Beyond, The (1981)

The Beyond (1981)

Behind this doorway lie the terrifying and unspeakable secrets of hell. No one who sees it lives to describe it. And you shall live in darkness for all eternity.

In Louisiana’s Seven Doors Hotel in 1927, a lynch mob murders an artist named Schweick, who was in the middle of finishing a grotesque painting which could open one of the Seven Doors of Death, allowing the dead to cross into the world of the living. Several decades later, Liza Merrill, a young woman from New York, inherits the hotel and plans to re-open it. Renovating the hotel activates the hell portal, and she contends with increasingly strange incidents as the dead begin to cross over into the real world.

 

It was extremely difficult narrowing the plot down to such a small synopsis, but I think I’ve done a decent job in simplifying a narrative which doesn’t really have much else to say than ‘weird stuff happens because of a portal to Hell.’ The Beyond is Italian horror at it’s most infuriatingly strongest – some stomach-churning gore set pieces but without a coherent narrative to link everything together in an acceptable form. The second in director Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy (along with City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery), The Beyond is yet another case of the ‘Godfather of Gore’ going for broke where his strengths lie but failing to keep it all glued together when he isn’t dripping the screen with splatter.

The Beyond can be best described as a vivid nightmare, filled with bleak and depressing images, an oppressive and brooding atmosphere and a general sense that things won’t turn out the way we’ve come to expect from a UK/US horror. This is where the film’s strengths lie – because you have no clue what is going on, thanks to the fractured narrative, just go with the flow and expected the unexpected. Chances are, that’s the only way you’re going to survive this because trying to predict what will happen next is largely impossible and will just lead to frustration. I first watched this about ten years ago, hadn’t got a clue what was going on, became bored and disengaged. My recent second viewing at least allowed me to see it from a different angle and it was all the better for it, rather than trying to piece together the story and make some sense from it. Amidst all of the randomness and copious use of drawn-out shots, there is some decent cinematography and a few bits where the film threatens to fulfil it’s promise. There’s an effective score from Fabio Frizzi which adds to the ambiance and with all of the zombies, supernatural goings-on and ghosts present, Fulci certainly covers all of the bases. It’s a shame that the zombie finale is so bland and low-key and seems to have been tacked on simply for the added-on value of zombies.

The Beyond was originally on the UK’s ‘Video Nasties’ list in the 1980s as one of 33 films which were never prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, but which could have led to the police seizing the film from retailers if they felt the material in question was in breach of the Act. The Beyond was dropped from the list when the BBFC realised they had already made cuts to the cinema version. Nevertheless, the uncut version remained elusive until 2001. I guess everyone got their knickers in a twist back in the 80s because The Beyond isn’t any less gory than a number of other big horror releases from the time period. If you think you’re going to survive a Fulci horror without seeing one of his ‘eye-popping’ gore effects, then you’re mistaken! You’re also in for a bonus treat as eyeballs are both scraped out from the front in one scene and pushed out from the back of the skull in another. Try making it through any of these moments without squirming – eyes are the killers for me as far as gory effects go and any sort of trauma to them just brings out the wincing. Another trademark Fulci gore sequence, the throat ripping, is also present as one woman is on the receiving end of a dog’s bite. Bodies are also dissolved in lime and acid, with various levels of effectiveness. In some scenes, the gore is cartoonish and so obviously a dummy/mannequin head or prop being used. Whilst some of them don’t look convincing nowadays, you’ve got to give them some credit for trying to create something out of virtually nothing (as far as budget goes). This is definitely not a film for the squeamish, regardless of the varying quality of the effects.

Fulci favourite Catriona MacColl returns in an unrelated lead role again, doing her utmost to make some sense of the nonsensical script. Not only is MacColl an attractive lady but she’s a bit of a prototype for the strong feminine lead roles that would come later in the genre. She’s not the helpless, screaming damsel-in-distress type but a character who works almost equally with the male lead, David Warbeck, to get to the bottom of the mystery. This isn’t a character-driven film and it’s to their credit that both MacColl and Warbeck do their best to hold it together as Hell rains down upon them.

 

Some say it’s Fulci’s best work and though I can understand the reasoning behind that, I much prefer Zombie Flesh Eaters (to give Zombi it’s UK title) or City of the Living Dead. Sometimes surreal, sometimes crazy, always gory and other times just plain ridiculous, The Beyond is a nightmarish film which will drive you insane with it’s lack of logic and story progression but sicken and repulse you with it’s visceral punches. If you’ve never seen it before, my advice is to watch it twice before coming to a final judgement.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Masters of the Universe (1987)

A battle fought in the stars, now… comes to Earth.

On the war-torn planet of Eternia, Castle Greyskull is coming under threat from the evil Skeletor who wants to rule the planet. A group of freedom fighters, led by the heroic He-Man, are accidentally transported to Earth by a mysterious key which holds the power to make Skeletor practically invincible. Once on Earth, He-Man and his friends team up with two teenagers as they attempt to find the key and return home. However, Skeletor and his henchmen are soon hot on their trail.

 

Part of me loves this film for being He-Man’s only big screen outing to date (and that’s 2018 to be precise). Part of me hates what they did for transporting him all the way to Earth and robbing him of everything that made him unique in the cartoon. Part of me wants to laugh at how badly they’ve ripped off Star Wars. Part of me remembers this fondly for being the first film I can ever recall going to see at the Canon cinema in Stockton. I’m so confused with this film. I love to hate it and hate to love it.

Masters of the Universe is a fairly ambitious attempt to bring the toy line to life – forget comparing this to the cartoon as it’s virtually impossible to do. Fans of the franchise would be aware of the number of rather impossible challenges that, for 1987 at least, would be present if the toys were fully adhered to. The likes of Battlecat for a start! To create something that would have resembled He-Man’s faithful fighting mount would have been far too expensive and complicated for a film in 1987. So, what we get is a reasonable stab at reinventing He-Man with a more modest budget and outlook, though everything that made the character has been stripped away, turning him into little more than a big bloke with a sword. But why, oh why did they have to set most of the film on Earth? I want to see He-Man and his gang battling Skeletor on Eternia, not some high school in America. Made by Cannon Films with a fairly substantial $22 million budget, Masters of the Universe should not have been this underplayed and watered down. The whole mythology of Eternia is given way to contemporary Earth – not good for the story but convenient for the budget. You have a load of intergalactic heroes and villains duking it out in record shops and school gymnasiums – hardly riveting stuff that an exotic foreign planet would have lent to such sequences. Even filming in a desert or some mountainous areas would have been better as they could have passed it off as Eternia!

As I’ve already alluded to, the Star Wars ‘influences’ are too obvious. Comparisons can be made between the likes of: the imposing villains in Skeletor and the Emperor and the way in which they act, dress, use lightning-like powers and their similar demise; the black Eternian soldiers and stormtroopers; the Imperial March-esque signature music theme for Skeletor; the duel between He-Man and Skeletor and the lightsabre battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker; the bounty hunter-like nature of Skeletor’s mercenary group compared to Boba Fett and the other creatures from The Empire Strikes Back. How would this film ever function if the makers had never seen George Lucas’ film series? Actually, going back to the music, I’m being a bit harsh. Bill Conti’s soundtrack, whilst derivative of both Superman and Star Wars, is decent enough and adds some nice motifs to the different characters. It’s pity that what happens on-screen isn’t nearly as exciting as the music.

Dolph Lundgren was a decent casting choice for He-Man. Whilst he’s not the greatest actor (a total understatement given his monosyllabic performance here), he certainly looks the part and I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone else who would have suited the role back in 1987. This was his first leading part, having impressed the world in his supporting role as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He gives it his all and looks to be enjoying himself without overstepping into camp territory. Surprisingly for a main character, he’s not given an awful lot to do and he falls into the backdrop too often, allowing his more vocal companions to further the plot along. He’s there to kick ass when needed and that’s about it.

Opposite him is Frank Langella as Skeletor. The cartoon depicted Skeletor as a rather effeminate villain, cackling and screaming and generally being a massive buffoon, whose plans never came to fruition. Credit to Langella for turning a silly villain into a dark, terrifying bad guy who really gives off that ultimate sense of evil vibe. Langella is quite frankly, superb, as Skeletor and gives a spirited performance which the film really doesn’t deserve. Maybe Langella was a massive fan of the cartoon or toys and wanted to do the character justice for his kids or something? There must be a reason why he put in so much effort to the role.

Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager) and Courtney Cox are pretty awful as the two teenage leads. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to centre a film featuring a hulking, semi-naked, blonde Arian male fighting a talking skeleton who shoots electricity out of his hands on a couple of human teenagers with relationship issues needs to sort themselves out. Fans of the toys will also be disappointed to note that few of Skeletor’s henchmen make an appearance – Evil Lynn is here (the wonderful Meg Foster) and there is a character called The Beast Man, but they’re too forgettable to really make much impact on the story. The action sequences involving He-Man and Skeletor’s minions simply fall into the generic laser fights trap that any Star Wars film would feature. Squint your eyes close enough and you’ll be forgiven for thinking Han Solo was firing at stormtroopers.

 

Masters of the Universe was an expensive flop, which ultimately led to the end of Cannon Films, and rightly so. It’s such a flawed, badly-amalgamated mix-up of Conan and Star Wars with little real resemblance to the toys or cartoon that it’s a wonder it ever got the green light. Still, nostalgia works wonders for this film and I can’t help but love it. It is entertaining and pretty fun and light-hearted for the most with a few decent moments. It’s definitely a case of ‘what if?’ and with the right budget and right people taking control of certain areas, it could have been a defining 80s fantasy film. Could have been…

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A (1985)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

The Man of Your Dreams Is Back

A new family move into the house on Elm Street and it isn’t long before the local teenagers begin having nightmares about Freddy Krueger. This time, Freddy attempts to take over the mind and body of Jesse, the teenage boy in the house, in an attempt to continue his heinous crimes against the Elm Street residents.

 

The laws of cinema dictated that a sequel to the hugely successful A Nightmare on Elm Street would be rushed out as quickly as possible and here we had it, only a year after Wes Craven’s genre classic struck horror gold. Much of the success of the original stemmed from infamous bogeyman Freddy Krueger, who had become an iconic horror character within the space of one feature film. Audiences wanted to see more of the pizza-faced villain and to strike whilst the iron was hot, this sequel was pumped out very quickly, with little thought to quality apart from the $$$ that the studio was expecting it would bring in. It shows.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a poor sequel in comparison to the original but on its own it stands up fairly well. Unfairly maligned, the film may not be everyone’s favourite sequel but I’d question anyone who favours it over Parts 4-6. After an imaginative opening in which Freddy Krueger drives a school bus full of teenagers into the desert where the ground begins to give way, revealing Hell beneath, the film quickly grinds to a halt. It’s not that there isn’t a decent story here because there are some interesting ideas floating around (more on those in a moment) but it’s that the script just doesn’t do anything with them. Jesse seems to experience one weird dream after another but he doesn’t end up resolving anything or learning anything on his own. Freddy has to spell it all out for him and the audience because the script is too weak to give us any real progression of the story.

Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy from the original gave the audience someone to root for and cheer on but there’s no repeat of her here. Instead, Jesse (Mark Patton) spends the bulk of the film sulking or brooding and is one of the most miserable leading characters I’ve ever seen. Jesse is not likeable in the slightest, though not exactly in the ‘I hate you so much I can’t wait for the killer to get you’ category. He does manage to convey the inner torment that Freddy is causing Jesse, particularly towards the middle section of the film where the nightmares became weirder and more vivid and Freddy begins to make his move.

At least Freddy is still scary here. He’s kept in the background for most of the film but when he does appear, he’s mean, sadistic and manipulative. He needs Jesse in order to return to the real world, though more should have been done with this side of Krueger’s personality. He probably has about the same amount of screen time as the original, which is good as he doesn’t become overexposed, and he’s not firing off cheesy one-liners yet. Robert Englund was the only person to return from the original and he carves out another fantastic Freddy performance. Those expecting Krueger to up the body count a little more in the fashion of Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers will remain disappointed. Despite slashing his way through a group of teenagers at a pool party in the film’s most memorable scene, Krueger doesn’t really do a lot of damage. He’s still in the psychological torture stage of his character development, playing and toying with his main victim to extract the maximum satisfaction from his revenge.

This has been dubbed the ‘gay’ A Nightmare on Elm Street film and for good reasons. There seems to be a not-so-hidden message about Jesse ‘coming out’ about his sexuality. He’s got a ‘No Chicks’ sign on his door. He runs away from his girlfriend after an awkward romantic encounter to spend the night in the masculine safety of his shirtless best friend. During a sleepwalking incident, he ends up in an S&M bar where he meets his high school gym coach who then proceeds to take him back to the school for a late night workout. With loaded dialogue like “there’s a man trying to get inside of me” and “Fred Krueger! He’s inside me and he wants to take me again” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that Jesse is a man with a sexual dilemma. Whether A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was progressive in its approach to homosexuality during the AIDs scare of the 1980s or whether this was all unintentional, this homosexual subtext was that strong that I wrote about this film as part of my university dissertation (alongside The Burning and Sleepaway Camp). The homosexual subtext does absolutely nothing to subtract from the quality of the film, in fact it improves it tenfold because it’s something a little different.

Despite the interesting ideas in the film, this is the dullest of the series by a long way. It does have its moments, but these are too few and far between. There’s a great moment where Freddy emerges from inside Jesse’s body, complete with a rather gory body ripping, and there’s another gross-out moment involving Freddy’s tongue. I can’t help but wonder how much more mileage they could have got out of the film with a few more of these ‘is it a dream or isn’t it a dream?’ sequences.

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has the ideas and the vision but fails to match up to them with a paltry budget clearly designed to cash in for maximum profit and a sense that this doesn’t really do anything with the character of Freddy Kruger or some of the surviving story from the original. It gets unfairly criticised and having watched it numerous times as part of my studies, I have a greater liking and understanding of it than I ever did before. However, Freddy would bounce back bigger and better with the next sequel. This one stands out as some kind of anomaly within the Elm Street franchise.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shallows, The (2016)

The Shallows (2016)

Not just another day at the beach.

Whilst surfing at a remote beach, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark. Unable to make the 200 yards back to shore, she finds herself trapped upon an outcrop of rocks in the middle of the bay. Whilst she is safe for now, the incoming tide will soon render her defenceless against the mercy of the shark.

 

It’s about time there was a more sensible approach to a killer shark film than Sy Fy and The Asylum have been using over the last few years with their never-ending supply of madcap mutated sharks with five heads, spewing toxic waste or simply being ghosts. I had been wishing for a return to normality and a return to the days when a killer shark film was actually scary and not stupidly juvenile. Thankfully, that day has come with The Shallows, a film which takes its cue from more realistic survivalist films like Open Water and 127 Hours and is far the better for it.

There’s not a whole lot of story involved in The Shallows, which keeps things nice and simple, and the focus on the situation at hand. However, it does take a while to get going as Nancy’s character is fleshed out a little. This is essential as the audience is going to spend the entire duration alongside her and so the better she’s developed, the more we’ll come to root for her. Blake Lively can act and manages to hold the film together on her own. She’s literally the only real character on show and hardly interacts with anyone else. The way she acts with her body, her facial expressions and some of her sound as she struggles through her ordeal speaks louder than any dialogue does. The pain, the stress, the exhaustion and the emotional torment that her character must endure is conveyed through non-verbal communication and it’s an impressive display. It doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly attractive and looks amazing in a bikini, something which the camera does play on a fair bit.

Like a lot of these survival films where one character is rooted to a specific location, The Shallows needs to find new ways to keep the character in peril. After all, if she just sat and waited on the rocks for as long as possible, there wouldn’t really be much of a narrative to follow, would there? Right up until the finale, the script does a decent job of providing these new challenges, be it Nancy stitching up a wound on her leg, trying to reach a buoy or finding a way to climb aboard a dead whale carcass. Every new scenario poses new problems, and with the shark ever present there is constant sense of danger. Given that she’s the only real character, there’s a fair chance that she survives and so each of these different challenges, whilst difficult for her, amount to little more than extra pain and suffering rather than instant death. It does kind of take you out of the film from time to time, particularly towards the finale.

Her co-star, if you can call it that, is the killer shark. There’s no question that any killer shark in any film released post-1975 is immediately compared to the classic shark from Jaws. Most have failed to improve upon Bruce’s shock value the first time you fully see the shark, but some have tried. The shark here itself is a mixed bag of CGI. The best scenes of it are the brief but violent attacks it mounts when it breaches the surface – here, the shark looks scary. Particularly effective is the jaw and gum motion that great white sharks have when they bite, which is something pretty much all films featuring killer sharks have failed to replicate. There are some truly awesome shots of the shark which don’t involve a full body shot – the eerie shot of its silhouette gliding through the crest of a wave towards Nancy is not only chillingly realistic but reminiscent of some real-life photographs taken on an Australian beach a few years back involving a surfer and a shark hiding in the wave. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. The scenes of the shark swimming underwater, particularly during the finale, are less impressive. This is where CGI still needs to improve and become more realistic. I’d argue that the shark here is one of the most impressive put to film, third behind Bruce himself and the animatronic mako shark from Deep Blue Sea (that thing is magnificent). The fact you don’t see as much of it as you’d expect is a bonus.

If there is a problem with The Shallows, it’s in the final. The writers do such a good job in keeping things fresh that they seem to have written themselves into a box – how do you keep the same tone and low-key approach amidst a finale which, by the letter of the law in today’s movies, must be bigger and louder than everything else that has preceded it? The script resorts to cheap Hollywood tactics to increase the excitement and add in more high-octane action sequences which don’t exactly fit in well with the rest of the film and, to be honest, ruin the film.

 

The Shallows goes back to basics with it’s material and works well for the majority of it’s running time, using well-crafted set pieces and a sharp script to keep the main character in peril and the audience on the edge of their seat, effectively making the viewer scared of venturing back into water too deep. That’s a compliment too few films since 1975 have managed to attain.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Maniac Cop (1988)

Maniac Cop (1988)

You have the right to remain silent…forever.

A killer dressed in a police uniform begins murdering innocent people on the streets of New York City. It turns out that a vengeful former cop has taken to branding out their own style of justice, determined to make people pay for the awful things that happened to him when he was unfairly imprisoned on made-up charges.

 

I can’t believe it took someone as long as they did to make a film about a killer police officer. This was the 80s, a decade known for being the playground of the slasher flick where all manner of deformed caretakers, jilted lovers and murderous siblings turned into serial killers, taking aim at the nearest bunch of partying teenagers they could find. What better stock character to turn into a psycho than one of the people meant to be protecting you?

Definitely a case of a film which sticks rigidly to its title, Maniac Cop doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an exploitation film and wears its heart on it’s sleeve. This is a rare film which actually delivers on its promises and then some, combining action and horror in equal measure. William Lustig had helmed the disturbing and controversial Maniac a few years earlier and applies himself well again, lifting a little bit of the grime and sleaziness and playing it straighter to avoid offending as many people. He has a certain eye and flair for the low budget carnage that ensues in his films and he sure can milk every penny from the finances. The film looks good, with the darker side of New York being exploited as much as it can to add a sense of atmosphere and tension to the night time scenes. This is certainly a city where you wouldn’t want to be out at night.

Not only can he create the right mood, but Lustig is skilled at directing action pieces and throws in plenty of exciting moments here, including the great finale where the maniac cop attempts to escape justice by fleeing in a police van.  Getting the balance between being a low budget action film and a suspenseful slasher just about right, the narrative veers across the borderlines a few times. The slasher elements work better in the first half of the film, as Cordell racks up a decent body count from law-abiding citizens in the means streets of New York. He’s pretty handy with whatever police accessories he’s carrying – he’ll even use wet cement if the need arises. The kills are decent enough and filmed well to convey a real sense of atmosphere. When the action begins to ramp up in the second half of the film, the horror elements go out of the window somewhat but by this point, the audience know the stakes are high to stop this guy.

Director Lustig has assembled a cracking cast to really add some class to proceedings. Bruce Campbell, still fresh-faced after his appearances in the first two The Evil Dead films, takes on the leading role of the rookie cop. It’s far from Campbell’s best work, and he plays it completely straight, but his youthful appeal is a nice contrast to the ever-reliable Tom Atkins. He is somewhat underused in a smaller role as the more experienced Detective McRae and it’s good to see the pair work off each other in the screen time they get. Richard Roundtree, of Shaft fame, adds more credibility as the police commissioner. All three men get a decent chunk of screen time too which was nice to see. Too many low budget horror films hire named actors to give top billing to and then only give them a few minutes of screen time for budgetary purposes. Cohen’s script allows all three men to shine in the roles they’ve got. The fact that the focus of the film is on adult characters with jobs and lives, rather than annoying teenagers in the woods somewhere, lends the narrative more of a gritty edge.

They’re not the only stars in the cast but special note should be given to Robert Z’Dar. He is the maniac cop of the title and is a mountain of a man. His Officer Cordell is one of the most imposing villains to come along in an 80s horror flick and gives Jason Vorhees a run for the money in the physicality stakes. It’s no wonder that Z’Dar returned for the two sequels – his deadly character just smacks of franchise as there was so much more you could do with the notion of a killer cop. Sadly, the sequels, nor this for that matter, never really played on the paranoia and fear that a vigilante member of the police would create for a town or city and turn the character into something of a one-note slasher. Cordell does have a back story which is explored here but that fades into the background and becomes irrelevant when he murders innocent people.

The soundtrack is effective, with a pulsating typically-80s synthesised to accompany the thrilling moments and a haunting whistling song to be paired with the flashbacks to Cordell’s miscarriage of justice. I do like a good synthesiser score. Finally, no review would be complete without highlighting the fact that Maniac Cop also sports one of the greatest tag lines from an 80s horror film, hell any film made – ‘You have the right to remain silent…forever!’ ranks up there with the best.

 

With an effective director-producer-screenwriter pairing of William Lustig and Larry Cohen, Maniac Cop is one of the horror genre’s most unappreciated entries. A solid, entertaining way to indulge in some of the 80s finest exploitation offerings and essential viewing for any genre fans.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

The park is open

Despite the problems with the original Jurassic Park, the late John Hammond’s dream of an interactive dinosaur theme park has finally been brought to life. Running for over ten years, Jurassic World had been drawing in crowds from around the world with its thrilling exhibits but attendances have been slipping as the dinosaurs no longer provide the same excitement. Desperate to boost flagging numbers, the genetics team decide to create their own dinosaur using a mixture of DNA from other popular dinosaurs. The result, the Indominus Rex, is a bigger and badder alpha predator which looks every bit the crowd-puller for when it would eventually go on display. But when the dinosaur escapes from its pen, it heads straight towards the tourist areas, devouring everything in its path.

 

The last Jurassic Park film from the original run, Jurassic Park III, came out in 2001, yet the franchise never really died a death. Rumours were abound for years about a muted fourth sequel and every other month it seemed that a new director, cast or script was floating around. Finally fourteen years later, Jurassic World emerges from its embryonic state to unleash more dinosaur carnage upon the world. Would cinema audiences still have the same affection for big-budget dinosaur films when, in the years since 1993’s Jurassic Park, there have been hundreds of CGI monsters ranging from Godzilla to King Kong?

The original was a ground-breaking motion picture, one of the first films I can remember going to see in the cinema, and one that certainly changed the way studios looked at special effects. Spielberg’s classic still has the raw ability to mesmerise and wow audiences, particularly that awe-inspiring first T-Rex attack which is a masterfully-staged scene. The two sequels provided ample thrills and I don’t mind either of them to be honest – they both get far more bad rep than they deserve. However, if there is an overriding problem with the Jurassic Park films is that the central idea – that of dinosaurs escaping captivity – is rather limited in scope. People have to get onto the island and become trapped. The dinosaurs have to escape. That’s about it. Jurassic World sadly offers little alternative to that premise, rehashing the same story again. You’d think that these dino-experts would learn from their past mistakes!

Jurassic World reboots and remakes the original in equal measure. You’ll lose count of the number of nods to the original and some of the scenes are just flat-out lifted from it. At the same time, the film tries to establish its own presence in an attempt to build a platform for future sequels. The most interesting concept here is seeing how the grand vision of ‘Jurassic Park’ has finally been brought to life after the testing phase in the original. Watching the park burst with vitality as hordes of energetic kids rush from one attraction to the next, seeing Sea World-like exhibitions entertaining scores of tourists, going ‘aww’ at the petting zoos (only instead of goats and lambs they are baby dinosaurs) and laughing at merchandise stands going overkill with the novelty tat really hammers home the original intentions of John Hammond and the gang of suits sponsoring his plans in the first one. With CGI coming on in leaps and bounds since 1993, the actual park can be brought to life in this fashion and it’s to the film’s credit that you really can believe this is a fully-functional theme park. There are loads of nice touches, right down to the teenage slacker who works on one of the rides who really couldn’t care less about his job. These sequences really build upon and expand the original’s ideas, something the previous two sequels should have done.

Quickly moving on from this sickly Disney World-esque utopian theme park, Jurassic World gets down to the usual business of having the dinosaurs escape. Let’s face it, we don’t want to see baby dinosaurs hatching from eggs or being fed in a zoo – we want to see the big meat eaters causing havoc. Over twenty-two years since the original came out (saying that makes me feel really old) and it seems as though the dinosaur special effects haven’t got any better. The T-Rex in the original is still one of the most impressive movie monsters of all time. Ironically, like the notion that the theme park is struggling to keep people hooked due to its inability to impress them anymore, the film suffers from the same fate. T-Rexs weren’t good enough to keep people flocking back and so bigger and nastier dinosaurs were introduced – the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III and now the Indominus Rex. The Indominus might be gigantic compared to the T-Rex but it’s just another computer-generated dinosaur with little personality and character – something you might see in one of The Asylum’s overblown ‘mockbusters.’ Perhaps it’s the reliance on CGI to bring to life not only the dinosaurs but the surrounding landscapes and scenery which takes me out of the new special effects sequences. There’s nothing to immerse the audience anymore – look at how masterfully Spielberg crafted the T-Rex attack scene in the first film, shot outdoors with rain, effective lighting and mixture of animatronic models and post-production CGI. I’d kill for something half as exciting and engaging nowadays. Jurassic World has plenty of big, loud action set pieces but there’s just nothing you wouldn’t see playing a video game version. For such a landmark film series which raised the benchmark for special effects in 1993, Jurassic World falls back upon the terrible 21st Century Hollywood ‘bigger is better’ mantra which is destroying the summer blockbuster like never before.

Despite seemingly being everywhere right now, Chris Pratt does make for a likeable and charismatic lead man. This is the kind of role he’s beginning to do his sleep and Pratt adds a nice mix of action and humour in what is essentially a token hero role. Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty appalling in her role, though through a terrible script rather than any fault of her own. Throw in more stereotypes like the angry head of security or the Asian park owner, and couple that with two wholly uninteresting and annoying child characters, and you have one of Jurassic World’s main weaknesses. The characters are subject to all of these horrific situations, but you never really once care for their safety or well-being.

 

Jurassic World’s multi-million-dollar approach lacks the darker touch that Spielberg brought to the table and with it, an air of underlying menace to make the dinosaurs actually scary and the film thrilling. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me thinking that I’ve seen this all before somewhere – I bet if I was twelve-year old again I’d fall in love with the film like I did with the original. Jurassic World isn’t a terrible film but it won’t exactly do to Hollywood what the original did back in 1993 – if anything, it is more a sad product of the current blockbuster system than it is a pioneering force for change.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Slumber Party Massacre, The (1982)

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Close your eyes for a second … and sleep forever

Left alone for the weekend when her parents go away, teenager Trish decides to hold a slumber party for some of her school friends. What she didn’t count on was recently-escaped psycho Russ Thorn deciding to gate-crash the party with his power drill.

 

The epitome of the 80s slasher or the ultimate nadir of the sub-genre? It’s hard to decide whether The Slumber Party Massacre should be celebrated as one of the best things to happen to the slasher or have a cheap pop at it for reducing the sub-genre to its ultimate base elements. Everything that was popular about the slasher flick was streamlined into this film, unfortunately also highlighting everything that was wrong with it at the same time. Minimal plot. Minimal characterisation. Maximum carnage. Played as straight as an arrow. That seems to be the motto here.

The Slumber Party Massacre wastes little time getting down to business, letting us know who the killer is from the start and dispatching a couple of victims early on. At a lean seventy-seven minutes long, the film never truly outstays its welcome but even at that length, it gets a little repetitive after a while. The wafer-thin plot is literally a one-line summary (I’ve stretched it out to two for the introduction), the main character is the de facto heroine simply because she’s the one organising the party and the killer is just a complete nutter because of his love for power drills. The film doesn’t even bother trying to expand or explain anything beyond what the audience needs to know to get through to the next scene. Made during the heyday of the slasher, the audience is expected to know the sub-genre tropes off by heart. Why bother with a motive for the killer when you can see him drill holes into people? Why develop the girls as characters because we’ll root for them by default when a psycho starts chasing them?

Low production values give off exploitation/grindhouse vibes, firmly supported by an effective synthesised score which carbon dates the film smack bang into the early 80s (coupled with some classic 80s clothing and hairstyles to boot). There’s nothing overly complex about how this was made – a few simply urban locations, a big house and a few side alleys and gardens. Throw in lots of girls who quite happily take off their clothes for the camera (and the female director doesn’t shy away from exploiting every last second) and a group of token guys who gate-crash the party to add to the body count. There’s nothing more to it. You’ll have seen this done a million times before and a million times after – what makes The Slumber Party Massacre that bit different is that it gets in there early, back in 1982, where such sort of satirical slasher had yet to really kick off in earnest. There’s a bit of humour scattered around – let’s face it, you won’t be scared in the slightest watching this, despite a few generic ‘boo’ scares such as the obligatory cat jumping out into the camera moment.

Once you get over the fact that the killer looks just like a normal bloke wearing some denim and holding a power drill and not some guy in a mask, he can be quite fun. He’s not hidden in the shadows, though the film could have used him more effectively if they didn’t keep showing us close-ups of his bored face. He’s not given loads of unnecessary back story. He’s just a nut job with a drill – simple, but effective. I’m not too sure on the superhuman powers he seems to exhibit in the final third as the surviving girls throw all sorts of things to him and he keeps coming back. Thankfully, he’s pretty adept at killing people and so the body count is substantial (eleven kills altogether, not including the killer), fairly well-scattered through the running time and reasonably gory. The fact he keeps using the power drill for the most part keeps the kills relatively generic but at least there’s a bit of blood and gore as a result.

 

It’s light-hearted and cheesy, definitely a product of its time, and just about makes it over the line without getting too irritating and outstaying it’s welcome. The Slumber Party Massacre is fairly pacey, full of naked women, has a decent body count and some effective stalk’n’slash moments (or I should say stalk’n’drill) – I just don’t hold it in as much esteem as some of my fellow genre fans.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆