M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! I posted my very first horror reviews on October 1, 2010 and have been posting every Friday ever since on AICN until just recently. I’ve uprooted the show and taken it to my own site just in time for this year’s Best of the Best in Horror Countdown. It’s going to be running all through October, counting down to the best horror film of the year. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked through my reviews over the last year since October 1st, 2016 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth nothing or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#15 THE TRANSFIGURATION #15
Why is THE TRANSFIGURATION #15? This film hit me like few other films did this year as it focused on vampirism from a different cultural perspective. While GET OUT got a lot of press, THE TRANSFIGURATION doesn’t try to make us laugh and scream. It just gets under our skin and makes us both loathe and feel so much sympathy for the lead character—a young confused African American teenager trying to understand the confusing and tragic life unfolding around him. Soulful and horrifying, this is a fantastic film! You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available On Demand, on Netflix, and on Digital Download; find out how to watch it here!
THE TRANSFIGURATION (2017)
Directed by Michael O’Shea
Written by Michael O’Shea
Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Moten, Dangelo Bonneli, Danny Flaherty, Anna Friedman, Jaquan Kelly, Tarikk Mudu, Carter Redwood, Tyler Rossell, Charlotte Schweiger, Luis Scott, Lloyd Kaufman, & Larry Fessenden
Find out more about this film here, @thetransfigurationfilm, and on Facebook here
One of the most interesting and unfortunately overplayed movie monsters is the vampire. There have been every variation of the vampire in film and book form explored in previous years, specifically during the TWILIGHT era, but even before that. Like many of you, I have taken a break from being transfixed with vampire lore, but every now and then, a new concept comes along and it makes the whole thing feel fresh again. This time around, that film is THE TRANSFIGURATION; a film that is not only a great vampire story, but it also metaphorically addresses how trapped we are in our own fate, no matter how big we dream. Sure it’s not the most uplifting of subject matter, but the film addresses this matter in such a somber and mature way that I believe it will resonate with even those who are not in love with the horror genre.
THE TRANSFIGURATION focuses on a young, troubled, African American boy named Milo (Eric Ruffin)—an outcast with no friends, no parents, and a weird belief that he is a vampire. Milo doesn’t only believe this, but in the opening scene we see him draining the blood from the neck of one of his victims in a public men’s room stall. Milo checks in with his social worker weekly, gets groceries for his shut in brother Lewis (Aaron Moten), watches vampire movies, and reads up on being a vampire. Milo’s life of avoiding bullies at school, keeping out of reach of the gang members who live in his building, and coping with the death of his parents changes when he meets Sophie (the utterly charming Chloe Levine), a street-wise white girl who takes interest in Milo because he doesn’t treat her objectively and rudely like the other boys do. What transpires is an odd little romance between a girl trying to find a place to be safe and a boy who thinks he’s a vampire.
This is an odd movie as it never really makes it clear as to whether or not Milo really is a vampire or not. Sure he has convinced himself that he is one and attacks pedophiles and bad people, draining them of their blood, but he is not a vampire in the supernatural sense that Milo sees in the vampire movies he watches all of the time. Reminiscent of Romero’s MARTIN, the excellent New York vampire film MIDNIGHT SON and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN/LET ME IN in terms of a young vampire befriending another youngster, writer/director Michael O’Shea isn’t concerned with telling a supernatural story, but a human one about two lost souls coming together. It is obvious that Milo is suffering from a mental disorder. His deadpan delivery and vacant stare is haunting and everyone around him knows it. Having found his mother’s body after her suicide, Milo broke inside and he has never been able to fix it. What this film does so well is depict Milo as a kid who is trying to understand who he is, why he is the way he is, and if he can interact with the world in a way that he sees others doing. It’s absolutely entrancing seeing Milo let down his walls to let Sophie in ever so slightly and trying to make connections with her in his awkward, twisted, and off-kilter way (his first date with Sophie is watching animal torture videos on his computer, which of course, freaks Sophie out). Just as it is fascinating to see Milo connect with Sophie, it is equally interesting understanding why Sophie might be interested in Milo. She likes that he is weird and is more attracted to him because he actually presents himself as having no feelings. Sophie just doesn’t know how deep these eccentricities go and the anticipation for that revelation is painful the closer it gets.
Both Ruffin as Milo and Levine as Sophie are true cinematic finds. Milo speaks volumes with no words at all. When he does smile and speak, he does so in an equally restrained way. It takes a lot to feel for a character who is first seen draining a man of blood in a men’s room stall, but Ruffin does it through the horrific situation he is in and his attempts to connect with Sophie in a way that you can’t help but root for him. Chloe Levine is amazing as Sophie. She is fragile and strong. She is street wise but still innocent. She’s a true tragic flower in a concrete jungle just waiting to be stomped, but somehow she survives and has a brightness in her eyes every time she encounters Milo. Looking like a young Charlize Theron, Levine is going to be a huge star—mark my words. Seeing the two of them walk along the sidewalk oozes more character than most Hollywood actors with Milo’s little shuffling walk with no movement in his arms and Sophie’s graceful stride as she crosses one leg in front of the other. It’s absolutely fascinating following the two of these characters as they get closer to one another and it’s also torture to watch because you know nothing good is going to come from this relationship in the end.
THE TRANSFIGURATION, like many vampire films, can be seen as a metaphor for the hopelessness and trapped feeling inner city youth feel every day. While Milo is obviously smart, his tragic past and dangerous environment almost ensure that his life is on the line every day. The numb and lifeless feel Milo exudes is a look I am all too familiar with working as a therapist for inner city youth for the last 15 years in Chicago. Not only is this a compelling little horror movie, with real chills, bloody gore, and powerfully dramatic moments, but it also depicts a lifestyle that is often glamorized in rap videos and looked past in bigger budget films. This is a grungy, close to the street film reminiscent of New York films by Frank Hennenlotter and Abel Ferrara. The film’s pace is slow, but I was so transfixed with the characters, their plight, and the overwhelming urge to hope these two can make it out of this together and alive, that I didn’t even notice. THE TRANSFIGURATION is a marvel of a movie with breathtaking performances, rich characters, and a story as compelling as they come. I absolutely loved this film and give it my highest recommendation.
Worth noting: THE ECSTASY OF ISABELLE MANN!
Another unconventional vampire tale is THE ECSTASY OF ISABELLE MANN. Part music video. Part teen angst-fest. But never forgetting to douse itself in blood and grue, this is TWILIGHT with gallons and gallons of the red stuff and it worked for me. If you like weird and off the wall takes on classic monsters, this one will work for you too. You can find it here on Amazon here!
Available on DVD from MVD Visual!
THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN (2012)
Directed by Jason Figgis
Written by Jason Figgis
Starring Ellen Mullen, Neill Fleming, Matthew Toman, Darren Travers, Adam Tyrrell, Nicole Bermingham, Kevin Buckley, John Campbell, Karinann Cosgrave, Ciara Devlin, Joyce Dignam, Jenny Dixon, Karim Elgendy, Emily Forster, Laurence Foster, Gareth Gilroy, Gerry Herbert, Laura Keane, Sorcha Kerins, Geraldine McComish, Stephen McDonald, Michelle Miley, Connor Monks, Killian O’Farrell, Mirjana Rendulic, Suzanne Ryan, Jason Sherlock, Conor Watson, Jody Kelly White, Saorla Wright, Eva Wyse, Saul Wyse, Emmet Kelly
Find out more about this film @IsabelMannFeatureFilm, and on Facebook here
THE ESCTASY OF ISABEL MANN is a truly unique little vampire film. I really have not seen anything like it, especially since the vampire boom from about five years ago (which coincidentally is when this film was originally made). It’s actually a good thing this film was shelved for a bit because now that horror has moved on to haunted houses and found footage, vampires almost feel refreshing to see these days.
But to call THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN a true vampire film is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually more about a person who thinks she is a vampire, though that really doesn’t matter to Isabel’s victims. At home, Isabel (Ellen Mullen) is a model daughter, helping out her father and two siblings after her mother passed away years earlier. It is an utter surprise to everyone when it turns out Isabel is luring people into the woods to murder them with what appears to be a group of other vampire-like people. While not everything is fully explained by the end of this film, one thing is apparent—Isabel is one sick young lady.
Drenched (and I mean, drenched) in blood, THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN is unlike other vampire films for many reasons. In many ways, it highlights how you can never really know a person as almost everyone in Isabel’s life is completely shocked when they find out about her murderous ways. As much as this film follows Isabel, she really is an enigma—sort of like a Laura Palmer-type who looks wholesome on the outside, but hides a dark, dark secret. But while the fact that this film completely demystifies and de-romanticizes vampirism, it also lays on some more surreal aspects through some clever directing, camerawork, and especially music as we witness some of these blood-soaked acts of violence. In the middle of everything, the film turns into a music video, pitting the events of slaughter against a ghostly pop song “Guyfriend” by Moho Mynoki. Sure it’s somewhat pretentious, but it actually works. Then, like that, the film snaps back to reality and we hear the screams that the music drowned out. This is a stylistic representation of the ecstasy and grief that Isabel alternately feels throughout the story.
THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN is not going to be for everyone. The narrative is experimental at times, yet relatively old school in the way it basically has a PSYCHO-esque monolog after the second act to sort of explain what’s been happening. Still, it doesn’t provide all of the answers. Did Isabel act alone or are there more vampires like her still in the woods? No clue. I do know that THE ECSTASY OF ISABEL MANN is quizzical yet beautiful, harrowing yet sweet, honest yet stylistic, and you’re going to have a hard time trying to find anything else like it. Recommended for those who think they’ve seen it all in terms of vampire lore. This film proves that there still is room for creativity and brutality in the old coffin genre yet.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#31 – THE DEMOLISHER
#30 – PLANK FACE
#29 – LAST GIRL STANDING
#28 – DEVIL IN THE DARK
#27 – HELL HOUSE LLC
#26 – XX
#25 – THE SUBLET aka THE RESIDENT
#24 – PATCHWORK
#23 – Morgan Spurlock’s RATS
#22 – SPLIT
#21 – ANNABELLE 2: CREATION
#20– I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
#19 – THE GREASY STRANGLER
#18 – IT STAINS THE SANDS RED
#17 –SEOUL STATION
#16 – 47 METERS DOWN
#15 – THE TRANSFIGURATION
Best of lists from previous years;
2015-16 #1 – THE VVITCH
2014-15 #1 – THE CANAL
2013-14 #1 – PROXY
2012-13 #1 – MANIAC
2012 #1 – THE WOMAN
2011 #1 – THE LAST CIRCUS
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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