Tag Supernatural

Bunker, The (2001)

The Bunker (2001)

The evil is within

In 1944, seven German soldiers survive an American attack in the front and retreat to an isolated bunker manned by an aging veteran and a young recruit. Under siege by the enemy and with little ammunition, they decide to explore the sealed underground tunnels to seek supplies and find an escape route. However, the tunnels were sealed for a reason and once opened, strange things begin to happen to the group. Have the Americans infiltrated the tunnels from the other side of the hill or is there something more sinister at work?

 

There is something attractive to filmmakers in linking Nazis and horror. The idea that Hitler and many of his top ranking officials had an interest in the occult (which is quite well documented), as well as the Nazi’s numerous shady top secret projects from their ‘science’ divisions to develop new superweapons to win the war, is the stuff that the media has played upon for decades now. From comics to computer games, the Nazis and horror imagery have become inseparable. This is no more evident than in the horror genre, where filmmakers since the 70s have been turning to the Germans to add a little extra hate factor to their big screen efforts. However, it’s only over recent years where the fad seems to have gone into overdrive as smattering of input with the likes of Shock Waves and Zombie Lake in the late 70s and early 80s only teased the flood that was to come.

Michael Mann’s ill-fated The Keep in 1983 proved to be more of an arthouse horror dream than a straight-up frightener but that hasn’t stopped director Rob Green from trying a similar set-up in The Bunker, involving a bunch of German soldiers facing a supernatural threat inside some ominous structure. However, the film falls into almost the exact same pitfalls as The Keep did many years ago. Despite the obviously small budget, the production design team work wonders with the atmospheric and claustrophobic setting. The bunker itself is dingy, dimly-lit, full of lifeless grey and black and the cinematography down in the tunnels is superb. You get the feeling that you are deep underground and you never quite know what is lurking a little further along or around the corner.

This is where The Bunker’s problems began to appear. We never really quite know or understand just what is/was in those tunnels. The antagonist is never identified and the sketchy nature of the threat that the soldiers face is rather lazy writing. Is it something supernatural that they have awakened? Are they actually dead and this is just some version of Hell? Is it ghosts? Zombies? Have one of their number gone insane? Hints are given throughout that there is some bigger story arc going on here about some indiscretion that the soldiers have committed but it’s largely irrelevant to the supernatural stuff in the bunker itself. The set-up from the early part of the film just peters away as the script doesn’t really know a sensible way out of the solution. Instead, the film just opts for a load of wishy-washy sequences where the camera’s main friends are flashing lights, the smoke machine, loud noises and skeleton props. The creeping dread that The Bunker does so well to manifest at the start deserved to have a stronger conclusion than this cheap effects malarkey and generic man versus man showdown.

It’s frustrating because the film really kicks on with the psychological tension during the first half of the film, as these battle-weary soldiers begin to turn on each other for what has happened outside and what their plans are going forward. The decent cast of British character actors does well with the sketchy material they’ve been given. Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport, Eddie Marsan and Charley Boorman are all decent in their roles. Marsan, in particular, is rather enjoyable to watch as the nervous Kreuzmann who appears to have a mental breakdown – his simpleton expressions really convey a sense of loss, both with his friends dying but also of the fact he’s died a little bit inside his head too. I’ve seen a lot of comments moaning about the use of British actors to play Germans but I don’t care to be honesty – despite the varying accents on show from all across the British Isles, you still buy these soldiers as Germans. Just suspend a bit of belief for a bit!

 

In many respects, The Bunker plays out like a haunted house attraction at a theme park – lots of flashy visuals and sense of anything could happen at any time. But then at the end, it’s all for show and you realise that there was no real substance to your fear. As it stands, The Bunker isn’t totally without merit but the clearly-rushed screenplay just cries out to have had more time to polish the edges, give the story some real meat and work out just what the Germans were meant to be fighting.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Vineyard, The (1989)

The Vineyard (1989)

An island of death fueled by the blood of its victims.

Dr Elson Po is a master winemaker whose bottles sell for thousands of dollars the world over but he hides a deadly secret. In order to stay young, Po uses human blood to make the wine. So when a group of aspiring actors and actresses head to his island home to audition for his new wine-making film, Po sees an opportunity to replenish his stocks.

 

Only in the 80s! That’s all I can about the insane The Vineyard, a bizarre ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ cheese fest which should have ticked a lot of cult classic boxes but ends up being a bit of a yawner. Part Motel Hell, part Hostel and part Big Trouble in Little China is the best way I can sum up The Vineyard to anyone who has never heard of it. It’s a cornucopia of ideas, none of which have any real ability to gel.

Right off the bat, you get the sense that The Vineyard has lots of promise up its sleeve. It’s got a sleazy porn vibe, with a soft focus appearance and a screenplay fuelled by nubile young women, wine and low budget production values. But despite the promises of a gratuitous exploitation romp, The Vineyard fails to live up to its appearance. Barely a drop of blood is spilled on the screen, with a castration happening off-screen, various zombie moments in the finale escaping from the sight of the camera and a decapitation not really living up to its premise. The Vineyard is definitely a film that looks and sounds a lot worse than it ends up, which is a bit of a shame!

Violence is quite timid and despite Po having a basement full of chained-up beauties that he needs to drain blood from, the resulting scenes are sadly watered-down. Even the fact that they’re chained-up beauties is rarely explored – Po appears a bit of a lecherous old man but there’s a big void in the T&A column. This is a crime, especially given that Karen Witter, a former Playboy Playmate, stars as the actress who Po wants to turn into his new bride. She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen but I’d get more bang for my buck by buying the old edition of the magazine instead of watching this. She’s not a great actress but I’m guessing her pay cheque called for her to stand there and look sizzling and that’s what she does.

James Hong is a character actor with a huge array of films under his belt though to visitors on this site he’s most likely going to be remembered as David Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. Hong stars, writes and directs here and it’s clear that the guy had too much to juggle at once. The story is simplistic enough to work but the screenplay is all over the place, throwing in everything from women puking out spiders in bathroom sinks, to Chinese black magic, an ancient hag living in his attic, burly bodyguards who’d be better off in a Hostel film, a kung-fu fight out of Hong Kong cinema, and a zombie army lifted straight out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. You never quite know where the film is going to head next. Just expect plenty of 80s light-show special effects.

Acting-wise, Hong channels plenty of his ‘kooky wizened Asian guy’ persona from Big Trouble in Little China in this one. As Dr Elson Po, he brings the same qualities to the table, being able to emote pretty well underneath layers of old man prosthetics with plenty of shrill screams and high-pitch ramblings. He goes over-the-top from the first scene but it works because everything around him is flat and lifeless. If I was sceptical, I’d say Hong had purposely made the film this way to give himself a platform with which to showcase his considerable ability.

The script never makes it clear why Po needs blood to remain immortal nor quite how the amulet works – basically everything he does in the film! Sometime it’s just best to go with the flow and take it for granted that things happen the way they do. With randomly overlong kung-fu fights between two minor characters, impromptu dance sequences with Hong and co. at a bizarre masquerade ball, characters appearing and disappearing for large swathes of the film……there’s just much going on that I wonder whether the film took a detour in the post-production process and was hacked to bits for whatever reason. The Vineyard would never have made a great film if it wasn’t so haphazard but at least it would have been a bit more watchable.

 

The Vineyard is an unhealthy dose of campy 80s low budget horror cheese which just has too much wrong with it to enjoy. The film goes off in dozens of directions at once and most lead to pointless time-filling detours. Don’t take it seriously and you might enjoy the randomness of it but that’s the only fun you’ll have.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999)

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return (1999)

The latest and most horrorfying chapter…

Hannah travels back to her hometown of Gatlin in order to trace her biological mother. Unbeknownst to Hannah, she is the key figure in the fulfilment of a prophecy foretold by Isaac, the cult leader of the corn-god worshipping children who slaughtered their parents many years earlier. Her arrival awakens Isaac from a fifteen year-long coma and he sets about putting his plan in motion to bring about ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows.’

 

It’s hard to believe that they churned out as many sequels to such a mediocre horror film as Children of the Corn. I can understand the likes of Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers getting constant sequels in their respective franchises because they’re pop culture icons now, not just horror characters. But Children of the Corn? There was hardly enough mileage for one film, let alone an entire franchise.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return plays out exactly like a tired sixth instalment of a franchise would. Short on fresh ideas and bogged down by previously poor sequels, the film wisely opts to act as a direct follow-up to the original, pretending that the other films never happened. It’s a smart move as it allows some breathing room in the story but then again, the story was never short of breath to begin with. In trying to replicate the original by bringing back its main villain, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return just shows how tedious the formula has become – or rather how tedious it was to begin with. The problem with these sequels is that they all blur into one because they’re so unmemorable.

At least the series finally shows a bit of continuity here with the return of Isaac, once again played by actor John Franklin who doesn’t look to have aged one bit since his original appearance. But then again, I thought that character was killed off, not simply drifted into a coma where he was forgotten about while the rest of the sequels took place. Isaac’s return is the big lure for this sequel as he was a creepy and nasty piece of work before and could have worked well as the antagonist once again. Franklin co-wrote the script and it’s blatantly obvious that he’s trying to carve himself a niche here by transforming Isaac into a horror icon that can become the focal point of the series. You’d think that Franklin would do himself some favours with the script but all he ends up doing is giving Isaac a load of nonsensical Biblical dialogue which will irritate everyone to no end. He’s no Freddy Krueger when it comes to the gift of the gab.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return has its best moments early on as the script tries to tie the film in with the events of the first one. Isaac starts off strongly as the focal point but as the film goes on, it becomes less about him and more about the new group of children that are worshipping He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Isaac’s return then becomes a side-issue as the film leads into a stupendous final third in which logic goes out of the window, plot holes increase in size ten-fold and common sense is ignored. Characters see dead animals everywhere which are revealed to be warning signs. Events occur which are then revealed to be dream sequences. This rug-pulling is only effective once or twice in a film before the audience gets annoyed at the cheap tactics being employed by the writers and Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return outstays its welcome long before it should.

Thankfully, at eighty-two minutes, the film doesn’t spend too long writhing around in its own agony. The same can’t be said for the respectable names who appear in the cast. Some well-known actors like Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen appear in supporting roles but they look embarrassed to be here and I don’t blame them. Keach hams it up to no end as a crazy resident and Allen looks to have walked in off another set. The only shining light is newcomer Natalie Ramsey who plays the lead role. She does a good job in investing her character with a little spirit and pluckiness (plus it helps that she looks mighty fine doing it too). But she gets lost in the mix, a victim of some daft script decisions which have her flitting between being a clever know-it-all who will never fall victim to these kids, and a Penelope Pitstop-style dim heroine who seems to stumble into every problematic scenario possible.

 

Having been in a coma on life support for the years since the original, you’d have thought Isaac would want to come back with a bang and relish his new lease of life. Instead, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return brings him back with a whimper and realisation that his plug should have been pulled years earlier, along with the franchise.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Final Destination, The (2009)

final-destination-3D-posterDuring a visit to the racetrack with his friends, Nick has a premonition that one of the cars would crash, leading to a chain reaction of events in which most of the people watching would be killed. Convincing his friends and a few bystanders to leave, they get out just in time to watch the horrific premonition come to life. Shortly after, two of the other survivors are killed in tragic accidents. Nick and his friends realise that they may have cheated death once but it has come calling for them again.

 

If ever a franchise was going to jump on board the 3D bandwagon then the Final Destination series, with all manner of ridiculously contrived ‘accident’ set pieces, would be the one to showcase its multi-dimensional wares in the fad of the moment. Virtually a franchise built up around the ‘slasher’ formula. the Final Destination films simply follow the same structure but replace a masked killer with that of the Grim Reaper. Gratuitous set pieces with machetes and chainsaws are substituted for meticulously-planned  mishaps in which unlucky teenage characters find themselves being buffeted around as if they were a participant in the old board game Mouse Trap (not sure whether it as out in the US or what it was called over there but Google it if you don’t know!).

Whilst the original seemed highly original, fresh and exciting (second and third viewings less so), the film still managed to eek out a small niche which has then been milked for every penny possible leading to a variety of sequels with diminishing returns in the novelty stakes. What were once unpredictable chains of events have been so elaborate that the set-ups are now so obvious. The third sequel to the 2000 hit, The Final Destination (I’m not overly sure why they ditched the sequel numbering) is a rush job from beginning to end and you can tell that whatever flimsy story it develops has been built up around the set pieces. There’s no room for character development here. The film just doesn’t stop to take a breath in between the contrived action.

Things get off to a poor start with some dodgy CGI in the opening scene at the race track and go from bad to worse with a barrage of overblown gore effects. What is going on? Who are these people? Why should we care for a redneck who says about ten words in the entire film? The script is atrocious and coupled with some awful delivery,  the dialogue comes off sounding dull and is in existence purely because you can’t just sit and watch set pieces in silence. The token ‘rule explaining’ scenes are done quickly and the characters assume too much and add everything up too easily. Mykelti Williamson seems to have been cast solely in the role of Tony Todd’s replacement – one black actor with a deep voice replacing another one – to be the person who provides the necessary ‘You can’t escape Death’ monologues. But the scenes are skirted over quickly, such is the desire to keep the non-stop flow of the film going. You know at some point Hollywood is going to have to put the brakes on films and get them to slow back down and build themselves up like they used to. None of this rapid fire, all guns blazing nonsense – it’s just all spectacle and no substance.

Even the death scenes, once an ingenious concoction of bad luck, sod’s law and ill-fated timing, are now so lazy and run-of-the-mill that it’s hard to see where the series can go after this. Some of the set pieces in the previous entries took their time to build the suspense, foreshadowing the horror of what was to come and throwing in some red herrings as well before pulling the rug out from under you with a sucker punch. Here, there’s little attempt to draw out the chain reaction of mishaps beforehand and everything goes through the motions as quick as possible. It would have made more sense for a guy in a mask to come and wipe out the teenagers, such is the speed at which they’re all killed off.

Another huge problem that this film suffers from is the over-reliance on some really poor CGI effects. The set pieces designers have cut corners by using CGI as a way to avoid being creative with the practical effects. By being able to show more carnage on-screen as opposed to more convincing set-ups, they lose any sort of realism, ending up as a barrage of cartoon violence with which the audience will never once believe are real. The fact that they’re all telegraphed a mile away serves up little suspense and it’s more a case of “get on with it” when some of them drag on for too long. But hey, when this is just evident of the series itself – dragging on for too long.

 

As with traditional ‘slasher’ sequels, The Final Destination sees a higher body count, more elaborate kills and more blood. But the heart of the series has been sucked out, stripping the film of the character and soul that at least made the first two watchable entries. What we wind up with here is a loosely-connected series of 3-D set pieces which no doubt titillated the target under-17 demographics but offended even the least-demanding horror fans who want more substance to their slaughter. The series is scraping the barrel here and it’s time for Death to catch up and do us all a favour.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hollow, The (2004)

The Hollow (2004)

Some Legends Never Die.

Ian Cranston is unaware that he is the last blood relative of Ichabod Crane, the legendary figure who stopped the Headless Horseman’s reign of terror in Sleepy Hollow. His arrival in the famous town stirs up the spirit of the Horseman who wants to settle an old score.

 

Taking one of the most famous ghost stories of all time and turning it into some made-for-TV teen terror flick isn’t what the doctor ordered and The Hollow doesn’t do any justice to Washington Irving’s classic story whatsoever. Those of you who imagine the story of Ichabod Crane and The Headless Horseman to resemble something vaguely like Tim Burton’s gothic Sleepy Hollow (even if it does take many liberties with the material) should well avoid this attempt to transport the story into a contemporary setting.

The Hollow is tame. I didn’t expect too much with it being made-for-TV and I didn’t get anything in return. Light on horror, light on gore, light on sexuality and light on anything that could be construed as remotely offensive, the film looks and runs like a pre-school Halloween special at times. I guess I should be writing the review from the point of view of its intended audience and in that respect, the film does alright. A ‘My First Horror Film’ approach is evident here with some mild scares, gentle titillation and a few young recognisable faces that the younger audience would be able to associate with – Nick Carter of Backstreet Boys fame for instance. For the older viewer, this is all just too glossy and light-hearted, throwing in a couple of faces that we’d immediately recognise. Stacy Keach does the ‘Crazy Ralph’ character who warns everyone about the impending danger and Judge Reinhold, no doubt grateful that he’s not starring in another Beethoven sequel, is here as well.

Even if the film was geared towards a younger market, at least it could have been somewhat exciting with plenty of action. The Headless Horseman doesn’t really make an appearance until a good half-way through the story so what we’re left with in the meantime is plenty of overly melodramatic TV drama fodder. There’s the ‘nerdy guy taking the hot cheerleader and making the jock jealous’ nugget as well as the ‘tumultuous father and son relationship where father knows best’ side story as well. The plot about the lad being a descendant of Ichabod Crane was perfectly acceptable to bring the story into the present and could have carried the film on its own. But instead it gets padded out with generic dramatic foil.

When the Horseman finally shows up late in the day to start killing (a body count of five is pretty slim pickings), the film does pick up a bit of steam but it’s not really a lot to save it. Most of the film takes place at night too and the transfer to DVD wasn’t particularly convincing so it’s quite hard to see who is chasing who at times during the latter stages. There’s little gore to be had here though depending on which version you catch will depend on the amount of gore (the DVD is apparently ‘unrated’ though there’s not much extra on show). I’ve also got to question the notion of a Headless Horseman when this ghostly figure spends the film wearing a huge pumpkin for a head. It kind of defeats the notion of him being headless. Bring back Christopher Walken as the Horseman and all may be forgiven.

 

The Hollow is a formulaic ‘safe’ teen movie with a dash of adult horror added as an afterthought at the end. It’s a total waste of time for anyone except teenagers and even then they should be sneaking into the cinema to get a glimpse of R-rated films or borrowing dodgy copies off their mates.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Mary Lou is back … God help the students of Hamilton High.

A prom queen is accidentally killed by a jealous ex and she vows revenge on him from beyond the grave. Years later, he is now a principal at a high school. The spirit of the deceased prom queen possesses a girl from his school and begins to extract her bloody revenge.

 

In the horror genre, it seems that almost any film can get a sequel if a studio thinks that another few million can be made off the name. The original Prom Night was a modest hit, hardly the pinnacle of the 80s slashers and more famous for being one of Jamie Lee Curtis’ post-Halloween horror films. But it wasn’t sequel-worthy. With no connection whatsoever to the first film, Prom Night II is a cynical attempt to create some sort of franchise around the name. This wasn’t even penned as a sequel but someone decided to add the Prom Night moniker to it in the hope that audiences would flock to watch it, assuming that it was a direct sequel like so many of the bigger slasher films were receiving at the time. This annoys me to no end. The later Hellraiser sequels started off as standalone films but were given token appearances by the Cenobies so that they could be labelled as ‘sequels’ yet they bare no resemblance to the original idea that Clive Barker envisioned. The original Prom Night is hardly in the same league as Hellraiser but the painfulness of name-only sequels just shows me how much contempt studios have for fans and how gullible they think we are.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, to give it its proper title, is a startling change in direction for the series, almost on the same level as the absence of Michael Myers from Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The serious slash of the original has been replaced by a sub-standard ‘revenge from beyond the grave’ theme which plays out like a cheap jack female version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. This I did not care for in the slightest. The writers have created Mary Lou as some sort of Freddy Krueger-esque one-liner spouting villain with nasty burns and who dispatches people with various creative means. The script is peppered with genre references to the likes of Carpenter, Romero and company too. Is there any real need? We know who they are. There’s no need for the writers to remind us. But when the film borrows so heavily from Craven’s classic, as well as Carrie and The Exorcist, I guess its as much about paying lip service than anything else.

By the time 1987 rolled around, the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels were too far gone in their reliance on daft special effects set pieces and junky pop culture references so it is not surprising to see how similar this film is to the same sort of hokey formula. The dream-like death sequences in this one are exactly the sort of contrived methods of dispatch that Freddy wouldn’t have given a second glance at with rocking horses coming to life and such like. In the best scene of the film, a girl hiding from Mary Lou is crushed to death between two lockers, resulting in a nice ‘squish’ moment. But the rest of the splatter isn’t much to right home about and is more on the 80s-style goofy side than the gory side. Though the dreams have a surrealist quality to them, they border too much on the camp. The film is never outright daft, playing up more like a typical 80s screwball comedy where anything goes and dated technology and references are a go.

The acting is hit-and-miss across the board with the exception of Michael Ironside, somehow cropping up as the principal of Hamilton High but looking bored in the process. Wendy Lyon seems to do most of her acting with her body and spends a lot of the film completely naked, not that I’m complaining as she has a body to die for (and many of the characters do!). Her transformation from a plain, shy heroine into the bitchy possessed Mary Lou is well done. But like everything in the film, the cornball approach to the material doesn’t take anything too seriously.

 

There’s a lot of love out there for this sequel and I’m not really sure why. Yes, the film is full of goofy 80s horror charm but I’d rather stick to Mr Krueger and his put-downs than see some female wannabe try and take his dream master crown. You might enjoy Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II if you want something a little different to the original.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Fear, The (1995)

The Fear (1995)

He’s whatever scares you the most

A group of university friends go to a remote cabin for therapy where each person is supposed to ‘talk’ to Morty, a wooden mannequin in order to overcome their fears. Shortly after the group has divulged their fears, someone starts killing off people one-by-one and Morty starts to appear in unusual places.

 

With a strong premise and iconic villain just waiting in the wings to be given his own horror franchise, The Fear had it all to lose and just about makes sure it loses every single drop. How many horror films can you count that feature a wooden mannequin as a monster? Off the top of my head there’s only one of the segments of Creepshow 2 which featured a Native Indian wooden mannequin coming to life that I can recall. Only that segment was short and sweet – The Fear is relentlessly drawn out.

The premise about each person having to confront their fears was a good starting point. It’s something a little different than the norm (actually thinking about it, I’ve seen this plot device used way too often) and had the potential to deliver something intriguing. More of a psychological thriller for the first half, the film does a reasonable job of introducing the characters and setting the tone. However the group quickly get to the cabin and talk about their fears, rushing through the promising possibilities and getting to the killing as soon as it is feasible. The film then drifts into pseudo-slasher territory, and a half-assed one at that.

The script is all over the shop during the second half, with all manner of confusing occurrences and sequences. Flashbacks, childhood selves coming to warn people, tree spirits appearing and even Morty being given life are never explained. They’re thrown into the mix because they sounded good (or someone took a chainsaw to the script before filming began). Not a lot makes sense.

The film really needed an injection of pace to liven things up as it is hellish sluggish for the most. Death scenes usually do the trick in horror films. As clichéd as they are, some well-planted impactful death scenes can make all the difference to a film’s pace, acting as a jolt or jump-start to a flagging script. However most of the deaths take place off-screen, presumably to keep the “is it Morty or isn’t it Morty?” mystery going. It’s not a gore-type flick so there’s no blood and that other staple of low budget horror films, the nudity, is in short supply. I’m not saying that every film needs to resort to such lengths to entertain but when there’s little else on show, why not pander to the target demographic a little?

Morty looks the part though. The freaky wooden mannequin is just horror cool personified. The actor did a good job of portraying the fact that he is a wooden dummy and so he doesn’t move like a normal person. We get stilted, almost comical, walking and creaky movement but it’s quite realistic and believable. He doesn’t say anything here either so his creepiness is enhanced. It’s a shame they gave him lame one-liners in the sequel and turned him into a farce!

Rather strangely, Wes Craven stars but you won’t find his name anywhere in the crew credits. He makes a cameo and I guess that’s about the highlight of the casting. The characters portrayed are the usual array of stereotypes from the nerds to the bitches to the comic reliefs and the token black guy (who gets killed first – obviously). This bunch is wholly unlikeable and badly written.

 

Overly talky and delivering little after a decent premise except confusion and boredom, The Fear is rather a waste of time and effort. It’s frustrating because all of the tools were there to make a tense psychological horror film, they’re just wasted. At least Morty would return for a sequel……well the least said about that the better.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Stay Alive (2006)

Stay Alive (2006)

It’s the game of life and death…

After the death of one of their friends, a group of teenagers find themselves in possession of a video game called Stay Alive – based on a true story of a 17th century noblewoman known as the Blood Countess. After playing the game themselves, the friends realize that once they die in the game, they die for real. As their numbers begin dropping and as they begin dying in the ways they died in the game, the remaining friends realise that they must defeat the Blood Countess both in the game and outside of it.

 

Taking a mildly different spin on the Ring-style plot, Stay Alive had a slight amount of potential given the relevance and sheer importance of the video game industry nowadays. No longer is it a video that kills you after you’ve watched it, it’s a game that kills you after you’ve played it. Hardly the most nerve-shredding idea to come out of Hollywood but when you think of some of the kick ass horror-related games that have been made in the last decade like Dead Space (of which some are infinitely scarier than any teen-orientated horror), then you would have thought that this wouldn’t be too hard to pull off. Well I was wrong and Stay Alive plays more like the old E.T. on the Atari than Silent Hill or Resident Evil ever did on the PS2.

As I’ve already hinted, the premise itself is pretty good. But once you see the rubbish ‘game’ that they’re playing, you’ll wonder what the hell ever possessed them to play it in the first place. The graphics are awful, the controls look sluggish and there’s not a lot to do except repeat the same bits over and over again (the characters only ever play the same one or two bits of the game). It doesn’t look scary in the slightest but credit due because at least they bothered to make a game to play especially for the film and show us footage from it. They could easily have passed off another real game as Stay Alive.

Furthering the problems from the get go are the central characters that are a bunch of whiny teenagers best labelled as well as they could be: token jerk, goth chick, nerdy computer expert, etc. They’re all pretty terrible, hired obviously for their looks over their talent and spouting off cheesy, supposedly ‘hip’ lines every second. The relationships between them are also the genre standards – some closer than others, one or two who constantly nag each other (but love each other really) and ones with hidden secrets. It’s all designed to keep the drama going between them but you won’t care in the slightest.

Despite the problems above, the film does manage to get off on the right foot with a couple of kills and a rather unsettling atmosphere (using the controller vibration as a sound effect to indicate the presence of the Blood Countess in the real world was a neat and effective little trick). However the film can’t sustain its pace and it soon falls flat on its face after the first ten to fifteen minutes. The plot then meanders from place to place, content with throwing us morsels of back story every now and then but never really taking the time to slow down and explain things properly. Things like who the hell made the game in the first place?

The whole middle section of the film where the characters unravel the mystery bit-by-bit and begin researching the Blood Countess is just boring. Stay Alive? You’ll have a job to stay awake at this point. Even the finale, where things pick up, is a mess of silly ideas and genre conventions about who is going to live and die. There is a distinct lack of the red stuff or any hint of real brutality. Given how gory some of the video games today are and how brutal the latest wave of horror films have been, I’d have expected a little more.

 

If killer video games are your thing then why not go and buy one of the many survival horror games out there like Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Dead Space. They’re more likely to scare the pants out of you than this crap. Stay Alive had a reasonable idea to run with but wasted it with teenagers, corny dialogue and a lack of scares. This should have read Game Over a long time ago.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Last Winter, The (2006)

The Last Winter (2006)

What if mankind only had one season left on Earth?

A group of oil workers and environmentalists head up an advanced team sent in by an oil company to the Arctic to prepare for future drilling operations. They find that global warming has started to melt the ice’s permafrost and they don’t realise that with the melting ice, an ancient evil is being released into the world. An ancient evil that is ready to take its revenge against humanity for it’s destruction of the environment.

 

Slightly pretentious, overly preachy and clearly thinking it’s the bees knees of supernatural thrillers, The Last Winter has been built up as the “scariest film in years” which is the go-to tag line that every mainstream American horror film slaps across it’s poster as soon as someone mentions the phrase. However taking a few steps back and distancing oneself from the hype, this is a solid chiller which creates the perfect set-up for something good to happen but fails to make anything materialise. It’s a criminal waste. I’m not a big fan of people using horror films as tools for addressing concerns in society – I just want the pants scared off me. I don’t care for ‘hidden messages’ or moral agendas

The Last Winter is a slow burner and I just wish a little more had been made of everything when it’s all said and done. The film uses its isolated Alaskan setting to its advantage, setting the situation as bleak and hopeless and director Larry Fessenden manages to create a truly creepy atmosphere. It’s got a vibe of The Thing about it where not only do the characters have to contend with something sinister and their own degenerating mindsets but also against the snow and freezing temperatures as well. Even when crazy things aren’t happening, you still feel uncomfortable and unsettled.

Unfortunately that’s about where the comparisons end. The characters do a lot of squabbling amongst each other but there’s not really a lot of tension or atmosphere created apart from the film’s overall doom-and-gloom feel which is mainly due to the setting than anything else. Fessenden wants the human drama to come first here and he gets his way, taking time to develop them all and set them up for a fall later on. This fall never fully materialises though and, despite a shocking ‘end-of-world’ scenario ending and a rather ominous scene in which footage from a video camera is reviewed to see what happened in the snow, the film fails to deliver much in the way of true thrills. The script seems unsure of just what this ‘ancient evil’ force is meant to be and that message is plain to see. As the cast slowly start to go insane, we’re left wondering whether it is Mother Nature herself or some mythical being known as the Wendigo that is offing the cast one-by-one. The poorly rendered CGI finale with a stampede of Wendigo is disappointingly underwhelming. Larry Fessenden must have some Wendigo fetish as he also directed the bizarre Wendigo. Maybe he should ditch the fetish and try something else as there are other things out there he can use.

The idea of nature retaliating against humanity for crimes against it has always been popular – you’ve only got to look back to the 50s to see a slew of films featuring monsters brought to life by nuclear testing or even recently with genetically-enhanced creatures of destruction ready to punish man for tinkering with their genetic make-up. Having global warming become a new reason for nature to strike back could catch on.

As I’ve already touched upon, the cinematography is awesome because of its uncanny ability to instil dread into anyone. The film makes sure you realise that these characters are isolated with some awe-inspiring shots of the wintry landscape (Iceland doubling beautifully for the Artic). There’s little in the way of music and instead the natural sounds of the wind blowing across the icy wilderness are enough to make you shiver in the house. The sheer vastness of the white landscape is enough to make anyone worry about just what may be lurking underneath that has been frozen for years.

One man who hasn’t been frozen for years is Ron Perlman. He’s a very busy actor, sandwiching his big screen roles with plenty of low budget stuff to keep the bills ticking over. He’s the only major name in the cast but he’s one of those actors that don’t just swallow up the screen time by his self and he manages to lift those around him too. Granted he is the best actor on display by far but you never really think of him as the only person in there to have done something worthwhile. He blends in with the cast to become a ‘normal guy’ and makes you forget that he was Hellboy. There are a few good exchanges between him and James LeGros as opposite sides of the global warming spectrum butt heads.

 

Snow-bound horror films always get the nod where I am concerned but if you go into The Last Winter expecting to be blown away with gore and carnage, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Slow, steady and creepy, this is one of those films that you’ll wish it was better than it actually is.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellgate (1990)

Hellgate (1990)

Beyond the darkness terror lives forever.

A deserted mining town has become a shrine to the daughter of its only resident, Lucas. His daughter, Jessie, was brutally murdered years earlier and he became obsessed with her. Finding a powerful crystal which has the ability to bring the dead back to life, Lucas resurrected her and now uses her to lure people to their deaths in the town.

 

Hellgate is a film that’s so terrible that you’d really want to cry if you should waste your time watching it. It’s just so mind-numbingly shocking from start to finish and there’s not a shred of evidence on display to suggest that anyone had a clue what they were doing. Its silly 80s nonsense on the grandest scale with ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ thrown in for good measure. You can’t take it as a horror. You can’t take it as a comedy, despite my best efforts to laugh at everything stupid. It’s goofy and silly but unintentionally so and that’s a bad sign.

The plot is extremely confusing. In fact, too confusing to even try and go through as it hurts my brain just trying to work it all out. None of the characters in the film have a clue what is going on so what chance we have of piecing everything together I just don’t know. It’s as if the writers just watched a load of other films, thought that certain scenes would work well and decided to write them all into a script. As a result, there are no rules in Hellgate. So what causes instant death in one scene will then be pointless in the next. What happens to one character when they do something doesn’t happen the same way again when somebody else does it. It’s so hard to sit through because it’s bland and boring as well as confusing. Too much of it seems to be pointless as if the script was only half finished – the zombies wander around the ghost town of Hellgate doing little but make faces at the camera and there are a few characters in the film who seem geared up to do something worthwhile towards the finale but just end up being killed off before they have a chance to do anything.

The special effects look really dated and typically 80s. Expect lots of bright, multi-coloured beams of light when the crystal is used and lots of dry ice to blanket the town in fog. There’s just no atmosphere or tension at all and the effects just make the film look like some cheap 80s music video at times. The gore is tame and the body count is low. Lest we forget the mutated goldfish and killer turtle that both pop up later in the film or even the cheesy rubber bat that makes an appearance. Yes, despite going out of date back in the 1930s with Bela Lugosi and Dracula, the bat-on-a-string prop makes an appearance here.

Abigail Wolcott is the pick of the cast which is saying something as she’s a pretty terrible actress and delivers her lines like she’s reading them for the first time. But she only had to act with her chest and accomplished that quite well – the people concerned knew this and had her shed her clothes quite a lot. There’s a dude who looks like Gomez Addams, some pointless bikers and a 40 year old guy playing a college hero. Casting isn’t one of the film’s strengths. In fact there aren’t many strengths to be found at all here. There aren’t too many times when I really regret watching a film. Some films are at least watchable in a “so bad it’s good” way but Hellgate isn’t. It’s almost unwatchable and thankfully has been almost been forgotten about. It’s no surprise to see that most of the cast and crew haven’t had anything called a career both before and after this. If this were my only entry onto a film CV, I’d forget I ever wanted to be in the business and take up welding instead.

 

Hellgate isn’t just bad, it’s on the same ‘utterly terrible’ plane of existence as the likes of Troll and Raging Sharks. It’s not a film you can even watch if you’re curious about how awful it is. Just forget it ever existed.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆