Deep Shock (2003)

Deep Shock (2003)

The end of the world is just an eel’s length away. Get ready to squirm.

A nuclear-powered attack submarine is attacked by a mysterious underwater object which disables it with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. The Hubris, an underwater Arctic research station, witnesses the attack and reports an alarming rise in the temperature of the ice cap in the process. Shortly afterwards, the station is also attacked and so an expedition is sent to find out what happened. Once there the expedition finds that though the station is still intact, the personal have been incinerated. It isn’t long before they find out what attacked the Hubris – giant electric eels – and why.

 

With the prospect of giant electric eels doing some underwater damage making for a slight change to the usual sharks-crocodiles-snakes-spiders routine, it comes as no surprise to know that Deep Shock plays out like the majority of the Sy Fy TV movies: stock actors picked from the usual Sy Fy roster; a script that fills itself with loads of techno, military and political jargon to sound credible; action scenes which are anything but rousing and exciting; and creatures that sound alright on paper but look like cartoon monsters when rendered in CGI.

Actually I’m being a bit harsh on Deep Shock. Whilst the film does look and feel like the usual cheap-and-nasty drivel from the Sy Fy Channel and every cliché in the book is played out to full effect, the script doesn’t go down the route I expected it to and instead tries to turn itself into a credible, thought-provoking story about humans encountering other intelligence on Earth. Far from being the deadly threats that you’ll expect them to be, electrifying stock characters in underwater facilities in some form of Leviathan / Deep Star Six style sci-fi horror, the eels are supposed to be preparing the planet for its original inhabitants to return (space eels then?) and can be communicated with and made to listen. Whilst the ending to the film hardly gives resolution to the eels’ overriding purposes (after all they still want to wipe humanity from the planet), it at least gives the creatures a bit more function than just generic monsters-on-the-loose.

It’s a shame then that the eels look so poor when they are shown on screen. Blasting bolts of electricity from their foreheads and having big bulging red eyes, the fish could have been so much more had a bit of effort gone into their creation. But this is a film where concern for detail is eschewed in favour of bluster and a desire to make itself exciting, on which it fails. Deep Shock enjoys flashing off its limited budget with lots of copious special effects scenes and overly ‘futuristic-looking’ sets. The underwater research centre, the Hubris, looks like a knock-off set from The Abyss, complete with a pool for the eels to appear from (well they can’t walk around the facility so they’re kind of restricted to the places they can make contact with the humans in). Lots of dimly-lit sets with flashing lights and shaky cameras attempt to make everything look so exciting and cutting edge when in reality it just shows up the film for lacking decent production values. The underwater action scenes involving mini-subs and exterior shots of the Hubris look like cut-scenes from a computer game and a bad one at that. It’s always hard to get into something when every two minutes you’re reminded of how inferior it is to similar big budgeted films.

The sense of international scope that the film tries to convey just don’t work either. According to Deep Shock, the United Nations consists of a bunch of Eastern Europeans sitting around a computer desk in what looks like a school gymnasium with a few flags draped in the background. You never get the sense that this is anything global, especially when the film continually deals with one Eastern European guy (Velizar Binev, who crops up in loads of these films) who apparently speaks on behalf of everyone. I guess with the small cast they were required to recycle.

Low budget schlock flick rent-a-bad-guy Mark Sheppard pops up as the usual dodgy-looking slime ball he plays in all of these TV movies (see New Alcatraz, Xtinction, plus a ton of TV shows like 24 and The X-Files). David Keith gets to act all hard and ‘edgy’ as the squared-jawed action hero whilst Simmone Jade Mackinnon does nothing but smile throughout the film, even though the world is supposed to be facing a crisis, and the two are given a token romantic sub-plot. With Sy Fy re-using these actors time and time again, it gets a little predictable knowing how each character arc is going to pan out. Why not give Sheppard the hero role for a change and turn Keith into the psycho? See that’s lazy writing – Sheppard being cast as the bad guy instantly plays on our preconceptions of the character he is going to play and does a lot of the hard work of building a solid character…….ah I’ll save that rant for another time.

 

I’m sure that this would have made for a riveting forty-five minute long episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea back in the 60s but as a full blown 2002 TV movie, Deep Shock strings along its limited idea as long as it can without any real pay-off. Apart from the ambitiously novel background to the electric eels, it’s business as usual as far as Sy Fy goes. And business is bad.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Invisible Man Returns, The (1940)

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

They hear him! They feel him! But they can’t stop him!

Framed for the murder of his brother, Geoffrey Radcliffe is to be hanged. But after a visit in prison from his friend Frank Griffin, Radcliffe literally disappears and escapes to the bewilderment of the police. Griffin’s late brother, the original Invisible Man, had discovered an invisibility drug before he went mad and his brother has now given Radcliffe the serum to aid his cause. As Griffin tries to find an antidote to the invisibility, Radcliffe sets out to track down the real killer before he goes mad as well.

 

Like their successful forays with Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolf Man, Universal Studios were always quick to capitalise on big hits and after their fantastic version of The Invisible Man, it was only a matter of time before the studio would see fit to sequelise it and get the tills ringing again. During their second wave of horror, with sequels to their major hits being pumped out like The Ghost of Frankenstein and The Mummy’s Hand, Universal created an original story for H.G. Wells’ infamous literary character (having signed a multi-picture deal to secure the rights) and trotted him out in the first of many sequels, two of which were released in the same year. Though the logic behind Radcliffe taking the invisibility serum is a little far-fetched at first, once the film gets down to business this minor inconvenience is quickly forgotten about.

As it turns out, The Invisible Man Returns isn’t a patch on the original but it’s a solid sequel, let down by a sense that anything the film would try and do, the audience would have already seen before  (‘seen’ being an inappropriate phrase!). There’s nothing here to match the first unveiling of Griffin in the original, nor his rampage through the small village. Instead, what was once a story about a madman loose with a startling new weapon has now been turned into a standard old school murder-mystery where a wrongly-convicted man seeks to clear his name – only with the added bonus that he is invisible. In fact being invisible doesn’t really add a whole lot to the narrative as the crime drama is nothing that couldn’t have been handled should the character been visible.

Though camera tricks had advanced in the seven years following the original, there’s nothing in The Invisible Man Returns which is a patch on what came before it. That’s probably being a tad too harsh on John P. Fulton’s special effects which were nominated for an Oscar and are still impressive. But you’ll not be completely blown away by anything you see here. There are some nice scenes involving the police trying to smoke Radcliffe out (showing some good continuity from the previous film in that they’ve learnt how to track an invisible man) and seeing the Invisible Man revealed by rain but they’re not jaw-dropping standout moments. The moment with Radcliffe and a scarecrow is more poignant than astonishing.

Legendary horror Thespian Vincent Price assumes the role of the man in the bandages and sunglasses in what would be his first foray into the horror and sci-fi genre, in fact one of his first major screen roles of any kind. Price’s distinctive vocal tones make for the perfect choice to be the Invisible Man because he can’t rely on body language for a great deal of the running time and needs to emote through his voice. But though Price has a sinister expression, it’s never been an overly menacing one and it lacks the thuggish threat that Claude Rains’ voice projected in the original. Instead of strangling you to death or psychologically tormenting his victims, Price’s Invisible Man is more likely to pretend to be a ghost and shout “boo” at you or invite you around for a cuppa so you can laugh at him when you see the tea draining through his invisible body.

But that’s part of the film’s main problem – the character is not meant to be a psychopath this time around but an innocent man, framed for a crime and desperate to put things right. It gives the character more empathy as one of the problems with Rain’s portrayal was that he was too much of a self-obsessed asshole to really root for. Price makes up for that by playing the role as a tragic, sympathetic hero but the film loses some of the excitement and terror of being hunted by an invisible man as a result. Whilst you know he’s capable of doing some things to clear his name (i.e. becoming invisible in the first place), you never get the sense that he’ll resort to outright murder to put things right. And this is what the film loses by turning him into a good guy. The freedom that invisibility brings lends itself to more darker intentions which are sorely underplayed here.

 

The Invisible Man Returns lacks the sinister edge that the original had and comes off as a bit of a pointless rehash at times, really harming its overall impact as an effective sci-fi horror. But it’s entertaining in its own right and is definitely a cut above most of the sequels Universal was churning out for its main franchises.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Night of the Living Dead 3-D: Re-Animation (2012)

Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012)

The beginning of the end

Gerald Tovar Jr. runs a remote mortuary and has a problem – the dead bodies just won’t stay dead after being exposed to toxic waste. He tries his best to keep this undead epidemic a secret from his employees. But his snooping brother Harold turns up demanding money after he feels he was wronged in their late father’s will and stumbles upon Gerald’s secret.

 

Seriously? Like the army of the undead that continues to plague the market, so too do the hack merchants who continue to leech off the inimitable George A. Romero and his original classic zombie trilogy. If it’s not John A. Russo butchering the original in his Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition complete with newly shot footage, it’s the duo of Ana Clavell and James Dudelson making truly woeful sequels in Day of the Dead 2: Contagium and now Jeff Broadstreet almost single-handedly trying to make an entirely new franchise around the Night of the Living Dead mantra.

Unfortunately, back in the 1960s George A. Romero, John Russo and their company failed to properly protect the copyright on Night of the Living Dead which has led to the film being in the public domain for years and which allows any pretentious hack job with a camera and some money the opportunity to use the name and create their own spin on the project. It must be heartbreaking for Romero to see his work pulverised and desecrated so often and without so much as a hint of a royalties cheque. Night of the Living Dead 3D Re-Animation has nothing to do with Romero’s original so the question needs to be asked – if it’s supposed to stand alone, why use the Night of the Living Dead moniker? Oh yeah, I forgot – $$$$$$. Shameless, unscrupulous salesmen cashing in on a classic to trick genre fans into shelling out their money.

Following Broadstreet’s appalling Night of the Living Dead 3D homage/re-imagining/walking over the grave of the original abomination/whatever it was called comes this even more unnecessary prequel which tells the story of the events which led to the outbreak. Moving just as slowly as the shuffling flesh eaters in the cellar, Night of the Living Dead 3D Re-Animation is a clunking mess from the start. It takes ages to get going, with the zombies rarely making an appearance, and there’s nothing to maintain audience interest as a result. Like many low budget zombie flicks, the film seems to go out of its way to avoid showing us the title creatures. Dull human drama. A few unnecessary side characters who add nothing to the plot. Political satire that will fail to hit its target on anyone who isn’t a US citizen. Hardly cutting edge material like Night of the Living Dead was but it’s all just gloss anyway, attempting to paper over the glaring absence of the zombies.

Horror fans should immediately be attracted to this by the two genre names in the cast: Jeffrey Combs from the Re-Animator films and Andrew Divoff from the Wishmaster series. It’s a trump card for any horror film to feature such established veterans and definitely a key selling point but Night of the Living Dead 3D Re-Animation does absolutely nothing with them. The tedious family palaver between them takes priority over any zombie action and whilst the two men are usually capable of pulling out all of the stops to keep their performances interesting (just watch them in their best work and you’ll see), they are not required to even break into a sweat here. They could have been utilised far, far better than they are here and both seem to underplay their roles somewhat.

When it comes to the zombies, they will finally make an appearance, I promise. It’s just that you have to sit through so much to get to them. Even then, it’s a wonder that they bothered. The zombies do just as little as Combs and Divoff did, stumbling around the mortuary polishing off minor characters and not even threatening a mass break-out. The gore is mainly CGI-variety, which bugs me to no end in a normal splatter flick but makes me even angrier when there are zombies involved – I like my entrails real and squishy. I understand that it’s cheap to use CGI over real prosthetics but surely the local butcher could supply some unwanted pig intestines? The 3-D is also little more than a gimmick here, with the usual shotguns and shovels being thrust in front of the camera as if we haven’t seen one in the third dimension before. A couple of decent 3-D gore moments provide some minor highlights but Piranha 3-D  and My Bloody Valentine 3-D did the groovy gore a whole lot better with the glasses on.

 

Originality-free. Excitement-free. Scare-free. The only thing that wasn’t free was the over-inflated price I paid for the blu-ray. Night of the Living Dead 3D Re-Animation is an appalling and cynical cash-in to a battered film legacy which deserves more respect from the fan boy defilers who pretend to worship at its feet, only to add to its abuse.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Apocalypse of the Dead (2009)

Apocalypse of the Dead (2009)

The Dead Will Rise Forever!

Experimental gas which can reanimate the dead is accidentally released at a train station in Serbia, turning anyone who comes into contact with it into ravenous zombies. Meanwhile, a dangerous prisoner is being transported to Belgrade by a group of Interpol agents when they come into contact with the horde, forcing them to team up in order to stay alive.

 

It’s not every day that you get the chance to watch a Serbian film, let alone a Serbian zombie film, and so Apocalypse of the Dead makes for interesting viewing for genre fans. Don’t expect anything fresh or original from the Slavic country however as the film willingly helps itself to a slew of familiar material, with everything from Return of the Living Dead to Assault on Precinct 13 being pilfered for ideas that horror buffs can recognise a mile off, not to mention the obligatory Romero influence. However, just because film makers are happy to acknowledge their inspiration by referencing genre classics does not guarantee a good film. It’s a growing trend in low budget horror films that they all see fit to quote, reference or simply rip-off the classics of the past in some bizarre attempt to legitimise and give authorship to their work.

Apart from the obvious change of country and setting, there’s nothing to separate Apocalypse of the Dead from the slew of low budget zombie films of recent times. All have visions of grandeur. All attempt to punch above their weight. Most fail dramatically and this one follows suit. Zombie clichés come thick and fast including the token character in the group who is bitten and slowly turns, and the scene in which the characters finally realise that they have to shoot the zombies in the head to put them down for good. There are plenty more where that came from and it’s rather tame to see them all wheeled out again. But this is a film which plays it safe from the outset and never takes any chances.

Apocalypse of the Dead is low budget. The small cast, bargain bin production values and general lack of scope (it never really feels like an apocalypse, only a local incident) continually hold the film back from achieving any form of greatness. Not that it would be remembered as a classic in years to come but the film isn’t terrible. For every cliché that is thrown to the audience, there are moments of horror fan lip-service which strike a bit of a chord (zombie dispatch by harpoon?) and promise more than the film ever has any hope of delivering. Though the film is dialogue-heavy, there are enough action scenes peppered throughout to keep the film from ever descending into monotony, though at times the film pushes your limits before unleashing another zombie attack.

The zombies look good and it’s clear that the majority of the budget went into the make-up department. From zombies with entrails hanging out, to naked female zombies who look like they just came out of the shower, they’re a step up from the usual standards one expects from low budget horror flicks. The gore is plentiful too and whilst the zombie attacks don’t come too thick and fast, the ones that do generally provide gleeful pleasure, with intestines, limbs and other internal organs being munched and savaged by hordes of ravenous monsters. Apocalypse of the Dead at least nails it’s prime attraction down to a tee, even if everything else around it falls apart.

Presumably to add a bit of ‘genre cred’ to the film, the producers managed to rope Ken Foree, star of original Romero zombie masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, into playing a lead role. In order to give credible storyline purposes for an American to be living in Eastern Europe, the character is given a clichéd ex-CIA operative back story who left the States for personal reasons is now ‘one job away from retirement.’ Gee, it sucks that his last job is one rife with zombies! Foree is usually solid, rarely phoning in performances and once again he does his best here with the material given. He even gets another line like his legendary “when there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth” line and it is delivered in similarly-preacher like fashion.

The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast, bogged down by thick Eastern European accents who garble the dialogue worse than the script unintentionally garbled anyway. Some of them are dubbed over but most just plod on ahead, faltering over a language which they’re not entirely comfortable with.

 

Whenever a film calls itself ‘something’ of the Dead it inevitably attracts comparisons to the best of the genre and it’s obvious that the majority of the innovation went into producing a rather kick-ass front cover which insinuates …. well … an apocalypse! It’s something that never materialises and you’ll end up feeling a little ripped off. Apocalypse of the Dead does some things right but not enough of them, ending up as just another undead face in the horde as a result.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Vampire Lovers, The (1970)

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Beautiful temptress …… or Bloodthirsty monster?

A countess and her daughter attend a ball held by General Spielsdorf. The countess is called away after the death of a friend and her daughter, Marcilla, is allowed to stay with the General and his daughter until she returns. Soon afterwards, the General’s daughter starts to suffer from nightmares, growing weaker by the day and eventually dying from vampire bites. Marcilla disappears and lodges in with Roger Morton and his daughter. Soon the same mysterious illness begins to strike Morton’s daughter, Emma. It turns out that Marcilla is actually Carmilla, a descendant of the Karnstein vampire clan, who have returned to quench their thirst for blood.

 

The Vampire Lovers was made at a time of change for Hammer. New faces were being brought in behind-the-scenes to replace the established old guard and with them came a new wave of horror films, more commercially-aware and which slowly ditched the restrained Gothic pieces of old, replacing them with heaving and more often than not exposed bosoms and greater quantities of bright red blood. The exploitative change in direction was a response to the more shocking European horrors that were beginning to emerge and many consider this the beginning of the end for the studio, which wouldn’t live to see out the rest of the decade. It was ironic that the studio which originally pushed the boundaries of the genre further than they had ever gone in the late 50s and early 60s was now being left behind and made to look out-dated just as they had done to their rivals. That being said, it’s during this period that Hammer produced some of their most interesting work. Proving that there was life in the vampire sub-genre away from Dracula, Hammer loosely adapted the 1872 novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (a novel which pre-dates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by some time) and managed to milk it into a trilogy. The Vampire Lovers is the first of this bold new wave of Hammer films, sleazier and more gratuitous than ever before.

All I can say is…..phew! I needed a cold shower after this one. The Vampire Lovers is arguably the steamiest film Hammer ever produced. Compare the sexually-deviant vampires in this one with Christopher Lee’s now-stuffy (at the time) Dracula and the difference in tone is amazing within the space of a few years. Though the exploitative elements look tame by today’s standards, I can only imagine the outcry at such explicit sights of lesbian vampires back in the 70s. Nubile, innocent young women wear flimsy nightgowns, take them off for the camera and cavort and fondle each other in vampiric desire. At times the lesbian elements seem to overwhelm the film and with all of the cheap titillation, the viewer can forget that there is meant to be a serious horror film in here somewhere.

The subject matter lends itself to these exploitative elements but make no mistake about it, this is a Hammer film and their visual prowess was still here in force: mysterious mountain-top castles, fog-shrouded cemeteries, creaky mansions and superstitious villages. Costumes are bang on the money for the time period being portrayed and the film still has that Gothic gloss in everything it portrays. It’s just that this time there’s a whole load of saucy lesbianism running rampant throughout! The Technicolour horror elements are still as charming as ever, with fake fangs, neck bites and a rather weak nightmare sequence clearly stamping the date on the proceedings. But there are also a couple of great beheadings and a nasty staking too for good measure, which upped the ante for what the studio usually got away with.

The Vampire Lovers also introduces the horror world to Ingrid Pitt, who would go on to become one of the genre’s most noted actresses with the brief number of appearances she made in the genre. Ms Pitt’s thick Polish accent gives her character a nice exotic European charm to add to the Gothic vibe of the film and she manages to convey predatory evil and being sympathetically sexy at the same time. It’s her other, ahem, attributes that the film makes best use of it. There’s no denying that the late Ms Pitt had an amazing body and the film is happy to show it off at every opportunity. But the character is a tragic one, wanting to be with her young girl lover forever, only to give in to her primal urges and destroy that things she craves the most – love. Pitt’s sad dialogue after she has witnessed the funeral cortege pass by is as good as anything Hammer ever put to the screen.

All-round acting legend Peter Cushing gets top billing but his time was passing for Hammer and his role is more secondary than anything. Cushing is still on top vampire slaying form when he does show up, showing that he’s lost none of his touch when it comes to staking or beheading the creatures of the night. He’s just grossly underused and bookended into the prologue and finale, with little to do in between. Also of mention is the pretty and chaste Madeline Smith, who plays one of the objects of Marcilla’s affections. Smith has this ridiculous English rose natural beauty and quickly became one of my favourite Hammer girls in her few appearances with the studio.

 

The Vampire Lovers is one of Hammer’s most daring films and definitely their most sensual and erotic work, infecting the narrative with an almost dream-like quality. Though the frequently-naked ladies detract from the more serious moments, there is no question that the well-developed characters and progressive themes for the time (a lesbian vampire, there’s one for the feminists!) make this Gothic horror at its finest.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

A monstrous, chilling terror stalking the living …

In the Egyptian desert, a team of archaeologists has unearthed the tomb of the ancient pharaoh Safiraman. Nearby a group of fashion models are looking for a location for their latest photo shoot and come across the tomb. Their trespassing awakens the mummified Safiraman who resurrects his army of undead followers to assist him in killing those responsible for desecrating his tomb.

 

Clearly influenced by George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci’s exploits into the zombie genre rather than anything Universal did back in the 30s and 40s, this mummy film could easily be mistaken for yet another cheap Italian exploitation flick. Though that’s precisely what Dawn of the Mummy is, bearing little resemblance to classic mummy film formula, with the added bonus that it was shot in Egypt to give it a bit of authenticity. Something of a cult classic, Dawn of the Mummy has been extremely hard to find in the UK: first being the victim of the Video Nasties scare and then with a limited uncut DVD release which is hard to find now as leprechaun’s treasure.

You wouldn’t get the impression that this film is as trashy as it’s cracked up to be once you sit down to watch. Dawn of the Mummy takes ages to get going and by this I mean ages. It’s a good fifty minutes before anything worthwhile happens. Before then we’ve given lots of horrid dialogue with the fashion models, some overacting by the American who is looking for the treasure and little else. All the characters ever seem to do is wander between the village, the camp where they are shooting their photo spreads and the tomb. The film does run like your traditional mummy flick at this point, with a tomb being unearthed and an ancient evil being unleashed. Only there is one thing sorely missing – the mummy! The titular creature is hardly anywhere to be found, relegated to background lurking – if he was even lucky to get a few seconds of screen time.

The characters are so irritating too and you’re rooting for the mummy to hurry up and start dishing out some revenge. Funnily enough, according to the film notes on the DVD, this is exactly what the director set out to do – make you cheer on the mummy. Well Mr Agrama, you didn’t do a good job, you did a great job! The quicker these whiny assholes are mashed down into pulpy papyrus, the better. Despite the presence of a lot of nubile young female models, the flesh is kept hidden and the brief sexual encounters are fully clothed ordeals. Considering the sleazy nature of the Italian horror films made during this period, the lack of nudity is startling. It’s also no surprise to find out that they can’t act at all. No one in this film can. The only decent actor is the guy in the mummy outfit and that’s simply because all he has to do is stand there or walk slowly. The make-up effects for the mummy are pretty reasonable – he’s a guy in bandages but they seem to be coated in slime, blood or something. He looks like he just walked out of a swamp.

Sandwiched in the middle of this early monotony is a superbly nightmarish sequence in which the rotting zombie army slowly rise from their desert graves, set against the sunrise. It’s an unnerving sequence which quite frankly looks amazing and deserved a lot better than to be stuck in this. This happens around the three quarters of an hour mark and you’d expect things to pick up. Despite the odd quick mummy attack here and there, the film continues to drag for another half an hour at least. The zombie army has been resurrected. The mummy is clearly angry. Why the wait for the carnage to commence?

Despite the utterly tedious first two thirds, Dawn of the Mummy does have a killer final act and this is where it gathers all of its marks. This is the sort of low-brow trash I was expecting to see as the mummy and his followers finally begin to do their damage. It begins with the discovery of a severed head in the tomb which leads to the mummy and the zombies following someone back to the camp. Let the zombie mayhem begin! People are set upon by gangs of zombies, their throats bitted into, faces ripped apart, intestines wrenched out and brains chewed from smashed skulls. It’s been dubbed ‘the goriest mummy film of all time’ and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth – however it’s the zombies that do the majority of the dirty work and the mummy kind of just stands back and watches everything unfold. The film’s highlight set piece is when the zombie army gatecrashes the wedding ceremony in the village by making an unscheduled visit to the bridal tent before letting loose on the villagers. To the strains of Shuki Levy’s Egyptian-twanged disco score, the attack sequence is a right hoot and begs the question of why they couldn’t have done something like this a little earlier in the film instead of leaving it until the final twenty minutes. The film is dogged down by constantly poor lighting and as most of the attacks are shot outside in the dark, it can be hard to make out what is going on at times. Though the sickly sounds of organs squelching and flesh-eating is never in question!

 

It is an arduous struggle to get past the first half of Dawn of the Mummy but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the more entertaining zombie flicks of its period: a guilty pleasure of trashy exploitation at it’s finest. If the entire film had been as enjoyable as the last half, you’d be looking at a bonafide classic right here.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)

Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)Alan, a clumsy, overweight and slightly-retarded camper at Camp Manabe, is constantly picked on by the popular kids. Soon just about everyone who has victimised him begins to turn up dead in terrible ways. Camp counsellor Ronnie, who survived a bloodbath at Camp Arawak years earlier, is convinced that the killer, Angela has returned. Or is a copycat killer on the loose?

 

Robert Hiltzik wrote and directed the infamous 1983 summer camp slasher film Sleepaway Camp, a film which featured one of the most unforgettable endings I’ve ever seen (go and watch it if you don’t know what happened – even Tarantino loves it) and which went on to become a cult horror hit. A couple of sequels followed, neither of which had anything to do with Hiltzik and which starred a new actress as the gender-confused killer, Angela. A third sequel went into production in 1992 but that was canned when the production company went under. But with the dawn of the internet age, Hiltzik realised that there was a demand out there for a direct sequel to the original and, not having directed a film since the original, decided to make the sequel that everyone wanted. It took him five years and numerous re-cuts and re-shoots but finally he managed to create Return to Sleepaway Camp, a 2000s slasher which for all intents and purposes looks like it was made back in the mid-80s.

In some ways you wish he’d never bothered. Return to Sleepaway Camp is a poorly acted, haphazardly edited (what’s with the constant fade-to-black screens after every scene?) and rather humdrum slasher which was obviously hindered by its drawn out production. But on the flip side, Hiltzik has captured the look of the 80s summer camp slasher down to a tee, so much so that I had to double check the date to make sure that it wasn’t a lost film that had been uncovered. Shot in 2003, it was finally released in 2008, hence the reason why the late Isaac Hayes is able to make a cameo (a pointless two-minute role which no doubt got him a decent pay cheque). Perhaps it’s the nostalgia weighing heavy but the film’s low budget 80s-style charm is the precisely the reason why this works way better than it has any right to.

Fans were on board from the get-go with the announcement that some of the surviving characters from the original would return alongside the same actors who played them. On a continuity note this is great for a sequel. But the returning actors seem to have learnt little in their years between summer camp stints. Paul DeAngelo reprises his role as Ronnie, one of the counsellors from the original who decided to stay in the summer camp business. He’s all muscle and no acting chops. Like seriously, this guy could be one of the worst actors I’ve ever seen. His delivery and timing is terrible. Equally as bad is Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky, Angela’s cousin who survived the original, but has since decked himself out like some boy band wannabe. Neither man brings anything to the table except that linking value to the original and what they were able to get away with (i.e. lack of talent) in the 80s is brazenly exposed in today’s market.

It’s the new stars who are the most inept and this is aimed squarely at Michael Gibney who plays Alan. He is quite simply the most irritating person ever to grace a slasher film. There’s no way he’d have any friends at a place like this. He acts like a total asshole to everyone, picks on kids less fortunate than him but then whines and cries like mad when the older kids pick on him. Gibney completely overplays the role, shouting and raising his voice during every sentence and having this constantly gormless look on his face. I don’t know how Hiltzik can expect us to sympathise with him, in fact it’s the opposite and you wish him a slow and agonising death from the very first scene. “Your ass stinks” is his favourite catchphrase and it’s a phrase which is repeated time and time again.

Slashers live and die by their metaphorical swords so at least Return to Sleepaway Camp delivers plenty of the sub-genre’s required inventive death scenes. One poor guy has his penis attached to a length of wire which is also attached to the bumper of a car – guess what happens. A stoner is downed with petrol and then burnt to death. Another one has a sharpened broom handle rammed through their eye. Someone is crushed underneath a mattress of spikes. And so forth. The kills are creative, mean-spirited, and above all gory. I can’t say that they’re anything amazing but the whole 80s feel to the proceedings gives them a slightly more grimy edge.

Return to Sleepaway Camp also sees fit to throw in a blatant plot-twist right at the very end. I don’t like using quotes like this for obvious reasons but the fact is that even the likes of Stevie Wonder could see the twist coming! The shock sight of naked ‘Angela’ actually being naked Peter in the original is replaced by a token surprise which will barely register on your radar because you sussed it out in the first time the ending is set-up earlier in the film. It’s a twist for twist’s sake and not a very good one.

 

Return to Sleepaway Camp is strictly one for series fans only: the original was unforgettable; this direct sequel is immediately forgettable. It wasn’t worth the twenty five year wait and the other sequels do a far better job of providing similar scares and slash with a dash of charm and self-awareness. It runs purely on nostalgia but the fumes aren’t enough to keep it going for long.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Planet Raptor (2007)

Planet Raptor (2007)

An expedition on a remote, medieval-like planet and finds itself under attack by deadly prehistoric raptors. With a radiation storm cutting off communication to their mother ship and preventing escape, the expedition must bed down in nearby castle and there they uncover evidence that the previous occupants of the planet were wiped out by these dinosaurs….and they’re next.

 

Ok so that plot summary is a bit all over the place but that’s the best I could do. One of the worst Sci-Fi Channel movies of recent memory (the atrocious Raptor Island) gets a sequel here with Planet Raptor – an unrelated movie about a bunch of killer raptors which might as well have gone it alone such is the lack of any sort of link to the original. Only this time the raptors aren’t prowling around on some remote Pacific island but they’re…..in outer space. Yes, space raptors! I guess the title should clue you in that you’ll be taken out of the Pacific but the realisation that this film really is set in space should provoke some sort of groans from the audience.

Like a lot of old school low budget films from Universal and Hammer, Planet Raptor feels like it was pieced together using leftovers from other films. The space ship and ‘futuristic’ elements have been discarded by some low budget science fiction drivel, the medieval village is the remnants of some historical drama, the guns and combat fatigues seem to have been left behind by a generic straight-to-video action flick and the alien survivor towards the end…well that suit could have been lifted from any number of 70s sci-fi TV series. And above all, Planet Raptor features a plot borrowed directly from Aliens about a group of expendable marines sent to a hostile world by a shady company in order to acquire living specimens as weapons, featuring self-sacrificing heroes who blow themselves up in the face of death and slimy scientists who think running off in the middle of a gunfight in the middle of a hostile planet filled with deadly creatures is a good idea (see Burke, Aliens). Anyone familiar with how that film pans out will be immediately at home here but it’s not the sort of place you want to stay very long.

The mechanical plot slowly coasts along, no doubt assuming you know exactly where the film is heading, and thus doesn’t feel the need to provide any sort of excitement or pace. From the opening shots of the expedition exploring the medieval village (the bizarre decision to include a castle for our heroes to hide inside is clearly more evidence of the ‘recycling’ from other films the studio no doubt made at the same time), to the first attack of the raptors, running through the entire film right until the finale, there’s literally no sense of direction. In between all of the highly-convenient circumstances which direct the plot towards its next aimless action sequence (Decide to leave the planet? Well what about that handy radiation storm that will prevent escape?), the film suffers from a general lack of interesting and well-developed characters. But when the script is content to feature raptors terrorising a group of humans in a medieval village on a remote planet in outer space, the script was never really high on the consideration list to begin with.

Planet Raptor wheels out a load of usual low budget suspects including Steven Bauer, Vanessa Angel and Peter Jason as well as Sam Raimi’s acting brother, Ted. Both Bauer and Jason were in the original film and have been brought back as totally unrelated characters. Jason at least shows a bit of spark in his role as the tough-talking gung-ho sergeant who is as handy with a wisecrack as he is a shotgun. But the secondary characters are afterthoughts (some aren’t even credited!) and even the main characters are little more than talking clichés. Raimi, in particular, must have been reading up on the pantomime playbook on how to look and act as a bad guy, constantly shifting his eyes to the side, frowning a lot and generally trying to look as sinister as possible.

But forget these characters. We’re here for the raptors, right? Well they alternate between CGI rubbish and a reasonably-decent puppet-animatronic head. This looks alright and is used effectively from time-to-time to peek around corners but there’s clearly no body to it as you never see it below the neck. Instead the CGI counterparts take the brunt of the flak and they have every right to warrant it. They look purple, have about two or three different frames of animation and the same shots are used repeatedly throughout. A raptor will be killed in one scene. The camera will flash to the actors. Then back to another approaching raptor and low and behold, there is no body on the floor of the previous victim. At one point the film even borrows a few shots from the previous film of what looks like a T-Rex and the characters fail to spot the difference despite this dinosaur being significantly larger in size and able to scoop up a man into its mouth with ease. It’s not the only glaring error with the film but to continually rip it to shreds is pointless.

 

Stay tuned for the pre-end credits blooper reel which is arguably the most entertaining thing about Planet Raptor (quite funny actually), a low budget mess which seems to have been designed purely from the discarded leftover sets and props from other films. If only half as much fun had gone into the film then Planet Raptor wouldn’t have ended up the outlandish pile of low budget nonsense that it is.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mangler, The (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

There is a fate worse than death

A cop investigates a brutal death at the local laundry company and finds that the big press machine nicknamed ‘The Mangler’ is actually possessed by an evil spirit that needs blood to keep its owner immortal.

 

A horror film about a killer laundry-folding machine? That’s what The Mangler is about! Adapted from a short story by legendary horror writer Stephen King, brought to the big screen by Tobe Hooper, the man behind The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and starring Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, how could this fail? Well, let me repeat myself – it’s a horror film about a killer laundry-folding machine! That’s how it could fail.

Despite the best efforts of the production designers and the cinematographer to give the laundry machine a distinctly evil appearance, at the end of the day it’s still a big lump of metal and it presses cloth for a living which doesn’t really get the goose bumps growing, does it? But then nothing in The Mangler has been conceived well, a messy melting pot of ideas which never clicks in any shape or form and its one glaring problem is the only reason why people will watch it – the idea of a killer laundry-folding machine! It’s stupid to think that anyone could have believed that this would make for a decent film but everyone involved here has an arrogant self-belief that they can make it work. Their blinkered devotion to the cause gives the hare-brained material an even sillier edge.

The first half of The Mangler isn’t too bad it has to be said. There’s a pretty gruesome death when a woman is crushed inside the machine and the plot, as it stands at this early point in the film, is reasonably believable. The idea of feeding people to a possessed machine to make its owner immortal wasn’t that far-fetched by any stretch of the imagination considering the lengths that other horror films have gone to provide a story. But instead of keeping this idea as grounded as possible, The Mangler loses its steady footing.

This semi-interesting plot is lost beneath a torrent of unnecessary sub-plots and strands which go nowhere and only pose more questions such as why do the townspeople have to sacrifice their first born to the machine? The film gets increasingly silly and more ridiculous, with refrigerators coming to life and attacking people, the attempts to exorcise the machine and then in the film’s finale, the machine itself starts to move around. Now I haven’t read the original short story so can’t really compare how well it has been adapted. But all I can say is that sometimes what works well on paper doesn’t work well with full blown visuals and the idea that this laundry machine can actually move would have been better left on the page (if it did move in the story). The sight of this machine chasing people around the building is a total joke and the special effects are atrocious. Watching a laundry machine chase people through dark tunnels really needed some cash behind it to work so this idea should have been binned and the story re-written if it needed to be.

Though the sight of this machine chasing people around proves to be an unintentional comic highlight, the film sadly lags whenever it is not doing anything remotely evil….which is unfortunately quite a lot of the time. At a brutal 106 minutes long, The Mangler outstays its welcome long before the end credits roll.  Hooper has no grasp of pace and seems content to pad out the film with as much as possible. A more efficient director could easily have skimmed twenty minutes or more from this without major alterations to the narrative – not that it could have been disjointed any more than it was.

At least the film features a couple of solid hands in lead roles. Robert Englund has an overplayed hoot under layers of prosthetics as the disfigured and crazy laundry owner, complete with eye-patch and leg braces. Ted Levine, fresh off success as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, plays the detective charged with solving the case. It’s hardly both actors’ best work but they’re not bad and at least give the film some level of competency that it doesn’t really warrant.

 

The Mangler may be worth a brief look for people who are curious to see how bad it really is but believe me when I say it, it is every bit as awful as you’ve been led to believe. The Mangler is further evidence of just how far Tobe Hooper has fallen from his 1974 genre-busting classic heyday– or is further proof that it was a fluke? What is more depressing is that this has since spawned a couple of non-related sequels. The mind boggles.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Green Keeper, The (2002)

The Green Keeper (2002)Assistant green keeper Allen allows his friends to hold an after-hours party in the country club that his step dad owns. However Allen doesn’t count on the legend of the old murderous green keeper to actually be true. So when the maniac shows up and starts offing his friends, Allen must do everything he can to rescue the love of his life, Elena, before the green keeper takes her life.

 

You can now add green keepers to a list of stock characters who have gone on killing sprees in slasher films. Janitors. Police officers. Ice cream men. Teachers. Dentists. They’ve all been there and done that, piling up the body count in the process. Though kind of similar in job role to the killer caretaker Cropsey from The Burning, I guess this slight twist on the character’s daily duties means that this is the first time a green keeper has gone berserk.

A predictably dull slasher flick, The Green Keeper runs like a low-rent modern day rehash of The Burning coupled with the token post-modern approach of Scream. Let’s face it, there’s no new mileage to be had in the slasher film. It’s been done to death more than any other genre flick and with an odd one or two exceptions, there’s just no surprises left to be had in them. We know how they’re going to pan out. We know which characters are going to survive and which characters will die, more often than not we’re also able to predict the order of death. But that hasn’t stopped the sub-genre from continually pumping out new films every year.

The Green Keeper milks its novelty-gimmick theme about the green keeper for all its worth and so the bulk of the kill scenes revolve around said theme. Characters are killed with golf hole flags, tennis ball machines filled with nails and, in the film’s silliest (and most amusing moment), one unlucky character is impaled on a lawn sprinkler whilst the killer starts pumping it out. It’s not art at its purest but the kills do what they need to do with a modicum of amusement and a generous dose of black humour. The kills are gory but the effects aren’t very convincing.  Though marks should at least be given for keeping everything ‘real’ and using the old techniques instead of CGIing everything.

Whilst some of the low budget slashers of the 80s looked grimy and grindhouse-esque due to the way they were filmed, some of these modern day straight-to-video slashers follow in the same footsteps but with highly polished cameras and editing techniques to get rid of that dirty ‘I shouldn’t really be watching this’ feeling. The Green Keeper looks to have been shot on a camcorder by a few mates and they raided the local shop for ketchup. The whole thing looks like it was filmed for a home video TV show – I know we’re not supposed to take this stuff seriously but it helps if it actually looks like I’d want to spend ninety minutes watching it rather than expect the canned laughter or annoying commentary from the TV presenter to be around the corner. That’s the problem of shooting on digital as opposed to film but times are changing so I’ve got to live with it. The Green Keeper isn’t the only film guilty of this but it gives off a distinct low-budget feel made even worse by some poor lighting decisions.

The influence of Scream also hastens the film’s spiralling towards the ‘avoid’ section. Though the film tries to hark back to the 80s, the script is clearly post-modern with a scene involving the characters watching a slasher-film-within-a-slasher-film on a TV set in the club. The script also keeps things too jokey and wacky throughout, leading to a rather mish-mash of ideas which bounce between deadly serious and comically acceptable. Having said that the film is reasonably well acted with Allellon Ruggerio making for an unlikely hero and there’s plenty of hot chicks around for good measure (including former Playboy Playmate Christi Taylor, fulfilling the quota of breasts for about ten slasher flicks with her desirable chest shot).

 

Slasher films live and die by their body count and kill scenes and thankfully The Green Keeper delivers on these, as well as the other token slasher ingredient – the nudity. I knew what I was getting myself in for when I sat down to watch and it did exactly what it said on the box. It’s silly, stupid and wholly unoriginal but The Green Keeper has just enough mileage in it to see itself to the end. There are worse slashers out and there and for $80,000, The Green Keeper provides adequate, if unfulfilling, value.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆