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Logo by Kristian Horn
What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. We’re filled to the gills with zombie films this week. Not only do we look back at RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and the recent documentary MORE BRAINS! THE DEFINITIVE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD DOCUMENTARY, but we also look at zeeks STATE OF EMERGENCY and POP PUNK ZOMBIES!

Sick of zombies? Well, we also check out MONSTER BRAWL, MUTILATION MAN, and check out a short film filled with blood and boobs called PAINT!

So let’s get right into it!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

And finally…Roger William Carter’s PAINT Short Film Not Safe For Work!


Directed by Dan O’Bannon
Written by Dan O’Bannon, Rudy Ricci, John A. Russo, & Russell Streiner
Starring Clu Gulager, James Karen, John Kalfa, Thom Matthews, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Miguel Nunez, Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Mark Venturini, Alan Trautman
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

C’mon. How can you not love this movie? RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is as good as it gets when it comes to zombie movies and though many of today’s moviegoers who love their zombies fast don’t know it, next to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, this film is one of the most influential zombie films of all times

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD does the impossible by incorporating scenes of laugh out loud humor with true jolts and scares. For some reason, the eighties were able to do that so much better than now. FRIGHT NIGHT is another film that does this amazingly. But here, slapstick meets splatterpunk as a hapless medical factory worker unleashes toxic gas from a misplaced military experiment while showing a new worker around the shop. Soon the gas reanimates all of the cadavers and dissection animals in the building and when the two dunces (played with dimwitted glee by James Karen and Thom Matthews) and their boss (played by the iconic Clu Gulager) try to cover up the mess, they end up unleashing the gas into the atmosphere, reanimating the corpses in the graveyard next door. As fast as you can say “More brains!” you’ve got a zombie apocalypse on your hands.

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is iconic for numerous reasons. First and foremost, the delicate tightrope between humor and horror is tiptoed across by director Dan O’Bannon with elegance and respect for both genres. The horror is terrifying, grotesque, and hilarious. When an axe goes through a cadaver’s bloodless head, it’s played for laughs, but the actors play it straight so the ludicrous act also rings as scary. Never does the film wink at the viewer. Never does it shit on the horror genre. It laughs at the ridiculous ways we all react to the unknown, not the unknown itself. That’s where the genius lies in this film and what makes it so effective.

The film is also an effects masterpiece. There is shit in this film that still makes me wonder how they did it. The half corpse captured in the last act of this film is a marvel in puppeteering and make-up. The Tarman make-up is gory, gross fun but also the stuff of the darkest nightmares (made more ghoulish by actor Alan Trautman’s lanky, lopsided performance that gives the appearance that the slimy creature has no bones as all). Linnea Quigley’s zombie make-up, though briefly seen in the film, is an impressive work of minimalistic terror.

And speaking of Linnea Quigley, she is another reason this film is a standout. Though her role as Trash is small, Quigley steals every scene she’s in. Her tombstone strip tease is not only pants-tighteningly delicious, but also bold and fearless. Though her confession of her deepest fears in the first scenes make it pretty obvious how she will die later, the ferocious way she acts with the rest of the poseur punks lends an heir of legitimacy to the entire group. I also love the fact that she acts so fragile when the acid rain starts pouring down. It just adds a little humanity to all of that weirdness Trash vomits out in the moments before. And her brief scenes as a pale-skinned zombie offer some of the most frightening scenes in the film.

Though some might mistakenly claim this film to be the first fast zombie movie (that honor I believe goes to NIGHTMARE CITY, another classic flick worthy of extensive coverage in a future column), RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is by far the first modern film to utilize zombies as more than slow moving slugs. More notable though, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of the few zombie films that actually gives the zombies voices. Some moments, like the “Send more paramedics!” line, serve as comedic beats, but the interrogation scene with the half corpse (which looks a lot like THE WALKING DEAD’s crawling half corpse in the first season opener) offers one of the only glimpses cinema has ever shown into the mind of a zombie as the moaning corpse screams that “It hurts to be dead!” and “Brains make the pain go away.” And in those simple lines, the zombies are at once made both more human and more terrifying.

Having just rewatched RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, it still holds up quite nicely. The music is amazing, the effects are revolutionary, the acting is fun, and Dan O’Bannon’s writing off of John (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) Russo’s script still crackles and pops in all the right places. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD was a true standout in the zombie genre and even to this day there isn’t a zombie flick out there like it.

New of DVD!


Directed by Bill Philputt
Written by Gary Smart & Christian Sellers
Starring John A. Russo, Clu Gulager, James Karen, John Kalfa, Thom Matthews, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Miguel Nunez, Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Alan Trautman
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

MORE BRAINS! THE DEFINITIVE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD DOCUMENTARY is a look back at the classic film I talked about above and proof that I’m not the only one who loves this film. Narrated by Brian Peck, who starred in ROTLD as Scuz, the doc digs up all of the film’s living and “undead” stars putting together quite a special little feature.

The film goes to extensive lengths to cover everything you would ever want to know from the initial concept of the film, to the choosing of the cast, to the troubles on set, to the response to the finished product by the public. I found the interviews with the cast and the bits about choosing them to be the most interesting. Though this film oozed punk, I was surprised to find out that none of the actors chosen were actual punks and had to go through total overhauls to achieve their punk looks for the film. It was also great to see cinema greats like James Karen, John Kalfa, and Clu Gulager reminisce about the film. The simple fact that the makers of this documentary were able to wrangle the entire cast together to look back and share stories is a testament to how much fun the cast had and how much they respect working on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

It was also interesting to see interviews with the make-up artists who worked on the film and the difficulties involving the effects. Seeing the testing shots of the make-up and stories of how the effects team was replaced after initial shooting were as fascinating as the shots of unused effects that didn’t make it into the film. I also loved the explanation of how Linnea Quigley was fitted for a Barbie Doll crotch piece because she wasn’t supposed to show pubic hair or female genitalia in her nude scene (I always thought that scene was weird, now I understand why it looked so odd).

As an added bonus, this doc has in its special features Dan O’Bannon’s last interview and extensive segments on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II and III which made me want to seek out those films to watch over again as well, though I remember them paling in comparison to the original.

Scene by scene, in painstaking detail, MORE BRAINS!’s only detriment is that it runs a bit long, but only because it is a film made by folks who truly love the film it’s focusing on. So yes, it might be excessive and might heap the praise and importance of the film a bit high, but if you are like me and love the behind the scenes stuff about films you admire, MORE BRAINS! is essential viewing.

New on DVD this week from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Steve Dayton
Written by Steve Dayton & Brian Leis
Starring Ian Kane, Nicholas Marinucci, Laura Savage, Eric Leitzen
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

This is a perfect example of a good idea that is somewhat too big for the budget of a film. Occasionally this pays off. With a talented director, low budget doesn’t have to mean low quality. Here, I think the makers of POP PUNK ZOMBIES had a great idea, but lacked the skill or talent available to pull it off. In the end, what you get is something that feels put together by a bunch of friends in love with the genre, not by professionals.

The soulless consumer masses are ripe for zombie metaphor. It was the central theme of Romero’s classic DAWN OF THE DEAD. Here, instead of malls, the focus in on the music industry, where legions of fans follow latest trends and zone out in concert halls, consuming CD’s, t-shirts, and all sorts of memorabilia. In POP PUNK ZOMBIES, a manager gets the idea to use dead punk rockers to entertain the masses. A concert is set up, and of course the well planned show goes pear-shaped quickly. Soon a concert hall is the setting for the inciting event of the zombie apocalypse.

I’ve got to credit the filmmakers for giving their all. They are obviously in love with the genre. They reference other horror films. The zombie gore and make-up is actually pretty nice, but the wooden acting and amateur photography going on throughout is a real detractor. Though this style of filmmaking is what gave Kevin Smith his boost to stardom with CLERKS, bad acting is bad acting and it really hurts the effectiveness in this film. The idea is big and in the right hands, it might have worked. Because of sheer quantity these days, zombie films either have to be ingeniously constructed or conceptually innovative. Unfortunately, POP PUNK ZOMBIES is neither.

New on DVD this week from Midnight Releasing!


Directed by Derek & Shane Cole
Written by Derek & Shane Cole
Starring: Stephen Twardokus, Sabrina Carmichael, Jon Gale, Denise Gossett
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though shot on the budgetary low, I have to commend the makers of MUTILATION MAN on a well done slasher flick. This type of horror film is often a slave to convention, but writers/directors Derek & Shane Cole keep the scope low while aiming high with stylistic and patient shots throughout, making MUTILATION MAN a slasher film with much potential.

At first, the motivations of the masked killer in MUTILATION MAN are murky. The filmmakers take their time unraveling the reasoning behind his rampage, but the whys, though important; don’t seem to be what the makers of this film are interested in. The film really excels at setting a tense scene and milking it for all it’s worth. A couple are taken by surprise by the killer and bound and gagged in their garage. A timer is set. And when the alarm goes off, the killer reenters the scene and tortures the couple a little more. These scenes grew in intensity throughout the film and inevitably pay off in the final moments.

The acting is not the best. The film looks to be shot on digital in someone’s office and home with very little when it comes to expansive locale and scene. The story is somewhat by the numbers, and the Mutilation Man looks and acts a whole lot like Michael Meyers. But with a level of tension set on high due to some clever editing and shot composition, MUTILATION MAN reaches beyond its budget limitations. Given a bigger budget, it’d be interested to see what these directors could do with a creepy character like the Mutilation Man, who is obviously being set up for something bigger by the way this film ends.

Advance Review!


Directed by Jesse T. Cook
Written by Jesse T. Cook
Starring Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Jimmy Hart, Robert Maillet, Kevin Nash, Narrated by Lance Henriksen
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

There’s a lot to love about MONSTER BRAWL. You don’t see many monster mash-ups these days. Films like VAN HELSING, UNDERWORLD, and FREDDY VS JASON try to offer the goods of battling cinematic creatures, but all have failed in one sense or another. Written and directed by Jesse T. Cook, MONSTER BRAWL combines two fun genres: horror and wrestling. Though some might attest that they can be one and the same, it is the first time I’ve seen the two genres spliced in such a way. Basically, the film is a tournament where monsters battle it out in a wrestling ring. Now, if that last sentence has you rolling your eyes, well, this might not be the film for you. But having grown up with a deep love for the sideshow that was the WWF in the 80’s and early 90’s, I found myself endeared to this film.

What strikes me as impressive about MONSTER BRAWL was the treatment of the various monsters. Vampires, swamp creatures, wolfmen, mummies, witches, and all sorts of beasts and undead are all present and an a lot of time is given to explore each monster before they grapple. Though the ideas of meeting in a wrestling ring to battle is a ludicrous one, it’s played like a straight-up wrestling match with fight stats, interviews, and all kinds of pomp leading up to the brawls. KIDS IN THE HALL alum Dave Foley peacocks his comedic chops as the “Mean” Gene Okerlund of the show, with Art Hindle acting as his gruff Jesse “The Body” Ventura-like co-anchor. Both actors announce the matches as if the world’s safety depended on it. Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart even shows up for some on-the-ground ring announcing.

One thing that I think is lacking in this film is that there is no crowd to cheer on the monsters. The crowd has always been an integral part in wrestling. The constant roar, the signage, the cheers and groans--all of that adds to the classic gladiatorial feel of it all. Here, most likely due to budget, there is no crowd, so scenes that could have amped up the emotional connection with the viewer is absent. I found myself thinking what this would have been like with a crowd of undead fans holding up signs and body parts in admiration or in contention to their favorite or least favorite beastie.

Not to be taken too seriously, MONSTER MASH is still a lot of fun. Though I found some of the matches to be somewhat uninspired (especially the final matchup which goes on a bit long and seems to lose fresh ideas halfway through), the cool factor of seeing these classic beasties in a ring together makes for a good time. With a fun cast of comedians, classic wrestling stars, and SHERLOCK HOLMES/300 giant Robert Maillet as an awe-inspiring Frankenstein’s Monster, all narrated by the gravelly yet soft voice of Lance Henriksen, MONSTER BRAWL is worth checking out for a chuckle or three.

Advance Review!


Directed by Turner Clay
Written by Turner Clay
Starring Jay Hayden, Andy Stahl, Tori White, Scott Lilly, Kathryn Todd Norman, & McKenna Jones
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I’ve heard that this film was shot on a low budget, this zombie flick sure doesn’t seem that way. Borrowing from both 28 DAYS LATER and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, STATE OF EMERGENCY proves that the zombie genre is still alive and twitching.

Describing the beginning of this film might make a few roll their eyes. An explosion at a chemical plant infects a town and the government soon quarantines the entire area. A solitary man, after losing his wife, must make his way through a post-apocalyptic world in search of safety and maybe other survivors. The bulk of this movie is a lone man against the unknown tale as he tries to figure out what has happened and what to do about it. Though we are fed snippets of the events leading up to the man’s solitude, we aren’t told straight away, which is part of the beauty of this film. Like I said, the first moments of this film had me thinking I was watching 28 DAYS LATER all over again. The use of the same font for a title didn’t help much either.

Yet there are some fantastic scenes which save the film and set a dire mood in STATE OF EMERGENCY where the lone man, played by Jay Hayden, views a solitary zombie from afar. These scenes are haunting in that most recently; excess in zombies is the new trend. We’re so used to seeing masses of zombies “comin’ atcha” that I think it’s a lost art to focus on one lost soulless undead figure and capitalize on how horrific that can be. STATE OF EMERGENCY does this extremely well.

Strong performances by the actors, some cleverly edited scenes of action and violence, and some really great computer-generated images to widen the scope that make the limited locales look like it is actually happening in a war zone make STATE OF EMERGENCY the type of zombie movie I’d love to see more of. If more zombie films like this existed that maximize character and scares over convention and excess, that been-there-done-that feeling one gets when seeing yet another zombie film available would not be so common today. Though it doesn’t offer a cure for the zombie holocaust, STATE OF EMERGENCY is the surefire antidote for zombie movie fatigue.

And finally…here’s a gripping short called PAINT from writer/director Roger William Carter. Now before you go clicking away, let me warn you, that this short is not safe for work. Let me repeat in big text…


This short is filled with boobs and blood. So if you get in trouble because Trudy in accounting shrieks as she peeks over your cubicle, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned.

Love the music in this one too.

Enjoy Roger William Carter’s PAINT!

Paint from Roger William Carter on Vimeo.

See ya, next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can pre-order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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