Category Movie Reviews

Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)

Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)

Your worst fears will surface.

Drawn to the shores by illegal drilling, a swarm of aggressive bull sharks start attacking people in the waters of Seaside Heights in the run up to the 4th of July. When one of their friends is attacked and killed, the guidos and the guidettes of the Jersey Shore take it upon themselves to rid the town of its aquatic menace. The sharks are not the only thing they have to worry about as their feud with their snobbish rivals at the yacht club threatens to spoil their summer.

 

Upon hearing the premise, I thought that this recent frenzy of outlandish shark films had reached an ultimate low in the shape of Jersey Shore Shark Attack. Not content with the preposterous shenanigans of Super Shark, Sand Sharks, 2-Headed Shark Attack, Sharktopus and the rest of this ungodly wave of toothy terrors, the addition of a bunch of bimbos and blunder heads supposedly spoofing the stars of US reality TV Jersey Shore had me nearly smashing up my TV in disgust at the new depths that producers would go to sell their films. I’d hardly shell out cash to see another hare-brained monster movie but even less inclined to do so knowing that the screen would be filled up by a load of people pretending to be famous idiots.

I have never, nor do I have any intention to, watch Jersey Shore or any number of the fly-on-the-wall ‘real people’ docu-dramas so any preconceptions I may have had about this went totally out of the window before watching. But even I’m one to hold my hand up and admit when I’m wrong and in this case, I can hold it up a little bit. With tongue firmly in cheek, Jersey Shore Shark Attack could well be the best of the senseless, adrenaline-fuelled recent wave of killer shark flicks. Whilst the competition is admittedly weak, this one has the decency to hold its hand up and admit how awful it is.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack manages to succeed where its fellow shark films have failed in that the human characters and the story are the most entertaining bits of the film. Forget the sharks – the cast of characters here make the film. The script spends the majority of its running time poking fun at these dim-witted but well-meaning heroes as they drench themselves in fake tan, garish clothes and more hair product than a barber shop goes through in a year. From throwing protein bars into the water to try and attract sharks to attempting to hot wire a boat, these characters are dumb but likeable enough for you to want to see them survive. It’s a complete reversal of how I was expecting to feel towards them but the script makes the impossible possible!

As clichéd and low brow as it is, the romantic side plot between TC and Nooki makes for engaging drama. These are truly awfully written characters but they work because of that fact. In taking themselves and the story seriously, the film works well as a comedy. There’s nothing forced here – the characters are the joke but they’re just not aware of it. This endears them to the audience, albeit in a cheap way.

Well at least that is true for the cast of guidos and guidettes, who grunt and screech their way through hilariously cringe-worthy dialogue. But someone forget to tell the senior actors on display, particularly the trio of William Atherton, Paul Sorvino and Jack Scalia, who all seem to be doing their hardest to treat everything as serious as possible. The different approaches don’t mesh together well, leading to one half of the film which is jokey and the other which is grim and sombre – after all, people are being killed by these sharks!

Don’t get me wrong, Jersey Shore Shark Attack is still a typical Sy-Fy flick through and through and this is unfortunately its undoing. It just can’t escape the usual clichés and pitfalls. There are sharks in this, though with the focus being on the trials and tribulations of the characters you wouldn’t have guessed it, and Jersey Shore Shark Attack follows the Jaws formula to the latter with a mayor who wants to keep the beaches open, a fake shark being caught and paraded in front of the papers and a sleazy property developer thrown in for good measure. Special effects are at their usual penny-pinching worst here with some of the worst-looking sharks to ever swim the seas. I just hope that the designers were in on the joke and didn’t intentionally make them look as poor as this.

 

Maybe it’s the rock bottom expectations I had when I saw this but Jersey Shore Shark Attack surprised me for being somewhat entertaining but this is solely down to the antics of the charming characters as opposed to anything else. I can’t say it was fantastic but out of the recent shark films, it’s at the top of the food chain.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jigsaw (2002)

Jigsaw (2002)

Put him together…he’ll tear you apart!

A group of students are given their final project to complete. They are each given a body part of a broken mannequin and have to go home and decorate it as they like. Upon completion, the mannequin is to be re-assembled and see what it looks like with each part supposedly reflecting the personality of the different individuals. Unfortunately for them, the mannequin comes alive and sets about taking real body parts from its victims.

 

With an intriguing premise such as this, it’s a pity that Jigsaw is such a low budget waste of time. The film looks like it was shot on a camcorder by a bunch of mates at a friend’s house. You know the sort of film I mean: the type where a group of actors are featured who’ve clearly never been in front of a camera before in their lives (and judging by performances, never will be in front of one again). The type of films with really dodgy pictures and sound because they can’t afford decent equipment. The type of films with awesome front covers and thrilling plot synopses only for you to eventually find out that the film is nothing like what was promised. The type of films that just make you want to slap on The Evil Dead or Braindead to show low budget film makers how it’s done. The type of films that think talking is scary and that they can get away with being boring pieces of drivel simply by having a few kills crammed in to the last part of the film. Jigsaw is that type of film.

I’m not knocking the idea. It’s a solid concept but why bother trying to sell such a good idea if you know you’re not going to be able to back it up with money? It’s like the entire budget has been loaded into the finale and the script had to over-compensate in the rest of the film by keeping things as low key and uneventful as possible. Things eventually pick up when Jigsaw comes to life but this is about fifty minutes into the film. So that only leaves about nineteen minutes for it to kill and build itself a proper body. There’s some mild gore and a nasty death involving a circular saw but it’s too little, too late. They don’t even explain why it comes to life – not a hint, not a clue, nothing. No voodoo. No lightning. No blood sacrifice. It just gets up and starts killing.

The Jigsaw creature does have a rather unique look and it’s rather quirky and awkward movement adds to the chill factor it exhibits. The creature is well-designed and in all honesty, deserved a better film. Though it’s a bit of a creative cop-out to have the students decide to put a circular saw on one of his arms and a sawn-off shotgun on the other. Why not, you know, some proper arms? Oh wait, that wouldn’t be useful for when it comes to life and kills people because circular saws and shotguns are much more cool to use.

This leaves the opening fifty minutes for characters and dialogue. Lots of dialogue. We get lots of small talk, guys hitting on women, talking about childhood traumas and plenty of diabolical one-liners to name a few things. To say that it’s slow and uneventful would be too kind. The film populates its world with your typical teenage characters: the goth, the nerd, the bitch, etc. They would never hang around with each other in real life! I guess having a group of gloomy goths designing the mannequin would have come up with the same sort of theme. The acting is really bad all around and it’s no surprise to see that the majority of the cast have received little to no work since.

To really kick you below the belt, the film ends with a head-scratching non-ending. It doesn’t tie anything up at all. The final girl remains tied up on the floor as Jigsaw goes to kill the professor instead. Yet she was the one who added a limb to the creature, not the professor. The film ends with Jigsaw still alive. It’s almost as if there’s a reel of footage missing and no one noticed, presumably because no one ever watched the final cut. As ripped off as I felt whilst watching the film, the ending just violated me in ways I couldn’t imagine. What would an extra couple of minutes cost if they’d properly finished the story?

 

Jigsaw is just absolute rubbish. Put all of the pieces back inside the box and forget you ever attempted to piece this puzzle together.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cove (2005)

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove (2005)

Some Things Should Stay Lost at Sea

Three teen couples off camping for the weekend on a beach stumble upon an old treasure chest. They open it and accidentally unleash undead pirate Jolly Roger, who has returned to Cutter’s Cove to claim the lives of the descendants of his crew that betrayed him years earlier.

 

We’ve had undead Nazis before. We’ve had undead cowboys before. Now along comes an undead pirate. Probably the only slasher film ever to have a pirate as its main villain, Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cove tries hard to impress but fails on most counts. It’s got heart but like many of The Asylum’s films, heart does not equal quality. I’m guessing the killer pirate idea was to cash in on the Pirates of the Caribbean series which was in full flow at the time but nowadays The Asylum wouldn’t even go as far as that – they’d just make a pirate film and call it something like Pirates of the Atlantic.

It’s got your standard plot with some horrible undead killer returning from the grave to kill but this rings more of The Fog, with the whole idea of Jolly Roger coming back to claim the lives of the descendants of the town’s founding forefathers. The film is only entertaining when the pirate is on screen and he is thankfully given plenty of screen time. Unfortunately the young couple who inadvertently brought him back to life and manage to escape his beach massacre are the ones who are tasked with stopping him. No one believes them but it’s probably because they’re the dumbest, most lacklustre couple that exist. Tom Nagel looks like your generic good-looking teenage hero whilst Kirstina Korn is simply a hot blonde who can’t act. They’re two of the most bland actors that could have been cast in their roles and really suck the life out of the film when they’re trying to get everyone else to believe that a killer pirate is going around cutting people’s heads off. The scenes with them in and without the pirate tend to drag.

In fact the whole film flags when he’s not around and they don’t really get the pacing right after an opening massacre promises constant bloodshed. Rhett Giles, as the title character, gets to inject a bit of passion into the film as he does the best he can with lots of cheesy pirate jokes underneath plenty of make-up. He’s got the annoying habit of firing off a one-liner before he dispatches his victims and they’re of the pirate-theme so expect to groan a few times. The humour isn’t great though and it would have made the film a lot better if they’d kept him quiet. Why did they need to turn him into a Freddy Kruger-wannabe? He would have worked better as a silent killer because his outfit and make-up looks pretty nasty. The film attempts to create another horror icon with Jolly Roger but he’s too goofy and not deadly enough to really catch on. The Asylum keep plugging away by trying to create a new franchise villain but none of their characters have made the grade yet.

They’re not shy with the blood and guts – one of the reasons people like me watch this sort of film. Jolly Roger has a knack of cutting people’s heads off and there are plenty of decapitations which feature the same fake mannequin heads being sent spiralling through the air. There are other creative kills thrown around too with muskets and in one particularly funny scene, Roger rips the arm off a guy and proceeds to batter him with it. But the problem I have is that a lot of the gore is CGI and looks rather cheap most of the time. Come on, at least go with the make-up and prosthetics if you’re going to gunk it up a little. It’s blatantly obvious which deaths have been computer-assisted and I don’t like it one bit. Jolly Roger is a busy man during the film and he offs four couples during the first few minutes so you’re never really far from another death scene.

On the positive side, the film does throw us some boob action with the pirate visiting a strip club and getting a lap dance of all things. Quite why the stripper just acts like he’s a normal punter and gives him a dance, despite his rotting appearance and wet clothes is another matter.

 

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cove is harmless enough fun but it could have been a much greater throwback to the 80s slasher film had the script been tighter and the character of Roger been taken more seriously. He’s hardly the worst pirate to ever grace film but he’s more Captain Pugwash than Jack Sparrow….if that actually means anything.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jurassic Attack (2013)

Jurassic Attack (2013)

They’re back … and they’re hungry!

A squad of army soldiers is sent into the jungle to rescue a female biochemist, who is being held captive by a ruthless South American dictator, and destroy the biochemical weapon that he now has in his possession.  But the mission goes wrong and their helicopter is shot down. Struggling through the dense jungle terrain, they stumble into an ancient valley filled with carnivorous dinosaurs.

 

Jurassic Attack currently holds the dubious distinction of being Sy Fy’s last Saturday Night Original Movie before the channel decided to move their monster mash-ups to Thursdays instead and, depending on what month of the year it is, has also been known as Rise of the Dinosaurs in some quarters. So what does that mean for the film? Well not a lot really as I was struggling to write an introductory paragraph and decided to pad it out a little. I could write the same things for Sy Fy films and usually have so decided to skip the instant criticism and waffle a little bit. Anyway on to the review…

We’ve all been there before with daft killer dinosaur flicks like Raptor Island. We know the drill: expendable soldiers, terribly-rendered CGI raptors, lots of gun fire, awful CG blood and more cheese than a dairy factory. Jurassic Attack rigidly sticks to this formula, providing a reasonably-sized platoon of largely nameless dinosaur chow, a token gruff action hero, a chick in a tight tank top, an overplayed human villain and special effects which look to have been dragged out from before the Ice Age. Originality is lacking but I wasn’t expecting it to be present to begin with.

It is coincidental that in the year Jurassic Park receives a 3-D cinematic makeover, a similar-sounding low budget cash-in pops it’s head out of the Jurassic period. There’s no working explanation for the appearance of dinosaurs in this film. You’ll be required to provide your own thesis because the film just presents it as fact. Even the low key reactions of the characters sum up the ho-hum attitude to this new-found discovery. These are dinosaurs we’re talking about, not pigeons or horses! Man’s usual reaction is to shoot first and ask questions later so before the enormity of this history-changing discovery can sink in, the soldiers are already trying to make sure that the dinosaur extinction is consigned to history once more with round after round of ammo.

Special effects-wise, Jurassic Attack fails in every department. Despite the decent cinematography (this actually looks like an undiscovered valley for a change), the dinosaurs look awful. They look poor on their own but when there’s more than one dinosaur on screen, the effects are jarring and shoddy. They don’t interact well with their real environment (footprints? water splashes?) and the scenes of the dinosaurs slashing and biting at the humans just descend into CGI blood fests. It’s a shame because the dinosaurs are well-detailed when they stand still but as soon as any movement is required, the good work goes out of the window.

What the special effects lack in quality, the film at least makes up with the quantity of dinosaur attacks. Once they’ve stumbled into the secret valley, this group is never five minutes away from another devastating dino encounter. Whilst there’s no real shock to the order of death of the characters, you never get the sense that the film is coasting. There’s always a random dinosaur attack to keep things fresh and interesting. The dinosaur selection is varied too with raptors, T-Rexes and Triceratops all causing problems for the characters.

Fresh off battling the titular monsters in Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus, Gary Stretch takes centre stage once more as the action hero. Stretch was the best thing about that film and he’s the best thing on display here. He’s never going to make it big but in the lead role in these daft low budget films, he’s found his niche. Stretch looks and sounds like he can kick some ass as the dinosaurs find out first-hand. Regular B-movie actor Corin Nemec gets a supporting role as an army commander who spends his entire screen time holed up in the ‘command centre’ location. Every one of these films has to have a small command centre with three or four army guys staring blankly at the camera pretending to push buttons and give out orders to the main characters. So why Nemec, a popular mainstay in these monster movies, is relegated to background duty with a pointless role is beyond me. He spends the bulk of his screen time butting heads with Vernon Wells’ dodgy ‘Agent’ character. Basically the corporate/government suit, Wells is another guy I’d expect to see in a bigger role in something like this and Jurassic Attack wastes two of its biggest assets in non-essential parts.

 

Throw all of this into the grinder and what you get is about eighty minutes of mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable mush which will no doubt be reheated and reserved under the guise of another dino romp in the future. Jurassic Attack isn’t Sy Fy’s worst outing but it’s not exactly recommended viewing.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993)

Life Finds A Way.

Wealthy entrepreneur John Hammond has spent millions on his latest pet project – an island theme park featuring living and breathing dinosaurs created by extracting DNA from insects encased in amber. Before opening to the public, he invites a selected audience of experts, lawyers and his family to take a sneak preview. However during their tour, the security system is hacked and the power to the enclosures is shut down releasing prehistoric terror not seen on this planet for millions of years!

 

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Jurassic Park is one of the most influential films of recent times. It was one of those big box office events in the “where were you when this released?” mould that come up every now and then (you know, Star Wars, Jaws, Lord of the Rings, etc). Well I was twelve and growing up as a big lover of anything dinosaur-related (I used to have toy dinosaur fights in the sandpit at nursery), it was like a dream come true. Watching it again after a few years and being a more mature (judge for yourselves) and experienced connoisseur of film, it was interesting to see how different my perspectives of the film have changed and how some of them have stayed exactly the same as that excited twelve year old who went to see it on a Sunday morning with his parents on opening weekend.

At a pretty lengthy hundred and twenty seven minutes, the film had a canny knack of sending you to sleep in the first forty minutes or so. This hasn’t changed a bit. Back in the day, it was bums shuffling on seats waiting for the T-Rex to show. Nowadays it’s bums shuffling on the seats waiting for the T-Rex but at least I can understand what they are talking about! The opening does contain a lot of decent information which helps a few of the proceedings later on (for instance, the whole talk of the velociraptors reveals plenty of nasty surprises of what is to come later when you see them) but for the most part it’s filler. Pure and simple. Spielberg knows where he wants his audience to be and by holding back on the dinosaurs for as long as he can, he’s got us so excited he could have thrown in a blow-up toy dinosaur and we’d still have cheered it on. The reaction on the faces of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum are priceless when they see the film’s first dinosaurs – a brontosaurus munching on some leaves. I don’t know about anyone else but I held back my “wows” for the first sign of the meat eaters. Maybe the reaction of the audience has mellowed a bit nowadays, having been spoon-fed a diet of terrible CGI monsters over the years. But back in 1993, on the big screen for the first time, these dinosaurs were like nothing you had ever seen before.

And believe me, the wows are worth it when the T-Rex does show up. It’s gone down as one of the most famous scenes in movie history now and it’s worked to perfection. The first sounds of it stomping towards the jeeps, indicated by the flickering cups of water on the dashboard. Next you know there’s something horrific just behind the trees, as signalled by the disappearance of the sacrificial goat. But then it’s still a few moments of gradual revealing as the T-Rex slowly appears, testing the fence and realising there’s nothing to stop it from breaking free. When it finally strides over the barriers and into the picture for the first time, its earth-shattering roar sends shivers down the spine. Is this really a CGI dinosaur or is a living and breathing preservation from the past?

Say what you like about CGI but it’s never looked better than it does here because it’s not completely over-used. There’s a combination of animatronic models and CGI and it’s blended fantastically together. This is one seriously ticked off dinosaur and the film sets about proving that point. Spielberg promised us dinosaurs and he delivered big time. Big budget films with CGI in them have never been surpassed by this, over thirteen years after it was made. Why? Because it’s not the quantity of effects used but their quality and how they are used. Over-reliance is over-kill and although Spielberg was experimenting with a rather unknown quantity back then, he gets the mix perfect.

Maybe it works against the film to a degree because once you’ve seen the amazing special effect that is the T-Rex, the rest of the dinosaurs don’t seem to have that wow factor about them, as deadly as they are. Even then there are still other high points, in particular the constant threat of the raptors in the final third. If you want your action and thrills then this is certainly the place. But they’re no match for the T-Rex.

Casting is strong but unfortunately their characters aren’t. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough and particularly Jeff Goldlum (always a pleasure to watch and always ready with a quip or wise-crack) are all talented performers and do their best. It’s just a pity their characters don’t really have a lot to do after the opening scenes expect scream, run and scream a little more. I can see the logic in this – Spielberg’s target audience wouldn’t really have bothered with who is who – they just want to see dinosaurs. I know when I was younger, I didn’t really pay any attention to them. Now when you look back, you can begin to pick the film apart a little more. But thankfully the thrills and spills are just around the corner so you don’t dwell on them too much. Even the two child actors do a good job here with Joseph Mazello and Ariana Richards actually managing to put in better performances than the annoying Wayne Knight (as the nervous Dennis Nedry who is responsible for the hack job on the computers) and even Samuel L. Jackson.

 

Jurassic Park is one of the greatest monster movies of all time. It delivers exactly what it promises and given the standards of some of today’s big budget flops, it’s going to stand the test of time for a long period ahead. It has not been surpassed in terms of believable special effects and can easily hold it’s own in terms of thrills, excitement and action. Mr Spielberg, you’ve done it again. Another classic to add to your résumé.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Jurassic Shark (2012)

Jurassic Shark (2012)

Dinosaur from the deep

An oil company unwittingly unleashes a prehistoric shark from its icy prison, trapping a group of art thieves and female college students on an abandoned island where they must work together in order to escape.

 

Every once in a while, I’ll sit down and watch a film and proclaim it to be the single worst film I’ve ever seen. Go back through some of my old reviews and you’ll see this statement bandied around a fair bit. There can only be one ‘single worst film I’ve ever seen’ so the statement soon loses credibility if I keep repeating myself. So there will be no statements of grandeur for this review. I’ll just go on the record by saying that Jurassic Shark could be the worst film ever made. I’m not sure whether it’s even supposed to be a proper film or a joke that went too far.

More time was devoted to creating a kick-ass poster to trick punters into buying or renting the film than it seems actually went in to making it. Jurassic Shark is seventy-five minutes of incompetent filmmaking at its very best. Right from the opening scene featuring two girls who look to have been randomly picked up off the streets and talk like they were (they casually chat, not act, with each other as if the camera wasn’t there), the film never once manages to rise above looking and sounding like a college project which went viral. With a sparsely populated film, which is 90% set in the outdoors, you just get the impression that it was made by a group of friends in the middle of nowhere over some overcast weekend in July.

There’s little plot to the film and what little there is could easily be dissected to reveal the numerous lapses on logic and holes. But the small scope of the story, coupled with the general lack of people on camera, just gives the film a lightweight feel. A big oil company which has about three employees? A company which is drilling through ice in a lake which is warm enough to swim in? Thieves who plan to escape a heist on a rowing boat? I could keep going but there’s no point. I’m not trying to knock people who want to go out and make films for fun – I will knock them when their home movies get passed off as proper films and cause people like me to be out of pocket.

I wasn’t expecting the special effects to be up to much and I can’t say I wasn’t surprised. The best thing I can say is that the shark didn’t look as bad as I expected it to be. The same few frames of animation are repeatedly used whenever it attacks or is shown swimming around. There’s nothing exciting about the shark. It never once manages to instil fear, dread or any sense of physical menace. It’s just there. Yes it does eat a few characters but there’s nothing memorable about it. To say it was supposed to be a ‘Jurassic’ shark, the novelty value is non-existent and it could just as well have been any normal shark in a lake. The CGI effects typically vary in size from scene to scene and the  effects also commit the cardinal sin of not interacting properly with their physical environment (for example the dorsal fin doesn’t even cause a ripple or anything when it moves along).

Like a lot of these low budget creature features, the shark is given the boot for a lot of the running time, with the ‘script’ opting to focus on the interaction between the human characters. Between the group of thieves and the college students, there’s about half a body of talent between them all. I don’t know where these films find these people (well actually I do – their close friends and family) but sometimes it borders on embarrassing just watching people try to act out roles like tough thieves, college students, scientists, etc. I’m sure they’ve all got a huge buzz out of starring in a film like this but for the rest of us watching, its painful to watch and listen to.

 

When a shark film is so bad it makes Raging Sharks look like Jaws, you know you’ve reached rock bottom. To call Jurassic Shark a feeble effort would do that word a disservice. I honestly cannot believe that something as amateurish as this actually managed to get a DVD release. Even more unbelievable in the fact that chumps like me paid to see it.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Just Before Dawn (1981)

Just Before Dawn (1981)

Will Anyone Survive Those Hours Just Before Dawn?

Five campers set off on a weekend excursion to a remote piece of land that one of them has inherited. They are warned by the local ranger that there is a machete-wielding maniac loose in the woods who has been terrorising people but the group ignore his warnings as simple scaremongering. However what they find is much worse as a family of hillbillies wants them off the land, sending their massive machete-wielding son out to kill them.

 

More akin to the barmy backwoods mentality of Deliverance and brutal realism of The Hills Have Eyes than the teenage slash fests of Friday the 13th that it’s commonly branded with, Just Before Dawn has a large fan base within the horror community but is little-known outside of it. There are infinitely more famous horror films from the early 80s including the original My Bloody Valentine and The Burning but this one never seems to get a mention. Maybe it’s because the few people who have seen it don’t like it because it’s not the all-out slasher that they were expecting. Maybe it’s simply because it seems to have been released a little too late and would have fitted perfectly into the mid-70s backwoods horror cycle. To anyone who has seen the likes of Wrong Turn but hasn’t seen this, then consider Just Before Dawn an older, more toned down version.

Just Before Dawn takes a while to get going. The first thirty minutes or so are filled with your standard character development threads but thankfully this group of people aren’t just mind-numbingly dull and generic teenagers but responsible, mature young adults who make rational decisions and feel ‘real.’ They’re actually out in the woods to climb and explore, not to get drunk and smoke weed. Of all the shocks! The characters that last longer in the film really get fleshed out and traverse some wonderful arcs as different characters show their true selves under the stress of the situation. The alpha male, ‘not-scared-of-anything’ guy turns into a complete wuss by the end and the meek, timid ‘final girl’ steps up to the task of trying to get the group out alive. The transformations are handled well and they don’t seem out of place.

During this time, there are plenty of stalking scenes with the huge, bulky mountain man watching on from a distance. You always get the feeling that this guy is within a few feet of the group at all times, you just can’t see him. The film doesn’t follow usual convention by having the killer suddenly jump out and shout boo with a huge blast of sound. The scares and tension come from within existing shots. People will be talking to each other, kissing or doing something else and you’ll see the killer in the background either coming towards them or getting himself into position (I’ll call you a liar if you tell me you don’t get chills when he swings onto the camper van). This goes on for too long though and its way too drawn out, leading to lots of dull stretches where little happens. The killer spends too much time lurking and not enough time chopping. It’s this stop-start mentality that harms Just Before Dawn in the long run. You think its picking up a bit of steam only for it to suddenly stop and have to start from scratch.

Just Before Dawn scores massive points with the locations it was filmed in. The cinematography is exceptional and the forest wilderness has never looked more dangerous. The camera lingers over some excellent panoramic shots to really give you the sense that these people are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Waterfalls, rock faces, dense forests and unforgiving trails all lead to nowhere. There’s no help coming. These people are here on there own. It nails the realism aspect down to a tee. Also nailed down is the blood. Considering the era in which this film was made, it’s unusual to see that the film keeps its gore to a bare minimum. During the early 80s, blood was thrown around like confetti at a wedding but director Jeff Liebermann opts to keep things low key. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of decent pay-offs where blood is necessary but Just Before Dawn doesn’t need to resort to these cheap tricks to get a kick out of the audience. It uses it’s locations to generate tension and the previously mentioned use of shots of the killer to ramp up the fear factor.

Amongst the cast attempting to survive these harsh lands are a few names which will no doubt ring a bell with people. George Kennedy is the feature name on show here and, although he spends the majority of the film riding around the woods on a white horse like some pompous Roman general, he’s still able to lend some heavyweight credibility to the film. Gregg Henry, who may be more familiar to genre fans as his role as the mayor in Slither, is the unlucky guy to have inherited the land in the middle of nowhere. Performances across the board are decent enough because the script keeps the characters real. These people aren’t trying to fit into generic stereotypes and come off all the more lifelike as a result.

 

I can see why Just Before Dawn is so well thought-of in the horror genre with it’s brutal realism sandwiched between some downright eerie moments and decent scares. But then I can see why it’s little-known to anyone else with its heel-dragging, sluggishness and insistence to keep things low key. It stands out from its 80 teen horror rivals by a country mile but can’t hold a candle to its more respected backwoods horror brethren.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Kaw (2007)

Kaw (2007)

Don’t look up

Sheriff Wayne has only one more day left on the job before moving to the city for a better life with his wife. But his last day is going to be anything but typical. His town comes under attack from a flock of blood-thirsty ravens, preying on the townsfolk and causing widespread panic.

 

Taking its cue from Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, Kaw is proof that you shouldn’t just dismiss a film as a rip-off, cash-in or feeble reworking of an older film. Kaw is hardly number one when it comes to originality but I was pleasantly surprised with the proceedings. You don’t get too many ‘birds run amok’ films, lest we forget the abomination that was The Birds II: Land’s End. So it’s not like it’s an overworked sub-genre. However when the film leading the genre charge is Hitchcock’s previously stated classic, then it’s hard to try anything new without drawing the obvious criticisms.

On its own, Kaw works as an average horror-thriller. Birds aren’t exactly the scariest thing on this planet but if you’ve ever looked at those ravens or crows, then you’ll come to the same conclusion I do – they are evil. Why do they need to be as jet black, have massive claws and gigantic beaks that could swallow small field mice whole? The ravens here have been feeding off dead cows which had mad cow disease. So the ravens themselves are infected. At least it beats genetically engineered birds for a change. Attacking in flocks, the ravens pose more of a threat in numbers. It always made me wonder why the humans in these films always go down so easily when being attacked by a big flock of birds. It’s not like they’re grossly overpowering. The attack scenes aren’t too bad and there are plenty of them throughout the film. There isn’t a huge amount of blood with the majority being confined to grisly shots of dead bodies with their eyes pecked out. CGI is kept to a minimum so most of the birds are real – always nice to see! And above all the setting is just what the film needs – some town in the middle of nowhere surrounded by open fields and woods. You wouldn’t want something like this happening in New York or London.

Even the human side of the film, so often the downfall of this type of flick, is good. Sean Patrick Flannery doesn’t exactly stand out as the sheriff but he’s the kind of ‘everyman’ hero that a film like this needs, not some super-invincible character who leaps around to save the day. In a supporting role, Stephen McHattie is one of those actors you always see but can never name him or any other film he’s been in. I guess that’s what IMDB is for. Rod Taylor, star of The Birds, makes a small appearance in the film as the local doctor. The guy might have been seventy-seven when filming but I’m sorry to say he hasn’t aged as well as the likes of Clint Eastwood and Christopher Lee have. I would have liked to see some sort of in-joke or throwaway gag involving Taylor’s character and his previous escapades with birds but the film was played out straight so there was no chance of that.

 

Kaw is a pretty decent horror-thriller which, despite its blatant pillaging of The Birds, manages to conjure up a few tricks here and there. It’s nothing flash but gets the job done. In a day where I dread putting the next ‘monster on the loose’ flick into my DVD player, it’s refreshing to find one that doesn’t completely suck. I guess that’s a compliment but given how many appalling films I’ve seen lately, Kaw is like a breath of fresh air! Competently acted, competently directed and competently….er…just competent overall!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Keep, The (1983)

The Keep (1983)

THEY WERE ALL DRAWN TO THE KEEP. The soldiers who brought death. The father and daughter fighting for life. The people who have always feared it. And the one man who knows its secret… THE KEEP Tonight, they will all face the evil.

In 1942, a detachment of the German Army is sent to guard a mysterious Romanian citadel located on a strategic mountain pass. When soldiers begin to be mysteriously murdered, the SS arrives to deal with what is thought to be partisan activity and take over proceedings. Enlisting the help of a Jew to help translate inscriptions, what they actually find is an evil force trapped within the keep which will do anything in order to escape.

 

Director Michael Mann has helmed some fantastic films in his career including Manhunter, Collateral, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider amongst others and has been consistently ranked up there as one of the greatest directors of the past couple of decades. Like many famous directors (Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott, with sci-fi horror Alien, spring to mind), Mann has his early roots firmly in horror. The Keep was only his second feature film and his only real foray into the genre.

Originally clocking in at over three and a half hours long before producers told Mann to cut it down, The Keep is the perfect example of style over substance – an art house horror film which has been cruelly held back from realising its potential. Adapting from books come with their problems to begin with but when a director’s original vision is then restricted even further, the end result is not a true reflection of what could have been. The Keep is very much the personification of that. There is a huge swathe of ideas floating around here and lots of sub-plots which begin to develop but are cut short or are simply thrown in without any explanation whatsoever. I’m guessing the original cut explained a lot more because The Keep finishes with lots of unanswered questions and answers a lot of questions that were never asked in the first place.

Case in point being Scott Glenn’s mysterious stranger character who arrives in the town shortly after the evil inside the keep has been released. We kind of get the idea of who is he and what he’s doing (and these ideas come to fruition in the finale). But he’s a sketchy character who has no real story and feels tacked on in the current cut of the film. He shows up and has sex with Alberta Watson’s token female character (poor lass has just survived a rape by some German soldiers to boot!) and we’re meant to just shrug our shoulders and go with the flow? There’s also lots of slow-motion sequences, loud music, fancy purple lights and about a year’s supply of artificial fog in the finale where Glenn doesn’t say anything, allowing his facial expressions and actions to tell us the story. It’s all very interpretative and gets the audience to join the dots themselves rather than being spoon fed…well, just about! Those who prefer spoon feeding from their horror films won’t like this at all. Glenn’s character isn’t just the only underdeveloped aspect to the film but it’s the most blatant.

Apart from the long-winded “what the hell is going on?” narrative, The Keep’s other underlying problem is finding a protagonist to sympathise with. That’s the problem with a lot of these horror films based around Nazis – who are we meant to root for? Yes, some of them may be written more appealing to the viewer but at the end of the day, they’re still Nazis and it’s difficult to get on their side. You’d think Ian McKellen’s Jewish scholar would fare better but he’s pretty unlikeable: a bitter, selfish old man who is harsh even to his close friends and daughter. She’s not exactly the main focus of the plot either. So do we sympathise with the demon Molasar in this case, the evil spirit waiting to be unleashed from his tomb? It’s a puzzling scenario which isn’t helped by a rambling narrative that never knows which direction to go.

So despite the muddled script, it’s to Mann’s credit that he manages to keep The Keep so gripping. I can’t put my finger on it because there’s not a lot of action, many scenes lack dialogue and rely on imagery and audio alone and there are too many plot holes lying around which throw you off track. But there is something that prevents you from switching off. The Keep is like few horror films I’ve ever seen before in that watching is almost like experiencing the keep for yourself. It’s a visually impressive film, with some fantastic cinematography, striking imagery and a superbly ominous atmosphere assisted by a creepy and haunting soundtrack. The dimly-lit, smoke-shrouded sets are the stuff of bad dreams. One particular scene featuring Gabriel Byrne’s SS commander staggering around a large room full of his dead soldiers is one of the most nightmare-inducing scenes I’ve seen. The first appearance of Molasar, the evil presence, is impressive, with the creature being made up of smoke and lights and backed by chilling music. The synthetic score by Tangerine Dream goes against the grain when it comes to soundtracks: it’s not there to accompany the scenes with music cues but rather act as an extension of the mood, acting as ambient noise. It’s a superb soundtrack though one which isn’t readily available to purchase.

I’ll say one thing for Mann and that’s he always assembles a fantastic cast. Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glen, Robert Prosky (you may not recognise the name but you’ll recognise the face) and Jürgen Prochnow are all on hand. It’s a male-heavy film as the nature of the war setting naturally calls for. I’m sure if this was remade nowadays, there’d be a female SS commander or something similar. Byrne is the evil Nazi, Prochnow the more reasonable one, Prosky a local priest and Glen is the Van Helsing-like hunter. Most of them are wasted in the roles but at least they add some much-needed star power. One appearance I chuckled at is that of German actor Wolf Kahler as some lowly SS soldier who has a brief cameo role. He’s been demoted since his face was melted away in Raiders of the Lost Ark!

The Keep is a genre from which Mann never returned to and it’s a pity. Whilst this is largely an incoherent mess of ideas, its potential is breath taking and the surreal atmosphere and art house audio and visuals will leave an indelible mark upon you. Stylish but unsatisfying, it would have been interesting to see Mann’s three-hour director’s cut of the film and whether that just prolonged the confusion or sorted it out.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killdozer (1974)

Killdozer (1974)

Everyone Knows a Machine Cannot Kill. Except the Machine.

A mysterious alien force takes control of a massive bulldozer and proceeds to kill off the crew of a remote construction site on a small island off the coast of Africa.

 

That’s about all the plot you’re going to get from a hokey film like Killdozer. Made-for-TV in 1974, this is now virtually forgotten about – never released on DVD to date in the UK, never shown on television as far as I can recall and what few copies there were on VHS have been well worn over the years. Sometimes there are reasons for such obscurity.  I managed to watch this via a Youtube upload which has since been pulled so those wanting to check it out will be disappointed.

Despite the title, which is something a modern studio like The Asylum would love to have devised for one of their outlandish social media frenzies, Killdozer is sluggishly boring and never once lives up to any sort of throwaway potential the novelty value of a killer bulldozer may have had. At a slender seventy-four minutes, the material that is presented barely manages to extend that far and will have you reaching for the fast forward button before the first quarter is over. It’s just dull. There’s only so many adjectives I could use to describe it so the simplest one will do. It’s dull. Slow. Not a lot happens. No excitement. Dull.

For a start, the idea to locate this monstrous machine in the middle of nowhere with only a handful of construction workers to kill off amidst a few tents is daft as it takes away half of the fun of a bulldozer going on a rampage. Where are the buildings being smashed down? The cars and buses being taken out? A city or even small town location would have been the perfect place to unleash the bulldozer but keeping it confined to a small island without roads and any real buildings is a big cop out. I understand the budget not stretching that far but the idea was more less dead-on-arrival and the location doesn’t help matters one bit. It’s bland, pretty lifeless and looks to have been shot entirely in a quarry somewhere.

Forgive me if I’m wrong but aren’t bulldozers supposed to be really noisy, chugging lumps of metal which you could hear driving up on you? Not the Killdozer! This is a stealth vehicle, capable of smashing its way out of trees and bushes to spring out on unsuspecting victims at a moment’s notice. It’s not like it needs much prompting either with the few characters in the film displaying a sense of stupidity that wouldn’t even wash in the 80s teen slasher films. Who thinks it is a good idea to hide from a twenty-tonne bulldozer inside the metal pipe it has just you crawl into? Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the bulldozer never once manages to appear alive and the film falls flat as a result. There’s hardly any tension or excitement due to its slowness and you could easily outrun it if you put your mind to it. Even the prospect of a bulldozer versus digger showdown can’t liven things up.

The guys that sparsely populate this film consist of a few stock characters including the recovering alcoholic asshole foreman, the token black guy, the nervous one who breaks down and the popular guy. That’s pushing it for individual features as they’re so non-descript that it’s impossible to tell them apart at times. They do a lot of standing around talking and never really seem to ‘get’ the situation that they are faced with especially given their aforementioned stupidity. When the bulldozer is the smartest thing on show, you’ve got issues with your script.

 

Killdozer is dreadful fare which should have been left to rust on the seventies scrap heap. It’s hard trying to find positives to say about it. Even its short running time drags out for an eternity.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆