Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Evil has been summoned

During an attempted robbery of an art museum, Morgana accidentally unleashes the evil Djinn from the fire opal she attempted to steal. Released into the world once again, the Djinn starts to accumulate the wishes that he needs to become powerful and allow the rest of his kind to inherit the Earth. Deliberately getting himself incarcerated in prison, the Djinn quickly begins to harvest souls desperate for one wish.

 

1997’s Wishmaster was a creative and pacey horror flick made by a bunch of guys who had been around horror for a while and knew their stuff. Featuring a one-liner spouting supernatural villain in the mould of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger,  it was inevitable that a sequel would show up to really put the focus onto the evil genie. It was no surprise to see Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies go straight-to-video as well, more-or-less consigning the Djinn’s moment of fame as a potential breakthrough horror villain into the history books.

That may not be such a bad thing in all honesty as, like many of the big horror franchise sequels, too much focus is placed on the Djinn in Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. He’s virtually the star attraction here, working his way through the prison with relative ease, dishing out wishing to people who clearly have no idea what they’re getting themselves in for. In many ways, this sequel just turns into a showcase for the Djinn and his wish-twisting abilities – there are far more set pieces involved in this one than the first film. Basically rehashing the story of the original, the film sees the Djinn freed by a woman who must then find a way to defeat him before making three wishes and letting loose all hell.

It’s a recycled story from the original but then the novelty of an evil genie quickly wears off once he starts getting people to make wishes virtually every scene that he’s in. Director Jack Sholder, most famous for helming A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the first sequel to Wes Craven’s classic horror, gets the ‘honour’ to follow in Craven’s footsteps (Craven producer the original Wishmaster) once again by taking the reins here. But it appears that Sholder forgot to hire a script writer along the way and had to do it himself! It’s an appalling mess of horrible dialogue, terribly-written characters, pseudo-Christian sub-themes. Despite some attempts to turn the story into something fresh, it’s obviously a lesser man’s reworking of the original film.

The only returnee from the original is Andrew Divoff, back again as the Djinn. Divoff has got such a smarmy face that it’s hard to not want to punch it in this one as his mouthy character provokes people into making unfortunate wishes, all the while maintaining a smirk and sense of ‘you can’t touch this’ about him. Divoff saw sense and bailed for the following two sequels but he’s the main man here, almost the protagonist of the proceedings. You’d much rather see him tricking the inmates and watching the carnage that ensues than with Morgana and her efforts to find a way to stop him. He’s not exactly an anti-hero yet in the way that Freddy turn into with the later A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels but the intent is clear to see. He does have some very poor one-liners to spew, some of which will make you cringe.

Nothing will make you cringe like the rest of the cast though. The original sported the likes of Robert Englund and Tony Todd in small roles to really boost the star power. This has no such look. Holly Fields, as Morgana, is an awful leading lady without any presence or ability to emote. I won’t even bother breaking down the cast of characters in the prison. Safe to say that like all American film prisons, the ethnic diversity is ridiculously spot on – Russian mobsters, Asian martial artists, Latino thugs and even burly prison officers.

The make-up department earn their pay once again. Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies features some excellent practical effects, including the remarkable sequence in which the Djinn is resurrected at the start of the film. Perhaps the most painful-looking is the unlucky chap who wishes to walk through the doors of his prison cell, only to literally squash his way through the narrow gaps between bars. There are some silly moments though, including one lawyer who has sex with himself, and a daft scene in which a woman at a casino farts out a load of coins. They’re juvenile moments which hint at the daft direction in which someone could have taken the idea of wishes being twisted out of context – frat-boy style!

 

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies has some decent moments but that’s all this film feels like – a collection of moments rather than a full blown narrative with them in. The story is bitty, the acting is pretty dire (with the exception of Divoff) and even the wishes seem to have lost their charm. It’s a fair timewaster if you were a massive fan of the original but other than that, it’s a no-brainer to see why this series quickly crashed and burned.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Green Inferno, The (2015)

The Green Inferno (2015)

Fear will eat you alive

College freshman Justine joins a group of conservation activists heading down to the Amazon to fight off some greedy land developers who are threatening the existence of one of the indigenous tribes. The protest goes wrong and the activists are bundled straight onto a plane out of Peru. Unfortunately, the plane develops a fault and crash-lands in the jungle. Taken captive by one of the tribes they were trying to protect, Justine and her friends realise that they are now in the clutches of cannibals – and they’re next on the menu.

 

Eli Roth’s love-it-or-hate-it throwback to the Italian exploitation flicks of the 70s and 80s, you’ll only really ‘get’ The Green Inferno if you’ve had the courage to sit through one of the numerous cannibal flicks such as Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox that have inspired him – The Green Inferno is actually one of Cannibal Holocaust II’s alternative titles. Generally tough to watch, even for seasoned horror veterans, these cannibal films included all manner of gruesome splatter sequences but, more disgustingly, some actual animal violence. Try watching the unedited version of Cannibal Holocaust where a real turtle is killed and ripped open without feeling queasy – it’s a difficult ask. But those films were a product of their time, where messed-up Italian directors gorged on guts and gore for a living and churned out some of the most extreme films ever made. It’s pretty ridiculous to even think that something as exploitative as The Green Inferno could make it to cinemas in 2015 when the aforementioned Italian cult films have been banned in numerous countries around the world for years. A masterful PR campaign in the build-up to release banned trailers and clips from being shared on social media and showed footage of people allegedly fainting and throwing at previews, promising a disturbing and violent experience like no other.

The Green Inferno is nowhere near as controversial as said Italian inspirations – for a start they avoid any unnecessary cruelty towards animals – and even compared to some other horror films over the last few years (or even some of the grislier episodes of The Walking Dead), it’s not the most graphic thing you’re ever going to see. As a homage to the flicks of old, The Green Inferno works very nicely. The big problem is, ironically enough, the production values that a modern day film budget brings with it. The older films were grimy, faded documentary-like productions which many believed were snuff movies (Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato was arrested in 1981 and charged with murder after people believed he had killed his actors during filming) and worked because of the raw and natural savagery that was depicted in them. The Green Inferno swaps this realism for Hollywood gloss and cleanliness where the actors look clean, washed and their make-up is pristine. It loses a lot of its magic and impact. But that wasn’t the only thing that these cannibal films played upon so let’s move on.

As is the norm with this sub-genre, the film takes a bit of time to get going as the characters start off in civilisation. We take satisfaction in seeing their daily idyllic lives with not a care in the world, knowing full well that they’re about to face a situation straight out of their darkest nightmares. The use of a cast of relative unknowns works here as we’re under no pre-conceptions about which characters will live and die or in what order. Sadly, the script gives most of them little to break free of generic stereotyping and not many of them develop a personality. It’s true that some won’t live long enough for us to care about them but it would have been nice to see a little more humanity come to the fore with the characters.

We’re treated to some lovely cinematography of the Amazon during the sequences in which the group arrive in the jungle. Roth did film in South America and having read up on the conditions that the cast and crew faced, it adds a whole new level of realism to proceedings. Check out some of the back story to production if you have a chance. Filming on location really gives the audience a sense of isolation – these people are thousands of miles away from help, in the middle of one of the most inhospitable and deadliest places on the planet. It’s the plane crash mid-way through where Roth remembers he’s directing a horror film and he pulls out all of the tricks with a startlingly realistic sequence, complete with slow-motion sickness.

Once the group encounter the cannibal tribe, things take a turn for the worse (for them) but better for the audience. The main gore set piece involves one character have their eyes removed, tongue cut out, limbs systematically hacked off and then beheaded before being slapped into the mud oven until cooked. It’s a brutal sequence, unrelenting in its assault on the senses and arguably the highlight of the film. From then on, it’s a combination of the characters attempting to escape their prison before being served up as steaks and grisly sequences of the unlucky ones falling victim to the bone cleaver. The fact that this was all passed without Roth making edits is a sign of the times, though there is little of the outright sexual violence here as was present in the originals (hooks through nipples, penises being sliced off, woman raped with big stones, etc..

Roth doesn’t know how to play the tone and there’s a constant clash between jokey moments, outright depravity and bizarreness. Between the cannibals getting stoned, a badly-timed bout of diarrhoea and a perverse sequence in which one character’s answer to the horrors he’s just witness is to start pleasuring himself, the film throws in scary moments of genital mutilation, heads-on-spikes and flesh-eating ants. This is Roth doing what he’s doing in Hostel and Cabin Fever, toying with the audience a bit during times of tension, but here it works to kill off the horror of what is happening. The cannibal films of old were as deadly serious as anything you’ll see and Roth would have been wise to stick to the same tone, rather than imbue this with some of his usual frat-boy-esque humour. It’s a minor sticking point however and one which doesn’t detract too much to the film.

 

The Green Inferno is a great throwback to the Italian films of old but that’s just about all it works as. Roth clearly has a love and affection for the sub-genre (Cannibal Holocaust is apparently his favourite film) and this comes out in droves during the graphic sequences in the second half of the film. However, it treads no new ground as far as the sub-genre goes, simply repeating what always was a very basic formula and story but for the 21st century. If you’ve ever wanted to get into those older films, The Green Inferno would be a great way to start but for a genre veteran like myself, its ability to shock and scare was greatly diminished.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Anthroprophagus (1980)

Anthropophagus (1980)

It’s not fear that tears you apart…it’s him!

A group of tourists take a trip to a remote Greek island where they find that the local townspeople have all disappeared. After their boat drifts away, and with no phone service or electricity, the group takes refuge in one of the abandoned houses. It isn’t long before they discover why there is no one left on the island – a crazed cannibal with a taste for human flesh is prowling the streets.

 

An ultra-notorious Italian shocker, Anthroprophagus was one of the infamous ‘Video Nasty’ titles that the UK banned in the early 80s. So shocking was one particular scene in this film that Anthroprophagus was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1984 and banned from publication for over eighteen years. It joined an elite list of films to be given the boot from the video store shelves including The House by the Cemetery, Cannibal Ferox and The Last House on the Left. It’s laughable to realise that the film was passed totally uncut in 2015, just showing how times have changed and how much more de-sensitized to horror films we are nowadays.

Like a lot of the titles that were successfully prosecuted, Anthroprophagus became something of a Holy Grail for horror, where a dodgy black market of rough VHS copies were traded behind closed doors. If you wanted to see it, you’d know an uncle or the best mate of a mate who had a pre-certification copy stashed away in a loft somewhere. But this is 2016 and what was shocking in 1980 is nowhere near as bad today – not exactly saintly however! Anthroprophagus’ reputation precedes it, overshadowing it somewhat much like the reputations for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When a film comes with a hefty reputation, nine of out ten times it usually ends up being a let-down.

Anthroprophagus is one of those nine out of ten times. What a complete dud of a horror film! Being branded a Video Nasty, you’d expect something, well, nasty or even remotely graphic and disturbing. The only reason I can see Anthroprophagus being banned was for the infamous scene in which the cannibal eats a fetus. Yes, it’s pretty gross to see though this is more to do with the thought and implications of what he’s doing rather than actually watching him tuck into a piece of butcher’s meat. The rest of the kills are tame and fairly weak given the nature of other Italian horror films from around the same time period and what they were doing in regards to gore. Ironically the best kill is saved for the end of the film and features a pick axe and a load of intestines. It’s scant pay-off for the previous eighty or so minutes.

Talky and with a plodding pace, Anthroprophagus will try and test the patience of hardened genre fans. Those weaned on giallo or late 70s/early 80s Italian horror flicks may be able to cope with the tedious speed of the narrative but anyone dipping in to this type of film for the first time will find it immensely hard going. With little plot, the uninteresting characters mope around the desolate Greek village with little purpose for the good part of forty minutes. They just go through the motions, in particular the guys who show no distinguishing features and I’d even forgotten their names by the end. Whilst this is annoying as far as the film goes, its impact on the viewer will be more so – total disengagement from the proceedings. This means that when things do perk up in the final ten minutes, you’re already so bored that you don’t really care what happens as long as the film finishes. At least the shots of the empty village look eerie and, coupled with the suitably atmospheric synth score, add up to some decent atmosphere. It’s a shame that nothing actually happens.

The film’s best asset is its imposing killer. This cannibal monster of a man looks intimidating and has a powerful physical presence but he’s hardly used – it’s a good fifty minutes into the film before we first see him. On a number of occasions, the film teases us with appearances, where something has happened or we see a point-of-view shot. But then nothing. This can be effectively managed and we know that the killer is lurking around somewhere close. But to be scared, we need something for us to be scared of and not just thunder and lightning or cheap scares with cats jumping out from nowhere. His eventual reveal, hiding behind a closing door, is good and director Joe D’Amato, famous his skin flicks and cheap horror efforts, uses natural lighting to slowly reveal his disfigured facial features. George Eastman, who also co-wrote, stars as the cannibal and brings the film to life in the final fifteen minutes. There is a chilling sequence inside some catacombs (where aforementioned fetus is eaten) and there’s a great stalking sequence where he climbs up a ladder after Tisa Farrow – but this is literally the final ten minutes of the film. Far too little, too late to save it.

 

Anthroprophagus has clearly relied upon one or two shock moments of infamy to become the cult classic that it is today but don’t be fooled by the reputation. You can do a whole lot worse when it comes to Italian horror but this is nowhere near as deserving its status that it has. There is something memorable about Eastman’s cannibal though and he’ll stick in your mind long after watching. I guess that counts for something.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bunker, The (2001)

The Bunker (2001)

The evil is within

In 1944, seven German soldiers survive an American attack in the front and retreat to an isolated bunker manned by an aging veteran and a young recruit. Under siege by the enemy and with little ammunition, they decide to explore the sealed underground tunnels to seek supplies and find an escape route. However, the tunnels were sealed for a reason and once opened, strange things begin to happen to the group. Have the Americans infiltrated the tunnels from the other side of the hill or is there something more sinister at work?

 

There is something attractive to filmmakers in linking Nazis and horror. The idea that Hitler and many of his top ranking officials had an interest in the occult (which is quite well documented), as well as the Nazi’s numerous shady top secret projects from their ‘science’ divisions to develop new superweapons to win the war, is the stuff that the media has played upon for decades now. From comics to computer games, the Nazis and horror imagery have become inseparable. This is no more evident than in the horror genre, where filmmakers since the 70s have been turning to the Germans to add a little extra hate factor to their big screen efforts. However, it’s only over recent years where the fad seems to have gone into overdrive as smattering of input with the likes of Shock Waves and Zombie Lake in the late 70s and early 80s only teased the flood that was to come.

Michael Mann’s ill-fated The Keep in 1983 proved to be more of an arthouse horror dream than a straight-up frightener but that hasn’t stopped director Rob Green from trying a similar set-up in The Bunker, involving a bunch of German soldiers facing a supernatural threat inside some ominous structure. However, the film falls into almost the exact same pitfalls as The Keep did many years ago. Despite the obviously small budget, the production design team work wonders with the atmospheric and claustrophobic setting. The bunker itself is dingy, dimly-lit, full of lifeless grey and black and the cinematography down in the tunnels is superb. You get the feeling that you are deep underground and you never quite know what is lurking a little further along or around the corner.

This is where The Bunker’s problems began to appear. We never really quite know or understand just what is/was in those tunnels. The antagonist is never identified and the sketchy nature of the threat that the soldiers face is rather lazy writing. Is it something supernatural that they have awakened? Are they actually dead and this is just some version of Hell? Is it ghosts? Zombies? Have one of their number gone insane? Hints are given throughout that there is some bigger story arc going on here about some indiscretion that the soldiers have committed but it’s largely irrelevant to the supernatural stuff in the bunker itself. The set-up from the early part of the film just peters away as the script doesn’t really know a sensible way out of the solution. Instead, the film just opts for a load of wishy-washy sequences where the camera’s main friends are flashing lights, the smoke machine, loud noises and skeleton props. The creeping dread that The Bunker does so well to manifest at the start deserved to have a stronger conclusion than this cheap effects malarkey and generic man versus man showdown.

It’s frustrating because the film really kicks on with the psychological tension during the first half of the film, as these battle-weary soldiers begin to turn on each other for what has happened outside and what their plans are going forward. The decent cast of British character actors does well with the sketchy material they’ve been given. Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport, Eddie Marsan and Charley Boorman are all decent in their roles. Marsan, in particular, is rather enjoyable to watch as the nervous Kreuzmann who appears to have a mental breakdown – his simpleton expressions really convey a sense of loss, both with his friends dying but also of the fact he’s died a little bit inside his head too. I’ve seen a lot of comments moaning about the use of British actors to play Germans but I don’t care to be honesty – despite the varying accents on show from all across the British Isles, you still buy these soldiers as Germans. Just suspend a bit of belief for a bit!

 

In many respects, The Bunker plays out like a haunted house attraction at a theme park – lots of flashy visuals and sense of anything could happen at any time. But then at the end, it’s all for show and you realise that there was no real substance to your fear. As it stands, The Bunker isn’t totally without merit but the clearly-rushed screenplay just cries out to have had more time to polish the edges, give the story some real meat and work out just what the Germans were meant to be fighting.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆