Night of the Demons 2 (1994)

Night of the Demons 2 (1994)

No one leaves this party. Ever.

Six years after Angela’s party at the haunted Hull House went wrong and a group of teenagers were slaughtered, her sister Melissa is now living at a religious school. When a group of her friends decide to visit the house on Halloween, Melissa has reservations about joining them. Whilst there, they accidentally resurrect Angela who wants to reunite her family and turn Melissa over to the dark side too.

 

1988’s Night of the Demons was the perfect embodiment of an adult Halloween party flick – a campy low brow fright fest which piled on the genre staples to deliver a lot of mindless fun but was fairly forgettable. A crash course diet in junk food horror summed it up best. Night of the Demons 2 feels like a second course with even more cinematic sugar and fat thrown in. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (who has Leprechaun 4: In Space on his list of credits so you know what you’re getting yourself in for) serves us more of the same junk food here and it’s a blast, although not as satisfying as the original. Sometimes you just need something inoffensive and innocent to pass the time.

I’m surprised to see that this was made in the mid-90s as Night of the Demons 2 has the same 80s feel as the original all over it, save for the hairstyles and fashion. A bunch of big-boobed and six-pack laden twentysomethings standing in as teenagers at a Catholic school in America has obvious warning signs written all over it and yet the film manages to keep its daft premise in check as much as possible. It’s simple, straight-to-the-point and doesn’t really care less about a lot of things such as well-developed characters or common-sense storytelling. This is a story you’ll have seen countless times before, just replace demons with a guy in a mask and a machete and you know exactly the sort of scenarios the characters will face. Night of the Demons 2 runs like clockwork but has a lot of fun in doing so, partly played for laughs and partly played seriously. There is a thin line which the film sometimes goes too far over one way or the other.

Night of the Demons 2 moves the bulk of the action away from Hull House to the school campus and with it, a lot of the atmosphere of the original is lost. Hull House’s spooky ambiance was one of the key reasons why the original worked so well in the scare stakes – the long, dark corridors, and broken and boarded-up windows bathed in eerie moonlight were perfect Halloween locations. The school campus is less effective in conveying this demonic threat, although Night of the Demons 2 does pick up significantly more steam when it moves back to Hull House for the final third. There is more focus on comedy in this one, as the first half of the film and the ridiculous Porkies-style sex humour demonstrates as well as some silliness involving holy water and water guns. But once The Evil Dead-style roaming POV shots, the dry ice and the blue lighting kick in, you soon forget that this was being played out as a comedy. The jokes stop and it looks like everyone tries to play it seriously, despite some of the set pieces they’re put through.

There is some effective make-up on display and the demons all look nice and, well demonic, when they’ve transformed – long, gnarled teeth and puss-dripping sores add to the nastiness. Night of the Demons 2 isn’t particularly gory and what you do get to see (a decapitation springs to mind) is done more cartoony than realistic. Case in point comes when a voluptuous young lady’s exposed breasts turn into a pair of hands and burn her would-be groper. The lipstick from the original returns, though the scene involved is nowhere near as memorable. The sad thing is that it takes nearly an hour for all of the good stuff to be wheeled out, and some viewers may have already tuned out by that point.

Amelia Kinkade returns as Angela and it’s apparent that the producers of the series were trying to create a female supernatural villain to compete with the likes of Freddy and Jason – Angela is one-liner central, equally at home with a cutting barb as she is with a cutting blade. She’s not in this one as much which is a shame as both the character and actress had a lot of mileage left. The rest of the cast fill the token roles of the slut, the jock, the nerdy kid, etc. The cardboard cut-out characters simply come pre-programmed with traits that you’ll be familiar with and they all play according to type. The performances aren’t bad, nor are they particularly good. This is hardly an actors’ film, so the cast just do what they need to do in between getting ripped to shreds by demons. Future Mrs Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, is one of the bitchy girls (and I’m sure she pretends this isn’t part of her CV) and Bobby Jacoby is here as the demon-obsessed nerdy kid (forever to be known as Melvin from Tremors for me). Its Jennifer Rhodes as the Meryl Streel lookalike nun who steals the show, playing the part as straight as possible whilst clearly being in on the fact that this is a jokey movie.

 

Night of the Demons 2 is a daft, silly sequel which does deliver the requisite genre goods and is a faithful follow-up to the original, even if it does stick too closely to the same storyline and approach. I’m not sure what anyone could possibly expect from a film like this other than the obvious T&A and gore and mindless cheese.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Anaconda (1997)

Anaconda (1997)

You can’t scream if you can’t breathe.

A documentary crew set off along the Amazon River to locate and film a mysterious tribe who live in the rainforest. Along the way, they rescue a stranger called Sarone whose boat has been damaged in a storm. It turns out that he is a snake poacher and when an accident befalls the leader of the expedition, Sarone hijacks the boat so that he can hunt down the world’s largest and deadliest anaconda snake.

 

The late 90s was the last ‘great’ period for big screen creature features and by that, I mean the fact they actually got cinematic releases. The likes of Eight-Legged Freaks, Lake Placid, Deep Rising and Deep Blue Sea just don’t get as far as the big screen nowadays, with their modern-day counterparts being relegated to straight-to-streaming services. Anaconda was one of the biggest of this last hurrah and did decent business at the box office, showing producers that there was still a demand for this type of creature feature. Unfortunately for everyone, producers opted to go down the straight-to-video route and thus a glut of creature feature flicks began to emerge from the likes of Nu Image and Sy Fy. If you’re a follower of this site, we all know how that worked out in the end.

Anaconda is the perfect example of a film which should, by all accounts of its story and script, have gone straight to video. The fact it managed to secure a decent budget and attract some big-named celebrities to star in it (Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube) is baffling but I can think of recent examples where the same can be said – The Meg springs to mind. Did they even read the script before they signed up? Anaconda has a script which really squeezes the life out of the film before it gets going. From stupid characters to plot contrivances and even a first third which adds little to the main plot, the script seems to have been made up on the spot. There are supposed to be experts on this trip but not one person, save for the bad guy, seems to have any real clue about what they’re doing in the jungle. It all leads to a number of scenarios where common sense has been abandoned.

As I’ve said, there’s a first third which is dull as dishwater. There’s not even a hint of the anaconda during this time (save for the prologue) and we get some tedious river boat drama instead as the characters set sail along the Amazon. The cinematography is nice and crisp here with the on-location shooting being particularly pleasing to the eye. The exotic but dangerous jungle provides a nice alternative menace to the characters in the film, as a deadly scuba dive demonstrates. But we’re here for the titular beast and thankfully once it starts to hunt down the crew, Anaconda picks up ahead of steam. Pretty much every major event in the film is predictable enough for seasoned creature feature fans but there’s enough mileage in everything to keep it interesting. There are some tense moments, though you get the impression that some of the set pieces are over too quickly. I’m not surprised given that the anaconda cost $100,000 per second to animate!

The animatronic anaconda works to convey the sense of menace far greater than the CGI version. This is early in the CGI era and there are some ropey moments with the computer snake, but it hasn’t aged too badly in all honesty as this was cutting edge at the time. The snake isn’t used as much as you’d like and a lot of the set pieces with it are standard issue for this type of flick. The problem I have with the snake is that it appears to change size between shots. Sometimes the snake looks absolutely gigantic (like when it’s uncoiling itself from the roof of that old building in the finale) but then a couple of shots later it looks a little bigger than you’d find in a zoo. It moves far too quickly for a snake (especially one with a full stomach) but Anaconda isn’t the first and last killer snake flick to feature lightning-fast reptiles. It’s just an easy plot device to create some tension by having the snake catch up to people running away.

Anaconda has assembled a solid cast, a lot of whom star here before they really made it big. Jennifer Lopez, before she reinvented herself massively, is adequate in the lead role and her pairing with Ice Cube makes for a solid leading duo. Cube pretty much plays himself in any of the films I’ve seen him in so he’s not really acting, just playing it cool and tough and with that solitary facial expression he seems to have. It’s Jon Voight who completely steals and the show when he turns up partway through the film. Voight hams it up massively as slimy snake hunter Sarone to such levels that I’d be hard-pressed to think of another actor overacting as much as he does. That’s not to say he’s bad, in fact he’s so bad that his performance borders on brilliance – sneering and leering with a dodgy accent, Voight is obviously enjoying himself and adds a certain level of cheesy charm to the film. You’re either going to love him or hate him here, there’s no middle ground. I love him. He knows he’s in a bad film and acts the part accordingly.

 

Anaconda has lots of obvious problems but being dull and boring isn’t one of them: it’s entertaining from start to finish and is the perfect popcorn flick to watch when you don’t feel like something too heavy. It’s nowhere as terrible as it’s unwarranted reputation has accrued – for that, you should check out any number of the awful sequels.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crazies, The (2010)

The Crazies (2010)

Welcome to Ogden Marsh, the friendliest place on earth

Ogden Marsh is a small town in Iowa which is suddenly plagued by a series of spontaneously brutal acts of violence committed by its residents. A mysterious toxin has contaminated their water supply and with the infection spreading, the military is drafted in to quarantine the town. A band of survivors must escape through the area of the epidemic, dodging both the crazy infected residents and the trigger-happy military.

 

The original The Crazies was one of George A. Romero’s first post-Night of the Living Dead films and it shows with the similarities between the two – raw films both in the sense of the style in which they were made but with the social commentary that Romero was exploring with them. Despite the Romero connection, the original The Crazies is little known and rarely mentioned outside of the genre, so this makes it perfect material for a 21st century update.

However, this remake bears more similarity to Zack Synder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead than it does the original The Crazies – a more polished and refined effort which stays true to the original but isn’t afraid to throw a curveballs and sucker punches along the way. Whilst lacking in the hard-hitting social commentary of the original, The Crazies ramps up the shocks, the violence and the sheer scale of Romero’s 1973 film. It’s not fresh material in any stretch of the imagination – one whiff of the nightmarish quarantine scenario will have you thinking about everything from 28 Days Later to TV series Fear the Walking Dead – but it’s delivered in a way that makes it appear to be the first time you’re ever seen it on the screen.

Part of this is down to the transformation of the infected citizens from being merely crazy people using weapons to what appear to be slightly more intelligent zombies. With this transformation comes along a whole host of familiar zombie tropes – the quick collapse of law and order when the problem starts, main characters slowly turning into zombies and hiding it from others, groups of armed vigilantes hunting down the infected rather than the military, etc. As I’ve said, The Crazies is not exactly original but the way in which these common tropes are delivered is successful. With the infected being able to think rationally and use weapons, it adds a new element of danger to the film.

The Crazies is effective in staging some tense set pieces thanks to the energetic screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright which keeps the narrative straightforward and moves with pace from one predicament to the next with ease. In one, a woman strapped to a gurney is forced to watch as one of the infected slowly works his way through the rest of the helpless ward with a pitchfork. Another one involves the same woman being tied up in a chair, with a loaded gun pointed at her head whilst her husband is getting strangled to death right in front of her. There’s also a great scene involving a car wash which keeps the excitement flowing and the odds stacked. Rarely does the film become bogged down with exposition, though a couple of scenes are thrown in purely to explain everything that is going on and despite the constant situations the survivors seem to stumble from, it never gets repetitive.

The Crazies is not afraid to pull punches either, as the indiscriminate shooting and immediate torching of potentially infected victims shows. The violence is punctuating and visceral when it happens, yet the film isn’t as gory as you’d expect it to be. The nature of the aggression on screen is enough to disturb the viewer and so the need for graphic blood and guts isn’t there. But don’t expect to get through unscathed – there are plenty of sudden surprises and some jumpy moments which come out of nowhere. As always with the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre, it’s the earlier scenes of the outbreak slowly taking over and the citizens realising what they’re up against that are the scariest, with the later scenes providing the bulk of the action as things get out of control.

I’ve already mentioned the script and how this keeps things pacey and exciting but also worth mentioning is the characters it develops. They’re likeable and realistic enough to root for and get behind. Timothy Olyphant is more used to playing more unhinged characters but he’s great as the straight-up hero in this one as the local sheriff forced to take matters into his own hands to protect those he loves. Radha Mitchell does what she can as his pregnant wife, but the role is clearly designed to put her in peril due to the pregnancy. It’s Jon Anderson as the increasingly-paranoid deputy who Olyphant is most able to fire off and the two share a decent chemistry which nicely conveys the relationship the two colleagues have apparently built, adding some emotional impact later in the film when tensions between characters begin to appear. Not having too many main characters to focus on gives the ones you get plenty of room to breathe, making the events that happen all the more believable.

 

The Crazies is a lot darker and more depressing than the 70s original, improving upon pretty much every aspect of Romero’s vision to deliver a quality remake which is definitely worth watching. There is too much of a reliance on jump scares and the film does attach itself to the zombie sub-genre a little too much for comfort, but these are nit-picks – The Crazies is a slick, effective shock machine.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort (2014)

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resoirt (2014)

The family needs new blood

A sudden inheritance brings Danny and a group of his friends to Hobb Springs, a forgotten hotel and spa resort in the middle of nowhere. Here, Danny hopes to find more about the long-lost family he has never known. But what he doesn’t know is that an off-shoot of his family are deformed cannibals and the lure of fresh meat is too hard for them to resist when Danny and his friends set off to explore the hotel and surroundings.

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is another sequel/prequel to the surprisingly long-running Wrong Turn horror franchise. When I say surprisingly, I mean who would have thought that some mildly entertaining The Hills Have Eyes-style flick back in 2003 would become one of the longest surviving horror series of recent years? I can only really think of Saw with nine films and Lake Placid with six films that come anywhere close (and by this, I mean franchises that had their original film released after 2000 – I know stuff like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still on the go with reboots, remakes, etc.). But what we have now with the Wrong Turn series is exactly the same thing that happened with the Hellraiser series – it has become a series of totally unrelated or tenuously-linked films featuring deformed cannibal families, each of which are becoming increasingly poor and desperate for fresh ideas.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is not the worst in the series, but it tries desperately to claim that mantle. Five minutes of this sequel is all you need to know about what you’re getting yourself in for here – boobs and blood. A further five minutes or so and there’s hints of incest, which is a big theme in the film (and it becomes more than a hint later on). Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is literally a film which has been stripped down to the genre bone and expects its audience to content themselves on the offerings we’re given. I didn’t even try to comprehend the whole inbred family tree plot that the film paints a picture of – some family look and act normal, others end up like the three deformed killers. Nor do I buy the fact that someone brought up in the ‘civilised’ world could, within the space of a few days, turn against his good friends and want to join up with the cannibal family he never knew he had. It is an interesting development but one which was weakly built-up and came out of nowhere.

There’s not much else to the story barring that – Danny’s friends get little development outside of usual stereotyping and are easy pickings for the cannibals. Given we don’t care in the slightest about any of them, they’re literally human fodder and so you’re just waiting to see how quickly and brutally they get taken out. There isn’t a much reliance on the stupid CGI gore as some of the earlier films relied on. The kills are generally done with old school effects – a nasty incident involving a barbed wire trap and subsequent beheading look good. The three deformed cannibals are little more than noisy henchmen here, popping up every now and then when they’re needed to further the plot with a kill. The make-up looks like little more than glued-on Halloween masks nowadays and has fallen a long way since the grotesque mountain men from the original film. Instead, the film focuses on the ‘normal’ brother and sister pair who run the hotel and keep the deformed brothers out of the way. In doing this, the film loses plenty of its novelty value as, just like in the last film with Clive Bradley’s Maynard character, the soliloquising human villains are less appealing than a bunch of grunting inbred mountain men who can’t be reasoned with. The simplicity of their brutality was something to behold – now there’s all sorts of plot threads and back story thrown in to the mix.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is the raunchiest of all of the films so far and its obvious that director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward are resorting to copious amounts of sex and nudity to keep the predominantly-male audience interested in the film. Every female in the cast removes her clothes at some point (not counting the old lady who dies!) and are involved in a sex scene of some kind, sometimes more than once. Whilst they’re all attractive ladies, its blatant sexualisation and sits uncomfortably with the incest narrative that the film peddles from the beginning. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort does peel itself back to the basics of the genre a little too much at times and the frequent nudity becomes a distraction. I mean, who in their right mind decides to have sex in a grotty, delipidated and abandoned part of a hotel? There are hundreds of comfy rooms available, including the one where they’re staying!

 

With a new director comes new ideas and a new direction for the series (let’s face it, they haven’t finished milking the cow yet) and whether you like the route it’s taking or not, at least it’s an improvement over a few of the previous films. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort will appeal to die-hards only.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆