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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Due to my trip to SDCC this year, the column was slightly delayed until I returned safe and sound to Chicago. I wanted to thank SPRING/RESOLUTION directors/writers Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson, comic book writer/publisher Matt Pizzolo (Black Mask Studios/GODKILLER), and comic book writers Ed Brisson (SHELTERED) and Matt Rosenberg (12 REASONS TO DIE/WE CAN NEVER GO HOME). It was another fun discussion of all things horror, due to our talented panel and lively audience. I’ve got some fun interviews and reports coming from SDCC in the next few weeks, so be on the look out for those.

Look for another column tomorrow as I try to catch up from missing last week. But for now…On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

The Book Creeport: THE WHISPER KING Novel (2015)
Retro-review: THE CRIMSON CULT (1968)
Retro-review: THE OUTING (1982)
KRUEL (2014)
I-LIVED (2015)
THE PACT 2 (2014)
MAGGIE (2015)
And finally…Behind the Scenes on VOLUMES OF BLOOD!

The Book Creeport: Pages and pages of pure terror!


Writer: Wil Radcliffe
Illustrator: Erik Wilson (Cover)
Publisher: Necro Publications
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty

When THE WHISPER KING happened to make its way across my desk, I thought I recognized author Wil Radcliffe as the writer from NOGGLE STONES, a series that initially scared me away because the cover art reminded me of that creepy 1978 animated film WIZARDS. That, and the fact that Radcliffe spells his name "Wil" with only one "L." If that second "L" wasn't good enough for him, then what chance did I have? Now, based on how much I enjoyed his venture into dark fantasy, I kind of regret not reading them and "Wil" likely go back and give those little noggles a second look. But that's a review for another day.

What we have in THE WHISPER KING is the story of David Kinder, told through his first-person point of view. Kinder was orphaned at age six and sent to a group home, where he met a cute little kindred spirit (awww) and a couple of menacing shadows (boooo), the latter of which are responsible for recruiting him to serve the -- you guessed it -- Whisper King. Joining an evil army of destruction does have its advantages, as Kinder learns, like growing up to become a badass warrior. But you know what they say, you can take the boy out of Michigan, but you can't take the Michigan out of the boy, so expect internal conflict to rear its ugly head more than once.

That's a fairly condensed version of what THE WHISPER KING is about, sans spoilers, because some of the finer points may ruin a few of the surprises. Rest assured if you like horror, comedy, dark fantasy, or any combination of the three, you'll enjoy this book, complete with its very fantasy-ish sounding names like "Marais Roi" and "Cogar Ri." But in order to love any book, you must first love the lead character (or his-her antagonist). I found Kinder to be relatable but complex, endearing in much the same vein as Peter Quill from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (albeit a bit darker). To that end, you can expect a fair share of snappy one-liners and hilarious throwback jokes.

What really makes THE WHISPER KING work is Radcliffe's storytelling. He's not overly-pushy with his exposition and lets his characters do most of the heavy lifting. That said, I'm sure this book plays better for boys-men, as Kinder's coming-of-age tale will strike a coupe of familiar nerves. To that end, the first-person perspective really works here and Radcliffe complements it with a strong grasp of pacing. Chapters are short but never wanting, and readers aren't forced to linger on any of the major plot points like an extended Ewok death. Simply put, it's a fun read with room to grow, so a follow-up book seems likely, and from where I stand, very much welcome.

Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber!


Directed by Vernon Sewell
Written by Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln, Louis M. Heyward, Gerry Levy (screenplay), Jerry Sohl (story), based on the story “The Dreams in the Witch House” by H.P. Lovecraft
Starring Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, Virginia Wetherell, Rosemarie Reede, Derek Tansley, Denys Peek, Nita Lorraine, Nicholas Head, Rupert Davies
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE CRIMSON CULT is a sometimes cheeky, sometimes trippy little film is really worth seeing due to the assembled cast more than the story and film itself.

This loose adaptation of H.P. Lobecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House” but without the human-faced rat, THE CRIMSON CULT follows Robert Manning (played aloofly by Mark Eden) who journeys to an extravagant mansion and meets the master of the house Morley (the late, great Christopher Lee), his lovely niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell), and aged and wheelchair bound torture historian Professor Marsh (played by a still creepy Boris Karloff). Robert is in search of his missing brother who was last seen in the mansion and stumbles into a happenin’ shindig that looks to be torn straight from BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, with body painting, loud music, and lots of sex and drugs. Befriending Eve, Robert stays at the mansion and continues his search for his brother and uncovers a secret cult and a sinister conspiracy.

This is an odd little film as Mark Eden seems to be taking very little seriously besides the need to bed Wetherell, so the core mystery of where the hell is his brother is kind of shoved to the side most of the film as Robert experiences dreams and hallucinations of bizarre rituals and cult-like sacrifices. The confused intent of Robert makes the film feel less crucial and dire as the hallucinogenic dreams would suggest, so mixing these two elements of the film make it feel a bit uneven in tone.

But despite Eden’s confusing performance, this film does offer up another fantastic enigmatic role for Christopher Lee. With the world of cinema just recently losing the actor, it was a treat to see him in a role I was not so familiar with. As always, Lee commands every scene he is in and plays the mystery of whether or not he is behind the missing brother very well.

Early in the film, Eden makes a comment upon seeing the gothic mansion that “Pretty soon Boris Karloff will show up.” And sure enough, he does. Again, seeing this actor in a film I haven’t seen before made this film all the better. Karloff plays a rather plucky know-it-all here who is offended at Eden’s less dignified and down to earth mannerisms. Still his presence adds heft to a rather light plot and seeing Lee and Karloff riffing off of one another is worth seeking this film out alone.

Roger Corman’s trippy treatments of Poe’s material is attempted in THE CRIMSON CULT to lesser effect. While Corman was able to put to good use psychedelic imagery in films such as THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE PREMATURE BURIAL, it feels like director Vernon Sewell is out and out lifting these techniques for the dreamy ritual scenes involving a painted blue Barbara Steele as the pagan goddess Lavinia, bondage babes, and a dude with deer antlers. These scenes, which are meant to be out of this world, come off as rather heavy handed in some cases and unintentionally hilarious in others (especially the leather speedo wearing antler guy who seems to love to show his ass to the camera). Steele looks regal enough in a MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE’s Evil Lynn sort of way, but is given very little to do here.

So THE CRIMSON CULT is a rather mixed bag. The performances are pretty great from the talented cast, but some scenes lifted from Corman’s bag of tricks and the fact that it played things fast and loose with the source material make it one of the less effective Lovecraftian yarns. The Scooby Doo-esque ending doesn’t help matters much, but fans of Lee and Karloff are going to need this film in their collection anyway.

Retro-review: New on a Double Feature BluRay from The Shout Factory!


Directed by Tom Daley
Written by Warren Chaney
Starring Deborah Winters, James Huston, Andra St. Ivanyi, Scott Bankston, Red Mitchell, André Chimène, Damon Merrill, Barry Coffing, Tracye Walker, Raan Lewis, Hank Amico, Brian Floores, Michelle Watkins, Danny D. Daniels, Roy Alan Wilson
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

I love lamp, but I don’t love this movie.

Out of the four films in this quadruple feature, THE OUTING was one I hadn’t seen or heard of, so I went with it first. Here’s hoping the worst is past, because this is one stinker of a film. The film starts out with some rough types setting up to break into an old lady’s house and rob her. When they stumble across a magic lamp hidden in the wall of her room after killing the old broad with an axe and trashing the place, one of them rubs the lamp just like in the movies!

Well, it turns out this genie doesn’t grant wishes, it just kills people in highly unimaginable ways. Basically, this gives the filmmakers an excuse to do just about everything they can within budget (and it ain’t high) and write it off to genie magic. So death comes in the form of floating spears, snakes, a puppeteered mummy corpse, a ceiling fan, and last but not least a big rubber model of a genie which is barely articulated and moves like a rubber model because it is a rubber model.

The acting in this one is as bad as the hairstyles in this 80’s throwback. Though it’s going for sheer terror, you’re going to be laughing more than shaking at THE OUTING.

The most frightening thing in the film is the fact that the two bullies of the film are over-the-top racist by calling their African American principal the N-word and then raping an African American woman later on. I was more offended by these scenes than any of the genie carnage that transpired in THE OUTING.

New this week on DVD from Sunset Studios/Breaking Glass Pictures!

KRUEL (2014)

Directed by Robert Henderson
Written by Robert Henderson
Starring Kierney Nelson, Dakota Morrissiey, Adam Vernier, J.T. Chinn, Elizabeth Brewster, Ansley Gordon, Cooper Henderson, Keegan Henderson, Rita Manyette, Tom Riska, Tom Siedle, Matthew Weidle, Nicholas Williamson, Ericka Winterrowd, Colleen Yorke
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I’m a fan of evil clown films. My most recent comic PIROUETTE (which will be out soon…I just am not sure when, sadly) is chock full of them, and I’ve made a habit of watching clown horror films just to try to delve into the reasons why so many people find clowns to be so damn scary. I wish KRUEL had that much interest in it, but instead of getting to the root of clourophobia or any scares at all, there are other areas the film prefers to focus on and sadly, that makes for one boring and by the numbers movie.

Kierney Nelson plays Jo, a young woman going through young woman problems. In the opening moments of the film she finds out her boyfriend Ben (the mumbling Dakota Morrissiey) cheated on her, her mom is on her about staying out late, and to make matters worse, now the clown driving an ice cream truck swipes the kid she is babysitting right from under her nose while she is arguing with her boyfriend. Can’t a girl get a break? But though her parents and the police don’t believe her theory that the clown took the kid, Jo and her ex decide to take matters into their own hands and investigate, but Willie the clown (J.T. Chinn) is waiting for them and has plans of his own for Jo.

The main problem with this film is that the focus is on the wrong thing. In trying so hard to make the viewer invested in the characters in peril (namely Jo and Ben) by focusing on them, this film forgets to add in any scary or tense moments. Apart from the opening scene, which hints that the clown is outside of the car as Jo finds out about Ben’s unfaithful behavior, the entire first forty or so minutes are comprised of Jo arguing with Ben, Ben pleading with Jo to take him back, and Jo taking time to sulk on her own. Tossing the two characters together time and time again, I quickly grew wary of the repeated attempts by Ben to rekindle the relationship paired with Jo’s reluctance to do so. Toss in a random useless scene where a friend is trying to set Jo up with a new boy and you’ve got a whole lot of drama that has nothing to do with clowns abducting kids in their ice cream trucks.

It’s understandable that writer/director Robert Henderson would go this route, as the scenes with Willie the Clown are some of the weakest of the film. Actor J.T. Chin just isn’t scary, especially since in the final scenes he isn’t even wearing the clown makeup. Sure Henderson sets up a couple of worthwhile scenes, one of which takes place as Jo and Ben sneak into Willie’s place which is decorated with all sorts of old timey toys and photographs that look like they were picked up at a rummage sale held at THE WOMAN IN BLACK’s house, but these scenes are sandwiched in between more talks about Jo and Ben’s relationship.

Absolutely misguided, the film can’t even decide on who the hero is going to be or what Jo’s role is going to be during the climax. She switches from trapped victim to aggressor and back again, and the film flip flops between Ben and Jo’s father as the role of her rescuer. It doesn’t help that everyone is stretching their acting chops way beyond their retention length and going for the gold in every overacted scene. Somewhere in KRUEL is a solid little story about a scary clown, an ice cream truck, and a little boy. It’s just too preoccupied with talking endlessly about a teenage relationship to know it.

New this week on DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment!


Directed by David Ryan Keith
Written by David Ryan Keith
Starring Mark Wood, Lisa Cameron, Lisa Livingstone, Rebecca Wilkie, Adam Coutts, Lee Hutcheon, Benjamin Selway
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While THE REDWOOD MASSACRE is pretty much a standard stalk and slasher, it does do the stalk and slash pretty well. The story centers on a group of kids who go into the woods for a camping trip to celebrate the anniversary of a mass murder of a family years before. Gruesome, yes, and not really cause for celebration, but the killer in the woods feels the same way as evidenced by the way he eviscerates them one by one.

The bad first—there is absolutely no reason for these kids to be together as most of them loathe one another. One of the campers used to date another and that camper brought his new girlfriend. There is not rational explanation this group would all be going to the same place and with everyone fighting with one another, it really makes all of the campers unlikable from the get go. I guess in this type of movie, which basically is a highlight reel of one gory Jason Voorhees like kill after another, we are supposed to root for the kids to die, but if you see any of the original slasher films, what made them stand out is that you actually rooted for the kids to live. Here, we want them to die, and thankfully, most of them do.

Now that the faulty set up has been discussed, I’ll get to the good. You can tell writer/director David Ryan Keith was mostly interested in the kills because they are the most interesting parts in the film. While the motivations of the killer range from pretty vague to nonsensical as he kills some on the spot while he chains up and tortures others for no real reason other than to do so, the kills themselves are actually pretty gruesome and horrifying. Gallons and gallons of thick goopy blood was used and the killer isn’t satisfied with whacking his victims once and being done with it. Oh no. Here he’s got to hack and slash his way thought people over and over again, sending gobs of blood all over the place. The killer, who as I said is the Jason Voorhees type and even wears a bag over his face like Jason in F13Part2, is definitely PO-ed, at something and his anger and rage is palpable in his gratuitous kills.

If you’re looking for a solid, straight up stalk and slash, THE REDWOOD MASSACRE definitely fits the bill and then some. Gorehounds will love it, and if you’re not the type to nitpick things like plot holes and lack of motivation, you’re bound to have a good time with this gory slasher yarn.

New this week in select theaters, On Demand, and iTunes from XLRator Media!

I-LIVED (2015)

Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Written by Franck Khalfoun & Brian Breiter (idea), Franck Khalfoun (screenplay)
Starring Jeremiah Watkins, Luis Fernandez-Gil, Christopher Mena, Greg Taieb, Sarah Power, Franck Khalfoun, Jan Broberg, Elaine Partnow, Jeremiah Watkins, Thomas Payton, Maja Miletich, Nic D'Avirro, Brian Breiter, Tim Paul Vordtriede
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Back and forthing between engrossing and utterly ridiculous is I-LIVED, a tech terror tale from the director of one of my favorite films a few years ago, the MANIAC remake.

Josh (Jeremiah Watkins) has loads of both potential and problems, but little drive to do anything about it save for invest his time and energy in a blog that reviews new computer apps. Like a morning DJ on crank, Josh’s hyperactive report is full of attitude and energy and Josh promises his religious father, ailing mom, and techie friend that it is just a matter of time before he becomes an internet sensation. Josh happens upon an app called I-LIVED, which promises to make any goal in your life come true and testing out the app himself, he finds that things start to turn around for him. He meets a new girl, gets tons of new viewers on his site, and even has the ear of some corporate backers promising lots of money. But when Josh deactivates the app and stops following its self help directions, things begin to fall apart and Josh realizes that the app has a much more diabolical intention under its seemingly innocent exterior. Now, in order to get back the girl, the viewers, and the money, he must do horrible, horrible things.

The main problem with I-LIVED is that the setup feels much more like a modern TWILIGHT ZONE episode premise than an actual film. There’s an awful lot of setup where Josh is tooling around with the app and soaking in the benefits and it almost feels like the director lost track of time in the first hour and tried to cram way too much into the last half hour. So while the lead up to the switch between the positive aspects of the app and the more evil intentions is good, it feels a bit overlong and makes for a rather quick descent into horror. Franck Khalfoun does show that he is a capable director (he did this already in the amazing MANIAC remake), but something feels off with the horror here and it makes for a much less effective film. It’s as if the concept of what’s shocking is rather insulated here and twists and turns that are supposed to knock me on my ass really left me rather unfazed because of this disconnect.

It doesn’t help that actor Jeremiah Watkins can be pretty grating himself. Looking a bit like Jesse Eisenberg with a larger schnoz, Watkins’ hyperactivity and morning Dj attitude in his podcasts definitely doesn’t make me feel for him. Some of the decisions made by the director are downright lame in terms of execution of scares as well as fleshing out the character of Josh. While Khalfoun centered on a flawed and sometimes unlikable character in MANIAC with Elijah Wood, I-LIVED lacks that power and convincibility as Watkins just doesn’t have the chops to make us believe and like him.

The rather clichéd plot and even more clichéd ending does not help I-LIVED. There are moments where I felt this film really does a good job (setting up the relationship and breakup between Josh and his new girlfriend was pretty great), but Watkins lacked the strength to convince me of the shift when things go pear shaped and Khalfoun just didn’t lead me along by the nose as he did with MANIAC. Watkins does carry this film and is ok for most of it as long as the emotions aren’t too heavy, so here’s hoping he continues to develop his craft for a more convincing job next time. As for Khalfoun, I hope this is just a bump in the road for him rather than a sign that Alejandro Aja’s involvement was much more hands on than it seemed with MANIAC. I-LIVED is breezy and fun at times, but the lack of genuine and original scares really hurts it.

New this week on DVD/BluRay from IFC Midnight!

THE PACT 2 (2014)

Directed by Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath
Written by Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath
Starring Scott Michael Foster, Caity Lotz, Camilla Luddington, Patrick Fischler, Amy Pietz, Haley Hudson, Mark Steger, Nicki Micheaux, Suziey Block
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I thought original THE PACT was an intensely engrossing mix of crime noir and the supernatural. Full of moments of suspense that will shred nerves and test your fear tolerance’s limits, Nicholas McCarthy’s film was one of my favorite films from last year. This return to the world of THE PACT, including the elusive and ghostly Judas Killer in the sequel was something I was looking forward to. Even though McCarthy wasn’t back, surely he laid the groundwork in the original that was great fodder for other filmmakers to launch spooky stuff from. Unfortunately, THE PACT 2 is not the sequel I was hoping for.

That’s not to say THE PACT 2 was a particularly bad film. There is a nice and unconventional tone to this film, focusing on June (Camilla Luddington) a crime scene cleaner/graphic artist and her boyfriend Meyer (Scott Michael Foster) who happens to be a cop investigating a string of murders that seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to the deceased Judas Killer’s MO. An FBI agent who is a lifelong Judas Killer profiler (played by MULLHOLLAND DRIVE’s Patrick Fischler) seems to be preoccupied by June whose art seems to have some kind of connection to the murders and to Judas. It all ties together rather well and doesn’t seem like a giant leap from story one in the original to this story in the sequel.

The film also has quite a few well choreographed and patient scares, though they lack the intensity and creativity that McCarthy exhibited in the original. Still, the story itself is rather hole-some as things happen and people appear, react or don’t react to specific occurrences simply to advance the story to it’s predictable conclusion. I won’t go too much into spoilers, but there are scenes where June is obviously being haunted by something supernatural and there is physical evidence to prove it as the house gets torn asunder and things start moving by themselves. For some reason, even after this shit starts happening, the characters still don’t believe something otherworldly is going on.

What worked so well in the original THE PACT was that there were definite supernatural elements at play, but there was a real world threat as well. In THE PACT 2, all of that gets rather muddy, making the viewer work harder to distinguish between the supernatural and crime elements. The thing is, I don’t feel the filmmakers had a firm hold on the concept and they weren’t sure themselves which makes figuring it out an exercise in futility for this viewer. There’s another aspect of the film involving the return of a cast member from the first film which feels more like a cop out than anything else, but I won’t spoil it here. THE PACT 2 has some decent scares, nice mood, and some above average performances by the cast, but it’s nowhere near the masterful work of suspense and terror the original was.

Recently played at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con! Cast and crew will be present. New On Demand and in select theaters from October Coast Films!


Directed by James Cullen Bressack
Written by James Cullen Bressack
Starring Ciara Hanna, Emily O'Brien, Jackie Moore, Russell Geoffrey Banks, Byron Gibson, Jack Prinya, Sohanne Bengana, Jared Cohn, Sara Malakul Lane, Wallop Terathong
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A trio of American sisters (Ciara Hanna, Emily O'Brien, & Jackie Moore) make their way to Thailand on a humanitarian mission, but are not even able to get started with the good deeds as the home they rented is inhabited by the vengeful ghost of a little girl. When the bodies start piling up, the girls find themselves hip deep in local ghost stories that threaten to tear the trio apart.

The positive things PERNICIOUS has going for it is that it has an interesting locale and even more interesting folklore to delve into. Centering on a Kumari statue of gold the girls find in their rental home, the ghost story begins as they find out the gold statue houses the bones of a vengeful spirit. Worshipped and feared by the locals, as long as the girls follow the ancient protection rituals, they’ll be fine. Of course, this being a horror film, they don’t follow these rules and bad stuff transpires. Steeping this story in ancient Thailand mythology makes for a different type of curse than the haunted abodes we often see in America and European haunted home films. So while there are some well worn tropes that are used in PERNICIOUS, there is a new sheen on them because of the exotic environment.

On top of that, James Cullen Bressack does a great job of setting up and delivering some actually scary scenes. From the get go, as the trio of girls wander into what seems to be a dangerous situation, Bressack does a great job of pulling the rug out from under the viewer (at least it worked for me); challenging expectations and flipping the script more than once. On top of the unexpected turns, the actual scares are pretty damn effective. Sure this little creepy girl is just a gold plated version of THE GRUDGE girl, but the shimmering body paint on the monster does make for another unique aspect and the way Bressack frames her amps up those scares in key scenes.

PERNICIOUS is not a perfect film. Clunky dialog and rough deliveries of said dialog made me roll my eyes from time to time. The film wraps up a little too cleanly, betraying the rules that were set before and making things somewhat confusing at the end. On top of that, the three leads look like super models and there’s something about putting pretty people in peril that makes for a wider disconnect than just regular looking folks. Not that I’m complaining about the eye candy and these girls do decently reciting the lines most of the time, it’s just that they are harder to identify with when they look like they’ve stepped directly off the runway.

PERNICIOUS is definitely better than most ghost stories with an impressive amount of gore, some solid scares, and a mythology that really sticks out from the norm. It’s got it’s rough edges in terms of delivery and story, but this is a quality film and worth taking a chance on.

New this week on BluRay/DVD and iTunes digital download here!


Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (screenplay), Earl E. Smith
Starring Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope, Joshua Leonard, Andy Abele, Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Arabella Field, Denis O'Hare, Spencer Treat Clark, Wes Chatham, Morganna May, Jaren Mitchell, Kurt Krause, Lance E. Nichols, Geraldine Singer, Ricky Wayne, Lanee Landry, Lanee Landry
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN 2014 edition is a semi meta film, not as annoyingly meta as CABIN IN THE WOODS or SCREAM, but done so in a manner that still respects the original film that inspired it, building upon what has come before rather than knocking it down.

The story takes place in a world like yours and mine where the murders by a man called The Phantom by the press occurred and then in 1976, a film was made about the murders, which only proved to make things worse for the town. Still, people come from far and wide to see the town, rewatch the film on Halloween, and not let the ghostly feeling that haunted the streets of Texarkana ever die. Now, forty years after the film was released, a new string of murders are occurring that bear a striking resemblance to the original murders depicted in the original film, which were based on the real life murders that occurred in the town. One woman (ODD THOMAS’ Addison Timlin) is left alive after her date is killed by the Phantom to spread the word that the killings have begun again and that no one is safe.

What THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN gets right is a lot. The team behind AMERICAN HORROR STORY is responsible for this film with director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon making some very interesting stylistic choices from Roberto-Aguirre Sarcasa’s script. Little details like an overhead view of the cornfield as the killer searches for his crawling victim, a well timed hand waving just when someone says “Hello,” and the brisk pace by which this film catches the viewer up to the history of the murders and the original film are all stylistically original and compelling. This is a very exciting film, with little time to sit and relax. The interspersing of flashes from the original movie during murders of a similar nature is almost subliminal and fantastically done. Every kill, every build up, every beat of this film pops with an energy you usually don’t see in slasher films. Hell, they even made the weird trombone sequence cool.

This is also a really well crafted script by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also writes GLEE and the fantastic AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE comic book) which painstakingly respects and references the original killings and the film, not to the point of tedium, but as a way to build this world these new killings are taking place in. The fact that we visit the home of the original’s director Charles B. Pierce, filled with all kinds of memorabilia and a fantastic cameo by AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Denis O'Hare as Pierce’s conspiracy theorist son, is crucial to the story, yet also another layer of meta that makes this film celebrate the effectiveness of the original. I loved how Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa layered this film with basically the same blueprint of the original film, yet injected it with so much more so that fans of the original like myself, could still be left guessing.

The ending of this film, which I will not reveal, is the only misstep this film takes. The effectiveness of the original film leaves things ambiguous, as if the killer is still out there. Unmasking the Phantom here makes things feel like a SCREAM movie or worse-yet Scoobie Doo, with the villain discoursing about how he did it and why rather clumsily. For a film to spend so much time building this world, you would think the big reveal would have been handled in such a detailed and nuanced way. Instead it’s the Scoobie Doo unmasking and while things are left unanswered a tiny bit and a bit of the ambiguity is still there, this conventional ending takes away from a far superior film leading up to it.

The other thing I wanted to point out is that this is an amazing cast assembled here. Everyone here from wizened character actors like the late Edward Herrmann, Veronica Cartwright, and Ed Lauter to fun genre greats like Denis O’Hare, BLAIR WITCH’s Joshua Leonard, to scene stealers like Gary Cole and Anthony Anderson, to newcomers like Addison Timlin and the UNBREAKABLE kid Spencer Treat Clark; from top to bottom, everyone is taking the material seriously which makes this feel like a much more important film. Seeing so many genre faces at play in one film makes this something of a who’s who for horror aficionados as to which movie they’ve each actor in. Across the board, especially the lead heroine Addison Timlin and the always fun Denis O’Hare, this is a cast to die for.

I think fans of the original film are going to appreciate this new TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. The bag-headed killer looks fantastic and the kills have a brutality that suggests real rage. The cast is filled with folks taking things seriously, which is nice to see, and though there is a stumble in the end, the nuanced way in which the direction and the script pay homage to the original is pretty amazing. Like many of you, I groan loudly every time I see one of my favorite horror films of my youth is being remade, but if there were more remakes like this one, I think the stigma attached to those remakes wouldn’t exist.

New this week on BluRay/DVD/digital download from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!

MAGGIE (2015)

Directed by Henry Hobson
Written by John Scott
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Douglas M. Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Rachel Whitman Groves, Jodie Moore, Bryce Romero, Raeden Greer, Aiden Flowers, Carsen Flowers, Amy Brassette, Mattie Liptak, Maris Black, Jessy Hughes, Denise Williamson, Taylor Murphy, P.J. Marshall, Laura Cayouette, Wayne Pére, Christine Tonry
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Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though my interest in zombie flicks is waning, all it takes is a unique slant on the subgenre to spark my interest. When I heard Arnold Swartzeneggar was going to play a distraught dad named Wade, struggling with what to do with his infected daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) during a zombie plague, my interest was immediately piqued as this concept had the potential for high drama from A-list stars. Arnold in a horror film is not common; though some of his comedies may be considered horrific, plus I’ve kind of been rooting for the former action superstar to stage a comeback after his previous films have been less than successful since he quit politics and returned to cinema. For all of these reasons, I was looking forward to checking out MAGGIE in the theaters, but when the film was quietly released a few months ago, I missed it and had to wait until this week to check it out on Bluray.

MAGGIE is a quiet film. Aside from a few tense moments, the movie focuses more on the remorse of the aftermath of horrible action rather than the violence itself. There are very few jump scares or piano bangs which litter most bog budget horror cinema, but there are moments where the camera lingers on the udder dread of it all. It’s because of the slow, yet tension-filled pace that this film feels less like your typical zombie flick and more like a drama about a family stretched to the limit. Upon hearing about his daughter, Wade travels from his farm house into the city, retrieving his daughter from a medical clinic where she is given a terminal diagnosis. Allowing Maggie to return home as a favor to a friend, the doctor warns Wade of the signs to look for and thus explains what type of zombie outbreak will be; thus laying out the guidelines and rules of the movie (which is always crucial in a horror film). Wade returns home with Maggie, where his new wife Caroline (Joely Richardson) meets them with much trepidation. Sending Maggie’s two half-siblings away, Caroline is conflicted with the love of her step-daughter and the need to protect her family. The presence of this secondary struggle in Caroline’s character shows how fully-realized and nuanced this quiet little thriller is.

The rules of the zombie game here are changed as well with the infection not turning civilization into an undead apocalypse. Society has sort of adapted with the zombie outbreak in a somewhat realistic way; not shutting down and crumbling, but merely adapting to the plague with detainment centers for those who are experiencing symptoms and the destruction of crops, which dramatically light the night and fill the sky with thick smoke throughout the film. There are not swarms of zombies and running masses.  Life has gone on. This more down to earth reaction to the plague gives MAGGIE a more sincere tone, which allows for the audience to care more about the fate of Maggie and her family and sympathize with how the infection is affecting her. A scene where Maggie goes out with her friends, who she hasn’t seen since she left to live in the city, is filled with heart as the kids have a good time remembering their friendships, reforming bonds, and just forgetting the world is going to shit around them. This scene, where Maggie forgets she is infected and feels comfort amongst friends is one of the most effective beats in the film.

Though he’s known for his hammy one liners, thick accent, and bulging muscles, I think Arnold Swartzeneggar has it in him to be a pretty powerful actor when he can be. Or maybe its it's just that roles like this, where he has very little lines and the camera just follows him, allows him the leeway to let him haave more of a presence as he copes with this upcoming loss. Thinking back on his most effective roles such as PREDATOR, THE TERMINATOR, and CONAN THE BARBARIAN where he doesn’t have a lot of lines and simply lets the camera soak up his expression and looks alone, I realize those are his best films. MAGGIE is on par with those films, save for the fact that it is a tense drama rather than an action spectacle. Many scenes in MAGGIE just linger on Swarzeneggar’s face; the aged grooves in his face speaking more convincing volumes than he could ever communicate with thick accented puns.

Breslin does a pretty great job herself as the titular character. The aforementioned scene with her friends by the campfire and her struggle to maintain her composure as the disease sets in gives a personal take on zombies we really haven’t seen before. The subtle effects add to Maggie’s torment as her eyes glaze over and her skin begins to bruise. Joely Richardson also adds a lot to this film as her character could easily come off as selfish and cruel, but she walks the line between being a loving parent who still cares for Maggie and protective towards the rest of her family who is not infected. Without this complex role, the conflict Arnold’s Wade wrestles with would be easier and therefore less interesting.

Just as the film quietly opens, it ends just the same and while I won’t reveal it here if Arnie takes a shotgun to his zombie daughter or not. I will say that this is not your typical zombie film by a long shot and proof that these types of films can be effective if a little heart and creativity can be added. MAGGIE is a very slow and patient movie and not for the ADHD crowd. But it is one of the best Arnold films and there are elements that make this harrowing drama one of the best zombie films of the year.

And finally…I reviewed VOLUMES OF BLOOD a while back in an advance review in this very column. The “library themed” horror anthology has received a lot of praise at festivals as well. Still no word about when the film will be available for all, but here’s a fun behind the scenes feature that showcases the indie horror funfest!

See ya tomorrow, 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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