Tag Mythical Monsters

Pegasus Vs Chimera

Pegasus Vs Chimera (2012)

Two legendary creatures. A battle for the ages.

Evil King Orthos is desperate to unite all seven realms into one nation to claim himself the emperor, killing those who oppose him. Belleros, who saw his father killed by Orthos’ men when he was a child, joins forces with Princess Philony to stand up to the tyrant. Frustrated by his men’s efforts to track them down, Orthos allows his warlock to conjure up the Chimera, a deadly monster, to find and eliminate the remaining survivors who resist his rule. Determined to find a way to combat the Chimera, Belleros and Philony seek out a witch who summons Pegasus, the winged horse, to aid them in defeating Orthos.

 

Quite possibly the cheapest-looking film that Sy Fy have ever filmed, Pegasus Vs Chimera is woefully inept in just about every department. I mean just take a look at that directionless plot! You’ve all heard of Pegasus before, the famous winged horse that was brought to life in Greek mythology and peddled in the big screen Clash of the Titans films. Less so, you may have heard of the Chimera, another monster from Greek mythology and definitely less-friendly and more prone to killing people than its equine counterpart.

The most hilarious thing about Pegasus Vs Chimera is seeing just how seriously everyone takes it. It looks like a live-action LARPing session, where the local doctor, a guy who works at McDonalds, the toned gym bunny, bitter retired teacher and a few boozed-up skinheads don rags and mini-skirts, pick up plastic swords, run off into the woods for the weekend and pretend that they’re in a Lord of the Rings flick. The dialogue is a right doozy, with some true corkers which indicate that the writers clearly have seen their fair share of films in which a wronged son/daughter seeks to get revenge on the big bad that killed their parents. It’s painful to hear the lines being delivered but comical to see just how stoic everyone is whilst doing it.

What Pegasus Vs Chimera virtually boils down to is a bunch of people in fancy dress running around the woods for an hour and a half. The story is loose, the pacing is woeful and the sequence of events is predictable and dull. Heroes encounter some soldiers. They fight. Heroes run off. They encounter someone else. There’s talking. The bad guys turn up. They fight. They run off. They do more talking and planning. The bad guys turn up again. And so on. Seeing people running around the woods isn’t exactly my idea of an exciting time but Pegasus Vs Chimera gives us plenty of that. At least the Canadian location shoot makes a nice change of scenery from the usual Eastern European locations that Sy Fy tend to stick to. Having said that, one tree looks like another no matter where you decide to film.

There are a whole load of familiar faces on show here including Rae Dawn Chong who starred opposite Arnie in 80s classic action flick Commando – time has not been so kind to her! Nazneen Contractor appeared in a number of 24 episodes alongside fellow 24 alumni Carlo Rota, who makes one of the least menacing villains ever put to one of these films. James Kidnie tries to outdo him as his scheming second-in-command but only succeeds in winning the Ben Kingsley lookalike award. It seems to be a requirement that in order to be one of the bad guys in Pegasus Vs Chimera, you need to be bald. All of the soldiers have sleek chrome domes. Actually, I don’t recall ever seeing more than about ten people on screen at any one time which kind of kills off the idea that they are fighting over seven kingdoms. Any sort of illusion that this is really a titanic struggle between armies is dead on arrival but again it’s hilarious to see how serious everyone is about it.

Pegasus is the least threatening ‘monster’ that I’ve ever seen in a Sy Fy flick. The mythical horse is one of the good guys from history and seeing the beautiful white horse they used for the real action shots hardly makes it appear like something that could best an army or even more threatening bloodthirsty monster in the form of the Chimera. Famously known for being able to fly, this version of Pegasus spends more time squarely rooted on the ground to avoid the costly CGI effects needed to glide through the air. Chimera fares little better, looking like any other generic Sy Fy CGI monster. The fights between the two are hardly riveting but as I’ve said, how is a horse with no sharp teeth, claws or other killing ability supposed to duke it out with something like the Chimera? It’s a mismatch but then it still sells the film with the ‘exciting’ title.

 

Pegasus Vs Chimera might actually be the worst Sy Fy film I’ve ever seen. Some of the horror films have been truly appalling but this one takes the prize hands down. A fantasy story like this needs a budget bigger than the tiny amount of coins you’d find in a five year old’s piggy bank! Putting the story into a contemporary setting would have avoided the embarrassment of seeing this tiny group of actors parade around in fancy dress in the woods and make fools of themselves.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Goblin (2010)

Goblin (2010)

He wants you badly

Every Halloween, Hollowglen, a small hamlet in the deep woods, is visited by a fierce goblin, intent on capturing infants and brutally murdering anyone in its path as part of a curse put on the town in 1831. When Neil Perkins and his family move to Hollowglen, the townspeople react with concern at the arrival of a new baby so close to Halloween. Soon, the goblin returns for its annual visit and sets its sights on the Perkins baby.

 

Sy Fy conjure up another straight-to-TV creature feature with Goblin, a middling strictly by-the-numbers affair which promises little and delivers just as much. Having said that, it makes a change to watch a Sy Fy film that doesn’t involve a twenty-headed shark do battle with a three-hundred-tentacle octopus whilst an eight-foot giant robot attempts to blow them both up with laser beams!

Replace the goblin of the title with any other mythical creature horror-themed flick and you’d get pretty much the same film. Anyone could come along and direct this by picking up the traditional template notes: small rural town in the middle of nowhere; a curse which plagues them; a newcomer with a teenage son/daughter arriving in town with a connection to the curse; said son/daughter falling in with the local teenagers who then start to die; some crazy old townsperson who warns every one of the dangers but is ignored; etc. There is just no ambition right from the start to make this anything but by-the-book. No flair. No imagination. No want to create something a little bit different.

The story runs like clockwork, with predictable plot developments, characters who add nothing except extra bodies to the running count and a finale where things conveniently sort themselves out and the equilibrium is restored. Goblin plays it safe in this respect, with a bunch of haphazard scenes that could have been lifted out of another similarly-themed horror flick, though there is sometimes enjoyment with the familiarity of certain tropes. At least the cast all seem to be putting in as good a shift as possible, despite the lame script, and make the material seem more fresh and original than it is. Gil Bellows, in particular, does what he can to enliven proceedings.

The goblin remains cloaked in black for the majority of the film. Looking like some relic from a ghost train, the hooded monster is large – I always imagined goblins to small, mischievous creatures rather than gigantic ogre-like brutes. The cloak keeps the monster’s real face hidden for a large portion of the film. Conveniently this also means that the filmmakers don’t have to rely on costly make-up effects or the usual Sy Fy standard CGI to create a hideous face. We do get to see it at the end of the film and the CGI-rendered face looks every bit as silly and as daft as you’d expect.

Without any real monstrous elements on show for the bulk of the running time however, the seven-foot tall goblin plays out more like an intimidating, hooded slasher villain. In fact, save for the odd supernatural elements scattered around, the film does play out more like a slasher film, with the goblin’s claws acting pretty handily as a weapon-of-choice. Chasing teenagers through the woods wearing a black cloak…this is a goblin we’re talking about. Anyone could have been wearing that cloak and we’d be none the wiser so why go to the lengths of making it a goblin? This creature was supposed to be out baby-snatching, not teen-slashing.

Surprisingly, Goblin is set mainly during the day, which kind of renders the goblin wearing a black cloak to be something like the single worst mistake ever in horror as you can see it coming for you a mile away. The opening prologue and the ending take place at night and it’s in these scenes where the film has its strongest atmosphere. As soon as the sun comes up, the atmosphere dies off and the film has little to offer. There’s no skulking around the in the shadows, no ominous lighting or anything of the sort – broad daylight kills off any potential mood this supernatural tale had. There’s not even a selection of cheap boo scares to get you going. If this is a horror film, I’d be puzzled to see what the director would consider Halloween.

 

Goblin isn’t a total dud but the fact is that you’ll have seen this clone a million times before, only with a different monster in the human-killing role. At least Sy Fy seem to do better with this type of horror flick than their ever-increasing array of bizarre monster movies, keeping the material on the ground and as convincing as possible to generate some atmosphere and sense of realism.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Loch Ness Horror, The (1981)

The Loch Ness Horror (1981)

It IS alive!

Two rival expeditions head to Loch Ness in Scotland to use sonar in order to prove that the mythical Nessie is real. When one of the expeditions finds a giant egg at the bottom of the loch, things look promising. But it isn’t long before people begin to disappear around the loch as the real monster comes hunting for its stolen egg.

 

The Loch Ness Horror is about obscure as it gets here on Popcorn Pictures. After first hearing the plot synopsis many years ago, I’ve been trying to track down this elusive lake monster movie for nearly a decade. It’s never shown on TV, never been released on DVD and with VHS dead it was impossible for me to even watch a dodgy taped copy. Thankfully Youtube has been a goldmine of long-forgotten films of late and, copyright violations aside on behalf of the uploader, The Loch Ness Horror was there in all of its glory.

Sometimes the chase is more exciting than the eventual catch and that’s the case with The Loch Ness Horror. There’s most likely a good reason why it’s been so hard to find over the years – it’s atrocious. It would be no surprise to find out that the director had every single copy of the film rounded up and dumped at the bottom of the loch itself. However that would involve actually travelling to Loch Ness, something that director Larry Buchanan didn’t do when he filmed this. Shot on a lake in California, the film paints an uneducated, Americanised view of the Scots. With a cast filled with actors trying their best to sound incomprehensible with pathetic Scottish accents (rrrrrrrolling theirrrrrrr rrrrrs a lot!), dialogue that might as well have just said “See you Jimmy” (look it up if you don’t get the reference) and with whisky and kilts in good supply, The Loch Ness Horror could have worked better as a stereotypical tourist guide to Scotland rather than a monster flick.

The Loch Ness Horror tries desperately to craft itself into the standard monster movie where a monster runs amok in a small town, only without the money or the talent to become so…and the story as well. In fact at some point during the film, the monster and the egg are forgotten about and the film shifts into some thriller-style story about an old German spy plane that is lying at the bottom of the loch. By this point, you won’t care what happens in the story. The promise of some good old fashioned Nessie rampaging has long faded into memory. It shouldn’t be too hard to stick to the story of a lake monster hunting down people that stole its egg – it’s a common staple in monster films and works, for the most.

Maybe I just don’t get it but when I settle down to watch a film called The Loch Ness Horror, it should be pretty evident what I am expecting to see. It’s pretty funny realising that within the film’s reality, this Nessie has never killed anyone before yet that the film has begun, it decides that it likes the taste of humans. How very convenient for plot’s sake. The painstaking scenes of the human characters trying to pad out as much time as possible in between the riveting monster moments are pathetic too. There’s no atmosphere, suspense or tension. You don’t even look forward to Nessie’s next appearance. You’ll be clock-watching from the opening scene and hoping that things get better but they don’t. I can’t even say that the scenery looks nice because the copy I was watching was pretty fuzzy.

There’s precious little monster action during the film as the fabled monster only makes sporadic appearances and you can count the kills on one hand. But as phony as the monster looks, it’s the best thing on display which is a sad indictment of the rest of the film. Clearly hampered by budgetary constraints, only the monster’s head and neck are shown. That’s enough to go on (as many of the infamous ‘sightings’ of Nessie have only consisted of the head and neck). But then you realise that the monster looks to be made of the same material as a giant inflatable pool toy and any sort of illusion is crushed. For a film in which the monster is supposed to be a scary man-eater, the eventual prop looks rather cute and cuddly and more likely to give you a little loving nudge with its head rather than a chomp down with its teeth.

 

Is The Loch Ness Horror fun to watch? No. Is it even Mystery Science Theater 3000 levels of awful? I think you’d be pushing it there. The Loch Ness Horror would make for an awful double bill with The Crater Lake Monster and will serve as long-term proof that lake monsters don’t make for the greatest horror films. The longer it remains as obscure as possible, the better the human race will be. It’s films like this that are the reason why aliens won’t reveals themselves to us! A travesty.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Orcs! (2011)

Orcs! (2011)

They will eat your face off

A bumbling pair of hapless park rangers have to save the day when their national park is invaded by a horde of blood-thirsty orcs from the depths of the mountains.

 

I hate rolling out clichéd phrases but with Orcs it is fair to share that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I had foolishly assumed that what I was sitting down to watch would be some generic Sy Fy Original-style low budget creature feature nonsense, only with orcs taking on the role of the monster usually played out by a shark, crocodile, snake, or random mythological creature of the moment.  But Orcs! was not as basic that, in a both surprising and thankful sense. Go in with some low expectations and you’ll be greeted with a modestly charming film which has its heart in the right place even if a lot of it fails to register little more than a mild beat.

Orcs! goes down the comedy-horror route with varying results. Sometimes it’s really fun. Sometimes it’s not. I guess the idea of an army of orcs suddenly invading rural America doesn’t lend itself to a whole amount of serious credibility so the writers made a decent decision to turn the piece into something of a screwball buddy comedy. At its heart is the duo of Cal and Hobart, the two slacker park rangers who are on the front line of this situation. You’ll have seen this duo before (not the actors, but the characters) in many buddy comedies so there’s little in the way of fresh characterisation here.

Adam Johnson stars as Cal and apart from his dodgy-looking moustache, he’s a solid hand playing the slacker-stoner average Joe. He sounds a lot like Donald Sutherland and has decent comic timing. The character doesn’t care about his job and much prefers getting stoned to a hard day’s grafts so you know the type of comedy that is going to come here. He plays off Maclain Nelson’s Hobie, a naive by-the-book nerd, and the two men share some daft laughs in the best buddy comedy tradition. It’s hardly Laurel and Hardy/Morecambe and Wise levels of comic sophistication and timing but Johnson and Nelson do alright with the material that they’re given, certainly better than they have any right to do. The comedy isn’t exactly laugh out loud but there are a few chuckles to be had and the light-hearted tone keeps the film feeling fresh and interesting, even if little is happening on screen.

Unfortunately, for all of the good work that the first half of Orcs! does with building up the main characters and the orc threat, the second half completely ruins it as the heroes hole up in the ranger shack and prepare to defend themselves against the incoming orc army. It’s a really long, drawn-out battle sequence (about twenty minutes, though it seems to go on for hours) which gets repetitive quickly as wave after wave of the orcs attack the shack and the survivors shoot at them – I say wave after wave because it looks like the same shots are re-used. Its during the battle that the comedy aspects peter out and the slacker duo become action heroes, depriving the film of the only thing that was keeping it going as long as it did. I’m sure a little more tweaking of the script could have thrown some laughs in somewhere.

The orcs themselves look like people who have just come from a Lord of the Rings convention, and not the dedicated ones that you see going to all lengths to make their costume the best. These orc costumes are little more than bargain basement fancy dress rags and do little to conjure up any sense of fantasy that the sight of an orc army should. You hardly see any of the orcs in the flesh and they’re always wearing their helmets and armour. I guess it’s a budget factor but I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more of the orcs or even found out a bit more about them. As it stands, they become more of an inconvenience rather than an outright threat. Like many of these films, when the heroes are up against a weak, undeveloped enemy, then the film suffers in the end because

 

As is the case with a lot of comedy-horror films, the elements just don’t quite mix in Orcs! Whilst the light-hearted banter works on some crude level, the horror and action elements don’t  work with it and the film never manages to find the right balance. It’s either comedy or action or horror and never all three at once. Worth a watch at least once.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Carnivorous (2007)

Carnivorous (2007)

In this underworld, humans are the prey

Kate Walker is driving along in the woods when she gets a flat tyre and a passer-by stops to help her. But he knocks her out with a shovel and abducts her. When she awakes, she finds herself trapped in a strange labyrinth with a handful of other abductees. Trying to make sense of the situation, they try to find  way out but soon find themselves being hunted down by strange demon-like creatures amidst the booby-trapped maze.

 

‘Cube with monsters’ springs to mind when  I look back on Carnivorous (not to be confused with the DMX killer snake feature which goes under the same name). It is a dismal creature feature which throws together a host of strangers in a labyrinth and unleashes a slew of CGI monsters upon them. And then repeats the same formula for the duration of its running time. Repetitive and monotonous in equal measure, it’s a wonder that this hasn’t become so form of prescription medicine for insomnia. I’m sure Carnivorous has good intentions and the plot is an intriguing twist on the usual ‘strangers-in-a-room’ story but the execution is woeful.

The alternative title, Hell’s Labyrinth, certainly means more than Carnivorous does. After all, the characters are trapped in a dingy labyrinth. Though where this dungeon is and just how the owner can get away with having a massive underground facility without anyone batting an eye lid remains to be seen (sarcasm aside, the labyrinth is revealed to be some sort of extra-dimensional sacrificial chamber – or at least I think…..yeah I didn’t really pay enough attention!). For some bizarre reason, the film opens with a scene inside the labyrinth featuring some other unlucky victims and proceeds to show off all of the goods straight away – the CGI monsters, the gore and the setting itself. Talk about giving the game away within the first few minutes – now there are no surprises left for the audience.

Shot almost entirely against green screens, I may have been a little more tolerant on this as a whole if they hadn’t decided to colour all of the CGI backgrounds with greys and browns, leading to the film looking really dark and dismal. Seriously, this is one of the most frustrating films to sit down and look at for ninety-minutes – there’s no life in the picture whatsoever and the background seems to go on forever in monotonous fashion. The cinematographer gets a lot wrong, failing to light the shots enough and lending the proceedings a constantly dim glow. It’s clearly attempting to be atmospheric but comes off as frustrating.

Whilst some of the Gothic architectural design to the labyrinth is amazing, you never once get the feeling that the characters are actually anywhere but inside a studio. Things aren’t helped by the positions they take in relation to their surroundings and each other, almost always standing side-by-side and giving no indication of depth to the sets. Anyone in the UK was ever seen or heard of the 80s TV show Knightmare will get the general idea of how this looks (I must stress that Knightmare looked fantastic for its day – but this isn’t 1987 and effects have gone backwards by the looks of it here) and at times it appears that they’re stuck inside a video game, rather than a labyrinth.

The creatures they encounter in the labyrinth are also CGI and whilst you’re never going to buy them as ‘being real’ at all, they at least show up regularly and do a bit of gory damage when they appear. It’s a pity that they look like rejected sprites from a 90s PC video game rather than anything modern. Matters aren’t helped by the cast who seem to be getting little direction as to where the post-production effects will be taking place in regards to their positions on the screen. They can’t act either, which is a big requirement of being an actor.

 

If you have a burning desire to see a bunch of one-note characters walk around in front of a green screen for eighty minutes, then be my guest and watch Carnivorous. George Lucas would be proud! It cost him $115m to do the same thing with Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cemetery Gates (2006)

Cemetery Gates (2006)

Trespassers will be eaten!

A genetically mutated Tasmanian devil is released into a woodland cemetery by the two eco-activists who stole it from its laboratory. This is unfortunate for a group of college students who have chosen the cemetery as the location to shoot their low-budget zombie film.

 

Cemetery Gates has clearly been designed as some sort of throwback to the 80s low budget home video flicks and there’s plenty of evidence that the makers of the film have seen their fair share of horror films. With its low budget, a slightly camp approach, a good old fashioned man-in-a-monster-suit and plenty of splatter, Cemetery Gates tries a little too hard to impress but it the end product never really matches up to it’s aspirations.

“It will kill seventeen people in ninety minutes” proudly boasts the trailer. This is all well and good if there were more than a handful of main characters but as there aren’t, this means that the film trots out as many non-characters as possible to be ripped to shreds. You know the type of non-character I’m on about – people without names, introduced in the film in one scene and literally killed by the same scene without so much as a whimper. There are hillbillies, stoners, joggers, cemetery workers and more who all cross paths with the monster with obvious consequences. They have no bearing on the story. They don’t contribute anything to the film except die a horrible death. It’s just an endless array of fodder for the Tasmanian devil to devour and it gets boring. How I am supposed to care about these people if I know they’re going to die about two minutes after being introduced into the film?

The first-rate gore effects look fantastic in the kills, with heads being smashed into fences and arms getting torn from sockets. But after a while, they lose their shine because there’s just too many of them. Whilst an effect looks good the first time, it soon outstays its welcome after the third repetition. There’s no suspense or build-up to the attacks, the Tasmanian devil just stumbles across a newly-introduced character and then proceeds to tear them a new one. In many respects, this just sums up the entire film which is basically a gore set piece fan’s dream. Unfortunately this does not make for a good viewing experience as there’s nothing of substance to hold it all together. The gore and set pieces were clearly priority here, with the script trailing in last place.

Not helping matters is the fact that the film is shot during the day so you’ll get a good, regular look at the monster. We all know it’s a guy-in-a-suit but this isn’t the problem, it’s just the fact that you can tell it’s a guy-in-a-suit without hesitation! Couldn’t they have shot the film more at night or dusk when there was a little less sunlight to illuminate the suit? They could have kept the monster partially hidden or submerged in darkness – anything to hide the suit a little more. Having it run around in broad daylight is asking for trouble, especially when the camera tends to linger upon it. However, I’ll take this rubber-suited monster over a CGI creation any day and it shows no mercy to anyone that it comes across. I would have just liked to see a bit of intelligence used in how it was shot on film.

Cult horror actor Reggie Bannister (famous thanks to his role in the Phantasm series) is on hand to provide the necessary ‘name’ in the cast. He looks as bored as I felt in his role as the scientist who created the Tasmanian devil and tries to keep a straight face throughout proceedings despite clearly knowing the film is a load of rubbish. The rest of the cast are terrible – most of the people on show don’t even get names as I’ve alluded to in the review. Kristin Novak only gets a brief mention because she provides the token nudity.

 

Cemetery Gates is gory and at least shows that there is some potential from the director as his heart is obviously in the right place. But when there’s hardly any story, no real structure and a lot of people running around being killed off without anything resembling characterisation, there’s only so far the blood can stretch before it wears thin.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Chupacabra: Dark Seas (2005)

Chupacabra: Dark Seas (2005)

This legend is real.

Cryptozoologist Dr Peña has been hunting the legendary Chupacabra for years. So when he finally traps one on a remote Caribbean island, his name in the scientific community will be assured for decades to come. He smuggles the creature aboard a cruise ship but when some nosey workmen open the crate inside the cargo hold, the Chupacabra breaks loose and begins to kill the crew and passengers.

 

The Sci-Fi Channel pillages another monster to add to their never-ending collection of creature feature films, this time bringing to life the legend of the Chupacabra in a throwaway flick which ranks up there with their usual output. So for those not familiar with the Sci-Fi Channel’s endless supply of low budget creature feature films, they’ve brought to life all manner of CGI terrors including giant squids, snakehead fish, the Loch Ness Monster, dragons and the usual suspects of sharks, spiders and snakes. Given life in insipid, soul-destroying fashion, the bulk of these films contain one or two ‘named’ actors from bigger and better films, scripts which all play out the same way, terrible special effects and are about as exciting as a blank piece of paper. No surprise to find out that Chupacabra: Dark Seas is another one in the time-honoured tradition, equally as inept as the previous one and no doubt just as mind-numbingly predictable as the next twenty or so.

Think of something like Deep Rising without the humour and you’ll be getting close to Chupacabra: Dark Seas. The ‘plot’ is paper thin and basically consists of the creature being released onto the ship as soon as is humanly possible so that it can then munch it’s way across the crew and passengers. And that’s it in a nutshell. There are some vaguely sketched sub-plots involving a thief on the ship and the even more vague attempts to create some sort of romantic interest between the captain’s daughter and an undercover agent aboard. Not least the necessity for the film to contain some form of human villain (as if a ravenous Chupacabra wasn’t enough) as Dr Pena walks straight into cliché mode by attempting to capture the creature alive instead of killing it. If you can’t guess what happens to him, then you really have no business watching horror films!

Being original isn’t high on this film’s priorities as it churns out cliché after cliché with reckless abandon. There’s no comedy involved and you get the feeling that things may have been a little more bearable had someone decided to throw in some proper jokes or some light-hearted winking to the audience. Everyone plays it straight and then struggles to get into the one-dimensional roles they’ve been given. John Rhys-Davies is shoe-horned into a pointless role as the captain and, despite adding a touch of class to proceedings, he hardly gets anything meaningful to do except bark out orders to other people. Dylan Neal is the hero of the piece and Chelan Simmons plays the role of the captain’s daughter. There are a couple of very half-assed attempts to spark some sort of chemistry between them but there’s nothing coming of it. Giancarlo Esposito struggles with about five different accents trying to bring to life the character of Dr Pena and fails on every level.

Chupacabra: Dark Seas has production values which are shoddy and very low budget, perhaps some of the worst I’ve seen from Sci-Fi. The cruise ship seems to consist of the same room and corridor, all shot from different angles to give the impression that you’re looking at something new. You never really get the sense that these characters are actually on board a cruise ship and the terribly-rendered CGI shots of the ship will not do much to change your mind on that point. Thankfully, and in what seems like a first for the Sci-Fi Channel, some money seems to have spent on a realistic monster. The Chupacabra is a guy in a suit for the most, save for some dodgy CGI when it decides to scurry across the ceiling. But there’s a nice physical menace to the monster which is sorely lacking in other Sci-Fi creature features and the suit looks decent, with a suitably scary face. It does get plenty of screen time and it doesn’t disappoint in that sense. When it attacks, it attacks with brutality and the kills are gory and regular enough to keep things ticking over nicely.

Unfortunately after laying waste to most of the crew and some passengers during the opening half, the captain decides to evacuate the ship and the list of potential victims is dramatically cut short leaving the film struggling to keep any sort of momentum during the second half. It’s just the same routine of the remaining characters slowly plodding around the ship looking for the creature, stumble upon it which leads to the loss of one of the characters and then the survivors must go off and find it again.

 

Chupacabra: Dark Seas contains some alright moments but it’s not nearly enough to have to sit through yet another bargain basement creature feature from the Sci-Fi Channel. With an appalling script which goes through the motions from the opening scene right up until the end credits, even the decent make-up effects can’t save this mess.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Minotaur (2006)

Minotaur (2006)

Curse the god. Slay the beast.

In the ancient land of Minos, a small village of shepherds and farmers live under the cruel reign of Deucalion, a tyrannical ruler who, every five years, sends his soldiers into the village to take eight teenagers and throws them into the Labyrinth to be sacrificed to his god, the Minotaur. Under an agreement between Deucalion and Cyrnan, the village leader, his son, Theo, would not be taken captive for he would be the one to lead the village in the future. However when Theo finds out that his love, taken years earlier, is still alive, he swaps places with one of the captives. Thrown into the Labyrinth with the others, Theo must find a way to escape before the Minotaur kills them.

 

Ancient Greek mythology is superb: stories of mortal men going up against insurmountable odds in the form of mythical monsters and gods. You’ve also got betrayal, rivalry, jealousy, romance, violence and tragedy. You name it, somewhere in the Greek mythology it will spring up. It’s a gold mine of entertainment waiting to happen. And given the wealth of mythical monsters that have come down throughout the ages thanks to the Greeks, I’m quite surprised that relatively few horror films have gone down this route. Hammer tried it with The Gorgon but there has been little attempt to base horror films around these monsters. So it makes a welcome change to see a horror film which doesn’t just have a guy in a mask, genetically altered animals or aliens killing people. Granted it’s loosely based on the myth but Minotaur has the balls to not only include the Minotaur as its monster, it also sets the film back in the ancient times to give it a unique period setting. It gets top marks for this in my eyes but is the film any good?

Well yes and no. I got the constant feeling throughout the film that I wanted to like it more than I actually did. There are loads of kick ass moments but then on the flip side there are plenty of scenes which drag. Given its setting and style, you think you’re in for something more substantial but at the end of the day, it is just another ‘monster-on-the-loose’ flick. As much as it piles on the fancy sets, costumes and dialogue, you still feel like you’ve seen it before. You still know which characters are going to live and die. You know that certain characters will get their comeuppance. Hell, you can pretty much tell how they’re going to kill the Minotaur midway through the film with constant close-ups of the gas holes which release a narcotic gas into the labyrinth.

The Minotaur itself looks maniacal. It’s no longer half-man/half-bull, it’s 100% animal and it’s CGI for the most, save a few close-ups. The animators have given it some sort of skeleton/zombie look which really makes it look like it came straight out of Hell. It’s big and constantly ticked off. Although it has lost its human elements and has been turned into a generic movie monster, it still kick ass. There are one or two moments in which the CGI looks ropey but for the most, it’s pretty flawless considering it was straight-to-DVD. It also does a lot of goring. The film is pretty bloody although the body count isn’t too high. I was a bit disappointed in its lair though – the fabled labyrinth. It’s more like a system of caves than a never-ending maze of passages. I always felt like the exit was just around the characters for the character – but you still wouldn’t want to get stuck down there.

The cast has plenty of names in it. Tom Hardy (of Star Trek: Nemesis, Layer Cake and most recently as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) makes for a pretty bland hero. Theo isn’t exactly the most dashing, courageous man that you’d have expected him to be and looks like he belongs in Lord of the Rings. He doesn’t give a toss about anyone else in the labyrinth – he just went in there to try and find his love. If I had a long lost love and would have to go into the labyrinth with a big monster like the Minotaur to kill first, I’d send her a message saying it was time to move on.

More effective in his role is Tony Todd. I’m a big fan of this guy’s work. He’s got such an imposing, unmistakable voice and the man can come off as such a menace in any role of the villain roles he plays. He’s perfect as the gas-snorting, incest-obsessed ruler Deucalion. Certainly one of the more lavish roles he’ll get to play. You’ve also got Hammer legend Ingrid Pitt in a cameo and Rutger Hauer also pops up early on to cash a pay cheque. Don’t even bother with the other people thrown into the labyrinth. As usual you’ll only find out one character trait before they’re bull food. The mute girl is pretty hot though.

 

Minotaur is an underwhelming experience. It’s totally formulaic but somehow different. You’ll feel like you’ve just watched something like The Relic again but then the whole mythological spin immediately throws that out of your mind. The jury is still out.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ogre (2008)

Ogre (2008)

No Donkey. No Fairy Tale. Just TERROR.

In 1859, the town of Ellensford was ravaged by a horrific disease. A mage offers to help the townspeople in return for becoming the magistrate. He manages to rid the town of disease but unknown to the rest of the village, this manifests itself in the form of a hungry ogre. A curse is put upon the town where every year they must sacrifice one of their villagers to the ogre. In the present day, four teenagers on a hiking expedition stumble upon Ellensford, which is now stuck in time. Seeing the new arrivals as a solution to the next four years of sacrifices, the townspeople capture the teenagers. But a few rebellious youths in the village are sick of the curse and want to end it. So they end up releasing the teenagers and without a sacrifice, the ogre is ready to go on a killing spree.

 

Sci-Fi Channel original. Three words to send a heart-stopping pulse of terror into my body. But like drugs to an addict, I’m hooked on them. Maybe it’s because they’re easy targets for my rants. After all, I can usually copy and paste my reviews for them, such is their similarity and usual levels of direness. Or maybe it’s because I keep watching them in the hope that one day, just one day, one of them will turn out to be pretty good. To be fair, there’s been a few that weren’t bad so I’m being overly harsh. But it’s one in a million. Ogre is the next victim to step up and be counted. It’s got a slightly different story to the usual monster-on-the-loose film so I hoped that it would at least provide some fresh material. How wrong I was!

Ogre basically runs like The Village with an ogre running around. There’s the village that is trapped in time and set in their peculiar ways. Dialogue is spoken and clearly meant to sound ‘old’ from some bygone era. The clothes are old fashioned and the village itself has no phones, no electricity and they still live in cold, wooden houses. This is the basis of Ogre‘s problem: it spends way too much time with the villagers, none of whom you will give a rat’s ass about. We don’t care when they’re constantly bickering and moaning at each other. They’ve had a long time to sit around in each other’s company so they’re bound to be a bit tetchy. The funny thing is that it’s not a comedy and not meant to be light-hearted but because everyone is taking it all so seriously, it ends up being a riot. Watch how this person reacts. Or that person overacts. The conviction in their voices and the stiffness of their deliveries would have you believe that this is their last feature film and they’re going out with a bang.

John Schneider is the worst culprit, barking out commands to the villagers as the sinister mage. Chelan Simmons at least provides some emotional support as one of the rebellious youths in the village but for an actress who has shed her clothes quite a lot, it’s sad to see that she’s the one who dresses up in the old fashioned head-to-toe get-up. Get used to seeing these people as the bulk of the film is based around them. I’ll at least give the film a bit of credit for trying to come up with a reasonable back story to the ogre but it’s a pity that the whole curse and magic element is overplayed and becomes confusing too quickly. This is a town of a thousand curses and none of them are pretty.

The ogre looks diabolical in all of his CGI glory. I’ve not seen worse special effects for a long time and when you’ve seen as many Sci-Fi originals as I have, that’s a mighty high bar to jump over. It’s simply terrible. I’m not joking. Even if the rest of the film had been absolutely awesome, it would have been completely ruined as soon as this loin cloth wearing blob of grey with the biggest man boobs in the world lurched out of its hole. He appears way too early and ruins any sort of credibility that the film may have had. The ‘money shot’ of his first appearance is wasted too early and there’s nothing left for you to look towards. Old school creature features kept the monsters hidden until later in the film to at least keep the audience waiting with anticipation. Now the monsters are shown in the first reel so you might as well switch off if it looks rubbish. Not only that but it’s a stealth ogre and, despite the loud rumbling it makes when it walks, manages to sneak up on many of the cast as if it had just appeared out of thin air.

Thankfully the ogre is not around for a lot of the film. He seems like an afterthought and is slapped in for a generic attack scene every once in a while to remind you what you’re watching. The attacks are lame, once again assisted by very low grade computer graphic gore. A guy in a suit would have been far more convincing. Heck, even a hand puppet…..anything barring the CGI abomination we have here. Even Shrek – I mean give him a darker shade of green, sharper teeth and you’ve got an instantly scarier ogre than this! The cast also have an uncanny habit of running away from him but then stopping and freezing to allow him to catch them up and clobber them. Keep running you fools!

 

I should really start a separate rating scale for these Sci-Fi Channel originals as what may rank as a 1 star film from another studio may class as a 5 star review from the Sci-Fi Channel. Ogre tries to be a bit different from the rest with a variation on the typical creature feature tale but ends up with exactly the same problems as the rest. Go and watch Shrek again!

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)

Thirty years ago, Ray witnessed the death of his parents at the hands of a giant squid. Now determined to get revenge for his loss, he joins up with Nicole, an archaeologist who is searching for a fabled Greek opal and whose location is guarded by the squid itself. But a ruthless crime lord is also on the trail of the opal and will do anything to get it.

 

The good old Sci-Fi Channel has once again outdone itself in mediocrity. Not content with churning out such genre tripe as Attack of the Sabretooth, Hammerhead and Pterodactyl, it has decided to go back into the water for another aquatic-bound feature. This time sharks and mutated fish are not the source, it’s the giant squid. I’ve always been keen to see a decent giant squid flick since I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in which Kirk Douglas and co. battle a rubber squid. I’m going to have to keep on waiting because this mess of a film isn’t going to convince anyone that there’s a giant squid involved, let alone anything resembling a decent plot.

Once again don’t sit down to watch a film with this level of budget and expect to see the squid tearing people apart every moment of screen time. You know what to expect before you do watch it, unfortunately you don’t know how badly your meagre expectations are going to be let down. For a film about a giant squid, you’d think the beast has joined the witness protection program. Apart from a few early moments and then the inevitable showdown at the end, the squid is hardly anywhere to be seen. In fact it’s not only hidden from view, it seems that no one really cares less about it as most of the conversations are directed towards obtaining the opal (or with characters trying to make out with each other).

With this being the Sci-Fi Channel, it can’t just be content with having a group of people all on the same side fighting off the said monster of the film. No, they’ve got to throw in all manner of crime lords, mad scientists, psychotic soldiers, terrorists and general nefarious bad guys to conflict with our heroes. In reality all it does is provide these films with human villains so that they don’t have to show the monsters as much. And it also gives us a few more unnecessary bad guys to feed to our monster. After all, we can’t have any of the good main characters being offered up as monster fodder, can we? Jeez I remember the days when no one was sacred in a horror flick (Spielberg feeding that Kitner boy to the shark in Jaws springs to mind)

The CGI squid rears it’s ugly head on few occasions and looks terrible when it does. The actors have no ability to interact with it whatsoever. I guess it’s hard trying to act as if an imaginary squid is trying to kill you without seeing anything there and waiting for the CGI to be superimposed at a later date. But at least the actors here could try. There’s a major problem with how the squid is portrayed too. In some scenes, the squid is clever enough to slice open scuba divers’ air hoses and in other scenes it drags its intended prey under the water, only to release them a few moments later for no apparent reason. Of course we know that any good characters attacked by the squid will be ok and any of the villains who are munched will not be so lucky. Also thrown in is a random boat of teenagers – their scene providing absolutely nothing to the film apart from three more bodies and the chance to attach Christa Campbell’s name to the production. An easy pay cheque for her it may be but I would have refused to pay the others in the cast.

Charlie O’Connell looks like a total meat axe and comes off sounding just as thick and wooden. Victoria Pratt does little else but hog the screen in a bikini. Why are all of these scientists smoking hot blondes? I need to get a new job! Also appearing is Jack Scalia as the crime boss. Quite what his organisation does is really of no interest to me and it’s a good job because you’re not going to get much more than “I’m a bad guy, boo me” plot development for him.

 

Throughout this film I was constantly reminded of the far superior mini-series The Beast, based on the novel by Peter Benchley. Although the effects looked just about as ropey at times, the emphasis was still on the squid. Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep seems to be a piss poor thriller about an ancient Greek opal with a bit of squid thrown in for good measure. It’s like renaming Raiders of the Lost Ark something like Snake Attack! for the brief moments that the snakes harass Indy. Definitely one to feed to the fishes.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆