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.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cherry Falls (2000)

Cherry Falls (2000)

Lose your innocence – or lose your life

A psychotic serial killer that only kills virgins starts a bloodthirsty murder spree at Cherry Falls High School. Deciding to organise a sex party to lose their virginity to avoid becoming the next target, a group of teenagers are unaware that the killer has found out the location.

 

Famously highlighted in Scream that ‘sex = death’, losing your virginity in a horror film has always been a big no-no, right back to the late 70s and early 80s. It’s one of the core rules of the slasher genre, and one which has rarely been tampered with…until Cherry Falls. It’s a film that ran into the MPAA in America (the censors) who rejected the film numerous times and demanded more cuts and was unfortunately relegated to becoming a TV movie. Things were better for Cherry Falls overseas and, here in the UK at least, it received a cinematic release. I must have had a slow day because I remember going to the cinema on the afternoon to see Cherry Falls when it was first out. Looking back after re-watching it, it’s disappointing that this was quickly lost in the shuffle amidst the copious amount of Scream wannabes that were released in the late 90s and early 00s.

Cherry Falls is a slasher which has one novelty over the rest – the role reversal of the ‘have sex and die’ – but does little else differently than the swathe of Scream clones. Post-Scream, teen slashers needed to be self-aware to appeal to the ‘hip’ audience otherwise they would appear behind-the-times, and thus Cherry Falls is only too quick to allow the characters to get in on the act of knowing that they need to lose their virginity to survive. It doesn’t make a big deal of it, though it’s inevitable that this self-aware moment is a cue for a lot of awkward sexual innuendo and one-liners from the teenage cast. But in focusing the bulk of the film on this central narrative, too little time is spent on other matters like characters and minor plot threads. Despite the little twist on the tale, there’s literally nothing else that is different here from the likes of Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer. Director Geoffrey Wright includes all of the usual tropes, from the settings to the camera shots he uses, with the film sometimes drifting a little too far towards becoming a parody due to some of the dialogue.

There’s the usual assortment of red herrings – the sheriff who just so happens to decide to go to West Virginia during the murder spree, a headteacher who harbours a shifty past, a young male teacher who is a little too eager to get to know his female students, a frustrated on-and-off boyfriend. The sad thing here is that, sheriff aside, all of these characters here are too thinly-developed and no matter who is finally revealed as the killer, it’s not as effective and shocking as it could have been. The killer does follow standard procedure such as apparently being in two places at once, having a superhuman ability to withstand damage that would knock down any normal person, and the knack of knowing who to kill and when and where. It is also essential for the killer to wear some form of mask or conceal their identity so as not to be identified by anyone who may survive (or so that the audience can get a good look at them) and the costume here is a bit far-fetched and impractical. I’ve worn wigs as part of a Santa costume every year and there’s no way they stay that perfect after a bit of frenzied activity!

In its defence, Cherry Falls has been cut to shreds by the censors after it was submitted and rejected numerous times to the MPAA in the US. Who knows what the final version looks like in comparison with director Wright’s original edit. It’d be bloodier that’s for sure, as it’s obvious during the kill scenes that something is being held back. There’s also the blatant issue of the film’s central set piece – a ‘Pop Your Cherry Ball’ where dozens of horny teenagers are having pretty much a big orgy – and hardly any nudity in sight. What we do get to see of the kills, and it’s not much, is fairly bog-standard stuff but there was clearly a lot more in the tank which was taken out. The ambiguous nature of the killer’s gender is a nice move but it’s hardly a Sleepaway Camp style shock reveal.

The late Brittany Murphy stars in the ‘final girl’ role and she’s likeable enough, with her wide-eyes conveying a nice sense of innocence and naivety in her vulnerable moments. But there’s something different about her to the usual teen heroines which makes her stand out. Michael Biehn plays her father/the local sheriff and is the sort of stern adult presence the film needs to anchor some of the more dramatic and serious moments. Biehn gets a fair amount of screen time too, which was pleasing, as the guy is criminally underrated and has been since his double turn in the 80s in The Terminator and Aliens. Those two apart, the rest of the cast is almost invisible such is their minimal screen time. The group of teenagers that make up the friendship group are virtually anonymous and there’s so many kids from the school that get one or two lines to make the orgy at the end make more sense in that everyone is there.

 

You’ve seen it all before and done better. You’ve also seen it done a lot worse too. Cherry Falls is as routine as they come, save for the twist on the old sub-genre trope, but a lot of that is purely down to the censors, rather than the filmmakers. There was a lot more underneath the surface but it’s been ripped out, leaving a rather tame and neutered remnant.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doorway, The (2000)

The Doorway (2000)

…to hell

Four friends are given the chance to renovate an old, abandoned house after they find out that the owner is willing to pay a lot of money for someone to do it and allow them to stay there rent-free whilst they carry out the work. But what they didn’t realise is that in the basement is a doorway which leads straight to Hell.

 

The Doorway only stuck out from the mountains of low-grade rubbish on offer in the horror section in my local video store because of Roy Scheider’s name plastered on the front cover as ‘the star’ of the film. I’ve liked the guy since Jaws and he’s a criminally underrated actor (check out The French Connection for further proof). It’s a pity he was typecast as Chief Brody because the man had so much more to give as an actor. Unfortunately Scheider’s name also obscured the fact that Roger Corman was producer. Whenever Corman attaches himself to a project, you know that the results are going to be low budget and, in ninety-five percent of the cases, pretty rubbish. Clearly designed to capitalise on the ‘haunted house’ fad of the early 00s with The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill, the only scary thing is how much time you won’t get back after watching.

The Doorway is ultra-low budget which tries to do a lot of usual genre work but without half of the impact due to the lack of money. The house isn’t very big and sparsely decorated, Scheider aside there are no known names in the cast, there’s little in the way of special effects and some hokey gore in the final third. It’s not really bank-busting material and certainly something that doesn’t really do its plot justice. If you’re going to have demons and ghosts populating your film but don’t have the budget to show them, then you need to think creatively about how to scare people without showing them a lot – Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead tops the list when it comes to something like that. The Doorway fizzles out most of it’s scares, turning into unintentional laughter when you realise that these characters are terrified of things that are happening in the house, yet the audience hasn’t had much to go on. With a title like this, you’d expect some sort of Doom-style eruption of demons from Hell, not a few horny ghosts.

The Doorway saves most of its ‘top’ material for the second half around the time that Scheider shows up. I say ‘top’ material as it’s not riveting in the slightest at any point. The sad state of affairs is that you’ll get more excitement out of the copious number of sex scenes in the film.  The abandoned house wasn’t so abandoned a long time ago and it’s where demons had massive orgies. There is plenty of sex and nudity thrown around. Characters have sex with each other a lot and they also have sex with this female demon who does the rounds. She’s a bit of a tart. This is virtually the first half of the film. There are a few failed scares and attempts to generate some suspense and atmosphere but the amateurish production design really harms the mood.

I was wrong to be duped into thinking that someone like Roy Scheider wouldn’t accept a role in something as low budget as this. I can’t believe that he was that desperate to feed his family that he’d star in something like this but, unfortunately, I’ve been proven wrong. Scheider is the best bit of the film by a clear mile yet he has little to do and it’s little more than a glorified cameo. He’s in the film for a total of around fifteen minutes tops and gets his face ripped apart for his troubles. Scheider was in his twilight years here and was accepting roles in all manner of low budget action and horror films including Dracula II: Ascension and Dracula III: Legacy. His presence in this is solely to attempt to give the film some sort of credibility and to be fair to the guy, he does just that in his limited screen time. They should have stumped up some more money to give him a few more minutes.

The Doorway does have a decent script which seems like a contradiction given how badly I’ve been bashing it. The characters aren’t saddled with doing stupid things like going upstairs to investigate mysterious noises. In fact when they find out that the house is haunted, the first thing they do is leave! To prove my script theory wrong, they promptly return but at least they bring a ghost hunter with them to attempt to get rid of the demons. So common sense prevails and logic – you still wouldn’t get me going back anywhere near that house. They actually talk like real people too. It’s not a lot, but it’s something

 

I’m not much of a fan of haunted house films and The Doorway is no exception. Low budget and lame, there’s nothing to recommend in the slightest. Someone please close the door, there’s a nasty draught coming in!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

In Space No One Can Eat Ice Cream!

Mike and Debbie, a pair of young lovers, decide to follow a shooting star that has landed outside of their hometown and they discover a mysterious circus tent in the middle of the woods. Exploring inside, they find dead people hanging in what looks like candy floss cocoons and sinister clown-looking aliens walking around.  Rushing in to town to alert the local police, they are frustrated when no one believes them and thinks it’s a prank. They don’t realise that the clowns have followed them into town.

 

An affectionate throwback to the 50s sci-fi flicks of the past that used to be shown in drive-ins (The Blob immediately springs to mind), Killer Klowns from Outer Space has garnered one of the biggest cult followings known. And there’s a good reason for that. For all its silliness and ridiculousness, it’s one of the most creative horror-comedies to come out of the 80s and certainly something that you’ll not likely to see replicated any time soon. This is a film which does anything and everything it can to live up to the promise of its title, a true labour of love from its directing team.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is the perfect example of a film which exists solely based on its central idea. Everything you can associate with clowns and the circus is brought to life and twisted into all manner of horrific forms – balloon animals come to life, pieces of popcorn are eggs for clown-headed snake monsters, cream pies are laced with acid, Punch and Judy shows take on sinister new meanings, giant shadow puppets eat spectators and the clowns make human ventriloquist dummies. It’s a film full of wacky and kooky ideas and your enjoyment of the film will depend on whether you can suspend your disbelief for a while and enjoy the sheer creativity on display. The film doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to delivering on the absurd premise – these are aliens that just so happen to look like clowns after all. But for each of the bad taste kills, there is a nightmarish quality that lies under the surface once we find out just why the aliens have landed on Earth.

The plot is structured exactly the same way as those 50s sci-fi films, where the young heroes discover a threat, try to warn the adults, are ignored and then have to save the day when the threat comes to town. Of course, the audience are in on the act from the start as we see exactly what Mike and Debbie have uncovered but the dramatic irony is that no one else believes them for the stupidity of the story they appear to be concocting. Killer Klowns From Outer Space is extremely pacey and the klowns are on the screen right from the early going – no slow reveals here. The narrative can sometimes be too dependent on the loose collection of kill scenes and klown set pieces strung together, but it doesn’t really need to be doing anything overly dramatic. Simplicity is the key here.

The Chiodo Brothers were known for their effects work so it’s no surprise to see that the film’s strengths lie in the production values, the sets, the make-up and, of course, the special effects. With a low budget, the Chiodos know how to get maximum mileage from the tools at their disposal. Apart from some obvious miniature and composition work during the finale with Klownzilla, the special effects generally hold up. The ray guns that turn people into the cocoons are a simple effect and the spaceship itself looks decent as it takes off. The sets are colourful and wacky, like you’d get in some Halloween haunted house attraction, and really add to the aesthetics. Literally everything you seen on the screen to do with the klowns has been designed to perfection. It’s attention to detail on a grand scale.

But the undoubted stars of the show are the ‘klowns’ themselves. Believe me, if you ever had Coulrophobia (a fear of clowns) then you’ll want to stay well clear of this one as these creatures are terrifying. The demonic rubber masks give them human qualities, with just the right amount of Otherworldliness – you know these chaps aren’t local lads from Barnums! Generally tall and imposing, with huge red noses, sharp animalistic teeth and hairdos which must have taken ages to style properly, give the clowns a menacing physical presence despite the cartoonish appearance. The costumes look fantastic too and during the finale you really get to see just how many variations with both make-up and costumes they created for the film.

The cast isn’t particularly brilliant – both Grant Camer and Suzanne Snyder were hardly ever going to make it big after this but their relationship on-screen is good enough to pass muster. Likewise, for the annoying comic relief sidekicks Michael Siegel and Peter Licassi, though most of their irritability comes from the script trying to make them funny rather than anything they do personally. It’s veteran hand John Vernon who steals the show as grouchy Officer Mooney, the old-fashioned cop who believes in being sterner with the younger generation. Vernon gets to spout the infamous “You’ll never make a dummy out of me” line, oblivious to the fate that the klowns have planned for him.

Topping off the film is an excellent soundtrack from John Masssari, with plenty of calliope-style circus tunes suitably matching up what is happening on screen – the perfect combination of light-hearted fun and dark, brooding danger. There’s also a highly-catchy punk theme song by The Dickies, which bookends both sets of credits nicely. They just don’t make soundtracks like they used to!

 

In a genre filled with knock-offs, copy-cats and derivative rehashes, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is arguably the most unique and original comedy-horror ever made. The Chiodo Brothers had a wacky vision for a film and they saw it through to the very end with this fantastic amalgamation of ideas and practicality. Time has been extremely kind to this film and the whole production design still looks fantastic.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Blob, The (1958)

The Blob (1958)

Beware of the Blob! It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor.

A meteor crashes to Earth near a small America village and a blob-like creature emerges from it, devouring the arm of an old man who touches it. Teenager Steve Andrews and his girlfriend find the old man and rush him to the local doctor, only to see both men attacked and eaten. However, the local police are sceptical of his story and think that he’s just playing a prank on them. With the blob growing in size every time it eats someone, Steve realises that he must do something soon to prevent the whole town from succumbing to the blob.

 

Everyone has heard of this cult classic from the 1950s, something a little bit different in the sci-fi driven era of alien invaders and atomic monsters destroying cities in abundance. Its non-too-subtle underlying Cold War message about a ‘red mass taking over the world’ is one of the most blatant from this entire sub-genre of films but The Blob isn’t about politics, it’s about cheese and ham and everything that comes in between. Originally part of a double-bill at the cinema, it soon became apparent that The Blob was the film that everyone was really paying to see and so it became the main feature. This was certainly the cultural phenomenon, at least in the States, for its time and day.

The Blob’s plot is now synonymous with this type of schlocky monster flick designed to appeal to teenagers: a menace which slowly grows deadlier and claims more victims whilst the rebellious main teenage character is ignored because of their age and must prove themselves to the authorities to save the day. Compared to a lot of the other 50s sci-fi flicks which featured military personnel or scientists in the lead roles, to have a ‘teenage’ main character was rather unusual and The Blob is something of a trend-setter in this instance. It makes the film more accessible than it might have been had the lead character been a general – these teenagers are more bothered about hanging out than they are anything else and so its up to the resourceful of youth to save the day.

The blob itself comes off as a lousy monster, though its existence and purpose is chilling – this is not a monster that has any reason or pattern, it just consumes things and grows bigger. The mix of red dye and silicone gives the blob an unusual appearance unlike other monsters of its time – certainly the alien is helped by the fact that this was shot in colour as opposed to black and white. In some sequences, particularly the infamous cinema scene, it’s clear to see how the special effects were created but in the earlier shots of it moving around the doctor’s surgery, it’s not so apparent. This makes the creature look rather ethereal and hard to decipher, adding a nice sense of menace and unpredictability to what it may do next.

The fact that it can’t be killed adds to the tension – just how on earth is the film going to end? Well there’s a nice open ending which promised (and got) a sequel. Being indestructible and unstoppable means that the set pieces throughout the film are tinged with an element of mystery. There are some decent moments, if somewhat fleeting, where the blob attacks different townspeople. Most of these are little more than brief glimpses of the character being attacked by something red and gooey and that’s it. Not really dwelling on the blood and carnage left over is more down to the budget and fact that in 1958, you were never going to see anything remotely disgusting, but it all adds up to the enigmatic nature of the creature.

Whilst the blob moments work reasonably well given their limitations, the bits in between with the teenagers and the police don’t work. One of the first films to capitalise on a teenage audience hungry to see representations of themselves up on the big screen, The Blob features plenty of scenes of the teenagers hanging out together, either in the diner or with their cars. No drinking, doing drugs or attempts to have sex – these are clean cut cats from the 50s who just want to be respected by their parents. I guess these are realistic representations of American youth of the day. Steve McQueen’s first starring role shows little of the talent he’d display in the 1960s when he would become one of Hollywood’s most famous icons. McQueen looks a lot older than he is (he was twenty-eight in this) so seeing him portray a seventeen-year-old teenager is a laugh, especially when some of the adults are trying to tell him off. He cut quite a good deal for his salary on this one and came out a few pennies richer for it too. It’s a good job he negotiated before the producers saw his performance as, like the rest of the cast, it’s woeful. However, you kind of give him the benefit of the doubt because it is Steve McQueen after all and he’s effortlessly cool, almost as if he’s in on the joke throughout the entire film.

 

Very dated, dreadfully slow and highly cheesy, The Blob might be a cult classic to some but it’s just awful viewing nowadays. Ironically in a day and age where terrible and pointless remakes are all the go, it’s the remake of The Blob from the 80s that stands out as a rare effort which betters the original by a mile. Check that one out if you want to see some gooey extra-terrestrial nastiness done properly.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abominable Snowman (2013)

Deadly Descent (2013)

Attempting to track down a long-lost friend who went missing whilst climbing, a group of skiers head off into the snowy wilderness. However they find the cause of his disappearance to be a group of giant abominable snowmen and must find a way to escape the mountain alive.

 

There aren’t enough films about the legend of the Yeti. Hammer touched on it early in their heyday with the excellent The Abominable Snowman and the 70s saw TV movie Snowbeast make little impression. Unlike their hairy cousins Bigfoot/Sasquatch who have starred in countless horror films over the years, the Yeti were rarely considered to be horror-film worthy. That is until recently and the birth of the Sy Fy Original. Within the space of a couple of years, the channel has produced a number of Yeti-themed horror films including Yeti, Snow Beast, Rage of the Yeti and now Abominable Snowman. It has been renamed Deadly Descent in some countries. Some countries have allowed it to retain the original title. And some countries have just thought ‘screw this’ and given it the massive title Deadly Descent: The Abominable Snowman. Some countries have made the title plural. Bottom line is: it’s the same film and it still majorly sucks.

For those familiar with Sy Fy, watching Abominable Snowman will be like putting on an old pair of slippers. Granted a pair of slippers that have been worn and worn and worn and have become frayed, stained and generally useless. But old slippers none the less. The films all follow the same formula and it’s now tiresome beyond belief after about the hundredth time of asking. Abominable Snowman could have featured any killer animal or mythical monster and it would have been precisely the same film. The key to these films becomes the monster and the monster alone. Not having a shark or snake or crocodile in the piece, lovers of this type of rubbish will be tuning in solely for the novelty factor of seeing something different. Characters and plots become irrelevant and secondary to the monster action. Abominable Snowman doesn’t get this memo and spends a large chunk of time drawing out its back story before we get any giant furball fury. Do you like skiing sequences? Great, you’ll love the padding that this film throws in.

Actually, the padding makes little different in the long run. As per usual, the biggest disappointment with a Sy Fy film is when it comes to the monster. These are the reasons people like me watch these films and yet again we are short-changed. The CGI for the Yeti is poor and there are only about four animations which are repeated over and over again in the limited number of scenes in which they’re present. They look like overgrown Critters, gigantic balls of fur which roll around the place like the incoherent blur of black graphics that they are. Not sure which bright spark decided to give them black fur in the middle of snowy mountains. Evolution has told us that animals adapt to their surroundings so surely these legendary creatures would have blended in with the snow or else how have they been hidden away for so long? They’re also stunt Yetis and have the ability to do things like jumping tall distances and clinging on to the legs of helicopters like they’re starring in an 80s action movie. Can I emphasise again just how bad the CGI is in this? Straight from the PS One onto your TV screens in 2013. If you’re going to half-attempt to do a job, don’t do it at all and just design a monster suit for someone to prowl around in on set.

It’s not just the monsters which are poorly rendered on the computer but there’s terrible weather effects and a CGI helicopter which has to be seen to be believed. In trying to go all out and entertain, the film becomes too outlandish. It doesn’t help when the characters are particularly unlikeable and one-note. If most of them don’t irritate you, then you must have enormous patience. Despite wishing death upon the majority of the characters, they don’t exactly get killed off in style or deserving of their annoying personalities. The deaths are bland and something of a non-entity. If you’ve got giant ape-like creatures with sharp claws and teeth, let’s see the damage that they can do! The characters go all Home Alone on the yeti at a late point in the film, setting up a number of traps around the chalet to stop them. I’m not sure what it worse: the thought that these people would actually think the yeti would be as stupid as the Wet Bandits and fall for the tracks or the notion that little Kevin McAllister could wipe out the world’s native population with a bag of Micro Machines, some rope and a can of paint.

 

By far and away the worst of the recent yeti films, Abominable Snowman is just abominable. It has to rank down there with the worst of Sy Fy’s creature feature films. That is saying something!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

DEATH LIVES in the Vault of Horror!

Five strangers visiting some old catacombs find themselves separated from the rest of the group and end up in a chamber with a mysterious man who details how each of the strangers will die.

 

No doubt you’ll have heard of Hammer (and if not, why not?) and their contribution to the horror genre. The studio ruled the horror land in the late 50s and 60s, single-handedly reinventing the genre with such timeless classics as The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. Less known were their British rivals Amicus, who found fame in the 60s and 70s with a series of horror films based in the present day rather than the period gothic settings of Hammer. It’s easy to mix up who made what between Hammer and Amicus during their peak periods as they used many of the same actors (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee) and directors (Freddie Francis, Roy Ward Baker). Amicus found success in their anthology horror films – films featuring four or five short stories which were linked together by an overarching plot, usually with a narrator or central figure. More spooky than scary, the films were inspired by the old EC Comics which featured macabre stories where people would suffer an ironic fate/mishap as a result of something they had done. Given how many of these anthology films have used the comics either as direct source material or as an inspiration to devise fresh stories, it’s always been my mission to check some of them out for real.

Tales from the Crypt was Amicus’ fifth anthology horror film and arguably their most famous, no doubt due to the heavyweight cast full of big names. All of the stories here are directly lifted from EC Comics rather than original ideas and like all of these anthology films, it’s a veritable pick ‘n’ mix selection. Some people will prefer one story, other people will prefer another. There’s something for everyone and with the stories only being about ten minutes long at best, they’re snappy enough for you not to get too saddled with something you don’t like.

The link segments involving the five main characters coming across a mysterious stranger in the cave is rather silly and legendary thespian Ralph Richardson looks like he’d rather be anywhere else except the daft set that he’s stuck on. Once you’ve seen one Amicus anthology film, you’ve seen them all as far as the final twist goes so it’s little surprise to find out why they’re all gathered in this place.

… And All Through the House stars Joan Collins as a woman who kills her husband on Christmas Eve and then attempts to hide his body. Unfortunately for her, a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa is on the loose outside the house but she is unable to call the police without exposing her own crimes. This is the most remembered story, no doubt in part to the sight of a murderous Santa Claus long before Silent Night, Deadly Night came along to upset parents. Also no doubt in part to the glamorous appearance of Joan Collins as the equally-murderous wife. There’s a decent bit of tension in this episode as the Santa peers through the windows and the Christmas theme gives it that extra edge. There is very little dialogue and so Collins has to act with her eyes and body language, which she does so very well. Despite the crime she has committed, you do feel like rooting for her. Sadly, it ends quite abruptly but there was nowhere else for the segment to go at the time.

Reflection of Death stars Ian Hendry as a man who leaves his wife and children for his mistress. However on his way to meeting her, he’s involved in a horrific car accident. When he emerges from the wreck, everyone he sees runs off in horror and he is not quite sure why. This is arguably the weakest of the stories because it all builds until the final payoff. The clever use of POV and lack of dialogue from the main character keeps the big twist of this story hidden until the end – we know that something has happened to Ian Hendry’s character, we’re just not quite sure what – but the results are underwhelming to say the least. Thankfully, the story isn’t drawn out too long as the nature of the entire segment means that once one or two people have reacted to Hendy’s character, it gets tiresome to see others do the same thing.

Poetic Justice sees a father and son take a disliking to an elderly neighbour and conduct a hate campaign against him to get him to leave their street. He hangs himself instead. A year later on Valentine’s Day, the old man returns from the grave to get his revenge. This is my favourite of the five stories and this is down to Peter Cushing’s memorably poignant turn as Grimsdyke, the old man. Known for frequently playing strong, knowledgeable figures, it’s interesting to see Cushing’s weaker and more fragile side as he plays against type somewhat, but this was made shortly after his wife died and it was well-known that this affected him greatly. The hate campaign that the characters stir up against him is a little far-fetched and the pair of David Markhan and Robin Phillips are given horrible one-note characters with no redeeming characteristics – the sooner they get a bit of karma, the better. The zombie make-up on Cushing looks particularly effective for 1972.

Wish You Were Here sees businessman Ralph Jason struggling to make ends meet until his wife uses a Chinese figurine that offers its owner three wishes. They ask for a fortune and receive it but Jason is killed on his way to collect it. She then wishes him back to life, only to find that he has since been embalmed. This is arguably the weakest segment out of the lot and that’s purely because there’s no real purpose to it – we never find out just what the man has done to deserve his punishment and so seeing him suffer isn’t as powerful as it could have been. The story is a nice alternative to The Monkey’s Paw tale and the final twist to the tale is nice, even if it looks like an innocent man is going to suffer eternal pain!

Blind Alley is the final story and sees a former army major become the new director for a home for the blind. However rather than looking after the residents, he introduces rationing and heating cuts to fund his own luxury lifestyle. Ignoring the ongoing suffering of the residents, it isn’t long before they decide to turn the tables on him. The segment goes on for a bit too long but most of the time is needed to pad out the character of Rogers and make you hate him for what he’s done to the blind residents. If you can ignore the fact that the blind residents are able to use some fantastic DIY skills to make their instrument of revenge (Jigsaw would have been proud of it!), then the segment at least finishes strongly. Patrick Magee, as the leader of the rebellious blind residents, has his usual intensity and imposing presence. The film then finishes with the not-so-subtle plot twist that you’ve seen a mile coming with regards to the Crypt Keeper.

 

Tales from the Crypt is another solid Amicus anthology film which delivers more stronger stories than weaker ones, has a fantastic cast of British talent and enough macabre twists and turns to keep you interested. The seriousness with which the stories play out certainly adds a nice sense of menace to go along with the mild chills.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆