Shark Night 3D (2011)

Shark Night 3-D (2011)

Terror runs deep.

Sara invites a group of her college friends to spend the weekend at her lake house on a small island in the Louisiana bayou. Whilst they’re out skiing, one of the group has his arm ripped off by a shark but attempts to get him some medical assistance are thwarted by the presence of even more species of shark in the lake. Someone has been introducing them into the lake for their own nefarious purposes and Sara and her friends are about to find out.

 

Shark Night 3-D came along during the height of the 3-D obsession in the years between 2010 and 2011, where just about everything from Yogi Bear to the Smurfs was receiving a glossy 3-D treatment. Whilst Shark Night 3-D doesn’t take its cue from either of them (thankfully), it does owe a great deal of debt to Alexandra Aje’s Piranha 3-D which showed filmmakers that the technology didn’t just have to be restricted to big budget effects-driven blockbusters and could be embraced by gloriously over-the-top exploitation films. And that’s the sort of impression I was expecting Shark Night 3-D to make on me just like it’s fishy friend had done a few years prior. Alas whilst Shark Night 3-D may deliver some decent 3-D, it forgot to accept it’s trashy, B-movie premise and instead plays it all straight, predictable and too derivative for its own good.

Shark Night 3-D wasn’t screened in advance for critics and that’s always a sign that the studio knew that it was distributing a turkey, or in this case a minnow. What should have been a winning premise – loads of hot chicks getting devoured by a variety of species of sharks – winds up coming off like a more high brow TV movie which has been neutered for the big screen and stripped of any of the potential that it had. Director David R Ellis (Snakes on a Plane) and his writers clearly understand the type of film they’re trying to make yet somehow managed to avoid making it. There’s no self-aware camp. The film isn’t deliberately trashy enough. There aren’t enough throwaway scenes or gags. And the gore is severely lacking. Shark Night 3-D plays out like any other run-of-the-mill teen horror, only with a bunch of sharks instead of psychotic redneck or guy in a mask.

The explanation given for why the sharks are in a remote lake in the middle of nowhere is completely out of leftfield and is the sort of barmy ingredient that the script should have run with. But the novelty doesn’t count for anything when it struggles to find any sort of life amidst a generic teen horror flick. Between the annoyingly-perfect teenage characters and their Deliverance-style yokel tormentors, there’s no one to get behind. You can’t root for the teenagers because, aside from being nearly flawless in looks as if they’d been pulled from a catalogue, they’re so self-obsessed and up their own asses with how good they think (and know) they are compared to everyone else. But you can’t cheer the rednecks on as you know they’re the bad guys and we’re programmed to boo and hiss at them whenever they appear on-screen. Guess the sharks take my vote for this one then.

Shark Night 3-D isn’t exactly boring. Though it takes the film a while to get going with the necessary character exposition at the start, once the sharks make their presence known to the teenagers then it’s full steam ahead. There’s a decent sized group of shark fodder to be systematically thrown to the sharks every so often. The sharks get little screen time as it stands, though when they do appear the film significantly picks up (no coincidence!). The CGI is about as good or bad as you’d expect, though considering this received a cinematic release I’d have expected more than the usual Asylum or Sy Fy standard FX that we see here. At least with there being a variety of species of sharks, the animators get to try their hand at different models so some sharks look better than others.

One of my biggest pet peeves with this is how the gore has clearly been cut back so that the film could scrape a lower certificate and therefore more potential cinema goers (ie. the teenagers not old enough to see a full blown 18 rated film). We are dealing with sharks which are not known for their dining etiquette so why isn’t more made of the kill scenes? I’m sick of seeing films where actors splash around a bit before being dragged underwater with a bit of red thrown around in the water. I expect that from low budget TV movies which need to conserve cash but this was a cinematic release. The film has the budget to do more so where has all of the money gone?

 

Shark Night 3-D really is a glorified Sy Fy Original with a full blown budget. Clearly trying to ape Piranha 3-D‘s success, it forgot what made that film such a genre fan’s treat to watch. This film is too serious for its own good, when a lighter touch was required.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crater Lake Monster, The (1977)

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

A beast more frightening than your most terrifying nightmare!

The heat of a meteor crashing into Crater Lake causes a dormant dinosaur egg at the bottom of the lake to hatch, unleashing a giant aquatic dinosaur which soon develops a taste for human flesh.

 

Cited as one of the worst monster movies ever made, The Crater Lake Monster comes with a hefty reputation to maintain. It does sound like one of those old school sci-fi ‘atomic monster’ flicks that were all the rage in the 1950s but this one was made in 1977, no doubt as some kind of throwback during a time when interest in the Loch Ness Monster had been revived thanks to the exploits of Robert H. Rines’s expeditions. If only The Crater Lake Monster had proven as captivating an attraction as the myth of Nessie.

Make no mistake about it – The Crater Lake Monster lives up to its reputation. With a shoestring budget and unpolished production values, it’s the sort of 70s film that would have played well in drive-ins. Utter tripe from beginning to end, the film does at least have one redeeming factor in the form of the monster. But in order to get to the sporadic and brief highlights, you’ve got to slug it out with one of the genre’s most awful creature feature films.

A lot of the flak comes from the film’s unnecessary focus on Arnie and Mitch, a couple of country bumpkins who live near the lake and provide the film’s copious amount of comic relief. Glenn Roberts and Mark Siegel seem friendly and innocent enough but their characters should have had background roles. I’m not sure whether director William R. Stromberg was the only one who found their antics hilarious but no one else will. It’s padding and blatant padding at that. The two men live up to numerous backwoods stereotypes as the dim-witted handymen who work for beer and each other’s monotonous company. Desperate to stretch out it’s running time to be classed as a full feature film, The Crater Lake Monster also features lots of random zooms and close-ups of the nice scenery. It sure looks like a nice place to visit but this is meant to be a film not a promotional video.

It’s not like anyone in the cast is any better though. Richard Cardella as Sheriff Hanson and Bob Hyman as Doc Calkins are both horrendous in their roles. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to believe that both men were the local sheriff and doctor respectively and got roped into shooting the film when the director turned up at the lake with a few crew members and asked them to star in a film. Cardella has no other screen credits to his name whilst Calkins only had a prior credit. Based on this evidence, cinema has not missed out on any tricks with either man.

With all of these ‘actors’ running around the lake and local town and doing anything and everything but encountering the monster, the film never gets going. I would say that the pace is off but there is no pace at all. Stromberg doesn’t have any grasp of narrative or structure and just lets things pan out as slowly and as dully as possible. Coincidentally he also co-wrote and produced the film and has never directed, produced or written a film since. I guess that’s all you need to know about the quality on display. Characters are introduced and then dropped. Minor characters become the main focus. There’s no sense of urgency with anyone despite there being a monster on the rampage.

So the film itself is total rubbish but the actual monster looks fantastic. Brought to life with glorious stop motion to give it a realistic feel, the monster is a class above others in its genre and something more akin to a lesser Harryhausen creation. The man responsible, David Allen, went on to have a fantastic career creating the visual effects for such films as Q, the Winged Serpent (also featuring a stop motion dinosaur-like monster), Batteries Not Included and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It just proves everyone has to start somewhere in the film business and it is clear from this film that Allen had talent.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly given the practicality of stop motion, the monster isn’t allotted anywhere near enough screen time and does little more than waddle about on its flippers and roar. The finale involving the monster battling the sheriff in a bulldozer is a big let down too. However in plenty of other scenes, the monster is simply represented with an oversized head floating around underwater. This looks nothing like the monster in stop motion form. But I suppose that is the least of the film’s problems.

 

The Crater Lake Monster is nearly as bad as its reputation claims but the brief stop motion special effects are worth one look and I’m sure you could find a highlight reel lurking on Youtube to save you the ordeal of sitting through the full film. It’s just a shame that these effects are wasted in this hokey micro budget film and are not displayed in something bigger budgeted and more professional.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Brain, The (1988)

The Brain (1988)

The Pounding of the Afterbrain Signals Vengeance and Death!

Dr Anthony Blakely runs a local self-help television show called “Independent Thinking” which attracts a devoted audience and is in talks to go worldwide. But he’s not actually making his viewers think more independently – he’s brainwashing and mind-controlling them with the help of an alien organism he calls The Brain. It is up to local tearaway youth Jim Majelewski to stop them.

 

The Brain is a strange and daft low budget sci-fi horror that could only have been dreamt up in the 80s, an era where seemingly anyone with an outrageous idea and a bit of cash could make a movie that could go straight to home video and capitalise on the boom. Video store shelves were full of cheap and nasty horror films which enticed their audiences with lurid artwork and shocking tag lines and etched themselves into the minds of kids not old enough to take them home. When you did get old enough to watch them, you realised that you had not been missing out on anything. In fact you’re probably thanking a higher power that you were saved from wasting ninety minutes of your childhood. Sadly this is not ninety minutes that you’ll get back as an adult after watching The Brain.

For as terrible as The Brain is, I can’t see why this isn’t more of a cult favourite. Surely the lure of a giant tentacle-spewing, human-eating brain with razor-sharp teeth, bulging eyes and a spinal cord hanging down behind it would attract any horror fan to the table? Yet this film has never seen a DVD release (at time of writing), is impossible-as-hell to track down on VHS (though I did manage to obtain an American copy) and is about as obscure a film as I’ve ever written a review for. Why is something like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes such a cult favourite when a man-eating brain makes for a much more interesting synopsis?

The sight of a giant brain is not something you see very often in the cinema world. I can think of The Brain from Planet Arous as an early example and there are a few other 50s sci-fi films with ‘brain’ in their titles but the ‘giant brain’ genre has been few and far between since then. There is a big reason for this: killer brains don’t exactly send chills down the spine. Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would testify to that sentiment! But in an era of schlocky creature features, the sight of a killer brain does stand out from the pack.

The brain looks as stupid or as terrifying as you’d expect it to. In a time before computers did all of the fancy special effects, it was down to teams of make-up effects guys to create monsters and the brain is every inch a latex marvel, oozing with slime and gnashing its teeth constantly looking for food. It looks like the ridiculous special effect it is in later scenes as its massive head is clearly being pushed around on a cart or trolley. But in the same manner, it also looks horrific – a nightmarish creation which is bathed in strobe lighting whenever it appears. A lot of work has gone into creating the brain which is to be applauded for such a low rent film. You’ve definitely got to get on board and embrace the idea of a giant brain in order to enjoy it.

As for the film itself, it’s a rather random mix of ideas from Videodrome and A Nightmare on Elm Street and the entire film consists of scenes of our heroic teen characters being chased around the boiler rooms and through the woods from Blakely’s bearded assistant and the police, with a few nightmarish dream sequences scattered around for good measure. The dream sequences, particularly the first one, work quite well given the low budget special effects but look to have been included for gimmick purposes rather than any real attempt to scare.

David Gale should be familiar to horror fans as Dr Carl Hill from Re-Animator amongst other low brow 80s horror efforts. He lends his crazed over-the-top antics to another mad scientist role in this one as the man trying to take over the world with the help of the brain. There is a throwaway nod to Re-Animator in here for die-hard fans to take note of.

 

I didn’t think I could write a review and use the phrase ‘giant brain’ so much but there you have it. The Brain is a cheap schlock horror film about a giant brain – if that premise alone will satisfy your curiosity then watch it and regret it later. For cultured film fans, use your own brains and stay well clear.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Son of Kong, The (1933)

The Son of Kong (1933)

SEE! The cannibals! The earthquake! The sea serpent! The fighting monsters of ages past!

After King Kong’s rampage through New York, filmmaker Carl Denham is counting the cost. Penniless and faced with numerous lawsuits served against him, he is approached by Captain Engelhorn, the captain of the ship of that brought Kong to New York and who is also facing charges, with an offer that the two men flee to avoid their inevitable prison sentences. After attempting to make money by shipping cargo around the Dutch East Indies on Engelhorn’s ship, they bump into Norwegian Nils Helstrom who originally sold Denham the map to Skull Island. He convinces them that there is great treasure hidden on the island and together they set sail to find it. But when they get there, they discover an ape that they believe is the son of King Kong.

 

After the phenomenal success of King Kong in 1933, a sequel was rushed into production. But Ernest B. Schoedsack was told that he would have a lower budget and would be only given six months to make the film so that it would be ready for release by Christmas…in the same year! That’s a harsh production schedule for any fantasy film to adhere to given the amount of painstakingly-detailed stop-motion animation shots on display, let alone the sequel to one of cinema’s titanic classics. And let’s face it, no sequel was ever going to be able to top the original for sheer spectacle.

Not many people are aware that King Kong spawned a sequel based around his offspring (the whereabouts of Mrs Kong have never been revealed but I hope she didn’t bolt on them both!) but The Son of Kong deals with just that. It’s hardly a lesser remake of the original like many a sequel is, though it shares many similarities once Denham and co. arrive on Skull Island by putting the human characters in danger from hungry beasts. This one goes off on its own tangent a little more thanks to Kong Jr. only being about twice the height of a normal man and not a giant ape. Plus it doesn’t end up back in New York but history repeating itself twice would have been a stretch too far.

The story picks up a few weeks after the events of the original, with distraught and disgraced Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) being the main character now – neither Fay Wray or Bruce Cabot return to their roles. Armstrong said that this was his favourite film out of the two as it gave Denham more character to play with. He’s right – he’s no longer a maverick producer with visions of dollar signs running through his brain but a man broken by tragedy. The responsibility that Denham bears for Kong’s death weighs heavy on him throughout the film and his sombre apology to Kong Jr. is rather heart-warming in its sincerity. Denham truly feels remorse for what happened and Armstrong is able to channel that to good success, even if there are few moments when the old Denham tries to break out. Frank Reicher resuming his role as Captain Engelhorn also adds some continuity to the film’s links with the original. However Fay Wray’s replacement, Helen Mack, doesn’t play a pivotal role in the film and has blatantly been cast as a damsel-in-distress for the sake of casting. Beauty did not kill the beast in this one.

But apart from Denham traversing a nice character arc between this and the original, The Son of Kong is clearly a rushed production which doesn’t deliver anything like the qualities of King Kong. It’s only a little over sixty minutes long and it takes the characters nearly half of the film to arrive on the island. Whilst the film eventually picks up pace when it gets to the island, things pick up too late and they’re over way too quickly to leave any lasting impression. Once on the island, the handful of human characters are put in peril with the island native beastly inhabitants desperate to make a meal out of them. And Kong Jr. is on hand to save the day.

Kong Jr looks alright to say that the animation was rushed along in six months by Willis O’Brien. He doesn’t have the same awe and majesty about him that his dad did and his less-than-imposing height and albino look does more to appeal to children than anything. The animation isn’t as complicated as it was before but O’Brien understands the need to give Kong Jr. the same sort of quirky mannerisms that his father had to add personality and humanity to the character. It’s hard not to warm to Kong Jr. in a way that we couldn’t with his father and it adds more emotional impact to the teary-eyed finale which was never going to top the infamous ascent to the top of the Empire State Building but does a good job of doing the best it can with the circumstances. The lasting impression that Kong Jr. makes on the audience is surprising given how little he’s on the screen but he’s a credit to the stop motion animation of Willis O’Brien. If only Denham and his gang had arrived on the island a little earlier in the film to give the film more of an overall impression.

 

More friendly in tone and approach than its predecessor, it can’t compete for spectacle or horror with King Kong but, like the infant ape on the screen, The Son of Kong is hard not to feel some affection for. It’s blatantly a missed opportunity however and it would have been interesting to see how much better it could have been had everyone been given a year or two to make it.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killer Crocodile 2 (1990)

Killer Crocodile 2 (1990)

Liza Post is a New York journalist interested in a story about the cleaning up of a stretch of polluted river and swamp in the Caribbean which is to be made into a holiday resort. However she finds out that some barrels of radioactive material are unaccounted for when she arrives to investigate. This nuclear waste, responsible for mutating a giant crocodile that wreaked havoc in this area before it was cleaned up, has given rise to another giant crocodile which is killing off anyone unfortunate to be on the water. Crocodile hunter Kevin Jones, responsible for killing the original monster, is called on for help when Liza goes missing.

 

Quite why, in 1990, the Italians were still trying to rip off Jaws remains to be seen. That fad had all but died everywhere else thanks to the countless scores of shameless imitators in the years following Spielberg’s original. But the Italians still saw quick cash in this sub-genre and were content to churn out these progressively-worse creature features. The first Killer Crocodile was passable at best – the typical product of Italian exploitation cinema with cheap special effects, over-the-top gore, sloppy editing, actors desperately slumming and then being dubbed by even worse voice actors and soundtracks which were usually the most original thing on offer.

If a lot of Killer Crocodile 2 looks familiar, it’s because that it was shot at the same time as Killer Crocodile just with different directors shooting different parts (the special effects guy was given a week to shoot extra for this sequel). In fact the films are so alike that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. There even seems to be a lot of similarities with earlier Italian exploitation croc flick The Big Alligator River. Three films which blur into one is never a good sign of the quality and originality of any of them. At least two of the stars of the original, Richard Anthony Crenna and Ennio Girolami, are back reprising their roles to add some continuity.

Killer Crocodile 2 is a flimsy sequel which for all intents and purposes could have been edited together using leftover footage and outtakes instead of separately-shot material. There’s little in the way of story and what there is could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. Set pieces are impractical (the croc seems to be able to rear itself out of the water and walk along the surface), laughable (one character falls off the back of the croc and the slow motion shot of him falling makes it look like he’s taken a parachute dive out of a helicopter for the amount of air time he gets) and badly edited (in one attack scene the croc’s position relevant to a boat changes with every shot, giving the impression that the croc is swimming away from its meal).

This isn’t to say that Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t have its moments. There’s a decent attack scene in which the croc bursts through the wall of a jungle hut to snack on its occupants. Some scenes just embody the “anything goes” nature of these Italian exploitation films. In America, harming kids is a major no-go area as far as films go but the Italians think nothing of feeding a boatful of kids and their guardian nun to the crocodile after it attacks their boat. Not high on scares or quality but definitely top for some unintentional chuckles!

I’m not sure whether it’s the same crocodile model from the original or a new one but it looks alright. The problem is that you see too much of it and so its effect gets less and less over time. Crocodiles are clever hunters in real life, remaining hidden for as long as possible before they strike but this reptile is quite happy posing for the camera. In the final confrontation, it appears that a toy model with an action figure strapped to its back is thrown into a pond to recreate the effect of Kevin attempting to ride on its back. Not exactly cutting edge effects work but good for some laughs.

Riz Ortolani does his best John Williams impersonation with an overplayed score that sounds so much like the Jaws theme that it’s a wonder Universal didn’t come calling with the legal papers.

 

I think you get the message that Killer Crocodile 2 is very low on quality and originality but very high on cheap cheese. It is every inch the lazy cut-and-paste job that it was meant to be, designed to maximise profit whilst cutting costs at every opportunity. You may find some daft amusement from this but the original is a far better film overall, something that I never thought I’d see myself write.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

A Death Fight . . . Between Two Beasts!

A couple of grave robbers inadvertently awaken the corpse of Lawrence Talbot, the wolf man who many had thought died four years ago. Hospitalised after being found unconscious in the street, Talbot warns Dr Mannering about what happens during a full moon but no one will listen to him. After attacking and killing a policeman, Talbot flees to Europe where he hopes to track down the infamous Dr Frankenstein in the belief that he could free him from the curse. As Frankenstein is dead, Talbot uncovers the frozen monster and enlists its help to track down Frankenstein’s diary which contain the secrets to life and death.

 

Designed to inject new life into its flagging Frankenstein series, Universal came up with the idea for a monster mash-up – the first of its kind – between two of its iconic monsters. The fourth (and previous) entry into the Frankenstein series, The Ghost of Frankenstein, had played out the standard formula once too often and a new direction was needed for the series. However, The Wolf Man had not received a direct sequel and that material seemed fresh in the minds of Universal who wanted to produce a follow-up. An unholy union of monsters was dreamt up to kill two birds with one stone and the resultant film has become something of a landmark in the horror genre. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man saw the first time that two heavyweight horror characters came face-to-face with each other, a feat that would be repeated numerous times by Universal in the coming years, throwing Dracula into the mix as well in future films.

Whilst it’s miles away from the serious qualities of both Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first Universal horror film which is just a plain fun B-movie. It is more of a follow-up to The Wolf Man than it is to The Ghost of Frankenstein as the bulk of the screen time is devoted to the story of the tragic Lawrence Talbot and his unstoppable ability to turn into a wolf whenever there is a full moon, with the Frankenstein monster thrown in for good measure (shouldn’t it be therefore called Frankenstein’s Monster Meets the Wolf Man?). The story is of less importance than it pretends to be – the lure of seeing these two pair off would have been fine no matter how much or little story there was. As it turns out, the story is reasonably well-thought out which tries to adhere to both series’ continuity as best as it can but ultimately ends up giving neither monster a particular good reason to fight the other.

The best part of the film is the first half which solely focuses on Lawrence Talbot. Fresh from an excellent opening sequence involving grave robbers and crypt, the film then develops Talbot’s character and faithfully sticks to consequences that had arisen from The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. returns as Talbot, bringing some apathy to the role of the doomed character. Chaney Jr’s performance is rather blunt and simple but works well and it’s arguably his best turn in the make-up. You really feel for him as all he wants to do is die to rid himself of the curse but no one will believe his story. There are a few transformation scenes which still look the part and the werewolf make-up has been much improved since the first film. It is this part of the film which showed why The Wolf Man deserved a stand-alone sequel of its own before it was thrown to Frankenstein and Dracula to save it.

Things take a turn for the worse when the Frankenstein monster is introduced to the mix and the story, which had been moving at a decent pace, eventually becomes too rushed for its own good. The second half of the film virtually repeats the same mistakes as the previous Frankenstein films, with the monster being resurrected, another scientist attempting to solve its mysteries and then the eventual showdown with the local people (in slightly different form though they have the final say on the matter). Talbot becomes less of a focus though he’s still the major player.

Bela Lugosi is the monster here and he’s pretty appalling in the role it has to be said. Apparently Lugosi was told to that the monster was blind and that it would have some dialogue (following on from the previous Frankenstein film). So his performance, all stiff-legged and arms outstretched with some mumbling lines, was meant to portray that idea but for whatever reason (presumably his thick accent) these lines were scrapped during post production and we’re never informed that the monster is blind. During the film you can see his mouth moving but nothing is coming out. The resultant bizarre performance has become the much-parodied definition of the Frankenstein monster which you’ll see people doing at fancy dress parties the world over on Halloween.

Inevitably the film boils down to the showdown between the monster and the Wolf Man. Don’t get your hopes up because the fight isn’t great on the screen but it’s pretty significant from a historical point of view. It’s no holds barred as the two tussle with each other across the laboratory. Just seeing the two together on screen for the first time is exciting enough but the film waits too long to unleash its prized assets on each other. Still, for 1943 I can imagine the anticipation at such a cinematic bout.

 

Forget the chills and spills of the previous Universal horror films, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more of an action and adventure piece which is unashamedly exploitative with both series. But it’s a lot of fun on its own merits, working better as a spiritual successor to The Wolf Man than an amalgamation of two iconic horror characters.¬†

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Demon of Paradise (1987)

Demon of Paradise (1987)

It waits underwater…to skin you alive!

Illegal dynamite fishing off the coast of a Hawaiian holiday resort awakens an ancient underwater reptilian creature that then begins killing off the tourists.

 

Part Jaws, part The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Demon of Paradise desperately wishes it were a quarter as good as either of them. It is a rather obscure 80s film which has only recently seen the light of day on DVD, making an unfortunate double-header with fellow aquatic terror Up From the Depths. But after watching, you’ll realise why the film has remained obscure for so long.

That’s because, unsurprisingly, Demon of Paradise is a bit naff. There’s potential to be had in a jokey Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way but those looking for serious sea monster action best look elsewhere. The film runs more like Jaws than The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There’s the owner of the local holiday resort desperate to keep it open for business, the scientist who know one will believe and the sheriff tasked with destroying the creature. The presence of a Gill Man substituting for a shark is the only difference but this one seems less interested in carrying off nubile females than it does standing around in the sea growling at passers-by.

Though it’s supposed to be set on the sunny, tropical island of Hawaii, the muddy jungle rivers of the Philippines never allow for that illusion to take place and this ‘paradise’ turns out to be little more than a few shanty huts alongside some pretty sickly-looking water where there are more gangsters doing dodgy dealings in boats than there are water skiers or surfers. Ironically, the best scenes are the night time ones when the fog machine is worked into overdrive. Whilst they could have been filmed anywhere as location in the pitch black is irrelevant, they’re at least effective in trying to do something to generate a bit of atmosphere which is sorely lacking in the rest of the film.

Director Cirio H. Santiago handles proceedings with a general lack of interest in how the final product turns out. The pacing is dreadful, the dialogue is inept, the narrative wanders all over the place and the acting leaves a lot to be desired (they virtually shout at each other all of the time instead of showing any range). In between the infrequent and poorly-staged creature attacks, the film drifts all over the place with a variety of non-characters we have no interest in getting to know. You’ll be bored out of your skull and even the allure of some potential genre requisites (naked chicks and copious gore) will fail to stimulate the pulse.

The second half of the film is the best and I use that word generously. Once the film turns from the main characters trying to persuade the resort owner that there is a problem and shifts into man-against-beast mode as they hunt it down , the pace quickens a bit and there’s a few more action sequences. But these are amusingly silly in the trashy sense rather than memorable for the right reasons. A scene in which the creature leaps up out of the water and attacks a helicopter pretty much sums up the film – ropey and dopey.

The creature is some form of humanoid that looks every bit like the man-in-a-suit it is. It doesn’t do an awful lot either – the creature never seems to interact with its victims whenever it attacks, simply pawing at thin air on many occasions or popping its head in and out of the water, growling at its victim and then submerging itself. No doubt any physical contact with anything other than the water and the two-bit costume would have dropped to bits. The gorgon-like head of the creature gives it a unique appearance amongst it’s numerous mermen counterparts.

In fact the creature causes more explosions than anything else, as various characters suddenly make mistakes in the grip of fear from seeing it and accidentally blow up their boats or huts. When it leaves the water and stays on land for a prolonged period during the finale, the film seems to find its niche. Whilst the scenes of it trying to bash its way through a barricaded hut and chasing people through the jungle are goofy, they’re at least entertaining. Being inexplicably bullet proof adds further levels of absurdity to the film as a platoon of soldiers attempt to hold it at bay with round after round of machine gun fire.

 

Demon of Paradise is trashy 80s exploitation at its dullest and most lifeless. Santiago seems to be as bored making it as the audience will be watching it. Even die-hard lovers of low grade monster movies would be hard-pressed to find something worthwhile here, despite the odd promise of unintentional entertainment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933)

A Monster of Creation’s Dawn Breaks Loose in Our World Today!

Producer Carl Denham and his film crew head off to an uncharted Pacific island to finish shooting a movie amongst the superstitious natives who worship a huge gorilla named Kong. What they don’t realise is that Kong is real and the gigantic beast abducts lead actress Ann Darrow after she is offered up as a sacrifice. Setting off in pursuit of her through the perilous jungle, Denham realises that there would be more money to be made if they could capture Kong alive and put him on show in New York.

 

What can anyone say about King Kong that hasn’t already been said? Still one of the biggest cinematic spectacles ever made, King Kong has stood the test of time as an iconic, landmark film in history. Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows how it pans out. Even if you haven’t seen the original, the two remakes, countless imitations and numerous spoofs and references will have mapped out the film from start to finish. I suppose the attraction of watching King Kong nowadays is to become a part of history by immersing yourself in a film that transcends time.

I think people forget when this was made whenever they launch into criticism. King Kong was made in 1933, right in the middle of the Great Depression and only six years before the start of the Second World War. Countries were broke. People were penniless. It’s amazing to ponder the mindset of anyone trying to make something as grand and as spectacular as this during that time given how much of a financial risk it would be. Even the limited technologies available to filmmakers back then failed to deter Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack from attempting to break the mould and make a film that would be like nothing else that had come before. One can only imagine the reaction of being alive in the 30s and being used to the sort of films that were being made back then only to be confronted with King Kong on the big screen. The cultural impact is just too immense to even consider.

The likes of cutting-edge effects-driven spectacles such as Jurassic Park and more recently Avatar have rivalled King Kong‘s screen impact for newer generations but never topped it. There is just something awe-inspiring about the way in which this was all put together back in the 30s – a real labour of love for the cast and crew. Sadly, there is no question that King Kong has dated. From the Orientalist caricatures of the indigenous natives to the 30s fashions and the chauvinist sense of place that men and women both held in films right to the crackling sound and speeded-up action sequences, King Kong has seen its best days long, long gone. The acting by the three leads is of the old school ‘larger than life’ mould where they’re not so much as portraying characters but blustering through theatrical dialogue with all of the determination of a Renaissance dramatist. The script is full of schmaltzy old fashioned macho hero/damsel-in-distress nonsense but given the time period, it’s all perfectly acceptable.

Willis O’Brien deserves a lot of the credit for the success of King Kong. His legendary stop-motion special effects still hold up extraordinarily well today, turning Kong from a special effect into a fully-fledged character. Kong is invested with more heart and soul than 90% of human characters in every other film made. His mannerisms, expertly rendered by O’Brien, such as rubbing his eyes, shaking his head or pounding his fist instil the monster with a scary sense of humanity. He may be a thirty-foot ape but that still doesn’t stop the audience from immediately warming to him and eventually feeling sorry for him when he’s treat the way he is by mankind. The infamous, surprisingly poignant ending, atop the Empire State Building must rank as one of cinema’s greatest climaxes, both tragic and awe-inspiring at the same time. Equally as impressive is the fight between Kong and a T-Rex which finishes up with Kong breaking the jaw of the dinosaur in a show of raw, brute strength. To today’s audiences, the special effects will seem ‘fake’ but suspension of disbelief isn’t hard when the film is this good. O’Brien’s landmark effects paved the way for the likes of Ray Harryhausen to go further in pushing the boundaries of technology and in turn he influenced the next generation of artists like Spielberg, Jackson and Cameron. No King Kong, no cinema as we know it today.

The beauty with King Kong is that it’s not just visually impressive but it tells one hell of a story. People forget how well it plays out, full of thrilling action scenes, heart-stopping chases and romantic sub-plots. The build-up to Kong’s first sighting is skilfully manipulated. The dangerous trek through the jungle, featuring all manner of dinosaurs to pick off the crew, is as exciting as it is scary. Anywhere between thirty and forty of the crew are killed off during the film which is pretty horrific by today’s standards, let alone the 30s!

King Kong also saw the first time that an orchestral score was used to enhance the images on screen rather than have stock music run randomly alongside it without any sort of presence or purpose. Max Steiner’s score for King Kong saw the introduction of leitmotifs, where one recurring piece of music would be attached to an idea, person or place, saw its birth here. These ‘theme tunes’ could be sped up, slowed down or slightly altered given what was happening on-screen – think of the Imperial March theme from The Empire Strikes Back and how that was re-used in different forms across the series, or the shark’s theme in Jaws which was slowed down or sped up depending on the situation. It is a pivotal ingredient that we take for granted in film nowadays but something which saw its genesis back in 1933.

 

I could go on forever about King Kong and haven’t even scratched the surface in regards to the relationship between ‘beauty and the beast’ which led to the film’s most famous quote. I can’t say that it’s one of my favourite films because it’s not. But there’s no denying just how big of an accomplishment this film was and how much of an industry-defining impact it had. Still one of the biggest cinematic spectacles of all time, King Kong is quite simply put one of the greatest films ever made. It truly is the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Bait (2012)

Bait (2012)

A tsunami just flipped the food chain.

A group of people get trapped inside a supermarket when a devastating tsunami hits the coast of Australia. But soon they realise that being trapped on top of shelves inside a flooded supermarket is the least of their worries as the storm surge brought with it a pair of massive great white sharks which are now swimming around the store.

 

There’s not a great deal more story to add to this Aussie impersonation of Deep Blue Sea. Simply swap an underwater research facility for a flooded underground supermarket and you’ve pretty much got the gist of this, with a little bit of Tremors thrown in for good measure. And after a flood of increasingly-ludicrous, reality-ignorant killer shark films like Sharktopus, 2-Headed Shark Attack and Super Shark, it’s nice to get back to something a little bit more grounded in the basics and take sharks seriously. Who needs a shark that can fly or has two heads when it just needs to do what nature intended it to do best – kill? That’s what audiences are scared of. Nature’s most fearsome predator needs no gimmick to sell itself as a killing machine!

Does anyone really care about a story for a film with a set-up like this? I mean it’s not like we care whether two characters had a relationship in the past which isn’t quite over. Or that there’s a bank robber who wants to get out of the business and go straight. Or a guy who has just been fired from his job thanks to his shoplifting girlfriend. Bait spends a little bit of time (not too much however!) at the beginning to try and develop something of a story and characters but all you’ll be doing is counting down the moments until the tsunami hits. It’s sad to say it but it’s true.

When the tsunami does strike, Bait quickly picks itself up and starts to deliver some decent thrills and tense moments in between brief moments of visceral shark violence. It helps that both the flooded supermarket and garage sets look the part – both twist day-to-day environments that we’re all familiar with into something unnerving and claustrophobic. The garage is particularly effective in providing constant background tension – we know that there’s a shark in the calm, semi-lit water but we can never see it. Shots of the shark circling around a submerged car with two people trapped inside really hammer home the fact that Bait wants you to feel scared and apprehensive…and you will.

Bait plays itself seriously and it’s for the better. Though the idea could have easily been lampooned into some spoof (I’ve seen the phrase Sharks in a Supermarket banded around as if this was the illegitimate follow-up to Snakes on a Plane), the film does its best to treat the central premise as real and as deadly as possible. Even the film’s most outlandish moment involving one character’s plan to turn off the electricity ends on a sombre, heart-rendering note of tragedy which really deserved to be in a better film.

Julian McMahon (from Nip/Tuck or, if you’re talking films, then Dr Doom from Fantastic Four) is the only real star on show but he’s desperately trying to hide his accent underneath some Americanised persona. This goes for a few of the lesser known cast members too. They’re all Aussies trying to sound American – even though the film is set in Australia. The film provides plenty of shark fodder though unfortunately it’s a tad too easy to spot who’s going to live and who’s going to end up in the shark’s belly. Not one of the characters is memorable to say the least and the majority seem to stand around doing nothing until it’s their turn to be fed to the shark.

The major surprise in Bait is that the sharks look great. Well, most of the time. Spoon fed a mushy diet of low grade CGI shark effects by Sy Fy over the last few years, it’s a godsend to see someone actually producing something worthwhile. The sharks are mainly CGI and the quality varies from the awesome (one particular underwater sequence involving a guy in a makeshift cage looked frighteningly realistic) to the absurd (sharks leaping out of the water to chomp on people suspended from the ceiling). But there are also some animatronic sharks amongst the effects shots and they look top notch too. With the sharks being well-fed, there’s a decent supply of severed body parts and showers of blood which again vary in quality based on whether it’s CGI or practical effects. Sadly, the worst CGI on show is that of the tsunami and its after-effects on the town at the end.

 

Does Bait live up to its ingeniously-simple premise? Not quite. But is it a lot of fun? Yes. One of the best killer shark films of recent years and whilst the rest of the field doesn’t exactly provide much competition, Bait can at least hold its head high and say it tried. It’s not exactly a wash-out of Waitrose, more like a flooding of Asda (but there’s always a bargain to be had in the reduced section).

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆