveness of the whole thing. And when this film shifts into darkness overdrive culminating in a confrontation between Dan and the obsessed Os, it does so again in a bleak manner that is surprisingly effective, again given the comedic tone that went on for most of the rest of the film.
Think CABLE GUY, but on a much lower extreme, and you get the plot of this one. That film dealt with obsession pretty well despite the karaoke scene and whatnot. ANOTHER EVIL is a fantastic showcase on two actors highlighting their spectacular talents in ways that their previous work hasn’t been able to do. Zissis and Proksch are mesmerizing together as they build a friendship that both end up regretting. The ghosts in this film are truly terrifying and the banter between the two characters will cause as much chuckles as the ghosts do chills. ANOTHER EVIL is not a broad blockbuster comedy. It is a film that will hopefully find an audience as it masterfully deals with terror on a much smaller scope. These terrors of emotional discomfort are one we feel every day and this film exemplifies them in convincing and effective ways. Filled with moments that will make you laugh, scream, and wince in discomfort, ANOTHER EVIL is brilliantly unusual little horror comedy that will leave you squirming in your seat.
New this week exclusively at WalMart on BluRay/DVD from IFC Midnight and everywhere else next week!
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016)Directed by André Øvredal
Written by Ian B. Goldberg, Richard Naing
Starring Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Parker Sawyers, Jane Perry, Yves O'Hara, & Olwen Catherine Kelly as Jane Doe!
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Andre Øvredal could have done anything with his second feature film after his imaginative and expansive modern found footage fairy tale debut TROLLHUNTER, but instead of going bigger, he reels the scope back in to tell a more claustrophobic and ominous tale with equal potency entitled THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE.
When the body of a woman is found in the basement of a home, the Jane Doe is taken to the local morgue where a father and son team of morticians (Emile Hirsch & Brian Cox) attempt to find out the cause of death and uncover something beyond scientific explanation. With a storm of epic proportions brewing outside and strange occurrences happening in the dark hallways of the morgue, the morticians find out that this is much more than a simple unnamed corpse.
As with TROLLHUNTER, Øvredal chooses to reveal the horror piece by piece in this film which, for the most part, is all about well timed suspense and thrills rather than fantastical elements like giant man-eating monsters. The first half of THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is a mystery procedural where the morticians rulebook is followed to investigate the cause of death. This is where the compelling detective work comes in as Cox and Hirsch proceed to dissect the corpse and hypothesize what were the events that lead up to her demise. Øvredal is methodical in doling out slivers of info at a torturous pace that kept my attention all the way through. If you’re looking for a movie you cannot predict, this is the one, and most of that is because of Øvredal’s selfish way of leaking information in the first half.
The second half of the film is somewhat more predictable as the supernatural stuff begins to begin. And while I was hooked into this movie by this time, it does seem to lose a skosh of luster as the mystery gives away to more supernatural elements. Still in these scenes, there are terrifying moments where Hirsch and Cox really do go for their all. Cox especially is very physical in this role, but is cool to see from one of his age. I also loved the way the supernatural is something the morticians finally get to and sort of accept by the end of the movie. While some scientist types are seen to be closed minded towards the occult and the supernatural, it’s nice to see these two accept it as unexplained phenomena begin to occur. So when Cox says “Let’s get the hell out of here.” instead of “Let’s investigate this further scientifically” this is a believable moment of realism that you don’t often see in horror films. But this acceptance that there might be supernatural things one cannot explain in the world of this film is foreshadowed early on when Cox’s Tommy admits to being superstitious by tying a bell to the corpses’ ankles just in case they aren’t dead. This little detail also serves as a wonderful setup for a really effective scare later on.
Out of all of the newcomers to horror, Øvredal is one I am most excited about seeing develop as a filmmaker. I hope he sticks around in the world of horror and is able to explore that dark side of fantasy he did so brazenly with TROLLHUNTER and so subtly here with THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. While there are some conventions that are peppered through the film such as a cat that is just asking to be killed (and sadly is, poor kitty) and the role of Hirsch’s girlfriend which is less of a role and more of a plot device than anything, Øvredal makes up for it with some nail-whitening moments of tension and suspense as well as some fantastically dark moments of sheer terror. He also gets some great performances from Cox and Hirsch who are extremely convincing as father and son morticians.
One thing I could have done without was the weird “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sun Shine In)” song used in the film every time something weird is about to occur. This song used to be at the end of some of those old FLINTSTONES cartoons and was featured in one of the episodes where Fred and Barney want to make their kids Pebbles and Bamm Bamm into child stars. I always loved the Flintstones and remember that one to be particularly good. See below.
Now, a little research shows this song as being written in 1954 and then rising to popularity when it appeared almost ten years later on that FLINTSTONES episode. While I attest it is a rather creepy song, especially if you listen to the lyrics mentioning the devil numerous times, the evil in THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is considerably older, so I don’t know why this particular piece of music was used. Odd choice in music aside, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is a potent and powerful horror film that utilizes elements of mystery and fantasy in ways to make it totally unique from anything else out there.
And finally…here’s a creepy, slurpy, and suspenseful little Lovecraftian horror comedy from Norway called BOATBOY. It’s directed and written from filmmakers Tommy Bardal and André Byman. They’re a part of a creative collective called Gloomy Elk. Take some time to check this fun little ditty out!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is M. 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 and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
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