Monsterwolf (2010)

Monsterwolf (2010)

The night has fangs…

A greedy oil company expanding their operations in Louisiana come across a mysterious ancient archway construction in the middle of a new dig. Continuing their drilling, they set loose a supernatural wolf of Native American legend which proceeds to terrorise the town in a bid to stop the company from taking further action.

 

Seems like it’s been a while since I reviewed an out-and-out Sy Fy Original but here we are with Monsterwolf, a cliché-fuelled trip down memory lane. By memory lane, I mean virtually every other Sy Fy Original or other horrors with avenging Native American spirits in them. Monsterwolf doesn’t differentiate itself in the slightest, running like clockwork from beginning to end.

Let’s see: Native American burial ground – check. Something being built on/done to the land – check. Something spiritual and nasty is unleashed to take vengeance – check. Stock characters from the community to throw into the jaws of the monster every ten minutes or so – check. Lazy stereotyping of Native American culture and folklore – check. Naff CGI monster – check. Monsterwolf is the sort of film you can slap on in the background whilst you do something else, go back to it every few minutes and still know exactly what is happening.

Monsterwolf isn’t the worst of Sy Fy’s output over the years, not by a long shot. But it’s got no redeeming qualities, nothing that makes it stand out and nothing that gets your blood pumping or your spine tingling. It is by-the-book filmmaking in which everyone involved ticks a couple of boxes and then moves on to making the next one. I’m at a loss to comment on the film because only a day after watching, I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. Yadda yadda ya wolf gets released, yadda yadda ya people talk, yadda yadda ya wolf attacks someone. I don’t want to watch it again to have to pick out highlights! Even the setting famed for its beautiful bayous, Louisiana, looks rather dull and unremarkable here. The production values don’t convey any sense of place and it looks just like any other Sy Fy flick (in particular all of those filmed in Eastern Europe). I’m not sure whether it’s the type of cameras or the lenses they are use but the films all look the same.

Leonor Varela (Blade II) stars as the smoking hot lawyer drafted in by the oil company to sway the townspeople into selling. Guess what – she is a former resident who has history with certain male characters from the town to add in extra layers of back story and tragedy to proceedings! Well that’s the idea but it all ends up mechanically going through the usual forced romantic sub-plot motions with people falling back in love with each other after initial resistance to rekindling their love. After all, people facing vengeful Native American creatures are instantly drawn to like each other in the face of certain death. Its extra plot padding that doesn’t need to be present because it adds nothing to film.

Robert Picardo, he of Star Trek: Voyager fame and numerous low budget efforts like this, stars as the slimy oil executive. Picardo has a permanent frown upon his face as if he’s just messed his pants and doesn’t want anyone to know, living up to the one-dimensional caricature that he portrays here. He’s an uber-douchebag, or at least as threatening as Picardo can be. Having watched him for years as the holographic doctor, it’s impossible to take him as a villain. Serial Sy Fy offender Griff Furst doesn’t helm this one but he stars in it instead. The man behind 100 Million B.C., Swamp Shark, Lake Placid 3, Ghost Shark and Arachnoquake (see a pattern emerging) lends himself to the comic relief role. I’m not sure whether he should stick behind of or in front of the camera – maybe do us all a favour and try both for a bit!

I don’t comment enough on scores and incidental music but I feel the need to do so here. It’s almost as if there is a soundtrack playing in the background to every scene, pumping some ominous music continually through my speakers. Yeah I get that the script isn’t doing a great job at creating tension or fear and they need something cheap to substitute for it but sometimes silence is the best way to go about it. I don’t need to have some creepy tunes running through my head when a character is exploring a dark house, I’d rather it be deadly quiet so that the only thing I can hear is my heartbeat.

 

Monsterwolf isn’t one step forward or one step back for Sy Fy films, it’s just standing still. Swap out the wolf for a crocodile or snake, swap the oil company for a real estate company or gangster and role reverse the hero and heroine and you’ll have exactly the same throwaway film as Sy Fy has been pumping out for years.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

They Thought Prison Would Be The Death Of Him. But For Dr. West, Death Is Only The Beginning.

Surviving the collapse of the crypt he was trapped in and the onslaught of re-animated creatures, Dr Herbert West is arrested and imprisoned for good. West quickly becomes one of the in-prison doctors, overseeing the care of inmates whilst conducting his experiments on the sly. When a new doctor arrives at the prison, West earns his trust and together they try to take the re-animation experiments to the next level. However, it isn’t long before the experiments get out of control and begin to overrun the prison.

 

With a gap of nearly fourteen years between sequels, it’s a wonder that Beyond Re-Animator ever managed to make it out of production. Brian Yuzna, producer of the original turned director of the sequel, headed off to Spain at the beginning of the Naughties to set up a production company called Fantastic Factory and get funding for a series of horror films which would use genre talent from around the world to produce international horror films, a number of which I’ve reviewed (Rottweiler and Beneath Still Waters spring to mind). One of these was designed to be a ‘marquee’ title to guarantee a return on investor’s money and thus secure the finances for the others and Beyond Re-Animator was the option. It was a safe bet. After all, Re-Animator was, and still, is one of the most defining horror films of the 80s with its unhealthy mix of splatter, bad taste and black comedy.

With so long a gap between sequels, it’s a wonder why Yuzna really bothered to continue the story, especially in the manner he has chosen to do so. Beyond Re-Animator reeks of being straight-to-DVD, with its strained production values, narrow sense of scope and toned down carnage. It’s clearly not set in America despite the best efforts of the production team to give the audience that impression. What’s possibly worse and does more damage to the series is that it doesn’t even look like a Re-Animator film. This is down to the considerable improvement in production values that Yuzna was able to call upon compared to Bride of Re-Animator. In upgrading the visual quality of the film, Yuzna takes away a whole batch of the charm of the first two films.

Ignoring the ending of the previous sequel, Beyond Re-Animator opens with a gruesome sequence involving a couple of young boys, an unlucky sister and a zombie missing its entire lower jaw. The scene gives the narrative the ball and you’d expect the film to keep running with it. However it drops it almost straight away, settling down into a long-winded re-tread of the same story we’ve had before (West hooks up with a new assistant to begin experiments, stuff goes wrong, people die, the new assistant’s love interest is caught in the middle of it, one of the main characters is re-animated and spends the rest of the film trying to get back at West and so on). There’s little of the fun and playfulness of the original and very little of the splatter. In short, there’s a general lack of re-animation and of the craziness that goes hand-in-hand with it.

Whilst Beyond Re-Animator is not totally without its merits, it is sorely lacking the sense of tongue-in-cheek fun that the first two films had in abundance. They were never laugh out loud comedy-horrors but managed to throw in some sight gags and throwaway slapstick moments (West’s fight with the reanimated cat in the basement in Re-Animator ranks as one of my favourite comedy moments ever) to ensure that the film never got too serious. Here, the tables have been tipped a little too far in the favour of the dour and docile. Things do pick up in the final third, both from the comedy and gore perspective, as West’s re-animations run riot in the prison. This is what we’ve come to expect from a Re-Animator film and it’s a pity that we have to wait so long for it.

Jeffrey Combs makes a welcome return in the role of Herbert West. Seasoned from years as a character actor (and making scores of appearances in make-up as various characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), he’s grown more adept in the role but has lost a little of his original enthusiasm and natural energy with age. Kind of like Peter Cushing in the Hammer Frankenstein films evolved over time and through age, Combs’ character is more mature and more relaxed but still as ruthlessly determined to succeed. The comparison to Cushing’s Frankenstein is even more evident in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, in which the Baron takes over as the in-house doctor for a prison where he can continue his work uninterrupted and under the cover of his role. Herbert West has clearly been studying his trade secrets on how to proceed undetected!

It’s a shame that Bruce Abbot didn’t return to play the role of Dr Cain and his replacement, Jason Barry, isn’t overly convincing in the role. Sadly, David Gale died between sequels and couldn’t return as West’s long-term, and now-decapitated and re-animated, nemesis Dr Carl Hill. Simón Andreu is his replacement, snarling as the evil prison warden. Andreu would have been better had his accent not hampered him as much but he does what he can with a poorly-developed character. His best moments come after he has taken a dose of the re-animating agent and Andreu shows off more of his acting range as he transforms into a giant rat. The stunning Elsa Pataky rounds off the main cast and provides the glamour here as the token love interest. Pataky may be pound-for-pound one of the most naturally beautiful women I’ve ever seen in a horror film but her thick Spanish accent and inability to act really hampers the character. She’s gotten better over the years and having read up on her career since this, she’s gone on to bigger things (including become Mrs Chris Hemsworth aka Thor and starring in some of the later Fast and Furious films).

 

Beyond Re-Animator is the weakest link in the Re-Animator trilogy but that’s like saying Return of the Jedi is the weakest link in the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s fairly acceptable on its own terms but follows two infinitely superior films. Beyond Re-Animator has got just enough splatter, just enough black humour and just enough craziness to keep itself ticking over. But it’s only just enough. You get the feeling of wanting (and expecting) a lot more than you’re eventually handed.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Axe Giant (2013)

Axe Giant (2013)

This Tall Tale is Murder

A group of young adults serving their sentence at a first-time offenders’ boot camp discover that the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real but is much more horrifying than they could have ever imagined when they disturb the grave of his treasured blue ox.

 

Ah American folklore. Fresh off watching two films about the mysterious Bunnyman and his antics, I’ve now stumbled upon a film about another character from legend, this time more rooted in history than the more recent floppy-eared fiend. Paul Bunyan, a giant lumberjack from American folklore, has been the subject of various literary works, musical pieces and commercial productions and now finds his way into horror films. Though I’m sure the same Paul Bunyan who featured in a number of children’s stories is a far cry from this axe-wielding brute with a face only a mother could love.

I thought I’d seen the start of Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunya before but then I realised I had: whenever a film has introduced its main characters as juvenile offenders having to serve some sort of rehabilitation programme/community service (see Grizzly Park, See No Evil, etc.) then it follows the same “roll call” scene which basically provides us with all of the character depth that they are going to have. One supporting character even asks the duty officer “is this necessary?” when he reads out their names and past crimes. As a member of the very limited target audience, I can say no it isn’t as I’ve seen this film before and know which characters are supposed to be the slut, token black guy, jock and so forth. But we get spoon fed it anyway just in case you weren’t sure! The set-up is quick and painless and the character development brief and merciful yet it still takes the film ages to get going.

Despite the title giving away massive clues as to what sort of threat these characters are going to face, it is quite happy to shield the brute from us for as long as possible. You’ll get glimpses of him and, for one unlucky bear, more than a glimpse. I kind of figured that the director and writers would have gone in for the kill early and given us the money shots from the start, such is the norm for these type of films now. Gone are the days of directors crafting the monster before the final reveal (Jaws anyone?) and whilst I’m arguing in favour of films following Axe Giant’s path by holding back a little, it just seems silly to do it when the POSTER SHOWS US THE MONSTER! Paul Bunyan is given some back story and it’s too daft to take seriously (the disease he contracts sure has lots of side effects!) but provides token flashbacks for more gore and shenanigans, including the brutal dispatch of Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggerty.

Funnily enough, Axe Giant wins pretty much all of its star rating with the practical effects it uses for the giant. Think back to the 50s with The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and you’ll get a sense of how this effect is rendered. It’s a guy in make-up who has been superimposed onto a number of sets courtesy of some green screen work (rather that than some dodgy CGI giant like the dreadful Ogre). Though the two techniques don’t mesh together well, the fact that it’s an actual actor gives the giant a real physical presence. Credit must go to effects man Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps for designing the make-up, ‘borrowing’ the demented, inbred hillbilly look from the Victor Crowley character from the Hatchet films to create a rather large, aggressive beast who has sculpted himself an axe just as big and powerful as he is.

But the practical effects stop there and that’s a big disappointment as the blood and guts is mainly CGI from there on it. Limbs chopped off, characters sliced into half and other nastiness involving the axe is all brought to life with the ‘wonders’ of CGI. It looks awful – so artificial and ‘clean’ if there is a word best to describe them. Some of the kills could have looked amazing if they had gone down the old school route but instead they’ve taken the quicker, cheaper CGI route and ruined some potentially-awesome moments. And whilst Bunyan looks good on his own, as soon as he starts appearing in front of green screens, the CGI falls apart. This is not a good film to watch for cutting edge special effects. The team have tried to punch above their weight but sometimes knowing where you stand is better. When the effects provoke laughter rather than fear or tension, you know something is wrong.

Joe Estevez, young brother of Martin Sheen and uncle of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, gets one of the top billed roles. Sadly, Joe, unlike his older brother, has not had the glittering film career and has been appearing in low rent rubbish like this for years, no doubt using his name to make his way. Joe sounds like Martin a lot so close your eyes in a few scenes, pretend it is him and kid yourselves into thinking this is some glossy production. Grizzly Adams aside, there’s no one else that stands out in the cast. Most of the young cast are so anonymous that it’s a wonder they even bothered reading the script. Replace the actors with the same ethnic disposition and you’d be hard-pressed to notice the change. But hey, some of them meet their match at the hands of a giant axe!

 

Axe Giant is a film about a giant, killer lumberjack that turns into a giant lumbering mess of bad writing, laughable special effects and general boredom. It’s almost as if the writers thought of the crazy central premise and then struggled to really pad it out, opting to use the tried-and-tested slasher formula in the end. The result is a film which had potential to be a silly time-waster in the right hands but from the man who brought us Crocodile 2: Death Roll and Planet Raptor, I expected nothing and was rightly given it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆