Category Thriller Movie Reviews

Black Cadillac (2003)

Black Cadillac (2003)

Revenge in the driver’s seat

Three young men on their way from Minnesota to Wisconsin late one night are terrorised for no apparent reason by someone driving a mysterious black Cadillac. Who is driving the car? What do they want? When the friends stop to pick up a stranded police officer, things seem to be looking positive but the Cadillac is soon back to menace them.

 

After the recent success of Roadkill (aka Joy Ride), it was inevitable that other films would come along and try and do a similar thing and here we have one with Black Cadillac. Steven Spielberg’s Duel pretty much cornered the market for this type of road rage film back in the 70s and covered all of the bases so these recent films have not really been laden with originality. I mean there’s only so much you can do with a car trying to run another car off the road for an hour and a half. But what they have had to do is keep their films tight, entertaining and fast-paced so that this rehashed material is given a makeover to seem fresh. Roadkill managed to do it and I’m pleased to say that Black Cadillac follows in the same footsteps, though the tepid claims that it is ‘based on a true story’ ring true of a shallow marketing ploy to divert accusations of plagiarism rather than re-enact history.

Black Cadillac is hard to describe as a horror – it’s more of a thriller and a fast-paced one at that. It moves along pretty briskly and after the opening scene inside the bar where we’re introduced to the three characters, the audience is given plenty of motives as to why the Cadillac is after the teenagers. Unfortunately the trio of leads aren’t particularly captivating and you could easily interchange them with similar characters from other teen horror films. You’ve got the motor-mouth one, the big violent brother and the annoying little brother. At least Shane Johnson, Josh Hammond and Jason Dohring all make the most of their clichéd roles, even if the script lets them down a lot of the time with some flat, truly woeful dialogue that guys like them would never say to each other.

The Cadillac is first seen about fifteen minutes into the film so the story wastes little time in getting down to the meat of it and then the cat-and-mouse interaction between the two cars takes it into more familiar Duel territory. Copious low angle close-ups of the Cadillac, rapid editing to signal how fast the cars are both travelling and plenty of tyre-burning mayhem ensues. The focus is not so much on who is driving it but as if the car has taken on a life of its own.

The introduction of Randy Quaid’s cop adds a new dynamic to the mix as you’d assume that the three friends are now safe in the presence of law enforcement. But the car returns and Quaid’s character becomes more essential to the story that you’d have assumed. Quaid might be annoying in a lot of his films, playing brash, loudmouth characters and generally getting in-your-face. But this time he plays the character just right, allowing a darker side to emerge and giving the film and unsettling feeling. You know there’s something that he’s hiding from the rest of the characters and he’s got this sinister look throughout. It is arguably the case that this foreshadows some of the plot twists later and ruins potential surprises well ahead of the game which is a bit of a shame.

The film does lose itself quite a bit towards the end when the teenagers decide to make a stand and fight back against the Cadillac. There are also plenty of plot holes, usually to do with the physics, space and time. One minute it’s driving behind the characters and the next it’s parked up in the road ahead in some form of ‘Dastardly and Muttley getting way ahead of their rivals in Wacky Races and then stopping to cheat and ending up way behind everyone but then in the next scene they’re in front of everyone again’ kind of way.

 

There is a lot to enjoy about Black Cadillac and it is well worth the price of a rental if you can find a copy. By going full speed ahead for as long as it can, it eventually runs out of gas and comes to a virtual standstill in the final third but overall it is a solid thriller.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Death Proof (2007)

Death Proof (2007)

A White-Hot Juggernaut At 200 Miles Per Hour!

Stuntman Mike is a former Hollywood stuntman who uses his “death proof” stunt car to kill women. He has just finished off his latest victim when he targets a new group of girls he meets at a diner. Unfortunately he doesn’t reckon on them being tougher than his usual prey and they begin to turn the tables on their tormentor when his attempts to kill them fail.

 

Quentin Tarantino is an enigmatic director whose work I’ve never been a major fan of. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are classics but the rest of his films are sketchy, self-indulgent and seem to wallow in homaging older genres to which someone like me has never seen or simply has no interest in seeing. Tarantino and his best friend, fellow director Robert Rodriguez, came up with the idea of Grindhouse, a double-bill homage to trashy 70s exploitation films, in which both would direct a feature film, place them back-to-back and then throw in a load fake trailers in the intermission to add to the authenticity (some of which are now being made into feature films themselves including Machete, the pick of the fake trailers). The films were scratched and muffled to give them an ‘old school’ feel and some reels have purposely been cut out to again make it look like it was from the 70s. I have to laugh when I read reports that Americans walked out of the cinema after the end credits of the first film had finished because they thought that the film was over. Do they not read reviews or previews of the films they’re going to watch? The two films were then split up and released separately. Death Proof was the first one and received more commercial success than Planet Terror, which failed to ignite at the box office but, in my opinion, is the far superior flick.

Death Proof has very little story and that could easily have been set up as a short story. Instead the film is padded out to one hundred and fourteen minutes of pure boredom and it’s basically the same hour repeated again. Stuntman Mike comes across a group of girls, gets to know them, they talk about sex and drugs and all that stuff and then the girls leave before being pursed by the ‘death proof’ car with Mike at the helm. Once he kills off the first group of girls, you wonder where the film is going to go but Mike simply walks into another bar and meets another group of girls. It’s almost exactly the same routine as the first half with the same sort of self-indulgent dialogue tripe from Tarantino before the end chase.

Tarantino’s biggest fan is arguably himself and he loves to go to town with his script. He’s making a film not for the rest of the world but for himself. He seems to think that because he loved this type of film, then everyone else is going to be in the same boat. The characters talk like they’re straight out of a 70s exploitation flick with lots of F-bombs and N-bombs thrown around left, right and centre and he throws in plenty of self-referencing to films he clearly adored as a teenager. I admire the guy for being able to write scripts like this but I just don’t have any interest in them in the slightest. I find them dull, off-putting and eventually in the end they just turn me away from the film. It may have been fresh and original back in his earlier days but now it just seems like it’s the only trick he can pull off.

The highlight of the film is the extended chase sequence towards the end in which Stuntman Mike tries and fails to kill the second group of girls, only for them to turn the tables on him. It’s lively, energetic and well shot and it makes you wonder just what the wait to get to the good part was all about. And the best thing is that it’s all done with stunt men – not a CGI car in sight. Its how car chases used to be and should still be. Nothing beats the thrill of knowing that these chases are real. The head-on-crash in here is one of the most impressive and brutal every shown on film. They need to show this instead of crash test dummies ploughing into walls!

If there is one thing which I love about Death Proof is that it gives Kurt Russell the chance to star in his own major film for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Tarantino has a knack for reviving flagging careers of older actors and although it seems that Russell hasn’t been able to capitalise on this, it was at least a pleasure to see him headline a major film. He’s having a blast as Stuntman Mike and reminded me of just why John Carpenter frequently cast him back in the 80s.

 

I think you can tell that I’m not a massive fan of Death Proof and that’s an understatement. It’s talky and long-winded, delivering only minor thrills and an awesome performance from Kurt Russell. I admire Tarantino’s passion for the old grindhouse films and the love he has for them is clear to see in the intricate steps he’s taken to make it look as close to the 70s exploitation genre as possible. He has managed to bring back a forgotten age into the mindsets of today’s cinema goers and must at least receive recognition for doing that. But as a modern motion picture, Death Proof is extremely flawed, bordering on the terrible at times.

 

Dentist, The (1996)

The Dentist (1996)

From the Creators of Re-Animator…

Doctor Feinstone lives a perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, a huge house with an outdoor pool and a very successful job as a dentist. However one day comes along where everything goes wrong for him. He discovers his wife is having an affair with pool attendant and the I.R.S. are closing in on him for tax problems. He snaps and begins to take out his frustration on his patients, inflicting all manner of horrific dental torture on them.

 

Warning: The Dentist is not a film for everyone. If you have a fear of the dentist then this isn’t the film for you. In fact, even if you don’t have a fear of the dentist, you might after having seen this. Admittedly The Dentist does opt for the cheap shock treatment of utilising a lot of people’s worst fear to its advantage but it’s much more than just a tacky slasher. The Dentist turns itself into a gripping and horrific thriller in which every last dental cliché is going to be thrown at the audience in the hope that something strikes a chord with them. We’ve all been sat in that chair. We know what it feels like to be helpless with someone prodding dental implements in your mouth. Well this plays upon that but not before we’ve been given a master class in character build-up.

Corbin Bernsen is simply brilliant as the deranged Dr Feinstone. He’s not exactly 100% sane to start the film with his obsession with cleanliness but when he snaps, you can almost sympathise with him. He loves his wife dearly and takes pride in his job but when his marriage falls apart and his job causes problems, there’s nothing else for him and you can only feel sorry for him. Feinstone’s descent into total madness takes it’s time to come to fruition and it’s good to see director Brian Yuzna spend so much time in building the character up. It may be a little slow but it’s like that for a good reason. Bernsen may have slummed around in many cheap B-movies but his performance here is the right mix of scene-chewing silliness and scary seriousness. He knows when the push the right buttons towards the audience especially during the torture scenes and displays a perfect balance of humour and horror. Linda Hoffman has the supporting role as his wife and looks fantastic, providing the more-than-ample nudity factor. Both Ken Foree and Earl Boen are wasted in small roles.

So let’s get down to the real notoriety of the film – the scenes in the chair. These scenes of dental torture are brutal, there’s no two ways around it. There are plenty of close-ups so you get a good first-hand look at all of the damage he causes. I’ve seen everything from people being eaten alive, heads chopped off, intestines ripped out, limbs severed and the like but I haven’t grimaced as much as I did when the dentist destroys a woman’s tooth to dust with the drill. It’s stomach-churning material because it looks so real. It’s for this reason that the film has the high 18 rating in the UK. There’s not much gore elsewhere in the film but these dental torture scenes are pretty horrific because they look so realistic.

There’s a reason this doesn’t get the full marks treatment though and that’s because of the finale. The film was going so well up until the final third inside the dentist’s surgery but its here where it reduces itself to a mess of generic stalk clichés and the pay-off doesn’t pack the punch it should. I guess there’s only so much leverage the script could give a character as deranged as Feinstone before it had to resort to such stereotypical slasher tactics.

 

The Dentist is a totally underrated gem of a horror flick and one of the best of the 90s low budget scene. If you have a fear of the dentist, then DO NOT watch this film as it will reinforce your wildest nightmares. If you don’t fear the dentist, you’ll still think again after seeing it.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Fear in the Night (1972)

Fear in the Night (1972)

Peggy, a young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown, is attacked by a one-armed man in her house but no evidence is found and no one believes her story, merely blaming it on her state of mind. Her new husband is offered a new job at a rural boarding school and she moves with him to the country. There they meet the rather eccentric headmaster and his wife. However things soon take a turn for the worse when she believes that the one-armed man has followed her.

 

Hammer is more famous for their classic Gothic horrors but they did dabble in other genres such as the fantasy genre with the likes of The Lost Continent and One Million Years B.C. What are usually forgotten or glossed over are there numerous forays into the Hitchcockian-style thriller that they did in the early 70s. None of which are particularly memorable but are at least curious companions to their more lavish horror counterparts. It was around this time that Hammer had begun to emphasize gore and nudity a lot more in an attempt to keep their films fresh and get back some of their lost popularity. Fear in the Night was an attempt by the studio to head in a new direction. Ironically enough this ‘new direction’ was to hark back to its golden era where atmosphere and suspense were the name of the game, not blood and boobs.

Unfortunately this one relies a little too much on creating the atmosphere and suspense and forgets to do anything with it. Director Jimmy Sangster was responsible for two of Hammer’s worst horror films but redeems himself somewhat with a solid effort which keeps it’s cards close to it’s chest for as long as it can. This can be a little distracting for the viewer – each character is seemingly hiding some secret which would reveal more about the plot twist but they are kept hidden for as long as possible. Whilst this allows for an interesting pay-off, the route leading to it seems plodding and rather distant from the viewer. Usually thrillers keep you hooked with little tid-bits of information but Fear in the Night refuses to play by the rules. You’re either going to switch off in confusion (or boredom) before the finale or stick with it in the hope that the script will play its cards at some point. Unfortunately, the finale isn’t overly thrilling although there’s a prolonged ten-minute stalking sequence through the creepy, desolate school. Hammer was always great at setting their films in eerie locations and this remote schoolhouse is one of their best complete with empty classrooms and huge white sheets covering over furniture in others. Tape recorders play the noise of children yet there are no pupils to be seen anywhere. And the opening shot of a slow pan across the school grounds to reveal the legs of a man hanging from a tree is a rather startling image.

Can you go wrong with Peter Cushing as a rather nutty headmaster? I don’t think so. This was Cushing’s first film after the death of his wife and he looks rather detached from proceedings but this works in his favour as the character has a lot of sinister secrets to keep hidden. The fact that his character only has one arm isn’t kept in the dark and one of the first encounters he has with Peggy where he stands behind her to help her untie her scarf is excellent – we see that he has a prosthetic arm but she does not.

Joan Collins has made a career out of playing bitchy women in film and television and her role here is no exception. She plays, well a bitch, and is one of the stronger performers on display and it’s a shame she’s not in the film more than she is. Judy Geeson is attractive and likeable in the lead role as the long-suffering woman who no one believes. She’s not the best actress I’ve seen but the role requires more sympathy and support from the audience than it does admiration and she fits this bill. Ralph Bates, the man Hammer tried to groom as their next leading man, is as weak as he was in the other Hammer films he starred in. Bates isn’t a bad actor and delivers his lines well, it’s just that he has little screen presence or charisma to really get into any of the roles he plays.

Whilst the cast are all very well-equipped in their roles, this is arguably the film’s weakness – there are just too few people around! Like the Scooby Doo cartoons where the ghoul/ghost/monster was always the only other person introduced in the episode apart from the gang, Fear in the Night attempts to keep us guessing with the murder-mystery story but it’s blatantly obvious who it’s going to be from the start. It’s the only possible outcome to the film as there are so few suspects lurking around the school grounds.

 

Fear in the Night was a brave attempt by Hammer to go in a new direction but ultimately fails because even in 1972, the plot twists weren’t new or original in the slightest. It’s entertaining enough if you want to stick it out but it will never be regarded as one of Hammer’s better films.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shuttle (2008)

Shuttle (2008)

Never ride with a stranger.

Mel and Jules are two young women who return home late at night from a holiday and take a shuttle bus back from the airport along with a couple of young men who have been flirting with them and another older male passenger. The journey seems fine at first but when the driver begins to take them through deserted back streets, they realise that something is up.

 

If you can handle the silly notion of a single man simultaneously driving a shuttle bus whilst managing to keep five other people hostage without cuffing them to the seats, then you may enjoy Shuttle. The film has received a lot of negative reviews, scathing in fact. It clearly dresses itself up as ‘torture porn on a shuttle bus’ so with the sight of two hot chicks and a sinister-looking driver, you’d be expecting the film to go off in all manner of depraved routes. It doesn’t though and I guess this is what is upsetting a few people. It helps to view the film as more of a thriller with horror elements. Although this doesn’t make the film any more engaging or entertaining, at least your expectations will be lowered so you won’t be as disappointed.

Let me state one thing – the film is based around one daft premise and it milks it for every single penny. Most of the film is set aboard the shuttle bus so get used to it. It’s not the most interesting place to set a film and it soon seems stale. The film also becomes quite repetitive once the driver has revealed his intentions as the characters make continuous efforts to escape, all of which fail, backfire horribly or result in one less hostage. The script seems pretty messy for the majority of the film as the driver forces the passengers to complete weird tasks. A lot of things don’t make sense or have a purpose but after a while a picture begins to emerge and the whole big reveal at the end about what the driver really wants makes everything clear. Reality seems to go out of the window as the script clearly forgets where the film is being set – aboard a small shuttle bus! Sometimes the people inside act like they’re on a plane and the film’s concepts of physics and chemistry have a lot to be desired at times.

It’s got an awesome ending though. I won’t give too much away but rest assured it’s not the nicey-nice ending we’re all so used to. Highly original, extremely downbeat and like a sucker punch to the gut, I’m surprised that it got the green light as a lot of studios like to make sure the audience are happy when the film finishes. When films finish with strong, unexpected endings like this, I always give them an extra half star. It makes the rest of the film make so much more sense and also worth sitting through. You actually appreciate that the film, whilst painstakingly slow at times, was building itself up to this final reveal.

The characters aren’t particularly well written. The two young men seem to have walked off the set of a teen comedy such is their one-dimensional attitude to sex and life. The driver seems to have come off the set of a Terminator flick as he takes a lot of damage but like all clichéd villains, seems indestructible and keeps on coming. At least there are attempts to give him some humanity towards the end of the film so that he isn’t just a psycho. Tony Curran is menacing enough in the role but as I stated earlier, quite seriously how you’ll be able to take him holding these people hostage when he’s driving remains to be seen.

As for the females, well the characters are poorly written, managing to turn the tables around on their captor but not killing him when they have the chance. I guess there wouldn’t have been a story if they did but it’s extremely annoying and frustrating. Scripts need to find ways to avoid this pitfall but it’s an easy copout for the writers to have the hero/heroine be unable to take a life. Peyton List looks like she could be one to watch for future though as she brings the right amount of attitude, sympathy and basically looks hot enough to care about.

 

Shuttle is a serviceable horror-thriller with a killer ending which will leave you reeling and make the rest of film make sense. It’s not the greatest film out there and there’s a ton of things wrong with it but this is one bus journey worth getting on….just don’t be prepared to go to the destination you expect to!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆