Column: Cthulhu Eats the World: Review: AM1200 (2008)

AM1200 (2008). Director: David Prior. Cast: Eric Lange, John Billingsley, Ray Wise

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends…at least, not until the Stars become Right. I thought I’d continue my look at mini-Mythos movies, or, in this case, a 40-minute horror film with a solid feel of Lovecraftian cosmic dread. It’s called “AM1200” and you might not have heard of it. I didn’t until someone tipped me off to it and I sort of live for this kind of thing. So, after watching this little flick, I knew I had to tell others about it because, man-oh-man, did I really like this movie. Yeah, I’m not going to play coy this time around. Right from the start, I’m telling you that this is a hell of a good horror movie. One of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

So if you want to go into this film totally fresh and without any hint of what to expect, which is always the best way to see movies, then stop reading right here. Do yourself a big ol’ favor and get a copy of this on DVD directly from the makers here: http://am1200.com. But if you’re the kind of person that wants more proof than that, then by all means, keep on reading. That is why I’m here, after all.

AM1200 begins as a sort of homage to Psycho, but, instead of Janet Leigh in her naughty black bra, here we’ve got businessman Sam. Just like Marion in the Hitchcock classic, Sam has done some bad things and so, he flees into the California desert with some ill-gotten gains and a very guilty conscience in tow. Along the way, he even gets a scare from a cop that Mr. Hitchcock would have approved of and drives long into the night until he just can’t drive no more. But, whereas Marion finds her end thanks to a murderous momma’s boy in a motel, Sam finds his own slice of horror thanks to his car radio. That is, he tunes into the titular AM 1200 station, where he hears a faint voice through the static asking for help.

Naturally, as Sam is on the lam, he’s not about to drive to the radio station to lend a hand, but fate, or something far worse, won’t take no for an answer. Before long, Sam finds himself at the front door to the isolated broadcast location.

Now I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens at the radio station. I mean, you do want some surprises, right? I will say poor, greedy Sam finds the radio station a mess and one very weird fellow waiting for him, played to creepy perfection by veteran character actor John Billingsley. You may know him best as Dr. Phlox from the TV show, Enterprise.

Oh, and did I forget to mention an earlier and brief, although very well-done, appearance by Ray Wise? You may know him best from…well, a ton of stuff. Seriously, this guy works. But he’s maybe best known as Laura Palmer’s daddy in Twin Peaks. Anyway, the creepy dude at the radio station is obviously a few loaves short of a baker’s dozen and he starts ranting about “summoning something.” Now, if that doesn’t get your Lovecraftian radar pinging, then it’s dead.

AM1200 is an old school horror movie, which means it’s more concerned with honest fear and dread than BOO! jump scares, shakycam shenanigans, and four dozen cuts per minute of runtime editing. The whole thing has a great creepy vibe, but, once Sam gets close to the radio station and his car breaks down (Hey that’s not a spoiler. This is a horror film; cars always break down in horror films), the atmosphere all-but-drips off the screen. All of the actors deliver top-notch performances and director David Prior is masterful to watch. He has a style that is very much akin to early John Carpenter and that is huge praise coming from this old school Carpenter fan. I looked up Mr. Prior to see what else he’s done – because frankly, I want more of it – and I discovered that he made his bones by directing short documentaries about movies. You know, the sort of behind-the-scenes featurettes you find on the better Blu-rays and DVDs. Well, I really hope he returns to story-driven filmmaking and soon. Horror movies by and large are in a sad state these days. We really could use someone like David Prior making feature-length fright flicks.

Final Verdict: AM1200 is an amazing little gem of a movie. At just over 40 minutes in length, it is a quick but, at the same time moody and atmospheric, joy ride of horror that doesn’t overstay its welcome. There are direct correlations at the end to the cold, cosmic dread of H.P. Lovecraft. So, yes, it is Lovecraftian and fans of the man from Providence should seek this one out at once to see an example of new Mythos horror done right. Even if you have never heard of HPL, which I doubt, considering where you’re reading this review, you need to see this flick. If you like truly frightening films over the bubblegum, watered-down, derivative, PG-13, “let’s be careful not to be too scary” stuff that Hollywood is content to put out as horror movies these days, then you will love tuning in to AM1200. Consider it highly recommended.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has been critiquing all things horror, science fiction, dark, or just plain icky for over a decade. His reviews and columns can currently be found in the pages of these magazines: Cemetery Dance, Shock Totem and Dark Discoveries, and on these websites: Horror World, The Black Glove and now here. Not being satisfied at being a humble and handsome critic, Brian has penned a few tales himself. They have appeared in the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, Dark Animus, and Horror Carousel, and in the anthologies Arkham Tales, Cthulhu Unbound Vol. 2, Horrors Beyond, and Twisted Legends, among others. He has also written extensively for the Call of Cthulhu role playing game, in an attempt to corrupt as many new, young minds as possible. Despite all this, Brian is often described by his neighbours as “such a nice, quiet man”, and he loves animals.

Brian M. SammonsColumn: Cthulhu Eats the World: Review: AM1200 (2008)