Sam Ashurst's House Of Horror: Zombie cops, mutant warthogs and deadly orcs

Hello fright fans, my name's Sam Ashurst and I'm Total Film's resident cult horror expert.

I spend so much time banging on about '70s giallo movies, '80s VHS trash classics, '90s serial killer flicks and '00s  foreign chillers that TF has finally decided to give me my own column. Possibly to shut me up.

Each week, I'll be dissecting the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases, uncovering hidden gore gems, and rummaging through my VHS collection to bring you some of the most bafflingly beautiful video covers from the '80s.

And come back every Friday for exclusive clips, interviews and cool competitions to get your plasma pumping.

So, take off your razor-tipped gloves, hang up your cobweb-covered hat and gently rest your bone-blunted axe beside the door.

And welcome to my House Of Horror...

Out: Monday £7.99 DVD

The French have been pushing horror boundaries for a few years now, with titles like Frontiers , Switchblade Romance Inside and Martyrs shocking and delighting gore geeks in equal measure.

Prey is not one of those films; it's influenced more by Spielberg than de Sade. It's essentially Jaws with pigs in high grass instead of the deep blue sea.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Prey is decent old-school entertainment, with a gripping family drama distracting us from the fact the main plot isn't particularly original.

Director Antoine Blossier sensibly spends time setting up a complex family dynamic before sending our heroes and villains into the woods to face-off against an apparent army of (rarely-seen) mutant warthogs.

The effects are all practical, and are generally of a pretty high standard. It helps that Blossier seems to know the limitations of his puppet pigs, with entire confrontations taking place using audio only.

But, despite a 76 minute running length, Prey does start to outstay its welcome, with only a couple of final act surprises saving it from certain doom.

Those shocks are decent, but the film's missing a massive twist that's heavily implied by the DVD.

Basically, don't show me a bear with red glowing eyes on the DVD menu if you're not going to deliver one in the film, or I'm going to be massively disappointed.

I'm more than happy with mutant warthogs, but I really could have used a couple of mutant bears. But then I could always use a couple of mutant bears. 

Maybe they're being saved for the sequel. The film's just about good enough to deserve one.

Out : Monday £12.99 Blu-ray

Like Prey , Orcs is mostly set outside, in a woodland area. Unlike Prey, Orcs is awful.

But let's focus on the positives first. The plot is fairly original, trying to do for JRR Tolkien's orcs what vampire flicks do for Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The story sees a couple of likeable park rangers trying to fend off a hoard of orcs who have been released from a mountain or something.

The cinematography is also passable. The film looks good in places. Some scenes reminded me of Rubber without the layers of irony.

If you're heroically drunk, the first two acts might serve as reasonable entertainment.

Those points aside, Orcs is so amateurish and strange I'm pretty sure it had its premiere in a film school classroom. 

The audio mix is appalling. Every conversation sounds like it was recorded in a small room, whether the scene takes place inside, or in the middle of a massive wood.

There is no sense of naturalism in any of the outdoor scenes - a strong breeze blows around our heroes, but do we hear it? Never, ever. This thing might as well be set in space.

Every utterance feels dubbed - it's as if the sound man used a large melon for a boom mic and the director didn't notice until two weeks into editing the thing. It's extremely distracting.

As for the acting, if you squint it stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Gosling. If you've received a serious head injury, it was directed by Peter Jackson - it directly rips off so many Lord Of The Rings motifs.

But only an idiot would get confused enough to think any of those people would do anything with this script other than burn it in an effort to repel the writers.

The final battle scene is so repetitive I genuinely thought my Blu-ray was skipping in an attempt to expel the disc from its innards - like a cat coughing up a hairball.

The production's so cheap in the final third of the movie that when the characters need spotlights, they use film lights. Presumably with production stickers still on the side.

But if you can get through all that, make sure you stick around for the credits, you'll discover that Orcs doesn't have a director and the orc masks were bought from an online mask shop. I promise you I'm not making this up.

A final edit-shock sets up a sequel. Unlike Prey , it definitely doesn't warrant one.

X-Cross (2007)

One of the biggest misconceptions about horror fans is that we're all misogynist idiots who love to see women getting chopped up and brutalised.

It's an argument that completely ignores the fact that a massive section of horror fandom is made up of women. And the fact that the genre is responsible for some of the most iconic female characters in cinema history - Ripley, Laurie Strode, Regan MacNeil, Sadako, Rosemary, and many, many more.

But, fuck 'em. Haters gonna hate. We know that 99% of the time, horror audiences are required to directly identify with the female lead (it's Final Girl, not Final Boy).

And we also know that, every now and then, horror cinema creates kick-ass female villains who are equally as cool as their male counterparts. And, in the case of X-Cross ' scissor-wielding villainess Reiko, infinitely cooler.

Dressed up in Gothic Lolita gear, wielding increasingly large scissors as weapons, and with a demented gleam in the one eye that isn't hidden behind a homemade eye-patch, Reiko is one of my all-time top-five slasher killers.

The film's not ten minutes in before we meet her for the first time. And her first proper line of dialogue? (I'm not counting "Snip. Snip. Snip.") "Have you ever seen the true face of Hell?" And, believe it or not, that's her catchphrase .

But Reiko isn't the only thing to adore about X-Cross . If it's positive lead female characters you're after, it's got two of 'em.

Japanese pop star Ami Suzuko is brilliant as the tougher of the two heroines - high-kicking her way through a climax that has to be gawped at to be believed.

The plot is deliriously glorious - involving an evil village that tricks girls into visiting so they can chop off their legs and sacrifice them to their weird gods.

The structure is both playful and experimental - changing perspectives based on a mobile phone motif (you have to see it to get how it works), constantly shifting through time and space.

And it's beautifully shot. I haven't loved misty woods this much since I last watched Evil Dead 2 . And I haven't loved a scene involving a fight between a girl with a chainsaw and a girl with a massive pair of scissors since... Do you know what? I don't think I've ever seen that outside of X-Cross now I come to think about it.

X-Cross is a very odd film. The entire second half is amongst one of the most insane - and fun - things I've ever seen. It's very violent, but comically so.

Cynics will take one look at X-Cross , and decide it's the latest in a long line of films in which women are chopped up for fun.

That's ignoring the fact that, in this one, the women are the ones doing most of the actual chopping, it's female friendship that saves the day, and our heroines are dealing with men stupid enough to think that "Dear guest, were you able to clean your legs? About the power failure, there's no need to worry, I'll be there right away" isn't going to set their victims slightly on edge.

X-Cross is a brilliant film. Whether you're a man, woman or scissor-wielding psychopath, you're going to love it. Just don't let the cynics at it. They'll probably want to cut all the good bits.

Dead Heat (1988)

In the 1980s the mismatched buddy cop movie was a Hollywood staple.

Whether the cops didn't get on because of their conflicting ideologies ( Red Heat ), differences in opinion on how the  cleaning should be done ( Turner and Hooch ) or because one of them was a white man and one of them was a black man ( 48 Hours ), it seemed the secret to box office gold in the '80s was putting two policemen who didn't get on into a car together.

But what Dead Heat added to the mix was zombies, instantly making it my favourite buddy cop movie of all time.

The plot involves a gang of old duffers - led by the genius of Vincent Price - clubbing together to try to create eternal life, using zombie gangsters to protect their in-progress immortality machine.

When our heroes stumble across the plot, one of them is accidentally zombified by the machine, before gradually turning into one of the coolest dead-heads in cinema history.

There's a lot to love about Dead Heat . It's got Joe Piscapo spitting out one-liners like Arnie in divorce court - at one point Joe utters three before he finally gets around to killing the giant zombie pig he's been taking the piss out of.

It's arguably the world's first bromantic comedy, with our two cop leads clearly being completely in love with each other before a zombie virus comes along to mismatch them (and one of them being dead is an infinitely better mismatch than one of them being a bit mental - I'm looking at you here, Lethal Weapon ).

It's also got one of the best body melt sequences in the history of body melt sequences. For that reason alone it should be on your must-see list.

These days, zombie films are as ubiquitous as buddy cop films were in the '80s. It seems to be the go-to genre for first-time filmmakers.

Whether the resurrection of the dead is caused by cows ( Dead Meat ), rats ( Zombie Virus On Mulberry Street ) or ice cream ( Wasting Away ), the zombie virus shows no sign of receding from the modern universal subconscious.

But even in the face of all that competition, Dead Heat definitely deserves a second chance at life.

Currently only available on R1 DVD or second-hand VHS (my personal favourite format). Dead Heat is occasionally shown on the brilliant Horror Channel. Keep an eye out for it. It might just be the best mismatched buddy cop movie you'll ever see.

This mini-feature was written because @funkymonkey74 requested it. If you want me to cover one of your favourite trashy horror flicks from the '80s (I've seen all of them), leave a comment below.

Dead Hooker In A Trunk proved that writers/ directors/ stars Jen and Sylvia Soska are expert movie death-dealers.

So I decided to drop them a line to discuss their Top Ten movie death scenes.
I kept a gun, a machete and a power-drill close to my side, just in case things got out of hand.


10. Black Swan: The Finale

"When we first saw the trailers for this film, we didn't know what to expect. The poster art suggested a much more dominant Natalie Portman than the one we get in the film, but it’s a welcome change to see her quiet and mousy.

The entire film builds to her final performance, her perfect performance, and her (pun intended) swan song.

She dances beautifully, even though she is completely insane.

Then she dies in the final act just as intended for the character she’s playing, but it’s at her own hand. There is something lovely when a crazed character finds her peace and is fulfilled.

Portman absolutely killed every time she was on screen - the ending was just perfect, like an opera."

9. Death Proof: The Car Accident

"When we were in driving school, we would be shown actual twisted metal wrecks and dead bodies.

It was very brutal. It’s rare in cinema to see the actual terrible horror of a real car crash.

Quentin Tarantino destroyed the car crash with what he pulled off in Death Proof . The multi-set up to show each character's car-induced death was epic.

We've never seen a car crash like that before, and it's likely we'll never get that panache again.

We remember seeing QT get an award for that sequence to which he replied: 'Now was that a car crash or was that a motherfucking car crash?'

Right on both accounts, sir."

8. Antichrist: The Son's Death Sequence

"Gorgeous. You'll never leave feeling nothing after watching a Lars Von Trier film.

Antichrist opens with a gorgeous black and white sequence of his two leads. He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are making love while their toddler son escapes from his crib and falls out an open window.

The entire scene is shot in 3000 fps - extremely slow motion - which gives each shot a picturesque quality as the horror unfolds. The complete opening is beautiful and artful despite the fact that it ends with a child plummeting to his death."

7. Man Bites Dog: The Heart Attack

"A documentary team is following a serial killer as he goes around killing people randomly. In one situation he finds an older woman who he decides to murder, but the horror of the situation gives her a heart attack.

The killer doesn't take any other part in her demise but simply holds back as what’s set into motion plays out and the woman dies beside him. It is so cruel, but handled so nonchalantly that it really sickens the audience.

It gives the feeling of 'this isn't right' and that's often forgotten in horror movies when people die. That association with a life that is no longer here is the real strength and meaning behind a death in a film."

6. Halloween 2: The Hospital Therapy Pool Sex Session Interrupted By Myers

"There is a stereotype of what happens to girls in horror movies - this is a perfect example of it. A girl sneaks away with her boyfriend to have sex in a hot tub or 'hospital therapy pool' in this situation.

The boyfriend hears a noise and goes to investigate. Unfortunately he is murdered by Michael Myers.

No worries, though, because good ol’ Mike comes over to the unknowingly now-single girlfriend who, without ever looking, starts to kiss his hands. The hands that he uses to turn up the heat (no pun intended) on the pool and drown/burn her to death.

It's a silly, ‘really?’ kind of death but it always makes us giggle."

5. Martyrs : The Skinning Sequence

"This answer ruins the end, so please see it before reading farther.

The lead character, Anna, has been captured and tortured to the point of reaching a final procedure that will be euphoric and give her transcendence to understand all secrets of the afterlife. A surgeon flays Anna alive, removing all her skin, but the skin on her face.

She achieves the knowledge that the cult seeks and the Madam is there to hear it. Whatever had been said leads the Madam to kill herself in the next sequence. We loved this film - the end is like the horror version of Lost In Translation .

The brutality is so harsh that it stays with you for weeks after viewing, haunting your subconscious. Not many films can do it. It was nice to see a film that was so extreme have a mostly female cast which does a remarkable job of getting under your skin and staying there."

4. Irreversible : Fire Extinguisher Head Crush

"We were renting a horror to watch while we sewed our Halloween costumes and the clerk at the video store refused to rent us the film we had chosen because he felt we would feel 'cheated out of our five bucks'.

When asked for a scarier replacement, no - the scariest film he had seen, he offered Irreversible but said it was really hard to watch.

The film plays in reverse, very well. It starts, after a drunken monologue, with two men seeking revenge for some unknown injustice in a gritty sex club called The Rectum.

They find the man they are looking for and after one man's arm is gruesomely twisted and broken, the other gets hold of a fire extinguisher and starts pummelling their target's head.

It doesn’t cut away, so you see the hits as the man's skull crushes more and more, until it is flattened. The most amazing thing about the effect, is his mouth and face continue to move and with no cuts - it actually looks like you've witnessed a murder."

It will stay with you.

3. Let The Right One In : Underwater Pool Massacre

"This sequence is so artistically done that it puts to shame other gore scenes with its high level of taste.

We have our lead character, a little boy named Oscar, captured by blood thirsty bullies who hold him underwater in a pool to drown him.

The scene does not cut away as his friend, a vampire with the body of a young girl, comes to his aid.

The entire crowd of bullies are mutilated and cut up with limbs and blood and kicking legs going through the locked shot as we watch Oscar held underwater. Beautiful filmmaking."

2. Suicide Club : Subway Track Suicide

"This scene opens up the film and it grabs your attention from the very beginning and never lets go with its strange, bloody, introspective opus.

We see groups of uniformed school children happily and excitedly line up, then sing while joining hands.

The train comes and the children jump onto the tracks causing a tidal wave of blood soaking all other patrons and the entire station in utter chaos. We dig smart horror and this film really explores the suicide phenomenon and what would convince people to take their own lives."

1. Hostel 2 : The Elisabeth Bathory Blood Bath

"You so often see a scene where a woman is killed, but very rarely is the killing perpetrated by another female.

This scene shows both ends of the spectrum - the innocent screaming victim played perfectly by Heather Matarazzo and the cold, viscous killer played by Monika Malacova.

The scene plays so well - so unrelentingly horrific that you can't pull your eyes away. We are both Hungarian, so the shout out to Elisabeth Bathory was a fun one to see played out in film."

Dead Hooker In A Trunk (2009) is out on DVD now.

Looks Like: A supernatural chiller about a possessed skeleton that decides to blow up the school on graduation day. Also, the skeleton really knows how to accessorise - look at that hat and scarf combo.

Actually Is: A trash classic featuring a bunch of English actors putting on (borderline) American accents and muttering stuff about 7/11s and prom, whilst trying to survive attacks from a slasher killer dressed up in a Jester outfit.

It's a LOT of fun.

And you can see it on the big screen, tonight, at the Dalston Rio in London.

Then, after the film's finished, you can take part in an on-stage Q&A featuring Slaughter High star and ex-Bond girl/ Sinbad squeeze Caroline Munro. I'll be on-stage asking her some questions too. Go to the Cigarette Burns website for more information.

Imaginary Dialogue: "Why are you offering me an apple shaped bomb, Marty? I can see the fuse quite clearly. You've even lit it. I'm probably not going to eat that. Also, why are you a skeleton?"

It's exactly a week until the Fantastic Films Weekend kicks off in Bradford, so I've put together a little list of seven films you MUST see at the festival.

For tickets, go here . But first, read this:

7. The Exorcist: The Director’s Cut - Friday 10 June 12.00am Pictureville Cinema

So, The Exorcist Director's Cut , then. On the big screen. AT MIDNIGHT. With an exclusive written introduction from William Peter Blatty. Quite frankly, I think you need a good reason NOT to go to this one. 

When The Exorcist was released so few cinemas showed it, groups organised Exorcist coach trips to go and see it. We should get down on our knees and praise Pazuzu that FFW are putting it on.

6. C.H.U.D. - Saturday 11 June 2.45pm Cubby Broccoli Cinema

I've already banged on at length about why I love C.H.U.D.  so much, and I'm feeling a little bit sick with excitement about the fact I get to see it on the big screen at FFW.

In fact, I love it so much I'll be doing a live introduction before it starts (don't worry - the organisers have invited me to do that, I won't just be clambering onto the stage during the opening credits).

So come down, say hello and let's all watch a trash classic together.

5. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death - Saturday 11 June 6.15pm Cubby Broccoli Cinema

Let's Scare Jessica To Death is incredible. So incredible, that I included it in my list of my top ten horror films of all time way back in September 2010 (which is approximately 100 years ago in non-Internet time).

It's so rarely shown that this may well be your last chance to see it on the big screen. I'd advise you take the opportunity, as it's an experience you'll never forget.

4. Hobo With A Shotgun - Saturday 11 June 9pm Pictureville Cinema

Essentially what it'd look like if Martin Scorsese ever made a Troma Film ( Toxie Driver , anyone?), this increasingly insane trailer adaptation is non-stop fun from start to finish.

Rutger Hauer has rarely been better, and this is a serious gift from the gods for cult cinema geeks.

Hobo is the most modern film showing at the festival, but it fits right in with the trash classics it's sitting alongside. That's a mark of quality in my book.

3. The Stuff  - Sunday 12 June 2pm Pictureville Cinema

Arguably Larry Cohen's greatest film - though I've got a soft spot for The Ambulance (Eric Roberts plays a Marvel cartoonist! With a massive mullet! Versus an ambulance! It's got a Stan Lee cameo!) - The Stuff is glorious fun.

I don't want to say too much more about it here, as it'll spoil my live introduction (yep, I'll be introducing this one, too) but, just trust me on this one. You'll want to see it with a crowd.

2. Whistle And I’ll Come To You - Sunday 12 June 5.30pm Cubby Broccoli Cinema

Okay, so it's not technically a film (it was part of the classic BBC Ghost Stories For Christmas series) but Whistle And I'll Come To You is hands-down the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. No question.

Honestly, this is one of my favourite things in the world, and I can't believe that I get to see it with an audience, AND meet director Jonathan Miller, who'll be taking questions from the crowd before the screening.

I'm glad the Q&A won't be taking place AFTER the screening, as I'll probably be too much of a gibbering wreck to formulate proper sentences.

1. Re-Animator - Sunday 12 June 8.45pm Pictureville Cinema

My final recommendation is the final film of the festival - and what a way to close it. Stuart Gordon should be a household name for this terrific '80s trash-fest - it's hilarious, silly and absolutely drenched in blood.

Until someone sees sense and gives Guillermo del Toro the money to make At The Mountains Of Madness , this is still by far the greatest HP Lovecraft flick (even if it doesn't really have much to do with the original story).

I've only ever watched it on my precious VHS. I can't wait to see it on the big screen.

Why You Should Watch It: I couldn't very well talk about X-Cross above without showing you the greatest scene. So here it is.

Don't worry, it doesn't spoil the experience of watching the full film. Also, it's impossibly awesome.

Killer Quote: "I'm pissed."


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