Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. New reviews! Get ‘em while they’re hot!
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On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: EFFECTS (1980)
Retro-review: TRANCERS (1984)
Retro-review: OUR DAY WILL COME (2010)
BIGFOOT: THE MOVIE (2015)
THE DOMICILE (2017)
BROKEN MILE (2016)
THE ICE CREAM TRUCK (2017)
DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2 (2015)
RED CHRISTMAS (2016)
DEATH NOTE (2017)
And finally…Sonny Fernandez’s MURDER GIRL Animated Short Film!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from AGFA/MVD Video!
EFFECTS (1980)aka THE MANIPULATOR, DEATH’S DIRECTOR
Directed by Dusty Nelson
Written by William H. Mooney (novel), Dusty Nelson (screenplay)
Starring Joseph Pilato, Susan Chapek, John Harrison, Bernard McKenna, Debra Gordon, Tom Savini, Charles Hoyes, Blay Bahnsen, Joe Wittkofski, John Sutton, Dave Balko
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A meta-horror film called EFFECTS about a crazy director making a horror movie and starring not only genre fave Joe Pilato but also the Godfather of Gore Tom Savini. Just take my damn money now!
Dominic, a camera and effects man (DAY OF THE DEAD’s Joseph Polato) falls for Celeste (Susan Chapek) a young gaffer/actress on a low budget horror film, but what seems like a typical horror film shoot may actually be a real horror movie when the director (John Harrison) and the producer shows Dominic what looks to be a snuff film. When Dominic rejects to be a part of the group, the cameraman becomes the hunted when two of the film crew (one of them played by Tom Savini himself) take him out into the middle of the woods to be shot. Dominic now seems to be the star of his very own snuff film and races back to the camp in order to rescue Celeste and get the hell out of there.
While the film moves pretty slowly in the first forty five minutes establishing its characters and setting up the situation Dominic finds himself in, once Dominic witnesses the snuff film, this movie really picks up some steam. As Pilato flees through the forest, the action works and Pilato really shows how cool of an actor he really is in this surprisingly sympathetic role. The suspense really is on high here with the subtle mix of movie making and real life horror gets intertwined with one another.
The graininess of this film and poor lighting is rather distracting, yet does add a nice grindhouse feel to the whole film. Primal music and drums help make this feel like something raw and unpolished. And while the film itself is low budget, it really does manage to deliver in thrills as Dominic runs for his life. While the film is called EFFECTS, there really isn’t a lot at play here, despite Tom Savini’s involvement. Sure the snuff film looks sort of real, but this film comes before the sensationalism of the 80’s, so don’t expect too many over practicals. Still, this is a fun and obscure twist on “The Most Dangerous Game” played out through the metatextual lens of the filmmaking profession that people who love the process will want to catch.
Special features include; AFTER EFFECTS documentary with optional commentary track, UBU short film, BEASTIE short film, Archival commentary track with John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, and Pasquale Buba, and Liner notes by Joseph A. Ziemba of AGFA and Bleeding Skull!.
Retro-review: New in the Empire Pictures BluRay Box Set Collection from Full Moon Entertainment!
TRANCERS (1984)aka FUTURE COP, COP TRONIC, FUTURE COPS
Directed by Charles Band
Written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Starring Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani, Art LaFleur, Telma Hopkins, Richard Herd, Anne Seymour, Miguel Fernandes, Biff Manard, Peter Schrum, Barbara Perry, Brad Logan, Minnie Summers Lindsey, Richard Erdman, Wiley Harker, Alyson Croft, Michael McGrady, Ed McClarty
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Empire Pictures made some amazing films in the 80’s. The precursor to Full Moon Entertainment stretched their budgets and put 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.
TRANCERS is a poor man’s BLADE RUNNER with some time travel tossed in to make it even cheaper. Jack Deth (the poor man’s Harrison Ford aka Tim Thomerson) is a deputized hunter of Trancers, zombie like drones who appear to be human, but turn out to be the pawns of an evil overlord named Whistler (Michael Stefani). In order to escape the authorities, Whistler has shuttled from the future to “present day” LA by taking over the body of a distant relative. Deth does the same and ends up shacking up with a Santa’s helper at a local mall named Leena (Helen Hunt in her first major role). Leena and Deth try to avoid the police (in which Whistler’s past self is a member of) and take out as many Trancers as they can find, hoping to track down Whistler in the process.
It’s fun seeing Thomerson play up the neo noir aspect of the character of Deth. He’s a future gumshoe and plays the part to a tee. If anything, Thomerson makes this ripoff plot worth investing in. Hunt is engaging as well and it’s clear here that she had what it takes even early in her career to be a star. She isn’t given much to do other than be cute and get into trouble so Deth can rescue her, but still she stands out here.
The most engaging parts of the film other than the interactions between Hunt and Thomerson are the parts set in the future. While it has a fraction of the budget of BLADE RUNNER, for a few short scenes, filmmaker Charles Band is able to capture the essence of Ridley Scott’s iconic film with a lot of neon and dark atmosphere. It’s too bad more of the film isn’t shot in this era as things get conventional and downright boring when Deth zips back in time to present day. Still this schlocky low fi sci fi flick from yesteryear has effects from practical master John Carl Buechler and there’s Hunt and Thomerson’s performances to make the film better than most low budget sci fi’s from yesteryear.
Special features include trailers, behind the scenes documentaries, still galleries, interviews with cast and crew, and a commentary by Thomerson and Band.
Retro-review: Now playing on Shudder!
OUR DAY WILL COME (2010)Directed by Romain Gavras
Written by Romain Gavras & Karim Boukercha
Starring Vincent Cassel, Olivier Barthelemy, Justine Lerooy, Vanessa Decat, Boris Gamthety, Rodolphe Blanchet, Chloé Catoen, Sylvain Le Mynez, Pierre Boulanger, Mathilde Braure, Thomas Pinczak, Jacques Herlin, Anne Gaelle Ponche, Antoine Laurent, Maëva Toualbia, Jérôme Mazure, Clément Landrieu, Bénédicte Loyen, Julie Vergult
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
In the sixth grade, I wrote a paper focusing on the persecution of redheads. It was sort of meant as a joke, but it turns out that throughout history, redheads were actually burned at the stake and looked at as heretics aligned with the devil. Long before the “Gingers Have No Souls” meme, redheads are one of society’s secret scourges in the minds of some and being a redhead, I have felt the ridicule of such taunts as “ginger balls.” “fire crotch.” and one of my favorites, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.” I’ve heard it all. While we live in a sensitive time, where the shade of our skins and the variety of our cultures are worn on our sleeves just waiting for a righteous gang pile of offended social superheroes, I say it’s about time I found a film that addresses Redheaded prejudice and Ginger Rage. I’m only partially kidding here, but OUR DAY WILL COME does offer up a twisted look at society’s tendency to overreact about social issues and on the flip side, how bullying can cause serious mental anguish with horrific results.
Redheaded teenager Remy (Olivier Barthelemy) tries to fit in, but faces the brunt of ridicule and bullying from his fellow students at school and his sister at home. After the girl he has connected with online tells him she is going to hurt herself, Remy frantically tries to get online at home, but can’t because his sister is having online chat sex with her boyfriend. So Remy runs from the home in hopes to save this girl he has never met and happens to run into Patrick (Vincent Cassel) a jaded counselor who happens to also be a redhead. After finding out that his “girlfriend” is not actually a girl at all and once again being the butt of a cruel joke, Remy is lower than ever. Patrick sees Remy’s situation as an opportunity to spice up his own life and the two redheads go on somewhat or a tear across France, buying a crossbow, stealing a car, and planning on venturing to Ireland—a land where gingers are accepted and welcomed. A trip filled with crime, debauchery, madness, and murder ensues as both Patrick and Remy fuel each other’s rage and push each other over the edge of sanity.
I know that synopsis sounds batshit crazy. And it is insane to see play out. But beneath all of that is a really powerful tale of two extremely flawed individuals who meet by happenstance and bring out the absolute worst in each other. Cassel’s Patrick is completely jaded and bored with his life as a counselor, listening to people complain about their lives and never really do anything to change it. He is compelled to live a life without rules and in meeting the idealistic Remy (Barthelemy), he sees someone who he can live vicariously through and mold into something he never had a chance to be. At the same time, Barthelemy’s Remy is simply looking for companionship in a world that seems to reject him and finds that in the flawed Patrick, who challenges him to do things he never thought he could do. The problem is that once Patrick and Remy reject society, rules, and morality, they find it impossible to come back and this trip to Ireland becomes a journey where no return is expected. For Patrick, he has simply given up on life and never wants to return to normalcy. For Remy, Ireland is a fantastical land where he can finally fit in and expects all of his problems to magically disappear once he crosses the border. Both are not sane and both of their insanities are encouraged and fostered by the other, making this pairing as dangerous as they come.
What does come is utter debauchery where nothing is sacred through the eyes of these two wild gingers. Nothing stops Remy and Patrick from stealing what they want, kissing who they want, having sex with who they want, and eventually murdering whoever gets in their way between their Redheaded Shangri-La. The sexuality is going to be a bit much for some. I know seeing Cassel’s flaccid member flopping around was a bit much for me. The violence is equally shocking as the confused Remy forces men to kiss each other at gunpoint and ends up having an old west style showdown against shotgun toting country folk with his crossbow. Again, while this sounds nuts, the conviction coming from Barthelemy and Cassel make these ludicrous act harrowing and terrifying.
Cassel is, as usual, intense as hell here. His arc is the most fascinating as he plays an almost Victor Frankenstein role, first taking joy in the monster he has created in Remy, then feeling utter sorrow when he sees how far off the reservation he has pushed a young man, and finally coming to grips and trying to save his creation from his own destruction. This is a fascinating arc Cassel plays and he does so with amazing conviction. Barthelemy is equally powerful as the firecracker Remy who is filled with teen angst and hatred towards those who have rejected him. He is completely confused about what he wants in life and even if he is straight or gay. He looks to Patrick for guidance, but this guidance only brings out his darkness and Barthelemy embraces every violent and perverse move he makes as Remy. These two actors are engrossing to watch play off of one another.
OUR DAY WILL COME isn’t going to get anyone up in arms on either side of the “Do gingers have souls?” debate. You won’t see protests or news anchors interviewing both sides of the story, but talk to any redhead and you will find out that they have been called names, bullied, and suffered some kind of exclusion in their lives because of the tint of their hair. And as silly as that sounds, this film serves to take that resentment to an extreme, violent, and perverse level. The redheads in this film could be replaced with any skin color, cultural group, or race and I’ll bet there wouldn’t be much scoffing then. So while some might guffaw at the silly gingers going crazy film, it serves as a powerful metaphor for the destructive power bullying and prejudice has on us all as human beings. If you look at it in that way, you’ll understand the true horror of OUR DAY WILL COME and see that it is no laughing matter.
Retro-review: New on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing/MVD Visual!
BIGFOOT: THE MOVIE (2015)Directed by Jared Show
Written by Jared Show, Curt Wootton
Starring Curt Wootton, Joanie Dodds, Jared Show, Nate Magill, Terrence Evans, Jim Krenn, Bill Crawford, Aaron Kleiber, Angelia DeSanzo, Jesse Pomerico, John E. Lane Jr., Brenna Roth, Aaron Preston Crothers, Terry Jones, Courtney Ann Wolfcale, Christine Mancini, Joel Wallis, Darieth Chisolm, Scott Silvester, Betty Claycomb, David Custozzo, Shauna Dorwarth, Porter Nash, & Trey Snow as Bigfoot!
Find out more about this film here, @bigfootthemovie, and on Facebook here
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
In my quest to see any and all things Bigfoot and my obsession to actually see the beast one day, I just had to sit down and watch BIGFOOT: THE MOVIE. Sure, the cover art looks hokey and most likely won’t take the material very seriously, but who knows? Maybe it’ll turn out to be fun.
That’s what I thought before watching the film and while this film would more accurately earn the title REDNECKS: THE MOVIE with a little Bigfoot, I still had a fun time with this goofy comedy.
The film opens with a trio of rednecks drinkin’, drivin’, and rockin’ out to Donnie Iris’ “Love is Like a Rock!” When they stop to drain the lizards, one of them is mauled beyond recognition by a monstrous shape in the darkness. One of the mulletted rednecks (co-writer Curt Wootton) swears the shape looked exactly like Bigfoot. While no one believes him since him and his buddies are drunk all of the time, the attacks continue. Turns out it IS Bigfoot, and it’s up to the rednecks to take him on!
First up, props to this film for unearthing the early quirky rock classic “Love is Like a Rock” by Donnie Iris. For those of you unfamiliar with this little ditty. Here is King Cool himself playing the hit…
You’re goddamn welcome, readers.
Anyway, if you’re looking for Bigfoot in this film, the furry bastard only makes a few scant appearances. This film focuses mainly on Wootton and his cronies yucking it up over beers, hangovers, bar fights, flirtin’ with bartenders, and pickup truck ridin’. I have to admit, all of these antics were funny in a Jeff Foxworthy sort of way. The Bigfoot suit itself looks pretty good as well, with a tight fit, lengthy hair, and a movable jaw with added spittle. I just wish there was a little more of it and a little less redneckery.
While the comedy actually hits more often than not, this is far from a horror film. Sure there’s an excessive amount of blood spattered too and fro and the Bigfoot looks nice and all, but as with the way it is in reality, Bigfoot is rarely seen, no matter how hard you’re looking for him in BIGFOOT THE MOVIE.
New on DVD and On Demand from MTI Home Video!
THE DOMICILE (2017)Directed by Jared Cohn
Written by Jared Cohn
Starring Steve Richard Harris, Demetrius Stear, Katherine Flannery, Sara Malakul Lane, Amanda Ruth Ritchie, Julian Bane, Todd Carroll, Cara Mitsuko, Angela Nicholas, David Palmieri
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
From the director of such lackluster horror films as DEATH POOL, DEVIL’S DOMAIN, THE HORDEand LITTLE DEAD ROTTING HOOD, comes another off-kilter horror flick with good intentions, decent ideas, but uneven results. Jared Cohen seems to be churning out one movie after another recently, but there is a sort of disconnect between script and screen that makes THE DOMICILE a ghost story that feels like it was taken out of the oven a bit too early.
A playwright named Russell (Steve Richard Harris) has fallen on hard times. His loving wife falls from the stairs and loses both her life and the twins she is carrying inside of her, leaving Russell with a half written script and a lunatic sister in law to take care of in his old dark house. As if that wasn’t enough, the house appears to be haunted by some kind of benevolent spirit out to torment Russell to the very brink of sanity.
When you’re writing a story about a writer, the one thing you should have is a solid script. Now, that may not be the case if you’re writing about a bad writer, but if you’re writing about a successful one, it’s just not acceptable to have a script full of holes, characters with zero to no motivation, and late in the game twists and turns. The script of THE DOMICILE is full of these bad writing decisions and this plagues the film from start to finish. Why introduce a crazy sister in law, if only to cart her away to a mental institution halfway through? Why bring up a missing mother in law and then never have her factor into the story? Why have a ghost kill everyone out of view of Russell and then not reveal them to him later in the film? Why introduce a bothered neighbor at the end of the movie? Why are there so many scenes repeating themselves over and over? Had anyone actually looked over this script, it would have been doused in red pen. There’s a point in the movie where Russell’s script is being overlooked by his editor and she criticizes it for having so many problems. I wish someone would have looked over this script with a little more scrutiny. It just doesn’t work and while the film seems adept at putting an image of a ghost in the background and having it appear seemingly out of nowhere, that doesn’t make a movie. Sure there are a few scenes of creep, but the film ends up unraveling and then ending suddenly as if it were taken out behind a shed and shot instead of wrapped up.
I don’t know who Jared Cohen is, but all of his films have this sort of disconnect. As if there is an inkling of a decent idea, but Cohen just can’t capture it through the lens. The editing feels rushed and even though the lead Steve Richard Harris is decent, even his performance is ridiculous by the end. Cohen also misuses the stunning Sarah Malakul Lane, which is a damn shame. While I enjoy watching a filmmaker grow with each movie, it’s frustrating to see one stagnate and make the same bad decisions over and over again. Skip THE DOMICILE. It’s just not worth it.
New in select theaters and On Demand from Unstable Ground!
BROKEN MILE (2016)aka RED MILE
Directed by Justin McConnell
Written by Justin McConnell
Starring Francesco Filice, Caleigh Le Grand, Patrick McFadden, Lea Lawrynowicz, Adam Buller
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A man wakes up in a puddle of vomit and a dead woman on his couch. No this isn’t a video of my apartment every Saturday morning, it’s the opening for a new low fi thriller BROKEN MILE, a story of anxiety, death, shucking responsibility, and strained friendship.
Following three friends, BROKEN MILE is a story filmed in one shot, meaning there are no edits, no cuts from one scene to the next. It’s a film that plays out in real time, following the three characters through one particularly hectic and horrific night. The fact that filmmaker Justin McConnell was able to make an hour and twenty two minute film out of a single take is impressive in its own right. It involves insane coordination, dedicated actors, and a linear story—all factors that are extremely difficult to pull off and this film seems to do it flawlessly. The actors, who have quite a few lines between each other, never really give a stumble or stutter and remain in character for the entire runtime—harder than one would think for an hour and a half. The fact that the film moves around to a myriad of locations, in and out of cars, and through city streets adds to the challenges that McConnell masters expertly. The overwhelming success of the technicalities of this film is a testament to McConnell’s filmmaking prowess.
Now there are a lot of over the shoulder and following scenes where one person is simply walking from one location to another, but this is necessary to the connecting the locales of the tale as well as essential in building tension. Still, there’s a lot of walking footage here that might fray at the ends of your patience. That said, BROKEN MILE is a tension filled suspense film that seems to want to convey the message of dire consequence through the lens of a trio of youngsters who may be heightening the grand scope of this night to vertigo inducing levels. Still, it’s a fun exercise in technique and a tense little film that kept me wrapped up in its story from beginning to end.
New this week in select theaters and On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
THE ICE CREAM TRUCK (2017)Directed by Megan Freels Johnston
Written by Megan Freels Johnston
Starring Deanna Russo, Emil Johnsen, John Redlinger, Sam Schweikert, Hilary Barraford, Bailey Anne Borders, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Dan Sutter, Dana Gaier, Lisa Ann Walter, Declan Michael Laird, LaTeace Towns-Cuellar, Miles Johnston, Mark Scheibmeir, Wes O'Lee, Kevin Bulla, Brett Johnston, Emery Reyes, Colin Parker Daniels, Frankie Ray, Matthew Alan Brady, Michael Madison, Nathaniel J. Hernandez, Gary T. Jones, Caitlin Rain Gutierrez, Zoe Caitlin Hernandez
Find out more about this film here, @theicecreamtruckmovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
THE ICE CREAM TRUCK is a horror coated romance novel. There are heavy scoops of Lifetime style fantasy spiced up with some decent moments of suspense, solid acting, and a bit of gore. Still, the film falls into all of the trappings of romance fantasies offering up all of the debauchery with little to no satisfying ramifications.
Mary (Deanna Russo) is a happy wife and mother of two, moving back to her suburban neighborhood for a new start after living life in the big city. Immediately, she is inundated with nosy and overly friendly neighbors, coiffed landscapes, cookouts, and a friendly neighborhood ice cream truck. Like many from the big city, Mary rejects this way of life and instead of befriending her overly outgoing neighbors, she bonds with the local boy-hunk Max (the Jason Patric-esque John Redlinger). Max is dreamy with floppy hair, abs, he knows how to dance, and is overly interested in Mary who is alone in the house while her husband wraps up things in the city and allows the kids to finish their school year. For a week, Mary gets to relive her single days and the teenage Max is tempting her at every step to sleep with him. Meanwhile, the ice cream man seems to be murdering people as he slowly drives his truck through the neighborhoods and on Mary’s last night alone, he starts stalking her and her boy-toy Max.
We’re going to get into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to know about how everything turns out, head to the last paragraph for a non spoilery recap of how I feel about the film. Recently. I’ve been giving the use of character a lot of thought in terms of how to keep a viewer invested in a lead, giving them challenges, nuance, and an arc, without alienating the viewer/reader with the actions they take. There are some who feel the hero has to be squeaky clean and pure all the way through in order to be rewarded with happiness in the end. It’s the Hollywood/American dream that the hero is flawless, with the moral fortitude to conquer all challenges and if they do that, they’ll come out in the end victorious. But THE ICE CREAM TRUCK is a bit more challenging than that.
There is a traditionalist part of me who thinks that Mary deserves a hellish ordeal for giving into the temptations she is faced with in this film. With a happy life with a husband and two kids, able to afford to stay in an idyllic home and blog for a living, how selfish is she that she feels she needs to sleep with a kid half her age and simply return to married life with only a scratch on her finger to bear? The end of this film will infuriate some since the film ends on a fairy tale note that housewives will dream of with Mary literally getting away with murder and everything being completely hunky-dorey when her hisband shows up the next day. No police investigations. No trips to the hospital. No STD’s from the unprotected sex she has on a park jungle gym with a teenager. No ramifications for her actions at all. It annoyed me as well because people have died, infidelities have occurred, trust has been shattered, and that doesn’t happen. Without any type of comeuppance, this just feels like an unresolved movie.
I guess one might say this film is more like real life—where people cheat and never get caught and bad things happen that just get swept under the rug. But personally, that’s not why I come to films. I want to see the people making bad decisions get theirs in the end. The dreamy, fairy tale ending this film chooses simply feels like escapist fantasy as deep as a RAMBO movie is dude fantasy escapism. If RAMBO can be scoffed at by intellectual critics for being overly shallow and allowing millions of deaths and having the hero walk away unscathed, then this film should be scoffed at just as hard as if leaves Mary happy and giggling with her kids and family after boning an 18 year old and murdering a serial killer hours earlier. The ending of this film made me feel kind of gross that Mary can just put on the mom jeans and forget about all of the indiscretions she made for the last week. Just because a woman has big boobs, doesn’t legitimize a man having an affair and the same goes for a good pair of abs and floppy boy hair.
In the end, the fantasy element was just way over the top with THE ICE CREAM TRUCK. Maybe this is a feminist statement empowering women to follow their urges as men have done in the past. Maybe it’s a comment on the horrors that come from living in the conformist suburbs and how sophisticated and complex city folks are. Maybe it’s a simple statement that life is complicated and we should be more intellectual than expecting punishment to fit the crime. And maybe the director might be hinting that the ending we got is nothing more than an idyllic dream, but that is never communicated fully. In the end, this film feels very shallow and lacks any kind of resonance. The killings are rather bloodless and the threat, while fun, just doesn’t feel that threatening as the focus is mainly on the will she/won’t she sleep with the teenager plot and not on the threat of the killer in the ice cream truck. Despite how good actors Deanna Russo and John Redlinger are, the actions of their characters made me wish they had a worse fate than they received and I kind of loathed them for how their characters ended up. THE ICE CREAM TRUCK might make house fraus melt, but if you have a conscience, it’s going to leave you cold. It just didn’t work for me.
Retro-review: New on a Special Edition Double Disk from MVD Visual!
DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2 (2015)Directed by Tony Brownrigg
Written by Tony Brownrigg, Megan Emerick,
Starring Andrew Sensenig, Frank Mosley, Arianne Martin, Jim O'Rear, Scott Tepperman, Megan Emerick, Willie Minor, Camilla Carr, Earl Browning III, Brady McInnes, Carolyn King, Chester Rushing, Libby Hall, Kim Foster, Joseph Spector, Dawn McGhee, King Hollis, JuliAnna Briscoe, Kim Cicio, Aaron Giles, Robert Maszk, Patty Pell, Ronnie Ray, Cathrine Hatcher, Dale Isom, John Phelan, Angela Gair, Pace Irvin, Julia Bacon, Kristal Shannon
Find out more about this film here, @Dontlookinthebasement2, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I think the more you know about the back story of DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2, the more you’re going to appreciate it. In 1972, S.F. Brownrigg made DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (reviewed here), a mental asylum run amok film where both the doctors and patients simply go mad one day and start killing each other. Forty years later, his son Tony Brownrigg has made a sequel to his father’s film that is as much of a continuation of the story as it is a love letter from a son to a father.
40 years after an asylum massacre, the estate has been renamed, a new staff has been hired, and the rooms have been filled once again. But when a particular patient with a history with the asylum returns, the madness that tore apart the asylum ages ago seems to have returned. Once again, it’s hard to tell the patients from the staff in this gory contagion of madness tale.
Readers of this column know that I have a background in psychology and have worked myself in mental hospitals, residential homes, and other mental facilities in my career as a licensed therapist. More often than not, mental facilities are represented as places of torment, abuse, neglect, and all around horror. Sure those stories have been proven to be factual, but most of the time, mental facilities are communities that house staff and patients as a sort of family as they interact and function to a set schedule, by a set of rules, and with a level of respect. What I appreciate about both DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT and it’s sequel is that it doesn’t resort to clichés in terms of the way the staff and patients interact, perform their day to day duties, and function together. It’s this representation of an often flawed, but never nightmarishly abusive interaction that feels much more real than any other films of its kind. There’s an authenticity here that really shines through and as a person in the helping profession, I appreciate that level of realism depicted in DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2. For the most part, from the casual interactions between staff to the caring treatment of the patients, this all feels real.
I also think the film excels in delivering some extremely creepy scenes and horrific visuals once the madness takes over and the staff and patients start tearing each other apart. There are some gore scenes in here that really do his the mark. And the other scenes where sanity slips away and people give into base urges that play out effective as hell. If you’re looking for a film that will bring the crazy, this one delivers.
There are some pacing issues with DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2. The film spends a lot of time building up relationships between characters and establishing the normalcy of the institution. I understand why the filmmaker spent so much time in this orderly portion of the film as it vastly contrasts the latter half hour of the film when shit goes sideways. Still, about fifteen minutes could have been shaved off to make the film run at a tighter clip, The acting here is stronger than usual in this type of film with genre stars Andrew Sensinig (WE ARE STILL HERE and CAMERA OBSCURA) and Jim O’Rear (THE HOSPITAL and VOLUMES OF BLOOD) delivering strong performances along with newcomers Frank Mosley, Arianne Martin, Scott Tepperman, and Megan Emerick. And while the film has some problems wrapping things up, it does end on a more sweet and sensitive note, addressing the complex relationship between patient and staff that resonates on a more heartwarming level than one would expect. If you’re looking for an unconventional film that addresses mental illness in a mature and sophisticated way, yet doesn’t forget to deliver in scares and gore, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2 succeeds at both.
Playing in Los Angeles this weekend and then moving on to select theaters from Artsploitation Films!
RED CHRISTMAS (2016)Directed by Craig Anderson
Written by Craig Anderson
Starring Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, David Collins, Sarah Bishop, Janis McGavin, Deelia Meriel, Gerard Odwyer, Bjorn Stewart, Sam Campbell, Anthony Jensen, Robert Anderson
Find out more about this film here, @RedChristmas, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
It’s August and you know what that means? Christmas horror, of course! While it may be a little early for some holiday horror, RED CHRISTMAS is coming out early to jingle your bells and tingle your spine!
Christmas is a time for giving and no one knows that more than Diane (Dee Wallace) who has dedicated her life to make sure all of her children know that she loves them equally. This Christmas they are all coming home for Christmas Eve. But DIance hasn’t had a perfect life. Her husband died of cancer (but she has found new love with stoner cool Joe played by Goeff Morrell). The brattiest of her daughters is expecting a baby, right about now (gee, I wonder if that’ll factor into the story). Anther daughter can’t seem to get pregnant, though it might be because her priest husband is secretly gay. Pretentious third daughter is about to leave home for art school. And her fourth child Jerry (Gerard Odwyer) has Down’s Syndrome and annoying quotes Shakespeare. Despite all of their faults, Diane wants them all together one last time before she sells the family home and goes on a European vacation. But unbeknownst to everyone, 20 years ago, after a bombing in an abortion clinic, a full term abortion leaves a live child to be found by a janitor in a toxic waste bucket. And the thought-aborted fetus named Cletus (Sam Campbell) is now grown and seeking to find out why Diane got rid of him.
Nothing says Christmas like having awkward discussions with family. Uncomfortable discussion topics like religion, marriage, politics, and abortion are brought up and we all have to endure it for a dinner and then we can go about the rest of our year dreading to do it over again next year. RED CHRISTMAS addresses this holiday tradition in a pretty bold fashion. This film deserves props for addressing tough topics like abortion, mental retardation, cancer, and family struggles head on. These are taboo subjects, but filmmaker Craig Anderson tackles these things fearlessly. It’s something I admire about the horror genre, as themes involving this kind of uncomfortable subject matter have come up every now and then in horror films (HUMONGOUS, IT’S ALIVE, and THE BEAST WITHIN, come to mind) and addressed in a metaphorical and straight forward manner you just don’t see in other films. RED CHRISTMAS isn’t afraid to pose difficult questions about abortion, mental retardation, and how that affects a family unit. I admire this film because of this as decisions from Diane’s past come home to get answers.
That said, this is a pretty low budget film. This fact isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it will be for some. The acting feels as if the director wasn’t able to get the right take from some of the actors and seems like he had some difficulty even capturing Wallace roughly due to some rough edits and scenes that require a bigger budget than what the film had. The effects were decent. There’s one scene where a head meets a blender that is truly great. But the rubber mask the killer wears should have been left covered or just partially revealed as it really looks unconvincing in the light its presented. Craig Anderson does go for a CREEPSHOW sort of look with vivid red and green lights bathing a lot of the latter scenes of extreme action and gore. This is a fun effect I wish he would have used more once this shambling monster comes home. And while some of the actions of the family feel unnatural and even unintentionally comical, Anderson does capture pure chaos at the end of the film effectively.
RED CHRISTMAS is an odd film to review. I really am smitten with the guts this film has by asking uncomfortable questions and presenting these problems in the most horrific of light. Then again, this is a roughly produced film that isn’t as successful in communicating its message. There’s some nice gore, a truly weird killer in Cletus the fetus who moves and talks like the Elephant Man with deadly intent, and it’s great seeing Dee Wallace (THE HOWLING, CUJO) in the spotlight showing how tough she is whatever horror she faces. Horror fans will have more patience with this one. Sensitive folk will condemn it for daring bring up abortion and its connection to mental retardation, but instead of treating the subject like a dirty secret, I love how this film is fearless in at least bringing up questions. If you want to have your morals challenged mixed with some old school slasher film schlock, RED CHRISTMAS is for you.
New today on Netflix!
DEATH NOTE (2017)Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater (screenplay), based on DEATH NOTE by Tsugumi Ôba and Takeshi Obata
Starring Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Masi Oka, Michael Shamus Wiles, Paul McGillion, Jason Liles, Natalie Moon, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Paul Nakauchi, Eileen Pedde, Christian Sloan, Artin John, Chris Britton, Beau Han Bridge, Jack Ettlinger, Michelle Choi-Lee, Jesse Stretch
Find out more about this film @deathnote and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Stylistic and fun, Adam Wingard’s DEATH NOTE is an emo kid’s wet dream. While I haven’t experienced the material in its original manga form, the film seems to blend manga and horror elements into a slick little film worth checking out.
Light Turner (Nat Wolf) is an idealistic outcast at school, not even noticed by bullies until one day a notebook entitled “Death Note” literally falls out of the sky and into his lap. When Light stops a bully from attacking another kid in school and receives both a black eye and detention, he is angry enough to succumb to a demon named Ryuk (voiced and mo-capped by Willem Dafoe) and places the bully’s name in the notebook, resulting in the bully’s death. Light realizes that he has the power to determine who lives or dies by simply writing their name in his notebook. Light and his new girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley) create a moniker Kira taking responsibility for the deaths of bad people, resulting in a downturn in criminal activity in the world. A master sleuth named L (GET OUT’s Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to capture Kira and is edging closer to Light and Mia the more criminals they kill.
Wingard takes a lot of leaps in logic and plot by condensing the manga and anime series into an hour and a half long movie. Who is Light before he finds the notebook? Why is Mia so attracted to him? Why are both so quick to assume the role of executioners? How does the world find out about Kira given that the killings are such random events? A lot of meat to the story is glossed over in order to fit it into movie form and I’m sure fans of the books and animations are not going to be happy with the snippings that went on. That said, I am not someone with prior experience with DEATH NOTE and while I see these glaring plot holes, I still was able to enjoy the film for what it was. Those expecting extended themes and deeper delvings into character have the series in written and animated form to enjoy. This film is the condensed version.
But if you sit back and just try to enjoy this film for what it is instead of constantly comparing it to the anime or manga, you just might enjoy Wingard’s gift for churning out a pretty slick package with twisted effects, a cool CG demon voiced by Dafoe with devilish glee, and a powerful performance by Stanfield as the detective L. Wingard also has a gift for taking sappy power ballads like Air Supply’s “Power of Love” and placing them to dramatic scenes that cause both eye rolls and laughter. I mean that as a compliment. It’s as if Wingard knows that this is an over the top, overly emotional scene and layers it with musical schmaltz to drive the point home. And it’s undeniably fun every time he does it.
DEATH NOTE is not a powerhouse film. Plot holes occur at rapid fire. Characters leap to conclusions and decisions with very little to back it up. But it is breezy fun. I loved the musical choices. I loved Lakeith Stanfield’s performance as L and would love to see a spinoff film focusing solely on this quirky detective. I loved the twisted realization of Ryuk. While it seems the online world is on fire hating this film because it isn’t as faithful to the source material and doesn’t condense everything well, I think this was an undeniably fun adaptation. I get why people might be upset, especially at the overly complex ending that requires more forethought than any human being is able to conceive. I’d be upset if someone Cliff’s Noted a comic book I hold near and dear. But this isn’t the manga or anime. It’s a version of the film and a fun one at that. I plan on checking out the anime series now that I’ve seen this one and will probably report back some time about that. In the meantime, Wingard’s film is a self conscious emo film that never takes itself too seriously and ends up being a whole lot of fun.
And finally…here’s another fantastic animated horror short from micro-budget filmmaker Sonny Fernandez. This one’s called MURDER GIRL! Find out more about Fernandez’s Down Twisted Studios on his Patreon Page here
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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