Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Two in one week? That’s right. If you missed it, I posted a column on Tuesday as well!
You’re welcome, internet!
You can pay me back by ordering my upcoming comic book called GRAVETRANCERS from Black Mask Studios. It’s in July’s Diamond Previews under item code #JUL171455. Please let your comic shop know they should order a plenty as it’s a pretty potent little horror tale, if I do say so myself with mesmerizing pencils and inks of James Michael Whynot, psychedelic colors by Dee Cunniff, and bold and beautiful letters by Jim Campbell! The four issue miniseries follows Maribel and Anthony who are in search of the grave of their dead father, not knowing that they are stumbling into a graveyard owned by an eccentric clan of grave-robbers who’ve devised a highly-addictive drug made from human remains–and the fresher the corpse, the stronger the dose. What started out as an attempt to reconnect with the past becomes a descent into a psychedelic, neon-colored nightmare—will Maribel and Anthony find their way through the hallucinogens or will they become the next hit? I think it’s a story fans of grindhouse horror are going to love.
The news broke on Bleeding Cool here and on ComicCon.com. I’ve been bopping all around the Interwebs doing interviews at ComicCon.com and First Comics News. GRAVETRANCERS has also been covered on Dread Central, ComingSoon.net, and Horror Society!
You can order GRAVETRACNERS #1 from Previews under item code #JUL171455 by clicking here, GRAVETRANCERS #2 item code #AUG171290 by clicking here, and GRAVETRANCERS #3 item code #SEP171274 by clicking here! If your comic store doesn’t have it, give ‘em shit for it and tell them to pick this hardcore horror series the hell up, pretty please!
With my October Best of the Best in Horror 2017 coming up, 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: THE RIFT (1990)
Retro-review: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2012)
MANSON’S LOST GIRLS (2016)
CIRCUS KANE (2017)
THE BASEMENT (2017)
ANTI MATTER (2016)
A DARK SONG (2016)
BEAR WITH US (2016)
Advance Review: THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE (2017)
Advance Review: FAKE BLOOD (2017)
And finally…Light’s Out: Happy Ending Radio Play!
Retro-review: Available on Special Edition BluRay from Kino Lorber!
THE RIFT (1990)aka ENDLESS DESCENT
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón
Written by Juan Piquer Simón. Mark Klein (story), David Coleman (screenplay)
Starring Jack Scalia, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Wise, Deborah Adair, John Toles-Bey, Ely Pouget, Emilio Linder, Tony Isbert, Álvaro Labra, Luis Lorenzo, Frank Braña, Pocholo Martínez-Bordiú, Garrick Hagon, Edmund Purdom
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While I saw DEEP STAR SIX and LEVIATHAN along with THE ABYSS in the theaters, I missed THE RIFT which had an impressive cast and some fun monster effects. Looking at it now, the acting is atrocious—as is the story, but while it can’t hold a writhing tentacle to THE ABYSS, THE RIFT’s effects are at least as decent as DEEP STAR SIX and LEVIATHAN.
Hunky marine biologist and nautical engineer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia) is called out of retirement to join the crew of the Siren II to search for the Siren I which disappeared into a rift in the bottom of the ocean. Of course, they follow it to find that there are all kinds of squidly diddley’s down there looking to make a snack out of the second crew which looks like a second course of a meal to them. Fresh off of FULL METAL JACKET, R. Lee Ermey and pre-TWIN PEAKS Ray Wise show that even they can choose bad movies to be in.
Despite this being a fun film to see Wise and Ermey in early roles, THE RIFT is full of action movie clichés that were tried and true even when this film was made. Hayes is retired but the only man qualified to go on this mission. Of course, he is stuck in the submarine with his ex, a beautiful marine biologist. Of course, the black guy is full of sassy banter and the only one using logic like “We should go up to the surface and send the marines down here!” and of course, no one listens to him. Also of course, he dies in one of the goofiest of ways. There are a lot of scenes where the crew and camera lean to the side to make it seem like the ship is tilting. It’s a fun movie simply because the entire film is basically one trope after another, to the point where is actually gets to be entertaining.
What saves THE RIFT are some fun effects. This was the late eighties and while the censors were all over horror, this film seems to be trying to be more of a sci fi film, so the gore actually got through. There’s a lot of puss-y undersea infection going on, a lot of little creatures thrusting out of caverns at the undersea warriors, and some pretty awesome giant tentacle monster effects throughout the final half of this film. All of them practical and somewhat wonky, but still, all of them look pretty damn impressive.
THE RIFT is a slow starter as it has to wade through all of the clichés and intros in the first half. There has to be multiple shots of the mulletted Scalia opening and buttoning up his shirt before leaping into action, which again is quite hilarious. Ray Wise is actually pretty awesome here as a cowardly submarine pilot and R. Lee Ermey is surprisingly restrained. All in all, it’s a fun little ride through clichéd action tropes and cool effects. If you have seen DEEP STAR SIX, LEVIATHAN, or THE ABYSS, you’ve seen everything THE RIFT has to offer. Still, the undersea horror completists will have to drudge this one up.
Retro-review: Available on DVD from MVD Visual!
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2012)Directed by Craig Griffith
Written by Craig Griffith
Starring Paul McCarthy, Jonathan Rhodes, Michael Langridge, Roz Povey
Find out more about these films here!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s nothing more frightening to an artist than a blank canvas. If you know this, you’re going to empathize with the lead character, unnamed in the film, played by Paul McCarthy (not the Beatle) and you’re the target audience for this tormented artist madness roller coaster called THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.
When the artist receives a mysterious package in the mail containing a mirror, he finds himself battling artist block and seeking darker corners of his own psyche in search of inspiration. Once a great painter, the artist’s well seems to have gone dry until he begins having dark visions after looking through the mirror. Soon the imagery comes, but they come from a place the artist never knew existed in him and that place is pretty scary.
Filmed in a cold and distant manner, writer/director Craig Griffith relies on strong performances to carry the film. McCarthy goes through a pretty sizable transformation from the beginning to end in this film and for the most part is able to contain and convey a lot of emotional depth as his descent down the rabbit hole goes deeper and darker. As the pressure to come up with something original and of quality grows, McCarthy’s sanity frays even more, resulting in flashbacks, flash forwards, and delusions all seemingly due to the haunting mirror set in the corner of the room that he keeps returning to.
McCarthy’s descent is told in snippets of hellish imagery, but for the most part, the true horror comes from watching McCarthy fall deeper into isolation and insanity. This descent is convincing in Griffith’s patience in keeping the camera on his subject (McCarthy) and allowing the mood wash over the viewer and soak in the strong performance. Nothing seems forced and it makes the fall all the more believable. And more importantly, this is a story that doesn’t feel the need to use too many special effects in order to tell a good, solid scary story. All of the senses of fright and creep come from the performances here, not from special effects or CGI.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is a dark, dark story about the similarities between artistic genius and madness and how all it takes is push one way to have dire results. Not the most chipper of stories, but it does depict the frustrations and torment of an inspirationally challenged artist extremely well.
New this week on a four feature DVD from Lifetime/Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
MANSON’S LOST GIRLS (2016)aka MANSON’S GIRLS
Directed by Leslie Libman
Written by Stephen Kronish, Matthew Tabak
Starring Mackenzie Mauzy, Eden Brolin, Grace Victoria Cox, Greer Grammer, Christian Madsen, Isabel Shill, Garrett Coffey, Morgan Krantz, Jeff Ward, John F. Goff, Stephen Sullivan, Chad Lindberg, Christopher Redman, Don Luce, Chad T. Wood, Tess Gordon, Stella Gordon, Jesse Bean, Kari Coleman, Megan Easton, Diana Irvine, LeJon, Roman Mitichyan, Sarah Molasky, Jhemma Ziegler
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Lifetime has gathered together four of their horror films together in one four pack and while they might not be the most bone-chilling, they do offer up a variety of notable talents and made for TV thrills that is worth a look see. I’ll be covering all four over the next few weeks, starting with MANSON’S LOST GIRLS.
By now, the story of the Manson family is pretty well known as it has been retold in scores of news specials, films, and documentaries. Every time Charles Manson or one of his core followers are up for parole, there’s a new special featuring the horrific acts of this group of misguided and over-medicated hippies. Lifetime decided to get into the Manson retelling game not long ago and put out MANSON’S LOST GIRLS. Not known for their horror and gore and misfiring badly with their LIZZY BORDEN remake, one might expect Lifetime to be ill-fitted with the grit and gristle to tell us something new about this well-documented tale. One might be right.
The film focuses mainly on Linda Kasabian, one of the last recruits into Charlie’s Family. Kasabian found herself endeared to the family and their free-living lifestyle, but like most cults, after a blissful honeymoon period, Charlie (Jeff Ward) and his lot began demanding things from Kasabian and began pushing her to commit crimes and even murder. This is the point where Kasabian left the family, went to the police, and helped build the case against Manson and the family for their crimes. For the most part, Kasabian (played by Mackenzie Mauzy) plays the wide eyes and open ears of this film, showing how easy it was to be sucked into the Family and how their horrific crimes took their toll and forced her to turn to the police.
The problem is that this tale has been told over and over. Kasabian has been the central character in most of the Manson films, as she seems to be the innocent one swayed by Charlie’s charisma and I guess that’s the easiest tale to tell. I would think a more compelling story POV to use would be someone fully enmeshed in the Family like Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme, who seemed to be as into the killings as Charlie was, at least in this version. In most versions, Squeaky is the one who introduces the new women to the Family and begins upping the ante as Charles’ surrogate mother of the group. Shifting the POV of the story immediately changes things, and while all of the Manson films seem to want to look at Manson from the outside, I think a different POV would have made this film more unique. As is, it feels like I’ve seen this film way too many times for it to stand out.
Films like HELTER SKELTER, its modern remake, and Jim Van Bebber’s THE MANSON FAMILY have given us memorable performances by Steve Railsback, Jeremy Davies, and Marcelo Games as Charles Manson, each with their own subtle nuances. Unfortunately, the Manson we get in MANSON’S LOST GIRLS is hardly around and when he is, Jeff Ward plays Manson with extremely broad strokes, simply opening his eyes wide to show how charismatic he is. Ward’s Manson feels more like an insecure bully and doesn’t really give us anything other than wispy hair, stubble, and rock hard abs to convince us why he may have had so much power over the Family. Better performances come from Mackenzie Mauzy, who plays the wide-eyed Kasabian, and Grace Victoria Cox’s batshit crazy Squeaky Fromme (hence the reason I’d like to see a Squeaky POV film).
Much of MANSON’S LOST GIRLS focuses on the girl power freedom the females of the Family experienced robbing and conning the rich in order to buy drugs and keep Charlie happy. There is also a lot of emphasis on the hippie free love going on, as there are multiple scenes of declothings showing off hairy hippie bodies sliding on top of one another. Add in a never-ending compilation of every clichéd 60s song ham-fisted to signify something that’s going on on-screen and MANSON’S LOST GIRLS really does nothing but sugar coat a story that really doesn’t need to be sugar coated--or retold, for that matter.
New On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!
CIRCUS KANE (2017)Directed by Christopher Ray
Written by James Cullen Bressack & Zack Ward (screenplay), Sean Sellars (story)
Starring Jonathan Lipnicki, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Tim Abell, Victoria Konefal, Richard Moll, Ted Monte, Nicole Arianna Fox, Cameron Jebo, Sinjin Rosa, Bill Voorhees, Weston Cage, Erin Micklow, Mike Jerome Putnam, Angelina Capozzoli, Scott Thomas Reynolds, Jonathan Nation, Kevin Yarbrough, Lucas Swallow
Find out more about this film here, @CircusKane, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Playing like a much tamer version of Rob Zombie’s 31, CIRCUS KANE swipes up a group of horror enthusiasts to participate in a game where the survivors would win a large cash sum. A scream queen, a collector, a collectible salesman, a blogger, an online critic, and a superfan are all put through a game of death by a legendary magician clown performer named Balthazar Kane (Tim Abell), who does his best Joker impersonation while looking a lot like Rob Zombie himself. Soon, the contestants realize that the stakes to this game are pretty dire and they have to work together in order to survive the night.
As roughly edited and narratively shallow as 31 was, it at least had a cast of genre stars, intense gore, and a lot of atmosphere and intensity. CIRCUS KANE simply does not. Relying on funhouse effects and the occasional SAW-like challenge, the film simply doesn’t have the teeth to provide anything new and is unable to capture the raw nerved insanity it is trying to go for. The intent is there, but the lack of vitality to the edits and camera angles, along with the flat way the film is presented, make for a film trying to be hard to be something it isn’t.
While not earth-shattering, the acting is okay here. Jonathan Lipnicki (the little kid from JERRY MCGUIRE) is one of the contestants, as is the Bud Light Delivery Guy from the commercials. The challenges are pretty mundane and worse yet, the contestants have to backtrack through them a second time when they realize the game is real, which really highlights this film’s lack of budget. Being a fan of all things circus and clown-y, I admire the effort to make CIRCUS KANE into something. It just isn’t very successful at being scary with the uninspired manner by which it is presented here. Expect a little bit of gore. Some clowns that would be scary if lit effectively (which they are not). And little else with CIRCUS KANE. If the plot intrigues you—and I can’t believe I’m saying this, go check out 31 instead.
New on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, PlayStation, Xbox, Vudu, and On Demand from Breaking Glass Pictures!
THE BASEMENT (2017)Directed by László Illés, Vozo Zoltán Végh
Written by László Illés (story), Gera Laszlo Krisztian (screenplay)
Starring Caroline Boulton, Takács Zalán, Richard Rifkin, Gergo Szekér, Tom Nguyen, Varga Csenge Boglárka, Sherin Bors, Laci Gondor, Shawn Michael Clankie as the Horse Masked Guy, & Marina Gera as Doll-Face!
Find out more about this film @thebasementhorror and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I kind of love this imperfect little slasher nugget called THE BASEMENT. It’s obviously made by people who are not from America who love American horror films. That oozes through every part of the movie. Still, because of this admiration, it makes a lot of the same mistakes as popular horror and add that to some dodgy acting and a rather wobbly script, I can see where this film might garner some rancor from critics and viewers alike. Still, the film manages to save itself by actually having some thrilling action sequences, an eye for suspenseful situations, and a gristly taste for gore, making THE BASEMENT well worth seeking out despite its faults.
After a rather wonky attempt at found footage in the opening moments (with music, edits, and just bad acting), the film becomes a regularly filmed and edited movie with the occasional first person trip through the lens of a camera whenever it is convenient. A group of partying twenty-somethings who basically do nothing but argue, offend, and even physically assault each other pursue a lost cat out of the party and into the subbasement in their building which contains a secret in the form of a twisted woman named Doll-Face who wears a broken mannequin mask, displays animalistic tendencies for murder, and brandishes a claw hammer. Once in the basement, the kids can’t find their way out as Doll-Face crawls through the piping in the ceiling and around the dark-shrouded corners that are a plenty in this basement.
What this film lacks in subtlety, it makes up in atmosphere. The filmmakers inject a lot of clichés here, such as the group of friends that bicker so much, one wonders why they hang out with one another at all, a lame excuse to get to the secluded location, and the tendency not only to delve into dark and dangerous places, but also the urge to break away from the group. But every time this film does a head-slappingly boner of a move, the film makes up for it with a truly terrifying and brutal scene that redeems it. The visage of Doll-Face is certainly effective and the oddball way she moves around in the shadows--crawling across the piping in the ceiling, and dispatching the crew in original and unconventional ways, is extremely creep-inducing. There’s a scene where Doll-Face captures a girl and in order to shut her up, she shoves a dirty doll baby head into her victim’s mouth. There’s a grimy, visceral quality to the kills—more like a jungle beast tearing apart its prey than some kind of finessed killing, that I really thought was unique.
THE BASEMENT once again tries to be clever in the end in a rather predictable way of wrapping things up, but this is a film that most likely would have been deemed a classic, despite its faults if it was released in the eighties and we were looking back on it (sort of like MOTHER’S DAY or TOURIST TRAP). If you aren’t distracted by the bone-headedness of the kids in peril, the horror of THE BASEMENT is truly potent and a lot of fun.
New On Demand and in select theaters from Uncork’d Entertainment!
ANTI MATTER (2016)aka WORM
Directed by Keir Burrows
Written by Keir Burrows
Starring Yaiza Figueroa, Philippa Carson, Tom Barber-Duffy, Noah Maxwell Clarke, James Farrar, Yolanda Vazquez, Casey Lawler, Harrie Hayes, Holly Joyce, Julia Savill, Rachel Waring, Joseph Teague, Molly Bas, Dan Shelton
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Don’t expect laser guns and spaceships in this sci fi flick, but ANTI MATTER is a ground level tale about cutting edge science gone wrong with strong characters and an engrossing story. Reminiscent of PI in that it tells an intelligent story about science that may not exist right now, but is just around the corner, making it much more scary and compelling than the leaps in science we usually see in sci fi.
Yaiza Figueroa plays Ana, a brilliant scientist working out of a dark basement in a university who believes she has stumbled upon the creation of the world’s first worm-hole. Enlisting two other student scientists, the three embark on this scientific breakthrough escalating from zapping marbles across the room to the teleportation of a human being. Drawing the shortest straw, Ana becomes her own test subject and goes through the process herself. But once through, things in her live begin to fall apart and nothing begins to make sense to Ana. As her paranoia grows, Ana’s becomes desperate to find out what exactly happened, but comes to regret the truths she finds out about that fateful night.
While you’re most likely not going to recognize the stars of ANTI MATTER and you aren’t going to be dazzled by the effects, ANTI MATTER is the type of sci fi I would love to see more of. It’s a film that doesn’t jet us into a fantastical future, but takes us to the very edge of today’s science and just a pinky toe beyond. The film doesn’t treat the viewer like he or she is an idiot by overexplaining what worm-holes are or the science behind it. It delves into the science simply, yet never gets overly complicated. And this method of simplifying the science, incorporating exposition seamlessly into the dialog and action, and never talking down to the viewer makes for a fascinating little fiction about science.
The acting is spot on and most likely Figueroa and her co-stars Philippa Carson and Tom Barber-Duffy will be bigger names soon in larger films. Figueroa carries the brunt of the emotional heft here as she is the one most affected because the work is originally hers and she must deal with the ramifications of an experiment gone sideways. She is able to play the emotionless and dedicated scientist one second and then a paranoid hysteric the next, both convincingly.
This is no-frills sci fi that I wish there were more of. I’ll take the tight story, understandable science, and strong cast of ANTI MATTER over any old overwrought galaxy far, far away any old day.
New in select theaters from Screen Media Films!
TEMPLE (2017)aka THE TEMPLE
Directed by Michael Barrett
Written by Simon Barrett
Starring Logan Huffman, Brandon Sklenar. Natalia Warner, Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A mess of an ending ends up undercutting a suspenseful and decently made horror in the woods flick. TEMPLE tries to mix elements of THE USUAL SUSPECTS with its story structure, which ends up being pretty good, but the lack of resolution simply lessens to impact and makes TEMPLE a missed opportunity with quite a few decent parts working for it.
Suffering from a long term relationship, Kate (Natalia Warner) and James (Brandon Sklenar) meet up in Japan. With Kate is her best friend and professional third-wheel Christopher (Logan Huffman), the three Americans decide to go sightseeing to explore not only the city, but also its almost mythical forests. After happening upon a notebook in an antique store, the three Americans seem compelled to seek out a mythic temple that is written about in the notebook. Though they are warned of negative supernatural forces surrounding the area, of course they ignore all of that and go into the woods anyway. But once the temple is found, bizarre things begin to happen. On top of that, tensions begin to flourish between the three kids as Christopher obviously has feelings for Kate.
TEMPLE or THE TEMPLE, whatever it wants to call itself, is a strong concept and strong execution, but with a mixed-up landing. The film oozes atmosphere and utilizes Japanese folklore and the forest environment in an effective way. While the lead-in to the threesome’s night in the woods takes its sweet old time, but once there, the scenes are filled with raw tension and some palpable fear. Sure some of it is stuff we’ve seen in J-Horror flicks like THE GRUDGE and THE RING, but director Michael Barrett is able to capture all of these images decently and get alright performances from the trio—all of them likable and personable actors.
One of the most surprising things is that the film seems to have large chunks missing from it. In order for the late in the game surprises to occur, large narrative leaps are made. There is a character only some people see. There is an ending where a lot is revealed, but the impact of this revelation lands like a wet turd. There’s an atmospheric chase through the tunnels that no rational human being would take part in. There are decisions made all over the place that serves to move the story towards the next scare, but none of these decisions make any sense. Sure one might argue that the three stars are somewhat entranced by the enchantments of the forest, but because this isn’t made clear, it just feels like sloppy writing. Finally, there is just too much this film wants to take on with the ending and all of it whizzes by so quickly that none of it really makes a lick of sense.
Writer Simon Barrett, who teamed with Adam Wingard to make YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST, and BLAIR WITCH, seems to switch into auto-pilot by the end and it feels like we are back in Burkettsville running from the Blair Witch for the latter portion of the film. But that’s after an hour of angsty gettin’ to know you time with the three leads. Had less of this film been spent on the three leads and their relationships with one another, maybe the film would have had time to resolve itself with more impact. Instead, we just get Christopher longing for Kate. Kate being blindly dedicated to Janes despite James being an asshole. A lot of the conflict between these three is left unresolved because it finally realizes it’s a horror film by the last act. THE TEMPLE had a lot of potential. It had a scary setup, some cool imagery and locale, and some fun mythos to play with. It just ran out of time to end it all in a way that is anything but disappointing.
New on DVD/BluRay from The Shout Factory and IFC Midnight!
A DARK SONG (2016)Directed by Liam Gavin
Written by Liam Gavin
Starring Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Mark Huberman, Susan Loughnane, Nathan Vos
Find out more about this film @ADarkSongFilm and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
A DARK SONG is a long and interesting lead-in to an end that is equal parts perplexing and transcendental. I know films are all about the journey it takes one on, but for a journey to be worthwhile, the ending should match up. This one does in some ways and fails in others as I’ll try to get into further down in the review.
Catherine Walker plays Sophia, a grief stricken woman who lost her young child and has never been able to stop grieving, despite years passing. She seeks out a mystic named Joseph Solomon (SIGHTSEERS’ Steve Oram) to try to help her connect with the other side for guidance, a few last words with her son, and possibly closure. But the rigorous process required for Solomon to connect with the other side may just be too much for Sophia to handle and even if they do succeed, will the other side be what Sophia is expecting?
There are two parts to this tale—one fascinating and the other disappointing. I’ll start with the good. Everything with Steve Oram’s Solomon prepping Walker’s Sophia for the ritual is gold. Oram plays a man who has seen sights that most humans don’t comprehend and he copes with it by drowning himself in alcohol. Sophia thinks she has prepared herself for the ordeal Solomon has in store for her, but she’s not. He’s stubborn, perverted, grumpy, and an all-around awful man and the interplay between Solomon and Sophia, who isn’t quite sure if he is a fake or not, makes the entire first hour of this film worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and once Sophia takes a leap to the other side, things get transcendental and quite obtuse. There’s a lot of cosmic stuff going on and while there are some awe-inspiring visuals (one that is reminiscent, surprisingly of Tarsem’s THE IMMMORTALS, if you believe it), there’s also a lot of stuff going on that is so shrouded in darkness that there is no discerning what exactly is going on. Pair that with an ending that really doesn’t wrap things up, but simply ends and you’ve got a film that is a lot of flashy wind up but no pitch.
Still, all of the mystic stuff is awesome as taught by Oram (one of the horror genre’s most talented actors these days) and both actors seem like they gave their mental and physical all to make A DARK SONG. This is a film that feels horrifyingly authentic and painstakingly realized, but it just doesn’t deliver in the second half.
Newly available on iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon and other digital platforms from Comedy Dynamics!
BEAR WITH US (2016)Directed by William J. Stribling
Written by Russ Nickel, William J. Stribling
Starring Mark Jude Sullivan, Christy Carlson Romano, Collin Smith, Cheyenne Jackson, Alex McKenna, Curtiss Cook, Alice Ripley, Kevin Carolan, R.J. Lewis, Allen McCullough, Jade Rubenstein, Stephen Guice, Lori Argyle, Lea DeLaria
Find out more about this film here and @bearwithusfilm
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
BEAR WITH US is a goofy comedy with a pitch black sense of humor that I found to be a lot of fun in a sitcommy sort of way. Filled with some talented comedians and a clever script, the film really is a fun little indie flick about a couple with relationship problems looking for answers, a bear suit, a wedding ring, a bag of cocaine, and a real live bear on a murderous rampage!
Mark Jude Sullivan plays the aptly named Colin Dense who proposed once to his girlfriend Quincy Adams (Christy Carlson Romano) and it didn’t go so well. So Colin has hatched a plan with his equally dense buddy Harry (Collin Smith) to bring Quincy out to the middle of the woods and put her in peril, so she can then feel bonded with Colin and due to the dire situation they are in, she will realize she is the right one for him. While this idea is convoluted, it makes sense in the film while highlighting Colin’s misguided notion that Quincy is absolutely flawless, something that Quincy knows is not true since she is having an affair with someone behind Colin’s back. Along for the ride is the flower child-esque coke-snorting friend of Quincy’s named Tammy (Alex McKenna). With a bear suit in a tow and a full plan of attack, Colin and Harry set out to prove Quincy’s love for Colin. What they don’t know is that there is a real bear loose and a brawny bear hunter by the name of Hudson (AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Cheyenne Jackson) who has a penchant for telling long stories and a weird thing about D batteries. Antics ensue.
I know by calling this film sitcom-esque might feel like a putdown but it really isn’t. The film maks the most of its four leads, giving them full and fun characters for the audience to get into. Each of them is flawed in some way. Colin is likable but densely thinks Quincy is perfect. Quincy is in love with Colin, but often comes off as self-centered and heartless. Harry is even dumber than Colin at times, but seems to be the only true innocent (and blissfully ignorant) of the bunch. And despite an avid coke dependency, Tammy’s free-thinking attitude is nothing less than lovable. Seeing these characters bounce off of one another is fantastic in a way you only get from the best of sitcoms. Tossing thee overly macho Hudson and the antithesis of the dolts Colin and Harry represent and you have a bear shit-load of awesome characters. Once the characters are established, it’s time to set the overly-complex plan in motion and that’s where the real fun begins.
And there are tons of antics. How could there not be when two bumbling idiots dress up like a bear in the middle of a forest that is threatened by a real bear. Add some cocaine to the lemonade and everyone running around like madmen and there is nothing but pure fun going on in these woods. The film is light on gore, but there are some accidental shootings that had to smart and a few off-screen bear maulings to qualify this as a very dark comedy. Plus there is one extremely gory scene that goes on so long that I couldn’t help but laugh at its absurdity.
BEAR WITH US made me laugh all the way through and never really misses a comedic beat. The actors involved all shine in their roles and while some of the time the comedy is performed broadly, it always seemed to come from a smarter place rather than broad, stupid comedy. BEAR WITH US is a riotous little piece of woodland horror comedy worth checking out!
Recently premiered at London’s Frightfest 2017!
THE TERRORS OF HALLOW’S EVE (2017)aka THE TERROR, TERROR OF HALLOWEEN
Directed by Todd Tucker
Written by Ronald L. Halvas, Todd Tucker (story), Zack Ward (screenplay)
Starring Caleb Thomas, Sarah Lancaster, Annie Read, JT Neal, Mcabe Gregg, Niko Papastefanou, Kent Kasper, Christie Nicole Chaplin, Christian Kane, Brett Stimely, Eric Roberts, Reatha Grey, Jade Warner, Jentzen Ramirez, Damaris Diaz, Chelsea Marie Mckenzie, Juliet Landau, Marissa Caprielian, Wyatt McClure, Peter Jason, Emma Rose Maloney, Todd Tucker, & Doug Jones as the Scarecrow!
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE is a confusing little number. It tries to have it all and because of it, just falls short of being effective. Filled with amazing effects and stunning visuals, the film is dazzling enough to admire, but it just doesn’t seem to know who its audience is.
A shy and introverted 15-year old named Tim (Caleb Thomas) is tormented by bullies and haunted by memories of a drug addicted father. Burying himself in horror films and monster-modelmaking that would make Tom Savini and Ray Harryhausen proud, Tim happens upon a book that tells the tale of a jester-like being called the Trickster who acts as a sort of Halloween genie who makes the darkest of wishes come true. When Tim wishes his bullies would be literally scared to death, they find themselves attacked by all forms of evil beasties. Once the terrors of Hallow’s Eve are unleashed though, it is difficult to get this genie back into its bottle.
THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE wants to be scary for adults. It’s got swears, some decent gore, and some semi-adult situations, leading to some dire consequences. The problem is that because the actors are so young and because of the way it was filmed, it feels more like a GOOSEBUMPS episode. I don’t want to knock the film too much because I liked GOOSEBUMPS back in the day, but it should embrace what it is because it would be much more effective trying to be what it isn’t. I think if the swears were edited a bit and some of the gore toned down, this would be a film I would have shit my pants in fear from as a kid. As an adult, though, it just is too wrapped up in teen angst from a superficial level to be effective.
What does work is the extensive and impressive practical effects work throughout the film. Diabolic little puppets, giant monsters, evil scarecrows (played by Doug Jones!)—this film really does utilize an entire funhouse of horrors. While the film functions with a sort of kid like mentality, the effects work of THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE are truly excellent. So while the tone is kind of all over the place with this one, at least there’s a lot of fun monster eye candy to enjoy.
Currently touring festivals such as the Calgary International Film Festival: Late Show Series on Thurs Sept 28th, 10:15pm & Sat Sept 30th, 12:00pm and then at Grimmfest in Manchester on Sat Oct. 7th, 9pm!
FAKE BLOOD (2017)Directed by Rob Grant
Written by Rob Grant, Mike Kovac, Michael Peterson
Starring Rob Grant, Mike Kovac, Jacqueline Breakwell, Camden Filtness, Nathaniel Moher, Jez Bonham, Tracy Varju, Scott Wallis, Theo Francon, & Len Harvey as John Doe!
Find out more about this film here, @ , and on Facebook here!
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I’m 99% sure FAKE BLOOD is a movie and not a documentary…99% sure. I’m pretty sure this is one of the best mock-documentaries you’re going to see. It’s that fraction of doubt that makes it all the more terrifying. I was wondering what the talented folks behind the FARGO-esque caper gone wrong flick MON AMI (a truly excellent film reviewed here) were going to do next, but had no idea they would be able to come up with such an engrossing film proving that these guys are talented and destined for greatness…
…if this is in fact a mockumentary and not a documentary, that is.
FAKE BLOOD starts out from a noble place. A pair of filmmakers (Rob Grant and Mike Kovac who play themselves) have had mild success with a violent comedy called MON AMI and receive a bizarre email of a couple of people reenacting one of the scenes from the movie. This leads Rob and Mike to question their approach to violence in their films. Having never shot a gun, been in a fight, or even talked with anyone who has done a violent act, Rob and Mike believe that to make films with violence they should experience some of it or at least interview some folks who have. After going to a firing range and getting their asses kicked by a martial arts instructor, Rob and Mike still feel like they don’t have any answers. So they go a bit deeper to the edge of the rabbit hole and seek out a person who worked on a friend’s film who seemed to have some prior knowledge of how a person should act if they die. Rob and Mike set up an interview with this individual and what happens next is the stuff pure paranoia, needles and pins filled tension, and sheer psychological horror are made of.
I love the way FAKE BLOOD poses questions but offers up no easy answers. While I believe that one doesn’t have to experience the exact actions one might put into a story or film, I do believe that to understand those actions; experiences, interviews, conversations, and one’s own personal library of feelings can help one understand what a particular character might be going through. In this case, I don’t necessarily agree with Grant who is more of the notion that to put it in one’s film, you should experience it (or at least that’s what Grant’s character believes), but it is a compelling argument and one he delves into with this story. Mike, on the other hand, plays a more rational character here, along for the ride if it seems true to the film’s intent, but questioning that intent the entire time. It appears, or at least is convincing enough to appear, that initially, Grant and Mike set out to make a film responsibly addressing whether violence affects those watching it and what responsibility as filmmakers do they have to depict it realistically versus through a Hollywood lens. As a documentary, FAKE BLOOD brings up compelling and smart questions and most likely, after seeing this one, it’ll inspire some conversation on the matter afterwards.
While later in the film, things are set into motion to pull the documentarians into the action, none of it is over the top. None of it is unbelievable. And again, there’s a part of me that hopes it isn’t real. Assuming it’s not, Grant conveys some moments of over the shoulder checking caution as the filmmakers find themselves in over their heads with no easy way out. This makes for a piece of cinema that will have you riveted to the screen hoping for the well being of all of those involved. Making everything feel as believable as possible are the two likable stars (Grant and Kovac) as this is as much an intellectual argument about on screen violence as it is about the strain of the friendship of these two lifelong buddies. On both levels it works and I loved every nail-biting second of it.
I usually try to reserve a section of my reviews to try to focus on some criticism, especially in overly positive reviews like this one, but honestly, from intriguing start to chilling finish, FAKE BLOOD is all good in my book. Being a fan of the found footage/shockumentary style horror film, FAKE BLOOD is one of the most convincing, most tension-laced, and most tightly-constructed films of its kind you’re going to see. It raises intellectual questions that all filmmakers should debate while never forgetting to entertain. I highly, highly recommended you see this film and dare you not to be compelled to talk about it afterwards.
No trailer for this one yet, but I’ll definitely keep you all updated when it is released!
And finally…we all deserve a “Happy Ending,” don’t we? Here’s mine for you all, courtesy from Arch Obler and his classic terror radio series, LIGHT’S OUT. Enjoy!
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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