Tag 1990s

Komodo (1999)

Komodo (1999)

Welcome To The Bottom Of The Food Chain.

After his parents are dragged off into fields and killed by something at their holiday home on an island off the South Carolina coast, young Patrick Connolly becomes withdrawn and put under the care of psychologist Victoria Juno. Making some inroads with his recovery, Juno believes it is in his best interests to take him back to the island and confront his fears so that he fully recovers from his post-traumatic stress. When they arrive on the island, they find out what really killed his parents – huge komodo dragons which have grown to the size of large animals.

 

In the late 90s and early 00s, there was a large run of monster movies in the home video market. Suddenly with the advent of cost-effective CGI, studios could now make quick creature features with cheap monsters in literally no time at all. So within the space of a few years, all manner of normal animals were subjected to terrorising humans in various forms. With big budget successes like Anaconda and Lake Placid, the monster movie was back in fashion and sharks, snakes, bats and the like were given the killer animal treatment. As is the case with any fad, studios soon start to run out of ideas and therefore more outlandish animals were needed to become threatening. Komodo features komodo dragons, a rather imposing breed of reptile which do look pretty dangerous but despite the ‘dragon’ part of their name, aren’t actually that bad in real life. So how do writers get over this? Pump them full of chemicals and hormones to turn them into super-efficient killing machines!

I’ll give Komodo credit for one thing and that’s with the special effects. A mixture of full body CGI and actual animatronic models for close-up shots, the dragons look excellent in this. To say that this is a 1999 production, the CGI is spot on. The reptiles aren’t over-exposed to the audience, with the first sighting being about half-way through the film, but when they are on-screen, they get enough to do to really make them a threat. Unlike modern CGI monster movies, the komodo dragons don’t get forced to do anything that would make them look artificial and so you’ll see them running and climbing and not a lot else because that’s all they do in real life. The animatronic models look highly realistic and you’ll be second-guessing whether they used real komodo dragons at any point. In fact, the special effects are that good, I sometimes wonder whether this was planned for cinematic release given that the film prides itself on being ‘from the writer of Anaconda and the special effects creator of Jurassic Park.’ Director Michael Lantieri rightly won an Oscar for his contribution to the special effects of Spielberg’s classic and so he brings with him some serious know-how when it comes to the monsters. Quite how much input he had in their development remains to be seen but the man knows his way around special effects.

Some of the action set pieces, particularly the first appearance of the dragons when they burst into the living room, are excellent and, because the CGI isn’t overbearing as is the case with the majority of similarly-structured monster movies nowadays, the dragons continue to pose a serious threat throughout. Sadly, they kill most of their victims off-screen and with the teenage-friendly rating this received, Komodo is all roar and little bite. It wouldn’t have hurt to throw a little blood around the place.

It’s a pity that what truly bogs Komodo down is its pacing and narrative. Save for the prologue in which the parents are killed off, the opening third is uninspiring to say the least and filled with too much seriousness and melodrama. The second third is where Komodo kicks into gear with the first appearance of the beasts and then a few scattered attacks, all of which seem to be building up for a decent final third. But then Komodo just blows it with unnecessary human villains (the oil company cover-up subplot adds nothing to the film) and a finale which isn’t exactly what you were all expecting. The silly plot might as well not have had the komodo dragons in at all at times and it would have worked just the same either way with the human villains. At no point do you feel that the main characters are in any real danger and so you immediately cast your bets over to the supporting characters to see which will make it out alive.

 

Without the titular monsters, Komodo would be a horrendous effort but it’s thanks to the ferocious CGI monsters that it at least manages to keep its composure long enough to deliver a few decent moments, even if they are few and far between. The horrifying thing is that somehow this managed to secure an $11m budget and it ends up faring little better than your typical Sy Fy Channel cheapie.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

There IS a fate worse than death.

Barbara and her brother Johnny are visiting their aunt’s grave where they find themselves attacked by a violent man. Barbara escapes with her life and runs to an old farmhouse nearby where she takes shelter. Shortly afterwards, a man named Ben arrives and tells her stories of what is happening across the state. It appears that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. More survivors are found but it isn’t long before tension begins to rise amongst the group as to the best way to proceed. Soon the group find themselves trapped in the farmhouse by an ever-growing number of zombies outside.

 

Long before Hollywood ran out of decent script writers and decided to just remake everything under the sun, legendary horror director George A. Romero set about remaking his classic 1968 horror hit. Brought about in part due to the fact that Romero saw little profit from the original due to copyright issues (the copyright wasn’t issued and so the film is in the public domain meaning he gets no royalties) and that other studios were looking to do a remake, Night of the Living Dead works far better than it has any right to do given that it’s a very faithful remake. Dismissed by almost everyone upon release, Night of the Living Dead has since gained a cult following – maybe it’s due to the fact that the majority of remakes these days are terrible and so this stands out a country mile! Or maybe it’s due to the fact that the majority of people who were involved with the original were involved here too, adding that extra heart and soul into proceedings.

Night of the Living Dead is an excellent remake which updates the story to a more contemporary setting for a whole new generation to fear. Sticking fairly closely to the original’s narrative with the introductions of Barbara, Ben, the farmhouse and the impending zombie apocalypse, there are some new twists and turns thrown in to keep things fresh. It’s nowhere near as creepy as the original, no doubt its effect watered down considerably given the vast number of zombie films that have been released over the years, but there is still an overwhelming sense of dread. Even though, as hardened horror fans, we know what to expect from a zombie film, the shuffling flesh eaters still pose quite the menace and threat. As time passes through the night, the tension and suspense really ratchets up a couple of notches as the characters become more stressed and the zombies become greater in number. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the original, you’ll know that things aren’t going to turn out well for the survivors. The sense that no one knows what is going on also adds to the confusion and I’m glad no explanation is added to the zombie apocalypse. You don’t need to bother about the why, just the fact that it’s present.

Make-up effects legend Tom Savini made his directorial debut for this one and he does a good job of keeping everything flowing. The pace is good and there’s not an awful lot of filler, though some of the scenes involving the verbal conflict between Ben and Harry tend to drag out a little longer than needed. Ironically, it’s in his speciality field where the film fails to live up to usual expectations. There’s not a lot of gore on show here, though this was down to the special effects team wanting to keep things restrained out of respect for the original. The zombie make-up is the stand-out, with a number of featured zombies looking the part, particularly the memorable cemetery ghoul and autopsy corpse at the beginning.

Romero’s changes to the original script come mainly in the form of the characters, ably portrayed by a solid cast. Patricia Tallman is decent as Barbara, though in this post-feminist world the script has changed her character from frightened, screaming girl-in-distress to Ripley-esque wonder woman who learns how to shoot and take care of herself in no time at all. Tony Todd stars in the role of Ben, a character who caused a bit of a stir back in 1968. Much focus was given to Duane Jones’ appearance as Ben in the original – a black actor being cast as the hero was not exactly something new at the time but if you read any academic literature that talks about Night of the Living Dead, then this is always highlighted as important. Jones was cast because he was the best person for the role, not because of his skin colour. Likewise, Tony Todd has been cast not because of the colour of his skin but because he’s a great actor with a powerful, commanding voice and a towering, somewhat menacing, stature. He beat off some stiff competition for the role including Laurence Fishburne and Ving Rhames. Todd’s first appearance in the film sees him wielding a ‘hook’ in his hand – foreshadowing his iconic portrayal of the title character in Candyman two years later.

 

Night of the Living Dead is an overlooked horror classic. With enough homages and certainly more than enough changes to keep audiences anticipating the next twist, it adds a modern slant to the original and brings Romero’s nightmarish vision of the zombie apocalypse right up to date.

Shamefully, I have to add that I saw this version first and so wasn’t coming in with any preconceived notions about what it should be. Both this and the original are, on their own merits, excellent horror films with enough shocks, scares, suspense and satire to keep any horror fans happy.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Evil has been summoned

During an attempted robbery of an art museum, Morgana accidentally unleashes the evil Djinn from the fire opal she attempted to steal. Released into the world once again, the Djinn starts to accumulate the wishes that he needs to become powerful and allow the rest of his kind to inherit the Earth. Deliberately getting himself incarcerated in prison, the Djinn quickly begins to harvest souls desperate for one wish.

 

1997’s Wishmaster was a creative and pacey horror flick made by a bunch of guys who had been around horror for a while and knew their stuff. Featuring a one-liner spouting supernatural villain in the mould of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger,  it was inevitable that a sequel would show up to really put the focus onto the evil genie. It was no surprise to see Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies go straight-to-video as well, more-or-less consigning the Djinn’s moment of fame as a potential breakthrough horror villain into the history books.

That may not be such a bad thing in all honesty as, like many of the big horror franchise sequels, too much focus is placed on the Djinn in Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. He’s virtually the star attraction here, working his way through the prison with relative ease, dishing out wishing to people who clearly have no idea what they’re getting themselves in for. In many ways, this sequel just turns into a showcase for the Djinn and his wish-twisting abilities – there are far more set pieces involved in this one than the first film. Basically rehashing the story of the original, the film sees the Djinn freed by a woman who must then find a way to defeat him before making three wishes and letting loose all hell.

It’s a recycled story from the original but then the novelty of an evil genie quickly wears off once he starts getting people to make wishes virtually every scene that he’s in. Director Jack Sholder, most famous for helming A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the first sequel to Wes Craven’s classic horror, gets the ‘honour’ to follow in Craven’s footsteps (Craven producer the original Wishmaster) once again by taking the reins here. But it appears that Sholder forgot to hire a script writer along the way and had to do it himself! It’s an appalling mess of horrible dialogue, terribly-written characters, pseudo-Christian sub-themes. Despite some attempts to turn the story into something fresh, it’s obviously a lesser man’s reworking of the original film.

The only returnee from the original is Andrew Divoff, back again as the Djinn. Divoff has got such a smarmy face that it’s hard to not want to punch it in this one as his mouthy character provokes people into making unfortunate wishes, all the while maintaining a smirk and sense of ‘you can’t touch this’ about him. Divoff saw sense and bailed for the following two sequels but he’s the main man here, almost the protagonist of the proceedings. You’d much rather see him tricking the inmates and watching the carnage that ensues than with Morgana and her efforts to find a way to stop him. He’s not exactly an anti-hero yet in the way that Freddy turn into with the later A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels but the intent is clear to see. He does have some very poor one-liners to spew, some of which will make you cringe.

Nothing will make you cringe like the rest of the cast though. The original sported the likes of Robert Englund and Tony Todd in small roles to really boost the star power. This has no such look. Holly Fields, as Morgana, is an awful leading lady without any presence or ability to emote. I won’t even bother breaking down the cast of characters in the prison. Safe to say that like all American film prisons, the ethnic diversity is ridiculously spot on – Russian mobsters, Asian martial artists, Latino thugs and even burly prison officers.

The make-up department earn their pay once again. Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies features some excellent practical effects, including the remarkable sequence in which the Djinn is resurrected at the start of the film. Perhaps the most painful-looking is the unlucky chap who wishes to walk through the doors of his prison cell, only to literally squash his way through the narrow gaps between bars. There are some silly moments though, including one lawyer who has sex with himself, and a daft scene in which a woman at a casino farts out a load of coins. They’re juvenile moments which hint at the daft direction in which someone could have taken the idea of wishes being twisted out of context – frat-boy style!

 

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies has some decent moments but that’s all this film feels like – a collection of moments rather than a full blown narrative with them in. The story is bitty, the acting is pretty dire (with the exception of Divoff) and even the wishes seem to have lost their charm. It’s a fair timewaster if you were a massive fan of the original but other than that, it’s a no-brainer to see why this series quickly crashed and burned.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sometimes They Come Back…For More (1998)

Sometimes They Come Back...For More (1998)

Hell Has Finally Frozen Over!

Captain Sam Cage and his colleague Major O’Grady are sent to a remote Antarctica military base when communications go down and signs point to something terrible occurring. When they arrive, they find that all but two of the crew are dead. One of the team had found something Satanic buried deep in the ice and all hell broke loose.

 

Sometimes They Come Back was a little-known Stephen King short story so it was very apt that the film adaptation in 1991 headed the same way – little known anonymity. It’s not on anyone’s Top 10 Most Famous Stephen King films and rightly so. The rise of King’s popularity as an author as well as the success of the film adaptation of Carrie led to studios and producers approaching King to adapt all of his work, even the minor stories. King’s Night Shift collection of short stories from 1978 provided a fertile ground for filmmakers looking to adapt a story. The likes of Maximum Overdrive (penned from the story ‘Trucks’), Graveyard Shift, The Mangler and Children of the Corn all emanate from the collection, as well as Sometimes They Come Back (though it was originally published in 1974).

Like many of King’s less popular works, Sometimes They Come Back was turned into a TV movie. Featuring the story of a teacher tormented by the vengeful spirit of some school bullies, it spawned two sequels. The first one, Sometimes They Come Back…Again, billed itself as a sequel but was more or less a remake. With virtually no connection to the previous two films or with King’s original story, the second sequel, Sometimes They Come Back…For More is just a throwaway TV horror movie with few redeeming features which starts off promisingly but quickly (and I mean quickly) tails off. This is no surprise given that it was originally shot under the name Frozen and was then renamed at a later date to give the illusion that it tied in to the previous two films.

The opening half owes a great deal to John Carpenter’s The Thing more than anything else with its remote Antarctic setting and something untoward happening to the crew of a base only this time it is Satanic demons instead of shape-shifting aliens. But by the time the main heroes arrive at the base early on, pretty much everyone is already dead so straight away the potential avenues for mayhem and carnage are narrowed and we’re left with the worrying problem that so few characters in a film always creates – if they’re not likeable, then you’re pretty much screwed. Though the film tries to crank up the suspense, tension and paranoia between the characters, there’s just too few of them to really make it work. The demonic aspects of the film start off quite positively, with the characters unaware of what is really going. The script gives us a few glimpses as to what is happening and the mystery slowly unravels. The problem is once the mystery has unravelled and we’re left with the actual plot about some demonic possession and Satanic resurrection, it’s not actually that engaging or exciting.

The film confines itself to the same couple of indoor sets so you never really get the sense that they are actually in an Antarctic environment. Allegedly the film was shot in Antarctica but you’d never be able to tell because the outdoor environment isn’t used to its full potential. In fact because of the insistence on shooting in the same few sets, the film looks to have a lower budget than it clearly did. All the cinematographer seems to do, instead of putting the snowy exteriors to better use, is flood a lot of the scenes in red lights to give the demonic illusion. Red on white makes for a nice contrast but it’s the only trick in the book to try and create some form of atmosphere. The film’s standout moment is a trip down an icy tunnel via a camera strapped to a remote-controlled car. It’s hardly riveting material but it was a nice idea which manages to build a bit of tension before it is cut off.

Clayton Rohner and Chase Masterson make for reasonably stereotypical but bland leads, Faith Ford adds a bit of glamour whilst trying to convince as a scientist and Max Perlich’s annoyingly whiny communications officer just grated the hell out of me. As I said at the start, having a small bunch of characters is risky if they’re not very good and this is the case with Sometimes They Come Back…For More. No one really grabs hold of your attention, no one makes themselves out to be the one you want to root for and no one exactly covers themselves in glory. It’s not entirely down to the actors as the script is too busy tying itself in knots to give these people anything worthwhile to do.

 

Though it’s easy to make comparisons with a few other isolation-themed horror films, it’s The X-Files episode Ice that Sometimes They Come Back…For More is most similar to. Ironically, in forty-five minutes of that TV show, they do far more with the remote setting than this one does in twice that time. Sometimes They Come Back…For More clearly shows that the film wasn’t designed to be a sequel and was a standalone horror before they messed around with it. I can’t say that the film would have turned out differently without the demonic aspects added in, but it can’t have been any worse.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

King Cobra (1999)

King Cobra (1999)

30 Feet Of Pure Terror!

A giant experimental King Cobra snake escapes a research lab and takes up residence in a small brewery town which is about to host its annual beer festival.

 

Who needs a lot of plot description when one line summaries will do? Very obviously a low budget Anaconda rip-off/cash-in, King Cobra is a typical example of late 90s and early 00s straight-to-DVD monster movies. Little creativity, little imagination, little scope and little reward for watching, the films are all interchangeable with one another, especially if you’ve seen upwards of twenty killer snake films in the same period of time like I have.

The star of the show is the snake and surprisingly, this isn’t some slithering CGI scare machine, it’s an animatronic model. Designed by the Chiodo Brothers (who did the remarkable make-up effects on the cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space), the snake doesn’t get an awful lot of screen time which is a shame because whenever it is on camera, the size and scale of it looks amazing. Having something physical on-set for the cast to visualise and interact with is always preferable to CGI post-production effects. The snake does have a limited range of motion but the copious use of POV shots try to mask that fact. Unfortunately, this also means that you won’t get to see much during the kill scenes. These tend to be brief affairs with the faintest hint of violence and blood. I guess these had to be sacrificed because the budget clearly went into the snake but the snake rarely looks like it attacks anyone as a lot happens off-screen.

Despite the decent special effects, King Cobra‘s major weakness is its script. It follows the routine Jaws formula with a monster finding its way into a small town celebrating some form of anniversary or festival and where the mayor wants to keep everything monster-related hush-hush as to avoid the event being cancelled or the town losing business. The first half sees the monster causing carnage around the town and the second half sees an intrepid group of people attempt to capture it. There’s nothing remotely original about it and you could quite easily replace the snake with various different monsters, serial killers or aliens and the end result would still be the same. There’s no style or substance to proceedings, just a monotonous going through the motions vibe. No one here was out to make a good film. They’re just in it to pay the bills until the next film comes along and it shows.

King Cobra is painfully slow and very dull. This is probably because there are plenty of scenes which lead nowhere and a couple of plot threads that have no bearing on anything that happens. There’s no sense of fun or excitement at all, and the scenes without the snake really drag the pace of the film down. Also not helping matters in the unserious tone. Either go full out spoof or play it straight but King Cobra bizarrely trends some middle ground, where it is too daft to be serious but not witty or goofy enough to laugh with (or at).

Pat Morita, forever known around the world as Mr Miyagi (from the original The Karate Kid), gets the top billing and plays up to stereotypical as a wise old snake hunter who gets to spout lots of facts and statistics and make it sound scientific. He looks a bit embarrassed to be starring in this but the royalties from his big hit won’t cover the bills forever! Scott Hillenbrand is the other ‘star’ and he’s also one of the co-directors which is a tad convenient if you ask me. Hillenbrand is just as wooden in front of the camera as he is clueless behind it. Erik Estrada has a cameo appearance as a flamboyant gay man so it’s not like the actors really had to push themselves into their roles.

 

King Cobra just doesn’t do anything fresh or remotely exciting, save for the decent snake special effects. The film has all been done before and done better too. It’s just too unoriginal to be interesting anymore, even down to the blatant “hey we want a sequel” ending (which thankfully never came to fruition).

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

Pinocchio's Revenge (1996)

Evil comes with strings attached

Defence Attorney Jennifer Garrick acquires a Pinocchio puppet from a condemned serial killer. Her little daughter, Zoe, finds the puppet and, believing that it is a birthday present, begins to grow attached to her new puppet friend. Suddenly, accidents begin to happen around the house and at school and Zoe blames Pinocchio. However no one will believe her. As her behaviour deteriorates and people start to go missing, Jennifer begins to wonder just what is going on with Zoe and her puppet.

 

I don’t think that Pinocchio’s Revenge could try any harder to be Child’s Play if it tried. Clearly out to ape the successful horror film that introduced the world to Chucky, Pinocchio’s Revenge tries to turn everyone’s favourite ‘wooden puppet who wanted to become a boy’ (unless you can name another wooden puppet) into a similar sort of slasher-thriller. The comparisons between the two are inevitable and being the later, lower budgeted one, Pinocchio’s Revenge suffers right from the start.

It’s impossible to shake the feeling of Child’s Play at any point. Pinocchio’s Revenge rips it off so bad it’s a wonder that the studio didn’t pursue legal proceedings. However unlike the latter, Pinocchio’s Revenge fails to deliver any consistent scares, tension or thrills though it does deliver some sporadic moments of decency. Director Kevin Tenney was the man behind classic 80s horror-comedy Night of the Demons so we know he’s got the ability to make something entertaining. Sadly, Pinocchio’s Revenge is not that something. No matter how hard Tenney tries, he just can’t make the notion of a killer wooden puppet seem scary because of the associations we have of the character from the animated Disney film. Pinocchio is just not a psycho killer, he’s a cute little wooden puppet who just wants to be a boy.

We’re given very little information as to the background to the puppet. In fact we don’t even know how the puppet came to live in the first place. Is it possessed by the spirit of the killer, Gotto? Did Zoe’s rage and anger cause the puppet to come to life? There’s no sense of ambiguity despite the film trying to mislead the audience a few times. Is the puppet alive or is it really Zoe who is doing the killing? Well the clue is in the title after all but on the few occasions when the boundaries between the two become blurred, the film tries to punch above its weight. The final twists and ending to the film make me wish that the rest of the film had been more deserving. Pinocchio’s Revenge is such a misleading title too because there’s no real need for the puppet to start killing people. He’s not out to get revenge on anyone, just killing people who get in the way of the relationship between Zoe and her mother for some reason.

It doesn’t help that Pinocchio doesn’t start his ‘revenge’ until the final act and even then it’s not that bloody or violent. The first half of the film is drawn-out to try and create some mood going in to the kills later on but it doesn’t do a great job of creating it. Once people start winding up dead, the pace picks up a little more but even then there isn’t a massive body count. So many potential victims and so little carnage. But what would you expect from an alleged killer that looks as ridiculous as the chap on the poster. The Pinocchio puppet looks awful. It’s big, crudely carved, its eyes can only roll left and right and its mouth doesn’t even move when it talks, surely the easiest of effects to achieve. What’s worse is that the puppet is a foul-mouthed little bugger but the voice is not intimidating in the slightest. You just want him to shut up.

Brittany Alyse Smith, as Zoe, delivers a mixed performance. On some occasions her overly cute, sweet little girl delivery is so adorable that you can’t help but empathise with her. But in other scenes, her delivery is loud, forced and too energetic, showing her lack of maturity in delivering the lines. Rosalind Allen is better as her mother but this is hardly an actor’s film, especially when she’s forced to talk to and deal with a killer puppet! To write any jokes about ‘wooden’ acting at this point would be pretty pointless. Also, there is a shower scene featuring some full frontal nudity and I will avoid the whole ‘Pinocchio gets wood’ jokes too.

 

Pinocchio’s Revenge is derivative and, at times, just a drag to sit through but there are a couple of good moments and Tenney does at least try to play everything as seriously as possible. Whether that was the best option or not remains to be seen. Thankfully we were spared a sequel.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Space (1991)

Dead Space (1991)

No Place To Hide

After receiving a distress signal from the Phaebon research facility, Commander Krieger and his robot sidekick Tinpan respond straight away. Arriving on the planet, Krieger is told that there is no problem but due to damage his ship sustained during a fight in space, he is forced to stay and carry out repairs. The scientists on board the facility were attempting to find a cure for the deadly Delta 5 disease and created an even more deadly anti-virus to destroy it. But the anti-virus has become sentient, growing into a large creature which is now living off the crew members on board.

 

Dead Space bears no relation to the successful video game series (though I do note costume similarities between the game’s main character, Isaac Clarke, and the robot sidekick in the film). In fact it is a remake of Roger Corman’s cult classic Alien clone Forbidden World, a film which (though lacking in many qualities) is one of Corman’s best films. Dead Space is a rip off of a rip off of a landmark film which is almost like wearing third generation hand-me down clothes which have been worn and worn to death in the years since the original owner put them on for the first time. Shot in just seventeen days, Dead Space will do little to convince you otherwise.

The plots in Dead Space and Forbidden World are almost identical: the intergalactic hero and his robot sidekick responding to a distress signal from a research station; the virus-like creature which has escaped it’s incubation; the team of scientists both in denial about what they have created and in fear of what may happen; and the inevitable carnage which ensues when the creature grows bigger and hungrier and begins to kill everyone off. There’s even a random and completely-irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-the-film sequence at the beginning just like in Forbidden World where our hero is involved in a space dogfight for no apparent reason other than to recycle footage from Battle Beyond the Stars and kill about five minutes of screen time.

The big difference between the two films is the presence and/or absence of the trashy elements which made Forbidden World such a cult hit. Dead Space sorely needed an injection of gore, nudity and general low budget sleaze – it’s the film that Forbidden World would be if it removed most of its gore, naked chick quota and copious amount of sleaze and cheese. There’s nothing here to get overly worked over. Odd moments of blood, including a decent head-ripping late in the film, are not enough to save it. Dead Space doesn’t even attempt to send a wink towards the audience with its content. It’s played straight, serious and without a hint of irony or self-awareness.

Dead Space commits the cardinal sin of movie making and that is it to be boring. Even though it’s got a seventy-two minute run time, the film feels twice as long as that. Characters skulk around in the sparsely-decorated corridors talking about how they’re going to find and stop the creature for scene-upon-scene of innate tedium. The first hour grinds itself through the motions, only really picking up in the finale when the creature is given the big reveal, which is too little too late. The monster itself looks terribly static in the brief glimpses we get of it. For the majority of the film, it is masked in insane amounts of smoke/fog/ice when it’s outside the station or just dimmed in dingy rooms and corridors when it’s inside. It’s a pity because the design looks good, though you won’t get to see it walking around on two legs like the Xenomorph-wannabe from the cover artwork.

Fans of TV shows will be quick to spot Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as one of the scientists on board the station. No doubt this is the type of film he’ll be wanting to hide on his CV now that he’s pretty famous in Hollywood right now. Cranston isn’t great but given where he’s ended up, it’s easy to ignore it. The rest of the cast are pretty horrible, including Marc Singer as Krieger who is introduced to the audience laying down naked in some sort of steam room. Only, unlike in Forbidden World, the hero of the day only gets to dream about the female scientists naked rather than get down and dirty in the flesh.

 

Dead Space is just that – a completely lifeless amount of time between opening and closing credits where there’s little to see, little to hear and little to worry about. You’d expect better from the low budget canon of Roger Corman, even if by ‘better’ I mean sleazy and cheesy. This is neither and all the worse for it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

He’s Home… But He’s Not Alone.

Young Derek is left traumatised when his father is killed by a mysterious Christmas present that was left for him on the doorstep in the middle of the night. The present was meant for Derek with a warning not to open until Christmas. It turns out that a local toymaker is making these deadly presents with the intention of killing children and Derek is next on his list.

 

Having long-abandoned the killer Santa theme, the Silent Night, Deadly Night series did what John Carpenter had originally envisioned for the Halloween franchise: making standalone horror films linked together with a particular holiday theme, in this case Christmas. Whilst this only lasted for two films once the traditional slasher stuff had finished in Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!, it still provided a platform for some interesting non-traditional Christmas horror material. Horror producer and director Brian Yuzna, one of the men behind the Re-Animator films, was in the producer’s seat for this one and his knowledgeable touch is clear to see. There is a definitive Halloween III: Season of the Witch vibe to this sequel in which an evil businessman plans to murder children during one of the year’s biggest holidays. Whilst this isn’t on the same scale, there’s still a cruel and devilish tinge to the proceedings here. Like a gift that keeps on giving, the film contains plenty of bizarre ideas and moments which will leave you wide-eyed in amazement.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is a solid horror flick which doesn’t take itself too seriously and would have probably been more successful standing on its own two feet instead of being tagged with the sequel moniker. It’s got an obvious second-rate budget which holds it back on numerous occasions but it’s got far more to do with the festive season than the bulk of the other sequels and manages to inject some mean-spirited fun into its running time. This is still not a film for the Christmas purists who will be enraged at the sight of a man dressed in a Santa suit kidnaping a small boy or toys coming to life killing people. But hey, people don’t take this stuff seriously, do they?

The interesting premise was never going to live up to potential so it’s to the films credit that it manages to come out as good as it does. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker dangerously settles into a quasi-slasher formula during the middle portion of the film, as someone gets in possession of a killer toy and is promptly dispatched by said toy, but this is dropped for the finale. One can only wonder how much effective the kills would have been with a bigger budget (or whether they have been cut down). The standout sequence featuring the babysitter and her boyfriend being attacked by a multitude of toys in the bedroom is imaginatively realised. Robotic hands, snakes, army soldiers, tanks, and a remote-controlled car with circular saw add-ons launch an assault upon the unsuspecting couple. Considering all of the toys are actual props, the way in which the sequence is devised really gives you the illusion that these killing machines have life. The idea of a face-hugging Santa toy is a bit absurd, though the face change in ‘mood’ from happy Santa (with the toy playing festive music) to the maniac Santa (with the funeral march now the music of choice) is a nice touch).

Veteran actor Mickey Rooney is the evil toymaker, which is an ironic bit of casting given how vocal Rooney was in showing his hatred for the original when it was released amidst a storm of controversy in 1984. I guess he needed the money for his Christmas presents in 1991. Rooney is fantastic in the role, barking mad and frothing at the mouth in some scenes as he rages against his son, Pino. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable, though two people from the previous sequel are brought back for very brief cameos, no doubt to add continuity to the series.

Anyone who figures out why Rooney’s character is called Joe Petto will then figure out the plot twist at the end of the film. Believe me, it was totally out of nowhere but I liked it. Films that take creative chances with the material and do something out of the ordinary always get bonus marks in my book, even if the execution isn’t so hot. Thankfully, whilst Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker‘s twist makes no sense in the slightest, the manner of its execution is staged well enough to get you to suspend your disbelief for a few moments.

 

If it’s not the sight of a robot dry-humping a woman whilst shouting “I love you mommy” or the street kid wearing rocket-propelled skates, it’s the manner in which Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker goes about its business with the minimal fuss that will have you smiling afterwards. It’s never going to become a seasonal classic but for a fourth sequel it holds up far better than it has any right to and will provide a different alternative to the usual Christmas-themed horror suspects at that time of the year.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lighthouse (1999)

Lighthouse (1999)

The brightest light hides your darkest fear

A prison transport ship carrying some notorious criminals, including serial killer Leo Rook, runs around during a storm and the crew are forced to abandon ship. The few survivors, a mixture of guards and prisoners, manage to take shelter at a nearby lighthouse but Rook also managed to escape from the ship before it sank. Now with no way off the island, the survivors are slowly picked off one-by-one.

 

A British film with a prolonged production? That’s not something unusual in an era where it seems to be harder and harder for talented British filmmakers to get their foot onto the bottom rung of the movie making ladder. Lighthouse started development in 1994, began shooting in 1998, was eventually finished by 1999, was released in the US in 2000 as Dead of Night, and finally ‘came home’ for the first time in 2002 for a cinematic release. That’s a crazy production schedule so it’s a good job that, for the most, Lighthouse comes out as respectable as it does. Well, as respectable as another generic slasher flick could be.

Lighthouse‘s main strength is its cracking location. The lighthouse and surrounding island is the perfect place to set a horror film. Set at night, the film does a great job of turning this environment into an intimidating, inhospitable place where the only light source is the constantly-rotating lighthouse beam. Inside is no better, with damp, dingy rooms and spiralling staircases leading to all manner of possibilities for the characters to play hide and seek with the killer. At times, director Simon Hunter is in danger of lavishing too much style into the film – this is a slasher after all, not some art house flick. But once this gets a little overbearing, Lighthouse ditches it all in favour of more routine slasher trickery.

It’s these early scenes with the characters exploring the island, blissfully unaware that Rook has beaten them there, which are the film’s strongest point. Before the decapitating gets underway in earnest, Lighthouse protracts the tension with a series of scenes which will get right under your skin: the highlight scene being where the ship’s alcoholic captain ventures off in search of the toilet only to have the killer enter a few minutes later, unaware of the potential victim hiding in the cubicle. What follows is a nerve-wracking few minutes where the captain peeks underneath the cubicle to see a pair of blood-splattered feet pacing up and down.

It’s good to see a British slasher try and deviate from the norm a little by choosing not to populate the film with teenage characters, instead giving us a selection of adult characters to root for (with a bunch of British character actors assuming the roles). Unfortunately just because they’re adults doesn’t mean to say that we’re going to like them any better and Lighthouse seems to go out of its way to make these survivors as bland and as lacklustre as possible. The leads, James Purefoy and Rachel Shelley, are saddled with particularly worthless characters. Thankfully, despite the victims providing little in the way of human entertainment, Christopher Adamson’s Leo Rook killer more than makes up for the short-change. He’s a sinister-looking character, physically imposing to boot, and more than capable (and willing) to kill and decapitate his victims. He likes to keep the heads as trophies. No attempt is made to give him any sort of back story other than the fact he’s a notorious killer but once he escapes, there’s no real need to turn him onto a multi-layered character. He’s a killer, plain and simple, in the classic mould of Michael Myers.

Novelty value of the setting aside, Lighthouse falls into many of the same pitfalls as its American cousins. Once the first couple of kills have taken place, Lighthouse drifts into a repetitive series of “is he there or isn’t he?” moments where the survivors are trying to guess where Rook is hiding. The atmosphere and tension from the first half gives way to predictable plotting, unnecessary explosions and forced romantic sub-plots. The dull characters begin to make silly decisions such as splitting up or venturing outside in the dark. As the number of survivors starts to dwindle and the creativity dries up, Rook begins to grow stronger and stronger, surviving the inevitable electrocution, burning and stabbing that the Final Girl throws his way. No amount of gore and rolling heads can make up for the stupidity and shoulder-shrugging nature of the script in the second half of the film.

 

Lighthouse is a slightly better-than-routine slasher, a bit more violent and gritty than most, set inside a novel location and with some decent technical skill surrounding it. Due to the nature of the material, it is never able to break out in the way that it should and the sub-genre conventions end up swamping the film towards the end. A solid effort from the Brits but nothing that will be rocking the foundations of the sub-genre.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999)

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return (1999)

The latest and most horrorfying chapter…

Hannah travels back to her hometown of Gatlin in order to trace her biological mother. Unbeknownst to Hannah, she is the key figure in the fulfilment of a prophecy foretold by Isaac, the cult leader of the corn-god worshipping children who slaughtered their parents many years earlier. Her arrival awakens Isaac from a fifteen year-long coma and he sets about putting his plan in motion to bring about ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows.’

 

It’s hard to believe that they churned out as many sequels to such a mediocre horror film as Children of the Corn. I can understand the likes of Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers getting constant sequels in their respective franchises because they’re pop culture icons now, not just horror characters. But Children of the Corn? There was hardly enough mileage for one film, let alone an entire franchise.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return plays out exactly like a tired sixth instalment of a franchise would. Short on fresh ideas and bogged down by previously poor sequels, the film wisely opts to act as a direct follow-up to the original, pretending that the other films never happened. It’s a smart move as it allows some breathing room in the story but then again, the story was never short of breath to begin with. In trying to replicate the original by bringing back its main villain, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return just shows how tedious the formula has become – or rather how tedious it was to begin with. The problem with these sequels is that they all blur into one because they’re so unmemorable.

At least the series finally shows a bit of continuity here with the return of Isaac, once again played by actor John Franklin who doesn’t look to have aged one bit since his original appearance. But then again, I thought that character was killed off, not simply drifted into a coma where he was forgotten about while the rest of the sequels took place. Isaac’s return is the big lure for this sequel as he was a creepy and nasty piece of work before and could have worked well as the antagonist once again. Franklin co-wrote the script and it’s blatantly obvious that he’s trying to carve himself a niche here by transforming Isaac into a horror icon that can become the focal point of the series. You’d think that Franklin would do himself some favours with the script but all he ends up doing is giving Isaac a load of nonsensical Biblical dialogue which will irritate everyone to no end. He’s no Freddy Krueger when it comes to the gift of the gab.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return has its best moments early on as the script tries to tie the film in with the events of the first one. Isaac starts off strongly as the focal point but as the film goes on, it becomes less about him and more about the new group of children that are worshipping He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Isaac’s return then becomes a side-issue as the film leads into a stupendous final third in which logic goes out of the window, plot holes increase in size ten-fold and common sense is ignored. Characters see dead animals everywhere which are revealed to be warning signs. Events occur which are then revealed to be dream sequences. This rug-pulling is only effective once or twice in a film before the audience gets annoyed at the cheap tactics being employed by the writers and Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return outstays its welcome long before it should.

Thankfully, at eighty-two minutes, the film doesn’t spend too long writhing around in its own agony. The same can’t be said for the respectable names who appear in the cast. Some well-known actors like Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen appear in supporting roles but they look embarrassed to be here and I don’t blame them. Keach hams it up to no end as a crazy resident and Allen looks to have walked in off another set. The only shining light is newcomer Natalie Ramsey who plays the lead role. She does a good job in investing her character with a little spirit and pluckiness (plus it helps that she looks mighty fine doing it too). But she gets lost in the mix, a victim of some daft script decisions which have her flitting between being a clever know-it-all who will never fall victim to these kids, and a Penelope Pitstop-style dim heroine who seems to stumble into every problematic scenario possible.

 

Having been in a coma on life support for the years since the original, you’d have thought Isaac would want to come back with a bang and relish his new lease of life. Instead, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return brings him back with a whimper and realisation that his plug should have been pulled years earlier, along with the franchise.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆