Tag Creatures/Monsters

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cabin in the Woods, The (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

If you hear a strange sound outside… have sex.

Five friends head off for a weekend at a secluded cabin in the woods. As they settle in for the night, the door to the cellar mysteriously swings open. Deciding to investigate, the group head down where they find a startling array of old artefacts, ornaments and antiques. But after one of them reads out a passage from a journal, they awaken a family of undead killers who used to live in the cabin. But they are the least of the problems that the group will encounter over the course of the night.

 

To go into any other detail regarding the plot as this stage would be to defeat the object of watching The Cabin in the Woods, quite simply one of the most unique and genre-bending horror films of recent memory. Believe the hype because if you’re a genre fan, you’re going to love this film. Written and produced by Josh Wheldon, the fan boy favourite behind the likes of cult TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and, more recently, the big budget blockbuster The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods continues his fandom-pandering, genre-deprecating sense of humour with a film that can be appreciated on so many different levels. At its core, we have a film that has two simultaneous stories running along side-by-side and it’s up to you to try and piece together the links (before the film does it for you in the final third). But there’s so much more going on underneath.

I don’t think I’ve ever found a review as hard to write as this one. The Cabin in the Woods is best viewed without any faintest hint of what happens in it and, since the bulk of the enjoyable experience is to be constantly screaming “what the hell is going?” at the screen when things take an unexpected turn between the two concurrent stories, then it’s best if you don’t know anything. No spoilers. No clues. Nothing. Even the trailer gives away too much in my opinion. So trying to talk about a film without revealing anything or even given faint hints is really hard and I’m going to purposely avoid talking about one of the stories for that matter as I feel it would give too much away.

The Cabin in the Woods is a clever film, or at least thinks it is for the most part, which will surprise you, shock you and appease the horror nerd inside of you. For genre-busting meta-horror films, I’d say this was up there with Scream for its attempts to break through the fourth wall, only this works a lot better than Craven’s film in many aspects. Though by the sheer insanity that fills up this film’s final third, I can’t imagine wave of copy cat films coming hot on its heels like the post-modern slasher craze which followed Craven’s classic. Co-writer Drew Goddard seems to be as knowledgeable as Wheldon when it comes to horror and together the two craft a film which is high on clichés and even higher on manipulating and breaking them. It requires audience awareness of such clichés in order to succeed and even then, spells some of them out in plain English so that non-genre fans could ‘get’ the film.

But this isn’t done at the expense of the integrity of the film, far from it. This is a film which unleashes the clichés for the viewer, playing upon audience expectations of them in a way which hasn’t been done before but at the same time continuing to put the characters in serious jeopardy. It may be a game for the audience but it’s certainly not a game for the characters who have to try and survive this nightmare ordeal. With one of the major twists of the film, the audience suddenly realise they have become complicit in something that only the five characters are unaware of.

At first, The Cabin in the Woods smacks of been there, done that, got the t-shirt – a bunch of good-looking, stereotypical twentysomethings head off to a remote location for some shenanigans and hanky panky, bumping into the local whackjob on the way who warns them against going. Then of course, his predictions of doom come true and they find something that they shouldn’t really be messing with. The first third of the film is very reminiscent of The Evil Dead film with its whole ‘cabin in the woods, reading a supernatural verse and being trapped with the confines of the valley’ structure. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s just a self-aware re-tread. To say anything else on that matter would be to do you a disservice if you watch it.

Taken on its own merits without the genre in-jokes and twists and turns, the film works reasonably well as an effective horror film. There are some unexpected moments of terror, the film has a decent creepy atmosphere (though there are specific reasons for that!) and there is enough gore to keep fans happy. Some of the make-up effects are brilliantly done, including the zombie Buckner family who come alive to terrorise the teenagers. The teenage characters appear to fall into stereotype at the start but over the course of the film, they develop into fully fledged characters who defy any real stereotyping. Again, to divulge more would be to ruin the enjoyable of the film.

So there you have it – a review which doesn’t say too much about the film, only that you should expect plenty of twists, turns, unexpected happenings, predictable outcomes. Everything you can think will happen, will happen. And everything you think will happen, won’t happen. It sounds confusing but sit down, watch it and let it all pan out. It will make sense then.

 

The Cabin in the Woods is definitely a one-watch only deal as once you ‘get it’ then you’ll find little to go back over, save for perhaps spotting all of the genre references. But your first run-through with it will provide you with some of the most entertaining horror moments that cinema has had to offer for a long time. Ingenious at times, infuriating at others, The Cabin in the Woods is going to be a hard act to follow.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Terror Within, The (1989)

The Terror Within (1989)

It Wants To Get Out!

A plague has destroyed most of the world’s population aside from small groups of survivors who have holed themselves up in underground military bunkers across the planet. When a routine patrol to the surface to look for food come across a human settlement with a pregnant female survivor, it appears that a cure has been found. They take her back to the bunker but they discover that the woman is pregnant with the baby of one of the hideous gargoyle-like monsters that roam the planet’s surface. After a failed abortion, the baby rapidly mutates into a full-grown monster which then begins to kill the group off one-by-one.

 

Roger Corman had been producing these low budget Alien rip-offs since the early 80s and so by this point, the clockwork, almost-cumbersome nature of proceedings had been perfected down to a tee. The Terror Within may change the setting from outer space to underground but, save for obligatory shots of the desert as opposed to the stars, the results are almost identical – cheap sets, copious gore, sleazier undertones and a clear set of eyes on Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi horror classic.

There shouldn’t be much point in trying to review a film like The Terror Within. It’s a blatant Alien rip-off which cuts down on the expensive eye-candy (all those shots of the Nostromo drifting through space for instance), avoids spending too much money on high profile actors, skimps on the non-essential story and ramps up the more exploitative elements such as the gore, the alien and the suggestion of alien-human rape. With Roger Corman on board as producer, you at least know what you’re going to get. And The Terror Within pretty much delivers on all three of the latter – only it’s been done better before, even by Corman himself. His far superior Forbidden World puts this one to shame. This feels tame and lacklustre in comparison.

The Terror Within has clearly been built up around a number of set pieces or ideas and so the script suffers from a stop-start cycle. For every action sequence, there are at least three sequences of people sitting around staring at computers or walking around the corridors looking for the creature. Whilst I understand the need for such sequences (especially the walking scenes) to establish the setting, the technology and maybe create a bit of tension as you wonder what is around the corner, there are just too many and there’s no pay-off to them.

The sets are also way too bright and fail to create any sort of atmosphere or intimidating location. There’s no illusion that the creature could be lurking in the corner of the room or strike at any time. As is typical of these films, there is also an obligatory ventilation shaft scene where one of the cast encounter the creature in a tight spot. However, everything is way too bright and ‘in your face’ which is the problem with the film. There’s no chance for the audience to use their imagination and picture in their head what is happening – the film spoon feeds everything in at a rapid rate.

The monsters in here kind of reminded me of the monsters in the recent Feast films – not only big, shabby and horny but sharing a similar kind of look. Unfortunately the suit never once manages to convince anyone that it is anything but a guy dressed up but when director Thierry Notz has decided to shoot the creature in brightly-lit sets most of the time, it never had any chance. Keeping it in the dark would have worked wonders given that the guy beneath the make-up seems to be quite tall and intimidating. The origins of the gargoyle creatures is never explained – are they mutated humans or a new form of life brought on by the plague? They’re not too fussy when it comes to killing and some of the kills, while rather routine, are at least caked in splatter.

Andrew Stevens plays the hero role and he’s not too bad for this sort of nonsense in a low-rent action man sort of way, so much so that he was brought back to write and direct the sequel. It’s George Kennedy who is the most famous name in the cast but at this point in his career, he was just taking any roles for cash and his appearances in the horror genre around this time are rather embarrassing. It’s not his fault – Kennedy seems to be trying to lift the material – but the character he’s lumbered with comes off as cold, detached from the other survivors and rather useless.

 

The Terror Within is a crude relic of 80s low budget horror which is designed to pander to the lowest denominators of the genre at the cheapest possible cost. Cheesy and entertaining if you like your brainless Alien rip-offs but there are far better examples out there to enjoy.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Brain, The (1988)

The Brain (1988)

The Pounding of the Afterbrain Signals Vengeance and Death!

Dr Anthony Blakely runs a local self-help television show called “Independent Thinking” which attracts a devoted audience and is in talks to go worldwide. But he’s not actually making his viewers think more independently – he’s brainwashing and mind-controlling them with the help of an alien organism he calls The Brain. It is up to local tearaway youth Jim Majelewski to stop them.

 

The Brain is a strange and daft low budget sci-fi horror that could only have been dreamt up in the 80s, an era where seemingly anyone with an outrageous idea and a bit of cash could make a movie that could go straight to home video and capitalise on the boom. Video store shelves were full of cheap and nasty horror films which enticed their audiences with lurid artwork and shocking tag lines and etched themselves into the minds of kids not old enough to take them home. When you did get old enough to watch them, you realised that you had not been missing out on anything. In fact you’re probably thanking a higher power that you were saved from wasting ninety minutes of your childhood. Sadly this is not ninety minutes that you’ll get back as an adult after watching The Brain.

For as terrible as The Brain is, I can’t see why this isn’t more of a cult favourite. Surely the lure of a giant tentacle-spewing, human-eating brain with razor-sharp teeth, bulging eyes and a spinal cord hanging down behind it would attract any horror fan to the table? Yet this film has never seen a DVD release (at time of writing), is impossible-as-hell to track down on VHS (though I did manage to obtain an American copy) and is about as obscure a film as I’ve ever written a review for. Why is something like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes such a cult favourite when a man-eating brain makes for a much more interesting synopsis?

The sight of a giant brain is not something you see very often in the cinema world. I can think of The Brain from Planet Arous as an early example and there are a few other 50s sci-fi films with ‘brain’ in their titles but the ‘giant brain’ genre has been few and far between since then. There is a big reason for this: killer brains don’t exactly send chills down the spine. Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would testify to that sentiment! But in an era of schlocky creature features, the sight of a killer brain does stand out from the pack.

The brain looks as stupid or as terrifying as you’d expect it to. In a time before computers did all of the fancy special effects, it was down to teams of make-up effects guys to create monsters and the brain is every inch a latex marvel, oozing with slime and gnashing its teeth constantly looking for food. It looks like the ridiculous special effect it is in later scenes as its massive head is clearly being pushed around on a cart or trolley. But in the same manner, it also looks horrific – a nightmarish creation which is bathed in strobe lighting whenever it appears. A lot of work has gone into creating the brain which is to be applauded for such a low rent film. You’ve definitely got to get on board and embrace the idea of a giant brain in order to enjoy it.

As for the film itself, it’s a rather random mix of ideas from Videodrome and A Nightmare on Elm Street and the entire film consists of scenes of our heroic teen characters being chased around the boiler rooms and through the woods from Blakely’s bearded assistant and the police, with a few nightmarish dream sequences scattered around for good measure. The dream sequences, particularly the first one, work quite well given the low budget special effects but look to have been included for gimmick purposes rather than any real attempt to scare.

David Gale should be familiar to horror fans as Dr Carl Hill from Re-Animator amongst other low brow 80s horror efforts. He lends his crazed over-the-top antics to another mad scientist role in this one as the man trying to take over the world with the help of the brain. There is a throwaway nod to Re-Animator in here for die-hard fans to take note of.

 

I didn’t think I could write a review and use the phrase ‘giant brain’ so much but there you have it. The Brain is a cheap schlock horror film about a giant brain – if that premise alone will satisfy your curiosity then watch it and regret it later. For cultured film fans, use your own brains and stay well clear.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆