Tag Supernatural

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 The serious slash of the original has been replaced by a sub-standard ‘revenge from beyond the grave’ theme which plays out like a cheap jack female version of A Nightmare on Elm Street.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.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Beneath Still Waters (2005)

Beneath Still Waters (2005)

Fear is rising.

In 1965 in Northern Spain, a new dam is to be built which will flood the small town of Marinbad forever. Two young boys cross over the security barriers to play in the abandoned town for one last time, inadvertently releasing a horrible evil force that was trapped there and doomed to be submerged underwater forever. Forty years later and Desbaria, the new town built to replace the old one, is celebrating the anniversary of the damn when weird things start to happen in the water. People are going missing. The dam is beginning to leak. It seems that the evil force beneath the water has resurfaced.

 

Beneath Still Waters is an absolute train wreck of a film. I honestly don’t know where to start. Some have good intentions but end up paying the price for their budgets or lack of originality. Some are just designed to fail from the start. Some, like this, just have the best of both worlds. It’s got a pretty decent budget by the looks of things and clearly has good intentions. But it looks as though they had five directors each doing their own thing before banding it all together at the end. Brian Yuzna, the director credited with this fiasco, must have been coked to the gills or stone drunk when he oversaw it.

Beneath Still Waters starts well – the opening is decent enough with the two boys playing in a semi-submerged town only to come across a bunch of people chained in a basement in a house. Then one of them stupidly sets the big scary-looking guy free and he shows him his thanks by ripping his head in two and eating him. Kudos to the filmmakers as you rarely see kids being harmed in horror films, let alone being brutalised like that. Unfortunately it’s at this point where the film just goes off in about ten different directions.

Not just content with the original story of the devil-worshipping cult being submerged underwater, we then get throat-ripping zombies appearing. We’ve got a dude who looks like The Tall Man from the Phantasm series barking orders to his minions and using magic powers. We’ve got black goo which attacks people like The Blob. We’ve got horribly deformed demonic creatures dragging people into the water. We’ve got ghosts warning about what is going to happen next. I mean how much can you cram in? It would have been good to have someone or something explain the connection to all of these occurrences. Someone thought “I’ve got a cool zombie scene to film” and they went ahead with it purely because it would cool to have it in the film.

As well as the above events happening, we also have a mayor who refuses to believe anything is happening because he doesn’t want his festival ruined (oh boy, I thought that old chestnut only came out during ‘monster on the loose’ flicks). We’ve got a spooky-looking caretaker who finds a bottle of scotch just floating around and starts drinking from it (like you do). There’s an amazingly hot chick who goes skinny dipping, only to come across her dead boyfriend and they proceed to have sex before he kills her. And there’s a massive orgy at the festival when the townspeople become possessed and start having sex with each other (and also having sex with cakes, lots of cakes). Added to all of this is the fact that the film is bloody. People get ripped apart constantly. They cut their own legs off. The make-up effects of the zombies and demons and stuff (whatever hell else wasn’t CGI) is top notch. But it’s just complete mayhem.

The cast are all pretty good actors in their own native language I am pretty sure. But apart from Michael McKell, it’s obvious that English isn’t their first language. So they talk as if they’re following one of those ‘learn to speak English in ten weeks’ tapes. I’ve seen some lame attempts at speaking English. Heck, I can cope with a few of the cast speaking like robots but when 99% of the cast talk in this manner, it’s just horrible. They unwittingly kill any emotions in their voices. They are devoid of any expressive speaking. I honestly can’t believe how annoying and ear-splitting it is to hear them reciting their lines. It pains me to hear them butcher the English language in that manner.

Their understanding of the script isn’t in question though, given how the script manages to twist, turn, reverse, fast forward and double take so many times. Maybe the script writer was the same guy who did the special effects. As I’ve already touched on, the physical make-up effects are top drawer. It’s the ropey CGI that leaves a lot to be desired. And I mean a lot. But like the rest of the film, one minute there’s something decent and the next it’s just organised chaos and sub-standard quality. I’m exhausted now and I probably haven’t even covered half of the things I wanted to.

 

Beneath Still Waters is just mayhem personified. Words can’t describe how chaotic this film really is. I don’t even know whether I should give it ten out of then or zero out of ten for it’s ‘against the rules’ behaviour. It’s totally and utterly bonkers. Madness or masterpiece? I can’t decide. You’ll have to see for yourself and decide.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Wood (2007)

Dead Wood (2007)

4 Friends. 1 Stranger. No Hope

Four friends looking to escape the madness of the city head out into the woods for a peaceful camping trip. However events take a turn for the worst when a cold and frightened girl turns up at their camp site looking for her boyfriend. From then on, the idyllic weekend turns into a nightmare as the friends are stalked by a deadly force.

 

I got just a little taste of The Blair Witch Project when I had finished watching this. Whether that’is a good thing or a bad thing obviously depends on whether you liked The Blair Witch Project or not. For me it was a bit ho-hum and the same can be said about Dead Wood. It doesn’t do an awful lot in eighty-five minutes and isn’t really engrossing enough to warrant a repeat viewing. But there are one or two signs that some of the people involved here have some talent and a bigger budget may have helped matters dramatically.

It also helps that this is a British film which means that we do our own thing and don’t go with the times simply to cash-in on current trends. Torture porn is where it’s at the moment so it’s nice to see the UK horror scene is bucking the trend and just making whatever horror films it wants instead of rehashing Hostel or Saw like so many American filmmakers are content to do.

With a reasonably short running time, you’d expect the film to kick in pretty quickly but after the inevitable opening death scene to set the stall, the film drags its heels for what seems like forever. The characters trek off through the woods and the film is padded out by plenty of wildlife shots of weasels and deer. There’s even the token ‘we’ve got no mobile phone signal’ moment which every modern horror set in the middle of nowhere has decided to include. The characters seem very unnatural as if they were told to improvise their dialogue on the spot instead of rehearsing a script. You don’t really get to feel for any of them so when they start to disappear, you don’t miss them. Not a great deal happens even when the first person goes missing. They just wander around the woods aimlessly looking for a way out. I know it’s set in the woods but did they have to be walking/running through at almost every given moment?

Even when the ‘action’ kicks in the force starts picking them off one-by-one, the film never seems to have an urgency to pick up the pace. The story doesn’t really go into much detail about what is going on so you’re almost left to think for yourselves. Looking at it, Dead Wood just doesn’t get you involved in the film at all. There are no major hooks. The story doesn’t do a lot. The characters are just bland and dull. Suddenly the short running time of eighty-five minutes turns into a gruelling marathon of endurance and whether you can last until the end before you give up.

Actually you shouldn’t give up at the half-way stage. Despite clichés like shadowy outlines jerking across the camera, rustling trees in the woods to indicate something otherworldly is coming, flashlights going out at inappropriate moments, characters falling over when being chased, characters splitting up in the middle of nowhere, etc. there are a few moments of skill and vision. The up-close-and-personal camera work does add an element of panic to the stalking and chase scenes. Lots of close-ups of scared faces in the woods fill the end half of the film which totally reeks of The Blair Witch Project. Noises in the distance. Flashlights shining into the dark abyss of the woods looking for something. There’s even a few scenes borrowed from The Evil Dead in which the survivors find an old shack in the woods and barricade themselves in from the menace outside, which charges towards them in a nauseating The Evil Dead-style POV shot. I guess that I should be crediting the cameraman on The Evil Dead then for his fine work, not the plagiarist here.

The limited amount of special effects are excellent when they are used and it’s clear that with a bigger budget, more could have been made of this. The ‘deadly force’ has a tendency to absorb it’s victims into trees which leads to all manner of awesome moments of people being slowly turned into bark. In all honesty, these effects are that good that they deserve to be in a better film.

 

Dead Wood is quite simply an inferior cross-breed between The Evil Dead and The Blair Witch Project. I’m not trying to knock the hard work that has gone into an indie film like this but borrowing elements from two massively successful films isn’t going to make a decent flick. When you read highly positive reviews from across the world before you sit down to watch and it turns out this uninspired and dreary, it’s a big let down. Thankfully I’m here to set the record straight.

 

Spookies (1986)

Spookies (1986)

The ultimate in fright and fun

A group of teenagers looking for a party get trapped inside an old mansion by an evil sorcerer who needs human sacrifices to give eternal life to his bride. Inside, they are threatened by all manner of monsters and demons.

 

With the advent of home video and the successive increase in audiences during the 80s, perhaps no other genre came off better than that of the horror genre. In a manner of speaking, almost anyone with a camera and a bit of money could go out and make and film and then release it straight-to-video. It’s something we take for granted now and something to which the big studios have taken over once they adjusted to it. But back in the day there was an explosion of B-movie genre flicks, most of which have been consigned to the scrapheap of history. For avid horror buffs, this isn’t so much a scrapheap but a minefield. For every couple of hits you take, there’s always a little gem around the corner. Spookies can’t be considered such a gem but it’s a film which does more to personify the 80s B-movie market than most other films.

One of the most bizarre, disjointed horror films I’ve ever seen, Spookies is actually quite a hoot if you just sit back and see how much the makers of the film crammed into the house as ‘surprises.’ This one will leave you scratching your head in confusion, shaking your head in disgust and then nodding your head in delight. Think of it as walking through a haunted house ride at a fairground, taking you on a journey through the weird, the wonderful, the eerie and the scary. I actually prefer to think of Spookies as eighty five minutes of pure FX wizardry as opposed to an actual film. It’s like a tour-de-force of various monsters, demons, ghosts and ghouls as the cast of characters split up to explore the mansion with little structure to their adventure.

The characters are one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. You know the type by now: joker, jock, slut, nerd, shy girl, bitch, etc. Spookies spends little time in letting us get to know them and even less time giving them worthwhile reasons to go to the mansion. As soon as they get to the mansion and split up, that’s where the fun begins. Trying to explain any form of plot would be pointless as nothing much makes sense from the opening scene right down to the ending. As I’ve said, it’s best to just sit back and take everything as it comes because as crazy as this is, you just never know what is around the next corner!

We’ve got zombies lurking in the graveyard outside, muck men who live in the basement, a spider woman, a possessed ouija board witch, statues of the Grim Reaper which come to life, imps and even more bizarre things which kill the cast one-by-one. Treading a fine line between being serious and being silly, Spookies mixes it up at every opportunity. So after one comedy scene in which the monsters are played for laughs, the next one will be deadly serious. The make-up effects for the monsters are exceptionally done. The transformation of the spider-woman is great, the Grim Reaper looks a bit comical but you won’t forget him in a hurry and the muck men, although flatulent creatures, are disgusting creations, aptly named after their revolting appearance. It’s clear where the budget for this one went. Literally anything and everything in the mansion is liable to come to life and try and harm the characters. And let me state one more time that there’s no point in trying to understand what and why – just let it happen and you’ll be better off for it.

*After writing this review, I did a little bit of research on the film and it turns out that it has a problematic history which explains many things. Spookies started life out as Twisted Souls in 1984 but for some reason it was shelved for a few years until a new director was brought in, new scenes were filmed and added to the existing footage and the result is what you see on the screen. No wonder the film is so disjointed! It’s not bad editing or a bad script when you’ve got three directors, each coming at the film from a completely different standpoint, each with different scripts, budgets, actors, etc. This explains why the film is such a continual contrast to itself and why nothing really seems to click together.

 

Spookies doesn’t hold up well as a proper feature film for obvious reasons. It seems too much of a patched together creation solely based around what make-up effects the FX team could come up with. But what FX! A tour-de-force of 80s horror at its most grandiose and most sublime, Spookies is as entertaining as it is infuriating!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Headless Horseman (2007)

Headless Horseman (2007)

The Final Cut

A bunch of teenagers on a road trip decide to take a shortcut through the backwoods only to find themselves stranded in a town in the middle of nowhere. The town is celebrating it’s Headless Horseman anniversary but it isn’t long before the teenagers realise that the townspeople need to offer up seven heads to the headless horseman every seven years – and there are seven of them stranded in town!

 

Sleepy Hollow meets 2001 Maniacs in this rather plain supernatural slasher film. Headless Horseman is another Sci-Fi Channel flick and was made to be broadcast debut on the channel so expect as much as gore as you could get away with on TV (ie. not much), no nudity, the generic slasher script and the usual array of cannon fodder teenagers that the film is aimed at. Most of the Sci-Fi Channel flicks are pretty average, bordering on dreadful with the odd exception to the rule (Abominable was a decent effort to name one) so how would Headless Horseman stand up? Given that everyone has heard of the tale of the Headless Horseman from Washington Irving thanks to his more famous story Sleepy Hollow, there’s not a lot new to really cover. There’s a supernatural dude without a head who goes around cutting other people head’s off. However with the direction in which director Anthony C. Ferrante takes the material, you could have had any number of unnamed guys in masks killing the teenagers off.

The characters are stock: the joker, bitchy girlfriend, nerd, etc. and they might as well have been tagged with the order of their deaths. You know once in a while it may be nice for a film to swerve us and actually kill off different people first and leave the jocks and black people until the end! This bunch of characters is very unappealing and it says something that the dumb girlfriend is the best of the bunch. She actually gets a lot of decent throwaway lines that play off her stupidity. But at the end of the day, when you have bad actors in bad roles, you can’t really paper over the cracks can you? It wouldn’t surprise me to hear any of the actors in this say that it was the best role they ever played – possibly because (hopefully) for most of them, this is their only role!

Even the creepy hicks in the town just live up to stereotyping with the grizzled shopkeeper, some inbred-looking brothers and various other characters with Grizzly Adams-style beards. I simply can’t believe how many times I moan on about the characters in slasher films but time and time again, writers just serve up the same annoying cut-outs. Wes Craven veered off the beaten path with his unique characters in Scream and look at the response that got. I’m just begging someone to show an ounce of creativity and change the characters around for a change. Give them some intelligence so that they make logical decisions, not just hang around to be killed.

On the positive side though, the headless horseman is given plenty of screen time. Sometimes he sports a flaming pumpkin for a head; other times he just lets bloody veins sprout out of his neck. He is pretty bad ass and you do get a sense of dread when he was around. The film is better for it because too many TV movies just relegate their main attraction to a supporting role for budget reasons. Here, the horseman is the boss of the town and he throws himself around in great abundance. There is plenty of gore too and the beheadings are all pretty slick. To say it was made for TV, the level of creativity and skill involved in them is on par with some the lower budget theatrical releases I’ve watched.

 

Overall though, Headless Horseman is a run-of-the-mill slasher film with little or no remarkable qualities about it. Even the horseman can’t save this sorry mess of clichés from the scrap heap after the opening few minutes. Definitely not one to lose your head over!

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

Children of the Corn 2: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

These children are home alone ,too. But their parents won’t be coming back.

After the children of the secluded town of Gatlin slaughtered all of their parents, an tabloid reporter and his son arrive to investigate. They find out that the neighbouring town agreed to foster the orphaned children but it’s not long before they return to their murderous ways to appease ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows.’

 

The original short story by Stephen King was hardly long enough (or good enough for that matter) to be fleshed out into a feature film which it was with Children of the Corn. To see not just one but six sequels and a remake is somewhat staggering given how average the original was. Funnily enough, it is still one of King’s most famous adaptations and what is weird is that it took eight years for a sequel to come about. I don’t know whether an employee was just ploughing through the vaults one day looking for random films to sequelize and came upon the original but cash cows are normally milked long before they’re mature in Hollywood. Whatever the reason there is no doubt that this is a sequel which should never have been made but one which has and one which continues to contribute to the bad name of sequels. The original was hardly a classic – this sequel is instantly forgettable.

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice is virtually the same film as the original with simply different leading characters and it is set in a different town. It picks up shortly after the original ends but takes liberties with the ending, opting to forget about the surviving adults and conveniently replacing some of the child actors with lesser-talented replacements (let’s face it, after eight years the children from the original would have been way too old to be reprising their roles). These new child actors share none of the villainous characteristics of some of the original children, ending up as mere drones and bringers of death. The mildly eerie and unsettling nature of the original has been replaced by a film that has more in common with an out-and-out slasher flick than anything else. Simply replace Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees with this bunch of demented kids and you have almost the same type of film. The film seems to be a thinly-plotted sequence of death set pieces much akin to a slasher. There’s way more on-screen violence and the death sequences are way more elaborate than they should be given that we’re dealing with killer children. In a couple of highlights, an old lady has her electric wheelchair controlled by the children who direct her into the path of a truck. There’s also a bizarre Wizard of Oz moment as another old lady (jeez these kids have it in for the pensioners in this one) is killed when her house crushes her like the Wicked Witch of the East.

The trouble is that because it’s a direct sequel, there’s already a story to follow and this picks up directly after the original. So it’s a tad idiotic to see the children all standing around dressed in Amish get-up with blank expressions on their faces when the authorities arrive in the town of Gatlin to kick off the film. At no point does anyone even consider that the children had anything to do with the killings and instead of investigating the matter further, the children are simply shipped into new homes within days of the massacre. I’m not a police officer but if I had no major clues and a bunch of weird, expressionless children standing around a ghost town, then I would be thinking that all bets are off and anything was possible.

This sequel makes no attempt to explain ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ and I assume that it is simply the MacGuffin needed to get the children on a killing spree. The laziness of the script extends to the other plot clichés to which it panders. We’ve got the ‘dad who wasn’t there for his son when he was younger and now his son hates him’ sub plot which gives us the inevitable sequence where said son confronts his father about it. You’re a little too late kiddo. I should have turned it off there but it gets worse as the only single father, single son combination in the town inexplicably hits it off with the only single mother and daughter combo in the town. Highly convenient! It’s dreadful character development and the love affair only puts the cherry on the top of the overall pathetic rehash of the original story.

 

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice is a poor sequel, not even worthy of being a guilty pleasure. It’s so run-of-the-mill that the story of these killer children overstays its welcome within the first two films – and there were far more to come. Certainly someone in the money was working for ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows.’

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆