Tag 2010s

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

A love story

Scientist Rico Symes has crafted the latest predatory super-weapon for the military by splicing together DNA strands from a pterodactyl and a barracuda, creating a creature known as Pteracuda. During a routine test mission, the creature goes rogue after a terrorist hijacks the computer controls. Capable of flight or swimming, Symes knows that Pteracuda poses a massive problem and so tracks down the surviving offspring of the original Sharktopus, now in a sanctuary in a local aquarium. Fitting it with a transmitter, Symes gives Sharktopus a simple command: to find and destroy Pteracuda.

 

I was a little generous in my review for Sharktopus, stating it was ‘everything a cheap, goofy and enjoyable monster movie should be about’ but I could clearly see where the enjoyment was coming from and with such a ridiculous premise, it ran with it as best as it had any right to do. A few years later and Roger Corman is back with even more bizarreness but far less originality. A sequel to both Sharktopus and Piranhaconda (though I don’t get the connection with the latter film), Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda continues the trend of combing the names of two random creatures to make a new monster. Pteracuda was the dumbest name I’d ever heard – well until the sequel Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf went into production! Apparently, a bunch of combi-names was tossed around on Twitter with fans voting for the one they wanted. At least Corman is giving in to people power.

Do you expect anything remotely resembling a plot? No? Good, didn’t think so. You won’t find that here. Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda gives us the bare minimum story of military experiments, terrorists, innocent civilians who get wound up in the mayhem and plenty of unnecessary characters to throw into the way of the monsters every few minutes. Honestly, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda doesn’t even run like clockwork – the clock has well and truly stopped here and the nonsensical plot developments would only be surprising to an unborn baby and that’s about it. Top secret government weapon that goes haywire and the people responsible attempt to bring it back and cover it up. That’s it. Let’s see what else the film has to offer.

Unlike many other giant monster showdowns of late, particularly the awful Mega Shark Vs … films, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda does feature a lot of lengthy tussles between the titular creatures, so much so that it actually gets boring watching them. I know, I know, it appears I’m far too hard to please when I complain that there wasn’t enough in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and now there is too much in this one. Usually the creatures fight off in a titanic battle at the end of the film akin to the old Godzilla films but Sharktopus and Pteracuda cross paths a lot throughout the film, which was pleasantly surprising as it meant a lot more CGI effects which would have driven up the cost of this film significantly.

Like pretty much all of these CGI slugfests from Sy Fy or The Asylum, the eventual fight scenes fail to connect with the audience. You know that what you’re watching is just two computer-generated monsters fighting off because there’s literally no sense of gravity or weight to them. Don’t get me wrong, the fights do go on for a few minutes a piece but whilst they’re scrapping, the motions and movement are just too fast: tentacles flying across the screen, wings flapping all over the place, teeth gnashing and so on. Real creatures wouldn’t be able to react like that and so in trying to crank up the excitement of the film, the fights just become frenzied free-for-alls in which your eyes and ears are bombarded with as much as possible within the time frame.

Continuing on another irritating trend, both Sharktopus and Pteracuda have a tendency to kill humans by biting their heads off. Most likely because it’s a cheap and easy special effect to pull off in post-production, literally every giant monster of the past few years has killed its human prey like that. Since when did carnivores become so picky and just go for the human head? It’s so annoying, especially when I think of some classic monsters movies and the memorable ways in which people were killed and eaten alive (Quint’s graphic swallowing in Jaws always springs to mind). Having said that, the bulk of the kills are for non-characters who may say a handful of words at best before they’re fed to the fish. People die all too often in this and it becomes a chore. So when someone with a meatier role falls victim to the monsters, there’s no shock value.

That would assume you’d give a toss about any of the characters in this film. Robert Carradine has a bit of a blast as the sort-of-slimy scientist, only he doesn’t really do anything truly evil. Rib Hillis is the stock mercenary tasked with leading the mission to stop the weapon. Hillis doesn’t really get much chance to shine in the role until the end but comes off little better than your generic hero. If there is one saving grace from Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda, it’s in the form of the lovely Katie Savoy. Though her weakly-written marine biologist role is an awful character who serves little to no purpose, she’s one of the most naturally attractive women I’ve ever seen in a film like this. I’m smitten! There’s also a really random cameo from TV talk show host Conan O’Brian, who I’m sure owed Corman a favour to appear in this. Maybe he was a big fan of the original Sharktopus?

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda is a cheap sequel to a cheap film, where special effects seem to revert back in time and all sense of what a film should be has been thrown out of the window. Though I guess when you see two giant hybrid monsters pummeling each other in the air and underwater every ten minutes or so, it’s kind of irrelevant how bad everything else is.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Harbinger Down (2015)

Harbinger Down (2015)

Terror is just beneath the surface.

A group of college researchers tracking whale migrations on board a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea discover a frozen Russian spacecraft in the Arctic ice. Storing the retrieved spacecraft and its frozen cosmonaut corpse inside the ship’s hold, the researchers argue over what the best course of action is: to claim it as salvage or contact the authorities to hand it over. Whilst they bicker, the corpse thaws and dormant alien bacteria is released

 

The back story to Harbinger Down is far more interesting than the resulting film: Special effects company ADI had been commissioned to provide the practical creature effects for the failed The Thing prequel and designed and built some superb monsters much more in line with Rob Bottin’s legendary creations for John Carpenter’s 1982 film. However, for whatever silly reasons, Universal decided to replace all of this fantastic work with CGI during post production. With thousands of fans across the world questioning what happened to the original effects (me included), ADI released a Youtube video showcasing the work which had been discarded. With such an overwhelmingly positive reaction, ADI decided to go ahead with their own film to prove to Hollywood big-wigs than there was still a place for practical effects. Using Kickstarter to get the project off the ground, Harbinger Down was thus born. With a reliance on animatronics, prosthetic makeup, stop motion and miniature effects rather than CGI, the film has been on my radar for a long time and I was waiting with baited breath to see the final outcome.

Advertised as being in ‘the spirit of two of the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time, Alien and The Thing,’ it’s sad to see that Harbinger Down isn’t quite the revolutionary middle finger to CGI that I had really hoped it would be. Clearly hoping to trade on the attraction of the special effects and the monster, almost everything else regarding the film seems to have been cobbled together with barely a creative thought. Whether this is the fault of the writers or the director, Harbinger Down should have been a modern day cult classic but instead turns out to be a rather horrible mess where they focused so hard on developing the creature, they ran out of time to deal with anything else.

However, I did not watch this for a multi-layered, complex story featuring fully-fleshed out characters. I knew what to expect from that side of the film and Harbinger Down did not let me down. The plot is flimsy, the characters barely more than one-note stereotypes and the narrative brings up predictable plot twists and routine set pieces. If you’ve seen one The Thing/Alien-style sci-fi horror knock-off, you’ve seen pretty much all of them and Harbinger Down is no exception. There are rather weak attempts to generate tension or suspense and whilst the cinematography is decent enough, with the crabbing ship being a dark, damp place to have something sinister lurking around, it’s just not enough to keep the film from floundering at every opportunity. It takes ages to get going and even when it does, it’s held back by clichés.

Sadly, it’s the creature effects, trumpeted as the main selling point, which are a massive let down. This isn’t because they’re not fairly impressive but because you hardly get to see them due to the awful way in which they’re shot. Between some appalling lighting choices (i.e. it’s very dark in most of the monster shots) and even more appalling camera tricks (constant shaky, blurry or quick zooms to obscure the frame), it’s virtually impossible to get a good, solid look at the creature. On the ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ occasions when the creature can be seen for more than a micro-second, it looks half-decent and one could only imagine how successful ADI’s special effects for the much larger-budgeted The Thing prequel would have turned out in the final edit. At least some of the gore effects are reasonably presented, with plenty of slime and splatter thrown in for good measure.

I’ve been comically critical of Lance Henriksen’s role choices over the last decade or so. Far from the glory days of the 1980s, Henriksen has been reduced to starring in a ridiculous number of low grade shockers and phoning in his performances. In Harbinger Down, Henriksen is far better than he has been for years, giving his role as the grizzled captain some spark and energy. That’s compared to the rest of the cast who fail to generate much excitement or chemistry between them, save for the attractive Camille Balsamo who is the best of a bad bunch.

 

Harbinger Down is such a disappointing missed opportunity that it’s really hard to see practical effects ever coming back into fashion any time soon. Whilst I admire the passion and desire of all those involved, and I personally hoped to see this succeed due to my loathing of CGI, the bottom line is that too much focus went into the special effects that everything else was barely given a second thought. It works as a half-baked throwback to the 80s monster movies but even the likes of Leviathan did it with more conviction than this.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lake Placid Vs Anaconda (2015)

Lake Placid Vs Anaconda (2015)

Crocs on the dock. Snakes on the lake.

Wexel Pharmaceuticals enlists the help of local poacher Jim Bickerman in obtaining a giant crocodile from the famous Lake Placid nature reserve. During a procedure to extract blood, the crocodile awakens in the lab and causes havoc, unleashing a special variety of giant anaconda snake. With both the crocodile and snake on the loose in the wild, it poses further problems for the previously-besieged community.

 

The fifth film in the Anaconda series, and the first to be made since 2008, as well as the fifth film in the Lake Placid series, Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is just about the sort of film you’d expect to get when you combine two fading franchises whose attraction faded long ago. Did anyone really care about either series after the originals? I’m amazed that either series lasted as long as it did, though in reality they’ve been on life-support on the Sy Fy Channel for so long that it’s hard to remember they were originally both big hits in the late 90s.

Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is exactly the same sort of nonsense that both respective franchises have been churning out for a few years – only now that they’ve merged into one crossover universe, I’d hope that we are saved from individual sequels from now on. It’s virtually a Lake Placid film with a giant snake added into the mix as the narrative runs almost like the previous few films in that specific franchise. The plot is flimsy at best and I’m not even sure I got why the pharmaceutical company was desperate to obtain a giant crocodile when their snakes were gigantic. I’m not daft and realise it was just an excuse to allow the snake to get loose but I’d rather see writers attempt to give me a convincing reason for all of the carnage.

This isn’t well-written, if written at all – it almost runs like someone just slapped together a load of deleted scenes from the aforementioned franchises and I struggled to really care about anything on show. Predictable death scenes are set-up a mile away. The creatures do damage that they shouldn’t physically be able to do. Apart from a few main characters, the rest are just non-characters who show up only to die in the same scene. Even the main characters have very little to do and rely almost solely on your knowledge of their characters from the previous Lake Placid films. Again, the film is so heavily one-sided with the Lake Placid stuff that you forget there is supposed to be a giant anaconda in there somewhere. Sy Fy has been churning out almost the same film for the last ten years or so across various ‘monster of the week’ guises and it’s all so, so, so, stale now.

Featuring an all-star line-up of Sy Fy regulars including Corin Nemec, Yancy Butler and Robert Englund, Lake Placid Vs Anaconda delivers the expected star power and a sense that at least some effort went into the film. In a rare bit of continuity with Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, both Butler and Englund reprise their roles. Englund’s character is a particular delight to welcome back, with a few less body parts after his last ordeal with the crocodiles, and he hams up proceedings with a typically enjoyable performance. The three of them have clearly been cast to add some names to the front cover, Englund especially trading on his past glories as Freddy. The other members of the cast, particularly the sorority girls, are awful actresses designed to provide mild titillation to the male audience before being eaten (and mild titillation just means they parade around in bikinis).

The film isn’t even that gory. Yes, there is some blood on show but the vast majority is the cheap CGI variety. It’s pretty rare to get anything as nasty as a leftover limb as the crocs and the snake swallow everything they see up. The CGI for both the snake and crocodiles is a marked step down in quality from their previous outings, which isn’t saying much as they were awful then and are even worse now. The crocs fair a little better, presumably because it’s easier to give the skin and scales some form and shape, rather than the long, slender and smooth snake skin that is on show. The creatures are well-fed, though as previously stated, the death scenes are set-up from a mile away and far too predictable. The worst problem is that they’re dull – you’ll not find any excitement or cheap thrills from the attack scenes.

 

Just because two franchises are owned by the same company doesn’t mean to say that a crossover film should happen. To quote Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm character from Jurassic Park, the studio was “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is a painful attempt to milk the last few drops of money out of the respective franchises before both animals are finally sent to that big pet shop in the sky. One can only hope.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

More heads, more deads

A group of scientists are attacked in their underwater lab by a killer 3-headed shark. Then the shark moves on to attack a cruise ship full of partying teenagers. The survivors must band together to try and stop it.

 

I really can’t be bothered wasting my time trying to make the plot sound more exciting than it was because it’s just a mess of appalling writing. OK, so 2-Headed Shark Attack was hardly a high art concept and sold itself on the ludicrous premise alone with predictably dire results. How do you top something so silly? Just add an extra head of course! 3-Headed Shark Attack is somehow even worse than its predecessor. It’s a film which exists solely based upon its premise and where the makers of the film clearly thought “we don’t need to bother with making a coherent narrative which logically moves from A to B because there’s a 3-headed shark in it.” Whilst 2-Headed Shark Attack revelled in its absurdity, treating proceedings with tongue firmly in cheek, this one tries to be too serious.

3-Headed Shark Attack falls straight into The Asylum’s typical formulaic approach – no real plot exposition, gets right into the thick of the action from the opening scene, throws a load of characters with no development into the mix and then just attempts to butcher it together with some awfully choppy editing. There’s literally something going on in every frame of film and it’s a constant assault on the eyes, with some frames lasting seconds before the next edit kicks in. In Asylum films, there’s little room to take time out, get to know characters or build plot – it’s just full steam ahead and it’s so annoying. All you see are people on the screen running away or swimming away from something that’s so badly rendered in CGI that it isn’t even funny. Names? Backgrounds? Relationships to other characters? Nope. Forget that. They’re just faces on film. All they have to do is look into the camera, pretend to stare at something off-screen and then attempt to emote when the time dictates…and they even fail at that.

There are almost three separate films crammed in here and all could have been expanded further. There’s the opening twenty or so minutes with the shark destroying the underwater lab (again, there’s no real point in introducing a load of these one-note victims to kill them off a few minutes later) and forcing the characters to leave the safety of dry land and into a boat (I know, it makes no sense). It’s almost like watching Deep Blue Sea but rushed through in a quarter of the time. Then the few survivors from this end up on a boat full of partying teenagers and the next ‘mini-film’ commences. Finally the survivors from this part then meet up with Danny Trejo’s fisherman character for the last ‘mini-film.’ But that’s what you get with the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach from The Asylum. Just take a chill pill and stretch things out a little more to generate some suspense or tension. At no point during this film did I feel remotely scared, tense or even worried because there’s so much going on, and so much that doesn’t make sense, that it’s hard for your brain to compute. Films need to retain some element of realism in them to allow the audience to comprehend even the silliest of storylines, characters or special effects yet 3-Headed Shark Attack is devoid of realism.

The shark just turns up in the opening scene with no explanation or build-up and then just wreaks havoc, smashing up the lab and eating as many people as possible over the course of the film. It gets to the point of overkill because the shark is always killing people. Remember when only four people (on-screen that is) were killed in Jaws? You don’t need to keep feeding the shark to make it a threat. In fact the opposite happens and it becomes almost a drinking game to see how many people the shark will eat within the next ten minutes of film. The shark looks reasonably good when it’s swimming around doing nothing – the heads are pretty scary and it does look freakish. However as soon as it’s required to do something like breach the water, bite someone or flip into the air, the ropey CGI kicks in. Coupled to this is a soundtrack which doesn’t fit the action and is just there to artificially generate tension and excitement.

Danny Trejo and professional wrestler Rob Van Dam are the two ‘names’ in the film. Trejo is seemingly on a quest to star in every single low budget straight-to-DVD film made in the last two years and has clearly been cast in this for one particular sight gag involving the shark and a machete. RVD proves he should stick to wrestling.

 

It’s like pulling teeth trying to enjoy 3-Headed Shark Attack and considering that there are a lot of teeth on display, that’s a lot of pain to suffer. Those who like The Asylum’s specific ‘brand’ of filmmaking will find more of the same here but for those who want something a little more down-to-Earth, realistic and generally better made, the hunt for a decent killer shark flick continues.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sand, The (2015)

The Sand (2015)

This beach is killer

After an all-night beach party, a group of teenagers awaken to find that everyone else has disappeared. It turns out that some kind of creature has appeared beneath the sand and is devouring anyone and anything that sets foot upon the beach. Trapped on the beach, the group must find a way to escape without touching the sand.

 

Straight from hearing the synopsis of The Sand mid-summer last year, I immediately thought back to 1980’s Blood Beach, a feeble Jaws clone which featured an underground monster that sucked people into the sand before they could even get to the sea. Blood Beach did have a decent premise, even if it was a load of rubbish, and it’s a premise which Tremors, particularly the first one, did very well. The Sand picks up the mantle years later to fly the flag of underground monsters and does a fair job whilst it’s at it.

However, despite the similarity in the nature of the ‘being swallowed into the ground’ monster, The Sand ends up being one of those horror films where a group of people become trapped somewhere and spend the majority of the running time trying to escape without dying. I can think of the likes of Rogue, Black Water or Beneath where characters become trapped by some deadly creature and devise a load of crazy schemes to get themselves to safety, no doubt leading to the deaths of one or more of the characters in the process. Unfortunately, this type of film means that the characters are stuck in the same location for a lot of the film. So the success of The Sand relies upon the writer’s ability to come up with ingenious ways to keep them stranded – after all, it’d be a rubbish film if the characters just sat and waited for help to come along. However, writers Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell quickly run out of ways to keep things interesting and The Sand does begin to overstay its welcome rather earlier than you’d have liked.

Thankfully, The Sand doesn’t waste any time getting down to business and within the first ten minutes, the set-up is complete, characters are already being killed off and little time is wasted getting down to the good stuff. The set-up is treated seriously and, though the characters are all too quick in assuming that there is a monster in the sand, the threat is established early on and maintained throughout the running time. There’s not a great deal of tension or suspense during some of the scenes of the characters trying to come up with different ways to escape the sand but at least they come to a messy end when it goes wrong.

The Sand’s reliance on CGI for its special effects is a bit disappointing given that the way the creature kills its victims would have been easily replicated using practical effects and made to look far more convincing. Still, the effects (particularly the memorable first kill) are decent enough for what they need to do and will actually get you second-glancing at the sand the next time you’re at the coast. Though the prologue at the party promises a massive body count, it’s a pity that most of these partygoers have already been killed off by the time the real action starts. However there are still enough victims to feed to the sand throughout the film. The monster is unique and is kept off-screen for the majority of the running time but in all honesty – it doesn’t need to be fully in your face. Just the thought of being sucked into the sand and seeing how some of the characters die is enough to leave the monster’s design to your imagination. Sadly as the kills become more elaborate and the monster shows itself more and more, the effects begin to cheapen and really look out of place. The simple, early effects worked far better because the audience does most of the hard work.

The picture-perfect cast of women have clearly been cast for their looks and their ability to fill out bikinis and tiny shorts. Lead actress Brooke Butler is pretty, though her acting leaves a lot to be desired, and the same goes for the other actresses. They’re not going to win any awards for their performances but they’re not overly terrible. Cleo Berry is not only the token black guy, he’s the token comic relief and the token fat man so expect him to get a tough ride. He spends the majority of the film wedged into a barrel with a crude penis drawn onto his face in black pen. There is an awful cameo from Jamie Kennedy, whose beach patrol character seems to have walked in off the set of a Spring Break frat comedy rather than a film which is attempting serious horror. At the end of the day, they’re all just one-dimensional characters waiting to be eaten, devoid of any real personalities or defining qualities save for the size of their chests (and that goes for both the women and men). Despite the script’s attempts to put forward a love triangle, there’s no real drama between the characters.

 

The Sand is fairly decent for what it is. Don’t expect the wheel to be reinvented. Don’t expect to be blown away with the next big thing. Just expect an entertaining timewaster which plays itself seriously, features some decent (if too CGI-heavy) gore moments and a unique monster and set-up which hasn’t been done to death like killer sharks or gigantic snakes.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

The arrival of a stranger in tiny Western town of Bright Hope sets off a chain of deadly events for Sheriff Franklin Hunt. After confronting his suspicious actions, the stranger tries to flee and Hunt shoots him in the leg. Overnight, the town doctor Samantha O’Dwyer is brought to the jail to tend to his wounds but when Hunt returns in the morning they, along with a deputy, have disappeared. When a local Indian identifies the attackers as a tribe of Indians he calls Troglodytes, Hunt sets up a posse to go and rescue them. Joined by aging deputy Chicory, Samantha’s husband Arthur who is desperate to go despite having a broken leg, and former soldier John Brooder, Hunt sets off in pursuit, totally unprepared for the fate that awaits them in the territory of the Troglodytes – the Valley of the Starving Man.

 

Bone Tomahawk can easily be summed up as cowboys versus cannibals. In today’s mix-and-match genre pairings, where all manner of genres are being juxtaposed together to freshen up a stagnant market (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies immediately springs to mind), it wasn’t going to be long before the western was back in the sights of filmmakers given that Quentin Tarantino was ready to burst back into the genre with The Hateful Eight in 2015. There have been sporadic attempts to mix westerns and horror over the past few years but none have been particularly successful. I can think of a couple like Jonah Hex or low budget ones like Undead or Alive but generally the genre made famous by John Wayne hasn’t been a source of inspiration for budding horror filmmakers to make a crossover film. It’s a pity because Bone Tomahawk works very well as a western before the horror elements kick in during the second half.

If you only say one thing about Bone Tomahawk, you have to say that it’s gritty. The western influence rides head and shoulders above the horror and for the better. This is a harsh world, alien to us living in the 20th and 21st centuries, and one with certain codes and conducts which seem brutal and cruel to us and where logic and reason don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with compassion and love. There’s no over-dramatisation of anything. There’s little Hollywood-esque glamour and glitz. This is an unforgiving world where it’s survival of the fittest. Be warned through: this gritty approach is rather leisurely and many horror fans will most likely tune out before Bone Tomahawk ever gets close to its gory surprises. At around two hours in length, almost unheard of for something like this, the film doesn’t exactly burst forth with energy. The narrative sets up the eventful rescue mission by introducing the characters and spending time with them as they trek across the countryside. Very dialogue-heavy, the bond between the posse is constructed with the end game in mind – not all of these characters are going to survive the eventual encounter with the Troglodytes – so that we care about them as fully-developed characters, rather than just one-dimensional cannon fodder to be served up on a platter.

Director and writer S. Craig Zahler has assembled a great cast for such a little-known film. The leading light is obviously Kurt Russell, who effortlessly slips into the moustached-wearing lawman role he had in Tombstone back in 1993. Russell has such power and gravitas in this type of role and delivers a great, no-nonsense performance, far better than he has done for a long time. The supporting players are all equally as good. Richard Jenkins is excellent as the elderly, dim-witted deputy and the rapport he shares throughout the film with Russell is one of its highlights. Patrick Wilson tackles the role of the crippled husband with vigour and really gets across his character’s desire to rescue his wife. Rounding off the four main actors is Matthew Fox who hasn’t been this entertaining in, well, ever really. His ex-soldier without a moral code and a hatred of Indians is definitely one of the standouts of the film. The chemistry between the four men is fantastic and you really get emotionally involved in each of them. There are also small roles for the likes of David Arquette, Sid Haig and Michael Paré to name a few. How Zahler managed to get this cast together is beyond me but it works wonders for the authenticity of the film.

Sadly, a lot of Bone Tomahawk’s great build-up work and sense of overwhelming dread, particularly when the group enters the Valley of the Starving Man, is undone somewhat when they actually encounter the Troglodytes. Almost everything that happens from this point, save for some great gore moments, is rather matter-of-fact. The film resolves itself rather quickly, and without a lot of major fuss, which kind of detracts from the hard work that had gone in before it. I was expecting something that packed a little more punch and delivered a few more thrills than it did. The eventual show-off with the cannibals is disappointingly brief.

Speaking of the gore, Bone Tomahawk features some disgusting moments. An opening throat-slit and early arrow-to-the-head moment hint at the brutality to come but it doesn’t really prepare you two of the images later in the film. The best thing is that the effects have all been done with prosthetics and so there’s not a hint of CGI in sight.  Don’t expect an all-out gore-fest though as the violence is sporadic but really hits home when it happens. You really get the feeling that these men are fighting for their very lives.

 

Bone Tomahawk features a simple tried-and-tested Western scenario which is then pushed into the extreme by nature of the horror threat the characters face. It works far better than it has any right to work but when you get a director/writer who clearly knows what he’s doing, a fantastic cast who really make their characters shine and some horrific moments which would rival the meanest scenes from the likes of The Hills Have Eyes, then what do you expect? Check it out if you get the opportunity.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

As Above, So Below (2014)

As Above, So Below (2014)

The only way out is down.

Archaeologist Scarlet Marlowe is obsessed with finding the famous Philosopher’s Stone and, after her search takes her to Iran, she finally believes she has found its resting place in a secret chamber in the Catacombs of Paris. Hiring a team of urban explorers who frequent the underground caverns and know their way around, Scarlet and her team head below the surface to find the elusive stone. However, once they venture into areas of the caverns that tourists are forbidden to enter, they soon become lost and come to the stark realisation that they are not alone down there.

 

The found footage sub-genre sees no sign of slowing down with the latest offering, As Above, So Below. I’ve never been the biggest fan of these films, save for some truly exceptional efforts like Spanish zombie flick [REC]. However the lure of As Above, So Below wasn’t so much the genre but the setting. I was about to set off to go to Paris for the first time in February and was booked in to take a trip down to the Catacombs when this came along and I (foolishly) decided it would be a good idea to watch first before I went down.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Catacombes de Paris, they are a vast underground labyrinth of caverns and tunnels which hold the remains of around six million people dating back to the 18th Century. These people aren’t just buried here in coffins – their skulls and bones line the passages like some macabre artist has been working for centuries. The tunnels stretch for miles and miles and much of it is out of bounds to the public due to the danger of collapse. However there is a large section of the catacombs which are open to the public. Having nervously set foot in the catacombs myself in 2015, I can assure you that they are not a place you would want to get trapped in. Between the limestone roof leaking water and showing obvious signs of cracks, to lots of fenced-off ‘no-go’ areas, there is also the matter of millions of skulls and bones stacked and assorted in all manner of shapes and patterns. It’s claustrophobic beyond belief and there is a truly unnerving, eerie silence down there. The artificial lighting set up for tourists soaks the remains in a ghostly glow, almost giving the skulls a strange smile as you walk past. You won’t experience anything like it in the world. Such a place is straight out of a nightmare and if this didn’t actually exist, you’d think that it was some far-fetched version of Hell that a Gothic writer had dreamt up.

It’s the perfect place to set a horror film and for the most part, As Above, So Below does a great job of utilising the location to perfection – the film was shot in the real catacombs for the most part, with some set pieces necessitating the use of sets for safety reasons. The film plays upon the fear of collapse, being stranded below the surface in a remote, unhospitable location and unable to find a way out just like Neil Marshall expertly did in The Descent many years ago. The use of the Go-Pro cams really adds to the claustrophobia as we share the characters tortuous decisions on whether to crawl through tunnels barely wide enough to breathe. You’ll be holding your breath along with the characters during some of these scenes. What adds to the realism is knowing that the real camera crew would never have been able to film in such tight spaces and so the Go-Pro cams become essential. The silence that fills these tombs is eerie and unforgiving – you could scream in there until you had no vocal chords left and no one would hear you.

Like The Descent, the film manages to get your heart racing long before anything untoward actually happens to the characters. Having suffered the ordeal of being trapped underground with them, you’re already to chill out but that’s when the strange things begin to happen and the characters realise they’re not alone. But this is where the film quickly unravels. The clichés of the found footage sub-genre come thick and fast: ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ sightings of weird things in the corner of the frame, characters talking directly into the camera, obligatory green ‘night vision’ shots, death of the cameraman (come on – it always happens, it has to happen for the footage to be ‘found’ by someone else) and so forth.

Not only does the film suffer from these clichés but it then sets itself out into some video game-like puzzle solving quest where the characters must solve the next riddle or find the next secret passage in order to progress into the next section. UK readers will be familiar with Channel 4 gameshow The Crystal Maze and this feels like a big budget version of that during the second half of the film. Think of a horror version of Indiana Jones when he’s exploring all of his ancient archaeological sites.

The problem is that the script, with all of its allusions to Hell and the Satanic theme that shines constantly through, can only go one place after the build-up as it writes itself into a corner. The finale is wholly anticlimactic and happens far too fast especially given how slow and methodical the build-up had been. Once the original terror of being trapped underground had been established, the levels of fear don’t really go much higher despite the explorers finding all manner of weird and wonderful (and deadly) things down there. Suspense and tension could have been ramped up far more and the finale stretched out more to give the film a much needed release. But hey, I’m not a filmmaker, so what do I know? Actually the one thing I do know is that I like Perdita Weeks very much. As some sort of nerdier version of Lara Croft, Weeks looks pretty, comes off as quite a nice person and has a reasonable range of skills so I would expect big things in the coming years.

 

The excellent set-up and amazing location fill the screen with the promise that As Above, So Below will end up being a standout horror film. Sadly, this is not the case as the film hurtles through the usual found footage clichés with aplomb. It’s deliberately paced, has a lot of suggestion in there rather than visuals and can be annoying at times but you could do a lot worse in this sub-genre.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Girlhouse (2014)

Girlhouse (2014)

Enjoy the show

Kylie is a beautiful young college student who, needing money for tuition after her father dies, moves into a secret all-girl house that streams content to an X-rated website where punters can login to chat to the girls and watch them strip. After she offends one of her fans, he hacks in to determine the house’s location and proceeds to track her down. Soon Kylie and the other girls find themselves in a terrifying fight for their lives.

 

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen a good solid slasher in ages. Having picked up a copy of Girlhouse on its day of release and reading the less-than-exciting blurb on the back of the DVD about the college girls-webcam-psycho setup, I had a feeling I would be in for a longer wait. Sure, Girlhouse is a typical slasher flick and it doesn’t do anything remotely different from the staple formula that the slasher boils down to but it’s the way in which it does the essentials that makes it such an entertaining ride. Girlhouse is the best modern slasher film I’ve seen for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, Girlhouse is no different to hundreds of slashers that have come before it: hot, scantily-clad young women; a masked male killer; a remote location; bloody and graphic murder scenes; and so on. The film is simple and borrows the standard issue ‘angry, sexually-frustrated man wronged as a child/teenager commits acts of unspeakable terror when he’s older’ plot which so many classic slasher films ran with. Adding new technology into the mix really gives Girlhouse that cutting edge. In a digital age where you are just three clicks away from finding graphic porn on the internet (allegedly!) and in an era where anyone can hide behind a keyboard and pretend to be someone they’re not, it’s good to see a film attempting something a little different and contemporary. Mixing footage from the Girlhouse webcams, the viewpoint of the computer screens and the traditional camera shots, the film uses a variety of perspectives to reveal or hide certain things (in particular the killer when he turns up). On the negative side, I’m sure Girlhouse will date a lot quicker as technology advances and internet habits move on.

Girlhouse does take a while to get going after the opening scene but this is essential in building up some of the characters, particularly the relationship between Kylie and Ben. Kylie isn’t just a bimbo like the other girls in the house but someone who is only doing what she is doing because she’s desperate. Keeping her humanised and rooted in reality keeps the audience from wanting to see her suffer because she’s sexually provocative. What also works, surprisingly, is the cast of female characters. Yes they’re all easily summed up in one-word clichés (stoner, bitch, etc.) but the actresses behind the characters actually put some effort in and ended up performing way better than they have any right to do in a slasher film. Ali Cobrin, as well as looking stunning, makes for a very sweet and likeable Final Girl in Kylie but the rest of the girls all play their part. They’re developed well enough to make you care for them, even the nastier ones. Of course it helps that they’re all very attractive young women to which the camera certainly panders a lot of attention to. In many ways, the audience is put into the position of Loverboy as we watch the girls through the various web cams around the house. Despite the nature of the webcam content, the film rarely feels gratuitous even if some of the girls do get naked.

It’s when Girlhouse starts putting the girls through the ringer that you begin to realise just how much the characters have grown on you. From some pretty brutal and exploitative death and torture sequences, the girls are tormented and savaged beyond belief. This is not a film which springs up a load of novelty death sequences but the way in which the various dispatches are handled is excellent. Lots of realistic gore is thrown around, particularly a brutal dis-fingering of one unlucky girl. The fact that the production values are clearly high class really livens everything up too. The film looks good, the editing is spot on and the lighting is all designed to create atmosphere and suspense.

Loverboy is an intimidating presence as a slasher. Played by Slaine (what a name), his portrayal harks back to Gunnar Hansen’s classic physical portrayal of Leatherface in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He charges down his victims, using sheer physicality and brute force to overpower them. Let’s face it, very few cinematic slashers would be successful in real life as they’re too slow and methodical. This guy just pulverises his victims, using his body weight and strength to take them out which would seem more realistic as they’re not just going to stand around waiting to die in real life. What really sets Loverboy apart from other generic killers (and he does look very generic when he dons the wig and mask) is that he’s a sympathetic character we can actually empathise with. He’s just some ordinary Joe who was a little nervous around girls in real life and started using the internet to get attention from the opposite sex – sounds like any number of lonely heart stories you hear about in the news. You can’t really give him an excuse for the horrific actions that he eventually takes in the film though!

 

Girlhouse does the usual slasher thing with gusto, presenting us with a decent group of likeable characters, plenty of unique approaches to the formula and, above all, delivering punch when it matters. It’s hardly going to reinvent the wheel but it keeps it turning pretty quickly.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Morlocks (2011)

Morlocks (2011)

A top secret time travel project leaves some U.S. marines stranded in the distant future in which human civilization no longer exists and the Earth is overrun by a vicious species of creatures known as Morlocks. A team headed by the scientist responsible for the project is sent to rescue them and retrieve the time travel device that become trapped with them.

 

You may know the name but you might not be able to place the film when I say Morlocks. One of the most infamous fictional species ever put to paper, they first appeared in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as one of the two future offshoots of the human race, hundreds of thousands of years after Earth had been ravaged by nuclear war. A cannibalistic species who lived underground, kept the peaceful, docile Eloi who lived in the surface fed and clothed, and in turn treat the Eloi like cattle and ate them, the Morlocks were blue creatures with white hair and big, glowing eyes. Wells’ metaphor for Victorian society where a huge underclass toiled and grafted for a privileged few to live a life of luxury (which still resonates in most developed countries today), the Morlocks became iconic cinematic monsters after their appearance in 1960’s The Time Machine, less so after the 2002 remake. With a hefty literate and cinematic reputation behind them, it is sad to see that Sy Fy has decided to wheel them out in one of their monster movies.

The rights to The Time Machine are in the public domain so anyone is free to use the work and anything written within without permission or the payment of royalties. Trust Sy Fy to find that out! In reality, Morlocks is just another generic Sy Fy Channel monster movie which has simply used the Morlocks as their ‘monster of the week’ and just gone through the usual motions of CGI nonsense, lots of gun-fire and very little story. Take away the name ‘Morlocks’ and call them anything else and the film would work exactly the same. The use of the name simply attaches a greater weight of expectation: people will watch this expecting some sort of link to The Time Machine. How wrong they would be! More Stargate SG-1 or Primeval with a dash of Aliens thrown in, Morlocks sees the usual ragtag bunch of nameless, non-entity marines fed to a monstrous threat with lots of guns, explosions and creature carnage ensuing.

There’s not a lot of story to go with this one and that which is left doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For every minute of ‘plot’ there are about ten minutes of action. I’m usually fine with this approach as long as every second of the plot makes a difference. But it doesn’t. Nearly every scene involves some sort of action and this gets tiresome after a while. Morlocks has a big fight scene early on in its running time and seemingly spends the rest of its running time trying to outdo that. I’d use the term ‘breathless’ to describe the film but the action won’t leave you gasping for air like, say the remake of Mad Max did after it’s amazing pursuit sequence. Most of these action sequences consist of horribly-animated Morlocks jumping through the air and tossing the nameless marines around like toys. A cut-scene from a computer game has more life and energy than this.

The Morlocks are given the CGI treatment here and look awful, more like some prehistoric-alien hybrid than any of the incarnations we’ve come to know them by so far in other media. They’re rendered poorly, with animation that looks about fifteen years older than it actually is. In fact almost every CGI shot in this film is awful, from the monsters to the splatters of blood to the explosions right down to the tanks and the time machine being activated and emitting light beams. Sy Fy really need to pick up their act when it comes to providing either the cash or the time for the animators to work on projects like this because the special effects borderline on embarrassing. They completely disconnect you from the action as you’re too busy laughing rather than being engrossed and entertained in the sights on-screen.

Ironically, the Stargate SG-1/Stargate: Atlantis comparison I made earlier was deliberate as David Hewlett, who played Dr Rodney McKay in the TV series, stars as the lead scientist here and Robert Picardo, who played Richard Woolsey in a couple of the Stargate spin-offs (also Star Trek: Voyager alumni), appears as a generic gung-ho military colonel. Picardo has taken a lot of these stern authority figure roles of late and it’s no stretch to see him doing the same thing again. I don’t remember too much about the other characters or actors in the film, save for the fact that they’re so badly written they won’t make any impression on you whatsoever.

 

If you were expecting Sy Fy to do any justice to H. G. Wells’ original story, then more the fool you. Morlocks is a shoddy, sloppy affair which goes for broke with the guns and explosions but forgets everything else that makes the guns and explosions necessary in the first place. Forget traveling into the future, you’ll want a trip back to the past before you even considered giving Morlocks the time of day.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Death Factory (2014)

Death Factory (2014)

One night, six serial killers, one bus load of victims…

A group of people are stranded in the middle of nowhere when their bus breaks down. They head off to a nearby tourist attraction called the Death Factory, which is closed and is in the process of being sold to a mysterious bidder who wants to purchase it. The attraction is an off-beat tribute to some of history’s most infamous serial killers including Ed Gein, Jack the Ripper and William Gacy and the owner has collection an assortment of artefacts associated with each of them including blood samples, electric chairs and more. However when one of the group reads from a book of spells that the bidder leaves unattended, the serial killers rise from the dead to continue to indulge in their murderous lusts.

 

Cinematic slashers only exist because of their real life counterparts. Without the likes of Ed Gein, there would be no Norman Bates, no Leatherface and no Hannibal Lecter or at least not as we know them. Aside from factual documentary-style portrayals of their lives which attempt to understand the men behind these crimes, the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, William Gacy, Ed Gein and the Zodiac killer have rarely been painted as fictitious characters or played for laughs or cheap shocks. After all, these are some of the most disgusting, despicable men who ever walked the face of the Earth. Sexually assaulting and murdering children, cannibalising victims and using body parts for furniture and fittings are unspeakable crimes and it’s right that we never glorify them or turn them into anti-heroes as the likes of Leatherface and Michael Myers have become. Step forward Death Factory, a low budget film which attempts to break the taboo by featuring some of history’s most hated serial killers in some form of horrific Avengers Assemble-style mash up.

Truth be told, Death Factory has got a nice idea in theory but falls flat on its face when it comes to executing it. The fact that it is so poorly made, treats the killers like daft cartoon villains and generally uses them for cheap gratification rather than tell any proper story with them just adds to the insult of using them in the first place. Thinking about the film reminded me of a home haunt that people create on Halloween in their back gardens or garages – a lot of darkness, some flashing lights, background noise and a lot of mates jumping out wearing Halloween masks of famous serial killers. Death Factory is pretty much that but on a bigger budget.

Things don’t get off to a great start with a prologue that goes on for far longer than it needs to and serves little purpose in the scheme of the things. You can tell already that the script is padding itself out as much as possible. At seventy-five minutes, the film really needs every minute it can to craft together something logical and coherent and give us an explanation as to how and why these serial killers rise from the dead but fails to do so. Like a lot of things in Death Factory, I guess the script just wants the audience to overlook a lot of what happens and suspend their disbelief because of the ‘famous serial killers returning to life’ storyline.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the cinematic universe but buses, schools, workplaces, etc. always contain a perfectly diverse mixture of characters. I’m sure if I got on my local bus, there’d be a load of old people, some young, single mother with a kid and pushchair and maybe one or two people heading to work because they can’t afford a car. Here there’s a preacher and his wife, a pair of aggressive goth/alt-types, two ditzy cheerleader-esque characters, a sleazy bus driver, the token black character and a couple of square-jawed heroes ready to save the day. I’ve pretty much summed up their characters within these brief descriptions and nothing much changes throughout. They’re introduced by the nature of their characters, rather than any proper development, and are promptly split up and fed to the various serial killers. Cue lots of boo moments, a bit of gore, some unpleasant suggestions as to the nature of the serial killers’ real life crimes and a lot of running around.

For me, the film’s main problem was that, being from the UK, I know very little about the serial killers who were assembled for the film. Taking Jack the Ripper and Ed Gein out of the equation (as any self-respecting horror fan should know how many famous cinematic monsters Gein has inspired and Jack the Ripper needs no introduction), I’m pretty sure that the rest of the serial killers were all nasty pieces of work yet I know very little about them to be able to ‘appreciate’ their presence in the film. I had a hard time distinguishing who was who, how many people they killed, what methods they used to kill their victims and when they were executed because they are so poorly brought to life. I’m sure my US readers will not have that problem (likewise if the UK did their own version with the likes of the Yorkshire Ripper, Harold Shipman, etc). This disengaged me a lot from proceedings. Having read up on some of them after watching, I felt that it was in poor taste that they had been turned into Freddy Kruger-like slashers. For documentary-esque horror flicks charting their individual stories – fine. Using them like this is a little disappointing in all honesty but the film botches their inclusion so badly that you’ll have a hard time relating to the real life crimes. They’re literally nothing more than one-dimensional caricatures here and could have been called Billy Bob, Mick or Dave for all I would have cared.

 

The plot potential of Death Factory was excellent however the amateur end product we’re presented with is an embarrassingly inept film which tries to revel in its trashy premise but due to poor editing, poor pacing and a poor script, it comes off as corny and exploitative. If you’re going to use some of the most notorious serial killers to walk the planet, at least use them correctly.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆