Behemoth (2011)

Behemoth (2011)

A mountain…A monster…A massacre.

An unexplained series of earthquakes threatens to activate a long dormant volcano which in turn puts a local town in grave danger. Seismologist Emily Green investigates the matter and meets local lumberjack Thomas Anderson. The two form a partnership to get to the bottom of the events and it leads them to a shocking discovery. The tremors are being caused by a huge monster which emerges every fifteen thousand years to threaten humanity.

 

First it was the drive-in. Then it was home video. Now it seems that the first point of call for anyone wanting their fill of low budget monster movies is to check out the Sci-Fi Channel. I’ve lost track of the amount of ‘Sci-Fi Originals’ that have been made over the past couple of years. They are produced by the network to fill a void in Saturday night prime time television in the States and generally budget up around the $5m mark, a mere pittance when you consider something like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides had a budget rumoured to be $250m.

With short shooting schedules and quick turnaround, these cheapo films are easy to make and provide the channel with fresh programming whilst no doubt picking up a small sum when the films are released on DVD. With the low budgets, short shooting schedules and quick turnaround comes the inevitable issues of creativity and originality. I’d bet there is one script floating around the studios where a team of writers simply change the names of he characters, the location and the type of monster before signing it off for production. Behemoth is the latest in a LONG line of carbon copy monster flicks where the entire film can be plotted out just by reading the DVD blurb.

The Sci-Fi Channel clichés are all in abundance here: rugged and usually single father with attractive daughter in late teens/early twenties encounters some strange events in his small local town. He then meets up with attractive female scientist sent to investigate (who also happens to be single…..what are the odds?) and the two join up in order to combat whatever the monster-of-the-week before hopelessly falling in love by the end of the film after he rescues her and the daughter from imminent death at a crucial point in the film. Don’t forget the creative license that these films take with scientific theory and physics. The only difference between this and the likes of Wyvern and Carny is the choice of monster.

I really don’t see the logic in choosing Behemoth – something which is described in the film as a “singularity event” which can change the face of the planet – since the budget was never going to stretch any further than it does here and we were never going to witness full scale carnage of the Earth’s cities being smashed to pieces. For all that it’s cracked up to be the bringer of the end of the world, Behemoth doesn’t do anything. It emerges from the ground far too late in the film (it’s just before the hour mark when it finally begins to show itself) and then it’s hardly worried about destroying the planet. It seems more bothered with killing off a few puny humans (our main characters) than doing any city-smashing. Talk about an anti-climax. The entire film builds up the nature of the monster and gears us up for something amazing and the final product is just, well….meh.

This is a real pity too because, when the monster finally decides to make its cameo appearance, it looks pretty darn impressive. It’s the size of the mountain and has huge tentacles flailing all over the place as well as a massive mouth with razor teeth – think of the Kraken from the Clash of the Titans remake and you wouldn’t be too far from this. The special effects are surprisingly good and the sheer scale of the creature makes for a breath-holding couple of moments. But just as things are getting interesting, the hero decides it would be an appropriate time to launch a special weapon and kill it before it has chance to do any damage. There’s a decent script in here which cried out for a good $150m+ budget. Add another half an hour to this with the creature smashing up cities and the like before the secret weapon is used and you’d have had a great flick.

A bigger budget wouldn’t have mattered much to the cast though since it wouldn’t matter who you got in to play these characters, it would have been the same result. You can write the dialogue as you go along with these sort of films. Pseudo-scientific jargon to make everything sound plausible. Gushy romantic dialogue for the sub plot. Whiny teenagers rebelling against their parents. Crazy old men warning of the end of the world. Speaking of which, William B. Davis, the legendary Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files is the token old coot here, spouting off the end of the world and generally doom-mongering (until it turns out he was speaking the truth!). It’s a far cry away from his cold, calculating character he made famous but ironic since he’s the one now doing the Fox Mulder-style paranoia ranting.

 

Behemoth runs more like one of their cheap disaster films than a monster film. It is simply another cog in the machine for the Sci-Fi Channel. It’s not producing “original” films anymore, just lifeless clones each one more predictable, more tiring and more dismal than the last.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

His brain came from a genius. His body came from a killer. His soul came from hell!

Dr Frankenstein has buried his old identity and is now working at an asylum where he basically has complete control and harvests the inmates for their body parts so that he may continue his ghastly experiments on reanimation with the help of an ambitious doctor who has been institutionalised. Using pieces from the asylum’s most promising inmates, Frankenstein patches up a horrific brute of a monster who is as sad and tortured as he is grotesque.

 

Hammer’s last Frankenstein film is arguably one of the best films of their final years of existence. They had tried to reboot the series with Ralph Bates taking over the lead role from Peter Cushing in the dull The Horror of Frankenstein – see even back in the 70s studios were obsessed with rebooting flagging franchises with newer models. When that failed to garner a positive reception, Hammer opted to return to their tried and tested formula of Cushing and his experimentations. Director Terence Fisher was back at the helm for one last crack before retiring. Peter Cushing was back in his most famous role. And as usual, Hammer provided a good supporting cast as well as some tight script writing. So the stage was set to give the Frankenstein series one last big hurrah and for the most part, it works completely.

The film is a true sequel which is good, as elements from the previous films are incorporated (either for a little in-joking or for plot developments including Frankenstein being burned at the end of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) to allow for newer developments to make way. Unlike the Dracula series, one of the strengths of the Frankenstein series was to re-invent itself and look original in every instalment (despite the plots being almost the same). At no point here do you feel like you’ve been here before and it’s all seemingly original material we’re given. Logical progression of the story has made Frankenstein more evil and murderous in each instalment and finally Fisher decides to go the full distance and relish the fact that the previously-sane-although-corrupt scientist is now simply a mad killer who doesn’t realise the futility of what he’s doing.

Credit must be given to Cushing as well because his performance verges on the sane/insane and at times you don’t know which side of the line he’s treading. It’s a fitting finale for Cushing in his best cinematic role, even though he could have slept-acted the part now. Shane Bryant as his assistant is also pretty good and reminds the viewer of how Frankenstein used to be: a little cold, naive but intelligent and ruthless nonetheless.

David Prowse plays the part of the monster and through his mannerisms, he manages to turn the creature into a sympathetic and pitiful monster. For the first time, Hammer decided to actually go with an out-and-out monster instead of just some guy with a big head and big boots. That’s maybe one of the reasons why so many people dislike this entry. Albeit the suit isn’t particularly convincing (he looks like a mutant ape) but it’s still believable if you take into account that this is meant to be a mixture of about sixty body parts from different people – it isn’t going be perfect, folks! I also like the idea that Frankenstein started off in a position of privilege where he was able to acquire the best body parts for his experiments. Now confined to the asylum and forced to resort to what he can get his hands on from his fellow inmates, the results are noticeably cruder.

Gore was upped in the later Hammer films and there are plenty of surgical pleasantries here, with no less a brain transplant revealed in all of it’s shocking power. Depending on what version you get, some parts may be censored. And like the rest of the Hammer films, it wouldn’t be a Frankenstein film without the finale where the monster does meet it’s maker. But not before giving us some classic Hammer moments such as a brilliantly shot scene in which the creature is seen digging graves during a lightning storm. As a final note, it’s also amusing to see Peter Cushing and David Prowse share the screen a few years before they were to reign terror across the galaxy in Star Wars.

 

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is an excellent finale to the Frankenstein series. It’s arguably my second favourite of the series and that’s because everyone from the director to the actors to the guys who makes the coffee seem to be on top form. A fitting end to one of horror’s greatest and most overlooked series of films.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Fiend Without a Face (1958)

New Horrors! Mad Science Spawns Evil Fiends! …Taking form before your horrified eyes!

A spate of unexplained deaths begin to occur near a nuclear-powered American air base in England. As the locals continue to blame the Air Force for the deaths, it turns out that the victims have been killed by some invisible creatures that are a by-product of a thought-control experiment conducted by a retired professor.

 

Fiend Without a Face might look a little cheesy on the outside nowadays but this classic dose of science fiction horror from the 50s is one of the best of its genre. I can honestly remember this freaking me out as a kid. As an adult, the film is obviously less intimidating but is more curious for other reasons. It has your typical 50s sci-fi plot: a small town suddenly has a spate of mysterious deaths, no one has a clue what is causing them and then there is a big reveal midway through and everyone finds out that it’s some form of horrible monster that is killing everyone off. The only real difference between this and say The Deadly Mantis or Them! is the monster and thankfully this is where Fiend Without a Face punches above it’s weight. It would be a travesty to consider this in the same league as such 50s classics as Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing From Another World. But in the runners up category, this must surely be leading the charge.

The first half of Fiend Without a Face is rather dull and you’ll wonder why there’s so much love for it. The acting is stodgy, the dialogue is stilted and the budget is rather limited. Production values are ok but the film doesn’t really give off any lofty ambitions or visions of grandeur. It seems quite happy plodding along and doing its own rigid thing. Thankfully with it only being seventy four minutes long, the first half of the film is literally half an hour.  There is a wonderful sense of imagination running through the film, most notably surrounding all of the experiments and scientific mumbo-jumbo. The nature of the monsters is plausible given everything that the film throws your way. Even their final appearance has been brilliantly conceived to make proper use of the scientific themes discussed earlier in the film. But for the first half of the film, you’ll have to be satisfied with invisible monsters. This means when they do attack and kill people, you’ll have to put up with ridiculously over-the-top scenes of the actors clutching at thin air and grabbing aimlessly at their throats before they drop down dead. Also be prepared for a bit of a romantic sub plot as the dashing young American airman falls in love with the professor’s assistant. It’s the usual forced sub-plot but it’s hardly given much screen time and won’t detract from anything later in the film.

It’s only when the monsters show up that Fiend Without a Face switches from generic 50s sci-fi flick to cult classic. The monsters are the stars of the show here and although they look a little bit dated, they still have the ability to creep you out. They’re invisible for a good portion of the film and heartbeat sound effects are used to signify their presence. Believe me these noises are scary and effective at building up tension. When they do show up at the finale, they’re stop motion creatures for the most part and look unique. The idea that they are by-products of the thought control experiment is mirrored in their brain-like appearance with spinal cords attached and a pair of antennae-like appendages at the front. They move around with skilful mastery like caterpillars do thanks to the impeccable stop motion. Scenes of the monsters ripping planks of wood from the windows to get into the house will leave you in disbelief at how impressive the effects are. The make-up effects when the monsters are shot with a bullet are quite gory for that time as they splatter and ooze blood. In fact it was so detestable at the time that critics said it wasn’t fit for civilised eyes!

Granted it looks very tame in today’s gore-soaked market but you have to remember the time in which it was made and it’s easy to see how it shocked so many people. The finale where the survivors board themselves up inside a house to prevent the creatures from coming in must surely have inspired some of the ideas in Night of the Living Dead and is a suitably exciting climax (although the preposterous notion of blowing up the nuclear power plant to stop the monsters seems to be something only the 50s would come up with!). The film doesn’t quite finish there and offers the promise of a sequel right at the very end.

 

Old-school British horror and sci-fi was always a lot slower paced than its American counterparts and some may find Fiend Without a Face a tad boring during the first half. But those who stick with it are in for a real treat featuring some of the most imaginative monsters ever given screen time. One of the best British sci-fi/horror flicks ever made and certainly one that deserves more praise that it has received.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Mummy’s Shroud, The (1967)

The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet

In 1920, an archaeological expedition discovers the tomb of an ancient Egyptian child prince. Returning home with their discovery, the expedition is keen to prove their original theory that another mummy found is not that of the prince but just his mummified bodyguard who was given the bracelet of the Pharoah by the dying child. The expedition members soon find themselves being killed off by the mummy when a guardian of the tomb reads off the prince’s burial shroud to bring it to life.

 

Hammer’s third entry into it’s mummy series is probably the weakest of the bunch. I mean mummy films have never exactly been anything special – in fact they’re all virtually the same. Someone finds a tomb, defies a warning not to go in, brings home some relics and is soon killed off by a mummy for desecrating the tomb. Much like having Dr Frankenstein create another monster or getting Dracula to terrorize a few nubile young women, there is only so much you can do with a slow, lumbering monster wrapped in bandages. I guess there is a certain comfort zone in watching the same thing time after time. Hammer’s foray into this repetitive sub-genre have been decent, if somewhat flat. You can clearly tell that the budgets that their horror films were getting were beginning to dry up and instead of improving on previous installments with better effects, the mummy films seem to get worse. Case in point is The Mummy’s Shroud.

The Mummy’s Shroud is typical of the Hammer film – lavish sets, vivid colours, haunting music, etc. But they’re pretty unremarkable in that little happens in them that hasn’t happened in other films. No attempt is even made to differentiate this one from the other mummy films. In fact many elements of the film seem to have got worse from the previous installment, notably the villain of the title. The mummy here looks pretty feeble – it’s more like a scarecrow with a cheesy grin on it’s face. It doesn’t have the same powerful presence as the previous mummies and isn’t as scary as a result. However given the origins of the mummy via the plot this could be forgiven for most of the time (I’m guessing that the dying bodyguard wouldn’t have been able to afford a proper mummification nor have the tools to do it, hence the reason he looks cheaper). He also takes some time to get motivated as well so be prepared for plenty of dialogue in the run up to his carnage.

The pacing of the film is very deliberate which is pretty much my polite way of saying it’s slow as hell. Everyone involved from the director, the writer to the actors just seem to be running through the motions. There’s no rush. No one is in a hurry. It’s almost as if everyone is standing around waiting for something to happen. At least Don Banks also gives us a classical flavoured Egyptian musical score which helps the film along. Say one thing about the Hammer films and that’s no matter how poor the film’s may have been, the music was always top drawer.

Semi-regular Hammer actor André Morell is given top billing and much like I stated in my review for The Plague of Zombies, Morell’s acting ability makes him a very good lead role. It’s the sort of role that the likes of Peter Cushing can play in their sleep but it’s nice to see someone else get their turn in the spotlight. Unfortunately his screen presence is cut tragically short which means the film looks for someone else to fill the shoes of the main hero and no one else is able to match up to his talent. I think the bonus of the film is seeing Hammer regular Michael Ripper actually get a reasonably meaty role for a change. This guy was in more Hammer films than anyone, usually playing small roles such as innkeepers or coach drivers. Here he is given a lot more to do and it’s for the best because he’s a joy to watch as Longbarrow and is easily the most sympathetic person in the film. After all of the abuse he puts up with from his boss, he still gets killed in horrible fashion by the mummy. Poor bloke.

Roger Delgado takes over the token evil Egyptian role. Fans of British TV and film will recognise him as The Master from Doctor Who and the role here is no different as he’s in “moustache-twirling” villain mode. But there’s just a real sense of ‘been there, done that six times before’ and we have. Between Hammer and Universal, they pretty much covered all of the possible mummy bases.

 

The Mummy’s Shroud was the last of Hammer’s films to be shot at Bray Studios, marking the end of a sixteen year association. It’s a shame they couldn’t have ended on high instead of this rather unoriginal and downright tiresome mummy film. Dull, uninspiring and lazy at times, The Mummy’s Shroud won’t go down as one of their better efforts.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

Their farewell concert is to die for!

Jesse and his rock band play plenty of gigs in the hope of making it to the big time. After one of their gigs, they are warned by a strange girl not to go to Grand Guignol for their next gig as the parents there don’t want this unhealthy rock influence on their children. The band head to Grand Guignol to play the gig but on their way, they are kidnapped and murdered by a strange family of freaks led by none other than Adolf Hitler. Cassie, the strange girl who warned them not to go, brings the band back to life as zombies in order to stop Hitler from starting the Fourth Reich.

 

I don’t think I’d ever be able to make up as random a plot as this. With midgets, werewolves, murderous hitch hikers, zombie rock musicians and Adolf Hitler himself, this is one bizarre film labels itself as “a comedy horror cult classic” but fails to give the source of the quote. Hard Rock Zombies was made in the 80s when heavy metal and rock music was being blamed for almost everything in America. With cries of “it’s the music of Satan” and an uncanny amount of conservative Americans attempting to rid the world of it, the music was badly treat and there are a few trashy horror films which feature this as a core element to their story (the other being Trick or Treat featuring Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osborne no less!). The protests should not be against the music but against the crimes of humanity to which this film associates itself with that music genre.

Hard Rock Zombies is such a horribly made film full of goof and camp and usually I’ve got a decent tolerance for that sort of thing but this is beyond watchable for the majority of it’s running time. It was originally devised as a twenty minute short but was given a bigger budget and expanded to over an hour and a half. You can immediately see which parts of the story were added later because they make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why is Adolf Hitler in here? Are we to believe that he escaped Nazi Germany forty years ago, fled to America, started eloping with a werewolf and become the patriarch of a family of midgets, overgrown Hitler youth and a blonde chick who came straight out of a Bon Jovi video? Was this his master plan to rebuild his empire and start The Fourth Reich – murdering a few rockers in the middle of nowhere? Funnily enough the addition of Hitler may have worked had he become the main protagonist in the film. But he’s killed off and turned into one of the zombies long before the end credits roll.

At times Hard Rock Zombies plays like a tribute video to some long-forgotten rock band with lots of overly long rock songs being blasted out every few minutes (and these songs are played out in their entirety too, no doubt to pad out the running time). I’d a lover of all things heavy and metal but these songs are absolute tripe – 80s hair metal at it’s worst. There’s shots of the band goofing around on a bridge, riding skateboards, posing on cars and looking like they’re enjoying life – the sort of stuff that would go down well in an 80s music video. Coupled with the copious amounts of mullets and leather jackets, this isn’t exactly a film that has dated well over the years.

Hard Rock Zombies isn’t a zombie film for those looking for some classic zombie action. The make-up looks really shoddy for the most (in fact some of the band looked better as zombies!) and there’s not an awful lot of traditional zombie action like throat-ripping or flesh-eating. There’s little gore at the point of zombification and in fact there’s more over-the-top carnage when the family of freaks decide to kill the band. The four band zombies walk like robots. If any of you remember the video for the Adam Ant song ‘Stand and Deliver’ and call recall the dance that they do, then that’s how these guys walk around. And yes, the band do actually play a live set as zombies. They’d rather do that than anything else. In fact the quest to put on the show in Grand Guignol is the band’s main focus. They do get their revenge on the Hitler clan and the townspeople who hired him but it’s hardly revenge as we know it. It’s all so rushed and done and dusted quickly so that the band can get back to doing what they just want to do – rock out. The townspeople even try and fight off the zombies by hiding behind giant cardboard heads of the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis!

Funnily enough, it’s not the most random thing in the film as there’s a blonde chick who keeps dancing all over the show, a midget who literally eats himself to death, a woman holding her dead boyfriend’s severed head and asking him if he’s alright and the sight of Hitler dressed as a grandfather attempting to make love to a werewolf dressed as a grandmother……..

 

Hard Rock Zombies is painfully unfunny, badly made and a real travesty to sit through. I’d say you’d need to see it to believe it but I wouldn’t want this film gaining anymore exposure and becoming a cult classic. If this is the cinematic rep that heavy metal will be renowned for, then it’s best to start listening to country and western.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Boa Vs Python (2004)

Boa Vs Python (2004)

Get ready to rumble

A rich hunter imports a giant python from South America in order to turn it loose in a private reserve and have a bunch of wealthy hunters pay big money to come and join him hunt it. Unfortunately for him, the python breaks free during transport and takes up residence at a water treatment facility. The FBI daren’t risk sending in agents to kill it so they enlist the help of Dr Emmett, who has been raising a giant boa constrictor in a lab, and decide to get the boa to track it down and kill it.

 

Jumping on the “versus” bandwagon that seems to be rolling since the success of Freddy Vs Jason and Alien Vs Predator isn’t a good idea when your two main draws are relatively unknown B-movie monsters. It’s not an official sequel to Boa or Python 2 but considering that the director David Flores was the editor involved in both of those films, it’s highly convenient that he should decide to pair them up to fight each other. Hardly going to rank up there with the greatest of cinematic tussles like King Kong Vs Godzilla, Boa Vs Python is pretty much the same film as the other two, only with two snakes instead of one.

I’ve got a big beef with the plot though. I don’t know about you but if I ever had a giant snake on the loose, the last thing I would do is RELEASE ANOTHER GIANT SNAKE to track it down. This obvious plot discrepancy aside, I’m guessing we’re supposed to root for the boa constrictor since it was brought up by the good doctor and the python is the one doing all of the evil stuff. The two snakes don’t actually fight each other until the final ten minutes and even then the fight only lasts for a moment or two before it’s unceremoniously stopped. I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to watch a film called Boa Vs Python I demand just a little more for my money.

The snakes aren’t given that much screen time anyway, even if they’re not fighting each other. Considering we have two snakes, I expect twice as much footage as I would if we only had one snake. Even snake versus human action is lacking and quite a few kills either happen off screen or you just see someone getting dragged away before they’re finished off. What happened to cheap CGI effects showing us the CGI monsters ripping off the heads of their victims? The effects look as bad as one would expect, with both snakes being different colours so you can tell the difference (clever, eh?) so why they couldn’t extend this to a few moments of cheap CGI gore is beyond me. This is pushing it a bit but maybe they could have shown us the scene from the poster in which the two snakes are fighting amongst skyscrapers with a helicopter shooting at them. As expected, that scene is nowhere to be seen in the final version of the film.

At least the film has some non-CGI eye candy in the shapely shapes of Jaime Bergman and Angel Boris, two former Playmates, who act as the token scientist and the token slut respectively. Only one gets naked but its soooooo obligatory that I almost went mad with laughing as Angel Boris soaps herself down slowly in a bath tub, guiding her hands slowly across her breasts and…………sorry getting a bit carried away there. Yes it’s the most obligatory naked scene you’re going to come across ever – she even spends the next five minutes naked too. Jaime Bergman looks too nice to be a out-and-out scientist (you know, the Denise Richards type of being hot-to-trot but too good looking to be believable as a nuclear physicist). However for someone who works with dolphins, she does have that endearing bubbly charm where you know she’ll care for her animals and soppy stuff like that. But who cares. She’s a former Playmate too so why couldn’t she have been contracted for a shower scene or something.

Also of worthy note is Adam Kendrick, a Brit who plays the rich hunter. At one point he strips off his shirt to reveal his massively bulked up and glistening body in front of the snakes (how the heck did he manage to oil up under his shirt?) and then proceeds to go mental with a flame thrower, torching anything and everything in sight, including numerous FBI agents! It’s not exactly an actor’s flick but at least the females manage to liven things up a bit if the titular snakes are sorely lacking in appearance.

 

Boa Vs Python is a total cop-out of what was going to be a piece of crap anyway. It just ended up depriving us of the only thing that would have redeemed it – some actual snake versus snake action. I dread to think of whatever CGI monsters they’ll pit against each other next. Oh wait, I’ve just seen the trailer for Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus…….

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Black Scorpion, The (1957)

The Black Scorpion (1957)

DON’T BE ASHAMED TO SCREAM – IT HELPS TO RELIEVE THE TENSION!

Volcanic activity unleashes giant scorpions from centuries old imprisonment and they proceed to wreak havoc in the countryside and then eventually Mexico City.

 

Another of the slew of 1950s science fiction monster movies, The Black Scorpion does at least feature giant monsters that weren’t the by-products of atomic testing! In fact it’s almost a like-for-like re-run of Warner Brothers earlier smash hit Them! which had giant ants on the rampage. Like pretty much all of these 50s flicks, the story runs like clockwork and there’s little differentiating it from any of the others apart from the monster. The casts are all full of stone-jawed heroes, glamorous dames, token military men, caricature locals and cute kids who don’t listen to grown ups. The forced romances between the cast, the dubious scientific debates, the attempts at characterisation – do we really care? These films are about giant freakin’ monsters so let’s cut the crap and get down to the nitty gritty!

Willis O’Brien, the legendary effects maestro behind the original King Kong, brings the scorpions to life in glorious stop-motion detail. The animation is excellent and very fluid, almost too realistic at times. To say he was in his 70s and in poor health, the man was certainly able to rekindle his old magic. The first time we see the scorpions is during an attack on some telephone repairmen near a bridge and even today, the attack is still savage and brutal, with one poor chump not only grasped in one of the scorpions’ claws but stung with the tail too! There’s also an imaginative scene in which two of the main characters take a cage ride down into the volcano and into the scorpion’s lair in which all manner of giant worms and spiders lurk. They are creatures left over from the unused spider pit sequence from King Kong and you can clearly see where they would have fitted into the 1933 classic. They are a little out of place here (we are dealing with giant scorpions after all) and seem to have been added simply to provide a few extra monsters for our characters to battle. The finale, in which the black scorpion squares off against the military in a football stadium in Mexico City is also fantastic as all manner of stop motion tanks and helicopters battle the scorpion in a fight to the death. It’s truly great visual eye candy and O’Brien’s effects are worth the watch alone.

Unfortunately he had no control over the rear projection and in some scenes, images of the giant creatures are beamed onto a huge screen behind the actors. But the image is so blurry and out of focus that you wonder whether the characters are actually watching a film-within-a-film. Some of the empty shadow matte shots of the black scorpion entering Mexico City are so ridiculously poor that I really feel sorry for O’Brien and the hard work he put in. There’s also a really big prop head that is used for close-up shots and this drooling bad boy looks like he’s constantly grinning at the camera. It’s a really daft prop and something else to put a damper on the excellent stop motion. The production ran out of money so the re-use of footage (and the constant close-ups of that head!) is evident and the cheap way in which it’s all put together really harms the overall quality of the film. In a film which is driven by it’s special effects, it’s a disservice to O’Brien that his stop motion work is tarnished by the rest of the lousy effects.

 

The Black Scorpion is a little different to the other 50s science fiction flicks in that the effects are stop motion and they’re also fantastic. The rest of the film, heck the rest of the production team, is a total waste of time but it’s worth at least one watch to see Willis O’Brien work some magic on bringing giant scorpions to life. And for that reason alone, it gets an extra couple of bonus marks.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Task, The (2011)

The Task (2011)

The audience isn’t the only one watching

‘The Task’ is a new reality TV show in which contestants must complete terrifying missions in an abandoned jail if they wish to claim the substantial prize on offer. Six young students are the first group to compete for the cash but they are unaware that the jail still harbours the spirit of the murderous warden who used to torture and kill the inmates before being executed.
Horror films set around reality TV are nothing new. Heck, they’ve been on the go for years since the dawn of Big Brother and these daft reality celebrity shows clogging up our televisions. But they’ve run their course, as the latest couple of series of Big Brother in the UK have shown with dwindling audiences and lack of mainstream media interest. So to see The Task released in 2011 (with a couple of reality-style horrors released in 2002 with Halloween: Resurrection and My Little Eye) seems to me to be the result of a distinct lack of originality and risk-taking in the genre at the moment. Why bother creating a new story when you can just wheel out some tried-and-tested plot?

This isn’t a knock directly at The Task – it’s a knock at the genre in general at the moment. The straight-to-DVD series of After Dark ‘Originals’ (of which The Task is a part of) have been largely forgettable teen horrors, pimped up a little with fancy covers and made to sound like the bees knees of cutting edge scare material when really they’ve been highly derivative and largely non-descript. I appreciate the sentiment behind giving new talent the chance to prove what they can do and get their product out there to a wider audience. But if these are the future of horror, we’re in for a barren couple of years.

The Task is competently made but is nothing more than by-the-numbers teen horror. Everything about it screams pedestrian from the plot, to the characters, to the setting, the lack of any sort of tension or atmosphere and modern-day reliance on flashy editing. It’s the embodiment of a film which will no doubt keep you interested for its running time but is immediately forgettable straight afterwards.

Director Alex Orwell is no doubt pleased that his film has made it onto DVD but he should at least learn how to build suspense or create some sort of an atmosphere. I mean, the setting is decent enough but how many times are we going to see horror films set inside abandoned jails, asylums or other kooky places with sinister histories? It’s just not fun to watch a group of twenty-somethings walk around dark corridors and jail cells for the umpteenth time, talking to each other and generally being irritating to the audience. Are we supposed to care for this bunch of self-obsessed idiots? After all, they’re all in it for the fame and the money. Forget doing hard work, let’s all just take the easy way out and do reality TV! The usual caricatures are here including the goth girl, the dumb blonde, etc. Throw in some expendable crew members from the company running the show and you’ve got the recipe for a predictable ride.

It’s a good hour into the proceedings by the time things start to get interesting and remotely exciting and that’s a bit of a overstatement. The idea of each character having to do tasks seems to have come straight out of the Saw films complete with a Jigsaw-style host (a guy in some clown make-up explains what the characters need to do). But then you’ve also got helpings of The House on Haunted Hill thrown in there too, with the TV crew having devised all manner of weird and wonderful surprises for the contestants in a bid to throw them off – there’s even a ghost walking around the corridors caught on camera. Only this time Jeffrey Combs is nowhere to be seen.

The first couple of tasks each character has to do are hardly nerve-shattering and I’m sure if I had been watching this TV show, I’d have turned over long before the better ones later on. Things do pick up slightly once the vengeful warden has made his presence felt but we’re never really sure of what he is or why he’s there. And if you think his arrival will signal the start of the gore, then you’ll be sorely disappointed too. I’m not quite sure why the film’s certificate is so high (it’s an 18 in the UK) because from what I remember, the film is bloodless. Problems are confounded with a script which messes around with too many ideas, all pulling in different directions and inevitably ends up tearing the film apart. The case in point being the overblown finale which makes no sense and comes right out of leftfield. Either the production ran out of cash or the writers ran out of ideas. You make the call.

 

The Task takes a long time to get where it’s supposed to be going and even then you’re not really sure where you’ve ended up. The only thing you realise is that you’ve been there before – many times. It’s deja vu all over again.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mega Piranha (2010)

Mega Piranha (2010)

They were created to save mankind. Something went wrong.

A mutant strain of giant piranha escape into the Amazon and head down river, eating everything in their path on their way towards Florida.

 

It’s hard to review a film such as Mega Piranha. I mean come on, just look at what I’m up against here. On one hand the film does it’s job well in that it’s ridiculously over-the-top, uber-cheesy, makes no sense whatsoever and just bombards the viewer with anything and everything in the hope that something sticks. On the other hand, it’s ridiculously over-the-top, uber-cheesy, makes no sense whatsoever and just bombards the viewer with anything and everything in the hope that something sticks. It’s a no win scenario for some, a winner takes all scenario for others. Mega Piranha follows hot in the heels of other such ‘Mega’ monster films and could well be the worst of the lot…..although that’s like saying you’d rather die by electric chair than lethal injection.

Not coincidentally made at the same time as Piranha 3-D, the Asylum deliver another of their truly atrocious ‘mockbusters’ slap bang with all of the usual nonsense and hokem. Don’t worry about the story. Or script. Logic? That doesn’t exist. Physics – yeah whatever. They’re all inconsequential as these films are on a completely different playing field. Not even daft drinking games can make these films enjoyable. I read it somewhere else that Mega Piranha can best be described as a ‘hyperactive’ film and that is true.

There’s not a moment’s let up in anything and the film has been edited to the point of nausea. There’s no suspense building, slow build-up or gradual picking up of the pace – everything is light speed from the opening scene. Scenes are not dragged out for any more than basic necessity. Characters shout and rush their way through dialogue in order to move onto the next scene as quickly as possible. Images of mutant piranha, explosions, helicopters and military guys running around like headless chickens are there one minute, gone the next. There’s no point in even trying to sit back and enjoy everything because you won’t get chance. It’s just rapid fire filmmaking at its most basic. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that epileptics have been banned from watching this – if you’re not prone to fits before watching, you’re sure to be afterwards/

The effects for the piranhas are feeble but it was to be expected. Funnily enough, these piranha don’t have wings to fly (Piranha 2: The Spawning, I’m looking at you) but that doesn’t stop them from gracing the air like eagles, soaring through the sky and then slamming down into their victims on dry land (which then begs the question of how they manage to return to the water). As the film goes on, the fish get bigger and bigger due to the incomprehensive science mumbo jumbo so that by the time the film nears its conclusion, there are piranha leaping into the side of buildings and taking down battleships. It has to be seen to be believed. Like the case with the majority of these cheap and cheerful monster flicks, the story spends most of its time with the human villains, this time a Venezuelan general and his army of guerrillas. As I always state in these type of film, human villains simply take up unnecessary screen time. If I want to see commandos and South American mercenaries fighting each other, I’d watch an 80s action fest. It turns out that I came here to see mega piranha fish and I’m being denied that chance.

Paul Logan is the muscle-bound hero of the piece and he must have strained his vocal cords when he was bench pressing in the gym because he sounds terrible. It’s like he’s trying to channel the spirit of Arnie but without any sort of charisma and less of the muscles (though the guy is still stacked). 80s pop singer Tiffany stars as the token female scientist and its hard trying to picture her as some sort of intellectual when she spends more time positioning her silicon-enhanced chest towards the camera. Truth be told, in such films like this, the low quality of acting talent is hardly the worst crime committed given what else is on display. A mute would have as much trouble with the script.

 

Mega Piranha is a terrible film but trying to tear it apart is an impossible task since it’s this very nature that the film embraces. It’s just ninety minutes of pure insanity, full of examples of bad filmmaking at its most explicit and does it care? It wears this like a badge of honour on its sleeve.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

7th Voyage of Sinbad, The (1958)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

8th wonder of the screen!

When the Princess he was supposed to marry is shrunk by a scheming magician, Sinbad has to set sail for a distant land where he can find the rare ingredient to make a cure work. But he must overcome a multitude of problems including a mutinous crew, a man-eating cyclops, a fire-breathing dragon, a giant two-headed bird and then come face to face with the evil magician himself, Sokura.

 

I can’t exactly write an impartial review here as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is my favourite film of all time. I was really into monsters and dinosaurs in my childhood so, when I watched this for the first time as a young boy, seeing these creatures come to life was amazing. It’s been etched on my mind up until this very day. After celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2008, with special effects that may look a bit creaky nowadays and with dozens of continuity problems, it still manages to enchant me in its magical grip from start to finish. I’ve watched it that many times that I can recite lines of dialogue before they happen. I can imagine myself being there on the island, fighting alongside Sinbad and his crew. It may sound a little nerdy but when you love a film so much, it’s hard not to get caught up in it all.

Historically, the film is of great significance and as such, was selected for preservation in the USA in the National Film Registry. As of 2008, there were around five hundred films in there and it joins the likes of The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Casablanca in the archives. A pioneering film in the special effects field, without it you wouldn’t have got the likes of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As an adult I can now fully recognise the importance that this film holds but the reason I love it so much as it that it takes me back to my childhood. This film makes me feel forever young!

The acting is from the golden age of Hollywood where the hero had to look dashing, the Princess look charming and the bad guys just look evil and the three main characters do just that. Kerwin Matthews makes for a very serviceable Sinbad and his interaction with the special effects is top drawer. This is back in a time when these sorts of effects-driven films were few and few between and actors had little to no experience of acting out scenes with effects that would be inserted later. Kathryn Grant does what she has to do with the role of the Princess but she’s only there to act as the plot driver and get Sinbad to go to the island. Also worth mentioning is Alfred Brown as Sinbad’s faithful second-in-command, Harufa. The guy gets all of the best unintentional ‘comedy’ lines in the film but unfortunately things don’t work out especially well for him at numerous times in the film! It’s Torin Thatcher who steals the show as Sokura, the evil magician. He hams it up in places and then acts deceitful and thuggish in others. He knows how to chew the scenery in certain scenes, giving wry smiles of disapproval or casting menacing looks to Sinbad. The rest of the cast is filled with suitably rough-looking Spanish actors who are simply there to provide the fodder for the various monsters that Sinbad encounters.

However, they all know that they’re taking second place to the special effects. Nothing is going to upstage Ray Harryhausen from working his magic. His painstakingly-detailed stop-motion animation is just breathtaking when you think there was no team of animators working on a computer – just him on his own working around the clock. It’s a labour of love and you can see clearly the passion he had for making these creatures come to life. He was inspired by King Kong to become a special effects maestro and it’s a fitting tribute to him that countless special effects gurus (and just filmmakers in general) have entered the business inspired by Harryhausen. From the moment the cyclops comes raging out from the cave, you can’t help but be amazed. My favourite Harryhausen monster, its got personality which is something CGI has a hard time conveying. It looks badass, pummels men under huge tree trunks in fits of revenge and its unique roars and cries will echo in your head for a long time after watching. The camera angles also make the monster seem more terrifying with wide-shots adding to the sheer scale of the beast and numerous close-ups of its face giving you a glimpse into its mindset. One of my particular favourites is a subtle moment when it’s roasting a sailor on a giant spit. For a brief moment it licks its lips in anticipation of its upcoming meal.

The fire-breathing dragon looks awesome but it doesn’t have a lot to do except provide the token monster versus monster fight at the end. The only criticism that I’d have with Harryhausen’s work is that they all look the same as his other monsters – the cyclops being a re-working of the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, the fire-breathing dragon being The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and so on. I’m guessing it’s a practical reason that he just re-used old models but it’s a bit obvious, especially in his later films. The skeleton duel here set the standards that Harryhausen would blast later on in Jason and the Argonauts.

One final positive is the musical score by Bernard Herrman. It’s a pounding, pulsating piece which gives each of the monsters its own signature tune. He would work with Harryhausen on a number of effects films but it’s the soundtrack to this one which really stands out.

 

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is my favourite film of all time and it’s easy to see why. With its eternal child-like innocence and sheer escapism, it’s hard to dislike in any shape or form. Forget Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Nothing beats this fantasy film for sheer thrills and entertainment. It would be cliché to say that they don’t make them like this anymore but it’s true.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★