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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Welcome to the darker side of AICN! Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.

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On with the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Retro-review: BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972)
Retro-review: SALEM’S LOT (1979)
Retro-review: TENEBRAE (1982)
Retro-review: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986)
HUSH (2016)
And finally… BulletEater’s “War of the Old Gods!”

Retro-review: New on BluRay from Kino Lorber!


Directed by Larry Hagman
Written by Jack Woods & Anthony Harris (screenplay), Richard Clair & Jack H. Harris (story)
Starring Robert Walker Jr., Gwynne Gilford, Richard Stahl, Richard Webb, Shelley Berman, Godfrey Cambridge, Larry Hagman, Carol Lynley, Marlene Clark, Gerrit Graham, J.J. Johnston, Danny Goldman, Rockne Tarkington, Dick Van Patten, Tiger Joe Marsh, Tim Baar, Fred Smoot, Randy Stonehill, Del Close, Cindy Williams, Preston Hagman, John Houser, Larry Norman, Robert N. Goodman, Patrick McAllister, Bill Coontz, Byron Keith, Margie Adleman, Sid Haig, Judy Graubart, Burgess Meredith, Conrad Rothmann, and the Blob as itself!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Any low budget filmmaker looking to make a seemingly high budget looking film with next to no cash can take lessons from viewing BEWARE! THE BLOB aka SON OF THE BLOB aka A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOB aka STOP OR MY BLOB WILL SHOOT! OK, I made up that last one, but after watching this film, one can’t help but be in a goofy mood.

When a canister containing a sample of the Blob, a gelatinous and carnivorous ooze from outer space, is accidentally opened and de-thawed, it another small town (including a little kitty cat) is in danger of being consumed by its unquenchable hunger.

It’s a real shame BEWARE! THE BLOB is the first and last time Larry “I DREAM OF JEANNIE” Hagman sat in the director’s chair because he does a lot of great stuff in this film. Yes, the acting is atrocious. Yes, it feels like most of the actors didn’t have a script and were winging it (this was because the script was basically thrown out due to budgetary reasons and most of the scenes were improvised). But dammit if Hagman doesn’t do his best with what little effects he had by using some deft camera trickery such as reverse filming, projection, split screen, and simply rotating a blob-like rotisserie at the bottom of the screen in order to simulate an undulating alien mass pursuing screaming victims. After watching BEWARE THE BLOB, you’ll swear there were tons of effects-work, but in reality a lot of it is subliminal and along with some slick edits, despite the fact that it makes the original look like an effects masterpiece, it comes off surprisingly effective and cinnvincing.

Hagman was able to gather a fun set of comedic talent in this one. Wrestler Tiger Joe Marsh, funnyman Shelley Berman, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE’s Garrit Graham, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY’s Cindy Williams, WATERMELON MAN’s Godfrey Cambridge, EIGHT IS ENOUGH’s Dick Van Patten are but a few of the recognizable faces consumed by this little Blobster. In one of the film’s best scenes, a trio of hobos (comprised of Hagman, Burgess Meredith, and improv legend Del Close) take on the Blob head on. This scene made the film for me and it’s a shame a film with these three actors as hobos taking on a Blob for an hour and a half was never made.

The film is low on chills, but high on humor—most of the time on purpose. Though it did piss me off that the cute little kitten playing in the grass over the opening credits becomes one of the Blob’s first victims, but it also shows Hagman’s devilish sense of humor. Even the hokey non-ending winks hard at the viewer and while this might not be the hard-edged sci-fi sequel folks were dying for after the amazing original, it does back up the chuckle truck and unloads. BEWARE! THE BLOB is drive-in campy fun and those who appreciate the highs and lows of old school horror should have a blast with it.

Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Warner Bros Home Entertainment!

SALEM’S LOT (1979)

Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Paul Monash (screenplay), from a novel by Stephen King
Starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Julie Cobb, Elisha Cook Jr., George Dzundza, Ed Flanders, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Geoffrey Lewis, Barney McFadden, Kenneth McMillan, Fred Willard, Marie Windsor, Barbara Babcock, Bonnie Bartlett, Joshua Bryant, James Gallery, Robert Lussier, Brad Savage, Ronnie Scribner, Ned Wilson, Ernest Phillips, Reggie Nalder as Barlowe!
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Sometimes checking out these films every week take me back to a simpler time. Having cool parents, they allowed me to watch all kinds of stuff most would deem inappropriate for a kid my age. I remember seeing the TV advertisements for SALEM’S LOT as a kid and begging my cousins who were babysitting my brother and me to watch it while my parents were out for the night. They caved and let us watch the first night of it, which is what I am most familiar with upon revisiting. Though I was at the ripe age of seven, I was ok until the scene where the vampire kid knocks on the window and asks the other kid to let him in. Living on a single level home and positioned in my room with a bed under the window, this was terrifying for me. I don’t remember this, but was told that after witnessing this on TV and going off to bed, I woke up, panting, covered in sweat, and wide-eyed—screaming about a kid at the window. Needless to say, I didn’t get to see part two of this TV miniseries event the next night.

SALEM’S LOT originally aired November 17, 1979 on a two night event. The Stephen King adaptation was directed by THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE guru Tobe Hooper and with that kind of parentage, the 3 hour film should be a surefire hit. And for the most part, it is a lot of fun. The problem is that the story feels more fit to be one and a half hour film length rather than three hour film length. Because of that, we are given a lot of unnecessary exposition, a lot of unnecessary characters, and scenes that feel as if they are repeated more than once.

SALEM’S LOT opens on a pair of would be vampire hunters; Ben Mears (David Soul) and Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), who are drawn to places of great evil inhabited by vampires. As with many of King’s stories, Ben is a successful writer returning to his hometown of Salem’s Lot and drawn to an old house he believed to be haunted as a youth. When an elderly man named Richard Straker (James Mason) moves into the old house with his business associate Kurt Barlowe (Reggie Nalder) who never seems to be home when Ben arrives to ask questions. Beginning a relationship with local hottie Susan (Bonnie Bedelia), Ben becomes obsessed with the house and it’s enigmatic residents. Meanwhile, Mark and his friends Danny (Brad Savage) and Ralphie (Ronnie Scribner) Glick (aka the kids that scared the mother-fuck out of me as a kid) are busy double dog daring each other to investigate the house from the ground level. Once folks start disappearing, it’s apparent to Ben and Mark that Barlowe is not on vacation, but actually a bloodsucker who is bent on turning the whole town of Salem’s Lot into vampires.

What works are the effects and the moments intended to be scares. There are quite a few jump scares in this film that still pack a punch. Scenes where the vampire rises from the ground in front of someone in the dark or where the vamps creep horrifyingly slow behind a person from the background that incite undeniable chills and shows that Hooper was on top of his game while making this film. Much of the terror that occurs in this film is still potent today and still causes chills in this jaded viewer—specifically the aforementioned scene where the vampire kid taps on the child’s bedroom door asking to be let in. The film plays with conventions that are in most vampire films, but adds a chilling new level to them, Putting that scene from a children’s perspective worked as well for me as an adult as it did with me as a wide-eyed kid. I also loved the often simple effects used. Mirror eyed vampires with a specifically positioned light make these bloodsuckers more potent than the CG fangers we see today.

Specific props go to Reggie Nalder who, much like Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski before him, embodies a Nosferatu not only through the excellent makeup, but also in his rigid and deadly movements which feel more serpentine than vampire, but conveys a deadliness that most cinematic vamps only wish to have.

The problem with SALEM’S LOT is that between the mirror eyed vampires and appearances by Kurt Barlowe, there is a lot of filler to make it a three hour length. Sideplots about infidelity and small town gossip add character, but often had my fast-forward finger twitching. Also, there is more than one scene where a vampire rises from the shadows to block out the scene with darkness and two visits by a floating vampire kid tapping at a kid’s window that still pack a punch, but are lessened once they are repeated. This filler is necessary given that the allotted time had to be three hours, so I understand why Hooper put in these extraneous scenes. Still. It makes the viewing a bit tedious when trying to watch it all in one sitting. It’s understandable that they weren’t thinking that one day this film would ever be watched in one sitting, so I will forgive this film for being a bit repetitive, especially since one scary event is repeated later in the film, which would most likely occur on the next night, rather than the next hour in a one and done viewing.

So if you can put up with some of the weightier, time-wasting bits, SALEM’S LOT is filled with a whole casket-load of terrors. Whether you saw it as a kid and want to revisit it or are experiencing it for the first time, it adapts one of King’s more potent stories through the talented lens of Hooper at his prime. Effects, scares, and an undeniable sense of dread throughout, SALEM’S LOT reminded me of childhood nightmares and as adult, still delivers the chills.

Retro-review: New on BluRay from Synapse Films!


Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento
Starring Anthony Franciosa, Giuliano Gemma, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D'Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, Mirella Banti
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Dario Argento puts together an uneven, but undeniably gory Giallo tale with TENEBRAE.

While finishing his new novel in Rome, a writer (Anthony Franciosa) finds his horror stories coming to life as people around him begin meeting their maker one after another in an increasingly gory fashion. As the police investigate the crimes, the real murderer might not be who everyone thinks it is.

At times, TENEBRAE is downright goofy as it seems to follow the usual gloved killer Giallo template. Victims are offed and the blame is pinned on one person after another. And while Argento does a decent job of keeping the killer’s identity a mystery right up until the end, SPOILER…sort of, it ends up being the most likeliest of suspects after all. END SPOILER. In playing with expectations, the film really does end up being a clever sort of murder mystery in true Giallo fashion.

What surprised me most, though, is how unbelievably gory the film gets in the latter half hour. Sure there are a few scenes of people getting stalked and knifed in the first hour, but nothing very gratuitous. But by the end of this one, limbs are sliced off spraying arterial fluid too and fro in an almost comical fashion. It’s this leap that made me feel as if this were a film made by two different people and while Argento never really holds back, I found it surprising that he does so for so long here. But by the end, he lets the blood flood gates flow and shows his true colors. It made for a rather uneven watch, but still a fun one.

I can’t say this is one of Argento’s best, but it is still a whole lot of bloody fun. Argento’s restraint, up to a point, is appreciated here, but I would have rather seen the gore dispersed evenly. This version of the film comes with an audio commentary by film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh, a feature-length documentary, YELLOW FEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GIALLO, alternate opening credits and the original UNSANE (U.S. version of TENEBRAE) end credits sequence.

Retro-review: New on special edition BluRay from Arrow Video/MVD Visual!


Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Written by Peter Carey (story), Peter Smalley (screenplay)
Starring Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Wilbur Wilde, Dave Gibson, Sandie Lillingston, Ollie Hall, Lyn Collingwood, Nikki McWaters, Melissa Davis, Margi Di Ferranti, Desirée Smith, Murray Fahey, Jeremy Shadlow, Brett Climo
Retro-reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Chiming in on the end of the Drive In era and setting it to a post-apocalyptic beat, DEAD END DRIVE-IN is not going to be considered one of the greats in cinema, but it has its fun moments.

As civilization crumbles, the government has come up with a way to take care of those pesky teens who like to drive around in their cars and make out and go to those drive in movies and do all kinds of no-goodnik activities. Once inside the drive in, the gates go up and the police steal the tires of the cars right out from under them, leaving punk rocker teens trapped in a drive-in prison facility. While one of those trapped, a wannabe punker named Crabs (Ned Manning) tries to find a way out of the facility, his bouncy girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) grows accustomed to the prison culture that has grown overnight at the drive-in.

The film is obviously an attempt to cash in on the success of THE ROAD WARRIOR. All of the people wear punk gear, face paint, and lots of faux-hawked moussed-up hair. All of the cars have extra pipes, metal plating, and barbed wire soldered onto them so they look like they are all set for a drive through the wasteland. But while the look is there, the budget isn’t and it shows pretty much through the entire thing as two cop cars seem to make up the entire governmentally sanctioned police force and the film looks like it was made with the remnants of a junkyard rather than a props department.

But the premise of DEAD END DRIVE-IN is much better than the execution and the films serves as a grab bag of fun ideas with little budget to bring them to life. The ideas behind this film are especially interesting in this day and age where the world seems more on the brink than ever. Seeing how fast Carmen accepts the culture of the prison state is an important comment on how complicit folks can be, accepting the often horrible things set up as the norm by the government. Contrasting this mentality is Crabs, who never gives up wanting to fight against the system; ironically, as established in the opening moments, he is not really much of a punker or manly-man. So in many ways, this is a coming of age tale for Crabs.

The film has some fun little Easter eggs such as a poster for RAMBO 8: RAMBO TAKES RUSSIA and some of director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s previous films (such as TURKEY SHOOT – reviewed here) are being played on the screen at the drive-in. This BluRay comes with commentary from director Brian Trenchard-Smith, a documentary directed by Trenchard-Smith called STUNTMEN, plus HOSPITALS DON’T BURN DOWN, Trenchard-Smith's 1978 public information film. So look for better ideas than execution with DEAD END DRIVE-IN, but it was a lot of low fi fun to revisit.

New this week On Demand from Cleopatra Films!


aka BITE
Directed by Alberto Sciamma
Written by Alberto Sciamma
Starring Costas Mandylor, Gianni Capaldi, Vinnie Jones, Drew Kenney, Elena Mirela, Grazia Leone, Denny Mendez, Coque Malla
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Entertainment doesn’t always have to be of the most cerebral sort. Take BLOOD TRAP, for example. It’s a pretty brainless action movie, but with some fun twists and turns, a couple gallons of blood, and a decent dark black tone, it turns out to be a fun little cinematic time-waster of a movie.

Overcome with boredom after he retires as a prison warden, Roman (Costas Mandylor) recruits a quintet of scallywags (including a brief appearance by SNATCH’s Vinnie Jones) to break into the home of a local mob boss’ daughter and kidnap her for a pricey ransom. But after breaking into the home, metal doors and windows clang down and seal the group in with the daughter who turns out to be much more than just a damsel in distress. Now sealed in with a monster until the next sunset, the group of bumbling thieves tear themselves apart trying to break out of the house and steer clear of the blood-sucking daughter of a vampire.

This was a fun movie. Director Alberto Sciamma does a great job of keeping the action moving and the bumbling antics of the hapless thieves as they trip along to their doom. The group comes up with one hair-brained scheme after another and soon this becomes a sort of Roadrunner cartoon as the group find themselves deeper and deeper in trouble (and losing body parts along the way). As the story goes on, the desperate lengths become comical, especially with the action movie cliché actors doing their best to out tough one another. Those who like fun action romps like THE RUNDOWN, THURSDAY, or THE BIG HIT will appreciate the tone of this one and horror fans will definitely appreciate the copious bloodletting at play. Some of the scenes set to music feel like they’ve been ripped from the post-PULP FICTION era, but despite showing it’s age, it definitely doesn’t fail to entertain on a gut level.

New this week on BluRay/DVD from Kino Lorber Redemption!


Directed by Sade Satô
Written by Sade Satô (screenplay), from the manga by Waita Uziga
Starring Miyako Akane, An Koshi, Shôgo Maruyama, Soaco Roman
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

The gory Japanese manga is brought to life in this perverse little ditty called MAI-CHAN’S DAILY LIFE. While I can’t say this was my cup of tea, there are a few things about this twisted import that might interest goreheads. The story of MAI-CHAN’S DAILY LIFE is unconventional and twisted—yet it’s also quite interesting. I can’t say I’ve read the manga that inspired this film, but I will say the story intrigued me.

A young girl named Mayako (Miyako Akane) answers an online ad for a maid position that pays big. Once she arrives, she is given a head to toe examination by an eccentric, wheelchair bound Master (Shôgo Maruyama) and his head maid Kaede (Soaco Roman). Passing the test, she is introduced to another maid, the titular Mai-Chan (An Koshi), who has been working for the Master for quite a while. When the maids accidentally spill some food during meal-time (which is on the floor where the girls lap up milk like kittens), Kaede punishes Mai-Chan by poking out her eye, but to Mayako’s surprise, Mai-Chan has the power to heal after the most extreme punishments. Watching this punishment also awakens dark feelings of lust and a perverse fascination with seeing her best friend tortured in Mayako taking this tale into extremely gory territory.

Aside from the extreme gore that permeates pretty much the entirety of MAI-CHAN’S DAILY LIFE, what I think will interest people reading this column is that the story is a very unconventional one. Instead of following Mai-Chan, as the title would suggest, we follow Mayako through this tale as she realizes her fascination with Mai-Chan and her torture and healing afterwards. It’s this twist on perspective that makes this story much more interesting than simple torture porn. Following a person realizing that they have a dark and twisted side when they never realized it is something that really hasn’t been explored much, especially in American cinema where the focus is usually on an always virginal/unflawed hero that overcomes such temptations. Because of this unconventional approach, I was more invested in this story than I thought I would.

The acting is not great here and neither is the rough and tumble way this film seems to have been put together. Sometimes the scene goes to black and white, and then switches back to color for really no reason. And the whole story wraps up rather quickly (it’s only about an hour long) and gives a more TWILIGHT ZONE-esque ending than a real resolution. But this film has me interested in seeking out the source material as there are some unusual and unconventional ideas at work in MAI-CHAN’S DAILY LIFE. Not for the squeamish and definitely ripe with perversion, I don’t expect many to love this film, but for me, there were aspects that were thought provoking.

BEWARE: Not Safe For Workness appears in this trailer below!

New this week in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!


Directed by Padraig Reynolds
Written by Danny Kolker, Christopher Wiehl
Starring Christopher Wiehl, Kym Jackson, Tina Lifford, Samantha Smith, Yohance Myles, Kennedy Brice, Brea Grant, R. Brandon Johnson, Ashlynn Ross, Matty Ferraro, Melissa Nearman, Jo-Ann Robinson, Naomi Kyle, Daniel James, Emerson Rhinewalt, Jaclyn Bethany, Donna Duplantier, Danny Kolker, Graham Skipper, Alan Altschuler, Mara Hernandez
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

A solid amount of blood and equally solid acting from some familiar genre faces make THE DEVIL’S DOLLS aka WORRY DOLLS something a cut above your usual voodoo horror.

Sure the story follows some well tread voodoo pathways. There’s the chanting killer cursing little dolls which end up in the hands of those uneducated in the dark arts. Sure there are pagan symbols and spiritual rituals followed. There is even a voodoo priestess with all the answers who is approached in the final act in order to fix this mess. But what makes THE DEVIL’S DOLLS different is that it doesn’t forget to get gory and visceral along the way. More like SERPENT & THE RAINBOW than anything else, the gory scenes where a set of dolls possess their wearers are intense, well put together action horror scenes that thrill as much as they chill. The opening scene where a victim escapes and the killer pursues her with a large mechanical drill (not unlike the murderer in SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE) is exciting and extremely gory. Later scenes don’t forget the red stuff as well, so while most films start strong and then peter out by the end, this one maintains its dark and action-filled tone throughout.

Young actress Kennedy Brice (best known as Molly on THE WALKING DEAD) is strong here as the possessed child giving enough heart to sympathize with and enough cold blank stares to cause chills. Genre actress Brea Grant of HALLOWEEN II and HEROES fame as well as her own directorial debut BEST FRIENDS FOREVER – reviewed here has a nicely sized role and a strong performance when her hubbie becomes possessed by one of the dolls and she must hide throughout the house to escape. The lead Christopher Wiehl is someone I am less familiar with and while there isn’t a lot for the actor to do outside of the lead action/concerned dad role, he gives a solid enough performance.

But the best parts of THE DEVIL’S DOLLS occur in its bloody and exciting action scenes. The film does kind of fizzle out in the final moments, relying on some pretty conventional means to wrap the whole thing up, but the ride to the end is a whole lot of fun and worth a look see.

Available now on as Netflix here!

HUSH (2016)

Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mike Flanagan
Starring Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emma Graves
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Mike Flanagan first made waves with the simple, yet effective short OCCULUS: THE MAN WITH THE PLAN (reviewed here), which lead to a big budget version of the film from the director. Now, Flanagan goes back to his simple roots and offers up one of the most perfect stalk and slash films you’re bound to see this year with HUSH.

Kate Siegel plays Maddie, a deaf but independent writer who lives in a cabin in the middle of the woods (always a bad place to be in horror movies), who is struggling to complete her latest novel. While debating which of her many endings she has written up to use, a masked stalker (played by John Gallagher Jr. from 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE) decides it’s prime time to play fucked up mind games with her—toying with her and threatening to kill her, seemingly just for the sport. Now Maddie must use her wit, gumption, and noggin to out smart the assailant outside, despite her handicap.

What is most impressive about HUSH is its simplicity. In he opening moments, much like HALLOWEEN, we are privy to an assailant outside of Maddie’s home before she is. There are more than one scenes where the stalker is standing right outside of the window in the background while Maddie is going about her nightly chores without a clue death is lingering a window pane away. It’s not suggestion that Hollywood, which really seems to lack any creative bones in its body, is rumored to have hired Flanagan to remake and revitalize the HALLOWEEN series with a back to basics approach as HUSH really does have that perfectly paranoid feel that encapsulated the original HALLOWEEN. I am not criticizing Flanagan for this—I’m actually glad the talented filmmaker might have the opportunity to give his take on Michael Myers and given this film, he has it in him to do the franchise justice. My problem is that how literal HUSH is in it opening moments in comparison to the original HALLOWEEN as Flanagan really does know how to hide the threat in the background in the very same way Carpenter did in the series that made him a haunted household name.

But while HALLOWEEN continues to tell the tale of a faceless murderer stalking an unsuspecting babysitter, HUSH deviates from the mold by having the killer unmask early in the film. While this kind of kills some of the scariness going on as the emotionless mask is quite disturbing, it takes the danger to a much more dire level as the victim has now seen the killer’s face and he simply can’t leave her alive now. This leads to one of the best cat and mouse sequences you’re bound to see. Sure, the killer can break in any time, but the killer here is playing with his victim and the danger that Maddie is but a window pane away from the killer makes every scene in this seemingly glass house all the more terrifying and threatening. Watching Maddie go through one plan after another to escape is maddening as the killer seems to be able to be one step ahead of her the entire time. Flanagan orchestrates this terrifying Tom and Jerry cartoon with finesse most filmmakers simply are unable to fathom, leading to a climax that truly will make you occupy the seat’s edge.

On top of all of the fun tension and danger buildup, I loved the writer’s aspect of this film. Movies focusing on writers always interest me being a writer myself. Seeing how the writer’s mind works is always something of great interest to me and Flanagan exemplifies one of the most important characteristics of the writer and makes it crucial to the plot itself. This understanding of how the creative mind works and ability to articulate it within the story in such a seamless and meaningful fashion makes HUSH doubly impressive. HUSH is a film that excels in tension, terror, chills, thrills, and finally smarts in terms of how a writer seems the world and opposition. Maddie is one of the strongest female characters you’re bound to find in horror this year. I can’t recommend HUSH more to those who appreciate the stalk n’ slash genre as well as those who are a sucker for insight on the creative process. HUSH is a smart, captivating, and downright excellent little film no one should miss and if this film is any indication, the HALLOWEEN franchise is in good hands.

In theaters now!


Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

Let’s just get this out of the way and say that I loved the original BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. While I didn’t buy into it being a nationally released snuff film, I was captivated by the first person point of view and impressed by both the ad campaign convincing the more gullible of audiences as well as captivating the horror world with a solid mythology and an exemplary execution of a found footage film that investigated all of that mythology and more. BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is a once in a lifetime experience and there’s no way it’ll ever happen again, so the expectations for a revisiting to the franchise in this self-aware day and age is bound to disappoint those fooled and roped into the original’s tendrils.

I don’t envy Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. They were posed with an impossible task of revisiting a mythos that was proven a hoax and while the brave audiences are able to admit that the original grabbed them by the short and curlies, the rest of the naysayers who mock the original because it actually struck a nerve in them are bound to criticize them for daring attempt to try to fool us again with a revisit. So no matter how good or bad this film was, many who were fooled or simply scared out of the theater and never finished the original are going to rip this film a new one. What I do know is that having done this big budgeter, I am happy because, most likely, Wingard and Barrett will be given the opportunity to make something more in their own style at their own speed (more akin to their excellent THE GUEST and YOU’RE NEXT) having produced a more mainstream film with BLAIR WITCH.

What Wingard and Barret do is try to incorporate the key elements of the BLAIR WITCH mythos into a new version of the film, made specifically towards modern ADHD audiences. In many ways, Wingard and Barrett attempted to make the BLAIR WITCH version of ALIENS out of a much more suspenseful original mythos as James Cameron did with Ridley Scott’s intimate space opus. While Wingard and Barrett weren’t as successful at this tweaking of the source material (mainly because the characters simply weren’t as compelling as those in the first BLAIR WITCH), they do a lot right since much of the carefully orchestrated first person POV jump scares worked on making me almost toss my popcorn into the lap of the person beside of me. While some might say this is an easy scare, I have to admit, this forced perspective to a jump scare gets me almost every time and it did here with BLAIR WITCH on multiple occasions.

BLAIR WITCH focuses on James (James Allen McCune) brother to the original film’s Heather Donahue who discovers a video on Youtube claiming to find the fabled house Heather found in the final moments of BLAIR WITCH. You see, while the footage was found from the first one, the house never was, so James gathers his gal pal Lisa (Callie Hernandez) who wants to film this excursion for her grad school class (of course), his best buddy Peter (Brandon Scott, remember in the nineties when every rom-com leading man had to have a wisecracking black best friend? That’s this guy in this film), and Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) – a techie who helps James with a drone camera, and all of them set off for James to find closure for his lost sister. The drone is but one new thing the film brings to the table to hopefully combat getting lost in the woods. GPS, more modern cameras, and motion sensor cameras are all used, though not much reason is given as to how these four twenty-somethings were able to afford to put all of this high tech equipment together. The group of investigators are later joined by skeevy locals Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who were the ones who found the tape and will show them where they found it, only if they let them tag along. As the six kids venture into the woods, things start getting structurally familiar as they get lost and then get disappeared one by one until they finally find the elusive house of Rustin Parr, a serial killer who kidnapped kids who claimed he was instructed to do so by a witch in the woods, which is the same house Heather found Michael standing in the corner in the first film. Much like the end of the original, the final act takes place inside this house as those who are left attempt to escape for their lives with a supernatural force following them through the labyrinthine halls and floors of the building.

As I said before, BLAIR WITCH does a decent job of setting up the situation in a way that most would have thought BOOK OF SHADOWS (the first BLAIR WITCH sequel) would have done. It’s not the most original way to get folks back into the woods, but it works. The filmmakers also do a good job of peppering the mythology of the Blair With into casual conversation. While I enjoyed the slow burn investigation of the original, where we get this information through interviews with locals and Heather’s discourse, here it flows a bit more freely and doesn’t feel like an info dump. I understand why they did it this way. This is a search and rescue mission (like ALIENS) rather than a search for new information (a la the original crew of the Nostromo in ALIEN). So there’s no interest in getting a taste of the local flavor. While this is understandable in BLAIR WITCH not to have these interviews, it definitely plops you into the middle of the woods as fast as possible. In the first, the buildup to the final scene is excruciating (which I like, but others can’t stand) and these interviews and sidebars about the mythology ratcheting up the tension. Remember the scene with the old woman who looks like a witch herself in the original? There’s nothing like that here and some old timer telling the kids to keep out of the woods, while cliché, is needed in this film.

The biggest flaw of BLAIR WITCH is that the cast simply isn’t up to par with the original trio of Heather, Mike, and Josh. Say what you will about how over-dramatic Heahter was, her hysterical trek though the woods and into the house put us firmly in her head. It was because she acted so convincingly that some believed the film to be real. Yes, she was annoying, but dammit if her frantic screaming as she ran through he hallways of the house didn’t work amazingly to ratchet up the tension to the breaking point. The actors here, while decent, just aren’t on that level. The actor playing James is especially unconvincing as the driven brother searching for his sister. I never bought it because the actor simply doesn’t have the chops to go there emotionally in this. The character of Lisa, who is a friend of James and cares for him, seems to only have investment in continuing to film this for her documentary, a motivation that worked with Heather because she was kind of a bitch, but doesn’t with this character because we are supposed to like this virginal horror character.

Meanwhile, the film seems to want us to hate these guys as the film goes on as they do some of the most bone-headed things you’re going to see in a film this year. There is a scene where Ashley, though her ankle is seriously injured, climbs a tree to get the crashed drone, which at this point would be useless as a) it is dark out so they wouldn’t be able to see anything with the drone, and b) by this time in the story, the drone is pointless as the rest of the campers are dispersed because something is stalking them in the woods and going out in the open and climbing a tree is the last thing I would want to do when a mythological woodland creature is after me.

The way BLAIR WITCH is set up, it is supposed to play with horror tropes and what we expect from the first film. I get the multiple times Peter goes to gather wood as being something that works the first time and…doesn’t the second. This is where Wingard and Barret shine as they have seen all the horror films and play with those expectations in a fun way here. As with the original, the campers awaken to find totems hanging around their tent, but this event occurs twice, each time with a different meaning to the story. This is smart writing that I appreciated. I also appreciated the use of time loops here as the party is broken up and some of them have been wandering around in the woods for weeks, while others only a day or two. This also explains why the cabin, which was said to have burned down after Parr was captured, is found intact in the woods. I think slowing down the film with some science explanation would have bogged the momentum to a halt, so the way it is incorporated into the story feels just right, especially since the cast is frantic at that moment.

Yes we see glimpses of the Blair Witch here, but while the image is quite shocking, she looks way too similar to the gangly monster occupying the top floor of the building in [REC] and [REC]2 (and QUARANTINE, for that matter), and given that pretty much everyone who dies is dragged away from the camera, this feels too on the nose and I expect more from this filmmaking team of Wingard and Barrett. The film also lifts from both THE DESCENT and the indie gem CRAWL OR DIE (reviewed here) by having one of the cast burrow through a tiny cave to find salvation. Again, it’s nice to see an expansion from the original into different territory, but felt too familiar for my tastes. Audiences who have seen less horror films than I might not feel the same though. I left BLAIR WITCH with a rather meh feeling though as despite Wingard and Barrets efforts to add to the mythology, the cast just wasn’t convincing, bone-headed moves were made to forward the story, and some of the scenes which were supposed to be most effective felt lifted from other films. The jump scares got me, so if you’re looking for a film that’ll startle you (either falsely or with actual shocking material), this one has it, but in terms of solid, visceral scares and a feeling of utter dread, this BLAIR WITCH fails to stack up to the original.

And finally…this week’s “And finally” spot is a music video for the new song by the band BulletEater entitled “War of the Old Gods.” The video is inspired by Lovecraft, as you’ll plainly see. So sit back and open your earholes for some Lovecraftian Rock! You can find out more about BulletEaster on their website here! Rock on!

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 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on

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!

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