Prom Night (1980)

Prom Night (1980)

If you’re not back by midnight… you won’t be coming home.

Four children playing in an abandoned convent cause the accidental death of a little girl. Promising that they would never tell anyone that they were involved and blaming a paedophile for the crime, the group think that everything will be fine. Six years later and on the day of their high school prom, a masked killer targets them for a horrific revenge.

 

One of the earliest of the slasher sub-genre to emerge in the wake of Halloween, Prom Night was released at a time when, even by now, the formula had established itself to such an extent that this is almost derivative and it has gone on to establish itself as one of the more famous slasher films of the 80s. It’s like a weird mix between Halloween, Carrie and, bizarrely enough, Saturday Night Fever. Curious bedfellows especially as disco was in its death throws in the late 70s and early 80s!

If Prom Night only had half the energy and pace of any of those aforementioned films, it would have been a lot more enjoyable. It’s dreadfully dull for the first half of its running time as it spends far too long engaging with the teenage characters and their “will she/he go with me to the prom?” nonsense. It’s not interesting in the slightest to watch characters scheme about how they’re going to get someone back on prom night – the only payback I want to see is of the axe to the head variety. There are a few menacing phone calls and some hints of the slaughter to come but Prom Night is a film which loads up its final third at the sacrificial cost of the quality of its opening acts.

The ‘killer looking to avenge a previous wrong from childhood’ plot device became a popular go-to for a lot of slasher films in the years and decades to come but it doesn’t really work here. Prom Night forcefully throws countless red herrings at the screen including a creepy caretaker at the school and an escaped convict in an attempt to keep you guessing as to who the killer is. However they aren’t really needed to propel the plot further on because the killer wears a black mask for the duration of the film, only revealing themselves at the end and so the red herrings and the police investigation sub-plot are a complete waste of time.

Prom Night does kick in when the prom actually begins and the killer comes out of the shadows. There are some decent stalk and chase scenes through the empty part of the school and there are one or two shock moments to jolt you out of your seat. The good thing is that it’s played serious and so there is a suitably ominous and foreboding mood as you know this person will stop at nothing to get back at the four teenagers. Prom Night is hardly a ‘scary’ film but compared to a lot of other slasher films, the atmosphere is good.

There’s a decent kill count too – they’re not paced out evenly enough to keep things ticking over – and the majority of the kills are confined to this final third of the film. Whilst not up to the same level of gore as Friday the 13th or something like The Burning, Prom Night doesn’t hold back with the blood. One particular set piece involving the unveiling of the prom king and queen, a decapitated head and a catwalk, all to the accompaniment of some outrageous disco music, is highly memorable – actually one of the standout kills from the whole 80s slasher craze. Although if there is one thing you’ll quickly learn from this film is that “It’s prom night…and everything is alright” (lyrics from the only cheesy disco song that the DJ at the prom seems to play).

Jamie Lee Curtis would star in Terror Train and The Fog in the same year, making her quite the scream queen pin-up for 1980. This is arguably her worst performance of the three and she almost looks and sounds bored to be appearing though this is largely down to the script which doesn’t place as much focus on her as a main character than it should do. The less said about the lengthy disco dancing segment she has to complete, the better. Leslie Nielsen is the token elder statesman in the cast, adding some credibility amongst the throng of teenagers, though it’s really hard to take him seriously in a dramatic role so close to his amazing comic turns in Airplane! and The Naked Gun films.

Bizarrely, Prom Night inspired a whole batch of unrelated sequels towards the end of the decade which had nothing to do with this and just coast along under the Prom Night moniker. Prom Night was also remade in 2008 with quite possibly one of the worst remakes of all time.

 

Prom Night is one of the quintessential slashers from the golden age of the sub-genre but I’m not quite sure why it’s classed as one. The standard issue black mask and axe combination means that the killer is hardly the most distinctive slasher going and maybe this is where Prom Night’s problems lie. Everything is perfunctory, just not really memorable give or take one or two moments. Plus the dodgy disco-themed prom dates this film significantly compared to the other big slasher hitters of the year.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Thing, The (1982)

The Thing (1980)

Man is the warmest place to hide

A group of scientists at a remote Antarctic research station find themselves in a terrifying fight for their lives as a deadly extra-terrestrial organism capable of assuming human form infiltrates their camp.

 

Sometimes cinematic greatness is not acknowledged until years down the line once the fallout from a film’s original release had subsided. The Thing had the unfortunate distinction of being the other ‘alien lands on Earth’ film of 1982 behind colossal family-friendly hit E.T. (The Thing was released a mere two weeks after it). The sweet-natured alien with the glowing finger who wanted to be friends with a young boy was a queer bed fellow to talk about in the same breath as a shape-shifting monster whose ideas of first contact were absorbing and killing humans before turning itself into its previous victim. So The Thing didn’t do very well at the box office, derided by the likes of Roger Ebert as a ‘geek show’ and simply branded as a ‘barf-bag’ movie. Not only that but fellow science fiction mega-hit Blade Runner was released at the same time. To say that it was a competitive year was an understatement!

However, thirty years of solid home video viewing solidified the reputation of The Thing. Audiences began to see the levels of detail and the depth to the film, looking far beyond the, admittedly, gross special effects, to see that this was a superbly crafted masterpiece of suspense and tension. In 2008, Empire named it as one of the ‘500 Greatest Films Ever Made,’ a far cry from its early days of derision and detest from the critics. The film was John Carpenter’s first big budget film after a number of low budget successes but since this flopped, he was barely trusted with a large budget again. It’s a big shame as Carpenter is one of the most talented men ever to set foot behind a camera and The Thing is proof.

I can’t think of too many films that have such a bleak outlook as The Thing. From the first twenty or so minutes, the script drip-feeds the audience with a number of clues as to what happened at the Norwegian camp. As soon as the truth is sickeningly revealed, that’s it for the characters. You realise that not one of them is going to have a happy ending. Carpenter proceeds to wring every scene dry of as much tension, suspense and paranoia as possible. This is as remote a location on Earth to set a sci-fi horror film and you know from the opening shots of the desolate Antarctic landscape that these men are on their own. Despite the openness of the wilderness, The Thing is deathly claustrophobic. These men are trapped inside a ramshackle assortment of wooden huts, hardly the greatest protection against Mother Nature and the freezing cold. If they stay inside, the alien will assimilate them. If they go outside, the cold will get them. The situation is hopeless and it isn’t long before some of them accept that fact.

The notion that one or more of the crew could be infected by the alien leads to the escalating tension as they go about finding ways to see who is human and who isn’t. Each twist to the story adds more layers of tension, suspense and paranoia because Carpenter is very crafty when it comes to revealing details. You will never guess who is human and who isn’t and for first time viewers, this is just brilliant to try and piece together. Even on multiple viewings, I find myself trying to work out when certain characters were assimilated and whether there are any hints in there. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling with red herrings, bluffs and twists and turns every scene to keep you guessing – the blood test scene where the surviving characters gather around to test blood to reveal who is human and who is not is one of the most suspenseful scenes ever filmed.

The problem with The Thing is that because the middle section of the film is tense, the final showdown was always going to be anti-climactic and that’s what happens here. Whilst it’s not a bad finale in any stretch of the imagination, it pales in comparison to some of the film’s earlier set pieces – the dog transformation, the defibrillator scene, the blood test, etc. You’ve already been put through the ringer a couple of times and you’ve got nothing left to give. Thankfully Carpenter ends the film on one final dour note, where any lesser director would have sold out and gone for a happy conclusion.

This is an actor’s film but not a starring man film. As good as Kurt Russell is as McReady, he’s not the star of the show. It’s an ensemble piece where every single supporting player contributes an equal amount with fine performances across the entire board. Character actors like Wilfred Brimley, Donald Moffat, Richard Dysart, Keith David, Charles Hallahan and Richard Masur all bring something different to the table in terms of their character, even if the script doesn’t really give them a lot of back story or depth. As they begin to mistrust each other, the script does a great job of seeing personalities clash, egos rise to the top, minds going crazy and tempers flaring. Each characters reacts to the situation differently as an audience, there’s someone for each to us to root for. We know whether we’d be a McReady or a Fuchs or a Blair or even a Norris in this situation….or do we? How do we know how we’d end up, faced with the grim reality of what is confronting them? The characters are real, they react like anyone would react and as a result, the potentially-overblown nature of a shapeshifting alien is never questioned.

The Thing’s previously-bad reputation comes from its gross-out special effects. This was the 80s and body horror was all the rage, where the human form was subjected to all manner of grotesque transformations in the likes of The Fly and An American Werewolf in London. Special effects wizard Rob Bottin subjects the audience to a nauseating freak show of monsters and forms as various characters are hideously deformed and mutated as the alien absorbs and replicates them. Blood, puss, goo, slime…..everything that Bottin can throw into the mix, he does. Some of the most ghastly visuals ever committed to film, The Thing will take a strong stomach to sit through if you’re not a regular gore hound. The best part about it is that even in 2016, the make-up effects have yet to be better on-screen. The tepid prequel relied too heavily on CGI to convey the same level of grotesque but didn’t have the same effects.

I’ve done a lot of talking about the film and haven’t yet mentioned that it’s actually a remake. The Thing From Another World was a classic 50s science fiction film, rumoured to have been mostly directed by one of Carpenter’s heroes – Howards Hawks. Carpenter goes back to the source material, a scary novella from 1938 called Who Goes There? and throws in a number of references to the original as a tribute. Having read the story, I can say that this version is very true to the source material and improves on it in every way. A rarity nowadays.

One last point in this lengthy review – Ennio Morricone’s minimalist synth score sounds like a traditional John Carpenter soundtrack but adds so much to the proceedings that it gets overlooked far too often. Aside from the ominous title track, there is good use of the low, droning synthesiser during a number of key scenes in the film, drawing out every last possibly ounce of tension possible.

 

The Thing is a masterpiece of sci-fi horror and one of the greatest genre films ever made. No one has ever come close to recreating the paranoid atmosphere, the twisted imagination and the sheer talent that combined to create this almost-perfect fright fest. Forget Halloween. The Thing will always be John Carpenter’s best film. An essential part of any film fan’s collection.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Alligator (1980)

Alligator (1980)

It lives 50 feet beneath the city. It’s 36 feet long. It weighs 2,000 pounds…And it’s about to break out!

Flushed down a Chicago toilet, a baby alligator survives in the sewers by eating discarded laboratory dogs injected with growth hormones. Over the next twelve years, the small reptile grows to gigantic proportions and needs more than just dead dogs to satisfy its hunger. Soon enough, human body parts are beginning to wash up in the sewers and the police think that a serial killer may be on the loose. However, it isn’t long before the alligator escapes the city sewers and goes on a rampage.

 

One of the best of the Jaws imitators to come out in the years following Spielberg’s classic, Alligator takes one of America’s classic urban legends – that of pet alligators being flushed down into the sewers and managing to survive there – and turns it into an effective horror flick. It’s a B-movie in every sense of the definition with a little bit of black humour flowing underneath all of the cheap thrills but it stands out pretty easily from its ‘nature runs amok’ creature feature brethren. In fact writer John Sayles was also responsible for Piranha and the similarities between the approaches of both films are evident. Piranha fares a little better in the light-hearted entertainment stakes but Alligator is definitely the scarier of the two.

Alligator is well-paced and, like Jaws, takes time to build up the suspense and tension as we get fleeting glimpses of the creature roaming the sewers.  It’s these scenes inside the sewers where Alligator really shines and has been etched on my mind for years. I remember catching a glimpse of the sequence in which the pet shop owner pushes his trolley through the huge storm drain when I was a child and it stayed with me all of these years until I finally watched the film in full. They’re dark, eerie, wet and labyrinthine – hardly the place you’d want to get lost in with a giant alligator prowling around. The constant welling of the water and the lack of light down there really gives the sewers a classic horror atmosphere which is played up well in the early going.

There are a number of decent set pieces scattered throughout the film and Alligator does try and mix things up so that it’s just not all the same thing over and over again. One particularly memorable scene involves a group of kids playing ‘walk the plank’ in a backyard swimming pool where the alligator has unfortunately found its new home (well unfortunate for the kid who actually walks the plank). In the wrong hands, a lot of these scenes would have come off as cheesier than they are but director Lewis Teague knows when to keep things serious and when to toss in some oddball humour. It’s pretty hard not to unintentionally laugh at some of the things on show, be it for the right reasons or the wrong reasons – the alligator bursting through the concrete sidewalk being a classic bad special effect.

Alligator does fall into some blatant Jaws plagiarising particularly the POV shots from the creature with the accompanying “duh-duh, duh-duh” soundtrack as it homes in on its victims. Some of the model work is a little blatant too – the scenes at the wedding where the alligator has to become more mobile than it has been for the entire film clearly consist of the model being wheeled around on a trolley. There is a bit of miniature work too involving a real alligator crawling around on some tiny sets but it’s forgivable. But the majority of the special effects are decent enough involving a model gator and it’s big enough for the characters to interact with as they are dragged kicking and screaming to their deaths or crushed between its huge teeth. Alligator is gory as a result, with lots of limbs flying around, blood flowing and a decent body count to boot.

There’s also a slackness in the script which kicks in around the half-way point once the alligator leaves the confines of the sewers and starts terrorising the city. There are too many one-note characters floating around to fulfil a number of clichéd requisites and a number of sequences feel forced because “they’re the genre norm” including the obligatory love interest developing between the main characters, the attack on a populated event (in this case a party) and token slime-ball characters getting their comeuppance.

Robert Forster is decent in the lead role and you can see why he’s still getting plenty of work in the 2000s and 2010s. It’s virtually the Chief Brody role all over again – the grizzled cop desperately trying to protect the people he’s paid to serve. Robin Riker co-stars as the female scientist/love interest and is clearly in the Matt Hooper know-it-all school of characters. This leaves Henry Silva to come along as the Quint character and think he has what it takes to kill the alligator. The acting is of a decent standard given the material and Forster does shine with his performance, though it’s Silva who steals the show with his short role as he convinces a trio of local youths to act as his ‘native’ auxiliaries and help him flush out the gator.

 

As far as killer reptiles go, Alligator ranks as one of the best. It’s not perfect and could have been a lot tighter as far as the film pans out but it delivers a huge amount of entertainment for genre fans without crossing over into parody. Killer crocodiles/alligators have never been more impressive than in this one despite special effects coming on in leaps and bounds over the years.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Ghost Ship (2002)

Ghost Ship (2002)

Sea evil

A salvage crew discover a long-lost 1962 passenger ship floating lifeless in a remote region of the Bering Sea. Heading aboard to inspect her before towing her back to land, the crew find more than they bargained for with a massive haul of gold bars in the cargo hold. However, strange things begin to happen to the crew and they realise that something is not quite right with this ship.

 

The late 90s and early 00s saw a number of big budget ghost films being released, including The Haunting, The House on Haunted Hill and Thir1en Ghosts, all three remakes of earlier haunted house horror films, revamped for a new generation of genre fans. American film label Dark Castle were responsible for two of those aforementioned attempts at recapturing the B-movie vibe of the originals and here they are with a third attempt. Ghost Ship is not a remake of anything but a film so unoriginal and filled with ideas from other films that it might as well be. Deep Rising, Event Horizon and The Shining seem to be high on the list of films that the makers of this have seen – even the poster has been ‘inspired’ by 1980’s Death Ship.

Starting off with an impressively gory set piece, the signs look good for Ghost Ship to continue its momentum. However, you’d be best off switching off at this point because the film goes downhill quickly. Director Steve Beck was responsible for the poor Thir1en Ghosts the year earlier and brings with him the same box of tricks that he believes create scares and makes films frightening. This involves horrible things popping out from unexpected places in front of the camera, lots of freaky spectral visions which twist and contort and then disappear, loud bursts of noise to startle the audience, nauseating camera angles, fast and slow motion shots, and ghosts playing tricks on people by making them believe something is real when it isn’t. Ghost Ship repeats the same tactics for pretty much the same results.  The scares aren’t effective. The smoke and mirrors show wears thin. It’s all style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, the film looks good. The ship itself is suitably spooky and the cinematography is decent at creating an ominous atmosphere – it’s a shame that there’s not much to go with it.

Ghost Ship is a film geared towards its final twist. It’s hardly a riveting revelation to base an entire story around and I’m sure the writers were giving themselves a massive pat on the back whilst structuring the narrative around it. The problem is that it affects the rest of the film – it’s such a pointless last-minute dash to turn the story on its head that you’ll be thinking about all of the contradictions it raises from the previous hour of screen time. It’s the only novel thing about the entire script. Everything else runs as predictability as the sun rising and setting every day. Without a really meaty story, Beck relies on his bag of tricks that he’s accumulated from the commercials that he directed before heading into feature films. Only pre-pubescent teenagers with no concept of real horror films would believe that Ghost Ship was clever and unpredictable!

More of the blame can be squarely laid at the script rather than anything else on show. The salvage team is your usual eclectic group of people who, in the real world, would most likely not give each other the time of day. However this is a horror film and so diversity is essential. The group is made up of stereotypes and you’ll be able to paint numbers on their heads as to who is going to die and in what order. The kills are a mixed bunch – nothing quite like the gory prologue – and are fairly over-the-top in traditional slasher film fashion.

The sad thing is that there’s a decent cast bubbling around doing not very much. Gabriel Byrne is a good actor but he’s hamming it up as the alcoholic captain due to the dodgy script. Julianna Margulies looks like she’d rather be back on ER than trying to ‘do a Ripley’ and be the all-action female hero. Look out for Karl Urban (Dr McCoy in the new Star Trek films, Judge Dredd in the excellent Dredd, etc.) in an earlier role as one of the expendable crew. We know that this people can act so give them something to get their teeth into rather than forcing them to spout some bone-headed dialogue. At least the script does one thing right: as soon as the group find the stash of gold, they decide to pack it up and leave the ship as soon as possible.

 

Ghost Ship is a horror film intended for the easily-impressed MTV audience – superficial scares designed to appeal to pimply-faced teenagers sneaking into the cinema to see their first horror movie. There’s no foundation to the fancy trickery and anyone with half a brain will be able to see straight through the fog machines and strobe lights and realise what Ghost Ship truly is. 

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)

They eat the living

After a chemical leak at the Hope Centre in Papua New Guinea (an organisation devoted to feeding underdeveloped countries) turns its staff into flesh-eating zombies, a four-man commando squad led by Mike London are sent to investigate. They run into a TV news crew led by celebrity reporter Lea, who are after the same story, but what they discover is that the area is overrun with zombies and the virus is quickly spreading.

 

Known in various countries as anything from Virus to Hell of the Living Dead to Zombie Creeping Flesh (which is the guise under which I’m reviewing this), it makes no difference what title is slapped on the credits, there’s one thing that will never change: this is a terrible film. Coming in the midst of the Italian zombie and cannibal horror boom of the late 70s/1980s, Zombie Creeping Flesh is like a ‘best of’ selection box, featuring all of the hallmarks of this exploitation sub-genre (cheapness, nastiness and violence) and throwing in as much from both the zombie films and the cannibal films it is stealing from.

I’ll give credit to the overall plot idea – that the rich nations of the world have developed a toxin which turns the population of the Third World into cannibals, letting them eat each other so that we can pilfer their resources – but in the hands of cult Italian exploitation director Bruno Mattei, arguably one of the worst directors I’ve had the misfortune of enduring, the overall idea was never going to matter. That’s because Mattei does his usual hack job, helming what only can be called a complete shambles of a production. The narrative is a mess, more so than Mattei’s usual films, and seems to have been stuck together with only the flimsiest of ideas.

Not only does the story make no sense and flitter from scene to scene with little to no furthering of the plot, but Mattei feels the need to add even more randomness into proceedings by splicing in all manner of nonsensical stock footage of animals and the rain forest. Getting bored of a scene between actors? Mattei goes ahead and slaps in some random footage of an owl in mid-flight. Or maybe a monkey flying through the trees might be more suited to your tastes. The stock footage inserts don’t even come during natural transitions – they’re just inserted into the film whenever the editor has either got bored, forgotten to edit properly or made a massive cock-up and had to put something in as a filler. Words alone can’t really describe how bad and disjointed this footage is.

The script continues to baffle the mind the further the film progresses. Despite knowing and being constantly reminded by their crazy comrade that the only way to kill the zombies is to shoot them in the head, the bulk of the soldiers continue to fire away without a care in the world, frustrated at their attempts to stop the hordes from getting closer. The zombies move slowly and I mean slowly. Mostly it’s meant to be for dramatic effect, as hapless victims stand petrified to the spot and allow the zombies to get closer to them, arms outstretched and moaning horribly. But it has the tendency to slow down action scenes to a crawl. It’s an agonising wait for the zombies to catch up to their ‘meals’ and some characters see it as an opportunity to prance around them and taunt them. Not a good move amidst a swarm of flesh-eaters. Some of the zombies have a habit of remaining perfectly still and allowing the humans to walk up on them from behind to see if they’re ok – cue the quick turn and face the camera to reveal the zombie ready and eager to bite! Pretty clever tactic if you ask me but what happens if no one comes up to you?

For no apparent reason, the survivors run into a cannibal tribe in the middle of the rain forest. Well I say for no apparent reason but knowing Bruno Mattei, the reason is perfectly clear – it’s to pad out the running time with a load of copious stock footage of an actual tribe from Papua New Guinea. The footage of the burial ceremony was real and has been lifted from a documentary – kind of a tasteless thing to do by sticking it right in the middle of a tacky exploitation film where the recently deceased is then turned into a flesh-eating zombie. It’s no wonder there’s so little dialogue during the ten to fifteen minutes of screen time that this portion of the film receives. It’s such a distracting sidestep from the zombie carnage that preceded it that you wonder whether the survivors really have a clue what is going on, let alone the audience.

Mattei has also copiously ‘borrowed’ the soundtrack from other films scored by Goblin. I say ‘borrowed’ because apparently the producers allowed him access to the music but it still reeks of cheapness. There are cues from Dawn of the Dead and Contamination in there. Whilst the soundtracks are a little jarring because they don’t really correspond to what is happening on screen, the fact that they’re kick ass soundtracks in their own right means at least they’re getting appreciated once more.

At least there’s one thing you can expect from a Mattei film and that’s copious amounts of gore. The bulk of the film features the usual neck biting and arm chewing zombie action that you’d expect. It’s in the finale where the money shot lies: an awesome tongue-ripping, fist-smashing, eye-popping sequence in which one character suffers a horrific fate at the hands of an off-screen assailant. It’s a great set piece which comes about thirty seconds before the credits roll.

 

Zombie Creeping Flesh is one of the tackiest zombie films ever to come out of Italy, a derivative, badly-made mess which stops and starts as much as one of its walking dead stars. A truly bad movie on every level, there is some enjoyment to be had out of identifying how many other films Zombie Creeping Flesh rips off in some way but even hardened Italian horror veterans will find this tough work.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Pegasus Vs Chimera (2012)

Pegasus Vs Chimera (2012)

Two legendary creatures. A battle for the ages.

Evil King Orthos is desperate to unite all seven realms into one nation to claim himself the emperor, killing those who oppose him. Belleros, who saw his father killed by Orthos’ men when he was a child, joins forces with Princess Philony to stand up to the tyrant. Frustrated by his men’s efforts to track them down, Orthos allows his warlock to conjure up the Chimera, a deadly monster, to find and eliminate the remaining survivors who resist his rule. Determined to find a way to combat the Chimera, Belleros and Philony seek out a witch who summons Pegasus, the winged horse, to aid them in defeating Orthos.

 

Quite possibly the cheapest-looking film that Sy Fy have ever filmed, Pegasus Vs Chimera is woefully inept in just about every department. I mean just take a look at that directionless plot! You’ve all heard of Pegasus before, the famous winged horse that was brought to life in Greek mythology and peddled in the big screen Clash of the Titans films. Less so, you may have heard of the Chimera, another monster from Greek mythology and definitely less-friendly and more prone to killing people than its equine counterpart.

The most hilarious thing about Pegasus Vs Chimera is seeing just how seriously everyone takes it. It looks like a live-action LARPing session, where the local doctor, a guy who works at McDonalds, the toned gym bunny, bitter retired teacher and a few boozed-up skinheads don rags and mini-skirts, pick up plastic swords, run off into the woods for the weekend and pretend that they’re in a Lord of the Rings flick. The dialogue is a right doozy, with some true corkers which indicate that the writers clearly have seen their fair share of films in which a wronged son/daughter seeks to get revenge on the big bad that killed their parents. It’s painful to hear the lines being delivered but comical to see just how stoic everyone is whilst doing it.

What Pegasus Vs Chimera virtually boils down to is a bunch of people in fancy dress running around the woods for an hour and a half. The story is loose, the pacing is woeful and the sequence of events is predictable and dull. Heroes encounter some soldiers. They fight. Heroes run off. They encounter someone else. There’s talking. The bad guys turn up. They fight. They run off. They do more talking and planning. The bad guys turn up again. And so on. Seeing people running around the woods isn’t exactly my idea of an exciting time but Pegasus Vs Chimera gives us plenty of that. At least the Canadian location shoot makes a nice change of scenery from the usual Eastern European locations that Sy Fy tend to stick to. Having said that, one tree looks like another no matter where you decide to film.

There are a whole load of familiar faces on show here including Rae Dawn Chong who starred opposite Arnie in 80s classic action flick Commando – time has not been so kind to her! Nazneen Contractor appeared in a number of 24 episodes alongside fellow 24 alumni Carlo Rota, who makes one of the least menacing villains ever put to one of these films. James Kidnie tries to outdo him as his scheming second-in-command but only succeeds in winning the Ben Kingsley lookalike award. It seems to be a requirement that in order to be one of the bad guys in Pegasus Vs Chimera, you need to be bald. All of the soldiers have sleek chrome domes. Actually, I don’t recall ever seeing more than about ten people on screen at any one time which kind of kills off the idea that they are fighting over seven kingdoms. Any sort of illusion that this is really a titanic struggle between armies is dead on arrival but again it’s hilarious to see how serious everyone is about it.

Pegasus is the least threatening ‘monster’ that I’ve ever seen in a Sy Fy flick. The mythical horse is one of the good guys from history and seeing the beautiful white horse they used for the real action shots hardly makes it appear like something that could best an army or even more threatening bloodthirsty monster in the form of the Chimera. Famously known for being able to fly, this version of Pegasus spends more time squarely rooted on the ground to avoid the costly CGI effects needed to glide through the air. Chimera fares little better, looking like any other generic Sy Fy CGI monster. The fights between the two are hardly riveting but as I’ve said, how is a horse with no sharp teeth, claws or other killing ability supposed to duke it out with something like the Chimera? It’s a mismatch but then it still sells the film with the ‘exciting’ title.

 

Pegasus Vs Chimera might actually be the worst Sy Fy film I’ve ever seen. Some of the horror films have been truly appalling but this one takes the prize hands down. A fantasy story like this needs a budget bigger than the tiny amount of coins you’d find in a five year old’s piggy bank! Putting the story into a contemporary setting would have avoided the embarrassment of seeing this tiny group of actors parade around in fancy dress in the woods and make fools of themselves.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Robocroc (2013)

Robocroc (2013)

The world’s most lethal weapon

When a top secret unmanned spacecraft disintegrates on re-entry, it crash-lands in the crocodile habitat of Adventure Land, a large tourist attraction with a waterpark, amusements and world-famous crocodile exhibit. The crash releases a load of nanotech-based combat drones which find a host in the rather large shape of a twenty-foot Australian saltwater crocodile called Stella. With a new found aggression and determination to kill everything in sight, Stella breaks out of her enclosure and begins hunting down anyone roaming loose in Adventure Land.

 

A film like Robocroc needs no grandiose introduction from me. If you’re a long-time reader on the site, you’ll immediately recognise it as another ridiculous creature feature movie made for Sy Fy. I just shake my head whenever I read the synopsis for any new Sy Fy flick – there’s got to be a saturation point where people will turn off and say “hang on, even this is too far-fetched” although if they haven’t by now, they most likely never will.

If you’ve seen a) any killer crocodile film over the last twenty years or b) any Sy Fy film over the last fifteen years, then you’ve already seen Robocroc. It’s just a sad attempt to put a new twist on the same formula. The Eastern European shoot, featuring a whole host of Bulgarian (I’m assuming since that’s the usual haunt for Sy Fy) bit-part actors with the token sprinkling of American and British ‘faces’ to anchor the film, just smacks of every single Sy Fy film ever made. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid if the crocodiles or snakes from Lake Place Vs Anaconda slithered onto the screen. The extras all look the same. The locations all look the same. The style looks the same.

Even though some of the film was shot in Bulgaria, it’s clear the majority was shot in a backlot in the States somewhere as a lot of the ‘action’ takes place inside a black tent. It’s the generic military HQ set-up, where the scientists and commanders stand around talking about the monster with some laptops and fancy-looking flashing lights distracting the extras in the background. Lots of exposition and talking about the crocodile takes place and for every second the film spends in here, it means less screen time for the crocodile and those costly special effects. Having said that, the CGI is awful, particularly when the crocodile loses its regular skin and becomes all-robot. Even more ridiculous is the POV shots we get from the robot’s eyes, complete with Terminator-style HUD which flashes red stating ‘prey detected’ – as if the crocodile can actually read the words.

The sad thing about Robocroc, and something problematic with a lot of these Sy Fy films over the past three years, is that they’re just spinning their wheels. They seem to be stuck in a rut, re-treading old ground over and over again because the writing teams can’t seem to find a way to make them original and fresh. Come on! You’ve got a robotic crocodile and you just throw it inside an empty waterpark and feed it a bunch of soldiers and teenagers? It’s dull, uneventful and sorely lacking any decent excitement, even when the crocodile is on the screen. Though the crocodile does things like take out helicopters, it’s not exactly pulse-racing material and you’ll never really feel that the main characters are in any danger whatsoever. There is a little CGI gore splattered around but the film backs out of showing too much carnage which is disappointing.

Regular Sy Fy mainstay Corin Nemec shows up as the hero and sleepwalks his way through proceedings. He’s already faced troglodytes, the Mosquito Man and sand sharks to name a few in these type of films so adding a T1000-like crocodile to his list isn’t going to be much of a stretch. Keith Duffy, formerly of Irish boyband Boyzone, makes an appearance as the hunter character who turns up, does a feeble Quint-like impression, and then is promptly taken out of proceedings. Thanks for coming. Dee Wallace, a big genre star back in the 80s with the likes of Cujo and The Howling, must be wondering just what her agent is getting her into these days. She looks incredibly bored with everything going on, though she’s not the only one. Even at a lean seventy-seven minutes long, Robocroc is a tough slog.

 

Robocroc is a drab, non-event of a silly premise. Why bother wasting time turning the crocodile into a killer robot if you’re just going to let it do the same things that a normal crocodile horror flick would do? A waste of a ludicrous idea but also a terrible film.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

There IS a fate worse than death.

Barbara and her brother Johnny are visiting their aunt’s grave where they find themselves attacked by a violent man. Barbara escapes with her life and runs to an old farmhouse nearby where she takes shelter. Shortly afterwards, a man named Ben arrives and tells her stories of what is happening across the state. It appears that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. More survivors are found but it isn’t long before tension begins to rise amongst the group as to the best way to proceed. Soon the group find themselves trapped in the farmhouse by an ever-growing number of zombies outside.

 

Long before Hollywood ran out of decent script writers and decided to just remake everything under the sun, legendary horror director George A. Romero set about remaking his classic 1968 horror hit. Brought about in part due to the fact that Romero saw little profit from the original due to copyright issues (the copyright wasn’t issued and so the film is in the public domain meaning he gets no royalties) and that other studios were looking to do a remake, Night of the Living Dead works far better than it has any right to do given that it’s a very faithful remake. Dismissed by almost everyone upon release, Night of the Living Dead has since gained a cult following – maybe it’s due to the fact that the majority of remakes these days are terrible and so this stands out a country mile! Or maybe it’s due to the fact that the majority of people who were involved with the original were involved here too, adding that extra heart and soul into proceedings.

Night of the Living Dead is an excellent remake which updates the story to a more contemporary setting for a whole new generation to fear. Sticking fairly closely to the original’s narrative with the introductions of Barbara, Ben, the farmhouse and the impending zombie apocalypse, there are some new twists and turns thrown in to keep things fresh. It’s nowhere near as creepy as the original, no doubt its effect watered down considerably given the vast number of zombie films that have been released over the years, but there is still an overwhelming sense of dread. Even though, as hardened horror fans, we know what to expect from a zombie film, the shuffling flesh eaters still pose quite the menace and threat. As time passes through the night, the tension and suspense really ratchets up a couple of notches as the characters become more stressed and the zombies become greater in number. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the original, you’ll know that things aren’t going to turn out well for the survivors. The sense that no one knows what is going on also adds to the confusion and I’m glad no explanation is added to the zombie apocalypse. You don’t need to bother about the why, just the fact that it’s present.

Make-up effects legend Tom Savini made his directorial debut for this one and he does a good job of keeping everything flowing. The pace is good and there’s not an awful lot of filler, though some of the scenes involving the verbal conflict between Ben and Harry tend to drag out a little longer than needed. Ironically, it’s in his speciality field where the film fails to live up to usual expectations. There’s not a lot of gore on show here, though this was down to the special effects team wanting to keep things restrained out of respect for the original. The zombie make-up is the stand-out, with a number of featured zombies looking the part, particularly the memorable cemetery ghoul and autopsy corpse at the beginning.

Romero’s changes to the original script come mainly in the form of the characters, ably portrayed by a solid cast. Patricia Tallman is decent as Barbara, though in this post-feminist world the script has changed her character from frightened, screaming girl-in-distress to Ripley-esque wonder woman who learns how to shoot and take care of herself in no time at all. Tony Todd stars in the role of Ben, a character who caused a bit of a stir back in 1968. Much focus was given to Duane Jones’ appearance as Ben in the original – a black actor being cast as the hero was not exactly something new at the time but if you read any academic literature that talks about Night of the Living Dead, then this is always highlighted as important. Jones was cast because he was the best person for the role, not because of his skin colour. Likewise, Tony Todd has been cast not because of the colour of his skin but because he’s a great actor with a powerful, commanding voice and a towering, somewhat menacing, stature. He beat off some stiff competition for the role including Laurence Fishburne and Ving Rhames. Todd’s first appearance in the film sees him wielding a ‘hook’ in his hand – foreshadowing his iconic portrayal of the title character in Candyman two years later.

 

Night of the Living Dead is an overlooked horror classic. With enough homages and certainly more than enough changes to keep audiences anticipating the next twist, it adds a modern slant to the original and brings Romero’s nightmarish vision of the zombie apocalypse right up to date.

Shamefully, I have to add that I saw this version first and so wasn’t coming in with any preconceived notions about what it should be. Both this and the original are, on their own merits, excellent horror films with enough shocks, scares, suspense and satire to keep any horror fans happy.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆