Tag 2010s

Smiley (2012)

Smiley (2012)

Evil wears a smile

After discovering an urban legend of a demented serial killer called Smiley who comes to kill unsuspecting online chatters after they type in ‘I did it for the lulz’ three times, mentally-fragile teenager Ashley must figure out if she has gone insane or whether she has become the next victim when she puts the legend to the test.

 

A slasher film about a chat room serial killer? What is this, 1997? By 2012, Smiley was already outdated before it was made. I guess the director never saw Cry Wolf, which is basically this film but made in 2005. The latest version of an urban legend horror story with a ‘contemporary’ twist – say the name of some mythical boogeyman and they magically appear to kill the person daft enough to speak – Smiley is some stewed up concoction of Candyman, Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street, with only a fraction of the entertainment value of any of those three.

Starting in cliched, but admittedly promising fashion, with drop-dead gorgeous Nikki Limo parading in front of the camera in very little (if this had been the 80s…) before being diced by Smiley, the film quickly veers well away what you expected it would be into something more moralistic and preachy about online trolling and the damage it can do. It follows a simple narrative where the two leading females try to get to the bottom of the urban legend whilst Smiley pops up every once and a while to kill another victim. That’s it, a rinse and repeat story which quickly outstays its welcome (if it ever had one).

Smiley relies far too heavily on jump scares and false alarms to frighten the audience. Literally every time a character is on a computer, the camera closes in on them and there’s a jump scare of someone behind them. The carnage, when it does sporadically show up, is hardly gory nor original and is mostly confined to the tiny chat windows on the computer screen. Once you’ve seen one of these attacks, you’ve seen them all as they’re all identical. Director Michael Gallagher originally started out making Youtube videos and you can tell by his approach here – lots of the dream sequences are flashy and heavily-cut and edited together but lack any sort of real substance. The guy has little idea of how to craft a proper horror film and generate some real tension and scares and opts to go back to the BOO moments whenever he needs to wake the audience up. Believe me, they will need waking up. The final act totally ruins any lingering hope that the film would pick itself up in the run-in. In a twist lifted straight out of April Fool’s Day and Scream, the killer starts moralising about trolling and becoming the first viral serial killer. There’s even a “Smiley will be popular at Halloween” nod to the audience, almost as if the makers of the film are desperate for Smiley to actually become an iconic horror character that people would dress up as. Aside from a memorable mask which no doubt assisted greatly in the marketing, Smiley is just your generic man-in-a-mask with a knife. There have been countless killers before him and there will be after. Instead of trying to create the next super slasher villain, the producers of these types of films should just let the fame come organically. If you’ve got a cool killer, then they’ll win over the crowds.

Lead actress Caitlin Gerard is arguably the best part of the film and at least brings some nervous energy to the role of Ashley, even if the script she has to read from is atrocious. She’s got a great high-pitched scream though so make sure the sound is a little lower than usual in case you want a window smashing. Roger Bart’s professor character is there to provide a potential red herring and spouts off a load of pseudo-serious stuff about reason and logic, simply to try and add some seriousness and depth to the shallow narrative. Long-time character actor Keith David of They Live and The Thing fame cashes in a quick cheque as a police detective. Stare at the poster long enough and you’ll see more of him than you do here. A couple of internet ‘celebrities’ make cameo appearances (Shane Dawson and Toby Turner) but I have no clue who they are famous for, nor do I have any desire to find out.

 

In an era of silly viral things such as MOMO, I’m sure fifteen-year-old kids will get a kick out of Smiley but for most grown-ups, it’s just another example of how dumbed down our society is becoming, where we place more onus on things that don’t or shouldn’t matter than the things that are important. Opting to go for the obvious quick wins rather than crafting something atmospheric and scary, Smiley is just Candyman for the Snapchat/streaming generation.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Snakehead Swamp (2014)

Snakehead Swamp (2014)

When you’re in the bayou, you’re dead in the water

Whilst being transported, a bunch of mutant snakehead fish accidentally escape in the swamps around a small Louisiana town and proceed to start eating anyone who ventures too close to the water.

 

That’s about as good a synopsis as I’m going to squeeze out here as I wasn’t too sure on where the fish were going, why they’re so big, who was behind their creation, etc. The fact that they escape and kill people is all you really need to know. I think Frankenfish and Snakehead Terror did the killer fish thing about ten years ago too – I’m guessing Sy Fy assume that, by today’s reboot/remake logic, they only needed to wait a few years by making pretty much the same film over again.

As I’ve said on reviews for other Sy Fy films, you can pretty much copy and paste and simply replace the monster-of-the-week with something else and the film are indistinguishable. There’s literally nothing that these snakehead fish couldn’t do that a giant crocodile couldn’t do in the same locations and with the same story. And if you’ve seen even half a dozen of these Sy Fy films, then you’ll know how Snakehead Swamp will run from the first minute until the last. Director Don E. Fauntleroy made the terrible straight-to-TV Anaconda sequels, so he’s got some experience of dealing in these creature feature films and makes this equally as forgettable and non-descript.

Snakehead Swamp splits down into the usual three act formula – introduction of the problem, recognition of the problem and then resolution. It’s a tried-and-tested approach that even the likes of Jaws managed to pull off well. Only there’s no real drama to proceedings here – we know what is killing people off quickly because, like most Sy Fy films, the monsters are shown in all of their glory early on. It’s sad to see that in the time since Frankenfish and Snakehead Terror, the computer-generated fish look even worse now than they did ten years ago – special effects are supposed to be getting better, not progressively worse. Snakehead Swamp tries to compensate by splashing plenty of fake CG blood across the land and a bit of red liquid into the water to make the attacks seem gory; it’s a pity you hardly get to see any actual ‘action’ involving the fish. Again, replace the snakeheads with a giant crocodile and tell me that you wouldn’t notice the difference to the story. These films need to play up the uniqueness of their creatures – have them do things that other creatures can’t do to make a little bit more interesting or exciting. Instead, there are plenty of “something under the water” moments (like any killer shark film) or “something in the bushes near the water” moments (like any crocodile/alligator flick) which have been done to death.

The story runs through a familiar cycle of tropes without even a passing hint that the makers of the film intend to do anything remotely different or original with the material. Characters are cookie cut-outs, from the Bayou yokels to the estranged couple of the teenage lead character brought back together through adversity and are largely unappealing and unengaging. Give us some characteristics that will make the main characters seem more realistic than just another screen victim. I found it hard-pressed to remember any of the characters’ names here – even the woman with the badge. Was she a sheriff? A game warden? A cosplayer?

There’s a voodoo sub-plot in here which adds precisely nothing to the narrative except give Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from the Starsky and Hutch TV series) a stereotypical witch doctor stereotype to embarrass himself in and another potential slant to the creation of the fish. Are they a product of this guy’s voodoo meddling or not? Who knows? Who cares? The voodoo sub-plot is referred to in a number of throwaway scenes and then quickly forgotten about once Fargas departs from the story.

 

I’m really struggling for material on this one. Snakehead Swamp is utterly forgettable and makes me ponder the meaning of life. When the time comes, will I look back and regret how much time I have wasted watching such pointless ninety-minute exercises in absolutely nothing?

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lake Placid: Legacy (2018)

Lake Placid: Legacy (2018)

This trip may tear them apart

A group of eco-warriors looking to expose a secret area hidden behind electric fences find an abandoned science facility which had experimented with crocodiles and prehistoric DNA. They do not realise that one of the test subjects was never euthanised and is still living on the island, eager to hunt new prey to satisfy its appetite.

 

I’m not sure whether anyone back in 1999 would have thought that Lake Placid, for the decent horror-comedy timewaster it was, would become a long-running creature feature franchise which has outlived many more respectable horror series. Well, here we are with the fifth sequel!

Trying to shift the series from the low budget cheesy monster movies that the series had become into something serious and scary, Lake Placid: Legacy is a few shuffles in the right direction but a couple of big steps backwards too. Abandoning the continuity of what has come before it (and that’s a term I used lightly as the continuity between the other sequels has been ‘fluid’ to say the least), Lake Placid: Legacy ignores all of the sequels, briefly mentions the original, and promptly heads off to do its own thing with a new standalone story.

The film gets underway quickly, with little exposition to allow the characters to assemble in the place which will be their doom. Lake Placid: Legacy knows that it’s target audience won’t be bothered with the details and you’ll have heard the sort of set-up many times before. At least it isn’t a bunch of partying teenagers heading to the lake! Things get ugly within the first ten to fifteen minutes so don’t worry about waiting for too long. And to be honest, the film has a reasonably steady pace, even if there are large stretches without any sort of crocodile action.

In the previous sequels, Sy Fy’s shamelessly bad CGI monsters had become the focal points, with diets of people with increasingly-ludicrous reasons to be hanging around a lake known for having giant crocodiles. The crocodile takes a back seat here, with the appearances of the monster being restricted a lot more than you’d expect. It’s a silly move considering that’s exactly what people were still watching these films for – actually the only thing they were watching them for. I get the need to try and reign things in as there’s only so many times you can watch giant crocodiles eat people before it gets boring but they’re about three or four sequels too late. I’m guessing the lack of crocodile action was more a budgetary choice as the reptile looks awful whenever it makes its sporadic appearances. It’s a Catch 22 situation – they’ve tried to hold back on the crocodile to create some tension and atmosphere, but people will be moaning there’s not enough action, yet when the crocodile does appear it looks pathetic and you’ll be wanting them to not show us as much. It’s a sad state of affairs that the original from 1999 still features better special effects and a more convincing crocodile than all of the sequels put together. Time is not kind to the humble CGI croc – time to bring back an animatronic model.

It’s such a shame as there are some promising set pieces here which have lots of potential but are let down by the poor effects and lack of croc action. One scene involving the crocodile stalking its victim through a dark tunnel, illuminated only by a flare, is something that deserves to feature in a better film. The idea of having the crocodile hunt them through the abandoned facility sounds like it has been lifted of an Alien movie rather but gives the narrative a few new places to explore. The previous sequels have all felt like the same film just blurring into one so at least the change of scenery here freshens things up a bit and gives the writers some new avenues to explore – in theory anyway. All you’ll get is frustrated at how the crocodile can appear to be gigantic outside but can squeeze through some of the smaller tunnels indoors.

Joe Pantoliano is the token ‘name’ on the billing and I almost forgot he was in this until his late, pointless appearance reminded me. Pantoliano was always good for a supporting character actor in bigger budget films but his role here just smacks of desperately needing a pay day – he’s there purely to explain the existence of the crocodile and that’s it. The bunch of annoying millennials who make up the rest of the characters are just as pointless and interchangeable. It’s the sort of expendable, cheap throwaway cast that Sy Fy love to build their films around. Award for the worst writing of the year goes to Craig Stein’s Spencer character. If there was ever a more appalling representation of the ‘token black man’ character, this guy is it. Close your eyes and tell me what colour the character is supposed to be – his go-to Afro-American stereotyping involves lots of things like “bring it bitch” and his whiny ‘full of attitude’ persona. He will head straight to your “favourite to die” list right from his first appearance. Sadly, he’s still got the most personality out of any of the other characters, just not the right type!

 

Lake Placid: Legacy tries to do something different to the previous sequels, but mainly fails on all counts. At the end of the day, these films continue to disappoint thanks to lousy special effects which continue to make the original look like a masterpiece. It’s time to kill the crocodile, make a nice pair of boots and briskly walk away from this lifeless franchise once and for all.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

All Through the House (2015)

All Through the House (2015)

There is a creature stirring

When Rachel Kimmel returns home from college for Christmas, she finds that her neighbourhood is struck by a reign of terror. A violent killer, hiding behind a Santa mask, is leaving a bloody trail of slaughtered women and castrated men behind them.

 

Ah the Christmas sub-genre, the festive fright fests which offer up holiday-themed hijinks that may offend some due to their anti-Christmas sentiments. From rampaging snowmen to murderous elves and the copious number of Santa slashers out there, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for some truly bizarre, mainly terrible, but sometimes downright glorious horror entertainment with a nice helping of sleaze and nastiness to counteract the seasonal saccharine soppiness. All Through the House picks up the killer Santa mantle from Silent Night, Deadly Night and runs with it in an 80s-slasher throwback kind of way. It’s not pretty but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the better Christmas-themed horrors that have come my way in many years.

All Through the House is relatively average in just about everything it does, from the poor technical side of the film to the more obvious script issues, but just has that ‘it’ factor that is so essential in making a good slasher film. The director just gets it from the opening sequence, featuring a bloody double killing and a good look at the Santa slasher within the first six minutes. It’s a great way to hook in the demanding audience and get them on board. Let’s face it, the film needs you to get on board quickly. The script does fall into many of the usual sub-genre pitfalls of characters doing the silliest things and avoiding any sort of common sense and logic when trying to evade the killer. But it’s easy to criticise when that’s all these films can do – there wouldn’t be a story if the victims just ran away and didn’t look back. Stupidity is the name of the game to further the plot, as there’s little in the way of exposition or character development to do so. All Through the House features a bunch of shallow, one-note characters who are so thinly written that I had trouble remembering their names. From the Final Girl’s virtually anonymous best friends to her ‘we need an extra body in the finale’ ex-boyfriend and a whole slew of random neighbours, it’s hardly a film where the characters take centre stage. It’s a good job that Nunes knows what people paying to see this are wanting to see and ensures that they are not let down in this respect.

All Through the House gets it absolutely spot on with the gore and set pieces. This is clearly a production team who have seen their fair share of 80s slasher cheese and do their best to live up to the lofty standards that some of the previous works have set. The killer likes to use a pair of shears to do most their handiwork and there are some real doozies here – shears into the breasts, shears into the side of the throat, shears up into the chin and through the head, and some poor schmuck gets his manhood lopped off. The make-up effects are decent enough and the camera doesn’t mind lingering on the carnage for a little bit – the total absence of CGI gore is really noticeable and enhances that throwback vibe. There is a decent body count and the kills are spaced out enough to keep the pace of the film quite good. If there is one thing that is disappointing, it’s that the killer does make quick work of the majority of their victims, leading to a real lack of tension or suspense throughout the film.

The film also gets it right with the killer. Too many slasher films fail whenever their killer gets on the screen – too hidden behind a mask, too gimmicky or simply not intimidating enough. Thankfully, the Santa slasher here looks and acts the part. Whilst they are stuck behind a creepy grey mask for the duration of the film, the actor behind it manages to convey a lot of emotion through the eyes. There’s also something particularly frightening about seeing a hulking Santa popping out from a darkened corridor when you least expect it.

Ashley Mary Nunes, the sister of the director (so no guesses how she got the part) is the Final Girl and she’s a bit of a revelation. She’s not only a looker but she can act the part well and makes a decent heroine. Like everyone else, her role is underwritten but it’s to Nunes’ credit that she at least comes off with more depth than the others. Melynda Kiring just narrowly fails to steal the show as the barking mad Mrs Garrett. Her house full of creepy Christmas-dressed mannequins deserves pride of place at Halloween let alone the festive season but Kiring pulls off the nutty proprietor to perfection. It’s elements like this which add a sense of uneasiness to the film and I wished they had focused a little more on this side of the film to really give the audience the creeps.

 

Despite a few black comic moments, All Through the House plays the slasher material straight, simple and effective. The natural way with which Nunes manages to show his love and respect for the old 80s slashers is clear to see and I can see All Through the House becoming a cult favourite in the years to come, in much the same way as Silent Night, Deadly Night has become. It’s not quite on the same level as that controversial 80s classic as far as holiday horrors go, but it’s the best we’ve seen for some time.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Burning Dead, The (2015)

The Burning Dead (2015)

Death will engulf the world

A sheriff must rescue an estranged family from a mountain during a volcano eruption and fight off a horde of lava-filled zombies brought to life by a curse.

 

Originally titled Volcano Zombies, The Burning Dead is the latest in the fad of making horror films so outrageously ridiculous by combing trashy bog-standard horror sub-genre entries to make something a little sillier and nonsensical. Sharknado is the obvious example, but you’ve got stuff like Piranhaconda, Lavalantula and Zombie Shark to stink up the joint. The Burning Dead is just the latest entry to a wave of films which only bring a wry smile to my face when I read the title and see what ingenious Frankenstein-like creation the producers have come up with. The films are generally atrocious however, and The Burning Dead is no exception.

It’s not worth discussing the plot because it’s virtually non-existent – volcanic eruption prompts locals to evacuate and zombies appear out of the flaming lava to kill off the stragglers. I mean what is wrong with just having the zombies rise-up out of some graveyard on the mountain side? Why the need to add the volcano? Oh yeah – ‘high concept’ idea. There’s far too many gaps and questions with the plot – the most blatant one being why are the zombies so perfectly preserved in the lava rather than being incinerated to a crisp? But I just opted to ignore this and watch the carnage unfold as it’d break my brain trying to figure it out.

Overlong prologue aside, it’s a good thirty minutes in before we even get a hint of the zombies turning up. I won’t tell a lie, but the resurrection sequence wasn’t too bad, with the zombies rising out of the ground reminding me very much of some old Italian horror film. The make-up effects are decent for something so low budget and there’s a nice red glowing effect added to their eyes with CGI. Aside from their usual modus operandi of biting necks and clawing at intestines, these zombies are also able to drip holt molten rock from their mouths (don’t ask me why the rock immediately burns things upon impact yet doesn’t seem to burn the zombies from the inside, or the ground they walk on, or anything else for that matter – just human flesh) which makes for one or two moments which are different to the usual zombie attacks. But the effects are crude and unconvincing. The film is bloody during the attacks, but the gore looks really fake and these are some of the most elasticated-looking intestines of all time – the zombies spend more time chewing on guts than they do brains. The less said about the volcanic eruptions and the lava flows, the better. Whoever thought the CGI looked half-decent is just as idiotic as the person who decided they should show it as often as they do.

Usually this type of flick features some C-list actors but even The Burning Dead struggles to round out the cast with anyone you’ll remember from elsewhere. Danny Trejo is plastered all over the front cover of the DVD like he’s the main star or something, but he’s got a tiny cameo role, used for a couple of wraparound scenes that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. Trejo has become a caricature of himself nowadays – he stars in roles that are just him doing his schtick. The only other notable cast member is Jenny Lin, solely for the fact that she provides the token nudity for the film in the most pointless sub-plot ever put to horror.

 

I’m even struggling to write something worthwhile about The Burning Dead, something unusual for me. It’s pretty darn awful from beginning to end and given how many zombie films, TV shows, video games and books are out there right now, its sheer madness to think anyone would give this the time of day.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado (2013)

Enough said!

Hurricane David approaches the Southern California coastline, bringing with it every shark in the Pacific Ocean along for the ride.  The hurricane hits land and, as the violent storm rages throughout Los Angeles, with each crashing tidal wave comes a bloodthirsty shark, carried throughout the city by storm drains and waterspouts everywhere.

 

You must have heard of Sharknado by now, a film so infamous that it has transcended our pop culture thanks to the ‘benefits’ of social media – during its initial screening on Sy Fy, Twitter nearly imploded with hashtags and it became an overnight sensation, even securing a limited theatrical release as a result. It’s not like Sy Fy (who produced it) and The Asylum (who distributed it) hadn’t been making dozens of really awful sci-fi monster movies for the past decade or so but for some reason Sharknado just caught on.

I’m sorry but it’s impossible to view Sharknado as anything but truly atrocious filmmaking which attempts to mask it’s sheer awfulness by pretending to wink at the audience. There is no way in hell that the guys behind Sharknado would have ever thought it would get to the point of infamy that it has and so the utter stupidity of the film was not planned to be ironic as it’s now made out to be. Even as ridiculous as the concept is, there were always possibilities that the film could succeed to embrace the camp but it’s a case of throwing in a load of generic killer shark and disaster flick tropes together in the hope they somehow stick. Funnily enough, the disaster scenes work slightly better than the shark scenes because it’s not as difficult to flood actual sets as it is to replicate a hurricane or get a shark to do what you want it to do. But this is definitely a case of the studio hedging all of their bets on the silly title and featuring enough clips of extravagantly over-the-top shark action to get vloggers using clips from the film on their “OMG look how bad this is” highlight videos.

And it does look bad. The CGI effects are awful. I know this was made-for-TV but there’s so much pixilation in every single frame of computer-generated footage that you’ll think your television is going on the blink. It looks so out-of-focus during some of the daytime scenes and the amount of fuzz that fills the screen is nobody’s business – this is a grey film and the filter goes into overdrive, meaning the screen is devoid of energy and life. The sharks look like every other single The Asylum / Sy Fy shark out there, which means little in the way of realism and plenty of fake grey blobs with teeth. Even the storm looks pathetic. Actors try desperately to emote in front of a green screen but there’s little the effects department can do to prevent these scenes from coming off as anything but pure comedy. Director Anthony C. Ferrante even looks to throw in some real footage of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to try and fool us into thinking that what we see is as realistic as possible. However, he utterly fails on every single count. Sharknado cost around $1m to make which is a fair price for a film made by either The Asylum or Sy Fy – but it somehow comes off looking like one of the cheapest films The Asylum or Sy Fy ever produced.

Sharknado is surprisingly boring. You’d think with all of the crazy goings-on that the film would keep the pace firmly set. But there’s a few periods of exposition and attempted character development which comes off as awkward padding to kill time between shark attacks. The script is woeful, with the series of events in the film never really meshing well. For instance, shortly after a swarm of sharks has attacked an entire beach full of people, the beach bar is still absolutely teeming with visitors who seem totally oblivious as to what happened earlier on. Even the main characters just brush it off like nothing really happened. But this happens a lot in the film, when characters are killed off or some seriously silly stuff has just happened. Also count the number of Jaws references that the script fires off. It’s a reminder that you’d be better off watching Spielberg’s all-time classic for the one millionth time than attempting to tackle Sharknado.

Finally, we come to the cast, and surprisingly I’m not going to be too harsh here. There’s not a lot anyone can do when faced with such mediocrity – Pacino and De Niro would struggle to get a rise out of the script. So, it’s probably for the best that a load of lesser known C-actors fill the main roles. You’ll recognise John Heard as the dad from Home Alone. Tara Reid looks a million miles away from her breakthrough years in the American Pie films but is surprisingly not the worst thing about the film. Cassie Scerbo does little but dart around in a bikini for the duration of the film (I’m not complaining as she’s literally the only thing worth looking at in the entire film) and former US soap opera star Ian Ziering plays everything as straight and serious as possible – it’s almost as if the in-joke completely passed him by.

 

A truly woeful film which pretends that its irony was pre-meditated creative genius, Sharknado is even worse than the usually-dreadful Sy Fy nonsense that it continually spews out. Don’t be fooled by the hype, Sharknado is one of the worst films you’ll never see – a film so desperate to become a cult classic that its embarrassing.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crazies, The (2010)

The Crazies (2010)

Welcome to Ogden Marsh, the friendliest place on earth

Ogden Marsh is a small town in Iowa which is suddenly plagued by a series of spontaneously brutal acts of violence committed by its residents. A mysterious toxin has contaminated their water supply and with the infection spreading, the military is drafted in to quarantine the town. A band of survivors must escape through the area of the epidemic, dodging both the crazy infected residents and the trigger-happy military.

 

The original The Crazies was one of George A. Romero’s first post-Night of the Living Dead films and it shows with the similarities between the two – raw films both in the sense of the style in which they were made but with the social commentary that Romero was exploring with them. Despite the Romero connection, the original The Crazies is little known and rarely mentioned outside of the genre, so this makes it perfect material for a 21st century update.

However, this remake bears more similarity to Zack Synder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead than it does the original The Crazies – a more polished and refined effort which stays true to the original but isn’t afraid to throw a curveballs and sucker punches along the way. Whilst lacking in the hard-hitting social commentary of the original, The Crazies ramps up the shocks, the violence and the sheer scale of Romero’s 1973 film. It’s not fresh material in any stretch of the imagination – one whiff of the nightmarish quarantine scenario will have you thinking about everything from 28 Days Later to TV series Fear the Walking Dead – but it’s delivered in a way that makes it appear to be the first time you’re ever seen it on the screen.

Part of this is down to the transformation of the infected citizens from being merely crazy people using weapons to what appear to be slightly more intelligent zombies. With this transformation comes along a whole host of familiar zombie tropes – the quick collapse of law and order when the problem starts, main characters slowly turning into zombies and hiding it from others, groups of armed vigilantes hunting down the infected rather than the military, etc. As I’ve said, The Crazies is not exactly original but the way in which these common tropes are delivered is successful. With the infected being able to think rationally and use weapons, it adds a new element of danger to the film.

The Crazies is effective in staging some tense set pieces thanks to the energetic screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright which keeps the narrative straightforward and moves with pace from one predicament to the next with ease. In one, a woman strapped to a gurney is forced to watch as one of the infected slowly works his way through the rest of the helpless ward with a pitchfork. Another one involves the same woman being tied up in a chair, with a loaded gun pointed at her head whilst her husband is getting strangled to death right in front of her. There’s also a great scene involving a car wash which keeps the excitement flowing and the odds stacked. Rarely does the film become bogged down with exposition, though a couple of scenes are thrown in purely to explain everything that is going on and despite the constant situations the survivors seem to stumble from, it never gets repetitive.

The Crazies is not afraid to pull punches either, as the indiscriminate shooting and immediate torching of potentially infected victims shows. The violence is punctuating and visceral when it happens, yet the film isn’t as gory as you’d expect it to be. The nature of the aggression on screen is enough to disturb the viewer and so the need for graphic blood and guts isn’t there. But don’t expect to get through unscathed – there are plenty of sudden surprises and some jumpy moments which come out of nowhere. As always with the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre, it’s the earlier scenes of the outbreak slowly taking over and the citizens realising what they’re up against that are the scariest, with the later scenes providing the bulk of the action as things get out of control.

I’ve already mentioned the script and how this keeps things pacey and exciting but also worth mentioning is the characters it develops. They’re likeable and realistic enough to root for and get behind. Timothy Olyphant is more used to playing more unhinged characters but he’s great as the straight-up hero in this one as the local sheriff forced to take matters into his own hands to protect those he loves. Radha Mitchell does what she can as his pregnant wife, but the role is clearly designed to put her in peril due to the pregnancy. It’s Jon Anderson as the increasingly-paranoid deputy who Olyphant is most able to fire off and the two share a decent chemistry which nicely conveys the relationship the two colleagues have apparently built, adding some emotional impact later in the film when tensions between characters begin to appear. Not having too many main characters to focus on gives the ones you get plenty of room to breathe, making the events that happen all the more believable.

 

The Crazies is a lot darker and more depressing than the 70s original, improving upon pretty much every aspect of Romero’s vision to deliver a quality remake which is definitely worth watching. There is too much of a reliance on jump scares and the film does attach itself to the zombie sub-genre a little too much for comfort, but these are nit-picks – The Crazies is a slick, effective shock machine.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort (2014)

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resoirt (2014)

The family needs new blood

A sudden inheritance brings Danny and a group of his friends to Hobb Springs, a forgotten hotel and spa resort in the middle of nowhere. Here, Danny hopes to find more about the long-lost family he has never known. But what he doesn’t know is that an off-shoot of his family are deformed cannibals and the lure of fresh meat is too hard for them to resist when Danny and his friends set off to explore the hotel and surroundings.

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is another sequel/prequel to the surprisingly long-running Wrong Turn horror franchise. When I say surprisingly, I mean who would have thought that some mildly entertaining The Hills Have Eyes-style flick back in 2003 would become one of the longest surviving horror series of recent years? I can only really think of Saw with nine films and Lake Placid with six films that come anywhere close (and by this, I mean franchises that had their original film released after 2000 – I know stuff like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still on the go with reboots, remakes, etc.). But what we have now with the Wrong Turn series is exactly the same thing that happened with the Hellraiser series – it has become a series of totally unrelated or tenuously-linked films featuring deformed cannibal families, each of which are becoming increasingly poor and desperate for fresh ideas.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is not the worst in the series, but it tries desperately to claim that mantle. Five minutes of this sequel is all you need to know about what you’re getting yourself in for here – boobs and blood. A further five minutes or so and there’s hints of incest, which is a big theme in the film (and it becomes more than a hint later on). Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is literally a film which has been stripped down to the genre bone and expects its audience to content themselves on the offerings we’re given. I didn’t even try to comprehend the whole inbred family tree plot that the film paints a picture of – some family look and act normal, others end up like the three deformed killers. Nor do I buy the fact that someone brought up in the ‘civilised’ world could, within the space of a few days, turn against his good friends and want to join up with the cannibal family he never knew he had. It is an interesting development but one which was weakly built-up and came out of nowhere.

There’s not much else to the story barring that – Danny’s friends get little development outside of usual stereotyping and are easy pickings for the cannibals. Given we don’t care in the slightest about any of them, they’re literally human fodder and so you’re just waiting to see how quickly and brutally they get taken out. There isn’t a much reliance on the stupid CGI gore as some of the earlier films relied on. The kills are generally done with old school effects – a nasty incident involving a barbed wire trap and subsequent beheading look good. The three deformed cannibals are little more than noisy henchmen here, popping up every now and then when they’re needed to further the plot with a kill. The make-up looks like little more than glued-on Halloween masks nowadays and has fallen a long way since the grotesque mountain men from the original film. Instead, the film focuses on the ‘normal’ brother and sister pair who run the hotel and keep the deformed brothers out of the way. In doing this, the film loses plenty of its novelty value as, just like in the last film with Clive Bradley’s Maynard character, the soliloquising human villains are less appealing than a bunch of grunting inbred mountain men who can’t be reasoned with. The simplicity of their brutality was something to behold – now there’s all sorts of plot threads and back story thrown in to the mix.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is the raunchiest of all of the films so far and its obvious that director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward are resorting to copious amounts of sex and nudity to keep the predominantly-male audience interested in the film. Every female in the cast removes her clothes at some point (not counting the old lady who dies!) and are involved in a sex scene of some kind, sometimes more than once. Whilst they’re all attractive ladies, its blatant sexualisation and sits uncomfortably with the incest narrative that the film peddles from the beginning. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort does peel itself back to the basics of the genre a little too much at times and the frequent nudity becomes a distraction. I mean, who in their right mind decides to have sex in a grotty, delipidated and abandoned part of a hotel? There are hundreds of comfy rooms available, including the one where they’re staying!

 

With a new director comes new ideas and a new direction for the series (let’s face it, they haven’t finished milking the cow yet) and whether you like the route it’s taking or not, at least it’s an improvement over a few of the previous films. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort will appeal to die-hards only.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abominable Snowman (2013)

Deadly Descent (2013)

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Colony, The (2013)

The Colony (2013)

When the earth froze, the rules of survival changed forever.

By the year 2045, humanity has been forced to live in huge underground bunkers, known as Colonies, due to the onset of a new harsh Ice Age which wiped out the bulk of the world’s population. The survivors face troubles controlling disease and food supplies – anyone with so much as a cough is placed into quarantine after a bout of flu could decimate a colony. After receiving a distress call from Colony 5, a group from Colony 7 make the perilous trek to the colony to establish what happened. There, they discover that the colony received a message from another group of people who claim to have fixed a weather machine and have started thawing the snow. The team return to Colony 5, without realising that a group of hungry cannibals have followed their tracks and now lay siege to the bunker.

 

In many respects, The Colony reminded me a lot of 30 Days of Night – both films featuring decent build-ups in desolate, snowy landscapes and then both falling apart reasonably quickly once the main threat has been established. Fortunately for 30 Days of Night, the film was at least gory and not afraid to splash the blood. The Colony starts out with great promise but fizzles out with a juddering tonal shift when they cross the cannibals. There was a vision here for something a bit grander in scale, but the low budget keeps the impressive ideas in the development phase, rendering the film rather generic and tame.

The post-apocalyptic future is well-presented here within the first fifteen minutes, with the eternal snowy landscapes invoking thoughts of The Thing and its harsh Antarctic isolation, and the underground bunkers and ramshackle way of life being very similar to something you’d find in The Walking Dead. The CGI used for the outdoor scenes is pretty impressive, albeit aided by the fact that the majority of the green screen is filled up with snowstorms. Scenes of the team crossing a frozen bridge provide the effects department with some excellent opportunities to showcase the reality of the situation the characters find themselves in. They have a very ‘Game of Thrones north-of-the-Wall’ type of atmosphere of constant biting cold and overriding evil dread just around the corner. It also helps that the production team were allowed access to a decommissioned NORAD facility in Canada, giving the colonies themselves a far greater sense of realism than the budget would otherwise have allowed. We get a glimpse into the lives that the survivors of this new ice age have had to adapt to, both is only a glimpse and we never become fully immersed into this futuristic setting before the film shifts gears.

The limited creative juices are quick to run out when the film moves into more traditional sci-fi horror territory. The team reach Colony 5, discover just what happened and then make a hasty retreat before things get too hairy. There’s some effective atmosphere as the team search around the now-abandoned colony but once the gang of cannibals make their presence felt, the film doesn’t know what direction to go in. There must be something about gangs of these mutants/cannibals/vampires and their leaders who growl, snarl and scream loudly every time the camera goes on them in films like this – Ghosts of Mars and 30 Days of Night being two of the biggest offenders. The cannibals are simply faceless villains, able-bodied minions designed to be thrown into a number of generic action sequences where the heroes shoot, scrap and struggle to survive. If you’ve seen them or any other ‘under siege’ style horror flick, then you’ll be in familiar territory in the second half of the film, where a bunch of the thinly-developed survivors are killed off, as well as a few extras who were loitering in the background the majority of the time. The problem here is that it’s not gory or violent enough for hardened horror veterans who no doubt will be making up the majority of the paying audience. There’s a big build-up but as soon as the cannibals start to attack Colony 7, it’s all very anti-climactic. The running time of ninety-five minutes doesn’t drag but considering how much time is spent building up the cannibal threat and the trip to and from Colony 5, you’d expect there to be more punch when it matters. The ending smacks of being rushed at the last minute – “You’ve got a minute of screen time left to round up the narrative” springs to mind.

Heavyweights Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton star as the feuding leaders of Colony 7 but both are woefully underused. Paxton fares the better out of the two and the film is more powerful during the opening third when they share plenty of screen time, stares and solemn speeches about how best to survive. In fact, with the murkiness of the corridors, the frenzied action scenes and Paxton looking increasingly worried, Aliens sprung to mind – The Colony plays out too seriously for self-awareness, but I’d have loved some throwaway line referencing one of Pvt. Hudson’s classic lines. Kevin Zegers has to carry the film for the most part and does alright, though his bland vanilla hero could have been played by any young male actor.

 

I’m not sure whether this was geared towards a sequel, with the ending being a little open-ended but The Colony would have made for a better mini-series than a full-blown feature. There are enough decent ideas floating around the production values belay the limited budget, its just that it falters badly right when it needs to be kicking into gear. A fair timewaster at best but don’t expect to be blown away by anything on offer.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆