Ghoulies II (1988)

Ghoulies II (1988)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom.

The devilish Ghoulies find themselves tagging along with a struggling carnival and proceed to turn the haunted house attraction into a real money spinner by scaring people for real. But it isn’t long before the Ghoulies just can’t resist taking everything one step too far.

 

I have to say that this sequel really took me by surprise. The original Ghoulies was a bargain basement Gremlins-wannabe featuring a bunch of moth-ridden, soiled puppets which looked to be falling apart at the seams but attempted to cause mischief nevertheless. It was awful and the title creatures were given little screen time (not surprisingly!). But from Charles Band, the man who later developed a fetish for tiny terror films (Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Hideous!, Blood Dolls, etc), I would have expected no less than a sequel and here we are. It’s hardly in The Dark Knight levels of superior sequels but compared to the original, it’s definitely in The Godfather Part II mould.

This first sequel (of which there were three – I know, the film world amazes me) starts to put things right by actually focusing on the Ghoulies and giving them plenty of screen time. As crude and as damaged as the puppets look, at least they’re given something to do this time around. They’re not the Gremlins and they’re not even at Crites level (from the Critters films for those who may be wondering) but these little monsters can still manage to pull a chuckle or two out of the viewer and they’ve all got some individual personality. All three of the creatures from the first one are back as well as a new puppet – the bald green one from the film poster is my favourite as he looks like an overgrown Jelly Baby. Here they cause all sorts of mayhem in the carnival, with the shooting gallery scene being an amusing highlight. It’s hardly rocket science comedy and it panders to the school children in all of us. Little things hitting each other – its basic Punch ‘n’ Judy comedy but it works in a low budget horror-comedy like this. Whilst the puppets look as worn out as they did in the original, the stop motion sequences don’t work very well.

As for the premise, well it’s as fleshed out as it possibly could be. Basically an excuse for the monster hi-jinks, the film sees a standard story of a struggling business on the verge of collapse being suddenly revitalised when something extraordinary happens to it. You know the direction that the story will take but the fun here is just sitting back and allowing everything to transpire by the book. As long as there is some Ghoulie action going, it’s not too difficult. The light-hearted tone of the film and a generous helping of daft 80s comedy helps to hide over many of the cracks. This is the film we had imagined the original would be. Thankfully the producer learnt from his mistakes and made sure that Ghoulies II lived up to the expectations. Given how terrible the original was, I wonder just how many people gave this one a chance.

I don’t want to sound like I’m praising it too much. The film lacks any measure of quality and has a budget about as big as some other film’s buffet carts. But as far as junk films go, there’s fun to be had and credit needs to be given where it’s due. The beauty of setting the film inside a carnival, specifically one with a haunted house, gives the production team a field day to create some fantastic sets. The haunted house looks like great Halloween fun and allowing the Ghoulies to run wild in it adds to its low grade charms. It’s the type of setting that has seen relatively few horror films utilise to good effect (Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse springs to mind) but one which can work well when required.

Diminutive actor Phil Fondacaro is the pick of the cast, playing the carnival’s resident midget who thinks he should be a Shakespearian actor instead of being stuck as one of the cheap gimmicks inside the haunted house. In many respects, this mirrors Fondacaro: he’s an actor I’ve seen many times in these low budget flicks and he’s far better than any of the material given. The rest of the cast fulfill their obligatory 80s stereotype roles. Expect lots of bright fashion, guys in vests and copious amounts of hairspray.

 

Ghoulies II is a vast improvement over the original. Whilst it’s still not a great film, it’s more than watchable in a daft 80s horror-comedy sort of way. If you’re in desperate need of a fix of little demonic creatures resorting to toilet humour to entertain, then check it out. It’s not Shakespeare but it will fill a gap.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Quatermass Xperiment, The (1955)

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

It’s coming for YOU from Space to wipe all living things from the face of the Earth! CAN IT BE STOPPED?

A experimental space rocket, designed and launched by Professor Quatermass and his team, crash lands back to Earth. However two out of the three crew members have mysteriously vanished during the mission and the surviving member, Victor Carroon, is in bad shape and taken to a local hospital. As Quatermass and his team try to fathom out what happened to the rocket, Carroon slowly undergoes a horrible metamorphosis. Quatermass realises that he has been taken over by an alien being which absorbs everything is touches and increases itself in mass.

 

Greatness has to start somewhere and here we are with the true birth of the Hammer Films studio. Hammer, which became synonymous with horror and would reinvent the genre in the late 50s with a series of groundbreaking films, had been making film noir since the early 50s. The Quatermass Xperiment was their first major breakthrough in horror and science fiction and was seen as a gamble by the studio at the time. Originally a serialised TV play shown by the BBC in 1953, the story caught public attention and the rights to a cinematic adaptation were soon snapped up by Hammer. The film received the dreaded X certificate by the BBFC and Hammer slightly re-worked the title to play on that fact (hence the Xperiment bit). The film was a resounding success at the box office and established Hammer as a big player. It proved that there was an appetite for horror from the British cinema goers, an appetite that Hammer would satisfy two years later in The Curse of Frankenstein.

That’s not to say that The Quatermass Xperiment is an outright horror film. The science fiction elements dominate this one and though it may be a landmark British film, time has not been too kind to it from the horror viewpoint. Looking rather quaint and antiquated nowadays, it’s rather difficult to identify just what caused the BBFC to give it the X rating. Carroon’s mutated hand and the eventual appearance of the alien at the end look rather tame today but I guess back in the 50s when fear of the A-bomb and Cold War paranoia was running high, the more psychological elements may have hit a raw nerve. Looking at it now, everything happens in a rather procedural fashion, evidential of Hammer’s earlier film noir output, and it plays out more like a crime thriller for the first half.

Given the slew of sci-fi monster movies being churned out in America during the 50s, one would have expected The Quatermass Xperiment to go down the same route and the change of approach comes as a bit of a shock. But legendary screen writer Nigel Kneale, who was one of the finest sci-fi writers ever to pen a script, made his name with the BBC television play. The adaptation by Val Guest pays faithful attention to that, expanding the scope of the play for feature film length and, in turn, crafting a more thoughtful, haunting film instead of the generic gung-ho popcorn filler than the Americans were making in the same era. This is “thinking man’s science fiction” which, in some quarters, can mean that the film is rather slow. It is, there’s no question of that. The slow, methodical build-up to the finale does plod along merrily in old school British fashion. But Guest’s intelligent script keeps the mystery level high (Kneale had no involvement in the cinematic version) and, as he also directs, he’s in full control of the interesting direction that the film takes.

This is down, in no small part, to the great performance by Richard Wordsworth who plays doomed astronaut Victor Carroon. Wordsworth, who I’ve only just found out was the grandson of the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth, makes for a sympathetic and tragic character, almost Frankenstein-like in his silent portrayal (he even encounters a little girl and everything goes wrong from then onwards). We know that something is seriously wrong with Carroon but we don’t know what. The blank expressions and pain-stricken eyes hide something deadly and the film takes its time to drip-feed the audience hints as to what that could be. It’s not pleasant, that’s for sure.

Brian Donlevy seemed like a rather awkward choice to play the lead role. Donlevy was an Irish-American actor who was cast in the role in an attempt to breakthrough into the US market but in his later years he was known for his alcoholism and was troublesome to work with. Ironically it’s these qualities that make his Professor Quatermass click. Donlevy plays the role with a gruff, no-nonsense approach and turns his Quatermass into an arrogant, obnoxious, single-minded character. Given the nature of Quatermass’ almost-obsessive determination to succeed, Donlevy makes the right call to play him this way. His lack of compassion in the face of such tragedy is uncannily realistic.

It’s of no surprise to see that the finale is the part of the film which hasn’t aged well. The appearance of the rubbery alien in Westminster Abbey gets decent build-up and would have looked alright back in the 50s. But nowadays it’s a bit of a dud creation and the finale is a let-down given the build-up it had received. The alien worked so much better in the human guise of Carroon but the story dictated that the it reveal itself at the end. If it had done so earlier on, I wonder how many people would have kept watching. The finale doesn’t really spoil the rest of the film but it feels like a waste. Hammer’s budget wouldn’t stretch too far and the special effects are adequate but unconvincing.

 

The Quatermass Xperiment is one of the most influential genre films ever made and definitely one of the UK’s most important contributions to cinema. Without this film’s success and the identification of a niche market for horror in the UK, Hammer may never have decided to make The Curse of Frankenstein or Dracula, two landmark films which changed the horror genre as we know it forever. Though some of its elements lack the impact they most undoubtedly did upon its original release, The Quatermass Xperiment is one of the most intelligent and ambitious science fiction films of its era, ambitions that were challenged further in its two sequels Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit, both of which (in my opinion) are far superior. I would have loved to have seen what else Hammer could have done in the science fiction genre but they chose to focus their efforts on the horror market. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Grizzly Park (2008)

Grizzly Park (2008)

Eight troubled young people. Six days community service. It’s gonna be a bear.

Eight young delinquents are sent to do community service at Grizzly Park under the watchful eye of Ranger Bob. Whilst on the way to the park, their corrections officer is killed by an escaped psycho who assumes his identity and plans to kill the teenagers off during their stay. But unbeknownst to anyone is the fact there is a giant grizzly bear on the loose in the woods which smells blood and begins to kill off the group one-by-one.

 

Grizzly bears have never been the go-to monsters for low budget creature feature films. Save for the 1976 Jaws-inspired Grizzly, the killer bear sub-genre was hardly been touched upon until the mid-2000s where a handful of killer bears have been unleashed across rural America. However, the recent Grizzly Rage and Bear have both proved that there is a reason why bears don’t make for good killer monsters and Grizzly Park reinforces that fact – whilst there is no question they are ferocious animals when faced with in the wild, they just don’t have that same stigma that sharks or snakes do. We’d rather cuddle up to a bear than go swimming with a shark.

Grizzly Park seems to have got its scripts mixed up with that of a low budget slasher film, or at least that’s the impression it gives in the first hour. The escaped psycho looks to be the primary antagonist of the film and with a major lack of killer bear action, you’d hope that he’d live up to his billing. A lot of time is spent up building up the character in the expectation that he’d pose to be a bigger problem to the teenagers than the bear, or even come to their rescue and have his character arc go full circle. But no, the film drops him when he’s served his purpose to pad out a bit of time.

It’s an unnecessary waste of running time but the entire film is in all honesty. Grizzly Park has the lure of a killer bear, false expectations of free-flowing blood and potential to do something vaguely different with the whole monster-on-the-loose formula that this film is pandering to but opts to not only play it safe but rarely put itself into first gear. We feel every arduous step of the trek that the teenage cast take through the woods because that’s pretty much all that happens for the majority of the film. The characters bicker, the characters walk, the characters do some ‘wilderness’ stuff like make a campfire, the characters bicker, the characters walk…..etc.

I like how these films always manage to cram every racial stereotype into their little groups of teenage tearaways. The parole office have gone to great pains to ensure that this group has the requisite white trash fascist, the Latina gangbanger, token black guy, rich preppie, Asian girl, blonde bimbo and more. I’m sure that putting together such socially-polarised groups is all done in the name of community relations but let’s get real – there’s no chance of this ever happening in real life. There’s no sympathy to this group – none of the characters are likeable in any way and it comes to something when the Neo-Nazi guy moves closest to establishing any form of relationship with the audience. Glenn Morshower is one of those character actors who appears everywhere. He’s great as the stoic Ranger Bob who seems to be representing the audience in the film, with his shrugging, his ho-humming and general lack of enthusiasm for what is going on. With no one to root for, the film becomes a waiting game as we sit and wonder when the first character is going to be killed off.

This takes ages to happen though and Grizzly Park will lose you long before the entertaining cheese kicks in during the final third. I didn’t realise this was supposed to be a comedy until I checked the IMDB page. It does kind of explain the over-the-top gore effects, which are the film’s saving grace. Mercifully done with the use of old school latex instead of CGI, though the effects look a little goofy, they’re still highly enjoyable. From having silicone breast implants being ripped out to arms being torn off, Grizzly Park showcases some light-hearted splatter. But it all comes too late in the day and though the bear finally makes an appearance to kick off this massacre, it’s all over rather too quickly.

 

Grizzly Park‘s final reel gives some evidence as to what the final product could have been had the cheap and cheerful splatter been more evenly spread throughout. Instead we’ve got a film which tries to live and die by its final third but unfortunately by that point the film is beyond resurrecting thanks to the woefully-lacklustre first two thirds. Grizzly need not worry – there is still no usurper to its crown of ‘best killer grizzly bear film ever’ moniker. And judging by recent efforts, it is a moniker that it is likely to have for some time yet.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Terror Within II, The (1991)

The Terror Within 2 (1991)

Out there lurked danger….but the real terror came from within.

After the underground bunker that David and his team were hiding inside was destroyed in a mutant attack along with everyone else, he heads off across the desolate, plague-infested landscape in search of the Rocky Mountain outpost where he believes another team is holed up. On his way, he rescues Ariel from a mutant attack but, when they encounter a tribe of survivors, he is unable to prevent her from being raped by another mutant. Eventually they arrive at the outpost where they are welcomed inside by the team. However that is the least of their worries as not only is Ariel ready to give birth to a monstrous offspring but the team have also inadvertently allowed the severed finger of another mutant to re-grow back to full size inside their compound.

 

I could honestly go into further details about the plot as it’s a rather convoluted sequence of events that leads to a couple of the mutants being let loose inside the bunker. But hey, we’re looking at a cheap direct-to-video sequel to a cheap direct-to-video sci-fi horror film where creativity is a bare minimum and recycling everything is the order of the day. If you’ve seen The Terror Within then you’ve already seen The Terror Within II, virtually the same film as its predecessor as a rag-tag bunch of human survivors headed up by a famous name (Full Metal Jacket‘s infamous drill instructor, R. Lee Ermey, taking over the George Kennedy role) allow those mutated humans to infiltrate their underground facility where lots of Alien-clone hi-jinks ensue. Though there are some plot deviations, the standard monster-on-the-loose formula is adhered to the letter.

In many ways it’s everything I like about a true sequel. The sets look the same. The exterior locations look the same. Characters discuss events that have happened and everything seems to fit into a big jigsaw. It’s obvious that this takes place within the same fictional future as the original and the same story is continued. Everything fits nicely together so it’s a real shame that the film is almost an identical retread, save for the first twenty minutes or so. Even thinking back about it now, I’m hard-pressed to remember which parts were from which film.

As I’ve said, if you’ve seen the original (and why would you be watching the sequel if you haven’t?) then this is virtually the same film. If you’ve seen Alien or any of the countless low budget monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space rip-offs then you’ll have seen this. The expendable crew of stereotyped characters decide to hunt down the creature and before you can say “let’s split up so we explore more space but also make ourselves easier targets” they’ve getting ripped apart in gory death scenes. There’s little in the way of tension or scares, just exploitative elements which enhance the film’s low budget nature.

I said in my review for The Terror Within that the monsters really reminded me of the recent Feast films and not just for appearances. These are horny monsters who are happy to destroy the males and breed with the females. Monster-rape has always been a taboo in the horror genre and both of these films have tackled the issue with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. The monsters look like men in shabby fancy dress outfits but I’ll take them over CGI monsters any day of the week.

Having been cast in the main role in the first one and having survived the onslaught of the mutated humanoid, Andrew Stevens is back as David. Only this time he’s writing and directing the sequel too. It’s a canny move on his part having creative control. Not only does his character get to rescue and then have sex with the lovely Clare Hoak (he conveniently waits to jump in and save her until after her brother has just been savaged, thus eliminating the sibling competition) but as the director he had the say on who was cast in the other roles. He populates the film with a bunch of good-looking women (if the result of the apocalypse was like this where hot, nubile young women eager to shed their clothes for surviving males were the only ones to survive then let’s get those red buttons pushed) and even finds a role for his mam, Stella Stevens (who looked good for her age as well). R. Lee Ermey is wasted in his role.

 

So what is there to be had from The Terror Within II? Well if you enjoyed the first one, chances are you’ll enjoy this as they’re virtually the same film, only split across two instalments. I would have liked to see Stevens try something a little different with the story here, rather than being a shameless remake. But the cheap and cheesy B-grade elements keep things ticking over until the end and it’s never boring, just familiar.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆