Tag Humanoids/Mutants

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort (2014)

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resoirt (2014)

The family needs new blood

A sudden inheritance brings Danny and a group of his friends to Hobb Springs, a forgotten hotel and spa resort in the middle of nowhere. Here, Danny hopes to find more about the long-lost family he has never known. But what he doesn’t know is that an off-shoot of his family are deformed cannibals and the lure of fresh meat is too hard for them to resist when Danny and his friends set off to explore the hotel and surroundings.

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is another sequel/prequel to the surprisingly long-running Wrong Turn horror franchise. When I say surprisingly, I mean who would have thought that some mildly entertaining The Hills Have Eyes-style flick back in 2003 would become one of the longest surviving horror series of recent years? I can only really think of Saw with nine films and Lake Placid with six films that come anywhere close (and by this, I mean franchises that had their original film released after 2000 – I know stuff like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still on the go with reboots, remakes, etc.). But what we have now with the Wrong Turn series is exactly the same thing that happened with the Hellraiser series – it has become a series of totally unrelated or tenuously-linked films featuring deformed cannibal families, each of which are becoming increasingly poor and desperate for fresh ideas.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is not the worst in the series, but it tries desperately to claim that mantle. Five minutes of this sequel is all you need to know about what you’re getting yourself in for here – boobs and blood. A further five minutes or so and there’s hints of incest, which is a big theme in the film (and it becomes more than a hint later on). Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is literally a film which has been stripped down to the genre bone and expects its audience to content themselves on the offerings we’re given. I didn’t even try to comprehend the whole inbred family tree plot that the film paints a picture of – some family look and act normal, others end up like the three deformed killers. Nor do I buy the fact that someone brought up in the ‘civilised’ world could, within the space of a few days, turn against his good friends and want to join up with the cannibal family he never knew he had. It is an interesting development but one which was weakly built-up and came out of nowhere.

There’s not much else to the story barring that – Danny’s friends get little development outside of usual stereotyping and are easy pickings for the cannibals. Given we don’t care in the slightest about any of them, they’re literally human fodder and so you’re just waiting to see how quickly and brutally they get taken out. There isn’t a much reliance on the stupid CGI gore as some of the earlier films relied on. The kills are generally done with old school effects – a nasty incident involving a barbed wire trap and subsequent beheading look good. The three deformed cannibals are little more than noisy henchmen here, popping up every now and then when they’re needed to further the plot with a kill. The make-up looks like little more than glued-on Halloween masks nowadays and has fallen a long way since the grotesque mountain men from the original film. Instead, the film focuses on the ‘normal’ brother and sister pair who run the hotel and keep the deformed brothers out of the way. In doing this, the film loses plenty of its novelty value as, just like in the last film with Clive Bradley’s Maynard character, the soliloquising human villains are less appealing than a bunch of grunting inbred mountain men who can’t be reasoned with. The simplicity of their brutality was something to behold – now there’s all sorts of plot threads and back story thrown in to the mix.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is the raunchiest of all of the films so far and its obvious that director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward are resorting to copious amounts of sex and nudity to keep the predominantly-male audience interested in the film. Every female in the cast removes her clothes at some point (not counting the old lady who dies!) and are involved in a sex scene of some kind, sometimes more than once. Whilst they’re all attractive ladies, its blatant sexualisation and sits uncomfortably with the incest narrative that the film peddles from the beginning. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort does peel itself back to the basics of the genre a little too much at times and the frequent nudity becomes a distraction. I mean, who in their right mind decides to have sex in a grotty, delipidated and abandoned part of a hotel? There are hundreds of comfy rooms available, including the one where they’re staying!

 

With a new director comes new ideas and a new direction for the series (let’s face it, they haven’t finished milking the cow yet) and whether you like the route it’s taking or not, at least it’s an improvement over a few of the previous films. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort will appeal to die-hards only.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creep (2004)

Creep (2004)

Your journey terminates here.

Modelling agency worker Kate finds herself trapped in the London Underground when her late-night plans to crash a party goes wrong after she falls asleep and wakes to find the place has closed. An attempted rape by someone who has followed her is brutally broken up by an unseen assailant. Kate flees and takes refuge with a young homeless pair who live in the Underground, who tell her of stories of homeless people going missing. A hideously-deformed killer is living in the sewers below and prowling the Underground for more victims.

 

Not enough horror films have been set in the London Underground. Oh there was Hammer’s more sci-fi than horror flick Quatermass and the Pit, Death Line in 1972 and the fantastic werewolf chase sequence in An American Werewolf in London. But its slim pickings for variety which is a shame as the long, winding pedestrian tunnels which snake from the surface down to the rail tracks look chilling when they’re empty, with the white-tiled walls bathed in an eerie fluorescent light. I’m sure it looks like a hundred other subways, but the London Underground has a historic legacy of being the world’s first metro system and has seen plenty of action and drama during its time.

It is a pity then that Creep is the latest film to use this location as its main setting. A pity in that it’s a story we’ve seen done before, and done better, but not without its merits. A dread-filled opening half in the subway, with the potential escape routes and solutions to Kate’s situation, promises much which is not really capitalised on with the more routine second half. The claustrophobic subway passages are replaced with more generically-grim environments such as storerooms and old medical labs. It’s a good job that the first half of the film builds up plenty of goodwill to carry itself through. The dimly-lit prologue promises plenty from first time writer-director Christopher Smith and, script aside, he clearly knows his stuff, with clear influences all the way from Hammer to more recent ‘torture porn’ flicks.

Cinematography is nice and crisp, with the bright white walls of the Underground contrasting sharply against the darkness and grime of some of the sewers and abandoned tunnels. Neither brings any sort of comfort or satisfaction for the characters or the audience watching. It’s a pity not as much is made of the pure darkness that would be present over 100ft underground in these unlit corridors as it could be. It’s all too easy for the story to come across plenty of storerooms and underground medical facilities that have been left to time, and conveniently most of the rooms have power and electricity which kind of kills a lot of the ambiance. Nevertheless, there is still a generally effective atmosphere filling the screen and the claustrophobia of being stuck down there is played on fairly regularly.

Sadly, Creep doesn’t do an awful lot with the decent set-up and effective tools of the trade. Its essentially an underground slasher, where the characters’ isolation is in the subway rather than some summer camp in the middle of nowhere and they all go off looking around dark places, succumbing one-by-one to the killer. A number of thinly-written characters are introduced into the film simply to pad out the body count – this is Kate’s film and everyone else is second to that. At least she’s not totally stupid, doing a lot of reasonable things that the majority of people would do (like running away from the killer’s body after you think you’ve killed him…just get the hell out of there!). But the script doesn’t give her enough progression apart from running and screaming and fending for herself, which she seems very good at doing to begin with. Usually, the heroine finds some inner strength and overcomes the odds in this type of film.

Franka Potente may look good but her character is wholly unlikeable, made out to be a nasty, self-centred piece of work from the opening sequences. She looks down upon everyone else and is rude to everyone she meets, never thinking of them or their problems but what they can do for her. Potente plays the part well in this case, it’s just a pity it’s been written so badly. When she does eventually run into trouble, are we meant to really care for her wellbeing or celebrate in the torment that she is put through? The same can be said for the rest of the small cast, with the characters made up of annoying comic relief, jobsworth security guards, homeless druggies and sleazy co-workers. I’m not sure who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Maybe the unfortunate sewage worker who makes sure he tells Kate “I’ve got a kid” ticks this because guess what? That kid is going to be an orphan! The star turn comes in the form of the ‘Creep’ of the title, your typical The Hills Have Eyes type of mutant humanoid. Sean Harris isn’t the most intimidating physical presence, but he gives the monster some weird mannerisms and acts the part well with some stage theatrics that distinguish him from other similar creations – I could have done without the whimpering and squealing though. If you’re expecting some sort of clear background to his origins, think again. There are a few hints and ideas floating around but they’re not the priority here. In fact, the more you try and think about who or what the Creep is, the sillier and more fantastical it all becomes.

Surprisingly, the film is fairly bloody despite not really appearing to sell itself like that to begin with. Throats are slit, there’s some unwanted surgery, heads rammed onto metal spikes and plenty more. The camera doesn’t dwell on the gore but its there as an add-on to really convey the sense of just how brutal and inhuman the Creep really is. But given the weaknesses in his backstory, some of his mystery and threat are eroded quickly.

 

Creep is not a brilliant film, nor is it terrible. Writer-director Smith knows his stuff and clearly has some potential to go on to bigger and better things. The directing side of things works well, the script less so. With a more polished script, he could have avoided the plot gaps, the abrasive characters and the horrid dialogue and built upon the solid foundations he established at the beginning.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Incredible Melting Man, The (1977)

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

The first new horror creature

An astronaut returns to Earth from an ill-fated mission to Saturn and is stricken with an awful disease, literally melting away. Escaping his hospital confinement, he finds that the only way that he can stay alive is to kill and eat human flesh.

 

With a title like The Incredible Melting Man, what do you think you are going to get when sitting down to watch it? Well there’s a man in it and, yes, he does melt. 1977 may have been more noted for its other monstrous sci-fi hit (a film set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) but this low budget goop-fest showed that there was still life in adult-orientated shock-horror sci-fi that didn’t involve gold-plated droids and heavy-breathing bad guys. Don’t make any mistakes though – The Incredible Melting Man is not a good film and has been sent up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, though whether it warranted such an accolade remains to be seen.

The Incredible Melting Man sounds decent in concept – the idea of astronauts returning to Earth after being stricken with galactic diseases out of the limits of human knowledge has been a well that many sci-fi films have tapped in to (The Quatermass Experiment springs to mind). But the execution of that concept is woeful. With direction that is lifeless, a script that is as bizarre as it is terrible (with arguments about crackers being a random highlight) and overall production values that scream 70s movie, the film should never have been given the fame that it seems to have garnered.

Well that is until the make-up effects are called in question. When you sit down to watch a film about an incredible melting man, you expect to see an incredible melting man. Thankfully, and rather surprisingly given the poor quality of everything else on show, the special effects are marvellous but that’s expected when Rick Baker is behind them (he did the make-up inStar Wars the same year as this). The gradual decay of the ‘melting man’ is disgusting and you really sympathise for the character all the way through the film right through to the final meltdown.He is a gruesome sight to behold and the effects are done splendidly – at one point one of his eyes just drops out because the flesh and bone holding it in place has melted so badly.Though clearly not meant to have any deeper meaning in the script, the idea that by killing someone else you can preserve your own life is a moral dilemma that would make for interesting analysis. If you were in his position, would you kill to extend your life? Or just horribly melt away?

Unfortunately the special effects are the only positive in the film – the rest of The Incredible Melting Manis virtually a plot-less stalk ‘n’ slash film in which we’re introduced to a minor non-character, they are given a few brief moments to impress the camera and try and eek out some sort of personality before they meet their doom at the hands of Mr Gloop. Replace the astronaut with a guy in a mask and a machete and you have the sort of structure to the narrative.

The acting is shocking too, porn industry standards have been set higher. Undoubtedly the star of the show is of course Alex Rebar as the Melting Man who just stumbles around the woods like a zombie and doesn’t really do much since he’s usually caked up in make-up. The script says that he’s getting stronger as he melts and that he can kill people easier but surely if he’s losing body mass, bone structure and muscle tone, he’ll be getting weaker?

 

Ah who cares?The Incredible Melting Man is absolute nonsense with the exception of Rick Baker’s special effects and it has become a cult favourite because it’s so appalling. Check it out and have a good laugh at how a reasonable concept can make a trashy film when the makers of the film have no idea what to do with it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hills Have Eyes II, The (2007)

The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)

The Lucky ones die fast

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009)

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009)

What You Don’t See Will Kill You

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

In the Forest, Only They Can Hear You Scream.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scanners (1981)

Scanners (1981)

There are 4 billion people on earth. 237 are Scanners. They have the most terrifying powers ever created… and they are winning.

An experimental drug given to pregnant women gives birth to a number of people with extraordinary telepathic powers, known as Scanners. Cameron Vale doesn’t realise that he is a scanner until he finds his way to Dr Paul Ruth and his research team, who allow him to tap into his powers and try and control it. But they have a reason for training him – a powerful scanner called Daryl Revok is amassing an underground movement of scanners in an attempt to take over the world. Vale must infiltrate the organisation and put an end to Revok’s plans.

 

Before I go on, yes this is the flick with the exploding head! David Cronenberg shot to prominence with a series of low budget horror-sci-fi flicks in the late 70s including the likes of The Brood and Rabid but Scanners is probably the film which he will be most fondly remembered for. It’s another low budget take on Cronenberg’s favourite topic of the internal conflicts that the body has to struggle with and he milks that idea for every penny.

The scanners are all tormented souls, damned for something they can’t really control and destined to lead lives of constant suffering and misery. Even the most controlled scanners show psychopathic and unpredictable tendencies. In a film which could have been dominated by over reliance on gore and special effects, Scanners comes off as more effective when it’s dealing with the pains that the scanners have to put up with. Particularly disturbing is the scene where Cameron Vale is strapped and drugged to a table and can hear the voices of the other thirty-odd people in the room in his mind. The scanners are made out to be sympathetic but at the same time highly dangerous, even to those who are trying to help.

Of course, the film is going to be forever remembered for some of its gory set pieces. The effects team go into overdrive here and this is where the film gets a bit of a bad name. It’s not all about the gore but because there are two startling set pieces, the rest of the film gets lambasted as a result. The finale with two scanners fighting each other is horrific as skin bursts, veins pop and the unlucky loser bursts into flames. But the main talking point is pretty early on in the film during a scanner demonstration where one unlucky scientist scans someone without realising they are a scanner and has the process reversed on him in head-exploding fashion. It’s a set piece that was repeated and done to death in the two sequels but its effectiveness here is still top notch.

As for the acting, the two leads are pretty flat and wooden in their roles, mainly Stephen Lack. Despite the requirements of the Vale character to show emotions when needed, Lack is pretty bland in the role. It’s the supporting roles from which we get the best performances. Patrick McGoohan gives a sinister edge to his fatherly Dr Paul Ruth. You know that this guy has a shady past that he is trying to put right by helping Cameron Vale. Michael Ironside puts in a great nasty turn as Daryl Revok and Lawrence Dane is also impressive as his head of security. Though the film has become infamous with the splatter scenes, Cronenberg takes plenty of time out to allow his characters to develop thoroughly. He’s not afraid to slow the pace of the film down (which he does considerably in some places) to let his characters breathe a little and talk about themselves and their problems. The audience is allowed into their mindset quite frequently, turning the likes of Vale and Revok into well-thought out characters with motives, before he then places the mental barriers back up for the brutal splatter moments.

 

Scanners has one or two grey areas which Cronenberg would admittedly liked to have sorted but that’s not taking anything from the fact that this is a top notch sci-fi-horror film with a great story, good performances on the whole and those gory set pieces which you’ll never forget in a hurry.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine (2006)

UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine (2006)

Death is the only option

A small group of outcasts and misfits decide to join the army as an alternative to prison and wind up serving at an experimental facility where they are to be turned into ultimate killing machines by a crazed doctor and his stem cell research. However one of his previous creations, a former soldier who didn’t turn up the way the doctor ordered, breaks loose and begins to cause havoc across the facility, killing anyone who stands in his way.

 

There’s nothing remotely wrong with calling a film UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine if said killing machine does actually get to kill someone. There is a big problem however when said killing machine fails to deliver on the kill front. Unfortunately for me, this falls into the latter category. Once again the lure of a cool-looking cover box with a kick ass title has suckered me in. Like a silly moth unable to resist the lure of the bug zapper on the porch door, I am inexplicably drawn to dreck this and still go back for seconds, thirds and fourths, hell I’m probably on eight-hundredths now. I have earned the right to criticise a film which has damaged more brain cells than a bump on the head. Even more perplexing is quite why and how Michael Madsen is in this film but more on him later.

UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine does have the look and feel of a big budget release at times. The only signs of its constraints are sparsely furnished sets and the very limited number of characters (this top secret facility is manned by about five guards and two scientists) – and with a low number of characters comes the inevitable low body count. When the super-soldier is accidentally released and goes on his ultimate killing spree, I was expecting the screen to be filled with carnage galore. Even the front cover is doused in a dark shade of red to make it look like it’s going to be a bloody massacre. It isn’t. A head is lopped off. A face is ripped apart. When you think of the phrase ‘ultimate killing machine’ you immediately get visions of a completely rabid monster tearing everything up in its path with as much anger and ferocity as possible. You don’t think of some big guy walking around the same few sets occasionally popping out to say boo to someone before killing them instantly. So that was grossly disappointing.

They had the perfect set-up and spoil it by just having him do nothing. The whole idea of giving him super-strength and a super-sex drive was there for the writers to mine and mine some golden nuggets from. But like a lot of things that happen in the film, they are either good ideas with bad execution or just no execution at all. Plots and threads are dropped at random and picked up whenever they are needed to explain something. There’s no real sense of urgency. No feeling of excitement when anything happens. And above all, there is absolutely nothing to be scared of. I can’t recall a scene where any future scare is built up with a bit of tension. No atmosphere is created and as a result, the film just goes through a lot of motions.

Michael Madsen is giving top billing and he gets plenty of screen time. The question is he still asleep whilst he is acting or does he try? Well is the Pope Jewish? That’s a stupid question. Madsen slums as always, even struggling to get his words out at times. The mad doctor is played by an eccentric-looking actor. His assistant is played by a hot chick. The rest of the army grunts do just that and shout “maggot” a lot. It’s left to the four main characters to actually do a decent job in their roles. They’re not the usual sort of folk. The girls are pretty unattractive and don’t do the usual skanky things like dropping their tops. The guys fall into more clichéd territory with the roles of nerd and jock taken. But even they manage to eek some life out of their characters with decent performances. You actually do care a little for these people and I’m guessing that’s due to the opening scenes where they explain their reasons for joining the army. It’s a bit refreshing to see but it’s a shame that the rest of the film doesn’t really care.

 

UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine has such a class name for a film that anything other than an all-out splatter fest was going to be a disappointment. I just wasn’t expecting the disappointment to be as bad as this. It’s not a complete waste of time but it might as well be.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mind Ripper (1995)

Mind Ripper (1995)

The Government Created Him. Now They Must Destroy Him.

A team of scientists in a remote desert research facility find a dying man nearby and use him as the test subject for the new regenerative drug they’re designing for the military. But the experiment goes wrong and the man escapes, trapping the team inside the facility. Former head scientist Stockton, who quit after being unhappy with the uses that the drug was being marketed for, is called for to help out. He was about to set off on a camping holiday with his family and, not being informed of the magnitude of the situation, takes them with him. Soon they are trapped inside the facility too, pursued by a super-human being with a taste for human brains.

 

Originally penned as the second sequel to Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, for whatever reason that idea was scrapped and Mind Ripper then became a standalone feature film, with Craven’s son Jonathan co-writing the script and Craven himself taking up an executive producer credit. Whatever the original intention, the outcome is as throwaway as they come – an Alien wannabe which looks like a cheapo 80s B-movie masquerading in a 90s environment.

Comparisons to Alien are evident, lesser so The Thing. Either way, it’s clear that Mind Ripper is just a rip-off from far superior films. It’s a by-the-numbers routine which might work well on low budget but when it’s got big names attached to the production both in front of and behind the scenes, you expect a little better. Maybe if Wes Craven had taken the director’s chair, he might have been able to make something out of the very raw materials on offer. As a result, Joe Gayton’s direction is flat, lifeless and just devoid of any creativity or suspense. What should have been a decent location in the middle of the desert turns into yet another meandering mess of steel frames, corridors and dimly-lit rooms. It could have been set in outer space for all the film really cares about its setting.

Clearly when a film comes across as ‘no one really cared about it during its production’ then the audience is going to feel the same way. Heck, even Lance Henriksen said his bags were packed every day during filming so he could get out there as soon as it was wrapped up. No one cared so why should you? The film is so middling and tiresome that it’s just pointless to sit through. Characters are virtually non-existent, there’s no tension when they’re about to die and the deaths are kind of ‘meh.’ Even the finale is a mess as there are too many stop-start endings as if the director didn’t know when to call it quits. We get one really poor action set piece that you think will be the end but then another one comes along and then another one. You’re actually hoping for the film to end by this point to put you out of your misery.

Henriksen is the main star but as much as I like the guy in his roles, there’s no question that this has to be one of his worst. His character is pathetically written – I mean who in their right mind would let their kids venture into a top secret government facility, let alone allow them to explore and wander off on their own, especially when he knows that something is not quite right. His dialogue is terrible and his character gets out of far too many situations which would have spelt death for any of the other characters. There’s also a really icky sub-plot about how he’s bee a bad father and his rebellious son doesn’t get on with him.

Giovanni Ribisi makes his feature film debut here as the aforementioned son and, whilst he’s a solid addition to the cast, the role isn’t exactly something to get stuck into. It’s one-dimensional padding which serves little purpose to the overall narrative, simply add in a few unnecessary scenes of character conflict. To be fair, at least they get a sub-plot. Most of the other characters in the film don’t get anything even resembling a normal person. They’re simply one-dimensional walking ready meals, designed to purely walk around the set until the monster can get them. Speaking of which, Thor, the monster, looks and acts like a steroid-enhanced surfer for some bizarre reason. The only thing monstrous about him is the Alien-like tentacle that comes out of his mouth to suck brains. It’s a hardly a film to be reliant on special effects and the end result is somewhat cheesy when he does get hungry.

 

Mind Ripper? More like Money Ripper! Craven and Henriksen should be ashamed to add their names to the credits, especially Craven. It’s the kind of the film that pays their monthly bills whilst they’re waiting for better roles but we all know that they’re both more talented than this. The phrase ‘cash in’ comes to mind and both men have pimped their name out to a turkey of epic proportions here.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Queen (2005)

Ice Queen (2005)

Gruesomely Deformed … Viciously Powerful … Terrifyingly Evil

A scientist finds what he believes to be a frozen female humanoid from the ice age and arranges for the body to be transported by plane. However he is double crossed and in the midst of a mid-air struggle with the mercenary pilot, the humanoid awakens and causes the plane to crash into the snow-covered Killington Mountains. The resulting avalanche traps a group of friends inside a ski resort lodge. With no hope for rescue, they now have an unfrozen and deadly humanoid on the loose.

 

I’m a bit wary of straight-to-DVD horror flicks now. I have been for a while. The video shop is full of horror films which sound good and have kick ass front covers but look like they’ve been made by a bunch of students on their summer break with appalling acting and horrendous production values. It has been rare for me to unearth films which do deliver. It pains me to even think what made me pick up this flick with a picture of an odd-looking monstrous woman on the front. It has been sat on my shelf for months whilst other, blatantly crap-looking films have found their way into my DVD player. So it came of a bit of a surprise to find out that Ice Queen is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong it’s a pretty generic, throwaway ninety-two minutes featuring everything you would expect from a film like this. However it has reasonable production values and it seems like its heart is in the right place.

The premise is nothing really new. There’s a bunch of a characters stuck inside an isolated location with a monster killing them one-at-a-time. Writers must dip their hands into a hat of generic characters whenever they pen a new horror flick and see which random characters they have to blend together. There’s the weird scientist, the slutty blonde, token black guy, etc. The mistake made here is that too much time is wasted trying to develop their characters when this precious time should have been used to build up a bit of suspense and tension. I don’t really care about a catfight between characters in the ski resort because someone has been cheating with the blonde, especially when the Ice Queen has already been released.

That’s the underlying problem here. They have a cool monster but don’t really do much with her except have her growl from a distance and occasionally freeze people who get too close. She’s more like an afterthought, popping up whenever the writers need to take a break from the daytime soap opera love triangle. The ski resort didn’t look that big either and there doesn’t seem to be a many places to explore or hide so where does everyone hide for the duration of the film or for the Ice Queen to be out of shot for so long? Despite being buried under an avalanche, the sets are still pretty well lit and you rarely get the feeling that anyone is trapped. The film does make you feel chilly a few times though with numerous cave-ins and plenty of artificial snow.

The villain of the piece is actually a pretty original creation. The Ice Queen looks unique and thankfully they haven’t lifted ideas from other more famous monsters (usually the monsters in these cheapos look like the alien from Alien). She freezes people from the inside out and isn’t afraid of smashing her hands into people either. The film isn’t very gory though but it isn’t really about that, given that her usual method of dispatch is freezing. The actress inside the make-up does a good job of giving her some quirky movements, although at one point the character does stick her middle finger up to one of the other characters – she’s supposedly been frozen for millions of years and it’s pretty remarkable if people were flipping each other the bird in the ice age.

 

Ice Queen surprised me with its slightly-better-than-average production values and attempts to make something other than just another genre flick. Unfortunately that’s all it turns out to be in the end and not a very good one at that. It wears its heart on its sleeve but it has clearly stopped beating in the ice.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆