Tag Backwoods/Survival

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011)

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011)

Screaming only makes them hungrier

Whilst looking for a cabin where they intend to spend a weekend partying, a group of teenagers become lost in a blizzard. Seeking shelter in an abandoned sanatorium, they soon realise that they are not alone. Still living there are a trio of inbred cannibals, former inmates from the sanatorium who had broken out over thirty years earlier, and now look to the new arrivals as an essential source of food.

 

After the previous sequel, Wrong Turn 3: Dead End, seemed to send the cannibal horror series in an irreversible downturn, it’s refreshing to see that the series still has some life in it yet. I’m not sure whether any fourth entry into a franchise has any right to be as entertaining as Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, especially one which pretends to go down the prequel route to show you how the main antagonists came into being (in a prologue) before fast forwarding back to the present day. Director Declan O’Brien returns from the previous sequel and seems to have learnt his lessons here, offering up a far more traditional blood-soaked affair which requires limited brain power to understand.

Don’t expect the wheel to be reinvented here. Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is purely standard issue horror sequel filmmaking – minimum set-up and maximum carnage. You won’t see anything remotely unique. You’ll have seen everything before. You’ll have seen it done better too. Plot holes litter the narrative. Characters are barely existent. But there’s a certain level of brutality and a clear love for the genre that prevails through all of this.

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings clearly panders to a certain demographic and, from the opening minutes featuring inbred cannibals feasting on fresh human throats, people getting ripped apart from with barbed wire, electroshock therapy being used more violently than normal and then some token sex and lesbian scenes, you’ll be able to see how all of the boxes are going to be ticked off. The quick set-up allows for the characters to get to their eventual destination and run across the cannibals with two-thirds of the running time still in the bank. Being able to film in a real abandoned mental institution really allows Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings to look like a big budget horror film. The polished look that it has certainly lends it a nice air of credibility which the following sequels sadly lacked.

It’s rare for a horror film to feature a full cast of characters who are all utterly odious – usually there is at least one likeable character to get behind – but this group of friends has to be one of the most annoying, bitchy groups of friends going. Even the girl who appears to be set up as the likeable ‘Final Girl’ in the opening scenes has her fair share of bitchiness and unpleasantness. It’s difficult to even partition them off into the usual stereotypes. Whether horror writers are blurring the lines between stock characters or it is just lazy writing (my guess is the latter), it is getting hard to distinguish between who is who. They are walking targets and now instead of thinly-sketched characters, they’re literally bodies waiting to be smashed into oblivion. On the positive side, there are ten of them so expect the kills to be constant. The pace of the film is pretty solid meaning you won’t go too long before the cannibals dispatch another victim.

Like so many of its contemporary counterparts, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is rife with copious CGI gore but that’s not to say that there isn’t any of the old school stuff. In fact there are some excellent practical effects on display here and it’s like a slasher fan’s dream. With limbs being severed, heads decapitated and all manner of barbed wire and power tools being used, the film doesn’t skimp on the blood for one minute – clearly all of the creativity went into the death scenes rather than the script, a trait so common from the 1980s slasher craze. The film has a downright nasty mean streak a mile long running through – look no further than the gruesome scene in which the three cannibals slowly strip the flesh off one unlucky victim who keeps crying out “God kill me please.” It’s an unsettling scene, one which doesn’t really sit well within the rather jovial nature of the rest of the film.

The other great staple of horror is T&A, so often neglected in today’s more prudish genre offerings, but Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings delivers the goods, providing some extreme titillation on a number of occasions. It helps that the girls are all smoking hot but they not great actresses so acting with their bodies is about the best you’ll get. The script is truly terrible as well so the naked girls aren’t the only ones struggling with their tongues. Literally all of the dialogue is as basic as you can get and when it’s delivered by a bunch of actors and actresses who clearly sound like they need a few lessons in drama, it’s almost torture to the ears. Doing stupid things to further the plot isn’t the only crime that these people are guilty of.

 

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is a marked step up in quality from the previous film and puts this franchise firmly back on track. It’s clichéd as hell and features stuff that only the hardened horror fanatics will really lap up with enthusiasm. However what is not to love about a group of inbred cannibals chasing a bunch of horny and hot teenagers around in an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere? It’snot fine art, but it’s fine junk food horror for a rainy night.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Evil wears many faces.

When word gets out about what happened at the Sawyer farmhouse, Sheriff Hooper heads straight there to demand that they hand over the perpetrator. With the Sawyer clan fortified inside and refusing to come out, an angry mob descends upon the building and torches it to the ground after a shoot-out. One of the mob finds a survivor in the barn along with a baby girl. Taking the baby and killing the mother, the man decides to raise her with his wife who was unable to have children. Moving ahead to the present time, Heather is a now a young woman who receives papers to say that she has inherited a house from a grandma she didn’t know existed. Finding out that her parents aren’t her biological parents, Heather and some of her friends head to Texas to check out the house, unaware that Heather isn’t the only descendant of the Sawyer clan left.

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of horror’s greatest films. One of the most brutal, unrelenting ordeals of all-time, as the years go by it seems that the film becomes more and more appreciated for the nightmarish masterpiece it is. The grainy, pseudo-documentary style brought to life the horrors of Leatherface and his cannibal family in shockingly realistic fashion. It’s an assault on the senses and makes you feel like you need a shower after watching because you’ve been put through the ringer along with the cast. With the horror boom in the 80s, it was only a matter of time before someone went back and revisited the iconic Leatherface and a couple of sequels followed, none of which did the original any justice whatsoever. Then way back in 2003 (that sounds really weird saying that but its eleven years ago!), Platinum Dunes kicked off the whole horror remake fad with their pretty decent re-imagining of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A prequel followed which wasn’t so decent and Leatherface was sent back into oblivion….until now.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films have never adhered to continuity. The patchwork sequels picked and chose what parts of the original they wanted to follow on from and never followed on from each other. The Platinum Dunes remake in 2003 and its resultant prequel exist in their own bubble. Now along comes a glossy sequel which would have fit in better with the modern films but decides to go back to its roots instead. Texas Chainsaw kicks off minutes after the moment that the 1974 original ends. Yes, despite the passage of thirty-nine years of real life, the film decides that it would be a great idea to deal with the immediate aftermath of the original attacks. Talk about confusing – most of this film’s target audience will wrongfully assume that the 2003 remake is the only ‘original’ out there anyway.

Whilst the idea is nice in theory and it is executed as best as it has any right to do to begin with, it doesn’t quite fit right with the original due to the cleaner, glossier digital print. Then come all of the temporary lapses in logic that this film doesn’t have answers for if we take the thirty-nine years between films as being some reflection of film time (given the cars and clothing from the 70s in the prologue and the iPhones from the 2000s and 2010s used in the modern part of the film). This would make Leatherface about sixty so why is he so agile and spritely? Why does Heather look like she’s in her early twenties when surely if she’s a baby in the 70s she’d be pushing her forties?

Texas Chainsaw’s faults lie squarely at its bizarre script. Not only is there the questionable decision to follow on from the original but the narrative then sets about becoming a poor man’s remake of the original, with similar set-ups and death scenes (mallets to the head and bodies thrown onto hooks after investigating strange rooms). Leatherface is clearly the antagonist, smashing and slicing the teenage cast with his usual array of meat-cutting utensils. The sad thing is that we saw all of this during the recap of the events of the original and so showing us newer versions of the same scenes just keeps reminding us of how superior the original was. Granted the film is quite bloody during this first half, with one unlucky victim being chainsawed in half being amongst the scant highlights. The film tries to make use of its 3-D gimmick as best as it can but most of the shots are predictably pointless. This half completely goes against the grain of the original, showcasing gory set pieces and throwing CGI blood around like confetti in an attempt to mask its blatant shortcomings.

However in the final third, there is an even more random development where Heather finds out she is related to the Sawyers and due to events in the film, Leatherface becomes her saviour – despite the fact that he just butchered her friends. The novelty of seeing Leatherface as an anti-hero wears off in about two minutes when you realise he just does the same things only to different people. This kind of sums up the whole film: once certain novelty factors have worn off, Texas Chainsaw is just your very average, sub-par rather, teen horror film which just so happens to include one of horror’s most iconic characters. Remove Leatherface, rename the film something else and you have any number of backwoods horrors with demented hillbilly killers beating a path of destruction through a teenage cast. Throw in some generic ‘boo’ scares, a contemporary soundtrack which doesn’t invoke any sort of atmosphere whatsoever and a bunch of unlikeable, one-note characters and you’ve got pretty much any teen horror film released in the last fifteen years.

Three former Chainsaw alumni appear in roles in a nice nod to the films that preceded this one: the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, pops up as one of the older Sawyers in the introduction; Bill Moseley, who played ‘Chop Top’ in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, takes over from Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer for the introduction; and Marilyn Burns, who was put through the ringer by the cannibal clan in the original, is Verna Carson, Heather’s grandmother, who tells her of her family ties.

One last gripe: why knock off the Massacre part of the title?

 

Perhaps we’re entering into a new phase of horror. Instead of the pointless remakes, will Texas Chainsaw kick off a fad where sequels are made to films which are thirty and forty years old in an attempt to appease both fans of the original and introduce them to a younger audience? Actually, I doubt it. Texas Chainsaw is dire. Even younger genre fans will smell the foul stench of death a mile away. Leatherface is an old man now and it’s about time he was retired permanently. Texas Chainsaw is such a wasted opportunity to kick off a real series of linked sequels and reboot the legend of the Sawyer family for a new generation.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hike, The (2011)

The Hike (2011)

It’s all about survival

After returning from a tour in Afghanistan, a young female soldier heads off with four of her friends for a camping weekend in a remote area of British countryside. But when one of the girls goes missing, the remaining girls are plunged into a nightmarish world of violence in which survival is their only goal.

 

It isn’t very often that the Brits go down the survival horror route so beaten to death by their counterparts across The Pond but judging the ‘merits’ of The Hike, it’s a good job that this is the case. Not worried about breaking new ground and sticking to the genre script to the letter, The Hike might as well have ‘Made in America’ stuck all over it. It’s a bit sad to see the limited number of horror films that we make in the UK end up as generic and one-note as this. You’d hope that they’d come out all guns blazing and make the most of their situation. Not with The Hike.

The Hike starts off promisingly with a pre-credits sequence that is arguably better than the rest of the film put together but then quickly degenerates into a routine survival horror film where the attractive young female cast head out for a spot of bonding in natural surroundings (in many ways this film reminded me of Neil Marshal’s The Descent) only to fall foul of something nasty. Whilst the opening scenes serve as an introduction to the various characters, most of whom receive some minor development to at least flesh out their characters, they do go on for a while and outstay their welcome very early on. Red herrings are introduced. Some plot threads are set up for later in the film. And the scenery is very nice so credit to the cinematographer for some great shots of the British countryside.

Heading into this environment, there is the usual mix of stereotypical female characters with baggage of the male variety and tension in the ranks. I’d be hasten to add that these females are some of the worst written characters I’ve had the misfortune of watching. In fact their whole portrayal in the film is something I have issue with. Not wanting to get all feminist about them but it’s clear that they were written by men because everything about them just sets off warning bells. They’re clearly designed on the females from The Descent however unlike the strong female characters there, here they’re just fakes. Trying to buy the fact that one of their number is ex-army is a hard sell when she finds difficulty using a map and compass. Apart from being good-looking, the women also have their obligatory bikini scene when they go bathing. Not having a clue about hiking and spending some time in the woods, these women take all manner of silly things like designer handbags and fancy shoes. It’s cheap and lazy writing designed to portray these women as hopeless and clearly in danger from the minute they leave their car. These women flirt with any man that cross their paths, implying non-too-subtle messages about ‘wanting it’ but then reacting badly when they get ‘it.’ It’s a rather dangerous implication that is being put across here that these women are in some way responsible for their eventual treatment at the hands of the psychos.

If you’re going to go down the ‘rape revenge’ route that will immediately attract criticism then at least have the conviction to go down it fully it. The Hike dabbles in sexual violence and gory exploitation but rarely manages to make itself appear as shocking or brutal as it clearly wants to be. I don’t want to come off as some sex-obsessed schoolboy who giggles at a bit of titillation and lusts after wanton violence but The Hike really needed some more sexiness or nastiness. The draw of these films are those elements so to skimp on them is cheating the target demographic. As it turns out, The Hike is more ‘family friendly’ torture porn (not really, I’m exaggerating – do not show this to children!) where the director is clearly gunning for a certain niche but doesn’t have the convictions to fully go through with it.

Once the film takes its nastier turn, it becomes a mess of mildly gory set pieces, gaping wide holes in the script and random plot twists. There’s lots of running and wrestling in the woods and on the floor as various characters encounter each other in the dark. There are no thrills here, no excitement and, despite some obligatory slasher-lite stalking moments, there’s no tension or suspense. The finale sees the strongest members of both groups fighting for survival but we know how this will end from the first moment one of the males makes sexual advances earlier on in the film.

There’s a good-looking cast featuring the stunning Barbara Nedeljakova from Hostel, who convinced a generation of teenage boys that Eastern European hostels were filled with horny chicks like her, willing to drop their clothes in a heartbeat. Co-writer Ben Loyd-Holmes also stars as the leader of the psycho group which is a bit odd to discover, given the content of the film and who gets to do what to which character. Is this wishful thinking on his behalf by living out some bizarre fantasy? If I was writing a horror film like this, I’d want nothing to do with starring as people like me would put two and two together and wonder why he was cast (well that and the director was his co-writer). Cockeny rent-a-goon Tamer Hassan also pops up in a small cameo.

 

I do feel like I’m being overly harsh on The Hike because it’s not a total bomb but at the end of the day, it’s a lukewarm horror which is neither full-on torture porn nor outright slasher. It’s like ‘Horror for Dummies’ with some mildly offensive stuff thrown in, softening you up for the main event of Eden Lake or I Spit On Your Grave.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bunnyman Massacre, The (2011)

The Bunnyman Massacre (2011)

Legend, urban myth or true story? You decide

Driving home through a remote region of Southern California, a group of teenage friends are harassed by a massive dump truck that plays cat-and-mouse with them along the stretch of road and which eventually forces them off the road. Seeking help at the only farm they have seen for miles, the group unwittingly fall into the clutches of a psychotic cannibal family whose number include the Bunnyman, a crazed madman so deformed and deranged from years of abuse that he wears a bunny outfit to commit his unspeakable crimes.

 

The Bunny Man is an American urban legend which stems from a couple of incidents in the 70s of a person in a bunny outfit threatening a couple of people with an axe in two separate incidents. The legend has spawned annual tourist pilgrimages as people hunt for the elusive Bunnyman. That’s pretty much it. Hardly the stuff of nightmares. But in an era where remakes, sequels, prequels and re-imaginings are pretty much the only thing that the main studios focus on, any ‘fresh’ material that independent filmmakers can rustle up is welcome.

It’s a shame then that The Bunnyman Massacre* is a complete dud. Far from telling an interesting and original story, the script has a bunch of teenagers fall prey to the Bunnyman in Texas Chainsaw Massacre fashion, complete with requisite psychotic hillbilly family (and chainsaw to boot). It’s just a sub-standard rehash of the usual backwoods tropes but not before a quick trip to Spielberg territory with the Duel-like opening salvo featuring the truck. All this tells me is that writer and director Carl Lindbergh has seen a lot of films and that he can recycle material like no man’s business. How about showing some originality? What Lindbergh fails to realise is that, and this opening scene is a perfect example, he is no Spielberg. Hell, he’s no Tobe Hooper either. There’s no excitement, no tension and certainly no point. Bizarrely, the friends decide to ‘wait out’ the truck and so we have the ridiculous visage of a group of teenagers in a car with a huge dump truck with blacked-out windows parked behind. Lest we forget that the truck was just trying to kill them a minute ago! Pacing is a real issue.

Intelligence isn’t high on the characters’ agenda and this is just one of many stupid decisions they make. Obviously they’re designed to further the plot and channel it the way in which the writer wants it to go but when they’re as dumb as this, it kind of takes the realism out of the situation. No one in their right mind would do the things that these characters do – not bringing food, drink or a mobile phone on a long road trip being numero uno! As a result of their stupidity, the characters have a likeability of zero and the terrible script gives us little reason to root for them when the Bunnyman makes his appearance. Usually in films like this, you’re rooting for the killer just to get rid of as many annoying cast members as possible. Sadly that isn’t even the case here.

The Bunnyman Massacre reeks of doing what so many contemporary horror films try to do – create an iconic villain so that they can make a killing out of sequels ala Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Pinhead, etc. With the urban legend as its source, the Bunnyman character here looks every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s a lumbering costume with big, fluffy feet which shouldn’t provide as much mobility as it appears to have. Coupled with the madman’s fondness for heavy chainsaws, there’s no way that the characters shouldn’t easily outrun him. Only this is horror movie territory we’re in and so obviously the Bunnyman is just as nimble and stealthy as his animal namesakes. If you’ve seen one demented hillbilly psycho go to down on a bunch of teenagers then you’ve seen all of them and Bunnyman is no different, treading the same path as his predecessors. The costume adds nothing to the film, save for more inconsistencies with the plot and some physics dilemmas that need answering. Even worse is that the film is shot entirely during the day so the Bunnyman costume is never given the opportunity to look creepy in the dark or twilight. Seeing it in full daylight just adds laughter to the film when I’m sure this wasn’t the original intent!

The Bunnyman Massacre isn’t overly gore given that the killer wields a chainsaw. In fact there’s only really one make-up effect shown in the entire film – that of blood spray. Someone is attacked off camera and there’s a spray of blood which covers something nearby. Yeah it may look fine once but it’s clear that it’s the effects teams’ only skill. There’s a body count of about ten so Bunnyman does get pretty busy but between the opening kills and his carnage towards the end, there’s little to go on. There is one scene of obligatory torture which pushes the envelope of taste a little too far considering how dull the rest of the film had been. It seems shoe-horned in and provides little entertainment. Don’t get me wrong I’m not adverse to a little bit of torturing in my horror films but it needs to serve a purpose – here it’s just for controversial kicks.

 

I think you can gather where this review has been heading since the start. The Bunnyman Massacre is a lazy effort which assembles some good bits from other films and attempts to stitch them together to make a coherent film without any real idea of how to do it. There’s a lack of pace, a scrimping on gore, too many inconsistencies and illogical decisions and a general sense that the film is directionless and aimless. The blame must lay solely at the feet of the director who tries to punch far above his weight but dramatically fails to land a blow. Where’s Elmer Fudd when you need him to put this bunny menace to sleep?

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

*This film was originally just called Bunnyman in the US but was renamed The Bunnyman Massacre for its UK DVD release. The Bunnyman Massacre is the name of the sequel (i.e. Bunnyman 2) in the US but this sequel was renamed The Bunnyman Resurrection in the UK. Don’t ask me, makes no sense!

 

 

Death Trap (1977)

Death Trap (1977)

He’s out there and he’s got murder on his mind!

A psychotic redneck runs a dilapidated hotel in the backwater swamps of Louisiana, killing people who upset him or his business and feeding them to his giant pet crocodile that he keeps locked up in the swamp.

 

Tobe Hooper’s follow up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis this? Boy, the dude really fell from grace quickly didn’t he? Shot in the same grainy, low budget style that made The Texas Chain Saw Massacresuch a grim classic, Death Trapcomes off as wanting to be a Leatherface and co. follow up but never really does anything worthwhile to achieve that goal. It’s almost as if Hooper caught lightning in bottle with his previous film and attempts to replicate that success, simply substituting backwoods Texas for rural Louisiana. Whilst Death Trap isn’t a particularly well-made film, there’s no question that it’s got a strangely perverse quality which warrants at least a look.

Death Trap’s main problem is that the narrative is all over the place. The story here doesn’t follow any major plot threads and meanders between the numerous random strangers who end up at the hotel before being offed by crazy Judd for whatever reason. There is the underlying search for the missing hooker from the beginning but most of the characters who visit the hotel aren’t involved in this search so it begs the question of whether it is actually the main plot or not. We never really know what pushes Judd over the edge to kill either so by the time he’s taken care of another stranger, you’re just happy to sit back and believe that the guy is just a total fruitcake. The script really needed some serious work here.

As expected for a low budget film, the crocodile doesn’t look too hot (or an alligator as some characters in the film claim) and has limited movement. But thankfully Hooper realised this and keeps it mainly covered in the swamp, only using it sparingly for a few shots where actors try and free themselves from the jaws of the model monster. No one and nothing is spared from this croc, even a poor dog!

But the croc isn’t the main source of violence from the film – that comes from Judd himself who is a dab hand with a scythe. Hooper shoots the death scenes here with gritty realism. Too often in horror films, one blow is enough to kill someone. Here, Hooper strings the death out, causing victims to bleed or gasp for breath as they hit the floor, trying in vain to escape or defend themselves. Death isn’t instant and this is where Hooper earns brownie points. As with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you know that the victims here are suffering and going through hell before they eventually die. There’s a reasonably smattering of blood and Hooper even throws in some T&A to try and liven things up. But Death Trap is slow going and excitement is in short supply. The scenes drag out way longer than needed, the exposition takes for too long and there are only a handful of half-decent set pieces which are few and far between.

As for the cast, well it’s a pretty decent bunch of performances given the craziness around them. Neville Brand is great as Judd. I don’t think he had much of a clue where the character should be heading so he went for it and it works though Hooper could have cut back the amount of time he gave to his rambling monologues. Robert Englund, looking very young and pre-Freddy Krueger fame, appears as a horny redneck that uses the hotel as a meeting ground for hookers. Marilyn Burns, fresh from screaming her lungs out in the finale of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is also in the film.

 

Death Trap is far too similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to work, given that it’s not a patch on its predecessor and seems content in trying to replicate its success without knowing why it has become a classic. Death Trap has got a few decent moments but there’s very little to stop the craziness, an incoherent script and lack of solid direction from ripping it up.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Paintball (2009)

Paintball (2009)

There’s nothing like a brush with death to make you feel alive

A team of eight adrenaline junkies are taken into a remote forest for the ultimate game of paintball in Europe’s largest paintball sanctuary. When one of their team is shot and killed by a live round, the group suddenly realise that the stakes of their game have just risen as a mysterious masked paintballer sets out to kill them one-by-one.

 

Anyone who has ever been paintballing will know that it’s not the sort of sport for everyone. Some will love it and rise to the occasion, revelling in the chance to become a general for a day. Others will hate it and wish for the game to finish quickly. It’s the only chance that ‘ordinary’ people will ever get to being in some sort of combat situation. For those younger males who’ve grown up on Call of Duty and the like, you’ll love the chance to act it out for real. However if you have played it before and you’re not very good, you’ll find yourself being killed early on and sitting out the rest of the game, watching the commando-wannabes crawl and sprawl across the battlefield for hours at a time. It can be a great game to compete in but ultimately disappointing and frustrating if you get the chance to play. Paintball is exactly the same. It’s got the potential to be a great film but it isn’t and doesn’t even come close which is both unsatisfactory and frustrating.

Any successful horror film will have you care about the characters. I mean let’s face it if you don’t like someone you’re not going to be rooting for them to survive the situation. The best scripts are those which allow the characters to get a bit of empathy from the viewer. So it’s to Paintball‘s detriment that this bunch of characters are so badly written and presented that you’ll not care who lives and who dies. The closest we get to knowing anything about them is the brief sequence on the jeep at the beginning where each person introduces themselves by name. That’s about it for characterisation because once the paintball game gets underway they all run around with the same combat attire and with their faces covered by masks. Pay close attention to the beginning because once names are thrown around during the commotion, it’s hard to remember who is who.

The acting is atrocious too and consists purely of the group shouting, screaming, swearing a lot and running around in the forest. It seems that every actor here has some form of accent. Maybe it was to distinguish who is who but the accents really get in the way of any form of characterisation. If one of them spoke differently, we’d at least be able to remember them. Since everyone has them, it’s a waste of time. The characters are so interchangeable that it doesn’t really matter who gets killed off because none of them have a redeeming factor. The game of paintball requires teamwork and the characters here all want the chance to live out some form of survivalist fantasy. So when their fantasy becomes reality and the situation becomes a matter of life and death, the film doesn’t really do anything with it. They still run around as if they’re playing the game, barking out orders to each other and

I don’t actually recall the camera lens staying still through the entire film. It’s always on the move and there are some weird angles at times. Two characters are about to have a knife fight yet the camera lingers on their midsections as opposed to whole body shots. It’s quite unsettling on the eyes and it gets frustrating to see the camera shaking and twisting every minute. Stay still and let me have a look at what’s going on! Handheld cameras can have their use but not for an entire film – it’s just too frenetic.

The constant use of the thermal vision goggles by the killer was a nice touch too as you see a lot of the film from a first-person perspective. I thought it would be overworked but it’s more effective as the film goes on. Forget the film being overly bloody because most of the kills happen through the first-person vision of these goggles so it’s just white liquid spurting across the screen. This effect doesn’t actually disguise the brutality of some of the death scenes, it just gives them all a unique spin. It’s a neat touch especially during one scene where one unlucky victim is pummelled by a rifle butt. It adds a pleasing visual style to the proceedings and is arguably the highlight of the film. These thermal vision moments also contribute to the unveiling of the big plot twist. Borrowing it from Hostel doesn’t help matters although I suppose it makes sense and the way it’s revealed to the viewer is pretty good.

 

Paintball has got some great visuals and odd moments of inspired genius so it’s a pity that the script lets it down in a big way with really weak characters and a complete lack of tension and atmosphere. For paintball purists only but even then you’d rather be playing it than watching it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Trailer Park of Terror (2008)

Trailer Park of Terror (2008)

Fear Has A New Home!

Six trouble high school students and their youth ministries pastor are on their way back from an outdoor retreat in the mountains when their bus crashes during a storm. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, the group seeks refuge at a seemingly abandoned trailer park. However this trailer park is home to a group of redneck zombies led by Norma, a buxom blonde who struck a deal with the Devil when her lover boy was killed by jealous suitors in the park.

 

With a title like Trailer Park of Terror, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that it’s not going to be the prettiest, tactful and thought-provoking film out there. You’re going to get sleaze, filth and as much stereotyping as you can shake a stick at. Combine Two Thousand Maniacs! with John Waters’ legendary filthy classic Pink Flamingos and throw in Rob Zombie’s penchant for white trash cinema and you’ve got some idea of what to expect. With a morbid sense of humour, a ‘middle finger approach’ to taste and more depraved cruelty than any man is fit to watch in ninety-one minutes, Trailer Park of Terror means well and plays well for the most part.

The film opens with the back story about Norma and how the zombies came to be which is all well and good given that she spends her first few minutes wearing just a bra. I’m not American so don’t exactly get the whole ‘redneck’ thing but the way the films portray them as backwoods, inbred, retarded and perverted is just a little too clichéd now. I’m sure they’re mostly nice people really but you wouldn’t think it should you ever watch a horror film. Then the film switches to the present day to give us our band of travelling zombie chow in their bus. The characters are (surprise, surprise) of the stock variety and are so one-dimensional that labelling them as token slut, token goth and token asshole is actually quite demeaning to the word token. Their obligatory opening words are all filled with sarcastic barbs, designed to give us an immediate insight into their minds and one-line summaries of their character so that our pre-conceived notions of stereotypes come into effect. Smart work, Mr Writer – let the audience do the hard work so that you don’t have to.

The film knows that characters aren’t going to matter too much later on and these scenes are kept mercifully brief but the problem is that the redneck zombies don’t appear until the half-way point so you had better get sitting comfortably. When they do finally appear, the zombies look as good as they have any right to be. Some of them clearly are just wearing masks but the make-up jobs on a few of them look top drawer. They’ve all got a nice 80s-vibe to them akin to the likes of Night of the Demons and Return of the Living Dead. They’ve got a lot of cheesy one-liners too and the actors in the make-up all ham it up to immense levels. The pot-smoking country music-loving zombie is the funniest of the group, belting out a few musical numbers from the top of his trailer. It’s all silly and jokey but it’s clearly just padding out the running time a little more in between attacks. And it really gets on your nerves after the first couple of songs!

The goofy sense of fun and mischievousness that the film toys with is brutally cast aside during the scenes of cruelty and torture. These zombies don’t just want to get your brains, they want to chop off your arms, smash through your spinal column and turn you into beef jerky. The beef jerky scene alone is nasty, as one unlucky teenager is slowly peeled before being dunked into a bathtub of boiling oil. The scene feels like it goes on forever, such is the nauseating way the victim is slowly toyed with. They could have just dunked him into the oil but no, this is a 2008 horror film so that means excess is the key and torture is necessary. The ‘less is more’ strategy of yesteryear has been replaced by ‘show everything and string it out for as long you can.’ With the film being as hokey and cheesy as it had been up until this point, this scene seems a little out of place. But that seems like an overriding problem with the film. It’s played too over-the-top for anything to be taken seriously so when there’s an effective moment, it’s all lost in the goofiness.

 

Trailer Park of Terror is daft, silly and extremely cheesy which is fun at times and pretty cringe-worthy in others. Whether you like this or not will really depend on your mood. It’s that type of film. Just make sure you have a good wash afterwards as this film will make you feel dirty!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hills Have Eyes II, The (2007)

The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)

The Lucky ones die fast

A squad of National Guard are sent into the New Mexico desert on a supply mission to a team that is installing a new system into an abandoned facility. When they get there, they find no sign of the team until a distress call is received from the hills. Making their way up the hills, the soldiers are attacked by a group of mutants and equipment is damaged and stolen. With no way of getting back down the hill, the remaining soldiers must find their way through an old mine to get back to base.

 

The 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes certainly surprised me as being a brutal, gory and relentless ride which, in many ways, bettered the original. And just like the revamped The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in 2003 saw a sequel, Alexandre Aja’s slick remake has spawned a sequel for whatever cash-related reason. Out went Aja, the man responsible for the disturbing and savage nature of the original, and out with him went that brutal and unforgiving edge – you got the sense that anything went in his film and there would be no prisoners, no matter how sick or depraved it was going to be. In its place comes a totally out-of-place comic tone, more mutants you can shake a stick at, more characters to get killed and more gore. Say goodbye to everything that made the remake such a great ride.

The problems with The Hills Have Eyes II are evident from the start and that lies with the characters. For starters, I don’t want to see a bunch of soldiers being chewed up, decapitated and hacked to pieces because surely they should be trained enough to deal with this sort of thing better than anyone (I know you don’t get mutant-fighting training anywhere but at least they practice combat regularly as opposed to say, me who has never done anything like that and wouldn’t stand a chance against the mutants). I like seeing ordinary people put into extraordinary situations and seeing how they cope with it. So by throwing the best prepared humans into that situation and watch them suffer doesn’t really hit the same nerve.

Secondly, if you’re going to give me soldiers, then at least make an effort to humanise them and characterise them a little. Names are for tombstones in films like this and it’s funny how you won’t remember 90% of the names by the middle of the film, let alone the end. Instead just sit back and call them their token names: hotshot, black guy, coward, hot chick, etc. It borders spoof at times with the silliness of the characters. Do you remember a little film called Aliens back in the 80s? That involved a bunch of bad ass soldiers taking on acid-spitting aliens. But James Cameron never once let the characters descend into caricatures. He humanised them, gave each one personality traits and made the audience care about them, even the ones who didn’t survive too long. Here they’re just going through the motions of the generic “macho bullshit” that soldiers are portrayed as having in the movies.

They also do some of the most ludicrous things I’ve seen in a horror film and as such, plot developments can be seen way ahead of time. Thinking of climbing down a mountain using a rope? Good idea but stand around dithering for ages and you’re going to be in for it! I can’t really comment on the actors involved because some of them may suck, some of them may have talent – it’s just impossible to see through the awful script. And when you consider who wrote this – WES CRAVEN no less, it’s a complete travesty.

Now I’ve had a rant over the script and characters, where else to begin? Well the fact that the film descends into a pointless sequence of chases around the dark, abandoned mine is a start. The Descent showed how you could breathe a little life back into a setting as over-used as this with its sense of claustrophobia and constantly lurking danger. No such atmosphere or skill here, just annoying characters stumbling around the dark looking for an exit or looking to be killed. How about the silly comic tone that the film has? In one moment, a mutant pulls an arm of one of the guys and waves it back at him. Mildly amusing when you see it but totally out of place here. The gore stakes have been ramped up but without the savage tone, without the brutality and without the violence of the original, it’s all wasted.

 

The Hills Have Eyes II is a pointless, stupid exercise in gore. It’s a total rush job and it smacks of pandering to the modern horror fans who only watch these films to be shocked with blood and gore. Does anyone know how to create a story any more? Or build up suspense? Even former genre icons like Wes Craven seem to have lost their way.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009)

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009)

What You Don’t See Will Kill You

A group of dangerous criminals are transported through a remote rural backwoods area in order to avoid a potential jail-break attempt by one of the inmates’ gangs. But the bus is soon forced off the road by a truck and soon the criminals and guards start to be picked off one-by-one by inbred mutants who have been living in the mountains.

 

After two entertaining instalments, it was only a matter of time before the Wrong Turn series derailed and this is the culprit – a limp, by-the-numbers sequel. What could be worse than a group of stereotypical teenagers smoking pot and getting naked? Well it’s the group of stereotypical prisoners that are unleashed in this one. I mean seriously, how many films do we see where each group of convicts contains one complete psycho, one rapist, one weasel/little runt, one of the silent types and not to mention the guards, one of whom is usually a family man or dreams of a better life? Are American prisons that full of equal numbers of ethnic groups that each prisoner transfer contains Hispanics and white skinheads? And who thinks that having a horror film full of nasty, ruthless and depraved convicts is a good idea? We’re supposed to root for the people who fall victim to the mutants, not the other way around.

The script is all over the place and this is the film’s downfall. There’s actually a reasonable story in there waiting to come out with the cons killing the mutant’s kid and sticking his head on a pole as warning for him to back off. But the film does nothing with this vengeance story and it’s virtually dropped as soon as it happens. The mutant doesn’t seem to get any more angry or any more determined to kill them (after all, he was going to kill them all anyway) and apart from a stand-off with the head con later in the film, that’s it. The script also spends a lot of time establishing a couple of characters but then throws it all out of the window in the final scene which opens the door to another sequel. I think that says it all when the entire characterisation of the film is blown away just for the benefit of a ‘plot twist’ finale and sequel set up.

Too much of the film is spent with the cons bickering about the money that they find in an armoured truck in the woods (upside down and in the middle of nowhere no less – go figure that out) and it almost turns into a mini-episode from the second season of Prison Break. The group of characters then spend the rest of the film wandering around aimlessly in the dark, occasionally falling foul of another hillbilly trap before arguing with each other again. The dialogue is terrible and whoever wrote it obviously thought that a lot of swearing and profanity from Tamar Hassan’s psycho Chavez character would be a good idea. His performance is awful too and when he’s not struggling to disguise his thick British accent, he’s just shouting abuse at the top of his voice. The other actors don’t fair much better and it’s arguably the innate cackling and howling from ‘Three Fingers’ that makes for the best performance.

I will say that the film isn’t boring and at least manages to keep a steady pace. The CGI kills, as ridiculous as some of them may look, are actually quite inventive and there are a few decent practical effects including one of the cons stepping into a full-body barbed wire trap before being dragged off down the road. Unfortunately some of the novelty value is quickly eroded by the lousy CGI effects which follow the initial shock of seeing someone diced into three! The film needed more female characters (come on, this is a horror film after all and we need breasts – this film’s sole quota being filled in the first five minutes but worth the watch!) to put into peril.

The film needed less macho crap, less pointless arguing and more mutants. It’s as simple as that. This mutant has some uncanny ability to teleport anywhere in the woods at any time so he sits up in trees, appears from behind doors and can outrun a speeding truck and appear in the road a couple of miles further along from where the characters last saw him. A few more mutants would have alleviated that problem. The budget for this one looks to have been dramatically cut resulting in fewer mutants, more stupid CGI gore and some of the worst green screen effects work since the dawn of movie making. Take a look at the background in the driving scenes and it’s like something out of the 40s where some lousy rear projection is played whilst stagehands rock the prop vehicles from side to side.

 

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead isn’t the sequel I was hoping for and is such a disappointment after the last sequel. With annoying characters, some grade school script problems and a general sense of reducing the sum of its successful parts, the ‘franchise’ has certainly taken a wrong turn somewhere – let’s hope the next sequel finds the right route!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

In the Forest, Only They Can Hear You Scream.

Six contestants taking part in a survival reality TV show find themselves pitted against a family of hideously deformed and inbred cannibals in the woods in West Virginia.

 

A belated sequel to 2003′s Wrong Turn, you would be forgiven for thinking that this would be a straight rehash with more blood, guts and a bigger body count. That’s what horror sequels are supposed to do, right? Well if you think that Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is going to be any different, you’re wrong.

Sticking to the same formula of a bunch of pretty boys and hot chicks being stranded in the woods and hunted down one-at-a-time by a bunch of inbred cannibals, it surprisingly doesn’t seem stale at all. The original Wrong Turn is a particular favourite of mine from the last ten years of horror films, simply because it didn’t skimp on the visuals when someone was sliced and diced. It got nasty when it needed to and it was just a fun all-round watch (having Eliza Dushku in a glorious white top didn’t harm things either). This sequel sticks rigidly to the formula and ups the ante with some more gruesome kills – in fact some of the most entertaining kills I’ve seen for years (though the years have been sparse for creativity).

The original tried to go for a more serious atmosphere more akin to one of the late 70s backwoods horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End goes for the jugular and becomes just a fun, light-hearted, no-brains hardcore splatter fest! The pacing is cranked up. There are more characters to dispose of (the good ol’ “sequels have a higher body count rule”) and the blood flows freely. One of the reasons the film works is because of the script. Not just your cut-and-rush job like most sequels, the writers actually spend a bit of time getting us used to the characters before all hell breaks loose. Granted the characters are all stock (the slut, the comic relief, token black guy, ex-army ranger, etc) but at least some of them are made out to be more than just things where axes and sharp objects should be inserted. Even the inbred cannibals are given some development – you realise towards the end of the film that they’re not just maniacs but actually a loving family who know no better than the life they have chosen.

It still doesn’t stop the brutality though and believe me, lovers of gore and splatter will find plenty to marvel here. I don’t really want to spoil the film for those who may be pondering a look but there are some hilarious deaths, some nasty ones and some of both. The film opens with a kick ass kill and it doesn’t let up from there right until the final showdown. Get the sick bags ready.

Out of the cast, you’ll no doubt recognise Erica Leerhsen from the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but that’s about it for the younger cast. It’s rapper-turned-spoken word maestro Henry Rollins who steal the show as the gung-ho presenter of the reality show who reverts to type when the threat of the cannibals hits home. Also of note is the gigantic Ken Kirzinger who plays the dad of the cannibal family – this is one big dude you don’t want to mess with.

On the flip side to all of this, if you’ve seen one backwoods horror you’ve pretty much seen them all. With recent remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and its terrible sequel as well as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its terrible prequel, the market is pretty crowded. Cannibals and mutants are a bit over-exposed at the moment so expect the same generic scenes of grunting dialogue, freakish lifestyles (what cannibal movie wouldn’t have a dinner scene?) and disgusting living quarters. Also despite the character development at the start, the dialogue is pretty annoying at best with the exception of some one-liners from Rollins. There are some irritating people in there you want hacked to pieces from the start and thankfully the film fulfils your wishes.

 

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End whips up an awesome mix of thrills and spills despite presenting us the same meal we horror fans have been gorging on for so long now. Director Joe Lynch has clearly made a film by horror fans for horror fans and one that doesn’t disappoint. Top sequel and I can’t wait for his next flick.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆