Tag 2000s

Cherry Falls (2000)

Cherry Falls (2000)

Lose your innocence – or lose your life

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doorway, The (2000)

The Doorway (2000)

…to hell

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Evolution (2001)

Evolution (2001)

Have a nice end of the world.

Ira Kane and Harry Block are wo science lecturers who investigate reports that a meteorite has fallen in the desert. They quickly discover that the meteorite contains organisms that evolve at an enormous rate, crossing two million years of evolution in a matter of hours. Once the military get wind of the discovery, the site is cordoned off and Kane’s work is taken, preventing him from further studying the evolution of the organisms. Unfortunately for everyone involved, they discover too late that the aliens have advanced to the reptilian stage and begin to burrow up through tunnels to emerge on the surface. With the creatures rapidly evolving and developing human-like abilities, it is up Kane and Block to stop them.

 

Evolution can be best described as Ghostbusters-lite with aliens. Director Ivan Reitman tries so hard to replicate the same lightning-in-a-bottle as he conjured up back in the 80s, almost in lament at not being able to ever get Ghostbusters 3 off the ground. Heck, he tried to repeat the trick with Ghostbusters II – though I think it’s an underrated sequel, it’s still nowhere near the quality of the first one. The way the narrative develops here is rather similar, with lots of similar set pieces and scenarios for the three heroes to deal with, as well as coming up against an uncooperative authority figure and battling a larger-than-life threat in the finale. It’s not very original but what Evolution lacks in these stakes, it makes up for with an easy-going charm which makes it hard to dislike.

Reitman’s films are usually pacey and energetic, and Evolution is no exception. There’s little time wasted on non-essential storytelling, even if a lot of the plot makes little sense when you think about it (like why two college professors like Duchovny and Jones’ characters would continue to be kept in the loop long after it’s been established that this is a serious threat to the survival of life on Earth), and the set pieces flow fairly frequently. However, there’s rarely a memorable set piece that stands out. Reitman throws lots of special effects at the screen to bring all the various aliens to life and the CGI is as good/bad as you’d expect it to be for a film made in 2001. The main characters have plenty of problems to overcome as they encounter the aliens at different stages of their evolution from the fungi right up to the giant amoeba in the finale. It is just that Evolution never really manages to get into its rhythm and it feels like it’s over before it gets going. The action sequences all make sense from the progression of the story, but they never really generate any sort of excitement or tension. Everyone on the screen and behind the camera is trying, it just never clicks together.

The same can be said for the comedy aspects of the film. Unless you like laughing at the sight of a man having an alien insect removed from his rear end (and the younger version of me did find this scene funny), then a lot of the humour here will make you smile, rather than laugh. Evolution is mildly amusing – you’re desperate for it to get funnier and a few scenes and gags really fall flat on their face. The script tries too hard to make the film funny and this isn’t a knock on the writers or the actors involved, it’s just that sometimes a comedy film like this needs a group of actors who can improvise better on the spot during filming. Imagine working with Bill Murray on set and the sort of improvisation he would be capable of. Now compare that to someone like Sean William Scott, perfectly fine for a role like this, but doesn’t really come across as a quick-witted individual who could come up with some genuinely funny and witty dialogue on the spot. Not the first film to be guilty of this – if you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve probably seen the funniest moments.

David Duchovny, Orlando Jones and William Scott make for an amiable threesome, though they lack a real sense of camaraderie and never quite gel as a trio. Unlike the comic timing and sheer brilliance of the three main leads in Ghostbusters, for all their efforts, both Jones and Duchovny just can’t quite get the same level of hilarity from the story. Perhaps it is because Reitman has pitched the comedy of the film at a lower demographic, hence the inclusion of William Scott who was making waves in a number of teen comedies in the late 90s and early 00s. Jokes about sex, bodily fluids and farting pander to the lowest common denominator (though I’m not suggesting that we don’t all like a good fart joke) and lack the finesse of more sophisticated humour. Funnily enough, it’s Julianne Moore who displays some nice comic timing as the scientist/love interest that makes the biggest impression upon the audience. Dan Aykroyd shows up in an unnecessary cameo role as the governor – how the film could have done with one of his famously fast-talking and intense speeches.

And if you think you’re going to get through Evolution without some sort of nod or reference to The X-Files and Duchovny’s most famous role, then you’re totally wrong.

 

Easy-going summer films such as Evolution have a time and place and it seems that they’re few and far between nowadays in the 2010s, which is a bit of a shame. It’s likeable enough, innocent enough and entertaining enough, just not as enough as you’d like it to be.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

It’s not what you eat, it’s who you eat!

Helena and her boyfriend Martin are driving through rural Ireland when they hit and kill a man on the road, only for the body to come back to life and bite Martin in the neck. Running to a farmhouse for help, Helena is attacked by zombies and is only saved with the assistance of local gravedigger Desmond. It appears that an outbreak has been caused by humans eating meat infected with Mad Cow Disease, which causes the dead to rise and feed on the living.

 

Zombie films have always been the go-to for budding filmmakers to break into the big time. Easy to make, cheap to produce, relatively simple to create a story and with enough familiarity for audiences to know exactly what they’re getting. Sadly, because every person with a camera, a few friends and bucket of tomato ketchup can make one, zombie films tend to vary in quality like no other sub-genre of horror and so finding a decent one is like playing Russian roulette. With the lure of the ‘Mad Cow Disease’ element and potential that the film would feature killer cows (much like Isolation), I was tempted to go for this one over a rather pitiful selection of films, many of which have ‘….of the Dead’ in the title.

Thankfully, Dead Meat avoids a lot of the pitfalls that many a low budget film would do, but it doesn’t do enough to fully shake off the shackles of its humble beginnings. It’s clear that writer-director Conor McMahon likes his horror films, particularly zombie films, and peppers the screen with plenty of nods to his inspirations. The film is pacey and features plenty of set pieces, although perhaps too many similar zombie attacks for its own good. Within the space of the first twenty minutes, I counted no fewer than three attack scenes which could have been spaced out a bit more to build up the atmosphere and characters a bit. Sometimes less is more and that definitely should have been the case for Dead Meat. At a slender seventy minutes, there’s no need for the film to continually bombard the audience with zombies – we all know what they are and what they can do, but it takes a little bit of the steam away from some of the more original action moments. Too often, the narrative is episodic, as if McMahon had an idea for a set piece, and just sticks it in there with little cohesion supporting it. The flimsy plot is simply a Macguffin to get the zombies moving – once the exposition has taken place, you’ll pretty much forget that this outbreak was caused by cows.

The major weakness that Dead Meat has is that it looks like a low budget production with how it’s been shot on video. The hand-held night time photography is extremely difficult to fathom out and aside from a few voices, sometimes it’s indistinguishable as to what is going on in the film. There’s plenty of grain during the day time scenes a lot of changes with the colour balance – coupled with some miserable days when filming took place, the film is not a pretty one to look at. Can I reiterate how annoying the night time scenes are? It’s so frustrating especially given there are some potentially effective scenes involving the zombies ‘sleeping’ as the survivors slowly walk through the field, ruined by the fact you hardly get to see anything. And yes, I did adjust my brightness to see if that helped!

Dead Meat threatens to get funny at times, particularly with the introduction of Eoin Whelan’s foul-mouthed, hurling stick-wielding coach, but it never fully embraces some of the lighter elements. I think it missed a trick here. Scenes involving eye balls and vacuum cleaners shouldn’t really be played straight, nor should images of a children’s party gone wrong, but Dead Meat does play them straight. Whilst extremely gory for such a little production, a lot of it is highly unrealistic which kind of kills the ambiance. Silly gore like this needs a tongue-in-cheek approach to work, in much the fashion as The Evil Dead or Bad Taste, but due to the seriousness of the film, the gore here is very jarring, with dismemberments and decapitations all being brought to life with practical FX rather than CGI. It’s also nice to see a zombie film where there is a distinct lack of guns to pop off a few headshots. The characters here are forced to use anything they get their hands on to fight off the zombies and it makes for a more realistic survival situation.

 

Every time Dead Meat does something right, it also does something silly to counteract it, which is a big shame as there’s potential here. But given how many zombie films are doing the market right now, it takes something special to stand out. With a bit more focus on making the absurd moments deliberately more comical, Dead Meat could have raised it’s a game. There’s a lesson there for McMahon if he makes something similar in future.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Isolation (2005)

Isolation (2005)

It didn’t want to be born. Now it doesn’t want to die.

Cash-strapped farmer Dan Reilly allows a local bio-genetics firm to experiment on some of his cows to make them grow faster. However, the experiment goes wrong when one of Dan’s cows gives birth to a calf which is already pregnant with mutated foetuses. During an autopsy, one of the still-living foetuses manages to escape and with an ability to infect cows as well as humans, it is a race against time to stop the creature before it leaves the farm.

 

In horror, no animal is safe. You’ve got nature’s fearsome predators like sharks and crocodiles which are all too easy to turn into maneaters. You’ve got spiders which provoke instinctive reactions in a large percentage of people when confronted with one. But cows? The animals that are generally gentle, quite emotional and intelligent, commonly known to ‘moo’, produce milk and generally just stand around all day grazing? Actually, according to statistics, they’re the most dangerous large animal in the UK, killing more people in the last fifteen years than dogs so there might be something there to work with. Perhaps Isolation was made about ten years too late to capitalise on the mid-90s BSE scare in the UK (commonly referred to as mad cow disease), where thousands of cows were slaughtered to prevent the spread of disease. This type of body horror would have caused a few ripples if audiences thought this sort of thing could happen to them if ‘mad cow disease’ spread rapidly.

OK, so putting aside the notion of a killer cow for a moment, Isolation is a pretty creepy film which does a lot of things right in building an ominous atmosphere in the remote farm setting, borrowing plenty of style and tone from the likes of Carpenter and Cronenberg. First time director Billy O’Brien does a fantastic job in creating the right mood for the film, with the cold Irish countryside becoming a bleak place as the carefully-selected grey and gloomy colour palette offers little hope or vitality for the camera. This doesn’t look like a great place at the best of times, not least when there’s a mutated creature on the loose. O’Brien keeps the film grounded in minimalization for the most part, crafting the story well and slowly building up the mystery as to exactly what has happened and how bad it will get. If there is an issue here, it’s that it takes too long to get to a position where the horror can be unleashed upon the audience. There’s only so much biding time that the script can churn out and Isolation begins to wear a little thin before things pick up. You get the sense, especially if you glance at the running time left, that the payoff won’t be quite as satisfying as you’re expecting it to be.

Isolation does shift into more traditional ‘monster on the loose’ territory in the final third where the matured version of the creature starts to hunt down the survivors and it’s here that the script gives up and resorts to the characters running around in dark places. There are a few parallels with The Thing in the manner of how the infection spreads and there is some underlying body horror but it’s not as explicit as I’d have liked – let’s see one of the human characters explode with blood and goo when the infection has fully spread. Even the creature, looking suitably squirmy and nasty in its smallest form, doesn’t get much time on screen during the stalking and attack scenes. It doesn’t look bad in, well what you actually see of it anyway, but its underused and kept to brief glimpses and dark corners of the farm. Tantalising morsels of what could have been, but we don’t quite get the main course. And that just about sums Isolation up: it promises a lot but doesn’t really deliver when it really counts.

What is nice is that the limited effects on show are all practical and have that realistic vibe that CGI lacks. As the creature is meant to be mutated and defective, there’s no real shape or pattern to it, just lots of blood, flesh and bone all skewed and twisted. There’s a respectable amount of blood on show, with flesh wounds coming out particularly effective thanks to the make-up department. On top of this realistic carnage, the actors do their characters justice and make them believable enough to get the notion of a killer cow put to the back of your mind. John Lynch is solid as Dan: likeable and intense enough to show how desperate he was to resort to allowing the bio-genetics firm to experiment on his cow. Only Marcel Iures as the ‘mad scientist’ comes off remotely hammy in the final third but we all know what happens to that type of character in a film such as this!

 

Though Isolation might be a little derivative of some genre classics, it manages to craft a nice, effective mood with some decent moments, only failing to really capitalise on all of the hard work in a final third which doesn’t do the rest of the film justice. Forget any pre-conceived notions of a film about a killer cow being silly – you’ll think twice before you next cross over that farmer’s field.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creep (2004)

Creep (2004)

Your journey terminates here.

Modelling agency worker Kate finds herself trapped in the London Underground when her late-night plans to crash a party goes wrong after she falls asleep and wakes to find the place has closed. An attempted rape by someone who has followed her is brutally broken up by an unseen assailant. Kate flees and takes refuge with a young homeless pair who live in the Underground, who tell her of stories of homeless people going missing. A hideously-deformed killer is living in the sewers below and prowling the Underground for more victims.

 

Not enough horror films have been set in the London Underground. Oh there was Hammer’s more sci-fi than horror flick Quatermass and the Pit, Death Line in 1972 and the fantastic werewolf chase sequence in An American Werewolf in London. But its slim pickings for variety which is a shame as the long, winding pedestrian tunnels which snake from the surface down to the rail tracks look chilling when they’re empty, with the white-tiled walls bathed in an eerie fluorescent light. I’m sure it looks like a hundred other subways, but the London Underground has a historic legacy of being the world’s first metro system and has seen plenty of action and drama during its time.

It is a pity then that Creep is the latest film to use this location as its main setting. A pity in that it’s a story we’ve seen done before, and done better, but not without its merits. A dread-filled opening half in the subway, with the potential escape routes and solutions to Kate’s situation, promises much which is not really capitalised on with the more routine second half. The claustrophobic subway passages are replaced with more generically-grim environments such as storerooms and old medical labs. It’s a good job that the first half of the film builds up plenty of goodwill to carry itself through. The dimly-lit prologue promises plenty from first time writer-director Christopher Smith and, script aside, he clearly knows his stuff, with clear influences all the way from Hammer to more recent ‘torture porn’ flicks.

Cinematography is nice and crisp, with the bright white walls of the Underground contrasting sharply against the darkness and grime of some of the sewers and abandoned tunnels. Neither brings any sort of comfort or satisfaction for the characters or the audience watching. It’s a pity not as much is made of the pure darkness that would be present over 100ft underground in these unlit corridors as it could be. It’s all too easy for the story to come across plenty of storerooms and underground medical facilities that have been left to time, and conveniently most of the rooms have power and electricity which kind of kills a lot of the ambiance. Nevertheless, there is still a generally effective atmosphere filling the screen and the claustrophobia of being stuck down there is played on fairly regularly.

Sadly, Creep doesn’t do an awful lot with the decent set-up and effective tools of the trade. Its essentially an underground slasher, where the characters’ isolation is in the subway rather than some summer camp in the middle of nowhere and they all go off looking around dark places, succumbing one-by-one to the killer. A number of thinly-written characters are introduced into the film simply to pad out the body count – this is Kate’s film and everyone else is second to that. At least she’s not totally stupid, doing a lot of reasonable things that the majority of people would do (like running away from the killer’s body after you think you’ve killed him…just get the hell out of there!). But the script doesn’t give her enough progression apart from running and screaming and fending for herself, which she seems very good at doing to begin with. Usually, the heroine finds some inner strength and overcomes the odds in this type of film.

Franka Potente may look good but her character is wholly unlikeable, made out to be a nasty, self-centred piece of work from the opening sequences. She looks down upon everyone else and is rude to everyone she meets, never thinking of them or their problems but what they can do for her. Potente plays the part well in this case, it’s just a pity it’s been written so badly. When she does eventually run into trouble, are we meant to really care for her wellbeing or celebrate in the torment that she is put through? The same can be said for the rest of the small cast, with the characters made up of annoying comic relief, jobsworth security guards, homeless druggies and sleazy co-workers. I’m not sure who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Maybe the unfortunate sewage worker who makes sure he tells Kate “I’ve got a kid” ticks this because guess what? That kid is going to be an orphan! The star turn comes in the form of the ‘Creep’ of the title, your typical The Hills Have Eyes type of mutant humanoid. Sean Harris isn’t the most intimidating physical presence, but he gives the monster some weird mannerisms and acts the part well with some stage theatrics that distinguish him from other similar creations – I could have done without the whimpering and squealing though. If you’re expecting some sort of clear background to his origins, think again. There are a few hints and ideas floating around but they’re not the priority here. In fact, the more you try and think about who or what the Creep is, the sillier and more fantastical it all becomes.

Surprisingly, the film is fairly bloody despite not really appearing to sell itself like that to begin with. Throats are slit, there’s some unwanted surgery, heads rammed onto metal spikes and plenty more. The camera doesn’t dwell on the gore but its there as an add-on to really convey the sense of just how brutal and inhuman the Creep really is. But given the weaknesses in his backstory, some of his mystery and threat are eroded quickly.

 

Creep is not a brilliant film, nor is it terrible. Writer-director Smith knows his stuff and clearly has some potential to go on to bigger and better things. The directing side of things works well, the script less so. With a more polished script, he could have avoided the plot gaps, the abrasive characters and the horrid dialogue and built upon the solid foundations he established at the beginning.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005)

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005)

Half man. Half shark. Total terror.

A scientist tries to save his dying son from cancer by developing a way to isolate and specialise human stem cells by mixing in shark DNA. However, his experiments turn his son into a deadly man-shark hybrid. A group of people from a pharmaceutical corporation are lured to the scientist’s island to investigate his activities but he has something far worse planned for them when they arrive.

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy, or now apparently referred to as Sharkman, was one of my earliest forays into SyFy Original movies (then known as The Sci-Fi Channel). Many of you long-term readers will know my love-hate relationship with these films. You know exactly what you’re getting and for every nine awful ones, there’s always one gem that stands out. Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is not such a case, though it’s not entirely awful. I’m a sucker for killer shark flicks no matter how bad they are (Shark Zone anyone?) so when I read the synopsis for this, I was a little curious as to how things would pan out. And boy was I not expecting something as trashy as this – although on further reflection after many, many years of watching SyFy Films, I was far too naïve! On reflection, the story for Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is perfect for the type of rubbish Sy Fy churn out. In fact, if they produced more of this type of over-the-top cheese than their attempts to be straight and serious, I wouldn’t give them such a hard time.

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy starts off inconspicuously like any killer shark film does, as a couple of innocent swimmers are taken care of in quick fashion. But then things start to get a little crazier as the pseudo-science nonsense kicks in and the plot starts to morph into something that Roger Corman would have been proud of back in the 1980s – all this needed was plenty of gratuitous nudity and some sleazier gore effects. The characters are quick to arrive on the island and the purpose for them being there is revealed fairly early in the film, giving us plenty of time to sit and watch them struggle to survive amidst the multitude of dangers that await them.

I get the logic of making the monster half-man/half-shark but surely taking the shark out of it’s element and having it amphibious and being able to survive on land just weakens the whole novelty of the idea. Who wants to watch a land shark which could be any other mutated monster? Oh, that’s right, I forgot – the characters in this film actually have half a brain for a change. They deduce that by staying away from the water, they can avoid the shark and stay safe! The shark has human intelligence, looks like it’s been talking bodybuilding tips from Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime and runs as fast as Usain Bolt over 100m. This is literally the perfect killing machine. It’s a pity we hardly see it on-screen. The monster gets little screen time and then when you are finally treated to an attack, the camera cuts and shakes all over the place, leaving a small pool of red water behind where the victim had just been. Aside from a few brief CGI shots, there’s no grand unveiling of the monster. In fact, you’ll see more of it, and for longer, by Googling some production screen shots.

Like many of Sy Fy’s later films, a large swathe of screen time is devoted to the human bad guys. Not only has Dr King created this abomination but he’s got a small army of mercenaries at his beckoning call. So, the characters spend much of their time trying to fight off this gang who are that well-equipped, they could take down a small South American country with no hassle. If the shark man and the mercenaries weren’t bad enough, there’s also the small matter of the number of killer plants that King has been cultivating on his island. If this was an episode of the original Star Trek, the majority of the cast would be wearing red shirts!

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy just about manages to survive on its decent cast. The always-reliable Jeffrey Combs stars as Dr King and hams it up massively, ranting about his son’s intellect growing as he hunts down his victims. Combs can play mad scientists in his sleep (the Re-Animator series) and this one is no exception. William Forsythe pops up as the hero of the day in a rare change of direction for him – the guy likes playing tough guy/heavy roles and he’s got a bit of a gut on him which doesn’t make him your bog-standard action man. However, the unusual step of casting him in the hero role is different but makes a nice change of pace from the genre conventions of having a twenty/thirty-something save the day.

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is a mixed bag. You have a preposterously-plotted but perfectly watchable B-movie which, sadly, is let down by a number of clichés and a sense of being too self-conscious to embrace its ridiculousness and go all-out. Not enough of the titular character hurts matters greatly too.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

He’s the death of the party.

After a fraternity prank goes horribly wrong and results in his accidental death, a young college freshman is resurrected in the guise of a vengeful scarecrow who descends on the beach where those who killed him are having their spring break.

 

Since when did the scarecrow become such a cinematic horror icon that he has now starred in his own trilogy of horror films? I can understand why Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers all become icons and to a lesser extent even the annoying Leprechaun. But the scarecrow? Didn’t anyone see Scarecrow or Scarecrow Slayer? Two of the most atrocious, low grade slasher films I’ve ever seen, with their own saving grace being a slightly-cool killer who looks way better on the front covers of the DVD boxes than he does in person in the films. Now we have a third instalment, Scarecrow Gone Wild, though thankfully this has been the last one (to date). To think they managed to crank out two sequels still gives me shivers!

Scarecrow Gone Wild goes down the serious route and this is its biggest mistake, despite it being billed as a ‘comedy’ on IMDB. The idea of this killer scarecrow heading to the beach and killing off a load of co-eds cries tongue-in-cheek: surfing scarecrow, sun-bathing scarecrow, volleyball-playing scarecrow and sitting-round-a-beach-campfire scarecrow were all ridiculous ideas waiting to be mined (NB the scarecrow doesn’t do any of this in the film, I’m just saying they could have made him do some stuff to lighten the tone). Anything to get him to, well, go wild. He doesn’t. He’s a pretty boring dude and just opts for the usual slash ‘n’ dash moments. But then again most of the film is based around empty hospital corridors, schools or the generic cornfields and not the beach. Something seems to have wrong in the translation of the plot. Also, the fact that the costume looks worse than my Halloween scarecrow outfit doesn’t exactly send chills down your spine. For some reason, a lot of the scarecrow is seen during the daytime which completely nullifies any sort of fear factor that could be created. Scarecrows, especially ones designed for horror like this, are pretty damned scary – I know, I’m a 6’5” walking monstrosity in my scarecrow outfit when it comes around to Halloween – but that’s because I stick to going out when it’s dark.

Scarecrow Gone Wild does contain the necessary slasher elements including loads of cheesy gore. Sadly, though there is plenty on offer, it’s not exactly been done well and is a clear sign of the meagre budget they worked with on the shoot. There is also plenty of T&A. One female character has about two lines but spends most of the film walking around without a top on. Boxes had to be ticked and she ticks them. It’s not exactly slim pickings for slasher fans when it comes to the goodies but it’s the haphazard way in which the ingredients are cobbled together which comes off as more disappointing than anything. The problem with Scarecrow Gone Wild is that, despite it being a slasher flick, it’s actually rather dull and boring. There’s far too much human drama, with the characters arguing with each other and dealing with too much nonsense other than the fact that there’s a killer scarecrow on the loose. To rub salt into the wounds, just when you think Scarecrow Gone Wild is over, along comes another ten minutes to prolong the misery.

Ex-UFC and WWE wrestler Ken Shamrock is the ‘big name’ in the cast this time around, portraying the school’s baseball coach who, for some sinister reasons, decides to follow these teenagers around on their spring break. He’s a better fighter than he is an actor and at least gets to duke it out with the scarecrow in one scene. But, like the rest of the fun factor getting sucked out of the film, Shamrock doesn’t get to do any trademark moves and instead just tumbles around in the sand with the scarecrow as if they’re making out with each other. It’s such a letdown – you get one of the toughest men on the planet (at the time) into your film, knowing that a certain audience will be tuning it to see him kick ass, and then proceed to neuter him completely. Such a wasted opportunity.

 

Scarecrow Gone Wild continues the rapid downward spiral of this dead-on-arrival series. At this alarming rate of decline, I’ll be giving minus stars out for the next few sequels. Avoid this at all costs and to make sure they don’t make a fourth one, set fire to any scarecrows you see outside.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆