Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.
Before we get to the films and my horrific views on them, below is a teaser trailer for the new animated series KILLOGY from Life of Agony’s Alan Robert which features real life stars Marky Ramone from the Ramones, HEROES’ Brea Grant, THE SOPRANOS’ Frank Vincent, and the Misfits’ Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein! I loved the comic book and now it’s an animated series! Plus check out the end credits for a little shout out to me! I’ll let you know when and where to find this one, but check out the teaser below to whet your whistle!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: MAD MAX (1979)
Retro-review: FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987)
Retro-review: GHOULIES II (1987)
Short Cuts Short Film Review: TICKLE (2015)
FRANKENSTEIN’S HUNGRY DEAD (2013)
DARKSIDE WITCHES (2014)
Advance Review: THE BLACK TAPE (2014)
Advance Review: SUN CHOKE (2015)
And finally…Cherry Glazerr & Michael Gallagher’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips!”
Retro-review: New this week on Bluray from the Shout Factory!
MAD MAX (1979)aka INTERCEPTOR
Directed by George Miller
Written by George Miller, James McCausland, Byron Kennedy
Starring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward, David Bracks, Bertrand Cadart, David Cameron, Robina Chaffey, Stephen Clark, Mathew Constantine, Jerry Day, Howard Eynon, Max Fairchild, Reg Evans, John Farndale, Sheila Florance, Nic Gazzana, Hunter Gibb, Vincent Gil, Andrew Gilmore, Jonathan Hardy, Brendan Heath, Paul Johnstone, Nick Lathouris, John Ley, Steve Millichamp, George Novak, Geoff Parry, Lulu Pinkus, Billy Tisdall,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Seeing the absolute bat-shittitude of the MAD MAX: FURY ROAD trailer has me more excited about its release than probably any other film this summer, so going back to the beginning felt like something I should do as it had been quite a few years since I’ve experienced George Miller and Mel Gibson’s first adventure with Max Rockatansky and the roaring road. But sometimes, going back to the beginning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I know I’m going to piss off a lot of die hards in the readership, but I had a really hard time watching this film. Don’t get me wrong, I love older films and especially Australian classics such as WAKE IN FRIGHT, LONG WEEKEND , and the WOLF CREEK films (I know there are tons more, but these are just the ones off the top of my head). All of them reflect a harsh and grungy world filled with strange beasts and landscapes, which reflects the Australia of today, but also makes for a perfect landscape for the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max. Sure there are plenty of nice and civilized places in Australia, but my favorite films reflect how it is a country that takes no shit from anyone.
While the world of MAD MAX isn’t set in the wasteland that is the setting for THE ROAD WARRIOR, THUNDERDOME, and the new FURY ROAD, it’s on the brink of it and in many thematic ways, Max represents the last glimmering hope of civilization before it slides into the abyss that is the centerpiece of all subsequent films. In MAD MAX, there are green grassy hills, thick forests, and wildlife that isn’t scraping to survive. While the dank landscape seems to surround these areas and is closing in fast, Mel Gibson plays Max as wary, but still rather hopeful with his frizzy-haired wife and often absent toddler wrapped in his arms. When Max loses his family, it’s the stage set for the rest of the series, but while I feel this origin story was necessary, if you’re looking for the slam-bang action of the other films, this one only has scant traces of it.
Sure, there are some scenes such as the opening drag race as an outlaw named Nightrider is trying to get away from the police which is reminiscent of ROAD WARRIOR as the cars barrel down the highway, running down pedestrians and crashing through all sorts of structures and other vehicles. I especially love the cartoonish eye-bulging scene that repeats itself twice when someone is about to crash. But the bulk of this film is rather quiet, focusing on the human aspects and how this decomposing civilization still has some beautiful aspects. This of course makes it all the more tragic when these beautiful aspects are torn asunder.
But George Miller constructs a highly flawed narrative here as for the first half of the film, you really don’t know whose story this is. It’s Max’s partner Goose (Steve Bisley) who gets the most compelling story. Yes, Max is a nice contradiction being the strong silent type trying to reel Goose in when he charges towards the outlaws recklessly when the law fails to contain their chaos, but for the first forty or so minutes, he is the emotion of the film. Goose is the active lead, making bad decisions, but at least making decisions. It’s not until Goose is defeated by the outlaws that Max is pushed to action and we finally realize that (despite the fact that his name is in the title) he is the central figure in this film. I wanted to see a Goose redemption arc, rising from the ashes and realizing that impulsiveness is not always the best way to go. But that’s not a theme explored here, and it’s not the way this movie went despite the misdirection in the first 40 minutes.
Things really slow to a halt when Max and his wife frolic through the grasslands. I’m not one to require tons of action every second of the film, but instead of springing to action when his friend dies, Max goes on a vacay. Yes, this sets him up to have the final DEATH WISH-style motivation, but it almost feels like overkill when his wife and kid die, as Max suffered the same loss with his best friend in the same way. Yes, he loses it all at this point and has nothing really left to live for, which leads to the almost suicidal Max we know in the next few films, but seeing it all happen again made it all feel gratuitous.
Rough acting, long lulls in action, and a murky narrative focus are glistening signs that Miller was onto something big, but the first time filmmaker wasn’t quite there yet. Seeing the mammoth potential FURY ROAD seems to possess, MAD MAX is interesting in that it shows Miller is on his way to becoming one of the most influential filmmakers of my life (BABE being one of my all time faves, I’m not ashamed to admit) with all of the rough edges and first time mistakes of any budding filmmaker.
Retro-review: New on BluRay from the Shout Factory!
FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987)aka THE OFFSPRING
Directed by Jeff Burr
Written by C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr, Mike Malone (additional story material)
Starring Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Cameron Mitchell, Susan Tyrrell, Martine Beswick, Ron Brooks, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Didi Lanier, Thomas Nowell, Ashli Bare, Terence Knox, Megan McFarland, Angelo Rossitto, Gordon Paddison, C. Jay Cox, Leon Edwards, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Wingard, Richard W. Cox, Bob Hannah, Katherine Kaden, Gene Witham, Tommy Burcher, Barney Burman, Sergio Aguirre, Jahary Bennett,
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (also known as THE OFFSPRING) feels like a bridge of sorts between the old school anthologies like TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE and the like and the all star anthologies of the 80s like CREEPSHOW and the TALES FROM THE CRYPT series.
The film opens oddly as a woman walks out of a shower in slo mo towards the camera. The scene looks as if it is taken from a 90s softcore porn from yesteryear with smoky filters and screeching saxophones. Turns out it’s all a dream, as the woman is led to the electric chair and given a lethal injection. Among the witnesses is a reporter named Beth (CRYBABY’s Susan Tyrrell) who follows the executed woman’s trail to a manor in a Tennessee town called Oldfield. The head of the manor, Julian White (Vincent Price), is happy to take Beth in and share the sordid history of the town and its inhabitants, which makes for a decent series of stories for an anthology. So it’s not the most seamless of ways to bookend an anthology, but with Price getting up in years, it still is nice to see him take that macabre tone with his voice. For most of the film Price is sitting in a chair introducing a story, but for a Price fan like me, it was fun to see him here.
The first tale is probably the weirdest and the most fun, as it focuses on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Clu Gulager as a sheepish man who takes care of his sickly sister at home (played by Gulager’s real life wife, Miriam Byrd-Nethery). Clu’s character Stanley is obsessed with a woman at work and longs to escape the prison he seems to have chosen for himself, bathing his sister at night and fixing her meals. This being a horror film, things go horribly wrong when Stanley asks his coworker out on a date. Though the date ends in blood, Stanley isn’t satisfied with just killing the woman--he sleeps with her corpse as well. Meanwhile, back home Stanley’s sister is feeling jealous and wants her caregiver back. The whole thing is one big bag of gross with incest, murder, necrophilia, and a creepy baby that seemingly is born from the corpse to take revenge on his father. While the effects are awful, Gulager makes this one worth seeing as he is unrecognizable behind thick circular glasses and a restrained demeanor. I loved this first segment for how warped it is, and it really does set the tone for the type of terrors that will make you squirm more than jump for the rest of the film.
Story two highlights the talents of WEEKEND AT BERNIE’s Terry Kiser. I always felt this actor never got a chance at stardom as every performance I’ve seen him in—be it a corpse in BERNIE’s or a warped doctor in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7—showed the man has talent to spare. Here Kiser plays Jesse, a con man who stumbles upon a man in a swamp after he flees mobsters he owes money to. While on the mend Jesse discovers his rescuer is more than a hundred years old and possesses the power of immortality. Immediately wanting that power for himself, Jesse attempts to take this power, but finds that this power is more than a curse. Less icky than the first story, this one feels more like something more traditional you would see in TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Still, there are some fun scenes of swampy terror with filthy hands reaching up from the water and dragging folks into the muck that make it pretty terrifying.
The third story is a snoozer, relying on ultra-gore to provide a shock rather than actual heft of story or good performances. Focusing on a sideshow actor who eats glass who wants to run away from the circus to have a happy life with a fan from the audience, this tale really makes no sense and none of the actors really stand out as effective or anything special. The gory ending will satisfy the gorehounds in the crowd as it is pretty visceral and gratuitous, but for me, this was the worst of the bunch.
The last film is a wicked little number which is more along the same levels of weird as the first story. Reminiscent of CHILDREN OF THE CORN, Cameron Mitchell leads a squadron of soldiers across Tennessee during the final days of the Civil War and happens upon a town run by children who worship a false god. This one is particularly gory, but because the kids are performing the horrible deeds, it makes things much more gruesome than if it were adults. There’s a piñata scene that is utterly gross, but Mitchell is awesome as the crusty soldier and this one has a TWILIGHT ZONE type of feel to it, though drenched in blood.
As I said before, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM feels like a bridge film between the rather tame horrors seen in Hammer films and the more gore-heavy films we got in the 80s and 90s. It’s fantastic to see old school actors like Price, Mitchell, and Gulager in action, though the stories really don’t give them much to do to show off their talents. Drenched in gore and uncomfortable situations, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM has its moments, but it pales in comparison to other anthologies like TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, CREEPSHOW, and TWILIGHT ZONE which were made around the same time. This Bluray contains behind the scenes documentaries focusing on the arduous effort it took to make this film and interviews with people being relatively kind to the film. The film is an oddity and most likely a must for collectors, but it just feels like a hybrid between two eras of horror that doesn’t quite work.
Warning: This trailer contains whispers, screams, and a boob or two! NSFW!
Retro-review: New this week on a Double Feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!
GHOULIES II (1987)Directed by Albert Band
Written by Charlie Dolan (story), Dennis Paoli & Luca Bercovici (screenplay)
Starring Damon Martin, Royal Dano, Phil Fondacaro, J. Downing, Kerry Remsen, Dale Wyatt, Jon Pennell, Sasha Jenson, Starr Andreeff, William Butler, Donnie Jeffcoat, Christopher Burton, Mickey Knox, Romano Puppo, Ames Morton, Michael Deak, Anthony Dawson, Donald Hodson, Carrie Janisse, & Hal Rayle as the voice of all of the Ghoulies!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
The original GHOULIES (reviewed here) was watchable because it had so many laughable moments that represented the most ridiculous aspects of the 80s--break dancing, rock video smoke machines, midgets in medieval garb, bad puppetry, bad hairstyles and even worse clothing. GHOULIES II doesn’t really have any of that.
Well, the puppets are still bad.
But besides the little beasties on the ends of puppeteer hands, GHOULIES II has very little to do with the original. This one opens with a priest who attempts to destroy the little monsters by throwing them into a vat of toxic waste that just seems to be lying around for priests to throw monsters into. The priest instead takes the toxic plunge, and the Ghoulies make their way into a nearby circus van that happens by the building. Once back at the circus, which is being bought out by an asshole businessman who has no respect for the tradition of the circus, the Ghoulies run amok killing freaks, circus performers, and the crowd without compunction.
The problem with GHOULIES II is that it takes itself too seriously. The noble circus performers are fighting the big business corporation shtick was worn out in the 80s when this was around, and it’s even more tired with this re-watch. There’s a Shakespeare-quoting dwarf who proves that the screenwriter owns a book of quotations and knows how to use it, and the love story between the hunky magician’s assistant and the dancing girl makes soap opera acting feel thespian. All of this is done with a heavy hand, killing all the fun the original had at encapsulating the 80s bad fads.
And while the Ghoulies themselves are spunky and troublesome in an after midnight-fed Gremlins sort of way, their limited mobility and corny play is really hard to watch. A late in the game giant Ghoulie reveal ups the fun ante a bit as he goes around eating Ghoulies, but despite a nice looking costume, the whole thing comes off as unfunny when it’s supposed to be funny and painful when it tries to be serious.
I will say I appreciate that they didn’t try to make the Ghoulies sympathetic here. They are still evil fuckers who would like to kill you more than anything else. Of course, later in the series with GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE, attempts are made to make us care for them. While they are kind of cute and are given a bit of heart as they are attracted to the circus by noticing a monster looking kind of like them on the side of the circus van, they still retain their menace the whole way through.
But it’s GHOULIES, a knockoff of GREMLINS, and at least this sequel doesn’t repeat itself much in terms of story. The puppets are ridiculously puppet-y and the rest of it is pretty bad. For the completists out there who want every little monster movie ever made (I’m sure there’s someone out there for this niche of geek), I guess this one is for you. Personally, I’ll just watch GREMLINS again for the real deal.
This short is currently touring festivals (Find more information about when and where here)!
TICKLE (2014)Directed by Corey Norman
Written by Haley Norman
Starring Casey Turner, Andrew Lyndaker, Sean Carmichael, Dennis J. Healy as Tick Tack!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
This short by Corey and Haley Norman has already won a ton of awards at festivals and screened at all kinds of movie marathons around the country and after seeing TICKLE, the adoration is well deserved.
TICKLE is a typical fairy tale come to life story as seen through a twisted and warped lens. A babysitter is trying to get her kid to bed and tells him about Tick Tack, a little monster who tickles the feet of kids who let their feet uncovered and hanging off the bed. But if Tick Tack tickles and your feet aren’t ticklish, he takes your tootsies!
Of course, this scares the shit out of the little kid, though it doesn’t stop him from sleeping with his feet uncovered. But while the little boy falls asleep, so does the babysitter, and she doesn’t cover her feet either. The end result is horrific and bloody and the stuff of childhood nightmares.
Simply filmed and lacking any explanation of who or what Tick Tack is, TICKLE is gory and scary fun. It would definitely make for a fun feature as the creature is definitely memorable, despite his childish motivation to cut off your feets. If you have a chance to catch TICKLE at some festival, you should do so as it only runs 11 minutes long and is packed with scary goodness. It’s too bad more films like this can’t be seen by the masses. Only Disney seems to put shorts in front of their features anymore. I could definitely see this added to the beginning to INSIDIOUS 3 or CONJURING 2 just to rev up the crowd.
But unfortunately, these days the only place to find these shorts are on YouTube and when TICKLE is made public, I’ll definitely post the link at the bottom of my AICN HORROR column for all to enjoy!
New on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing!
FRANKENSTEIN’S HUNGRY DEAD (2013)aka DR. FRANKENSTEIN’S WAX MUSEUM OF THE HUNGRY DEAD
Directed by Richard Griffin
Written by Seth Chitwood, Richard Griffin
Starring Aurora Grabill, Sean Carufel, Jesse Dufault, Ryan Hanley, Aaron Peaslee, Johnny Sederquist, Mary Paolino, Shannon Hartman , Patrick Keeffe, Beatriz Lopez , Jamie Lyn Bagley, Andre Boudreau, Christopher L. Ferreira, and Michael Thurber as Dr. Frankenstein!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A while back I reviewed another film by Richard Griffin (THE SINS OF DRACULA, reviewed here) and to be honest, while there was some old school charm to the film, it didn’t really tingle my spine. Griffin brings back some of the cast from THE SINS OF DRACULA for FRANKENSTEIN’S HUNGRY DEAD, which I found to be a better viewing experience.
A group of unruly kids annoy the shit out of their teacher and are forced to go on a fieldtrip to a wax museum instead of detention (I don’t know about you, but I want to be in that teacher’s class). Once they get there, something isn’t kosher as the wax dummies look kind of real, but the kids aren’t creeped out. In fact, because one of them has always wanted to do it in a wax museum (da fug?), they all end up breaking into the place after hours only to find themselves locked in. Turns out the owner of the wax museum is both a descendant of Doctor Frankenstein AND a Nazi!!! All does not bode well for the kids.
Say what you will about the production values and the acting, you’ve gotta love Griffin’s gift for coming up with names for his films that feel like they’ve been ripped from the Halls of Hammer during its heyday. Originally titled DR. FRANKENSTEIN’S WAX MUSEUM OF THE HUNGRY DEAD, just the title alone put a grin on my face as it really does attest to the filmmaker’s love for old school horror.
Original title aside, the acting here is a bit better than SINS OF DRACULA, but Griffin still relies on casting the actors as caricatures rather characters. The nerd girl, the slut, the jock, the two gays, the punk rock girl, and her punk rock boyfriend are all front and center. I didn’t remember their names, and it’s not necessary because they end up being on the wax chopping block soon enough. At least with the more quality slasher films in the 80s there was an attempt to give these victims character, but this is much more indicative of the lazier 80s style slashers which just lines folks up to be cut down shortly after.
While I’m not a fan of CG blood and gore added in after the fact, FRANKENSTEIN’S HUNGRY DEAD at least has fun with it, as does Michael Thurber as the mad doctor. There were a few moments in this film that had me laughing, like when the kids stumble into a room occupied by Hitler, but most of the attempts at humor plunk out on the floor ineffectually. There’s a real respect for the genre, though, with Griffin’s films that cannot be denied, so I hope that the filmmaker learns from his mistakes and continues to improve his craft. FRANKENSTEIN’S HUNGRY DEAD is better than SINS OF DRACULA, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
New on DVD from Brain Damage Films!
DARKSIDE WITCHES (2014)aka DARKSIDE: BLOOD’S WITCHES, DARKSIDE THE MOVIE
Directed by Gerard Diefenthal
Written by Gerard Diefenthal
Starring Barbara Bouchet, Eleonora Albrecht, Simona Cappia, Mirela David, Alessandro Demcenko, Marco Di Stefano, Gerard Diefenthal, Laura Glavan, Pino Michienzi, Giuditta Niccoli, Angelica Novak, Anna Orso, Adele Perna, Lorenzo Renzi
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man, this one was weird.
The film opens with a lovely woman going for a jog in the woods. When a terribly CGed hellhound cuts her off and apparently swipes open a watermelon-sized hole in her shirt so her breasts flop out, she runs for safety only to be tormented by flying demons as well. Before she dies, we see her on her back, breasts exposed, and screaming. This classy scene is followed by a raunchy sex scene between a monosyllabic man and a bar maiden that borders on hardcore porn and ends with a bitten-off penis and more bad CG. After these two bizarre openers, the rest of the story follows a sect of witch hunters attempting to destroy an outbreak of witchery that threatens the fabrics of reality…I guess. But really it’s an overly CGed, badly acted mess.
DARKSIDE WITCHES is both plot-heavy and pointless, full of meandering characters, ridiculous dialog, an overly complicated script, and horrific acting overlaid with even worse dubbing. But with all of this bad stuff going on, I was compelled to watch this film as it possesses a so bad it’s good sort of quality to it. It really seems like at least the CG artists put some work into it. While the CG monsters look like cartoons when immersed in real world settings, the designs of the monstrosities are kind of fun. There are also some cool ideas, such as a leper priest who battles the devil, and expansive yet poorly executed scenes of witch hunting and burning.
The story really drags, with a ton of biblical discourse and overly serious dialog spouting from the faces of the entire cast, and in the end things get massive and epic, though I honestly had no idea what was going on by then. But with some pretty inventive imagery and some worthwhile ideas, DARKSIDE WITCHES is a mess of a movie that comes off as surprisingly watchable due to its moments of gratuity and senselessness.
New this week on DVD from Revolver Entertainment!
APPARITION (2014)aka REMORSE
Directed by Quinn Saunders
Written by Pete Cafaro, Andrew Kayros
Starring Jody Quigley, Katrina Law, Lili Bordán, Pete Postiglione, Airen DeLaMater, Thomas Roy, Margo Trovei, Megan Rose, Rebeka Choudhury, Dave Droxler, Joseph Forsstrom, Jarett Armstrong, Tom Settefrati
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Morose to the point of tedium, APPARITION tries to be a poignant and touching supernatural thriller, but ends up lacking enough spook and acting power to pull it off.
Doug (Jody Quigley, who looks like a young Stephen Rea) and his fiancée Lori (Katrina Law who is a dead ringer for Olivia Munn) seem to be living the good life. They’ve bought a house in the country and are settling down to begin a life together. But after a jealous argument, the couple drive home in silence until they get into a car wreck that leaves Lori in a bodybag and Doug alone. Though the damaged young lass down the lane wants to see to Doug’s wounded heart, Doug just can’t get Lori out of his head and is convinced that the house he is living in is haunted by his ex-fiancée’s ghost. It also was the home of one of the most brutal serial killers in the area and it might be haunted by those ghosts as well according to the creepy old man at the general store.
Honestly, I think if this film had another lead actor I might have bought into it more. There’s something about the navel-gazing schlubbery that actor Jody Quigley exudes from every pore as Doug that makes me utterly unsympathetic for him. He mopes through this movie like Charlie Brown on downers with his head sunken and his lip pouting for so long that it’s beyond annoying. His haircut is the most horrifying thing in the movie as it at times looks like he’s the twin of Lloyd Christmas and other times just looks like that short haircut old ladies get when their hair doesn’t grow anymore. His performance killed this movie for me as I wanted to punch this doughy man-boy in the face at how boringly inactive and loser-ly he comes across as throughout the film.
But it can’t be too much of the actor’s fault. Director Quinn Saunders simply has nothing for Doug to do but mope around. The film lacks punch. The entire film needs a shot of adrenaline. It’s depressed people doing depressing things and thinking longingly about things they can’t have. Sure, we see Doug go through the five stages of death, but each stage takes longer than the next one to get through.
This film is too tame for the horror hounds and too morose for romantics, so I don’t really know what kind of audience APPARITION would work for. With bland casting and a plot that inches along slower than molasses, watching it is more work than I would expect regular readers of this column would want to put into it. APPARITION picks up some momentum at the end, but by that time, I was checked out and just didn’t care anymore. The film is a capable one that looks decent and tries really hard to hit on a deep and dramatic level, but it’s just too much of an all around downer to be entertaining.
New this week on iTunes, DVD and Blu-ray in Canada from Black Fawn Distribution and will be released June 23rd in the US from Artsploitation!
HORSEHEAD (2014)aka FIEVRE (FEVER)
Directed by Romain Basset
Written by Romain Basset, Karim Chériguène
Starring Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux, Catriona MacColl, Murray Head, Gala Besson, Fu'ad Aït Aattou, Vernon Dobtcheff, Philippe Nahon, Joe Sheridan, Paul Bandey, Shane Woodward, Nathan Willcocks, & Emmanuel Bonami as Horsehead!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Bad dreams and horror films have been linked together all the way back to THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and while A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET kind of cornered the market on night terrors for a while, there’s always room for another horror film centering on things that go bump in your brain while sleeping.
HORSEHEAD is more like the UK dream terror PAPERHOUSE than A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, as it follows one particular girl plagued by horrific dreams. Fascinated with these dreams, Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) studies psychology in school and goes so far as to experiment with lucid dreaming and breathing in ether herself in order to control and deal with the nightmarish imagery every time she drifts off to sleep. When Jessica’s grandmother passes away, she goes back to her home but her nightmares follow her. Not helping things is Jessica’s mother, Catelyn (Catriona MacColl, who appeared in such classics as THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) who berates Jessica every chance she gets while attesting to Jessica’s stepfather Tom (played by “One Night in Bangkok” singer Murray Head) how much she cares for the girl. As Jessica’s nightmares intensify, Jessica’s intent on figuring out what the dreams mean does too, prompting her to spend more time drifting further and further into her dreams than awake. Determined to find the truth in the deep symbology of her dreams, Jessica runs the danger of being overcome by the vivid imagery of her dreams and never waking up.
Anyone interested in the power of dreams who has been either woken up by a profound image or ripped from a particularly fascinating dream will be interested in this imaginative and vividly made study of what goes on when we sleep. The nightmarish and surreal imagery at play in HORSEHEAD is breathtaking to witness. From gothic atmosphere to twisted Freudian sex, the film really does run the gamut in regards to the horrors one can experience inside the dream realm in our heads when the mind is often most honest and free of the shackles and responsibilities of reality and consequence. Jessica’s mind goes to some awful and perverse places here; the most horrific of all is space shared with a horse-headed demigod wielding a scepter. Writer/director Romain Basset fills this film with imagery that walks the border between the beautiful and the horrific, filming the scenes of dream with colorful lighting, atmospheric backdrops, twisted images, and soft and harsh focus—just like a dream itself, shifting from one extreme to another.
The image of the horseheaded being that haunts Jessica’s dreams is truly monstrous. While the face of the monster is obviously a mask, it is a horrific one, sculpted with gruesome detail. But while the face is horrific, I would have loved to see some articulation and movement of the mask. It obviously is not what the filmmakers had in mind (and more likely not within the budget to do so), but I so wanted to see the horse head’s mouth open and the head reel back with a horrific whinny. This doesn’t occur, but I wanted it to in order to go to yet another level of nightmare. Still, the horsehead in HORSEHEAD is an image I won’t soon forget.
The young lead actress playing Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) is a fantastic find—a fresh-faced beauty with a lot of talent--but she is but one of the talented cast assembled here for HORSEHEAD. Well acted, gorgeously and nightmarishly executed, and excellently realized, HORSEHEAD offers a look at dreams like few other films have before. I highly recommend this gothic descent into terrifying nightmare.
Advance Review: To be released October 2015 (find out when and where here)!
THE BLACK TAPE (2014)Directed by Ramone Menon
Written by Ramone Menon
Starring Elina Madison, Allen Marsh, Oto Brezina, Melanie Thompson, Parker Coppins, Viktoria Paje, Bryan Mordechai Jackson, Cassi Ellis, Douglas Olsson, Glen Ratcliffe
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I got a chance to check out this twisted little semi-found footager early, as it is set to be released in October of this year.
Within the world of the film, THE BLACK TAPE was dropped off at a police department in an unmarked envelope. The footage played as the film is untouched or unedited by the police, but it appears that whoever made the tape fancies himself an amateur filmmaker. As the opening credits role crediting ME as the director, musician, editor, and murderer, you realize that this is not your typical found footage flick. The film cuts back and forth through time as the killer stalks, watches, and eventually kills a small suburban family one by one over the course of a month. With no clues to go by, the police are baffled and the remaining family is unhinged.
What I liked about THE BLACK TAPE is the fact that it isn’t really a found footage film. Though it is amateurishly made and rudely edited, this is a home movie of a killer. Yes, there is shaky, hand-held cam work, but for the most part, this is a film telling a story. It’s a confession tape that only shows its hand at the very end, but because it is so crudely done, it really does feel pretty authentic, which in turn makes it all the more effective.
So the usual unnatural edits or additional music you see in less effective found footagers isn’t here. There’s a score to this film, but it’s made by the killer. There are edits in this one, but the killer was doing the cutting both figuratively and literally. This covers all the usual bases that annoy me in regular found footagers and makes a more interesting view.
There are a few inconsistencies here. The killer seems to be acting alone, but there are some scenes which suggest there are two people involved as one person is holding a camera while another is doing the killing. If this were actual evidence, I would say the tape doesn’t tell the whole story but what the killer wanted us to see. Since this is a movie, it feels more like a blunder, but again, the amateur way it is put together gives it an authentic feel. It may seem like I’m giving this film more credit than it is worth, but there are some twists and turns that only the savvy will pick up on and the story is rather complex in the way this plays out. This leads me to believe that the folks behind THE BLACK TAPE knew what they were doing in making things kind of murky and misleading as to the identity of the killer/killers. THE BLACK TAPE does unnerve and it takes found footage to another level, which is essential because if I have to watch another run of the mill, by the numbers found footage film I’m likely to gouge my eyes out.
Advance Review: Recently premiered at the Stanley Film Festival from Lodger Films!
SUN CHOKE (2015)Directed by Ben Cresciman
Written by Ben Cresciman
Starring Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, Sara Malakul Lane, Evan Jones, Joe Nieves, William Nicol, Annie Read
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Last year, my favorite horror film of the year was PROXY, a complex tale of madness by inches from various points of view. So to say that SUN CHOKE reminded me of PROXY, to me, is the ultimate compliment for the film as it gave me the same feelings of dread, fascination, and complete unease that PROXY did one year ago.
FREAKS AND GEEKS nerd girl Sarah Hagan plays Janie, a sheltered and fragile young girl who, as we open the film, is undergoing one psychological test after another by what seems to be her mother Irma (RE-ANIMATOR’s Barbara Crampton). But the more time we spend with Janie and her “mother,” the more twisted things become as the tests and punishments Janie endures get more intense. We are made privy to a few snippets of why Irma is so focused on studying and testing Janie’s stability as we see Janie getting restrained by multiple people after being discovered covered in blood, but for the most part, all fingers point to Irma as the big bad of the film. Things get kind of complicated when Irma decides to let Janie out into public and do things on her own. It is at this point of the film when we see that Janie isn’t the timid victim she seems like in the first half of this film. Revealing anything more would not be fair to this nightmarish view into a very unwell mind.
When done well, psychological horror can hit you harder than a million gallons of blood and gore. This is the case with SUN CHOKE which from the beginning had me by the throat and never let go. Seeing Crampton’s Irma put an electrified dog collar on Janie and force her to do Yoga to calm her nerves is absolutely riveting. Janie’s thinly sliced sanity chipping away at the slightest breeze is entrancing as well. Crampton is electric here and proves that this beautiful actress may have some of her best performances in front of her—she certainly commands every scene she is in here.
But it’s Sarah Hagan that is the real surprise here. She has an alien beauty to her than makes it hard to look away from her, even when she is doing the most despicable things. It seems as if she hasn’t aged since her stint as Millie Ketner on FREAKS AND GEEKS with her plain long brown hair and even plainer face that seems like it’s never worn makeup in her life. Seeing this delicate wallflower suddenly sprout thorns is gloriously engrossing to witness.
Director/writer Ben Cresciman tells an intimate tale of madness here. The film is soft and fragile one minute—pointed and harsh the next. It’ a film that defies expectations and is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Unfolding like an origami flower made of sandpaper, SUN CHOKE pulls you in and squeezes relentlessly until the twisted ending that will leave creases in your brain that will be impossible to smooth out.
And finally…say what you will about the INSIDIOUS films, but Tiny Tim’s song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” remains one of the creepiest songs ever made. Below is a new version of the song by Cherry Glazerr and a video directed by Michael Gallagher which is inspired by the INSIDIOUS films. INSIDIOUS 3 scares audiences nationwide on June 3rd!
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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