51 (2011)

51 (2011)

Welcome to the future

After political pressure from the media forces the American government to re-think their approach to Area 51, a small group of reporters are allowed into the top secret military facility for a limited-access tour. The tour is designed to provide non-essential secrets to be purposely leaked so that the media’s attention is diverted away from the real secrets that the base holds. But one of Area 51’s alien captives takes advantage of the situations and breaks free, releasing other captives and trapping the group of reporters in the facility.

 

I’m all for original horror films being released, especially ones that are free of the cruel, strangling grip of mainstream Hollywood cinema. So when After Dark Films began to release a stream of ‘original’ horror films in 2011 and 2012, I had faith that at least some small studios were attempting to do their own thing. Unfortunately once I sat down and watched a few of them (Husk and Prowl spring to mind), I realised that the films were exactly the same sort of thing that I’d been watching for years only with lesser budgets and lesser casts. ‘Original’ they were not – derivative most definitely. Case in point today: 51.

Starting off with the promise of some good ideas, 51 simply reverts back to the standard ‘people trapped in a confined space with a monster loose’ formula by the twenty minute mark. Then it’s a case of how many times the film can rip-off Aliens, Predator and the scores of alien flicks made since. The original idea of allowing the media a glimpse into the workings of Area 51 was a solid, if somewhat shallow, set-up but at least it allowed for some interesting ideas. There’s little in the way of hidden political messages to this, just a novel idea which is discarded pretty quickly when everyone starts to turn into alien nosh. The film could have done a better job at presenting ‘Area 51’ for a start– the most secretive place on Earth yet here it is guarded by a handful of marines who seem more bemused with their pointless posting than worrying about what is lying underneath them in the facility.

Nevertheless, the story just serves as a set-up to get a load of people into the facility and once the aliens break free, we don’t care whether they’re reporters, cameramen, scientists or generals. This is where the film shifts into Aliens mode, providing the alien escapees with not only the reporters but another handful of bodies to rip through, sending in a batch of marines to rescue the survivors and indulge us with the token action scenes. We know that the marines aren’t going to succeed because there wouldn’t be a story if they did. So it’s just a matter of waiting for the inevitable to pass by so that we can get back to the main characters that actually have first names. It’s also daft to believe that a bunch of well-armed marines are taken out a lot quicker than the reporters but hey, this is the movies after all. Both groups of people continue to run around the same sets for the majority of the second half and there’s little variation to the film. One warehouse looks the same as another one. Every corridor seems to be the same but just shot from different angles.

On the plus side, the special effects are pretty good. The aliens are all brought to life through practical effects. So they’re either guys in suits (like the shape shifter in his indigenous form) or slimy prosthetic creatures. Again, like I stated in my recent review for The Blackout, it’s painfully obvious where the creatures get their inspiration from, with black, shiny skin and dripping mouths (including the now-obligatory shot of a helpless victim lying in front of an alien rearing its head up and about to attack). H.R. Giger has a lot to answer for and it seems almost canon that 90% of aliens in film now must look like the xenomorph from Alien. That’s a real credit to Giger’s immense creation but also a damning indication of the lack of imagination that everyone else has when it comes to original alien design. Surely designers can come up with something other than another black-skinned, acid-spewing monster with sharp teeth and an aggressive streak? Obviously not. There’s also very little in the way of CGI and the deaths are pretty gory too which is a bit strange considering this aired on the Sci-Fi Channel.

 

51 isn’t terrible but it’s so unimaginative and thin on story and script that in the hands of a better director and writer, a few more risks could have been taken to give it that extra dimension. As it stands, 51 is a perfect example of just how little originality there is left anywhere at the moment – everyone is too content to play it safe, tow the line and make underwhelming films. Whatever happened to the risk-takers and the pioneers?

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Beginning of the End (1957)

Beginning of the End (1957)

Filmed in New Horrorscope!

As the remains of a crushed car are found with no sign of the occupants, the police also receive a report that the nearby town of Ludlow has been completely destroyed. Reporter Audrey Ames is driving through that part of the country when she reaches an army road block which prevents her from going to Ludlow, or where she thinks it still is. Sensing a big story, she decides to investigate further and finds out that radioactive material at a nearby government testing station has caused vegetables to grow to enormous proportions – and the local locust population has been feasting upon it, in turn making them grow to gigantic proportions.

 

Bert I. Gordon, famous for some atrocious (some would consider cult) sci-fi films he made in the 50s (The Amazing Colossal Man and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast, Earth Vs The Spider) and then later in the 70s (Empire of the Ants, The Food of the Gods), is the man at the helm of this one, a late and wholly feeble entry into the 50s ‘atomic monster’ movies. They were all the rage back in the decade, as fears of atomic testing and what damage radiation could do to our planet were the talking point on everyone’s lips.

After the success of Them! in 1954 with it’s giant ants, everyone quickly tried to find the next best thing: scorpions (The Black Scorpion), spiders (Tarantula, Earth Vs The Spider), praying mantis (erm, The Preying Mantis), molluscs (The Monster That Challenged the World) and wasps (Monster from Green Hell). Yeah granted molluscs was pushing it a bit, though to be fair the film did a reasonable job of turning them into a threat. Perhaps the least frightening of the lot is the sound of a horde of giant grasshoppers which, let’s face it, sound about as scary as a giant mushroom.

Gordon does little to convince the audience that these grasshoppers exist in the same universe as everyone else, let alone turn them into some sort of threat. His notoriously appalling special effects are in abundance here (he does them himself) and the sad thing is that over the years with his later films, they never really got better either. The grasshoppers consist of a copious amount of magnified stock footage clips and some lousy low-budget rear projection. This is all fine and good when the stock footage army is trying to destroy them in the middle part of the film (even this gets boring because there’s no interaction between either humans or bugs at any point). But when the grasshoppers finally get stuck into Chicago, the special effects consist of little more than real grasshoppers crawling over photos of the Windy City! You heard that right – photos! The effect is as terrible as it sounds. Gordon couldn’t even be bothered to make a model of anything to allow his grasshoppers to crawl over.

Having said all of this, dialogue is the most devastating weapon that Beginning of the End has in its arsenal. Instead of showing things like the destruction of Ludlow for instance, the film resorts to dialogue and the shocked reactions of the actors to convey what it is happening. At first, you think that the whole film could end up going this direction and not show anything at all but thankfully (or maybe not considering the quality of the special effects) the grasshoppers do eventually show up and at least the pace is picked up after a dreadful opening. Beginning of the End fails to grab hold of your attention at any point, monotonously trotting out the usual array of scientific jargon, forced love interests between hero and heroine and lots of military guys running around telling people what to do.

Peter Graves, who would later go on to find fame in the TV series of Mission: Impossible and even greater fame as Captain Oveur in Airplane!, plays it deadly serious as the scientist. In fact Graves’ stern delivery makes everything else seem all the more silly. He’s not alone in this respect. Try and keep a straight face when regular rent-a-general Morris Ankrum suggests that the only solution to the crisis is to drop an atomic bomb onto Chicago. Talk about over-reacting!

 

I shouldn’t feel aggrieved about watching a film with giant grasshoppers that features special effects as bad as this – some would say I get what I deserve and that is correct. Beginning of the End is a low budget Z-film which clearly and ineptly cashes in on the atomic monster craze of the 50s. Maybe if you have a grasshopper fetish or want to see how not to create special effects, there might be something of interest here otherwise you’re better off sticking with the more famous 50s monster movies.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

New Alcatraz (2001)

New Alcatraz (2001)

12,000 feet below the Antarctic ice, it lays in wait.

A maximum security prison to house all of the world’s most dangerous prisoners is being built in the Antarctic. Under pressure to complete the prison, the engineers accidentally release a prehistoric snake-like monster from the ice which proceeds to start devouring anything in its path. So a call is sent out for the assistance of a palaeontologist, his wife and a team of military experts but when they get there, they are forced to team with the inmates in order to survive.

 

Apart from the mildly interesting Escape from New York-lite idea of building a maximum security prison to house all of the world’s most dangerous prisoners, New Alcatraz (which is a more misleading title than its alternative name, Boa) is another token CGI monster-on-the-loose flick which shares the same characteristics as its other slithery sidekicks AnacondaKing Cobra and Python. Though when I looked down the list of producer credits that director Phillip J. Roth has to his name and see the likes of Python, Shark Hunter, Dark Waters, Deep Shock, Lake Placid 2, Bats: Human Harvest and countless others, then I knew which sort of company I would be keeping for the ninety minutes of New Alcatraz.

New Alcatraz would have worked better as a low budget actioner without the monster…possibly. It’s so inept in almost every level that it’s virtually impossible to see how it could have worked as anything else in all honesty. Recycling every cliché in the book from every previous monster-on-the-loose flick as well as throwing in plenty of sci-fi action nonsense, the script borrows everything from Jurassic Park to Aliens and the isolated Antarctic setting is overly similar to The Thing. If even a quarter of the talent and entertainment from either of those aforementioned films was present here, then the film may have been something. But it wasn’t. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

I’m not sure whether building the prison from hell in the middle of the Antarctic and then filling it with the world’s most dangerous men with only a handful of guards BEFORE it is finished being built is something that any rationale country would go along with but it’s one of many ludicrous ideas that the script throws up. The prisoners range from Chechen rebels to Iraqi chemical experts to IRA terrorists – nice to see that they’ve filled up their quota of token ‘problem’ groups from around the world. All it needed was a rogue North Korean general and a Colombian drug lord and then you’d have had the full set.

There are too many characters plodding around the prison (which is weird considering that the prison itself isn’t fully populated with inmates and staff)and not enough time is devoted to some of the more interesting ones – the prisoners to be exact. It’s hard not to get drawn to charismatic Russian terrorist who infinitely is more entertaining than bland, one-dimensional scientists or wardens.

The cast is full of recognisable faces no doubt eager to get back into the big time. Obviously the star of the show (though he doesn’t appear until a third of the way in) is Dean Cain, fresh from Louis and Clark and clearly destined to appear in this sort of low budget nonsense for the rest of his career. Cain isn’t a bad actor and has a natural likeability but he just hasn’t got it, that extra dimension, which would have propelled him onto big budget films.Mark Sheppard has made a niche out of playing these snivelling bad guys in a whole host of TV series (see everything from 24 to The X-Files) and steals the show, Grand L. Bush was in a slew of 90s actions films such as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Licence to Kill and Craig Wasson, who plays the warden, had a pivotal role in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as his genre claim to fame.

Finally, we come to the snake and it will come as no surprise to find out that the snake looks exactly the same as any other low budget monster movie CGI snake does. The serpent here could have come from Python or one of the Anaconda sequels and it wouldn’t look out of place. And the fact that the creature was a snake was a bit of a let-down. The script had the chance to create a unique prehistoric monster, something like the creature from The Relic for instance, but was happy reverting to type. Much like the rest of the film!

 

New Alcatraz is pretty bad. In fact it’s more than pretty bad, it’s awful. Once you’ve seen one modern CGI snake movie, you’ve seen them all and it’s just a case of seeing how repetitive things can get. How films like this get funding is beyond me, especially when more accomplished and promising talents get their films turned away at the first hurdle.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Death Trap (1977)

Death Trap (1977)

He’s out there and he’s got murder on his mind!

A psychotic redneck runs a dilapidated hotel in the backwater swamps of Louisiana, killing people who upset him or his business and feeding them to his giant pet crocodile that he keeps locked up in the swamp.

 

Tobe Hooper’s follow up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis this? Boy, the dude really fell from grace quickly didn’t he? Shot in the same grainy, low budget style that made The Texas Chain Saw Massacresuch a grim classic, Death Trapcomes off as wanting to be a Leatherface and co. follow up but never really does anything worthwhile to achieve that goal. It’s almost as if Hooper caught lightning in bottle with his previous film and attempts to replicate that success, simply substituting backwoods Texas for rural Louisiana. Whilst Death Trap isn’t a particularly well-made film, there’s no question that it’s got a strangely perverse quality which warrants at least a look.

Death Trap’s main problem is that the narrative is all over the place. The story here doesn’t follow any major plot threads and meanders between the numerous random strangers who end up at the hotel before being offed by crazy Judd for whatever reason. There is the underlying search for the missing hooker from the beginning but most of the characters who visit the hotel aren’t involved in this search so it begs the question of whether it is actually the main plot or not. We never really know what pushes Judd over the edge to kill either so by the time he’s taken care of another stranger, you’re just happy to sit back and believe that the guy is just a total fruitcake. The script really needed some serious work here.

As expected for a low budget film, the crocodile doesn’t look too hot (or an alligator as some characters in the film claim) and has limited movement. But thankfully Hooper realised this and keeps it mainly covered in the swamp, only using it sparingly for a few shots where actors try and free themselves from the jaws of the model monster. No one and nothing is spared from this croc, even a poor dog!

But the croc isn’t the main source of violence from the film – that comes from Judd himself who is a dab hand with a scythe. Hooper shoots the death scenes here with gritty realism. Too often in horror films, one blow is enough to kill someone. Here, Hooper strings the death out, causing victims to bleed or gasp for breath as they hit the floor, trying in vain to escape or defend themselves. Death isn’t instant and this is where Hooper earns brownie points. As with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you know that the victims here are suffering and going through hell before they eventually die. There’s a reasonably smattering of blood and Hooper even throws in some T&A to try and liven things up. But Death Trap is slow going and excitement is in short supply. The scenes drag out way longer than needed, the exposition takes for too long and there are only a handful of half-decent set pieces which are few and far between.

As for the cast, well it’s a pretty decent bunch of performances given the craziness around them. Neville Brand is great as Judd. I don’t think he had much of a clue where the character should be heading so he went for it and it works though Hooper could have cut back the amount of time he gave to his rambling monologues. Robert Englund, looking very young and pre-Freddy Krueger fame, appears as a horny redneck that uses the hotel as a meeting ground for hookers. Marilyn Burns, fresh from screaming her lungs out in the finale of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is also in the film.

 

Death Trap is far too similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to work, given that it’s not a patch on its predecessor and seems content in trying to replicate its success without knowing why it has become a classic. Death Trap has got a few decent moments but there’s very little to stop the craziness, an incoherent script and lack of solid direction from ripping it up.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)

And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)

The dead hand that crawls KILLS and LIVES!!!

Newly weds Charles and Catherine Fengriffin move into the family estate to start their new life together. But shortly after arriving, Catherine is disturbed by ghastly visions of man whose eyes have been gouged out and is also tormented by a disembodied hand. However no one else in the house has seen these things and Charles begins to suspect that Catherine is going insane. When she becomes pregnant, Charles enlists the help of psychiatrist Dr Pope to get to the bottom of these apparent hallucinations. What becomes evident is Catherine is now the victim of a horrible curse which had been bestowed upon the Fengriffins thanks to the actions of Charles’ grandfather.

 

Known more for their anthologies back in the 60s and 70s, British company Amicus finally tried their hand at period horror in an attempt to muscle in on their rivals, Hammer, with And Now the Screaming Starts. Ironically enough, Hammer had begun to move away from that tried-and-tested formula by bringing the likes of Dracula into the present day with Dracula A.D. 1972. So Amicus’ decision to do something that had been done to death over the years was a bit bewildering. So much so when you see how average And Now the Screaming Starts actually is. Far from being a classic period Gothic horror, it just went to prove Hammer’s decision to move on to different material was a good one.

Director Roy Ward Baker directed a few British horrors around this time and he approaches And Now the Screaming Starts as if he’s making some sort of low budget ghost train ride for a theme park. Portraits rattle against the walls. Windows blow open. Candles extinguish. There’s thunder and lightning. And that’s just the start of it – its hardly subtle horror, rather in your face scares. Baker relies on repeating the same scares over and over again for the first half of the film, with the eerie eye-less man leering through windows, a fake severed hand appearing and disappearing whenever someone mentions the curse and constant zoom-ins on one of the oil paintings which results in loud, sinister music being played. The effects aren’t convincing the first time around but they’re overworked like mad here as if Baker didn’t know how else to scare people. Despite his efforts, the film rarely conveys any sense of dread and as a result, the pace of the film slows to a crawl. You’re waiting for something to jump-start the film into life.

Thankfully the arrival of Peter Cushing half-way through the film is this required jump-start – not because he’s on the screen (though it makes a big difference to have him around) but because the story finally starts to advance and the characters begin to unravel the curse that is hanging over the Fengriffins. This leads to a nasty flashback and then the film moves swiftly on to its finale, peppered with a few twists and turns along the way. There are still a couple of the tacky scare sequences like there were in the opening half but at least the film is moving with purpose by this point and they don’t feel like they’re simply there to pad out the running time. Now they appear with meaning and relevance to the story. In fact the last forty minutes or so is pretty good. Though the direction of the story is predictable and the twists themselves are hardly nerve-shattering, And Now the Screaming Starts provides decent entertainment.

Stephanie Beacham stars as Catherine and she’s got a massive set of lungs on her (in both the euphemism sense and the proper sense!). Obviously with a title like And Now the Screaming Starts, there were going to be moments in the film where she was required to scream and boy, does she ever scream. Possibly one of the most ear-piecing and genuinely frightening screams I’ve heard, her character’s shock and fright is easily transmitted to the viewer. It helps matters greatly that she’s beautiful – like seriously stunning, one of English’s finest roses. The role requires her to scream a lot and wear low-cut dresses and she does both with equal aplomb.

Ian Ogilvy doesn’t do have much to do as Charles Fengriffin so it’s left to the old timers Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom to deliver. Cushing only enters the film past the half way point and even though he’s his usual brilliant self, the role is virtually useless to the story and the actions that his character makes could easily have been written for Charles himself. Lom’s part is meatier, starring in a flashback scene as Charle’s debaucherous grandfather and showing us the reason that the curse was put onto the Fengriffins. Lom hams it up in his brief role and is arguably the best bit of the film. This sequence alone features rape and a nasty hand chopping to boot!

 

And Now the Screaming Starts is totally worthless. It could easily match up against some of Hammer’s lesser efforts with ease. It’s just that the terrible first half of the film torpedoes any sort of momentum the film needed to give the rousing second half any hope of winning the viewer over. I got the impression that it would have worked better as a shorter film in one of their specialist anthologies.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008)

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008)

You know what to do. Get in there and Kill em all.

Colonel Johnny Rico, the hero of Planet P, has been stationed on a new planet where the local farmers are not happy with the Federation for drawing them into the war against the bugs. The Federation executes anyone with strong dissenting voices in an effort to maintain control. So when Rico stops a senior officer from killing a citizen in a fight, he is sentenced to death. However, contact has been lost with Sky Marshal Anoke, a hugely popular figure in the eyes of citizens and an important PR tool to keep support for the conflict going. His ship went down following a bug attack and Rico is spared from execution on the grounds that he leads the new Marauder squadron on a secret rescue mission to the planet.

 

Starship Troopers in 1997 was entertaining, if somewhat dumb and flawed at times. Hardly a patch on Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi classics like Robocop, the film still managed to include plenty of the satire he was famous for and was modesty successful in the box office, though its huge budget meant that it was less profitable than expected. I’m not quite sure whether it was ‘sequel worthy’ but in the realms of Hollywood, money talks and a straight-to-video sequel followed with about a quarter of the budget, none of the satire and none of the surviving stars.

Ed Neumeier (who scripted the first two films) steps up to the hot seat for this second sequel. The good news is that Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is slightly better than its predecessor, attempting to replicate more of what made the original a success. The overblown news reports make a welcome return after certain moments in the plot and there’s a smudge of the political satire that Verhoeven wove into the original. Casper Van Dien, whose star has faded dramatically since the original, is back on board and it’s blatantly obvious that he hasn’t taken any acting lessons in the meantime. Van Dien is wooden, relying heavily on his machismo and gung-ho bravado to get him through to the end rather than any explosive delivery. But at least the character does provide some continuity, tying it closer to the original than it has any right to be.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder suffers from a terrible plot structure. The opening with the bugs attacking the outpost is done well enough and holds promise that the film will provide even bigger and better set pieces later on. However this never comes to fruition. On diminished budget, there’s only so much that Starship Troopers 3: Marauder can do and it tries to spend the next eighty minutes or so avoiding showing anything remotely exciting (i.e. costly with special effects!). Apart from one or two moments of chaos, the majority of the humans versus bugs battles seem rather low key. Epic battles with once-formidable armies of bugs which stretched as far as the eye can see have been replaced by minor skirmishes between handfuls of soldiers and the odd bug or two. The entire scope of the film has been severely undercut by the budget, leaving the audience with a few tasters of what they might have expected.

Though Van Dien is quite possibly one of the worst actors to have managed to get some high paid gigs in his time, he’s still suitable for the requirements of the role and sadly, the film needed more of him (damn, I never thought I’d say that). He’s sidelined as the main story arc follows Sky Marshal Anoke and his fellow survivors as they attempt to hold out on the planet and wait for rescue. Though the survivors contain the likes of Jolene Blalock (the hot Vulcan from Star Trek: Enterprise), there’s little meat to the characters beyond the stereotypes you’ll expect from them the moment you see who survived the crash. Neumeier’s inexplicable decision to have the characters suffer from a religious crisis and eventual spiritual reawakening is bizarre, adding an extra layer of unnecessary waffle to the already nauseating political statements. You never get who is supposed to be the main character here: Rico, Anoke or Beck. The script takes it in turns to give each of them the spotlight but then dramatically shifts to another character.

Even the ‘marauders’ that the title refers to don’t make an appearance until the final fifteen minutes – no doubt budgetary constraints have restricted the appearance of these CGI mechs but they should have either included them in the film more, albeit even mentioning them earlier on, or simply change the title. The climactic battle is grossly underwhelming, ending in little more than a few minutes of badly-rendered CGI nonsense amidst two characters praying for their lives.

 

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is better than the first sequel and that’s about as much as I can say about it. Neumeier tries his best to resurrect the series with a tone more in line with that of the original but you’re just better off watching that again if you want to watch it done properly.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Savage (2009)

Savage (2009)

Some creatures are best left undiscovered

As fire fighters battle a blaze which is ripping its way through Bear Valley National Park, the forest animals are being forced out of their natural habitat. But there is one beast which emerges from the forest that was best left undiscovered, proving the local legends about Bigfoot to be true.

 

When a film has to proudly boast an IMDB user quote on the front of its poster because no one else has anything positive to say, that’s a pretty damning verdict from the get-go. Bigfoot horror Savage is one such example, with an IMDB user proclaiming this “way better than just about any other Bigfoot movie out there.” Clearly the said user has never seen Abominable. But the Bigfoot sub-genre has never been one to set the world alight and despite a slew of Sasquatch-related horror films over recent years and with the exception of Abominable, it’s been painful to experience.

Savage is a film that rarely lives up to its title. A promising opening scene in which fire fighters are attacked in the forest proves to be a false dawn and the film becomes less ‘savage’ and more ‘domesticated.’ It is neutered viewing, with little gore, kills that are mostly done off-screen and a distinct lack of violence and aggression. There’s no real tension, suspense, atmosphere or any sort of horror factor and on many occasions the film borders on dull documentary-like levels of pedestrianism. Scenes inside the forest which could have been built up to generate some dread and menace before the trigger was pulled are simply left to meander aimlessly until the next scene. There’s nothing savage and primitive about this film – rarely has Bigfoot been so boring.

There are a couple of sub-plots thrown in for good measure to keep the film going including the unscrupulous mayor who wants to build a tourist resort at the town and a pair of bank robbers on the run from a botched hold-up. But these are minor filler, not really given enough time to warrant full-blown connection with the audience and just eating up dialogue which could have been better used towards creating some sort of central conflict between the party of humans trekking through the woods and Bigfoot. Or even stripped away completely and some more time given towards making the film exciting. There’s literally a handful of ‘action’ sequences and even the big pay-off finale ends in little more than a whimper.

It doesn’t help that most of the cast are just as bland with the exception of Martin Kove. As he who played the evil sensei famous for the “Sweep the leg” quote from The Karate Kid, Kove does his turn as the backwoods tracker who borrows plenty from Robert Shaw’s Quint character from Jaws. It’s hardly a great performance but at least it seems he is making an effort to liven things up. On the other hand, Tony Becker could put anyone to sleep with a lifeless performance as the lead park ranger and he sucks out what little energy Kove had injected into proceedings. This guy seriously needed some coffee or energy bar.

And finally we come to the star of the show. What do you expect Bigfoot to look like? Or more correctly, how do you expect Bigfoot to be portrayed in a low budget horror film. That’s the million dollar question I asked myself before I sat down to watch Savage. The correct answer is a guy-in-a-suit and that’s what we get here. Given the nature of Bigfoot, there’s no way that CGI would be able to properly represent the creature. It is supposed to be, after all, the ‘missing link’ in human evolution so the only feasible solution is to dress a guy up in a fancy dress costume. The only question is how good or bad does it look? Well you don’t get to see a lot of it apart from a few glimpses in the finale and what you do get to see is adequate and serves its purpose.

The problem Savage has is how the creature moves. Here, it is able to haul fully-grown men single-handed into the trees, is capable of swinging around like the Predator from tree to tree and possesses ridiculous land speed. No explanation is given to how it came to be or the fact that some characters religiously believe in its existence and others have never even thought about it, despite living in the same town.

 

Savage isn’t the worst Bigfoot film out but it could well be the most boring. It does a few things right and it gets bonus marks for avoiding the CGI monster route but it’s far too bland for its own good and just not exciting in the slightest. Savage? More like Gentle.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Snow Beast (2011)

Snow Beast (2011)

Survival is everything

A divorced researcher takes his rebellious teenage daughter along with him on his next trip to study the endangered lynx in a remote part of Canada. They can’t find any traces of lynx in the area and it appears that something else has replaced them at the top of the food chain. However the team is unprepared for the realisation that what they are dealing with is a very deadly and very hungry Yeti.

 

I’m not entirely sure whether this is supposed to be a remake of the 1977 TV movie of the same name or whether it’s a totally unrelated movie about a snow monster which menaces a mountain but the fact of the matter is that Snow Beast is still dreadful monster movie making at it’s finest.

Following the standard Sy-Fy formula to the latter (I’ve finally succumbed to calling it that, instead of Sci-Fi), Snow Beast trots out all of the usual clichés and predictable plot developments to the letter. As well as the standard ‘monster on the loose’ storyline that the film follows, the father-daughter combo of Jim and Emmy provide the necessary human drama of a divorced man struggling to keep a relationship with his rebellious teenage tearaway. I’m sure that coming face-to-face with a man-eating Yeti will put paid to any sort of conflict the two characters have with each other by the end and everything will be hunky dory come the credits. It’s the additions of teenage characters to this type of film which bugs me to pieces: as if featuring one token teenager in a film is going to make it appeal to a younger market? Snow Beast is hardly being aimed at the Twilight crowd so just cut the kids out, give the adults a bit more substance and the drama will come naturally in the face of a life-threatening situation. John Schneider sees to be getting a regular pay cheque from Sy-Fy to star in these terrible low budget creature features and his constant monotone delivery throughout gives the impression that he’s bored. No wonder his character has problems with his daughter if he’s always this enthusiastic about life.

Aside from the handful of main characters, everyone else in the film is of inconsequential value. A couple of people out for a trek in the snow? Snowboarders? Random guys stopping to pee by the side of the road? Say “bye bye” to them before you even catch their names. Even the local sheriff and his deputy, built up at the beginning of the film into what one would assume to be pivotal parts of the story, are discarded almost nonchalantly. This conveyor belt of characters fed to the Yeti is pointless, giving us no real reason to fear the monster as we’ve never taken them to heart and mourn their demise.

But now we come to the star of the show, the ‘snow beast’ itself. Anyone familiar with an episode of the original series of Star Trek which featured a ridiculous shaggy, ape-like monster called the Mugato will know exactly the sort of creature that we’re dealing with here. It’s a guy-in-a-suit monster of the old fashioned kind which might work in small doses when it’s kept off-camera. But this Yeti loves the camera, running around comically (and struggling badly) through the snow and pretending to look intimidating. The suit doesn’t look too bad in all honesty, especially during the quick edits in attack scenes when you only catch a glimpse. It’s when the camera lingers on it during prolonged sequences that the cheese factor oozes out – the finale inside the ice cave clearly indicative of an injured grad student fighting a ticked-off fancy dress enthusiast. About 90% of the film is shot in the daylight too, illuminating the creature in all of its bottom-dollar glory.

As touched on earlier, the Yeti is fed a lot of throwaway characters but when you see how it actually manages to accomplish this task, you’ll wonder how it ever manages to eat. When it’s not pimp-slapping victims, it’s charging across the screen and sacking them American football-style. In some instances, it’s happy enough to drag the unlucky victim back to its ice lair to freeze for later. Other time it just leaves the bodies out in the snow. Depending on which character is being attacked, the Yeti conveniently changes its tactic for killing and eating on the spot or dragging back semi-conscious to finish off later. It’s lazy writing at its best – either don’t put the main characters into this type of situation or kill them off and shock the audience. Don’t have the creature change its feeding habits because someone in the cast is getting paid more than the extras. Re-write the script and don’t insult the monster…and the audience at the same time.

 

Snow Beast is production line poo from Sy-Fy who surely can’t go on churning out the same ridiculous films for years upon end without even the slightest deviation in formula? Anyone? There’s only so many times my intelligence can be insulted. Oh wait, there’s 2-Headed Shark Attack….I’ll be right back.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Remains (2011)

Remains (2011)

This Town Will Eat You Alive.

After a nuclear explosion wipes out most of the population of Reno, a group of survivors must band together and fortify the casino that they’re stuck in, hoping to ride out this apocalyptic scenario and wait for help.

 

I’m not sure that there is any more originality left to be uncovered in the zombie sub-genre. Let’s face it, after decades of cinematic classics, straight-to-video cheese fests, Italian exploitation flicks, low budget home movies and every Tom, Dick and Harry trying to break into the horror genre giving their own individual slant on it, the zombie sub-genre should be left to die for the time being. But no, people still think that there is still something left to show the world. Case in point: Remains. Despite being based on a graphic novel, it seems more content in showcasing how many horror films the film makers have seen and are spooning from.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a zombie film as pointless as this. Remains covers so much familiar ground that it’s so frustrating to think about what could have been. The plot sounds overly similar to the classic zombie game Dead Rising (or more specifically the sequel which was set inside a huge casino resort) and anyone who has played that will immediately know what I’m talking about. But Remains does nothing with the casino setting at all. At times, the sets are so sparsely decorated with gambling trappings that it could be almost anywhere – a shop, a school, a petrol station, a church……they have a unique location to make a zombie film and they go and completely ignore it.

So after the promise of something a bit different in the opening few minutes, the film quickly resorts to traditional zombie film conventions – mixed group of survivors holed together; zombies trying to break in to a secure location; in-fighting amongst the group; a militant faction arrives promising salvation but offering a fate worse than the zombies; the big ‘break in’ moment where the zombies manage to get into the previously-impenetrable location; etc. There are no surprise set pieces. There’s nothing out of the ordinary. Remains contains everything you’ve seen before in superior films and it does a poor job in rehashing them.

There are not too many characters to latch onto either but boy, are they boring. They all lethargically walk around, seemingly not too bothered by what has happened and more content to booze, smoke and not talk to each other than actually trying to figure a way out. There is no energy amongst the cast. It’s all very strained – character interaction, dialogue, actions, etc. It’s almost as if everyone was as bored making it as I was watching it.

I’m probably being too hard on Remains. I’ve seen the rumoured budget and it’s not a massive amount of money so I’ve got to give everyone credit for at least making the film look like a million dollar motion picture. The budget has obviously been spent on make-up effects and the zombies look excellent, each one with their own little quirks and personality. The zombified grandma at the start of the film would find a home in any full-blown Romero flick!

 

Unfortunately The Walking Dead has pretty much torpedoed anything zombie-related for the next couple of years and we’ve been spoilt with a truly classic horror TV series. Remains and its like are just floundering around in its shadow, looking for some niche which doesn’t exist any more and end up aimless and pointless rehashes of standard zombie tropes. There’s no questioning its ambition but we can all dream big, can’t we?

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Midnight Movie (2008)

Midnight Movie (2008)

Radford is Back!

Film maker Ted Radford made a low budget horror flick called The Dark Beneath but he was institutionalised soon after for going insane. One his doctors decides to allow him to watch the film again as part of his therapy but this leads to a massacre at the hospital and the disappearance of Radford. Five years after he vanished, a small theatre is showing a midnight screening of The Dark Beneath for the very first time since that fateful night. As the film unfolds, the selective audience soon realise that the killer in the film is very much real and loose inside the theatre.

 

OK, so what we have with Midnight Movie is basically another modern-day low budget slasher which both simultaneously pays tribute to the 80s slashers and attempts to fashion a new horror icon out of its clichéd raw materials at the same time. With winks to old school horror films and a definite eye on the new torture porn trend, Midnight Movie was never going to reinvent the wheel as far as the sub-genre goes. I’m pleasantly surprised that the film actually manages to be consistently entertaining, something which many a modern slasher fails to deliver. But how many more times am I going to be able to stomach another slasher which pays tribute to the glory days? That in itself is becoming as cliché as the formula by which this sub-genre has strictly adhered to over the years.

The main difference between Midnight Movie and its recent slasher counterparts is solely the idea of the killer being able to transport himself out of the film, into the theatre and then back in again. It’s an idea which is basic in its conception but works a lot better on the screen than it has any right to. As Radford begins to kill people in the cinema, those scenes become part of the film, The Dark Beneath. This works pretty well for the majority of the film as Radford can come and go as he pleases. Unfortunately all of this alternative reality/film-within-a-film nonsense spirals out of control in the finale and the story gets messy. The film has a reasonable short running time so an extra ten minutes or so to flesh things out and slow things down at this point would have been a welcome addition.

The film-within-a-film, The Dark Beneath, is expectedly terrible enough to try and imitate the grim backwoods horror style of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In fact the film itself is virtually a homage to Tobe Hooper’s classic, from the camper van full of teenagers breaking down in the middle of nowhere, to the first shot of Radford springing out from behind a huge door and then the final sequences of Radford chasing the final girl out of the house and down the road. It’s been made to look grainy and has been shot in black-and-white to give it an old school vibe.

Aside from the story itself, not many risks are taken with the standard slasher prototype. You have the less-than-the-norm setting of an old theatre house, complete with many twisting staircases, projector rooms, basements, etc. The location is clearly a nostalgic look back to the glory days for low budget films, when small one-screen cinemas could operate as they saw fit, free of the shackles of the big cinema chains and their brainwashed blind devotion to the big Hollywood blockbusters.

You’ve got the requisite cast filled with plenty of stereotypical characters. The teenagers aren’t particularly great but they’re not terrible either. They’re just paint-by-numbers. Particular mention here must go to Stan Ellsworth, who plays the big biker Harley. At first the character comes off as a big asshole but as the film progresses, your initial expectations of his character are blown away.

You’ve also got the kills, which get bloodier as the film progresses (the film shies away from the first couple of kills, which I thought would set a dangerous precedent but thankfully you do get to see some decent stuff later on). Unfortunately the deaths get extremely repetitive as Radford uses the same weird metal corkscrew-like weapon to kill his victims. It’s pretty nifty the first time around but not when you’ve seen it a handful of times. I think too much emphasis has been placed onto Radford’s killer persona in an attempt to create a new slasher icon. He’s got the half-skull mask and the weird hand-weapon he uses to smash into people with to make him stand out from the rest but he’s not going to catch on any time soon. I’m not sure whether they intended him to look this way but he reminded me a lot of the killer from Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. The sequel-pleading ending would not convince many to shell out cash for a further instalment.

 

Midnight Movie is never going to win any awards for originality and, like the majority of modern day slashers, you’ll never really have a burning desire to see it again….or remember anything about it once the next carbon copy comes along. Despite some nice ideas and the fact that the director clearly ‘gets’ the sub-genre he so obviously loves, Midnight Movie will most likely end up at that – something for drunken frat boys to stick on at crazy o’clock when they’ve come home from an all-day booze session.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆