Tag 2000s

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.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆