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!
Click title to go directly to the review!
Retro-review: BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (1971)
Retro-review: KOLOBOS (1999)
THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)
Advance Review: DEPRAVED (2019)
BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (1971)
Directed by Eddie Romero
Written by Eddie Romero
Starring John Ashley, Mary Charlotte Wilcox, Leopoldo Salcedo, Eddie Garcia, Ken Metcalfe, Andres Centenera, Joonee Gamboa, & Vic Diaz as Satan!
BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT is one of those films from the late sixties and early seventies that was filmed in the Philippines because it was so much easier to do so. Now that I think of it, it’s probably cheaper to do it there today. Nevertheless, the Filipino setting definitely sets this unconventional werewolf film apart from the rest of the pack.
The Elvis-like John Ashley plays Joseph Langdon, an American ne’er-do-well who broke just about every law imaginable during the war, but as he lay broken and bleeding in the jungle, Langdon makes a deal with Satan (Vic Diaz) and devours the vilest of meats (most likely, human flesh). In doing so, Langdon is cursed with immortality and turns into a blood thirsty monster when the moon is shines full. Assuming the identity of a recently deceased man, Langdon finds himself in the identity of Philip Rogers, married to the indecisive Julia (Mary Charlotte Wilcox). But Langdon discovers he is enamored with Julia and seeks to finally find the cure to his ancient curse. Satan, though, doesn’t loosen his grasp so easily.
The script of BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT is smarter than it should be. Filmed on the cheap and sporting makeup that looks like someone just dumped soup and hair on Ashley’s face, BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT should have been forgotten as soon as it was made. But dammit if filmmaker Eddie Romero doesn’t know how to turn a poetic and often deeply philosophical phrase. My favorite parts of this film are the lengthy talks between Langdon and Satan as they ponder the pros and cons of eternal life. These moments are brilliantly conversed, making me forgive the film of its shortcomings.
There is a fair amount of gore here when Langdon shows his wolfier side. He’s never called a werewolf, but he is definitely cursed in the same sense the leads in the classic Universal WOLF MAN, Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, and Paul Naschy’s famous Waldemar Daninsky were-tales. Unlike today’s more conventional lycanthrope stories, where a person is cursed by the bite of a wolf, those classic tales (and this one as well) is steeped in superstition and religion. Langdon is a servant of the devil himself here. I guess, these days, being infected by a bite is much more feasible than belief in a higher power.
BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT is schlocky fun from beginning to end. It’s poorly lit, but most likely this presentation is the best it’s ever looked. The acting is hammy and all over the place, but surprisingly convincing given the lines they are given to read. All in all, this is one of the more memorable werewolf tales, forgotten, yet thankfully rediscovered and rereleased in this new Blu-Ray that will definitely be something wolf-fans are going to want to sniff out.
aka HAUNTED HOUSE
Directed by Daniel Liatowitsch, David Todd Ocvirk
Written by Daniel Liatowitsch, David Todd Ocvirk, Nne Ebong
Starring Amy Weber, Donny Terranova, Nichole Pelerine, John Fairlie, Promise LaMarco, Kim Simms Thomas, Todd Beadle, Mari Weiss, Jonathan Rone, Linnea Quigley, Ivan Battee & Ilia Volok as Faceless!
Waaaay back in the dark age of 1999, we were all fascinated with reality television (it hadn’t reached its pinnacle yet) with MTV’s THE REAL WORLD leading the charge. It was a no brainer to use that setting as the backdrop for a horror film. I’m sure there have been plenty of films to do this (DEAD SET comes to mind), but one of the first and most prolific was KOLOBOS, which not only used the popular premise, but also used hand held POV shots before found footage became passé. Because of these themes and motifs used, KOLOBOS serves to be one of those lost gems, you most likely missed because everyone else in horror at the time was busy being all meta.
A woman is found in the street beaten and bloody. She is rushed to a hospital where she is asked what happened to her. This leads to a retelling of a gathering of five very different personalities, brought together to film a reality television show. The participants are locked in a condo and filmed for every second of the day, which feeds into the kids’ endless need for attention and appetite for fame. But soon, fun turns to terror, as the cast members begin falling like little Indians. As suspicions arise, the group begins to tear itself apart and do the job of the killer for him. And it all leads to a word the amnesiac keeps repeating…KOLOBOS!
Yes, it was the age of SCREAM and NEW NIGHTMARE and such. Instead of real scares, people were too busy with snark and irony to be scared. That what makes KOLOBOS so refreshing. Though it borrows from aspects of pop culture, it does so in a straight forward way, utilizing ultra-gore, genuine scary moments, and a genuine respect for what came before. The filmmakers admit to being in love with Giallo in the behind the scenes features, though it is quite obvious given the SUSPIRIA-esque music in the opener, the hand-held witness to a crime bookends, and the attention to elaborate death scenes. This film is chock full of them and any fan of Argento or Bava will have a lot to like here. The gore is especially nice here. All done before the age of CG, these scenes are sticky and gooey. Another homage to older films.
As great as this film is, it is low budget compared to the higher budgeted films of its age reliant on big stars and expansive set pieces. It is also quite apparent this is a film from film students as there is an adorable adherence to making this film count—as if they’re going for broke including classical Greek themes and academic undertones. The youth behind the camera definitely adds to the trendiness of the film itself. The acting is hammy and over the top, but everything is taken seriously. KOLOBOS must have felt like a breath of fresh air when it first came out. I know I would have thought so, as I never did like the SCREAM self-referential era that much. As is, it serves as a great homage to the Italian giallo and eighties slasher films.
THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)
Directed by Duncan Skiles
Written by Christopher Ford
Starring Charlie Plummer, Dylan McDermott, Samantha Mathis, Madisen Beaty, Brenna Sherman, Lance Chantiles-Wertz, Jones Emma, Charlie Clark, Mike Cortese
Find out more about this film here
With a unique tone, an unusual pace and an inspired cast, THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER deftly depicts the dangers of what lays hidden under the guise of normalcy.
A decade ago, a small town in Kentucky was haunted by a murderer dubbed the Clovehitch Killer – named after the clovehitch knot left at each crime scene. The seemingly perfect Burnside family is torn apart when Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer) starts suspecting his father Don (Dylan McDermott) might just be the killer who eluded capture all those years ago. Teaming up with a local misfit named Kassi (Madisen Beaty), Tyler must find out who the killer is before he claims his next victim.
This is one odd, little potato cake of a movie. THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER is unconventional in every way, as it does a fantastic job of depicting a seemingly wholesome Midwest family in a completely genuine manner without a wink to the camera or to the audience. The Burnside family are devoutly religious and while there are a few moments of levity, none of it ever makes fun of that faith. This type of respect for religious folk is nothing like the sarcastic depictions in more mainstream Hollywood films like SAVED! or DONNIE DARKO. Here these devout beliefs are never made fun of but are meant to show how innocent and sometimes naïve Tyler is. This portrayal of Midwest living, especially in this current political climate, is refreshingly positive. Now, one might say this is not completely the case, as the film is about a sadistic killer living and thriving unknown to the rest of the Midwest town. It says something to the naivety and gullibility of the seemingly simple life the lead characters are living. Still, this feels much like an Amblin film without all of the annoying 80’s pop culture references seen in STRANGER THINGS and last year’s SUMMER OF 84. It’s this wholesomeness that is more likely to strum the heartstrings of nostalgia than cause more modern ire towards the meaty middle portion of the country we often see.
THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER is a slow burner, but never feels like it lags as the character work by Plummer, McDermott, and newcomer Madisen Beaty who offer up some astounding and brave performances. Still, once the film gets going and the weird and downright perverse stuff starts happening, it feels like more of a shock than one usually might act simply because the first hour is so damn normal. To say this film dives off the deep end into creepy-town is an understatement. By this time, the audience is hooked and wrapped up in the mystery Tyler is trying to solve, and no matter how freaky things get (and believe me, things get unbelievably freaky deeky), you just can’t look away.
THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER is unique in so many ways. It will be tough to find a more unconventional film this year. It’s like a John Waters or Todd Solondz film without the snark, but the same type of social commentary. It’s a film that sneaks up on you like a horny little Marv Albert, biting into you just when you begin to feel at home. Points to anyone who is old enough to get that reference. This is no jump scare shocker. THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER bores deep into the skull and you’ll feel the squirm long after the credits roll.
Directed by Neil Jordan
Written by Ray Wright, Neil Jordan
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Jeff Hiller, Thaddeus Daniels, Raven Dauda, Colm Feore, Zawe Ashton, Stephen Rea
Find out more about this film here
Fundamental flaws in the lead character and her journey hinder an interesting premise and ok performances in GRETA which dropped into theaters a while back. The film most likely will be lost in the shuffle in the midst of what seems to be an earlier and earlier by the year blockbuster season. And while GRETA feels like it would be more comfortable in the eighties or nineties stalker film trend, it manages to be a brainless hour-and-change-waster.
Hit-Girl herself Chloe Grace Moretz plays Frances, an uptown girl living in a lonely world. She recently lost her mother, is estranged from her father (Colm Feore), working as a waitress, and living with her sassy best friend Erica from college (IT FOLLOW’s Maika Monroe). Frances is also very lonely and bored in the city, which is the reason she seeks out the owner of a lost purse she finds in the subway. The purse belongs to a seemingly innocent and harmless elderly woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert, last seen in THE NUN). With the both longing for companionship, Frances and Greta begin hanging out more and more often, much to the dismay of her party-gal roommate Erica who thinks the whole thing smells fishy. When Frances finds a cabinet full of purses just like the one she found on the subway, she realizes Greta isn’t what she seems and tries to break off the relationship. This breakup proves to be harder than it seems for Greta is as obsessive as Frances is naïve.
GRETA is a well-produced film with some impressive talent. Chloe Grace Moretz proves to be a sympathetic protagonist, easy to identify with and capable of carrying her weight in scenes with an actor far beyond her age. Isabelle Huppert is decent at the obsessive title character and though it is a cliché to be the sassy friend in these types of films, Maika Monroe plays the part well and proves that she is a talent yet untapped in a worthy movie. The story looks good, with nice shots of New York from a street level perspective. All in all, though this is not a film that will not be noted for its production, still does the job capably.
That said, none of these characters are written well. Specifically, the characters are more one note players rather than actual characters with depth. Moretz is written to be extremely weak in the main protagonist’s role. She is basically a ping pong ball lobbed around by all of the characters with no control about the direction she ends up. Frances is aimless in the film, which is fine, and it would be a compelling story had her decisions taken her in a direction that had given her purpose. Instead, Frances (a healthy 23-year-old bike riding woman on her feet every day as a server in a restaurant) is helpless against the elderly and frail looking Greta who looks like she could be knocked down with a stiff breeze. On top of being incapable of physically taking on Greta, Frances’ frustrating naivete proves to be her downfall, SPOILER as she ends up being bound, drugged, and gagged in a secret room of Greta’s apartment. To add insult to injury, Frances is not even a part of her own rescue and relies on the ingenuity of others to escape. This makes for a disgustingly weak character and I can’t believe in this day and age; such a character was written. END SPOILER
But Frances isn’t the only one that is terribly weak here. The cops are ineffectual. The detective (phoned in by Stephen Rhea) is bumbling and ridiculously useless. No one is a match for this 80-pound elderly woman. Her abilities to drug everyone and walk around silently in her nylons seems to have no match within the confines of this film. In the end, Neil Jordan’s job was to give Frances a hero’s journey and prove that Greta is a formidable foe. In both instances, he failed. Frances’ character was weak and to overcompensate, they practically gave Greta a supernatural level of resourcefulness and threat. That just killed GRETA for me, despite the sleek package it is delivered in.
Directed by Jordan Peele
Written by Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry, Ashley Mckoy, Napiera Groves, Lon Gowan, Alan Frazier, Duke Nicholson, Dustin Ybarra, Nathan Harrington, Kara Hayward
Find out more about this film here
There has been much debate as to what US means. What are its hidden themes? What does it symbolize? There are a lot of folks looking at the film and applying political, sociological, and all kinds of takes. I’ll provide a couple of my takes at the end of this review, but the simple fact that this is a film that has folks searching for meaning is a sign that Jordan Peele is doing something right. The best kinds of films are able to be interpreted in many different ways from many different philosophies. It’s this type of nuanced film that rarely appears in the world of horror—a genre that often people have to stretch to uncomfortable lengths to find deeper meaning. I’m just happy that US is a film that will cause debate, conversation, and introspection; as all good horror films should.
A seemingly normal family go to their vacation home in hopes of fun and relaxation, but soon find themselves under siege by a family that looks exactly like them but act in murderous and monstrous ways. The matriarch of the group, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is forced to confront a deep dark secret from her past in order to combat this twisted mirror image of her family.
US is a fantastic film. It is a film with layers. It is a film with characters easy to relate to. It is a film that isn’t made for one set of people, but even more so than GET OUT, taps into primal fears that are hidden in the reptile brains of all of us. Who hasn’t recoiled in horror a bit when they see a picture or view of themselves when we weren’t expecting it? “Do I look like that?” is something that immediately crosses one’s mind as you see yourself, not through your mind’s eye, but through reality’s lens. The film is entitled US and “us” is the true terror of the film.
But who is the us US is referring to? Basically, the filmmaker has said that the film is about being our own worst enemies. At the end of the day, in a personal sense, it is the person staring at us in the mirror who is responsible for our own problems of the world. In a day and age when everyone is busy pointing the finger at someone else for being the enemy, it is refreshing to see a film that dares ask the audience to look at themselves as the blame and not heap it onto someone else. As the young Jason (Evan Alex) states at the dinner table, “When you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
Now I have seen critics try to get political and paint this film as a statement on “red states vs. blue states” since the “bad” guys are wearing red jumpsuits. I also have seen the film take the opposite stance and say that the “tethered” (which is the name of the doppelgangers who torment those who live above ground) represent third world countries and the poor that are looked past and over by America itself. I think people have every right to look at it this way, but I don’t think that was Peele’s true intention and in labeling this an us against them scenario, Peele once again proves his point. Simply making this into a us v. Trump’s America scenario is extremely short sighted will almost immediately make this film feel dated in a year or two. Peele’s vision is much deeper than that and touches on much more universal themes than trendy political leanings. The film is not about the “tethered” being the bad guys, but about us being the ones who need to take a step back and look at the true horror, ourselves. While GET OUT was definitely a film about race, I think US is taking on a much broader scope on the human condition rather than simply boiling it down to another finger pointing session. It’s a brave stance to take in this age, as despite the horrific events of this movie, people are much more likely to lash out at others than take a breath and look at the horror we are inflicting. I couldn’t get this concept out of my mind as I watched this film and especially after the reveal at the end, it was evident that this is what Peele had to say.
Of course, I could be wrong. It is, after all, my own opinion.
Looking at the film simply from a technical standpoint, US is a phenomenally crafted movie. There is so much to say about the expert use of lights and darks, the fantastic staging of scenes, the way everything in the story has its purpose that will be integral to the plot later. This is a film that has no fat to be trimmed. No scenes that are irrelevant. No material necessary to make a lean movie. Jordan Peele proves that he can make a technically sound film, entertaining from beginning to end—from the use of music and sound to the careful unfolding of the plot that doesn’t show all of its cards until the last moments. Who knew the guy who coined the term “Noice!” and “Liam Neesons” would prove himself to be one of the best mainstream horror filmmakers out there today?
The cast is phenomenal as well. No cast member is not carrying his or her weight. Lupita Nyong’o is a badass who is comfortable alongside the likes of horror heroines Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. As the film progresses, she conveys a range of emotions that few actresses can achieve. One of my favorite characters from BLACK PANTHER Winston Duke, is instantly likable as Gabe. He provides a lot of comic relief, but also serves the purpose of playing against part with the large statured actor sitting back and letting his wife doing the heavy work. It was refreshing to see him be a goofy dad, but still maintaining his love for his family and not being painted as ineffectual or cowardly. And the kids, who usually are the weak link in film’s chain, are both strong in their own dual roles. Both not feeling like they are reading lines written by an adult or acting like adults in kids’ bodies. Their joy, pain, and fear are authentic. Finally, in smaller roles, it was great to see actress Elisabeth Moss act like a lunatic and TIM & ERIC’s Tim Heidecker’s role had me rolling with his heinous tattoos and reluctance to leave his comfy lazy-chair to investigate the sounds outside. Across the board, this is a fantastically acted film.
If there is a fault in US, I would say that Peele plays things a little too subtle for his own good. There are a lot of moments that happen and don’t pay off until much later. There are even more that feel like he is playing fast and loose with the rules he has set up, but by the time the final credits roll, it all makes perfect sense. Does this film rely a lot on fun little coincidences, like an engine that responds to being smacked the right way or a lighter that only works at the one necessary time? Yes, but I am willing to forgive that because of the stellar film wrapped around it. Some are calling US the best horror film ever and while I wouldn’t say that (as it is nowhere near as good as THE THING, THE EXORCIST, JAWS, ALIEN, or even THE SHINING), I will say it is one of the best horror films of the year and certainly one of the most effective and thought provoking horror films since THE VVITCH.
US seems to be asking a bold question that I don’t know if our society is really capable or ready to answer right now, but that type of self-reflection is exactly what great art is supposed to promote. I could write ten more pages of review for US and maybe one day I will. But I’ll wrap things up with just saying Jordan Peele hits all of the right notes here. The funny bits are actually funny. The scary moments are amazingly paced and never reliant on jump scares, only relying on what is truly dangerous and frightening. It’s this genuine level of storytelling that is lacking in today’s filmmaking community and I’m so happy for Peele’s love of the genre so we can expect so much more horrors from him to come. It’s this type of brave and skillful storytelling that the horror genre needs.
Directed by Larry Fessenden
Written by Larry Fessenden
Starring David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloë Levine, Owen Campbell, Addison Timlin, Chris O’Connor, Alice Barrett, Andrew Lasky, Jack Fessenden, James Tam, Zilong Zee, Noah Le Gros, Larry Fessenden
Find out more about this film here
DEPRAVED isn’t the first time Larry Fessenden has delved into the Frankenstein mythos. The Godfather of Indie Horror Cinema played with reanimation in one of his first films, the mad science drama NO TELLING. That was 1991 and even though NO TELLING was a memorable and powerful film, Fessenden has perfected his distinct style and delivered a stunning low fi masterpiece in DEPRAVED.
Fessenden brings Mary Shelley’s tale into the modern age, following a PTSD afflicted war medic named Henry (David Call) who pairs up with an opportunistic pharma businessman named Polidori (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s Joshua Leonard) to test their new experimental drug on a recent murder victim. Naming the reanimated victim Adam (Alex Breaux), Henry goes about his private rehabilitation in a meticulous and careful manner – teaching Adam basic coordination and memory skills. Of course, this isn’t fast enough results for Polidori. Meanwhile, Adam is having flashes of his previous life and urges to find a mate of his own, much like Henry’s devoted girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne). You know where this is going…and it’s going to be bad.
Fessenden hits all of the story beats we’ve seen in tons of reinterpretations of the Shelley classic. The difference here is that Fessenden distills the basics from the story and applies it to a modern tale of big pharma, lofty ambition, and the conflict between corporate demand vs. humanitarian treatment. Despite those heady themes, DEPRAVED is drenched with character and heart all around, as Fessenden imbues both Henry and Adam with sympathetic traits. Henry wants what’s best for Adam, looking after him like a child. But this treatment isn’t happening fast enough by Polidori, who is desperate to report results and make money off of all of this. This conflict is one of two in this tale, paralleled with Adam’s struggle to regain his humanity. All elements work marvelously and reflects Shelley’s tale in an intricate way that most Frankenstein tales fail.
Another thing that sets this film apart is Fessenden’s unique cinematography. Fessenden uses quick montages of images, simple overlays of color and light, and other rudimentary (but effective) camera effects that gives even more substance and style. This is a technique Fessenden has used before in films such as WENDIGO and THE LAST WINTER. Though this technique has been used by other directors (Aronofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, for example), it feels like Fessenden’s unique stamp on each of his films. I would love to see Fessenden get his hands on a big budget film. He has been behind the scenes for way too long and has been a major trumpeter for many of the best voices in today’s horror game. Maybe he is comfortable with the low budget control and personal take to all of his own films, but I’d love to see what this soulful and passionate filmmaker would do with a couple of mill. That said, DEPRAVED is truly one of the best FRANKENSTEIN adaptations you’re going to find. Be on the lookout for it
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.