Tag Subterranean Terrors

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

The giant, man-eating graboids are back and even deadlier.

The giant, man-eating Graboids are back and even deadlier than before, terrorizing the inhabitants of a South African wildlife reserve as they attack from below-and above. Only one man is capable of handling this threat: veteran Graboid hunter Burt Gummer. He has been struggling to make ends meet with his own online survivalist show but things go from bad to worse when his cameraman quits, leaving Burt really out on a limb. The arrival of Travis Welker, a brash upstart who performs stunts on his dirt bike, coincides with the arrival of a delegation from South Africa, who have come to Perfection to ask for Gummer’s help in dealing with the Graboids. After Travis secures some funding, the two men head off to South Africa. Having his weapons seized in customs, Gummer has to rely on his wits and new ways of killing the Graboid threat.

 

If there’s one thing to be said about Tremors 5: Bloodlines is that it’s infinitely better than the last two films and nearly as good as the underrated Tremors 2: Aftershocks. Eleven years have passed since the giant worm-like monsters did any damage on the screen and now they’re back trying to breath some new life into a franchise many had thought had finally been buried underground. Ditching Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, the writers of the original who had been involved with every incarnation of the franchise to date seemed like a bad move. Whilst the sequels clearly suffered from diminishing returns, at least Maddock and Wilson kept a sense of humour going and wanted to preserve their legacy by reinventing the Graboids in every film (well, as best they can in making sequel-after-sequel). The worry with new owners of a franchise is that they turn it into a cash-cow and sell any trashy new film on brand name alone (Hellraiser: Revelations springs to mind).

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The key thing that Tremors 5: Bloodlines seems to inject back into the series is energy. Only the original was truly ‘scary’ in that it had some great moments of tension and a couple of boo scares amidst the comedy and silliness. But these only worked because of the good-natured fun and energy that the film showcased. The first sequel did a good job of replicating this energy but the third and fourth films were almost devoid of it, going through the Graboid motions with repetitive boredom. There is a clear link here with my next point.

Somewhere during Tremors 2: Aftershocks, it became obvious that Michael Gross’ gun-nut character was going to be the major player in the franchise and after Fred Ward bailed out, Gross become the series’ focal point. Well, he was a lot cheaper than Bacon and Ward and clearly needed the money more. Whilst Gross’ character was an awesome supporting player in the original, was he worthy enough of becoming a bigger character in the sequels? His lack of a good ‘wingman’ to bounce off became obvious in the previous films and Gross’ character became sillier and crazier to counteract the lack of a solid counterpart. Jamie Kennedy is the person who is going to surprise audiences in this, pulling out all the stops as the new sidekick. Rather than overplaying the comedy aspects (like the new comedy sidekicks in the previous films), Kennedy relies on the smart script to deliver some knock-out comedy punches. He can outstay his welcome at times but the pairing of him and Gross is easily the best one since Bacon and Ward in the original. The two men inject as much energy as they can into the film and it’s all the better for it.

Whilst the acting has never been the weakest point of the series, mainly thanks to Gross, it’s the monsters and special effects which have suffered greatly in the days of reduced straight-to-video budgets and the sub-standard CGI and relative lack of models and miniatures in the last few films have given the Graboids a real feeling of being second-string monsters nowadays. Thankfully Tremors 5: Bloodlines bucks the trend significantly, bringing the Graboids back to blistering form. Granted the CGI isn’t perfect and still a long way from the realistic animatronics of the original, but it’s not in your face and overblown, lending itself to a number of decent set pieces involving slow-motion flying Graboids. Tremors 5: Bloodlines still doesn’t have a knock-out action sequence though and a lot of the on-screen carnage is fairly unremarkable and generic. Despite moving the location to Africa, this novelty factor adds little to the monster dynamic which has remained relatively consistent over the past twenty-five years. It’s been about Burt versus the monsters and nothing has changed in that respect, only the ways in which he dispatches them.

 

Tremors 5: Bloodlines is a solid entry into the long-running monster series which really kicks some life back into the franchise and gives viewers the clearest indication that it isn’t finished yet. When you think of it another way, this is the fourth sequel in a franchise which has been rooted in straight-to-video hell for the best part of twenty years – what are you seriously expecting from it? It’s fun whilst it’s lasts and is a step up from the past few sequels.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sand, The (2015)

The Sand (2015)

This beach is killer

After an all-night beach party, a group of teenagers awaken to find that everyone else has disappeared. It turns out that some kind of creature has appeared beneath the sand and is devouring anyone and anything that sets foot upon the beach. Trapped on the beach, the group must find a way to escape without touching the sand.

 

Straight from hearing the synopsis of The Sand mid-summer last year, I immediately thought back to 1980’s Blood Beach, a feeble Jaws clone which featured an underground monster that sucked people into the sand before they could even get to the sea. Blood Beach did have a decent premise, even if it was a load of rubbish, and it’s a premise which Tremors, particularly the first one, did very well. The Sand picks up the mantle years later to fly the flag of underground monsters and does a fair job whilst it’s at it.

However, despite the similarity in the nature of the ‘being swallowed into the ground’ monster, The Sand ends up being one of those horror films where a group of people become trapped somewhere and spend the majority of the running time trying to escape without dying. I can think of the likes of Rogue, Black Water or Beneath where characters become trapped by some deadly creature and devise a load of crazy schemes to get themselves to safety, no doubt leading to the deaths of one or more of the characters in the process. Unfortunately, this type of film means that the characters are stuck in the same location for a lot of the film. So the success of The Sand relies upon the writer’s ability to come up with ingenious ways to keep them stranded – after all, it’d be a rubbish film if the characters just sat and waited for help to come along. However, writers Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell quickly run out of ways to keep things interesting and The Sand does begin to overstay its welcome rather earlier than you’d have liked.

Thankfully, The Sand doesn’t waste any time getting down to business and within the first ten minutes, the set-up is complete, characters are already being killed off and little time is wasted getting down to the good stuff. The set-up is treated seriously and, though the characters are all too quick in assuming that there is a monster in the sand, the threat is established early on and maintained throughout the running time. There’s not a great deal of tension or suspense during some of the scenes of the characters trying to come up with different ways to escape the sand but at least they come to a messy end when it goes wrong.

The Sand’s reliance on CGI for its special effects is a bit disappointing given that the way the creature kills its victims would have been easily replicated using practical effects and made to look far more convincing. Still, the effects (particularly the memorable first kill) are decent enough for what they need to do and will actually get you second-glancing at the sand the next time you’re at the coast. Though the prologue at the party promises a massive body count, it’s a pity that most of these partygoers have already been killed off by the time the real action starts. However there are still enough victims to feed to the sand throughout the film. The monster is unique and is kept off-screen for the majority of the running time but in all honesty – it doesn’t need to be fully in your face. Just the thought of being sucked into the sand and seeing how some of the characters die is enough to leave the monster’s design to your imagination. Sadly as the kills become more elaborate and the monster shows itself more and more, the effects begin to cheapen and really look out of place. The simple, early effects worked far better because the audience does most of the hard work.

The picture-perfect cast of women have clearly been cast for their looks and their ability to fill out bikinis and tiny shorts. Lead actress Brooke Butler is pretty, though her acting leaves a lot to be desired, and the same goes for the other actresses. They’re not going to win any awards for their performances but they’re not overly terrible. Cleo Berry is not only the token black guy, he’s the token comic relief and the token fat man so expect him to get a tough ride. He spends the majority of the film wedged into a barrel with a crude penis drawn onto his face in black pen. There is an awful cameo from Jamie Kennedy, whose beach patrol character seems to have walked in off the set of a Spring Break frat comedy rather than a film which is attempting serious horror. At the end of the day, they’re all just one-dimensional characters waiting to be eaten, devoid of any real personalities or defining qualities save for the size of their chests (and that goes for both the women and men). Despite the script’s attempts to put forward a love triangle, there’s no real drama between the characters.

 

The Sand is fairly decent for what it is. Don’t expect the wheel to be reinvented. Don’t expect to be blown away with the next big thing. Just expect an entertaining timewaster which plays itself seriously, features some decent (if too CGI-heavy) gore moments and a unique monster and set-up which hasn’t been done to death like killer sharks or gigantic snakes.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 3: Back To Perfection (2001)

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

The Food Chain Just Grew Another Link.

After hunting Graboids and Shriekers in Argentina, Burt Gummer returns home to Perfection for a bit of rest and relaxation. It’s not long after his arrival that Perfection faces another serious subterranean monster problem. Gummer is confident that he has the knowledge to stop them but evolution runs its course again, mutating the monsters into a deadly and unpredictable third form.

 

Cue practically the same mayhem as the previous two films. There’s milking a cow but there’s milking the poor thing so hard that you rip it’s udders off and that’s what the Tremors series seems to have done. I was never sure that the original Tremors, one of my favourite films, had any story left to tell but the first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks at least came up with a decent way to avoid repeating exactly the same formula, albeit more or less the same thing, with different types of monsters. Here we are with a second sequel, Tremors 3: Back To Perfection, which continues the downward spiral of quality of the series, quite significantly from the previous instalment, though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what this one is lacking.

That is not to say that this is a terrible film of any kind. There are some good ideas floating around Tremors 3: Back To Perfection, particularly the notion that Perfection has become something of a ‘tourist trap’ – a term used to describe a place which is specifically designed to attract tourists and get them to part with their cash – and the lengths that some of the locals will go to in order to maintain that illusion. Particularly effective and really nifty is the fake Graboid tour scam that Sawyer and his friend run, complete with fence posts that are wired to collapse as tourists pass and fire extinguishers hidden to look like Graboid blasts, giving people the illusion that they are under attack. Naturally, when the real things show up, there are the inevitable “is it real or isn’t it?” moments.

It’s through the likes of the above story line that Tremors 3: Back To Perfection switches it’s focus onto more of the comedic approach than the horror one. The original Tremors was chock full of gags and great lines but they came naturally in the script and through the rapport between the main characters. Beneath the surface there was still a true horror edge, featuring dismembered heads, people getting sucked into the ground and then swallowed whole. As the series has gone on (and budgets have reduced), these costly death scenes have been scaled back and the humour elements played up a lot more prominently. The orange and red splatter gunge courtesy of exploding Graboids and Shriekers is still there in abundance but the effects are largely comic. The humour feels forced and the jokes in the script are obvious, with punch lines continually being told rather than left ambiguous. It’s like the audience is being patronised because we’re not clever enough to understand some of the most rudimental jokes.

Kevin Bacon wisely jumped ship after the first one and even Fred Ward decided not to bother with this one so fan favourite Michael Gross, as survivalist gun-nut Burt Gummer, is promoted to lead character. Gross has a lot of fun in the role and his deadpan reactions to situation make him hilarious at times. He was a little bit over-the-top in the last film and has toned back down the character to similar levels of the original which is good. The major problem I have now is that the character is far too overexposed and the ‘less is more’ approach they had with him in the first two films has been abandoned. Gummer worked in small doses but his army schtick gets tiring rather quickly. Losing Ward was a big blow to the series and Gross’ character is just overpowering to helm a film – he’s fine as supporting character but he overstays his welcome in the limelight.

It’s also nice to see the remaining members of the original cast make a return here (those who were cheap enough to bring back!), even if they were more or less bit part players. I’m a great lover of continuity in sequels and seeing the likes of Miguel (Tony Genaro), Nancy (Charlotte Stewart), Mindy (Ariana Richards) and everyone’s favourite loser, Melvin (Robert Jayne), all come back gives the film much-needed connection to the original.

Sadly, Tremors 3: Back To Perfection short-changes it’s monsters by rendering them all in CGI. The original’s slimy animatronic models and oozing prosthetics still look fantastic today and the mix of CGI and make-up effects in the second film worked better than it should. But the CGI here looks TV-series quality, presumably because they were trying to get the short-lived Tremors TV series off the ground around the same time. In fact, they’ve lifted a lot of shots of the subterranean Graboids from the first two films which is obvious. The names Graboids and Shriekers are a bit daft to designate monsters but the reasoning behind them was sound and it made sense. Calling these new flying monsters ‘Ass Blasters’ is juvenile and a bit daft too. But it’s a sign of where the series was heading. More background to the monsters’ origins and overly complex explanations just detract further from the mythology and menace of the monsters from the original.

 

I’m sure if you liked the first two films, then you’ll find plenty of fun in Tremors 3: Back To Perfection. But the charm of the series has quickly faded, the set-ups and resolutions have become predictable and formulaic and the characters aren’t as appealing as in the previous films. It doesn’t hold a candle to the first two but it’s not half-bad as far as a straight-to-video films are concerned.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Catacombs (2007)

Catacombs (2007)

Below the city of lights exists a world of darkness.

Whilst visiting her sister in Paris, Victoria visits the city’s infamous catacombs where the underground rave scene is going strong. In the 200-mile strong labyrinth of tunnels lined by the skeletal remains of millions of people buried there, Victoria becomes separated from the rave and becomes lost. Soon she believes that someone or something is following her around in the dark. Or is it just her imagination playing tricks on her?

 

If there’s nothing better in a horror film than a creepy setting, it’s a creepy setting from real life. And in Catacombs, you’ve got arguably one of the creepiest real life settings to base a horror film in. The French ran out of room to bury their dead in the late 18th Century and so began burying them in the old stone mines beneath the city, turning death into literal works of art. I’ve been to the underground vaults in Edinburgh and it was a bit surreal. So imagine what it must be like to be in the catacombs of Paris with huge walls of human bones staring at you. If there’s nothing worse in a horror film, it’s for it to blow away such a great setting with terrible execution. Catacombs makes such a mistake.

Being stranded in the catacombs and in the dark is all well and good if something was actually made of that fact. However the writers of Catacombs (coincidentally the directors as well) just doesn’t use the setting to its advantage. No atmosphere is created for a setting that oozes atmosphere just by thinking about it. The damn thing is too dark half of the time and the main character suffers from a few blackouts which means the screen fades to black even more. The lighting is really bad and mainly consists of flashlights and the odd flare here and there. This takes away any visual impact that the film may have had. Other films have relied on shadows and shapes in dimly-lit settings to create a sense that there’s something else there but without ‘clues’ and pointers, there’s no way of knowing if anything is there with her. I mean the dark scares us all to a degree and being lost in the dark in a maze is something not one of us would really want to do, especially one filled with human bones and true history. But staring at a black picture and listening to people screaming soon gets annoying.

The film moves pretty quickly to begin with so it’s not long before the rave is happening and Victoria is separated from it which leads to the main part of the film. And now that the character has been separated from the rest of the world, it’s time to unleash hell. Only not quite. Nothing is unleashed. No mad monster is let loose. The character just runs around in the dark. There’s no action. There’s little chasing. There’s little excitement. There’s little anything. Just the same thing over and over again. It seems to be padding the film out as much as it can before the finale. A film that needs as much padding as this should never have been given the green light. It could have worked as a short story but not as a main feature. Its little wonder to find it had a chequered history with cinematic releases, being free-to-air on the web site and eventually finding a home on DVD.

Shannon Sossamon is a decent actress but in dimly lit sets and a with a terrible script, the most daunting task she faces is having to keep making it look like she’s really scared and tired and not bored out of her head. She basically falls and crawls around a lot, screams plenty of times and keeps saying the same things over and over. It’s hardly the most challenging role and any airhead could have done it because you hardly see her at all anyway, just hear her voice in the darkness.

The name Alecia Moore may not be overly familiar to you but if I said the name Pink, then I can see the light bulb going off in your head. Using her real name to appear in this and leaving behind her musical alter ego, Moore isn’t too bad in the underwritten part of the sister. It’s not exactly the sort of role that will bridge the gap between music and movies and if any big executives ever watched this rubbish, they’re more likely to offer her a few more album deals to stop her from appearing in any more trash. The rest of the cast is filled with token English-speaking French actors who serve no purpose other to party and drink.

 

Catacombs is dreadfully dull, slow and monotonous. If people screaming in the dark is your thing, then switch off the lights the next time you’re having a house party. It’s guaranteed to be scarier and infinitely more exciting than this sluggish drivel.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Caved-In: Prehistoric Terror (2006)

Caved-In: Prehistoric Terror (2006)

The ultimate threat. The gravest danger. Hidden in the earth.

Disguised as extreme adventurers, a group of thieves hire a caving expert to take them into an old mine in Switzerland which was shut down years earlier after a mysterious cave in. The thieves are looking for a hidden cavern full of emeralds but what they find there is a horde of hungry giant beetles.

 

Another Sci-Fi Channel production which has a kick ass DVD cover and sounds like a bit of fun, Caved In: Prehistoric Terror turns out to be more painful than having a tooth removed. I know recycling is good for the environment but someone needs to tell filmmakers that recycling films will not help the ozone layer any time soon. Caved In: Prehistoric Terror comes off as a really bad cross between The Descent and Starship Troopers….and a really bad one at that.

Things don’t look promising from the start when you’re given the back story to the mine and some not-very-good actors get sliced and diced by some even worse-looking beetles. Note to the director: If you’re going to kick things off by showing how bad your monsters are, then there’s no hope for the rest of the film. The miners could have easily been killed without revealing the beetles so early on and so the film wastes it trump card within the first five minutes. By now, you’re already too depressed knowing that you’ve got to suffer through another eighty minutes and worry that things won’t get any better. Believe me, they get somehow worse.

We’re introduced to the team of thieves. We know they’re bad guys because they’re foreign and one of them is bald with a goatee. They’ve got to be evil. We then move to the caving expert and his family, one of the least believable families I’ve seen for a long time, helmed by Christopher Atkins who seems to have a life sentence with the Sci-Fi Channel. Needless to say that putting all of these combustible characters together doesn’t make for pretty viewing, especially when none of them do anything straightforward. The main villain, Marcel, continues to make ridiculous mistakes which only hamper their efforts to get out alive. He only too willingly kills his men for dramatic effect when he should realise that seven people versus a horde of giant bugs is better than four. All the characters seem to do is run, shoot the bugs and run a bit more. Repeat this for about sixty minutes and you have the bulk of the film.

The bugs look bad, as I’ve already mentioned. How, why and what they are doing isn’t really important in a film like this – the fact that they are here is what matters. Arguably the worst-looking effects are the sets. We find out that, in a convenient state of affairs, the power to the mine still works so everything is lit up. However the sets are too well lit and it’s like walking in the daylight sun at times. Whatever happened to underground caves being pitch black? You never get the feeling they’re trapped underground – simply trapped in a second-rate set. Hell even The Cave managed to create some decent tension with its dark sets. If you’re going to have your film set in an old mine, at least make it look and sound like an old mine. There are a few rickety wooden boards but this looks like it was only closed yesterday, not fifty years or whatever it’s supposed to be.

On the positive side, the film does get quite gruesome at times. There are characters that get sliced in two and having their insides ripped out. And quite what Colm Meaney is doing here is anyone’s guess. The man is a decent actor who built himself a name on Star Trek and has found solid supporting work for a long time in lots of British and Irish films. The bad guys all snarl and blur into one caricature, with David Palffy being the worst of the bunch with his ‘Bad Guys for Dummies’ impression.

 

The commercial asks “What’s the only thing worse than being trapped inside a cave with huge bugs?” My answer: watching Caved In: Prehistoric Terror. I think someone was warning us ahead of time.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Burrowers, The (2008)

The Burrowers (2008)

Evil will surface.

In the Wild West, a posse sets off to find and rescue a family of settlers who were apparently kidnapped by hostile Indians. But as men begin to vanish in the night and strange holes begin appearing around them in the ground, the posse soon realise that their prey is something far more terrifying than Indians.

 

I’ve seen a string of horror films recently which have been set in the Wild West and I must say that it is a really interesting time period to be setting them in. Gone are the clichés of modern day horror films where characters are all stereotyped teenagers; where mobile phones don’t work; where characters spout off their film knowledge; where they have all of the wonders of 21st century life to help them get through their struggles. Take that away, strip the film down to its basic elements and play up an odd western cliché or two and you’ve got the ground work for original horror films where creativity is the key because you can’t rely on technology to save you. The Burrowers comes hot on the heels of Undead or Alive and Copperhead, two other Wild West horror films in which the basic elements are the same as countless other modern era horror films, only with the novelty value of setting it somewhere historically remote, desolate and as wild and savage as the monsters you’re fighting.

That’s not to say The Burrowers is a good film. Far from it – the best I can say is that it had potential but it just didn’t live up to it one bit. It’s very slow-paced but I got the feeling that was deliberate on the part of the director. It’s a good forty-five minutes before anything really exciting happens and the odd Burrower attack is peppered through the middle of the film which promises a great finale but fails to deliver. I think the director was going for a slightly more dramatic affair with lots of paranoia and eerie goings on but it just doesn’t work as well as it should.

The Western setting is nailed down a tee though with some spot-on cinematography. The characters are all well-rounded and, dare I say it, likeable. You don’t want any of them to get harmed because they all get a chance to develop. It’s always great to see a stalwart like Clancy Brown in something like this too! The film definitely plays to its strengths which is the mood and atmosphere. As I’ve already touched upon in my opening, the Wild West was a remote, savage place so when the posse end up in the middle of nowhere, you know that is just where they are – no small towns hiding around the mountains, no police station nearby or no cabin to shelter in. This feeling of isolation is played up in the film a lot as the characters know they’re on their own and need to stick together.

However twists and turns along the way mean that is not possible. Some of the night scenes where the Burrowers are scurrying around in the grass around the camp are pretty tense affairs. The only light is coming from the fire so it’s impossible to see too far. You just hear them brushing past the grass. The Burrowers themselves don’t appear a lot. It’s good because they look rather rubbish when they do appear in their CGI form. The actual latex suits used in some scenes look far more convincing, especially in a dimly lit environment. But they work better as unseen assailants anyway, crawling out from their ground holes to poison and paralyse victims before burying them in the ground alive and coming back to eat them later on when they’ve turned all squishy inside! A lot of real life animals and insects use this method to eat their prey but it just sounds a lot harsher when its human beings involved.

There aren’t too many bloody scenes of people getting their insides sucked out but there is one great scene where you see one unlucky victim get poisoned, paralysed, buried alive and then feasted upon later in the film. They are definitely a unique creation and this film needed more Burrower action! Again though I think any more of the monster action would have overdone it.

 

The Burrowers is a decent monster flick which sacrifices cheap scares and gore for a slow-burner pace and lots of excellent atmosphere and tension. Whether you’re in the mood for something more sophisticated than your usual teen horror will depend on your enjoyment. Everyone who keeps up-to-date with horror films should at least check it out. You won’t be overly disappointed.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Descent: Part 2, The (2009)

The Descent 2: Part 2 (2009)

Fear runs deep. Revenge runs deeper.

Sarah emerges from her subterranean hell in a deep trauma and with little recollection of what happened to her and her friends. The local sheriff suspects her of killing them underground and forces her to go back down into the cave system with a rescue team to locate her friends. The further the team goes into the caves, the more Sarah remembers and the more she realises that the team is in big trouble as the Crawlers are still lurking.

 

The Descent is one of those films that I wanted to like more than I actually did. It had been hyped up beyond all recognition and after watching it, I felt a little under whelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the film has its moments but there are a few too many cheap scares and it resorts to blood and action too much when the film had been building up the atmosphere nicely. It’s one of the better horror films of recent years but hardly sequel-worthy as there seemed to be no story left to tell. But if there’s one thing that annoys me worse than an unnecessary sequel, it’s an unnecessary sequel which is essentially a remake on a bigger budget (OK I’ll let Terminator 2: Judgment Day off). Step into the light The Descent: Part 2.

Depending on which version of The Descent you saw, you’ll have got a completely different ending. The UK and US releases had vastly different endings and the UK one is arguably the better of the two (or at least more satisfying for a jaded genre veteran like myself) but this sequel opts to go with the ‘happy’ ending approach to make life easier on the writers. I’ll at least give everyone involved a bit of credit in that you could easily watch the two films back-to-back and be hard-pressed to tell them apart. The look and feel of the film is the same. They bring back a few characters from the original back to give it continuity. And the Crawlers don’t seem to have too much in the way of alterations done to them.

Assuming you were familiar with what happened previously, the film gets down to the dirty as quickly as possible. We don’t get a lot of character exposition. All you need to know is that the sheriff is an asshole and does things his way, his deputy is a mother and desperate to see her kid again, there are a bunch of rescue workers (can’t even remember their names so that’s not a good sign) and the survivor from the original (who’s purpose in the film left me scratching my head as she adds little input to the proceedings and something that the other characters would easily have picked up on their own).

Needless to say that most of these characters become expendable in a variety of gory ways as the script opts to ditch the more psychological approach of the first one in favour of the traditional ‘sequels need more gore’ approach. The sequel doesn’t skimp on the red stuff either and the Crawlers attack early so you won’t be waiting too long. There’s plenty of gruesome goings on underground and the Crawlers get messy in their assaults. People are disembowelled, there’s throat slashings and even the humans manage to turn the tables on some of the Crawlers.

With the increased focus on gore, the film obviously suffers in other departments, most notably the atmosphere. The caves seem bigger than they were before and thus less claustrophobic. Part of the fear factor from the original was that you saw the characters squeezing through almost impossible gaps in the rocks to get to the next ledge and suffering from breathing problems and nerves whilst doing it. You really got the sense that they were trapped and their movements were limited to crawling forward or crawling backwards. Unfortunately the caves here are big enough to walk through and there’s only a few moments of characters squeezing through narrow gaps. The sheriff was a big guy but he seems to have little trouble in worming his way around these underground caverns.

As well as the setting, I lost count of the amount of times a character would look around into the darkness, the ominous music would suddenly stop and then something would pop out at them with an almighty crash on the sound system. It’s a cheap and telegraphed scare the first time and severely overused the fifth time. Speaking of the darkness, the original did such a good job in limiting the amount of light down in the cave system. After all, they’re so many feet underground so why is there so much natural light still penetrating? This one could have taken place in broad daylight in some scenes because it’s that bright underground.

There’s also a grossly unsatisfying ending which looks to have been tacked on by a ten year old – clearly a further sequel is in mind. But who will return from this one? A couple of actresses returned from the original, adding some decent continuity to the series. Shauna MacDonald and Natalie Mendoza slip back into their roles with ease, the former not really have much to say for the first half of the film due to her character being in shock. Out of the newcomers, it’s only Gavin O’Herlihy as the smug sheriff who makes any sort of impression with the rest simply being there to make up the numbers when the Crawlers start to attack.

 

The Descent: Part 2 isn’t a totally worthless sequel – it’s just pretty much an inferior remake of the original. It doesn’t really do any damage to the original, nor does it add anything to the story. Basically an excuse to feed a load more people to the Crawlers, The Descent: Part 2 is watchable and entertaining, just immediately forgettable.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cavern, The (2005)

The Cavern (2005)

Descend into Terror

Eight explorers learn of a newly discovered cave system in the Kyzl Kum Desert in Central Asia and set out on an expedition to document it. Once inside two of their guides are mysteriously killed and, when they try to escape, they find that their way out has been inexplicably sealed shut. They’re trapped inside the cave system and the only way to go, is deeper into the cave. But there is something else in the cave with them.

 

After the success of Dog Soldiers, Neil Marshall has managed to follow it up with this flick about a group of cavers who get trapped underground and……sorry I thought I was watching The Descent for a moment. My memory is a bit vague but that’s not right. I remember now, I am sure I was watching The Cave. Or was that another one of the million ‘trapped in a cave’ flicks that have been released over the last few years. Why is that whenever a film gets some measure of success (in this case, The Descent), there is always a tidal wave of clones, copycats and wannabes released in quick succession? And why are none of them even remotely as entertaining as the film they’re copying? Along comes The Cavern to add to the growing wave of these cave flicks. Even if we hadn’t already seen the same damned thing done to death already, I can’t imagine this would have been any good simply because it’s absolute trash.

I read a review on IMDB that said the film basically consisted of people running around pretending to be scared in the dark until one of them shouts something like “pull it together.” Then repeat. And you know what, that’s 100% accurate! That’s all the film is. There are the obligatory character development scenes at the beginning of the film to introduce names, minor histories with each other and so forth but as soon as they get into the cave and everything starts going wrong, all of the characters just fall apart. It’s a free-for-all with people getting their ten cents in a never-ending shouting match. Not only that, but the film is so dark. I can understand them wanting to go for the whole ‘trapped in a cave so it’s going to be dark’ angle but even the lights on the helmets were very dim so you don’t get a whole lot of visibility.

For most of the film, that’s ok because the characters are only bitching and shouting to each other but when something does happen, you want to see something even if looks terrible. There seems to be plenty of handheld camera work here too, again I’m guessing to try and create the illusion of being trapped underground. All it does it make the film look cheaper and the dark scenes even darker! On the positive side there are a few moments of gore which you do get to see in all of their glory so savour them whilst you can.

Another major problem is that you don’t know what the cavers are dealing with for most of the film either. At first you think it’s supernatural. Then later on in the film you think it may be some form of mutant insect. Hoping to get something decent is half of the fun of these films if you don’t know what they’re dealing with from the blurb on the back of the box. Then comes the final twist in the finale (and we’ve rarely seen the monster of the piece at this point – even an arm or leg wouldn’t have gone amiss) and nothing makes sense at all.

***Spoiler warning***

How in the hell could it be the male survivor of that plane crash from years earlier? How did he manage to get that superhuman strength and speed to be able to lift huge boulders to block cave entrances and to move through the caves quickly like a beetle?

***End Spoiler***

At least the terrible Caved-In: Prehistoric Terror had ridiculous-looking CGI beetles and plenty of them. Sometimes a little crap is better than no crap – writers here take note.

 

I thought I’d seen the worst that these cave flicks could produce but The Cavern takes the crowning prize for that now. Do yourself a favour and watch The Descent again before trying to explore this cavern.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Centipede! (2004)

Centipede! (2004)

100 ways to die

A group of friends head into a remote cave network in India for a weekend of adventure and fun. However they don’t realise that the caves are home to oversized, flesh-eating centipedes, mutated from a hidden underground storage of toxic waste! A cave in makes their problems worse as they now have to head further into the cave system in order to find an exit.

 

Pre-dating similar monster-in-a-cave films such as The Descent, The Cave and Caved-In: Prehistoric Terror, Centipede! at least has the distinction of being slightly ahead of the game. However I must re-iterate the fact that, yes the title is correct – the film does feature KILLER CENTIPEDES as its monsters! Cue the manic laughter from the dozens of people who would even consider watching this. Killer centipedes! I think I’ve heard it all now. Rats I can understand. Dogs at a push. Slugs I can take with some alcohol. But centipedes! Excuse me whilst I go and dry my eyes.

Now that I’ve calmed down a little bit, it’s time to examine the film. Is it as bad as it sounds? Yes. Even the cheesiest and most annoying monster-in-a-cave films like Caved In: Prehistoric Terror have one thing going for them – at least they’re well-paced. Centipede! takes an eternity to get going after the inevitable opening death. And I mean an eternity. There are plenty of boneheaded characters introduced at the start of the film including a borderline racist Indian guide who wears rags and takes them underground. They explore a bit. And a bit more. Then they party. Just when things are looking up and the cave-in happens thanks to a centipede attack, it takes ages for the centipedes to actually start strutting their stuff once again.

Pacing is a definite problem here and once you’ve lost the audience to boredom, it takes a hell of a lot to get them back. Centipede! doesn’t manage to even get you curious after you’ve lost your original interest. It’s just formulaic genre stuff but without a tad bit of entertainment. The attack scenes are filmed without any real urgency or violence (I don’t know whether it was cut or whether it was just filmed this way). The characters seem to casually walk from tunnel to tunnel and not really change their expressions despite their dwindling numbers. Even the centipedes look disinterested at times when they have the opportunity to finish someone off.

I must admit the centipedes do look pretty cool even if they can’t move anyway except up and down. They are models but they’ve been made to look gigantic compared to the cast, with plenty of razor-sharp teeth and a definite slimy structure to their bodies. They’re still as fragile as the small versions and they’ve got an uncanny habit of popping out from the smallest of holes. In fact in one scene, a centipede swims and grabs someone from under the water.

Speaking of which, this cave system is one of the most convenient places for these bugs to run around. I mean there are plenty of pools, underground tunnels, big caverns and lots and lots of light to illuminate the place up so they can see their victims. At least The Descent won top marks for scrimping on the light – after all, this is supposed to be set under the ground so where is all of the light coming from? I guess it’s the same mysterious place that the cast came from. I lost track of who was who, except for Margaret Cash who looked a little like Lara Croft in her tight top and climbing equipment. The Indian police characters look to have been hired from the local village, such is their terrible acting.

 

I was a fool to think a film about a killer centipede was ever going to be anything but a total suck-fest. Centipede! proves the age old argument right that you can judge a book by it’s cover…in this case a really, really bad monster flick.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

The Worms Have Turned

When Graboids pop up in Mexico and begin terrorising an oil field and its workers, the company enlists the help of Earl Bassett, who had helped to destroy the creatures in a similar outbreak in Perfection, Nevada. Bassett and his new partner, Grady Hooper, head down to Mexico to hunt down the Graboids but when things don’t go according to plan, they call for back-up in the form of survivalist Burt Gummer.

 

Tremors holds a special place in many people’s hearts. There are not too many genre lovers who’d have a bad word to say about it. A throwback to the 50s monster movies with a very 90s vibe, the film is now regarded as one of the best of the 90s monster movies. It didn’t do very well at the box office but became a smash hit on home video so a sequel was inevitable. Placing the obvious “why bother do a sequel?” spiel to one side, Tremors 2: Aftershocks was never going to live up to the original. When any sequel receives a direct-to-video release and has its budget slashed by over half of what it’s predecessor did, you’re never going to get anywhere close, are you? Surely with all of the love that the original received on video, a cinematic release and a bigger budget would have been money well spent by the studio with a legion of fans behind them?

Tremors 2: Aftershocks is about as good a sequel as you should really expect. There’s a lot of repetition from the first film with similar scenes of characters in peril, dialogue which plays on previous events and characters we all know well enough now. In fact it’s good to see the return of two characters (Earl Bassett and Burt Gummer) from the previous film to add a bit of continuity to the series. But the tone of Tremors 2: Aftershocks is different, with more focus on the comedy side of things this time around. Tremors was hardly scary though it did contain its fair share of unsettling and jumpy moments (Old Fred’s disembodied head under the hat still gets me every time). There’s none of that here as the whole thing is played more for laughs than anything else.

The most blatant problem, at least for the first third, is that we know what the Graboids look like and what they are capable of doing. There are no surprises here and no real suspense as Earl is able to deal with them easily. It kind of insults the original a little during this time as the monsters are blown up left, right and centre. What were once almost-impossible to kill are now little more than fish in a barrel. You never get the feeling that anyone is under any sort of peril whatsoever. I guess this would make the whole film pointless if the characters were just blowing these creatures up for a hundred minutes but thankfully the script throws in a nice twist along the way in which the creatures have begun to evolve into something else.

So what you get is essentially the same film only with a new breed of monsters which need defeating. This allows the film to give people what they expect from watching a monster film but also avoids becoming a simple rehash by offering a fresh take on proceedings. It’s a pity that the new monsters don’t have half the menace that the Graboids did when they first appeared. The Shriekers don’t look very convincing in their CGI form and being able to walk around, they take away some of the original’s dread about being sucked into the ground by something unseen. However there’s plenty of latex Shriekers as well and these look decent enough, with the orange goo that the make-up effects team were so fond of being found in abundance.

The obvious flaw in the film is that there’s no Kevin Bacon. Fred Ward is still great on his own but he’s got no one to spark with. Part of the fun of the original was the chemistry the two men had and the humour they shared with each other. Newcomer Christopher Gartin as Grady Hooper is just so annoying and unfunny and there’s zero chemistry between him and Ward. It’s clear that his inclusion is meant to be as a replacement for Bacon but the character is written poorly and never even looks like stepping into those cowboy boots.

Proceedings are livened up with the addition of Michael Gross as Burt Gummer. Someone obviously saw the comedic value of the character from the original, where he was played over-the-top but reasonably seriously, and have expanded his role tenfold here. Gross gets plenty of great moments to shine and would become the focal point of the series over the next couple of sequels. Having Ward and Gross co-starring right from the beginning would have worked a lot better as they are better suited to firing sarcastic quips at each other plus they have the advantage of already had a full film of screen time to be fleshed out and familiar to audiences. By the time we get to know Grady Hooper, the film has already turned from building up the events to starting the ball rolling with the pay off.

 

I supposed it’s hard to make a sequel to a monster film because people are going to expect the same but also for it to be different – it’s a Catch 22 situation and Tremors 2: Aftershocks plays it about right. There’s a decent mix of rehashed material and new twists plus Ward and Gross are up for a good time – it’s just a shame that Kevin Bacon had made it big by this point and didn’t return.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆