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!
Before we jump in, I received word from the cool people, at Fright Rags who have a few new horror themed tee shirts and other gear centering on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and an extra special Official T-shirt of one of my favorite horror actresses, Barbara Crampton! I ordered one of those DAWN OF THE DEAD logo shirts myself and can’t wait to wear it! Check out this link to see all of FRIGHT RAGS’ new products!
Click title to go directly to the review!
DON’T LOOK (2018)
Directed by Luciana Faulhaber
Written by Jessica Boucher, Luciana Faulhaber, Danielle Killay
Starring Luciana Faulhaber, Jeff Berg, Jarrod Robbins, Hailey Heisick, Lindsay Eshelman, Curtis K Case, Javier E. Gómez, Daniel Pappas, Bella Plotkin
Find out more about this film here
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A group of hip and trendy city kids go to a rural place (in this case a farm inherited to one of the kids) only to find themselves prey in a deadly game with the local killer. I’m not one to steer clear of a film because it has a familiar premise, but if you’re going to go with the above one, you’ve got to have something more to offer than just a by the numbers slasher. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with DON’T LOOK.
In this post-GET OUT era, I fear that those who take the recent success of Jordan Peele’s films at face value alone are going to simply take the usual tropes of horror movies and simply cast a more diverse crowd. Which is totally great, but still you have to build a good movie around it as well. DON’T LOOK’s group of victims comprise of two Hispanic characters, one African American, and one gay character, as well as a pair of painfully cliched white hillbillies. The diverse cast, though, does not add much to the retread story.
People go off alone for no reason. People argue and fight and there’s no real reason why these guys who don’t get along hang out anyway. Motivations and personalities are whittled down simply as representation rather than character. One character incessantly tries to use his cell phone, yet there is not even enough care given as to let us know why he needs it to get service. It’s this lack of interest in character that is DON’T LOOK’s main flaw.
The film does 80’s slasher clichés decently. There are quite a few gory kills from the baby clown masked killer. But if you look back at those slashers, a lot of them had morals and serious themes at play. DON’T LOOK is rather bereft of that kind of thematic heft, making it breezy and forgettable in the long run.
HIGH MOON (2018)
Directed by Josh Ridgway
Written by Josh Ridgway
Starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Michael Collins, Matthew Tompkins, James Wlcek, Chelsea Edmundson, Farah White, Ted Ferguson, Declan Joyce, Chad Law, Grant James, Mark Hanson, April Hartman, Todd Jenkins, Grace Montie, Pete O. Partida, Grant James, Mark Hanson, April Hartman, Todd Jenkins, Grace Montie, Pete O. Partida, Jenin Gonzalez, Kim Foster, Larry Jack Dotson, Tom Zembrod, Stephanie West, Hans Hernke, Richard Jackson, Kamryn Poole, Mike Lobo Daniel, Ty Tornes, Chad Halbrook, Caroline Kristiahn, Zalika Thomas, Westin Poole, Joe Carpenter, Jonathan Hayes, Brigitte Dugas
Find out more about this film here
Lower tier high concept takes like zombie dentists or vampire waiters can be fun as long as there is the proper tone and there’s some kind of likable factor at play. That’s why HIGH MOON works. They take a simple werewolf concept, mix it with cowboys, and you know what? It entertained me for an hour and a half.
When a group of uncatchable and seemingly unkillable werewolf outlaws are gunned down under the light of the moon by silver bullet gunslinger Colt (Chad Michael Collins), but not before one of the wolfy wranglers bites Colt. Buried in the middle of the desert, the gang along with Colt rise from the grave 100-plus years later to wreak havoc on a quiet Midwestern town, watched over by Sheriff Ethan Hardy (Matthew Tompkins), who doesn’t believe in any of this werewolf shit.
This is a straight up goofy horror movie and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The actors are taking things seriously and giving their all, though I’ve definitely seen better acting. The direction and story is capable in a simplistic and comic booky way, honoring old school tropes from both old westerns and classic horror films. It’s not a film that is going to knock the socks off of you, but it will entertain. There are plenty of fun and capable werewolf and gore effects. And there’s even a nice little love story tossed in, though it’s most likely the weakest aspect of the film. Decent practical effects and some fine claw slashings are going to satisfy the effects freaks out there. HIGH MOON is a nice time-waster of a film.
SAINT BERNARD (2013)
Directed by Gabriel Bartalos
Written by Gabriel Bartalos
Starring Jason Dugre, Katy Sullivan, Peter Iasillo Jr., Jack Doroshow, Warwick Davis, Bob Zmuda, George Clayton Johnson, Albert Strietmann, Peter Strietmann, Adria Pearl, Andy Forrest, Matt Rose, Charles Schneider, Brian Steele, Kurt Carley, John Deall, Benoît Lestang, Jim O’Donoghue, Efren Gudino, Grace O’Doherty, Justin McLoughlin, Paul Michael Bolan, & featuring The Damned!
Absurdist horror is a hard pill to swallow for some. I understand why. Most horror deals with the fear of the unknown (be it something as simple as what is making that sound in the shadowy closet to more complex horrors involving otherworldly fears the mind can’t even comprehend). There is a satisfaction had with being able to identify, quantify, understand, and hopefully overcome the horrors in horror films, hence the big reveal of the monster and the hint of its defeat in the final act of probably 90% of mainstream horror films. But absurdist horror isn’t like that and it often leaves you more confused and even a little frustrated by the time it all ends offering up next to no resolution or at the very most, something you have to bend your brain around a few times in order to have a vague notion of what it all meant. SAINT BERNARD is one of those absurdist horror films. It’s also a really fantastic ride, despite the fact that I’m not sure I understand it all.
I think SAINT BERNARD begins with a young boy named Bernard who has one dream; to become a musical composer. Brandishing a conducting baton whittled down from a two-by-four, the young boy seems to be taught by his uncle, conducting an orchestra that isn’t there and listening to music that seemingly only occurs in Bernard’s head. The scene soon juts forward to Bernard as an adult (played by Jason Dugre) who seems to have a nervous breakdown in front of his orchestra and a full audience (including his parents). Bernard himself tells the viewer, “This is when I lost my mind.” And this is where the film goes from slightly odd to downright batshit. Flitting from decayed urban landscapes to the desert to underwater to the open road and back again, Bernard finds the severed head of a dog and meets various different people (including LEPRECHAUN’s Warwich Davis and the band The Damned) looking for guidance, advice, or simply survival to find his way back to sanity and purpose.
I guess I could wrack my brain and try to divulge the secret meaning behind all of the images and sounds I was affronted with during the span of this film. I feel it deals with searching for purpose after suffering a crumbling disappointment—of course I could be completely wrong.
The thing is, about twenty minutes in, I let all of this go. Instead of trying to figure everything out, I simply sat back and enjoyed the barrage of amazing effects, gory gratuitousness, weird antics, and bizarre sounds. Director and writer Gabriel Bartalos has worked on some amazing films providing amazing special effects for everything from TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE 2 to DARKMAN to GODZILLA to the BASKET CASE series and beyond. A lot of these amazing effects are on display here, beginning with the disgusting severed dog head, but also showing fully automated faces, practical effects monstrosities, severed appendages, and splatters upon splatters of blood. There is a history in horror that many effects gurus are given freedom to direct scenes involving their effects, but this film proves that Bartalos can actually make an entire film. With only one other film under his belt as filmmaker (SKINNED DEEP, a film I immediately bought after seeing SAINT BERNARD), Bartalos is someone I will definitely be looking out for.
There is a thru-way for this meandering fever dream. Barnard is the person we experience this entire nightmare through not unlike cult filmmaker Jodorowski himself in such films as EL TOPO and SANTA SANGRE. Not all of it makes sense or follows the regular laws of our reality. Instead, it feels like quite a few dreams thread together with one guide. SAINT BERNARD is only for those who like their horror experimental and dirty. It’s not for everyone. But I hope it does find its audience because I am one who might not get it completely, but loved every depraved and wicked moment of this trippy horror masterpiece and would love to see more movies like it.
BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK (2019)
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin
Written by Roxanne Benjamin
Starring Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus, Miranda Bailey, Martin Spanjers, Matt Peters, Susan Burke, John Getz, Brodie Reed, John F. Beach
Find out more about this film here
Filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin (who produced much of the V/H/S films and directed a segment in the XX anthology) offers up her first directorial feature with BODY A BRIGHTON ROCK, a boppy, fun, and surprising take on getting lost in the woods.
Constantly showing up late, low in confidence, and often quite clumsy, Wendy (Karina Fontes) is not one of the forest rangers who instills much faith from her peers and superiors. When she is fed up with being handled with kid gloves, she takes an assignment posting flyers deep in the trails of the heavily forested park she works at. Because of one wrong turn and a lack of knowledge of the environment, Wendy finds herself lost, but that is the least of her worries when she happens upon a dead body at the bottom of a ravine. Not knowing where she is or what to do and it being too late in the day for a rescue party to be sent out, Wendy has to muster up the courage and the little training she knows in order to survive the night. But what about the noises in the forest or the bears or the creepy gut she starts seeing through the dense foliage?
While this is an intriguing concept, the fact that the entire movie focuses on one character makes everything ride on the performance of Fontes as Wendy. And while I think Fontes has a strong career in front of her, we really don’t get to know enough about her (other than the fact that she is horribly unprepared for something like this and likes to listen to 80’s pop tunes). I think that Fontes does decently in the scenes requiring emotion, but for some reason, I just didn’t know if I liked her at all enough to care if she lived or died on this hike. Thinking about it, I realized it was because I don’t think this film did enough to highlight what there was to like about Wendy prior to her predicament. Instead the film moves rather briskly into the action of Wendy wandering off and becoming distraught in the woods, rather than giving the viewer a few minutes to understand why her friends like her despite her incapability to do her job. A simple scene of Wendy talking on the phone with a loved one might have given us something for the viewer to grasp onto before the conflict of the film begins.
That said, Benjamin does a great job of capturing the wonderous landscape and offering up some truly scary scenes once Wendy is lost. While there are a few dream sequences that felt a bit like overkill, the threat of the woods and danger of the darkness around Wendy really is communicated well here.
The way BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK ends is going to be a deal breaker for some, but I felt it is one of the strongest aspects of the film itself. The way Benjamin wraps things up is definitely going to spark some debate while making more literal thinkers scratch a hole in their heads. I like the ambiguity of the ending and I think it really does save this film from being a typical woman vs. nature story. There’s a lot to like about BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK despite some issues I had with the way the lead character was written. While there felt like some character missteps were made at the beginning in terms of Wendy’s character, Benjamin has crafted a strong tale of the horrors of nature and it will be interesting to see what this filmmaker has in store for us all in the future given this strong first effort.
aka HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE
Directed by Lukas Feigelfeld
Written by Lukas Feigelfeld
Starring Haymon Maria Buttinger, Aleksandra Cwen, Claudia Martini, Celina Peter, Tanja Petrovsky
Find out more about this film here, @HagazussaFilm, and on Facebook here
Filmed in the forests and plainlands of Austria and Germany, HAGAZUSSA is a transfixing experience into the stuff of pure dread. It’s a film that may be too dark for some to stomach but exudes a morbid beauty that will definitely move you.
Whittling down the narrative to a bare minimum, HAGAZUSSA is a simple tale of an outcast woman simply trying to live with her young child in a harsh winter during the 1400’s. Told in four parts, the film follows this woman through her life and then her daughters as pain and misery seems to be the one thing passed down through the generations for this unfortunate family. Once the old woman becomes ill, she begins to act erratically, frightening the young child Albrun and haunting her long after her mother’s death and into her adult years. The story follows Albrun into adulthood where she has made contact with a local village selling the milk from her goats in order to provide for her own young daughter. But when a village girl befriends Albrun after a group of kids torment her for being a witch, she seems to take joy for the first time with the new contact. This contact proves to be not so joyous, leaving Albrun a decimated woman on a road with utter despair as its destination.
This is not a film for everyone. If you enjoyed THE VVITCH, but felt that the pacing on that film was way too fast for you, this might be something right up your alley. The film is told in four or five beats with long droning music and slow movements interconnecting those beats, but all in all, this is storytelling at its barest. Still, the beats of the story are so loud and leave such an impact that it makes the long lulls in between worthwhile moments to let these horrific events resonate and for the viewer to come to grips with the awful things that are occurring.
This is a film about the unbelievable burden of motherhood—a topic as relevant now as it was back in the 1400’s. While the term “witch” is used, there really is no real sorcery at work here. Life and the unfortunate hand of fate are the real monsters in this tale. What occurs in this film chilled me to the core. Much of the feels I got from this film relies on the fearless performance by actress Aleksandra Cwen who plays the adult Albrun. While much of this film is without dialog, she conveys every ounce of tragedy and horror with her facial expressions, hypnotic gait, and body language. This film is a one woman show and Cwen bears the weight expertly.
The soundtrack to HAGAZUSSA is something I must own. Droning, resonant, and constant—the music and chorus that accompany Albrun on this harrowing journey become a character themselves. This is an experience rather than a film—art house horror at its best. Reminiscent in tone to last year’s THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, HAGAZUSSA is a truly morbid tale of the worst life has to offer and the struggle to still survive it. This will not be the witch’s brew for some who like their horror boppy and fun. But if you are looking for a film that will transport you into a land of bitter chills, soul-searing horrors, and the depths of one’s soul, this moody and morose monster of a film will definitely put a spell on you.
And finally…since we showcased two female horror directors in this week’s column, I figured, why not one more. Jovanka Yuckovic participated in last year’s XX anthology and follows that up with this cool short film from Alter called THE GUEST. The film stars Jordan Gray and is described as In this existential thriller, a man must face his personal demons as a consequence of a mysterious bargain he has made. I thought this one really hits its mark with some stunning visuals, some somber music, and a creepy voice that reminded me of the chilling film SESSION 7. Yuckovic is someone to watch in horror as proven by this short but patient little thriller below. Warning: it does get quite gory towards the end. If you like what you see here, subscribe to Alter’s Youtube page. Now enjoy THE GUEST!
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.