Tag Video Games

How to Make a Monster (2001)

How to Make a Monster (2001)

What started out as a simple game … became a virtual nightmare!

A computer game company hires three eccentric programmers to complete an unfinished game called Evilution and their objective is to make it the scariest game ever with the promise of a million dollar bonus to the one who does the best work. On a dark and stormy night, an electrical surge brings the motion-capture monster suit to life and it becomes controlled by the computer AI. The monster then begins to stalk and kill the team throughout the lab as if they were actually playing the game.

 

Part of a host of old AIP drive-in films that were remade under the ‘Creature Feature’ label headed up by effects man Stan Winston, How to Make a Monster shares the name of its 1958 predecessor but the comparisons stop there. It begs the question of why you’d remake something if you’re going to change the entire story and characters. Even ‘name recognition’ doesn’t matter here because I’m sure anyone in their teens, twenties or thirties has never heard of the original, let alone seen it.

How to Make a Monster sits itself firmly in the ‘people trapped in a confined space being killed off one-by-one by a monster’ camp and it brings nothing new to the table whatsoever apart from the variable monster. We’ve all seen this formula in action plenty of times before and no doubt we’ll see it in action plenty of times in the future too so we know exactly what to expect. The predictable story does nothing new with the material and clearly never has intention to do so.

There are some underlying messages about greed, violent video games and the like but I’m not sure whether the film was for and against them. Besides which, video games don’t make psychos, they’re just a scapegoat for our broken society. But I’m not going into that argument in a review about some B-movie! The problem with this is that the game itself, Evilution, looks like something out of the 16-bit era. It’s an underlying problem which films that create video games to use in the story face. Given how quickly the video game industry moves nowadays and how graphics have improved tenfold in the matter of a few years, the jerky sprites and crappy graphics look dated as soon as the film has been released. I think to the more recent Stay Alive for a similar issue, where the in-film video game looks like something no one in their right mind would give the time of day to. Plus how many video game companies do you know of that only have three designers working on a game? The credits for the latest Call of Duty games are longer than some old Hollywood blockbusters.

A decent cast has been assembled for this one and the three main computer geeks come off as likeable enough for you to care if they survive or not. The best part of the film is actually before the monster comes to life as the geeks argue and trade amusing barbs with each other. Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from X-Men and Michael Myers in the Halloween remake) is the pick of the bunch as the less-than-friendly Hardcore who likes sharp weapons a little too much for my liking.

When the monster does finally show up, the film shifts into familiar territory with predictable consequences and all leading up to a rather naff finale involving VR helmets and swords. The monster looks fairly creepy but it’s not given enough time to work its magic and it is nowhere near as menacing as it should. The monster kind of sums this film up – starts off looking ok but you don’t enough of what you want to see and too much of the stuff you don’t. With a bit more work and polishing it could have been so much better.

 

How to Make a Monster isn’t a bad time waster and it’s certainly a pretty good effort for a TV movie, punching above its weight fairly respectably. It’s just that we’ve seen it all done before and done better. Alien-clones work better with aliens, not computer games come to life!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doom (2005)

Doom (2005)

No one gets out alive

After contact is lost with a research base on Mars, a team of marines is sent to investigate and find out what happened.

 

Out of all of the video games that have been turned into films, the easiest of the bunch to turn into a watchable sci-fi / horror flick should have been one of the titans of the gaming industry – the highly influential Doom. With an easy storyline, lots of weird and deadly creatures, some dark and creepy settings, some kick ass weapons and lots of old school computerised gore, Doom was a groundbreaking game. It was the revolutionary first-person shooter game which gave birth to a new genre, spawned numerous clones and which in turn have become some of the most popular and biggest selling games of all time. So why is it that this flimsy film adaptation finds it necessary to change the formula that made the games so influential?

The problems with video game conversions is that what makes the games so successful is the interactivity with the user and it’s something that can’t be replicated on the big screen. Watching video game conversions is like watching someone else come around your house and play on the game for hours whilst you sit and watch. What may be mildly interesting at first becomes a chore as you just want the other person to finish quickly so that you can get back on again.

Doom is probably the best example yet of the hollow video game conversion where I am sure making it was a lot more fun than actually watching it. The game is not known for its complicated story and in fact the opposite is true – the game is so simple and free of a major story that the game plays perfectly as your unnamed soldier wanders around blowing crap out of various demons. Adding loads of scientific mumbo jumbo and explaining the whole thing as Martian experimentation just adds unnecessary layers to the film.

The monsters in the game were originally let loose from Hell so for the film to cut out this aspect just turned them into generic space monsters that we’ve all seen before in the numerous Alien clones. Or perhaps even worse, not actual monsters but the mutated science team who have been injected with Martian chromosomes. Why can’t we just have Hell spew forth it’s minions to destroy our world? The monsters that are presented here are so unmemorable and look nothing like any of them from the game. As unmemorable as they are, at least the monsters look good with traditional make-up effects being used for some of the more human ones. Ditching CGI for these old school methods gets a plus from me any day.

I wish they’d have used these make-up effects for a bit more gore though as the film is lacking in the red department. Given how bloody the game was, to turn this into a watered-down kid-friendly version is a big mistake especially considering the audience that grew up on Doom are infinitely a lot older than the low 15 rating this got in the UK.

Even the setting doesn’t really fit. This base is apparently on Mars but apart from an odd scene here and there at the start, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish this base from any numerous underground bunkers or space stations you’ve seen in the aforementioned Alien clones. Although never mind Alien, Doom is more akin to Aliens than anything else and shares so many similarities with Cameron’s classic then you might as well just go back and watch that. The set design is ripped from there and apart from the main two, the rest of the marines are just as expendable. I thought they were basing this film on the game and not trying to remake Aliens? The game has so many unique and mysterious levels that could easily have been replicated but I guess once the ‘opening of Hell’ story was thrown away, the rest of the film had to change accordingly. The best part of the film is the throwaway ‘first person shooter’ scene in which the film runs like a version of the game where you only see things from the viewpoint of the main character as he makes his way through some corridors, dispatching whatever creature comes his way. It sounds good on paper and looks alright for about a minute before it overstays its welcome. Some things are best left off in the video game.

This is not an actor’s film either which means that whoever fulfilled the lead roles was going to be up against it with a poor script and taking a back seat to the special effects and monsters. The Rock can hold his own in action films (see The Scorpion King) but even here is wasted here as ‘Sarge’ who’s sole purpose in the film is to blow stuff up and then turn psycho later on in the film. He shows some glimpses of his charisma throughout.

Karl Urban makes for a serviceable support actor but again his character gets a few more lines than everyone else and is basically there to blow stuff up too. The only one not cast to blow stuff up is Rosamund Pike who plays the token female scientist (after all, cute female scientists in peril are infinitely more interesting and worth saving than stuffy old men with glasses, aren’t they?). She’s also the ‘plot explainer’ so when she’s not screaming in fear, she’s explaining to the characters (and thus the audience) what has been going on and why these creatures are running amok. While not overly stunning, she’s got this undeniable attraction about her.

 

Blowing monsters up is infinitely more fun to play on your own console than it is to watch it on the big screen. Doom seems to have used only the name from the video game, thrown in a few token nods to its fans and decided to go off on a tangent and become the lovechild of Aliens and Resident Evil. It’s not entirely unwatchable but it’s almost too generic to even register on my hate list.