Tag Cannibals

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012)

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012)

Fear will consume you

A group of teenage friends head off to the Mountain Man Festival on Halloween but get more than they bargained for when they almost run down a stranger on the way. Looking to help him, the stranger attacks the teenagers but they choose the wrong time to fight back as the local sheriff turns up and arrests them all. Once locked up, the stranger is revealed to have been on the run for thirty years for murder. What’s even worse is that his cannibal family know that he’s been imprisoned and are heading to the police station to free him by any means necessary.

 

Director Declan O’Brien is back to helm his third entry into the series and just when I thought he’d picked up the slack with Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, things degenerate here back to the way that Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead was headed. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines sadly sees the series limp back a little towards the doldrums after the enjoyable antics of the previous film.

Filmed in 19 days on a studio lot in Bulgaria, it reeks of cheapness from the opening minutes. Gone is the glossy, polished look that the last one had (and which belied its actual budget) and we’re now squarely in the straight-to-DVD quality zone. You know the type of film and can tell by the grainy look of it that this wasn’t made to showcase some serious coin on the screen. Even the make-up and masks that the hillbillies wear seems to have been purchased at the local fancy dress shop.

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines is like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Meets Assault on Precinct 13, though don’t let that comparison lull you in to a false of security. The Assault on Precinct 13 idea fails to manifest itself in the way it apparently sets itself up as and as for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre comparisons – psychotic giggling hillbillies who carve up and eat American teenagers – is the only real point of similarity. Considering that the purpose of the group is to break their father-figure out of prison, they sure as hell take their time, attacking and killing everyone that goes out of their way to fall into their clutches. Every scene that the cannibals are not on the screen just serves as filler for their next appearance and assault on an unlucky victim. It’s stale writing and also stupid – the characters continue to bail on the best-defended building in the entire town to go outside for various reasons.

To say that this town is supposed to be teaming with tourists for the Mountain Man Festival, it’s a ghost town and considering all of the gunshots, car crashes and explosions going on, there’s not a soul to be seen. It’s clearly a cheap studio backlot with plywood buildings and which features one or two smaller sets such as the jail and that’s about it. You’ll wish for the return of the abandoned asylum from the last one. Budgetary reasons are obviously to blame here but then surely the script writer needed to work around this by making the plot at least reasonably believable.

One of the main issues I have with this one is how smart and cunning the cannibals have seemingly become since the earlier films. Not only content with isolating the town by cutting off the phones and then taking out the electricity in two separate incidents, they seem to have been learning a thing or two from Jigsaw from the Saw franchise as their methods of execution seem to get more complex in every films. Cooking characters alive in a flaming barrel, tying them to the back of a pick-up and then smashing their knees into a pulp, crucifying victims in mid-air with electrical cables or even digging a hole in the ground, burying one victim up to the head and then running them over with a thresher – not exactly ways to execute people quickly and they would have taken some copious planning. Whilst the kills are all creative, the gore looks to be a little on the cheaper side than previous sequels but I think that’s just how the film looks on screen.

Horror legend Doug Bradley, most famous for portraying the sadistic Cenobite Pinhead from the Hellraiser films, gets to play a human role for a change. He’s in virtual Pinhead mode here, snarling off a load of lines to his potential victims in an attempt to intimidate them. Chewing the scenery every time he opens his mouth, Bradley gets annoying rather quickly, though he does manage to back up his threats with actions. Once again, the ‘teenage’ cast does little to make themselves stand out from the crowd – I couldn’t even remember the names of most of them.  British actress Camilla Arfwedson looks far too young and way too pretty to be a sheriff and does what little she can with the one-dimensional role.

One final gripe I have with this is in the ending. Yes, if you’re a follower of the series you’ll know that they end pretty much the same way (**SPOILERS – the cannibals survive whereas the teenagers don’t END SPOILERS**)            but the finale to this one kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. There’s no major resolution. There’s no final showdown. It reminded me of an episode of Game of Thrones where all of the bad guys walk away grinning, leaving our heroes dead or dying. The set-up for another sequel is evident with the closing scenes.

 

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines still has some decent moments and delivers everything that you’d expect from a fourth horror sequel: plenty of carnage, buckets of blood, a few boobs for good measure and some cackling cannibal hillbillies. Like going to your tried and trusted pair of trainers when heading out for a run, it’s a familiar option which is well-worn now and making you want to get something new. Yeah, it’s a poor comparison but I’m running out of stuff to say when a film is this generic.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Green Inferno, The (2015)

The Green Inferno (2015)

Fear will eat you alive

College freshman Justine joins a group of conservation activists heading down to the Amazon to fight off some greedy land developers who are threatening the existence of one of the indigenous tribes. The protest goes wrong and the activists are bundled straight onto a plane out of Peru. Unfortunately, the plane develops a fault and crash-lands in the jungle. Taken captive by one of the tribes they were trying to protect, Justine and her friends realise that they are now in the clutches of cannibals – and they’re next on the menu.

 

Eli Roth’s love-it-or-hate-it throwback to the Italian exploitation flicks of the 70s and 80s, you’ll only really ‘get’ The Green Inferno if you’ve had the courage to sit through one of the numerous cannibal flicks such as Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox that have inspired him – The Green Inferno is actually one of Cannibal Holocaust II’s alternative titles. Generally tough to watch, even for seasoned horror veterans, these cannibal films included all manner of gruesome splatter sequences but, more disgustingly, some actual animal violence. Try watching the unedited version of Cannibal Holocaust where a real turtle is killed and ripped open without feeling queasy – it’s a difficult ask. But those films were a product of their time, where messed-up Italian directors gorged on guts and gore for a living and churned out some of the most extreme films ever made. It’s pretty ridiculous to even think that something as exploitative as The Green Inferno could make it to cinemas in 2015 when the aforementioned Italian cult films have been banned in numerous countries around the world for years. A masterful PR campaign in the build-up to release banned trailers and clips from being shared on social media and showed footage of people allegedly fainting and throwing at previews, promising a disturbing and violent experience like no other.

The Green Inferno is nowhere near as controversial as said Italian inspirations – for a start they avoid any unnecessary cruelty towards animals – and even compared to some other horror films over the last few years (or even some of the grislier episodes of The Walking Dead), it’s not the most graphic thing you’re ever going to see. As a homage to the flicks of old, The Green Inferno works very nicely. The big problem is, ironically enough, the production values that a modern day film budget brings with it. The older films were grimy, faded documentary-like productions which many believed were snuff movies (Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato was arrested in 1981 and charged with murder after people believed he had killed his actors during filming) and worked because of the raw and natural savagery that was depicted in them. The Green Inferno swaps this realism for Hollywood gloss and cleanliness where the actors look clean, washed and their make-up is pristine. It loses a lot of its magic and impact. But that wasn’t the only thing that these cannibal films played upon so let’s move on.

As is the norm with this sub-genre, the film takes a bit of time to get going as the characters start off in civilisation. We take satisfaction in seeing their daily idyllic lives with not a care in the world, knowing full well that they’re about to face a situation straight out of their darkest nightmares. The use of a cast of relative unknowns works here as we’re under no pre-conceptions about which characters will live and die or in what order. Sadly, the script gives most of them little to break free of generic stereotyping and not many of them develop a personality. It’s true that some won’t live long enough for us to care about them but it would have been nice to see a little more humanity come to the fore with the characters.

We’re treated to some lovely cinematography of the Amazon during the sequences in which the group arrive in the jungle. Roth did film in South America and having read up on the conditions that the cast and crew faced, it adds a whole new level of realism to proceedings. Check out some of the back story to production if you have a chance. Filming on location really gives the audience a sense of isolation – these people are thousands of miles away from help, in the middle of one of the most inhospitable and deadliest places on the planet. It’s the plane crash mid-way through where Roth remembers he’s directing a horror film and he pulls out all of the tricks with a startlingly realistic sequence, complete with slow-motion sickness.

Once the group encounter the cannibal tribe, things take a turn for the worse (for them) but better for the audience. The main gore set piece involves one character have their eyes removed, tongue cut out, limbs systematically hacked off and then beheaded before being slapped into the mud oven until cooked. It’s a brutal sequence, unrelenting in its assault on the senses and arguably the highlight of the film. From then on, it’s a combination of the characters attempting to escape their prison before being served up as steaks and grisly sequences of the unlucky ones falling victim to the bone cleaver. The fact that this was all passed without Roth making edits is a sign of the times, though there is little of the outright sexual violence here as was present in the originals (hooks through nipples, penises being sliced off, woman raped with big stones, etc..

Roth doesn’t know how to play the tone and there’s a constant clash between jokey moments, outright depravity and bizarreness. Between the cannibals getting stoned, a badly-timed bout of diarrhoea and a perverse sequence in which one character’s answer to the horrors he’s just witness is to start pleasuring himself, the film throws in scary moments of genital mutilation, heads-on-spikes and flesh-eating ants. This is Roth doing what he’s doing in Hostel and Cabin Fever, toying with the audience a bit during times of tension, but here it works to kill off the horror of what is happening. The cannibal films of old were as deadly serious as anything you’ll see and Roth would have been wise to stick to the same tone, rather than imbue this with some of his usual frat-boy-esque humour. It’s a minor sticking point however and one which doesn’t detract too much to the film.

 

The Green Inferno is a great throwback to the Italian films of old but that’s just about all it works as. Roth clearly has a love and affection for the sub-genre (Cannibal Holocaust is apparently his favourite film) and this comes out in droves during the graphic sequences in the second half of the film. However, it treads no new ground as far as the sub-genre goes, simply repeating what always was a very basic formula and story but for the 21st century. If you’ve ever wanted to get into those older films, The Green Inferno would be a great way to start but for a genre veteran like myself, its ability to shock and scare was greatly diminished.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Anthroprophagus (1980)

Anthropophagus (1980)

It’s not fear that tears you apart…it’s him!

A group of tourists take a trip to a remote Greek island where they find that the local townspeople have all disappeared. After their boat drifts away, and with no phone service or electricity, the group takes refuge in one of the abandoned houses. It isn’t long before they discover why there is no one left on the island – a crazed cannibal with a taste for human flesh is prowling the streets.

 

An ultra-notorious Italian shocker, Anthroprophagus was one of the infamous ‘Video Nasty’ titles that the UK banned in the early 80s. So shocking was one particular scene in this film that Anthroprophagus was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1984 and banned from publication for over eighteen years. It joined an elite list of films to be given the boot from the video store shelves including The House by the Cemetery, Cannibal Ferox and The Last House on the Left. It’s laughable to realise that the film was passed totally uncut in 2015, just showing how times have changed and how much more de-sensitized to horror films we are nowadays.

Like a lot of the titles that were successfully prosecuted, Anthroprophagus became something of a Holy Grail for horror, where a dodgy black market of rough VHS copies were traded behind closed doors. If you wanted to see it, you’d know an uncle or the best mate of a mate who had a pre-certification copy stashed away in a loft somewhere. But this is 2016 and what was shocking in 1980 is nowhere near as bad today – not exactly saintly however! Anthroprophagus’ reputation precedes it, overshadowing it somewhat much like the reputations for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When a film comes with a hefty reputation, nine of out ten times it usually ends up being a let-down.

Anthroprophagus is one of those nine out of ten times. What a complete dud of a horror film! Being branded a Video Nasty, you’d expect something, well, nasty or even remotely graphic and disturbing. The only reason I can see Anthroprophagus being banned was for the infamous scene in which the cannibal eats a fetus. Yes, it’s pretty gross to see though this is more to do with the thought and implications of what he’s doing rather than actually watching him tuck into a piece of butcher’s meat. The rest of the kills are tame and fairly weak given the nature of other Italian horror films from around the same time period and what they were doing in regards to gore. Ironically the best kill is saved for the end of the film and features a pick axe and a load of intestines. It’s scant pay-off for the previous eighty or so minutes.

Talky and with a plodding pace, Anthroprophagus will try and test the patience of hardened genre fans. Those weaned on giallo or late 70s/early 80s Italian horror flicks may be able to cope with the tedious speed of the narrative but anyone dipping in to this type of film for the first time will find it immensely hard going. With little plot, the uninteresting characters mope around the desolate Greek village with little purpose for the good part of forty minutes. They just go through the motions, in particular the guys who show no distinguishing features and I’d even forgotten their names by the end. Whilst this is annoying as far as the film goes, its impact on the viewer will be more so – total disengagement from the proceedings. This means that when things do perk up in the final ten minutes, you’re already so bored that you don’t really care what happens as long as the film finishes. At least the shots of the empty village look eerie and, coupled with the suitably atmospheric synth score, add up to some decent atmosphere. It’s a shame that nothing actually happens.

The film’s best asset is its imposing killer. This cannibal monster of a man looks intimidating and has a powerful physical presence but he’s hardly used – it’s a good fifty minutes into the film before we first see him. On a number of occasions, the film teases us with appearances, where something has happened or we see a point-of-view shot. But then nothing. This can be effectively managed and we know that the killer is lurking around somewhere close. But to be scared, we need something for us to be scared of and not just thunder and lightning or cheap scares with cats jumping out from nowhere. His eventual reveal, hiding behind a closing door, is good and director Joe D’Amato, famous his skin flicks and cheap horror efforts, uses natural lighting to slowly reveal his disfigured facial features. George Eastman, who also co-wrote, stars as the cannibal and brings the film to life in the final fifteen minutes. There is a chilling sequence inside some catacombs (where aforementioned fetus is eaten) and there’s a great stalking sequence where he climbs up a ladder after Tisa Farrow – but this is literally the final ten minutes of the film. Far too little, too late to save it.

 

Anthroprophagus has clearly relied upon one or two shock moments of infamy to become the cult classic that it is today but don’t be fooled by the reputation. You can do a whole lot worse when it comes to Italian horror but this is nowhere near as deserving its status that it has. There is something memorable about Eastman’s cannibal though and he’ll stick in your mind long after watching. I guess that counts for something.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

Tonight, the dead shall rise again

In New York, body parts are going missing from a morgue. It is discovered that one of the hospital orderlies, a member of a cannibal tribe from a small island in the East Indies, is responsible. Anthropologist Lori Ridgway recognises the name of the island and, along with fellow expert Dr Peter Chandler, his assistant George and news reporter Susan, they head off on an expedition to track down the cannibals. However when they arrive on the island, cannibals are not the only problem that they face as a rogue doctor has been experimenting on the dead.

 

Zombies! Cannibals! Mad doctors performing unnecessary surgery! Zombie Holocaust has it all. Coming hot on the heels of the successes (and notoriety) of Italian cannibal films (most famously represented by Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust) and zombie films (Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters), a producer clearly had a quick brain surge and decided that a combination of the two would lead to even greater rewards. The result of this unholy union is Zombie Holocaust, another of the legendary cult classic Italian splatter films of the 80s and made in the same year. Its mixed reputation proceeds it and it is definitely a love/hate kind of film.

For a start, Zombie Holocaust is a mess of ideas so it’s best to just unplug your brain and go with the flow. The film works better as a ‘tribute’ piece to its inspirational predecessors and director Marino Girolami certainly demonstrates that he has seen many of them with a ‘best of’ selection. In between the set pieces, the narrative does its best to keep the thin plot from falling apart…but let’s face it, as soon as the characters set foot on the island you don’t really care what happens because you know they’re going to suffer. The similarities with Zombie Flesh Eaters are obvious – openings both set in New York, Ian McCulloch playing pretty much the same character (and dressed like he’s off on safari), a small group of white folk heading off to what suspiciously looks like the same island, having the same guide and arriving at the same church building for the finale.

The writing is so weak and flimsy that you wonder why they bothered to begin with. How is this mad scientist doing Frankenstein-like experiments in a shanty hut in the middle of an island without any real equipment save for an operating table, some drips and a few scalpels? Why would a doctor and a nurse from the hospital decide to take an expedition to the cannibal island? What were they hoping to accomplish there? Why, when one of the female members of the expedition is captured by the cannibals, do the survivors just shrug shoulders and decide to escape? There are so many questions that this film raises. But the beauty is that by the end of it, you won’t care.

Everyone knows that it’s going to be exploitative but you will never guess at how badly. From having lead actress Alexandra Delli Colli get stripped full-frontal and placed onto a large sacrificial rock (which looks suspiciously like the one Ursula Andress got strapped to in The Mountain of the Cannibal God) to the copious amount of intestines on display, Zombie Holocaust punches for the lowest common denominators to hook its audience. Combining the two bloodiest sub-genres going promised that Zombie Holocaust would be a messy ride and it was certainly that. From open skull brain surgery to a zombie getting a motor boat propeller right to the face, there are plenty of gory set pieces on display. However it is the cannibals who get a bigger slice of the action and they’re very handy when it comes to offing the cast early on. Porters are killed left, right and centre with bamboo traps and such and one of the unlucky Westerners falls victim to a bunch of them who slice open his stomach and gouge his eyes out. Its intense stuff and extremely gory. Sadly, the zombies don’t do an awful lot and only appear for the first time around the fifty-five minute mark. They leave the flesh-eating to the living.

One thing that these Italian horrors usually guarantee is an excellent soundtrack, regardless of the eventual quality of the visuals and composer Nico Fidenco doesn’t disappoint here. He recycles an earlier soundtrack from Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals but the keyboard emits a nice brooding, ominous vibe to certain scenes. The other aspect of the sound, the dubbing, is done reasonably well but it’s easy to see that the actors were there for a holiday and no more. As I’ve said, Ian McCulloch plays pretty much the same character as he did in Zombie Flesh Eaters and stands around looking scared or getting involved in the action as and when he needs to be the hero. It is Donald O’Brien as Dr Obrero who has the most fun, delivering scene-chewing cheesy lines such as “I could easily kill you now, but I’m determined to have your brain!” with so much unnatural depth and feeling.

 

It’s not one of Italian horror’s shining lights of the two sub-genres it straddles but there’s no denying that Zombie Holocaust isn’t a lot of silly, sleazy and gory fun. You’ll be reminded of all of the other films that it is ripping off but the innocent way it tries to stick it all together will have you forget that in a hurry. And if not, the film will drown you in glorious 80s gore instead.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

When the price of lust is death!

Susan Stevenson and her brother fly to New Guinea in search of her missing husband and enlist the services of an anthropologist to guide them into the dense rain forest. They set off into the jungle but find out that he was captured by a cannibal tribe and that the same fate awaits them.

 

Ah the Italian exploitation cannibal sub-genre. Such an trashy, graphic and repulsive genre that it’s even hard to want to call them films sometimes because they are so depraved and perverse – I mean who in their right mind comes up with these ideas? They went to lengths that no other films dared to go out of decency and, rightfully as was the case in a few extremes, were banned across the world on the whole, Cannibal Holocaust being the most infamous of the bunch.Unfortunately it’s a sub-genre which cannibalises itself so much that once you’ve seen one of these tropical terrors, then you’ve seen them all.

Although slightly less offensive than some of the other sub-genre, Mountain of the Cannibal God adheres to the basic cannibal story of a group of white explorers (and usually expendable guides) head off into the remote jungle in pursuit of some MacGuffin where they have some minor run-ins with other natives before stumbling upon the cannibal tribe and, in rather unsporting fashion, decide to eat their guests. The film looks more polished than the rest, clearly has a bigger budget and isn’t as nasty as its companions. Everything is done as tastefully as possible – if that is possible in itself, knowing how brutal these films can get. The bad taste is kept to a minimum and the animal violence has been toned down – those who have seen the uncut version of Cannibal Holocaust will attest to the disgraceful and sickening acts of wildlife masochism on display. It is still present however and seems to be a token inclusion in this sub-genre, reflective of the no holds barred raw brutality of nature but more used for shock and horror tactics to disgust the viewer rather than send out any primal messages. It has nothing to do with what is happening on screen which is a travesty.

Though on the surface it seems less offensive and more mainstream than its counterparts, make no mistake about it,Mountain of the Cannibal God does boast plenty of expected cannibalistic carnage. Dwarf cannibals are punted over cliffs to have their heads smashed on rocks below. Bear traps crush and maim the legs of those unlucky enough to be caught in them. Would-be rapists are castrated for their indiscretions. Stomachs are ripped open and intestines fed to the tribe. The quality of the make-up effects range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

The big difference with this one is the relatively high star power on display. Making the sub-genre a bit more accessible by casting big names, Mountain of the Cannibal God boasts Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach in the lead roles, a decent coup for such a low budget, obscure Italian film.Andress seems to need the role more, agreeing to doff her duds and go naked for an infamous scene in which she is painted head-to-toe and worshipped by the cannibals.Keach was at a career low at this point (no kidding!) and seems more bored than anything but no doubt a free holiday helped to gloss over that issue.

Despite the moments of gore and the decent cast, Mountain of the Cannibal God rarely gets going at any sort of pace. It takes the characters too long to make any sort of progress into the jungle and despite odd moments of non-speaking guides being killed off bydeadly fauna and flora, there’s not a great deal of stuff happening on-screen. Little more than a step-by-step link between set piece scenes, the narrative gears up towards a finale which never once looks like it will deliver anything short of a total dud. Despite all of the cannibal carnage on screen, the film never gives off any sort of realism vibe. You know you’re watching a film and not a snuff movie, though this may be down to the presence of ‘named’ actors instead of obscure ones.

 

Mountain of the Cannibal God merely goes through the usual Italian cannibal exploitation film motions, only this time with the bonus of a famous cast. More professionally made but lacking the raw, nihilistic punch of some of it’s counterparts, it’s neither the best of this sub-genre, nor the worst either.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆