Tag Irish Horror

Dead Meat (2004)

Dead Meat (2004)

It’s not what you eat, it’s who you eat!

Helena and her boyfriend Martin are driving through rural Ireland when they hit and kill a man on the road, only for the body to come back to life and bite Martin in the neck. Running to a farmhouse for help, Helena is attacked by zombies and is only saved with the assistance of local gravedigger Desmond. It appears that an outbreak has been caused by humans eating meat infected with Mad Cow Disease, which causes the dead to rise and feed on the living.

 

Zombie films have always been the go-to for budding filmmakers to break into the big time. Easy to make, cheap to produce, relatively simple to create a story and with enough familiarity for audiences to know exactly what they’re getting. Sadly, because every person with a camera, a few friends and bucket of tomato ketchup can make one, zombie films tend to vary in quality like no other sub-genre of horror and so finding a decent one is like playing Russian roulette. With the lure of the ‘Mad Cow Disease’ element and potential that the film would feature killer cows (much like Isolation), I was tempted to go for this one over a rather pitiful selection of films, many of which have ‘….of the Dead’ in the title.

Thankfully, Dead Meat avoids a lot of the pitfalls that many a low budget film would do, but it doesn’t do enough to fully shake off the shackles of its humble beginnings. It’s clear that writer-director Conor McMahon likes his horror films, particularly zombie films, and peppers the screen with plenty of nods to his inspirations. The film is pacey and features plenty of set pieces, although perhaps too many similar zombie attacks for its own good. Within the space of the first twenty minutes, I counted no fewer than three attack scenes which could have been spaced out a bit more to build up the atmosphere and characters a bit. Sometimes less is more and that definitely should have been the case for Dead Meat. At a slender seventy minutes, there’s no need for the film to continually bombard the audience with zombies – we all know what they are and what they can do, but it takes a little bit of the steam away from some of the more original action moments. Too often, the narrative is episodic, as if McMahon had an idea for a set piece, and just sticks it in there with little cohesion supporting it. The flimsy plot is simply a Macguffin to get the zombies moving – once the exposition has taken place, you’ll pretty much forget that this outbreak was caused by cows.

The major weakness that Dead Meat has is that it looks like a low budget production with how it’s been shot on video. The hand-held night time photography is extremely difficult to fathom out and aside from a few voices, sometimes it’s indistinguishable as to what is going on in the film. There’s plenty of grain during the day time scenes a lot of changes with the colour balance – coupled with some miserable days when filming took place, the film is not a pretty one to look at. Can I reiterate how annoying the night time scenes are? It’s so frustrating especially given there are some potentially effective scenes involving the zombies ‘sleeping’ as the survivors slowly walk through the field, ruined by the fact you hardly get to see anything. And yes, I did adjust my brightness to see if that helped!

Dead Meat threatens to get funny at times, particularly with the introduction of Eoin Whelan’s foul-mouthed, hurling stick-wielding coach, but it never fully embraces some of the lighter elements. I think it missed a trick here. Scenes involving eye balls and vacuum cleaners shouldn’t really be played straight, nor should images of a children’s party gone wrong, but Dead Meat does play them straight. Whilst extremely gory for such a little production, a lot of it is highly unrealistic which kind of kills the ambiance. Silly gore like this needs a tongue-in-cheek approach to work, in much the fashion as The Evil Dead or Bad Taste, but due to the seriousness of the film, the gore here is very jarring, with dismemberments and decapitations all being brought to life with practical FX rather than CGI. It’s also nice to see a zombie film where there is a distinct lack of guns to pop off a few headshots. The characters here are forced to use anything they get their hands on to fight off the zombies and it makes for a more realistic survival situation.

 

Every time Dead Meat does something right, it also does something silly to counteract it, which is a big shame as there’s potential here. But given how many zombie films are doing the market right now, it takes something special to stand out. With a bit more focus on making the absurd moments deliberately more comical, Dead Meat could have raised it’s a game. There’s a lesson there for McMahon if he makes something similar in future.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Isolation (2005)

Isolation (2005)

It didn’t want to be born. Now it doesn’t want to die.

Cash-strapped farmer Dan Reilly allows a local bio-genetics firm to experiment on some of his cows to make them grow faster. However, the experiment goes wrong when one of Dan’s cows gives birth to a calf which is already pregnant with mutated foetuses. During an autopsy, one of the still-living foetuses manages to escape and with an ability to infect cows as well as humans, it is a race against time to stop the creature before it leaves the farm.

 

In horror, no animal is safe. You’ve got nature’s fearsome predators like sharks and crocodiles which are all too easy to turn into maneaters. You’ve got spiders which provoke instinctive reactions in a large percentage of people when confronted with one. But cows? The animals that are generally gentle, quite emotional and intelligent, commonly known to ‘moo’, produce milk and generally just stand around all day grazing? Actually, according to statistics, they’re the most dangerous large animal in the UK, killing more people in the last fifteen years than dogs so there might be something there to work with. Perhaps Isolation was made about ten years too late to capitalise on the mid-90s BSE scare in the UK (commonly referred to as mad cow disease), where thousands of cows were slaughtered to prevent the spread of disease. This type of body horror would have caused a few ripples if audiences thought this sort of thing could happen to them if ‘mad cow disease’ spread rapidly.

OK, so putting aside the notion of a killer cow for a moment, Isolation is a pretty creepy film which does a lot of things right in building an ominous atmosphere in the remote farm setting, borrowing plenty of style and tone from the likes of Carpenter and Cronenberg. First time director Billy O’Brien does a fantastic job in creating the right mood for the film, with the cold Irish countryside becoming a bleak place as the carefully-selected grey and gloomy colour palette offers little hope or vitality for the camera. This doesn’t look like a great place at the best of times, not least when there’s a mutated creature on the loose. O’Brien keeps the film grounded in minimalization for the most part, crafting the story well and slowly building up the mystery as to exactly what has happened and how bad it will get. If there is an issue here, it’s that it takes too long to get to a position where the horror can be unleashed upon the audience. There’s only so much biding time that the script can churn out and Isolation begins to wear a little thin before things pick up. You get the sense, especially if you glance at the running time left, that the payoff won’t be quite as satisfying as you’re expecting it to be.

Isolation does shift into more traditional ‘monster on the loose’ territory in the final third where the matured version of the creature starts to hunt down the survivors and it’s here that the script gives up and resorts to the characters running around in dark places. There are a few parallels with The Thing in the manner of how the infection spreads and there is some underlying body horror but it’s not as explicit as I’d have liked – let’s see one of the human characters explode with blood and goo when the infection has fully spread. Even the creature, looking suitably squirmy and nasty in its smallest form, doesn’t get much time on screen during the stalking and attack scenes. It doesn’t look bad in, well what you actually see of it anyway, but its underused and kept to brief glimpses and dark corners of the farm. Tantalising morsels of what could have been, but we don’t quite get the main course. And that just about sums Isolation up: it promises a lot but doesn’t really deliver when it really counts.

What is nice is that the limited effects on show are all practical and have that realistic vibe that CGI lacks. As the creature is meant to be mutated and defective, there’s no real shape or pattern to it, just lots of blood, flesh and bone all skewed and twisted. There’s a respectable amount of blood on show, with flesh wounds coming out particularly effective thanks to the make-up department. On top of this realistic carnage, the actors do their characters justice and make them believable enough to get the notion of a killer cow put to the back of your mind. John Lynch is solid as Dan: likeable and intense enough to show how desperate he was to resort to allowing the bio-genetics firm to experiment on his cow. Only Marcel Iures as the ‘mad scientist’ comes off remotely hammy in the final third but we all know what happens to that type of character in a film such as this!

 

Though Isolation might be a little derivative of some genre classics, it manages to craft a nice, effective mood with some decent moments, only failing to really capitalise on all of the hard work in a final third which doesn’t do the rest of the film justice. Forget any pre-conceived notions of a film about a killer cow being silly – you’ll think twice before you next cross over that farmer’s field.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shrooms (2007)

Shrooms (2007)

Get ready to get wasted

A group of friends travel to a remote part of Ireland in order to try some special magic mushrooms which apparently provide the ultimate drug trip. However one of the girls eats the wrong type of mushroom and she begins to premonitions about her friends dying. But how can she tell what is a hallucination and what is reality?

 

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Another derivative ‘people get killed in the woods’ horror flick, Shrooms promises a lot more than it delivers. They’ve simply taken a clichéd plot about a group of teenagers being killed off one-at-a-time and added drugs to the mix to try and throw you off the well-beaten path so often tread by similar horrors. Well it doesn’t work because at its heart, Shrooms is a rather tepid mix of ideas lifted from superior films. Spot the bits of The Blair Witch Project and Deliverance to name a few. The magic mushroom idea seems tacked on for novelty value.

The age-old horror adage of any combination of sex/alcohol/drugs comes to the fore here big time with the tripped-out characters meeting their demises at the hands of something sinister in the woods. There’s a permanent blurring between the borders of reality and imagination once the friends have taken the mushrooms so be prepared for lots of ‘is it real or isn’t it?’ moments where characters think one thing is happening only for them to suddenly realise it’s just in their minds and vice versa. The film overworks this gimmick so after a while, you don’t care whether what is happening is real or not because you can’t be bothered waiting for the rug to be pulled out from underneath you again. Why should we have to invest ourselves in the film if it’s going to keep screwing around with us for no reason? It’s a lazy trick to combat the lack of true scares and it’s repeated too much throughout the running time.

The film also relies way too heavily on a twist ending that anyone should be able to see coming a mile away. The set-up is obvious and the execution of the twist is just as lifeless. This twist also renders most of the film irrelevant by discarding a lot of the supernatural elements that had been thrown around as red herrings. It’s the sort of ending that smacks of desperation because the writers didn’t know how to end it properly and in line with the rest of the film.

On the flip side, a lot of the cinematography is good and the remote woods setting is used to create some great imagery. This really does seem like a place you wouldn’t want to get stuck in. It’s dark and dank, devoid of colour and looks like something out of a nightmare. Unfortunately there’s not much substance to go with the style and the cinematography is wasted with a lack of true scares or atmosphere. The pacing of the film is pretty lousy too and it takes a long time to get into gear. A little less time on the mushroom taking and little more time spent on the scaring and stalking wouldn’t have gone amiss. The film isn’t high on gore with most of the kills happening off-screen. This is fine by me because at least it doesn’t resort to torture porn levels of shock-horror tactics to scare the audience. Too many films nowadays rely on blood as if it’s the only way to shock the viewer. However those of you weaned on such films may find the lack of the red stuff a tad disappointing.

The cast aren’t too bad in their roles, particularly the two leads Lindsey Haun and Jack Huston but the entire cast of characters aren’t done any favours with a script which will leave you scratching your head at times. I’m sure the Irish will love the inclusion of two hillbilly-style woodsmen who talk with a thick accent and describe what they like doing with animals. The script might as well have thrown in a pint of Guinness or a leprechaun for good measure.

 

What could have been a great drug-fuelled nightmare turns into a tedious and repetitive affair. Shrooms will most likely force viewers into tripping out on magic mushrooms in order to stay awake, which may have been the sole purpose of the film. I guess spaced-out viewers may get the film a little more than I did.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Boy Eats Girl (2005)

Boy Eats Girl (2005)

School’s Out … And So Are the Zombies.

Nathan is heartbroken when he sees his girlfriend in a compromising situation with one of his classmates and accidentally kills himself. His mother uses a book of black magic she found in a church to bring him back to life. However she doesn’t realise that there’s a page missing and his resurrection is incomplete, turning him into a slowly degenerating and ravenous zombie.

 

Zombies. You’ve got to love them. The monsters-of-choice for aspiring low budget filmmakers everywhere, the flesh-eating hordes have been an on-screen menace more times than they rightfully should be. It’s called overkill and I’ve lost count of the amount of zombie films that have been released in the last six years or so. Even worse is the rise in the amount in zombie-comedies or the ‘zom-com’ so superbly realised in Shaun of the Dead. It’s no surprise to see a lot of films trying to jump onto that successful bandwagon but few have managed to come anywhere near it’s near-perfect mix of comedy and horror. Boy Eats Girl might as well be the Irish Shaun of the Dead because it clearly tries hard to impress the viewer and with little success.

A daft and slightly disappointing but harmless zombie flick, Boy Eats Girl is more of a comedy than a horror, with an emphasis more on being light-hearted than taking anything seriously. The set-up takes a while to get going which is a bit of a bummer given that the film has only got a seventy-seven minute running time. The main story isn’t strong enough to carry the film, the generic school hi-jinks scenes are woefully cliché and the jokes and attempts at comedy are rather pathetic so you get about fifty minutes of pretty much nothing.

The film is almost finished before the zombie mayhem really gets going in the final third. The violence is tongue-in-cheek and although the film does get messy with plenty of blood and gore at the end, it’s all handled playfully without wallowing in it. It looks a lot worse than it actually is! We are dealing with zombies though so there is plenty of flesh-eating but the zombies are never played straight and thus appear less of a serious threat. The fact there’s only a handful of them in the film and most of the action is confined to the same housing block means you don’t get a ‘bigger picture’ feel of the zombie outbreak. The finale involving a tractor and a horde of zombies invokes a few flashbacks to the lawnmower scene from Braindead and is suitably filled with flying limbs, intestines and lots of blood…..all real make-up effects too which is a bonus.

Boy Eats Girl doesn’t stick rigidly to the traditional zombie rules either. The zombies here are of the fast variety, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound and that malarkey. They don’t need to bite you to turn you into one, just infect you with some bile. The problem I do have is with the way they’re pretty easily dispatched. These zombies don’t need trauma to the head to go down – they’ll go down with a punch.

Former teen pop star Samantha Mumba is somehow back on the screen after her disastrous turn in The Time Machine. She still hasn’t improved as an actress and I don’t find her that attractive so I was constantly wishing her off my screen. She also looks way too old to be at school but that’s a problem shared by the rest of the cast. David Leon doesn’t exactly share a great chemistry with her to say that they’re supposed to be going out together in the film. It’s not the most compelling relationship and you wonder why they’re even seeing each other at times. It’s left to his two nerdy mates to hold things together on the character front with some funny lines and reactions to what is going on around them.

Despite being an Irish production, the school characters all seem strangely Americanised as if the writers needed to play the safe card. Schools around the world aren’t populated with the same broad spectrum of stereotypical teenagers so something a little more home grown and “grittier” would have worked. Instead you get the jocks, the nerds, the bimbos, etc. I never remember my class at school being as easily divided into caricatures.

 

Don’t expect too much from Boy Eats Girl and you won’t get much in return. It’s hardly going to set the world alight and you’ll forget about it the day afterwards but you could easily do a lot worse if you were pushed for choice. The blood and guts finale is great but you’d wish they’d have spread it out through the film a little more evenly to keep things lively.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆