Tag Misc. Haunted Setting

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

A killer is waiting… In the past, present and future.

After escaping from the wax museum with their lives, Mark and Sarah think that the ordeal is over. But a severed hand has survived and follows Sarah home, killing her father and framing her for murder. In order to clear her name, the couple go to the late Sir Wilfred’s house to look for evidence. Here they find a pre-recorded film to play by Sir Wilfred and a compass which unlocks the doors of the universe. Travelling through time to find some evidence, Mark and Sarah must then do battle with Lord Scarabus, a time warrior, in order to get back home.

 

Yeah it’s a flimsy plot which has nothing to do with waxworks at all but Waxwork II: Lost in Time is certainly not a sequel to get lost on story. A lot more tongue-in-cheek than the original was, this sequel is virtually a series of interconnected homages based around other films – kind of like a grown-up version of Time Bandits without the little dwarves running around doing silly stuff. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the MacGuffin of the time portals is such a contrived plot device that it’s best you switch your brain off right at the start – even the idea to go back in time and find evidence to support Sarah’s court case is ludicrously manufactured just to get the duo moving on their travels. It’s weak. We know it. I think the characters know it too. But hey, once they start flying through time, we don’t care.

Though the film picks up moments after the original ended, it’s hard to believe that the film is supposed to be following on. With Zach Galligan looking a lot older and a new actress playing Sarah, the film should have just started up a few years down the line. Plot aside, the film does work in places but it’s too sporadic to be considered a cult classic like the original despite director Anthony Hickox’s best efforts to make it one. Technically Mark and Sarah don’t even travel through time as they flit from film to film. Firstly, they arrive in Baron Frankenstein’s mansion before stumbling into a spoof of The Haunting and a spaceship which has an Alien-sized problem. The Frankenstein segment is terrible, with Martin Kemp hamming it up with an overblown German accent as the Baron, but there is a ghoulishly gory ending which I wasn’t expecting (and it was nice to see). The two following spoofs both work well.

Bruce Campbell makes an appearance in The Haunting segment and it’s one of the best parts of the film as his lofty professor has his chest ripped open and rib cage exposed. His character tries to downplay the severity of his injuries (ala the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and attempts to save him and stop the ghost result in inadvertent torture and hilarity. Campbell owns the scene and downplays his performance to a tee. The segment has also been filmed in black and white to add to the original The Haunting vibe (and there are also a few The Evil Dead nods too).

The Alien spoof drags out a guy-in-a-suit as the alien, lots of visual nods to Ridley Scott’s classic and a cast who seem to be trying their best to keep a straight face. Heavy on prosthetics and gloriously cheesy old school make-up effects, this sequence probably does the best of trying to recapture the old 80s horror-comedy feel. The alien is quite a dab hand at crushing things, especially humans, and the face-hugger style monster at the ends drips with goo. Again it’s a nice homage to Alien and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Sadly the rest of the story takes place during a Middle Ages period featuring King Arthur and the villain of the piece, Lord Scarabus (played by infamous Die Hard villain Alexander Godunov) and it’s the most boring of the segments. It’s almost as if the story ran out of budget to continually have the characters appearing on new sets every few minutes and decided to ground them in one place for the duration – unfortunately for us it is the most boring time zone in the film.

Thankfully the final fight between Mark and Scarabus involves the two men fighting through time, encountering the likes of Mr Hyde, Nosferatu, Jack the Ripper, zombies from a Dawn of the Dead-style shopping mall and some giant monster I’m assuming is meant to be Godzilla amongst others. This sequence alone is worth the wait: the film effortlessly switches between its homages as the characters tussle through the time doorways. It’s certainly a more structured finale than the original had but the rounding off of the film with the stupid court room scene ends things on a whimper. We know how ridiculous the premise had been at the time and this last scene proves it.

 

Waxwork II: Lost in Time is a slightly different take on the same material as the original but still a lot of fun nevertheless. Some of the homages seem hackneyed and just included by the makers of the film to say “hey, look we know our films” but there’s a good-natured vibe running underneath everything and whilst some of the material is gory or violent, it is never meant to be taken any other way than campy tongue-in-cheek fun.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Man’s Hand (2007)

Dead Man's Hand (2007)

Sheer Terror! Bet On It!

Mathew Dragna inherits an old run down casino from his deceased uncle and enlists the help of some of his friends to go and check the place out. It turns out that the casino is haunted by the ghosts of vicious Las Vegas mobster Roy ‘The Word’ Donahue and his henchmen. Dragna’s uncle owed Donahue a debt and he is here to collect it.

 

Charles Band has more of a reputation for producing low budget horror films based on ‘little things killing each other’ than he does anything else (see Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Dollman, The Gingerdead Man, et al) so whenever you pick up one of his other horror films, it’s a bit hit-and-miss what you’re going to get. Well more so miss-and-miss-further! Unfortunately despite some earlier success in the low budget field, Band’s name has come to represent something of a benchmark of poor quality. With a motto of ‘shoot fast, don’t ask questions later’ it seems that his films have now come to rely on one or two gimmicks but with budgets that wouldn’t even cover the cost of a stamp, it’s hard to bring such gimmicks to life in such constrained shooting schedules (most of his films shoot in less than a week). The Band of old would at least make a go of it. It seems like now he’s just phoning it in.

Dead Man’s Hand is one such example of a gimmick story that doesn’t work very well despite the premise of a haunted casino sounding pretty cool. That being if you have seen any sort of teenagers-in-a-haunted-house type film of any kind then you’ll be familiar with how this will play out: main character and their girlfriend/boyfriend will be safe whilst his unfortunate friends will fall victim to the ghosts as they explore the haunting setting. Despite the lure of some decent casino-themed scares, the film is woefully short of any sort of boo moments. William Castle would be turning in his grave if he knew how ‘haunted house’ films have let themselves go.

The opening prologue involving an estate agent and an unlucky janitor going to check the place out gives hope that the rest of the film will be as gory and cheesy. But alas after the blood has dripped down the door frame and the title credits have hit, it’s another forty-fifty minutes before anything remotely exciting happens. It’s a real shame as the casino setting looks really good. The sets are full of cobwebs and dust and there is a nice antique feel to the place as though it really has been closed for some time. The lights are kept low to avoid revealing too much of the set and it all makes for a suitable place to throw in some ghosts and gore.

But whilst the setting is good, I don’t need to see the characters exploring it for nearly forty minutes before anything decent happens. It’s typical padding from Charles Band, a man who more or less invented the term for use in his films. If people are milling around talking, then it saves money on special effects, animatronics, latex effects or whatever else costs money. And the characters here do plenty of milling around and talking. As there is so little story to go on, there’s nothing else for the characters to do. It’s only with the introduction of the ghostly mobsters and their casino lackeys that the film finally looks like it has some meaning. Dead Man’s Hand could really have done with introducing them a lot earlier.

I don’t need to tell anyone that the presence of genre icons Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) and Michael Berryman (the original The Hills Have Eyes) is merely a catch to lure in potential horror fans. I’ve been around the block too long to know that slapping star names on the front of DVD covers is merely a cheap marketing tactic. I know how slyly these films work, teasing the viewer with the promise of ‘big names’ and then giving them little more than glorified cameos to play with. At least Haig and Berryman are on the screen a fair amount of time from the half way point, even if their resultant screen time just sees them standing around in suits looking sinister (and Berryman just repeats whatever people say in typical “hired goon/yes man” fashion, but they still get to do more than I expected.

Their eventual introduction into the film gives rise to the film’s best moments, of which you could count on one hand, as the group of friends are pitted off against the ghostly blackjack dealer and roulette croupier in a bid to win or lose their souls. For some reason both of the ghostly figures transform into weird CGI-effect apparitions with weird-shaped heads and big bulging eyes. But it’s a little too late and the big pay-offs are weak and rushed. The overall story is wrapped up to quickly and with little real conviction and that’s your lot. Band wheels out another quickie and they just get worse. If he actually combined the budgets for a few of these smaller films, he might be able to do something worthwhile. But it’s a big ask now.

 

Dead Man’s Hand is one awful hand that you really wouldn’t want to get stuck with. Time to fold my friends! You’ll just lose everything.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ghost Rig (2003)

Ghost Rig (2003)

Evil has found a new home

A team of environmentalists land on a remote oil rig in order to prevent it from being mothballed and demolished into the sea bed. They find the rig empty, even the maintenance crew who kept it running safely are nowhere to be found. But they also discover something far more sinister aboard.

 

British horror is seeing something of a revival over recent years and whether you like the films or not, it doesn’t really matter because what matters is that they are getting made after the industry’s virtual death in the 80s. Lighthouse, Long Time Dead, The Bunker, Dog Soldiers, 28 Days Later, Severance, The Cottage, Shaun of the Dead and many others have been made on these shores since the late 90s and the list keeps going on. You can now add Ghost Rig to that list, although it doesn’t really belong in the same company of the majority of those listed. Originally released in 2001 under the highly-random The Devil’s Tattoo moniker, the film has since been re-branded and re-released, no doubt to cash in on Ghost Ship. I prefer the re-titling to be perfectly frank as it’s less pretentious and more accurate about what the film is about. But under either name, the bottom line is the film isn’t very good.

Ghost Rig looks pretty cheap from the start and you can tell you’re in for a low budget ride by the use of digital video – it doesn’t look overly great when used in low brow productions like this. Given a better budget, the film would have looked a lot crisper and more polished from a technical standpoint. The sets are sparse and the oil rig setting isn’t really used to its full potential, for instance like the Alaskan base was in The Thing, a similar kind of film to which this film clearly models itself upon. Perhaps the budget wouldn’t stretch that far to allow some ‘bigger scope’ shots but it would have been good to give it more of an impressive scale instead of believing that this cast of characters are shuffling around the same couple of sets for the entire running time.

But whilst the limited sets may provide some atmosphere and eeriness, there’s not a great done with it. The possession plot could have been done so much better too but instead, surprise, surprise, we get another body swapping film in which different characters become possessed by the entity on the rig. It’s just an excuse for the actors to act ‘tough and a little crazy’ for a bit when they become possessed and it’s also a cheap way out of showing us the entity in its original form, even a spectre or something would have sufficed. I have a real hatred for body swapping films like this because in my opinion, it just shows a total lack of creativity to have one actor be a good guy one moment then become possessed and act evil the next.

Another problem in doing that type of film is that you have to have characters that you care about in the first place before they’re possessed and make sure that they aren’t just assholes most of the time. Unfortunately, the characters here aren’t likeable at all and they are always bitching and moaning at each other before they become possessed. So it’s sometimes hard to tell what is going on when one of them does turn as there’s little change in their character. They’re all eco-warriors but it seems like the usual array of cardboard characters has been wheeled out to place on board the oil rig. It doesn’t help that the script just has them wandering around the oil rig and then, later on, running around the rig without any real purpose. The repetition of the same sequence of events soon leaves the film going around in circles.

 

I’m not a big fan of Ghost Rig. It’s repetitive, boring at that, conjures up little in the way of excitement and doesn’t really get you invested in the film. There was potential and I can appreciate the psychological approach over the straight-out gore but films can’t really live off potential and it needs fulfilling at some point. The decent atmosphere and mood on board the oil rig is wasted with a lack of ideas on what to do with it.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellgate (1990)

Hellgate (1990)

Beyond the darkness terror lives forever.

A deserted mining town has become a shrine to the daughter of its only resident, Lucas. His daughter, Jessie, was brutally murdered years earlier and he became obsessed with her. Finding a powerful crystal which has the ability to bring the dead back to life, Lucas resurrected her and now uses her to lure people to their deaths in the town.

 

Hellgate is a film that’s so terrible that you’d really want to cry if you should waste your time watching it. It’s just so mind-numbingly shocking from start to finish and there’s not a shred of evidence on display to suggest that anyone had a clue what they were doing. Its silly 80s nonsense on the grandest scale with ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ thrown in for good measure. You can’t take it as a horror. You can’t take it as a comedy, despite my best efforts to laugh at everything stupid. It’s goofy and silly but unintentionally so and that’s a bad sign.

The plot is extremely confusing. In fact, too confusing to even try and go through as it hurts my brain just trying to work it all out. None of the characters in the film have a clue what is going on so what chance we have of piecing everything together I just don’t know. It’s as if the writers just watched a load of other films, thought that certain scenes would work well and decided to write them all into a script. As a result, there are no rules in Hellgate. So what causes instant death in one scene will then be pointless in the next. What happens to one character when they do something doesn’t happen the same way again when somebody else does it. It’s so hard to sit through because it’s bland and boring as well as confusing. Too much of it seems to be pointless as if the script was only half finished – the zombies wander around the ghost town of Hellgate doing little but make faces at the camera and there are a few characters in the film who seem geared up to do something worthwhile towards the finale but just end up being killed off before they have a chance to do anything.

The special effects look really dated and typically 80s. Expect lots of bright, multi-coloured beams of light when the crystal is used and lots of dry ice to blanket the town in fog. There’s just no atmosphere or tension at all and the effects just make the film look like some cheap 80s music video at times. The gore is tame and the body count is low. Lest we forget the mutated goldfish and killer turtle that both pop up later in the film or even the cheesy rubber bat that makes an appearance. Yes, despite going out of date back in the 1930s with Bela Lugosi and Dracula, the bat-on-a-string prop makes an appearance here.

Abigail Wolcott is the pick of the cast which is saying something as she’s a pretty terrible actress and delivers her lines like she’s reading them for the first time. But she only had to act with her chest and accomplished that quite well – the people concerned knew this and had her shed her clothes quite a lot. There’s a dude who looks like Gomez Addams, some pointless bikers and a 40 year old guy playing a college hero. Casting isn’t one of the film’s strengths. In fact there aren’t many strengths to be found at all here. There aren’t too many times when I really regret watching a film. Some films are at least watchable in a “so bad it’s good” way but Hellgate isn’t. It’s almost unwatchable and thankfully has been almost been forgotten about. It’s no surprise to see that most of the cast and crew haven’t had anything called a career both before and after this. If this were my only entry onto a film CV, I’d forget I ever wanted to be in the business and take up welding instead.

 

Hellgate isn’t just bad, it’s on the same ‘utterly terrible’ plane of existence as the likes of Troll and Raging Sharks. It’s not a film you can even watch if you’re curious about how awful it is. Just forget it ever existed.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killing Birds (1987)

Killing Birds (1987)

After a soldier arrives home at his remote Louisiana house to find his wife in bed with another man, he promptly kills them both before he has his eyes pecked out by some birds-of-prey which were kept in cages on the porch. Years later a team of students arrive at the house of the blind soldier, now a bird specialist, to study a species of woodpecker in the nearby swamps. But the house is now haunted and strange things begin to happen.

 

This film, dubbed Zombie 5 in some quarters, is an appalling mess of a horror flick and features a distinct lack of both zombies and erm, well ‘killing birds’ too. I hate it when films that are clearly stand alone efforts are simply tagged with the name of a popular film series in a feeble attempt to cash in. They’ve done in with the later Hellraiser films which clearly had nothing to do with the original films so they simply inserted a few minutes of Pinhead to pretend they are part of the franchise. Some of the later Anaconda films seem like rubbish third-rate snake films which were slapped with the more famous title in an attempt to trick audiences into thinking Ice Cube or Jennifer Lopez were in it. But no evidence is more damning than that of the Italian Zombi films (usually referred to as Zombie Flesh Eaters in the UK) – five films that have about as much in common with each other as the Pope and myself. However all are billed as sequels to Fulci’s classic in a futile attempt to fool the audience and cash-in. Well anyone expecting Killing Birds to fool the audience must be in clear need of help – those looking for a zombie film will be grossly disappointed and those looking at the front cover and thinking “oh look, an Italian version of The Birds” will be in for even more of a shock.

Ripping off everything from Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond to Hitchcock’s previously mentioned classic and even John Carpenter’s The Fog, Killing Birds is just a loosely connected series of gore set pieces with a poor framing device. It’s just a nothing film in all honestly. There are no long explanations of what is going on. Things just seem to happen because they can. The film shifts from different sub-genres with abandon, going from zombie film to haunted house flick in an instant and then switching back whenever the need for another set piece arises. The deadly birds that feature so prominently on the front cover aren’t the main focus of the film and do very little except kill one person (and not as graphically as the front cover, I might add). And there’s only two zombies lurking around the house so they can’t be the main focus either. In fact I don’t even think they are zombies – more like horrible-looking ghosts.

Robert Vaughan’s blind character seemed to be a bit of a menace and perhaps the big instigator of the film at first but then he turns out OK in the end. I mean just what the hell is going on? What was Robert Vaughan doing when he signed on to this – he must have been playing his blind character in real life when he signed the contract! And think about it for a moment – his character is a BLIND BIRD WATCHER! How does he know whether he’s looking at a pigeon or a crow? Actually he’s not that bad in his role and it’s a pity that he isn’t in the film for longer than his five minutes of fame. The rest of the cast are absolutely atrocious and it’s never a good sign to be chalking off people you want to see die quickly. These teenagers act like complete morons for the bulk of the time and, given that not a lot else happens for around fifty minutes, you’re going to be looking at the clock with angst and waiting for the zombies or birds or just some random runaway car to take them all out.

Even the gore, usually the sole positive from Italian horror, is pretty bad. The same neck-slash effect is used too often and it seems like the only way these ghosts know how to kill people. The film itself looks pretty bad too, with a lot of scenes being too dark, too fuzzy or simply just not framed correctly. But then in some other scenes, the cinematography is excellent and the lighting is spot on – including a great scene in which an approaching zombie is back-lit. I think the copy I watched may have been victim of the BBFC and its unnecessary butchering but I doubt it. Killing Birds looks like two very poor films edited together in a nonsensical way to create an even worse mess. There’s not even a decent pay off at the end of the film and it all ends just so abruptly. Either they ran out of money by hiring Robert Vaughan or they simply gave up and called it a day. Maybe it was the wisest choice they ever made. Euro-horror and especially these Italian-made ones hold a very special place in my heart because at least they try their hardest, usually with the same disappointing results.

 

Killing Birds is a sorry mix of The Birds, The Beyond and The Fog. Surely with ripping off those films, then this film should at least have some half-decent moments? Nope. Don’t even waste ninety minutes of your life trying to prove me wrong.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆