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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. A power outage and an unsaved batch of reviews lead to the delay of last week’s column. So I had to rewrite them all, unfortunately. Still, I hate excuses, so let’s just dive right into these horror reviews I whipped up for ya!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: THE MASK (in 3D, 1961)
Retro-review: QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966)
Retro-review: BLOOD RAGE (1987)
Retro-review: SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED (2010)
COOTIES (2014)
KRAMPUS (2015)
Advance Review: THE SUBLET (2015)
And finally…Sonny Fernandez’ DOWN TWISTED TALES: WEREWOLF!

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

THE MASK (in 3D, 1961)

Directed by Julian Roffman
Written by Frank Taubes, Sandy Haver, & Franklin Delessert (screenplay), Slavko Vorkapich (dream sequence)
Starring Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker, Anne Collings, Martin Lavut, Leo Leyden, Norman Ettlinger, W.B. Brydon, Jim Moran, Eleanor Beecroft, Rudi Linschoten
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

This thinly-veiled anti-drug metaphor is not strong on story, but the imagery in THE MASK make it something fans of the weird and surreal will want to try on.

An archeologist finds an ancient mask with fabled mystical properties. In the opening scenes, he is shown stalking a woman and killing her. Later he goes to his psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) and can’t recall where he has been and what he has been doing. Even later, the archaeologist is found dead by suicide. But when Barnes receives the mask in the mail, he realizes the archaeologist’s rantings about the mask being able to transport the wearer to another realm filled with madness and nightmares to be true when he is compelled to wear the mask himself. Now the police are after Barnes in connection with the death of the archaeologist, all the while Barnes falls deeper and deeper into obsession with wearing the mask.

I wasn’t really impressed by the real world story that unfolds in THE MASK. The fact that it so obviously is a comment on the dangers of drug use and so (pardon the pun) in your face about it just doesn’t grab me. The hysterics Barnes’ love interest Pam (Claudette Nevins) unleashes about how he is a different person after putting on the mask and how its sucking his life away is just a bit too on the nose to be effective. Plus Stevens and Barnes are overacting to the Nth degree here, so they don’t sell these scenes well. Add on a kind of wonky motive for the cops to be pursuing Barnes acting on a hunch one of the cops has for the most part simply to push along the story and it’s just not a convincing one to me.

That said, the 3D sequences are pretty astounding. Filled with Jungian metaphors and all sorts of surreal imagery, THE MASK is obviously a film that’s influence has spread into movies all the way to today. Sure there are plenty of scenes of things popping out at you, which is the go to move of many a 3D film, but given what we know of Barnes’ character and the vague origins of the mask, the sights and sounds inside the realm of the mask are pretty amazing.

Snakes pop out at you, flames shoot into your face, bizarre blank faced wizards and zombies shamble your way, and eyes float right off the screen. These are just a few of the surreal and odd imagery that were used during Slavko Vorkapich 3D dream sequences, which I recently found out were not completely his since his imagery was much too ambitious for the technology and the budget of the time. So director Julian Roffman deserves some credit as well for reeling in the imagery to be something filmable.

I also loved the William Castle-esque intro where a narrator instructs the viewer at the beginning of the film to put on the cardboard masks they were given by the theater ticket takers when the movie repeats “Put on the mask now!” This sequence is fun because it not only symbolizes Barnes’ growing addiction to wear the mask and be compelled to put it on, but it also, not so subtly tells the viewer when the 3D begins.

Sure it’s a concept done with more nuance in William Castle’s THE TINGLER, but THE MASK is a lot of fun and though I don’t have a 3D TV myself, the dream sequences were still thrilling. I can’t imagine how cool it would be with an added dimension. THE MASK Bluray comes in 2D and 3D versions, as well as a documentary on director Julian Roffman, some short films from Slavko Vorkapich, and an audio commentary by 3-D film historian Jason Pichonsky.

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


Directed by Curtis Harrington
Written by Curtis Harrington
Starring John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Judi Meredith, Dennis Hopper, Robert Boon, Don Eitner, Forrest J. Ackerman, & Florence Marly as the Queen of Blood!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

A dash of Russian creativity paired with Roger Corman’s do it yourself mentality and an influential sci fi classic was born in QUEEN OF BLOOD.

In the far off year of 1990, a message from space is received on Earth and the world science organization (lead by Basil Rathbone and his assistant Forest J. Ackerman—that’s right Uncle Forry is in this one!) put together a team of astronauts to intercept an alien spaceship on the moon of Mars. Arriving on the moon, the astronauts (including John Saxon, Judi Meredith, Dennis Hopper, and Robert Boon) discover a lone survivor on the alien spaceship; a green skinned woman who cannot speak. Bringing her back to their ship, they find out that the woman has a thirst for human blood. That’s right, she’s a space vampire!!!

Not only is this film the inspiration for Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE, but one look at the creative designs and you can see seeds of inspiration for films like STAR WARS and ALIEN as well. The sets and backgrounds in this film are like no other sci fi film of its era with creative structures, elaborate interior sets of space ships, and amazing rockets.

The story of how this film came to be is a testament to producer Roger Corman’s ingenuity as a filmmaker. Apparently, Corman saw a Russian film with these elaborate effects and set pieces, bought the rights to it, and edited in American actors in order to make QUEEN OF BLOOD. The amazing sci fi backdrops were made as part of a Russian propaganda film which focused on the space race between America and Russia that was going on at the time.

It’s also a testament to director Curtis Harrinton’s skill as an editor and filmmaker to make this film pretty darn seamless in terms of which were from the Russian film and which were American. Long shots of the astronauts, used in the Russian film were spliced in with close ups of the American actors. A completely different movie was made out of snippets from another, which is actually quite cool if you think of the time and energy it must have taken to make the two film clips match up and make sense.

But on top of the achievement of being a gorgeous sci fi film, it’s also quite horrific as well as the Queen of Blood (Florence Marly) looks and acts like a futuristic Nosferatu with a cold, blank stare and a curled lip stained with blood. Lights were shined into her eyes to give off a hypnotic effect, and the beehive hairdo she sports rounds out the downright terrifying look. While the front half of this film is all sci fi, the latter is a straight up, “And Then There Were None” monster in the house film reminiscent of ALIEN and countless other spaceship monster films made after. Sure the alien eggs here are Jell-O squished around balloons, but still, this is a dark and terrifying film for its time.

This BluRay comes with a pair of interviews with the editing and effects team explaining the film’s complex origin as well as the story straight from Roger Corman’s mouth himself. QUEEN OF BLOOD may feel like hokey 60’s sci fi at first glance, but the look and feel of the film are much more sophisticated. QUEEN OF BLOOD should be on any sci fi and horror fan’s BluRay shelf. It’s a revolutionary and imaginative film that inspired much of the stuff of sci fi in today’s cinema.

Retro-review: New this week in Warner Brothers Horror Classics Volume 1 BluRay Box Set!


Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Anthony Hinds (screenplay) (as John Elder) ,Bram Stoker (based on the character created by)
Starring Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Barry Andrews, Ewan Hooper, Marion Mathie, Michael Ripper
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

Rounding out Warner Brothers’ Horror Classics Volume I is DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, a direct sequel to DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (reviewed here) which left Dracula in an icy grave at the base of Castle Dracula. While trying to pick which Hammer Dracula film is my favorite is most likely like a mother trying to pick her favorite child, if I had children, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is definitely one of the best.

Two priests (Rupert Davies and Ewan Hopper) make their way up the mountain leading to Castle Dracula with an intent to seal the entrance to the castle for good with a giant golden cross. Davies’ character has the moxy to make it to the Castle, but Hopper lacks faith and conviction and falls back, slipping on a rock and bursting his head open right where Dracula is buried in the ice. As the blood seeps into the cracks in the ice, the Count (the late great Christopher Lee) awakens once more and seeks revenge on the priest who sealed his castle. Along the way, being the lover of ladies that he is, Dracula falls for a beautiful niece of the priest Maria (Veronica Carlson) which doesn’t bode well for the poofy haired son of a butcher Paul (Barry Andrews).

What I love about this film is that it’s all about the faith. While modern horror films seem to shy away from the concept, there’s a solid moral base to this film that I found to be refreshing in these apathetic times. The concept is literally illustrated with the two priests (Davies and Hopper). Davies, who is steadfast and faithful, makes it to the top of the mountain to seal it. Hopper lacks conviction and in doing so, falls and revives Dracula. Central to the faith debate that occurs in this film is Paul who is a self-proclaimed atheist and shunned by Maria’s caregivers because of it. While battling Dracula, Paul must find faith in order to defeat him and win Maria back. This is made evident when Paul drives a stake through Drac’s heart, but it doesn’t work because he doesn’t have faith. While modern romanticized vamp films seem to want to highlight the faith of love, religion has almost become a taboo topic unless it’s being made fun of or being pointed out for its hypocrisy in modern horror films, so seeing Dracula representing ultimate evil and the faith in God being his adversary may seem to be an antiquated concept, but I found it kind of refreshingly simplistic and appealing here.

Christopher Lee is, as always, amazing; commanding every scene he is in with his regal stature and deep voice. In this film, Dracula is much more manipulative and direct in a human sort of way (an aspect of the character that seemed to have been lost in the film’s sequel TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA where Lee plays the Count more as a hissing monster). Still those blood red eyes are as horrific as they come. Again, the romantic nature is not really present here in Lee’s performance. He simply needs a bride and when he meets Maria, the other blood bag he has chosen to suckle on (a barmaid named Zena played by Barbara Ewing) is easily tossed to the side. Zena’s character seems like she would be unimportant but Ewing does a good job of playing the lower class girl trying to do good and marry up, embodying the disappointment and jealousy well when Drac chooses Maria (just as earlier in the film Paul chooses Maria as well). Hopper also plays a fascinating character as the fallen priest who is under the sway of Dracula.

It’s be wrong not to mention Rupert Davies as the Monsignor who delivers a commanding performance as the strength of conviction and though he is either wearing a wig or just has the world’s first white afro, Barry Andrews does a decent job of playing Paul, though he is easily the least likable of the cast as he often comes off as an entitled prick.

All in all, this collection of Hammer classics is a winner. While I loved the script and epic expanse of THE MUMMY, I also couldn’t help but appreciate the extension of the Frankenstein mythos is FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Then again, the ballsy turn TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA takes is awesome too. So it looks like you can’t go wrong with this four film BluRay collection whatever film you check out.

Previously reviewed from this Warner Brothers Horror Classics I Bluray Collection

Retro-review: New on BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!


Directed by John Grissmer
Written by Bruce Rubin
Starring Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Marianne Kanter, Julie Gordon, Jayne Bentzen, Bill Cakmis, Dana Drescher, James Farrell, Ed French, William Fuller, Gerry Lou, Chad Montgomery, Lisa Randall, Douglas Weiser, and Ted Raimi as the Condom Salesman!
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

On the surface, BLOOD RAGE is your typical slasher from the 80’s, but there are some aspects of this film which make is undeniably watchable, even if sometimes it’s in a train wreck sort of way.

Twins Todd and Terry are thought to be sleeping in the back of the station wagon when their mother Maddy (the former Mrs. Woody Allen, Louise Lasser) decides it’s ok to neck with some Frankie Avalon lookalike at the drive in. But the twins are not asleep and seeing their mother making out pushes one of them (Terry) over the edge, so Terry grabs a hatchet and wails on an innocent couple having sex in the back of a neighboring car. As the woman runs off naked and covered in blood, Terry pins the murder of the man on Todd by handing him the hatchet and smearing blood on his face. Todd is sent to an institution, whereas Terry lives a normal life with his mom on the outside. Ten years later, Todd (played by Mark Soper) still professes that he is innocent of the crime and his psychiatrist believes him. But Maddy refuses to believe this and leaves Todd at the institution once again. When Terry (also played by Soper) returns home from school for Thanksgiving break, Maddy announces she’s going to get married to her boyfriend. This is enough to send Terry off the deep end again. Coincidentally, Todd breaks out of the asylum and heads home to confront Terry, just as Terry begins a new murder spree that he’s more than willing to pin on Todd again.

Thematically, this is a damn deep film and what impresses me most about it is that it doesn’t think the audience is stupid enough to warrant a lengthy, momentum stopping discourse explaining Todd and Terry’s psychosis. Terry clearly doesn’t want to see his mother with anyone but himself, killing anyone who gets in between them or threatens to disrupt the relationship. Terry is also clearly unsettled when his girlfriend and slutty neighbor try to take things to a sexual level. This sexual frustration leads to Terry acting out and murdering people in pretty vicious ways. This isn’t the first time sex = death is equated with slasher films, but in this case, there is no lengthy dialog linking the two. Hell, even the granddaddy of all slashers, PSYCHO, made this mistake at the end of the film, explaining the obvious just so that the folks making out through the movie can get it.

The gore here is pretty impressive as well as heads are severed, folks are chopped in half, hands are lopped off, and all sorts of cutlery is used in Terry’s murder spree. The maniacal way Terry goes about his killings, not so much dropping one liners, but simply having a rollicking good time at doing so, is pretty unsettling as well. Soper does a decent job at being unhinged and playing the murderous Terry completely different from the sheepish Todd, though visual cues such as Terry feathering his hair back and Todd pushing his bangs forward helps distinguish the two as well.

It’s a good thing this film has some thematic weight and gore going for it because if it relied on the acting it would have sunk from the get go. Louise Lasser is rumored to have tried to keep this film from being released and for good reason as her performance in this film is absolutely laughable. She is screaming to the cheap seats in every scene she is in and the scenes where she gets drunk and cleans the home in the middle of the night are somewhat believable if not for the over the top way Lasser plays it. She is completely unhinged by the end of this film and while she tries to make it dramatically girthy, it just comes off as obtusely projected cheese.

BLOOD RAGE is also quite unique in that it is one of the few horror films set during Thanksgiving. So until Eli Roth gets off his butt and films THANKSGIVING DAY, this is one of the few Turkey Day slashers out there. Plus it’s steeped in 80’s nostalgia from the clothes to the hair sprayed doos to the hilarious Atari scene where two of the kids play what I believe to be Pole Position.

Fans of the slasher genre are going to have a lot to love if they take a chance with BLOOD RAGE. Filmed in 1983; towards the beginning of the slasher phenomenon, unfortunately, this film sat on the shelf until close to the end of it in 1987. Three versions of the film are in this Arrow BluRay including the original home video cut, the theatrical cut released as NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS in 1987, and a third uncut and unedited version of the film that is bloodier and more gratuitous sexually. There are also outtakes, commentary by director John Grissmer, a short about Ted Raimi’s cameo in the film as the condom salesman, and interviews with producer/actress Marianne Kanter, actress Louise Lasser, actor Mark Soper, and effects guy Ed French, plus a new special about the location where the film was shot, and an alternate opening title. Lots of love for this surprising and entertaining little slasher yarn.

Retro-review: Newly available on BluRay/DVD from Troma!


Directed by Luigi Pastore
Written by Luigi Pastore
Starring Sharon Alessandri, Federico Amorosi, Nikol Brown, Federica Carpico, Tony Cimarosa, Michela Foresta, Fabio Giovannini, Anna Morosetti, Simona Oliverio, Matteo Pastore, Bruno Previtali, Riccardo Serventi Longhi, Claudio Simonetti, Titta Tani, Antonio Tentori, Gianluca Testa
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug

From the director of VIOLENT SHIT: THE MOVIE, SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED tries really hard to be a throwback to Giallo films of old and even sort of gets there a few times.

When a psychologist of a deranged man suggests that he institutionalize himself and discontinue seeing her, he takes it as rejection and murders her and then embarks on a killing spree which, in his eyes, is a form of artistic transformation.

Luigi Pastore gets a lot of the iconography of the Giallo film correct in this late in the game film in the once popular subgenre. There’s the close ups on the eye, the gloved hand holding a blade and advancing towards the screaming victim, and the reliance on ultra-bright blood and gore. But aside from these surface level similarities with Giallo, much of this film feels more like torture porn to me.

I know Eli Roth’s HOSTEL was a sort of Giallo homage in a sense, but the seated person getting torn apart piece by piece aspect is what everyone took away from it. In SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED we get a kind of backwards homage as there is a lot of focus on the gore and disassemblage of people and less focus on the examination of a fractured psyche, the overwhelming sense of mystery, and the textured themes of witnessing a crime.

I just left this film kind of wanting more of the classic Giallos of the past which is not a good thing to feel after watching a film that is trying desperately to pattern itself after those films. While acting was never the strong suit in Giallo films anyway, at least there was a diabolical and mysterious feel to them that made them appealing. With SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED there’s just a kind of morbid fascination with dissection and less interest in plot or character that just didn’t work with me.

New this week On Demand & DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment!


Directed by Simon Pearce
Written by Simon R. Green
Starring Martin Delaney, Lucy Cudden, Simon Merrells, Alexander Perkins, & Grahame Fox as Judas Ghost!
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While it feels more like the pilot of a TV series, JUDAS GHOST is a solid little ghost investigator film.

A quartet of investigators are asked to come check out a haunting at an old town hall. But while the government sponsored investigators think they’ve seen it all, this haunting is special. Taking on hauntings from anywhere between poltergeists and possessions, this place is haunted by something much more evil known as Judas Ghost, the Beast!

Each of the four investigators seem to be well developed and one of the reasons why I mentioned this would make a good TV series is that the characters feel like they could be delved into greatly given the opportunity of a serial. All four actors are great too with Martin Delaney leading the pack as the braggadocios leader. His posturing is a bit much to take, but Delaney gives a bit more depth underneath the bravado that makes him likable. Lucy Cudden plays the psychic, who seems equally complex, but isn’t given quite as much time to show it. The final fates of the crew feel a bit rushed story wise, but I wanted to spend more time with these guys.

The effects here are petty nice as well with some cool slinking darkness effects and a really awesome scene where Judas appears and slowly breaks through a pane of window glass.

Graham Fox is pretty creepy as the titular spook that shifts his form subtly through the story. The bleeding mouth and eye add to the icky weirdness of it all.

JUDAS GHOST isn’t a barn burner. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it does offer up solid performances, a premise worth hanging a series on, and some cool effects. It’s worth watching out for if it happens to cross your path.

New this week on DVD, On Demand, & iTunes from Brain Damage Films!


Directed by Michael Okum
Written by Michael Okum
Starring Paul S. Tracey, Lindsay Atwood, Mark Aaron, Katie Royer
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

These trails have been tread down before, but EXPRESSWAY TO YOUR SKULL is a good looking trail nevertheless.

Young pretty people Ed and Amy (Paul S. Tracey and Lindsay Atwood) are in love and what to young pretty people do in horror movies? They go camping, of course. But when the mushrooms they packed don’t have enough kick to them, they happen across a skuzzy old guy named Charlie (Mark Aaron) who promises them some good drugs if they just come back to his rundown Unibomber shack in the middle of the woods. What could go wrong?

While the getting lost in the woods with a killer out there motif is not a new one, EXPRESSWAY TO YOUR SKULL at least makes it all look really good. Writer/director Michael Okum uses filters, odd angles, grindhouse scratches in the film, and all sorts of cinematographic tricks in order to make the common story look less so. Okum has a real skill at making the mundane look exceptional and shows it numerous times here; be it through Oliver Stone-esque montage cuts or simply letting the lens show what it might feel like to be on the drugs the campers are on.

The performances here are top notch as well as I would imagine all of the cast, especially the creepy Mark Arron as Charlie, will go on to do bigger and better things. Okum even is able to make bit parts like the hitchhiker (Katie Royer) stand out.

This is a fun little flick. More style than substance and what substance is there has been done many times before. But good looking and well performed nevertheless.

New this week on BluRay from Lionsgate Home Entertainment!

COOTIES (2015)

Directed by Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Written by Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan, Josh C. Waller
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, Armani Jackson, Peter Kwong, Kate Flannery
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

The delicate balance between horror and comedy is achieved pretty well in COOTIES a new zom-com with a kiddy twist, funny performances, and a lot to gross out to.

While I can’t say I jumped too many times in fear, I did convulse quite a bit in laughter at the talented cast which is the highlight of COOTIES, the newest big budget mainstream zombie film that didn’t quite hit theaters, but still feels like the type of horror you would see at your local Cineplex. This mainly has to do with the quality of actors you get with this film with Elijah Wood and THE OFFICE’s Rainn Wilson leading the pack of personalities. Additional TV character actors such as THE NEWSROOM’s Alison Pill, 30 ROCK’s Jack McBrayer, SNL’s Nasim Pedrad, LOST’s Jorge Garcia, GLEE’s Ian Brennan, and COOTIES/INSIDIOUS/SAW writer and INSIDIOUS Specs Leigh Whannell round out the talented cast who play a group of teachers barricaded inside a school with a bunch of zombie virus infected children swarming around outside and trying to get in to eat them.

The story of Elijah Wood’s character Clint attempting to be a horror writer and coming to terms with simply liking being a teacher is an endearing one, especially when you throw in some fun chemistry between his high school crush Lucy (Alison Pill) and some conflict with her current boyfriend and gung ho gym teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson). The three characters play off of each other well, especially when Clint and Wade spar off on one another with putdowns (when Clint suggests to sneak through the halls, Wade actually says “like a hobbit!” which actually got a big laugh out of me). The rampant back and forthings spewed from these characters seem to be a lot of improv and the talented cast plays well with one another. Add a thick coat of blood and gore, and there really is a lot to play with.

And while the story is somewhat predictable, the gore is pretty over the top with the kids playing jump rope with intestines (something I recently saw in the Mexican child vamp flick CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT – reviewed here, but still fun to see in a mainstream film) and the zombie kids themselves being covered in pus filled sores. There’s enough grue and gristle in this film to make anyone wince a little.

One thing of note is that this BluRay offers up an alternate ending to the film which I kind of prefer to the one the film actually ended up with as it actually gives a resolution to Wood’s character arc and leaves things on a pretty morbid note. Check out the alternate ending and decide for yourself. Though COOTIES leans a bit more towards the gross-out style of horror, I give this film a lot of credit for going balls deep with it. The cast seems to dive right into the slick and red stuff and there’s plenty of carnage going on as the kids become infected pretty quickly and we don’t have to go through too much of the time-consuming initial shock of zombies existing crap we’ve seen in too many movies. The aspect of these zombies being children is different enough to make COOTIES feel fresh and the opening montage will most likely have you never eating chicken nuggets ever again. With some strong comedic performances highlighting the talents of this very talented cast, I don’t think you’re going to mind catching this particular outbreak of COOTIES if you’ve got an appetite for a slapdash blend of gore and comedy.

In theaters now!

KRAMPUS (2015)

Directed by Michael Dougherty
Written by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey, Zach Shields
Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Leith Towers, Maverick Flack
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

While I’m going to have to get some perspective on it, I will say that Michael Dougherty (TRICK R’ TREAT) has made yet another (mostly) great holiday horror film.

Christmas these days seems more of an arduous task than an actual holiday with so many traditions to uphold, it’s hard to just sit back and realize what it’s all about. That’s pretty much the message KRAMPUS is trying to tell you as it follows young Max (Emjay Anthony) the sole believer in Christmas spirit in his family which is comprised of father Tom (Adam Scott), mother Sarah (Toni Collette), sis Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), uncle Howard (David Joechner), aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), drunk great aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), three horrific cousins, and sweet grandma Omi (Krista Sadler). Max is growing up and seeing the way his family acts around Christmas time makes the young boy sad as he remembers when Christmas was the most magical time of the year for him. Writing one last note to Santa asking for everything to be like it used to, Max becomes frustrated and tears up the note and tosses it into the night sky, unknowingly unleashing the fury of the Krampus; a not-so-mythical Anti-Santa who punishes the naughty rather than rewards the nice. Trapped without electricity or heat by a sudden blizzard, the family must band together (and maybe learn a little bit about the important things about Christmas) as the Krampus and his minions attack their not-so-happy home.

There’s an overall sense of sweetness that goes on through this entire film. From the slo mo montage of shoppers barreling through the doors of a store and running a violent gauntlet to get the latest Christmas deals in the opening, to the bucking of all holiday traditions because people are too busy or self absorbed to care, this is a film through the eyes of a child. Often referred to as an Amblin-esque sort of film, KRAMPUS feels more along the lines of TIME BANDITS in tone than anything like EXPLORERS, because there is a undercoating of pure evil to this film that those with more starry eyes may refuse to admit. People die in this film…horribly. And it really is a rather true and sad reflection of the times we live in that the actions of many of the characters in this film are pretty realistic. The ending especially is pretty diabolical in nature and had Dougherty chosen not to go this way with the wrap up, I might not have had such a favorable feeling about this film for its conviction to stay dastardly all the way through.

From a story perspective, I think there are some problems here. Dougherty seems to have a lot of fun highlighting the Griswald-esque shenanigans that are going on and illustrating why these folks are Krampus worthy. I don’t want to say it’s not entertaining. I laughed quite a bit at this portion of the film as it did, sadly, hit close to home numerous times. But while the film takes its sweet time soaking in the talented and comedic character actors playing these horrid people, it kind of forgets to establish what the Krampus is and what its powers and limitations are until later in the film. This makes things feel rather rushed in the climax in order to catch the viewer up as well as come up with the Krampus’ “undoing” in the end. In doing so, things get rather murky at the end as what’s left of the family take on the Krampus. Add that to the rather quick way each of the family members meet their end in the last half hour and things begin to feel a bit uneven here.

It’s not for lack of trying. There’s a fun animated bit in the middle as Omi (Sadler) explains what the Krampus is. I loved the animation in this film which looked like Christmas cartoons of old mixed with folksy paper puppetry. But this again seems to come a little too late in the game. This discourse as to who the Krampus is and how he was once defeated needed to be earlier so things could have felt a little more organically.

Effects wise, the film is pretty amazing. They seem to go practical for a lot of the effects which is a lot of fun seeing the monsters in the frame and attacking out horribly family. The toys and elves who accompany the Krampus were seriously awesome and nightmarish and Dougherty does a great job of both working in some creative and terrifying scenes highlighting each of Krampus’ monsters.

I have mixed feelings about the Krampus himself. While I love the overall design and silhouette of the monster with its hunched back, hoofed feet, and swirling horns, the face of the Krampus, which is hidden from us for most of the movie and from the public eye until its release has some issues. The main problem is that it seems like the face’s mouth is not articulated, so it’s always open in some kind of gaping scream/snarl. This looks menacing in stills, but whenever the camera lingers on the Krampus’ face for too long, the fact that it’s a mask becomes more and more evident. I understand the allure of practical effects, but if they couldn’t do an articulated mouth, I would have welcomed some CG here to remedy this as it makes the big face reveal of the Krampus a bit of a letdown.

That said, despite the fact that there’s a hiccup in the pacing and some snags in the Krampus face, KRAMPUS is a crowd pleaser of a film. It’s not too scary as to frighten away mainstream audiences, but it does have a diabolical kick to it that will make hardcore fans appreciate it. Filled with fun action and horror sequences and an even portion of sugar and spice, just as Doughtery’s TRICK R’ TREAT was something fun to find in your candy bag on Halloween, KRAMPUS is just as much a fun surprise to find under the tree.

Advance Review: Recently premiered last week at the Whistler Film Festival!


Directed by John Ainslie
Written by John Ainslie, Alyson Richards
Starring Tianna Nori, Mark Matechuk, Krista Madison, Rachel Sellan, Porter Randell, James Murray, Mary-Elizabeth Willcott, Jeff Sinasac, Mark Ettlinger
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Thrilling and creepy, THE SUBLET has elements of other horror movies, but manages to still deliver the goods.

Joanna (Tianna Nori from THE DEMOLISHER – reviewed here) and her fiancée Geoff (Mark Matechuk) have moved into a sublet as Geoff takes a job as an actor on a TV show while Joanna stays home with their new baby Porter. Even as they enter the place for the first time, things are odd as no one is there to show them the place and a note explains that if they like what they see, they can stay. Just don’t go into the locked rooms. While Geoff is away though and Joanna is left home alone with the baby, weird things begin to happen. The locked door opens, the couch moves, and no matter how much Joanna tidies up the odd religious iconography, they seem to always return to their place. Not to mention the weird homeless woman outside staring at Joanna and the fact that Joanna’s family keep insisting that she is missing when they talk with Geoff. Things get weirder as a horrific history of the sublet is revealed through a journal Joanna finds.

Those who like all of their answers may want to take a pass with this little mind-fucker of a film, but anyone who enjoys a little ambiguity with their horror are going to want to seek this one out. It’s got elements of ROSEMARY’S BABY as it seems the world around Joanna is out to get her and the haunted history and bizarre photos around the sublet apartment gave me a vibe which reminded me of THE SHINING. Still there are no direct lifts from these iconic films and if you’re going to be reminded of a horror film, these two films are ones to go for.

Nori is amazing as Joanna and basically, this is a one woman show here. She sizzled with rage and sorrow in THE DEMOLISHER as the vigilante’s invalid wife and here she handles a range of complex emotions really well. In many ways this is a fantastic representation of post partum depression and the insecurities a woman feels after having a child, though things get supernatural and weird along the way. While Matechuk is great here as the aloof and distant husband, this is Nori’s show through and through. You believe her, no matter how crazy things get around her and that’s crucial in a film such as this when up and down are questionable.

Though there are some pretty gory scenes, the best parts of THE SUBLET are the surreal twists and nightmarish turns that occur throughout. This is one of those films that will burrow under your skin and won’t let you forget it. Filled with an overall sense of creep from minute one, the scares and shocks intensify to a nerve-shredding level by the end of THE SUBLET.

And finally…I was wondering what indie no-budget filmmaker Sonny Fernandez has been doing lately. Turns out the director of THE ABORTED, THE LAST BATTLEGROUND, THE COMPLEX, and HIGHWAY 91 has been doing some very cool animated shorts like the one below. DOWN TWISTED TALES is an anthology series delving into all sorts of terrors. This one is about a detective after a werewolf. It’s got one hell of a transformation sequence, some fantastic gore, a rudimentary Adult Swim quality that I kind of love. Enjoy!

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.

Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!

Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns on AICN HORROR’s Facebook page!

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