Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night (2010)

APRIL 30, 2011


Right around this time last year, the movie Black Waters Of Echo's Pond, an endlessly delayed low budget horror film, got a surprising theatrical release that was met with mostly indifference. And now we have a similar situation with Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night, which was shot over two years ago and was inexplicably dumped on nearly one thousand screens, with nearly no advertising to back it up. Note to indie distributors: focus on marketing over obtaining the highest number of screens possible. If this just opened in a few key markets, with some money pumped into actually advertising it beyond annoying internet flash ads, it might have sold more than 90-100 tickets per screen for the ENTIRE WEEKEND.

Because it's really not too terrible, it's just misguided on several levels and presented in the wrong medium. There is nothing particularly "big-screen" about it; the monsters aren't particularly impressive, the action is PG-13 friendly (which is to say, really brief and unsatisfying), and the whole "based on the comic book" angle doesn't really do the movie any favors when it's being released a week before this summer's big Marvel event. It could have been a slightly above average DTV title, but it just doesn't have what it takes to work in an already crowded marketplace, at a time when even the REAL big screen movies are being treated with a "I'll wait for Netflix" attitude (irony: technical competition Fast Five is an exception. Good timing, Mr. Dog!).

But really, it should be a TV show; something the CW would put together as a companion for Supernatural now that Smallville is finally being put out of its misery (and if they kept Brandon Routh in the title role, that would be even more fitting). As it is (very loosely, from what I understand) based on a monthly comic that is huge in Italy but not really well known in the US, a weekly show would have a wealth of material to draw from and yet not be put up to the same scrutiny as Smallville or other comic-based TV shows that stem from far more popular properties - they can change whatever they want and most of the annoying fan rage would be in Italian!

Kidding aside, I really do think a TV show would be better for this particular property. An hour long detective show with different monsters each week, with some sort of season long arc about a REALLY BAD monster - just like Buffy or Supernatural - would be a lot more fun than a 105 minute overstuffed movie without the budget to back up all of its ideas. I mean, Christ, in this one movie we get vampires, werewolves, zombies, supernatural artifacts, plus a human villain. Oh, and there are different clans of werewolves, just to make matters more baffling. It's just too much for ANY movie, let alone one with only about 20 million to work with. Some characters disappear while others never really factor into the plot, and the motivations for the villains don't always seem to make sense - it seems like there was about 30 pages of the script that they never got to film (unless the film's bloated length was even longer at one point). Not helping matters is the inordinate amount of time spent with the "funny" business of Dylan's partner, Marcus, who has been turned into a zombie. While the American Werewolf In London homage is all well and good, the simple fact remains that it simply isn't amusing in the slightest (beyond a pretty funny slam on hot dogs that would take too much effort to explain here), and the time spent on it is time that could have been spent further developing the villains, Dylan, or simply having ANYTHING besides an endless number of scenes in which Dylan answers someone's questions.

Seriously, I'd say half the movie is Dylan explaining things: how zombies function, what vampire blood is used for, how werewolves have different hair ("You know what they say about werewolf hair - it doesn't lie."), what this artifact does, who killed who back then and why, etc, etc, etc... variations on the questions "What is that?" or "How does it work?" pop up with alarming frequency, with Dylan always having the answer right off hand. And this is one of my biggest problems with the film - not only does it reduce it to an endless Q&A session, it also gives us no point of entry. We're asked to believe in this world where all these monsters co-exist with something resembling harmony, and the humans either don't notice or don't care, and there are all of these rules and factions and such, but it's all old hat to our hero. Part of what makes a detective story work is learning things along with the hero, but here it's like he's always a step or two ahead of us, and the only things he learns just amounts to more gobbledygook that doesn't really sound any different than the stuff he himself was just explaining to Marcus or his client, a blond woman played by an Icelandic actress who isn't always successful trying to mask her accent. But neither of them count as heroes, so you can't latch onto them either. It's an odd example to use, but think of Fletch - he's a smart guy and knows a lot of stuff, but not specifically about the case he's working on. The people he goes to see aren't old friends; he's meeting them for the first time, just as we are. So it's a lot easier to follow the (fairly complicated for a comedy) mystery, because we're learning about it along with our hero. Here it's like we're stepping in halfway through, as everyone that Dylan goes to see is an old friend (or enemy) and they talk about their history as if the movie was a sequel and they were just offering a quick recap so we, the returning audience, could get our bearings.

So basically, it's just sort of impenetrable on a story/character level, and (unsurprisingly) the action isn't exciting enough to make up for it. There's a fairly fun fight between Dylan, Marcus, and a bunch of zombies, but it feels more like the product of a producer noting that they could really use an action beat here more than something that has grown organically out of the story. The climactic battle is shockingly dull; not only is it weighed down by borderline incoherent "twists" in terms of who is working with who and why, but it's just plain lackluster, amounting to a giant demon tossing Dylan around a deserted stadium, with no living humans at stake. Think of Ghostbusters (either of them) - their big villains were putting lots of New Yorkers in danger once it came time for the big showdown. Who is at stake here? Marcus the already dead zombie? Christ, even a random homeless guy living under the broken bleachers would have been better than nothing. Everything else in the movie is too quick; someone gets tossed through a window or something, the villain runs off, and then it's back to more explaining.

Interestingly (tellingly?), the writers (Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer) are also responsible for A Sound Of Thunder, another long-delayed movie based on pre-existing material that was largely ignored. It's also a terrible film and one of the biggest bombs of all time, grossing less than 2 million domestically on an 80 million budget. They also wrote Sahara, which seems to have come out when it was supposed to, but its failure to make any money is literally the stuff of legend (and the author of the original books it was based on has sued the production essentially for fucking it up so much). Yet they have four movies on the way, all of which are adaptations. Do they write for free, or what? Or do the respective producers of these movies actually seek out a pair of screenwriters that can botch the job? I have enough writer friends to know that the script isn't always to blame for a bad movie, but there's only so many times the same guys can be behind movies with the same problems before I just have to assume that they're not very good at their job.

On the positive side of things, Routh is fairly charming, and definitely has an early Tom Cruise thing going on, particularly in the earlier scenes where's he's sticking to "normal" cases instead of getting mixed up in monster plots (he left that world behind when his girlfriend died, but then of course jumps right back in when his friend dies). I don't know why he hasn't been able to secure a more prolific career post-Superman (he was the least of the movie's problems, and regardless of its critical success, he was the star of a movie that made a lot of money), and sadly this probably won't help matters. And it's fine on a technical level; they thankfully used real monsters/makeup for just about everything, and got a lot of good use of the New Orleans locale, with lots of locations (interior and exterior) and just enough local color to keep it from being generic but without becoming a travelogue. It's also pretty colorful to look at, and there are brief turns by Taye Diggs and Peter Stormare, who are always welcome (and are the only ones having fun). And the CONCEPT is actually really cool; I might take the time to check out the comic (I assume it's been translated into English, somewhere?), which is almost assuredly better, with focused stories and time given to gradually deliver explanations and exposition instead of dishing it out in scene after scene of supernatural mumbo jumbo. I'm sure the filmmakers were hoping to turn this into a franchise, but at the same time, it's like they were afraid they wouldn't get the chance and thus crammed every single thing they could think of into this one.

What say you?


Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973)

APRIL 29, 2011


I was surprised how much I enjoyed Blacula, and thus I was looking forward to seeing its sequel. But while it's perfectly entertaining, Scream, Blacula, Scream doesn't quite live up to the first film - the romance is limited, the Van Helsing type foil isn't as interesting, and it hits too many of the same beats, complete with a climax where Blacula and his minions lay waste to a bunch of anonymous cops.

In fact I was being reminded of other movies I've seen for most of its running time. It's directed by Bob Kelljan, who directed the Yorga movies, and he brings along Craig T. Nelson's sergeant character for the ride (whether it was SUPPOSED to be the same character or not, I don't know - I liked to think that it was), and there's a touch of Sugar Hill in there as well, with a power struggle between a Pam Grier-esque lady (played by the actual Grier this time though) and some angry dude setting off the voodoo tinged plot. To be fair, this came before Sugar Hill, but the point remains that there was nothing really setting this one apart; even if Hill was actually copying those elements from this one, the rest of the movie was pretty different. Here, it just recycles too much from its predecessor, which most certainly ISN'T a coincidence. Photographs where cops notice Mamuwalde is missing, check. Mamuwalde having a fun little face-off with the guy who is trying to expose him, check. Mamuwalde turning a few folks to be his minions and ignoring the irony of the fact that he was against slaving and now makes his fellow "brothers and sisters" into his own unwilling slaves, check.

Also, did he sound this much like Christopher Lee in the first movie? If so I found it far more distracting here, and it just sort of kept reminding me of Lee's own series' ever-diminishing appeal. Part of the problem with doing a Dracula sequel is coming up with a reason not only to bring him back, but also giving him something new to do, and they really only worried about the first part of it - the bad guy revives him using voodoo, hoping to have him do his bidding and take down Grier's rival voodoo priestess. And that could have been a cool plot, but that's not what happens; Blacula rises and immediately turns the guy into HIS slave, which is kind of funny in a "so much for your plan" way, but then the movie just treads water for far too long, until Blacula decides he wants to be just plain ol' Mamuwalde again and asks Grier to help remove his vampire curse. There's just no real drive, and the guy who revived him never really becomes a rival to EITHER of their characters (hence why I can't even remember his name - he's just far too underused).

And the ending didn't have quite the same punch to it. The first film's tragic ending was actually kind of sad, but this one's is just a traditional vampire movie ending, with the love interest and "Van Helsing" (a cop named Willis) taking him down. It would have been cool if Grier actually managed to end his curse and then Willis burst in and killed him without realizing what had just happened, as it would retain the tragic element and add some irony for good measure, but he's just a generic vampire villain in his final scenes, gnashing his teeth and raising his arms up to strike and what not.

But while it lacks a compelling new storyline, it's still fun to watch. William Marshall is endlessly entertaining to watch, particularly in the stand-alone scenes that don't involve the plot, such as when he is approached by the most conservatively dressed hooker of all time and then accosted by her pimps after rejecting her offer. Grier is of course a total knockout, and it's actually kind of fun to see her in a more typical female horror role instead of the badasses she usually plays (at least in the movies I've seen her in). And they do use the LA scenery a bit more this time around (the aforementioned hooker scene is at least set up as being on Hollywood Blvd), so that's always a trip, seeing the places I drive/walk by every day as they looked 40 years before.

I also dug the "zombie" like minions that he amasses over the course of the movie. Even though it's the same damn thing as the original, it's kind of a creepy image when the cops arrive in order to take down Blacula and are met by a dozen undead. The action is a bit more exciting than the original's too; I particularly liked the one guy who sort of flew up behind one poor bastard and took him down without the guy ever realizing he was in danger. And even though he scoffed at the idea of vampires (his reaction to the photos is amazing, he suggests "maybe the film was faulty" as a theory for why there's a photo of two paramedics putting nothing onto a stretcher), the chief changes his mind pretty quickly and gets in a great staking scene.

While on the subject, I liked that the white chief may not have believed his black officer's claims, he backed his man up and went along with it instead of being a cartoonish (read: racist) "whitey". In fact, the film as a whole is a lot less racially driven than the original. No use of the N-word that I can recall, and the plot doesn't seem as racially charged (it's essentially blacks against blacks; the chief is pretty much the only significant white character in the movie). There are two ways to look at this; one is that the movie is less dated, because you won't be distracted by as much "I can't believe they used to talk like this without anyone batting an eye!" feeling, but the other is that they stripped it of its personality to make it an easier sell for a wider audience. I can't remember what movie it was, but there was one of these where the white cops had no respect for the black ones, and I'm glad that they were all working as a unit here instead of being hateful for no reason. Blacula does kill a guy for calling him a "faggot" though, so there's something.

The wikipedia page for this movie points out that "as of 2010, it is the only sequel", as if part 3 is just in development hell like Ghostbusters III or something. Marshall is no longer with us, and I don't think an audience would accept a new guy in the role anyway (even if there WAS an audience for a direct sequel). There's always a chance of a remake, but with the title sounding like something Tracy Jordan might star in (it would make a good double feature with Blaffair To Rememblack), I doubt the movie would be taken (or even produced) seriously. Still, vampire movies traditionally have the least amount of social commentary in their films compared to zombies or werewolves, so if someone smarter than me/Hollywood could come up with a fresh way to make a more serious minded Blacula film with an eye toward current social issues, I'd be all for it. Long as he kept that bitchin' cape.

What say you?


Mutants (2009)

APRIL 28, 2011


Someone on Twitter told me that Mutants was good but not a typical zombie movie, which just got me more excited to watch it. I think I can go the rest of my life without seeing another zombie movie where strangers hole up together and argue incessantly while fending off waves of the undead who are always nice enough to give them a break every now and then so they can argue some more. And I CERTAINLY don’t need another zom-com anytime soon. But since this was a French horror movie, I wasn’t too worried about humor.

In fact, it’s only when the movie dips into familiar territory that it starts to waver a bit, particularly when the obligatory evil humans show up. The characters didn’t annoy me as much as usual, but the pacing of the film suddenly seemed off. One of the bad guys doesn’t even get a proper introduction, he just sort of appears in a scene as if he was always there, and there are some other moments involving their antagonistic relationship with our heroine that seemed rushed through. I wasn’t even entirely clear why they were at odds with her – the building she’s in doesn’t seem particularly desirable (unlike the mall in Dawn of the Dead, for example), she has no supplies or weapons worth a damn, and the only thing they seem to want is her ambulance, which has run out of gas (and she’s made no attempts to locate some for it). But they don’t tie her up or anything either, so it doesn’t seem like they plan to kill her. Just seems like they added the conflict in order to add some tension, but didn’t really flesh out the motives on either side.

But I liked how low-key it was, largely focusing on our heroine and her boyfriend, who gets infected early on, but due to the method (swallowing some blood instead of being bitten), he is turning much slower than the others. So we get a pretty detailed account of him turning into a monster, complete with a horrifying “he’s losing his teeth” scene, which is topped by an even more horrifying scene where he pisses insane amounts of blood. I’m not sure what was going on there – was his dick falling off too? Either way I was mortified. If the movie had heroine usage it would complete the trifecta of the only things I legitimately get uncomfortable watching.

Another cool thing was that it was largely a single location movie but they didn’t try to make the building its own character. Everything stayed focused on the humans and their plight, instead of wasting time showing off the various rooms in the deserted hospital and what it did or didn’t have (on the other hand, I quite enjoyed the occasional snowy exteriors - not enough horror movies set in the snow, dammit!). Nor was it a siege movie; the zombie action is pretty much saved for the end (shades of Day of the Dead), which allowed for enough time spent with our protagonists to genuinely care about their survival.

It may have been a bit TOO slight though; it’s only 89 minutes long and that includes credits (plus it’s a foreign film so there’s like two full minutes of “with the participation of” title cards). Since the tragic love story is sort of the backbone of the thing, I wouldn’t have minded a few scenes of the two of them in relationship mode; there’s very little evidence of their love before he gets bit. Zombie Honeymoon did this sort of thing better (though that film had other issues – not saying it’s a better film overall, but in this particular area I think ZH was more successful).

The makeup/wardrobe team should have worked to make the doomed hero more distinguishable from the other zombies once he turned. It was hard to tell him from at least two other zombies (at one point I thought the heroine had casually dispatched him, but it was just some anonymous zombie that looked nearly identical). Give him a white shirt or cool scar or something! Otherwise, the makeup is pretty cool; again, we don’t see a lot of zombies, but their grayish, dirty look blended well with the film’s high contrast, blue-toned cinematography. And there’s some healthy use of the red stuff, particularly on/around our turning hero, who at one point is covered with it from head to toe after a botched transfusion attempt (there’s also an obscene amount during his self-root canal).

However, I was kind of hoping they would be a little more “mutant” like, given the name and all. They don’t sport new body parts or grow in any significant way, and I didn’t even see “monster” teeth or anything that would back up the “old teeth falling out” (though as the movie was subtitled it’s possible I was looking at a “Nooo!” or something at the bottom of the screen instead of focusing on the zombies’ dental state). They just lose their hair and the ability to speak, and then pretty much just act like your every day zombie. It’s a unique take on the genre, but sadly saddled with a generic title (there’s also a DTV Michael Ironside movie with the same name – I rest my case).

So it’s not perfect, but as my Twitter pal said, it’s not a typical zombie movie, and we can always use more of those (and no, mashing it up with some literary classic doesn’t count). I’m always happier to see a flawed fresh take than a technically perfect rehash where I know exactly where a movie is going right from the start.

What say you?


Sweet Insanity (2006)

APRIL 27, 2011


I know I’ve said before that I’ve seen enough movies featuring a particular twist that I can detect the tell-tale signs almost instantly, but you wouldn’t even need this particularly useless (if anything, kind of annoying) superpower for Sweet Insanity, because I’m not even sure if they were TRYING to hide the fact that a certain character was a figment of our heroine’s imagination. But in a way it sort of helped, because it allowed me to focus on the movie, which was kind of fun, and also actually miss another twist. Twist misdirection!

So, yeah, the hot brunette girl played by Mackenzie Firgens isn’t really there. You don’t need overexposure to these sort of movies to realize this, as she literally disappears in the middle of a street in front of two other girls at a fairly early point in the movie, and not only converses exclusively with our heroine, but does so in an awkward fashion. At one point she “stops by” the main girl’s house during a party and still manages to avoid actually talking to or even sharing a camera shot with any of the others. It’s just too awkward, and despite the Sixth Sense name-checking on the commentary, I don’t think there’s a single moment where her non-existence was in doubt. Sense had the clever “angry” wife scene at the restaurant and Cole arriving home as (we think) Malcolm is finishing up a chat with the mother to misdirect us, but Insanity offers none of that. And that title (changed from Stranger, which was a bad call) certainly doesn’t try to hide the true nature of what’s going on.

But again, this sort of helped. Knowing what was up, I was able to ignore the half-hearted attempts to mislead us and just focus on the slasher story. And that story was largely inspired by Slumber Party Massacre (complete with creepy neighbor and prank-pulling male characters), which I found quite delightful. The need to hide the identity of the killer without getting too High Tension-y (read: cheating, though there is some anyway) means that the kill scenes aren’t too exciting, but there are a couple that are memorable, such as the drill kill (another tip of the hat to SPM), as the victim was the one girl in the movie who I thought might survive. I also liked the weed-whacker kill of the movie’s most insufferable character, both in execution and in the fact that it’s the only one with any real splatter.

And in addition to Slumber, the writer and/or director clearly knew his Halloween. There’s a scene of our two leads walking home after school (which would take about 14 hours if one of them didn’t get picked up by a friend with a car, since they are literally walking about 1 mph – guessing they didn’t have dolly track and the camera operator was too afraid to walk backwards), and even though you’re probably focused on them, if you look you’ll see “the killer” following them in the background, out of focus and unaccompanied by any sort of stings or anything like that to draw our attention to him. It’s funny, I was actually thinking a couple days ago (I forget what spurned it on) that when people rip off Halloween, it’s usually the “now you see him now you don’t” type stuff, but few ever do that creepy following thing that Michael does. There’s actually an even better example in Halloween 5, when he’s just sort of hanging out in the background while Tina and Tammy talk about sheets – I love that! Too many horror movies make sure you see each and every scare; it’s nice to have some that you might not even notice until a second viewing.

However, the real appeal for me was that it was the rare slasher film in which one of the male characters (not counting the heroine’s boyfriend) actually survived... but that’s not even half of it. His name is Brian, so of course throughout the movie whenever someone would call for him or ask him a direct question, I’d answer as if they were talking to me (my wife was sitting with me – it was to amuse her just as much as myself, thank you), only to find out in the final scene that his name was actually Brian Collins! THAT’S MY NAME! I even rewound it and put on the (Spanish) subtitles to make sure I heard it right. I was so happy – I am pretty sure it’s the first Brian Collins I’ve ever seen in a movie at all, let alone a slasher movie, LET ALONE a slasher movie where that character actually survived. Of course, the character was a fucking clueless moron and the only reason he didn’t die was because he went home after pissing his pants instead of going back to the party, but still – awesome.

There are two big blunders that kept it from being a slam dunk though. One is the ultimate conclusion, which comes a bit abruptly and isn’t entirely coherent. If I hadn’t seen the movie Identity I might not have understood it at all, and you never want to be in a situation where seeing the movie Identity is beneficial to you. I liked the idea, and again, the obvious “she’s not really there” twist kept me from noticing the other twist, but it wasn’t really executed all that well.

The other, far more problematic issue is that the bulk of the actors are way too old to be high school seniors. I actually thought they were playing college students at first, and even that they looked too old but I was willing to accept that – some folks take longer to graduate college. So when they showed up in high school classes I laughed out loud; the lead girl in particular looks at LEAST 28 years old (I couldn’t find her exact age but she played an “Office Assistant” in Runaway Bride, and that movie was 6-7 years older than this one), and the girl playing her best friend had to be 24 or 25 as well. And it wouldn’t even be a problem, but the extras playing anonymous students in the halls look around the right age, so they just stick out like sore thumbs. Worse, the lead actress is also the weakest in the bunch, and has a very awkward delivery. Considering the weight she had to pull at the end of the movie, when all the answers start coming together - they really ought to have hired a better, younger actress.

The casting decision is not explained on the commentary by first/last time director Daniel Hess, whose bio on the DVD alludes to having worked on a lot of productions but doesn’t name any of them (this film is his only credit on IMDb), nor is much of anything else in terms of the production. I may have enjoyed the movie, but the commentary is the absolute pits, as Hess just sort of narrates the movie while adding in small, worthless bits about the actors being “a lot of fun” or improvising a certain line or action. Most of the time he is speaking as the film’s writer (actually co-writer, the script is also attributed to Adam Weis, who wrote The Hamiltons, which features both of the two lead actresses), not as its director, offering next to nothing about shooting in a practical house, staging the kill scenes, etc. He also utters this howler: “We had a lot of fun with oatmeal on the set, there’s no doubt about it”, which pretty much sums up the entire track: a guy who thinks oatmeal is fun is not a guy you want to listen for 80 minutes. There are also “deleted scenes” but it’s just an outtake reel that appears at the end of the movie anyway, so not only are the extras skimpy, they’re also worthless.

As with Frayed and (to a lesser extent) Shattered Lives, I don’t expect a lot of folks to enjoy this one, and I won’t be endlessly pimping it like Cathy’s Curse* or whatever. But as a slasher fan, I found a lot to like here, and I admired their intentions. Certainly not the crappy, generic slasher movie I’ve come to expect from these sort of things, and even though I’m a bit puzzled how I never noticed it on the shelf at my Blockbuster store before (as it’s been there for years and I’ve scoured those shelves several dozen times), I’m almost sort of glad – a lot of shitty slasher movies in the past 4 years has allowed me to appreciate the ones with a little bit of creativity and respectable tributes to the old school classics without outright ripping them off.

What say you?

*As Cathy’s Curse is sometimes sold with a slutty girl on the cover that has nothing to do with the movie, I found this alternate approach to this movie, using the original title, to be deeply hilarious:

Note – there is no doll of any sort in this film, let alone a killer one who could be considered a “soul mate of Chucky”. Amazing. Flipside: I bet whoever bought the movie with this cover will never see either twist coming - they’ll be too busy looking for the killer doll the entire movie. Also worth noting, the girl on the cover of our version isn’t in the movie either. Does ANY country get a DVD cover for this movie that honestly reflects the actual film?


The Thirsty Dead (1974)

APRIL 26, 2011


There are always a couple movies in the horror budget packs that stretch the limits of what can be considered a horror movie, and I hope that The Thirsty Dead represents the most extreme example from the Pure Terror pack. If this movie was any less “horror” I’d have to watch something else for the day. More often than not it just resembles a particularly dull episode of Star Trek, except without Shatner or Nimoy around to bring the fun.

You know those episodes where the Trek crew would land on a planet, come across some folks, find out their way of living didn’t jive with theirs, and then either kill or reform them? This movie is basically about one of those planets, except before the crew ever found them. You have this cult kidnapping women and draining them of their blood to live forever, and nothing happens to them - they're not stopped, or even given a fine for their actions. One of their higher-ups dies, but he’s sort of the obligatory sympathetic one who will turn against the folks he has been living/working with for a long time in order to help someone he just met. The rest of the cult folks, including the evil female leader, are left alive at the end, and will presumably resume kidnapping women and taking their blood as soon as the coast is clear.

And if you’re wondering why I thought of Star Trek, just take a look at these screenshots:

Yeah, doesn’t exactly scream horror, does it? The score is pretty Trek-like too, which doesn't help. There are really only two sequences in the movie where I knew I was watching a horror flick. One was early on, as our heroine is trapped in a sewer and trying to avoid being taken (spoiler: she fails). Obviously we know how it will play out or else there’s no movie, but it’s still a decent little chase scene, and makes good use of the sewer locale (read: she gets scared by rats). The other is near the end, when the shriveled, zombie-like women who have been drained of blood start striking back at the cult, crawling out of their cages and swarming the place. And this occurs with about 20 minutes to go, so I was excited about a Day of the Dead type finale, with the audience cheering on the zombies as they tore apart the evil humans. But there’s no such luck here – the “zombies” cease attacking and actually run away at the first real sign of opposition (a guy waving a torch), and their entire “mutiny” ends seconds later. Lame.

And that’s the whole problem with the movie: there’s no tension or danger. Our four kidnapped heroines never really seem upset with their predicament (one almost seems to welcome it), and the cult doesn’t “make an example” and kill one of them early on in order to raise the stakes. In fact, they don’t kill ANY of them; only one of the four dies and it’s more or less her own fault, falling off a ledge as she fights with the main girl. And the cult dude is way too pleasant and flowery to be menacing even BEFORE he “turns” (plus he looks like the dark haired dude from Air Supply, which meant I spent the entire movie hoping he’d bust out “Sweet Dreams” or something).

Plus the ending is just a total anti-climax; the girls escape thanks to a guy in a jeep that happened to be driving by (the sight of a car after an hour of Trek-y looking costumes and such actually disoriented me a bit), and then they try to bring authorities to the cult’s lair, but can’t find them. That’s it. No fight, not even a minor victory. It’s fine to have the evil folks get away at the end, but you have to offer some kind of triumphant moment for the heroines (and no, simply escaping doesn’t count, since most of the cult members weren’t even trying to chase them). Take Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning – as it is a prequel, they can’t really kill anyone, but they at least have the Jordana Brewster character cause some serious injuries to them, offering the audience a bit of a crowd-pleasing moment. And then she dies, which also would have been acceptable here. At least if the cult killed them all, I could be like “Wow, grim ending.” But this isn’t grim OR satisfactory, it just sort of stops.

It’s also way too melodramatic. The girls argue like they’re in a soap opera, the main girl and the cult dude talk about their feelings and such... even the cult member squabbles seem like they were taken from Dynasty or something. For a group of people who need blood to survive, you’d think they’d cause bodily harm more often instead of just yammering on and on or making angry eyes at someone (and then yammering on and on). Who the hell was the audience for this movie? My only guess would be that it worked as a nice transitional piece for Trek fans who were moving on to Guiding Light.

Oddly, this is like the best transfer I've seen from the Creek in ages; letterboxed transfer, crystal clear image, clear sound... the type of thing I wish I saw all the time on here. So why couldn't it be for a movie I actually like? When I really like the movie, it looks like mush (i.e. Cathy's Curse). I can't win.

What say you?


Fungicide (2002)

APRIL 25, 2011


Quite some time ago, the esteemed Simon Barrett more or less forced me to borrow Fungicide, a film from the same team (read: one guy, Dave Wascavage, with his wife Mary assisting) who made Suburban Sasquatch, a film we found quite delightful in its terribleness. But I think I can only accept such nonsense from someone once, as I didn’t find Fungicide to be very amusing at all – after a while, horrendous, borderline “fake” CGI and actors who can’t act (including the husband/wife pair) just doesn’t seem funny anymore.

The main difference is that Sasquatch at least seemed to be sort of serious, but here I got the impression that they were intentionally making a bad movie, which only works if you have the resources and money to pull it off. They would have been better off trying to play it straight, which would have actually made it funnier. Instead, they go for extreme goofiness at all times, with paper mache heads on corpses, a mushroom driving a car (and picking up a hooker, also played by Mary in a scene that initially confused me as I wasn’t aware it was supposed to be a different character), and other flat out nonsense.

All of this in addition to the negative budget cheapness I was expecting, and then some. While Sasquatch at least had the whole town at its disposal, Fungicide takes place in one ill-suited house, which is all the more painful when you take into account that it’s supposed to be some remote bed and breakfast, but it’s just someone’s suburban house. When the owner takes the guests on a nature walk, they’re just wandering down the street, with Mary haphazardly pointing at things that her husband didn’t even bother cutting away to. See, even in a movie that you’re not supposed to take seriously, there still has to be a commitment to legitimately making a movie. Look at Airplane, which is quite possibly the least serious movie ever made – they still have things like establishing shots, continuity, proper framing, etc. I should be able to detect the difference between things that are supposed to be jokes and things that are just sloppy mistakes, but that is impossible here.

But even ignoring all of that, it was the presentation that really did this one in. I’ve seen a couple movies that had some strange framing errors, like a sudden scope shot of a moon when the movie was 1.85:1, but that’s easy enough to understand – they stole the shot from another movie and didn’t bother to re-frame it. Fine. But what the fuck is going on here? Scope shots, 1.85 shots, full frame shots, window-framed shots (some with a black border, others with a white), and even... actually I don’t know what the hell this is supposed to be:

Ah yes, the rare .5:1 ratio with the white windowboxing option! Plus just about every scene has shots that are digitally zoomed in, or recycled shots (often just flipped – thrill as an old lady changes which hand she’s using to write with as she circles classified ads in an upside down newspaper). 90% of the presentation errors are wholly inexplicable to a viewer, and no one bothers to explain them on either of the commentary tracks. The movie is just plain impenetrable.

And it’s a shame, because he could have made a really fun movie if he took the approach of say, The Killer Shrews and made the movie straight and with at least a little bit of genuine production value. I have to admit, killer mushrooms is a new concept, and I liked that they came in all shapes and sizes – there are little tiny ones (spores, I guess), medium sized ones that crawl through the toilet or bite at ankles, and then of course the human sized ones, which even have arms so they can engage in endless hand to hand combat. But I just found it impossible to enjoy on any level, because the insane presentation and total ignorance of how to properly pull off a spoof of monster movies just kept me at bay.

There were fleeting moments that made me chuckle, however. The site of the mushroom driving was fairly sublime, and I can’t totally hate a movie where a hero suggests eating the villain in order to stop it. But the key moment for me, which I actually applauded, was when one of the protagonists suddenly decides to sacrifice himself via spontaneous combustion, taking a bunch of the mushrooms along with him. No, that’s not a mistake – he actually just DECIDES to spontaneously explode. And the icing on the cake are the other heroes, who just sort of watch him do it without any sort of reaction at all, and then continue their conversation, as if nothing of importance (or insane batshittedness) had just occurred. But, you know, it’s the equivalent of eating a bowl of Lucky Charms that only has one marshmallow - it sure tastes good when you find it, but it wasn’t worth the effort.

At least they are aware of the movie’s badness on the commentary track. I almost feared turning it on, because I was afraid they would be of the impression that they did a good job here, but they spend most of the time mocking it and one another (Mary seems particularly down on it, bless her). However, both it and the typo-ridden “text commentary” from Wascavage, in which he discusses the special effects (though not what he used to make them – he left a comment on my Sasquatch review saying it WASN’T After Effects, but didn’t reveal his actual application) neglect to even mention the movie’s bizarre framing aesthetic, let alone explain it. Also, there are THREE Daves in the cast, which makes it a bit confusing which one they are referring to (try using last names, maybe?). Not that it really matters much, as one of them points out on the audio track, “No one will be listening to this in a few years”. Yup, just me.

I will give Wascavage credit for one thing – he’s not trying to scam anyone out of their hard earned dollars. You can buy the movie for 7 bucks on his site (plus 3 for shipping), which isn’t a hell of a lot more than the cost of a DVD-R, case, and label. Some of these indie guys try to bilk you out of 20 bucks for a movie of about equal worth, so at least he’s offering it at a fair price. But for my money - or Simon’s, I guess - Suburban Sasquatch (available for the same cost) is a far better way to enjoy some silly, no-budget monster action.

What say you?


Dinoshark (2010)

APRIL 24, 2011


To most people, “Better than Sharktopus” would mean absolutely nothing, but to the folks who enjoy these movies, that might inspire them to check out Dinoshark, which is more or less the exact same movie on a structure level (complete with a climax that arrives with as much fanfare as any of the other scenes in the movie in which the title monster eats people in the water), but with slight improvements across the board and an Eric (Balfour instead of Roberts) who isn’t slumming but is instead right in his element.

One improvement is of major importance: the FX. There are a few more close-ups that use a real monster head instead of CGI, and even some of the wider shots of the whole shark are at least on par with what I’d expect from a Syfy movie (as opposed to Sharktopus, in which they seemed to be much worse). And director Kevin O’Neill has the good sense to flood the screen with blood during the attacks, drawing the eye away from the shark – there’s an amazing bit where he bites a girl in half, but she hasn’t died yet, so her top half “swims” toward the surface as blood and entrails cloud the frame – it’s hilarious and awesome. However, they still can’t figure out how to properly keep the damn thing at the same size throughout the movie - in close-ups it seems to be of normal shark size and thus just takes a good bite out of its victim, but then in at least one wide shot it seems to swallow a small boat whole.

It also actually has some tension, as hero Balfour is ostensibly out to get the thing for revenge. You see, in a rare case of the monster eating someone we know instead of a random extra we just met, it makes a meal out of one of his friends pretty early on, and thus he springs into action at around the half hour mark. But he isn’t trusted by the local cops for some reason (something about drug running), so he has to go off on his own and spends a good chunk of the movie driving around in a boat out at sea. This allows the “proven” formula to work as it always does, with the shark killing someone every ten minutes – no one is ever warned to stay out of the water anyway. As usual, no one seems to notice all the missing folks (except for his friend); Dinoshark racks up at least 20 kills over the course of the movie but it never seems to make the news. They also have one of the better kills in these movies, delivering a kill without even bothering to introduce the victim. Usually they will cut to someone trying out their new boat or going for a swim with a comely lass or whatever, and they’ll have 30 seconds of dialogue before getting offed, but early on they just cut to some surfers doing their thing, which just seems like more of the “local color” cinematography that makes up about a third of the movie anyway, and then BAM! Dinoshark jumps out of nowhere and eats one of the anonymous surfers. Awesome.

The humor actually worked better too. Unlike Sharktopus, this one is played largely straight (which makes it funnier), and the jokes are a little more witty and wise-assy, like when our resident blond scientist does one of those “google the information and find out something shocking” exposition scenes, and then caps it off by stripping down to her bra, as if it was our reward for sitting through a dull, non Dinoshark scene. And when Balfour delivers the obligatory Jaws reference (“You’re going to need a bigger chopper”, he says, after Dinoshark snatches one out of midair – another standard scene for these movies), he actually sounds like a guy sarcastically making a Jaws reference in character, not something the actor is saying because the screenwriter thought it would be cute.

And you gotta love that Corman’s cameo isn’t a winking, silent bit – he plays an actual character (his biggest role ever, he says on the commentary). He’s the doctor who knows about this thing’s existence (it’s an actual prehistoric shark that has been thawed due to polar ice cap melting, not an experiment gone awry), and has lines and everything, plus pops up in 4-5 scenes. In one, he inexplicably shushes a mariachi group, which I have to assume is some injoke or reference that is just over my head.

It feels a bit sloppier than the other movies though; particularly in matters of continuity. The heroine is talking on the phone while she drives around in one scene, but in the reverse angle (where we see her in the rearview mirror) she has one hand on the wheel and the other is brushing her hair (she also has sunglasses on despite not having them on in the other angle). Though to be fair, you can’t blame her for her poorly timed grooming session, since her hair alternates between curly and relatively straight throughout the movie. The boom mike also makes at least one hilarious cameo, and when the chopper is snatched, the actors keep looking up in the sky even though Dinoshark brought it down to the water. Minor things, sure, but they’re a consistent distraction. And I cannot forgive the fact that they have a parasailor with a video camera, but when it comes time for Dinoshark to eat him, the guy doesn’t film his own demise. Why bother setting up the video camera if there’s no payoff?

There are also an inordinate number of terrible performances from minor characters, but as you’ll learn on the commentary, many of these awkward “actors” that stood out like sore thumbs weren’t really actors at all. It’s one thing to give Corman a little role – that’s fun. But the production manager, 2nd unit DP, various producers... these guys simply look out of place, and you won’t even need the commentary to tell you that they were all various crew guys taking a turn in front of the camera instead of hiring an actor (or just cutting the scene – they all just play various townsfolk who exist on land and thus are not in danger of Dinoshark – who cares about them?). Apparently the movie has to be 90 minutes long to air on Syfy, and they probably didn’t have the money to do too many more kill scenes (they DID add one, with some kayakers, and it’s noticeably shot in a different area), so I guess these things couldn’t really be cut, unfortunately. But I can forgive some padding when it’s a movie that is made to air on television with commercial breaks; it’s the DTV movies that run odd lengths anyway where padding really pisses me off.

The commentary is pretty entertaining; it’s one again Roger and Julie Corman, plus the director, but it’s also one thing that DOES pale in comparison to Sharktopus as they talk more about this specific movie than they do movie making in general. Roger still offers up some fun anecdotes and his rather valuable advice and thought process behind making films, but he’s not in it nearly as much as O’Neill, who is enthusiastic and very supportive of his cast and crew, but I’d gladly trade 2-3 of his stories about how nice and accommodating the locals in Mexico were to their production for some more time with the Cormans. On Sharktopus, they were wise to be more general and just sort of address the movie every now and then to illustrate a point about modern low budget filmmaking. This is, for the most part, an actual commentary on the process of making Dinoshark.

I just wish that they could do something different with these movies. I’m not going in expecting Jaws or even Deep Rising, but the fact that they are all so identical just rubs me the wrong way; as if they were being more cynical than they had to be. I get that they need to keep delivering the kills in order to keep folks from turning the channel, but why not borrow a page from Jaws 2 and set it up almost like a slasher movie, where you have a group of characters getting picked off one by one, rather than just constantly cutting to random people who die without anyone noticing? They worry about people tuning out – wouldn’t someone mistakenly thinking they had already seen the movie (let’s face it, there is NO replay value to any of these movies, even the ones I enjoy) be a bigger problem than someone tuning out just because no one had died before commercial? Let’s think outside of the box, folks.

What say you?


Mad Monster Party (1967)

APRIL 23, 2011


It's hard to dislike a movie that has pretty much every classic monster under one roof, and brought to life with awesome stop-motion to boot, but Mad Monster Party (which has a ? at the end of the title for some reason, I refuse to add it until someone can explain it!) is sadly pretty dull for most of its running time. Plus, it's filled with humor aimed at kids, but (spoiler) ends with everyone dying or turning out to be a soulless robot. Not too kid-friendly.

Despite coming from the Rankin/Bass factory, it makes more sense to compare to Nightmare Before Christmas, another monster-filled stop-motion feature length film. Nightmare is 20 minutes shorter and even that feels padded at times (I never quite shined to the Oogie Boogie subplot; it never seemed to gel with the vastly more interesting story of a guy trying to take over another holiday). Here, it's like the entire movie is comprised of padding; we spend a lot of time being introduced to our "hero" at his job at a pharmacy, and then he pretty much disappears for the entire second act of the movie. Each monster is given an introduction and a quick gag, usually with one of the others (I particularly liked the sleeping Mummy using Hunchback's hump as a pillow), but most of them have no real place in the narrative; only Dracula really seems to have a real plot, with Wolfman and Frankenstein's Monster popping up with some frequency compared to the others but still sort of useless. It's like they had a cute idea for a 30 minute special and decided to expand it to feature length (indeed, I had heard of it a few times but always assumed it WAS a TV special like Rudolph and Year Without A Santa Claus).

And again, the hero disappears for so long, I had nearly forgotten about him by the time he showed back up again. He also barely interacts with most of the monsters, which makes it feel like you're watching two entirely different movies grafted together. Even once he finally arrives on the island, he spends most of the time dicking around in the jungle with the villainess/eventual love interest, while most of the monsters are inside the castle. His voice also doesn't seem to match the character; he looks like a younger fella but he sounds like Don Knotts. In short, he's the shittiest hero ever (he also slaps around the love interest, who suddenly finds him attractive almost immediately after - uh...).

After a while I began mainly just amusing myself by checking which monsters they got the design for and which they had to modify. Invisible Man's robe and glasses are spot on, but Creature From The Black Lagoon looks more like the female Gremlin from The New Batch. Wolfman also just looks like a giant dog, which is odd because Frankenstein and Dracula are pretty close to the Universal designs. And the design of King Kong is pretty accurate, but they didn't have the right to his name I guess, because he's called "It". It's funny, I was talking to someone the other day that it's a shame that Universal, New Line, and Dimension/Weinstein couldn't all agree to license their characters for a sort of Mortal Kombat type game with all the classic/modern monsters* (as those three studios pretty much own all of them); rights and clearance stuff has been spoiling our fun forever I guess.

Once Felix finally arrives on the island it picks up a bit, as the monsters (well, Dracula) actually start DOING something instead of just sort of hanging out in the castle, engaged in an endless series of mostly lame gags (the brief food fight seems like a big missed opportunity, as well). It's also at this point where they stop breaking into song out of nowhere; there are only 5-6 songs in the movie, not enough to qualify as a musical, but just more time-killing nonsense (they're also not particularly memorable songs - no "Heat Miser" or "Silver and Gold" here). There's a man eating plant, and King Kong lumbering around... it's not exactly Team America in terms of action, but at least the characters are motivated by something for once.

After a while I just gave up hope in enjoying the movie as an actual narrative and just started focusing on the animation. I'm a huge stop-motion fan (I even did some myself in high school/college), and the work here is terrific. The Invisible Man effects are particularly impressive (probably why he barely, er, appeared), and the sets and backdrops were seemingly huge and well detailed, giving the characters a nice, colorful playground. You can see strings every now and then, but not nearly as often as you might expect given the complexity of some of the "stunts" and the fact that they didn't have computers to remove them back in the 60s. And regardless of their design compared to their live-action counterpart, each monster was wonderfully detailed and very different looking from the others; apart from Frankenstein and his Monster's head (where the similarity sort of makes sense - p.s. Frankenstein is clearly modeled after Boris Karloff, who provides the voice), there doesn't seem to be any examples of making one mold and using that for all of the characters, like in some other stop motion movies; every monster seems designed from scratch.

And, you know, it's harmless. A little long, and with questionable judgment in terms of what its intended audience should be exposed to, but if I had a four or five year old who wanted to watch some of daddy's horror movies, I'd be worried about showing him even Nightmare Before Christmas, which is legitimately scary at times, but I'd feel fine putting this on and letting him enjoy the colorful, non-threatening monsters. I just wish it was something that offered a little more than a series of gags. I'm not exactly one of those nuts who come to the theater dressed up as Jack Skellington, but once the novelty of the animation wears off in that film, I still enjoy the story and songs; here, the appeal of the animation was the only thing keeping me interested at all.

What say you?

*This guy tried to do just that, but as you can see, the studios threw a hissy fit and threatened to sue instead of realizing the potential and bringing this guy in to develop the game for real.


ROT: Reunion Of Terror (2008)

APRIL 22, 2011


I’ll give ROT: Reunion Of Terror credit for one thing – it’s not as generic or even as bad as it appears to be. The amateur actors, obnoxious dialogue, pitiful humor, etc, will lead any intelligent viewer to suspect that this is just yet another shitty slasher movie where you inadvertently root for the killer because the characters are so loathsome, but the last act pulls a switcheroo that, while not entirely successful, at least proves the filmmakers were trying to do something different.

The biggest problem is the tone, which goes all over the place throughout the movie. It starts off, well, as a porno, with a fairly graphic (for these sort of things) lesbian sex scene. But there’s also a dark, rapid fire edit sequence of our killer cutting out the intended victims’ faces out of a yearbook and pinning them up on his wall – and the two lesbians aren’t among the group. So right off the bat I was a bit confused, because if our killer has a purpose, then why is he going after these two? There’s even a brief moment where it looks like he WILL let them go, which would have been pretty cool, but then he slashes them both.

Then we meet our group, the six (well, five - one never shows up so he can be a red herring) now older folks we saw in the photos, and the movie turns campy as all hell. There’s a redneck gas station (with a midget for good measure), run by a guy who is obsessed with porn, and the friends reminisce about their drinking/pot-smoking glory days while drinking and smoking pot, making bathroom jokes, etc... it’s just really breezy and light, if not necessarily fun. And at times it almost seems to be some sort of absurdist comedy, such as when the park ranger admonishes them for driving 23 MPH in an 18 MPH speed zone (18?), and angrily tells them to have their campfires out by 7 pm. It’s summer in California – why would anyone have a fire before then, when it was still super bright?

But something is amiss, because we’re inching closer and closer to the end of the movie (which is only 78 minutes, with extended opening credits and slow rolling end ones) and no one is dying yet. Finally, folks start going off by themselves, and then it becomes this really dark survival type slasher, as the kills are really violent and not in any way like the relatively “fun” types you see in the Friday the 13th movies they seemed to be emulating in the earlier part of the movie. Finally, it comes down to one left standing, and the killer reveals himself and explains why he’s doing all of this... and it’s DEPRESSING AS HELL. I’d feel guilty spoiling it, but it’s certainly not the usual “you guys were mean to me in high school” or “your mom fucked my dad and ruined my family” type excuse that one might expect from this sort of reunion scenario.

So it’s not that the motive is bad (it’s fairly original, in fact), but it just doesn’t fit with this sort of movie in general, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t fit in this one, which at times is sillier and more carefree than even the later Friday sequels. In order to really work, you have to be taking the characters and/or the movie serious, and the screenwriters haven’t given us a reason to do that. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a slasher movie where the tone in the first 70 minutes or so would have been appropriate for this particular revelation, but only French films like High Tension come to mind. So I guess that’s probably why no one’s done it before – perhaps they knew it was too tricky to pull off successfully.

I was also continually puzzled by the movie’s strange sexual hang-ups. In addition to the lesbians, who of course feel the need to make out in front of strangers and turn nearly every line they have into a double entendre, we also have a character who is running away from home because her stepfather was molesting her. Oh, and later she gives the guy who picked her up a hand job and one of the things he says is “Who’s your daddy?”, which just seems odd considering why they met up in the first place. Then he goes to buy condoms and she adds tampons to the mix – ew (and then of course we find out she’s not yet 18). Plus every older male in the movie is characterized as a pervert (the forest ranger is seen sniffing panties and pleasuring himself while looking at the erotic services ads in the newspaper), and the protagonists are constantly making homoerotic jokes and such. There are three credited writers; I think one of them needs to have a healthy relationship before writing another movie.

All this stuff just added to my constant confusion while watching the movie, as I never was sure if I was supposed to be taking it serious or not. Once you have all the answers, I guess it seems that you SHOULD, but that’s not the right way to go about it. Sixth Sense has a bummer ending too, but it’s not like the movie is wacky and loose before that point – it’s a surprise but it fits the overall tone and mood of the movie. On one hand, it’s nice that they “saved” the flick, which improved my overall opinion of the movie, but on the other, it makes it hard to recommend. “Hey, watch this movie that kind of sucks for an hour or so, and then turns out to have a cool ending that doesn’t really fit!”

One thing I wasn’t confused about was the amount of padding. Once I saw the super-slow credits at the top of the film I knew I’d be in for a 60 minute movie stretched to 80, and I wasn’t wrong. We also get a lot of flashbacks to things we just saw, or simply didn’t need to, like when we get a lengthy look at the lesbian girls’ trip to the gas station, even though they’re already dead and we know they aren’t important. And the slow motion! Jesus Christ, every single scene has an action or reaction shot slowed down for no discernible reason; Zack Snyder himself would be baffled by the excessive time stretches.

But then you listen to the commentary and watch the bonus features, and you realize that it’s almost a miracle that there’s a movie at all, let alone a fairly watchable one. Apparently it was so cold where they were shooting that they ended up losing a lot of their footage and thus had to reshoot, which was a problem as the director was located in Florida and the movie was shot in Big Bear, California (if this was explained I missed it; I was tuning in and out since I had just watched the movie). Plus, at least one crew member was hauled off to jail shortly after arriving on set, other folks quit for one reason or another, there was some problem with one of the post houses, most of the sound wasn’t usable due to generator noise, and even writer/director/editor Michael Hoffman is aware of the movie’s tonal issues. And it’s a pretty good commentary; he is joined by two others (one is co-writer Meghan Jones, I forget the other’s name) and they bust each others’ balls and point out some of the bad dubbing and such. Hoffman also points out that he was very much influenced by Prom Night, and thus the rather lengthy wait until we get to the killings was intentional. There are also three short making of pieces, one on the shoot itself, one on the music, and the other on post production, and they are also fairly enjoyable, with a lot of on-set gaffes (such as when they put a hole in the wall of a rented room while trying to get a good foley sound) and an admirable “the show must go on!” spirit.

And I truly admired that. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a zillion times, anyone who can actually complete an independent movie like this, regardless of its quality, has already earned some of my respect – admitting its faults and keeping good spirits about them earns even more. Unfortunately for them, the average viewer of this movie WON’T have as much sympathy (indeed; the only thread on its IMDb page not started by someone in the production is the obligatory “Worst movie ever made!” post), likely due to the fact that they haven’t seen as many horror movies as I have. After 1500+ movies, it’s easy to see the difference between a not-too-great movie with good intentions, and a plain ol’ piece of shit made by greedy folks who were trying to cash in on a trend. A lack of cynicism is always welcome.

What say you?


Species: The Awakening (2007)

APRIL 21, 2011


It’s almost impossible to review a sequel without comparing it to its predecessors, which is a problem for Species IV: The Awakening, as I have very little memory of any of the previous entries beyond what’s in my review for the 3rd one, which I apparently thought was pretty good and better than Species II. Well, here, I am pretty sure it’s not as good as III, but as it has now been a full thirteen years (!) since I saw II, I can’t even begin to even guess which one is the better movie. I’d say it was a draw, but this one can get the W on the grounds that it didn’t cost me 10 bucks to see and had built in lowered expectations, since it wasn’t a theatrical release.

In fact it’s really only the 3rd act I didn’t much care for; until that point it was surprisingly decent, with our heroine getting sick and going all Sil-like in a hospital early on, forcing her uncle to reveal her true nature – she’s not a real human, but a lab experiment created by him and his ex-partner, who seemed to have been continuing or perhaps just stealing the work of the Ben Kingsley character. At least, that’s what I assume - unlike the last film, this one makes no mention of the other films’ characters or continuity; it doesn’t even bring Natasha Henstridge back for a cameo. But anyway, she takes the news rather well, and then it’s off to Mexico for them to find the old partner and see if he can help.

And then, in a plot twist of sorts, we discover that he has created a couple of these things, and now some of them are running around Mexico. So you get these isolated action scenes of alien/human hybrids trying to kill our hero, with the ticking clock of trying to find a cure before she dies or loses her human side forever... not the most complex plot in the world, but I liked that they were making it a little more personal and making the female alien AND the misguided scientist a bit more sympathetic than usual. Plus the Giger designs returned, so that was appreciated.

Unfortunately the movie doesn’t quite stick the landing, and instead of escalating into complete chaos or an all-out war between the good and bad aliens on the streets of Mexico, it seemingly gets smaller, as if they ran out of money and had to film the climax in two days with just the four main actors. The partner (named Forbes Maguire, a name as douchey as it is unlikely) is killed by his own creation, the hero alien fights the bad alien... it’s all very predictable, but also very dull. There are no real stakes built into the finale, and there’s no sense of scope to it either. Hell there isn’t even any dialogue in the last 15-20 minutes beyond a quick conversation between the hero and the good alien as she (spoiler) is about to die. Plus, I’m of the opinion that even a mad scientist who regrets what he did should pay for his actions, but our guy just blows up the lab and walks away, with the credits rolling instantly like a Hammer film. Part of why I dug the first hour’s low-key feel is because I assumed they were saving their energy (read: money) for a really cool finale, but if anything it feels even lower-key. There’s a quick bit in a nightclub, but it’s too short to matter much, and the potential victims are all just a bunch of random extras. Plus, we’ve seen Henstridge do this whole routine in a nightclub, and she’s, um, how can I put this... a lot hotter.

Now, I’m not being (too much of) a pig here. The Species movies have always been rather titillating affairs – they don’t get beautiful, oft-naked women to play these characters for nothing (and as a counter-balance, the fantasy always turns into grisly horror). So when they have this one, who is the least interesting actress of the three (and whose Swedish accent kept popping up, which was a distraction), do something remarkably similar to what her predecessor did, it just sort of reminded me how far the franchise has fallen, production value and casting wise. Speaking of which, why the hell doesn’t Michael Madsen appear in these? He does a zillion DTV movies a year, why not come back to his own franchise?

Another thing I appreciated was that they used rubber suits for the aliens during the big fight at the end. Their tongues and projectile things were CGI, but the good outweighs the bad in this case – it’s always good to see physical, real things whaling on each other instead of a swarming mass of pixels. And the bad alien dressed as a nun during her first big action scene, which is just plain awesome.

The DVD has no extras whatsoever, which I was a bit surprised by since III had a pretty good slate (making of, commentary, etc). But on my own I discovered that it (and the previous film) was written by Ben Ripley, who has certainly gone on to better things – he wrote this year’s pretty great Source Code. Director Nick Lyon, one the other hand, has gone on to direct a Syfy flick and some German production, so I guess Ripley will be the first one of the two to drop this off his resume (he should keep III on there though). Can’t say I’m too disappointed in Lyon’s lack of moving up to better things though; I found his direction kind of annoying, with lots of jerky, unmotivated close-ups, plus his action staging is pretty lackluster. According to the IMDb, the budget here was just under 4 million, which isn’t too small for a DTV movie (that’s more than the combined budgets of BOTH Hatchet movies, and those went theatrical!), so they should have been able to pull off some more exciting action.

Anyway, I think this is it for the Species series, as it’s been four years and MGM needs to put every penny they have into the next James Bond movie and releasing the ones they already have laying around. See you in 2018 or so for the inevitable remake, Sil!

What say you?


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