Tag Sy Fy Channel

Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012)

Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012)

It’s anything but tasteless…

Black Lake is swarming with giant crocodiles and so after the previous problems with people being killed, a large electrified perimeter fence is erected all the way around to stop the crocs getting out and people getting in. However that doesn’t deter a group of teenagers who sneak in whilst on a school trip and soon find themselves on the menu.

 

Will this series ever stop? This is the fourth entry into the Lake Placid series, each getting progressively worse. I don’t see the attraction. Lake Placid was a slightly diverting little timewaster back in the late 90s which probably garnered more attention that it should have done given the high profile cast but was sliced to bits by the critics and performed poorly in the box office. It has since gone on to receive some minor cult acclaim but let’s face it: it wasn’t good enough to warrant a sequel, let alone three sequels!

Following on from the previous instalment by bringing back Yancy Butler’s bad ass hunter character in a new job as the game warden (even though it looked like she was dead), Lake Placid: The Final Chapter at least tries to connect itself with the previous films. Butler was the best thing about the last film and is arguably the best thing here, continuing her overacting through spunky delivery with a host of cracking lines that tell it how it is to the other characters. Unfortunately she’s the only one in the film to even try which is a real pity as genre legend Robert Englund has a small role but completely phones it in.

So what’s new in the series? Well not a lot. After ditching its original North American location shoot, these films now use a Bulgarian lake to double up for its Canadian counterpart. Though the setting looks beautiful, it still reminded me of every other Sy Fy film that had been shot in Bulgaria as they tend to use the same locations. Given the recycled nature of material on display, it’s hard to distinguish between what happens here and what happens in similar creature feature films. And that’s Lake Placid: The Final Chapter‘s most obvious problem – it’s not memorable in the slightest. No standout performer. No standout kill. No standout nudity. No standout soundtrack. No standout monster. Nothing. Just another off the production line. This time next year, I’ll no doubt be saying the same thing about the umpteenth killer crocodile film.

Frequent creature attacks with dubious CGI effects are the hallmarks of the overwhelming wave of Sy Fy / Asylum monster movies of late and if you think you’re going to get through Lake Placid: The Final Chapter without seeing some, think again. The crocs look terrible, some of the worst I’ve seen (and that’s saying something). There’s always something a bit more realistic and believable in actors being munched down by animatronic models but when you’ve got massive CGI crocs that can run nearly as fast as a truck and sneak up on people without making a sound, then you’ve got an entirely different style of film. This one doesn’t play to the laws of nature, having the crocs do all sorts of things that real crocs wouldn’t be able to do as easily, if at all. Sadly, this just disconnects the film from reality – we’re never going to be scared of anything that we know isn’t possible and seeing the crocs move as fast and stealthily as they do here will generate chuckles rather than scares.

The crocs are well fed, which is a given with these films now, but the attacks come too regular, are over with too quickly and follow the same pattern. Would one slow, brutal mauling be more effective to the audience than continually showing us the same thing which over and done within a couple of seconds? Think back to Jaws and how few people the shark kills but the attack scenes aren’t just over and done with, the camera dwells on them for a few minutes to revel in nature’s cruelty. Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, and the rest of these creature feature films, equate the number of people killed on screen with scaring the audience. There’s no emotional attachment to anyone in the film. The slew of minor non-characters who are introduced only to get killed moments later detaches the carnage from any empathic connection.

Films like this need filler too and before the crocs are well and truly unleashed upon the cast in the second half of the film, the first half of the film is devoted to building characters, exploring back story and generally trying to pass the time as generically as possible. Single mom with a teenage daughter and a single father and a teenage son who are drawn together in the midst of a crisis sounds like the sort of yucky material that the film needs….oh wait that’s what happens. Pass me the sick bucket as I wait for the crocs to finally start snacking.

 

It should be said that no one in their right mind would sit down to watch Lake Placid: The Final Chapter without having a) a tolerance for truly woeful films, b) the desire to see every film in a series no matter how terrible they are, or c) actually enjoy this sort of rubbish. I kind of fall into all categories but even so, Lake Placid: The Final Chapter pushed me to my limits. The worst thing is that despite the title, the end shot promises more to come……..urgh.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Piranhaconda (2012)

Piranhaconda (2012)

Part Snake! Part Fish! All Killer!

A scientist discovers the eggs of a mythical snake whilst on an expedition to a remote part of Hawaii and steals one, incurring the wrath of the creature which sets off in pursuit. Meanwhile, a film crew shooting a low budget horror film on the island are captured by a bunch of gun-toting kidnappers who plan to ransom them off. When the scientist stumbles into their clutches as well, it isn’t long before the piranhaconda begins to spoil their plans.

 

So another month, another ludicrously-titled, over-the-top creature feature comes along. Sharktopus not only set the ball rolling with these crossover named monsters but also set the benchmark – whilst it will never be remembered as a great film, it ran with its silly premise and was a lot of fun. But now they’re all the rage and seem determined to out-do the last one in terms of throwing away common sense and reality. From the mind of infamous cult classic producer Roger Corman, the directing prowess of B-movie and exploitation maestro Jim Wynorski and with the Sy Fy Original tag of death comes Piranhaconda, the next of these films off the conveyor belt.

Part piranha, part anaconda (yeah I don’t get it and the film doesn’t bother explaining the cross breeding process either), the novelty value of the title and the monster alone won’t even manage to sustain your interest past the title credits let alone survive until the final reel. But these Sy Fy films rely on their titles to sell – the rest of the content is almost indistinguishable from the rest: tropical locations, similar sets, some of the same actors, repeated scenarios, etc. Piranhaconda falls into the same pitfalls as the likes of Dinoshark, Sharktopus and Dinocroc Vs Supergator in that when the title monsters aren’t snacking on humans, then the films blur into one with no identifiable differences between this one and the next. For all intents and purposes, you could swap the monsters around and it would make little difference to the outcome.

Piranhaconda is meant to be terrible because let’s face the blatant truth – it’s a filmed called Piranhaconda. There’s no beating around the bush as to what you’re going to get here. But the way in which it’s made is just shoddy and sloppy. Taking the easy way out, the film shows you the monster in all of its glory within the first fifteen minutes. No build-up. No gradual reveal. Just the money shot out of the way. So what’s left to get excited for? You see the monster so much throughout the film that you’re numbed to the sight of it by the time the finale comes. Though the title promises a unique creation, the eventual design looks more like an average snake with a weird head than any real hybrid of the two. Would it surprise you to find out that the CGI is awful? No, didn’t think it would. The same animations are used over and over again and it gets boring really quick. At least provide some variation in how the monster is going to kill its prey.

Corman’s best days are long behind him and though its highly commendable that he’s still giving many folks a chance to break into the business who may not get a proper shot in Hollywood, the film quality seems to have diminished greatly over the years. Compare these recent creature features to some of his earlier 80s sleaze and cheese fests like Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror and the difference in quality is amazing. Back then, the films were still low budget and pandered to the lowest common denominators of blood and boobs but at least they were serious and treat the material with respect.

Nowadays, these films seem to be about goofing around too much and trying to be too clever with the silly ideas on display. Though quite why the script felt it necessary to throw in a load of kidnappers to act as human villains when there’s a big snake-thing slithering around the island eating people every five minutes is another matter. It increases the potential number of victims for the monster but the film features enough non-characters (characters who turn up in a film, maybe say a line or two and then get killed within the same scene) to feed an army of piranhacondas.

Another obstacle facing Corman, Wynorski and co. are the constraints within which they have to work for the TV audience – so that means no boobs. For men who have built careers on the exploitative market, these new films are stripped of the ingredients that pandered to the male demographic. Piranhaconda features a bevy of beautiful women yet a couple of them in bikinis is the raunchiest the film will get.

Michael Madsen pops up looking as bedraggled scientist and seems to be wearing a ridiculous toupee under his cowboy hat. As bad as he is slumming here, I still keep picturing Reservoir Dogs to remind myself not to go too hard on him. Rachel Hunter (more famous for her marriage to Rod Stewart than anything noteworthy in Hollywood) co-stars as one of the kidnappers but her character has no purpose whatsoever. I guess these two were cast for name value but both are easily upstaged by stunning co-star Shandi Finnessey who parades around in a yellow bikini.

On a random side note, I have the same scarecrow mask that the killer in the ‘Head Chopper’ film-within-a-film was wearing. Good choice whoever chose it!

 

I know this review has sounded more like a rant on this burgeoning sub-genre rather than any individual criticism of the film in question but Piranhaconda is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with this type of film. It had the potential to either be a complete joke or a right laugh and the eventual result in somewhere in the middle. It’s far from anyone’s greatest work but neither does it plumb the murky depths of the bottom of the barrel. It just seems like another complete waste of a fairly entertaining premise which is indistinguishable from every other CGI monster Sy Fy film.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deep Shock (2003)

Deep Shock (2003)

The end of the world is just an eel’s length away. Get ready to squirm.

A nuclear-powered attack submarine is attacked by a mysterious underwater object which disables it with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. The Hubris, an underwater Arctic research station, witnesses the attack and reports an alarming rise in the temperature of the ice cap in the process. Shortly afterwards, the station is also attacked and so an expedition is sent to find out what happened. Once there the expedition finds that though the station is still intact, the personal have been incinerated. It isn’t long before they find out what attacked the Hubris – giant electric eels – and why.

 

With the prospect of giant electric eels doing some underwater damage making for a slight change to the usual sharks-crocodiles-snakes-spiders routine, it comes as no surprise to know that Deep Shock plays out like the majority of the Sy Fy TV movies: stock actors picked from the usual Sy Fy roster; a script that fills itself with loads of techno, military and political jargon to sound credible; action scenes which are anything but rousing and exciting; and creatures that sound alright on paper but look like cartoon monsters when rendered in CGI.

Actually I’m being a bit harsh on Deep Shock. Whilst the film does look and feel like the usual cheap-and-nasty drivel from the Sy Fy Channel and every cliché in the book is played out to full effect, the script doesn’t go down the route I expected it to and instead tries to turn itself into a credible, thought-provoking story about humans encountering other intelligence on Earth. Far from being the deadly threats that you’ll expect them to be, electrifying stock characters in underwater facilities in some form of Leviathan / Deep Star Six style sci-fi horror, the eels are supposed to be preparing the planet for its original inhabitants to return (space eels then?) and can be communicated with and made to listen. Whilst the ending to the film hardly gives resolution to the eels’ overriding purposes (after all they still want to wipe humanity from the planet), it at least gives the creatures a bit more function than just generic monsters-on-the-loose.

It’s a shame then that the eels look so poor when they are shown on screen. Blasting bolts of electricity from their foreheads and having big bulging red eyes, the fish could have been so much more had a bit of effort gone into their creation. But this is a film where concern for detail is eschewed in favour of bluster and a desire to make itself exciting, on which it fails. Deep Shock enjoys flashing off its limited budget with lots of copious special effects scenes and overly ‘futuristic-looking’ sets. The underwater research centre, the Hubris, looks like a knock-off set from The Abyss, complete with a pool for the eels to appear from (well they can’t walk around the facility so they’re kind of restricted to the places they can make contact with the humans in). Lots of dimly-lit sets with flashing lights and shaky cameras attempt to make everything look so exciting and cutting edge when in reality it just shows up the film for lacking decent production values. The underwater action scenes involving mini-subs and exterior shots of the Hubris look like cut-scenes from a computer game and a bad one at that. It’s always hard to get into something when every two minutes you’re reminded of how inferior it is to similar big budgeted films.

The sense of international scope that the film tries to convey just don’t work either. According to Deep Shock, the United Nations consists of a bunch of Eastern Europeans sitting around a computer desk in what looks like a school gymnasium with a few flags draped in the background. You never get the sense that this is anything global, especially when the film continually deals with one Eastern European guy (Velizar Binev, who crops up in loads of these films) who apparently speaks on behalf of everyone. I guess with the small cast they were required to recycle.

Low budget schlock flick rent-a-bad-guy Mark Sheppard pops up as the usual dodgy-looking slime ball he plays in all of these TV movies (see New Alcatraz, Xtinction, plus a ton of TV shows like 24 and The X-Files). David Keith gets to act all hard and ‘edgy’ as the squared-jawed action hero whilst Simmone Jade Mackinnon does nothing but smile throughout the film, even though the world is supposed to be facing a crisis, and the two are given a token romantic sub-plot. With Sy Fy re-using these actors time and time again, it gets a little predictable knowing how each character arc is going to pan out. Why not give Sheppard the hero role for a change and turn Keith into the psycho? See that’s lazy writing – Sheppard being cast as the bad guy instantly plays on our preconceptions of the character he is going to play and does a lot of the hard work of building a solid character…….ah I’ll save that rant for another time.

 

I’m sure that this would have made for a riveting forty-five minute long episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea back in the 60s but as a full blown 2002 TV movie, Deep Shock strings along its limited idea as long as it can without any real pay-off. Apart from the ambitiously novel background to the electric eels, it’s business as usual as far as Sy Fy goes. And business is bad.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Planet Raptor (2007)

Planet Raptor (2007)

An expedition on a remote, medieval-like planet and finds itself under attack by deadly prehistoric raptors. With a radiation storm cutting off communication to their mother ship and preventing escape, the expedition must bed down in nearby castle and there they uncover evidence that the previous occupants of the planet were wiped out by these dinosaurs….and they’re next.

 

Ok so that plot summary is a bit all over the place but that’s the best I could do. One of the worst Sci-Fi Channel movies of recent memory (the atrocious Raptor Island) gets a sequel here with Planet Raptor – an unrelated movie about a bunch of killer raptors which might as well have gone it alone such is the lack of any sort of link to the original. Only this time the raptors aren’t prowling around on some remote Pacific island but they’re…..in outer space. Yes, space raptors! I guess the title should clue you in that you’ll be taken out of the Pacific but the realisation that this film really is set in space should provoke some sort of groans from the audience.

Like a lot of old school low budget films from Universal and Hammer, Planet Raptor feels like it was pieced together using leftovers from other films. The space ship and ‘futuristic’ elements have been discarded by some low budget science fiction drivel, the medieval village is the remnants of some historical drama, the guns and combat fatigues seem to have been left behind by a generic straight-to-video action flick and the alien survivor towards the end…well that suit could have been lifted from any number of 70s sci-fi TV series. And above all, Planet Raptor features a plot borrowed directly from Aliens about a group of expendable marines sent to a hostile world by a shady company in order to acquire living specimens as weapons, featuring self-sacrificing heroes who blow themselves up in the face of death and slimy scientists who think running off in the middle of a gunfight in the middle of a hostile planet filled with deadly creatures is a good idea (see Burke, Aliens). Anyone familiar with how that film pans out will be immediately at home here but it’s not the sort of place you want to stay very long.

The mechanical plot slowly coasts along, no doubt assuming you know exactly where the film is heading, and thus doesn’t feel the need to provide any sort of excitement or pace. From the opening shots of the expedition exploring the medieval village (the bizarre decision to include a castle for our heroes to hide inside is clearly more evidence of the ‘recycling’ from other films the studio no doubt made at the same time), to the first attack of the raptors, running through the entire film right until the finale, there’s literally no sense of direction. In between all of the highly-convenient circumstances which direct the plot towards its next aimless action sequence (Decide to leave the planet? Well what about that handy radiation storm that will prevent escape?), the film suffers from a general lack of interesting and well-developed characters. But when the script is content to feature raptors terrorising a group of humans in a medieval village on a remote planet in outer space, the script was never really high on the consideration list to begin with.

Planet Raptor wheels out a load of usual low budget suspects including Steven Bauer, Vanessa Angel and Peter Jason as well as Sam Raimi’s acting brother, Ted. Both Bauer and Jason were in the original film and have been brought back as totally unrelated characters. Jason at least shows a bit of spark in his role as the tough-talking gung-ho sergeant who is as handy with a wisecrack as he is a shotgun. But the secondary characters are afterthoughts (some aren’t even credited!) and even the main characters are little more than talking clichés. Raimi, in particular, must have been reading up on the pantomime playbook on how to look and act as a bad guy, constantly shifting his eyes to the side, frowning a lot and generally trying to look as sinister as possible.

But forget these characters. We’re here for the raptors, right? Well they alternate between CGI rubbish and a reasonably-decent puppet-animatronic head. This looks alright and is used effectively from time-to-time to peek around corners but there’s clearly no body to it as you never see it below the neck. Instead the CGI counterparts take the brunt of the flak and they have every right to warrant it. They look purple, have about two or three different frames of animation and the same shots are used repeatedly throughout. A raptor will be killed in one scene. The camera will flash to the actors. Then back to another approaching raptor and low and behold, there is no body on the floor of the previous victim. At one point the film even borrows a few shots from the previous film of what looks like a T-Rex and the characters fail to spot the difference despite this dinosaur being significantly larger in size and able to scoop up a man into its mouth with ease. It’s not the only glaring error with the film but to continually rip it to shreds is pointless.

 

Stay tuned for the pre-end credits blooper reel which is arguably the most entertaining thing about Planet Raptor (quite funny actually), a low budget mess which seems to have been designed purely from the discarded leftover sets and props from other films. If only half as much fun had gone into the film then Planet Raptor wouldn’t have ended up the outlandish pile of low budget nonsense that it is.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killer Mountain (2011)

Killer Mountain (2011)

On top of the world there’s no one to save you

When an expedition to find the mythical land of Shambala in the mountains of Bhutan goes missing, a second research team is organised to go and find out what happened. High in the cold mountains, they find that the team has been killed and soon they too find themselves being hunted down by mysterious creatures.

 

And so we roll with another Sy Fy Original in Killer Mountain, about as bland a film that they’ve ever produced. Part Cliffhanger, part crappy monster movie, Killer Mountain is the a-typical low budget Sy Fy film down to a tee: not engaging in the slightest, cheap to make and with the lack of cash being evident on the screen, featuring a bunch of actors from other Sy Fy programmes and with ropey CGI monsters. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, worn the t-shirt over and over again until it dropped to bits, went back there to do it again, got a t-shirt and so forth.

The story is nothing special – just an excuse to isolate a bunch of people away from civilisation before monsters are set upon them. Predictably shallow characters are introduced and the “take a number and join the soon to be killed” chronology is obvious from the get-go. Anticipated events take place the way they’re supposed to. Dialogue is constantly forgettable. Nothing happens out of the blue here. There’s no depth to anything despite the lure of the mystical foundation of youth in Shambala. It’s all sooooo run-of-the-mill. Would it hurt these writers to get a bit creative from time-to-time? A lead character with a tragic past that must face up to his inner demons and overcome them. Dodgy business guys who are in it for themselves. Native guides who are there to provide the first monster fodder. It is as insulting as it boring. Since these films draw their characters from a vat of monster movie tropes, the audience comes with a set of pre-expectations about how they’re going to pan out as characters. And as Killer Mountain proves first hand, these expectations are always spot on.

Killer Mountain is not only bland in content but it looks bland as a film. The cinematography is bleak and murky and the colours are dark and dull. There’s not an ounce of life in this film from the camera and the same constant greyscale appearance of the film doesn’t lend itself to any form of life or energy. If it’s dull and boring to look at, it’s going to turn the viewer off even quicker. At least attempts have been made to make it look like it was shot on location even if it wasn’t. The CGI weather effects will convince no one but there are rock-climbing scenes (well more like rock-holding, as the characters don’t seem to climb up whenever the camera is on them) and the caverns and underground passageways of Shambala look believable enough. Dark enough for low budget special effects anyway.

Sy Fy has brought more or less every single creature known to man alive in their ‘creature feature’ films at some point and they’ve got to the point now where they can’t even be bothered giving them any sort of identity or explanation for their existence. The creatures, which resemble some sort of lizard-snake-dragon thing, appear out of the blue, menace the cast for a bit and are then defeated. No one is really shocked at the discovery of a new species and the monsters are only named as ‘drucks’ which means nothing to anyone. It’s a shame because the monsters aren’t the worst-looking CGI creatures that Sy Fy have created but they don’t give me any reason to care for them or fear them. They’re just there on the screen. The worst CGI effect this time around is for the helicopter and subsequent crash.

 

I think after my current batch of Sy Fy Originals have been watched, I’m going to have to put them on hold for a while. I can’t keep watching the same stuff over and over again because in turn I’m then repeating the same reviews over and over again. Killer Mountain isn’t the worst Sy Fy Original but it’s just a-n-other of the same old shebang. If that is your cup of tea then go for it.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Arachnoquake (2012)

Arachnoquake (2012)

The world will quake in fear

A series of earthquakes around New Orleans releases a new breed of deadly subterranean spiders that begin to terrorise the city.

 

Sy Fy does its best ten years overdue Eight-Legged Freaks impression with this laughably inept spider invasion flick. To say that they’ve covered virtually every single creature known to man in their Sy Fy Originals, I can’t recall them doing too many about spiders before and then all of a sudden, a couple come along at once. Camel Spiders was first in 2011 (though I haven’t seen it yet) and now along comes Arachnoquake, a film which evidently tries to play on its witty title in some self-belief that it’s different the other genre films. But, with the same old tired routines, clichéd characters, regurgitated scripts and low end CGI effects, it was never going to be anything other than run-of-the-mill. Truth be told, this is by no means the worst that Sy Fy has put out in the last couple of few years but….let’s face it with a title like Arachnoquake you’re hardly expecting The Godfather of monster movies are you?

One look at director Griff Furst’s list of prior credits should read like a warning sign: 100 Million BC, Swamp Shark and Lake Placid 3, the former being one of the worst creature feature films I’ve had the misfortune of reviewing. I’ve heard that Mr Furst has directly responded to fans criticism in the past so if you’re reading this – please stop making films!

It’s hard to say whether Arachnoquake is better or worse than the others but at least this seems to be intentionally goofy and gets marks for at least knowing how silly everything is, or rather the first half of the film. The earlier scenes at least have a healthy sense of humour to keep them going and for some reason this is put on the back burner at the half-way point. Way to go, discarding the only differentiation between yourself and any number of generic ‘monster on the loose’ movies. Like virtually every Sy Fy Original going, it’s so generic and routine that writing constant reviews for these films gets to be more of a slog than watching them is! Don’t get me wrong – I love repetitive. I’m a massive monster movie fan. I’m a massive slasher fan. They streamline a simple formula and recycle the same things over and over again. But the films only work if they are given life and a spring in their step. When they don’t, it’s because everyone involved, from the cameramen to the writers and directors to the actors, feel like they’re going through the motions because they’re contracted to. Unfortunately that’s what these Sy Fy Originals feel like – they’re not made for love of the genre, they’re made for cheap cash and to fill schedules. So the routine and repetition becomes their undoing, not their strength.

There are small mercies: Arachnoquake wastes little time in getting the spiders out of the ground and attacking people. So you won’t be bogged down with exposition, not that the film needs to expand on its one-note characters any further than the limited back story and characterisation they receive before all hell breaks loose – they even manage to squeeze the father-son love-hate relationship into this as a slacker son who has failed to live up to his father’s expectations is given the chance to redeem himself in this crisis. Yawn.

The narrative is split into three parts, each focusing on a different group of survivors until gradually their paths cross and they join together. Only the Ethan Phillips-Olivia Hardt thread was any good and that was simply because Phillips is a sorely underrated character actor, if somewhat annoying at times, and Hardt is one of the hottest women I’ve ever seen and gets to parade around in a pair of tiny shorts. Regardless of which thread the film follows at any one given time, the predicaments and situations that the characters find themselves in are predictable and uninteresting. Main characters seem to have taken that invincibility potion which spells doom for the minor characters with a handful of lines.

And these minor characters meet doom quite a lot. If it isn’t small spiders scurrying out of the ruptures in the ground, it’s giant spiders climbing up buildings. If you’re familiar with Sy Fy work, then you’ll immediately understand the level of special effects that are on display here. The CGI spiders look alright and that’s about the best I can say about them. You’ll never believe that they’re real but they hop, crawl and drop across the screen on a regular basis. They can swim. They can breathe fire. An interesting idea with the spiders nesting inside human hosts, resulting in bulbous puss sacks on the skin which explode, was introduced but then never really taken any further. And despite the fact that these spiders are supposed to be attacking all of New Orleans, on many occasions you can see down the next street where filming wasn’t taking place and observe traffic and pedestrians going about their daily business as normal.

Edward Furlong – remember him? Falling from grace after his time as John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Furlong fell into alcoholism and drug addiction. Time has not been kind to the man (he’s only a couple of years older than me!) and I didn’t recognise him at first. His bloated appearance and bored-stiff attitude doesn’t help the film when he’s supposed to be one of the ‘star’ names to sell the project to potential markets. It also doesn’t help when he’s given the main role in a side story in which his creepy bus driver is ferrying a school bus full of cheerleaders when they’re attacked by the spiders. This originally promised a lot – cheerleaders + hungry spiders – but failed to deliver anything – nudity, gore or even a decent set piece. Furlong is left huffing and puffing along until he catches up with the other survivors.

 

Inventive title aside, Arachnoquake is hardly a world beater nor is it the coming of the Angel of Death. It’s a film which exists for ninety minutes or so and is content with staying in its own little low scale world despite promising something a lot funnier and more entertaining at the start similar to Tremors or Eight-Legged Freaks. Sy Fy have hardly outdone themselves this time around but it could have been worse – though is that really a criteria to review a film around?

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Aztec Rex (2007)

Aztec Rex (2007)

In 1518 A.D. only the noblest warriors survive

Arriving in Mexico in 1551, Spanish explorers led by Cortés come across an Aztec tribe who worship a dinosaur as a god and offer it regular blood sacrifices to keep it at bay. After a failed attempt to enslave the tribe for his own gain, Cortés agrees to help them rid themselves off the dinosaur if they release him and his men.

 

Sy-Fy offers up a huge pile of dinosaur crap with this pathetic monster movie that does as little as it can within the space of an hour and a half and expects you to be thankful for it when it’s finished. Aztec Rex (or Tyrannosaurus Azteca as it is known) comes from the man who brought you such classics as Leprechaun 3 and, er, Leprechaun 4: In Space so you know that his pedigree in the realms of low budget, trashy filmmaking is as corny as it gets – though oddly enough, Quentin Tarantino cites Brian Trenchard-Smith as one of his favourite directors! Aztec Rex stars a terribly-rendered CGI dinosaur, buckets of pound shop make-up and fake limbs they sell around Halloween time, and a cast who look like they’d be better off modelling in fashion shoots than pretending to be Spanish explorers or Aztec tribesmen.

Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the star of the show first – the T-Rex. Even by Sy-Fy standards, this prehistoric protagonist looks to be about two hundred million years out of date. Using the same couple of frames of animation time and time again, the film does little to maintain the flimsy illusion that this monster shares the same intergalactic plane as everything else. Trees don’t move. Branches aren’t snapped off. There are no footprints when it walks. There are no shadows cast on it by the forests. For all intents and purposes, this is a stealth dinosaur. I have no idea where they found or created this laughable CGI aberration but it doesn’t belong here.

Even though the dinosaur effects are some of the worst you’re likely to see, Aztec Rex is at least gory. Characters are bitten in half, have intestines slit open, bodies are chewed up and left to rot in all of their gruesome glory and survivors are showered in blood. Yes it looks a bit tacky but it’s at least making the effort in this department.  The dinosaur is well fed, much to the chagrin of numerous expendable tribesmen and some of Cortés’ lesser developed crewmen who find themselves on the wrong end of a bite. The blood looks more purple in colour than red and the screen is literally engulfed with gore whenever the dinosaur decides to feast. Although there are some old school make-up effects, there are also a lot of rubbish CGI bones and entrails dripping abut which makes everything look second rate and tacky as if someone had superimposed unrelated video game footage over the top of a New World drama piece.

The script attempts to cleverly intertwine itself with historical events surrounding Cortés and the Spanish conquests but, his name aside, there’s nothing else in here that would suggest factual information. I guess the inclusion of such history was to try and raise the material above its usual type but it fails dramatically. I can tolerate the fact that the Spanish characters are played by perfectly formed English actors but the Aztecs are played by a bunch of Hawaiians who would look more at home standing  outside a hotel in Honolulu and greeting people than pretending to be ancient savages. Plus there are only about twenty people in the entire film including non-speaking extras. You wonder just how often this tribe can afford to sacrifice its population given that you only ever see about six of them.

Whilst the film contains its fair share of problems, the most fundamental one is that it’s just not engrossing enough. You never care for the Spanish (after all, they’re just after gold). You never care for the Aztecs (they do sacrifice their own kind). And the dinosaurs, whilst garnering some pity at how lame they look, are not there for characterisation. After a dull start in which the Spanish attempt to enslave the village (the notion of six or so Spanish guys attempting to ‘storm’ a village which has an equally small number of people in it is just too daft to laugh at), the film then traps itself in a never-ending cycle of characters going off into the forest to try and kill the dinosaur and end up a few characters short by the end of the scene. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the film and you have a monotonous, tedious narrative which doesn’t entertain or hold interest on any level whatsoever.

 

You get what you deserve with Aztec Rex. It smacks of Sy-Fy right from the opening scene until the final credits – the cardboard characters, the bottom dollar effects, the repetitive narrative, the overly dramatic music  and the deadly serious script which attempts (and fails) to make everything you’re watching somehow more interesting, intelligent and higher grade. It’s dinosaur dung, plain and simple. Never mind a giant dinosaur frightening off the Spanish, a copy of Aztec Rex would have been enough to make Mexico uninhabitable for millennia!

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Black Swarm (2007)

Black Swarm (2007)

Intelligent. Deadly. And Out To Destroy Us. Meet The Ultimate Buzz-Kill.

Ten years after leaving the small town of Black Stone when her husband died, Jane Kozik returns with her young daughter to take up the role of sheriff. Shortly after returning, a homeless man is found dead with what appears to be a number of wasp stings. An entomologist and the local exterminator, who also happens to be Jane’s ex and the twin brother of her dead husband, are called in to investigate. But these aren’t ordinary stings and the trail leads them to Eli Giles, a scientist who developed a genetically engineered wasp as a weapon for the army but is now on the run.

 

A bizarre offering from the Sci-Fi Channel as part of their ‘Maneater’ series, Black Swarm meshes the traditional insects run amok in a small town story with some random zombification side-story. Despite the weirdness of the story, Black Swarm still runs very much the same as every other film of its type. Only it’s all very lightweight. There’s just something lack with this film which never gives it any ‘oomph.’ There’s not a massive amount of action (or excitement for that matter) and the horror elements are kept to a bare minimum. Black Swarm isn’t a film which goes through the motions rather it skims over them.

At the bottom line, Black Swarm is dull and that’s probably being generous. There’s just no real tension or visual stimulation to get the audience involved with what is going on. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of the editing, which is jerky and disjointed at times and seems to skip whole swathes of plot out from time to time, leading to jumps in continuity. I’m not sure it’s just the fault of the script. Caught between wanting to be a killer insect flick and a zombie flick, Black Swarm doesn’t juggle either element properly. These wasps don’t just kill their victim, they turn them into some sort of zombie-like drones that they can control and then burst out from whenever they need a sneak attack moment. Don’t ask me, I didn’t write it. There are some vague attempts to explain that the wasps use humans as ‘hosts’ to do their bidding but it’s never really given much conviction so you just have to take it for what it’s for – a daft part of the story which no doubt sounded good on paper.

Even in their zombie state, the infected townspeople continue to go about their daily business. Uninfected characters don’t bat even the faintest of eyelids at the likes of the gaunt-faced, boil-ridden priest who grunts and staggers around the church as the mayor attempt to converse with him or a zombified traffic cop being asked questions as if the glazed look on his face was normal. To see these zombies walking around town without anyone questioning them is just crazy writing. Though this writing is more lazy than anything, proven with the sudden aggression and act of murder of the morgue zombie which is totally out of synch with what the rest of the zombies in the town were doing.

Horror legend Robert Englund gets the token ‘mad scientist’ role though his eventual character arc is somewhat different to what one would expect from the man behind Freddy Kruger and many other just as detestable horror characters. Sarah Allen makes for a likeable and attractive lead as Sheriff Kozik and equally as appealing is her on-screen daughter Kelsey played by Rebecca Windheim. Normally I’m the first to complain at the inclusion of a child as one of the main characters but little Miss Windheim is as sweet as they come. Some of the scenes she shares with Englund have a nice warm feeling to them. In fact all of the main characters are decent enough, from the twin brother exterminator to the blind babysitter and everyone in the roles makes the characters nice and friendly enough to want to see survive. This doesn’t happen all of the time so I’ve got to take some small mercies from Black Swarm!

The awkward love story that develops between the sheriff and her ex-flame and previously-deceased husband’s twin brother is as contrived as it comes. Everything falls together just the way you’d expect it to, though the inevitable scene in which the two characters declare their feelings for each other and reveal some home truths about the past could not have been timed any worse. Even Englund’s character uncomfortably looks on as the two love birds kiss and make up and generally spend ages doing it whilst they should have been doing something life-saving like getting out of the warehouse in which the wasps have nested. The wasps are all CGI – understandable given our inability to control real life wasps – but you rarely see a close-up of one, save for a few shots inside the secret lab. The rest of the time, the wasps are just shown in their swarm form. They don’t really do that much during the course of the film.

 

Black Swarm makes an effort to develop characters in the beginning of the film so it’s interesting to note that this is the only part of the film worth highlighting. They’re likeable enough to make you care for them but it’s a pity that they don’t have much to work with or go up against. Half-assed zombies and cameo-role wasps aren’t exactly riveting to watch.

 

Frost Giant (2010)

Frost Giant (2010)

In 1825, the HMS Fury went missing during a disastrous expedition to the Arctic Circle. The modern-day descendant of one of the explorers has devoted his career to finding the sunken remains of the ship. So when he and his team finally excavate the wrecked hull from the ice, they discover that the ship was sunk deliberately to act as a frosty tomb for an alien which could threaten the planet. Now they have released the monster to bring terror to the world once again.

 

Sy-Fy drum up their usual clichés in abandon with a new monster in the form of Frost Giant, the same sort of monster-on-the-loose film that they’ve almost cornered the market for. It’s really hard to get motivated to write a review for this, such was the lethargic nature of the film and the nondescript plot. Even trying to write this review literally moments after finishing watching, it is hard to remember anything of note to talk about. Frost Giant isn’t so much a film that will kill you with its icy grasp but more likely to bore you into oblivion.

For those who have seen any previous Sy-Fy creature feature flicks or if you’ve seen The Thing or any other polar-based horror film, Frost Giant will be all-too-familiar and all the script has done has work the elements of the two together. There’s the team of researchers at the polar station. An icy menace is unearthed. Cue lots of “there’s a snow storm coming so we can’t be evacuated” and “the temperature will drop to such and such degrees so we’ll all freeze to death” moments. Couple all of this with Sy-Fy’s ridiculous attempts to generate tension, the uber-low budget vibe that everything emits, one or two ‘named’ actors simply milling around for an easy pay day and the less-than-stellar CGI monster which never once looks like it exists in the same dimensional plane as the rest of the cast. With a structure that runs like clockwork, the only real danger in Frost Giant is just how repetitive everything gets.

There’s little urgency. There’s little excitement. Nothing more than a series of identikit kills, the film just trudges through the snow from dull set piece to dull set piece. You get the impression at times that everyone was too cold to put any effort into the film, not least Dean Cain who must have fallen foul of some dodgy contract somewhere because he makes a habit of popping up in these tedious monster movies. There are some really over-exaggerated English accents in the film too most notably from English actor Steven Waddington who spouts off his scientific jargon with all of the verve of a Shakesperian thespian. Just because someone talks in a posh accent doesn’t make the dialogue any more sophisticated or intelligent. Waddington is a decent actor but this over-the-top approach makes him look daft. Between him and Cain, the two men try their best to make wine of water with the script but it’s just not to be. When characters appear dead-on-arrival thanks to the script, there’s nothing that can save them.

Even the introduction of a different monster isn’t enough to rescue this frost-bitten flick from breaking apart. The ‘frost giant’ in question is hardly a giant and is little bigger than an ordinary man. Rendered with CGI, the monster is about as good or as poor as you’d expect it to look in something like this. Not a lot of thought has gone into creating it – the creature exists solely to live off heat so that it can return to its original form. There’s no other reason or logic behind it. Coupled with the CGI, the alien never once comes across as some sort of serious threat, just a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. Though not content with animating the alien with poor CGI, the effects team also see fit to give us CGI snow and a laughable climax involving a CGI digger.

 

Frost Giant is the type of film you’ll put on in the background and do something infinitely more exciting because even if you had the best intentions in the world and attentively sat down to watch, you’d still be drawn to doing other things, glancing up every so often whenever the monster killed someone. By-the-numbers nonsense which no doubt will be forgotten about once the next cookie-cutter Sy-Fy flick is made.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Iron Invader (2011)

Iron Invader (2011)

One man’s junk is another town’s nightmare

A Russian satellite infected with some form of space bacteria crash lands in the small American town of Redeemer. Two local brothers take the scrap metal to a local junk dealer who plans to use the material to finish off his seventeen foot tall ‘Golem’ that he has been building for the town’s centenary. The Golem comes to life when it is exposed to the bacteria and it proceeds to wreak havoc around town, sapping its victims of their life.

 

Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man gets a big aggressive Sy-Fy makeover in this middling offering which is about on par for the channel’s usual produce. Fresh out of flesh-and-blood monsters, the writing team have come up with an unusual and rather unique threat in the form of the metal monster but saddle it in an enclosure of lame genre clichés. But hey, those of you familiar enough with Sy-Fy Originals should know by now that their name is not a seal of quality – more so a death certificate.

It would be pretty easy to substitute the iron monster for any other creature: a dragon, a snake, a tiger, a crocodile, etc. The plot runs exactly the same way that any other creature-on-the-loose film does which is a shame as the concept, though slightly off-beat, could have worked properly had it been given more of a free reign instead of having to stick to type. But there’s not really much to the wafer-thin plot anyway – all bases are covered within the opening fifteen minutes and then it’s just waiting for the Golem to start doing it’s intergalactic robot thing. The trouble with Iron Invader is that it’s played too straight. Right from the moment the Golem comes to life and starts plodding around town, this film needed a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek. The film knows how over-the-top it is yet never really plays upon this in the script.

The Golem looks like a low budget Transformer though the special effects to bring it to life aren’t too shabby, certainly better than they deserved to be. I guess it is easier to animate metal than it is flesh and so the monster looks shiny, smooth and inorganic but I guess that’s the idea – it is just a cobbled together bunch of metal and the animators don’t have to bring to life flesh, blood and spontaneous movements of an animal. Apart from it is look, the monster isn’t well-thought out. No consideration is given to how it moves, why it’s got eyes and why it has an uncanny ability to sneak up on people despite being huge and metallic. The script points out how big it is so why doesn’t it leave footprints in the mud or cause minor tremors when it’s pounding down the road? It kills people by grabbing hold of them and draining their life which is kind of weird the first time but gets repetitive very quickly as the same thing happens over and over again.

Nicole de Boer is the token ‘name’ in this, more famous for her role as Ezra Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She plays a biology teacher who not only provides the token knowledge and explanation scenes for the existence of the creature but also the love interest. Coincidentally, her character was a childhood sweetheart with one of the brothers but left town marrying someone else. Now she’s back and looking down the barrel of a divorce. What do you reckon the odds are that facing nightmarish scenario like facing a giant metal monster will allow her to reconcile with her sweetheart and make everything perfect by the end of the film? De Boer is way too lovely to be relegated to Sy-Fy junk like this and is way better than the material on display.

 

Iron Invader is marginally better than its Sy-Fy counterparts but that’s more down to the fact that a giant Transformer-wannabe is the star of the show here, not a giant snake or crocodile. It came from the scrap yard and it should be sent back there pronto.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆