Girlhouse (2014)

Girlhouse (2014)

Enjoy the show

Kylie is a beautiful young college student who, needing money for tuition after her father dies, moves into a secret all-girl house that streams content to an X-rated website where punters can login to chat to the girls and watch them strip. After she offends one of her fans, he hacks in to determine the house’s location and proceeds to track her down. Soon Kylie and the other girls find themselves in a terrifying fight for their lives.

 

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen a good solid slasher in ages. Having picked up a copy of Girlhouse on its day of release and reading the less-than-exciting blurb on the back of the DVD about the college girls-webcam-psycho setup, I had a feeling I would be in for a longer wait. Sure, Girlhouse is a typical slasher flick and it doesn’t do anything remotely different from the staple formula that the slasher boils down to but it’s the way in which it does the essentials that makes it such an entertaining ride. Girlhouse is the best modern slasher film I’ve seen for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, Girlhouse is no different to hundreds of slashers that have come before it: hot, scantily-clad young women; a masked male killer; a remote location; bloody and graphic murder scenes; and so on. The film is simple and borrows the standard issue ‘angry, sexually-frustrated man wronged as a child/teenager commits acts of unspeakable terror when he’s older’ plot which so many classic slasher films ran with. Adding new technology into the mix really gives Girlhouse that cutting edge. In a digital age where you are just three clicks away from finding graphic porn on the internet (allegedly!) and in an era where anyone can hide behind a keyboard and pretend to be someone they’re not, it’s good to see a film attempting something a little different and contemporary. Mixing footage from the Girlhouse webcams, the viewpoint of the computer screens and the traditional camera shots, the film uses a variety of perspectives to reveal or hide certain things (in particular the killer when he turns up). On the negative side, I’m sure Girlhouse will date a lot quicker as technology advances and internet habits move on.

Girlhouse does take a while to get going after the opening scene but this is essential in building up some of the characters, particularly the relationship between Kylie and Ben. Kylie isn’t just a bimbo like the other girls in the house but someone who is only doing what she is doing because she’s desperate. Keeping her humanised and rooted in reality keeps the audience from wanting to see her suffer because she’s sexually provocative. What also works, surprisingly, is the cast of female characters. Yes they’re all easily summed up in one-word clichés (stoner, bitch, etc.) but the actresses behind the characters actually put some effort in and ended up performing way better than they have any right to do in a slasher film. Ali Cobrin, as well as looking stunning, makes for a very sweet and likeable Final Girl in Kylie but the rest of the girls all play their part. They’re developed well enough to make you care for them, even the nastier ones. Of course it helps that they’re all very attractive young women to which the camera certainly panders a lot of attention to. In many ways, the audience is put into the position of Loverboy as we watch the girls through the various web cams around the house. Despite the nature of the webcam content, the film rarely feels gratuitous even if some of the girls do get naked.

It’s when Girlhouse starts putting the girls through the ringer that you begin to realise just how much the characters have grown on you. From some pretty brutal and exploitative death and torture sequences, the girls are tormented and savaged beyond belief. This is not a film which springs up a load of novelty death sequences but the way in which the various dispatches are handled is excellent. Lots of realistic gore is thrown around, particularly a brutal dis-fingering of one unlucky girl. The fact that the production values are clearly high class really livens everything up too. The film looks good, the editing is spot on and the lighting is all designed to create atmosphere and suspense.

Loverboy is an intimidating presence as a slasher. Played by Slaine (what a name), his portrayal harks back to Gunnar Hansen’s classic physical portrayal of Leatherface in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He charges down his victims, using sheer physicality and brute force to overpower them. Let’s face it, very few cinematic slashers would be successful in real life as they’re too slow and methodical. This guy just pulverises his victims, using his body weight and strength to take them out which would seem more realistic as they’re not just going to stand around waiting to die in real life. What really sets Loverboy apart from other generic killers (and he does look very generic when he dons the wig and mask) is that he’s a sympathetic character we can actually empathise with. He’s just some ordinary Joe who was a little nervous around girls in real life and started using the internet to get attention from the opposite sex – sounds like any number of lonely heart stories you hear about in the news. You can’t really give him an excuse for the horrific actions that he eventually takes in the film though!

 

Girlhouse does the usual slasher thing with gusto, presenting us with a decent group of likeable characters, plenty of unique approaches to the formula and, above all, delivering punch when it matters. It’s hardly going to reinvent the wheel but it keeps it turning pretty quickly.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sometimes They Come Back…For More (1998)

Sometimes They Come Back...For More (1998)

Hell Has Finally Frozen Over!

Captain Sam Cage and his colleague Major O’Grady are sent to a remote Antarctica military base when communications go down and signs point to something terrible occurring. When they arrive, they find that all but two of the crew are dead. One of the team had found something Satanic buried deep in the ice and all hell broke loose.

 

Sometimes They Come Back was a little-known Stephen King short story so it was very apt that the film adaptation in 1991 headed the same way – little known anonymity. It’s not on anyone’s Top 10 Most Famous Stephen King films and rightly so. The rise of King’s popularity as an author as well as the success of the film adaptation of Carrie led to studios and producers approaching King to adapt all of his work, even the minor stories. King’s Night Shift collection of short stories from 1978 provided a fertile ground for filmmakers looking to adapt a story. The likes of Maximum Overdrive (penned from the story ‘Trucks’), Graveyard Shift, The Mangler and Children of the Corn all emanate from the collection, as well as Sometimes They Come Back (though it was originally published in 1974).

Like many of King’s less popular works, Sometimes They Come Back was turned into a TV movie. Featuring the story of a teacher tormented by the vengeful spirit of some school bullies, it spawned two sequels. The first one, Sometimes They Come Back…Again, billed itself as a sequel but was more or less a remake. With virtually no connection to the previous two films or with King’s original story, the second sequel, Sometimes They Come Back…For More is just a throwaway TV horror movie with few redeeming features which starts off promisingly but quickly (and I mean quickly) tails off. This is no surprise given that it was originally shot under the name Frozen and was then renamed at a later date to give the illusion that it tied in to the previous two films.

The opening half owes a great deal to John Carpenter’s The Thing more than anything else with its remote Antarctic setting and something untoward happening to the crew of a base only this time it is Satanic demons instead of shape-shifting aliens. But by the time the main heroes arrive at the base early on, pretty much everyone is already dead so straight away the potential avenues for mayhem and carnage are narrowed and we’re left with the worrying problem that so few characters in a film always creates – if they’re not likeable, then you’re pretty much screwed. Though the film tries to crank up the suspense, tension and paranoia between the characters, there’s just too few of them to really make it work. The demonic aspects of the film start off quite positively, with the characters unaware of what is really going. The script gives us a few glimpses as to what is happening and the mystery slowly unravels. The problem is once the mystery has unravelled and we’re left with the actual plot about some demonic possession and Satanic resurrection, it’s not actually that engaging or exciting.

The film confines itself to the same couple of indoor sets so you never really get the sense that they are actually in an Antarctic environment. Allegedly the film was shot in Antarctica but you’d never be able to tell because the outdoor environment isn’t used to its full potential. In fact because of the insistence on shooting in the same few sets, the film looks to have a lower budget than it clearly did. All the cinematographer seems to do, instead of putting the snowy exteriors to better use, is flood a lot of the scenes in red lights to give the demonic illusion. Red on white makes for a nice contrast but it’s the only trick in the book to try and create some form of atmosphere. The film’s standout moment is a trip down an icy tunnel via a camera strapped to a remote-controlled car. It’s hardly riveting material but it was a nice idea which manages to build a bit of tension before it is cut off.

Clayton Rohner and Chase Masterson make for reasonably stereotypical but bland leads, Faith Ford adds a bit of glamour whilst trying to convince as a scientist and Max Perlich’s annoyingly whiny communications officer just grated the hell out of me. As I said at the start, having a small bunch of characters is risky if they’re not very good and this is the case with Sometimes They Come Back…For More. No one really grabs hold of your attention, no one makes themselves out to be the one you want to root for and no one exactly covers themselves in glory. It’s not entirely down to the actors as the script is too busy tying itself in knots to give these people anything worthwhile to do.

 

Though it’s easy to make comparisons with a few other isolation-themed horror films, it’s The X-Files episode Ice that Sometimes They Come Back…For More is most similar to. Ironically, in forty-five minutes of that TV show, they do far more with the remote setting than this one does in twice that time. Sometimes They Come Back…For More clearly shows that the film wasn’t designed to be a sequel and was a standalone horror before they messed around with it. I can’t say that the film would have turned out differently without the demonic aspects added in, but it can’t have been any worse.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

When the dead first walked, they had no time for appetizers.

The sole survivor of the treasure-hunting group who become stuck on a zombie-infested island, no one believes Sharon Dimao’s story about what happened. That is until the shady Tyler Corporation approach her a few months later and ask her to return to the island with a team of soldiers. The corporation had sent a team to the island to experiment on some subjects but they have now lost contact. Reluctantly, Sharon agrees to go back but on the island they find that the corporation has been attempting to breed a new species with human subjects…with disastrous consequences.

 

Cult Italian exploitation horror director Bruno Mattei’s final film, Zombies: The Beginning, is a sequel of sorts to Island of the Living Dead which goes off on an even more bizarre tangent than simply revisiting the zombie formula again. I mean, does the above plot sound familiar to you? A sole female survivor, scarred by a previous encounter with a hostile lifeform, is coerced into going somewhere with a team of soldiers to face down her fears on behalf of some shady corporation. Mattei, producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori have literally ripped off the entire script for James Cameron’s Aliens. And I don’t even mean the plot, I mean pretty much everything! It’s virtually a frame-by-frame re-run of the sci-fi horror classic only with zombies in place of aliens. Considering Universal threatened a lawsuit over Enzo G. Castellari’s Jaws rip-off The Great White for being a blatant copy, you’d have expected 20th Century Fox to have done something similar here.

The great thing about this is that Aliens is a fantastic film and so by copying the format scene-by-scene, you shouldn’t really go wrong – unless you had the budget and talent of Mattei. The pace and the flow of the film is great once they’ve figured out what happened to the scientists. I guess the ‘fun’ with Zombies: The Beginning is to try and watch it with Aliens running through the back of your mind. Remember how Cameron’s classic pans out and try and see how closely this follows it. See how they’re literally aped some scenes shot-for-shot. See what they’ve substituted in given that we’re not dealing with xenomorphs but zombies and weird mutant kids with large heads. See how some of the well-rounded characters like Hicks and Hudson appear in cheap Italian knock-off form (Hudson’s ‘replacement’ is hilariously bad in this).

Not only is the script directly lifted from Aliens but the explosions are stock footage and there’s even a copious amount of footage from The Hunt For Red October as a submarine heads to the island to rescue the survivors. Allegedly you can briefly see the likes of Viggo Mortensen and Denzil Washington but I wasn’t paying full attention to the film at the time. Mattei also recycles some zombie dream footage from the beginning over and over and over and over again to the point of nausea. In a consumer world where we are continually encouraged to recycle to save the planet, Mattei was taking it to new levels in his filmmaking.

It’s hard to get rid of the thoughts of Aliens when watching Zombies: The Beginning but the actors do a good job in trying to make us forget. Just like in the previous film, the acting is appalling and the dubbing is even worse. The actors deliver their lines unnaturally, with stilted tones and plenty of stops and starts – it’s just not a natural way of talking. Characters shout certain lines when they don’t need to. They whisper others when the situation calls for the opposite. Clearly this is not the total fault of the actual actors, though their mannerism and facial expressions don’t exactly match the situations they’re in, but of the voice over artists who did the dubbing. The worst offender is Gerhard Acao, who plays this film’s equivalent of Pvt. Hudson – his absurd over-performance actually enhances the film. It’s like he channelled the spirit of Bill Paxton whilst doing an enormous amount of cocaine before shooting began.

With the Aliens script providing predictable plot turns (for those who have seen Cameron’s film that is), the film runs like clockwork for the most. However, it’s the finale where everything goes bonkers in Zombies: The Beginning. We’re introduced to this film’s version of the alien queen, a gigantic brain, along with her mutant zombie-hybrid children, and their enslaved horde of pregnant women giving birth to zombie babies in incubation machines (which is pointless given that zombie bites turn people into zombies – so why the need for babies?). I’m not sure what Mattei was smoking at this point but whatever it was must have been strong because this finale is just absurd and a complete deviation from everything that had gone before it. It is still fun though because it’s finally unshackling itself from the Aliens script, albeit slightly and temporarily.

 

You’ll have more fun with Zombies: The Beginning than a lot of Mattei’s films. Whether it’s the shameless way he pulverises Aliens into the ground or just the fact that there’s a lot of gore and mayhem to keep you entertained throughout, Zombies: The Beginning is a fitting epitaph to a man, and a whole genre, that provided bucket loads of splatter nonsense without much fuss.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

King Cobra (1999)

King Cobra (1999)

30 Feet Of Pure Terror!

A giant experimental King Cobra snake escapes a research lab and takes up residence in a small brewery town which is about to host its annual beer festival.

 

Who needs a lot of plot description when one line summaries will do? Very obviously a low budget Anaconda rip-off/cash-in, King Cobra is a typical example of late 90s and early 00s straight-to-DVD monster movies. Little creativity, little imagination, little scope and little reward for watching, the films are all interchangeable with one another, especially if you’ve seen upwards of twenty killer snake films in the same period of time like I have.

The star of the show is the snake and surprisingly, this isn’t some slithering CGI scare machine, it’s an animatronic model. Designed by the Chiodo Brothers (who did the remarkable make-up effects on the cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space), the snake doesn’t get an awful lot of screen time which is a shame because whenever it is on camera, the size and scale of it looks amazing. Having something physical on-set for the cast to visualise and interact with is always preferable to CGI post-production effects. The snake does have a limited range of motion but the copious use of POV shots try to mask that fact. Unfortunately, this also means that you won’t get to see much during the kill scenes. These tend to be brief affairs with the faintest hint of violence and blood. I guess these had to be sacrificed because the budget clearly went into the snake but the snake rarely looks like it attacks anyone as a lot happens off-screen.

Despite the decent special effects, King Cobra‘s major weakness is its script. It follows the routine Jaws formula with a monster finding its way into a small town celebrating some form of anniversary or festival and where the mayor wants to keep everything monster-related hush-hush as to avoid the event being cancelled or the town losing business. The first half sees the monster causing carnage around the town and the second half sees an intrepid group of people attempt to capture it. There’s nothing remotely original about it and you could quite easily replace the snake with various different monsters, serial killers or aliens and the end result would still be the same. There’s no style or substance to proceedings, just a monotonous going through the motions vibe. No one here was out to make a good film. They’re just in it to pay the bills until the next film comes along and it shows.

King Cobra is painfully slow and very dull. This is probably because there are plenty of scenes which lead nowhere and a couple of plot threads that have no bearing on anything that happens. There’s no sense of fun or excitement at all, and the scenes without the snake really drag the pace of the film down. Also not helping matters in the unserious tone. Either go full out spoof or play it straight but King Cobra bizarrely trends some middle ground, where it is too daft to be serious but not witty or goofy enough to laugh with (or at).

Pat Morita, forever known around the world as Mr Miyagi (from the original The Karate Kid), gets the top billing and plays up to stereotypical as a wise old snake hunter who gets to spout lots of facts and statistics and make it sound scientific. He looks a bit embarrassed to be starring in this but the royalties from his big hit won’t cover the bills forever! Scott Hillenbrand is the other ‘star’ and he’s also one of the co-directors which is a tad convenient if you ask me. Hillenbrand is just as wooden in front of the camera as he is clueless behind it. Erik Estrada has a cameo appearance as a flamboyant gay man so it’s not like the actors really had to push themselves into their roles.

 

King Cobra just doesn’t do anything fresh or remotely exciting, save for the decent snake special effects. The film has all been done before and done better too. It’s just too unoriginal to be interesting anymore, even down to the blatant “hey we want a sequel” ending (which thankfully never came to fruition).

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 3: Back To Perfection (2001)

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

The Food Chain Just Grew Another Link.

After hunting Graboids and Shriekers in Argentina, Burt Gummer returns home to Perfection for a bit of rest and relaxation. It’s not long after his arrival that Perfection faces another serious subterranean monster problem. Gummer is confident that he has the knowledge to stop them but evolution runs its course again, mutating the monsters into a deadly and unpredictable third form.

 

Cue practically the same mayhem as the previous two films. There’s milking a cow but there’s milking the poor thing so hard that you rip it’s udders off and that’s what the Tremors series seems to have done. I was never sure that the original Tremors, one of my favourite films, had any story left to tell but the first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks at least came up with a decent way to avoid repeating exactly the same formula, albeit more or less the same thing, with different types of monsters. Here we are with a second sequel, Tremors 3: Back To Perfection, which continues the downward spiral of quality of the series, quite significantly from the previous instalment, though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what this one is lacking.

That is not to say that this is a terrible film of any kind. There are some good ideas floating around Tremors 3: Back To Perfection, particularly the notion that Perfection has become something of a ‘tourist trap’ – a term used to describe a place which is specifically designed to attract tourists and get them to part with their cash – and the lengths that some of the locals will go to in order to maintain that illusion. Particularly effective and really nifty is the fake Graboid tour scam that Sawyer and his friend run, complete with fence posts that are wired to collapse as tourists pass and fire extinguishers hidden to look like Graboid blasts, giving people the illusion that they are under attack. Naturally, when the real things show up, there are the inevitable “is it real or isn’t it?” moments.

It’s through the likes of the above story line that Tremors 3: Back To Perfection switches it’s focus onto more of the comedic approach than the horror one. The original Tremors was chock full of gags and great lines but they came naturally in the script and through the rapport between the main characters. Beneath the surface there was still a true horror edge, featuring dismembered heads, people getting sucked into the ground and then swallowed whole. As the series has gone on (and budgets have reduced), these costly death scenes have been scaled back and the humour elements played up a lot more prominently. The orange and red splatter gunge courtesy of exploding Graboids and Shriekers is still there in abundance but the effects are largely comic. The humour feels forced and the jokes in the script are obvious, with punch lines continually being told rather than left ambiguous. It’s like the audience is being patronised because we’re not clever enough to understand some of the most rudimental jokes.

Kevin Bacon wisely jumped ship after the first one and even Fred Ward decided not to bother with this one so fan favourite Michael Gross, as survivalist gun-nut Burt Gummer, is promoted to lead character. Gross has a lot of fun in the role and his deadpan reactions to situation make him hilarious at times. He was a little bit over-the-top in the last film and has toned back down the character to similar levels of the original which is good. The major problem I have now is that the character is far too overexposed and the ‘less is more’ approach they had with him in the first two films has been abandoned. Gummer worked in small doses but his army schtick gets tiring rather quickly. Losing Ward was a big blow to the series and Gross’ character is just overpowering to helm a film – he’s fine as supporting character but he overstays his welcome in the limelight.

It’s also nice to see the remaining members of the original cast make a return here (those who were cheap enough to bring back!), even if they were more or less bit part players. I’m a great lover of continuity in sequels and seeing the likes of Miguel (Tony Genaro), Nancy (Charlotte Stewart), Mindy (Ariana Richards) and everyone’s favourite loser, Melvin (Robert Jayne), all come back gives the film much-needed connection to the original.

Sadly, Tremors 3: Back To Perfection short-changes it’s monsters by rendering them all in CGI. The original’s slimy animatronic models and oozing prosthetics still look fantastic today and the mix of CGI and make-up effects in the second film worked better than it should. But the CGI here looks TV-series quality, presumably because they were trying to get the short-lived Tremors TV series off the ground around the same time. In fact, they’ve lifted a lot of shots of the subterranean Graboids from the first two films which is obvious. The names Graboids and Shriekers are a bit daft to designate monsters but the reasoning behind them was sound and it made sense. Calling these new flying monsters ‘Ass Blasters’ is juvenile and a bit daft too. But it’s a sign of where the series was heading. More background to the monsters’ origins and overly complex explanations just detract further from the mythology and menace of the monsters from the original.

 

I’m sure if you liked the first two films, then you’ll find plenty of fun in Tremors 3: Back To Perfection. But the charm of the series has quickly faded, the set-ups and resolutions have become predictable and formulaic and the characters aren’t as appealing as in the previous films. It doesn’t hold a candle to the first two but it’s not half-bad as far as a straight-to-video films are concerned.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Morlocks (2011)

Morlocks (2011)

A top secret time travel project leaves some U.S. marines stranded in the distant future in which human civilization no longer exists and the Earth is overrun by a vicious species of creatures known as Morlocks. A team headed by the scientist responsible for the project is sent to rescue them and retrieve the time travel device that become trapped with them.

 

You may know the name but you might not be able to place the film when I say Morlocks. One of the most infamous fictional species ever put to paper, they first appeared in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as one of the two future offshoots of the human race, hundreds of thousands of years after Earth had been ravaged by nuclear war. A cannibalistic species who lived underground, kept the peaceful, docile Eloi who lived in the surface fed and clothed, and in turn treat the Eloi like cattle and ate them, the Morlocks were blue creatures with white hair and big, glowing eyes. Wells’ metaphor for Victorian society where a huge underclass toiled and grafted for a privileged few to live a life of luxury (which still resonates in most developed countries today), the Morlocks became iconic cinematic monsters after their appearance in 1960’s The Time Machine, less so after the 2002 remake. With a hefty literate and cinematic reputation behind them, it is sad to see that Sy Fy has decided to wheel them out in one of their monster movies.

The rights to The Time Machine are in the public domain so anyone is free to use the work and anything written within without permission or the payment of royalties. Trust Sy Fy to find that out! In reality, Morlocks is just another generic Sy Fy Channel monster movie which has simply used the Morlocks as their ‘monster of the week’ and just gone through the usual motions of CGI nonsense, lots of gun-fire and very little story. Take away the name ‘Morlocks’ and call them anything else and the film would work exactly the same. The use of the name simply attaches a greater weight of expectation: people will watch this expecting some sort of link to The Time Machine. How wrong they would be! More Stargate SG-1 or Primeval with a dash of Aliens thrown in, Morlocks sees the usual ragtag bunch of nameless, non-entity marines fed to a monstrous threat with lots of guns, explosions and creature carnage ensuing.

There’s not a lot of story to go with this one and that which is left doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For every minute of ‘plot’ there are about ten minutes of action. I’m usually fine with this approach as long as every second of the plot makes a difference. But it doesn’t. Nearly every scene involves some sort of action and this gets tiresome after a while. Morlocks has a big fight scene early on in its running time and seemingly spends the rest of its running time trying to outdo that. I’d use the term ‘breathless’ to describe the film but the action won’t leave you gasping for air like, say the remake of Mad Max did after it’s amazing pursuit sequence. Most of these action sequences consist of horribly-animated Morlocks jumping through the air and tossing the nameless marines around like toys. A cut-scene from a computer game has more life and energy than this.

The Morlocks are given the CGI treatment here and look awful, more like some prehistoric-alien hybrid than any of the incarnations we’ve come to know them by so far in other media. They’re rendered poorly, with animation that looks about fifteen years older than it actually is. In fact almost every CGI shot in this film is awful, from the monsters to the splatters of blood to the explosions right down to the tanks and the time machine being activated and emitting light beams. Sy Fy really need to pick up their act when it comes to providing either the cash or the time for the animators to work on projects like this because the special effects borderline on embarrassing. They completely disconnect you from the action as you’re too busy laughing rather than being engrossed and entertained in the sights on-screen.

Ironically, the Stargate SG-1/Stargate: Atlantis comparison I made earlier was deliberate as David Hewlett, who played Dr Rodney McKay in the TV series, stars as the lead scientist here and Robert Picardo, who played Richard Woolsey in a couple of the Stargate spin-offs (also Star Trek: Voyager alumni), appears as a generic gung-ho military colonel. Picardo has taken a lot of these stern authority figure roles of late and it’s no stretch to see him doing the same thing again. I don’t remember too much about the other characters or actors in the film, save for the fact that they’re so badly written they won’t make any impression on you whatsoever.

 

If you were expecting Sy Fy to do any justice to H. G. Wells’ original story, then more the fool you. Morlocks is a shoddy, sloppy affair which goes for broke with the guns and explosions but forgets everything else that makes the guns and explosions necessary in the first place. Forget traveling into the future, you’ll want a trip back to the past before you even considered giving Morlocks the time of day.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Reality Kills (2002)

Reality Kills (2002)

They’re dying to be on TV

A group of people starring in a new reality TV show gather in a deserted house which was home to a mass murder years ago. However shortly after arriving, the murders begin again, with the contestants disappearing one-by-one. Without knowing who to trust, the contestants soon begin blaming each other in a desperate bid to win the $100,000 cash prize.

 

I have a suggestion – just leave! If I saw that other contestants were going missing, I surely wouldn’t want to wait around until my number was up even if there was a significant cash prize on offer. But then little details are never the greatest worry of low budget shockers like Reality Kills, whose primary goal is to make a quick, simple slasher film to fill up some bottom shelf space in a video store somewhere.

Reality Kills wasn’t the first to do the reality TV slasher flick formula and it certainly won’t be the last either. Released in the same year as two high profile reality TV-themed horrors in Halloween: Resurrection and My Little Eye, Reality Kills was clearly made to cash-in on a momentary fad. I absolutely loathe the vast majority of reality TV shows, making ‘celebrities’ out of idiots who should be denied oxygen rather than given large amounts of free publicity. The UK media is the worst for ‘celebritising’ some of the most moronic, unintellectual, bottom-feeding wastes of human space as thousands of copycats and wannabes suddenly realise that by going on TV, saying or doing some stupid things in front of millions of people, will give them their fifteen minutes of fame. Anyway rant enough over! Reality TV hit its peak around this time and though the likes of X-Factor and various international versions of ‘… Got Talent‘ still do the rounds, the obsession with knowing what Z-rate celebrities are doing in a remote house has definitely waned.

Realty Kills already comes off feeling dated in its dependence on the reality TV show format. Despite this sub-genre being short-lived, the clichés were already rolling thick and fast and this never really manages to overcome any of them, pandering to the usual genre tropes to keep the film moving. There’s the obligatory individual monologues to the camera at various points in the film (you know where they talk directly to the camera on Big Brother and the like) which are designed to build character but are terribly written. There’s the inevitable ‘deaths caught on camera’ scenes where the other characters re-watch footage to find the killer doing his thing. There’s also the sense that the characters know that ‘death = ratings’ and staying in the house despite what is going on will make them even more famous.

The contestants are a wholly unlikeable bunch who, after literally just meeting, are already verbally tearing chunks out of each other. The ‘diverse’ nature of the group means you’ll get one of each major stereotyped character including the innocent virginal girl, a politically incorrect redneck (which is a politically incorrect term too!), the black ‘gangsta’ producer, the diva and more. It’s lazy writing because all of the hard work has been done for us in developing their characters – as soon as the redneck opens his mouth we know he’ll be hostile towards the ethnic minority characters, the diva will throw a strop because she wants to be the star, etc. The quicker the majority of them are killed off, the better the film will be.

Post-Scream and every low budget slasher film had to feature a killer in a black robe and a white mask. Reality Kills is no exception. The kills are weak and a little overly complicated too. The killer subdues their victim with a Taser first of all and then gets out a hypodermic needle with something nasty inside to finish the job. It’s the same routine over and over again with no variation. There’s little blood on offer though the body count is quite filled out to keep things ticking along nicely. Those with a keen eye will figure out who the killer is early on, if you discount the physical impossibilities of the first two kills. There’s hardly any suspense in the kill scenes and the film throws in a couple of cheap boo moments throughout but nothing that will really get the heart racing.

 

Reality Kills is cheap, bargain basement horror designed to capitalise on a mini-fad that went nowhere. It’s dull, barely passable at the best of times and will be instantly forgotten after the end credits finish.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sasquatch Mountain (2006)

Sasquatch Mountain (2006)

Believe The Legend

After robbing a small town bank, the group of thieves crash into a car on the road whilst they are making their getaway. Taking the female driver hostage, they venture into the woods to escape the pursuing police. Both groups soon find themselves up against a deadly monster that has come down from the Arizona mountains and they are forced to team up in order to survive.

 

Over the last twelve years or so, Bigfoot has seen a revival in horror with a number of films, mainly low budget, pitting man’s hairy relative against a group of people in the middle of the woods somewhere. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them haven’t been very good. I guess the idea of being attacked by a gigantic walking carpet isn’t exactly up there on anyone’s ‘Top 10 Things to be Scared of Being Killed By’ list. Sasquatch Mountain joins this ever-increasing list of not very good films about Bigfoot. Originally entitled Devil on the Mountain, the title was changed to make it sound more threatening and more sasquatch-orientated – basically a bit more exploitative and focus on a niche audience of monster movie fans such as myself.

The myth about sasquatch/Bigfoot/the Yeti/Abominable Snowman is one of great interest to humans and has been the subject of so much research and attention down the years that it’s hard to understand why no one has really gotten the subject material right (and I say this having seen a few Bigfoot-themed horror films but not all of them so someone may prove me wrong). Sasquatch Mountain throws in a decent opening sequence but this promises that the film will not be anything but a typical Bigfoot horror. Why do filmmakers always have to make these creatures so vicious, angry and blood-thirsty? I highly doubt that such creatures still exist but if even if they did, they’d most likely find the taste of overweight, sugared-up humans to be a little off.

Though I wouldn’t get too worried about the creature in all honesty. Sasquatch Mountain spends most of its time focusing on the troubles between the bank robbers and their hostage, and then the cops when they turn up and is a talky affair as a result. You won’t get to know enough about any of the characters to really care about them and their philosophical bickering and macho tit-for-tat seems to go around in circles as they traipse through the forest. As is always the case, the more time the characters spend arguing with each other, the less time the monster is on display, thus making the production a lot cheaper. Of course, they also need to actually get to the forest first and we see far too much of the robbery and the following chaos. This is definitely not Heat.

This is the film’s major problem. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – having your main characters as bank robbers, murderers, terrorists or any form of ‘evil’ bad guys and then putting them up against some form or monster or threat. Just who are supposed to root for? It’s certainly not meant to be the asshole characters who kill innocent people to get away with some cash. But these characters take up a lot of screen time and generally not very likeable. You can’t even root for the good guys in films like this as they are required to make stupid decisions by virtue of the script in order for the narrative to flow and have them all team up at some point.

At least the monster is a guy-in-a-suit and the makers of the film opted not to go down the CGI Bigfoot route. This adds a nice element of realism to the attack scenes as the creature is happy breaking backs and snapping necks but these sequences are virtually blood-free. We get a few glimpses of the monster but it’s generally confined to the shadows until the big reveal towards the finale. There is that little of the monster that you wonder whether it walked in from another set. Despite the novelty of the suit, the quality of the creation is awful and looks like someone just stuck a load of worn carpet together. Think Chewbacca having to live off the streets of New York for five years and you’ll get the impression.

There’s a decent cast here which is all the more shame for the script being so rubbish. Lance Henriksen gets top billing and must really have a thing for Bigfoot as this was his third such film within the space of four years. As the grizzled truck driver who lost his wife to the monster years earlier, Henriksen chalks up a number of clichés in order to pay his bills for the week. Craig Wasson (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) is the head bank robber, Tim Thomerson (from Dollman) is on hand as the token hunter character and the lovely Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever) adds glamour as the female hostage.

 

Well Sasquatch Mountain killed an hour and a half on Sy Fy so their investment was well-spent in that respect. It doesn’t go off into mindless monster mode too much and has a few moments where it threatens to get deep and emotional but overall, Sasquatch Mountain is a bore with sporadic moments of Bigfoot which will leave you feeling grossly unsatisfied. Maybe Henriksen could try a fourth Bigfoot film and see if he can do any better?

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Death Factory (2014)

Death Factory (2014)

One night, six serial killers, one bus load of victims…

A group of people are stranded in the middle of nowhere when their bus breaks down. They head off to a nearby tourist attraction called the Death Factory, which is closed and is in the process of being sold to a mysterious bidder who wants to purchase it. The attraction is an off-beat tribute to some of history’s most infamous serial killers including Ed Gein, Jack the Ripper and William Gacy and the owner has collection an assortment of artefacts associated with each of them including blood samples, electric chairs and more. However when one of the group reads from a book of spells that the bidder leaves unattended, the serial killers rise from the dead to continue to indulge in their murderous lusts.

 

Cinematic slashers only exist because of their real life counterparts. Without the likes of Ed Gein, there would be no Norman Bates, no Leatherface and no Hannibal Lecter or at least not as we know them. Aside from factual documentary-style portrayals of their lives which attempt to understand the men behind these crimes, the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, William Gacy, Ed Gein and the Zodiac killer have rarely been painted as fictitious characters or played for laughs or cheap shocks. After all, these are some of the most disgusting, despicable men who ever walked the face of the Earth. Sexually assaulting and murdering children, cannibalising victims and using body parts for furniture and fittings are unspeakable crimes and it’s right that we never glorify them or turn them into anti-heroes as the likes of Leatherface and Michael Myers have become. Step forward Death Factory, a low budget film which attempts to break the taboo by featuring some of history’s most hated serial killers in some form of horrific Avengers Assemble-style mash up.

Truth be told, Death Factory has got a nice idea in theory but falls flat on its face when it comes to executing it. The fact that it is so poorly made, treats the killers like daft cartoon villains and generally uses them for cheap gratification rather than tell any proper story with them just adds to the insult of using them in the first place. Thinking about the film reminded me of a home haunt that people create on Halloween in their back gardens or garages – a lot of darkness, some flashing lights, background noise and a lot of mates jumping out wearing Halloween masks of famous serial killers. Death Factory is pretty much that but on a bigger budget.

Things don’t get off to a great start with a prologue that goes on for far longer than it needs to and serves little purpose in the scheme of the things. You can tell already that the script is padding itself out as much as possible. At seventy-five minutes, the film really needs every minute it can to craft together something logical and coherent and give us an explanation as to how and why these serial killers rise from the dead but fails to do so. Like a lot of things in Death Factory, I guess the script just wants the audience to overlook a lot of what happens and suspend their disbelief because of the ‘famous serial killers returning to life’ storyline.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the cinematic universe but buses, schools, workplaces, etc. always contain a perfectly diverse mixture of characters. I’m sure if I got on my local bus, there’d be a load of old people, some young, single mother with a kid and pushchair and maybe one or two people heading to work because they can’t afford a car. Here there’s a preacher and his wife, a pair of aggressive goth/alt-types, two ditzy cheerleader-esque characters, a sleazy bus driver, the token black character and a couple of square-jawed heroes ready to save the day. I’ve pretty much summed up their characters within these brief descriptions and nothing much changes throughout. They’re introduced by the nature of their characters, rather than any proper development, and are promptly split up and fed to the various serial killers. Cue lots of boo moments, a bit of gore, some unpleasant suggestions as to the nature of the serial killers’ real life crimes and a lot of running around.

For me, the film’s main problem was that, being from the UK, I know very little about the serial killers who were assembled for the film. Taking Jack the Ripper and Ed Gein out of the equation (as any self-respecting horror fan should know how many famous cinematic monsters Gein has inspired and Jack the Ripper needs no introduction), I’m pretty sure that the rest of the serial killers were all nasty pieces of work yet I know very little about them to be able to ‘appreciate’ their presence in the film. I had a hard time distinguishing who was who, how many people they killed, what methods they used to kill their victims and when they were executed because they are so poorly brought to life. I’m sure my US readers will not have that problem (likewise if the UK did their own version with the likes of the Yorkshire Ripper, Harold Shipman, etc). This disengaged me a lot from proceedings. Having read up on some of them after watching, I felt that it was in poor taste that they had been turned into Freddy Kruger-like slashers. For documentary-esque horror flicks charting their individual stories – fine. Using them like this is a little disappointing in all honesty but the film botches their inclusion so badly that you’ll have a hard time relating to the real life crimes. They’re literally nothing more than one-dimensional caricatures here and could have been called Billy Bob, Mick or Dave for all I would have cared.

 

The plot potential of Death Factory was excellent however the amateur end product we’re presented with is an embarrassingly inept film which tries to revel in its trashy premise but due to poor editing, poor pacing and a poor script, it comes off as corny and exploitative. If you’re going to use some of the most notorious serial killers to walk the planet, at least use them correctly.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Car, The (1977)

The Car (1977)

There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no way to stop… The Car

In the desert highways of New Mexico, a black Sedan is sadistically running down unsuspecting victims ranging from cyclists to hitchhikers. When the car claims the life of the local sheriff of Santa Ynez and makes it presence known at the school parade, police officer Wade Parent rallies the remaining deputies to take action. However, the vehicle apparently has no driver and is more agile and damage-proof than a normal car, leading to some to believe that it has been possessed by the Devil.

 

Though The Car would fit in right at home with the ‘mechanical monsters’ sub-genre with the likes of Christine, Duel and Killdozer, it’s more comfortable in the company of Jaws. Whilst other studios were trawling the seas looking for aquatic monsters to turn into the next summer blockbuster, Universal realised that they had a winning formula and look to have just swapped monsters around. I can just the pitch now to the studio – “It’s just like Jaws but with a killer car instead of a shark!” This is all kind of amusing because Jaws shares many similarities with Steven Spielberg’s earlier hit Duel, the one about the killer tanker truck which stalks a motorist along a remote and lonely road. The links between Duel and The Car shouldn’t need setting out so what you get is a nice little circle featuring all three films. Obviously The Car is the one stealing the best material from the other two!

The Car couldn’t be anymore Jaws if it tried. There’s the quiet American town suddenly beset by a rampaging monster. The town has an event coming up (in this case a town parade) which the monster will gate-crash. The main character is an ‘everyman’ hero and a police officer with two kids no less (just like Roy Scheider in Jaws, though this guy is a single parent. The mechanical monstrosity itself has a signature theme tune very similar to John Williams’ infamous classic. It’s got its own POV shots when it’s hunting down its victims. There are some shots of it driving towards its victims like a shark’s fin gliding through the water. And it’s not fully revealed until nearly halfway through, relying on close-ups of its wheels and other parts of the chassis to indicate its presence. Plus there’s no explanation for its decision to target this town – it just appears, gets a taste for killing and decides to stay. With some minor tweaks to supporting characters (Ronny Cox’s young alcoholic deputy no doubt doubling for Richard Dreyfuss’ youth appeal) and a couple of other smaller similarities, it doesn’t take a lot to work out where the main inspiration for The Car lies.

The Car got a theatrical run so it’s not like this was pushed out onto release in the quiet but it was met with critical and commercial failure and has been relegated to virtual unknown status since. This is a pity because after the first ten minutes or so, you’ll think that this is actually very good. The opening kill scene builds tension nicely with some great camerawork, the car shows no mercy to its pair of cyclist victims and a whole bunch of questions are asked which you will be wanting answers to sooner rather than later. However after this opening, it’s strictly mediocrity for the duration as the overriding story – that of the police trying to track down and stop the car – is just too repetitive to stretch out for the full running time. Santa Ynez must have been a lawless town too because there are more deputies than residents it seems. It does provide the film with a steady range of characters to kill off – this is not a good week to be a police officer in this town. The rest of the characters that are introduced serve little purpose but to provide a lot of interpersonal drama. This is a town with so much going on between the residents that it should have been given its own soap opera. The drama serves no purpose and has little impact on the plot with the killer car so the only reason I can see for its inclusion is to pad out the running time in between car attacks.

You’d think that there are so many ways for a car to kill someone but The Car does a good job of providing variety, in particular an excellent scene involving one of its victims inside a house which does a fantastic job of building up the suspense in the moments before the car strikes. Never before have headlights been as terrifying! Like Jaws used a couple of ways to signal the presence of the shark without actually showing the audience, The Car does the same thing. If it’s not the sound of the horn growing louder and louder, it’s the whirlwind that arrives a few minutes before or, in a really neat method, seeing glimmers of sunlight reflecting off its windows as it approaches from far away. Funnily enough, due to the way the car is presented throughout the film, you get a sense of ‘personality’ with it. Like the shark in Jaws showed its intelligence by toying with the three men in the boat in the final third, the car here begins to show emotions, taunting its victims, playing with them or expressing anger at things it dislikes. It goes to increasingly-weird lengths to get its victims but I guess the script ran out of ways to have the car actually kill someone.

Sadly a lot of this personality and ambition is wasted on a second-rate script which doesn’t really have the car do much except for rev its engine a lot and drive very quickly. The chase scenes have been sped up to make them appear faster and more exciting than they really are. Instead of keeping the car a mystery, the final third of the film begins to develop it as some sort of supernatural monster, the Devil incarnate if you were. This all leads to a finale and ending which is well over-the-top, borderline silly, considering that the rest of the film had played everything so seriously. It’s meant to be a dour affair, and Josh Brolin’s sombre performance adds significantly to the emotional impact of what is happening on-screen, but at times the seriousness of everything threatens to totally overshadow everything else – we are dealing with a killer car after all, not a nuclear fallout.

 

The Car runs out of fuel long before it’s got to its destination. The premise is milked for all that it is worth and there’s a lot of positives to take home from it but the script does the idea of a killer car few favours and the overly-dramatic and totally pointless nature of the human elements distract from the mechanised killing that happens.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆