Tag 2010s

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Stronger. Wiser. Deadlier.

Brilliant billionaire Carl Durant has been experimenting on making bull shark more intelligent in his high-tech ocean research facility but is unsure as to why the main test shark is behaving so erratically. He drafts in a team of scientists to help him finish his experiments but shortly after they arrive, the super-intelligent sharks create an emergency which begins to destabilise the facility and it starts to flood. The survivors must then try to escape from the flooding facility whilst dealing with the sharks who have found a way to get inside.

 

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the original Deep Blue Sea is a guilty pleasure. It’s got obvious faults but director Renny Harlin doesn’t dwell on them, opting to sail ahead at full steam and deliver thrills and spills at a regular pace and with a fair amount of suspense. LL Cool J tossing a lighter at a gas-filled room to blow up a shark. Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous out-of-the-blue death scene. Some impressive animatronic sharks. There’s a lot to love and it seems that people agreed, becoming a moderate success in the cinema. Now, nineteen years later (Why 2018? Oh yeah – the cinematic release of The Meg might have something to do with someone wanting to cash in on another killer shark bonanza) along comes a sequel that no one asked for and featuring none of the people behind the camera or any of survivors from in front of it.

Quite simply summed up, Deep Blue Sea 2 is a tragic, lower budgeted remake of the original, despite the ‘2’ in the title. It virtually follows the same story: a group of scientists on board a multi-million-dollar oceanic facility have been experimenting on sharks and making them super-intelligent (this time bulls instead of makos) when something goes wrong and the facility begins to flood. There’s a whole swathe of identikit characters, just this time portrayed by lesser-known actors. And a lot of the same set pieces are used, with lesser results. It just begs the question of why – surely the writers could have come up with something a little bit different?

In ripping off so much of the original, Deep Blue Sea 2 completely does away with any potential suspense it may have during certain scenes which have been directly copied. The audience is aware of where the sequence is heading, and this kills off any surprise. Only on occasion, does the script veer off and throw a curve ball to the audience – false set-ups including the shark in the plunge pool, one character attempting to make a swim to safety and an admittedly-decent jolt in the finale are too few and far between. This is where the script works best, taking the elements of the original that the audience would be familiar with and trying to keep them guessing. Let’s face it, most of the audience watching this will have seen the original so it was important to keep the surprises coming.

Surprises coming is the least of your worries with Deep Blue Sea 2 as it commits one of the biggest crimes known to a film – it’s boring. The pace is slow, there’s too much exposition at the beginning with little end product, and even when the facility begins to flood, there’s still too much eulogising and arguing amongst the characters who clearly seem less concerned with the fact that they’re trapped in a sinking structure and more about the villain’s intentions. Get out, then argue! The sharks kind of take a back seat for a large chunk of the film, particularly the first half, and whilst I can understand this from a budget point-of-view, it makes for dull viewing. Things do pick up somewhat in the second half but as I’ve already stated, too few surprises and too much familiarity stop this from ever gathering any steam whatsoever.

There is something a plot spoiler coming up so if you don’t what to know what it is, read on from the next paragraph. One of my major gripes here is with the serious lack of shark action. Deep Blue Sea 2 ends up coming off more like Piranha from the second act as it’s revealed that the big momma shark, Bella, has given birth to a whole brood of baby sharks who like to attack in a pack fashion akin to a shoal of piranha fish. So, whilst you’d be expecting a lot of the film to feature the big grown-up sharks, it’s the babies who are front and centre. This is highly convenient as they’re small enough to swim along in the flooded corridors without being seen, saving the need for expensive special effects shots of a bigger shark swimming along with some cheap bubbling water effects.

The Thomas Jane ‘shark wrangler ´role from the original is this time played by Rob Mayes, in a clear case of downsizing if ever I saw it. Michael Beach, as the billionaire Durant, is probably the only one who makes any sort of impression from the cast but that’s purely down to the ‘How long are we going to have put up with this guy spewing nonsense about some Terminator-style doomsday scenario before he gets eaten?’ There’s even room for the lead actress to get down to her underwear much like Saffron Burrows did in the original. Not content with the camera lingering over her whilst she undresses (the scene is literally her undressing, no one else there, no dialogue, etc), actress Danielle Savre then spends the rest of the film in a cleavage-revealing wet suit. She’s easy on the eyes but in an age of the #MeToo movement, to see such blatant exploitation is a little uncomfortable. And those wasted few minutes of ogling could quite easily have been devoted to more shark action.

Speaking of which, you’ll notice I haven’t really talked about the sharks much. That’s because there’s not a lot to really talk about. They don’t as much as you’d expect or hope, the little ones are hardly seen at all and the big ones look terrible whenever they have to do something. The gore is CGI and also looks terrible. For a film with such a ‘pedigree’ legacy as this, you’d expect special effects which are above par with the usual Sy Fy/Asylum dross.

 

Deep Blue Sea 2 is marginally better than the usual ridiculous killer shark stuff floating around over the past couple of years (Zombie Shark, Toxic Shark, Ghost Shark…) but it’s a sad waste of a licence which could have continued to make some serious money had Warner been more committed to a sequel. If you’re going to waste ninety-minutes, just re-watch the original!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

The giant, man-eating graboids are back and even deadlier.

The giant, man-eating Graboids are back and even deadlier than before, terrorizing the inhabitants of a South African wildlife reserve as they attack from below-and above. Only one man is capable of handling this threat: veteran Graboid hunter Burt Gummer. He has been struggling to make ends meet with his own online survivalist show but things go from bad to worse when his cameraman quits, leaving Burt really out on a limb. The arrival of Travis Welker, a brash upstart who performs stunts on his dirt bike, coincides with the arrival of a delegation from South Africa, who have come to Perfection to ask for Gummer’s help in dealing with the Graboids. After Travis secures some funding, the two men head off to South Africa. Having his weapons seized in customs, Gummer has to rely on his wits and new ways of killing the Graboid threat.

 

If there’s one thing to be said about Tremors 5: Bloodlines is that it’s infinitely better than the last two films and nearly as good as the underrated Tremors 2: Aftershocks. Eleven years have passed since the giant worm-like monsters did any damage on the screen and now they’re back trying to breath some new life into a franchise many had thought had finally been buried underground. Ditching Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, the writers of the original who had been involved with every incarnation of the franchise to date seemed like a bad move. Whilst the sequels clearly suffered from diminishing returns, at least Maddock and Wilson kept a sense of humour going and wanted to preserve their legacy by reinventing the Graboids in every film (well, as best they can in making sequel-after-sequel). The worry with new owners of a franchise is that they turn it into a cash-cow and sell any trashy new film on brand name alone (Hellraiser: Revelations springs to mind).

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The key thing that Tremors 5: Bloodlines seems to inject back into the series is energy. Only the original was truly ‘scary’ in that it had some great moments of tension and a couple of boo scares amidst the comedy and silliness. But these only worked because of the good-natured fun and energy that the film showcased. The first sequel did a good job of replicating this energy but the third and fourth films were almost devoid of it, going through the Graboid motions with repetitive boredom. There is a clear link here with my next point.

Somewhere during Tremors 2: Aftershocks, it became obvious that Michael Gross’ gun-nut character was going to be the major player in the franchise and after Fred Ward bailed out, Gross become the series’ focal point. Well, he was a lot cheaper than Bacon and Ward and clearly needed the money more. Whilst Gross’ character was an awesome supporting player in the original, was he worthy enough of becoming a bigger character in the sequels? His lack of a good ‘wingman’ to bounce off became obvious in the previous films and Gross’ character became sillier and crazier to counteract the lack of a solid counterpart. Jamie Kennedy is the person who is going to surprise audiences in this, pulling out all the stops as the new sidekick. Rather than overplaying the comedy aspects (like the new comedy sidekicks in the previous films), Kennedy relies on the smart script to deliver some knock-out comedy punches. He can outstay his welcome at times but the pairing of him and Gross is easily the best one since Bacon and Ward in the original. The two men inject as much energy as they can into the film and it’s all the better for it.

Whilst the acting has never been the weakest point of the series, mainly thanks to Gross, it’s the monsters and special effects which have suffered greatly in the days of reduced straight-to-video budgets and the sub-standard CGI and relative lack of models and miniatures in the last few films have given the Graboids a real feeling of being second-string monsters nowadays. Thankfully Tremors 5: Bloodlines bucks the trend significantly, bringing the Graboids back to blistering form. Granted the CGI isn’t perfect and still a long way from the realistic animatronics of the original, but it’s not in your face and overblown, lending itself to a number of decent set pieces involving slow-motion flying Graboids. Tremors 5: Bloodlines still doesn’t have a knock-out action sequence though and a lot of the on-screen carnage is fairly unremarkable and generic. Despite moving the location to Africa, this novelty factor adds little to the monster dynamic which has remained relatively consistent over the past twenty-five years. It’s been about Burt versus the monsters and nothing has changed in that respect, only the ways in which he dispatches them.

 

Tremors 5: Bloodlines is a solid entry into the long-running monster series which really kicks some life back into the franchise and gives viewers the clearest indication that it isn’t finished yet. When you think of it another way, this is the fourth sequel in a franchise which has been rooted in straight-to-video hell for the best part of twenty years – what are you seriously expecting from it? It’s fun whilst it’s lasts and is a step up from the past few sequels.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Something bat-winged and bloodthirsty has arrived in Kansas…

Teenager Joan is constantly being let down by her workaholic father so, to make things up to her, he buys her a cute pet monkey which has been illegally smuggled into the country from China. However, it turns out that the monkey is one of only two remaining Xsigo monkeys, mythical monsters which were used by the emperor to kill everyone.  Upon nightfall, the monkey transforms into a horrific winged creature, killing everything in its path. Furthermore, it can’t be killed by conventional weapons and killing the monkey any other way causes it to multiply. It isn’t long before there are dozens of the monkeys terrorising the town in which Joan lives.

 

As soon as I saw the title for this one, I immediately thought of The Wizard of Oz. Surely that’s where Sy Fy got the idea for this ridiculous creature feature? Couple that with the underlying plot for Gremlins and you have Sy Fy’s most ‘original’ monster idea for some time – well it beats a mutated killer shark or giant crocodile flick! Just the thought of how Sy Fy would try and turn monkeys into insatiable killing machines with a thirst for blood was enough to pique my interest. Whilst they went with a fairly simple approach, rather than some genetically-engineered Frankenstein creations, it would at least be something different. And this is the key to Flying Monkeys – for all of the usual Sy Fy tropes present, it at least feels different.

The narrative runs like clockwork, with the monsters being introduced early on in a seemingly-unrelated scene which will be bridged into later, before we meet our main characters. The film introduces a typical dysfunctional father-daughter relationship at the beginning – what is the betting that a life-threatening confrontation with flying monkeys will repair this damaged dynamic by the film’s resolution? Yawn. It isn’t long before the pair get possession of the monkey and not long after that when the first transformation occurs. Flying Monkeys sets up as much character development as is needed before unleashing the monsters.

Once you get over the fact that you’re going to see lots of badly animated flying monkeys, then the film isn’t so bad – the fact the monkeys only turn into these killing machines at night at least allows a lot of the poor CGI to be masked by the dark. The flying monkeys are quite aggressive and do a lot of damage, much of which is not shown, only the bloody aftermath. There’s also a flying monkey Predator-like vision shot which is used to show when the monkeys are zooming in on a target. Yeah, it’s every bit as daft as it sounds. The real monkey used for the daytime scenes is pretty adorable, though I still wouldn’t like to have one as a pet. The nice Gremlins-like twist about them multiplying if attacked by conventional weapons poses a nice problem to the trigger-happy townspeople and gives the monsters a dangerous pack-like mentality. They get reasonably well-fed throughout and are given enough to do to make them appear a serious threat.

To make the mythology of the monkeys seem legit, the film parachutes in two Chinese demon hunters who have weapons to kill the monsters and have been hunting them down for years. They serve little purpose other than to pad out the running time with some footage of them hunting the monkeys in China before arriving in the States to assist. But this is an American-made TV-movie so the teenage lead must be the one to sort out the problem, not the experienced experts, and their purpose is null and void (well the body count needs victims).

Maika Monroe and Vincent Ventresca star as the daughter and father and both are ok in their roles – let’s face it, you could cast the best actors in Hollywood in something like this, yet the weak, rehashed scripts won’t give them anything to work with. Ventresca has starred in a couple of previous Sy Fy outings (Larva and Mammoth) which were both ‘different’ to the norm so at least he appears to choose his crazy monster outings a little more carefully than some of the other Sy Fy regulars.

 

Flying Monkeys isn’t going to blow anyone away, and quite frankly it’s so generic that it’s hard to remember much about it shortly afterwards, but the fact that Sy Sy actually tried something a little different makes it stand out a mile away. Maybe because my expectations of Sy Fy have fallen that low that a film like Flying Monkeys can appear greater than it clearer is, is not a good sign.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shallows, The (2016)

The Shallows (2016)

Not just another day at the beach.

Whilst surfing at a remote beach, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark. Unable to make the 200 yards back to shore, she finds herself trapped upon an outcrop of rocks in the middle of the bay. Whilst she is safe for now, the incoming tide will soon render her defenceless against the mercy of the shark.

 

It’s about time there was a more sensible approach to a killer shark film than Sy Fy and The Asylum have been using over the last few years with their never-ending supply of madcap mutated sharks with five heads, spewing toxic waste or simply being ghosts. I had been wishing for a return to normality and a return to the days when a killer shark film was actually scary and not stupidly juvenile. Thankfully, that day has come with The Shallows, a film which takes its cue from more realistic survivalist films like Open Water and 127 Hours and is far the better for it.

There’s not a whole lot of story involved in The Shallows, which keeps things nice and simple, and the focus on the situation at hand. However, it does take a while to get going as Nancy’s character is fleshed out a little. This is essential as the audience is going to spend the entire duration alongside her and so the better she’s developed, the more we’ll come to root for her. Blake Lively can act and manages to hold the film together on her own. She’s literally the only real character on show and hardly interacts with anyone else. The way she acts with her body, her facial expressions and some of her sound as she struggles through her ordeal speaks louder than any dialogue does. The pain, the stress, the exhaustion and the emotional torment that her character must endure is conveyed through non-verbal communication and it’s an impressive display. It doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly attractive and looks amazing in a bikini, something which the camera does play on a fair bit.

Like a lot of these survival films where one character is rooted to a specific location, The Shallows needs to find new ways to keep the character in peril. After all, if she just sat and waited on the rocks for as long as possible, there wouldn’t really be much of a narrative to follow, would there? Right up until the finale, the script does a decent job of providing these new challenges, be it Nancy stitching up a wound on her leg, trying to reach a buoy or finding a way to climb aboard a dead whale carcass. Every new scenario poses new problems, and with the shark ever present there is constant sense of danger. Given that she’s the only real character, there’s a fair chance that she survives and so each of these different challenges, whilst difficult for her, amount to little more than extra pain and suffering rather than instant death. It does kind of take you out of the film from time to time, particularly towards the finale.

Her co-star, if you can call it that, is the killer shark. There’s no question that any killer shark in any film released post-1975 is immediately compared to the classic shark from Jaws. Most have failed to improve upon Bruce’s shock value the first time you fully see the shark, but some have tried. The shark here itself is a mixed bag of CGI. The best scenes of it are the brief but violent attacks it mounts when it breaches the surface – here, the shark looks scary. Particularly effective is the jaw and gum motion that great white sharks have when they bite, which is something pretty much all films featuring killer sharks have failed to replicate. There are some truly awesome shots of the shark which don’t involve a full body shot – the eerie shot of its silhouette gliding through the crest of a wave towards Nancy is not only chillingly realistic but reminiscent of some real-life photographs taken on an Australian beach a few years back involving a surfer and a shark hiding in the wave. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. The scenes of the shark swimming underwater, particularly during the finale, are less impressive. This is where CGI still needs to improve and become more realistic. I’d argue that the shark here is one of the most impressive put to film, third behind Bruce himself and the animatronic mako shark from Deep Blue Sea (that thing is magnificent). The fact you don’t see as much of it as you’d expect is a bonus.

If there is a problem with The Shallows, it’s in the final. The writers do such a good job in keeping things fresh that they seem to have written themselves into a box – how do you keep the same tone and low-key approach amidst a finale which, by the letter of the law in today’s movies, must be bigger and louder than everything else that has preceded it? The script resorts to cheap Hollywood tactics to increase the excitement and add in more high-octane action sequences which don’t exactly fit in well with the rest of the film and, to be honest, ruin the film.

 

The Shallows goes back to basics with it’s material and works well for the majority of it’s running time, using well-crafted set pieces and a sharp script to keep the main character in peril and the audience on the edge of their seat, effectively making the viewer scared of venturing back into water too deep. That’s a compliment too few films since 1975 have managed to attain.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

The park is open

Despite the problems with the original Jurassic Park, the late John Hammond’s dream of an interactive dinosaur theme park has finally been brought to life. Running for over ten years, Jurassic World had been drawing in crowds from around the world with its thrilling exhibits but attendances have been slipping as the dinosaurs no longer provide the same excitement. Desperate to boost flagging numbers, the genetics team decide to create their own dinosaur using a mixture of DNA from other popular dinosaurs. The result, the Indominus Rex, is a bigger and badder alpha predator which looks every bit the crowd-puller for when it would eventually go on display. But when the dinosaur escapes from its pen, it heads straight towards the tourist areas, devouring everything in its path.

 

The last Jurassic Park film from the original run, Jurassic Park III, came out in 2001, yet the franchise never really died a death. Rumours were abound for years about a muted fourth sequel and every other month it seemed that a new director, cast or script was floating around. Finally fourteen years later, Jurassic World emerges from its embryonic state to unleash more dinosaur carnage upon the world. Would cinema audiences still have the same affection for big-budget dinosaur films when, in the years since 1993’s Jurassic Park, there have been hundreds of CGI monsters ranging from Godzilla to King Kong?

The original was a ground-breaking motion picture, one of the first films I can remember going to see in the cinema, and one that certainly changed the way studios looked at special effects. Spielberg’s classic still has the raw ability to mesmerise and wow audiences, particularly that awe-inspiring first T-Rex attack which is a masterfully-staged scene. The two sequels provided ample thrills and I don’t mind either of them to be honest – they both get far more bad rep than they deserve. However, if there is an overriding problem with the Jurassic Park films is that the central idea – that of dinosaurs escaping captivity – is rather limited in scope. People have to get onto the island and become trapped. The dinosaurs have to escape. That’s about it. Jurassic World sadly offers little alternative to that premise, rehashing the same story again. You’d think that these dino-experts would learn from their past mistakes!

Jurassic World reboots and remakes the original in equal measure. You’ll lose count of the number of nods to the original and some of the scenes are just flat-out lifted from it. At the same time, the film tries to establish its own presence in an attempt to build a platform for future sequels. The most interesting concept here is seeing how the grand vision of ‘Jurassic Park’ has finally been brought to life after the testing phase in the original. Watching the park burst with vitality as hordes of energetic kids rush from one attraction to the next, seeing Sea World-like exhibitions entertaining scores of tourists, going ‘aww’ at the petting zoos (only instead of goats and lambs they are baby dinosaurs) and laughing at merchandise stands going overkill with the novelty tat really hammers home the original intentions of John Hammond and the gang of suits sponsoring his plans in the first one. With CGI coming on in leaps and bounds since 1993, the actual park can be brought to life in this fashion and it’s to the film’s credit that you really can believe this is a fully-functional theme park. There are loads of nice touches, right down to the teenage slacker who works on one of the rides who really couldn’t care less about his job. These sequences really build upon and expand the original’s ideas, something the previous two sequels should have done.

Quickly moving on from this sickly Disney World-esque utopian theme park, Jurassic World gets down to the usual business of having the dinosaurs escape. Let’s face it, we don’t want to see baby dinosaurs hatching from eggs or being fed in a zoo – we want to see the big meat eaters causing havoc. Over twenty-two years since the original came out (saying that makes me feel really old) and it seems as though the dinosaur special effects haven’t got any better. The T-Rex in the original is still one of the most impressive movie monsters of all time. Ironically, like the notion that the theme park is struggling to keep people hooked due to its inability to impress them anymore, the film suffers from the same fate. T-Rexs weren’t good enough to keep people flocking back and so bigger and nastier dinosaurs were introduced – the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III and now the Indominus Rex. The Indominus might be gigantic compared to the T-Rex but it’s just another computer-generated dinosaur with little personality and character – something you might see in one of The Asylum’s overblown ‘mockbusters.’ Perhaps it’s the reliance on CGI to bring to life not only the dinosaurs but the surrounding landscapes and scenery which takes me out of the new special effects sequences. There’s nothing to immerse the audience anymore – look at how masterfully Spielberg crafted the T-Rex attack scene in the first film, shot outdoors with rain, effective lighting and mixture of animatronic models and post-production CGI. I’d kill for something half as exciting and engaging nowadays. Jurassic World has plenty of big, loud action set pieces but there’s just nothing you wouldn’t see playing a video game version. For such a landmark film series which raised the benchmark for special effects in 1993, Jurassic World falls back upon the terrible 21st Century Hollywood ‘bigger is better’ mantra which is destroying the summer blockbuster like never before.

Despite seemingly being everywhere right now, Chris Pratt does make for a likeable and charismatic lead man. This is the kind of role he’s beginning to do his sleep and Pratt adds a nice mix of action and humour in what is essentially a token hero role. Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty appalling in her role, though through a terrible script rather than any fault of her own. Throw in more stereotypes like the angry head of security or the Asian park owner, and couple that with two wholly uninteresting and annoying child characters, and you have one of Jurassic World’s main weaknesses. The characters are subject to all of these horrific situations, but you never really once care for their safety or well-being.

 

Jurassic World’s multi-million-dollar approach lacks the darker touch that Spielberg brought to the table and with it, an air of underlying menace to make the dinosaurs actually scary and the film thrilling. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me thinking that I’ve seen this all before somewhere – I bet if I was twelve-year old again I’d fall in love with the film like I did with the original. Jurassic World isn’t a terrible film but it won’t exactly do to Hollywood what the original did back in 1993 – if anything, it is more a sad product of the current blockbuster system than it is a pioneering force for change.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Toxic Shark (2017)

Toxic Shark (2017)

This vacation really bites

A tropical singles retreat takes a terrifying turn when guests realize a poisonous shark is infesting the surrounding water. Not only will it rip apart its victims, but it also uses projectile acid to hunt – in and out of the water.

 

I’m pretty sure someone is just sat wading through the dictionary, looking for random words to stick in front of the word ‘shark’ and then sell the ensuing title to The Asylum or Sy Fy to then turn into their latest killer shark flick. Toxic Shark is the next one on my watchlist, following hot on the heels of Ice Sharks, Ghost Shark, Swamp Shark, Avalanche Sharks, Sand Sharks, Dinoshark, Jurassic Shark …. need I go on? Oh wait, at the time of writing this review I’ve also got Zombie Shark and Atomic Shark still in reserve.

Now let me try it. Five random words to stick in front of the word ‘shark’ to come up with the latest and greatest killer shark extravaganza:

Doctor Shark – the shark heals you before it eats you. Or it doubles up as a cardiovascular surgeon during the winter months.

Perpendicular Shark – the novelty of this shark is that it can only swim vertical pointing to the zenith at right angles to the plane of the horizon extending in a right line from any point toward the centre of the earth (I have no idea what that means, just copied it from the dictionary!)

Epilepsy Shark – the sight of the shark makes swimmers have an epileptic fit, incapacitating them in the sea so the shark can eat them easier.

Melancholy Shark – the shark eats people to try and make itself feel better.

Discriminatory Shark – the shark only eats people of a certain colour/age/gender/religion.

I think I’m getting the hang of this lark. Let’s face it, the majority of the films above are so carbon copy that it takes a unique selling point like some extra special superhero power in order to make the films relevant. Take the ‘toxic’ element out of this one and you have yet another routine killer shark flick, which rehashes every single cliché of this woeful sub-genre. The shark roars. The shark swims very quickly. The shark acrobatically leaps out of the water on a number of occasions to attack people standing on beaches or boats. There’s no sense of threat or suspense, not considering the giant shark can seemingly sneak up on people in shallow water without even a ripple or wave. Non-characters are introduced into a scene only seconds before being eaten. Even some of the main characters get rarely anything more than a few token nods to their personality before they’re killed off. Everything gets resolved fairly easily because humans in these films, particularly teenagers, all turn into shark-hunting specialists when faced with an immense threat like this.

The added ‘bonus’ factor in Toxic Shark is that when humans are exposed to the shark’s toxic spray, they eventually turn into some sort of half-assed zombies. That’s it. The token novelty value to separate this shark from one with two heads, ones that can swim through sand or ones that are ghosts. Swap these novelty skills around between the specific films and you’d barely notice the difference in the narrative. So if you’ve read any reviews for some of Sy Fy’s previous shark films, then go back and re-read them as I’m done wasting my time!

 

These shark films are so ridiculously played out that Sy Fy really need to give it a rest – there are so many other creatures out there that they could turn into killers yet continue to churn out literally the same abominable dreck time after time. Toxic Shark isn’t the bottom of the barrel, but its about as low as you can get before you really start to scratch the wood.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Sharks (2016)

Ice Sharks (2016)

Just when you thought it was safe in the Arctic

A team of scientists are studying the effects of climate change on marine life at a research station deep in the Arctic. Responding to reports of missing hunters in the area, the scientists discover that a new breed of aggressive, ravenous Greenland sharks have begun to crack through the thinning frozen ocean floor of the Artic, devouring all who fall through. As the ice breaks apart and the station sinks into glacial waters, those alive must band together, and fight off the killer beasts before it’s too late.

 

OK, so I totally knew what I was getting myself in for here with a title like Ice Sharks, especially coming from an unholy alliance between The Asylum and the Sy Fy Channel. Yet another absurd killer shark flick which sticks to a bog-standard formula of having a bunch of young actors being terrorised by a group of abnormal sharks. Sharks with two/three/five heads. Sharks that live in sand. Ghost sharks. Zombie sharks. Flying sharks. You name it. This time they’re not so much abnormal, just hungrier and bigger than usual. And Greenland sharks? They’re really scraping the barrel, but I guess when great whites, makos, hammerheads, bulls, blues, goblins and tiger sharks have all had their horror outings, they need to keep working their way through the list of shark species. It’s only a matter of time before dwarf sharks are given their own Sy Fy flick.

As per usual, an ethnically-diverse group of individuals, most of whom look way too young and inexperienced to be scientists, are subject to a horrific ordeal at the hands of some breed of shark not quite like anything we’ve seen before. The science is questionable. The physics are all amiss. The improbability of the situation is just immense. Your tongue won’t just be in your cheek, it will have forced a gaping hole in the side! The worst thing is that Ice Sharks is played totally straight and at 100 miles-per-hour so you’ll not get much of a chance to sit back and take it all in until the very end. There’s practically no set-up or slow-build and the sharks start doing their thing within the first five minutes, quickly making it to the station and cutting it loose from the ice. What follows is a number of scientifically-preposterous scenes in which the characters try to escape from the sinking building and make it back to the main ice sheet. Only you won’t really care about anything that is going on because the characters are sketchy and barely register on any level of emotive response – I couldn’t even remember the names of any of them, let alone care when one of them is killed off.

I don’t think too many people will watch the film, so spoilers aren’t exactly going to end the world. But a few random musings from watching: If the ice is thin enough for a shark to break through with a fin, then why is a big building still standing in the middle? With the research station being located deep in the Arctic, how come so many people swim in the ice-cold water yet don’t suffer from immediate cold water shock? Sharks can growl? Research stations are built like submarines in the off-chance that they end up 90ft below the water? I could go on but Ice Sharks is too easy a target.

CGI sharks were the worst thing that ever happened to this sub-genre. Give me a cheap-looking rubber shark any day of the week. With CGI sharks doing their CGI thing, you need CGI backgrounds and environments for them to interact with. So the ice breaking looks terrible, the shots of the research station floating off on the ice and then sinking look terrible, and the scenes of the station sat at the bottom of the ocean with the sharks circling look terrible. At no point did I feel threatened or scared or anything when the sharks were around – they’re such anonymous monsters that I was more worried about the rising water than anything.

 

I know that they’ve actually made a low-grade sequel to Deep Blue Sea but Ice Sharks desperately tries to capture some of that same ‘sinking building under siege’ mentality with absolutely no success whatsoever. Despite all of the on-screen carnage, I was bored silly throughout and kept pausing to see how long was left – never a good sign. I know it has been a while since I subjected myself to one of these killer shark flicks but I’ve now got to try and regroup for Zombie Shark, Five-Headed Shark Attack and Planet of the Sharks. I sincerely hope things don’t get any worse…

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scream Park (2012)

Scream Park (2012)

Death is the new attraction

On the final night at Fright Land before its permanent close, the group of teen workers and their manager are killed off one-by-one by two masked killers. Unbeknownst to the group, the owner has hired the two men in order to create a media sensation and attract a new breed of ‘dark’ tourists to the park.

 

The rising trend of low budget horror films getting their big breaks via crowdfunding continues with Scream Park, a derivative throwback to 80s slasher films with a meagre budget that most likely covered Doug Bradley’s appearance fee and that’s all.

Can’t pitch your slasher film to a younger, modern horror market weaned on found footage horror and gimmicky ‘killer entity’ films (Insidious, Sinister, The Babadook etc.)? Then pander to the adult horror crowd who grew up on the home video slasher era and throw in a few nods to old school slashers. Scream Park clearly has a director/producer/writer who has seen a couple of old school slashers and thought “I could do that for a living” and tried to make their own with diminishing results. The problem is that Scream Park needed to show off some sort of creative spin on the old formula because it ends up being wholly derivative and not very good at that. There’s a reason that the sub-genre died out in the 80s and that was because it was done to death. The 90s saw a post-modern self-aware revival but that was short-lived. Since then, we’ve been getting ‘80s throwbacks’ but that doesn’t mean to say the material is any less stale than it once was. This is a cheap tactic which is designed to make us remember the glory days and play upon on our nostalgia to pretend that these modern films are better than they are. Watching Scream Park, I’m guessing the intention was to link it back to Tobe Hooper’s classic The Funhouse and have the same sort of affinity to tourist attractions. Well this fails miserably.

I’ve ranted a bit too much, unfairly aiming a lot of the sub-genre’s current problems onto this one film, so time to get more film-specific. Scream Park’s most glaring issue is that the filmmakers had a potentially great location to utilise but fail to do almost anything novel with it – the majority of the film could have been shot inside a murky barn for all the viewer knows because there’s so little done with the park itself. Only on occasions does the film attempt to showcase some of the rides and more sinister attractions of the theme park – one of the film’s highlights involves a hanging from a rollercoaster. It’s these little unique kills related to the location which Scream Park should have been championing from the very start. It’s almost a wasted opportunity.

But it’s almost a blessing to be fair because even if the theme park had been used more, the people inhabiting it would have killed off the mood. The acting here is, to put it mildly, diabolical. The actors mumble through their lines, sounding bored, lifeless and definitely without rehearsing beforehand. There’s no urgency or emotion in voices – one character’s reaction to seeing one of his co-workers brutally slain is laughably pathetic. It never helps actors when the script is as bad as it is here but that shouldn’t stop them from actually trying. Look back at some of the turkeys that horror legends like Vincent Price, John Carradine and Peter Cushing starred in and listen to some of the dialogue they had to recite – at least they put effort in to make it sound like the most dramatic thing ever!

The only person with any remote sense of talent in the acting department is Doug Bradley. He is the token genre name in the cast and he pops up far too late and with a role that is limited to a solitary scene. Bradley’s character provides the necessary exposition to explain just why the employees are all getting killed off and the speech comes slightly out of leftfield in the context of the scene. I guess we’re just meant to accept the fact that the guy proposes outright murder and the person he is speaking to just bluntly agrees. Researching more about the film, it appears that Bradley shot his scene a few months before the production commenced in order to sell the concept to get more crowdfunding – I’m sure the donators expected to see more of him than the solitary scene they had already seen!

With a soundtrack that owes a lot to Halloween and Friday the 13th, Scream Park at least gets a few brownie points for trying something a little different. It’s a pity that the dialogue comes and goes at times because the sound is generally solid throughout, adding just the right amount of tension even if some of the music is a tad overplayed. Technical issues should not be making it this far into a production which is a shame.

 

On occasion, the low budget shows but this is the least of this film’s problems. A right slog to get through, if this was a real theme park, Scream Park would deserve closing down for good. You’ve all been on bigger, better and scarier rides than this.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Pegasus Vs Chimera

Pegasus Vs Chimera (2012)

Two legendary creatures. A battle for the ages.

Evil King Orthos is desperate to unite all seven realms into one nation to claim himself the emperor, killing those who oppose him. Belleros, who saw his father killed by Orthos’ men when he was a child, joins forces with Princess Philony to stand up to the tyrant. Frustrated by his men’s efforts to track them down, Orthos allows his warlock to conjure up the Chimera, a deadly monster, to find and eliminate the remaining survivors who resist his rule. Determined to find a way to combat the Chimera, Belleros and Philony seek out a witch who summons Pegasus, the winged horse, to aid them in defeating Orthos.

 

Quite possibly the cheapest-looking film that Sy Fy have ever filmed, Pegasus Vs Chimera is woefully inept in just about every department. I mean just take a look at that directionless plot! You’ve all heard of Pegasus before, the famous winged horse that was brought to life in Greek mythology and peddled in the big screen Clash of the Titans films. Less so, you may have heard of the Chimera, another monster from Greek mythology and definitely less-friendly and more prone to killing people than its equine counterpart.

The most hilarious thing about Pegasus Vs Chimera is seeing just how seriously everyone takes it. It looks like a live-action LARPing session, where the local doctor, a guy who works at McDonalds, the toned gym bunny, bitter retired teacher and a few boozed-up skinheads don rags and mini-skirts, pick up plastic swords, run off into the woods for the weekend and pretend that they’re in a Lord of the Rings flick. The dialogue is a right doozy, with some true corkers which indicate that the writers clearly have seen their fair share of films in which a wronged son/daughter seeks to get revenge on the big bad that killed their parents. It’s painful to hear the lines being delivered but comical to see just how stoic everyone is whilst doing it.

What Pegasus Vs Chimera virtually boils down to is a bunch of people in fancy dress running around the woods for an hour and a half. The story is loose, the pacing is woeful and the sequence of events is predictable and dull. Heroes encounter some soldiers. They fight. Heroes run off. They encounter someone else. There’s talking. The bad guys turn up. They fight. They run off. They do more talking and planning. The bad guys turn up again. And so on. Seeing people running around the woods isn’t exactly my idea of an exciting time but Pegasus Vs Chimera gives us plenty of that. At least the Canadian location shoot makes a nice change of scenery from the usual Eastern European locations that Sy Fy tend to stick to. Having said that, one tree looks like another no matter where you decide to film.

There are a whole load of familiar faces on show here including Rae Dawn Chong who starred opposite Arnie in 80s classic action flick Commando – time has not been so kind to her! Nazneen Contractor appeared in a number of 24 episodes alongside fellow 24 alumni Carlo Rota, who makes one of the least menacing villains ever put to one of these films. James Kidnie tries to outdo him as his scheming second-in-command but only succeeds in winning the Ben Kingsley lookalike award. It seems to be a requirement that in order to be one of the bad guys in Pegasus Vs Chimera, you need to be bald. All of the soldiers have sleek chrome domes. Actually, I don’t recall ever seeing more than about ten people on screen at any one time which kind of kills off the idea that they are fighting over seven kingdoms. Any sort of illusion that this is really a titanic struggle between armies is dead on arrival but again it’s hilarious to see how serious everyone is about it.

Pegasus is the least threatening ‘monster’ that I’ve ever seen in a Sy Fy flick. The mythical horse is one of the good guys from history and seeing the beautiful white horse they used for the real action shots hardly makes it appear like something that could best an army or even more threatening bloodthirsty monster in the form of the Chimera. Famously known for being able to fly, this version of Pegasus spends more time squarely rooted on the ground to avoid the costly CGI effects needed to glide through the air. Chimera fares little better, looking like any other generic Sy Fy CGI monster. The fights between the two are hardly riveting but as I’ve said, how is a horse with no sharp teeth, claws or other killing ability supposed to duke it out with something like the Chimera? It’s a mismatch but then it still sells the film with the ‘exciting’ title.

 

Pegasus Vs Chimera might actually be the worst Sy Fy film I’ve ever seen. Some of the horror films have been truly appalling but this one takes the prize hands down. A fantasy story like this needs a budget bigger than the tiny amount of coins you’d find in a five year old’s piggy bank! Putting the story into a contemporary setting would have avoided the embarrassment of seeing this tiny group of actors parade around in fancy dress in the woods and make fools of themselves.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Robocroc (2013)

Robocroc (2013)

The world’s most lethal weapon

When a top secret unmanned spacecraft disintegrates on re-entry, it crash-lands in the crocodile habitat of Adventure Land, a large tourist attraction with a waterpark, amusements and world-famous crocodile exhibit. The crash releases a load of nanotech-based combat drones which find a host in the rather large shape of a twenty-foot Australian saltwater crocodile called Stella. With a new found aggression and determination to kill everything in sight, Stella breaks out of her enclosure and begins hunting down anyone roaming loose in Adventure Land.

 

A film like Robocroc needs no grandiose introduction from me. If you’re a long-time reader on the site, you’ll immediately recognise it as another ridiculous creature feature movie made for Sy Fy. I just shake my head whenever I read the synopsis for any new Sy Fy flick – there’s got to be a saturation point where people will turn off and say “hang on, even this is too far-fetched” although if they haven’t by now, they most likely never will.

If you’ve seen a) any killer crocodile film over the last twenty years or b) any Sy Fy film over the last fifteen years, then you’ve already seen Robocroc. It’s just a sad attempt to put a new twist on the same formula. The Eastern European shoot, featuring a whole host of Bulgarian (I’m assuming since that’s the usual haunt for Sy Fy) bit-part actors with the token sprinkling of American and British ‘faces’ to anchor the film, just smacks of every single Sy Fy film ever made. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid if the crocodiles or snakes from Lake Place Vs Anaconda slithered onto the screen. The extras all look the same. The locations all look the same. The style looks the same.

Even though some of the film was shot in Bulgaria, it’s clear the majority was shot in a backlot in the States somewhere as a lot of the ‘action’ takes place inside a black tent. It’s the generic military HQ set-up, where the scientists and commanders stand around talking about the monster with some laptops and fancy-looking flashing lights distracting the extras in the background. Lots of exposition and talking about the crocodile takes place and for every second the film spends in here, it means less screen time for the crocodile and those costly special effects. Having said that, the CGI is awful, particularly when the crocodile loses its regular skin and becomes all-robot. Even more ridiculous is the POV shots we get from the robot’s eyes, complete with Terminator-style HUD which flashes red stating ‘prey detected’ – as if the crocodile can actually read the words.

The sad thing about Robocroc, and something problematic with a lot of these Sy Fy films over the past three years, is that they’re just spinning their wheels. They seem to be stuck in a rut, re-treading old ground over and over again because the writing teams can’t seem to find a way to make them original and fresh. Come on! You’ve got a robotic crocodile and you just throw it inside an empty waterpark and feed it a bunch of soldiers and teenagers? It’s dull, uneventful and sorely lacking any decent excitement, even when the crocodile is on the screen. Though the crocodile does things like take out helicopters, it’s not exactly pulse-racing material and you’ll never really feel that the main characters are in any danger whatsoever. There is a little CGI gore splattered around but the film backs out of showing too much carnage which is disappointing.

Regular Sy Fy mainstay Corin Nemec shows up as the hero and sleepwalks his way through proceedings. He’s already faced troglodytes, the Mosquito Man and sand sharks to name a few in these type of films so adding a T1000-like crocodile to his list isn’t going to be much of a stretch. Keith Duffy, formerly of Irish boyband Boyzone, makes an appearance as the hunter character who turns up, does a feeble Quint-like impression, and then is promptly taken out of proceedings. Thanks for coming. Dee Wallace, a big genre star back in the 80s with the likes of Cujo and The Howling, must be wondering just what her agent is getting her into these days. She looks incredibly bored with everything going on, though she’s not the only one. Even at a lean seventy-seven minutes long, Robocroc is a tough slog.

 

Robocroc is a drab, non-event of a silly premise. Why bother wasting time turning the crocodile into a killer robot if you’re just going to let it do the same things that a normal crocodile horror flick would do? A waste of a ludicrous idea but also a terrible film.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆