Tag Creatures/Monsters

Axe Giant (2013)

Axe Giant (2013)

This Tall Tale is Murder

A group of young adults serving their sentence at a first-time offenders’ boot camp discover that the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real but is much more horrifying than they could have ever imagined when they disturb the grave of his treasured blue ox.

 

Ah American folklore. Fresh off watching two films about the mysterious Bunnyman and his antics, I’ve now stumbled upon a film about another character from legend, this time more rooted in history than the more recent floppy-eared fiend. Paul Bunyan, a giant lumberjack from American folklore, has been the subject of various literary works, musical pieces and commercial productions and now finds his way into horror films. Though I’m sure the same Paul Bunyan who featured in a number of children’s stories is a far cry from this axe-wielding brute with a face only a mother could love.

I thought I’d seen the start of Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunya before but then I realised I had: whenever a film has introduced its main characters as juvenile offenders having to serve some sort of rehabilitation programme/community service (see Grizzly Park, See No Evil, etc.) then it follows the same “roll call” scene which basically provides us with all of the character depth that they are going to have. One supporting character even asks the duty officer “is this necessary?” when he reads out their names and past crimes. As a member of the very limited target audience, I can say no it isn’t as I’ve seen this film before and know which characters are supposed to be the slut, token black guy, jock and so forth. But we get spoon fed it anyway just in case you weren’t sure! The set-up is quick and painless and the character development brief and merciful yet it still takes the film ages to get going.

Despite the title giving away massive clues as to what sort of threat these characters are going to face, it is quite happy to shield the brute from us for as long as possible. You’ll get glimpses of him and, for one unlucky bear, more than a glimpse. I kind of figured that the director and writers would have gone in for the kill early and given us the money shots from the start, such is the norm for these type of films now. Gone are the days of directors crafting the monster before the final reveal (Jaws anyone?) and whilst I’m arguing in favour of films following Axe Giant’s path by holding back a little, it just seems silly to do it when the POSTER SHOWS US THE MONSTER! Paul Bunyan is given some back story and it’s too daft to take seriously (the disease he contracts sure has lots of side effects!) but provides token flashbacks for more gore and shenanigans, including the brutal dispatch of Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggerty.

Funnily enough, Axe Giant wins pretty much all of its star rating with the practical effects it uses for the giant. Think back to the 50s with The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and you’ll get a sense of how this effect is rendered. It’s a guy in make-up who has been superimposed onto a number of sets courtesy of some green screen work (rather that than some dodgy CGI giant like the dreadful Ogre). Though the two techniques don’t mesh together well, the fact that it’s an actual actor gives the giant a real physical presence. Credit must go to effects man Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps for designing the make-up, ‘borrowing’ the demented, inbred hillbilly look from the Victor Crowley character from the Hatchet films to create a rather large, aggressive beast who has sculpted himself an axe just as big and powerful as he is.

But the practical effects stop there and that’s a big disappointment as the blood and guts is mainly CGI from there on it. Limbs chopped off, characters sliced into half and other nastiness involving the axe is all brought to life with the ‘wonders’ of CGI. It looks awful – so artificial and ‘clean’ if there is a word best to describe them. Some of the kills could have looked amazing if they had gone down the old school route but instead they’ve taken the quicker, cheaper CGI route and ruined some potentially-awesome moments. And whilst Bunyan looks good on his own, as soon as he starts appearing in front of green screens, the CGI falls apart. This is not a good film to watch for cutting edge special effects. The team have tried to punch above their weight but sometimes knowing where you stand is better. When the effects provoke laughter rather than fear or tension, you know something is wrong.

Joe Estevez, young brother of Martin Sheen and uncle of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, gets one of the top billed roles. Sadly, Joe, unlike his older brother, has not had the glittering film career and has been appearing in low rent rubbish like this for years, no doubt using his name to make his way. Joe sounds like Martin a lot so close your eyes in a few scenes, pretend it is him and kid yourselves into thinking this is some glossy production. Grizzly Adams aside, there’s no one else that stands out in the cast. Most of the young cast are so anonymous that it’s a wonder they even bothered reading the script. Replace the actors with the same ethnic disposition and you’d be hard-pressed to notice the change. But hey, some of them meet their match at the hands of a giant axe!

 

Axe Giant is a film about a giant, killer lumberjack that turns into a giant lumbering mess of bad writing, laughable special effects and general boredom. It’s almost as if the writers thought of the crazy central premise and then struggled to really pad it out, opting to use the tried-and-tested slasher formula in the end. The result is a film which had potential to be a silly time-waster in the right hands but from the man who brought us Crocodile 2: Death Roll and Planet Raptor, I expected nothing and was rightly given it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Stuff, The (1985)

The Stuff (1985)

Are you eating it …or is it eating you?

David ‘Moe’ Rutherford is an industrial saboteur hired by a group of unscrupulous businessmen to steal the secret ingredients of a new fast-food product called The Stuff that is sweeping the nation. No one knows what is in it but as soon as anyone eats it, they become hooked, eventually replacing all of their regular food with pots of the yoghurt-like substance. But as he investigates further, he discovers that The Stuff is actually alive and is highly dangerous to whoever should eat it.

 

Ah 80s horror movies – the best kind of horror movies! Gleefully doing whatever they could get away with and not caring about the consequences, they owned the home video market for the decade, turning everything and anything they could into instruments of death. With one of the strangest ideas for a film yet, The Stuff updates the old 50s sci-fi B movie formula into the 80s with gloriously gory results. Coming off as some comedy-horror mash-up of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Quatermass II and The Blob, The Stuff never has enough laughs to constantly amuse and never has enough scares to really get under your skin but it will leave a memorable impression on you.

Ice cream. Yoghurt. Flavoured dessert. Whatever it is, ‘The Stuff’ is a fantastic creation. You can’t criticise Larry Cohen for lacking ambition with this project. The way he constructs the whole frenzy over ‘The Stuff’ as a product is scarily-realistic, with our supermarket shelves today full of weird products we know little about and which are aggressively marketed to the consumer. Who knows if there is anything like The Stuff sitting in there today? The commercial satire in here is something that Paul Verhoeven would have been proud of in Robocop or Starship Troopers. The mock adverts for ‘The Stuff’ are hilariously realistic and a whole marketing campaign looks to have been constructed purely for the film, with catchphrases, slogans and packaging all really hitting home the conglomerate message. Though the film is pitching ‘The Stuff,’ for all intents and purposes this could be Coca Cola or McDonalds with its multi-national propaganda. Scary thought. Consumerism doesn’t get an easy ride here.

But we aren’t here to watch commercial satire, we’re here to watch a horror flick and this is partly where The Stuff falls down. I think the comparisons to The Blob just created false expectations of how the white goo was going to behave but it’s not far short. The Stuff works very well until the final third. Though not that much happens, it works more like a crime thriller or episode of The X-Files as slowly but surely the conspiracy behind ‘The Stuff’ is revealed. Suspense is built up, there are a few tantalising glimpses of what ‘The Stuff’ can really do and there are lot of interesting loose threads that you’d expect the final third to answer. Lead actor Michael Moriarty works with Cohen again here after Q, The Winged Serpent and he’s one of the film’s strongest assets, portraying his seemingly dim-witted saboteur with a great relish and cunning.

Sadly, it’s in the last third where it all falls apart and you have to wonder how rushed Cohen got when he was editing it. Crucial plot points seem to get forgotten about and the story moves along far too rapidly considering the leisurely pace of the first act. The introduction of a far-right militia group to save the day in the finale just seems to show the film running out of creative ways to end the film. Ultimately, The Stuff is let down by the quality of its special effects. The more effective make-up effects scenes involving ‘The Stuff’ seeping out of victims’ mouths look alright, if a little rushed, and the film’s best gore moment comes right at the finale involving one unlucky character. But it’s the matte work and some dodgy miniatures which hurt the film as ‘The Stuff’ isn’t brought to life very convincingly when it moves. I think the correct word is ‘dated’ and no doubt the effects looked a lot better thirty years ago. Above all, despite the numerous gore moments, the film isn’t very scary. Yes, you wouldn’t want to get caught in the same corridor as ‘The Stuff’ but it’s hardly nightmare-inducing material.

 

The Stuff is one of those films that you’ll look back upon and believe that it was better than it actually is. The idea is fantastic, the mood is generally spot-on and there are some memorable moments but it’s a definitely a case of the execution not living entirely up to its premise. It does look quite delectable to eat though!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

They’re not human. But they hunt human women. Not for killing. For mating.

Something strange is happening in the sleepy fishing village of Noyo when salmon stocks begin to dwindle and dogs are turning up dead. Scientist Susan Drake and local fisherman Jim Hill team up to investigate the cause of the problems and discover a terrible race of fishlike humanoid creatures, spawned by mutant DNA, have begun rising from the ocean floor. With the annual Salmon Festival on the horizon, some unwanted guests are about to crash the festivities.

 

I missed out the key part about the humanoids wanting to mate with human women (not just any women either but hot, young and usually topless females – these creatures are pretty choosy!) but the notion of a bit of a monster-human rape would have been enough to throw a lot of potential viewers off this exploitation classic from the master of sleaze, Roger Corman. Humanoids from the Deep plays like the dirtier version of Creature from the Black Lagoon. Remember all of those shots of the Gill Man gazing lovingly at Julie Adams and then making off with her to his lair….and remember all of the questions as to why he wanted to take her. Well Corman is happy to answer those question in graphic form here.

Focusing on this one sleazy aspect of the film would do a dis-service to Humanoids from the Deep, a great schlocky throwback to the 50s sci-fi horrors of old coupled with the promise of what was to come in the gory horror decade that was the 80s. It’s low budget and that vibe hits from the opening scene and title credit but the grotty and gloomy appearance of the film works in its favour. This fishing village is the perfect location to set a horror film, vaguely reminiscent of Jaws to some degree, and is equally depressing and creepy. Humanoids from the Deep has a decent pace and there’s enough going on at any one time to keep the film interesting even if the first half of the film seems to be little more than human drama interlinked with a couple of random humanoid attacks. Plot and script wasn’t high on the agenda here as there’s little questioning as to how or why the humanoids have arrived but rather the ‘what’ as in ‘what are we going to do about it?’ Best to sit back and take everything as it comes.

And everything comes! The humanoid suit was designed by quality FX specialist Rob Bottin, more famous for his work on The Thing and a number of Paul Verhoeven films. I say suit in singular form rather than plural as apparently only one fully-operational suit was created due to costs – the other two suits you can see in the film had issues and so the camera is only able to shoot them from certain angles. The humanoids look like bad ass updates of the Gill Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon. With long, gangly arms, a set of razor sharp teeth, green-skinned and covered in sea weed, and with a high-pitched shrieking scream, these monsters certainly look and sound the part. They’re pretty handy when it comes to dispatching victims too. The blood is free flowing with mutilated dogs turning up, guys having their backs slashed, throats ripped apart and insides gored out. Kids are killed, babies terrified and there’s even a disturbing scene involving a ventriloquist dummy.

If there is one glaring issue with Humanoids from the Deep, it’s the waste of Doug McClure. Though he gets top-billing, McClure is phoning it in big-style from the beginning and he gets very little to do. A man of his considerable B-movie charm should have been getting a little more rough and ready with the humanoids, throwing punches and being more gung-ho to save the town. Co-star Vic Morrow was another talented B-movie veteran who could have been given more to do other than stick close to the script as the villainous Slattery. It’s a waste of their talents and with the film running for a little over eighty minutes, a bit more could have been done with them.

It wouldn’t be right to end the review without going full circle and talking about the infamous scenes of the humanoids getting jiggy with human females. They’re guys-in-suits shoving actresses to the ground when all is said and done. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but the scenes don’t ‘mean’ anything to me, they’re just daft exploitation scenes from a film which goes below the belt at every opportunity for maximum effect. Director Barbara Peters shot the film and was finishing up but Corman wasn’t happy with the finished results, thought it was too tame and requested extra nudity. Peters refused and wanted nothing to do with the film, Corman fired her and hired someone else to shoot the scenes. Ironically, these scenes never made it into the final cut and ended up as deleted scenes on the DVD, with Peters’ credit restored to one of the popular and enduring of all of Corman’s films. Between this, Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, Corman had cemented his legacy as one of horror’s most popular producers.

 

Not one for the purists, what’s not to like about Humanoids from the Deep? It’s a trash movie masterpiece at its most exquisite: blood, boobs and mutated beasts. They don’t make them like this anymore!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Space (1991)

Dead Space (1991)

No Place To Hide

After receiving a distress signal from the Phaebon research facility, Commander Krieger and his robot sidekick Tinpan respond straight away. Arriving on the planet, Krieger is told that there is no problem but due to damage his ship sustained during a fight in space, he is forced to stay and carry out repairs. The scientists on board the facility were attempting to find a cure for the deadly Delta 5 disease and created an even more deadly anti-virus to destroy it. But the anti-virus has become sentient, growing into a large creature which is now living off the crew members on board.

 

Dead Space bears no relation to the successful video game series (though I do note costume similarities between the game’s main character, Isaac Clarke, and the robot sidekick in the film). In fact it is a remake of Roger Corman’s cult classic Alien clone Forbidden World, a film which (though lacking in many qualities) is one of Corman’s best films. Dead Space is a rip off of a rip off of a landmark film which is almost like wearing third generation hand-me down clothes which have been worn and worn to death in the years since the original owner put them on for the first time. Shot in just seventeen days, Dead Space will do little to convince you otherwise.

The plots in Dead Space and Forbidden World are almost identical: the intergalactic hero and his robot sidekick responding to a distress signal from a research station; the virus-like creature which has escaped it’s incubation; the team of scientists both in denial about what they have created and in fear of what may happen; and the inevitable carnage which ensues when the creature grows bigger and hungrier and begins to kill everyone off. There’s even a random and completely-irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-the-film sequence at the beginning just like in Forbidden World where our hero is involved in a space dogfight for no apparent reason other than to recycle footage from Battle Beyond the Stars and kill about five minutes of screen time.

The big difference between the two films is the presence and/or absence of the trashy elements which made Forbidden World such a cult hit. Dead Space sorely needed an injection of gore, nudity and general low budget sleaze – it’s the film that Forbidden World would be if it removed most of its gore, naked chick quota and copious amount of sleaze and cheese. There’s nothing here to get overly worked over. Odd moments of blood, including a decent head-ripping late in the film, are not enough to save it. Dead Space doesn’t even attempt to send a wink towards the audience with its content. It’s played straight, serious and without a hint of irony or self-awareness.

Dead Space commits the cardinal sin of movie making and that is it to be boring. Even though it’s got a seventy-two minute run time, the film feels twice as long as that. Characters skulk around in the sparsely-decorated corridors talking about how they’re going to find and stop the creature for scene-upon-scene of innate tedium. The first hour grinds itself through the motions, only really picking up in the finale when the creature is given the big reveal, which is too little too late. The monster itself looks terribly static in the brief glimpses we get of it. For the majority of the film, it is masked in insane amounts of smoke/fog/ice when it’s outside the station or just dimmed in dingy rooms and corridors when it’s inside. It’s a pity because the design looks good, though you won’t get to see it walking around on two legs like the Xenomorph-wannabe from the cover artwork.

Fans of TV shows will be quick to spot Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as one of the scientists on board the station. No doubt this is the type of film he’ll be wanting to hide on his CV now that he’s pretty famous in Hollywood right now. Cranston isn’t great but given where he’s ended up, it’s easy to ignore it. The rest of the cast are pretty horrible, including Marc Singer as Krieger who is introduced to the audience laying down naked in some sort of steam room. Only, unlike in Forbidden World, the hero of the day only gets to dream about the female scientists naked rather than get down and dirty in the flesh.

 

Dead Space is just that – a completely lifeless amount of time between opening and closing credits where there’s little to see, little to hear and little to worry about. You’d expect better from the low budget canon of Roger Corman, even if by ‘better’ I mean sleazy and cheesy. This is neither and all the worse for it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Blood Glacier (2013)

Blood Glacier (2013)

Up there, the cold no longer the worst danger….

A team of scientists investigating climate change at a remote outpost in the Austrian Alps come across a mysterious organism which has thawed from the ice and has the ability to blend the DNA of multiple creatures, creating horrifying and very deadly hybrids. When infection spreads to human hosts and with an impending visit by a team of government officials, the group must fight for their lives to survive this terror.

 

With the spectre of The Thing hanging around it from beginning to end, Blood Glacier is a film with an interesting premise full of potential which doesn’t quite click into place. It should be unfair to pair the two films off against each other but when the front cover of the DVD brazenly states “A slice of horror reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing” the film is asking for trouble. Blood Glacier is The Thing-lite and whilst that’s not a bad thing for a lot of the time, you really wish this one would kick in harder during the second half like Carpenter’s legendary sci-fi horror.

Blood Glacier has a strong opening half which sets things up nicely and provides suitable elements of mystery, suspense and a few moments of droll black humour. The atmosphere is sharp, the discovery of the strange glacier and resulting encounter with the mutated fox is unsettling and the scene is set for a thrilling second half. Only this never really materialises, delivering patchy moments of action, scare horror set pieces and a couple of bizarre plot twists. Several scenes are dragged out far longer than needed (for instance, the scene with the characters contemplating putting a dog down) and this kills any sort of momentum that Blood Glacier tries to build up. Just when things get interesting, the film takes its foot off the pedal and slows down. Thankfully, the foreign origins cement the film in reality, avoiding the insulting pitfalls of throwing in good-looking teenage characters and sexual elements like so many American horrors succumb to, and keeping the situation as plausible and believable as possible without getting too silly.

Blood Glacier uses the Alps setting to perfection. Like the greatest isolation horror films, the film conveys the sense of loneliness and sheer desperation of the group of people trapped in the middle of nowhere and facing an abominable monster. The cinematography is fantastic, with the vast natural beauty of the Alps doing the rest of the hard work in really hammering home the scope of the situation. Sadly, the characters populating this lush scenery are rather one-dimensional and unlikable, save for leading man Gerhard Liebmann’s bearded Janek character. The rest of the characters vary between being unpleasant or non-descript and neither is a good thing. Too many characters are introduced at the mid-way point to make any impact upon the film other than provide the monsters with a few more victims.

Blood Glacier earns major brownie points by sticking to practical effects for the most part, bringing to life it’s variety of mutated creatures with gooey old school make-up effects. Thanks to the creative idea behind the DNA mutating everything in its path, the film offers up a host of peculiar and monstrous hybrids including foxes, goats, beetles and eagles and it’s clear that the effects team had a field day coming up with ideas. The only problem is that you don’t get to see enough of them and when you do, they’re usually semi-lit, disguised with rapid cuts and flashy editing and move rather jerky and awkwardly when you do get a glimpse. The creature designers should have had more confidence in their effects because when they do get more than a fleeting moment of screen time, they look nightmarishly horrific. The goat-thing that breaks through a window at one point deserved more screen time.

The creatures don’t get to do that much in the film apart from make a few “boo” appearances and the body count is surprisingly limited as a result. There is enough gore on show to quench the lightest thirst of blood fans but those looking for wall-to-wall splatter will be disappointed. I guess gore wasn’t a priority for director Marvin Kren but given the nature of the DNA-splicing monster, the possibilities for some icky on-screen transformations ala The Thing are almost endless – an untapped wealth of set pieces have been glossed over for whatever reason.

 

I really wanted to love Blood Glacier but found myself disengaged with it. All of the necessary ingredients are present but the resultant blend is underwhelming and leaves you shrugging your shoulders wondering “what if.” It’s by no means the worst example of this genre but it is too light for its own good.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

What is dead may never die

Towards the end of World War 2, a group of Russian soldiers pushing into German territory stumble upon a secret Nazi lab that has been conducting unthinkable experiments based upon the work of Dr Victor Frankenstein.

 

Are you old enough to have played any of the Wolfenstein games? They were a successful series of first-person shooters set during WW2 and had the player facing off against waves of monstrous Nazi experiments in Castle Wolfenstein. They played upon the weird and perverse fascination that many people have regarding the Nazis and their experiments on the occult. In the darker days of WW2, it was long rumoured that Hitler and his top brass were looking for ways to win the war and the occult was one direction that they tried to take. It’s proven to be a gold mine for filmmakers over the years with everyone from Hellboy to Indiana Jones confronting Nazis who were attempting some black magic rituals.

Frankenstein’s Army is Wolfenstein brought to life, an vividly imaginative and concept-fuelled horror film which not only follows in the footsteps of films which dealt with the Nazi occult but stamps its own madcap mark on the sub-genre. Forget Dead Snow, Outpost or Iron Sky, this is the new benchmark of Nazi-themed horror, a uniquely perverse assault on the senses which takes no prisoners, leaves no idea unturned and will have you cheering and squirming in equal measure.

First things first though – enough of the found footage horror films already! With The Blair Witch Project being fourteen years old and Cloverfield coming up on five years, it’s about time that filmmakers put that fad to bed despite the odd success (Troll Hunter, I’m looking at you). Frankenstein’s Army shoe-horns this gimmicky, over-exposed plot device into the film for reasons unknown and it’s a mixed bag as to how successful it is. The situations that the cameraman finds himself in are too contrived for him to feasibly hold the camera and record everything in the face of overwhelming danger (let’s face it, confronted with those zom-bot monsters, you and I would run a mile). Other situations have characters coming up with reasons for the camera to be recording the action (the finale springs to mind). It forces the script to become too focused on the camera and less about what is going on. There’s just no need for the film to use this gimmick and it would have worked better without it.

However, at other times, Frankenstein’s Army uses the technique brilliantly, with the camera sometimes swinging around to reveal a monster half-glimpsed down a corridor or something moving around in the back of the shot. But it’s nothing that couldn’t have been achieved with a normal camera and you get the sense that you’re missing a lot of the great stuff because the camera is shaking or facing the wrong way.

After the initially drawn-out sequences of the Russian soldiers going about their mission, all hell literally breaks loose as Frankenstein’s army of cybernetic monsters springs into life. Human remains fused with machine parts, these hideous monsters are steam-punk inspired  Nazi creations right out of Hell. Frankenstein’s Army then plays its aces, unleashing some of the most surreal and nightmarish creatures to emerge over the past ten years. Though filmed on a low budget, Frankenstein’s Army packs in some incredible production design that would put the majority of Hollywood mega-budget films to shame. The tour of Frankenstein’s laboratory that takes place in the final third is simply a fright-fuelled trip through the warped mind of director Richard Raaphorst. It’s like a walk through a Nazi/occult-themed Halloween funhouse and the first-person point-of-view really hammers this home. Gloomy, damp, smoky visuals with machines rumbling in the background, screams and monstrous moans happening around the camera, and with the sight of hulking robotic zombies with knife-fingers or propellers for heads staggering from room to room with bloody, dismembered corpses lying around the floor, it’s an unforgettable scene. Grotesque, gurgling creatures emerge from behind doorways or heave themselves up out of chutes with no warning. It’s a claustrophobic setting, with no escape and a deadly surprise lurking around every corner.

Where Frankenstein’s Army will win most plaudits with genre lovers is with this large variety of practical effects-based monsters. The only comparison I can make with them is to think of the Cenobites from the Hellraiser films and how uniquely outlandish and terrifying they were when they appeared for the first time – like nothing you had ever seen before. The selection of Nazi monsters here has that same ‘wow’ factor. You won’t have seen anything as unearthly and as abhorrent as these monsters, each individually unique in their composition. Frankenstein’s traditional fleshy patchwork experimentations take on new life when fused with mechanical parts. In different hands, these monsters could have turned out cartoony and ridiculous. But director Richard Raaphorst treats them with respect, refusing to allow their dubious nature to dominate, and keeps them grounded in as much reality as possible.

If there is a big drawback with Frankenstein’s Army, it’s that I doubt it will find much affection outside of hardcore horror fans. The plot is too simple, the characters are thinly-sketched stereotypes and the film does seem to power ahead solely on its conceptual ideas and the “I wonder what we’ll see next” approach. Those expecting a torrent of blood will be disappointed as well. The majority of the gore is from freshly-dismembered corpses lying about Frankenstein’s lab rather than any damage the creatures do to the Russian soldiers.

 

In case you haven’t realised by reading this review, I loved Frankenstein’s Army. It’s one of the most rewarding horror films I’ve watched for a long time and whilst it’s not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying how original and creative it is. Sadly the use of the found footage approach restricts the scope of the great visuals that we get to experience, leaving the audience wanting to see more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing given how the film ends.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Leviathan (1989)

Leviathan (1989)

It will leave you gasping for air…

Days before their undersea mining contract expires, the crew of a US deep-sea mining facility discover a sunken Soviet ship, the Leviathan, in a trench. Bringing a watertight chest back on board, the crew think that they have found some sort of treasure. However when they open it, they don’t realise that they are opening a Pandora’s Box of mutated genes which proceeds to infect one of the crew, transforming them into a hideous creature which then proceed to kill the crew one-by-one.

 

Whilst James Cameron’s The Abyss was in production, other studios assumed that it was going to be some ‘monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space’ flick like Aliens but only underwater instead of space. Cameron was a rising star after Aliens and The Terminator and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Being ones to try and jump on the bandwagon, a handful of similar-themed films each featuring aquatic terrors were rushed into production in order to capitalise on the inevitable popularity. However, The Abyss was nothing like people expected it to be, especially after Aliens a couple of years earlier. So these films kind of floundered a little bit, trying to beat the other into the pool first only to find it had moved. Leviathan finds itself in a prominent position boasting a director hot from making a pair of Stallone action, a great cast of famous faces and modern day effects maestro, the late Stan Winston, providing the monster. It should have added up to a lot more than the sum of its parts though.

The problem is that Leviathan comes off more like an undersea version of The Thing than a straight-up Alien clone but it’s clear that the script is the combination of Scott’s sci-fi classic and Carpenter’s immense Antarctic shocker. It’s a film which has been assembled courtesy of the best pieces of both films just without the required glue to hold it all together. Outer space. The Antarctic. Underwater. Three places where help isn’t coming, the feeling of isolation is paramount and no one can hear you scream. Leviathan starts exactly like Alien with the blue-collared crew going about their day-to-day business before they encounter a situation which screams “avoid” at all costs. Then the film switches across to The Thing mode with the crew finding something nasty which has already wiped out a like-minded foreign power and proceeds to secretly infect one of the US crew. From there on, I’ll avoid the comparisons between the films. After all, Alien itself wasn’t an original idea. The only thing that matters is whether or not the films are any good regardless of whether it’s recycling ideas from another film.

In this respect, Leviathan does an admirable job of paving its own way. Over $20 million was sunk into this flick so Leviathan can’t argue that it was short of cash. There are some highly impressive sets and the undersea facility looks stunning. Sadly the confined setting isn’t fully utilized and there’s not a whole lot of tension or atmosphere cranked out within the bowels of this metallic, gloomy facility. The script follow standard conventions, introducing a diverse crew of male, female, white, black and Hispanic characters, and of various ages, so that there’s at least one or two characters that people should be able to associate with.

Leviathan‘s biggest strength is its all-star cast. Robocop himself, Peter Weller, stars as the commander of the vessel. There are supporting roles for Ernie Hudson (the black ghostbuster), Richard Crenna (Stallone’s superior officer in the Rambo films), Daniel Stern (in his pre-Home Alone days), Hector Elizondo, Meg Foster and Amanda Pays. Whilst it’s safe to assume that no actor will be placing this at the top of their credits list, they’re decent enough for what the limited script asks them to do. Hudson in particular makes more of an impression in his role here than he did across two Ghostbusters films. Don’t get too attached to any of them however as their shelf-life is very limited.

Whoever was cast in the film was always going to play second fiddle to the monster though. It’s the reason why people watch films like this. Stan Winston is the man pulling the strings with the special effects and comes up with an intriguing and original creature which doesn’t just look like another tall, black-skinned monster with sharp teeth (i.e. Giger’s unforgettable alien creation). In the days before CGI, the creature is brought to life all through practical make-up effects. You don’t get to see an awful lot of it which is a bit of a shame as it looks very real and imposing in the scenes that it’s in. However later in the film, it begins to change size and shape a little too much based upon whatever the script requires it to do. Its final reveal is overly disappointing and is a bit of a poor model from Industrial Light and Magic. Can’t all be winners I suppose!

The creature also has the ability to regenerate itself and contaminate others, and sets about absorbing the crew in grisly fashion. It takes about thirty minutes for the creature to start causing havoc and there’s some solid moments of gore as the process of absorption gets messy at times. Leviathan works better when it’s not just having the monster stalk and attack people down corridors but the back-up is there for when it does. The better make-up effects are those used when the characters are begin to change, such as a row of teeth and mouth appearing on someone’s hand. But then we’re getting into The Thing territory again.

 

Something of a minor cult favourite amongst sci-fi-horror fans, Leviathan is a film which doesn’t have a shred of originality running through its body. But it’s a polished production with enough goo, gore and gratuitous hamming up by some of the cast to keep it entertaining, rarely dull and with an odd moment which promised a whole lot more.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Razorback (1984)

Razorback (1984)

Nine hundred pounds of marauding tusk and muscle!

A giant razorback boar goes on a killing spree in the Australian outback, taking the life of an animal rights activist Beth Winters in the process. Her husband, Carl, travels over from America to find out what happened to her and encounters unhelpful locals as well as a man who is a crusade to kill the pig.

 

If you think that the premise of a killer pig sounds a bit laughable then you’d be right and Razorback proceeds to prove it. Razorback was the debut feature film of Russell Mulcahy, a man who directed some of the 80s most famous music videos during the early days of its form, in particular his work with Duran Duran across ten music videos and the first ever music video shown on MTV, Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. It’s amazing to think that many film directors today originally made their big break with music videos but Mulcahy was a pioneer – the first of his kind. As I’m not a huge fan of modern music video directors making films due to their style over substance tendencies, I have to shift some of the blame onto Mr Mulcahy!

Mulcahy’s eye for expansive detail is clear to see in his Duran Duran music videos – Save a Prayer is lushly shot in some tropical paradise and Rio‘s Caribbean yacht cruise is beautiful. So Razorback‘s major plus is that Mulcahy manages to give the Australian Outback some breathtaking splendour. It’s one of the most inhospitable and dangerous places in the world, especially for a Westerner not familiar with the Australian flora and fauna. As Carl travels across the Outback looking for the answers, we share the wonder of the sights he sees but feel little of the peril he faces. Armchair tourism is the best kind!

But we are talking about a film which features a killer pig and so really all of this talk about cinematography should come behind talking about the monster. I came to see a horror film not a tourist guide. Sadly the nice imagery can only last so long before it actually needs some substance to go with it. This is where reality suddenly hits and we realise that Razorback is about as enjoyable as a sausage that has rolled under the settee on a furry carpet and then been chewed by the dog a couple of times.

The monster of the title is hardly on camera at all, presumably because it looks awful whenever it does make a cameo appearance. It appears to be a huge, immobile model made out of fur and bin bags which is rolled out on a set of wheels every time that they need to shoot it from a distance. For close-ups, a giant model head is used but once again this lacks any sort of movement – a couple of stage hands must be shaking it left and right for the camera whenever it needs to get angry. It’s up to the editor and the sound guy to stop the attack sequences from degenerating into farce and they do a reasonable job of papering over the obvious flaws. The comparisons with Jaws that I’ve read about are rather vague I must add. Apart from the basic ‘nature runs amok’ plot, there’s very little similar between the two.

With the killer pig providing a huge let-down, it’s up to the intimidating scenery and deranged outback characters to provide the necessary threat to our main character. As I’ve already highlighted, the Australian Outback looks amazing in this film. During the day it’s a hotbed of desolation but it’s even more frightening during the night scenes. The dry ice machine does goes into overdrive during these moments, no doubt to attempt to conceal how shoddy the boar really looks, but at least these scenes are well lit, sometimes even spookily lit like the classic moors scene from An American Werewolf in London. The kangaroo hunt and subsequent slaughter is a particularly nightmarish sequence.

Without the killer pig on screen, Razorback precedes Crocodile Dundee by a couple of years in portraying as many ridiculous Australian stereotypes as possible, in particular those of rough and ready people who live in the Outback. Save for the deranged Aussie hicks who run a slaughterhouse and the an old ‘bush man’ type of character, anyone else Australian is shown spending most of their time drinking beer. The crazy poacher brothers who live in the middle of nowhere provide more of a menace to our lead character than the pig does and are way more memorable as human villains than they have any right to be.

Main actor Gregory Harrison is a rather ineffective lead role, continually on the wrong end of pretty much everything hostile in the film. It hammers home the fish-out-of-water message about an American businessman heading into the Australian Outback but his performance is too stoic to make an impression. I would rather have seen more of the secondary plot involving veteran Aussie actor’s Bill Cullen character setting off in some sort of Captain Ahab-style one-man crusade to find and kill the pig. This had potential but sadly it’s not the main focus of the film.

 

Razorback falls over flat with its original premise regarding a giant killer pig but there is still enough for everyone to warrant at least one look. It’s masterfully shot and rarely has the Australian Outback been portrayed as so inhospitable yet so majestic at the same time. This is one pork product that deserved a bit longer under the grill before it was served up.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Terror Within II, The (1991)

The Terror Within 2 (1991)

Out there lurked danger….but the real terror came from within.

After the underground bunker that David and his team were hiding inside was destroyed in a mutant attack along with everyone else, he heads off across the desolate, plague-infested landscape in search of the Rocky Mountain outpost where he believes another team is holed up. On his way, he rescues Ariel from a mutant attack but, when they encounter a tribe of survivors, he is unable to prevent her from being raped by another mutant. Eventually they arrive at the outpost where they are welcomed inside by the team. However that is the least of their worries as not only is Ariel ready to give birth to a monstrous offspring but the team have also inadvertently allowed the severed finger of another mutant to re-grow back to full size inside their compound.

 

I could honestly go into further details about the plot as it’s a rather convoluted sequence of events that leads to a couple of the mutants being let loose inside the bunker. But hey, we’re looking at a cheap direct-to-video sequel to a cheap direct-to-video sci-fi horror film where creativity is a bare minimum and recycling everything is the order of the day. If you’ve seen The Terror Within then you’ve already seen The Terror Within II, virtually the same film as its predecessor as a rag-tag bunch of human survivors headed up by a famous name (Full Metal Jacket‘s infamous drill instructor, R. Lee Ermey, taking over the George Kennedy role) allow those mutated humans to infiltrate their underground facility where lots of Alien-clone hi-jinks ensue. Though there are some plot deviations, the standard monster-on-the-loose formula is adhered to the letter.

In many ways it’s everything I like about a true sequel. The sets look the same. The exterior locations look the same. Characters discuss events that have happened and everything seems to fit into a big jigsaw. It’s obvious that this takes place within the same fictional future as the original and the same story is continued. Everything fits nicely together so it’s a real shame that the film is almost an identical retread, save for the first twenty minutes or so. Even thinking back about it now, I’m hard-pressed to remember which parts were from which film.

As I’ve said, if you’ve seen the original (and why would you be watching the sequel if you haven’t?) then this is virtually the same film. If you’ve seen Alien or any of the countless low budget monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space rip-offs then you’ll have seen this. The expendable crew of stereotyped characters decide to hunt down the creature and before you can say “let’s split up so we explore more space but also make ourselves easier targets” they’ve getting ripped apart in gory death scenes. There’s little in the way of tension or scares, just exploitative elements which enhance the film’s low budget nature.

I said in my review for The Terror Within that the monsters really reminded me of the recent Feast films and not just for appearances. These are horny monsters who are happy to destroy the males and breed with the females. Monster-rape has always been a taboo in the horror genre and both of these films have tackled the issue with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. The monsters look like men in shabby fancy dress outfits but I’ll take them over CGI monsters any day of the week.

Having been cast in the main role in the first one and having survived the onslaught of the mutated humanoid, Andrew Stevens is back as David. Only this time he’s writing and directing the sequel too. It’s a canny move on his part having creative control. Not only does his character get to rescue and then have sex with the lovely Clare Hoak (he conveniently waits to jump in and save her until after her brother has just been savaged, thus eliminating the sibling competition) but as the director he had the say on who was cast in the other roles. He populates the film with a bunch of good-looking women (if the result of the apocalypse was like this where hot, nubile young women eager to shed their clothes for surviving males were the only ones to survive then let’s get those red buttons pushed) and even finds a role for his mam, Stella Stevens (who looked good for her age as well). R. Lee Ermey is wasted in his role.

 

So what is there to be had from The Terror Within II? Well if you enjoyed the first one, chances are you’ll enjoy this as they’re virtually the same film, only split across two instalments. I would have liked to see Stevens try something a little different with the story here, rather than being a shameless remake. But the cheap and cheesy B-grade elements keep things ticking over until the end and it’s never boring, just familiar.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster in the Closet (1986)

Monster in the Closet (1986)

It’s Out! It’s Out! It’s Out!

A spate of unusual murders in a small American town prompt a news reporter to investigate the story in an attempt to get his big break. However he uncovers more than he bargained for when the perpetrator is a slobbering monster that lives in closets and kills unsuspecting victims in their own bedrooms. He enlists the help of the army and a local scientist in an attempt to stop this monstrous rampage.

 

Troma aren’t exactly renowned for their quality filmmaking. Granted they’ve had some cult hits like The Toxic Avenger but on the whole, I’ve found their infamous productions to be goofy, shoddy and generally unwatchable piece of rubbish which have found a baying cult audience but little else beyond that. Monster in the Closet won’t change my perceptions of the company however I must eat a bit of humble pie and say that this was childishly entertaining. It’s a “so bad it’s good” film which just about borders on the right side of being ‘so bad, it’s good’ and not ‘so bad, it’s awful.’ Just about…

Focusing on a childhood fear of there being monsters lurking in the closet (though I always had a wardrobe not a closet), Monsters in the Closet could have worked pretty well as a more serious offering but opts to goof around with the material. Bizarrely enough, I wonder whether Pixar had seen this before they made Monsters Inc. – the shared ideas of monsters entering our realm through closets and then ultimately being stopped from returning by destroying these closet portals seems too rare to be a coincidence.

Monster in the Closet starts off in the worst way possible. The first ten minutes or so is nothing but scenes of random characters being attacked in their closets. We don’t see anything except an off-screen stage hand tossing random clothes into the bedroom and we hear some cartoony noises of a monster eating. I was really wondering what I had got myself in for and whether or not it was prudent to continue. However I like to give films a chance and so I stuck with it.

Once the narrative finally settles down into something resembling a proper story and the monster is revealed (pretty early on it has to be said) then the film picks up some steam. Yeah this was never going to win any awards for quality control but what it turns out to be a reasonable timewaster which spoofs the 50s monster movies about a monster loose in a small American town down to a tee. It’s blatantly a one-joke film which repeats the same situations over and over again (monster is seemingly indestructible/army helpless to stop it) but there’s a decent amount of mileage to be had before it runs out of gas.

It helps that the film plays upon familiar tropes and there’s a lot of fun to be had in spotting the references. Amongst the spoofing, I could see Superman, War of the Worlds, Psycho, King Kong, Alien and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to name a few. The King Kong one is particularly hilarious, twisting around the notion of ‘beauty and the beast’ by swapping the sex of beauty, which also harks back to the less-than-subtle title and hidden messages in Monster in the Closet. This monster is well and truly out of the closet, if you get my drift.

The monster looks awful when it’s unveiled to the audience about twenty minutes into the film but this is part of the charm. The film knows it’s onto a complete turkey of a creation and you’ll laugh your head off when you see it. So instead of hiding it away, the film wears it on its sleeve like a badge of honour and shows us as much of the monster as it can, in many instances during daylight so you can see every inch of rubber. It’s original, I’ll give it that, and has an annoying habit of constantly growing but it’s ridiculously slow and cumbersome, giving rise to the question of how anyone could possibly be caught and killed by it. And despite the fact that it does kill quite a few people, the film is gore-free. This wasn’t meant to be a splatter fest and I think it works in the film’s favour.

There’s a decent ensemble cast here which was surprising given the obvious low cost nature of the film. Donald Moffat, Claude Atkins, Stella Stevens, veteran John Carradine, character actor Henry Gibson and a very young Paul Walker all feature at some point. Moffat’s blustering army general is a particular hoot. Kevin Peter Hall, famous for playing the Predator and ‘Harry’ from Harry and The Hendersons is the man in the suit.

 

Monster is the Closet is daft junk but it makes no bones about that. Quality levels are low and expectation levels are lower but if you stick with it past the opening twenty minutes, you’ll be rewarded with an 80s monster flick which works far better than it has any right to. You need to get the film and once you do, it gets stale pretty quickly.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆