Tag Subterranean Terrors

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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

A Revolution Has Begun…

It’s 1889 and the town of Rejection has a problem – workers are being killed off in it’s silver mine. So the miners decide to stop working and abandon the town, leaving it with no source of income. With no hope in sight, the owner of the mine, Hiram Gummer, travels down to Rejection to put a stop to what he thinks is someone messing around and trying to force him out of the mine. But unfortunately the problem is a lot worse – underground monsters have been devouring the miners and they’re still hungry.

 

Do they not know when to kill off a series on a high? Not content with sucking what little shred of dignity the original had with two pretty poor sequels, series creators S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock go back in time to string out what is yet another pretty dismal sequel to 90s monster masterpiece, Tremors. Instead of making another sequel with the same routine as the last two (same desert settings, new variety of monster, same old scenarios of people being trapped, etc), this one goes back to a time long before the original for a prequel where the characters don’t know how to handle the ‘graboids’ and they are introduced to the monsters for the first time.

The interesting idea to shift the film back into the Wild West at least makes Tremors 4: The Legend Begins the most original of the follow-ups. Unfortunately the rule of sequels having diminishing budgets strikes and any decent ideas that this may have had on paper turn out to become rather disappointing. We don’t see the monsters nearly as much as we should and there’s nowhere near enough overall creature attack action, especially when they’re nowhere to be seen for the first third of the film. One of the tiring things about the sequels was how easy it was to kill the original worm graboids so it was at least nice to see them being hard to kill again. And at least with the worm monsters being back as the main threat, we are spared the copious amounts of poor CGI monsters that dogged the other sequels. The puppets and model work is back so there’s a ‘real’ feel to proceedings. CGI is used in a few places but with the action being back in the ground instead of having monsters running around buildings, the series gains a bit of its edge back.

The graboids seem to have been shafted into the background though and Michael Gross has become the central focus of these films. I’m not knocking the guy because he has been the best thing about the sequels but he still shouldn’t be the focus of the film, the monsters should be. There areonly so many times these Tremors sequels can find funny ways to have him better himself with his use of weaponry and they scraped the barrel in the last sequel. His character Burt Gummer was only a supporting character in the original but still had some great lines and moments. Seeing how popular he was, they made him more of a main character in the first sequel and then as the main character in the third. Knowing how much he loves guns and is obsessed with not running out of ammo, they decided to strip all that made him fun and put him as his own granddad who doesn’t know how to use a gun at all. It’s quite humorous watching some of the references to lines from the other films (“I feel I was denied critical, need-to-know information”) and it is a refreshing change to see him as something other than a gun nut. Unfortunately that’s what made his character so entertaining.

Also funny is the addition of Billy Drago’s gunslinger character. The people of Rejection think they can defeat the monsters in the same way as many of the old westerns did by hiring out some renegades to take on the bad guys. Needless to say it doesn’t turn out how they would have anticipated.

 

With a lack of monsters and therefore an overall lack of action, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins seems to have turned full circle in the Tremors series and now Michael Gross is the main attraction, not the underground beasties. That’s not entirely bad since Gross’ character is still as funny as he ever was, it’s just I’d rather see the series go back to more horror-based roots like the original instead of completely tongue-in-cheek straight-to-video crap like this.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sand Serpents (2009)

Sand Serpents (2009)

Terror Lies Beneath

A small team of Marines in Afghanistan are ambushed by a Taliban attack and taken hostage. However their insurgent captors are attacked by an unseen enemy and the Marines escape. It isn’t long before they realise that they have bigger problems than the Taliban – giant worms from beneath the Earth’s surface have been unleashed and they’re hungry.

 

Yet another Sci-Fi Channel original featuring the usual array of cheaply-rendered CGI monsters, stock characters and recycled plot, Sand Serpents had the potential to offer up a little more than its schlocky brethren. I mean how many films feature giant CGI worms, reminiscent of the sand worms from Dune? We’re not dealing with your typical giant snakes here! Unfortunately the monsters may be different but the script is still the same so you’re going to get lots of talking (which means less of the monsters), the characters regurgitating military dialogue 101 and not a lot of action. But hey, it’s got giant worms in it? Good enough for me to take a look!

I’d like to state that I think setting the film in Afghanistan is a little tacky given the current situation over there, especially when the likes of the Tablian are trivialised into simply Arabic-speaking, AK-47 wielding cartoon characters. They could have picked anywhere for the soldiers to be stationed but they chose a highly sensitive subject matter to throw in some giant monsters. This isn’t The Hurt Locker we’re talking about, this is cheap sci-fi horror crap and for it to be set so close to a serious, emotional hot bed of trouble in real life just reeks a little bit of controversy for the sake of it from the makers of the film.

Anyway enough of the moaning, the actual film itself is enough of a mess without the need to whinge about that. I didn’t expect the worms to be as big as they were. I’m not sure whether it was a good thing or bad thing for them to be able to rise up into the air and take out a Black Hawk chopper. I was expecting something a little more Tremors where the worms were big but at least small enough for our characters to be able to do something about them logically. Here the soldiers seem content to fire off round after round of ammunition into the ground, which is clearly a waste of time given the worms don’t really get hurt when they are shot at directly, let alone through however many feet of earth and soil. At least the film started off rather promising with the scene of the worm taking out the chopper.

I guess the budget ran out there and the rest of the film involves the remaining soldiers driving around trying to hide from the worms and the Taliban at the same time. The action scenes don’t usually involve the worms but rather shoot outs between the soldiers and the Taliban. Again this is a major problem I have with these films and it’s that they are too content to throw us human villains to worry about. If I am watching a film about giant freakin’ worms, I want to see the giant freakin’ worms not people shooting at each other. That’s what Chuck Norris films are for.

The cast is pretty dire. I’m guessing most of them just researched up their roles by watching plenty of gung-ho straight-to-DVD action fests because the dialogue is truly awful. If the military really spoke like that in real life to each other, you would be able to condense the language down into about ten phrases. Each character has their own little quirk to distinguish them from each other but apart from that, you wouldn’t really care for names. You won’t really care for anyone in the film apart from the fact that they’re the “American goodies” and thus you have to root for them, no matter how generic, bland or pointless their characters are.

Which then brings us back to the worms, the only reason anyone sane would even consider watching this in the first place. The worms are revealed too soon. Maybe if they’d kept them hidden for a while, had some people sucked into the ground or given us a bit more mystery (they could easily have played off the ‘is it the Taliban killing the Americans or not?’ theme) then their eventual appearance would have meant something. But seeing them rise up out of the ground within the opening twenty minutes isn’t ideal – in fact it’s the only money shot of the film where the Black Hawk chopper gets taken out. The worms themselves look really good for what little time they have on screen. But all they do is swallow their victim whole by rising out of the ground and then coming crashing down on them with their teeth. I wanted people sucked into the ground like on Tremors! This same graphic is repeated time after time meaning only one shot was created and they just kept re-using it. The worms also roar too.

 

Sand Serpents may have one of the most intriguing premises for the Sci-Fi Channel’s film output but that’s as far as the positives go. It’s just a complete waste of time and it’s a joke that someone thought setting a piece of garbage like this in Afghanistan and trivialising the ‘war on terror’ with giant worms was a good idea.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Blood Beach (1980)

Blood Beach (1980)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water – you can’t get to it

People are disappearing on a beach. Some bodies are found but most just disappear without a trace. Something is lurking beneath the beach and sucking people to their death!

 

Blood Beach is the silliest of the Jaws clones yet turns out to be the one with arguably the best plot – kind of like a pre-dated Tremors – and easily the best tagline with “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…you can’t get to it.” But what has potential to be a bad ass monster flick is just washed away with the tide. Whereas Spielberg’s classic didn’t feature the shark a lot during the first half of the film, there was still a great story, excellent script and some awesome acting whenever the film became landlocked. The film felt like it was always moving forward even if the shark wasn’t around. So the idea behind Blood Beach could have worked….if it wasn’t so damn boring and dull.

Hardly anything happens during the film worth mentioning save for a few ridiculous death scenes. The film runs in a continual cycle: there is a death scene with some random extra pathetically struggling waist-deep in sand. Cue some scenes of cops talking with each other and then some scenes of the uninteresting main characters talking about their previous relationship. Then throw in another random death which springs from nowhere and features a character introduced about ten seconds before getting killed. Then repeat the cycle.

The deaths are absurd as the actors clearly have no idea of what is supposed to be happening to them before they are pulled into what is obviously some sort of trapdoor. It looks reasonable the first time but soon gets nonsensical as every attack is the same. At least Jaws varied its approach to the attack scenes so that they were all masterfully done. Here there’s just no tension or attempt to create any atmosphere or sense of dread – the attacks just happen. It would have been better if they actually showed us or told us what was supposed to be lurking under the sand. Most monster films give some glimpses or hints at what the threat is but here there is no sign of the monster for the bulk of the running time. When we finally see the monster, which looks like a giant sea shell or plant, we see it for about ten seconds at most before it gets blown up. This comes about a minute before the end of the film. It starts to emerge from the sand and you’re thinking “great, finally a payoff” – but it gets blown up and the film just ends suddenly as if the true ending had been edited or accidentally missed off. It has to be the worst ending I’ve seen in a long time and made me realise what a waste of time it had been for me to view this tripe.

As I’ve already stated, hardly anything happens so the bulk of the screen time is taken up with uninteresting plots, love stories and cops being baffled. Even veteran actors like Burt Young (forever known as Paulie from the Rocky films) and John Saxon can’t save this rubbish. The human subplots are just terrible and a complete waste of time and energy. The film has no pace whatsoever because it’s just in the constant stop-start loop that I’ve already talked about. The characters do little to uncover the monster and are more pre-occupied with their own love lives and police work. There is no real effort in building up the monster as a force to be reckoned with. It’s almost as if the monster element was an afterthought to a very rubbish drama.

 

Blood Beach should have been a whole lot better and as we saw in Tremors, about creatures that live in the ground and kill people, it’s not overly difficult to do. They managed to get people disappearing into the sand but they just forgot to show us what was actually doing the sucking. It’s a horrible, boring mess of nothingness which only gets marks because of its tag line and clear inspiration to Tremors.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆