Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here. Happy Birthday to AICN HORROR which celebrates its fifth year in October! Always hoping to pass on new and exciting films for all of you ravenous readers, I have once again compiled a list counting down to my favorite horror film released since last October and covered in this here AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Some of these films might be new to you since there isn’t a lot of horror in theaters these days that aren’t toothless remakes or watered down sequels. The theater just doesn’t seem to be the place where the horror is at these days, I’m sad to say. Some of these films have only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD/BluRay or digital download.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked over my AICN HORROR columns over the last year since October 1st, 2013 (which happens to be the birthday of this little column five years ago!) and worked and reworked a list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth noting or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know how you liked the film I chose, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#26: LIFE AFTER BETH!
You can check out LIFE AFTER BETH on Amazon here and on Netflix here. Below is my review of LIFE AFTER BETH from August!!
Available On Demand from A24 Films soon to be released on DVD/BluRay!
LIFE AFTER BETH (2014)Directed by Jeff Baena
Written by Jeff Baena
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, Garry Marshall
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Unfortunately, I know from experience that the number one thing people feel after someone close to them dies is regret. There’s always that nagging feeling that something was left unsaid or something should have been given more attention. You never know when the last moment you spend with a person will be, so you’re bound to take it for granted until you can’t have any more moments with that person. Under all of the zombie makeup and comical situations, that’s the serious and universal theme that hides beneath the surface of LIFE AFTER BETH, the first time directing effort from I HEART HUCKABEES writer Jeff Baena.
Because this film deals with some uncomfortable themes about death, I think there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t like this film. That said, if you have a ghoulish sense of humor and an appreciation for the cathartic act of letting go of a loved one, I think LIFE AFTER BETH has the makings of a true cult classic. Yes, at face value this can be seen as a rather goofy film about a boy who refuses to let his girlfriend (who he was already having difficulty with) die and then has to deal with the reality that she has come back as a zombie. But because of the comedic acting talents of all involved paired with the serious way the entire cast takes the material despite the crazy situations around it, LIFE AFTER BETH feels much more resonant that it should be.
Dane DeHaan, who has had some pretty big roles of late from CHRONICLE to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 to A PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, shows much more here in this movie that I gave him credit for. For the most part, DeHaan’s Zach is the Winona Ryder character in both HEATHERS and, especially, BEETLEJUICE who mopes around in mourning of his girlfriend Beth’s (played by Aubrey Plaza) death, which occurs in the opening moments of the film. Dehaan plays the straight man here, mourning cartoonishly at the loss, but also exemplifying the melodramatic goth vibe often seen in teens (though both DeHaan and Plaza clearly look older than teenagers in this film). DeHaan sits silently during the family meal (with his family made up of Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, and his overly macho brother played by Matthew Gray Gubler) and leafs through his all-black wardrobe for the right black shirt to wear. Towards the beginning of the film, I was especially impressed with the scenes DeHaan shares with John C. Reilly, who plays Beth’s dad. After losing Beth, Zach instantly starts forming a bond with Beth’s dad which develops into bordering on stalking. DeHaan does this straight-faced and serious, never really overplaying the situation for comedic effect and hitting every note right along the way. This is a range I’d never seen in the actor before and it impressed me.
Plaza is equally good here as the resurrected Beth. When she does return to life, she’s not the Romero-style zombie. In fact, despite some minor memory loss (like that she wanted to break up with Zach right before she died) it’s hard determining if she’s alive or dead, so everyone is less freaked out and more relieved when she mysteriously shows up on her doorstep. Plaza obviously had fun in this film as she basically devolves into a monosyllabic “Hulk Smash!” state as the film goes on, only calmed by smooth jazz and sex with Zach. Much of the comedy in the latter half of this film is seeing Beth’s transformation unfold and having her normal girlfriend gripes like “You never took me flamenco dancing” devolve into caveman-esque screams of “FLAMINGO!”
Despite all of the serious themes of grief and loss, there’s a lot to laugh at here. There’s quite a bit of gore at play here, while still refraining from overuse. And while the scares are at a minimum, the emotional core of the film is going to hit a lot of people just right. Reminiscent of the Billy Connolly zom com FIDO from a few years back which dealt with some of the same themes in a funny way, LIFE AFTER BETH retains its dark tone, casting very human reactions to death against the ridiculous concept of the dead rising from their graves and not remembering that they died and attempting to assume their previous lives. It doesn’t hurt that some of the funniest people on the planet are saying all of these lines and reacting to these situations. Yes, there are some inconsistencies involving “the rules” of how the dead are getting up and walking around with embalming and burying corpses they way they are today, none of that is really taken into consideration here, but this film is not really about those kind of details. It’s about seeing a loved one just one more time and being able to say what you needed to say, all set with a darkly comedic tone. Seeing CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM’s Cheryl Hines and MAD ABOUT YOU’s Paul Riser react to zombies is priceless, as is seeing Jerry Marshall come back as a complaining zombie grandpa. With solid comedic performances, a consistently pitch black comedic tone, and a story that never makes fun of the genre, but has funny people react to it instead, LIFE AFTER BETH is a comedic horror film that will make you laugh while bringing up themes about loss that horror films rarely touch upon.
Worth Noting: EVIL FEED!While this is a problematic film, I found it to be super fun in terms of big, bold ideas and ballsy action. EVIL FEED tells the story of a secret club which serves a particular brand of pig…long pig aka human meat! And in order to get the best meats, they lure people to do battle in an ultimate fighting gladiatorial match. Plus it has a hot chick who bathes nude in blood, which is always awesome. Big, loud, and fun; that’s what EVIL FEED is and it’s worth checking out if you’re in for that type of horror.
Check out my full review of the film here and you can check it out on on Amazon here!
#30: STALLED (worth noting: CHRYSALIS)!
#29: RIGOR MORTIS (worth noting: I AM A GHOST)!
#28: GHOST TEAM ONE (worth noting: HYSTERICAL PSYCHO!
#27: THANATOMORPHOSE (worth noting: CONTRACTED) !
See ya tomorrow, folks, as I count down the best of the best covered in AICN HORROR since October 1st, 2013!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
Be sure to tell your comic shop to order his new comic PIROUETTE from Diamond Previews (item code JUL14 0937) and the new issue #2 available to order in Previews (item code AUG14 1131) from Black Mask Studios!!