Terror Train (1980)

Terror Train (1980)

The boys and girls of Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die.

A bunch of medical students staging a fraternity prank go too far when they lure Kenny, one of the more socially-awkward boys, along to what he thinks is going to be a hot night with sorority girl Alana. However, the students use a medical corpse stolen from the morgue and Kenny freaks out a little more than anyone anticipated, leading him to become hospitalised. Three years later when the students are celebrating graduation, they hire out a train for the world’s biggest party where one gate-crasher is only too happy to reunite with his former frat buddies.

 

With Roger Spottiswoode (who would go on to helm Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies no less), cinematographer John Alcott (who worked with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining), featuring a cast with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, Academy Award winner Ben Johnson and famous illusionist David Copperfield, and with a fairly reasonable budget, Terror Train has some serious pedigree for a 1980 slasher film. Luckily, the film beat the slasher flood by a year or so before the market was saturated with rip-offs and clones of Halloween and Friday the 13th. As a result, a lot of what you see on the screen is fairly original, if lacklustre.

Terror Train is competent, I’ll give it that. Despite the novel setting and the fact that it should be a lot more original than it is given that the slasher formula had still to be ‘perfected,’ it’s just about passable to get through. For every decent atmospheric, claustrophobic shot of the murky, dingy insides of the carriages, there’s another shot of the same thing with only with dancing teenagers and flashing lights to ruin the mood. For every few minutes of excitement or tension, there’s twice as much talking or standing around doing nothing. Terror Train is definitely a film that you think you enjoyed watching a lot more than you actually did. Maybe it is the gloss after all. Alcott’s photographic presence really shines to the fore here, presenting this train ride as the ultimate vision of a ride to hell, complete with darkness, smoke, red lights, silhouettes…you name it, it’s the perfect location for someone to be getting some revenge in.

As the big party is a fancy dress one (or costume party for those American readers), the killer has the annoying habit of assuming the identity of the person he has just killed. Most famously brought to life in the ‘Groucho Marx’ mask splattered across the poster, there are other costumes equally as sinister, though I did have to draw the line of credibility when gender roles become blurred and the killer attempted to pass himself off as one of those hot co-eds walking around with little on. Quite how he finds the time to change (and conveniently anyone he kills is his size in clothes – a massive problem if I was to do that as I’m 6’ 5”), apply make-up/face paint if needed, dispose of the body of the previous victim and clean up the mess before anyone finds it also stretches credibility a bit. Though the audience knows which costume the killer is wearing, the other characters do not and so this ramps up the tension a little bit, especially in some of the earlier scenes of the killer targeting his victims.

Unfortunately, Terror Train cuts away from the moments of death, depriving the audience of some much-needed closure with some of the less likeable characters on show. There’s a bit of blood splattered around with an odd severed limb or decapitated head but this is at the birth of the ‘Golden Age’ and gore was yet to really come into its own. Sadly, the cramped confines and relative lack of escape routes and hiding places on board the train aren’t really used to much effect and Terror Train lacks any real suspense or stalking scenes, save for a particularly good final chase involving a conductor’s cage inside a carriage.

Jamie Lee Curtis is her usual likeable self in this one, playing up the typical ‘Laurie Strode’ role she had done two years earlier in Halloween. Curtis would also star in Prom Night and The Fog in the same year, making her quite the horror pin-up for 1980. Hart Bochner douches it up big time as Doc, the lead prankster who doesn’t care about anyone except for himself. Oscar winner Ben Johnson is on hand as the token veteran and adult authority figure and adds some gravitas and dignity to what should have been a throwaway role. The most bizarre piece of casting comes in the form of illusionist David Copperfield, who performs magic tricks to dazzle the teenagers on the train and is throw around as a red herring for a bit. It doesn’t really work and just stands out a mile as deliberate padding to keep the running time going. Copperfield does perform plenty of tricks and at times it’s like an advertisement reel for one of his shows.

 

Some stylish cinematography really raises the appearance of Terror Train, an average slasher which not too many people outside of the genre have ever heard but which is possibly too well-thought of for those who are familiar with the genre. Pacing issues, plodding at times, frustrating at others and impressive in flashes, Terror Train is a decent example of pre-splatter slasher, just don’t expect it to be as memorable as you’d hope it to be.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011)

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011)

Screaming only makes them hungrier

Whilst looking for a cabin where they intend to spend a weekend partying, a group of teenagers become lost in a blizzard. Seeking shelter in an abandoned sanatorium, they soon realise that they are not alone. Still living there are a trio of inbred cannibals, former inmates from the sanatorium who had broken out over thirty years earlier, and now look to the new arrivals as an essential source of food.

 

After the previous sequel, Wrong Turn 3: Dead End, seemed to send the cannibal horror series in an irreversible downturn, it’s refreshing to see that the series still has some life in it yet. I’m not sure whether any fourth entry into a franchise has any right to be as entertaining as Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, especially one which pretends to go down the prequel route to show you how the main antagonists came into being (in a prologue) before fast forwarding back to the present day. Director Declan O’Brien returns from the previous sequel and seems to have learnt his lessons here, offering up a far more traditional blood-soaked affair which requires limited brain power to understand.

Don’t expect the wheel to be reinvented here. Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is purely standard issue horror sequel filmmaking – minimum set-up and maximum carnage. You won’t see anything remotely unique. You’ll have seen everything before. You’ll have seen it done better too. Plot holes litter the narrative. Characters are barely existent. But there’s a certain level of brutality and a clear love for the genre that prevails through all of this.

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings clearly panders to a certain demographic and, from the opening minutes featuring inbred cannibals feasting on fresh human throats, people getting ripped apart from with barbed wire, electroshock therapy being used more violently than normal and then some token sex and lesbian scenes, you’ll be able to see how all of the boxes are going to be ticked off. The quick set-up allows for the characters to get to their eventual destination and run across the cannibals with two-thirds of the running time still in the bank. Being able to film in a real abandoned mental institution really allows Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings to look like a big budget horror film. The polished look that it has certainly lends it a nice air of credibility which the following sequels sadly lacked.

It’s rare for a horror film to feature a full cast of characters who are all utterly odious – usually there is at least one likeable character to get behind – but this group of friends has to be one of the most annoying, bitchy groups of friends going. Even the girl who appears to be set up as the likeable ‘Final Girl’ in the opening scenes has her fair share of bitchiness and unpleasantness. It’s difficult to even partition them off into the usual stereotypes. Whether horror writers are blurring the lines between stock characters or it is just lazy writing (my guess is the latter), it is getting hard to distinguish between who is who. They are walking targets and now instead of thinly-sketched characters, they’re literally bodies waiting to be smashed into oblivion. On the positive side, there are ten of them so expect the kills to be constant. The pace of the film is pretty solid meaning you won’t go too long before the cannibals dispatch another victim.

Like so many of its contemporary counterparts, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is rife with copious CGI gore but that’s not to say that there isn’t any of the old school stuff. In fact there are some excellent practical effects on display here and it’s like a slasher fan’s dream. With limbs being severed, heads decapitated and all manner of barbed wire and power tools being used, the film doesn’t skimp on the blood for one minute – clearly all of the creativity went into the death scenes rather than the script, a trait so common from the 1980s slasher craze. The film has a downright nasty mean streak a mile long running through – look no further than the gruesome scene in which the three cannibals slowly strip the flesh off one unlucky victim who keeps crying out “God kill me please.” It’s an unsettling scene, one which doesn’t really sit well within the rather jovial nature of the rest of the film.

The other great staple of horror is T&A, so often neglected in today’s more prudish genre offerings, but Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings delivers the goods, providing some extreme titillation on a number of occasions. It helps that the girls are all smoking hot but they not great actresses so acting with their bodies is about the best you’ll get. The script is truly terrible as well so the naked girls aren’t the only ones struggling with their tongues. Literally all of the dialogue is as basic as you can get and when it’s delivered by a bunch of actors and actresses who clearly sound like they need a few lessons in drama, it’s almost torture to the ears. Doing stupid things to further the plot isn’t the only crime that these people are guilty of.

 

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is a marked step up in quality from the previous film and puts this franchise firmly back on track. It’s clichéd as hell and features stuff that only the hardened horror fanatics will really lap up with enthusiasm. However what is not to love about a group of inbred cannibals chasing a bunch of horny and hot teenagers around in an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere? It’snot fine art, but it’s fine junk food horror for a rainy night.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

A love story

Scientist Rico Symes has crafted the latest predatory super-weapon for the military by splicing together DNA strands from a pterodactyl and a barracuda, creating a creature known as Pteracuda. During a routine test mission, the creature goes rogue after a terrorist hijacks the computer controls. Capable of flight or swimming, Symes knows that Pteracuda poses a massive problem and so tracks down the surviving offspring of the original Sharktopus, now in a sanctuary in a local aquarium. Fitting it with a transmitter, Symes gives Sharktopus a simple command: to find and destroy Pteracuda.

 

I was a little generous in my review for Sharktopus, stating it was ‘everything a cheap, goofy and enjoyable monster movie should be about’ but I could clearly see where the enjoyment was coming from and with such a ridiculous premise, it ran with it as best as it had any right to do. A few years later and Roger Corman is back with even more bizarreness but far less originality. A sequel to both Sharktopus and Piranhaconda (though I don’t get the connection with the latter film), Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda continues the trend of combing the names of two random creatures to make a new monster. Pteracuda was the dumbest name I’d ever heard – well until the sequel Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf went into production! Apparently, a bunch of combi-names was tossed around on Twitter with fans voting for the one they wanted. At least Corman is giving in to people power.

Do you expect anything remotely resembling a plot? No? Good, didn’t think so. You won’t find that here. Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda gives us the bare minimum story of military experiments, terrorists, innocent civilians who get wound up in the mayhem and plenty of unnecessary characters to throw into the way of the monsters every few minutes. Honestly, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda doesn’t even run like clockwork – the clock has well and truly stopped here and the nonsensical plot developments would only be surprising to an unborn baby and that’s about it. Top secret government weapon that goes haywire and the people responsible attempt to bring it back and cover it up. That’s it. Let’s see what else the film has to offer.

Unlike many other giant monster showdowns of late, particularly the awful Mega Shark Vs … films, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda does feature a lot of lengthy tussles between the titular creatures, so much so that it actually gets boring watching them. I know, I know, it appears I’m far too hard to please when I complain that there wasn’t enough in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and now there is too much in this one. Usually the creatures fight off in a titanic battle at the end of the film akin to the old Godzilla films but Sharktopus and Pteracuda cross paths a lot throughout the film, which was pleasantly surprising as it meant a lot more CGI effects which would have driven up the cost of this film significantly.

Like pretty much all of these CGI slugfests from Sy Fy or The Asylum, the eventual fight scenes fail to connect with the audience. You know that what you’re watching is just two computer-generated monsters fighting off because there’s literally no sense of gravity or weight to them. Don’t get me wrong, the fights do go on for a few minutes a piece but whilst they’re scrapping, the motions and movement are just too fast: tentacles flying across the screen, wings flapping all over the place, teeth gnashing and so on. Real creatures wouldn’t be able to react like that and so in trying to crank up the excitement of the film, the fights just become frenzied free-for-alls in which your eyes and ears are bombarded with as much as possible within the time frame.

Continuing on another irritating trend, both Sharktopus and Pteracuda have a tendency to kill humans by biting their heads off. Most likely because it’s a cheap and easy special effect to pull off in post-production, literally every giant monster of the past few years has killed its human prey like that. Since when did carnivores become so picky and just go for the human head? It’s so annoying, especially when I think of some classic monsters movies and the memorable ways in which people were killed and eaten alive (Quint’s graphic swallowing in Jaws always springs to mind). Having said that, the bulk of the kills are for non-characters who may say a handful of words at best before they’re fed to the fish. People die all too often in this and it becomes a chore. So when someone with a meatier role falls victim to the monsters, there’s no shock value.

That would assume you’d give a toss about any of the characters in this film. Robert Carradine has a bit of a blast as the sort-of-slimy scientist, only he doesn’t really do anything truly evil. Rib Hillis is the stock mercenary tasked with leading the mission to stop the weapon. Hillis doesn’t really get much chance to shine in the role until the end but comes off little better than your generic hero. If there is one saving grace from Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda, it’s in the form of the lovely Katie Savoy. Though her weakly-written marine biologist role is an awful character who serves little to no purpose, she’s one of the most naturally attractive women I’ve ever seen in a film like this. I’m smitten! There’s also a really random cameo from TV talk show host Conan O’Brian, who I’m sure owed Corman a favour to appear in this. Maybe he was a big fan of the original Sharktopus?

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda is a cheap sequel to a cheap film, where special effects seem to revert back in time and all sense of what a film should be has been thrown out of the window. Though I guess when you see two giant hybrid monsters pummeling each other in the air and underwater every ten minutes or so, it’s kind of irrelevant how bad everything else is.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆