Tag 2010s

Trench 11 (2017)

Trench 11 (2017)

Violence Is Contagious

Towards the end of the First World War, a group of Allied soldiers are sent to investigate reports of a secret German bunker where an officer called Reiner is alleged to experimenting with various chemicals and diseases in an attempt to find a weapon to turn the war in Germany’s favour. However, none of them are prepared for what they find deep below the surface in Trench 11.

 

Swapping the traditional Second World War/Nazi approach that most war period horrors take to the lesser-utilised First World War, Trench 11 is a psychological horror film that promised a lot more than it actually delivered. World War One is a time period we don’t see too often in films, particularly horror films, and so Trench 11 was able to come at the genre material with a slightly new spin. I can only think of Deathwatch which has taken the Great War for its backdrop – everything else features the Nazis conducting experiments during the Second World War. This should mean the story feels fresh and exciting, right?

Trench 11 has lashing of atmosphere and an ominous setting but literally does nothing worthwhile with it. For a start, the period setting is completely believable. Uniforms look top notch. Facial hair and dialogue are very much stiff-upper Brit worthy (check out some of the old school moustaches on show). The sets are decorated with glorious antiquated details so clearly a lot of time has been spent in recreating the era. The tunnels look great: really dark, claustrophobic and unnerving. So why on Earth does the film do so little with them? Trench 11 plays like a traditional war film for too long, without any real shift to the more supernatural and horrific elements, but even these elements seem only for show, as if the filmmakers wanted to say “Look we are different, this isn’t a World War 2 horror flick.” Take out the obvious period elements and the film could have been set within any other period, era or even location with the same results. It doesn’t help that there is far too much exposition to begin with, the plot virtually told to the audience in the first ten minutes, and then once the action and horror starts to kick in, there’s virtually no plot. The balance is all wrong.

You see, the Germans have left behind a parasite which completely takes over its victim, turning them into something resembling a zombie. There are shades of The Thing here, with the confined paranoia of the survivors threatening to erupt more than any non-human menace does. But that’s all it does – threaten to erupt rather than fully exploding. When the parasites are seen during a certain autopsy sequence, let’s just say you won’t want to be eating noodles or spaghetti any time soon. Like everything else in the film, this particular element to the plot isn’t really developed to its full potential and is simply an excuse for a horde of German zombies to start trashing the place during the film’s more action-orientated sections. We never really get to the bottom of just what these experiments were and how they work but the film isn’t bothered about that once the German soldiers are wrecking stuff up. The special effects and make-up department do a commendable job in making the creature-based stuff so creepy and effective; you just wish the film would have done a bit more with it as there’s no way the stuff on offer, particularly the blood and guts, will satisfy any serious gore hounds.

This is a recurring theme throughout Trench 11 – potential but failure to capitalise on it. It goes so far and then seems to stop. Trench 11 never really pays back the audience’s faith and time investment with any worthwhile resolutions. Characters are killed off suddenly after the audience had spent time getting to them and with their arcs still yet to be concluded. Ideas like the virus and the worm-like parasites are given centre-stage as the film’s main threat, only for it to be over-shadowed by the human villain in the film’s finale. With the shift in focus, Trench 11 loses a lot of its suspense and atmosphere and becomes more of a standard issue Allies versus Germans showdown.

Rossif Sutherland, son of Donald and half-brother of Kiefer, stars in the lead role and does a decent job but this is a very much a whole cast of characters affair. Scene-stealers involve Ted Atherton as Captain Jennings, the embodiment of the ‘I know better than you’ attitude of so many entitled officers back in the war, and Charlie Carrick as the doctor. It’s unusual to see so many decent characters being constructed in a low budget film like this but credit to the script for giving them time to flesh out before they get put through the ringer. Even slimy Robert Stadlober, as the German scientist Reiner, is able to do more than just ham it up as the token German bad guy.

 

Trench 11 mixes a lot of stuff together and the final product is decent, if not completely satisfying. It’s not a full-on horror film, nor is it a pure war film and the result is something which doesn’t quite sit well in either genre. It delivers a few nasty scenes and a few memorable moments but nothing which will linger in the mind.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Child’s Play (2019)

Child's Play (2019)

Prepare to Meet Your New Best Friend.

In an attempt to cheer up her son, Andy, and make up for the unease cause by their relocation and her new boyfriend Shane, Karen buys him the gift that every child wants – Buddi, a revolutionary line of high-tech dolls designed to be life-long companions to their owners which learn from their surroundings. However, the Buddi doll Andy is given has had its safety protocols disabled by a disgruntled worker in the factory in Vietnam. Adopting the name Chucky, the doll begins to display violent tendencies towards anyone and anything that gets in the way of his friend for life – Andy.

 

It’s virtually impossible to reinvent a character that has become such a recognisable pop-culture icon since its debut in 1988 – Chucky, the little red-haired killer doll even made an appearance in Spielberg’s Ready Player One, such is its infamy. It’s even more difficult to understand quite why anyone gave this remake the greenlight, especially considering that Child’s Play’s original creator, Don Mancini, is making a completely separate TV series featuring the original Chucky with the original voice, Brad Dourif, to carry on the legacy. It appears that somewhere down the line, someone wanted to tear away the Child’s Play series from Mancini’s hands. Fans of the series can’t complain that they haven’t had enough of the killer doll over the years – the original Child’s Play timeline now extends to seven films – but die-hard fans may struggle to accept this lookalike imposter muscling in on hallowed turf. It may be an upgraded model, but it’s definitely not an upgraded film.

Let me say one thing off the bat – the creative minds behind this remake do an excellent job of updating the killer toy idea for the 21st century. The original Chucky was a nod to the excitement surrounding the likes of the Care Bears and Teddy Ruxpin that used to grip the 80s whenever a new fad toy was released. Now, no longer just a toy running on batteries, these Buddi dolls can walk and talk on their own, have downloadable apps that you can plug your smart phones into, Alexa-like voice controls and learn to adapt to their surroundings. It’s contemporary enough to play upon our fears of modern technology intruding into our lives too much, though once again it’ll probably be obsolete in another ten years or so when something else more realistic comes along for kids to get into.

Child’s Play also puts a different spin on the doll’s origins (so much so, you wonder why they even bothered calling him Chucky) but it almost seems like it’s an obligation for Chucky to turn into the murderous killer doll he’s infamous for being – the reasons here are sketchy at best (disgruntled worker reprogramming the doll) and plagiaristic at worst (he does what all killer robots do in these films and that’s malfunction). There was potential to focus on the all-conquering conglomerate knowingly releasing this type of product upon the world but the script fails to build upon that – once Chucky ‘breaks’ and starts murdering people, the purpose of any exposition as to the reasons why is fairly insignificant. Gone is the voodoo and mysticism of the original timeline too, replaced by a more standard issue malfunctioning toy. The notion that the original doll contained the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray always gave Chucky that added sadistic edge, like he wanted to do more and go further with his plans but was restricted by his diminutive frame and the fact he was just a plastic toy. However, the idea that he’s now just a toy kind of takes away the human qualities he had, with all of the positive and negative connotations that meant. He could get angry and let his hatred force him to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment, whilst he could show compassion for his family too. Now he’s just a killer robot.

Mark Hammill is no Brad Dourif but he’s a great voice actor as he’s consistently demonstrated as the Joker in the Batman animated TV series, bringing a different kind of menace to Chucky. He’s not as prone to shouting, screaming and swearing as Dourif’s doll but Hammill’s voice is creepier and more innocent. This Chucky sees nothing wrong with what he’s doing and does things not out of malicious spite but because of a programmed desire to want to be friends and feeling threatened when he’s not. There’s also an amusing nod to Hammill’s most famous role as, during the scene when Chucky is being named, the kid gives him the name Han Solo. The main problem with this Chucky is that he looks and acts creepy as hell even before he starts to snap. I’m not sure why any kid would want of these sinister-looking robots following them around in the house all day. It’d be enough to give anyone nightmares, let alone the smaller children they’re marketed at in the film.

Child’s Play does feature some creative kills, though not as many as you’d hope for. What we do get is decent enough carnage, leaving you wanting just that little bit more, but filled with enough blood and gore to keep the rating high. Black humour does filter through into the film too, with a few of the kills being poetic justice for some of the victims on the receiving end. One particular sequence involving a set of Christmas lights is destined be feature on classic slasher kill lists in the future. As the film ramps up the kills, it looks to set it’s stall out for an orgy of violence inside the department store as Chucky hijacks the new stock of dolls and gets ready to wipe out a whole store full of shoppers. Sadly, the finale is so anti-climactic with not only this sequence failing to deliver the goods but the much-anticipated Chucky versus Andy confrontation failing to live up to usual genre expectations of antagonist and protagonist colliding.

 

This finale kind of sums the film up its entirety. Child’s Play is a film which feels rushed and edited a bit too much for its own good, shedding anything that detracted from it’s initial potential as a slasher flick and side-lining a lot of the fresh and novel ideas it brought to the material. The good news is that, unlike reboots such as the horrendous A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, Child’s Play does a decent job on its own two feet. Its not the Chucky we know and love, but it’s a decent substitute.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Trailer Park Shark (2017)

Trailer Park Shark (2017)

They’re gonna need a bigger trailer

The residents of a struggling trailer park find themselves caught up in a plot by a scheming land developer to wash away their homes away and secure the land by blowing up a levy. But the floodwater brings more than just muddy water to the trailer park – a deadly shark swims upriver to feast.

 

Ever since the days of the first Sharknado and Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, the sharksploitation flick has been sinking to lower and lower depths, though I think they’ve bottomed out now. Zombie sharks. Frankenstein sharks. Flying sharks. Robot sharks. Ghost sharks. Nuclear-powered sharks. Toxic sludge-spewing sharks. I could keep going. That’s not to say Trailer Park Shark is the worst, but it’s simply prevented from touching the bottom by default, purely due to the awfulness of some of those films referred to.

The first time you’ll cringe at Trailer Park Shark is the awful brown colour palette that they’ve chosen to shoot the film in. I’m not joking when I say this is probably the worst-looking film I’ve ever watched – this colour decision is shocking. It just makes everything look drab and depressing, even more so given the low budget. It’s not like the film needed any disadvantage before it even has chance to get going but the cinematography looks truly awful. Moving along quickly from it’s opening set-up, Trailer Park Shark doesn’t take long to get going, flooding everything and unleashing the shark. From there, it’s almost like a Tremors-esque formula as the surviving characters are forced to remain on the tops of their trailers or other floating objects to avoid getting close to the water and potential shark-fodder. How the film needed five writers to produce this dreck is beyond me!

Director Griff Furst’s ‘awesome’ resume of carnage consists of Swamp Shark, Ghost Shark and Nightmare Shark (sensing a theme here) and he brings his unique ‘skills’ to the fore again here. Also known as Shark Shock, the novelty gimmick to this one is that the shark is given some sort of Electro-like powers to channel electricity. I can see your eyes rolling as you read this. Like most of the gonzo shark films, where the predators have some unique superhero-like abilities other than their natural speed and strength, there’s no need for the shark to be able to shoot electricity at people, other than for it to be a sales gimmick. The water seems to change depth whenever the script needs it to hide the shark because we all know that sharks this big can’t possibly hide in a few feet of water (they can attack in less than three feet of water) as there would no suspense for the “where is it?” moments. Not only that but the shark’s powers seem to vary depending on the scene. Sometimes it’s quite happy electrocuting it’s victims from afar; other times it just goes retro with a swift bite. At no point does the shark ever appear to be inhabiting the same plane of existence as the real footage and the CGI is truly woeful.

The majority of the actors overplay their roles, trying to imbue their redneck characters with as much ‘yee-haw’ as they muster in between chewing tobacco. The script forces down as many stereotypical redneck clichés as possible, because it’s easier to do this than develop actual characters. Tara Reid has a cameo, with a nod to her Sharknado role, and with looking as skinny and ragged as she does, could almost be taken for an actual trailer park resident. Dennis Haskins, of Mr Belding from Saved By The Bell fame, turns up in the token sleazy villain role (because a killer shark isn’t enough threat on its own anymore) and looks to have forwarded on his pay cheque into the catering department.

 

It seems the more of these films Sy Fy make, the lazier they become. Trailer Park Shark and its like have gone from cinematic junk food to recycled pig slop. There’s literally no reason for anyone with a sane mind to even want to watch this rubbish. However, if you ever wanted to know who win in a fight between a cowboy riding a horse and a killer shark, then this if your film.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Return of the Killer Shrews, The (2012)

The Return of the Killer Shrews (2012)

The Killer Shrews are back, and only one man remembers how to stop them…or die trying!

Fifty-three years after being attacked by killer shrews on a remote island, Captain Thorne Sherman is hired by a reality television crew to return to the island in question. Upon arriving at the island, Sherman soon finds out that the shrews are still alive and they soon attack again in short order.

 

One of the cheesiest horror sci-fi horror films to come out of the 1950s, The Killer Shrews is the personification of a bad movie, an infamous Z grade schlocker which came to fame not because of it’s plot (just your generic mutant monster movie) but in how it presented its titular shrews – trained dogs, slapped with extra patches of fur and with humungous fake teeth strapped to their heads. It is even more ridiculous than it sounds. Films like this go beyond normal criticism and exist in their own little bubbles, impervious to the barrage of abuse they receive.

Sadly, The Return of the Killer Shrews is even goofier than the original (not in a good way) and is not as impervious to the barrage of abuse it rightfully deserves. It tries so hard to be a cult classic like the original, but all of the self-awareness it tries to exhibit is just hollow and the humour it desperately tries to make funny is anything but. The production tries to be a comedy and massively fails in the process. While the original played it straight and worked for what it was (ending up more of an accident comedy due to the camp value), this one tries to go down the deliberate comedy route and misses it’s mark completely.

There’s little else in the story to go on and so the goofiness is all the cast have to try and maintain audience interest. There’s little tension, little suspense and little craft – the narrative ambles from one scene to another with no real build-up or cohesion. The shrews even attack during the day, throwing all semblance of excitement or fear out of the window once you get a look at them. There is a real lack of urgency about everything in the film, from the shrews who just stand around and hiss a lot of the time, to the actors milling around the island without emoting.

Given the size of the shrews and the fact they had to start attacking humans as their food supply had run out, just what have they been eating on this remote island for the past fifty years? The killer shrews look a little less like dogs this time around, only they’re now CGI dogs with longer fur and teeth. I much prefer the cheesy reality of the original monsters to these pathetic computer-generated creations, in which the effects somehow look worse than they did in 1959. These CGI shrews look embarrassing, with only a few frames of animation spread between all of their on-screen appearances. Let’s face it, the only reason the original become so infamous was because of the terrible special effects. Now the effects are just your run-of-the-mill Sy Fy / Asylum bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers which you’ll have seen in countless low budget monster movies over the past decade. There’s nothing here to make the monsters stand out and what’s worse, they look nothing like the shrews on any of the variations of the poster artwork. What’s really sad is that there are some puppet props used for close-up shots during attack scenes and, as cheesy as they look, actually work far better than the computer-generated effects. Maybe the film would have been better off slumming it with some these dodgy practical effects, something which would have captured the spirit of the original in a far better way than the CGI.

James Best starred in the original and he’s been paid enough to come back fifty-three years later which could possibly be the longest period an actor has had between portraying the same role. It’s insane to think that this was even a possibility given the time span between the two films, but Best is here. The eighty-six-year old is fairly deadpan in his delivery, either totally oblivious to what is really going on around him or too savvy to let on that he knows. Whether or not it was planned, Best reunites with his The Dukes of Hazzard co-stars John Schneider and Rick Hurst for what some people will find an amusing set-up. I, however, have no fond connection to that TV show and so this reunion is wasted upon the likes of me. Schneider has a blast in his role as the washed-up reality TV superstar and is arguably the best thing about the film – a sad indictment indeed.

 

The Return of the Killer Shrews is a woeful film which is completely devoid of anything of merit. In trying to follow the original’s footsteps in making a Z grade film, they’ve actually gone and done it, just not in the way they were probably expecting to make. Truly a mess of a film which no one deserves to have inflicted upon them.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Boar (2017)

Boar (2017)

Hogs and kisses…

Destroyed property, missing livestock and reports of people disappearing lead the locals to question just what could be causing all of the damage. Unbeknownst to them, a giant wild boar has decided to claim the area as its territory and anything in it is a potential meal.

 

Harking back to an earlier decade of Ozsploitation, Boar is the spiritual successor to 80s giant pig flick Razorback, a decent creature feature from 1984 which had a lot of heart but also a lot of problems. Over thirty years later, and Boar suffers from the same fifty-fifty syndrome, though this one does a much better job of making its premise – that there’s a killer pig on the loose – play out a lot more terrifyingly.

If you’ve seen one creature feature film, then you’ve seen the vast majority of them as they all run like clockwork. Much like the similarly unchanging slasher flick, there’s not a lot of leverage to play with the formula and so Boar sticks to the straight and easy route, making sure that ticks the relevant boxes without ever really stamping it’s mark down. The problem with Boar is that there’s no real story to the carnage – the characters all end up going out into the Outback and are attacked/killed in a series of scenes barely linked together with a simple narrative. The film spends time with a pair of characters, only to kill them off ruthlessly after about ten to fifteen minutes. Introduce another couple of characters, have them engage with each briefly and then feed them to the boar. It’s more or less a rinse-and-repeat cycle which gets boring after a while. Characters who survive longer against the boar are given little more characterisation than those who die almost instantly. Almost all of the scenes involving the patrons at the local bar could have been taken out with no harm done to the plot at all as they serve no purpose whatsoever except to pad out the running time.

This type of film depends largely on the titular creatures and how effective they look and portray the menace that they’re meant to. Boar features an acceptable mix of practical and CGI special effects. The practical effects look really good, especially during the night attacks, with a large boar head and plenty of blood and mangled corpses thrown around for good measure. Short, close-up glimpses are made of the boar for the first half of the film before the monster is unleashed more during the second half. The animatronic head used for attack close-ups looks good but isn’t very mobile, though this is nit-picking as I’m a massive fan of realistic practical effects, even if they are slightly jerky. I was surprised to find out that there was a big puppet, operated by a man inside, which was used for some scenes.

The CGI is used more sparingly than I had anticipated and works better for it, with a few weaker effects evident during a few of the quicker attack and charging sequences. There are plenty of people for the boar to work through, though sometimes less is better and the sheer number of victims within close proximity around the middle section of the film take away some of the gloss.

Minor genre legend Bill Moseley gets the top credit and doesn’t play the bad guy for a change, instead being saddled with a generic straight-talking stepfather role which gives him little opportunity to showcase why they cast him in the first place. It is very much a ‘keep it in-house’ type of cast with a slew of Australian actors scattered around the film: John Jarratt (Wolf Creek), Ernie Dingo (Crocodile Dundee), Steve Bisley and Roger Ward (Mad Max) plus a few obligatory actors who’ve been in Neighbours or Home and Away, and Chris Haywood who also starred in Razorback. Unfortunately, the script writers seem fit to have the majority of the Australian actors say ‘bloody’ and ‘mate’ literally every other word. Stick a few shrimps on the barbie whilst you’re at it, eh? You couldn’t play upon the Aussie stereotypes any more than this film does. Ex-WWE wrestler Nathan Jones steals the show as the friendly giant cousin, playing a role totally the opposite of the villain/heavy roles he’s frequently cast in. He’s a monster of a man and goes toe-to-toe with the boar in arguably the film’s standout scene. He’s not given much more screen time than anyone else in the film but makes the most of his camera appearances by firing his character up with a psychotic energy.

 

As far as creature feature films go, Boar succeeds mostly in delivering what it sets out to do – provide some silly spectacle and a lot of gore and tusk action. The lack of a real story and bunch of thinly-written characters doesn’t allow for the action, gore and special effects to gel together in the way it should have done had the script been worked on a little more. Still a better cut of pork than most swine-centred horror flicks.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Leatherface (2017)

Leatherface (2017)

Witness the beginning of your end.

Teenager Jed Sawyer escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse and taking her on a road trip from hell, while being pursued by a lawman out for revenge.

 

Did anyone really ask for this? I mean was there a massive clamour for people to get another origin story for one of cinema’s most iconic horror characters? We already had, the admittedly weak, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which didn’t do a particularly good job of the origin stuff and left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Now with eight films in a franchise that has zero continuity, Leatherface comes along to try and shake things up once more.

The last entry in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was woeful and pointless enough to exist as it did, so there was no need for yet another film featuring everyone’s favourite face-wearing, chainsaw-wielding psychopath. Serving as a direct prequel to the original 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre rather than any previous sequel or part of the modern remake universe, Leatherface pans out more like a bad road movie, with Leatherface tagging along with some other psychos escaped from a mental hospital, and ending up crossing over into Rob Zombie ‘white trash’ territory with a dash of Natural Born Killers thrown in for good measure. It’s utterly uninspiring and a total wasted opportunity.

For a film that is titled Leatherface and is meant to be about Leatherface, you don’t get to spend much time with him throughout the film. The writers purposely try to keep which of the characters turns into Leatherface a mystery for the audience, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you couldn’t spot the obvious from the first time they appear on screen. The focus always seems to be on other characters, though given how poorly Leatherface is presented here, maybe that’s not such a bad thing that they didn’t make him the focal point. Hooper’s version of Leatherface back in 1974 deserved a more twisted, vile origin story than the one we’re presented with here – one has to question whether this was simply designed as a ‘clean sweep’ reboot to kick off a new series of films unshackled by the restraints of previous instalments. However, little of the material we’re presented with over the course of the film gives us any further insight into how Jed becomes Leatherface.

Don’t expect to see the trademark get-up till the end of the film – Leatherface, for the most part here, is a gormless teenager, as far detached from the classic horror icon as he can be. Just like Rob Zombie did with Michael Myers in his version of Halloween by showing us his infant days, and even what George Lucas did to Darth Vader by showing us whiny teenager Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, French directing duo Maury and Bustillo kill any sort of integrity and fear factor that Leatherface may still have had by showing us this watered-down pre-mask version. I come to a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film to see fully-grown and angry Leatherface causing carnage; not some depressing silent emo kid version. It’s so easy to forget that this is actually a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film, such is the change in direction it takes the standard franchise narrative. You could give the makers of the film some props for attempting something different instead of just rehashing the same backwoods formula – but you’d only give them those props if this was even half-decent, and it’s not.

The film does pick up steam when Leatherface is ‘born’ and the narrative drifts into familiar territory in the final fifteen minutes, which will no doubt leave you thinking why they just didn’t stick with this approach all the way through. The chainsaw comes into play which finally gives us a couple of trademark gory kills, but it hardly matters by this point. Most of the gruesome moments involve bad taste scenes such a sex sequence on top of a rotting corpse. As the rest of the film exists as an almost unconnected separate entity, you’ve most likely disengaged with the story and are simply going through the motions waiting for it to end.

The older cast members do their bit to keep the film ticking over. Stephen Dorff is a good watch whenever he’s in a snarling, psycho character mode as proven with his great turn back in Blade and he steals the show as the obsessive sheriff, reminding me a lot of Dennis Hopper’s ‘Lefty’ from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Lily Taylor, as the Sawyer family matriarch, also does what she can to chew the scenery. But they’re not likeable characters and the film has a dearth of people you want to get behind – the main group consisting of the escaped inmates are wholly unlikeable. It’s almost as if the film tries to make the future Leatherface the most sympathetic character here by surrounding him with some of the worst, most despicable kinds of characters imaginable. It doesn’t work to generate any empathy, only confusion and anger that such a notoriously deranged maniac from film lore has been given a free licence purely because he was brought up in a culture of hate and violence.

 

The worst film in the franchise to date (and that’s saying something considering the steaming pile of horse manure that was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), Leatherface doesn’t just do a bad job of messing up what should have been a simple and straightforward back story but it also fails on many levels as a standalone horror film. A completely pointless franchise entry which does more harm than good.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Banana Splits Movie, The (2019)

The Banana Splits Movie (2019)

Tralala Terror!

Young Harley is a massive fan of The Banana Splits TV show and is thrilled to be given tickets for his birthday to attend a live taping. Arriving on the day with his family and a diverse audience eager to see the Splits live, Harley couldn’t be happier. However, behind the scenes, the show has just been cancelled and the robot performers are acting a bit strange due to a glitch in their programming. The Splits don’t want the show to end and will do anything to remain on the air, even if that means murder.

 

If you’ve never heard of The Banana Splits, you were either born after 1982 or don’t live in America – I’m in the UK, born in 1981 and only briefly knew them in passing through pop culture references. Produced by legendary animating duo Hannah-Barbara (the people behind The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Wacky Races and a whole host of others), The Banana Splits, sort of a bizarre cross between The Muppets and The Monkees, were a band of animal musicians who hosted a variety show for a few years back in the late 60s. Yeah, it sounds as weird as it looked. They sang a catch theme song which will no doubt stick in your head once you hear it.

Wherever they are buried, William Hannah and Joseph Barbara will no doubt be turning in their graves to think that one of their beloved creations has been turned into a horror film, over fifty years since it was made.  I have no idea how the makers of this film managed to secure the rights to the furry characters and audiences who’ve seen this are sure to look at them from a different point of view from now on. Bizarrely though, the Splits look and act more sinister in the original TV series than they do here – there is something just not right about them in the older footage from the 70s. On paper (and in the promo trailer released a few months prior), The Banana Splits Movie looked and sounded like a sure-fire mix of crazy ideas, silly fun and gratuitous gore. It is anything but.

The Banana Splits are a little too old to be appealing to a younger generation who will literally have no idea who they are, and for those who are old enough to remember them, they will no doubt be offended that such beloved childhood characters could be brutalised in such fashion. For people my age in the UK, this would almost be like watching a horror version of Fraggle Rock or Sooty turning into a knife-wielding slasher. And this is the crux of the film’s problem: it has no idea who its audience is meant to be. The Banana Splits Movie attempts to straddle too many approaches and appease too many audiences and ultimately fails to hit any of them. It doesn’t go all out enough on the adult elements, plays the set pieces far too safe and tame and isn’t intense enough to generate any real scares, appearing very childish at times. On the flip side, I still wouldn’t show this to any younger kids because it is too gory for them and will give them nightmares (some of the shots of the robots are pretty creepy).

Aside from the inability to decide on just what type of horror film it wants to be, The Banana Splits Movie falls into the worst kind of trap in that it’s just dull. Half of this down to the cumbersome titular foursome, slow-moving killers without any sign of personality or character that just walk around, say some of their catchphrases and kill their victims with little fervour. Attempts at black humour fall flat in 90% of the attempts and there is a cartoonish goofiness about everything associated with the robots. You just can’t take them seriously as a threat. The film was crying out for some sort of Chucky-esque passion and delivery to really convey how evil the Splits are.

I’m not sure having kids as some of the main characters was a good idea either – you know that they’re never going to be harmed in any serious way and the plot armour that they develop is so strong, that it takes the fun out of the film. Despite all of the carnage, they never appear to be scared of the Splits or even show any sort of genuine reaction to seeing dead bodies around them. The adults are all fair game but there’s little meat to any of the characterisation – disgruntled employees, cheating slime ball fathers, pushy parents, etc. They’re the ones who keep the body count topped up. There is some gore, including a rather cheap-looking set of intestines as a character is sawed in half, but the film doesn’t go all out on this, leaving everything look very timid. The Splits use some of their regular routines and equipment to kill their victims, including an obstacle course shown in the TV show, but the screenplay isn’t twisted or fiendish enough to put a black spin on them. It’s a total waste of some inventive deaths but, given the state of the rest of the film, wasted potential is something this film seems to thrive on. The sequel-baiting ending would only work if everyone learns their lessons from this. Fingers crossed.

 

Teletubbies Meets Westworld is the best analogy I can use when writing about The Banana Splits Movie. I wanted to really like it after the trailer showed promise and there’s a good film waiting to burst from the crazy concept. Sadly, this isn’t it. I have no real clue as to who or what the makers were thinking of when they made this. It’s meant to appeal to everyone but ends up appealing to no one. Such a wasted idea if I ever saw one.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆