Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Happy Friday the 13TH! It’s always a happy day when the 13th falls on a Friday at AICN HORROR and today, not only do I have another look at an installment in the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, but I check out the usual gaggle of horror films as well.
But before we do, I wanted to let folks know about a pretty spectacular con going on this weekend in my home town of Chicago called the Mad Mobster Party: True Crime and Horror Expo! Check out all of the details on how to get tickets, where it is, and what’s going on at the website here! But to celebrate it here on AICN HORROR, I’m checking out FRIDAY THE 13TH Part 7: THE NEW BLOOD since Kane Hodder will be donning the famous costume from that installment (the best in the series, I might add) and taking photos all day long.
Also present at the show will be John Borowski, who has made a career of making documentaries on famous real life serial killers such as CARL PANZRAM: THE SPIRIT OF HATRED AND VENGEANCE – reiewed here), ALBERT FISH, and SERIAL KILLER CULTURE (reviewed here). I’m reviewing another one of Borowski’s documentaries below, H.H.HOLMES: AMERICA’S FIRST SERIAL KILLER.
Another item worth noting is this clip from ZOMBIEWORLD, which looks pretty fantastic. The film is a collection of short films focusing on survivors across the world as they struggle to overcome horrifying circumstances when a pandemic brings forth a zombie apocalypse. Each director brings his or her take to a world of mayhem now populated with flesh-eating corpses. I’ll be reviewing it in two weeks here on AICN HORROR, but check out this exclusive clip from the film below!
And the ultra fun trailer below!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13TH with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)
Book Creeport: ALIEN: RIVER OF PAIN Novel
Retro-review: LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979)
Short Cuts: MONSTRO! Short Film (2014)
H.H. HOLMES: AMERICA’S FIRST SERIAL KILLER (2004)
CRAZY BITCHES (2014)
FRANKENSTEIN VS THE MUMMY (2015)
POKER NIGHT (2014)
GIRL HOUSE (2015)
DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2015)
And finally…VOORHEES: BORN ON A FRIDAY!
Get the FRIDAY THE 13TH The Complete Collection BluRay here!
HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13TH!
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)aka JASON’S DESTROYER, BIRTHDAY BASH
Directed by John Carl Buechler
Written by Daryl Haney & Manuel Fidello
Starring Lar Park-Lincoln, Terry Kiser, Kevin Spirtas, Susan Jennifer Sullivan, Heidi Kozak, Jennifer Banko, John Otrin, Susan Blu, William Butler, Staci Greason, Larry Cox, Jeff Bennett, Diana Barrows, Elizabeth Kaitan, Jon Renfield, Michael Schroeder, Debora Kessler, Diane Almeida. Walt Gorney, & Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since the last Friday the 13th and continuing my ongoing coverage of each and every FRIDAY THE 13TH film, I’m going to jump ahead one film and skip PART 6: JASON LIVES for now since there’s going to be a FRIDAY THE 13TH THE NEW BLOOD reunion this weekend here in Downtown Chicago at the Mad Mobster Party: True Crime & Horror Expo. Even cooler news is that all day today, Kane Hodder will be dressed in full Jason Voorhees garb from THE NEW BLOOD applied by John Carl Buechler himself! So in celebration of this glorious day, PART 7 is the installment du jour!
Not my favorite installment in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, but possessing some of the coolest moments in the franchise is FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD. After bringing Jason back to life in the previous entry (which I’ll be covering next Fri 13), in order to inject some new life into the series, the producers decided to bring in more supernatural elements. Originally, a pairing with Freddy Krueger was talked about for this entry, but it would still be a few years before that would happen. Instead, the powers that be decided to bring in a Carrie riff and have her square off against good ol’ Jason. So it was Lar Park Lincoln in faded mom jeans and 80’s hair acting the role of Tina the unstoppable force to Jason Voorhees’ immovable object. And while the rest of the film really does feel like a retread of the FRIDAYS of the past, the inclusion of the telekinetic girl seemed to be enough to make it pretty popular.
When I saw this film in the theater, this was the Jason film that had the audiences cheering. John Karl Buechler is best known for his makeup effects in films like MONKEY SHINES, PRISON, and the like. But he was given a chance to helm this installment and he did a rather decent job of it all. I always thought more effects men should be directors, especially in horror, because they will know how to orchestrate and shoot the effects scenes in the best possible way. And THE NEW BLOOD was a pretty fantastic looking film in terms of kills and effects. Not that we would know it though since the MPAA allegedly trimmed 8 minutes of the film in order to gain an R rating. While a lot of the kills and the gory aftermath were pretty innovative and creative, very little was seen on the screen. So while this film has a pretty decent body count, this was one of the most bloodless installments of the series.
What the film lacks in bloody kills, it makes up with one of the most iconic looks of Jason since he rose from the water in the first film. Director Buechler, himself an FX man, decided to give Jason all of the scars, hacks, slashes, beatings, and gouges that Jason withstood through the years all in one elaborate full-body makeup. Since Jason went full on zombie in Part 6, they decided to make him even more desiccated with a protruding spinal column along his back, bare ribs in the front, and black soggy flesh. The big Jason face reveal was always a highlight of previous FRIDAY films, but this one took the cake with an articulated jaw and see through cheek tear along with an open eye socket and one evil eye. This look was the one that made me love practical effects and Buechler really outdid himself with the thought and ingenuity he put into it.
But it was Kane Hodder who made his first appearance here as Jason that really made it all shine. Even through the layers of latex mask and appliances and behind a charred and chipped hockey mask, Hodder was able to give Jason a rage and anger that no one had ever brought to the character. The Jason in PART 7 was PISSED, punching holes through people, breathing heavily, and moving in a manner that conveyed that he was not only an ultimate badass, but a totally ticked off one at that. Be he slamming a sleeping bag against a tree or pulling a nail out of his head after it was shot at him via a telekinetic blast, Hodder gave Jason a personality no one had given the character before. No wonder he was invited back for four more films.
PART 7 is not the most thematically rich of the series. It’s basically a long build up to a grudge match and while previous entries dealt with some rather serious themes such as abuse, neglect, sexual assault, promiscuity, and of course, lots of murder, this one focuses mainly on the big battle between Tina and Jason in the end. Sure there is a little something about pent up trauma and how it manifests itself in Tina’s case. Sure there’s some juxtaposition between Tina’s torment by her partying neighbors and Jason’s probable torment as a child from kids at he camp, as well as both Tina and Jason acting out violently after being pent up for so long (Tina in an institution being poked and prodded by her doctor and Jason being chained to the bottom of a lake), but I doubt any of that was thought of too much and it definitely wasn’t fully realized in the final script.
Nope all things pointed to Jason’s face off with Tina and Buechler delivers a pretty spectacular one. Sure, by today’s standards, the TK barrage Tina sends Jason’s way is pretty low fi, but back then, this matchup was a rollercoaster ride. Tossing everything from fire to nails to the ceiling of a porch onto Jason, he certainly takes his lumps in this film and the climactic battle still delivers if you ask me.
That’s not to say that the ending is good. In fact, it’s one of my least favorites of the series. While this film got standing O’s and loud applause throughout the film when I saw it back when it first came into theaters during the sleeping bag scene, and the weed-wacker scene, and even the battle with Tina, a resounding “What the fuck!?!?” was exclaimed when Tina’s dad burst through the dock and drags him underwater. I get what the story was trying to say, but after a pretty bombastic battle royale between Tina and Jason, seeing some skinny dude jump out of the lake just didn’t cut it. I would have much preferred Tina use her power to chain Jason again to the bottom of the lake than this melodramatic end.
Still there’s a lot to love about this one. While it did move the series closer and closer to being less about theme and consistency and more about body count, Buechler delivered a fantastic looking film with more iconic moments and kills than most entries.
Fun fact; did you know Walt Gorney, who played Crazy Ralph in parts 1 and 2, narrated the opening montage of the film? Well now you do!
Unlike some of the other disks in the Bluray collection, PART 7 sports quite a few bonus features. The FRIDAY THE 13TH CHRONICLES talks with Kane Hodder, John Carl Buechler, and Lar Park Lincoln. In this one, Buechler talks about the iconic work he did on the Jason costume and wanting to show the wear and tear that Jason had gone through over the years, while Hodder talks about how difficult it was doing the stunts as well as how he and Buechler fought to get him the role. Another special feature talks with John Carl Buechler specifically on the gore and how much it was cut in the film. He says his designs on Jason in this film were the favorite he had ever created. In this segment, he takes the viewer on a step by step process on how he created the iconic costume and look. Another behind the scenes doc called JASON’S DESTROYER (which was the original title of the film), a new segment talking with Buechler, Lincoln, and Hodder. This one focused on Hodder’s Jason and Lincoln’s Tina from Buechler’s standpoint. This one also talks with editor Barry Zetlin about the massive edits required to get the film into theaters and composer Fred Mollin talks about his additions to the classic Harry Manfredini score. Another fun feature talks about the telekinetic factors of the film interviewing psychics and other experts in psychic phenomenon. A final feature focuses on the character of Maddy (Diana Barrows) and Robin (Elizabeth Kaitan) meeting again all of these years later and getting a makeover. OK, this isn’t really great stuff, but for the FRIDAY THE 13TH completist, it’s a lot of fun. The true highlight of the bonus footage are the deleted scenes which show the fully restored gore footage (though it is a little grainy). I wish we could have a version where these scenes are restored and placed back in the film, but this a treat for all who felt the original version was missing that gore factor.
Next month, we have another Friday the 13th and we’ll go back a step and look at JASON LIVES!
ON LOCATION IN BLAIRSTOWN: THE MAKING OF FRIDAY THE 13TH Book Review
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH Interview
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH Doc (2013) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)/FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984) Review
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) Review
Book Creeport: New novel from Titan Books!
ALIEN: RIVER OF PAIN Novel (2014)Written by Christopher Golden
Published by Titan Books
Reviewed by Mr. Pasty
ALIEN: RIVER OF PAIN is the third and final entry into the trilogy of ALIEN novels by Titan Books. The first was OUT OF THE SHADOWS which was then followed by SEA OF SORROWS. One of the things that took some getting used to is the transition between authors, as each new story also brought with it a new pen. While that's not unusual in this or any other entertainment medium, it certainly is not unfamiliar territory for ALIEN fans, who started with Ridley Scott, then transitioned to James Cameron, before moving on to David Fincher to round out the first three movies. And not unlike their celluloid counterparts, the third act is the weakest of the written bunch. That's unfortunate, as RIVER OF PAIN showed the most promise, tackling the events on LV-426 (Hadley's Hope). Fans of the franchise will recognize that locale as the place Ripley and her platoon of space marines targeted after losing contact with the colonists. What happened to them? How did the Alien attack unfold? Where did Newt go when the shit hit the fan?
That's undoubtedly enough to fill 330+ pages of material -- which author Christopher Golden does with relative ease -- but I was frustrated by his slow start, as well as some of his unnecessary plot points. With everything going on at LV-426, I could have done without the protracted love triangle. In addition, there are several elements that just felt out of place when balanced atop the story that we already know from the movies. I'm not opposed to creative liberties if they enhance or flesh out certain mysteries in the ALIEN canon, but there were a couple of real head scratchers here, particularly with the space marines. I also thought there were too many characters that were of no real purpose to the story, other than to get slaughtered when the plot required them to. That said, it's not like this book is a bust or an aberration to fans of science fiction. And to be fair, a franchise as beloved as ALIEN is hallowed ground, so anything presented under that umbrella will be under the nerdly microscope.
What I did like about RIVER OF PAIN was Golden's ability to recreate that sense of claustrophobic fear that worked so well in ALIENS. The Xenomorphs are just as slimy and violent as they've always been and there is no want of suspense once things pick up in the second half. If you enjoyed OUT OF THE SHADOWS and SEA OF SORROWS, as I did, then you'll probably enjoy RIVER OF PAIN, which exploits the reader's imagination using the tried-and-true formula of survival horror. It suffers from uneven pacing and a couple of storyline detours are frustrating dead ends, but the good far outweighs the bad. Besides, you're here for the Aliens and they deliver in earnest, and it sure beats another ALIENS VS. PREDATOR debacle.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at MMaMania.com here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
New this week as a Double Feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!
LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979)aka DRACULA SUCKS
Directed by Stan Dragoti
Written by Robert Kaufman
Starring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Arte Johnson, Dick Shawn, Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Barry Gordon
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I am an unabashed mommy’s boy. Always have been and always will be. It was my mom who allowed me to see all of these horror films at an age that was probably way too young and it was because of her that I turned into the movie maniac I am today. Why do I put this at the top of my review for LOVE AT FIRST BITE? Well, it’s because LOVE AT FIRST BITE is one of my mom’s favorite films. I’ve seen it numerous times through the years with my mom because I knew she was so enamored with the film’s quirky humor, fun twist on the vampire genre, and taken with the charisma that oozes from every scene between George Hamilton and Susan Saint James. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat with my mom watching this film reciting lines, bellowing out loud bursts of laughter, and appreciating each other’s appreciation of the film. So while to some, LOVE AT FIRST BITE might be a bit watered down or corny (especially by today’s standards), I must admit my bias as thinking about the film brings me nothing but good disco vibes.
But I wasn’t the only one who liked this film. It was one of the highest grossing films of the year in 1979. The story has been told many times. It’s a fish out of water tale with Count Vladimir Dracula (George Hamilton) being evicted by his home town of Transylvania and relocating to the Big Apple in the US of A to find the reincarnated love of his life, one Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James), a supermodel living it up in a disco-drenched nightlife of New York City. But Cindy’s shrink Jeffrey Rosenberg (who happens to be her boyfriend and a direct descendant to Fritz Van Helsing—and also happens to be played impeccably by Richard Benjamin) is willing to fight with tooth and nail and various other forms of occult weaponry to keep the Count away from his gal. So while Drac gets acclimated to living in the big city, he also is seducing Cindy into becoming his bride.
While the story is common, what often makes these tried and true tales work are the little details. Seeing the proper and stiff Count encounter his first gang of muggers in Harlem is fun (albeit kind of racist, but this was the late 70’s and they didn’t really know better back then). Seeing the Count try to understand concepts like disco and other modern customs is fun. It’s the same kind of culture clash that Paul Hogan did in CROCODILE DUNDEE. Daryl Hannah did it in SPLASH. Brendan Frasier did it in ENCINO MAN and GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. Jason Voorhees did it his way in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 8: JASON TALES MANHATTAN. Eddie Murphy did it well in COMING TO AMERICA and not as well in VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. And Chris Evans is doing it superbly in the CAPTAIN AMERICA films. You get my drift? It’s been done before. But here it’s done well and serves as a sort of time capsule for the time in which it was made. With THE JEFFERSONS introducing everyone to that deluxe apartment in the sky on TV, of course there’s a cameo by not just Sherman Hemsley, but also his TV wife Isabel Sanford. The disco dance centerpiece not only serves as a way for Drac to meet his love, but it also serves as a way to convey how disco was ever present in everything at that time (it also is a precursor to Jerry Dandridge’s seduction of Charlie Brewster’s girlfriend on the dance floor in FRIGHT NIGHT).
But not only is it a time capsule flick indicative of a specific time and place, it also serves up some comedy that still kicks after all of these years. Short of Tom Waits, a better Renfield has never been seen on screen than the one Artie Johnson portrays here with a laugh so mincing it’s deadly. And Benjamin’s off kilter portrayal of Jeffrey Van Helsing, as he continues to get Dracula’s methods of destruction correct throughout the film just ring as genius to me. And seeing age old riffs on the classic Bela Lugosi film such as “Children of the night…shut up!” are almost as classic as those Lugosi made famous himself.
While it is a fine movie itself, the film also pays homage to many different versions of the Bram Stoker tale. Hamilton is channeling Lugosi in much of the film. Dracula’s meeting with the thugs on the street is straight from BLACULA, while the showdown between Van Helsing and Lugosi where Van Helsing bears a Jewish star instead of a cross is reminiscent of Polanski’s FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS. Even Hamilton’s appearance on the balcony is straight from the 1931 version.
George Hamilton is fantastic here. Always playing the Count as real and as straight as he can. It reminds me of how Chris Evans plays Captain America. Yes, he’s a man out of his element, but even when faced with this barrier in culture, he remains dignified and never panders or allows himself to be laughed at. Here, as Evans does with Captain America, Hamilton delivers his lines with a dignity that makes him the coolest in the room and makes us laugh at the goofiness of our own culture and not his lack of awareness of it. In LOVE AT FIRST BITE, Hamilton delivers one of his most iconic roles, elevating a somewhat goofy comedy that sort of devolves towards the end to a well deserved entry in the esteemed pantheon of memorable takes on Dracula that are up there with Christopher Lee’s, Bela Lugosi’s, Frank Langella’s, and Gary Oldman’s performances.
But I guess I’m a bit biased. Watching the film again for this review just made me think of all of those happy times I sat watching LOVE AT FIRST BITE with my mother and look forward to the next time I get to watch it with her again. One of the things worth mentioning is that the song “I Love the Night Life” by Alicia Bridges, which was replaced when the film played on TV rebroadcasts and some DVD treatments for legal reasons, is back in full on disco glory in this release. Light on extras, this film is paired with ONCE BITTEN and is one of two comedy horror two packs released through Shout Factory. The other released this week as well; HIGH SPIRITS/VAMPIRE’S KISS, I’ll be covering in a future column.
Gearing up to tour festivals from Side Effects Software!
MONSTRO! (2014)Directed by Christopher Romano
Written by Christopher Romano
Starring Pili Montilla, Christopher Romano, Kevin Bertazzon, Alvaro Segura, Jane Fujimoto
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Currently touring the festival circuit is MONSTRO! a stop-motion-esque animation in the vein of MAD MONSTER PARTY and the Wallace and Gromit cartoons. Being a huge fan of the CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON films, this is the type of short for me as it focuses on a riverboat excursion into uncharted jungles that happens upon a mer-thing on a mission.
The ten minute short is lighthearted and while it’s not going to offer up much in terms of scary times, it is filled with a lot of heart and casts monsters in a much more lovable light. And who doesn’t love monsters? The animation itself is actually pretty seamless, utilizing difficult textures such as water and monster ooze rather expertly. The entire animation is top tier from beginning to end.
Again, it frustrates me that only festival goers really have a chance to see shorts like this. I really think placing something like this in front of films, pairing them up in terms of theme and content, is something that would go a long way for short filmmakers and offer up a little variety to theater goers or On Demand/digital download/DVD watchers that has been missing in films for years. The only folks who seem to be doing it is Disney, but I think a short horror film before whatever new horror remake or sequel in theaters would be a fantastic treat.
Next week, I’ll be posting MONSTRO! in full at the bottom of the column in my “And finally…” section. It seems places like this column and Muldoon’s awesome SATURDAY SHORTS weekly column are some of the few places you can see mini-masterpieces like MONSTRO! these days. Below is the trailer for the short. Be sure to check back here next week to watch the film in full.
See director John Borowski all weekend in Downtown Chicago at the Mad Mobster Party: True Crime & Horror Expo! Available for purchase and download here!
H.H. HOLMES: AMERICA’S FIRST SERIAL KILLER (2004)Directed by John Borowski
Written by John Borowski
Starring Tony Jay, Harold Schechter, Thomas Cronin, Marian Caporusso, Ed Bertagnoli, Cary Callison, Willy Laszlo
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I picked up this documentary a while back and have been meaning to watch it. So with John Borowski leading a panel and appearing at this weekend’s Mad Monster Party: True Crime & Horror Expo, I thought it was the right time to do so.
While many might not know his name, H.H. Holmes was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history, with his list of victims too numerous to count. I’d read up on H.H. Holmes a while back when Rick Geary wrote and drew a docu-comic about him called THE BEAST OF CHICAGO (reviewed here - and if you’ve never read a Rick Geary comic, I feel sorry for you). The slick and perverse scoundrel would lure people to a gigantic building he made in the Southside of Chicago and most of them never made it out. The giant building, filled with labyrinthine hallways, secret corridors, stairways that lead nowhere, torture rooms, and rooms equipped with tubes to pump sleep inducing gas onto those unlucky to be sleeping in them. Because Holmes destroyed many of the bodies, it is hard to do a count of how many people died at his hand, but they were many. Holmes was a ruthless man. The authorities even sent the famous manhunters, the Pinkertons after him when he fled across the state from the law. Holmes was an eccentric and fascinating psychopath.
Now, films about actual killings and real life death always give me a rather odd feeling. The morbid fun that goes along with an especially crafty kill in FRIDAY THE 13TH doesn’t really apply to a film like this and it shouldn’t. John Borowski doesn’t hold back in characterizing Holmes as a truly evil and often pathetic man in this documentary consisting of a reading of Holmes’ own memoirs, interviews with forensics specialists and true crime aficionados such as Harold Schechter. Borowski clearly maps out this madman’s first recorded days as a student in med school all the way until the day of his hanging for being convicted of multiple murder.
Not really the fault of the documentary, most likely due to lack of material and evidence, but short of a story about bullies forcing a young Holmes to be face to face with a skeleton at a young age, very little about his youth. What occurred during Holmes formative years would be quite fascinating to see, though it seems very little is known. Still, this gap in the story was evident to me.
The documentary moves at a brisk pace. It doesn’t morbidly circle the killings, but presents the case in chronological order from Holmes building of his house of horrors to his capture and flip flopping claims of innocence and confession. It is a fascinating story and one I’m surprised has never been made into a film. But Borowski makes every step of the way more engrossing than the last, laying out the truth behind the madness with the wonderful Tony Jay narration. Those fascinated with real world monstrosities would be smart to check out this documentary about one of the worst in American history.
New this week ON Demand and on iTunes!
CRAZY BITCHES (2014)Directed by Jane Clark
Written by Jane Clark
Starring Samantha Colburn, Cathy DeBuono, Andy Gala, Liz McGeever, Victoria Profeta, Guinevere Turner, Nayo Wallace, Mary Jane Wells, Blake Berris, Candis Cayne, David Fumero, John W. McLaughlin, Trey McCurley, Riley Berris, Eddie Daniels
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Like any other type of film, the right combination of thematic weight and plot can make or break a film. The slasher film is no exception as many a hot button topic can fit into the slasher template nicely and work quite well. But try to squeeze a whole month of Lifetime movies into one slasher film, as CRAZY BITCHES attempts to do, and it isn’t such a tasty recipe.
A group of sorority girls who can’t seem to get along for five minutes in the same room with one another seem to think it’s a great idea to take a gal-cation/reunion at a cabin in the middle of the woods. The group, comprised of horny lesbian, innocent psychic, witty gay guy, black cancer survivor, fragile virgin, uppity English chick, cheated on wife, and fading wannabe actress, are picked off one by one by an unseen killer, seemingly inspired by the murders of seven vain girls who stayed in the cabin years prior. Who is the killer? Who will survive? Will you care?
The problem with CRAZY BITCHES is that its focus is all over the place. The film is a hodge-podge collection of Lifetime movie of the week themes set to a slasher movie template, using issues like cancer, date rape, race, homosexuality, mid-life crises, infidelity, fading beauty, and a myriad of other hot button topics, but only grazing over them all in order to distinguish one woman from the next. These issues are brought up only to be overshadowed by the next big problem a minute later. And in the end, with this being a slasher film, most of them die with these issues unresolved, so there’s no real reason to give them all these complex problems in the first place. If this film were to focus on one of these topics and cast it upon the slasher formula, it might prove to be something worth viewing. But the way these issues are under-realized here seems like plug-and-chug characterization which serves as simple filler.
On top of it all, characters are killed and simply forgotten about by the rest of this expansive cast. Sure, someone asks, “Hey where’s Princess?” and then someone gives an excuse and then they flit along like it’s not weird to not see one of their party in a day and a half. The group is so caught up in the arguments between each other that they don’t know that their number is dwindling and seeing people argue from top to bottom of this film does not help in making you feel anything for them despite their myriad of maladies. As crowded as the film is with issues, it’s even more crowded with people. A pared down cast would mean for less of a cornucopia of issues and less loose ends and more sense and purpose to it all. But it feels like the filmmaker had seven female friends and, not to piss any of them off, cast them all into the film.
What frustrates me most about CRAZY BITCHES is that the acting here is pretty great. It’s obvious the cast has talent to spare as they deliver some dramatic and comedic lines really well at times. The issue is that the script needed more focus and while the lines coming from the lips of the cast are believable and sometimes even entertaining, it doesn’t save it from darting blindly all over the place and never really coming to a sensible resolution for anything. Kudos to the film for trying something new—attempting to focus more on the people who are distracted so much by their personal peril instead of the killer offing them one by one. It’s just that the sheer weight and variety of the drama are just too heavy for one movie to bear. So though some of the kills are nice and gory and the cast has talent to spare in CRAZY BITCHES, the script ends up being the real killer in this dazed and confused slasher yarn.
New this week on DVD and BluRay from Image Entertainment & RLJ Entertainment!
FRANKENSTEIN VS THE MUMMY (2015)Directed by Damien Leone
Written by Damien Leone
Starring Ashton Leigh, Max Rhyser, Rahul Rai, Robert MacNaughton, Martin Pfefferkorn, Boomer Tibbs, Sean Rogers, Stefanie Merola, Brandon deSpain as the Mummy, and Constantin Tripes as Frankenstein’s Monster!
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While it takes itself rather seriously, FRANKENSTEIN VS THE MUMMY is reminiscent of the so-serious it’s fun monster films of old.
Two tales as old as cinema itself. One about a man obsessed with conquering death and creating life. Another about a scientist fascinated with the past only to have it come back shambling and killing. While life and death are at the hearts of both the story of FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY, short of monster mash hodge podges like MAD MONSTER PARTY, MONSTER SQUAD, and maybe some ABBOT AND CONTELLO joints, I don’t remember the two going toe to toe before on film. Writer/director Damien Leone brings these two legendary monsters crashing into one another in a decent, though low budgeted, little monster mashup by casting Dr. Frankenstein (Max Rhyser) as a young and determined professor at an esteemed university. It just so happens that a sarcophagus with a fully preserved mummy just showed up at the archeology building of the school. Blood is spilled on the mummy right around the same time Victor pulls the switch on the cadaver he’s been piecing together in his lab and at once, two monsters are born. Inevitably, they made their way towards each other, killing all in their path, and end up in a big ol’ messy fight!
We’re not going for a horror film rich in thematic resonance and depth here. The whole point of this film is to get the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster in the same room together and when they do, sparks do fly. The short but sweet matchup between the monsters is pretty brutal, though it is filmed in a rather dark room, so some of the fisticuffs are obscured by annoying darkness. But what really impressed me was the tone of this film, as everyone seems to be taking things deathly serious. And in a day and age when it’s cool to make fun of horror tropes rather than actually be scared of them, I actually appreciated this genuine attempt to be faithful and respectful to these horror tropes. From a scripting perspective, there’s a lot to like about the events leading up to this battle of the titans. Much of the flowery dialog has been used before in various films about these characters, but Leone pieces them together almost seamlessly.
The only real issue with the film is actor Max Rhyser who plays Dr. Frankenstein. For some reason, he just doesn’t seem to fit the role he is playing as the dark and intelligent mad scientist. There’s a toughness to him that makes him look more like a mobster than the scientist type. Rhyser doesn’t necessarily do a bad job here, but he does seem a bit miscast.
The effects here are actually pretty great, especially the look of Frankenstein’s Monster. Utilizing all sorts of stitches and weird mismatched patterns of skin, this monster is definitely one of the more memorable versions of the creature I have seen recently. And while some might think matching up these two monsters is a rather goofy concept, I hope we get to see some more titanic bouts like WOLF MAN VS CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in the future with the same overly serious and respectful tone as this one. FRANKENSTEIN VS THE MUMMY is low budget fun you don’t really see much of anymore.
New this week on DVD, BluRay, iTunes, and On Demand from XLRator!
POKER NIGHT (2014)Directed by Greg Francis
Written by Greg Francis
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito, Corey Large, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Michael Eklund, Kieran Large
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Filled with a cast of fantastic character actors, POKER NIGHT suffers from never really having the story power to match its star power.
POKER NIGHT is a thriller of sorts with some specks of horror tossed in here and there making it ripe for review in a column such as this. The film focuses on a kidnapping case where a rookie cop (Beau Mirchoff) is abducted by a maniacal masked villain. In order for the cop to survive, he must remember the morals to a handful of tales a bunch of seasoned officers bragged about in a weekly poker game. If he is able to take a nugget of wisdom of each of the stories, he might just survive.
The main problem with POKER NIGHT is that the tales the cops wax on about at their card game really aren’t worth bragging about. It’s a compelling premise to hook a bunch of little vignettes to, but if the vignettes lack any type of punch, the sum of these impotent recollections doesn’t add up to much. So while the delivery might be decent (and coming from actors such as Giancarlo Esposito, Titus Welliver, Ron Edlard, and Ron Perlman, they are bound to be), the overall quality of the stories themselves are lacking every time a hand is dealt in this poker game. There’s got to be a million stories of undercover stings gone wrong, forced confessions, and rookie mistakes, but the ones described and reenacted in this film simply are pretty weak. Weak may not be completely accurate. More like uninteresting and unremarkable. As if these stories are the best stories these cops have to brag about, they’ve lead some pretty lame careers.
Still, it’s kind of fun seeing these actors riff off of each other, even though the story threading it all together lacks power. It feels as if these guys had a lot of fun doing this film, drinking and flipping cards and putdowns alike. Birchoff is ok as well as the rookie and one of my favorite actors working today, Michael Eklund delivers a fun and creepy performance. Still, this film suffers from not really knowing that it wants to be. It definitely seems like it wants to have the dialog acrobatics of a RESERVOIR DOGS. Then again, the masked villain seems like something right out of a BATMAN comic book and the way the crimes are set up seem as if it wants to be something like SE7EN or THE USUAL SUSPECTS. But while wanting to be like those films and kind of succeeding here and there, POKER NIGHT fails at having what SE7EN, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and RESERVOIR DOGS (and even a well written BATMAN comic book, for that matter) all have—and that is a decent story.
There’s some flair to this film that cannot be denied. Using Birchoff’s rookie cop as the stand in for all of the stories is a creative decision, as is the highly stylized origin of the masked killer. But style definitely takes presence over substance here as the story just isn’t strong enough to support all of that dazzle. Late in the game twists and turns of impossibility make things even more cartoonish, but still I’d recommend POKER NIGHT for the cast alone. And even though it’s not the best story, you still get to see some great actors doing what they do best.
New this week On Demand, in select theaters and on iTunes from Entertainment One Films!
GIRL HOUSE (2014)Directed by Trevor Matthews
Written by Nick Gordon
Starring Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Alice Hunter, Chasty Ballesteros, Nicole Arianna Fox, Zuleyka Silver, Wesley MacInnes, Erin Agostino, Camren Bicondova, James Thomas, Isaac Faulkner, Baylee Wall, & Slaine as Loverboy!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Trevor Matthews who played the title character in JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER and wrote the decent creeper THE SHRINE ( reviewed here) makes his directing debut with GIRL HOUSE and it’s a pretty impressive debut at that!
Kylie (Ali Bobrin) is an intelligent and attractive college student, but keeping up with student loans and helping support her widowed mother require her to be creative with making money. So Kylie works as a Cam Girl, taking her clothes off in front of her computer camera for thousands of oogling internetters to comment and jerk off to. In the opening moments, we are privileged to one of Kylie’s shows and then a speech to her roommate about how Kylie doesn’t think it’s prostitution since she is just taking her clothes off and masturbating which is what she would do with the camera off of her anyway. Catching the eye of porn tycoon Gary Preston (James Thomas), Kylie is invited to Girl House, a secluded and heavily guarded home equipped with camera in every room so the women living there are under the watchful eye of the internet 24 hours a day. Suscribers can watch the girls sleep, eat, play naked lacrosse in the backyard, sunbathe, and occasionally have sex. One such internetter goes by the name of Loverboy, but in reality he is everything but. Berated at his job and abused as a child by two older girls (one of which is GOTHAM’s Catwoman Camren Bicondova), Loverboy obsesses over the girls on the site, especially the new girl Kylie. When Loverboy is shunned by Kylie, he flips out, tracks the girls down to their home, and goes on a killing spree of epic proportions, all broadcast in real time over the internet for all to see.
I’ve seen plenty of films that utilize the cam girl motif as a hook to hang a stalker plot onto. Most of the time, these films are soft core Skinemax-level schlockers that seem to merely exist to titillate and exploit the female form. Now, GIRL HOUSE isn’t above showing a girl on girl action scene or a few breasts or two, but the sexuality really isn’t on the forefront as it is in those other films. GIRL HOUSE is a slasher/stalker film through and through and a finely made one at that. Taking beats from both Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, director Trevor Matthews has made a classic movie madman for the modern age with his Loverboy. Matthews uses today’s technology in ingenious ways as not only the viewer is experiencing these murders that occur throughout the house, but its also broadcast to millions of viewers and we get to see those reactions as well. While it’s not the first time this idea has been used, Matthews realizes it deftly, using the technology at hand to build the tension of the story as Loverboy moves from room to room doing his thing.
Slaine (who previously appeared in bit parts in THE TOWN, KILLING THEM SOFTLY, and GONE BABY GONE) is amazing here as Loverboy who is part Michael Myers and part Leatherface. He stretches a Real Doll face across his own which makes for some ultra-creepy visuals (those Real Dolls are creepy looking on their own, let alone stuck on a massive 300lb man-monster’s head). Director Matthews does a great job of blending him into the shadows in some scenes and in others, he just freaks out and flails around like a giant man-baby violently massacring anyone who crosses his path.
While oftentimes the slasher film is often categorized as the lowest of the low in horror genre because it is often repetitious, derivative, and lacking of anything new to offer. While this film may take some beats from the best of the slasher subgenre, it tweaks it and gives it a 21sst Century shine that makes it all feel new and cool. While it doesn’t overdo the sex angle, it still is able to give off a creep vibe effectively without making it feel like softcore porn. GIRL HOUSE is a horror film through and through. It is gory, perverse, and downright terrifying at times and offers up one of the most original movie maniacs in recent memory.
New this week on DVD, BluRay, On Demand, and iTunes!
PREDESTINATION (2014)Directed by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Written by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig (screenplay), Robert A. Heinlein (from the story “All You Zombies”)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Elise Jansen, Cate Wolfe, Freya Stafford, Alexis Fernandez, Christopher Kirby, Rob Jenkins, Madeleine West, Jim Knobeloch, Ben Prendergast
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve seen PREDESTINATION twice now, and I can safely say that no other film blew my mind as hard as this film did so far this year. When the Spierig Brothers burst on the scene with UNDEAD, I wasn’t one of those who threw praises at the filmmaking team as I felt UNDEAD was kind of a mismatched mess of a film with admittedly cool ideas, but they were tossed together with little finesse or reason. Things looked better with DAYBREAKERS, an ambitious film about a world overcome by vampires searching for blood to sustain them. This one was much more fine-tuned and filled with all sorts of metaphor. It also had Ethan Hawke, which is usually a plus to have in your movie. The Spierig Brothers bring back Hawke for PREDESTINATION, and it’s their finest film to date and proof positive that these guys are the real deal, capable of testing the limits of our imagination and beyond.
It’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling the multiple brain-fucks it tosses at you throughout the entire film. The story is about time travel and focuses on one particular agent (Hawke) as he embarks on the mission of his life. The organization Hawke works for tweaks time in order to save lives and rights certain wrongs that have occurred. As soon as time travel is invented there’s going to be a cleanup crew needed in order to fix the messes that occur, and Hawke is that guy. One particular mess is an anarchist the media has dubbed the Fizzle Bomber. This madman’s terrorist attacks have killed thousands of people, and Hawke is dead set on stopping him by stopping the first domino that sets off a sequence of events that lead to the Fizzle Bomber’s creation. Supervised by the enigmatic Mr. Robertson, Hawke uses a time machine in the shape of a violin case to travel back and forth through time on his missions. Along the way, he meets a man named John who has a story to tell. Of course, this story has a lot to do with the case Hawke is on.
I can’t…I won’t reveal any more as the surprises that occur on Hawke’s trip are just too fun to ruin. Having seen the film twice, I’ve kept in mind the sequence the film is told in and at least to me, it all makes sense. And just making this complex and loopy tale of time travel all work out is a testament to the Spierig Brothers’ skill as storytellers. They reveal only one card at a time in this loaded deck of a movie, each reveal building into the next and culminating in a climax that will leave you breathless.
Now, I am not a fan of time travel films. I prefer my stories to have some kind of grounding in order for me to become fully invested in them. The story (which was originally by Robert A. Heinlein called “All You Zombies”) really does a fantastic job of explaining the parameters of time travel in a way that both makes sense and is easy to understand. Even though this film travels to multiple time periods and multiple locales, I was never lost. This has everything to do with the Spierig Brothers’ filmmaking might, keeping us focused on Hawke most of the time as the central touch point.
Through Hawke, we experience everything. He grounds us and his presence is the only thing really keeping this film together. Hawke delivers so much subtlety to this performance that you can only appreciate on a second viewing once you know all of this film’s secrets. His mannerisms, the way he stands and moves, the way he mutters phrases and the dialog he chooses to weave through this intricate story are all integral supports in this house of cards of a film that could easily have toppled given one misstep. But Hawke never fails here.
Sarah Snook is a true find here and will definitely be a household name if the world is fair and right. Snook plays multiple characters in the film through different time periods, and she excels in every scene. The film is mostly Snook and Hawke interacting with one another and while Hawke is used to that with his BEFORE SUNRISE movies, this film is as intense as those films are delicate. Hawke and Snook play off of one another so well here in a teacher and student sort of way. Snook’s face is often zoomed in on, and these close up shots really show the extensive vocabulary she has with just subtle smiles, eyebrow raises, and other facial gestures.
With outstanding performances by Hawke and Snook, twists and turns galore, and a sense of wonder that is infectious, PREDESTINATION delivers a sophisticated, imaginative, and mature genre film like few others in this day and age of found footage, zombies, and remakes. After seeing this film, I’m convinced that we are going to see some amazing things coming from the visionary powerhouse of the Spierig Brothers. I know it’s early in the year, but it’s going to be hard to top the excitement I had after watching this film and after watching it twice, I can’t wait to see it again.
New this week in select theaters and available On Demand!
DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2015)A Joint Rolled by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee & Bill Gunn
Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Joie Lee, Felicia Pearson, Jeni Perillo, Katherine Borowitz, Donna Dixon, Chiz Schultz, Lauren Macklin, Steven Hauck, Stephen Henderson, Rafael Osorio, Cinqué Lee
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Spike Lee’s remake of GANJA & HESS, Bill Gunn’s faux-Blaxsploitation film about African American culture, religion, and vampires, is ambitious and textured, though if you’re looking for pointy toothed scares, this is not going to be the film for you.
Hess is a well to do African American scholar living in Martha’s Vinyard surrounded by African artifacts he has collected through the years. In the opening moments, Hess’ associate Lafayette joins Hess at the university where he attains an ancient African dagger used in blood rituals. When Hess returns home, he begins to realize Lafayette is unhinged, first trying to kill himself and then stabbing Hess with the ancient dagger through his heart. Wracked with guilt and with no one there to stop him from suicide, Lafayette murders himself just as Hess returns to life with a powerful thirst for blood. When Lafayette’s wife Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) arrives at Hess’ home looking for her missing husband, she is enamored with Hess and finds herself wrapped up in Hess’ struggle to maintain his dignity along with his thirst for blood.
Right off the bat, I have to warn you, this is not your typical vampire film. While there may be those who love or hate Spike Lee, I find the director fascinating because he is definitely someone who has a vision and is not afraid to show it. Whether I agree with all of his politics or beliefs or not, I know catching a Spike Lee Joint is always going to give me something to talk about. With DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, Lee really does pay homage to the original GANJA & HESS in an almost beat for beat retelling of the story. Now with the original film being more of a cult classic and obscuriosity, I don’t have the disgust for the film as I do with most modern remakes as this one brings light to a lesser known film that deserves to be unearthed and rewatched.
Lee’s film does well by the original in theme as it delves deeply into African American identity without pointing the finger at “the man” or “the establishment.” There are only a few white people in the film. Most of the time, the film takes place with only Hess and Ganja with the rest mostly spent with an African American cast. This is refreshing to see as it is not accusing others of the problem as often seen in movies about race (even in previous Lee films). Instead the film goes into depth at the way African Americans often are their own undoing. Hess is a historian and while he is fascinated with African culture, he lives in a posh palace in Martha’s Vinyard, drives a Rolls Royce, hob nobs with socialites and is as distanced from the typical street-life as they come. When he is stabbed by the African knife, he is overcome with desires and urges that bring him to dark clubs and slums searching for his victims. Yet when he is at his lowest, Hess is drawn to a church, a place a vampire would be compelled to avoid, but in Hess’ case, it seems to be the only place of solace he has. I don’t want to assume what Lee is saying here, but it feels almost like Hess represents the modern African American man, torn between his roots in Africa (rich in culture, yet primitive in spirit) and a modernized world where modern society has delegated many African Americans into impoverished slums (which are rich in spirit as represented by the various lively church scenes, yet downtrodden as a culture). Hess’ conflict between man and vampire is but a metaphor Lee plays with as the various directions a modern day African American man is torn on a daily basis.
But enough of me trying to psychoanalyze the film. Stephen Tyrone Williams and Zaraah Abrahams are absolutely amazing as Hess and Ganja. Williams is reserved, walking through his life as if in a dream and wound so tight that you think he’s going to burst at any moment. The flip side of the coin is Abrahams’ Ganja who is lively and spirited, not afraid to speak her mind, and dignified enough to know she is royalty (at least in her mind). Abrahams is especially convincing as her arc moves her from grieving widow to entranced lover to coping enabler through the narrative and she is wonderful to watch as she goes through this variety of emotions. From a performance perspective, this film is engrossing.
But as a horror film? Not so much. Lee has made an art house film on the black experience in America today. He uses vampirism as a metaphor and doesn’t resort to crosses, coffins, bats, or fangs. Yes, there are scenes of vampires lapping up blood spilled form their victims off of the floor, but those of a literal mind need not take a chance with this film. If you’re the type of filmgoer who likes to think a bit and take in multiple meanings to the story playing in front of you, DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS might be up your alley. As a filmmaker, I think it’s a bold move to tell a story talking about race without using cartoon versions of the opposite race to prove your point. Lee did that already with DO THE RIGHT THING and some of his other early films. With DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, Lee is a much more reflective stroryteller, looking not only at race relations to other races, but at how races relate to themselves and how, no matter what the race, we often make our own beds and fashion our own situations. Sure, he does this reflection in metaphor, but still it makes for a fascinating, albeit scare-free vampire film.
And finally…wrapping up this Friday the 13th Celebration, here’s a fan-made short by Chris R. Notarile which focuses on Pamela Voorhees, the one who started it all. Enjoy VOORHEES: BORN ON A FRIDAY!
See ya next week, folks!
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.
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