Hey Comicon-ers! It’s ML Miller again with another gaggle of the good, the bad, and the futt-bugly in horror from the past, present, and future, high to low to no budget, and from domestic to international and beyond. So sit back, pull the covers up to your nose, ignore that strange noise coming from the closet, and enjoy this fresh batch of horror I have on tap for you today!
Directed by Stephen Portland
Written by Stephen Portland
Starring Michael Gazin, Jane Rowen, Joel Clark Ackerman, Eric Roberts, Evan Carver, Elise Zell
Find out more about this film here
I think I’m a pretty patient person. I will sit with a film during the obligatory getting’ to know you sequences where nothing particularly scary goes on and the film makes time for one to invest in the characters. But even I have limits and unfortunately, SOMETHING found those limits.
Michael Gazin plays the unnamed husband to his unnamed wife (Jane Rowen), both welcoming a new baby into their home. As the two of them go about their mundane lives, they begin to feel a presence in their home. Both begin experiencing losses of time and hallucinations, eventually seeing some kind of entity lurking around their house wearing a plague mask and causing the couple to fear for the lives of their son and themselves.
As I said before, all films require some time for the viewer to meet and understand where the characters come from. But that doesn’t mean this time should be so uneventful, so mundane, so (I can’t help but say it) boring that you end up hating these people for being so unspectacular. Man and woman (ugh) talk about moving the crib. They talk about watching television. They talk about taking apart the crib. They talk about locking the door. They talk about being tired. They talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. And I can’t do anything but keep looking at the runtime to clock in when something actually happens in SOMETHING.
And it’s not until just before the 30 minute mark before something actually happens in SOMETHING—and even then it’s very miniscule. Now, I wouldn’t mind it if the supernatural stuff was preceded by some interesting characters, interesting dialog, interesting camerawork or some permutation of the three. But unfortunately, this has none of that. Because these characters are walking around and talking about nothing particularly interesting, they come off as uninteresting and finally unlikable. Without giving anything away, I understand why the filmmaker decided to have the characters listlessly wandering about the house all of this time, but it doesn’t make for anything remotely entertaining. Instead, during this extended time of nothingness going on, I am left with questions like; “Don’t these guys have any friends?” or “Don’t they ever leave the house?” or “Why am I watching this?” The film offers no answers to these questions.
Eventually, this film wraps up and I think the ending would have been much more powerful had this been a short film rather than an extended lead up to a rather passive, but kind of shocking ending. I get what the filmmaker is doing, but I don’t think he took the time to consider if the film leading up to the end was worth sitting through. The actors seem capable, just uninspired to do anything with the material and thus, ended up tweaking my ire rather than interest. This is a simple film, made on the budgetary low, but I think more effort put into filling out the story would have given me something to be interested in. Instead, I got nothing out of SOMETHING.
WHAT LIES AHEAD (2019)
Directed by Rob Gardner
Written by William J. Viglione
Starring Rumer Willis, Emma Dumont, Kelly Blatz, Katie Keene, Brandon Arthur Jones, Rick Clark, James Harper, Jack Segal, Che Cunanan, Paul Tompkins, Merritt Gardner, Warren Ray, Pattie Crawford
Find out more about this film here
WHAT LIES AHEAD has good intentions. It’s meant to be a road movie with deceptive turns and thrilling twists. It also wants to highlight the acting prowess of Rumer Willis, the daughter of Bruce and Demi. But unfortunately, just because the intentions are there, that doesn’t make it good.
Let’s begin the convoluted setup. When her mother dies, Raven (Rumer Willis) decides to move back to New York to be closer to her brother. Originally, her brother Kyle was supposed to go with her on the long road trip home. But since he was called in to work, he sends his new girlfriend Jessica (Emma Dumont) to accompany her on the lengthy trip. At first, the two seem to hit it off as they engage in chit chat and getting to know you time. But soon, it becomes apparent something is amiss and this non-eventful road trip gets weirder as something is definitely wrong with Raven.
I don’t want to give away the twists in this film. Even though I didn’t like WHAT LIES AHEAD, I don’t want to do it that disservice. So I’ll just focus on the things that bothered me, which coincidentally have nothing to do with the story or twists as all—though the story and twists turn out to be less than spectacular in execution.
What bothered me the most was the snails-pacing of it all. Again, I usually try to be patient with horror, but the fact that nothing of real import or excitement happens until about the 45 minute mark of an hour twenty minute movie is inexcusable. There are tiny moments of tension where Raven and Jessica are pulled over by a cop and when a pair of good old boys get rowdy in a bar and follow the two gals into the parking lot, but for the most part, it’s just Raven and Jessica in the car. There are hints as to what is going on under the surface, but these things are given not a lot of heft at the time and are way too subtle to translate. This is a film that wants you to watch it twice, once for the surprise and once to catch the clues leading up to it, but because the film is so uneventful, it just doesn’t warrant a second viewing.
And that is mainly because the acting, because…well, the acting is not great. As I said in the opening paragraph, this film feels like it was meant to put the spotlight on Rumer Willis. It feels as if it wants her to breakout in this role. The problem is that she just isn’t likable in the least from the first minute she is on screen. I think they want to convey her as a brassy, no-nonsense party gal—a weird cross between Rebel Wilson and Busy Phillips—and maybe someday Rumer will be capable of playing those types of parts. But here, she has all of the rebellious qualities, but none of the likability. She does play an overpowering force, but between Rumer’s over the top performance and Jassica’s pushover attitude responding to it, paired with the extended length of time we are trapped in the car with them and it makes for a rather excruciating combo to digest. Dumont seems to be a decent actress, responding to Raven’s impulsive and pushy demeanor with poise and grace, but it all seems like this excessive getting to know you time was meant to highlight the actresses’ strengths and it ends up doing the opposite. I think a substantial edit and an earlier notion that something amiss is going on would make this a sounder movie.
As is, WHAT LIES AHEAD feels like a Lifetime movie. And for me, that’s not a compliment. It doesn’t have the teeth to be a respectable horror film and the lack of anything worth getting wound up about for so long in the film makes it feel like its intentions were not to entertain but highlight one of its stars. I could be totally off base in saying this, as every film wants to highlight the talents of its actors, but you have to have them do something and not rely on sheer personality of the players to keep you interested. Had this film cast a more established star, they might get away with so much time spend spinning its wheels, but I just don’t think Rumer Willis is capable of this at this point in her career. I’m giving WHAT LIES AHEAD a hard pass.
New On Demand and digital download now and on DVD April 9th from Uncork’d Entertainment!
SOLDIER OF WAR (2018)
Directed by John Adams
Written by John Adams, Peter Adams
Starring John Rhys-Davies, Tanya Franks, Rosie Fellner, Jack Derges, Theo Devaney, Paul Reynolds, Gary Mavers, Sally Mortemore, Tristam Summers, Liana Harris, Anniwaa Buachie, Samantha Lyden, Jai Armstrong, Tony Pritchard, Glenn Salvage, Jennie Goossens, Peter Landi, Amy Kingsmill, Timothy George, Charles Mann, Darren Benedict, Connor Eve,
The amalgamation of RAMBO, THE TERMINATOR, and FRANKENSTEON is what you’re going to get when you check out the low budget schlocky fun that is SOLDIER OF WAR!
When a pair of kids playing in the woods uncover a secret military bunker, they accidentally release a relic from WWII—a cybernetic man put together with nuts, bolts, skin, and duct tape programmed to hunt and destroy Nazis. But his sensors are off kilter and the man-machine mistakes everyone for Hitler’s Army. Only John Rhys Davies and a ragtag band of soldiers and scientists have what it takes to take on this mechanical man out of place and time!
There’s a super fun element of Saturday afternoon schlock in SOLDIER OF WAR. The hokey science, the adherence to Mary Shelley’s man monster creation, and the overacting from John Rhys Davies all make for a fun time for those in the mood to smile while watching low fi carnage. The story is simple—lifted from popular war and horror films. It’s basically a science gone wrong story. Imagine, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER except instead of hunky beefcakes waking up after a long cold sleep, it’s an undead monster. We’ve seen it before, but the story here is done well here, if not extremely cheesy. The monster looks like one of those masks you’d save your money to but at Specner Gifts come Halloween time. But filmmaker John Adams lights and shoots everything capably.
Again, I don’t want to oversell this, but the fact that it seamlessly incorporates the coolest aspects of Rambo (from FIRST BLOOD which is the soldier set loose in a mundane world) and the sentimental elements from FRANKENSTEIN, along with the unthinking death machine aspects from TERMINATOR, makes it worth my recommendation. Don’t expect much and you might just have fun with this one.
DRY BLOOD (2017)
Directed by Kelton Jones
Written by Clint Carney
Starring Clint Carney, Jaymie Valentine, Kelton Jones, Graham Sheldon, Rin Ehlers, Robert V. Galluzzo, Macy Johnson
Find out more about this film here
Writer Clint Carney offers up a solid performance in DRY BLOOD, an intoxicating tale of the horrors of addiction and mental illness.
Carney plays Brian Barnes, a down on his luck everyman who wakes up in his car, hung over and ready to make a change in his life,. He calls his gal pal Anna (singer/songwriter Jaymie Valentine), a recovering addict herself, to come with him to his cabin to sober up. Of course, going to a cabin in the backcountry is never a good idea in horror films and almost immediately, Brian crosses paths with an overly-friendly police officer and some restless spirits that seem to be haunting the home. But is this haunting supernatural or all in Brian’s fractured and drug addled mind?
While there are a few acting flubs here and there such as some of the lines not landing with confidence and some of the humor not really resonating, DRY BLOOD gets a pass on that from me because of solid performances by its two leads, a well-paced and suspenseful story, and some truly heinous gore and ghost effects.
Gaunt and disheveled, one can believe Carney is a burnout on the edge of the abyss in desperate need of a friend and some peace. Carney is likable, despite his flaws which makes you root for him while he makes one bad decision after another. Jayme Valentine is adorable as Anna. Her acting prowess is a little less formidable, but she still balances out Brian’s rough edges with her sweetness and dedication to help him. Hers is a truly tragic character, as she is hounded sexually by the desperate Brian, who misreads their friendship. It’s a realistic relationship of codependence that really seems genuine as the story progresses and Brian becomes more strung out.
The story also knows not to drag its heels. There is always some kind of forward motion going on from beginning to end. Brian has a clear goal—to get sober and get his life together, and the only thing in the way is himself. There isn’t really a moment in DRY BONES where I looked at my watch or the runtime. It’s one of those films that always has something interesting going on—be it the realistic conversations and interactions to the batshit crazy stuff that happens in the last act.
And did I say batshit crazy? Well, I’ll say it again. For such a conservative budget, this film sure has some gory, imaginative, and original gore and hallucination scenes. I really haven’t seen a lot of the grisly stuff that appears in the latter portion of the film (and I’ve seen a shit ton of grisly stuff). And all of it looks pretty seamless and well produced—utilizing both Cg and practical effects marvelously. I’m telling you, there are some trouser-filling moments of sheer terror in this one.
DRY BLOOD is a low budget masterpiece that knows where to put its money, but never forgets to make every minute count. It excellently depicts a slow descent into madness by way of the tragic coupling of mental illness and self-medication. DRY BLOOD is full of moments that will resonate in your nightmares right up until the very end. See it!
Newly added to Netflix!
ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (2019)
aka FOREVER B
Directed by Skye Borgman
Starring Jan Broberg, Bob Broberg, Mary Ann Broberg, Susan Broberg, Karen Campbell, Pete Welsh, Joe Berchtold, Cornelius A. Hofman, Annette E. Belnap, Diana Concannon, Paula S. Fass, Danielle Holjeson, Caroline Pearson, Emily Kincaid, Jill Klopp, Lainee Rhodes, Sinclair DuMont, David McIntyre, Sara Caldart Olson, Bella Onori, Lila Onori, Martin Baird, Mike Germade, Robert Berchtold
Find out more about this film here
I usually don’t cover documentaries—especially ones about serial killers because a lot of them tend to sensationalize the killer and have a lot of disregard for the victims and their families. But because this is a story that can be seen as a precautionary tale and it may help some people to look at those who are around their children with a more scrutinous eye, I don’t feel so icky covering it. Still, ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT is an icky story about a horrible man who took advantage of an entire family for years in the most heinous of ways.
Robert Bertchtold befriended the Broberg family when their daughter Jan was very young. Insisting to be called B, the man convinced the family to allow him to stay the night at their home and take Jan on outings. One day, B took Jan on an outing and they disappeared. This doc talks about how B wriggled his way into the Broberg family, how it lead to Jan’s abduction, and the jaw-dropping aftermath of the abduction which had resonant effects on the family for years.
That’s pretty much all I want to reveal about ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT, but believe you me, this film drops one bombshell after another. One would think that B’s plan and this story would have ended with the abduction, but that is only the beginning. If anything, it illustrates how someone can manipulate and groom an entire family to accept a pedophile rapist kidnapper into their home and how gullible and blind people can be to what looks like obvious bad shenanigans going on. This does not paint Jan’s parents in a great light as they seem oblivious and incapable of thinking B would have an ill intent for their daughter. But it also gives the viewer a snapshot of a simpler time, when crimes like this were not talked about and people would rather sweep them under the rug than expose themselves to public scrutiny.
If anything, this film offers up a means to start a discussion about the horrors of abduction and sexual abuse and hopefully serve as a means to warn people about the dangers of predators such as this. Still, the reason this is such a fantastic film is that it unfolds in a truly suspenseful way, revealing one unbelievable factoid after another. The film does come to a satisfying end, empowering the victims and highlighting the dangers. ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT is not going to be for everyone. It may be too much for those who have experienced such abuse, but the power of this story, along with the strange twists and turns are undeniably engrossing. I couldn’t stop watching this one and wanted desperately to talk with someone, anyone about it after viewing. Full of real life horror and predatory dangers, ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT is a truly monumental documentary.
In select theaters and On Demand and digital download from Uncork’d Entertainment!
THE CANNIBAL CLUB (2018)
aka O CLUBE DOS CANIBAIS
Directed by Guto Parente
Written by Guto Parente
Starring Tavinho Teixeira, Ana Luiza Rios, Pedro Domingues, Zé Maria, Rodrigo Capistrano, Alcântra Costa, Lc Galetto, Fátima Muniz, Galba Nogueira, Bruno Prata, Ana Cristina Viana
THE CANNIBAL CLUB is a jet-black comedy that takes risks American movies simply don’t have the guts to take anymore.
The story focuses on the decadent and bizarre relationship between Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and his wife Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios). The two are deeply in love, but share a deeply perverse and twisted relationship involving infidelity, murder, and cannibalism. Otavio, a wealthy businessman, is a member of an exclusive gentleman’s club that dabbles in the same pleasures, but because it is a club just for men, Gilda misses out on all of the fun, resenting the club. At a social gathering of these businessmen and their spouses, Gilda wanders away from the party and happens upon something she should not see, putting Gilda and Otavio by association in grave danger.
The less said about the plot of this film, the more you’re bond to enjoy it. I went in blind and came out the other end impressed at the bold decisions this film takes—specifically the sheer amount of sex and violence (most of the time integrated into one horrible series of actions). American films these days are so afraid of offending someone that it is a thrill to see such risqué and sordid themes being dealt with so much sophistication. THE CANNIBAL CLUB isn’t reinventing the wheel as much as it is reminding us that horror can be biting satire, unafraid what taboos it breaks.
There are strong themes of social class warfare where the rich simple wipe away their problems and sweep away the bodies like carrion on the side of the road. The film doesn’t hold back in showing how the most ruthless of people can be those of the highest rank while the little people are but pawns in a sick game. From the pampered life of Gilda to the decadent dinner party’s Otavio attends, this is a world most of us will never see. And it’s an ugly one, where carnal thrills are traded for the lives of those in lower classes.
This is a brutal and violent film, but at the same time has the biting wit of a Cohen Brothers crime story. There are moments where you can’t help but laugh out loud at the crazy happenings that unfold as Otavio and Gilda become deeper and deeper in trouble. That said, this film takes its time to introduce the audience to this decadent world and then races towards the end in an all too brisk fashion. My only complaint is that I wanted to wallow around in the excess a bit more before the end, to be honest. Filled with a high amount of sex and equally plentiful amounts of violence and gore, excellently acted and filled with gorgeous and decadent scenery, all of it punctuated with a weird smooth jazz soundtrack that amps up the quirkiness of it all; THE CANNIBAL CLUB is one diabolically unique Brazilian offering not to be missed.
Well, that’s it for this week’s Zombies & Sharks. There’s a lot to seek out and some to steer clear from. Be sure to let me know what you think below in the comments and please share the love across the internets.
M. L. Miller does not profess to be an expert in horror, but he has seen a ton of horror films in his time. You can check out an archive of his horror reviews as well as news about his various comic book projects such as Black Mask’s GRAVETRANCERS and PIROUETTE on his website, MLMILLERWRITES.com. Follow him on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.