Man’s Best Friend (1993)

Man's Best Friend (1993)

Companion. Protector. Killer.

A genetically mutated dog is accidentally released from the labs at EMAX when a nosey female reporter breaks in to uncover the illegal animal experiments going on. The dog takes a shine to her and follows her home where she soon decides to look after him. Endowed with greater intelligence, the ability to change its colour like a chameleon and enhanced strength, the dog at first becomes the ideal pet. But when its drugs start to wear off, the dog turns into a ferocious killer.

 

What do you get if you cross the ferociousness of Cujo with the cuddliness of Beethoven? The answer is Man’s Best Friend, a slobbering entry in the ‘nature runs amok’ sci-fi horror films of the past which stars one of man’s most loved domestic pets. I’ll get this off my chest now and state on the record that I hate dogs and am scared stiff of them. Small dogs I can handle to a degree, knowing that with my height and stature, I’d be able to deal with a Yorkshire terrier or poodle if one tried to have a go. However, the big dogs are what really scare the crap out of me. So the thought of a German Shepherd, a St Bernard, a Rottweiler or any number of insanely big dogs turning into rabid killing machines is to me, what spiders and snakes are for many other people. Man’s Best Friend is perhaps a little too ridiculous and over-the-top to be considered scary but the underlying themes are still enough to make me want to wear dark trousers if I had to watch it again.

Thankfully the makers of Man’s Best Friend take the ridiculous premise and manage to make the most of it, churning out a reasonably watchable film in the process which borders on slasher territory at times, substituting a machete-wielding, hockey-mask wearing psycho for a monstrous dog. The script makes a decent stab at creating a realistic canine killing machine. The enhanced intelligence and strength bits are fine to believe in but the whole notion of genetically engineering the dog so that it can turn into a chameleon is taking things too far. It’s a dog, not the Predator but the scenes of it blending into a background full of cardboard boxes and rust metal is not plausible in the slightest. Rest assured: you’ll be treated to the dog’s POV when it’s hunting people down. Maybe this is a dog version of Predator after all.

Max, the dog, is quite loveable when he isn’t killing people or thinking of killing people and he’s totally the sort of dog you’d love to take home. However he does like to kick off in style and isn’t afraid of sabotaging bike chains and the like to get the job done. There are a few dog clichés put in here – the paper boy, the mailman and of course, next door’s cat – and you’ll not exactly be shocked to find the outcome of any of those escapades. These are fine on their own as again, they’re all perfectly acceptable and recognisable things to play upon for dog lovers. But when the dog starts urinating and melting fire hydrants (and then people’s faces) with said urine, then things get a little out of a hand. Sometimes the script keeps things level-headed and decent but then in the next breath, it’s doing crazy things like this and being little daft for its own good.

Apart from Max, the cast isn’t too bad either. Ally Sheedy is basically reprising her Short Circuit role here, only with a killer dog instead of a killer robot. Lance Henriksen picks up another pay cheque (at least the man is feeding his family, you can credit him for that!) as the dodgy scientist. At least with a few familiar faces on board, the film doesn’t stray too far when the dog isn’t killing people.

 

You will have to suspend your disbelief for a fair chunk of its running time but Man’s Best Friend takes, what was on paper anyway, a pretty absurd idea and turns into a highly watchable sci-fi horror romp. I just wish they’d have put a ceiling over the silliness and kept it relatively believable. Invisible dogs with acid wee…..come on!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Predators (1999)

Silent Predators (1999)

The hunt is on. You’re the Prey.

In 1979, a delivery truck transporting a deadly tropical rattlesnake in southern California is involved in an accident and the snakes manage to escape into the forest. Twenty years later and the construction of a new housing development disturbs a nest of these snakes which head straight towards the town and its residents.

 

John Carpenter supposedly penned this monster-on-the-loose flick as Fangs back in the 70s, presumably when he was slumming as an amateur filmmaker before he hit it big with Halloween. His original vision apparently included a lot of scares and disturbing scenes involving the snakes, which I can fully imagine as Carpenter wasn’t a slouch when it came to his films packing a punch. Fast forward twenty or so years later and the script is dusted off and eventually turned into this TV movie. Unfortunately someone seems to have misplaced the page with the good stuff on because Silent Predators is de-venomised snake mayhem at its TV movie-blandest.

Jumping on board the dreadful spate of recent *insert killer animal of the moment* on the loose flicks, Silent Predators is so by-the-book that it’s a wonder anyone could claim to ‘writing’ it as it seems to have been culled entirely from other sources. There must just be one generic script floating around out there which studios grab a hold of and replace one animal with another one. All of these films play out exactly the same, and are usually awful to boot. Here we’ve got the town which fails to address the obvious problem because it doesn’t want to lose the investment. Usually it’s some sort of festival they can’t afford to cancel and ignore the monster in the hope of saving the town’s finances but the housing development has become just as a big of a cliché. Characters act according to formula and not according to common sense (you know, doing stupid things simply to be put in a position of danger to try and generate some tension or further the plot).

Even their backgrounds and character traits are stock: there’s the hero with the shady past that he’s trying to put behind him; the greedy developer who is just thinking about profit; the local mayor who is stuck in the middle and makes some bad calls to save face. I had a game for the PC called The Movies in which you run your own film studio and could actually write and shoot your own films. You can select how your film will pan out using the various pre-filmed scenes in the game and you can replace characters at your choosing. Well I guess someone has been using a proper version of this game for years because this looks like it was simply patched together from a collection of pre-determined scenes. There’s no sense of cohesion with the film and some of the earlier scenes actually have more tension and purpose to them than the finale.

The choice of title is a bit puzzling when the snakes in question are rattlesnakes, named that because of the loud rattling noise that their tails make – hardly stealth snakes. Secondly they just look like ordinary snakes despite the plot saying that they’re mutated snakes. I guess I shouldn’t grumble too much as at least they are real snakes and not computer generated. The threat that they pose is never given enough time to really convince you that they could do some damage. The attacks aren’t scary and there’s too few of them to really worry about anyway.

I don’t know where he’s been hiding but Harry Hamlin, star of the original Clash of the Titans, stars in this film. I guess he’s a bright spot in an otherwise un-noteworthy cast, although there is a brief role Dominic Purcell who would go on to greater fame as Lincoln Burrows in the awesome TV series Prison Break.

 

The only surprising thing about Silent Predators is that the ending doesn’t leave itself open for a sequel. This is stuff you’ve seen before, and hated before too. I’m still not entirely sold on the ‘John Carpenter wrote this in the 70s’ stuff although the final product resembles nothing that Carpenter would ever have conceived making.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sabretooth (2002)

Sabretooth (2002)

Be prepared to be ripped apart!

Using fossilised DNA, a scientist resurrects one of nature’s most fearsome predators – the sabretooth tiger. But the test subject escapes during transportation and heads into the woods where a bunch of campers are spending the weekend.

 

It seems like an eternity since Sabretooth was released and during that time frame, I’ve just lost count of the sheer number of ‘monster on the loose’ films that have been made, mainly by the Sy-Fy Channel and The Asylum in which ever more ludicrous and contrived monsters run amok in fishing villages, small forest towns or jungles the world over. Back in 2002, Sabretooth almost seems like a forerunner to the mayhem that would ensue.

Before sharks that could walk and fly or humungous genetically-engineered snakes were used as military weapons, the idea of using a sabretooth tiger as the monster-of-the-week seems, well, a tad quaint. But cloning sabretooth tigers hasn’t been overdone like the idea of farming sharks for brain protein (even if the reasons for cloning the tiger here are far-fetched) so Sabretooth at least gives the illusion of presenting something different, even if it quickly resorts to the usual formula we’ve seen countless times.

Sabretooth’s problem isn’t that it’s formulaic – it is that its script is idiotic. Characters do things to be a convenience to the plot. Take for instance the opening scene in which a janitor goes inside the cage of a sabretooth tiger to clean the windows. I don’t really need to explain any further. Later in the film, the hunter character gives the female scientist a gun, despite knowing that she wants the tiger taken alive. When he takes the gun back a few minutes later to shoot the tiger, he finds that she has taken out the bullets. Well d’uh! There are a lot of unashamedly poor decisions made throughout the film which are all there for the sole purpose of giving the lazy script an easy ride.

The film may run like clockwork, with a list of characters you can arrange in ‘menu order’ at the start, but Sabretooth runs at a quick pace, getting right down to the action as soon as possible to avoid pointless exposition. The title monster isn’t very believable though I didn’t expect it to be anything less. The special effects are a mix between CGI and an animatronic head with the clear result that neither effect works very well. The CGI looks ropey and, whilst the animatronic head fairs a little better, it’s still not very effective overall. The tiger looks like it stumbled off the set off a cartoon, never mind onto an action-horror. The result of the bad combo of special effects is that the tiger changes shape in different scenes, depending on which effect is being used.

The cast is solid enough for this B-movie. David Keith (not to be confused with the black guy from The Thing and They Live, that’s Keith David!) makes a believable hunter, John Rhys-Davies lends his usual reliability to the film as the scientist and Jenna Gering provides the hotness factor as one of the campers. She does not get naked though which disappoints considerably given the amount of screen time her tight t-shirt receives. Also of note in the cast is Josh Holloway, who would shoot to fame shortly afterwards as Sawyer in Lost.

 

Sabretooth is enjoyable enough if you don’t take stuff like this seriously and some bad special effects aside, it’s about the best you could expect from such a film. There are worse ‘monster on the loose’ films out there and I’m sure there are a lot more to come.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Urban Legend (1998)

Urban Legend (1998)

It Happened To Someone Who Knows Someone You Know… You’re Next.

With a spate of murders taking place on their college campus, a group of students believe that someone is killing them off based upon famous urban legends.

 

Thanks to Scream’s success in 1996, the slasher film was back in vogue. Whereas the 80s featured low budget slashers made for peanuts and mainly starring no-namers looking to hit it big, the 90s brought the slasher film right into the studio system. With full blown studio budgets, production values that the likes of Sean S. Cunningham would have dreamed about when he made Friday the 13th, a cast full of hot-property TV actors from American teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and a streak of self-awareness, this new wave of slash turned the humble slasher film into credible (well maybe not the right word – profitable is more appropriate) horror films. One of the first of the post-Scream teen horror slashers to hit the big screen, Urban Legend probably seems a bit fresher than it has any right to be thanks to the glossy production values, the big named cast and the addition of genre legend Robert Englund.

With the now-standard poster featuring moody headshots of the young cast and a killer who wears a costume with which they can hide their identity with until the finale, Urban Legend came along just at the right time when the slasher genre hadn’t become re-saturated. The entire novelty value of the film stems from the killer offing the characters courtesy of famous urban legends. It’s a film which has a gimmicky one-note premise but never totally outstays its welcome in this regard. You won’t forget things like the ‘microwaved pet’ in a hurry but this killer is still adept at offing the characters anyway he sees fit, including by car at one point. Urban Legend is never outright gory but the manner of some of the deaths is more violent and shocking than usual.

Director Jamie Blanks went on to film the weaker Valentine but here his direction is pretty solid, managing to sustain interest and throwing in plenty of decent scares for good measure (even if he does go down the ‘loud noises’ route a few too many times). Though the script has the usual cars not starting, mobiles ringing at inopportune moments and cats jumping into the frame, Blanks is able to balance this out with a fair smattering of creepy moments: the silhouette of the killer rising in the back seat of a car being the highlight.

It all goes a little pear-shaped in the finale third when red herrings, plot twists and attempts to subvert the audience are all used but raise more questions than answers, such as how the killer could have been so and such person in one scene when they were in two places at once. The script seems determined to throw you off the real culprit but it ends up unwinding a lot of the solid work that had gone before it.

The cast is one of the best assembled for a teen slasher, or at least full of the biggest names: Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Michael Rosenbaum, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid, Joshua Jackson and Danielle Harris (all grown up now from the Halloween sequels) star as the teenagers and manage to fill all of the usual clichéd roles. Veterans like John Neville, Brad Dourif and Robert Englund on hand to provide the necessary red herrings and experience. Englund is especially creepy as Professor Wexler.

Ultimately what lets Urban Legend down is that it is just so similar to the endless supply of teen horrors that were released in the wake of Scream. The cinematography, the soundtrack, the dialogue, the look of the characters – it’s all very formulaic. Whilst Urban Legend was one of the earlier films out, it still doesn’t hide the fact that you’ll probably feel like you’ve seen it before.

 

Urban Legend is one of the better of the recent teen horror films with an original premise and decent production values. But it just doesn’t do anything worthwhile with the idea apart from use it as novelty value and completely disintegrates towards the end. The atmospheric opening scene will at least get you hooked, even if the rest of the film doesn’t really capitalise on it.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Who will be the last to survive!?

After his original path of destruction through Tokyo, the Japanese planned and prepared for Godzilla’s inevitable return. However when Godzilla does return, it seems that their efforts to stop him are still as futile. So an ancient religious cult awakens three guardian monsters to fight Godzilla in a battle to the death.

 

Shûsuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy in the 1990s literally blew Toho’s Godzilla series out of the water with its amazing special effects and high energy production, becoming the new benchmark for kaiju films and setting the bar high for future giant monster movies. But Shusuke Kaneko always wanted to make a Godzilla film so after the success of his Gamera trilogy, he was given the chance. Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (or GMK for short since it is a long title!) thus became one of the most eagerly anticipated Godzilla films of all time.

Alas, he fails to do the same for Godzilla as he had done for the giant turtle with the in-built jetpacks. GMK is incredibly underwhelming. Given his track record and given the monsters on display, there’s no way that this twenty-fifth Godzilla film should be as so ordinary. Kaneko pushes the reset button yet again (a common failing with the Millenium series of films, always pretending that the only other Godzilla film to exist was the first one) to try and breathe some life into the series but what he ends up with is yet another overblown Godzilla film which promises a lot but doesn’t deliver.

GMK does manage to continue Kaneko’s depiction of the damage that such giant monsters would create, showing scenes where fleeing humans are killed by the monsters. Its little interactions like this which make the films a little more personal as rarely in the past have we ever seen anyone get harmed despite the amount of times Tokyo has come under attack. Special effects are top notch once again as each of the monsters is brought to life in spectacular fashion and, during the night time fight sequences, the monsters radiate with beam weapons and energy blasts.

Kaneko had wanted to resurrect Anguirus and Varan for this one but was overruled by the producers and forced to make do with the usual suspects in the shape of Mothra and King Ghidorah (though it is nice to see Baragon back). Whilst they are two of the most popular monsters, I’m sure that everyone was sick of seeing the same monsters fight Godzilla time and time again (Mothra, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla being the repeat offenders) and it would have been nice to see other monsters get a reboot.

Considering today’s budgets and special effects, you would have expected the monsters to get more screen time but they probably get less screen time here than they do in any of the previous films. It seems that the inclusions of King Ghidorah, Mothra and Baragon were there solely to get their asses kicked time and time again and to make Godzilla look good. Mothra is given the worst treatment, getting little more than a cameo in her larvae stage before getting her ass kicked later on in her full form. Baragon fairs a little better (no doubt because he hasn’t been over-exposed in previous films) and there’s a decent fight between him and Godzilla but the Big G never breaks sweat. King Ghidorah doesn’t really appear until the finale where – you guessed it – his job is to get destroyed by Godzilla.

I was expecting a huge showdown with all four monsters at the end instead of smaller fights scattered through the film where each individual monster is easily taken out. I never felt like Godzilla could lose. The fights are generally entertaining but they are constantly inter-cut with scenes of the human characters doing things that are of little interest.

It’s this problem which eats away at GMK – there isn’t a compelling story to hold everything together. The script plays around with mystical mumbo jumbo but little of it means anything, especially when giant monsters are smashing buildings. There is more of a focus on the human characters this time around as the film tries to re-centre itself as a film about humans having to cope with a giant monster invasion as opposed to giant monsters fighting each other with silly humans meddling around the sides.

 

GMK was a disappointment, although not a total dud. Shusuke Kaneko tries to recapture the Gamera trilogy magic for Godzilla but the story isn’t strong enough to hold it all together and the treatment that some of the individual monsters get is a bit shabby given their popularity. As it stands, his Gamera films still stand up as some of the best this kaiju genre has to offer and unfortunately Godzila has never really reached the same level…yet.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus (2000)

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus (2000)

The Japanese have developed a huge weapon called the Dimension Tide which creates artificial black holes fired from a satellite in space. They plan to use it against Godzilla the next time he appears. After a test run of the weapon, a small boy finds an unusual egg near the site and takes it with him when he moves to the city. Dumping it in the sewers, the egg eventually grows in size and hatches into a big insect which in turn lays more eggs. Godzilla shows up and just when the Dimension Tide is about to be used against him, the insects swarm the machine and cause it to malfunction. Godzilla survives and the

 

Well it’s a long, drawn-out sequence of events which finally lead to Godzilla and another giant monster squaring off in the middle of the city in Toho’s twenty-fourth Godzilla film, Godzilla Vs Megaguirus. After the middling reboot that was Godzilla 2000, Toho needed to do something more dramatic with this entry. So they decided to chose an obscure third-rate monster from Rodan and balloon it up to gigantic size – yes, that’s called a weird decision. I’m not sure why Gigan or Megalon couldn’t have been rebooted for the modern era but Megaguirus will have to do.

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is definitely a step up from it’s predecessor, delivering a tighter-knit and faster-paced story which will blatantly drag whilst the script builds ahead of steam for the final fight but will then deliver in spades. Only now, the studio had the finance and the capability to produce bigger and better effects and we get them in abundance. CGI slowly creeps into the series, with the smaller Meganula being rendered on computers. But the Godzilla suit looks bad ass as always, even if Megaguirus looks like another flying puppet in the same vein as Mothra and Battra, being able to fly without hardly flapping its wings and having tiny little legs which move every now and then. The use of modern day technology along with the tried-and-tested men-in-suits on miniature stages philosophy works reasonably well. Actually it works better than reasonably since the final fight takes place during the day, a rare thing indeed for this series which usually had its monsters battle at night to hide deficiencies in the effects.

In their haste to improve the visuals, the makers of the film seem to have recycled ideas from previous Godzilla films and spruced them up with new effects. An example of this is the fight between Godzilla and the smaller giant bugs, the Meganula, where they try and swarm all over him. It’s highly reminiscent of the scene from Godzilla Vs Destroyer where the monster battles the smaller version of Destroyer on a construction site.

Once again the script takes pseudo-scientific ideas to the extreme, offering up a variety of implausible solutions and impractical resolutions to Godzilla like the creation of a black hole weapon. Obviously we’ve got to stomach the fact that a giant monster, born from atomic radiation, is out to destroy Japan first before we believe anything else. But the incredible weapons that this series keeps coming up with just take the whole thing to new levels of ridiculousness.

Another annoying trait of Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is, like the other Millenium films, it cherry picks what it wants to reference from previous Godzilla films, pretty much disregarding everything and resetting the timeline back to scratch again. Showing a bit of continuity between films was the way to go forward and it’s no surprise that, in my opinion, the best all-round films of the entire series were the ones from Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah onwards which were all linked by various plot threads and recurring characters. There seemed to be logical progression with an overall story arc and it was nice to see.

One step forwards/backwards (depending on your view point) is that it returns somewhat to the cartoon-violence style escapades of the 70s as Godzilla delivers a body slam to Megaguirus and there are other attempts at monster humour during the battles. It’s groan-worthy but it’s certainly a highlight of their fight as the last couple of giant monsters that Godzilla has faced have all been rather serious affairs. Megaguirus is a decent opponent for Godzilla and the fight between the two monsters during the finale is solid and they get into a lot of close, physical combat. I always preferred to see my giant monsters physically duking it out with each other instead of standing at a distance and firing their beam weapons as was the case during many of these later Godzilla films. But on the flip side, Megaguirus lacks a real physical presence and doesn’t seem to pose any threat to Godzilla – you know the outcome of the fight from the opening minute. Godzilla’s best opponents like King Ghidorah and Destroyer took him to the limit.

 

Toho doesn’t seem to show the same faith or creativity in Godzilla as it once did and Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is proof of this. It’s basically a rehash of ideas from previous films with some better special effects. Decent but hardly the most memorable Godzilla film.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)

When Your Nightmare Ends, the Real Terror Begins!

Ricky Caldwell, the Santa Claus killer, is now in a coma and wearing a protective dome to shield his exposed brain which was badly damaged when he was caught. The doctors at the hospital are trying to use a young blind girl with ESP powers to get into his mind. But all this succeeds in doing is awakening Ricky from his coma and he pursues the girl, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

 

After the stock footage fiasco that was Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, I’m not sure how anyone could have given the green light to a second sequel but here we are with further proof than even the most obscure horror films can bring about never-ending hell-spawned sequels. And not only that but one of the most idiotic plots ever conceived. One look at the sight of zombie-like Ricky wearing his bubble hat will have you in stitches.

Well at least Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! is better than the first sequel, although that’s mostly due to the fact that isn’t just recycled footage from the original. There’s an eerie fantasy-like mood to the film as the killer and Laura share a psychic bond and he’s able to get inside her head and vice versa, leading to a few nightmarish sequences. And I’ll credit the script for at least trying to make something a bit more ambitious than the usual cookie-cutter slasher film. But trying to take the threat of the daft killer presented to us as deadly and credible is just a stretch too far.

At least the character of Ricky is brought back from Part 2 and adds some continuity to the series. But this is about where the franchise ends its connections as the whole idea of a ‘Santa slasher’ seems to have been discarded. In this one, Santa is not the killer but one of the victims. His replacement, the ludicrous visage of Ricky slowly staggering around with his brain exposed, makes for potentially the worst slasher ever designed. Who in their right mind could take this character seriously as a threat? In badly-written fashion which is emblematic of the entire film, Ricky manages to escape from the hospital wearing just his gown and his silly protective hat and then seems to have no problem being picked up by a driver who mistakes him for a hitchhiker. If you saw this brain-dead, virtual walking corpse at the side of the road, you’d speed up and fly past. Its dumb plotting and is all-too-lazy for the killer to be able to achieve his goals.

It also amazes me that he manages to kill anyone as he swings so slow, walks at snails pace and generally seems to have little interest in butchering people. The body count is low and there’s not a lot of blood on offer for those wanting to see it. However, it all becomes apparent why the character of Ricky has been written like this to – for the eventual showdown with the blind girl. I mean if he was Jason Voorhees-esque in his superpowers, he’d have destroyed her in a second. But being as slow and immobile as Laura, the odds are evened somewhat (even though he can still see her). Ricky’s leisurely pace is mirrored by the pace of the film, unsure of when to get going and continually taking its time to do anything worthwhile.

Bill Moseley assumes the role of Ricky here but doesn’t really do anything apart from stumble around like some low-rent Frankenstein monster. Moseley would go on to more genre fame as loudmouth Otis Firefly in House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects so it’s nice to see him restricted to a few mumbling lines of dialogue here. Samantha Scully makes for a highly appealing heroine as Laura and plays the part with compassion, making her easy to sympathise with and root for during the tense moments. She’s quite convincing at portraying a blind person too.

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out at least tries to do something a little off-beat with the material it has been given but ends up being its own worst enemy, with lazy scripting and a leisurely pace. It’s still better than Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 though.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Mary Lou is back … God help the students of Hamilton High.

A prom queen is accidentally killed by a jealous ex and she vows revenge on him from beyond the grave. Years later, he is now a principal at a high school. The spirit of the deceased prom queen possesses a girl from his school and begins to extract her bloody revenge.

 

In the horror genre, it seems that almost any film can get a sequel if a studio thinks that another few million can be made off the name. The original Prom Night was a modest hit, hardly the pinnacle of the 80s slashers and more famous for being one of Jamie Lee Curtis’ post-Halloween horror films. But it wasn’t sequel-worthy. With no connection whatsoever to the first film, Prom Night II is a cynical attempt to create some sort of franchise around the name. This wasn’t even penned as a sequel but someone decided to add the Prom Night moniker to it in the hope that audiences would flock to watch it, assuming that it was a direct sequel like so many of the bigger slasher films were receiving at the time. This annoys me to no end. The later Hellraiser sequels started off as standalone films but were given token appearances by the Cenobies so that they could be labelled as ‘sequels’ yet they bare no resemblance to the original idea that Clive Barker envisioned. The original Prom Night is hardly in the same league as Hellraiser but the painfulness of name-only sequels just shows me how much contempt studios have for fans and how gullible they think we are.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, to give it its proper title, is a startling change in direction for the series, almost on the same level as the absence of Michael Myers from Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The serious slash of the original has been replaced by a sub-standard ‘revenge from beyond the grave’ theme which plays out like a cheap jack female version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. This I did not care for in the slightest. The writers have created Mary Lou as some sort of Freddy Krueger-esque one-liner spouting villain with nasty burns and who dispatches people with various creative means. The script is peppered with genre references to the likes of Carpenter, Romero and company too. Is there any real need? We know who they are. There’s no need for the writers to remind us. But when the film borrows so heavily from Craven’s classic, as well as Carrie and The Exorcist, I guess its as much about paying lip service than anything else.

By the time 1987 rolled around, the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels were too far gone in their reliance on daft special effects set pieces and junky pop culture references so it is not surprising to see how similar this film is to the same sort of hokey formula. The dream-like death sequences in this one are exactly the sort of contrived methods of dispatch that Freddy wouldn’t have given a second glance at with rocking horses coming to life and such like. In the best scene of the film, a girl hiding from Mary Lou is crushed to death between two lockers, resulting in a nice ‘squish’ moment. But the rest of the splatter isn’t much to right home about and is more on the 80s-style goofy side than the gory side. Though the dreams have a surrealist quality to them, they border too much on the camp. The film is never outright daft, playing up more like a typical 80s screwball comedy where anything goes and dated technology and references are a go.

The acting is hit-and-miss across the board with the exception of Michael Ironside, somehow cropping up as the principal of Hamilton High but looking bored in the process. Wendy Lyon seems to do most of her acting with her body and spends a lot of the film completely naked, not that I’m complaining as she has a body to die for (and many of the characters do!). Her transformation from a plain, shy heroine into the bitchy possessed Mary Lou is well done. But like everything in the film, the cornball approach to the material doesn’t take anything too seriously.

 

There’s a lot of love out there for this sequel and I’m not really sure why. Yes, the film is full of goofy 80s horror charm but I’d rather stick to Mr Krueger and his put-downs than see some female wannabe try and take his dream master crown. You might enjoy Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II if you want something a little different to the original.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Fear, The (1995)

The Fear (1995)

He’s whatever scares you the most

A group of university friends go to a remote cabin for therapy where each person is supposed to ‘talk’ to Morty, a wooden mannequin in order to overcome their fears. Shortly after the group has divulged their fears, someone starts killing off people one-by-one and Morty starts to appear in unusual places.

 

With a strong premise and iconic villain just waiting in the wings to be given his own horror franchise, The Fear had it all to lose and just about makes sure it loses every single drop. How many horror films can you count that feature a wooden mannequin as a monster? Off the top of my head there’s only one of the segments of Creepshow 2 which featured a Native Indian wooden mannequin coming to life that I can recall. Only that segment was short and sweet – The Fear is relentlessly drawn out.

The premise about each person having to confront their fears was a good starting point. It’s something a little different than the norm (actually thinking about it, I’ve seen this plot device used way too often) and had the potential to deliver something intriguing. More of a psychological thriller for the first half, the film does a reasonable job of introducing the characters and setting the tone. However the group quickly get to the cabin and talk about their fears, rushing through the promising possibilities and getting to the killing as soon as it is feasible. The film then drifts into pseudo-slasher territory, and a half-assed one at that.

The script is all over the shop during the second half, with all manner of confusing occurrences and sequences. Flashbacks, childhood selves coming to warn people, tree spirits appearing and even Morty being given life are never explained. They’re thrown into the mix because they sounded good (or someone took a chainsaw to the script before filming began). Not a lot makes sense.

The film really needed an injection of pace to liven things up as it is hellish sluggish for the most. Death scenes usually do the trick in horror films. As clichéd as they are, some well-planted impactful death scenes can make all the difference to a film’s pace, acting as a jolt or jump-start to a flagging script. However most of the deaths take place off-screen, presumably to keep the “is it Morty or isn’t it Morty?” mystery going. It’s not a gore-type flick so there’s no blood and that other staple of low budget horror films, the nudity, is in short supply. I’m not saying that every film needs to resort to such lengths to entertain but when there’s little else on show, why not pander to the target demographic a little?

Morty looks the part though. The freaky wooden mannequin is just horror cool personified. The actor did a good job of portraying the fact that he is a wooden dummy and so he doesn’t move like a normal person. We get stilted, almost comical, walking and creaky movement but it’s quite realistic and believable. He doesn’t say anything here either so his creepiness is enhanced. It’s a shame they gave him lame one-liners in the sequel and turned him into a farce!

Rather strangely, Wes Craven stars but you won’t find his name anywhere in the crew credits. He makes a cameo and I guess that’s about the highlight of the casting. The characters portrayed are the usual array of stereotypes from the nerds to the bitches to the comic reliefs and the token black guy (who gets killed first – obviously). This bunch is wholly unlikeable and badly written.

 

Overly talky and delivering little after a decent premise except confusion and boredom, The Fear is rather a waste of time and effort. It’s frustrating because all of the tools were there to make a tense psychological horror film, they’re just wasted. At least Morty would return for a sequel……well the least said about that the better.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scared to Death (1980)

Scared to Death (1980)

They wanted to create a new form of human life…They failed.

An ex-cop, now working as a novelist, is called out of his retirement to help solve a series of puzzling murders which seem to be the work of a serial killer but are in fact being carried out by a Syngenor – a synthesised genetic organism.

 

A schlocky low grade flick which has clearly been studying Alien quite a lot, Scared to Death doesn’t work on many levels, if any. Coming in the midst of the straight-to-video low budget rubber monster revolution, Scared to Death is director William Malone’s first crack at bringing monstrous mayhem to life (he would later go on to direct Creature, an even more blatant cash-in but more successful cheese with the remake of House of Haunted Hill) and it seems like he built up a story solely around the novelty value of one huge creature which feeds on human spinal fluid.

But credit to Malone, he really wanted to make this film and apparently sold his car, loads of belongings and mortgaged his house! He constructed the suit himself and shot the film in four weeks for a total cost of $74,000. Talk about commitment. Unfortunately for him, the film never managed to gain the sort of low budget notoriety as The Evil Dead, The Blair Witch Project or more recently, £50 zombie film Colin. Though it did make a profit, almost no one has heard of it. That’s for a very good reason mind you – it’s not that good.

A perfect example of the old school men-in-rubber-suits school of effects, Scared to Death at least has some charm when delivering up a gooey, green-eyed killing machine. In the few occasions that you do get a glimpse of it, given that its scenes are virtually pitch-black, the creature doesn’t look too bad, if a little similar to H. R. Giger’s infamous alien creature. Maybe the director should have a little bit more faith in his monster instead of relegating it to the side lines. But the creature walks far too slowly which leads you to question just how it manages to kill so many people. It doesn’t receive much screen time either and whilst the momentary shots of it aren’t too bad, they’re too few and far between to make any sort of impression.

That’s about where the positives end. As I touched on earlier, the idea was obviously to build a monster and then come up with some sort of story to showcase it. But the end script is a mess, resulting in a film which serves no real purpose other than to offer up some monster attacks on partially lit sets. All of the greatest build up in the world (not that Scared to Death offers any) can be ruined if you can’t actually see what is going on. Any sort of pay-off that the individual stalking scenes have here is shrouded in darkness or simply not shown as the camera cuts away elsewhere. The production values are also low, given the budget this is understandable, but it gives the film a shoddy look, not helped by the fact that everything is so dark.

Plus it’s dull. The promise of monster action is a false one as you’re cheated out of getting anything gory or half-way exciting. Unfortunately for the audience, most of the running time is taken up by a bunch of really bad actors that have little to business being around a film set, let alone acting in one. “Feed them to the Syngenor” you’ll be shouting by the end of it and thankfully, quite a few of them are (just not enough).

 

The dramatic story behind Scared to Death is much more interesting than the dreary and uneventful end product. I’m not sure whether the final film was worth all of the risks that Malone took to get it made – I guess it was since he directed a succession of bigger budgeted horror films. Someone also filmed a sequel, Syngenor. Wonders never cease.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆