Tag 2000s

Ghost Ship (2002)

Ghost Ship (2002)

Sea evil

A salvage crew discover a long-lost 1962 passenger ship floating lifeless in a remote region of the Bering Sea. Heading aboard to inspect her before towing her back to land, the crew find more than they bargained for with a massive haul of gold bars in the cargo hold. However, strange things begin to happen to the crew and they realise that something is not quite right with this ship.

 

The late 90s and early 00s saw a number of big budget ghost films being released, including The Haunting, The House on Haunted Hill and Thir1en Ghosts, all three remakes of earlier haunted house horror films, revamped for a new generation of genre fans. American film label Dark Castle were responsible for two of those aforementioned attempts at recapturing the B-movie vibe of the originals and here they are with a third attempt. Ghost Ship is not a remake of anything but a film so unoriginal and filled with ideas from other films that it might as well be. Deep Rising, Event Horizon and The Shining seem to be high on the list of films that the makers of this have seen – even the poster has been ‘inspired’ by 1980’s Death Ship.

Starting off with an impressively gory set piece, the signs look good for Ghost Ship to continue its momentum. However, you’d be best off switching off at this point because the film goes downhill quickly. Director Steve Beck was responsible for the poor Thir1en Ghosts the year earlier and brings with him the same box of tricks that he believes create scares and makes films frightening. This involves horrible things popping out from unexpected places in front of the camera, lots of freaky spectral visions which twist and contort and then disappear, loud bursts of noise to startle the audience, nauseating camera angles, fast and slow motion shots, and ghosts playing tricks on people by making them believe something is real when it isn’t. Ghost Ship repeats the same tactics for pretty much the same results.  The scares aren’t effective. The smoke and mirrors show wears thin. It’s all style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, the film looks good. The ship itself is suitably spooky and the cinematography is decent at creating an ominous atmosphere – it’s a shame that there’s not much to go with it.

Ghost Ship is a film geared towards its final twist. It’s hardly a riveting revelation to base an entire story around and I’m sure the writers were giving themselves a massive pat on the back whilst structuring the narrative around it. The problem is that it affects the rest of the film – it’s such a pointless last-minute dash to turn the story on its head that you’ll be thinking about all of the contradictions it raises from the previous hour of screen time. It’s the only novel thing about the entire script. Everything else runs as predictability as the sun rising and setting every day. Without a really meaty story, Beck relies on his bag of tricks that he’s accumulated from the commercials that he directed before heading into feature films. Only pre-pubescent teenagers with no concept of real horror films would believe that Ghost Ship was clever and unpredictable!

More of the blame can be squarely laid at the script rather than anything else on show. The salvage team is your usual eclectic group of people who, in the real world, would most likely not give each other the time of day. However this is a horror film and so diversity is essential. The group is made up of stereotypes and you’ll be able to paint numbers on their heads as to who is going to die and in what order. The kills are a mixed bunch – nothing quite like the gory prologue – and are fairly over-the-top in traditional slasher film fashion.

The sad thing is that there’s a decent cast bubbling around doing not very much. Gabriel Byrne is a good actor but he’s hamming it up as the alcoholic captain due to the dodgy script. Julianna Margulies looks like she’d rather be back on ER than trying to ‘do a Ripley’ and be the all-action female hero. Look out for Karl Urban (Dr McCoy in the new Star Trek films, Judge Dredd in the excellent Dredd, etc.) in an earlier role as one of the expendable crew. We know that this people can act so give them something to get their teeth into rather than forcing them to spout some bone-headed dialogue. At least the script does one thing right: as soon as the group find the stash of gold, they decide to pack it up and leave the ship as soon as possible.

 

Ghost Ship is a horror film intended for the easily-impressed MTV audience – superficial scares designed to appeal to pimply-faced teenagers sneaking into the cinema to see their first horror movie. There’s no foundation to the fancy trickery and anyone with half a brain will be able to see straight through the fog machines and strobe lights and realise what Ghost Ship truly is. 

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Live Feed (2006)

Live Feed (2006)

They will all pay the price…

Five friends on a trip in China decide to visit a seedy porno theatre after a night out drinking. One of the couples in the group heads off to a private room for some quality alone time whilst the other three friends explore the theatre. However, the night soon turns sour when the couple are locked in their room and realise that they’re being filmed. It turns out that the theatre is a front for a Chinese businessman who loves watching people being tortured and killed and the Americans are now next on the list.

 

It was only a matter of time before people started jumping aboard the Hostel bandwagon and here we have one of the most blatant and pointless knock-offs doing the rounds in the aftermath. Live Feed is a badly acted, laughably shot and weakly executed excuse for a horror flick. The sweet cover box with the rather large chap in surgeon’s attire hides a multitude of sins which are evident from the get go and despite a mildly entertaining ‘all hell breaks loose’ couple of minutes in the middle, the film is a drawn-out drag of boredom. Though director/writer Ryan Nicholson apparently wrote this before Eli Roth’s Hostel came out, the fact that this is sold in the manner it is and was released shortly afterwards clearly tells me that the studio were cashing in, even if Nicholson wasn’t. Sorry to say it Mr Nicholson but someone beat you to the chase.

I’m trying to not to be too harsh on Live Feed because everyone has obviously got decent intentions to make a good flick and I’ll applaud that. It’s just that the outcome is like sitting through the painful efforts of a media college student putting together their first major project. The script is dire and already within the opening ten minutes, not only are you reaching for the mute button but you’re hoping that all of the cast meet their demises at the hands of the big guy on the front cover….sooner rather than later I might add. Living up to the obnoxious American tourist stereotype has never been easier! The actors are bad. The characters they are playing are obnoxious. So give me a reason why I should care about any of them? They disengage the audience from the film within the first few minutes of being on screen, meaning the wait until their demise is long and arduous.

The porno theatre setting is decent. It already looks like the cesspit of humanity when the tourists enter with filthy bathrooms and disgusting bedrooms – dimly lit, sparsely furnished and a wizened old guy hiding in the booth at the door. It’s certainly not the place you want to be at the best of times, let alone having some big guy butchering you and your friends. But the setting is rather wasted when the tourists are confined to the same one or two rooms for most of the film.

Production values aren’t this film’s strong point. From the cinematography (everything seems so grainy and dark) to the sets themselves and the make-up effects, it’s clear that the budget was blown on getting someone to design a kick-ass DVD cover. They certainly didn’t blow the cash on the cast, no doubt friends of the director he roped in to helping him on the sly. The copious use of neon lights to backlight the sets adds to the garish nature of the film – this was filmed inside a legitimate pornographic cinema after it closed every night.

Being torture porn central, Live Feed’s clear selling point is going to be how far it can push the boundaries of Hostel and Saw. The gore is plentiful, if totally over-used at times. I love bloodbaths in films but when the subject matter is really about torture, I’d rather see a bit of torturing and pain – things that Hostel managed to do well (the cutting of the Achilles tendons for example). Some form of suffering that you could associate yourself with the victim. You can’t associate with someone getting their head chopped off but I bet you could feel the pain yourself if you watched someone on film be stabbed in the leg or chest. Here, there is blood spurting out from everywhere and at all times. Great streams of blood spurt out at high-pressure. When gore is this plentiful, the film should have been a comedy or spoof. But it’s all played out straight which is the sad thing and the weak practical effects are only good for laughs rather than scares. There’s also a scene in this film involving a snake and a glass tube which is clearly added for shock value and little else (body physics alone would have seen the snake die a horrible death in the victim’s stomach but hey, it looked good, didn’t it?)

 

If you want some really low budget, sleazy gore then Live Feed will be right up your street. But it’s all hollow, meaningless and uninspired torture porn with no real substance to it – these films only work if you can empathise with at least one of the victims and feel what they’re going through. In my opinion, this is one live feed that should have been pulled.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bunker, The (2001)

The Bunker (2001)

The evil is within

In 1944, seven German soldiers survive an American attack in the front and retreat to an isolated bunker manned by an aging veteran and a young recruit. Under siege by the enemy and with little ammunition, they decide to explore the sealed underground tunnels to seek supplies and find an escape route. However, the tunnels were sealed for a reason and once opened, strange things begin to happen to the group. Have the Americans infiltrated the tunnels from the other side of the hill or is there something more sinister at work?

 

There is something attractive to filmmakers in linking Nazis and horror. The idea that Hitler and many of his top ranking officials had an interest in the occult (which is quite well documented), as well as the Nazi’s numerous shady top secret projects from their ‘science’ divisions to develop new superweapons to win the war, is the stuff that the media has played upon for decades now. From comics to computer games, the Nazis and horror imagery have become inseparable. This is no more evident than in the horror genre, where filmmakers since the 70s have been turning to the Germans to add a little extra hate factor to their big screen efforts. However, it’s only over recent years where the fad seems to have gone into overdrive as smattering of input with the likes of Shock Waves and Zombie Lake in the late 70s and early 80s only teased the flood that was to come.

Michael Mann’s ill-fated The Keep in 1983 proved to be more of an arthouse horror dream than a straight-up frightener but that hasn’t stopped director Rob Green from trying a similar set-up in The Bunker, involving a bunch of German soldiers facing a supernatural threat inside some ominous structure. However, the film falls into almost the exact same pitfalls as The Keep did many years ago. Despite the obviously small budget, the production design team work wonders with the atmospheric and claustrophobic setting. The bunker itself is dingy, dimly-lit, full of lifeless grey and black and the cinematography down in the tunnels is superb. You get the feeling that you are deep underground and you never quite know what is lurking a little further along or around the corner.

This is where The Bunker’s problems began to appear. We never really quite know or understand just what is/was in those tunnels. The antagonist is never identified and the sketchy nature of the threat that the soldiers face is rather lazy writing. Is it something supernatural that they have awakened? Are they actually dead and this is just some version of Hell? Is it ghosts? Zombies? Have one of their number gone insane? Hints are given throughout that there is some bigger story arc going on here about some indiscretion that the soldiers have committed but it’s largely irrelevant to the supernatural stuff in the bunker itself. The set-up from the early part of the film just peters away as the script doesn’t really know a sensible way out of the solution. Instead, the film just opts for a load of wishy-washy sequences where the camera’s main friends are flashing lights, the smoke machine, loud noises and skeleton props. The creeping dread that The Bunker does so well to manifest at the start deserved to have a stronger conclusion than this cheap effects malarkey and generic man versus man showdown.

It’s frustrating because the film really kicks on with the psychological tension during the first half of the film, as these battle-weary soldiers begin to turn on each other for what has happened outside and what their plans are going forward. The decent cast of British character actors does well with the sketchy material they’ve been given. Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport, Eddie Marsan and Charley Boorman are all decent in their roles. Marsan, in particular, is rather enjoyable to watch as the nervous Kreuzmann who appears to have a mental breakdown – his simpleton expressions really convey a sense of loss, both with his friends dying but also of the fact he’s died a little bit inside his head too. I’ve seen a lot of comments moaning about the use of British actors to play Germans but I don’t care to be honesty – despite the varying accents on show from all across the British Isles, you still buy these soldiers as Germans. Just suspend a bit of belief for a bit!

 

In many respects, The Bunker plays out like a haunted house attraction at a theme park – lots of flashy visuals and sense of anything could happen at any time. But then at the end, it’s all for show and you realise that there was no real substance to your fear. As it stands, The Bunker isn’t totally without merit but the clearly-rushed screenplay just cries out to have had more time to polish the edges, give the story some real meat and work out just what the Germans were meant to be fighting.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield (2008)

Some thing has found us

New Yorker Rob is ready to leave to start a new job in Japan when his friends hold a going away party from him. Things get complicated for Rob and his friends when what seems to be an earthquake rocks the city and a massive explosion is seen in the distance. Fearing a terrorist attack, the party goers flee down into the street below but are confronted by a giant monster which has suddenly started to attack New York.

 

One of the better ‘found footage’ films out there, Cloverfield uses its gimmick to maximum effect as much as possible. They’re a Marmite kind of film – you’ll generally love them or hate them and I tend to fall into the latter more often than not. There’s only so much disbelief I can hold when idiots continue to film whatever is happening using their cameras or mobile phones, even putting themselves in danger to do so. If you or I were in the situations that people find themselves facing in these type of films, the last thing I’d want to do is ensure that I’m recording everything as some morbid memorial for when I’m killed off. You’ll up sticks and run like the wind. Jerky or frenetic camera movements, out-of-focus shots, not quite getting a clear look at things in the sense of a traditional film – these are all hallmarks of the found footage film and Cloverfield has them in abundance. You can almost forgive some of them here due to the nature of the chaos that erupts during some scenes but it can be frustrating at times to be teased with a good look at the monster only to be robbed at the last minute. These hallmarks weren’t as common back when Cloverfield first hit the cinema and so the novelty factor was still fresh.

Fresh is what Cloverfield feels like for the majority of its running time, at least the last two thirds of the film. It’s not your traditional giant monster movie and offers up a unique approach to the material. Ever wondered what it would be like being stuck in a city whilst Godzilla and friends did a number on it? Well here’s a first-person look at just that. In many ways, Cloverfield is the film that the most recent Godzilla film so clearly wanted to be. There are some great scenes of destruction, all seen from the ground up and the characters always feel a moment or two away from certain death. As soon as the film kicks into gear with the first attack about twenty minutes in, Cloverfield rarely lets up. With a budget of $25m, a paltry figure given today’s blockbusters, these scenes are especially effective in conveying a sense that this is carnage on a grand scale. The very famous trailer with the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty flying down the street gives the audience a flavour of what to expect. Equally as effective and chilling in its realism is the scene in which the monster destroys the Brooklyn Bridge. Seeing a giant monster attack from a human’s point of view certainly makes the experience something unlike anything Toho ever cranked out for Godzilla.

Cloverfield does seemingly take an eternity to get going which is its main drawback. I can understand the need to engage with the characters but this is not a traditional character-driven narrative in the sense of a normal film. Found footage films rely on the nature of the situation to sell the story, rather than characters – they’re meant to behave in the same way that the audience would behave being in their situation, not try to sell the story through dialogue or expression. However, the first twenty minutes or so here runs like someone’s awful home movie compilation. Then as soon as the monster strikes, all of this build-up is literally out of the window because we now only see the world through the eyes of one person. We can’t hear conversations that characters are having across the street (whereas in a traditional film we become omniscient and can see and hear everything). We can’t go and explore anywhere else. We’re stuck wherever the cameraman goes – and if the other characters aren’t with him, tough! It’s at this point where characterisation is virtually pointless in a film like this because the audience is just wanting a first-person experience be it a giant monster attack, a zombie attack ([REC] or Diary of the Dead), ghostly encounters (Paranormal Activity), stranded in outer space (Apollo 18) or trapped under the ground (As Above, So Below).

The good thing is that with the found footage approach, there comes a deliberate attempt to withhold as much information about what is going on as possible. There’s no explanation scene in which some scientist reveals the entire plot for the benefit of those unable to work things out. Hell, you don’t even get a good solid look at the monster. Cloverfield skimps on the details and hopes that the sucker punches to the gut that it continually delivers are enough to keep you guessing and holding on for more information. It’s a fine line to tread but the film works to leave the audience on tender hooks. Yes, you may feel a little frustrated when you finish watching but I’d rather scratch my head in a positive way and let my brain do some imaginative guessing than be spoon-fed everything Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich-style.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect to Cloverfield is its post-9/11 subtext in which the audience is placed smack bang in the middle of an unprecedented catastrophic scenario. We watch the horrific events unfold through the lens of the camera, unable to take our gaze away from what is happening. From the images of buildings collapsing, loud, fiery explosions raining debris down from skyscrapers and then, in the most uncanny shot of the film, a dust cloud slowly working its way along streets, engulfing those who dared to escape its grasp, Cloverfield will be harrowing viewing for anyone who sat through 9/11 in the comfort of their living room, eyes glued to the TV.

 

I’ve tried to be rather vague with more specific details of Cloverfield because it’s worth a watch without knowing too much about it. The first-person experience really hammers home some of the intensity of the destruction and chaos, whilst leaving the audience craving more. Ironically, the only way they’d have gotten more is if Cloverfield had been a traditional monster movie with shifting focus on characters and narratives – but then this would have taken away the personal, eye-level experience to which Cloverfield works so well to create. Arguably the pinnacle of the found footage genre, though that’s not really hard to become.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crocodile 2: Death Roll (2001)

Crocodile 2: Death Roll (2001)

From the creators of Crocodile and Spiders

A gang of bank robbers on the run with some stolen loot hijack a busy passenger plane during a storm. But the plane crash lands in a Mexican swamp where the survivors are picked off by a giant crocodile.

 

Nu Image roll another dismal sequel off their ‘monster on the loose’ production line with Crocodile 2: Death Roll, an unrelated follow-up to Tobe Hooper’s forgettable Crocodile. After all, nothing sells tickets like another generic ‘when animals attack’ horror flick. Well, in the case of Crocodile 2: Death Roll, it’s not tickets but the bottom shelf in the video store or bargain bucket at your local supermarket that this will be selling from.

Instead of spending too much money by bringing back Tobe Hooper (though after the original, it’s no surprise they didn’t even consider him), Nu Image handed over the director’s chair to Gary Jones, fresh from making Spiders, another of Nu Image’s ‘when animals attack’ films. Spiders was an enjoyable little creature feature flick which was better than it deserved to be (and to which Nu Image also produced a sequel) but there is none of that sense of fun prevailing in Crocodile 2: Death Roll. It’s a dull, lifeless creature feature with limited entertainment value.

Crocodile 2: Death Roll hardly showers itself in glory from the start and makes its task in hand even more difficult. It seems content in playing to format, trotting out a load of generic action clichés as the hijackers take over the plane and it crash lands in the swamp. It wouldn’t be so bad if this section was over and done with quickly but it takes almost a third of the film to finally get to the crocodile. Here, the usual monster movie tropes come into play and the script sits back, clearly expecting the audience to do the rest of the hard work. It’s embarrassingly predictable and there’s never any real sense of horror at the situation the characters find themselves trapped in. Maybe that’s down to the fact that there’s hardly a likeable character amongst the whole cast. Veteran Martin Kove pops up here somewhere as a tracker and his performance is arguably the best part of the film. I always liked him as the evil sensei Kreese in the Karate Kid films and Kove brings a little of that intensity and menace to the role here. He’s along for an easy pay cheque though and it’s obvious to see. Kove’s role is way too small for him to save the film in any way but at least it alleviates some of the dullness for a bit.

The rest of the cast is shocking though. The criminal gang are particularly over-played and will instantly get on your nerves, particularly Darryl Theirse. The script has them swearing every couple of words which is not only tiresome but it highlights how limited the writing vocabulary actually was and how short on creativity the writers were. Did they really need to swear every few words to get across how villainous and evil they were? It’s cheap writing. Too much emphasis is placed upon these criminals and not enough on the other caricature survivors – hell I’d have taken the teenage characters from the first one over these any day of the week. Besides which, it always bugs me when horror films like this make a bunch of criminals their main characters and then subject them to a terrifying ordeal. I’m not sure where the empathy is supposed to come from the audience – an eye for eye is what I say – so the quicker these law-breakers receive a just punishment at the teeth of the crocodile, the better.

The animatronic crocodile looks mean enough when it’s called upon for a few shots. It’s not used very often and the remainder of the croc’s screen time consists of some ropey CGI. Whilst this wouldn’t be much of a problem if the film was shot mainly during the day like the original, the film is shot mainly at night where you can’t see much of what is going on anyway. It also rains a lot to further add a natural screen to hide the croc’s shortcomings. Not only does this hide the crocodile’s CGI deficiencies but it deprives the audience of some much-needed satisfaction with rather disappointing kill scenes. Let’s face it – this is the only reason anyone wants to see this type of film and hiding all of the big money shots in as much darkness as possible really smacks of not understanding your audience.

 

Barely memorable and with little to keep horror fans glued to the TV, Crocodile 2: Death Roll is a perfect example of the lowest that this sub-genre can reach when no one really seems to bother. Hooper’s film was a disappointment – this one is somehow worse. Funnily enough though, it’s still head-and-shoulders above the never-ending slew of Lake Placid sequels that would follow on Sy Fy!

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Larva (2005)

Larva (2005)

A terror that gets under your skin

Host, Missouri is a quiet ranching community where almost everyone earns their living from meat-processing company Huge Tender Meats. The company is secretly testing experimental new feed on the local livestock that is designed to make the meat healthier for consumption. But when local rancher Jacob Long calls out the new vet in town, Eli Rudkus, to come and check on some of his cattle that are behaving strangely, a strange mutant parasite is uncovered inside them that has been eating the feed. His attempts to warn the local community are thwarted by the owner of the company. But things are made worse when the parasitic organisms mutate further into bat-like creatures which deem human hosts as the new stage in the food chain.

 

I promised myself a while back that I would stop watching Sy Fy Originals for a short period of time, just to allow my brain the chance to let go of the resistance that I had built up to their overly repetitive and formulaic selves. I didn’t realise Larva was one when I sat down to watch but as soon as the title credits hit, I knew I had duped myself and had no one else to blame. One of Sy Fy’s earlier films, Larva plays out more like one of those ‘monster-of-the-week’ episodes of The X-Files but it never quite shakes free of its TV shackles.

Unsurprisingly, Larva runs like clockwork as per the Sy Fy norm. If it isn’t snakes which break free of laboratories, its mythical monsters suddenly appearing on Earth or beach resorts being attacked by new species of sharks. Flying parasitic blood-sucking bat monsters make little different to the overall narrative. The chain of events is still the same. The stock characters are still the same. The set pieces are more less the same. And the end result is the same: wafer-thin entertainment for an hour and a half. So let’s see what we have:

New doctor/teacher/sheriff arrives in a small town. Something sinister is on the loose. Random non-characters who appear in a scene only to be killed off at the end of the scene (or in the next scene) begin to disappear. New person is viewed with paranoia and mistrust. Evil corporate types refuse to believe there’s a problem until it’s too late (and usually end up on the receiving end of such problem). Cue some big local event which the evil corporate type had not wanted to cancel (town fete/fair/gala/celebration) but ends up regretting not cancelling as the ‘something sinister’ finally reveals itself to all of the doubters. Then new person takes it upon themselves to sort out the problem (usually after a close friend has been killed off in preceding town celebration). This leads to the inevitable confrontation between man and monster. All ends well for the humans…until a final plot twist where monster has laid eggs/survived/reformed and threatens sequel.

It’s been done to death so much that you could literally copy and paste that narrative into the majority of these Sy Fy films, given or take one or two minor alterations. At least Larva manages to tick off all the boxes without being overly generic and, despite me watching it after having seen dozens of more recent Sy Fy Films first, the material doesn’t feel as forced or stale as it does now. It appears that the cast and crew were at least trying with this one!

Larva features its fair share of splatter, though mainly in the form of mangled animal corpses at first. But then there’s a gory Alien-style chest bursting moment as the parasites finally decide to exit one unlucky human host via his stomach. It’s hardly x-rated stuff but at least there’s enough feeding on show. The monsters themselves are at least different to what you’re used to seeing in this type of film and are presented in a number of different forms. The earlier worm-like creatures are more skin-crawling than anything but the final bat-like form is too heavily reliant on CGI to really be scary.

Leading man Vincent Ventresca makes for a bland and weak hero, certainly not an inspirational figurehead for the film to base itself around. Rachel Hunter (more famous for being Rod Stewart’s ex than anything cinematic) co-stars as the token love interest/blonde heroine/pointless damsel-in-distress. Only she doesn’t become the love interest. She doesn’t save the day. She doesn’t even need rescuing. It’s a pointless part, presumably designed to put a ‘star name’ in the publicity campaign.

 

Larva is solid, if overly generic, entertainment which doesn’t really take too many missteps with its TV movie budget. It’s just that you’ve seen it all before. And, considering this was one of the earlier Sy Fy Originals, it’s a shame to see how cheap and tacky they have become.

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

The terror has surfaced.

When two researchers discover a colossal shark’s tooth off the coast of a Mexican holiday resort, their worst fears surface: the most menacing beast to ever rule the waters – The Megalodon shark – is still alive and mercilessly feeding on anything that crosses its path.

 

After trying to play everything so serious in the first two Shark Attack films, I guess a light was switched on inside someone’s head. Why not go out and have some fun with the notion of killer sharks? After all, no matter how many low budget killer shark films have been made since Jaws, not one has come anywhere close to matching Spielberg’s classic let alone beating it. They’ve all gone down the serious route and trying to beat Bruce at his own game is impossible. Shark Attack 3: Megalodon isn’t meant to be a total comedy spoof, nor do I really think it is meant to be viewed as such. But one can’t help but smile and laugh at some of the things that happen throughout the course of the film. Purposeful or not, this is a terrible film which doesn’t even try to be funny yet it is for all of the wrong reasons. It’s the film that the later Sharknado desperately wanted to be and tried too hard to top.

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon takes the idea of a killer shark and runs with it for a change, first increasing the size of its shark problem to gigantic proportions. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill Great White terror – this is a bad ass prehistoric shark which can swallow dinghies whole. Well at least for the final third of the film. The first two thirds feature just your average-sized killer sharks swimming around. It’s kind of a misleading title at this point. You’ll get your run-of-the-mill shark story in the lead up to the gigantic shark being unveiled. Nu Image have clearly seen Jaws, with the generic ‘authority figure who won’t close the beaches’ spiel thrown in there for good measure. Once all of the standard Jaws tropes have been wheeled out, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon then starts to come into its own.

Just when I thought the series was heading in the right direction with some half-decent CGI sharks in the finale of Shark Attack II (ok, so it’s not Jurassic Park quality stuff here folks), the rug was pulled from under me. The novelty of the thought of this huge shark causing havoc is quick to wear away when the film starts up and you realise that they’ve ditched the CGI and rely purely on stock footage. The sharks are simply culled from footage of normal great white sharks which have then been blown up to enormous proportions where the victims appear to ‘fall’ into the open mouth. It would be a clever piece of trickery – if it didn’t look so awful. The sharks are well fed so at least there’s that.

It doesn’t help that the footage is really grainy and faded so it sticks out like a sore thumb. The shark changes from shot to shot because they obviously couldn’t find two shots of the same shark doing what they wanted it to do. In most cases, the exact same shot of the shark breaking the surface and opening its mouth is used. The ‘fin cam’ is back and looks more ridiculous than ever, looking like it’s going to topple over from the weight of the camera on a number of shots.

Physics laws are also broken as, in one scene, the shark breaks through the bottom of a boat and starts attacking people in the cabin but the boat doesn’t sink for absolutely ages. Come on guys, the Orca in Jaws sank in about four minutes after Bruce had rammed himself across the sternum and then through the window. I suppose in a film dealing with an extinct 60ft prehistoric shark, I shouldn’t be looking to pick faults with the science.

John Barrowman stars before he became more famous with Doctor Who and Torchwood and I’m guessing he left this off his CV when applying for the role. Here, he just looks like a Baywatch reject who wandered on to the wrong set at the wrong time but at least he utters one of trashy cinema’s most infamous chat-up lines. Barrowman has said that the line was an ad-lib meant to get a rise out of Jenny McShane and wasn’t the scripted dialogue but it was kept in for how absurd it is. His co-star, Jenny McShane, is back with a totally unrelated character to the one she played in the original Shark Attack. She also has a new agent who is obviously less demanding of contracts because she gets naked in this one. However she still looks as bored and wishing she had a better career.

 

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon has become one of the most notorious of the killer shark films due to how awful it really is. But through being awful it comes full circle, adding extra layers of cheese and humour to proceedings to create the most camp killer shark flick of all time. It’s a terrible film but essential viewing. You won’t believe that anyone could make something like this.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Final Examination (2003)

Final Examination (2003)

You fail, you die

A publisher of a men’s magazine invites a bunch of sorority sisters to Hawaii to do a photo shoot for their five-year reunion. Before long, they start succumbing to gruesome murders one-by-one. It’s up to two local police detectives to track down the killer before the next victim is murdered.

 

When a film calls one of its characters Hugh Janus, you know the type of level it is aiming for. In this case, rock bottom, lowest denominator humour. Final Examination is taking the mickey somewhat by labelling itself as a horror/thriller when it’s virtually softcore porn. Within the first ten minutes, there are so many warning signs not to proceed but being the sucker for punishment that I am, I endured the rest of the film. An elongated shower scene which lingers upon its naked actress for far longer than necessary and the aforementioned Hugh Janus are just two of the “Immediately Press Stop” button moments that fill the film.

The flimsy slasher plot is one of the worst MacGuffins I’ve ever seen to pad out a bunch of sex scenes between the cast. I’m all for a bit of T&A to liven up a horror film but Final Examination goes overboard with the nudity. Long-standing B-movie sleaze merchant Fred Olen Ray (going under the alias of Ed Raymond) literally drapes the film with breasts. From gratuitous shower scenes to implant-enhanced blondes getting jiggy in hot-tubs, the film doesn’t waste an opportunity. It even has one of the characters stand talking topless on the phone in the most blatant breast shot in the entire film.

Funnily enough, the only female to not bare her chest is Kari Wuhrer, which is a real crime since she’s done so in countless other films of similarly low quality. Maybe she changed her agent? Whatever the reason, she seems so out of place in this film, presumably because we know she can act and yet is stuck in a clichéd supporting role as one of the detectives. The tedious scenes of her and her partner investigating the crime would have been better placed in NCIS or another crime TV show but here we are following them around looking for clues, all the while the rest of the cast have sex and bare their bodies.

Clues will do you few favours towards the end of Final Examination as there are about thirty plot twists within the space of a few minutes (OK I may be exaggerating that number slightly but you get the idea). Some are of the typical slasher variety such as finding out who has been doing the killing as well as a copious number of red herrings but some aren’t and the whole thing is just drawn out far too long. It’s just a mess but it’s an embodiment of the rest of the film in not knowing quite what it wants to be: a softcore skin flick, a slasher, a police thriller or some lame action TV movie. At ninety-seven minutes, Final Examination feels about twice that length due to its incoherent narrative.

Having watched the film, I’m still no further forward in understanding the ‘Examination’ part of the title and the tagline ‘You Fail. You Die.’ The killer leaves a few calling cards of exam papers with ‘failed’ written on them but the sketchy story linking the past event with the current killings is weak and feeble at best. Likewise, the slasher elements fail drastically short of expectations. There’s no real build-up or suspense to the kills, they’re pretty bloodless and the killer’s token masked costume is hardly the most chilling sight. Plus the fact that you could count on one hand the amount of times the killer shows up in the film and you have a film which is barely watchable for a number of reasons.

 

Final Examination is a terrible slasher, a poor softcore flick and it doesn’t even register on the police thriller scale. Go and get a decent slasher from the 80s if you want gore and scares. And if you want a bit of skin, use Google. Definitely one of the worst films I’ve ever sat through.

 

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

When the dead first walked, they had no time for appetizers.

The sole survivor of the treasure-hunting group who become stuck on a zombie-infested island, no one believes Sharon Dimao’s story about what happened. That is until the shady Tyler Corporation approach her a few months later and ask her to return to the island with a team of soldiers. The corporation had sent a team to the island to experiment on some subjects but they have now lost contact. Reluctantly, Sharon agrees to go back but on the island they find that the corporation has been attempting to breed a new species with human subjects…with disastrous consequences.

 

Cult Italian exploitation horror director Bruno Mattei’s final film, Zombies: The Beginning, is a sequel of sorts to Island of the Living Dead which goes off on an even more bizarre tangent than simply revisiting the zombie formula again. I mean, does the above plot sound familiar to you? A sole female survivor, scarred by a previous encounter with a hostile lifeform, is coerced into going somewhere with a team of soldiers to face down her fears on behalf of some shady corporation. Mattei, producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori have literally ripped off the entire script for James Cameron’s Aliens. And I don’t even mean the plot, I mean pretty much everything! It’s virtually a frame-by-frame re-run of the sci-fi horror classic only with zombies in place of aliens. Considering Universal threatened a lawsuit over Enzo G. Castellari’s Jaws rip-off The Great White for being a blatant copy, you’d have expected 20th Century Fox to have done something similar here.

The great thing about this is that Aliens is a fantastic film and so by copying the format scene-by-scene, you shouldn’t really go wrong – unless you had the budget and talent of Mattei. The pace and the flow of the film is great once they’ve figured out what happened to the scientists. I guess the ‘fun’ with Zombies: The Beginning is to try and watch it with Aliens running through the back of your mind. Remember how Cameron’s classic pans out and try and see how closely this follows it. See how they’re literally aped some scenes shot-for-shot. See what they’ve substituted in given that we’re not dealing with xenomorphs but zombies and weird mutant kids with large heads. See how some of the well-rounded characters like Hicks and Hudson appear in cheap Italian knock-off form (Hudson’s ‘replacement’ is hilariously bad in this).

Not only is the script directly lifted from Aliens but the explosions are stock footage and there’s even a copious amount of footage from The Hunt For Red October as a submarine heads to the island to rescue the survivors. Allegedly you can briefly see the likes of Viggo Mortensen and Denzil Washington but I wasn’t paying full attention to the film at the time. Mattei also recycles some zombie dream footage from the beginning over and over and over and over again to the point of nausea. In a consumer world where we are continually encouraged to recycle to save the planet, Mattei was taking it to new levels in his filmmaking.

It’s hard to get rid of the thoughts of Aliens when watching Zombies: The Beginning but the actors do a good job in trying to make us forget. Just like in the previous film, the acting is appalling and the dubbing is even worse. The actors deliver their lines unnaturally, with stilted tones and plenty of stops and starts – it’s just not a natural way of talking. Characters shout certain lines when they don’t need to. They whisper others when the situation calls for the opposite. Clearly this is not the total fault of the actual actors, though their mannerism and facial expressions don’t exactly match the situations they’re in, but of the voice over artists who did the dubbing. The worst offender is Gerhard Acao, who plays this film’s equivalent of Pvt. Hudson – his absurd over-performance actually enhances the film. It’s like he channelled the spirit of Bill Paxton whilst doing an enormous amount of cocaine before shooting began.

With the Aliens script providing predictable plot turns (for those who have seen Cameron’s film that is), the film runs like clockwork for the most. However, it’s the finale where everything goes bonkers in Zombies: The Beginning. We’re introduced to this film’s version of the alien queen, a gigantic brain, along with her mutant zombie-hybrid children, and their enslaved horde of pregnant women giving birth to zombie babies in incubation machines (which is pointless given that zombie bites turn people into zombies – so why the need for babies?). I’m not sure what Mattei was smoking at this point but whatever it was must have been strong because this finale is just absurd and a complete deviation from everything that had gone before it. It is still fun though because it’s finally unshackling itself from the Aliens script, albeit slightly and temporarily.

 

You’ll have more fun with Zombies: The Beginning than a lot of Mattei’s films. Whether it’s the shameless way he pulverises Aliens into the ground or just the fact that there’s a lot of gore and mayhem to keep you entertained throughout, Zombies: The Beginning is a fitting epitaph to a man, and a whole genre, that provided bucket loads of splatter nonsense without much fuss.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 3: Back To Perfection (2001)

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

The Food Chain Just Grew Another Link.

After hunting Graboids and Shriekers in Argentina, Burt Gummer returns home to Perfection for a bit of rest and relaxation. It’s not long after his arrival that Perfection faces another serious subterranean monster problem. Gummer is confident that he has the knowledge to stop them but evolution runs its course again, mutating the monsters into a deadly and unpredictable third form.

 

Cue practically the same mayhem as the previous two films. There’s milking a cow but there’s milking the poor thing so hard that you rip it’s udders off and that’s what the Tremors series seems to have done. I was never sure that the original Tremors, one of my favourite films, had any story left to tell but the first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks at least came up with a decent way to avoid repeating exactly the same formula, albeit more or less the same thing, with different types of monsters. Here we are with a second sequel, Tremors 3: Back To Perfection, which continues the downward spiral of quality of the series, quite significantly from the previous instalment, though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what this one is lacking.

That is not to say that this is a terrible film of any kind. There are some good ideas floating around Tremors 3: Back To Perfection, particularly the notion that Perfection has become something of a ‘tourist trap’ – a term used to describe a place which is specifically designed to attract tourists and get them to part with their cash – and the lengths that some of the locals will go to in order to maintain that illusion. Particularly effective and really nifty is the fake Graboid tour scam that Sawyer and his friend run, complete with fence posts that are wired to collapse as tourists pass and fire extinguishers hidden to look like Graboid blasts, giving people the illusion that they are under attack. Naturally, when the real things show up, there are the inevitable “is it real or isn’t it?” moments.

It’s through the likes of the above story line that Tremors 3: Back To Perfection switches it’s focus onto more of the comedic approach than the horror one. The original Tremors was chock full of gags and great lines but they came naturally in the script and through the rapport between the main characters. Beneath the surface there was still a true horror edge, featuring dismembered heads, people getting sucked into the ground and then swallowed whole. As the series has gone on (and budgets have reduced), these costly death scenes have been scaled back and the humour elements played up a lot more prominently. The orange and red splatter gunge courtesy of exploding Graboids and Shriekers is still there in abundance but the effects are largely comic. The humour feels forced and the jokes in the script are obvious, with punch lines continually being told rather than left ambiguous. It’s like the audience is being patronised because we’re not clever enough to understand some of the most rudimental jokes.

Kevin Bacon wisely jumped ship after the first one and even Fred Ward decided not to bother with this one so fan favourite Michael Gross, as survivalist gun-nut Burt Gummer, is promoted to lead character. Gross has a lot of fun in the role and his deadpan reactions to situation make him hilarious at times. He was a little bit over-the-top in the last film and has toned back down the character to similar levels of the original which is good. The major problem I have now is that the character is far too overexposed and the ‘less is more’ approach they had with him in the first two films has been abandoned. Gummer worked in small doses but his army schtick gets tiring rather quickly. Losing Ward was a big blow to the series and Gross’ character is just overpowering to helm a film – he’s fine as supporting character but he overstays his welcome in the limelight.

It’s also nice to see the remaining members of the original cast make a return here (those who were cheap enough to bring back!), even if they were more or less bit part players. I’m a great lover of continuity in sequels and seeing the likes of Miguel (Tony Genaro), Nancy (Charlotte Stewart), Mindy (Ariana Richards) and everyone’s favourite loser, Melvin (Robert Jayne), all come back gives the film much-needed connection to the original.

Sadly, Tremors 3: Back To Perfection short-changes it’s monsters by rendering them all in CGI. The original’s slimy animatronic models and oozing prosthetics still look fantastic today and the mix of CGI and make-up effects in the second film worked better than it should. But the CGI here looks TV-series quality, presumably because they were trying to get the short-lived Tremors TV series off the ground around the same time. In fact, they’ve lifted a lot of shots of the subterranean Graboids from the first two films which is obvious. The names Graboids and Shriekers are a bit daft to designate monsters but the reasoning behind them was sound and it made sense. Calling these new flying monsters ‘Ass Blasters’ is juvenile and a bit daft too. But it’s a sign of where the series was heading. More background to the monsters’ origins and overly complex explanations just detract further from the mythology and menace of the monsters from the original.

 

I’m sure if you liked the first two films, then you’ll find plenty of fun in Tremors 3: Back To Perfection. But the charm of the series has quickly faded, the set-ups and resolutions have become predictable and formulaic and the characters aren’t as appealing as in the previous films. It doesn’t hold a candle to the first two but it’s not half-bad as far as a straight-to-video films are concerned.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆